VZ Goliath [Sci-Fi Novel]

18

The national holiday was moving closer, and the entire staff was preparing a small feast in the meeting hall and decorated the apartments. Long strings of light were hung around the glasshouse outside and along the walkway. Special meals were prepared, and the residents enjoyed the change.

He stuffed himself with food as if it was his last supper. As soon as his body signaled an overwhelming fullness, he stopped and went outside. It was chilly but still warm enough to walk around in his shirt. He made it to the trees behind the glasshouses and observed the small stream. The water was moving around several bigger stones and took smaller ones with it. He touched the cold water and covered his face in it.

A nurse stood several meters behind and let him continue his small adventure until he would get tired. Despite the exo-suit around his legs and spine, he still needed a wheelchair for the way back. In his room, he fell asleep almost instantly. His son was standing next to him as he woke up, looking outside the window to the women picking vegetables in the garden.

“I’ve been busy.”

He adjusted his tie and continued.

“Have you tried today’s buffet yet? It is quite…”

A pair of dark eyes were looking into his. His father had changed. He was not brittle and broken today. A fire was burning and about to burn down the entire room. He grabbed his tablet from the table, tapped at it a few times, and a dark smile appeared in his face. He turned the tablet towards his son so he could read the bold letters, while the voice of a woman read out the sentences.

 

I KNOW WHAT YOU DID.

YOU ARE NOT BETTER THAN ME.

YOU ARE WORSE.

YOUR MOTHER WOULD KILL HERSELF IF SHE COULD.

 

With each moment that his father was staring at him, the words drilled deeper into his mind. It was this condescending smile. The smile that made him feel weak and worthless. He had seen it too often, but this one sting way stronger than he remembered.

They had been here and had taken the victory he achieved over his father. His father laughed, but there was no sound in his laughter, only the abrupt inhale of air. He was laughing at him, his son. There was joy in his eyes. Years of humiliation rose and turned his face red. Today this room was his personal hell.

The tablet felt on the ground and repeated the last sentence with voice activation.

YOUR MOTHER WOULD KILL HERSELF IF SHE COULD.

YOUR MOTHER WOULD KILL HERSELF IF SHE COULD.

YOUR MOTHER WOULD KILL HERSELF IF SHE COULD.

He could feel how his father was still laughing under the pillow while slowly losing consciousness. The tablet stopped repeating the sentences the moment his father passed out. Elias stood there a few more minutes. The burden holding him in his past had finally lifted.

Kaiser’s digital trail was accessing the grid at his offices. A few moments later, Salim became witness to one of his clients killing himself with one of the surgical tools he had just used to fix him.

Salim was vividly reliving his previous trauma while a cleaning bot vaporized the fresh blood from the floor and furniture. The memory of his daughter appeared before him.

Julio flew the small bird over the slums. Everything seemed like a typical day. The crowds moved through the streets, coming together on the markets and stores and stands were busy. A body fell from the highway onto a large soup stands on the market and gifted it with an unusual new ingredient. Julio re-winded the footage and saw the woman on top of the highway. Her dress moving in the wind, tears all over her face. Then she jumped.

Shana had seen the footage on the monitor and walked over to Julio. She gently laid her hand on his shoulder. She had her own trauma of 1B, which she had not shared with Julio yet. It was not easy to confront those memories, but there was no other choice.

‘Woman was a headhunter for the Hungarians. Known criminal. Wanted for 45 murders and dozens of unsolved ones.’

‘Seems like Kaiser still follows his credo. His new world starts with a mass genocide of criminals.’

‘Killing them might be a bit much, but he has a point, doesn’t he?’

The two motorbikes raced over the highway. Both riders wore tight rash guards, almost lying on their stomach as the powerful machines propelled them forward.

‘Sure sounds sweet and all, but it is in his power to decide who is a criminal and who is not. He takes away any kind of agency and choice. People learn from their mistakes and change, given the right circumstances. But what defines a mistake, and what mistake puts you on his list? You had your fair share of criminal activity reselling stolen implants, Shana stole drugs from hospitals, and don’t even start with us. We would all be on his death list. But we learn by making mistakes, even by making horrendous ones. If it gets taken away from us, we will live in an artificial cage, censoring ourselves. Besides, the tech to make people kill themselves is already reason enough to stop it. And who says it will end once all criminals are gone?’

The bikes did a wheelie up the stair set leading to the tower and stopped at the top. Several security drones had followed them over the highway, and the ground floor of the building had military soldiers covering the entrance. A convoy of military vehicles was approaching as well. V and Z opened the trunk under the bike seats and equipped themselves. A belt with red and white explosive canisters, precision pistols, an AR with a barrel for small and large calibers, a modified shotgun. They left two canisters in the trunk before patting their bikes, making them accelerate towards the building. The soldiers did not start firing until the bikes had crashed through the glass. Both exploded, and the entire hall went up in flames.

They disabled all elevators through the security system and locked the exits. The only remaining way to enter or exit was through the several landing pads on the side of the building.

The elevator played relaxing jazz music as the number on their retina steadily climbed upwards. On floor 61, they had to exit and get rid of one of the landing pads. V charged the shotgun and the three green dots on the visor turned red one after another. They walked to the windows and punched them till they cracked. The concrete pillars that were holding the pad were decimated by the shotgun. Every impact was a massive explosion that left a crater below the pad. After the third pillar was ripped apart, the fourth gave in, and the whole structure disconnected itself. It smashed onto the grass hundreds of meters below, and concrete flew all over the pavement.

One down, three more to go. They got back into the elevator and the music continued.

He watched them on the police feed, racing over the highway and blowing up the ground floor. A few seconds later, the whole security system was compromised.

The soldiers on the military trucks had no other entrance than the staircase. By the time they would reach him, it would be long over. He was getting aerial support, and several cargo helicopters had already landed on the upper pads. Two red military robots the size of elephants moved passed him and took position near the elevator entrance a few floors below. He did not plan to escape; he secretly hoped they would meet in the end. Even if they killed him and stopped Goliath, his plan would have already succeeded.

He left the soldiers by themselves and walked back into the media room detailing the progress of Project Goliath. A map of the city was sprinkled with red dots over the south and west, where the outer city and the slums were located. They indicated the deaths. 4352 death and 18 casualties. So far, so good.

While the suicides were slowly getting traction online, most news had not picked up on it yet. His network would keep it low for a while and clean up social media as best as they could. Anyone who was on social media when 1B happened had gotten some kind of trauma. We don’t want that to happen again, don’t we?

Several vibrations in the building made him look at the drone footage from outside the building. They had just destroyed another landing pad. He had to play safe, and the safest play right now was to finish it before they could interfere. He upped the concurrent connections to the maximum the servers could handle. The core cluster had to go, no matter what.

Salim ran past the crowd that had formed at the hospital entrance and went straight to the surgery wing. His legs were hurting like hell. He had not run like this in years, although it had only been a few hundred meters. Why did they need to have an off-grid policy for surgeons again? He passed the “employees only” door, and two nurses yelled after him. She was in operating room nine and in the middle of reconnecting the arteries of a 16-year-old girl. Two robots that she controlled with her implant were helping her reconnecting the arteries. He slammed open the door, but she did not itch a muscle.

“Hey, Dad. Long time no see. I actually need a pair of hands right now.”

Salim was breathing heavily, too exhausted to answer her. He walked over to the small machine next to the sink and stuck his hands into it. They were sprayed from both sides, and a thin layer was forming on top of his skin. He pulled them out and into the next machine that printed two gloves onto his hands. He walked over to her, and one robot moved aside while holding onto the artery. The two nurses that entered through the door were waved away by his daughter.

“She lost most of her blood, and her heart stopped beating four minutes ago. Her heart and brain are getting stimulated, but if we don’t fix the arteries within the next five and get some fresh blood pumping, she won’t make it.”

His daughter had become an exceptional surgeon from the moment she had run away from home. With most of his work being illegal, he never allowed her to help in his office, but instead of giving her a chance, he had punished her. Many years later, he met her again and they had been in loose contact since. He was still blaming himself, but she had moved on long ago. She already knew as a child what her father was up to, and could not blame him for keeping her away from it. The only thing she blamed him for was his greed. His priority was money, not the well-being of his patients or family.

Maybe just because of it, she ended up exactly where her dad had been. In an illegal underground medical facility for people who had no money or were already in debt. Organs as payment were the most common dish on the menu. She had no implant to guide her but learned quickly how to separate bones from meat and cancer from healthy cells. After she got busted and spent three years in jail, she was recruited by a medical association and had worked in hospitals across the outer city ever since.

She was the only surgeon in the outer city who could operate throughout her ten-hour shifts and still had an above-average success rate. After a few months of work, she shaved her head and covered it with tattoos. If she stood out in the medical community, she might as well should look like it. She augmented her eyes and arms and looked like a street punk when not wearing her hospital outfit. But whoever tried to get her out of the hospital staff room when she was not in work attire, received a scolding from the head of the department faster than she had ever gotten from her father when sneaking around in his office.

With the small chopstick sized tools, Salim managed to sew together half of the artery while she had already finished hers. The robot lasered the upper layers of skin together while she inserted several small tubes into the girl’s body, supplying her with new blood. She checked the two large magnets attached to the head and chest of the girl.

“Brain and heart look good. We are on time. How is your side looking?”

Salim did not answer. She looked over his shoulder while he finished the last few stitches. He walked back, the robot took over, and the machine started to pump blood into the girl. Her daughter smiled.

“Trauma team will take over from here and wake her up. I have the next one waiting for me. Can I help you with anything?”

“Did she try to kill herself?”

“The girl? Report sounds like it. Deep cuts into the forearms. Suddenly grabbed a knife in front of her family and cut herself open. No prior cases of depression or suicide attempts. Was arrested for selling drugs several times. Pretty weird, but nothing unusual.”

Two nurses from the trauma team entered the room and prepared the girl for the electric shock that would bring her back to life.

“Does she have an implant?”

“Sure.”

The girl’s chest expanded as the electric nodes charged her heart out of sleep mode. It took a moment, then she looked around herself and lunged towards the small surgical tools on the table behind her. She dropped from the bed, and the tools fell all over the floor. She got hold onto one of the surgical knives, but Salim held her hands back and pushed the others away with his legs.

“Take out her implant! Now!”

The girl got hold onto another knife and pulled it towards her throat. The blood sprayed into Salim’s face. Ironically, the trauma team behind them was frozen. Kara had found the extractor, and as the implant squished itself out of the girl’s skin, all the tension in her body disappeared. She dropped the knives, and tears started running down her cheek.

With his last strength, Salim moved her from the floor onto the operating chair. The two robots we already above him and repaired throat and forehead. She would survive, but the trauma would stay. Kara turned around and spat in front of the two nurses. Their behavior was what she hated the most in her job. Bragging in the staff room, but breaking down under the slightest stress. This was the outer city; if you can’t handle people killing themselves in front of your eyes, you did not belong here. Two bulky security guys showed up and pushed the nurses out of her view. Another trauma team took over while Kara walked to her dad, covered in blood.

“Now you look like you need an operation as well.”

“Which implant are you using?”

“XCore B12 series with an ERC modified kernel and JMAX OS.”

“I have no idea what any of that means. Is it an ELIM or DELPHI model?”

“No, dad. I don’t dabble around with trash.”

“Good. Make sure to remove implants from people who got themselves into accidents or committed suicide. And tell your colleagues. All DELPHI models are affected.”

“Sure thing. Is this something like 1B?”

“Yes. Something like it.”

“Cool.”

“What?”

“I’ll see you around dad. Thanks for checking in.”

She waved him while spinning her hand around its axis, then disappeared into the next operating room. The people who saw Salim coming out of the surgery wing assumed he was a patient and tried to get him back inside. After taking off his shirt and pants to assure them that he was not injured, they let him go. Half-naked he walked back to his office.

The military vans evacuated all streets around the building, and a swarm of police and press drones were hovering around it. The first mentions of the sudden suicides were drowned out over the news of two terrorists in the inner city.

A constant stream of data and Kaiser’s presence were needed to keep Goliath running. It was a security measure, so nobody could, by accident, kill thousands with the press of a single button. Now it was turning into a weakness.

The elevator had stopped, but before the doors could open, both military robots unloaded into it. The concrete around the elevator was pulverized, and the steel doors bent into themselves from the pressure. A loud snap echoed through the room as the elevators started falling, but the magnets a few floors lower brought it to a stop. Inside the elevator shaft, the two terrorists were holding onto the magnet line. Their small bee peaked into the room and spotted the military bots and soldiers.

The bots were outdated and plastered with security issues. It would take a few minutes to take them over, but they did not have the time. Z threw an EMP grenade to the spot where the doors had been just a minute ago. The grenade would not damage the bots but distract long enough for them to exit the shaft. The bots fired their MGs, and their camera glitched for a moment. Behind the elevator was a maintenance room filled with terminals. It had taken damage from stray bullets, and a bunch of screens were broken and laid on the ground. With the floor schematics on their retina, they knew where to go.

The robots were in the small lobby area and circled the elevator. A bunch of soldiers had come out of cover and started searching for the intruders. The soldier leaning into the hallway could only finish sending a short ping before a bunch of bullet fragments had replaced his head.

Julio opened camera feeds outside the hospital Salim had run to. Dozens of ambulances and cars parking around the emergency entrance and people carrying their loved ones. The hospitals were overflowing, and the staff was running around with blood all over their clothes. It looked like there was a war going on inside the hospital.

‘Hey Julio, what’s up?’

‘You Salim’s daughter?’

‘Yep, Kara. He said you had admin access for the hospital system in the city. Go to global settings and emergency situations. Make a check for all hospitals and clinics, then type this into the message box.

“Surge of patients across the outer city. Requesting all personal. All incoming patients need to get their implants removed, else they will inflict damage on themselves and others.”

‘You got that?’

‘It’s giving me an access error.’

‘Same here, but my dad told me you guys are better than me at this.’

‘Z?’

‘Ay, Ay. One second. Uuuh. Somebody did not want the emergency system to be used today and overwrote the access configurations. Ok. Done. Hit it.’

‘I got the message from the hospital feed. Thanks. Gonna go back to cutting people together.’

Julio and Shana kept watching the news feed as another explosion shook the tower. V and Z were relaxed about it as if they were used to blowing buildings up. Pictures of the overflowing hospitals showed up online. Something was going on, but nobody knew what exactly, which made it go viral even faster.

The monitor next to them suddenly changed its interface. Z had connected to Kaiser’s system. They could now see the dashboard of operation Goliath.

Thirty-two thousand deaths and 84 casualties. “Cluster 1” was crossed out. Julio searched for the cluster in the server files, found the network analysis, and loaded the clusters and profiles onto his screen.

 

Cluster 1 (26k nodes): High tendency to violence, active in illegal activities, previous criminal activity

Cluster 2 (163k nodes): Previous criminal activity, irregularly active in illegal activities, relationship to nodes in cluster 1

Cluster 3 (2154k nodes): Passive or indirect involvement in crime, relationship to nodes in cluster 1 or 2

 

“These are not government profiles. These are detailed character attributes and tendencies. And these networks are from all the implant data. His ethics might be all over the place, but that is some impressive data analysis.”

The swarm of soldiers opened fire towards the woman in the hallway but had no visual on the other intruder who started to flank them. The robots noticed Z first and began to decimate the walls around him. Although the soldiers were trained for such an occasion, they still reacted confused, split up, and took cover in open positions. Probably because their implants were making them see the woman all around them. Once V’s shotgun was charged, she would sidestep, aim for the nearest soldier, and the bullets would rip apart concrete, metal, and flesh.

The large bots were programmed to avoid friendly fire, which they abused. They fired or got in cover in positions in which the robots would hit a friendly. The moment it took for them to reposition was enough to take out at least one soldier and run to the next position.

The separation between rooms and floors quickly disappeared as more and more walls were destroyed by shotgun and robots. While she was getting the bots’ attention, he ran towards one of them. The bot had cameras all over its body, and Z’s overwrite would only last a few seconds, but was enough to place explosives near its core. Once the robot’s self-recovery program took back control, it made a jump backward while firing towards him with its four MGs. V’s smoke grenades went off, and they both turned down their body temperatures while their trans-clothes adjusted colors. They were practically invisible.

The gunfire from the soldiers stopped as they had lost their target. They were about to regroup as the first robot exploded. It took a few soldiers and the concrete below with them. The remains of the robot dropped onto the floor below, and the screams of several soldiers filled the air. A few bullets later, they were quiet. The soldiers had the floor layout and the location of their team members in their implants, but no self-diagnosis and recovery program.

One dot after another disappeared from the map until the last soldiers screamed out in panic. But before they could disappear, the remaining robot had received new commands. They saw the scripts that the robot just downloaded.

‘Oh shit.’

If the previous destruction had not been enough, the bot brought out everything it could. Friendly-fire had been turned off, and its MG vaporized the soldiers and walls in its way. The short-range rockets on the top of the round shell body fired through the room and destroyed the best places to take cover in. The entire floor had lost its walls, and most of its interior was burning.

The robot stopped firing and positioned itself in the center of the large open space it had just created. For a moment, everything went quiet, and only the crackling of the fire filled the air.

V injected several digital doubles of herself into the camera of the bot, and they stormed it from different directions. The first double was getting blasted with bullets and disappeared once the system error corrected itself. Several more were making moves towards the robot and distracted it, while Z stood back and shot out the armored cameras with the large caliber. It took several bullets to break only one camera, but it gave them an advantage. After taking out two of the eight cameras, the robot unleashed its rockets in his direction.

He jumped away from the immediate impact, but the shockwave pushed him back, only to get catapulted forwards again from the next rocket. He hammered against a burning cabinet and slid several meters on the ground. The skin on his back was completely melted and exposed metallic strings and machinery on the inside. The skin still steamed as the trans-clothes began to grow over it. His rifle was broken into pieces, and several of his fingers were missing. He slowly got back up.

The doubles of V were slowly overwhelming the processors of the robot, and she moved closer. The robot was still in position, so she would have to use an opening to cover the remaining distance. A split-second later, several doubles had reached the robot, and it tried to smack them with its legs. She started running. The robot was still trying to shoot with its MGs, but the accuracy dropped significantly as the processor was hitting its limits. She jumped over a broken door and slid behind the cover of a concrete wall.

Z was back to shooting the cameras with his pistol to distract the robot. This time, it did not take long for it to unleash his last rockets, but Z was prepared. He shot the missiles while they were flying towards him and the entire floor lit up in fire. He hit the third rocket while it was exiting the robot, which ripped its shell in half and unveiled the core; an opening.

V sprinted, then jumped several meters into the air. One of the MGs was slowly turning her way. She could see each bullet exiting the muzzle. Each one getting closer. Only a few more meters and she would be able to rip out the processing unit from the exposed core. Another bullet passed her. The next ripped apart her lower right arm. Bluntly separated from the rest of her body, it flew off into the fire. The next ripped a hole into her hip. The impact rotated her body, and she landed with her remaining hand on the processing unit. She ripped it out as the robots started sprinting towards the windows.

The windows were already cracked and broken, but when the bot ran into it, gave in without resistance, finally released from their suffering. V pushed herself off the robot, rolled over the floor, and grabbed onto the ledge of the window. Her hand dug into the sharp glass and kept her from slipping off.

Hanging outside the building, she was seeing her reflection in the window before her. Splatters of blood were on her cheek and forehead, but none were her own. She could see dozens of military drones behind her. It only took a second to enter their network and turn them off. She looked after the military robot as it was moving and twitching in the air, gracefully making its way towards the park below. The drones that were following got smaller and smaller until they drilled themselves into the grass. The robot had so much forward momentum; it flew over the blocked off area, crashed into the edge of another high-rise building, then flew towards one of the highways. On the highway, it struck several self-driving trucks and took them with it into the park below, creating a unique landmark.

V averted her eyes from the park and zoomed out. The wind was quietly whispering in her ears while the buildings around reflected the fading light of the sun. It looked peaceful from up here, just another ordinary day.

She looked up and saw the partially burned face of her friend. He smiled and grabbed her hand.

‘Let’s finish this.’