"Babe, time to get up," ordered Master. "Go out and fetch the package."
Secundus had heard the knock on the door but had chosen not to stir. It knew what this meant; the reviewer had arrived. As it carried over the package, Secundus reminded itself to be brave. Master had his own fears but had chosen not to abandon his servant at this dark time. It would not run. Instead it handed over the package and climbed up on the couch to join Master and await its fate.
Master began to open the package. He said, "Once I break the seal on the inner bag, we only have two minutes to position it over your eye. The device is set to recognize your retinal pattern and your voice. Hold your eye open until you hear it speak to you, then answer all prompts clearly."
Master opened the inner bag, placed the device on Secundus' head and aligned the eyepiece.
Before activating the reviewer, Master gently said, "Thank you for making this part easier this time, Babe. There is something you forgot to do last time. I need you to remember this."
Master bent his head close to Secundus' ear and told it the words to remember. He then sat back away from his servant and said, "I can't protect you from what's coming. Say what I told you, only after the final prompt is given, and you will never have to go through this again. I love you, Babe. He then sniffed back a tear and said, "Activate review, Secundus. Registration code fourteen, fourteen, eight, three, six, pop-top."
* * *
Bursts of light filled its vision. A female voice was heard, "Derrick Wentz, your sentence begins today. To stay the execution, you have agreed to be among the first volunteers for a new rehabilitation program. You will never again be a free man, but you've been granted the opportunity to continue living as a productive part of society."
Derrick was in a lab somewhere. Tubes and wires ran everywhere. He was strapped to a gurney. Other than the equipment surrounding him, Derrick was alone.
The voice continued, "You will be asked some questions. Anything but completely honest answers will only make it harder to find you a match. Do you understand?"
"Yeah. Get on with it." Derrick's voice, at once so familiar and so alien, reverberated in the room.
From the speaker, overhead, "During your trial, you claimed to have lost control when you strangled your father's girlfriend and set fire to the house. Are you prone to impulsive acts?"
"Imagine that, " said Derrick. "I lost it after my father met me for the first time; to kill my mom in front of me and my brother. Tough learning you're an orphan at eighteen; caring for a fifteen year-old brother."
"I'm sorry for your loss. Have you made any other decisions that most would consider impulsive?"
"Nothing off the top of my head." Secundus' voice now quietly echoed the words of Derrick Wentz. Derrick was returning.
The voice on the speaker replied, "What about when you and your brother walked straight into that crib with a pistol apiece and a bagful of pipe bombs? You two took out the top players and assumed control of the block, just like that. Tell me you thought that one through."
"OK, I might have forgotten that one other time."
The voice said, "This is only going to hurt your chances of getting what you want out of this. I get to go home tonight, no matter how badly you screw yourself. Honest answers.
"OK" said Derrick.
"Do you consider yourself loyal?"
Derrick said, "Never had anyone I looked up to, so no."
"If it were up to you, how would you live as a free man?" asked the voice.
Derrick said, "I’d like to live like the rich and powerful. Hang out with 'em and travel the world. I'd like to eat the food the rich eat, for the rest of my life. I've had enough of that crap I grew up on!"
"I can relate. Anything else?" asked the voice.
On a roll now, Derrick said, "I wanna live where it's warm. I wanna feel that warmth and appreciate that feeling, every day.
"Do you want to live there alone?
"No, some buddies would be alright. Better if some of those buddies were ladies."
The voice asked, "Do you prefer sex with women, or men? What do you like to do?"
"Bi, if I'm gonna be honest. I kinda like someone else taking charge; makes me feel smaller somehow. Sometimes it sucks to be the big, scary badass." Derrick chuckled in embarrassment.
The voice asked, "Are you tired of killing?"
Derrick took a deep breath before answering, "Yeah. . . been tired of it for a long time. Afraid I'll still do it, though. It's always come easy. It got me what I wanted quicker than any respectable way I could think of.
"Very useful information! Thank you, Derrick. If you were going to pledge your loyalty to one person, what would you want from that person in exchange?"
Derrick replied, "That person would have to trust me; treat me like I was worth something. He has to need me and know it."
"I'm more comfortable looking up to a guy. . . don't judge me."
"It's a perfectly valid answer, Derrick. Do I understand that you would give your loyalty to a man who loved you?"
"Sounds a little over-dramatic, but yeah."
The voice on the speaker went quiet for a while. Someone else within range of the open mic said, "I never thought we'd find a fit for that shell. I've never seen a match line up that close before. Look up the buyer sheet. Look what they paid for that thing; who'd of thought something like that could cost so much! These improvements aren't even on the open market yet. No wonder it’s only the second one ordered. Looks like we’ll get our sales bonus, this quarter. . . *more quietly,* oops, shit."
The voice came back, "Derrick, your new body is ready. It's been waiting for someone just like you. You are a near-perfect match.
"I'll tell you how this is going to go down: Because of your record and your own, recorded statements, you'll be formatted as a rider core. Once the shell transfer is completed, your new body will instinctively want to be near him and to serve him. His safety, happiness and well-being will be your only concern. Nothing will feel better to you than learning you just did something to make him feel good, to smile or laugh. The second closest feeling is when he touches you. If something you do, or fail to do causes your master any harm or distress; you'll feel like you've been gut-punched and you'll do anything to help him feel better. The directives we installed will be there to guide you and the fail-safe pathways will automatically route your destructive impulses into positive actions.
"In exchange for your servitude, you will get everything we talked about."
Derrick asked, "What the hell's a rider core?"
The voice on the speaker answered, "The core is you; everything you are, minus your body. A naked core can be stored for a little while, but it needs a shell to survive. Not every core is a good fit for every shell, so most buyers have their servant shells grown early and stored until a match is found."
"A rider core has limited access and limited control of the shell. You're being formatted as a rider core because we can't afford the lawsuit they would throw at us, if you killed your owner."
"So people who buy shells for themselves, they get a driver core format?" asked Derrick.
"Exactly," answered the voice.
"I heard enough to know the boss is rich. It's no secret that you need money to buy into this game. Why is he tucking me into that expensive toy of his? What's he think he's gonna get from me?"
"All matches are blind. Matches are determined through these neural and chemical tests we're performing and your verbal answers to our questions. What he's getting is a full-time personal valet, companion and confidant."
Derrick said, "I'd make a better bodyguard."
"That's not what he wants," replied the voice.
"What if he doesn't cover his end?"
"We'll schedule reviews every four years. If you don't have any complaints, you have the option to push them back for a while."
"Why would I push back a review?"asked Derrick.
A heavy sigh came through the speaker, before the voice said, "I'm going to be up front with you, Derrick. The reviews aren't to see if you've earned something better. That's never going to happen. They're to give you a chance to decide whether you want to end this and die, or keep doing what you're doing. Even though all your other rights are forfeit; by law, you have the right to decide whether your core lives or dies. Your match is so close. It'd be a shame not to take a chance on it."