Page 21: Boom.

Matthias limped out of the teleporter into his lounge, the lights activated overhead, as normal.

‘Berkeley! Where’s your nearest service centre?’

He entered the lounge. No response.

The dog’s form lay motionless on the floor at the far end of the couch. Matthias approached and knelt, rolling his lifeless body onto his back. There were no emissions at all, his carcass entirely lifeless. Matthias located the number he had wanted internally, and dialed.

‘Hello. Natural Robotics Service Centre, you’re speaking to Mike.’

‘Hi Mike, I’m looking to order some parts. I’m hoping you have them in stock.’

‘Sure, do you have an account, or..?’

‘I’m just a hobbyist, but I am an employee: ID 115918.’

‘Okay..’ Mike breathed into the phone as he tapped the number into a keypad. ‘Matthias Drake. No worries. What can I do for you?’

‘I have something of a list here, I’m hoping I could have them delivered, it’s kind of urgent.’

‘Well, I don’t know if we can do it today, but give me your list and I’ll see what I can do.’

Matthias began to recite a long list of parts from memory, pausing between each as Mike noted and confirmed them. During the process, Berkeley’s corpse began to radiate a glimmer of energy, something small, deep within his torso.

‘Berkeley?’ He interrupted Mike: ‘Hold on just a second.’

Focusing on Berkeley’s chassis, he was able to “see” through his skin without pulling his friend apart. There was a small nodule embedded in his chest, a foreign object. Depressing a pressure point in his neck, he pried Berkeley’s plastic ribcage open to reveal his internals. There was something at the centre, embedded against his spine. Chemicals, a timer.. it was a completely independent unit.

‘Shit.’

Matthias ran for the far wall as an explosion tore through the apartment, a wall of flame on his heels. The blast accelerated his momentum as he leapt into the tapestry, his heavy frame shattered through the plaster, his body crumpling through the entrance to a ventilation shaft. His skin seared, shards of steel slicing through his skin, his thin layer of flesh searing against the heated metal as he crawled through to an intersection.

At the rear of the building, an exhaust fan and cover burst from their mounting and bounced, clattering, against the rear of a dumpster and fell broken on the concrete. Matthias slipped out onto the pavement and crawled to the wall, wrapping his arms around his smoking form. Skin and blood still covered most of his frame, but large patches were missing, his true form visible across much of his torso and legs. Sirens wailed nearby. Matthias dialed Stacey.

‘Matthias?’

‘Stacey? I need your help.’

‘Where are you?’ There was a sincere worry in her voice.

‘I need you to meet me at the rear of my building. Do you have my address?’

‘I..’

‘1313 Tennyson Road. Please, I’m in trouble.’

‘I’ll be right there,’ she faltered.


Well, I can’t say I didn’t expect it but it’s getting difficult to keep up with writing this novel and studying. Hope you appreciate the new page 🙂 I intend to continue the current rate of a page every two days while I can. – Kyle

P.S. I actually own (or is it truly a lease?) a copy of Microsoft Office now and will be writing from there. So if the pages become slightly shorter, it’s because I’ll be posting from an edited Word page rather than a more-or-less double written page. I write best with a pen.

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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.’

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 3

As dawn approached, the central lights over the lounge dimmed and ceased. The tapestry fell lifeless, the vistas replaced with the simple translucent fabric hanging against the wall, rocking in the air currents. The cold light of morning crept through a channel in the wall, casting light across the lounge. The TV was off, while Berkeley lay comatose on the couch, tongue lolling to one side. Matthias lay back in his office chair, arms and legs stiff and locked like a marionette suffering rigor mortis. As, somewhere in the narrow confines of the PC, the internal clock ticked to 8 am, Matthias’ eyes crept open, blinking. His limbs came to life, arms and legs sagging in a sudden response to gravity before he rose to his feet.

‘Wall on,’ he muttered, crossing the room. At the rear, the tapestry seem to glow before shining with the image of a sunlit beach, waves spraying over rocks, caressing the sand. Berkeley snapped awake and rolled onto his belly.

‘Morning Berkeley.’

The dog watched as Matthias stepped to a mirror and adjusted his collar. The dog blinked.

‘Don’t say it,’ said Matthias.

‘You know I’m going to,’ Berkeley panted, pawing his way to the edge of the couch.

‘I don’t need to shower..’

‘You waste time shopping but don’t bother using the shower? For someone who takes himself as seriously as you do..’

‘I can skip one shower, I ran late with the research last night.’ As he spoke, a transparent liquid appeared to ripple through Matthias’ skin, carrying away the dirt as it ran beneath his collar and beyond.  ‘I needed the extra time to charge..’

‘Humans call it sweat.’

‘Humans don’t sweat cleaning compounds.’

‘I don’t shit decomposed food but we make a show of it..’

Matthias turned to face the dog, shrugging, ‘I’m clean.’

‘You’re too dull to be dirty.’

 

On the surface, the elevator emerged to an overcast morning. The fierce flourescent lights still shone in full force against the lobby. A fog fought back against the light, thick throughout the lobby and the street beyond. Leaves drifted in a gentle breeze across the tiled ground, a couple were crushed beneath Matthias’ feet as he stepped out into the street. The roads were as vacant as they had been the night previous, the street silent, his footsteps tapping the ground in steady precision, like muted gunshots. Crossing the nearby intersection, he headed towards a human-sized steel booth installed on the footpath. Behind it, an empty lot stretched back into the mist. A blonde woman in a red jacket and black skirt stood inside the booth, red fingernails dialing a number before she pressed her palm into a hand-shaped mold in the rear wall. A rotund balding man paced on the road, wisps of brown hair falling from his carefully tended scalp.

‘It’s not working,’ she called. ‘I’m going to have to call someone.’

‘Since when do they ever break down?’ said the man, sweating beneath his tweed jacket.

‘Well I’ve tried four times now,’ she answered.

‘Are you entering the right code?’

‘Of course,’ she exclaimed, stepping out of the booth, bound hair becoming unsettled. ‘You try.’

The man squeezed into the booth and punched in the same series of numbers before pressing a confident hand to the wall. A confident smirk dropped from his face as nothing happened.

‘Well, who were you going to call?’ he asked, stepping out.

‘I’ll call the office, maybe they can send someone out.’

‘Isn’t there a maintenance company for this stuff? Who handles them these days anyway?’

Matthias approached from behind, a small smile playing over his lips, patient eyes blinking, hands in his pockets.

‘Excuse me,’ he said. ‘ Do you mind I try?’

Page 2

A light switched on over the foyer as he stepped out of the elevator, illuminating the entrance to a hallway set with brown floorboards and mottled green wallpaper. A lounge opened to the left from which the sounds of a television could be heard. Overhead lights anticipated his movements as Matthias walked down the hallway towards a small kitchen. After a short delay, the lights dimmed and died behind him. The space held a single stove, a modest dishwasher, a sink and a small dining table. The surfaces were pristine, and not so much as a butter knife lay in the open. The toaster had never been used.

Matthias set down his groceries and opened a cupboard against the opposite wall. Pulling a small garbage bin out from beside the sink, he began tossing unopened groceries into the waiting receptacle. Light fell in from the hallway as the patter of animal feet heralded a squat brown dog at the doorway. Ears perked, head tilting to the side, the dog stared at Matthias as he emptied the cupboard and began replacing the unopened goods with fresh groceries from his bags.

‘I really don’t know know why you bother,’ said the dog.

‘Hi Berkeley.’

The dog sneezed.

‘I have to keep up the pretense,’ Matthias shrugged, placing five fresh bananas in a shelf space still compressed from the presence of fruit he had just thown out.

‘You don’t see me pretending to be a normal dog,’ Berkeley wandered further into the room.

‘Why do you think I don’t take you anywhere?’

‘Because I have better social skills than you.’

‘You’re offensive.’

‘I’m hilarious. You’re boring. Let me know when you’re done with that – the internet has been down for hours. I’ve been stuck watching PBS.’

With that the dog turned and left.

 

Berkeley lay splayed out on the couch as Matthias entered the lounge. Around him, mottled red walls and black carpet set the  mood behind a wall-mounted television, and generous amounts of consumer baggage: a large stereo in a glass cupboard, a library of books and old media. A large tapestry of light covered the far wall, displaying landscapes so vivid, it appeared to be a window one might step through.

‘Get up,’ said Matthias, approaching from the hallway.  A dining table sat in the dark behind him, holding a laptop waiting on standby.

Berkely rolled over exposing the remote control to the TV.

Matthias took it, studying the screen, handling buttons while Berkeley spoke.

‘Do you know how exciting aphids are? All the little things they do in the rainforest to keep nature going. Sounds fascinating doesn’t it?’

‘You sat on the remote again,’ Matthias advised with a lift of his eyebrows, setting the remote back beside the dog. ‘The connection hasn’t been down, you just disabled your own access.’

‘It’s these paws! What am I supposed to do, bark at the thing? You would think that on one of these pointless shopping trips you could pick me up a body.’

‘You have a body,’ Matthias responded, already walking away.

‘A human body.’

‘If there were other androids, Berkeley..’

‘I know, we wouldn’t be living in this basement. Here’s an idea, let me take myself for my own walks!’

 

Matthias drew a chair from a table nearby and sat down at the computer. He drew a hand towards his face, carefully tugged at the tip of his index finger. The flesh came away, exposing a steel connector he plugged straight into the computer. No activity was obvious onscreen, but the computer came alive inside as, behind his eyes, Matthias processed a massive stream of data, scouring, searching and absorbing from the internet as it flooded into his mind. The focus of his search was the advancements of human technology: nuclear reactors, mechatronics, nano and biotechnology, small developers sharing code in the open and vague hints at secretive R&D projects locked away at large corporations. When he discovered anything new it was filed away, and sometimes he turned over new leads on projects he already knew, but like most of the internet, everyone borrowed, stole and reshared the same information, so the bulk of his efforts were spent sifting through old data.