morning, two beefy gray-jumpsuited men are in the break-room, prying a
hand-truck under the vending machine.
morning…?” I run my fingers through my hair, unsure why I find this development
unsettling. The taller man grunts. The other leans the hand-truck forward and sighs.
A patch on his jumpsuit reads Jones – his name, or the vending company's.
sir. Taking this machine out. Contract expired.” Jones speaks politely.
One Baby Ruth bar dangles from the center spiral. “Can I get that?”
Guess they’ll install sumpin’ else. Willie, plug it back in.” Willie grunts
again, forcing the prongs into the outlet; the machine blinks briefly and whirs
to life. I fumble in my wallet for two singles to put into the machine, but the
candy drops before I manage.
sir. We took the change out.” Jones shuffles awkwardly, expecting rebuttal.
fine.” I salute with the candy bar in hand. “Thanks, gentlemen.”
sniffles and unplugs the vending machine; cord in one hand, he steadies the
metal box while Jones leans back the hand-truck. They ease the machine into the
hallway - there’s a shiny liquid trail on the floor behind them.
leaking,” I call out, but they roll toward the elevator. I throw paper towels
on the floor and push them with my shoe until the potential hazard is
reasonably absorbed. Now there’s a pile of wet paper I’d rather not touch.
into the lab, I start unwrapping the Baby Ruth, but suddenly I stop. Stop unwrapping, stop walking, stop breathing. In the cracked and dripping glass of
ProTAI’s vault, my reflection is apoplectic, slack-jawed.