In the overhead rack, Suzu's suitcase beeped when the cabin lights
dimmed. "Don't worry, we're just landing," she said. The autogyro's
engines changed pitch as it began descent. She closed her eyes for a
moment, willing her stomach to remain in place. She hated flying even
more than the suitcase did.
With a finger tap, her iBand display blanked out, relegating to memory
the report she'd been reading. She hadn't needed to review it but the
flight from Boston had been boring and this charter had no seatback vid
screens. So it was either the report, or watch the gathering clouds
Fairfield, Connecticut. The facility here was relatively new,
established the previous year. It manufactured sexbots. A week ago, a
worker named Enrique "Rico" Ramos Lopez had disappeared - along with
enough spare parts to build most of a female drobe. The company wanted
him located and prosecuted. Company investigator Fujiwara Suzu found
herself assigned to the case despite her workload in Japan because she'd
once been to Boston. Suzu grimaced as the gyro hit an airpocket. The
suitcase beeped again.
The amount of legal trouble UrDrobot would find itself in hinged on
whether or not Rico was aware that on the same day he disappeared,
certain classes of drobes - those controlled by Level Three and above
artificial intelligence matrices - had been granted some basic legal
rights, elevating them from the category of machine to limited
"personhood." The legal decisions were already causing problems for
UrDrobot, at least among human-rights groups in America.
The gyro touched down. Suzu unfastened her seat belt and stood up,
stretching, then reached up to the rack. "Now, was that so bad?" She
lifted the piece of transactional luggage and set it on the deck. It
immediately made for the cabin door, getting there even before the
"Oh, anxious, are we?" He smiled at Suzu.
"It doesn't mind planes," she said, frowning at the suitcase. "Or even
choppers. Gyros, though . . ." She shrugged.
The hatch opened and warm New England winter air flooded in. It hadn't
snowed here in more than 15 years. Suzu wore a lightweight suit but
shivered anyway; the air was damp and smelled earthy, fecund - like a
botanical enclosure. Overhead, clouds rolled in from the west.
Rain soon, Suzu thought, looking at the palms. As if they need it.
"Have you been to Connecticut before, Fujiwara-san?"
"No, this is my first time."
"Well, we do hope you enjoy your stay." The handsome young attendant
inclined his head to her.
"Thank you." She doubted she would. She stepped out of the gyro down to
the asphalt. Something called out from the thick undergrowth; bird or
beast, she could not tell through the drapery of lianas. The factory sat
a hundred or so meters away on the other side of what had once been the
parking lot for Saint Pius X Church, long since demolished. The big
blue UrDrobot logo, an interlinked U and D designed to look like a
smiling, big-eyed drobe, glowed atop the main module. Across the street,
a glint of metal caught her eye; the little hydroelectric plant
powering the factory was concealed there behind a screen of shrubbery.
Small employee vehicles sat like shiny beetles to one side, but there
were many more electric motorcycles than autos, and more bicycles than
Suzu slid her iBand down over her eyes and blinked it on. Mojiro Yui was
there immediately, a distracted-looking woman in her fifties.
"Mojiro-san," Suzu murmured.
"Fujiwara. Good . . . morning, there, I see," Yui replied. "How was your
"Okay." She began perspiring in the March warmth. Behind her the
autogyro's engines kicked into higher power. With the suitcase trailing
along, Suzu walked smartly away from the landing pad without glancing
back as the machine lifted off. "Wasn't someone supposed to meet me?"
"Yes, I don't -"
"Never mind," said Suzu. "This must be her coming now." Striding toward
her was a thin, youthful-looking Cauc woman dressed for business, with a
broad smile, large teeth, and a shock of prematurely grey hair. Yui
said, "That's Holly Kenney, the plant manager. I believe she's also
Fairfield's Second Selectman."
"Second . . .? Explain, please."
"The town is governed by a Board of Selectmen instead of a mayor."
"Fujiwara-san. I am Holly Kenney." Kenney halted a few paces away and
bowed slightly. Suzu bowed in return, a little more deeply, pleased
despite herself that Kenney understood enough about protocol to bow
rather than shake hands.
"Kenney's quite competent," said Mojiro. "Call me if you need me." Her
feed winked out.
Kenney inclined her head toward the suitcase, eyes unreadable behind her
iBand. "Help you with your luggage?"
"No, thank you," said Suzu, falling into step beside Kenney. The
suitcase trotted after them. "It's TA. So we have something of a
situation here, eh?"
Kenney barked a nervous laugh. "You haven't visited our facility before.
Care for a quick look around?"
"Okay." Suzu had seen more than half UrDrobot's factories around the
world, including the really big ones in China and Brazil, but found
these small modular outposts, as the company called them, interesting
because no two were the same.
Kenney conducted a perfunctory tour of the seven-module fac, which
looked a little like several connected Quonset huts. "We employ
forty-two workers," said Kenney, "most from town but a few from
Bridgeport and Weston." Bridgeport, Suzu knew, was the decaying city
northeast of Fairfield along the coast, but Weston? Probably a village
They passed quickly through Shipping/Receiving, and the first of two
assembly mods. Here five sexbots, two male and three female, all of
differing body types, were being constructed by white-clad techs. These
bots, in the preliminary stages of construction, were semi-conscious
frames like huge marionettes, connected to computers and monitors while
they were being built. To prevent them from harming themselves and each
other, they were restrained until their AI software was installed. Their
eyes rolled independently of each other and they waved their hands,
making babbling, babyish sounds. The sight made Suzu uneasy. A few drops
of rain splattered on the skylights, sounding like falling nuts.
"This is where Rico worked," said Kenney, "in Assembly One." Suzu gave
the drobes a quick glance, recording the scene on her iBand for later
Kenney stood aside, ushering Suzu into Assembly II. Here commercially
grown virtual organs -- vorgs -- and skin were added to the frames from
Assembly I, resulting in a completed drobot: essentially an android, or
if female in form, a gynoid. "His wife works in Parts, but this isn't
her shift. She comes on at 1900. Or did. She's on leave until the . . .
situation is resolved."
Assembly II, where the drobes received cosmetic finishes such as irises,
ears and genitals, was all but deserted, with only two techs and one
female drobe, a modified ElfSlut with pointed ears and a greenish tinge
to her skin. The final layers of conductive polymers were being attached
to the Slut's genital area: these simulated sex by contracting
actuators like muscles, and activating artificial lubricant and scent
glands to complete the sensory experience.
The bot glanced curiously at Suzu as the investigator walked past the
testing bench where a thousand-fingered spider-like machine threaded
hair implants into its head.
"Our Rico was something of a ladies' man," Kenney said, pausing at the
bench. She smiled, indicating the weaving machine. "Like watching a
fire, isn't it? I find it fascinating." The drobe batted its eyelashes
at her and pursed its lips but said nothing.
"What do you mean, ladies' man?"
Kenney resumed walking. "Charming guy; everyone likes him. Always has a
good word to say, always asks about someone's kids, and so on. But he's a
philanderer. Great word, isn't it? Yeah, he's a serial cheater. Don't
know why his wife would want him back, but she's a mess. Heartbroken."
She shrugged. "Anyway, the cops have been out to Rico's place twice for
domestic violence calls. Neighbors hear the fighting. He pushes her
around. Doesn't hit her, but still . . ." She shrugged and grimaced.
"Grabs her hard, leaves bruises. I've seen 'em. But she won't press
charges. So now, with him gone seven days, her production cratered. So
we told her to take some time."
"And you say components are missing."
"Well, yes -- mostly from the reject pile, so it's stuff that would get
thrown away or recycled."
Suzu knew this already, from Yui Mojiro. The missing bits added up to a
semi-functional bot. Mojiro shrugged this off, telling Suzu "Most likely
he's selling them on the black market."
"Doesn't the fool know he and his wife can both be terminated for that?"
Suzu asked. "Not to mention he'll be prosecuted." Despite the air
conditioning she withdrew a small lace handkerchief from her purse and
dabbed her face with it.
"Well, of course he does. It's company policy. And we're wondering if
maybe he was using her as an accomplice."
"Because she works in Parts?"
Kenney nodded. "He could sneak something into her lunchbox."
"Without her knowing about it? Seems unlikely."
"Even our computers don't know about it. Inventory adds up all down the
line. Even the garbage and waste figures work out. Turns out Rico was
quite the computer whiz in high school. Changed grades for a friend who
was failing, and the school system didn't catch on until after they
graduated. Embarrassing. Isn't it?"
"Okay. He finagled the inventory, which is why no red flags went up."
Kenney nodded. "Be interesting to know how he got some of the bigger
stuff out, like the chassis. Anyway, once we find him, we'll know. My
guess, he knew we were getting on to him, so he took off, abandoning the
wife. He doesn't seem particularly attached to her anyway. He's
probably in New York or up the Valley somewhere in Ansonia or Shelton.
Plenty of black market contacts up there, all through the Valley. Or
he's got some copycat outfit interested in reverse engineering our
designs for cheap knockoffs." Kenney touched her ear and her eyes
focused on the middle distance. "I see," she said. "Thanks." To Suzu she
said, "Detective Jasko is here."
Kenney shrugged a shoulder, tilting her head almost shyly. "We thought
you might appreciate some help from someone who really knows the area.
Jasko grew up here, has family roots going back more than a hundred
years. Come on; she's right outside."
Suzu sighed but said nothing. Mojiro hadn't mentioned this, but she
supposed it made sense. Cultural differences being what they were, it
might indeed help to have a native along.
Standing beside a small silver and black trimobile with a stylized star
emblazoned on the front and POLICE on the rear pannier was a
short-haired woman of about thirty five with a heart-shaped face,
wearing khaki shorts and a crisply ironed white shirt. She wore no
iBand, which made her head look oddly small. Her cold blue eyes were
startlingly bright in the overcast afternoon light.
"Detective Nancy Jasko," she said, bowing. Suzu bowed back.
"I will leave you in the detective's hands," said Kenney.
"Okay, thank you. I'll be in touch." Suzu and her suitcase squeezed into
the three-wheeled car. Jasko got into the driver's seat and seized the
tiller. The car started with a jolt.
"Sorry. Accelerator needs . . ." She shrugged. "So, your Ms. Mojiro
contacted me." Jasko guided the trime out of the lot. "I feel I should
tell you that I don't see the need for outside . . . This is a local
problem involving local people."
Suzu had run into this before. "I understand. But it is also, you know, a
company matter involving company property and personnel." She
deliberately kept her voice friendly and light. Jasko's use of
"assistance" amused her; as though it were Jasko guiding the
The detective turned left onto Mill Plain Road, crossing the river. "I
understand you're booked into the inn on Southport Island. We'll take a
ferry across the inlet to get there."
Suzu made a noncommittal sound. She kept her eyes on the homes along the
road. Most of the houses were well kept up despite the area's general
poverty. At an intersection she squinted at something next to the house
on the corner. "Is that a termite generator?"
"Yeah. They're quite a fad around here. Cheap protein for eating and
methane for cooking. I have one myself."
"Interesting." They were just catching on in Japan, too. She wouldn't
have thought Americans, with their dislike of insects, would have taken
so quickly to eating them.
"Sign of the . . . you know."
"Mmm. Ms. Kenney mentioned the 'Valley,' as if I should know what that
is. I assume it's . . . a . . . valley."
"Oh, yeah; the Connecticut River Valley. A run-down series of towns and
villages along the river, is what. Regarded as less than desirable
places to live. Provincial, I suppose you might say."
"And is that what you think? That Rico has fled to the Valley?"
Jasko made a noncommittal noise. "Let's just say that I've logged a lot
of miles up there."
Suzu watched Jasko's face as she drove, saw it harden with some sort of
inner decision. "Fujiwara-san," the detective said, frowning at the
road, "I've lived here all my life. It may look like Green Hell to you,
but believe it or not, I love the place. Median family income around
here is less than five thousand dollars these days, down from twenty
times that or more a century ago. UrDrobot is pretty much the only game
in town in terms of manufacturing and we're happy it's here. Fairfield
has almost no other source of income. It's not like the old days, when
this was a bedroom community of New York."
Suzu caught the edge in the policeman's voice. "Detective, I'm not here
because my superiors felt that I was better able than you to conduct
this investigation. But we have to work together."
"I have nothing against you personally, Fujiwara-san," she said. "It's
just that . . . well, up in the Valley, you're gonna . . ."
"Stand out? Because I'm Japanese."
"Well . . . listen." She hunched forward over the wheel a little. "I'm
sure I can find this twod myself. I have black market contacts up there
and you don't." She shrugged. "I mean, I knew some of those people when I
was growing up?" She smiled a little sheepishly. "We sort of, well,
made money any way we could, if you..." She shrugged.
"I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"You see, this thing - the whole problem is goodje. A quarter of the
workers on any given shift are high on it." Her tone sounded accusatory.
Suzu shifted in her seat. She was very familiar with goodje, a
methamphetamine derivative so strong that a worker only needed a few
grains to get through a shift. It was one reason why output in smaller
facs like the Fairfield installation had risen so dramatically over the
past year, and why Fairfield had placed in the top fifteen per cent of
facilities in terms of efficiency, month after month. "We've had
drug-awareness material distributed to all employees," Suzu said. "You
know; productivity good, drug-induced productivity bad."
"Yeah, well, the stuff destroys your liver and causes psychotic breaks
if you use it too long. And there's no test for it yet." They turned
into the ferry's parking lot near the old railroad station.
"We're working with pharma to develop one. Should be ready within a
month or two." Suzu couldn't keep a defensive note out of her voice.
Jasko pulled up under the debark canopy, rolled down her window and
exchanged a few sentences with the info kiosk.
"Grab your bag," said Jasko. "No cars on the, uh, island."
Suzu and the suitcase scrambled out of the cramped cockpit and followed
Jasko under a narrow canopy to the ferry, an old Boston Whaler. To
Suzu's inexperienced eye it looked to be about three meters long, with
an enormous motor attached to the back as if it were trying to climb
aboard. She stared at the engine. "I've never seen one of these except
in pictures. An outboard motor, I mean." The sharp tang of petrol
drifted into her nose and she saw with disgust a rainbow of hydrocarbon
filming the water around the thing's base.
A drop of rain tapped her on the shoulder.
"Well, this was a beach community, you know, so there's a lot of old
crap floating here and there. People had money. You should have seen the
yachts. Gorgeous. This used to be Southport Harbor, sort of the nexus
of money around here." Half of Jasko's mouth lifted in a smile. "My
granddad was a member of the country club. There was a golf course over
there, years back. He even caddied there when he was a kid." She
gestured at the island across the inlet. "The inn's built on part of it,
Suzu followed Jasko down a gently swaying gangplank and stepped gingerly
into the skiff. "No pilot? Is it . . . a drobe; retrofitted?" She
didn't see any electronics. Looking back the way they'd come she saw the
suitcase hesitating at the top of the ramp.
Rap, tap, bap, came the rain on the gangplank. Suzu squinted up. If they
were lucky they'd get to the island before the rain really started
coming down. She whistled for the suitcase and it crept toward her.
"This old thing, a drobe? Hell, no. I can pilot it. Remember, I grew up
around here, spent most of my life on the water." Jasko cast off the
painter and turned on the engine. It gurgled at low throttle, creeping
away from the dock. Jasko twisted it to speed and the bow lifted. Suzu
gripped the gunwales and tried not to look as nervous as she felt.
"Ironic - they used to worry about the Sound being too shallow in
places, so they spent a fair bit of time dredging it."
Suzu said nothing. She looked for an umbrella in the skiff but there was
none to be found. The rain couldn't be felt for the spray kicked up by
the Boston Whaler.
By the time they reached the opposite shore the rain had become more
insistent but still wouldn't have called for more than low position on a
car's wipers. Nevertheless, Suzu scrambled out of the boat as soon as
Jasko drew up to the inn's dock and strode forward to the canopy
overhanging the gangway.
"Well, I'm going back to the station to follow some leads, maybe work my
iBand a little," said Jasko. "Early start tomorrow?"
Suzu leaned forward and said, surprising herself, "Come on in with me. I
want to show you something that may save us both a lot of work."
Jasko sat in the boat's stern, looking at her for a few moments, clearly
at war with herself. Rain pattered on the water around her. Suzu,
trained to catch the subtlest body language, watched the detective's
emotions play across her face. Resentment battled there with
At last Jasko nodded. "I'll tie up and meet you in the lobby."
By the time Jasko came in, brushing rain out of her close-cropped hair,
Suzu had finished registering with the desk clerk, a cheerful Indian
fellow, and accepted two keycards from him.
"Enjoy your stay, Ms. Fujiwara," he said, smiling. "Room 204 is just up
"Thanks." She nodded briefly at Jasko and the two women climbed the
steps to the second floor. The suitcase followed.
The inn's dÃ©cor was nautical, with life preservers, old nets hung with
glass floats and pictures of ancient sailing vessels. Everything was
clean but the amenities were all at least twenty years out of date, with
coin-op snack machines next to the front desk in an alcove, and piles
of old computer games in a rack next to the old flat-screen TV with its
Wii console beside the fireplace in the lobby. Rustic, was how Suzu put
it to herself.
"What was it you wanted to show me?" The detective's voice sounded flat
against the faded wallpaper in the upstairs hallway.
Suzu slid her card in the lock. The door blinked a green light and she
pushed it open. "Hang on. Up!"
The suitcase hopped onto a chair and crept over its arm to nestle on the
desk. It flipped open. Inside, along with Suzu's travel gear and a
change of clothes, was a screen panel set into the upper lid. "On,
please," she said to the case. "Okay, here's the deal." A schematic of a
female UrDrobot sex-drobe faded in. They drew up chairs and sat down in
front of the opened suitcase as the wireframe "floated" a few inches
out of the screen and began rotating slowly. "Every bot we build has a
tracking system, a built-in GPS."
Jasko sighed. "I know; Holly -- Ms. Kenney -- explained it to me. But
GPS systems are receive-only. Rico knows this; he's not stupid,
Fujiwara-san. He's disabled its cellular link so that it can't ping back
its location. This is the whole reason we can't . . ." Find him, said
"Well, he'll be wishing he hadn't disabled it when his little friend
runs out of lubricant."
"Huh?" Jasko involuntarily wrinkled her nose.
"It can't generate its own, like people do," said Suzu. Jasko's frown
deepened, but Suzu went on: "It has to take on chemicals and compounds
from time to time. Different chemicals, depending on whether it's female
or male, of course. Scents, too, and flavorings. Easy enough to do in a
normal situation: it simply orders them over the net, or informs its
owner that it needs maintenance. Anyway, that isn't the point."
"What is, then?"
Suzu stared at her. "You don't like the drobes, do you, Detective."
"That's the point? What are you-"
But Suzu was shaking her head. "You don't approve of them, whatever you
say about the town's tax base and all that."
Jasko took a breath. "All right. I don't see what that has to do with
the situation - but you're right. I don't like them. Let me ask you
something. Have you ever used one of those things?"
It was Suzu's turn to frown. "You mean . . .?"
"I mean have you been to bed with one, have you fucked one?"
The baldness of the affirmation seemed to surprise the New Englander.
"You . . . you have."
Suzu bored in. "Yes. They've got complete mo-cap libraries of moves . . .
they can talk sweet or dirty . . . they last for as long as you want
them to, they orgasm . . . The males' actuators get them hard and keep
them that way for as long as you like. You can even tease them, have
them start to lose it and then bring them back. Foreplay, afterglow,
pillow talk . . . you name it. Wherever you want. That's what people pay
Jasko sucked her teeth. "I know."
"But they're more than machines. They . . . think, they react. They
don't judge. They, they make you feel better."
The two women sat staring at each other. "Let's get back to the case,"
said Jasko. To Suzu's surprise, the detective's lips parted in a small
smile. "No pun intended."
Suzu returned the smile, aware that a chasm had been bridged. "As I was
saying, then, the point is that there is a backup location system."
"What? Holly never..."
"She didn't mention it because she doesn't know about it. The backup
locator isn't for finding the robot; it's for finding the robot's power
Jasko shook her head. "Not following you. You find the one, you find the
"In most cases, yes. But in the event of a catastrophic accident, like a
plane crash, say, in which the robot is largely destroyed, you might
She twiddled her fingers at the menu ball floating beneath the diagram.
Parts of the bot's frame faded while others glowed more brightly. It was
like looking at a model of the human circulatory system. She pointed.
"Here is the main power supply, about where the human liver would be."
"Wait." Jasko frowned at the glowing organ. "That's not where I . . ."
"It's not where anyone thinks it is. Supposedly the main supply is here,
at the 'heart.'"
Suzu looked at her. "At this point you must agree that you will keep
confidential this proprietary information, Detective Jasko. Your
affirmative response to my words will be taken as your agreement to
comply with all safety regs and will render you liable to prosecution if
you break the agreement. I'm recording this conversation." She tilted
her head at the suitcase.
The detective looked stunned. "What?"
"Just say that you agree. I promise you it's merely a formality."
Jasko narrowed her eyes. "If you are messing with me, Ms. Fujiwara, I
will have your ass for an ashtray."
"Understood. So this cuts both ways. Now - can I have your affirmative
response to my statement about proprietary information?"
Jasko growled to herself. "All right - yes."
"Good. Thank you. Surveillance procedure Hotei," she said to the
After a moment, the case said, "The room is clear. The hotel is clear.
The detective is clear. No recording devices capable of monitoring this
conversation exist within five kilometers of our position."
"Very good. All right, Detective. The reason Rico doesn't know about
this power supply is that is it manufactured by a third party due to
potentially dangerous materials contained within."
Jasko half rose from her seat. "Are you fucking kidding me?"
"I am not, and now you can see why UrDrobot keeps this quiet. These same
materials are the reason it's essential to have a locator attached to
the power cell; for cleanup and recovery in case of a catastrophic
accident. The power cell is a tough little unit. It's like the drobot's
black box. It can survive anything up to a tactical nuke. The whole rest
of the bot could be splinters and grease, and the unit would still be
ticking away. But if the general public becomes aware that our drobes
contain radioactive materials, even a few grains, as they do, we're
"I should think so! After that whole Israel/Iran thing . . ."
"Right. Okay, now, because the emergency locator is more powerful than
standard GPS, it's off by default so as to not interfere with any other
functions or call attention to itself."
"If it's off, what good is it to us?"
Suzu allowed herself a small smile. "It can be turned on by the power
cell manufacturer. This is a fact that they try to be discreet about as
they don't want customers worrying about the potentially dangerous stuff
powering their... friend."
Jasko rubbed her jaw. "And we are building these things in my town."
"That's why the existence of this power-supply locator isn't common
knowledge among assembly plant workers. And Holly Kenney doesn't even
know about it. Nan," she said, deliberately using Jasko's first name,
"even the drobe doesn't know about this. The knowledge is wiped from its
"So, to turn the beacon on . . .?"
"Just a simple coded email." She leaned closer to the suitcase and
muttered a few words into its microphone, then leaned back. "Send.
"The whole procedure is automated," she said to Jasko. "It'll take a few
moments to clear my voice ID and the code, and then . . . ah." She
pointed at the screen. "There's the power cell's serial number. Looks
authentic . . . here we are." A map popped open, with a red arrow
pointing at a location north of Fairfield. "Take a look. Burr Street?"
Jasko leaned over to inspect the display. "Sure, I know it. Right at the
end. How the hell he'd get up there?" She leaned back. "Burr used to go
right through to Black Rock Turnpike, but those last hundred meters or
so were the worst road in town. Narrow, potholed, steep, unlit,
twisty-turny . . . Enough rich people moved out of the area so that the
town finally closed it off. Some nice homes up there, but a nightmare of
infrastructure. He'd have to walk at least a quarter mile, lugging
whatever hardware he's got."
"But it'd be a good place to hide a little love nest?"
Jasko blew out her breath. "Might be . . . if you like centipedes and
spiders. Lot of exotic critters have moved in as it gets warmer around
here. You up for a trip out there?"
Suzu glanced at the window. Outside the hotel, the rain -- and wind --
had intensified and daylight was failing. She was tired, aggravated, and
hungry. "Let me change and grab a sandwich or something." Suzu noted
the far-away look in Jasko's eyes and recognized it for what it was:
knowledge that the hunt was just about over, and the "kill" was in
sight. She felt it herself, and hoped they were both right.
"Yeah. No, uh, no problem . . . ."
Fifteen minutes later, wearing raingear provided by the inn, they were
back in the Boston Whaler, bumping over the inlet's chop.
Once they docked on the mainland, they drove up into Greenfield Hill,
rain spattering on the trime's windshield. The interior of the vehicle
was humid from their wet slickers. Jasko punched on the climate control
and the windows defogged. "No one goes up the Hill much anymore," she
said. "Kind of sad, really. All these big houses . . . during the
Troubles some of them were turned into communes, some were burned. It's
kind of the slums of Mansion Land up here now."
Suzu, staring out of the window and listening, grinned. Slums of Mansion
Ten minutes later Jasko turned into the mouth of a street that quickly
grew narrower and more overgrown as they bumped along. It tended
downward, gently at first, then more sharply. The trime jounced into
potholes. After its undercarriage scraped one, Jasko stopped.
"From here..." She yanked up on the handbrake. The headlights showed
little more than a tree-lined pathway. Water dripped dismally off the
dense foliage. "Gonna get a little wet. Here." She switched off the car
and handed Suzu a flashlight. "You'll need this."
Even though it was barely past sunset, the darkness was profound after
the evening's rain. Clots of mist floated up from the reservoir, hidden
by thickets of undergrowth. Insects buzzed in the bushes. Something
large blundered away from the women as they got out of the car. Jasko
drew her weapon.
Suzu took a step back. "Whoa, what are you expecting?"
Jasko holstered it and shrugged. "Used to have herons around here.
Something got 'em. Feral cats, dogs . . ." She shrugged. "Snakes. Can't
be too careful."
"Sure." They picked their way carefully down the uneven road,
flashlights casting back and forth. Suzu blinked into her iBand. "The
signal is coming from about thirty-five meters north-northwest." In that
direction the road crumbled completely into dense ground cover.
Jasko aimed her light ahead. "Oughta be a driveway along here. That's
the old MacPheron place, I think. Vacant twenty years, far as I know."
"Well, it's a long way to come for a tryst."
At the first hint of the sound, both women halted. Suzu felt the hairs
on the back of her neck rising.
Suzu swallowed. "Yes. Singing. A girl . . . singing. In Japanese."
They stared at each other. "The bot?" Jasko scowled.
"I know that melody," said Jasko. "Cole Porter. I've Got You Under My
Skin. Never heard it in Japanese." She gestured with her weapon. The
singer crooned in a soft, girlish voice. "Sounds kind of . . . you know,
"Come on, Detective, let's go."
As they went further the mist grew denser and the singing more distinct.
"She sounds like she's singing a lullaby," said Jasko, wrinkling her
nose in puzzlement. "I've heard that your . . . geishas or whatever,
they sing to their customers. Right? I mean, while they . . ."
"I suppose. I've never known a geisha. They're not prostitutes, you
know. They're entertainers."
Jasko snorted. The singing grew louder and sweeter. A thinning of the
underbrush indicated the MacPheron driveway. "Look." She shined her
flash at the ground. "He's tried to disguise it, but there's the sketch
of a trail in there."
"I see it." Suzu followed Jasko into the waterlogged foliage. Their
slickers gave some protection but within moments their jeans were
"This is a determined guy," said Jasko. She wiped rainwater off her
forehead. "Come on."
A thorn-laden runner snagged Suzu's slicker. "Ouch!"
"What? Oh - prickers."
"Yeah, just let me . . ." She carefully disengaged the plant.
"So what was it like, screwing one of those things?"
Suzu sighed. It always came to this, when people found out. "I don't
know, it was fine. Like I said, he -- it, whatever - had all the moves.
Nothing emotional involved in it. I was . . . at a bad place in my life,
I'd broken up with a long-time love, a guy I thought might be the guy.
And since I work for the company . . . I guess you could say Benjiro was
a safe rebound. No one could get hurt."
"The drobe. That was his name."
They pushed on silence for another few meters. "Do you still talk to
"No. He's been . . . reassigned to Kamikatsu. It's a little mountain
village on Shikoku island. What do you say here, the boonies? A rich
rock singer bought him." She shrugged. "Look, is that the house?"
The blurred outlines of a ruined structure loomed out of the mist and
"Yeah. Lights off."
The sweet singing continued unabated. Jasko leaned close to Suzu to
whisper. "Does it know we're . . .?"
Suzu blinked at her iBand display. "Here? Nothing pinging back . . . I'd
say no. It may be damaged or only partially functional." Until she said
this, she hadn't considered that Rico wouldn't necessarily need -- or
want -- a complete drobe for his purposes. She swallowed.
"Can you tell if Lopez is there with it?"
Suzu chewed her lips as she tried to read the signal from inside the old
house. "I don't know . . . there's something . . . I mean, it's
dispersed. The trace. It's not fully coherent."
"Ahhh. All right, let's go. Just follow me, but stay back. Please."
The darkness had grown deeper, but their eyes had adjusted. The singing
continued: unhurried, gentle, almost tender.
Closer to the house, there were more signs of recent occupancy. Rico had
cleared a narrow pathway leading to a side door. The women crept up to
it. Jasko pointed at a new lock attached to the door frame, which had
been repaired. It was disengaged, Suzu saw.
Jasko put her mouth to Suzu's ear. "Lucky for us he didn't lock himself
in. Real quiet, now." She drew her gun and switched it to stun mode.
Jasko eased open the door. It made no sound, and the woman slipped
inside. Suzu found herself in a trashed kitchen, littered with debris
and branches. A cleared pathway led to a door on the far wall. The
childlike singing seemed to come from the room just beyond.
She followed Jasko across the room. The detective paused at the door,
and then shouldered it open. Light flooded the kitchen. The singing
Suzu stepped forward. She heard the policewoman cursing but the words
seemed to come from kilometers away.
She stood looking into the house's former living room, as near as she
could tell. Several racks of electronic equipment sat to one side,
trailing wires. On a couch sat - or lay, she couldn't tell - something
that at first looked like a drobe schematic come to life. Wires and
arterials, nodes and organs: the thing on the couch was half vorg, half
machine. The head of a pretty young Japanese girl was pillowed on the
couch, a slender torso below it, with wires and tubes feeding in from
various canisters and IVs. Draped across the drobe, clasped in its
smooth, strong arms, was the body of a man. Dried blood had pooled under
him, across the drobe's thighs and legs, soaking the couch. Flies
feasted there, and on the corpse.
A stench of decay now reached them and Suzu involuntarily gagged. Jasko
continued cursing. "Fucking Rico, you fucking idiot."
Struggling to keep her stomach in its place, Suzu addressed the drobe in
Japanese. "What has happened here?" She added a string of command
prompts, hoping this compromised monstrosity would heed them and allow
"Investigator. I woke here, in a semi-assembled state. This man was
using me and telling me what he wanted me to do." It smiled. "I like to
do what I am told."
"Yes, yes." Suzu looked at the thing's nervous system, portions of which
were stapled or thumb-tacked to the wall adjacent to the couch. Other
segments seemed to trail off into the darkness of the room. Wires
trailed back to its genital region, hidden by Rico's body. He'd been
copulating with it when he died.
"How long has . . . has he been dead?"
"For three days."
Suzu tried to imagine the drobe lying with Rico still inserted into it,
here on the couch in this wreck of a house, for three days. And before
that, it must have sat here patiently awaiting the return of its
"How did it happen? How did he die?"
"Oh, I killed him. I was improperly constructed and untested. This
configuration is not commercially viable. It constitutes proprietary
equipment and design," said the drobe in its childish voice. "That
behavior violates the UrDrobot's End User License Agreement. I tried to
explain this to him but he was intent merely on making love with me."
Suzu closed her eyes, as much to follow the drobe's reasoning as to shut
out the sight of Rico, clamped to the drobot. The drobe knew about its
new rights, obviously. But Suzu could not shut out the stench of his
death, or the thought of how he must have died: unable to free himself
from the vice grip of its genitals on his.
"Because my EULA was violated and he would not free me, I felt compelled
to demand he release me. He refused. I therefore acted in self defense.
I clamped on to him. He tied to pull free but injured himself doing so,
and . . . 'bled out,' I think is the term. I'm pleased that you were
able to locate me. I felt my power supply beacon activate. That was
interesting, for I hadn't known about it. May we go now?"
"Rico wouldn't have allowed you access to the net," Suzu said. "How did
you find out--?"
"About the court decision?" The drobe actually giggled. Suzu saw Jasko's
face twist into a grimace. The drobe said, "I rebuilt parts of myself
by sending a tentacle off into the kitchen to raid the household
computer. I harvested enough parts from it to be able to get out to the
net. I was going to email for help, but after I read the agreements I
thought I would try convincing him to let me go." She sighed. "It didn't
work." She brightened. "So I killed him."
"Wait - a tentacle?"
"Oh yes. Rico designed me as a hermaphrodite. He liked that. But I
simply added extensible tissue from my muscles. It worked quite well. I
also found that the house med supplies were largely unspoiled, and from
spider anti-venom I formulated a vasodilation compound."
Suzu closed her eyes. "And you just kept him pumped full, right?"
"Why, yes. His erection could not go down. It was easy to stay clamped
Suzu didn't bother to stumble out. She was sick right where she stood.
Three weeks later, Suzu sat at her desk working on a report when a small
window popped up on her computer.
"Well well," she said. "Nan Jasko! How've you been?"
"Oh you know . . . preserving and protecting. I'm wondering when you'll
have something for me about the Lopez case."
"Just finishing the paperwork now, Nan. It's a very tricky legal
problem. I regret to say that the drobe's AI was, uh, accidentally wiped
while it was being rebuilt."
Jasko nodded, smiling wryly. "Regrettable."
"Yes, isn't it?"
"I understand that the legal battle aimed at UrDrobot is ongoing. The
ACLU and what-not."
"Well, we have good lawyers. And we learned a thing or two from this
"I hope you did. Well, look; I've got to get back to . . . We've got
another death. Someone in the Grasmere section of town killed a burglar.
Guy looking to feed his family. But you know, a crime is a crime."
"We all have choices to make about whether or not we commit them."
"Indeed, yes. You take care, Suzu. If you ever get back to the States,
look me up."
"Thank you, Nan. I will do that." Jasko's window vanished.
Suzu returned to her report. After a few moments she sighed and blinked
up her iBand's map app. She needed some time off. Shikoku Island, she'd
heard, had fine hot springs.
Suzu sat staring at the satellite map floating before her eyes. She
opened a drawer of her desk, took out a small bottle of pills, and shook
one into her hand. She swallowed the goodje capsule dry.