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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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