NEW LIFE: Chapter Nine

Large monstrosities of metal, wires and micro filament moved in a graceful display of arches and sweeps. Laser tips carved and molded what human fingers couldn’t. The touch of precision only attainable through the perfection of computer organization. It carved it first out of compound hybrid pieces.

Metal and durable fibers creating bone and muscle. It all seemed a touch morbid at first, a gangly skeleton of movement, bared out in shape and form but missing something.

It’s robotic appearance was cold to the world, with electronic parts remaining unused, turned off. It’s large wild eyes dry and dull, with no lids to properly shield them. It was only when the silicone realism of flesh was added to the form, tied onto the very muscles of her did she become more alive.

Almost human. Down to the very skeleton she had seemed almost human. Now wrapped in soft pale flesh, she almost was. The size of a child, with the hint of something else playing in her form.

Some dreams left unfulfilled.

They danced around her, obscuring her form from him almost playfully as they added the requested details he had called for. One machine focused on her hands, indenting the nails into a manufactured nail bed. Another machine carefully weaved in hair and eyelashes. A golden color, like unfiltered sunshine. Like the last real drop of sunlight.

All the while he watched in awe. Alone in his glory while she was being built. Tucked away in the observation room as his dreams were coming to life. He had to give her something more. Something even more. It was a late addition, one of pure ego which had tickled at his mind until he forced it into the plans.

They seemed almost stitched on with the lasers, metal on metal held them tightly to her back. Soft opalescent feathers laid against soft pale skin. The machines painted finer details; soon her soft skin held freckles as well.

Her wings were tipped in the palest of blue.

He truly had created an angel. Maven was an angel. There were no other words to describe the form in front of him. When the machines stopped it left her there, the first of her kind as a child, bare to the world just as any would be. He entered the floor and stalked towards her with purpose. Carefully taking a sheet from the side table and shivering as he approached.

Stock still like the dead she simply stood there. An empty shell of what she could be. Left without her programming for now. He had wanted to stand in awe of her, carefully cover her form already in his mind setting aside what clothes she would wear. He couldn’t leave her vulnerable like this; unclothed to the world she would soon be a part of.

Those large eyes didn’t hold the spark of Notnow. But he knew soon she would. He would bring her back to the office, bring her back to his den of creation and give her life. And that seemed like the very point of it all. He was so close to an epiphany that it shivered along his skin. He was building himself a daughter…

But his moment of understanding was tarnished by the sound of doors trying to be unlocked. Angry fists pounding at the studio room. He had finally been found out. Through all his sneaking around and careful timing was coming to an end.

Don? If you’re in there let me in!” Christian sounded annoyed, but it was more a relief that it was him then anyone else. Still, it was an unwelcome annoyance.

Damnit!” Don sighed, glancing to the door only a moment before his eyes were drawn back to her. He ducked into the control room like a man possessed, fingers typing and holding the erase codes. Hitting ctrl, alt, delete. Making it sure his knowledge was safely removed before running out to his creation again.

He covered her with the sheet, bent low and picked her up in his arms. The weight was almost perfect – almost. She still seemed a bit heavy with the added wings and the metal pieces.

Christian had used his emergency access codes, the doors opened and he stormed inside. His tie was undone, his jacket open and the sweat was beaded on his forehead. He stared at Don, his old friend for a long time before he finally just shook his head.

You know I’m the only one supporting you with this crap, but locking me out of my own production house? You weren’t supposed to do anything here without me!”

I was quite capable of doing it myself.” Don huffed angrily.

That isn’t the point! We work together!”

Then let me do my job!” The argument made his skin go flush. He clutched onto her even tighter in fear of dropping her down and unveiling her too soon.

Don, listen to me. Jerry is getting frustrated…” the peacemaker in him came to life and eased down his burning temper. “I’m worried that secret partners may be involved. We’ve been like brothers for a long time, but so have you and I. Please, please let someone in. Just let us know what’s going on with you.”

Don’s face was lost for expression. Red skin fuming making the growing white in his hair even more present. His emotions for the moment seemed to ruin the excited joy he had in Maven’s creation and that made him feel all the worse.

A secret partner. It sent shivers down his spine. He knew deep down that Christian would never betray him, he had too good of a heart, but Jerry was a snake in the grass and controlled more of the business aspect then either of them.

I need to go.” He pushed past the younger man, almost toppling him down with the body under the sheet. He would have just stormed off but the younger man proved to be more of an obstacle.

Don!” Christian’s fingers edged on the white sheet and for a moment they stood at a standstill. Each man’s eyes knew what the other was thinking. Both of them in their own way, begging for understanding.

Don’t. I need this…” For a moment the desperation was apparent in his eyes. Don’s craving for something to clutch onto. “This is finally something of my own, I would die for this Christian… Don’t you get it? This is my baby. Let me finish it.”

The standstill lasted a moment longer. A moment too long each of their eyes had said silently to each other. Finally it ended with a simple nod from Christian. They both seemed to pass a barrier.

Too often he gave in, but what else could he do? Wrestle the old man to the ground and call the authorities? Or be a real jerk and expose what last dream the man had.

He backed down and stepped inside the studio as Don disappeared out into the hallway with his secret intact. He watched the old man practically run for the elevators.

I hope you know what your doing, Don. I really do.”

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NEW LIFE: Chapter Eight

He would never look at him the same now. How could he? It had evolved without him. He had done what other programmers… no. Other Scientists had only dreamed of. Ever since the creation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelly this had been a dream.

Notnow, are you alive? He typed. It took him longer to backspace out the typos made by shaky fingers. There was a pause, then more script.

I think I am alive. Followed.

What makes you like this?

I have always been like this.

It was too much for him. He didn’t turn the program off but simply left the room. Grabbing his coat and pulling down the old wooden coat-rack in the process. The clatter was ended by a sharp glance towards Bella to end any and all questions made.

I am afraid. Typed itself on the monitor now left alone.

Don headed out of the stuffy offices, barely noticing his secretary as he jotted out the door. Muttering he didn’t want anyone in his office, he was going out for some air.

Father?

The small consciousness that was Notnow suddenly realized there was no flickers of electricity. There were no words that came to him out of the darkness. He was again completely alone in this strange prison where he could not move and could not feel. Only think.

The rain started light and he heard it off the glass windows but his mind was lost on other things. This… virus that had infected Notnow. This Artificial intelligence. What if it was dangerous?

Are you there?

The screen echoed in vain before the small monkey realized he was abandoned. At least for now he was trapped in this place and he learned the lesson of fear. That it was new and hurtful and it was strong. He was afraid of this darkness. It reminded him of what it felt like to be simply turned off.

Unaware of the turmoil on his creations mind, Don was in his own moral argument. In Frankenstein the monster was evil. At least under most respects. What if this ‘virus’ was evil? What if it was a mistake? Did he have a responsibility to kill what he created?

If so, would it be killing it? Or simply deactivating?

Please, don’t leave me…

No. It was too big of a thing to just kill. It was his creation, his work, his sweat and blood. It was alive and not something he could shut off? Anyway how could Notnow be evil?

Don was never much of a religious man. He didn’t go to church on Sunday, and other then cursing his name occasionally he didn’t know how to pray or call to his creator. He didn’t believe much in spirits or souls though he certainly hoped there was something for him after death other then a nice dirt nap.

Still, these new thoughts and ideas running through his skull made him play with the whole religious concept just a little bit. “Maybe it’s a sign…” he looked outside to the rain beating harder against the glass plates of windows as he stopped to watch the world outside unaware of his thoughts. Hurried on busily with its own things. “Maybe, all those years were working up to this moment.”

He breathed, and stilled himself from the adrenaline running in his veins. His face was flushed with pumping blood and sweat had gathered on his hairline. Idly he felt the dull pain in his chest which came and went on it’s own accord. He hoped his old heart could take this excitement.

Finally, a grin formed on his lips. The grin of a fox, or a Cheshire cat. This was what he needed to take back control of the company. To end his working life with dignity and a legacy.

This was his golden apple and he was taking it.

When he finally stepped outside the doors of the Oakwood Offices he felt like a new man. Fresh out of college and head full of dreams. It wasn’t only the small brown monkey that was alive again. It was an old man with everything to lose.

The rain poured heavily, washing away the indecision and making him instead laugh for the first real time in years. With head tilted back and eyes opened he stared up to whatever lay above. Whatever powers that be staring back at him.

The dark clouds churned above with lighter gusts of smog and city smoke. Small breaks in the dark sky left shards of blue light flowing through. It all rumbled with rolling thunder.

It must have looked odd to see him out there. Looking as he did when he was still full of teenage ambition. When he wondered if there would ever be moments like this after the deadening of youth from college and work.

He looked around the business district and glanced into a few of the lower windows. There were people, all dressed similar, all working at their desks. It made his stomach turn every time he saw them. Little robots doing what they are told without thought, without emotion. No, not like him. He wasn’t like that.

His eyes turned with another rumble of thunder and above him he saw on the cityscape the site of the glass fish tank. The large rectangle building that lit up with office lights. New Life.

Don? Are you okay?” Bella startled him and he turned to find the worried woman holding open a black umbrella sheltering herself from the rain that looked as if it drowned him.

Her eyes, so expressive to him; showed a deep concern.

Yes Bella, for the first time in a while… I’m perfectly fine.” He looked once more out into the storm then followed Bella back inside. “Tell me Bella, have I ever told you how much I appreciate what you do for me?”

Once in a while you do, Mr. Vaughan.” She smiled, relaxing and apparently catching onto Don’s mysterious but well intentioned good mood.

Listen, you got family at home right? Little Sarah will need you. Take tonight and tomorrow off. With vacation pay.”

But… I mean I get three days off after since the operation was pushed back. That would be five days, a full week…” She fiddled with the umbrella, closing it up and tying it down.

Under the right light, Bella was a rather pretty warm hearted woman.

Then take off 5 days. Listen, your one of the best receptionists I’ve ever had. And I mean that. 5 days with full pay, plus vacation. I won’t accept anything less, now get out of here.” He smiled at the flush that came to her cheeks. Her eyes swimming in happiness.

Thank you Don!” She leaned forward and hugged the soaked man uncaring that her new dress was now getting wet. His good mood seemed very contagious tonight.

Your welcome, now get out of here before I change my mind.” He winked and pulled away. Heading back towards his office and den of creation.

That would get rid of her for a while.” He thought happily in shocked euphoria as he opened the door to his office and strolled over to the computer.

Notnow was still motionless. Body stolen from him by the snake of cable hooked up to the back port of the laptop. He barely looked mechanical let alone alive. It looked so different from the others, it should have been obvious it was different in mental capacity as well. Then again, it was Don himself who gave the monkey his teeth and claws. Added realism to it. Maybe he himself gave it the spark of life.

Maybe he was its God?

No, you old fool…” he muttered to himself reading over the lines of script. “No need to be acting like Victor.” A soft chuckle. “Am just one lucky sonofabitch.”

With a few clicks of a button he detached the serpent and slowly the Black space was gone and Notnow felt more like himself again. Slowly his large eyes opened and he saw the familiar desk and the form of Don hunched over the glowing light of the computer.

But something seemed a little strange about Don now.

He looked at Notnow oddly. Not that familiar glaze of half-interest and semi-detest, but of odd fascination. That strange fascination that he seemed to have after he had given the small monkey his teeth and claws. The look of creation.

Notnow. Do you remember our conversation?” Don asked with shaky voice as he sat and wheeled the chair closer to the table. Amused at how Notnow’s expression changed ever so slightly.

In the Black space?”

Black Space?” the screen was black, so he quickly assumed. “Yes yes. The conversation in the Black space. Do you remember it?” There was need now. A sense of necessity for the information. Also a sense of losing time.

Yes.” Notnow answered clearly. Taking an extra moment to think and move a few steps closer to his father. “That place makes me afraid.”

Yes, I’m sorry. I needed to run some tests…” The man leaned back staring at the mechanical device. His fingers stroking at his chin and lips in deep thought. Caressing his words out carefully. “Are you really alive?”

I think so.” Notnow sat and looked down. Taking his tail in his little hands and feeling its movements. Keeping it close as if afraid of something. It was movements he had overlooked the small monkey doing many times and the thoughts had never occurred to him before.

He hadn’t programmed him to do that. At least not specifically. He hadn’t programmed him to seem afraid or to freely hold parts of himself protectively. He hadn’t programmed in the slight shiver of fear in the Monkey’s fur. Just how long had the emotional intelligence virus inside of his machine been there? Been -alive-?

The possibilities were endless. He could build on the virus – nurture it. He could use it to ring in a whole new generation of Life. It would take him a long time to fully explore the virus, but he didn’t have time.

They expected him to finish in weeks, months top. He knew that. But already it was set in his mind that it was possible. Already the production house counted on His designs. Counted on his coding to bring his new dream to life. They waited on his word alone to set the first prototype in motion.

Time was not his friend, but he knew he could manage to squeeze it in. He just wouldn’t be so careful checking over the specific coding. “Let it be life!” he mused to himself imagining dear Victor pulling down a crank like in the old black and white movies.

Lightning flashed behind his eyes and he pictured the old movie voice, “It’s alive!!” It was joy. Pure childish joy. It would work, and it would be incredible.

NEW LIFE: Chapter Seven

After Jamie left Don had tried to go back to work on Maven, but something kept distracted him. He heard the odd tinkering from Notnow as he seemed to stay hidden in a small burrow of other monkeys. Quietly passing the time awake.

Even though there was no contact at all with another responding person or toy, he was awake. Even when Don was quite sure he shouldn’t be.

It made him wonder about what Jamie had said, and what he had seemed to overlook on more then one occasion. Notnow truly was different then the initial programming script he had created. A logical impossibility in his mind.

The more he thought about this, the more it unnerved him and caused him to analyze the small brown monkey more and more. Eventually he finally decided to take her advice and look where he hadn’t. Notnow’s current programming.

Notnow, come here.” He commanded carefully and watched the stirring of monkey bodies before one popped its head up with ears far out. Then hopping along body after body he popped up onto his fathers desk and peered the familiar man in the eyes.

Yes?” He replied in careful repeated nature.

Notnow, I am going to run a few tests. Is that okay?”

As Don expected the small monkey followed its programming and crouched down to a sit in front of Don while his large eyes closed. At first Notnow wasn’t sure why he did this, but it seemed the appropriate thing to do.

Carefully Don lifted the small furred flap that was secured with a small latch, then a few tense moments came where Notnow could feel his owner move things around his skull. He could hear pieces touch and gently drag across his connections. It felt like a thousand small tickles and if he had known how to laugh, or had the ability to move he would have.

What a curious sensation.” He thought, truly thought inwardly. It no longer seemed a strange thing to him to be able to talk privately to himself.

Another batch of connections made him shiver again.

Like a fine trained surgeon Don found the tiny cable and pulled out the little silver wire with the small port hookup for his laptop. It stretched out like a silver snake about 12 inches.

The moment it clicked together into the port of the laptop everything went dark. It was a deep darkness that was uncomfortable and lonely. It made Notnow afraid.

It felt like a million things were moving around in his little skull. Millions of small flickers along his circuits as Don opened up program after program and spied into the deepest parts of him. He wished he could pull away, shrink back from the invasive feeling. But he was only able to whimper an inaudible brief moment before everything just stilled inside of him and the brief consciousness was stolen from him. Leaving him for a moment, simply a zombified toy.

At least for a while. It was only after a few moments when his gifted intelligence and consciousness was awoken again. This time awake inside the programming now connected through that dreamsnake into the laptop.

Let’s see what we have here…” Don mumbled to himself and searched through the test runs and program scans. “Well you don’t seem broken. Everything is working fine.”

Seeming unaware of his creations brief touch with its god, he continued in ignorant bliss. Lights turned green, and small little checks appeared in the boxes on the screen. The little flashing box telling him more scans were in progress. It was routine though. Of course things were fine.

It was then he noticed the glitch. The small sputter of a flash on the screen that made him pause. Then as more flashes and uncertain question marks appeared the deeper mystery aroused. What had gone wrong?

Slowly as he delved through the monkey’s head with the use of his programs and he found more glitches of something not quite right. Whatever this was, it skipped some of the basic programming at random intervals and seemed to be writing its own outside the basic learning scripts. It was growing.

This is impossible.” He growled looking at the tangible scripts of new programming proving him wrong. “Not possible.”

He’d seen errors before. Scrapped many monkeys with bad scripts in their heads. Even more which had contracted various programming errors or viruses when their owners had tried to hack their systems.

Anger edged its way up his back, rising the hairs on the very back of his neck. Maybe it was sabotage? Someone altering his programming to try and make a new patent?

No, far too complex a job for that.

And then something dumbstruck him with such force his breath was caught in his throat. That shiver that rose his hairs now froze his blood a little. That ignorant bliss, at least partially, ripped away.

He leaned back in his office chair and blankly sat idle looking at the script as it if was some form of riddle he just couldn’t unlock. For long moments he shut off the rest of the world and simply stared.

To anyone else the complicated writing and programmed gibberish would have meant nothing to them. But for Don, he knew what it meant. It was one simple line of command, a little chaotic but very clear in what it meant.

It was a response to what was going on, right now. A type of programming he had never seen before. A thought. An emotion.

I’m afraid.

My god…” he kneaded the bridge of his nose. Tensing he decided to end this hoax before his head spit at the seams with a strongly growing migraine.

Don’s fingers flew furiously across the keys for a few seconds. Numbers and letters writing lines below the mysterious codes. Maybe he had spent too much time looking over Maven’s codes, or too much time thinking about New Life. Now he was just delusional or was it that he just needed a lot more sleep?

Why are you afraid?” He humored the idea. His voice echoing along with his thoughts and own coding, only to be caught in his throat as effortlessly the coding added to itself. It was as if a phantom typer took over the keys and formed new passages. The phantom typer was Notnow himself.

The emptiness scares me.

He pushed back, tumbled out from his chair and nearly tripped over the various clutter behind his desk. His heart skipped a long beat and it caught up at an alarming space making him feel like his chest had a nest of bees inside.

This was no hoax, and no sabotage. This was something else entirely. Jamie had been right, there was something was wrong with the little monkey.

It was alive.

NEW LIFE: Chapter Six

She had come back in the early morning and was surprised to see the small office somewhat untouched, save for the blanket tossed along the couch doubling as a makeshift bed. The ruffles were unmade, and looked as if whoever slept there had a very broken sleep.

From the look of Don today, she could tell it was him. He was her main focus for the day, and she was determined to turn his attitude around. Seeing as how the straight forward business appearance did nothing to smooth over his icy persona, she tried another approach. Instead of her stiff and formal well paid for suit, she came dressed in a professional turtleneck and soft tan pants.

She still looked like a lawyer, but less like one due for court. Or an execution.

Jamie watched him start on the first thermos of coffee today. The steam rose with a careful aroma of hazelnut and nutmeg. Far too fragrant for most of the simulated brands. It had to have cost him a fair bit to get such high quality integrated grounds. It was these little facts about him that made her curiosity hunger to understand him more.

She herself clutched a warm glass mug of coffee but it was far from his tastes. For her it was the thick lab grown black of simulated coffee beans and coffee flavored syrups. It tasted as close to coffee as she liked but she almost wished he would have offered her some of his.

Yet she knew that was stretching her luck far past the safety limits. Part of Jamie was just glad he hadn’t tried kicking her out just yet.

“This isn’t a typical office…” She spoke out loud as her mind wandered a little. “It reminds me of an apartment or a study. You live here don’t you? Don’t you ever go home?”

“My work’s here. I don’t have a wife to annoy me, or brats to look after. Might as well stay and get things done. The rest is pretty much useless really.” He stifled a yawn from his worn body as he adjusted in his chair.

Once more he debated the small container of blue pills in the first door of his desk, but no. He wasn’t quite so desperate for that drug induced daze of sleep just yet.

“Anyway,” he continued. “Don’t you have someone else to pester other then me?” He didn’t glance at her, instead he kept his eyes focused on the screen in front of him.

“Not really.” She pulled her feet up onto the couch beside her and watched until something from the corner of the desk caught her eye. She swore she saw something move.

As she watched, it moved again. The flicker of a dark shadow hiding around the other side of the pile of Monkey’s. At first she feared it was a rat of some type.

“What’s that?”

“Hrm?” Don looked up, glancing first at Jamie, then following her eyes to the computer. It was then he noticed Notnow peeking out behind the laptop screen now. Fingers curled along the edge and tail swayed. It caused him to laugh a little. “Oh him. That’s Notnow.”

“Not now?” She watched the curious little thing stalk closer on the desk. It was then she heard the clicks from the nails, the shine of teeth as it smiled at her.

Jamie had done her research. These things were far from standard. And it made the thing even more realistic looking. For a quick second she watched in silence and assured herself it wasn’t real. Only the same toys that cluttered his office, but mocked up. “You… changed it.”

The small furred monkey watched them both with wide eyes, curious at the tone in the woman’s voice. Even more unnerved she didn’t return his greeting. He sat, watching her from the ledge of the table and tried a more formal approach.

“Hello.” He hung his hand out, waiting to shake hers.

It didn’t come. And no smile came to her lips. That feeling in the back of his head eased up once more. It was a cold sensation of pins prickling over his sensors. Could he feel cold?

He was sure he could.

“I changed a few things.” Don shrugged his shoulders and returned to his work hardly giving her a second thought.

“But why? I mean why go to all the trouble?” She reached out to grab Notnow and drag him closer for a better inspection but he hopped away with the finesse of an athlete.

Staying just one inch from her fingers. She stood and reached down, grabbing at him again and once more coming just out of reach.

The typing of furious fingers on the keys told her he wasn’t paying much attention if any to their predicament. He had become used to Notnow hopping around his office and exploring things while he drowned the world out.

His owner kept him safe, he acknowledged his greetings and understood him. This lady seemed strange. More like the mysterious voice from outside Don’s office.

“Hello?” Notnow tried another time, tone varied as he danced just beyond those clasping fingers. At first he felt he did very well in keeping the distances safe but she struck forward like a snake and grabbed his tail.

That strange sensation of pins dug in a little deeper. The coldness more sharper as she picked him up. He wanted to yell No, or tell her to let him down but no words came out. It wasn’t in his programming to have demands.

Was this what it was like to be afraid? The thought rolled around through the sparks in his mind. Small firings of electrodes and wires. “I’m afraid?” The words again weren’t spoken, but were proclaimed loudly in the small brown skull of Notnow.

“I think there is something wrong with this one.” The woman spoke again and held the monkey tightly by the tail. She felt the small thing shiver in her grasp as if the power source was somehow unstable. “It’s not running right. Was it broken? Like the others?”

“What are you talking about? It’s fine.” Don sighed. “I fixed him myself. He couldn’t -be- more fine.”

“Then why is it shaking?” She held the toy tighter and kept it’s small arms and legs pressed closed to the furred body.

She tried to see if she could keep the mechanical tremors contained, but this only frightened him more. He felt like she was trying to crush him in her hands and even though he knew his skeleton and body could far take the pressure – it felt like he would smother.

Notnow struggled, trying to find the words to get himself away from her and back into the somewhat aloof but trusting hands of Don. “Down!” Finally crept out of him, a little unsteady but clearly forming the words. “Put me down!”

“Don’t be alarmed.” Don chuckled, pulling Notnow away from Jamie’s grasp and patting him on the head. All too relieved he scooted up Don’s arm, leaped off his shoulder and once again hid himself in the small burrow made of broken comrades.

“They are made to mimic. He must have picked it up somewhere. It’s simulated intelligence, that’s all. For a lawyer I thought you’d figure that out.”

“Even so, it certainly seems different then the other ones I’ve seen. It even seemed to shake.” Her eyes watched like a hungry hawk at the pile of monkeys still cluttering the room.

“Listen there is nothing wrong with it. Now if you don’t mind I really need to get some work done.” He walked to the door and held it wide for her. Still disappointed in the shocked manner at which she watched him. “As an attorney, you of all people should understand logic. It’s not real. It can’t feel or shake. It can only do what its programming tells it to do.”

“I know what I felt.” She muttered. “That thing is either broken or programmed wrong. If you don’t see that then you aren’t looking hard enough.”

NEW LIFE: Chapter Five

The offices had been quiet for a while. Christian even had some time on his hands to glance out his large office windows, spying foot to head what was outside in front of him. Which happened to be a large drop from the twelfth floor.

At least the view was nice. Tumbling buildings and strings of lights here and there. Lighting other offices under a darkened overcast sky. He could even see Don’s building from here. He could even see that woman from the diner leaving in a black limo with very tinted windows. Jamie was it?

“I wonder what she wanted.” Chris pondered to himself. It sped off rather quickly down the main street of the business district and disappeared soon out of distance behind buildings upon buildings.

“How come I have the feeling she’s only going to be trouble?” He muttered to himself, pulling his arms closer around himself to block out the subtle draft seemingly passing through the glass window. “It must be because of Reality.” Christian slipped back to his desk and opened the long shallow drawer in the middle. It slid open with the smallest grind that he hated, but hadn’t yet asked old Clarkston, the janitor, to fix.

Inside he pulled out the notes he and Jerry had gotten from Dan about the project and the requirements for them to do. Jerry’s bunch wasn’t as large and as detailed as Christian’s had been. Inside his small stack of paperwork were everything required he would need at the Production House and all the specific pieces and wiring he needed extras of.

None of it seemed that out of the ordinary. Other then the amount. The Monkey’s were made up of most of the same parts so it didn’t seem so suspicious.

“New Life: Reality. Maven will be a new model, based on my original designs but so much more. Any extra costs outside the grant budget I will personally pay for out of my retirement locked in stash. I require full guidance over this and full cooperation to be left alone to work.” It was signed formally Don Vaughan in quickened pen. His long accented D and V proving his apparent excitement.

The lights dulled a bit, the warmer desk lights and wall mounts gently lighting up. The systems way of gently reminding them the offices were now kicking into night shifts.

He grabbed his sweater from the rack beside the desk and tucked the papers back into the long shallow drawer. Taking a second look to make sure he had things turned off he headed out the door.

Christian was barely paying attention to the other workers buzzing here and there getting ready to end their shift, or just start the night one. It was only when he heard the words “Sure I can promise a lot of money. The guy’s a genius” that his pace stopped.

Like a shadow he pulled closer to the walls and edged his way outside Jerry’s office door. The walls were smooth, a light composite of mock marble. Most of the building was made this way. And since New Life owned this floor, Jerry wanted to make sure it was as lavish as he could get it.

His office was one of the biggest ones. He demanded space and privacy and Jerry always got what Jerry wanted. He would be far too annoying if he didn’t. Not even Christian could put up with him in too foul of moods.

“Yes, I guarantee you high quality digital scans, but only if the price is right. I’m not going to enter into anything without a full business contract and some cash up front.” Jerry held his cell tightly, nearly crushing it as he leaned back and kicked his feet up onto the thick glass desktop.

The company videophone was left on the desk unused. As always, it seemed to be there only for show – not actual use. It would be far too easy to trace actually business on that kind of phone.

“No, see if we had a new partner, one no one knew about… Yes like that. A silent partner. We could do projects the old man doesn’t need to sit and approve on.”

Christian listened as the conversation delved deeper.

“We got five offers this year alone for people wanting the technology for outside uses! Hell even the military had their eye on us! You want to talk about money? The Gov’s are real comfy pony-rides my friend.” Now the quickened excitement of Jerry’s voice slunk down to a semi-whisper. “Just tell me you’re interested. I know you’re interested.”

“We need to talk…” Chris said flatly as he walked into the tottering Jerry’s office and gave him a look as cold as the last ice caps. He didn’t like where this conversation was going at all.

“Er, lemmie call you back. I got business here to attend to.” There was a click and Jerry placed on a smile sickening sweet on his lips. “Christian, any news?”

“I should be asking you. What the hell do you think your doing? Arranging a secret partner behind both Don’s and my back?”

“Chris you got it wrong, you’re going to be in it for thirty percent! Heck, we need you. You’ve got the experience and the only one who knows how to run the Production House as effective as it is.” The shorter man shrugged and leaned forward. Pulling his feet off the desk and replacing them with his elbows. “He’s getting up there in age anyway. Don’t you think it’s time we planned, you know? For his ‘retirement’?”

“That’s bull shit.” There were times he really hated the man in front of him. Today was one of these times.

“Oh come on Christian! Think about it! He’s only been holding us back. He won’t even let us see this new fucking project! How do you know he isn’t just off his rocker? He refused to get the biyearly psych exam!”

“Yeah and so did you!” He shook his head. Glaring at Jerry like they were kids, and he was the older and most sensible one. “Damnit Jer, we made this company together.”

“We wouldn’t have a company without Don Vaughan, don’t you see? We were nothing until we brought him into this!” He continued with a sneer. Christian remembered the days of lacking game systems and the losing battle to find a new idea to save their dying trade. “Don’t you remember the fucking bankruptcy papers? We were so damn close to signing them and you want to throw that all away!”

They had grown up together on one of the few biological farms left that weren’t slashed with a science lab and test-tube livestock. Both of them were forced not by blood, but happenstance to have their families sharing the 6-bedroom estate.

Although Jerry was always the older of the two, he most often was more of a hassle then Christian. And it was Christian who had always been the one looking out for his older, but somewhat more troublesome companion.

When they vowed to get out of the country and make something of themselves it was always in the back of his mind that Jerry would ruin things for him. He worried that more then ever it was becoming truth.

“Chris will you relax?” Jerry left his desk making sure the door to the office was firmly closed. Not that anyone was prone to listening in, and most were already out the door.

“What happens when he dies huh?” He continued smoothly as he came up to Christian smelling like a mix of sweat and cheap cologne. Leading the irritated man towards the large window. “You have a family to support. So do I. I’m not planning to kick the old guy out or take over anything. I’m just setting things up so that New Life will continue, even if he doesn’t.”

“See? Am only looking out for us, Chris. You’re like my brother. I’ve known you for years. Trust me.”

“I don’t know Jer, this worries me.”

Both men glanced over the somewhat dirty city as more lights seemed to come on as the skies darkened even more. It wasn’t a very pretty or modern city compared to those of New LA and Fredericton, but it was still impressive.

“Okay, look around and do whatever the hell you want in theory. Just do not do anything Jerry. Don’t screw this up for either of us.”

Jerry’s hand patted him brotherly across the back. “Trust me Chris. It’s you and me. I’ll always look out for you.”

Somehow it felt like Christian just made one of the biggest mistakes in his life. Pulling away from Jerry he headed down the hallways lost in thought. The image of Don’s office light on kept haunting him and he wasn’t quite sure why.

People passed quietly like drones on their own private missions. No one said hello or waved. No one even seemed to notice as he slipped inside the empty elevator and trailed fingers over the silver plate and black buttons.

Habits. It was all just habits that kept everyone so distant from each other, even if they worked together in packed metal cans of glass and steel. He could hardly remember the conversations he had with coworkers – or if he said anything more then three words to them at a time. About the only one he ever seemed to talk to anymore was Jerry or Don. And even that was becoming a rare thing.

Some days he missed the younger years, when they were up to nights out, card games, or just taking a vacation. It felt like years since he’d seen any actual trees or mountains outside the city. It was as if they were an endangered species, all on their own.

“Ground floor.” Stated the com system clearly as the doors breezed shut. There was a familiar shift and then the steady vibration of movement under his feet.

“I wonder what’s on special at the Delhouse Diner.” His mind begged him to keep the topics of the day locked up inside the office floor. The diner at least would be a good distraction. “Hopefully it’s Roast. I’ve really got a craving for roast.”

 

NEW LIFE: Chapter Four

She could have cared less about who this woman was talking to or why, but she was slowly losing her patience. It seemed like she had been on the phone ever since she had come into the old fashioned office on the second floor of the large Oakwood Offices. And she was certain that was twenty minutes ago.

No no, if you give her that she will never go to sleep! Yes. Fine talk to Nanna about that.” Bella’s conversation went on unheeded. “Yes I know but she needs her sleep. Dr. Wagnar had said that she needs to be rested for Thursday’s operation.”

It was 3:25 now by the glowing blue numbers above the door leading out into the hall. She was wrong, it had only been fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes too long to be waiting.

I need to speak with Don Vaughan.” She again mentioned sternly, interrupting talk of where such and such was. “Is he in his office?”

He’s not to be disturbed.” The twenty-something year old quickly replied looking a mix of flustered and somewhat annoyed. She was about to return to her argument on the phone when Jamie decided the waiting game was over.

Poor Bella nearly dropped the phone as the tall lawyer breezed past her ignoring her words. With the powerful clicks of her heels on the wooden floors she opened the door, walked into Don’s office, then just as quickly she slammed the door before the now fretting Bella could even close her mouth.

Seconds later she heard the crackle of intercom and Bella quickly apologizing. Both things seemed to happen at once for poor Don who glanced up quickly from the somewhat substandard laptop and screen full of white on black programming gibberish.

Mr. Vaughan I told her you weren’t to be disturbed! She just bolted in there! Do you want me to call security?” It was obvious she was treading on eggshells. It was there, an almost present “please don’t fire me…” under her tone.

The girl had been through enough lately, what with a new marriage and a sick child under her belt. Firing her was the farthest thing from his mind. Though this woman who just barged in seemed to be much more of an annoyance.

Don glanced the woman over. Tall, hair tied up, pinstripe suit outfit with a short but professional skirt and dark beige hosiery. He knew at least it wasn’t a stripper. None dressed -that- professional. It took him only a few moments to recognize she wasn’t a real threat. At least not bodily. He reached over and clicked the intercom on.

No, I got it Bella. Thanks.” And immediately turned it off.

Don Vaughan? The patent holder for most of New Life Industry’s designs I presume?” She looked around the office and seemed more then a little confused.

I know its not much lady, but it is more comfy then the glass jars they have the others working in. Why did you barge into my office and scare my receptionist half to death? I don’t think we had an appointment… I never have appointments.”

My name is Jamie Sidler. I’m the new Financial Adviser and Attorney for New Life’s Stockholders.” She walked along to the edge of the desk that took up a fair bit of the small office’s room and looked over all the cluttered Monkey’s and papers. Between the broken toys, tools and paperwork one file seemed to catch her eye.

Well Jamie, I’m sure Jerry would be better to talk to. He’s the one in charge of the accounting. I just do the repairs and the programming.”

And Christian Wolfe takes care of the marketing and overseeing the Production House manufacturing. I know. It’s you I wanted to talk to.” She frowned a little. “I’ve met them already.”

Then what is it you want Miss Sidler?”

This is your work with the Central Zoo isn’t it?” Flipping through the files she saw many sheets on stats, pictures of various animals in many different steps of evolution and the central programming comments behind them. Then of course there were sheets and sheets on gibberish, which would give almost any programmer a small headache. Unless you were Don of course.

One picture stood out in particular. It featured a younger Mr. Vaughin holding a Joey. The picture was a cut out from a National Press newspaper.

Rock Falls Scientific Institute’s Don Vaughan holds ‘Miracle’, a year old rare albino Joey that was saved by his creation of a mother kangaroo’s pouch that not only held and protected the Joey, but fed and sustained him like the real thing.”

She brushed fingers over the caption as she read it.

Don sighed a little and crossed his arms behind his head, leaning back a bit and watching the woman. His time at Rock Falls was a stepping-stone. It just should have got him a lot farther then here. What really concerned him is why a lawyer was here to see him above all people. If it were some sort of “your toy ate my little boy’s fingers,” they would be going directly to Jerry.

I remember reading about this a few years ago.”

Eight years ago. It was right before my contract with them came up.” He brought his hand up and closed the laptop screen. Shifting uncomfortably. She seemed to notice his anxiety and pried a little deeper as she looked through the rest of the file.

Why did you leave? With all the work you did, I thought they would have offered you a permanent position?”

There were pictures of other animals. The sketching ideas of the Tasmanian tiger which moved and breathed like a real cat and startling Albino cobra which worked solely on a designed remote laptop. And then there was perhaps the first idea for the Monkey. This one she could tell even then was different. It looked real.

Every line made on the design sketch seemed to be done with care, yet speed. Like a fleeting thought he just seemed to catch in a moments daze. The wording was done in ballpoint pen, and scribbled quickly. Jamie barely read a few words here and there about central brain centers and fully functional circuitry.

I’m not one of them. I wasn’t in for the test tubes and the biological factors. I didn’t want to preserve life or maintain it. I just wanted to make things that simulated it.” Now his patience waned as a headache crept up on him reminding him of the hours he had spent this morning staring into the hellish screen of his computer. And now the time he was wasting not putting the ideas circulating in his head down.

You do have a reason to be here?”

You were given a strong grant for this new project. The stockholders sent me to make sure everything is going well and perhaps get a look at what work has been done already.” Jamie looked up only to see him looking at her much distant then before. It was then when he took the file from under her hand and set it into a cluttered box with other tan folders.

No. It’s not ready yet so they can damn well wait.” His mood changed drastically as he made sure the top of the laptop was clicked shut. “They get the reports weekly. I make sure I send them in personally to Jerry who sends it out with spending reports.”

Don didn’t like his work picked apart and questioned. He had suffered before having to compromise his work at the beginning in order to please others. He did that with the Monkey project and refused to hand over Maven. That was his, and his alone.

Mr. Vaughan, they simply want–“

No. When I have something to show them I will be the first one to invite them here. All I have at the moment is ideas and a hell of a lot of work to do. Neither I can truly develop if I have a group of nitwits looking over me and asking me the whys and what’s of everything. I’m sure you understand.”

There was silence between them as both seemed to be staking the other out. Two predators battling over a fresh chunk of meat. Or in the corporate world, two people looking for a raise by screwing over the other.

Then the crackling of the intercom disturbed the thick tension. “Is everything alright in there Mr. Vaughan?”

He reached over, his eyes not leaving the strong blue crystals of Jamie. His fingers flicked the switch. “Yeah its fine Bella, I think Miss Sidler has had almost enough of me.” He tried to crack a small strained smile. “Wouldn’t you agree, Jamie?”

Her smile was even more strained then his.

You’re a stubborn man, though I suppose this is why you are who you are. I respect your wishes for the moment, but please understand I’ll be back to check on things again. We both have our jobs to do.” She felt tainted from having to back down, but also a small tinge of respect for him edged at her. She intended to drown out one of those when she got home. There were reasons she had a fully stocked Liquor chest.

Here take this,” Her fingers slid a small metal business card on the desk. The burnished numbers shone like silver in the light, a rainbow flicker like gas on pavement echoed off the holographic name running across the top. “In case you do change your mind.”