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Fiction project: Deus Ex Machina…

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Kreel paced nervously up and down outside the Mobius building, occasionally squinting up at the gleaming white tower that stood at one end of the giant plaza, before coming to a halt facing the shimmering holo-glass doors.
With one final nervous glance upwards, he stepped into the detector field and watched with the usual mixture of mild suspicion and semi-superstitious amazement as the solid-looking image of the doors morphed and stretched into a brightly lit corridor which terminated in front of the reception console in the lobby.

Noticing for the first time his pounding heartbeat and ragged breathing and taking a moment to regain his composure, Kreel entered the impossible corridor.

It had all seemed a lot simpler the night before, sitting in front of the V-screen watching yet another Info on the increase in living standards around the world, then seeing the latest ‘vert for Mobius Corp and thinking; Well why not, you’ve been wanting to get out of that dead end job for six cycles now, what’s the worst that could happen?

He’d heard all the rumours of course, everybody had. But that’s all they were, rumours. Nobody really believed the stories about secret experiments and research projects being carried out by the scientists at Mobius, not after all they’d done to stabilise the Race after the Discovery.

Even now you couldn’t watch V-screen shows for more than a few minutes without seeing two or three ‘verts for medical techniques enabled by the strange artifacts;

“Regenerate and replicate cell growth with repeatable accuracy!”
“Let Mobius Corp wind back your life clock!”
“Watch the years fall away, welcome back your youth”

The fact that Mobius Corp had been instrumental in unearthing every one of the fifty or so artifacts had seemed nothing short of incredible at the time, but as news of the discoveries spread it became clear that the contents of each site had included detailed directions to the location of the next device.

After that it was only a matter of translating the “operating manuals” found with each machine, something that seemed to have been made almost childishly simple by our unknown benefactors, cautiously power up the gigantic, sleeping mechanical monsters, and begin to test the unbelievable claims made by the alien literature regarding their abilities.

Since the discovery of the artifacts the dangerous slide in population had quickly slowed, a gradual rise in numbers being recorded around the world after only a few decades.
This apparently miraculous rescue of the Race, until recently teetering perilously close to the brink of extinction, wiped away any lingering apprehension harboured by those who had initially distrusted the use of alien technology for medical purposes.

Indeed, many joined the growing number of citizens who accepted and embraced the new processes, their monotonous daily lives forgotten as they made the trip to one of the thousands of Mobius Corp facilities that had sprung up on every continent and were now all presumably immersed in their new lives in the elite world of the Enhanced, as nobody ever returned to take up their humdrum former existence amongst the common people who they left behind.

In fact Kreel couldn’t think of anyone he knew who had gone to an interview for a position at his local facility who had then come back to work for even one day, they’d gone straight into the programme and never returned.
It really must be as good as the ‘verts make out, otherwise people would complain, he thought.
I’ve got enough credits and I never have time to spend them on anything else anyway, what have I got to lose?

But now, walking down the sterile white tube of the holo-corridor, he was having second thoughts.
What if the conspiracy nuts are right?
What if the stories about citizens being farmed for alien food are true?
Or the theory that people are being transported back to the alien homeworld, would that not account for the sudden plateau in population numbers in recent years, despite the increase in life expectancy?

His head spinning with all manner of imaginary horrors, Kreel was on the verge of fleeing the building when a concerned voice at his side asked;
“Are you alright, do you need to sit down for a moment?”
He looked down into the worried face of a young woman he had briefly seen behind the reception console, who laid her hand gently on his arm and guided him to a chair.
“Don’t worry, many people are disoriented by their walk down the holo,” she gave the holo-glass wall – from the inside, one unbroken expanse of window – a distasteful glare and said, “you just sit there until you feel better, I will check your appointment. Do you have your chip?”

Kreel wordlessly handed her his chip and she moved to the console where she scanned it and read his details off a glowing screen.
He watched her tap something into a terminal and heard a printer working somewhere. She looked up and smiled, “When you’re ready, you can go up,” she walked over as he rose to his feet, “sixtieth floor, office number 6054. Here’s your card”

He thanked her and looked around the lobby for the elevators, turning back to ask for directions, but the girl had returned to her station and was talking on her link so he made for a promising-looking sign on the far wall, which said ENTER FLOOR NUMBER HERE, above a holo of a keypad.
He entered 60 on the pad and was suddenly and horrifyingly aware of traveling at immense speed upward, as though shot from a cannon, coming to rest with the same impossibly smooth motion, in a lobby similar to the one on the ground floor, the obvious difference being the corridors leading off in three directions, doors visible every so often along the gently curving walls until they vanished into the softly glowing distance.

A holo on the wall pointed the way to offices 6030-60, so Kreel made his way in that direction, legs still unsteady after the shock of his rapid elevation by unseen technology, reading off the numbers until he found himself in front of office 6054.
He had one last, brief pang of doubt, then squared his shoulders and knocked on the door.

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.

The official had the look of some type of bird; tall and gaunt, with slightly stooped shoulders, a long thin nose and greasy black hair.
A raven, that’s what he reminds me of thought Kreel, shivering in distaste as the man approached.
There was no warmth in his expression, no attempt at pleasantries, in fact his unnaturally black eyes barely glanced up from the link screen he was carrying.
Not until he reached the spot where Kreel was standing, nervously eyeing the control panel for the transporter, did he finally deign to look up and, after giving the merest hint of a nod in greeting, said, “Your application has been processed, if you would be good enough to come with me, we can get the interview underway.” And with that, the man stood to one side, allowing Kreel to pass ahead of him, back down the corridor to the office.
By now Kreel’s inner voice was telling him with increasing urgency that going into that room would be a very bad idea indeed.
But what could he do?

He tried stalling, his mind working quickly to come up with any excuse that would get him out of there.
“Is there some sort of literature I could take with me, so I could think about this at home?” he asked.
“I’m afraid we don’t have anything like that here sir.” said the official, gently but firmly placing his hand on Kreel’s arm and guiding him towards the door of office 6054.
Shaking his arm free of the other man’s grasp, Kreel said, “I’m sorry, I’d like more time to think about this, it’s a big decision.”
“There really is nothing for you to be worried about sir, the process is completely safe and painless.”

This statement was clearly intended to reassure him, but to Kreel, coming from this predatory looking figure, it sounded unmistakably sinister and if anything it increased his desire not to re-enter the office.
“I’d like to leave now please,” he said, turning to face the uncooperative yet obsequious official, “you have no right to keep me here against my will!”
“But you’re not here against your will are you?” smarmed the man, who Kreel was beginning to dislike and distrust in equal measure, “you came to us of your own volition, and anyway, your application has been processed, it’s too late to back out now”
“Back out? Back out of what? It hasn’t even been explained to me what this, this Enhancement process is all about, let alone getting me to sign up for anything.”

Kreel turned on his heel and began walking back down the corridor toward the lobby, just as two figures appeared up ahead of him, a citizen and a Mobius official, seemingly deep in conversation.
He realised two things at once; firstly that this must be another prospective client for the mysterious Enhancement procedure being escorted to his interview; secondly that this was also his chance to escape.
Still walking, he waited until he was almost level with the pair, then turned and shouted back over his shoulder, “Don’t think you can bully me into signing anything. Let me out of here right now, you can’t stop me leaving!”

The new arrivals looked startled by his outburst and the second Mobius man said, “Is there a problem here? A misunderstanding perhaps?”
Kreel was gratified to note that his former escort was looking decidedly uncomfortable under the baleful glare of the other, presumably senior man, so he pressed his advantage;
“Misunderstanding? I should say there has been a misunderstanding,” turning to the bewildered looking citizen, who was looking on in what appeared to be rising anxiety, he said “I’d get out while you still can my friend, and whatever you do don’t sign anything.”

“Slynn, would you care to explain what is going on here?”
This was directed at Kreel’s now visibly cowed tormentor in a withering tone that left no doubt as to his displeasure in having to deal with the oily individual.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” said Kreel, trying to sound more confident than he felt and adopting a self righteous, pompous tone, “this colleague of yours,” he gave the man called Slynn a look of distaste, “was attempting to coerce me into signing up for something I know nothing about. I don’t intend to be intimidated by the likes of this third rate corporate lackey with ideas above his station, I demand to be treated with respect.”

An expression of irritation darkened the senior man’s face, mixed with one of, what…panic?..and he gave Slynn a look of pure hated.
He was about to address the citizen who accompanied him – the man was looking increasingly ill at ease to have got caught up in the confrontation – when Kreel realised he wouldn’t get a better chance to extricate himself from this situation and he once more rounded on the Mobius officer;
“I wish to leave immediately. You’re not going to railroad me into anything, I came here in good faith!” and then as an afterthought, “What is your name? I assume you are this man’s supervisor,” he shot Slynn another unfriendly glance, “and I intend to make a complaint to whomever is in charge.”

After pausing for only a second, the man extended his hand and said, “My apologies, where are my manners?” he smiled, but not with his eyes, his lips stayed tightly pressed together as though not having tried the expression before and finding the experience uncomfortable, “My name is Elrek Frane, I am the Chief Registrar at this facility.”
Kreel briefly shook the offered hand, noticing for the first time something familiar in the other man’s face, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
But it wasn’t important now, all he cared about was getting as far away from this place, as quickly as he could.

The Mobius official said, “I’m sorry that you have been given the erroneous impression that your presence here is anything but voluntary sir, I’m sure Slynn was simply being over zealous in promoting our services.”
Kreel snorted derisively, “Over zealous? Heavy handed is more like it.”
“Well sir, as I say, you are perfectly within your rights not to take up our offer at the present time. But maybe you could be persuaded to return at a later date, to have the process explained to you in more detail?”
“I very much doubt that,” said Kreel abruptly, “not after the way I’ve been treated today. Now if you would be so kind as to direct me to a working transporter, I’ll be on my way.”

“A working transporter, sir?” Frane raised an eyebrow quizzically, “I’m sure all of our transporters are in perfect working order, in fact I don’t believe we’ve ever had a problem with any of them.”
Did Kreel see a glint of amusement in the man’s face at this statement? A look of satisfaction?
If so, it was gone in an instant and the man turned on his heel and beckoned Kreel to follow him back to the lobby, addressing the sullen Slynn as he went,
“Slynn, please see that our client is shown to the correct room and made to feel welcome.”
“Yes, sir!” replied the scrawny, bird-like underling with obvious sarcasm that Frane either missed or ignored and, taking the unresisting citizen by the arm, scuttled off in the opposite direction.

To be continued…

 

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