Even in the weak Martian gravity a fall of five hundred meters could kill me. The mapping software in my Personal Enhanced Reality (P.E.R.) feed told me the depth of the ravine ahead of me: 498 to502 meters down and an average of 15.9 meters across. I was running at a full sprint away from the yellow skull-faced anthropormorphic constructs hurling deadly bolts of electricity towards me. It took every trick I knew to keep from collapsing with laughter. In such a preoccupied state I didn’t have the option of asking my P.E.R. whether or not I was physically capable of jumping across the ravine. I just leapt.
It was like flying. I screamed with joy, and fear. I even had time to turn back towards the expressionless black-eyed faces of my pursuers and give a ecstatic yelp of defiance. The sound of my own howls vibrated painfully through my breathing helmet, but I couldn’t stop screaming even when I almost made it.
Earth/28 days earlier/Emily
I read and reread the contract fifteen times before my St. Louis Missouri bound train had even past Louisville Kentucky. After the fifteenth time I read it I started lossing count of how many times I pulled up the file and perused it again. But by that point I was not even reading, my attention fell onto the same four phrases over and over again picking out the really interesting or potentiality meaningful words as if the contract was a flirtatious text message. Yes, I found something viciously flirtatious about this contract.
“Clinton Investigation Services (CIS) is pleased to offer Emily Saint King a continuous employment contract…”
“Furthermore, Ms. Saint King is required to make a detailed report of the past and present whereabouts and actions of one Cara Evanston…”
“…Ms. Saint King’s expenses may be accrued at her own discretion with the understanding that CIS will reimburse Ms. Saint King for all discrete expenses upon compilation of the assignment.”
“This information has been forwarded to all credit rating agency.”
I had also taken to repeatedly looking at the line of credit I had available to me from my financial institutions. It was unlimited. My credit was unlimited the first time I checked after accepting the contract, and it was still unlimited when I got off the train in St. Louis. I continued in the passive state of mind afforded wealthly travelers, followi cues in my heads up display around the train station into taxi cabs but never taking note of my surrounding. Eventually, I found myself standing before Jayce Strynaski’s front door. Checking the date time in my heads up display I saw that it was 13:33 on Friday. Jayce was supposed to be at his day job, but I placed a call to him anyway, gambling that Jayce’s proclivity for unemployment would have left him at home today and he would be home to let me in. He answered, it was good sign.
“Jayce. Emily. You at home?”
“No today is an in class day,” his tone was a little arrogant. He continued “I looking at thirty-six eight year olds right now.”
“Well I am in St. Louis.”
“Great,” it sound like he meant it until he add “for how long?”
“Until you quit your job and come work for me?”
“Huh?” I was pleased that I had shaken him a bit. He paused to instruct his pupils. “Blake keep your fingers out of Hongmin’s E.R. space” before asking me “Emily, are you breaking out on your own.”
“Nope, CIS gave me a continuous, unlimited contract, I can hire my own staff for this job.”
“I got a job Emily, a safe one”
I just waited. He hates safe.
He talked through my silence, “Emily, since you are in town, we should meet me this evening, we can talk about it or something?”
Finally I said, “What were you doing a week ago Jayce.”
He mirthlessly laughed at that one, “You are never let me live that one down.”
“Maybe I have just come to agree with you.” I teased
“Lets meet later, I have to finish this class, where do you want to meet later.”
“I am outside your apartment right now.” I turned my eyes to his door expectantly.
“Alright you, you can, please just wait there, I will let you in and we can talk…I will be home in about three hours.”
“Jayce, we are leaving for the O.R.A.C. in four hours.”
“Oh-rack?!? Sis, just go without me.” Jayce laughed and I knew I had him.
I heard his front door click open and our connection click shut. I assumed he was opening the door via remote but was startled out of my skin when on the other side of the open door stood a 5 foot tall 3 foot wide ferro-ceramic skinned sibertronian all done up in a motley of flat dark greens. The bipedal construct had a beak like snout on its face and two freakishly adorable soft green eyes that looked like they had been designed by the council for human-siebertronian relations.
“Greeting Ms. St. King, please come inside.”
“This is Jayce’s place right?” I asked. The thing nodded in assent and a fan-like whirling spat to life somewhere beneath its beak. I stood awkwardly for moment, wishing my police grade plasma stalk was not tucked into my travel bag and feeling a little self-conscious about talking to a Siebertronian in a place as semi-public as Jayce’s hallway. “Are you going to stay in there with me, I mean do you live here too or are you like cleaning the place?” I asked
“I am a guest of Mr. Strynaski. He just informed me that you were going to be a guest as well. ”
My knee jerk reaction was that Jayce must some how be a victim of this creature. My mind went straight to the tabloid stories of human-sieber love affairs and biological slavery. Plus, something about the way those big softly glowing eyes sized me up set me on edge. I took a half step back before, my mind flashed back to the highlights of my contract. I took a deep breath whispered to myself, “Sack up Emily, you ain’t gonna make good on your contract if you get spooked by house robots.” Then I looked up at the thing again and its’ head tilted to the side like a confused dog. I smiled at it. “Please take my bag, I will be right in.”
I handed it my heavy black duffel and walked ten paces away from the door and called Jayce again. He didn’t give me a chance to speak but answered the call with “His name is Orion, get use to him Emily.” He closed the connection. I brought up the pharm-pack controls in P.E.R’s heads-up display and gave myself a small dose of Seri-max. By the time I took the ten paces back to the door, I was running a much better mod.
“Orion!” I said, “ Good to meet you.” I strode past the thick little green thing into Jayce’s apartment. It was the same ordered mess as every other one of
Jayce’s places had been over the years. Every single surface, including the couch cushions, was covered in some partially dissemsembled device. Aside from
an old bolt action rifle, and a nano discetion apartus I couldn’t recognize any of it.
“Jayce still likes to sit on the floor huh?” I think the robot nodded. “How do you know, I mean…why are living with Jayce…as a guest?”
The thing started talking in an even if human tone. “I met Jayce three years ago on a train outside of Bairdstown Kentucky…”
“I just came from there…on a train. But no robots followed me home. What hooked you up with Jayce?” I was listlessly looking for a place to sit.
The green beaked thing made a strange whirr that made the hairs on the back of my hands stand up. Then it spoke, “Jayce insisted I go with him. He confronted me on the train. I revealed that I was traveling to the Appalachian forest persevere to kill myself, and Jayce insisted that I put off suicide and accompany him.”
I looked up from cluttered furniture and stared at the squat green man aknew and swore “Abe Fucking Lincoln! So where did you and Jayce go?” The leaf toned machine man only looked on at my question. I tried to push back the Seri-Max for a moment and remember what Jayce was doing three years ago. “That was about the time Jayce dropped off the grid… again… to work in some shaddy deal.” I raised my finger to point at the olive and emerald tinted being and it took a defensive step backwards. My the circuits of my memory sprang to life and I yelled, “You were with him, you were with Jayce on the ship, when he was poaching whales.” Orion reminded quiet. “No wonder Jayce chatted you up on the train, he must have been on step on of one his tweleve step manic episodes.”
Orion spoke, “You said you just came from Bairdstown. Did you have a good trip.”
I waived my hand dismissively, but found myself answering, “You know what travel is like when your on the grid, you are just damn passive, a passenger. I just told my P.E.R. where I wanted to go, gave it a credit number and followed the heads up cues. If my P.E.R. didn’t say St. Louis I’d have no idea where I was. But you are trying to change the subject there…” With Seri-Max enhanced deliberation I pushed aside some collection of tiny parts arrayed on silk hankerchief and sat down in an armchair. The chair was made of unintelligent plant matter, probably wood. It was uncomfortable, so I gave myself another little dose of Seri-Max.
Orion continued with his small talk “How do you and Jayce know each other.”
“He is my brother.”
“You have different surnames, do you share both parents.”
“I assume so, where are twins, I changed my last name.”
“Why did you change your name.” The flat uninflectted voice of this manufactured person was having a very soporific effect on me.
“Cause I wanted to be ‘Merican, I mean I am, Jayce and I are… but I wanted the name of a Real American Hero.” I am too fargone over Sera-Max mountain at this point to care if this artificial tax payer knew my politics or not.
Jayce then walked into the apartment wearing one of Dad’s old sports jacket and tossing a P.E.R headband to Orion. “I knew you would get here early.” I said a little too loud.
Jayce knelt to silk hankchief I had tossed off the chair and carefully began to gather up the little pieces. “What do you mean? It is after four. I didn’t take off early.”
I looked at the time in heads up display: 16:03. I swore: “Andy Bloody Jackson. Jayce I got to urinate come to bathroom with me.” I stood up.
“No.” he said.
In the bathroom with door shut Jayce said “Listen Orion can hear us in here, he has got better ears than…”
“Whatever,” I snapped and then slurred. “We you listen, we yous not brining that Siebertronin with us.”
“It doesn’t matter cause, I am not going with you. I am super excited you got an open CIS contract, your credit scores are going to be fantastic after this, no matter what. But I am not going, I am teaching again, I am happy.”
“The siebetronian stays here.” I repeated.
Three hours later Orion, Jayce and myself were passing through customs at Ohio River Archology Complex, the last known location of my query: Cara Evanston.