Something was wrong. A light was burning at three in the morning in the office complex. Ross got out of his security car and scanned the empty building. Procedure dictated he signal the home office when he stopped to investigate, but he hesitated not wanting to trigger paperwork.
Ignoring protocol, Ross went to the entrance and tried the door. Surprisingly it opened and he stepped inside the dimly lit hallway. At the end he could see a light burning in an office on the right. The hairs on his neck stood and a chill ran down his back as he heard noises. He took a breath and then made his way down the hall.
As he approached the lighted office, a head poked out and a comely, young woman gasped and widened her eyes at the unexpected intruder. "I’m security and saw the light.” Ross explained.
He followed the young woman who had introduced herself as Linda into the office and saw it was a break room, replete with vending machines and a coffee maker. Linda was fixing a cup of coffee and she offered Ross one. “We’re DARPA” she said, “a new culling outpost in Northern Arizona.”
Linda led the way to a corner table and they sat facing each other. Ross relaxed enjoying the easy company of the young woman, slender with shoulder-length hair and captivating blue eyes. Not having called the office allowed Ross to dally with Linda and savor his cup of coffee.
A figure appeared in the doorway, big and bulky, with a large head. Ross was stunned to see the figure had no eyes, just holes and what looked like tiny lens where eyes should be. “Bruno, go back to the lab.” Linda ordered.
“But the stranger?” Bruno responded. “No visitors after hours.”
Linda left the table and put her hand on his shoulder, whispering. Bruno swiveled his eyeless head in Ross’s direction, then turned and left. “Bruno’s my guard when I work late. He’s a collector.”
“His face?” Ross questioned. “What’s wrong with his eyes?” And Linda
explained that Bruno was a facsimile, an advanced experimental robot. His long-distance vision was invaluable in the forests and mountains looking for runaways trying to avoid collection.
“My wife was collected a month ago.” Ross said glumly. “She was a cripple, a lame leg. The people spoke when we had the referendum---the elderly, the infirm, the crippled, and the challenged had to go to the energy center for vaporization.”
Linda looked at him and shook her head. “I should weep for you, but I’m a cousin.” She said, using the euphemism for the newly introduced humanoids that were hard to distinguish from normal people.
Ross went still; taken aback that Linda was not human. She was so natural, sitting there sipping coffee. He listened as she went on to confess that they had tinkered with the referendum. Actually, people had voted no on the collection system.
When Ross did not comment, Linda went on to say that the energy centers were still in development and that currently the collected were taken to a holding camp, given a sedative, and then loaded on a conveyor that took them to furnaces hidden in the mountains.
“Dust to dust.” She murmured.
Thinking of his beloved wife, Ross clenched his fist. Linda had revealed that the referendum was a hoax and the vaporization centers were nothing more than belching smoke stacks. How could the people have been so foolish, so idiotic to turn over civilization to the artificial intelligent humanoids?
Ross stood holding up his empty coffee cup. Linda nodded and he started toward the coffee pot. Linda’s back was to him and he paused. Ross was not allowed to carry a weapon, but he always had his switchblade with him, which he quietly opened.
“I’m happy to know you.” Linda said, sipping her coffee. “I hope we can be friends.”
Ross plunged the 5” blade into Linda’s right ear. Machinery whirred and clicked and she collapsed face first on the desk, smoke trickling out of her ear. A final clack and Linda was still, disconnected.
The war with the cousins had begun