She woke screaming, frantically clawing at an attacker who was no longer there.
“Valerie,” said a voice cutting through the darkness. “Valerie, do you know where you are?”
“I’m at home,” she screamed, writhing under constant assault and drawing her arms to her head deflecting invisible blows.
Her senses were coming back to her.
She covered her belly feeling steel tearing into her. Reeling with dissonance, she swiped at her groin, but failed to find the instrument repeatedly penetrating her.
The heated rush of confrontation dwindled as sensors relayed new information.
An unfamiliar stench bore into her. Her skin prickled, bathing in foreign humidity. Steam rose from puddles of sweat swirling with the cold damp air.
A flurry of thought raced through her mind faster than she could comprehend.
She panted, sucking in deep breaths, her body spasming in small fits despite lack of motivation.
Though she swore she could still feel the sensation, the sensors no longer registered the heavy weight of sweaty flesh on top of her.
No one was there.
A crystalline bead of perspiration carved an icy path over her body. A shiver ran through her.
Lights were angled at her, blinding. She could make out forms, but not much more than silhouette.
In the darkness, a semicircle of bodies huddled over her. Soft breath. In and out. Trying to veil their presence.
Her eyes adjusted.
Light reflected a white circle over the left eye of the man in the center.
He reached out to her.
Touched her shoulder.
Soft. Almost comforting.
She shrugged it off anyway.
What did they want?
Helpless, she withdrew, pressing herself up against pegboard. Metal tools rattled.
She didn’t have the strength to stop the shadowy forms if they were intent on doing her harm.
Slowly, she let her eyes roam, searching for the slightest bit of familiarity.
And found none.
“No…” Her gasping, panting breaths had dissipated into an even pace. Her voice came out as barely a whisper. “This isn’t my home. Where am I?”
Once again, a hand reached for her, but she cowered at its approach. It withdrew, placed rigidly at the side of the man with the white circle eye. In the dim light she could see he was wearing a lab coat. The white circle was glinting light reflected from something he wore like a jeweler’s loupe.
The man said, “You are at the police station. You were attacked. Do you remember being attacked?”
She scanned the darkness, searching for a face she could trust.
Five bodies. Stern faces mostly hidden in shadow.
She recognized one of the men. He stood behind the one talking to her. She had seen him on television. His name was William Parks. Police Chief William Parks.
Two uniformed officers stood on either side of Parks.
A fifth man was shrouded in shadow. He didn’t seem to fit with the rest. His weather worn leather jacket hung ragged on broad shoulders contrasting the others’ slim builds and pressed uniforms.
“Valerie,” said the man with the white circle eye. “Do you remember being attacked?”
“Yes. I remember.”
“Can you tell us about it?”
There were so many people in the room.
Her body began to tremble. “Where’s Christian?”
“He’s outside. Waiting.”
She jumped at the sound of a deep baritone voice. “Mrs. Von Medvey,” said Parks, “anything would help. The smallest detail. Anything you can remember.”
“I remember it all.” The words came out hostile.
“What did the assailant look like?”
“I didn’t get a good look.”
The men hovering over her grumbled.
There was apprehension in their eyes. Knowing glances exchanged, like they knew the truth better than she did. Chalking up her inability to feed answers they wanted to hear like it was her fault. Looking down on her like she didn’t want the attacker caught because it would be an admission of the violation that took place.
She clenched her fists, feeling her body heat rise.
She wished the attack had never happened.
Wished things could go back to normal.
Back to the way they were.
The men standing in the shadows nodded, but she knew they had made up their minds. Passed a collective judgment as soon as word left her lips. Likely long before that. Opinions formed when they carted her in helpless and limp.
The collective hovered over her, forcing her to relive the crime, hitting her with a barrage of questions.
“How did it happen?”
“Did you resist?”
“Please, Mrs. Von Medvey, anything you could give us.”
A sensation came over her, like she was naked and exposed. She became painfully aware that she was lying down. Still lying down. During the attack. And now with foreign eyes examining her every move. Her hands slid back on the hard, unforgiving surface, and she propped herself up into a sitting position.
“I remember,” she began, her voice wavering. “It was about the time my husband comes home from work. I heard the door open. I went expecting Christian, but when I rounded…”
Tears welled. Turning her head slightly away, she dabbed at the corners of her eyes.
She’d be damned if she showed anyone that this incident had affected her.
She was not a victim.
This wasn’t going to ruin her.
“He had a knife.” She took her time, grasping for composure, trying to force out the story, but only finding broken fragments.
“He kept stabbing. And stabbing.”
Her arms shook. No, they were doing something else. She paused, realizing her body was still not completely under her control. She had been acting out the attack, once again fighting off her invisible assailant.
“Did he violate you?”
The world closed in around her, tight and cramped. She was suffocating. “What kind of a question is that?!”
The men in the shadows silently watched, gauging her every reaction.
Logically, she knew they needed to ask these questions. Questions they needed to solve the crime. Questions they needed to track down who had done this.
But logic had very little to do with how she felt.
She inhaled deeply. “No. He didn’t violate me.” With a crude boldness edging on condescension, she said, “He stabbed me.”
“Do you think you could describe the assailant to a sketch artist?”
“No.” Her words were surprisingly defiant. “I did not see him.”
The attack had taken so much from her. Nearly her life. She would not let her dignity fall prey.
The man in the weather worn leather jacket had been staring at her the whole time without saying a word.
Those that questioned her had a difficult time holding eye contact. She’d tell her story, look at them, and they’d glance away. Subtle, but just enough to let her know things were different now. And always would be.
Even the lab technician with the white circle eye seemed friendly enough—seemed like he genuinely wanted to console her—but even he couldn’t hold her gaze for more than a brief second.
But the man in the weather worn leather jacket, hidden in shadow, looked into her, unblinking.
She wanted to ask him what he was doing there. Scream, What the hell are you doing?! Wanted to yell at him. Wanted any excuse to yell at anyone.
Energy surged through her body, commanding her to stand. She couldn’t sit any longer. She needed to move. To get out of here.
Her hands gripped the edge of the table, muscles drawn taut as she leaned forward, poised to lunge, when she noticed someone else in the room.
A young girl stood by the side of the man in the weather worn leather jacket. She came up to his hip, hanging on his sleeve. Her hair hung in dark curtains framing a pale moon face. Giant eyes glowed golden in
the dim light.
Valerie looked at the girl. And back at the men surrounding her.
Did they not see her?
A flash of realization hit. Or maybe it was her imagination.
She hadn’t survived.
This was Heaven.
Yes, it felt more like the inbetween.
Oh, please let it be the inbetween and not the other place.
The girl made eye contact. Like the man to her side, she maintained it, unblinking.
Unlike the man, whose gaze cut Valerie exposing her in ways she preferred to keep hidden, the girl’s gaze was its opposite.
Filled with curiosity and wonder.
The girl looked at her as if she was an intricate puzzle. A million jigsaw pieces tossed and scattered. She could see the girl’s eyes flitter back and forth examining her features, sizing her up, wondering if she could ever be put back together again.
Reflected in the young girl’s eyes was her yearning to see how the pieces fit.
Approaching as if in slow motion, the girl took Valerie’s hand. Her hands were so small. So soft. Yet, with a strangely firm and confident grip.
Valerie stared in disbelief. Despite her efforts, her manufactured facade, her struggle for composure, something warm trickled down her cheek.
The girl smiled, brilliant like staring into the sun, and said, “We will find who did this to you.”
The call came in while Cutter was roughing up a suspect. He gave the thug a black eye before sending him on his way. The precinct would have called it unnecessary. Uncalled for. But maybe next time the thug would think twice about jacking into an old lady’s account.
On second thought, Cutter doubted his encouragement would leave a lasting impression. Though, it had not stopped him from trying.
His direct approach was legend, at least as far as the precinct was concerned. Perhaps that’s why they stopped assigning him human partners. An endless supply of synthetics replaced flesh and blood, severely cramping his style. Tin cans constantly hovered over a shoulder, making sure he followed the law to its letter.
His new partner, however, was jumping up and down on her tippy toes, applauding and cheering.
“Again! Again!” Celia cried.
His arm reared back. A smile found his face. And sickly shades of blue turned dark plum.
Originally, Celia was a stop-gap measure. The precinct had finally banned Cutter from abusing any more Black and Whites. ‘Cost prohibitive’ was their excuse. He never planned on Celia being anything more than temporary.
But now, bringing her along had become part of the routine.
When the call came in, Cutter took his time. His cruiser was left askew, double parked, blocking the alley and any chance of escape. The call was the normal drop everything you’re doing and get your ass to the scene variety, but he figured he could get in a few extra licks. Dispatch said homicide. Wasn’t like the victims were going anywhere.
Celia’s dark hair bounced loose from a bobby pin. Each jarring motion freed another lock from behind her ear. Tiny balled fists struck with pinpoint accuracy.
Cutter often wondered if having less surface area hurt more than his own blows, but wasn’t in a hurry to personally find out.
“Call her off!” The thug crossed his arms in front of his face, deflecting the assault.
“Cool your servos,” said Cutter. “You’re getting beaten up by a six year old. You telling me a big tough guy like yourself can’t handle it?”
“This can’t be legal, man!”
“You might be right. I’m a little rusty on these things. Celia, is this legal?”
A quick flash cycled across her onboard UI. “Negative.”
“The fuck?!” The thug was laughing or crying. One of those. But mostly, he was in pain.
“Think he’s had enough?” asked Cutter.
Celia cocked her head at the thug, examining his expression, and landed another blow on his knee. “How can you tell?”
“Usually, I just ask.”
“Oh.” Between punches, Celia asked, “Have you had enough?”
“Yes! For God’s sake, yes!”
Working his shins, Celia looked up at Cutter. “What do I do now?”
“Normally, haul him in, but we have a call to get to.”
“So, what do we do?”
“We let him go.”
Celia stopped punching and curtsied. “You are free to go.”
With a lumbering pain induced gallop, the thug bolted down the alley and disappeared around the corner.
* * *
The precinct hadn’t minded Cutter’s new partnership. Celia was the longest running partner he had managed to keep in a career extending well into a second decade. It also didn’t hurt that she hadn’t cost the city a dime.
The oddly matched duo made good time considering they had to take the 10. By the time they hit the 405, Cutter was burning down his third cigarette. A few exits later, and they were cruising the semi-suburbs of Brentwood.
Los Angeles was more or less urbanized, but not all sections were created equally. Most of the city stretched out in grid formations, dotted with lights as far as the eye could see. But there were pockets of not-quite-city. Areas where the rich and uber rich had delayed urban development in pursuit of a lifestyle fitting of two worlds: Love for city life without the cramped sardine packaging.
It took a metric shit-ton of wealth to stay the hand of progress.
And that was certainly evident in Brentwood.
An old college town had been converted into pseudo suburban housing for the nouveau riche. Remnants of the old university were felt more than seen in the left over urban color scheme: blues and golds.
Cutter navigated the twists and turns of western Sunset on autopilot. The farther they traveled, the more the properties shied away from the streets, hidden behind over-sized hedge rows, only accessible through a single gate, and setback at the end of a secluded driveway.
Many of the nouveau riche, the ones that couldn’t pry Beverly Hills or Malibu property away from the old guard with a crowbar, lived in the luxury condos built on the old university land. Scrubs who had found fame on YouTube or Twitch, broadcasting their lives away to the world, becoming celebrities for their expertise at video games or practical jokes made in poor taste.
Cutter hung a right into a housing complex marked by a sign that read: SUNSET GARDENS. He paused at the security shack, barely bringing the cruiser to a complete stop.
A tinted Plexiglass window slid back and collided into the jamb with a loud thunk.
“And you are here for?” asked the gate guard. He casually fanned himself with an electric green flier.
“Murder,” said Cutter. “Surprised the cruiser didn’t give it away.”
“Is anyone expecting you?”
Cutter chewed on the nub of his cigarette. “Buddy, I honestly don’t know how to answer that.”
The gate guard sighed, exasperated. Like somehow, letting people inside, or even the simple act of talking was well outside of his job description. “Let me check on that.”
“I’m in a bit of a hurry here.”
“Sir!” the gate guard snapped. “If you’d let me check, I can have you on your way.” He held his gaze, letting Cutter know that another outburst would only make things take that much longer. “Is that going to be a problem?”
Cutter grumbled. “No problem.”
With an mm-hmm and a satisfied nod, the gate guard returned to his computer.
“Our system shows that Mr. Von Medvey did in fact call for the police. We’ve allowed several authorities into the complex already.”
“Sounds about right.”
“ID?” The guard held out his hand.
Cutter stared in disbelief. “The cruiser doesn’t do it for you?”
He repeated in the same flat tone. “ID?”
Cutter flashed his badge. When the gate guard turned away, Cutter also flashed him the finger.
Apparently, his story checked out because the wrought iron gate began to open.
“And the quickest way there is?”
The guard rolled his eyes, a big exaggerated motion, taking his head with it in a lolling arc.
“You know what,” said Cutter. “Don’t bother.”
He flicked his spent butt into the guard’s booth, stepped on the gas, and grazed the still opening gate with the cruiser’s push-grill.
Only in Los Angeles could an architect merge Spanish tile and stucco with ultra-modern geometric steel and glass design. Elements of old and new were trying to make something different, and failing miserably.
Cutter and Celia walked past a stone cherub spitting water into a fountain. Small palm trees hunched over, fronds arching into the courtyard trying to give the impression of jungle. On the far side, a wall of glass separated courtyard from gymnasium. Rows of machines built for man faced the courtyard. A petite blonde was working up a sweat on an elliptical machine.
Cutter and Celia reached the western tower and rode an elevator to the top floor.
“Bout time.” Stetler pointed a manila file folder at Cutter. “Call went out a half hour ago.”
Ever since the mod-job, Stetler seemed larger than his mere five foot six inches. His new appearance reminded Cutter of an oddly skinny gorilla. A gorilla that skipped leg day. Or really, any day that wasn’t arm day.
Mechanical arms were slapped onto his sides and supported by a razorback cybo-spine. The man between them seemed like the nicest guy in the world. That contraption on the other hand would be a pain in the ass to put down. Mostly because it was a fight Cutter would probably lose.
“Yeah,” said Cutter. “Caught me in the middle of something.”
“You brought her along?”
Cutter looked at Celia and shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I?”
Biting his lower lip, Stetler let his breath escape through flaring nostrils. “You need to check this out.”
Like the exterior, this place was the absolute cream.
An open floor plan, taking up the western corner of the building. Spacious and roomy, dipped in light colors, off-whites, and slightly too tasteful shades of something Cutter would have simply called beige.
A sliding glass door partitioned the condo from a roof terrace. Outside, an infinity pool hovered off the edge of the building. Precisely manicured hedges, about knee-height, boxed in rose bushes that towered several feet overhead.
The hint of the Pacific was on the horizon. If Cutter stuck around a few hours, he imagined there’d be quite a show from Mother Nature. Shit-hole that Los Angeles was, it had amazing sunsets. Especially in the winter when the sun decided to sink down over the ocean. This condo capitalized on the view, and the owner likely paid a premium for it.
A crunching sound came from underfoot. Cutter looked down. Jagged splinters floated on plush white carpet, smashed under his boot. Had to have been one hell of an entrance to send the door jamb into the living room.
The rest of the apartment had similar attractions.
An overturned love seat mounted the ottoman. Lying face down on the carpet, a flatscreen was still connected to the wall by a single cable—a bungee jump gone horribly awry. A vase was in pieces near the sliding glass door, catapulted from a toppled table a few feet behind it.
The beginning signs of trouble in paradise.
Cutter nudged Celia. “First impressions?”
“It looks like your apartment. Only nicer.”
He could ignore a ribbing from one of his colleagues. Unfortunately, Celia only knew how to be sincere and that stung more than anything they could dish out.
A high-pitched repetitive trill emanated from Cutter’s right, so dissimilar from anything he had heard before, that it took him a moment to realize it was human.
On the far side of an island counter marking the boundary of the kitchen, a small man sat on a stool, head buried in both hands, sobbing. Two officers stood over him. One jotted notes on a pad. The other was perusing the contents of the fridge. No doubt finding all sorts of foul play in the chilled wine coolers lining the door.
Through garbled sobs, he heard the man blubber, “It was our anniversary.”
Cutter felt Stetler’s hand clamp down on his shoulder. “Most of the action happened in the bedroom.”
“I’ll bet,” said Cutter. “Bachelor pad like this.”
Stetler parted French doors.
Cutter had half expected to find some sort of dungeonous sex den—leathers and jungle prints set against dark mahogany, reflected in wall to wall mirrors. He was mildly disappointed when the bedroom mirrored the tasteful modern décor of the condo.
A medical examiner and two Black and Whites were already working the crime scene.
A body was strewn across the floor.
Contorted and lying in a pool of her own fluids.
A thin cashmere sweater, almost too small for a child, was wrapped around her shoulders. Her tastefully conservative sundress was in tatters. Flawless makeup. Not a smudge or smear even after the apparent struggle that her limbs lying at odd angles suggested.
She was strikingly beautiful. She had the kind of casual sex appeal that took loads of deliberation, planning, and cash to maintain.
Cutter kneeled next to the body and dabbed his finger in a dark puddle. He sniffed it. Putrid, like rotting vegetables, but lacking the distinct coppery aroma he normally associated with murder.
He touched his finger to his tongue.
“Hey, don’t do that!” Amanda Helstein swatted his hand. “That’s evidence, you freakin’ barbarian.”
Cutter held eye contact with the medical examiner and touched his finger to the tip of his tongue again.
A shock of fiery red hair snapped over Helstein’s shoulder, as she shook her head at Cutter. “Child.”
Cutter held up his dirty finger to Stetler. “Oil?”
“Give the man a medal,” said Helstein.
Cutter looked at the body and grimaced. Stetler was always quick with a joke and tended to be vocal about doing things his own way—part of the reason Cutter could tolerate him—but today, he was oddly stoic.
With a rapid motion of his hand, Cutter waved Celia over. “I want you to take a look at this.”
He pulled a pen from his pocket and lifted the victim’s yellow sundress.
She was split open from the chest down. Large coils of insulated wires hung from her belly like intestines. Dark blotches of oil and various lubricants dyed her skin. At first glance, it was easy to mistake her for human. Easy to mistake the crime for murder.
Cutter reached in and touched her fusion core. Cold to the touch. She had been offline for an hour, at least.
He turned to Celia. “Seen anything like this before?”
Cutter pursed his lips. “I mean, do you know what model this is?”
Celia rocked back and forth, hands clasped behind her back. “I do!”
Cutter smirked at his partner. It was strange to see a walking talking database surveying a crime scene with the curiosity of a child.
“V-Sim7700.” Celia leaned over the body. “It is either the ‘66 or ‘67 model. They were built on the same frame. I can interface to confirm.”
Cutter waved at the air. “Later.”
Celia made a pouty face, but Cutter was too busy examining the victim to notice.
“Why do you think someone would do this to a sexbot?”
Celia furled her tiny brow. She looked at the gutted synthetic on the floor. At the spilled robotic innards. At her pristine face. “I do not know, Jack.”
Stetler’s Black and White named Neal had been eyeballing Celia ever since they entered the crime scene. If Cutter hadn’t known better, he’d have called it jealousy.
Neal’s form followed function, making it easy to see his intentions when the antennae and lenses used to collect and record data at a crime scene retracted back into his body.
Neal pushed his way in front of Celia nearly knocking her over.
“Statistically speaking,” said Neal, “the destruction of a life partner synthetic is most frequently the result of sadomasochistic bedroom play. In People v. Ptasinski, courts upheld the ruling that synthetics are property, and—”
“No one asked you, Neal.”
Neal looked as confused as he could without possessing recognizable facial features or the ability to emote.
“Any robo-monkey with access to the city database can tell you what happened.” Cutter turned toward Celia. “I want you to look at a crime scene and ask yourself why it happened.”
“Detective Cutter,” said Neal. The bewildered synthetic swayed back and forth. “I do not understand. I relayed information that was pertinent to the question. Mr. Ptasinski repeatedly committed acts of a sexual nature that would have been criminal had he engaged with a biological entity. He also mutilated his sex partner synthetic and repaired her to full status before committing similar atrocities again. Did that not answer your question?”
“You sure are hung up on some deviant shit, Neal. Makes one wonder what you’re up to in your off hours.”
Celia chirped giddily, “Neal is hung up on some deviant shit.”
Cutter patted her on the head, a smile blossoming on his face, as he watched the Black and White hem and haw. Neal sputtered fragmented sentences, trying to rectify the dissonance between the probable responses flashing across its UI.
“Neal,” said Stetler. “Finish working the scene.”
After a few more stutters and jerks, Neal reluctantly obliged.
“You don’t need to mess with him like that.” Stetler snorted.
“I don’t not need to either.”
“I bought her a Rejuvagina as an anniversary present,” said a wavering voice.
Cutter spun on heel.
The first thing he saw were glassy blood shot eyes rimmed with pink. The man from the kitchen. Small, as he was, he carried his stature like a giant.
He was handsome, perhaps even pretty. His jawline was chiseled, albeit slender, and almost delicate. The type of jaw that would crumple when it ate a knuckle sandwich.
“Excuse me?” said Cutter.
“I had it installed and everything.”
“A Rejuvagina.” He nodded, as if the statement was so obvious that restating it was answer enough.
Stetler cupped his hands over Celia’s ears and bent down face to face with her. “Why don’t we take you some place a little nicer? Okay?”
Celia looked up at Cutter for approval.
“C’mon,” said Stetler, escorting her out of the luxury condo. “We’ll set you up some place cozy.”
Cutter returned his attention to the man from the kitchen.
“I didn’t catch your name.”
“Christian Von Medvey.” Despite his whimpering, he said his name with a strange resonance. It was something Cutter had heard before. This man clearly loved the sound of his own name.
Self important prick.
“Care to fill me in on what happened?”
“I—I already told the other officers—”
“Yeah. Well, tell me.”
“I came home, found the door like that. Smashed. The Vidscreen 580 was on the floor. I called out to Valerie—”
“Valerie?” asked Cutter.
At the sound of her name, tears glistened in the corners of Christian’s eyes.
“Right,” said Cutter. “Valerie.”
“I—I… She didn’t answer. I knew. She… Something was wrong. She always greets me when I get home.”
“Of course she does.”
“I mean, really wrong. The living room was tossed. I ran into the bedroom, and…”
He was on the verge of tears. Cutter couldn’t stand to see him blubber.
“Tell me about the, um… Item.”
Christian steeled himself. Somberly, he said, “The Rejuvagina was my anniversary present.”
“A present for her?”
Christian caught his tone. Not that Cutter had tried to hide it.
“It’s not like that,” said Christian, wiping his cheek with the back of his hand. “She liked to please me.”
Helstein cackled from the bedroom. She had been on her knees working chunks of evidence out of the carpet. She waved them away. “Carry on,” she said. “Don’t mind me.”
Cutter couldn’t help but smile. Her outburst echoed his thoughts precisely.
“Anything you’d like to add, Red?”
“Not really.” A split second later, she said, “Well, it’s an expensive piece of hardware. They advertise it as better than the real thing.”
“Trust me,” said Von Medvey. “It is.”
Helstein and Cutter held frozen stares at Von Medvey.
“So,” said Cutter, breaking the awkward silence, “someone broke in and stole some pricey bio-synth-tech.”
“That would be a working theory,” said Helstein. “Only one problem.”
“And that is?”
“It’s over there.”
Beneath a dark splotch on the wall, a slimy mass of bio-flesh oozed synthetic detritus on the carpet.
“No theft?” said Cutter. “So, what is this? A sex crime?”
“The Black and Whites haven’t found any foreign DNA.” Helstein nodded toward Christian. “It’s all Don Juan here.”
“So nothing was taken?”
Christian was shaking his head, mumbling under his breath. “She’ll never be the same.”
There was something in Von Medvey’s tone.
Normally, Cutter would agree.
An attack like this, if the victim survived, would most certainly change a person.
But a human would never survive an attack like this.
Bright sides and silver linings, for some reason, never applied to synthetics. If only humans came with the option to be put back together.
The attack missed her noggin. As long as her memory was intact, she’d be fine. They could reboot her.
Lucky that the attacker focused on one area. As perverse as it was, it may have given this synthetic a second chance. True, she likely wouldn’t be the same. But she’d be operational.
But Cutter was certain that wasn’t what was bothering Von Medvey.
When he said she’d be different, he said it as if one of his toys was no longer pristine. And that somehow disgusted him. She was forever tainted in his eyes.
“Do… do you need me for anything else Detective? This day has been stressful to say the least.”
There were loads he wanted to ask. But nothing would provide answers. He simply nodded at Von Medvey and waved him back toward the kitchen.
Stetler swept through the room.
“Wanna tell me what this is about?” Cutter asked. “Dispatch said someone phoned in a homicide.”
Stetler tossed a thumb over his shoulder, pointing at Von Medvey. “He phoned in a homicide.”
“Right… So all this?”
“Breaking and entering. Burglary. Destruction of property.”
“And I got the call because?”
Stetler paused, giving the question extended consideration. “This isn’t the first one.”
“Of course it isn’t. Burglary isn’t some rare disease. First time I’ve been called when there’s no bodies, though.”
“Well, there is a body. Of sorts.”
“Still not homicide. So why don’t you level with me and tell me what’s really going on.”
“I’ll do you one better.” Stetler held out the manila file folder to Cutter. “Tell me what this looks like to you.”
Cutter took the file folder and leafed through the pages. It was a typical case file. At least, a typical hardcopy, which was somewhat rare. The irony that a modded officer like Stetler preferred to do things old school hadn’t escaped Cutter.
Crime scene photos were jammed between reports.
At first glance, murder. Upon closer inspection, dismantled and mutilated synthetic after dismantled and mutilated synthetic.
Little things gave the synthetics away. Instead of a crimson hue, the blotches and fluid spatter were darkened amber. Easy to miss in low light.
The more gruesome and graphic photos were harder to ignore, if you could stomach looking at them longer than a split second.
The victims were synthetic. That was about the only similarity. Faux-male. Faux-female. Workbots. Servicebots. Medbots. No consistency or obvious links between victims.
In fact, the victims seemed so random that there was almost a pattern to the chaos.
Breaking and entering. Signs of a struggle. Dismemberment of a synthetic.
But nothing was ever taken.
What motive could someone have to harm a synthetic if it wasn’t robbery?
Cutter scoffed at the notion. What motive did anyone have to commit atrocities?
When you got right down to it, all crime was a selfish act.
Stetler tipped up his chin. “So, what do you think?”
“Well,” said Cutter, leafing through the file. “If the victims had been human, I’d say we have a serial killer on our hands.”