Friday, November 11, 2011
I love writing short stories, but much of the time it can be really difficult.
This was not one of those times. This story seemed to leap right onto the screen! It's an expansion of the story I wrote last week, which is a sort of novel-in-progress (like a whole lot of my work). The first part is here, and the second is here; as per usual, it's not totally necessary to read the first parts but they'll help set up the world a little more clearly. Enjoy!
Aaron M. Smith- Nov. 11th, 2011
I should’ve known I was in for trouble as soon as I saw the apartment number. Thirteen. I don’t consider myself a superstitious person, but the job gave me an itch as soon as I took it.
The cold November wind threatened to tear my ears off my head as I approached the building. Whitaker-Jones Agency had sent me on a fairly straightforward case today. Some rich guy was behind on his alimony payments and liked to hide out in a little hole in the wall he thought nobody knew about. But his ex-wife knew enough about it to give me the address. All I had to do was see if he was there and then call her attorney. Easy in, easy out.
The address was one of those little hundred and fifty year old brownstones that are all the rage with the kids and cost more to live in now than they did back before the paint was falling off the walls. I flashed the PI badge to the doorman and he let me in, after making me pass through a weapon field. I’d left my gun at home, luckily; in most of the places downtown, if you’re detected with a weapon they won’t let you on the premises. Forget using the subway.
And there I was standing in front of number thirteen. I had my hand raised to knock when the door to number fourteen, right behind me, exploded into a thousand pieces.
A city bus in the shape of a man slammed me to the door of thirteen so hard I heard the wood splinter. Or maybe that was my ribs. I gasped for breath while the man on top of me sprang to his feet. He grabbed the collar of my shirt and lifted me into the air with one hand like I was a newspaper he intended to swat a fly with. His ice cold empty hand grabbed me under the chin.
Blue spots danced in front of my eyes as he growled, “I am not your property!”
My vision cleared for a fraction of a second; I got one glimpse of his face before he tossed me down the hallway like a scrap of trash. The titanium fibers in my coat saved me from lacerations but did nothing to blunt the impact of the hardwood floor. I skidded and rolled like a foul ball, finally coming to a rest thirty feet and several bruised ribs later.
I looked up; a man with glasses and watery blue eyes was peeking at me from Thirteen, his door scattering splinters of wood. Whoever had just thrown me out was gone. The strange thing was, I recognized his face, sort of.
I groaned and got to my feet as quickly as I could without sacrificing my last scrap of dignity. Apartment fourteen was abandoned, not a scrap of furniture in the place. The view from the window looked down onto the front stoop; the guy had seen me coming from here. Had he been hiding out in here? If so, from whom?
A flash of shining steel sprinted from the door of the building, sending the poor doorman tumbling down the short stairs. No wonder most door minders were automated nowadays. The guy who clobbered me moved faster than any human could have, leaping twelve feet straight into the air to grab onto the train line overhead, naked metallic body reflecting the dismal grey light of the New York afternoon. In moments he was out of sight.
I slumped against the wall of Fourteen, too sore to question the guy across the hall. A minute later I heard voices and a pounding on the stairs. A short woman with a head full of curly brown hair spun into the room, NYPD-issue firearm pointed at my melon.
The angry combat mask on her face fell when she saw me, disappointment causing her almond-shaped eyes to narrow.
“…Toby?” she said.
“Afternoon, Casey.” Two other officers stepped into the room around her, guns trained on me. I didn’t recognize either of them.
“He’s fine guys,” Sergeant Sandra Casey said, indicating with her free hand for them to sweep the rest of the apartment. She holstered her weapon and crossed the room to me. When we were alone, she said, “What the hell are you doing here, Toby?”
“Singing telegram,” I said.
“What’s a telegram?”
“Nevermind. I was here on a job when I got the stuffing knocked out of me. Probably by the guy you’re after.”
“We’re not after a guy,” Casey said, her voice guarded.
“Forgive me. The thing you’re after.”
She narrowed her eyes farther, her brow creasing. “Toby, what do you know?”
“More than I should, I’m beginning to think.” I grinned. Somehow, it made my ribs hurt.
“Damn straight.” Casey knelt and whispered, “This is supposed to be top-secret, Toby. People could get hurt.”
“I thought you weren’t looking for people.”
“You know what I mean.” She got right in my face. “You got a good look at it, then?”
“I sure did,” I said. “The smart plastic their faces are made out of makes an impression. Same with the carbon-fiber skeletons.” I winced. “No doubt about it. It was a full-human Auto.” Casey didn’t say anything, but I could tell from her silence that I’d guessed correctly. “Except they’re not supposed to exist. Nobody’s been able to get a full human prototype to work.”
“Autos are nothing new,” Casey said, helping me to my feet. “They’ve been doing manual and tedious labor for years.”
“Until now?” I ventured. “Who made this one?”
“Proscor,” Casey said after a moment. “And they reported it stolen thirty hours ago. Nine years of work, gone.”
I looked out the window, down the mag-lev train line the mechanical man had just used for his getaway. “I think ‘stolen’ is the wrong word, Sergeant. Looks to me like it escaped.”