Dave and Becky scanned the busy, sun-drenched coffee shop patio. They had shared a laugh on the drive over about the fact that neither of them had any idea what the person they were meeting looked like. He had simply assured them that they would know him when they saw him. Searching the crowd for a single patron amongst the crowded tables, Becky tugged at Dave’s sleeve when she spotted a bald man in aviator sunglasses sitting bolt upright in a metal chair. He was sitting well away from the crowd, all alone but for the unleashed golden retriever laying next to his table. He was wearing a silver jumpsuit with reflectors all over it.

It had to be him.

The couple approached with polite smiles and outstretched hands.

“You must be Markus,” Dave hazarded. “I’m Dave DeFonso, and this is my wife, Becky.”

The man did not answer. Nor did he flinch. He just sat there still as a statue. A fly landed on his nose, stayed a few seconds, and then buzzed off with no reaction from its host.

“Uh, are you okay,” Dave asked, furrowing his brow. “You are Markus, right? The real estate agent?”

“Affirmative,” came the belated response. “This is Markus Ruhl, real estate agent with EKG Properties.”

The man spoke in an odd, detached monotone. His mouth moved mechanically, emphasizing each syllable. The rest of him remained preternaturally still.

Dave furrowed his brow even deeper. He was one of those affable types whose face seemed to be made of silly putty, every thought conveyed by a telltale dimple or wrinkle. Becky had always teased him about being the Shar Pei she always wanted as a girl.

“Jinx,” Becky whispered, understanding the look and giving him a good-natured jab to the shoulder to show they were on the same page.

“Alrighty then,” Dave said with a raised eyebrow and sideways glance at his wife.

Fuck if I know, her shrugged response implied.

“Greetings,” the man continued. “It is a pleasure to meet you, potential residential real estate clients.”

He raised and extended his gloved hand towards Dave, who took it. The man gave one formal shake, released Dave’s hand, and repeated the ritual with Becky.

“Right, greetings and salutations,” Dave played along, raising a palm in mock salute. “Nanu Nanu!”

Becky shoulder checked him, silently imploring her overgrown manchild of a husband to behave. If the agent took any offense to the joke at his expense, he didn’t show it. His deeply tanned face remained expressionless; his eyes a mystery behind those absurd shades. Even the dog at his side sat motionless but for shallow, rhythmic panting as it cooled itself against the midday heat. The agent couldn’t have chosen a more exposed table.

“We want to buy a house,” Becky blurted, taking the initiative to prevent Dave from embarrassing her further. “We just moved here from Seattle in the fall, and apartment life just isn’t for us. Can you help us?”

“Affirmative,” the agent replied.

“Great,” Becky exclaimed, sweeping her long brown hair off the back of her neck and over a slender shoulder. Dave would have a fit, but she had already made the decision to chop it all off in advance of summer. It didn’t play well with the desert heat.

“Your website mentioned something about a commission rebate that you apply towards all of our closing costs? Is that for real?”


“That’s incredible,” Becky marveled. “Can I ask why you do that?”

“Markus Ruhl is a protoype,” the agent answered, shifting his body ever so slightly to escape the shade of Dave’s notable shadow as the couple sat in the chairs opposite him. “He is still in beta testing. Volunteers receive compensation for utilizing Markus Ruhl’s services and providing real time feedback on his performance via the proprietary app you were prompted to download. It is very important to Markus Ruhl that he provides you with five star service.”

“Prototype,” Dave interjected, the crevasses in his forehead threatening to swallow his face whole. “Prototype of what?”

“Markus Ruhl is the first neurochipped real estate agent in the history of human existence,” the agent responded.

“Okay, now you sound like a Realtor,” Dave chuckled,

“Did you say … neurochipped,” Becky interrupted. “Like there’s a microchip in your brain?”

“Affirmative, Markus Ruhl is the first human recipient of this ground-breaking technology from Zillia Home Corp,” the agent droned. “Patent pending.”

“So that’s why you were so specific about us turning our phones off for this meeting,” Becky concluded. “Like signal interference or something?”

“Affirmative,” Markus Ruhl answered. “Interference … or something.”

“So how does this technology work,” Becky asked.

“Markus Ruhl is currently connected to the MLS,” the agent answered. “Tell him your property needs.”

“No way,” Dave replied. “Okay, we need three bedrooms, two baths, with a two car garage and a pool for under six hundred thousand.”

“There are sixty seven active listings within a five mile radius of this location that fit your property requirements,” the agent immediately answered. “Correction. Sixty six. The home at one four two two East Tucker Way has been updated to ‘Sale Pending’ status as of one point three seconds ago.”

Again, the agent shifted his body to follow the sun.

“We need to be in a good school district,” Becky added, touching the imperceptible bump in her abdomen.

“There are forty six active listings in districts classified with ‘excelling’ schools,” the agent announced.

“With an open floor plan, and no busy streets,” Dave said.

“There are thirty one active listings that indicate a ‘great room’ concept,” the agent updated. “There are eighteen active listings that do not abut major thoroughfares.”

Becky and Dave shared a look, then turned back to Markus Ruhl.

“Big yard,” they said in unison.

“There are six active listings on parcels with a minimum of one half acre,” the agent responded.

“When can we see them,” Becky pleaded, suddenly eager.

“Markus Ruhl has scheduled all showings with the automated service,” the agent replied. “The first appointment begins in precisely fourteen minutes.”

“Hot damn,” Dave exclaimed, jumping out of his chair. “I could get used to this!”

“What are we seeing first,” Becky inquired, standing to join her husband.

“Property one is located at eight one seven five North Oakshore Drive. It is listed for five hundred ninety five thousand dollars, and has been on the market for seventy nine days. The current owners are Donald and Maisel Levin. They have three children: Samantha, Davis, and Aidan. Ages five, eight, and sixteen. Donald is a software engineer with Trixeo Industries. Donald has recently accepted a promotion and transfer to Dallas, and scheduled movers for March nineteenth at eight AM. The Levins purchased the home for four hundred thirty thousand dollars on May third, two thousand nineteen, and currently owe three hundred seventy two thousand dollars and eighteen cents on their mortgage. Markus Ruhl estimates that this property is worth five hundred eighty one thousand dollars and fifty two cents, but there is a ninety two point four percent chance that the Levins will accept an offer of five hundred fifty seven thousand.”

The couple stared at the agent with mouths agape.

“Please, demonstrate your satisfaction with Markus Ruhl by giving him a five star rating at the conclusion of this appointment,” the agent commanded.

“Markus Ruhl requires thirty seven more seconds of charging,” the agent then stated. “Please, do not obstruct the ultraviolet radiation.”

Dave stepped out of the way of the sun.

“That thing in your head runs on solar?”

“Affirmative,” Markus responded.

Half a minute later, a faint series of beeps indicated charging was complete. The agent stood, as did the dog laying next to him.

“He is very well behaved,” Becky noted, gesturing at the golden.

Both the agent and the dog just stared off into the distance in response, the only sound coming from a nearby patron answering her phone.

Was that smoke coming out of his ears?

“Um, should we get going then,” she asked, disconcerted.

Still there was no response.

Finally, both the agent and the dog seemed to jolt awake and turn their attention to Becky.

“Apologies,” the agent said. “A staff member of this establishment was using the microwave.”

“I was just saying your dog seems highly in tune with you,” Becky said. “You’ve got this whole mind-meld thing going on.”

“Markus Ruhl is connected to his companion animal via neurolink,” the agent told her. “Markus Ruhl was the first human test subject for this technology. Perseus was the first canine subject.”

“So they moved on to humans once it was found safe and effective in dogs,” Becky asked.

“Negative,” the agent corrected. “Perseus received his implant once it was determined safe and effective in Markus Ruhl.”

Dave guffawed.

“Sounds about right,” he laughed. “Realtors, first. Then dogs, and then people.”

Becky hit him again, harder this time.

“Markus Ruhl is ready,” the agent informed. “Are Dave and Becky DeFonso?”

“Ready,” Dave agreed, rubbing his shoulder as Becky nodded.

The group began walking towards the parking lot. Becky couldn’t help but notice how the agent went to great lengths to avoid coming close to other pedestrians. He gave a wide berth to every person they passed, as did the golden.

Out of nowhere, a biker crossed in front of them. His cell phone made an ungodly screeching sound as he nearly collided with the agent, sending the biker crashing into a parked car. People came running from every direction to help. As the crowd surrounded them, one cell phone joined in the screeching, then another. Soon enough, it sounded like the emergency broadcast warning had taken over the PA system at a Spinal Tap concert.

A man grabbed his chest and fell to his knees.

“What’s happening,” Becky screamed.

“Pacemaker … or something,” Markus Ruhl answered in the same monotone.

Dave grabbed them both around the shoulders and pulled them away from the chaos. A cacophony of car alarms erupted across the parking lot. Upon reaching his Tesla, it started itself and drove into oncoming traffic. Squealing brakes, followed by the sickening crunch of heavy metal as a massive pileup ensued.

“Road hazard reported,” Markus Ruhl announced. “First appointment rescheduled to twelve forty five pm.”

A flock of flying birds fell at their feet.

The air itself crackled with electricity, and smelled of scorched circuitry. Police sirens warbled to life in the distance.

Dave and Becky took off running, the golden retriever joyfully pursuing them before bounding off to chase a squirrel up a tree.

“Recalculating,” Markus Ruhl called out, matter of factly.

The couple turned to look back to see the agent turning in tight circles.

“Recalculating,” he repeated, over and over again.

Becky pulled the phone out of her pocket as they ran. Once it powered on, she opened the Zillia app. Encouraged for a review of Markus Ruhl’s service, she highlighted one star.

The agent’s head promptly exploded, coating a twenty foot radius in a red mist.

Becky shrieked. They kept running.

When they could no longer run, they walked in silence for what felt like hours. When they could no longer walk, they sat down on the street curb.

“Jesus,” Dave breathed, running a hand through his shaggy hair. “Who knew Blade Runner was a fucking documentary?”

“I can’t stop shaking,” Becky answered. “I’m ready to get off of this planet.”

Dave held her for a long moment.

Eventually, Becky remembered the phone in her hand and opened her Uber app.

Prompted to enter a destination, Becky turned to Dave.

“Did you happen to catch the address of that first place,” she asked.

Dave turned his palms up and shrugged in response.

Her phone screeched in her hand.

“Eight one seven five North Oakshore Drive,” a new voice said just behind them, followed by shallow, rhythmic panting.


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