Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The building’s glass stretched skyward from the sidewalk, turning back looks, and draining the features from their reflections. Stone stepped into the turnstile, and with a quick twist, the glass cylinder dutifully deposited him inside.

At the far end of a wide corridor sat a single guard behind a desk. Crossing the distance, Stone could feel the space breathing him in, swallowing up the evidence of his passage. The walls shone, lustrous and grey. The floor, black as night and polished to a marble sheen was devoid of any mark. A breeze from the vaulted ceiling above seemed to be inhaled by the stone beneath his feet.

At the desk, the guard seemed outwardly oblivious to his presence, however his intra-retinal’s were scrolling reams of data onto panels projected around his field of vision, and he systematically checked and rechecked them as Stone approached. The air pulled past Stone’s body was analyzed, and the chemical signatures of everything from the coffee he’d recently finished to the perfume of the last passerby on the street was neatly itemized. Stone was a veritable soup of chemicoscentia, but for the purpose of entry, was clean.

“Mr. Stone, your weapon has been tagged and locked, do not attempt to use it while you’re here.” The guards voice was dull, unreadable, monotone. “There’s a lift waiting.”

A single door stood open beyond the guard station, and Stone strode purposefully to it, noting the lack of visible controls as it closed. Beneath his clothing, miles of tattooed network fabric bristled on his skin, the delicate and barely visible mesh of hairlines picking up the sudden onslaught of scanners surrounding him, electronic and otherwise. A hundred meters from the door he had broken the hard link between his internal and external net devices, and now his sub-dermals chattered back with random ad programs and auto-responders. Several whitehole and honeypot programs would lure the more sophisticated scanners and let them chase each other around beneath his skin, while his core remained untouchable.

The chrome door disappeared silently to one side and Stone found himself in another long rectangular room, featureless but for a pair of chairs opposite a large flat desk, cantilevered from one wall. On the far side, a grey haired gentlemen in a dark pinstriped suit stared coldly at him, his eyes strangely magnified by rectangular lenses suspended from either side his nose.

“Come, sit.” His voice crackled with impatience. Stone stepped from the lift, and crossed the room to the chair, noting the lack of retort as his boots impacted the floor.

The desk was bare save for an alloy ingot, the word ‘Director’ etched into it’s long face. Stone slipped into the vacant seat, feeling rich animal hide stretch beneath him, and sensed the chromed alloy tube frame re-tension itself to accommodate his considerable bulk.

“Director.” Stone eyed the man suspiciously across the dull surface of the desk “I guess you’d be the C.O. then?”

“I’ll not waste your time or mine, Mr. Stone. I am the only man you need to concern yourself with.” The Director leaned forward, steepled his fingers and propped his elbows up on the desk. He spoke with obvious purpose, enunciating each word carefully.

“You’re a man with skills Mr. Stone, your military and public service exploits have not gone without notice, which is what has brought us together today.” The tone was factual, not conversational. “Your talents are being wasted, and we have a want for men with your potential within our group. We prefer to recruit post-military service personnel, as you are as a group far easier to augment with training, and upgrading wetware is much more expedient than installing it and waiting for the development of adequate proficiency. We can offer you significant expansion of your capabilities, and in return you will be indentured to us for a period, reporting solely and directly to me.”

Something about this man wasn’t right, and on a whim, Stone leaned forward and abruptly severed the hardlink to his retinal-implant. The usual overlay of information disappeared, environmental data no longer littered his vision, and the room softened and the shadows deepened, no longer digitally enhanced. For a fraction of a second, he could have sworn he was alone in the room, until he blinked, and found the figure still before him, no longer haloed in a heat signature, and now clearly amused.

“Mr. Stone, you’ll find that your sense of reality and ours differs on many levels.” The Director sat back in his chair, smiling. “You’ll also find that I don’t need your archaic hard links to get inside your head.”

This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows
365 Tomorrows Merchandise: The 365 Tomorrows Store
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow