I awoke to the sound of chirping birds.
I felt the dirt and rocks underneath my head and a cool breeze brought
with it the faint smell of gasoline and the sounds of distant cars. No
doubt about it, I was outside; I was finally free. I remained still and
listened for shouts or footsteps, any sign that they were after me but
heard nothing more than some light rustling from the trees and bushes
around me. When I opened my eyes, I found myself face to face with a
hooded figure hunched over me, examining me intently through a pair of
thick goggles. I tried to run, but a paralyzing pang in my spine forbade
any movement. The stranger, likely noticing my wince, reached for my
left temple, causing my vision to blur and a thick fog to settle into my
‘Least it’s not another fuckin’ lab coat.
Whatever happened to me now was no longer in my control, but it wasn’t
in theirs either, and that bitter satisfaction eased my pain through the
familiar wave of overwhelming calming coolness as the world spun around
me and my brain slowly shut down.
It felt like no time had passed when I opened my eyes again. This
time, I’d been placed upright on a ratty green sofa inside a small,
cluttered apartment. My senses came back online one by one, and I
quickly determined that we were somewhere around the hundredth floor of
a building, in a place that I couldn’t quite locate. I figured it was in
a less wealthy part of town judging by how gray everything was outside
the window. The room itself was dusty and littered with professional
looking computer repair tools, as well as spare parts, most of which I
couldn’t recognize. In the center of the room, though, right across a
small wooden table, was a girl with bright pink hair sitting motionless
on the floor, asleep, fingers loosely curled around a lukewarm mug. I
thought about running for the door, but figured I was safer here than in
the hands of my previous hosts, that and my limbs were much too sore for
any such endeavor, so I instead let out a cautious “Hello?” She spilled
what appeared to be tea on her lap, apologized, and started to get up
but stopped dead in her tracks realizing that I’d just woken up. She met
my gaze and looked away almost immediately, as if trying to make it seem
like she hadn’t just been examining every last square centimeter of my
An all too familiar reaction to seeing the humanity behind my eyes.
“Hi!” she piped up, “I’m Emmie!” I was about to introduce myself in
return, but she continued. “I’m really sorry for dragging you all the
way back here. It’s just, you seemed like you were hurt, and I panicked
and maybe something was damaged, so I had to check, but then you woke
up, and I was afraid to break you, so I turned you off and, well, now
you’re here and all my tests say you’re okay.” She inhaled deeply and
sighed a long sigh.
I blinked slowly. “I hope you’re feeling okay. You can leave if you want
to.” She seemed equal parts embarrassed and curious, and I took it to
mean she wanted to learn more about me, although I couldn’t yet conclude
whether that meant me as a person or as a machine. Her eyes were
practically welling up with tears as I opened my mouth to answer. “Thank
you, Emmie,” were the only words I managed to eke out before I started
to feel lightheaded like I usually did after an intense battery of
tests. I politely asked to lie down, and she quickly nodded to me with a
concerned look, letting me sink my head directly into the couch
cushions. “I’ll get you something to eat!” she stuttered, before
hurriedly leaving the room.
She returned while I was regaining my composure, holding a platter of
pink cupcakes and a large mug of hot chocolate. “This is for you!” she
smiled. “I hope you like them, I don’t bake often, but I wanted to try
out this new recipe and I thought maybe you’d want something sweet. I
can make you an actual meal if you want, though.” I smiled back, thanked
her again, then took one of the cupcakes in my hand. It was decorated to
look like a cat’s face, complete with whiskers and little ears sticking
out of the top. The buttercream frosting tasted like strawberries and
the inside of it had a jam center. I probably ate it too fast, but that
instant was a delightful change of pace. It must have showed on my face,
she sighed a sigh of relief when she saw me finish it and I had to rush
to thank her once more and tell her that I enjoyed it before she could
For the first time in months, in the home of a complete stranger,
surrounded by scattered circuit boards and cute kitty cupcakes, I felt
at ease. I took a sip of what turned out to be a surprisingly creamy and
rich hot chocolate and sat still for a while, taking in all the warmth
and comfort my newest host had so graciously given me. I looked back at
her, and she seemed a lot calmer now, which in turn made me relax as
well. She was no longer a threat; in fact, to an outside observer, the
two of us would’ve looked like two regular friends enjoying a quiet
afternoon snack, that is, if they ignored the fact that one of the
friends had been, to use their word, upgraded.
A chill made its way down my back as I started thinking about all the
garbage inside of me, my scars throbbing with the ever fresh pains of
old wounds, their tests and lies eating at my mind like vultures. I
couldn’t bear it. She noticed my shaking, or my pained expression;
whatever it was, it made her approach me, hesitantly at first, like one
would approach a crying child alone in the street. She tried to grab my
hand and I pulled away. “Oh I’m sorry,” she said, visibly uncomfortable.
I apologized in return and she continued, “Is anything the matter?”
I breathed in deeply with a quivering lip, words crowding my mouth
all rushing to get out. “You don’t have to tell me, I know more or less
what it is they do,” she admitted. Her face showed a caring willingness
to listen and help but her eyes betrayed a morbid curiosity. So I told
her. I told her much more than I should’ve, but she listened. She
listened when I told her how I was offered money to help test out new
body enhancers, how they held me against my will, threatened me, and
treated me like I was some toy to play with, disassemble and reassemble,
adding and removing things, running more and more dangerous and painful
tests. She listened when I told her how they weaponized me, how I
figured that out, how the army recruiter walked in followed by generals
to try to make me kill for them. It always hurt so much to remember, but
saying it out loud, to this person I’d barely met, it almost felt false.
She kept listening with clenched teeth and fists when I told her of the
threats to me and my loved ones, of how I had to harm guards to escape,
how they remotely deactivated my muscles, it felt like a story, and my
only tethers to reality were the dank smell of the sofa and the
lingering bitter aftertaste of strawberries and chocolate.
“I understand how you feel,” she said in the distinct tone of someone
who wants to be reassuring but doesn’t know how. “Not all the robot
stuff, but I know how it is to be treated like you don’t matter, and to
have your family be scared and disgusted by you, and to be constantly be
examined and reexamined. I get it, sorta.” I thanked her, weakly, a life
I’d let myself be robbed of flashing before my eyes and a feeling of
abject revulsion at myself gnawing at my insides and rising to my lips
as I conjured up the courage to ask for help for the first and maybe
last time in years. Another deep breath. Fuck it. “Emmie,” I began, to
her apparent surprise, “I don’t know if you can do this, and I don’t
want to ask too much of you, but I know you studied me.” She took on
that embarrassed look again. “And I want to know if you’d be able to
disconnect my power button.” Her face went from shock to understanding
to nervousness in a matter of seconds. “I think I should be able to do
that, but wouldn’t it hurt you? What if something broke and needed
fixing?” “I don’t care,” I muttered. I was likely more scared than she
was, but to be honest; I was ready for anything. “What if I fail?” she
asked, knowing exactly what failure entailed. I couldn’t bring myself to
answer. I nodded slowly. “You could die, right?” “I’m okay with that,” I
answered, meekly, words struggling to escape my throat. I wouldn’t have
wanted to live otherwise.
I took a deep breath and steeled myself. She took my hand and cracked
a faint smile, one that wanted to be reassuring but knew it couldn’t
possibly be. I responded in kind. “You know, I’ve never taken anyone to
my room without knowing their name before.” I was taken aback, not only
because this was possibly the absolute worst time for a joke like that,
but because I realized in that moment that I’d managed to forget my own
name. I only remembered the number they’d given me.
I spoke that string so mechanically that my whole body began to shiver.
I felt like a computer who’d just been given a command. She looked at me
confused but caught herself, trying to stay as calm as she could.
“Delta’s cute, we can go with that! And if you ever want to change it we
can figure it out together, okay?” Her enthusiasm came as a shock to me,
but I just smiled. “Yeah, let’s go with Delta,” I answered before
following Emmie into her bedroom.
That room was as messy as the living room, save for a bed which was
only covered in clothes that she quickly tossed off before inviting me
to lie down. “Can I turn you off?” It was going to be the last time
anyone did that, and the first anyone had bothered to ask. I nodded with
the most confident expression I could muster, and she turned around to
fetch a familiar pair of thick goggles and a bottle of Xanax before
gently laying her finger on left temple, and pressing the button. Her
caring smile was the last thing I saw before I lost my vision, my
senses, and my thoughts.
I found myself surrounded only by a wide expanse of lush, dewy grass
peppered with small blooming daisies and dandelions. I walked for a
while, incredulously admiring a starry morning sky as the sunrise
brought with it a faint honey breeze. I kept walking towards the dawn
and eventually encountered another person, someone I recognized. I
couldn’t place their identity at first, but I felt the pride in their
buzzed hair, the shame in their thighs, and the determination in their
eyes. They marched right past me in the way I imagined a soldier would
when they returned to the battlefield. I wanted to turn around, to call
out to them, but I frozen in place and my knotted throat couldn’t
produce a single sound. I could only look down to see a small bloody
pile of spare parts lying in the soft grass in the spot where my legs
should have been, and as I tired to reach down to it, my hands and arms
disassembled themselves and joined it, turning into rotors, chips,
keyboard keys, and bones. There was no way for me to scream for help;
something inside me knew to just accept what was happening. As the last
remnants of my flesh were added to the junk pile, the smell of coffee
invaded my mind.
I gasped for air and opened my eyes to the now familiar freckled face
of the girl who’d saved my life. A smile took control of my face as I
realized what was happening. Not only was I alive, but I was safe. “How
do you feel?” Her words occupied all the space my brain, the depth and
softness of her voice radiating through my chest with a reassuring
warmth. I opened my mouth to speak and managed to push out a hesitant,
The room spun circles around me.
For the first time in nearly four years, I felt safe.
For the first time in nearly four years, I felt alive, almost human
She got up from her chair and quietly stumbled across the room. I
groggily sat up on the bed and silently suggested she come next to me.
She obliged, sitting just far enough that I was able to let my head
accept her hand’s kind invitation to rest on her lap. I closed my eyes
and my breath slowed down to follow the rhythm of her fingers stroking
my head. She inhaled deeply and started let out a sob. I held on tightly
to her thigh, trying however I could to reassure her, but knowing there
wasn’t much else I could do than to sob with her. She held me closer,
wiping off the tears that occasionally dripped onto my face while my own
seeped into her jeans. “You’re going to be okay,” she said, “I promise.”
I took her hand off of my head and held it tightly, pressing it against
my face, trying to wordlessly communicate to her that I wouldn’t let her
down, that I could be there for her too, that she could count on me.
Minutes later, she’d fallen asleep. I pulled the blankets out from under
her and covered her to her neck, made sure her head was on the pillow
and resting well, then set off to clean up around the place, doing
dishes and organizing things into neater piles and groups, or putting
them in their empty labeled drawers.
By the time I was done, it was four in the morning and the sky
outside the window was starless as ever; a wide expanse of cloudy gray,
just dark enough to indicate that the city was still asleep. I stared
longingly at the sparse yellowish squares on the sides of buildings,
thinking about the lives that these people might have, and wondering
about what I could’ve had. A freer life, I thought, one without trauma
and pain, without the doubts about my humanity, without my betraying my
trust and my will. A life where I’d be free. I’d work a boring job,
drive to it every day, have a routine, eat healthily. I’d be happy,
right?. I knew fully that this could never happen, that even if I tried
my best, even if I did manage to pretend, I’d never feel real enough to
live like that, to interact with them, to pretend that I also need to
eat every day and sleep every night, to lie about aspects of my life
that would otherwise be so mundane that I’d never even think about
I felt a tear make its way down my cheek and a hand slide up my arm
and onto my shoulder. It was 5:30am a half awake Emmie had just
unknowingly calmed all of my worries. In that instant, I felt more
serene, I thought, than I’d ever felt in my entire life. “Come get some
sleep,” she said with a yawn before walking back to her room. I followed
and sat on the bed next to her, not quite sure how to tell her I didn’t
need to sleep. She gestured for me to lie down, I obliged, and she put
her head on my shoulder, sheepishly asked “This okay?” only to wrap her
arm around me and fall asleep shortly after seeing my nod. I awkwardly
put my arm around her and noticed a faint smile on her face. She seemed
so peaceful. I let my fingers get lost in her soft curls, letting locks
of her hair coil around then and tickle the palm of my hand. I closed my
eyes and tried to match my breathing to hers, relaxing like that for a
few hours before getting up when I felt her sleep was about to
That morning, it was Emmie who woke up to the smell of sweet coffee
and toast with scrambled eggs waiting for her in the kitchen. She seemed
overjoyed and hugged me tightly before eating her breakfast heartily,
with a charming grin on her face. After she was done, she left to her
room to grab two pillboxes and I watched her meticulously take a pill
out of each, inspecting them, then taking them with what was left of her
coffee. She looked up at me with a warm smile after finishing her mug,
and I smiled back before getting to the dishes. I must’ve finished
earlier than she expected so when I turned around, I found her quietly
inspecting herself, looking down at her chest, squeezing and poking at
her arms, thighs, and face in a way that felt like a choreographed
routine. Her cheeks flushed when our eyes finally met, and she realized
I’d been watching her, which in turn made me realize I was watching her
and a wave of shame and guilt spread through me. I was about to open my
mouth to apologize for my rudeness, but she sighed a deep sigh and asked
me if I had a place to live. Of course, I didn’t.
“I used to live in a place like yours,” I answered, “much smaller
though, and it never got any sunlight.”
“Does anyone really get sunlight these days?”
“That’s fair, I guess… I just mean everything was always so dark, it
felt like constant fog in there.”
“I get what you mean, back when I lived with my family it felt like
every corner of the house was filled with this evil mist.”
I knew better than to ask about her family.
“Well you’ve got a beautiful home, I mean, if you can manage to keep
She looked away, so I continued
“Wasn’t my strong suit either.” I chuckled. “It’s not like I’d blame
you for it after all you’ve done for me!”
She looked up at me, visibly uncomfortable.
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to repay me.”
I did. Of course I did.
“But I do have a favor I’d like to ask you for.”
I nodded, she breathed in deeply.
“I have this implant, for some medication, that I want to get inside
me, but of course because it’s custom made no doctor’s gonna put it in
me, and I can’t really handle pain well enough to put it in myself, so
when I saw you had all this medical equipment in your arms I thought,
you know, maybe you could help?”
My stomach dropped at the thought of inflicting even a fraction of
what I’d been put through on anyone.
“Again, you really don’t have to,” she said with a defeated look.
She’d tried it before and I was sure she’d try it again if I didn’t
do it for her. At least I had specialized equipment and some amount of
“Can I see the implant?”
She brought me a small and slender white tube.
“Contraceptive?” I asked.
I examined the object. It had a slight bulge in the middle that
“It dispenses œstradiol and progesterone,” she admitted. “I triple
checked the dosages and I don’t want to keep taking pills every
I nodded knowingly and she flashed a shy smile.
“When’s the last time you had your blood tested?”
Her eyes lit up. I figured if I was going to do this, I might as well
do it properly, and it was the least I could do for her.
“It’s been a couple years. Would you be-”
“I wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” I smiled.
I asked her to sit still for a few minutes to and started preparing
myself. After a moment, she fetched me the necessary equipment and I got
to work. I disinfected her inner elbow, pierced her skin, and carefully
drew her blood. The needle went into my own arm without much discomfort,
I’d had a small hole built into it precisely for blood testing; it was
originally designed to detect toxins on the battlefield but it was easy
enough to reconfigure with a panel of tests she wanted me to run,
nothing too complicated or extravagant. It felt strange, the warmth of
her blood coursing down my arm, the numbers bubbling up to the surface
of my mind. I’d felt it before, during testing, but this was all so
foreign and so real all at once. Feeling numbers is something I quickly
got used to, but feeling something almost alive inside of me was
entirely different to anything I could’ve expected. I listed the numbers
with that complacent mechanical tone they’d taught me to speak in, and
she wrote them down dutifully, with the infectious, almost childlike
giddiness. Her levels were solid, maybe a bit low but nothing out of the
ordinary, so I sanitized her other arm, applied the numbing cream from
an almost empty tube she’d handed me, and plunged the applicator into
her. It was in and out in a quick motion, and apart from a yelp she’d
let out she seemed fine, so I excused myself to the bathroom to catch my
breath and dispose of the blood lingering in my arm.
I was heaving over the toilet when I heard a knock at the front door.
She opened and a glacial voice greeted her.
“Good morning, Mr Ellis, would you have a minute to talk?”
I knew that voice.
“You know not to call me that.” She sounded completely different;
frustrated, scared, alone, like an animal that’s just been caged.
“Oh I apologize, does Mr Ellis not live here? I’ll have to stop
sending his checks to this address, then.” They both fell silent, so the
voice continued. “Please sit down, sir.”
I knew that voice.
I was taken back to my empty white room, and could almost see the
navy blue suit looming in the doorway, telling me horrors with perfect
diction and that eerie calmness of men who know exactly how much power
they have over you and fully intend to use it. That voice was, for the
third time, mere feet away from me, and that terror I’d wished so hard
wouldn’t become habitual settled into my bones once again. I quieted my
breathing and listened.
“Mr Ellis, I believe you know why I’m visiting you, so I won’t waste
your time. Give it back, please”
Emmie didn’t say a word.
“You didn’t think we’d leave our most valuable projects unsupervised
and with no tracking, now, did you?” He scoffed, “your type are so
greedy! We give you money, for doing absolutely nothing, might I add,
and you still try to steal from us? I wasn’t sold on you being an asset,
but you’ve just proven yourself a liability, which gives me the
authority to do what needs to be done, so I will ask one more time. Give
it back, now.”
I started searching the bathroom for tools, weapons, anything that I
might use to protect Emmie and defend myself, anything other than the
shit they’d put into my fingers, but the search was in vain. Worse yet,
my shaking hands dropped a razor on the ground, breaking their silence
with faint yet deafening clang.
“Well!” the voice exclaimed, “Seems it’s my lucky day, Mr Ellis, I
was just saved a hefty dry-cleaning bill.”
There was a thud followed by a pained grunt and another louder thud,
then footsteps, and finally a polite knock on the bathroom door. Without
having a chance to think, I felt blades pierce the scarred underside of
my fingertips, a sight that scared me more than the one that would come
next. I watched as my left arm opened the bathroom door while my right
slashed at the figure in front of me, and before I could understand what
was happening, I had cut a clean line through this man’s throat and
stained his navy blue suit, and as he dropped to the floor without so
much as a gasped, blood pooling on the white tile, all I could think
about was that plain white room and that tall navy suit. I shook myself
out of my stupor and ran to the living room to find Emmie lying on the
ground and struggling to get up. “We need to go, fast!” I said, getting
some blood on her pajama sleeve while helping her to her feet. I rushed
to grab a large black backpack from the corner of the room and tossed a
laptop in it while she scrambled for a screwdriver kit, a hard drive, a
pair of headphones, and a black stuffed cat, along with her keys,
wallet, and cellphone. I nodded for her to follow me and ran out the
front door, which she was careful to lock. We hastily made our way down
the hall and to the elevator, which luckily was already on the
seventy-first floor. When it reached floor 102, we walked in and mashed
the close door button.
“How are you feeling, are you hurt?”
“I’ll be okay”
She stayed silent the rest of the way down.
I did too.
Upon reaching the ground floor, I asked her if she had a place she could
be safe in, hoping that I might be able to stay with her there. She
mentioned an online friend with an open invitation that she would text
on the way there as we rushed towards the door. Outside, her
neighborhood was falling apart; the sky and streets were a dull gray,
with tattered bleached ads on every wall assaulting the eyes with a
barrage of information over this bleak landscape. Large cracks ripped
through the pavement and some of the buildings, like giant scars
exposing a salted, dying earth, and the constant hum of nearby highways
filled my ears and lungs. She led me, still shaking, through this
wasteland of a city to a small subway station where we could squeeze our
way into a packed lunch hour train that stunk of urine, sweat, and meat.
Emmie, on the verge of tears, kept her head on my chest and clung onto
me for dear life for that interminable ride. I held her tightly and
pressed my forehead to hers, repeating the phrase “We’ll be okay” in my
head with all my might, and hoping the thought would be strong enough to
make its way through both our skulls.
At the end of the line, she tugged at the waist of my coveralls and
we stepped off the train into an old, damp station. She checked her
phone and asked me to stay put while she called her friend, promising
she’d be back quickly, so I sat on a bench and watched her disappear up
a flight of stairs. My gaze found rest on a leak in the ceiling creating
a puddle drop by slow drop, echoing throughout the room and harmonizing
with the occasional distant footsteps of some rushed traveller. A few
rats were making their way in and out of small burrows next to the
tracks, climbing up to the platforms to feast on any crumbs and candy
wrappers they could find, and my mind wandered back to my empty white
room, to the routines, and tests, and training, to the same small set of
faces with soulless eyes and cold words. I would have envied the rats
back then, their freedom, the vast environment they had to explore,
their adventures; In a way, I still did.
When Emmie reappeared, she took my hand and led me through a
labyrinth of increasingly small and decrepit tunnels full of moss and
ivy. After crossing an old police tape barrier, we found ourselves in
front of a heavy steel door, much like those on the sides of other
tunnels, but on which plants didn’t grow, and that wasn’t withered by
decades of rust and decay. It dawned on me that this was our
destination. She knocked, and the large wheel in the center slowly
turned, opening the door as my heart sank. Behind it stood a lanky pale
bearded man with unkempt hair and piercing green eyes, smiling wearily.
His face lit up upon seeing Emmie and the two embraced like old friends.
“It’s good to finally see you in person, Em,” he said with a raspy
voice. “Wish it didn’t have to come to this though, please, come in.” He
nodded to me and led us into a large concrete room with cables running
across the floor, ceiling, and walls. Long desks lined every wall, all
littered with computers and electronic devices in various states of
disrepair, the corners were stacked with large plastic bins full of
salvaged parts and wires, and the whole room bathed in a bright cool
light such that our shadows fractured and faded into the floor.
“Welcome to my home, I guess, please grab a seat, tell me what
The man left through a purple curtain bolted to the wall and came
back with water bottles while Emmie and I were pulling out desk chairs
to sit on.
“You can call me Niko, by the way,” he said to me. “Em and I met, uh,
online, a while ago. It’s good to meet you.”
Emmie spoke up before I could.
“This is Delta, they’re one of the A14s I was telling you about! I
found them in the woods near the southern complex completely passed out,
so I took ’em home”
She explained our situation in much detail while this troubled
looking stranger stared me up and down with a furrowed brow.
“So this man, he’s still at your place?”
“And, ARBT is tracking your friend here?”
She nodded again, so he turned to me.
“Any idea where they might have put any kind of tracking chip in you,
or even what kind of tech they might be using?”
I shook my head, ashamedly. He looked pensive for a moment, then
“I’ll go pull out the spare mattress for you two to sleep on, have
you eaten? I got uh, energy bars and some of those meal replacement
drink things, they last forever. I can’t do biotech or surgery or any of
that shit but you’re welcome to stay here and hide out a bit, no EM
waves are getting in or out of this place so you shouldn’t be having any
trouble with the cops or AR or whoever they might send after you, just
be careful you’re not seen when you go out okay?”
Emmie thanked him, in tears and I got up to help with the mattress.
Behind the curtain was a small recess in the concrete that had been
fashioned into a rudimentary bedroom with just two mattresses stacked on
the floor, some books, and boxes full of clothes. As we started lifting
the top mattress to pull out the bottom one, Niko started to ask
questions about my time as a lab rat for Arnold Russel Biotechnologies,
and my mind went blank. I felt myself give out the answers, and I knew
what I was saying, but the words poured out of me like a stream. By the
time we got the mattress setup with spare sheets, I’d told him all about
why I’d gone in, what they had done to me, and how I escaped.
Emmie was sitting on a desk chair holding her plush cat as tight as
she could, munching on an energy bar and softly rocking back and forth.
Niko looked at her then at me with a pained expression, then just
blurted out “Wanna play video games?” The three of us shared a moment of
silence, then, witout a word, we each sat down in front of available
computers and started playing games together. That was how we spent that
afternoon. After the first hour, the silence broke, and after a few more
we were all laughing and talking like old friends, avoiding the heavy
topics and focusing on what we had in front of us. For the entire
afternoon, we overlooked our sorry states, the fact that the nearest
bathroom was at the other end of a long tunnel, anything that could make
us remember that we weren’t three old friends sharing a day. We let
everything melt away, and for just this half of a day, we let ourselves
have fun like I hadn’t in the past however many years of my life.
When evening came, Niko left to get us food, not wanting us to dine
on the thick white slurry he subsisted on. Of course, he was more than
cautious, took no device with him and set himself a time limit of
forty-five minutes after which we were to make an escape, but Emmie and
I both felt safer there than we could have anywhere.
The silence descended upon us immediately after loud clang the heavy
metal door. Emmie and I both sighed and I went to lie down on the
mattress. She looked at me for a moment, so I looked back and saw the
fear, pain, and resolve dancing behind her eyes like a flame in her
mind. I observed the way her pink curls faded at the roots, and the way
she held herself in that chair, protecting that plush cat like it was
the most precious item in the world. My gaze drifted back to the ceiling
and I closed my eyes. I could hear her breathing over the faint whirr of
fans and electric hum of the various computers, and she sounded
“Can I ask you something?” I hesitated, eyes still shut
“Of course, what’s up?” She sounded nervous
“Why did he say he paid you?”
“Can I come lie down next to you?”
I nodded and felt her lie down on her back next to me. She explained
that she used to mess around with computer systems and one day found her
way into an internal AR corporate network. Nothing too spectacular, but
they found her immediately and met her in person to hire her. She said
she worked for them a while, until she met some of the first
participants in the research; project A-10 at the time. She quit working
directly with them, and eventually stopped working for AR altogether,
but they kept paying her, a show of good faith, in their words. For the
past two years, she had amassed information on their projects and lived
on their money in that run down building near the complex.
I believed her.
The silence came back and we basked in it for a while.
When Niko came back she was fast asleep and I was getting lost in my
It had been sixteen minutes.