Four days later, Dr Watkins led Snyder down the halls of the battered men’s shelter.
Snyder shifted his backpack higher on his shoulder and asked the old man curious-ly, “What’s going on?”
“I already told you, it’s a special surprise. You’ll see.”
Probably a trick designed to get him to spill his guts in group therapy.
They stopped at a door that revealed no secrets. Dr. Watkins waved. “Right in there. Close the door before turning on the light. I’ll be on desk duty in the lobby if you need anything from me.”
“What is this?”
“You’ll see. Go on, he’s waiting for you.”
Snyder entered and closed the door. In pitch darkness, he fumbled for the light.
The lights illuminated a cozy living room like in group therapy. Snyder barely saw it. His backpack sloughed off and hit the floor as he absorbed faded cargo jeans, white t-shirt, between 250-275 pounds of muscle stretched over a 6’8” frame, a familiar “I’ll wear my hair however I well please” raven ponytail, and green-gold eyes with a light far more typical of the faithful than the empty charm of other politicians.
Reeling, Snyder snapped to attention and saluted. His Commander in Chief, all of twenty two years old, saluted back. “At ease, Solider.”
“This cannot be happening,” Snyder croaked. Literally. He hacked Donovan’s daybook on his PocketPC this morning. The Steward was introducing a bill in the Senate in an hour. But Donovan had holo-cast an orientation in Basic. “Is this a holotheatre?”
Donovan smiled. “Indeed.”
“But pre-recorded. You’re too busy to take time out for a nobody like me.”
“Everyone is somebody. And domestic violence happens to be an important issue to me. So yes, I took time out of my schedule for this. If someone had been there for me, Ivan might still be alive.”
So this was recorded before it was proven Ivan Dimitrov had deserved his exe-cution. “You can’t help me, Sir. You can’t understand what I’ve been through.”
“Try me, Snyder.”
“How did you—?”
“Retina scan. It’s a new feature we’re trying out. It enables me to meet with all of you individually as I wish I could IRL.”
“But don’t actually know about this.”
“That means you can speak freely, with no need to worry about what anyone thinks of you, Snyder.”
Robo-Donovan was as smooth as the real thing. The AI driving this holo-movie was simply incredible.
“You wouldn’t understand. And we might be recorded.”
“You can save our conversation to any location you wish, but no other record will be kept.”
My brain is record enough, thanks
“How did you build the AI driving this thing?”
“Cerebral probe. The AI facilitating our meeting knows everything I knew at the time of the probe and thinks the way I do. So I well recognize your ploy to distract me, as I’m quite good at that tactic myself.”
“Guy has to try.”
“Yes, but now it’s time to get back on track.” Donovan strolled over to the couch and sat down. “Sit with me, Snyder.”
Snyder sat beside Donovan. Wow. This is surreal. The holotheatres would make a killing off me if they had this.
Donovan said softly, “Snyder, I know exactly how you’re feeling right now. I know the shame. I know the guilt. I know the fear. I know the desperation. What you’ve been through has turned me into a murderer.”
What I’d do for a less heavy con-versation with you. “This is different.”
“It just is.”
“Because, according to your dossier, you were in a sexually abusive relation-ship with a female commanding officer who has tried to kill you?”
“If I could come in person, I would still read your dossier first, Snyder. If you want cheating, this is cheating. IRL, I would never tell you this, but I not only know what to fear for my life feels like, I too was sex-ually abused by a female authority figure. Like you, I thought I was the only guy this has ever happened to. Indeed, IRL, I am still as terrified as you are of anyone finding out.”
Snyder gaped. “Nuh-uh.”
“If you don’t believe me, call the news. Be sure to pay careful attention to my body language as I viciously deny the charges.”
Remind me to never submit to a cerebral probe. “So what did you do?”
“I don’t need psychobabble. I need solutions.”
“Snyder, I already told you what I did. I became a murderer. My first act in office was to order my Captain Greywolf flogged to death. I don’t recommend you try my sol-ution unless you find yourself in such a high office, you have the power of life and death over people and no qualms about using it for revenge.”
“So maybe you can help, but I—”
Don’t trust an AI that’s willing to spill Donovan’s darkest, most shameful secret not to call the cops.
Snyder yawned. “—am too beat to continue right now. Let me go take a walk, get some air, collect my thoughts. Then we can continue, okay?”
“Sure, Snyder. That sounds like an excellent idea.”
Snyder picked up his backpack, and with it all he’d brought with him to Texas, before exiting the room. He headed down the hall and out into the lobby.
Dr. Watkins looked up from his mag-azine. “Where are you going?”
“Out for a walk.”
Snyder walked out the door.
A walk down to a cyber cafe to call Mama Borden, and then to the nearest Skyrail Trans-Metro station.
Ducking into an alley, he opened his backpack and checked to make sure his good friend Colt was loaded.
Subscribe to Laser & Sword by Email to get the next part and all the rest of our free offerings delivered to you. To find out what happens sooner, visit theLaser and Sword Online store and download Issue 1 for free or purchase the Annual Editioncontaining 11 action packed stories