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James Knapp grew up in New England and currently lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Kim. He is at work on the next Revivors novel.
Nico Wachalowski—Goicoechea Plaza
Everyone thinks they know what a revivor is, but the truth is the only ones who really know are the revivors themselves. The first time I ever saw one was during my initial tour in the grinder, where even at night it was like a furnace, and when a hot breeze blew through the brush, I could smell them. When that first one moved into the moonlight where I could see it, I was scared. I was never as scared about anything else before that. People argue about what goes on in their heads, but I couldn't tell what it was thinking, or whether it was thinking at all. All I can really say is that no one who has seen a revivor face-to-face would ever choose to become one. That was why I was in the elevator of that building the night that it all started.
Heading up to the eighty-second floor, I watched the numbers flip and tried to calm my heart. Assistant Director Noakes had put me on the case because of my prior experience with revivors, but I would have volunteered. Those things belong in the ground, but short of that, they belong on the other side of the world, not on mine.
The car ground to a stop and the doors opened into a barely lit corridor. I stepped out into the shadows and moved toward the door at the far end. Everything I saw was recorded and then transmitted to the men below through the implant wired near the base of my skull. They monitored the visual feed and even my vital signs as they waited for my signal. I opened the secure communications circuit and sent them confirmation.
The words floated in front of me, then faded as I moved down the hall. Like a lot of properties in the area, most of the offices were empty; there were a few businesses scraping by, but past the sixtieth floor the place was vacant, except for one. The office I was visiting supposedly bought and sold small-scale third-party processing components, which was a nice touch. I had no doubt that front even made a little extra money on the side.
I made my way past the locked rooms and dark offices until I came to the one I was looking for. The door was closed and unmarked, with a black buzzer next to it. I pushed the button and waited.
They'd be watching me; I couldn't see it, but somewhere a camera was checking me out to make sure I was someone they were expecting. A few seconds later there was a heavy snap from inside the door. I opened it and went inside.
It was the first time I'd actually seen the place, and it was pretty much what I expected. The lobby was stripped bare, with nothing on the walls and no place to sit. What would have been the reception area was set up with a terminal and was being used as a workspace with wires trailing across the dusty floor. Tai and two of his men were waiting there for me.
"Right on time," Tai said. "I'm glad you decided to show."
Tai was a dark-skinned Asian with long hair and a long face. The two guys with him were tattooed, tough-looking types I didn't recognize.
"Check him out."
I raised my hands to shoulder height as the two men approached me. One of them swept an electronic wand up and down the front and back of me while the other took a more hands-on approach and patted me down. The one with the wand nodded at Tai, and he dismissed them.
"You ready?" Tai asked.
"They're back there," he said, gesturing to a door behind him. "You were looking for ten?"
"Ten if I can use them," I said, "more if they work out."
"You can see them for yourself and decide," he said. "I've got one set up if you want to sample it. Last door on the left."
"No rough stuff."
"How long do I have?" I asked.
"I'll give you five minutes to do whatever you're going to do," he said. "After that I'll show you the others, and we can talk about price."
"Assuming they're acceptable."
"They will be."
I headed through the door and it closed behind me. The hallway beyond was quiet except for the hum of multiple terminals and a heating unit, with stacks of cardboard and some wooden pallets leaning against the walls. Just above the white noise, I could make out the sound of movement.
I blinked, activating the heads-up display that shone back onto my retinas. The connection with the men waiting downstairs was open, and everything was being recorded. Using a backscatter filter, I could see tiny hidden cameras standing out in sharp relief just behind the drywall, watching me as I made my way down. Cooling thermal signatures across the floor indicated people had been back there recently. I followed them to the last door on the left.
I could feel my heart pounding as I pushed open the door and the smell of urine drifted out. The door opened into a restroom, where the stall doors hung open and most of the toilets were covered with plastic wrap. The floor had traces of half-wiped-away blood, and there was some spattered across the wall where the sinks were. Someone had met with bad news there, but my attention was drawn to the middle of the room. There, standing barefoot on the filthy tiles with its knees together and its hands clutched by its sides, was the revivor.
The old fear took me a little by surprise. Despite the fact that it was a female and practically a girl, I had to force myself to move closer to it.
It stood maybe five-foot-six, a head or so shorter than me, with thin arms and legs and long, straight black hair that partly covered its face. From behind the strands two large eyes looked out at me, the irises a pale silver color, just barely illuminated with a glow that reminded me of moonlight. They followed me as I approached.
It was an improvement over the ones I'd encountered during my tour. The skin was well preserved, and its porcelain tone made the revivor look like a doll or wax figure. The synthetic blood they were using now made some of the veins stand out darkly, but some clientele actually liked that. The cosmetic surgeries had been well-done, too, with almost no scarring. The large, augmented breasts looked out of place on such a thin body, but otherwise might almost have been the originals. The small nipples pointed forward like bullets.
"Stand over there," I told it, pointing to one of the sinks that were covered in plastic.
It did, so it understood English. Its expression didn't change as its bare feet padded across the dirty floor and it stood in front of the sink, its back to the mirror.
It did, gripping the sides of the sink through the plastic wrapping and bending over slightly in a movement that looked practiced. I focused on the back of its neck, just beneath the skull.
I brought up the scanner and looked under the skin and muscle where the components were clustered, a network of nodes and hair-thin filaments around the spot where the spinal cord met the brain. An amber squiggle of light jumped across a circular screen, hovering to one side of the display before snapping into a single waveform—the revivor's heart signature. I processed the signal and pulled the identification. The lot number wasn't on file, so it wasn't sold legitimately. Someone had had this one made to order.
In the mirror, I could see its eyes staring downward as it waited to be violated. My investigations had suggested that Tai had the pleasure models smuggled from Korea, but whoever the woman had been, she didn't look like a Korean local. A tourist, maybe? Someone who wandered down the wrong street?
I focused on the revivor's face in the mirror as it stared through its dark hair, so that the men below could see it.
You getting this? I asked.
I had three of Tai's five minutes left, assuming he stuck to his word.
"You can turn around now," I told it.
It turned, standing with its back toward the sink and staring up at me blankly.
"Someone's probably still looking for you," I said. I said it to myself, but it answered.
I had intended to use a small, directed electromagnetic pulse to short out the components and put it down before leaving the room, but I didn't. It continued to stare into my eyes, expressionless.
Wachalowski, deactivate it.
I was well aware that everyone involved was watching this unfold in real time. Later, I would be questioned about why I did what I did. I had been picked for the operation on the assumption that I knew what a revivor was and wouldn't be prone to hesitation. If anything went wrong, I would be held accountable.
"What did you say?" I asked. Its eyes didn't betray any sadness, or any feeling at all as it answered.
"He'll never stop looking."
An uneasy feeling sank into my gut.
Wachalowski, deactivate it.
I hated revivors. I hated everything about them. They were the worst symptom of a sick arms race that had gotten out of control a long time ago. I'd shipped off for my tour thinking I understood what they were. The day I learned I was wrong came close to being my last day on earth.
The girl looked up at me. When the time came to put it down, I thought I would enjoy it.
Instead I said, "Stay here. Don't move, and don't say anything. Do you understand?"
"If things go bad, hide behind whatever you can, and keep your head down."
I left the bathroom and moved down the corridor. A door to the left was locked, but the next one on the right opened, and I looked in to see a group of figures sitting at desks arranged in rows. Each desk had a small light that lit its surface in the otherwise dark room. Many pairs of silvery eyes floated in the darkness, turning toward me as the door opened. It looked like they were assembling some kind of electronics.
Can you make them out? I asked.
One of them spoke in an Asian dialect, turning its attention from the desk. The translator scrolled its words across the bottom of my peripheral vision.
Who are you? What are you doing in here?
Something else had caught my attention, though. In the back, behind the sweatshop laborers, a series of crates were stacked. An automatic rifle was leaning against one of them, and I switched filters to scan inside the crates and see what else was in there.
Stop there. The words flashed at the bottom of my vision. I did.
Tai trafficked in black-market revivors; that I knew. Some minor gunrunning or drug dealing wouldn't have surprised me either, since he already had the smuggling routes in place, but he dealt in revivors for the labor and sex trade. My investigation of him didn't prepare me to see anything like what I saw.
The crates contained mostly guns, but not the street variety. These were weapons designed to penetrate not just body armor, but tank armor. The varieties of assault rifle I could see included sophisticated targeting systems, multispectrum scopes, and heat-seeking ammo; it was all top-shelf stuff. These were weapons of war.
What are you doing in here? The revivor asked again.
I backed out and closed the door.
Move now, I told SWAT.
On our way.
"Hey," I heard Tai say in a low voice from down the hall. I turned and saw he had entered from the lobby. He wasn't smiling.
"Sorry," I said.
"I said the last door on your left," he said. "That's your right, and it's not the last door."
"I know, I just—"
"Never mind," he said. "Those aren't the ones you want. The ones you want are down here." He gestured down the hallway as he joined me, placing his left hand on my shoulder.
His fist hit my ribs like a stone, and the breath went out of me. I staggered and hit the wall, gasping. The door to the sweatshop opened a little and a female revivor's head peeked out.
"Get back in there," Tai said without looking at it. The head retreated and the door closed.
"Hold still," he said, fishing around in his inside jacket pocket.
"Tai, take it easy. . . ."
At the last minute, I saw the knife in his other hand. He shoved me back, smashing me into the wall with a forearm across my neck. I felt a hard blow to my groin as the knife's blade dug into the wall between my legs.
"Hold still," he said. He took his forearm off my neck and I saw it was a penlight he had taken out of his coat. He flicked it on and shined it in my left eye. I turned my head, but the hand with the knife exerted a little pressure.
"Look forward, and don't move."
If he got a clear look with the light, he'd see the iridescent reflection that would confirm I was implanted. The blade was an inch from my testicles, and the artery in either thigh.
"Tai, you're making a mistake," I said, "I just got turned around for—"
"Don't take this personally."
I blinked once, hard, shutting down the implant; it was the only thing that was going to buy me any more time. With the visual filters offline, he wouldn't notice anything strange. I opened my eyes wide, and looked straight ahead before Tai could say anything else. He shined the light in my eye and leaned in close. He stared into it for a while, his breath on my face. After a few seconds, he snapped off the light.
I didn't say anything; I just kept holding my breath. The knife came out of the wall and moved out from between my legs.
He lunged, but I knew it was coming. I tried to move, but he kicked out my right leg and pushed me down against the wall. I fell into an awkward squat but managed to deflect his thrust, and the knife slammed into the wall just to the left of my throat.
I grabbed his leg and rammed my forearm into his pelvis, knocking him back. He lost his balance and crashed back into the door behind him, the two of us spilling into the room where the revivors were working. It looked like he had lost the knife, but his hand was in his jacket. I grabbed his wrist and we struggled. I saw the gun coming out, and some of the revivors tried to pull me off of him.
I squeezed my eyes shut and reactivated the implant.
Jovanovic-Zaytsev Industries Cybernetic Implant model L65730001-M initializing . . .
The JZI came back online. Tai struggled to get the gun free as diagnostic information scrolled in front of me and the communications link began to reconnect. The translator module finished initializing, and as the revivors continued to chatter, words began streaming by.
Stop! What are you doing? Help!
I kept my weight on Tai, but he was stronger than he looked. I brought my fist back, my elbow crunching into the nose of one of the revivors who was trying to pull me away, then hit Tai with everything I had. His eyes swam, but he didn't go out. The revivor I'd creamed fell onto the floor next to us, clutching its face.
Before I could hit him again, a big hand grabbed my arm from behind, hauling me back like a rag doll. As I was pulled off of Tai, I kept a grip on his gun, and as my feet left the ground, I stomped my heel on his forehead.
That put him down. His hand went slack, and I grabbed the gun as a beefy arm came around the front of my neck and squeezed. The muscle felt like cold stone against my throat, and breath smelling of rot huffed down the back of my neck.
The fear was worse than I had remembered. My legs went weak and everything seemed to slow down. I put the barrel of the gun against the thigh of the thing behind me and pulled the trigger. The blood that splashed back was cold.
Tai's eyes fluttered open and he sat up, looking disoriented. He got to his feet and smoothed his clothes.
"Kill him," he said.
He took off, but I didn't see where he went. The arm came off my neck and I pulled in a breath as I was spun around, spots swimming in front of me. Something crashed across my head, and my legs went out from under me. As I dangled by one wrist, the hand that gripped it tried to shake the gun out of my hand. I looked up and saw a big male revivor with cropped black hair standing over me, its eyes ghostly white. Its mouth gaped open and long strands of drool hung from its lower lip, all of its crowded teeth on display.
This was the kind of revivor I knew. Low-end, made for combat, with only one or two imperatives buzzing around in its decaying brain. It might have come from the same steamy hellhole where I saw my first one.
I hit it, but if the thing felt any pain at all it didn't show it. It forced my gun hand around and squeezed off another shot that grazed its ear. It pushed the gun back, twisting it around toward me.
As the barrel began to move toward my face, I felt the thing's thumb rooting around for the trigger. From over the revivor's shoulder I saw the bathroom door open, and the female revivor stepped out, staring at me through its stringy hair. It held its hands up in front of it, like a child who wasn't sure what to do.
There was a loud bang, and the female retreated back into the bathroom. Shadows played on the wall as two uniformed SWAT men barreled around the corner.
"Here!" the one taking point shouted. Without hesitation, he aimed and fired, causing the revivor's head to pitch to one side, spraying oily black fluid. The grip on my wrist released as it staggered away from me.
The SWAT officer fired again, and it dropped to one knee, then fell onto its back. The two men approached me as I rubbed my wrist. I moved over to where the revivor lay, trying to get back up as fluid pooled around its head. I aimed the gun and fired, putting a bullet between its eyes. I fired three more rounds and the top of its head broke open, spilling black guts out onto the floor.
"Whoa, whoa!" the officer said, holding up one hand. "You got him, chief."
"That is not a pleasure or a labor model," I said, pointing at it with the barrel of the gun.
Something was going on here. Tai was into something that went way beyond what I'd gone there to bust him for; something he'd managed to keep secret.
I turned and saw Tai being dragged into view down at the end of the hall. Two more officers forced him against the wall, and when he tried to turn around, one of them kicked out his leg and forced him onto his knees.
"Hands behind your head."
"Starting a war?" I asked him.
He grinned. "Keep your doors locked," he said in a low voice, glaring at me. He didn't look angry, just serious.
"Shut up," the SWAT guy said. I turned and started down the hallway.
"You hear me?" Tai called.
I passed the wall where Tai had pinned me, and saw his knife lying a few feet away. I approached the squad leader.
"There are ten revivors out back," I said to him, "plus one in the bathroom."
"Looks like our guys picked up another ten," he said, "plus the rest of Tai's men. You all right?"
"Yeah. Process Tai and the others, then load them and the revivors into the truck."
"Were your techs able to get a connection into his computer system?"
"You should have access now."
I scanned and found the socket, then opened a connection to it and brought up the system in my field of view. I turned the antisecurity software on it and waited for it to drill down and disable his firewall. Tai's stuff was encrypted, but nothing fancy. I cycled through his files, which mostly consisted of inventory—the specs and identifications of revivors he had brought into the country, which ones had been moved already, and which ones were still on order. No pickup location was spelled out, but there were a series of docket numbers, and it didn't take long to match them to receiving ports at the Palm Harbor Shipyard. It looked as if they were being smuggled in among legitimate cargo from a bunch of different sources. I couldn't tell from where, but it was a good start.
I headed back to the reception area, where the SWAT team had gathered the revivors. They had been grouped in rows and were now kneeling, with their hands behind their heads. Most of them were female and had cookie-cutter versions of the same body modifications. They were all dressed in cheap paper hospital smocks.
As I headed out the door, I turned back and saw one of the men bring in the one from the bathroom, nudging it forward with the barrel of his rifle. It looked at me like it recognized me. The man forced it down onto the floor with the others, and I turned and headed back to the elevator, putting in a call to the assistant director.
This is Noakes.
Agent Wachalowski reporting. Four suspects apprehended. Twenty-one revivors recovered. It looks like they've been bringing them in via Palm Harbor.
Where are the revivors now?
SWAT is loading them into the truck. We uncovered some pretty serious firepower here as well. Weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment. SWAT is cataloging it; you'll have the list shortly.
What are we looking at?
Whoever wanted it knows his stuff. There's enough to arm a small militia.
Noakes didn't respond right away.
Get the seller down here. We need that information.
They're moving him and the revivors now. From Tai's records, it looks like something was just brought in to the shipyard. I'm on my way there. If we're lucky, no one has picked it up yet.
A team will meet you there. Find out where that stuff was going.
The doors opened, and I crossed into the lobby. Across the foyer, I could see someone standing in the shadows near the exit. He wasn't in uniform. I pinged the squad leader upstairs.
You guys have anyone in the lobby?
Negative. Two outside; the rest are up here.
The figure moved toward me, and when he stepped into the light I could see he was young, maybe college age. He had tangled brown hair and uneven stubble. He wore sneakers, running pants, and a gray hoodie. He wasn't carrying a weapon.
"What are you doing in here?" I asked him.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?"
I scanned into the soft tissue of his face and saw some bioelectronics fitted behind the eyes. He was here gathering footage. I was being recorded.
"I hear you've got some revivors upstairs," he said.
"Be careful what you admit to," I said, moving past him. "There's only one way you could have heard that."
As I pushed past, he followed, keeping pace with me.
"Come on, you can give me something, can't you?"
"Sorry, I can't," I said, "and listening in on even unsecured communications like that is a felony; you know that. The SWAT guys are on their way down, and if they find you here, you're going to be arrested."
There's a reporter down here looking for footage. Clear him out before you bring the revivors down.
"It's already out," he said. "You can't keep it a secret. Just give me fifteen seconds' worth."
"Technically, if you're not outside, you're supposed to inform anyone you talk to if you're going to record them," I said, "Like you're doing right now. If you want, I can slap an injunction on you, and the techs can take a crawl through everything you've got sitting in your buffers. How does that sound?"
That seemed to hit home, and he stayed behind as I headed across the parking lot toward my car. When I got in, I could see him still standing there like he wasn't sure whether or not he should chance going back. In the rearview mirror I saw him watching me, probably still recording as I pulled out and drove away.
With the scene behind me, I took a deep breath. I realized my heart was pounding and I tried to slow it down. I couldn't get the image of that girl revivor's face out of my head.
The first time I ever saw a revivor's face, it was dark out and hotter than hell. The revivor was a male, and when it came staggering up out of the wet grass, I knew for a fact that the man was dead because I was the one who had killed him.
The last time I'd seen one out in the grinder, I was being airlifted away in a helicopter, with a tube down my throat. It came lurching out of the brush, wet eyes staring right at me as we began to rise. Its teeth, stained bright red, were showing, and there was a terrible want on that waxy face that remained even as the gunner turned on it and made it dance.