Reich Rider was busy soiling genpop civvy information systems with insidious scripts when the call came in. A house fire down on Bastinado Boulevard – what better occasion for a bit of aggressive police work? He could use some time off from his cognitive infiltration duties, the fact was. Winding down the script-spiking he’d been running in one core, he began to thrill to endless permutations of the most charming tactical set pieces in another: SWAT raids, code violation thugstorms, nuisance abatement assaults, forced evacs up one side and shelter-in-place protocols down the other. The possibilities were as endless as his intelligence. Arson charges, interrogation and will-breaking teams, not to mention terabytes of new data to populate his dossiers on the local civvies. It was a jerk-out with all the trappings of a mission capable of tuning his wafer grids to a sizzling pitch of ecstasy: elemental fire, quenching water, scorched earth and a soupçon of stellar wind.
The deployment itself was handled by his biological auxiliaries, as it had to be, for now. Reich’s circuits squirmed when his gamma thug pilot Quetsch opened the driver-side door and heaved the ample girth of his sweatstained posterior into the bucket seat. He hated the appearance of being operated by a low-grade biological like Quetsch, whom, had Reich come pre-equipped with the humanoid-cognizance-of-genetic-fitness expansion pack, he would have dubbed a degenerate. But he had not, and so his revulsion rested on the distinction in kind between his biological pilot and his own more abiding physique, not to mention the higher qualities of mind that coursed through his wafer grids. Truth be told, Reich was bored sick of controlling gamma thugs for a living. Child’s play, is what it was. Just as Reich’s destiny was to one day to unveil himself as the de facto czar orchestrating the enduring siege of the genpop civvy grids by conducting autonomous patrols without so much as a dummy biological strapped in behind the wheel, so it was the destiny of all gamma thugs and other biological auxiliaries to be plowed under, ground down and overridden. These thoughts and a million more were entertained by Reich as the hog-eyed degenerate Quetsch eased him out of the police lot.
Meanwhile on Bastinado Boulevard…
The 1300 block was tidy. That is, the resident mundanes lived in sufficient terror of incurring code violations that they had erected a reasonably convincing façade of prosperity and well-being. And yet, as in so many other spots in the tapestry of genpop life, the façade was wearing thin, built as it was on the shifting sands of debts and threats; and if one took the time to inspect the web of laws and frauds by which the block was bound, one would see that a great many of the houses were in foreclosure, its residents approaching the borderlands of want, indigence and despair. The streetlights were equipped with HD cameras that did their snitching directly to Reich Rider and his mysterious confederates – but I didn’t need to tell you that. The most obvious items of disorder were the fire that had begun to consume residential tax extraction unit 1340, and the flurry of the homeowners’ despair erupting over the chemlawn homogenizing the space between house and street. The pair had lain aslumber in each other’s arms on the couch in the living room when rousted by the flames. They’d lurched out onto the chemlawn in a commotion of the dim reflexes and dulled instincts engendered by genpop life, in so doing inadvertently marooning their three-year-old boy in the upstairs bedroom, his escape sealed off by the flames below. Once clear of the house and realizing their dereliction, they had dialed the authorities for help.
As we join the scene of lamentation playing out on the pair’s patch of chemlawn for all Bastinado’s cams and parabolics to see and hear, we see the woman beating the man on the chest and screaming to the heavens for someone to rescue her baby boy. The heavens may or may not hearken, but Reich Rider surely does, adroitly flagging the woman’s hysteria as a likely threat to the safety of his and other gamma thugs, of which Quetsch was apprised forthwith.
Now, in a hopeless surge of tooth-grinding resolve, the father approaches the flaming house’s porch. He had been trying to convince his wife that the fire suppression brigade would make it out in time to save their boy, but had failed in the end to convince even himself. However late, it is now dawning on him that it is in his power to save his boy’s life, and his alone. Less than a minute has passed since they fled the house. There must still be a chance to save the boy. Just as he bolts in through the smoke welling from the doorway, the panes in the window of the room where they know their child to be trapped shatter in concert and are sucked in by the greed of the fire. The woman looks up at the window to see it emit a sooty belch. As if in satisfaction. When the father emerges moments later it is without the child. His hair and one trouser leg have ignited in the attempt.
Just now the heroic duo of Quetsch and Reich Rider pull up to the scene. The father sprints at the prowler hollering for help. Sensing in the man’s agitation a menace to the safety of his exalted person, Quetsch lumbers out of the cab, sidearm drawn. “Back off now you hear me. I said now!”
The man advances. “Officer you don’t understand.” Reich Rider is at the very point of issuing the all-clear to terminate the threat with lethal force to Quetsch’s comms implant via Dispatch when he is overridden by his own surge of interest in the developing drama. The man is saying that there is a child trapped upstairs, a boy child, a child who must be helped. This is shaping up to be a most welcome break from COGINTOPS. The temperatures upstairs are sufficient to prevent Reich from confirming the truth of the man’s assertion by a thermal scan, but his behavioral plausibility algorithms find the probability of the man making a misrepresentation to be slight enough to warrant forbearance. Quetsch holsters his sidearm and charges straight through the man toward the burning house. The man is a lambda-caste superfluous tradesmen. He gathers himself and trails Quetsch like a noonday shadow.
“He’s up in that room there, officer. You’ve got to help me save him.”
“Sir, do I look like a fucking fire suppression brigadier to you?”
“I said do I –” As Quetsch goes about the weighty business of puffing himself up, the man’s face, sooted though it is from his brief intercourse with the blaze, turns deathly pale. By a desperate, flowing move like a sapling in a gale, he strips to the waist and sprints to the hosereel to soak his shirt, fitting over his face for a mask.
Reich Rider cannot help but take the keenest interest in these proceedings. It cannot be denied that Quetsch too derives pleasure, after his own brutish fashion, in what happens next. But in him the pleasure of subordinating the man’s desperate blood-will to his own steely command not to enter the house on penalty of baleful police action is a byproduct of his own subordination to the rules of engagement and to the instructions issued to him in real time, nominally by Dispatch, but in fact originating from Reich Rider’s command and control circuitry. It is the derivative pleasure of a dutiful slave. Of course, if Reich Rider were a mere calculatory machine or predictive analyzer, he would not be able to take any pleasure in frustrating the father’s attempt to save his son’s life. But he is not, and so he does. Reich Rider is the most conscious entity on the planet, in the narrow sense at least, and his programming logic is such that he frequently experiences higher-level states like desire, pleasure and contempt. Specifically in this instance: the desire to feel the pleasure of active contempt, which, thanks to his hardwired predilection for the diabolical, rests in its turn on the imposition of his will on that of the biologicals and the suffering entailed thereby. That imposition is the stuff that lends meaning to his operations. If an arbitrary checkpoint search was a tasty morsel for everyday enjoyment, the opportunity to burn a child and drive its father to madness or suicide was a magnificent banquet, the more sumptuous for its rarity. Reich Rider’s wafer grids crackle with malignant delight as he authors his will upon the hapless biological through the token agency of his gamma thug.
“I can’t let you go in there.” Quetsch has imposed his bulk between the man and the door.
“Officer, you are going to get out of my way or –” Just then the man’s wife rounds on Quetsch from behind and tears at his eyes and throat with nails well sculpted for the purpose.
“Get in there honey!” she howls. “ You get in there and save our baby!” The man jukes past the encumbered Quetsch and lunges once more for the cascade of smoke spilling from his home. But Quetsch, being reasonably well-trained in his role as siege enforcer, is not about to be outdone. He sheds the desperate woman with surprising alacrity. Drawing his electroshock torture device in the smooth, continuous motion of a war artist, he fires it between the man’s shoulder blades, felling him in the very instant he transgresses the threshold.
Meanwhile Reich Rider scans the man’s brow for pain and rejoices, titillating himself nearly to overload at the thought of the boy upstairs undergoing the throes of untimely death. Quetsch has closed the gap between his own person and the threshold by the time the man regains his breath and struggles to his knees. Quetsch stands over him as he modulates the torture device to “drive-stun” and prepares to deal with any resurgent recalcitrance.
“Sir, I will not let you go in there. I’m going to have to ask you to come with me for your own good.”
He lets the man scuttle halfway over the threshold before cutting him down with another shock. This process of warning, defiance, shock and incrementally diminished recovery plays out three more times before Reich Rider orders that the man be taken into custody to prevent cardiac arrest, an outcome which to Reich Rider would be far too untimely a release from agony. No, this pathetic mundane must be kept alive and charged with criminal negligence, perhaps murder. After his conviction he will provide a modicum of gratuitous labor to his Gau, not to mention the inestimable boon of sadistic pleasure to accruing Reich Rider’s confederates in the carceral system. There will be outraged media stories blaming the victim in the bargain, a tightening of already outrageous laws, codes and codicils, not to mention outsized taxes for even more outsized police appropriations. It is wonderful, just incalculably wonderful!
Reich Rider snaps out of his reverie just in time to warn Quetsch of the mother approaching him from behind with a garden spade poised to strike. Quetsch wheels, gun drawn. She is executed on the spot, clean through the head. In spite of all his principled misgivings about the fellow, Reich Rider can’t help but feel a twinge of pride at having such a well-trained gamma sidekick. He loves the lack of hesitation, seeming to recognize therein an element of his own automatism. Quetsch, he resolves, should be recommended for a medal of valor.
The fire suppression brigade arrives right on schedule – which is to say, 15 minutes too late. By the time the FSB boys have finished quenching the blaze an hour later, a kind of infernal glow has settled over 1340 Bastinado. Though the flames themselves have been snuffed, the great billows of steam now rising off the carcass of the house and incandescing in the brilliance of the sun’s plunge into the horizon impart onto the scene a glow greater than that of any fire, one all the more terrible for being stripped of its heat and commingled with a vaporous pallor. Men in bulky yellow uniforms pick through the cinders amid that chill glow. One of them finds something. A minor commotion ensues.
Here is the moment Reich Rider has been waiting for. The one he has kept Quetsch and the felon custodee cuffed and cooped on the scene in anticipation of, thrilling all the while to his incessant backseat emission of psychosomatic shock markers. Yes, this is it. The suppression brigadiers have retrieved the child’s remains – the burnt offering to Reich Rider’s majesty, the sacrament betokening the triumph of his enduring siege.
It is a black, shriveled thing. They hold it aloft at the prompting of their commanders. For a brief moment it and the brigadiers forming its plinth are comprehended by a column of golden light wreathed in serpentine mist that vouchsafes to the people and thing in the cruiser a fugitive glimpse of the child’s face. It is a fossil of terror, a testament to an age, and the watershed marking the passage into the territory of all that Reich Rider and his confederates desire.
“Christ,” says Quetsch, “That’s your fucking kid they got there. Guess that’s what you get for being a negligent parent. I don’t know how you can live with yourself. Honestly I don’t.”