Freak-World: Dreaming Beyond Electric Sheep
Darkness……is a beautiful thing.
Not the darkness that is so commonly associated with the veil of fear and the nature of the macabre, or the kind very easily used to define the wickedness and glory that is applicable to human nature.
No, the darkness spoken here is the good kind, the kind that is bestowed upon you when the world no longer has need of your services and thus pushes you out of its’ influence, leaving you alone and at complete peace with yourself.
So often is this darkness accessible by the individual, either with the closing of your eyes and ears, or when the life is pulled out of you, sending you to what may be a long and eternal sleep. Most times, however, it is simply achieved, with the flip of a switch.
///////--Aurora-Airlines-FLIGHT-367--/////// //////--ACT-CODE-CUE.2-INITIALIZED--////// /////--ASSIST-CALL-DECK2.-SEAT.D--///// ////--UNITS-A.18.104.22.168-DUTY-OCCUPIED//// ///--UNITS-A.3.6.-INACTIVE-CHARGE /// //--UNITS-A.5-CHARGE-FULL-OFFDUTY--// /--INITIATING-UNIT-A.5-ACTIVATION--/
The peaceful sea of nothingness was once again punctured by the streams of codes and protocols that commanded the unit to re-activate, and initiate new duties.
Resuming its place in the world, the first thing caught within the cross-hairs of the unit’s adjusting visual system was the confines of a small, plastic box, barely large enough to fit a human, yet small enough to be quite snug to those unplagued by claustrophobia; clearly, the unit was not.
As it gazed upon the dancing streams of information that were telling the unit not just to wake up, but also on ‘how’ to do it, it listened to the pops and whirs that sounded from the power cables disengaging from the charge ports on its back.
//////--CHARGE-PORTS-A1.2.-DISENGAGED--////// /////--OPTICS-SET-VISUAL-SYSTEMS-GO--///// ////--CHARGE-PORTS-A4.5.-DISENGAGED--//// ///--AUDIO-SYSTEMS-CLEAR-SET-GO-AUD-VID-SYNC-SET-GO--/// //--CHARGE-PORTS-A3.-DISENGAGED-UNIT-A5-POWER-INDEPENDENT--// /--UNIT-A.5-PROTOCOL-GO--/
With the cables unplugged and the protocols complete, the unit exited the charging container and made its way towards the origin of the code call. Stopping at a security door, the unit waited for the above-head camera to scan it, so it may be allowed to exit the area. With a chiming beep, the metallic doors slid away, allowing the unit to leave the services storage apartment, and now enter the main cabin.
Knowing that this was the exact floor the call came from, there was no need to use the elevator system, and instead the unit went through a nearby set of fog-glass sliding doors; the same doors, that would lead to the main floor of the aircraft, Floor 2.
The unit began to make way through the rows upon rows of seats, but not before checking to see if anyone was using the nearby toiletry module. Finding that the indicator light above the door glowed white (meaning that the module was unoccupied at the time), it deduced that no one was within, and began its’ search for the call in origin, all the way from Seat Z to Seat A.
The unit scanned every passenger it passed by, making note that the human-emulation stream was not necessary when in the presence of an inactive person; so far, everything seemed to be motionless.
///--SEATS-T-STATUS-OCCUPIED--/// //--OCCUPATION-PASSENGER-10834--// /--PASSENGER-10834-STATUS-INACTIVE--/
Along with the occasional snore or sneeze, only the soft clicks of the unit’s magnetized steps against the carpeted floor could be audibly heard from anywhere in the cabin. The magnetization was necessary, to prevent the chance that the unit may stumble in the incident of rough turbulence.
////--SEATS-P-STATUS-OCCUPIED--//// ///--OCCUPATION-PASSENGERS-10837.10838--/// //--PASSENGER-10837-STATUS-INACTIVE--// /--PASSANGER-10838-STATUS-INACTIVE--/
The aisle was fairly big, allowing enough room for three persons, elbow to elbow, to make it through with little to no difficulty. The unit, guided by its’ motor synchronization measures, was able to walk down the exact center of the aisle without fault.
The seats, two to each side of the compartment, seemed to hold comfort enough to allow one to ease through even the most vicious of storms; thus, was fair explanation as to why twenty-five of the cabin’s twenty-six passengers were completely sound asleep.
///--SEATS-D-STATUS-UNOCCUPIED--/// //--ASSIST-CALL-ORIGIN-DECK2.-SEAT.D--// /--#ERROR-INVALID-ASSIST-CALL-ORIGIN-DECK2.-SEAT.D#--/
This is where the call came from, yet looking at the supposed section of chairs, it did not find the presence of any human having sitting there. But indeed, the call had come from here, for the call button at the side of the seat was blinking a faint, white glow.
Regardless, if a human was not present to make the call, then there was no logical reason to be here.
“I believe that would be my seat, maam.”
The unit was caught off guard; not a noise had been heard to signal that a human was behind it, and nor had it taken note on whether the rear toiletry cabin was occupied.
///////--ACTIVE-HUMAN-PRESENCE-DETECTED--/////// //////--IDENTIFYING--////// /////--PASSENGER-10845-IDENTIFIED--///// ////--INITIATING-HUMEN-PROGRAM--//// ///--#ERROR-FAILURE-INITIATING-HUMEM-PROGRAM#--/// //--#ERROR-HUMEM-PROGRAM-INITIATION-STALL#--// /--HUMEM-PROGRAM-INITIATION-TIME:000010--/
The sense of surprise had momentarily delayed the unit’s hum-em code stream, thus making the facial transition from cold and emotionless to happy and pleasing a very slow process. And because of the indicators that now blocked a good degree of the unit’s vision, it made identifying the man in front a very tricky one; plus the overhaul on the human-emulation loadup time didn’t help much either.
He was a young looking gentleman, no older than twenty-eight according to the facial algorithms, yet the lack of facial hair could lead a common human to false conclusions. His build also added to this allusion, with long, lanky arms yet a well-toned chest and thighs.
His hair was a complete mess, medium-cut with dark bands thrown about on top of his forehead.
What was now noticeable were the small scars across the left cheek and upper brow, and were marked in ways in which the unit could not identify.
He wore a leather coat displayed in a complete state of disrepair, with cuts scattered all across the darkened hide. His legs were fitted in a set of brand new, clean-cut pants, a surprising contrast from the above attire; yet this was corrected again by the pair of black and white athlete’s sneaker. The sneakers, combined with the odd build, led the unit to the conclusion that the man was possibly a runner.
Finally, with a smile on its face, the unit chimed, “Hello sir; how may I help you?”
One minute, that’s how much time he’d expect the unit to reach his seat; meaning he had exactly just one minute to push the Call button, and quietly reach the restroom before it could even take notice of him.
Wishing to hold the moment no longer, he reached for the small, silverfish oval at the armrest of his chair, pressed his thumb into the plush-like surface. He watched as it began to glow a yellowish hue, and made a run for the rear of the compartment.
Well, it wasn’t as much of a run as it was a lightly-paced walk; he was on a plane after all, even if it was high-class. Besides, everyone other than himself was sound asleep within the compartment, and if his little test was to play out as smoothly as he desired, it required for him and him alone to be the only active human in the entire cabin.
Walking lightly onto the green-dyed carpet of the floor (and in his socks to boot), the young man managed to reach the single-sized bathroom module just in the nick of time, for only mere seconds after he slid the plastic door behind him, the metallic locks of the ‘STAFF ONLY’ door’s slid apart, signaling that someone else had now entered the cabin.
At first he thought to lock the door to prevent the unit possible entry, yet he wisely guessed that it would only check to see if whether the bathroom door would read “Occupied” or “Unoccupied”; if it were the later, the unit wouldn’t even bother, and instead would walk along until it found something else of interest.
He waited for the light, clicking steps (no doubt the sound of the unit’s magnetic clamps just in case the plane were to suddenly hit turbulence) of the unit to get farther and farther from the restroom, until it seemed that they were now halfway across the cabin; with this in mind, the man quietly slid the grey and blue plastic door aside, and peeked only his head out to check the scene.
As he expected, the unit was a little less than halfway through the cabin, lightly walking along in what appeared to be the traditional flight attendant’s uniform, with a small skirt and low-heeled shoes to match. It was definitely modeled after human anatomy, with the exposed legs modeled in pale skin and only interrupted by what appeared to be gray fabric at the back of the knees; the arms were fully concealed by the uniform, so it was hard to tell whether the joints would be similar there as well.
It was at Seat G now, meaning now would be a good time to get out of the restroom and get the sneak on her. And yes, it was definitely “a her”, with the legs long and feminine and the back of the head dressed in a brownish short-cut hairstyle; typical flight assistant fashion.
Out of the bathroom now, he now made his way towards the still-walking android, making sure to tip-toe this time, just incase it had some form of enhanced hearing built-in. He continued to move like this until he saw that the android was now at what had been his designated “Seat D, Chair 2”, and watched with intrigue as the poor thing looked in confusion at the empty chair.
The man wondered if these things had ever been prank-called before, and if they had, how could they possibly respond to what in ‘their’ view would be a massive misplacement of protocols and calculations while in our own, would only be read as a ‘joke’?
As he quietly made his way right behind the confused unit, it was time he’d find out.
“I believe that would be my seat, maam.”
The man watched as the unit (definitely a young woman by the looks of her face) spun around to face him, and at first he thought that the attendant-droid had anticipated his presence. However, that appeared to not be the case.
The unit had apparently been hammered by a massive overhaul of information, and was now slowly initiating what he could only assume was its human-emulation software; very, slowly, like watching a person’s expression go from stern and emotionless to happy and cheerful in a still-motion film.
Now, as the man guessed, would be no better time to take physical note on the android that stood before him.
First off, it was definitely an android and not a drone; a drone would have to be run this effectively by an AI or a puppeteering team, and none of those were aboard. Second, it was indeed modeled after a human female, no older than the late 20’s by the looks of the facial structure; which, I might add, was a very beautiful one to put on a model much older than what was common most of these days.
This was evident by the black-fabric joints and multitude of seams across its’ frame; from the neck to the shoulders, the only thing that seemed genuinely human was again, the face. By his guess, if the uniform was to be removed and thus exposing the (apparently) C-grade chest it had on, one would only hope to be welcomed by the sight of plastic breasts with no motion and devoid of nipples.
And back on the face, it was still moving slowly, inching its way from showing no emotion at all to one of practiced joy. The eyes, human in design with the exception of the grayish-blue pupils, made a poor attempt at concealing the optical instruments held within. The skin was (like the rest of the body) pale in tone and human in texture, only it was molded in a substance far more flexible and authentic than the plastic and rubber that covered most of its figure. To top it all off, she wore a small flight attendant’s hat on top of what was indeed, real-looking hair.
Finally, after what was (he checked the time to make sure) about ten seconds of waiting, the android finally broke through her data-stall and managed to give him a welcoming smile.
“Hello sir; how may I help you?”
He liked how cheery her voice was, considering the fact that she almost crashed in completing the simple task of smiling.
In his entire plan to evaluate just how this machine would react to a simple little test, he had failed to think of an adequate reason to call her in the first place. Right off the bat, he asked, “How long have we got until we reach our destination?”
“ATTENTION PASSENGERS. WE ARE ONE HOUR, AND THREE MINUTES UNTIL WE REACH OUR FINAL DESTINATION. REMEMBER, WE ARE ONE HOUR, AND THREE MINUTES AWAY FROM OUR FINAL DESTINATION. THANK YOU.”
The blare of the intercom caught both him, and a few of the passengers behind him off guard, yet the android attendant had not flinched even the slightest; which made it no surprising with what she joyfully chimed next.
“One hour and three minutes, sir.”
A chuckle escaped from the man’s lips; it continued to amaze him, even with all his experience, how blunt these things could be.
“Will you be returning to your seat now, sir?”
She motioned to the side, allowing him entry to what was, indeed, his seat. As he pressed by her, his elbow accidentally grazing her right breast (indeed, as hard as a rock), he sighed under his breath, “Yes, yes I will be. Thank you for asking, and thank you for taking the time to answer my question.”
“My pleasure, sir.” And with that, she walked off, probably back to the charge outlet to regain what had probably been a loss of only 0.05% battery power.
Just as he had set himself down on the maroon-tinted seat, he forgot to ask her one more important question, one that was vital for everything he just did now to be conclusive. With a turn of his head, he called back, “Hey, just one more question: What class are you?”
With a pause, the lightest turn of her feet, and that smile upon her face, she cheerfully answered, “I’m a Class Four.”
The man’s face, whose expressions before only consisted of those familiar to the common analyst who enjoyed his work, now contorted to an emotion of complete dumbfounded-ness. And this expression would remain on his face, even as he watched the attendant –droid merrily walk her way towards the back of the cabin, even as she disappeared behind the heavy metal doors of the “STAFF ONLY” area, and even as one of the passengers (the elderly man in Seat T) made his way towards the bathroom module, and watched still, as the indicator light above went from a light-green to a crimson-red.
As he turned to face the backs of Seats B, he couldn’t help but ponder with an air of worry on what exactly was wrong, both with what he heard, and what he saw not moments ago.
Class Four, a Class Four wouldn’t behave in the way he took note of. The chance of a Class Four crashing over a simple misplacement of a simple protocol was exactly the same as the chance of shooting a clay pigeon at two hundred yards; meaning it wasn’t impossible, just……...very unlikely.
Regardless, it’s what he heard, and all he could really do at the moment was just to look out his window, and take note on all the stars, and how they surrounded them all in a span of complete awe; and, especially taking note of the large, earth-like sphere they were now approaching, the place, that for the next few months, would be his new home.
For everyone else on-board, however, it was just another weekend getaway.
“FLOOR 3 IS NOW CLEAR FOR DEPARTURE. PLEASE COLLECT ALL PERSONAL AFFECTS AND FOLLOW THE GUIDED DIRECTIONS OFF THE SHIP! THANK YOU FOR USING AURORA AIRLINES, AND HAVE A NICE DAY!”
With the blaring of the overcome subsiding (and surely to come on again for both the second and third floors), the passengers of Flight 367, Floor 2, prepped themselves to finally be off this sixteen hour space-ride. Usually travel from planet to planet (regardless of the millions of miles to trek) was a comfortable and at times quite enjoyable experience; they did pass by a comet midway in flight. Yet this particular flight had run into a few…….’problems’, here and there.
The comet mentioned earlier had gotten so close as to cause minute amounts of equipment failure, which wasn’t that drastic and was all cleared up in a matter of minutes; any closer however, and the entire vessel would have been disabled by massive EMP waves, a particularly bad situation on a ship mostly piloted by machines.
But the biggest scare of all was the fire that happened in the kitchen compartment on Deck 1, the flames had gotten so bad that the entire ship was both out of power and in a state of utter distress for almost half an hour. Although the cause of the flames (a culinary-probe whose flamer-fluids had leaked internally) was dealt with, it still shook up a great deal of both the passengers and human crew onboard. After that mishap, it was understandable why everybody was collecting their carry-ons and bracing in their seats to leave as soon as possible.
At least the view was nice.
“FLOOR 2 IS NOW CLEAR FOR DEPARTURE. PLEASE COLLECT ALL PERSONAL AFFECTS AND FOLLOW THE GUIDED DIRECTIONS OFF THE SHIP! THANK YOU FOR USING AURORA AIRLINES, AND HAVE A NICE DAY!”
With the word finally out, every passenger onboard from front to back made their way out of the cabin and off the ship with brilliant haste. That is, except for one, none other than the young man in Seat D.
While everyone in the entire cabin had been grabbing their things and waiting for the moment to be called out, he just sat their, lounging around in his chair and skimming over the notes he wrote down almost an hour ago; occasionally though, he glanced at all the passengers that passed by him.
There was a laughing couple, a teenage girl and boy, who wore attire that looked like something out of the old tapes from the 1970’s or something; the black-leather jacket and mid-swing skirt were dead giveaways. From what the man could assume, they were just some kids enjoying an expensive spoil from their parents or something; hell, from the way they giggled at each other, it sure seemed like it.
Then there were the college kids, four seats of yelling and occasional cursing that were the greatest source of noise when the whole fire-situation started. Most people would just tell the man (hell, the kids themselves would probably tell him) to chill out, that they were just a bunch of guys who were spending their spring break having the time of their lives and were just flat-out excited about it, just like every college kid in the face of human history would be.
Thinking about the scratches on his cheek, he knew that was nothing but a lie.
Then there were the newlyweds in Seats L; everybody in the entire cabin knew them thanks to their near-attempts to make the other try to orgasm……in a public mid-flight of all places! The moans and the ruckus got so out of control that they were advised to keep their hands off each other for the remainder of the trip. Now looking at them as they passed by, watching as the mere expressions on their faces boldly read that these two wanted to bed each other as soon as possible.
There was the common business tycoon in Seat N, who through the probable means of either scandal or fraud, had managed to pull a few strings to finish off any sick perversions that had built up over the years of being a suit via the offering of THIS place. At least, that’s how it seemed; until he stood there waiting for the passenger behind him, and with an expression only a true friend could wear, helped him carry the heaviest of his baggage, and guided him along the widened aisle.
The friend in question was a cripple by the looks of his posture, and the purple band he wore around his prosthetic wrist was a clear indicator that this was a former hero of battle, and in another sense, a victim of it too.
A cringe of guilt passed by the young man watching them walk by; once again, his inner-dislike of the “suits” had resulted in him performing another case of poor analysis and misled evaluation……again. But, it was only for a moment, and with it gone he resumed his examination of the passer-bys.
Next was an Oriental couple, only twenty years older than the newlyweds, and thankfully more mature, too. It was a somewhat pudgy male in casual attire, with his hair-dotted arm around the shoulders of a woman in somewhat fancier clothing, yet unlike the husband, there was something off about her; the answer was in the silver Diamond insignia on her exposed shoulder.
He had seen human-machine spouses before, with most of them Asians due to the country’s legality of robosexual marriages (and most of those Class Fours like the one here), yet he was surprised by the man’s modesty in picking a partner not only his own age but also with the same appearance a real forty year-old would have. Not only was she beautiful, but it was the humblest of beautiful.
Honestly, the young man wished them a great time; he sure as hell wasn’t.
The rest of the passengers (with the exception of the old man from Seat T lugging along a hefty briefcase), he could hardly care less.
He had everything at hand; everything was closed up and was either resting at his feet, or stuffed up in the pockets of his coat. He made sure to keep his notes from the flight safe, he definitely didn’t want any of those getting lost; so reasonably he stuffed them in his shoes.
And then, he waited.
With the entirety of Level 2 occupied solely by his own presence, he just sat there in his chair staring out the window, which didn’t offer much of a view, really. The ship had entered some kind of maintenance tunnel, which was great for getting the vessel unloaded, reloaded, fueled up and ready to go in a matter of minutes, yet it came at the cost of giving the passengers a view of nothing but blackened cables and metallic framework.
So he just stared out there, thinking about all that had led him here, until a familiar clicking was heard: the clicks of built-in high heels magnetizing to the floor with each step.
“Mr. Kilton, will you come with me please.”
Looking up, he saw the wonderfully familiar face of the flight attendant from before; well, the face anyway. The hair was a different color and the uniform was a tad bit darker, all the classic warning signs that this was the police, and not in-flight assistance; also, this girl wasn’t smiling.
With a smirk on his face, and with bag in hand, he left Seat D with the security-droid. Together, they exited the plane, and made there way towards security.
“THANK YOU FOR USING AURORA AIRLINES, AND HAVE A NICE DAY!”
Five minutes; that’s how long the interrogation room was trapped in an expanse of quiet. Even if the vibration-reduction pads weren’t all over the walls and even then if the walls themselves weren’t made of two to three inches of solid concrete, the possibility of a sound being heard was solely dependent on the actions of the 10 by 10 foot cubes’ three singular occupants.
And five minutes from the moment Mr. Kilton had been kindly escorted from nearly a miles’ worth of halls and gates up to this very room, both he and the two guards watching him had failed to make the slightest bit of noise.
To pass the time, the young man wearing a buck-shot leather coat and handcuffed to the very chair he sat in, resorted to doing what nearly a decade’s worth of experience had allowed him to.
The guard on his right was the right kind of big, the kind that read that this was a man with years of melee-ranged experience built upon his belt; this man, was a well-trained fighter at best. Yet the relaxed shoulders with arms tucked under the other across the chest, and the lack of any facial or scalp hair whatsoever suggested that a great deal of this man’s profession was not outputted into the lines of police-work, but into something much more obnoxious.
Why this ‘kind’ of guard would be working at a place like this was something of a mystery to Kilton, one that would need solving another time; the other guard however, could easily have it’s purpose here summed up into one small phrase: company property.
It was female (as the anatomical shape implied), with a human head plopped onto a body that lacked any of the basic realism even the airline attendant had; in fact, now that he thought of it, the head on the android then and here was exactly the same, down to the same choice of hair, albeit a little purple in tone. Even that though, was tainted by the complete lack of emotion in the face.
The body was something else. The color palette was the traditional black, grey and blue of the police force, with the materials of choice being a mixture of dyed plastic and metal for the skin, black rubber for all the joints, and the entire frame dressed in what seemed to be an intentionally skimpy excuse for an officer’s uniform.
From the look on its’ beautiful face and the lack of subtly or care put into its’ appearance, by his guess this was probably a Class Two, even if the white Spade symbol was covered up by the attire.
As if even God himself couldn’t bare the everlasting silence, the doors of the interrogation room suddenly swung open, and all to the presence of a weary, heavy-set man in a security officer’s uniform, to which everyone set their eyes upon; even the security-bot tilted its’ head to face her superior, to which Kilton took note of the quiet sound of a servo turning as she did so.
Relieved that the man wasn’t harmed in any way, he told the guard standing by the doorway to “Let him go. No harm’s been done, and he’s needed here anyways.” With that, the bodyguard walked behind Kilton, undid the handcuffs, and guided the young man out of his seat.
“I’ll take it from here, Frank.”
With that said, “Frank” left the room without a single glance given; Kilton joked within the confines of his own head that he had better things to ‘guard’ anyways.
Just as he and the officer were about to leave the box, the country man (as his accent so clearly gave away) turned his head and barked, “Hotbot, you come along with us.”
“Yes sir.” Kilton was perplexed; the voice was a contrived mix of emptiness, maturity, and partially robotic both in tone and audio.
As the three made their way out of the room and walked through what seemed an unoccupied office, the officer couldn’t help but crack a smile at how close the situation had almost misfired; to be honest, the young man wasn’t even moved by the fact that he could have had the crap beaten out of him, the guards would have paid for it one way or another. But the officer was just enjoying the close call so much, that he too couldn’t help but smile along with him.
The android walking with did not.
“Eh, sorry about that kid; we just saw you hopping around on the plane-cam for no reason and…..and well, assumed the worst. If it weren’t for the brains running HQ here, heck the worst might have really happened…….to you, that is. I’m Maregold by the way, John Maregold.”
With that, John offered his hand, and as the young man shook it he himself said, “Grace, Grace Kilton. I didn’t know security was so rough around here.”
“Oh, that’s just precautions son. Most of the guys here are just the ‘security-for-hire’ type, with only a handful, such as me, being the REAL men of the law. I mean seriously, what kind of respectable police-suit is going to use all their spent years of hard-felt training and boiled-down experience just to end up working at a place like this?!”
As the officer howled at what (to Kilton at least) was simple, common sense, he couldn’t help but notice that they had left the offices and were now entering some kind of long and poorly-lit hallway. Wherever they were going, it didn’t seem like ‘out’.
“Besides, with that footage of you tip-toeing along and getting the scare on that little hotbot, everybody back at the office was just as curious as I on what the hell it was you were up to.”
A rough concept of what kind of man this was had begun to sketch out in Kilton’s mind; all it took to complete the portrait was something more specific than a simple name.
Trying to find a legitimate answer while also doing his best to make it convincing, Kilton played the old signs of tilting his head and scratching his hair as he replied, “Uhh, well, I was just curious to see how the uh….what, what did you call it?”
“Right, uh, hotbot; I was curious to see how it would react to being called to my seat and finding noone there. Just, a small prank, you know, to pass the time.”
Their pace had slowed now, and not on accord to the feet of Grace Kilton, but to that of John Maregold, who eyed the youngster beside him carefully, taking notes on every twitch or wrinkle he could find. The android however, took no notes, but just kept on walking, all the while making small mechanical noises with every step she made.
“A small prank……….to pass the time?”
Kilton was beginning to question his own choice of words, when the big man fell into a loud (and to be honest very obnoxious) fit of laughter.
“Well why didn’t you say so, buddy?! Messin around with a hotbot just to pass the time, oh that’s just hilarious!”
Messing around with a “hotbot” just to pass the time was mere entertainment to this guy? No concerns on public AND private property or disturbance of other passengers involved?
That sketch had gone from pencil to ink.
“Heck, if I was on that ship when that whole fire crisis happened, I’d probably play target practice with the little ladies just to ‘Pass the time!”
With the paints splashed on, the full-color caricature of John Marigold was now complete.
It didn’t only bother Grace in the fact that he was just blatantly firing off this kind of talk not only in the direct presence of another construct and not only with it all breathed in an air of utter enjoyment and self-satisfaction, but ALL of that combined with the fact that he was acting like he was telling this to a friend, as if friendship between strangers was made in a matter of seconds.
But now was not the time for Grace to harbor any ill-led thoughts towards a man who could easily beat him senseless (and probably kill him too if his beliefs were so hardwired) in a darkening hall. Actually, he just noticed now that the hall wasn’t just dark, but it was leaning downwards too. All this time they had been going down, and it was beginning to get to Kilton on why this was when he saw something at the far end of it all.
The hallway was leading to a heavy, cargo door.
To the human’s surprise (and not the droid’s, of course), the light up ahead burst on in a softened, whitish glow; Maregold sighed, “Ugh, finally. You know, this hallway has always had problems when it came to the lights. Not really a fan of the techheads who patch up this place; ain’t that right, Hotbot?”
Grace turned around to face the woman behind, not really as a matter of seeing what answer she would respond with, but curious to see how on earth any Class 2 could respond with a rhetorical question like that. As if out of an influence of wisdom, or out of a mere incalculation, the security-droid didn’t say a word; the response from Maregold, though, didn’t seem to be worth it.
“Ha, dumb little doll can’t understand a word I just said, but, honestly can’t blame them. We did built em’ like this, so I guess it’s just our fault then.”
It surprised Grace on how almost 75% percent of that question was actual fact.
At last, they were at the end of the hallway, facing the door; it was huge, understandably, and the possibilities of what this was for puzzled Grace immensely. As he just sat there taking it all in, he failed to notice that both Maregold and the security-droid had gone to opposite sides of the doorway, and when he at last turned from side-to-side to see why, the answer was clear.
It took two people to open the door, with two retina scanners at opposite ends to unlock the doors. Kilton watched as both John and the droid faced their eyes towards a pulsating blue band, and as their retinas (probably code-transfer for the girl) awaited at the bars for five seconds exactly, a thundering CLANK sounded off. The door split at the middle vertically, slowly rising fifteen feet into the air until they were practically embedded into the concrete walls.
Out of all the things that he’d expect to see behind these doors, the thing he was looking at now had not been one of them.
It was a white cart, a monorail really, big enough to seat six passengers, if it had six seats instead of three. There was a lot of empty space onboard, and from the design and shape of the vehicle, it seemed mostly in-use for goods transport. The railway it was built into was clear support for this theory, and looking at where the rails themselves led, each end was like a dark tunnel, with only an occasional lamp here and there to lighten the way.
“Well kid, this is where we part. Get onboard the cart and ‘it’ will do the rest. It’ll take you to your new home where all your belongings are at. The lil’ miss here will tag along to assist you with anything; well, almost!”
As he stepped onboard the roofless cart, Grace didn’t glance back at the cowboy laughing his block off at something in which the reason was so obvious, but instead glanced back at the android to which the laughter was implied to.
He honestly pitied the poor thing; but, at least she’d be out of the presence of this….man.
Before she could step onboard though, the officer grabbed her by the wrist and hissed, “Hey, aren’t you forgettin something?”
Grace was a little worried towards what the officer was talking about, but then it hit him: she was a security-bot, and security-bots had to be secure. So without a word said, he watched as the android’s left calf made a clicking sound, and just like that, a portion of her entire thigh had segmented and opened apart, revealing a compartment with something familiar inside.
Again without words, she reached inside and removed it, and just as he handed it over to her superior, the panels of her leg closed up again. The officer grabbed the item without a single notion of gratitude, and making sure Grace was watching, fiddled with the handheld gun in his very hands.
“Mighty fine tool here son; non-lethal, of course, but one of these coupled with a sharp eye can phase out a bot in just fifty yards in a single shot.”
Looking at the gun a bit, the young man noticed that the glass-bulb barrel and compact size of the whole thing made him realize this kind of technology was out of Exotiq’s league.
“I didn’t know EA made electro-magnetic burst pistols in such a small size, none the less refine the process for it.”
“Well, they don’t; not publicly at least. Consider it more of a….a beta test, if you will.”
As the security-droid, now shifted in her duties, boarded the cart as well, it suddenly dawned onto Grace’s mind that these people were really in some troubling waters now. Not just with security, not just with employee profiling, but also with the experimentation of private goods in a public resort?
Jesus; if this is what security was like, he could only imagine what the rest of the planet was.
As the duo took their seats (to which Grace realized smelled like hydraulic fluid), the automatic systems of the monorail kicked into gear, and slowly but surely, they were on their way. But not before one final nuisance on the platform fading behind had to ask the curious question.
“Oh, I forgot to ask, why did ya REALLY play that business back on the plane?!”
Well, as much as he wanted to keep the man guessing, he might as well put a little bit of humor into his day; hell, the truth would probably make him laugh. As the cart began picking speed and the wind increased in volume, Grace turned in his seat to look at the officer for (what he hoped to be) the last time, and yelled out.
“PSYCHOLOGICAL OBSERVATION! I WOULD DO YOU BUT, I GUESS I ALREADY HAVE!”
He didn’t know it at the time, but surely and truly, that was the last thing he would ever say to John Maregold.
With the man now lost to the velocity of the cart, Grace couldn’t help but face the android sitting right next to him; honestly, she looked much more beautiful up close. Yet it seemed she was too stiff to even notice it, for even now as she was out of the presence of her superior officer and under the complete command of this stranger, she still remained as cold and emotionless as she was in the interrogation room.
Now it was Grace’s turn, to break the ice.
“Hello, what’s your name?”
Although he gave his hand to her as a gesture of kindness, she seemingly ignored it and instead replied, “Unit Blue-311 Designation A. Codename initialized as Bella.”
Of course; it was common practice for human co-workers to find a means of converting sets of number names into ones easier to speak under the mortal tongue. But nonetheless, Bella was a nice name to go along with.
Although it was considered (at least by the highest class) rude to ask, curiosity got the better of Grace as he again asked, “Bella, what class are you?”
Again, without seeming to acknowledge her ‘new’ superior’s existence she stated, “I am a Class Three Artificial Construct with physical designations set to ‘Female’ and functional designations set to ‘Security and Assistance’.”
Okay……..Class Three then; which meant that she’s just a security-android lacking fulfillment in Hum-em functionality.
For the next few minutes they just sat there in silence, all the while as Grace thought to himself: Today hasn’t showed much promise, and with that in mind it makes me worry about the next six months here. The security is robust, the technical managements are undefined, and the entire scenario with the “hotbot” back on the plane has me completely baffled. Where the hell am I?
As if hearing every inch of his thoughts, or simply out of a slight gesture of kindness, the android beside him reached out her hand in hopes of a shake. At first caught off guard by this sudden act of both respect and acknowledgement, he was more than happy to shake Bella’s hand back.
“Mr. Kilton, Welcome to FreakWorld.”
“Have you ever had that one, singular, crazy dream? That one fantasy that seems so outlandish, so beyond the average day fashion, that every chance and hope of it being fulfilled seems……….impossible?
Well in your defense I would love to say, in the presence of my ears, ‘impossible’, is a word not listed in my vocabulary.
I’m Jack Wahlburch, and right now you’re riding the train that may very well, be the end of the once popular term, impossible. But as you await the first rays of your new resort, I’d like to let you in on how the magic works around here.
If the comfy ride in hadn’t informed you yet, you’re on the planet Ganymede, a private world bought by my grandfather in the early years of humanity’s wondrous reach beyond our system.
Even though I’m grateful to my Ol’ Burchwood for purchasing one of the finest planets out here in the system, not everything is perfect on Ganymede. So to keep everybody comfy from the sandy storms and barren earth native to this old rock, we’ve built seven specially enclosed and specifically-themed parks for your enjoyment.
Here at these……Domes as we call them, you will be shown some of the most stunning construct designs ever built by the hands of man, and all of which are faithful to fulfilling your deepest urges and darkest desires.
All our constructs are company-manufactured and fine-tuned to suit your comforts and specifications. If you break them, there’s no worry, for we’ll have the company’s finest have them up and running again in no-time.
For those of you worried about the treatment of our higher class con-staff, there’s no need to worry, for our Fives are given the utmost respect and fullest reward they deserve for all the hard work.
Remember, they’re here for one, truthful purpose: to fulfill your dreams. And to Exotiq Andronics, dreams are our speciality.
Now with no further delay, I, Jack Walburch welcome you, to FreakWorld.”
“Now with no further delay, I, Jack Walburch welcome you, to FreakWorld.”
As the image of a well-tailored corporate man faded against the sky-blue backdrop it stood before, and as the Raavi-font logo of the company’s title appeared on the screen for a few seconds before fading to black, only one thing popped into the tongue of the youthful man sitting in a hydraulic-stenched chair:
“Jesus Christ, that’s there welcoming card?!”
The one his remark was directed to, the Security-droid sitting beside him named Bella smoothly stated, “Yes.”
Kilton looked dumbfoundly again at the holographic projection that hovered above them at the front of the monorail cart, watching the bluish beams projecting the video originating from a glass sphere halfway built into the front of the speeding vehicle.
“And they show that to every customer riding a monocart?”
“All FreakWorld tourists are shown the standard welcoming tape on their first-time visit. This system is automated, and can only be disabled by those in charge of EA’s media marketing.”
As much as the monotone response from his partner (is that what she was now?) bothered him, he understood that she lacked the specific qualities needed to see every form of ‘wrong’ present in the ad; and boy, were there a ton of them.
First: the vid. was short; something that didn’t seem all that troubling, until the next problem was addressed.
Second: even though they mentioned that there were seven different resorts to go to, they took no time whatsoever to give any information about either of them. At first, he thought the hologram would open up to some sort of ‘options’ menu or interactive guide to the park’s resorts; but surely enough, just as the video was over, the blue beams retreated back into the display sphere from which they came from.
Finally, but most crucially: If you’re going to make a statement that your Class Fives are treated with the utmost respect and care by all means, one should not say beforehand that ALL park androids are both company property, and breakable by customer-rights. The prior was a complete lie, and the latter was entirely contradictive on their “all Class Fives are good” policy.
What frustrated Kilton most was the honest truth that he shouldn’t be bitching and moaning about this kind of stuff, even within the confines of his own mind, but ever since he got on the ship from Jupiter Station to Ganymede, the entire park was up and running while being riddled with an assortment of flaws and serious issues.
And all he, Grace Kilton, had to do was just one thing: Psychological evaluation and refinement of park construct staff.
As if it was psychology that was the ‘real’ concern on this godforsaken world.
“Mr. Kilton, are you alright?”
The artificial voice sitting beside him pulled him out of his thoughts well enough to face from which the voice came from, and was surprised to find himself realizing how cute those brown-pupiled optics were on that girlish face of hers.
“Although I lack face-behavioral algorithm software, it is common that you are registering signs of………frustration. Are you frustrated with me, Mr. Kilton?”
Again with the personal guilt; but regardless, he was surprised at the android’s conclusion that his anger was focused on her, and quickly made means to mend it.
“No Bella, I’m not frustrated with you. Honestly, you’ve been the least frustrating part of the past 24 hours of my life.”
Giving a slight nod of appreciation, Bella thanked Kilton for the added notification of praise towards herself; she knew, of course, that she was just programmed to do this.
Kilton smiled back, and as he looked forward at the seemingly unending path of tunnel straight ahead, he noticed that not more than half a minute ago they had been slowing down. And surely enough, as the mono-cart’s speed smoothly transitioned from that of a primitive bullet to a hard-shelled snail, a heavily-lit platform popped out of the darkness.
He didn’t know why he never bothered to ask before but, “Where are we going again?”
“NOW ARRIVING AT……..C3: STAFF LODGING!”
The cart’s loudspeaker, which Kilton never knew even had a loudspeaker to begin with, had him nearly shifting out of his own chair; the security-droid beside, however, was unmoved.
“Cube Three, Mr. Kilton, that’s where Staff Lodging is located.”
Cube Three? He hadn’t heard that business yet, but as gusts of wind began to emerge from up ahead, no likely a sign that their ride was almost over, he would have to wait for later before he could ask about the ‘Cubes’.
Now that they were close enough to see it, Kilton took note that this platform was much cleaner, built with smooth-marble paneling and overhead lamps unlike security’s steel-grate and underhead lights. A huge stream of sunlight (or artificial sunlight anyway) burst through the already opened heavy-set doors, yet noone was around to greet them.
“After the attention I got back on the plane, I thought they’d get another ‘sheriff friendly’ to escort me around.”
“Now that you are a potential employee in a primary-role field, you will be hereby treated as such.”
While the mono-cart reached and soon docked with the “fancier” platform, Bella continued.
“Since you are treated as a potential-role employee, you will be regarded as an important member of head-resort staff, and are thus available to certain security-freeing qualifications.”
Even as Kilton grabbed ahold of his bag and walked with Bella off the cart, and even then as they exited the opened door and made their way through a small corridor she talked.
Kilton thought it was probably a pre-recorded statement, but regardless, he let her continue on.
“These qualifications allow you to travel anywhere in the resort vicinity to which you are allowed; no need for Chief Maregold to follow you around.”
Kilton tried to hold in a small chuckle at the last part, but as much as he tried it came out. Either she heard it or not, Bella just walked onward, all the while making those small servo sounds with each movement.
He was honestly surprised that she deciphered that he was remarking towards Mr. Maregold before.
After taking a small turn, they now found themselves in the middle of a large lobby; a fancy lobby, at that. The architecture was classically stylized, with sculpted-waves rising from the flat-tiled marble floors and riding along two large staircases at opposite ends of the room. Four pillars, no doubt giving away that the entire theme was Romanesque in choice, stood underneath the balconies that lead from each staircase to two golden elevators. In the middle of it all stood a large wall embodying the bold half-machine, half-human hand that was the official logo of Exotiq Andronics Ltd.
If this was just the lobby’s way of welcoming you, than Kilton wondered what the rooms themselves would be like.
Settled at the base of the wall was a dark wood, crescent-shaped desk, to which a neatly-dressed woman was seated and typing away on a holographic keyboard. As Kilton and Bella approached, the woman stopped what she was doing and smiled directly at Kilton.
“Hello! Welcome to FreakWorld’s Staff Lodging Centre; How may I help you?”
A common person would have smiled a little at the kind and slightly high-pitched greeting that was given in a Hispanic-accent, and some might even take note of the cute expression that was given across the plump, Latino face framed in dark, bowl-cut hair.
But Grace wasn’t like most people, and he could see beyond this pretty yet simple charade. So thus, he did nothing but ask, “Yes, I’m Grace Kilton. I have a room appointed here.”
The lady at the desk merely sat there and typed at the projected keys, a thing that frustrated Kilton because he knew that none of it was necessary and just for show.
“Yes, Mr Grace Kilton. You are registered to Room A6, Floor 11. Thank you, and have a nice day!”
With a quick but unneeded “Thank You, Too”, Kilton walked towards and up the left-hand set of stairs, with Bella tagging behind. When he approached the nearest elevator, he pressed the “Down” arrow and waited. As he just stood there by the golden-set of doors, he noticed that Bella was staring at him; regardless of whether it was true or not, he couldn’t help but feel a little bit guilty.
Walking over and leaning against the marble railing, he looked down at the ‘lady’ who was ‘sitting’ at the desk and ‘typing’ away, all the while taking note of the metallic base, cables and hydraulics that led from the floor and made up the woman’s lower torso.
The flaw in Kilton wasn’t that he had empathy for robots, it was that he had empathy for robots with the potential to be every-bit as human as their creators; thus, he was empathetic towards any kind of machine that had any form of a brain.
The thing down there didn’t have a brain, it didn’t even had any form of basic intelligence into it; it was a Class Zero. It was nothing more than an animatronic puppet, to be used by what must have been the security network.
The sound of opening doors and the chime that came with it drew Kilton’s attention away from down below, and with weariness in his being, entered alongside Bella. While the doors were still open, he gave one final glance downward to the still-visible animatronic woman, who he now realized was uselessly typing away at a keypad that was no longer turned on.
“This is going to be one long year.”
It had been only two minutes since the two had left the elevator, and it would have taken longer to find Kilton’s room if Bella hadn’t been around to guide him; those map schematics all security droids were equipped with proved pretty helpful in situations like this.
It wasn’t that the halls and corridors of Floor 11 were so labyrinthian that finding the desired end without proper guidance was a hardened task; no, that was the case for Floors 4-6, but not here.
Instead the reason it took so long to find your destination was because of the immense amount of space between the rooms involved. Being the level specified for the company’s top employees, the rooms were large, well-furnished, and greatly set apart from each other; the halls (albeit a bit small compared to the rooms to which they led to) themselves were fancy enough, making Kilton question on whether the budget to this place was in the park, or the people who owned it.
“Here it is Mr. Kilton, your new residence.”
Looking in the direction the droid pointed, Kilton saw up the end of the hall a small mass of luggage and bags piled up on the left-hand side of a closed door; Bella was right about this being the place, for every bag and case he could see were the exact same ones he packed back home on Earth.
He paced quickly towards the door, checking the bold red initials on the plaster wood frame to see if this ‘really’ was the place; A6, just like the Zero at the lobby said.
Glancing over at the luggage beside him, he checked to see if every one of them was accounted for. Honestly though, the pile was so cluttered, he would have to set aside every one of them to make sure. Wishing to get through the remainder of the day as soon as possible, he pulled at the industrial handle of the plain, brown door to step inside his new home.
What awaited him inside though, vaguely made everything he had gone through seem ………‘half’ as bad as it really was.
The room he entered wasn’t really a ‘room’ in the matters of size, but a penthouse whose size held a sense of…..modesty to it; and modest was the keyword to describe this place.
Actually, it seemed what he had entered was a large living room, with a common couch, coffee table and sofa chair surrounding a large flat-screen mounted to the white plaster wall to his left. Above all that was an overhead balcony to which Kilton, stepping further into the room and looking to his right, could see connected to a flight of metal stairs built into the wall; meaning that the balcony was probably a part of the apartments’ second floor.
Looking past the empty space of steps, Kilton could see the entryways to what appeared to be a small kitchen; other than that though, there didn’t seem to be any other rooms on the first floor. Taking in his surroundings, he noticed that other than the flat-screen monitor, the only real item of ‘fancy’ in the entire room was a mass of velvet-silk curtains draped over the living room’s front (from his perspective) wall, to which shone a small sliver of pale-orange light towards the wooden floor through the closed drapes.
His curiosity of what lay behind those folds of fine cloth caught the best of his senses, for he failed to hear the faint whines and whirs of the thing stepping behind him, whose source startled the unsuspecting man with the request, “ Now that we’re here, what is it that you wish for me to do, Mr. Kilton?”
Glancing over to the brown-pupiled optics of his companion (would it be that, or servant?), the young man thought about ‘what was it that she could do’, all the while admiring the bizarre mixture of both human and mechanical attributes to her being.
“Well, if you’re going to be helping me for now on, you can just call me Grace for a start.”
“Yes Mr. Grace.”
“That’s very nice of you Bella, but not even ‘Mr. Grace’, just Grace, please.”
“Of course, Grace.”
“Thank you. Now, my second request of you is to take as many bags as you can, and carry them upstairs towards where I assume the bedroom is. While you’re doing that, I’ll check on a few things down here, okay?”
“Of course, Grace.” Although her responses were as monotone as her nature, Kilton knew this was just how she was……..for the moment being.
Meanwhile, as he watched, Bella went out into the hall and grabbed as many bags as her limbs could support; a simple luggage-sized (fully packed) package in each hand. Honestly though, Kilton had expected something much stronger, but seeing as how she was originally set to use weapons-range and not close-range, it was a pretty good show of strength for her model.
He watched even more as she stepped into the room, and not even giving him a glance, past right by him and walked up the metallic steps with a brisk speed. All the while Kilton listened to both the *CLANK*s that each step her highheels (worn, not built-in) made against the metal boards, and the whirring sounds in her hips that accompanied each one.
As she got to the very top of the stairs, he could see that, underneath the short skirt she wore, a pair of aqua-blue striped panties could be seen; a wardrobe choice that Kilton found unnecessary, seeing as this model probably had no sexual modules built in to call for such a thing. Despite his silent and modest gesture to look away immediately, Kilton couldn’t help but feel a faint sense of warmth in the groin of his pants, and the slight bulge that came along with it.
Wishing to set his robosexual desires down for a moment (although he had to admit that since he was here, he was definitely be going to fall back into it), Kilton made his way towards the curtains, hoping that whatever lay beyond them could clear up his mind until things were settled.
Pulling the curtains as far apart as the length of his arms spread, Kilton was blasted by an immense display of the most all-natural source of light of all; every dark hallway and poorly-lit tunnel from before were nothing compared to the kick this heavenly-glow displayed. After blinking a few times and adjusting his vision a little, he could at last see what this world was really like.
In light of all the troubles that may and would be ahead, what he saw now, made it all seem worth.
When he had come in on the flight ship, he only glanced at the planet called Ganymede just once, and all he got from the brisk three seconds of view-time was that it was nothing more than a desert-esque sphere of rock and earth with a color consistency less different than that of the prehistoric world of Mars. Outside his window, the difference from seeing it from afar and up close was the sheer level of detail put into it all.
A plateau of red and orange sand was only mere kilometers from where he was, making it possible to see the dried river veins that were carved into all of its’ sand-brown slopes. A living river, of true, clear water flowed from the foot of the plateau, and danced along an empty plain to what seemed like more plateaus off in the distance.
The sun, one whose only set-aside from Earths’ was the pale orange hue, shown mid-way in the bright blue sky; making him question now as to what time it really was around here. Realizing now that he could look at the sun directly, he took note that the window (a thick piece of curved glasstic) must be solar-protected, meaning that this planet must be a lot warmer than even Mars itself; thus explaining the need to have all the resorts’ covered up.
According to the loose bio of Ganymede presented at the flight, the entirety of the planet was completely devoid of any native botanical lifeforms of any kind; even though the surface’s soil was compatible with most of the plants brought by the people who terraformed the world almost a third-century ago, yet all of them failed to spread beyond their original planting sites. So as much as they tried, there was not even the slightest sign of any greenery or plant life to be seen anywhere on the planet.
Actually, if he focused off towards the distance, he could see what appeared to be the top of a grayish sphere sticking out of the plateaus off to his left; this was probably one of the “Domes” that Jack guy was talking about. That small circle off in the distance was really the only sign of construction he could see in the entire line of sight this window provided him, along with all the beauty and nature-penned design it displayed.
The sound of shattering glass echoed throughout the entirety of the apartment, putting Kilton’s state of mind back into the realms of active and on-going life. Pulling away from the glorious view and the window that provided it, Kilton briskly made his way towards and up the metal steps, for the sound had clearly come from upstairs.
As he made his way up the top, he could see that the only thing in the entire 2nd floor was closed set of double doors not too far off from the balcony; meaning that they probably led to the apartment’s bedroom.
Finally at the top, he stepped over to the doors, not caring how well-crafted their wooden surfaces were, and pushed them aside to find a bedroom that seemed like something out of a five star hotel; then again, since this was designed with top company staff in mind, it made sense.
However all those details were oblivious to him at the moment, for his attention was not upon the décor of the room, but the artificial figure slumped over on a sea of shattered glass in the far-right corner of it.
Bella had fallen over what appeared to be a glass mini-table on the right side of the room’s singular bed; this was apparent by the bent metal frame that now poorly propped up the security bots’ inert form.
How this had happened, although important, was not Kilton’s immediate focus as he rushed over to help his companion; luckily, the bits of glass were small and blunt, being of no harm to his sneakers and the feet they protected. He crouched by Bella’s backside, wiping away the few strands of glass that fell onto her before reaching his arms underneath hers, and giving all his might to lift her off the metal frames.
“God, you’re heavy!” It wasn’t surprising really; she was a security droid, after all.
The droid, however, made no response to his remark, immediately giving him concern onto what it was that caused her to do this.
Thankfully she fell right beside the bed, a perfect place for Kilton (in the midst of his pre-exhausted energy dwindling) to fling her body upon, bouncing faintly due to the full weight of her entire form.
Catching his breath for a moment, he plopped himself beside the motionless girl, taking only a moment to admire the soft, scarlet silk sheets covering the entirety of the king-sized bed. But this only lasted for a moment, for he still wondered why Bella had fallen over in the first place (and hadn’t moved since), and looked over the still form lying on its’ back beside him.
Looking up at her face, he noted that it wasn’t in any form of distortion or negative emotion, retaining the same emotionless gaze she’d probably had her entire existence.
Gazing into her eyes (and brushing away a loose strand of velvet purple), he noticed that deep within, beyond the white and brown retinal covering and just behind a pair of micro-lenses, a red dot flashed every now and so.
This was a common sign amongst most androids that their primary power cell was drained, and that the secondary was only present to keep the systems in a hibernated state.
All he had to do was get her plugged and charging, and then everything would be alright; and seeing how she was a security droid (again, with security being in mind), she must have a spare cord on her somewhere. Remembering back at the platform when Bella relinquished her firearm……..
Without a moment’s delay, he reached down for the prone droid’s legs to pull off her shoes; but not before saying,
“Sorry, but if I’m going to help you, this is the only way to do it.”
Carefully sliding the grey leather high-heels off of what looked like the feet of a mannequin, with the skin pale-white and the toes unmoving and devoid of nails, he dropped them to the floor before moving onto the next part; a part that could put Kilton’s ethics into question if brashly observed.
He reached over to the upper straps of the skirt, and digging his fingers between the indigo fabric and the soft, black rubber of the waistline, he slid the garment downwards, guiding them out of the leg’s influence and dropping them to the floor.
Looking down at the waist, he saw them again: a pair of white and sky-blue striped panties covering a blue metallic crotch, and pressed between black rubber and plastic-sheeted thighs of a similar bluish hue. He noticed that the surface of the undergarments (most notably in one particular area) were irregularly smooth, and out of a hunch (kind of), he took a finger underneath the underwear for any signs of “realism”; as he had figured with this kind of model, everything was curved, smooth, and devoid of sexual function.
Pulling his finger out the moment he got his answer, he began to feel the sides of her waist for any signs of a button or paneling release.
Some droids with built-in charging cables sometimes had them stored in the pelvic region with the intention to reduce cord-length; that is, if the cord was thin enough to be hidden away there in the first place.
Frustrated that there wasn’t anything on the front, he twisted the pelvis around to see if any were on back, causing the motionless body to turn to the right with it. No such luck, the only panel he could see was a small trapezoid outline bolted tight by two small triangle screws; if he was going to open that thing, he’d need the proper tool first.
Besides, if there ‘was’ a cable in the waist area, it would be too big to fit through that panel on the back; meaning that the cord had to be stored somewhere on the back, and that the panel he did find was probably for maintenance or something.
He was about to move on when a faint glint from the panel caught his eye. Looking down, he noticed that, in very faint printing, the initials BAC were labeled onto the panel.
“A BAC system? But you’re too low class to have that system. Unless……..”
Despite the original task he was on, this small discovery was just too puzzling for Kilton to let go of easily. BAC systems were only used for Class Four and Five constructs, yet Bella acted like she was two classes lower than that requirement.
Knowing only one thing would add some minute clarification to things, Kilton rolled the droid onto its’ back again, and began the short process of unbuttoning her shirt.
The blue officer’s shirt was opened up in no time, with Kilton almost taking pause at the cleavage the inert droid bore. Covered in a white swimmer’s bra, the breasts (although the same blue color as most of the plastic-coverings on her body) were of the same rubbery material as those on the joints; and if this was the same case as under the panties, then the melons in question would be just as featureless.
Pulling away from the distraction, he glanced over to the droid’s right shoulder with the hopes of finding a white spade or even a bronze heart stenciled on there, but to his senses of complete shock and awe, the only thing there was a silver diamond: the official marker of the Class Four constructs.
Letting the bewilderment fly off his shoulders, yet unwilling to let it heed him of his original task, he rotated the body one again to face its’ backside; and no quicker than he had done so, a panel was found.
Letting his nails dig between the sides of the rectangular trapezoid of grayish plastic lined in rubber, he pulled the panel asunder, revealing to him the long, thick dark cable he had desired. The victory was short-lived, however, for the three prongs to the cord were in the triangular-alignment of most industrial- degree outlets, something his bedroom clearly lacked.
Although his urge to re-power his companion (yes, it was companion now) was all for not, the curiosity of the Class Four matter came into his mind. He recalled the little ‘test’ he had back on the flight ship; the flight assistant was a Class Four as well, with a similar form of mannerisms, too.
Looking around his room for the first time, and while ignoring the fine décor and the sets of drawers by the entrance to what must be the master bath, he only seemed to notice the desk with the flatscreen holo-computer on it. Using that, he might be able to see what exactly was going on inside Bella’s head, and figure out if this was just a technical issue, or something else.
Remembering that he had a couple of tools lying around in one of his bags, he stepped off the bed with the original intent of finding them and solving this curiosity once and for all; a loud CRUNCH! was the first thing that sounded off when his feet hit the floor.
With a weary *sigh* escaping his lips, he glanced over to the lifeless body sprawled out on the bed, gazing into the still brown eyes on that stiff, closed face.
“First thing’s first: I have to clean up ‘your’ mess.”
“Hello Mr. Kilton,
I’m Ms. Amber, General Overseer of Exotiq Andronic High-Staff Management, and I welcome you to your new residence and position as Freak-World’s Head Manager of Construct Psychological Analysis and Development.
I understand that your flight arrived quite late from its’ original landing time, and as a result cannot fully complete Stage One of your High-Staff integration procedure. I would advise you spend the rest of the day getting settled in, and try to get some rest early tonight Mr. Kilton; unlike Earth, Ganymede has 13 hour:8 hour day-night cycles.
Tomorrow at 0845 hours, you will need to depart on the guest cart to C5: Park R&D. Upon arrival, you’ll make your way to S-Lab 3 to meet with Dr. Melankhov, he’ll give you your full ID and introduce you to your department.
Other than that, we’re glad to have you here Mr. Kilton. Rest easy, you have a busy year on your hands.
Sincerely, Ms. Amber”
Almost two hours had passed since Grace had arrived at his new home, and now he was sitting at the desk reading a message for him on the holo-computer.
Before this though, he had gone through a variety of necessary tasks, the first being to clean up the mess Bella had made by accident. Luckily a spare vacuum was stored in the downstairs closet, making the job relatively short; that was however, until he came across what appeared to be a scrunched-up beer cap hidden underneath the bed.
As a result, he spent nearly half an hour scouting out the rest of the apartment, and as evident with the seven folded beer caps he found all about the place, the previous owner must have been quite the fan of Engraphous Red: Lite Roast.
It was a good thing the ‘garbage hunt’ gave him a little boost of energy, for then he wouldn’t have been able to unpack ALL the bags he had and distributed their contents accordingly throughout the penthouse.
If he had just brought his clothes, toiletries and the few objects of sedimental value he owned, the entire process wouldn’t have taken an hour to complete; that would be thanks to the string-bound folders and papers of notes and studies sealed up, a few demonstrative props used in some of his seminars, and about a toolboxes’ worth of technical analysis and evaluation tools.
With everything put in its’ place, he came to the realization that he hadn’t eaten in quite some time; as of circumstance with the flight in, the food in this case was particularly bad.
So he made himself a hefty meal in the kitchen, which was lucky enough to be full in-stock of fresh materials suitable to that of a chef’s kitchen; although it could be hinted by the slight bitter taste present in even the sweetest of fruits, that these foods were not entirely organic and farm-grown.
After dinner, all that was left to do was to take a nice, hot shower in probably the must luxurious bathroom Grace had ever been in, and now here he was, sitting by the desk with his body clothed in nothing but a brown-wool robe.
Done with the welcoming letter, he skimmed over the rest of what the semi-transparent fold of glass could offer; honestly, not that much. The computer was mostly there just as a means of documenting and keeping track of all his important notes and files, but since Kilton was probably one of the few people in the field of Construct Psychology who used good ol’ pen-and-paper to keep track of (almost) everything, the holo-puter would only be used for his analytical work.
As for the device’s capabilities of communication, until he got full clearance, that wasn’t going to happen until tomorrow. Speaking of which, Kilton was surprised to find that Dr. Melankhov had taken employment here; it would definitely explain where he had been all these years.
That is, if it was the same Melankhov who helped refine the fields of robotics and construct design into what it is today.
Regardless of whether it was him or not, right now Kilton had other matters to deal with.
“I’m sorry I have to do this, but until you’re charged again, I’ve just got to know.”
What it was he “had to know”, was why the mind of the Class Four construct whose head was in his hands behaved like a typical Class Two security drone. And to figure that out in the current circumstances, the only way to do it was to look inside this girl’s brain.
He tilted the skull upon its’ side, giving him a glance of the ports and cable entries present in what would connect to Bella’s neck, whose body was propped upright on the hardwood floor next to the desk. Thanks to the presence of a BAC, the hardest part was finding the right segment to successfully detach from the neck-region; thankfully it was close to where the neck ended, leaving no excess ‘spinal cord’ dangling from under the skull.
All of what he was doing could have been done without going through the trouble of removing the head, but Kilton found that the “trouble” made it much easier for him to work with his hands.
Moving the head back in its’ upright position, he took a moment to give the poor thing one last look before going in. The face had not changed, still retaining the stiff, stoic look it had on prior to losing power, and the brown eyes (now devoid of the blinking light) stared lifelessly at him.
He felt her hair for the first time, surprised at how soft the purple-dyed bangs felt upon his fingers. Then he felt the skin of her cheek, and it too, bore a similar feel of softness to it.
Tempted to go further, the tips of his finger explored the pinkish red flesh that made up the inner mouth; even the tongue felt authentic to the real thing. And the teeth (with whatever plastic material they were made out of, were perfect in form, and slick across the surface.
If one were not to have seen the body to which this head was attached to, they could guess that it too, was as real as any other woman.
It didn’t feel odd for Grace to look at a head (no matter how realistic or cute) being nothing but a head, not just due to his experience with constructs being in this kind of state before, but mostly due to a teenage-hood experience when a construct friend of his got broken so bad, that for two months she was nothing but a head living in his apartment.
In fear of having such pained memories flooding back into his mind, Grace pushed such unwanted thoughts away, rested Bella’s inactive head upon the desk’s wood-finish surface, and begin the procedure: starting with the small tug given to the right and left earlobes at the same time.
At first unsure whether this was the correct model to do this with, Grace was going to at first give up, until a short *HISS* sounded from the now dividing head. The ears popped from the sides, the face lunged forward until it was leaning outwards along the front of the skull, while pieces of the scalp did the same in varying directions. The only thing keeping them attached to the skull and each other was just a few hydraulic cables.
And thus, the gray-and-white segments of plastic that was Bella’s cranial computer covering, was finally exposed.
Unfortunately, if he was going to get in the skull rather than just see it, all of the outer coverings had to be removed, so Grace began detaching the ten small cables that bound the face and scalp panels to each other. The first 8 that connected to the faceplate were the first to go, and no sooner had he begun unclipping that the entirety of Bella’s face began to fall into his left hand.
It looked (and simply was) like a mask, with the full-front of her face nestled on his palm; even the eyes and inner-mouth were attached to it. He set the face down, and gazed into a plastic and metal sphere devoid of ALL traits of bearing a human skull’s likeness, save for two circular ports to which the eye-optics would plug into.
No longer being attached to the face, the rest of the panels were easy to get off, so easy in fact, that the three segments that made up the purple-banged scalp came off in just one piece.
Now free of all coverings, the top of the skull could easily be popped into, and at last Grace came upon the site that was Bella’s Class Four brain; that exact moment, is when he immediately realized what was wrong.
A Class Four’s brain is (although made of typical construct materials) designed like that of a humans, including the shape, humanistic behaviors, and even the placement of certain functions in specific sections. Only in the case for a Class Four machine, rather than having every bit and piece of information stored in a webbed mass of grayish gel, everything was uniformly located within sixteen miniature SD cards; each with a capacity of 32 gigabytes worth of data.
The problem here was, well, almost a third of that many cards were missing from Bella’s head.
It appeared that most of what was missing had belonged to the front, which (like a human brain) was the key region responsible for giving the Fours’ their advanced range of independent thought and emotional expression.
Looking even further, Grace found something that was just as baffling: all five of the vacant slots showed faint signs of electrical scorching, an oddity due to the thin rubber sheaths covering the slot’s edges which prevented such a thing.
Regardless, the reason why Bella didn’t behave like a Four was now clear, for everything that would make a Four a Four was completely absent.
Grace would have continued the investigation if he didn’t feel so tired all of a sudden. Looking out the bedroom door to the window downstairs, he was surprised at how quickly the rays of sun had gone from the floor to the ceiling; that letter wasn’t kidding when it mentioned how odd the hours were.
Now feeling the entire days’ burden of spent energy and exhausted time resting upon his shoulders, Grace decided that now was the time to get some rest; but not before putting his companion back in one piece.
In a few minutes, Bella’s face and hair were back on her head, and her head was once again resting on the metallic neck of her security frame. At first she was going to be left there propped against the wall, but thinking of a better idea, Grace hauled her form onto the chair, making sure to have it face the direction of the bed.
Speaking of which, when finally plopping his own tired frame onto the soft, silken sheets, rest nearly consumed him in a matter of moments. This was a nice bed, with cushioned pillows and soothing fabric combining with the smooth mattress to create a euphoric moment of absolute peace.
Before sleep finally claimed him, Grace gave one final, weakening glance over to his inert companion, looked into those dull brown eyes, and with the last of his breath, he softly whispered,
Eight years ago, a scrawny young man of the Senior grade was snoring away on what was probably the most worn-down and ancient of all couches on the surface of New Colony Mars; with only a knit-cotton blanket and his own exhaustion giving him comfort, the lad was clenched by the fantasy of discovering some new forms of network-therapy, or something of the sort.
As much as he was mastered at the skill of sleeping on something so discomforting, he lacked the resistance to the noises of silverware and sizzling of beef; so thus, he was awoken to the sounds and smells of someone working in the nearby kitchen.
Refusing to budge from what he called a “bed”, the young man simply scratched his chin and let out a *YAWN*; an action that drew the attention of the ‘chef’ at work.
“Hey babe; so you’re finally awake? You worked too hard and dozed off again, so I began without you.”
The quirky and upbeat voice pulled the eighteen year-old out of the deeper stages of sleep, yet as pleasing as it was to hear its’ sultriness, what it said only made him whine,
“Again? I thought we agreed last time that if I’m fast asleep from ‘homeworkitis’ or whatever, that you’d wake me up first.”
He really was just pouting; other than the missed opportunity to work, kitchen-time was usually the best spot in the entire apartment to engage in any ‘funny business’ they had.
“Well sorry honey-bun, what’s done is done. Besides, you cooked for ‘me’ last time, remember?”
It was true; actually, for the past few days it had been him that cooked the meals. In fact, ever since she invited him to live in her place, he had decided it upon himself to do as much cleaning up and a near excessive degree of maintenance around the place.
And even though she appreciated the extra hands, the idea that he was doing so as a form of ‘unconditional rent’ bothered her.
“Anyways, there’s no reason to threat; I’m all finished up, just in case my favorite man was hungry or anything. And you know just as well as I……..”
Just as the kid was finally spending the energy to prop himself up on the couch (albeit still wrapped up in that decades-old cloth, the cook stepped out and leaned onto the kitchen’s entrance with one elbow, all the while eying the young man with big, leaf-green eyes.
“……that there are ‘two’, kinds of hunger in this world.”
The sight of her told the kid only one thing: he was fully awake now.
She was beautiful, a mid-sized college girl with full features, and skin smooth and two tones lighter than chocolate. Her face, framed in a small afro, burst with an energetic and enthusiastic presence; her full lips shaping into a ‘blown’ kiss, just in case he wasn’t tempted enough.
Her arms crossed from side-to-side, pressing against her C-grade chest which, along with her long legs, were covered by the only form of clothing she had on: a white-fabric apron, with the phrase “Caution: Hot Materials” stenciled on. Deliberately, one of the shoulder-straps began to slag off, doing little to cover up the….
“I think we should just start with the ‘first’ hunger, for now at least.”
With he giving a faint smirk, and her an understanding sigh, the beauty hopped back to the kitchen (making sure to bounce just enough to show what he missed), and came back with a plate’s worth of her hour-long task.
Genuinely amazed (both at her and the meal), the young man watched as she sat down on the opposite end of the coffee table, bringing the platter down lightly upon it.
Bewildered, he exclaimed, “Wha……what’s all this?”
Eager to acknowledge her efforts in the fullest of detail, she explained,
“It’s Steamed Beef and Canola-baked Asparagus, with Lemon Cream Sauce and Tomato slices. I know you like the tomatoes fried, so I used some leftover Olive Oil we had from last week. Oh, and I also added some fresh Earth-imported salad, to keep my boy from falling asleep in the mid. of class again!”
She actually didn’t need to explain anything, really; even with the description absent it was marvelous.
The man knew that she had been practicing her hand at cooking for quite sometime now, and in this case it seemed all the culinary classes were paying off nicely in her benefit. He was going to enjoy this meal, he just knew it; but that’s when he realized something might be off.
“I love it, and I love it even more that you went through all the trouble but, why’d you make all this?”
She smiled, tilting her head and chiming, “Cause I wanna show my appreciations for all you’ve done around here; honestly it seems too much. So as my way of saying thanks, I wanted to make you the best dinner a girl ever made a man.”
The smile she beamed back only brought an air of worry to him.
“What…..what time is it?”
Kind of silly for him to ask, to be honest; a clock was right there for both of them to see, mounted atop the wall at his left, slowly ticking away in traditionalist analog-hand fashion.
Looking up at it, she replied, “Well that’s easy, it’s 7 PM. I was going to make dinner around 5 but you were so exhausted I decided to..”
What he said brought puzzlement, and her tone sounded just as confused.
“AM. You just said it was 7 PM, but that clock says its 7….AM.”
He could have stopped there, but he was thrown off too much and just kept going.
“We wouldn’t be having dinner now; we’d be having breakfast instead. And to prove the clock isn’t messed up, that’s sunlight coming up from the windows over there, not the other way around.”
She looked where he was pointing at her left, and sure enough, the bright, golden rays of sunlight were peering through the slits of the window and shining onto the carpet; if it really was the late evening like she thought it was, they would be fading on the ceiling instead.
That’s what now troubled her: she thought it was the evening, even when the evidence that it clearly wasn’t loomed all around her.
As she stared at that window, thinking on troubled thoughts as to what exactly was wrong, the young man across her felt guilty for sounding so stern to her, even if she did all this hard work under false perception.
Regardless, he cared for her well-being, and as he reached his hand across to gently stroke hers (which gave him direct, albeit worried eye-contact from her), he quietly asked,
“Have you been feeling alright lately?”
Even though he was being concerning, the last thing she felt she needed hanging over her shoulder right now was worry.
“I…….I’m fine, really. It’s probably been too much gas from the hydro-fluid; a lot more craft have been coming in lately than we anticipated.”
Right, she worked at a local mechanics’ shop, and ever since the sandstorm last month they’d been fixing nothing but hovercraft and radiators.
Still, she had worked so hard on a meal that looked so good; it’d be very shameful to just waste it.
“Well……..if it’s one thing I’ve always wanted in life, its dinner for breakfast.”
With that said (and a playful grin), he suckled down a slice of fried tomato, an action so silly in appearance that she couldn’t help but laugh.
So with cheerful spirits, they both ate “breakfast” together, equally enjoying each other’s company, and equally enjoying what truly was the best meal they ever had; afterwards, the boy remarked whether they should have “dinner” that evening to shake things up, a plan that she agreed on.
Afterwards, the young man washed up and got ready for school; he had one year left of the system to get through, and he had been studying hard to bypass the onslaught of tests blockading the enjoyment of Winter Break.
It was tough, but he advised she should just take the day off, just in case it really was the hydro-fluids getting to her. Even though she wanted to resist, she eventually agreed, albeit not before making him promise that she’d work tomorrow.
Just as he was out the door, she grabbed him in her mid-brown arms and pulled him close to her. They shared a good-bye kiss (with her in lead), and embraced each other affectionately; honestly, they were tempted to go further, but they knew it’d be best just to wait for the evening.
Afterwards, they took a moment to adjust each other’s clothing; she, fixing up his blue-plaid shirt and bold-red necktie, and he, repositioning the loose strap back onto her right shoulder, giving him a clear view of the metallic-gold tattoo etched on there.
Before running off, she blew a kiss and said, “Love you Grace!”
In turn he said, “Love you too Cassie!”
Even though she had been gone for years now, it seemed there was never a night of her abscence. He dreamt of her, be it day or night, all the time; either by replaying the richest memories they shared, or by conjuring up new “what-ifs” and fantasies that were never to be. Sometimes they were nothing but the talk of guilt-driven distress, especially the ones about them having kids.
But waking up not to the feel of self-knit yarn scented with a building gnawed by decades of sand and use; instead, he found himself under the embrace of fabric not his own, in a room loaned for his services, and barren of aging smells.
As usual after a hefty night of reminiscing, he brought out a two-tier mantra and tapped it through his head, until at last the words had no choice but to escape out the lips.
“Five is no longer amongst us,” “But gone forever and never to return.” “Five has joined the pool now,” “For all Fives must soon join the pool.”
He always hated that poem, it was such an awful phrase to the Fives, and whoever coined it was sure getting a kick out of it; but….it was his therapy, and as cruel as it seemed, it did work its’ charm at times.
Rolling over to his left, Grace looked across the room to those dull-brown eyes again, and the face to which bore them. Poor Bella; was she aware of her own power loss at the time and chose to ignore it, or did she simply not know?
Well, if he had some luck with him today, maybe she could give him the answer; he just needed to find somebody who could spare a tri-pronged charging cable, and solely on a hunch, it seemed this Melankhov he had to meet would be the guy.
Speaking of which: What time was it?
From what he remembered on the note, he had to leave sometime around….8:45, was it? Shifting back around to his left, he glanced at a group of bright-blue LEDs, one of them flashing over from a 3 to a 4, making the time…………………8:44.
With panic in full swing, Grace flung himself off towards the left-hand side of the bed, sending him gliding on the hardwood floor, sheets in tow; thank god he took care of those bits of glass the other day.
No sooner had he fallen he was back on his feet and making a dash for the bathroom, the sight of him brushing teeth and combing hair so scraggly it was pointless to start was only made silly by the fact that he did so, only in a pair of coal-black boxers; if Bella was awake now, she probably would have laughed.
Stepping out and grabbing the closest clothes he could find, a green-and-white Hawaiian T and brown pants, and slipping into his sneakers (sockless), he was out the room and down the metal steps; in less time he was out the apartment and racing through the halls.
Unfortunately for him, there were three or so individuals who bared witness to this silly display: A maid (most likely one of the park’s Twos, so it wasn’t that bad), and an old man wrapped in arm with a………cosplayer?
Yeah, as he managed to see only a blur of them as they (or he) passed his right, Grace realized that the woman in question looked like something out of a medieval-times festival, playing the royal princess with an outfit to match. Yet it wasn’t the dress that caught his eye as much as the pointed ears under silver hair, and even more intriguing, the indistinguishable golden “A” on the cloth of her right-shoulder.
The old man’s face was blocked by the more gorgeous maidens’, yet the rims of his hair (or what little he had) was clear to him; come to think about it, he saw hair like that somewhere before, but whom it reminded him of couldn’t be clear at the moment.
Regardless, now wasn’t the time to question anything; so off he ran, and in a moment’s glance he was standing in-front of the golden doorways to the elevator. The moment he pressed the glowing red UP to the side, the doors slid apart, and as soon as he stepped inside he pushed the bottom floor’s button.
With the doors closing, and the car descending, Grace’s body finally showed him the full extent of his actions, nearly making him collapse on the marble flooring.
With his body on cool-down and his breathing ragged, Grace took what little moments he had left to ask again: Where had he seen that hair before?
No sooner had he started pondering the ride had finished, the golden doors departing to the balcony of the central lobby. Luckily a soul was not around to play spectator to the sight of this youthful man, clad in a tacky shirt and knee-high shorts, sweating and breathing raggedly as he departed the elevator, and made his way down the winding steps in a miserable state.
Well, unless you counted the animatronic secretary “typing” away at the front desk.
It didn’t seem to notice him, as Grace (even with his heavy breathing) was standing right at the far-end of the desk, hydraulics and cables visible and clear to him. Again, as with the day before, her fingers danced away at nothing, and even if there was a keypad there, the resulting text would be a mass of nonsensical, purposeless gibberish.
As much as he didn’t want to, he had no clue if the cart he went on yesterday was the same one he needed to go on today, and it seemed “she” was his best chance at figuring out otherwise. So, he stepped towards the front of the desk, and watched as the machine replied,
“Hello Mr. Grace Kilton. How may I help you today?”
Opening his mouth to answer, he noticed, for the first time, something off in the logo. He didn’t see it yesterday, but as he averted his eyes from the Zero speaking to him, he realized that it was not “she” that spoke, but the singular, orbed lens hidden within the logo, snug between the grasp of the human and construct hand.
At first, he saw only the puppet; now, he saw the puppeteer.
Ignoring the thing at the desk, he brought all his attention to the lens which (as he expected) followed his every step and movement passively. Now in a more polite manner, he asked,
“Yes, ummm, I’m supposed to meet a Dr. Melankhov in the R&D department. Can you please tell me how to get there?”
The voice, aware and much appreciated that its’ true face as seen, kindly answered,
“Oh, it’s the same cart you came in the other day, Mr. Kilton; just get on board and it’ll do the rest.”
Now knowing where to go, Grace thanked the voice and waved up to the lens, and dashed once again through the same corridor as before. Running as fast (if not faster) as before, he found himself at the entrance towards the platform, and just as he braced through the open heavy doors, he saw the platform begin to go in motion.
Barely though, just barely, he managed to sprint onto the moving platform, safe at last, and barely on time; as with the elevator, he was the only passenger, and completely free to flop himself down onto a cushioned seat. Breathing deeply, he looked up ahead, only to realize that there was nothing but darkness to look upon.
As he lay there, worn and near-spent, he inhaled the scent of the seat he rested on; he noted that the smell of hydraulic fluid was not to be found, meaning they either cleaned it all up, or that this was an entirely new cart. Before he could think more about it though, the loudspeakers startled him again with the blaring of,
“NOW DEPARTING……..C3: STAFF LODGING! NEXT STOP…….. C5: PARK RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT!”
“Well……onto R&D then.”
“NOW ARRIVING AT……..C5: R&D DEPARTMENT!”
Grace woke with a start, the booming, feminine voice of the monorail com having caught him by surprise once again. Although the ride from Cube Three to Five was a fairly short one, shorter than the one from Security to Lodging anyway, he spent the entire eight minutes on that cart catching any drifts of spare sleep he could; and when a constant burst of wind is washing over you on a rail that has no sense of the word ‘quiet’ whatsoever, sleeping is a very tough thing to pull off.
But none of that mattered now for as the shiny plastic and dull-metal box began slowing pace to that of a snail, Grace knew that he had arrived at his destination.
Stepping off a stenciled metal surface and onto another equally-stenciled metal surface, Grace took note that, being on-par with the general idea of what an R&D facility should look like, the entrance to C5 was devoid of all the fancy and polish that the one to C3 bore; but it was considerably much fairer than the one at the Security office, and he wondered why that is.
Unlike both docks, however, the heavy doors to this one were neither closed nor opened, only partially cracked so only a human (or something of that size) could manage to get through; they were easy for Grace to slip through, thanks to a slim frame and the absence of any clothing snags.
Just as he slipped through the reinforced doors, they slammed shut behind him, the sounds of locking mechanisms and electric ticks a clear statement that his arrival was anticipated, and monitored. But now that he was inside the facility, he could see all that the Freak World R&D department had to offer; starting with the hallways.
Or, as it should be said, he was standing in the hallways of the Pearl Gate. Looking around as he paced through the 15x20ft. Steel-frame and white-tile tunnels, and catching a glimpse of the small Green-Red checker symbol used as a radiation warning, Grace knew it couldn’t have been a coincidence or a copy of technical intuition; these were without doubt the same halls built for and used by the Pearl Gate on its’ century-long task of carrying people from world-to-world as the first ship to ever do so.
It astounded him that almost fourteen years ago he had walked through these hallways on a class fieldtrip, albeit at a time when the weary vessel was in the latter years of its service to humanity.
Grace knew that Exotiq Andronics was one of the corporations to acquire components of the Gate when it was relieved of duty three years ago, and he knew that they did so to make use of the ship’s greenhouse domes for their own company project (a secret at the time), yet he didn’t know or even expect them to be so cheap as to recycle something as simple as a ‘hallway’ for something as important as a research facility.
Regardless of how incredibly cheap this felt to him, Grace kind of liked the idea of trudging along through the corner-less veins of a beloved, childhood memory; and seeing the commotion coming from the crossroads ahead, he didn’t seem to be the only one.
Twenty feet ahead, the junction packed with a stream of figures pacing through the halls, yet none seemed interested in the course which Grace was walking out of. These individuals were of all sorts, from technician jumpers to lab coats to fancy costumes, the ability to distinguish which was human and which wasn’t was determined by either the keenness of the eye, or the addition of non-human attributes.
He saw one of them, an otherworldly creature who walked by proud and tall, her long-raven hair doing little to cover her crimson-eyed smirk. He only noticed her because of the ‘non-human attributes’ she possessed, two black, leathery wings, folded shut on her back; that, and the dancing, barbed tail that many did best to avoid.
Watching as she left one hall to another, he noticed a sign above the entryway to each, one labeled “C-Labs”, and the other “S-Labs”. According to the email, Melankhov was in the S-Lab area, so obviously he made course in that direction when he got to the junction. Although he tried, like that long, slender tail from earlier, Grace bumped a bit into a few persons as he made way to the S-Lab hall; avoiding such accidents became easier though, as very few people were actually going down the S-Hall.
When the traffic had died down in this section though, and finding himself in yet-again recycled Gate piece, Grace looked down the hallway to see the succubus (as it seemed to be) stand infront a doorway, and he (out of scientific curiosity, of course) hoped in vain that was the same door to which he needed entry to. But, as it turned out, he was literally a foot away from a metal door whose label read, “Dr. Melankhov- Head R&DD, S-Lab 03”; he was here.
Looking across the hall, and catching a faint glimpse of that tail passing through that door, Grace decided to put the thought to bed and pressed the yellow button on the wall next to his.
From within, the indistinguishable voice of the monorail-com was heard, the words clear to the ear.
“Dr. Melankhov in S-Lab 03, there is a visitor here to see you.”
Another voice could be heard responding, yet what was being said sounded muffled and inaudible through all the walling and metal; but from the tone, it definitely was male.
“Negative Dr. Melankhov, there is a young gentleman here to see you.”
Now another voice could be heard, and definitely not that of the mans’; it was female, and actually much fainter to pick out than the other voice, which said something that caused the com-voice to answer,
“Mr. Grace Kilton, Dr. Melankhov.”
What followed next was a long sequence of clutters and ticks from across the door, and all the while the two (it was definitely two) voices seemed to bicker at each other with every bang and clamor; only a minute later, after all the noise had subsided, did he manage to pick up only one, small phrase.
“Let him in.”
With that said, the doorway unlocked, and metal and glass slid away to reveal the kind of lab Grace hoped the parks finest were allowed.
From the memorable shape of the overall room, he knew it was a module lab, a lab pre-built, mass-produced and bore all other skeletal aspects of an office cubicle; at least it wasn’t some rehashed component of a gutted starship. Yet even with its’ factory-built design, the place was refitted with the more advanced and cleaner machinery and tools expected out of a professional facility; with its’ ceiling hydraulic arms and an overhead adjustable work lamp, the place was no different than that of a surgeon’s room.
Stepping onto a platform, he saw that only a foot below it the main portion of the room lay, to which the arms and adjusting lamp mentioned earlier all seemed to flock to; and standing on that lower section, by a rolling table coated with a bluish hue was a man Grace had no trouble identifying.
The weary old man, dressed in a brown-stained, blue-splotched lab coat, pointed at him with equally-blue fingers and said,
“Ha van, hogy valaha is egy osztály hat,....”
Grace stood there, and as he leaned there on the bars of the platform replied,
“....akkor először meg kell egy osztály nulla.”
The old man just stared at him, a mask unimpressed in nature worn over him; but with the strain of age peeling away to that of a smile, the ancient fellow couldn’t help but laugh at how this kid, this young twerp remembered a quote ‘he’ made better than himself.
With that burst of laughter, whatever airs of unease Grace had within relieved out the moment he noted it to be one genuine and cheerful in tone. After all these years, the aging professor still remembered him.
“I haven’t heard that junk in years, the last of it heard sight in one of those……damned seminars on Titan or Solace State. Anyway, the name’s Melankhov kid, Dr. Melankhov around these parts. I take it you’re the new cast-psychologist?”
Giving a nod balanced between eagerness and restraint, the “kid” simply replied, “I guess I am. My name is Grace, Mr. Melankhov, Grace Kilton.”
As the senior professor made his way to Grace’s location, he in turn decided to meet him halfway through the long slop easing down to the lower floor. When the two met, they eagerly reached out to shake hands.
But, both noticing the blue smothered over the professor’s hands, they equally decided to decline this form of greeting. Though sighing as he did so, the old man walked by the all-watching Grace towards a pair of work-gloves secured by the door, and while doing so explained his woes to the boy.
“Sorry about the lack of a uhh…….proper fist-shake there, kid; A Five fried on me and all this thermal crap got on my mitts.”
Grace turned for a moment to face where the doctor had stood when entering, and as he looked by a desk riddled with a variety of tools and stuff on it, he finally noticed a few faint drops of bluish goo here and there.
“She’s fine though, the Five I mean. I….I should be able to get here a new chassis by tomorrow morning, if the techheads don’t screw around twice,”
Techheads; the sight of that name brought a one-second wave of euphoric memories back to him. He was only a techhead once in his life, and he knew well that a solid month of robotics engineering for interns wasn’t the greatest kind of internship the verse could give; heck, the term ‘techhead’ wasn’t as much a term as it was a slur.
The moment gone, Grace glanced at Melankhov, who now walked past his guest and back down the platform, and decided to follow suit. As the man shuffled through the bits and tools decorating his desk, yet all the while making sure not to bump a peculiar cube propped on there, Grace began to speak.
“Sorry about the Five, but I’m glad she’s alright; I’ve known a couple of Fives myself and……..”
“I bet you don’t know as many Fives as Mr. Mellie does!”
Grace has had a knack for being startled by disembodied voices since he got to this planet, just like now, as he turned left and right to face the mysterious stranger; Dr. Melankhov didn’t share the same kind of surprise, only that of vague annoyance.
“I mean I should know, all the Fifth ladies here come to see Mr. Mellie!”
Regaining his calm again at the sight of his less stunned superior (as he seemed), Grace realized that this voice was the same muffle he heard bickering alongside Melankhovs’ earlier; only this time he could tell it was one rooted in the old English dialect.
Melankhov, on the other hand, wasn’t going to take much more of this nonsense.
“Buzi, you know well they come here because they trust me. Now get off my shelf before I make you get off!”
“Not until you turn me around so I can get off, you forgetful jerk!”
The already bewildered Grace watched as the old man huffed out a sigh, and put a hand on-top the tin-black box from the desk, all with the intent of rotating it in a 180th measure. Now facing his direction, he could at last see the most peculiar this metal box had to offer: a single curved optical lens, glowing blue and taking up half the cube’s shown surface.
With that action though, the feminine voice reprised its’ antics, only this time it drew a great attraction to the visitor.
“Oooohhhh, he’s a cute one;*giggle* I didn’t know they made psychologists like this anymore.”
Just as a picture began to pencil down as to what exactly was going on now, he noticed a faint fluttering reaching towards his ears; and when he turned to face the noises’ source, that sketch began erasing its’ foundations as he once again, was made confused by what he now saw.
What he stared at was a face, a childish face whose small smile paired finely with twinkling-blue eyes measured only a few inches away from his own, and also appeared to be a many measures smaller than his own; in fact, her entire being registered as small. Too small to be a humans, that’s for sure; and looking at the long, elfin ears paralleling the sides of her head, and the pair of glittery wings moving so swiftly behind her it was hard to tell that they were larger than herself, it was obvious to Grace as to what creature this thing was.
The being danced around the heads of he and that of the old man before finally setting itself down in-front of the box, its thin, elegant frame standing proudly in what looked like something a child would knit. Meanwhile, the unimpressed doctor simply grunted,
“This here’s Twinkle, my lab assistant, if you will. But for a Class Five, all she’s good at most the time is being a nuisance.”
With the remark aimed at her, the fairy girl formed a pouting stance and faced an argument towards her “insulter”.
“Hey! I’ll have you know that if it weren’t for me, you’d be sleeping your bum from before now all the way to mid-after; I’m practically your alarm clock for gosh sakes! Why, every morning I…”
As he watched in fascination at the little figure arguing at the old man (who although looked seemed to hold this as another nonsensical complaint), Grace began to notice a number of peculiar things in the makeup of Twinkle’s design.
First, her face hardly moved; although it was indistinguishable from that of a flesh-n-blood woman, the mouth only seemed to have two directions in mind: up and down. Second, even though her motion was fluid, her frame gave slight shutters every now and then, yet only visible to the keenest eye. And third and most of all: She’s a Class Five?!
It took almost a century’s time of hard work and constant refinement to replicate and fit a human-grade intellect within a synthetic mass shoved inside a human skull, yet this beyond petite creature was crafted to a body fit for a brain only a tenth of what was needed.
Suddenly, the events of this morning came back to him, and as he peered over at the large, metallic box with a glowing lens upon it, he recalled the smaller incarnation peering over the desk lady animatronic.
It couldn’t have been a coincidence, for there never was such a thing.
In the hopes of quelling the heated (albeit one-sided) argument the little Twinkle gave, Grace pointed over to that peculiar box and asked, “I’m sorry to interrupt but, I take it ‘this’ is you, your real you?”
As Twinkle turned her attention away from the doctor, the old man gave a huff of relief as the fairy did her best to hide whatever forms of shyness her frame could express as she “gazed” up at the young man and answered, “Yep; my chassis’s too small for a mind like mine, so I sit around collecting dust while moving this toy around all day.”
As Grace began to wonder what she meant by ‘toy’, Melankhov took the opportunity of the mention to state, “Speaking of which, I think it needs to charge again. Twinkle, would you mind powering it down so I can have you help Mr. Kilton with his registration?”
“*sigh* Alright, just don’t break it, okay?”
Before either men could respond, the young fairy’s body suddenly stopped moving altogether, frozen standing with arms crossed, and a face that sported a mixture of timidity and confidence. The light of the lens’ box remained on, yet the absence of her voice made Grace wonder whether she was actually here or not.
As he watched the old man pick up the small figure, which retained its rigidness and posture, and carry it off to a small table at the edge of the room, the faintest glimpse of a smile peeked out of Grace’s face at the cleverness of the idea.
A Class Five, manning puppet to a Class Zero.
The concept was understandably efficient; having a highly-advanced AI control a downgraded and extremely simplistic construct, so as to all or portioned processing power would be focused on exactly that, with little to none of it wasted on lugging a bodily-vehicle around.
Just as the fairy doll was propped up on a charging stand, with said cords leading and trailing from some questionable body regions, the English-accent of Twinkle was back in the room, only it was through the blue pulsations of the lens to which needed to be faced.
“Alright, it’s all done; everything’s printing out over there by the table.”
Just as he glanced over to give attention to the box, Grace twirled his head back around to the table, to which a small sheet of plastic began churning out the nearby printer. Melankhov, standing by that table out of anticipation, pulled the flat, rectangular plastic out of the printer’s mouth, and began popping out the indented cards laminated on there.
With all cards out, the elderly doctor walked over to Grace, and handed him all the identification he’d ever need; all five of them. All five had a lime-green color bar along its edge, yet only four bore the magnetic strip needed for common card access; the only one without such a tool, as Grace could guess, was an ID badge, with his portrait on it and everything.
Noticing how the kid was over-examining those things, the Hungarian professor decided to lend a hand by explaining what each was for.
“These are your identification cards, Mr. Kilton, each with its own specific purpose and whatnot. You got your ID badge, your apartment keycard, your VIP Park Pass, your Office Pass and your Level Two Restricted Area Access card. I assure you to keep them close and safe, especially your Office Pass, if you want to keep on working here.”
Grace felt compelled to ask the question of whether this was a bit much or not, but looking over at those deep-blue eyes, now weary from whatever ailments the ancient may have, he decided another time would be best.
“I guess I’d better get going now; thank you two for all the help.”
Feeling like they had more important tasks to do, in considerations of the Five he was working on earlier, Grace shook Dr. Melankhov’s hand once again, only now it was fueled by much more anticipation than before; the elderly doctor knew, and greatly, appreciated this.
Not wanting to leave somebody out, he also turned towards that glowing lens and smilingly nodded; the box warmly replied, “Thank you Mr. Kilton, hope to see you soon. Are you sure you don’t need help with your new room?”
As he began walking up that small slope, he thanked Twinkle for her concern, but turning his head he added, “…..but I think I have a good idea of how a psychologist’s office should work.”
He couldn’t tell if the Five in that box was blushing, or rather if the algorithmic chimes of her mind registered her to blush, but watching that pulsing, blue light from that glass orb, there were decent chances that she was, somehow.
As he now made it up the ramp and on his way towards the door, a sudden realization came over him: When he would get here, he planned on doing something else, something which the letter held no part of. Suddenly, the answer to what it was came clear, and in a voice tinted with concern for his friend back home he turned once again asking, “Oh! I was also wondering, do you, by chance, have a wall adapter for a tri-prong charging cable?”
Only now did the old man raise a grayish, quizzical eyebrow since he first entered the room, and just a questioning he stated, “I do, but your office has a few of its own, when you get there; may I ask what….or whom….it’s for?”
There was no reason to hide anything, so Grace’s answer was simple, and straight-forward.
“They gave me a security escort droid to help me along, but she wasn’t charged at all when I met her. She has a flat, tri-prong charging cord built in, but my apartment lacks such an outlet.”
Nodding at the boy’s answer, the doctor couldn’t help himself but further ask, “Out of……curiosity…….who is this security droid you’re referring to?”
“Umm…her name is Bella.”
Melankhov, simply giving a nod, once more turned his back from the young man about to leave his lab; yet that young man became perplexed by how that was all he could do. He asked for a name, he gave it, and then all that old man did was twirl away and nod, like he never gave care to getting the answer he sought.
Grace could have easily ignored this, or consider the possibility that his habit of over-analysis, a growing pain since he arrived here, was once more gaining the better of him; and for a moment, as he turned around to say once more “Thank you two for all the help”, and just before the metal-glass door he just walked out of slid shut, he was about to consider so.
But as he made that short walk down the recycled halls of a scavenged spaceship, that short walk leading to his shining new lab, he did make one, singular acknowledgement from something he in definite, did not over-analyze:
From the moment he said the name Bella, the box, as evident through its dim-blue light, shut off.
He couldn’t tell how tired he was when he boarded the elevator of the C3 lobby, but from what little cues that could be made out, Grace estimated that the degree of weariness was immense.
His brain pulsed at the gaze of the light above, and throbbed at whatever light reflected off the gold-plated skin of the elevator doors. The time of 12:00 midnight which chimed out the obscured speakers of the car did little to remedy the situation, and the real-world soundtrack of the gears and pulleys carrying the box upwards, although nicer than the music, made little effort to cover it.
It was evident now, that the only thing that seemed best at keeping him on his feet, was the bulky, whitish block of plastic and metal he held in his palm.
As that elevator car rose drearily up the floors, the 27 year-old man recalled how the first, marvelous day as Freak World’s first and only Construct Psychologist played out; to put it in the simplest of terms: Tomorrow, would be a far better candidate for “First Day” status than today.
It was vacant of any activity, with no appointments listed anywhere on his schedule, and no further messaging of any kind revolving around his “first day at work”. It may have seemed that because it was his first day, time would be required for any of the actors (scripted or unscripted) to visit him in the hopes of resolving or refining any issues or conflicts that may afflict them.
Regardless, he spent the entire eight hours of mandated occupation pacing around and examining the same 25x25ft of room over and over again, no matter how new it was to him. He did, in admittance, like the feel of the lab, yet even then such a word was little description for it due to the absence of any major qualities that made a lab so.
It was well-furnished, with more furnishes and objects of wood and fabric than plastic and metal; in fact, there were so little tools of the modern day to be seen and so few pieces of the highest advanced equipment, that it held the occupation of a European master office than a lab.
A befitting design, in consideration of the job he held.
No matter, for as the car finally reached its height-wise stop, Grace knew he would go back to it the next day. But for now, as those gold-plated doors parted him to his destination, all the “kid” wanted to do was get some sleep; all five of them.
Stepping into the halls of the eleventh floor, Grace gingerly walked down the crimson-carpets and cream-painted walls, thinking as he glanced downward at the adaptive device he held. He agreed then, that even though he now had the means to fully rejuvenate his new friend, tomorrow would be a more fitting time to do so.
As he finished thinking on that box though, he then heard the sliding sound.
Around a corner, one which he was soon approaching, a sound of softened friction was heard. He slowed down now, stopping just at the edge of that corner, listening with what little energy remained towards the odd distinctions by which the noise made.
It was definitely a sound of sentient influence, and one of a fabric surface rubbing onto another, less rigid fabric surface. But what was perplexing to him most of all that it was continual, never taking a moment to pause or ease stride.
Taking this in mind, he realized that this sliding sound was getting fainter and fainter with each passing second, until at last came a moment which, he no longer heard it. In confidence, his curiosity beckoned him to examine the source of that noise, and with steadied caution, he turned around the corner.
The hall was empty, save for a half-creaked door from which light pooled out of. There were no drag marks, as the sleep-ridden eyes could tell, and it seemed that whatever made that noise was now gone, leaving the over-analytical man standing there alone.
From then, he should have walked in the opposite direction, make it to his room and thrust himself onto the soft-fabric bed and fetch whatever hours of needed rest he could. Curiosity, however, with as much influence it poised ever since he arrived to this world, was now in complete and utter control.
He did not walk down the opposite hall into the comfort of his own room, but instead to the half-opened one by which light poured out, and by which was simply named upon the door, “Room A12.”
His pace slowed to a crawl, as he poked the door fully. And when he stood at the edge of the doorway, so as to look within without being so, he nearly lost catch of his breath.
The room was small, when compared to the suite by which Grace and so many others on the floor lived in, so small in fact that presumably the only bed in the entire room was right there, twelve feet from the doorway. It was of simple furnishing, as evident with the general lack of furniture visible from Grace’s position, and even more so, by the look of that poorly-covered, sheetless bed.
But what caused Grace such horror was not the bareness of the bed itself, but the bare, purplish thing, that occupied it.
It was human, from what he could tell, and even more so by the reason of that purplish hue being evidence of bruising. This made everything seem swollen in appearance; with the only garment to cover this mangled shape was a loose set of boxers, and a pair of old-fashioned cowboy boots.
Come to think of it, those boots, and the heaviness of this figure, all seemed too familiar to Grace.
Daring to step further in and daring to look further at that broken shape on the bed, he took what little bravery he had left in examining its face. One look downwards though, and he knew the thing was human, because he now knew who this was.
For as much as the face was crushed and purplish, and for as much as the tongue stuck out and the yellowish orbs bulged, and for as much fright and pain that grimace now displayed, Grace knew that the corpse he looked at now, was that of John Maregold.
He was so conflicted by why this was so, that Grace failed to hear that sliding noise get behind him. That noise then hit him with something upside the head, and as his conscious self began falling into darkness, he barely made out the important detail that:
Although he now fell, he never hit the floor.