Eyes framed in a rearview mirror. I tried but couldn’t see much emotion in them. Now it was game time. I pulled a pair of shades out of the breast pocket of my vest. Muscles in my jaw tightened reflexively. My eyes weren’t visible behind the dark glass. Bad-Ass Mode: Engaged.
Before I got out of the car, I made sure that I had everything I’d need for the job. Car keys. Chewing gum. Multiple forms of forged I.C. identification. Leather gloves. Light-rail tickets. Cell-phone. Black-market electronics interface rig. A small tool-kit. And one last thing.
I pulled my pistol out of its magnetic holster under my left shoulder. It was an HK Mark 23. 9 millimeter. It was loaded with a 12 round magazine plus one additional round that I checked was already in the chamber. It weighed 1.876 kilograms, fully loaded. This figure includes the sound and flash suppressor that I had the option of attaching to end of the muzzle so that I wouldn’t disturb the sleep of the innocent. The suppressor was in the right inside breast pocket of my jacket, the holster on the left.
Through the heavily tinted windows, I looked left. I looked right. There was no motion to be seen. I checked the rearview. Nothing there either. Blank concrete of a parking garage. A deep breath. Hold. Then exhale. Opened the door. Muggy outside. Stepping out of the car, I was careful not to plant my foot in a puddle of rainbow-hued oil and screw up my expensive and shiny shoes. Before my sunglasses fogged up, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the car’s windows; not a bad-looking young man. Serious, clean-shaven, and well dressed. He looked calculating, hard. It didn’t seem like me. The weather was much too hot for my suit and jacket, but I had a weapon to conceal and a persona to assume. The air was dirty and sticky. Door slammed, locked. I was sweating before the alarm even activated.
I took a moment to look at the time. 18:48:12. I was abandoning the vehicle. I would do the job. Ditch the weapon. Phone my handler. Then ditch the cell-phone too. Get on the light-rail. To a safe-house in time to catch the morning broadcast of the I.C.network.news, which would be reporting the assassination of one Mr. Wurst of the Integrated Conglomerates.
I moved. It was getting dark. Stuck with the shades anyway.
All that I could hear was my breath and my footsteps. Besides me, the garage was empty of people. When the elevator came, it was empty too. I stepped inside and with a gloved hand, pressed the button to get me to the ground level. The doors didn’t close immediately; I punched the button repeatedly. A courteous female voice announced: “Please stand clear of closing doors.” The doors ponderously shut on the massive chamber of fluorescent lights, cracked cement, and parked vehicles radiating captured heat. The elevator was air-conditioned, comfortable. The same voice unevenly reminded me that “every day, the Integrated Conglomerates are proving that miracles can happen.” I could almost hear the woman’s forced, saccharine smile over the tinny speaker. A violin concerto was playing softly in the background. “but the Integrated Conglomerates need you to help them to help you: you can show your support by ignoring the Boycott. Buy quality Integrated Conglomerates products.” I observed the descent of the elevator to street-level through plate-glass. Down one floor after another. Swoosh, swoosh. The voice went on and on. “Remember to thank the next Integrated Conglomerates security officer you see for making the world a safer place.” She sounded so warm. “Do not hesitate to report seditious speech or acts. Denunciations that result in a conviction can earn you the credits you and your family need.” Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.
Flicking my wrist impatiently, I flashed my forged I.C. ID at one of the policemen. My step was one of forced briskness; it was an attempt to exude the arrogance of an I.C. Man. The paramilitary hack regarded me and then, realizing I wasn’t stopping anyway, nodded to me and dismissively waved me by. I stepped past the Integrated Conglomerates barricade and guardhouse that protected the entrance to the concrete, fortress-like, multi-level parking garage and out into the evening street.
Six lanes of hellish traffic zoomed and blared their horns; a flood of headlights and taillights and speeding metal. I stood and looked at the scene while going for my pack of chewing gum. I put a piece into my mouth and tried to chew it nonchalantly. Cinnamon. Other people were wearing one of two things: rags or one of a variety of paramilitary Integrated Conglomerates uniforms. My posh suit and jacket called attention to me. Not much I could do about that now though. Once I got to the hotel, I would look like a normal I.C. Man and be above all suspicion. It was only a few blocks away.
Cameras of every shape and size and on every eave and street sign monitored the crowds along the streets. Electronic eyes were always vigilant. Microphones embedded in walls and hidden in telephone booths, bus stops, and garbage receptacles recorded all ongoing conversations. Law Enforcement agents were a prominent feature of the scene ever since the Party System had been swept away by the Integrated Conglomerates. Uniformed Police, Corporate Police, Military Police, Criminal Police, Political Police, Secret Police, Uniformed Secret Police, Corporate Criminal Police, Uniformed Secret Corporate Police, Uniformed Corporate Criminal Secret Military Political Police, the works. These mercenaries were ubiquitous. They were listening and watching in front of every closed shop, at every red streetlight, behind every aching back, reading between narrow lines, catching everything the cameras and mikes missed.
I entered the human overflow that existed at street-level.
Heading south on foot to the address I had memorized, the desperate masses seethed around me. Beggars, some living and some dead, littered the hot, filth-splashed pavement. Unhealthy children played vicious games with improvised toys made out of bits of garbage while their mothers stewed rats on steam-belching grates and sold their pestilential bodies for a smoke or a hit or a drink or a ride anywhere else. Men shook fists and shouted and haggled and battled and wept. I attracted some looks; everything else was the color of rust.
5101 West Satisfaction Avenue. It was a hotel. Gated, guarded, privileged, and secure. Mr. Wurst was a guest of the hotel. He was an Integrated Conglomerates higher-up. He was lodged in room 051081. Alone. That was the word.
I ascended the steps past a pair of hulking, heavily armed robot StormGuards, emblazoned with the hated I.C. logo, and a dense row of huge concrete planters in front of the hotel. Panning cameras monitored my movements.
Automatic sliding doors opened and I passed out of the smog and heat, din and poverty, into a well-guarded bubble of opulence. The private army of Integrated Conglomerates security guards eyed me suspiciously from behind their one-way mirrors. I flashed my identification in the direction of one of the guard-booths. I couldn’t see the police behind the glass, but I knew they were there. I could sense beady eyes darting over my body like flies: lighting on me here one moment, then gone, then back somewhere else. There was no escaping them. The best I could do was to try to look in-control, at-ease, and inconspicuous as I tensely imaged their truncheons, boots, tasers, and sidearms. I took off my shades and tucked them back into the breast pocket of my vest. Blinking slowly, I surveyed the multi-level lobby, and the further security forces posted there. Gleaming marble floors with brass candelabras hanging from the ceiling. Red carpets spread ostentatiously on the steps, which were flanked by stone statues. Game-trophy heads of boars, deer, lions, etc. lined the walls. An electronic player piano near the center of the lobby gently intoned an elegant ambiance. The mezzanine was overlooked by a wrap-around balcony; there was a restaurant on the second level. A small fountain collecting coins completed the lavish atmosphere.
I sat in the lobby, as per the plan. There were big, black, soft leather sofas lining the walls, just like they told me there would be. I chose one near the restroom door and sat down. After daintily removing my gloves, I picked up a newspaper. The headline: “INDUSTRIAL FACTION OF INTEGRATED CONGLOMERATES PROPOSES TOTAL BAN ON ALL PARTIES – UNITY THE ANSWER”. Then, a subscript: “Social Equalitists, Pleb Order, Human Labor Front, Spartacus League, All Respond with Mob Violence and Renewed Calls for Employment, more on page three”. I wasn’t really looking at the paper though. I was peering over the top of the newspaper, watching everything that happened in the cavernous room. A bedraggled-looking pleb tried to effect entrance into the lobby because it had suddenly begun to rain outside. Mother Nature was dropping acid. A robot concierge called a Uniformed Corporate Military policeman to handcuff the man and lead him away. A young boy, obviously the offspring of wealthy parents, was crying beside a gilded candy machine. He was imploring a ‘male’ robot bellhop to help him find his mother and father, both of whom evidently had more important things on their minds than their child. The bellhop was not programmed to respond to the boy.
Another man, this one in an expensive Integrated Conglomerates business suit, was led out of the building and hustled into a limousine under heavy escort. This momentarily startled me, but when I looked at his face, I realized he wasn’t my target. Yet he seemed familiar. It took a moment, but I soon recalled that I had seen his face on I.C.network.news within the last day or two. His name escaped me, but I remembered that he was somehow associated with some of the more major recent layoffs. I think he came across on the news like the front-man for the whole operation. In tow of the group were a pair of ‘male’ robot porters, each laden with the I.C. Man’s baggage.
People were being thoroughly searched as they attempted to pass through the banks of metal-detectors in front of the elevators. The lobby was as far as you could get before you hit security. Nothing unusual. Scrutinizing of credentials. Papers, please. I looked at my watch. And I kept looking at my watch. After twenty-three minutes, I had gone over the newspaper three times and was starting to get worried about drawing attention. I was well-enough fed and more than well-enough dressed to keep Security off of my trail for a little while, but anyone who sits alone in a hotel lobby for that long is bound to be noticed by trigger-happy young men in uniform trying to hang on to a really good job. Besides: I was sick of half-reading about wage-decreases and food-riots, interspersed with positive-sounding I.C. propaganda advertisements.
Just as I was thinking about going for a walk around the block and stretching my legs I saw exactly what I needed. I glanced at my watch. 19:14:39. A ‘female’ maid was pushing a large cart filled with clean towels, toilet paper, soaps, lotions, perfumes, and every other luxury imaginable. She cleared the metal detectors in front of the endless banks of elevators and headed briskly to the lobby restroom, ostensibly to do some cleaning. Of course, she set off the metal detector when she passed through. I’d been told that she would; we were counting on that. The guard that was stationed there turned the alarm off immediately.
Of course she set off the metal-detector. ‘She’ was a robot. There’s always something about them. You can always tell just by looking at them; the jerkiness of the movements, the pallor of the skin, the overall too-made-up appearance. Something. The guard went back to frisking the working-class schoolgirls accompanying upper-crust I.C. Men on their way to the hotel’s bedrooms, without skipping a beat. Today was a normal day. Nothing unusual. Routine. This is why the attacker always has the advantage.
Unhurriedly, I folded the newspaper up and gently set it back onto the table’s surface. I pulled my gloves back on tight, stretching my fingers. Right now, the mission mattered; Bad-Ass Mode: Engaged. The maid was pushing her cart through the door of the restroom. I stood, cocked my head sideways, first slowly to the left side, and then to the right. Each time, I was gratified by a series of crunches and pops as the vertebrae settled themselves comfortably between cartilaginous discs. Felt nice. Oh. Oh yeah. Ahh. Better. I adjusted my silk tie and smoothed out my vest smartly. I straightened my jacket, my patent-leather shoes clicking on the polished stone as I strode to complete the first phase of my mission.
I pushed the door aside and followed the maid into the restroom. It was a spacious area, built to the same grand scale as everything else in the hotel. There was a row of open doors lining one wall; each one was a completely enclosed stall. They were all vacant except one. The red light beside the polished handle indicated that it was occupied. The door-handles were shiny brass.
I walked to a sparkling urinal and proceeded to take a monster piss in it. When I was finished, I stood there with my fly unzipped and waited. And waited. The reflection of the room that I could see on the smooth porcelain fixture was so clear that I was able to observe everything that the maid was doing. I couldn’t make my move until the lavatory, besides the robot maid and I, was empty.
The maid was definitely a droid. Her movements were all sharp angles, stilted and slow. She was dressed in a kinky little black-and-white uniform that was purposely designed to be somewhat provocative. The black blouse barely had sleeves at all; they ended in a lacey white ruffle that left most of her upper-arm revealed. In the bright fluorescent lighting of the restrooms, her skin radiated an unnatural sheen. Periodically, the maid would halt and a pattern of faint beeps and clicks would emanate from her and echo around the room as microprocessors exerted themselves over this task or another.
She turned away from me to refill one of the automatic soap dispensers. Even in the porcelain reflection of the urinal, I could observe that same, almost unhealthy, look of the skin on the backs of her legs. Her puffy black skirt was cut very high, its lace trim only coming about halfway down her thighs. Her legs were a little bit too slender, her waist a tad too skinny, to seem quite normal. She was about my height.
She turned back to her cart. The skirt billowed slightly upward as she spun. A freshly pressed and starched white apron was tied tightly around her hips and covered her lap. Her shiny black high-heels clacked on the bright tiles. I might as well have not even been there, as far as she was concerned. She had a job to do.
After I tensely watched the maid perform her programmed routines for some time, the lock on the one closed stall was loudly unlatched; the noise echoed in the room. The toilet flushed automatically. Finally, its occupant, a Uniformed Corporate policeman, stepped out with boots gleaming. The guard’s eyes looked me warily up and down with practiced arrogance. He went to wash his hands in the sink, conspicuously watching me all the while. From my station at the urinal, I looked straight at him and didn’t smile. Seeing that I was not one to be intimidated, he coughed, adjusted his smart little cap with a slight bow, and left hurriedly.
The air was cool. The tiles were smooth and white. Stainless steel fixtures and spotless mirrors reflected only two figures on their lustrous surfaces: the maid and I. I zipped up my fly with a little difficulty; the maid’s appearance had affected me. I tried to keep my mind on my mission, but my dick had gotten distracted, and not without good reason. Her low-cut blouse, her bare arms, slim waist, ironed and fresh uniform, her face. The quasi-human maid had my heart beating fast.
I pushed desire out of my mind. I needed to hijack her. I walked over to her.
“I’m terribly sorry to bother you, ma’am.” Quiet voice. Hands remained politely at my sides. I approached her sheepishly, like a savvy wolf always does. She stood directly between me and an open stall door. I steeled myself. She’s just a make-believe innocent person; this will just be like changing the time on an alarm clock. I nonchalantly placed a piece of chewing gum in my mouth. Cinnamon. I noticed a thin silver necklace carrying a pendant with an Integrated Conglomerates logo carried around her slender, rubber neck.
“Hello valued guest. Is there some way I can help you?” Her mouth moved as she spoke, but it came off as a clumsy attempt to lip-sync. Her mouth’s movements were exaggerated. There was a speaker back there somewhere. She beeped softly. You could always tell an android. Her eyes were wide open, lending her a perhaps manically attentive but overall pleasant expression. Her face may have had one too many stark angles and been one shade too white, her nose one degree too thin and sharp, but it altogether created the effect of a rather aristocratic look. Her long, dark, curly locks were pulled back and kept out of her face by a velvet black hair band complete with lacey white frills. She turned to face me completely. I had maneuvered her into position. Perfect.
I grabbed her by the shoulders, spun her away from me roughly, and shoved her metal weight into the nearest stall.
“What are you doing, valued guest?” she said innocently with perfect, straight teeth.
I slammed the stall-door closed with one foot and used the rest of my weight to shove the Maid against the wall. There was barely enough room for both of us to fit. One hand went to lock the latch. Heard a loud click. I’m sure the little red ‘occupied’ light was activated on the other side. With my other hand, I grabbed the small laminated tool kit out of a hidden pocket sewn into the inside of my jacket.
I roughly pulled up the back of the maid’s shirt. Her back was practically just a flat sheet of white plastic. In the center was a removable panel
“What are you doing, valued guest?” Something started beeping faster.
Using a small electric screwdriver, I had the panel in the middle of her back off within seconds. Four tiny screws: Zrrrr, Zrrrr, Zrrrr, Zrrrr. I kept track of where each one landed on the tile floor. Then I yanked the panel out and flung it to the floor. It clattered: plastic on tile. I flung away the screwdriver.
“Warning: illegally tampering with Integrated Conglomerates property is punishable by fine, imprisonment, or Special Penalty.” Next I ripped a small but high-powered pen-light out of the kit. Holding it tensely in my teeth and using it to illuminate her dark interior, I jacked the black-market interface rig into her now-exposed manual-interface port. I logged on to her system. I knew that time was critical. My hands moved nimbly. They were practiced. Very little conscious thought was involved at all. It was all business. But my heart was pumping at a thousand beats per minute.
“This is a reminder: Citizen non-compliance with Integrated Conglomerates directives can result in loss of consumer privileges.”
“Relax baby, this won’t hurt a bit...”
“You do not have authorization to interface with this unit.”
“I know that.”
Ordinarily, units like this maid receive commands via wireless from a central computer. Since I couldn’t access this computer, I had to fall back on manual input via the port in her back which was exposed when I pulled off her panel. Before that input device would become active however, I first had to suspend her normal wireless input failsafes. For this, I needed to physically disconnect this hardware component and replace it with my own receiver. I reached carefully in and gave the hookup a sharp tug; a plug came out in my hand.
Her head jerked sharply to one side, setting her whole frame off-balance. She was making it hard for me to see what I was doing. Bundles of wire jostled this way and that, getting in my way. One of her arms spasmed sharply, accompanied by the angry sound of a buzzing motor. Maybe it was just me, but she sounded alarmed.
“Warning: danger of electric shock.”
“Oh shit.” I froze.
I didn’t even have time to think before I got one of my gloves melted by a shower of crackling blue sparks from some fried component or another inside her. For an instant, everything in the tiny stall was cast in sharp black-and-white relief, deep shadows, like when lightning strikes. I ignored the pain, but could smell that the hair on the back of my hand had been singed off. Fortunately, it hurt me more than it hurt her. I half-noticed some black, charred spots on her skirt and blouse. I glanced at the screen on the interface. It told me that the operation had been a success. I had deactivated her message transmitter without disrupting her normal Radio Frequency ID signal. Everything seemed fine to the central computer.
“Destruction of Integrated Conglomerates property will be severely punished.”
“I know that, baby...that was an accident...”
“Security Forces will be notified of your activities if you do not stop tampering with this product at once.”
“No, I don’t think so...” I mumbled. Using the interface rig now, I searched for her emergency protocols and took them off-line. Piece of cake. But I wasn’t off the hook; I still needed to hurry before anyone else entered the restroom before my job with the maid was done.
Having disabled her connection with the central computer, all that I needed to do was install my own receiver so that I could give her my own commands via wireless. I removed the tiny device from the toolkit and spat my chewing-gum out into my hand. It was just a little piece of metal, really, but it would change her wireless input frequency from the Hotel’s to my own short-range radio transmitter built into the interface rig. It was a crude and temporary fix, but it was a proven technique that worked. It took a little time and a little teasing-out and a lot of squinting before I got it. But at least it worked. Finally, she was hardwired and ready to go.
“Awaiting input,” she said calmly.
“Awaiting input.” She stood stiffly facing the wall. I removed the interface jack and wound it up.
“Awaiting input.” I started to replace the panel. One by one, the screws went back in.
It worked; illegally modified contra-band goods obtained on the black-market are sweet. I had corrupted her; she had been overcome. And I had done it without breaking anything. Well, basically. The main thing was that one of the Integrated Corporation’s own mechanical minions had been subverted; the maid was now under my control.
I unlatched the stall door and stepped out. The maid followed obediently in my tow. I quickly stepped over to her cart.
The cart suddenly looked smaller. Maybe too small. But it was the plan.
I opened the lid and climbed into the basket.
My electronics interface rig was overriding the hotel’s own radio input band. The maid was transmitting to me all the information her sensors picked up. Through her, I could also access and selectively transmit information to the hotel’s wireless intranet network. Now I decided to go through with my own little unique twist on the mission.
Via the maid’s wireless intranet transmitter, which of course was set to the hotel’s central computer’s frequency, I placed an order for a 12-ounce steak, rare, to be prepared to be delivered to room number 051081, along with a chilled bottle of very oldest wine in the hotel’s possession: 1998 vintage. Very expensive items. My call would be interpreted by the hotel’s automated service system (ASS) as having come directly from room number 051081 itself. On a parallel system, I then tasked “my” maid, unit number 0-2-8, for the pickup and delivery.
On my orders, the maid, her cart, and I, all passed through the restroom door. Being concealed in the fetal position by balled-up towels and transported in a laundry basket by a robot maid through a high-security area was a strange experience. I had never done this before, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I heard the motors in 0-2-8’s legs squeal into a higher gear to compensate for the extra weight in her cart – me.
I couldn’t see anything, obviously, through the stainless steel cabinet that I was hidden in. I could also barely breathe. The air soon became uncomfortably hot and moist. My shirt had become untucked. Motors and servos in the maid’s leg buzzed and whined softly as she walked. Because I was literally only inches away from the mechanical servant and all that separated us was some bunched-up towels and a few millimeters of metal, I could hear the operation of her internal mechanisms clearly. And with her jerky movements, she hardly gave me a smooth ride.
I held my uplink module two inches in front of my face and could observe on its screen everything that the maid saw. Her arms were outstretched, her hands mechanically grasping the handle of the cart. At the very bottom of the screen, I could just see a hint of the twin swells of her breasts.
She steered us back through the metal-detectors. With gritted teeth, I prepared myself to hear the alarm briefly sound. I held my breath and refused to move a fiber of muscle; I was as still as a reptile as the maid transported me past the security checkpoint. My eyes clamped shut in agonizing anxiety. I was too terrified to tremble; being discovered would obviously mean interrogation and summary execution: “Special Penalty”. I didn’t dare to breathe. To think that my life was suspended by a single piece of cinnamon chewing gum...
And then we cleared the security measures. No problem; everything according to plan, just how I like it. My heart rate slowed. I saw in the monitor that we were approaching the banks of elevators. My hand now started to sting from the burn that the maid’s blast of sparks had inflicted.
I was almost surprised that it worked. I had gotten through; so would my message, before the night was up. There’s nothing that can’t be overcome by skill and proper planning.
I heard an electric chime. The elevator had arrived. We stepped inside. Then I heard the doors softly close behind us. With a few simple keystrokes on my interface rig, I ordered the maid to hit the button for sub-level five; that was the floor where I had been told that the kitchen was located. We were on the way. Thus far, everything had gone flawlessly according to plan.
Using the maid again, I scanned the elevator. From inside the laundry basket, it was impossible for me to have any inkling of what was going on around me. This sensory deprivation actually surprised me; when we were planning this mission, I never really appreciated what it would mean to have to rely solely on the maid’s limited sensors for all of my information. My face glowed light blue in the light cast off by the rig’s LCD screen. I gently manipulated a touchpad on the interface module and the maid obligingly swiveled her pretty little head around. I heard another one of her small motors buzz obligingly. Followed orders. Good.
I found that an extremely well dressed woman shared the elevator with us. I commanded the maid, with her head half-turned, to pause and focus on the lady’s face, just for the hell of it; just because I could and it was fun. The woman’s head expanded to fill my screen as the maid’s cameras zoomed-in close. I could tell our temporary companion was aging, but doing everything possible, regardless of the costs, to maintain the appearance of youth and vitality. Surgery, make-up, hair-implantation, hair-removal, more surgery, implants, reductions, wax, mud, more make-up, recombinant DNA tissue re-sampling, grafts, the works. The expensive works. With the maid, who was obviously a robot but was still prettier than she was, staring right into her face for a conspicuous moment, the woman became noticeably uncomfortable. She cleared her throat haughtily and refused to return the maid’s gaze, preferring the blank wall of the elevator.
I was startled to hear the maid speak up on her own accord.
“How are you finding your stay, Valued Guest?” It was muffled through the layer of towels and linen that I had concealed myself with, but it sounded nauseatingly cheery and patently fabricated in a jerky, monotonous, Integrated Conglomerates, robotic sort of way. Her words appeared on the bottom of my screen.
The woman hesitated, surprised and not quite knowing how to reply. I sensed that she wanted to make a caustic remark but couldn’t quite find the words. A reply stuck in her throat and floundered there.
Motors in the maid’s neck buzzed and her head faced forward again with an abrupt jerk. The elevator doors before her at once parted. The woman was already ancient history in the mechanical mind of maid number 0-2-8. On to the kitchen.
I heard a muffled, exasperated “Well!” behind us. My maid kept walking. I found myself liking 0-2-8’s style.
The doors closed and the women continued her descent.
There were a few human chefs in the kitchen keeping an eye on things, but for the most part, everything was automated. Slicers, dicers, peelers, cookers, conveyers, dumb-waiters, scrubbers, sprayers, cutters, boilers, fryers, refrigerators, ovens, mixers, the works. It all contributed to an unheard-of racket in the sterile chamber of white tile and stainless steel. Banging, clanking, grinding, rumbling, sizzling, the works.
But the smell. It was incredible; nothing could have prepared me for the surprise. It was too magnificent. I could sense all types of food being prepared. Fresh bread baking, meat sizzling, sliced citrus fruits, sweets, too many to describe. Heavy, rich, thick. It makes my stomach hurt now to remember that smell and yet not have anything to eat. It cries in acid pain. It hurt then too; I was hungry. Plebs always are.
Maid number 0-2—8 did not have a sense of smell, or much of any other kind of sense either, for that matter. No sense, no real sensations, no sensibility. She went to the pick-up station. It was a long countertop filled with orders waiting to be delivered. 0-2-8 selected the appropriate silver platter and set it with mechanical precision atop her cart.
We got back into one of the several dozen elevators and zoomed to the fifty-first floor. No one else got on; it was getting late.
When the doors opened, a long corridor was spread before us, lit softly by incandescent lamps and lined with statues, paintings, mirrors, and potted plants.
The maid walked to room number 051081. The numbers filled my screen. Her bare, slender arm reached out and rang the bell beside the door. A moment passed. She was more patient than I was.
Through the towels, I faintly heard several locks disengage.
Through the maid’s electronic eyes, I watched Mr. Wurst answer the door. He stood in the doorway. It was the right man. He matched the images prepared for me by my handlers. He wore a loose-fitting robe.
“I didn’t – “
I commanded the maid to enter the room. The cart suddenly jerked to start. 0-2-8 almost bowled Mr. Wurst over as she roughly pushed right through him and into the room.
She pulled the door closed behind her and locked it, on my orders. The moment of truth. I was shaking violently with fear and excitement.
The maid pushed the cart into the center of a tremendous room.
It was familiar to me; everything corresponded exactly with the information I had been given. The furnishings were heavy, intricately carved and inlaid wood. There was a four-poster bed with royal blue comforters and massive velvet drapes. The carpet was a deep blue color and was about three centimeters deep. A small fountain filled with smooth stones gurgled softly. Gentle piano music quietly played through hidden speakers. There was also a heavy wooden table with two chairs pulled up to it. Perfect.
I pulled out my gun and burst out of the laundry basket, leveling the weapon at Mr. Wurst. He gasped.
“Have a seat.”
I sat across the table from Mr. Wurst. 0-2-8 placed the platter of food before the I.C. Man and decorously removed its lid. Steam billowed up from the food, along with a delicious aroma that filled the magnificent room. After placing this lid back onto her cart, 0-2-8, beeping modestly, spread a richly decorated cloth napkin over Mr. Wurst’s lap and pushed his seat up to the table. She laid out his silverware in perfect order. Steak knife, butter knife, dinner fork, soup spoon, the works. Mr. Wurst was confused.
0-2-8 picked up the chilled bottle of wine, beeped softly, and uncorked it. She filled Mr. Wurst’s glass with the red wine. She then pulled from her cart a large dispenser of crushed pepper and held it over Mr. Wurst’s dish. She began to twist the top vigorously, sprinkling fresh pepper.
“Thank you, that’s fine.” Mr. Wurst’s voice was high and hoarse. He sounded like he was in puberty. He cleared his throat quietly.
“Bon Appetit,” 0-2-8 curtsied elegantly.
I put the gun heavily on the table in front of me.
Mr. Wurst eyed me fearfully from behind his pinched nose and reading glasses, as he picked up the correct fork and knife. He licked his lips and swallowed. Dark blood flooded through the punctures as the tines of Mr. Wurst’s fork sunk into the meat. It flowed out over the immaculate flesh and created a pool of blood on the shining porcelain dish, inlaid with silver. As his knife sliced through the meat, even more blood welled-up. Piercing his first bite with the stainless-steel fork and lifting it, with a quivering hand, to his lips, Mr. Wurst clearly understood the mockery I was making of him. I watched carefully as Mr. Wurst ate. The impotent servant number 0-2-8, stood by conscientiously.
Frequently, Mr. Wurst eyed the gun I had placed in front of me. Whereas he had a plate laden with expensive finery and corporeal pleasure, I had only the cold metal of a gun. I reached into the right inside pocket of my jacket and took out the silencer. I slowly screwed it onto the end of the barrel. The episode was beautifully metaphorical, and the fact did not escape Mr. Wurst, a man of elegance, taste, and education. Pleb meets Patrician. The candles began to slowly melt down.
Throughout the meal, neither Mr. Wurst nor I spoke. He tried to look neither at me, nor at the gun that I had placed on the table in front of me. Instead, he concentrated on his meal. Asparagus, sharp, creamy cheese, a mushroom sauce, steaming rolls, heavy butter. His elbows stayed off the table; he chewed with his mouth closed. I bore a hole through him with my stare.
Maid number 0-2-8 stood by with the patience of a machine. She remained beside the table, right behind Mr. Wurst, with her hands politely behind her back. Her role was to refill Mr. Wurst’s wineglass when necessary. The glutton drank the whole bottle.
I didn’t eat: how could I be hungry, knowing what act I was about to commit? Then again, the prospect of striking a blow of vengeance was delicious enough for a pleb like me. Or, it was supposed to be. Mr. Wurst gave me plenty of time to think my feelings over.
I looked at Mr. Wurst as he chewed and swallowed his last bite. The plate was completely cleaned. Mr. Wurst could not buy any more time.
He lightly placed his knife and fork onto his empty plate in a neat X. He wiped the corners of his mouth delicately with the cloth napkin, and then set it into his plate with the used silverware. He faced me, trembling in silence, and folded his hands on his lap.
“May I ask for a mint?”
I picked up the gun and shot him in the head.
He fell down.
I set the gun back onto the table, where it would remain.
Blood soaking through different high-quality textiles makes interesting patterns; I’d observed them before. Blood on silk slippers looks shiny, like red candle-wax. Pure cotton absorbs blood the most quickly and the rich tone of blood fades immediately. Blood settles into pools in the folds of a smooth tablecloth. Thick rugs gorge themselves, soaking up a huge quantity of blood. The circles expand outward ever more slowly.
I stood up from my seat and set about searching the room. There was no need to leave a note or anything; the message was self-evident. Despite the rich temptations, I didn’t steal anything. Not his watch, his rings, his cigars, not anything. My handlers specifically demanded that I leave his property intact; to do otherwise would not only diminish the political message the assassination was designed to send to the I.C., but also would besmirch the name of the organization that was prepared to take credit for the action.
Instead, I took about an hour going through everything in the expansive suite. I checked his briefcase, his personal computer, desk drawers, pants-pockets, closets, everywhere. I found a few hundred pages of documents and numbers, as well as a slew of computer disks. I went through his wallet, but leaving the cash, I only took cards, I.C. ID, and anything else of potential interest to my handlers. I was careful not to get any blood on my tie, and I wore the gloves all the while, though one had been badly burned. I stashed everything I could in my pockets and crammed the rest under my shirt and down my pants. My handlers would pass the information I had gained along to plebs who would know what to do with it to turn it to the advantage of the movement. That was the word.
I pulled my cell-phone out of a pocket. Tapped a button. Spoke.
“The patron has been served.”
I dropped the phone to the ground near Mr. Wurst’s overturned chair. It landed wetly in the slop.
All done, I climbed laboriously back into the laundry basket built into her cart and covered myself again with the clean towels. I savored the soft feeling of the clean cloth on my skin. I didn’t know how long it would be before my skin touched real, clean fabric again. Using the remote control electronics interface, I had the maid fix the “Do Not Disturb” sign to the late Mr. Wurst’s door handle. Then I ordered 0-2-8 to retrace our steps and head back down to the lobby restroom.
We walked out through the same door we had earlier entered, the “Do Not Disturb” sign swinging lightly on the handle. Down the same sumptuous corridor that had led us to Mr. Wurst’s suite. Down to the ground floor on an elevator that was exactly the same as the one we had ridden up. We passed back through the metal detectors and back into the lobby restroom again. The circle was complete. A man was dead, yet all these things remained the same.
I used the maid’s eyes to scan the restroom. There was a Uniformed Corporate policeman exiting one of the stalls in the bathroom. The automatic toilet flushed behind him. I was startled to realize that it was the same man who had been in the bathroom right before I had hijacked maid number 0-2-8 over and hour-and-a-half ago. This time he keenly looked the maid up and down. His eyes settled on maid number 0-2-8’s smooth, plastic cleavage.
Thinking that he was alone, he was clearly leering at the maid, in her kinky little getup. Since she was just a lowly droid, he made no effort to conceal his thoughts. He swaggered past her towards one of the sinks and threw some fresh, cool water on his face and neck. All the while, his eyes obviously maintained contact with the maid’s up-thrust bust.
I had to get rid of him. I couldn’t very well hop out of the maid’s cart with him standing right there. Not even servile I.C. guardsmen were that stupid. And it was starting to get very uncomfortable in the cart; my air was running out. I felt like getting the fuck out of there. The guard was clearly in no hurry.
Thinking quickly, I typed a little message into the interface. The maid 0-2-8 turned to look at the guard and spoke.
“Dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming are grounds for revocation of Integrated Conglomerates employee privilege. Don’t you have some bad guy to catch?”
He looked at the maid agape. He cleared his throat, adjusted his smart little cap in the mirror, and exited the restroom hastily.
I struggled my way out of the laundry hamper as quickly as I could. Maid number 0-2-8 stood stiffly in her little uniform and waited for my next command. After straightening my tie and adjusting my suit and vest and tucking my shirt back in in the mirror, I made sure that my pockets weren’t too bulging and that it wasn’t noticeable that I was packed with papers, disks, cards, and the rest. I put my hand on maid number 0-2-8’s shoulder.
“I sure owe you a lot.”
“Not at all, valued guest,” she retorted. “The pleasure is all ours.”
“Step into that stall and turn around, would you?” I had to erase the maid’s memory-banks as a precaution. She mechanically walked into an adjacent stall and stood with her back to me. I followed her in and locked the door behind us.
She obediently held still while I pushed her fake brown hair away from the nape of her neck and unscrewed the back of her head. It took a few painstaking minutes, but I eventually succeeded in removing the short-term data-storage card from her head. Reaching into my tool-kit, I replaced it with another card that my handlers had supplied me with. To the hotel’s central computer, it would seem like she was never gone.
Then I unscrewed the panel on her back again and restored her ability to transmit messages to the central computer by replacing the wireless receiver I had installed with the help of my chewing gum with the original that I had removed. I replaced the panel and tucked her blouse back into her skirt. I couldn’t resist giving her ass an appreciative little squeeze.
The maid was back to normal.
I took off my gloves and tossed them in a wastebasket. Then I washed my hands and left the restroom. Rock and roll.
The powerful doors hissed closed behind me. I collapsed into the stained and tattered upholstery of one of the light-rail’s benches. It was late; except for a couple of plebs and a pair of off-duty Corporate Criminal Police on their commute back to the upper-scale slums where they lived, the train car was empty. Garbage of all descriptions littered the dingy interior. Empty bottles and soy-food wrappers picked-clean, were everywhere. The engines churned and the train groaned to a start. The sharp noise of tracks clanking under the train’s wheels picked up as we accelerated out of the city. Everything was vibrating, moving too fast to see. I watched a video screen displaying the virtual news-anchor of Integrated Conglomerates Public Information Channel Six.
“In a skillfully executed raid this afternoon, an illegal warehouse used and staffed by the seditious publishers of the recently banned daily, the Vox Populi, was annihilated to a man by the employment of ultra-low frequency weapons. Although identification of the bodies was thus impossible, Corporate Military Police officials, after picking through the debris, report having uncovered a wealth of information that might lead to hundreds of arrests. One official warned all pleb terrorists still at large that another blood-purge might already be in the making. No good news as far as the weather goes...”
The night outside the windows was black. I saw my drained reflection on the glass, pale from the transit’s interior lights.
“...hurts when -standing is wearing gold stilletto shoes.”