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Synthetic Death

“Shortly before 2:30 p.m. local time, as President Kegin walked towards his waiting car, a female Synthetic Humanoid, model 280 emerged from the crowd of admirers and fired a Röhm RG-14 .22 cal. blue steel revolver six times in three seconds.
The first bullet hit Secretary Jenson in the head. The second hit police officer Vomez Delahan in the back. A third overshot the president and hit the window of a building across the street. The fourth hit a Secret Service agent in the abdomen. The fifth hit the bullet-proof glass of the window on the open side door of the president's limousine and the final sixth bullet ricocheted off the side of the limousine and hit the president under his left arm, grazing a rib and lodging in his lung, near his heart.
The Vice President is expected to make a public address this Thursday night regarding the extent of President Kegin’s injuries.”
“Wow, Jim. That is truly horrifying. I own a 280.”
“Yes Cynthia, that is. Let’s check out the weather for tomorrow, Gail?”

Chapter One
Body Catchers

Water pooled around her bare ankles from the downpour. The cold and wet made her already pale skin almost translucent, standing out in contrast to the deep black of the asphalt beneath her lifeless body. The dim light from a sodium street lamp glowed above her casting an orange hue over everything. The color should have warmed her, but didn’t.
She was dressed only in a long nightgown. The sheer cotton fabric clung to her, wet with rain. The length of it bunched up around her knees. It had an embroidered string of daisies that followed the edge of its plunging neck line. The tips of her hair danced in the water across them.
I strained my neck to look over the examiner’s shoulder at several red and black stippling marks on her forearms. They were the kind caused from an ion blast fired at a close range.
A bone chilling breeze blew through my long coat and into my body like a bullet, it broke my concentration. I clenched my hands deep inside my pockets and nodded the brim of my hat down to shield my face.
The DA examiner was humming a tune to himself under his breath. The extra effort of the chipper song caused him to cough a couple times.
His hand held scanner was slung below one arm, hanging from a wide black leather strap. The device buzzed with life and emitted a small cloud of exhaust from the ion power supply in the cold air. A shallow red laser line pulsed up and down her body from the pointed metallic nose on the unit. He had to stop the scan twice to adjust the dials on the shiny face plate, his face scrunched up as he tried to interpret the fine print of the read out.
His small frame was weighed down by a heavy rubber poncho that draped down his legs just below his knees, the edge of it rubbed over the yellow band at the top of his green boots. A wide hood covered a tattered base ball cap on his head.
I pulled a pack of cigarettes from my coat pocket and tapped the bottom to force one free. The delicate white rolls of paper were floating in water. I grimaced by face and crushed the pack in my fist. The water wrung out of it and flowed down my wrist. I dropped the ruined pack at my feet next to the rest of the floating street trash and wiped my wet arm on my coat in vain.
The man with the scanner straightened his back up but still only managed enough height to look at me in the neck. He cleared his throat and turned off the scanner. “Well I think I have a clear enough image for now.” His words were muffled from the heavy hiss of the rain falling on his rubber getup.
I patted my pockets for another pack of cigarettes, coming up empty and looked down at the wet crumpled pack on the ground next to my feet with longing. “Any ideas as to a time of death?”
The man slid the scanner into a silver diamond mesh patterned case and locked it up tight with a thin luggage key. “Well…” His voice raised a few octaves. He put the key which was hung on an empty ring back into his pants pocket through an access slit in the side of his poncho. “The power supply isn’t totally discharged, and the body temp is a half a degree above the outside temp. But with the outside conditions beings as they are, that can throw most measurements off.” He laughed to himself but it sounded more like he was clearing his throat. “If it was really ever alive then I would probably put it somewhere around three hours ago.” His comment wasn’t meant to give offense, and I didn’t take any, not anymore at least. Most didn’t know that I wasn’t human.
He stopped and took a couple careful steps towards the hovering cargo truck trying to avoid the deeper puddles of water his boots still managed to make large splashes of water up his side with each step. The truck was parked on the curb a few yards beyond the body up next to a no parking sign riddled with bullet holes. He turned to me with a quick sharp look once he had reached the truck and put his hand on the door handle. “But don’t quote me on that. For anything official you’ll just have to wait for the report.”
I stood with my back as close to the direction of the blowing wind as I could, trying to avoid the frigged rain from going down my neck. My feet were nearly floating in the overflow from the storm drain. I watched the man as he opened the door to his heated utility truck and tossed his case in on the passenger seat. He pulled the fogged up glass door shut and gave me a friendly wave as the truck turned its back to me. The phosphorus fuel from the hover thrusters glistened off the water spray from the roadway under the truck. I could see the neon lights from the store fronts reflect off the glossy white side panels as he turned onto the crowded thoroughfare and blended in with the small amount of traffic.
I was alone again with only the pleasure Synth to keep me company. I looked over at her still form and patted my coat for a pack out of habit, then checked my watch. It was ten minuets after two in the morning.
She was in an odd place for a higher end pleasure model. The thought looped through my brain like a car on a race track. The current list for them was well over eighty thousand, far too much to let one walk the streets of the peasant district. Her video up link was my best chance to find out why she was there.
I felt her scalp. It was made of a polychromium plastic and covered by an organic skin. It was meant to give more flexibility, as opposed to my titanium core skeleton which was meant to resist rust and bullets. She also had more fat reserves that were layered under her skin to give her a softer look and feel. I poked my finger at her arm out of curiosity. She was soft. But not ever having poked a baby I couldn’t confirm if she was as soft as a one, as the commercial had promised.
I ran my fingers through her sharply shaped hair for a maintenance port. It was a deep red, thick and well cared for with a glow to it. These newer models are much more realistic and the tech is in harder to find places. When the first models came out you could replace most of the major parts yourself, but these newer ones require the factory to repair them, not that they repair them anymore. They usually just send out a replacement, only recycling the power supply and uploading the drive to the new unit. They don’t even reuse the organics for fertilizer. The thought seemed like a waste to me.
My finger felt a small lump a quarter of an inch above her ear. I pushed on it and the panel swung open revealing a synthetic bloody skin and plastic skull over various electronics inside her head. On the backside of the lid that covers the power supply is where most manufactures keep the product codes and serial numbers. Comstock was no different. I took a photo scan of the numbers with my camera and felt for the drive eject lever. It was missing. I took a closer look, the drive was missing too. I closed the cover and looked the ground over around her for it. It wasn’t there.
My comlink buzzed to life in my pocket. I sunk my hand in and pulled it out hitting the receive button on the clear resin covered keypad. The unit beeped and a sound wave rolled across the screen.
“Bren, how is coming?” The old man’s voice had a mechanical tin sound to it. Jaris had his voice box replaced twice after he lost it to throat cancer, each time the scaring was too bad for a bio-engineered organic box to take hold, so now he was using an electronic voice enhancer that he strapped to his neck like a lace choker on a call girl. You could make out most of his words, unless he was yelling.
I looked down at the Synth. She was laid out at my feet disconnected like a power cord to a lamp. I pretended to look for an outlet to plug her into. It was a morbid thought. “The DA’s man just left. I was about to call the manufacture and…”
“Good.” He interrupted me and then paused. I could hear his labored breathing hum through the static of bad reception. The peasant end of town had very little signal towers and so there were only a couple carriers that got reception there. I didn’t use either one. “Give me a call once you get her moved. I have something I want to talk to you about.”
I nodded and turned the comlink off. I had worked for Desco for twenty two years, and had my power supply replaced more times than I could remember. After the Synth uprising war I was retrained, at least that’s what they called it, and placed in a private police force job investigating the more heinous Synth crimes. They don’t call it murder when a Synth is killed, but it is a crime. It falls somewhere between a Felony Grand Theft and Felony Malicious Destruction of Property charge. The big manufactures hire the private police to enforce the laws, because the civil police won’t. The commissioner claims they don’t have the man power, but everyone knows that they don’t really care. Synth hate crimes have been around as long as Synth’s. And the police are no less human than the rest. We are considered less important than illegal aliens even though we do the majority of the labor work.
The electronic phone book on my com-link had the Comstock back door number, but I wasn’t supposed to have it. So instead I called the main number and followed the automated attendant prompts to schedule the pickup. I waited twenty minuets for the company wagon to pick her up, standing in the rain and every few minuets adjusting my stance to keep the wind at my back. I would have sat in my car with the heat on, but I had parked out of sight of the scene and didn’t want to get the seats wet multiple times I hate sitting on a wet seat.
They didn’t say much when they arrived, just loaded the body and had me sign the form that said they did so. I heard one mutter to the other that this was the twentieth pickup that night as they tossed the pleasure model in the drawer. I wondered if they would even notice that her drive was missing. They didn’t.
I stepped into my red and black compact two seat sedan and pulled the gull wing drivers door shut. The small car had only two main supports that ran along the roof from the front to the back of the cabin. The manufacture opting for more windows and fewer cameras, but the windows did me little good as they were mostly covered up with a thick film of condensation. The car dropped a couple inches from a malfunctioning hover bank under the driver’s side. The drop nearly tipped the delicate car on its side. Rain that had collected on the inside of the door as I got in splashed me in the face and pant leg as I swung the door closed.
It was bitter and gloomy with cold in the small cabin. The interior lamp that was mounted to the dash had burned out months ago only leaving the instrument panel to light the controls. The lamp replacement box sat on the floor board of the passenger side, but I hadn’t gotten the gumption to replace it yet.
I pulled my com-link out of my pocket again and dialed Jaris. It beeped a few times. The blue swirling Metro-tel logo glowed in the dark cabin as it animated across the display screen.
“This is Jaris.” He answered with his portrait only. He had the live feed off, so did I.
“The body catchers picked up my Jane Bot.” It was the common slang for the industry, sometimes I used it just to keep up appearances. Jaris didn’t care, he wasn’t a speciest, like the majority of humanity. Even though he had purchased me, he paid me a wage and allowed me to live off site in my own flat.
“Good work. Stop by my house on your way home. I want to talk to you.” He turned on the live video feed. I could see he was sitting in his living room with a scraggly three day beard and a bottle of beer in his hand only an inch from his lips. It was a familiar image to me. People don’t realize that a Synth is ninety percent organic, meaning that we have most of the same organs that the rest of the world has. The current models like the pleasure Synth, are ninety nine percent organic, requiring no power supply only food and drink, although it is still practical to give them one. I am not that new, and don’t require food and drink, but the organic brain that is attached to my cybernetic power supply and drive adapter craves food and drink. Mostly drink. I even require rest, although a kinetic charger helps reduce that need.
I turned on my video and nodded to him. “I’m on my way.” He smiled and shut off his com-link. It was rare that he had anyone over to his home, especially not so late at night. The thought caught me off guard, and I found myself sitting with the car idling at a green light with horns blaring behind me. I checked my mirrors for the cars swerving around me and floored the accelerator into an opening in the line of cars.
Jaris lived in a mostly abandoned apartment complex just a street or two short of the Cytel towers where the majority of those considered wealthly live. His building had been full when he purchased the apartment, but an earthquake that hit it two years ago also hit a gas main and rendered several floor unrepairable. He didn’t move despite the damage.
I parked on the street amongst the burned out shells of hover cars that were lined along the two blocks in front of the complex. They had been six figure luxury vehicles. Everything from Limo’s to sportsters. My two door sedan fit in with them now, maybe even up classed them a little. The city hadn’t towed them away. I read in the paper that the city was holding the owners as being responsible for the task.
I looked over the building as I walked up to the outer security fencing. The building was covered with bars and gates over anything that could be used as an entrance, leaving only the top floor without them. I swung the single hinge gate in and walked up a cement path to the dilapidated entrance of boarded over glass doors. A young boy was sitting outside one of the doors that lined the hallway leaning up against the chard wall. He was swinging a toy plane through the air as he watched me step past him. It was early for him to be up, but it was none of my business.
Jaris lived on the ground floor down a long hallway filled with exposed steel girders. His door was covered with industrial bars that blocked access to anything but a door buzzer. I tapped the button and a holo screen popped up with an automated image of Jaris. A computerized voice said he wasn’t looking for religion or to buy fallout insolated windows either. The door cracked open just as the voice was telling me how to leave a message.
“Hello Bren.” His words were slurred and labored. He swung the door and bars open and looked me over. “You look like a drown cat.” He managed a shallow tin laugh through is voice box.
“You said to come by.” I answered and he gestured for me to come in. I hesitated for a second until he nodded. His place was nice with wall to wall carpeting and the latest in electronics. It was a little out of balance with the rest of the building but a welcome change of scenery.
“Please sit down. Can I get you something to drink?” Jaris motioned for me to sit on the checkered fabric davenport and I obliged.
He had several empty beer bottles and a half drank bottle of scotch on his coffee table. “Scotch and soda would be fine.” He nodded and poured the scotch in a glass.
“Sorry only have the scotch.” I grabbed the glass and thanked him.
He took a few steps over to his wheel chair and fell into it with a thud. He had been hit by a suspect’s car long before he bought me. The damage had been extensive, and after several worthless surgeries he took the chair and a stumbled walk as permanent.
His face had a solemn look on it. I could see he was working up to telling me something. I took a drink and let him collect his words. “Bren, I don’t know how to tell you this, but…” He paused and took a drink from a near empty beer bottle. “Contrail is dead. He was shot yesterday morning, while attempting to check a lead.”
Contrail was the lead investigator, and for the past year the only one. He would throw me an investigation once in awhile, but most of the time I would just stand there and wait for the body wagon to pick up the dead Synth’s.
Jaris opened the last bottle of beer that sat on his side table and swallowed half of it. “I called the company, but they don’t have anyone they can spare so I… I mean we are all that’s left. So what do you say?”
“Say about what?” His words were confused, and I was having trouble following them. I looked around the chipped rim of the glass and waited for clarification.
“I need you to take his cases.” He finished the beer and tossed the bottle over his head towards the wall receptacle. It missed.
“What was he working on?” I took a long slow drink from my glass. To my knowledge, although there was no law against it no Synth had ever been given a journeyman license. The license fell under the bounty hunting codes. I looked Jaris over and finished off the glass. “Contrail was the only one with a valid license. Right?” Jaris nodded. “Then how are we going to get a bounty if we don’t have a valid license?”
Jaris shook an empty bottle out over his other hand and sat it back down. He repeated the steps with two more bottles before looking up at me. “I have a connection in the Department of Licensing. She issued you a license. I already ordered it. You have a number now, but the actual card will take a few days to arrive.” He found a bottle with a small swallow left and took it. “As for what he was working on.” He pulled a large stack of papers from his side table and held it up towards me. I stood up and grabbed it.
“Before you look through them, you need to know that this isn’t an easy job, and frankly, Contrail was good, and he still got killed. You’re still just a body catcher. No offense.”
“None taken.” I thumbed through the open cases. A lot of them were going to be like working a fresh lead, only with the bad guy knowing your there. I looked up from my empty glass at Jaris. He was smiling, but his eyes were nearly closed. I stood up.
Jaris opened his eyes and jerked his head up. “Where you going?”
I sat my glass down on the coffee table and tucked the pile under my arm. “To get started.” He looked at his watch, and so did I. It was a few minuets after five.
“It’s still pretty early.” His words trailed off and his eyes closed down again. He let out a quiet snoring noise. I walked to the door and opened it. His eyes jutted open once more but without any objection this time.
The boy was still outside on the stoop with his toy plane in hand. I nodded to him as I passed by. He stared back at me with a deep fearful look. His look stopped me in my tracks. It was almost unnerving until I noticed his lack of pupil response. He was blind, at least partially. Dirt and shaggy hair covered his freckled face but I could see some scaring around his eyes that the dirt barely covered up. The discoloration of the scars appeared to be from a severe burn.
“You live around here boy?” He didn’t respond, and his face didn’t change. I opened my mouth to repeat my question but stopped when I saw the burn marks on his ears. He was probably deaf too. I shook my head with pity. It was a shame to see so much life wasted by the aftermath of the war. I walked down through the gate up to my car. There was little I could to do help him.
The bright sunlight was peeking over the wreckage of buildings on the cities east end, the intense light reflected off the chrome strips that ran along the edge of the car door. I squinted my eyes to swing the door open and I got in.
With my hands gripped loosely on the steering wheel I sat in the seat for a few minuets, the door still gaping open. The auto start scanner probed my hands for a DNA sample and puttered to a start. I looked out the open door to the wet street, it had stopped raining, but the ground was still covered by an inch of rain water that the storm drains couldn’t drain off. The car was idling and the street was empty. I could feel a gnawing in my stomach and my reflexes were sluggish. My watch said it had been forty eight hours since I had eaten or used a kinetic charger for that matter. The night was over, and I needed a break. I pulled away from the curb and headed for home.

Great SF noir!

The first part is just the right kind of gritty: a miserable, wet night, and then the cold, hard details of the Synth's 'corpse.'

We even get a protagonist who knows what it means to have life stick it to him. That our private cop investigating Synth crimes is a Synth himself seems just right for the story.

(I also like the way you draw out the differences between the generations of Synths by how important eating and drinking are to keeping them going.)

Very much a world worth exploring!