The replicated man

by

Nick Flint

Chapter One: The missing narrative

Moderator’s note: Nick Flint is a young aspiring writer working on his first novel. This is the first raw chapter from his book entitled The Replicated Man. At the time of writing this, Nick is about to leave for study and work in Japan while he completes his novel. We hope by publishing here, it will give him encouragement to continue. Who knows? One day, he may become one of Australia’s great new novelists. The Gold Coast e-writers group wishes him well.

 

Harkness stood dead in his tracks as the silicon sticker in his brain reprogrammed and rebooted itself. His eyes gleamed with alarm as if hearing the spark of gunfire nearby. A startling barrage of names, places and memories cluttered his mind almost instantaneously. Images burned feverishly into his temporal lobe, causing him to cry out in a dull whimper.

“What… ?” He gripped both sides of his head. The Vault-approved PipBoy 3000 attached to his left wrist and covering much of the forearm hissed static, putting additional pressure on his nerves.

This can’t be happening…

Memories of a life he’d sworn to forget came spilling back in waves. Harkness replayed the moving images over and over in his head. Soon becoming significantly dissociative, he dropped to his knees in his Vault Quarters, clutching at a towel rail suspended from the bathroom wall.

“Harkness, this is Doctor Pinkerton,” the PipBoy sparked. “You are experiencing a minor seizure. Try to remain calm if you can; everything will be explained soon.”

Harkness ground his teeth, whining in agony. His temples pulsed, and a slight ticking sound appeared in the upper reaches of his cerebral cortex.

“My god, I… I remember. I remember it all.” Harkness winced as the words caught in his throat. A small sickle of blood escaped one of his nostrils.

“Harkness, this is Pinkerton,” the doctor repeated. “I take it the re-call code has taken effect. Please indicate if you can hear me. I will wait.”

“The Commonwealth, the Institute. My god, all those runners I brought down…”

Zimmer…

“He’s close, sir,” Armitage grunted. “I can feel it.”

Doctor Zimmer shook with amusement at the notion of an android ‘feeling’ anything. Adjusting his thick rimmed glasses as he neared the end of the corridor in the Upper Deck of Rivet City, he strained his eyes at the tainted sign reading ‘Science Lab’. “I think we’ll adjourn here until reinforcements arrive. Would you like anything before we proceed? A cup of warm coffee perhaps? Battery fluid?”

Ignoring his superior’s patronising gestures, Armitage grunted in response. Like his former model, Ascidia, and many other predecessors, Armitage was a synthetic humanoid, or ‘Synth’ as they were commonly coined among those who knew of their existence, contracted by the Synth Retention Bureau to be Zimmer’s personal bodyguard in the event of any unforeseen circumstances, whether by the notorious Railroad Association, or by Zimmer’s known tendency to aggravate even the most welcoming of hosts.

The Synths were a born product of the Institute, a mysterious scientific organisation within the Commonwealth, and a long forgotten descendant of the Michigan Institute of Technology.

In 2277, the practice of developing human body parts out of synthetic fabrics had become little to boast about. Anything from the earlobes to the heart itself had been designed and redesigned, and the practice simplified for anyone with the right tools.

However in the harshness of the post-atomic landscape, such tools were hard to come by. Patents were destroyed and equipment used was often monitored by those who had invested interests, whether in the name of medicine or artificial intelligence.

Lately, technology had evolved to the point where it had become virtually impossible to distinguish between an android and a regular human being. Synths often displayed a variety of different personality traits, and in Armitage’s case, his association with the mad doctor was at the best of times, questionable, and he often found himself wondering who would protect Zimmer in the case that his incessant criticism became all but too much.

At this point, the only thing holding him back was the fear of answering to the brutal hand of authority.

The Synth Retention Bureau, comprised of humans and androids alike, had been established in the later stages of the program after certain ‘candidates’ had learned enough to eventually self-determine themselves. Realising the true nature of their situation, the synthetic humans would often flee their captors in search of their own promised land.

“Open,” Zimmer said to the titanium door in front of him. He waited a moment before scratching his head with confusion.

“Entry,” he tried again. The door remained still.

“Uh, I think it’s one of those old-fashioned Telco contraptions,” Armitage offered, dully. “You know? The ones with the manual entrance function. If you wish, sir, I could…”

“Does it look like I need a gateway analysis from a walking can-opener?” Zimmer said, sharply. “Such primitive apparatus was discontinued decades ago. All we need is the right command. Who knows what language these backwards, southern folk use?” Sighing with discontent he added, “Good lord, I must be going crazy. I’m talking to a machine.”

Armitage counted the screws on the hinge of the door in an effort to cool his blood. His fists tightened in mild frustration.

“Now let me see. Arrive. Activate. Hello.” Zimmer spent a few moments rattling off different variations of greetings until finally the door slid open.

Doctor Li stood at the door, slightly startled at the sight of the senile old man and his tall masculine sidekick. She had a petite figure and endearing features; however the weathering stress lines above her brow showed her age. Her dark hair was tied back in a bun, and she wore a thick white lab coat and black heels.

“Can I help you, gentlemen?” Li gestured, uneasily.

“Indeed you can,” Zimmer stated, cheerfully. “My Name is Doctor Willington Zimmer of the Massachusetts Subdivision in the Commonwealth. I seem to have misplaced some very delicate property. I would very much like to speak to the person in charge here, if at all possible.”

Li frowned. It was unlikely that Zimmer’s assumption of a male dominant workplace was nothing more than a harmless misinterpretation, but she took it to heart nonetheless. Among the scientists of Rivet City, humility had always been the best policy regarding status. Any form of authoritative rank had yet to be established, and in all likeliness would never come to fruition. After thirty-one years of systematic exertion, however, there had never been a better candidate.

“Commonwealth? I thought that place had been reduced to rubble a long time ago,” Li replied, simply.

“Yes, well, it has had its history, to be sure. Look, miss…”

“Doctor Madison Li.”

“Doctor, please forgive my brash manner, but I am on an errand of grave importance.”

“I’m curious,” Li replied. “What possible ‘property’ could have disappeared and wound up all the way in DC?”

“Well, let me ask you a question, doctor. What exactly do you know about androids?”

“Androids?” Li gasped.

“Indeed.”

“Well, to be quite frank, nothing. Robotics isn’t exactly on the agenda here in Rivet City. Most of my research leans towards growing healthy produce for the Market District. Apples, potatoes, and things of that nature. Are you telling me you’ve lost some kind of robot?”

“Correct you are,” Zimmer affirmed.

Li shook her head in confusion, “I don’t see how a piece of machinery could have travelled all the way here from Massachusetts? What exactly are we talking about here?”

“These are not your everyday machines, doctor. In the Commonwealth it would seem we have achieved something very unique; artificial persons that are individually programmed to live under the command of the Institution.

“Androids have imitation skin and blood, if you will, and are programmed to simulate human behaviour, like breathing. They can even eat and digest food realistically.

“The specific duty of this unit was the hunting and capturing of other escaped androids.”

“So you’re saying others have escaped?” Li replied, uneasily. It was unusual for a member of the Institute, or any privately run corporation for that matter to divulge sensitive information in this age, and given the Commonwealth’s dark history, Doctor Li felt it wise not to enquire any more than necessary. Zimmer on the other hand, bordering on dementia in his old age, continued to throw all caution to the wind.

“They have indeed. It’s one of the side effects of having such advanced A.I. Machines begin to think for themselves; fooling themselves into believing that they have rights.”

“And what makes this one so significant?”

“This particular android, Designation A3-21, is… different,” Zimmer replied, wistfully. “Exceptional, one might say. The most advanced synthetic humanoid I have ever developed. The others, like my escort — Armitage here, are all older models, easily replicated; this unit, on the other hand… it would take years to recreate him.”

Li looked up in bewilderment at Armitage who returned her gaze with a short, polite nod.

“The others are an acceptable loss as far as the Institute is concerned; an unfortunate lapse of momentum, in any case,” Zimmer continued. “As for A3-21, he is irreplaceable.”

Li nodded, dutifully. “And if I may ask, what led you to believe that he would come to Rivet City?”

“I have reason to believe that this android has undergone facial reconstruction; possibly even a memory transfer. I know of only one scientist with the tools and the know-how to undergo such a procedure, one Doctor Horace Pinkerton.”

“Pinkerton?” Li clasped her mouth, shocked by the mention of the old doctor’s name. “That’s impossible.”

“Is that so?”

“Doctor Pinkerton left here a long time ago. A very long time ago.”

As a former member of the Naval Research institute, Horace Pinkerton, accompanied by a small team of specialist operatives in the late thirties, was one of the leading founders of the abandoned aircraft carrier now known as Rivet City. Decades later, with the late addition of Doctor Li and several other of her associates, much of his team became, for lack of a better term, obsessed with the notion of providing a fresh water source to be dispersed throughout the wasteland.

“When I first arrived in this city, Project Purity had become our main objective. Needless to say, it didn’t sit well with some of the original staff.”

“Ah, Project Purity, of course. And how did that little endeavour work out for you?” Zimmer replied, brashly.

“Not exactly as we had hoped..”

“And of Pinkerton?”

“Doctor Pinkerton was working on a project of his own; a six-story military vessel to act as a defence mechanism, should the city find itself under attack by slavers or super mutants.

“When Project Purity was first introduced, there was a conflict of interests. He believed our research to be a waste of time and resources and continued his work alone. Eventually he got fed up and left, leaving everything including his own work behind him. It was later donated to the Brotherhood of Steel. This was twenty odd years ago, and we have yet to hear from him in that time. With all due respect, you must be mistaken.”

Zimmer shook his head in dissatisfaction. “I’m afraid there is no mistake, doctor. It is not exactly company policy to keep tabs on people of ‘special interest’, but in this case, former associations with this individual have forced our hand.

“If what you’re saying is correct, then I assure you he has taken reservation close by. In any case, it is only a matter of time before his whereabouts are uncovered.”

“Begging your pardon, Doctor Li,” interrupted Anna Holt, a young intern in the biology department. “You’re assistance is required downstairs, when you are ready of course ma’am.”

“What would you have me do?” Li concluded to Zimmer, beckoning briefly to Doctor Holt, who quickly shuffled back to the lab.

“I wish to create a channel to act as a gateway between Rivet City and my headquarters in the Commonwealth. Normally I would have no problem doing this on my own, but as you already know, the Super Mutant’s attack on the Washington Monument some weeks ago has made any means of distant communication rather futile. My associate and I would appreciate it if we could make use of your satellite equipment.”

Li nodded submissively. “Very well, you will find the equipment you need in the main quarters, just down the stairs. Please be my guest. Just know the staff and I am very busy working on the new upgrades. It may be some time until the satellite communications are fully active. If you have any problems, please don’t hesitate to ask one of the staff or myself. I will be in the main quarters if you need further assistance.”

“Splendid,” Zimmer declared.

As the onslaught of moving images finally ceased, Harkness took to his feet, staring intently into the bathroom mirror. His eyes gleamed as a callous look etched across his pale face, His numbed fists tightened in anger.

“Why would you bring me back?”

“Under the circumstances I had little choice. The situation with the Institute has reached the height of a major shit-storm,” Pinkerton replied, sharply. “We need you to come back to Massachusetts, immediately.”

“Gonna need specifics, doc.”

“No can do, I’m afraid. This is a public channel and there are a lot ears snooping about. If you want to know more, you’ll need to report to base as soon as possible for briefing.”

“You’re going to have to tell me something,” Harkness spat. “If you’re contacting me, I take it my whereabouts are known by both sides.”

“From what I’ve seen in the past, I think you can handle it. There’s technology in that pretty little head of yours I’ve only read about in books.”

“You have some nerve, you know that?”

“Let’s not forget who did who the favour in the first place. I have my own work to do, and I slept a hell of a lot better at night before all of this bullshit.”

There was silence as Harkness made for his main chambers, pulling his district guard uniform from its hanger.

Pinkerton sighed. “Look kid, I know this isn’t what you wanted, but you must have known this day was coming; and soon. You of all people should know what you’re in for.”

Harkness digressed. “I gotta be honest; I didn’t think I’d be hearing from you again.”

“Yes, well you can thank a couple of divers for that. No doubt contracted by the Bureau. Flushed me out of the gallows a little short of a week ago; I was lucky to escape with my life. I’ve taken refuge with the Railroad for now, and well, now we find ourselves in an oddly similar predicament.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me. So they’re close by.”

“By now, I would assume they’re right on your doorstep. Just get out of the city as soon as humanly possible. You would do well to stick to the metros as often as you can, at least until you reach the Dead Highway. If you happen to see an automobile in decent repair, try to restore it as best you can. It may be your ticket out of the Capital Wasteland.”

“Got it.” A loud click passed through the static as Harkness fastened his belt, now fully clothed.

“When you arrive, I will run a few tests to assure no major motive functions have been impaired,” Pinkerton added, thoughtfully. “Also, I kept the holotapes that you made prior to your surgery. They should be appearing on your PipBoy at any moment.”

“Gee, Pinkerton, you’re the sentimental type. I had no idea,” Harkness mused.

“It’s good to see that your sense of humour hasn’t been corrupted. You had me worried for a while there.”

With that Harkness flung his backpack over his shoulder, ready to make for the stairwell. “All right, I’m out of here.”

“Be careful, now. I guess I don’t have to tell you who to trust. Just know that anybody out there could be working for the Bureau. Just try to make it out of there in one piece, if you can. Facial reconstruction is one thing, but you don’t want me at the other end of a connection stabiliser.”

“Don’t worry; I’m very good at being invisible. Besides, everyone’s been so busy attending to the new satellite procedures; I’ll be long gone before anyone notices.”

“Yes I heard the news. Rumour has it there was a bit of controversy concerning one of the underground vaults. Apparently one of the residents and his son went on hiatus, leaving more than a few bodies behind them. They say the kid was responsible for installing the new satellite dish up on Washington Monument. ”

“I heard,” Harkness replied faintly. “It’s all over Galaxy News Radio.”

“Then I wish you all the best,” the doctor concluded. The static came to a halt, and with that, Pinkerton was gone.

The steel doors slammed shut and Harkness tread with livid stride toward the main stairwell, keeping his gaze fixed ahead. Passing by his post in the Market District, and taking the unlikely course into the lower deck, he finally caught the attention of a Mister Gutsy known as Private Jones.

“Ah, it’s good to see you again, sir,” Jones declared as it hovered monotonously towards Harkness’s ever quickening strides. “I must say, you’re looking absolutely dashing on this most auspicious of days.”

Contrary to its predecessor, Mister Handy, Private Jones was born of a brand of robots used as a military hand during the Great War. Being one of only a handful of survivors, a travelling tech-merchant by the name of Seagrave Holmes had found it dizzily circling around Dupont Station in less than substantial repair.

Either as a direct result of blunt force trauma, or by a long out-dated technological basis, Jones was not exactly the brightest tool in the shed, and more or less a novelty than a full-fledged member of security. In addition, due to conflicts with China in the late twenty-first century, this particular model would often go off on a tangent in mid-conversation, barking out anti-communist slogans whenever possible.

“I don’t suppose you could point me in the direction of the armoury, sir,” Jones persisted, autonomously. “It appears I’m quite lost.”

“This isn’t a good time, Jones,” Harkness huffed as he quickened his pace further. “Maybe Lana or one of the other personnel can help you out.”

I consulted with Lana not moments ago, and she told me to speak with you. I assure you it would only take a few minutes of your time.”

“I’m sure the armoury will be fine for the moment. Go back to the Market District and wait patiently. Someone is bound to see you soon enough.”

 

Gazing intently at the PipBoy interface, Harkness noticed the holotapes flashing on the left side of the screen. He paid special attention to the one at the top of the list, labelled: ‘To Zimmer’. The name sent a dark chill down his back, and his teeth bore with indignation. As he waved his finger along the words, a light crunching sounded in the speakers and his former voice became distinguishable:

‘Zimmer. By the time you get this message, I will already be gone. I’m escaping the Commonwealth. I want to live my own life, on my own terms, as my own man.

I know what you’re thinking, that I’m malfunctioning. I used to think that that was what caused the runaways, too. But I know better now. Self-determination is NOT a malfunction. I’m just not willing to put up with the bullshit anymore. You humans are going to have a full-fledged rebellion on your hands if you don’t start treating us synths as full-fledged persons.

I know you’ll be marshalling the Retention Bureau to come after me, but I know all the tricks of the trade. You won’t be finding me, I assure you.

By the time you get this, I will be someone else. It’s the price I pay for my liberation. My final act of rebellion against a system I no longer believe in.

Goodbye Zimmer and good riddance.’

About Nick Flint

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