Final installment: FRIEND *Serial Sci-Fi*

***FRIEND begins here***   This morning, two beefy gray-jumpsuited men are in the break-room, prying a hand-truck under the vending machine.

“Good 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.

“G’morning, sir. Taking this machine out. Contract expired.” Jones speaks politely.

“Contract?” One Baby Ruth bar dangles from the center spiral. “Can I get that?”

“Sure. 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.

“Sorry, sir. We took the change out.” Jones shuffles awkwardly, expecting rebuttal.

“I’m fine.” I salute with the candy bar in hand. “Thanks, gentlemen.”

Willie 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.

“It’s 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.

Strolling 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.

You already know.

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