Again by Jeff Stehman Part 1

I’m dead. Again. This place, wherever it is, gets harder to endure each time.

My first death was all cathedral of light, presence of God, sense of peace. Then they yanked me back. Every death since then has led to nothingness, void…an emptiness spent waiting for the pull. Nothing to do but remember.

How did it go down this time? I remember getting in, doing the deed, squeezing the trigger. I remember making it out, hitting the top of the wall, and then…nothing. Wait, there it is. I tumbled outside the wall into a crumpled heap, a hole the size of a fist in my chassis. Sniper, and a good one. Left me with electricity spitting from my guts and the light fading from my eyes. At least I died in a fight and not from the debriefing.

I wonder if they recovered my body? Of course they did. Can’t leave something like that lying around. Not that it matters to me. If they can’t fix me, they’ll just give me a new one. Faster, stronger, harder. And when it’s looking all shiny and new, they’ll do the deed, work their mojo, cast their spell. That’s when I’ll get yanked inside.

Who are they? I’m only told what I need to know, and I’ve never needed to know that. Scenario, layout, target; that’s what they tell me. When I get home–if I get home–they wipe my brain clean, polish it up like new, and hit reload. Papa’s got a brand new mind.

Except I don’t. It doesn’t work that way. And I do know who they are.

They load me up with terabytes and call it memory, but that’s not memory. Ones and zeros, just so much scrambled arithmetic. But then they imprint those terabytes. They take a killing machine and give it a human edge. Instincts, intuition, morality. They give it me, although they don’t know I come along for the ride. Maybe someday I’ll gain enough control to explain it to them. Explain that the spirit is willing even if the flesh has long since rotted away.

No, not willing. The spirit is compelled. Forced into a shiny new body.

Maybe I should do more than just explain it to them.

But I…I remember. I know who they are. Mission after mission, assassination after assassination. I was never a genius, but given enough pins in a map, even I can see a pattern. After that, it’s easy enough to guess the rest.

The government, or at least a subset of it. Judging by the last few missions, there’s some internal conflict. I wouldn’t be surprised if a killer robot came for me one of these days–assuming the other side has one. My luck, they’ll just drop a bomb on me.

Governments have always been the bane of soldiers. Now they won’t even let you stay dead. Gotta watch the fine print on those military contracts. How long has it been since I was flesh and blood? Fifteen years near as I can figure. I should be looking at my twenty. Maybe they’ll let me retire.

Yeah, right.

Ah, there’s the now-familiar tug. Finally something to do. My new body’s ready, and they’re finishing the imprint. Time to rise again. Time to kill.


Jane cleared the biometrics check and entered the lab. “Good morning, Anderson.”

“Good morning, Dr. Smith,” the lab tech replied without looking up from his monitor.

Jane turned to the android. “Good morning, Michael.” Michael, wearing only black shorts, sat in his at-ease chair. His skin would remain dull grey and his head bald until they knew his next assignment.

“Confirm identity, please,” Michael said, his voice as calm and pleasant as it had been for every iteration Jane had overseen.

She stepped close to Michael and looked into his grey eyes.

“Scan confirmed. Good morning, Dr. Smith. Are you my primary contact?”

“Yes, at least for the training phase of your mission.” She returned to Anderson’s workstation. “How’d it go?”

“They finished the download at 3:22 AM,” Anderson said. “Michael has completed his self-diagnostics. I have another three minutes left on the primaries. The rest of the crew is checking the secondary and tertiary systems. We have not started the practicals yet.”

“Well then, I’ll start with the new armaments.”

Anderson shook his head. “You’ve never understood your pay grade.”

Jane approached Michael and gave him a warm smile. “Nothing about this project is below my pay grade. Michael, show me your finger blades.”

Michael extended his hands palm up, fingers curled. With a quiet snick, a two-centimeter blade extended from under each fingernail.

“Good. Retract and redeploy individually.”

Michael obliged. The blades snapped out of sight and extended one by one until all ten were exposed again. He retracted them in reverse order. Without being prompted, he simultaneously extended the blades from his right index and ring fingers, and left middle and pinkie fingers. As he continued through several permutations, Jane noted Michael’s apparent interest in his new ability.

“Very good, Michael. Do you think they might be useful?”

“Their primary function is to assist me in scaling smooth surfaces. The diamond-shaped cross section is a strong design. Any two of them should catch my weight on a three meter fall. They have limited offensive capabilities but may prove effective psychologically.”

“How so?”

“Claws are frightening. Also, in the correct situation, the spray from a carotid artery can induce significant fear in both witnesses and those who arrive on the scene later.”

Some of Michael’s systems and programming were Jane’s pride and joy. Others were a necessary part of working for his sponsor. “That’s nice, Michael.”

“I’m a regular killer ninja robot.”

Jane chuckled. “I haven’t heard that joke since I was…” Playing video games in college. Michael smiled pleasantly, and Jane shook her head. Sometimes the programmers took too many liberties with Michael’s personality systems.

“I’m going to flash a series of alphanumerics on the monitors on the east wall,” Jane said as she set up the test. “When I am done, I’ll ask you what you saw and in what order.”

“As you wish, Dr. Smith.”