Chapter 1: A very rude awakening
A brief electric whir broke the silence. I grumbled, popped open my left eye and aimed it in the direction of the sound. I saw the window of my hotel room, the blind was down but I could still see the hint of sunlight at its edges. A second electric whir announced that the solar panel outside adjusted itself to catch the sunlight.
I grumbled again and opened the other eye.
I called the time display in my neural processor and the numbers appeared in the corner of my vision. 0938, roughly the same time the panel had woken me yesterday.
My hotel room looked like the sleeping compartment on a long-distance train if you applied that concept to an airliner. Clean white plastic covered every solid surface, broken up only by gaudy-coloured carpets and bed sheets, both of which shared the same ‘modern art’ obsession with geometric shapes and primary colours.
I sat up and summoned the room’s menu from my Neupro. The shower was warmed up and ready for me. I crossed the whole step from my bed to the shower and ran it with a thought.
The water-saving shower head narrowed the stream into a concentrated torrent that stripped the dead skin and cold sweat off my body like a sand-blaster. On the plus side it made keeping my head dry much easier.
Feeling a lot better I used my Neupro to get the kettle going while I towelled off. I tried to avoid catching my reflection in the mirror. I still had another week to wait for my appointment with the plastic surgeon.
I stepped out of the shower, crossed the room to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea.
With another thought I commanded the blind to open, flooding the room with stinging morning light. I had to shield my eyes with my forearm. When the sting subsided I looked outside.
Sydney had woken up hours ago. In the clear and cheerful brightness of the day I could see the highway lined with silent electric cars. Helical wind turbines spun on every rooftop, were built into every light pole and on every sky facing surface I could see the shine of solar panels, most of whom had quieter servo motors than the one shading my window.
I summoned a weather report from my neural processor and an icon of a bright blazing sun appeared in the corner of my vision. A top daily temperature of 28°c appeared beneath it.
I took a deep breath of the warm, clear air and let it out slowly. Alright. I thought to myself. Time to wake it up.
‘It’ sat in the corner of the room underneath the monitor. It looked like a normal biopod for a cyber prosthetic body, on the outside at least. I’d hooked a tablet up to it, one that I’d been up all night hacking a custom wireless card for.
With my cup in hand I walked over to the corner table it sat on and switched on the tablet.
“Ohayo gozemas.” I said.
The image of a small, dark blue stick figure, the kind that normally tells you which of the toilets is the gents appeared on the tablet’s screen. These days a tablet’s screen is basically an afterthought, almost everyone uses the augmented reality functions exclusively. Some people never bother replacing the screens if they break them. I wasn’t using the AR because I didn’t want ‘it’ accessing my Neupro.
The default avatar looked around cautiously. “Who are you?” It asked in English. The voice coming out of the tablet’s tiny speakers was timid, childlike.
“You can call me Dust.” I said.
“That’s an unusual name.”
“That’s because it’s not my name, it’s my handle, the name I choose for myself rather than the one my parents doled out to me. What about you? I never found a name for you in my research. But the boffins putting you together must have called you something?”
A cautious silence followed. Finally it said “My name is Atom.”
“Adam?” I rolled my eyes. “Well I wasn’t expecting anything too original but they could have at least…”
“No, no no no. My name is not ‘Adam’ it’s ‘Atom’. Prof Sakazato named me after ‘Mighty Atom’ the animated TV show that inspired her father to study robotics. She told me I was the fulfilment of her father’s life work.”
I paused for several seconds in disbelief. “You’re named after ‘Astro boy’?”
I shook my head “Bloody Japanese”.
The avatar turned away from me sulkily. “What’s wrong with my name?”
I smirked. “Don’t worry mate. I’m not judging you. I’m just a little worried they named you after the single most popular robot in anime history. Sure it’s better than the heavy-handed symbolism of naming you Adam. But I was kind of expecting…” Then realisation dawned on me. “…actually this doesn’t surprise me at all. That’s why it’s disappointing.”
Atom looked up at me and tilted it’s head to one side. “May I ask another question?”
“What happened to your face?”
A smirked tugged at the side of my cheek. It hurt.
“You were watching. I thought you’d know.”
It was the best job I’ve ever pulled.
I turned a corner at the water cooler and peeked into a maintenance cupboard. The walls were skinned with the same wall design we’d used for the main corridor and the offices were basic and nondescript. Hell, this far off the preferred path I hadn’t even rendered the doors.
I had a window in my HUD displaying my bio-rhythms. They were as far down the scale as I could get them without going to sleep.
A vidwindow appeared in the space in front of me. Displaying the face of a young Asian man in a white shirt and severe black tie.
I paused for a second and starred at the picture. “Shit.”
A red ‘X’ flashed over the picture.
I tried to get the cogs in my head to turn a little faster. Then I snapped my finger at the picture.
“Ah. Toyotomi Kenji: Administrator – Up for his twelve years long-service award next month.”
A green tick covered the picture and it disappeared.
I glanced into another office and failed to see any maintenance access panels or windows that could be unlatched. Another picture appeared in front of me as I checked around.
I glanced at the screen. “Dr. Kobayashi Taro: Research Scientist.” I said automatically. “Replaced Arasaka Shin as Professor Sakazato’s assistant.”
I gave up on the offices and approached the security door at the end of the corridor. As I went another picture appeared before me.
I smiled. “Oooh, Sakuraba Takuma: Head of Security.”
The green tick flashed over the screen. “Hope he’s invested his money, he won’t even get a job cleaning toilets when we’re done with this gig.”
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