Click here to read last week’s chapter.
Click here for a recap of part three (this part follows on from that in terms of the story’s timeline).
Part six: Before becomes after
As soon as Mayor Craven had heard about Laverick’s awe-inspiring research, he and his aides had begun to explore its potential uses.
Someone had suggested that it would be a way of appeasing the population now that breeding was outlawed.
‘I couldn’t give a fuck about their desires,’ Craven had said.
Bennett, a cullsman, had, of course, suggested using the digital children as soldiers.
‘Against what enemy?’ Craven had laughed. ‘Even if there were other nations to fight, there will soon be no reason for a war. Nobody will have money or food or resources. It would be merely a war for sport and we have the edge in terms of weaponry and numbers. Besides, we could send in the poor, bring the population down some more.’
Bennett had laughed at this. ‘Cannon fodder,’ he nodded in agreement. ‘Two birds, one stone.’
‘But soon there will be no more wars. Not like there are these days anyway. It will all be small-scale stuff.’
‘Then why don’t we make them into workers?’ Westlake, the mayor’s aide, had suggested.
Craven’s ears pricked up a little at this.
He turned, curling the twin hairs on the mole on the right side of his jaw as he did when he was trying to figure something out.
‘I’m intrigued,’ he said. ‘Tell me more.’
‘I don’t really know,’ Westlake said. ‘I was just thinking out loud.’
‘Na, he’s onto something there,’ Nicol said.
‘I think so too,’ Craven said, the chair creaking beneath his weight as he leant forward. ‘Imagine a workplace where no breaks are needed. No toilet breaks are required. There is no horseplay, no sickness, no lateness. Only a laser focus on the work at hand. Imagine the productivity of such a place. There would be no need for time off; we could run them round the clock. And with the precision of movement gifted to us by this technology, we could get them to perform the same tasks over and over without them ever getting tired or bored or making mistakes.’
The mayor’s eyes twinkled a little in the light.
The rings – a skull, a snakehead with gleaming ruby eyes, and an intricate Celtic cross design, all in chunky silver – on his chubby right hand clinked against the crystal glass which held his beloved double malt.
‘Yes, you’re really onto something there. The digital workplace is the way of the future, of that I am convinced.’
Bennett had smelt the shit floating on the wind even before his brain had figured it out.
He’d been early into the office one morning, coffee in hand, checking the job sheet – that gunning down innocent people was referred to as a job should tell you how little regard is held for human life in this place and time – when he’d noticed a few new faces around.
‘Hey, I’m Bennett,’ he’d said, offering a hand to the fresh-faced young man in the pristine uniform before him.
The man had looked down at his hand like it was one of the vicious dump rats (yes they had those before too) and had declined to shake it.
The fuck’s this kid? Bennett raged. Not even a day on the job, not a single drop of blood or shard of skull on his uniform and he has the neck to fuckin diss me!
‘Sanderson,’ the kid said.
‘You come over from the cops?’
The kid paused before he replied in a really creepy way, as though he was waiting for someone to tell him what to say.
He shook his head.
The effect made Bennett’s skin crawl, and he was pretty much unfazeable.
‘I’m a new recruit.’
Bennett waited for the kid to elaborate but talking seemingly wasn’t his strong point.
‘Must be on the fuckin whizzers,’ Bennett muttered before shoving past the kid and heading into the locker room.
He donned his body armour and selected his standard work shotgun.
The skulls he’d began painting on there to count his kills as a rookie were faded and chipped away like old nail polish.
He’d long since ran out of room to track his kills.
But it was nice to look upon them and remember days when his enthusiasm for the job was so high.
Willis’s shotgun was still in its clip, which Bennett found unusual as his friend should already have been on shift.
He was as superstitious as Bennett himself about weapons. ‘You never fire another cullsman’s gun,’ the old saying went, ‘or you set yourself up for one hell of a fall.’
The door swung open and Bennett figured it must have been Willis coming in late for some reason – maybe another domestic with his lady friend.
But it was another kid he didn’t recognise.
This one had a strange look to him – pale as month-old milk in places and a strange mottled purple in others.
This kid didn’t speak; ignorant as sin, just like the other one.
Fuck him, I ain’t speaking first, Bennett thought.
A third kid came in, early teens like the other two.
He, too, was pale and silent, his movements strangely stiff.
The fuck’s going on in here today? Bennett thought.
He stared at the other two cullsmen but they didn’t meet his eye.
He shut up the gun locker, tucked his helmet under his arm and left the locker room, pausing to take a glance through the frosted glass in the door.
Bennett’s knuckles left tiny dents in the hardwood door of his boss’ office.
‘The fuck’s going on in here today, bossman?’ he barked, fixing his supervisor, Slade, with a steely glare.
‘We’re putting shells in more mouths to feed, same as every fuckin day,’ Slade snapped without looking up from his computer screen. ‘This time it’s a “terrorist attack.”’ He did the quotation mark fingers with this, which really got on Bennett’s tits, although he was too pissed to mention it this time around.
‘Where’s Willis? Where’s Baz? What’s with all the fucking kids round here all of a sudden?’
Slade sighed, took his glasses off, looked away from the computer screen.
Still didn’t meet his gaze though.
‘You’d best sit down. And it goes without saying I haven’t told you any of this.’
‘Craven’s had a crazy ass idea,’ Slade began. ‘Reckons he can cut costs by using the digital humans as cullsmen.’
‘I know. Things are a-changing around here. He says we’re spending too much on your salaries.’
‘That’s a fucking joke.’
‘I know. But think yourself lucky. Not many get an actual wage these days.’
‘Remember, there are poor sods in the factories working thirteen-hour days just for enough food to keep ’em working. They would kill for your wage.’
‘They couldn’t do what we do. You couldn’t do what we do. And the fucking mayor… he—’
‘I hear ya. But, mark my words, you have it good. You’re in the minority of people earning real money. He did suggest raising your food quota per day and cutting out your wages entirely.’
‘The fat fucking prick.’
‘Be careful what you say. He has ears everywhere.’
‘I ain’t scared of him.’
‘Now listen. This is just a trial. We can all cross our fingers and appeal to the Gods that this never properly gets off the ground. Some of you have already walked out in protest. Others have been… let go. Most of the rest of you will be kept on. But, even if this trial is successful, he isn’t wanting to get rid of all of you. Especially you, Bennett. As you know he thinks very highly of you.’
‘Quit blowing smoke up my ass.’
‘The new cullsmen are digital humans. They are here to save on labour costs and rations.’
‘And what in a month’s time? They’ll have made more of these fucking robots and they’ll totally take over?’
Slade let the question go unanswered.
‘We still have jobs. For now. That’s all the certainty I can give you.’
‘Now my advice to you would be to go out there and do your job to the best of your ability. Cos the better you perform the harder you’ll be to replace.’
That night had been routine enough; the cold-blooded slaughter of innocent men, women and children in their own homes.
He’d showered, washing the blood from his skin and clothes like he had so many times before.
As he went to sleep that night, he had no idea that the next time his head hit the pillow it would be in a world that had forever changed.
Next chapter is here