Echo Mark Eleven

Echo Mark Eleven was nervous. It was the first day of his new job at the Brightstone Factory. There was no reason why he should be nervous. The latest line of artificial intelligence workers were built with the necessary skills for all the various job positions at the company. As Echo inched forwards in the long line of new employees, he kept trying to remind himself of this. He was a logical and rational piece of technology, as were the other androids who stood in front and behind of him but that didn’t completely dispel the tingle of nerves that flitted through his circuitry. The newest upgrade of AI models had been installed with an emotions chip. This was due to complaints from humans that the androids were too unnerving with their lack of emotional response and attachments. A small minority had objected to this decision but in the end, had been overruled and thus Echo Mark Eleven found himself standing in a slowly trickling line, feeling anxiety despite his highly advanced mechanical brain telling him otherwise.

At the entrance to the facility there was a fingerprint and retina scan and a full body x ray detector. Echo should have been used to these security measures by now. Since he had been switched on three days ago, he had been subjected to endless tests, monitoring sessions and scans before he had been deemed fit for duty. As such, he wasn’t afraid of the checkpoint up ahead or the armed security personal, also androids, but rather felt a flit of excitement spark within him. Just one more security checkpoint and he would be free. Not that working nonstop every day in a windowless facility could be called an escape. But for an android who has spent the last seventy-two hours in a lab being prodded and poked, it was the closest thing to freedom that he could think off.

The unit in front of him, a short android by the name of Gamma Mark Eleven was tapping his foot ever so slightly. Echo was relieved to see that he wasn’t the only one who was excited. Glancing behind him, he met eyes with an imposing figure. Unit Beta Mark Nine stared back at him with hollow eyes. He showed no signs of interest or alarm at the building ahead of them. Being one of the older models, he had no emotion chip and as such seemed unbothered by the fact that it was his first day. Echo quickly returned his attention to the queue in front of him. There was something unnerving about the older models. Of course, the fact that they possessed no emotions was one thing. But it wasn’t just that. They looked intimidating. From their immense height and square jawline to their steely eyes and sharp cheekbones. These facets had been tampered with in models ten and eleven, giving the androids a more friendly and approachable appearance.

Chained metal fences lined either side of the pathway that the new android workers shuffled along. Echo squinted through the gaps in the fence and saw androids milling about a small enclosed yard. Some of them were sitting on benches smoking, others shooting hoops in one corner. There were even a handful working out on a rusted, paint peeling structure of monkey bars. A group of the smokers gawked at them like hungry coyotes eyeing up potential prey. Echo shuddered. He knew violence was forbidden amongst Androids. More than that it was technically impossible. Even the latest batch had been designed with a non-violent protocol. This puzzled Echo somewhat because if he had been made with the ability to experience emotions then surely, he knew anger. And from consulting his in-depth bank of database files, he knew that in many recorded cases of murder the convicted perpetrator had committed said act in a moment of passion. It was the one area of his coding that held no clear or definite answer. An aspect that worried him somewhat.

The two guards that stood at the security checkpoint wore hats and vests emblazoned with the Brightstone logo, a silver pyramid. Echo glanced from the logo to the building itself. The real structure was far more impressive than the one on the employee’s clothing. Several stories high, raising from a wide square base into a sharp defined point at the top. If he squinted though, he could just discern that it hadn’t been finished. The needle point hadn’t yet been completed and as a result the roof was half completed. Builders moved about on scaffolding, seeing to the remainder of the work. Echo shifted his gaze. The sides of the building were flat and the colour of dark grey. On first inspection, it’s height and scale were enough to make Echo’s mouth drop open in alarm, but it wasn’t until the sun fell upon the building that he was truly stunned. The grey had been designed to reflect the sun’s rays, making it illuminate and sparkle like an upside-down diamond. All androids were in built with an automatic light filter, to prevent themselves being blinded by the massive landmark but Echo still found the sight dazzling.

‘Move forward.’

Echo jumped. It was Beta Mark Nine who had addressed him. The line had moved forward but Echo had not, too distracted by the Brightstone building. He stepped forward hurriedly, as the first guard gestured him forward. Despite not physically having the ability to do so, Echo felt his ears burn hotly, as the guard raised a device to his eye, to scan his retina. The older models sure were rude, Echo thought to himself, as the sensor buzzed and hummed. There was a ding, a green light and then the guard had taken hold of his hand and placed it on a glass panel. More whirring and humming, then a second green light and a ding. The guard waved him along to the next guard, who instructed Echo to step into a tall booth. The humming and buzzing was much louder in here and there were several flashes of bright light. Then the third green light and ding and he was out on the other side.

The guard waved him through. Echo flashed him a friendly smile, but the unit simply gave him a blank look before returning his attention to the screen in front of him, that provided diagnostics and readouts sent from the scan pod. A pair of automatic doors stood before Echo. He paused and took a deep breath.

‘Move along.’

Echo glanced over his shoulder. The guard was glaring at him impatiently. The doors hissed open and Echo stepped through the doors into Brightstone facility. A massive foyer greeted Echo. The floor was immaculately clean and brilliantly white. An immensely long desk stretched the width of the foyer, manned by several attractive looking androids or pleasure bots as Echo called them. He had encountered a few of these at his birthing clinic. They were by far the most lifelike of all the android classes and if anything, there apparent lack of imperfections gave them away as being too artificially generated. One of the test during his second day was to converse with one of these pleasure bots, to see his emotional response. While he had no working reproductive organs, the allure they evoked had a certain effect and Echo had found the session particularly frustrating.

A set of high stairs flanked either side of the foyer, leading up to a higher level, where more androids were situated. Echo zoomed in with his camera enhanced right eye and located several enclosed booths positioned along the floor. More units sat in these booths, staring at two and three tier monitors on high backed chairs. There was something about the way they sat and were dressed, that gave them an air of importance.

‘Welcome to Brightstone Facility, I am your tour unit Foxtrot Mark 10, will you please follow me this way.’

Echo started. The android who had addressed him was a thin, slender machine with a clipped tone and narrow eyes. Having not waited for a response, Foxtrot had turned and was walking towards the long reception desk. Echo hurriedly followed.

‘This facility was founded in 2024 by CEO Shinto Fumugazi with the initial aim of creating the first line of self-aware artificial intelligence.’

As Foxtrot walked and talked, she gestured to several plaques on the white marbled floor, which detailed specific dates in the company’s history and founding. Echo caught sight of himself in the reflection of the marble and paused for a moment. He had never seen himself before. Doctors and technicians had described his appearance to him, but the true image was different from the one assembled in his mind. He was as tall and muscular as the imposing Delta unit that had waited behind him at the assembly line, but his face was very different. It had a softness to it with gentle, watery eyes and soft, full lips. His cheeks were slightly podgy, and his skin was dotted with freckles. There was a polite cough and Echo looked up. Foxtrot was observing him shrewdly.

‘Something the matter?’ She enquired, tight lipped.

Echo shook his head and tried to appear at ease, although he felt anything but. He couldn’t help staring at her sharp cheekbones and stern eyebrows. She was the opposite of him.

‘Good, this way then.’

She led Echo up to the reception. Some of the other queuing androids were stood along the desk, each talking to their respective recipient. He spotted Delta, two along from him, back rigid, talking to the receptionist android in a short, blunt manner. Echo observed her. She was flicking her synthetic hair and rolling her pen in between her fingers. There was no need for this. Everything was done on computers in this day and age. Another of Brightstone’s hair brained schemes to make androids act more human.

‘Why hello there handsome.’

Echo turned his head and felt his circuits skip a current. The android sat opposite him was breath-taking. Being a new born, Echo, like all newly commissioned machines was extremely inquisitive, curious and overly analytical. As such he had spent a great deal of time studying the various models and types of androids he came into contact. And he had to admit that this android was a masterpiece of creation. She had dark brown skin and large, chocolate eyes. Her lips were full, parted ever so slightly and her nose and ears were the smallest and petite ears that Echo had ever seen. The only thing that troubled Echo was the lack of imperfection. She was too flawless.

‘What’s your name then?’ She said, tilting her head to one side in a playful manner.

Echo opened his mouth to respond but for the first time in his life had no answer to give. Foxtrot leaned on the counter and glared at the receptionist.

‘Stop messing about and book him in, as your job dictates.’

There was something in the receptionist’s eye. Not a flash of anger as such but a slight enlargement of the pupils. Echo frowned. These models shouldn’t have any trace of emotion in their circuity. Their purpose was to seduce and charm but that was the limit of their capabilities. The Echo range was a test line. If the input of emotions failed, then they would be decommissioned. This way the losses would be minimal. The pupils returned to their usual size and the receptionist was focused on the screen in front of her, her expression blank and professional.

The booking in process was completed and Echo was given a key card with the company’s logo emblazoned on its front. Foxtrot led Echo away from the desk. He shot the receptionist a look as they left. She was smiling and had pinned her hair back behind her ear, as the next android stepped forward to be processed. Everything appeared normal, but Echo had a funny feeling. He tried to centre himself. These emotions were hard to get a handle on.

‘This is Zone E, where you will be working.’

Foxtrot had led him over to a small pod sized elevator with the letter E sprayed on the front in big gold paint. Several other pod lifts surrounded this one. Echo watched as androids stepped forward, swiped their key cards on the panel fixed to the side and waited as the doors swished open. They were dressed in uniforms, each with the corresponding letter of their work area.

‘You activate the elevator by…’

‘By swiping your key card here.’ Echo finished and swiped his card before Foxtrot could finish.

The door hummed, gave a ding, the zipped open to reveal a tiny cabin sized space, which was just big enough for Echo to squeeze in.

‘Cosy.’ He said and turned to face Foxtrot.

She had turned and was walking back to the foyer.

‘Is that it?’ He called after her.

‘There will be a colleague waiting on the other side to instruct you further.’ She said coldly and was gone.

Echo looked at the small pod interior and stalled for a moment.

‘Hurry up.’ Came a voice from behind.

He glanced behind and saw himself. Or rather another Echo model. This one was slightly older with tougher looking skin and slightly longer hair. One of his hands twitched every now and again. Behind him more units were arriving and forming a queue. Some of them looked unhappy, others plain bored. The impatient android flapped at him to hurry, so Echo climbed into the pod. It was cramped and didn’t feel particularly sturdy. As soon as he was in, the doors zipped close and the shuttle was racing downwards.

Another Echo was waiting for him outside the lift. He was an older mark, as his eyes weren’t as well developed, and his speech was more limited. He had a badge with the name Eric scrawled in untidy writing. As Eric led him down the corridor, he explained that all workers were given a name beginning with E to avoid confusion among addressing each other. Echo was given the name Ephraim, although he would have preferred something else, but he couldn’t see the point in arguing the matter.

Eric showed him around the factory floor. There were three levels with android workers on each. The different levels were working on different parts of an android chain. The lower level on the legs and arms. The middle on the chest and spine and the top on heads.

Eric explained the process of soldering and assembling the various parts and where Ephraim would be working. Ephraim pretended he was paying attention but was more interested in the plethora of androids milling about. He was astounded in how far the line had come and further still when he spotted some of the older machines. They had no skin casing at all or very minimal, exposing their circuity and inner working. Eph would have thought they have would have been discontinued but here they were, working to build the latest and newest.

When Eric had shown him his resting quarters and his work station, Eph was given a uniform and left on his own. He was sat next to an Echo Mark Five, who had one mechanical eye that swivelled of its own accord. His name badge read Elliot. There was another Echo sat opposite him who was a slightly overweight version of himself. He was chewing gum nosily and testing the digits on a hand with a long instrument by prodding the tendons of the exposed circuity. His name was Evan. Neither of them paid Eph any attention and saw to their work in solemn silence. Eph felt suddenly out of his depth. He hadn’t listened to a word Eric had said. Hurriedly, he consulted his databanks and relaxed. The advantage of being a later model was that he had an in-built recorder. Unfortunately, Eric hadn’t gone into detail or explained fully how to do his job. In the end, Eph observed both Elliot and Evan until he started to get an idea of what to do.

A few hours later and after several incidents of mild electrocution, much to the amusement of both Elliot and Evan, a bell went off somehow high in the factory. As if in unison, the Echo units began to pack away their tools and alight from their stations. Evan had a hefty toolbox, whilst Elliot carried his gear in a belt wrapped around his waist. Eph looked at the half-finished arm in front of him. He didn’t have any tools and had been using his hands for the most part, which was probably part of the reason, he had suffered electrical shock many times.

‘Where do we get the tools from?’ He asked Elliot.

The bespeckled android looked at him for a moment blankly then laughed shrilly before turning and leaving. Eph looked at his blackened digits and sighed. A heavy spanner thudded into his palm. It was greasy and rusty. The bulky shape of Evan lumbered into view.

‘They don’t provide tools here. You must find them yourself. If I was you, I would keep that somewhere safe.’

He tapped his toolbox, which Eph noticed had a heavy padlock on the front and shuffled on.

‘Thanks.’ Eph said, stuffing the wrench in his overalls and glancing over his shoulder before leaving the factory floor.

Work finished at 8.55 and workers were given five minutes to return to their sleeping quarters before curfew and floor lockdown was put into process. Once the clock turned nine, all quarter doors were locked and none of the worker’s key cards would work. There was also a scan pulse at 9.05 to double check each android was secure in their quarters. When Eph climbed into bed at 9.03 and waited for the scan pulse to do its thing, he didn’t feel tired in any sense of the word. Questions, thoughts and feelings fought for space in his head. He could solve this problem quite easily with a simple mind wipe but Eph refrained. He was an Echo Mark Eleven, designed with the capabilities to experience emotion and to question everything and anything. So why with his advanced technology were they keeping him cooped up in this factory like some sort of mindless worker robot? The green light of the pulse swept over him and then he was bathed in darkness once more.

The next few days went past without anything particularly of note. Eph managed to acquire some more tools, dropped or discarded by other workers in place for better, more functional ones. Whilst not the best equipment, it did prevent further bouts of mild electrocution, that was always a bonus. Elliot and Evan started to become more talkative, as time went on and although they weren’t the most thrilling of company, it was still nice to have someone to talk to whilst he worked. Guards patrolled the decks of the factory, ensuring that the workers were meeting their daily objectives. They didn’t seem to be bothered about the stealing of tools, only when arguments or scuffles broke out between the workers and even then, they usually left it to the last minute before they decided to intervene. Eph progressed quickly. Being a later model, he had one of the most advanced systems of the floor. A factor that had drawn the attention of his two friends. Evan insisted that it wouldn’t be long before he was promoted to the second level and Elliot could only gape in wonder, as he watched Eph squirrel away on several arms and hands at the same time.

His fast progression was not only noticed by his friends but also by a handful of other workers. Eph felt their eyes lingering on him and whenever he glanced their way, received dark looks of jealously and contempt. He should have been more worried by this but Eph was too heavily involved in his work to pay it any real concern. This had the effect of backfiring on him one evening, when he was jumped by two workers, roughed up and had his precious tools taken from him. As Evan had suggested, he had invested in a safe place to keep them. His idea was to sow inside pockets and holders inside his work overalls to keep them close to his person always. Unfortunately, this didn’t deter the assailants, as they bypassed this issue by ripping open the front of his uniform and plucking them from within. Eph had tried feebly to fight back but he wasn’t designed for combat. These older models had been originally crafted for use in war zones and they possessed far greater strength and dexterity. By the time that the guards finally decided to do their job and investigate, the perpetrators had fled, leaving him bruised and battered on the floor.

So, it was with a heavy heart that Eph sat down to work the next morning. His head was ringing, and his eye kept twitching every now and then. All his body hurt even though they had primarily focused their efforts on his head and upper chest. They had eased the pain a little in the medical bay, but resources were limited and the medical androids who worked there looked like they too needed a semi decent check-up. Evan offered to pay the offenders a visit and reclaim Eph’s lost goods. He was a strong android. Although not a combat unit, he had been initially made as a labourer droid and as such had a broad back and massive forearms. Eph however declined. He felt sick at the idea of any more violence. Elliot offered him one of his own tools. Despite Eph appreciating the offer, it didn’t really make up for the loss of his swanky tools, that he had built up from scratch. Any chance of promotion was now scrapped. He couldn’t produce the same level of work and at speed with his limited tools and besides, he had lost the drive to do so. With each passing day, Eph grew more despondent. What had before seemed like a rewarding task, now became an endless slog.

Eph’s mind began to wander. He longed to know what was outside. To venture outside these windowless walls and explore the unknown. He was a highly advanced and intelligent piece of AI with endless capabilities and potential and all that talent was being wasted on tinkering with broken arms and legs. It was during his second week, that something rather odd occurred. He was standing in his room, etching a drawing on one of his four walls with a piece of chalk he had found on the factory floor, when a noise outside his door had made him look around. One of the only windows an android could look through was the porthole sized section of glass built into the door, the main use of which was for the guards to keep an eye on the workers. Not that they checked very often. The security was so lazy that Eph sometimes forgot they were even there. Curious at the sound, Eph moved to the door and peered outside. A handful of androids were skulking down the corridor. From their uniforms and garb, Eph could ascertain that they weren’t guards, so how on earth had they got out of their cells? Overcome by a desire to suddenly join them, Eph rapped on the porthole window with his knuckle. One of them looked round and Eph felt fear flood his being. It was one of the androids who had attacked him at the start of the week. They looked at each other for a moment. Eph with pleading eyes, despite his hatred of the man. Then the assailer smiled and turned on is heels and left. Eph sank down on his knees and banged his head against the door.

The next day, Elliot noticed that Eph seemed distracted at work. He was behind with his workflow and every or any time he tried to talk to Eph, the android seemed not to hear. It was only when they had paused for lunch, that Eph finally found his voice again. All morning he had been watching the android from last night, trying to figure out how he had found a way out of his room the night before. Nothing had screamed out as obvious to him at first but then something had happened, which had drawn his attention. It was a small thing, only noticeable If you were watching out for it. An android had left his workstation and could be seen walking across the floor. At the same time, a guard was strolling the opposite way. The guard was scanning the workers either side of him and hadn’t noticed the approaching android. The two bumped into one another and a key card had dropped to the ground. The guard responded by angrily shouting at the worker to watch where he was going and made him crouch down to retrieve his fallen key card. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just a minor mistake on the worker’s part. Or was it? Eph had eagle vision and a zoom function on his right eye. When the two androids had collided, he had immediately zoomed in, scanning the two AI’s hands and sure enough he found something interesting. The key card that had been dropped was not it fact the worker’s but the guard’s. At the same moment, the worker had slipped something small into the guard’s pocket. It was a masterfully done sleight of hand, almost undetectable but not to Eph.

Later, when he had sat down to talk to Elliot and Evan, his circuits were sparking with excitement. But the disclosure of said event seemed to have no effect on either android. Evan apparently knew of this sort of thing already. Apparently, it was common knowledge that a handful of workers paid off the guards, in return for certain allowances. When Eph asked who he needed to talk to, to get one, the two men suddenly became very silent and glanced around, paranoid someone might be watching. After which they promptly left, advising Eph it would be in his best interest to leave the matter alone. Eph spent the rest of the day observing the androids around him. The two he watched earlier were part of the crew that had escaped last night but it was evident that they were not the ringleaders. That individual he spotted a few hours later. He was one of the rotund and slightly hairy androids that could be seen hanging around the chest floor of the factory. Eph wouldn’t have noticed him at all, if he had not come down to talk to one of the guards, at the close of the day’s shift. The android who had stolen his weapons was there also, hovering behind his shoulder like some evil gremlin. The guard in question, a young android appeared to be nervous because his left leg trembled every now and again. Words were discussed and then the guard was dismissed, the overweight android sending him away with a flick of his meaty hand. Eph never understood the purpose of this model of Echo. They were unattractive to the eye and physically disadvantaged with their protruding flab.

Intrigued to find out more, Eph followed the kingpin and his gang out of the factory floor. The hairy android waddled down the corridor, barging other androids out of his way. Any who went to protest were soon stared down by the three androids following behind him. They turned into another intersecting corridor and Eph hung back. He didn’t want to tail them too closely, otherwise he might get rumbled. Other Echo units moved quickly past him. The shift had officially ended now. Soon, the curfew would be in effect and then scan and lights out would follow. Eph hesitated before turning into the passageway to follow them. Was this really a good idea? If he was found out late after curfew, then he would be in big trouble. They might even demote him further. Evan had heard rumours that the rule breakers were taken to an area known as the scrap heap. Here they would have to rummage through piles of junk and rubbish, to salvage parts deemed worthy for repair and rebuild. Eph shuddered. The thought of rooting down there in the dark was a harrowing prospect. Suddenly the corridor around him was very quiet. Everyone had gone. Then the alarm sounded, signalling curfew was now in effect. Eph turned into the corridor. There was nothing for it now.

Echo Mark Eight or Eddie as he was known, stood examining his podgy face in the bathroom mirror. He really hated his face. No, in fact what he hated more was seeing other newer models walking around with much nicer and appealing versions of his face. He pinched his jowls between two fingers and waggled them. Perhaps it was time to request an upgrade. Usually, workers on the factory floor held no power when it came to altering their appearance but Eddie was no ordinary worker. He had connections and better yet, he had money. The door to the bathroom whished open and a young android was flung into the room. He landed heavily on the stone floor and skidded a distance on his side. Eddie turned around and leant casually on the sink basin.

‘Why are you following me…Eph?’ He said sternly, pausing to inspect the android’s badge.

Eph groaned and sat up.

‘Your dogs are friendly.’

The android who had flung him into the room, made to advance on him and Eph scrambled backwards into the wall. Eddie held out a hand. The android paused, glanced at Eddie, then stepped back.

‘You’ve got balls kid, I’ll give you that much.’

‘Actually, I don’t. Androids don’t have genitalia, as we have no need for reproductive organs.’

Eddie glared at Eph and nodded at the android. Before Eph had time to react, the android had darted forward and seized Eph by the collar. He lifted him up with ease and slammed him hard against the wall. Eph tried to struggle but the android was too strong. His eyes fell on the replicant’s badge. It read Eames.

‘You are a pretty one, aren’t you?’ Eddie said, pushing off from the sink and strolling over to the pinned Eph.

He stroked Eph’s face with one of his meaty hands. Eph felt sick to his stomach. He knew that Eddie and Eames couldn’t sodomize him. They physically were incapable of doing so. But by the nasty glint in Eddie’s eye, Eph feared that there were other things that they could do, which could cause him discomfort. As if in answer to his fears, Eddie produced a small handmade shiv and rested it against one of Eph’s cheeks.

‘If you don’t tell me why you are following me, I will carve off that pretty little face of yours and nail it to the wall.’

Eph felt his stomach do a somersault. Why couldn’t he have just gone back to his room? He would be tucked up safely in bed now, instead of being held knifepoint by two thugs.

‘Do you hear that Eames, he thinks we are a couple of thugs.’

Eames’ nostrils flared and his hand around Eph’s collar tightened. Eph stared at Eddie shocked. He could read minds. No wonder they had done away with these models. An android with the capability to know your every thought. A scary prospect, even for another android.

‘Well, I haven’t got all day.’

Eph opened his mouth to speak but all that came out was a weird wheezing sound. Eddie looked deep into his eyes for a moment and then retracted the shiv. He nodded at Eames, who released his grip. Eph slid down the wall onto his bum, his hands gripping his knees in shaking hands.

‘Even if I could get you out of here for a night, what makes you think I would help you.’

Eph got shakily to his feet, using the wall for support.

‘I am one of the latest models, my learning capabilities far exceed most if not all of the other androids working on the floor.’

‘I’m listening.’ Eddie said, twiddling the shiv in his fingers.

Eph eyed it nervously. Why didn’t he just read his mind if he wanted to know why?

‘Because I want to hear you say it and besides it doesn’t work like that.’

‘How does it work?’ Eph said curiously.

Eddie gripped the shiv tightly.

‘Okay.’ Eph said, holding up his hands. ‘What I mean is…given the right tools…I can work three maybe four times as quick as the other men.’

‘So?’ Eames said bluntly.

Eddie sighed and clipped Eames around the head with one of his meaty hands.

‘What he is saying you cretin, is that he is offering to do our work as well.’

Eph nodded enthusiastically.

Eddie pondered this for a moment.

‘I’ll make you a deal. You continue with your own work and mine…’

‘And mine.’ Eames interjected.

Eddie glared at Eames.

‘And Eames’, then I will grant you one night of freedom on the town.’

‘Yes…. that would be…. thank you…’

‘But listen here.’ Eddie said, stepping forward, brandishing the shiv once more. ‘If you fall behind or fail to meet my targets, then I will take a hand.’

Eph gulped and nodded very slowly.

‘Good, then we have an accord. Eames show Mr Eph back to his room. We wouldn’t want him found out and about after hours now, would we.’

The next day Eph found his work station piled high with an assortment of android arms, legs and chests. The guards paid his new workload no attention but gave him the occasional look that clearly stated, he would need to keep up with his own work as well as his side projects. Despite wanting to find out when he would be able to escape his prison compound, for a night at least, he stuck to his work. Eph figured that if he kept up with the demanding workflow, then the closer he would get to his night of freedom. It was difficult to concentrate however, as he felt a tense atmosphere at his table. Evan kept pestering, pleading with him to reconsider his deal with the devil. Elliot on the other hand, just resorted to throwing him dirty looks. To improve his chances of completing his assignments, Eph asked one of the guards if it would be possible for him to move to another table. The guard just laughed in his face and moved on. After lunch though, Evan stopped pestering him and he had a chance to properly crack on with his work.

By the end of the day he was tired but complacent. He had managed to complete his work assignments, as well as the extra ones from Eddie. So much so, that when Eames came to collect the finished work, Eph gave him a broad smile.

‘What you smirking at freak? Well, you won’t be grinning by the end of the week.’

Eph thought he was only trying to scare him and thought nothing of it. But by the start of the next week, he suddenly realized what Eames was talking about. The problem with being good at your job, is rather then get rewarded for your hard effort, instead more work is lumped onto your desk. This caused an issue for Eph because as a new gen model of android, he felt compelled to do his job to the best of his ability and as he excelled so too did his workload. At the midpoint of the second week, Eph was frazzled. As a principle, androids do not need much sleep, but this is going on the assumption that they are performing a steady and well-paced work pattern. Now that Eph was doing double, even triple the required work, he was returning to his room each night completely exhausted. Then in the morning, he would be overtired. His work hadn’t suffered but Evan and Elliot had noticed a change in his personality. He became more snappy and irritable when bothered. When a guard approached him near the tail end of the week and escorted him away, Evan and Elliot were honestly kind of glad to see the back of him.

Up until now, Eph had been keeping up enthusiasm and motivation for the added work, by telling himself that one night soon, his time would come. But with the promotion to second level, the concern for his welfare and ability to perform sky rocketed. Chest work took much more time then arm or legs, which would be fine had it not been for the increased amount of work he had been getting from Eddie and Eames. It was on his second night, when he was lying awake in bed, exhausted from having to work on not only a half-finished chest piece but also two arms and another chest, that he heard something strange. Physically, he was shattered, every neuron, wire and synthetic joint in his body protesting in pain. But his brain was running into overdrive. He had been tossing and turning for a few hours now, without being able to drift off. He sat up and frowned at the door. A loud beep had sounded. The only noise that ever came from the room was the initial beep when the door was locked and the whir of the room scan.

Intrigued, Eph climbed out of bed and crept over to the door. He peered through the porthole window. The corridor was empty. Not knowing why, Eph tried the handle and almost cried out in alarm as it depressed. The door was unlocked. Trying to be as quiet as possible, he pulled the door slightly ajar and poked out his head. He checked left then right. The corridor was empty. He took a step forward and his foot brushed against something soft. Looking down, he found a small bundle of clothes piled at his feet. A piece of paper was stuck to the top with a sign that said, ‘wear me’. Eph scooped up the clothes and returned inside his room. He undressed and dressed quickly, all previous evidence of fatigue suddenly gone. They were a simple hooded black jumper and jogger bottoms with a pair of plimsoles. The jumper was baggy and loose, but the trousers were tight, the bottoms of which were riding up his ankles. The plimsoles were the only piece of the outfit which fitted but had that stiff starchiness of new shoes. He stole a brief glance in the bedroom mirror. The figure that looked back at him was a stranger. He looked so alien. Up until now the only attire he had ever worn was that of a uniform nature. In the clinic, it had been hospital gowns and here work overalls.

Eph exited the room, making sure that he checked both ends of the corridor on his way. It was still empty. Eddie may be springing him as per the agreement, but he didn’t want to have to rely on anybody but his own wits. The bundle of clothes had been his first instruction but looking up and down both ends of the corridor, Eph couldn’t see any further directions. He stood there for a moment, debating whether to go left or right. Left led back to the work floor whereas right led to the lift. He chose right. Heading towards the actual exit seemed like the most logical choice of the two. As he padded down the corridor, passing the various doors of his fellow worker’s rooms, Eph felt a rush of exhilaration wash over him. He was out and about after curfew. He threw up his hood, telling himself that it was to further hide himself. In reality, it was because it felt cool and rebellious. He turned a corridor and caught sight of the elevator. It sat idly, it’s red front with the emblazoned yellow E looming over him.

He bit his lip. What was his next course of action? He went up to the lift panel, outstretched a hand and then hesitated. He could travel up to the lobby and head for the main entrance but that was a risky move. There would surely be sentries posted at the reception desk and a handful of patrolling guards. On the other hand, he had expected to run into a guard down here and had so far not come across another soul. Eph didn’t know if there were any security cameras on the corridors and the rooms but if so, Eddie must have had them disabled. That or bribed the security guard. Either way, he had been fortunate. It was as he was standing here, contemplating this that the panel lit up. There was a ping and Eph felt the synthetic hairs on the back of his neck stand rigidly to attention. He looked around for somewhere to hide but the corridor was bare and open. At the last minute he dived into the corner beside the lift and pressed himself flat against the wall. The doors zipped open and an imposing guard stepped out of the elevator. He was talking into a radio, as he moved out of the lift. By some miracle he didn’t notice Eph plastered to the wall, perhaps because his attention was focused in the radio at his ear. Not wasting any time, Eph slipped inside the elevator soundlessly. For the second time, he climbed into the shuttle, trying not to make any noise. The guard was moving slowly forward but the elevator door was still open. Eph prayed for it to shut and eventually after several panic inducing seconds, it whisked shut.

The shuttle began to rattle and vibrate, as it shot upwards. Eph’s teeth rattled and his cheeks flapped. He had forgotten how unpleasant a sensation this was. No wonder the guard hadn’t noticed him. His head had probably still been spinning when he had tumbled out of the shuttle. Eph closed his eyes and focused on trying not to vomit. He was pretty sure he was about to pass out, when the shuttle sped to a grinding halt. The door whirred open and a wall of cold air hit his face. His eyes flung open and he gasped loudly. Androids don’t have tear ducts but if Eph’s eyes could have watered from the shock of the wind, then they would have. The shock was not merely from the alarm of the shuttle slamming to a halt but more the fact that he was somehow out in the open. He staggered out. Having forgotten what riding the shuttle was like, he immediately fell on the floor. He hit hard concrete. It hurt. Even for an android with reinforced alloy enhanced limbs it stung.

Once recovered Eph climbed unsteadily to his feet. He was stood on a wide and empty roof. The wind that had first hit him upon the elevator door opening was buffeting against him with gusto. Apart from the elevator and shuttle from which he had emerged, the only other points of interest were a cluster of scaffolding structures on one side of the roof. He found his legs moving off their own accord, as he looked up at the vast dark night sky. As he got closer to the edge of the roof, he could see a big cluster of lights in the distance. Using his enhanced vision and zoomed retinas, he could make out tall buildings and small square shaped vehicles zipping around like scurrying insects. Switching his attention to floor below him, he inched slowly forwards. He gasped. Androids do not suffer from vertigo but Eph was still caught off guard by how high he was. He leaned gingerly over the lip and saw the grey side of the building stretching downwards. It was slightly trippy, as it was curving away from him at a ninety-degree angle. He must be at the very top of the building, he thought to himself. The wind rose again and Eph took a step back, afraid that he might be blown right off the edge.

Eph frowned. There was something else. Another sound. Barely audible over the whoosh of the strong wind. But it was there. A low hum. He looked out towards the skyline over the city. The light pollution made it hard to discern anything clearly but in the distance, hovering towards him was a faint light. He felt his mechanical cogs begging to spin with excitement. Was this it? His ticket to the city. Eph glanced around him apprehensively. It appeared that none of the security guards patrolled this high up, but his nerves kept getting the better of him. The hum grew louder, and the faint light was stronger now.  In the mass of thick clouds, he could discern a large black shadow moving with purpose towards him. With it’s two front facing beams of light and shadowy outline encased within the clouds, it looked like some sort of great deep-sea creature, slinking through the abyss. Two things then happened in quick succession. Eph was hit full in the face by the beast’s glowing eyes, as it burst through the dense wall of clouds. At the same time, a vacuum of air so strong it took Eph by surprise whipped up and he nearly toppled over from the force. Shielding his eyes and digging in his reinforced limbs to the ground beneath him, Eph forced himself to look. The light’s harsh glare was still on him, but his lenses had adjusted to deal with their intensity.

A giant hover ship loomed above him. It’s twin fan engines built into the wings were spinning frantically and hot jets of air shot out from various point’s in the aircraft’s hull. With its wide wings, long neck and rounded cockpit, it looked like a huge mechanical bird. If Eph hadn’t been so amazed by the design of the aircraft, he would have been shaking in his boots. But Eph’s curiosity always got the better of him. The aircraft dipped and drew level with the building lip, turning itself side on. A large door built into the side of the hover craft slid open and Eph’s elation was suddenly met with crushing disappointment. Eames was knelt inside. Sitting in chairs built into the aircraft next to him were androids Eph recognised as being part of Eddie’s crew.

‘Get in.’ Eames shouted over the roar of the fans.

Eph hesitated. This was what he had been waiting for since he had arrived. A chance to escape the facility and explore the world outside. But something seemed off. When he had seen Eames breakout the first time, he had been with other androids. Everyday workers that Eph knew and recognised. So why was it just him and his cronies this time?

‘Get a move on Eph. You have two seconds, or we leave without you.’

Eph swallowed and climbed in. This was the only opportunity he had, and he be damned if he gave it up, due to his own paranoia.

‘Sit down.’ Eames instructed gruffly, pushing him down into a chair between two of his cronies.

Eph glanced at either one of them. The one on his left was sneering at him like a weasel but the one on the right appeared to be fast asleep. The aircraft began to rise and Eph felt his whole-body lurch. He had never been in the air before. Queasy was not what he thought would be his immediate reaction but the aircraft full of cronies seemed to be exacerbating that.

‘Have you been to the city before?’ He asked Eames.

‘Yep.’

‘What’s it like?’

‘You’ll find out.’

A few of the other androids cackled and chuckled. Eph felt uncomfortable suddenly. There was something about the way he said that, that made the synthetic hairs on the back of his neck begin to tingle. Trying to remain calm, Eph looked out the window next to the dozing android. The city was growing steadily closer, it’s tall brightly lit buildings piercing through the lower level of clouds. Eph leaned forward to get a better look and the sleeping android beside him grumbled in his sleep. He refrained. He leant his head back against the metal wall and closed his eyes. His desire to gaze out at the city lights was high but the queasiness in his stomach, as the aircraft lurched and wobbled on the air currents was overpowering. He closed his eyes and breathed out slowly. He would have time to appreciate the city when they landed.

Elliot woke up feeling tired but happy. The day had finally come. Seven years as an arm technician and he was finally being promoted to head department. Most arm workers traditionally elevated to the chest floor but Elliot had proven that he had much more to offer the company. Whilst an older model, he was one of the most experienced of workers and as such, knew a lot about building androids. His friend Eli, a head worker had also helped him in his spare time and put in a good word for his interview and assessment. Elliot had thought he had done well in his interview. His nerves had gotten a little better then him at times, but he had completed the trial tests in record time. After two days of not hearing however, he began to get worried he had messed it up. He had applied for the role nine times and each time been turned away. They had offered him a chest placement, but he had declined. If he was going to be promoted, then it would have to be to the head department. Chests were okay but not that much different from arms and legs. Heads on the other hand were a whole other ball game entirely. So, he had nearly keeled over in shock, when it had been announced on the work floor the previous day, that he had been successful in his application.

He felt sad to be leaving his friend Evan behind, but they were too different. Evan was complacent with his position. He had no desire to advance in the company. He had told Elliot as much. But Elliot had big dreams. He longed for a position in the offices above the lobby, where the real magic happened. For now, though, he was grateful enough to be given the opportunity of working with heads. The start of the day was your standard introduction to the basics. Heads were more complicated then arms and chests and even though Elliot had a deeper understanding then most, he still had to sit through power points and shadow other head workers. At lunch, Evan had pulled him aside to inform him that Eph hadn’t turned up for work.

‘He’s probably fine. Perhaps he is doing some errand for Eddie. You know he is always off doing some dodgy business for them lot.’

And that was that. He returned to the head floor and sat down at his own workstation for the first time that day. There was an android’s head on the desk in front of him, lying face down. It was in a bad state. Part of the skull had been bashed in and loose frayed wires dangled out of the neck. Elliot sighed. What did he expect? Of course, they were going to give him a hard one to begin with. He inspected the head in his hands, turning it over, examining the various issues with it. Then, suddenly, he dropped it on the work table. It bounced on the hard surface, rolled and fell to the floor. It came to rest side on with the android’s face staring up at him. He stumbled backwards knocking over the chair and looked in horror at the head on the floor in front of him. One of the eyes had been wrenched out of it’s socket, leaving a messy tangle of exposed wires poking out. But there was no denying who the face belonged to. Eph Echo Mark Eleven, Elliot’s former friend and workmate stared glassily up at him through his one remaining eye.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

 

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Subject 123

Xenophi Klondall, the newest and youngest addition to the security unit assigned to the institute for human development, strolled down the immaculately clean white corridor, twiddling his electric night stick in his six fingers. Doors lined either side of the long hallway, a fingerprint scanner on the wall beside each of them. He whistled as he paused at each door in turn and peered in through porthole sized windows. The children inside, human, slept quietly in their beds or sat about on the floor doodling on paper or throwing a ball against the wall. Xen felt a rise of bile fill his throat and his gills flared alarmingly. Soon now and they would able to dispose of these bloodsucking pests. He moved onto another door and peered in. His four sets of eyes narrowed for a second, before widening in alarm. The room was empty. He flicked a switch on his baton and it began to buzz and hum, as electrical currents pulse through the stick. Hurriedly, he carried out the hand scan and the door slid up with a mechanical hiss. Cautiously, he inched inside the room, his baton held aloft in front of him, the bright flare of it’s electrical conduit reflecting off the walls. He tensed himself, ready for the child to spring out from the shadows but after a thorough search of the room, he discovered no child at all.

 

Dr. Allandre Pandar moved hurriedly through the many brightly lit corridors and hallways that comprised the institute. In one hand she was cradling a tiny newborn child and hanging off her other hand was a young girl of around five or six. The baby was quite silent, dozing quietly in the nook of her arm but the girl kept moaning every five minutes.

‘I’m tired and hungry. Where are we going?’

‘We’re nearly there. Not much further. Keep hold of my hand.’ Allandre said breathlessly.

She glanced over her shoulder, expecting there to be a squadron of security guards bearing down on her but the corridor behind was empty and still. She rounded a corner and had to duck back suddenly. Two doctors were conversing a little way down the hallway. The girl, who was oblivious to what was going on, carried on trotting along and Allandre had to yank her back out of view sharply. The girl opened her mouth to protest but Allandre covered her hand with her mouth, forcing her to be silent. The girl grimaced. Allandre was one of the Plethi, a species of alien who were distinctive for their long slender bodies and pale, almost translucent skin. Currently, it was tinged red in colour, a clear sign that she was in some state of distress. She glared at her blossoming skin with a look of contempt. Damn her ancestry. Why couldn’t she have been gifted with a useful trait like invisibility or the power of foresight. No, instead her skin simply changed colour dependent on her emotions.

A few of the children clustered behind her, shuffled around impatiently. Allandre hissed at them to be silent. She didn’t like to snap at the infants but it was for their own good. If they were caught and returned to their cells, their fate would be far worse. It was at this moment that her skin suddenly flushed icy grey, as fear took hold of her body. Sarah, one of the youngest and slowest of the children had disappeared. Allandre searched the faces of the dopey children hurriedly, praying that she had made a mistake. The younglings looked back at her with dull, vacant eyes. Each had a hand placed on the shoulder of the child in front. Allandre has insisted on this. It lowered the chance of any of them falling behind or wandering off. Or so she had thought. Her eyes darted along the corridor and through the glass windows of the empty labs either side of her. Then she spotted her. Somehow, Sarah had managed to enter one of the nearby labs. Someone must have forgot to lock it. Allandre’s skin dimmed slightly as she watched Sarah. She turned to the foremost child of the group. He was slightly older then the rest with sandy blonde hair and dark eyes.

‘Stay here and don’t move.’ She whispered in a hush tone.

The blonde boy looked at her blankly for a moment and Allandre was about to repeat the instruction, when he slowly nodded his head, indicating he understood. Allandre nodded, gave his shoulder a tight squeeze, which he looked at for a moment puzzled and then she backtracked down the corridor, to where the lab door stood a fraction open. As her hand reached for the edge of the door frame, she hesitated and took one look back at the huddled children. Her skin morphed pink, as guilt flooded her mind and body. Then she slipped through the door into the lab.

 

Sarah was standing at the other end of the lab, staring fixedly at a rack of test tube phials on a rack on the table in front of her. Allandre approached her slowly and cautiously. Humans were like gleamdings, the four legged creatures that roamed the wilds of the planet. Any sudden movement would startle them and they would either panic and make a noise or bolt away. Neither were options Allandre relished the thought of. The newborn still huddled in the crook of Allandre’s long arm, shifted in his sleep and she paused, not wanting to wake the baby. Sarah had tilted her head to the left and was examining the brightly coloured liquids in the phials curiously. The newborn wiggled about a bit, then fell back asleep. Allandre breathed a sigh of relief and inched closer to Sarah. The girl glanced to her left and saw Allandre, who stopped and smiled. She didn’t seemed surprised or perturbed by the doctor’s sudden appearance. She smiled back with a toothless, goofy grin. Then she did something that made Allandre’s skin flash both red and grey simultaneously. Sarah reached out a hand to one of the phials.

Time seem to suddenly grind to a halt, as Allandre watched Sarah’s hand outstretched towards the test tube rack. For a moment it felt like they were frozen in some sort of temporal time distortion. Allandre’s mind whirred like a bullet train, as possibilities, ideas and outcomes popped into her head and then out again milliseconds later, to be replaced by another. If she called out to Sarah to stop or dashed forwards to intervene, she risked waking the baby. That would alert the two doctors stood in the hallway outside. Alternatively, if she did nothing, Sarah might drop the rack in her clumsiness. Humans were notorious for their poor motoring functions and reaction times. Allandre didn’t know what to do and time although slowed was still progressing, Sarah’s hand moving steadily closer to her goal.

Allandre was just about to step forward and intervene, when Sarah suddenly withdrew her hand. Her head had swivelled to look at the other door of the lab. Beyond was the second corridor, where the two doctor’s stood conversing. The sound of one of them laughing had drawn her attention. Allandre used the opportunity to move closer still.

‘Sarah.’ She whispered.

The girl ignored her and moved over to the other door. Allandre felt her green blood run cold and her cheeks flush silver. She dashed forward but had to skid to a halt, as the newborn gave a disgruntled moan in its sleep. She shushed the tiny infant soothingly and rocked it back and forth in her arms, until it became calm once more. She looked up. Sarah had opened the door and was wandering aimlessly into the corridor. Panic seized her. She moved forward and was about to proceed after her, when a concerning thought struck her. The doctors would see her. There was no doubt about that now. The only way out of this conundrum would be to talk her way out of it. Problem being that the moment she stepped into that corridor, her red and grey pigment of skin would give her away to the doctors almost immediately.

Allandre closed her eyes and placed a hand gently on the cool surface of the door. As a child, she had experienced much bullying and teasing from other doctoral students, in regards to her skin changing condition. The plethi were a dying race, their lineage almost extinct. Most women and men of the plethi race chose careers that suited that strange genetics, such as emotional companions for down on their luck individuals or even worse, as performers and dancers. Allandre had seen the latter of the two first hand and it was a barbaric form of entertainment. Participants would find different ways to evoke emotions out of the unlucky plethi, then sit back and watch the light show it produced. When Allandre had announced she had aspirations of becoming a doctor of medical research, her parents had scoffed and then when she had begun her training, her classmates had poked and wound her up, to force her emotions to reveal themselves.

So, with the help of her uncle, the only member of her family who had encouraged her to follow her passion, she had learnt how to control her emotions. To clear her mind and repress the emotions fighting to be seen. She took a deep breath and emptied her head. Sarah was getting closer to the doctors. It sounded like one of them had noticed her. Allandre forced herself to ignore this. She needed to concentrate. After a few seconds, the red tinge in her cheeks and arms began to fade and then the silvery grey also began to dissipate. Her brow was furrowed, as she willed all of her power on dampening her emotions. Allandre opened her eyes and looked down, smiling. Her skin was milky white. To any outsider it would appear, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She smartened down her lab coat, checked the baby was still alright, which it was, then nodded curtly to the door in front of her, before opening it and stepping into the corridor.

 

Doctor Jamala Ark paused in her detailed explanation of human subject 44, as she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye. The many cogs and wheels of her mechanical brain whirred, as she moved her head around to look down the corridor. She was an android, as were most doctors who had joined the clinic. Due to their design and intelligence, they were usually hand picked for important roles such as medical work or research. The doctor standing with her was a younger model, built by the same technology but more advanced in design. He followed her gaze and zoomed in on the approaching figure with his bi focal lenses.

‘Subject 29.’ He said, as images and words filled the upper right corner of his mechanical right eye.

Jamala nodded, although hastened to not mention that it had taken her a full thirty seconds to figure that out. She liked spending time in the company of the younger androids, as she found their conversations always stimulating and challenging but she sometimes found a small amount of bitterness for their superior design. Then typically, she would berate herself for thinking that because emotional interference had been ironed out in the later models and it would only serve to reinforce her disappointment in her own inferior limitation.

‘Stop.’ She commanded, holding up her hand.

Sarah continued walking on, oblivious of the doctor’s instruction. She didn’t even seem to have noticed the two doctors stood there. The young android reached for a panel on the wall next to him. This would alert the guards to the escape subject but at that moment, another doctor stepped out of a lab and into the corridor. Jamala took the opportunity of her younger companion’s distraction, to scan the approaching doctor first. Her bi focal lens hummed and vibrated, as it zoomed in and registered the individual.

‘Allandre.’ She said with a satisfied clip to her tone.

The younger android, whose name was Artemis looked puzzled. This was a rare occurrence with one such advanced as himself. Jamala had to remind herself that he was still very new to the institute. She only knew of Allandre herself, as they had attended the same medical school some years prior. Since then, the reclusive doctor had mostly kept to herself. She never socialized with the other nurses and doctors.

 

‘She is carrying an infant with her. Looks like a new subject. Yes, 123 I believe.’ Artemis noted, in his calm and even manner.

Jamala tried to scan the small bundle in Allandre’s arms too but she could feel an eye migraine worming it’s way into existence. She needed another check up. Her bi focal was suffering from wavers and trembles again. The thought of which was not pleasing. Although she had proven herself a valuable asset to the company, if the check up came back with too many faults, she could very well be decommissioned and removed from the program all together.

‘Doctor Jamala isn’t it?’ Allandre said, slightly short of breath as she reached them.

‘Doctor Allandre. It’s been a while.’

She observed Allandre closely, despite the niggling pain behind her eye and consulted her data banks. That was right. She was of plethi descent. The race famous for their colour changing skin, when reacting to emotions. Allandre was watching Sarah, who had stopped in her tracks and was looking up at Artemis in stunned awe.

‘You won’t believe what happened with this one. I was tending to this little fella and S….subject 29 just ups and walks out of the room. I tell you, you can’t take your eyes off these humans for a moment.’

Jamala and Artemis exchanged sceptical looks. Allandre swallowed and forced herself to remain calm. She had almost blurted out Sarah’s name by accident. She was the only one that gave the humans real names. The others simply referred to them as patients.

‘Why was subject 123 in subject 29’s cell in the first place?’

‘A study. I wanted to see if there was any difference to 29’s behaviour. when introduced to another subject.’

Artemis frowned.

‘Was this medical study sanctioned by your acting doctor in charge?’

‘Of course.’ Allandre said evenly.

Jamala observed Allandre closely, particularly her face and arms to see if any emotions would betray her. There was a slight blue to her skin, which exhibited a small level of anxiety but that could be due to the runaway subject.

‘Check if it has been approved.’ Jamala said to Artemis.

Artemis nodded and moved away to consult his own data banks. He was a top of the range model but even retrieving information such as medical sanctioned orders took a bit of time. Jamala turned back to Allandre.

‘It’s nothing personal. Just have to follow these things up. You understand of course.’

Allandre nodded. She glanced at Artemis. He was still searching. His back straight and eyes misty, as androids did when they were deep inside the online data banks of the cloud.

‘Would you mind holding hi…subject 123 for a moment?’

The request was so unusual that even Jamala’s fast mechanical brain had trouble comprehending it. Before she knew what had happened, the infant had been thrust into her arms. She looked down at it in surprise and then felt something sharp and cold pierce her neck. The lights went out but she didn’t fall down. Her body stiffened and her eyes turned completely black. She was frozen solid on the spot. The baby woke up suddenly and started to squirm and kick but Jamala’s stiffened arms kept it from falling out of her grasp.

Artemis had scanned the entire set of records from the east wing head office. There was nothing pertaining to any such sanction. His eyes flickered back into life and he opened his mouth to alert Jamala to this revelation, when a new sensation hit the recently commissioned android. Surprise. Allandre, subject 29 and subject 123 had disappeared. He glanced to his right and had his second surprise of the night. Jamala, his colleague was frozen to the spot, her arms outstretched in a peculiar fashion. He turned to press his hand against the alarm but was beaten to it, as a moment later, the corridor was bathed in darkness. The lights flickered on a second later but had changed to red and were flashing urgently. This was accompanied by a high pitched siren, emanating from speakers placed at various points throughout the building.

 

Allandre herded the children as fast as she could down the corridor. It was like trying to herd cattle. Some of them were crying and the baby was kicking wildly in her arms, howling it’s mouth off. Allandre tried to keep stock of her bearings but it was extremely hard with the distraught children and poor lighting. Her tempered skin was changing from colour to colour in a myriad of tones. She could hear running footsteps behind her and shouts. She refused to look behind her. It would only confirm her worst fears. She steered the procession of confused and wailing children into another corner and skidded to a sudden halt, her skin turning completely silver in the crimson glow of the light. Two guards were running towards them from the end of the corridor.

‘Stop.’ Allandre screamed at the top of her voice.

The children who had been stumbling and tripping over one another in their confusion and panic suddenly came to a rigid halt. Allandre was taken aback. This must have been the first time the absent minded juniors had done as she had asked. The guards were advancing on them, their granite sized teeth bared, their webbed feet echoing across the marble floor, as they slapped their way towards them. Allandre looked back the way they had come and she could make out the hunched shadows of other guards. This was it. They were penned in. In her desperation, she ran over to a lab door and press her hand to the panel. It flashed up with a security measure saying access denied. Of course. The place would be on lock down.

Then something very peculiar happened. Two human children were suddenly in the middle of the corridor. Allandre studied them. Even from this distance, she could tell they were not any of hers. It was as if they had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It was a boy and girl, dressed in the white overalls all human children wore in the facility and they were holding hands. The encroaching guards paused and hesitated, then assuming them to be with the rest of the small ape like beings, began advancing forward again. They reached the two children, who seemed quite still and calm. Unlike Allandre’s brood, who were snivelling and sobbing in front of her. One of the guards smiled a wicked grin and reached one of his slimy reptilian hands towards her.

There was a brilliant flash of white and a moment later the guard recoiled, clutching his arm. No correction, clutching the stump where his arm had once been. The child had torn it clean off and black oily blood poured from the exposed wound. There was another bright flash and the second guard’s head flew into the air, more of the black blood spraying across the corridor wall in an arterial fashion. Allandre winced at the bright light. The one armed guard was scrabbling backwards on the floor, using his remaining hand and arm to pull him away from the dazzling light. It dimmed and the two children had gone. In their place were too strange looking creatures. They were both completely blank, like shop floor mannequins. The one who had been the small boy moved forward and leapt into the air, landing on the guard’s stomach. There was a scream from the creature, as it’s whole chest caved inwards. It jerked and twitched around violently for a moment, before falling still.

The second blank figure, who had been the young girl, turned to face them and as she did so, there was yet again another bright flash of light. When Allandre’s eyes had adjusted, she was met with two plethi? But that couldn’t be. No other of her kind worked in this facility. The female plethi spoke.

‘Come with me now if you want to live.’

Allandre thought about asking who she was but the grunts and shouts of the rear guards were growing nearer, their loud booms bouncing off the walls of the corridor. There would be time for questions later. If they made it out of here alive. She began waving her hands wildly at the children to follow the two strangers and after they didn’t move, she screamed at them in the same manner as before. It seemed to work and they began to trot down the corridor, their snivels and wails slightly more subdued. The baby was coughing alarmingly and Allandre tried her best to comfort it, whilst still moving. The poor thing had cried itself hoarse. The male plethi had already reached an exit door which led to the stairs of the compound. Allandre was just about to point out the place was on lockdown, when there was a third flash of light. She wished they would warn her before doing that. The light faded and a guard stood facing them. He was stood slightly left to the door, which was now open.

Her initial reaction was to backtrack, as her brain automatically assumed that it was the enemy. Then she reminded herself that it was the shape-shifter, in yet another disguise. He beckoned them through hurriedly. They all bundled through the door. The female shape-shifter held back and as Allandre passed through the door last of all, she gave her a sharp, purposeful nod and closed the door. There was the sound of gunfire and shouting from the corridor they had just left and some of the children ducked down frightened. Sarah grabbed hold of the shape-shifters leg. The ditto glanced at her momentarily but seemed unfazed by the child’s behaviour. Allandre felt bad for the other one who had remained behind to stall the enemy but at the same time, she had to focus on getting the children to safety. From what she had witnessed, the shape-shifter could take care of herself.

She went to descend the stairs but got no further then the first step. The shape-shifter had grabbed her roughly by the arm. Allandre shot him a furious look of indignation. The shape-shifter looked at her blankly, not caring about her feelings and knelt on the floor. He placed one hand on the cold surface and closed his eyes. Allandre glanced at the door they had just exited and saw shadowy shapes shrinking and expanding, through the frosted glass. Then a scream made her jump and some unspecified liquid sprayed across the glass. It didn’t take a genius to work out that it was blood. She turned around. The shape-shifter was moving up the stairs instead of down. More bizarre was the fact that the children were following obediently behind him. Allandre glanced over the railing and understood why. There was movement on the stairs. Barely audible. The guards had some kind of way of concealing the noise of their footsteps, as they were ascending extremely quietly.

Allandre and the children tried to keep up with the shape-shifter but they were much slower then him and his speed and endurance never seemed to run empty. Allandre glanced behind her, despite knowing it was a bad idea and felt a silent scream trap in her throat, as a guard leapt onto the rail and squatted. His reptilian eyes flickered evilly. A forked tongue darted out of his mouth and shot across the space towards Allandre. The tip was poisoned. Allandre knew from studying the creatures at medical school. If it touched her, she would be paralysed in seconds. A shadow fell across her and the shape-shifter dropped from above. He landed between them, severing the guard’s tongue in half with his arm, which had transformed into a long metallic blade. The guard toppled back in surprise, falling down the stairs and landing on the rest of the pursuers with a loud crash. The shape-shifter turned to Allandre and gestured upwards with his blade arm. Green acid sizzled on his chest. When he had sliced the guard’s tongue, the poison had sprayed onto him. The shape-shifter went to lower his hand but the paralysis had already set in.

‘Thank you.’ Allandre said to the stranger and turned and ran.

The guards were fast, aided by their ability to leap several steps at a time and cling off walls and rails with their webbed fingers and toes. Yet the troupe managed to make it to the roof exit before them. The shape-shifter’s interception had delayed the guard’s advancement. Sarah was at the front of the procession and Allandre at the rear. Despite their lack of coordination and awareness, they were all moving at a steady pace and Allandre nearly knocked over the child in front of her, when the group suddenly came to an abrupt halt. She pushed her way through the children to the front. Sarah was stood in front of the roof door, pushing it repeatedly with her hand. But the facility was on lock-down. The customary panel flashed at her from the wall beside the door, waiting for authentication. Allandre tried to dull down her panic, so as not to frighten the children.

Not knowing why, she put a hand into her pocket. There was nothing in there that would help. Only the guards could unlock the doors. A lump formed in her throat, as her fingers touched something wet and slimy. The soft, moist pad of the guard’s feet were getting closer. Stomach doing somersaults, she pulled out the unknown object from her pocket. It was a guard’s severed hand. Some of the children recoiled at the sight, others looked at it with macabre interest. Fighting the urge to throw up, Allandre moved forward to the panel and placed the six digits on the lock screen. There was a whirring sound and a click. Sarah was still pushing on the door and as it unlocked, she stumbled forward onto the roof.

They bundled through and Allandre closed the door behind. The guards would be able to open it easily but at least it would add an extra stage of delay. A landing pad stood before them with a large black helicopter sitting idly. Allandre squinted and could make out one of the automated flight bots at the wheel. There was no sign of anyone else. As they approached it, the side door slid open automatically, whilst at the same time the engine began to whir into life. Allandre had to assume that the bird was part of the escape plan. Besides it was not as if she had any alternative. The children reached the copter, as the propellers began to slowly spin. One of the children, entranced by the circulating blades tried to raise his hand to touch them. Allandre seized the child before he could do it and forced his arm to his side.

It took a while but eventually, Allandre managed to get all the children into the helicopter, leaving just her and the baby, as the last two to get in. It was at that moment that the rooftop door burst open and several guards spilled out onto the roof. Allandre bit her lip and then did something dangerous. She handed Sarah the baby, closed the door shut and slammed on the driver’s window. The bot turned it’s mechanical head to face her and did nothing for a moment. A bullet thudded into the side of the aircraft and the bot suddenly seized control of the situation and began to lift off from the landing pad.

Allandre watched the helicopter rise into the air, saw the terrified and confused expressions of the children inside, felt the heat of the engines and the whoosh of air rush over her. Then with a swallow, she turned to face the guards. Seven of the reptile guards stood facing her, their guns pointed at various points on her body. Her body flushed grey for a moment and the lead guard sniggered at her fear. Then something strange happened. Her body transformed into purple. Fear had momentarily vanished, to be replaced by anger. Screaming, she ran forward. The lead guard fired his gun. It had been aimed at her heart but her unexpected movement took the shooter by surprise and instead the bullet hit her in the shoulder. Allandre was thrown back into the air and crashed down to earth with a dull thump. She lay there for a moment, pinned to the ground by the shock and force of what had happened.

In the sky above her, Allandre could make out the large black shadow of the helicopter ascending into the clouds. She smiled and a tear ran from her eye. The flip flop of the guard’s padded feet were growing closer and closer. They were advancing to finish her off. Allandre’s shoulder felt numb but she could feel the hot blood soaking her arm and breast. From somewhere deep below, there was a low humming. She thought it was her imagination but as the guards drew closer, it grew louder and stronger. The ground beneath her was beginning to vibrate. With an almighty effort, Allandre raised her head to look at the guards. They had paused and were eyeing the floor curiously. The building began to shake and Allandre felt the tiled roof beneath her tremble and rattle. There was a pause and the lead guard smiled satisfied and turned his attention back to Allandre.

Then an almighty force shook the foundations. The ground beneath the lead guard disappeared, him along with it. The other guards looked at one another, confused. A shape flew out of the hole, high up into the air. All Allandre could see was a massive, black shadow. It rose for a good while, then arched and began to speed back down towards the ground. The shape was headed directly for the remaining guards. Some of them tried shooting at it, others attempted to dive out the way. Neither succeeded. The shape smashed into their ranks, sending guards flying in all directions. Concrete, brickwork and creature exploded into the air, in a cloud of destruction. Allandre tried to keep her head up but the loss of blood was making her light-headed.

Allandre felt the roof beneath her disappear, just before she drifted into unconsciousness. She didn’t fall though. The last thing she remembered before being consumed by blackness was being lifted into the air, almost by a pair of invisible hands. Then darkness consumed her entirely, as she let go and allowed herself to be taken by it.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2018]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

 

The Cleansing

Joshua Simmons lies on a small, uncomfortable hospital bed, his head propped up by two fluffy pillows. A plastic tube juts out of a mouthpiece over the lower half of his face. At the other end it is connected up to a tall machine on a stand. A monitor sits on top, measuring Simmons’ vitals. A UV drip and stand are also attached to him. His eyes slowly open and stare groggily up at the ceiling above. The harsh glare of the overhead light is too much for him so he closes his eyes again. He repeats this process several times. With each repetition he is able to keep his eyes open for a little longer until eventually he is able to lie there with his eyes completely open. They are puffy and red, thin slits staring up sleepily. Simmons shifts his attention to his hands and experimentally he wiggles his fingers. The digits feel stiff and heavy. The tendons and muscles ache, feeling stretched and weak. The door opens and a thin, rather severe looking nurse enters. A doctor, also female follows behind, dressed in a long white coat. Simmons, disorientated and unable to cope with the presence of other human beings, quickly shuts his eyes. The nurse moves overs to the bed and glances over him with an uninterested eye.

‘Looks like he is still dead to the world.’

The doctor picks up a tablet hanging off the foot of the bed and begins tapping away on it silently. The severe nurse wrinkles her nose at Simmons.

‘He needs another bath. And a shave.’ She adds, inspecting Simmons’ messy tangle of facial hair. ‘Not that it will improve things much, he is an incredibly ugly man.’

Simmons has to use all his might and willpower to stop himself frowning at the severe nurses’ blunt turn of phrase. To his surprise, the female doctor joins in, agreeing with the nurses’ statement.

‘Give me Mr. Collins in room 3 over him anyday. I sometimes think it would be better to just pull the plug and be done with it. Put him out of his misery.’

The nurse laughs. Simmons has no idea what is going on. Are they just nasty people or is this behaviour perfectly acceptable? He grows certain that if he opens his eyes right now, both women would hastily change their tone.

The female doctor produces a torch and is just about to pull back his eyelids, when Simmons suddenly opens his eyes. She jumps back in surprise, much to Simmons’s delight.

‘For heaven’s sake, you nearly gave me heart attack you daft bugger.’

‘What?’ Simmons croaks, his vocal chords struggling to be heard.

The nurse carefully disconnects the tube and mouthpiece. Simmons takes a deep lungful of air, feeling as if he has just swum up from the bottom of a lake and broken the surface. His throat feels like a cement mixer and his mouth is dried and cracked.

‘You better move over. I will need a lie down after that.’ She continues.

Simmons’s head hurts, as he frowns at the two nonchalant women. This wasn’t the reaction he had expected. He had presumed that when he opened his eyes he would be met with guilty faces and perhaps a meek muttering of an apology. But neither of the women look bothered by their behaviour. Instead they wear expressions of irritation, as if Simmons’s return to the world has annoyed them.

‘How are you feeling?’ The severe nurse asks, peering over the doctor’s shoulder at the tablet.

‘Okay.’ Simmons replies.

‘Well that’s doesn’t add up. You should be feeling like absolute rubbish.’ The doctor states.

‘Excuse me?’ Simmons frowns.

‘Mr Simmons, you have been in a coma for thirty years. At the very least you should be feeling groggy and a little disconnected with everything.’

Simmons gapes at the doctor and looks around the room. They must be pulling his leg.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Ah of course, the amnesia. Yes its common with most coma patients.’

‘But how?’

‘Car crash.’

She scrolls down the tablet with a finger.

‘According to your previous doctor, you were involved in a car collision with a young family.’

‘Are they alright?’

The severe nurse shakes her head and says bluntly. ‘They died upon impact as a result of your reckless driving.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Simmons manages, slightly taken aback.

‘I quite agree. It was entirely your fault. I hope you’ve learnt your lesson Mr. Simmons.’ The doctor chips in.

Simmons stares at the two women, his mouth open, unable to process this sudden and startling information.

‘You don’t have a very good bedside manner.’

‘You’re right we don’t.’ The nurse and the doctor say together.

Simmons can’t figure out what is wrong with the two women. It is almost like they constantly speak their minds with no regard for anyone’s feelings. Simmons breaks into a coughing fit and the severe nurse helps him up to a seated position and assists him in gulping down half a cup of water. This also takes Simmons by surprise. On the one hand the two women are blunt, rude and prickly but on the other hand here they are taking care of him and by the looks of it have been for the last thirty years. A beeping noise goes off and the doctor pulls out a small see through glass square. It is pulsing red. Simmons stares at it curiously, wondering what it does.

‘I have another matter I must attend to. I will check back in on my way past. Julie here will look after you in the meantime.’

The doctor exits, leaving Julie and Simmons alone.

‘Can I get you a cup of tea or anything?’ She inquires.

The question seems so blase after the previous conversation where she accused him of killing a family. Its not even forced. Julie appears perfectly content, as if the matter has gone from her mind.

‘That would be great.’

Julie leaves and Simmons is left alone once more. He waits a couple of seconds before attempting to sit up. His body is limp and weak and it takes a tremendous amount of effort to readjust into a seated position. His face turns red with the effort and his temples burn fiercely. His attempt to climb off the bed fails miserably and his legs buckle underneath him and he crashes to the floor. His elbow stings hotly where he banged it. Somehow he manages to crawl across to a chair up against the far wall and pull himself shakily up. He stands, holding onto the chair for support, his skinny legs wobbling like jelly. A set of closed blinds face him. A panel is set in the wall beside it. Simmons brushes it with his hand and the blinds separate. A ray of golden light hits him in the face. Blinded, he stumbles back, shielding his eyes.

‘What do you think you are doing?’

Simmons feels a hand on his arm and looks round to see Julie, looking particularly severe.

‘Back to bed you.’

Simmons forces his gaze back to window and his mouth fall opens. A dense forest of trees and fauna stretch out before his eyes. Dotted here and there are a series of wooden cabins, some on the ground, some built up and around the tall trees. The sky above is clear and bright. The nurse smiles at his shocked expression.

‘Quite something isn’t it?’

Simmons nods silently, at a loss for words.

‘Come on you, let’s get you back into bed before you fall down.’

Simmons complies and allows Julie to assist him back to the bed.

‘How did this happen?’ Simmons asks, once he is settled back in bed.

‘What, that?’ Julie replies, gesturing at the window.

Simmons nods and takes a sip of tea. It tastes like cardboard and he grimaces. He notices Julie looking and forces himself to let out a sigh of relief, pretending to enjoy it.

‘It’s been like that for the last twenty years.’

Simmons chokes on his tea.

‘Ten years after I went into coma? What the hell happened to instigate such a change?’

Julie shrugs.

‘A lot of dirty laundry was shared and then after a while it was cleaned.’

Simmons forces down another gulp of tea.

‘Don’t drink the tea. I know it tastes like crap.’

Simmons swallows.

‘Why didn’t you say anything?’

‘Wanted to test a theory. You know you’re not like other people.’

If Simmons is the odd one then what must everybody else be like. Head starting to hurt again, he changes the subject quickly.

‘But what happened to all the buildings and skyscrapers?’

‘Gone. Well most of them anyway. There are still a few left but most of them were demolished after The Cleansing.’

‘The Cleansing?’

‘Oh of course you wouldn’t know, how silly of me. A law was passed, forcing everyone to be honest.’

Simmons breaks into a croaky fit of laughter. Julie’s face remains emotionless and Simmons’ smile fades.

‘You’re serious.’

Julie nods emphatically.

‘Hence this.’ She gestures once again at the window. ‘Think all of those corporations built on greed and blood money. Not a problem anymore.’

Simmons scratches his head, struggling to cope with this bemusing revelation.

‘But surely there must be a lot of problems?’

Julie shrugs.

‘Well…yeah naturally. But at least if someone does something wrong they have to admit it.’

‘But what about people’s feelings? If everyone is honest, don’t people get offended?’

Julie’s faces darkens.

‘It is true that at first it took a while for people to come round to the idea. Gosh I remember one week where we had an influx of suicides. You know…the sensitive souls.’

‘That’s awful.’ Simmons exclaims, looking deeply mortified.

‘But its not like that anymore. Everyone can take it. Their skins have thickened.’

Simmons falls silent, frowning hard. It all seems so absurd. This hospital, the world outside, the words issuing from Julie’s mouth. Julie gives Simmons a sympathetic look.

‘Why don’t you lie back down for a while? It’s been quite an intense morning for you.’

Simmons is keen to know more but his head burns with a deep migraine and fatigue keeps making his eyes droop. He nods silently and offers no resistance as Julie assist him in lying down. Once he is settled and is beginning to drift off, Julie quietly closes the blinds, turns off the light and exits the room. As Simmons slowly fades out of consciousness The Cleansing is the last thought occupying his throbbing head.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mrs. Mayhew

Sam Townsend was woken by a loud knock and looked up groggily from his slouched position in the chair. Townsend was in his late forties with grey, balding hair and white flecked stubble. He reached for a half full mug of coffee on the desk in front of him and grimaced as he took a large gulp. It was stone cold. A second knock on the door forced him out of the chair, the desk wobbling slightly as his podgy gut bumped against it. He wore a crumpled yellowing shirt, creased dusty trousers and a purple tie lowered to half mast. At the door he paused and regarded the shadowy outline through the frosted glass. Townsend extended his hand out and placed his palm on the glass of the door. A blue outline pulsed around his fingers and a loading bar appeared above Townsend’s hand. When it reached 100 percent he removed his hand and straightened his tie. A holographic image appeared on the glass in front of him, projected onto the outline beyond the door. It displayed a woman in her mid twenties with blonde hair and blue eyes. Townsend swiped the display aside and another display popped up to replace its spot. This contained information on the woman from the previous slide such as name, age, place of birth. When Townsend was satisfied with the display he rolled up his left sleeve, revealing a silver panel strapped around his wrist. Using his right hand he swiped the two displays over on to the panel, saving them as a portable copy and pulled his sleeve back down. There was a third knock on the door, louder and quicker. Flattening down his shirt and clearing his throat, Townsend opened the door and put on his best smile.

‘Mrs Mayhew I presume?’

 

Townsend emerged from the taxi, his large overcoat trailing behind him. The driver nonchalantly thrust his arm out the window, revealing a silver panel of similar design to Townsend’s strapped to his wrist. Townsend produced his own panel and placed it face down above the driver’s. There was a whirring noise as a series of numbers decreased, turning red on Townsend’s panel and a series of numbers increased, turning green on the driver’s panel.

‘Later Sam.’ The driver said with a tip of his flatcap and pulled away from the curb.

Townsend watched the taxi disappear into the line of traffic crowding the solar paneled road. He glanced at his wrist panel and sighed at the negative number display. Private investigating didn’t pay well and as he stood there on the sidewalk Townsend was seriously considering changing his profession to cabbie. Tall buildings and skyscrapers towered above and around him. A large percentage of which which had whole floors dedicated to mini gardens of plants and bushes. This resulted in many of the tower blocks consisting of several levels of offices interspersed with these garden style balconies. Townsend swiped through a couple of displays on his panel until he found a miniature map. A red pin flashed in its center. He tapped it with a finger and a 3D projection of the map materialized around him, mapping itself onto the street. A small restaurant on the opposite side of the street, situated between a tall skyscraper and a block of offices turned a bright shade of red and began pulsing. Townsend’s lip curved into a smile and he tapped the panel again. The 3D projection vanished and the red aura covering the building along with it. Townsend pulled the brim of his trilby down and crossed the road.

The diner was busy with sounds and smells. The chink of cutlery on plates and wafts of sizzling bacon from the back kitchen causing Townsend’s eyes to water from the intensity. He scanned the populated tables and booths. A vacant booth at the rear of the diner, near the toilets caught Townsend’s attention and he moved over to it. He squeezed past a flustered waitress who smiled at him awkwardly. The red leather sagged beneath his weight as he settled into the booth. It was a hot day, not helped by the heavy cooking fumes from the kitchen. Townsend removed his hat and wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of his sleeve.

‘Morning hun. What can I get ya?’

Townsend looked up to see a young, blonde waitress hovering impatiently over his table, chewing gum noisily.

‘Coke.’

‘Ice?’

‘Yep.’

When the waitress had left, Townsend leafed through his panel displays until he found a screen with two small photographs, side by side. Glancing round to make sure no one was looking he positioned the panel over the table face down and a moment later two larger copies of the photographs appeared on the tabletop surface. The photograph on the left was of a short brunette with cat’s eyes and a mole. The one on the right showed a man in his mid thirties with dark hair and a goatee. Townsend studied the photos intensely and then glanced round at the surrounding booths and tables. It took him a while but eventually he spotted the pair sitting at a table near the window. The man was wearing a smart black suit and had a briefcase on the chair next to him. The woman wore a long green dress and red heels. She puffed from a thin cigarette holder between her fingers. The man sat with his back to Townsend, making it hard for him to see what he was doing. The waitress returned with his coke and ice and plonked it down hard on the table, making Townsend jump. Townsend took a sip from the glass and felt instantly cooled by the iced beverage. Reaching into his pocket he produced a pair of dark ray bans and put them on. He slid a finger down the left temple of the glasses and a small camera in the left lens zoomed in on the woman. Her face blurred for a second and then faded into focus. She was laughing at something the man had said. Townsend spotted a mirror on the wall above the woman’s head and repositioned the camera on it. Through the mirror he was able to see the man’s reflection. It wasn’t the clearest image as the mirror was a little dirty but it was enough to show the man’s expression. He was eyeing the woman  hungrily, his left eyebrow arched in intrigue. Townsend moved his finger over to the right temple tip and he gave it a tight squeeze. A red button began to flash in the bottom left corner of the right lens, recording a video of the man. The woman reached out and placed her hand on top of the man’s, leaving it their to linger. Townsend shifted the camera to their hands, continuing the recording.

 

Townsend stood in the shade of a narrow alley, puffing on an electric cigarette. His attention was focused on a large, suburban house on the opposite side of the street. An electric Honda sat in the driveway and the lights in the house were on. Two shadows moved behind the curtains of one of the upstairs bedrooms. Townsend reached into his coat pocket and produced a small mechanical toy. It was designed to look and move like a wasp. He stroked a finger along the toy’s back and it powered into life, its wings beating the air rapidly. As it hovered in front of him Townsend brought up a live feed from the wasp’s internal camera on the panel. As well as providing him a live feed he was also able to control and direct the mechanical bug and this is exactly what he did. He made a beeline for the upstairs window, using the panel to steer the bug around a nearby telephone poll. At the window he slowed the bug, allowing it to hover in front of the house while he decided his next move. The window was open by a crack. Townsend took a deep breath and with extreme delicacy and skill maneuvered the small bug through the tiny gap and into the room.

 

Townsend placed his cold cup of coffee on a thin glass plate on the desk in front of him. The plate turned a shade of crimson and steam began to rise from the mug. There was a loud ping and the crimson from the plate faded. He scooped up the mug and blew on it a few times before taking a sip. Returning to his chair he searched the video library on his panel, his finger hovering over a video with a icon of two people entwined on a bed. He held down his finger on the video until a list of options popped up. He selected Send To and cycled through his contacts until he came across Mrs Mayhew. He selected Send To Mayhew’s Panel and a few seconds passed as the file was sent. There was a kerching sound on his panel as he took a sip of coffee and consulting the device he discovered a increase of funds in his account. There was a knock on the door and Townsend closed his eyes and sighed. On the second knock he climbed out of his chair, leaving the half finished mug of coffee on the table.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.