Error: Please Contact the Help Desk

I smack myself on the temple beside my malfunctioning eye. The error message remains obscuring half my field of vision.

I smack myself again, harder this time. This time the message does go away, but I’m still half blind.

Swearing, I pull out my phone and make a call. The line rings exactly once before it’s picked up.

“Help desk!” The voice is so chipper I have to fight the urge to hurl.

“Yeah, Agent 4956, here. My left optic lens is out.”

“Oh, no!” The voice sounds like I just told it it’s puppy was just executed for high treason. “Let’s see, you were supposed to come in for your tune-up last week, but I’m not seeing any diagnostics in your file.”

“Yeah,” I admit. “That’s because I didn’t go in last week. I was feeling fine.”

I may have said this last part a little defensively, but I hate going in for tune-ups. You’re supposed to be out cold when they take you apart, but I can always hear and feel everything. It reminds me too much of how I got into this cybernetic mess.

It’s what I imagine hell to be like.

“Routine service is a requirement of staying on the force,” the chipper voice warns. “I don’t think you should try to go it alone out there.”

“Thanks for the tip.” I roll my eyes. “Can you get in remotely?”

“I’ve been trying while we were speaking, but I can’t connect.”

This pisses me off. I’m still a person, I’m still supposed to have some form of bodily autonomy. Legally, little-miss-chip can’t doe anything with out my express consent on the recorded line.

In reality, she probably outranks me, so it doesn’t really matter anyway.

“Agent 4956?” The chipper voice interrupts my mental rant. “Did you hear me? I can get you in to see a tech today.”

“Yeah, great. When and where?”

When she tells me, I consider resigning on the spot. It’s home office. They never do maintenance unless it’s an upgrade.

Or a termination.

Either way, I don’t want it. I ask the chipper voice if there’s another slot somewhere else, but she’s already terminated the call.

My working eye beeps and displays a little map with two blinking dots. They’ve sent a car to come and find me.

Great.

I try to position myself so they can’t sneak up on my blind side, but I get jostled by a gaggle of seventh graders walking down the street, and the next thing I know, I’m being frog-marched to an all black SUV. I half expect a burlap bag to cover my head but instead the goon beside me just points a remote at my and shuts off my other eye.

The ride is short and my eye gets turned back on before I get out of the car. Small mercy. Once again, I’m frog-marched, this time into the building and up three sets of stairs to an office.

They just kind of shove me toward the open door and I stumble in.

“Ehla, come in, come in,” says the man behind the desk at the far end of the room. Though I don’t recognize his new face, only two people have ever called me Ehla, and I know this isn’t my dead father.

“Rubens,” I say taking a seat in front of the desk. As soon as I sit down, the door behind me swings shut and a gentle click tells me it’s locked.

“You look as beautiful as the last time I saw you.” He smiles and his teeth look small and sharp like a lampray.

“You don’t look the same at all,” I say non-committaly.

He tosses his head back and laughs. I do my best not to flinch. Everything about him is predatory, calculated.

“So, what’s this about your eye?” he says as he gets up to sit on the desk directly in front of me. The potent stench of ginger and lemon hangs on his words, makes them palpable.

“I missed a maintenance appointment and now it’s offline.” It’s not a lie, but it’s not the whole truth either. I’ve been trying to fly under the radar for years. Ever since my father died.

“Hmm,” Rubens says as he scratches his chin. “Good noodles don’t miss their appointments, only deserters do. Are you planning to leave me? Again?”

I swallow hard and shake my head.

He stands up suddenly and walks behind me. From his breath I know he’s way too close and every atom in my being, both machine and organic, is telling me to run. Instead I stay still.

“Tip your head back for me, Ehla.” His fingers slither around my throat. “I want to watch you lie to me.”

Before I can speak again he jerks my head back hard enough for me to wonder briefly if I might be dead. His slow and deliberate speech lets me know I’m not. Yet.

“Come on, Ehla,” his voice is soft, deceptive. He sounds like my former lover as he speaks, but that was just a lie too. “Let me hear that pretty voice. Are you leaving me?”

“No,” I croak. His fingers tighten on my throat.

“You said that once before. Do you remember what I did to you?”

“You cut out my eyes.” The words slip through my lips like quicksilver.

“I only did it to teach you.” His fingers flex around my throat. “An eye is the traditional price of perfect knowledge and truth.”

“So what?” I can only whisper my words, but I paint them with venom. “Will you hang me from a tree for nine days next?”

He laughs and lets go of my throat, forcing my head forward again. I stifle the urge to rub my bruised skin or even look at him.

He moves in front of me and sits on the desk again. A rare frown creases his features and I’m almost impressed. No one affects him, not ever. Except me.

Maybe I’ll make it out of here.

“Why do you do this?” he asks. “Why do you make me hurt you?” He pinches the bridge of his nose and lets out a shaky breath before screaming. “I love you! Don’t you know that? Or are you too selfish?”

Rubens sighs and paces over to the window. He stands there for a few moments, his shoulders tense, apparently lost in his dark thoughts.

I don’t know what came over me, I really don’t, but before I know what I’m doing, I’m up and lunging for him. The force of my tackle propels both of us through the window.

Midair we grapple, but I manage to subdue him just a few feet from the pavement below. I have just enough time to go fully limp before I crash down beside him.

The impact leaves me on the sidewalk with my chest heaving like a bird whose just flown into a window with the wind knocked out of him. Passersby do their best not to notice as they hurry on their way.

At last I scramble to my feet. I bend down to check his pulse. It’s thready, but still there. I turn his broken arm so that the palm is face up and I place my defective eye in it. The fall must have knocked it loose.

“I quit,” I say just before I walk away.

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