It’s 1 p.m., Orbiter time, as I walk through the lunch crowd clogging the west concourse. Larry’s briefing was bare bones, as usual. He heads Information & Intelligence but doesn’t believe in either. He sends agents into the field with background data that would fit on one of the paper napkins that litter the floor of the food court. This morning, he said: “You’re a machine, Kasha, think like one.” I still haven’t figured out if it was an insult or a compliment.
The pervasive stench of synth-fish assaults my sensors. Despite the high barf index, this isn’t a bad place for a meet. The concourse is next to the shuttle terminal and always busy. Identifying potential threats in this multitude taxes my analytics, but I spot four burly types that are too evenly spaced for their positioning to be purely coincidental. I would have preferred a dead drop but it isn’t an option. Nobody in their right mind would consider shoving a box containing a live virus in a crack in a wall.
The girl from the embassy waits by the maintenance office at the back of the food court, and thanks to the ID upload I recognize her right away. And so does she, which makes me wonder if she’s really what the skimpy briefing says she is: a bio coder who decided her employers were up to no good.
“Officer Kasharand,” she says, “the parameters of the exchange have changed. I bring the complete package. My reward needs to be adjusted.”
Somebody must have told her that was the proper way to address an AI agent. Keep it neutral, they are immune to emotion. What a crock! She’s straying from the plan and it makes me angry. I’ve learned, as my multiple replacement parts bear witness, that hesitation sinks missions faster than wrong decisions – or as Larry says: In doubt, keep moving.
I grab the girl’s arm, slap a hand over her mouth and drag her around the corner of the maintenance cubicle, out of sight of the enemy agents lurking in the food court. She doesn’t resist as I push her behind a row of stinking dumpsters. Her suit will be ruined. Too bad. She should have dressed for the occasion in drab traitor-brown burlap. “The longer this takes, the less likely you are to walk out in one piece. Hand it over.”
“I have it,” she mumbles through my gloved hand clamped over her pretty face.
She suddenly goes limp forcing me to wrap an arm around her slender waist. She feels warm, fragile, yet resilient in that disturbing way of the untampered human. It’s rare to come in contact with one of them. The excitement makes my vagal receptors flutter. As soon as I remove my hand from her mouth, she throws her arms around my neck.
“Help me, Kasha. They don’t know I took the virus but I’m sure they followed me. They suspect humans like me.”
She looks straight into my eyes. Hers are green speckled with gold. Humans like me. I know what she means. The original article, without biological enhancements, religious fanatics according to some, rebels according to others. Generally mistrusted. How did she manage to get a sensitive job at the embassy?
I turn to check if the enemy agents are coming and she strikes. The sting of the injector in my neck is an electric jolt that travels all the way down my spine. The foreign substance confuses my sensors and throws my biological balance out of whack.
“What are you doing? I’m an android. What use am I to you if I’m disabled?” My system is so stressed my words are a mushy mumble.
If Larry manages to recover my body, he will disassemble me to squeeze out the virus. Maybe he won’t bother to put me back together afterwards. He’ll say: she was a good one, but picky, always questioning ops, then he’ll drink to my maybe-soul while the compacter crushes my shell into scrap.
“You’re a time bomb and my exit pass, darling.” The girl’s smile is sweetly painful. “Nobody will dare approach us. You’re lethal.”
I can’t take my sight off those amazing eyes. They twinkle with a mixture of amusement and triumph.
Then she kisses me.
The chemical reaction burns my face and the back of my neck where she injected me.
“We’re joined, Kasha, as inseparable as life and death,” she whispers. “You’re the venom and I’m the antidote; unless it’s the other way around.”
Antidote. I should have guessed. She said she brought a complete package. This girl isn’t a run-of-the-mill amoral turncoat; she’s in a class all by herself – brave, desperate and stupid.
“Your embassy friends won’t have to get close to vaporize my virus and your antibodies, darling.” My voice sounds like I’m speaking through layers of gritty mud.
The green eyes widen. “Larry said you would get me out no matter what. He said you were the best.”
The damn double-crossing, conniving bastard! He probably wrote the entire script. If I get out of this, I swear I’ll send his skinny ass to the hospital, and if they turn me into a mindless drone afterwards, so be it.
For a brief moment, my unbridled anger at Larry overrides the effect of the virus because I’m suddenly totally aware. Of the ethereal beauty of the girl, of the ripe stench of the dumpsters, of the killers getting close. I can smell their anger and their fear underneath.
She’s still hanging on my neck as I unwrap her. “The dumpster drop hatch behind you. Now.”
My eyesight is fading. Soon, my complex connections will go dormant, leaving only the tenuous thread that is so much like the whisper of human life on the edge of death. I feel her hand in mine. She’s pulling me. I hope Larry really wants that damn virus.
“What’s your name?” I say.
Good to know.
M.E. Proctor worked as a communication professional and a freelance journalist. After forays into SF, she’s currently working on a series of contemporary detective novels. Her short stories have been published in Willesden Herald, HCE Review, The Bookends Review, The Blue Nib, Ripples in Space, Fiction on the Web, and other publications in the U.S., UK and Europe. She lives in Livingston, Texas. amazon.com/author/meproctor