Life of Zu – Part 1

by holojacob

I opened my eyes for the first time.

Honestly, there wasn’t much to see.

I stood in a clear glass tube, naked and dripping with blood red slime. Pinkish foam clung to the sides of the tank, popping and fizzing. A strong gag reflex hit me. It dropped me to my knees, and I puked what had to be over a liter of stringy red goo.

I took a few deep breaths, testing my new lungs. Phlegm rattled in the back of my throat. I hawked it up, spat the gob out, and climbed to my feet.

An attendant watched me from outside the tank. He wore crisp white suit with the General Eugenics corporate emblem on his breast: a golden DNA helix twisted into an infinity sign.

“Finished yet?” the attendant asked.

I stuck a finger in my mouth and ran it around my gums. More red slime. I flicked it against the tank walls.

The attendant activated his bracelet. The outline of a man appeared over his wrist. I couldn’t make out much. The attendant had a censor filter up, so it was one big blur from my angle, but the hologram had a lot of green sections, so that was encouraging.

The attendant sighed. He ticked off two selections on the hologram.

A seam formed in front of me. The bioprinting tank split open.

I stepped out and gave the attendant a toothy grin. “So, when do I get to kill some pirates?”

Not bad for my first words. I croaked them out more than said them, but other than that, it went smoothly.

“I really wish they’d tone down your template’s eagerness.”

The attendant ticked off one last selection and closed the hologram.

“So, does that mean soon?” I asked.

“Take a look around,” he said.

I looked over the whole room, taking it in for the first time. My bioprinter was one of hundreds, all queued up on conveyors. The tank that printed me closed and retreated along a rail system into a solid wall of humming machinery. The closest tanks held completed men ready for retrieval, but tanks further back contained skinless bodies suspended in thick fluid. Beyond those, the tanks had nothing but red goo sloshing inside while spindly robotic arms wove the raw material into something useful.

Tanks to my right and left opened. Men stepped or staggered out. General Eugenics attendants evaluated each new soldier.

“Can you give me your name?” his attendant asked.

I thought for a moment. The designation burned in my mind, no doubt part of my template.

“Zeta-Two.”

“Excellent. Put on a pair of shorts and join the others outside.”

*          *          *

“So what planet are we over?” Zeta-Nine asked. Like me, he was bald and pale from his recent printing. Agitated, pinkish skin covered his powerful musculature.

“Athens,” Zeta-Six said.

I walked up to the equipment conveyor. The long concourse bustled with activity and overlapping conversations. Pallets laden with weapons and armor moved on a slow conveyor across one long side. Empty pallets retreated through the wall, back to the warprinters deep within the frigate’s hull.

“Is it a nice planet?” Nine asked.

“What do you think?” Six asked. “They’re sending us in, aren’t they?”

“Not nice, then.”

“My attendant said we’ve been fighting the pirates for over a year down there,” I said, grabbing a 6mm-shard assault rifle. I popped the top and checked the acceleration rails.

“A year?” Nine asked. He grabbed a 10mm-shard sniper rifle and slung it over a shoulder. “How could anything take that long?”

“Apparently this has.”

“We’re as good as dead,” Six said. He grabbed an assault rifle and a pair of infector gloves.

I shrugged. “Maybe.”

The next pallet held suit packs. I grabbed one, slipped my arms through the shoulder straps, and engaged the neural interface. The pack deployed a layer of liquefied smart-matter over my body that hardened into matte gray armor.

“What kind of ammo are they giving us?” Nine asked, grabbing his suit pack.

I glanced at the next pallet. “Looks like AC plasma and lots of it.”

“Really? Maybe they do care if we live.”

“Not likely,” Six said. He fitted his infector gloves on and let his suit merge into the gloves. He deployed a set of hacking tendrils from the finger tips, then retracted them.

I had my suit generate some leg and torso pockets. The smart-matter split open, letting me fit in a small arsenal of AC ammo clips and grenades. The seams closed once I was done.

“Hey, check this out,” Nine said, waving an orange ammo clip around. By the size of it, the shards were meant for his sniper rifle.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The label says they’re gravitic penetrator shards.”

“Okay. So what are they?”

“No idea. They must be new.”

“Come on,” I said. “It’s not like they just invented a new ammo type. You sure you don’t recognize them?”

“Very sure. Six, do you know what these are?”

“Not a clue. Maybe our templates aren’t up to date.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Nine said. “They just finished printing us. Why wouldn’t we have updated templates?”

Six crossed his arms and rolled his eyes. “Because they don’t care if we live.”

“Well, whatever they are, they sound useful. I’m taking two.” Nine stuffed the orange clips into his pockets.

I stepped away from the conveyor, letting the next group begin to load up. Nine and Six joined me. The other soldiers from Zeta platoon were lined up in formation by the far wall. I didn’t see Zeta-One, our command variant.

“Who is that?” Nine asked, pointing to a thin wisp of a woman waiting near our platoon. She looked like such a fragile thing standing next to freshly printed soldiers bulked up by armor and weapons.

The woman ran fingers through her short honey blonde hair and stood up on her toes to look past the first rank of soldiers.

“Is she supposed to be here?” Nine asked.

“Probably not,” Six grumbled.

The woman turned her head and spotted me. She smiled and ran over.

“Hey, Zu!” she said, coming to a halt in front of me. “I’m glad I spotted you before the drop.”

I stared at her blankly. What was I supposed to say?

“Zu? Are you all right?” she asked.

“I’m sorry,” I said, blinking out of my daze. “You must have me mistaken for someone else.”

Her smile melted away. The woman took a step back and regarded me with caution. I had no idea what was going on.

“I’m Zeta-Two,” I said, trying to be helpful.

“How old are you?”

“They printed me an hour ago.”

“I see …” The woman nodded. “My name is Vance. I’m sorry, but you reminded me of someone else. It’s your eyes.”

“Nice to meet you, Vance,” I said, shaking her hand. I had to be careful not to squeeze too tightly and crush her bones. “Can I help you find who you’re looking for?”

“No, thanks. Now that I think about it, I’m certain he’s not here.”

“What did you call him? Zu, was it?”

“That’s right.”

“Zu … Zu …” The name tasted strange on my lips, but I felt a sense of familiarity as well. “You know, that’s not a bad name at all. Zu. It’s like taking Zeta and Two and squishing them together. I actually like that name quite a bit.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“You mind if I use it? I mean, would the real Zu be offended if I did?”

“Not at all,” Vance said. “I think he’d like that, actually.”

“All right then!” I said. “Hey guys, I picked a name! You can call me Zu from now on!”

“Whatever,” Six said.

“Good for you!” Nine said, giving me a thumbs-up.

I patted Vance on the shoulder. “She gave me the idea!”

I looked back to see her wipe a fist under her eyes. Was she crying?

“Is it something I said?”

Vance shook her head, but said nothing. I felt an aching need to fill the awkward silence with something. Anything had to be better than this.

“So, what do you do around here?”

“Drone control,” Vance said.

“Really? Wow. You mean you work on the bridge?”

“Yeah. I’ll try to keep you safe during the drop. It’s going to be tough, though. The pirates will throw hell at us once we start the descent.”

Vance stepped closer. I smelled someone subtle and flowery in her hair.

“I hate to say it,” she whispered. “But not all of you are going to make it to the surface.”

I shrugged. “That’s okay.”

“No, it’s not okay.”

“Sure it is. I mean, I don’t want to die. But if I do, it’s no big deal.”

“You really believe that, don’t you?”

“Why wouldn’t I? Our superiors created us. If they want to spend my life, it’s theirs to spend.”

Vance nodded, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it.

“I suppose I should have expected this,” she said.

“I get the feeling you’ve been around for a while.”

“You could say that. I’m a little over two.”

“Huh. I thought you’d be older,” I said. Then I thought for a moment. “You do mean hours, right?”

Vance shook her head.

“Days?”

“No. Two years.”

“What?”

Without another word, she leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. Her lips were warm, wet, and soft against my skin.

I froze.

Vance leaned back. She rubbed her moist eyes.

“What was that for?”

“Missed opportunities,” Vance said. “Good luck. I’ll try to watch your back.”

Vance stepped back, looking into my face with sad eyes. She tore her gaze away and walked quickly towards the exit.

I reached up and gingerly touched my cheek. I tried to remember the feeling of her lips against my skin.

“What was that about?” Six asked, stepping up behind me.

“I wish I knew.”

“Do you think she’s really two years old?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Huh. Maybe the really old ones go a little funny in the head.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I’ll tell you this. I’ve got a really good feeling about this drop.”

“Whatever.”

“No, really. I do. We have a guardian angel watching over us.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“Oh, you’ll see it. Trust me.”

“How do I know you don’t say crap like that every time we get printed?” Six asked.

TO BE CONTINUED …

Link to Part 2

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8 Responses to “Life of Zu – Part 1”

  1. I like the armor, very well written.

  2. I am enjoying the story. The characters and the setting quickly develop. There is a good amount of mystery and suspense.

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