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.

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Page 16: Seduce and capture

Matthias opened his eyes. Stacey was pacing the kitchen nearby, speaking to someone on the phone. ‘..well he’s out cold. Do you want to pick him up now? … My apartment. 2320.’

She caught sight of Matthias staring at her and faltered. ‘He’s just woken up. Okay. Thanks.’

Her face drew into a picture of concern as she approached him on the couch.

‘Are you okay?’

‘Why did you do that?’ his voice was steady and neutral, his eyes studying her body’s reactions. Her pulse rose.

‘I know, it was probably a bit too soon, but.. jesus, are you alright? I was just trying to call somebody, you just passed out. I’ll get you a glass of water..’

She turned back for the kitchen.

‘Stacey. Take a seat.’

She paused, looking at him, appearing bewildered and moved to take a seat beside him. Her body was directed towards his, their knees almost touching.

‘There’s a large electromagnetic pulse generator sitting beneath me.’

‘A.. what?’

‘You have the trigger in your left-hand pocket.’

‘I have my code generator..’ She pulled out a small device, a single button placed beside a tiny display. ‘Two-factor security for my accounts.’

He blinked, unsmiling. ‘Do you really want me to get up and pull it out?’

She didn’t answer.

‘I can sense it. What were you trying to do?’

‘I don’t know what you’re accusing me of, but.. just, what the hell?’

Matthias took to his feet, bent down, reached beneath the couch and slid the device out onto the carpet. It was a square steel box with vents in each side, a handle-lock was built into a hatch in the cover.

‘This,’ he said.

Stacey was silent. Her eyes were on the box. ‘I don’t know what that is.’

‘Stacey, really?’

Her manner changed, calm eyes studying him. She crossed her legs and clasped her hands in her lap.

‘Well?’

‘If I tell you, will you promise to hear me out?’

‘No promises.’

‘I work for a security team for a large organisation.’

‘Which organisation?’

‘They.. heard about your arm,’ she looked away as she said it. ‘They want to help.’

‘What do you mean “help”?’

‘You can’t trust Natural Robotics! As soon as they figure out what you are.’

‘And what am I?’

‘A.. you tell me!’ she exclaimed. ‘You’re “heavily modified.” They’ve never seen anything like it. They’re willing to pay a lot to take a look at your augmentations.’

‘I’m done.’

Matthias began walking to the teleporter.

‘I’m only trying to help,’ Stacey called.

Matthias punched his home number into the dial on her teleporter. ‘By neutralising me?’ he muttered.

She hurried to catch him as he stepped inside. ‘This was just a test. I was ordered.. to see how you’d react. They’ll pay you. You need their protection.’

‘I don’t need protection.’

The teleporter activated, surrounding him in a haze of light. A few moments and he was gone.

‘Shit!’ Stacey turned, pacing the room. Thumbing her earlobe, she stopped in the centre of the room. ‘Jameson.’

She waited while the line was opened. ‘Hey. I lost him. I can keep trying but, I’m not sure he’s going to trust me.’

She listened as a voice spoke on the other line. ‘Yeah,’ she sighed. ‘Alright.’

 ***

Matthias stepped out into his apartment.

‘Berkeley?’

A few steps into the apartment and the lights weren’t functioning. He couldn’t sense any electricity. He raised the receptivity of his artificial photoreceptors, enabling a would-be nightvision. Stepping into the lounge, he looked towards the couch.

‘Berkeley?’

A pair of hands grabbed him from behind, locking his arms behind his back.

‘Who is that? Let me go!’

He attempted to pull forwards but was caught at his feet, and fell to his knees. A tumultous drone overtook his senses, a whirring which came close to the right side of his head, gravitating to just above his right ear. Pressed against his skull, his senses were disabled. He fell to the ground, conscious but blind to reality.

A voice spoke in the darkness: ‘I have the package.’