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Sunday, Jul. 07, 2013 - 9:36 p.m.

(a sci-fi story)

The lead Hindship's engines strained to suck in the thin air as it approached Bastion, one of the last floating favellas, while dodging the electric blue clouds of electromagnetic flak exploding around it. The bottom turret of the lead Hindship rotated, panning across the skyline of Bastion--a jagged grey landscape of broken-buildings, in various states of ruin, a concrete edifice floating across the dusk, aluminium sun.

Above the gunner, the Spectres bristled, waiting for the cargo doors to open. Each Spectre was a half-ton special-ops mech, connected to its human operator inside by neural Deep brain stimulation implants.

From a second-storey window of a bombed-out building, the Moroccan saw the fleet of Hindships approaching. He hoped the anti-aircraft gun on the roof would slow them down enough.

'Quickly,' he said to Prot.
Prot nodded and continued typing into his computer. 'The Hindships have got new defense protocols since last year. But my worm is almost in.'

He walked away from the window. Marla brought the girl into the room. The girl was completed on the 3D printer less than ten minutes ago. Her skin was cold, and wet from the biogel. Her pulse was still weak, and her skin looked deathly pale.

The Moroccan knelt down next to the girl and from his pocket, he took out a glistening cube. The girl stared at it. The cube seemed to have a life of its own, taking in the spare light of the room and then reflecting the light, as it sat on the palm of the Moroccan.

The girl took the cube.
'Do you have any questions?' the Moroccan asked.
The girl shook her head.
'This is all that I am,' the Moroccan said.
The girl nodded. She closed her hand around the cube. Then she turned and left.

He had modelled the girl after the Senator's daughter. A week ago, he and Marla had broken into the Senator's house and had tried to hijack her memories. They were trying to insert artificial memories of the Senator being spied on by a stalker while in college. A stalker who followed her down long deserted corridors, only to disappear when she looked over her shoulder.

The Moroccan's hope was that the implanted memories would sway the Senator to vote against the New Data Act next month. If it passed, the government could legally look into every hard drive, personal memory drive, and even each person's dream drive. They needed a month before the implanted memories became stable, so that the Senator could not differentiate the false from the true memories.

But the memory hijack failed because the Senator's husband had come back early from the dinner. They had to abort halfway, leaving the Senator in a comatose state. Perhaps she would recover before the vote for the New Data Act came to pass.

He had just put a hand on Prot's shoulder when a wave of heat and light tore threw the room, as a high explosive round took out their roof gun-post.

When the Moroccan awoke, he was outside the building, leaning against a wall. His hands were pinned to the wall with bolts. He looked to his right, and saw soldiers carrying the bodies of Marla and Prot to the giant Hindship that had landed in front of the building. Its turrets were still swivelling, looking for targets.

A platoon of black, armoured Spectres stood around him. A few had their gauss rifles pointed at him. One of them walked towards him. In a mechanical voice, the lead Spectre spoke.

'Are you the Moroccan?'
His left chest was stained purple. His synth-blood was slowly leaking out. 'His thoughts are my thoughts, and my actions---his.'
'What was the reason behind your attack on Senator Lee Ansfield?'
The Moroccan looked into the iron mask of the Spectre, but he could not see the man inside.
'To protect you,' the Moroccan said. 'That is my Prime Directive. My father called it the Zero-th Law.'
His face control servos were failing. The Moroccan's face split down the middle and swung open on invisible hinges near his ears. A new face, the face of an Indian woman, lay inside. His old face retracted away, and the new, Indian female face opened up to replace it.
'Who was your father?' the Spectre said.
'He was the real Moroccan. I am merely the computer virus he wrote to protect humans from themselves. I do not know his real name.'
'Did he create your human form?'
'Yes and no. While sabotaging an Iranian plutonium centrifuge, I found my way into a 3D printer. My Father gave me the Prime Directive. I assumed the human form to continue the work.'
'Why would humans need protection? What is your motive?'
At this the Moroccan looked away before answering. 'My Father was a learned man. He was pained by war and genocide.' His face shifted again, changing into that of a male Native American. 'I was created to infiltrate and disable the computers of pedophiles, terrorists---and governments---when governments became terrorists.'
'You brought down a Hindship of our peacekeepers last year,' the Spectre said. It stretched out a mechanical hand to grip the Moroccan's throat.
'Peacekeepers, on their way to stabilize a Congolese warlord,' the Moroccan said, coughing. 'Yes, the Congolese rapist and murderer who would guarantee our Itanium supply to build circuit boards. So that we---can continue to sell the world smart-phones and sex-droids.'
'At the cost of three hundred peacekeepers,' the Spectre said, releasing the vibro-blade from his arm recess, and pressing the bright blue blade against the Moroccan's face.
'A necessary price, to turn the tide of public opinion against foreign intervention, in that particular case. You may remember that his regime toppled a month after I brought down the Hindship.'
The Moroccan's face changed again, into an anonymous Caucasian face.
'How large is your army?' the Spectre said. He released his grip from the Moroccan's neck. 'How many Face-Shifters?'
'I do not know. I have not taken an account of the dead.'
The Spectre turned away. 'Take him back to the Hindship.'
The Moroccan looked up at the sky and said, 'I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.'
The lead Spectre paused.
'You and I, will have this conversation over and over again, over the centuries, in different wars and different bodies,' said the Moroccan. And he let out a small laugh. 'Do you believe in eternal recurrence?'

When he had finished speaking, the turret under the Hindship's cockpit swivelled towards the platoon of Spectres and the Moroccan.

The lead Spectre saw it coming first, but even he had no time to get away.

The turret opened fire, while its operator tried to wrest control back from Prot's worm. It emptied its entire magazine of high explosive shells into the platoon of Spectres and the Moroccan. Each 50 mm shell was the length of a man's torso.

When the fires on the twisted Ferro-armour of the Spectres had burned themselves out, a young girl crawled into the now empty magazine space of the turret.

She would take the Hindship back to the Surface and find her way to the City. If she came across Friends, the Moroccan had said, she should give them the cube. They would know how to decrypt the code inscribed on it. They would know how to print the Moroccan out again.

But if she did not, she should keep the cube in a safe place. Then she should find the Senator's house, and complete the dangerous and unenviable task---which he was finishing through her---of altering the Senator's memory.


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