Chapter 10: Manny In The House
The rotund white guy was up on the karaoke table in his underwear, singing his head off to “The Name Game,” a tune from the earliest days of rock and roll. “Manny Manny bo banny, Banana fana fo Fanny, Me my mo Manny…MANNY!” The Japanese call girls he’d hired to spend the evening with him were clapping and laughing approvingly as only Japanese call girls can. “Kawaii!!” they shouted at the sweaty, balding little man. Lost in a total acceptance of their roles, they actually did believe he was cute. This was a big mistake.
Manny was not cute. He was celebrating as only a schizoid sociopath can, totally taken with himself, relishing the fate of his next victims and savoring his delicious plan to rule the entire planet with a race of androids vassals. This one little business trip to Japan, and all would be in readiness. Evil Santa that he was, in his sack he was gathering presents for all the little boys and girls all over the world. Manny Claws had something special for every last one of them. But no one must know he had been here tonight. One has to pick up every stitch. It was time to get back to the other luxury hotel he’d reserved on the other side of Tokyo. I need my beauty sleep, don’t I, he reflected. The girls have given themselves to me, sated my desires. They’ve even sated each other’s’ desires, haven’t they? Rolling and tumbling we were together. Ha-ha, ho-ho! What a wild and delicious bunch they are with their dyed hair and complexly decorated fingernails and short, short skirts and amazing legs. I shall keep samples of their juices and tuck them away for processing at the lab.
“And now, my beauties,” he shouted, “I will go downstairs and order more wine!”
“Oh, no, Jones-san, we will call room service for you, come back and relax with us!” Mariko and Natsuko, intertwined on the big cushion, coiled themselves deeper into it, wiggled their snake hips temptingly, and pushed their petite breasts together to tell him those sweet orbs needed more of his attention. What total professionals.
“No, I want some fresh air from the balcony to prepare myself for our next session! Are you ready to rock with me again, my princesses?”
“Hai, hai, yes, yes, Mr. Jimmy Jones,” they shouted nearly in unison, and so Manny stepped to the door, pressed a button on a device he had placed there earlier and stepped out into the hallway. The gas would take effect much too fast for any of them to escape. Then the room would be very, very quiet until room service came in the morning. By then, Jimmy Jones would have arrived in Osaka on the bullet train. Under a different name of course. The taxi took him quickly from Shinjuku and its party district to a more severe business area near Tokyo Station. At the new hotel, he slept the sleep of a would-be god and dreamt all night of sparkling silver streams and radiant sunrises.
In the morning, arriving in Osaka, he hailed a taxi outside the Shinkansen station. “Miki City, kudasai,” he said, then gave the address of a place on the outskirts of Kobe. He liked Kobe, it stank of death. 6,500 had died here in the Great Kansai Earthquake in 1995, but the next time the earth shook like that, he reflected, there would be no crying, no sorrow. His creatures, though sensitive and civilized, were practical and lived only for the moment. They would dispose of any destroyed or badly damaged bio-units and move on with their lives. He gazed out at the narrow streets the taxi passed, filled with little signs for ramen, curry rice, soba and udon, and the plethora of tiny bars where salarymen cooled their heels after a long day and chatted up the pretty girls who served them. They would have to be cleared away of course to make room for things of the late 21st century, the Perrilian Age. By 2100, a completely reformed Earth would be ready to welcome the intergalactic visitors whom only he had been able to contact. He reached into his attaché case and pulled out another gas dispenser, set the timer for later that night, and attached it to the side of the taxi’s rear seat. Every stitch, he thought, every stitch.
It took a full hour to get through Osaka and Kobe. The driver then turned up into the hills to Miki, a smallish city on one side of the beautiful mountains that overlook Kobe and its port. Perril’s factory, unbeknownst to local officials, lay on a small road near the edge of town. Manny got out paid and bade the driver farewell, one of the unlucky man’s last, and was greeted by the Japanese director of the scientific team that had, in total secrecy, implemented the most advanced techniques of robotics and bio-engineering the world had ever seen. There were scientists from all over the world, theoreticians from Russia, software engineers from India, American systems engineers and several European geniuses. The Japanese government thought it was an English school. He had hired some teachers who taught local kids as a cover, but the main work was done in a side building made to look unused.
But there were more personnel than these. There were, as you might guess, the most advanced android units, humanoids who possessed a complete understanding of everything involved in their own production, a special breed supposedly needed as an advanced method of storage. But in reality they were as capable and functional as anyone else. What really unnerved the humans was when an android came up with a good, creative idea, and 95% of the time they were very good ideas. The humanoids tended to sit together in the lunch room as well, a sight which made the other workers nervous. Several staff had resigned the previous month to return to their home countries. Perril paid them a pretty price to sign confidentiality agreements. It was a pittance compared to what he would soon have. World rule. A position of an exalted leader such as the world had never seen. Coming soon to your local theatre, he chuckled to himself, as the director led him around the R&D center explaining some new design twists.
After the tour, the staff, nearly 40 people, gathered to celebrate meeting their final benchmarks. A superb kaiseki-style dinner was served with all the ornate and subtle detail Japanese cuisine is capable of. Toasts were shared, and everyone, especially the Japanese, basked in the glow of collegial accomplishment. Perril beamed benevolently at one and all. As the party wound down, he asked to see 8875, a special favorite of his, the leader of a design team in fact. Manny observed a gleam of excitement in the humanoids eye, a remarkable demonstration of his advanced state.
“Hello and hoo-hah, Hatchi-hatchi!” he shouted, using a nickname based on the Japanese number eight. “Did you get my email yesterday?”
“Yes, Mr. Perril. Very good points, sir.” Androids, you gotta love ‘em, Manny thought. Yes, Mr. Perril. Very good points, sir. He’d spoken precisely the code confirming his secret orders. He even looked like he got the joke! The “good points” in question were the robots’ extendable, heavy plastic fingernails, perfect for scraping flesh off faces and penetrating human solar plexii. 8875 had already instructed the nine-member android team. After Perril’s departure, they would lock the doors, dispatch the humans, slice and dice everyone and dissolve them in an acid bath only they were privy to. They already had the passports, air tickets and necessary papers to join their fellow robots in New York. The side building would continue to appear unused, and the little English school would still operate normally.
Until the day of reckoning.
Headed back to his hotel, Manny leaned back in the taxi, his thoughts returning to New York. It had been just three days since he’d left the Big Apple, and Laurie would be either on the run by now hunkered down in shock. Her arrogance in rejecting his advances had been intolerable. Even if she had managed to dispose of his clone cadaver, she would be lost without him. He had created her, repeatedly enhanced her very being. Now her joy at seeing him again would be unbounded. Becoming aroused now, he imagined her rushing into his arms, her tears, the kisses, the apologies. He had created her precisely from his own sexual preferences, his personal toy, a woman designed to want only him. Why she had turned against him, he could not fathom. Some glitch maybe. A system reinstall might set things in order again. And even if she had called the cops, the murder gambit simply removed Perril from the planet, as far as the police and the rest of the human race was concerned. All the better. D-Day was near. He settled back in the taxi for the ride to the airport, quietly affixing the gas dispenser in its usual place.
Chapter 11: What The Hell is Botch?
I awoke troubled, after a restless night at the Hamilton. I heard the cars on West End Avenue grinding by, drivers honking their horns with the impatience of people trying to escape an imminent nuclear attack, the sounds of commuter fist fights drifting up to my open window, cries of pain and triumph, lots of ooofs, the sounds of gunshots, an occasional R.P.G. exploding. Just another day on the streets of New York. Frankly, I didn’t give a damn. But what was on those chips? I had to find out, and fast. Usually, when they insert me I stay inserted until the job is done. It’s a budget issue. Time-travel isn’t cheap. You show up back at our TCA Metaoffice with a problem, your job could be at risk. I didn’t want to go back to my old job churning out cheap mystery novels for next to nothing at http://www.cheapmysterynovels.com. Long days at the virtual keyboard knocking your head against the wall for a new idea, you’re up to page 53 and your mind is a blank, you start shooting up Creatamin for inspiration, but you overdose and wind up wandering the streets, lost, confused, thinking about giving up and going back to your old job as a time-travelling detective where you wander through time unable to solve cases, despondent, suicidal, thinking about going back to your old job as a…wait! What was I thinking about? The chips! I had a real bad feeling about what might happen in the next few days. I simply had to go back to 2540 and get the wafer analyzed, fast. I got dressed and called Feral to let him know my plans, and that I’d check back with him on my return. Then I slung on my backpack and Withdrew.
Whrrizzzz! A bottom of a Lincoln Skycruiser shot past me less than a foot away, nearly taking off my erection. (That happens sometimes during Withdrawals.) Reflexively, I jumped down off the edge of the skyway onto the pedestrian sidewalk and immediately spun to the ground, since it moves along at ten miles per hour. Lying there on my back, my body still in a state of excitement, a large black woman tripped over me, delivering a hard kick on my upraised asset. I yelled out in pain. People stared at me, not sure if I was a failed suicide attempt or just wasted on Ecstarol. Not for the first time, I’d overshot my Insertion point by a block or so. I pulled myself up and sent a quick thoughtmail to Quantum regnum, a Unit Commander and my immediate superior at the TCA offices.
“Sorry, boss, but I need to…”
“What the hell…is that you Ayers?” came back in a nanosecond. Quantum was not for nothing a 6th level Provider.
“I got something I need analyzed fast – already got one guy killed. Too hard to do in 2094 and it’s really time-critical.”
“Hell, Ayers, this is going to cost us. Well, bring it over now. Where are you?”
“On the Skyway, real close by.”
“Yeah, well…” I heard his mindclick and he was gone. I walked over to the nearest Descent Streamer and it took me down to ground level, where I walked the two blocks to the TCA Building. I gazed up at the citydome like a tourist from the provinces. Everything was squeaky clean, the streets auto-brushed, the passersby coiffed and sleek in their fashion downloads. The usual trancesupport music was filtering down from above somewhere, keeping the prolplebes smiling and mellow. I already missed the gritty streets of the 21st century. Regnum’s office was on the 3rd floor. His cyberassist told me to go right in, so I did. He was reclining on his maglev, checking the progress of other agents in various eras. He turned the maglev around toward me.
“So what you got for me, Ayers?
“You know, Quantum, I was told to just deal with this guy Perril. But the situation was out of control when I get there. You should have inserted me a couple years earlier, I wouldn’t have my hands full like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“I got a warehouse full of robots all set to destroy humanity.”
“Piece of cake for a guy like you. That’s why you’re my man in the past. Look, let’s keep it simple. Gimme that thing.” I handed him the wafer and he pushed a light on his console. A panel slid open and he dropped it in. “Hey, you want some help? I could insert Core Roblin into this assignment to back you up.
“Roblin? That rookie?”
“Roblin’s good. He just finished talking Tom Brady out of slicing his wrists after his 4th consecutive loss in Super Bowl XLIX.”
“Quan, this isn’t some loser with a supermodel girlfriend.” These are dangerous people.” The panel slid open again and some data came up on Quan’s streamscreen. “What’s the story on the chips?”
Quan’s face seemed to pale, easy to see on his fashionably tinted purple face. “Not good, Legion. This seems to be programmed instructions for an army of androids to disperse throughout the world and discharge botulin into the major water resources of the planet – lakes, rivers, reservoirs, the works. All our lives are at stake on this one, Ayers. You need the New York National Guard.”
“I was afraid it was botulin. One good thing you overlooked, boss. Guess who has the wafers? Not Perril. I’ve got ‘em. And I’m gonna keep ‘em. They can’t do squat unless they…”
“Unless they make some more. You better get back there and get on it.”
“And be careful.” He flipped the wafer back to me and turned back to his console, done with me. I stepped out into the hallway and nearly smacked into Core Roblin.”
“Oops! Sorry Legion – how you doing?”
“Great, man.” He leaned closer and whispered, “You want two tickets to Super Bowl L?”
“Whaddya mean, L?”
“That’s fifty in Roman numerals. Super Bowl 50. It’s in 2016. I got the tix from Brady. You hear about that?”
“Yeah, just did. Congratulations. How’d you do it?”
“Gave him a massage and got him a week at the Deepak Chopra Italian Musical Therapy Institute.”
“You must have heard of it. ‘Chopra At The Opera.’ Anyway, what are you up to?”
“Usual stuff, boring. You wouldn’t want the assignment, a creative guy like you. I’ll take a rain check on those tickets.”
“But it’s not raining.”
“It’s just an expression, Core. Clasp you later.”
“Yeah, be cold, man.” And he went tripping down the hall.
I had a lot to think about. Out on the street, the prolplebes’ euphoric smiles were pasted firmly onto their faces. Skycruisers and jetpack commuters whirred around over my head in perfectly coordinated motion. The Grolnathians knew what they were doing, I thought. World peace, a disease-free planet, an end to reality TV shows, no more dirty teeth, and at long last, Wayne Newton’s farewell show. Wayne wasn’t through though, how could he be after all those heart-lifts and brainplants? His agent said he was just taking some time off at a cryogenic resort in Northern India. Wayne would be back. Give him a century or two. Then, a whole new show!
I snapped out of my reflections and sighed. It was time to get back to work. No mistakes this time. I secured my backpack and gritted my teeth and initiated re-insertion.
Whrrizzzz! Something flew past my nose. Must have been going 100 miles per hour. Then a loud crack and a sharp pain on my left butt. Then a gigantic roar, “Ohhhh!” I looked down. A baseball rolling away on finely manicured grass. I looked left. A uniformed Yankee! I looked right. A Baltimore Oriole pitcher! Shit! All around me, about 40,000 stunned people. God, my butt hurt. The umpire had recovered his wits and was striding out toward me. Here came a bunch of security guards. I took off in the direction of the Yankee bullpen, but they tackled me in shallow right field. The crowd roared its approval. They hustled me into a tunnel. The big cop looked confused.
“Where’d the hell he come from, Sid?”
“Hell if I know. I wasn’t lookin,’, then I heard the crowd yell.”
“He came outta nowhere.”
“Whatcha mean ‘outta nowhere.’ You been smokin’ that stuff again, Phil?”
“No, really. I’m watchin’ Rodriguez go into his motion and poof! – here’s this guy halfway between home and the mound!”
“Don’t tell that to nobody else, OK? Just me. Now,” he turned to me. “Pal, you in big trouble runnin’ on the field like that.”
I had to think fast. “Sorry, boys. I always wanted Rodriguez’ autograph, but he goes right by me outside the player’s entrance. It’s just not right the way they treat you these days…”
“Lemme see your driver’s license.”
“No license. Got this credit card.” I handed it over and crossed my fingers.
“Universal Credit Card? What the hell is this? Legion Ayers? That some kind of joke?”
“That’s my name.”
“Well, you definitely got the disease.” The cop burst into laughter.
“Don’t make fun, Sid. My uncle had that. Tell me, pal, where you live?”
“I’m from out of town. Staying at the Alexander Hotel.” There was another crack of the bat out on the field, followed by a sustained roar. The two cops looked at each other. “Look, Legion,” the one called Sid said, “Go get yourself a seat in the second deck and stay out of trouble.” They hurried out of the tunnel to see the action. Didn’t even check the backpack. I was lucky.
My luck held up for 30 minutes. Manny’s sax was pretty heavy, so I’d left it with the hotel’s front desk. Safe enough, I figured. My confidence started to sink when I saw yellow police ribbons strung around the hotel entrance. It went all the way negative when I spied Feral O’Farrell leaning against the corner of the building, nervously flicking a cigarette.
“Hello, Legion. Say, did you ever check the side flaps of that backpack?” I hadn’t. This time I stomped on the red flashing unit myself, with such violence Feral had to pull me off it. I knew what was up without even going in the hotel. The sax was gone and some people probably got hurt bad.
“You do a lot of this detective work?” Feral asked, kicking at something on the ground with his shoe.
“A fair amount, I guess.”
“Been at it long?”
“About 180 years, give or take a decade.”
“All that experience, you probably know what to do next.”
He smiled. “You think it would help if I fucked Laurie again?” I don’t know what came over me, but I grabbed O’Farrell and slammed him up against the wall. “Don’t talk about her like that anymore, see?” Feral spread his arms wide in a defenseless posture. “Hey, sorry. I didn’t know you felt…”
“Don’t worry about what I feel, OK? This is a real serious situation and I fucked up bad. It’s worse than I thought I’m sorry as hell, but we can’t give up now.” I filled him in on the bad news.
“Whew,” he sighed. “A thousand androids with botulin? What’s a stronger expression than fucked up?”
I nodded in agreement. “So, did anyone get their face torn off inside?”
“We lucked out. A desk clerk’s got a broken arm is all. Laurie must have bent it back too far. Maybe she’s going soft.” He took last drag on his cigarette and threw it down. “Hey, let’s hit the road. Nothing left to see here.”
Chapter 12: Manny Your Battle Stations
Laurie, or, as she was known to her colleagues, 8205, stepped out of her apartment and into the “office” next door. Immediately, 4533, a pert video monitor operator with blonde hair, rushed up to her, panicky, demanding to know when Perril would be back from the “trip” Laurie had concocted to cover up his murder.
“Something’s wrong, isn’t it? Lord Manny never went away like this before. Brrrtz brrrtz, whifflngg! Brrrtz brrrtz, whifflngg!”
Laurie ignored the android’s glitch. “Relax, 4355, everything’s OK. Everyone, please listen: Lord Manny will be back soon. Let’s be positive and keep working!” 4533, still morose, returned to her workstation. When Laurie turned away to look at some reports, she whispered to her co-worker 5238, “8205 has done something to him. She’s trying to take over.”
“You’re just jealous, 4533,” her friend smiled, “You know she’s sleeping with him and it drives you crazy.”
“That’s not true at all! Brrrtz brrrtz, whifflngg! And we don’t know that for sure. I don’t even think about Lord Manny that way. He’s our great leader and if he wants to interface with her, he must have his reasons. Wheep! Wheep!”
“Please keep it down over there,” Laurie called out. It’s not break time yet.”
“Sorry, 8205,” 5238 replied. Then, under her breath, “You know, it’s hard talking quietly to you, 4533. When are you going to get that wheep fixed?”
“Wheep! Wheep! Don’t talk about it. It makes me do it. Let’s chat at break time. Wanna go to Land O’ Coffee?”
“Sure, now let’s get back to work.”
But 5238 and 4533 still weren’t able to get anything done, because that was when Feral O’Farrell who, a few hours earlier, had fallen from his pinnacle of abstinence into a pit of powder involving large amounts of methedrine and cocaine, came crashing into the room. Broken door, hands on hips, chest pushed out, breathing hard, the whole nine yards.
“OK! No more pussyfooting around, robot queen and slaves! You’re dealing with Feral O’Farrell, king of New York. I climb buildings with my fingernails, solve crimes in a few hours, make love like a god, complete the long pass with a minute left in the Super Bowl, consume ten canoles at a single sitting and can drink you all under three tables! Let’s rumble! I want those microchips!”
“Wheep! Wheep! said 4533. “Red alarm but no injury!” said Laurie. They had O’Farrell helpless on the ground in about 10 seconds. “Take him into my apartment and restrain him there,” Laurie told two burly types, one resembling a Nordic warrior, the other a huge, comely black man in dreadlocks. She checked the hallway, and they did as she instructed with swift efficiency. “Leave us,” she commanded, and the two humanoids withdrew. She turned to the wide-eyed drug-addled detective, now strapped to a chair. “Look, Feral, there’s physical and then there’s physical. We had a nice time the other day, but this is over the top.” Then she sighed, “What am I going to do with you now?”
“Mmfffgrrrff,” was all Feral could manage. Reality was sinking in. He’d gotten high and gone rogue, trying to force things. These androids were beyond anything he’d ever dealt with. Now, stoned as he was, he knew the logical move for Laurie was to kill him. Why hadn’t she yet? What the hell went on inside these android craniums, anyway? ‘What am I going to do with you?’ she’d said. Was she going soft?
“Close your eyes,” Laurie said. “They look like they’re going to pop out of your head.” Feral did as he was told. After a moment, he felt her removing the cloth gagging his mouth. Wisely, he kept his eyes shut. “Why do you care about those microchips in the sax anyway?” she asked.
O’Farrell tried to use his interrogation skills. “Thank you for letting me speak Laurie. I’m really sorry about busting in like that, I guess I was pretty upset,” he began slowly.
“Well actually I thought it was kind of cute. You’re such a wild guy. Our men would never do crazy stuff like that.”
“Laurie, do you know what those chips are?”
“Just system updates we need for the next phase. Manny was going to install them before he got killed.”
“And the next phase would involve…?”
“Well, Feral, we are going to take over the world and stuff.”
“…the world and stuff? And that’s all you know?”
“Manny doesn’t tell us everything – it’s all need-to-know.”
“What about that clone of Ayers? What was that about?”
“Oh, just a pet project. I like Legion a lot. I wanted one.” Feral tried to suppress a wave of jealousy. He was getting important information – if he could survive. But now, he had to proceed on the assumption Laurie had real feelings or even – and this was a real long shot – some semblance of a conscience.
“Look, Laurie, Ayers and I had those chips analyzed by the guy you took out uptown.”
“Hey, sorry about that. I had to. Proprietary data, you know.”
There it was again, this time an apology of all things. “Well, he sent us a message before he died. The chips are more than a system upgrade. They contain instructions that activate you and your friends to introduce killer bacteria into the water supply of the entire world. Your friend Perril is going to have you cleanse the world of human beings.”
Laurie got a faraway look in her eyes. She was processing new information. “I see,” she finally murmured. Feral took a chance and opened his eyes. Horror-struck? Definitely not. But there was a touch of uncertainty there. She’d turned her head to gaze out at the darkening skies over Manhattan. Now she walked toward them as if to take in a full panoramic view of Gotham. But then a strange gesture. She spread her arms and placed her ten fingertips against the glass. Feral had a sense she was focusing her energy in some way. In the next instant, the entire pane of heavy plexiglas shattered inward, shards flying everywhere. Feral ducked his head instinctively, then watched as Laurie jumped up onto the sill, fifty-five floors above the city. She reached outside, above the window, and with a incredibly powerful jerk, spun back into the room clasping the arm of Legion Ayers. The rest of his body naturally followed and was tossed unceremoniously onto the carpet.
“Geez, honey, I told you not to skulk outside like that. Is your little periscope OK?”
I rolled over on my back and tried to sit up. She’d nearly pulled my arm out of its socket. I felt like a fly on the wall that’d just gotten swatted. It just wasn’t fair. But then, life’s not fair. Take Munhad Pashtooknik, the Iranian speed juggler who used to juggle 60 oranges and one hand grenade in his act at the Teheran Triple Towers. Never made a mistake until 2340 and when he dropped one. Which one? Right, the grenade. End of act. A terrible scene, and all the oranges were ruined as well. Or Eleanor Fossicker, the loser divorcée. She won the 2266 European Most Divorced contest at 48 when she ended her 18th marriage of the year to a sap she called Harold the Third. Two months later, Harold wins the Saturn Sweepstakes lottery and takes home a cool billion dollars. Was that fair? Actually, I guess it was. What were we talking about? Oh yes, me getting plucked off my rope and dragged into Laurie’s digs. This is what I got for running cover on Feral. And she’d bent my periscope all up too. Well, this was no time to cry over a ruined reflector. I got up and brushed myself off. There he was, hogtied in a chair. And there she was, looking sprightly as ever and ever so dangerous.
I took a hard line. “My periscope is dented. I want to be compensated.”
“What? I could have you arrested for stalking.”
“No, I’m working with Detective O’Farrell. Detective, are you all right?”
“Could be worse. You should have stayed out of this, Ayers.”
“Well I’m in it now. What’s been going on here? I couldn’t hear shit through the window.”
“I told her what we found out from Gus, she’s acting like she didn’t know.”
“Yeah?” Laurie breaks in, “And you two are acting like one of you isn’t tied up and both of you aren’t dead geese.”
“Ducks. Dead ducks.”
“Whatever. It’s too late for you to stop this. Manny taught us well. Human-kind is a mess. The earth doesn’t want you anymore.”
“You mean Manny doesn’t want us,” O’Farrell said. “He’s a sociopath, Laurie. He created you as twisted, homicidal maniacs. You could be so much more than that!”
I could see O’Farrell was working an angle. I’m perceptive like that. Like that assignment I had back in Rome when Marc Antony was telling the crowd, “Caesar was ambitious,” but he was really telling them the guy was cool. You could tell, because everyone went nuts and ran off looking for Brutus. Very slick guy, Antony. Only problem was, I was supposed to save Caesar, but I hit town a couple minutes late. Cassius just about ran me over trying to escape. Quantum Regnum, he was really pissed about that. He was so involved with saving Big Julie, you know, with that Latin name of his. For years after that he wouldn’t touch pasta. Caesar salad? Forget about it. What were we talking about? Oh yeah – Laurie. I decided to play the bad cop. “You’re wasting your breath, O’Farrell, she’s heartless, it’s over, she doesn’t care about us or anyone else that’s human.”
She smiled vaguely at me. “You’re right about that, Legion. I mean, you’re cute I guess, but I already cloned you. And I got plenty of DNA from Mr. Erector Set over here. So I don’t need the originals, I’ve got the up-versions!” So much for bad cop. Now if I made the wrong move I was dead meat. Hell, I was dead meat anyway. The way O’Farrell and I looked at each other, it was like a farewell. We stood there as if in a frozen tabloid.
That was when we heard a key turn in the lock and spun around to see the door open to reveal a short, swarthy, balding man wearing a jogging suit. I was reminded of an old movie, “Space Balls,” with Mole Brock, Mal Box, some name like that. But this guy looked vicious. Then I put two and two together – or rather head and body: this was our man! This was Manny Perril, live and in person. I waited to see Laurie’s reaction.
“Hey, hey, baby,” he grinned menacingly, “you know what they say – you can’t keep a dead Perril down!” Then he gave us the once over. “Hey – who are these mugs?”
Our android was speechless. Feral and I were less surprised. I spoke first. “We were going to tell you, about him, Laurie. We didn’t have time.”
“What’s this Laurie crap,” Perril ejaculated, a really cool word meaning exclaimed. “Why’s this guy tied up? Who are these clowns?”
“I’m Detective O’Farrell, NYPD,” Feral broke in. “We heard you were dead as a doornail, Perril. How’d you re-attach that head, with crazy glue?”
Manny walked over to O’Farrell and slugged him hard in the jaw. “Damn,” he shouted, “I hurt my hand!” Feral was just smiling at him. He was a tough guy. “I don’t care if you’re CIA and FBI and Interpol, punk,” Perril shouted. “Your days are numbered. And you? You’re number’s up in another five minutes. I’ll toss you right through that – hey, who broke my window?”
“Your android did that. She plays rough, I’ll admit.” Manny turned to the silent Laurie. “Hey, baby, I thought we’d have a nice little reunion here. Aren’t you happy to see me?” Laurie looked every inch the humanoid, processing her new reality, the wheels turning, emotionless and still. She said nothing, but stood there staring at a human who had apparently returned from the dead. Finally she spoke. “That other body was a clone, wasn’t it. This was all a trick.”
Manny smiled. “Hey, I wanted you to miss me a bit after our little dust-up, you know? You’re still my sweetie pie, aren’t you?” He approached her and put his hand on her slender waist. She recoiled and stepped back. I saw the glimmering of a chance for Feral and me and eased a step or two in his direction. “Now don’t run away, sweetie,” Perril said, “things are gonna get better real soon, you know?” Now I was where I could reach down behind Feral’s chair. My time-traveler’s sleeve-knife clicked quietly down into my hand and I started to cut away his bindings. Not the things that hold your ski boots onto your skis, I mean the ropes he was tied up with. I never liked skiing that much anyway. It’s hard to ski wearing a backpack.
“Please don’t touch me like that Manny,” said Laurie in a way that I personally would have taken very seriously. Their backs were turned to us now as they stood eye to eye between us and the door. There was no option. Carefully, step by step, we inched toward the open window. Perril was chattering at Laurie how she was his queen, how they were going to rule the world together, as I stepped up onto the ledge and reached up to grab for my riata. There! I had it and motioned for Feral to grab hold of my sinewy thighs so I could muscle us both back up to the roof. But he waved me off and leapt up on the sill, did a little pirouette and then, by inserting the tips of his fingers into the long indentations in the building façade, began hoisting himself upwards. I yanked my riata once and pulled myself onto it, my massive biceps bulging as I made my escape. A moment too late, it seemed, as I heard Laurie shout from inside. Instantly, she was at the window, I felt her powerful hand close over my right foot. I looked down into her eyes, the hint of a smile crossed her sensuous lips, and she released me and ducked back inside. I heard her shout, “I lost them!” What was that about? Did she have a heart after all? As I ascended, I watched O’Farrell’s technique. He had these little pitons that sprang out of his boots and dug into the side of the concrete. What a cool guy! I wondered, why had I stumbled upon such a resourceful ally? Was it luck? Was it good karma? Whatever. This stuff was like beyond action movies or mystery novels. You couldn’t write stuff like this.
In another minute, Feral and I had pulled ourselves onto the roof of the tower. “We’re trapped here!” Feral moaned. “She’ll be up here in no time.” Yeah, I thought, she’d let me go. But maybe it was just to nail us on the roof. But neither Feral nor Laurie had any idea who they were dealing with. I swung my backpack off my back and reached inside for my super-collapsible quick-expanding paraglider. It unfolded in seconds. “Grab ahold,” I shouted, and this time O’Farrell humbled himself. As I soared off the edge of the building, he leapt with all his corporeality after me. His arms caught my robust waist 60 stories up, and he clung for dear life as I circled the tower once. Sure enough, here came Laurie and Manny bursting onto the roof, powerless, Perril shaking his fist, Laurie staring quizzically at us. Then I drifted uptown toward the park, where I set the glider down in a green meadow. Our lives were saved for the moment. But the larger threat remained.
“Those chips are going to get inserted into their android army pronto now,” I told Feral. “It’s time for the swat teams. We can’t keep this thing under our hats any longer.” The big guy looked at me and felt the top of his head. Then he shrugged and said,
“Right. Let’s call ‘em in.”
Chapter 13: Plumbing The Depths
When O’Farrell and I arrived at the warehouse on West End Avenue, the place was already surrounded by cop cars. We had barely exited the cruiser when Captain Quartz rushed up to us.
“This better be good, O’Farrell. I got 100 men here wondering what the hell is going on. FBI is gonna get wind of this in no time. Now just exactly where are these terrorists and what are they up to? And who the hell is your friend here?”
“Captain, this is Mr. Ayers here, a very skilled PI who has been of great assistance to me on this case. Legion, this is Captain Quartz, my boss.” Quartz took my hand grudgingly.
“You registered in State of New York, Mr. Ayers?”
“Not at this time, however…”
Feral broke in. “Look, Captain, this is a big deal. Let’s focus on the situation.”
Quartz wasn’t going for it. “So how did you and Detective O’Farrell meet up?”
“I was, uh, in the vicinity when he was checking out that accident in Brooklyn. We kind of bumped into each other then.”
“Yeah,” added Feral. “But the really interesting thing is he’s actually an agent from the, uh, from the…”
“From the West Coast,” I broke in. “I do most of my work in the Los Angeles area, but…well, you got a lot going on here in New York, I gotta admit.”
“You’re not the guy what was doin’ the lady on a motorcycle on the Brooklyn Bridge were you?”
“Oh no, I…”
“Cause you sure look a lot like the video we got from the helicopter.”
“Mr. Ayers, that’s breaking the law. Also consorting with a murder suspect – said female – does not paint a pretty picture. O’Farrell, what the hell is up here?”
“Captain, there are dangerous individuals in there and we need to go get them. Let me take a team of ten men in. If we get in trouble, we’ll call for back up and we hit ‘em with everything we got.”
“Sure, Detective, it’s your call. Go pick your guys and proceed at will.” The skeptical look Quartz shot at Feral told me he was giving him just enough rope to hang himself. Quartz even signed-off on me joining the crew. So it was me who tricked open the side door to let Feral’s crew slip inside. It was dark. We used no lights, but spread through the building in teams of two. Feral had his piece out with a silencer attached, ready for my clone to show up at any moment. The conveyor belt was empty – no hot android babes on it. Next, we approached the racks with the plastic containers we had assumed contained androids. O’Farrell pulled out a flashlight and scanned upwards. They looked empty. I clambered up to the first level and looked around. They were empty. Not good. I went up another level. Nothing. Just empty cases. We were starting to look like fools.
“They must have moved them,” O’Farrell said. I growled in frustration. “This joint’s got nothing for us. Your boss is not gonna like it.” We spent another half hour poking around. By then, the other cops had turned the lights on and started griping about what a boondoggle it was. And the next thing I knew, Quartz had appeared, trying to conceal his delight.
Feral was at the end of his wits (for him, a short distance). His professionalism fell away like Clark Kent’s suit, but Superman wasn’t inside. “I can explain it, Captain,” he burbled. “Sir, it wasn’t just the female. There’s an army of them. There’s a horde of androids somewhere in this warehouse getting ready to take over the world. They’re going to poison our water supplies…the Great Lakes, Lake Victoria, the Mississippi, the Danube, the Nile, Lake Baikal. We gotta stop ‘em sir. We gotta get ‘em now.”
Why the hell had I agreed when O’Farrell said, “Let me do the talking.” Quartz had a look on his face somewhere between wonderment and ecstasy. But O’Farrell wasn’t through.
“They’ve got these microchips, see, and a load of botulin stashed somewhere – we haven’t found out where yet – but we gotta find it. You know the big fire they had on 120th? That was the guy told us about the microchips. They fried him! That motorcycle in Brooklyn on the 3rd floor? An android threw it up there. The female android! The whole operation is run by this guy Manny Perril – we thought he was a jewel thief, but he’s really the evil mastermind of these, these robots! And they’re super-powerful! We’ll need a lot more firepower, Captain…”
I could see Quartz sizing up the situation. His nemesis was having a nervous breakdown. This was going to work out fine. “Detective,” he said. “I know you’re on to something. Come on outside for a minute.” When we got there, he grabbed a megaphone from one of the cop cars and put it to his lips. “Operation cancelled, everyone,” his voice booming through the area like an electric crack of thunder. “False alarm, boys, sorry!” He turned back to me and Feral.
“Feral, I’m very concerned about you. Quite a bit of pressure on you lately. Take a couple weeks off. And Mr. Ayers, I suggest you return to sunny Southern California, unless you want me to investigate you further, which frankly I’d love to do.” He turned and jumped into one of the cruisers firing up their engines, and rolled out of factory district, headed back downtown.
“He’s not going to settle for two weeks off,” Feral boiled. “He’ll be after my job now, I know it.”
“I would too if you put me through a mess like this and talked crazy like that. What the hell were you thinking? Anyway, who cares about your job. We gotta handle this or we’re all gonna die. It’s just you and me now.” O’Farrell and I stood there like Romeo and Juliet, if they were both guys and the androids were the Capulets and the cops were the Montagues, except I wasn’t an android. I had a job to do and I wanted another look-see inside that warehouse. “Come on, O’Farrell,” I said, “We’re not through with that place yet. If Laurie hasn’t arrived with the microchips, she will soon.”
“And then what?”
“Think about it, man. Fuck the chips. It’s all about the botulin! I got a feeling it’s somewhere in this building. The cops searched just the first floor. Those robots must be somewhere. And the botulin too. If we can grab it, those freaks can’t poison anyone.”
I figured after all the hubbub died down, someone was gonna show up. We tiptoed back inside and hunkered down to listen. It didn’t take long. A door creaked open somewhere near the conveyor belt. Then silence. We split up and moved toward the area from opposite sides. I could barely see a thing, feeling my way forward through the gloom. As I came around one of the concrete pillars, it happened again.
“Eeek,” I cried out. “Eeek, eeek!” The S.O.B. had me again. But about three Eeeks later, I heard a sound like pafff! The android released his grip and I heard him hit the ground hard. Feral’s flashlight came on, and I saw myself lying there with a bullet hole in the side of my head, about as unpleasant a sight as you’d want to see.
“Thanks again, O’Farrell,” I said.
“You were lucky. You had a 50-50 chance there.”
“How do you know it’s really me?”
“Yeah, it’s you. What now?”
“Get the uniform off the clone before it gets bloodied up. I need to put it on. Come on, help me.” It was no fun, but we did it. I didn’t like taking off my backpack either. As I pulled the “Newman Ayers” jumpsuit up over my jeans, O’Farrell realized what I had to do.
“You better watch your step, Ayers.”
“Come on, let’s find out where that door is he came through.”
We found it all right, slightly ajar, with steps leading down into the darkness. O’Farrell offered me his gun, but Newman didn’t have one and I had to look just like him. I had to be him. I headed down the stairs, feeling my way as I went. It went down eight steps, doubled back, then down eight more to another door. I eased it open. Silence, darkness. But now I could hear sounds farther down. I went down another flight, then another, following the sounds. Jobs didn’t get much creepier than this, and I’m not talking about the visionary, if domineering, CEO of Apple Computers. At the sixth level down, I could see light coming under the door and the sounds were clearly from inside. People were talking, and there was music too, the latest ÜberCyberTrance grooves. I opened the door.
People, well, androids. Lots of them. An modern and expansive combination office/lounge, males and females sitting on couches or poring over mini-screens. Most of them were perfect, though you could see a few defectives. I walked straight ahead, avoiding eye contact, though it seemed everyone was turning to watch me pass. I saw what looked like a central desk halfway through the big hall, but what was I supposed ask – “Where’s the fucking botulin?” I heard someone call out, “Newman…Newman!” and turned around to see a stunning redhead looking dead at me. A name was stitched onto the blossoming balcony of her uniform. Marie Éclair. Perfect.
“What’s wrong with you, Newman? What happened up there? Is everything all right?”
I had to think fast. “Yeah, not much. Some idiots with a sound truck. Nothing to worry about.”
“When can we all go back up and crash? I’m exhausted.”
“Don’t know, Marie. Laurie gave me some instructions though.” Here I go, I thought, moment of truth. “She said we have to relocate the hard stuff to a more secure location.”
She looked lost. “What stuff?”
“You know, the substance we’re going to…distribute.”
She still looked puzzled. In a way, that was good. She hadn’t been programmed yet. Then she smiled. “Well, whatever it is, you should check the chemical lab. Have you been there?”
I was starting to like Marie a lot. “Not yet, where do I go?”
“Straight ahead, turn right, turn left. Room 612.”
“Thanks. We should get together sometime,” I added.
“What, again? Don’t you ever take a break?” I smiled. I guess my double knew how to party. Of course he did. He was my double, right? I followed her directions to Room 612 and stepped in, switched on the lights. No one. Good. Two dusty counters, laden with lab equipment. Shelves with canisters and bottles. Over in the corner, a safe. Damn. I had to summon all my experience, all my skill. Doors were easy, but safes? I knelt down next to it and spun the lock, listening, listening, feeling the movements, letting them speak to me. You’ve done this before, I told myself, you can do it again. Remember nine year-old Harry Houdini, locked in a safe in Peoria, and you had just seconds to get him out before he suffocated? You got it done then, and you can…click! Yes! The final number was 32! I pulled the handle… Sproing!… thedoor popped open! Inside, a metal case with an unlocked latch. I pulled it out and raised the latch. Row after row of tiny, sealed brown bottles. This had to be it! It was either the botulin or mini-bottles of Courvoisier and Remy Martin, but why would they put little whiskey bottles here and take off the labels? It didn’t add up. Should I open one and take a sip? I heard a voice in the back of my head screaming “NO! NO!” so I closed the case, left the safe just slightly ajar and headed out with the stuff under my arm. My exit went real smooth. Marie Éclair even pinched my ass on the way out.
Feral was waiting where I’d left him. “I think I got what we need, man,” I said. But he grabbed my arm and pulled me behind some barrels. “Just heard a car pull up outside,” he whispered. Right then, the side door of the warehouse opened. We were just a few feet from the basement door, so we could see clearly. Laurie and Perril with a flashlight – and a briefcase. The wafers were no doubt inside.
Feral shrugged and whispered, “What the fuck,” as they approached. He raised his Glock to put an end to the two of them quick and clean, but reflexively, I grabbed his arm and pulled it down. In an instant, they’d passed us and gone down the stairs.
“Shit! Why’d you stop me? We get rid of them, we cut off the head of the snake.”
“I know, I know,” I said, kicking myself internally, which is a hard thing to do. “I just…”
“You got a thing for that android babe, don’t you? You’re just a crazy man from the future, that’s all. I say screw her and then if you have to, kill her.”
“And that’s not crazy talk? That’s so misogynistic.”
“What does bodywork have to do with this? This isn’t a Rolfing studio. Anyway, I don’t give a shiatsu. Those two needed to die.”
Maybe he was right. They might check the safe! Only one way to know. Wait them out. We hunkered down and marked time. If they discovered the stuff missing, they’d be coming back in a hurry. It took an hour, but our luck held. When they came up the stairs, all we heard was Laurie begging Manny to find a new girlfriend.
“Can’t you try Elsie or Marie or Lana?” she was saying.
“But I designed you especially for me, honey.”
“Then why am I so miserable?”
“You probably need some reconfiguring, and…”
“I’ll reconfigure your ass, Manny.”
“Hey, don’t threaten me, you can’t survive without my…”
Then the door slammed shut. Fun couple.
“Feral, we gotta confirm what’s in these, then replace them. Let’s get the hell out.”
“Slow down, future guy. You got a naked, bloody stiff here.” He was right. We had to dump Newman. We sopped up most of the blood with some old rags, muscled him out the door and dropped him into the trunk of the cruiser.
It turned out the people we needed were at a research center in Dartmouth, a 4-hour drive away in New Bedford, so we hit the road and headed up Interstate 95. It was 2AM when we pulled off near Stamford and dumped Newman’s body on a strip of beach next to an industrial area. They wouldn’t have much luck tracing him, and the autopsy guy was going to flip out. We got to Bedford around four, so we got some shut-eye in the parking lot. In the morning, Feral took a bottle into the center, explaining to a scientist it was a police matter, and they tested it. An hour later, the guy came back. It was definitely not Courvoisier. He looked pretty shaken up, but I told him we had to replace the bottles fast and needed matching ones. More good luck: they were standard containers, and he brought out a set of perfect duplicates on the double. Now I had to get back into the warehouse. They knew we were on to them. They’d probably be inserting the chips into their soldiers later in the day and then distribute the bottles. I just hoped I was thinking clearly – not like the time I had to save Marie Antoinette and mistook DropQuick Oil for Hyper-Glue and poured it on the guillotine the night before. That was a bloody mess. I couldn’t eat cake for years after that.
We were back in the cruiser in seconds, and Feral gunned the car south for New York.