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.

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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.