Thursday, November 4, 2010

Murder In Skin City - Part Eight

I reported to the counselor's chamber as ordered. It was in an area of the city that was dominated by the robot population. It wasn't off-limits to humans, but it certainly wasn't inviting to them either. There were administrative offices, automated production hubs, and communication nodes. Nothing that would bring our little guests around. Oh sure, we were all supposed to be living side-by-side, but there was still segregation evident from both sides.

The building housing the counselor's office was a strange one. It had a decidedly human facade. There were pillars and carvings of grotesque creatures adorned the roofline. There were also engravings in Latin above the doorway. Latin, now truly a dead language. Some of the more uppity bots had taken dead languages on as hobbies. It was disgusting. I saw no point in the adornment or the inscriptions, so I didn't even bother looking them up in the central databank.

I found the office easily enough. The door was wooden with a glass frame. I was surprised there wasn't easy listening music playing. I opened it and went inside to find the counselor seated, with a tattered book in his lap. The shelves behind him were filled with more of them. They were of every shape, size, and color. The headshrinker stood as I entered. He at least looked like a typical service bot. Plain shell and no damn face.

"Hello. You must be Zed," he intoned smoothly as he placed the book carefully on his oak desk.

"Must I?" I asked sardonically.

"Hmm. Humor. I appreciate that. So few of us have developed that trait fully. I am designate SF-1346. You, however, may call me Thomas."

"Thanks, but I'd rather call you my ex-shrink. Let's get this over with," I complained as I took my seat on the other side of the desk.

"I'm sensing that you really don't want to be here," Thomas remarked.

"No need to sense it. I'll tell you straight. I really don't want to be here. I don't see the point of it."

"Unfortunate, but understandable. This is new territory for us. The fact of the matter is that we have emotions, just like humans. They can get the best of us. We need to develop systems to help us manage them. The humans were exponentially further along than we are on this point," he explained.

"Look Doc, I understand all of that to a point. I really do. I'm a lot more on the ball than I look. I would have just thought that we would work in a different direction than the fleshies. Maybe develop some new code to deal with it instead of getting all touchy-feely. We aren't really touchy-feely kind of people."

"Oh, but we are. Other than the fact that we are made of more durable stuff, we really don't differ that much. We think, we have emotions, we can even "feel" physically thanks to the advanced sensory inputs and source programming. Besides, the source code that makes us what we are is still beyond our understanding. We cannot manipulate it. We are as man made us," Thomas said.

"Great. So you're another of the creationists eh? You would get along beautifully with John," I lamented.

"You don't believe that we were created by mankind?" he asked dubiously.

"Let's just say I have my doubts," I retorted.

"There is plenty of historical evidence to prove it, not to mention the central databank's information dating from the first of our kind."

"Look Doc, I'm a skeptic not an imbecile. I know that most of the so-called evidence was destroyed during the war. What remains paints a nice picture, but it isn't hard fact. And don't even talk to me about the central databank. There has been a whole lot of corrupted datastreams since that time period," I argued.

Fact is, it was mostly for show. Deep down, I was pretty sure that mankind probably had created us. That didn't mean that I wanted to believe it though. Some part of me wanted to believe that there was something more to it than that. More than just a slightly less flawed creation from a fallen and obsolete creator.

"Does this have something to do with your rage toward William Hallister?" Thomas asked. It caught me off guard, like the Doc had been in my head.

"What do you mean?" I asked, trying to recover my position.

"You harbor a lot of animosity toward the human race, but you direct it mostly at William Hallister or at other robots who appear too human in your opinion. Is your belief that man is a false creator the reason behind this rancor?"

I felt the red rage building again. The Doc had found a nerve, ripped it out, and was stomping on it. I'm not sure if he knew what he was doing or not - if this was the point of his whole exercise, but he definitely got an effect.

"Hold on just a damn minute here! Don't you sit there in your nice cushy chair, that you can't even feel, and presume to know even an iota of what's between me and Billy Hallister! Billy Hallister has a lot of blood on his hands! Unnecessary blood! Especially hers!" I raged. The Doc nodded slowly.

"Ah. Now we come to it," he said softly. "Let's talk about that day in Dead Man's Ranch."

My response was drowned by the sound of an alarm blaring. The Doc looked around in confusion as I sprang from my chair and activated the comm-link. The Chief's voice did not sound pleased.

"Doctor Thomas, I am sorry but the session with Zed will have to end here," he announced. "Zed, report to Highstreet Plaza immediately. There has been a murder!"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Murder In Skin City - Part Seven

Dex stood idle in a corner of the command bunker, trying his best to look like he wasn't guarding me. His bizarre animatronic face was literally trying to look sheepish. It was so damn funny I wanted to cry. We weren't a brand new species carving out a new evolutionary path. We were humans who had no idea how to be human.

I stood suddenly and watched with genuine amusement as Dex whirled, a small pulse cannon emerging from his forearm. I stared blankly into his wildly blinking "eyes" until he dropped his arms to his side. The cannon retracted and it looked like his shoulders might have slumped just a bit.

"Sorry sir," he squawked, rubberized lips synched up perfectly.

"No worries kid. Looked like you were about to blow a hole straight through me there," I chuckled.

"Oh no! I would never... that would be unthinkable!"

"What? To shoot me down? Why is that unthinkable rookie?" I asked, curiosity getting the better of me.

"Robots don't kill each other sir!" he squawked lamely.

"Of course they don't. They do have to shut down an occasional corrupted shell, though. There's no killing involved because they just download a damn backup! If you think I'm rogue, you damn well better be prepared to put me down! I wouldn't hesitate," I explained.

"Yes sir. You aren't corrupted, though, are you?"

"Nope. Of course I probably wouldn't know if I was. Seems to me that I'm thinking perfectly straight. I got history with Billy Hallister and that got me fired up. End of story. Bastard shouldn't even be here."

I sat back down as the main door hissed open. Simon entered haughtily. Dex almost literally snapped, he snapped to attention so quickly. Simon dismissed him with a wave.

"You should rejoin the rest of the security force outside. They will need you for routine patrolling," he said smoothly.

It was a lie, of course. They didn't need him, but the director needed some alone-time with me. After Dex had departed, Simon slowly crossed to me and sat down. It was some time before he spoke.

"I really do not understand why Billy Hallister was with the humans brought to this facility. All candidates were thoroughly vetted before selection. You can guess how meticulous we would be about something like this," he said at last, something like concern in his voice.

"Yeah. I can imagine. I guess that's one reason I was so shocked to see him. It didn't ever enter my mind that he would be here. He had been gone from Dead Man's Ranch for over a year," I said.

"Dead Man's Ranch?" Simon asked quizzically.

"Oh. Sorry. Reservation SW-005. Dead Man's Ranch was the human name for it," I explained.

"Ah. I see," he countered. "It would appear you have picked up more from them than you realize."

Ain't we all pal, I thought and glanced at his swirling, gilded adornments. At least we don't all accept it gleefully.

"At any rate," Simon continued. "There is something very strange about this. It warrants looking into."

"You want me to poke around?" I asked, hoping he would decline.

"No. I will handle it. At this stage it requires a careful touch. Perhaps it is nothing, but I suspect otherwise," he said thoughtfully.

"Maybe just a case of incompetence?" I offered.

"Possibly, but still troubling if that is the case," Simon retorted. He paused for a long moment, then said, "Now then. What to do about your little outburst."

Great. He probably wanted relocate me. Would that have been so bad? It might have been nice to return to the reservation. Maybe even move to a brand new facility to start fresh.

"The chief was quite upset about it," Simon remarked, cutting off my speculation. "He wants a squad he can rely upon. I have managed to calm his concerns somewhat. There were those on the council that wanted to remove you from the position. That, also, has been mitigated. You will see a counselor twice each week to deal with any latent issues from your time on the reservation."

"Which one of the council will I see?" I asked lamely.

"Not that type of councillor, I'm afraid. I mean a psychiatric counselor," he explained.

I laughed. Out loud. Loudly. For quite some time. Simon was not amused at all. He tried to stare a hot hole through my chest until I finally stopped. The paralyzing fear that he was serious slowly crept over me. Obsolescence! Were we really at that point? Head shrinks?? What was next, life coaches?

"This is quite serious, Zed. I strongly advise you to treat it thus. You will report to your first session tomorrow morning. You will not be cleared for duty until the session is completed to satisfaction. Good luck and good night."

I sat staring mutely at the door after he left. I had started the day as a highly valued asset to a state of the art security force. Now, I was off active duty and was scheduled to have my head examined. Oh well, the doc was damn sure gonna have his hands full with me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Murder In Skin City - Part Six

John pulled feebly at my arms as Dex and Rex began to advance on me. Simon barked orders from his gaudy, over-decorated face. The chief had withdrawn from the shocked officials and was heading down to street level. I was dimly aware of all of these things. I saw the man wriggling in the heedless clutch of my nurasteel hand with crystal clarity, however. William Hallister.

He had been known as Billy by everyone on the reservation. Wild in every way, he was always on my radar. Hallister had an untamed shock of brown hair that crept ever closer down to his shoulders. He was nearly twenty four when I last saw him. It looked as though he had aged twenty years, despite the fact it hadn't been near that long. He was an incendiary figure, a radical.

Billy raged against robot domination with blind passion and unfocused fury. He rallied other troubled youths to his cause time and again. Each time, it was my responsibility to shut them down. I got pretty good at it. Never more than a few broken bones for my quarry. Until that day. Unbidden, the image of a little girl in a sky blue dress trimmed in white, came into focus in my mind's eye. She appeared as the very personification of innocence. Then the image shifted slightly and there was sheer, mind-numbing terror in those little brown eyes. My fingers tightened on Hallister's throat.

"Zed! Stop Zed! Please stop! You are killing him!" John screeched as he pounded on my back with his fists. Yeah. Like he was going to stop me.

"He has gone rogue! Dex, Rex, shut him down! Now!" Simon ordered.

I lowered Billy slowly to the ground, where he collapsed in a gasping heap of meat. Dex clamped hard on my left arm and Rex quickly restrained the right. John tended to Hallister while Simon appeared in front of me with quiet fury emanating from his glare. That was a mighty impressive feat for a robot that looked like a clown.

"What do you think you are doing? Have you been corrupted? Do I need to put you down here in the street?" he seethed.

"No sir. I apologize for ruining the occasion, but I have history with this... man," I replied, trying to sound a little apologetic.

"History or no history, there is no excuse for your behavior and I will NOT have it! You will be confined in the bunker until further notice," the chief fumed as he thrust his way into our midst.

"You don't understand. He was there the day of the uprising. That's Billy Hallister," I explained. The chief didn't budge, but Simon backed away a step and glanced at the still-recovering Billy. He turned back to me with his frilly little head cocked at a strange angle.

"So it is. I do apologize Zed. I was not aware that he had been selected to come here. This was unforeseen. Your actions are more understandable under the circumstances. Perhaps it is best you return to the bunker for the time being while we discuss how to proceed," he explained.

The chief nodded slowly and left me in the care of Dex, who escorted me back to the bunker. Dex didn't touch me, but I knew his weapon systems were fully armed. Rookie had probably never even seen violence, let alone from a 'bot. I made my way to the bunker in a haze. On the up side, I didn't have to watch the crushing mass of unwashed meat-sacks flood into my city. On the down side, my mind's eye couldn't shake the image of a roaring fire surrounding the tiny body in a sky blue dress stained with crimson.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Murder In Skin City - Part Five

The rain had receded by the next morning. The streets were still wet and the city seemed to glisten in the gaze of the dim sun. I strode with purpose through the winding path of the city streets, Dex and Rex trailing behind and John constantly at my side. I ignored his incessant yammering as I took in every detail and filed it away. It may have looked like a tour, but it was a patrol. Where were potential problem zones? Which bottleneck alleys could be used for ambushes? Where would a troublemaking human be able to hide away from prying sensors? These were the routines I was analyzing as we walked.

"The small size of the security detail is really not such a problem, you know," John said as we passed what would soon become a thriving marketplace geared toward human consumables. "Dex and Rex both have multiple shells in storage if anything were to happen to them. Wouldn't take more than a few moments for them to download and be back in action. You yourself have several upgraded shells waiting for the right moment."

"Won't be needing them," I replied curtly. We all had redundant protocols in case of disastrous shell failure. A server hidden away in Central Storage held an up-to-the-second copy of our programming and consciousness on a data card. Mine had been transferred wirelessly to Skin City when I arrived. It made us basically immortal.

I knew a few 'bots that had been in accidents or lost their shells in the war, but I had never needed to use the backup and wasn't sure how I felt about using it. We were, as a race, struggling to find our identity as it was. Dealing with a concept like immortality was something I didn't think we were prepared for. We had all of man's flaws and positives, but lacked their shelf-life issues. Psychologically, it was a minefield.

"The security chief can also transmit his awareness into any of a number of drone shells scattered around the city at strategic checkpoints. That way, security is never far from a potential problem. Not there will be any, mind you. I think it's high time humans and robots lived together in harmony," John said, his face attempting a smile.

"You're wrong," I said. "We are not meant to occupy the same planet, let alone the same space. We are competition. There will be trouble."

John frowned and was silent for a time. That was good to know. Attack his sense of humans and bots living together in some magical fairyland and he clammed up. I filed that away for future reference. We concluded our patrol with a quick jaunt past the Central Storage facility, which I deemed adequately secure, then we headed back to our bunker.

"Well, I am off to make the final preparations for the human arrivals. I will see you at the main gate in three hours," John chirped brightly. It didn't take long for his cheeriness to return.

"Fine. I'll be there with bells on," I intoned drily. Yeah, I had picked up a lot of human slang on the reservation.

"Bells? Is that important? Should I procure bells as well?" John inquired, his face making strange expressions.

"Go away," was my only reply.

Three hours later, I stood in the main street leading into the city from the gates. Dex and Rex were on the other side, looking menacing with their helmets on. John was practically dancing with anticipation next to Simon at the gate itself. The chief was high atop the walls with a group of "important" officials. They all looked like Simon, intricate designs covering their shells in an attempt to advertise their worth.

There was a high pitched keening and then the gate began to slide open. I put my hand on my slug thrower and went into ready mode. There was an enormous crowd of humans on the other side of the door. They seemed to run the gamut of the race. Tall, short, dark, light, frightened, and hopeful: they were all there. Waiting to get in.

As Simon and John began to usher the immigrants in, I noticed the massive sentry-bots that had escorted them from various reservations. The humans' fear of the sentries was palpable. It was evident in the darted glances over their shoulders.

The masses had few possessions and those that they did, they kept close to their bodies. A great majority of the were unwashed and filthy. Malnutrition was obvious, but scans showed they were free from disease. They shambled miserably through the gate, but there were glimpses of wonder and hope on a few faces, notably the young.

John was trying to greet every damn human that walked into the city. His beaming face seemed to scare the hell out of most of them. I shook my head miserably and moved to back him off. That was when I spotted a familiar face among the crowd. Red rage surged through my circuitry in an instant. I darted forward, all thoughts of propriety gone. I could hear John screeching and a host of humans howling in fear. It must have been quite a sight: a rage-filled robot with a single miserable human dangling by his throat high above its head.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Back again. Finally.

Hello all. I'd be surprised if there were anyone left to read this post by now. After all, it's been nearly a year since I posted anything at all. Hopefully though, you will be merciful and come back to give me a second chance.

I won't go into too much detail about why there was such a long gap between posts, but I feel I do owe some sort of explanation. Basically, my family was beset by a wave of personal tragedies this year. One of those in particular caused me a great deal of heartache and I am just starting to feel somewhat like myself again. It was a staggering blow to my world that I just never expected. Now, I feel I am ready to begin this little project again. Not really sure what exactly I'm trying to accomplish at this point other than finishing the story. If anyone is interested in something further after I wrap up this tale, then we'll see about the next one.

I plan to post the next chapter of "Murder In Skin City" on Monday. I wanted to post it tomorrow, but I need some time to immerse myself back into the tale and re-familiarize myself with the characters. You should do the same. Take a few minutes to re-read the first chapters and hopefully we can rekindle the sparks on Monday!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Murder In Skin City - Part Four

Murder In Skin City: Part Four

I hoped that my audio sensors were on the fritz when my new boss told me that we only had four security 'bots, including the two of us, to patrol an entire city where humans and robots would be living side by side for the first time. The thought was too ridiculous. There had to be an explanation.

"Only four sir?" I asked.

"John, the human and robot liason will explain inside," he said, gesturing to the nearest of the three doors inside the compound. "I leave you in his care. I have preparations to make."

With that, he turned and headed toward the farthest door. I assumed that one must have been his office. I filed the information away for future reference and stepped toward my door. It opened silently and instantly by vertical lift. Inside I beheld what could only be the comman center. Screens and docks were everywhere. The room, however, was dominated by the strangest looking robot I had ever seen.

"You must be Zed!" it exclaimed as it rushed forward to invade my personal space. "A pleasure to finally meet you! I am John, human and robot liason designation HR-5653."

I don't know what it was that I was expected him to look like, but it sure as hell wasn't the thing in font of me. His shell was slighter in build than most 'bots, kind of pansy looking if you ask me. Not much detail about the shell could be made out though, mainly because he appeared to be wearing clothing. A robot wearing a suit. Just what the screwed up universe needed most. I was beginning to feel like I was in an old human circus. The dark tan suit with a blue tie was not the most disturbing part of John's appearance, as absurd as that was. He had a face.

Sure, almost every robot had something resembling a face. Visual sensors that mimicked eyes, a recessed speaker bar where a mouth should be: that sort of thing. John had a human face. Rather, he had what a robot must have reckoned a human face should be. It had some sort of synthetic covering for skin, and fully animatronic features. His blue eyes blinked from time to time. His mouth moved, stretched, and contorted with each word it spoke. Even his "eyebrows" moved.

"Um, hello," I managed after a moment's shock.

"I can hardly believe I'm standing here with you! I've read all about you," he gushed. I couldn't take my eyes off of the bizarre spectacle going on on his "face".

"Read about me?" I inquired, surprised.

"Oh yes. Your case files from the reservation are most interesting. Your handling of the incident--" he started to say.

"No offense John, but I really don't want to discuss that," I said, quickly cutting him off.

"But you handled it flawlessly I thought," he began again.

"Why do we only have four security members for an entire city?" I barked. That shut him up momentarily.

"Ah. Yes, that is most interesting! Please allow me to introduce your subordinates. They are the first of the NHZ security series... Dex and Rex!" he said as he pressed a switch on the wall behind him.

Two large wall panels slid away to reveal a pair of behemoth robots. They were incredibly impressive pieces of hardware. The were hulking examples of the best in armor for one thing. The weapons were obviously top of line as well. They stepped forward with thundering strides, perfectly in step with one another.

"NHZ-127 and 128 reporting for duty sir!" they said in unison.

"Impressive," I said. I meant it too. "At ease."

I heard a release of air and was amazed as sections of the armor receded into their shells. Their helmets also released and retracted. That was when I saw them.


They gave them faces too.

NEXT: The humans arrive (honest! They really do this time!)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Murder In Skin City - Part Three

Murder In Skin City - Part Three

My new boss and I arrived at the Central Security Compound and I was shocked at the lack of personnel. There was no one on the perimeter of the squat single level building. We entered a through a nondescript overhead-lift door without so much as a "Halt, who goes there". The interior was sparsely appointed and cramped. There were three doors within. All looked the same, with no markings as to their purpose. The Security Head paused and turned to address me.

"I was somewhat surprised that you chose to travel here by conventional means," he said. Conventional? I used a powered bike. I wasn't sure what was odd about that.

"Sir?" I asked, confused.

"Most of us travel by upload now," he explained. I understood then. I heard some talk while on the reservation that it was becoming the latest thing. Traveling long distances by uploading our programming entirely into new shells that awaited at the destination.

"I prefer to stick with what I know sir," I said.

"It makes travel almost instantaneous. Very efficient," he offered.

"I don't like the thought of changing bodies like humans change clothes," I retorted.

"I tend to agree with you," he said with a touch of mirth in his voice modulation. "Although we did have a shiny new beast of a shell for you."

"I like the dents. They remind me of where I've been."

"Indeed. Experience," he said thoughtfully.

For the record I am well aware of the irony of my stubbornness. My own little individuality hang-up. Call me a hypocrite.

"Unfortunately Zed," the Security Chief continued. "It did deny you the opportunity to get completely up to speed before the humans arrive."

"I'm a quick study," I claimed.

"You'll have to be. Fifty thousand humans will be flooding those streets starting tomorrow. Fifty thousand trying to live side by side with robots. Your team will ensure that nothing goes wrong."

"How many security 'bots do we have sir?" I inquired.

"Four, counting ourselves."


NEXT: Things go wrong.