Private Investigator Luc KaiLeel has had some strange cases before but never one like the young woman sitting before him now. Rena Powell wants him to find her lovers brain, which definitely isnt inside his head. Marcus Adler was an android and not just any ol robot but the only one of his kind, the most human-appearing one yet, as well as the Federations chief AIAArtificial Intelligence Assassin Agentuntil a car bomb blows him to micro-particles. Now, Rena insists hes calling to her mentallyto save him. With severe misgivings, Luc takes the case, but immediately there are complications, because Lucs fallen in love with Rena. How do you fight a rival who exists only in a womans mind?
“You want me to do what?”
With more than a little disbelief, Luc Kai’Leel looked at the young woman sitting across from him. She’d appeared sane enough, a definitely attractive little blonde looking almost boringly normal, until she made the statement that now forced him to question his assessment.
“You heard me!” she snapped. “You may not be Terran but you understand our language well enough. Why should I repeat myself?”
Luc flushed and felt a slight surge of anger. He might have been born on war-conquered Felida, but damn it, he was a naturalized citizen of Earth now, having given up all ways of life as practiced on his home planet and done everything possible to make himself accepted here. Under casual inspection, he could even pass for a Terran, and now this ditz was looking down her pert little nose at him?
“Would you mind doing it anyway?” he asked, swallowing his anger and attempting to keep his voice at a higher pitch than his usually gravelly growl. “Just to make certain I didn’t miss something in the translation?”
“Oh, very well.” She made a sound that was a cross between a gasp and a sigh of impatience. “What I want you to do, Mr. Kai’Leel, is find my fiancé’s brain.”
“That’s what I thought you said.” Luc looked a little unhappy. He, too, sighed. “It isn’t inside his head, I take it?”
“Marcus was killed three weeks ago. Someone spot-bombed his car.” For just a moment, she looked tearful and, whether she was crazy or not, the sight momentarily tugged at his heart. “They didn’t find enough to bury.”
“We can’t assume his brain went the way the rest of his body did?”
She ignored his remark. “I think the Federation was behind it.”
Oh, great! So she has a government-persecution complex on top of everything else. Silently, he wondered if this was a punishment of some kind. Out of all the investigation agencies on the planet, why did she have to choose his to bring her delusions to?
“The Federation?” he echoed, thinking just how stupid he sounded.
“There were Marshals everywhere immediately afterward. One of them found something in the wreckage. I saw him put it in a small plasticon baggie.” The picture she was painting displayed itself luridly in his mind…twisted remains of what had been an automobile…black uniformed agent holding a soft, bloody object in his hands. “Later, when I asked him about it, he denied having found anything, but I know better. It was Marcus’ brain. I know it was.” A hand brushed at her eyes.
“How can you be so sure?”
“Marcus told me.”
Uh-oh! She’s worse off than I thought. Definitely certifiable, positively winged-out. Maybe dangerous?
Slowly, Luc’s left hand inched toward the red Emergency button in the telephone console on the left side of the desk. One tap and the med-techs at the local psychiatric hospital would be alerted; they and their air-borne ambulance could be here in three minutes, armed with tranquilizer guns and restraining gear. He had a moment’s regret at what he was about to do, but the girl definitely needed help. Just not from me.
“I wouldn’t do that.” She saw the movement. His hand stopped, but as he started to deny the action, she placed her own on the little purse resting in her lap. “You might not like what would happen if I gave this a squeeze.”
“What’ve you got in there?”
A bomb? Some type of poisonous gas in a capsule, which would break when pressure was applied? He wasn’t going to do anything to find out. He placed both hands in the center of the desk, one over the other.
“Miss Powell, just tell me what’s so important about your boyfriend’s brain that someone would want to steal it?”
“It’s a positronic brain, Mr. Kai’Leel.” With her hand still on the purse, she relaxed a little, settling herself as she went on. “Let me explain.”
“Please do.” He almost bit his tongue as he realized she might think he was being sarcastic. No matter what she said or did, he had to keep her calm, get her out of here, and then call the Psych-Unit. At the same time, he took a deep breath, nostrils crinkling slightly as he inhaled the girl’s scent. A very pleasant female fragrance, clean, none of the usual vile perfumes to insult his senses. He could detect worry, anxiety, even fear, but none of the emotion-twists madness always wrought in a person’s chemical makeup. That’s definitely confusing.
“Marcus is an android,” she began.
Oh Lord! She’s one of those women preferring synthetic men to real ones. Luc couldn’t keep the surprise or speculation out of his cat’s-pupiled eyes. She was so young, not more than twenty-two. He wondered if she’d ever had a human lover.
“An EHR-1, to be exact.”
“Never heard of that model.”
“No reason you should.” She shrugged. “It means Exact Human Replicant. He was the prototype and only one created.”
Luc tried to look suitably impressed, heavy brows dipping to a V over his eyes. He feared all he succeeded in doing was to appear threatening.
“His creator was Robert Adler...”
“The roboticist?” A flash of memory; something unpleasant involving Adler. “Wasn’t he killed by one of his inventions? Yeah…some supposedly super-perfect robot commissioned by the Federation?” His voice trailed away as she nodded solemnly.
“Dr. Adler had a terminal illness. Something no one has found a cure for. He felt it was a more humane and fitting ending than waiting to die, and…” she sighed as if being forced to admit something distasteful. “…Marcus followed orders well.” That statement was followed by a rueful laugh. “And why not? He was a Federation Contract Man.”
“Wait a minute. If he works--worked--for the Federation, why would they kill him?”
“Because he was going to quit.”
Luc moved one hand. Immediately, her own tightened on the purse. He pointed at the computer terminal on the desk. “Just want to check something. Okay?”
She made a permissive gesture.
Typing in a code, he accessed the Federation Agency Rolls, specifically the list of agents, both the Breathers, as the human ones were called, as well as their artificial counterparts. Since the decision two centuries before to remove all flesh-and-blood officers from Covert Operations and all other areas involving physical danger, the identities of all operatives had become a matter of public record, though the Synthetics were the only ones listed by both their “real” and code names. Because the assassins were non-human, the information couldn’t endanger them. They could’ve appeared in public wearing placards stating I am a Federation Killer, and it wouldn’t have mattered.
The Synthetics had also developed an unusual Code of Ethics; they began to notify their victims of their impending deaths, with the information that if able to evade for a specific length of time, the sanction would be lifted. So far, no one had managed to survive so what would have happened if anyone did was unknown. Some people actually thought the fact that an agent’s target would be aware of what was happening made The Game a little more interesting. Bookies accepted bets on how long a victim could run and where he’d be when terminated; progress was announced on the daily news; the results were documented on worldwide television.
A few assassins had actually become global heroes as they kept the Galaxy, baseball and Mom’s apple pie safe from hostile take-over, alien or otherwise.
“What’s your boyfriend’s last name?”
“Adler, after his creator.”
He typed in the two words. In a moment, he looked back at her. “There’s no Marcus Adler listed, deactivated or otherwise.”
“There wouldn’t be.”
She gave him a quiet, triumphant stare. “Have you ever heard of Moondeath, Mr. Kai’Leel?”
Of course, he had. Everyone had heard of Moondeath…the Federation’s ultimate killer, with a perfect record, the only assassin whose identity was a well-kept secret. No one knew his human name or what he looked like, and because of that, he’d achieved near folk-legend status among the civilian population, as well as making millionaires out of several men who’d bet their every tangible bit of property on his kills. Luc himself had never participated, thinking it a ghoulish way to make a fortune.
If Marcus Adler was Moondeath, and Moondeath was now defunct... She certainly had his attention now. “Maybe you’d better tell me everything.”
Taking a deep breath, Rena Powell obeyed, going back once again to their last day together.
“...and he slid onto the driver’s seat, turned to wave at me, and inserted the key-card into the ignition. The car exploded.”
Rena’s voice died away as she remembered how she’d stood there, not understanding, not believing what she was seeing. While fire erupted from the interior of the car, the top and sides shattered and were flung into the air, and a great ball of flame and smoke shot upward, heat fanning in a blistering wave in all directions, as the concussion knocked her against the door.
Then she was on her feet and running toward the burning wreckage as people appeared from the other houses. One of the neighbors caught her, holding her back while she fought him and screamed and wouldn’t listen when he told her it was too late...
Luc let out his breath in a low whistle. “If the car was so lock-tight, how was the bomb planted?”
“There was something wrong with the High Altitude Gear. The Agency Automotive Pool had it for two days. They must have installed the bomb then, with a delayed timer or something. I don’t know!” Her voice became shrill. She made an effort to calm herself. “As I said, the place was swarming with Marshals. Immediately. It was as if they’d been waiting for a signal or something. And I know they retrieved Marcus’ brain or at least the memory section.”
“Because he told you.” He made the statement as flat as possible.
“Yes.” The word was defiant. “A week later, I began to have dreams, nightmares really, and Marcus was always in them, calling to me, asking me to help him.”
“Not very unusual, considering what happened,” Luc began.
“Then, one night, I woke up and I could still hear his voice.”
Here we go again. Just when I was starting to believe her, too.
She put one hand over her mouth, breathing shakily, then looked at him and went on, “I know it sounds crazy, Mr. Kai’Leel, but Marcus was talking to me. Inside my head. All the Synthetics have a Telepathetic Modem though they rarely use it, and h-he told me...” For just a moment, she faltered, closing her eyes.
Immediately, Luc was out of his chair, pouring her a glass of water. She waved it away.
“It’s purified,” he was quick to assure her. “Imported. Comes from a lake in the Arctic Circle.”
She took it, balancing the glass against her knee, and he returned to his seat as she went on.
“It had been assumed Robert Adler never wrote down the schematics for the EHR design but later they discovered a single copy existed, hidden in a place where he thought it would never be found. In his creation’s brain.
“Marcus told me they’re trying to access his memory and get the plans, but so far, he’s been able to keep them out.” She raised the glass, sipping at the water. “It’s just a matter of time before they manage to get past the firewalls programmed into him and once they do...” She swallowed, looking up at him, tears filling the blue eyes. “They’re going to give him a new body and reprogram him, Mr. Kai’Leel, erase every bit of humanity Robert Adler put into him, as well as any memory of me.”
Much as Luc hated to admit it, her distress had gotten to him. He was beginning to believe there actually was a sliver of artificial intelligence somewhere Out There belonging to an android who had loved her, an android who was, at that moment, desperately fighting to continue to do so.
“Do you know where they have him?” He had to continue to be realistic about this, not let emotion and pity take over. Had to get all the information he could before he made up his mind.
“Marcus told me the exact location. Room Three in the Thirteenth Ward at Jung Psychiatric Hospital.”
“There’s no Thirteenth Ward at Jung.” Doesn’t she know buildings don’t have thirteenth floors? That was one superstition surviving the millennia.
“Yes, there is.” Her answer was forceful, and determined. “It’s Restricted. It’s where they do experiments.”
That didn’t conjure up anything pleasant. Luc thought about that a minute.
“And you want me to just waltz in there and get Adler, excuse me--his brain--out?” He had no idea how he’d manage such an act.
“Rena. This is going to be extremely dangerous.” She nodded, perfectly agreeable. “So dangerous that if I agree to do it, and mind you, I said if, I’d be forced to ask for a ridiculously large sum of Credits.” He thought about that a moment. “Bankruptingly large, as a matter of fact.”
“I understand and I’m prepared to offer you precisely that.”
“How much?” He wondered what she considered her lover’s brain to be worth.
“Four bars of diamontium bullion.”
For just a moment, he couldn’t say anything, though his own mind was calculating as fast as it could. Probably not as fast as Adler’s, he thought ruefully.
Almost three centuries before, diamontium had replaced gold as the Galaxy’s most precious metal. One pound of diamontium dust was worth one hundred thousand Real Dollars or ten thousand Credits.
“If I had just one bar of diamontium,” he said aloud, with a slightly dismissive laugh. “I could pay my four ex-wives’ alimony for the rest of their lives and have enough left over to live in the decadent style to which I’d like to become accustomed.”
“I don’t care what you do with it,” she said, coldly. “As long as you do what I want beforehand.”
“Where’d you get that much diamontium?” Luc had learned long ago not to trust anyone when it came to large sums of money, especially promised sums.
“Marcus transferred all his accounts to my name right after we first met. It’s just lying there, waiting for me to use it.” A shrug. “I bought diamontium.”
“If I somehow manage to do what you want without getting myself killed, what are you going to do with this…brain?” God, I feel stupid saying that. “You don’t look like the type to spend a cold night snuggled up to a couple of microchips and a few electrodes."
She flushed, though her answer was calm enough. “Marcus has a friend, a scientist who was blackballed out of the Association of Cybernetic Physicians because he wouldn’t work for the government. He’ll build a new body.”
“And then you two will just sail off into the sunset and live happily ever after?”
“Something like that.” Her tone indicated it was none of his business. “You just get the brain, Mr. Kai’Leel, and let me worry about what to do with it.”
He thought that over, surprised that he felt a vague stirring of jealousy at the thought of her spending the rest of her life with her reconstructed super-man.
“Will you do it? Will you help me?”
God, what beautiful, sincere blue eyes she has.
“Let me think it over,” he hedged.
“Don’t take too long. Marcus doesn’t have much time." She stood. Halfway to the door, she paused, looking back to give him a teasing, flirtatious smile. “You aren’t still planning on alerting the Psych-Unit, are you?”
“Not while you have that purse with you.” He allowed himself a laugh. “What do you have in there, anyway?”
She opened the purse, holding it out so he could see its contents. A small bottle of non-aerosol makeup, a few Credits, one wadded up recycled-paper tissue.
“But, I thought...”
“I know.” With a smile, she went through the door.
For a few minutes, Luc sat there, staring at the ornate paneling, thinking over what she’d said. I’m going to help her. It was as simple as that, and he realized with a slightly sinking feeling that he’d made up his mind the moment she walked into his office.
It was because she was so pretty. He’d always been a sucker for an attractive Terran face. Perhaps it was his father’s blood, reaching out to its own kind. He wondered if he might be able to convince her to abandon this wild scheme and let him show her how a living man made love. Nah…probably wouldn’t work. Most women with android lovers wouldn’t let a real man near them. If Rena Powell was like that… What a damned waste!
Maybe he could change her mind. After all, Felidans weren’t considered one of the three most sexually aggressive species in the Galaxy for nothing, a fact his four ex-wives would certainly confirm. He hadn’t lost any of them because they didn’t like his lovemaking. Libido Unlimited, one had labeled him. Being an investigator simply didn’t bring in enough Credits for their greedy little hearts. Rena Powell, however, didn’t seemed to care about money, except in using it to get her lover back.
Perhaps she doesn’t like Felidans. That remark about his understanding the language had certainly sounded prejudiced.
It had been nearly two decades since the Terro-Felidan War, an aggression his mother’s planet was foolish enough to start and his sire’s planet powerful enough to win. Earth’s first combat against an other-than-human enemy concluded with the feline-evolved Felidans being almost annihilated by their conquerors, and, as an extra act of revenge, declared animals by Federation Edict, a law which had never been lifted. Because of that fact, anyone having sex with a Felidan technically ran the risk of being arrested for bestiality, something each of Luc’s four wives--bless their wicked little hearts!--had found overwhelmingly titillating.
He stood up and walked to the jewel-beveled mirror hanging above the Queen Anne credenza by the door, a gift from a grateful client’s private collection of antiques. Standing in front of it, he studied his image critically. Because of their Second Class status, Felidans coming to Earth under the recently passed Immigration Act were almost pathetically eager to be assimilated into the culture of their new home, and Luc Kai’Leel unashamedly admitted he wanted to be, also.
Don’t see anything Rena Powell couldn’t like.
He wasn’t as tall as a Full-blood, only about five-feet-eleven, “the runt of the litter,” his Terran father had jokingly called him whenever he compared his youngest-born to his other sons who were closer to the Felidan average of seven feet. The one thing he and his brothers did share was their lack of full-body furring, being covered at chest and thighs, with a minimum amount on arms and legs. That deficiency was hidden by Terran-style clothing, of course, though their eyes were as green and slit-irised as their planet-mates.
His hair was typically Felidan, black and wildly curly. When he’d arrived on Terra, Luc had sheared his hair to shoulder-length, refusing to wear it in the waist-tickling mane the other males affected. He’d also depilated the wispy cat’s-whisker moustache as well. He kept the furry tippets on his ears shaved, too, thanking God daily his ears weren’t pointed but humanly rounded.
In an attempt to appear as Terran as possible, he’d even consulted a cosmetic oral surgeon about blunting the points of his incisors but at the last minute cowardly cancelled the operation. In his business, it was sometimes an asset having fangs able to incapacitate an assailant with one snap, as was his ability to sense chemical and hormonal changes in Terran bodies. His wives had appreciated that trait because it meant they didn’t have to worry about contraception. Luc simply stayed away when he sensed fertility-onset.
He did, however, have himself de-clawed, removing the two-inch talons he could spring by tensing the muscles in his fingers. Wife Number Two had insisted on that after he accidentally scratched her one night while they were making love. His nails were now as normal and harmless as any Terran’s.
Smiling at his image, Luc had to admit he saw no reason why Rena Powell couldn’t transfer the affection to him that she had for Marcus Adler.
If she would.
If. That was the worst little word in the world, and he was certain he already knew the answer.
Well, better get on with it. He did the requisite computer-check, determining the young lady was exactly what she said she was, eliminating any chance she was actually some other planet’s agent attempting to use a weak-brained private investigator to do a little espionage for her. Then…
Feeling he was the world’s biggest fool, about to go on an even bigger fool’s errand, he sat at the desk, punched Rena’s telephone number into the keyboard and took a deep breath, waiting for her to answer.