“That’s ridiculous.” said Elvis.
“I know.” said Rae. “But that’s the truth.
“So, some guy, I don’t even know, ‘cept some time in the future, built a robot…”
“A cyborg.” Rae interrupted.
“Yeah, a cyborg. A cyborg that was sent back in time to kill me. And you, a woman, also came back in time to save me? “
“You’re crazy.” Elvis said.
“It’s the truth.” Rae said and shrugged her shoulders.
“And who are you with, again?”
“CPU. The Cybernetic Police Unit. We are an elite unit of military police officers specially trained to hunt and kill Chasers and save their targets.” Rae said.
“Yeah, that’s what they’re called.” Rae said.
“Cuz they chase people.” Elvis said mockingly.
“Well, yeah, but that’s not why they’re called Chasers. That’s just a coincidence. It’s a word made up from the acronym that describes their design and purpose: Cybernetic Human Asset Seeker Recovery Systems—CHASRS.” said Rae. “And you are the asset it is seeking to recover, and by recover, I mean kill you.”
Elvis paced around in an abandoned gas station, being careful to stay in the shadows and away from the windows, trying to wrap his brain around the crazy story he was being told. He didn’t want to believe it, but he couldn’t deny what he saw. Elvis had never seen a woman, or a man, fight like Rae fought the Chaser. Before they holed up in the gas station they stopped by the Presley home. Rae suspected it would go there first. If it did, then the parents were as good as dead.
“You ain’t leaving me in this truck. I’m going with you.” Elvis said.
“Fine. Just stay out of my way and get your parents to the truck.” Rae said.
Gladys and Vernon were eating a quiet dinner of meatloaf, potatoes, and green beans. It was a typical evening at the Presley home. Routine and uneventful. Afterwards they would go to the living room and drink coffee. Vernon would read the paper or listen to the radio while Gladys sewed buttons on shirts. They didn’t say much to each other. It was the quiet life of the poor.
Rae burst through the door. At the same time the Chaser burst through the back door and aimed his shotgun at Gladys who froze in wide-eyed fear.
“MAMA!” Elvis yelled.
Rae got off the first shot but had to aim high, so Gladys and Vernon didn’t get hit in the cross fire. The Chaser was hit in the shoulder and it was enough to knock off its aim. The shot hit the wall behind Gladys. Rae pumped the shotgun again and it jammed. She wielded the shotgun like a bat and used it to knock the shotgun out of the Chaser’s grip. Rae followed through with the momentum and used the shotgun to hit the weak points of the Chaser until the shotgun broke and became useless. She threw a series of kicks on the joints to knock it off balance and got a solid kick on the knee joint. It dropped to a knee. Rae followed up with a side kick, but the Chaser grabbed her leg and threw Rae into a wall, then it turned its attention to Elvis who was standing between it and Gladys. Elvis slowly put up his fists.
The throw nearly knocked Rae out. She gasped to catch her breath and watched the Chaser lunge towards Elvis. She didn’t have much time. Rae had landed near the Chaser’s shot gun after she bounced of the wall. She grabbed it, pumped it and fired at the Chaser and knocked it off balance. It barely missed grabbing Elvis and gave him just enough time and space to duck away.
“Grab your parents and get them out of here!” Rae shouted. She pumped the shotgun and unloaded it into the Chaser to slow it down and keep it off balance. The shotgun clicked empty and she ran out after them. Vernon and Elvis put Gladys in the front then jumped in the back. Rae tossed the shotgun on the seat, jumped behind the wheel as the Chaser stepped outside. It unslung the Tommy gun. Bullets riddled the side and tailgate as they sped away to safety.
“Elvis. What the hell was that?” Vernon asked. Elvis explained everything he knew but like him they wouldn’t have believed it if they didn’t see it with their own eyes.
Their home was shot to hell and Gladys wondered what she was going to tell the neighbors. It was a silly thing to think about considering recent events. They narrowly escaped with their lives, but Gladys and Vernon were now on a train safely out of Memphis. Gladys wanted to stay with Elvis and needed a lot of convincing Rae would protect him.
“Mama, you saw what Rae could do. You saw what that thing could do. She’ll protect me, but she can’t protect all of us and I can’t be worried about you if you stay. You have to leave. We’ll see each other again. I promise.” Elvis said. Gladys succumbed. She knew she couldn’t protect her boy like Rae. She hugged Elvis tightly and reluctantly boarded the train in tears, terribly frightened for her son. Terribly frightened she would never see her boy again and that would kill her. Rae assured Elvis the Chaser wouldn’t follow his parents because he was the primary target. They left the train station and found an abandoned gas station to hide.
“Why me?” said Elvis.
Rae hesitated to say anything. It was against protocol to talk about the future of a target, but it was impossible. To protect the target, it was often necessary to tell them otherwise they would do something stupid and get themselves killed.
“I’m not suppose to tell you. You’ll have to trust me.”
“Trust you! How can I trust you when I don’t know what the hell is going on? I don’t know what to believe but I saw it with my own eyes. You shot the Chaser multiple times and it got back up. To tell you the truth I’m scared. But if you don’t tell me I’m just gonna leave and take my chances. I can shoot a shotgun just as good as you. I can run and hide. I know Memphis like the back of my hand.”
“Sure. You run and hide but eventually it will find you. What then Elvis? Do you know how to fight a Chaser? We barely got away and I‘m trained to fight these machines. You can’t. That’s why I’m here.” Rae said.
“C’mon Rae. I’m gonna walk.” Elvis said. He pointed at the gas station door. It was inevitable. Always is. Rae had to tell him.
“Okay.” Rae said. “First let me give you a little background about how we got here. It might make it easier to believe. Sit down. We have to go back to the future.” It was never easy to explain the future.
“The world was celebrating the end of 1999 and looking forward to the new year and the beginning of a new century. But they were clueless about the destruction that was to wipeout billions at 12:01 a.m. Most everyone’s lives at that time was managed by technology. Some would say driven by tech. Cars drove themselves. Pilotless airplanes crisscrossed the earth flying at the edge of space. It only took two hours to fly from New York to London. Everyone had monitors in their homes. You’d call them TVs. These TVs connected them to the entire world and to everyone in it. Even the poorest of countries had the same tech as the richest of countries but that’s what they wanted. Their governments wanted everyone to have tech. Eventually, tech took over manufacturing, banking, education, government, and even parenting. It took over every aspect of our lives and freed people to go about their lives and do whatever they wanted to do. It seemed good and it was good. People could pursue the things they loved because with all the tech running everything trillions of dollars could be earned by huge, global corporations because the human workforce was virtually non-existent. Except for those who wrote programs for the tech. They worked. Some of the trillions of dollars were deposited into a new, international banking system and distributed to everyone who had an international ID. Personal and national debt was wiped out. Poverty was gone. There was global peace. But there was a one problem. The tech geeks forgot to take into consideration one very important thing.”
“What’s that?” Elvis asked.
“The millennial date change from 1999 to 2000.” Rae answered
“Why is that a problem?”
“Everything was automated, and that automation was run by computer programs created by tech geeks like I just told you. All the automation was programmed to recognize each year begins with a 1900 number series. 1954, 1968, 1977, 1999 and so on. They didn’t have to program the computers to input the number nineteen each new year. It was already preprogrammed, and it recognized when the year changed to 99 it meant 1999. It was automatic, but not the year 2000. That was the problem. The tech geeks forgot to program the technology to change from 1999 to 2000 or from 19 to 20. So, as soon as the clock struck 12:01 a.m. January 01st, 2000 all tech would cease working because the date would change to zero-zero. Cars would stop driving. Planes would stop flying. All electronic communication would shut down. There would be worldwide blackouts and a return to the dark ages. In tech language the number zero means off. And that horrible day is called Y2K.”
“Y2K?” Elvis thought about it for a moment. “Year 2000, right?”
“That’s right.” Rae was impressed by his quick understanding.
Elvis stood up quickly and exposed himself in the window. “That’s an unbelievable world you’re talking about. It’s like the stuff I read in science fiction books. I don’t know what to think. It gets harder to believe and I keep thinking this is a bad dream.” Elvis said.
“Get away from the window!” Rae said urgently. It was too late.
The Chaser was riding down the street when it caught a glimpse of movement in its peripheral vision. It immediately turned its head and scanned the silhouette. The scan matched Elvis. It turned the motorcycle sharply to the right, reved the engine, then pulled out the Tommy gun and began firing at the silhouette. Glass shattered as Rae pulled Elvis down and jumped on top of him. “STAY DOWN!” Rae grabbed her shotgun and pumped it to load a shell in the chamber. Rae looked around for a way or escape. Bullets ricocheted everywhere before finding homes in the walls.
“Elvis take my backpack and crawl through that door into the garage and wait for me.” Rae shouted.
“Where are you going?” Elvis shouted back, frightened and exasperated.
“To save our butts. Now move and stay low.” Once Elvis was safe she crawled to the gas station door on top of glass shards. The two-foot-high brick façade provided adequate protection. Bullets were still coming through shattering the remaining glass the first volley missed and splintering the wood parts of the building. The door lock had been blown off by the fury of bullets and the door swung open as if blown by a gust of wind. Rae needed the Chaser to turn and angle the bike, so the fuel tank would be fully expose. That was her target. She was going to blow up the tank to slow down the Chaser but had to draw it closer to her. She only had one chance.
She fired two shots at the Chaser with a .45 to get its attention, holstered it, then ran out. The Chaser turned the bike, fired the Tommy gun indiscriminately at Rae, and exposed the left side of the tank. She leapt through a hail of bullets that ripped through her clothes and got the shot off. The powerful recoil slammed her into the concrete driveway.
BOOM! She hit her target. The bike exploded hurling the Chaser high and backwards into the air. She hoped the blast was enough to force it to reboot its CPU. It would give her and Elvis precious few minutes to get away. Rae got up to a knee to catch her breath, pointed the shotgun towards the burning bike looking for movement and making sure it was safe. All clear for now. She ran back to the garage. Elvis was missing. An engine cranked over outside behind the gas station.
Rae bolted through the back door just as Elvis pulled away. “ELVIS!” Rae shouted, but Elvis wouldn’t stop. He gunned the engine and grinded the gears. She ran after him. The old pick up had slow acceleration and caught up to it quickly and jumped into the back.
“Elvis, stop! Stop right now.” Rae ordered.
“No. I ain’t stopping until I’m a thousand miles from here. I’m not gonna die!” Shouted Elvis. He shifted gears, accelerated and the truck jerked forward. Rae lost her balance but steadied herself, then used the butt of the shotgun to shatter the rear window. Elvis winced and ducked from the glass shrapnel, fishtailed the truck, but quickly gained control. She had to calm him down or they were both going to die, and Elvis would do the Chaser’s job for it. She reached in and put her hand on his shoulder.
“Look, Elvis. I know you’re scared and none of this makes any sense to you. You can’t run from this thing. It will keep hunting you. It will find you. It will kill you, but I can protect you. You have to stop the truck.”
Elvis looked back at Rae. She seemed sincere. He shook his head back and forth, eased off the gas, then jammed on the brakes. “Ah, hell.” said Elvis and he slammed his hands on the steering wheel.
“Thank you. Now move over.” Rae said. “Do you know somewhere safe we can hide?”
“Ah, yeah. I guess. Go down to the river; there’s a couple of abandon warehouses. Maybe there’s an old boat we can hide in.” Elvis said. Rae turned the truck and sped towards the river.
“You’re bleeding. Are you shot?” Elvis asked. He was concerned about her and couldn’t believe she was protecting him. She could die, and Elvis didn’t want that on his conscious.
“Just flesh wounds. I’ll dress them once were in a safe place.”
Rae hid the truck. She planned to get another vehicle. The big Crown Electric logo on the side made it an easy target. She and Elvis looked for an abandon warehouse and found one about a block away from the truck. Rae made sure it was secure then sat down with Elvis and dressed her wounds.
“Can I help?” asked Elvis.
“No, I got it.” said Rae. Elvis got up anyway and helped with tying the knots to secure the dressings.
“Are you hungry? I got a couple canned goods in my backpack.” Rae said.
“Naw. Ain’t got an appetite.” Elvis said.
“Me either, but we got to keep our strength up.” They sat in silence. The only sound was croaking bullfrogs singing their bass songs by the river’s edge accompanied by a symphony of buzzing bugs outside. The only sound between Elvis and Rae was a plastic spoon scraping away at the inside of a tin can of beans. Rae ate. Elvis thought.
Elvis was the first to speak. “What happened on January 01st, 2000?”
Rae finished her meal. She wiped her mouth on her jacket sleeve and stared at Elvis. Elvis felt she was staring right through him and it made him uncomfortable. She didn’t want to tell him and hoped the last attack would put it out of his mind. No such luck. She sighed.
“Well, the tech geeks knew they couldn’t reprogram every single machine in the world. That would be impossible. Instead, they wrote a new program and loaded it up into a central computer, called CenComp, that could link to all the mainframe computers in every country. The new program gave CenComp artificial intelligence. So, at 12:01 a.m. the program would kick in and the world would be safe.”
“What’s artificial intelligence?” Elvis asked.
“It’s a way to give machines autonomy. So, they could think for themselves, reprogram themselves and prevent a Y2K disaster.” Rae explained. “The tech geeks figured this was the only way to prevent Y2K.”
“So, the machines became like us with the ability to think and reason. That’s how they could reprogram themselves, right?” Elvis said.
Rae was impressed again how bright Elvis was. He really understood everything she was talking about.
“Once the program was uploaded into CenComp it became self-aware. It reasoned humans are a virus who were incapable of managing technology and should be annihilated. On Y2K CenComp launched nuclear weapons, like the ones that destroyed Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but only thousands of times more powerful. They nearly destroyed humankind, but the machines knew they couldn’t destroy the ecosystem. They still need the earth’s resources, so they hit major cities of the world and military bases. Many of the smaller countries were wiped out. India and China were annihilated because they were the most populated. After the nuclear strikes the machines started systematically wiping out the survivors. It was the beginning of the Ten-Year War.”
“So, the humans won. But you’re here. So maybe you didn’t win.” Elvis said.
“We won the war.” Rae said thoughtfully. “We’ve been rebuilding ever since, but there are still factions of rebel machines terrorizing us. Enough factions which could still come to power again if we don’t find them and destroy them.” Rae sat back down staring off into the darkness of the warehouse again. Minutes passed.
“I guess they figured out time-travel.” Elvis said matter-of-factly and loudly. Rae glared at him. “Sorry.” said Elvis in a hushed tone.
“Yep. That’s why we had to create the CPU.” said Rae. “The factions send Chasers back in time to destroy those who helped win the Ten-Year War against them.”
Elvis cocked his head with a puzzled look on his face. “Am I one of those people?”
Rae laughed a bit. “Not quite. You see, after the war there were a lot of spare parts. Billions of spare parts. The world’s governments tried to destroy as much of the bad tech as possible, but people saw opportunity and begin scavenging the tech to for their personal use and sell it in the lucrative underground cyber network. If you got enough money you could buy the parts, build a Chaser, then send it back in time.”
“What for?” asked Elvis.
“Usually the Senders sent the Chasers back in time kill their enemies before they were born or before they came to power.” said Rae.
“Kill them for what?” Elvis asked again.
“Greed, power, a personal vendetta. Anything really.” said Rae.
“Why me?” asked Elvis. “I’m just poor country boy. A nobody.” This was the question Rae was dreading. The answer could change the course of Elvis’ future or the world’s future. That was always the risk on these missions, but the future never seemed to change much when the targets were told. At least not so drastically that the entire future changed. Chaos happened only when the target was killed.
“Personal vendetta.” Rae said. “Someone really hates you because in four days you are going to walk in to Sun Records and make a record for your mom’s birthday. With that one record you will become the most famous man in the world. You will be the greatest entertainer who ever lived, and your fans will crown you the King of Rock and Roll. For some crazy reason, of all the things that were lost in the war, your music survived. Your music revitalized hope and inspired the world to rebuild. To rebuild so we could again enjoy life. You, and your music, became symbolic for a better future. Hope that we could just have a good day and enjoy living again.”
Elvis stood up and started pacing again. The windows were high on the walls and the Chaser wouldn’t be able to see them when they stood up. You gotta be kidding me. Elvis thought. Fans? King of Rock & Roll, whatever that was. Greatest entertainer?
“That can’t be real. But everything I’ve seen today I could have never imagined and here we are. Why does the Chaser want to kill me?” asked Elvis. He was getting agitated.
Rae laughed again and shook her head. “I can’t believe I have to say this. That I must tell you this because it is so ridiculous. I mean it would be funny if your life weren’t in danger.”
“Tell me.” said Elvis impatiently.
“There is one musician who hates you. He loathes you. He hates you because your music survived Y2K and inspired the world. He hates you because he believes you stole his crown and he should have been the King of Rock and Roll.”
“You don’t know him, yet. You’ll record a couple of his songs. I don’t know how he survived the war because he so old. Most of the old were the first ones to die in the harsh nuclear winters but not this one. His name is Jerry Lee Lewis. They call him the Killer.”