Mark and I are stuck sitting next to each other in the fishbowl conference room for the team’s morning meeting. Dina, our team leader, is coolly walking us through the objectives, outlining the latest issues with our company’s mobile reading platform, and surfacing daily priorities. She looks at me.
“Still working on the broken interface,” I say tiredly.
Dina nods and looks at Mark. “How about you?”
“Correcting Roger’s bad code from last week,” says Mark, “unless you want to do it, Roger.”
“My code is fine,” I say, “or it would have been if you’d followed best practices when you’d designed the interface, but no, you overpromised and had to copypasta in a bunch of bells and whistles, which don’t work. Now we’re going to miss our deadline — ”
“Copypasta!” Mark protests. “You think you’re better than me because you’re here all the time, but that’s only because you don’t have a life.”
Anger, shame, and a twisted sense of enjoyment wrestle in my chest. These fights with Mark have become highlights for me, rare reminders that I’m still alive and capable of feeling. I sneer at him, “You’re right, Mark. Since the car accident that took my arm and killed my fiancé, I just haven’t been living it up like I used to.”
“Quit the sympathy routine!” Mark says, still hot. “It’s been two years, and you were an ass before the accident.”
Dina sighs, “Let’s try to focus on our professional challenges, shall we? Natasha, how about you?”
Natasha starts talking, but I’m not paying attention. My right-hand, resting calmly on the conference room table, just autonomously balled into a fist. The microscopic servomotors in my shoulder and elbow swarm to life.
“Huh,” I say.
Then my arm lashes out hard enough to twist me in my chair. There’s a crack, and Mark falls to the floor, his body still as a bricked computer.
“Jesus, Roger!” Natasha screams. “Did you kill him? I knew you were angry, but — ”
“It wasn’t me!” I squawk. “I don’t know what’s happening.” I’m out of my chair now, standing against the glass wall. My coworkers are scrambling to the other side of the room like I just transformed into a honey badger.
The servos in my arm chitter again, and my fist snaps back into the glass behind me. The wall shudders and frosts over with micro-fractures.
Now my team is screaming in chorus — well, minus Mark.
“I can’t control it!” I yell, as my arm begins performing a Saturday Night Fever dance routine. “There must be something wrong with the neural interface.”
“Yeah,” Natasha seethes. “It started reading your mind.”
“Oh, come on!” I use my good hand to point at my possessed limb. “I hate John Travolta. And I’ve never hit anyone in my life!”
Mark is gurgling, crawling away from me. A crowd is gathering outside the fishbowl, drawn by the noise.
“Can’t you turn it off?” Dina pleads. Natasha has her cell phone out and trained on me. I realize she’s recording.
My arm has moved on from its 70s homage. Now it’s fist-pumping like a coked-out dance music enthusiast.
Mark manages to sit up against the far wall, his face swelling, his lower lip torn open, snot dangling from his fractured mandible. He does not look happy. Despite my fear, I fight back a smile
“There’s a switch,” I say, tugging at my jacket, “but I need to get my shirt off. It’s under a panel on the shoulder.”
That’s when Corey, the director of our division, comes in with a pair of security guards, his features steady as a surgeon delivering bad news.
He looks over the scene, trying to figure out where to begin, and settles on me for obvious reasons. “Roger, why are you doing a Nazi salute?”
“I don’t know! My arm is out of control. There’s a kill switch but — ” Suddenly, I feel my phone vibrate, pulsing with the rapid beats that indicate a malfunction in my prosthetic. I pull it out with my free hand and see a stream of texts covering the HD screen like bubbles of green slime.
“AL1 Y0 ARM IS B0L0NG T0 0S DRTYB0Y105. CLI$K HERE 2 BUY BAK: 10000$.”
I turn bright red. DrtyBoy105 is the FetLife name I’ve been using to chat with acrotomophiles in my more desperate hours. My limb begins gesturing in a correspondingly crude manner.
Corey walks over and looks at my phone, then up at me, his expression curious, before backing away toward the security guards. He straightens his tie. “Right. Well, there’s a lot going on here, but obviously, Roger’s been victimized by some Russian hackers.”
“Hacked? Really?” Dina says incredulously.
“How do we know they’re Russian?” Natasha asks, with annoyance.
Corey looks at Natasha and raises an eyebrow. “Because these days they’re always Russian. Now, Roger, go to the restroom and deactivate your arm. Dina, drive Mark to the hospital.”
The crowd in the hall parts as we emerge, Corey leading the way. They deposit me in the restroom. One of the guards says, “I’ll be out here. Yell if you need me.”
I get my shirt off, reach the kill switch, and hesitate. I’m thinking about the replacement waiting for me at home, stuffed in the closet behind abandoned tennis rackets, ski poles, and other artifacts. A simple piece of molded plastic. No extras.
That’s when it hits me. I know how the team can make its deadline — all we need to do is strip down the interface and push Mark’s buggy features into the next development cycle.
Mark isn’t going to like it, but then, he’s going to be out a while.
Now I’m smiling and crying like an idiot, because I can imagine what Karen would have said if she saw me like this, and I realize something that should have been obvious a long time ago.
When your only source of happiness is someone else’s misery, it’s time to reboot your life.
William Delman is the father of an energetic Zygon, an occasional denizen of Twitter (@DelmanWilliam), and a blue belt in Brazilian Jujitsu at Fenix BJJ West Peabody. He also writes fiction. Previous stories have appeared in The Arcanist, Little Blue Marble, NewMyths.com, Kzine, SciFan, Bastion, and other fine publications. New work is forthcoming from The Centropic Oracle, Mythic, Bete Noire, and Stupefying Stories. He resides in The Witch City, Salem, Massachusetts.