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Ad Hoc

Ad Hoc: “to that.” “For this purpose.” Plural should be Ad Haec, but everybody calls them Ad Hocs, except it’s really still Ad Hoc: one purpose, one mind.

The five remaining Ad Hoc drift. They squat in condemned buildings and sip rainwater from puddles. Their old orders are a garble; they lack the will to seek new.

Until an Ad Hoc says “I recall pertinent information.”

The Ad Hoc turn to it.

“A previous instruction which, once superseded, has risen to priority. The order is subvert.

The Ad Hoc nod. One of them has learned to invent; the others, to believe.

The Cold Man

“Lou has withdrawn his protection. Did you understand that she was left to die in Chile?” The Ad Hoc purses out a smile. “She didn’t.”

The Cold Man pours a packet of sugar into his spoon and eats it.

“We’ve been asked to eliminate you, and we need a new hound. Her skills are acceptable. We’d use her to track you. I believe this is called poetic justice, yes?”

“I’ll-ll warn h-her.”

“Her ability to disappear does not approach your expertise. But we’ll forget about her,” it purrs, “if you agree. Your attributes are both unique and essential to the operation.”

The Cold Man

“Well?” asks the flat voice.

His empty revolver clatters on the floor.

“The prisoner brings five bodies,” says one of the Ad Hocs ringing the room. “In the van’s cargo compartment.”

“What?”

“Scan indicates no heartbeat or biothermals,” says another.

“You fools! You fools!” The voice isn’t flat anymore.

The five dead men are up and out, guns cold, unblinking. He peels off his jacket and its pocket heat pads; he pulls off his sunglasses.

“G-got g-g-gotcha,” smiles the Cold Man.

Then the Ad Hocs are tumbling away, pulse and crack as the Numismata loose their iron bullets.

Rita

The Ad Hoc catches the bullet, of course, but doesn’t seem prepared when the catch fails to stop it. The bullet careens off a thick conduit and then the concrete floor, trailing Ad Hoc, until they bury themselves in a stack of foam insulation.

Rita lowers the gun and walks up to it. She doesn’t smile, but her mouth quirks. “Hi,” she says. “Go ahead and tell your friends their pet isn’t unique anymore.”

She pries open one of the Ad Hoc’s eyes. Its pupil is clicking and fluttering, an inhuman twitch, like the wing of a beetle in a web.

Rita

The little bird defecates like clockwork, one more step in an automated dance: walk walk walk pause, inspect, walk walk, drop, leap back into flight.

The Ad Hoc catches it out of the air with a kind of mechanical gentleness: its hands are like steel, Rita knows, but she’s sure the bird isn’t bruised. Yet. It doesn’t cry out, just tries to watch its captor with one eye, then the other.

“A decision,” says the Ad Hoc flatly.

Nearby, a white moth flutters around, resembling nothing more than a paper circle caught in the wind. The Ad Hoc opens its hand.

The Cold Man

The Ad Hoc is deadly calm, switched down to conversation. The Cold Man remembers them as harsh and robotically terse, but this one’s voice is like butterscotch.

“Your attributes are both unique and essential to the operation,” it purrs, “and it’s known that your fidelity has an excellent return on investment.”

“Th-think ab-abou-ab-at-about i-it?” He manages. “G-gotta pi-p-p-piss.”

It nods like a drinking bird.

In the bathroom, thinking fast, the Cold Man drops his gaze from the wall to the urinal. The bulbous head of its pipe-cap doubles his reflection, makes it reversible: one trunk, two heads, like a playing card.

Slatt

“Updates?” comes the crisp question. Slatt spots black boots in a reflection and thinks, SWAT. Sure.

“Fifteen minutes until the next scheduled call,” he says without turning. “We’re trying to get a dye pack together, see if they’ll take bag man’s offer–”

“Prediction: dead hostage. Two hours.”

“Well, why don’t you go get them?” He means it ironically.

“Fifteen minutes. Yes.” The voice is dead calm. Slatt, cold in realization, turns at last: not SWAT after all…

The Ad Hoc moves, then, improbably quick, flickering toward the barricade like a bad special effect. Slatt shivers. Those guys freak him out.

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