Page 40
Machine Man

I made it to Lola’s table without crushing anything. “Hi,” I said. I was very happy to see her again. She was right: I had been at the lab too long. I had forgotten what it felt like to interact with people for the pleasure of it.

“Hi.” Her cheeks reddened. Cafe patrons were staring. “Have a seat.”

“I’m already in one.” I concentrated. The Contours settled; pistons retracted. This still left me towering above the table, but not as much.

Lola’s mouth formed an O. I felt proud, to have caused that O. “Did you… have any trouble getting here?”

“No. Well.” I reconsidered. “Actually, I almost killed some people. It’s the first time the Contours have been in a real-world environment. It’s highlighted a few issues.”


“This model leg I’m wearing. I have others.” Lola inhaled. “Well—when I say legs, I mean transports. Most are tracks. One is a kind of drill.”

“Why is one a kind—”

“I don’t know.” I laughed. I felt giddy. “The company gave me carte blanche and I got carried away.”

Lola’s eyes stopped on my fingers. I had meant to keep that hand out of sight. But I was nervous and it had started fiddling with a salt shaker. My index finger was curled around the shaker three times. It was made of rubber. Actually, it was a black hydrocarbon polymer over titanium, silicon, and more copper than you might expect. But to Lola, it would have looked like a long, flexible, black rubber sausage.

I put my hand back under the table. Lola looked at me through her eyelashes. When she spoke, her voice was low and throaty. “Charlie… what have you done to your fingers?”

“Well,” I said. “You know.”

“Show me.”

I glanced around, but the nearby customers had returned to their food, or pretended to. I placed my hand on the table.

Lola Banks sat rigid. She didn’t seem to be breathing. “Could you show me your legs?”

“Yes, of course. Come back to Better Future and I’ll show you the collection.” But I could see from her expression that this was not what she meant.

“Privately,” she said.


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