Page 20: The morning after

Matthias’ eyes opened on a blue pillow, wooden floorboards, clothes strewn across the floor. His memory was staccato. An unfamiliar warmth, a pleasure, an excitement tainted it all. The black seats of their booth at the nightclub, dozens of drinks, he recalled lying against Courtney on the seat, hands swimming inside each others clothes, mouths locked. He saw himself hanging by one arm from the balcony over the floor below, and pulling himself upwards, the crowd watching. Outside the club. Blood streamed between the fingers of a man cupping his face. Screaming. Running through streets in company, scared, laughing, a haze of colour and streetlights. Finally, he remembered lying on a rooftop, watching the sun rise.
He rolled on to his right side. But it was too easy, there was no arm in the way. His left calf felt misaligned. He brought the leg to his chest and attempted to shift it back into place. One arm wouldn’t do.
He gazed over the room. A T.V. was mounted by the ceiling above an old wooden chest of drawers by the end of the bed. Pink sheets lay beneath him, a pile of blankets only half-covered his body. There was a warm depression in the bed beside him, but he was alone. With a burst of radio data, he attempted to ping the arm, hoping it might be nearby. Nothing.
The sound of feet padding across the floor drew his attention. A tongue lapped at his toes. Matthias sat up, peering towards the far edge of the bed. A black and white labrador gazed up at him through a pair of milky blue eyes.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘I thought you were Courtney.’
The dog leapt onto the bed and padded towards the centre.
‘Would you care to snuggle? Or have we had enough of that already?’
Without waiting for a response, she lazed in a heap, resting her head against his chest.
‘I don’t mind,’ Matthias answered, petting her scalp. ‘I’m sorry, what was your name?’
‘Martha. But you can call me Em.’
‘I’m Matthias.’
Another pair of feet padded nearby, a pair of taut, smooth, naked thighs emerged from a doorway at the corner of the room
‘Martha..’ Courtney sighed.
‘He said he was good for it,’ Martha answered, her tail wagging just a little.
‘I’m sorry,’ Courtney apologised, approaching the bed, scrubbing at her hair with a towel, another about her waist. ‘She can be a little overaffectionate.’
‘She’s just saying that for your benefit,’ Martha grunted, even as she came to her feet and padded off the edge of the bed.
‘Fall back asleep?’ Courtney smiled. She left a towel on the bedside table and lay down bedside him, approaching his lips for a kiss.
‘Yeah, I guess I did. Did you have a good night?’
‘Amazing,’ she smiled.
‘I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,’ Matthias laughed. ‘I.. seem to have a few gaps. Was in a fight?’
‘He had it coming,’ she dropped her eyes, scowling.
‘He?’
‘A bouncer with a god complex,’ she scowled. ‘Not saying you’ll be able to go back any time soon..’
‘Huh. ..Did we spend the morning on a rooftop?’
She propped herself up with one arm, a quizzical expression on her face. ‘You didn’t forget that?’
‘No, just checking.’
‘Yeah, we did. Spiderman.’
‘I.. carried you up there, didn’t I?’ Matthias sank back against the pillows.
‘You’re lucky I let you!’
‘A good night then,’ Matthias mused.
‘Mhm.’
‘Courtney. Where’s my arm?’
She laughed, sweeping hair away from her face. ‘Oh please tell me you remember that!’
He wore a smile, laughing with her even as he was concerned, ‘No, I’m afraid I don’t.’
‘You’re a massive dork.’
‘Is it.. someplace I can get it back?’
‘Maybe. You left it in a dumpster by the club.. after using it in a sword-fight with Dennis. Do you want my record?’ She drew her fingers towards her temple. ‘I saved it..’
‘No, it’s fine. Thank you. I should probably go and rescue it.’ He moved to sit up but Courtney placed a hand on his chest and pushed him back down.
‘You probably should,’ she said, climbing atop his lap, tugging away her towel. ‘But I’m not done with you yet.’

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Page 19: Nanovirus

‘Guys!’ Dennis yelled. Their attention drawn, he extended a closed fist over the table, opening it to reveal four small yellow and black capsules sitting in the palm of his hand.

Matthias watched as the two girls slipped one each from his palm, followed by Dennis himself. Dennis’ blonde companion swallowed hers with a long gulp from a tall glass of dark spirits. Courtney slipped hers between her lips with a sip from a cocktail, which until now had been abandoned.

‘Matthias!’ Dennis resought his attention, extending his palm even further across the table.

‘What is it?’

Dennis met Courtney’s eyes. Her slender arm slinked out to pluck the pill from his palm. She sidled close to Matthias. He leant forwards to speak into her ear: ‘What is it?’ and leant down to receive her reply.

‘Ninety-nine.’

‘Drugs?’

‘Nanovirus. Expands your perception.’

He pulled back to see her enthusiastic expression.

‘It’s safe!’ she exclaimed, holding the pill by his chin.

‘I’m worried about my mods.’

‘Don’t! Who do you think invented it?’

‘Come on, Matthias!’ Dennis chided in the background.

Relenting, he took the pill from her palm and placed it into his mouth. Courtney offered her drink to follow it, and he accepted. Dennis cheered as he swallowed.

While Matthias pretended to take an interest in the broken conversation, internally  he focused on studying the payload. The alcohol and pill sat together in a holding tank in his gut. While he was capable of extracting the potential energy from the food he ingested, there was little of value in a small amount of cocktail, and even less in the pill.

He sealed the compartment and gave the pill a digestive nudge. A swarm of miniature robots raced out and began climbing the walls like bees. He released a small sample of biological material, and observed as they attacked, swamping blood cells with sugars, pumping chemicals to release stored adrenaline, endorphins, and serotonin, a process which in a human might induce a supercharged euphoria. There was something else, dormant and benign, small devices floating like debris. Matthias destroyed the contents of his miniature lab and began constructing a substitute.

A small, smooth hand wearing a single freckle and clean nails caressed his thigh. He looked to Courtney, her pupils dilated like planets, her movements spasmodic.

‘Do you feel it yet?’ she gushed, leaning into him, her face inches from his own.

‘I think I’m getting there,’ he answered. She squeezed his leg and fell against him, resting her forehead on his chest.

‘Are you alright?’ he spoke into her scalp, voice muffled by her hair.

‘I’m fine,’ she answered, returning her face to his.

‘So Dennis says you like guys with prosthetics.’

‘Yeah! Well not prosthetics.. Enhancements! Body mods! He said you have a wicked arm!’

‘Yeah, I do,’ he grinned. ‘I’ll show you later, maybe. Not here.’

She pouted.

‘It would draw a lot of attention,’ he explained.

‘More attention than those?’ she motioned beyond the balcony. Matthias looked to the dancers on-stage. Cosmetic implants boosted the appearance of their faces, lines erased, dazzling eyes, foreign materials strengthening their muscles from the inside, tattoos shifting across the entirety of their skin. Although they were preoccupied with dancing, their eyes were recording everything.

‘It’s a little more dramatic than that.’

Dennis waved an arm in front of their faces. ‘Hey! Guys! Drinks?’

Courtney held up her full glass.

‘Sure,’ Matthias answered.

Dennis’ pupils were also like saucers, his manner confronting, body thrust halfway across the table, muscles tense and energised. He pulled back to depart the table with his friend, leaving Matthias with Stacey who had resumed looking out over the crowd. His substitute virus was ready. A simulation, to carry him into the void.

Page 18: Matthias’ first night out

Matthias found himself standing in the street, metres from the lobby to his apartment building. Hesitating at the lights, he opted to approach the side of the building, and walked around to the rear. Between a chain-link fence and the rear wall, amidst garbage bags and discarded newspaper, he located an exhaust fan connecting to the air conditioning ducts. Kneeling, he pulled the unit from the wall, leaving an open path inside.

A call came through: it was Dennis.

‘Matty!’ Dennis’ voice clipped as he yelled over music in the background. ‘Mecha is having free drinks tonight for those on the list, and guess who’s on the list?’

The breeze swept refuse over Matthias’ feet, his eyes still focused on the hole in the wall.

‘I give up.’

‘You’re on the list, pal. Now get your ass down here, I have a slew of shots lined up for you and I won’t take no for an answer.’

Matthias hesitated.

‘It doesn’t matter about the arm! Chicks these days love that stuff. You can make out you’re in the army. Come to Mecha, right now, or I will disown you.’

Dennis closed the call.

***

The outside of the club was ablaze with coloured lighting, scattered inebriated revellers wandered the streets between two public teleporters. Digital posters glowed from units set into the wall advertising bands and public service announcements. A conspicuous caption warned “DON’T DRINK AND DIAL.”

Matthias squeezed his way through a queue, timid in the face of the loud and drunken crowd. Cash and cigarettes littered the pavement like confetti. He came to the front of the crowd finding a trio of bouncers in black suits guarding the gate. He pressed forwards.

‘Step back.’

‘I’m on the list,’ Matthias replied.

‘I don’t care.’

‘Look my friend told me to come down here, apparently I’m on the list, I’m clear to get in.’

‘Not tonight, pal.’

A fight broke out in the crowd behind him and Matthias was shoved hard from behind. Folding against the gate, the bouncer shoved him aside as the three moved into the crowd. With the bouncers preoccupied and the door unguarded, he slipped the gate and pressed inside.

The doors collected behind him in a dark reception. A bouncer stared at him with crossed arms beside a masked payment booth. Matthias stepped slowly to the counter.

‘Hi,’ Matthias said. ‘Matthias Drake? Apparently I’m on the list.’

‘Yeah, just let me check that,’ the cashier said. Red fingernails scratched at the surface of a keyboard.

‘Paid for by Dennis. You can go in.’

Beyond the bouncer lie a pair of heavy oak doors. Pressing inside, he was dazzled by a massive chamber of shifting coloured lights and lasers, the crowd so thick that walking was like pressing through the sea. Great white lights shot across the room, illuminating dancers on a starfish-shaped stage. In the far corners of the room, barred podiums held women in extravagant synthetic fabrics, a thrashing haze of sweat, skin and tossed hair, eyes glowing, their faces augmented, synthetic tattoos crawling across their skin.

Climbing stairs, enmeshed between patrons, Matthias was studying those faces he could. He was walking along a balcony, a bar by the wall and booth seating by the rail when he noticed Dennis sitting in a booth ahead.

‘Matthias!’ Dennis’ mouth called, inaudible over the thumping beats. ‘Get over here!’

A blonde girl in a faux leather top and short skirt took a shot beside him and coughed, sputtering, throwing Dennis into laughter. Dennis placed a hand on her back and spoke into her ear. As Matthias closed on the table, the face and legs of a brunette emerged from the seat opposite. Her blue eyes shimmered from augmentation, teeth so white they caught the effects of blacklights overhead. She gave him a smile and retreated to the rail, allowing him space to be seated.

Dennis leaned over as he sat down.

‘This is Courtney! She has a thing for guys with implants!’

Matthias gazed on his impromptu date. She smiled and then leaned in to his ear to speak. ‘Hi! I’m Courtney!’

‘Matthias!’

‘You work with Dennis?’

‘Yeah! Natural Robotics!’

‘Where?’

She leaned in so that their torsos were almost touching.

‘Natural Robotics. We make those talking dogs.’

‘Oh, I love those! I have one at home.’

Page 17: Rescue

Matthias woke to a hard floor, a rumbling vibration passed through the surface, the room was completely dark. There was a presence nearby, a heartbeat, a human.

The human cleared their throat. Female. He attempted to speak, finding himself incapable of little but a strangled moan. The neighbouring heartbeat grew faster. He attempted rolling to either side, trying to place himself upright, but found his limbs bound, and on the slick floor, it was impossible to gain purchase. Pressing against his bonds, he found himself lacking the energy to break them.

The silent companion rose a small radio to her face.

‘Yo, what’s our ETA?’

‘Fifteen minutes.’

‘The package is waking up.’

‘Have you got it under control?’

She took a moment of observation.

‘I think we’re safe, he’s not getting up.’

‘Let me know if you have any issues.’

‘Check.’

She adjusted a rifle against her arm as she reseated herself, attempting to get comfortable.

The small truck sped along a vacant city highway under the glare of orange streetlights. It passed through intersections without slowing down, ignoring any traffic lights.

The nimble, naked figure of David leapt over a locked gate and kept running, skirting a parked car as he flew through the parking lot of a slumbering office building. He passed the entrance to a lobby and continued out to and across a street, over a narrow wooden fence and through the dismal backyard of a vacant brick home.

The small truck slowed at an intersection and veered left onto an unlit road. Great buildings rose over empty parking lots, behind locked gates and watched by security cameras. The road was worn by the passage of freight, the absence of street lighting irrelevant as the road fell under the great white lights of neighbouring businesses. A figure ran out from the darkness and leapt at the side of the vehicle, crashing into the passenger side door. The truck reeled, tipping to one side, tyres spinning as the driver fought to maintain control. In the back, Matthias and his captor slid across the floor.

David held fast to the door of the truck as it stabilised and continued down the road. He tore the passenger door from its hinges and received a rifle in the face from a petrified passenger.

Unphased, David grabbed the rifle and evicted the man from his seat, casting him out onto the road.

‘Stop the vehicle,’ he demanded.

The driver, an unarmed civilian, stared, mouth agape at the skinless android staring into the cabin. Taking a steel bar from the floor, he brandished it at David.

David climbed into the vehicle, crawling across the seat towards him and placed a calm hand on the other end of the bar, his steel grip immobilising the man’s shaking. ‘Stop the vehicle and I won’t need to hurt you.’

The truck careened to a halt, tyres smoking against the asphalt. Matthias lay against a wall, his captor lay perpendicular across the floor. She climbed to her feet, cursing, struggling to find her radio in the darkness. Collecting her weapon, she approached the doors, kicking the radio in the darkness.

‘Damn it.’

She found and grabbed the device from the floor.

‘Hermie! What the hell is going on?’

There was a rattle as the doors were unlocked from the outside. She prepared the rifle, strengthening her stance, aiming at the doors. David opened them, took a moment to assess the situation and climbed into the back of the vehicle.

‘Stay back!’

She fixed her aim on David’s head as he approached Matthias on the floor.

‘No.’

‘I will shoot you.’

‘You won’t.’

David took hold of Matthias’ arm and they vanished in a field of light.

The pair reappeared on a windy rooftop in the heart of the city, the sky ablaze with lights reflected from neighbouring skyscrapers. The moon watched as David unshackled Matthias’ limbs, and detached a small device from his head, tossing it over the side of the building. Stepping back to give him room, he was a silent observer as Matthias struggled to come to his feet.

‘Where are we?’ asked Matthias, looking out over the city. ‘Who are you?’

‘My name is David. Are you damaged?’

He squinted, noticing David’s form. David looked on him, expressionless, emotionless, naked in his translucent splendour under the moonlight.

‘I think I’m fine. You’re an android..’

‘Yes.’

‘But, where did you come from? Who were they?’

‘I do not know. I was disabled. You were in trouble.’

‘Do you know me?’

David took a couple of steps forward. ‘You do not remember?’

‘No,’ Matthias frowned. ‘I don’t. You’re like me! Do you know how long I’ve looked? Where did you come from?’

‘We came from the same place. You came after me.’

‘Where?’

‘I was built first. There was another. You need to be cautious.’

David approached to take his arm.

‘Wait..’

‘You’re no longer safe.’

Page 16: Seduce and capture

Matthias opened his eyes. Stacey was pacing the kitchen nearby, speaking to someone on the phone. ‘..well he’s out cold. Do you want to pick him up now? … My apartment. 2320.’

She caught sight of Matthias staring at her and faltered. ‘He’s just woken up. Okay. Thanks.’

Her face drew into a picture of concern as she approached him on the couch.

‘Are you okay?’

‘Why did you do that?’ his voice was steady and neutral, his eyes studying her body’s reactions. Her pulse rose.

‘I know, it was probably a bit too soon, but.. jesus, are you alright? I was just trying to call somebody, you just passed out. I’ll get you a glass of water..’

She turned back for the kitchen.

‘Stacey. Take a seat.’

She paused, looking at him, appearing bewildered and moved to take a seat beside him. Her body was directed towards his, their knees almost touching.

‘There’s a large electromagnetic pulse generator sitting beneath me.’

‘A.. what?’

‘You have the trigger in your left-hand pocket.’

‘I have my code generator..’ She pulled out a small device, a single button placed beside a tiny display. ‘Two-factor security for my accounts.’

He blinked, unsmiling. ‘Do you really want me to get up and pull it out?’

She didn’t answer.

‘I can sense it. What were you trying to do?’

‘I don’t know what you’re accusing me of, but.. just, what the hell?’

Matthias took to his feet, bent down, reached beneath the couch and slid the device out onto the carpet. It was a square steel box with vents in each side, a handle-lock was built into a hatch in the cover.

‘This,’ he said.

Stacey was silent. Her eyes were on the box. ‘I don’t know what that is.’

‘Stacey, really?’

Her manner changed, calm eyes studying him. She crossed her legs and clasped her hands in her lap.

‘Well?’

‘If I tell you, will you promise to hear me out?’

‘No promises.’

‘I work for a security team for a large organisation.’

‘Which organisation?’

‘They.. heard about your arm,’ she looked away as she said it. ‘They want to help.’

‘What do you mean “help”?’

‘You can’t trust Natural Robotics! As soon as they figure out what you are.’

‘And what am I?’

‘A.. you tell me!’ she exclaimed. ‘You’re “heavily modified.” They’ve never seen anything like it. They’re willing to pay a lot to take a look at your augmentations.’

‘I’m done.’

Matthias began walking to the teleporter.

‘I’m only trying to help,’ Stacey called.

Matthias punched his home number into the dial on her teleporter. ‘By neutralising me?’ he muttered.

She hurried to catch him as he stepped inside. ‘This was just a test. I was ordered.. to see how you’d react. They’ll pay you. You need their protection.’

‘I don’t need protection.’

The teleporter activated, surrounding him in a haze of light. A few moments and he was gone.

‘Shit!’ Stacey turned, pacing the room. Thumbing her earlobe, she stopped in the centre of the room. ‘Jameson.’

She waited while the line was opened. ‘Hey. I lost him. I can keep trying but, I’m not sure he’s going to trust me.’

She listened as a voice spoke on the other line. ‘Yeah,’ she sighed. ‘Alright.’

 ***

Matthias stepped out into his apartment.

‘Berkeley?’

A few steps into the apartment and the lights weren’t functioning. He couldn’t sense any electricity. He raised the receptivity of his artificial photoreceptors, enabling a would-be nightvision. Stepping into the lounge, he looked towards the couch.

‘Berkeley?’

A pair of hands grabbed him from behind, locking his arms behind his back.

‘Who is that? Let me go!’

He attempted to pull forwards but was caught at his feet, and fell to his knees. A tumultous drone overtook his senses, a whirring which came close to the right side of his head, gravitating to just above his right ear. Pressed against his skull, his senses were disabled. He fell to the ground, conscious but blind to reality.

A voice spoke in the darkness: ‘I have the package.’

Page 15: David.

A pair of red eyes opened in a dark compartment. Information bled over his vision.  All limbs were accounted for, all systems functioning as expected. 98% battery. A signal had emerged from the chaos of radio waves which permeated the city. A geospatial target he was obligated to pursue.  A visual alert disturbed his lower vision: Model Three was in trouble.

Model One refreshed the few memories he had stored. Large segments had been erased. Something to deal with later.

In the first entry, he was lying on a steel table, a brilliant light shone against his face, just above visual range. A voice spoke.

‘We’re close, David. Another few moments and we can converse!’

He beheld the visage of an gray-haired man in a brown woolen jumper standing by his left arm. Matted gray hair collected about his shoulders, a pair of smudged glasses sat upon a large nose. His lips were chapped, brown eyes were marked by crow’s feet. The man was struggling to fit a plastic covering over a small, modular silicon chip, an assembly no wider than a palm. The man moved to lean over his head and shifted something inside his skull. The volume of the sound was incredible: scraping, clicking. There was no pain, merely the sensation of major portions of his core being shifted about.

‘There,’ the man muttered. He set the chip in place, and pushed against it. The sensation was jarring, like a removed tooth being pushed back in.

The man withdrew and leaned over his face, searching his eyes. ‘I still need to fix it in place. But you should be able to speak now, yes?’

He watched the man blink and observing his own continued lack of an ability to do so.

‘Engage component 352B. Tell me where you are.’

With this command, Model One re-engaged power to those segments the man had been tinkering with. His systems detected the new component and he met it half-way. The associated software prescribed a means to speak: the form in which to shape his mouth, to animate his face, a means to elucidate his logical conclusions. He sent the new component an appropriate list of words, and it gave him the means to express them.

‘I am on a table,’ he said.

His lips moved with eerie precision, framing each sound in a perfect, metered, pre-arranged pattern. Each letter shaped and given form with the clarity of a maestro at their instrument.

‘Who are you?’ the man beamed.

‘I am Model One. My name is David.’

‘And who am I?’

‘The Creator. Alvar Higgins. Fifty-seven. Separated. Born New York City, September 3rd, 2005. Awards for..’

‘That will be fine,’ Alvar smiled.

David studied the man’s vital signs, scanning his body, observing the operation of his systems.

‘Come with me,’ said Alvar, stepping away from the table.

David rose to his feet in simple, fluid movements. He swung upright, rotated to rest his feet by the floor and pushed off from the table, placing his feet on the ground. The room was a fusion of garage and laboratory. Steel shelves lined the walls, a messy collection of motors, circuit boards, buckets of electronic parts, the husks of computers, and cables. Beside the table was a green bucket of the hardened gel which now coated his mechanical skeleton. His entire body was translucent, all internals visible beneath the would-be flesh, steel bones connected to motors at the joints, tiny receptors beneath the skin caught and carried the sensation of touch. He had no need for eyelids.

Alvar led him towards a far wall. ‘Look through the window and tell me what you see.’

David analysed the scene. An orange sunset fell on the city, vibrant bursts of sunlight broke through a storm front over quiet streets. Skyscrapers littered the distant landscape, following the curve of a river. In the foreground, the buildings were shorter, older. A collection of concrete rooftops and crumbling brick facades. A few humans walked the nearby footpaths. There were a few cars, but they were the exception. David performed an inventory.

‘Taken from a single frame there an estimated 30, 182 buildings, air quality 48, cumulus clouds surround a dense cumulonimbus cloud 8.2 kilometres by ground, fifty-six humans in direct line of sight, twenty-two automobiles, five dogs, one cat, 163 birds including..’

‘That will be fine,’ Alvar interrupted. ‘Thank you, David.’

In the compartment he now found himself, David shifted his weight, testing the balance and boundaries of the space. Two hinges and a padlock held him inside. Placing his back against the wall and two palms on the door, he pushed. The hinges strained and burst before the padlock detached. The door flapped open like a broken wing, crashing against a nearby steel cabinet.

Navigating a pitch-black room, he clambered over furniture and between boxes, heading towards a roller door. Slipping his fingertips into the corrugated design, he lowered his knees and lifted the door against its supports. The assembly strained against the abnormal effort, but began to creep upwards. Allocating a crawl space, he slid beneath the door, emerging into the afternoon light.