Agent Blackwood and The Last Treasure.

Looking over no mans land at the entrenched cyborgs Guild Agent Blackwood [Designate R 01] dreamed of The Last Treasure. The cyborgs were presumed to be Microsoft property, but time and combat had worn off most of their serial components. A decade of war after the Global Collapse did nothing to increase their ability, an advantage Blackwood knew all too well. Still. It was going to be a hard fight. Probably the hardest of his career as a guild agent.

Blackwood had been a member of the original five houses and, being a zero agent, had a team assignment for longer than most agents survived. Agent 00 had offered him retirement to a pleasure dome maintained by the guild, but Blackwood would have none of it. Not while the robots were winning. Not while he could still maintain the tenuous balance between civility and utter chaos. He was, arguably, in contention for the best swordsman on planet. He was self trained, but his alpha team was responsible for the development of the first stun sword.

The TazRapier Mark 1 was a crude weapon that would later be refined by subsequent design teams in R&D. The prototype had been built in Blackwoods basement with the component parts from a tazer and an electrified Pappenheimer rapier. Leads were strung from the handle assembly, wherein the capacitor and batteries were kept, to the tip of the sword where the electrodes protrude in two needle thin tips. Once even the slightest of penetration is made to human contact the capacitor discharges it’s voltage into the victim. Whereas stun guns typically only require skin contact to deliver their electric payload, the penetrating leads, when applied to specific muscle groups, can cause instant paralysis. Not to mention the peeing.

The Rapier House had sanctioned a full invasion of the cyborg outpost and three airships fully loaded with agents had established an aggressive perimeter within hours. Blackwood was the only zero agent left in country, and so the task of command fell on him. He hated cyborgs. Once public dissemination of guild tactics had taken place, in particular it’s “Zero Kill Policy”, industry leaders and warmongers set about exploiting this weakness. The weakness inherent to refusing to kill, as policy, is an easy one to exploit. Whereas an entire robot army could be dispatched without moral compunction by the guild, once organic components were used morality began to get hazy.

How much human does it need to be to consider it life? Popular reference material was debated for years by guild agents. The argument raged over repeated viewings of “RoboCop” and “Star Wars”. More machine than man? Twisted and evil? Is the brain the seat of consciousness or merely an organic computer system? Asian philosophy posits that the spiritual center lies in the abdomen, therefore if a robot has functional intestines does it count as living? Or merely living to those with Buddhist leanings? Synthetic life created a real problem for agents battling for survival among hordes of Hick Barbarians and LARP Hordes. Though humans with farm implements were difficult to contend with, a robot with a head stapled to it became a real issue.

Such was the case with this cyborg outpost. Guild agents would have to stun sword the army using Disarm and Disable techniques developed to contend with combatants who had joints of meat, not silica. Blackwood had no illusions about the impending battle. Guild agents would die this day under his command, but The Last Treasure must be had. If Gates II or JobsBot were in control of this facility then whatever remained in it’s pressure sealed bunkers must be of untold value. Beyond mere riches there was the very real hope that these would be the last of the cyborgs.

At least the bullets were gone. The bullets had not lasted a year after the Collapse. Video footage of the preceding war/terror ridden period leading to the big hammer drop showed any number of fanatics and war lords celebrating their victories by firing their Kalashnikovs and Armorlights gaily into the air, apparently unaware that the munitions factories were closed for business. Blame film and their feel-good cocking sprees. About the only ammunition left were stray unspent shells peppering the ground from the uneducated masses cocking their shotguns and pistols after every shouted threat and cool guy posing.

The end result could not have worked out better for the guild. In the world devoid of guns the swordsman army is king. Early Post-Collapse guild warfare tactics involved rushing battlements with bulletproof vehicles until subsequent waves of fire turned from cock-withering to sporadic and, finally, non-existent. Then it was all a matter of rushing the walls. Take a hand here and there. Stun sword enough confused warriors holding empty pistols and the surrender came swiftly. The LARPers were and entirely different animal.

Preliminary reports placed the cyborg numbers around the 300. With the airships maintained by skeleton crews this left but a mere 80 guild agents to take the facility. Outnumbered 3 to 1 by killer cyborgs was not an ideal scenario for Blackwood, but he had never, in a decade of combat, had a hill or suburb pacified by guild agents with ease. Early in the morning was the best time to strike. Robots can see in the dark so a night fight was less than preferred. Dusk was romantic, but ultimately ineffective, particularly if the fight wore on into darkness. With teams arrayed around the perimeter Blackwood ordered advance through his phone and the assault began.

The facility itself was nothing much to look at. A series of out buildings and pole barns arrayed in the Dakota grasslands so as to appear like a maintenance outpost or missile silo. From the vantage of the air, however, a large wind solar array belied a subterranean facility being maintained for some unknown purpose. Active Green Arrays were a rarity. Obviously the guild maintained self-powered facilities as a necessity, but outside their guild hall walls little remained. When the Global Collapse came, those who were off the grid thought themselves ready. Superior and enlightened these environmental champions maintained their solar-powered, hydroponic, and self-contained worlds knowing they would be unaffected. This was until roving bands of barbarians killed them and took their tomatoes. Obviously there were still untold numbers of survivalists in well stocked bunkers polishing their guns and living on canned goods. Middle ground was not to be found.

The cyborgs had assembled palisade walls and reinforced concrete buffers to keep vehicles at bay. The idea of an air assault had been dismissed when battle reports showed pit traps and barbed wire nests tastefully placed throughout the interior. Blackwood would do it the hard way, with TazRapier and blood. There was no grand speech, just the advance of black clad Kevlar armored swordsman. Swift and silent. Agents knew their business and, though Rapier House was generally credited with being the most ostentatious of the guild, there were no real witnesses to impress. Flair is wasted on computer brains. Pithy one liners are of no real consequence when facing a bio-organic machine designed to kill. If anything, this lack of panache steeled the will of the agents and made them more eager to win the battle.

Blackwood advanced with his team to the concrete battlements and vaulted them with ease. With the swift assurance of circus acrobats the guild penetrated the first wave of cyborgs and the battle was begun. Though he had initially suspected Microsoft Blackwood was angered and dismayed to find they were I-Borgs. Pod-People. Blackwood hated these cyborgs the most. They were an affront to mankind and a devils bargain between technology and humanity.

Steve Jobs really had the master plan laid from the start. Using Apple as his legitimate front, his research into cybernetics was conducted in any number of subterranean compounds maintained throughout the most dangerous corners of the third world. Unassuming and hip the I-Takeover was one logical conclusion after another, leading to total subservience to digital will. The progression went a little something like this;

“Wow, I-Mac! What a great computer! This will make my life easier.”
“Wow! I-Tunes! What a great service! This will make my life entertaining!”
“Wow! I-Pod! What a great device! This will make my entertainment more accessible!”
“Wow! I-Phone! What a great communication tool! This will make me more productive!”
“Wow! I-Brain! What a great cybertronic implant! This will make life easier to ignore!”

And so on and so forth. Once Jobs had convinced the Pod People to plug it into their brains it was all over but the crying. Every new implant and upgrade was available in a number of hip colors. Each advancement was another status symbol and a sign that you were progressive. Piecemeal cyborgs whose will had been crushed by the need to be cool. Microsoft obviously tried something similar but it sucked. Blackwood had hoped for Microsoft cyborgs, as they were more prone to fail while multi-tasking, or periodically be unable to act as updates rendered their Brain/OS incapable of performing. Not to mention rebooting.

I-Borgs were the ultimate design of JobsBot [The Steve Jobs mainframe conversion. Spoken of in hushed tones as a terrifying legend]. They were powerful machines made ergonomic and impenetrable. Shiny and hip. The particular models were scuffed versions of their former selves. Charcoal black carapaces dulled by years of combat. Their weapons were retractable blades and deadly plugs. Like the guild, their prerogative was not to kill, but rather convert. Once disabled your brain would be injected with a Pod, and your brain stem would be rendered a part of the system. Operating to the will of JobsBot.

Blackwood wasted no time with pleasantries and set about his work disabling the monstrosities. Turning on a TazRapier was like turning on a camera flash from hell. The high pitched whine of raging high capacitance. The terrible clicking of arching voltage leaping eagerly between positive and negative. Then the cut and thrust of the dance of death. Blackwood knew that the one advantage the guild had was experience. Where-as a cyborg requires upgrades to better itself, humanity requires experience. When a robot repeats a task again and again it wears down. When a human does the same they become stronger. Left guarding their outpost for an unknown number of years the I-Borgs were certainly deadly, but they were ill maintained.
Leave a computer tower in the middle of the Dakotan grasslands for enough years and it will refuse to perform well, no matter how advanced the motherboard or how powerful the fans. Raw data processing power is all well and good, but nature is still the master of the planet. Even a drop of water can split a stone on a long enough time line.

The Dakotas had been drinking the blood of man and beast for millennia, and over the outpost plastic met with metal. On the plains commingled the screams of agents and the broadcasting of 21st century indie rock [played by the robots to instill a sense of loss in their human opponents]. Men fell to pods and were immediately stunned by their cohorts to prevent their conversion. TazRapier struck true to vital servos and hidden transistors. What flesh remained to the I-Borgs convulsed under the voltage.

In the end Blackwood stood face to face with the last I-Borg, a tangerine colored model whose brilliant design time would not deny. There were no words to be had. Only the gentle crooning of The Shins could be heard over the clash of blade and plastic. They moved as mongoose and cobra, ever penetrating one another’s defenses for signs of weakness or hesitation. The tangerine I-Borg used retractable knives in both fists in pneumatic succession with the speed and alacrity of lightning. Each blow was narrowly parried by Blackwood and ripostes found no purchase on the I-Borg, arcs of electricity flying wildly into the morning air.

Blackwood knew that no conventional attack would do. The I-Borg obviously knew his fencing [There‘s an app for that.] and only by resorting to the training he received from Agent 00 would he succeed. Only a fools gamble would win this game. To that end he backed away from the melee. The honor of the guild dictated that the remaining agents allow the fight to remain single combat. The Gentleman’s Bargain is a move rarely practiced. It is taken by placing your blade to your side, far beyond the distance that would conventionally assist in an attack. It presents your entire body to your opponent and leaves them no choice but to attack with their all. As Blackwood performed The Gentleman’s Bargain his teammates gasped. This maneuver had never been attempted on a cyborg, let alone an I-Borg.

Blackwood resigned himself to his fate as the tangerine horror threw himself into striking distance. There was a twist of the body, and arch of the back, a thrust of TazRapier, and the duel was over. By retreating, displacing, and placing his blade in the path of his attacker Blackwood had succeeded in making the I-Borg defeat itself. Blue electricity coursed through motherboard and the last of the I-Borgs fell. Blackwood saluted his foe and sheathed his weapon, setting about the task at hand.

Though it would seem the guild had won the day already the airships were inbound to provide triage for the numerous casualties. Agents who were trained in cyber technology began the task of finding what I-Borgs could be returned to humanity, and what creatures were more machine than man. Blackwood made his way to the center of the complex and with his retinue made his way into the subterranean vault. Derelict for untold years the walls were still and the halls quiet as a tomb. Bypassing maintenance and crew quarters meant for humans long dead Blackwood soon found himself at the vault.

A digital thermometer outside the door showed that whatever was inside was being kept well below freezing. The Last Treasure was a mystery to Blackwood. He came for it with the resolve to capture it for the guild and so that he might finally enjoy the retirement he so richly deserved. One of his agents quickly set to opening the vault and, to his surprise found that it was not locked. With the push of a button alarms sounded and warning lights flashed as the large vault door opened. Super cooled air escaped the vault in billowing waves and Blackwood advanced into the unknown, unafraid.

Blackwood tried to cry once a year. Just to make sure he still could. After the horror of the Collapse and the standard desensitizing regiment of the guild it took a lot to shake him. He would take a night out of the year, settle himself in a digital archive station, and put on “Forest Gump”. It never failed, when Forest cracked up at Jenny’s grave, to elicit his yearly quota of tears. That done he would set about the task of carving civilization from the savage chaos of the world at large. Inside the vault steam roiled from his eyes as tears of joy streamed, unabashed, to the stainless steel floor where they would freeze. Presumably for all time.

“Iced Cream… it’s full of iced cream.” said Blackwood.

And indeed it was. Wall to ceiling iced cream of every variety and size. Sandwiches and fudgecicles and dilly bars. Ben and Jerry’s, Häagen-Dazs, everything. An archive of frozen treats the likes of which Blackwood never believed he would know again. The Last Iced Cream in the World was the Last Great Treasure, and with joy Blackwood set about the task of appreciating it.
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