See Single-day project, part 1 for the first part of this story.
As usual, when the uplink terminated at the end of the day, the first thing I heard was the shriek of data noise in my head. I looked at my surroundings. It was nighttime, and I was alone sitting on a park bench in a neighborhood I didn’t recognize. I was still wearing the printed clothes I’d received that morning—a tight white T-shirt with DAD printed in block letters on the left breast and a pair of equally snug dark shorts. My entire body was drenched in sweat, which made my clothes cling to my skin. I was also holding a leash, with a golden retriever sitting obediently at my feet at the other end.
That’s weird, I thought. If the project is over, why do I still have this dog?
True to the confidentiality agreement I’d signed earlier that day, I had absolutely zero memories of the nature of the single-day project, or even anything I’d done that day. As the data noise quieted down inside my head, I waited for confirmation that Synaptica had processed my payment and the post-assignment instructions for how to arrange transportation home.
But they didn’t arrive. My uplink was silent. I reached down and petted the dog whose leash I held and waited another few minutes. Still nothing. Finally, I decided it was time to figure out where I was and how to get home, but something strange happened when I tried to stand up.
My body wouldn’t comply. I could turn my head, move my arms, and even wiggle my toes inside the white sneakers I was wearing, but when I tried to get off the bench, it was like my body just… refused.
The golden retriever nuzzled the back of my calves, which failed to calm my rising panic. The data noise had finally stopped, but I felt differently than I usually did after these kinds of projects. I didn’t know how to describe it—almost like a fog in my mind. A data fog. Something was clearly wrong.
“Hey, dad!” an unfamiliar voice called from somewhere behind me. The dog got up and barked a few times, tugging at the leash. I held it firmly, which was all I could do in my immobile state.
“Hey, dad!” the voice called again, closer this time. A moment later, I felt a hand clap on my shoulder.
“What happened, dad? You left to walk the dog over an hour ago.”
I let my gaze follow the hand on my shoulder, up past a muscled arm, and finally to two handsome, smiling faces. They both looked about thirty, barely ten years my junior. I’d never seen these men before, and them calling me “dad” made my head swim. Even more disorienting was what happened next.
“I think I malfunctioned, Son,” I said in a voice that wasn’t mine. My shocked expression was gone, and I felt my facial muscles pull into a slight smile. “I can’t get up off this bench. Could you boys please check my uplink connection?”
One of the strangers came around the bench and took the leash out of my hands while the other disappeared behind me. I felt a pair of fingers tap against the uplink node, and once again, all my thoughts were momentarily drowned out by data noise.
My posture corrected itself. My legs spread apart, and my chest and belly stuck out. I was smiling even wider now.
I wanted to say, Get the fuck away from me. This was supposed to just be a single-day project for Synaptica. Call ThinkCorp customer service. But I was trapped, a passenger in my own body. As the data noise faded once again, I looked at both of my Sons and spoke words that would have sent a chill down my spine if not for the node’s control over me.
“I am re-establishing the uplink,” I said.
A rush of data forced itself into my head, settling in alongside all my existing memories. I knew exactly who these two men were now. Eric and Dan were not my Sons. They weren’t even brothers. They were a couple who’d engaged Synaptica to help them act out a long-held fantasy they both shared, and the “single-day project” I’d agreed to contained an option to extend—an option they’d chosen to exercise.
“Uplink re-established, Sons.”
“Great,” Eric said with a sly look in Dan’s direction. “Let’s get you back home. You’ve still got all those chores to do before bedtime.”
“Aye aye!” I said with an enthusiasm I neither possessed nor controlled and gave my “Sons” a playful salute.
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