We Apologize for the Interruption – Part 5
Peg pressed her nose to the glass and looked where the man was pointing. There on the stainless steel table was her syn.
It was in pieces.
It didn’t even look like a syn, not the way they looked in com spots. There were piles of glassy beads stuck on to graphite-colored sticks with dark wires. It looked like someone had taken a hammer to a console.
“It’s a trifle messy, I’m afraid,” the tall, overly affected administrator said. “It’s still unassembled, you see. There are–”
“Quite right.” The man seemed uninterested in eye contact. “Tomorrow’s a busy day. We’ll put all the bits together and test the plasticity response. We wipe anything that comes from the testing, naturally. After that it’s we plug in the neuro-algorithm; that’s when our programmers get their turn. Then we head to the hospital and she goes on with her life.” He continued to look straight ahead, blinking at his own glass reflection.
Peg said nothing, but itched to leave the company of this strange man and his dubious habit of anthropomorphizing bits of man-made polymers. Looking at the syn, laying there in pieces had settled this. That pile of silicone nothingness was not her.
“I read the syn’s file, you know,” he said, and there was a measure of distaste in his words. “I did the checks twice. It was… surprising that someone with such a clean pre-eval like Margaret would have chosen In-Between status.” He shook his head in disapproval.
“You know, this third person crap is seriously offensive.” Peg snapped, and without waiting for permission, she ran down the hallway. She heard him shout after her, but didn’t stop. She thought she knew how to get back to the elevator.
Turns out, the sub-basements were a maze. After several wrong turns she reached a dead end with some kind of utility room, its door propped open. A sign barked warnings against unauthorized entry and a security camera was clearly visible. She waved at it in irritation. If she just stayed put undoubtedly someone would come to collect her.
While she waited, she peeked inside the open door and whistled, impressed. They were using huge, sparkling super-oxide crystals to generate breathable air for the underground levels of the building. That was pretty cool.
And pretty dangerous.
She looked around, nervously. One hand found her pocket and fingered her pack of cigarettes. She had matches just under the rim, tucked into the plastic. JD, the security troll, hadn’t noticed.
Leaving the door propped was stupid. This room was nothing more than a massive stockpile of explosive crystals…
The thought lingered, more tempting than chocolate or sex had ever been. It would be one final, brilliant, storm. And it would be final. She would be no Ginger Louis to face trial and punishment. If she walked into that room, opened up one of those canisters, and set fire to those crystals, Peg would be the first to die.
Her pack of cigarettes was out of her pocket now and she fingered her matches, ripped one of them out, and held it in the palm of her sweating hand. She remembered what she’d said to Jayden in the park, just hours before.
She was nothing to these people.
Their Peg was in pieces on a stainless steel table in this windowless tomb in mother-fucking Jersey. She was nothing but another payday from a health insurance company. One more lemming-mark.
She took another step forward, but froze at the sound of footsteps. Before she could even wonder about how easy this all was, she realized it wasn’t easy at all. She looked up at the security camera and gulped uneasily.
She was still holding the match. She needed a reason to have it out, something that didn’t seem so obviously criminal. She lit a cigarette, inhaling deeply as the administrator approached.
“Uh, you can’t smoke in here,” he said.
“Sorry,” she said, dropping it to the concrete floor and stomping it out.
“Miss, I apologize,” he said. “I hope you understand that the kind of In-Between that comes here is often on the verge of doing something… unfortunate.”
“I’m not Ginger Louis,” she said, teeth bared. No, she wasn’t. Ginger wouldn’t have hesitated.
He gave her an appraising look. “I only meant that In-Betweens that come here often don’t go through with their upgrades.”
“Right,” Peg said. Get a handle. Stop acting so guilty.
“And I’m sorry I used the third person in your presence. I can understand why that upset you and I want to explain. At Biomimetics, all staff, top to bottom, are trained to refer to syns, even in-production, like they are already people. It’s critically important because it’s so easy to get detached, look at these abstract parts in the assembly labs, the scans, the programmers modeling on their computers, and forget that we are re-creating someone’s sentience. Some people say it’s like looking at an impressionist painting, you know, where you can’t see what it is until you step all the way back.”
“I’m not getting the analogy right, but the point I’m making very badly here is that this is human life—the very essence of it—and deserving of all the respect a doctor would give to a live human patient. Can you understand that?”
“I think so,” Peg said with faint surprise. She felt suddenly relieved not to be a suicidal terrorist, which was the most depressing thing she could think of to be thankful for. With a whimper it came to her: Lack of consideration for social mores, including violence and criminal acts. The third symptom.
The administrator adjusted his tie and smiled awkwardly. “We don’t often get visitors here. I wasn’t thinking, Margaret.”
“My name is Peg,” she said hoarsely.
Sonar ordered her to a mandatory eval in two hours. Not surprisingly, Biomimetics had reported her visit to the New York authorities, including the little stunt where she ran away from the administrator. Even though she had less than a day left, no one was taking any chances.
Just one quick stop on the way. She stumbled into the Delta.
There was definitely a chance that Sonar would decide she was unwired and she’d be forced into the coma early. Or she’d clear the eval.
Either way, time was running out, and she knew for certain that she wanted to talk to Jayden one more time before it was all over.
She had zapped him that she was coming, but hadn’t gotten a reply. She looked hopefully at the two-seater they had occupied the day before, but he wasn’t there. The music was painfully loud and Peg covered her ears, stood on her toes, and strained her neck searching for dreadlocks.
The only person she recognized was that dick, Darien, sitting at the bar drinking a line of shots solo. With a sigh, she wove through the drunks and tapped his shoulder.
“Well, if it isn’t Little Miss In-Between,” he said, grinning.
“Know where Jayden is?” She tried to keep her voice pleasant as he groped her bust-line with his eyes. “I fucked up and I think they’re going to put me under early.”
“Sucks.” He took another shot. “He was here for hours. You just missed him. Seriously, some hours you keep, babe. Insomnia somewhere on the list for Generalized Dissociative-whatever?”
“I’m not your babe,” Peg scowled, and started towards the door.
“Oh, don’t be like that,” he said, catching up to her and abandoning the last of little shot glasses at the bar. “C’mon. I’ll take you to him.”
On the fiftieth floor of an unremarkable NYU graduate student residential complex, Darien and Peg approached the last of a long corridor of identical white apartment doors, and knocked.
“He had a few waiting for you. Might be asleep.” Darien leaned into the access window and waited for the red light to pass over his iris. A click and a hiss unlocked the door.
“I don’t think I should just bust in,” Peg whispered.
“Sounds like you don’t have a lot of options.” Darien shrugged. “But whatever.”
Peg thought he was trying to act like he didn’t care either way; he was acting really weird.
“How do you have privileges to Jayden’s room?”
He took a second longer than he should have to reply. “He keeps the fold-out table and pamphlets here. Sometimes I go to the park without him.”
Darien motioned for her to enter ahead of him and Peg hesitated. In the short time since she’d met this guy he’d managed to creep her out pretty consistently. But if he tried to hurt her, someone would be able to see the footage of them walking into the building together, right up to this door. He wasn’t that stupid. Or that drunk. She allowed herself a few cautious steps into the darkness.
He pushed her square in the center of her back and she tumbled face-forward. Her nose smacked into the cheaply carpeted floor. It burned from the friction.
“Shit,” she moaned. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
All light vanished as Darien closed the door.
“What is this?” she demanded, trying not to sound frightened.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. She knew exactly what this was and in the dark she couldn’t fight him off.
“Ligh—” she tried to get out the vocal command but he was there too fast, covering her mouth with one hand, and pinning her arms with the other. He started kissing her neck as she thrashed, stomach souring at the mismatched scents of rum, mint gum, and cologne.
“Letmego.” She couldn’t catch her breath.
“C’mon, babe. Just a few hours to zombie doc time, right?” She felt him shrug his shoulders. “We can do the nastiest shit and you won’t remember. Like it never even happened.”
“I’ll tell the police,” she screeched.
“You’re manic, remember? As in unreliable? Relax, Sunshine.”
It was worse that he called her that, Jayden’s name for her. He let loose his hold on her left wrist and it went under her shirt. She hadn’t realized how numb and frozen she was until the feel of him touching her rebooted her adrenaline. She aimed her knee for his nuts, missed, but got his gut. He collapsed, howling and retching.
“Oh, man. Oh, man… Oh, man.” He began to sob as he heaved. “Just get the fuck out. Lights!”
When they came on, there was a baseball bat, leaning against the wall, right beside her.
She picked it up.
In the infinitesimal moment that existed before she swung, Peg’s mind froze in brutal, perfect awareness of the irreversibility of her actions.
The sound was horrible, but it was over soon, and there wasn’t as much blood as she thought there might have been.