‘Eric, why am I plugged into a computer?’
Oscar had several USB cords that were connected to his left arm and into a computer hard-drive that was missing the plastic covering which exposed the several circuit boards that were stacked into the metal frame much like the floors of a skyscraper. Within the left arm was a touchscreen fitted into the metal casing, it had lines of code that ran along the screen without a single action to be performed.
Oscar laid on the ground, and with his right arm he held his body up from the floor. Both of his arms and eyes were not organic. The arms were made of metal, the grey steel plating covered with numerous scratched marks and dents protected the inner electrical motors that mimicked muscles. His eyes contained a camera lens within a metal casing that served as the eyeball. Inside his head he had a miniature processor attached to his brain that allowed him to manage terabytes of information that could be accessed from the touchscreen.
‘You are connected to the computer to act as a decoy, while I use my supercomputers to break in for the transport information.’ said Eric.
Eric was seated at a large dining table with three large flat computer screens. Unlike Oscar, Eric did not have any cybernetic implants and was completely organic. He wore a jumper with a hoodie that covered his head and trackpants. Tangled cords ran from under the table and into a room that has been completely sealed off with only a door with rubber along the sides that trapped the cold air inside. Through a frosted window, three black pillars stood in the middle of the room; Eric’s pride and joy. Supercomputers he built from the ground up with spare parts and stored into the kitchen that he transformed into a cool room.
‘This is safe?’ said Oscar.
‘Yep, I set up the program to turn off when they find you, so nothing to worry about.’ said Eric.
‘Your skeleton of a computer here doesn’t fill me with confidence.’
‘It’s the best I have to work with, shut up already.’
Eric moved from screen to screen. Rapidly, he tapped the keyboards as he scanned thousands of files for the information about the supply trucks, which they could use to escape the city.
‘When I find the information, what’s next?’ said Eric.
‘I go check it out, and think of the best way to sneak us in.’ said Oscar.
‘What would be the best way?’
‘The best way would be finding empty boxes, putting return notices on them and hiding in them. If worse comes to worse, we steal a van or truck or whatever they are using.’
‘I like the second plan; simple and easy to do.’
‘Only if you feel like losing your limbs.’
A waring message appeared on Oscar’s touchscreen.
‘What’s this?’ said Oscar.
‘What’s what?’ said Eric.
The computer hard-drive that Oscar is connected to hissed and threw sparks in all directions before it finally short circuited and released a plume of smoke.
Oscar reached for the cables attached to his arm.
‘No, don’t do that.’ said Eric.
Eric jumped from his seat to Oscar’s arm. He dismissed the warning message and punched the visual keys on the touchscreen to stop whatever program that destroyed his small computer before it got into Oscar’s imbedded computer.
‘Shit.’ said Eric, with no choice he pulled all the cables out which caused Oscar’s cybernetic enhancements to perform an emergency shutdown. His eyes switched off which blinded him. His arms went limp which made him fall to the ground, unable to hold himself up anymore.
‘Are you okay?’ said Eric.
‘I can’t see or move my arms.’ said Oscar as he lifted his right leg and moved it through the air until it came into contact with Eric’s chest.
‘Is that you?’ said Oscar.
‘Yeah.’ said Eric.
Oscar pulled his leg back and kicked Eric hard, which send him to the ground. Eric moaned in agony as he rolled on the ground while he clenched his chest with both of his arms.
‘What was that for?’ said Eric.
‘For almost getting me killed.’ said Oscar.
‘That was not going to happen.’
‘Did you not see the computer? The processor in my head could have exploded and burnt my brain.’
‘That did not happen and you’re fine. Now let me fix this, and if you kick me again I’ll leave you blind and armless.’
Oscar laid motionless on the floor as Eric moved over to his left arm with the touchscreen. The screen lit up as he turned it on and it produced a message saying the system wasn’t turned off properly. Eric pressed the option to start up the system normally, which took him to the main screen where he saw an icon shaped like an eye. He clicked it and a window popped up that provided options for Oscar’s camera lens eyes. Eric clicked the restart button and Oscar’s eyes rotated as they readjusted themselves.
‘Can you see now?’ said Eric.
‘I see a dead man,’ said Oscar.
A light humming was heard from both of Oscar’s arms as they warm up and restored power to the artificial limbs. Oscar tested his hand by opening and closing his fist. Knowing that everything was working, he got off the ground and made his way to the door.
‘Where are you going?’ asked Eric.
‘Fresh air,’ said Oscar.
Outside the house, Oscar found himself in the backyard that was empty with nothing but dirt covering the ground to all four corners of the property and a cracked concrete pathway that circled the house. He observed Eric’s house which had fallen apart, with a collapsed awning over the front door. Broken glass and furniture littered the house, and the paint was faded and peeled.
Down the road, Oscar saw other houses that were in a similar state to Eric’s house. The entire suburb had decayed alongside the city that Oscar could see off in the distance. Despite the lack of electricity to power the streetlights and buildings, the moonlight was enough to outline the skyscrapers in the distance and the buildings around Oscar.
The street, much like the houses, had crumbled away. It was filled with potholes that made it un-drivable for vehicles except for four wheel drives, but even with that it was still an uncomfortable ride for those who tried.
A few people could be seen along the street. Most wore torn and dirty clothing, Oscar himself had a grey jumper with the sleeves ripped off given the fact his arms were made out of metal and he could no longer feel the cold.
Oscar soon found himself in front of a mall complex that was made to provide close and convenient shopping for the residents of the suburbs, back when this was a working city. Now it had become a refugee outpost ran by the police to protect the people that remained behind, unable to leave the city.
This city was one of several that showed that the human race could conquer the desert through the creation of artificial living conditions for millions of people; the answer to over-population. That was when everything worked. Due to the collapse of the economy there wasn’t enough resources to go around and the main cities along the coast were prioritised to receive what little that was left. The new cities had nothing to sustain themselves with and were kilometres away from any other city. The people were stuck in this decayed metropolis. Those without the means were left behind, caught in a power struggle between the police and the gangs, as each tried to gain control of the desert city.
At the front entrance to the mall, two police officers wore tactical assault gear which consisted of thick bullet proof vest that covered the entire body and thick padding that covered the arms and legs; a turtle suit most people tended to call it.
As Oscar approached one of the turtles caught sight of his cybernetic arms and gripped his rifle tightly. Oscar noticed but continued to walk and casually reached for his wallet for his ID. He gave it to the other turtle who doubled checked the image on the card matched the face of the cyborg that stood before him.
‘May I see the rego for your arms?’ asked the officer.
Without hesitation Oscar slid open the metal panel that covered the touchscreen and with his right index finger that had a soft circle pad at the tip to prevent the metal from scratching the screen, he navigated the menu and pulled up the cybernetic registration on the screen. Instead of the rego, the screen glitched and warped before it devolved into static. Oscar had never encountered any problems with the touchscreen before. He tapped the screen a few times in attempt to fix the problem and the screen returned to normal with the registration information. Oscar moved his left arm in sight of the officer who cross-checked the information on the screen with the back of the card.
‘Thank you,’ said the officer as he gave the ID back to Oscar.
Inside the mall between the newsagency and the liquor shop that stood at either end of the entrance, a row of concrete barriers interconnected with each other ran from store to store with three more turtle suit police, two of them behind the barrier and one in front of the makeshift wall beside the newsagency, to guide people through the small gap they’d left open to allow passage. But there was a concrete block ready on the side to close the hole and complete the blockage.
The interior of the mall, unlike the suburb, had not decayed. No broken walls, collapsed ceiling, or cracked glass. Despite the building being in good condition, a thin layer of dust, dirt and all manner of plastic rubbish covered the smooth floor. Each step Oscar made, his brown boots left their impressions in the accumulated filth. The shops that lined the sides of the mall no longer contained merchandise for sale but were filled with people huddled in blankets and sleeping bags. All of them misplaced by the deteriorated city and the inner city conflict.
Deep within the small shopping centre a large circular space housed the food court. The emergency services didn’t have to do much as every store provided a kitchen to cook bulk amounts of food for the refugees in the mall and residents of the suburbs. The only thing they needed to do was bring in eskies to increase the storage space for water bottles. He made his way up to one of the blue coolers and collected a bottle for himself. He showed it to the lady in an orange high visibility uniform, she appeared tired, but nodded to Oscar and returned to her seat.
Oscar found his own seat in the middle of the court under a glass dome ceiling that showed the night sky. He took a sip of water and slouched into his seat, able to cool off in a quiet place away from the ever-present problems that waited for him beyond the mall.
‘You look like you are about to kill someone.’
Oscar turned his head to find Maya who took a seat opposite him.
‘That would be Eric.’ said Oscar.
‘What did you two try this time?’ asked Maya.
‘I was a decoy while he fished for information. Something destroyed one of his computers and tried to do the same to me.’
‘He was able to stop it but I think there is something wrong with the touchscreen now.’
‘What is wrong with you idiots?’
‘I’d rather be the idiot who tried than the fool who stayed.’
Maya said nothing but appeared ready to punch Oscar.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to say it like that,’ said Oscar.
‘Despite the fact that your arms are made of metal I can still beat you,’ said Maya.
‘You are never going to let that go.’
Oscar’s vision glitched and warped in the same manner as his touchscreen earlier did. Static covered his sight. Maya who was in front him disappeared and reappeared after each burst of static. The words ‘idiot’, ‘fool’, ‘sorry’ and ‘beat’ ran across his artificial eyes in all directions.
‘What’s wrong?’ asked Maya.
‘My eyes, there’s something wrong with them,’ said Oscar.
Oscar stood up and walked back towards the entrance but tripped over a chair that was in front of him.
‘Where did that come from?’ asked Oscar.
‘It was in front of you, didn’t you see it?’ said Maya.
‘No, one moment it was there, and then it was gone.’
Maya helped Oscar get back on his feet and placed a hand on his shoulder.
‘I’ll guide you, I’m guessing we are going to Eric’s place.’
Maya helped Oscar through the mall and outside back in the suburbs. Oscar was not completely blind, but the constant static that blurred his vision –objects and buildings that shifted positions and disappeared –all made it impossible to see. He looked towards the city as the tall skyscrapers shifted from their original positions to new ones. All this disorientated Oscar and made him sick and ready to throw up.
Oscar rushed through the back door followed closely by Maya. Together they made their way to the main room where Eric was.
‘Hi guys, feeling better?’ asked Eric.
‘You fucking idiot,’ said Maya and Oscar.
Maya pulled Eric off the only chair in the room and gave it to Oscar.
‘What the hell?’ said Eric.
‘That thing that wrecked your computer is screwing around with my eyes.’ said Oscar.
‘I pulled you out before it got in.’
‘You didn’t do it soon enough.’
Eric opened the touchscreen and saw the static and random words that were shown on the small monitor. He was unable to get it to respond to his commands. He grabbed one of the keyboards and plugged it into the port beside the screen and restored the screen to its proper condition.
‘Did you fix it?’ asked Maya.
‘No, only the interface, but it is deleting and assimilating information, getting bigger and requiring more memory.’ said Eric.
‘Get rid of it already.’
‘That’s what I’m about to do.’
Oscar screamed in pain and clenched his head as he collapsed to the ground.
‘My head,’ groaned Oscar.
‘Take this and grab him,’ said Eric as he passed the keyboard to Maya and produced a key from his pocket and opened the supercomputer room. Maya dragged Oscar into the makeshift cold room while Eric closed the door behind them.
‘The cold should help, grab his arm.’ said Eric.
Maya held down Oscar’s left arm as he continued to thrash about. Eric removed the bottom panel from the arm and revealed the inner components that made up the artificial limb. The metal rod housed in the middle, wires, and a rectangle block in the middle; this was the battery that powered the implants. Without hesitation Eric removed the battery.
Oscar’s other arm falls to the ground and he stopped thrashing about.
‘Are you alright?’ asked Eric.
‘It still hurts, but not so much now.’ said Oscar.
Eric pulled off another panel and revealed the compact hard-drive housed in the arm. He disconnected all the wires holding the unit and removed it from the limb.
‘Doesn’t he need that?’ asked Maya.
‘I’ll get him a new one, he can’t use this anymore,’ said Eric.
‘What was it?’ asked Oscar.
‘Turns out it was a fragment of an AI, that’s why it was assimilating information, it wanted to reconstruct itself.’
‘But what did it try to do to Oscar?’
‘It tried to overload the processor in his head, I guess it was defending itself from me.’
‘What are you going to do with it?’
‘Keep it, I’ve never dealt with AIs before. But first, let’s put you back together.’