Directives (short fiction)

Empire City

Jeff owed a lot of people money. He’d made bad decisions, but the money had been intentional. If you owed enough people, then chances were good that somebody somewhere would want you to stay alive on the off chance you might pay them back. He’d gotten good at talking his way out of trouble and making promises everyone knew he would never be able to keep, not even him. Sure, he rarely talked himself out of a beating, but broken bones and bruises healed. He’d learned to live with pain, and he told himself that if he stuck around long enough, if he didn’t give up, he’d make it someday. He almost believed it too.

Today was different though. Today, they’d sent an auto to deal with him. It was waiting in his shitty apartment. It was long and thin, easily mistaken for a coat rack in the darkness. But Jeff didn’t own a coat rack. Its body language was as unreadable as its cylindrical head. Some wise guy had painted two eyes and a frown on it.

“I’m good for the money,” said Jeff.

The auto said nothing. A pistol was magnetically coupled to its hip.

“I swear it,” said Jeff. “I just need a few more days. A week at the most.”

“My files indicate this is a fiscal implausibility,” said the auto. “You have no prospects, and if by some chance you do gain money, my analysis suggests you would simply gamble it away. Or possibly invest it in a moneymaking scheme that will inevitably fail to yield a return.”

The auto turned its face at Jeff. The frown was its only expression, but he had the distinct impression it didn’t approve of him. God, he hated robots. He hated them when they were supposed to be helping him. He hated them worse when they weren’t. He could talk to people. He could convince them to give him a break. Robots were different. Robots were cold analysis and difference engines.

“You are not good for the money, Jeff. You will never be good for the money. Even if you were, this isn’t my directive.” The auto put one hand on Jeff’s shoulder. Despite the impression left by its spindly arms, its grip was strong. Strong enough to wring Jeff’s neck. It pushed him down in his chair. “Stay there.”

The auto walked into his bathroom, the only other room in Jeff’s tiny apartment, and closed the door.

He sat in the chair for twenty minutes. He thought about getting up once, but both times, he figured following the robot’s orders was his only chance of getting out of this mess. He could run for it, but the auto would track him down again.

The front door slid open, and a pair of bruisers entered the apartment. The auto must’ve disabled the automatic locks. One of the bruisers grabbed Jeff by his shoulder and hoisted him up.

“I’m not supposed to leave the chair,” said Jeff quietly.

The thug laughed. Then his head vaporized in a cloud of red. His body fell to the floor. Jeff fell along with it, choking on the atomized brains and blood.
The auto in the bathroom door was already across the room. It grappled with the second thug. The contest was short, and the thin auto threw his opponent into a kitchen area, shattered most of Jeff’s dishes.

“Chico sends his regards,” said the auto.

The auto killed the second thug with its overpowered weapon. It tossed the weapon at Jeff, still retching on the floor.

“Someone will ask you if you killed these men. You will say yes.”

“Why?” asked Jeff.

“I don’t ask questions,” replied the auto. “I just follow directives. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll do the same.”

The auto walked out of the door.

Jeff sat in his apartment, staring at the two corpses. He picked up the heater and considered shooting himself with it. It was probably the only way out of this mess.

But it was only prison. He could survive that, and in the meantime, nobody could get mad at him for owing them money while he was stuck behind bars. Who knew? It might give him the time to finally turn his life around.

He sat in his chair and waited for the cops to show up.

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One Comment

  1. Rod B
    Posted September 20, 2014 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    The little frowny face is a great touch.

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