Spider in the Garden
“Wednesday September 10th, 2036. Garden District. Good morning and congratulations! Today marks your third wedding anniversary! I hope you have a wonderful day with your spouse!” The emotionally programmed voice repeated over and over again, waiting to be addressed by someone.
It’s funny, I just sat there, on an old beaten mattress that still felt less comfortable than the cold metal surface of the floor, and I found myself just listening. I wasn’t exactly keeping track of how long her false smiling voice kept saying those words but it was getting annoying, yet I needed to hear it, to hear the truth in her voice.
I’ll say this right now, no, I’m not married. By the looks of my apartment, dirty clothes tossed in various piles, old wooden furniture, scattered wiring, any girl that stepped in and saw how I lived would be on the first track-car out of the district before I could even close the door behind her. I really do need to clean this place.
So, no, there’s nothing like that, yet here she was, an artificial, omnipresent voice, spouting out a date I set myself, it definitely was an anniversary, and in a way it sort of was a wedding, but not in the traditional sense.
“Alright, Mari, thank you.” I gave a fake smile right back while leaning up against the rugged metal exterior of the wall. This place was more of an oversized storage crate than an actual apartment, but it was as cheap as these models came.
“Your standard issue AL Mark 3 augments have reached their maxi-”
“Mari, I know, I know, thank you.” I grunged.
It never gets old but it never changes either, living in an age where I have an artificial intelligence synced into my head, if anything it’s damn annoying, but Mari did have a sweet side to her.
I tossed my, long over-due for a wash, polyester sheets onto the ground to act as a guard from the cold metal chill of the floor before I sat up and rested my foot on it. I used my arm and pushed from the old mattress and immediately shot my head to the old wooden mirror that I rested carelessly in front of my bed, the sight was still a lot to take in three years on. I feel I need to close my eyes everytime I look at it, quick flashes of her screams, blazing fire, my skin rose reliving it once more, my old-wounds, the stubs where my limbs once were, they all ached with the reality of time. I turned away.
My stubs had small chromed ports soldered to them. The whole left quarter of my face and skull welded together with metal and cybernetics. Some three year anniversary, eh? I didn’t need a voice to wake me up and tell me how long it’s been since it happened, I’ve been counting every passing second.
I hobbled over as usual to my charging station to assemble. It was a small and sleek black safe that glimmered neon blue throughout the room with each step (or hop) I took. I typed my password (today’s date actually) onto the the touch screen on it’s surface and grasped it’s handle. I opened to face, well face me.
My arm and leg wasn’t anything special, they didn’t have artificial grafted skin covering them like the higher grade models that just came out, no these were pretty basic actually, just pure jet-black chromed fibre-glass. I took them out, clicked them into the ports, and felt the electrical jolt of the nerves in my body synching with the wires in the limbs. I gave them a little “stretch” just to have the servos and gyros adjust. The augments created a false sense of motion and overall feeling that I just can’t explain, it was like my arms felt like they were somehow constantly floating in water. I tapped a small touch-screen on my wall and watched the metal blinds over my window gently stir around to let a faint dash of neon light from the outside squeeze through.
After I had my coffee I put my slim suit on and made my way out of my storage crate, er, apartment. The streets of the Garden District are, interesting to say the least, it’s one of the smaller districts but it had this low-tech southern blend to it. You take one glance to the right and you might see a well-dressed young man or woman, proud and standing tall amongst the crowd heading to their over-paid executive job. You take one glance to the left and you might see a clingy malnourished beggar asking to be loaded with some kind of narcotics. You stare ahead and you see a random blend of all kinds of colourful people tearing their neck tissues apart by staring down at some mobile device. I sometimes felt I was the only one who could look up and actually realize how the sky wasn’t blue, how the sun never shined, can’t remember when it ever did though if I’m being honest. No, I never looked up and saw a sky, I saw a channel we accidently switched to but couldn’t find the remote to switch back, a mess of glowing LED lights that seemed to alter the hue and overall tone of the streets I walked on.
“The weather today is cloudy with a 32.8% of precipitation and a 2% chance of acidity occurring in conjunction. The humidity levels today are..." I channeled Mari’s feeding tone to a dead one and pushed it to the side. It's strange, she's programmed to sound like she genuinely cares for you, the more naive individuals actually fall for it, but for me it's just nagging. "Remember, breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Bio-scans showcase that you have chosen to skip your designated morning meal, your average blood sugar levels and metabolic rate have sufficiently decreased..”
"I don't eat breakfast, Mari, we've been through this, day by day." I announced rather absent-mindedly, but I kept a modest tone with her.
To the average person eyeing me like some Frankenstein experiment, which was pretty average considering most of the crowd had their faces permanently glued downwards, the heads-up-display in my artificial eye was picking up a lot of stares as usual, it looked like I was talking to myself. Augments have become more generally accepted in today's society as the "norm" but artificial intelligences being implanted into your brain stems? Not so much. "Spider, there is an insect caught in your web." Mari's voice stated. She no longer dawned her programmed personality, her words were more professional and boringly bleak, what I actually prefer.
"Show me." I simply replied.
I exited the crowd into a shallow dark alleyway, closed and condensed with an absence of noise and interruption, hopefully. I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few low-tech-junkies high on the newest street toxin waiting to jump me for my augments, but I needed the privacy.
I'm a Spider, and despite all the metaphorical language I'm technically an insurance agent, basically. I'm part of a rather unique operation run by some foreign Japanese company that I can’t properly announce the name of, I don’t know much about them really, only what I need to know to get the job done.
There are 3 total steps to a Spider’s job. The first step is called “web entanglement.” The company has a very precise, accurate and distinguished criteria to determine who gets caught in the web.
“Show me what we’ve caught, Mari.”
My HUD lit open the bright blue bio-profile with the picture of a middle-aged caucasian woman, the photo was probably dated by a few years but I caught a basic idea of who was caught in my web, she was brunette, large blue eyes, slender and tall, “Lawton, Kelly, aged 35. She recently made an e-call to the Empire district’s office to inquire about a new insurance plan after her prior one failed to cover costs for her husband’s cardiac augmentation surgery. He died three months later. Her address is 406 Case St, apartment 200.” Mari said before she started to list a bunch of miscellaneous facts about the woman that I already read on my heads up display.
“Alright, that’s just on the edge of the Garden district, alert the office I’m heading there now.” I said gripping the chrome plastic handle of my suitcase tight.
She met the criteria almost perfectly, widowed, single mother, just barely scrounging minimum wage, she was desperate which meant I could manipulate her all the easier.
I made the small walk in just under a half-hour, her apartment was in the more low-tech area of the district, small three storied brick buildings littered the cracked suburban streets, a faint glow of neon loomed over this block, shined by the glass skyscrapers that lingered just behind.
When I found Kelly’s apartment she let me in like she had been anticipating my arrival for a decade. The apartment shunned mostly everything modern, I mean, the floor was wooden, croaking like a rusty engine with each step I took and her walls were this buttery drywall I think, been so long. Aside from my fascination with seeing a quaint old apartment like this, my attention gravitated to the vast difference Kelly had from the picture on her bio. Greyed and uncombed brown hair blended with the ruggish outlook of a walking corpse. This woman looked like she had just crawled through hell and somehow found the way back. Her husband’s recent death hit her pretty severely. But she remained very polite, asking if I wanted anything, how I was, the usual.
I sat on one of those old, boxy, leather recliner chairs, the kind where you can feel the smooth and fine texture under your hands, both real and artificial. I opened my briefcase and pulled out a portable tablet with a holographic projector and laid it on the wooden table in front of me. Kelly sat on the other side of the table on a more modern single-banded steel chair. She held her son with her, the child’s large blue eyes couldn’t move away from me as I spoke. He didn’t look nearly as disturbed as his mother, but he was young.
“I’d just like to say I’m deeply sorry to hear about your loss, I’d understand if you’d want to reschedule?” I suggested.
“No...No, I, thank you, but I’ll be okay.” She said not looking directly at me.
“Alright then I’ll get to it.” I said while I pressed a button on the tablet. It lit up with the orange logo of my company animating onto the screen. “A new future in reach” was it’s motto. “Alright, Ms. Lawton, I’ll just tell you a brief overview of the plan we can offer you and we can move forward from there. So, I see you are currently with Brightlife insurance?” I asked, avoiding the topic of her husband directly.
“Yeah, I am, and I think you can understand why I won’t talk about my reason for wanting to switch policies.” She became a little defensive, my augmented eye picked up an increase in her heart-rate on discussing the topic.
“Of course.” I said, “so as you know, my company is currently the only one in the country which both manufactures augments and offers the insurance needed to cover them, we are also in the top leading…” I got cut off.
“Yeah, I know, I know, I am the one who called you guys, I know all I have to, pricing, policies, all that stuff. I just want to know if me and my son will be safe if we need an augment.” She said rather impatiently, her son kept staring right at me, the curiosity of the robot-man sitting across from him was probably creating all kinds of digital imaginations in his head. He hopped off his mother’s lap and walked down the hall with the predictable energy of a child. I didn’t catch where but I assumed he went in his room.
“I understand that, so I assume the basic package then? Weekly or monthly?” I asked while I picked up the tablet and opened a new file for her.
“Monthly, monthly would work best.” She said while she readjusted herself.
After I gave a brief description of the monthly and overall annual costs of the insurance I noticed Kelly gradually display more angst. She sat forward in her seat, face cupped by her hands. I’d like to imagine the costs are pretty fair, for a family plan it shouldn’t be an issue. I suppose that’s just it, family, since it was just Kelly and her son they were both charged as individuals. Rather pricy for a single-mother living on minimum wage having to already pay for everything else.
This brings me to step two of being a Spider, webbing up the prey.
“Now, we do offer a very special plan that cuts the payment costs in two.”
“Huh? What offer is this?” Her composure almost changed immediately after I said it, her intrigue was something I was all to used to seeing by now.
I had her fingerprint scanned on the tablet as well as her digital signature, she was verbally recorded accepting the terms of the deal and accepting a non-disclosure agreement, the only thing left was a blood test which she could go and get during a future date. After the initial deal was set in stone, or rather in code, Kelly eagerly awaited to hear this offer.
“Now, you’ve agreed to non-disclosure, legally what I say to you now cannot be shared regardless of your choice.’ She nodded. “Now, the company offers a deal in the event of a client getting involved in an accident and needing an augment, you pay twice as less but may be requested to do certain tasks for the company in some instances, taking up a full-time position that could require you to move out of your home or even..”
“I’ll do it.” She interrupted.
“I...wasn’t finished.” I said.
“I get it. I pay less so I have to make it up by doing some work on the side, whatever, that doesn’t really bother me, I’m just looking for the cheapest solution right now to save as much money as I can.” She said.
“Your call, I’ll make the changes in your plan right after I get your signature again.” I said not too surprised.
She almost ripped the tablet away from me to scribble her name on it’s glass surface. We exchanged our goodbyes like we just had an awkward conversation and were both rushing to get out of it. As I approached the old door I noticed Kelly’s son peeking from around the corner, staring at my metal hand more obviously than when he was sitting on his mothers lap. I looked right back into the ghostly gaze this kid was giving my arm. I think I was more fascinated by him than he was of me. I smiled just a little.
“It’s okay, he’s just curious, it’s alright.” I smiled at the boy who now just looked right into my augmented eye. I opened my jacket just enough to slide my arm out, I rolled up the sleeve of the wrinkled dress shirt and showed him my arm, If his look before was of wonder, it was pure awe now, watching every mechanical part shine and shift with my movements, I reached my hand out in front of the boy, he reached his out and I shook his hand. For the first time since I saw him, the boy smiled.
“What happened? I mean, if I can ask.” Kelly asked hesitantly while I rolled my sleeve back down.
“I was in a car accident three years ago. Lucky for me I made a similar arrangement like you just now and I was given a second chance. I mean, I lost a lot in that accident but I’ve gained more because of my plan. A job, a home, a decent life.” I lied through my teeth and spared most of the details. I had convincing pity on my side and I could see she was already tangled by it. I said goodbye to her and her son and was on my way.
Just like that, she was mine. A mother doing whatever she could do make sure her son never had to live a life like of poverty in a world like this. She said “yes” before I could even finish, essentially weaving her own coded web and getting tangled in it. It wasn’t because she was ignorant, or stupid, she was scared and she wasn’t the first, I did the same thing three years ago.
Instead of making my way outside the building like any insurance agent normally would I took the elevator. I waited and painfully listened to it’s aching motor as it screeched with each passing second of the slow descent, it felt like it could break down at any moment. I went down to the parking garage, it was like a black concrete cavern of stagnant water decaying down the walls, without the cars scattered about I'd swear that this place was used as a prison at some point.
"Mari, find her car." I said blankly staring around.
"Of course, scanning now." Mari said. I saw my entire field of view brighten with a yellow indicator flashing the words "scanning" over and over again.
I saw it after Mari highlighted it for me in right orange, the faded chrome-blue and sleek 2020 Tayota...something, an older model but all the easier to initiate stage three of being a Spider.
I sighed once I got down on the ground, feeling the crusty water soak my clothing while I crawled underneath her car. I placed to circular devices on each end of the car, one underneath where I scanned and found the battery to be and one under the gas tank. The devices corresponded with each other, once one detected the battery being used it would send a pulse to overload it and cause a hydrogen leak as well as self-detonate with the other. Boom. All Kelly needed to do was use her key to unlock the doors,
“Mari, survival statistics for both Kelly and her son.”
“With the expected initial shock of the detonation to be rather minimal the insects have a 93.4% chance of survival standing within a 10m radius and are expected to face critical injuries.” Mari said. Those were good odds actually, company policy states that survival rates must be at least 80%.
“When’s the next time we can assume she’ll get in her car?” I asked.
“On average she drives her son to school every morning but certain other variables..”
“That’s alright, we just need one of them to be here. alert the company we’ll need a clean-up crew sometime within the next ten hours so be on standby and have the authorities turn their backs as well.” I said starting to walk away.
“Of course, good work Spider.” Mari’s voice lit up as if she were proud of what we were doing.
This was more or less a common way of completing the final stage, generic, but it did the trick, there are many other techniques to do this and sometimes it involves a little creativity, but I haven’t done it like this in a long time...Never, actually. I gazed at my prosthetic limb for a moment and caught the flashes of heavy blazing light eating at me, all I felt was numb, the truly painful part of it all was listening to her scream in agony, sirens in the distance.
Every Spider’s kill is different, sometimes the prey struggles and frets, sometimes they remain unknown and tolerant, regardless, in the end it was all the same, the prey gets caught, they strung up and they’re killed. Kelly and her Son were both under the companies special policy. any accident, such as a car explosion due to a leaking battery, that caused major bodily harm to her or her son would result in an augment, gracefully provided by my company. Even if she figured out what I did, she couldn’t say a thing, no cop, no lawyer, no politician who had a full bank account in this city would believe her and legally she signed non-disclosure and there were always ways of keeping them silent if they wanted to talk. Kelly unwillingly became tangled in a web, just as I did. She’d face it all, having to witness her child face such pain, possibly die, while she lives a life of pain and suffering, the worst is knowing that you have to keep your mouth shut, she’ll be alone in this world, doing who knows what for how long. I stopped caring after doing this to so many people, stopped feeling, I became as lifeless as the augments that were grafted to my body
I never asked for this, but after so many times it just becomes routine. I actually wonder if it’s possible, for a Spider to get tangled in it’s own web.