If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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Daniel, Tina and I watched the miniature robots in silence, as they scuttled across the plate. They were so tiny they almost resembled dust particles suspended in the air in brownian motion, bumping haphazardly against one another.
I longed for a closer look, all the whole feeling slightly nauseous that I’d consumed a dosage of these little critters earlier in the day, thinking they were painkiller.
“Crap,” I said. “You mean I ate these things, and didn’t know it? I’m going to find that doctor and kill her!”
“Don’t you get it?” said Tina, whacking me across the shoulder. “This isn’t something you’d normally see in Dunedin. Not here. That was no ordinary doctor who prescribed you these – or if she was, she had no idea what she was giving you. This is absolutely cutting edge technology, straight out of Beijing, if I were to guess.”
She leaned back in her chair with a sigh, “Hey, Kayly!” she yelled and, being right next to me, just about deafened me.
We heard footsteps from down the hallway. “Yeah?” her flatmate stuck her head around the kitchen doorway. “What? You managed to hack series seven yet?”
“Can we use the lab? I mean, seriously – come and check this out.”
Karly, curious, sauntered over. She leaned over the three of us from behind, and gazed down at the plate on the table, and at the tiny silvery nanobots scuttling around. “What the hell…?”
“Yeah,” said Tina, nodding. ” ‘Hell’ is about right. Get these things! Mike here swallowed a pill full of these little buggers this morning, was treated to the acid trip of a lifetime, and now we have no idea what they’re doing inside him right now.” She looked at me, impishly. “Could be turning his digestive system to mush as we speak,” she added.
“Gee, thanks for that, Tina,” I said, gulping nervously, “Now I feel a whole lot better. You got a suitable length of rope for me to hang myself with, so I can get it over with right now?”
“Ahhh, don’t worry, Mike” said Tina, patting me on the shoulder and sounding relaxed. “They’re not likely to cause you any long term damage. The bots are obviously meant to be swallowed, or they wouldn’t have been put into a pill. These guys are digestible. Well, kind of. Like sweetcorn. Or carrots.”
“That doesn’t help me much,” I said. “I’ve got thee little robot things…”
“Nanobots,” corrected Tina.
“Nanobots,” I sighed, “Running around inside me, doing who knows what. Who knows what they could make me do next. It could be anything. Anything. God…”
“Yeah,” said Tina, “They could turn you into a nutjob, except they’d be too late on that point.”
I just love hanging out with an ex. They really make your day, sometimes. Tina was real good at making my day, any time I saw her. Thanks, Tina.
“Well, we can guess roughly what these things do, anyway,” said Daniel. He’d been quiet for a few minutes, and we all three of us turned to face him.
“Yeah?” said Tina.
“Well, it’s pretty obvious that the nano-dudes caused Mike to trip this morning. He thought he was having a drug-induced frenzy, complete with boy choristers – and what does that say about you, Mike? – but in reality, it was these little metal bug things doing the nasty in his brain.”
“You might be right, genius-boy,” said Tina, grudgingly. “But I want to check out what these bots look like up close. Look: we’ll take a few pills down to the lab, open them up, and see if we can learn anything more about them. Like where they’re from. From what I’ve read, most bots have a maker’s mark on them, or some sort of ID to give an indication of the manufacturer and purpose.”
“So you want to get a look at these bots under the microscope?” ased Kayly. “That makes sense. Could be interesting, too.”
“Yeah. Once we know where they’re from, we might be able to piece this whole thing together. Gotta admit, it beats hacking yet another bloody bank, which is what I previously had planned for the afternoon. It’s nice to have something new, a challenge, for a change.”
“Bank, my arse,” muttered Kayly, as we stood up. “She was hacking for series seven of Tribeca”
I chuckled quietly at Kayly’s comment, as the four of us sauntered through the bathroom-cum-laundry at the back of the house, and out through the back door to the yard.
Behind the back chimney, Kayly bent to move aside a wooden bench upon which sat a few of Tina’s legal herbs – pots of rosemary, basil and mint – on prominent display for any visitors who might not be inner circle members and know the real deal.
The pots were glued firmly on to the bench, and the whole thing swung aside easily. If you took the time to look, or knew what you were looking for, you’d notice that the whole thing was balanced beautifully on an elegantly concealed hinge, enabling it to be moved aside in one quick movement, exposing a small hatchway behind the bench.
The ideal secret hatchway: quick, easy to access, and well-hidden for prying eyes.
Kayly stooped down to unlock a padlock on the small access door that led to underneath the house, and shot the bolt open. We had to bend nearly double to get inside, but once through the hatchway we could all of us, except Daniel, stand upright without our heads touching the floorboards of the house above.
The hidden room had originally been built as a cellar for the old house, dug out of the earth to provide a cool space for food storage and general stashing of garden tools and suchlike.
It had been abandoned for over a decade before Kayly and Tina moved in. And with good reason – on high tide days, before the girls’ “alterations”, the room had been over thirty centimeters deep in water, thanks to sea levels rising in the last decade.
Kayly and Tina were pretty resourceful, and a solid and well-planned combination of sandbags, concrete blocks and a wind-powered pumping mechanism hooked up to a “decorative” windmill in the garden kept the room mostly dry. If you walked on the interior boardwalk which Kayly had installed, you had barely a chance of getting your toes damp, even in the king tides.
It was a good set up. Cellars were not “suspect” in this part of town which was so low-lying. They’d pretty much all been abandoned, so by hiding the hatchway and a bit of fancy hacking and alterations of council copies of the original housing plans, this whole level to the house was official underwater and under the radar. Nobody knew about it that Kayly and Tina didn’t want to know about it, and the people who did know were few.
It was a great place to set up anything you didn’t want the authorities to know about. As Tina and Kayly’s whole operation depended on the authorities not knowing what was going on, it was a pretty necessary part of their daily existence.
We set up on one of Kayly’s lab benches.
Tina took another “panadeine” pill from its blister pack, popped it into a petri dish, and doused it with water, watching, fascinated, as the tiny nanobots came to life, re-arranging themselves and scuttling across the glass. Then she took the dish, sliding it under the skope, freezing still photos of the little creatures on a screen on the bench, zooming in on various parts of their anatomy, and attempting to uncover information about their manufacturer, origin, design and purpose.
The nanobots varied in shape and design: some had eight legs, some four, and a few of the four-legged species had small antennae that made them resemble nothing so much as miniscule, four-legged ants.
“What do you think, Kayly?” Tina asked her flatmate.
“This is really neat stuff,” said Kayly, watching the bots as they idled back and forth across the glass, their miniscule legs skidding, and seeming to swim, on the slick, clear surface. “Well beyond the ability of local manufacture. Obviously imported. Chinese, almost certainly. To be truthful, I’ve never seen anything this good. These things are five years into the future, possibly ten or more…years ahead of anything I knew existed.”
“But where do you think they came from?” I asked, “Are they going to hurt me? And why the hell are they posing as panadeine forte?”
“I’ve got no idea,” replied Kayly. “But one thing I can be pretty certain of, by looking at their physiology. They’re short-term; designed to last only a few hours. Their shells are already dissolving in the water I threw on them. I’d estimate a lifespan of, at most, maybe two to four hours. Have a few beers, and chances are you’ll piss them right out of your system in no time, without even noticing they were there.”
“And their purpose?” asked Daniel. “Ae they a mechanical version of a drug? Like spike, but with legs?”
“I don’t know,” said Kayly. “I really don’t. Like I said, I’ve never seen anything like this before, except in readings about what might be possible – in a decade or so. I wasn’t aware of this sort of thing actually being available, until now. And I certainly wouldn’t have thought anyone in their right mind would bother feeding such high tech weaponry to a bum like you, Mike.” She winked at me.
“Thanks, Kayles,” I said.
“Besides, you already know more than us about these things, Mike,” said Tina.
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Well…were they tasty? Could you feel them crawling around in your brain?” Tina made her voice low and Dracula-like. “Did they make you feel like you wanted blood…human blood?”
I knocked her good-humouredly, “Yeah, your blood, idiot.”
Daniel, who was watching the screen shots of the nanobots, completely ignored our goofing around and asked, “So, any sign of who made them or where they’re from? Or what they actually do?”
Kayly peered at the bots on the screen. “Let me zoom in a bit…here…look…you can see by the tagging that they target mitochondrial DNA – or that’s my best guess, from the markers. That bot does, anyway. Others might have different purposes. Beyond that, no idea. They might have something to do with tagging individual humans, identification, tracing lineage, race…Your guess is as good as mine – okay, well it’s not, because you’re clueless in this field, but you get the idea.”
“And then what?”
“Don’t know. If you have a look at that one – there – that might be some sort of transmitter, but it’s too small and too delicate, and way too advanced beyond standard technology for me to be certain. And if it is, who knows what it’s transmitting? Or to whom?”
“t’s sending off all your dirty thoughts exposed, Mike,” said Tina, nudging me. “To the whole world.”
“It’s a good thing they’re all about you, then,” I shot back, and Daniel glowered at the remark.
“Yes, well!” interrupted Kayly. “When you lot can stop regressing to your teenage years, this is kind of important!”
“My bad,” said Tina, with a grin. “Our next move? Find a buyer for these bots on the market, and see who bites? Make some cash?”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Daniel. “I can…check around. See if anyone’s missing anything. Or heard about anything going down. That said, there were dozens of packs of these things in that dispensary. For something so supposedly hi tech, there were heaps of them, and no-one was keeping a particularly good watch on them either.”
Something occurred to me. “Maybe they wanted them to be stolen?”
“I don’t know it is that put the bots in the hospital,” said Tina. “But it’s certain they’re not regular stock, right Kayly?”
Kayly nodded. “Especially not in the packs they were in, being passed off as panadeine forte. This was intentional mislabelling.”
“So my guess is that whoever put them there wanted them to be stolen, or consumed, by someone who didn’t know they were taking them,” I said.
“So I’m probably part of some big experiment, right?” A bad feeling was starting to creep up on me as I was speaking, and a sense of foreboding was starting to form in my mind.
“Shit!” said Tina, and it was clear to me, all at once, that the same thought that was starting to form in my mind had already formed in hers. “If you’re part of an experiment…”
“…Then you can be sure you’re being monitored,” Kayly finished her sentence for her. “Crap! You bastards! You just had to come here, didn’t you!”
“I didn’t know!” I protested. “I didn’t…” I looked again at the seemingly innocuous nanobots, swarming in their petri dish. “Crap!”
“We didn’t think…” Daniel began, but already the girls were closing down the scope. Tina hurled the remainder of the packet of “panadeine forte” at Daniel. “You bastard! Get out of here! Now!”
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READ ON: CHAPTER 8: By the Waters of Leith