Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)
Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.
Enzo van Gogh’s remaining eye stared at the ceiling as he lay in the bag. His other was blown out on the floor, pulled through the hole of shattered silicon by the bullet. Kiddo Volk watched him from the bed, displayed atop the gurney. She clutched the blanket on her shoulders, hoping he’d look her way.
“What you think?” asked first coroner at the end of the gurney. “Kernel panic?”
“For sure,” said the second at the front, clicking the gurney upright. “Guy blew a synthapse and went nuts.”
“I remember in Baja,” said the first moving to the side of the bag, “Cyber Ops hacked a Federale brothel and RC’d the Andie whores into killing a dozen politicians and top-brass hombres. Real nasty.”
They spoke like she wasn’t watching them seal up Enzo like a gas station sandwich. “And that’s why closed circuit is the way to go,” said the second pulling the gurney.
“Or buy a firewall,” said the first. “Guess this guy couldn’t afford it.”
Kiddo stared at the threshold after they left. Her peripherals were blurred, even the Copper’s snapping fingers by her face.
“Volk? Volk, come back to me.” The Copper stood with a notepad and pen in hand. He was in full beat cop attire; helmet, armor vest, and combi-pistol on his hip. The stiff gust of a sigh escaped his nostrils when Kiddo didn’t look away. “Is ‘at concussion playin’ with her head?” he asked the EMT dabbing the cut on her scalp.
“Not a concussion, Quincy,” she said. “Just a bad knock.”
“Well, she’s actin’ pretty out of it.”
“She’s in shock. I’d be if my boyfriend blew his brains out in front of me. Apply a delicate touch, I guess.”
The Copper made a grimace hidden by most of his asymmetric visor before going to one knee. He put the notepad on the floor and joined it with his helmet. The face beneath matched the accent, tanned skin creased in darker lines of wear and tear. His hazel eyes fit the brown crewcut ironed by the helmet. “Look at me, Kiddo.”
Her movement was robotic, head turning on a swivel until her slack face met his.
“Ain’t gonna pretend I know what you’re going through. Not my job. But ya need to gimme an idea of what happened. After he attacked you in the tub, what’d Enzo do between then and his death? A little somethin’ will do just fine. Are those little cuts on your face his too?”
Her jaw clenched and Kiddo blinked for the first time. “When can I bury him?”
“Afraid that’s not my department. If y’help me get to the bottom of this, we can turn over the body in no time. Just talk to me.”
Kiddo turned to the cops probing the apartment. They wore rubber coveralls and gloves, groups of two spread around. One team scraped Enzo’s brains and eye into an evidence bag. Another took pictures of white splatters by the tub and bed. Kiddo focused on a team going through her luggage. They bagged up clothes and the usual toiletries, the wads of money already gathered off to the side.
The Copper watched her stare before slumping his head and retrieving his helmet.“Dicks on their way?” he asked after clicking the vox unit wired into the collar of his vest. He stood after putting his face back on. “…Good. This one’s out of it. A little time in interrogation ought a’ do the trick.”
On the way to the station the EMT stabled Kiddo’s cut and covered it with a bandage. She sat in the little room of painted cinder block, a ceiling camera and two-way mirror her only company. The fluorescents had a low hum that was impossible to ignore in the compressed silence.
Kiddo watched her hands under the shadow of the table, the broken polymer exposing the pulleys underneath. They sat palms up, making slight involuntary movements with a low click of the fingers. They twitched at once with a flinch when the door finally opened.
Mitty Freeman didn’t look like a cop, but wore a cop’s desk-jockey uniform. It was a blue and white double-breasted shirt with featureless blue trousers. His last name was printed over his heart with corporal chevrons on the shoulders. Down his left arm “TECHNICAL” was stitched parallel to the sleeve in black on a white stripe.
The guy was sweating, his ebony forehead shiny before he wiped it dry. Mitty sat opposite and took his time. “…Enzo was a good guy… So much, it almost hurt. I remember this one time–“
“I want his body, Mitty.” The words came out indifferent. “I’m listed as next of kin. You can’t keep me from burying him.”
Mitty knew exactly what to say and wished he didn’t. “That’s why I’m here. This situation’s got everyone in my section and the higher-ups spooked. Company guys ’re on their way right now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Enzo wouldn’t ‘ve touched a hair on your head, Pink. He was remote hacked. The long-term drive was shredded, but the short-term told us the truth. You’re innocent, but what happened to him was impossible. Enzo was soul’d; a closed circuit Andie. You can’t hack one without a hard-wire link. We’re talking experimental tech.”
“So, when do I get the body?”
Mitty pinched the skin on the bridge of his nose. “Given the extraordinary circumstances behind this case, I have no idea. TalSec wants him here for exploratory analysis. It’ll be a month or two of deep-dive mining and autopsy. Maybe longer.” He could see it in her eyes she wanted to rip him apart. “And they wanna keep everything recovered at the scene in case this was caused by some external trigger or–“
The look on her face stopped him cold.
“Don’t you dare. I earned that money for us. For our future. It’s all I have left–“
“And it was found at a crime scene, under very, very strange circumstances,” he said with a loud whisper. “Look, I’m just the middle man, and guys off the payroll wanna empty their gats into your face. The detective working your case sent me in because she doesn’t wanna deal with ‘Gori trash’ as she put it. You’re outnumbered and the only way you’re gonna get what you want is to chill out.” He stood behind his chair after pushing it in. “I’ll try to speed this along, but the evidence will stay impounded until the analysts deem otherwise. We get it: that money’s yours and you’re not gonna lose a cent. They’ll uphold the law if you behave yourself. All you have to do is mourn. I know this ain’t any better with Cicero gone, but you have to manage.” Mitty made for the door. “Text me if you need someone to talk to.”
Kiddo’s isolation wasn’t so quiet like before. The air pumping out her nostrils was louder than her whining fists. She rocked in her seat, tears spilling over. She bent forward, her head resting on the edge of the steel table. A deep groan rumbled through clenched teeth as she pulled pink strands from her head.
It was harder to cry than she thought.
When the door opened Kiddo didn’t bother, staring at the tennis shoes she threw on before they took her in. The shadow under the table gave little respite from the fluorescents that felt like heaters.
“Did you know 5% of android/human couples end with the human killing their partner?” asked a voice. “5% is a big number when you consider there aren’t a lot of us out there. At least, the ones with consciousness.” Kiddo slowly peeked at an Andie in a suit by the door. She had a badge clipped to her belt and blonde hair held in a stiff pompadour. “Must feel rotten inside,” she went on. “Like there’s a hole in your chest that isn’t quite empty, but it’s opening wider and wider. I’m surprised you feel anything, punk.”
The Detective took the seat as Kiddo leaned back, eyes down. “Your rat Mitty and the tech boys might’ve found footage to prove your innocence, but I’m not convinced. There was enough cash in your luggage to buy the best data fixers to scrub a snuff film into a family friendly musical. You’re allowed to go home, but don’t think you’re off the hook, Volk. I’ll be looking into you closely and there’s no way you’re getting away with it. Not you or any of your crew.”
Silence again, the Detective looking at her with a smirk, expecting a snappy retort.
“…On our second date, he told me even when he was an un-soul’d secretary for some CEO, he remembered this painting called Starry Night in the back of the office. He loved the swirls of color in the sky, the stars made huge and bright against the darkness, and the tree in the foreground rising up like a crooked tower. He said it felt like he was alive, staring at it from his desk. Enzo loved the painting so much, he changed his hair and skin to match the colors, even took the last-name of the artist…” Kiddo wiped her cheeks on her hoodie sleeve. “I was also gonna take his name once I was pregnant. He let me pick baby names. I wanted a boy and call him Sasha after Dad. If we had a girl, Jae-un, after Mom. I know we could’ve paid to choose the sex, but I wanted to leave it up to chance like normal parents… And I wanted to have a son more than anything.”
Shame’s too small a word to describe what the Detective was feeling. She made sure it wasn’t written across her waxy features before the door burst open.
“You harrassin’ my witness, Pierce?” asked the Copper, still head to toe in armor.
The Detective put on her serious face and got to her feet. “Doing my job, Quincy. And she’s my witness. Your job’s done.”
“Lady was cleared half hour ago. Got a couple loose wires in that plastic head a’ yours?”
“I don’t have wires. I was grown in a tank.”
“Doesn’t matter to me. Wanna be a real person, I’m gonna treat ya like one.”
“And if you’re going to bring up my anatomy in a manner that isn’t complimentary, I’d be liable to take it up with IA again. Obviously the counseling didn’t stick.”
The Copper’s mouth curled into a sneer. “…She’s clear to go home. C’mon, Volk.”
Kiddo pushed herself off the table and kept her arms close as she stepped between the two. Once she was out the door the Copper followed, no doubt leaving the Detective with a mocking look shielded by his visor.
The hard stench of bleach clung to the floorboards. All that was left were faded blotches of white between the bed and tub. Dawn pierced the blinds, painting the apartment in blue stripes. The sinking of the bed under her ass was more than welcoming. The creaking springs told Kiddo to lie down, kick those old shoes off, and get the hours she missed.
But all she did was sit and look at the stain at her feet, a stripe of blue across her eyes. Her hand whined softly as she ran her palm along the back of her head. She couldn’t feel it, but the scrape of the shaven hair against the polymer told her it was smooth. On her right temple the sound was lower, the hair longer. Kiddo traded hands on the spot like she was putting a phone to her ear.
She took a long, deep breath, and looked into the blue across her eyes.
Tossing the money counter away Kiddo grabbed the handle of the strong box and slid it out of the crawlspace. Printed in white across the lid was ‘Mdl-C,’ followed by a white American flag without the stars.
A pair of black arm mods sat in foam inside. They were thicker than Kiddo’s and more realistic, like Flesh painted to look metal. They had a glossy finish, the light bending with the mods’ stout contours. The edges between the plates and joints were flush and the texture homogenous. Would’ve been hard to figure where a plate and joint began and ended without the seams. What made them un-cannier was a ring built in before the elbow on each forearm. They were gunmetal grey and etched with slanted grooves along the circumference. On the deltoid plate of the right another white flag was printed onto the steel and the ‘Mdl-C’ designator on the left.
Kiddo sat facing the box and took hold of her left bicep. With her thumb pressed into the armpit, the mod went limp and the clamps along the deltoid flipped up. The pins and links were still pulling themselves from Kiddo’s skin as she yanked it prematurely. Her groan turned to a shriek before she tossed the arm aside and replaced it with a Mdl-C. She bit her lower lip as the arm connected with an electric rumble.
When it synched, Kiddo brought the hand up and made a fist. The ring spun as she squeezed harder and a small red light on the wrist started blinking.
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scott
13 Assassins, Directed by Takashi Miike
Old Boy, Directed by Chan-wook Park
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan
About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.