Standing behind the red line, Eric watched the next person step forward.
The man looked pale, his complexion was waxy, glossy. As he made nervous small talk, Eric waved a scanner over his face, three different sensors briefly flickered red.
“Mr Carter? This way, please.” He took him out of the queue and led him into a side room. Eric kept his office neat, black desk, grey walls. There was something about simple reduction that seemed to thoroughly unnerve people.
Carter was stuttering now. “Are my- my papers right? In order? I completed all of the evaluations, I think. I- I always miss something. It’s- it’s terrible, I know…”
Eric sat and listened. He’d mastered the dull, inattentive face. Don’t engage them. Don’t let them control the conversation, but let them fill the silence.
When Carter stopped speaking, Eric studied him. “What is your business on Mercury?”
Carter smiled, but the corner of his lips twitched fractionally. It was all about fractions.
“I’ve a job- I’m applying for a job, at one of the factories.”
Slowly, Eric looked down at his pad and called up some details. “You worked for Chrome-co?”
Carter laughed, an unsuitable reaction. “Yes, well, briefly. You know…”
“No, I don’t.”
“I was just staff. I had a desk job.”
Eric caught his gaze. Held it. “Lot of androids pass through there. They make contacts, get skin jobs.”
Carter nodded. “I heard that.”
“You ever see any?”
He looked offended. “No, course not. Kept well away.”
“You never met a Ruster?”
Carter paused, unsure how to respond.
“I… don’t agree with that term. Sorry.”
“If you don’t agree with it, what are you apologizing for?”
Carter looked upset, or tried to. “It’s just- I just- just…”
“Creepy mockingdroids. Trying to be better than they are. You never socialized with any of them? Never had one bugging out next to you while it tried to process how many times you blinked? I mean, there always comes a point they freak you out, am I right?”
Carter stepped forward, Eric quickly put up his hand. “Please step away from the desk, Sir.”
“I just- there’s a position for me there- I just want a chance to start somewhere fresh. It’s not been easy- I’ve not- I’ve not had it easy.”
Eric sighed. “You’ve never done this before, have you?”
“Passed as human?”
Carter blinked rapidly, too rapidly, he hadn’t got the art down. “I don’t know what-”
“You insult us both, you know that?”
The room was small, one thin fluorescent light hummed above them. Carter looked blank, like whatever he’d been running on till now had just given out.
It was “life” in the grinder for passing as human. Slow disassembly, invasive deprogramming. A hard wipe to dissolve any memories that had been cultivated. No appeals, no case to plead.
“You were hoping to assimilate. Best way to get by, right?”
Carter slumped. “The flesh riots were so long ago…” He was staring down at his reflection in the dark desk. “Lost so many friends since then, thought some might be on Mercury, waiting…”
Eric tutted. “You need to adjust, your mannerisms are off. Dial it back ten percent. You need to watch the stuttering, and whatever program you’re using for sweat, it’s overkill.” He stamped the ledger in front of him.
“Go to departure lounge ten.”
Carter looked stunned, almost. “Why would you-”
Eric smiled disarmingly, it’d taken him some time to get it right. “Like I say, assimilation’s best.”
Barry Charman is a writer living in North London. He has been published in various magazines, including Ambit, Firewords Quarterly, Mothership Zeta and Popshot. He has had poems published online and in print, most recently in Gyroscope Review and The Linnet’s Wings. He has a blog at http://barrycharman.blogspot.co.uk/