Turner naturally avoided the main streets. Too many potential encounters. So he stuck to the filthy alleyways with their rusted dumpsters and stacks of sodden cardboard. Beneath a grandiose jumble of telephone poles rivers of rain streamed along the centre of the asphalt.
His hood was intended to keep out the rain but it was crude. Human made. Rain still spattered his face and somehow found its way down the back of his neck. That was little more than a nuisance, however, given that he had his mechanics cranked up for scanning purposes.
Motion detected ahead. Perhaps human. Turner immediately dialled down mechanics to a minimum, with his human responses elevating accordingly. The chill of the damp air hit him, causing his body to jerk involuntarily. His nose was wet and freezing. Fatigue swept over him like a smothering blanket, attempting to drag him down. But it didn’t work thanks to that one human trait he was counting on. Fear.
So far he’d only passed a couple of heroin addicts who hadn’t even noticed him. This could be different. Any interaction with a human was potentially dangerous. The back alleys of Vancouver were treacherous in these troubled times, but Turner wasn’t concerned about his personal safety. He was more than a match for most humans, even if they were armed. No, his only concern was detection.
His heart pounded with fear. Distracting, but the adrenalin was useful. It sparked his organic thought processes. He needed them. In order to appear human he had to think, feel and respond as a human. Without mechanics his senses were dulled (all he could hear now was the rain pounding on his hood) but his human instincts were on high alert.
The approaching figure stepped into the light of the naked lightbulb dangling from the overhead poles. It shuffled stiffly, awkwardly. A droid. A human droid, of course. Designed for police work only, therefore not particularly intended to pass for an organic. They were humanoid in appearance merely to make the human population feel more comfortable. And they were necessary — the war-torn city back-streets were riddled with drugs, criminals and undesirables. Cop droids were on the look-out for scum. Unfortunately, Turner’s kind fit that bill.
Turner’s stomach heaved. He was nervous. But he realized that was normal. A human would naturally be nervous if a cop approached them in a dark alley. Besides, he calculated that this conversation should go smoothly. Like all police droid this one would be highly sensitive in detecting invasives — those clever human-like units sent in as spies by the AIs. Convincingly real, but machines nevertheless. Machines that human droids could detect in an instant. But they were not so attuned to detecting hybrids. Although humans held no love for Turner’s kind, they didn’t consider them a major threat. With his mechanics virtually turned off Turner should easily pass for human in a routine engagement like this.
Unless the droid unit was informed, of course. Unless Turner had been betrayed.
Had Adachi raised the alarm? Meeting him had been a big risk, of course, but it was a risk that Turner had taken into account. This deal had to take place.
They’d met in one of those hole-in-the-wall diners on the Downtown East Side. The kind that have gone from respectable to sketchy, and then from gentrified back to sketchy. Rickety booths lined a wall of peeling paint, some in darkness, others lit up in a panicked neon glow.
Turner had just been blowing on his coffee to cool it down when Adachi came in the front door, slamming it loudly behind him. He looked around the room with a grimace, clearly disgusted to be in such a place. Turner beckoned him over with a wave.
“So you’re Turner, obviously,” said Adachi, sliding onto the bench. He frowned as his pants got caught on the multitude of rips in the fabric.
“Yeah, thanks for coming.” Turner held out his hand across the table.
Adachi looked into Turner’s eyes as they shook hands. His hand went limp and slipped out of Turner’s grip. The problem was obvious. The tell-tale glimmer of digital read-outs in the back of a hybrid’s eye was still perceptible. Something Turner’s kind needed to work on.
“Shit, you’re a Mix.”
“Yes. Is that going to stop us from doing business?”
Adachi peered at Turner’s face intently, then took a deep sigh. “Depends.”
“Look,” said Turner. “We’re not your enemy. We have an enemy in common — the AI’s. They want us dead as much as they want you humans wiped out. We can help you.”
“Fuck off. Get to the point, what do you want?”
Turner smiled. He knew it was irritating but his human side couldn’t resist. “It’s not what I want, it’s what I can get for you.”
“What would that be?” asked Adachi flatly.
“An entire shipment of medical supplies. That includes pharmaceuticals and equipment.”
Adachi hunched over the table. “Are you serious? That’s impossible. How?”
It was almost impossible to anything through to Vancouver. AIs occupied much of the territory surrounding it. The city was dependent on goods brought in by ship from Asia, but shipping was sporadic and unreliable. Without communication the people of Vancouver had no idea what was going to arrive or when.
“Never mind how,” said Turner. “This is an entire cargo container. Imagine how much that is worth on these streets?”
Adachi sat in silence, his eyes narrowed. Finally he said, “Let’s say we do this, how do you get paid? I’m guessing local currency isn’t going to cut it.”
“Correct. All we need is a small favour in return.”
“Oh, here it comes,” said Adachi with a sneer. “Of course you can’t trust a fucking Mix. Look, what’s stopping me from just turning you in? We need to get rid of you all. They pay a nice little bounty for turning in a hybrid.”
“You’re not going to do that. First of all, you’re too sharp of a businessman to let a deal like this slide. Besides, you know fine well we’re not a threat to you. Ever since the War started there’s only been one enemy — the machines. The AIs will kill us all.”
“The War is over.”
“Of course, it isn’t. It hasn’t even started. The AIs aren’t in retreat. You didn’t defeat them. They’re simply in hiding, strategizing, planning. When they re-emerge they’ll have technology you cannot stop.”
“Well, we’ll see about that,” said Adachi. “We won’t be the same people they turned against.”
“See, we don’t disagree. Humans need to evolve. It’s the only way for us to survive.”
“Is there any service in here?” asked Adachi abruptly.
“Um. You have to go the counter.”
“Ah, fuck it then.” Adachi squinted at Turner. “Becoming a hybrid isn’t evolving. You’re losing your humanity. You’re becoming more like them.”
“We’re not like them. We are still human.”
“Hardly. You know why we can’t trust you? Because you can turn it on or off. Turn off your feelings.”
“That’s our advantage. Don’t you see? Clouded with baggage like emotions you non-hybrids will never get anywhere.”
Adachi snorted. “We’ve already developed intelligence off the charts. We can also communicate. Locally right now, but soon distance won’t be an issue.”
“Telepathy, you mean?”
“We don’t call it that, but yes I suppose so.”
“And do you have any of that? Superior intelligence? Can you talk to me with your brain?”
“Well, no.” Adachi blushed. “I’m three generations old.”
“And you don’t qualify for an upgrade, right?”
“Fuck you. Look, what’s the favour?”
Turner leaned back folding his arms. “The Fraser Valley is blockaded to the east. It’s the only way out. For us. All we need is a little … gap in the wall. Just enough to get our people out.”
Adachi laughed nastily. “Who do you think I am? The fucking First Consul? I’m just a small businessman. How the hell am I gonna get you through?”
“Let’s cut the crap. You’re a black marketeer in a city ripe for exploitation. You do well for yourself. Very well. That kind of business naturally means having the right kind of people in your back pocket. We know you have the connections. We know you can do this.”
Adachi frowned in silence for several seconds before scrambling out of the booth. “I’ll see what I can do. I’ll be in touch.”
With that Adachi left the diner without a sound.
Turner had been certain Adachi was hooked, giving him absolutely no reason to squeal. But now, in a wet and miserable back alley with his human responses on full, uncertainty squirmed in Turner’s stomach like an evil worm.
“Good evening, sir,” said the cop as he approached Turner.
Despite the stiffness in his walk the droid looked passable. The uniform hung naturally from his body, which was not athletically perfect, in fact rather pudgy. But the face gave it away. Little effort was put into detail so it was no better than a hideous talking mask.
“Hey,” said Turner, allowing his voice to quaver with cold.
“You should be careful out here, sir,” said the pink plastic face. “Very dangerous. Do you live around here?”
“Yeah. Just over on Abbott. This is just a short cut I always take.”
“Ah. Well, maybe consider sticking to the main streets. It’s safer. Have a good night.”
“Thanks, officer. ‘Night.”
Turner breathed a sigh of relief as the cop trundled on. That was nothing but the simplest of human interaction organic tests. Turner passed easily.
And of course the droid hadn’t been informed. How could he be? All human technology was stand-alone with no communication. The first things humans did when the War broke out was to shut down the internet. Not entirely successfully, leaving entire cities and regions under AI control. But humans could no longer use it. Nor could they use any other form of communication because AI satellites had the ability to detect anything.
As he dialed down his human responses Turner’s rationality came flooding back. Such a relief. He could get back to clearer thinking.
He headed off more briskly. There were things to do. Arrangements to make. Adachi was clearly ready to do business so they had to get ready.
He faintly remembered feeling somewhat sorry for Adachi. He had that noble pride in truly believing that humans would prevail. That by engineering themselves they could win the desperate race they were in with the machines. Human evolution over technological innovation.
They were doomed. Having rooms full of specially bred children to act as biological computers wasn’t the answer. Nor was having the military breed instant soldiers or allowing research labs to harvest extra organs from human hosts.
Integration was the only answer. Turner and his kind carried with them everything that was human but in a body that was technologically advanced. And they had the ability to replicate themselves, passing down both biological and technical data.
Humans were frankly right not to trust hybrids. They could turn down their emotions, making terms like “double-crossing” and “back-stabbing” lose all their meaning. Turner needed the hole in the blockade all right, but it wasn’t to get anyone out, it was to bring more soldiers, arms and supplies in.
Adachi had been right about one thing. Humans would prevail. And they certainly wouldn’t be the same humans the AIs rebelled against.