*beep* *beep* *beep*
With a overwhelming desire to throttle my clock, I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling. It is 6:00 AM, and it's time to start another work day. But if you asked me (not that anyone would), I'd rather still be sleeping.
I get out of my bed, which is a ground-hugging futon, and pull off what little I am wearing, a long t-shirt covered in wire-frame images of assorted cybernetic systems. I have no idea of what company the shirt was made for, but it only cost me five Hong Kong dollars in the street market, and I liked the design.
Now naked (or is it nude? I'm never sure which is the right term at the right time), I walk into my bath to take a nice hot shower. I spend far longer in there than I should, but I don't care, it wakes me up, and I feel much better once I get out. There are times that I think whoever created the "massage" setting on the shower heads should be deified.
Still naked I stand in the bathroom, dripping water on the floor, and stare at the mirror on the wall. Fairly well soaked, and with my hair plastered to my face and neck, at the moment I think I look very much like a drowned rat. I get a towel and try to remedy the situation.
Anyone else looking in the mirror probably wouldn't have seen a drowned rat, but instead synthetic human. A rather obvious synthetic human, in fact. My name is Sarah K. Ferrari, and I am a replicant.
I like the sound of that. "I am a replicant." It sounds almost like a confession. I'm sorry, Father, for I have sinned. I am a replicant. And now that I've admitted that I have a problem, I can try and overcome my problem.
I am a replicant, and all the therapy in the world isn't going to change that. Unless I opt for a full-body hard-shell cybernetic conversion, I am, and always will be a synthetic human. The problem is (and I don't exactly consider it a problem), is that I standout in a crowd. Not to many regular humans are pale blue, you see.
I figure now is a good time as any to describe myself, since you're probably wondering about that "pale blue" line. Pulling the towel away, I take a look at myself. I stand five feet eight inches, and weigh a healthy one hundred forty pounds, with a fit and trim figure that is pretty much the de facto standard for domestic-use synthetics. Actually, I'm a little on the athletic side, which is a benefit in my line of work. Anyway, unlike certain feline-themed synthetics, I not top-heavy, although I'm not flat-chested either. I'm not sure exactly why I have breasts, since I won't be using them for anything (synthetics are sterile you see), although I do realize that a nice set (such as mine) can come in useful when dealing with a certain segment of the population. My skin, which is blemish-free, although not scar-free, is a pale blue color, although some areas, such as my nipples, lips, and tongue, are darker. My hair, which is straight and cut clean at the shoulders, is a deep blue shade, although when it gets wet it turns virtually black. My head is, in fact, the only place I have any body hair, which makes me wonder about my designers. Personally, I'm convinced that the people behind synthetic design are all closet perverts who program their current fantasies into this year's model. If given the chance I'd sure like to slap a few of them around.
Where was I? Oh, yes. My eyes are a pale ice blue, my teeth a white (and straight), and my ears are where everyone other human has theirs, and not on top of my head like some stupid cat. Oh, and no tail either, thank God.
Well, enough about me. Since I'm sufficiently dry, I toss the towel aside (I live alone, remember? I don't have to be neat), and go get dressed.
When I first started that job (more on that later), I was given a stack of "issue" jumpsuits. Denim blue jumpsuits. Needless to say I dumped those as quickly as possible. My current set of jumpsuits are white, which I feel gives me a more professional look. Of course, I also have a wide variety of other outfits as well, depending on need. A few business suits, an evening gown, a cocktail dress, and even a French maid's outfit, which I will wear while catering your dinner, but only if you cough up an extra one hundred Hong Kong per half hour.
I have all this clothing because my job requires it. And no, it's not laying on my back while fat and sweaty corporate drones grunt and groan and listen to me tell them how big they are. I am the sole manager of Mandarin Apartments, a high-rise tower of condos located in the Wanchai District. This means that I am responsible for a whole host of duties, including building maintenance, cleaning, renovations, and dealing with tenants. Fortunately, I do have help. Unfortunately, it consists two-dozen of domestic cyberdroids, who I think were designed in such a manner to make people want to cough up the extra hundred grand for a synthetic instead. Oh, and I'm also stuck with four domestic synthetics, for those times when you want a "human face."
If you were to ask me how a person, oh... sorry "synthetic," such as myself came to have such a job, I couldn't tell you. Well, that's not exactly true. It's not like I woke up and found myself running this place. Perhaps I should back up a bit.
As stated previously, I am Sarah K. Ferrari, a citizen of Australia. I find this latter point to be very convenient, as it means that I am a free and independent individual and not someone's property. See, fifteen years ago, when synthetics really became a viable market, Australia realized that if a replicant was considered "property" then that meant we didn't need to be paid for any work we did, which means our labor couldn't be taxed. So, the kindly (and I use that term with all possible sarcasm) Australian government passed a law that stated a synthetic human was to be accorded all the same rights and privileges as a "natural born" human. Once you were done reading between the lines, the intent of this law was obvious. If corporations had to pay taxes and health benefits to their synthetic workers, they were often better off hiring real people... say, Australian citizens? And, of course, now that the corporations had to pay income taxes, the government got their cut as well.
So I'm a citizen of Australia, which all-in-all isn't that bad. I mean, even if the original laws were enacted for fairly selfish reasons, I do benefit from it in my own way. But you are probably wondering how it is I'm here in Hong Kong, which was the original point of this whole thing.
As I recall it, I grew up in Perth, on the west coast of Australia. The water was blue, the sand white, and the sky clear. I attended school, rode my bicycle around town, learned how to swim, went beach-combing, went to the movies with friends, had my first kiss out on the beach under the stars...
Back up. Let's double check this. I "grew up," right? Wrong. Synthetics don't "grow" up, they wear out. A synthetic is made using a complex process involving nanotechnology. When decanted we are fully grown, so I couldn't have a childhood, no matter what my memories tell me. Which makes me wonder whose memories those are. Sure aren't mine. But why go through all the trouble to give me a set of fake memories, especially when it is painfully obvious to all but the dimmest of people that I am fake myself?
Most people stay awake at night wondering if about how they are going to pay the bills, or if they will still have a job, or if a sick relative will pull through. I lay awake and wonder who the hell I am. My work visa says that I am 25 years-old, which is about right, but then almost all synthetics look to be about 25 years-old. And I sure wasn't born in 2007.
I was approached with the job offer by a man who said he needed someone independent-minded to run a hotel in Hong Kong. I wasn't too crazy about going to HK, but the pay was more the worth it. Naturally, this was before I discovered exactly what running the hotel entailed (read: Does Everything).
Which actually brings me back to where I started: getting dressed. Today is a maintenance day, so I have on a white jumpsuit and a pair of low brown boots. It's not color coordinated, but that's not your problem now is it? I zip up the jumpsuit, fasten the belt, put on my boots and buckle them secure. Now I am ready to face the rest of the Mandarin Apartments complex.
Mandarin Apartments is a sixty story tower that is shaped like a narrow cylinder. It sits atop a thicker five story cylinder. Those five stories contain retail businesses and professional offices, most of which is geared toward providing services to people that live in the rest of the tower. The Hong Kong skywalk connects at the fifth floor as well, allowing one to walk to another nearby apartment or office tower without venturing out onto the always crowded Hong Kong streets. It's an impressive system actually. If you play it right, your work commute can consist of going to the elevator and going down forty stories and then a one block walk to another tower down the street. Fifteen minutes tops. Of course my work commute consists of opening my apartment door, so you'll excuse me if I sound less than impressed.
Inside the tower is hollow, with an open space that extends from the fifth floor to the fifty-ninth. This is to allow air circulation, and concealed mirrors reflect light in and down the open shaft so it isn't dim and gloomy all the time. It's a pretty nice system, and during my entire stay I've only had two jumpers, and one of those was a drunk esper showing off. The other I had to pick up with a mop after he went through the ceiling of the fifth floor.
I myself live on the sixth floor, right above the retail district, although I have a real, honest-to-god office on the first floor. The cyberdroids live in a big room in the basement. Well, not exactly live, more like "are housed." The synthetics all stay in big room on the fifth floor. It's a room I tend to avoid, lest someone think I actually belong in there. Anyway, the real apartments (such as mine, I might add) are on the sixth floor and up. They are arraigned in a circle around the open shaft, and there are about ten apartments per floor, except for floors 57 and 58 which have four per floor, and 59 which has two. Floor 60 is full of hardware for the elevators, heaters, air conditioners, water, electrical, all that sort of stuff.
So here I am standing outside my door getting ready to start my work day. Such fun. First things first. I take the elevator to the basement and release the twenty-four cyberdroids from their charging cradles. I usually run the droids in shifts, with eighteen operating during the day and the other six running at night. However, today is a cleaning day, and twenty-four are going to be busy policing the building from top to bottom for any and all signs of dust and dirt.
Unlike the hulking combat cyberdroids one sees on the tri-vid all the time, these models stand about five-and-a-half feet in height, and look pretty much like a smooth-skinned and sexless human being. As to avoid terrifying tenants they are covered with synth-skin and have hair, and are all dressed in a basic jumpsuit. Their job is simple, do anything that I feel is even to mind-numbing for the synthetics to handle. Vacuuming all the carpets on floors 1 through 59 for example.
That done, I leave the cyberdroids to sort themselves out. They are fairly intelligent, as domestics go, and once they'd downloaded their orders, I can safely ignore them. And once they are finished, they''ll report back to their cradles, at which point I can dump new orders through any computer terminal in the building.
The synthetics are next. I open the door to a chorus of "Good morning Miss Ferrari!" as all three synths stand there like happy little zombies and wave.
I look around the room. I see Ping, Chandra, and Nick. No Ryosuke. This is just great. "Where," I ask slowly, "is Ryosuke?"
I get three blank stares, as if the synths have only just now realized that one of their number is missing. Amazing. They truly live in a world all their own, oblivious and happy. I'd hate them if I didn't envy their perpetual cheerfulness. It must be nice to not have any worries.
"Never mind," I tell them. I doubt they have any ideas anyway. The work log shows that around six last night Ryosuke was responding to a call about a sink backing up. I'll start there. Meanwhile I give the remaining three their orders for the day. As it is cleaning day, Ping and Chandra will be doing just that down on the first and second floors. Nick gets to manage the information desk, a job he should be sharing with Ping, but I'm short one synth this morning.
Leaving the synths to get dressed and get to work, I head for the elevators. I might as well start where Ryosuke's work ticket. Standing in the elevator I check the work order and don't curse out loud. The call was from room 4101. I've had to deal with 4101 before. I hate this guy. He carries on like an action star, dresses like a surfer, has the personal hygiene of a derelict and thinks he's irresistible. To top it all off, he can't take care of his own apartment. Then there's another matter to take care of...
I knock on the door, almost hoping he won't be in. Silly me, it's AM, so he isn't even awake. Eventually he opens the door. "Whoah... Blue babe..." is all he mutters.
"I'm here to fix a blocked sink, remember?" I peer through the door to see what state his apartment's in. It's piled up to the walls with garbage—old food, wrappers, dirty clothes; it's a wreck. Except oddly enough, on one wall he's got a pristine TV and sound system, with a spot on the floor cleared just for him. It's almost like his own pathetic shrine.
"Oh yeah, you work here." He scratches his new-grown stubble, and looks at me again. "Sure, come in." He opens up the door, letting me see even more of the filth within. Not that I really wanted to. "Hey, I'll give you the grand tour." He bounces his eyebrows in what I'm sure would be an alluring way if I was drunk. For now, I tactfully ignore him.
"Oh yeah," I say, peering inside, "And where is the last synth that came here to fix the sink?"
"Uh... Someone else came in?"
He didn't even notice? "Yes. Yesterday. I know for a fact he didn't leave. I can only presume he's still here." He looks blankly at me, probably wondering what I'd look like without the jumpsuit. "Never mind. Where's the sink?"
"Oh yeah, come in," he says and opens the door. As I step in he plants his hand firmly on my backside. My only response is to step squarely on his bare foot. It's kind of fun to watch him grimace and sweat, trying not to yell out. Such guilty pleasures...
Eventually I weave my way through the trash and head for the kitchenette. I try to see into the bedroom while I work; it's pretty much the same as the living room with less trash and more clothes... or at least, cloth. I set down my tools on the bench and finally have a look at the sink.
Whoever invented the term "stainless steel" should be shot. Not only is the drain blocked, but the basin is half-full of... Well... It's part black sludge, part unidentifiable meaty lumps, and part clear plastic, of all things. And... I'm almost afraid to go on. I already expect the worst, but I have a feeling this guy can exceed my imagination in that department. "When did this first back up?"
"Uh... Dunno," he says. "I don't really use it much. Just keep piling stuff in there."
I hate it when I'm right. I go to work, trying to clear a path in the mess to the drain. "You know, I am going to have to find him eventually."
"Him?" He's paying attention for a change. "I thought they only made you things in babes."
"No, sir," I say, gritting my teeth. "Synthetics are made in male, female and neuter. Unless you place a special order, but I try not to think about that."
I smile slightly as his face distorts in disgust. "Uh... I won't either."
"Anyway, last night around six PM, right before shut down, a male synthetic came up here to unclog... your... sink... Uck." I extract my hand, wondering exactly what is sticking to - and busy eating through - my rubber glove. "Sir? Have you ever cleaned this sink out? Carry-out containers should go in the trash, not the drain."
"Oh, I thought you just shoved everything down the garbage disposal." He laughs to himself, and a goofy grin comes over his face. "It looks so cool when you feed that thing coffee beans."
Amazing. He's managed to actually lower my opinion of him. "Sir, gross negligence will be charged to your account."
"Hey, I was out most yesterday. I wouldn't have seen him."
By now I'm changing from my polite little synthetic repertoire and will soon change to my tightlipped and sarcastic little synthetic repertoire. "Sir, may I remind you that harming one of the maintenance synths can be charged to your account as destruction of property." And that's all, I think to myself. Now he's pressing up against me. Great. "No, please stand back."
"Look, I told you I haven't seen him. Maybe he got lost under the trash," he said, indicating vaguely to a pile of underwear.
"Sir... how exactly would you lose a six foot male synthetic under a pile of underwear?" I say, although looking around, I'm beginning to understand how.
"I mean, he may be in the bedroom. Maybe we should check together?" I can almost see his lecherous grin by now. He's touching me again.
"...do I have a choice?" I'm saved at that point by the sink, which gurgles, splutters, and sprays some black gunk on my outfit. It's disgusting, but it's better than him. "Sir, do you have any clean towels?"
He backs off (hooray!) and hunts around behind him, eventually showing up with a hand towel. It's mostly white, but one end is a kind of mottled purple. "Yeah, this one's okay," he says. "It's pretty clean on this end." He hands me the purple end. This guy amazes me.
"Uhm... thank you..." I have a hard time finding an appropriate name for him, eventually settling on "Sir." The sink burbles and spits again, spraying me in the face. "Never fails," I mutter to myself as I wipe my eyes.
"Hey, you need a hand with that?" he says, reaching around my front. Time for the heavy artillery. "Yes sir, hold this." I hand him the top end of the snake, now firmly nestled in the drainpipe.
"So what's this for?" he asks, looking at it curiously.
I step back, and he wanders forwards, peering over the sink. I turn and walk away, glancing over my shoulder and telling him "To clear the drains sir. Just press the red trigger."
The following sound could only be described as "bleargh," as long as it was said by something that had never seen the light of day. The sink erupted, spraying garbage and sludge straight upwards and splattering it all over the bench, the floor, the cupboards and, most importantly, all over him.
I have a brief look at the debris, then turn to address the shapeless black form that was the occupant. "I see sir, There's your problem. The paper from the carry out containers was clogging the sink. It looks somewhat clear now. I'll send a 'droid to clean the kitchen.
"Oh, and sir? I suggest a hot shower, and try not to let too much paper get down the drain, or you'll block that one too."
I turn and head out the door, my job done. As I leave, I can hear him say "She digs me" to himself.
"Idiot," I breathe, and conveniently forget to notify the 'droid. I also start to mentally compose an eviction notice. I have standards to maintain after all.
Up next, room 5120. I haven't had any trouble with this one of yet, which may be a good thing. On the other hand, it may be a bad omen. The fault reported was a complete loss of power. It could be a blown fuse. On the other hand, it could be an act of complete destruction of the electrical system on the part of the tenant. I do so hope it's the former. On the other hand, he's often seen hauling large boxes of electrical equipment up there, so it could be anything. I suppose that after the sink of doom, I can handle whatever it is.
I knock on the door. After a second, he opens it. "Jo!" He beams. "Jo?" I ask myself. Does he mean that as some kind of greeting? Or does he think I'm someone else? Silly me. Blue-skinned woman here to fix the power. Who else could I be?
"I've come to fix the power." I state in a matter-of-fact tone.
"Yes!" He replies. "Power good! Enter!" He's kind of excited. I worry. I step into the room; it seems clean enough as it is. There's a bit of mess, but it's well within the range of what a normal person would generate. It certainly doesn't look like he's been ripping wiring out of the wall for fun. This is probably a simple blown fuse, right?
Then my eyes fall on his computer. Well, at least I guess it's a computer. After all, it does have a keyboard. It also has a huge monitor, various peripherals ands parts lying everywhere, a vine-like maze of cabling and a mess of plugs all connected, via a multi-tap, into the one plug. This... thing... is surrounded by a massive array of coolers and fans, and even a few large water bottles filled with ice cubes to boot. It's about now that I notice two things.
Firstly, the room is rather cold. With all these fans and such, that's understandable, if annoying. The second thing is that the tenant is naked, save for his underpants. I think I won't ask.
"Can you fix the power?" He asks. I choose to ignore him, walking over to the tragically overladen plug behind this monstrosity of computing science. "Whoa!" He shouts. "Hold everything!"
"What?" I ask.
"Your clothes! You gotta get 'em off!" He says earnestly.
"Why...?" I begin, but he doesn't let me continue.
"Static! Clothes cause bad static! Blow my rig sky high!" He's waving his arms frantically. He's either signaling or is trying to fly.
"There's no power," I reply, kind of relived that he wasn't thinking about me like that. Or at least I'm hoping he isn't. "We'll be fine."
"Sure," he replies. He stands well back, just to be sure.
The plug looks fine, if overburdened to the point of being a hazard. I think it may be the fuse box. I hope it is. It'd look bad if one of my tenants ended up blowing himself up at home.
"So..." He begins, sidling up to me. Oh gods, here we go again. "What do you think of my rig."
Or not. Fine. Let's be like that. "It's a big, useless hunk of metal and plastic that's not worth the cash you've sunk into it and is probably going to end up blowing up and getting you killed."
"Yeah." He replied. "But innit the most leet overclocked rig you've ever seen? I mean, have you ever seen such a piece?"
"It's unique," I reply. "I've never seen anything like it." It's honest. Ah, the fuse box, probably the best source of conversation in this whole room. I take one look at it, and my opinion of this guy skips a beat. Should I rate him as some sort of weirdo who carries on an unnatural relationship with his machine, or be amazed that he managed to blow out every single fuse in the box.
Probably the latter, but I'll tag him as the former.
"Can you fix it?" He asks. "'cause I need my machine bad!"
"I'll have to go back and get some fresh fuses, but it can be done." I put it on my list of things to do, right below 'learn Swahili.'
Right. Last stop on the morning's rounds. I wish I could say that I'm ending it on a positive note, but... well, I'm not. This one called up with a clogged hot tub. Now I'm not naive. I know what people do in hot tubs. I dread the thought of what's stuck in the drain of this one. It could be anything, so I'm preparing for the worst. These tenants are new, having only just moved in a couple of days ago. I don't know them, but there's a man, a woman and a child, presumably belonging to either or both of them.
Child... now there's something strangely odd to me. I've got memories of being one, but they're false. I can't imagine it myself. Being smaller, weaker and less capable then I am now is not something I can easily come to terms with. I've always been and adult and I always will be. Humans seem to see childhood as something special, but I can't see the appeal myself.
I knock on the door. "Just a minute" comes the bleary reply from inside, the woman I'm guessing. I'm hoping that a couple will have better living standards than bachelors. Or at the very least, they've not made that much of a mess in the few days they've been here. After a few seconds, the door opens. The woman inside has an interesting look. She's wearing an expensive dressing gown, yet has a strangely worn look with messy hair and a scar over one eye. Nasty looking one too.
"A blue woman..." she mutters. "I must still be drunk."
"Excuse me," I reply, a hint of anger in my voice. "I'm here to fix your hot tub."
"The... hot tub. Yeah." She shakes her head. Great. She has a hangover. I connect hangover and hot tub, and assume the worse.
"I'll need to get in."
"Sorry." She replies, and gets out of the doorway. I enter the apartment; it's clean, which is a nice change. No smell of death and decay in the air. No monstrous computers either. Sadly, there's also no sign of that missing synth. That one's still bugging me. "It's around here," she sheepishly continues. I know that, I think to myself. I've been here longer than you.
The bathroom's neat enough, and there's no horrible mess in the tub. For some reason, it just leaves me with a sense or foreboding, as if I know that something terrible is going to happen. Donning a pair of thick rubber gloves I delve into the tub. After a few seconds of frantic grabbing I find something, and pull it up.
It's a bikini top. With teeth marks in the material. Fine. I root through the drain for a little more, eventually bringing up the lower half. That's probably all of it, knowing humans. If there is anything else in there, I probably don't want to know about it.
The woman's in the kitchenette, tending to a pot of coffee. I dump the swimsuit in her hands. "Yours." I say, dryly. "Next time, try to remember where you leave your clothes."
"Thanks" She replies, sheepishly. "I, ah, wondered where it had gotten to."
"Well next time, try to leave it outside the tub."
"Sorry." She answers, looking genuinely embarrassed, like it has never happened to her before. "You wouldn't like a cup?"
That comes as a surprise. Residents usually try to get me out of their apartments as fast as possible, or try to find some way to lure me into their beds. I seem to have an odd effect. It could be the looks; people could find blue skin somehow off-putting, or strangely arousing. "That would be nice, thank you." I reply. I'm not going to pass up a free cup after this morning's messes.
She pours us each a cup and sits, inviting me to do likewise. "I didn't introduce myself. Sandra Blackmore."
"Sarah Ferrari." If she found the name odd, she didn't react.
"Uh, thanks for fixing the tub." Now that's odd. Rarely is there any thanks for what I do, and where there is it rarely sounds sincere. It's usually "Thanks, now get lost." or "Thanks, fancy a shag?" She must be at least moderately grateful.
"It's what I do" I reply.
"Sorry to call you up here." She sheepishly admits. "I should have been more careful and less... ah..." She kind of stares at the ceiling.
"Carried away?" I reply.
"Yeah. Um... I just moved in here..."
"I, uh, don't have a tub at home, and I..."
"Got carried away?" I ask, a hint of sarcasm creeping into my voice.
So this is what it's like to have a social life. I'll try to avoid it. Let's change the topic, I think she's suffered enough. "Say, you haven't seen a synth around, have you?"
"Uh..." She's midway through a sip. "What does it look like?"
"Male, about six foot, short hair and wearing a jumpsuit." I think that covers him pretty completely.
"Uh, no, " she replied, looking a little embarrassed. "I'll keep an eye out."
"Thanks for that."
"Aw, I'm used to it." She replied. "I used to be a cop. I spent all day hunting people down. One lost synth isn't too much out of the ordinary for me."
A cop? Interesting. She certainly couldn't afford this place on a police salary. I wonder if it's her's or her partner's (or lover, or client or whatever). I'll have to look it up. Of course, she could just be a horribly corrupt cop who's paying for the place on kickbacks. "So what do you do now?"
She sips her coffee again. "Um... freelance work." Well, that's vague. I guess she could be a hired gun or something. She has the look for it. Great. I've got a mercenary and her lover living in my apartments. This will probably lead to a spectacularly violent gunfight in which there will be lots of blood, gore and property damage. This is not what I'd like to have happen.
"I see." I can't think of anything else to say there. "Well, I have to be going. I have a very busy schedule."
"Sure. Thanks again for fixing the tub." She looks a bit embarrassed again. "I'll, er, try to make sure that it doesn't happen again." I stand. "And I'll keep an eye out for that synth. It's the least I can do for you." She must have wanted that hot tub back badly.
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