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Meat Puppets

by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

Table of Contents
Part 3 and Part 4
appear in this issue.
part 5 of 7

Carmilla was wading through the wreckage when she found Maya. She was looking for her. She was hard to find because of the dust and the crowd of women who were standing up from the debris. Some were trapped on the upper levels. All they could do was to sit there and wait.

“You’re alive!” said Maya with some relief. Carmilla stared at her. Then she broke down, leaned against her and started crying.

Bits of drywall were falling from the ceiling into the crater below, and there was someone on what remained of the third floor, leering down into the smoke.

“Hey! Guys! I’m here!” someone yelled out from the rubble: “I can’t move... I’m stuck on something.”

Carmilla straightened her back, stopped crying and wiped her face. She straightened her hair and dusted her clothes, and went to check on the companion of hers who was calling.

“Hey, I’m coming,” she said as cheerfully as she could. When she arrived, she saw that the woman was impaled on a piece of wood. Carmilla stopped and looked worried.

“What is it?” she asked Carmilla. All the others were standing around looking worried.

“It’s okay, you are a bit injured, but I am going to call an ambulance and it will be okay. Just hold on,” said Carmilla and got out her phone. The impaled woman smiled. Carmilla turned around just as she got through,

“Hello... I need an ambulance here at...”

A whole wall assembly came down from the fourth floor and hit the injured woman directly in the eye. Carmilla turned around to see what had happened.

“Never mind,” she said to the operator, and hung up.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said, and hurried out of the building.

Once outside, she asked Maya if her tracker still worked. It was a bit dusty and the screen had cracked, but the device still worked.

“They are close by, I think just around that corner there,” she said, and pointed at a building not far away. Carmilla ran in the direction she had pointed in, and what remained of the group followed after her.

She spotted Jonas and Elfa just as they were running across the street, to a large warehouse. They looked around and saw her, just before they barged into the building.

There were a couple of guys there, sitting behind a desk, just talking. One of them was about to approach them with a smile on his face, when they just jumped over the counter and entered through the nearest door. Inside was an amazing sight: dozens of naked women standing around, being poked, prodded and scanned by people with electrical instruments.

Jonas slowed down to take in the view. A man standing near by, beside a couple of nude women who just stood and stared blankly ahead, approached him and asked him if he could help him in any way.

“I don’t know, I’m just running away from some people,” he told the man. The man nodded, looked at Elfa, and asked:

“That’s a nice girl you got there, what’s she; a 9141?”

“So I’m told,” said Jonas.

“Ah, she found you,” said the man and grinned.

Elfa looked at the man and morphed. The man was startled by it, and stepped back.

“Damn! I’ve never seen one of those!” said the man. “The best we got here is the Polytech 377; the 9141’s are all still under warranty. None of them can change like that. Can I have a look?”

“Sorry,” said Jonas, “but I am in a bit of a hurry. Could you maybe tell me where the back door is?”

“Sure, just go to the other end, can’t miss it,” said the man and pointed.

* * *

Carmilla burst through the front door and looked around. There were two men there, and one of them leaned against the counter and was talking to the other. They both turned to take a look at her, but she sensed that they had little to tell her, so she just jumped across the desk and entered the nearest door. She believed that had to be the way; the other was open, and appeared to be the lavatory.

The men were about to go after her and ask her what she wanted, but then the door opened again and a steady stream of women filed in and followed her. The men just shrugged and watched.

Carmilla was stunned when she entered the room. She had never seen so many naked women before, and she had been in sports when she was young. She met the same guy that Jonas met, and asked him where he had gone.

“Are you the one who is following him?” asked the man. “May I ask why?”

Carmilla took the gun from her bag and shot one of the naked androids in the head. Slime and wiring spread in all directions, and the body fell limp to the ground.

“Hey! Do you know how much these things cost?” said the man.

Carmilla responded by shooting the other android, spreading more slime about.

“Okay-okay-okay... he went out the back, there,” said the man and pointed. Carmilla looked in the direction he pointed, and spotted Jonas and his android running out the back door. She ran after them. The crowd came after her, kicking loose items about and toppling over the bots being serviced. That caused some stir among the workers, who threw tools after them, and some grabbed the perpetrators by the arm and demanded explanation.

This started a melee, which some of the androids participated in. Carmilla turned around at the back door and watched in horror what was happening, until Maya arrived.

“We don’t want to stay here,” said Maya, “our contact at the police station can’t cope with all the calls that the station will get because of all this.”

Carmilla just nodded, and they both slipped out the back door.

A little later, the android pimp arrived in his fluorescent coloured car, wearing a purple hat, and after him came the police.

* * *

“What was going on in there?” asked Elfa when they got out.

“That’s where they repair the old androids working in the red light district,” said Jonas. “I know a guy who worked over there once; he says it’s a very desensitising experience.”

They hurried around a corner and ran across the street.

“The NLT factory is just a block away now,” said Jonas. “Being so close to the red light district is mutually beneficial for them.”

“I still have a key-card to get into the NLT buildings,” said Elfa.

“I know,” said Jonas, “That’s why I’m heading there.”

“You know it is very difficult for me to sense what you are thinking when you move around so fast,” said Elfa without losing a breath. Jonas stopped, but didn’t say anything because he was so out of breath from running. Elfa looked at him, and made faces. Jonas grinned:

“I’m just winging it,” he said, “sometimes we just do whatever comes to mind when it does.”

They walked toward the NLT factories. It was a large white building in the typically uninspired, leak prone, flat-roof style of the Bauhaus movement. It had “New Level Technologies” written on it in large blue letters on every side, just above the second floor and over the entrances in smaller letters, both back and front.

Elfa retrieved the magnetic strip card that she had stolen from Maya amongst other things, and used it to open a door on the side. It worked, and they both went inside. Since they chose not to enter through the main entrance, they found themselves in a well lit hallway, with some doors spaced far between along one wall, and some windows on the other.

“I suppose we should be safe now,” said Jonas once they were in. “They can hardly follow us in here.”

They strolled along the hallway until they came to a door marked “Stairway”. They entered, and ascended to the second floor. There they found themselves in a very similar hallway.

“I think the offices are on the other end,” said Jonas.

“I don’t know,” said Elfa. “I haven’t been here before.”

Jonas looked at her.

“I wasn’t made here in the hallway, and I haven’t been here either. I came to in some white room, not wearing anything, and there were people there who waved instruments at me that made me feel all weird. I didn’t like it at all; so I waited until there was only one, and when she looked away, I hit her on the head with some heavy instrument, stole all her clothes and just walked out the front door — looking like Maya Polatti,” Elfa said.

“How did you find your way out?” asked Jonas.

“This is not a maze, you just walk until you hit a wall, and follow the wall until you find the door,” said Elfa.

Jonas spotted a sign that said: “Phase II growth area”, and stopped.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” said Elfa.

“Let’s check it out then,” said Jonas, and opened the door.

It was a large room, all filled with tall, clear glass containers, each containing a single slimy looking woman, naked, floating in a vaguely greenish slime, with a tube stuck into their mouth and a crown around the head, attached to the top with several wires.

Jonas walked to one of the several hundred tubes, and took a closer look.

“Her skin is a bit uneven,” he said.

Elfa just shrugged and smiled. Jonas walked around, looking into the tubes at random, until someone spotted him.

“Who are you,” said the man in a calm tone.

“I’m with her,” said Jonas, and pointed at Elfa, who had morphed into the likeness of Maya Polatti. The man turned to Elfa and said with a vague smile,

“This is not an art gallery, Maya. In the future, you should consider showing your boyfriend the zoo.”

“I’m just giving him a tour of the place,” said Elfa. “Not everybody gets to see how these things are manufactured” — and she added in a lower tone — “and it might keep him away from the bots for a few weeks.”

The man grinned. He turned to Jonas, pointed to one of the beakers with his hands, and said, “Has she told you about what’s happening in there?”

“No,” Jonas said. “We haven’t got to that yet.”

“Tell him. Anton,” said Elfa, reading from the man’s nametag.

“Well, this is a phase II growth tube. We put the androids in there when they have matured for about three months in the phase I canister. There are roughly 50,000 such downstairs.

“Then we pick them out and see if they are all good and ready — some develop flaws, like an extra arm, or a leg sticking out from somewhere. We got one once with two heads,” said Anton and cocked his head. “About half are good enough to keep growing. See that liquid? That’s nourishment for the nanites that build them. The green tint is actually copper from the little things; they dissolve with time in their own nourishment.

“Most of these androids develop well enough to get to the third stage. That’s when we wake them up. It’s done in there,” he said and pointed to the wall about twenty meters to his left, “But Maya can tell you all about that.”

“Well go and look at that,” said Jonas and smiled at the man.

When Anton had left, Jonas and Elfa walked to where the man had indicated, and spotted the door: it was in the middle of the wall, wide, and open. They saw a guy drive an electric mover packed with clear containers through there, and another exited a little later with empty ones, turning to go along the wall away from Jonas and Elfa. They walked to the opening and looked inside.

It was another room, large, well it, with white walls. There were some people in there, opening the containers that had been brought in and draining the liquid from them by inserting a tube at the bottom. After that, they attached a console to the upper half, and fiddled with it until the android came to and looked at them. Then the glass was lifted up, the android inside led out and the headgear removed.

Jonas and Elfa approached the people. The nearest ones, a man and a woman, smiled to them, acknowledging their presence.

“Why do I get the feeling that security around this place is the most efficient in the world,” Jonas whispered to Elfa.

“I can only tell you what you already think,” said Elfa, and smiled and waved at the people.

“Hi, Maya,” said the woman, “I thought that everybody in your department was on holiday for the week?”

“We are,” said Elfa, “but I’m taking my date here to show him how we make robots.”

The woman smiled wide. “He’s going to love your department, there’s already four days worth of them just waiting around in there for you to program them.”

“I’ll get to it in a minute, why don’t you tell my date what you are doing?” said Elfa.

“Sure,” said the woman and turned to Jonas. “As you can see, we take the fully developed androids; first we drain away the nanite slime, then we attach this console here to the lid.” She showed him the console — it was basically a large touch-screen with a cord on it — and plugged it into the nearest container in which lay a sleeping android.

And she continued, “We make some power surge through their brain at the right places. It varies between androids, but they all need to be properly aligned so Maya and her team can program them.”

“And if they don’t align?” asked Jonas.

“We have to destroy them, or they go insane,” said the woman, pointing toward a tube in the corner, with a door on it. “We don’t want that,” she said and shook her head. “Only about half the robots we begin manufacturing ever make it to the streets,” she said.

“Yeah, I heard about the one with the two heads,” said Jonas.

They walked to the next exit, following the android that the woman had started and aligned while they were speaking to her. She was being led into a shower by a person wearing a raincoat, and there was already someone hosing nanite gunk off two androids in there. The fourth was being dried. They waited for the android to be dried, and then followed her into the last room.

The room was about the size of a basketball arena, all white and well lit, filled with androids, perhaps two hundred of them, all naked. Jonas and Elfa walked into the middle of the room.

“Now I feel like I’m in an art museum, for some reason,” said Jonas, looking at all the naked women slowly ambling around him, not the slightest bit concerned with him or each other.

“I don’t think art galleries get so many visitors,” said Elfa.

“Right,” replied Jonas. And he did not remember any of them being naked the last time he was at the museum.

He reached out and touched one of the android women passing him by. She stopped and looked at him; her face was expressionless; her arms were by her sides, not a tense muscle in her body. She stared at him and he stared back for a while, then Elfa poked him in the back:

“If I was a real woman I’d be offended by now,” she said.

Jonas looked at her, and the android ambled away as if the whole encounter had never happened.

“If you were a real woman, you would never have brought me here,” said Jonas.

“Men often take their girlfriends here,” said Elfa.

“Aha? And you know this how?” asked Jonas.

“I’m psychic,” said Elfa.

Jonas nodded.

“I forgot about that.”

* * *

To be continued...

Copyright © 2007 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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