Last month we discussed how the vacuum played a big role in Manko's life since he lost his right leg. Soon he developed this idea further, beyond the mere notion of extensions into more abstract notions of what a vacuum is, as we saw in the earlier discussed works 'Zebra2' and his later work 'KM3'. The copyright issues made Manko feel betrayed by the old art regime that did not seem to know how to deal with virtual artworks. There would not be a lot of time to make art while dealing with the various pending court cases.
Then, one rainy day in November, Manko received an invitation at his Paris apartment from a mysterious person simply called 'O'. The invitation was printed on an ultra-thin sheet of paper that felt like it would crumble in his hands yet proved rather strong. At the top of it was an embossed red geometrical 'O' and it had a watermark on it of something that looked like a molecular structure. The invitation read as follows: "Dear Mr. Manko, Your artistic work has come to our attention and we would like you to consider joining our laboratory to work on an innovative project with us. We think you have the relevant mindset we need to complete our team. If you accept this invitation, please flush it down your toilet and we'll be in touch with you soon. Yours sincerely, 'O'."
Manko felt glad someone was interested in his works, but he was reluctant to find out who this 'O' was as he still had to round off his lawsuit with the Neurotopian Group, for which he would have to go to New York. There would be plenty of time to get into it when he would be be back in Paris. He left the French capital the next day and soon landed at JFK Airport. Time for a relaxing weekend in the Big Apple before going to court on Monday.
Yet when Manko went through Security Screening, some sniffer scanner went off and he was conducted into a private booth for further screening. Soon enough they found what triggered the alarm: it was the invitation from 'O', still in its envelope. Manko was left in the locked screening room as the security guard walked off to get his superior. Manko watched him through the window and became quite scared. He wondered what was so illegal about this piece of paper. If they would read the invitation and 'O' turned out to be a terrorist of some kind, he would be in real trouble. This would not benefit his trial on Monday at all. Manko despaired. In a moment of blind fear, he took the invitation out of the envelope, ripped it to shreds and flushed it down the toilet in the corner of the room. He quickly put a piece of paper with notes for a new artwork in the envelope and put it back on the small table, where the guard had left it.
In the end Manko was not surprised that security arrested him as soon as they figured out his quick document swap after checking security footage. Apparently the invitation contained some sort of chemical residue which was on a black list in the U.S. and Manko's behavior was more than suspect. Manko was quarantined at the airport as they searched the rest of his belongings, including his prosthesis. Three days later Manko was still in quarantine. He explained his situation, the upcoming trial and his panic because of this, that the invitation was merely an invitation from an unknown art collector and that he was just nervous. He told them everything, except the name of 'O'. They did not believe a word he said and Manko quietly cursed his fate.
That night, in his small cell, he could not fall asleep. Who was this 'O' that ruined his life? What was going to happen to him and his career? Suddenly there was a knock on the door and a second later the door to his cell opened. A young man which was obviously not a warden entered his room and gestured him to be silent and follow him. He helped Manko hop onto his one leg and together they left the empty quarantine building. There were no guards around anymore. This confused Manko yet he was glad to leave and the young man seemed to know exactly how to support a one legged person which instilled trust in Manko.
He was put into a car and within five minutes they were on the highway, heading off into the direction of Newark. The man introduced himself to Manko as Antoine Gill, assistant to Zero, who had sent the invitation. This confused Manko a great deal. Not only because he had thought it was the letter 'O' instead of Zero, but also because he had no clue as to how Zero found out about his latest whereabouts.
Antoine Gill explained everything in a calm and relaxed tone. The invite contained molecule-sized Nanobots that, once in an aqueous medium like the sewers, could swim back to a desired location. In this case the nanobots had docked at the nearest Nanostation in the sewers of New York. The small GPS transmitter in the envelope indicated Manko's location and from there it had been easy to retrieve him from his cell. Authorities did not have a clue about all of this as it was still largely unknown technology. Unfortunately the chemical agent to impregnate the paper with Nanobots and Manko's behavior had set off the alarms nonetheless. As long as they would avoid authorities they would be fine, they did not have much on Manko.
If Manko decided to get out of the car and leave Antoine he was free to go. If he would go to the authorities no one would believe his story though and he would have to start with explaining how security had been bribed to release him. There would be no traces leading to Zero. Their destination? Detroit, the abandoned city. This is where Zero had set up his secret underground laboratory no one bothered him doing his extensive Nanotechnology research. Gill was his most skilled employee, working at Zero's lab for three years now and he was also the proud creator of the Nano invitation.
They drove for twelve hours straight with only two stopovers. Manko slept most of the way. When they drove into Greater Detroit, Manko was quite shocked to see the desolate state it was in. Sure enough there were people living there still, but the old Motor City was a ghost of the past. Freshly mowed lawns in front of the old carcasses of buildings seemed to be the only control people had over this wasteland. Small churches had flourished as well, with street signs proclaiming God as the last ruler of this city.
Finally the car stopped in front of an abandoned power plant. A gate opened and they drove into a huge garage that only had three old cars in it. The garage door slammed shut and for a minute the car just stood there. Antoine Gill put his hand on Manko's shoulder, looked at him and smiled. Then the floor beneath the car started to move and slowly the car sank into the ground, down a deep, deep elevator shaft.
To be continued...