An Electric Doll
Kiddo found her lying behind the ancient sponge warehouse in a crumpled heap, with her fashionably animalistic ears ragged and her hair tangled with weeds and dirt. Her thin, white limbs were limp, unmoving, and her eyes were wide open, staring at something a dimension away.
Kiddo waved a hand in front of her eyes. No response. He reached behind her head, feeling under the thick curls for the knob he knew should be at the nape of her neck. Nothing.
“Eva,” he called through the synchronized ear bud he wore with his client for the duration of this particular investigation. “I found her, your Vita.”
The receiver buzzed with static as Eva heaved a sigh. “Good,” she said, “You can bring her to our meeting place at the Sponge Docks. You know, that pastry shop we met in.”
“Hellas, yes,” Kiddo said, unfolding himself from his crouched position and adjusting his sunglasses as the blinding Florida sun emerged from a cloud bank. “But, we can’t do that so easily, Eva. Vita’s immobile—the core processor’s been removed.”
Eva’s curses assaulted his ear. Weren’t those northern city girls supposed to be more cultured?
“I’ll be right there,” Eva said, her voice a growl instead of the usual husky sweetness. “And I’ll bring the car. Send me your location over the wire.”
Kiddo did so, and shut the mobile receiver off. As much as he needed the money, he wanted to enjoy the quiet peace of Tarpon Springs for a minute.
* * *
It was supposed to be a simple job. Locate the missing prototype android, dubbed Vita, and escort her to the annual research symposium in St. Petersburg. Instead, Kiddo found himself guiding a temperamental cyborg around town and piecing together a broken doll.
“Kiddo,” Eva said, “Could you help me for a moment? Your computers aren’t compatible with Vita, so I’m thinking maybe I can directly link the data on her hard drive to my own. But…I can’t get it myself.”
“And are you sure that your system’s not going to fry? I thought you said that Vita was still untested with standard software.”
Her grin was one of a person faced with a likely defeat. “I was modded by the same people that made her. It’s worth a shot.”
She sat in the wheeled chair Kiddo used in his small office in the historic district. She lifted her thick braid, hair unraveling from its ties, and revealed her own interface. “Do you know how USBs worked a hundred years ago?” Kiddo saw the mischievous grin she tried to hide.
“I may live in a fishing town, but I’m not that stupid. It was a simple plug, right?”
“That’s right. You’re pretty smart for a two dollar PI. It’s going to work kind of like that, but you need to properly time it visually. Both the input and the output need to be the same color, and you can’t be a second too late. Even though my arms have been altered and I know when to do it, I’m just not fast enough. It makes tasks like this very annoying.
“And turn up the lights too. It’s hard working in the dark.”
“The lights stay down,” Kiddo said. “I don’t see colors, and my eyes are very photosensitive. “
Eva’s grin dropped away. “Oh,” she said, “I didn’t know.”
“It’s not going to stop me,” Kiddo said, “And we don’t have a choice. “ He grasped the interface and leveled himself with the it.
Eva’s shoulders rose and sank as she breathed deeply. “All right. Go on the count of three.”
She counted. He jumped.
A split second of silence followed. Kiddo couldn’t tell the color, but he could see that the light on both the plug and the port was off. Eva didn’t move. Kiddo held his breath.
Eva dropped her hair after a pause that felt like infinity. “I got it.”
* * *
Eva drove. They sped through the ever narrow back roads that comprised the downtown, and for a breath it felt like the world wasn’t hurtling toward the twenty-second century. The two-door fully electric sports car carried them around the bayous, and through the relics of Old Florida. They were headed toward the beach front, where the cinderblock villas, the convenience store burrito of homes, still stood solid. It was a perfect place for rebellious youths and poor academics.
Halfway to the beach, Eva shut off the headlights, cut the engine, and coasted to a stop in front of a derelict home that must have once been a luxury villa. “This is it,” She said. Her mouth was a grim line in the streetlight.
Saying no more, she exited and marched toward the home.
Kiddo followed. “Job or no, B and E is illegal,” He reminded. The determined set of her face reminded him of his own responsibilities.
“And Vita is more important than a small fine. It’s coffee change to my boss.
“I’m paying you to do this. You in or not?”
Professional or not, he couldn’t say no.
Her leg snapped and her foot connected with the door knob before anymore words were exchanged. The door swung open soundlessly. Eva entered.
Two steps in she stopped. Her knees buckled. She collapsed.
Kiddo rushed to her side.
“This guy…is good.” Eva so softly that Kiddo had to switch on his synchronized ear bud. “He made this a dead zone!” she sounded impressed despite the circumstances.
“What is he, an MIT grad?” Kiddo asked as he surveyed the area. “Don’t answer,” he added, “I know, I know. Anyone can do something like this.”
In spite of the pervading darkness, he donned his sunglasses and stepped noiselessly into the culprit’s domain. It was a veritable hacker den, with multiple towers and monitors arrayed around a work space in the corner, the blue glow of the plasma screens spilling across the room. The bed was an afterthought underneath the burgeoning pile of digital tablets, data chips, and electronic carcasses.
At the array was a skinny twit with hair unkempt and too long. He wore heavy earphones, the kind which block out ambient sound and amplifies the digitized tunes streaming through them. Professional grade equipment in the hands of a wannabe.
Kiddo closed the door with a muted click. He crossed the room with light footsteps.
The hacker didn’t know what hit him.
Kiddo moved like a trained professional. In one clean swoop the hacker’s face met the widescreen monitor. Electric fluid dribbled from the cracks, over the keyboard, and onto the dirty carpet.
The hacker only had time for an animalistic squeal in fright.
“Where is it?” Kiddo demanded. He peered at the tween over his dark lenses.
“Wha-what are you talking about?”
Kiddo’s grip tightened around the back of his neck. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said lightly, “maybe it’s the processor you ripped from a pretty girl’s head earlier this afternoon.”
“Oh—that!” The hacker’s voice, grated between the monitor and the squeeze of Kiddo’s fingers, dripped with acidic amusement. “The one with the pink hair and the fluffy dog ears? It wasn’t human anyway. I just took it off her hands! The core was wasted on it. Deserved better.”
“Although she’s not human,” Kiddo growled, pushing the hacker’s face deeper into the circuitry, “she is still sentient. Although there are no laws yet, you still did something terrible. You assaulted a sentient being. I can’t let that pass.”
He squeezed until his fingers hurt and the hacker groaned in pain. “It’s just a pressure point,” Kiddo said, his voice deceptively calm. “I can make it stop if you tell me where the processor is.”
The tween pointed, his hand flapping uselessly at the mountain of electronics that threatened to crush his bed. Kiddo released his grip.
The steel-toed boot that hit the tween’s head was an afterthought, and the crushing of his fingers beneath the heels made Kiddo feel better.
* * *
Eva was moving on shaky knees when Kiddo emerged. “You get it?” she asked when he offered her a shoulder to stabilize herself on.
“Got it,” He said shortly, displaying the core with his free hand. “It’s beat up, but you can make it work, right?”
Although his voice was mild, Eva could feel the tension in Kiddo’s shoulders. She took the core from him. “It was that bad in there huh?”
Kiddo was quiet for a beat too long. “…it was enlightening.”
He said no more on the matter, but accepted the mug of coffee Eva offered him when they returned to his office with the weariness and gratitude of a man with a greater understanding of the world.
The Fifteenth Annual Symposium for Advancements in Robotics, called Robo-Con by the quick witted college students that resided in town, received more media attention than in years before. News of the bubbly, pink haired prototype android making an appearance drew in more than the usual tech geeks. Regional journalists, both freelance and from the major outlets, were curious enough and audacious enough to enter the cove that they usually ignored in favor of something more dramatic.
Kiddo wasn’t certain, but the kidnapping and near demolition of Vita when she was in transit was probably dramatic enough to get someone’s attention.
He and Eva never did manage to get pastries from Hellas—she left early the next morning, the core tightly secured on her person and Vita carefully placed in her car. Kiddo wasn’t certain at that time if the core was irreparably damage or not. It wasn’t until days later, when he was checking the newsfeeds between genealogy searches for other clients, when he learned that Vita’s appearance at the symposium was still on.
The crowd flocked around the hotel ballroom where the symposium was, congregating around the booths and displays that characterized gatherings such as these. Kiddo kept his distance. This wasn’t his kind of place. He would have preferred to be outside, sucking vapors from the electric cigarettes he got himself hooked on while studying Criminal Psych at the university. Instead, he huddled in the corner and scanned the throng for Eva. Or Vita.
He heard it before he saw it. A sugary soprano that sounded as if it was filtered through many mechanical processes seeped its way through the rabble. “…actually, my trip wasn’t terrible. It was really pretty interesting. I learned a lot, both good and bad. In a strange way, I’m glad it happened. It showed me how far our corporation has advanced—and how much more we can do to raise awareness.
“I’m the first one of many to come. It’s my job to find problems like this, and to pave the way for my brothers and sisters that haven’t been made yet.”
The masses shifted, and Kiddo locked eyes with the source. Vita smiled in that second. Then, she disappeared.
Kiddo gave chase, sidestepping through the bodies with single-minded determination. He reached for her thin arm the next time he saw her, grabbed it, and held tight.
“Detective Cameron Kiddo, isn’t it?” She glanced at him over her shoulder, her expression strangely melancholy for an artificial being. “I heard about what you did. It wasn’t necessary to go so far, but…”
“I’m sorry for how backwards people in my town can be,” Kiddo said, cutting in. “This is your first real trip, right? I can promise you that not everyone is so intolerant.”
“No, that isn’t…” Vita smiled at him, all traces of her melancholy forgotten. “I wanted to thank you, Detective. Although I couldn’t interact, I was aware of everything. Your devotion to duty, even in your discomfort, is admirable.”
“It’s nothing like that. I was just doing my job.”
Vita’s silence in that second belied what she tried to hide.
“Eva still wants to get pastries with you,” Vita said, “And she’s here. Why don’t you go find her?”
because i like to ramble
- An Electric Doll