Click, click, click.
The visor of a Besta-24 rendered pictures of streets lit by ongoing construction, retail, restaurants, hydroponics. All comforts of people in a city where the daylight only shines beneath the clouds sixty days a year.
John - John? John, yes, that’s the name. He was Nori yesterday. John had a simple job. Walk the halls of development center 5E53. Check badges. Have a short conversation with any living being that seems out of sorts on the premises. Keep that conversation short; show them out. Try not to upset bystanders.
Most of the job involved sitting in a room. Walking the halls too frequently made the good, talented folks of the company nervous. To compromise, there would have to be stretches of sitting still in a windowless room filled with screens and too many charts, or standing on the rooftop to calm the nerves and survey the distance.
With another click, the visor turned to static. John looked to his left, feeling himself rematerialize - where? The room, his room. With a red eyed frame of a mechanical girl staring right back at him.
“Hello!” A synthetic voice came from the body. John was fairly sure this automaton did not have the right ID.
“May I see your badge, Miss?” The usual opening when meeting a suspicious person.
“Oh, I have many forms of identification! I could synthesize a physical apparatus with model number, ethernet MAC address, id and factory of origin, if you please. Just give me five seconds.”
A few thoughts passed by John. He thought of the hailed senior executive who was too quickly reassigned to work on robotics after inappropriate relations with staff. He considered that there were quite a number of things that the company did that he knew nothing about, and felt that they had no business in doing. Finally, he thought about how much he was paid.
John threw up his badge at the mechanical girl. It wasn’t merely a printed photograph; there were two quarter-sized batteries and a circuit board wedged into a plastic prison about a centimeter thick.
Pointing to the picture, “Do you have a badge like this, Miss? Photo ID is required on site.”
The red eyes focused on the badge, held it for a moment, and replied, “Twenty seconds!”
In need of something to liven up his day, John took a long sip of his beer. As he put the can down,
“How is this?”
A holographic badge showing the girl’s face, with words below it reading “MEM” was presented almost matter of factly before John. John tried to take the badge from the robot girl’s grip, only to find that the grip was quite firm.
John waved a hand over the badge. His visor read, “TRACKING DEVICE FOR EMPLOYEE MEM@ AKADEMGORODOK SYSTEMS SPECIAL UNIT FULL TIME EMPLOYEE NO RESTRICTIONS.”
Tilting his head to meet Mem’s gaze, John inquired, “You don’t actually work here, do you?”
“No, I don’t. John, was it? This is my first time in 5E53.” Mem blinked. “Am I not allowed in here?”
John knew better than to ask too many questions, when he knew he, no, the company wouldn’t like the answers. “Don’t worry about it, ma’am. As a full time employee, you are free to go… wherever. Break whatever. Just don’t do anything with malice.”
Mem smiled. “I don’t have malice.” A pause. Her smile fades a bit. “I do murder demons without hesitation, but that is not technically malice.”
“Then, technically, you can stay.” John watched the clock. “You wouldn’t happen to have any good stories to tell for the next three hours, would you?”
“Oh! I love telling stories. Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction?”
John tapped his head. “I like stories of today, without the fantasy.”
He thought about the past the company gave him yesterday, the family he didn’t have, the unsettling feeling of pretending that a childhood, a time of being powerless and thoroughly unable to change one’s life, is something worth giving a damn about.
He’d rather be John, he decided. A cybernetic assigned dirty jobs in interesting times and dull strong man security jobs in these times.
Maybe Mem was planned by the company, maybe not. No matter. Better to mind his own business.