Martine sat uneasily in her chair as a moth fluttered around, trapped in her florescent clear body. Martine would listen to it's humming as it drew closer to the glowing light bulb situated near her furiously pumping heart. One of Arthur's inventions, keeping his wife alive.
The darkness fell quickly on the city outside Martine's window. Decayed and depraved gray buildings that lined up beside each other for as far as the eye could see. Martine never went out of her apartment. She only sat at her window and watched the world go by. Watching blue-pink spheres rotate in the sky, leaving a gray film over the city. The poisonous gas in the air would shatter her clear plastic body, if Martine would step outside, others, without a gas mask, would turn into a lump blackened flesh as if they had been in an oven.
She would sketch the happenings out there, people walking along the sidewalk, to their jobs, back to their homes. Children playing in the streets, or going off to school. It was a way to try to forget all their troubles, especially the bills.
Arthur came home.
Martine was glad to see him. She ran to Arthur and hugged him. He took off his gas mask and threw it in the corner of the small one room house. He stood there, gently shut the door as he put his arms around her. She looked up smiling at him. Arthur kissed the top of her head.
“What have you been doing all day, then?” He went to the kitchen table with her hanging on to his arms. He sat down, tossed his duffel bag on the bed that was only a few inches from the table.
“Just drawing,” Martine said. She sat next to him. “How was your day?” She handed him her sketch book.
“It's always the same at the factory, Martine,” Arthur thumbed through the pages quickly until he came across a picture he liked. He laughed. “Mrs. Quran and her awful kids. This is a real good one.”
The sketch was more of a caricature than a resemblance. It showed a large woman with three heads, one smiling at a man on street, one crying, another with large teeth biting at her children.
“What did you make today?” Martine asked. She went to the stove and stirred a brown liquid that bubbled to the top of the rusted pot. She returned to the table, placed the pot in front of Arthur. She sat down, her eyes transfixed on him.
“It's the same everyday, darling. Creating the perfect flower and planting it to restore oxygen to the atmosphere here in our city.” No. That wasn't what he was making. He was mass producing the Police cameras, a robotic EYE.
“Eat,” Martine touched his hand.
“Are you having any?” Arthur took the metal spoon and scooped some of the brown goo out. He put it to his lips and cringed. With eyes closed, holding his breath, Arthur swallowed the only nourishment the Uppers allowed his people to have.
“No,” She shook her head. “I ate yesterday. I'll be fine for the rest of the week.”
It was true that brown muck was made from a wheat germ grown inside the testicle of a pig, which itself is grown in laboratory; has all the requirements a human body needs to survive.
Arthur ate the entire pot, immediately he felt his stomach ache. He ran to the bathroom. Just a room with a non-working commode, a cracked mirror, and a rusted sink. He sat on the commode just in time.
There was a knock at the door. Martine answered it, precariously. Standing in the doorway was a tall, thin man in a black trench coat and a gas mask, which was surgically attached to his face.
She screamed and slammed the door shut. Martine ran to the bed and crawled underneath the cot. There was the sound of continuous rapping. A voice calling out Arthur's last name. Martine was shaking. She closed her eyes and wished the situation would disappear.
She felt hands on her. She was being pulled from under the cot. She opened her eyes and saw Arthur. She threw her arms around his neck, sobbing loudly.
“I'm sorry,” Martine said.
“It's okay.” Arthur whispered. “You didn't know who it was.”
“I just thought it was one of the neighbors...Mrs. Quaran. or her kids.”
“Mr. Hope...you owe the City Corporation four thousand crowns,” The voice was computerized with no human touch involved at all. “Pay or face the consequences.”
Bill collectors were Automated beings. Once activated, you either pay what you owed, or everything inside the building is destroyed. You can not argue your way out of the situation. But, they can not come inside the building unless invited in or acknowledged.
Martine acknowledged it.
Now the second faze has been activated. It will find entrance at all cost.
They heard it on the roof of the building. Footsteps echoed, the ceiling bowed. Tile and dust fell upon Martine and Arthur's heads. Arthur was not going to be a sitting duck. He left Martine and went to the window to see if the lights from the Police vehicle the Bill collector had rode in was still shining.
Martine rolled back under the cot. She closed her eyes, still wishing it would all disappear.
Arthur slipped on his gas mask. He put on his bomber jacket and took a screwdriver with him. Outside, the sky was a velvet cover no stars could enter. The only light the city was allowed outside was the EYE, a Police vehicle that a huge silver ball-shape with long spider-like legs and a camera attached that could see up to a thousand miles from it's resting place.
Arthur approached the EYE, it lowered a it's gun, it's target was set. An automated voice sounded off a warning. Arthur ignored it.
Arthur fell to the ground on his stomach, just as the EYE fired a green beam from it's gun. The beam just barely missed Arthur. He rolled left, another beam shot past his face. It burned a larger hole in the city street than the first. Arthur was still holding his screwdriver in his right hand. He placed the point of the screwdriver into a crevice between the the ball and the legs.
As soon as Arthur could feel electricity move from the EYE to his fingertips, he dropped the screwdriver and rolled from underneath the machine. Blue and pink sparks covered the EYE, an electrical prism had been born.
The EYE crumbled from the lack of stability. It's front leg fell to the asphalt, wires still attached to it's now exposed hardware, a circuit board going haywire.
Arthur watched the machine fall apart completely, dust and rubble enveloping it. Soon the human Police will arrive. An entire army. He will be shot on sight. But who will take care of Martine?
Then he remembered Martine. He remembered the Bill collector. He remembered
the danger she was in.
He ran inside the house, or what was left of it inside. The table was obliterated as well as the bed, where he left Martine. Large holes in the walls , sharing the outside world, poisonous gas and the red glow from other Police EYES swarming the night skies.
There, in the middle of a mattress turned to pulp, was what was left of Martine's body...pieces of her...her clear plastic chest cracked wide open....her internal organ lay disconnected from her circuit board.....the light bulb that was once beside her beating heart, now in shards next to her along with remnants of dust from the Atom ball. She had a peaceful smile on her partial face.
From behind him he heard the Bill collector's voice. “Paid in full—or suffer the consequences....” The Bill collector held in both open hands the particles from the personal Atom ball he'd just cracked open.
Arthur was motionless. Stunned. Only his hands shook, his mouth was left gaping, a tiny gurgle meant as a scream rose from his dry throat.
A moth fluttered by Arthur, momentarily taking his eyes from the Bill collector.
The moth flew to the Bill collector and disappeared into a tiny crack on the left side of his gas mask. He flinched, began waving his arms desperately. The Atom particles fell to his trench coat and immediately blew him apart. A small mushroom cloud formed from detached body.
The moth flew from his gas mask and fluttered around Arthur's face. He opened up a hand. It gently fell on the palm, crawled to the end of his index finger. He brought it up to his gas mask. It crawled around until it found a slight opening on the right side, eased itself inside.
Arthur heard it whisper his name and he knew it was Martine's voice.