The thin penetrating whine dragged him from the warm recesses of sleep. He pawed at the air as he sank back into slumber but his swipe was ineffectual and the incessant drone continued. He turned on to his side. The insect followed. He sat up in bed, groaned and shook his head.
The bedside globe reacted to his command painting the room a dusky yellow.
Where are you, you little…
He rubbed his eyes and scanned the ceiling. No sign of the intruder and no sound to track it by. Resigned to have to start hunting he stretched a lazy arm across his body to pull back the covers.
Ahh…there you are.
Sitting proudly atop his right forearm. Nemesis. Sleep stealer. Bastard. He drew his left hand back slowly, uncurling his fingers as he did so, before…smack.
“Jason?” The voice was blanket-muffled and thick.
“Just a mozzie. Go back to sleep.”
Jason McQuay lay back down and closed his eyes.
“Gotcha indeed Mister McQuay.”
Zeke grimaced and scratched at his stubble-strewn skull. God-damn suits. Always asking the same old pointless… “Yes. I’m sure.”
“Good. Let me know when the diagnostics are available.”
“Sure. You’re the boss, boss.” Zeke watched the grey-suited man walk away and turned back to the holo-display. Although why in the name of the unholy trinity you’re in charge of anything is beyond me. He trailed his fingers in a series of tiny, intricate gestures pulling scattered points of light into his immediate field of vision. Using his thumb and forefinger he enlarged, spun and teased out a shape. Like pottery with binary clay. Satisfied, he sat back.
Replication sequence commencing
The voice was cool, liquid and female. It reminded Zeke of a rushing stream. A good sized chunk of his credits each month was spent on full immersion downloads in the history quarter. Forgotten relics like rivers, forests and glaciers were only a headset and a positive balance away.
The mosquitoes had been Zeke’s idea from the start. Implanting them with a nanovirus payload was relatively simple but a method of delivering the dose gave him sleepless nights for nearly three months. The virus needed to be delivered deep into the dermis and therein lay the rub. Modify the insect too little and the frail body could not provide enough counterforce to achieve the target depth. Modify too much and a well-trained target would be instantly suspicious. The problem seemed insurmountable until, in the late hours of a random fruitless evening, Zeke smashed prototype M-1749R against the wall with the flat of his hand in utter frustration.
No outward modifications, no filigree chitinous armour, just buzz, land and wait to be smashed.
Zeke activated the comms link embedded in his jaw. “We’re online Sir.”
Zeke knotted his fingers and cracked his knuckles. OK Jason McQuay. Let’s see what you can do for us.
The fake sodium spheres lining the street winked out as Jason perched on one leg stretching his right quadricep. The morning was grey and damp. But no wind. Perfect running weather. Jason continued his routine. Quads, glutes, calves, hamstrings. Peanut butter flavoured gloop.
“Training partner online. Select mode,” came the familiar response from his wrist panel.
“Personal best. Eight kay loop.”
“Personal best twenty-seven minutes. Commencing in five…four…three…two…”
“Shit.” Jason dropped to one knee to retie a shoelace.
“Personal best deployed.”
Jason watched as an approximation of himself sprinted off into the gloom. The lace cost him two seconds and ten metres. This is going to be a tough morning.
“Begin EPO sequencing. Seven thousand units.”
Three kilometres in Jason’s holo-projection had gained forty metres and the gap was slowly widening.
“Last kilometre split three minutes thirty-seven seconds. Current pace is…”
“Too slow. I know.” Jason spat the words out in between ragged breaths. This was hard enough twenty years ago old man. What makes you think you can… The surge in his legs stole the focus of his thoughts. Not possible. Am I…gaining?
“Current gap thirty-six metres. Pace three minutes seventeen seconds.”
“Three seventeen!” Jason spoke the words in a mixture of delight and disbelief. I must be dreaming.
“Thirty-five metres. Pace three minutes twelve seconds.”
“Increase rate to nine thousand units.”
OK Mister McQuay let’s see what else you’ve got.
Just before the five kilometre point, Jason and his virtual self merged into one form.
“Split. Three minutes four seconds.”
Jason whooped with joy, grinning like a madman. I really am dreaming this. His legs felt full of running, begging to go faster.
And so he let them.
“Push it to ten thousand.”
Zeke scratched his head. “Sir, I don’t think that’s a great…”
“Ten thousand. Do it now.”
“Increase rate to ten thousand units.”
Thromboembolic markers critical. Advise?
“Sir I really think we need to pull back. It’s just the first…”
“Override it. Or find a new job.” Grey-suit stared at Zeke with grey dead eyes. Zeke matched his gaze for a moment and then turned away with a sigh.
“You’re the boss, boss.” Zeke cast aside several warning lights with a flick of his hand. “Override markers. Critical threshold reset. Increase rate as directed. Maintain pace.”
Override acknowledged. Dosage increased as directed. Neural blockers deployed.
“Split. Two minutes forty-seven seconds.”
The voice of the training unit shocked Jason back into reality. Too fast old man, slow it down. His legs began to feel the burn of unfamiliar speed and he shortened his stride pattern. Three steps later his stride lengthened once more unconsciously.
“Current pace two minutes forty-four seconds.”
Enough. Slow yourself down.
Adrenaline coursed through him as his legs ignored the impulse from his brain. Slow…DOWN.
“Heart rate in red zone.”
Jason felt panic rising. His legs continued to piston their way forward, his body carrying his brain like cheap luggage. With a burst of mental effort he willed his body to the right, aiming for some bushes to break his progress. His body deviated for a step and then returned to the centre of the road.
“One kilometre mark. Heart rate in upper red. Advise slowdown. Current pace two minutes thirty-nine seconds.”
Jason howled along the street where his circuit began. At seven hundred metres he could see the light on in the loft room of the apartment. He thought of Maggie as the clot detached in his right calf. Her face was still in his mind when the clot reached his heart. He was dead before he hit the floor.
Zeke bowed his head as the display in front of him panned left and right across the asphalt before collapsing into black.
Host lost. Voiding sequence initiated.
“Find me a new one. Today.”
Header Photograph: By JJ Harrison (firstname.lastname@example.org) (Own work) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons