“Bustier is it?”
Maggie looked down at her top before laughing and shoving Coty’s luggage into the boot. “Yeah. Got a date today so I thought I would just put this on.” Maggie winked at Coty. “I am joking. I have a lot of these just lying at home. It is not something I usually have on. Woke up this morning and decided to try something new for the day.”
Eight grinned, turning his gaze back to Coty and gave her a suggestive wink. “She is a very sexy friend.”
Coty had been dealing with his imposing presence since she woke up to the immature man-baby in her eyes. It was a chore to keep herself from shouting at him every two seconds. Maggie already thought that there was something off with her; it would not help her case to start screaming at unseen figures.
What had been a miracle only a day ago had done a complete three-sixty into a nightmare, and she desperately wanted to wake up.
The buildings did not interest her; the colours no longer fascinated her because wherever she turned, he was there. A constant reminder that she was walking experiment. Somewhat.
“This boyfriend of yours...” Coty heard herself say, smiling when Maggie turned to look at her. “Would you ever introduce me? Not trying to impose but I sometimes feel like you are deliberately not using his name.”
Maggie shrugged, shaking her fingers through her full hair. “Maybe. That is an issue for another day. Right now, you need to get into this car and let Ava drive you home before your parents get on the first train into the city. They may start thinking the contacts fried your brain or something. I have learnt from personal experience that parents get creative when you fail to check in with them. Their line of reasoning mostly leans towards death and kidnapping.”
Coty laughed, moving forward to pull Maggie into a hug. “I can’t thank you enough for doing this. You have done so much for me these past few days.”
“Don’t sweat it. Look, you get home and enjoy the time with your family.”
Coty reached for her door before turning back sharply. “Maggie! When I get back, would you like to plan a weekend together? I don’t know, maybe come over with your best movies and hang out?”
“Of course.” Maggie smiled, walking backwards on another alarming high heel before spinning around and jogging to her car.
“She has a sweet ride.”
“Shut up,” Coty hissed since there was no one around to notice. She waited for the doors to slide open before hopping into her seat, watching the belt unfurl over her chest as the car booted up.
Thankfully, Eight had adjusted the hologram in her contacts while she packed her bags. She didn’t understand the science of it but appreciated the fact that she didn’t see him everywhere she turned. It was the best idea he had mentioned all day, right after the disastrous episode of taking a shower with her eyes closed out of fear of him seeing her nude. The quick fix he made, whatever it was he tweaked, made him seem like an imaginary friend, hitchhiking in her contacts.
“Sorry, I do not know what you would want me to say.” Ava immediately replied, her automated voice managing to hold a hint of confusion that made Coty smile.
“Not you Ava.” She turned to look at Eight. He sat, or appeared to sit, on the passenger seat, looking out the windshield. “Start talking.”
She shrugged, peering out the window then back at him. “Anywhere. Anything that explains why you are in my eye. It is a three-hour drive back home. That gives you ample time to convince me that you are the good guy. What you say better be convincing or so help me after I see my parents I am taking a ride to the hospital to report your little scheme. Talk.”
Eight licked his teeth, his eyes focused on the windshield with his fingers scratching at the base of his neck. “Three hours is more than I need. Let me warn you, you would have questions and when you do, don’t ask. I would explain it anyway.”
“I moved here years ago to finish college. Started working with a small company deal with coding and computer programing. We usually just taught code to high school kids and got called to do odd jobs here and there in different companies. Nothing major until I turned twenty-six, which was four years ago in case you are wondering. Then ORBS approached my small team, offering us a place in a life-changing trial they were starting up. There were six of us from my side and four others from where I don’t know.
“The project looked amazing even though four years ago it was just words. It was with nanotechnology too so you could imagine my interest.” He turned to her with a toothy grin, “or maybe you can’t. We worked on it for years and then last year in December we had the first success. It was an older woman, in her late fifties, I think. We took the contacts and made fifty replicas, and then to my surprise, they destroyed the first one. It didn’t mean much to me then so I explained it away as them having their reasons for wanting it gone.
“Then a few weeks later, one of the guys from my team was involved in a car accident and passed away under the scalpel. We weren’t really close even after working together for so long. His death still hit me. Then another one of us died falling down some stairs. He had that disease, haemophilia. It made the fall more fatal, he died. At this point, I have forgotten how the third and fourth one died, but I remembered thinking about how strange it was. I mean, millions of people die annually, what are the chances that I knew four of them.
“Harry Mendez, an impressionable name on my memory because he was my friend and one of the men on the team for ORBS. The news came that Harry had died after going into the deep side of his pool while intoxicated and drowned. Now that,” he scoffed. “That was bullshit. Forgive my language. Harry was the only man I got close to during the project; we used to go out for drinks during the weekends. The man ordered Coca Cola for himself, all the time. He was religious about his no drinking policy. Never in his life had he had a drop of alcohol.
“Another plus, Harry was a remarkable swimmer. Olympic recognized? No, but he held the gold medal three years in a row in high school and two years in college. Harry could hold his breath for sixteen minutes, almost twenty; he liked to give himself odd goals.
“I tried to think it away. People break their word, people drink even Harry could have given in to the temptation that one time and it could have been bad luck for him. Yet the nagging in my mind didn’t stop. Five men from the original team were dead and five still alive so as every good story begins, I got a bad idea. We still had access to the contacts as they were not on the market yet, and they were still running some tests. I got in one night and snagged one of them, began going through the coding on the nanotechnology when I noticed a defect.”
Eight grinned, his teeth flashing even though his eyes remained dull and empty, a chilling combination that made goosebumps ride the surface of her skin. “Defect. The code did not override the tech’s original command, the command that we set. It overlapped it. Giving the technology a new command in addition to what we were working on. The nanotechnology aside from bypassing the optic nerve would also multiply and attach itself to the hippocampus and various parts of the frontal lobe.”
Coty turned to face the windshield as well; the temperature around her felt hotter than the twenty-four degrees. She was not a scientist but, at one point, it had been her dream. Somehow, her interest in real estate changed that direction. It did not mean she forgot the little things she had snagged while studying biology in high school. “Most of the motor functions are controlled by activity in the frontal lobe.”
He nodded. “And the hippocampus controls the memory. I did some digging afterwards, hacking the computer to one of the people I believed was in on what ORBS was. As my bad luck is always on speed dial, I hit the jackpot. I am not sure his level of clearance but the bloody bastard did have enough to enlighten me. I sat there, in my home, reading through the files. The first contacts still existed, contrary to what they allowed us to think. The scientist implanted it on another woman, younger, more agile, and they kept notes on her progress. Nights they had sent various commands to the technology and gotten a response. They were using her body, piggybacking off her mind. Notes about the places she went, the things she did. ORBS wasn’t just to give people sight; it was to create mindless soldiers that could carry out tasks without being able to lead back to them.
“That was the night my life ended. I went to bed, convinced that I had to do something to stop them, expose them somehow because they were already trying to clean up. Strange noises from my kitchen woke me around two in the morning. Thankfully, the person breaking into my apartment from the window didn’t know that I had extreme paranoia. I have glass objects, figurines and the like, lining the bottom of my windows and before I go to bed, I use a thread to hook my door handle to a piece of glass.
“That night, they came for me, made enough noise to wake me up. I can’t remember what happened, but I made it out with my laptop. It was an effort in futility because the damned thing was useless. It took a bullet for me. My life was hoodies and face caps after that, which was already my style, but felt depressing given the circumstances.”
Coty shook her head. “You still haven’t explained how the hell you are in my eye.”
“I did say you should just let me go on because I would explain everything all the same.” Coty rolled her eyes and, at that moment, was thankful that he fixed the problem with how she saw him. She was grateful she could roll her eyes without seeing him turn as well. “I went on the run, but I knew that they would start testing the contacts soon, maybe send one of their mindless agents to kill me. So the first chance I got, I broke into the lab again and snagged one of the lenses. Hooked it up to my computer and uploaded a bug that crashed the foreign commands on the nanotech. Then I added a few commands of my own. It linked the contacts to my computer and me. I didn’t know what number it was or when it would be in use, so I just waited and waited.”
“Then yesterday, you noticed that the contacts you rigged were in use.”
“So you control me now?”
He jumped, shaking his head in earnest. “No, I don’t. I removed that particular command. The only thing I did was write a code that ordered the tech to interfere with your auditory nerves. That way, I can not only see but also hear the things going on around you while also being able to speak to you without being there. It’s complicated; I don’t know how to explain it.”
“Don’t even try.” She winced, massaging the sides of her head with her fingers. “I already have a hard time wrapping my mind around this. How am I sure you are not lying?”
“Well if you think about it, I didn’t necessarily choose you. Imagine what would have happened if you booked a day late or a month late and another person got the contacts I rigged. With my class of luck, it would have been an old lady like the first test subject or an older guy who wasn’t very active or understanding. I lucked out with you, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to convince you if I didn’t make it difficult for you to get rid of me. In either case, you don’t have time.”
“What is that supposed to mean.”
“I stopped you from telling the therapist about the default, but I don’t know all the players in the game. Some of them, the doctors, and the therapist could be pawns like my friends and I. Punchline is, no one knows what I did to the contacts, they believe that all are working according to plan. Soon enough, they will send a code to the tech in your eye, and you will not respond like a normal trial.”
“I won’t obey the command; I would just go along my normal day.” He nodded, and she shook her head, sucking her bottom lip between her teeth. “Then what happens.”
“Whatever happens, they probably won’t let you keep singing Kumbaya, that’s for sure. They could use pretext to get you into the hospital to run more tests. Tests that, again, you would not respond to because I destroyed their original program.”
“They would realise am defected,” Coty rasped, the whole web unfolding before her eyes like the plot twist of a mystery novel. Each word out of her mouth feet like the script of a twisted movie. “Then they have two choices. Believe the problem is an unseen complication or assume that their gadget has been severely tampered with.”
Eight nodded. “In both cases, they would try to find a way to get you to release the piece to them so they can replace it with one that functions.”
“But then they would also find out that the contacts cannot detach from my eye without pulling out my eye socket. Which is going to be another error.”
Coty looked down on her hands, noting the slight trembling before squeezing her nails into her palm. Her teeth still worrying the fleshy set of her lips as Ava finally pulled the car to a stop in the family driveway.
Their family home was big, smaller than her imagination had sized it, but it was large enough for the family she had. There were three other cars parked in the lot, a pickup, a coup and a convertible, which meant everyone was home.
The rose bushes leading up the door were rich and colourful, decorating the path with their conspicuous colours. The smooth, vivid stones used to make the stairs leading to the house had small specs on them glittering where sunlight touched. High, shady trees, stretching the branches over most of the floors, surrounded their home and some even scrapped against a few of the windows on the second floor.
Her white sneakers blazed across the floor as she rushed to the door. Brown with elaborate patterns etched into the wood and a massive knocker mounted on it. Eight reached for her hand just as she moved to knock and she turned to him, even though they both knew he could not touch her.
“When they discover the error in your contacts, they would either let you go on living the miracle and assume you are clueless or determine that you could be dangerous and they could choose to…”
“Terminate,” Coty responded, wrapping her fingers around the brass knocker