Red-Handed

“And this is where the magic happens.” Nicole swiped her access card and a green light illuminated, accompanied by a friendly electronic chirp. The locks clunked and she pulled the heavy, windowless door open to reveal the heart of operations—or the minds, rather—for Collective Intelligence Corp. She smiled brightly—she had the straight white teeth of a toothpaste advertisement—and reminded them, “Please no pictures inside the Mind Farm; and, obviously, don’t touch anything.”

Vince and Andre nodded and followed her in. The Mind Farm was six stories underground for protection against ground-level radiation and for easier cooling, though it was still warm and especially humid inside. The room looked like a cross between a storage warehouse and a clean room; functional, minimalistic, and impressive. Hundreds of spotlit pedestals held glimmering gems that seemed to faintly glow and hum. Nicole continued with the sales tour.

“Our advanced, patented synthesis methods produce each module one atom at a time, which gives us the precision to build not just artificial minds, but intelligent lattices with a millionfold increase in processing power and speed compared to their human counterparts, and with a thousand times the density. They’re structurally what we’ve termed hyper-sapphires. We sell processing time in blocks of as little as 30 seconds, which is roughly equivalent to dedicating a fulltime employee to the task for an entire year, so it’s easy to see that in a business such as yours there’s an obvious value proposition—”

A junior sales associate popped in through the entry door. “I’m sorry,” he said. He looked a little pale. “Nicole, can we borrow you for a quick minute?”

Vince saw her shoot daggers through the guy for just an instant before she recomposed herself. She apologized and promised to return promptly. Vince and Andre were alone in the Mind Farm.

“Hey, Vince…” Andre looked like a corn kernel waiting to pop. He rocked up onto his toes and back again.

“What?”

Andre motioned around with his eyes. “There aren’t any cameras in here.”

“Okay,” Vince said impatiently. “So what? Out with it.”

“Think we could get a free sample?”

“Are you crazy?! If we got caught—”

“What if we didn’t?” Andre interjected. He walked over to the closest pedestal, eyeing the gleaming mind module perch on top.

“I don’t know,” Vince started, but Andre swooped and cupped his hands around the object in one quick motion. There was a loud hissing noise and Andre pulled his hands back with a scream. They were dark and smoke came off of them like pan seared chicken. The module, disturbed, toppled off the pedestal and dented the floor with spiderwebbing cracks stretching from the impact site—it must be incredibly heavy.

The associate ran back in to check on the commotion, and his previously pale face turned two shades lighter. It was as if the color drained even from his eyes. He turned and ran back down the hallway calling for security. Andre buried his hands between his thighs and whimpered, but Vince was present enough to panic.

“You have to tell them you tripped, understand? Here, let me untie your shoe, quick! Jesus Christ, you are such an idiot!”

Meanwhile, the unseen cameras kept recording.

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