‘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.’
‘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.
‘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.