Chapter Twelve Mikel
In the back of a dingy bar on the shitty side of town, Mikel and Ray are sharing a couple pitchers after work. The news is projected up in the corner of the room behind Mikel. Ray is focusing on the program and tones out Mikel’s yammering about his girlfriend. The volume is too low to hear what the reporter is saying, but he surely recognizes the mansion the lady is standing out front of. The highlights of the news are spelled out on the bottom of the display.
Paul Mendle, the CEO of Werker, murdered in his home outside the city of science Tuesday night.
It’s old footage of what they did out at their boss’s place. It looks like the police still don’t have any leads on the murder.
“Hey man, hey check it out, they’re still going on about this shit. I guess they only care when it’s a rich dude, right.”
Mikel turns around to face the screen and then looks around to make sure no one is listening. “Of all the crime in this town, this is what they want to report?”
“Don’t worry about it dude, we were sealed up good and tight, I’m sure of it.”
“Uh, yeah we were. I was baking my ass off! I can’t believe you wear those damn suits every day!”
“If the cops had anything, there’d be a dog-pile of shields on us already. Fuck, I can’t believe the old man figured the two of us out though.”
“We’re in the clear bud. Besides, the watchers would give us a heads up if we were made. They’d know.”
“That’s not what matters anyway. Justice has been done. I don’t know what he did to his daughter, or her friend, but they both just up and disappeared outta thin air. I know he did something to em. He knew about the two of them, and he even figured us out.”
“He told her he’d kill her friend if she didn’t lose her. Guess she didn’t think he was serious.”
“How’d the old bastard do it huh? Freaks me out every time I think about it. And it was like nothing changed at all. He was the same-ol asshole the day after she went missing. He had no tell at all.”
“He got away with it cause no one cares about a girl anymore after she runs off with a rat. They’re already gone when they cross that line. Someone like him wouldn’ve rather had a dead daughter than one running around on the streets.”
Ray lifts his glass up to Mikels. “Like I always say, what is done is done. Everything is square now, and that’s all we can do.”
Mikel looks back up at the hologram and shakes his head in annoyance.
“They’re not even close. If they thought it was zealots that did it, we wouldn’t be hearing about it on the news like this. I can tell you that much. They keep that kind of shit on strict media blackout. There’s no way Welan city would let the free-folk intimidate its citizens by making it sound like we could just show up any moment and kill em in their beds.”
“Suppose you’re right.”
Mikel is starting to worry about how deep Ray has drug him into all this business. They’ve practically been brothers since they were toddlers, but sometimes that kind of legacy might not be such a good thing. He loves the hell out of Ray, but some of the stuff he can get into is a little heavy.
Both of their folks raised them by the old-ways, but Ray took it a lot more to heart than he did. Their parents only wanted to make sure they grew up strong, but not as killers. He understands the traditions and why all the elders think the way they do, but sometimes it can get a little silly.
He thinks of the awful stories they used to tell him when he was growing up, especially the ones his mother told. They wanted to make sure he knew where the lines were and how to stand up for himself. It feels like he might be stepping over those lines. They might not be proud of him for what he’s done, but they probably wouldn’t shun him for it either.
His grandparents generation had gone through some real tough times in the wake of the last war. They had to survive completely on their own, and his family has been been living that way ever since. They had to do terrible things to survive then, but they never owed anyone anything. The civilized world is coming back, and a lot of folk don’t like change. The pious people from the cities think they own everything, including the farmland they’ve never even been out to look at with their own eyes. If they expect him to pay them money to use his own damn land, they’ve got something else coming.
His mom used to say that cow tit makes a boy strong and government tit makes a boy weak. The’ve all watched the people in the cities hock their liberties for what they think are rights. It makes them all sick. The townies all live in a house of cards and they refuse to believe how fragile it is. If one thing fails, they’ll all go down at once. That’s exactly what his folks have always warned him of, to not set himself up like that.
When the war came, everyone that couldn’t care for themselves perished. It wasn’t all just lore like some say. The savages from the north mountains were every bit as real as their packs of dogs were. His people lived through a lot, and he means to honor them. Neither he or Ray can kiss the ring and give up what their families fought for.
Ray is watching Mikel from across the table. He knows exactly what he’s thinking. It’s almost all either of them think about these days. “It’s a fine edge we walk aint it? Do we live in the dirt with delusions of dignity, like the rats, or do we live with the rest, in a glass house?”
“I dunno Ray. Sometimes I’m glad I didn’t take up a life of turning over the dirt like my folks, but then often enough I’m not. My life is easy, and my teeth are still white. Call me selfish, but at least I won’t look like ol Gil, from across the road, when I’m fifty.”
“Yeah, that dried up old coot. He’s seen enough of the sun for sure. Cooked him right out of his damn head is what.”
Mikel glances back up at the news again, seeing that they are still going on and on about that damn murder. “Goddamn cops, you know! Everyone hates em when they’re breathin down their neck, but then call em up real quick when it suits em just fine. If Paul wasn’t such a shit, maybe his family would’ve had his back.”
Ray sarcastically puts a finger on his chin and rolls his eyes. “Oh, wait, but he killed his family did’n ee.”
“People think the law’s gonna keep em safe, but it won’t. The cops’ll come and stuff ya in a bag when they show up a few minutes late though. That’s what they’re good fer. Tell you what… some fuckers come round our place at night, our asses aint gonna be stickin up in the air for em to kick. I know that much.”
“Anyone ever came for you Mikel, bet your ass there’d be some vengeance. Real vengeance, not that vegetarian version of it they call justice. They’d be afraid if they knew what I’d do to em.”
“Hooey they would!”
He certainly see’s ray’s point. The people in the cities have become weak, like they were back before the war. They’re delusional, believeing that everyone else thinks the same way they do, and will magically follow all the rules too. They think they’re safe and tell themselves that there aren’t any wolves waiting outside their walls at night. People often forget that there’s already thousands of stir-crazy wackos out in the streets of Welan, watching for the first sign of weakness.
He can’t wrap his head around how so many people can be so stupid, but yet work so effectively in such masses. Mobs are what scares him the most. He and Ray have always sympathized with the city rats and their cause, but they sure don’t want them to gain any ground either. The truth is, he’d actually side with the cops over the rats any day of the week.
Every time he leaves the city to visit the ranch, he’s reminded by how big and very real the rift between the social classes really is. In the city, the return of a strong structured government has been slow, but it’s there to stay. Out in the country, things are still a whole other matter. People like his and Ray’s folks still live hardened lives, far less dependent on creature comforts. They’re often called paranoid, but it’s better to be alive and paranoid than naive and dead. The two of them may work in the city now, but they haven’t forgotten their lessons.
No one likes to talk about it, but the legend of their community is brutal. When he and Ray were little, the older kids used to try scaring them with the stories of the cannibals in the mountains, and how they hunted people with packs of wolves. They said that no one ever crossed the tree line and came back to tell about it. His mom is the one that told him it was true. She said that when there was no one left for those people to hunt, they had to eat all their dogs. That always gave him such night terrors.
It took a long time for people to trust in one another again after all that, but they did eventually all come back together. The grudge between the public and its once overreaching government is still strong though, even after all this time. The zealots keep the old ways as alive as the day everything fell apart. It’s like their culture is trapped back in that time. No one can tell them what to do, at least not without things getting damn bloody first. One thing he can say for them though, is that they have manners. People learn to watch their mouths after they get punched in the teeth a couple times.
As for he and Ray, it’s really only the robots that get their blood boiling. They don’t actually care much about all the other political stuff. It’s not even about how Robots were used as weapons of war either. Their families have always placed pride and care into their work. Machines have nearly eradicated everything they once loved, and replaced it with cheap cookie-cutter garbage. On top of that, seeing machines taking on human form makes them want to burn everything to the ground.
Everyone across the world feels the difficulty of finding employment in a time where machines do all the work. Despite that, there are still plenty of jobs that really need the innovation and care of a person to be done. What sparks fear in their hearts, is watching machines outright replace people, body and soul. After what they’ve seen, the Five-Series could be the end of them all.
All of the project developers used parade the prototypes around like they were the best thing the world has ever seen. About six months into the first one’s training, he and Ray were given the task of being its handlers. They both leaped at the opportunity. Without saying a word to one another, they both knew exactly what they were going to do. The robot already had already developed a bad reputation for being divisive and stubborn. All they had to do was give it a good shove over the edge.
What disgusted them the most, was how real it looked. Paul had made the thing in the image of his missing daughter, pretending to have given a shit. He reported that she ran off with her tramp friend to live with the rats, but that was too easy. The cops stop looking as soon as anyone says runaway and rat in the same sentence. He and Ray damn well knew he killed the both of them. Their skin would crawl every time they saw Five-One smile in that girls skin. It was like he was mocking them with it. It was too much. That’s when they decided to even the score.
Not only were they going to murder Paul, but they were going to make an example out of his star abomination as well. Slowly and methodically, they tore its fabulous little artificial mind into pieces with twisted lies and threats.
Any time the robot was alone, they would taunt it, say that everyone hated it, and insist that it was going to be taken apart in the end for everyone’s amusement. They threatened it so that it wouldn’t tattle, and said that no one would care anyway. It didn’t take long before they could tell it was being affected by their bullying. They could see the despair they were causing it every time it looked at them. They fed off making it hurt.
One thing that Ray disagreed with him about doing though, was dating Dr. Morgan’s sister. He would sometimes goad him about hooking up with a robot-lover. That was when he drew a line in the sand. When Ray realized that he had truly fallen for Clarice, he backed off and gave him nothing but support from then on. Deep down, it does still bother him that Valerie is her sister. He hates having to play nice with her alter-ego Dr. Morgan at work. He’d have her thrown out in the trash right along with the prototypes if it were up to him. The thought of her job actually being machine psychology is a sin.
To his own luck, he’s been able to get Clarice to come out to see him, instead of the other way around. It’s a lot easier not having her sister tagging along half the time. As a person, he actually does kind of like Valerie. She’s not nearly as much of an authoritative bitch when they’re not on the job. It’s hard being affectionate with Clarice when she’s around though. It’s like having her mother there, constantly watching him.
Keeping his anti-robot beliefs to himself is also difficult, especially when Valerie talks about work. He knows that if she got even a hint of a hint of his real views, he’d likely not last at Werker, let alone be able to continue dating Clarice. After coming out of his own thoughts, he notices Ray looking at him again, but with a worried face.
“What’s up with you man, you look pretty serious right now.”
“Oh, nothing really, I was just thinking about Valerie. Why does everything have to have a catch to it huh?”
“Yeah, well, I told you from the start how that was going to play out. Still worth it?”
He waits for Ray to gulp down what’s left in his glass and then splits up the last of the pitcher between the two of them. “Hell, Valerie could be twice the bitch and it’d still be worth it. I really love her man. Really though, her sister’s not all that bad, she just doesn’t have a dang clue what’s going on right under her own big ass nose. Maybe when Five-Two turns on her, like some kind of feral animal, she’ll see.”
“Well, we at least got one of them taken care of easy enough. Let’s just go out there and blast the other one.”
He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “No, it’s not gonna be that easy this time. Everyone thinks Five-Two is the good one, I don’t think it’d slide, not like last time at least.”
With bright eyes, Ray looks up, considering unsaid but clearly devious ideas. “You know, with Paul gone, I bet we could do it however the hell we wanted.”
Mikel stands up from the small table they’re sitting at, having to steady himself for a few seconds. “Alright, time to go see my girl. See you bright and early, eh bud?”
Ray stretches out and stiffly pulls his black leather jacket on. “I’ve got this.” He pulls a twenty out and lets it float down to the table.
Mikel puts another five bucks down on top of Ray’s twenty and then sets one of their empty glasses on top, to keep it down. “I wonder where that stupid robot is.”
“Ya think Five-Two would bite down, if I put my…”
Mikel is already shaking his head and walking away before Ray can finish his lude comment. “Good night Ray.”