A light switched on over the foyer as he stepped out of the elevator, illuminating the entrance to a hallway set with brown floorboards and mottled green wallpaper. A lounge opened to the left from which the sounds of a television could be heard. Overhead lights anticipated his movements as Matthias walked down the hallway towards a small kitchen. After a short delay, the lights dimmed and died behind him. The space held a single stove, a modest dishwasher, a sink and a small dining table. The surfaces were pristine, and not so much as a butter knife lay in the open. The toaster had never been used.
Matthias set down his groceries and opened a cupboard against the opposite wall. Pulling a small garbage bin out from beside the sink, he began tossing unopened groceries into the waiting receptacle. Light fell in from the hallway as the patter of animal feet heralded a squat brown dog at the doorway. Ears perked, head tilting to the side, the dog stared at Matthias as he emptied the cupboard and began replacing the unopened goods with fresh groceries from his bags.
‘I really don’t know know why you bother,’ said the dog.
The dog sneezed.
‘I have to keep up the pretense,’ Matthias shrugged, placing five fresh bananas in a shelf space still compressed from the presence of fruit he had just thown out.
‘You don’t see me pretending to be a normal dog,’ Berkeley wandered further into the room.
‘Why do you think I don’t take you anywhere?’
‘Because I have better social skills than you.’
‘I’m hilarious. You’re boring. Let me know when you’re done with that – the internet has been down for hours. I’ve been stuck watching PBS.’
With that the dog turned and left.
Berkeley lay splayed out on the couch as Matthias entered the lounge. Around him, mottled red walls and black carpet set the mood behind a wall-mounted television, and generous amounts of consumer baggage: a large stereo in a glass cupboard, a library of books and old media. A large tapestry of light covered the far wall, displaying landscapes so vivid, it appeared to be a window one might step through.
‘Get up,’ said Matthias, approaching from the hallway. A dining table sat in the dark behind him, holding a laptop waiting on standby.
Berkely rolled over exposing the remote control to the TV.
Matthias took it, studying the screen, handling buttons while Berkeley spoke.
‘Do you know how exciting aphids are? All the little things they do in the rainforest to keep nature going. Sounds fascinating doesn’t it?’
‘You sat on the remote again,’ Matthias advised with a lift of his eyebrows, setting the remote back beside the dog. ‘The connection hasn’t been down, you just disabled your own access.’
‘It’s these paws! What am I supposed to do, bark at the thing? You would think that on one of these pointless shopping trips you could pick me up a body.’
‘You have a body,’ Matthias responded, already walking away.
‘A human body.’
‘If there were other androids, Berkeley..’
‘I know, we wouldn’t be living in this basement. Here’s an idea, let me take myself for my own walks!’
Matthias drew a chair from a table nearby and sat down at the computer. He drew a hand towards his face, carefully tugged at the tip of his index finger. The flesh came away, exposing a steel connector he plugged straight into the computer. No activity was obvious onscreen, but the computer came alive inside as, behind his eyes, Matthias processed a massive stream of data, scouring, searching and absorbing from the internet as it flooded into his mind. The focus of his search was the advancements of human technology: nuclear reactors, mechatronics, nano and biotechnology, small developers sharing code in the open and vague hints at secretive R&D projects locked away at large corporations. When he discovered anything new it was filed away, and sometimes he turned over new leads on projects he already knew, but like most of the internet, everyone borrowed, stole and reshared the same information, so the bulk of his efforts were spent sifting through old data.