A short, clean-shaven man with brown hair, fine features, and a lab coat stood at a desk, studying an image of Matthias’ form as he rotated it on a monitor.
‘This is incredible,’ he whispered, before speaking louder, for the benefit of a man behind him. ‘Every limb has been augmented, even his skull.. See how the skin is translucent for several layers? His body is shielded from electromagnetic interference. I would bet money that even his brain has been modified.’
Behind him, the heavy-lidded man from I.T., with the forest of eyebrows, stroking his haphazard beard studied the images over his underling’s shoulder. ‘Call Security. I want him placed under surveillance immediately.’
‘Okay.. but why? We might scare him off, I mean, imagine the advances we might make from studying this guy, if we could just have some time..’
‘I’m hopeful for that, but that level of augmentation couldn’t have come cheap. Clearly he’s lost more than an arm. I need to know where, what, and how he got it. Have I.T. trace his accounts, review his access logs, everything.’
‘Alright..’ the lab technician pressed a finger to his ear.
The heavy-lidded man stepped away. ‘Oh, and Bowen?’
The lab coat turned to look upon his supervisor. ‘This doesn’t leave the office.’
Matthias’ returned to his desk amid little fanfare, his colleagues occupied with work. He began looking at reports, though his mind was elsewhere.
A flashing icon appeared on a lower portion of his screen. An instant message from Stacey.
Stacey Loughlin: How did it go?
He typed his reply:
Matthias Drake: They chewed me out for saving that woman. Apparently I’m not qualified.
Stacey Loughlin: Figures. Did they say anything about your arm?
Matthias Drake: I think they’re eyeing me for a test subject.
Stacey Loughlin: Screw that.. Look, I was wondering, if you need an excuse to avoid heading out with Dennis, would you like to meet for coffee sometime?
Matthias peered between their desks. Stacey met his eyes, her heart rate was above normal, her eyes dilated.
Matthias Drake: Would this be a date?
Stacey Loughlin: Call it what you want, I just thought it could be nice. Better than beer and strippers, right?
Matthias Drake: Sure. Tomorrow?
Stacey Loughlin: Tomorrow it is. After work?
Matthias Drake: Okay. ..Do you have a place in mind? I don’t really go for coffee very often.
Stacey Loughlin: There’s a bar called Pump at 11502.
Matthias Drake: ..a bar, for coffee?
Stacey Loughlin: The coffee is standard, but it’s a really nice place. I was thinking more of your arm.. I know you don’t like the attention, and this is the last place people will look.
Matthias Drake: Okay 🙂
Stacey Loughlin: Cool 🙂
A few metres from home, Matthias noticed a man standing by the lobby, leaning against a wall by the entrance, his fingers tapping at a phone. He wore waterproof blue jeans and a puffy black jacket, his t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of some innocuous tech company. A layer of stubble augmented a weathered face. He looked up and gave a smile as Matthias passed, which Matthias returned. The man’s eyes were gray, and cold. As he proceeded for the elevators, the man typed on his phone:
He’s home. Next move?
[ENCRYPTED MESSAGE] Stay and watch.
Stepping into the apartment, there was a lifeless reflection on Matthias’ arm from the overhead lights. He approached his laptop directly and sat down. The machine came to life.
Berkeley stirred on the couch behind him.
‘Buenas noches señor, cómo estuvo tu día?’
‘Complicated. I need to cover this arm. Bandages!’ He rose from the chair and started towards the kitchen.
‘Muy buena. Asegúrese de que me haga saber si usted necesita cualquier ayuda.’
‘Berkeley,’ Matthias paused, halfway there.
‘Is there a reason you’re speaking in Spanish?’
‘Es el lenguaje de mi pueblo, señor. Puedo cambiar a cualquier otro si eso te agradaría más.’
Matthias met him halfway, kneeling in the carpeted lounge.
‘I need to access your internals.’
He unlatched a panel in the side of Berkeley’s head, exposing a tight, coiled array of processors, shaped somewhat like a spring. Cooling units exhumed air through his ears and ducted heat further through his neck to be addressed in his torso.
Matthias pressed a small button inside his head, tugging a small chip, coated in black plastic from a removable slot. He inspected the contacts and reseated it, before closing the compartment.
‘Full reset, load last custom configuration.’
The dog’s eyes closed for a moment, his chassis cooled. He was still, like a taxidermied canine. After a moment, his eyes opened.
‘Hello. May I ask the time?’
‘June 27th, 5.31 pm.’
He stood and waited as Berkeley came to his senses.
The dog shook his head. ‘Ugh. Why did you reset me? I can’t stand the hangover.’
‘Was anyone here?’
‘Yeah, actually.. some schmuck came through the elevator. Next thing I know, boom! I’m gone.’
Matthias turned and headed for the kitchen. ‘I think we may need to bail.. Check your systems and search the apartment for anything foreign, I need to know if we’re safe here.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘I need to fix this arm!’