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.’

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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.

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.

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.’