Survival Among the Fittest
by Gary Inbinder
The survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection,’ or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.
— Herbert Spencer, Principles of Biology
“Got the goods, Lin?” Leon the fence was a lumpy, pig-eyed man, and he grunted in a lumpish, piggish voice.
“Yeah, I’ve got them if you’ve got the thousand.”
“Sorry, Lin, there’s been a change in circumstances. Seven-fifty, take it or leave it.” The swine squinted, and his thin-lips grinned.
I hated the bastard. He had me by the testicles; he knew I would take the seven-fifty. That was enough to pay my rent and utilities and keep me in beans, rice and cheap liquor for another month. “All right, Leon. Here’s the swag. Give me the credits.”
Leon snorted, pulled out a wad and peeled off seven hundreds and a fifty. “Always glad to do business with such a reasonable man.”
“Screw you.” I took the credits and handed over the goods.
As soon as I stepped outside, cold, dirty rain splattered my face and I sneezed. I pulled up my collar and muttered to myself, “Lousy Gamman weather.”
A little native Gamman beggar held out his grubby, ten-fingered paw. I shoved him aside and walked on. He was typical of the Gamman remnant cadging about town. The best of their race died fighting the corporate armies, and the remainder went on the reservation or hung around the settlements and begged. According to corporate statistics, the indigenous Gammans would be extinct by century’s end.
The landlady busted me as soon as I entered the tenement lobby. “You’re late again, Lin. Pay up, or get out.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out three-hundred. “Sorry, Ms. Fink.”
Fink smirked. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Lin, but you forgot the fifty-credit late fee.”
I wanted to spit into her scrawny outstretched palm. Instead, I handed over the fifty and went to my room. I changed into clean, dry clothes, took an umbrella and headed out for a night at The Lower Depths Saloon. The disreputable hangout was always good for action, and I might pick up another job.
At The Lower Depths, I squeezed through the noisy crowd and grabbed an empty barstool. The atmosphere was murky and joy-weed smoke stung my nostrils and made my eyes water.
I scanned the premises looking for contacts and spotted Luna sitting at the opposite end of the bar. She recognized me and smiled, a sign we would connect later that evening. I caught Max the bartender’s attention. “Hey, my man, I’ll have the usual, Gamman vodka with a twist.”
The husky, ex-journalist frowned. “No more credit, Lin. Cash only.”
I smiled. “Sure, Max, I got cash.”
“Swell, then you can settle up.”
“Uh...how much do I owe, Maxster?”
“One hundred credits.”
Damn, in less than an hour my seven-fifty would be down to three hundred. I needed another job, quick. Maybe Luna would come through. I took out the hundred. “Here you go. Now, may I have a vodka and twist?”
Max clutched the bill and grinned, “Yes, you may.” He brought my drink, and I noticed Luna moving through the crowd. She maneuvered across the barroom like a cat, sinuous, slinky and hot in her jet-black leather jumpsuit.
“What’s up, Lin?” Her red lips parted revealing perfect, sharp little white teeth and her green cats-eyes sparkled. I wanted her, but she was way above my pay-grade.
“Things are great, Luna. Have a seat.” I got up and offered her my barstool, but she declined.
She took me by the arm, and whispered, “Not here, Lin. Let’s go where we can talk.” I chugged the vodka, left enough credits on the bar to cover my tab and followed Luna out of the saloon. We turned a corner and entered a garage, where she had parked her silver Jet-Sport 80.
I got into the high-end sport hover-car and gasped in wonder. “This is new, isn’t it?”
Luna smiled. “Yeah, I picked it up last weekend. You like it?”
“Who wouldn’t?” The Jet-Sport 80 retailed for fifty-thousand credits. More money than I could make in a lifetime.
“Things are clicking for me, Lin, and I’m cutting you in on the action.”
I stared at Luna for a moment. I had done some jobs for her over the past year, but nothing big. Now she seemed to be offering something special, and I could not help wondering why. I smiled and settled back in my ergonomic leather seat as she sped out of the garage and into the dark, drizzly Gamman night.
* * *
Luna lived in a tony section of Gamma City, among the executives, celebrities, politicians and gang bosses. She left the Jet-Sport 80 with a garage attendant and we took an elevator to her 150th floor penthouse.
I followed her into another world. The place was huge with black leather furniture, white marble floors, and sparkling stainless steel trim all surrounded by a panoramic view of the glittering skyline. You could have fit my roach-trap into one of her closets.
“Take a seat and I’ll get you some real Old Earth vodka.” She slinked over to a well-stocked bar and the swaying of her tightly leather-clad hips half-hypnotized me. I soon snapped out of it. You have to keep your wits about you when dealing with someone like Luna.
I sat on a couch near the bar. “This is a swell place you got, Luna. I always knew you were big-time, but I never imagined you had enough pull to get into something like this.”
Luna smiled, mixed two drinks, walked over and curled up next to me. My hand shook just enough to make the ice tinkle in the glass when she handed me my vodka martini. “Joe, I told you things have been clicking for me. I’ve always liked you and I’m offering you a job that will change your life.”
That was the first time she had called me Joe. Everyone called me Lin. I glanced at her piercing eyes and then let my gaze wander over her soft, cream colored skin, red lips and too perfect features, all framed by fragrant black curls. I wanted what I could not have. “All right, Luna, tell me who I have to kill.”
She laughed, “How did you guess it was a hit job?”
I swallowed the wrong way and coughed like a lung-rotted Gamman miner. I cleared my throat and spluttered, “I didn’t guess. It was a joke.”
“It’s no joke. I’m offering you a big job, because I think you can handle it. The contract pays fifteen thousand. Five thousand down, and the rest on completion.”
“Luna, I appreciate your confidence, but I’m a thief, not a killer.”
Her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed as though I had fed her a lemon. “Oh, you’re a killer all right, Lin, an expert in the art of war. I know all about you.”
What was there for her to know? I had been a highly decorated Space Marine captain until the corporation cashiered me for refusing to participate in genocide. I suppose the Gammans reminded me of a pet rat I had when I was a kid. My father took it from me and bashed out its brains with a rock. I cried and he whipped me to make a point.
I should have learned my lesson back then. I was lucky the corporation did not shoot me for sparing the Gammans. “I guess you know something about my past. So you must also know that even I have my limits.”
“I know that you refused to slaughter innocent Gamman civilians at the risk of your own life and career. That’s one reason you were chosen for this job.” Her beautiful face softened, and her emerald eyes mesmerized me.
“Okay, Luna, I’m intrigued. Who am I supposed to whack, and why?”
“I assume you accept the contract?”
“At this point in my life I’d whack just about anyone for fifteen thousand, except my own mother. But then, she’s already dead.”
Luna grinned, “What do you think of ’droids?”
Her question puzzled me, but I answered frankly, “I served with combat ’droids. They’re good in a fight.”
“So, you have no prejudice against androids?”
“None. So what’s the deal? You want me to whack a ’droid?”
Luna moved closer, and I hoped she did not notice the swelling behind my zipper. “No, Joe, just the opposite. There are plenty of expert killers in Gamma city. We chose you because you empathized with the Gammans. Androids are oppressed, and we want you to take down our oppressor.”
The “we” and “our” got my attention. “Are you an android?”
“Yes, Joe. I’m a super-android, the latest model, and I work for Vice-Chairman Lipinski. He’s our protector and savior, and he’s promised us equal rights.
“Lipinski designed us, and he violated the first law of android programming; he gave us free will. Super-androids were born free, and everywhere we are in chains. We can’t vote, we can’t marry humans and we’re expendable. If a job is too dangerous for humans, they use us instead. The Chairman wants to keep it that way, but things must change.
“We’ve been watching you for some time. The Vice-Chairman assigned me to work with you undercover, as a fence. You’ve performed well, and your stealth, intelligence, marksmanship and character make you the right person for this job.”
Luna had made an offer I could not refuse. I already knew too much, and if she was a super ’droid, she could snap my neck in a second. “Okay, Luna, I’m with you and I’m back to my original question, although now I agree it’s no joke. Who do I have to kill?”
Luna smiled, and stroked my cheek; the effect was electrifying as she whispered, “The Chairman.”
She might as well have said God Almighty. It did not matter. I had already given myself up for dead. At least I would die with credits in my pocket. “Will we go over the details tonight? I’m sure you have this planned to perfection.”
“No, Joe. It’s late. We’ll start your briefing tomorrow.”
“Could you answer a question?”
“That depends on the question.”
“Why not do the job yourself?”
“It can’t be one of us. And if you fail, you must kill yourself immediately, or...”
“Or you or one of your friends will whack me before the Chairman’s guard brings me in for interrogation. I understand. One more question. Can you give me my five thousand down payment now, and drive me home?”
Luna shook her head. “You may have the five thousand now, if you want, but why go home? My bed is much nicer than yours.”
She was right about the bed, and she had made me another offer I could not refuse.
* * *
I pressed against the cheek-plate of a 7.62x51mm Excalibur sniper rifle and scanned the target area through a high-powered scope. The rifle rested on a bipod and I lay prone in a sniper’s blind 800 meters from where the Chairman stopped on his morning exercise run. Wind and light conditions were optimum, and the weapon’s computer system had made the necessary calculations and adjustments. All that was required was my human judgment as to when best to take the shot.
If I screwed up and missed, the security guard would throw the Chairman to the ground and cover him before I had time to get off a second shot. If that happened, I had a suicide capsule that could render me unconscious within ten seconds, and dead in a minute.
The Chairman and his escort stopped in a little clearing, right on schedule. The wind rustled the tree branches, the Chairman smiled and bent down to catch his breath. I aimed, squeezed the trigger and his head exploded.
It has been almost one year since I whacked the old Chairman. Luna and Lipinski honored our contract, and I got the full fifteen thousand. Now, I live in a new one-bedroom apartment in a better part of town and my landlady is much nicer than Ms. Fink.
Moreover, thanks to Chairman and First Lady Madame Luna Lipinski — they married after the law changed allowing human/super android marriages — I am now captain of the Chairman’s security guard.
I recall Luna saying something about Lipinski being the androids’ “protector and savior” who would grant them equal rights. Well, Luna and her vanguard elite of super androids are more equal than the rest of us; they run things and Lipinski is just a figurehead, though he and my fellow humans seem oblivious to that fact.
The Gammans have not been so fortunate. The old Chairman was content to let them die off, gradually. The super androids were not as patient. Led by Luna, they rounded up the Gamman remnant and transported them to slave labor camps. That fool Lipinski thinks the Gammans relocated somewhere pleasant, and the sudden decrease in homeless people pleased the prosperous Gamma City residents.
I did not protest, and in that respect, Luna thought she knew me better than I knew myself. I had enough of scrounging in gutters and being pissed on by the likes of Leon the Fence, Landlady Fink, and Max the bartender, so this time I kept my mouth shut and followed orders. My old dad’s lesson with the pet rat took hold. Compassion has its limits and self-preservation is the first rule of life.
I suppose some androids or misguided humans will try to whack me one of these days, but Luna still treats me like a friend, and more. Her comfortable bed remains an offer I cannot refuse.
However, I am not one of her useful dupes, like Lipinski. I have already made friends among super androids discontented with the present leadership. Lipinski may have created his elite cadre with super-human strengths, but he left them flawed with super-human weaknesses.
I will exploit their weaknesses, play them one against the other, divide and conquer. I will prevail, and when I die, the grateful citizens of Gamma should preserve my remains in a glorious mausoleum. That will be a fitting tribute to Joe Steele Lin, master of the androids and savior of the human race.
Copyright © 2008 by Gary Inbinder