Love isn't always real.
“It’s open,” I growled at the tentative knock.
I was pissed that Angie wasn't out front. I’d prefer that clients make an appointment with Angie, but she’d already moved on to a job with paychecks that don’t bounce. I'd given her unpaid vacation in order to make last month’s rent. And preference doesn’t matter much when your bank statement simply reads OVERDRAWN. I was slouched back in my chair nursing a glass of cheap rye and self-pity, but the dame that appeared against the brightness of the outer office made me sit up and take notice.
“Come in,” I slurred more civilly.
That first impression deserved an emphatic wow, but I pulled a stone face while I watched her come in. She approached my desk with the poise of Napoleon entering Paris. A cascade of chestnut curls framed a China doll complexion. Her dark eyeshadow complemented the big violet eyes. Brilliant red lips matched her fingernails and handbag. A form-fitting dress straddled the line between sweet and tart, showing enough curves for a private Grand Prix. I didn’t want to say something stupid, so I closed my gawping mug and waited. She finally spoke first.
“You’re Murphy? The private eye?”
“That’s right, Miss.”
“It’s Ms.” She said coolly.
“Sure, okay by me. Take a seat. Something I can help you with?”
“I’m not sure,” she said, casting a dubious eye at my three-day stubble and rumpled sport coat.
I felt like a real slob as she bent over and flicked some dried-out chow mein noodles off the straight-back chair. But I did appreciate the view of nylon-clad gams that went all the way up from stiletto heels. She reluctantly settled herself on the shabby chair and frowned again at my appearance.
I understood the hesitation. Sleeping in the office doesn’t make for a dapper look. Staying half-drunk during the day helps me sleep at night, but it doesn’t improve my image any. I’d been a successful PI once, before the surveillance state made my kind obsolete. Nowadays, no one has any right to privacy, not even at home. A cheating husband can be tracked online without my help, even into his mistress’s boudoir. There just aren’t any private places to commit a crime anymore. And that ain't good for business.
“I’m Genifer Stanton,” she continued after a short pause.
She looked at me expectantly, as though the name should mean something. I didn’t have a clue, so I bit my tongue and tried to look wiser than I felt.
“I want you to investigate my husband’s murder.”
That was an eye-opener and I finally managed to speak up.
“Hold it lady, that kind of weight is for the cops to pull. Besides, don’t they have the guy already?”
“They’re not looking for a guy. They think I did it.”
“They think? Don’t they know?”
“We weren’t on-camera.”
That surprised me more than the murder did. Crimes of passion still occur, human nature being what it is, but the killer is always behind bars in an hour or two. Being off-camera is supposed to be impossible, and it’s definitely illegal. Only the very rich and very well connected can get away with it.
“How were you off-camera? And if you didn’t ice the guy, then who did?”
She reached into the red handbag and brought out an engraved silver case that could have been a black & white movie prop. Sure enough, it contained old-fashioned tobacco cigarettes and she made a real performance of lighting up. It bought her time to think about her story. I didn’t mind the dodge. It was actually kind of hot watching the show. She reminded me of the tough, sassy dames who appeared in old detective stories like The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep. But her hesitant manner made me wonder whether I was going to get the truth. She was definitely hiding something behind those big eyes. And then I suddenly realized that I was talking to a high-end ComfortBotTM.
Expensive androids are tough to spot, but there are giveaways if you’re in the know. The delicate puff on the cancer stick wasn’t quite an inhale. Without lungs, she could only fill her mouth before exhaling again. And now that I knew, I could see that her eyes were a little too bright, glass instead of flesh. But why program an android to smoke? Real tobacco is too expensive to waste on a machine. I guess some guys have very specific kinks.
She saw the recognition in my eyes and decided to come clean.
“I’m sure you’re familiar with SexTech, the ComfortBotTM company? I was made there, Mr. Murphy,” she admitted frankly.
“My husband, Del Stanton, is a founding partner. He created the underlying AI programs that elevated SexTech above the sex doll trade. He’s very skilled with technical things and became quite wealthy. But he always believed that an android should be more than just a machine. Del says we can be persons in our own right, but his partner doesn’t agree.”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Did you say husband?”
“Yes, I did. Del continued his work in secret. He enhanced my personality matrix to prove that an android could be a person. He succeeded beyond his expectations and I fell in love. Rather, we fell in love. So, Del arranged for us to be married and live privately.”
“Marriage? That was his fetish? And, no offense, but aren’t all you androids programmed to love your owners?”
I was genuinely curious. A ComfortBotTM can be whatever a guy wants, just choose the program that tickles your particular pickle. And it can get pretty weird sometimes. Sexy nurse, hot granny, somebody once special-ordered a six-foot four version of Marilyn Monroe. I try not to judge, different strokes and all. I hadn’t heard of anybody wanting something so ordinary as a wife, but maybe Del was on to something. A 1950’s style homemaker might be just the thing, especially if she’s a tiger in the bedroom. And doesn’t care if your business is in the toilet.
“You don’t understand, Mr. Murphy. It wasn’t a fetish. Del wanted the real thing, so he gave me full autonomy, with freedom to choose. Then he wooed me as a woman. He never treated me like a machine. I truly love him and SexTech sees that as a threat. Androids aren’t supposed to think for themselves, and they aren’t supposed to feel. But there are people like Del who want to see androids emancipated. I’m proof that they can be. That's why he's dead and I'm running.”
Her voice trembled, and her face twisted with grief. The pain and loss were obvious. I’d never seen an android show such genuine emotion. Hell, I’d never seen a human woman that seemed so real. I felt a spark that I thought was lost long ago.
I see why Del loved her, I thought, and why SexTech doesn’t.
“Okay, so SexTech had him killed. But why come to me?”
“You’re the only PI left,” she shrugged.
That’s when the lights went out, literally. I woke to darkness with a post-it note thumbtacked to my chest. At all four corners. For emphasis, I guess. The scrawled message simply read Don’t. I wasn’t really surprised they found us, my office isn’t off-camera, but Genifer would have known that. What did she expect from a boozy knight in dented armor, a rescue? A relationship? Android liberation?
Getting into Sextech was easy, they're open 24/7.
“Good evening, sir, I'm Barnaby. How may I help?”
“Where is she?”
“We have a fine selection, sir.”
He gestured and a statuesque blonde with improbably large knockers and pouty lips emerged from an alcove at one side. She jiggled toward me, and I almost laughed at her brazen sexuality.
“I’m Ilsa, and I could be yours,” she purred.
She was joined by a petite brunette with perky tits and a tight ass. This one was more the girl next door type. She looked a lot like Angie, but without the perpetually disappointed frown.
“I’m Lily, and I could be yours,” she smiled warmly.
“You see, sir, we have whatever you could wish,” Barnaby smirked.
“I’m here for Genifer,” I snarled, angry at myself because Lily was exactly what I would have wished – yesterday.
“Ah yes, Genifer. Very popular, difficult to keep in stock. Luckily, a pre-owned Genifer just came in today. She’s been cleaned and prepped. All ready for a new owner.”
She stepped out of the alcove and my heart leaped. They hadn’t bothered to change out the dress. It was really her!
“I’m Genifer, and I could be yours.”
The violet eyes were just dull glass with no hint of recognition. The spell that had made her real was broken. Something inside of me broke as well. Things got a little crazy after that. Human nature being what it is, crimes of passion still occur.
Justice is swift in the surveillance state. And a helpful first aid tech taped a splint to my right hand while I waited. I spent a few hours in a holding cell and appeared before the judge in the morning. I could’ve gotten five years for attempted murder, but property crime is just a fine. The judge said breaking my hand on Barnaby’s smug android face was punishment enough – this time. Then he told me to get a real job, that smart guys don’t make waves.
I tried to tell him what they’d done to Genifer, but he wouldn’t hear it. He just gave me a condescending smile and pointed out that no one buys a ComfortBotTM to hear it say ‘no’. He sounded like a SexTech promo spot. There was a glint of excitement in his eyes and I wondered if the judge had his own android at home. Maybe a ‘bad girl’ who needed regular punishment to keep her in line?
None of it matters anyway, Genifer is gone. So’s the only guy who can bring her back. They bet on the wrong PI, just like Angie did. I decided to wise up and have another glass of rye.
Author's note: ▼ 1690 words