The Briftly Prerogative
Briftly woke with a start just before dawn on what he thought was Christmas morning, though after a few seconds he realized he had only been dreaming of Christmas a few minutes prior, and the real date was in fact the ninth of February. The dream was a particularly painful one; it was recurring, though not quite so much as the one with the giant crab or the one with the tiny ballerinas. He had only dreamed this dream about a dozen times since the RSS had started sending him out on missions, but it stuck with him nonetheless.
In it, he and his brothers and sisters were gathered around the Christmas tree, waiting for their parents to come down so they could open their presents. His siblings would start singing a song he didn’t recognize, and suddenly his mother would appear, and kiss them all on their foreheads — all apart from him. Then they would all start singing together, and Briftly would ask “Where’s Dad?” with all the tenderness of the boy he once was. But there would be no answer. “Where’s Dad? Where’s Dad? Where’s Dad?” he would repeat, until he finally woke up.
And when he was awake he would always be faced with the same sad revelation: none of the people he had just seen were his family. Of course they weren’t; he had no family. He had been genetically engineered, grown in a tube and raised by a supercomputer that he wanted to call Mom, but that he was instructed to call “Big Bessie.” Big Bessie had been designed by the top brass of the computer engineering world, and she knew everything there was to know about being a mother. She had even named him; based on all the data that existed about geographic and historical naming patterns and linguistic psychology, her task had been to come up with the most inconspicuous male name imaginable. And so that immaculately conceived boy became known as Brift Briftly.
Brift’s eyes adjusted to the dark and he looked around his little room to see if anything was different, if he had been left some sort of note by his handlers. As usual, he hadn’t. He struggled, as he did every morning, to remember the name of the country he was stationed in. Every day he would learn the name anew, only to black out the following night and forget it all over again. I really need to stop drinking, he thought. But then it occurred to him that going cold turkey would likely cause some withdrawal symptoms that would interfere with his work. Then he wondered where the term “cold turkey” came from in the first place. Then he got distracted by a weird shadow. By the time he was able to focus he had already forgotten what he was supposed to be thinking about. Then he noticed a half-full glass of something next to his bed and immediately downed it.
“Tocharistan!” he suddenly exclaimed. He felt deeply proud for remembering the name of the obscure former Soviet Republic turned disputed territory that he was certain he had never seen on any map. He gave himself a little pat on the back and decided he deserved another half hour of sleep.
Eleven minutes later, he opened his eyes and saw, standing in front of his bed, a very large man with a bristly black beard dressed in furs. This bear of a man was glistening, either from sweat or the melted snow of the Siberian winter. Brift guessed it was a combination of the two. “Hello Brift. My name is Ilya,” said the brute whose name was apparently Ilya, before leaping onto the bed and strangling Brift vigorously.
He doesn’t know who he’s messing with, thought Brift. But then he realized, Wait, yes he does — he just said my name. Then he realized it would probably be a good idea to kill this guy and gave him what he liked to call “a good ol’ neck jab” and tumbled off the bed. Ilya leapt up into some kind of wrestling stance. “The honorable thing to do would be to wrestle you to the death,” said Brift, reaching for the P-96 he had hidden under the bed. “But I’m not really about that.” He aimed for Ilya’s head but accidentally nicked his shoulder. Ilya cursed, and then was dead because the second shot didn’t miss.
“Why don’t you wrestle with that,” Brift said, in the sort of forced-smug way he thought people were supposed to after especially smooth kills. But then he felt kind of self-conscious and pretended it never happened, especially because the kill wasn’t even that smooth. He was about to get back into bed and claim his remaining nineteen minutes of snooze time, when he realized Ilya had brought something with him: a medium sized black duffel-bag. Brift figured he’d better inspect it.
As soon as he unzipped the bag, a tiny robot wearing a tiny jetpack flew out and grabbed hold of his arm. Brift thought back to his training, replaying its greatest hits in his head in case he had ever learned what you’re supposed to do when a tiny robot with a tiny jetpack flies out of a duffel-bag and grabs hold of your arm. Unfortunately, he hadn’t. I could just try to swat it away, he thought, like I would do with a bee or a mosquito. But you’re not really supposed to swat those away, at least not bees. ’Cause then they’ll sting you. And that’s exactly what you don’t want to happen. So it’d probably be best not to swat this thing away, ’cause it might just get more aggravated. Then again, it’s not like it’s that aggressive in the first place. It doesn’t seem to be doing much at all. Maybe it’s scared. But then, they say when animals are scared they’re more likely to lash out. I guess the same thing is true of people. I wonder if it’s true of robots, too…
Brift then noticed that the robot wasn’t holding onto his arm anymore. He looked around and saw that it was using its jetpack to fly up to one of the cabinets in the little kitchenette thing in the corner of the room. It managed to open the cabinet door, climb inside, and shut itself in. Brift heard its muffled voice calling out from inside.
“I live here now!” it said, rather contentedly.
Well, thought Brift, I guess it lives there now.
He decided to go back to inspecting the duffel bag. Inside, apart from a tiny can of oil, was a portable safe with The Word engraved in its side. Brift had no means of opening it; the next best idea would be to try to figure out the meaning of the engraving. He took out his smartphone — Little Bessie — and enabled it’s voice recognition feature.
“Little Bessie,” he said, with all the authority he could muster. “Find ‘The Word.’”
“Which word would you like me to find?” she responded.
“No, no, no. I need to know about ‘The Word.’”
“Which word do you need to know about?”
“Look up ‘The Word.’”
“Which word — “
Brift threw Little Bessie against the wall, ending her sad and lonely life.
What am I gonna do now? Brift thought. Well…I could stay in here and do absolutely nothing, or I could go out for a drink. He took about six seconds to decide on the latter option. But once he stepped outside he recalled a message he had received from one of his handlers the previous night: there would be a blizzard that morning. And lo and behold, there was.
Blinded by the white everything, it took him a little over a minute to find his bearings, and another few minutes to realize he’d left his key in the room. And it wasn’t until he had made up his mind to keep walking through the snow that he remembered all the alcohol was back in his lodgings, and there were no other buildings, let alone bars, for miles. This really wasn’t his day.
Brift trudged through the sleet and frost for a good half mile, with absolutely no idea where he was going, when he heard a voice.
He looked around and saw no one.
Still no one.
And then he realized there was one particular direction he hadn’t looked. And there, standing like some sort of lamp or bookcase or something else that stands, was a shape that vaguely resembled a woman. A woman! Brift hadn’t seen a woman in exactly eight weeks, two days, five hours and…
What should I say to her? he thought. It has to be something really cool. Not that I really need to impress her. We’re obviously gonna be lovers. I mean, she doesn’t know that yet, but I do. And she’ll know it soon enough. After all, I’m a secret agent, and who doesn’t wanna make love to a secret agent? But still, I should try to say something cool. It would be the right thing to do. Hmmm… Maybe I should be like ‘I didn’t expect to meet a fan way out here!’ But…no, that doesn’t really make sense. Why would a secret agent have fans. That was dumb. Maybe I should go with a classic line. But I don’t know any classic lines. Fuck. I knew I should have done some research before coming out here. Oh, I know —
But he didn’t have time to say anything at all, because exactly five seconds after he saw her, she shot him in the chest with a semi-automatic rifle. As he lay there, slowly bleeding out, he thought about all the spies he had read about and seen in the books and movies his handlers had made available to him. He thought about how they always got out of tough scrapes, saved the day and got the girl. And he thought about himself, and how he deserved all that, too. He deserved everything he wanted, because he was a spy, and spies get whatever they want.
Brift started to cry. Spies don’t cry, he thought to himself. Then he wet himself, which was actually kind of nice because it made him feel a bit warm. But it didn’t stop hypothermia from setting in.
He was dead within forty-five minutes.
Some time later, back at RSS Headquarters, two operatives had a conversation that went something like this:
“So…I guess that Briftly project was a failure, huh?”