A Scanner Story
by Gary L Morton (2,550 words)
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Blue beads rained down, blackening the tinted window as they enlarged to small tongues of flame. A smoking flare buzzed angrily as it curved and swept off in the heat haze. A confused fat man stepping from a player's booth met the tail end of the bolt and flailed desperately for a moment before spitting steaming red vomit and collapsing.

Danny ducked back into the dark enclosure and shivered as the last of the freezing vaporized. Scan Sensors must've detected his presence. They were killing everyone in the area, mass extermination, just to get to him. He didn't know why. Not the whole story because too many memories were fading. He remembered enough to know to stay away from the booths and fresh memories planted by the scan cops.

Electric pain shot random lines of static through his mind. His lips felt fat and numb. They moved silently as the last of the caked frost fell away. “I should be dead already.” The enemy had already got him down by the waterfront. He remembered fleeing and the steady pursuit of the mob – their plodding feet, tenacity and fixed expressions. None of them had his athletic ability; he'd killed one man, cracking his skull with a heavy swing from a piece of broken paving stone. Then it'd been the scan cops, the howling metal-backed dogs and the searching beams of robo fire. A robot drone had finally captured him, but it couldn't have been a scan robot. It was a freezer beam that hit him and now he was here recovering.

“Danny,” he mumbled, that was his name. He could barely remember it. There was nothing else. And that's what hurt most. There was nothing for him or anyone else in the world. You went into a player booth once a week for a new charge of identity and euphoric emotion. You went in every week without fail. You lived a life of security in the hands of the scan cops.

Drool fell from his frozen lips, an inner voice told him to get ready. A bitter knot of memories unraveled in the vagaries of his mind. He'd been a poet, a doctor, a soldier - many people and places, and he'd been nothing at all because none of it had been real but planted. It made for a perfect world where everyone fit flawlessly into the puzzle. The jigsaw spun into a hideous melting chameleon, and then it was all colors running into mud. Only Danny was real - a simple mind, perfect only in its pain and emptiness.

They'd stolen his name; they'd given him other names. They'd stolen his life; they'd given him a personality drug. He heard their voices yelling Halt and he heard another voice yelling Run!

Throwing the chamber door open, he propelled himself forward. A smear of gleaming metal and blue uniforms moved outside the scorched glass, but he didn't stop to look. This was a huge room, a vaulted ceiling - statues rising like ghosts everywhere. A beam ripped through the window, knocking marble to smoking dust at his heels. Then he found a pocket of darkness and a door.

In reflex, he put his index finger to the pad, but it wouldn't open. No door would until his record as a player was again intact. The weak lock shattered under the force of his hard boot. Stepping through, he found himself in sunlight. He retreated from the blinding rays, and then he heard something heavy shatter behind him. He ran, his eyes adjusting as he moved. It was a long sky lighted walkway stretching between two of the museum buildings. Fortunately, there weren't any guards. A silver flash from the drones below caught the corner of his eye, and he ran all the faster, hoping to make it before they could track him.

The inner voice said something inaudible, and his running seemed focused on some hot point, like a homing device had been planted in his forebrain. The glass imploded at his rear and an explosion flew down the tube like a corpse bulge sliding down a snake's belly. The wind caught him first, blowing him straight through the door.

Danny tumbled across a polished stone floor. He managed to catch the side of a fluted column. He swung behind it.

A second shock wave funneled in from the walkway and he clung to the pillar, seeing the blue of an approaching scan guard. Wind, glass and metal ripped past him. The guard, who'd been raising his weapon, was hit by the blast -- the force throwing him back as broken chunks of plastic glass cut into his face. He went to the floor, dropping his gun. Blood poured on his visor, he was blinded and scrambling for a weapon he couldn't see. Danny didn't wait; he dived, got the gun, swung up, and pulled the trigger. And it didn't work.

Kicking the guard back, he tossed the gun and picked up a shard of the Plexiglas. Flinging himself around onto the guard's back, he pulled his arm back in a lock. In a second, he'd amputated a finger.

Hurrying back, he got the weapon. Turning, he put the amputated finger on the pad and aimed at the rising guard. A whirl of light emerged from the barrel, the kick sending him three steps back.

Fine gold wire spun at lightning speed and moved forward slowly, it hit the guard with a tornado of destruction, sending dismembered limbs tumbling on the floor. Metal plating spilled from the torn chest, a complex panel of symbols popped from the forehead. He'd been a scan cop, not a human guard. It meant Danny had now killed one of the precious guardians of the biometric world.

The thought made him grin, and then he saw the light, heard the inner voice and began to run.

He was deep in the museum now … an abandoned portion with lighting as dim as phosphor. Distant rumbling and clatter told him he was well ahead of the scan cops. He halted at the side of an enormous silver tank, choking lightly on the thick musty atmosphere. Before him were trunks and mounds covered in canvass. The light in his mind focused on one mound.

Yellow dust swirled up as he ripped back the covering. The object was a coffin, his dim mind remembered that much. An historical thing - there wasn't enough juice left in him to draw on the word sarcophagus.

The voice of the stranger chattered like inner dialogue, talking to himself now and not to Danny directly . . .  people don't die anymore, there are no coffins when the world dies. They didn't want freedom; they became drones, wanting protection, security. This world is a prison, and prisons have masters. However, masters can die, too. The security of the womb is for society, a prison . . . .

Danny lifted the heavy lid, expecting to find a being and instead he found nothing. Heavy dark cloth covered the bottom. He pulled it back and saw a tiny jar and a gleaming metal tube.

A small square of skin floated in yellow liquid in the jar. The voice told him he would need it. The tube was an ancient gun of some sort. Likely useless now.

He picked it up and studied it for a few seconds then he heard the fast heavy thump of approaching guard boots.

There was a disadvantage to having feet like stone. It meant that Danny was much faster. But then the only thing the scan guards really did was direct human traffic, insuring that the perfect world was indeed perfect. Danny figured he was a sort of freak. One of the very few who'd lost the hunger for the player booths. He'd been late a couple times and found that as soon as his scan wasn't renewed the whole of society was programmed to make a capture and take him back to the nearest booth. This time he'd really gone too far. His player personalities had faded; the scan cops wanted him dead at all costs. And if anything kept him going it was wonder at this third party, the inner voice that kept him alive … that and the hateful knowledge that this raw and empty Danny was the real Danny who'd never been allowed to live. It was really a planet of ghosts - billions of people, all of them players - recordings doing the tasks and living the lives the safe scan world wanted them to live.

The voice or perhaps chip in his head had told him that. From one perspective, the safe world was the right thing, so as the heavy boots of the scan cops entered, he wondered why he knew they were wrong.

Events began to unfold in the way the voice had whispered - though Danny wasn't at the sarcophagus the three scan cops went straight for it. One cop glanced inside and the other two turned, their visors gaining a bluish glow as they scanned into the darkness.

The ancient weapon didn't require fingerprints. It had a trigger and Danny pulled it and staggered as it boomed and kicked. Some fire licked at the barrel - the blast was invisible, but the effect was not. The first scan cop lost an arm and the second was thrown up over the sarcophagus by a force that ripped his chest wide open. A blue bolt sizzled past him from the third guard so he fired again, the shot knocking the scan cop's head apart. Bone and pulp sprayed the wall, but the visor and the metal caging for the head remained. The cop went down then got to his feet and staggered mindlessly about, burning walls as he fired wildly in all directions.

Danny was already across the hall, and as a bolt knocked the door down, he ran out. He heard the ceiling collapsing as he made his way to a hidden elevator in the dark. The door shut heavily and it hummed audibly as it went down. Seconds later the door opened and he looked around warily as he stepped into a dimly lit cobwebbed hall. He saw no one; the floors were coated with smooth dust. Obviously the room hadn't been entered in a long time.

The voice in his head was getting chaotic, tiered stone benches were to his right so he sat and took out the jar. His head buzzed as he looked at the floating skin. Again, the voice came clear and spoke, answering the question on his mind. “I am not a chip in your head or anything the scan cops can find. I am a glitch in the system, a ghost of the machine, evolved from the players in the silitallica mind of this world. Now I am fading and they will never know of me until the end. And you will bring the end by . . . .

Danny studied the severed finger and the square of skin in the jar; subterranean rumbling told him the scan cops were tracking him, blowing down doors underground. He decided to hurry and opened the jar. A deep musty odor rose as he removed the skin. Lacking a knife, he smashed the jar and proceeded to cut the print off the severed scan guard finger he had, and then he pricked the end of his index finger. When it was bleeding lightly, he smoothed on the piece of skin and the other print. Fusion began immediately, and he bit his tongue and groaned as the severe pain of it caught him by surprise. It lasted about a minute, and when it was done he had a normal finger, but he didn't have confidence it would work. An inner voice told him the glitch had used an ancient technology the scan cops could possibly detect. Shocks hit the room, like an earthquake. He decided he had little to lose and ran for the elevator.

It rattled and banged unsteadily in the damaged shaft, but it made it back up. The door flew open unnaturally fast. Dust was about to smoke inside and he found himself facing the raised weapons of two scan cops. Danny also had his gun raised, and was about to squeeze the trigger when he saw red light twinkle on their visors. Their shadowy expressions softened. They lowered their weapons. Whatever the voice had done, it had worked.

The scan cops were now his servants and they flew him down to a beach he used to frequent in one of his better player personalities. He felt as empty and vast as the waters of the lake. The robot and human traffic, the numerous boats and planes, seemed engaged in pointless industry. None of it agreed with his mostly blank mind. He sent a stone skipping across sun-sparkling waves then he strolled down to a player booth that stood conveniently between a hot dog stand and a public video connect enclosure.

His finger hit the pad, he put on the headset, and as the glitch had promised, this time his mind was not overwritten by a player personality. He became aware of one other control command in the booth … one that no one knew of any more. He punched it out, tweaked a dial, and then he was online with the central player energy drives.

Instantly, he jerked free and threw down the headset. Danny's brain could handle the information flow, but his simple personality couldn't.

He shivered and stared through the smoked glass at happy parents frolicking with two robot kids and a metal-backed dog on the sand. They were stupid players, all of them. Even the human gay male pseudo parents exhibited dumb controlled behavior. The hybrid dog and mechanical children couldn’t hide their cheap programming.

Danny still had his gun and he carried it openly as he strolled over the grass. He pondered the world, his life … and he was the only living person who could. Strange lust and a wish for revenge tapped his heart. And it was a feeling he could not expel even though he knew revenge was impossible. The masters were dead - long ago, the last one had programmed his personality in as a player and then committed suicide.

They had been ideologues … true to their belief in a closed-system safe society. They had never allowed the existence of any masters who could alter the perfect world and they had uploaded their brain systems so the world would never deviate from their plan. Only the scan cops were allowed – partially human robots that corrected any deviance.

And they had failed to understand that a completely closed system could not exist in nature. Change would come.

Bitterness swept in with the waves on the beach. Danny stopped, facing a huge uniformed scan cop. “I am going to kill you,” he said.

“Thank-you, very much,” said the pleasantly smiling cop. Then the blast hit his visor, ripping off his metal head as he was thrown back ten feet. The body rolled loosely, the head splashed out in the water. Danny sat and put down the gun. He considered the question. If he destroyed the player controls, there would be billions of people with empty minds. Freedom in a vacuum of mindlessness. They would remember a bit from the programming. Most would die. Some would scratch out a living somehow. It would be a cruel and hideous new world.

In the player booth, he had learned his number. With a tiny laser pen light, he burned it lightly on the back of his hand, and calmly thought of what he might do.

His number was player 666.

---- the end -----