They never told us why.
And I suppose that's a Good thing really.
I know what you're thinking, do I really want to know?
No, I guess I don't, but still, this is the way I ended up here.
My name is.......no, you don't need to know that either, in fact, probably safer if you don't, after all, one tusky freak looks much the same as the other doesn't it? Call me Tank, that suits my appearance. Funny really, it probably makes us easier to dismiss as all the same, big dumb lunks with no capability of doing anything other than tearing things apart. Maybe that was my crime
But is it a crime to want to be more than what you were born to be?
I think the answer is yes, after all, if the answer was no, would I be here? But I digress, trained in Kick murder tactics, with a speciality in larger and more resilient targets, I have been an Operative for over three years. In that time, I have killed everything that has the ability to move on the face of this planet, two legs or more, sentient or no, all have fallen before me. My first assignment was to downtown, assisting in the routine clearance of sewers and destruction of dangerous mutants, a simple task, with no way to escape the boundaries that have been set up for us, just the way they like it.
My squad leader, a human by the name of Charles, you know him by his operative title of Deadfall, which is another thing that I find curious, why do they make Operatives take titles? Is there power in a name that we aren't meant to know, is it easier to respect a name of power rather than a true name, surely this would not be the case, surely it would be better to know who the man behind the mask is? But I digress, forgive me please. My squad leader, Deadfall, often impressed upon me the virtue of knowledge, a man can better himself if he is of a mind to learn. It is not for most people, most people think that they have sufficient intelligence, sufficient strength, power, speed, ability, whatever, to get them through the world that they live in. Sufficient, yes, but to be good at anything, you need to be willing to sacrifice something for it
You need to sacrifice time for it, whatever you could have been doing in that time is irrelevant, what matters is what you do with that time. When you sit there in a comfortable chair, reading a book, is it making a difference? When you work that bag at the gym, when you feel your muscles tear under the pressure you're putting on them, is it really doing you any good?
Do you have to ask?
Then you'll never know.
Harsh, yes, but true, if you've never wanted to be anything more than what you were born as, then I for one, will always envy you.
But I digress, forgive me please. Deadfall allowed me access to his books, he taught me how to appreciate the writing on them, to learn the difference between paper words and those on the screen and heard in music and verse. Most people think that there's no difference between them, after all, they're only words, right?
Here, let me show you.
"This time I'm a let it all come out, this time I'm a stand up an shout, I'm a do thing my way, It's my way, my way or the highway."
Sing along, you know you can, you know the words, it's "My Way" by Flaccid Cookie. It just doesn't have the same impact on paper does it? Now you see this, I can show you what I learned, you don't have to be what life told you to be. I owe that man all the joy that I have known, but I also owe him all the pain and suffering that has been wrought thereafter, should I be angry at him or thankful to him?
Do you have to ask?
Then you'll never know.
But I digress, forgive me please. This worried my paymasters, they felt (perhaps justifiably so) that I would want to quit from what I was doing and do something less harmful instead, and if I did that, maybe others like me would want to do the same. Maybe I've just got a huge ego, and it wouldn't have made any difference to them at all. Maybe I ask too many questions, that is most likely what got me into this predicament in the first place.
But is it a crime to hope, to pray, to live?
Apparently so, I served with my squad for those three years with ability and without question, we graduated together, with the exception of Deadfall, who's been busted down in rank several times due to insubordination. The only reason he still ranks as a squad leader is because he's damn good at his job, and they can't argue that, one day, they'll make an example out of him, just as you see here. I have behavioural implants built into me, all the engineered forms do, they just don't publicise them very much, it dehumanises us so they say. An amusing thought that is, they create us to be monsters, then try and make us act like them, whereas in truth, all they're trying to do is make our minds like theirs. It doesn't suit them to see their worst qualities reflected in what we are capable of, they have to be comfortable with us, and to this end, they make us act like them, so they can say that only those who look like monsters can be them.
It's worthy of a wry smile here and there isn't it?
The BPN that led us here is a simple sweep and clear, go to a building loaded with squatters, and remove them from the premises. Easy as pie, we've done things easier than this before. I load up for close quarters clearance and take point, the first floor has nothing in it, the second floor has a few people who scatter at our approach. On the third floor is a problem, one family have barricaded themselves in and are screaming for us to leave, Deadfall radios down that I should persuade them to leave. No problem, I'll go do that.
"You have to leave." I say quietly (although it must be said, that quiet for me is yelling volume for anyone else).
The response is an unintelligible scream, then something about a gun, then something about dying before leaving. Curious, but I'm sure I can help them if they want to die before they leave. Behind me, Lance, our Vevaphon, has just slinked through the floor and is now standing (if that's what you could call it) next to me.
"They want to die before they leave." I reply, I think he raises what's meant to be an eyebrow at the suggestion. A half second later, a single round comes through the barricade and bounces off my arm, CAF rounds, nothing more, no threat to me. I put one foot through the barricade and walk slowly through, three more rounds bounce off me and I turn to see the group, there's eight of them and they're all armed with small weapons, four of them charge forwards and attempt to engage me in combat. I take the first one by the head and use them as a club, the human body is surprisingly good as a weapon and I hammer two more into the floor before my club breaks. The remaining one makes the mistake of trying to get past Lance, a quiet gurgle and sigh of escaping air lets me know they did not succeed. The one with the gun fires at me once before I step forwards and drive my fist at her. I've always been strong, even for my kind, and Exo armour has built in boosters for those such as us, but I've never appreciated how much damage we can cause.
My first takes her square in the chest, all her ribs snap and her body is crushed up against the wall where she sags against my gauntlet. A rustle of motion and three gunshots inform me that Lance has the other three well in hand. Curious, I move my fist closer to me as the woman tries to move again, her arms and legs aren't working any more, I must have damaged her spine, and as I watch, bright arterial blood sprays out of her mouth. She glances sideways, almost desperately, the gun falling from nerveless hands, I follow her glance, a small child is wrapped in a bundle of filthy rags, I look back up at her.
"Pplllsssss...." The half word hisses from her lips with the last breath she takes. I drop the body to the floor and indicate the child to Lance.
"Leave it." he says "it'll starve to death by itself, problem solved." He leaves the room to continue the clearance.
Later that day, I knock on the door of Siege, our resident heavy weapons expert, human, female, and tiny, she's the least likely person you would find on the end of a power reaper, but despite this, she's one of the best in her field.
"What's up, Tank?" She looks weary, the grease on her face ground in from several days of work with too little sleep, the clip of the weapon she was cleaning in her other hand.
I don't trust myself with the words that need to be said, so I crouch down and open my hand
"Dirty." I say, motioning down with my other hand
She picks up the bundle of rags from my hand, looking down with distaste as something runs out of the blanket onto her arm. She looks up at me, her expression would seem to indicate that she doesn't actually mind the runny stuff, but she's a little annoyed with me. She smiles at the little bundle, and I know I've made the right decision.
"Come in." she murmurs, taking the child inside.
A bath, change of rags, and drink of slightly rum loaded milk for the little one later, I'm sitting on the floor as Siege tries in vain to explain to me the problem inherent with what I've done. You see, I can't understand why it was wrong to keep the little one alive, I can't see how Lance could have been right.
Is it wrong to do the right thing?
I'm beginning to think so. Siege is in the middle of explaining something, I'm still looking over at the little one, it's snoring quietly in the corner, wrapped up in the cleanest rags that Siege has in the workshop. She stops talking and I glance over at her, she's looking up at me expectantly.
"Sorry." I rumble.
She doesn't have the heart to be annoyed at me for not listening, I can see that as she sighs and shakes her head.
"I said that you can't keep the baby, you're a killing machine, an Operative, you're not designed for this." She reaches over and puts her hand on mine, I look down, her hand is smooth and thin, and compared to the mighty paw that she's resting it on, tiny and harmless. "You can't even change it's clothes, you'll tear her to shreds."
I look up at her "But you could."
Her eyes go wide at the suggestion and almost immediately her head shakes and she turns away, raising both hands. "Oh no!" she says, her voice raising slightly hysterically "You're not dragging me into this one!"
"Please." I'm not used to trying to persuade someone without the use of a toothy smirk and a pair of tusks. "I'm sure it, er she likes you." I try a warm smile, I'm fairly sure it's not working, I should get another set of lips to work with. Siege turns back to me, she's got her 'Keep the words short for the big toothy critter' face on. "We can't keep the baby, we're Operatives, not parents, and besides, look at us, I'm a grease monkey and you're a nine feet clawball."
I shrug, the motion accidentally activating my claws which slide out of their sheath smoothly. I remember the damage that these hands have caused and for one brief horrible second imagine what they could do to the baby. The claws retract sharply and I drop my shoulders in defeat, she's right, we'd end up killing the little one.
The problem with this is that this leaves the child to die somewhere else, the only other places that the child can go are the childcare centres scattered around the city for those without parents and those unlucky enough to lose them. Siege rests one of her hands on my shoulder, trying to massage the tension out of them, she might as well be kneading rock.
"We can get her a good set of parents." There's no conviction in her voice, good parents are like sunny days on Mort, you never see them, and even if you did, you wouldn't know what it was. "There's all sorts of things we can do for her."
I glance upwards at her, I've never realised it, but she's attractive for a human, even through the grease and sweat on her brow, her coffee coloured skin in flawless and smooth, her eyes not too broadly spaced, and a strong jawline. A curious thought to be having at this point really, it seems to me that she could look after this child, all she would have to do is give up working and be good to it. That seems like a good thing to do, so I suggest it.
"And who would pay for the food and housing?" She asks, raising one eyebrow
"I would." I reply, it's not a lie, I'd do this to save the child.
She glances down again, smiling warmly but sadly. "Iit would be the right thing to do, but how long do you think we'll survive, the average lifespan for an Operative is five years, less if you're high profile, less if you're a stormer."
Part of me knows she's right, but there must be something we can do. Siege straightens up and stretches her arms "I'll go make some coffee."
As she leaves, I rise up and kneel by the side of the bench that the little one is sleeping on. She's Tiny, Fragile, and Helpless. It would take less than a moment to end her little life, she would feel nothing. The Claws on the back of my arm extend.....
Is it right to do the wrong thing?
Her eyes flick open, she can't see me, she's not old enough, her eyesight isn't developed enough. But as I watch, her eyes fix on mine, her arm reaches up and brushes against my hand, softly, and a quietly contented gurgle escapes her tiny lips. In that moment, time stops, and for one perfect moment, I know that the only way that this child will die is if whatever comes for her goes through me first. There's a soft intake of breath behind me and I glance around. Siege has the drinks on a trolley. I disengage my hand from her tiny hand and withdraw my claws.
"It's okay," I murmur "but we have to take care of her, it's not right that we killed her parents, so it is right that we make it right." The words are said quietly, but from the expression on her face, she does not doubt the feeling behind them.
Siege picks up the phone and dials Deadfall, who puts in a call to the squad financier, to acquire some quality childcare. I can hear the disbelief in his voice even from across the room, I don't think anyone expects stormers to think about children, much less one of their own. We can secure a good carer for 10c a week, it's expensive, but for that price, we're guaranteed a safe child who will grow and live well. It means that I have to put aside some money from the stash that I never spend, no problem, it means that I get to see her once or twice a week, and that's good enough for me. Siege has decided to help me with the child, I think her maternal instincts may have taken over a little.
Lance drops by my apartment some time later, he's got something on his mind, you can tell when he does, his face tends to bend a bit, for most humans it's very disconcerting, for us, it's just life.
"Why?" I don't know whether he intends it as a question or not
"It is right." I don't know whether that's an answer, His shoulders ripple, I've known him long enough to know that that's how he shrugs "We were wrong to kill the way we do."
Now he's definitely confused, he looks up at me "We go where they say and kill what they point at, can't see what's wrong with that."
"No," I reply "But maybe you should."
For a second, he pauses, then his head bobs up and down. Literally his head bobs up and down, he doesn't bother forming a neck. I smile quietly, in many ways, although he's smarter than me, that smartness comes at the price of some of his flexibility. Sure, I may have the intellect of a not too bright human, but that gives me the insight that only children ever possess. I'd be hard pressed to tell you which one is a better thing to have.
Six months pass in what seems like as many seconds. We're at an operative function being held at meny once a year, where the best squads of the day, those with the best success rate, are invited back for a brief chat to the up and coming stars of the classes of the year. It's formal, so no armour or weapons, our team is all dressed in their finest suits, I feel more than a little out of place.
That's a bit of a misnomer, I'm a nine foot clawball in a smart suit, the tallest thing in the room, and certainly the most awkward. Siege is babbling away at my side, apparently we're the second most popular squad in the area, the number one spot is taken by some up-coming newbie squad, name of Storm, she points them out, it's an amusing sight. Their leader, Sanction, is dressed in a suit that costs more than most of us would spend on armour, looking totally at ease in the company of the good and great. Of the others, they're all huddled in a group by the food tray, looking as if they'd much rather be somewhere else. Hybrid is making the best of the free buffet, as is Andy, I can't see any sign of Patch, Faith, their Resident Stormer, is making conversation with Lance, the two of them seem to be getting on rather well. This leaves Nemesis, who's stood in the middle of the dance floor with his arms folded and his suit clashing with his tattoos, there's a two foot exclusion zone around him, as if no ones willing to get any closer to him than they absolutely have to. I glance down around me and see pretty much the same zone. Looking up, I see that he's looking back at me, he quirks his mouth upwards in what must be his imitation of a smile and shrugs, nodding a silent greeting. I raise the huge tankard in my right hand and return the nod, nice to know that I'm not the only freak at the party.
A light brush at my left hand and I look down, Siege is standing there in a very pretty cocktail dress. Funny really, I've never seen her without the grease and grime of her daily work, it's a strange thing that you can look at someone every day, and never see them. She motions for me to lean down, I go to one knee so that our heads are level.
"Want to dance?" she says quietly
"Uhm, Sure." I'm not sure how she wants to try, I think she senses my discomfort
"Just pick me up and I'll show you where to go."
Not sure about this, I do feel a proper idiot, but this seems to please Siege, and if nothing else, I owe her a few things for all the help she's give me.
Is it wrong to dance if you don't know the moves?
I move around the room with Siege held lightly in my arms, the crowd moves aside like the sea from a boat, they don't really have much choice, if they don't, I'll probably end up crushing them. As I move past some of the more drunk 'Wasters, some of them make a rude comment, I'll not repeat it, it wasn't needed then, it's not needed now. The high pitched yelp lets me know the well placed toe stomping wasn't missed. Siege looks up at me with an expression of mild exasperation on her face, as a mother might to an unruly child. I shrug and keep going the way she's told me to. The music ends sooner than I would have wanted, I have to confess that I had been enjoying the melody. As I put Siege down, she pulls me down for a second.
"Take me home." She whispers, barely loud enough for me to hear it.
I shrug, we've fulfilled our contractual obligations by appearing here, I hail an oversized cab and head back to the workshop. As we get out, she stops and glances down at her feet briefly for a second.
"What's wrong?" I ask
"Come inside for a second."
She seems hesitant in asking, almost nervous, strange, I wonder why.
I find out why as I enter the workshop, it's no longer looking like a workshop, there's still a collection of tools and other things over in the corner, but most of the place has been rebuilt to look like a cosy room with oversized furniture and bean bags. It's warm and pleasant in here, and as I sniff the air, the faint smell of jasmine and honey drifts through from the kitchen. I pick my way through the nice furniture and stand in the centre of the room, not quite sure what to make of it.
Siege re-enters the room as a young lady from the childcare agency makes her way out of the room. She waits until the young lady leaves and then comes over to me holding the baby.
"We have to choose a name for her." she says, holding the baby in the crook of her arm.
"Erm" Bugger, I've no experience of this sort of thing, I break things when they tell me to, nothing else.
"C'mon Tank, you can think of something." she holds the baby up, I can smell that smell of new born child, if you've never smelled it personally, I can't describe it, it's just the scent of baby, there's no more innocent smell in the whole world. But it doesn't help, can't call her "Smell" can I?
Siege looks up at me "What were you thinking when you saved her?"
I pause for a second, in truth, I was thinking of how bad the living conditions in that apartment were, but I think I see where she's going with this one.
"Can we call her Happiness, she seems to bring that to those around her." I don't know of any other way of articulating what I'm thinking, and at that moment, I am more annoyed than I have ever been that I lack the ability to put into words that which I'm thinking.
The phone goes and Siege hands the baby over to me while she's goes to answer it. Of course, her eyes are a little bit more developed now, so the sight of a giant toothy critter is not a welcome sight, the loud shriek that peals out is ample evidence of this.
"Sing to her." yells Siege, over the screams as she holds one hand to her ear and the phone to the other.
Sing? I don't know any songs, and even if I did, my voice isn't designed to carry a tune.
Is it wrong to sing if you don't know the words?
I hum, low in my chest, the resonant space there echoes the noise all the way down my arm into the blanket the baby is wrapped in, immediately, she shuts up, looking up at me with wonderment. I continue, my mind desperately searching for the remains of the tune I had there a moment ago. It was something from a film, about a man who hunted artificial creatures, like me, but not like me. He saved one of them, but never told his masters about what he did, and at one point in the film, he leaned down to her while she slept, and in the background, this tune was playing.
And then I remember, not the tune, but something else.
"Call her Rachael." I murmur softly, allowing the sound to vibrate in my chest so she's not disturbed.
"WHAT?" yells Siege, before realising that Rachael's stopped screaming "It's her name." I smile without showing my teeth, her hand comes up and rubs on one of my tusks, it looks like she's going to try and use it as a bottle, this could be a problem.
Siege returns and sees the problem, reaching down to take Rachael, who reacts immediately by reaching down and trying to anchor herself to the large hand she's being held in. It's a good thing to be wanted, I've never been wanted like this, I like it. I look up to Siege, she's looking down at me and I realise that I've sat down instinctively so that the little one doesn't get nervous about the height. There's something in her eyes, something I'm not familiar with, her eyes seem liquid, almost shiny, I've never seen this sort of reaction before, I don't know what to make of it.
"So what did you decide?" She asks softly.
"Rachael" I reply, pleased at myself for some inexplicable reason.
Things fall apart a few days later, in the aftermath of the last BPN, I'm called in to account for myself, curious thing, I've been called in to Cloak division, the BPN we were doing was ordered by station analysis. I shrug mentally, guess they've got a few questions.
I'm met by a man in a grey suit, with grey hair, and grey skin, he's nondescript in all the ways that a "company man" should be, and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. He sits opposite me without question and leans forwards, smiling, but it's not a nice smile, I don't think I like this person.
"Tank" he says without preamble "My name is Truman, cloak division. We've followed your recent acquisition with some interest, and we have something to say about it".
I open my mouth to reply and he raises one hand to forestall me. I close it again, feeling a little stupid.
"Stormers don't have children, it's why you were created without genitalia." he goes on, without pausing to let the words sink in "It is unacceptable that this continue, and you will cease to see the child immediately, Am I understood?"
It's not a question, so I start to nod immediately, then stop and slowly shake my head.
He rises up out of his seat, shoulders hunched, fists clenched and on the table top.
"We created you to kill things, that's what we expect you to do. You've obviously had a malfunction, and unless you take steps to correct it, we'll be forced to make.........adjustments to make things right."
I'm not sure I like the sound of that, I try and reply as politely as I can.
"Are you saying that I'm not allowed to care for Rachael?"
He smiles again, I'm certain I don't like that smile now "No" he says, calmly and coldly "I'm saying that I'm sure you'll make the right decision, for you, for SLA, for everyone."
"But I don't want to make the right decision, I want to stay with them."
"I don't care" he sneers dismissively.
He leaves the room without another word, leaving me there thinking far too hard for my own mind to cope with. I can see a solution, it's a little radical, and it'll take a little time to set up, but I'm sure it'll work.
Which, my dear friend, brings us to where we came in, just around this corner is the heartland of the Krosstown Traffik,, and it is with them that I will find what I seek. Give this letter to Siege for me, and tell her that I had a thought.
Can you live without loving?
For me, I don't think I can, I'm a huge killing machine, and that's all I'll ever be. I cannot be what she needs me to be, and I cannot take care of Rachael the way I would want to, so there is no other way out. I'm going to walk down this road, and see how many gangers I can kill before they get me. This way, I'll have made a difference the way that The Truman person wanted me to, and they'll leave Rachael and Siege alone. It's not a solution, but it's all I have.
Siege opened the letter, it was written in large hand writing, in reinforced Crayon, a short note, but to the point.
Dear Emily I Found Your Name In Your File And Thought I Shud Use It I Sorry That I Did Not Tell You About This And Sorry That I Not Say Bye To Rachael If All Works Out Then I Will See You Again But I Will Not Know Until It Done.
If I Do Not See You Again I Understand Now What You Were Thinking When You Look At Me On Day I Call Her Rachael And Wanted To Say That I Love You Too And I Glad To Have Known You
A tear fell to the page as Siege folded up the letter and held one hand to her mouth, stifling the quiet sob that escaped from her lips.
"Why didn't you tell me?" She whispered to the uncaring air.
I wake to the cold air of the recovery ward, my body is a mass of aching pain and agony, I can't move my arms or legs and content myself with trying to glance to the side. I immediately wish I hadn't.
Truman is sat there reading a book, I strain to read the title "The Iliad" by Homo or something. He looks up as I glance across at him.
"Did you think we wouldn't know?" he stands up to tower above me.
I try and force a smile, I don't think it makes it "I hoped".
He smirks, it's a humourless smirk, but there's something in it, something I don't know, something complex.
"Ingenious" he says, as if I had not spoken "go downtown, kill a few hundred Gangers and get the bounty on them sent to the Woman and Child, then hope that we wouldn't spot the LAD next to your name and return later."
My heart sinks, all my plans for nothing.
Truman closes his book carefully, replacing his bookmark with an ease of elegance.
"Did you really think that we wouldn't spot the request for a full body rebuild?" he sneers down at me.
I try and shrug, find my bodies still not working.
"Did you think that we wouldn't spot a request from a Stormer to be rebuilt in a Human body?"
I curse inwardly "I hoped" I mumble quietly, wondering if there is any way I can kill him and get away with it.
"Out of curiosity, for my own satisfaction, what did you hope to get out of this?"
Nothing to be done for it, I might as well tell him "You said I needed to understand that stormers couldn't look after children, it seemed the only way would be to not be a stormer." He looks intrigued "The techs here said that the transplant wouldn't be a problem as the brain was small enough to fit into a normal human skull."
"And you thought we wouldn't know, you thought that such a request wouldn't draw our attention?"
I sigh to myself "You built us to kill things, not to think them through." He looks interested at that "it seemed the only thing to be done that could get me what I needed to live."
He seems to think about that for a second, then leaves a small document by the side of the bed, I glance over and see that it's a certificate of death for Tank, A 714 variant stormer, killed in action fighting against the KT downtown gang. I look up at him in curiosity, I don't understand the look in his eyes.
He waits for a second and raises a mirror to me, I stare in wonder, blue eyes, pale skin, lightly tanned, short black hair, teeth covered by lips, no tusks.........no tusks.
"I......" The words will not come "I thought you didn't care."
"I don't" he looks down at me and smirks again, and I understand now that it's because he can't smile anymore, that was taken from him by something just like him. "But I loved someone once."
"I......" Still the words will not come.
"Your life isn't wasted if it makes a difference to one other person" he says quietly "and you have made a difference to two people, that makes you special, it wouldn't be fair to let that end."
"I......" I'm starting to feel stupid now, what am I trying to say to him?
"You'll understand one day, and when you do, you'll know, in the meantime, you have a new life, it's the only one you're ever going to get, so don't waste it, I wouldn't want my sacrifice to be in vain." He glances out of the window, watching the rain fall impotently against the plate glass.
"What sacrifice?" I mumble
"You'll know" he says quietly "you'll know."
He reaches down with one hand and darkness falls on me like a warm blanket.
I wake to find myself in a soft bed, lined with sheets of good cotton, no pain, and a faint smell of baby in the air. I raise my hand up in front of me and look, soft skin, lightly tanned, mild callouses over the knuckles. As I look, Emily comes into the room holding Rachael, I can hear her gurgling quietly over her thumb.
"And how's my Tank this morning?" smiles Emily, putting Rachael down in her cot.
I smile, and I have no worries about it, it feels right. I drop my hand over the side of the cot and feel rachael latch on to my thumb, it must taste better than hers.
"Just fine m'love" Emily leans over and kisses me on the forehead.
"rruummnnnn" gurgles Rachael
"What did she say?" I ask softly, amazed that she's trying to speak
"Truman" says Emily, smiling "you still forgetting?" she leans over me, pulling me close "Can't be calling you Tank anymore can we, this was the name they picked out for you on your new personnel file."
And I understand, holding Emily close and listening to the soft contented gurgle of Rachael as she holds on to my fingers, trying to cut her teeth on my thumb.
Does it matter what the future holds?
Do you have to ask?
Then you'll never know.