Gemini called on Doc Farrah in late January, looking for a new arm before the storm season blew in.
If she missed the last flight from the port of Barnacle back out to the mines of the Scrape, the lightning, silica dust and salt spray might ground the shuttle choppers for a month. She couldn’t afford to be away from the Scrape for so long. She couldn’t afford for some mechanical fault or software error to hang a lump of dead plastic and titanium from her shoulder. And she couldn’t afford Doc Farrah’s fees, but here she was with a deadline and nowhere else to turn.
“Doc, ya gotta help me. My arm’s driving me crazy.”
Doc Farrah set their cutting tool on the workbench and cranked up the suction on the dust filters. Ideal conditions for a cybernetic repair bay – sonic barriers, double airlocks and disinfectant showers – were the stuff of idle fantasy this far out from the urbzones. The best Doc Farrah could scratch up in the Barnacle were the heavy industrial extractor fans, a few tireless brushbots, and a sensor that blared whenever the atmospheric dust content exceeded a handful of parts per million.
“I’m not surprised,” said Doc, shaking their shaved head and waggling a smooth, dark finger at Gemini. “This is one of the Aleph55 series, yes? ProphyloTronics closed the service window on that model three months ago. No more updates. No tech support. I told you to upgrade it while you had the chance.”
“Like I got that kinda mark lying around,” whined Gemini, sitting beside Doc’s consulting table and guiding the jittering arm into an inspection sling. “I know what you said, Doc, but I got bills to pay.”
Doc Farrah popped open a panel on Gemini’s bicep and winced at the flood of red diagnostic signals. “Huh. This is not just wear and tear.” They peered at Gemini through burning orange enhancement filters that lent them a stern feline look. “How have you been paying those bills, Gemini?”
Gemini looked out the window toward the docks, where gangs of metal-limbed workers divested the freight train cars of their loads, hooked the steel containers of processed ore up to cranes, and unhooked them aboard the decks of waiting cargo ships. It was honest work, if unbearably dull. “I’ve been getting odd jobs up at the Scrape, Doc. This and that.”
The Doc tapped their sensor probe at an indentation in Gemini’s wrist. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this and that resembled a bullet hole.”
“Some jobs are more that than this.” Gemini affected nonchalance, but knew she wasn’t fooling anyone. “Listen Doc, this is between you and me, right? Doctor-patient confidentiality?”
“Do you seriously think I’ve sworn a Hippocratic Oath?” The Doc sighed. “Okay, fine, I’ll do what I can. I can probably scare up a replacement inside a couple of weeks -”
Gemini yelped, “A couple of-? Doc, I need it today! If I don’t catch the chopper, I’ll -”
Doc Farrah raised their hand. “I said I’ll do what I can. I’ll hunt up a grey market firmware update to keep your Aleph55 going until the replacement arrives. You’ll be on the shuttle in an hour. Acceptable?”
“Thanks Doc, I knew I could count on you.”
The Doc started opening secure search frames on their worktab. “Sure, Gemini,” they said. “Remember this moment when I present my bill.”
At four a.m. two nights later, Doc Farrah’s comm woke them from a deep untroubled sleep. They streamed the call, not bothering to open their eyes. “Gemini?”
“Yeah, Doc, it’s me.”
“Why can’t I hear you properly?”
“Well, for one thing my comm’s encryption filters are strong enough to cause minor data degradation,” replied Gemini. “For another thing, there’s a lot of wind thirty storeys up and outside Gang Jin Tower.”
“Well, my arm is outside. The rest of me is focused on avoiding glass lacerations or falling out a window to my certain death.” Gemini took a long, heavy breath. “Doc, the arm’s worse than ever!”
Doc sat up in bed. “Start at the beginning.”
Gemini’s heist had begun so well.
The codes she’d extracted from the mining company’s servers got her past the delivery bays, the service elevators and the outer offices of Gang Jin Tower. Her arm’s processors had deployed the codes to the Gang Jin systems fifty times faster than manual typing. She’d entered Operations Executive Jianyu’s office two minutes ahead of schedule. Jianyu’s personal workpad had unlocked itself and begun uploading its juicy cargo of sensitive corporate data to the storage matrices in Gemini’s arm.
“Then suddenly it waved to throw me off balance, and when I staggered it punched out the window and stuck itself outside.”
“What’s it doing now?”
“Pointing straight up and emitting an encrypted signal pulse.”
“Ah,” said the Doc. “Sounds like it’s turned into a beacon.”
“Doc, it’s getting cold and I’m leaning on cracking glass. Got any ideas?”
Doc Farrah isolated the firmware download and hammered it with diagnostic applications. “Hmm. The bad news is this package conceals embedded override protocols activated by recognition of specific system markers.”
“Which means what?”
“They’re specifically designed to co-opt hardware and initiate a security response in order to protect the property of Gang Jin International Extractors.”
“Snitchware? In my arm?” Gemini groaned. “Jeez, Doc, what’s the good news?”
“I didn’t mention any good news.”
“Great. Doc, every time I try to pull my arm in, the fingers grab hold of the window frame. I can’t budge it. And I can hear sirens.”
“All right, listen to me if you want to avoid the Gang Jin detention centre. Around your bicep there’s a ring of circular inserts. Peel the cover off each and hold down the button underneath. Unlock all seven to dislodge your arm.”
“You want me to leave my arm behind?”
“You might as well,” yawned Doc. “The trade-in you’d get on second-hand cyber is practically criminal.”
Thanks to a series of unexpected expenses rolling over me with the sort of exquisite comedic escalation I’d never get away with in fiction, not to mention persistently hot weather, I’m altogether done with this week.
On the other hand, this week I also started work on the novel I’ve been procrastinating over since at least last August. There’s not much on paper yet, but it’s definitely underway. More news as events warrant, but I will say this: it’s a fantasy, and the word dragon does appear in the title. Adjust your expectations accordingly.