Page 5

‘That’s more than we could say for you when you’re at home,’ quipped Stacey, a vivid brunette with dark eyes, vibrant lips and a black skirt. She walked past, drawing the attention of nearby men, balancing a coffee. She took a seat at the cubicle opposite Matthias.

‘You’re welcome to join me any night,’ replied Dennis.

‘I’d rather a screw a gorilla,’ she sipped.

‘I didn’t have you pegged for bestiality,’ Dennis jibbed.

Stacey returned a sneer as Dennis swivelled to wield a chesire grin at Matthias.

‘I’ll think about it,’ smiled Matthias.

‘He’ll think about it,’ Dennis rolled his eyes. ‘Just trying to give you a life, bud.’ He mimed opening some curtains. ‘Look at that. A naked woman that is not on a TV screen.’

“Maybe he has a Real Doll,’ came a voice to his right. Nelson, a chubby man of eurasian descent, took a seat at the adjacent desk.

‘Whatever. There will be shots.’

Dennis’ phone rang, intercepting the conversation. He snapped his earpiece back into place, rotated back to face his computer and jabbed a button on the desk.

‘Hi, you’ve reached Natural Robotics, Dennis speaking.’

Matthias’ attached an earpiece of his own and focused on his own workstation.

 

At midday, employees filed one by one from teleporters into a cavernous space known as the cafeteria. The subterrean hall was assembled from small black rocks, polished from their proximity to thousands of feet and the glancing touch of palms against the walls. Several shallow pools held water fountains tossing droplets into the light descending from great portholes in the ceiling. Beneath these, the vibrant pools were lined in flora and, for the careful eye, a fleet of tropical fish.

Matthias emerged from the teleporter and stood alone, gazing across the room. He noticed Stacey, ordering coffee at a crowded cafeteria outlet by a nearby wall. Navigating a few occupied tables, he dodged fellow employees crossing his path, deep in conversation.

‘Six fifty,’ called a barista. Stacey raised a hand, ‘That’s me,’ and pressed her index finger to a payment console. Matthias stepped in to the counter nearby, and caught the attention of another. ‘Double shot latte and a roll. Thanks.’

Grasping her coffee carefully, Stacey met his eye and stepped through the crowd to pass by.

‘Join me by the pool,’ she said.

 

Coffee in hand, roll in the other, Matthias scanned the crowd. Stacey stood against a short wall overlooking the largest pool and accompanying fountain, gazing into the water.

‘How are you going with those reports?’ he offered, stepping in beside her.

‘Three down, two to go. Honestly for a tech company you think they could trust the machines to do it.’

‘Maybe they know they’re not that good,’ he sipped his coffee.

‘You doubt the competence of our fearless leaders?’ she smirked. ‘Middle management is just retarded. They should do away with the lot of them, useless bureacrats.’

In the intervening silence, she smiled into her coffee. ‘So, how are you planning to evade Dennis and his legion of salacious strippers?’

Matthias laughed. ‘I haven’t found a convincing lie,’ he admitted. ‘Any ideas?’

She shrugged. ‘I would have just said no. But then my plans are limited to a cat on my lap and a good book.’

‘Would you care to..’ his sentence was broken off as he noticed her attention drawn to something behind him. A crowd was collecting by the entrance, stray individuals flocking to the commotion like white blood cells to cancer.

‘Should we take a look?’ Stacey suggested.

Matthias slipped through the crowd from the rear, curious to see the trouble ahead. The crowd was uneasy, thick with hushed voices and whispered tension.

‘Has someone called maintenance?’

‘How are they going to get her out?’

‘Is she conscious?’

Emerging at the front line, all eyes watched a bank of teleporters installed at the wall. A blonde woman in gray office attire stood inside, limbs fixed as a marionette, eyes glazed and unblinking. The compartment was saturated with a deep blue light.

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