Author : Martin Berka

Tom stood meters behind the ethicist, armed to where his teeth had been until they encountered grenade shrapnel two years ago. She knelt in the alleyway, engrossed in some insect or small plant ? it was not his job to understand. He could end this right now, and never again have to wonder what she was thinking.

Slowly, reach up and draw the pistol from the shoulder holster. With minimal movement, point. Fire.

He had sworn three oaths, and signed as many secretive contracts, promising to protect her for two years, until his replacement arrived. The contracts had been burned, their copies purged from every database by viruses, and everyone who had witnessed the oaths was dead. The agreed-upon period had expired, and now, excellent offers promised wealth and safety for a few minutes’ work.

Dash forward, gripping the left hip knife. Hold down by the shoulder and stab at the base of the neck. Clean the blade and sheath it.

Tom did not know what the world as a whole saw in the ethicist. A scattering of technologists, wealthy idealists, and experimentally-minded societies had chosen her to be half the world’s judge. The multi-trillion-dollar computer system that would see and evaluate all actions of a few billion people had the legal knowledge and logic, but the ethicist would provide pure, evolving, emotional humanity. The psychologists swore she was the perfect personality, with all the best mental indicators and potentials. Of course, they had said the same about Tom and his capacity to be the protector.

Certain other corporations, religions, and countries saw the ethicist as a criminal, a false prophet, and a herald of one-world government, respectively. The resulting war had left millions dead, many more under occupation, and shredded the Justice Project before it passed a single judgement.

They had escaped, just ethicist and protector, aided by luck and others’ copious sacrifices. Then they escaped again, and again, fleeing bunkers, cities, countries; every population held a few who hated everything the ethicist stood for. The two had together grown scarred, and occasionally very thin, but Tom doubted they were entirely alone: whenever the need arose, there was always a pilot, gun dealer, or prosthetic surgeon suspiciously willing to take mercy (and a profit loss) on two refugees. These suspiciously well-placed good Samaritans tended recognize the ethicist, and to see her as a responsibility, a messiah, or an enemy (though the latter, infiltrators, all met rather sudden ends at Tom’s now-artificial hands). Tom had desperately queried each, but bare rumors came back. Perhaps the Project was strong and growing. Maybe the unending war’s tide was about to shift. Someday, a new protector would arrive.

Tom himself saw a twenty-year-old woman, with a different name and hair color every month; the real ones eluded his forty-year-old mind, along with the history of the strange girl he had first been introduced to a decade ago, on a Project campus now probably melted and radioactive.

Now, she stood, revealing her focus — a faded group photo in a broken frame, once mantle centerpiece of some family, recently driven from this new ghost town. Seeing the two attackers’ corpses, she gave Tom a nod and a weary smile, laid a hand on one’s head, and walked slowly towards the abandoned store where supplies might be salvaged. Jogging to catch up, enhanced ears listening for any sign of hostile life, Tom pondered the future, Justice’s pipe dreams, and what the ethicist, young enough to be his daughter, was thinking. Breaking years of habit, he asked.


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