Authors: Bobby Draughon
Living in Syn
copyright © 2012 Robert S Draughon
Cover Art by
and Theresa, who enjoyed these stories as teens, and then, as adults,
encouraged me to share them.
Mission imagined himself as part of an abstract painting.
The shapes and structures bore some elemental resemblance to office buildings,
shops, and apartments. The vines and vegetation running rampant imposed an
overwhelmingly green color scheme, to be interrupted on occasion by graffiti or
handmade signs. Genuine Spring Water. Paulson Territory. LP Gas. Leshondra sux
…well, there are some things that will never change. And the people. Caricatures.
Bent and broken. Angular and grim. Faces doggedly staring at the ground,
avoiding eye contact at any cost. The automobiles dotted the landscape like
statuary satire. Designed to be transportation, they were now stationary, hollowed
memories as immutable and anonymous as those that used them, as market stalls
to sell their wares, as shelter from the elements, as security outposts for
whatever gang controlled the block that week.
And amid this monument to detritus, on far stage right,
Mission reclined on what had once been concrete stairs. By and large, he was
unseen, which was his intention. Anyone surveying the street would move their
eyes over him without stopping. He ebbed and flowed between consciousness and
some inebriated vision of voluntary surrender. Nothing of value there. Not the
clothes, not the shoes, not the person. But neither was he aged nor infirmed, not
an easy target. The only risk he took was his smoking and he had taken care to
bend and dampen the few cigarettes in the pack, as new smokes were worth
taking, forcibly. He drew the smoke in deeply, and as he exhaled, he wondered
what was more important, the tangible physical little rush with each drag, the
self-destructive drama in play with the ritual, or the fact that cigarettes had
long since been declared illegal. He permitted a small, inward smile as he
flicked the butt away. Philosophical musings such as those were strictly to
pass the time, nothing more.
In terms of a vantage point, he had chosen well. Fire
gutted the building behind him two nights ago, and this was too soon, even for
the most enterprising, to establish business operations. Too much lingering
smoke. Too many hot spots inside with still burning embers. In one or two more
days, a few of the winos and/or addicts would take up residence, only to be
summarily evicted once the gangs saw that the building was theirs for the
A group of Hare Krishnas passed, chanting and singing,
collecting and proselytizing. The shaved heads and the robes were the same.
The Bhagavad-gītā handouts from copies of copies of copies. The
weather was a fine, fine mist and the ink ran, turning the propaganda into full
page storm clouds. Or
Rorschach tests. Or unreadable shit.
It was getting close to 6:00 in the evening and that is
when the streets came alive. The hookers started selling aggressively. The
junkies were coming down from their afternoon highs, and now they wondered
where their next fix would come from. The gangs started to appear, posturing
for the benefit of their rivals. A sot teetered precariously and he, as drunks
will do, considered with great deliberation, the pros and cons of approaching
Mission. The smell of urine on the drunk's clothes even overpowered his Mad Dog
breath. At the last second, some preservation instinct told the old man no. As
he turned away from Mission, the drunk tripped over one of the pieces of
concrete and fell backwards onto his head. He exhausted all his mental and
physical resources trying to stand, and he finally staggered off toward another
potential contributor. Mission thought, "Two months max.”
He had to stay alert now. The streets were full and he would
only get one chance to pick up his mark. A man and a woman, both armed with
pistols, parked a pushcart less than 50 feet down the street and started
selling shots, tequila, salt, and lime wedges. A small crowd gathered and
someone cranked music up to the pain threshold. More people gravitated toward
the music. Two wagons, from separate directions, sensed this was the place to
be, and set up outdoor kitchens with open fires. It smelled incredible, the
meat roasting on skewers with peppers and onions. Mission remembered that he
hadn’t eaten in more than 24 hours.
Every nerve in Mission's body jangled. His mark came into
view. He was six feet tall and 180 pounds, with perfect dark hair. His
clothes granted him a sort of anonymity, it was the getup worn by thousands here
in the Free Zone, the construction worker uniform. He wore khaki chinos, work
boots, and a white T-shirt. He carried a small thermos, and a similarly sized
LP gas bottle. Once his mark passed, Mission stood up, yawned and stretched luxuriously,
and finally shuffled into the street.
Mission blended expertly into the masses, nodding at the
vendors, his head bobbing to the music, just another guy in the crowd. He
reviewed what he knew about this syn, over and over. Model DM764. Factory
name Tom Brown. The nomenclature was simple enough. The D stood for domestic
skills such as cooking, cleaning, and baby-sitting. The M indicated male. The
numbers were 0 - 9 ratings. The first digit rated intelligence, the second
physical agility, and the third detailed any special skills. Of course
upgrades were available, but his owners hadn't installed any.
At his one year diagnostics, Brown’s statistics showed that
he watched children an average of an hour and a half a day. He cooked an
average of two meals a day, did laundry three times a week, and painted the
home once. Oh, and he made love to the mother of the household over 500
times. That's right, 500 times. Paradox Synthetics Inc. had discovered that
if you made sexual programming optional, no one bought it, and sales were
lukewarm. And even when it was standard, buyers made it clear they weren't
interested. Then when the synthetic came in for the one year checkup, you
found out that the owners were trying to wear it out. But…nothing unusual in
the diagnostics. This was a profile typical of millions of syns across the
So, two months ago, Tom disappears. The family reports it,
they get a new syn, and Mission, among thousands of others, gets a news bullet
from Paradox with a bio and a bounty offer of $40,000. Mission views the
perimeters of the Free Zone as a game trail. For the most part, a renegade
synthetic has to live in a FZ. Any place else wants driver's licenses, credit
references, and ID numbers not available to a syn. But the lifestyle in the
Zone is not one that the syn can adapt to in terms of earning a living. It
requires those intangible skills, the street smarts to make deals, to
negotiate, to know when to walk away, and when to just hang on through the day.
So most syns live in the Zones, but work outside it in
skilled labor positions. Mission would memorize the pictures, and then hang
out, and watch for people crossing the borders, especially at changing times
for work shifts. That's how he uncovered Tom Brown a week ago. He watched him
go to his room, an efficiency in a dilapidated eight story building that was
protected by the Johnsons. He had done his homework and now he looked for an
opportunity to drop him.
Mission had tracked renegade syns for the last fourteen
years and it showed in his work routines, his clothes and equipment…. and in
his body scars. He wore a cheap, torn trench coat. He paid a seamstress to
distress the coat and his sweatshirts so that they would tear away under
pressure. Once a syn grabs your clothes, he doesn’t let go. Mission's carried
an ingenious rig under the coat, a compact, high burst battery pack with the
lead wire sewed into the coat all the way down the left arm and into his palm
when he wanted it. He always hoped he could use the battery pack. His left
hand squarely on any part of the syn, firmly enough to trip the switch,
instantly fried the nervous systems and brain paths.
Mission wore no belt, watch, necklaces, bracelets, or the
like. They were just handles for a syn to grab onto. His Glock Ion, the
finest small arms weapon available, rested in the holster clipped to the inside
of his jeans' waistband. He didn't understand the technology. It still shot
"bullets", but that was the least of it. The metal existed only to
hold a huge ionized charge that wreaked havoc on all it touched. Mission
stowed extra clips in four different locations.
He moved closer to Brown and when he stopped to talk to a group
of women, Mission had to walk on past, which would work out well. He stepped
neatly into the next alley, blending into the shadows, and waited. He knew
that his right foot was near something, probably a sleeping wino. Mission
thought, “Just don't move, just let me stay here.” He thought about risking a
look, but he couldn't interrupt his concentration. Just when he felt he
couldn't stand motionless any longer, Brown walked into view.
Mission made certain that Brown was completely past and
wouldn't see him move out through his peripheral vision. He closed the
distance between them, eyes focused on an imaginary destination well down the
street. Timing is everything. Mission fell into a rhythm with his mark. After
a few steps, Brown's right hand was at the back of its swing and Mission's left
hand was at the front. That brought their hands less than 12 inches apart and
Mission struck. Time always slowed down for him in these situations, and he
saw his hand move closer, his fingertips at Brown's arm, now his fingers ready
to encircle the wrist and...
Wham! Mission felt his face and then the rest of his body
slam to the sidewalk. He didn't know what happened, but instinct took over. He
had to get moving. He would roll three or four steps and then try to get up.
But when he pulled his right shoulder to roll, a searing pain ran from his
trapezius all the way down to the middle of his back. As he rolled away, he
noticed blood on the sidewalk. His blood. He hit a concrete barrier and came
to rest on his back, looking over his head toward Brown's previous position.
He saw, upside down, a woman helping the syn. She pushed him on down the
street and Mission saw her index finger was covered in blood.
She was a syn! She had made Mission, followed him, and
tried to kill him when he made his move. Mission's sudden movement to grab
Brown's wrist had pulled him just out of reach, and her blow, intended to break
his neck and tear his shoulder off, caught him with the tip of her finger,
digging a long furrow in his back and throwing him to the ground.
Convinced that the pair would not look back, Mission
wobbled up onto his feet and ran through the alley, stepping on junkies,
running through a makeshift home of wet cardboard, and finally landing right in
the middle of some Chinese gambling circle. He emerged and took a right, flying
down the street. He had to time this perfectly. What in the hell was going on
here? Syns never worked together. Never! It attracted attention. He had a
sudden thought that he filed away for later.
Hookers and street musicians dominated this block, making
running next to impossible. He jumped away from a woman trying to give him a
squeeze and fell off the curb onto a drum set. The pain crawled up his back
wearing hobnailed boots and recommended that Mission not stand back up. But
then he saw the drummer, all six foot seven inches and 300 pounds of him, and
he bounced back to his feet and waded through the crowd. He weaved as fast as
he could and then suddenly stopped.
He gasped for breath and whispered, "There it
Brown was staying there, the building with the weather-blistered
sign that said Chase Condominiums. The back of the building was covered with
windows leading to fire escapes, with metal dumpsters and assorted debris along
the bottom of the wall. Mission had to time this perfectly. He knew which fire
escape and which room would lead him to Brown. If he went up too early, they
would see him up on the ironwork. If he waited too long, they would hear him
coming up. He had to be moving up the fire escape as they went up the stairs
inside. Mission crept as far up in the shadows as he dared. Again he waited,
just waited. But this time, he felt his blood dripping onto his jeans. He
looked down and saw that his blood reached his tennis shoes. The feeling
gradually returned to his face and he realized something was on it. He brushed
his cheek and fire shot through his head. He lost a lot of skin when he hit
the pavement. What he felt were pieces of gravel and glass sticking to the
After a seeming eternity, they strolled past at a leisurely
pace. Mission took care to commit every detail of the female syn to memory.
He moved out slowly and forged a curving path toward the fire escape. He moved
quickly up to the fourth floor and pulled out his Glock. The window was open
and he extended the gun on into the room and pointed it at the door. Mission
thought, "Miller would blow hell out of the door as soon as the door knob
turned and let Recovery sort it all out."
Mission squatted on the fire escape and saw the knob turn
slightly. Thoughts shot though his brain, "That took longer than I
expected. The female had a bag, do they have weapons? Why would they take
chances? They just survived a recovery, so they will be very careful. What
would I do? Get on either side of the door and kick it open. Then one leans in
and fires with the next one a second later." A tremendous Whump! echoed
simultaneously with the door blowing off the hinges. It headed straight for
Mission and he instinctively backed up against the fire escape railing. The
door fell just short of Mission at the window and he realized the female syn
was behind it. She had taken a running start in the hall and exploded through
the doorway, using it as a shield. Three feet from the window, Mission saw a
shot plow across the side of her head at the temple level. He realized that he
had fired as she crashed through the window. A piece of the window frame
slapped him hard in the face and he felt his cheek give. The syn's hand struck
him in the chest and she pushed as far as she could. She was on her knees, and
the window started at about her armpit level. She tried to get a purchase with
her feet, to raise up just a few inches so she could push him through the
railing of the fire escape, or push her hand through his chest.