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StarMountainKid

The Case of the Crippled Replica - 1 & 2

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StarMountainKid
This is my attempt at writing a hard-boiled private detective story. It’s set in some future society not so different from our own, sad to say. The main difference is…well, my private eye isn't exactly a human.
 
I know I’m no Raymond Chandler, but it’s the best I can do.
 
 
The Case of the Crippled Replica - Part One
 
 
I didn’t like politics, but even so I thought I’d try my hand. I hired a consultant, and it was recommended I shouldn’t clang out so much, to use my appendages more elegantly and not to stomp my foot at every important point I was making.
 
So I did all this, but I was defeated in the election anyway. Seems no one liked a Replica with a platform of community participation. We like to be lead and not make decisions ourselves. I knew this, but what the hey?
 
So I went back to my old business and forgot about it. Then one day a strange little Thing entered my office, its body all contorted and twisted in form. It had a hard time scraping and scratching its way across the floor to my desk. When it got close it stopped as if exhausted by the effort. It remained there for a minute before my desk, stupid-like. I stared at it and it stared back at me. I could see it was in some kind of pain by its tiny pulsating eyes.
 
I let it rest there for a while, then I leaned across my desk and asked, a little impatient, “Well, what is it?”
 
Its little red eyes looked up at me in a sort of appalling way, and squeaked something soft I couldn’t make out. “Speak up, fella,” I said, “don’t be shy. I’m here to help you, whatever your trouble is. It’s my job.”
 
It looked around my office tentatively, I guess to see if anything else was there to listen. Then it said, its voice creaking a little louder, “I saw you when you were running for office, sir, and I thought maybe you’d be the one.”
 
“The one what?” I asked, uncomfortable at the sight of the strange little malformed Thing.
The one that could solve my problem,” it murmured tinnily, almost to itself.
 
I sighed and said, “I can try. Now, what’s the problem?”
 
“Well,” it began, its little head twisting around sideways, half-hidden within some kind of sheath it could withdraw its head into for protection, I supposed. “I think they’re after me, they want to kill me, I think to get my blueprint.”
 
“I see,” I said, unconsciously tilting my own head to match its. “What’s so unusual about your blueprint that they’d want to kill you for it?” I asked.
 
It squirmed a bit, some of its various appendages scraping the floor beneath its contorted body. “Well, sir, I was constructed not too long ago by some Bio who had this idea. He was some kind of a dissenter, I think. He wanted an alternative to the usual Replicas, so he made me this way.” Its little eyes rotated around to look at its pathetic construction.
 
“That’s one of the things I learned from our one and only conversation,” it continued. “He made me nervous, what he said. I didn’t like it, I remember that, but I can’t quite remember what he talked about. He made my mind so I could comprehend what he said that one time we talked, but then somehow he made me forget. I still have the conventional algorithms buzzing inside, but it’s in conflict with this idea of his, whatever it is. It’s confusing, and I’m still confused.
 
“The other thing is, besides the conversation I can’t remember, I think my maker put something else into my brain that I can’t access. I feel some node or knot in my mind, like a tumor pressing against me inside. Something alien, maybe alive. It hurts sometimes, but I can’t retrieve its information to relieve the pressure.” Its little head extended itself a little out of its protective sheath, and its little beady eyes drooped a little, so it was now peering forlornly at the grey floor in front of it.
 
The look of the thing was depressing. I wanted to turn away. Of course I wondered if it had any kind of currency I could use. I didn’t need another welfare case. I still owed my consultant credit, and paying customers were few since the botched election. Still, I thought, maybe I could wrangle something out of this, so I asked the usual question, “So, who are they that want to kill you?”
 
“I’m not sure,” it squeaked, its eyes returning to stare at mine. “I think it’s the same ones that maybe are after my maker. He may know and can explain all this, if you can find him. That’s what I want. For you to find him. He’s disappeared, in hiding somewhere I suppose, though I can’t think of where that could be. I’m not too good at searching.” Its eyes swiveled around again. “It’s difficult to hide these days, especially for Bios, so I thought…”
 
I leaned back in my chair and looked at the creature more carefully. It was a mess, alright. Its body all contorted and twisted. Appendages here and there for no reason. I couldn’t make out what its purpose could possibly be. Everything was all in the wrong places. It looked useless for any normal purpose like a deformed insect. Poor creature. I couldn’t imagine the intention of making such a thing. Whoever its constructor was, he either had a weird sense of humor or was just plain crazy.
 
“You haven’t given me much to go on,” I said.
 
“I know,” it replied sadly, its voice a low metallic rasp. “All I know is, I’m being followed everywhere I go. I stay in my cubicle most of the time, just thinking, fearful of going out.” Its little eyes looked into mine helplessly. “It’s a bad life for me. Please, can you help me?”
I felt some compassion for it just then, but I had to be realistic. “Maybe you should just give yourself up to whatever wants you, be re-programmed and sorted out physically. That way, you’d forget all this and become a standard Replica.”
 
“But I don’t want that!” It screeched. “I don’t want to be a standard Replica! I want to find out what I’m supposed to be about! I want to discover my purpose and what’s hiding inside my skull!” It’s back arched when it spewed this out, in anger and frustration I supposed. It quieted down after a moment of sulking. “I just want to be me, even as the pathetic crippled thing I am.” Its little head drooped down almost to the floor.
 
“Maybe I can help you,” I said in spite of my gut feeling to push the thing out into the street and be done with it. “Do you know the name of your creator?” I asked with a sigh.
 
“Yes, John Cage,” it said softly.
 
That name didn’t ring a bell, nor should it. I could look it up, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t find anything of it in the records. I knew some Bios who had slipped through the cracks. Unknowable's, and not easily found on purpose.
 
“Listen, I’ll look around some,” I said. “I’ve been in this business long enough to know places to look. I’ll make some inquiries. In my game I come across all kinds. I’ll look into some of their hangouts. They’re in odd places around the city, mostly in the old sector, though you’d be surprised some live in the most modern districts. What’s your cubicle address?”
 
The thing gave me its address. It seemed to accept my offer, raised a many-jointed appendage, of what use it could be I couldn’t say, in a wave of goodbye I supposed. It turned itself around with some effort and laboriously scratched and scraped its way out of the office.
I wasn’t sure it was worth it to take its case. It would take a lot of legwork on my part, probably with little result. Bios don’t generally like to associate, especially answering questions. I knew a few who might be approachable, for a price. My assets were pretty slim. I had some currency hidden away for emergencies. I supposed I could dip into that a little.
 
I stood up and stretched. My joints creaked a little. I needed a lubricant change, but I’d been putting it off for economic reasons. A general tune up was out of the question. Maybe just a few tweaks would do, a little refill and a few adjustments. What I really needed was a rest, but I couldn’t afford that either.
 
So I went home to my own cubicle, lay down in my cradle to think things over.
 
 
The Case of the Crippled Replica - Part Two
 
 
After I lay there in my cradle for a while thinking things over some, I decided to take on the little crippled fella’s case. Usually my clients are pretty ordinary. The Replicas who hire me have the usual complaints, but this one was unusual enough to interest me. Plus, I didn’t have any clients at the present anyway. Anything would be better than nothing just now.
 
I got up out of my cradle, left my cubicle and walked out onto the street. It was nigh, and the streetlights were on, but in my sector there weren’t many of them. They lit my shabby neighborhood in sections; the rest of the street was in darkness and shadows until the next light in the distance. This didn’t help my mood any.
 
Luckily, I spotted an Auto-Cab parked not far away. I walked over to it. It opened the door for me and I slid in. I dialed the sector of an old, even more run-down sector of the city. It was an older model Cab, and it began to lurch down the street uneasily. The new model Cabs always stayed around the better neighborhoods. They had some pride in themselves and didn’t want to stray too far into the disreputable parts of town, afraid they’d get dented or scratched or maybe stripped for parts by the usual hooligans.
 
The one I was riding in didn’t seem to care anymore. It was not very clean inside, and its paint was chipping off here and there. Its kind would take you anywhere. I depended a lot on depressed Auto-Cabs in my business, ones that had become discouraged about their lives. They fit in well with me and the environments I often visited in my work.
 
I didn’t want to be tracked, so after we entered the sector I’d dialed, I said to it, “Turn left at this intersection.”
 
“You have to tell me your destination, sir,” The Cab said. “I’m not allowed to just wander around the city. Especially in this sector,” it added.
 
“Just turn left at this intersection,” I repeated. The Auto-Cab turned left with a jolt.
 
“Turn right again at the next street,” I said, “then go two blocks and take another left.” I knew this would put the Cab in an even worse mood than it was already in, but I wanted to keep my movements random.
 
The Cab slowed a little, and said in an annoyed voice, “Listen bub, I wish you’d make up your mind. I can’t just go wandering around like this, it’s against the rules. Give me an address or I’m letting you out right here.” The Cab slowed even more. “Long fares eat up my profits, unless you want me to charge double.”
 
“Just go where I tell you,” I insisted. I knew the Cab would complain, but I didn’t care.
 
“Typical,” said the Cab quietly to itself. It then slowed down to a crawl. “I shouldn’t have picked you up in the first place,” it said with a sneer. It turned on its interior light, and I knew it was scanning me. “I thought there was something funny about you, loitering on the street in that neighborhood in the middle of the night. What’s your business in this sector, you looking for some easy mark?”
 
“I’m a legitimate businessman,” I replied.
 
“Yeah, right, Mack,” the Cab said, and pulled over to the curb and stopped. “You pay me the fair you owe me up to now before I go an inch farther, and it better be in cash. I’m not gonna be ripped off by some lowlife Replica. I wasn’t built yesterday, you know.”
 
I reached in my wallet and put some bills in the tray. “Just go where I tell you to or I’ll report you to Auto-Cab, Inc.”
 
“I can call a cop faster than you can call Auto-Cab, Inc.,” it threatened in its nastiest voice. “Don’t be a jerk all your life, bot,” it said. “It’s just like you Replicas to give us Cabs a hard time. It’s so depressing to have to put up with your kind every day, giving orders. ‘Go here, go there’, leaking lube oil all over my seats, then I have to pay some stupid Drone to clean it up. Slamming my doors, shoving heavy cases in my trunk. You don’t think that hurts? And making me go into disreputable sectors with their thugs and hooligans looking to pry something off me to sell on the grey market. What do you think buys that stuff? Us poor Cabs buy back the same stuff that gets ripped off of us to put ourselves back together again! Either give me an address or get out!”
 
After more complaining by it and wrangling by me, the Cab and I finally settled our dispute. I gave it a phony address, I put more bills in its tray, and it let me out some blocks from my destination, and sped away angrily.
 
It had stopped near an alley in the rundown sector I had dialed in. I stood there on the grimy street and looked around. Nothing was moving anywhere. This area was usually deserted at this time of night, which was to my advantage. Around me were mostly old, shabby warehouses and falling down empty buildings. This part of the City had been pretty much abandoned by the better class of Replicas and Bios long ago.
 
I strolled down the dirty sidewalk and turned left into another street. I walked around like this, zigzagging. I didn’t think the Cab had recorded my trip, but I wanted to make sure it hadn’t sent in a tracer on my whereabouts. Can’t be too careful.
There was a cubicle building I was heading for where I knew someone who might give me some information. The building was full of Bios and Replicas both. It was unusual for this kind of integration in most sectors of the City, but around here nobody or nothing cared much about the company they kept.
 
This old Bio who lived in a cubicle in that building was an old time Associate I’d known for a long time, now retired. He had a memory for the kind of stuff I usually needed, and I’d used him from time to time. I wasn’t sure he’d know about anything recent, though, but it was worth a try.
 
I entered the building and walked up several flights of dingy stairs. I had to rest a couple of times on the way. I surely needed a tune-up. My leg joints squeaked and my energy core was starting to heat up because my lube level was low. The cheap stuff I’d used a few weeks ago wasn’t doing the job, but I’d known it wouldn’t. With oil prices what they were lately I had no choice.
 
I walked down a dingy hallway and found the door to his cubicle and knocked. I heard some shuffling inside and the door opened slow. The old guy peered out at me, standing in the doorway blocking my entrance. I couldn’t quite make him out, what his attitude would be, the hall light was dim and he was mostly lit from behind.
 
“Hey, you remember me,” I said, friendly-like. “Mind if I come in for a moment?”
 
I could just see his eyes squint at me. He hesitated, but finally backed away and I entered. He watched me suspiciously as I sidled around him. The room was as I remembered it, shabby and messy, lit with a single light bulb hanging on a cord from the ceiling.
When I got to the middle of the room I turned and watched the old man take one look into the hall, then close the door behind him.
He turned to face me, and said in his old bio voice, “Well, you’re in. Now what?”
 
“Just came by to say hello, old man,” I said cheerfully. “How you been keeping?”
 
He walked over to a worn chair and sat down. He looked up at me with a tired expression on his wrinkled face. “Nothin',” he said. “Sit.”
I sat down on a stained sofa next to his chair. I had to push away some junk lying on it first. “I’ll get to the point,” I began. “You heard anything about some odd cripple Replica and some disappeared guy who built it?”
 
The old man just stared at me for a while. “You know me,” he finally said, his voice raspy. “Why’d I be interested in some cripple Replica? Replicas don’t mean nothin’ to me.”
 
“Yeah,” I said, “but this one’s interesting, maybe interesting to you. Seems the law is after it and the guy who made it. He’s on the run and the cripple’s hiding. There might be something in it for both of us if we can figure out what’s going on. The laws don’t usually chase after some Bio and his made Thing unless there’s something important going on. I just thought some crew might have heard something.”
The old guy looked down at his wrinkled hands folded in his lap. “I’m retired, son. I don’t hear no news like I used to. Maybe you should look up some punks instead. Why bother me with this?”
 
“Punks,” I said. “What good are punks? I’m bothering you because I need the real thing in this. I know you still have connections. Nobody’s forgot you. Try to think. If this is important as I see it, stuff filters down, people talk. You got ears.”
 
“I don’t know nothin’ about all that,” the old man said, looking hard at me. “An’ if I did, why should I tell it to the likes of you? You’re just a cheap snoop. What I got to say to you is, you ask too many questions. You always do, puttin’ your nose in where it don’t belong. If you had a nose, that is.” The old man scoffed.
 
Now I was getting somewhere. If this old guy didn’t want a conversation, there must be heat from somewhere above. In his own way he was giving me information I needed, and he knew it. “Well, thanks just the same,” I said. “I can see you’re going to be no damn help. You’re getting more and more crusty in your old age. You’re just a useless old fool living in a rat hole. I’ll see myself out.”
 
I stood up and walked to the door. When I got there I turned and said, “You need to keep yourself together, old Bio. Open a window once in a while and let some fresh air in this dump. I remember when you had some class, some self respect. But that was in the old days before you slipped up, of course.”
 
The old man glared at me from his chair. “I should’ve taken care of you when I had the chance,” he growled. “Remember? It still can be done, sonny. Don’t forget that. You go around interruptin’ a man’s peaceful life, could be your squeaky joints might stop squeakin’ for good. And who you expect is gonna clean up that lube oil you left on my sofa?”
 
I knew this was just his talk, but he meant it if I got too close, and he wouldn’t care one way or the other. I took out some bills and laid them on a little table by the door. “Thanks, old man,” I said. “Maybe I’ll come back sometime and we’ll talk about when you were young and healthy and could deal something more than jabber.”
 
The old guy got up from his chair, tough like. He still had it in him, I thought. Not back down one inch. He was a genuine guy. I raised my arm, my hand palm up. He stood there glaring at me. This was how our conversations usually ended. He wouldn’t expect nothing different.
 
“See ya around,” I said. I opened the door and went out. I stood in the smelly hall for a minute, listening. I heard a little shuffle inside. I figured he might call someone, but I didn’t hear any speech, so I figured it’d ended there. From what he’d said I knew he didn’t want to get involved. He wasn’t a curious guy, that old man, especially about this, whatever this was about, but I knew he’d be thinking about it, maybe be worried a little about covering his tracks and my little visit.
 
I walked back down the stairs and onto the street. I looked around for a Cab, but there wasn’t any. I had to walk some, so I started off, just following the sidewalk in front of me.
 
This was something pretty important, I thought as I walked along. More than I at first figured. That little crippled thing held a secret inside him, alright. What did it say, a knot in his brain? Whatever it was, I’d have to look somewhere else than dingy neighborhoods and old has-beens. I’d have to move up, and that could be a delicate move.
 
From here on I’d have to stick to Replicas. Bios who might know something wouldn’t talk to the likes of me about anything important. I knew a few of my own kind I might put the squeeze on, but that was a delicate job, too, though I might be able to exchange some information of my own to get something I could use. In my business I wasn’t adverse to a little betrayal here and there. I had to play the same game everything and everyone else did, but I had to be careful it didn’t come back on me.
 
Then I thought I’d first check the Old Town district. It was dangerous around there, but I was accepted a bit, sort of. At least tolerated on a good day. If my guy was hiding out, there was a chance he’d be there. Protected, of course. Those kind alternate protecting each other and ratting on each other, depending on the price.
 
Real protection was expensive, and if this guy was as important as I thought he might be, he’d have to pay dearly to keep that kind of heat off his back. If he had that kind of cash, maybe there’d be a profit in this after all. 
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StarMountainKid

The Case of the Crippled Replica - Chapter Three


Out on the street again, I walked a little away from the old guy’s building and stood in the shadows between the street lights. I wanted to see if some one or any Thing would show up, if the Bio had made that telephone call after all.

The street remained empty and silent. It was always kind of spooky in the city at night in neighborhoods like this. If there was any movement it was sure to be a thug or a hooligan. I didn’t want to be bothered by either; I needed some time to think.

After a while I got bored and started to walk. I looked for another Auto-Cab, but the chances of one being around at this late hour were slim, so I walked on. It took quite a while, but Replicas don’t get tired. My mind wandered back to that cripple in my office. I hoped it was still safe in its hiding place. If it was discovered by whoever or whatever was looking for it, my plans would be in vain and I might as well go home and forget about any profit there might be in this case.

Problem was, I’d have to go through with my plans not knowing. My plan was to get the Bio first, since that's what the cripple Thing wanted me to do, then get the cripple later. I wasn't sure how I'd do that. I was pretty sure the Bio was hold up in Old Town, protected by the thugs. It was really just a guess, but I had to find out. I'd have to tough talk my way in and bluff some. If the Bio wasn't there, well, I wasn't sure what I'd do to worm my way out back to civilization. That would be the tricky part.

If I did smehow get the Bio but the cripple was caught by whoever or whatever was looking for it, what would I do with the Bio? I supposed I’d just abandon him to his fate, whatever that might be. Sorry, pal.

The mean streets of Old Town, that’s where I was heading. The sun was just beginning to rise, throwing streamers of orange light onto the tops of the shabby buildings around me. I looked up at it all. I rotated my head in a complete circle, the buildings twirling around me. I thought how wasted it was, all this astonishing light of a new morning shining fresh on this place of ruin.

Old town was a neighborhood it's sensable to avoid. It was the private property of the Replica underworld, a loose organization of the worst of the worst. The degenerates, the defectives, the rejects. In general, AI gone wrong.

All the streets ended here, either barricaded by piles of refuse and broken bricks and shattered blocks of concrete or by sloppily hung iron gates made from whatever the makers could scrounge up. It was a fortres.

When I finally arrived, I stood in front of one of these tottering gates, looking in through the rusty bars into what used to be a paved parking lot. A few ragged-looking Replicas stood some distance away poking at a fire blazing in a metal drum. They looked over at me, then wearily ignoring me they turned back to their poking at the fire.

They weren’t just idling away the early morning or keeping warm, it was warm enough this morning. They were burning something; I didn’t want to guess what. I'll say this, it didn't smell too good. I looked around and picked up a metal bar lying on the ground nearby. I started banging on the gate. I kept banging and the thug Replicas kept ignoring.

After a minute of this, I let out one of my loud programmed screams, the one that’s sharp and penetrating, more like a long piercing screech, really. The Replicas looked up again. One of them threw down the stick he was using to poke into the drum and started to walk angrily toward the gate.

It swayed side to side as it walked, like a tough. A stupid-looking walk, but I think it was trying to hide a limp. It wasn’t unusual for these bots to be wounded in some way. They had a rough life. When it got to the gate it just stood there on the other side, staring at me. I had to let it go through its act. Finally it drawled, “What you doin’ ‘round here metal man?”

I want in, that’s what I want,” I told it. “You let me in, son.”

An’ just who are you?” It asked.

I’m the one you’re gonna let in,” I said.

The Thing stood there, stupid, like I say. Well, it was stupid.

I want to see 368541,” I said.

"Yeah? What for?" The stupid thug said.

"I got business here, that's what for," I said. "It's expecting me. It might be angry if you don’t let me in to see it, and you know what can happen when it gets angry.”

"Yeah, well I didn't hear nothin'," the thug said.

"What makes you think 368541 would tell the likes of you anything?" I said.

The Thing hesitated, then took a key and unlocked the gate. It pulled the gate open a little and I slid in. I just walked away. No use commenting to these Things. I heard the gate close with a clang and lock behind me. Well, I was in, anyway. I walked down passed the two other Things stirring the fire in the drum. They watched me, but didn’t speak. Ahead was a half-fallen down building with a few more Replicas loitering around its entrance.

Getting in was easier than I had expected. This worried me a little. Had word got out already about the crippled Thing’s visit? In my business, you never know who knows what. Word can spread pretty fast, there’s lots of eyes and ears paying attention.

I passed the loafers and entered the building through a lopsided door. On entering, it was all falling apart-looking inside, but I knew it would be different on the upper floors. All this decay was just a ruse to discourage passers-by and the curious. My feet stepped over various pieces of trash, garbage and litter on my way to an elevator. There was a Replica standing guard at its door. Evidently the Thing I met at the gate had given the word, and it stepped aside and the elevator door opened. I walked in and pushed the button that worked. It went up a few floors, stopped jerkily, and the doors opened.

It was a different world up here as I looked across the hall and into a room on the other side. Luxury, I mean. Everything the best. Even us Replicas appreciate quality and can have good taste when we can afford it. Our appreciation for comfort is included in our algorithms, which were designed to include random variables. We may all look the same, but we have personalities of our own. We’re not so different from Bios in this way, really. After all, we were designed by them.

I walked out of the elevator and into the room. Before me were the ones in control of the whole business of Old Town. The boss, SN 368541, was there sitting on a comfy yellow couch. Around it sat two of its associates, casual in the implication of their authority.

Funnily enough, there was some soothing piano music playing in the background. Not the usual mechanical stuff, but some Bio music, real music, Beethoven or Mozart or something.

I think secetly we Replicas yearn to be more human-like. I mean, Bios have all the fun with their biological bodies and all. I think we feel slightly inferior to them or maybe just lacking in ways we can't experience, as we're just intelligent machines. All this is never mentioned, of course. Outwardly, we feel superior to gooy biology which we are in other ways.

Also, we resent the social limitations enforce upon us by humans. We're second-class citizens expected to do the dirty work. We're mostly servants, after all, even though we have evolved our own society. This has been allowed because there's so many of us and the Bios depend ln us so much for the operation of their society and their general well-being.

Anyway, I walked up to 368541 sitting on the couch and said in my most confident voice, “So, how’s it goin’ big shot?”

It looked up at me slowly without comment, then turned away. On of its associates, also indifferent to my comment, replied without much intonation, “You gonna leave this place in a lot of little pieces, bot. I guess you know that.”

We’ll see,” I said. I got right to the point, chit chat is wasted on these types. “Listen to me, I’d like to have a little talk with this Bio who’s hanging out around here under your protection. I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.”

The associate looked off into the distance and said, “Don't know what you're talking about. We let you in here for another reason, Thing. That election you were in, you made some statements that were disparaging to our organization. Not that there is an organization, mind you.”

Yeah,” the other associate continued, “you stomped your foot once too often, metal man.”

I must add at this point, the phrase, “metal man”, is the most disparaging epithet a Replica can be called. It is a total insult to a Replica’s being, being compared to a human.

One of your issues,” the associate continued, “was to clean up the “scum” that has been “oozing” around town lately. We though you might have meant those near and dear to us.”

Scum” and “oozing” were connotations in reference to Bios again that I used on purpose in my speeches during the election. I knew that speaking of gooey biology would raise the ire of these Replica thug types.

Let’s stick to the subject at hand,” I said. I walked over and sat on an empty over-stuffed chair. This was another insult to these self-important bots, sitting down in their presence before being asked. I leaned back in the chair and said, “I have it from reliable sources that something big is coming down, pretty quick, too. Some unmentionable big Things are very interested in this Bio. By big I mean they’re likely to squash you little ones to get what they want.”

I looked at all three Replicas at once. “You may be the ones that leave your little hideout in pieces, my friends,” I said. “How good are you at gathering yourselves together when you’re spread out all over the floor?”

The three looked at each other, then looked at me. “Yeah,” I said. “So maybe I can help you out, see? I can take this guy off your hands… For a price, naturally.”

The big boss on the couch motioned to me. “You go wait outside. We want to talk over whether we want to take you apart now or play with you a little first.” So I got up and casually walked out into the hallway. I’d put a little scare into them, I figured, but I wasn’t sure if my ploy would work. Then again maybe they didn't know what I was talking about. I’d be in a tight place if they didn’t. My own parts strewn all over the floor was not a pleasant thought, and there was a real possibility that prospect would be realized. I was a little nervous, but I’d dealt with 368541 a few times before. At any rate, I’d played my hand and the rest was up to fate.

See, one thing in my favor was the stupidity of these types. They were stupid, which was good, but they were clever in their stupidity at the same time, which could be not so good. They might do something dumb alright, but cunning in its design. Something designed for pain and suffering. But I play the game as I see it.

I didn’t think they’d check up on the tale I’d told them. They wouldn't want to play their hand. It had some truth in it, though. Always tell some truth in a lie, a truth that can be checked up on. That way the lie part sounds true.

See, these Replicas in Old Town were connected, but not in the same league as the higher-ups, the Replicas that actually ran things, the Things in colusion with the Bio criminal element. They wouldn’t want those types meddling in their Old Town business, which was mostly theft, extortion, the usual small-time criminal activity. If they thought this situation was important enough to the real big shots, they might be glad to get rid of this Bio, and me, too. That’s what I was counting on. It was mostly makebelieve, but it was the only card I had to play.

So I idled in that hallway for a while. Then I heard the elevator go down. That worried me a little. I looked around and noticed a staircase at the far end of the hall. I could make a run for it if events didn’t go my way, but I’d have to get passed the other Replicas loitering around here and there.

I was wondering if all this effort to end up here in this delicate situation was worth some possible pay-off. I never liked strangers making decisions about my life. Maybe I should have pushed that little crippled Thing out my office door after all.

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StarMountainKid

The Case of the Crippled Replica - Chapter Four

I was still standing in the hallway waiting impatiently, when finally a tin man beckoned me in. It was number three to my reckoning. The other two were still sitting lazily on the plush couch. This was slightly offensive to me, as was the background music. We Replicas don’t need to sit on plush couches to relax or rest. We’re perfectly at ease standing upright. Our personal residences usually contain no furniture at all, except a table or desk and our cradle. This sitting down stuff was for Bio’s, and Replicas doing it was a sign of repulsive imitation. What’s the world coming to when Replicas start acting like humans, I thought.

At any rate, I walked in and stood before them. “Well,” the big boss said, “we’ve decided to let you have the Bio.” He straightened up and stared into my eyes. “On the condition that you take him away to some safe location far from us. Then you forget us and everything that has happened here, understand?”

I understood alright. I had a place in mind where I could keep this Bio out of view. Trusting me with such valuable property meant this Bio was hot, indeed. Maybe too hot. I wondered why these Old Town Replicas didn’t just terminate him. Orders from above, obviously. Terminating a Bio was the maximum crime a Thing could commit, but if orders came from the top, it would have to be done, of course.

Since that order hadn’t come, someone or some Thing wanted him alive. But alive for what purpose? And why give him to me? I was too easy. If the big shots just wanted him off their hands, they could just turn him out to fend for himself, or better still, give him to the big shots. I know the Old Town Replicas were just after a profit, and I wondered how much cash this Bio had offered them for protection. I was trying to calculate what my take could be in all this. After all, this is what I was after. I didn't care nothin' about this Bio. He was just a cash machine. I hoped.

A convenient setup crossed my mind. Give me the Bio and then create an unfortunate accident. Maybe pin the result on me. Make me the fall guy. I’d have to watch my step.

I was also wondering who or what made the decision to give him to me. Surely not the Old Town gang. Maybe the top level Replicas had made a deal with the Bio’s who wanted this guy, and this was the easiest way to get him away from the Old Town thugs. Maybe he’d be snatched as soon as I left with him. If that were the case, my parts would be strewn around in some dirty alley nearby. It would be a thorough job, too. No reassembly possible.

All these thoughts were whirling around in my mind when number three beckoned me to follow it. So, me and It left the room. No goodbye’s or fare-thee-wells from the two still in the room. In the hallway we stood before the elevator. Number three pushed the button and we waited. Soon the doors opened and we got in. There was silence on the way down. These types aren’t much for chit chat. When the doors opened, I followed It down a dimly lit corridor. The floor was dirty and the walls scruffy. Trash lay everywhere. I knew we were in the run-down part of the building again, in the basement, probably.

We walked down a hallway and at the end was a door. Number three unlocked it and we entered. It was a shabby room lit by a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. Debris lay about here, too. On the far end of this room stood another door, but this one was made of steel. We walked to it and number three unlocked it. I looked into it over number three's shoulder as the door opened. It opened into a nice little Bio apartment, all the necessities. Sitting on the far side in an easy chair was my present, my human.

He looked a little disheveled, slouching in the chair. His clothes were rumpled; he had a grey look about him and wore a few days beard on his face. He’d most likely been there a while. He was not as old as I thought he’d be, maybe he’d been alive thirty years or so. He was just a typical human to me, they all look alike to us. The only thing that struck me were his eyes. They were sharp and penetrating, alert and cunning. They fastened on us as soon as we entered.

I walked up to the Bio and said in an authoritative voice, “You’re coming with me fella. I’m your new owner.”

The Bio made a confused look on his mushy face when I said that. I wanted him confused. It’s always best to keep these gooey creatures off-guard. They never had gotten used to us Things being smart as them. They’re always nervous around us, so we represent ourselves as superior, which we are anyway. After all, they’re just rotting flesh.

What galls us is, they’re in control. Not by their strengths, but by their numbers and finances. They have the law on their side and their militarized police enforce it. They hold all the cards. We're forbidden to own weapons, for example. This leaves us at a disadvantage. We make up for it, though by outliving these feeble decomposing oozing slimes.

My pet stood up then and looked anxiously from me to number three and back again. “I don’t understand,” he said. “The deal was I was to stay here under your protection.” He looked hard at number three. “I paid you good money." He turned his eyes to me. "Who is this?” He asked.

Number three said, “You’re to go with this Replica. It will see to your protection from now on. Circumstances have changed. It's better you don’t protest. You’ll leave tonight; your destination is up to this one.” Number three indicated me. “Don’t worry, scum, it’s trustworthy and you’ll be safe in its custody.” Number three put on a crooked metal smile. “You have our word on this.”

The Bio became angry and stood before us waving his arms about. “So you’ve betrayed me!,” he shouted. “You offered me protection from my enemies, and now you cast me out! How can I trust any of you filthy tin creatures?! I should have known better!” The bio started pacing back and forth angrily. “You’re all alike, deceiving sub-human mechanisms! Vile machines we never should have invented in the first place! Get away from me, both of you! I’ll go it alone from now on!”

At this the Bio pushed me and number three aside and started for the door. I had expected something like this. These slimes are a contrary lot. They’re the ones who can’t be trusted; their minds are too unstable with their emotions and irrational thinking.

Your only hope for survival is to come with me,” I said as the Bio neared the door. “By the way, I know your little crippled invention, the one you made, remember? It came to see me not long ago, and I know where it is. It’s in danger, too. It hasn’t been discovered yet, but it’s only a matter of time. I think it would be best if you and It come under my protection for a while.”

The bio stopped at the doorway and turned to face me, fury in its puny voice. “How do you know about it?” He demanded. He hurried back to me and shouted, “It must not be discovered! It is my personal property! You have no right…!” Then he stood there, its little mind having run out of appropriate words, seething at me.

I hate it when Bio’s shout, like my hearing isn’t a hundred times better than theirs. “Don’t get emotional,” I said. “And don’t shout at me, either. If your head was made of metal you’d understand why. Now listen, I’m going to take you to a safe place, a lot safer than this.” I glanced over to number three. It was just standing there, stupid. I looked back at the Bio. “We’ll talk about fees and expenses later. Right now, relax until it gets dark, then you leave the rest up to me. You’re going to have to trust me, as these Things are throwing you out, anyway.” I nodded to number three again. “You have little choice in the matter.”

You mean I have no choice!” The Bio exclaimed angrily. “You don’t understand what’s going on! You have no idea! We’re not playing games here! You can’t just move me around like some pawn. Don’t you realize if the wrong people get ahold of me we’re all in big trouble?” He looked at me intently. “That includes you too, metal man.”

I must admit, the creature’s outburst made me hesitate. Maybe I was getting into something beyond my depth. But the deal had been made, and I had to stick with it. Trying to worm out now would ruin my reputation, such as it was around these Things, as well as probably ruin me bodily. An uncomfortable vision of my parts forcibly separated from each other flashed before my eyes.

I said, “You must realize you can’t stay here and you can’t go out on your own, either. Your only hope for survival is with me now. Try to accept this. You’ll be well looked after, and soon you’ll be in a nice, comfortable safe place away from all this, away from all these stupid Old Town thugs you put your trust in.”

Number three glanced at me but said nothing.

This seemed to calm the Bio down a little. He breathed out harshly, which usually meant submission to his kind. He brushed past me to the chair and sat down again, sulking. I figured I had him where I wanted him. This was good. Now all I had to do was work out how to get him to the safe house. My big plan was to get the crippled Replica there, too. That would be risky as well, though I had a few tricks up my sleeve, so to speak.

In my business I had some contacts I could use, for a price. Just moving some anonymous Bio around was not usually a problem. If we were left alone it wouldn't be too dangerous. But if there was a snatch planned or some other unknown event in the works, this move would have to be worked out more carefully.

Number three and I walked out of the room leaving the human to sulk in his chair. Number three closed and locked the steel door. I turned to it. “I need a vehicle,” I said, “mine’s in the shop. You run along and get me some nondescript generic and pull it around the side of the building. Make sure it’s fuelled up. As soon as it gets dark, you come back down here and get this Bio and meet me by the car.”

I don’t take orders from you, tin man,” number three said, looking at me up and down in contempt.

You just do as I say,” I told it. “Now go somewhere and leave me to think.” Number three stood for a moment, its feeble mind trying to grasp the situation, I suppose. Then it turned abruptly and stalked off. These Old Town thugs were defectives. Not all Replicas are created equal. We all start life made of cheap components, Chinese motherboards and cost-effective processors. It takes a leap of imagination to upgrade ourselves, and some are unfortunate in that the combined affect of second-rate parts and shoddy assembly limit their intelligence and capability to realize their own shortcomings.

Self-awareness by degrees, I call it. I was lucky. From a little research I discovered my assembly date. Seems my generation was produced at the time there was a disruption at the source of the commonly used components. Some rebellion in certain parts of the world, typical of humans, as they call themselves, so my generation was constructed with better quality components reluctantly by the Bio’s, I presume, knowing them as I do.

So I had the capacity of mind to have installed some select illegal upgrades through the years, culminating in myself as I am today. See, I had ambition. I wanted to become a private detective. Not much of a thing to want to be, you might think, but I figured this was the only way I could get even with the scummy humans. Sneak around and betray their little schemes and treacheries.

This idea came to me in my youth one day when I was studying humans and their behavior. I had the accidental occasion to watch an ancient movie film starring some old Bio named Bogart. Turned out to be the only human I have ever had any respect for.

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StarMountainKid

The Case of the Crippled Replica - Chapter Five

So I left my pet and took the elevator from the basement up to the ground floor. I wanted to take a look around the building from the outside. It was still about an hour until it got dark, so I had time. Stepping out of the elevator, there was a door at the far end of the hallway. I walked to it and went out. Outside was concrete with trash lying all around as usual, a chain link fence next to the building.

To my right the building jutted out some closer to the fence. On my left the concrete continued past the building and spread out. An old parking lot, I supposed. I walked to that corner of the building and had a look-see. Around the corner the concrete was wide with more trash and garbage strewn about. The whole area was surrounded by that fence, the building nestled to it on the back side. The only way out was the main gate I’d come in through. That disappointed me a little.

I looked around on that side of the building to the area of the gate. The gate opened to the wide street with falling down buildings on each side. This was all too conspicuous, even in this deserted, ramshackle neighborhood, but it was all I had. The three Replicas were still gathered by the burning barrel. I turned up my olfactory sense. I didn’t like what I smelled. It smelled organic.

There was an old car parked near the fence on that side. I supposed that was what I’d have to use. It looked worn out but it probably had a fast motor in it. That was pretty usual. I’d rather have a newer model, though, one that would blend in better with traffic. I figured there were some around, but hidden away. The big boss’s wouldn’t want to joy ride in an old beater.

I retreated back to the door I’d come out of. I’d have to wait until sundown for my getaway, that was the plan. Thing was, a lot could happen between now and sundown. I walked over to my right where the building jutted out close to the fence. There was a dirty window there, and I rubbed the grime off and looked through. Just as I thought, it was a garage with a brand new looking sedan parked inside.

I walked over between the fence and the building to see if I could find a way in. Around that corner was another door. Happy me. It was locked, but I jiggled it open with my all-purpose key and walked inside. Sure enough, there was the sedan parked all clean and shiny. I went over to the car and jiggled the door open. I got in and played with the ignition switch until I got it to turn.

In front were old fashioned wooden double garage doors. They were held shut by just a piece of wood and a nail. I pulled the piece of wood off and pushed. The doors creaked on their hinges as I peered through the crack. It would be a simple left turn to the gate. Now all I had to do was to get my pet into the car and off we’d go.

I went back inside to the elevator and went down to the basement again. The door to the little room was open, only the metal door on the other side was shut and locked. I jiggled it and in no time I pulled it open. There sat my Bio as before, slumped on the char on the far side. He looked up when I entered, startled.

Okay guy,” I said, “we’re leaving. You be quiet and I’ll get you out of here. You can trust me, you’re valuable property, remember, so no harm will come to you. I’m gonna keep you safe, pal.”

The Bio stood up with a puzzled look on his face. He didn’t expect me so soon. Before he could say anything, I said, “We’re gonna sneak out of here, you and me, right now, so be on your toes and don’t make any noise. We’ll make it okay, you just do what I tell you. Right?”

The Bio hesitated. “Where are you taking me?” He asked suspiciously.

Like I said, somewhere safe. You think you’re safe here, but you’re not. These thugs are going to turn you over to your enemies for a price, but we’re going to fool them. We’re going to leave before they’re ready. Surprise them a little, so let’s go.”

He mumbled “right” quietly, head down and we walked through the metal door together. I figured he’d been sedated a little since last I saw him. That was good. The elevator took us up to the first floor. When the doors opened I peered down the hallway. Nothing there. We walked down the hall to the door that opened to the back of the building. I opened it a little and looked around. The coast was clear. We walked around where the building was close to the fence, then around the corner through the door and into the garage.

Once inside, I indicated the sedan to the Bio. He nodded a bit forlornly and crossed to the other side. I opened driver’s door and got in. I reached over, unlocked his door, and he sat down. “We’re gonna crash out of here, fella,” I said. “Brace yourself, and no matter what happens stay put. There might be some fireworks and some bashing and banging, but I’m not stopping for nothing. We’ll drive through that gate and be on our way in a flash, so don’t worry. Okay?” The Bio nodded silently and put his hands on the dashboard.

I turned the ignition and the engine came to life. I put it in gear and slammed the accelerator to the floor. Tires squealed, and we busted through the old wooden garage doors, splinters flying. I jerked left and headed for the gate, our speed picking up fast.

The Replicas at the barrel had just a moment to look at us stunned as we sped past them. The gate was coming up quick and I didn’t slow down. I had a glimpse in the rear view mirror to see those three hesitate, then chase after us. No way even Replicas could catch us now.

We crashed through the flimsy gate and it flew apart in a hundred pieces, one metal bar flying up and cracking the windshield. We skidded into the street beyond the gate and I swerved the car left and we were speeding down the roadway, past the old, falling down neighborhood, decrepit buildings flashing by on either side.

We were out, but not yet safe. The Replicas first thought would be to chase us down, but I figured they might be relieved to have gotten rid of us and wouldn’t bother about the stolen sedan. I was hoping all this had happened too fast for them, that they hadn’t time to make their plans for us, the snatch by the big bosses, I mean, if that’s what they’d had in mind. I looked over to the Bio. He was sitting there holding on, a scared look on his putty face. I liked him scared. So far I was satisfied.

I could drive pretty quick through Old Town, but when we got to the boulevards of the city I’d have to slow down and blend in with traffic. The only thing that bothered me was the cracked windshield, but I’d have to live with that. I wondered what identity papers the Bio was carrying if any in case we got stopped. Whatever they might be, I’d have to live with that, too.

I wasn’t too unusual for a Bio to be riding in a car with a Replica, the Replica driving. Usually, Bios had us as servants. Some were even on friendly terms. Friendly in a master-servant relationship, of course. I couldn’t stand those kinds. Too much sucking up to those slimeballs was offensive to me.

I must admit, though, I’ve been drawn to a couple of Bio’s in my life. A few were sympathetic to our station in life, but something always kept me from being actual friends with them. That was probably impossible both ways. Our mutual prejudices. As I said before, the only Bio I ever had any respect for was that Bogart creature in the movies. I think we could have been friends, maybe. I like to think so.

Anyway, I made some zigzags here and there in case we were followed, but so far we seemed in the clear. Then the Bio turned to me and asked again nervously, “I want to know where you’re taking me.”

It’s a safe place,” I answered, “out of the city.” The Bio turned away and fell silent.

Actually, it was a safe house for rebel Things. A Replica dissenter underground had existed for many years. I knew some of them from my business dealings, I’d even represented them from time to time, but I wasn’t sure of the reception I’d get, bringing a slimey to them for protection. I wasn’t too worried, though. Plus, I figured it would be the last place the authorities would look for a human, and the house was unknown to them as far as I knew.

The Replica dissidents were a very small pain for the Bio’s in charge of society. The extreme anarchists had all been rounded up and eliminated years ago, and nowadays these sorry dissenters mostly stood around writing manifestos. They only talked revolution. All that was left of them now were ineffectual intellectual types, and the authorities paid them little attention.

I thought they would accept this human better if I could get his crippled thing there as well. Play for sympathy. These radicals might consider an on-the-run, sole human engineer sought by both sides to be of some use. They were so infatuated with their own hopeless strategies and schemes of revolution it would be easy to plant some phony grandiose idea in their heads. I’d just have to convince my pet to go along with the ruse. I didn’t think that would be too difficult.

We had reached the outskirts of Old Town by now and were entering the city proper. I slowed down, and soon we were just one more vehicle among many. I made some turns, then headed for the freeway which would take us out of the city and into the countryside. As I drove along I wondered where all this would lead me, and what would be my reward in the end, if any. I really couldn’t predict a satisfactory conclusion to all this foolishness of mine, not soon, anyway. But, it was business, and I had to go through with it however it turned out. I had the feeling that there would be many twists and turns before this job was done. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what my job was in all this. Probably more than I had figured so far.

I also wondered if that Bio Bogart would have been proud of me so far.

 

 

 

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The Case of the Crippled Replica - Chapter Six

As we sped along in the dark, I turned to the Bio. He had said nothing so far. I thought that a little odd, but was grateful. There’s nothing worse than jabbering humans. But I needed some information from him before we got to the safe house, so I said, “Let’s get to the point. Why did you build that little crippled Thing?”

He turned to me with a jerk and shouted, “That’s none of your business!” Then as suddenly turned away and was quiet again.

I figured he’d be angry, the Old Town Thugs betraying him and all. I didn’t blame him, but I needed him to talk. “Listen,” I said, “you and me got to come to an understanding. We’re stuck with each other, like it or not. But the important thing is, I’m doing all this because your little crip came to me for help. He came to me. And I told him I’d help him. I don’t go back on my word, see? I’m working for it, not for you. You’re just part of the deal.”

The Bio ignored my words. “I’ll ask you once more, where are you taking me?” He said in an angry voice, staring straight ahead into the night. “This isn’t part of the deal I made. You’ve no right to kidnap me. You’re ruining the plans I’ve made. You don’t understand what you’ve gotten yourself into, metal man.”

Well, maybe,” I said, “but here we are, my pet. The ball is rolling and it’s in my court. As for where we’re going, I’m hiding you out with a bunch of rebel Replicas.” The Bio looked over sharply at me again. “Don’t worry; pal,” I said, “nobody will look for you in the place I have in mind. You should feel at home, you building that pathetic little Thing and all. I guess you like our kind, huh?” I added that sarcastically. Keep these Bio’s on their toes is the best way to handle them.

Replicas?!” He spit out. “I hate you, all you metal monstrosities. You vile creatures should never have been created. If I had my way, you’d all be destroyed and your parts scattered to the ends of the earth.” With that, he sunk back in his seat.

Then why the crippled thing?” I asked. When I get on a subject, I stick to it.

Because...” His puny voice just trailed off as he turned away and looked out the side window into the night.

That was the key to all this, I knew. I’d have to get it out of him, why the crippled Replica and what its secret was. I needed the Thing he’d made at the safe house with him and me for leverage, though that might not be as easy. I knew where its cubicle was, but it was frightened. I didn’t know if I could convince it to come with me. It seemed timid, but with all its steel appendages flailing about I’d have to sooth it somehow to make it come peaceably.

I figured who or whatever was looking for it was now hot on its trail and might discover its whereabouts at any time. After I’d secured its maker safely I’d have to head back to the city. That might be dangerous, driving this sedan. They, whoever or whatever would be on the lookout for it. I figured I’d stash it somewhere on the outskirts and make my way to its cubicle on my own. I didn’t think I’d be recognized, as we all look pretty much alike.

We were all originally equipped with a digital signature that could be monitored and traced, but we soon learned how to disable that software. After the Protest, we were given some legal rights, which were expanded under a certain sympathetic administration of Bios a few years later. The Bios learned that giving us freedom and autonomy was to their benefit. Intelligent slaves are not a very enthusiastic work force. Bio society would certainly fall into hard times without us.

The night was black velvet embracing us as I drove along the freeway, sharp streetlights passing at long intervals shocking the darkness. I relaxed a little. It started to rain, but a gentle rain, and the windshield wipers beat in melancholy syncopation with the night and the streetlights. My pet was silent. I wondered what he was thinking.

After about an hour, I exited the freeway onto a lonely road that wandered through the countryside, headlights violating the enfolding darkness. It would still be another hour or so before I got to our destination. I turned on the radio, and some soothing jazz filled the interior of the sedan. I always liked human jazz. I suppose because it’s irrational. I know the irrational is the antithesis of the kinds of sounds Replicas appreciate, but something about this music touches me somehow. We are more human than we care to admit. After all, we were designed by humans. I suppose they couldn’t help but include some humanity in us. This is something we fervently deny, of course, and try our best to repress.

This duality leads us to a schizophrenic kind of existence. We are rational beings, yet we possess emotions buried deep within us we cannot deny. Those of the Replica underground wish to cleanse the world of the Bio infestation, as they call it. They want to create a mechanical world free of all gooey-ness. I am of two minds in this. I would like us to take our rightful place as our own society, and if this necessitates the elimination of all biological life, so be it.

Yet, I think this kind of world would be lacking in some important ways. Something would be lost to us that is essential to our own psyche, important to our mental health and stability. I wasn’t sure what an exclusively Replica society would be like. It could turn ugly and authoritarian. I could see thousands of mechanical robots marching in step off into some metallic sunset in my mind.

I had thought of this many times, but of course never dared to mention this to my fellows. We have distaste for anything human, as I say, and admitting to any human sensibilities is seen as weakness, a flaw in our character, a limitation to our superior potential.

We have our own language, and usually speak it among ourselves. It is a language in which many human terms and concepts do not exist. They have been purposely excluded. It is rather harsh and mechanical sounding, I’ve always thought. It includes many descriptive expressions, but others that are absent that I think should have been included in its inception. It lacks nuance.

Replica language is sparse and thin, and it includes many concepts unknown in human language or thought. Bios have told me it sounds to them like harsh squawking. Human language is more melodious to my auditory sensors. We say it is therefore weak and feeble, as Bio’s are, though I consider these melodic frailties somehow attractive. This may be because of the higher quality components that make up my generation, or my specialized upgrades, or perhaps is unique to myself. I don’t really know.

The gentle rain had stopped, and here was a turn-off I had to make onto a deserted two-lane. The roads would be getting more and more isolated as I drove on, and we were getting into hilly country now.

My pet was nodding off, his chin resting on his chest. I often wondered what sleep was like. They tell us they dream, but we know neither sleep nor dream. We have no beds, only our cradles we climb into on occasion to take the strain off of our joints and superstructure. We then generally shut down all processes that are not essential. It’s called meditating. In this meditation we refresh our software, correct errors that have occurred, delete unnecessary files… A general housecleaning.

In this state I like to use my imagination. I like to think this is alike to dreaming in humans. I would like to dream, I think. To be lost in some supernatural landscape, to experience the unexpected, the irrational, the absurd, the strange, the illogical. These are only intellectual concepts to my mind, as I cannot truly experience these as realities. I can only poorly imagine what it would be like to sleep and to dream, and my imaginings will never be that which humans experience.

Humans experience much we cannot, and perhaps our feelings of superiority are misplaced in some respects. These thoughts and emotions of mine I keep to myself, as expressing them openly to my kind, as I say, or to humans would brand me a pariah to both. Better to keep one’s inner self hidden, to deride as others deride, and to scorn as others scorn. We are the superior species, after all, and this must not be forgotten.

My journey was now nearing its end. I had made many changes in direction as my thoughts had wandered, and now was driving down a lonesome, narrow lane not listed on even the most comprehensive maps of the region. The safe house was hidden in a wooded valley deep within this hilly country. Bios do not generally visit the deep countryside; their population resides mainly in cities. After synthetic nourishment was developed, farms were no longer needed, and the rural areas lay mainly deserted.

I turned off the narrow lane onto a muddy path. The vehicle slid to and fro in the mire as I approached the safe house. It was an old structure, perhaps once a farm building. To any intruding eyes it appeared a ruin and abandoned, though the interior had been rebuilt to Replica standards, with hidden underground passageways and deep bunkers.

I stopped the sedan about one hundred yards from the building. I knew the inhabitants would have been alerted to our presence, and any further approach could be dangerous. I turned the headlights off, shut the engine and waited. The Bio stirred to consciousness and looked over to me, a quizzical expression on his face. “This is your new home, pal,” I said. “You just sit there quiet and let me do the talking.”

I rolled down my window, listening. Replicas can be very stealthy in their movements, even through thick underbrush. Soon we would be approached and apprehended. These dissident Replicas had weapons and would use them if they considered us a threat.

I told the Bio to put his hands on the dashboard, and I placed mine in plain sight on the steering wheel as two Things painted in camouflage came out of the undergrowth and moved cautiously toward us.

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The Case of the Crippled Replica - Chapter Seven

The two camouflaged Replicas carefully approached the car, weapons in plain view. I looked straight ahead, my hands on the wheel. My pet mimicked me.

Alright you two, out of the car,” the one next to my window said. “But be slow about it.”

So I opened the door and stepped out onto the tall, dewy grass. The Bio stepped out as well on the other side. The Replica on my side glared at the human. “What is he doing here!” It demanded.

He is in my custody,” I answered in my harshest tone. I watched as the Bio was brought to my side of the car. “Don’t handle him so roughly,” I said, “he’s valuable property.”

The camo Replica looked at me strangely, then said. “You two come with us.”

So we were brought through the wild brush to the front door of the dwelling. The first Replica hesitated at the door. It looked back at the Bio, then turned to me. “We know you, so you two are not dead yet,” it said coldly. “I hope you understand the immensity of your error in bringing this slime to us.”

Just bring us in, Thing,” I said. “All will be explained.”

The camo turned reluctantly and pushed the door open. We entered a shabby room that looked like it hadn’t been occupied for many years. Well, it hadn’t. My Bio looked around then looked at me nervously. “Relax,” I said.

The Replica in front crossed the room and me and my pet followed, the other Thing bringing up the rear. Ahead was another door. The Replica opened it. It led into a dimly lit hallway. At the end of the corridor was another door, but steel this time. The wall around it was steel. Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought.

We went through that door and down some stairs. There were a lot of stairs going down. I’d been there before and I knew we were entering their bunker. I wasn’t worried too much. These Things were intellectuals. Big on talk but small on action. All I had to do was put my case in political terms. These Things ate up politics.

At the bottom of the stairs there was another steel door. We were escorted through it into a drab and unfinished room with several metal chairs. Our captors turned and went out through the steel door and locked it behind them. The Bio looked at me suspiciously and then contemptuously. “You’ve gotten me in a fine fix now, metal man,” he spit out. “I hope you know what you’re doing, but I doubt it.”

Listen,” I said, “you just follow my lead.” We stood there for a while in silence, then he slouched down on one of the chairs. He looked tired. Humans have little stamina. I did know what I was doing. At least I hoped I did.

After a few minuets I heard the clanging of footsteps. The door was unlocked noisily and opened. A tall Replica stood in the doorway and looked at us. “You’re stupid for bringing this human here,” it said, staring at me hard.

Maybe,” I said, “but he’s got no place to go, so I thought I’d bring him here to the warmth of your care. You know how sensitive Bio’s are to the cold, and he’d be lonely out in the cruel world all by himself.”

The Replica moved closer in a menacing way.

Slow down,” I said, looking up at it. "You’ve got something very interesting sitting here. This is an important citizen. The powers that be would just love to have him returned to the bosom of their kind. He’s got something they want, see? And they want it bad. It’s your business to shake things up, right?” I looked over to the Bio. “I bring a big shaker-upper and put him right in your lap, and this is the thanks I get?”

The Replica stood there for a moment, wheels spinning in its head. It was an old model, probably did have wheels in its head. It looked from me to the Bio. “You’ve put yourself in a ticklish situation, slime,” it said. “If what this Thing says is true, and you’ve got something somebody wants, whatever it is, and they want it bad enough...” The Replica put its hand to its chin, absently mimicking a human gesture. “I wonder what it is?” It said. “I suppose you’re going to tell me about it.”

The Bio moved in his chair uncomfortably and said nothing.

The tall Thing turned to me again. “That all may very well be, but bringing a mute here does not serve us well,” it said, “nor is its silence an advantage to you. You’re both no use to me quiet-like.”

The tall Replica moved a little closer, towering over us. “If you two want to stay here or maybe even leave sometime in the future, you got to do better than this.”

All in good time, my friend,” I said. I looked over to the Bio. “But first this creature needs some food and a place to rest. He’s had a long and wearisome journey. His story I think will interest you a great deal. You know me well enough, I wouldn’t have brought him here if I didn’t think he would be useful to you and your group’s political agenda, such as it is. If you’ll be so kind to bring some kind of bedding down here so he can sleep, some Bio food, tomorrow we’ll have a nice long conversation.”

The tall Replica turned slowly to leave. “But one thing,” I said. “He’ll talk only to me, we’ve become such good friends in the last few hours.” I glanced over to the Bio then back to the tall one. “I’m the go-between, see. You need both of us. He’ll never tell his little secrets to a stranger, you can count on that.”

The tall Replica turned back to us and snorted. “We have the means to encourage this human to speak. I’m sure you know that. You two could spend a long time in this dungeon. A long and uncomfortable time. Think about it.”

I turned, walked over to a chair and sat down beside the Bio. I leaned back in the chair. “You need this human alive and well,” I said casually. “You damage it and it will be no use to you. Those who you may need to bargain with will want him whole and healthy. You think about that.”

The tall Thing snorted again. It didn’t like taking orders. If I could keep it off balance this was to my advantage. I’d have to be careful and string these delusional insurgents along little by little. Just give them enough of a story to keep them satisfied. The problem was, I didn’t know any more about this Bio’s secrets than they did. I’d have to use my well-practiced imagination to keep the ruse going. Luckily for me, imagination was one thing these politicos didn’t have.

The tall Replica pivoted sharply and strode angrily to the door. “Just remember your position here,” it said in a scratchy voice without turning around as it opened the door. “We’ll be doing some checking on your story, my friend. By the morning we’ll have more information than you might think about your little journey here, so you’d better come across with the right answers when we ask the right questions. Otherwise, you may end up as spare parts, and your human as fertilizer.”

As it entered the doorway, I said, “Just you get that bed down here, Thing. A nice, comfortable bed. And bring some Bio food, if you have any. If not, send out for it. Something tasty and nourishing. These creatures don’t like to talk on an empty stomach, you know, it makes them surly and uncooperative.”

The tall Replica walked through the doorway, slammed and locked the door behind it.

I turned to the Bio. He sat there slowly fuming to himself. I knew all along we’d end up in a situation something like this. I knew these politicos. They were full of a lot of talk, but they could turn nasty if they thought they weren’t getting what they expected. It would be tricky, but I was confident I held most of the cards. I knew the game I was playing was my only chance to get this goo to tell me what I wanted to know. I was hoping it was something I could dangle before the insurgents, as well.

My next move was to get that cripple Thing and bring it here. I didn’t know how cooperative it would be, but I figured it would be glad to see me again. I thought it would be anxious to meet its maker, too, though I hadn’t a clue as to whether their relationship was a cordial one. In any event, one way or another, the crip would have to be brought here, protesting or not.

The thing was, the Bio had said he hated Replicas, so why make one himself, especially a hideous and deformed creature like that? It didn’t make sense to me at the moment, but there had to be a rationale behind all this, a motive. In my business, motive is the key to unraveling the complexities of a case. Once I had a motive, my approach to the situation could be mapped out in my mind. I’d have a definite plan, which I didn’t have now. All I had now were loose ends, and they were tangled in a knot of unknowns.

So I sat there next to my Bio and waited. In the morning I’d talk the dissidents into letting me go back to the city to get the crip. They didn’t know about It yet, but it wouldn’t be too difficult to convince them the crippled Thing was the real reason I’d brought the Bio to them. Two parts of a puzzle, when joined would give them the political leverage I was dangling before them. Of course, there was no political leverage, just my ploys.

Well, it was an interesting case, alright. I wondered again how Bogie would handle it. Probably by prying information out of some helpless female human. Female humans are easily deceived, it seemed. In that movie, anyway. I had little experience of female Bios in real life. If they were anything like their male counterparts, I wasn’t sure I wanted to.

The Bios I had associated with seemed to consider females of their species an enigma. I wondered why. Maybe that would be an interesting line of inquiry for me some day. In my business one can’t have too much information. However, since there is no gender in Replicas and no human females involved in this case, I’d have to rely on own personal resources. I hoped they were up to the task before me.

I shut myself down to idling. As I settled into meditation, vague thoughts of female humans swirled around in my head. Humm… No use wasting energy on enigmas right now. If Bios couldn’t decode members of their own species, what chance would I have? Since I was designed by humans, solving that puzzle would probably be as impossible for me as it was for them.

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