Written for a short story competition for The Guardian.
He spent his last £30 on a plate of oysters and a glass of champagne. There were several representatives in attendance from DrakerCorp and Jackson wasn't about to be outdone by Charlie Finch. The oysters were disgusting. He had never tasted them before and champagne was on his list of no-no's from the doctor. Ever since the heart scare, he'd taken his time when it came to quaffing alcohol. The pains still came and went, but he was too stubborn to tell Lucia. She'd only worry more about him.
Jackson gulped one oyster after another, washing down the sludge in his throat with the bubbles of champagne. Scanning the room, he smiled nervously. Making sure somebody from DrakerCorp saw him eating and drinking his last hope.
Charlie Finch laughed as he stood over the interns whom he ordered to clean up the spilled lobster bisque. Turning back to the conversation, he caught Jackson's eye from across the hall and winked. He then interrupted a woman in his group. He had to be heard.
‘It's fine’, Jackson thought. I have the best idea in the hall and Charlie Finch can't take that away from me. The winning pitch would receive the highest funding. It also included advertising placements on this world and up to five off world locations. Jackson salivated at the thought. He could pay off the bank loan, the credit cards and most importantly the Receiver. The latest loan from the Receiver was for eleven thousand pounds. This was to pay for the micro-nuclear engine, integral to his pitch.
Jackson stood nervously finishing his glass of champagne. As he brought it to rest on the frosted table top, he noticed her. ‘How could she find me? Where did she get a pass to get into this hall?’ he thought. Unna was a type-7 prototype that he helped design three years ago in 2022. She was a security bot and a love model designed for off world locations. If she recognized him, and she would, it would mean the end of his pitch to DrakerCorp. He needed to activate his Dna Rearrangement Theme quickly. He was sure Unna wouldn’t be up to date on recent DRT patches. The last time he made a DRT switch, Lucia needed to identify his body in the morgue. It was an expensive DRT and it took him weeks to recover in the rented reconstruction chamber at the hospital.
Unna vanished as quickly as she had appeared but Jackson hadn’t noticed, as he was preparing the pitch. Going over the speech cues in his head, he visualized Charlie Finch handing him the prize money. He felt a slight murmur in his stomach and shrugged it off as just nerves. A sharp pain shot through his side and he violently bent himself in half. This wasn’t nerves. He needed a bathroom right away. Thumbing the lock screen on the prototype, it slowly raised the protective shield around itself, he dashed towards the men’s room. The smell of hairspray and sour urine hung in the air. Jackson didn’t notice, but he had entered the ladies bathroom. He burst into a cubicle and began to expel the contents of his rattling bowels. He was sweating now. The voices raised in disgust from the other cubicles and began to leave the bathroom. The smell was unbearable.
He heard a sharp click of the locking bathroom door. That was when Unna began to speak. The sweet longing in her voice, which he never admitted to missing. Unna opened the cubicle door and Jackson sat in silence, still sweating. ‘Jackson, you know I can’t let you pitch this idea?’ He shuddered as he looked up to face her. She stepped into the cubicle and closed the red door behind her. There was a huge applause coming from the pitching hall. They were getting ready to introduce the first candidate. No doubt Charlie Finch would be front row center. Jackson started to get up, but Unna pushed him back onto the bowl, grinning at the mess he’d made. She pulled the DRT from his wrist and in one motion snapped his neck. He lay limp against the dripping bowl. Unna began the DRT process then stood naked over Jackson’s body. She could see her reflection in the paper holder. Jackson Sand. You handsome bastard.