Observe the man - the human male - as he proceeds along the street. A nondescript human, dressed, perhaps, a little outwith the norms of his society and currently under the influence of their drug ethanol. GABA and NMDA receptor systems in his brain are disrupted and his mood is perhaps slightly elevated, his balance and propioception impaired. He is not 'drunk', as they say - though he would not legally be able to steer one of their 'cars', at least not in this city - but he is observably under the effect of the drug. Despite which, as can be seen, he is quite capable of walking upright - such an entertaining habit - and of making decisions all by himself.
If not always the right ones.
It had been a hard day - but a good evening - and I was definitely a bit wobbly when I finally left the Grapes and headed up Kings Street for home. It was also clear that I'd left my departure late enough that a number of the "girls" were already out working the streets ahead. Well, hey, we all got to live ... but I could do without the hassle, I thought, and sort of veered away into a short cut, down by the cathedral.
Actually, it was quite a nice walk on a nice evening ... the minster itself imposing and gothic under its floodlighting, the lane pleasantly bordered by hedges on both sides, the houses opposite the church set far back behind long gardens. I thought I should do this more often - enjoying the birds and what I thought was a bat fluttering by - cut through an almost rural spot in the middle of a big city.
In fact, I'd almost forgotten that I was in the city. Which made it a bit of a shame that the city hadn't forgotten me.
Correctly predicting the actions of human-level species is a useful talent, They tell me, but the novelty pales after a while. I saw this male make his turn, observed his preoccupation with the local fauna, observed the other males ahead of him move silently - by their standards - behind some decorative foliage plants.
Sub sets of my persona issued the instructions that began to power up the relevant technology, a slow process of tens of nanoseconds, and observed my existing human guest ... who seemed preoccupied with the video link I'd set up for her earlier. I let her sit for a while, human sexuality being an abiding interest of mine ... and there was time enough to inform her later. So I settled down to wait, watching the inevitable unfold before me.
Just as I came out of the cathedral close, my ankle encountered something - a stick, a pole, maybe another leg, whatever - and I crashed to the ground, nose and forehead impacting on the pavement. I felt blood begin to flow, began vaguely trying to stand up only to suffer an immediate, very sharp pain in my back.
Caused, I realised, by a knee pushing forcefully into it. This was not good, I felt, not being the least surprised when a voice growled in my ear that there was a knife involved and that it would be a good idea to give my anonymous assailant my "shit". Which pissed me off, to be honest, so I did a basic breakaway manoeuvre, thrusting back with my thighs and twisting, throwing the guy off me in the process. I'd managed to half turn towards him when I saw a second guy, swinging a knife, hard, down towards my head.
Oh fuck, I thought, that's not a knife, that's a bloody machete. And then everything went very, very white...
I was pleasantly dozing in front of the screen, half watching a senior politician having terribly inept sex with someone else's wife, when the chime that told me the Wisdom wanted me to know something rang through the room. Its sonorous, androgynous voice immediately following:
'Just to let you know, Zara ... I think we're about to have a visitor. Prospect 14 has just run into a spot of bother. Thought you ought to know'
This was Wisdom speak for "I'm not actually going to do anything about this, so suggest you deal with it." For a fairly omniscient, hereabouts omnipresent alien Intelligence she/he/it can be bloody annoying at times.
Nonethless, I killed the feed - did Senator whatever really think she'd like him doing that? - and called up instead the Prospect List, found the details of #14 ... a guy we'd been monitoring for some time, a possible recruit but not someone immediately slated for advancement ... or kidnap, if you prefer. I dragged myself to my feet, looked around for some clothes - probably best not to greet the poor man completely naked - and, while doing so, the further chime that told me he'd actually arrived sounded. Oh, well ... I hoped he had the sense to Read The Wall.
Anyway, I hate being around when they throw up.
When the whiteness faded, leaving no retinal after images, I noted, I was left lying in the dark on something quite soft. There didn't seem to be any sign of my recent attacker, which was good. Instead, I felt like I'd been through a mangle, and just about every part of my body screamed at me in pain. I also felt extremely nauseous and spent a moment or two distributing the contents of my stomach around the place. Strangely, this reassured me. I had no belief in an after life - and had never taken descriptions of near death experiences as any guide to the likely sensations involved in actually dying - but somehow being violently sick didn't seem to be high on the list of probabilities. Also, too, pain usually relied on a working nervous system ... and consciousness on a working brain. So, given that I was in pain and appeared to be thinking quite logically, it seemed that I wasn't dead.
Where I was, I saw as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, was in a medium sized room lying on a padded rubberish floor, head and shoulders braced against an equally padded wall. Illumination came from no very clear source but nonetheless things were definitely becoming brighter. I tried sitting up and as I did so the padding beneath and behind me ... deflated. Which is to say, both wall and floor became smooth and firm - if still soft to the touch - with no sign of their previous bulk. Equally, I noticed, there was no sign of my vomit ... a pint or four of Kelham Island brewery's finest having disappeared entirely by the looks of it. Very strange, I thought, as the light became bright enough for me to notice that one wall now bore a message.
"You're not dead. You're not dreaming. You are safe."
OK, I thought ... taken on face value, that should be reassuring, though the intellectual leap involved in doing the taking was ... challenging. I had been going home in a big city beside a very big cathedral, someone had jumped me with a big knife ... Now I was in an empty room - with no visible windows or doors, my subconscious chipped in - which had until recently been quite liberally padded ... reading a message on a wall. I began to pull myself together, check things worked - things like arms, legs, that sort of stuff - then sat up properly. A quick check on my face revealed no sign of my having been hit with a machete - though to be honest I thought I'd probably have noticed that without having to poke around in the hole - and also no sign of my nose or forehead having recently collided with the pavement. The nausea, too, had passed and the general bodywide ache was subsiding quite quickly.
It was all very strange, I thought. Bloody weird, to be precise. But there was probably a logical explanation.
I just hoped I'd find out what it was.
So #14 was with us. One Xavier McDonald - interesting genetic lineage for his culture, a scientist by the standards of his world and apparently blessed with an unusually logical mind ... for a human, obviously ... given his current thinking.
Oh well - we were stuck with him for a while - and he was stuck with us - so I started the basic house keeping routines that would keep him healthy for the duration. Healthier, I thought, as the nanobots began to repair a puffy liver, tar corroded lungs, the usual maladies of one of his type, than any basic human had ever been.
.... There is more of this story ...