A blinding orange glow bounced across the surface of a gently lapping sea. A couple shuffled barefoot through the sand, arms around each other, a diamond glistening on her left hand. Traffic zipped by on the esplanade above and behind them.
Jim Bradley rolled over, spreading his arms around something in the empty other half of his bed.
A road train huffed down the highway perpendicular to the beach, approaching a T-junction. The driver fluttered his eyelids. He'd been driving since dawn of the same day, knowing his load had to be in by 8pm if he wanted to keep his job. He drummed his fingers on the wheel, reaching for the stereo with his other hand. Johnny Cash's voice grew louder as the truck's lights swept over the water. The trucker toed his brakes. His prime mover snaked around the bend, and the first trailer trundled behind him. The second trailer skidded, and it's connector groaned in protest.
Jim curled into a ball, wrapping the blanket around himself, shuddering.
The couple on the beach halted in their tracks, and both turned to look as the trucker lost control of his vehicle. A shipping container tumbled off the trailer and down the bank as the truck jacknifed. "Go!" the man yelled, scooping up his bride-to-be. He took no more than two steps before he knew he wouldn't make it. His face reddened as every component of his body became focused on what he was about to do. His upper body twisted with tremendous effort, and he released his precious cargo, flinging her away from the bank. Overbalancing, he collapsed to the ground. The dark red hunk of metal was the next thing he saw. There was a yelp of pain from his lips, but it was drowned out by the horrendous thud of the container landing in the sand, trapping his legs underneath. He thought he heard a scream, but there was no way to be sure.
Jim sat bolt upright, still shaking, beads of perspiration covering his body. He stared for a few moments at a photo on his bedside table, before clambering to the window. He threw open the curtain, and drew a deep breath of the fresh morning air.
"Jim, I need a word with you." The next day a woman poked her head through the door to Jim's office, before entering fully. "You were one of our best systems engineers, until about three months ago. Your performance at work has been getting worse and worse the past few weeks. Correct me if I'm way off the mark here, but my gut feeling is that it's because of Ruth. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Emily..." Jim looked up, his eyes meeting those of his boss. He was silent a moment before continuing. "It's been nine months now, they said I'd be ok after three or four. I'm sorry, but I need a few more. If I can just have until Christmas, I promise you I'll be more productive, faster, smarter, stronger and better than I ever was before."
The woman placed a hand on his shoulder, and drew a slow breath. "You're on probation. I'm giving you three months. If you're not back on track by Christmas, it will most likely mean your job."
It was Sunday morning, two months later. A figured hunched over a work bench in a back room. There was no light in the room bar the glow of a CRT monitor reflected in his bloodshot eyes. His face was unshaven, his hair unkempt. It was Jim, he'd been there since sundown Friday, ignorant of time. Night after night and weekend after weekend, he'd disappeared here, withdrawing further and further from society. For the first two months after the accident, he'd gone along with the psychologists, trying to believe he had done everything within his power. They were right, he'd done everything within his power and it wasn't enough. He would limp for the rest of his life, and Ruth would be dead. She'd slipped from him in the ambulance on the way to the hospital that night. Slowly the understanding overcame him. Countless hours and several thousand lines of prolog sat between there and where he was now.
"Jonas Bradley," Jim spoke slowly and clearly, with a strange deliberation, "You don't understand how important this is, but you have to be successful." It was the first words uttered in the room for nearly a day.
Jim responded a moment later. Wait, Jim's voice, but his lips weren't moving. "Jim, I'm sorry. I understand, and I will give it everything I've got." The voice came from just behind him, and Jim jumped. His fingers ceased their movements on his keyboard, and he craned his neck to look behind him. His jaw dropped as he looked into what could have been a mirror. "I'm sorry, Jim, did I scare you?" Still Jim was speechless.
"Amazing," he finally blurted, shaking his head. His company's most advanced and one of the world's most advanced artificial intelligence systems coupled with possibly the most convincing android body ever constructed formed a replica of himself indistinguishable from the original. "Jonas, you are far far superior than I could ever be. Not only are your body components superhuman, without feelings, you can't be hurt emotionally."
It was two weeks later, two weeks before Christmas, when Emily again perched herself on the corner of Jim's desk. "I want you to know that I'm happier for you than I am for the company. The change I've seen in you over the past week is just incredible."
The occupant of the desk opened their mouth to reply, but whatever they tried to say was lost in the commotion of the next few seconds. The building shook with the force of an explosion. Evacuation alarms sounded as the building began to fill with noxious gas and smoke. Mass panic began to take hold as people scurried to and fro, most heading for the nearest exits.
The figure of Mr Bradley waded through debris of the severely damaged building. The fuselage of an airliner protruded through the mess. How and why it got to be there was still rather uncertain. An arm was just visible under the front of the plane. Spotting it, Bradley bent down for a closer look. A mop of light brown curls hung awkwardly beside the arm, showing no signs of attempts to move. "Dennis?" Bradley yelled, "You alive, mate?" With a swift motion, his shoe plunged into the skin of the aircraft. It was withdrawn a moment later, and again and again smashed through the metal like a reciprocating saw. It was the work of several minutes to clear a section large enough to access the man who may or may not have even still been alive. It was nearly ten minutes later, the building now a complete write-off, that Bradley emerged from the ground floor, fireman carrying the unresponsive Dennis.
"Jim, I should thank you for saving my life." Dennis, still in intensive care after three days, reached a hand blindly and uncertainly towards Bradley, standing next to his bed. The two had worked extensively together, and gotten to be quite close at one point, but slowly drifted apart, especially from Jim's increasing reclusiveness. "There's one thing I don't get though... The last thing I remember was the ceiling collapsing, and what I took to be a huge gas cylinder cracking me on the skull. They tell me you got me out from underneath a jumbo. Come on man, how did you do it?" The other occupant of the room hesitated, unsure of how to answer.
The body of Jim Bradley was never found.
Apparently this story is psychotic enough to qualify for The 2010 Halloween Horrorquest
, but it was not written for that and was based around an actual project under development.