It started out hazy, as if it were a dream. There was a light—brilliant, blurred, yet comforting. In time, the shadows appeared. They seemed curious. All the while, little bubbles drifted past like snow, only in reverse. The shadows came closer, peering in through the murk. Whatever they said, it was lost to the barrier. One went away, and then there was motion. All was sleepy again. The bubbles came more rapidly as the light faded out. The shadows. They too went away. More sleepy and sinking.
* * * * *
Deep within the bioengineering facility, not 2 miles outside of Twin Pines, an anomaly had occurred. Some of the most brilliant minds working for the ARD Corporation had 'misplaced' several million dollars worth of company property. It hadn't left the building per se, but all records regarding it's location had been 'compromised'. A minor computer glitch may have been the culprit, but more likely someone in data entry had been derelict in his duties. It wasn't until one of the monkeys in accounting added 2 and 2 only to get 3 that the anomaly had been discovered. The actual paper records had been the only clue and, thanks to the miracles of modern coffee, weren't very much help at all. After much confusion and many lost jobs, the item in question had been recovered. In a far corner of level B7, one of the maintenance men had finally located Maturation Tube 404. It was undamaged and miraculously still held the lifeform that had been growing inside perfectly preserved in a state of slumber.
"Mister Conagher! The cart's moving the wrong bloody way!" It was hard to find good help in this day and age. Mundy had been sent down to supervise, and it was a damn good thing too. If these bloody grease monkeys damaged this thing immediately after it had been recovered, the whole division would be replaced. After a few seconds, the cradle that held the tube was moving along the motorized track towards the irate professor like it was supposed to again. "Right there's good. Need ta check it's vitals, before it goes any further."
"I wouldn't touch that if I were you." Conagher said with a smirk. "Y'might wake it up." He handed the Professor the datapad with the controls and looked at the tube in the same bemused fashion a knowing parent watches their child go through the learning experience of sticking a fork in an electrical outlet for the first time. All he saw was the vague shape of the thing suspended in the same translucent fluid used to grow the various clade models made at this facility. The only motion so far was from the constant bubbling of the filter. "So how long has that thing been down here?"
"It don't say. The print's been washed away and a lot o' the data's a no show." Mundy said, not even sparing the worker a glance as he parsed through various vital signs on the datapad. Once he was satisfied, he held up an old-fashioned clipboard that held a wrinkled coffee-stained paper with barely legible print on it. "We're not even sure if it's a combat model or what, we got 'ere." The pair stepped closer to get a good look at the specimen. "It appears to be female, red panda from the looks of it. Stopped makin' them a few years ago. They weren't popular, I s'pose. Could be anythin' from civvie up to combat class then. A'right, let's get thing outta... Jezus H!!!!" Startled by something within the tank, he reeled back, much to the amusement of his colleague.
"I told ya not to touch that darn thing. hee hee"
"It's startin' to wake up. Give it a good shot o' meds to sedate it, and let's prepare it for extraction."
"Well, alright Doc." Conagher chuckled as he moved to the large console near the door.
* * * * *
The bubbles are gone. The air is cold. The lights are warm, as is the blanket. A lot of talking now. Can't quite hear it all. It's all hazy and vague. So distant.
* * * * *
"So we know nothing? Absolutely nothing at all?" Mundy's assistant pinched the bridge of her nose, attempting to understand how this could possibly have happened. "And they want us to prep this clade without any direction at all? Bloody brilliant."
"At the very least, it should know some English, or be able to pick it up quick-like. Basic programin' for 'dis company." He knew this was gonna be a thankless job from the beginning, so why not share his misery with his lovely assistant? He glanced from her to his datapad and then to the slumbering specimen on the table nearby.
The clade appeared to be fully mature, having mostly the appearance of a human about age twenty. She had bushy shoulder-length red hair with little triangular ears on her head, much like a red panda. She also had reddish 'teardrop' markings beneath her eyes, as well as a long bushy tail with six rings on it, also mimicking the red panda. Mundy's initial assessment had been correct. This brand of clade had not been in production at this facility for quite some time.
"This should be a snap. Give it a base education, make sure it speaks proper-like, and ship it out the door. Sooner we're done with it, the sooner we move on to something we'll be gettin' paid for. Company decided this one's a bust. So, we make a model citizen out of it pro bono or get shit-canned. Personally, I like my line of work."
"'She,' not 'it'. This a lifeform we're talking about here. Not a desklamp. She'll eventually need to integrate into society."
Mundy gave her a long look as she scolded him. "Right. Apologies, Marni. Just a bit out o' sorts on this one."
"Tell ya what. I'll take care of this all by myself. You just handle the paperwork, and I'll handle her. Ok?"
"Fair enough. And remember, be polite, but be efficient. I don't want this to take any longer than necessary."
"Trust me!" Marni smiled at him. "I have a plan!"
Mundy eyed her warily for a moment. She was crafty, and he had been a damn good teacher. "Very well," he said in an even tone. "She's all yours. I expect a full report in the morning on your progress."
No sooner had he finished, and was turning to the door, Conagher burst in with one of the de-con staff in tow. "Hey Doc! We got us a problem here. It's the toaster" This was followed by an excited nod from the person in the de-con uniform. His gas-mask muffled any words he may have been spouting.
"Well I guess there'll be no toast for your break, then?" came the confused reply from the Professor.
"No, Doc. Not the break room toaster. THE toaster. It was hidin' back where we found that clade."
A near panicked expression crept across Mundy's face as he started to rush down the hall where they had come from. "Call security! I'll go get the cage."
* * * * *
Now there is just the one. Solitary. There is a table. The sweet smell of food permeates the room. More talking. Still too hazy. A dream? A memory? Help? ... No help.
* * * * *
"Nice job, 404. You're making good progress." Marni said with a smile. She was truly pleased with her project. 404 had been learning at a brisk pace, over the last few weeks, and would soon be ready to head out into the world. The only issue Marni had was that she didn't like to refer to her by number. She needed a name. Well, maybe it was about time to rectify that. "Tell ya what. How would you like a name?"
"Name?" The clade sat at the lone table in the room playfully pawing at the plate of muffins set before her. Blueberry was her favorite.
"Yup. Something we'd call you that's not a number. But what would fit you?" Marni had to think for a moment. This whole debacle started with a clerical error sooo.... "How about Claire?"
"Claire? I like it. I am Claire." The clade seemed to be trying it on for size so to speak. Of all the things she had experienced at the facility, it was the one thing she liked the most besides the muffins. She gave Marni a big smile and waggled her tail a little.
"Good! Now tell ya what else. Our time here is gonna end pretty soon." This she said in the same tone one uses to inform a bad date that you want to see other people. Not that Marni wasn't trying to be nice, but her own research was falling behind while she was teaching this replicant how to be a person.
Claire seemed a little sad at this thought. "What do you mean? You're not going away are you?"
"No Claire. You'll be going away. You're going to be on your own out in the real world. I have a friend out in the city of Angelus who thinks they might be able to get a job. It'll be with the Angelus Police Department. You'll have to pass some aptitude tests, but you should be more than adequate." At that, Marni stood and took that stance that every teacher takes when giving a lecture. The one where they stand up straight with their arms behind their back while they pace around the room.
"But... but I don't want to go away! I want to stay here! With you! You don't want me to go away do you?" Tears began to well up in Claire's eyes.
"Claire. Don't look at it like that. Look at the positive side of it. You'll get to grow and experience life outside this little box. Be positive and be polite and things will work out! Trust me!"
* * * * *
Deep within the bowels of APD's 16th Precinct, Claire awoke amidst a pile of paperwork. One of many piles she'd been put 'in charge' of over the few years she'd been working in the basement. She'd had the nightmare again. Same one she'd had as long as she could remember. Nothing to fret over though. She'd aways wake back up, no matter how many times it haunted her. She'd wake back up at her own desk next to the endless pile of papers she was to file away. It was safe, secure, and it'd always be there for her. Always. She'd always have more paperwork to match the delicious coffee that went with her muffins every day. Not that the routine bothered her. Not like she wasn't capable of doing more than sorting papers, she was just good at it. Probably the best in the whole building. Yup. That's why she'll always have a job to do.
While she was asleep, the latest of her rejected transfer papers had been set in her In Box. That, too, needed to be sorted and filed away with the others. She'd had a whole cabinet of them. She'd scored high enough to be transferred to any position within the building time and again, but she was always refused. There'd be no one to replace her was the excuse. Which was fine, she thought, it's good to be needed. On the plus side, there was still no sign of her application to XSWAT. That could only mean that she hadn't been refused, yet. That's a good sign as far as she was concerned. Claire smiled a little bit more than usual at this thought, her ears perked up as her long tail swished from side to side. The thought of going to the shooting range for practice after work might be fun.