In Part Five, Mercury had begun the process of inseminating young female elephants with sperm cells manufactured from the DNA of the hybrid mammoth carcass.
After depositing the first batch of eggs, Mercury and his companion, Celukwaze, a Zulu, return to the Jethro complex.
At the doorway to the main office building, the leader of the security detachment looked at Celukwaze, “No unauthorized personnel beyond this point,” he said.
“It’s okay, she’s with me,” I nodded.
While we stood outside waiting, I logged into Katherine’s memory banks, located the access code for the door and opened it before the security camera embedded above the entrance uploaded the video of us to the terminal in the GM’s office.
I cut into the video feed, “Hello, Eldridge,” I said.
“Mercury, I’m glad to see you’ve returned safely and brought back my equipment undamaged,” Eldridge, looking surprised to see my image on his monitor, replied.
“I appreciate your cooperation, however, I need something else?”
The broad smile went away and Eldridge spoke through gritted teeth: “How may I be of service?”
“I’m going to need a grav–car built to my specifications,” I replied, uploading the blueprints for the vehicle to the manufacturing department.
“And when will you be needing this?”
I explained to Eldridge how long it would take to build the car if my production schedule was adhered to. I even added twenty four hours. I didn’t want to put any undue strain on the normal mining and manufacturing procedures.
While Celukwaze and I waited for the car to be finished, I toured the plant and made suggestions on how to increase production and cut costs, then uploaded the data to Katherine’s memory banks. The engineers and machinists were grateful, perhaps some alliances had been formed.
On the day the grav–car was finished, we loaded it with supplies and set a northbound course. Because of my power modifications, I was able to elevate the vehicle up the face of the ice wall vertically. Once on top, I glided across the ice sheet and returned to the laboratory.
At first Celukwaze was hesitant to enter, “What is down that devil hole?” she asked, eyes wide.
“Trust me,” I said. She remained motionless. I slid down the ladder and shot back up. “See, It’s easy.” I told her to hold on to my back. She clung to my shoulders. I kept the falling pressure strong, easing down the 500 meter hole.
One hundred enhanced cells had been prepared by Robur and placed in a sealed canister. I attached a nylon belt to the canister and slung it over my shoulder.
Mercury, the voice of Robur transmitted into my consciousness.
Yes, I transmitted, surprised an Artificial Intelligence would communicated directly.
It is time to begin the merging process.
In a millisecond my mind, a combination of enhanced organic tissue and an atomic crystal, accepted a portion of Robur’s vast intellect. My brain increased in size and waves of heat radiated down my spine and into my central power cell. At that moment I knew when I returned I would continue constructing the hybrid mammoth cells on my own. This was the first step in the complete transference of all Robur’s collected knowledge to myself.
* * * *
When the second batch was finished and deposited I decided to return the to the laboratory and manufacture the third. On the way back we came across a dead elephant. I knew it was one of the young females I’d inseminated. The egg, once free of its case, caused a pigmentation discoloration under the left ear.
In and of itself, a dead elephant on the plains was not an unusual occurrence. However, the cause of death was unusual—the animal had been killed by a lead projectile, ten centimeters behind the visible mark.
As we continued we found more elephants slaughtered in the same fashion. All were killed by an ancient .6oo caliber Express Nitro round and left to rot. This was not a random occurrence, someone was deliberately killing young female elephants I’d artificially inseminated. At that moment I decided to discontinue the fertilization procedure and find whoever was responsible for the carnage.
It didn’t take long. Celukwaze asked some of her people if they knew of any hunters armed with rifles. “My people say that a group of Addios tribesman are on the plains and they carry fire–sticks.”
I left Celukwaze. I figured she’d be safer in her village. I powered up the grav–car and followed the trail of dead elephants until I picked up a large heat signal on my infrared Doppler radar. I parked the car, camouflaged it with tall grass, and crept up to the source of the heat signal.
It was an encampment, tribesmen, armed with old Kalashnikov automatic rifles, walked about. I counted thirty. I activated my chameleon ware and walked carefully into the camp until I stood at the center.
My pulse pistols, because of their proximity to my body, were concealed by the camouflaging program as well. I walked into the middle of a fire, sparks flying around my feet. At that instant. I switched off the chameleon ware and stepped out of the fire. I said, “Drop your weapons and you won’t die,” in perfect Addios.
The nearest tribesman lifted his rifle, I blasted a hole through his throat, blowing the top of his spine out of his back. Bullets hit me from all sides as I stepped forward, ripping synthetic flesh from my composite chassis. Continuing on, I carved a deadly path through the camp until the few left standing surrendered.
“Which one of you is the leader?” I asked. When no one spoke up I said, “If the leader doesn’t step forward, I’ll kill everybody.”
The tribesmen at the front of the small group stepped aside, revealing an old man.
“Who gave you the weapons.” I demanded. He didn’t answer. While I was speaking to him I’d analyzed a brass cartridge casing I’d picked up off the ground on my way in. It had been manufactured recently and there was only one place it could’ve come from—the Jethro Corporation.
I left the Addios hunters and returned to Celukwaze’s village. It had been burned to the ground and the inhabitants slaughtered. Celukwaze had been tied to a tree and skinned. I cut her down and burned her corpse. I collected all the bodies and burned those.
* * * *
I stood in the door of the General Manager’s office.
“Well you’ve made quite an impression on the locals,” Eldridge smiled. “They’re calling you the Collector of Men’s Souls.”
“I like that,” I nodded. “I’m going to get to the point,” I said. “I need a full overhaul of my synthetic flesh and I need to know who supplied the Addios with the weapons and ammunition.”
Eldridge hesitated. I reached out, put my hand around his throat, extended my fingers, and pressed together until his head fell to his shoulders. “Add one more soul to the collection,” I said.
* * * *
In my laboratory I stared at the terminal, looking at the next creation: the body of a man, the head and muscles of a black leopard, and the the wings of a bat. The primary function of the creature was to feed on humans. This was the producer’s answer to maintaining a sustainable population on Earth: the Great African Vampire Bat. I began my third assignment.