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.’

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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.