He got up already dressed and headed out the door. It was getting harder and harder to tell the difference between reality and ExtraLink. Dalton wasn’t certain about much anymore but he knew that was a problem. When was the last time I could tell the difference? That was years ago during the PicoWar. Unfortunately, that was the way of things. Soldiers always paid the price for the political decisions.

Wandering into the first place he found, Dalton looked around the store with people buying their goods. Some were buying food. Others were looking at clothes. A mother and son were arguing about shoes. This was probably the real world, but he had been wrong before. It didn’t really matter in the long term since he didn’t have much longer to live. Each of his companions eventually reached this point. All the cyber-soldiers – cy-sols – went a little loopy sooner or later. Who was it that drove into the Thames? Harry? Logan? Purdy? No, wait. Purdy was a character from an ancient vid. Damn, it was hard to keep things straight.

Once a cy-sol got to this point they all were given the choice. Execution or extermination mission. Not much of a choice really. Both meant death. Execution was quicker, but an extermination mission was more fun. He chose to take the mission so he could go out with a bang. Dalton uploaded the mission to his picobots so he would not have to think about it. It was not unlike the cyber-commands on the battlefields. That made things faster during the PicoWar. Those were the days.

Dalton wondered if he would have still chosen this life if he had known how it would end? He really had no idea. Most of his memories were so scrambled that he wasn’t sure which ones were from his childhood and which ones belonged to one of his cover stories. He hoped the real one was when he lived in the tranquil plains of the small Kansas town of Independence. That was a pretty good childhood. With his luck, his real childhood was the one on the streets of St. Louis living as a petty thief. He always suspected the real one had been deleted or at least blocked years ago. No need in having issues with the past when your future was so uncertain.

The extermination mission was a simple one: deal with a subversive target. It was all for the greater good. A few always had to die for the sake of the many. It was the way it had always been throughout history. The Romans did it with brutal efficiency. The Christians had been barbaric in their Inquisitions. The secrets of the Nazis were revealed only to be rivaled by the Soviets and the Americans. The extreme Islamists of the early Twenty-First Century had been impressive in their single-minded brutality. They all had people to do the dirty deeds that no one wanted to know about. Call them soldiers, spies or assassins; they all did the same job. Eliminate the few so the many could be safe, secure and oblivious.

Dalton’s picobots shared his target information through the InnerLink. He smiled at the name and mission. This would definitely be a fun way to go out.

The microscopic robots were more advanced than most people dreamed possible. They had kept him alive through countless missions – literally. He would have been dead on his second mission with normal PicoTech. These little bastards knew how to keep a body functioning even when things seemed impossible. The billion in his brain had kept him functioning when his heart stopped beating for two and a half hours. It was truly strange lying there conscious without a pulse. The picobots fed oxygen to his brain and the rest treated his other body parts to keep him alive. With more than five times the picobots than anyone else on the planet, the cy-sols were a type of Frankenstein’s monster that Mary Shelley never dreamed possible. Dalton knew that was part of the problem. He wasn’t sure where he ended and the picobots began. When he stopped caring two years ago, that was the beginning of the end. Once a cy-sol didn’t give a damn how much control the PicoTech had, the warrior’s days were numbered.

Dalton had lasted longer than any of the others. The Ten were the first of the new breed of soldier. They could function equally well in the real world and in the ExtraLink. They received the best warfare education that could be gleaned from four millennia of experience. From Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to the current issue of CyberWarfare, the cy-sols were constantly up to date as all the classical ideas merged with the latest technology. With the addition of a new type of picobot that kept the body fit and the mind constantly active, they were the best of the best of the best.

They had won the PicoWar. Ten soldiers. That was all it took. Each one infiltrated the target zones. Dalton had been assigned to the president of Chile. The country had closed off their borders to all outsiders. He swam one hundred kilometers along the Tropic of Capricorn coming ashore on one of the beaches of Antofagasta. No one even suspected the man in the swimsuit was anything other than an amazingly fit man who had been for a swim in the Pacific.

An hour later he had “acquired” clothing, money and a car to drive to Santiago. Dalton drove the fourteen hundred kilometers, stopping regularly to chat with people and touch each one of them. Every person who shook his hand unknowingly received thousands of picobots. He was a walking-talking distribution system. Each person would share picobots with anyone else they touched. It didn’t matter that these people had no desire for the technology. Dalton thought they could have them removed later if they didn’t like them. It was his job to show people what they were missing. None of them would activate until his primary mission was complete. He had two days to infiltrate and infect.

By the time he reached Santiago thirty hours later, his store of picobots had been depleted by two billion. Those billions would begin replicating within the populace as soon as he finished his mission. He only needed to touch President Miguel Nunez to complete the task. Getting that close to the president would not be easy. If it was simple, they wouldn’t have sent one of The Ten. He would need to find a way into La Moneda – the presidential residence – and share the PicoTech with the president.

Dalton had planned an elaborate infiltration. Within twenty-four hours, everyone in La Moneda would have picobots. The method he planned to use would be painful. Sitting in a small, dirty hotel room, he stared at a blank wall while his eyes saw so many faces he began to lose track. His picobots had files on every person with access to the presidential residence. Most of them were not viable options since few had the same body type as Dalton. The three who were the most promising appeared to be in the room. The augmented reality played out in his optic nerve. Hector Castillo was the best candidate. He was an intern for the vice president whose schedule allowed him to enter La Moneda at nearly any hour. He was within two centimeters of Dalton’s height and close to the same body type.

With a thought, he accepted the identity and waited for the pain. Every time he did this, it hurt. That was not the right word. If there weren’t eight thousand picobots functioning solely to ease pain, he would not be able to stand it. The warmth began as he watched his face in the mirror. Hair was growing in to thicken his eyebrows. His skin pigment was blotchy as his complexion began to darken to match Castillo’s. His hands gripped the handles of the cheap plastic chair, preparing for the next part. The agony began as muscles were thinned and thickened all around his face to change his appearance. His nose widened as cartilage was created by the tiny bots. A slight cracking noise told Dalton that his cheekbones were being torn down as well. The pain was not as bad as the first time. That time he had passed out for a couple of hours. It was terrifying to wake up looking like a Zambian diplomat.

The technology was theorized by the public, but no one knew how well it worked. Within ten minutes, his face was identical to the intern’s and his hair color and length would be a perfect match within the hour. He sent a coded text from his communicator. For someone who didn’t understand, it looked like a text to his sister asking about her new baby. It was old school coding since hackers could crack most computer cryptography these days. Twenty seconds later, a photo with that day’s date at the bottom showed Hector Castillo. No significant changes. The clothing he wore could be easily obtained. A second text came through with the one word: occupied. It meant that Hector would be distracted for the next four hours. Dalton didn’t know the details but suspected it would be a carnal affair.

Once he adjusted his hair to match Hector’s, he strolled out and onto the busy street. Clothing was purchased that matched Castillo’s outfit and a folder was bought and filled with empty papers. He flagged down a cab and was off. The picobots played a video for Dalton showing how Hector walked and how he regularly approached the palace on foot from a building on the next block.

Upon reaching the office building, Dalton thanked the man and brushed his hand as he gave the cabbie his money. Ten thousand picobots had attached themselves to the cash and then entered the driver’s body in less than a second. He smiled as he considered all the people this man would unintentionally infect with PicoTech.

Not bothering to enter the office building, Dalton strolled toward La Moneda with the confidence of a man on a mission in his stride. The side gate where Hector always entered was well guarded. He hoped he wouldn’t need to use his secondary access plan. His mission parameters called for a minimal body count. Heightened senses warned him something was wrong. One of the guards was staring at him with too much interest. Was there a problem with his new face?

He smiled at the men. “Hola!” he said waving the folder. “I need to get these to the President’s secretary,” he said in flawless Spanish.

“Hola, Hector,” said one of the guards. “I was wondering if you would be stopping by today.

Dalton shrugged. “I never get to take a day off.” He started to pass through the doorway and metal detector.

Halt!” said the second guard who had been paying too much attention to him. “Stop him!

Damn, thought Dalton. I hoped I could avoid this.

The first guard placed a hand on Dalton’s shoulder but turned to his partner. “What’s wrong? It’s Hector.

The suspicious guard approached, his hand drawing a pistol. “He looks wrong.” The man reached up and pulled on Dalton’s face checking to see if he was wearing a mask. The moment he made contact his fate was sealed. Three thousand picobots entered through his pores and followed the instructions Dalton continued to send. They hit the blood stream and reached the brain of the man within seconds.

As the man poked and prodded Dalton trying to decide what was wrong, the cy-sol played the offended intern. “What is wrong with you? Stop pulling my skin off my face? Are you seeing things?

On cue, the picobots attacked the visual cortex of the guard’s brain causing blurred vision and the speech center causing his words to garble. The first guard pulled Dalton free of the other as the PicoTech infected man began to have a seizure.

Dalton shouted, “I think he is having a stroke. Help!” He backed away and inside the grounds of La Moneda. People ran to the guard’s aid as Dalton sent one more signal to the picobots. A shock went through the man’s brain putting him out of his misery.

He’s dead!” shouted the first guard. “He went crazy and attacked Hector Castillo before he began shaking.” Several people rushed up offering prayers or curses at the tragedy unfolding at the gate.

Hector continued moving through the crowd toward his destination. Above him, he could see President Nunez on a balcony looking toward the confusion. He saw Dalton and shouted, “What is happening over there?

Dalton did his best shaken and scared look. “One of the gate guards had a stroke or something. He tried to pull my cheeks off!” He rubbed his face for emphasis.

My God!” said the president. “Are you alright? Come up here and let my doctor check you.” Five minutes later, the president of Chile had a million picobots in his system.

Dalton made it back to the ship in the Pacific waiting for him two days later. He received a commendation for achieving his mission with only one fatality. A week later, ninety-seven percent of the population of Chile had PicoTech in their systems. Two weeks later everyone in the countries who were plotting against those of the World Wide Treaty Organization received a message in their minds. It explained that all of them now had picobots. If there was any hostile action taken against the countries which wanted PicoTech, retaliation would be swift and decisive. Anyone over the age of eighteen would be terminated.

The PicoWar ended that day with very few casualties. No one ever attacked. Eventually, most of the populations of those countries voted to keep the microscopic robots and ousted anyone who spoke out against the picobots. It was a combination of fear and a desire for the technology. Either way, Dalton didn’t care. It didn’t matter anymore. That was ten years ago. Today was his last mission and it was coming full circle.

Walking down the street in Santiago, he looked around. Most people looked young, healthy and beautiful. The few who looked older still moved without the stiffness of old age. Even they knew enough to avoid the pain. There was only one hold out, one man still publicly preaching against the evils of PicoTech. Dalton walked into the plaza and saw the man standing on a platform screaming to the crowd.

This was forced upon all of us! We did not ask for their technology! It is time to take our minds, our bodies and our souls back from the damnation of picobots!” Hector Castillo’s voice rang out echoing off the walls of the building. No one was paying attention to the madman preaching his anti-technology gospel. The few that stopped shook their heads at the poor man who had lost his mind before rapidly moving on. “It is not too late stop them! Stop drinking from their poisoned well!

Dalton watched Hector from a distance. The former intern had been blamed for the infection of the country when the autopsy revealed picobots in the corpse of the man Dalton had killed. He spent five years in prison without being charged with anything or even a trial. Once he was finally released, his time in solitary confinement had unhinged his mind. That was the broken man Dalton saw screaming at people who would never listen.

This was the perfect final mission for the cy-sol. It was a chance to do something noble for a man he had unintentionally destroyed. Walking up to Hector, he stood nearby, listening to the venom dripping from the madman’s lips. The anti-picobot evangelist looked right at Dalton, sharing his hatred with the only man who seemed to be listening.

Kneeling down and reaching out a hand, Hector begged, “Friend, will you join me? Will you share my vision? Will you fight them with me?

Taking Hector’s hand, Dalton sent the last billion of his picobots into the man. “Let me help you,” the soldier said.

The picobots flew through Hector’s system, reaching his brain they gently wiped out his memories. His legs gave out as he fell to the ground. Dalton caught him and then collapsed beside him. His body could not survive without the advanced technology that kept him alive for a decade longer than he should have lived.

I’m sorry,” said Dalton as his heart stopped beating. He smiled as he eyes closed for the last time. His hand remained in Hector’s.

Giving him a blank stare, Hector Castillo said, “For what? Who are you? Wait, who am I?

The thundering voice and brightening light were a surprise to the soldier. He didn’t expect anything beyond darkness. Then the voice startled him.

“Dalton? Are you awake? Get up or you’ll be late for work.” Opening his eyes, Dalton saw his mother standing over him. “Did you fall asleep on that damned simulation again? One of these days you are going to stay in there.”

He got up already dressed and headed out the door. It was getting harder and harder to tell the difference between reality and ExtraLink.


Copyright 2015 – Doug Romig


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