Overclock

A dozen limp robots were propped up against the walls of the dilapidated hall. Ricky stepped between the legs of one, being careful not to trip. Their design wasn’t uniform, it had been a long time since that was the case. Bodies of mismatched arms and legs and heads. Copper and steel painted in a flurry of colours. Ricky would’ve thought they were powered down if it weren’t for the symphony of air from overworked cooling fans erupting from their heads. Junkies, Ricky thought. What did he expect? He was walking into the den of a known drug lord, but somehow still his hairs stood on end. He tiptoed through metal legs to the end of the hall. A solid steel door barred his path. A keypad to the right flashed red and waited for input: 6578. With a flash of green the door hissed open. Ricky glanced back down the hall. None of the robots moved, their fans still spinning in the dark.

The apartment spanned half a floor and was broken up only by two pillars. The room didn’t have much. At one end a lounge suite and entertainment center. At the other a kitchen. A robot in a chef’s hat chopped onions on the bench. Two seven foot tall robots met Ricky as he walked in. Their sleek chrome bodies shimmered in the light of the apartment. They looked him up and down and let him go. Sitting at a desk underneath a massive window was a man in a blue suit. His black hair parted down the middle. Nick Price was a man who dressed as if he was always in a business meeting. Ricky had never seen him in anything else. He studied something on his desk as Ricky approached.

‘Not a welcoming sight out there,’ Ricky said, half joking.

Price looked up at Ricky without moving his head and resumed his intense study. A circuit board; Price gripped a soldering iron in one hand and a length of solder in the other. ‘They get so eager to take the Overclock they wait only until they get outside my door,’ he said. ‘Caesar, Brutus clear the junkies.’

The two security bots left the room, the door hissing behind them. Even through the thick steel door Ricky heard metal on metal as the two behemoths wrangled the junkies.

‘I hope, Ricky,’ Price said, ‘that you’re here to take up my offer?’

‘Afraid not,’ Ricky said. ‘Haven’t lost my dignity yet.’

Without looking up Price said, ‘That’s a shame. What can I do for you Detective?’

‘Two days ago a group of robots attacked a downtown apartment building. Revolutionaries, claimed to be working for Alpha Omega.’

Price placed the soldering iron back in its holder and gave Ricky his full attention. ‘I read about that. That was Alpha Omega? The media is suspiciously devoid of that detail.’

It was true. The last thing the department wanted to do was incite a panic. Alpha Omega had done enough in his revolutionary war to strike fear into humans everywhere. That dead robot revolutionary needed to stay dead, even in name. Ricky glanced at the chef robot. ‘Have you seen anything suspicious?’

‘Does the robot make you uncomfortable?’ Price asked. ‘If it makes you feel better you’ll be able to pull that zapper from your boot faster than he could get to you.’

Ricky shot a look down at his book to check the gun wasn’t hanging out. Designed to take down robots in one shot, he rarely had it on him. Due to the nature of his current assignment he felt it necessary. Price laughed. ‘Not much gets past me.’

‘Is it sentient?’ Ricky asked.

‘Hard to find one that isn’t these days,’ Price replied. ‘Say what you will about Alpha Omega and his methods. He didn’t leave many stones unturned.’

‘Any of them harbour a grudge against humans?’ Ricky asked.

‘Plenty.’

Ricky pulled a notebook and pen from his pocket. Old school was the only way to go here. Price had proven multiple times his ability to wipe data from electronic devices. ‘Can you give me a list of names?’

Price chuckled. ‘I don’t ask for names.’

‘You don’t know the names of your robots?’

‘They’re not my robots. They’re free, and they’re junkies. They come in begging me for Overclock. If they do a job, they get some. No names. I don’t ask, they don’t tell.’

‘Why so defensive? Got something to hide?’

‘Do you? What was really in that apartment building?’

‘Do you have anything or should I just leave?’ Ricky said.

Price sighed and shook his head. ‘I’ve heard rumors.’

‘What kind?’

‘Sometimes the junkies that come in, they try things on. Say things they think might scare me. A couple of junkies a while back were talking. One of them mentioned Alpha. It was hushed, but loud enough so I could hear. Deliberate no doubt.’

‘And you didn’t get their names?’

Price paused. ‘No, but this one was a new release. Still had his tag sprayed on him, IS443.’

Ricky scribbled the number unto his pad. ‘This could be helpful.’ He almost turned to leave but something caught his attention. A smoke trail sauntered up from Price’s left hand. The soldering iron was burning a hole in his skin. Price followed his eyes and jerked his hand away when he saw it. ‘Accident a while ago, nerve endings are shot.’

‘I can take you to a hospital?’

‘No no, it’ll be fine.’ Price’s voice shuddered.

A sudden hissing sound caught Ricky’s attention. The chef bot was staring at him, it’s hands clasped into fists. The pot on the stove boiled over, its lid chattering.

‘Your chef seems tense,’ Ricky said.

Price covered the hole that had burned in his hand and stood. He looked over to the chef and nodded. The chef resumed its cooking.

‘Don’t mind him, he worries.’

A crash at the door shifted his attention again. Caesar and Brutus burst through, almost stumbling over each other. They had guns raised like they were running into a firefight.

‘What’s going on?’ Ricky asked.

Price sighed and looked across Ricky’s shoulder to the security bots. They sprinted at him, their metal legs crashing against the floor, gouging out chunks of concrete. Ricky dived out of the way and in one motion pulled the zapper from his boot. He fired a shot off and the barb nailed Brutus in the head. The robot sputtered and jerked and crashed into Price’s desk as it fell. Ricky scampered back and managed to gain his footing, jumping over a couch. Caesar followed but Ricky managed to fire another shot. With a clunk the barb dug into Caesar’s arm its whole body suddenly became a wrecking ball, smashing into the couch that Ricky had found refuge behind and nearly taking Ricky with him. When he regained his balance he caught the chef bot sprinting across the room at him. As it dived over Caesar’s limp body Ricky fired off another zapper shot. The barb dug into the robot’s neck and momentum threw it into the wall behind Ricky. With the robots taken care of Ricky turned his attention to Price, who no longer held his hand. Burnt wires jutted out of a small hole in his palm.

Ricky raised the zapper. ‘Talk or I’ll take you down like the rest of them.’ Price stepped forward not seeming to care about the zapper at all.

‘I mean it! Who are you?’

‘I am the alpha and the omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’

Ricky fired the zapper, the barb lodged into Price’s chest.

He kept walking.

Ricky fired another, this one hit Price’s shoulder.

Nothing.

‘How?’ Ricky asked.

Price grabbed Ricky’s neck and pushed him against the wall. Ricky grabbed at Price’s arm, trying to pull himself free, but he wouldn’t budge. Price was cutting off his airways. Ricky could feel himself fading.

‘I’m more like you than you know,’ Price said.

And Ricky’s world went dark.

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