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!’

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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 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.’

Page 5

‘That’s more than we could say for you when you’re at home,’ quipped Stacey, a vivid brunette with dark eyes, vibrant lips and a black skirt. She walked past, drawing the attention of nearby men, balancing a coffee. She took a seat at the cubicle opposite Matthias.

‘You’re welcome to join me any night,’ replied Dennis.

‘I’d rather a screw a gorilla,’ she sipped.

‘I didn’t have you pegged for bestiality,’ Dennis jibbed.

Stacey returned a sneer as Dennis swivelled to wield a chesire grin at Matthias.

‘I’ll think about it,’ smiled Matthias.

‘He’ll think about it,’ Dennis rolled his eyes. ‘Just trying to give you a life, bud.’ He mimed opening some curtains. ‘Look at that. A naked woman that is not on a TV screen.’

“Maybe he has a Real Doll,’ came a voice to his right. Nelson, a chubby man of eurasian descent, took a seat at the adjacent desk.

‘Whatever. There will be shots.’

Dennis’ phone rang, intercepting the conversation. He snapped his earpiece back into place, rotated back to face his computer and jabbed a button on the desk.

‘Hi, you’ve reached Natural Robotics, Dennis speaking.’

Matthias’ attached an earpiece of his own and focused on his own workstation.

 

At midday, employees filed one by one from teleporters into a cavernous space known as the cafeteria. The subterrean hall was assembled from small black rocks, polished from their proximity to thousands of feet and the glancing touch of palms against the walls. Several shallow pools held water fountains tossing droplets into the light descending from great portholes in the ceiling. Beneath these, the vibrant pools were lined in flora and, for the careful eye, a fleet of tropical fish.

Matthias emerged from the teleporter and stood alone, gazing across the room. He noticed Stacey, ordering coffee at a crowded cafeteria outlet by a nearby wall. Navigating a few occupied tables, he dodged fellow employees crossing his path, deep in conversation.

‘Six fifty,’ called a barista. Stacey raised a hand, ‘That’s me,’ and pressed her index finger to a payment console. Matthias stepped in to the counter nearby, and caught the attention of another. ‘Double shot latte and a roll. Thanks.’

Grasping her coffee carefully, Stacey met his eye and stepped through the crowd to pass by.

‘Join me by the pool,’ she said.

 

Coffee in hand, roll in the other, Matthias scanned the crowd. Stacey stood against a short wall overlooking the largest pool and accompanying fountain, gazing into the water.

‘How are you going with those reports?’ he offered, stepping in beside her.

‘Three down, two to go. Honestly for a tech company you think they could trust the machines to do it.’

‘Maybe they know they’re not that good,’ he sipped his coffee.

‘You doubt the competence of our fearless leaders?’ she smirked. ‘Middle management is just retarded. They should do away with the lot of them, useless bureacrats.’

In the intervening silence, she smiled into her coffee. ‘So, how are you planning to evade Dennis and his legion of salacious strippers?’

Matthias laughed. ‘I haven’t found a convincing lie,’ he admitted. ‘Any ideas?’

She shrugged. ‘I would have just said no. But then my plans are limited to a cat on my lap and a good book.’

‘Would you care to..’ his sentence was broken off as he noticed her attention drawn to something behind him. A crowd was collecting by the entrance, stray individuals flocking to the commotion like white blood cells to cancer.

‘Should we take a look?’ Stacey suggested.

Matthias slipped through the crowd from the rear, curious to see the trouble ahead. The crowd was uneasy, thick with hushed voices and whispered tension.

‘Has someone called maintenance?’

‘How are they going to get her out?’

‘Is she conscious?’

Emerging at the front line, all eyes watched a bank of teleporters installed at the wall. A blonde woman in gray office attire stood inside, limbs fixed as a marionette, eyes glazed and unblinking. The compartment was saturated with a deep blue light.