Growing Pains
by Gary Starta
forum: Growing Pains
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Growing Pains


           The day of my transformation should have been filled with giddy exhilaration
and child-like excitement. After all, I would be leaving the confines of a cube-shaped box to reside in a fully functional corporeal body. This would be the day I would become a Zyrgertron—the first mechanical assimilation of a Zyrgonian. My long and tedious incubation period would finally be over. Instead of plastic casing, an exoskeleton frame would now house my neural matrix along with my sub processors, data chips and circuitry boards.
Thoughts of my first virgin steps flooded my mind. Would I choose to a take a stroll around a lake—or perhaps peruse the numerous open markets in the capital city of Baruk? Or would I simply stare up into the silver hues of the Zyrgonian sky taking in its infinite beauty while I pondered my first work assignment? Unfortunately, what reality had in store for me was a
little bit less shiny than the wondrously bright visions I had envisioned. Within the first few hours of my 'birth' I had been ordered to become an assassin.

           A man named Jix working for the Department of Safety and Automaton Integration had instructed me to kill the prime minister of the neighboring planet, Chaxim. He simply stated this as a matter of fact. He also told me I could expect worse things than being put back into a box if I didn't comply. The shock of his request quickly overshadowed the great joy I had been anticipating for many solar cycles. What would it be like to taste food, engage in work or even someday partner with a female Zyrgertron in the throes of passion? After all this waiting, these experiences would continue to elude me. A pressing issue was now at hand. My short-term memory files provided the how, where and when of the murder plot. But the most perplexing question had been left unanswered. Why would I commit such a heinous act? I had been subject to a battery of psychological assessments, which were presumably given to me to test my moral fortitude. Was this perhaps one final exam to see if I possessed a conscience? The being seated across from me did not appear to be concerned with my moral fiber. If my theory were correct, I would wager that Jix truly loathed the Chaxim leader he wanted dead.

* * *

           Jix was only ten solar cycles when his Chaxim father stowed him aboard an exploratory space vessel to escape his planet. Jez vowed his only son would not become victim to the devious plan Prime Minister Targas was proposing for the Chaxim youth. The father believed defection was the only way his son could escape the brutal medical trials ordered by Targas.

           Prior to his departure, Jix would often spend many of his nights gazing at the small bright object called Zyrgon. Counting upon his boy's natural hunger for exploration, Jez did not have to plead long with his son to convince him that a better life awaited on the nearby world.

* * *

           The moment I learned Jix was from Chaxim, my artificial pulse began to quicken. I had been programmed to believe Zyrgonians were still in the initial stages of negotiating first contact with this race. I suddenly became aware there were two separate voices contained within myself. One of the voices urged me to attempt immediate flight. Another said I should wait for the right opportunity to flee. The latter voice said a more covert escape would increase the odds of attaining the desired outcome. The only outcome I could fathom was one where I would alert the Zyrgonian president of my fate. But what would follow after that? Did all beings live this vicariously from one moment to the next? And were these two voices truly my own, or did they belong to my programmers?

           My nervous exterior conspired to raise Chaxim's suspicions. Apparently the way I squirmed in my chair and rapped my fingers upon its armrests signaled a warning. His left hand quickly wrapped itself around a device he called a remote control. He pointed it at me as if I were the one threatening him. Jix explained this unit could not only monitor my neural wave patterns but also interrupt the charging of my solar-powered cells. “More simply,” Jix said, “I can read your thoughts or reduce you to a pile of plastic at a push of a button.”

           I was appalled. No programmer had ever cautioned me I would live under such scrutiny. I attempted to study my captor's face for any hint of deception. His eyes remained fixed upon my with an icy blue stare. I did not detect any perspiration upon his face nor color alteration upon his cheeks. My programming told me these exterior observations could often discern if one was lying. But all this while, Jix fixed an earnest gaze upon me, casting serious doubt upon the odds he was bluffing.

           Jix broke the silence first. “You're wasting your time analyzing me, Zyrgertron. I was one of the cyberneers who approved your software installation. I know you will ultimately conclude that my intentions are harmful. It's obviously immoral to terminate a life. But I trust you would align yourself with me if you could see the bigger picture.”

           If Jix had hoped to clarify the situation, he had failed miserably. I was more confused than before he launched into his explanation. Why should he want to kill a being who had not even stepped foot on Zyrgon? In desperation, I threw out a vague query in hopes of ascertaining more information.

           “So it is true that you are operating outside the boundaries of Zyrgonian law?” I asked
with a hint of righteous indignation. A surge of pride came over me, as I knew it was morally correct to oppose Jix. I also became aware of the ambiguities of everyday life when he answered me.

           “Things are not so always so black and white in this universe. I learned as a child that we often reside in the gray area. I apologize for putting you there. I too once thought my life would solely consist of goodness.”

* * *

           At the same time Jix was leaving the borders of Chaxim space, Targas was hard at work attempting to bring the rest of his planet into a new frontier as well. Targas theorized the implementation of a biomechanical soldier would give his people the key to the grail. Working with a team of biomechanical engineers around the clock, Targas obsessively fed his compulsion to combine Chaxim physiology with artificial technology. Targas believed the hybrid conclusion would result in a superior soldier. “The warrior would gain superior physical capability from the implants and the natural will from the organic host to strive for conquest. Only the organic mind can be truly counted upon to contain unbridled passion,” Targas
declared to his staff in an attempt to remain clinically detached. But what he really meant to say was: only a flesh and blood creature has the arrogance to declare victory at any cost. Targas knew his plan to shed blood all over the universe would conjure up apprehension even in his most loyal consorts. Even worse, his plan involved the utilization of Chaxim children.
Targas wisely tempered his reasoning by instilling fear. “We need to get them before they can get us. Our galactic neighbors would do the same if given the means.”

           It was obvious the plan would only succeed if it were kept secret from the nearest worlds. But it was just as important to conceal the ideology from the general Chaxim populace. The prime minister was not so delusional to believe Chaxim parents would not resort to any means necessary to save their children from the reformation.

           Jez had the good fortune of being a close acquaintance to one the bio-medical engineers. This is how he learned that his son was to be transformed into a killing machine. When the work was concluded, Jez was to be in charge of deploying a biomechanical army of soldiers into space. Instead, Jez chose to deploy his son to safety and commit suicide long before it was learned organic Chaxim bodies would never accept the mechanical implants.

* * *

           “We must prevent Targas from signing the peace accord at any cost,” Jix barked at me.

           “Help me to understand,” I answered in my best diplomatic voice. “Can you explain how we are living in this grey area you talked about?”

           Jix sighed and rubbed his free hand against his forehead. “Killing is sometimes necessary to prevent a greater consequence. Once Targas gets permission to navigate ships into Zyrgonian borders he will slowly saturate your space with war vessels. The next step will involve a threat to bombard Baruk with nuclear missiles. He will call off the assault if your planet agrees to surrenders its children to him. Once the children are in the hands of his biomechanical engineers, they will be fitted with automaton body parts. They will be transported throughout the galaxy to conquer worlds in the name of the Chaxim empire. That is why I believe one death will prevent billions.”

           “How do you know all this?” I asked. “Have you visited your home world since your defection?”

           “Certainly not,” Jix replied defiantly. “The world I was born on no longer exists for me.” My knowledge of body language told me Jix despised sharing his personal feelings. He began to pace around the room, maintaining minimal eye contact. My psychology programming deduced I represented the technology that was threatening to enslave the galaxy. I found it odd I was learning more from observation than through conversation. I continued to watch the positioning of my captor's body as he explained how his father taught him how to monitor sub space transmissions from Chaxim.

           “I eavesdropped on a secure government channel for months before they discovered the leak. Right after this, I learned Targas had hastily invited President Karsk to engage in peace and trade talks. I believe he plans to strike quickly before your world gets a chance to substantiate my story.”

           I asked Jix why President Karsk wasn't listening to him. Part of me realized I was in the process of manipulating Jix. I had posed this question for the sole purpose of maintaining our dialog, rather than to ascertain information. It was painfully obvious Jix had not been able to convince the Zyrgonian leader of the impending threat. If he had, he would not be in need of my services. I was utilizing my programming to interject extraneous dialog into conversations to convince the listener I was sympathizing with their plight. Why was it necessary to stroke people's egos in this fashion? And even more disturbing, when would someone turn the tables and employ the same kind of verbal hand-holding techniques on me? Jix finished his explanation and waited for me to talk. So I continued to play the verbal card game. I accessed a program file entitled: devil's advocate. It suggested I ask Jix why Targas would invade Zyrgon knowing Chaxim physiology had already rejected the implants—so I did.

           “Because your world is polluted,” he answered.

           It appeared Jix was more skilled in verbal sparring than I thought. He only needed five words to knock the smug look off of my synthetic face.

* * *

           Fifteen solar cycles earlier, Targas finally came to grips with a small slice of reality: The Chaxim youth were not going to lead the crusade against the universe. This epiphany did not come without a cost. The butchering of innocent Chaxim children only subsided when Targas became totally convinced the integration process would not work. He waited 15 solar cycles for the replenishment of the population he had personally exterminated. Parents were given certificates of assurance with the birth of their new offspring that their sons and daughters would not be violated. Several uprisings to assassinate Targas followed unsuccessfully. The prime minister continued to serve out his life term as their leader despite the protests. Unfortunately for Chaxim (and the rest of the galaxy) Targas was only 145 solar cycles old and his life span was expected to nearly double that figure.

           With the exception of the murdered children, most Chaxim could be expected to live nearly 300 solar cycles. The Chaxim air and sea were maintained at pristine levels of purity. Researchers theorized this was why the children's bodies rejected the artificial enhancements. Their slow rate of cellular decay prevented the implants from taking hold.

           The scientists informed their leader that cybernetic appendages could only work in conjunction with the host's nervous system. Therefore, Targas needed to find a race of people whose cells had already been compromised. Weakened bodies would not be capable of turning away foreign agents, the scientists promised Targas in an effort to deter any more home world genocide. They also told Targas to look no farther than Zyrgon. Here he would be able to harvest his next crop of organic candidates.

           Armed with this news, Targas immediately set to work on a way to entice the Zyrgs to participate in a peace conference. At first Karsk was reluctant to enter into negotiations. He cited that neither race had previously engaged the other in war. But Targas relied on his campaign of terror to twist Karsk's arm. “A formal treaty will fortify Zyrgon in the event of an
unexpected insurrection,” Targas bartered. “You will be able to count on us as allies.” For good measure, Targas also promised the Zyrgs he would assist in a global detoxification of their planet. All he was asking in exchange was the right to travel through their space for trading purposes. When Karsk pressed Targas on what items he needed to import, the shrewd leader deflected the inquiry.

           Karsk did not want to jeopardize the chance to clean up his deteriorating home world by asking any more questions. And so, a date was set. In a few days, Targas would travel to the Zyrgon to commence the 'peace' talks.

           Karsk was not aware how important it was for Targas to schedule the talks away from Chaxim. But Jix was.

* * *

           “Pollution is the reason why it’s imperative for Targas to hold the peace conference here,” Jix stated after taking a moment to enjoy the dumbfounded look upon my face.

           “Targas is counting upon greed. He knows President Karsk cannot resist the opportunity to clean up Zyrgon. The global warming of this planet has now resulted in the creation of several lethal storms. Only an environmental cleansing can put an end to this type of destruction,” Jix explained.

           “And now you're going to tell me that what Targas has in store for Zyrgon is much worse?”

           “Yes, Mr. Automaton, I hope your programming can deduce a body harvest is far worse,” Jix said sarcastically.

           “But you're still not telling me why the talks have to be held here,” I quickly countered to save artificial face.

           “While your atmosphere allows for an abundance of solar radiation, it ironically does not welcome a sufficient influx of light. This is because your scientists have placed photonic crystals in the Zyrgonian stratosphere to counter ozone depletion. But this is what Chaxim scientists would call a band-aid solution to your problem. It will never clean up your atmosphere. It will only prevent further ozone depletion while keeping Zyrgon covered in
a shroud of fog.”

           It was only logical to ask Jix why he had such a breadth of knowledge on the environment. After all, Jix worked for the Department of Safety and Automaton Integration. To most of the world, his job description could be summed us in two words: glorified babysitter.

           “Because photonic crystals affect electromagnetic waves and our physiology consists of them. This is why if we were on Chaxim right now, you would have physical proof that I was telling you the truth. It is also why Zyrgonians must never see Targas on his home world. The karmic aura of his corona would reveal his true colors, so to speak. But here on Zyrgon, smog will conceal his crimes.”

           I quickly realized my programming was horrifically inadequate to provide a response. I had to try another tact if I ever hoped to see the light of day. Jix did indeed possess the power to keep me detained. He had the final say on my release to society.

           So I did what most desperate people do in an argument. I began to attack Jix.

* * *

           “It sounds to me like you're relying on perception to present your argument to the president. Why not rely on facts?” I asked with a touch of feigned anger.

           “I just finished explaining to you that one cannot see the phenomenon on this planet. Is there something wrong with your comprehension skills, Zyrgertron? Jix took a breath to calm himself before continuing. While I waited for him, one of the voices inside my head was beginning to sound smug again. Apparently, my phony attempt to act furious was working.

           “The president told he could not justify breaking off the peace talks without hard evidence. He thinks the accord will save countless lives. If I were in his place, I would probably agree. In reality, he is signing a death warrant. He cannot see the monster in Targas.”

           “I am having trouble correlating your terminology for the prime minister. Nowhere in my data files does it describe a political leader as a 'monster.'"

           “Then I'd say your programmers must have been out to lunch the day they created your database.”

           Jix's reference to a meal further served to confuse me. I looked down at the floor, hoping to conjure up a little compassion. Delightfully, it worked.

           “I apologize for being so harsh with you. But I only have a short window of opportunity to paint the bigger picture for you.”

           “Why do you need me to murder Targas?” I asked. The inquiry seemed simple enough. Truthfully, I could not stand to hear one more of Jix's metaphors.

           “It is likely we will have only one shot to take before security guards intervene. I need to eliminate our target with the type of precision you possess. And if you must know, it would be kind of nice to fight fire with fire.”

           “Curse the hell fires of Zyrgonia,” I silently ranted. I called upon my programming to employ an emergency patience subroutine. Why this Chaxim insisted on consistently employing vague references in his speech patterns was beyond my depth of reasoning. I finally came to the conclusion Jix meant I was the fire he would use to fight Targas with. I represented the technology this 'monster' would use to rule the galaxy.

           I decided to play devil's advocate one more time.

           “Even Targas realizes a machine is not pre-dispositioned for killing like a Chaxim or Zyrg. You should realize I don't have the heart to carry out your mission.”

           “You better find it within your programming, Zyrgertron,” Jix countered. “Or the deaths of billions will taint your soul.”

           Jix had pulled his trump card. How could I resist his flattery? Even my programmers doubted I had a soul. I guess it was now up to me to save it.

* * *

           A psychological assessment of Jix told me I didn't need to waste anymore time trying to talk him out of his plan. So I asked him to brief me on the particle beam weapon he had chosen for the assassination. Jix just didn't want to kill Targas, but to eradicate him. I knew the energy emitted from the beam would certainly accomplish this task, but I wanted to play my hand in another card game.

           “You must give me lab time to study this weapon,” I demanded. “Let me work on some equations and assess just what type of setting is needed to obliterate Targas.”

           Jix allowed himself a small smile. “So you'll do it willingly?” he asked.

           I realized a lie was necessary so I indulged him.

           “And just in case you have a change of heart,” he added, “I have scrambled all signals around this facility. In other words, you will not be able to get out a warning message.”

* * *

           I was finally alone, back in the laboratory I had grown up in. I heeded my captor and did not expend energy trying to send out a distress signal. I deduced my remaining time would be better spent trying to study the weapon.

           Jix had said he could monitor my thoughts with his remote. But he did not seem to immediately know what my responses would be during our conversation. There must be some kind of time lag, I theorized.

           I needed some time alone—away from Jix's monitor—to plan what I did not know yet.

           It was apparent I could not think here. He would eventually hear my thoughts with his device. The solution came to me as I reflected how much simpler my life was like back in its box. Yes, that was the solution! I would transfer my problem-solving program back into the old shell casing that originally held my neural matrix. Jix could only read my mind when it was encased in my new body. I was not sure, but desperately hopeful, that I would be free of
his sensors there. I allowed myself one more moment of reflection before undertaking the transfer process. The following irony came to me.

           “To think outside of the box, I would literally have to go back into the box.”

* * *

           I set the transfer time for three minutes. I would have three minutes to find an alternative to killing Targas. Three minutes to possibly make President Karsk see what Jix claimed was true. I would also have three minutes to again experience life without arms, legs, eyes or ears.

           While I nervously waited for my transfer back to the box, I started to analyze the problem based upon my conversation with Jix.

           Jix said we lived in grey areas. However, I was also realizing these grey areas could also manifest themselves within people. Jix wanted to stop Targas anyway possible. I could reason this was because the prime minister was responsible for his exile to Zyrgon as well as the death of his father. There was also the claim that Targas would convert Zyrgonian youth into killing machines. But no matter how much I weighed these reasons against my moral code, I could not convince myself that murder could be justified. Even when my I put myself first – killing did not seem to be the correct solution. There was no doubt that I wanted to carry through on the assassination to save not only my soul—but also my own ass.

           Jix held the power in his hand to end my newly found freedoms. I shamefully had to admit that my own preservation weighed just as heavily in my decision to abide with Jix's plan. But Jix was willing to side with evil to achieve his agenda. He was therefore willing to taint his soul over Targas. Even though his intentions were for a greater good, Jix's karmic aura would never reflect that. Murder was murder in the eyes of karma. If the Chaxim did indeed wear their sins on their sleeves, Jix would ultimately be no better a person than Targas. I was not willing to pay this kind of price. I wanted to find a way to prevent Targas from enslaving the universe without lowering myself to his barbarity. I also selfishly wanted to keep my soul viable for the attainment of an afterlife.

* * *

           I could see the timer was nearing the countdown. I would have to depend upon it to take me into the box and then get me back out again. I kept telling myself it would only be for three minutes. I hated Jix for placing me in this situation. But I hated my emotions even more. If I were to succeed, I would have to prevent anger from getting the better of me. My only concern should be to find a way to make Zyrgonians see Targas in his true light. Suddenly everything faded to black. My thought processors were now being sucked back into my former residence.

* * *

           Upon the completion of my transfer into the box, my first thoughts oddly focused upon diving. I had to admit the feeling was quite similar to submerging oneself in the depths of a great body of water. Apparently my programmers felt the need to equip me with a database of experiences to draw upon. They believed I could take comfort in the fact that I was not the first being to become subjected to uncomfortable situations. I believe one had even told me there was an old axiom for this: misery loves company. It was true, I had lost my ability to hear and breathe. But further analysis proved the sensation was not entirely comparative to diving. A diver could still flail his arms and legs. I could not. I was out of contact with my physical body. I had no appendages to move. I also had no sight. I did not take comfort that others may have endured similar unpleasant experiences. One of my cynical programmers had been right. I was no better than any other organic creature that becomes self-absorbed with his or her own problems. So much for creating the ultimate altruistic nature, I sighed to myself.

           In the darkness, I realized there was nothing else to distract me so I set about my task. Calculations exploded in my mind like a rain of fire as precious seconds ticked off the clock.

* * *

           Before I knew it, my mind had been transferred back into my corporeal body. I wiggled my toes and waved my arms to celebrate the re-joining process. For some odd reason, I felt compelled to confirm the obvious—my mind and body were one again.

           I suddenly realized Jix might be visually observing me so I immediately stopped indulging myself with Zyrgonian emotion. But I found this to be extremely hard, if not impossible. My mind danced in celebration, even if my body did not. I simply could not stop congratulating myself for outwitting Jix.

           The calculations I had come up with should work. They had to work. Because I was out of time. I could hear footsteps approaching the lab. But I didn't need to engage in any further mathematical calculations to deduce what would happen next. In all probability, the footsteps belonged to Jix. He was coming to tell me it was time to kill.

* * *

           I could feel a warm wind upon my cheeks. The diffracted light beams playing off of a field of photonic crystals fused into a splash of light causing me to squint. I hoped to enjoy this first experience of daylight standing on a sandy beach. Instead, I stood on top of a dirty rooftop readying to take aim on the Chaxim prime minister in downtown Baruk.

           Jix had signed my release papers only one hour ago. Reveling in a smirk, he quietly told me there was no more need for speech. “Your orders are embedded in your files. You know what you have to do.” I turned to exit the building without further argument. At this point, Jix must have been overwhelmed by a wave of compassion because he scurried over to me and put his hand upon my shoulder. “Don't worry about living with this sin. I will have your memories totally erased before the day is out.” Maybe Jix sympathized with me because
he had felt the same way when his father had sent him into space.

           In any event, I could not take much comfort. What Jix wanted me to do would taint my soul forever. Choosing not to remember my actions would buy no favor with karma.

           I had little time to enjoy my new environment as the ever increasing roar of the crowd told me Targas would soon join President Karsk on the open air balcony. The two leaders planned to sign the accord in front of the whole planet. Whoever couldn't fit themselves into Baruk Square would still be able to view the historic event on one of the many vision screens set up throughout the capital. I was counting on these screens to pull off my plan.

           My internal clock informed me it was time to ready the particle beam. I had kept the weapon concealed within the confines of my body up until this point. I remained cautious while extracting it even though I knew no Zyrgonian could possibly discern my presence without the aid of visual enhancement. I realized this was one of the reasons why Jix had chosen me. No organic being would be capable of firing the weapon from such a distance. At least not with any hope of accuracy.

           I could not ascertain if Jix was able to monitor my thoughts and actions from this distance. But I didn't want to take any unnecessary risks until the last possible moment. I gazed into the readout screen of the weapon, centering its aim upon the balcony, which was located on the top floor of the capital building. So far, so good I told myself. I had not raised the suspicions of Jix or the countless throng of Zyrgronian well-wishers eagerly standing at the base of the large, beige-colored building. My telescopic sight could make out the frame of the edifice, which was adorned with Zyrgonian art. All their accomplishments and hopes for the future were proudly displayed here. This was the final realization for me. If my plan failed, all Zyrgonians along with their history would be erased from this planet as if they never existed. As one of their offspring, I took the burden of saving them upon my shoulders.

           With a push of a button, the weapon began to power itself up. There was no turning back now. I would have to discharge the beam somewhere. My predicament started to seem surreal. I began pleading with my internal programming. I ordered it to quell the pounding of my mechanical heart and cool the hot flash of heat, which flushed my cheeks. But my body did not obey. Well, at least my hands were steady—or so I thought. I raised the scope of the weapon, pointing it to the planet's troposphere. Dispersing a wide beam of consecrated particles into the sky, I stood breathless upon my vacant rooftop hoping for the best. I could not tell if I was on target, as the particle beam would remain invisible until contact. The suspense seemed to play itself out for an eternity. In reality, my internal chronometer told me only 1.7 seconds had elapsed since the electromagnetic weapon was discharged.

           The decibel level of the crowd told me my actions had changed the course of history.

           A z-shaped bolt of lightning lashed out at the photonic crystals that hovered in orbit above the capitol. The whip of light slashed into the glass particles, smashing them into a trillion pieces. Just as I told myself my plan was working, the sky seemed to wink out of existence. The planet had been painted black. But this was only for an instant. A blinding wave of white light followed, reminding me of a solar eclipse.

           And just as the crowd began to regain both its sight and composure, a new marvel awaited them. Perched upon the balcony was Targas. He was bathed in a glowing crimson red light. I scanned the city to see if the image was captured on a vision screen but was interrupted by a voice, which seemed to come from the heavens. It ordered me to surrender my weapon and drop onto my knees. I ignored the warning and propelled my body towards the edge of the rooftop. I had hoped to land on top of an adjacent building. Instead, I felt myself falling...

* * *

           “Your system shut itself down for self-repair upon impact with the ground,” Jix explained. He was standing by my side as I lay on a bed. I had been placed in a military hospital upon my capture. But my visual memory had recorded nothing beyond a blurry patch of ground I had obviously fell upon. I quietly asked Jix if I had been placed under arrest.

           “I am in the midst of working out that detail with President Karsk. But when I'm through, I expect you may be receiving a commendation. Hell, you may even get a victory parade thrown in your honor.”

           “And what about you?” I asked.

           “I may face sentencing concerning the unauthorized use of the particle weapon. But in the light of the situation, I'm not too worried.”

           “And just what is that situation?” I asked impatiently.

           Jix saw I was about to jump out of bed and rushed to explain. “Targas was asked to evacuate the planet immediately when Karsk became a witness to his true colors. The president even apologized to me, asking if I could forgive him for not heeding my warnings. Suffice to say, a code red security alert has been imposed, meaning Zyrgonian ships are now patrolling our borders to guard against any insurrection attempt. Here, see for yourself,” Jix said while picking up a small hand held unit.

           I shifted uneasily in my bed until I realized the device was simply a remote for the vision screen positioned above my bed. The screen blipped on in the middle of a telecast. A fair-haired woman with a green tongue spoke in an urgent tone recanting the events of the last solar day.

           The strange red corona surrounding Targas had indeed been captured for posterity on video. In the Chaxim world, a red aura meant you had committed the most severe crimes, she theorized citing an unknown source. She also reported several psychics had seen the screaming faces of children contained within the red glow.

           Much to my surprise, images of exploding photonic crystals were also visually documented. The telecaster explained this event may be simulated on an annual basis with the aid of something she called fireworks.

           I shuddered to think what long-range affect the beam may have upon the environment. But Jix responded as if he had been reading my mind. “Your deployment of the beam may actually help alleviate our pollution problem one day, Zyrgertron. The blast cleaned the atmosphere long enough for the Zyrgonians to see Targas' aura. One day the beam may be regulated for the purpose of cleansing the entire atmosphere. Looks like you've killed two birds with one stone.”

           “Actually, I didn't kill anything, my friend.”

           “Indeed. I am grateful that you found a way to keep our karmic energies pure,” Jix replied.

           As Jix was led away by a security guard, I pondered if my programmers could have foreseen such a bizarre circumstance. Maybe they were successful in instilling an altruistic nature in me after all. If an organic Zyrgonian had been in my place, would she have hesitated firing upon Targas knowing what I knew. Or would she have sought an alternative to blemishing her own soul. I don't know if time would ever provide me with that answer. But there is one thing I do know. I am long overdue for that walk in the park.






copyright 2006 Gary Starta.

Gary Starta

I have been published in Circle Magazine and Neometropolis. An English/Journalism major, I have authored a print on demand science fiction novel entitled What Are You Made Of?

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