Page 26: Android vs. Android

David ran with the ball. His legs moved with keen precision across the court, eyes on his target, every movement a calculation of angle, speed, velocity, air pressure, the sum of the minute mutual interactions between himself and the world about him. Each variable continually updated allowing him to navigate to his destination as quickly as possible.

Fifteen metres, fourteen metres, a slight adjustment to his torso, thirteen metres, he lowered his centre of gravity bringing a shift to every equation. Twelve metres, a flash of movement appeared at his side, knocking him off-balance, the ball bouncing away to be taken up by a new master.

Alvar Higgins stood by the wall in the centre of the court, clapping. ‘Very good!’

Moving beyond the centre-line, Two bounced twice before making a perfect shot for the ring. The ball circled and fell through the opening, bouncing and rolling to his feet. Two collected the ball and walked towards Alvar.

‘David, come over here,’ Alvar called.

David picked himself up from the ground, meeting them both at the centre of the court.

‘What was the purpose of this exercise?’ asked Two.

‘To calibrate your systems.’

Two looked to David and back to Alvar. ‘We’re already calibrated.’

‘So consider it a simple exercise to see who would win.’

‘But I would, of course.’

‘Of course.’ A small smile erupted at the edge of Alvar’s mouth. ‘What do you think, David? Would Two have one by default, being a newer model?’

‘It is probably that as an advanced model you would win,’ David addressed his opponent. ‘But there was no certainty. A test was necessary to establish a proof.’

‘It was obvious I would win,’ insisted Two. ‘David is stunted by literal perceptions, he’ll never see past the immediate. Why don’t we upgrade him? He could be much of much more use..’

‘I’d prefer to keep David as-is. As I would you.’

‘You’re.. planning another.’

‘You have the components necessary for abstract and lateral thought, but..’ Alvar turned to David. ‘How did Two win?’

David’s eyes appraised Two’s taller figure. Glossy and vibrant in the ambient light, he held his shoulders high with the authority of one convinced of the absolute. ‘It was not a matter of skill, or an error in judgement on my part. Two identified my strategy and intercepted. According to the rules, he committed a foul.’

‘Were you harmed?’

‘No. But I was not considered.’

‘Why does that matter?’ Two complained, cutting between them. ‘I won.’

‘Empathy,’ Alvar explained. ‘You need to think beyond your objectives and negate any negative impact on others. You can achieve greater things by working with others. You could achieve things together.’

‘Or I could just build more of myself..’

‘Why would they help you?’

Page 25: Just follow the yellow brick road.

Alex gave an apologetic smile and leaned forwards, clasping his hands atop the desk. ‘I’m sorry about that. Unfortunately something rather serious has come up. But, I think we’ve covered everything necessary. Do you have any questions?’

‘To be blunt, Mr. Denton, you seem to know everything about me already.’

Alex laughed.

‘What can I tell you?’ Paul continued. ‘I appreciate the opportunity, I wouldn’t mind a change of scene. Your offer was pretty generous.’

‘I need the best,’ Alex assured him. ‘I’m willing to pay for it.’

‘Then I’m all yours.’

‘Fantastic.’ Alex rose from the desk prompting to Paul to follow and shook the man’s hand. ‘Thanks for coming. ‘My assistant Jane will show you out.’

In the decrepit apartment, Matthias rested against a broken countertop while Stacey stood beside the door, eyes downcast. There was a sharp rap on the outer door.

‘Stacey?’ a gravelly male voice spoke. ‘It’s me.’

She looked to Matthias who straightened slightly, still, he appeared like a child, intimidated and insecure. Stacey stepped to the door and turned the handle. The man who entered wore a form-fitting suit, his dark shoes polished, thick, pitch-black hair combed back against his scalp. He took a breath, looking to Stacey who lowered her eyes from his gaze, and then to Matthias.

‘You’re willing to come with us?’

‘I don’t believe I have a lot of options,’ Matthias stepped from the counter. ‘Who are you?’

‘Ben Jameson.’ Ben extended a hand which Matthias, as usual, ignored.

‘Head of security for Ascension Technologies. We can get you somewhere safe, get you patched up. You’re in safe hands.’

‘No offense, but if you can get me someplace safe, I’ll do the patching.’

‘That’s fine,’ Jameson agreed. ‘But we need to get you out of here.’

‘Are we taking a van?’ Stacey enquired quietly.

‘There’s a unit a few buildings over. We’re short on time, so..’ Jameson turned and stepped to the doorway, looking both ways before proceeding into the alley.

He led them to the rear of another building, unlocking a blue door which led into a pristine apartment. Sunlight fell through large windows over cream carpet, the furniture perfectly aligned, every surface spotless. Leading them through a kitchen into the living room, a teleportation sat in a rear corner. Jameson activated the unit and began dialling.

‘So you just had one prepared?’

Jameson released a near undetectable huff before turning to explain.

‘Ascension holds many assets, but yes. After your incident at Natural Robotics, we’ve been watching you.’

‘Why?’

‘My employer finds you valuable.’

Jameson finished dialling, and the teleporter came alive, emitting a low hum.

‘I’ll go first,’ Jameson offered, and stepped inside, his form disintegrating.

Once they were alone, Matthias looked to Stacey.

‘You trust this guy?’

She gave a small shrug. ‘He’s my boss. I’d trust him with my life.’

She sensed his remaining hesitation and continued: ‘Look, it’s purely by accident that we even knew each other before this. I was placed at Natural Robotics as an observer. I was and am your friend. You can trust me.’

Her eyes seemed sincere, and reading her biometric signs, he couldn’t detect a lie.

‘Okay.’ He looked to the teleporter, hesitating, and stepped inside.

Page 24

‘Fine.’ Matthias stepped in front of the door and, fixing his feet against the ground, steadying his balance as best he could, tugged the wooden boards from the opening, setting each by the door. The door shuddered and cracked as he pressed it open. Inside, sunlight wilted through covered windows over a dismal apartment of crumbling refuse.

Matthias took two steps inside, followed by Stacey, who closed the door after him.

‘Now what?’

‘We wait.’

 

Alexander stood by the windows to his office, gazing over the city. He wore a gray suit and tie over a blue shirt, a casual hand resting in one pocket.

‘Sir.’ A tall, neat blonde in dark glasses entered the room, her cautious heels echoing as they hit the floor. ‘Paul Bowman is here.’

‘Thanks, Jane. Send him in.’

Paul stepped into the office wearing a dark suit and a cautious smile. His eyes flitted about his surroundings, somewhat impressed yet further intimidated by the space and style in which Alex kept himself.

‘Paul,’ Alex smiled, approaching from the windows.

‘Mr. Denton, it’s a pleasure to meet you.’

The pair met in the centre of the room, shaking hands.

‘How are you doing?’

‘I’m well, thank you sir.’

‘Call me Alex.’ He gestured towards his desk, ‘Please, take a seat.’

Resting in a slight chair at the head of the room, Alex rested with an open, earnest demeanour, his radiant blue eyes glowing with contagious enthusiasm.

‘I appreciate the invitation,’ Paul began. ‘I have to say I’m a little curious.. do you usually interview your security personnel personally?’

‘I have a specific position in mind,’ Alex related. ‘It’s important that I find the right person for the job. You came highly recommended by a friend of mine.’

‘Oh?’

‘I don’t believe you’ve met, but he’s familiar with your work. I thought you might appreciate the opportunity to increase the value of your work. For us and for yourself.’

‘Absolutely.’

‘I place a great deal of value on research and development. We lead the market on new and emerging technologies, but for every development there’s a necessity to guard our inventions closely.’

‘I understand.’

‘I’m looking to place someone on a new team guarding a new development. You’ll be well-compensated, have access to the latest equipment, but secrecy is paramount. I think uh, one of our latest recruits is someone you’ve met before.. Matthias Drake?’

Bowman squinted. ‘Drake? In security?’

‘No, no, he’ll be assisting the team with some more technological aspects. I was briefed on the altercation between you and just need to gauge where things lie..’

‘Well I only met him the once,’ Bowman replied, brow furrowed. ‘I don’t really know the guy.’

‘He managed to subdue you, though?’

‘I. wouldn’t phrase it like that. He.. I let him pass. A woman’s life was at stake. He saved her.’

‘So you didn’t know anything about Mr. Drake beforehand? His qualifications?’

Bowman’s face began to redden and he tugged at his collar, clearing his throat. ‘I have to admit, it’s not my proudest moment. He was very convincing of his ability to save the woman, and he succeeded. I did make an effort to physically restrain the subject.. Mr. Drake, but, well, to be honest his strength was.. surprising.’

‘Not a particularly large fellow, though?’

‘No, as I said, I was surprised.’

‘What happened when he thrust his arm into the field?’

‘I.. Mr. Denton, I hope you don’t mind me saying, but is this your usual interview technique?’

‘I’m sorry,’ Alex smiled. He sat back, his intensity dissipating. ‘I’m very curious about the situation, that incident led to Mr. Drake’s employment, and to some degree, your own.’

Bowman hesitated. ‘There was a white flash. I don’t know how he did it, it’s like when his arm entered the field, something went out and the whole thing died. He shut it off with his arm, and she came out unscathed. There was another gu there from I.T. who said it couldn’t be done, but it happened.’

‘Okay.’ Denton tapped his fingertips together, entertained. ‘And you ahven’t spoken to him since?’

‘No, sir.’

‘No problem working with him?’

‘None at all.’

The notification of a call appeared on Alex’s computer monitor. ‘I’m sorry, Paul, I have a call here.. do you mind if I take this? It’s actually my head of security.’

‘Not at all.’

Paul sat back in his chair, gazing idly towards the windows.

Alex pressed a finger to his ear and engaged the call.

‘Hello. I’m actually in a meeting. Can it wait?’

‘My apologies,’ a dry voice rattled. ‘Our agent just called. She has the package, ready and willing. Apparently there’s some damage.’

Alex smiled on Paul, across the desk. ‘Take him to the penthouse.’

‘Very well.’

The call dropped.

Page 23 of The Android

‘I’m okay,’ he said. ‘It’s just this..’ he gestured to his face.

‘What happened to you?’

‘Someone firebombed my apartment.’

She hurried him away, the limping couplet scraping and huffing behind the adjacent buildings.

‘Why would someone do that?’

‘You tell me. I’m still wondering if you were involved.’

‘What? I need to stop,’ she wheezed. He caught himself with a hand against the wall of the nearest building as she panted beside him. ‘How do you weigh so much?’

‘You try to fry my arm with an EMP and next thing I’m being dragged off in a van. I manage to escape and then my apartment is bombed..’

‘I tried to warn you..’

‘What, you work for some rival company? Who are these guys?’

‘It wasn’t us,’ she asserted, placing an arm beneath his. ‘Come on, we’re not far.’

He pushed off from the wall and tried to keep most of his weight to himself. His legs weren’t balancing as they should, the ground seemed tipped to one side, his balance unsettled.

‘If it wasn’t you, then who was it?’

‘It may have been Natural Robotics.’

‘Oh, come on. If they knew anything..’

‘What could they do? You’re an employee, you have rights.’

Shuffling to the next building, she indicated a scrappy doorway smothered in flaking white paint, boards were plastered over the outside.

‘How are we supposed to get through?’

Stacey met him with a stare.

‘What? I have one arm.’

‘Fine.’ She rolled her eyes, grasping the uppermost board and began tugging it away. One side flexed and shifted against the stub of a nail, but she was far from pulling it from the wall. ‘Goddamn it.’

She gave in and stepped away, pressing a finger to her ear.

‘I need a pickup from the rear of Tennyson. We can’t get by the front entrance. I Matthias with me. The police are out front. … Right. Okay.’

An echo of loud voices nearby drew her to the wall beside him.

‘So you’re maintaining you’re innocent?’

‘I’m here aren’t I?’ she hissed. ‘I didn’t blow up your apartment and I don’t know anything about a van. If it wasn’t the guys at Natural, I wouldn’t have a clue, but they were watching you. Why do you think I took you back to my apartment?’

‘There was someone at the bar?’

‘And outside your apartment. Thin guy, black jacket?’

‘So you’ve been watching me too?’

‘Would you quit screwing around and open this door?’

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 19: Nanovirus

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

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

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

‘What is it?’

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

‘Ninety-nine.’

‘Drugs?’

‘Nanovirus. Expands your perception.’

He pulled back to see her enthusiastic expression.

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

‘I’m worried about my mods.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘So Dennis says you like guys with prosthetics.’

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

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

She pouted.

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

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

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

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

Courtney held up her full glass.

‘Sure,’ Matthias answered.

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

Page 18: Matthias’ first night out

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

A call came through: it was Dennis.

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

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

‘I give up.’

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

Matthias hesitated.

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

Dennis closed the call.

***

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

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

‘Step back.’

‘I’m on the list,’ Matthias replied.

‘I don’t care.’

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

‘Not tonight, pal.’

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

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

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

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

‘Paid for by Dennis. You can go in.’

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

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

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

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

Dennis leaned over as he sat down.

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

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

‘Matthias!’

‘You work with Dennis?’

‘Yeah! Natural Robotics!’

‘Where?’

She leaned in so that their torsos were almost touching.

‘Natural Robotics. We make those talking dogs.’

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