“Get up! GET UP! Goddamit… wait there and don’t move!”
An electric shock shot through the earpiece and into head of the man previously lying on the ground. He had shot up and started at a run knocking into someone.
“Get him!” the stricken man shouted regaining his footing. “Don’t let him get away!”
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” the running man screamed as he pounded down the laminated hallways.
“Don’t stop running!” the voice over his earpiece yelled egging him on. “Take a left!”
The running man plowed through a group of heavily armed men and burst through a set of doors into a boardroom.
The men in suits pushed back from the table in shock as the man, who suddenly realized he was naked, jumped onto the desk.
“The window!” the voice yelled. “Go out the window!”
Somewhere deep within the man’s scrambled mind, something told him not to jump. He hesitated, but voice cried out louder this time.
As he plunged out of the window, he caught a glimpse of a woman with short blonde hair. She looked at him through her dark sunglasses and pulled on a cigarette.
For a split second they were on the same level: she on a floor below the boardroom and he suspended in midair surrounded by sparkling glass.
The man hit the ground and the world went black.
His earpiece fizzled and popped, the voice still urging him to stand, but the man’s so-called life was over.
The newspapers were full of the incident at the Foundation building the next day, but an innocuous article caught the eye of Charlotte Allard as she flicked through her newsfeed.
A sexbot, for lack of a better term, had picked herself up at a local pawnshop and stumbled out into the streets. The owner’s security camera should have caught the whole thing on tape, but they had been bugged and the footage apparently erased.
The police had been called in to investigate, but the owner of the shop had a past. It wasn’t a case worth pursuing, at least for the boys in blue.
Charlotte rubbed her hands together trying to keep them warm in the small diner. The winters were getting longer and colder. Her breath fogged up her glasses obscuring the view of the screen before her eyes.
A plate of cold fries sat in front of her. They were soggy and thus inedible.
Wherever the robot had gone, she’d have to find her first before the police did.
Charlotte left and walked at a quicker pace through the underground path. At the entrance to the subway, she swiped her credit chit and loaded up some cash.
In the subway car, she tried to tune out the crowds. They swayed as the car rocketed through the tunnel.
Outside in the cold, the wind sliced through her open coat. Charlotte zipped up, brought up her red scarf up to her face and brought down a thick toque onto her head. It was a short walk to her destination, but winter made it feel quite a bit longer.
Her blue eyes scanned the outside of the pawnshop. The broken door had been sealed up with cardboard and duct tape. Through the window, she could see the owner sweeping up the glass on the floor.
The door chime jangled as she entered into the shop. A wall of warmth fell on her shoulders as she took off her winter gear. The owner smiled a toothy grin, gold glinted under his pencil-thin moustache.
“Something I can help you with, miss?” he asked, eyes scanning his new customer.
“Yeah,” Charlotte replied. “I read an article in the news about the robot. I’m with Spotter and wondered if you might be able to clarify a few things.”
“Spotter? Oh yeah, I know you guys. Helped my friend out of a jam once. Fact checkers aren’t you?”
Charlotte nodded and brought out a pad of paper. The shop owner’s raised his eyebrows and took up position behind the counter. It was a place of power for him.
“What time would you say the robot—“
“Sexbot picked herself—“
“Itself up and walked, or wait would you prefer the word stalked, snuck, freed, itself out of your shop?”
“Around eleven thirty, I saw everything on the monitor up in my apartment. The thing busted through the lock before it dove through the front window.”
He placed the crushed lock on the glass counter. Beneath the glass were several watches and some old video games. The time on all of the watches corresponded to when the robot woke itself up.
“Aren’t they torque restricted?” Charlotte asked. “I mean, a robot like that shouldn’t have enough strength to break something like a padlock.”
“That’s what I told the cops, people don’t exactly what a sexbot with a lot of strength, you know. But did they believe me? No, they asked me to show them the deed of ownership I had over it and the last maintenance report. Suffice to say it never had one, so now I’ve got a potential virus problem. Wiping their minds as we speak.”
Charlotte looked over to the locked cage at the end of the room. Robots of all shapes and sizes stood silently in the back. Each of them had a cable trailing from the back of their necks over to a small bank of laptops.
“How well are they maintained? Generally speaking, what condition do they come in?”
“Depends on the make and model. Most of these are from shut-ins who needed the dough to keep up with their other addictions. The one I lost was a rare example, a real piece of art. Breaks my heart.”
“I run a pawnshop, miss. I’m not a criminal mastermind. I give out loans, I take in cash, and I sell the occasional sexbot. Are we done here? Things are going to get busy soon.”
“Yeah, we’re done. Let me take down your information in case I have any followup questions.”
Charlotte left the pawnshop, but not before pulling on her winter clothes. Once outside, she pulled down her visor. In old detective movies, the robot probably would have left footprints in the snow, but she wasn’t that lucky.
According to what she had found out online, the make and model could run at least 12 hours without needing a recharge. It was more than just a consumer-grade model too.
Whoever was controlling it had picked the bot knowing what it was capable of doing. With the torque limiters released, a model like that could do some serious damage.
Charlotte’s hand gripped a high-voltage taser in her pocket. It could shut a bot down without any permanent damage. He hand gripped something else for other people.
You never knew these days
“Great, you managed to break her hand.”
The blonde woman peered at herself in the bathroom mirror. She was covered in a thick, woolen blanket. She looked down and gasped.
“How did I—“ she stammered.
“Get a hold of yourself,” the voice said over the earpiece. “We’ve got to get you to me in one piece, remember?”
She was blonde, beautiful, artificially so. Her flowing hair shone in the dimly lit room and she tried not to notice her proportions. She had green eyes too, which felt wrong.
“I—who are you?”
The voice sighed. “Rider,” she said. “You can call me Rider. Now I need you to stay calm and raise your other hand.”
The woman raised her hand and as she did the blanket fell onto the bathroom floor. She shrieked and covered her mouth.
“Why am I naked?”
“We hit a bit of a snag during the last contract and we had to abandon your former body,” Rider said patiently. “If nothing else at least you’re a looker. You should see me.”
“Why can’t I remember who I am?”
“That’s still something I’m working on,” Rider said. “Right now I need you to focus and fix your left hand.”
The woman looked at her left wrist to see it hanging skewed to the left. With her right hand, she grabbed it and gave it a careful twist. It popped back into the slot. She twisted her wrist and watched in horror as it rotated all the way around. Her fingers twitched and the connection was reestablished.
“Am I… a robot?”
“No,” Rider said voice laced with sarcasm. “What was your first clue?”
At the base of the woman’s hand was a silvery connection to the ball joint.
There was a little inscription on the metal. “L”, it read.
“Elle?” the woman said. “That’s my name.”
“It’s not, but we can use it for now,” Rider said. “Get your blanket back on, we have to leave before the bookstore owners start to get suspicious.”
Elle wrapped herself in the blanket and tried to whisk away some of the snow from her hair. She drew worried expressions from everyone in the small bookstore as she walked up the stairs and went to leave.
As she passed the front counter, the woman at the desk gently grabbed her by the arm.
“Are you ok, dear?” she asked.
“Yes,” Elle said at the behest of the voice in her head. “Yes, I’m ok.”
“Even a girl such as you shouldn’t be going out into the cold like that,” the woman said. “Not good for the joints. I have some spare clothes upstairs and if you’d like to take them you can be my guest.”
“I’d like that,” Elle said wincing as the voice screamed at her over the headset.
She returned to the counter in an oversized sweater with a cute cat on it and in a pair of faded blue jeans. She wore a blue bubble coat too, although she didn’t need it.
“Thank you,” Elle said looking at herself in a small mirror.
“You’re very welcome, dear.”
Elle left the bookshop and walked into the blizzard outside. It was strange that the cold didn’t seem to affect her. Everyone around her shielded their faces, but her eyes seem to deflect the snow.
“Welcome to life as a droid,” Rider said. “Head east, you’re almost to me.”
Elle stood outside the large condominium and looked up. Somewhere inside was Rider, the voice that had been speaking to her all this time.
“Go past the person at the desk, don’t even look at them and go to elevator three. On the 42nd floor, take a left to suite 425. Knock twice, I’ll let you in.”
Elle followed the instructions to the letter, but couldn’t help but smile at the friendly looking deskman. Outside of the condo, she knocked twice and the door slid open.
The inside of the apartment was completely dark, the shades having been drawn.
“Hello?” Elle called out. “Rider, are you there?”
Elle ventured in deeper and turned a corner into a larger room. A bank of computers flickered in the dark. A large illuminated vat glowed behind the pc towers. Inside was a little mass of something.
She got closer and saw that it was a brain. It was hooked up to all kinds of circuitry and little bubbles kept it afloat in the tank.
“Hey,” Rider said out of a speaker. “See what I mean?”
Elle fainted, although she didn’t realize that her batteries had actually run out.
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To: Chapter 2