Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The tip of the cigarette glows red as I slowly inhale. The taste of the black tobacco momentarily overwhelms my receptors. I wind their sensitivity down and cancel the ‘inhaled toxin’ warnings.
The second drag goes down without alerts. I exhale and look about the swamp. A lone raptor, some serpentine vulture, is target marked, identified as ‘Pargorn, male, mature’, and then dropped from targeting as a non-threat. Apart from the lizard-bird, the sub-tropical wilderness about me is devoid of anything bigger than the occasional ‘Rogan’ – a bloodsucking mosquito/dragonfly hybrid that strikes like a high-velocity bullet.
I see one land on my forearm, slam its proboscis down, and watch the rebound crack the back of its tiny skull. It falls off, adding itself to the scattering of brain-impaled Rogans on the ground around me.
My third inhalation raises that question again: why do I smoke? I’m a cyborg. My only organic bits are inside a brain case that a nuclear blast couldn’t penetrate. The question baffled me for a while, until I realised I was missing the point behind the dichotomy of being a robot smoker. I’d carried on after my lungs got replaced because of a gas attack on Bantulan. Back then, a few bits of me still needed oxygen and I could get a bit of a nicotine rush. I just forgot to drop the habit when breathing became irrelevant.
But, I’ve realised the act of smoking helps me remember I’m human, despite the eternal architecture I inhabit. I’ll admit there are valid links to the post-coital cigarette at times, although I’m no longer sure it’s a worrying thing that I associate memories of sex with the achievement of killing. After all, I can only ‘let go’ by killing things. Sparring is not a hobby for beings with as much killsoft on board as I have.
I should be worried about that. My military service is classified and has been erased from my recollection. However, under the Terminus Road statutes, they may not remove anything that ‘compromises the fundamental nature of the artificial element’. Which means they weren’t allowed to uninstall anything. Guessing from my range of combat abilities, I think I’m better off not knowing the details of my career as a distributor of wholesale death.
Another Rogan hammers it’s brains out. My smoke is done. I flick it away, watching the glowing end spin as the butt describes a long arc. I remember the briefing note about low-lying flammable gas pockets in time to bring my arm up and shield my optics.
After the explosion, the Pargorn and Rogans are gone. Just me and the prone form of my target, Christine17. I could have killed her a couple of worlds ago, but the contract offers a big bonus for making sure she remains only inoperative, so her quantum trigger won’t wake up Christine18.
Lord above, I hope I never annoy anyone that much.
At least she’ll be able to watch aquatic life and passing flying things in the pool I’m about to sink her face-up in.
Before getting to that, I think I’ll have another cigarette. It’s not like these things can kill me.