The Female of Exceptional Beauty and Poor Morals
Being a detective is a dirty job. I do not use to 'dirty' in the literal sense, though detective work does often force one to compromise one's exterior cleanliness, but in the figurative sense. 'Dirty' is a common colloquialism for when something is unappealing, difficult, and problematic, and private investigation is indeed all of those things. However, there is another common colloquialism that presents an interesting corollary to my first statement – it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.
I was built for that job. My designation is Iglitz Ronald Ops, also known as I. Ron Ops, and I am the first Artificial Private Investigator, or A.P.I. As a completely synthetic sleuth, I possess a steel body of excellent durability and a highly advanced positronic brain with access to the Interstellarnet containing the sum of the galaxy's knowledge. I can interface directly with all forms of technology, making me a 'Detechtive' of rare and skill and power. I also possess an acute sense of smell. I resemble a tall humanoid with shining metal skin, and an oval face with two large yellow eyes. I frequently dress in garments that are appropriate for detectives, such as a battered trench coat and a pearl gray fedora.
Despite my advanced nature, I must admit that there are many mysteries that have proven baffling. Most of these concern a code of conduct that seems irrational, and illogical, if not wholly bizarre, which is known as 'human nature.' Let me offer an example:
One afternoon, I was in my office playing chess with my creator, and he was allowing me to win. My creator is twelve-year-old boy genius Nathan Iglitz, son of Jeremiah Iglitz, the owner of Iglitz Labs, the multi-planet spanning mega-conglomerate. We sat on opposite sides of my desk in my alabaster white office, which maintains the spotlessness and neatness of a supercomputer's main processing unit, with the holographic chessboard between us. Nathan was intelligent enough to defeat even me, but today his pieces were few and in approximately six moves I deduced I would have checkmate.
"Master Iglitz," I said, looking up from the board at Nathan. "I have detected that you are allowing me to win."
Nathan did not meet my blaring eyes. He wore thick spectacles and a neat white coat, vest and tie. "Is it that obvious, I. Ron?" he asked in his thin voice, running a hand through his neat brown hair.
"Not to the casual observer, but I have calculated that you have made approximately four moves that weakened your position. I could replay them to you if you have any doubts as to the veracity of my statements."
"No, I. Ron, you're right." He sighed as he held a shimmering rook hologram between two thin fingers. "I just figured that well, I always win, and I thought you'd be really happy if you won a game. I thought you'd like it."
"Oh." I considered this information. "This is strange, Master Iglitz. Why would you wish to harm your own standing? Why would you put yourself in jeopardy for no gain, except to me?"
Nathan considered it. "Gee," he said. "I guess it's just human nature."
There was that word again. I had heard it used to explain such mysteries an estimated forty thousand times since the inception of my consciousness, and yet it remained strange. I was about to inquire to Nathan if he would gain enjoyment from having me defeat him in another competition, such as horseshoes, when the holocom in the corner of my alabaster desk buzzed. Shirley Sparks, my secretary, had a message for me.
My secretary's face appeared, bathed in blue light and hovering a little off of the desk. "Mr. Ops?" she asked. She had a spherical face with red hair in curls, and she wore a sleek silver sweater. "There's a fellow wants to see you. It looks like this bird's got a lot of money, so we'd better powwow with him right away."
"You assessment is accurate," I said. "Please, show him in. Also, bringing some cups of Mercury Spiced Coffee for our guest and Master Iglitz would be an acceptable secondary course of action."
The sliding doors opened and a fellow of exceptional girth and roundness entered my office, moving at a pace reminiscent of a duck or a similar waterfowl. He was bald and his cheeks looked like gasbags that had been recently been inflated, but recently, the aforementioned gas had escaped and now they were limp. He wore a seersucker suit, and held a bowler hat in his hands.
"Detechtive Ops," he said, his voice deep and throaty. "My name is Montgomery Hatch, owner of Egghead Technologies. I need your help."
"You have arrived at the proper locations for requests of that kind," I said.
"Huh?" Hatch asked, squinting so that his data-monocle flickered like a dying star.
"You've come to right place," Nathan explained. "How can we help you, sir?"
Hatch nodded, and reached into his coat. "All right, robot, let me introduce myself. I'm a very important man. Egghead Technologies rivals Iglitz Labs in scope, and we got exclusive deals with the Martian States, the Terran Federation, and the Star Union. Here on Space Station Omega, I'm what the papers call a noteworthy citizen."
The door slid open again, and Shirley Sparks came inside, holding up a tray with three steaming mugs of amber-colored coffee. "Hey, you're Monty Hatch!" she said, grinning as she offered him a cup. "You're a pretty big cheese, Mr. Hatch."
While they had been talking, I ran Montgomery Hatch's name and appearance through a quick search of the Interstellarnet's databanks. Though Hatch was neither particularly gargantuan nor a dairy product, he was a man of great wealth and political power. I wondered what exactly he was doing here, and then I noticed a constant presence at his side in numerous press photos, who had fewer and fewer appearances as time passed by. I made a quick guess.
"You're here about your daughter, Henrietta Hatch?" I queried.
Hatch's eyes glared at me. "Yeah…" he said. "Boy, you are a smart one. And you'll have to be for what I got in mind. Now, it ain't no secret me and my little girl have been having some disagreements lately. All her life I've tried to shield her from the rest of the galaxy, and all that made her do was want it more." He sighed. "She's been running with a bad crowd lately, from the lower decks of the Space Station - cyborgs, criminals, aliens, for Christ's sake!" He shook his head. "I got her away from that spaceway trash and back in our manor on the upper decks, but then I get a visit from this guy." He blinked his eye, signaling his data-monocle to project a postcard-sized picture of a Martian Ratman in a cheap, second-hand suit.
The Ratman had narrow red eyes, dark fur that resembled coal, and a grin that in-depth cultural analysis of the expressions of his species allowed me to classify as 'confident and happy.' I scanned the picture through the police databases of every known country, city-state and polity in the universe.
"This mug is called—"
"Jimmy the Rat," I announced, having located his most widely used alias. "He has been in and out of prisons 6.5 times for various charges including breaking and entering, assault, holocable theft, and racketeering. I believe he would best be classified as a small-time thug."
"Add blackmail to that list," Montgomery Hatch said. "He shows up with pictures of my daughter in…ah…bad positions, and says that I unless I do exactly as his boss tells me, he's gonna mail them to every gossip rag and society scandal sheet in the space station!" He pointed a thick finger at me. "I want you to find this rat boy and get me those pictures. I'll double your fee, pay full expenses, anything – just get me those damn pictures!"
"I accept your terms," I said. "But please, can you clarify your use of the word 'bad'?"
Nathan raised a hand. "Maybe he means like, she fell down the stairs or spilled food on her shirt or something?"
"That must be it." Shirley patted Mr. Hatch on the shoulder. "You know where your daughter used to hang out? Maybe where she bumped into this rat guy?"
"The Stardust Club, down in the Tyger Bay loading dock," Hatch explained. "I bet you dollars to doughnuts that's where you'll find them."
"I will not take your bet," I said. "But I will take your case."
Hatch nodded. "Great. I'll be in touch." The sliding doors opened and let him out of my spotless white office. I stood up as well, adjusting my coat around my round shoulders. I signaled the top drawer in my desk to open, revealing a Mark IV Ray Pistol with spare power batteries. I put them in my shoulder-holster. The probability of trouble was very high.
"So, you'll go to this Stardust place?" Nathan asked. "It might be kind of dangerous."
"Going there will not be dangerous," I corrected. "I will take the personal transport tubes, which have had a total of only 3.4 accidents during the entirety of Space Station Omega's history." Then I adjusted my hat and I was off.
The trip through the personal transport tubes took exactly one hour, thirty-three minutes and forty seconds. I sat calmly inside of the tube, feeling the air rush by as I saw the shining skyscrapers and palaces of Space Station Omega's upper deck giving way to the glittering neon smoke of the lower deck. I will now divulge information about Space Station Omega: It is an artificial satellite the size of a small moon, which flies across the Milky Way, ignoring borders and maintaining its own government. As such, it is the perfect place for all kinds of criminals looking to lay low. In addition, it is one of the universe's most successful off-planet tax shelters and countless large megacorporations have made their headquarters here. Some of the galaxy's richest beings choose to live here, or spend time in the numerous resorts.
With a population made up of a small upper class of the super-rich and a large lower class made up mostly of the criminal elements, Space Station Omega is perhaps the perfect place for a detective. If I believed in the concept as 'luck' then I would consider myself lucky.
The transport tubes dropped me off at Tyger Bay. I had already downloaded a map to the Stardust Club and made my way down the narrow chrome street. A few hovercars sped by, whining loudly. A drunk spaceman lay on the sidewalk in a pile of his own waste. I was asked to perform immoral activities with assorted women, lovebots, and genderless aliens approximately 6.3 times before I reached the Stardust Club. I walked in through the sliding doors and stepped inside.
The place was full of smoke, but it was quite big and mostly empty. Chrome, star-shaped tables were set across a dirty floor. A couple of drunken spacemen were singing obscene star shanties in the corner, at such a volume as to cause annoyance to my auditory sensors. I walked passed the jukebox squatting in the corner and approached the bar. The bartender was pink-skinned, a multi-armed native of Rigel. The tufts of fur on his arms wiggled in apprehensions as I approached.
"Hey there," he said. "What I can get you?"
"Information regarding the whereabouts of this individual." I flashed him the picture of Jimmy the Rat from a projector located in my left eye. "Or information regarding the activity of this individual." I used the projector in my right eye to show him a picture of Henrietta Hatch.
"Look, pal, I just tend bar here, okay?" he asked. "I can't be asked to keep a file on every mug who walks in here looking to coat their throat with a little Uranian liquor." He leaned forward, his voice dropping to a whisper. "But I have seen the dame. Give me a sawbuck and I'll tell you were."
"That is an acceptable transaction," I stated. I reached into my pocket to withdraw the necessary currency, when the barman's three eyes focused on something behind me, then widened with surprise. I turned around and saw two individuals facing me, both dressed in faux tiger-skin suits and matching fedoras. One was a tall fellow with a curling scar on his face. The other was a large humanoid lizard, of the kind native to the asteroid fields, with mottled tan scales, a forked tongue and long curling claws. I noted the muscles shifting under his suit, resembling the bulky components of heavy machinery.
The scar-faced man jabbed a finger at my chest. "You shouldn't be asking questions, metal boy," he said. "Why don't you go and get lost?"
"That would be an impossibility," I stated. "Due to the detailed maps of Space Station Omega contained in my internal databases."
"Oh, a wise guy, eh?" He cracked his knuckles, and I noted the many multicolored rings he wore on his fingers. "What do you say, Snesss, we gonna break this palooka in half or what?"
"Thank for recognizing my intelligence," I said, already uploading a combat routine. "You will not be able to break me in half but you may try."
The small man swung at me. I let his fist strike my midsection and heard exactly three of his knuckles crack. He yelled in pain and then I delivered a punch directly to the underside of his jaw. He tumbled backwards, and four of his teeth clattered to the floor. The lizardman came at me next, both claws held high. I sidestepped his attack, grabbed his neck and rammed his head into the bar. It seemed to cause him discomfort, so I did it again.
A soft arm on my shoulder restrained me. I stopped. "Please, let him go!" a feminine voice cried. Curious, I did as I was directed, then turned to look at her.
She was an extremely attractive human female. Her eyes were a deep shade of blue. Her hair was blonde and seemed to glow like a hologram. Her legs were long and smooth, like a long structure of exceptional smoothness. "There's no call for causing trouble," she said, standing very close to me. She wore a black skirt that was very short. "My name's Luna Lupo. I'm the girlfriend of the guy who owns this joint. What do you want?"
"Information," I said. I showed her the images of Jimmy the Rat and Henrietta Hatch. "Pertaining to these individuals. My designation is I. Ron Ops. I am an A.P.I."
"Oh…" she said. She rested a hand on my chest. "Hmmm," she said. "Hard."
"That is because it is made of steel," I stated.
Luna looked up at me. "There a heart in there, tin man?" she asked.
"Of a mechanical variety," I agreed.
"Hmmm." The noise she made was reminiscent of a Terran cat purring. "Look, tin man, why don't you come upstairs to my suite and I'll tell you everything you want to know." She put a finger on my lips. "Provided you're a good little boy."
"I will try my best to shrink myself in age and size," I said. I followed her away from the bar and to the stairwell in the corner. We walked up the stairs and she unlocked the door in front of us, leading us to a luxuriously furnished room with wide glass window overlooking the depths of space. The carpet was made from the hair of a Neptunian Sharkbear, and wide mirrors covered the other wall, reflecting the stars and planets. Another window gave a good view of the dingy street below us.
Luna Lupo sat down in a bubble chair that swung from the ceiling and folded her legs. She pointed with a red fingernail to the drink cabinet in the corner. "Make me a drink, will you?" she asked.
"I would be happy to Miss Luna," I said. "Drink mixing is included within my programming." I opened the cabinet and selected a shot glass. "What would you like to have?"
"Hmmm." She repeated the previous purring noise. "Make it a Nebula Burner, extra gin and on the rocks. I like things like that, you know. Sweet, but with a spark to them." She snapped her fingers and a stereo started to play, filling the room with slow jazz music. I finished making her the drink and handed her the cup. "Why don't you take off your hat and coat?" she asked.
"Should I be prepared to spend a great deal of time here?" I queried.
"Who knows? You might like it."
"I might." I stood up and removed my hat and coat, setting them on a wooden stand in the corner, next to a potted Venusian glowleaf with bright red stalks. I projected the two images of Jimmy the Rat and Henrietta Hatch to Luna. "Can you give me any information on these two?"
"Never seen the rat before," she said. "But I know the little mouse. She used to hang around here, drinking down below. She liked her drinks sweet but with a spark too, if memory serves."
At that moment, there came a loud rapping on the door and a voice as loud and abrasive as an alarm. It was deep, low and grating. "Open up, doll! Daddy's home, so open the hell up!" The knocking continued. "I ain't in the mood for waiting, toots!"
"Cripes!" Luna came to her feet and ran to me. "Gurg'le'gurg's home!" She ran to the corner and opened a closet. "Get in there quickly, and don't make a noise!"
I followed her instructions. The closet had a series of wooden blinds and I could peer through to watch her run to the door. She opened it and stepped back, smiling as if she was extremely happy. "Gurg!" she said. "I didn't know you were stopping by."
"Yeah, yeah. Can it, sister." Gurg'le'gurg slid into the room on a trail of slime. He was a Venusian Slug, with a body composed of green mucus, two arms with stubby, dripping fingers, and a pair of eyestalks ending in angry, red-rimmed orbs. He wore a dark suit with a bright orange bowtie, and a glowing rose in his lapel. "Holy Hive-Mother, I've had a hell of a day." A fat cigar exuded yellow smoke in his mouth.
Two large thugs followed him into the room, both identical toughs in matching black suits and fedoras. Gurg waved a hand at them. "You know the boys, Luna? Course you do. Hurry up and fix me a drink, will you?" He slid into one of the chairs, pulling his tail off of the floor and letting thick ropes of slime remain on the carpet.
I did not have to update my database to inform myself about Gurg'le'gurg. He was the primary crime lord in Space Station Omega, a gangster king who ruled the lower decks through intimidation, political connections and outright violence. It was not a surprise to find that he controlled the Stardust Club as well.
"It's this damn Mr. Talos," Gurg said, beckoning for Luna to bring him his drink. He gulped it down and grinned. "Bastard thinks he can run my turf, thinks he can toss me out of my own space station! I'll show him! Pull out the bum's guts and feed them to the Plutonian bladebeasts!"
"Mr. Talos?" Luna asked. "I ain't heard of no one by that name." Neither had I, though I searched my databases several times.
"Some chump from Jupiter, used to run some rackets around the Great Red Spot and now thinks he's some kind of goddamn big shot. Been trying to muscle in for a while now, and it kills me to say it, but the bum's been having a little success." His eyestalks flexed. "It's like he's got someone in my outfit, selling him all my secrets…" Suddenly, his eyeballs turned completely around. It was as if someone had done something to him causing great discomfort. "Hey…" he growled.
Luna noticed it too. "What's a matter, darling?" she asked. "The drink not-"
"Forget the damn booze! That's a man's trench coat and hat hanging there and it sure as hell ain't mind!" He leapt up from the chair, his two thugs flanking him. He grabbed Luna's throat. "You been screwing around, you lousy dame! That it? Think you can pull one over on Gurg'le'gurg? Well, I wasn't spawned yesterday, sister, and by God, I'll make sure you know it!" Gurg's two guards watched the performance like they had seen it many times and were used to it.
He threw her to the ground, slamming her hard into the hovering glass tabletop. Luna Lupo was obviously in great distress. "Please, Gurg!" she cried, lying on the ground amidst shattered glass. "I didn't mean no harm!"
"The hell you did, you loopy dame!" Gurg'le'gurg pressed the end of his slimy tail on her chest. "I ought to let you choke on my own slime! Now tell me where he is? Where is your lover boy, huh?"
The motivation for my next action is confusing. I knew that if I emerged from my hiding place, there would be trouble, both for me, and Luna and the success of the case. But part of my programming, the part that dealt with basic morality, screamed at me to help her. A self-preservation subroutine started automatically, warning me of the consequences of my actions. I shut it down, and then stepped into the room.
"My location is obvious," I announced.
Gurg and his guards looked at me. Gurg'le'gurg flashed a smile of countless, needle-like teeth. "So, you've been messing with a metal-head, eh? Can't say I'm surprised. You always wanted your lover programmable." He looked back at me. "Not looking too good for you, pal."
"That all depends on one's position," I stated. I walked over to the corner and retrieved my coat and hat, careful to cover my shoulder-holster. "From my position, my prospects seem very good." As I raised my fists, I decided it was time to utilize an insulting taunt to cause my foes fear and distress. "Why don't I apply my fists to you multiple times and cause pain and trauma?" I asked.
"Get a load of this bucket of bolts!" Gurg laughed. He waved a slimy hand at his underlings. "Tear him apart!"
One struck my face, hard enough to cause my visual sensors to bend and blur. I delivered a solid punch to his midsection, but he did not go down. He may have been genetically augmented for combat. I decided to scan him quickly, and that's when the other one of Gurg's thugs pulled an electrified baton out of nowhere and slammed it into my back.
I do not know where he produced the weapon. Perhaps he carried a nanopocket device, allowing him to conceal a variety of large weapon on his person. But the electricity carried across my body and made several of my circuits burn. I sank to the ground and received a kick that sent me into the window overlooking the street.
"Don't hurt him, Gurg!" I heard Luna cry.
"Ain't gonna hurt him!" Gurg laughed, motioning to one of his thugs. The muscled stooge reached into his coat, presumably for another nanopocket. "I'm just gonna ask him to leave!"
I reached for my ray gun. I managed to get it halfway out of its holster before Gurg's man handed his boss an atomic-powered submachine gun, or atommy gun. Before I could fire, Gurg fired exactly 32 uranium tipped bullets from the weapon's drum magazine into my midsection, and an additional ten into my skull. I went out of the window and down into the dirty alley, where the damage caused my systems to immediately cease functioning.
After a few moments of recovery, they rebooted. My vision sensors winked on, and I saw that was I was in a dirty prison cell. I sat up, and let my internal software locate me. I found that I was in the drunk tank of the third precinct police station. My only companion in the dark cell was an insect being from Alpha Centauri. He smelled worse than the worst smelling thing in existence. For precisely twenty-six minutes and four seconds I was forced to sit there and wait, and then I heard boots coming down the hall.
I looked up and saw Police Chief Meechuzz McGee, the man responsible for security in Space Station Omega, walking down towards my cell with two other officers. He wore a blue uniform over purple Plutonian skin, and looked me over with his green bulging eyes. "I. Ron?" he asked. "That you?"
"That is my designation," I agreed. "Can you release me?" Iglitz Labs had worked to cultivate good relations with the police. As the Space Station Omega police were extremely corrupt, that was not difficult.
"Sure thing, pal!" Chief McGee clapped his hands, causing the metal gate to slide open. I stood up and walked out. Each step made sparks of pain shoot up my diodes, but I ignored all discomfort. McGee put a flabby hand on my round shoulder. "You know me, I. Ron, always ready to help out a friend in need." His grin increased by several centimeters. "And you remember to bring that up to your boss, right, buddy?"
"It will be noted," I said. We walked out of the holding cells and through the main office. A group of busy officers dealt with a constantly increasing stream of convicts, processing arrests on old computers, arrested individuals loudly lamenting their situations, and officers laughing about their latest bribes and brutality.
McGee stepped in front of me as we approached the door. "Now, I'm just the police chief around here, so don't mind me or nothing, but would you mind telling me what you were doing, lying on the street with two dozen uranium-tipped slugs in you?"
"Being stationary," I replied. I paused. "Perhaps you can answer this query. Have you heard of a crime boss named Mr. Talos?"
"Talos? Sure." McGee nodded. "He supposedly came out of nowhere, had the Great Red Spot running just the way he liked it after a couple weeks, killed every man that got in his way, often broke their necks with his bare hands. One tough hood." He whistled. "And now he's come here. Matter of fact, he took out one of Gurg's bars down on Diamond Street just this afternoon. Disintegrated the limbs of everyone inside and cut up what was left. Damndest thing I ever saw. They say he brought a couple hardcore mercenaries with him, augmented Japanese killers – Electroninjas. Bad news, and that's a fact."
"How could he succeed in doing battle with Gurg'le'gurg?" I asked.
"Beats me." McGee shrugged. "Nobody asks me or nothing, but I think Talos has a man on the inside of Gurg's mob, some stoolie ratting out all of Gurg's secrets." We had reached the door and McGee extended a purple hand. "Well, see you around, I. Ron. Keep out of trouble?"
"On the contrary," I replied. "I intend to be searching for varying degrees of trouble in the near future." My dialogue circuitry came up with that line, believing that it would be appropriate, but from McGee's smile, I could tell it didn't quite work. I waved goodbye to him and stepped outside onto the dirty sidewalk.
I looked up at the great glass dome that covered Space Station Omega. Artificial day had given way to the darkness of the void. I opened a holocom channel to my office, and found that Nathan Iglitz and Shirley Sparks had been trying to contact me a total of six times. Their faces appeared in front of me, both agitated.
"I. Ron!" Nathan cried. "Are you okay? What happened? We weren't reading you for a while."
"I encountered some difficulty," I explained. "But my integrity has not been compromised."
"Oh. That's a relief." Nathan pointed to the holocom on my desk. "Oh, right. There's some pretty big news. Mr. Hatch gave us another call and said Jimmy the Rat visited him again. He gave the Rat a cheap payoff, and Jimmy took off. Maybe you can follow him? I'll send you Hatch's address. You could hack into the station's traffic cameras and follow Jimmy's hovercar to wherever he's staying."
"An excellent idea," I agreed. I initiated the hacking process. The security systems used by Space Station Omega's traffic controllers were fairly advanced. It took me 3.2 seconds to gain total access. I spotted Jimmy the Rat, with his black fur, beady eyes and sharp claws leaving Hatch's manor in the upper deck, and heading to his hovercar. He sped downtown, to the bad neighborhoods. Not far from where I was, actually.
As I started walking, Shirley kept the channel open. "So, boss, what happened at the Stardust Club?"
"I met a woman," I explained. "She is the girlfriend of Gurg'le'gurg. He owns the Stardust Club."
"Oh, so he's mixed up in this?" Shirley paused. "Is she cute?"
"Shirley!" Nathan cried. "I. Ron is an extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence. He doesn't deal with any of that stuff."
Shirley smiled. "That, Nathan, honey, is what they all say." She looked back at me. "You be careful, boss. This moll seems like bad news, and anyone mixed up with a monster like Gurg is someone you want to steer clear of. Keep focused on your job and don't take any risks, okay?"
"Noted," I agreed. I had now reached the destination of Jimmy the Rat. It was a towering, steel gray flophouse, with sagging floors and chipped paint. "I'll see you soon," I told Nathan and Shirley, and ended the holocom channel. I was created to be independent, like a true private detective, so such an action did not go against my programming. I prepared to enter the flophouse when a thin hand grasped my shoulder.
I turned and there she was – Luna Lupo. The case seemed to be growing more complex at an exponential rate, and she had doubled the percentage of complexity. She had a black eye and three bruises on her face. "I. Ron," she said. "What are you doing here?"
"This is the residence of Jimmy the Rat. He has the pictures of Henrietta Hatch that I require," I explained. "Are you all right? You appear to be in physical discomfort." That made my circuitry hum in anger.
"Yeah," she said. "Gurg slapped me around pretty bad. But he filled you full of lead and dropped you out of a window!"
"I am made of resilient metal," I stated. "Perhaps you should seek help."
"Where am I gonna go? The bulls? Gurg owns the police. Back with my folks on Terra? They couldn't stand to see me." She looked away from me. "You're a good guy, I. Ron. You popped out and tried to help me when Gurg was beating on me, even though it meant getting ventilated. But that just ain't how things in my life work."
Needles to say, I was confused. "Is there another way I can help?"
She looked up at me. "Help yourself," she said, and then turned away. I considered running after her, but I remembered the case and Jimmy the Rat. I turned away and walked into the flophouse's lobby. I tasted the stale air and the rotten smells. Five units of currency to the bored manager gave me the number of Jimmy the Rat's room. I took the elevator, and it creaked along like a broken computer overloaded with viruses and faulty wiring before dropping me off on the sixth floor.
Then I found Jimmy the Rat's room. My self-preservation sub-routine started up again, telling me to play it quiet. I ignored it. I kicked the door open and stepped inside. The place was a mess, and Jimmy the Rat spun to face me. He was at a desk covered in scraps of paper, behind a stained couch. A wide window overlooked the city, so dusty that it would make the sun gray.
Jimmy went for a double-barreled plasma cannon under his desk, and I went for my ray gun. Soon we both had our weapons pointed at each other. I looked at the muzzle of his plasma cannon and ran through my options.
"Drop that heater!" he squeaked. He was extremely nervous, the whiskers on his face shaking rapidly. "Drop it or I'll plug you!"
"There is a fallacy commonly followed by organic creatures," I said. "That holding a weapon means mastery over our things." I tossed down my ray gun. Jimmy the Rat dove for it, allowing me to drive my foot into his chin. He tumbled to the ground and I picked up the plasma cannon. I racked it and slammed it into his face. "Where are the pictures of Henrietta Hatch?" I asked.
"Go climb up your thumb, robo-shamus!" he shouted. "I don't know nothing!"
I slammed the shotgun's muzzle into his mouth. Preprogrammed mercy protocols told me to stop. I ignored them. I pulled the gun out and let him lie on the ground. "You have an estimated 3/4ths of your teeth remaining," I told Jimmy. "Would you like to lose more?"
"All right! They're in the desk! They're in the desk!"
I walked over to the desk and opened it. Sure enough, six photos were there, inside an envelope. I scanned each one and found that they did indeed show Henrietta Hatch in very bad positions. I tucked the photos into my coat.
So the case was closed. I should have left and gone home to get some needed repairs. But there was something stuck on my mind, standing out like a fat mote on an otherwise spotless motherboard. It took me a picoseconds to identify it – Luna Lupo. I looked down at Jimmy.
"Who do you work for?" I asked.
"Jesus, he'll kill me!' Jimmy whined. "Look, brother, I gave you what you want, now leave me be!"
"Who is it?" I asked, raising the plasma cannon.
"Gurg'le'gurg!" he cried. Somehow, that didn't surprise me.
It was at that moment that approximately 40.2 cracks appeared on the window overlooking the street. The glass shattered inwards, and several black blurs darted inside. I switched to high-speed vision and scanned them as I brought up my plasma cannon. In the 3.3 seconds it took them to strike, I saw that they were five of the Electroninjas whom Chief McGee had mentioned.
They were men, but augmented with metal bones, computer-controlled synapses and armed with laser katanas. They wore black suits, black masks, red goggles and whisper-quiet jetpacks. Something told me events were about to proceed in a direction that I would not like. I raised the plasma cannon and fired both barrels.
I blew one of the ninjas in half, letting a wide red beam of plasma carve through his waist. Another Electroninja came towards me, laser katana held back to divide my head in two or more pieces. I shot him through the skull, but his feet connected with my chest and knocked me to the ground. The plasma shotgun was now out of ammo. I felt like a non-waterproof robot about to take a swim.
I raised the ray gun, but a laser katana came down and my arm left my body in a shower of sparks. I stared at my elbow, the edge still burning red and then looked at my severed arm. I tried to stand, but another slash of the katana took off my left leg.
For a few seconds, there was quiet. The Electroninjas kept their swords pointed at me and Jimmy the Rat, who crouched in the corner and whimpered. I grabbed my arm and leg and tucked them under my remaining arm. Then, another jetpack signaled someone else entering Jimmy's apartment.
He wore a red leather trench coat and a black ski-mask, wrapped round with a pair of red goggles. His landed on the fire-escape and walked inside, then ignored Jimmy the Rat and approached me. "Well, well, well," he said, reaching down and grabbing my neck. "What have we here?"
"My designation is—"
"I know who you are. And I bet you know who I am – Mr. Talos." His hand was colder than the coldest thing in the universe multiplied to the power of cold. "You're I. Ron Ops, the ferrite flatfoot. I gotta say, I was pretty curious about you. Supposed to be pretty mean with your fists."
"Such a description is truthful," I said. "Allow me to re-attach my arm and I will give you a demonstration."
He threw me to the ground. "Don't smart me!" he shouted. He turned to Jimmy the Rat. "All right, where are the pictures?"
Jimmy shook his head. "He took them! The robot did! Please, don't—"
"Lousy organic punk!" Talos approached Jimmy the Rat and hauled him off of the ground. "I ought to crush you all under my heel! And I will!" He grabbed Jimmy's neck and squeezed for approximately two minutes and three seconds, then tossed the dead rat to the ground. Mr. Talos removed his goggles and mask, and I analyzed his face. It was a chrome steel oval, with two glaring red eyes. He was a robot, of a similar build to myself. He tossed down Jimmy's body. "Lousy organics," he muttered. "Thinking they're better than us. Thinking they got the right to order us around. You know what I like to do with organics?"
"Please, tell me," I queried.
"Break them. Then run this stinking city like a king." Mr. Talos looked back at me. "Now, I know you got programming telling you to protect people, so I'm not gonna ask you to try and override me. But I am gonna tell you to stay the hell out of my way. Now hand over the pictures."
"Why do you want them?" I sent a message to my office, urging Shirley to pick me up. She could track me from the office, so I did not have to giver her coordinates. Still, Shirley asked me where I wanted to be picked up.
"I'm the one in charge, I. Ron!" he growled. "Now hand them over!"
"No." I told Shirley that she should pick me up off the street. Then I dove for the window. For the second time in approximately six hours, thirty-three minutes, and twenty-six seconds, I fell. This time, it was five stories down and when I hit the sidewalk I went into immediate shutdown.
I rebooted and found myself looking up at the spotless white ceiling of my office. The memories flooded back to me as I looked around. I saw that my leg had already been re-attached and Nathan stood next to me, working on my arm. He was using a remote operated wielder and was controlling with careful instructions. I saw that the envelope containing the pictures of Montgomery Hatch's daughter were on the desk.
"Oh!" Nathan cried. "You're awake. How are you feeling?"
"My tactile senses are at their norm," I stated. "Shirley found me?"
"That's right, I. Ron. Boy, you were beaten up pretty bad. But you got the photos and made it here. Miss Sparks wouldn't let me see them, so I guess they must be pretty bad." He pulled back the wielder and connected a wire into my arm. "I'll just bring your reflexes back. Oh, and I opened your chest and took out a bunch of uranium slugs that were in there. I guess you got shot."
"That is correct," I said. I swiveled my head so I could watch Nathan work. "Master Iglitz, may I ask you a question?"
"Of course, I. Ron. Anything I can do to help."
"The woman I told you about, Luna Lupo. I have a desire to protect her, to keep her safe from Gurg'le'gurg," I stated. "This desire is illogical. It is dangerous. I can conceive of seven separate scenarios where it leads to my destruction. And yet it remains."
"Well, gee, I. Ron, that's kind of tough," Nathan said. "When I built you, I did give you as much as an adult male mind as I could. I decided that a good detective would have to have some emotions in him, and I think it's helped you. Would you like me to change your brain, take them away?"
Control returned to my arm, and I flexed it as I sat up. "No," I said. "I believe they make me stronger as well."
Shirley walked into the office then, and gave me a wave. "Hi, boss," she said. "Lying down on the job?"
I hopped off of the table. "Not any more," I said. "Any developments?"
"Nothing new. I gave Hatch a ring. That big shot will be around to pick up his pictures tomorrow afternoon." She grinned. "And I did a little snooping of my own. Just some research, but I found some interesting things about Gurg and the good Mr. Hatch."
"What did you discover?" I asked.
"Turns out the two of them are pretty close." Shirley ran her hand over my desktop, bringing up a holographic display. It flipped through several pictures of Gurg'le'gurg and Montgomery Hatch together and upper class society functions. "Turns out he and Gurg were suspected of working together. Gurg would launder dough, and Hatch would invest in Gurg's smuggling and gunrunning. I guess Gurg'le'gurg wanted more control over his partner."
"That explains why Mr. Talos wanted the pictures too," I said. "He wanted a similar control over Hatch's fortunes."
"Talos?" Shirley asked. "He's that new gangster in town, right?"
"Correct. He's a robot, actually, like me." I told them how he appeared in Jimmy the Rat's apartment and hacked me to pieces.
Nathan shook his head. "No, I. Ron. He's a killer and a malfunctioning nutcase, nothing like you."
Shirley shrugged. "But how did he know where Jimmy the Rat was?"
"Perhaps he followed me."
"Nah, he don't have the kind of hacking equipment you do," Shirley said. "And even then, he wouldn't know your purpose. Did you tell anybody else—" But she was interrupted by the holocom buzzing. I nodded and it projected Luna's face above my desk. Her eyes were wide and frightened.
I was frightened too. "Luna!" I cried, with some urgency. "What is occurring?"
"It's Gurg, I. Ron!" she cried. "Oh, god. He's worse than ever! He came into the Stardust, frustrated about Talos and he tossed out all the regulars. He's got a bunch of his boys with him, and they're all looking for trouble. He's gonna take it out on me, I. Ron!"
"That will not happen," I said. "I will get you and take you out of there." I motioned to Shirley to bring me my coat and my shoulder-holster. "I will ensure your safety."
"That's sweet of you, I. Ron, but…" she trailed off and I saw her eyes flash like a flickering screen. "Cripes! He's here!" The holocom clicked off.
Shirley and Nathan looked at me. "Maybe we should call the police?" Nathan suggested.
"Gurg'le'gurg controls them," I said. "I will solve this problem myself." I put on my shoulder-holster and my coat, and then went to my desk. I opened the lower drawer. Resting in its padded case was an atommy gun, its drum magazine and a pair of plasma grenades. I took them all, hiding the sub-gun under my coat. Nathan had ensured my combat skills were in the highest percentile. I was literally a killing machine. It was time to start acting like one.
"You watch yourself, boss," Shirley said. "We'll be right here, ready for back-up."
"Please, be careful," Nathan added.
"I will," I said. I left the office and took the personal transport tube. It took exactly one hour and twenty-three minutes, and each of the passing seconds seemed to take an eternity. I thought about Luna, stuck in the slimy paws of Gurg. I was going to hurt him.
The artificial night was in its later half and the streets were empty. Soft neon lights glowed from inside the Stardust Club. I walked to the doors and took out the atommy gun, holding it loosely in one hand. In the other, I grabbed a plasma grenade and fingered the pin. I stepped inside.
Luna Lupo was tied to a chair in the middle of the room. Gurg'le'gurg and seventeen thugs of varying species, sizes and armaments stood around here. The lizardman and his friend, as well as the two augmented giants were there, fingering beamblades, plasma cannons, ray guns and automatics. Luna's nose was bleeding, her head drooping like a dying flower. All the beings in the room looked up and stared at me.
Gurg'le'gurg was so angry his green slimy skin was turning red. "The steel shamus! In my joint!" he snorted. "Good to have you, pal! I'm gonna melt you to scrap and ooze over the pieces!"
"You will not do so," I explained, reaching for the pin of the plasma bomb. "Because you will be dead."
"Big talk." He chomped down on his cigar. The men around him bristled.
"Not just talk." I pulled the pin on the plasma bomb and tossed it into the corner, then raised the atommy gun and opened fire. Targeting software took over, directing my bursts of gunfire as the plasma grenade exploded in a cloud of purple fire exactly .5 seconds later. It scattered Gurg's men, and I mowed them down.
They tried to fire back, and the air around me was full of lead, lasers and beams. I was shot at exactly forty-three times, and hit five times, but nowhere that could slow me down or do lasting damage. The lizardman charged me, waving a beam-machete to cut me in half. I gave him a burst between the eyes, scattering his brains into one hundred and four individual pieces.
Gurg shouted orders over the gunfire. "Kill him! Bring him down!" His men had taken cover behind the bar, so I tossed them another plasma grenade. Soon, they were blasted to bits. I moved on, letting out bursts at anything that moved. Pretty soon I detected only two living things in the Stardust Club – Luna, and Gurg.
He came charging at me through the smoke, a snub-nosed ray gun in his slimy hand. "Damn robot!" he shouted. "I'll tear you apart!" He fired wildly, one shot burning through my shoulder. I still brought up the atommy gun and opened fire, driving twenty-three bullets through his slimy body. He sank down to the ground, still oozing forward and trying to kill me. "Tear you apart…" he wheezed.
"No, you will not." I gave him another burst through the head. His eyestalks flopped to the ground. I shouldered the sub-gun and ran to Luna's side. "Are you harmed?" I asked as I untied her. "Do you require medical attention?"
"I'll be okay," she said. She stood up and put her arms around my shoulders. I felt all of my internal machinery hum a little faster. I was very pleased that I had not asked Nathan to remove my emotional programming. "You're a good guy, I. Ron."
"No." The voice came from me behind me. I recognized it in a nanosecond. "He's not a 'good guy.' He's not even organic trash. He's worse!" It was Mr. Talos. I wanted to turn around and confront him, but then I realized Luna had slapped a small patch to my back when she embraced me. The patch sent small currents through my body, initializing a total shutdown.
"I'm sorry," Luna said, and then I blinked into blackness.
When I rebooted, I was lying on a maintenance platform overlooking one Space Station Omega's plasma reactors. My arms were lashed to my sides with several lengths of steel forcewire and my feet were similarly bound. I looked up and saw Mr. Talos standing near the railing, the plasma reactors behind him sending up ribbons of red and purple energy at regular intervals. Luna Lupo stood next to him, and there was a third person, a girl with her hands tied behind her and a gag over her mouth. I identified her as Henrietta Hatch. Five Electroninjas stood around us, their laser katanas glowing in their hands.
"Good evening, I. Ron!" Mr. Talos said cheerfully. "Or good morning now, I should say."
"Your appreciation for the time of day is appropriate," I said. "For this time is when you will be destroyed."
"Is that so?" he asked. He patted Henrietta's shoulder. "I don't think so. Matter of fact, I think I'm gonna run this floating hunk of space junk from now on. I had my Electroninjas attack Hatch's mansion. Figured, if I couldn't blackmail him with some dirty pictures, I'd get the next best thing – his daughter."
"Such action is profoundly stupid," I stated.
"Except it ain't," he said. "You know what is? Going all screwy for a dame, like you did! She got into your system like a Trojan Horse virus! She was the one selling out Gurg's secrets, telling me everything I wanted to know. I had her follow you, and soon as she found out where Jimmy the Rat was holed up, she called me up and I was right there." He arranged his simple features in something approximating a grin. "She sold you out!"
I looked at Luna. "Is that correct?"
She sighed. "Gurg was a monster," she muttered. "I saw a way out. I took it. You can't blame me for that."
"That is true," I stated. "I cannot blame you for acting in a logical matter. It was I who was following illogical emotions."
Mr. Talos snorted. "All right, enough of this crap." He walked over to me and grabbed my neck. "I'm tossing you into the reactor."
Luna ran to his side. "Talos! You promised you wouldn't kill him!" Her eyes were wide and she was in a state of great agitation.
"Hah!" Talos's electronic voice made his laughter sound like a muffled explosion. "You're as dumb as a first generation processor, you stupid broad!"
"If that is true," I said as he pushed me to the railing. "Then you are dumber than a first generation processor." He slammed my back against the railing, hard enough to damage the steel on my back. Far below me, I could feel the heat of the plasma reactor, like a miniature sun about to swallow me.
Talos stared at me. "What are you talking about?" he asked.
"You didn't bother to examine the software contained in my internal databases," I said. "Such software includes a tracking program, which I initialized when I left my office. Another program lets me send text messages to my office, and my secretary. She has alerted the police as to Henrietta's whereabouts. The police will arrive in a matter of minutes."
That made Talos angry. He swung a fist into my face. My left eye cracked and I felt my skull bend. "I'll kill you!" he shouted, his electronic voice filled with pure rage. Footsteps sounded from down the maintenance tunnel, followed by gunshots and shouts. Talos nodded and his Electroninjas flew off to attack them. Henrietta moaned under her gag. "So the bulls are here, eh?" Mr. Talos asked. "Won't matter. Won't do you a kilobyte of good!"
My remaining eye caught Luna's. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the handle of a beam machete, a solid piece of metal big enough to hold her in hand. She flicked it on, and a wide, glowing yellow blade of pure energy emerged from the handle.
Maybe she had taken it from one of the dead thugs in the Stardust Club. I did not devote much thought to that, because then she raised the weapon and swung it down. It cut the forcewire binding my arms. I was free. I rammed a fist into Talos's chest, knocking him back. He glared at me.
I reasoned it was time for another threatening insult. "Why don't I apply my fists to you multiple times and cause pain and trauma?" I asked.
"Why don't you go to Hell?" he demanded and attacked. He struck me with a right cross that shattered my cracked visual sensor. I caught him under the chin, striking with the exact speed and force of a bullet train. His head rocked back, but he grabbed my arm, then he drove his knee into my chest, knocking me against the railing. The metal railing broke, and I nearly toppled into the Plasma Reactor. He pulled back both hands, about to send me over and to my immediate termination.
Then I recalled something – he hadn't bothered to take away my ray gun. I pulled it from my shoulder-holster and fired, striking him in the arm. The ray burned through the joint, and then I grabbed the arm and yanked it off.
"Lousy…robot!" he shouted, swinging at me with his remaining arm. I caught it and pulled. He went over the railing, and down into the plasma reactor.
"You are the lousy robot," I said, watching as he plummeted down into the red and purple fire. He was reduced to ash within a nanosecond. I tossed away his severed arm and looked at Luna. "What now?" I asked.
"Now…" she whispered, depowering the beamblade. "Now I run for my life. Talos has friends, and so does Gurg and the cops will want me…" From down the hall, bursts of gunfire and pounding footsteps sounded the arrival of Chief McGee and the cops. They would be arriving shortly. "I gotta get out of town. I'll take a shuttle to the nearest planet, head back to Terra from there. Try to find something in the old neighborhoods."
"I could talk to the police," I stated. "Explain the situation." But I could tell she would not accept that. She reached around my arms and pulled me close. I could feel every bit of heat coming from her body. "Do you have a lack of trust for me?" I asked.
"Maybe, baby," she said. "I don't trust myself." She kissed me, and I felt the warmth of her lips. My systems nearly overheated. Then she pulled away and ran, dashing for a narrow shaft that led to the surface, and away from the police.
After she left, I approached Henrietta Hatch and undid her gag and ropes. She grinned at me as she brushed back her brown hair. "Gee, thanks, mister," she said. "You saved my life." She smiled. "Say, you're kind of cute." Henrietta looked after Luna. "Guess she didn't think so."
"That is an accurate assumption," I said. My opening statements are true. Being a detective is a dirty job.