She walked past the fence and glided into the house with ease. The gate hadn’t been unlocked, but the lock posed little hindrance to her. As she walked further into the sleeping house, this strange feeling passed over her – a certain sense of déjà-vu. The sensation was so strong she had to stop for a second, overwhelmed by her body’s strange response. She shook her head, deciding to observe her surroundings to take her mind of off things. But that didn’t help. The kitchen made her feel a strange sense of longing, while the living room opposite it made her feel as though what she was about to do was very, very wrong.
Then a rush of static through her earpiece broke through her strange musings, forcing her to concentrate on the present. “Why have you stopped, A-24?”, came their piercing inquiry.
For the first time since waking up, she felt something from inside herself telling her to lie to her superiors. “I thought I saw something out of my peripheral vision, sir.”
Silence ensued as she waited for them to tell her they knew the truth, that they knew she was lying, that they knew she recognised this place.
“Nearby cameras can’t see any threats; you are clear to go. Proceed, A-24.”
She straightened her shoulders and marched up the stairs, batting away any thoughts of doubt or guilt that began to creep into her brain. She needed to concentrate on the task at hand.
Pushing the door to her mission’s bedroom, she strolled in to see a man sleeping with a child wrapped up in his arms. She paused for a moment taking in the way the full moon hit their faces. They looked so calm, so content. An image, strangely similar to the scene in front of her, flashed across her mind, as the feeling of déjà-vu returned. For a moment, she considered leaving, thinking this scene too pure to disturb. She didn’t know why she thought that way though, she’d killed plenty others before – none of those had bothered her.
Then, coming to her senses, she shook off any apprehension, and slowly unsheathed her standard issue Glock-17 and clicked a silencer to the mouth of the barrel, stalking forward like a tiger towards its prey. Her shadow draped over them, casting a blanket of death over their innocent forms.
The reservation then came back, as, for a split-second, she wondered if she knew the people laying in front of her; in the next she raised her firearm, aimed, and pulled the trigger, sending a studded projectile each towards their stomachs. A-24 wasn’t sure why they made her aim for the stomach, the temple would be much easier and quicker, but she didn’t argue, and didn’t ask questions. She simply did as she was told.
As the bullets made contact, the victims’ eyes flew wide open, the colour slowly draining from them. Their faces relaxed, and she watched impassively as the sheets they lay on slowly turned a dark shade of crimson. In that moment, she suddenly realised why she felt as though she had been to this place before, why she felt as though she knew the bodies before her.
It was because she did. She knew this place, she had laughed with these people. They had been her family. Before they took her and wiped her memories. The memories where she had nursed the dead child laying in front of her from the time he was a baby. Where she always put them first and took care of their every need. Where they were always a team, each taking care of the other.
Yet she didn’t know what scared her more: the fact that she had just killed her whole family or the fact that she couldn’t bring herself to regret it. A crackling in her ear jerked her back to the present.
“A-24, is there a problem? This is the second time you have stopped.” Her heart rate quickened, her voice was wavering when it escaped her mouth.
“No, no there isn’t. No problem.” She knew she was on the line, that they would end her if this response wasn’t acceptable. But would that really be a bad option? Considering what she had been turned into, what they had created out of her. What she had just done. Was her life worth anything anymore? To the system, certainly – they needed killers – but what of the damage she leaves in her wake?
“A-24, do not stop again unless told to do so. Proceed with the body removal process.”
The man on the other side of the command shook his head and swiped his glasses off his face, rubbing his temple in frustration. The system hadn’t been working on A-24 too well lately. She had been showing signs of remembrance, of feeling. This was never meant to happen. The system had been created to create a legion of killers. Heartless, thoughtless killers who followed commands blindly, and did nothing else. He put his glasses back on his face and turned his attention to the screen in front of him once again. A-24 had not moved. She was standing there, staring at the corpses, doing nothing else. His hand wavered over the kill switch, the button that would send a lethal amount of electricity through the implanted chip and rasped a warning into the mike.
“A-24. Get. On. With it.” She stayed frozen for a second, and the man was about to bring his hand down over the switch. But then she moved towards the bodies and scooped them up. She began the standard disposal process, the same one she had given to over twenty other bodies: removing the limbs and the head from the target, leading to six pieces, and burying them across the victim’s own yard.
She reached for her waist where she had sheathed the knife she used and took it out of its blood-stained leather case. A-24 was about to make the first incision (the right arm always went first, followed by the left, the legs in the same order, and finally the head), but something stopped her. She let the knife fall to the ground, before crumpling and falling herself. Tears began to streak across her face, as she sat in between the bodies, and patted them lovingly. She began to cry more openly, to howl and to weep.
The man in charge of her stared at the screen, transfixed, trying to make sense of what he was looking at. A-24 had developed feelings. She had woken up. She had realised that these people were her family. That she had just killed them.
This couldn’t be accepted.
“Goodbye, A-24.” He brought his hand down on the button and watched passively as the figure on the screen spasmed and thrashed around like a fish out of water. This continued for a few minutes, before she lay limp next to the makeshift grave, just like the bodies beneath the ground. The man got up from his station after tossing his glasses aside, straightened his tie, and got ready to deliver some bad news to a very easily angered boss. This was not going to go down well. He strode down the hallway, crossing all of the mahogany doors, silently ticking his head at each of the names he recognised – Mary W. White, Jake Allister, Kristen Zeb, Alex Steadman – and not paying attention to the ones he didn’t. Santusht Grazelman was a man of business; he didn’t have a care in the world for people he didn’t know.
He paused at the very end of the corridor in front of a door larger than the rest. It boasted a polished bronze plate that lettered ZACHARY WARRICK, and a perfectly shaped ornate handle with a snake embezzled on it. Grazelman thought of how apt the snake was for the man on the other side of the door.
He took a deep breath and knocked thrice with only his knuckles. After a short pause, a curt “Come in,” rasped out. He timidly swung the door open and stalked in apologetically.
“Yes?” asked the man impatiently from behind the desk, not bothering to look up from his computer.
“I’m afraid I have some disturbing development to report, sir.” Grazelman waited for a reaction but got none. He continued, “A-24, one of our Pacifieds, went rogue, sir. She developed feelings.” He spat out that last word to make sure his distress was evident. At this, Warrick looked up.
“Her mission file?” he asked, his arm outstretched. Grazelman handed it to him wordlessly. He took a moment to scan through the introduction, then flipped to the end to view the latest mission. Grazelman hadn’t updated its status yet, but all the details were right there. Finally, Warrick spoke up, “I trust she finished the mission, though?”
“Yes, sir. I still had control over her for long enough to ensure that.” Warrick nodded. “This A-24, she was your recruit, yes?” Grazelman did not like where this was going.
“Yes, sir. She was my recommendation and was put under my direct jurisdiction.”
“Mr…” he paused to look at Grazelman’s name tag, “…Grazelman, are you aware of what happened to the others who’s recruits failed?” Grazelman gulped. No one knew exactly what happened to them for sure because corporate never released any information, but once the same guys were missing from work for a few days in a row, people began to suspect something was up. The missing persons became the canteen talk, the water cooler talk, the workstation talk. Their names cropped up in every conversation for the next few weeks, theories about their disappearances were woven together. There were many, but there was one that seemed far more likely than any other.
The most widely accepted theory was that they were put into the program themselves. They were turned into one of the Pacifieds – beings that exist only to carry out the orders of their superiors, which, more often than not, is to kill.
“Yes sir, I am.”
“Why do you think you’ll be treated differently?” An uncomfortable silence penetrated the room, as Grazelman tried to think of a reason that would please his boss.
None came to him. Warrick nodded and clicked his fingers. Two large men emerged from the shadows of the room from either side of Grazelman, and firmly grasped their respective sides of his body. Grazelman began to shout and thrash about, but a punch to the face knocked him out cold. Once silenced, the men dragged Grazelman off.
His name became the one that cropped up in every conversation for the next couple of weeks.
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