It was like watching a desiccated Egyptian from an early mummy movie slowly plump up and reanimate, before it’s eyes would pop open and it would start to seek the life of the defilers of the tomb. Skin loosening and pulling away from the bone, muscles filling and bulking up. Eyes currently like pruney fingers, rounding. An unnerving bubbling sound escaping its mouth.
As fascinating as it was to watch Dave The Squishy on the medical slab slowly rehydrate and bloat from the push of intravenous water, I had to make a call.
My immediate supervisor Mr. Ferret had made it perfectly clear that he was not above threatening my family with financial ruin if I didn’t toe the line up here. I was beginning to see that this was not a hollow threat. I could also see, at least in part, what he wanted hidden. Squishy were supposed to be clones. Vat grown, AI trained and expendable. If the population of Earth realized their consumer debt was tied to the possibility they might end up an expendable Squishy then heads would roll and even governments would fall.
He was obviously protecting a secret that not many held and was deadly to know.
There was a chair at an engineering console in the corner, so I sat and called up the external communications suite. There were several stored messages from my wife already, but I ignored them for now and dialed her cell number. I could afford to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
Stacey answered before the second ring and started to talk before she must have noticed the text overlay on her screen informing her of the time delay. She sighed and continued, “Where the hell have you been? I know you’re on an important assignment on Mars, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore my calls!” She stared into the camera and waited.
“I really am sorry, babe.” I started.”I have been busy. How are you and Greg doing?”
“Our son is just fine. He just got his driver’s license. You said you would be around to teach him how to drive and instead I had to send him to the Corporate Drivers sessions to it. Do you know how much those sessions cost?”
I ignored her question. “Everything else okay?” I asked, hoping for a positive answer.
“Yes everything.” She paused, “Except you didn’t pay the security bill this month, so I got a notice of termination in 30 days if you don’t cover it.”
“Ah.” I said as casually as possible, “that usually comes straight out of my pay as a deduction. Must be a mistake. I’ll check on it right away. I’m sure it’s nothing.” I wasn’t sure it was nothing. I was sure it was Ferret.
“Say, out of curiosity, do you remember Dave Ship?” She looked perplexed and then put a face to the name.
“No I haven’t seen him in years. Wasn’t he the guy in our wedding rehearsal party who wouldn't go to the steak house because he and his girlfriend had gone vegetarian? She was freaking out and yelling. We left them in the parking lot. Why?”
“Oh, no reason,” I said, brushing it off, “I was just thinking of him the other day and wondered where he’d gotten to.”
The rest of our conversation was filled with trivial news and ended with a promise to call every day if I could. She blew me a kiss and hung up.
I sat thinking long and hard about my options. I couldn’t run back to Earth to protect my family. I wasn’t sure I could protect them even if I was there. What I knew now about Squishy could make being on Earth deadlier than a walk on Mars without a helmet.
The AI glided over and interrupted my introspection. “The units ordered have achieved maximum hydration and are ready to be put into service.” Its voice in my ear, “Did you want any more units activated?”
“We are down several units of water and if I’m correct it takes roughly one water unit to activate a Squishy and two units for a Crunchy.” Doing a bit of mental math I said, “We’ve got 4 Crunchy and 4 Squishy units for this year’s drop. That should give us enough ground coverage and still have water left for resupply. I don’t want to see any of them stranded without water down there for this fiscal year before resupply.” The AI chimed a positive note.
I turned in my chair to face the Squishy lying comfortably on the tables. The Crunchy were on the lower deck. I would check on them shortly.
But first, there was the question of how much ‘Dave’ was still in the Squishy Dave. I went and stood beside Dave’s table and raised one of his arms a half meter. Other than it being slightly cooler than you would expect, it felt perfectly normal. There were interface bumps along the back of his arm between elbow and shoulder that actually looked red and inflamed, like they had been installed recently and hadn’t healed yet.
I dropped his arm, expecting it to fall lifeless to the table, but it held where I released it. I glanced over to his face and saw that Dave was staring at me, obviously in control of his own limbs. His grey eyes were piercing and overlaid with the thin blue lines of his interface contact lenses. Or maybe his corneas had been replaced? Either way, the effect was jaring.
“Hey Buddy, how’s it going?” I asked.
Dave seemed to consider this for a moment and turned his head to look straight up again. “I am functioning well, thank you.”
“So Dave,” I started, “what do you remember?” Dave looked confused and his lips parted to answer but no sound came out. The AI answered for him.
“Squishy are not allowed to access their own memories other than specific functional knowledge which may allow them to supplement their installed technical training. Any person-specific memories have been sealed and are inaccessible to their frontal cortex.”
“You seem to know quite a bit about Squishy, Larry.” I replied to the floating AI mech.
“I am the AI for this satellite who’s purpose is to explore, conquer and turn a profit for Red Corporation. This is not my first ‘rodeo’.” it said. It seemed to anticipate my feelings. “Your friend David Ship is no longer your friend David Ship. He is a Squishy. I am sorry.”
I sighed, losing what little hope I had to have an actual friend on board.
“Okay, then. What do we do now?” I asked.
“While the Squishy are fairly self sufficient, they require nutrients and should be fed shortly after reanimation so their bodies do not begin to dissolve their own tissues for sustenance.”
I turned back to Dave and put a smile on my face. “Hear that Buddy? We’re going to get you some protein. Maybe a nice, juicy, thick beef steak.”
Dave slowly lowered his arm to the table and said, “Thank you sir. But I think I’d rather have a garden salad, sir.”
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