I hate the NSA. They have been up my ass since this whole nightmare started. Stewing in a "secure location" with a neck brace on for the last month has done nothing to improve my disposition. I was as surprised as any of them. Hell, they saw the video. I guess I should start at the beginning.

World opinion is a bitch when you're a politician these days. We have all these wonderful modern weapons, but if we use them to defend the country or sort out a hotspot in some backwater shithole, people freak the fuck out. Hell, its been 120 years since somebody even thought about a nuke. Its taboo. So, if your hands are tied by the lily-livered public, you go black ops. And for the last 50 years, the secret defense industry has been swimming in cash. A few years at MIT, half a week in Quantico and a plane ride to Langley started my career. I had more money than a goddamn movie star, and I never used it. The work ate my life.

So, after working on some shitty sat-recon analyzers and orbital wiretaps, I landed the holy grail of projects. I mean, this thing was so black it didn't even cast a shadow. My first run in with National Security occurred about an hour into the job application. They grilled me on why I was eating corned beef from Brazil. How the fuck that was dangerous to the nation, I don't know. Foreign influence I guess. Anyway, after 3 months of jumping through hoops for those clowns, I was in. An X project.

I even got "disappeared". They drugged me at work, hauled me off to "The Shop" and stuck a Witness Relocation guy in my apartment. 3 days later, my cat and about half my Playboys arrived. I never really cared. I was in.

Executive Order 2914-04 authorized the creation and use of nonbiological constructs for the elimination of dire threats to national and global security. Assassin droids. I dropped a gold brick in my shorts at the briefing. The order came down a day ago, and 6 "platforms" were waiting to go. My cherry new job was to monitor performance. I got to compile statistics on murderers. I found out later that I was a replacement. There had been an accident.

It was 4 days before I saw one up close. Locked upright in its port, it looked like an NBA star painted matte black. Taller and thinner than possible for a human, it stood about 8 feet tall with long thick fingers. The most disturbing feature was the face, or lack there of. It looked like one of those department store mannequins with all the details ground off. No eyes, no ears, nothing. All that crap was done with vibration sensors and passive radar. Not one unsealed joint made this baby all weather. The tiny jack for diagnostics was on the right wrist. I ran my hand over the smooth modular shell that covered alloys I can't even begin to explain, and one tiny gold star was stamped under the number 9 impression on the left shoulder. The comp geeks called it Kill -9, some archaic joke that was too obscure to explain. It was the last in the series. They had destroyed 1 and 2 in combat tests against each other, and 3 was decommissioned after crushing my predecessor. Official report said he knocked it into self defense mode. Word around the lab was it wasn't even turned on.

The List occupied a 20 foot tall screen in the Ops Center. These guys and gals got a big red X from Uncle Sam, and our job was to cancel their subscriptions. I saw some wild shit on those screens. Like the time 7 punched through the roof of an APC and pulled most of a South Asian general out the ragged hole. When 5 jumped down nine stories to land on his target feet first. I spilled hot coffee all over after 4 got hit with an RPG and had to bug out. The SEAL team recovered him 36 miles away, running full out, holding its own damn arm. The no evidence routine checked out fine. The ones we all watched carefully were Kill -9 missions.

9 did some crazy shit. He stuck to ceilings, he hid under floors, he jumped out windows and kicked in doors. It got to be like watching a wild sci-fi vid. Kill-9 got mop up jobs. When 4 screwed up in China, 9 finished the job like it wasn't even hard. Slowly but surely, 9 replaced the others. When they hauled it back to the Shop, I always got first dibs. Jacking up and ripping numbers, my report was due 30 minutes after recovery. Wiping the gore off 9 was somebody else's problem. I never noticed the bug.

We got to within five names of the end of the List. A goddamn cake walk in Brazil was the straw that broke the camel's back. 9 did a HALO drop and landed hard. The GPS lock went off-line, but the uplink stayed on so we let him run. He kept dropping off target, distracted by threats it would normally ignore. When he picked up the gun, the whole room hushed. They don't know how to use guns. 9 did. Like a master. The signal dropped 29.8 seconds later. 9 was AWOL.

I like to describe what happened next as a shitstorm. SEALS went in to recover him. No bot. Delta Force did a SAR mission. No bot but lots of bodies. The NSA locked us down and we all got the CIA's best psychological examination. No bot. In the black ops world, this is flush time. Bye Bye Executive Order 2914-04.

So my new job is to help the Company wash its hands of the whole thing. I got the job of pulling the plug on 4 through 8. Heading back out to the lab, I get a strange feeling. Call it intuition or whatever. My skin was crawling when I got there. Then I was looking at a Ops Center production in living color. 9 dropped off the fucking ceiling and pinned me 6 feet up a concrete wall with its oversized paw. By the neck. Choking and scared, I see 9 turn to the camera mounted behind the door. It regards me with its blank face and does some crazy shit with its free hand in front of me. It was all so quiet except for the gagging noise I was making. 9 pushed forward on his hand and I blacked out.

My neck broke in 2 places. Turns out the crazy hand motions were sign language. Individual letters.


The lab was empty when they found me.

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