18 January 2013

"Wizard and Robot"

By Curtis C. Chen

Vernor watched anxiously as Alpha-Nine maneuvered her rifle and targeting scope into place. He turned to the building across the street and prepared to project his catchment spell. Property damage was one thing; civilian casualties were another. Seconds passed.

Vernor said, "What are you waiting for? Take the shot!"

"Calculating projectile vectors," Alpha-Nine said, a metal statue vocalizing through her left shoulder.

"Are you kidding me?" Vernor said. "You've had blueprints and radar scans for days. What the hell are you still calculating?"

"Materials analysis was incomplete," Alpha-Nine said. "I am observing pedestrian traffic across floor surfaces to estimate after-target deflection probabilities."

"We don't have time for this," Vernor hissed. "I'll wrap the bullet in a self-destruct envelope, make it disintegrate after it moves through living tissue. Take the damn shot."

"Too many variables—"

Vernor stood up and raised both palms. He focused his mind, spoke a sequence of arcane syllables, and the twelfth floor of the building across the street erupted in flame. He released the catchment.

Broken glass and crumbled masonry fell and stopped twenty feet above the pavement, caught by an invisible barrier. The individual pieces would lower themselves to the ground at a hundredth of their normal speed.

"Come on," Vernor said, smacking Alpha-Nine's backpack and moving away from the edge of the roof. "Let's get the hell out of here."

"Impatient," Alpha-Nine vocalized, rolling backward and retracting the components of the rifle back into her torso.

"Hurry up!"


Two bodyguards grabbed Vernor as soon as he stepped through the portal and pulled him to one side. Two other heavies seized Alpha-Nine when she came through and locked her in place with an electromagnet.

"Is that really necessary, guys?" Vernor said to the thugs.

"I'm afraid it is," said a raspy voice from across the room. "I wouldn't want my favorite vendors leaving before they explained why they deviated from our agreed terms of service."

Because I wanted to send a message, Vernor thought. Because I only wanted to kill Lampton, and encourage the rest of his crew to leave town. Because I don't want to deal with more than one criminal syndicate at a time.

Out loud, he said, "Hey, our contract said nothing about the method of assassination. You wanted to scare off the competition, right? Mission accomplished." Vernor stared down their client. "Now when the fuck do we get paid?"

The old man wearing dark, oversized eyeglasses and a suit that had probably been tailored three female Presidents ago smiled and nodded. "Your cash and... pharmaceuticals are waiting back at your hotel. Please, try not to overindulge yourselves. We may require your services again soon."

Vernor shook off the bodyguards. "Yeah, I hope so." The sooner we're off this case, the better.

In the back of his mind, he felt Alpha-Nine's comm path: I agree. This assignment has proven to be quite distasteful.

Keep it together, Nine, Vernor thought back at her. Just one more week.

That is several million compute cycles too long, she replied.


Image: Gandalf & WALL•E. They're cops by Molly Lewis, January, 2013