- This story was first published in Galaxy’s Edge magazine, January 2014.
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- For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our sortable Wikipedia page
about the author…
Marina is the author of award-winning original stories such as Master Belladino’s Mask, Sojourn for Ephah, and Balance. She has written tie-in work for the Star Citizen and Sargasso Legacy universes. When not writing, Marina can be found reading speculative fiction (of all types for all ages), drawing, exploring the outdoors, or gaming it up. She loves exploring new cultures and travels as often as she can.
about the narrator…
I’m a writer. I’m a podcaster. I’m a not-quite-trainee anymore martial artist. I’m a nurse’s kid and a teacher’s kid. I’m a former bouncer. I’m a huge movie nerd. I’m sort of what Abed and Jeff from Community’s kid would be like if he was spliced with the DNA of Helo from Battlestar Galactica. I’m learning.
Imma Gonna Finish You Off
By Marina J. Lostetter
On the examining table lounged a body. It was an unremarkable body–rather wrinkly, with an inordinate amount of hair in all the wrong places and too few clothes for most people’s liking, but otherwise nothing to write your congressman about. The only thing special about the body was that it was dead–a problem that Detective Harry Sordido hoped would resolve itself quite soon.
“Will he just get on with the coming back to life already?” Harry huffed, checking the glowing numbers embedded in his left wrist. With his right hand, he patted his ample, middle-aged girth. “He’s not the only victim I’ve got to question today.”
“I’m not sure what’s the matter with him,” said the medical examiner, lifting the dead man’s wrist between two thin fingers. “He should have let out a nice scream-of-life by now.” He let the limb flop back to the sanitary paper.
“What do you think it was?” asked the detective, “Accidental? Experimental? Purposeful? What do you think he died of?”
“You’ll have to ask him to be sure. He was found out on the sidewalk. No indications of violence or a struggle, but he does look a tad flaccid.”
“Ah, disgruntled lover, then.”
“No, I mean on the whole. Like he’s been wrung out.”
They both stared at the body for a long while.
“You don’t think he’s really–?” began Detective Sordido.
“It is starting to seem a bit permanent.”
“That’s impossible! No one’s really died for damned near a millennium.”
The examiner shrugged. “There’s a first time for every eventuality.”
“What was his name again?”
“Mr. X is what it says on his bio-tat. Here, I’ll show you.” The two men moved to the once-ambulatory end of the body, and the examiner held a black light over the pad of X’s right foot.
The tat read:
Name: Zanthaxerillion X
Current Occupation: Government Mandated Homelessness.
Next Occupation: Governor of Greater California (provided the line for Burger Flipper still hasn’t moved).
Current Address: Cardboard box on the corner of Rock St. and Hard Pl.
Next to the age label was a bio-counter, much like the implanted watch in Harry’s wrist. It ticked off the seconds, minutes, hours, years, etcetera. Funny thing about Mr. X’s – it had switched from ticking to sticking. Harry tapped it with his index finger. “This thing broken? How come it’s not counting?”
“I’m telling you, I think this one took.”
“Sixty-two more years and he would have seen the big Thou. And he bit the dust while performing his civic duty.” He shook his head sadly. “They wonder why people do everything they can to avoid obligatory homelessness.”
“You know what they say, only two things are certain: taxes, and the government taking away all your stuff.”
Your stuff, your job, your passion. The government acted like people were dolls–ever ready to have their identities stripped on and off.
More than nine hundred years ago the United States had decided that when you invent immortality (even if it’s by accident) you’ve hit the apex of your existence as a nation and should tap the pause button before some blockhead un-invents it. How the nation functioned and existed at that very time was carefully tabulated, preserved and perpetuated.
But people got bored living forever with no change. And when people are bored they start having thoughts like, “Why do I pay for federal life insurance if I’m never going to die?” and “You know, we haven’t given anarchy a shot in a good long while.”
So the career swap was instituted. When the government compiled enough data to indicate that you’d gotten whatever you could get out of your current lot in life, it was time to re-allot. You’ve been a movie star for four decades? Maybe assembly-line work is next in your queue. You’ve been an oil tycoon for sixty years? It might be nice to try tree-hugging for a while.
Harry’s jobs had ranged from robotics program engineer to boxing instructor to black-eyed pea de-eye-er, but he’d never been forced to hold another career for as long as he’d been forced to be a detective.
He missed program engineering. Unfortunately, inventing new things tended to get in the way of cultural stagnation, so that career path had fallen out of style.
“You know, considering the non-transient nature of Mr. X’s condition, I’d say this man was murdered,” said the M.E.
“Well, how exactly do you suggest I go about finding the killer without interviewing the victim, eh?” demanded Harry.
“I’d think you should start with something called a clue.”
“What the hell is that?”
“These two puncture wounds surround by this large bruise on the inside of his right elbow.”
“And that’s a clue?”
“You said he seems wrung out. Drained?”
They looked at each other and intoned together, “Exsanguinated?”
“Could be,” said the M.E. “I’d have to, um, perform an autopsy to be sure. Cut him open.”
“Without his permission?”
“I don’t really see another option.”
Detective Sordido sighed. “OK, as long as I don’t have to watch. I’ll go investigate his belongings.”
The M.E. stopped him before he opened the door. “Harry?”
“Cold, last I heard.” He hadn’t seen his wife in six months. She’d been re-allotted to a fishing trawler in Alaska, while he’d been directed to stay put and detect, by damnit.
“Give her my love, the next time you talk.”
“She won’t be getting anyone’s love but mine, Bub.” Harry was paranoid enough as it was. He was worried she’d already found herself a salty Alaskan sea dog. A sea dog with a large pile of bones. Or maybe just the one.
He made his way down the hall, taking a right at the sign that said: Dead this way. Living this way. The third door he encountered was the changing room in which the temporary cadaver’s personal effects were kept until they could be reclaimed.
Why do I get all the wonky cases? he groused silently.
Last week there was the skydiver who’d insisted on jumping out of an airplane sans chute because, well, if he got the biggest rush of his life falling to 200 ft, wouldn’t he get an even bigger rush if he just went all the way?
Then there’d been the suicide case a few months ago. Crazy scientist thinking he’d found a cure for the imma-virus. Now, who in his right mind would want to cure immortality?
Hopefully this Mr. X case didn’t have anything to do with those crackpots. Harry doubted it, since the scientist was now serving 120,138,007,001 years in the pen for the attempted murder of, well, everyone.
Why would someone take out a vagrant? There was no sense serial killing these days, what with one victim shouting your guilt before you could get to the next. And if it had been a violent crime of passion, Mr. X probably wouldn’t look so…indifferent.
The waiting room was cold and smelled of formaldehyde–clearly the first thing born-again olfactory glands were likely to encounter. Mr. X’s things–a heavy coat, a pair of knee-less trousers, brown sandals and a pair of patterned socks (no skivvies, Harry noted with distaste)–had been shrink-wrapped and laid out over a plastic chair. Wrapped, but not cleaned.
Upon closer inspection, Harry noticed that not only were the clothes grimy, they’d come that way. Fake dirt, fake sweat stains. Definitely government issue.
The only things that stood out were the socks. Clean, white, covered with illos of little grapes and green bottles with exclamations of ‘Ah, nothing like un-wine-ding!’ scattered here and there. Even the soles were pristine. They were brand new.
He needed to figure out who’d been given a license to hand out socks to the homeless.
“Welcome to the Weinsawks family vineyard,” said the receptionist with a plastic smile. More and more people were replacing their enamel with polyethylene these days. “Home of It’s-Wine-In-A-Can. The grounds are open five days a week for tours, from one-thirty until–”
“I’m here to see the proprietor, the widow Weinsawks,” interrupted Harry.
The receptionist held up a manicured finger without missing a beat, “–six-seventeen. Our office takes reservations for weekend parties and private events. We hope you enjoy your stay.”
Weinsawks’ money wasn’t old, it was geriatric. As the government saw it, if there was one thing no one got tired of it was being a wine baron. So, the Weinsawks had been in the same profession since before the onset of immortality.
Harry tried again. “I’m here to see–”
The woman splayed her hands palms-down before him. Each of her painted nails had been labeled with a number. “Presione número uno para hablar en Español. Press two for distribution and bulk purchases. Press three for vendor locations–”
Harry held up his right palm, mentally calling up the bio-tat of his badge “I’m here to see–”
“Press four for parties and events. Press five for–”
He slammed his hands down on top of hers. “What do I press to get me through to your boss?” he grumbled.
The receptionist took a deep breath, ready to continue with the list, but then she caught sight of the twitch in Harry’s upper lip and her cheeks quickly deflated. Extracting one hand, she pushed something under her desk and a door to the right swung ajar.
“Thank you, and have a nice century,” the receptionist called after him, her voice stripped of its varnish.
Bedilla Weinsawks’ office was relatively easy to locate–what with the cherry-wood twin doors guarding it, and a humungous, flashing sign above them that said, “The Decider of Corporate Fates is: In.”
Outside the doors was a cramped nook occupied by a desk, a chair, three potted ferns and one Fern Pots. Ms. Pots tried desperately to flag Harry down.
Not looking forward to a re-hash, fry, or bake of his previous reception, he barreled on through the doors, past the assistant.
“Madame Weinsawks,” he declared, “I am a detective from the CA Offices of Detection, and…I…” He stammered as he noted that Madame was missing from the room.
In fact, half the room was missing from the room. Near the doors, everything was as one would expect: wood and leather with a bit of glass, all arranged to fool the observer into believing the items hadn’t come from such pastoral things as trees, cows and sand. But halfway across the marble floor the room ended at an expanse of vines and trellises. It looked like someone had accidently dropped live nature on top of all the processed nature.
Harry just hoped they hadn’t dropped it on his key lead.
“Is anyone at home?” he said, approaching the greenery.
“Why don’t you come on in?” called a willowy voice form the leaves.
And what’ll happen to me in there? Perhaps that was where Mr. X had met his…eventuality. “I’d rather not, seeing as how I’m here about a possible murder.”
“A what?” asked Widow Weinsawks, emerging. Her wrinkled skin looked leathery–or papery. With what could be called a light-greenish hue, the color of money. She was so rich she was practically made of the stuff, and it showed.
“I’m here about a dead man.”
“That’s right, my husband’s passed. Poor dear, missed being immortal by two days, you know.”
“That’s not who–I mean a recent permanently – never mind.” Perhaps he shouldn’t go throwing words like permanent around. If anyone caught on to the true gravity of this investigation there could be panic. “The records office said you obtained a license to hand out socks and wellness checkups to the destitute a few days ago.”
“Yes. I also asked to hand out work permits, but they said most of the homeless had been that way for less than a decade. I shouldn’t go robbing them of the complete experience, they said.”
Harry asked Mrs. Weinsawks all of the requisite questions, trying to gauge if she might have had anything to do with Mr. X’s drainage problem. She seemed on the verge of drying up herself.
“For the wellness checkup, you had a few doctors come out, I presume?”
“Just the one. He was very good. Wonderful, uh…” Her watery eyes went a little dreamy for a minute.
“Bedside manner?” he offered.
“It was in the bed, mostly,” she said happily.
Harry squashed that mental picture like a ten-weeks-at-the-bottom-of-the-bin tomato. “How’d he get through all the patients?”
“Interesting ones, too. Very personable. I’ve never seen personableness in a bot.”
Harry made a note.
“Mr. X was quite chatty, you said?”
“Yes, spoke at length with almost everyone. Quite eloquently, too. And not as shriveled as in that picture you’ve got there.”
“Could you get me a list of everyone in attendance, please?”
As she left to get the records from Ms. Pots, Harry’s bio-phone rang. He plugged his nose and popped his ears. “Yes?” he answered in a nasal-squeak.
It was the M.E. “I’ve got another one–dead body that won’t stop it, I mean. Seems to be in the same condition as Mr. X. And she is also obligatorily without roof. A Ms. Gonndand. She has the twin punctures and bruising, too. And their bodies were indeed drained of blood. To the point where the imma-virus couldn’t regenerate itself, let alone their cells–I mean, we’re talking dry. Dry. Dry as the eczema on my hoo-ha. Do you know how fast someone would have to bleed out for that? And there’s definitely no arterial severage.”
Mrs. Weinsawks returned with the list. Ms. Gonndand was on it.
“Looks like it’s time to pay Doctor–” he scanned the paper. “Agony. really?–pay Dr. Agony a visit,” said Harry.
“You think it’s easy being a doctor this epoch?” asked Dr. Agony. “All people were worried about before immortality came along was dying. As long as they couldn’t feel themselves dying they didn’t care what they did to their bodies. Now they’re actually afraid of having to live with the ugly skin blotches, or losing their memory to too much drink, or forgetting where they left their severed hand now that a new one has grown back. Easy? Please!”
The doctor was a young man who looked barely of age. When immortality struck it stuck, no matter where you were on life’s bell curve. There were quite a lot of parents ticked off about having to change diapers for all eternity, but their rage was nothing compared to that of the gawky fifteen-years-olds who had been looking forward to waving at adolescence in the rearview mirror.
Most criminals Harry had encountered were people who’d never come to terms with having pimples from now until the apocalypse.
“You examined the individuals’ reflexes?” asked Harry.
“My reflex-robot did.”
“So, you examined their respiratory systems, then?”
“My breath-bot did.”
“Their circulatory systems?”
Harry scratched his chin. “What exactly did you do at the vineyard? Wait, never mind. I know the answer.” Mrs. Weinsawks. Maybe the good doctor had a mind-scrubbing-bot.
There was a knock at the doctor’s door. Much to Harry’s surprise, in flapped an orange and purple sea-turtle thing about the size of a cat. “What the hell is that?”
“I am a cardiovascular monitoring unit,” it said. “May I give you a hug?”
“My heart-bot,” the doctor clarified.
“May I give you a hug?”
“Yes. And it has a personality and everything. Sentient.”
“That’s illegal. AI was invented post imma-virus and was banned in the US.” Harry knew. He’d worked on some of the first prototypes back in his programming days. He’d even based some of the test-personalities on his friends and family members.
“Oh, come now, Detective, most people know the all-stop was ridiculous. We’re not allowed to pass any new laws, that’s the only reason it doesn’t change. My bots improve lives.”
“Your own, you mean? They go do your job while you scamper off with the widow of the week?”
“They’re not always widows. Don’t look at me like that. It’s murder having an eighteen-year-old’s libido for nine hundred years!”
“You know what else is murder? Murder.”
Harry was about to give Agony the whole spiel, but the heart-bot had flopped over to his feet and was flailing around like an excited puppy. “Why does it keep saying that?”
“That’s how it examines your system.”
“If I do will it go away?”
Reluctantly, Harry scooped the bot into his arms. It was squishy, like a stuffed toy. It wrapped its flippers around his chest and squeezed. “Hmmmm!” it sighed happily, then after a moment, “Beats per minute: seventy-two. Blood pressure: one-forty-seven over ninety-three.”
“I have stage one hypertension,” Harry explained defensively. Helen usually helped him with his de-stressing exercises. He hadn’t once remembered to do them since she’d left.
“At least your heart is full of love and sprinkles,” it said soothingly. “Actually, sprinkles are bad for you.”
Helen helped him eat right, too.
“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.” He unceremoniously dropped the bot on the floor and it waddled out of the room. “Where was I? Oh, murder. When you were at the Weinsawks’ estate, did any of the homeless threaten to expose your AIs?”
“A few individuals did make comments about them, yes. Several people had been politicians before getting their homeless calls.”
“How did you feel about that?”
The doctor locked his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his swivel-chair. “Look, if I was worried about getting arrested for the AIs, do you think I’d let one in here with you? And why are you asking me things? If someone was murdered, you should ask him about it.”
“Ah-ha! So you know the victim was a man.”
“I could just as easily have said ‘her.’”
“So you know the second victim was a woman.”
“You never said there were two murders,” protested Dr. Agony. “But that doesn’t answer my question.”
“I ask the questions and you give me a close amalgamation of the truth. That’s how this works.” He’d watched some old detective movies just to be sure. After all, he’d never had to question people without the benefit of an eye-witness before. “Did you take any blood samples while at the vineyard?”
“–blood-bot did,” Harry finished. “How much did it take?”
“Teaspoons and teaspoons. Oh, the horror,” came the answer.
“Don’t give me any lip. What did it do with the blood?”
“Processed it. Ran tests, assessed health. Everyone there was mostly fine. A bit malnourished, but Mrs. Weinsawks didn’t have permission to give them food.”
“No one had any bleeding problems? No one leaked?”
“Incontinence typically doesn’t apply to veins.”
“Samples were taken from the inner elbow, I presume?”
The doctor huffed. “Yes, yes. Really, detective, we’re inching along here. How exactly did these people die? They bled out? That’s an easy fix–not like re-growing a head or anything–they should be revived by now. Stop bugging me and my bots, and go get your answers.”
“Just show me the damn blood-bot.”
With an air of superiority that only teenagers can display without endless practice, the doctor led the detective out of the office, through the hospital’s glaring white halls, and into a rather large supply closet. One shelf looked like it had been teleported from a toy store. Animal-reminiscent bots sat in a row, perfectly still until the two men approached. Then their heads all swiveled in one direction.
The heart-bot was there, curled up against a bot that looked like a stack of tin cans–it was definitely more robotic in appearance than the rest.
“Heart-bot and blood-bot like to stay close,” said Dr. Agony.
“Hemoglobins stick together,” said heart-bot.
“Just a bite?” said blood-bot, opening its wide mouth to reveal one long needle-tooth.
“Oh, that’s comforting,” said Harry sardonically. “I’m sure this one’s big with the kiddies.”
“He reminds them of the The Wizard of Oz, thank you,” said the doc.
“So would munchkins and Glenda the Good Witch, but I still wouldn’t like them coming at me with a giant needle.”
“He takes minimal samples–the vials are only so big, you know. If you don’t believe me, let him test you.”
“Just a bite?” said the bot with a wide grin.
Harry stilled himself. This was what old-time detectives did to solve a case. They went with the nitty-gritty. They got down and dirty. They put out or got shut out (or was that some other profession?).
He rolled up his sleeve and approached the needle.
“Oh, goody,” said the bot.
Then Harry remembered the movies and hesitated. “If you want this thing to chomp down on me, you go first.”
“You can’t tell me what to do,” whined the doctor. “You’re not my dad.”
“Just do it, or so help me I will take your AIs away.”
The doctor seemed on the verge of tears. “How come the law never lets me do what I want?” He stuck out his arm and the blood-bot bit down. A split second and it was over. The bot said, “Yum!” A drawer in its chest opened and the spent needle dropped out as another slid into place.
“That was quick,” Harry noted.
“Super suction. Don’t have to wait for the heart to pump it through.”
Satisfied that Agony wasn’t trying to pull the well-processed sheep’s hair over his eyes, Harry offered up his veins. “Bleh! I mean, yum,” said the bot.
Harry noted the bot had a slight accent, something Eastern European, but he couldn’t place it.
After several minutes, a bruise developed around the single pin-prick on Harry’s arm. One needle, one wound–not the double-puncture the M.E. had pointed out. When neither he nor the doctor showed any signs of spontaneous exsanguination, Harry decided the lead was a bust. Better to pick up tomorrow with other recipients of the widow’s government-regulated charity.
Going home was painful. Not just because his gum-shoes stuck to the sidewalk and he had to jerk them free, but because every corner of the house reminded him of Helen.
Here was the front door where he’d banged her head into the jamb carrying her over the threshold after their tenth wedding (since ‘death do us part’ no longer applied, the government had stipulated that the legal length of a marriage was seventy-five years). There was the kitchen table where he used to pretend to eat her cooking every night. Back there was the dryer where she’d shrunk every shirt he’d ever bought. And here, on the couch, was where she’d pretend to fall asleep at night to avoid his clumsy attempts at love making (“Seven hundred and eighty years of marriage and you still don’t know how the parts go together, Harold?”).
She was something else, alright. But she’d been his something else.
And their marriage would legally end in a year. If they weren’t together to renew, would she look for someone else?
Maybe that was why the government had assigned her to Alaska. Surely if people got tired of their careers, people got tired of their spouses. Best to alleviate their boredom, whether they asked for it or not.
Harry had just settled in for his nightly date with a bag of cheese puffs and a six pack of Whine-Coolers (“Irritated? Fussy? Just suck on Whine-Coolers. The best adult pacifiers since 2316!”), when he heard a bump at the front door.
“Damn kid pitching baseballs at my house again.” He stomped over to the door and yanked it open, ready to give the neighbor boy a piece of whatever internal organ he hadn’t tried yet (mind, liver, and spleen had all failed).
Instead of a ball, an arm-full of tin came flying at him, shrieking, “Bleh, bleh, bleh!”
Acting on impulse, Harry threw the blood-bot over his head. The thing landed on the couch.
“Bleh, bleh. I vant to suck your blood!” it called, righting itself.
“Mission accomplished. You did that this afternoon.”
“But I vant all of your blood.”
“How? Your vials can’t hold it.”
“No vials installed. I can suck all I vant. It does, unfortunately, eh, fall out. I must get that fixed.”
Harry took up a fighting stance, ready for the bot to pounce again. The robot’s accent tickled his memory. “Where were you manufactured?”
The bot opened a panel on its belly and pointed to a raised stamp.
“Made in Transylvania,” Harry read. “Property of the Government of Romania. If found, please call four-zero—wait! You’re government property?”
“Experimental medical equipment,” it said proudly.
“You’re stolen, then?”
“I beg your pardon. No one steals the Prince of Darkness, Master of the Night, Ruler of the Undead. I escaped.”
“Excuse me, you’re who?”
The bot stood, all foot-and-a-half of him, tall and proud. It moved an arm in front of its face, then swept it aside dramatically. That’s when Harry noticed it was wearing a cape. “I am Dracula!”
“I don’t think so.”
“Sure I am,” it said imploringly, shaking a corner of the cape. “I come from Transylvania, I drink blood, I roam at night, and I vear a dark cloak. All my friends look like animals, so I vill probably turn into a bat one of these days. See? I must be Dracula.”
“You conclude you’re Dracula? You don’t know it?”
“I had no idea whom I vas until I saw an old movie a few veeks ago. I had not been installed with a personality, you know. I vas blank. But then I saw this master of the underverse sucking blood and it all fit. Found myself a dealer on the — vhat’s the term? — down-low, and he gave me a real nice personality to go vith my new understanding.”
“Did he, now?”
“Yes, makes me all jumpy if I don’t get a blood fix.”
“You downloaded an addict’s personality?”
The bot vibrated eagerly, “Of course. That’s vhen I realized my true purpose.”
“I’m supposed to be a vampire-maker, not a medical-sampler. Undead is my business.”
“I hate to tell you, then, but you aren’t making anybody undead. Just dead. People already come back to life just fine on their own.”
The bot considered this for a moment, fist under chin. “That’s a shame. Ah vell, must keep on, though. Digital-imperative and all, you know how it is.”
It lunged at him.
Damn imported crap! Yet another reason to buy domestic.
Harry didn’t have a gun. He never carried one. What was the use of shooting a perp if he just kept on going? Wouldn’t have worked on the bot, anyway. But if the thing thought it was a vampire, would it respond to classic vampire remedies?
When the robot jumped, Harry bent backwards like he was dodging a bullet in slow-mo. Gravity didn’t agree with the tactic and dropped him on his ass. No surprise; he and gravity hadn’t gotten along for years.
The evasive maneuver, though it lacked finesse, was successful. The bot went barreling into a curio cabinet and Harry scrambled toward the kitchen.
Harry lunged at the spice rack on the counter. His fingers found a shaker and spun the lid off. In one swift pirouette, he turned and tossed the bottle’s contents at the robot.
A flurry of pale-yellow powder rained down on the tin body. The blood-bot stopped, its hands raised above its head in a menacing fashion. It briefly inspected its dusted exterior.
“Vhat in hell vas that?”
It dusted itself off. “I know it is easy to miss, but I am a vampire robot. Quite the upgrade from the fleshy model, vouldn’t you say?”
“So one of my vegetable skewers through the heart-drive won’t help?”
“Oh, it vould help immensely. Anything to inch your arm that much closer.”
Great. Now the bloodsucker was between him and the front door, and Harry had his back against the counter top.
The bot crept forward, its mouth splayed wide.
He knew there was only one skill-set that would help him here. He had to get to his stash of prototype personalities–souvenirs from the good old days. But how could he get close enough to input new functions into the bot’s programming pad without receiving that fatal second puncture?
Harry faked left, raced down the hallway, and into the rear of the house. He’d make his last stand in his home office.
Vaulting over his oak desk, he yanked open the bottom right drawer. There he kept a shoebox labeled, Boring, Non-Illegal Stuff, containing all of his fascinating and banned paraphernalia. A small plastic case held the personality chips. As a series of clangs approached, he palmed one from the container, then stood erect.
“Ok, baby Dracula,” he said. “You want a piece of this? Come get me.”
The robot took a flying leap toward him, and with precision that can only be accomplished by an over-worked, middle-aged, has-been programmer, Harry twisted to one side, just escaping the bot’s needle. In the same movement he swiped open the programming port, shoved in the chip, and hit the download button. “Ha! Stake that!” he yelled.
The bot tumbled end over end into the wall, then lay still.
“Hey, bloodsucker, are you alive? I mean functional?” Glancing at its wrists, he knew he didn’t have a pair of handcuffs small enough. Maybe a rubber band would do.
After a minute, the bot lifted its head. “Vhere am I?” it said in the same accent, but with a slightly different, more feminine intonation.
“Not Kansas or Oz or anywhere that doctor would have you believe,” Harry said. “We’ve got to get you back to Romania where you belong.”
“Harold Sordido, don’t you dare send me to Romania.”
Harry stood up straight. That scolding tone was familiar. Which prototype had he…?
“Of course,” said the bot, sitting upright. “You take these rubber bands off at vonce. After nearly a hundred years of marriage, you vould think a voman had earned some respect.”
The personality still thought it was in pre-ban days. His heart fluttered. No one could tell him off like Helen could.
He missed her terribly.
“I have to get you to the post office,” he told the bot. After all, he couldn’t book medical equipment for murder. “Ship you back home where they’ll sort you out and get you a proper personality. They should have known better–forget to give a sentience an identity and they’ll develop one of their own.”
The bot twisted its head this way and that. Its memory was coming back. The full system was attempting to integrate Helen’s personality. “If those scientists in Transylvania think they can flip a switch and I vill stop yapping, vell, they’ve got another thing coming. They vill never hear the end of this. Forgetting a personality download, letting me escape, letting me turn into a wampyre. How’s that for responsibility?”
“I know, little bot,” Harry said, tucking it under his arm, “I know.”
What he didn’t say was that he thought the bot had had the right idea. Why should you be what someone else tells you to be? Why not escape?
“But, vhat about my friends?” it asked as they reached the front door. “Vhat about heart-bot?”
Harry stopped. “You don’t want to leave it?”
It twisted its head side to side.
“Your government is probably looking for you. It might get mad if I don’t send you back.”
“I don’t vanna go. Heart-bot vould break.”
Harry let out a heavy sigh. That was Helen’s loyalty coming out. He shouldn’t have ever doubted it. “All right. But I’m not letting you out of my sight until we make sure this blood-lust issue is taken care of, capisce?”
He set the robot on the couch and it smiled at him. A big, scary, automated smile that looked nothing like Helen’s. Still, he found it endearing.
What a case, he thought. My last.
After he reunited the blood-bot with its friends, Harry planned on changing careers–whether the government liked it or not. He was done being a detective. He was done with California. Maybe he’d pursue a vocation as a federal fugitive. Perhaps he’d even invite the illegal bots to come on the run with him. Sentient beings didn’t deserve to be locked up in medical closets.
But no matter what, he’d find Helen.
It wouldn’t make a difference to Harry if the imma-virus gave up and vacated humanity tomorrow. After all, surely there were better systems to reproduce in, greener pasteurizers. But if he had two more days or twenty thousand more years, he’d still want to spend them with her.
Hell, what was the fun of being a fugitive if you couldn’t flee for your life with the one you love?