Curiosity

Posted: February 23, 2016 in cyberpunk, Fiction, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , ,

Image source: http://simonweaner.deviantart.com/art/Punker-587861262

This month’s story image prompt from the Cyberpunk Writer’s group I’m part of. Not very cyberpunk in ethos (my story, not the image), but I still like how it played out.

Leave a comment if you are feeling kind.

“I have what you want.” The voice over the line is cold, clipped, artificial. A shiver runs down my back, and the hairs on the back of my neck stand at end. Problem is, I can’t tell if the voice on the other line belongs to a genuine synthetic or someone adapting the aesthetic of one.

Still. My heart gives a little flutter. I’ve been looking for a long time. Long enough to have hope dry up and twist into despair of ever finding it.

“How do I know you have it?” It wouldn’t be the first time some charlatan raised my hopes, tried to prey on an assumed naiveté I’d long since abandoned.

“You do not.” There is no emotional cadence to the voice. The simple statement gives me hope. Someone trying to trick me would make all sorts of promises. This one doesn’t bother. Maybe they have it after all.

“So how do I get it from you? If you think you have what I want? Can I transfer payment and accept delivery?” I haven’t left my apartment in months. Few people my age do. Unless you are unfortunate enough to work in a service industry, most of what you can do, you can do from the comfort of your living room. Twice a week a drone flits onto my landing to deliver groceries.

“I do not do house calls.” There is a pause. I’m wondering how to reply, wondering if I’ll have to leave my sanctuary. Wondering if I can up the price to convince the mystery buyer to come to me. “I can give you an address.”

“What I offer you more?”

“That is unacceptable. The price is the price. No house calls.”

I sigh, long and hard. I’d suggest drone delivery, but if the buyer has the genuine article, then I don’t trust one of those flying traps to bring it to me intact. No telling also if the shipment will be hijacked. Too much of that going on lately for my comfort.

“I-I’ll come to you.” Forcing the words out is almost painful, a small taste of the discomfort to come. “Where should I meet you?” My tongue is leaden, and I feel my shoulders slump at the prospect of venturing outside.

“I am sending you the address now.”

#

Rain pounds on the otherwise empty bus, neon streaks of light distorted by the down pour. There isn’t even a driver to talk to, the bus’s automated systems navigating streets long deserted by pedestrians. A dog standing on a street corner, looking half drowned and three quarters starved, stares at me for a time before disappearing down an alley.

The bus glides to a stop. I exit, avoiding the worst of the rivulets pooling by the curb. The street lights cast hazy halos down on to the street interspersed with shadowy blankets where anything could be lurking. I hunch my shoulders into my jacket and make my way to the address.

I step into the alcove, press the button under the intercom. The paint is flaking away from the frame, and the light over the door step flickers fitfully. I hear the lock disengage. The door silently swings open when I give it a push. I step inside, my heart thumping in my chest.

I walk down a narrow hallway. Water drips somewhere, my boots sloshing as I trudge down the hall.

“In here.” The voice calls from an open door I am about to pass. It’s the same voice, cold and clipped, from the phone conversation.

I step inside. More water dripping from the ceiling. Stuffed animals arranged on fake branches. Skulls staring blankly from shelves. The mother of all spiders hung from a wire and suspended from the ceiling. Dim light casting sinister shadows on the walls. A flash of neon, signs attached to the wall. All that, and no contact.

“Hello?” My voice echoes off the walls back to me.

A figure moves, unfolding itself from the back wall. It comes closer, light refracting off the disco ball of its head, artificial limbs moving, insect like, across the floor. A pair of headphones are mounted to its head, and I wonder at their purpose.

“Hello.” The voice answers back, echoing all around me. I twist toward the source, spy the speaker set high up on the wall. Turning back to the synthetic, I see thick cords running from its body to the wall.

“No wonder you don’t do house calls. Do you have the object?” I resist the urge to rub my hands together. I can feel my heart thundering against my chest.

“Do you have the payment?”

I pull the case from my jacket content. The picture on the cover is faded, and the plastic coating criss crossed with stress marks. I open the case to show the intact disc.

“Is the content uncorrupted?” The synthetic stretches out a three fingered handing, but I keep the case away from it.

“The object?” I can hear the desperation edging into my voice and hate myself for it.

“Yes, of course.”

The shell shuffles back into the shadows. Even though I know it is a synthetic, even though I know its eyes and ears are not connected to the frame I am addressing, it unnerves me how it doesn’t turn around.

It isn’t long before it returns. Under a dome of glass, its beauty entrances me. Each petal, delicately preserved against decay. A single orchid, perfect in every way but one in that it is no longer living. Killed by the process of preserving it for this moment.

I exchange the disc for the orchid. I feel my mouth stretch in an unfamiliar way. It takes me a moment to recognize it as a smile.

“Thank you.” My voice is only a whisper.

“Please leave now. You must go. We must peruse this material.”

“Yes, yes, of course.” I exit the museum, orchid clutched in my hands. What a synthetic wants with a DVD of pornography dating back to the early Aughts is beyond me, but I have what I came for.

It was even worth stepping outside.

 

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Comments
  1. This might be a good fit for Dark Futures. I didn’t expect the orchid. It’s a nice touch. =)

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