The burnt orange color of the room was brighter in the candlelight. Incense hung heavy in the air, creating a hazy, dream-like atmosphere. In the center of the room lay the dead Latino woman stolen from the morgue. Her skin glistened from light perspiration. Her chest rose and fell with each breath. Her eyes moved behind her eyelids. She turned her head and worked her tongue around the inside of her mouth to wet it. She was not dead anymore.
A hand tenderly took her arm.
She would have jumped and pulled away or outright punched the body attached to it, but it took immense effort just to open her eyes to slits.
“Who…” She couldn’t get any more out. Her jaw didn’t want to work. Her vocal chords seemed frozen. Her entire body was unable to figure out any function beyond the basics.
She couldn’t see the person’s face. It wasn’t hidden or masked, but her eyes weren’t working right. It was as though she were looking through a kaleidoscope, but instead of random colors, she saw random light, dark, and glimpses of clear images.
“Shhh. You’re safe, Anna. No one will hurt you here,” a man told her.
“Where…” Again her body resisted communicating. It wanted her to just lie still and breathe. That seemed to be the only thing that she could muster enough energy for.
“There’ll be time for that. Go back to sleep.”
“Your body is repairing itself still.”
Her memories were scattered, but her final memory before death was clear. She remembered being a homicide detective entering a dark building. She was aware her partner, Taylor Sinise, was behind her. Their guns were drawn. They were expecting someone to come out of the shadows as they moved through the building. They spoke with hand signals: They were splitting up. She turned into a hall. She entered a room. There was a loud noise. She turned. There were two flashes of light. She felt something burn into her chest. Milliseconds later hot metallic tasting liquid filled her throat. She saw the walls around her blur and then Taylor’s face over her. He was scared for her. He was talking to her but his voice was nonsensical noise. She wanted to say something but she couldn’t speak. His face faded away…
“Yes. You were shot in the chest. It’s good that you remember that. That’ll help you later.”
“Sleep Anna. Just sleep.”
The policewoman and Airborne Ranger in her wanted to resist and fight. Her body had the overruling vote and she drifted back to a dreamless sleep.
Brundon sauntered into The Core to find droids scuttling about in preparation to intern a body into a cell. The body was hidden behind two guards and Monica. Brundon yawned as he came to a stop behind her.
“Another congressman die?” Brundon asked. “Celebrity? Or, let me guess, it’s some super-secret agent we don’t talk about?” Brundon smiled. “Has to be that. Why else would you drag me out of bed at two in the morning?”
“It’s none of those,” Monica replied as she turned.
Brundon walked around her, asking, “So who is so important that—”
He stopped and stared at Luke’s bruised and cut face. He forgot how to breathe. He didn’t hear Monica talking to him as his heart skipped every other beat.
A hand pushed his shoulder, forcing him to face the devil.
“Why is Luke here!?” Brundon demanded.
“That isn’t Luke. That is nothing. I want you—”
“No. No! I won’t put my only friend in BRINDA. I won’t let you do this to him. He was my best friend! I won’t let you do this!”
“This is Luke! He worked for you! How could you do this to him you fucking bitch!”
She laughed a little. “You actually had an attachment to someone here? I thought everyone hated my lap dog.”
“Luke was my friend!”
“May I interject?” BRINDA said.
Everyone looked up at the holographic face hovering overhead.
“By all means,” Monica said. “Enlighten your NOC.”
“There are many arguments about the existence of a human soul, and in many cases, the arguments believe that the soul releases or leaves a body once the flesh has ceased to function. Knowing how humans become attached to both inanimate and animate objects, I can understand how Brundon might see this unit as his friend. But by these arguments, your friend is no longer with us Brundon. Importantly, this unit’s DNA is excellent, so its burn out limit is double the average, as is its capacity. It is ideal for use.”
Monica turned a smug smile on Brundon. He looked from computer to hard-ass-bitch and back.
“You are as heartless as that fucking computer Monica! A cold fucking hearted bitch!”
Monica didn’t even flinch at his outburst. “Retrieve all the viable memories as well.” Monica ordered. “I need information on the projects that were incomplete by the unit owner. I am particularly interested in the last twelve hours this unit used to be Luke. Leave the videos in my network drop-box. I will designate the unit for a project when one comes up.”
“Compliant,” BRINDA replied
“Did you catch all of that Brundon?”
“We need to talk about your attitude, Brun—”
“I don’t expect you to understand this, but I would like some time alone with my friend before I turn him into nothing.”
“We’ll talk tomorrow,” she said as she headed for the door.
“Not about this. This conversation ends when you leave this room.”
She turned on her heel. “Excuse me?”
Neither paid attention to the guards leaving.
Brundon glared at her. “And don’t threaten my job, either, Monica. You and I both know how long it took to find a NOC that could work with BRINDA. Can the company really wait while you hunt down another NOC who can decipher her code as fast as I did?”
“For now, you’re right, but don’t get too comfortable in that belief.”
“Oh, and I was going to tell you at eight this morning that BRINDA couldn’t find a way to integrate the storage spheres Luke created,” Brundon informed her. “The two other people you chose to finish it couldn’t figure it either. For once, you needed to let Luke complete a project. We’ll have to continue using bodies for a few more centuries now that he’s dead.”
“Stop being so melodramatic. His wasn’t the only storage unit project I had my eye on.” Monica turned to leave.
“It was the best and you know it. Everything he’s ever done was the best. But this time he designed a device so only he could finish it.”
She turned back to him. “How can you be certain?”
“BRINDA reported that he’d developed the internal circuitry to work with hers, but he had created the outer casing to be interfaced in some way other than through the control gel or normal interfaces. He probably designed it that way on purpose so you’d have to let him finish the project. Luke was smart like that.”
Monica smirked. “Or else he just wasn’t as smart as you believe he was.” She turned on her toe and walked out of The Core.
“You are such a cunt!” Brundon screamed at the closed door.
And then heartbreak set in, wiping away his anger.
Brundon turned and approached Luke. He laid his hand on his friend’s hand and immediately yanked it back. The skin was cold and a little too hard. BRINDA was right – even if it was a hard truth to swallow – Luke was gone and this was just a shell that looked like him.
Brundon closed his eyes as he began to cry.
“The unit is ready for storage, Brundon,” BRINDA reported.
“I’ll order it when I’m ready.”
“I have data on grief if you—”
“Suspend interactive mode for two hours starting now.”
The holograph disappeared. The silence filled with the full-face respirator hissing, the EKG blips on the stasis breastplate as his heart was mechanically pumped, and bleeps from equipment around the room. Brundon grabbed a stool, put it next to the gurney, and sat down. He stared at Luke’s face, conjuring up good memories that made him smile and laugh, and return again to crying.
Behind him the holograph flickered back on. BRINDA watched Brundon mourn, but kept silent.
Monica strode through the halls of Q.E.D. There were fewer people at this time of night, but only by half – at best. With offices world-wide, meetings sometimes happened in the middle of the night. There were projects which required monitoring around the clock. And always there was security. She made her way to the twenty-eight floor and office. She didn’t stop walking until she was in her private bathroom, and the door was locked behind her. Her body began to tremble. She walked to the sink, staring at her own reflection, which only brought tears. She didn’t stop them this time. She turned around, leaning against the counter.
“BRINDA,” Monica quietly said, “Play Luke Peterfeso’s memories from May23rd, 2025.”
Before here a holograph formed and began playing Luke’s memories from his first days. It was from his perspective, through his eyes. But he passed reflective surfaces and she could see his face. He came to a mirror.
“Freeze image,” Monica quietly ordered.
His face was framed in a mirror that was part of artwork in the lobby. She walked close to it, staring at his face.
“I should have told you,” Monica whispered. “Why didn’t I tell you?”
She burst into tears, sinking to her knees. Monica wrapped her arms around her waist, unable to overcome the grief she had kept hidden since the hospital. And the regret for having waited far too long.
Behind her, in front of the sink mirror, a holograph of BRINDA’s face appeared. She watched the grieving C.E.O., and she appeared to be confused, or perhaps intrigued, by what Monica was doing.
“Stop playing,” Monica ordered.
She closed her eyes and commanded. “Play the memories from June 1st, 2030, to the end of the memory files.”
Monica drew in a deep breath and looked up. The memory started with Luke waking up and she could hear him panting. In the mirror she saw his face. He looked terrified but that quickly faded. She guessed he’d had a dream that startled him awake. He climbed out of his bed. She pulled herself into a perfect Lotus pose, watching the memories – and when it became clear that Mark had been behind Luke dying, her beautiful face twisted into a sneer.
“Stop,” she ordered.
The memory stopped.
“Mark Trundle…” she told his image, and then smirked. “Thank you so much for showing me the leak, Mark, and giving me a valid reason to make a permanent solution on your ass.”
Monica stood and went back into her office. She snatched up her desk phone and dialed a number. Mark wasn’t going to see daylight!
When Detective Anna Lucia Cortez woke again and opened her eyes the first person she saw was Phan Junge, and at first she thought she was in heaven. But a glance around the plain, simple monastery cell told her otherwise. He helped her onto her feet and began leading her through a labyrinth of halls
Anna found herself thinking about a time in Iran when a bomb exploded in a nearby building nearby. Two in her company and many civilians were killed. The building collapsed in on itself, killing almost everyone inside. Save a little girl playing in the courtyard and a rosebush. She took the girl to a refugee camp and sent the rosebush home. It was a strange memory to have right now, but she guessed the surreal feeling she had was behind her jagged thoughts.
A group of Asian men in orange robes passed them. Each smiled and bowed their head once as the two passed. They passed several rooms and doors, and three things really stood out to her. The doors were all made from the same red wood, carve with intricate scenes based on some religion and varnished, there was not a single sign of technology, and there were no windows.
Was she even in the United States anymore?
“Where are you taking me?” Anna asked for a fourth time.
For the fourth time, Phan answered, “To meet the others like us.”
Her patience was thin and not just because of his minimalist answer either. She had a migraine. Her fingers and arms tingled, making her feel like she wanted to punch something. Then there was this off feeling that made her feel she was in the wrong place and wrong time.
They stopped outside a pair of wooden doors with mirror images of the same scene. Phan pushed them apart, opening a room unlike the ones she’d seen so far. In this room there were several couches, bright electric lights, large flat screen television at both ends of the room, and five other people: four men and a woman. The woman was balled up in the corner of a couch, staring at the floor. She was dark skinned, but Anna couldn’t determine more beyond that.
One man was a large Native American. Another man had olive skin, high set eyebrows, likely from India. He looked familiar to her. The third man looked older than anyone in the room. He fidgeted which gave her the impression he may be high strung. The last man was a cadaverous Caucasian wearing clothes that were both outdated and looked like he’d slept in them.
“Anna!” he said with a smile. “How are you feeling? Are you thirsty? You can eat now. There’s food if you’re hungry.” He motioned at a table that had fruit, sandwiches, and chips.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Doctor Rayond Fortuna, or Doctor Fortuna, or Rayond, or just Ray. I’m half responsible for bringing you here.”
She watched Phan walk around her and sit near the other woman.
“And where is here?”
“It’s a Buddhist temple under China Town.”
Anna made eye contact with Ray. “China Town where?”
“We’re in Santa Clara?”
“Yes. See, you were killed, and—”
Anna’s anger rose. The tingling in her arms was making her fingers twitch. She really wanted to punch something.
“Show me a door and I won’t charge you with kidnapping.”
“We have to talk first. Then, if you feel up to it, I can show you door.”
“Liar,” the olive skinned man snarled.
“I showed you a door, didn’t I?”
“You led me to a locked door.”
“You came back and said you didn’t want to leave after all,” Ray argued.
“Because I knew you’d just lead me to another locked door!”
“Stop!” Anna snapped.
Ray turned back to her. “We need to talk first. Then you can go.”
“I want to go now.” Anna rubbed her arms as the tingling continued to increase. She had a growing urge to punch something or someone – starting with this geeky man holding her hostage.
“Detective Cortez, just relax, let me explain what’s going on, and then I can take you and Detective Joachim to a door that leads out if that is really what you want.”
That’s where she knew the man from: Joachim worked vice, she worked homicide, so their paths had crossed on a couple cases. None of that mattered now – they were both being held against their will. The tingling in her arms was almost painful. How much longer could she resist punching someone?
“I don’t want an explanation. I want to leave!”
Without thinking, Anna punched at the cement wall nearest to her. She expected her hand to stop against the firm, seeming unbreakable material. She expected pain to flare across her arm and hand – a sensation her husband had taught her to use to manage her anger. Instead, her fist punched through the wall without a hint of pain, tore through a wood stud, and right out the other side of the three foot, concrete wall.
Anna yanked her hand back, staring at the hole in the wall.
Behind her, the American Indian said, “She is definitely one of us.”