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by Miriam English
Long, dark hair, gorgeous face with full lips, soft Indian brown skin, darkening around her almost Asian eyes. She always looked like a walking dream. My heart ached when I saw her sitting there now. It had been some months since we'd shared... well, shared everything. And here she was, extensive damage to her head and body.
She looked at me without recognition. "Hello Ms..."
That breathy voice. My heart bled all over again. I sighed. "Hello Brenda. My name is Adele. I'm here from security, investigating your owner's absence."
A look of fear widened her eyes, "Absence? Craig...? Has something happened to him? What do...? When? I... I don't remember anything."
I put a comforting hand on her shoulder, when I really wanted to place comforting lips on hers. "He could be alive and well. We don't know yet what happened -- that's why I'm here. The investigation is automatically triggered by his absence of more than a couple of days."
Her lower lip quivered and she looked heartbreakingly close to tears, though of course tears were impossible. She loved him. It gnawed at me, but I know it's a requirement for androids: unconditional love... like dogs. It is the only way people can accept their presence. Anything less holds an implied threat... and is removed. I could see this hadn't occurred to her yet. If he couldn't be found then she would be destroyed. An android that fails to protect their human is by definition faulty. And considering her current damaged condition... My stomach went hollow at the prospect. But I forced my mind back to the point at hand. The best way to keep her safe was by finding out what happened here.
She asked in a hoarse voice, "What can I do to help?"
"Tell me what you remember."
She nodded, and tried to focus, "Not much... it is... fragmentary. What do you want me to tell you what you remember?"
At my look of puzzlement she looked worried again.
"Your speech centers may have been damaged."
She suddenly looked smaller and even more vulnerable, and the lower lip was wobbling again. Her voice shook a little as she spoke. "I'm sending what I have. Are you receiving it?"
"Yes." Superimposed over my vision was a gauge showing the amount of data I was receiving. It would take a few moments.
I wondered about the damage to her systems and asked her, "How are your diagnostics?"
She paused for about thirty seconds while she scanned her systems. "I'll be fine. When we're d-d-d-done I'll call maintenance."
I nodded, unable to take my eyes off her, trying to think of something helpful or comforting to say. Finally I tore my gaze away and looked around the room for somewhere comfortable to sit, to review the files.
This was Craig Mackey's workroom. It was large -- perhaps 15 meters by 15 meters -- and very well-lit. Along the wall to my right was a wide bench with various instruments and proxy arms for doing fine manipulations. Most of the other walls were stacked with rack upon rack of equipment. There was only one furniture item of comfort in here: a simple, unadorned bed in the far, left corner. Almost all the floor space was taken up with free-standing blocks of equipment, some of which towered almost to the 3 meter high ceiling. Single-person wide paths led through the maze. Even in the incredible clutter of all this stuff it looked somehow tidy. Everything was clean and polished, and all items were arranged neatly parallel. It looked like everything was organised according to some very specific rules.
I spotted a chair over near the long, wide bench and called it. It walked over to me on its eight crab-like legs and settled under me as I sat to go over Brenda's files. No time like the present. And it would get my mind off the heartbreakingly sweet synthetic woman before me.
My vision and hearing were replaced by hers from three days ago. He was last seen the day before yesterday. I've reviewed files like this many times before and was quite comfortable watching them at 4 times natural speed. Except for a couple of short excursions to the kitchenette to get food for Craig from the replicator on the first day of the record, she didn't leave the workroom.
Craig Mackey only appeared in her record during the first of the three days and was obviously working on her structure. He worked mostly at the bench, and kept returning to her, to do something to the left side of her head and her left arm.There were a lot of disturbing gaps. Her records contained little of use.
It only took a few hours to run through the entire record, so much was missing. When it finished, she was sitting before me exactly as before. She was studying my face.
Apart from the damage she looked the same as always. She sat there, elegant, poised and beautiful. She was clothed in just t-shirt and shorts. I never could understand how she could make such simple attire look regal. Others had remarked on it too. It was a trick of psychology of course. She was built to be attractive -- not for sex, but as a school teacher. Children learn best from those with whom they have a rapport. Brenda's attractiveness was not just on the surface; it was in every graceful movement, in her expressions and the way she spoke. She was a superb teacher. I've seen her working with kids.
When she saw that I was finished reviewing she asked, "You seem familiar. Have we met before?"
I nodded, but didn't want to touch that topic so instead of answering I asked, "Do you have any idea why there are so many gaps in your record?"
"I do have any idea..." she frowned slightly, and continued. "I know he was rebuilding me. I don't remember whether it was because I was damaged or he was altering me."
Craig Mackey was a specialist in android mind design. Normally it's illegal for people to tamper with androids. One of the perks of my job is a permanent mental link with the City AI -- the artificial intelligence that manages information for the City. I sent a query to see whether Mr Mackey had special permission to alter Brenda. Almost instantly the search came back empty. That just meant that nothing went through normal channels. It didn't mean anything was wrong. There could well have been a special request by him or someone else for the modifications.
I asked Brenda, "You don't have any earlier records?"
"No, not on me. He probably have s-s-stored backups to the... stored backups... backups here."
Her speech and consciousness problems were unsettling. She was so perfect before. Seeing her like this made me feel guilty that I didn't work harder to keep her with me. But that was a fruitless line of thought so I dismissed it.
"D'you remember where he kept the backups?"
"Yes. Over here." She frowned in concentration as she rose to her feet. I could tell it was difficult for her to walk, the damage to her left side was so extensive, but even so she still managed to move with some of her previous grace.
She went to place her hand on a wall panel, noticed that the damage would have made recognition impossible, and used her other hand. She must have sent an unlock code simultaneously. A drawer slid out, containing hundreds of memory needles. She indicated one end of the black velvet lined tray. "These are the most recent." She looked puzzled, tilting her head to the side, her long, shining, dark hair veiling her face. The gesture brought back a flood of fond memories. She picked up a sliver. "This is weeks old. Where are the latest...?"
She was looking worried.
I put my hand out for the needle. She dropped it into my palm and I inserted it into a port on my forearm. You can't risk inserting evidence like this into a proper brain-port because of the risk of contaminating the information. Also, you never know what is on these damn things. In my rookie days I inserted one in my brainport and directly experienced the owner of the needle getting beaten half to death. I'll never make that mistake again.
Unlike the earlier download, this was her full sensory data. I fast-forwarded through it; more difficult than with just audio visual data. He was working on repairing her, rebuilding and modifying her. This might help me understand her state of disrepair. That, in turn, might give me a clue as to what had happened to him. Pity the more recent ones were gone.
Pausing the playback, I asked her, "No idea where the more recent needles could be?"
Looking as if she would burst into tears she shook her head. "He is very organised. Either he took them with him, or... or," her voice choked, "or someone else did."
"Can anyone else open the storage?"
"No. Only him and me. The security on the wall panel is state of the art. He is obsessed with security."
I noticed her use of present tense, glad she believed he was alive. If he was dead she would mentally unravel even before she got designated for destruction. Like I said, selfless devotion. It's cruel. It's the way it is.
She continued, "It would mean either he opened it and took them, or someone else forced him to open it and then took them, or... I opened it..." She was looking very scared.
"Shhh, shhh. We don't know anything yet. We need to focus on finding him."
She looked grateful, nodded. "He doesn't monitor this room, but the rest of the apartment is recorded."
"Then we need to check that."
I started to wonder why he didn't monitor his workroom and I remembered the bed in the corner. He lived in here. Most people don't monitor their own bedrooms. Even simple-minded creatures like lizards needed to have some privacy or they just curl up and die. But a bed in your workroom? A geek. Can you imagine being that tied to your work? Oh wait -- I have no life outside my work either. I guess I can imagine it.
Brenda led me out of the workroom to the small living room. There were just the standard furniture items: a lounge, two arm chairs, a picture wall with a generic landscape (probably unchanged since installation), and a set of empty shelves that, in most apartments, would hold bric-a-brac and decorations.It was clear he had never spent much time in here.She went to the wall beside the shelves and popped open a panel, behind which was more physical security. I could see why Brenda said he was obsessed with security. Nobody puts their house monitor data behind physical locks. She unlocked it and enabled my access.
I frowned. "No help. The main apartment memory's been blanked out over the same period of a couple days ago."
Brenda turned back to the panel and did something further there. "He keeps double backups of the apartment data. Here, you should be able to access them now."
Yes, obsessive about security. Who keeps double backups of house monitors?
I connected with the data and quickly indexed into the time I was interested in. Now we were getting somewhere. He had a pair of visitors in the period that had been blanked out. I got Brenda to look at the data, but she didn't know who they were, so I sent the face/physique/mannerisms data back to the City database and they came back with an ID almost immediately. The big guy who looked like he was running things was just a bodyguard. Wow! A human bodyguard -- these guys were old-school thug... and probably more dangerous for it. An android bodyguard shouldn't be able to hurt a human, but a human bodyguard might have no such qualms. The smaller guy was Jason Farne, a physicist chasing the elusive quantum computing rainbow. What business would he have here? And why the muscular associate? Oh my... this was a nice puzzle.
I stood for a while pondering it, then I turned back to her. "Brenda?"
She looked at me questioningly.
"Brenda, if you feel uncomfortable here you don't have to stay... you know, in case the culprits return, I mean." I waited. She seemed confused so I explained, "I, uh, the City can arrange temporary accomodation until this is resolved."
She looked uncertain and still didn't say anything.
I ventured further. "Umm... you can... umm... you could stay... umm... at my apartment." I immediately felt like an idiot suggesting it. "If you want to, that is. You'd be safe, and nobody would look for you there." God, this was totally inappropriate. What was I thinking? That I could be with her again?
She smiled -- beautiful and kind. I melted. "Thank you Adele. I appreciate it, but I should probably be here if Craig returns."
The bottom dropped out of my stomach. Okay. I should have expected that, fool that I am.
I nodded, staring at the floor. I couldn't look at her.
She stepped forward and kissed me on the cheek. "It's very sweet of you."
Embarrassed, I tried to make a kind of smile, mumbled something lame about checking back later, and made my way clumsily from the apartment. Outside, I steadied myself against the corridor wall for a minute while the lightness in my head cleared. Then I left to find out what had happened to Craig Mackey.
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