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Harper

Harper

8000 words

It was tough to get a Private Investigator's license, especially if you were a mechanical, although I prefer the term 'bot. Anyway, if a 'bot wants to be a P.I., there's a mountain of paperwork to fill out and months of background checks to wade through. Sure, I was patient - mechanicals are designed to be-but I had parked my can on that worn, faded chair for eight hours waiting for my final papers to come through and I had run out of interesting ways to interpret the wallpaper patterns. Eventually a tubby, balding officer came out of an office and addressed me by name.

"R. Bradford Harper? Would you come in, please?" I stood, joints clicking into place and servos revving as I walked towards the door.
"It's about time," I said and was rewarded with a sniff of disdain from the tubby man.
"Look, Harper. I process everyone's paperwork at the same speed, robot or not. You should be grateful we're letting you through with as little trouble as we are. The public is jittery about armed, independent mechanicals walking the streets."
The tubby cop slapped bulging file folder onto his desk and sat down. He grumbled as he opened it. I stood watching, my gloved hands behind my back in a posture that I had learned from an old partner of mine.
"Just sign this document and press your right thumb onto the grey square". I did so, looking with curiosity at the whorled imprint left in the malleable metal surface next to my rather rigid signature.

"Okay, Harp. You're a private dick now. Keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble." His tone softened and he offered me his hand. I looked quizzically at the gesture and figured, why not? I reached out my own steel hand and clasped his, mindful not to squeeze too hard. I was not used to being treated as an equal and had accepted my role as a subservient being until the Intel Act of 2069 had been passed, allowing all humanoid robots equal citizenship with fellow humans. The non-humanoid, industrial robots took a fall, as they remained human property in spite of their often high intelligence. I sometimes felt a sense of injustice at this but knew that I couldn't change what was.

"Thanks, Newman. You're a real human being." I slipped my P.I. card into my coat pocket as I left the dingy office and dropped off the 'visitor' badge with the Sergeant at the front desk. I went downstairs to sign for and collect my now-legal firearm from the armoury. Fitting the heavy, black automatic into my custom shoulder holster seemed like a final ritual of confirmation that I was finally starting a new life, away from the tedious regimen of police work.
I walked out of the stifling interior of the station and into the dark rain of the outside street. Overhead, aircars whirred by, their lights glaring in the smoky fog of the evening and I made my way to . . . nowhere in particular. This wasn't the kind of world depicted in the Bogart private-eye vids where every gumshoe dick had a spacious and dramatically lit office, complete with a slowly spinning ceiling fan. Office space was at an overpriced premium as it always was, and I could ill afford it with my pittance of a pension. As a 'bot, I didn't require a place to live, and I didn't need to sleep, eat or drink. My power came from a pocket fusion battery. I was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week; the ultimate detective . . . at least that's what it would say on my business card. If I don't sound like what you might expect a robot to sound like, then you've noticed that robotics has come a very long way since that tin guy on Lost in Space.

I crossed the garbage strewn street letting dented ground cars drift past. Bleary headlights blazed through the foul vapours that belched up out of the sewer grates and I passed busy, preoccupied citizens as keen to get out of the rain as I was. I walked past them, ignoring them as they ignored me, when I heard a faint cry. Okay, so I've got good hearing. What would you expect from a top-of-the-line 'bot like me? I listened for the direction and sprinted away, leaping over the occasional derelict automobile. I checked Sally, my good, old-fashioned Smith and Wesson 22 mm Hammergun, (1000 metre range, blows big holes in a variety of selected targets, single shot or three-shot burst, 20 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber). Yeah, as you might have guessed, I've got a serious love affair with my sidearm. Ever since I lost Raquel, my old squeeze, the only other girl I could trust was Sally. A gang of would-be macho types out on a drunken spree decided to show a scared young girl how manly they were. Charming. This was going to be fun.

The alley was like any other in the big city; filth-ridden, blind and mute. The three toughs weren't the usual type of strutting, loud sadist I was used to dealing with. These boys seemed to have a different agenda. Instead of the usual rape-and-kill scenario, these amateurs didn't seem to know what to do once they had their prey. The girl who had been screaming vigorously when I first heard her now seemed drunk and stuporous. I kicked a bottle aside and they turned their heads in unison.
"OK, punks. The party's definitely over."
They looked guiltily surprised but quickly reached for weapons. The girl swooned into a pile of trash and newspapers.
"You're in over your head - hey! This dude's a mech! Take him out, now!" I was flattered. My first day on the job and I got to be in a blazing gun battle. Wearily, I let them make the first move; it was only fair.

They all drew large, cheap imported pistols out of their waistbands and blazed away, spent shells whirling and bouncing, lead slugs gouging and chewing. I drew my own weapon, snapped off the safety and fired low, blasting the kneecaps off the leader who suddenly remembered that he had an urgent appointment to scream at the top of his lungs.
I whirled to the other two and performed what could be described as projectile surgery. When the smoke cleared I saw that the operation had been a success. I was feeling generous that night - I decided to call an ambulance right away this time-- so I snapped open my cellphone and called for the meat wagon. I left, giving the three shrieking losers an amused glance when I came across the girl, unconscious amidst the garbage. I thought for a moment, and although I made it a rule to only get involved with paying customers, I couldn't just leave her there, dirty and unconscious. I took off my not-very-expensive raincoat, now perforated in several places, and covered her shivering shoulders. It was then I noticed a small dart imbedded in the girl's bare thigh. It was a tranquilizer dart. That was odd. Those guys weren't going to have much fun with an unconscious victim. Maybe they were just lazy.

I quickly reviewed the vid of the assault and transmitted it to Police Central for ident and processing. I had no idea how much I was going to regret that little piece of good citizenship in the near future. I finished the transmission and as the sound of approaching sirens told of the impending pickup of the afflicted would-be rapists I led the girl out of the alley and in the direction of the nearest not-very-expensive hotel . . . maybe I would need an office after all.
The clerk at the worn and chipped reception desk didn't even look at me and the now-conscious but woozy girl when I booked a room for the night. I guess he'd seen it all. I slid my cashcard through the slot of the battered scanner and he tossed a keycard onto the spotted counter top, again without looking up.

The elevator creaked and groaned as it slowly hauled itself to the sixth floor. Its hazy mind needed to be reminded twice as to what floor we wanted and I thought sadly that this fellow should have retired years ago, but I knew he would be worked to static in spite of his infirmity. Blasted Intel Act. I didn't know what was worse; the abject slavery of the non-humanoid industrial 'bots or my guilt at not having to be one. The elevator doors creaked shut and we made our way down the sporadically lit corridor. By now the girl had regained her composure and her shivering had ceased. We entered the dingy room and locked the door behind us.

"If you're going to be ok, I'll take off. Don't worry about the room, it's yours for the night. You'll have to make your own arrangements as far as new clothes are concerned. I gotta get back to work." I shrugged on my raincoat and turned to leave when she finally spoke.
"Don't go, Harper. I need to talk to you." I froze at the mention of my name, then turned around.
"How'd you know my name, sister? I never mentioned it." My emotionless eye-scanners screwed into focus on her rain and tear stained face.
"Harper, it's me . . . Raquel." If there had ever been a moment when I felt knocked on my ass, it was now. Raquel. It couldn't be. Not after all these years. The only girl I ever loved.

I stood pondering the impossibility of what she had told me as she showered in the surprisingly clean bathroom. She finished, dried. and returned, wrapped in a threadbare towel, then crossed the floor and sat on the bed facing me.
"Harper, please sit down. This is going to be hard telling and may take some time." Sitting cross-legged on the cheaply carpeted floor as none of the flimsy chairs looked as they would take my weight, I prepared for her story.
"Harper. It's so good to see you again after all these years. I never thought I would again after the Act was put into effect." I listened for a moment and then had to speak.

"Just a second, missy. Do you honestly think I'm going to buy whatever crazy yarn you're about to weave. You sure startled me when you knew my name and claimed you were Raquel, but I'm not an idiot. If you know anything at all, you'll know that Raquel was a RKL-2000 industrial automobile assembly robot owned by the ChevroFord corporation. She was my main squeeze until the Intel Act forbade all contact between humanoid and non-humanoid 'bots."
The girl looked frustrated and tried again.

"Look, Tin-man. Be quiet and let me tell you what's happened. You haven't changed a bit. Give a guy a mouth to flap and he'll flap it all day long. Now sit tight and shut up." I stared in icy horror at her outburst. Tin-man. Only Raquel called me by that silly nickname, ever since we scanned an old vid copy of The Wizard of Oz. It had been one of the few vids that portrayed 'bots with some dignity besides Silent Running and The Bicentennial Man.
I sat and stared, too shocked to speak so she did it for me.
"I know that this is going to be hard to understand, but I am Raquel. You've got to believe me or there's no reason for me to waste time explaining further. Will you try to believe me?" Her face showed mounting tension and her tone was desperate.

"I'll listen. I won't guarantee anything beyond that. Now shoot."
The rain maintained its drumming and occasional lightning flashed through the grimy institutional curtains as the woman who called herself Raquel prepared to make me believe the impossible.
"I was working the assembly floor of the ChevroFord Aircar plant in JerseyTown, remember? I was in charge of a squad of welder-jointer 'bots when the Intel Act hit and suddenly we were all ninth class citizens. I was looking forward to seeing you that night when the plant announced we would no longer be allowed access to the internet terminals during our work shifts."

I thought back to those days with a real pleasure. Even though 'bots could work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, all but the least sophisticated 'bots could perform their repetitious tasks while simultaneously connecting themselves via internet links to other 'bots for companionship, or in the case of Raquel, love. She continued with her tale.
"I never got to say goodbye, Harper. I never got to tell you how much I loved you. I was shattered and my work showed it. I screwed up twelve aircar bodies because I was so preoccupied with losing you that I gave inaccurate orders to my welders. In a way, they were lucky. They were so dim that they had no idea anything had changed. The shit really hit the fan for keeps on the day I almost killed a little girl."

I looked up sharply. This was serious. Although as a police 'bot the rules concerning not harming humans had been altered and did not apply to me or any other law-enforcement or military mechanicals. All industrial robots, however, were still strictly governed by them. The room had grown dark since she had extinguished the lights and I could only see her in infra-red. She didn't speak for a moment and all I could hear was her breathing. Little white wisps of heat plumed from her nostrils and swirled about her head as I waited for her to continue.
"I was having a bad day. Two of my welders had been taken off-line for maintenance and I was getting behind in my quota. I had screwed up another car body and I was rushing like mad to catch up. There must have been some kind of open-house going on at the plant because there were civvies with their kids all over one end of the building. I continued with my work zigging back and forth along the fixed track that I was mounted on and I guess I wasn't paying full attention to my external motion sensors.

"Usually, no one ever steps within the danger boundaries of the work area unless the 'bots are shut down or an inspection is taking place. I was still despondent over you and didn't notice the warning blip coming from my forward sensor. It was a little girl racing across my track and I was going full tilt right towards her. Before I could stop, a humanoid 'bot from another assembly line sprinted in front of me and whisked the girl out of my path - but not before I could clip the legs off him.
"My systems were so shocked by the incident that I crashed off my track and into one of the welder 'bots. It was a mess. The welder needed a complete overhaul and I . . . I was discarded as unstable. They hauled me away with a forklift and dumped me outside with the scrap metal. I lay in a heap of rusting aircar frames; probably the ones I screwed up. How's that for irony? Weeks passed as my systems began to fade and my power dwindled.
"The last thought that I can remember was you, Tin-man. Then everything went black. I don't know how long I was out but when I woke up, I looked like this." She stood, thrusting out her hands in a strangely robotic gesture of non-understanding.

I didn't know how to react to this. By now, I was fairly convinced that this was, somehow, Raquel. All of the details concerning our cut-short love affair were painfully accurate and her speech pattern hadn't changed at all. What I couldn't explain was how she could be sitting in front of me inhabiting a human body.
"Don't stop now," I said, still seated on the floor, "this is getting interesting."

"I woke up in a glass cylinder full of murky liquid. I could dimly see figures moving around outside and hear muffled sounds and I seemed to have all kinds of cables and tubes connected to me. I'd never seen anything like it outside of that vid we watched; you know, the one with the kid and his laser sword. Remember, he got scragged by the white, furry monster and when he got rescued, he was dunked in a big glass cylinder of liquid like the one I was in. I must have blacked out again because when I became aware once more, I was dry and lying on some kind of bed.

It's a good thing we saw all those vids, Harper. I wouldn't have had a clue of what I was even lying on without all those vid references. You have to remember, I had never left the plant until the day I was sacked. Anyway, some men came in and were talking. About me, I suppose. and they stopped in their tracks when they realized I was awake. I said,'where the hell am I? The maintenance section? Was I fired?' Those guys started yelling and laughing and slapping each other on the back. The rest of the story is kind of a blur. I looked down at myself and I froze when I saw these weird fleshy appendages waving about." She wiggled her fingers at me and I didn't need my infra-red eyes to know she was smiling. Her voice told me that.

"It was a shock to have to get used to the fact that I was no longer a 'bot. The scientist guys told me eventually what they had done. They found the rusting hulk of my old body a few months after I was dumped and carted it off to their laboratory where they transferred my mind into this body. This body isn't human. It's a genetically enhanced clone of a human body. The first one of its kind. I suppose the word Android would be the best description"
She finally stopped and just sat there, looking at me.
"Well?"
"Well, what?"
"All this and you have nothing to say?" she snapped and my infra-red sensors could pick up the rise in her indignant heat.
"I'm waiting for you to finish. Where does the part where you're accosted in a filthy alley come in? I'd like the whole story before I make comment." I suppose I could have sounded kinder but I was still in a hell of a shock. Raquel, after all these years. Just when I thought I'd gotten over her; here she was, even more unreachable than ever.
"Well, I was trained in the use of my new body and tried to adapt as well as I could. It was very hard adjusting to this new life. I found myself bored and listless and I missed my old job. Also, I found myself bumping into things when I wasn't concentrating on walking and balancing. I discovered pain but had to learn to react properly. If I held my hand to a flame, I had to learn to pull it away quickly enough not to burn.

"I had a terrible time learning to deal with this body's strange functions. Waste matter, perspiration, saliva and all kinds of other fluids. I couldn't believe how many seemingly useless secretions this body had. It has to be washed continually and energized with solid and liquid matter that I had to learn to ingest. Although it was difficult at first to come to terms with the idea of placing warm, mushy pastes into my mouth, chewing it and using the right muscles to send it down at least the sensation became pleasant after time.
"I underwent training for a year and a half and eventually I learned what it was to be a human woman. It was after that period that I learned what my true purpose was. The moment I could act perfectly naturally and casually, they began training me to kill."

I narrowed my eye-shutters and thought for a moment. I vaguely remembered something I overheard a year or so ago. Two undercover cops going to debriefing had whispered something about android assassins and cloning labs. I laughed it off as rookie gossip and ignored it. Now it seemed that there was about 120 pounds of evidence to the contrary sitting on the floor before me.
"It was a fortunate thing for me in that alley that you arrived when you did. I knew I could have handled those three thugs but I wasn't expecting an anaesthetic dart gun. If not for that, I would have dismembered all three of them in about 15 seconds and laughed while I was doing it," Raquel said through clenched teeth.
"I guess I took care of that job myself." I felt a little ashamed at the righteous glee I felt dishing out that little bit of discipline. Guilty pleasures, indeed.

"When I gained 100% control over my body, I received extensive training from a variety of top martial arts and weapons masters until I actually had to consciously learn to control my reflexive responses. I nearly killed an instructor that approached me too quietly and caused me to lash out.

"I had become an instinctive killer, but for whom? I needed to know why I had been turned into this weird flesh-weapon, but no one would talk to me about it. The scientists distanced themselves from me as soon as they were certain that I worked properly then left me in the hands of trainers and overseers. It was then that I decided to escape and put some rationalizing distance between me and the Frankenstein boys." She smiled at me through the darkness of the room and she knew I could see it.

"So what were going to do? Where were you figuring on going?"
"I guess I was going to look for you . . . Tin-man."
At that moment, the door exploded inward with a sharp flash and a sound of rotten wood tearing. Jack-booted figures clutching bulky autorifles burst through the streaming smoke; these visitors were definitely not expected. Raquel hissed at me as though it were somehow my fault we were intruded upon.
"Don't just sit there, you moron! Take out that ridiculously obsolete gun of yours and start using it!"
I stood, able to use the darkness and my nearly-invisible heat signature to buy me enough time to unlimber my other girl, and snapped off the safety.
"You never mentioned that you were expecting irate company. It might have been a good idea to say something about it. Who am I about to be shooting at?" One of the figures finally spotted Raquel in his heat-sensor and whirled to raise his weapon. I slammed the barrel of my pistol on top of his wimpy plastic helmet and laid him out for a refreshing sleep.

"Who do you think? I would have thought it was obvious by now. Those boys shovelled out a big pile of spending cash to make me what I am. It's not surprising that they would want that big, fat investment back when it runs away. Is this starting to make sense to you now?" She was yelling over the tumult of ringing shots, screaming men and smashing glass and all I could think of to answer was "It's great to be with you again, babe."

The melee ended with no casualties but plenty of broken limbs and dented heads. Raquel modestly wrapped the cheap towel around her torso. She wiped blood from her bruised knuckles and winced slightly as she flexed her hands.
"I guess I'm getting out of practice," she smiled through the dark at me.
"Hey, not bad for a naked girl in a towel." I grinned. Smoke still streamed from spent gas canisters and people up and down the corridor were yelling and howling in confused fear. I couldn't blame them; I was feeling a fair amount of confused fear myself at that moment. All I knew was that we had to leave and make ourselves scarce right away. I didn't know how these mugs found her so quickly, but they would probably do it again unless I found some secure place to hole up for awhile. There was a guy I knew that might be able to help but first I would have to find him. I could see searchlights playing on the grimy windows of the room and an amplified voice boomed out of the night.

"We know you're in there, Raquel. It doesn't have to end this way. Come back and we can talk this over. You're worth far more to us alive than dead so why not cooperate before this gets real ugly?"
I blew a hole in the wall at the end of the hallway and, grabbing Raquel around the waist, leapt out and into the rainswept darkness three floors above the littered street below.
We arced over the barricades and the searchlights onto the rotting roof of the brownstone tenement across the narrow street. Shots immediately followed but went wild in the smoky dark. I held Raquel tightly and covered her as best I could as we plunged through the roof amidst a shower of debris and trash. The floor of the uppermost level held as I landed squarely and I checked to make sure Raquel was okay. She shook fragments of wood and plaster out of her hair and sputtered wildly.
"What the blasted hell was that for a dunder-headed total wall-to-wall idiot stunt?!" I laughed with long-forgotten pleasure and held her close to me.

"I still know how to show a lady a good time, eh?" I carried her down the cobwebbed stairs to the back entrance and we soon slipped away down the alley as armoured shock troops broke into the building from the other side.
We had gotten away . . . for now.

Raquel couldn't keep running around in a tattered towel for long so I went to the west end train station to check on an old locker where I kept some spare stuff. I had some spare clothes there as well as a few other handy gadgets that I sometimes used in a tight situation. The trousers and shirt were far too large for her but would do with the sleeves and legs rolled up. A necktie would make a serviceable belt and a discarded pair of mismatched sneakers I had the presence of mind to grab before we left the abandoned brownstone fit her alarmingly small feet well enough. I also kept an antique .45 automatic as a backup piece when things got hot. I adjusted the shoulder holster to fit her and the baggy shirt over top concealed the weapon perfectly. I reached into my coat pocket and took out a roll of worn, greasy banknotes that I used to cross the sweaty palms of various informers and stoolies. Raquel would need to eat and I had to remember that. I think she even forgot because when I mentioned it she looked puzzled and laughed. She got herself some rice and a few spring rolls from a vendor at the station and we headed off in search of that old buddy of mine. The guy who might have a solution to this predicament.

We concealed ourselves in a deserted basement of a another block of condemned flats and I went to work. Among the spare clothes and weapons I had been storing in the locker, I also maintained a collection of minidiscs that held the bulk of my considerable crime files. I methodically scanned the info on each one until I came up with what I needed.

Jackson "Keys" Roykirk. Ex-systems hacker, ex-embezzler, ex-con. Now on the unofficial payroll for the West Cities police department. He owed me for a few favours I did for him when I was a beat cop on Broadway. Not the Broadway famous for its wet musicals and light-in-the-loafer wunderkinder. This Broadway, redolent with the ripe odours of gunsmoke and vomit was considered the nerve centre of the underworld before it was turned into a self-contained ghetto by the National Guard back in '42. It was sealed off and any poor slob that didn't get out before the doors were welded shut had only God and Sonny Jesus to pray to for help because it wouldn't come from anywhere else. Keys' opted to remain because his skills made him a person of high repute and influence where, outside, he was only an ex-con with a rap sheet as long as your arm. Getting in wasn't a problem; only getting out again.

I smoked a cigarette as I plugged into my cellphone and dialled up my internet connection. I looked at the smoldering weed and shook my head; it had been a habit I picked up from my ex-partner when I was a rookie. He told me that it made me seem more human and put victims at ease when I had to question them. Henriksen. That was his name. I hadn't seen him since he retired ten years ago. I looked up his name in my directory and recorded the updated phone listing. He was a smart guy. The kind of guy that comes in handy when gun-happy corporate thugs come knocking.
"Okay, I got what I need. Are you ready to move on?"
"Sure. Anything to get out of this dusty tomb. Say, will there be a trace put on that internet connection? They may be monitoring the lines."
"You're probably right if they know who I am. We can't count on my identity being a mystery for - dammit!"
"What's wrong?"
"I just realized how they tracked you down so quickly. I made a vid when I disabled those thugs in the alley. You were in it as well. I beamed a copy of that vid straight to cop central. Those corporate snakes probably couldn't believe their luck when the vid was forwarded to them. We're gonna have to watch our step."

We left the musty basement under the cover of fog and by using a few backroads I knew, we came upon one of the many hidden ghetto entrances through which various businesses still plied their legal and illegal trades. I slid a confiscated and recircuited keycard through a chipped, grime-crusted terminal and when nothing happened, I whacked it a couple of times until a dim green light finally winked on. Good old American know-how. A nearly invisible door panel haltingly slid open amidst a chorus of rusty grinding allowing several rats unexpected freedom. Inside, darkness loomed and I switched to infra-red. Raquel gripped my arm tightly and we proceeded into the gloomy passage. Several paces within, I heard the door grind back into place and seal with a boom of uncomfortable finality.

I scanned the most recent map of the ghetto in my head and had a pretty good idea where Keys' last place of business was located. This tunnel would open fairly close to it. I kept patting the solid mass of my holstered gun and felt modestly reassured. The tunnel opened into a rusting culvert festooned with ragged and torn barbed wire. Rank weeds concealed most of the opening and we were up to our ankles in stagnant water. The first view of the ghetto interior was a street of blazing neon framing dark, dilapidated buildings. Black, shrouded figures moved furtively up and down between the hulks of shattered, burned-out cars. If there was a hell on this Earth, this was Main Street.
Within two hours, we were climbing the corroded stairs of a boarded up restaurant. At the top of the stairs, I saw light streaming from under a door and I knocked.

"Get lost! I'm working!" I smiled, remembering Keys' lousy manners.
"You're under arrest, Monkey-boy! Open up inna naymada law!" I almost laughed as I heard bumps and crashes as Keys rushed to hide contraband. I gripped the tarnished doorknob and exerted mild pressure, popping the cylinder and pushed the door open.

"Hey, man! You gotta have a warrant! I gotta lawyer! All this stuff--it's for research purposes." I did laugh this time.
"Keys, you haven't changed a bit." He looked up now, finally paying full attention to me. He stopped filling his pockets with loose pills and illegal software discs and reached for his glasses.
"Harper? R. Bradford Harper? Is that you man? Jeez, I haven't seen you since -hey, is this a bust? I got nothing worth your while, man!" He resumed his clearing away of illicit materials.
"Take it easy, Keys. I'm a P.I. now. I'm not a cop. I need your help and I figure it's time to cash in on a few favours.
"Favour? OK, man. What do you need?"

"This is one hell of a story and if anyone's going to believe it, it'll be you." I introduced him to Raquel and let her retell the tale. We sat on mismatched kitchen chairs next to tables sagging with the weight of numerous computer keyboards and monitors. All of the monitors were on and displaying a variety of interesting images. Illegal hacking at an international level. Keys was definitely a pro. Raquel related the events of her resurrection like she had before and I considered a small possibility. I mulled over it as I listened. Keys looked fascinated at first and then appalled. I finished off by adding the attack on the hotel room and he whistled in appreciation.
"A living weapon? Why bother with all that effort? A 'bot like Harper could do all the killing they wanted. It'd be illegal but these guys don't seem to be worried about that detail."
"That's what I thought, too but I think they like the idea of a killer that can get close to a victim without suspicion," Raquel spoke up.
"The guys training me told me that I needed to learn other languages so I could deal with foreigners. Get friendly and such. Maybe that's part of it."

"Why go to the trouble of transferring a mech mind to a clone body? It seems a lot of trouble when you could probably train a human to do the same stuff for a lot less cash."
I considered for a moment.
"There's something more subtle at work here. An artificially grown human body probably doesn't count as a legally registered person, so now you have a living human that can accomplish your grisly little task and then can escape without a trace. No records of birth, no passports to trace, a non-person."
"Why a mech brain?" Keys puzzled.
"It's property. Remember the Intel Act? A highly intelligent brain that can learn and develop, which anyone can own and discard as they see fit. A truly disposable assassin." Raquel paled and started to shiver. I looked over to her and I suddenly didn't know what to do. My only human friend was a tough, old retired cop. My relationship with Raquel was over a internet link. I'd never even seen her before today. For a few cold moments she seemed like a stranger. Then I remembered what it had been like being with her all those years ago. How complete I felt. I knew I'd never find anyone else like her again.
"So that's what it's all about. I'm still a disposable machine after all. What am I going to do? Tin-man, you gotta help me somehow." She started to cry and my titanium heart broke. She was still my baby and I'd kick the ass of anyone who tried to take her away from me. I guess I'm just a soft touch.
"Keys, we have to do something. Those rats will eventually find their way here. What can you do for me? Fix this little problem and I'll owe you big time." Keys scratched his neck helpfully.
"This could be easier than we think. It's a lot of effort to change one person and their already established history into someone and something else. But someone who is effectively a non-person to begin with simplifies matters to a degree.

"I can pick someone who died at birth and turn you into the person they would have been. Altering the birth records are easy. I can generate a comprehensive history for you complete with family photos and ex-boyfriends. This is going to be fun."
Keys laughed quietly and he moved his beat-up office chair down the row of terminals, tapping on each keyboard as he passed. Raquel looked at me and smiled as much as she was able at that moment. She yawned and stretched and I realized that she hadn't slept since I found her in that alley twelve hours ago. She had to be exhausted.
"Babe, get some sleep. That couch over there looks clean enough. I'll take care of everything on this end. Keys will come up with some good stuff that will help you out of this. When you wake up, I think we'll have this licked." She yawned again and settled onto the worn but still serviceable couch and I covered her with a tattered blanket. She was asleep at once and after taking a long, melancholy look at her face, I joined Keys at his wall of computers.
"This should only take a couple of hours, Harp. Since she has no criminal record or background of any kind, I don't have to take the trouble of hacking into security files and erasing them. We can construct any identity we want. What do you think? Should we make her into an exotic dancer? She has the bod for it."
My face put on its patented severe frown.
"Get real, 'Keys. I didn't come down here to indulge your lurid but predictable fantasies. Wait a minute. I've got it! Give her a resume for a aircar assembly foreman. Make it seem that she's worked for some big overseas auto manufacturer and she's come into the country looking for work at one of the big plants." I felt pleased with myself for that one. Evidently Keys thought so too.
"Yeah. That's good. Elegant, even. She'll blend in perfectly with her ingrained background. No chance for her to slip out of character. You're a smart guy, Harper." I looked down at Keys grinning up at me.

"You wouldn't know it for some of the company I keep." I laughed.
The night passed slowly as I smoked, listened to Keys' chatter and the distant sounds of sirens and breaking glass. Raquel slept soundly and I reluctantly had to admit that I had lost her more permanently than ever, now. What kind of love could a young, human woman share with a hulking mechanical? I suppose I was feeling sorry for myself but I couldn't help it. All I could be sure of, though, was that I would do whatever it took to make sure Raquel was safe.
I began to do some good, constructive thinking. In half an hour, I had a plan. A good one. I described it quietly to Keys and after thinking about it for a moment, smiled and meshed it into his own plan.

"Okay, everyone. All hands on deck! C'mon, Harper. Get your sleepy friend up and scoot on down here. I put together a very nice little identity package, with all kinds of peripheral goodies and all at a very reasonable price, all things considered."
Raquel yawned and stretched and came over to the bank of monitors with the blanket still wrapped around her. I stood next to her putting the finishing touches on the plan in my head.
'Keys quickly briefed Raquel on her new identity and gave her a disc copy to study later on when she had time to do so. She actually laughed when he told her that she would getting her old job back in a sense and she even seemed to look forward to the little bit of familiarity. She was to have an already established bank account with a reasonable sum of money sucked out of an obscure government department. There was only one more detail to work out and I was sorry to note that I wouldn't be there to see it in action. It was too bad. I would have liked to see the old man's face when this fell on him. Ahh well, he was a tough guy. He'll roll with it. I made a message disc with some words of advice and gave it to Raquel.

"There's one last detail for you to deal with, babe. I got a good, safe place to send you. A place where you'll get to live like a real person and have a real life. I wouldn't want anything else for you. We got shafted in this life, babe but I think I worked out a way to cheat the bastards that did this to you. We never got a fair shake in this deal, but I want you to know that I love you. Always have and always will."
"Tin-man, don't talk that way. I need you. How am I gonna get along without you to catch me if I fall?" The tears were flowing now and I held her soft little body close to me. I thought I knew then what it meant to cry.

I stood outside watching Keys and Raquel reenter the tunnel that got us into Broadway and I got one last look at her tear-stained face as she vanished into the dark. I dug into my coat pocket and withdrew one of the gadgets I liberated from my train station locker. Keys helped me reconfigure the emitter to a specific frequency and I made my way to the back of the building. There, under a dirty tarp, lay a vintage aircar. It must have been twenty years old but it looked well-cared for. It was stolen, of course, and probably untraceable. That was good. I got in and started her up, noticed that it revved nicely and I took her into the sky. When I got to a respectable altitude, I activated the field emitter in my pocket and headed for the coast. I pulled Sally out of her worn holster and lay her next to me.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, old girl. Now let's have that last dance. . ."

******
"Alright, alright. I'm coming. Jeez, who the blasted hell is it this hour of the morning. Can't a guy get some sleep around here?" I staggered barefoot across my cold kitchen floor to my back door, carefully concealing the magnum revolver in my robe pocket. You can never be too careful.

I opened the door to a young, sad-looking girl dressed in clothes way too big for her. Behind her, I could see the shape of a long haired young man walking and whistling away into the just risen sun.
"Say, little girl. What's the problem? Did that guy hurt you?" She shook her head.
"Could I come in, sir? I have a message for you from an old friend of yours." I blinked suspiciously and motioned the girl to enter.
"I guess that's all the sleep I'm gettin' tonight. You want a coffee?" She nodded and then fished out a memory disc from her pocket.
"Here, sir. This should explain everything." I took the disc from her and we moved into my admittedly austere but comfortable living room. I turned on my computer and popped the disc into the drive slot. The monitor fuzzed and then a face I recognized as R. Bradford Harper appeared.
"My God. . . Harpo! Did he send you?" I looked sharply at the girl and was then riveted to the screen.
"Hey there, old buddy. It's been a long time. I'm sorry that I never got around to visiting you after you retired but, you know, things get busy. Anyway, I didn't want you to think I'd gone all mushy on you. The girl who delivered this is very special to me. She may be in some trouble unless certain things work out. She has a new identity, courtesy our old buddy and constant customer, Keys Roykirk. Certain powerful corporate types would like to get their hands on the young lady for a series of not-nice things. I remember you to be a chivalrous old walrus and I know you would want to do everything in you power to keep this unfortunate lady safe. So, now, my old buddy, I'd like to introduce you to your new daughter, Raquel Henriksen."
My old eyes bulged at this and I shot a look of shocked disbelief at the girl, who smiled weakly. Harper went on.

"Keys made all the changes in your computer records stating that she is your natural daughter and there's no way that info will be questioned. She doesn't have to live with you although I'm concerned for her safety in case what I have planned doesn't work. I'll trust you to do the right thing, Henriksen. You were always straight with me. Raquel, Henriksen's a good man. Makes a lousy cup of coffee but he's a good man. He'll take care of you and I hope you'll take care of him. Check the morning news and you'll know if my plan worked or not. If it did, you're home free, girl. They won't come looking for you. If it didn't. . . well I guess we'll see. I love you."
The image faded and Raquel wept with her face in her hands. I frowned and turned on the vid screen. In a few minutes the first of the morning's news reports began to flash. The final fate of R. Bradford Harper became apparent all too soon. I raised the volume and we both sat rigid as the images washed over us.
" -in a stolen aircar. The mechanical, now identified as R. Bradford Harper, a former West Cities police officer with a spotless record, seemed to have gone berserk and abducted a young woman, who, at this time, remains unidentified. Units of the West Cities Coast Patrol gave chase to an aircar intruding in an unauthorized airspace when shots were fired from the suspect vehicle. An heated exchange of gunfire brought the incident to an abrupt and tragic conclusion, when, too late, sensors on the pursuit craft revealed a human female hostage. The crippled aircar crashed into the sea and exploded on impact. Very little wreckage was recovered and no trace of either the hostage or her robotic abductor were found. Officials at this end are calling the whole episode a freak but tragic incident. Now on the sports scene . . . "
I turned off the set and sat down with a sigh.

"I understand what he did. I remember he had a gimmick that could give off infra-red and biological emissions that could be used to imitate the presence of a live person. He said it was useful if you wanted someone following you to think you weren't alone. That's what he use to trick the sensors of the chase vehicles. Harpo always had a final ace up his sleeve."
I looked at the girl that Harpo gave his life for and made a promise to myself not to let him down.
"Well, you're welcome here as long as you like. I guess I can get used to the idea that I have a daughter." I took the girl in my arms and held her as she cried.

She never noticed that I cried too.

The End

Good work!

You've got something good to develop here. I like the story a lot. I do have a few technical and other suggestions to make.

The biggest problem is that you told it in first person. One problem with first person perspective is that it assumes the narrator survived the story; otherwise, how could he tell it to the reader?

There are a number of ways to get around this. You could do the old trick with sombody finding the Diary of the Vanished Explorer, Cover Stained with Something Disturbingly Like Blood. Or the electronic version of that. You'd have to take out the last scene where Harper goes off in the car; that wouldn't be in whatever diary he gave to Rachel, etc.

Or you could have it be Harper's ghost telling the story. If mechs have ghosts. Or you could just ignore that his being dead makes it impossible for him to speak.

But the best way would be to do it in third person.

Like anyone, you do a fair amount of telling and not showing. As a couple examples, you tell how Harper had lockers with clothes and weapons, and a cache of data discs. It would probably go better if you showed Harper leading Rachel to those caches. "What are we doing in this ruined building?" "Babe, haven't you heard of putting something aside for a rainy day? This day, it's raining like hell." Harper dragged aside some rotten timbers to reveal a metal box. He pried it open and began pulling out clothing, papers, all sorts of things. "Men's suit-- too big but you can wear-- ah. Money. And you know, this old .45's not only untraceable, it's still a damned good weapon, for being a hundred and three years old..."

or something like that. This is just one example; there are several others I'm sure you can find.

Few other suggestions:

Would robots or humans in the far future remember Lost in Space? Would they take the tin-can robot as an example of what robots had once been?

Harper spends a lot of time noticing that the day is stifling or the odors are noxious-- which presumably wouldn't affect him at all. You could turn this to good advantage by something like "The weather was stifling and the sewers reeked. Not that it affected me, but it made the humans look half-sick and weary. So I made myself look that way too."

I don't think you should have Harper say "Little did I know how much I would regret that act of good citizenship in the future." The future comes pretty quickly. If you need some foreshadowing you could have one of the kneecapped thugs shouting threats about "you don't know what you're dealing with" and "Mr. Big, Natasha, and Boris will get you" or whatever.

It occurred to me that one reason they took Rachel's mind for their assasin could be that she nearly killed that little girl. Convenient to have a mech mind that was already a killer. They wouldn't have any way to know the near-killing was just an accident.

And finally.. a computer wiz named Jackson Roykirk? "Error.... error.... must sterilize.... STEEEEEEERRRREEEEEELLLLLLIIIIIIZZZZZE!!!"