“Robot Shell” Cyberpunk Horror by Jeff Bagato

When she was a girl, before her first menses, she began to read the great dissident’s articles and pamphlets, and his forbidden book, Truth Statements; and so Gina Galaktoboureko became a woman as she became a rebel, and both sides of herself were drawn to the mesmerism of Roberto Dolmas’ powerful eyes and his beautiful words. More poetry than polemic, the epigrams, aphorisms and analysis of his major work dissected the lies of the State and brought new light to a dark world. One statement, his most famous, earned him a prison sentence: “The State is a man with a gun pointed at his own temple; to defend the law, he dies; to defend himself, he dies. To survive, he must put down the gun and pick up the shepherd’s hook to lead his people from the wilderness.” She vowed to meet him one day, no matter that he had been one of five million prisoners in the Concentration for twenty years.

            Today, Giga ran down the slippery slope of her favela, surefooting across divots and obstacles in the road. She gave thanks for such things, because they slowed the bangers. One of the robot guards chased her now, its metal legs stamping along, goggle eyes glowing as its helmet-like head scanned for the quarry. She had spent the morning with her crew throwing rocks at the robopoli that were breaking up a strike against a textile factory. Finally, one had broken free of its fellows to round up the miscreants.

            “Undaloo!” she shouted, pumping her fist in the air. “Skill the drop down and I pass!”

            As the robot closed, she ducked and rolled off the path, under a makeshift culvert of broken cement block and brick. Her mates released their ropes, sending a missile down on the machine. At its center crouched a mass of the heaviest junk they could find, stuck through with rebar that protruded well outside the thick-wound layers of rags locking it all together. A perfect strike between the base of the neck and the left shoulder, the weight pushed an iron spike through the metal shell. And now the death blow.

            “Killa! Killa!” three voices shouted at once, only one of them Giga’s, but hers was loudest. “Kabiz! Shoot the juice!”

            Somewhere out of sight, the smartest one of them all flipped a switch on a remote control of his own manufacture. This triggered the electric charge in the missile to shoot down the spike, into the banger, stopping it short. A single hot spark smoked at the back of its head, and its limbs shuddered. The robopoli fell with the dull sound of thick metal plate hitting packed mud and weed.

            The slums of her city spread out for a hundred miles around a gated central core of high rise offices and residences. Shacks built of refuse blended with piles of garbage and scrap, and one might feed just as well on waste pulled from the dumps as from the local markets. When you caught a rat or a pigeon, you were a millionaire for a day. This afternoon, Giga’s plan had caught them a major pigeon, but it was not to be fortunate.

            Five of them huddled around the banger’s body, enjoying the thrill of adrenaline in the wake of their success. Soon enough, they expected other bangers to come, drawn like wasps to the fallen body of a nest-mate. Right now, they studied the joints of its limbs and waist, the vents and protrusions around its torso which suggested hidden functions that could be exploited in the future. And they watched the blood seeping from its shoulder, red blood like any man’s. Everyone’s stomachs tightened at that, for they had never seen it before.

            “I’ve heard the captains of industry fill the metal body with human blood,” Alejan said. He was the oldest and boldest and most handsome, a young man of twenty with long dark hair and bright dark eyes, long limbs and slim torso, all exposed to show skin the color of aged copper; he wore only ragged blue shorts. “It scares the fealty into submission.”

            “It a scarin’ me now,” Undaloo said. He looked ready to run, to fade into the cardboard and tin maze that surrounded them.

            Kabiz had been studying the robot closest; he wanted to build one himself. Now he spoke, which was so rare they all fell silent. “It’s gettin’ hot, my kin. Look’t the metal glow!”

            So it was, glowing like cast iron in a forge between a pumping bellows and a washtub mound of bright red coals. That glow radiated out, so hot they had to step back to avoid getting burned. The blood dried on the shoulder and turned to ash. The damp cardboard lining the path under the machine steamed until it could steam no more, then it sparked and caught flame. As a cloud of ash emerged from a vent on the robot’s back, the fire leaped across a banquet of ready tinder: oiled rags, sun baked wood, yellowed paper, empty food packages, dried out dung, and a thousand shapes of scrap.

            Undaloo vanished; Somon gaped at his leaders; Kabiz shrugged, covered his mouth against the smoke, and waited.

            “Get you gone, fellows, but yell the word of fire,” Giga said. Alejan had already gone for the nearest pan of rainwater. He emptied the beige plastic basin, creating a steam bath at the center of the spreading flames.

            “Fire! Fire!” Giga and Alejan yelled together. “Bring water!”

            Then they saw the banger squad tramping up the hill; three robots loading palm guns with stun capsules. The robots could handle the fire while the crew ran away.

            Side by side, the lovers sprinted over the crest of the hill. They had to go around a shack, a table, a market stall, or a crowd of fealty who could only stand and talk where others planned and fought—like Giga and Alejan, using their heads and their words and their fists against the captains of industry. They had little respect for these helpless, silent ghosts, but they warned them of the fire all the same.

            Down the hill they ran, legs and hearts pumping; it brought a smile to Giga’s face, for the exertion reminded the young woman of her nights with Alejan, bodies joining in joyous energy under the open stars. They separated where the alley between tin sheds narrowed, each taking a fork in the path. Lights flashed and the wall at her left exploded outward, wrapping her in cardboard, plastic and tinfoil. One banger grabbed her upper arm, lifting her as she tried to leap away, twisting her sideways with a crack of her humerus until it could grab her leg with its other metal glove.

            Constricted flesh bursting under a tightening grip, Giga screamed; her bright brown eyes, clouding in pain and her first taste of real fear, caught sight of Alejan as he moved forward with a length of lead pipe.

            “Alejan!” she shouted, “No fight here! Run from this place! I am dead! I am dead!”

            Her lover would not heed these words; he kept coming, until a Defender fired a capsule in the young man’s direction. Alejan dodged, losing his footing on some paper wet with fresh dung or fetid water; he slipped and fell, rolling down the hill, out of view, bangers in pursuit.

            As her captor carried her, it lifted Giga over its pyramidal helmet of a head, a soft and suffering trophy of war. From on high, she could see tall flames rising above the shanties, smoke billowing into wind that blew up the hill from the river. The favela had caught fire, and now her people and not bangers would die. Shame flooded her mind, washing in with the pain of her broken arm and torn flesh, and she began to cry hot tears that would not replace these homes, these people, her pride or her love.

            Forced into a red van, Giga huddled in the corner nearest the doors, holding her arm, ignoring the others, who returned the favor. They would see more than enough of each other as they counted out the remainder of their years in the Concentration.

#

            Three years passed before Giga met Roberto Dolmas. This hero of the coming revolution did not see anyone, not even beautiful young women, without references and reports of their conduct, their connections, their commitment to the cause. She formed discussion groups to raise the consciousness of those prisoners who remained fealty; she served on revolutionary committees in her cell block, and represented her blocks up the chain in the organization. Her mind was sharp, her face lovely, and her figure coveted throughout. She possessed an inner fire for justice that ignited the plentiful fuel of repression across the prison complex, and she showed no fear, no matter what manner of opponent faced her, be it Defender, tribunal, the warden, or traitorous peers.

            Dolmas had grown old in prison. In his thirties when he first began to write his analysis of the state mechanisms, he avoided Correction for another decade before an associate turned him in. Something of a monk in his civilian life, he became a messiah within the Concentration’s walls, teaching, organizing, learning and listening, and he affected everyone who heard him speak.

            “I’ve read all your papers,” Giga told him, using her most formal mode of speech. “From then on I had to fight. ‘Once one can see truth,’” she was quoting him, now, or very nearly, “‘the walls crumble, and the world opens before you.’ It was that way with me, and my friends, too. We caused a lot of trouble for the bangers, just to open little windows of freedom wherever we could.”

            “I’ve heard some tales about your victories in the favela,” Dolmas told her, bringing a light to her eyes and darkening the polished copper of her cheeks. “Direct action can be such a joy. It’s hard to be young inside a box such as this; mostly we sit and talk. That can be more difficult than an open fight.”

            “We can plan,” Giga said. “We can ready our minds and bodies, preparing for the time we will stand together with our backs against the wall, and our faces against the war.”

            Dolmas laughed. “I may have to start quoting you from now on. I can see you will be a great inspiration to our comrades at the next gathering.”

            These words also fired the young woman’s heart and soul, as well as her body. She eroticized her zeal, and the philosophical founder of it. He had grown old, but his eyes, his words, his mind, and his body remained vigorous. They became lovers, and his thoughts penetrated her with their brilliant, sparkling fire.

#

            For five years, Giga’s old friends avoided the Defenders of the State. Without her influence, their activity had slimmed to boasting of past exploits with their beautiful leader. By accident, they became embroiled in a street battle when, from their favorite café, they saw a platoon of robopoli wade into a mass of old men and women protesting another reduction in their pensions. As the crowd scattered under the force of swinging batons, Alejan saw his own mother in the crowd, the guard looming over her, truncheon raised. He had never covered such distance so fast, as if he had willed himself there by mental force; chair upraised to receive the blow, he pushed his mother along with the others. He struggled against the machine until it reduced the chair to scrap; by then his friends stood at his side: Kabiz, Undaloo, and Somon. They each took their turn under the baton, until they succumbed, senseless and exhausted, to arrest. They entered Concentration together, forming a small block of the long stream of men entering the south gate against their wills.

            Knowing Giga would be somewhere at the forefront of the prison’s political life, they attended every rally, meeting, and lecture that came to their attention. When she took the podium at one heavily congested gathering, they rose from the floor, cheering like wild children on a playground. Secret political meetings in a prison are serious affairs, and as they were being pulled down to be taught a lesson, Giga intervened, introducing them to the assembly, and improvising an oration about their youthful exploits. The legend of The Five was born that day, and they became inseparable again.

            Giga had grown weary of her role in the political college centered around Roberto Dolmas. She chilled to his caresses as she became aware of his cynical attitude toward their teachings and his contempt for the fealty. Some months ago, she had asked for a break from their intimacies. Now, in the presence of Alejan, her passions bloomed again. Her friends energized her, gave her new hope. Every day they sat at the feet of the great political philosopher and absorbed his wisdom. But the old man glared at his rival with hate.

            Early one morning, after spending a whole night debating the finer points of a lecture on the economics of power, Giga learned that her lover, her muse, her heart had been taken from his cell by a squad of Defenders, accused of inciting rebellion in the prison. It could have been said of any of them, and it would have been true. It was a charge no one could defend or defeat, certain to earn death in this prison, although one never saw the dying or the dead. When Alejan went before the tribunal, no one was allowed to attend his trial, and neither Giga nor anyone else of The Five ever saw him again.

            The night of Alejan’s sentencing, Giga had planned to attend a clandestine meeting to organize a protest, but she had an unexpected visitor. The robot guard loomed before her, blocking her path. On its chest, embossed in fresh gold paint, stood a number Giga did not recognize: 756609. Surely, this defender had been reassigned from another section of the prison. It pressed her back, leaning into her body, the surface of its upper carapace making contact with her breasts. The machine forced the young woman into her cell until she felt her shoulders touch the rear wall. Wiping its baton up her inner thigh, the guard drove the weapon against her sex, causing her to rise to her toes, then pushed it forward, pulled it back. A gentle motion, perhaps, but it filled her belly with fear and her mind with rage.

            “Some new intimidation tactic,” Giga thought. “But I will not be moved. These guards shall fall with the glass, concrete and steel containing us all, and one day I shall be free of this confinement.”

            With Alejan gone, Giga pursued her mission with less enthusiasm. A light had gone out for her, not easily rekindled. Dolmas tried to reignite the young woman’s lantern himself. He invited her to his cell for a solitary meeting, and there was chilled white wine, a soft cheese, a fresh loaf of white bread, all impossible luxuries for foot soldiers and slum dwellers such as herself. They had shared these intimacies during the earlier years of their relationship, and she had not questioned the inequity of his privilege in the haze of intellectual and physical passion. Now, it seemed a terrible violation of the principles he defined so beautifully in Truth Statements and his prison orations.

            From his bed, Dolmas stretched out his arm toward her. “Join me, Giga! Like the old days, let us speak of the spirit of life. I want your opinion on a new essay I’m writing. It begins, ‘Enclosed by walls, I see truth in the smallest things; they have a greater light than when we find them outside.’”

            His greatest disciple’s beautiful lips formed a wan smile; her eyes held a kindness, her words a gentleness, but it was the kindness and gentleness a young woman reserves for an old man when respect has become pity, when friendship has become obligation, when love has become a fear of death.

            “Roberto, I am lost.”

            “Let me help you find yourself.”

            “I need solitude to find Giga again.”

            “Solitude can be poison when one is depressed.” He held both hands in the air, palms out and fingers spread in a gesture of utmost honesty. “I don’t wish to touch you. I want us to be friends again. Let us talk about your truth, your grief.”

            These words stung Giga’s mind, like the subtle mockery of a trickster god. How could he know of her truth when he had never listened? How could he know of her grief, when he had never sympathized with her love? But she said, “My friend, I am poor company these days. I reserve all my passion for the work. I do not miss luxuries I have never had. I’m sorry, but I must leave you now and return to my cell to prepare for our next meeting with the fealty.”

            She turned and left him in his chamber to watch her strong back and coveted curves move further out of reach.

            Dolmas felt her rebuke penetrate his ego like a serrated knife dividing his ribs in a slow, twisting motion; one crest at a time jarred his bones until the tip touched his consciousness. A protective urge kicked in, and one word escaped his lips: “Bitch!” He raised his arm to swipe the food and drink to the concrete floor. Then he made a calming decision, and his mind let go of one more beautiful girl. There would always be another.

            Observing for a moment the fragrant, creamy smear on a thin slice of bread, he picked up a glass of wine already wet with dew. “Luxury is truth,” he said aloud. And then he laughed.

#

            “When I see truth,” Dolmas said one evening, surrounded by his inner circle, after a few rounds of homemade vodka, “I ask for its identification card. I ask to see its proof of purchase. I ask to see its age statement.”

            The other men laughed, but Giga, sitting at his right side with his rough hand on her thigh, felt uncomfortable. These were not beautiful words of inspiration, but the shaded, ugly words of a cynic. Perhaps he could be excused, for he was a drunk old man who had spent half his life in jail.

            “I see no truth in this prison, but a concentration of complacency.” Giga spoke as if she had carefully revised and rehearsed her words; it was the fire of her mentor, when he was younger and still a fighter, that had grown within her. “We should either bring the struggle of the streets inside these walls, or the words and plans of our long, quiet days to the people outside. Truth eludes us; here, we only see its shadow.”

            “You are angry, my dear,” Dolmas said in a sleepy, indifferent way. “I envy your youthful passions. It’s true these walls fell on me years ago, burying my ambition in rubble. I can see that I have held you back; I should have long ago provided you the means to spread your wings, carry our torch to the streets, where the favela can burn.”

            A frantic image of the last fire she had seen filled the young woman’s vision; flames—that kind of real fire—were a terrible thing that caused suffering, injury and loss to people who just wanted to pass unnoticed in order to survive. In her cell, she had learned empathy for the fealty, for those who could not hear or see truth. Sometimes, she imagined that truth was an illusion, as dangerous an opiate as religion or materialism; freedom, perhaps, was just a day at the beach with a belly full of fresh fish and rice, and a heart full of a lover’s presence at your side. She thought then of the lost Alejan, and understood, at last, that freedom was no longer possible for her.

            “You are quiet tonight, my dear.”

            “If you know a way out of this prison, I need to hear it now. I do not seek freedom for myself, but for others. Caged like this, I can help no one. I can teach no one, lift no one. I would start a community center to provide job training, literacy, shelter and food for those who need it.”

            Dolmas interrupted her. “The convent exists for that purpose.”

            “Then I will join the convent. I will do their work and learn their truth.”

            At that moment, the revolutionary prophet realized he had lost his disciple forever. Gina Galaktoboureko would move on to another book, another god, another organization, and that betrayal Roberto Dolmas could not tolerate.

            “I believe there is a way to escape. You see these guards around us everywhere? Each one is nothing more than a hollow metal shell. Disable it, short out its circuits, and you can open it up. There’s a control system you can remove easily. In such a costume, a man could walk at will. I see no reason he could not even leave the prison walls and emerge on the streets.”

            “Become a guard to escape a prison?” Giga laughed. “That is easier said than done.”

            “You have your resources, I feel sure. Your crew, the workshop. You are a clever girl. If anyone could succeed, you would be the one. I know you would do great things on the streets.”

            The other old men wore big grins under their moustaches, as if they were listening to a joke with a long set up, the punchline yet to come. For the first time, Giga did not fully trust the words of her former hero. She had begun to realize her own truth during her years in confinement, and this piece of it hurt her more than any other punishment or hardship.

            “If that’s the only way, I will have to consider it. But I have never heard of this before.”

            “I have been here a long time, and I have many informants,” Dolmas said with a shrug. “Sometimes, they come from very high up, indeed.”

            Giga nodded, retreating into her own mind; as the men poured another round, she excused herself for the evening to be alone with her thoughts.

#

            Like the old days in the slums, Giga gathered Kabiz, Undaloo and Somon in the prison metalworking shop, where the State, in cynical appeasement of liberal sentiment, provided tools, machines and supplies to train men and women who would never again see the streets. The smartest one, as usual, drew up a plan. The others gathered the materials: four defibrillators, six metal trays from the cafeteria, wires and bedsprings, and rubber sandals for insulation. Once rewired and spread in an array that linked to the panels, the medical devices created a powerful magnetic field that sucked up springs and metal pipe.

            “Damma banger get heart cracker!” Somon exclaimed.

            “That my idea, money” Kabiz said. “First, we gonna want one tee walk a-tween ese panels.”

            Giga had watched them work their magic with pride. Her friends could achieve anything they set their minds to. Why not build a rocket and join the rich men on the moon? Why not build a machine to make all bangers build homes, hospitals and schools for the poor? On the outside, they would try for the stars. While they made the weapon, she had not been idle.

            “I have a plan,” she told them in the street dialect. “Simple simple. I strike a banger and bring him down to fall. This as the time, no time to wait.”

            “Nega!” Somon exclaimed. “Nah yo, kin a me. Me do dese thing-thing an’ yo stay in safe.”

            “Nega back on dese! Me choose me banger, a-right? Banger no see’n threat from dis girl, see dese wisdom?”

            Somon looked at his bare feet and nodded his head.

            “Thanks on yo, me kin. We shock down dese banger as kin, one an’ one.”

            “When we go?” Undaloo asked.

            “Dese night of nights. Canna store dese makings in all cells.”

            “Aye, an’ dese words say wise.”

            Giga did not need to search far to find a guard, did not need to work hard to attract its attention. She rapped it on the shoulder with a stick the machine broke away with a swipe of one powerful metal arm. It gave pursuit as she sprinted down the hall, laughing with joy, like those long ago days running the maze of the favela.

            Her friends had hidden behind table saws and drill presses; she ran into the workroom, between the sheet metal plates of their weapon. The narrow path, blocked by bins and tools, left no other way through, so the guard followed her. When it reached the center of the little alley, Kabiz jammed the switch on his machine.

            One cannot see magnetism; the force of its waves acts invisibly on an electronic machine, rerouting the normal pulses of whatever heart or brain it may possess. This one froze, burbling static and broken words, limbs jerking in a terrible way, and then the light died in the goggles that served as its eyes. Once it became still, Giga noticed its identification number, embossed in gold above its left breast: 756609. As information, it meant nothing to her; still, she could not shake a feeling of familiarity, like déjà vu, that she had encountered this defender before.

            “Killa killa banger!” All at once they shouted, then hushed themselves for fear of bringing down other guards.

            “How do we get it open? Kabiz tell us,” Undaloo said.

            “Open up, money!” Kabiz ordered as the others laughed. Their muscles had eased and they could smell each other’s sweat now; the laughter helped them control their breaths, their heartbeats.

            The heat started then, radiating from the robot’s body in intensifying waves until the metal carapace glowed cherry red. They had seen this once before, and it had not lost the power to terrify. The temperature rose as if on an oven gauge, fifty and a hundred degrees at a time, beyond the power to cook meat or bread, reaching sufficient energy to incinerate flesh and blood and bone. The floor beneath its feet began to scorch; the metal panels at its sides softened and warped. The heat grew, forcing them back as even the heavy iron frames of the nearby tools began to grow hot. A rush of air vented from the machine’s torso, spreading out with a mild hiss in the still, silent workshop. Gray particles dusted the floor, static holding some of the ash on the trays and the tool walls.

            As rapidly as the temperature had climbed, now it cooled. The metal carapace of the robot’s back split down the middle, allowing two panels to open, fixed to the shoulder blades like a beetle’s wings. The streets had not hardened the crew enough for this experience; they approached now like small children come upon a jellyfish melting on the beach, fearing its sting, fearing that its dead body was a trap that could snare them, too.

            All along, the guard had been a hollow shell. If there had been a control mechanism, perhaps the heat had burned it away, so it could not fall into the hands of the State’s enemies. There remained space for a human, as if tailored for such a purpose: the arms like metal sleeves, the legs like metal trousers, the vast torso like a coat to wear against the wind and weather of the outside world.

            For a moment, Giga almost stepped back from her ideals and her dreams, abandoning the defiant words of truth and rebellion for the humble, durable life of the fealty. She had to catch herself, lift herself up, stilling her heart and mind to take up the task she had set herself. As she stepped forward, Undaloo put out his arm, blocking her access to the carapace.

            “Not on you! Me smell trouble. On ese streets, we sayin’, ‘Climb in an oven to get burned, climb in a grave to die.’ An’ this wise?”

            “We not out the streets. Trouble an’ sure! Here the only wings we gone get. Come fire or grave, this chance I take, all in all.”

            In his quiet voice, Kabiz said, “I can no agree, kin. An’ these wings be those of the devil, they carry you only to hell.”

            “I will take you out this Concentration if I can, me kin. Wit’ love an’ sorrow, I go now.”

            “Luck an’ strength,” they all said together, “an’ sunshine in time.”

            Giga stepped behind the machine. First her left foot fit into the metal boot. She grasped the armpits of the sleeves and pulled herself inside, pushing the right foot down to its sole. Small platforms in the boots rose to adjust her height, so her body aligned with the other parts of the robot shell. Each arm reached down to metal gloves, flexing the fingers, and for the first time Giga smiled, feeling the possibility before her. She pushed her face into the mask, to test the view through the goggles on the face, seeing her friends clearly, their bodies stiff with concern, their faces grim and afraid.

            At that moment, the wings of the back carapace folded down, locking into place. Giga took a step forward, and another, raising her right arm in both greeting and farewell. She had intended to turn, to walk out of the workshop, to stride down the halls in the full power of a Defender of the State, not stopping until she reached the prison gates and the streets beyond. The machine had another plan. Living wires grew from the interior walls, probing down toward the soft flesh constrained within. They penetrated the skin at every part of the young woman’s body, and then they pushed along, reinforcing each nerve with hot wire. By the time the thin copper strands reached her spinal cord, Giga’s body burned with terrible fire, living conflagration that seared her flesh but did not burn. No devil ever tortured souls in hell with such pain. It could not be borne, and she lost her mind for a while as the wires reached her brain and joined every neuron, every synapse to the renewed network. The electrical system of the shell merged with her nervous system, and then it rebooted, binding every muscle, every thought to State control.

            As the goggles lit up with new light, Kabiz’s quick mind grasped what had happened. “They’re everyone a human in all ese shells,” he said, moaning. “All in all guard once a man like us!”

            “An’ now Giga?” Undaloo asked. Kabiz nodded once, his eyes wide, staring at what had become of their beautiful friend. “Better to kill her now!” Undaloo shouted. He had raised a metal bar in his hand, picked up from the workroom supplies. Now he charged the robot, the weapon flailing over his head.

            In a smooth motion, Defender 756609 swept its metal arm to intercept the blow, twisting the man around and down to his knees. Then the guard raised its own truncheon and drove the end of it six inches into the attacker’s brain. Stepping forward, the robot grabbed a second prisoner. This was Somon, frozen in place with his mouth hanging open.

            “You will submit to the law!” the guard told them. Kabiz pressed the button on the control unit, but the defibrillators had burned out with the first shock. He threw the remote at the guard, then reached for another weapon of his own devising, an electrified chain; the charge was not strong on this device, as he intended it only for defense in a prison brawl. It would have to do.

            “Giga!” Kabiz said, struggling to keep his voice calm. “You’re hurting Somon’s arm! Letta him go, an’ we all return to ese cells. I will help you get out the machine, if you let me.”

            “You must be brought to the tribunal for sentence,” the robot voice insisted. “You will come with me.”

            “I don’t think so.” Energizing the chain, Kabiz slashed the weapon through the air, and it made contact, actually wrapped around the guard’s thick neck. The mild jolt caused its eyes to glow more brightly for a moment and fueled a new violence in the machine’s manner. Defender 756609’s next movements came with an unexpected quickness and grace. With its right fist, it tore Somon’s arm from its socket; with its left, it pulled the chain from Kabiz’s grip. The baton flashed twice, first slicing into Somon’s skull, then chopping at Kabiz. The small man raised an arm, only to have it smashed in half; he was watching his hand and lower forceps fold down toward the elbow and did not see the truncheon blow that split his own skull.

            Blood, much blood—the blood of brothers, compatriots, friends—washed over the prison tiles with a color like the end of the world.

            Giga watched this scene unfold through goggles that had sucked in her own eyes. A mania of nerve pain had overtaken her body. Her muscles made motions out of her control; she had never moved like that before, had never imagined doing such things to another human being. Like watching oneself in a dream, she experienced the event at a twilight distance apart from reality. Trapped in the robot carapace, one part of her remained frozen in nightmare while the other fully engaged in the duties of hell. The deaths of her friends—at her own hands—broke her spirit.

            Gina Galaktoboureko could feel her self-consciousness fading, and as all her will and ambition, all her love and hope, and the rest of her personality dropped away, one thought dominated what remained of the mind called “I, Giga.”

            The new cyborg rushed straight to the cell of Roberto Dolmas and smashed the armored lock, practically tore the steel door from its hinges. Then Defender 756609 raised its truncheon and clubbed the old man’s back and his thighs and his arms and especially his head with a savage fire of fury the authorities could not justify. Later it was said the prisoner had subversive, revolutionary thoughts detected by the guard. For those crimes, the body of the great political philosopher had been crushed, his mind shattered. His closest followers found him laying in a pool of his own blood and vomit, urine and stool. He never recovered the fullness of his physical or mental faculties. From then on, he spent his life confined to a hospital pallet, with tubes and wires projecting from his skeletal limbs, his cadaverous head. A heart machine pumped his blood, and a lung machine pumped his air, and his beautiful thoughts flowed no more.

            His powerful eyes, however, had clouded with fear, and now, finally, he saw the truth everywhere.


A multi-media artist living near Washington, DC, Jeff Bagato produces poetry and prose as well as electronic music and glitch video. His published books include Cthulhu Limericks (poetry), The Toothpick Fairy (fiction), and Computing Angels (fiction). A blog about his writing and publishing efforts can be found at http://jeffbagato.wordpress.com.


One thought on ““Robot Shell” Cyberpunk Horror by Jeff Bagato

  1. Pingback: My story “The Robot Shell” published in The Chamber magazine | jeff bagato

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