My house was not in the sparkling city of the rich and Leisurely. Despite the ample pay from Mr. Tribbit, I wasn’t planning the layout for my four-bedroom penthouse at the Posh Lodge.
There was no shortage of malfunctioning, dangerous technologies in the world. It was not hard to find work. I did, however, owe some unsavory people more money than I cared to admit, which in part is the reason I took up my trade.
The last hundred years of the second technological revolution have changed the world as drastically as the first. The world has embraced the new technology and taken it into their homes and lives, like a stray cat.
And like a stray cat, they are finding that it does inconvenient things that they don’t know how to deal with.
That’s where I come in.
I take the most hopeless causes. The direst situations created by nightmarish malfunctions of a world built and completely reliant on technology. I don’t know jack shit about time crystal supercomputers or higher thought artificial intelligence or fifth-dimensional power generators. I can’t fix the code that’s turned your refrigerator into a nuclear timebomb, but I know enough to pause the countdown, put a wrench in the theoretical gears, and retrieve what you value most before it’s gone forever, be it your life, or money, or useless toys meant to test me. As long as you pay.
I am glorified tech support with a death wish.
We drove through the city, bustling with cars, shoppers, and street artists displaying their work.
Art is not what it used to be. There are no more “struggling artists” as it were. No one expects to be paid for their work or to make a career out of it. Except they are, and they do, but that’s not the spirit.
The driver navigated the stretch of road with extra caution in case any of the acrobats performing on the sidewalk miscalculated a stunt and tumbled into traffic.
Outside the L.M.F Museum for the Arts and Science, water ballerinas swam gracefully through the sparkling pool decorating the front of the building. Patrons walking over the bridge to the museum had an up-close view of the performers. I was not, nor did I intend to be a patron of that expensive exhibition. But I enjoyed what I could see of the performance while we were stopped at a light.
The drive on the main streets took twice as long as it should have because of all the performers; regular fixtures of the main streets. I almost wished I was clinging to the trash egg on the mega-highway if only I could be home quicker, but the mega-highway wouldn’t be caught dead in my neighborhood.
As we passed through the city and entered into the suburbs the buildings began to shrink from hundred-story giants to two-story apartments and then small houses. These gave way to the disrepair, blighted neighborhood where I lived. It’s a long way from the beauty of the city but it’s not an all-bad place to live. The trash pickup is impeccably punctual and the local authorities ever accommodating with the rash of violent crimes that occur at least once a week.
We pulled up to my house. I thanked the driver as I slipped out of the vehicle. The heated fight between my two neighbors in the yard next door must have spooked him because he was halfway down the road as soon as the door clicked shut behind me
I yelled at my neighbors to put the knives away; they were scaring the tourists. They glared at me and continued threatening each other. I recognize there will come a day when I am going to get stabbed.
My house is not so bad either, one and a half bath, kitchen, living room, and hidden smuggling hole that was filled with millions of dollars of illegal drugs before I bought the place. Too bad the realtors found it before I moved in. Nowadays I use the hole as a panic room which is how I get away with poking fun at my neighbors. That and a cattle prod. And a gun.
I trudged up my front steps, digging around my pockets for my key. Then I remembered that morning when the key had gotten stuck in the lock again and being in a hurry, I had left it. It wasn’t like I had anything worth taking and everyone in the neighborhood knew it- they’d all broken in by the end of my first month living there. I pushed the door open with a sigh. A broken lock was inconvenient, but at least I hadn’t been electrocuted and left in a coma as one unfortunate man had been when his top-of-the-line security lock failed.
I was exhausted, I needed a shower and a good meal, and there was someone in my living room. I flipped on the lights to reveal the figure curled up on my crack pleather couch, a young woman dressed in nothing but a bikini. How she made it through the neighborhood to my house was more than a mystery, it was a miracle.
I stood just inside the room, silently considering the best course of action. Either I would wake her up, or she would wake up on her own. Unless she was dead.
Either way, she had to be desperate to find her way here. Possibly dangerous. Most people just called me. Desperate and tired were close companions of mine and so I let her sleep, treading quietly past her to the bathroom to shower.
Clean and dressed I tip-toed out of the bathroom, towards the kitchen to find something quiet to eat. I found her, still on the couch but sitting up, looking around blearily. My cattle prod was in the kitchen. I approached her with caution.
“Are you Dyson Macon?” she asked, her voice low and thick, like someone who was sick or had been crying.
“That’s me,” I said, cautiously.
“People say you can find things.”
“I can,” I said. “But that’s not what I do. I’m not a detective.”
“They say you are a knight, fighting the battle against technology.”
I couldn’t help grinning.
“Who says that? They must be talking about someone else.” I laughed. “Knights are chivalrous and brave. I’m a reckless idiot at best.”
“You swam through a jelly bot swarm to save a lost computer,” she said.
“And I got paid a lot of money for it,” I countered. I could still feel the sting of those ocean-cleaning little garbage bot tentacles. I seemed to be cleaning up a lot of the sanitation bureau’s messes lately. That’s just wrong.
“Well, whatever you are I need your help.” She crossed her arms. “I don’t have any money, but I’ve heard you’ve been known to help charity cases if it’s interesting enough.”
“Occasionally,” I said. “What can I do for you?”
“I need you to find my memory.”
“Ok,” I said. “Memory to what? Your computer, camera, phone, emergency pizza delivery device?”
She shook her head.
“No, my memories. In my head. They’re gone.”
“Oh,” I said, shifting uncomfortably. “That sounds more like a job for a psychologist. Or a bartender.”
“I haven’t been drinking,” she said irritably. “I had my blood alcohol level checked. Nothing. I woke up on the beach this morning with no memory of my past. It was as though I’d just popped into existence. All I had was this bag and…” She reached down and pulled a blue, woven beach bag onto her lap and began pulling stuff out.
A sandy towel. I’d have to vacuum later. Two bottles of water; no label, sunblock, an unmarked drug vial, and a hospital standard personal intravenous applicator. Much safer than regular needles if you can get one.
“What’s that for?” I asked, picking up the vile and examining it.
“I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
The vial was clear, medical standard with a membranous cap that a needle would puncture. The device was like a bracelet, with a loading dock on the outside and a needle on the inside. It was meant to strap to the arm over the venipuncture site. Such a device was custom made so that it could be attached and removed by the patient each time, never missing the vein. The needle would only insert if the device were on the person it was made for. Of course, it could be modified.
“Does this fit you?” I asked.
“I’m afraid to try it on,” she admitted.
“It won’t activate unless it’s loaded,” I said. I knew this because I’d once worked a case for a crotchety old man who likes to brag about the expensive medical equipment that was keeping him alive long past his best-by date. “Let see if it fits.”
She held out her arm reluctantly and I slipped the bracelet on over the inside of her elbow.
There was a click.
“Ow!” She jerked her arm away and tried to pull the device off. But it was not meant to come off while injecting its payload.
“You said it wouldn’t activate unless it was loaded.”
“It wouldn’t.” I frowned. Its loading port was empty.
A few seconds and there was another click. She ripped the device off her arm and threw it at me.
I caught it.
“What did that put in me?”
“This, I assume,” I said calmly, holding up the vial in my hand. I examined the device more closely. It was indeed empty. So why had it activated?
“I’m going to forget again aren’t I?” she whined, her breathing became ragged and panicked.
“Hey, hey,” I said more comfortingly than I felt. “We don’t know that.”
She’d gone pale and started to shake.
I ran into the bedroom and pulled the comforter off my bed. I shushed her as I wrapped her in the blanket.
“Please, help me find who did this to me.” She moaned when she had recovered enough to talk. “Help me remember.”
“Alright,” I said. “Alright, in the morning.”
I coaxed her up off the couch and into the bedroom.
“You sleep.” I said, “First thing in the morning we’ll figure this out.”
She sank onto my lumpy bed, wrapped in my comforter like a burrito.
I needed to eat.
“Do you remember your name?”
She glanced sideways at me; mouth full of a breakfast wrap. She took her time chewing and swallowed.
“At least you didn’t forget that.”
“No, I forgot. It’s carved into my wrist.” She held up her arm, the yellow sweater she’d borrowed from me fell away to reveal angry red letters carved into her skin.
We were sitting on a bench near the main road in the city on the beach where she’d woken up sans-memory. It seemed like a good place to start.
“Anything look familiar?” I asked.
She watched the stilt-walking clown down the way, kicking up sand at any of the laughing onlookers who came too close.
“Let me see that vile and dispenser again.”
She took them off the towel where she had nestled them for easy access when she realized I was going to keep asking. She didn’t quite trust me enough to let me hold onto them since I’d been wrong about the dispenser activation. I rolled the vile in my hand. There were no markings or anything else to identify the substance. A Net search found the make and model of the dispenser, but no way to determine where hers had come from.
I set them aside and took the towel out of the bag, placing it across my lap. It was blue and gray with yellow flowers along the border. I didn’t care for the pattern, but the morning air had not yet lost its chill. There was something familiar about the towel, but I couldn’t recall what.
The clowns were twirling ribbons around now and playing kazoos. Two beachgoers, a man and woman were marching away from the clowns, sour expressions on their sandy faces. They must have been models. Tall, perfectly sculpted, and tanned, and immaculately groomed even as the wind tousled their hair. That and their bags boasted Lisa. S.C. Modeling Agency. Draped across their shoulders were blue and gray towels with yellow flowers.
“Stay here,” I said to Anne, tossing the towel back into the bag.
“Hey!” I called, jogging up to the models. They took in my faded, store-brand jeans, green t-shirt with a hole in the collar, and brown leather jacket, with the same expression of disdain they’d given the clowns.
Yep, definitely models.
“Yes?” The man said, with at least some attempt to sound polite.
“That’s a great towel,” I said. “Where did you get it?”
“I’m sorry,” he said, “but these were made exclusively for Lisa’s models. You can’t have one.”
“Oh, ok. Well, thanks anyway,” I said, trying to sound disappointed. He smiled and ducked his head in such a way that was both graceful and condescending. I’d never been so fashionably dismissed in my life. Anne could be a model, I mused. She had the look-beautifully proportioned, subtly fit, just the right height with chocolate brown hair- although she seemed to have more personality than the two I’d just met. Then again, I more than anyone should know not to judge people I didn’t know.
“I know where the towel came from,” I said, as I took my seat next to Anne. She was now watching the clowns with interest, as they had started juggling fire. I thought I heard her mutter “drop them.”
“Lisa. S.C. Modeling.”
“Never heard of it,” she said, dragging her eyes away from the clowns.
“Me neither.” I took my cheap, low-tech phone from my pocket. “Let me look it up.”
There was no website for the company. I found netsite with a short article describing a very exclusive, very expensive, very secret fashion trend for those with unusual taste and disposable income. The article didn’t specify exactly what kind of fashion the company produced. Only that a technical revolution was brewing, and Lisa and her models would be at the forefront. Typical. Everyone thought their self-loading dishwasher was the next technical revolution, but the strange connection with the modeling agency and a woman who’d lost her memories was what interested me.
“That’s vague,” Anne said, crossing her arms and pouting
“You could be a model for them,” I said, hoping she didn’t notice the school-boy admiration seeping into my tone.
“I hope not,” she said with a sigh. “That sounds exhausting.”
“I suppose it could be,” I said, “but models do a good job of hiding it.”
“Does the netsite say anything else?”
“Only that there’s going to be an exhibit today for interested investors. Want to go?”
“Where is it?”
“Somewhere here in the city. Seems like if you don’t already know then you’re not welcome.”
“Then how are we going to get there?”
I nodded at the models who’d laid out their towels a good distance from the clowns and were soaking in the sun. “We follow them.”
“Follow them? How do you know they’re even going?”
“You have a better idea?” I asked.
If they were going to the exhibit, they were taking their time. After a half-hour of sun-worship, the models packed up their towels, without shaking out the sand I might add, and headed towards the beachside shopping strip. Anne and I followed and a careful distance. They went into an organic frozen yogurt bar. We stood outside the used bookshop across the street. They stopped to feed the penguins in the Polar Park, then took a few laps around the square, window shopping. Despite the chilly day, I was sweating from the exercise.
“They sure have a lot of energy,” I said as they stopped to giggle at a window display of what I thought were very respectable clothes.
Anne nodded, “They’re on the move again.”
They must have let the time get away from them because their long legs picked up the pace considerably. I nearly had to jog to keep up, though Anne moved as though the pace was natural to her. They wove through the crowded city to a mega-highway garage.
“We’re going to lose them,” Anne worried as we barely kept them in view, as they tread up the stairs faster than I ever cared to move. “Unless you have a car parked up there.”
“Let me think,” I gasped.
We could take a bus. A bus wouldn’t necessarily follow the models, but it would get us on the mega-highway.
“Don’t you have a tracking device you can put on their car?” she asked.
“Yes, but I don’t carry it around with me,” I said.
“But you have a phone.”
“And it has a GPS?”
“Give me your phone.”
She snatched it out of my hand as I pulled it from my pocket.
“Wait here.” She ran off towards the models and slipped it into the man’s open bag.
“Now we can track the GPS on the phone,” she said as the models disappeared into the elevator that would take them to the mega highway garage.
“But,” I emphasized. “How will I get my phone back?”
“Really. I can’t just go up and ‘excuse me, my friend dropped my phone into your purse accidentally on purpose.”
We tracked my phone from a Net Port library, a large building filled with computers that could access almost any part of the Net. People tracked me regularly through my phone. Good for business and I can always ditch the phone in desperation. However, I didn’t like the idea of my regular trackers seeing my phone go somewhere the models might go, that I might not. Oh well, it was for a good cause. Or an interesting cause, at least because I still didn’t know very much about Anne. Then again neither did she.
“They’re at the Museum,” Anne announced after ten minutes.
“Took them that long to get there? Must be a lot of traffic.”
“There was an accident.”
We rushed to the nearest bus terminal which unfortunately would take us the same route as the models and so wouldn’t save us any time, but it was still faster than walking. A loud grumbling arose from the other passengers who hadn’t known beforehand about the accident.
“This is what technology does to people. Makes them impatient, annoying, unbearable human beings,” I grumbled, crossing my arms and sinking into my seat.
“Looks who’s talking,” Anne said irritably.
I know when to shut up.
We filed off the bus at the second stop and rode the elevator down to the museum entrance. The water ballerinas twirled and dove fluidly below us as we hurried across the bridge, dodging the leisurely patrons who’d stopped to watch the display. It cost me a pretty penny to get us both in and I would have to find some way to get Anne to pay me back once she remembered where she kept her money.
I’d never been inside the museum and it blew my mind. The main lobby was a colorful atrium, several stories tall with a roaring waterfall feeding a large oasis surrounded by rocks, soft grass, and evergreens that spread out into a miniature forest along the far wall. To our left, another room contained a play area for kids with three sections. A colorful art-themed playset, an ocean-themed soft area for small children, and a huge gaping mouth leading into an interactive tour of the human digestive system. I would have to check that out sometime. The rest of the hall was dedicated to advertising the other exhibits with sample pieces. Only the biggest and most expensive exhibits were advertised. The directory displayed a hundred different rooms.
“How do we know what room they’re in?” Anne asked as we scanned the luminous directory.
“I have an idea.”
I took a paper map from a container and spread the map out on the grass by the pool. I didn’t have a pen, but a nearby stick served my purpose.
“There are only so many rooms that could accommodate a secret exhibition,” I explained. “We can rule out the major exhibits because closing them would be too ostentatious.” I poked the stick through the main exhibits.
“The high-security exhibits can’t be rented out.” I Poked out most of the archaeological, religious, and jewelry exhibits.
“These exhibits are too small.” Poke, poke, poke.
“And these are being remodeled.”
That still left quite a few exhibits.
“Most of these are on the third level,” Anne said. “Let’s work our way up.”
We took the escalators to the second floor. Some of the doors were locked. Other rooms were either dark and empty or filled with normal, non-model people. The third floor was equally devoid of secret parties. We checked every room on the map to no avail.
“Now what?” Anne asked, sitting on a bench. We’d been at it for an hour.
“We check the rooms that we preemptively ruled out.”
“By the time we’ve checked them all, this thing could be over.”
“I know,” I said.
Then by chance, an odd couple strolled past us.
“Or we could follow them.”
Two men. One was short and wore a suit. The second was tall and thin. He wore a silk pink tank top and lavender canvas shorts. His exposed arms and legs were carefully sculpted. He wore an old baseball cap that didn’t fit with the rest of the ensemble, possibly to hide something, like a dancer protecting his costume on the way to the recital.
We slipped behind them, keeping pace. They took a narrow staircase, tucked away where it wouldn’t be noticed. The sign said employees only. The map didn’t list it as it was a service access.
At the top of the stairs, the pair disappeared through a door. I caught a glimpse of a crowded room beyond.
“This must be it,” I said unnecessarily.
“There’s a lot of people there, think they’ll notice us?” she asked.
“I’m counting on it. That door isn’t locked. There’s no security outside. The people they’re trying to keep out are the ones who don’t care. I think they want some conspiracy theorist to slip in and report back to their net masters. There’s no publicity like conspiracy publicity.”
“Alright. Who knows, maybe I was supposed to be there anyway.”
“That would save us some time.”
I was not prepared for what lay beyond that door. I’ve seen some strange things, but this was genuinely new. Guests swarmed the room, eating and drinking. The rich and powerful, from all over the world, come to see the latest and greatest fashion statement. Models moved theatrically through the room. Turning and posing casually to best show off while seamlessly chatting up the guests.
“What is this?” Anne asked.
“The rich and powerful, come to satisfy their secret, unusual tastes.”
I caught sight of the model we’d followed taking off his cap. Beneath, his bare head was completely see-through, even the bone, exposing his brain.
“Is it glass, or plastic or something?” Anne was looking around at the other guest with various translucent body parts. A man with the bones in his hands exposed beneath completely transparent skin, muscle, vein, and everything. It was unnerving to see him hold an apple that didn’t quite rest against his skeleton. A woman’s whole arm was a mass of muscle. A man rested his bare feet on a low table, bare down to the bone. A young woman wore a cropped top, her midriff exposing her abdominal organs. A woman in a backless evening dress walked past, displaying her translucent spine, the nervous system that fed into it glowing purplish red.
“I don’t think it’s glass. I think it’s their real tissue,” I muttered.
We moved into the room. Models smiled at us, turning, and posing to show off their bodies. Expensively dressed men and women were scattered around, chatting, and admiring the exotic fashion.
“We should talk to people,” I said. “See what’s going on, what people think, what they know.”
We split up. I started with the investors. One man strolled along the perimeter of the room, taking it all in.
“Amazing isn’t it,” I said to him, matching pace.
“Yes,” he said. “I didn’t believe the technology existed.”
“They’re claiming the start of a technological revolution. Think you’ll be investing?”
“I don’t know,” he said honestly. “I run Comcore. I know computers. I don’t know genetics or anything about gene modification. But I know code, and I know how messing with computer code can lead to trouble. I’m worried about what could come out of this.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. That confirmed my theory at least. This was real, modified body parts and tissue. Genetic engineering hadn’t come very far over the decades. Partially due to the taboo surrounding it, and partially because biology was a tough code to crack.
“Also,” he added. “I’d rather support medical research for life-saving drugs.”
“This will lead to lifesaving drugs.” A petite, pretty young woman cut in. “The gene manipulation techniques used to produce this-” she displayed her translucent wrist, of which only the blue-tinted nerves were visible “-are already being used to treat rare genetic deformities and diseases.”
The man began drilling her with questions, all she answered with practiced knowledge. He knew quite a bit about genes despite what he’s said. I slipped away to talk with some other investors.
The general opinion in the room ranged from concern to excitement. One pair, a married couple, enthusiastically praised the clever ingenuity and creativity. The Mrs. couldn’t wait to get her own gene’s done. I nearly avoided stumbling into a heated argument between one investor and a model. I didn’t catch what they were saying, but the investor stormed out of the room, screaming obscenities at the guests.
“Religious objections.” A young woman appeared at my side. Her hair was translucent along with her abdomen.
“Wouldn’t have guessed,” I said, though I couldn’t say I was surprised.
“Everyone reacts differently,” she said. “I’m Alice.”
She held out a silk-gloved hand for me to shake.
“Did it hurt?” I asked, gesturing to her organs, visible as if through a piece of sheer fabric.
“Of course it hurt,” she said. “We suffer for beauty and even more for attention.”
“Is that why you did it?”
“Certainly. It’s a conversation starter.”
Alice smiled sweetly. Bidden by some unknowable signal, the guest began to take their seats around the catwalk.
“Looks like you’re up,” I said, gesturing to the stage.
“Oh, I’m not in this show,” she said. “Shall we sit down?”
She led the way to the seats near the front. Anne appeared at my side.
“Learn anything?” she whispered in my ear.
“I’m still piecing it together,” I said.
“It’s not complicated. This is the most controversial fashion trend since plastic surgery. If someone can alter DNA to produce translucent tissue, imagine what else they can do?”
“I got that. I still have no clue how this is connected to you. Anyone giving you funny looks?”
“No,” she said. “but then they aren’t really looking at me.”
The lights winked out except for the glaring spotlights focused on the stage. The models came out one by one wearing plain white cotton dresses or slacks and t-shirts. They weren’t showing off their clothes. They were showing off their alterations.
The first model introduced what they called Glass Eyes.
“Translucent features are all called ‘glass’,” Alice whispered.
The model wore large, magnifying glasses, her eyes were translucent as glass, every blood vessel was visible, twisting and winding through her eyes, the black iris floating eerily in the center. Several models followed, sporting looks that were already available, colored nerves, organs, glass hair. Then came the premiere of new features. A man struck a pose, displaying bioluminescent blood pumping through glass veins in his hands. A pair of twin women twirled long, fleshy tails, one was glass and bioluminescent.
The genetic alterations became more and more incredible. Blond feathers covered one man’s head instead of hair. The finale consisted of a man and a woman. He wore only slacks and she only shorts and a bra. Winding over their bodies were dark green vines, growing out of their skin. Tiny leaves sprouted randomly.
“Human cells differentiated into plant cells,” Anne said, sounding impressed.
“That sounds scientific. How do you know scientific?”
“I don’t know, that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
The way her memory loss manifested did bother me. She forgot everything about who she was, yet she was somehow able to function as though she remembered everything else. I didn’t know enough about memory loss to make any assumptions, but I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling. I didn’t have time to figure out why it bothered me, as the lights came on and the guests went back to the party. Anne and I stood by the refreshments table, watching. After a few minutes, the models from the show came out to mingle with the investors and friends.
“What do we do now?” Anne asked.” We can’t talk to everyone. We don’t have time.”
“Hold on, I’m thinking.”
Anne had no memory and a towel from a company that designs genes. Was it possible they could erase memory so precisely? Anne also had a mysterious intravenous medication. Medication that might be keeping her memories from coming back. Alice stood nearby, fine glass hair shimmering as she tossed it aside with a silk-gloved hand. She was happy and alive and exotic with her genetic modification that hurt. Suffering for beauty. Suffering.
“I have an idea,” I said.
I slipped up to Alice as seamlessly as I could and waited for her to finish her conversation with several chatty investors, who seemed more interested in her than her modifications or sales pitch. Not in a good way. Alice handled them with ease and grace and had them off to the bar in no time.
“Are you enjoying yourself, sir?” she asked, turning a genuine smile to me.
“Dyson,” I said. “I am, I was just wondering something.”
“What’s the keep-up for these procedures? Do you have to take any medications?”
For a second, her smile faltered. It wasn’t a question she wanted to answer. It could make her product look bad.
“I do. The modifications require materials the human body does not normally have.”
“What kind of medications?”
She listed off about twenty different medications I had never heard of and their purposes.
“So you take a bunch of pills every day? That’s not so bad.”
“Well some are intravenous,” she said, “but that’s not such a big deal. It can get expensive though.”
“Tell me more about the procedure,” I said, the excitement in my voice she mistook for enthusiasm.
“Certainly, these are very complex procedures, Mr. Dyson. It’s not like getting a tattoo. Customers are required to undergo thorough genetic screening before, and once treatment begins, they are required to stay at the facility for the duration of the procedure. Once our skilled staff determines that the modifications have been integrated successfully, customers must return three times a week for evaluation for a month. Then once a week for another month, then one visit every six months for the foreseeable future.”
“What if they refuse?”
“Then the warranty is void and we won’t be held responsible for any damages that result.”
Cold, but not surprising. I wondered if the modifications could be reversed but that was a question for later.
“Where is this facility?”
“It’s a new spa up Rosenwood.”
“Any chance for a tour?” I asked.
Rosenwood drive is the high end of a high-end city. Fourteen miles of beautiful mansions and villas owned by the top movers and shakers in the city. Celebrities can’t afford to live there. Up Rosenwood drive is the exclusive shopping and leisure district of the neighborhood. Down Rosenwood drive are the private elementary and high schools where the rich and generous send their kids and provide free education to the best and brightest who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
I was negotiating a taxi pick up on my newly retrieved phone, discretely dug out of the model's bag hanging on a rack, when Alice introduced me to the lady Lisa herself. Alice explained that I’d expressed interest in their new facilities, and Lisa excitedly offered a private car to take Anne and me over. If Lisa recognized Anne, she hid it well.
“well of course! I simply must have the famous Dyson Macon take a look at my wonderful new technology. You’re the one who everyone’s going to be calling when it doesn’t work.” She gave me a wink. I liked her right away.
“I’ll have to brush up on genetics.”
She patted me playfully on the shoulder. “I’m sure you will.”
We sat in the back of a Blue Mist, the most expensive car on the road, driving up Rosenwood drive.
“Beautiful,” Anne breathed.
“Yes,” I agreed.
“I’ve been there,” I added, as we passed Gordan Tribbit’s estate.
“The Tribbit estate? With the famous silver gates? What’s that like?”
“It’s nice, they’re fake.”
“The gates? I thought so.”
“You know, you remember a lot. How can you know about all these things, but nothing about your life? How is that possible?”
“I don’t know, but I think we’re on the right track. These people seem like they could pull this off.”
“This is beyond technology. This gene medication stuff is playing god.”
“Do you want to stop?” she asked politely, yet she couldn’t hide the anxious undertone.
“No,” I said. “I’m too curious now. I want to know what’s going on here.”
“Something nefarious,” she said.
“Will you try to stop it?” she asked.
“Let’s just focus on getting your memory back for now,” I said.
The road curved around a hill, becoming Up Rosenwood Drive. We rounded the last bend. The isolated shopping mall rose up before us. Small, smooth buildings contrasted the large, blocky buildings of the city proper. The “Water of Life Spa, Coming Soon!” sign towered above the little stores. Built-in the modern fashion, smooth curves, light colors, and large, round windows, the impression of a relaxing escape.
Our driver dropped us at the door. Anne and I slipped out of the car. Attendants in peachy uniforms greeted us, having been expecting our arrival, and led us inside.
The lobby was relaxing, with water features and bamboo and smooth black stones. There was no designated reception area. Peach-clad attendants stood together in groups, presumably training for their guest’s arrival.
A man wearing a white lab coat over his peach uniform approached us with a smile.
“Welcome to Water of Life Mr. Macon. Lisa called ahead. She’s a big fan of yours and regrets that she was unable to give you the grand tour herself. She is eager to hear anything and everything you think about our new technical revolution.”
My charity mystery work had suddenly turned into charity consulting.
“I am Olin Lara, head of guest services and treatment coordinator.”
We shook hands; I introduced Anne, and he beckoned us to follow. He led us through the lobby, the dining area, the recreation areas, pool, gym, sports courts. Then he took us through the treatment areas, salon, massage, sauna, steam room, and various beauty and health treatments I’d never even heard of. Anne did not seem impressed.
“Everything is included in your package,” he said. “All our spa treatments, meals, and activities are designed to promote quick and comfortable recovery from your treatments.”
“Will the spa amenities be open to those who do not want a genetic modification?” Anne asked.
“That is a question that many Rosenwood residence are asking,” he said. “This facility will be exclusive to our genetic modification guests for the time being. In the future, there are plans to open it to a more general clientele. Would you like to see our GM treatment facilities now?”
He brought us to one of the four treatment rooms in use. The rest were still under construction. It consisted of a leather chair, on a plush blue carpet, wood-paneled walls. Comfortable and innocuous. Except for the heavy leather straps on the chair. Alice had said it was painful.
“Not what you were expecting is it?” Olin said with a hint of pride. “You were expecting a cold, white surgical room, with lots of poking and prodding tools.”
I had been, but I didn’t say so.
“You said Lisa wanted to know what I think about your technology, what can you show me about the treatments?”
“Yes, let me show you our packages. They outline the science and technology used to create each effect.”
He brought us to a terrace overlooking the extensive grounds. Peach-clad attendants arrived shortly with refreshments and several bound tomes.
“Shall I go through the treatments with you?” Olin asked.
“I think we can handle them.”
“Very well. I will be in my office. Ask any aid if you need me.”
He left us alone with the books.
“Think there’s anything in these books?” Anne asked.
“Then what are we going to do now?”
I doubted that I would find anything specifically about Anne, but if there was a procedure for erasing memory, it might be a treatment option or there may be a record of the procedure on their network.
“Look through these books,” I said. “Look for any treatments having to do with the brain. I’m going to hack their network and see what I can find.”
I backtracked to the treatment room he’d shown us. It had a computer that would most likely be connected to patient and research information. I slipped through the building, dodging peachy aids that wandered by. There were doors throughout the halls that would be sealed when the facility opened. For now, everything was unlocked. I slipped into the treatment room and activated the computer.
There were a few programs displayed on the screen. Most came standard, a few were work-related. One was called “Master Data.” I pressed my thumb against the icon and a simple, black, and white log-in page appeared.
There’s a simple way to hack into any system. All you have to do is know the password of anyone who uses the system. It’s much easier than actually hacking into a program. Username and password are safest locked inside memory, and yet people still write them down.
I reached around the computer and found a slip of paper. I typed in the name and password chuckling. This was why technology was winning.
The program was full of technical medical data. The patient files were buried deep, meant to be retrieved one at a time by someone who had all the patients' information. With a little digging, I pulled up a list of clients. Twenty names, no one called Anne. I recognized one name, Alice. I tapped on the screen, and the file popped open.
The first page was a lot of personal information. I scrolled through that and several other pages of informed consent until I came to her treatment record. Each treatment listed the genotype of the trait to be modified and the resulting phenotype.
I recognized most of the traits. Glass hair and skin, colorful nervous system. Each trait I’d seen in person except the last on the list.
Epithelial Structural Protein Misfold Inductors.
Try saying that five times fast.
From the description, I gathered they were patches of cells on her hands and an unsettling warning to keep them covered at all times.
Digitally leafing through the rest of the names, I found five more with similar modifications and ominous warnings.
“Interesting stuff?” said Olin from the doorway.
I glanced at him casually over my shoulder.
“I probably don’t have the clearance to see this,” I said.
“Probably not,” he agreed.
“But, you shouldn’t leave this lying around.” I waved the note in the air.
“No,” he said. His light, neutral tone unnerved me. Maybe he thought this was all part of my process, or maybe he knew my memory was about to be erased the same way I suspected Anne’s had been.
“You said Lisa wanted me to check out your tech. Find the bugs, keep things from getting out of hand.”
“Yes,” he said, “Lisa so wants to lead a new age of technology. If there is any rotten material in the foundation, the whole endeavor could collapse. Lisa hopes you will help us weed out the bad seeds.”
“I think you overestimate my abilities,” I said.
“Perhaps. I tend to think you are more trouble than you are worth.”
“Why is that?”
“I know you are indebted to a conglomerate that you can never hope to be free of. I think you are here to uncover our secrets and sell them to our competitors. I’m sure they would pay you more than Lisa ever could.”
“That’s not what I’m here for.”
“Then enlighten me.”
“You did something to my friend. Erased her memories. Left her on the beach with a towel from your company and intravenous medication. I’m trying to find out what happened to her. Tell me now or I’ll find out some other way.”
The man frowned, annoyed and confused.
“What are you talking about? We can’t induce specific amnesia. Even if we could we wouldn’t let anyone out into the world with information so sensitive it has to be erased from their mind.”
That was a very specific and illegal contingency plan for that particular scenario.
“Is there someone with that kind of information then?”
“Yes but…” he trailed off. “She can’t have … Oh no.”
He tore from the room, booking it back to the terrace. As I chased him the rumbly tummy feeling I get whenever a job is going south developed in my abdomen. I nearly slammed into him at the large terrace doors.
Anne was not there.
“What’s going on?” I demanded.
“This is your fault,” he said, angrily jabbing a finger into my chest.
“How is this?”
An agonizing cry drowned out all argument. We took off towards reception. Screaming preceded us all the way.
We stopped dead at the door, a gruesome sight before us.
Five aids lay on the floor moaning, the skin melting off their bodies. Anne stood at a computer, one hand sweeping through the data, the other holding an aid by the hair, which fell out as his scalp dripped down his face.
“It’s a good thing you gave me my meds Dyson,” she said casually. “This could have been you.”
“Anne, what have you done?” I asked, horrified.
“I’m saving the world, Dyson. Saving it from the dangers of technology, just like you.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“What? That I didn’t really lose my memory? That I used you to get in here.”
“No, I got that, just now. I don’t understand why you needed me to get in here. They don’t recognize you, and you must have known that. What did you need me for?”
I was satisfying my curiosity as much as stalling. I utterly failed to see my role in the elaborate scheme she’d included me in.
“You’re here because I needed you to see and be seen.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“I need you to see what they are doing to people like me because you understand what happens when people underestimate technology. When they lose control of it.”
“Yes, and I try to save people, not melt them,” I said.
“Different methods, same results.”
I glanced over at Olin. He knelt over one of the attendants whispering comfortingly. If he had already called for help, I wasn’t sure it would make it on time. Or if there was anyone who could help.
“You said you were saving the world,” I said. "Can you be more specific?"
An attendant wandered in from outside. He stopped and gawked in horror at the scene before him. In a moment Anne was on him. She cupped a hand to his face. He fell to the floor crying out, skin blistering and bubbling.
“Are you blind? Or just being stupid?" she asked angrily, stepping towards me. I held my ground but only just. "I'm saving the world from people like me. This is what they are doing Dyson. They are making people who can do this. It’s not a side-effect, they created this. They are going to use us to blackmail, and bully, and threaten and kill.”
“That’s not true!” Olin cried. “It’s an unfortunate side-effect. We’re working on a cure. She’s delusional. We were keeping her contained for her safety and the safety of others.”
“Lier!” she screeched, but she did not attack him yet. She wanted me to hear his lies.
He looked at me pleadingly.
“That’s not true,” I said quietly to him.
“What?” he said indignantly.
“You said there was someone here with information so sensitive, you couldn’t risk her being out in the world.”
“Bad Information,” he insisted, “lies.”
“But,” I continued. “Those other files had modifications with warnings. What was it? Endothelial something?”
“Epithelial Structural Protein Misfold Inductors,” Anne said.
“Yeah, in the hands. Skin melting cells."
“A side-effect. We are trying to eliminate it.”
“You were worried I was selling information to your competitors. People you would want to blackmail and kill if they ever got ahold of your technology,” I said flatly. "Side-effect or not you have reason to use it."
“Alright, fine. We were looking into contracting the clients who developed the anomaly. Secret security. Nothing more.”
“That’s a slippery slope if I ever wandered onto one,” I said. “Anne has a point.”
“I knew you’d understand Dyson,” Anne said.
“But,” I continued. “It’s still no excuse for what you’ve done here Anne.”
“And I was afraid you’d say that.” She turned to me, poised to strike. “You don’t truly know how much influence you have. You’re a living legend. People tell stories about you. Some people don’t believe you exist.”
“I think you’re exaggerating.” It’s not that I was unaware of my fame so much as I chose to ignore it. Although I genuinely missed the point at which I became a ‘living legend’.
“Of course you think that. You don’t want to be famous. You want to pay your debt that can never be repaid without recognition or accolades. I don’t care. I need you to be seen by those who see you and admire you, either taking a stand next to me against this abuse of technology and humanity or dying in a puddle of your own mutilated tissue.”
I glanced at Olin who was stroking the hair of the expired aid. I could run, but I didn’t know the facility well enough to get out another way. I could die, but that would make a lot of people very angry. I could stand with Anne. Be her mascot or whatever she thought I would be, leashed once again. What would I do if my two masters ever opposed each other? I made a thinking face and slipped my hands into my pockets.
“Anne,” I said to distract her from my rummaging fingers. “You're not wrong. What they are doing is the kind of short-sighted thing that leads to messes they will undoubtedly call me in to clean up.”
“Yes, and you can stop them right now before they can hurt anyone else. Stand with me and speak out against them. The people will hear you. They will condemn Lisa and shun this technology.”
“Maybe I can,” I said. I’d never made a point of condemning any kind of technology or rallying the masses against one thing or another, though it did happen sometimes, but that didn’t matter. Anne believed I could and she was going to kill me if I didn’t. I couldn’t become distracted by her grand schemes. The reality at this moment was plain and simple. Anne was just another piece of malfunctioning technology and I had to rescue her creators from her. I’d never thought of a human being like that before and I didn’t have time to ponder the way it made me feel sick and inhuman.
“I will not stand with you, Anne. Kill me, or I will stop you.”
Shrieking with rage, Anne lunged at me, hands outstretched. I threw my arms up and caught her hands in mine. Touching me was her goal. It took a moment for the insane satisfaction to drain from her face, replaced with rage. Too late. Her hands were melded to my sticky gloves. When she couldn’t pull away she spat in my face. I half expected it to be acid.
Olin called the cops and his bosses while I wrangled Anne. She kicked and screamed obscenities. My ankles would be bruised for months. Lisa and her crew were the first to arrive. Paramedics in peach uniforms pulled Anne off me, wrapped her in a straitjacket, and carted her away.
“What a mess,” Lisa said. “I don’t know how we are going to explain this.”
“You mean cover it up,” I said.
Lisa gave me a calculated look.
“Everyone has their price,” she said.
“Here’s mine.” I scribbled on a notepad on a table nearby and handed it to her.
“Fair enough,” she agreed.
“And I’d like a ride home.”
She called for a car, happy to be rid of me. I folded the paper check she handed me as I slid into the car and stashed it in my pocket. It was like a down payment for the messes Lisa would be calling me to clean up soon enough.
A crushing weight settled over me and I had the long ride home to contemplate the unimaginable. I was almost certain I had just helped them cover up illegal human experimentation. I didn’t believe Anne had knowingly consented to be given skin-melting hands and as she had no other modifications it couldn't be a side-effect. I couldn’t take a stand with her though. Firstly because she was killing people, secondly because it was likely the powers I was beholden to would have stopped me. They wouldn’t want me trying to take down a company that could provide me, and thus them, with so much income.
None of that really bothered me, as this wasn’t the first time I’d faced this kind of moral quandary. What really bothered me, was that I couldn’t ignore this one. I could no longer be the man who comes to the rescue when everything goes wrong. There used to be two kinds of people in my world, the ones who create technology and the ones who use technology, and I rescue both their sorry asses when the tech malfunctions and let the judges and the lawyers figure out the rest. Now there was a third person, Anne, the person I tried to save was the thing I had to stop. I would face another like her inevitably, and I had no good solution. Not yet.
“Wow, glass eyes. You can see all the blood vessels.”
“I’m getting my tail glassed this summer.”
“I want to get vine graphs.”
“Human flowers are so beautiful.”
The voices swirled around me, as did the bar top in front of me and the fashion show on the screen above me.
“Do we have to watch this?” I muttered to the older man pouring my drink.
He smiled and switched the channel to the news. He knew I liked to watch the news.
Political scandal, war abroad, genetic modification trends. I heaved a sigh and raised the cup to my lips.
“Breaking news, several senators have just been discovered murdered at a charity event for hunger awareness. Eyewitness accounts claim that the senators’ flesh has been melted from their bodies.”
“Turn that crap off!” Some barfly shouted.
The bartender switched the channel to sports.