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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2204437-Size-of-a-Thought
Rated: 13+ · Novel · Sci-fi · #2204437
In a future when we've abandoned our most advanced technologies, I awaken into a nightmare
The Size of a Thought


Chapter 1


A morning-after taste of stale wine hung on the trailing edge of each breath as I awoke to a pounding inside my head. A black cloak consumed the room around me with ghosts of pastel-colors, pushing through the darkness in rhythmic stabs. As wakefulness brought awareness, I grasped the concept that those flashes issued from neon bulbs, dangling over gin-joints and movie theaters with their continuous advertisement, sweeping the empty streets of Downtown Prime.

My head settled back into my pillow as my left foot pulled from under the sheet and fell to the carpet, where it encouraged the room to stop spinning. That action comforted my muddled brain with an understanding that the floor was in its place underfoot. Consequently, the ceiling was up from there. For the moment, I laid calmly in bed, staring into the neon colors, shimmering inside the slow curve of the glass fixture in the middle of the ceiling.

Confusion ruled my thoughts, swimming inside a constant flood of wine-heavy blood, diluting each deliberation. I strained in an attempt at lifting my hand from my forehead, still it remained in place. After several tries, I raised both arms into the air in front of my face, staring straight into my palms. The hand on my forehead belonged to someone who lay next to me and that "someone" had long graceful fingers ringed by gold bands, set with precious stones. I crawled away from her under the sheets in silence, hesitant to move faster, fearing she might awaken. Then I thought, "Maybe she won't notice if I just slip out the door." That was when I noticed we were in "my" hotel room.

I wasn't up for the polite fumbling-for-words generally exchanged between two people after awakening in a situation like this. So I gently lifted her hand from my forehead, then placed it in the hollow in my pillow as I crawled from under the covers.

My lungs burned as I tiptoed across the room, and my reasoning led me to believe it was due to mingling among smoke-filled crowds the night before. I had never smoked, so that wouldn't have been the cause, and her aroma was alluring, so neither had she caused the smell. Yet I still recognized the slight scent of stale cigarette smoke on us both. "It must have been one hell of a party," I thought. A party that must have lasted a day or two, judging by the smell, wafting from my T-shirt. I almost grasped a few memories that lingered inside a hazy mist, fogging my brain, but before the haze cleared, they slipped away.

Fresh air filled my lungs as I leaned out the window. My head cleared a little, and my mind wondered back to the woman in my bed. Where would I have connected with someone of such apparent prosperity and beauty? A high-class debutante who evidently left an elegant party and came to my cheap hotel room in the seediest part of Downtown Prime? Somehow, that made no sense.

I turned back into the darkness, "Hey, you, with the smile on your face. You want me to take you home?" She didn't answer. "Say? What did your Mamma call you when you pigtails and braces?" I said as I stumbled across the room. "My head's still muddled after last night's party, so I can't get a handle on everything that happened. Please, at least tell me your name." Still, there was no answer, so I nudged her. "Darling, you okay?"

She wasn't okay. I figured that out just before my thoughts drained at the touch of her vinyl, cold, skin under my fingertips. The lights that flashed through the window glinted from her opened and fixed eyes, staring straight up, out of a frozen scream. I pulled the chain dangling from the fixture above the bed, and under its cone of discovery, I searched her neck for a pulse. I searched in vain.

"What the hell are you doing here, beautiful? Where did I find a woman like you? Why can't I remember anything about last night, and what happened to you?" I said as I searched the room for clues but found none. I reached for the phone then stopped before I touched it on the nightstand. "The police? What would I tell them? They would think of me as their prime suspect. After all, I live in a different hotel every month, and she looks Ritzy." I suddenly realized I was the obvious choice, and that realization nailed my feet to the floor.

I needed time to clear my head. Then I thought, "Maybe she carried some identification in her clothes or purse?" I found her clothes neatly draped over the back of a chair, folded along the creases. I pulled them apart, searching for anything to provide a clue, but found nothing.

I returned to the bed and stripped the covers from her naked body. There was no sign of struggle, no bruises, no blood. I turned, still searching my surroundings, and discovered a pair of glasses on the nightstand. The spectacles weren't mine, so they must have belonged to her. I held her glasses in front of her eyes to see if that image sparked any memories. That was when I saw something unfamiliar inside one of her eyes. I used one of the lenses of her glasses and magnified a tiny object, floating over the surface of her iris.

On the edge of that emerald ring around her pupil, at about six o'clock, I saw a tiny black dot about the size of a thought. I spat on my finger, touched the meniscus of the droplet to the speck in her eye, and lifted it from its resting place. I searched for something to lay it on, so I could get a better look and found a postcard on the nightstand beside where I found her glasses. It was one of those hotel advertisements with palm trees and a perfect day on the front and a big white blank under the hotel's logo on the back. I placed the tiny wafer inside the blank spot on the postcard.

Just then, someone knocked at the door, twice, three times, four, and then started pounding after no one answered. I looked toward the door, and the postcard fell from my hand, settling back into its previous spot on the dresser. I turned my attention back to the bed and threw the covers over her body. "Yeah?" I said, searching my thoughts for my next move.

"Police! Open up!" A voice called out from behind the door.

"What's this about?" I asked.

"There's been a report of screams coming from this room. Open up now. The manager's with us and will use his passkey if necessary." The officer exclaimed in a cold, dispassionate tone.

"Jesus, give a guy a chance to put his pants on, will ya?" Then I faked a conversation with my date. "Hey, Sweetheart, it's the law. Put some clothes on." As I pulled my pants on, I grabbed my wallet and pocket change. I rattled the dresser as I leaned against it to balance myself while putting on my shoes, and a book of postage stamps fell from the corner of the mirror. I remembered placing them there earlier that day. I removed one of the stamps from the book, placing it over the chip that laid inside the stamp's spot on the postcard. I quickly scribbled an address in the proper spot, then tucked the card back under the edge of the lamp on the nightstand.

I crawled out of the open window before buckling my belt and sidestepped my way along the ledge. I passed a couple of empty, dark windows, making my way toward the corner of the building. Loud voices screamed at me from behind, so I turned my attention back to the window they came from. An officer waved his firearm at me, shouting, "Halt! Halt!" I didn't halt.


His first shot glanced from the bricks over my head. A warning shot, but it hit close enough for me to smell gunpowder, mingling inside the dust of brick and mortar that fell into my hair.

The stubble on my cheek, dripping with sweat, scrubbed against the cold brick as I turned toward the corner of the building, and groped for my next handhold. The brick wall exploded in front of me, pelting my face with more dust, which absorbed into the sweat, rolled down my cheek, and stung my eyes. I staggered, with my eyes burning from the falling powder of the bricks, then reached up to rub them. That was when I lost my balance. I almost fell from my perch on the ledge. With shots at my back and explosions in front of me, I had nowhere to go, so I froze under a shroud of fear, grappling for a handhold in the bricks.

Just then, a rope caught my attention. It drooped from a spear lodged in a crack in the bricks, created by the explosion which sprayed my face. The rope hung about a meter in front of me. I watched the rope tightening, then followed its line into the shadows, where it disappeared on the other side of the street across from the hotel. A voice shouted out of the darkness, "You gonna stand there or come with me?"

I stripped my belt from the loops of my pants and threw it over the rope. With the ends of my belt wrapped tightly around my knuckles, I tested the line with my weight and then fell forward. My stomach lurched into my chest as I slid down the rope, then concrete bit into my flesh as I tumbled to a stop on the sidewalk. I landed on my back, gritting my teeth and staring straight up again, only this time at a peaceful night sky filled with stars. Those stars appeared serene overhead, and at that moment, I wished I had been lost somewhere behind them.

"Hey, man, you gonna lay there and wait for the cops? I mean, that's okay with me--but I'm getting the hell out of here," A face, shrouded by acne and stubble bent over me, dissolving my beautiful dream and dispelling my peaceful view of the stars.

"Who the hell are you, and how did you know I needed your help? Do you know anything about that dead girl back there in my room?" I asked.

The face leaned further into the light and, as his facade focused, he said, "Oh no, man, did Darla lose it? She was a good kid for a Cybrid. I told Allison she couldn't handle your system's speed of download. You see, we know who and what you are, Jonah."

"Then you're one up on me, pal. Who the hell are you? And what do you think I am?" I shot back.

"My name is Jason, and you're one of the Six Apostles. Now, do you want to follow me--or go with them?" He pointed across the street where two police officers ran out of the hotel's front door.

The police leveled their guns at me, while screaming, "Halt! Halt! Or we'll fire!"

We jumped out of the cone of light that fell from the streetlamp, and sank deep into the shadows beyond. Then we turned down a dark alley at the other end of the street. Jason stopped. So did I, heaving breaths and bent at the waist. As I searched over my shoulder for the police, he pulled the drainage lid from a utility hole, then reached up and dragged me down into the sewer after him. The smell reminded me of the bathroom at "Mick's Place," and the ooze underfoot sucked at my shoes, nearly pulling them from my feet as I trudged through the muck.

"Jason, you said you knew I was an Apostle? So what's an Apostle?" I asked.

"You're one of the Six Apostles fashioned after Jonah Knightsbridge, aren't you? Allison told us all about you guys. That's just weird, man," Jason answered.

He disturbed a memory that dwelt deep inside my mind, and I felt a shiver of fear as it crept into my thoughts. "I don't know what you're talking about," I said, thinking that this "Allison" person knew too much about me, and I knew too little about him--or her. That last thought came with a memory and a scent of perfume. The identities of the Six Apostles were never given to anyone, as far as I knew, so how did they know I was one of them? "So, who are these Six Apostles?"

He smiled big like he knew something that I thought he didn't know. "They're the children of Jonah Knightsbridge--well kinda. I mean, you're Cybrids he created--right? But, according to Allison, you're more special than any other Cybrid ever constructed. You know, because he constructed you from his own DNA."

"So what's so special about that?" I asked. At that moment, a shot echoed through the sewer, and Jason slumped. I reached for him, and his weight pulled us both into the mire. Blood flowed from his chest, and his eyes drained of life before I could do or say anything else. I felt for a pulse without success. His skin lost its color quickly, and his eyes rolled toward the top of his head. Something told me he was dead and urged me to get to my feet, so I continued into the darkness ahead.

After several forks in the tunnel and more than a few child-sized overflow pipes, I sank to my knees, up to my thighs in sludge. The only sound came from my wheezing gasps for air, my chokes as my lungs filled, and my heart pounding against my eardrums. That was when I folded up and settled into the ooze, where I tried not to pay attention to the stench. "Who was Allison, and where did he or she find out about the Six Apostles? Did Jason work for Allison? Was Darla the girl in my room? And why did Jason save my butt?"

I laid under a blanket of smelly vapors, up to my chin in slime, almost in shock and thought about Jason and what he said. I remembered Darla, guessing she was the girl in my room. Was she a Cybrid? Yeah, that made sense. My memories revealed that genetically engineered Cybrids, by all accounts, were only manufactured before Earth's 'global revolution.' That worldwide catastrophe that ended Jonah Knightsbridge's world.

With Jonah Knightsbridge dead, who would have had the knowledge and ability to create Cybrids? Their sophisticated systems contained satellite processing cores spread throughout their central nervous system, churning at speeds above twenty trillion gigabits per millisecond. That technology no longer existed.

I realized that Darla, the girl in my room, must have been a Cybrid, and the dot in her eye was a microcellular-chip used as a downloading device for Infrared file transfers. That technology would have been slow in Jonah Knightsbridge's time, but since the "global destruction," it was considered lightning-fast. She probably encountered an overload of data when she attempted to download my neural core. The data-surge would have overloaded neural junctures between the wafer and her eye, creating crossover sparks, which resulted in current surges. Those surges in current must have caused a short-term system shutdown. However, it was the computer virus Jonah Knightsbridge placed in my head, that produced her complete neuron collapse as it loaded during reboot. She would have experienced something like an explosion, cascading throughout her neural network. At least her demise was nearly instantaneous.

Where did "Allison" get that technology? The government outlawed those technologies after the "global destruction," and that was a long time ago. Sure, Cybrids were common these days, only most of them were entertainers or police crime-scene analysts. None of those Cybrids were almost as advanced as the ones Jonah Knightsbridge manufactured. None were like me. Besides, these days, Cybrids were illegal, so all of them remained in seclusion and were guarded like illegal treasures by their owners. And none of those Cybrids contained the full range of their original technology due to parts replacements with antiquated components. The manufactures of the original components were outlawed over a hundred years ago.

I searched my memory banks, finding no one named Allison. However, the name sounded familiar. I remembered something about an "Allison," but my attempted retrieval of those memories was thwarted by corrupted files in the under accessed portions of my memory banks. The past two hundred-plus years afforded me plenty of opportunities to have acquired scrambled or lost memories of someone named Allison. More than two hundred years filled with people I met while I dodged the authorities. Over a couple of hundred years, during which time I carried and protected inside my memories something no one wanted, waiting for the day when it would again become needed. I had existed too long, merely attempting to stay alive.          

"Allison," that name burned in my memory like a flame flickering just outside my reach. It was familiar. I was positive I knew of someone with that name, but I was too tired to waste energy on unnecessary thought processes. I needed rest, and I needed it now.

I surprised myself with my adaptive abilities as I disregarded the slimy ooze where I laid. I breathed easier inside the choking smell but was still scared shitless that someone might break through the dark curtain that crowded around my eyes to snatch me. None the less, I attempted to grab a few winks. As my neural net wound down to a slow hum, my worries eased, leaving behind the achy hole in my gut where my fears still gnawed on my backbone. As I laid there, my nightmares drifted into dreams.

*****


After a short nap, I returned to the alley across from my hotel, to the "scene of the crime." That was stupid, I guess, but I needed answers. The morning sun rose above the horizon as I sat in the shadows of the alley across the street from the hotel. A constant stream of police in-and-out of the front door continued from the night before. It was a hell of a crowd for a Downtown, sleazy-hotel murder. They must have figured out there was something special about this one. They hated it when a crime involved technology, and that hole in Darla's eye must have revealed fragments of DNA conduits, hanging from it. That, plus the fact that she was a Cybrid.

In this world-against-technology, the only people with access to old technologies, like Cybrids, were the police, big time criminals, and maybe the underground. I watched as the police dragged their technology through the front door of the hotel. Those machines were antiquated by the standards of Jonah Knightsbridge's time and were a mystery to me. Each cumbersome piece of equipment took both hands, and sometimes two men, to lug it through the door and would have fit on the end of a finger during Knightsbridge's day. I knew that because I had access to some of his memories--maybe all of his memories--I had never been able to find them all. He discovered a process, enabling him to grow DNA circuitry on superconductive ceramic matrices, and control the process. His patent on that process made him one of the wealthiest men on the planet. That recollection surfaced from somewhere deep inside the shadows of my memory complex.

Just then, a familiar face walked through the front door of the hotel, sidestepping policeman's eyes, which mauled her as she passed. All their heads turned in her wake like a row of falling dominoes. It was Baby. She had that "way" about her. Every man who ever wrapped his arm around her eventually pushed away, at least once in a while, just to get a better look. Thick, reddish-brown hair coiled tightly into braided buns over each ear, pouty lips, blue-ice eyes, and the firm, yet lively flesh of her breasts jiggling as she walked. That was what most men saw, but these characteristics only accentuated her wholesome beauty. She hated those stares, but she liked me because I never drooled on the front of her uniform, and I told her about the places where she longed to go.

Today she dressed as, "Helga, the Swedish maid." All the maids at the Farrington Hotel dressed in tight and revealing costumes, which presented a multi-national parade of flesh, attracting a desperate and dangerous clientele. Of course, I was among that clientele. We represented those who were on the run, me for over a hundred years. We paid in cash, kept quiet, never started trouble, and left before the law got too close. Most of the time.

"She must have been given the day off due to the presence of the law," I thought as she crossed the street in my direction. I caught her attention as she passed into the shadow, under which I stood, "Hey, Baby. What's going on over there?" I whispered.

"What?" She halted when my voice startled her, then relaxed when she recognized me. "Don't you know? They're all over your room and that dead girl you left behind. I should be screaming my lungs out, but you've always been--nice to me, so I won't scream and cause you any more trouble. Did you kill her?" She asked, bending and acting as if her skirt needed straightening, so the cops wouldn't be suspicious. That also gave them a view of something, which kept their attention away from the shadows where I hid.

"No, Baby, I didn't. It's got to do with a long story--"

She looked up, placing her finger to her lips, "shshshsh," she said as she straightened, then stepped further into the shadow. "I'll listen to your long story later. Right now, we'd better get out of here before those cops wake-up, shift their eyes away from where my backside was, and recognize you from the drawing they have. Follow me."

She led me down the alley at my back, and we emerged on a narrow, cobble-stoned street somewhere in the middle of Downtown Prime. I waved down a rickshaw runner on his way to lunch, and we caught a ride toward her flat. Along the way, Baby got a good whiff of me and made the runner stop outside a bathhouse. I guess I still smelled like the sewer.

*****


The streets were thick with pedestrians, rickshaws, and cops on horseback. The police didn't bother me. I kept my eyes opened for the "Robes." The "Robes" were hooded monks, who continually spoke into their sleeves and walked on clouds of air ten inches above the ground through the crowds, parting them as they passed through. They were scary. So I kept my face nestled in the curve of Baby's neck like any red-blooded, hormone-filled man would have done. She cupped my face with her hand, breathing in my ear, which sent a wave of synthetic endorphins through me and almost lifted the Kevlar "skin" from my metallic bones. "Thank you, Jonah Knightsbridge, for your attention to detail." I thought as I nuzzled my face into the nape of her neck.

We turned down a nearby side street, and the stench of garbage suddenly permeated the air. In this part of town, that smell mingled closely with incense and the aroma of body sweat. As we traveled, the stink grew with the size of the crowd. That was when I noticed that we were nowhere near any of the apartment complexes, and Baby hadn't said anything about a detour. "Where we going?" I asked as I leaned forward, grabbing the runner by his pigtail.

Baby, shouted, "I asked him to make this stop!" Then she pulled at the back of my trousers until I settled back into my seat. "But if you don't want to stop, I'll understand," she finished.

"No, Baby, I don't want to stop. I'm in big trouble, and if anyone recognizes me from the police alerts, there will be a hell of a commotion. You don't want that any more than I do. Let's go to your place." I insisted.

Baby wadded her face into a frown and answered, "Okay, Jonah, I just thought, well, a little foreplay would be romantic. But I guess you don't think I'm worth the trouble, and you're--"

I quieted her with two fingers over her lips when I noticed that the runner stopped in front of a nightclub. "I think of you as someone special, Baby, and I would love to accompany you inside," I explained with the most sincere smile I possessed. "Besides, it might be smart to get lost inside a dark, smoke-filled club, where no one would expect to find a fugitive from the law relaxing and having fun with a beautiful woman like you."

*****


The place was dark, with a veil of smoke, settling at shoulder-height, and the floor show began as we stepped through the door. All eyes were on the stage, as the door opened again, releasing a gulp of smoke from the room. The air around us cleared momentarily, so I searched for an empty place to sit. "There's a table, Baby. You take a seat. I'll find us a drink."

I skirted the crowd on my way toward the bar, finding access through a row of tables along the back wall. As I passed through the huddled smoke-covered throng, whiffs of powerful hallucinogens filtered through my nostrils, then surged through my body. My mind floated above the room. Colors sprayed across the darkness and glistened inside the beveled surface of glasses, scattered atop tables around the room. The entire place expanded, then contracted before I reached the bar. I stopped and leaned against a wall, staring into my palms until the memory of where I was going finally reached my conscious thought.

"Hey, Buddy, you look like you must've walked past the wrong table. Here, sniff this. It'll clear your head." A stranger handed me a tube-like object with a hole in one end.

My brain was too bewildered to question him, so I stuck the thing near my nostrils and pulled with my lungs. The colors drained, and the room squared itself. "Wow, thanks, Pal. You got a name?"

"Sure. Elmo. You?" he said with a grin.

"Jonah, but most call me Jo," I answered.

Elmo's appearance was a little disheveled. My height, about six-two, with red whiskers, exploding from his face, and a ponytail secured so tight to the back of his head that his scalp shined through the reddish-orange hairs on top. The only notable facial features were a pair of sapphire blue eyes and a cauliflower nose.

"Can I buy you a drink, Elmo?" I asked.

"Thought you'd never ask," he answered with smiling anticipation.

We stepped up to the bar. He ordered a Boiler Maker. I ordered a Shirley Temple and a Vodka Martini, then he followed me back to our table. As we made our way through the crowd to our table, the girl on the stage, with her legs crossed, floated in mid-air, blindfolded. Her muscular assistant took questions from the audience, and she answered them without fail.

"How does she do that?" Baby asked as we took our seats.

Elmo took a deep gulp of his beer, swallowing the contents of the shot glass at the bottom, with about half of the contents of the mug. He pulled the shot glass from between his front teeth, "Ahhhh! That's easy. She's a Cybrid."

"A Cybrid? Aren't they part human and part wires or something? I've heard of them, but I've never actually seen one." Baby answered.

"Don't be too sure about that, beautiful. Cybrids are everywhere. They might be super executives, magicians, or psychic sideshow girls who float in the air by utilizing superconductive magnetic wave manipulation. Her assistant asks the questions, and her cybernetic brain sorts through records for the answers, which are gathered from membership applications at joints like this. And they're not wired. At least, not in the way you're thinking of wires. Not like the radios you have in your house or the telephones. They have neural nets on metallic matrices created by growing neural tissues inside Kevlar conduits, which follow their metallic skeletal structure. Neural junctures boost those circuit signals throughout their cybernetic nervous systems, terminating in a superconductor-powered central neural core connected to a massive database via Infrared transmissions through a tiny chip, usually located in the eye or on the forehead."

I watched as Baby's pupils dilated, then her eyes grew blank as Elmo spoke. Those eyes showed me an apparent mixture of surprise, disbelief, and a lack of understanding that left behind an unbroken silence. I liked Elmo, so I tried to hush the Boiler Maker inside him, which controlled his mouth. "Don't you think you should be careful about what you say? I mean, there is a law prohibiting the study and the use of that technology. You sound like you've been breaking that law with a serious prejudice."

"Yeah, but I did it legal-like. I worked as a technician for the cops," Elmo said.

"You worked?" I asked, wondering if he still "worked" with the cops.

"Uh-huh. The cops don't like anyone who enjoys learning as much as I do. It seems I understood too much about the old ways and could be creative. So they banned me from the data centers for life." Elmo leaned closer to me and whispered. "But I've learned twenty-fold on the streets. Those outlawed Cybrids breakdown and need repairs constantly. I've learned to make a damn good living at it." He sat back in his chair, raised his arm, and waved for a waitress. "The next round's on me."

Elmo should have passed out, but some piece of him had a strangle-hold on consciousness. He had the constitution of a man twice his size, either that or buckets where his ass-cheeks once were. I tried to get more information out of him about the Cybrid underground, but he smiled and shook his finger in front of my face. "I'm no dummy. If I tell you, then you'll try to take all my business away. No thanks, Pal." Then he turned and screamed something rude at the girl on stage.

"If I could get into the Cybrid underground," I thought, "I might be able to find out something about the disabled female Cybrid in my bed and maybe a little about the person Jason called Allison." I figured Elmo might be the key to gaining acceptance among them, so I decided to take him with us to Baby's place.

*****


We arrived at Baby's apartment with Elmo slumped over the back end of the rickshaw, his shoulders and arms dangling toward the ground, and his butt straight up in the air. Baby huddled between us with her hand cupped over the side of her face, shielding her eyes from the sight of Elmo's backside.

I pulled Elmo out of the rickshaw, dragged and leaned him against the wall of Baby's apartment, and then searched the street for police. There were none, and thankfully, her apartment was on the first floor. Luckily, the neighborhood didn't contradict the impression made by a drooling-drunk passed out in a sitting position, wedged under the apartment's window with his legs stretched across the sidewalk. Most people just stepped around him, while others stepped over his unconscious body without breaking stride.

Baby went ahead, while I retrieved Elmo, and she unlocked her front door. I watched as Baby stepped through the threshold at the same moment I re-positioned Elmo's unconscious form on the porch beside the door. As I stepped inside, a phone rang, so I walked across the front room and picked up the receiver, watching Baby's back fade into a dark hallway. "Al, where were you this morning? Do you know that we lost Darla last night? Al, are you there?" Then I stood in silence with the phone, buzzing a dial tone into my ear.

I wondered if that was a wrong number. It sure was cryptic. "Al?" That sounded almost like a gangster's name, or someone in a spy movie. Al, like in Al Capone. My eyes drifted across the top of the table in front of me to where the base of the phone sat, and I placed the receiver back into its saddle. My vision wandered, mindlessly settling on a framed picture of someone who resembled Baby, wearing a lab coat. She smiled, posing next to a wall of wide-screen computer monitors. The type of monitor outlawed after the "global destruction." A handwritten inscription read, "To A.K. my wonderful Daughter, with love," it was signed at the bottom, "J.K.(Dad)."

My eyes slowly drifted back up to the image in the photograph, while my thoughts spun in the background. Was that Baby? It could have been her without all the makeup and a different hairdo, maybe a little younger. It was Baby. My brain filled with a storm of memories, visions. It was Baby and--it was Allison Knightsbridge, Jonah Knightsbridge's daughter.

When I first saw Baby cleaning rooms in that seedy hotel, I thought there was something familiar about her. But I thought it was a familiarity created by the sight of a gorgeous woman, who every man wanted to know. A girl every guy yearned to hold up close. The makeup and outfits altered her appearance slightly, made her in a more exotic, more voluptuous manner, if that was possible. But she looked much younger than the Allison Knightsbridge I remembered from Jonah's laboratory. That woman appeared to be in her forties, at least her late thirties, still beautiful, but in a more wholesome, mature way. No makeup, with red hair, falling straight down over her shoulders. Allison always looked down, into a microscope or a monitor or a test tube, she never looked up and into your eyes. That woman seemed ordinary, shy, in many ways. However, she stood out with a wholesome, somewhat subtle, alluring quality. However, it couldn't be. She would be over two hundred and fifty years old now, not twenty-five and gorgeous.

"What do you have on your mind, handsome?" A sultry voice breathed over my shoulder, tickling the back of my ear.

I felt cold-metal through my shirt as it pressed into my back. I turned my head, and my eyes drifted down her naked body. She held a pistol, pointed at the middle of my back, against the base of my spine. There was a loud noise, then a bright light slammed into my vision, which slowly drifted into a warm, soothing cloud of luminosity, engulfing me in quiet serenity. I floated for a moment, feeling warmth and contentment wrap around me as a strange, yet not at all alarming, thought seeped its way into my mind. "Is this what it's like to die?"

My surroundings faded into shadows, closing around the edges of my sight, and I heard voices, one releasing from my core, "Jonah is dead, long live Jonah." Then I listened as that thought released from my neural core repeatedly every sixty seconds.

Then I noticed another voice echoing inside the long tunnel, which ushered me into oblivion, "Baby? You killed him!"

*****


Elmo froze, standing behind Baby as she stared down in silence at Jonah's lifeless body with his blood, splashed across the tile floor. "We gotta get you out of here. No--I know what to do. I'll trash the place, so we can say this guy broke in, and you found him when you got home."

Elmo spoke as he smashed dishes and swatted ornaments into the floor from their places atop tables and the countertop. "He must have followed you here from the hotel where you work. Tell the police that, when they get here," Elmo said. "You heard about the murder just before you left the hotel this morning. They sent you home because the police closed the place due to the murder investigation and all the techs taking fingerprints and searching for other clues. You always kept this gun hidden in a drawer. For emergencies and protection. You recognized him from the hotel. You knew he was the one the police were looking for, and you shot him when he lunged at you. He must have followed you home, remember that. Allison? Are you listening to me?" Elmo stared into her blank eyes, "I'll take care of everything, Allison. You just sit down, relax, and try to remember the story I just told you. Go over it, then over it again, until you have it memorized."

Elmo lifted the phone from its saddle, dialed, and waited for an answer, "Yeah, police department? There's been a robbery attempt at--"

"Elmo, hang up that phone!" Baby commanded.

Elmo slowly lowered the phone back into its saddle. "I don't understand. What are we going to do with the body?"

Baby, raised her gaze, starring into Elmo's eyes, "He's deactivated, Elmo, so you can call me Allison now. You're going to call the underground and have someone come over here and get rid of any trace of me in this apartment. We'll leave it clean as a whistle. I want no evidence of what's happened left behind. Have them remove this pile of junk," Allison pointed to Jonah's remains, "and take him to the junkyard. There's a crusher-compactor on the back-lot there. They can turn this hunk of junk into a solid block. Tell them to burn away the artificial flesh, clothing, and whatever is left. Then melt the remains in the furnace, pour the molten metal into a cube mold, let it cool and bring me the cube. I want that block brought to me at our Headquarters, where I can place it beside my desk and prop my feet on it when I need to relax."

"Sure, Allison. I'll call them now." Elmo snatched the receiver to his ear and dialed the phone.

After Elmo finished his call, he turned to Baby and asked, "What now, Baby...I'm sorry...Allison?"

"We find the rest of them and deactivate them. I accessed Allison Knightsbridge's memories in my core long ago, but she had no knowledge of the location of any of her father's Cybrids. She searched for them for a long time, without success. That was why she created me and she died only a few months after completing my construction. My core contains her memories, as well as her cumulative knowledge. She was as brilliant as her father, and she left me the task of completing her quest to discover his Cybrids whereabouts and destroying them," Baby turned to face Elmo, "you're going to help me, aren't you, Elmo?"

Surprise, and fear, widened Elmo's eyes into round, blue orbs, "Sure, Baby...I mean, Allison. I can't get used to calling you Allison, Baby. Are you sure that's what you want me to call you now that you're not going to be working at the hotel anymore?"

Baby grinned, "What makes you think I'm not going to work there anymore?"

Elmo's swallowed, and he began to stutter, "Uh, uh, I don't know, uh, I guess, uh, you can work there if you want. I just didn't think--"

"I know you didn't think, Elmo, but I don't pay you to think. Allison Knightsbridge was a brilliant woman who lived almost two hundred years ago and in a much different world. I'm her creation. The Jonah Cybrids were created by Jonah Knightsbridge, so he named them Jonah. I was created by Allison Knightsbridge, so from now on, you may call me Allison. I'll get used to it. Yes, I've been Baby a long time, and I've gotten used to the moniker. However, my core is adaptive. Never forget who or what I am, though, Elmo. Because I do not possess empathy, and I will not tolerate failure," Allison's face melded into a Mona Lisa smile.

Sweat rose in a curtain of beads across Elmo's forehead.


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