The tower shines with neon and chrome in the dark night. A seventy storey steel and concrete monument to the avarice of Euphrates Corp, tinged with dazzling blues and pinks. From street level it blots out the moon. At the very top, behind innumerate layers of security, lies my best hope of freedom.
Freedom from the gnawing pain of hunger. From the eternal lockdown. From my own powerlessness.
Most companies wouldn’t store their Antibodies at the top of a skyscraper. But Euphrates wasn’t like most companies. Having made their fortunes running monopolies after the Great Austerity, they knew the value of safety. Safe profits were good profits. Nobody would be foolish enough to steal an Antibody without aerial transport. Nobody who wasn’t desperate and a little insane. Nobody except me.
I buzz at the front door and ask for reception.
The ground floor lobby gleams with naked steel columns and abstract laser artwork. Behind a great metal counter, a robot receptionist greets me. A gleaming chrome simulacra of humanity, precise, cold and hard. A needle pops out and pricks my skin, taking a morsel of blood for the mandatory Covid test. “Good evening, citizen, please state your business.”
Charming, as ever.
I subvocalise a request to Tasha, my digital co-conspirator, sitting in her bedroom forty clicks away in New Haven. “Reception. Ground floor. Ramp up the gullibility.”
Then vocally, to the receptionist, “I’m Bill, from Axos Vertical Transport. Got a report that one of your elevators is malfunctioning. High priority job, apparently.” A scanning module pops out from the receptionist’s metal face, in a grotesque imitation of an eye. The oblique makeup which covers my face with harsh geometric shapes in clean black and white scatters the rays of photons as they bounce. The algorithms are easy enough to trick, if you know how.
“No face detected. Citizen, please provide alternate identification.”
I put on my best gruff old man voice. “I gave my best years to the Federation, and you treat me like a common vandal? Just let me in to fix the damn elevator.”
“Identification req… req…” The receptionist briefly stutters, as Tasha’s hack takes effect. “Request is unnecessary at this time. Please proceed, citizen Bill.”
I stroll past the barely concealed laser cannon and into the elevator.
“Tasha, I’m clear through to the elevator. Take me to fifth floor – we need those access codes.”