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The Never Index

by Gary Clifton


Barzak pushed the old Gamma nearly a hundred miles at maximum velocity. His destination was in no man’s land in uncharted territory, which meant he had no idea who he’d encounter. Despite traveling four feet off the ground, the ride had been bumpy, causing his Roddex heart package to sputter spasmodically. Although incapable of running out of fuel, this Egyptian model was still junk.

He left the overheated jalopy hovering in tall weeds beneath a coconut tree a block from the church where his GPS had led him. A light shone in the small house behind the church, the Pacific Ocean visible a block distant. He walked to the rear and gambled that the sticky heat would mean the doors would be unlocked. He won his wager and stepped inside. Sweat-soaked even beneath the heat-suppressing Armocast coverall, he was tense, mission-wary, locked in full kill mode.

A figure with a familiar face was slumped in an easy chair, snoring lightly, an empty synthetic gin bottle at his feet. Barzak pulled his Micro Six laser from his rear waist and tapped the barrel on the fat man’s knee.

“What the...? Barzak, whatchoo doin’ in Ecuador?”

“Sightseeing. Where is Elena?”

“I ain’t into the dope trade down here, Barzak,” he stammered.

“You gotta know, this isn’t about narcotics, Hugo.”

“Please, Barzak, please don’t hurt me.”

“Hugo, the inventory shows you were killed by Hezbollah in an operation in the Golan Heights last year. You’re already dead. Now, where the hell is Elena?” He pointed his Micro Six at the fat man’s left knee. “In one second I’ll amputate your left leg at the knee.”

Hugo sobbed and covered his face with his hands.

Barzak waved the Micro Six. “One shot and you’re in two pieces. Elena’s not involved in Section Twenty-six activity,” he lied. “She’s strictly administrative. We’ll do what we have to do to get her back.”

A girl came into the room before she realized Barzak had already entered. He pointed the laser at her, motioned her onto the couch. She followed the point of the weapon like a kite on a string.

“She’s just a peasant, Barzak. Don’t speak English. Don’t know nothin’.”

“I’m going to shoot her in the forehead... now,” Barzak said, careful not to point the taser or look at the frightened girl.

She bolted off the couch and crashed out the front, screaming. “No English, huh? Your friend is Russian. I asked you a question, Hugo. Where is Elena?”

“She’s safe, in the church.” The soft voice behind Barzak caught him off guard, normally the end in his world. The nun’s habit covered a rather portly woman of about forty with soft, gray eyes. She leveled a large Selecto VI pistol at Barzak, a weapon in common use around the world. It was nearly as powerful as his Micro VI. If the woman pulled the trigger, Barzak knew his struggles would be over. He was tempted to lunge at her and end it.

But mission and duty were too firmly ingrained in his brain. “Thank you, Sister.” Barzak lowered his weapon. “You’re a long way from Minnesota.” After all the years’ of denial, of total disregard for human suffering or emotion, the kind eyes jerked him back thirty years to a fleeting glimpse of another life he could no longer fully recall. Christ, he was from Wisconsin. He’d forgotten. Then it was gone.

“I’m Sister Maria O’Malley,” she smiled and lowered the weapon. “I’ve been away from St. Paul for many years, but I guess I’ve kept the accent.”

“And you’re Cistercian?” Barzak gestured to her neck medallion. “I was once a good Catholic... Afraid I’ve strayed.”

“Yes, Cistercian. God will forgive you for straying.” She crossed herself.

Hugo stirred in his chair.

Barzak raised his laser, aiming between her eyes. “But, alas, Sister, will the Kremlin? You’re wearing the cross of the Franciscan Order. Wrong church. Was it hard to learn that Minnesota accent in Moscow? Section Twenty-six sent me your photo last week, Colonel Rostov.” He patted his left breast pocket. He’d felt somehow the newer version of the KGB would be smarter.

Suddenly she tried to raise her Selecto. Barzak shot her over the left eye. He expected a spew of gore and brains as he had many times before. Instead of blood, her exploding head scattered plastic and metal parts, sparks flying. A coiled spring bounced curiously across the floor.

Hugo urinated on himself. “She ain’t the real one. Colonel Rostov went back to Moscow on the shuttle this morning, Barzak.”

“She wasn’t really a nun?” Barzak asked, childlike. He hadn’t quite processed that he’d just executed a machine.

“Jesus Christ, you just saw that thing is — or was — a walking pinball machine.”

The Minnesota accent hadn’t been learned. It had been installed with a screwdriver. Recovering, Barzak said, “Elena, Hugo? That chick that just ran is gonna bring somebody back pretty quick: either cops or Russians, or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Speak quickly and you live.”

“She’s tied up in the church basement, next door, Barzak, like that clone just said. Sweet Jesus, don’t shoot.”

The church was only fifty feet away. They were in an isolated outpost. He calculated the enemy’s spies had located the chip by X-ray but were probably not aware of exactly what prize it held. They couldn’t chance a crude removal in the basement of a boondocks church and probably had not interrogated Elena extensively.

In Moscow they’d drain her brain, while surgeons and extensive cryptology would eventually draw out the data on the chip like a flushed toilet. They would acquire not only the Combine War Plan, but also have the sex lives of the CIA brass for dessert.

“Hugo, were they planning to take Elena to Moscow?”

“Tomorrow, Barzak. On the next shuttle.”

He had guessed correctly. By this time tomorrow, Elena would have disclosed all she knew and her head would be in a garbage can in a Moscow medical lab. The KGB hotshots would have an intact chip to milk.

The approaching shuffle of footsteps wafted in from the street. The girl had found some help. Barzak dug a Mark IX anti-personnel mine from his backpack and flicked the red “arm” switch. Hugo sobbed and covered his face. “You said you wouldn’t. Oh God, help.”

Barzak smacked his Micro Six against Hugo’s temple. The big man slumped unconscious to the floor. “Hugo, you damned turncoat fool, even you gotta know the only God that still exists is assigned to a desk at Langley.”

He had just reached the church door when the mine detonated, showering bodies, body parts, metal robot debris and the small house that contained them around the neighborhood. Struggling for breath, he pounded his heart, trying to get an extra burst from the Roddex, and started downstairs.

The only sentry was an old Russian early model Borislov robot which was not programmed to act nearly fast enough to prevent Barzak from destroying it. A few spare parts bounced around the floor. Company had not been expected.

Elena was heavily sedated, her neck, aside from the slight red blemish from the initial installation, was beautifully intact. His guess was correct. They’d planned to remove the chip in Moscow.

He carried her upstairs and through the weeds to his still-idling thrust-cruiser. Even though it was designed as a single-seater, Barzak headed the old machine back toward friendly lines with Elena on his lap, her beautiful blonde hair spread on his chest behind the windscreen. He was uncertain how far the broken-down horse of a machine could carry them. Exhausted from carrying her and out of breath, he pounded his chest again to try cranking the Roddex up a notch.

As they neared the Columbian border, High and Mighty spoke into his earpiece. Langley had been watching all along.

“H-45-Alpha, pull to the side of the road at the next crossroad.”

Barzak complied.

“Transmit the bar code tattooed on the back of Unit Sixteen U4’s left ear.”

Barzak read back the lengthy number aloud.

“Unit Sixteen U4, identity confirmed,” the satellite said. “Femic Grafto chip confirmed in place.”

“No sign of removal or attempted intrusion,” Barzak added. “The chip is intact. H-45-Alpha is returning to Station Five with Unit Sixteen U4, ETA one hour.”

“H-45-Alpha, maintain your position.”

Had Barzak retained an iota of ability to truly feel danger, he probably would have instinctively looked skyward. It was a natural reaction.

Then High and Mighty completed the circuit. In a nanosecond, ten thousand times quicker than the human brain could process the situation, Barzak and Elena were dead, vaporized into the atmosphere along with the thruster and any trace of any existence of the mission.

Given another instant to live, he would have realized his superiors had no need to retrieve either the chip or Elena. They did not want her back for future bedroom use as he’d assumed. They could replace her with a dozen Elenas by the end of the week.

Langley had just wanted to ensure they eliminated the correct love doll and the chip in one strike. The Never Index would audit and correct the inventory to confirm that she and Barzak had never existed to begin with.

Copyright © 2014 by Gary Clifton

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