NEXT ERA
BY NATHAN ROBERSON
PART I-SIMULATION

NOT FAR FROM YOUR TIME

"So, what model is this guy?" Morris asked.
"W-4. He's eight days old." Lynn replied.
"When did we get that kind of tech stuff? We're producing W-4s?" Morris asked.
"Yep, Kaiser's latest endeavor."
Morris and Lynn worked for the Kaiser Corporation, a very modest construction corporation.
Android construction.
Morris and Lynn watched through the window as this new W-4 android fought off tons of their top soldiers with ease.
"What have we put him through?" Morris asked.
"World War II, The American Revolution, everything imaginable." Lynn replied.
"What's he doing now?"
"Jungle survival tactics. We've gone through the database and found all of the best civilians trained to live and fight in the jungle." Lynn answered.
"Data transfer I presume." Morris said.
"We can't, and we wouldn't, send actual real civilians on this guy." Lynn said.
"That weapon of his, that blue and red staff. Where'd he get it?" Morris asked.
"Our treasure collection." Lynn replied smiling. "Banyan has one."
Both went silent at the mention of Banyan.

Inside the computer simulation John Verona lunged at another jungle savage. He'd killed over eighty now. He stopped counting at fifty. They kept coming, like the Nazis a couple days ago. He wondered, why in the world was there so much . . . WAR? It made no sense to fight, because he would simply destroy them all if they tried.

"He's gonna hit the hundred mark in a minuet." Lynn said.
"Never seen anything like this. The 389s were said to be the best, they don't even compare to this . . ."
"His name's Verona, John Verona." Lynn answered.
"The first of our new factory in Verona I take it?"
"Yep," Lynn replied, "and John Caron designed him."
"Caron designed him? No wonder he's so good."
"I gotta load up a new civilian, and I'm making this one tough. His name is Cid Stratton. He's got over twenty years over U. S. foot soldier experience." Lynn announced.
"You can't be a foot soldier that long!" Morris exclaimed.
"Transistor War."
"Oh." Morris was silent.

John Verona woke up. The trip to Japan had been long. And now he saw him, Cid, the enemy. John brought out his staff and Cid brandished a samurai sword. Cid took a big swing but John brought up his staff and it amazingly stopped the blade. John knocked Cid down and prepared to kill him.

"You're making it too easy, Lynn!"
"The perfect soldier can't lose. If he is the perfect soldier he at least has to think he is." Lynn said.
"Stop saying he and him. John is an it, an android."

The alarm sounded. Someone was using Cid Stratton's artificial data card number. The artificial data card number was a card used to make an artificial replicant of the actual person in a computer system. They were commonly used in fighting simulation. But whoever put in the number had control of the artificial person. Cid wouldn't let that happen. He sat down at his computer, and started to hack.

John started to bring down the staff.
"Stop!" Cid cried out.
What? He talked? John thought.
"You don't know what you're doing!" Cid cried.
"Killing you. That's the mission. That's why I came to Japan." John, a tall, slightly lanky, somewhat attractive man said.
"Japan, eh? Computer fed. This is probably Kaiser or Rosen Corp." Cid said, getting to his feet. "You aren't in Japan. We're in a computer system. Are you human?"
"I am John Verona, soldier of the man Kaiser." John answered.
"Kaiser Corp. eh? So that's it. I've been through this before a while back with a 128-T model. You're an android. But, I've never seen one like you, so strong and . . . intelligent. What model number are you?" Cid asked.
"I don't have a model number. Because I'm not an android." John replied.
"Makes sense. Tell me, where'd ya grow up?" Cid asked.
"Seattle. I had two sisters. Joan and Anna." John answered.
"I see. And your parents?"
"My dad's name was Mitch, my mom's name was Rachel. We lived near Puget Sound. Two years ago I left home and joined the Kaiser DOD, the Division Of Defense. And right now I've been sent to Japan to kill you because you, Cid Stratton, are a high profile assassin. You've killed the president of Kaiser Corporation's Japanese branch. And you have also murdered several other people at many highly respectable companies." John explained.
"Thanks, I didn't have to ask. You remember stuff, so you can't be an android. But why would a human be here, in a computer simulation?" John asked.
"The isn't a computer simulation, Cid. Geez, they said you were crazy. Guess they really meant it." John said.
"Who's they?" Cid asked, brushing his rough blonde hair from his eyes.
"Kaiser Corp., that's who." Cid said.
"Tell me, John, if you were lined up in a Roman decimate, right after you totally ruined an entire battle with Carthage, and the general walks down the line, he picks some guy you've seen, actually if it weren't for this guy there'd probably be a lot less soldiers in the line. Anyway, he's standing right next to you. You watch, as he's beat to death. How would you feel?" Cid asked.
"I've never been in a Roman decimate. It doesn't matter."
"Just say you were."
"I wasn't. That is my answer." John said bluntly.
Cid sighed and seemed to give up. "John, this is a computer system. Break down that wall over there." Cid ordered.
"Fine." John said. He punched his staff through the paper wall of the Japanese dojo. An identical room was on the other side.
Cid smiled. "Go on."
John went from room to room. After about fifty, he gave up. "They're all the same." He said.
"Exactly, John, a computer simulation. I'm not really here. Every citizen of the USA has a card. This card contains all the information on that particular person. You can scan that card into a computer simulation and an exact replicant of the person is created in the simulation. But I've hacked my card. I changed my stats. In the real world I'm a slightly overweight, nerdy-looking hacker who lives in a small house in the Nevada desert. In this computer world I'm a handsome, strong, twenty-one year Transistor War veteran, and a foot soldier might I add. And by record I'm thirty-eight but here I look twenty-one. So in all actuality, there are two Cid Stratton's." Cid explained.
"Oh my. So what am I, a normal human, doing here? Isn't this like an android training program?" John asked.
"Yes. It is." Cid answered smugly.
"But I remember things, like you said. I'm not an android."
"Well, Kaiser has always been able to use short-term memories. Like, for instance, you come to Japan to kill me. But like I said, you're so advanced. So maybe Kaiser can put long-term memories in you?"
"I don't believe I'm an android. In fact, I know I'm not." John said.
"Fine, if that's what you want to believe you can. I just know that you are." Cid said.
"How?"
"You have no empathy."

FOUR SECONDS LATER
"No empathy? What do you mean?" John asked.
"When I asked you about the Roman decimate, you refused to answer. And you didn't because you didn't have one." Cid said.
"Why wouldn't I have empathy?" John asked.
"Androids are soldiers. If they have empathy they can't accurately complete their mission, kill the enemy. The problem was during the Transistor War. Soldiers would feel empathy for the men they were killing. So they'd stop killing, and then get killed by a less empathetic enemy. So after the Transistor War when they developer Andy 1, the first ever android for war, they made him without empathy. In fact they made him without much of anything, but that's another story. Anyway, no android since has had empathy. It simply makes them more lethal." Cid explained.
"I wonder what the people at Kaiser are thinking about our discussion." John said.
"They aren't. I cut their monitoring first thing. I'm about ready to get out of here." Cid said.
"How are you going to do that?" John asked.
Then, John started floating. "Wherever I am in the system, I have complete control."
"Interesting, put me down." John said.
"Okay." Cid set John down gently.

"Let's discuss something," Kaiser said, sitting at the table with his top scientists, "the minuet Stratton went in, we lost contact. He's hacking our system. Gentlemen, what can we do?"
One scientist raised his hand. "Well, President Kaiser, they're in, but they can't get out. At least Stratton can't without voiding his card. And the android, John, if he goes out he'll be deactivated. So we at least have them trapped."
"Thank you, Mr. Isidore." Kaiser said. "But by now Verona's killed Stratton. So we have to get John out. But Stratton damaged the system before his connection was most likely terminated. Any other suggestions?"
"Mr. President, we do have one alternative." A scientist, Philip Garland said.
"What would that be, Mr. Garland?"
"Send someone in. Kill John. We can still transmit data in, but the out process is still questionable."
"But," Roy Luft interrupted, "we could just send an entire army of civilians in! Completely overwhelm John, cutting him offline."
"Even though Stratton's off-line he could still place his name at the top of the selection list. Then we'd just send him in again. And this time, he could take control of John." Kaiser explained, staring menacingly at Roy Luft.
"If he already hasn't taken control." Said a very quiet scientist.
"That's a possibility, Banyan." Kaiser said, looking in Banyan's opposite direction.

"Just great! The system's gridlocked! Can't go out, only in." Cid said.
"It's funny, watching you stand there, still. Like you're asleep. But actually, your doing more than I can imagine." John said.
"Great speech. Now I'm sending us to a different training area. There's gotta be an inward exit loop somewhere." Cid said.
"Of course. A backup plan for something like this." John answered
"Yeah, thing is, I didn't gridlock the system. Someone on the outside did." Cid said.
"Who on the outside?" John asked.
"I don't know. Let's get to finding that inward exit loop." Cid said "Alright you might feel something . . ."

"Where are we?" John the android asked.
"London. World War II." Cid said.
"I remember this from somewhere. I remember being here." John said.
"You have been here, most likely. It's another training exercise. We can't stay here. The exit loop isn't here." Cid explained.
"How do you know?" John asked. "There's no way to tell if the inward exit loop is here. You can't just know."
"I'm looking at the script code." Cid answered.
"Hah! It'd take unimaginable experience to just look at the script code of the sim program and see if the exit loop is there!" John said.
"I have the experience." Cid said. John looked into Cid's dark brown eyes.
So you're the android. You can't be. You can't be an android. You couldn't look at the script code and tell. And if your supposed to be so smart why can't you do that? Explain that? John asked to himself.
"Cid, you said you've been in this, this simulation, with another android." John said. "What happened?"
"Hold on, I'm getting us out of here." Cid said, the brown eyes looking off to nowhere in the distance.

"Cid, we're out of there. Answer my question now." John demanded.
"What was it?" Cid asked.
"You've been in Kaiser Sim with a different android. What happened?" John asked again.
"Oh yeah. That was a while back, it was the days of the 75E models. Andys didn't even think independently. They only knew to kill. So I killed him, in the Sim of course. I'm sure they took his spare parts and recycled him when he became obsolete." Cid answered.
"That's my future then, if I'm an android?" John asked.
"Yep. Unless another war breaks out and you die in battle." Cid said.
John realized he was sitting, and stood up. He looked around. Instead of being in a dark and cold London with fighter planes overhead they were in a peaceful setting atop a green hill. John looked out at the beautiful flowers all over the small quaint town below. He saw smoke rising from chimneys as the families inside sat around the warm fireplace.
"I have no family." John said, and started down the hill, but then stopped. "When we get out, I'm leaving Kaiser Corp. I'll escape."
"They'll hunt you down. The bounty hunters will be on you in minuets. And they're good, really good. Some people think they're androids." Cid said.
"Good. Then I can die." John said.
"When we get out . . ." Cid started.
"What? When we get out what?"
"Kaiser'll have complete control over you. I'm sure the real you is marching around Kaiser Corporation's building right now. You are the data card number as I said. Only with andys, they can take the data card information and pump it into the andy's brain. Whatever the replicated android learns, the real one does also. Just like me you aren't really here." Cid explained.
"Then kill me." John demanded.
"I thought about it." Cid said.
"Well, do it then. Take that sword and cut my head off. Go ahead." John threw his staff into the tall grass. "C'mon. If this isn't the real me then get rid of this replicant. They won't pump the information."
"I can't. The system's gridlocked. If you die then that android brain of yours will shut down." Cid said.
"You aren't making any sense." John said.
"An android's data card and his brain work in sync. The data card learns something it then transmits the info the brain. If the brain learns something it's just vice versa." Cid explained. "I said they pumped it cause that's what they did up until a few years ago. It was always a manual procedure, I forgot it's automatic now."
"Then I want to die even more now. I'm not a he or him or a person, I'm an it." John said. He picked up his staff. "I'm going to go die now. It's been nice knowing you Fake Cid Stratton, may you not die as I'm about to." John punched himself in the face. Then he did it again. He whacked himself with his staff in the face. Then Cid watched as John inhaled, but did not exhale. Cid watched the slow and painful process as John died. Cid chose not to stop him. It was what John wanted.
When John finally collapsed Cid remembered his words: may you not die as I'm about to.
Empathy. That was empathy.
John Verona was human.
Cid noticed the system's gridlock had just been restarted. He looked at the time it deactivated, and then at the time it reactivated.
Even if Verona had been an andy, he would of lived. But then Cid shuddered, why did they deactivate the gridlock?

FIFTEEN MINUETS EARLIER
John Verona awoke in a dark room with nothing but one table and one chair. He looked around and saw no doors or windows. The only light was from the glow of a laptop computer. He walked over to it and read the onscreen display.

THANK YOU JOHN VERONA, FOR FULFILLING YOUR MISSION. GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR FURTHER ENDEVOURS. AN ASSISTANT WILL BE HERE SHORTLY TO DEBRIEF YOU.

"Great." John muttered.

Roy Luft ran into the laboratory where a group of scientists gathered. "Verona's died!" he called out. The scientists ran out and to a section of wall in the long hallway. Isidore spoke the password out loud softly, and the panel of wall slid away. John Verona sat inside.
"John, great to see you. That jet lag can really get to you." Isidore said.
"There was no jet lag, Mr. Isidore. There also was no jet. There wasn't anything. I was in a computer simulation. I killed myself hoping I would die. The system was grid locked. My card would have been deactivated; so that would deactivate my brain. I don't want to be an android. I don't want to live that life. Please, Mr. Isidore, you have a laser cylinder in your pocket. Please, kill me." John begged.
"John, what's all the android talk for? You a hundred percent human!" Isidore said.
"Can you assure me of that?" John said, with a slightly new tone of voice. "I don't think I have any empathy."
"Empathy, let me tell you something about empathy, Verona." Isidore said. "Empathy will destroy you. I know what you're thinking, andys don't feel empathy, and I wish I didn't. John, you just less empathetic than most people. John come back to the lab, we need to continue work on the android genome."
"I'm a scientist?" John asked.
"Of course John! You just went on a little 'mission' in Japan. Needed some plutonium from that ravaged scum hole. Don't you remember?" Isidore asked.
"I went to Japan to kill Cid Stratton." John said with solace.
"Cid Stratton, who in the hilltop is that?" Roy Luft asked.
"No one. Come to think of it now, I was probably dreaming. That flight sure was long." John said.
"Yeah, it was." Isidore assured him.
I'm an android and I know it. John thought. But still I can do something.

"Is Verona clear?" Roy asked.
"Yeah, we're distracting him. I really didn't want to free the gridlock." Isidore said.
"It was only for a few minuets. Time enough to get the IST going." Roy acknowledged.
"We're ready." Isidore chanted.
"Good I want this over with. Is Verona ready?" Banyan asked.
"Sure is. Good luck." Roy wished. Banyan sat in the IST.

Cid looked around. He could stand up from the desktop computer right now, shut it down, and it would be over. But he couldn't do that. The gridlock was tracking him every second. And knowing the Kaiser Corporation, they'd send the bounty hunters the minuet he shut down. Living in the middle of the desert in Nevada was an advantage though. No one could find him for a while. Come to think of it, the hunters could be on his tail already.
Cid looked at where the dead body of John Verona lay. Thank god he had been human. But Cid had to admit, the man was very robot-like for a human being. John's blue-red staff still was in his grasp. Cid looked at the samurai sword that Kaiser Corporation had gave him. It was very low in quality. He could see rust building up on it, a few dents, and a large knick in the dull blade. He tossed the sword and grabbed the staff from John's cold hand.
What is it? He asked himself. What? Something is there, isn't it?
He didn't understand those few thoughts.

Banyan materialized in the small town nestled in the Swiss Alps. He saw one person on the scanner.
Verona did kill Statton. he thought.

Who in the hilltop is that? Cid asked himself as he saw a darkly clad figure that seemed to "appear" in the middle of the town.
He carried the same staff as Cid did now.

"John! I've found you!" Banyan called out as he saw the figure in the hills, carrying the Enchanted Staff.
"Come down John! C'mon!" he yelled even louder now.

Great. Cid thought. He thinks I'm John. He'll see when I get down there.
Cid started down the grassy hill. He hoped this would be easy.

"John."
"Who are you?"
"My name's Banyan, John."
"Why are you here?"
"To retrieve you."
"I went out."
"You're back in."
"Why?"
"For the truth."
"What's the truth?"
"Something amazing."
Banyan faded away.
"What in the hilltop was that about?" Cid asked. He thought pretending to be John would work to his advantage.
Perhaps he'd been wrong.

"I don't want to see simulation." John said.
"Come on, John. You'll love it." Isidore pleaded.
"Report. Banyan's gone." Roy said.
"Good, monitor. Keep on it." Isidore told Roy.
"Sure thing." Roy answered.
"Who's Banyan?" John asked while Isidore fastened his legs to the IST. "I really don't want to do this."
"Banyan is the head of science here." Isidore said, completely ignoring John's second statement.
"I said I don't want to . . ."
"He's gone, Roy. In the system." Isidore said.
"I don't understand why he's in there. Why did Banyan want him back?" Roy asked.
"To kill him, perhaps." Isidore answered.
"Why not kill him here, in the flesh?" Roy asked.
"No one would win." Isidore replied.
"What do you mean?" Roy asked, now a very different man. Roy was always scornful, but in times of great curiosity his hard exterior would open, revealing the soft and tender meat inside.
"I mean nothing, Roy." Isidore snapped, strolling over to the large window to gaze at the vacant urban sprawl of Wichita, Kansas. Wichita was the world's largest city. Yet it housed one of the lowest population counts. Isidore saw the crumbling buildings that once were marvelous eye candy only a few years ago. He remembered his house, the marvelous shining estate on the beaches of Wichita.
Isidore had heard stories that Wichita was once in the so-called "heartland" of the USA. It was right smack dab in the middle.
He couldn't fathom that.
He grew up on the beaches of Denver. Such a great place it had been, before. Before Denver got washed out by the Transistor War. Denver became what was called a full-scale tactical city. The US Military moved all the people out into the suburban area.
That was a true and compelling nightmare.
Wanderers. That's what the suburban area "was". The Wanderers.
With Wanderers about, you had to watch the head on your own neck with The Wanderers about. They'd steal and kill everybody and everything.
Isidore lasted two weeks, until coming to Wichita. When he became a "lab boy" at Kaiser. And now he was Assistant Director of Scientific Endeavors.
A good life, he decided.
He saw the beach area where the house once sat. If it weren't for that war, everything would have been okay. The US could have stayed the good communist nation they'd always been.
The Royal Monarch ruined everything, including Isidore's blurry future. He'd made enough on the andys to go retire on The Moon. Where the loyal democracy of Iraq laid out vast opportunities. It wasn't the same glory as the USA's former communist glory, but it would do. A lot of people started to move to Iraq at the close of the Transistor War. It was a new land of opportunity.
Isidore didn't even know who the USA's present ruler was. Most people didn't.
It was like a confederate monarch. They had kings and queens, but you usually listened to your city's mayor. He was the important one.
But in Wichita it was still different.
Kaiser ran the city. Not the mayor. If Kaiser were to pull all operations out of Wichita the city would become another urban ghost.
Isidore remembered visiting Orlando. It was filled to the brim with The Wanderers.

Where am I? John asked himself. He seemed to remember this place somewhat. It was remotely vague. It was the hills, the grassy hills. Something about them sparked in his hazy memory. The plane ride from Japan must have been really bad.
Funny, I remember none of Japan. What in the hilltop is going on with me? I might have amnesia. Something in Japan, that's what did it. Something happened in Japan and I've got to find out what it is. And fast, too.

PART II-MEMORY

FOUR SECONDS LATER
I hate Tokyo. Why am I here? John asked the haze that blocked his thoughts. Gotta find answers though. What happened, what happened to John Verona in Tokyo, Japan? I need answers, but where do I go?
John saw the police department building.
Now John, there's a good start.
He went in and saw the chief of police arguing with some hobo off the street in rapid Japanese. John stood awestruck as the complex syllables and words rolled from the chief's tongue.
"Excuse me, are you the chief of police here?" John asked.
"What in the hilltop does it mean to you?" he asked with forced English.
"I want a background check." John said.
The hobo was taken away. "I can't just go around giving checks on anyone for whoever wants them. But I can give you a tip," he whispered, grabbing a piece of paper and scribbling something on it. "Go to this address. Ask for Harry."
The chief turned and left.

What are you doing in Japan, John? Why are you here? How'd you get here?
Everything was a stupid daze. No memories. Why no memories.
He remembered his family. Beaches of Billings, that was the town's name. He grew up in the state of Montana, in the town called Beaches of Billings. All major towns were on the coast for Japanese imports, a fact of life. Since the Transistor War the USA needed the transistors that Japan made out with in the bloody end.
A war not worth it, he thought. Too much land was lost. Too much livable space lost that could be available for me to live on. But instead I'm here in Japan where rain never stops.
Japan, why'd he have to grow up in such a place? He remembered the days here in Tokyo. All of his life had been spent here. He always wanted a life in the US like his parents once had.

"Forty for the night." Eldon, the innkeeper of this Alps town said to Cid.
Why are you doing this Cid, he asked himself? You could shut the computer off and that'd be the end of it. Run, until you can't run anymore.
Cid went to turn off the computer, but he couldn't
Infusion. He'd been infused into the sim system of Kaiser Corp. The bounty hunters probably came an hour ago. The break in the gridlock, that's when it all happened. They'd probably injected him with infusionite, depended on the certain balances of proteins in infusionite depended on where you were infused. They got him, and good. He had to find the inward exit loop now. His life depended on it.
Nothing makes sense now.
"Why?" Banyan asked.
Cid jumped. "I should tell you, I'm Cid Stratton, and I'm the civilian you guys at Kaiser sent in. And well, you guys infused me when I wasn't looking."
"I know. Find John. The answers are there." Banyan said and disappeared.
"How does he do that?" Cid asked himself out loud.
"Um, what about the room?" Eldon asked.
Cid gave him a swift whack with John's staff. He heard Eldon's neck break.

"Any report from Banyan yet?" Roy asked.
"Of course not." Isidore said.
"That's not good." Roy answered.
"Typical response." Isidore said.
"Dr. Isidore, what in the name of life do you mean by 'typical response'?" Roy Luft asked.
'I'm studying the behavior of the people that work here in the lab as a project. That was a typical Roy Luft response." Isidore answered.
"Oh. I see. But sir, wish Banyan could just find him and kill him." Luft begged.
"Yes. Me too. I sent him right at the direct output location. Perhaps Verona killed him." Isidore suggested.
"His eyes would be open." Luft said, gesturing towards the ISTs where Banyan and Verona sat in deep trance.

Banyan looked down at the simulation world.
What a place.
Where did it hold in with space and time?

I've got to find the transportation loop. It's here I know it. Cid thought, looking around the small Swiss town. He grabbed a lady in the street.
"Ma'am, I need to find some sort of . . ."
"I'm doing laundry by the river." She interrupted.
"Okay, that's great. But I need to find something, it can . . ."
"I'm doing laundry by the river."
"Ma'am, listen to me . . ."
Can't you see? a foreign voice in his head asked him.
Cid punched the lady; she fell to the ground unconscious.
And no one noticed, no one at all.
Cid punched another person, then another, and another. He stabbed a few with his staff. The remaining people carried on as normal.

"Deaths in Sector-Program Four!" Isidore called out.
"Verona?" Luft asked.
"Probably, I'll transmit coordinates to Banyan."

Banyan smiled.

John knocked on the door. It opened.
"What?" the man standing there asked.
"I want some information." John said.
"Come in."
The room was very old. The molded wood was cracked and rotted in many places. The never-ending rains had gone through the ceiling and ruined the wooden floor. There were several foot-sized holes in the floor where the man's steps had gone through.
"Pretty bad place." John said.
"Yeah. Now shut up and sit down. I mean it," the man said, producing a gun. "Whadda you wanna know?"
"Has a John Verona been showing up around here?" John asked.
"Yep, I've seen him a lot."
"Really, by the way, didn't catch your name." John said.
"Didn't tell you it." The man said. "Who sent you?"
"Police chief." John answered.
"Good. I've seen Verona around here." The man said. "In fact, I know I'm looking at him."
The gun fired.

Banyan smiled.
Perfect.

Why are they keeping me here? What can I do to get out? Cid started to ask himself. Why am I here?
The questions, they seem to boggle your mind, Cid. the foreign voice said.
Who are you? Cid asked.
My name is Banyan. I'll guide you.
Why are you helping me?
You need it. I want you to go inside the artillery shop to the northwest.
Why? Cid asked.
Just do what I tell you. Banyan said.

"Banyan's nowhere in sight and, oh, this can't be good. Verona's been killed." Said Roy Luft.
"What?!" exclaimed Isidore. "That means Verona should wake up in . . ."
John Verona awoke.
John Verona was angry.

See that path?
Yes. Cid answered.
Follow it. Banyan said.
All right. said Cid.
Cid started to march up the path slowly. This path was covered in grass, and he could barely make it out. But it was there, formed by letters and numbers put into a computer program four years ago when this poor training sim had been created. Cid had killed all of the letters and numbers that made up people in the sim. They had no emotional response and could only say one phase about what they were doing. And they were always doing that thing. Rosa would always be doing the laundry by the river. Eldon would always be there in the inn. Cid wanted to see the new Japan simulation. You could explore anywhere in Japan. The people showed emotion and had a vocabulary beyond that of Cid's. That would have been a site to see.
A panther jumped at Cid.

TWO SECONDS EARLIER
David Isidore, Roy Luft, and even Philip Garland from B-Team had put forth the effort of John Verona's memory erasure.
It was necessary, for if Verona knew the things that Cid Stratton had been him, Verona would have been a mess. Most likely, Verona did still contain in implement of Stratton's words. They had been heavy words, enough to scar a person.
Verona was an android though. A being that was not one with empathy. Verona had no empathy for anything. People or insects, Verona didn't care. He was a machine, an android, an andy, a dishwasher as some people called them. Verona wasn't human. He could never be human. It wasn't in him. He had mechanics at his core. Flesh, bone, blood, all of it was artificial. A simple blood test would oust an andy from their cover.
But they'd only be undercover for a reason, like an escape.
Androids that escaped wouldn't return. The bounty hunters would get them. Edward Adams, the best bounty hunter in Wichita, would pay any escaping android a visit. If Verona were to escape from the labyrinths of the Kaiser Corporation's building, Edward Adams would then hunt him down.
And if Verona killed Edward Adams, Andrew Wartow would find him. But it was very unlikely that Verona could kill Adams in the first place. To acquire a gun you had to take a blood test. No gun would be given to an android.
An android could do so much damage with an artillery weapon. He could already do tremendous damage with his bare hands. Though he looked lanky and somewhat frail, Verona was probably the strongest duo-pod in existence. It could be an advantage, for it fooled the enemy. The most advance class of android in existence was also John Verona, the first ever W-4 android. For about two months beforehand the W-4 was thought of and mapped out. Many scientists used the word conceived for that point of the W-4's development. The W-4 would be the most advanced android ever, until the made one that could pass the empathy or the blood test. But with empathy an android wouldn't be such a lethal soldier. And the Android Blood Law would always be there. Kaiser and the other main players had already got the U. N. to modify it enough.
A while back, during the reign of the 75E models, an android's blood had to be a different color than red. Thus, an android could simply be cut to reveal itself. It started to be called The Blood Test. You simply cut the believed android and you then knew for sure. If green or blue came out (each corporation had its own color) it was an andy. If red was revealed, you had better apologize to the person you just cut.
But Kaiser and the other big players in the game of android construction argued with the U. N. that if an android wanted to know the truth it could find out to easily. They argued that if an android was fighting in a battle, and it received a minor wound, such as a scrape or cut from falling down, it would then know itself to be an android. Thus, it might stop performing its designated task.
After thousands upon thousands of petitions, the U. N. said that android constructers could make an andy's blood red. But within the android's DNA had to be something that identified it as an android. Every android's DNA had a mark from its maker in it.
But then there was another way. Empathetic response. It's what Adams would use if Verona escaped. Adams would find the being that he believed to be Verona and ask him a few questions. Based on his answers, Adams would then blast him into next month, or just walk away casually like nothing happened.
Before full proof questions were known the bounty hunters had to hook up the suspects to machines that looked similar to a polygraph test. This machine, however measured the empathy within the suspect's response.
And for some unknown scientific reason, androids loved to answer the questions directed towards their empathy.
What a coincidence.
Isidore hoped Edward Adams was well as the awakened John Verona gave him a hard kick to the groin that sent him flying into a lab table.
He'd been killed in the simulator, and all of his memories of Cid Stratton had returned.

ONE SECOND LATER
Panthers came in many varieties. There were the leopards of Asia and Africa. Like any panther, they were very agile and loved to stalk the monkeys in the trees.
Some leopards were completely black, these were fittingly known as black panthers. There was also the clouded leopard of Asia, with cloud-like marks on its spotted fur.
A cheetah would often be mistakenly called a panther. They did share about the same body weight and a very few amount of characteristic. And both were members of the Felidae family.
The Americas was home to the pumas. They would be a reddish-brown color in tropical areas, or a bluish-gray in northern areas. A puma's body could be up to six and two fifths feet long. They liked to hunt elk and other small mammals. Long ago, the Puma was nearly hunted to extinction by farmers due to the fact they killed the cattle.
Cid wished that this panther, whatever kind it was, had been hunted down.
He was able to dodge its first leap towards him. It made another leap and he stuck the staff out lengthwise. Its front claws latched onto the staff, and Cid wrestled for the staff, until the panther relinquished it.
The panther made a small gesture towards Cid, and then dove at him again. Cid cringed, and impaled the panther upon the staff. Cid shook the dead cat from the colored stick and turned his head in the direction he was headed. The path seemed to go on endlessly for miles. Wherever Banyan was leading him, it didn't seem like the right place to go.
And he saw it.
The weed was sitting there in the grass. It was a normal weed, growing in an untamed area of grass. Its chlorophyll was all throughout it, making it the normal green that most plants were.
But this regular weed had a leaf that was orange.
Fluorescent orange. And it sparkled.
Cid touched it, and was on his way.

Isidore clumsily got to his feet and ran at Verona. He was slapped away.
"John! What's going on?"
"The hilltop I know! But what Stratton said makes a lot of sense now!" Verona called. John turned to grab Roy who was about to deliver a good blow to Verona, but received one instead. Roy shook off the enhanced android blow and gave a hard punch to Verona's midsection. Verona stooped over and Roy kicked his face. Verona fell backwards, and crashed through the thirty-foot tall glass window, which looked out upon Wichita. John free fell through the eternal torrential rains of Wichita and landed on his back in the street. He stood up and ran. David Isidore needed to call Edward Adams.

Cid awoke in what looked like a prison cell. There was no door, and the room was vacant of any windows. Cid was definitely in the Kaiser Corp. building, but why the inward exit loop had been directed here, he could never guess.
Or perhaps he could.
Banyan had been sent to most likely kill Cid in the simulator, and since he was infused with it his body would of stopped functioning. But Banyan proved to be an ally rather than an enemy. John was probably sitting in one of these holding cells right now.
It still boggled Cid's mind: why do you put a human in a android simulator and erase his long term memories?
Perhaps there were no androids, just humans that Kaiser and other corporations brainwashed into being ultimate killing machines. But then why was there the lack of empathy? Why was an "android's" DNA significantly different than a "human's"? Who in the hilltop were the "humans" around here anyway?
Cid felt like his brain was going to explode. If he could just get out of this cell he might be able to find the answers to just a few of those questions. But that looked like it was on the down side of the fence.
A panel of wall slid away. Banyan was there.
"Banyan, thank the Watcher! We have to find John. Do you know where he is?" Cid asked, knowing he wouldn't get an answer. As soon as Banyan stood there he was gone. He didn't fade out of existence or walk off. Cid just blinked, and Banyan had never existed.
Cid walked out of the cell. A white lab coat was lying on the ground; along with an ID pass that contained Cid's picture, but the name of Banyan.
Cid hoped Banyan had a respectable position, and donned the lab coat.

TWO MINUETS LATER
As John Verona landed he scurried into the darkness. He knew. He knew from all that Cid had told him. The Bounty Hunters would find him and exterminate him. Many people saw his escape, and if possible, Verona was panicking.

A few scientists and other Kaiser high-ups gave him odd looks. Others ignored his presence completely. Those people seemed like stiff robots. They were just more faceless drones to add to the piles on the earth. They seemed like androids.
The infamous "they", Cid knew who "they" were exactly now. "They" were the androids, the ones that society rejected as mere mindless drones. Androids were just objects used for killing in the war that would never come. The Transistor War was the war to end all wars, and that was a fact. After such bloody violence Man couldn't see it again. Man had already somewhat wiped a good amount of his own self out. It didn't need to do it again.
Which was what the androids were for. Everything eventually collapsed on itself.
The minuet I get out of here, I'm going to The Moon. Cid thought as he rounded his final corner. He had arrived at his destination after going up numerous flights of obscure stairways. The data card storage room was here.

The first thing Verona needed was a gun. He would need to kill, and he'd need to be able to do it from long range. He doubted Edward Adams would ever get close enough for him to crush his skull.
If you knew the right place you could get a gun, no matter who or what you were. The back alleys of Wichita were like another distant world in which a different species of Man lived. John saw the drunks living out of dumpsters, the drug dealers that had goods that could sell for over two million dollars to the right person. But Verona got some for free as he darted by. He'd definitely need it for what was going to happen tonight. Androids could still respond to a stimulant developed for solely human use. John wondered if his constructors had intended that.
When he was a long way from the dealer he stole from, he stopped to ask another dealer about where to get a gun. Normally, or at least as John's artificial brain told him, all the people of the alleys seemed to know each other.
"I need a gun. Where can I get one?" John asked.
The dealer lifted a suitcase onto the table. Inside was John's treasure. "How much you got?"
John lifted the large bag of drugs. "Half of this."
The dealer, somewhat dumbfounded, scooted the suitcase closer to John. "Just pick one."
John looked them over. He chose a good old-fashioned, lead firing, Glock Model 17 9mm handgun. If Edward Adams tried to use EMP pulse his firing wouldn't be disabled, as it would have been with a plasma blaster that used electronic circuits to fire.
"This loaded?" John asked.
"Yeah, it ain't full though. It's got five rounds. I think the most it can hold is seventeen," the dealer said.
"Take it you don't have any extra rounds. Is this the only lead handgun you have?" John asked.
"That's it. Can't find those guns anymore. Half of that juice there will be enough for it," said the dealer.
John poured half of the drugs into an empty bag the dealer set on the ground. Then he started running again.

Banyan had suspected something might go wrong. He was right.

"Nice one, Roy. Verona's on the streets and we're going have to owe money to Edward Adams. Why didn't you just throw him the other way? You knew he could survive a fall like that easily," Isidore said, his eyes now glaring at Roy Luft. "You knew he could survive that fall. You knew he could more than I did."
"You better be glad I was able to take the cursed android's blows!" Roy exclaimed as the rains spattered him through the shattered window.
"You could take it any day." Isidore said coldly.
"What do you mean?" Roy asked.
"Sorry Roy, but you'll someday be just as rebellious as him." Isidore said, and shot Roy Luft, his android assistant, with his plasma blaster.

Cid hated his discoveries in the data card storage room.

PART III-HUNTER

ONE HOUR LATER
It took me a while to get on the call. Tonight I had a really big score. I took out two 386s belonging to Fluxnel Inc., and one ancient 75E that was constructed by a company that no longer existed. Apparently he'd escaped from government storage. He was able to kill three people before I got to him. That usually wouldn't be good, but the government wanted these three guys that the 75E killed, dead or alive. And since I exterminated the archaic machine I received the government's hefty payment plus the bounty on the criminals. And on top of that, the government paid really well. If only the government were to construct skinjobs, then I'd be the richest man in the world.
But for now I was Edward Adams, android bounty hunter, but I liked the name android hunter better, because I didn't hunt criminals, just the skinjobs.
It was real late now and I wanted to go home, but I answered the call that they'd been trying to get an answer from.
"Adams here." I said into the camera in my car. On the monitor was the face of some scientist, it'd seemed like he'd called before, but it wasn't actually him making the call. I recognized the architecture of the Kaiser Corp. building and realized that J. R. Banyan usually made the call, this guy, was always at his side.
"Hello Mr. Adams, we have a dilemma."
"What model? What year? What does it look like? Where was it headed?" I asked. It was all I needed.
"W-4, he's only a few days old, his name's John Verona, he's very tall, thin, looks frail in a way, dark hair, brown eyes, I have a picture of him," he said.
"That would be good."
He acted like a picture wouldn't be good, didn't take a genius to know that it was. And this guy probably was a genius, which was the sad thing. I noticed the broken window in the background, and something that looked like a body on the floor.
He found the photo and faxed it to me. "There you are Mr. Adams. And he was headed into the alleys."
"What happened back there?" I asked.
"His escape, he went through the window."
"Looks like a body's back there." I said. I noted his reaction, one of a lie.
"He killed my partner." Banyan's partner said.
"He killed Banyan?" I asked.
"No, no, no. My partner, Roy Luft," he said.
"Didn't catch your name." I said.
"Isidore, Dr. Isidore."
"Well, I better come over there and investigate his escape. I'd also like to look over your partner's body. Hey, can I speak with Dr. Banyan?" I asked hoping to get answer from Dr. Isidore. I could tell he was nervous, extremely nervous. But I guess you would be after watching an android pound your partner's head in and then jump about thirty stories and land on its feet.
"Um, yes, you should come here. And Dr. Banyan is in the IST." Isidore said.
"Alright. See you soon Dr. Isidore." I said. I closed the connection and sat thinking for a moment. Isidore was certainly jittery, but why not be? But I sensed something very odd. So I decided to go through the call in my memory at first.
And low and behold.
I remembered not a ounce of blood was surrounding Isidore's partner.
Either his partner had passed out, died of suffocation, drug intoxication, or some other method of a less violent death.
Or a plasma blaster had shot him. It would of merely gone in and out. And the plasma would have burned the skin and blood vessels it passed through, so no blood would have been spilt. It's the way us andy hunters like to exterminate. We're not supposed to make it public knowledge that andys are on the loose, so when someone finds a dead body, which is very commonplace, it has small scorch markings from where the blast went in and where it went out. So no blood is visible. It wasn't public knowledge that no matter what model android you were, you had blood that wasn't red. It sure looked red, and from a good ten feet it'd look just like yours or mine. But when you got a few inches from it, it took on more of a purplish color. And we heard the squalls over that. But that knowledge had leaked out. And it was sort of an urban legend. So if someone came across a bloody body, saw the purplish blood, and knew the truth, well then they'd know androids walked among them. And the public would be scared.
I protected them. As did Andrew Wartow, Frank Floyd, Martin Brown, and a slew of other andy hunters that protected the public from the awful truth. And in all actuality, I was the public. I was one of the few that lived in fear. I didn't work for the police; I was a freelance android hunter. If you had to work for the police you probably aren't good enough for the job anyway. Frank Floyd used to work for the Denver police, but after the incident there he left and started working freelance here. Frank was king of Wichita's South side, and I was king of the North. Andys ran amuck in the South. They held such a strong presence there that a select few operated businesses. Frank said he only exterminated the ones that broke the law over there; if he exterminated them all, he said, there would be no South side of Wichita.
Me on the other hand, I exterminated any andy that decided to leave their manufacture's building or escape from The Moon or Mars and come here.
"W-4, he's only a few days old, he's very tall, thin, looks frail in a way, dark hair, brown eyes, I have a picture of him," he said.
W-4, now it clicked. I read an article about the hypothesized W-4s. Looks like Old Man Kaiser made himself one.
I decided to replay the call now.
As Dr. Isidore's jittery talk went on I looked around the lab. I noticed now that a table had been turned over.
And I saw a plasma blaster sitting on a desk.
I went back to the beginning of the conversation.
"Hello Mr. Adams, we have a dilemma."
As Isidore said those words a final tendril of smoke was belched from the blaster's barrel. The possible scenarios were:
1. Isidore shot his partner.
2. Isidore tried to shoot the W-4, but missed and hit his partner.
3. The W-4 found the blaster laying around and shot Isidore's partner, Isidore then found a way to get the gun from the W-4.
4. Isidore's partner was actually an android that was rebelling with the W-4.

I really didn't consider numbers three and four to be very possible, but they were possible.
I cranked up my car and drove towards Kaiser Corporation.

FIFTEEN MINUETS LATER
"You altered nothing?" I asked.
"No. Not at all." Isidore answered.
"Alright. Let me look around and I'll ask you questions. But first, I want to know something, what's different about the W-4, what makes him stand out from last year's 389s?" I asked. The 389s were to be the summit of Andy Mountain, but now Kaiser had built this berserk W-4. I had only hunted one 389, and I never wanted to do it again. Keep sending G5Ts at me and I'll be happy.
The G5Ts were mapped out by the Android Alliance, like any normal Andy, except of course for the 0H and 0I models. The Alliance mapped them and corporations like Kaiser Corp. constructed them. We the Alliance had an error in the G5T schematic. And the G5T was one of the staples in Andy Magazine. It set a standard. Thus, a plethora of people purchased them. In fact, until the 389s, the G5Ts held they most purchased record. So all of these andys had the same error. Within two years of operation, no matter what, they would attempt to return to their constructor's headquarters. So two years after the release of the G5Ts we had mass quantities of them walking the streets of Wichita and other major cities along the West and East coasts. A lot of them returned here, and realized after hundreds died that they should stop and try again later. So a lot of G5Ts were holed up in the South side, waiting to strike again. (The G5Ts weren't the brightest models.) And when they tried to strike Frank Floyd would send them into next year with his homemade plasma blaster, which was actually illegal to posses in Wichita. But Frank got away with it easily.
"This new W-4 prototype, John Verona, is the most advanced ever. He does break the secret blood law that I'm not supposed to know about," he said, and my jaw almost dropped. Sure the legend was out, but it wasn't a known law. Only the corporation's presidents, the head scientists, like Dr. Banyan, and us Andy Hunters knew it was an actual law. "He also feels empathy for all androids of any make or model, and in grave situations he feels empathy for humans. But I think he had a malfunction tonight. He is just a prototype."
"Any final versions of the W-4 active?" I asked, hoping I could meet one.
"Three, but they are aboard Space Station: Krigton in orbit around Mars." Isidore said. I shuddered; I'd never live in such close proximity with andys. Now that this one had gone mutinous I wondered if those andys would be pulled off the Krigton.
"Get Dr. Banyan out of the IST. I want to talk with him." I said. This Isidore seemed jittery still. This Dr. Isidore was a real creepy person.
"I can't. He's evaluating our newest program. He requested not to be interrupted for the next hour and a half, no matter what the circumstances of emergency may be, unless the world was blowing up. That at the least is a paraphrase of his exact words." Creepy Isidore said. They way he talked was so solemn, and it was scary.
I decided to look around. The blaster was of course gone. That definitely eliminated numbers three and four, and diminished the value of number two greatly. Why hide the gun if you did nothing wrong? I looked over the body and saw nothing but the blaster mark.
"He got shot." I said. I looked up to Isidore smiling inside. I loved the feeling of busting a bad criminal; it was what I once did, before it got boring.
"Verona shot him. He shot Roy and then turned to shoot me. He was out of ammo, luckily. So he then jumped out the window. He probably won't be able to buy ammo, you need ID for that." Isidore explained, still jittery. He was defiantly jittery because he was lying.
And he was afraid.
"Really Dr. Isidore?" I slid a photo across the floor. It was a close-up of the gun in the vidphone conversation.
He looked it over, and pulled out his plasma blaster. He aimed at me and fired, only to watch nothing happen.
"What?"
"Dr. Isidore, you can now be charged with attempted murder. I'm sure the King of America wouldn't like that? A top Kaiser Corp. scientist trying to kill an innocent Andy Hunter."
"You are not innocent. Androids can be people too." Isidore whined. I set my EMP blaster on the floor; it now needed another hour before it could be used again.
"Maybe the final W-4s, but not the G5Ts, or the old 75Es. Dr. Isidore, why'd you kill your partner?" I asked knowing he was finally ready to reveal the truth.
"He was an Advanced W-3. He was one step below John Verona. And I watched Verona rebel, so I knew that Luft might try to also. So I had to destroy him, before he did." Isidore said, keeping his head down the whole time.
"Well, why an andy for a partner?" I asked. I'd never work with a backstabbing andy. I didn't think anyone would.
"Because, I killed the original Roy Luft. He was such a gripe, and such an annoyance. So I made Roy how I wanted him. I also wanted to see myself flawless. And when I did, I couldn't stand the flaws."
The gun was back, and this was a new one. I dodged one blast and a few others by rolling behind a desk.
I popped up and spat. "You'restandinginaromandecimateandtheguynexttoyouiskilledwhatdoyoudo?"
The android hesitated in thought. And then died.
Trapped by an empathy question. It always worked. If the assistant role had been an Advanced W-3 then this one was most likely the same. Isidore probably created them both around the same time.
I thought about disconnecting Dr. Banyan from the IST, but I didn't know how to operate them real well. So I simply left a note for him.
And I called Andrew Wartow.

ONE HOUR LATER
Andrew sat in my car's passenger seat. The Prototype W-4, or PW-4 for short, was seen in an apartment complex near Wichita's outskirts. I thought about calling Frank instead of Andrew, my eternal understudy. Frank wasn't an understudy. Frank was better than me.
We planned it out that the PW-4 was probably hiding an apartment. We'd bust in, bang-bang, the end. But I reminded Andrew; we're killing the most advanced machine walking on the earth. We had to expect the unexpected.
My car drove into the complex. A grabbed my makeshift searchlight and swept the units. I caught the end of a downward dive done by a duo-pod in unit three.
"He's there." I said.
We pulled into the small driveway of unit three. Andrew and I unsheathed our plasma blasters and he got prepared to kick the door in, but I tried to just simply open it, and that worked.
"Hello?" I asked. "Me and my friend just escaped from the Kodai Corp. building. We discovered that we're androids, we want to stay here."
"I see." The Voice In The Darkness replied.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"An android." The Voice In The Darkness answered.
"Well, nice to know our brother is here." I said.
"Yes, please come in." The Voice In The Darkness said.
We entered hesitantly. I thought for a moment and then decided to speak. "Can you turn on the lights?"
"Yes." The Voice In The Darkness answered. The lights flicked on. The android saw Andrew and I with our plasma blasters pointed at him. He brought up an old Glock.
He shot first, hitting and probably killing Andrew. But before he could shoot again, I hit him with a shot straight to his head. I looked at Andrew, the no-longer-eternal understudy. I re-holstered my blaster and left. I exploited the W-4's weakness. He felt empathy for androids. Empathy was an enemy in this cruel world, and I was glad my mind's empathy gauge was near E.

PART IV-EPILOGUE

TWO HOURS AND FIFTEEN MINUETS EARLIER
Cid's discovery was amazing. David Isidore, head of A-Team at Kaiser Corp. was, as the form read: ANDROID.
LUFT, ROY, ASSISTANT OF A-TEAM. ANDROID.
BANYAN, TERRNACE L., HEAD OF SCIENCE. ANDROID+.
KAISER, GERALD P., PRESIDENT OF KAISER CORPORATION. ANDROID

Cid then went into the files on bounty hunters. All bounty hunters were androids. It was dog eat dog.
He went into civilian files. All were classified as android, except for Cid Stratton.
Cid Stratton was ANDROID+ like Banyan.
An advanced android he figured.
"More than that." Banyan said.
He handed Cid the blue and red staff.
Cid watched as the history of the universe played before him.

THE END
(c) 2000 Nathan Roberson.