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Authors: Joseph Picard

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BOOK: AZU-1: Lifehack
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She found she was hungry, and
mysteriously just as unemployed as when she passed out. The first
problem was solved easily enough, rummaging through Harold’s
kitchen. Harold had already left for work long ago.

The second problem seemed to have an
obvious solution. She picked up her guitar and headed downtown to
find clubs that might need a player. She was soon to find that live
music wasn’t as desirable here as it was in a couple of the smaller
towns she’d lived in and so far, those that did have people play
didn’t seem to have an opening. It was discouraging but maybe it
was for the best. She was probably rusty as heck anyway... she
decided to get a little amp and practice before she went looking
for much else in terms of gigs.

But an amp takes money too. Ick. She
didn’t feel like a service industry job and the guitar thing was
really the only thing that went with her wardrobe. What good is
having Kris’s cool jacket if she can’t work in it? Damned Kris.
Okay, enough for today’s two minutes of hate.

She looked at her terminal’s city map.
Harold’s work wasn’t that far away. She thought about going over,
and casually mooching some money for an amp, but decided against
it. She’d go visit though. That can’t hurt. And if conversation
happened to lead to her lack of an amp, she couldn’t be blamed for
that, could she?

There was the building. As close to the
center of the city as the company could afford, it loomed with
great self-importance. The peak of the building sported a slant
that wanted to be stylish and original, just like all the other
buildings with a slant on the top. The company logo stood out with
a similar degree of flair in red light. “AutarLabs”. Wow, what a
creative name. Regan chose to blame that one on the suits. Nerds
would have found a way to make a reference to some nerdy
mythological thing like maybe Prometheus, or Icarus, but without
the downer ending. As she got closer she called her brother on the
terminal.


Hey Harold! Mind some
company?”


Hm? Sure, I guess I can
take a break. Where are you?”


Out front, headed for the
front doors.”

A moment of silence. “Hey Regan, look
up, can you see me?”

Regan looked at the building’s windows.
After a bit of scanning from window to window, she could barely
make out a person in a lab coat waving, from the fifteenth floor.
“Naw, I don’t see ya, just some dork flailing his
limbs.”


Yeah yeah. Hey, I’m just
gonna finish something up here. I’ll meet up with ya
inside.”

The lobby was oversized, and the dozen
or so people hurrying across from one doorway to the next still
left it feeling desolate and cold. There was that unsettling quiet
that always seemed out of place but was always present in places
such as this. Straight ahead at the far end was the reception desk.
It was a large, authoritative command centre, staffed by a lone
girl who looked abandoned there in her oasis of furniture, in a
desert of an otherwise stark room.

As a personified contrast to the entire
building, Regan strolled across the floor, casually taking in the
room. This place was almost certainly staffed by 100% uptight,
busy, fidgety sorts. The girl at the desk was cute. Blonde, big
glasses with thin frames. She reminded Regan of Kris, except
without the evil. The girl watched Regan walk towards the desk,
patiently waiting for Regan to come within ‘greeting distance’.
Regan smirked as they looked at each other. Was the receptionist
flirting or did Regan just stick out that much here? Regan chose to
think flirting. Her gaydar skewed considerably to her whims, and
often gave false positives.


Hello, may I help you?” The
receptionist said, perhaps seeming a little intimidated in the
shadow of Regan’s swell in confidence.

Regan slowly and casually leaned down
on the desk, sharing a bit of a view down her top should the
receptionist choose to look. Regan spoke just soft and slow enough
so that the receptionist could choose to notice it or not. “Mmm.
Yeah, I’m here to see my brother. He works here somewhere. Harold
Grier...?”


Alright, if you’ll wait a
moment...” the receptionist tapped a few buttons as she put on an
earpiece with a microphone. Regan smiled softly in acknowledgment
and tried to read her eyes. Pure professionalism. Bah. She was
probably straight. Or just plain boring. Or both.


Doctor Grier?” the
receptionist said, staring blankly into her desk, “Yes, there’s a
young lady here, your sister, here to see you? Yes. Alright, I’ll
send her up.” She took off the earpiece and turned her attention
back to Regan. “Alright then, take this visitor’s pass and head up
to fifty-three. Doctor Grier will meet you at the middle cafeteria
there. It’s a non-restricted area.”

Regan took the plastic card being
handed to her, thanked the pretty but dull girl, and headed for the
elevator. As she passed the desk Regan looked back and saw that the
receptionist did not have a body below the desk, but instead a base
labeled “RECEPTIONIST”. Great. She’d been flirting with a machine.
Oh well, it’s not like it was the first time.

The pass card beeped happily as she
walked into the elevator, again when she pressed ‘53’ and once more
when she exited the elevator. She was tempted to see what would
happen if she dropped the card and went wandering, but she didn’t
want to get Harold in trouble. Much. If this was what it took to
get to a “non-restricted” area, she wondered what sort of measures
Harold had to go through on a regular basis. No doubt some sort of
very polite automated fingerprint, retina, DNA, and prostate
scan.


Regan!” Harold called out,
waving her over to the cafeteria.


Hey bro!” She caught up to
him and they got into line.


I guess an early lunch
won’t kill me for one day.” Harold said.


It’s almost
two.”


Oh.”

They made their selections as they went
along, and were soon next at the cash register. The young man ahead
of them was having some kind of trouble. He turned around to the
mass of tables and meekly called across, “Doctor Coll? You didn’t
give me enough!”

The wiry Jonathan Coll leaned back in a
chair with his feet on the table and yelled back. “Pay for the
difference yourself, Scott! I’ll get you reimbursed, don’t
worry!”

Scott turned back to the cashier,
rummaging though this pockets. “Sure he will.” he
mumbled.

When Regan and Harold got to the
cashier she found that Harold was paying for her as well, so she
thanked him sheepishly. As they headed for a seat, Regan noticed
that the wiry man and the man getting him lunch did not sit
together. In fact, no one was sitting with the wiry man, and he
seemed quite happy that way, pecking away at a mini terminal while
absent mindedly picking at his lunch as if it were an inconvenience
to have to eat. He stopped and looked at his assistant. “Hey! Get
me some ketchup for this slop!”

Regan glanced at her brother. “Wow.
HE’S a real charmer.”

Harold rolled his eyes. “Yup.
Jonathan-something. He treats the interns like his personal slaves.
He’s new. Supposedly a hotshot. Demanded some big salary and got
it. He works in my division but luckily not my lab. I haven’t had
much exposure to him.”

Regan shrugged it off, and gobbled a
bit more of her passable casserole lunch. “So what is it you do
here, anyway?”

Harold got a little excited smile and
reached into his shirt pocket for a little flashlight, about four
centimeters long. ‘Mana’ was written on the side. “Look..!” he
pressed the button, and it turned on.

Regan stared at it intently for a few
moments. “Oh. My. God! You invented the lightbulb!”

Harold laughed. “No, no. This is a
souvenir from the project I was on a few months ago, fine tuning
the mana drive.”


Mana drive, huh? Biblical.
A city with four towers of Babel, a halo of bridges, and a mana
drive. Who says scientists like playing god? Okay, fine. This thing
has a mana drive. Whoopie. What’s so great about that over a
battery?”


No, no. You see the power
is actually being transmitted from a facility like ten blocks away
from here. The flashlight just has a little receiver
inside!”


Okay fine. What’s so great
about that over a battery?”


You non-nerd types,
sheesh.” Harold rolled his eyes. “The applications are enormous.
Have you seen a single power line since you came to Autar? No!
There are none! Darn near the whole city infrastructure runs off
the mana drive; free energy flowing through the air!”


Sounds hazardous to your
health. This is better than a battery or power cords-
why?”


Sheesh, Regan, you just
don’t get it.”


Guess not!”


Well, anyway, I’m on
another project now. Researching using nanites for medical
purposes.”


Nanites. Is that like a
robot nanny, like your receptionist?”

Harold stared blankly. “I can’t believe
we’re related. Nanites. Microscopic robots. We’re trying to get
them to do things like assisting nerve functions and repairing or
even replacing damaged tissue. One of the labs apparently made a
remote controlled rat!”


Thrilling!”

~~~

Jonathan headed back to his lab,
leaving his less-dedicated intern to waste the rest of his break on
having a break. Scott often wasted a lot of his break time
socializing. It was things like that which left Scott out of the
loop.


When did series sixteen
happen?’ Scott had asked. Hah. Series sixteen happened while Scott
was dashing home as soon as he was allowed, no doubt to get drunk
and stare at the wall, or whatever it was that lazy interns did. He
could be such a waste of flesh sometimes.

Inky and Pinky were healing nicely.
Mind you, they still looked like hell, but the nanites were set to
prioritize structural repairs. First bone, then muscle. That was
all the nanites really needed since series twelve,
really.

Jonathan’s personal terminal beeped to
life on a nearby counter. He picked it up and read the display.
“Incoming call: L” As in Lancer. No doubt it was Mr. Book. What did
that bloated troll want now?

Jonathan tapped the answer icon on the
screen and as expected, the grey, tired visage of Mr. Book popped
up in a window. Truly if there was ever a joyless face in all
creation, this was it. “Hello, Book.” Jonathan greeted him flatly.
It was hard to fake enthusiasm while looking at Book’s
face.


Coll. Any
progress?”


Inky won a fight
while-“

Mr. Book cut Jonathan off “I’m not
really interested in your rats, you know. We placed you there to
get us a base-level fabricator.”

Jonathan huffed. “What the heck for?
The stuff I’ve already sent you can self-replicate if told
to.”

Mr. Book’s face became even wearier, if
it was possible. “Coll, your toys are useless for practical medial
application at this stage. We need to get our hands on a base-level
fabber if we’re going to make anything we can use. Everyday
practical applications. Your little projects might eventually be
useful for wartime emergency medicine, but we need to see some
results we can use now. There’s only so much funding Lancer can
keep off the books without something to feed our business
sponsors.”

Jesus, did he even take a breath in
between all that? Jonathan had heard it all before and it was
getting less interesting every time. He just felt lucky to have
been spared the speech about the ways an organization like Lancer
was vital to the nation. Hypocritical windbags. Jonathan wondered
how big of a swimming pool Mr. Book had, paid for by his Lancer
salary. “If you’re feeling desperate,” Jonathan said, “I might be
able to pull a rabbit out of my hat.”


Then get on it, Coll.” Mr.
Book hung up without another word. Self important whale. Screw him.
Screw Lancer. They want to see what his toys are good for? Maybe
they want a taste of that hypothetical wartime Mr. Book alluded to.
This could be fun.

~~~~~

Chapter 4: There was an
Incident

~~~~~

Regan had resisted hinting to Harold
about money for an amp for three days now and she was proud of
herself. An amp might be a moot point anyway. Positions for guitar
players seemed sparse at best whether she had her own amp or not.
Maybe today she’d look for some lame waitress job or something.
That’s assuming that all of those choice positions weren’t already
nabbed up by flirtatious vending machines.

She wandered to the kitchen, flipping
on a terminal while she nibbled, and browsed over to a newspaper,
with the intent of heading for want ads. However, the headline on
the front page caught her eye before she flipped past.


4 Violent Unexplained
Deaths” The article went on about how four bodies were found, three
of them seemingly bitten and brutalized by the fourth person, whose
cause of death was still undetermined.


Lovely,” Regan thought, “I
guess every city’s gotta have its freakazoids.”

BOOK: AZU-1: Lifehack
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