A futuristic love story that delves into the civil rights of artificially created people.
Download to your Kindle (eBook)
Barnes & Noble.com
Zach was just looking for a novel
Mary was searching for her
place in the world.
They found each other.
In a future world, where the creation of artificial humans has led to a caste of "non-people," the fight for civil rights takes on new meaning. A loner who's an expert on lust but a novice when it comes to love, falls for a naive but beautiful androne. He teaches her what it means to be human, but can't give her what she really wants--her freedom.
I was just a writer of over-hyped, testosterone-driven space operas when she walked into my life. I should have known better. I should have paid attention to that tingling I always get along the nape of my neck when trouble's headed my way.
She was drop-dead gorgeous, a real riser. That should have been my first clue to stay clear. But women, especially beautiful ones, were like an itch I had to scratch. It didn't matter that I often ended up opening a vein and watching my heart bleed out onto the pavement. I had to have them.
I didn't let the fact that I wasn't graced with good looks stop me either. Hey, let's face it, I was downright homely. Not actually grotesque, I mean I didn't have a hump or anything. But the real finelines gave me a wide berth, unless they were selling and I could pay for it--which I did. You pay for it with most women one way or the other anyway. So it didn't really bother me--and it meant I got to spend the night with some of the most attractive, sexually gregarious women on the planet. Or at least my little corner of it.
The night she walked into my neighborhood hangsite I had long passed boredom and was working on comatose. So I started feeding my "what have you got to lose" attitude and looked to see where she was going to sit.
It was an establishment of some ill repute--never too crowded, and dimly lit so a guy could be anonymous if he so desired. You could get anything you wanted there--blackmarket booze from Mars, sex/death vids, mood enhancers, body parts, or a body of divine perfection. That's what she had. But she wasn't selling it. She had on this simple, dark green work outfit. Not the kind of thing you put on to advertise your wares. However, as a connoisseur of the feminine form, I saw right through the getup, so-to-speak.
She seemed to be looking for someone, someone in particular. When she failed to recognize anyone, she picked a table located in a strategic corner facing the door.
In less time than it takes to swallow your pride and spit it back out again, I pieced together my patchwork courage and made my way to her table. She was so busy watching the door, she didn't notice me coming. So I quickly wrote myself an opening line.
"Sister, you've got a chassis that would make any Detroit foreman proud."
Well, I didn't say I was a good writer.
Anyway, the look she gave me was as cold as titanium. However, I rebounded, and I think I caught her off guard.
"May I join you?"
"Thanks, don't mind if I do."
I sat down before she could twitch. She gave me this puzzled look, then turned to check the door once more.
"I haven't seen you in here before have I?"
Oh yeah, I had the charm sputtering away on all cylinders.
"No. You have not."
"I didn't think so. I would have remembered a dish like you."
"My name's Zachariah, Zachariah Starr. But you can call me Zach."
"If your name is Zachariah Starr, why should I call you Zach?" she asked, turning her attention from the door to me.
"Well, it's easier to remember."
"I have an excellent memory."
She was as stiff as a priest's collar. I was going to have to bring my A-game to bear if I was going to loosen this one up.
"My family name is Sturzinski. Starr is my pen name. I'm a writer." I always tried to ease that into the conversation. Some babes were actually impressed, but not this one.
"Why do you find it necessary to have so many names? Are they symbols of
your social stature?"
"No, I don't think any amount of monikers is going to help me there. Let's make it simple. I'd prefer it if you'd just call me Zach. Okay?"
"All right . . . Zach."
Then she turned again to watch the door, as if I wasn't even there. Now I don't mind getting the brush-off, but I refuse to be ignored.
"So, what's your name?"
"Yeah. The polite thing to do when someone introduces himself is to introduce yourself."
"Excuse me. I have not had any training in the social amenities."
I was beginning to think she wasn't all there. You know, like she wasn't totally online. She was a little slow to find the right words, like someone speaking a foreign language. Maybe that was it. Funny though, I didn't hear any kind of accent.
Then she turned her attention from the door and looked right at me. I was drawn into those incredible blue eyes of hers and, for the moment, I didn't care if she had an I.Q. of 80 or 800.
"My name is Mary."
I shook myself loose of her mesmerizing stare and held out my hand. "Nice to meet you, Mary."
She seemed unsure of what to do, but then took my hand. I gave her a gentle squeeze and let go. She withdrew her hand gingerly, as if analyzing a new sensation.
"So, where are you from, Mary. What do you do?" I didn't think she was a pro, she didn't have that smell. In fact she wasn't wearing any fragrance I could detect.
"What do I do?"
"Yeah. Are you a model, an actress?"
"I am a fully-trained domestic facilitator."
"You're a maid?"
"I also play the piano and related keyboard instruments."
"I get it. I had to work a lot of odd jobs until my writing started to pay. I was a pump jockey down at the spaceyards one rather lean summer. Where you working now?"
"I . . . I am not currently employed."
"Been there done that. Don't worry, a looker like you shouldn't have any trouble getting some kind of work. You can always waitress till something else comes along. The tips alone should keep you in sugar."
"You know, jolly joints, vids, vibromassage, whatever your personal poison is."
"You don't get out much do you?"
"No. My previous . . . position did not allow me to go out much."
Now I've run into some strange babes in my time, but this one was beginning to creep me out just a little. There was something about her, something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I was that thinking maybe she had been born off-planet when I saw it.
She had turned to watch the door again, and several strands of her hair shifted out of place. When she ran her fingers through her hair to pull it back, I saw it. Every drone had one. Most had more than one. This particular implant was a tiny one, no bigger around than my thumb and conveniently hidden under her long, dark blonde tresses.
It made sense now. She was an androne, or to use the more socially-correct term, "artificial human." But she sure didn't look like she'd been grown in a breeding facility, even if they did use human genes as templates. They were just about everywhere nowadays, but I never paid them much attention. Supposedly, they were completely human, except of course for the cybernetic implants that enhanced them at the genetic level to give them better eyesight, stronger hearts, more efficient nervous systems, etcetera, etcetera.
Essentially, she was a clone, fitted with bionic implants that could be tapped into as a way of downloading information. Of course, that wasn't what I had been thinking of downloading myself.
"You've got a beautiful head of hair, if I may say so."
"Why do you ask permission when you have already made the statement?"
"I uhhh . . . I wasn't really asking permission. It's just a figure of speech."
"Yes, of course," she said as she turned her attention once more to the entrance. Staring at her, I found I could no longer think of her only as a body-to-die-for, a tempting receptacle for my lust. She was somehow more . . . and less. Let's say her being a dronette confused the issue. Lately, it seemed, just the mention of andrones would stir up trouble. Were they people or things? Was the continued production of drones morally right? Economically viable? Was it the best thing for society, or were andrones a growing danger?
Me? I could see both sides of most issues if I tried hard enough. Mostly, I didn't get involved in politics or issues of great philosophical debate. It was all I could do just to write a couple of cheap-thrill adventures and get myself in the fur every so often. Of course, if I had spent as much time writing as I did trying to get online with some fineline, I might have become more than a hack for hire. Speaking of which, I had never done it with a dronette before. Not that it was unheard of, if you had the money. We're talking mega-credit here. Though it wasn't highly publicized, everyone knew about the pleasure drones the ultra-wealthy could buy. Flesh and blood playthings, genetically sterile like all drones, programmed to do any and everything you could imagine and then some.
Mary wasn't one of those, but with her looks she could have been hatched from the same tank.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
"No thank you. I am not in need of fluids at this time."
"You know, you'd better learn to speak the local drool. You won't be able to disguise the fact you're a drone if you keep talking like that."
That seemed to make her uneasy. She shifted her gaze from the door to me. "I am an androne. Why should I want to disguise it?"
"I don't know. You tell me. I guess it doesn't matter, if you're here on legitimate business. If you're just waiting for your steward to come through that door then you've got nothing to worry about. However, if you're a rogue, you'd better learn to blend in."
It hadn't occurred to me up until that moment that she might actually be on the run. I was playing with her, seeing what kind of reaction I could provoke. You know, trying to light a fire under her chilly disposition. But when she heard the word "rogue" I could sense all her systems going on alert. It was a subtle change in her manner, nothing overt. Still, I knew a cornered rabbit when I saw one. I'd been in that corner a few times myself.
"I assure you, there is no cause for alarm," she said after taking only a second to compose herself. I admired her self-control. I didn't know drones could lie so well. "Tell me," she continued, "if I were trying to 'blend in' as you say, what would you suggest?"
"Well, you certainly look the part. Not that a babe with a bod like yours could ever go unnoticed. But if you keep that implant on your scalp covered, no one could tell just by looking. However, your vocabulary needs some massaging, and you need to start using contractions."
"You know, like don't instead of do not, I'm instead of I am. Look, being as I'm a writer, this is kind of my field. I'd be glad to help you out. I'm sure, with my expertise, I could have you drooling like a gutter rat in no time."
"Drooling like a gutter rat?"
"That's slang. You know, street talk. See what I mean. You've got a lot to learn. Why don't you go back to my cradle with me? We'll crack open a bottle and begin your first lesson."
"Is the bottle a necessary teaching tool?"
"No, but it couldn't hurt."
"I do not believe you desire to improve my speech patterns. It is more likely you seek a . . . a sexual encounter. You are not the first. Several men have requested my cooperation, but I am not that kind of drone."
I couldn't help myself. I burst out laughing at that, and she stared at me like I was a rabid dog.
"Why do you laugh?"
"It's just what you said," I managed in between a few fading chuckles, "that you're 'not that kind of drone.' It's funny. It's a joke. It's, well that's a whole other language lesson."
"It was not meant to be a joke. I do not have the necessary programming for sexual pursuits and my secondary commands forbid such functions."
"Like it forbids going rogue? It's my understanding that andrones are as capable of adapting to new situations and learning new behavior as humans."
"That is correct."
"Well, you may not have the necessary programming, but you've got all the right equipment. And from where I'm sitting, it looks like it's in excellent condition. All you need is the right teacher. Someone to show you the ins and outs of unending ecstasy, the seething, heaving passion, the insatiable desires that lie deep within the--"
"I have observed," she said, interrupting me, "sexual imagery and innuendo such as you have been using, in all facets of human communication. It seems mankind cannot eat, drink, sleep, or select a mode of transportation without invoking words or pictures designed to remind them of what is essentially a primitive means of reproduction. This obsession led to the rampant overpopulation that plagued Earth in the latter part of the last century."
"I guess you could say that had a lot to do with it."
"What is this fascination humans have with sex?"
"Give me a couple of hours and I'll show you."
"Hours? Is that much time necessary?"
"It is if you do it right."
She didn't seem impressed or even slightly titillated. It was apparent I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting this delicious looking dronette to come home with me. She wasn't programmed for witty repartee. Her idea of a good time was probably oiling her implants. Still, there was one more gambit I could try.
"You know, if you need a place to--"I shut up, because I noticed she wasn't paying attention to me anymore. She had seen something, or someone, that had set off a warning signal inside her. Not that she was beeping or anything, but I could tell she had suddenly shifted into "red alert" mode.
I turned toward the entrance to see what she was looking at. There was nothing especially threatening. It was pretty much the usual dregs of the earth which frequented that particular establishment. I did see this one butch-looking tabby who appeared to be scanning the scene rather judiciously. At least I thought she was a she. After another glance, I wasn't so sure. She, or he, had this leather and chain androgynous thing going on. Then I noticed chains weren't the only metal she was wearing. She had more than the usual number of implants showing and it looked like she might be packing heat.
"May we go to your home?"
That about knocked me out of my chair. I looked around to make sure it was Mary who actually had said it.
"Are you saying you want to go back to my cradle with me?"
"Yes, your 'cradle'."
"I don't know. I don't want you to think I'm easy or any--"
"We must leave now." She got up, grabbed me by the wrist, and began pulling me towards the rear exit. Now I would have liked to have thought it was my charm that swayed her, but, by the way she kept looking back over her shoulder, I figured it was more likely she had spotted someone she wanted to avoid. My money was on the drone with the heavy metal.
When we reached the exit, she let loose of me, not knowing which way to go. She faced me with a look that was almost desperate.
"It's that way," I told her. "Near 54th and Holly."
She took off, not waiting for me to show her the way. She wasn't exactly running, but she was walking at a pace I found uncomfortably close to a real workout. Not that I was against physical fitness you understand. I just preferred to get my cardio-vascular exercise in a prone position.
"Hey, where's the fire? You don't want to wear me out before we get there do you?"
She pretty much ignored me, and while I was scrambling to keep up, she continued to look behind us.
She kept to the back streets and alleys--not the shortest route home, but I didn't have the oxygen to argue. After a few minutes she slowed a little, which was fortunate for me, because all those years of sitting on my butt behind a comdat were beginning to show.
I was breathing pretty heavily by the time I got close enough to grab her arm and stop her.
"Wait a minute . . . wait a minute. Are you going . . . to tell me . . . who you're running from?"
"I am not certain."
"You're not certain? Look, if--"I heard a loud bang, like something very large and very metallic being tossed around. That was followed by a grinding screech and another bang.
Mary didn't hesitate. She was off and running, turning a corner and moving like a frightened deer. I threw it into overdrive and followed her.