Dr Fletcher sheltered under a desk in a colleague’s office until long after the sounds of smashing glass, splintering wood and snapping metal stopped. He’d been hiding there for nearly three hours, fearing for his life. The demonstration that began outside the clinic some six hours previously had started peacefully enough; most of the sign holders sat in folding chairs they’d thoughtfully brought along, drinking tea and coffee and striking up the occasional chorus among the more vocal members of the crowd. The songs they sung were rather inventive, Dr Fletcher thought at the time, listening to them through an open window while he worked, typing away on his computer. Lyrics to old rock songs, morphed by the most poetic of the protesters, to reflect their disapproval of misconceived practices; “We don’t need no … vaccinations” and these sorts of sentiments were hypnotically chanted by the group’s mostly docile participants.
But somewhere around four o’clock the mood of the gathering advocates changed to something darker, more menacing. Tea and coffee drinkers had lost interest by this time and packed up for home, leaving the angry, less civil ones to carry the torch of dissent. Beer bottles were thrown and smashed, passers-by accosted and a general mob mentality took over as the remainder of the group became increasingly aggressive. Linda, the clinic’s receptionist, locked the all-glass front doors at five o’clock as she usually did but the panes were almost instantly shattered when one of the rowdies didn’t realise that it was the clinic’s usual closing time and took the door locking as a personal affront.
Linda was probably dead now. Dr Fletcher saw the mob carry her off to somewhere unseen and heard her screams suddenly silenced. He hadn’t heard her since. The same was probably true for the colleague whose office Dr Fletcher was hiding in since the ransacking started. Dr Cameron was a neurologist and a close friend of Dr Fletcher. They had worked on numerous projects together and had made tremendous advances in the emerging field of AI assisted physiological reprogramming. Dr Cameron was last seen creeping out of the clinic’s back door, attempting to get in her car and flee the insanity. Hours later, when Dr Fletcher raised his head from the cover of the solid oak desk, he quickly glanced through the shattered office window to see that Dr Cameron’s car was still where she’d parked it this morning when she arrived for work, now burning brightly in the darkened car park.
Dr Fletcher strained his ears to hear any noises coming from inside the clinic. Nothing. He could see the destruction that the invading protesters had inflicted. Strewn files littered the corridor. The labs had been trashed; cabinets ripped from the walls, doors from their hinges and bench tops cleared of equipment that had been thrown indiscriminately and smashed into millions of unrecognisable pieces. Dotted with the occasional fire and smouldering bits of whatever it was that had been torched lined the lobby and the corridor to the side exit, the exit Dr Fletcher rouletted would be the safest for his escape. The doctor straightened his clothes and strode directly for his chosen door, forsaking the contents of his locker and even his jacket that, probably, still hung on the coat rack in his office. His office which was upstairs and not worth the risk to go and get the jacket that wasn’t very warm anyway.
Three-quarters of the way down the corridor and hands nearly on the exit’s release bar, Dr Fletcher’ pace began to increase. The click-clack of his hard-soled shoes got louder as he quickened and filled the hallway with a high-pitched reverberating sound that nearly cancelled out all other noises, including the noise of the squeaking trainers worn by the last remaining protester still in the clinic. Dr Fletcher’ fingers brushed the release bar but no pressure was applied to it for opening. The man that wore the squeaking trainers didn’t want the doctor to leave the confines of the clinic. A baseball bat to the upper back relieved the good doctor of his consciousness and saw the end to his escape.
Robert Avery was an angry young man. He was taught anger from his father, who was taught by his father before him. Robert considered himself a realist, the type of person who saw things for what they actually were. He believed that he could see through the lies spoken from smiling faces and past the sparkly shows of institutional misdirection. He was a sorely mistaken young man.
Robert was a serial protester. He’d signed up for all sorts of rallies, whatever the cause. Human rights; he’d been there. Political dissension; he’d been there too. He once even joined in a protest to stop the use of airplanes. Anything to moan about, really. That’s what he loved to sink his teeth into; anything that someone, somewhere labelled as being ‘wrong’. Vaccinations was his most recent thing to get his blood boiling. Robert joined the protest at the clinic because he had a friend who had a friend who had a friend, et cetera, et cetera. He and his cohorts had been out for a few drinks in the early afternoon and joined the protest after sobering up enough to stagger to the proposed meeting place. When they eventually remembered where the proposed place was, they joined in the demonstration and quickly saw off the, what they considered to be, not very serious members of the rally and refocused the efforts of those that remained. This was about four o’clock this afternoon.
When the arrogant, self-serving woman in the clinic pointedly closed and locked the clinic doors while tauntingly eyeballing him, Robert decided that whatever they in this dodgy establishment were up to had to be stopped, and at any cost. Robert had thrown the first bottle. And the second. Closely after followed by the third. He had a point and he was going to prove it. Especially to that stuck-up cow that dared to look at him as she emphatically locked the front doors.
When Dr Fletcher came to, he couldn’t bear to keep his eyes open. His shoulders ached from being pulled behind the back of the chair he sat on and his hands were numb from the twine that bound his wrists together, restricting the blood from doing what it needed to do.
Robert saw the doctor shift in his chair and approached slowly, inspecting the ties around his captive’s ankles, making sure he couldn’t move too much.
“So,” Robert said, “this is what you get for messing with the wrong people. Proud of yourself?”
“Who are you?” The doctor asked, attempting to glimpse the towering figure through his squinted eye lids.
“It doesn’t matter who I am, freak. What matters is that I’ve stopped you.” Robert wiped the saliva from the corners of his mouth. “I’VE STOPPED YOU!!” Robert breathed a self-congratulatory sigh of relief. “You and your … programming.”
“Whatever you think you’re doing, you’re wrong.” Dr Fletcher countered. A fist to his face persuaded him to be more selective with his future statements.
“You think we didn’t check you out before doing this? Dr Abraham Fletcher, neuroscientist and nanotechnologist. Studied in Europe somewhere.” Robert expanded.
“You’re right.” Dr Fletcher said with a bloody mouth. “Paris.”
“So, rich boy wants to be a doctor and figures out how to control people with robots.”
“Don’t be …” the doctor reigned in his comment, “… so dismissive.”
Discourse, the doctor thought, this might calm him down. “We develop cutting-edge technology in this clinic. Nothing more.”
“Oh, now do you?” Robert mocked.
“From the nanodroids we develop, the robots you’re talking about, people can walk again, people can see again, tumours are detected at the cellular level, it’s good that we’re doing.”
“You’re a liar!!”
“I’m telling you the truth.” Dr Fletcher looked out towards the strewn paperwork. “It’s there, in the files in the corridor. Have a look yourself. All the breakthroughs in muscular programming … it’s all there.”
“You’re a liar and a freak!!” Robert shouted. “You put these things in the vaccines and inject them into people so you can control ‘em!!”
“Why would you think that?” The doctor tried to get more of an understanding of Robert’s motivations.
“It’s all over. Everybody knows that’s what you do. You can dress it up all you want but I’ve read the articles. I’ve seen the videos. I know the truth behind all your lies.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” An assertion that landed another fist on the doctor’s face.
“Don’t try to deny it. Not now that you’ve been found out.” Robert said.
“No matter what I say, you’re not going to believe me, are you?”
“You tell me the truth, tell me that all this science stuff is to control people like me and maybe I’ll listen.”
Dr Fletcher thought carefully. He reasoned that if he were to continue to refute the protester’s accusations, he’d be beaten to a pulp and probably killed. On the other hand, if he were to tell this thug what he wanted to hear, he’d be beaten to a pulp and probably killed as well. Brilliant, he thought, Kobayashi Maru for real. After a further moment of thinking his situation through, Dr Fletcher decided to play it safe and tell the degenerate exactly what he wanted to hear. “What’s your name?” He asked.
“I just want to know the name of the man who figured it all out.”
“Ok, Robert. Are you ready for this?”
Robert watched the injured doctor with alert interest.
“What did you say?”
“You’re right, about the robots, about the vaccines, all of it. Spot on. We should have known better than to try to control you.”
“I knew it!” Robert shouted, elated. “You’re gonna pay for what you’re doin’ to people.”
“I know, Robert, I know. And you figured it out.”
Robert picked up his baseball bat and stood victoriously as the greater person. “You’re gonna pay, Fletcher. It’s just a shame that you’re the only one that will.” Robert raised the bat to strike the doctor.
“But you can stop it even further, you know.” Dr Fletcher said before the fatal blow was cast.
Robert stopped himself. “What do you mean?” He asked the doctor.
“The nanodroids, Robert. You can stop them.”
“When I go, there’ll be more to take my place. Think about it, Robert, think. I can show you how to stop the whole thing.”
“My phone, there on the floor, the pass code is one eight seven two.”
“And why do I want to access your phone, freak?”
“There’s a six-digit code that you can send, goes straight to the mainframe and disables all the nanodroids. You can stop them all. Kill them. All of this would end with you as the hero.”
Robert wasn’t sure. “What are you doing?”
“Think of it, Robert, saviour of humanity. No more robots. All of them gone, thanks to you.”
Robert thought about all of it ending right here and right now. He smiled at the beaten doctor. “Yeah.” Robert said. “Let’s do this.” He reached for the phone on the floor. “What’s the number to get in to it?”
“One eight seven two, Robert.”
“All right. What’s next?”
“Go to texts.”
“And send a blank text to this number.”
“Three two six three eight two seven.”
“Just a blank text?”
“That’s right, Robert, just a blank text.”
Robert typed in the number and sent it. “And this is where it all ends.” He said as he did it.
“That’s right, Robert. This is where it ends.”
Robert threw the doctor’s phone on the floor and dropped his bat. He ran his fingers through his hair, front to back, and held his fists high in the air. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” He shouted in his arrogant, ignorant manner.
All doors are now sealed, a computer-generated female voice came over the tannoy.
“What the hell was that?!” Robert, clearly alarmed, shot at Dr Fletcher.
The doctor smiled at Robert. “All of this ending.” He said.
“What have you done?!”
“Me? Nothing. You’re the one that sent the text message. Idiot.”
Red lights began to flash throughout the clinic.
“What’s happening?!” Robert shouted.
“Everything you said, Robert, control. Even now.”
“What the hell have you done?!” Robert shouted as he grabbed the doctor’s clothes and lifted him from the floor, chair and all.
“I was never guilty, Robert, of putting the nanodroids into the vaccines.”
“What are you talking about?!” Robert held the doctor’s face close to his own.
“They were never in the vaccines, you silly boy. That’s just a puerile way of thinking.” Dr Fletcher stared into Robert’s eyes. “Do you really think that when it came to implanting the nanodroids that we’d ever give you a choice?! They’re in the water, simpleton. And they’re activated at higher temperatures. In the tea. In the coffee. They were there all along!”
Robert’s mind swirled in fear and confusion. He let go of Dr Fletcher’ clothes and let the chair fall back on to the floor. The doctor rounded off his soliloquy, “Soup is good food, the old adverts used to say. Well I’ll tell ya, Robert! It’s fucking great for crowd control!!”
Those were Dr Fletcher last words. Robert picked up his baseball bat again and crossed a line that couldn’t be uncrossed. Ever.
Robert searched frantically for a way out of the clinic. Barriers had raised from the floor, blocking doors, windows and air vents. It was like a mouse maze with no end and no beginning. He’d passed the office where he’d killed Dr Fletcher so many times that he’d lost count. He found his way into the labs but there was nothing of any use to him there. He’d gone upstairs a few times but the door to the roof had been barricaded as well by the sealing system. How had he been so stupid, Robert chastised himself. How could he let himself be manipulated by a freak like that? A freak like Fletcher? Maybe Robert could recall the text message and stop all of this from happening. Reverse the seal alarm, that’s a good idea. Robert ran to the office where he’d killed the good doctor. He retrieved the phone he used to send the blank text message. “What was that damn number!” Robert shouted for no one to except himself to hear. One eight seven five? One eight seven eight? Or was it one seven eight two? He couldn’t remember. When he tried the access code a fourth time, the phone didn’t unlock but the red lights in the clinic stopped flashing. Now I’m getting somewhere, Robert thought. He tried a fifth code. That was a bad idea. A very bad idea indeed.
Clinician duress confirmed. The voice on the tannoy announced. Protocol number … zero zero … zero one … initiated.
Robert’s blood felt like ice in his veins. He dropped his hands to his sides and stared at the dead doctor still tied to the chair; smashed, bloodied and broken.
“You’re loving this, aren’t you? Freak.” He said.
Robert thought that there had to be a way out. It was health and safety. What if there was a fire? There had to be a way around this. After all, it was illegal to hold someone against their will. Wasn’t it?
Robert walked to the corridor and tried to remember where the side exit was where he’d run up on Dr Fletcher. Maybe the doctor knew something that wasn’t obvious and that’s why he went for that particular door. He retraced what he thought were his footsteps from earlier and desperately searched for a land mark of some memorable description. All of the corridors and side offices looked the same. The corporate logos and motivational posters had been torn from the walls in the sacking so there weren’t even those available to jog his hazy memories of raiding the facility. Robert reached the end of the hallway that opened to the lobby. He could see the outside world beyond the bulletproof Perspex barriers. I looked calm and peaceful out there now. The protesters had gone from the front of the clinic and the streets were deserted of any people or cars entirely. Hope was on the wane.
Robert looked around him in the lobby and what he and his kind had done; devastation, breaking down the establishment, sticking it to the man, creating a level playing field. And every other euphemism he could think of.
Robert thought that there must be an opening of some sort somewhere in the lobby. A break in the barriers. An open hatch that led to escape. There had to be something because there was a draught coming from somewhere. He could see it moving the paperwork that lay discarded indiscriminately on the floor. Even the floor itself seemed to be moving. Somehow. He could make out a front, a line in front of the draught. A definite crossover from where it wasn’t to where it was. And the line that indicated where it was getting closer. And closer.
Robert never knew what exactly was on the other side of that line. The line that got closer and closer. What he could see but not realise he saw were nanodroids. Billions upon billions of them. Each only slightly bigger than an electron fired from a decaying nucleus. He couldn’t see them, but he certainly could feel them as they tore into his flesh, entered his bloodstream and penetrated his muscles. Robert collapsed in that lobby and he never knew why. But what he heard, as he laid dying, the nanodroids getting closer and closer to his ears, was the monotonous chant emitted from their microscopic speakers.
Kill, kill, kill. They repeated in unison. Kill, kill, kill.