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by Laura Smith
Category: Erotica/Erotic Fantasy/Science Fiction
Description: After a disaster with her first mining team, Cavalier, Vex is convinced that it is best for everyone that she not get close to anyone. This means no friends, no family, no lovers. She has contact only with her teammates in Spartan. That conviction does not mean that she can't go out and buy an artificial life robot, called a Jack, which she names Red. But something is not quite right with her Jack; he has rules for her to follow and upholds them with spankings. Red's ways are pushing her closer to her teammates, and Vex is being forced to look at the future of her life through new eyes.
eBook Publisher: Newsite Web Services Publishing, 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: August 2009
13 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [202 KB]
Reading time: 136-191 min.
Blood, a rancid metallic scent, filled the air. Moans of the wounded and dying echoed off steel walls. Medics patrolled the beds of the injured miners and anyone else of the unprivileged unlucky enough to be caught outside during the daylight hours. The hospital was nothing more than two long halls where the wounded were crammed in where ever they would fit and wouldn't fit. One was for the recovered and on their way out. The other was for the beds. No one wanted to be in a bed.
In the hall beds, beside one marked with the name Laura T. Vex was a young man. It was mine. He was Alan, my boyfriend. We were sweethearts from the orphanage. It was kind of him to be there, but I wasn't paying attention to him. I was looking at the bed next to mine where Ronnie Davis lay dying.
Since I awoke in the hospital three short hours ago, I had been alternately watching him, struggling to hold onto life, and the machine that was between us that was pumping a liquid that would form my new lung and heart ventricle. But now my eyes were fixed on him.
Ronnie was younger than me, but he had a wife and a kid with another baby on the way. He used to talk about leaving the mining tunnels and going up in the world. His children would never know the dangers of digging through solid rock in the darkness underground. I used to watch as he had worked himself almost to death trying to make things better for his family. I had admired him for it. He'd had dreams.
Now, I watched as he worked to breathe. I could hear it rattling in his throat. Then it stopped. There was no slow hiss, no violent choking, no sound or movement of any kind. He just stopped breathing and he was gone. I stared, searching for a small sign, something that would suggest he still lived, but all hope faded as a medic came over to his bed and began turning off the equipment that had stretched out his life.
I whimpered as tears clouded my vision and I bit my lower lip to keep from crying out. The medic rolled Ronnie away and I thought of his wife. She was due to visit him in a little while. Someone had said she was on her way to see him. Somewhere in my mind I could already hear her crying and trying to tell her kid why Daddy would never be coming home. When her baby was born, she would be sent into the tunnels to work. Then it would only be a matter of time before there would be two more orphans.
I started to shake uncontrollably as my blood froze. "Oh, Sands," I sobbed.
"Laura, what's wrong?" Alan reached over and took my hand in his.
"Go away," I whispered.
"I said, go away!" I yelled, turning my head to stare at him.
He blinked, shocked, before slowly nodding. "Okay. I'll be back--"
"No. Don't come back. I don't ever want to see you again." I saw the confusion and hurt in his eyes and I softened my voice. "I mean it, Alan. Go away."
He let go of my hand as he stood and stared.
I turned away and focused on the news playing on a vid screen above me, intent on ignoring the first--and if I had my way, the only--man I loved. I watched the pictures flashing the latest developments of the world without seeing them as Alan slowly came to understand and walked away.
I pushed the heel of my hands to my eyes and swallowed a scream. It was better this way. There would be no one left behind when I die in the tunnels. No one would mourn when I don't come back. No one would get hurt. Except me.
I lowered my hands as I wept softly and through my tears saw the news on the vid screen. Really saw it. And gaped.
I couldn't hear what the broadcaster was saying, but the pictures told more than a thousand words. The vid showed the tunnels where Ronnie and I had been working that morning. They were painted red and brown with blood. I recognized where they were and knew that the camera was where we had been attacked, but not where we had been dragged off to, where it was that we had been eaten.
The screen flashed and I watched as Ronnie and I were pulled from the tunnels covered in gore. The camera was so close to our bodies I saw my own heart beating in the gaping hole in my chest. I saw Ronnie's eyes dilate as he slowly bled out.
In a daze, I reached for the ear piece on my side table and slipped it into place.
"These two survivors of the latest Sand Raider attack are now housed in the miner's hospital in the Provinces." A bored man's voice said into my ear via the headphone. "Both are in critical condition. Ronald B. Davis, 19, and Laura T. Vex, 20, were members of the off-line mining team, Cavalier, a group of rookie miners sent into the Greene Region earlier this month."
The image changed to Ronnie's wife, looking pale and dazed outside the hospital. "This is just in; Ronald Davis died seconds ago, leaving behind his pregnant wife, Becky, and two year old son, Ronald Junior." The bored voice disappeared and was replaced with yelling reporters as they tried to get the woman's attention. The camera was practically pressed against her face as she, unblinkingly, gazed at nothing.
"Mrs. Davis, when did you last see your husband?"
"Mrs. Davis, what will you do now?"
"Mrs. Davis, will you work in the Tunnels?"
"Mrs. Davis, how do you feel about the Sand Raiders?"
"Mrs. Davis, where is your son now?"
"Mrs. Davis, now that you are a widow do you think the officials will come to take your children away?"
I ripped the piece from my ear and squeezed my eyes shut, but the questions repeated in my mind and the image of Ronnie's wife haunted me. I foresaw my own future in that broadcast. Newsmen would be hounding me and asking me questions on the hospital steps.
As I opened my eyes, I saw other patrons well enough to look into other beds sit up and point. And whisper. My name became a roar, a cry for blood, but of a different sort. In one last heartbeat, with Ronnie's last breath, I had become famous around the world.
Slowly, I turned my head to look at the machine recreating my internal organs and wished for it to stop. I didn't want this new future. I was supposed to marry Alan and live happily ever after. I wasn't supposed to become known as the survivor of a Sand Raider massacre and spend the rest of my life alone. I reached out my hand to the pump, my fingers barely touching the cold metal tube that held the liquid that was saving my life, and wished I could die.
* * * *
Three years later...
I sat in the office of the "All-In-One-Jack" Corporation for what seemed an eternity. In my best dress suit with my usually disarrayed hair brushed and braided and pinned up, I looked the part of a serious applicant for a Jack. I had been assured that the interview would be purely electronic and no one but a geek and the receptionist would ever see me, but I still wanted to look my best, just in case. One never knew who would be taking notes or if there were hidden cameras about.
Especially in the current day and age.
Everything was done online, so cameras seemed to be everywhere. And if it had a screen, then one could be assured it was two-way. Appointments, jobs, classes, anything that required that a person leave the home were all done virtually. Food was bought online and sent by androids. Money was also electronic and kept track of by the only bank in System, the First World Credit Union.
With no need to leave the house, I wasn't at all surprised to see the look of shock on the off-line receptionist's face. She probably thought she would never have anything to do, the poor girl. But there I was, off-line, in the actual office, instead of going through virtual channels. I preferred it this way. I kept my online time to a bare minimum, which, in my opinion, helped save on money.
And saving money was going to help me buy my very first Jack. Oh! I was so excited! Sure, I had the talking organizer that was 'just like having a real secretary!', and the shower that 'washes you so you don't have to!' But a Jack, 'the prefect partner for your life', was the ultimate artificial life assistant.
He would cook for me, clean for me, and do repairs. I would never again have to worry about what I was going to eat, because I forgot to order more food. Jack would order the food for me! I could seriously get absorbed into my work and not have to worry about anything. He would even do what my organizer couldn't and take phone calls!
I sighed and tapped my svelte-covered toe on the marble floor. The receptionist looked nervously at me, and I smiled at her. I could only assume what was taking so long was the credit check. There certainly wasn't anyone else in the office. And there couldn't be anyone before me; they would have had to come in during Sand Raider hours.
The only safe time to travel off-line and outdoors were in the cool hours of the dark. When it was light and the sun heated the sands, the Raiders came out of hiding. The original inhabitants of this world, Raiders were vicious and mindless with rage. It was suspected that it was territorial behavior, but over the last several hundred years no one had been able to find a way to communicate. So people had stopped trying.
The only thing that was for certain about Sand Raiders was their reactions. It was known that Raiders slowed down during the cold hours of the thirty hour day and moved during warmer ones. Cold blooded creatures, they got faster as the sands reached the blistering heat of 200 Celsius. And it was known that the only way to kill them, if one had the misfortune to be attacked by a Raider, was to induce electricity into its body.
I patted my pocket where my Zapper 5000 and oxygen filter were tucked away. I took them with me whenever I left the apartment, no matter what time of day it was. Oxygen was necessary all the time if I wanted to breathe. First World, as the planet was called, didn't have enough oxygen in the atmosphere to support human life. But even during the night I was nervous about Raider attacks.
I guessed it came from being a miner where that threat hung over a person's head all the time. I was a Tunneler in the mining team, Gladiator. Tunnelers were the only people, besides Dowsers, that worked exclusively offline. The teams were assigned to different areas of the world and Gladiator was assigned to work in the thick of Sand Raider territory. Because of the added danger, it was higher pay, but that didn't seem like much of a conciliation when one had to inform a family of a death.
In the two years I had been a Tunneler, I had seen twenty team-mates dragged off by Raiders. Seven of them were never recovered. Six of the seven had families. I had been present two of the times the families were told and I swore to never be made captain of a team. I didn't want the responsibility that came with leadership. I would never be able to get through the telling without breaking down and a captain needed to be emotionless.
It was also why I don't want a family. If something were ever to happen to me, I don't want anyone left behind. But at the same time, I don't want to be alone until my dying day, either. Hence the Jack. The prefect partner for my life. I don't want one for sex, I had toys for that, but I wanted someone to hold a conversation with. My organizer was fine, but it really didn't have much of a personality and no sense of humor.
I suppose there were always roommates, but the only person who would want to room with a miner was another miner. Then conversations tended to lean toward shop and I didn't want to talk shop when I got off work. I liked to leave tunneling with the equipment, under the sand where it belonged.
I sighed for the hundredth time and leaned my head back until it hit the wall. What was taking so long? I must have been here five hours and credit checks only took one. Maybe the online office was busier than usual today. It was just my luck to come during rush hour.
I jerked my head from the wall and smiled at the receptionist.
"I'm sorry for the delay," she smiled apologetically. "It took the geek a while to find an offline computer for your use, but we are ready for you now." The receptionist stood and gestured to a door, waiting for me to precede her.
I jumped to my feet, thrilled beyond words to finally get the wheels turning on my own Jack. The receptionist directed me down a hall and into a dark room. A light slowly illuminated the area and a chair, elevated off the ground, formed out of the shadows. Wires and tubes connected to the chair ran into a small box set on a dais between the chair and a desk. The desk held a monitor, currently off, which also had wires leading to the small box. On the other side of the desk was a glass wall. The other side of the wall was dark, but I could make out faint shadows moving around.
The receptionist pointed to the chair. "Please be seated and we'll get started on your bio-rhythms."
I climbed up into the chair and settled back, trying to get as comfortable as possible.
"Have you ever purchased a Jack before?" the receptionist asked cheerfully.
I shook my head with a grin. "No, this is my first."
"Oh, then let me walk you through what's going on." Her smile brightened and she actually bounced on the balls of her feet. "This chair is designed to take all your physical traits. Height, weight, blood type, brain waves, various chemical levels, and so on. It also monitors heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature." She leaned over and began strapping my legs to the chair.
I frowned, a burgeoning flutter of nervousness in my belly.
"The first part of the test is to find how your body reacts to certain stimuli. Fear, desire, grief, happiness, pain, anger, and humiliation." She strapped my hands to the chair.
"Uhm..." I mumbled quietly.
She smiled at me reassuringly. "Oh, don't worry. The straps are just to keep you from thrashing around while you are being stimulated, thereby hurting yourself. Usually, people do this from the comfort of their own homes, where All-In-One-Jack Corporation can't be blamed if they break an arm or something. But, you came here, so..." She shrugged and smiled as she strapped my chest to the back to the chair.
I tried to move under the straps, and then glared at the receptionist's smile. "You're enjoying this." I said gruffly. I certainly wasn't.
She giggled. "Yes, actually, I am. I've only been able to do this with my boyfriend. It's kind of a thrill to get a chance to do this with a stranger."
I groaned and leaned my head back.
She put another strap across my forehead, and then began to attach diodes. "These will record your brain and sometimes are used for inputting the various stimuli. Don't worry, they don't hurt."
I moved my eyes to look at her. "Except that you'll be monitoring how my body reacts to pain."
"Well, yes, but you won't notice it. I promise."
I looked straight ahead and tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach. "Have you ever done this?"
"Me? No, I can't afford a Jack, yet. But Randy has. He's the offline geek here." She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, "He's got three Jacks at home." She attached the last diode and patted her hands together like rubbing dirt from them. "Okay, now, let's see if I forgot to tell you anything."