Page 14: Under Surveillance

‘I’m sorry,’ she blushed, placing the purse to one side. ‘You were saying?’

‘I’m wondering who would break into my apartment. I feel like I’m drawing a lot of attention with this arm,’ he raised the bandaged limb.

‘It was kind of hard to miss,’ she admitted. ‘Do you mind if I ask – is the bandage just for show, or..?’

‘I’m resurfacing it,’ he explained. ‘It’s real skin and tissue, just the synthetic arm underneath. It’s supposed to grow back, with some coaxing.’

She stared. ‘Fascinating. Sorry, here you are not wanting attention.. I’m curious.’

‘It’s fine,’ he smiled.

‘I wouldn’t be shy about it,’ she offered.’Prosthetics are pretty commonplace these days. I mean, half of the people here are modified. No one’s going to judge you for it.’

‘I guess,’ Matthias conceded, eyes on the table. ‘I just.. I’d prefer to stay in the background.’

‘I get that,’ she sympathised. ‘Hey, at least its  your arm. I’ve seen people with metal faces, glowing red eyes.. granted, they don’t work in the daylight.’

Nearby, the gray-eyed observer from outside Matthias’ apartment stepped from a teleporter booth. Scanning the bar, he began circling the room, head down, furtive eyes searching.

‘I’d hate to have something like that,’ Matthias agreed. ‘But hey, enough about me. Do you have any pets?’

‘I am a cat person,’ she admitted. ‘Just the one. Erasmus.’

‘I take it he doesn’t talk?’

‘No, no,’ she laughed. ‘He’s the real thing. He eats and poops and leaves fur everywhere.. I guess there would be advantages to having an animatronic version.’

‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen you outside of work. What do you do for fun?’

‘Well, I jog, and I read, and I spend too much time on the internet..’

‘Don’t we all.’

Stacey noticed the observer pass by, pausing as he recognised Matthias. Brushing an earlobe with a fingertip, she drew a phone from her pocket.

‘Sorry,’ she explained, ‘I just missed a call from work.’

‘No problem,’ Matthias responded agreeably. ‘Go ahead.’

Unlocking her phone, Stacey tapped out a quick message before locking it again.

‘I’m sorry,’ she sighed. ‘Something has come up..’

‘This late?’ Matthias raised an eyebrow.

‘It’s those damn reports, the files are corrupted or something, I can resend them from home. It wouldn’t take a minute but Chelsea is on my back.’

‘It’s fine,’ Matthias smiled. ‘I don’t mind.’

Stacey rose from her seat but paused at the edge of the booth. ‘Look..’ she hesitated. ‘I don’t want to be too forward, but if you’d like to come back to my place.. we could keep talking.’

‘Yeah, okay.’

‘You don’t mind?’

‘I honestly don’t have any plans,’ he admitted.

‘Well.. okay then. Follow me?’

The observer watched from a booth behind her as they rose from the table and headed out, his head down, but noting every word.

The pair emerged from a teleporter under a high ceiling, in a bright lobby of white walls, and chandeliers. Great glass doors opened onto downtown, the one area of the city that was still busy outdoors. A sharp reception desk stood to one side where a couple were being served by an office girl. Tiled chessboard floors reflected a domed ceiling. Crossing the hall, Stacey led him to a second bank of five teleporters against the opposite wall. Typing a security code into the keypad, she led him inside.

The sunburnt orange of late afternoon shone in bursts through a window running the length of a narrow lounge. A red couch sat to the left beneath the window, against cream walls, white bookshelves on the right held a collection of faded paperbacks and a scattering of polished shells. An open doorway led into a large kitchen and hallway to the right.

‘Take a seat,’ Stacey offered. ‘I’ll just get this email out of the way.’

Matthias approached the couch, as Stacey disappeared through a darkened doorway opposite the entrance, and paused to gaze from the window. The view consisted of a few rooftops shrinking beneath the heights of greater buildings. The sun fell down behind them, twinkling between the gaps in the field of steel and glass.

‘Nice view,’ he called.

‘Thanks,’ she called. ‘It wasn’t cheap.’

He sat down on the couch with his legs crossed, reading the titles of her books and studying the seashells, albeit from a distance. The books were predominantly classics and philosophy, time-honoured tomes from the 18-1900s.

‘Hopefully that does it,’ she conceded, appearing at the door. ‘Would you like a drink?’

‘No, I’m okay,’ he smiled. ‘Thanks. I’m still adjusting to The Commander.’

‘Oh, come on, it’s not that strong. You liked it?’

She ambled to the couch and took a seat beside him.

‘It wasn’t bad,’ he shrugged.

‘Oh! How did your review go, by the way?’

‘I was right.. they wanted to know about the arm.’

‘What did you tell them?’

‘That it wasn’t their business. It doesn’t affect my work, so..’

‘Good on you.’

‘This is a nice place,’ he said, nodding towards the window. ‘Great view.’

‘Thanks,’ she smiled, looking away.

‘Extra hours?’

‘Something like that.’

She seemed unable to look in his direction, preoccupied with the carpet, the bookshelves,  her heart was beating faster. He noticed her hand by his leg.

‘Are you okay?’

She looked towards him, appearing somewhat dismayed. ‘Yeah, I’m.. fine.’

‘No, you’re not.’He took her hand and she leaned in towards him, meeting his eyes, then rested her head against his shoulder.

‘What is it?’

She kissed him, and, unsure of how to react, he returned it, just like so many movie scenes, a palm by the cheek, tender fingertips resting against the skin, sliding across the neck, sensual lips caressing one another, a fleeting gaze into the eyes. She climbed atop him, straddling his thighs, palms by his neck, devouring his lips.

One hand slipped down, brushing a pocket by her thigh, she depressed a button. He heard it first: a faint ring coalescing into a sweeping wave of static, rushing from the air, buffeting against his skin, pervading his limbs. He slipped from consciousness.

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Page 13: Date Night

In the bathroom, Matthias withdrew a small, unmarked plastic tub from a cabinet behind the mirror and pulled off his shirt. Using his left hand, he covered the right arm in a transparent viscous liquid, coating from the elbow to his fingertips, paying extra attention to the circle of terminated skin on his forearm. Once the liquid had settled, he took a roll of gauze, and between his left arm and his teeth, struggled to wrap the arm completely.

The following night, he stepped out of a teleporter into a murky bar. The room was circular, the bar a central hub, black stools lined the counter, while around the outside an endless array of booths embraced the shadows. A bartender stared as he paused to survey the room. With a lack of windows, the bar was lit completely from within. With no reference to time or location, the bar may as well have been on the moon for a sense of place. Vibrant blue strips lined the intersections of floors and walls, blacklights shone down from above, dance beats reverberated through grimy floorboards. A scattered collection of strangers with conspicuous body modifications – facial tattoos and piercings, but also false arms and legs, a man with an ear replaced with a mechanical device, another with glowing eyes lined the bar. A few spoke quietly, ear to ear, but most were focused on their drinks, and some their reflection as it gazed back at them from a mirror behind the bar.

Circling the bar, Matthias looked for Stacey among the booths, noticing there were a greater number sitting in the shadows. The readings from the crowd were tumultuous: Bionic arms, legs, hearts, ears, eyes. Enhancement upgrades modified minds, sharpened limbs, others simply elevated the appearance. The air was thick with nanotechnological virii, a host of which were attempting to latch on to Matthias like a whale taking parasites as it navigated the ocean. He found Stacey sitting alone, sipping an amber drink in a short glass, dressed to her usual form: short and sharp. With her vibrant eyes, fluid figure and black locks of hair collecting about a full chest, she needed no augmentation.

‘Hi,’ Matthias smiled, pulling into the seat opposite. ‘I hope you weren’t waiting long?’

‘Not at all,’ she smiled. ‘Would you like a drink?’

‘Isn’t that my line?’

She grinned.

‘I think I’ll just get a latte,’ he answered.

‘Try The Commander,’ she urged. ‘It’s coffee, just with an extra kick.’

‘I thought we were just having coffee,’ he smirked.

‘Oh, its coffee! Just with something a little extra. You’ll like it.’

‘Well, if you say so.’

Stacey tapped a button in the centre of the table, illuminating a tablet built into the table top. With two taps of a finger, she entered the order.

‘Nice,’ Matthias commented, ‘we those at work.’

‘I know, right? It would save on the queues. So how was your day?’

‘Weird.. actually. Someone broke into my house and tampered with my dog.’

‘Really? That’s terrible. I hope he’s alright.’

‘Yeah, he’ll be fine. Still.. more concerned about the break-in.’

‘Of course! Did they take anything?’

‘I don’t think so.’

A bartender emerged beside them and placed his drink on the table before vanishing just as quickly. The Commander was a mammoth coffee in a tall glass, a dense layer of cream at the head. Stacey watched as he drew a taste. Besides the coffee he sensed traces of a benign hallucinogen and narcotic stimulant. Blinking, he feigned a reaction. ‘Damn. You weren’t kidding about the extra kick.’

Stacey smiled. ‘You like it?’

‘I.. yeah,’ he smiled. None of it would have any effect.

‘You said someone tampered with your dog..’ she prompted.

‘Yeah, his name is Berkeley, he’s a Man’s Best Friend.’

‘Really?’ she laughed.

‘..I’m not really a cat person. He gives me someone to talk to, keeps my secrets,’ he grinned, ‘You know. It works.’

‘I’d love to meet him.’ Stacey lowered her hand beneath the table to scratch her leg, knocking her purse onto the floor from the seat beside her.

‘Oh.. sorry, I’m.. just a sec.’

Leaning down to retrieve it, she brushed Matthias leg with a finger, leaving a mechanical flea which burrowed into the fabric of his clothing.

Page 12: Interloper

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.

‘Señor?’

‘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.’

‘Come here.’

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.’

‘Thank you.’

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!’

Page 11: Policy is everything

From Page 10:

‘Right, because,’ Jay gave a cursory glance to his tablet. ‘You have no background in teleportation at all, do you Matthias? A basic business education, no science, nanotech, engineering, nothing that would really qualify you to make that kind of assessment. You work in Finance.’

‘I do,’ Matthias agreed.

‘Now,’ Jay opened his palms over the desk. ‘I’m not trying to attack you here, not at all, we understand you saved this woman’s life and possibly the company a great deal of money, but..’

‘You’re confused, ‘Matthias broke in. ‘That’s alright. Look..’ he unbuttoned his right cuff.

‘Oh, no, that’s not necessary..’

Matthias drew back his sleeve nevertheless, exposing the arm beneath.

‘My coworkers were curious too. I lost my arm when I was younger,’ he explained. ‘My first job was actually in a manufacturing plant. I was terrible at it, hence..’ he gestured to one arm with the other. ‘It happened that my boss knew somebody who knew somebody, something of a genius who worked out of a garage. I was skeptical, but when they offered me this in lieu of payment, well, I took the arm.’

‘No doubt, but..’

‘As far as the teleporter, I recalled reading the memo that maintenance would be off that day, I knew what this arm could do.. and so here we are.’

‘Right,’ Jay smiled. ‘Good to know. Look, our primary concern is, and I understand you knew you could do it, our primary concern is that things might have gone wrong. You, or she, or one of any number of the crowd of people behind you may have been placed in serious danger. I’ve seen your file,’ he smiled, ‘I’m aware you know the value of following the rules, even if you don’t choose to capitalise on them, but for the future, maybe you could leave these matters to someone with the appropriate training.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Oh,’ Jay laughed, ‘that’s.. that’s not necessary. But look, considering you did defuse the situation, we’re going to let this slide. Especially your uh, assault upon Mr. Hendrickson.’

‘Mr. Hendrickson?’

‘Mr. Hendrickson, the security guard whom attended?’

‘Right. Okay.’ Matthias folded his hands in his lap.

‘Obviously we have no information on your medical condition on file.’

‘It’s my understanding that if it poses no interruption to my work, I’m under no obligation to disclose it.. it’s not a disability.’

‘No, it’s not.’ Jay looked at Matthias’ arm and away, looking to the tablet for security. ‘But if you do find it a hindrance, we can take that into account.’

‘I’m well aware of that. Thank you.’

‘No problem,’ Jay sighed. ‘I think that’s all we need to discuss.’

Jay rose from his seat, offering a hand. ‘It was a pleasure to meet you, Matthias.’

‘Likewise,’ Matthias smiled, shaking his hand with the exposed limb. Jay’s smile seemed to freeze in place when their arms touched.

‘Let me get the door for you.’

Jay rounded the desk, intercepting Matthias before he could move for the door. He stepped into the hall, pausing on the threshold, blocking the way. ‘By the way, I’ve been told that R&D are quite curious to take a look at your arm there.’

‘I’m sure they are.’

‘The company would be willing to compensate you a great deal for any advances you could contribute. It would be nothing invasive of course, just an examination.’

‘I’ll think about it and let you know.’

Jay smiled. ‘Sure, sure.. Well, so long Matthias, take care of yourself.’

Page 10: H.R. takes an interest

Matthias sat down at his desk the following day to find an email waiting.

“Dear Matthias,

It’s that time of year! Yes, it has really been a whole year since your last annual review. Our system shows this meeting is outstanding as of June 24, so a meeting has been scheduled for you at 10 a.m. 02/07/27 in room SC02. If this breaks any imminent deadlines, please let me know and we can reschedule, otherwise, we will see you soon!

Regards,

Chelsea Haggard

Ex. 1015
Business Integrity Leader – Finance
Natural Robotics, Inc.

He stared at the email, contemplating his next move.

‘Hey, bionicman,’ Dennis arrived at his desk beside Matthias, resting a jacket over the back of his seat. ‘How’s the arm?’

‘I’ll probably have it resurfaced within a few days.’

‘Don’t think this gets you out of that night out.’

‘Poor Dennis, no other children to play with?’ Stacey said, arriving at her desk opposite, balancing her usual coffee.

‘Hey, you can play with me anytime.’

‘Yeah, I’ll pass, thanks,’ she sniffed, taking to her seat.

‘I’ve been called up for my annual review,’ Matthias related.

‘You’ll be fine,’ Dennis shrugged.

‘It’s not my work I’m worried about,’ Matthias replied, self-consciously shifting his arm.

‘Yeah, that will get their attention.’

At 9.51.  am Matthias rose from his desk and walked out into the central corridor. At this time of morning, the majority of his coworkers were seated. He passed the occasional colleague deep in animated conversation, but the majority were poring over digital paperwork. With the lack of obstacles, it was a short walk to a pair of teleporters on the opposite side of the hall.

He emerged on an upper level faced with a gloomy, pallid corridor. Domed lights shone about the ceiling, casting little light downwards. He stepped into the second door on the left.

A man in a suit with a white shirt and vibrant blue tie sat at the opposite side of a desk, beaming with white teeth. ‘Matthias! It’s nice to meet you!’ he rose, hand extended. ‘I’m Jay.’

‘Thankyou.’ Matthias offered a smile and gave a curt handshake.

‘Take a seat!’ As Matthias sat down opposite, he continued. ‘Now, you know these things have to be recorded. It’s not my idea of fun, but those are the rules.’

‘Of course.’ Matthias crossed his legs, sitting back, giving the man full eye contact.

‘Well, let’s get to it! It says here that..’ Jay flicked through screens on a modest tablet. ‘Yup.. Your record is clean! We might as well send you back to your desk,’ he laughed. ‘No.. You do have a great work ethic, a couple of employee of the month awards, it says here you turned down a promotion.. why did you do that?’

Matthias imitated clearing his throat. ‘I’m comfortable where I am. I don’t think I would enjoy the attention.’

‘Well, that’s fair enough.’ Jay continued looking further through the tablet.

It was then that Matthias sensed something akin to his hair standing on end, a foreign presence in the air, passing over his body, disturbing his concentration.

‘We can’t all be leaders. You do know that there are other opportunities, different departments? ..Matthias?’

‘Yes,’ Matthias blinked. ‘S..sorry, I’m suddenly not feeling very well.’

‘Do you need to use the bathroom? We can pick this up at another time..’

‘No,’ Matthias shifted his legs, ‘No, it’s fine, please continue.’

‘Okay. I was asking.. You’re not interested in a position elsewhere?’

‘No, I’m happy where I am.’

‘Well, alright then. Your record is exemplary, so if you ever wanted to rise through the ranks..’

Matthias lost focus intentionally, training his senses on identifying this presence in the air. It moved from right to left, front to back, above and behind him. He twitched, resisting the urge to turn and examine the walls.

‘..there isn’t a whole lot to discuss. Now, there was another matter. Yesterday you, as I understand it, plunged your arm into an active teleporter.’

‘It wasn’t active.’

‘Well okay, into the field of a disabled teleporter, am I right?’

‘Yes. There was a woman trapped inside, there was no one around who could save her in time.’

‘Right, because,’ Jay gave a cursory glance to his tablet ‘You have no background in teleportation at all, do you Matthias?A basic business education, no science, nanotech, engineering, nothing that would really qualify you to make that kind of assessment. You work in Finance.’

Page 9: Corporate Rivals

Alexander Denton was an attentive man. From the pristine quality of his double-breasted suit, to the consummate clarity of his office and even the minutiae of the day-to-day operations of his company, he demanded perfection. He was a tireless man: it was said that nothing could escape his attention. Right now, he was sitting behind his black desk upon polished golden floorboards, illuminated by the mid-morning light shining through spotless floor-to-ceiling windows.

His head of research, Dr. Daniel Meadows, squirmed. Alexander’s heedful eyes were fixed on a conspicuous stain of hastily caught tartare on the right breast of his visitor’s shirt, his eyes also caught the small line of missed whiskers at the base of his neck. He studied the man’s eager abjection to gain approval, a smile stretched between his cheeks, sensitive eyes leaning somewhat forwards as he sat on the other side of the desk.

Returning his attention to a holographic monitor between them, Alex continued to watch the remainder of the footage Meadows had delivered.

Matthias was visible between the shoulders and arms of the second row of the crowd. The observer appeared to be shorter, the visual feed from their retina revealed a neck craning between elbows, struggling to keep line of sight. Beyond the clutter of arms, Matthias was studying the exposed controls of the malfunctioning teleporter booth, and pressing buttons.

‘I’m assuming we’ll be getting to the point forthwith,’ he pressed Daniel.

‘Yes,’ Meadows effused, smiling. ‘It shouldn’t be a moment.’

‘Very well.’

He watched as Chris arrived, and the proceeding confrontation. When Matthias drove his arm into the stasis field, he leant forwards, watching closely as the false coating fell from his silicon, the field dissipating from within.

‘My, that is interesting..’

‘Absolutely, sir, the..’

He drew Meadows silence with a raised finger, watching as Matthias withdrew his exposed sleeve and the woman from the teleporter booth.

‘It’s..’

‘Impossible. I know. Only a nanite swarm operating.. several decades ahead of current aftermarket technologies could have penetrated that field in time.’

He reframed his posture, closing his hands upon the desk. ‘Thank you for bringing this to my attention.’

‘That will..’ Meadows stammered to confirm. ‘Yes.. yes, sir, yes. Thank you, Mr Denton.’

Meadows rose slowly from the chair and left the room betraying a hint of confidence, his head held just a moment higher.

‘Meadows!’ Alexander barked.

‘Yes, Mr. Denton?’ Meadows paused at the door, looking back.

‘This came from Natural Robotics?’

‘It did, sir.’

‘Thank you. That will be all.’

‘Sir,’ Meadows gave a smile and hurried from the room.

Alexander folded his palms behind his head and replayed those few seconds of immediate interest.

‘Matthias..’ he murmured. ‘Phone. Jameson, Security.’

The video paused and was overlaid with a dialog: “Connecting..”, followed by the waveform depiction of incoming audio.

‘Jameson,’ asserted a clear, deep voice.

‘When you have a moment, get to my office. I have a new project to discuss.’

‘Will do,’ James replied.

‘Oh and Jameson.. hold all other concerns, this will take a priority.’

All other concerns, sir?’

‘Yes, everything.’

‘I’ll be right there.’

Page 8: ‘It’s just a prosthetic.’

Matthias unbuttoned the cuff of his right sleeve.
‘What are you doing?
Matthias continued to roll the sleeve back, up to his elbow. ‘I’m getting her out.’
‘You can’t pull her out.. that’s not just light in there, they’re scattered nanites, you arm will be shredded!’
‘Let me worry about the nanites.’

Matthias thrust his naked arm into the dense blue light. A white flash emanated from the surface of his skin, scattering out like a thousand small bolts of lightning through the surrounding void. Something tugged at his skin, the false surface about his artificial musculature shimmered and disintegrated into a minute dust of skin and flesh. Beneath this, his true form emerged – a dense layer of malleable silicon encasing skeletal rods of carbon fibre with small motors at the joints. Insulated cables were tightly bound about this skeletal framework, and along the frame itself, small flickers of light emanated from a dense network of circuitry and tiny processors.
Chris retreated behind him, taking a few small steps, eyes fixed on the sight before him.

The blue light dissipated in an instant, leaving Matthias free to help the woman from the booth. She stepped out, unscathed and blinking, raising a hand to her forehead. ‘Uh..’
Drawing sight of the crowd, she regained focus. ‘Wha.. what happened?’
The crowd was focused on her saviour. She looked to the man holding her, noticed Matthias’ arm and yelped, pulling away.
‘It’s okay,’ Matthias assured her, and then the crowd, as she took shelter beside Chris. ‘It’s just a prosthetic.’
Between the murmuring crowd, now a gathering of frightened eyes and gaping mouths, a few began to clap.

Later, in the I.T. department, Chris drew a crowd behind his desk. James stood behind and to the left, arms crossed, beside him stood another two coworkers, and behind these three, a taller man, in a darker suit.
Before them on Chris’ monitor, the security footage of the incident replayed at half speed.
‘Theoretically his arm should be gone,’ James commented as on-screen, Matthias thrust his arm into the teleporter field.
‘Theoretically it should be impossible, right?’ confirmed Chris. ‘Isn’t there some kind of.. atomic barrier? Not to mention the nanites..’
‘He shouldn’t be able to touch it, let alone shove his arm through it.’
‘You should have seen the arm,’ Chris swiveled his chair to face them, brandishing his own forearm as an example. ‘It was some kind of clear plastic rubber, hundred of circuits, processors, wiring throughout, perfectly articulated movement, this was like something out of the army. I’d like to know where he bought it.’
‘Do we know who this guy is?’ another asked.
‘Matthias Drake.. some accountant,’ Chris shrugged.
‘I wouldn’t mind studying it,’ a voice came from the rear. The others fell silent in deference as the speaker, the taller man in the suit, marked by dark, heavy eyelids and a forest of eyebrows stepped closer, peering at the screen, stroking a haphazard beard. ‘I wonder if we could coax him into R&D.’ The others waited on his pronouncement. ‘Of course, if we found anything, it would have to remain in the lab, I couldn’t share it..’
There were general murmurs of agreement and acceptance.
‘That’s if he agrees, right?’ stated James.
‘Well, I can tell you, when management sees this, they’re sure to be looking for incentives..’

Page 7

A squat man in an ill-fitting shirt stepped from the crowd and headed for the teleportation booths.

‘What are you doing?’ an officious voice demanded. The man hesitated, turning to the crowd.

‘I can handle it,’ he raised his palms in earnest defence. ‘I work on these things as a hobby.’

‘A woman’s life is at stake!’

‘Do you see anyone coming?’

He proceeded to the booth, scratching his leg as he studied sealed panels around and above the keypad.

‘Does anyone have any tools?’ he called.

‘He’s going to get her killed,’ murmured Stacey.

‘I know,’ said Matthias.

A mammoth black man began to step through the crowd, easily a head taller than the majority of the onlookers, excusing himself as he parted the crowd with barrel arms.

‘Excuse me, sir,’ he called, stepping out at the front, ‘I need you to step away from the teleporter.’

The hobbyist hesitated and stepped back from the booth, as he saw the size of the man. ‘I’m just trying to help.’

‘I’m not going to ask twice.’

The security guard crossed his arms as the man took a final look at the teleporter before walking away, head down, scratching his head.

‘What are you going to do about it?’ someone called.

‘My name is Paul Bowman, I’m from Security. I need everybody to clear the area.’ Amid protests, he held his arms out as if to push them back. ‘Please! Return to your lunch, they’re sending somebody down. Disperse! This isn’t helping anybody.’

As the crowd begin to reverberate, Matthias took a quiet breath.

‘I guess we should go,’ Stacey started beside him.

Matthias stepped forwards and approached the teleporter, eyes focused on his destination. The guard stepped into his path.

‘Excuse me sir, I need you to..’

Matthias stopped, staring into his eyes. ‘I can save this woman.’

‘Maintenance is sending somebody..’

‘If you don’t give me access to this teleporter, that woman has about five minutes to live.’

‘And I suppose you’re an expert?’

‘I am. She has five minutes. Regardless of the person inside, that teleporter will reset itself and lose her data in the process. There’s no guarantee of getting her back. Do you really want a dead woman on your conscience? On your personnel record?’

‘Look, I can’t allow you to..’

‘I’m not asking for your permission.’

Matthias stepped around him but Paul caught him by the shoulder. Matthias turned and locked one hand below the man’s elbow, and another about his wrist.

‘Release me or I’ll snap your forearm,’ Matthias informed him. ‘Either way, she’s getting out of there.’

Paul hesitated, but raised his other hand in compliance. Matthias released him and backed away, before returning to proceed for the teleporter.

Tugging a steel plate from the wall as if it were weightless, he sat this to one side. A dozen buttons and a small display lay behind it, protruding from the internal casing. Further components were guarded behind a wall of plastic and silicon. The display read: “Error 505: Unstable transmission. Atomic integrity check failed.”

Studying their labels, he pressed a series of buttons. The display changed: “Unable to release. Integrity check failed.’

A few more buttons.

“Cannot instantiate. Original status unavailable. Primary buffer invalid. Secondary buffer invalid.”

 

Chris almost toppled his chair as he ran from his desk to a teleporter booth at the wall adjacent to his desk. James paused in his work, raising an eyebrow.

‘Some jerk is screwing with the maintenance panel,’ Chris fumed, punching code into the side of the machine.

‘So what?’

‘The feed says he’s from accounting!’

Chris stepped into the booth and reappeared in the cafeteria, in the booth to Matthias’ left. Stepping out, he approached Matthias’ side.

‘Sir, I need you to step away from that machine.’

‘Are you qualified to fix this?’

‘No..’ Chris began.

‘I’m almost done here,’ Matthias confided. ‘Just give me a moment.’

‘Sir,’ Chris took Matthias’ arm and attempted to pull him away, finding the feat impossible.

‘Do you have codes to override the locks?’ Matthias prompted, unperturbed. ‘The software won’t release her.’

‘It’s not supposed to, we don’t know the status of the original. If you release her she might not be all there, or she could be an illegal copy. That’s jail time..’

‘Do you have the codes or not?’

‘No!’ Chris grimaced.

‘Right then.’

Page 6

Several floors above, in a quiet office lined with empty workstations, a balding man named Chris caressed a day’s worth of stubble. Placing his hands behind his head, he leaned back in his chair emitting a shallow groan. Coming back to the desk, he leaned forwards, propping a chin on his hand and blinked at the screen. Rubbing at his eyes, he withdrew and raised a steaming mug of coffee to his lips. Eyes widening, he spat back into the cup, cursing, and replaced it on the desk, sloshing coffee onto his plaid shirt and beige pants.

With a cry he clawed for a box of tissues nearby and padded at his pants as a damp patch formed on his thigh.

‘Jesus.. this better not stain,’ he muttered. Chuckling carried from a desk at the centre of the room as James, an electronics technician, paused from soldering a robotics component.

‘Don’t you laugh,’ Chris grimaced, ‘I’ve seen you spill a few.’

‘Yeah, but I’ve never managed it sitting still,’ James laughed.

Chris returned to rubbing at his thigh as an indicator began flashing in the corner of his monitor. When it caught his attention, he gave a casual jab to the screen. When a window opened and he observed it’s contents, he ceased rubbing, the tissue slipping from his fingers as he swiped and gestured through a dozen dialogs.

‘James, we’ve got a problem..’

‘What is it?’

‘There’s a phase malfunction,’ Chris swallowed. ‘Teleporter in the cafeteria.’

‘So what?’ James shrugged. ‘Let maintenance handle it.’

‘Maintenance is off, remember?’

Pausing in his work, James peered over. ‘Well it’s just a phase malfunction, right? Happens all the time. Take it offline, stick an out of order sign on it, or something.’

Chris brought up a security feed, featuring a clear view of the woman trapped inside.

‘No, James, it’s not a routine case. There’s a woman here..’

‘Well I have to get this finished by three or Martin is going to take my head. You took the course, right? There’s a handbook on the intranet. Punch in a couple of codes, problem solved.’

‘That was three years ago! Look, surely you can give it five minutes to go down..’

James had already resumed his focus on soldering.

‘Fine,’ Chris sighed, ‘I’ll try R&D.’

 

Whispers had grown to alarm as the crowd swelled about the teleporter. A red light pulsed above, amplifying the anxiety of those susceptible.

‘Does anybody know how to get her out of there?’ a suit-clad manager demanded.

‘Where’s maintenance?’ cried a voice from the crowd.

‘Someone call Security,’ a tired voice pleaded.

Matthias stood pensive at the front of the crowd, silent eyes watching the woman inside.

‘Jesus,’ Stacey breathed, emerging to stand beside him.

‘I know.’

‘You think someone’s coming?’

‘I’m sure they know about it,’ he replied, indicating the flashing red light.

 

‘Yes,’ Chris answered, rubbing sweat from his brow. ‘There’s someone stuck in mid-phase distribution in the cafeteria.. I don’t have anyone.. I’m in I.T.! …. Can you just send someone down? It’s a five minute job. …I’m an IT Technician! I don’t know the first thing… Yes. Fine..’

Chris slammed a button on his keybord. ‘Fuck!’

‘I can’t do it,’ reminded James. A segment of the component he was working on shifted as he soldered, resembling the pain reflex of a hand.

‘Thankyou James, you’re being very helpful. Will you take responsibilty when she gets dropped?’

James paused. ‘They can’t reinstantiate?’

‘She,’ reiterated Chris.

‘She. She can’t reinstantiate? There’s a buffer, right? From the teleporter she beamed in from. See if you can take an imprint from the buffer and rebuild her from that.’

Chris swiped through screens. ‘She came from somewhere public.. The local copy is corrupted.’

‘If she’s an employee, there’s always a backup… it just might be a year old.. depending.’

There was a chiming from the desk and Chris slapped the keyboard. He paused, listening to his voice chattering through an earpiece. ‘No, we can’t do anything. I’m aware of the situation. Yes, I’ll.. do what I can.’ He hit the keyboard again and sighed.

‘What is it?’ James queried.

“They’re calling someone down from Security.’

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.