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Fiction project: Deus Ex Machina – part 2…

21 May

Ok then, here’s the second installment of my first foray into fiction.

So far we’ve met Kreel, our hero, and he’s just arrived for an interview at the offices of mysterious Mobius corporation.
(If you missed the beginning of the story, or want to read it all in one go, go here to catch up)

image

A small holo lit up beside the door; ENTER, so he pressed the pad and when the door slid aside, stepped into the small room beyond.
The office was bare except for two chairs, placed either side of a desk on which stood a terminal and a chip scanner.
There was a second door in the far wall and a holo sign; PLEASE BE SEATED.

Kreel took a seat and waited, trying to remember what it was that had attracted him to the idea of joining the Mobius programme in the first place.

He’d been watching a lot of late night V-screen chat shows recently, featuring a variety of crazies and weirdos who talked about alien invasions and conspiracies, always gnawing away at the question of population growth and why, if we all live for so much longer, are there not more of us filling our silent, empty cities each passing year.

But for the first time in living memory children were becoming a common sight, playing in the sunshine of the parks and plazas, although now he came to think of it he hadn’t seen so many young infants or babies in the last few years.

Even though the discovery of the wondrous devices had made life easier than it had been for hundreds of years, it had also made it dull.
The only physical work that needed doing was the tough, manual labour of construction, production and farming work and a few personal interaction jobs, like that of the receptionist sixty floors below, designed to ease the perceived divide between the Race and the machines.
All other tasks were performed by technology made possible by the knowledge gleaned from studying the artifacts.
Society no longer needed all the trappings of the old ways, whole industries disappeared practically overnight.
Who needs mile upon mile of shops and offices, dedicated to buying and selling the world’s resources, when most of those resources are suddenly redundant, replaced by technology the common citizen cannot hope to understand?
Who needs armies to protect them, when all have access to the same endless source of knowledge and power?
Doctors were no longer necessary, all medical procedures could be carried out by the machines.
Teachers slowly disappeared from society as it became clear the machines had already learnt all there was to know about the world and could impart that knowledge far more reliably than a simple citizen.
Even so, some Teachers still existed, giving lessons to any who wanted to hear about life before the coming of the knowledge, despite being strongly discouraged by those in charge, which generally meant Mobius Corp.

It had been a Teacher who had nearly changed Kreel’s mind about coming to the interview. On one of the rare nights he’d gone out to a social he’d been cornered by the intensely earnest young man, who spent the evening trying to put ideas in his head about sinister plots to subjugate the Race to the will of some imagined alien overlords.
He seemed determined to convince Kreel that citizens who signed up for Enhancement were being somehow enslaved or “absorbed” as he put it, by the Mobius programme.
Kreel later heard that the Teacher had some sort of epiphany, claiming to have seen the error of logic in his thinking and, fully embracing the culture of the Enhanced, had left for the nearest Mobius Corp facility that very day.

Kreel’s reverie was broken by the sound of the office’s second door opening.
He stood as a man in Mobius uniform entered, closed and re-encrypted the door pad, then turned to him with a polite smile and took Kreel’s outstretched hand in greeting.

Gesturing for him to take a seat once more, the other man took his place behind the desk and only then spoke for the first time, “May I have your chip and the card that Istrell gave you please”
He passed his chip across the desk, accompanied by the printed card the receptionist had given him, both of which the official scanned before handing back the chip and sliding the card into a slot in the terminal.
He looked at whatever data scrolled across his screen for a few seconds, then looked up at Kreel and said, “That all seems to be in order. I see you work on line 385, that’s part of the facility construction team isn’t it?”
“That’s right, prefabricated habitation structures, goodness knows how many citizens I’ve housed over the years, I’ve lost count.” said Kreel with a wry smile.
“Doesn’t sound like that’s your idea of an ideal future, spending it in a job like that. Is that why you decided to try for Enhancement?”
Kreel considered this, “I’ve been thinking about it for some time, it seems like the time to try something new, that’s all”
This seemed to amuse the Mobius official, who smiled and said, almost to himself, “Something new, well exactly”
He looked up from the terminal and said, “Your application will take a few minutes to process, if you would like to make yourself comfortable in the waiting area, someone will come for you shortly”

Kreel left the office and began walking back to the lobby, not realising until he’d gone some distance that he was going the wrong way down the corridor. He was just turning to retrace his steps when he heard the sounds of some kind of disturbance, coming from a point somewhere up ahead, out of sight around the curvature of the strangely glowing walls.
He glanced behind him, checking to see if the noise had attracted the attention of any Mobius staff and when it seemed nobody was coming he cautiously edged further along the wall, keeping his back against the inside curve of the corridor.

The sound of a struggle became suddenly louder as he came within sight of an open door, a few metres along the wall from where he stood. He could now clearly hear voices, one raised in panic, fear, or both, two others spoke with firmness bordering on aggression.
“No, no, there must be some mistake! You must let me go back!”
“I told you to calm down. You’re just confused, nobody is trying to hurt you”
“I don’t understand, who’s he? What’s wrong with him?”
There was a crash as something in the room was knocked over and Kreel took the opportunity to move closer to the doorway.
He risked a glance into the office, taking in as much of the scene as he dared, drawing back quickly from the doorway to avoid being observed.

The office was in as much disarray as could be achieved in a room so sparsely furnished, the desk was overturned, the terminal lying in pieces on the floor presumably the cause of the crash he’d heard.
In the chair nearest him, Kreel had the back view of the slumped figure of a citizen, obviously unconscious, head lolling to one side, arms dangling limply.
Behind the upturned desk, two large members of the Mobius staff were attempting to restrain a wildly resisting man, also in Mobius Corp uniform, who was desperately scrabbling at the room’s second door and shouting, “He can’t be, He can’t be! Send me back, please!”

Peering once more through the doorway, he was in time to see one of the Mobius staff take something metallic from his pocket, releasing the struggling figure long enough to adjust the object in some way, before jabbing it unceremoniously into the man’s shoulder, who immediately went limp and slid to the ground.
It was only at the last moment that Kreel realised what the man had been staring at as he collapsed.

The man’s uncomprehending, terrified stare was fixed on the unconscious figure in the chair.

While the two Mobius officials were engaged in hauling the slumped figure up from the floor, Kreel ducked out of sight and hurried back down the corridor in the direction of the lobby, intending to leave before he was recalled to office 6054. But as he stood near the area where the transporter had deposited him earlier, trying to work out how to activate the controls, he heard voices behind him.
He moved quickly to the chairs in the waiting area, hearing one of the Mobius staff say, “We don’t know what happened, someone must have smuggled it in” there was a pause, Kreel guessed the man was on his link, “We’re not sure yet, either an image grabber or a mirror”

He had just reached the circle of chairs and sat down when the two men came into the lobby, one of them pushing a hovering stretcher, on which lay the unconscious citizen from the office.
Of the other wild-eyed man in Mobius uniform, there was no sign.

When the man using his link saw him he stopped speaking immediately and slowed almost to a halt, as if he was going to challenge Kreel’s presence there. The second man subjected Kreel to a brief stare, then turned to his colleague, exchanged a few words Kreel didn’t catch and without casting another glance in his direction, they resumed their former pace, soon vanishing out of sight down one of the other corridors.

For a minute he didn’t move, his mind racing as he tried to comprehend what he had just heard.
It wasn’t that he had a lot of extra information to process, just a couple of sentences overheard as part of a one-sided link conversation, it was the words themselves; “an image grabber or a mirror”, the man had said.

Long time since he’d heard anyone talk about a mirror.

The ban on personal optical devices had been in force for so many generations now that it made most people nervous just thinking about a time when vanity was so rife that whole sections of the Race were almost wiped out on the grounds of nothing more than aesthetic appearance.

After the introduction of the alien artifacts had made ethnic and nationalistic segregation obsolete, it had been decreed that all self-imaging equipment was to be surrendered to amnesty stations.
The authorities explained that since the Race were now all equal under the artifacts, differences caused by a citizen’s urge for individuality, his need to stand out from the crowd, only served to reinforce the kind of prejudice and petty jealousy that had brought the world to the edge of extinction in the first place.
Therefore all image grabbers, mirrors, holo makers and any other equipment capable of reproducing or documenting a citizen’s appearance was to be surrendered forthwith, non-conformance to be met with no tolerance whatsoever.

But how could a mirror have caused the man to react with such terror?
Kreel didn’t know and wasn’t keen to find out, he just wanted to leave.

Once more he tried to operate the control for the transport device and once more he was frustrated, the panel appeared to be inactive.
There seemed to be no way of returning to ground level, other than by using the transporter so he abandoned his attempts and was about to go in search of another exit, which was when he noticed the Mobius official, striding purposefully towards him across the lobby, and he realised it was too late.

********************************************************************

With any luck, you should now be just as keen as me to know what’s going to happen next.

We’ll find out together, hopefully before too much longer…

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