Template 27

by Melody Wolfe

As George Schmidt bled out, shot through with a dozen bullets, his life dutifully flashed before his eyes.

It hadn't been a great one.

George's parents were stereotypical co-dependents. His father was a violent alcoholic who hit his wife and son; his mother was meek and obedient.

George inherited his father's penchant and aptitude for violence. He took out his rage at the playground, bullying the younger kids. As he grew into his teen years, he spent time in juvie, but dodged the gang scene.

By the time he turned eighteen, he decided to join the army. He did okay. For a few years, it seemed like the army would be the home he never had. But then there was a drunken fistfight, and he was handed his papers.

That's when he met Janey. Janey was different from the other girls he'd dated. A waitress at a restaurant near his new construction job, George chatted her up one day at lunch.

Janey ignored his machismo. Instead, she saw right into the heart of him, the frustrated fury of being dead average in everything except brains and fists. The latter was his talent, and the former his bane.

They got married. They had two kids in short order. Those were good years. But then a recession came, and the construction company folded. As George's stretch of unemployment grew, so did his desperation. For the first time in his life, he'd felt like a good man, and discovered he liked the feeling.

He found an ad in the paper for a security job. It was ideal. Money, benefits, three months of paid vacation. The only problem was that it required relocation to a remote Pacific island for nine months out of the year.

Janey took it in stride, rubbing his shoulders one night after putting the kids to bed. "Baby," she said in his ear, "it's hard, but it's a hard old world. We'll make do. You put in nine months with these guys, and then look for work here while you've got the three months off. And they've got satellite phones and the internet, so we can buy a computer with the advance, and you can talk to the kids and me every night."

So George went to the island.

It was good. They had high end gear. Body armor, assault rifles, the works. The guys were a lot like him. Everybody he talked to had stories of their shitty parents, their shitty jobs, and most telling, their shitty luck. For the first time in his life, he was among people who understood why his life had gone so wrong for so long. And every night, he got on a laptop and sung his kids to sleep and blew kisses at his wife's image on the screen.

But it was also weird. The boss was crazy. They were guarding some sort of freaky research, but no one really knew what it was or did. The scientists didn't speak to them. And it didn't end there.

"Hey," George said to Henderson one day, "you ever wonder why the fuck we're wearing bright yellow armor? That's not exactly jungle camo, man."

Henderson shrugged. "Probably to tell us apart if we ever run into trouble, I guess."

"Yeah," said George, "but you ever notice how we're all pretty much the same height, and the same build?"

Henderson shrugged again. "Guess the boss wanted a certain type."

"Okay," George said, "but why the hell are we guarding a shack in the middle of the jungle, filled up with gear? Why put gear all over the island? Wouldn't it make more sense to put it at a central HQ?"

Henderson shrugged a final time. "You ask a lot of questions, Schmidt."

George took the hint and shut up.

Two days later, the man came out of the jungle. George was standing by the shack's door when gunfire erupted from the jungle. He returned fire. The guy zig-zagged like a hamster on speed, and he never seemed to run out of ammo. George hit him a half-dozen times, but the guy just silently shrugged it off and kept coming. Didn't even grunt.

Henderson and Locke went down fast. George lobbed a grenade at the guy. The grenade went off, an explosion of dirt and smoke. And the guy came running through it.

Then the guy did something truly odd. The guy took his rifle and slung it over his shoulder…where it promptly disappeared. And he pulled a machine gun out from behind his back. From nowhere.

George gaped for a second, and then turned to run. Bullets ripped through him moments later.

He rolled onto his back and lifted his head. The guy had walked through a hail of bullets and explosions, and then pulled a gun out of his ass. And now he was running from body to body, kneeling for a moment, and then continuing to the next. He disappeared into the hut, and came out a second later. And he was sprinting the entire time, jerking back and forth all over the place.

George let his head drop. The blue sky filled his vision.

"Janey," he said, and died.

##

Paul pulled off the headset. "Yeah, that totally did it."

Brian looked over. "Better?"

"Way better." Paul grinned at him. "I cannot believe how much better the guards have gotten since we started giving them lives before the start of the game. What did you do, exactly?"

"Random history bits parsed through the intelligence engine. A backstory, pretty much. Enough to make them less predictable and more of a challenge," Brian said. "Although…"

"What?"

"Template 27 was awfully curious. It threw off the other AIs. I'll have to dial that down for the next run."

Paul nodded. "And then he gets to die again." He looked to the screen. "Sorry for your luck, bud."

They both laughed.