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Investigative By BA

Mrs Culver left the Sheriff’s office with the case file in her hand and walked past the other glass walled offices of the Department to the tech room where she usually worked. She answered a few greetings with a bright smile on her way; tall and freckled, the attractive late thirties redhead was a natural fit amongst the tanned and gun-belted officers. Unusually this morning, though, she didn’t stop to chat. Puzzled by the briefing on this latest ‘lost and found’ case, she wanted to get started right away.

She entered the stark white tech-room filled old but well maintained computers and support equipment and pulled the frosted door closed on the normality of small-town policing. There were few androids in this rural county and so even fewer robotic crimes; as the Department’s single civilian robotics consultant she usually spent her time downloading bar-brawl evidence from cheap rental androids or doing permit inspections for spouse or teacher units to drive, mind children or, in one case, operate heavy farm machinery.

According to the report, a beaten up android girl had been found in the back of a damaged produce truck when it arrived at the fruit packers last night. It was obviously a civilian model and quite expensive but dressed in combat clothing with an automatic weapon, missing several access panels and hotwired into a salvaged power cell. Not the usual sort of thing at all!

The girl in question was already laid out face up on the metal trolley and Mrs Culver walked around her to get a good look. She was pretty. Her icy blue eyes stared at the ceiling in a blank but otherwise very realistic mid-twenties blonde Caucasian face. Short, about five-three with mid-length blonde hair. Her knees and elbows were bent, limbs sticking up stiff and unnatural, and the redhead realized that she must have been hunched over on all fours when she shut down. On the work bench was a pair of scuffed power cells and a bunch of wiring from some heavy duty android.

Mrs Culver slipped her suit jacket off and hung it up. The fitted sleeveless blouse she wore underneath showed where the deep freckles of her sun-kissed arms ended in a seam at her shoulders with the smooth pale plastiskin that covered the most of her artificial body. She got to work stripping the other robot out of her oversized combat clothes and boots to make an assessment.

My master alarm was sounding angrily when I stumbled out of the high corn onto a small tarmac road and fell to my knees in front of a truck. I’d never heard my own master alarm before but it sounded familiar enough from the movies. I was too distracted by trying to acknowledge the right system alerts to make it shut up to really pay attention to several tonnes of steel and plastic bearing down on me but fortunately it was a robot vehicle and had good brakes as well as reactions. It came up short of me as I knelt there: the confused and now slightly twitching mess of a formerly very pretty and realistic android girl.

The vehicle blared its horn at me and I blinked at it stupidly for several moments through a haze of unwanted error reports that meant nothing to me. I stumbled to my feet and moved aside to let it pull away again slowly. It was some sort of farm delivery truck with an access roller in the side which drew past me as it picked up speed. With sudden presence of mind I let rip a burst that emptied my weapon into the lock and, running now, I managed to keep up just long enough to fling the roller upwards and drag myself in.

I think I must have shorted something at that point because all I can remember is a pixilating blur of crates and roadside hedge followed by rebooting face down on the rumbling load bed as the grassy shoulder of a highway whipped past outside. I didn’t need to initiate a system check as my abused body was already taking up half my working memory with complaining messages but I still seemed to work well enough to kneel up and pull the roller down on the passing scenery. I fumbled for the torch and clicked it on.

Pulling open the combat shirt I saw some worrying bundles of wiring hanging from my open belly panel, I distinctly remember my handbook says I’m not designed to operate unless properly sealed! Worse, that blue-green stuff had leaked all over my insides and soaked through the shirt too now, I guessed it was to blame for the growing amount of digital nonsense running through my systems. I tugged at the taped repair in the coolant tube (or hydraulics or whatever) and pinched it tight above the leak. Fumbling in the backpack beside me with my other hand and bending over so any more leakage would drain out of me and not into me, I managed to pull out a roll of tape and wound most of it over the old repair.

I felt like my system monitor must be malfunctioning itself because half the error messages I was getting now were just random sequences and wouldn’t cancel. The power alert wouldn’t cancel for the good reason that I had no power left. None at all, I should have shut down already and was amazed that I hadn’t.

I pulled the two scavenged power cells from my pack. Obviously they weren’t compatible in any way with my own chassis and I had no power couplings or charger with me. I grabbed some of the cable bundles with the power packs and did my best to lash up some crude jump leads to the least battered looking cell. I hoped their previous owner ran on the same voltage as me as I fumbled the bare wire ends inside my open belly to twist them into my charging system. The second lead sparked on contact and I spasmed hard against the rough crates. It took a couple more tries before I got a good connection and I could slump backwards in a heap as twists of smoke drifted up from my insides. I had a feeling the strong smell of burnt plastic was from my fingers…

I don’t know how long I lay there while the truck rumbled onwards, my clock was running funny which I would imagine is never a good sign. I felt my mind drifting back to the warehouse bench and sensations woke inside me again which I really did not need right then. It must have been a malfunction since there are limits even to ‘on demand’ sex programming…

I rolled onto my knees and reached around to slip a hand into my baggy trousers and slide it around my butt and up. I hoped that any more of that blue-green that burst through my repairs would fall out of me that way but I wasn’t good for thinking much more. I was vaguely aware of snapping out words and phrases; error reports or garbage, I don’t know; and of course my master alarm was still beeping loudly.

I excepted 31441 on setup. Touching it felt good but I failure in TS104 system. Touching it felt good but I but I but I but I but I. Touching it. Touching it was wet felt but failure. It. Good. Exception 204. Touch. Ttttt….

Mrs Culver tilted her head and paused for a moment before reaching up to disconnect the data cable from the port in her open chest panel. She paused again with the plug held delicately in her fingers then put it down beside the tech room mainframe terminal to re-button her blouse modestly over the panel that nestled in her realistic cleavage. She had been hard linked through the mainframe into the damaged android’s systems for almost an hour and, when she had finally managed to access the most recent first-person file. Its contents had been more confusing than enlightening and she’d cut away before the end having no wish to vicariously experience the pretty little android girl’s inevitable system crash.

The redhead stood up, slightly awkward as her motor systems came out of standby after so long sitting motionless, and glanced over the subject of her investigation as she slipped into her jacket. The blonde was now nude other than some small grubby panties stained with hydrolube. She lay flat out now, her open chest panel sprouting several cables of varying colours and thicknesses from her ports which linked her motionless little body to power and various data systems. Her missing belly service panel revealed a mess of blue-green spattering over complex internal hardware but Mrs Culver had clamped off the leak and soaked out most of the fluid before hooking her up.

One of the advantages of being a machine was that Mrs Culver’s initial report had been compiled automatically as she worked, downloaded through the hardlink just before she disconnected and she could now submit it with a few touches to her desk screen. She had done a full physical review of the ‘lost and found’ android, including its make, model, chassis number, internal damage and, later, the long list of software corruption and errors which made it so hard to access its file structure despite police overrides.

It had been a hard day’s work for a change and Mrs Culver was glad to wrap things up. She’d need to run full system maintenance as well as recharge when she got home if she didn’t want to glitch in the bedroom again later…

I ran across a wide expense of ploughed-in stubble that stretched to the flat horizon on both sides, leaving the low agricultural hub behind me as fast as possible, willing myself on towards cover in the next field a few hundred metres ahead. I stumbled almost every step across the broken ground in my bare feet, sprawling to my hands more than once as I tried desperately to keep my open belly away from the dirt. There was nowhere to hide yet under the beating sun, and I had no idea where I was heading apart from away from here; anywhere away.

About the only thing I hadn’t been connected up to by the Cartel thugs had been a charger and I knew I couldn’t keep up this pace for long. I had logged nearly eleven hours runtime since I’d topped my power cells off in the hire car (that was nearly two days ago now!) but when the chance came to run I hadn’t wanted to wait and see if my captors would be helpful enough to charge me up and give me another opportunity to escape! I had maybe an hour of motor power hour left, less if I didn’t slow down soon.

The field boundary was three simple strands held up by thin posts every few metres, presumably electrified to keep out animals so I vaulted clear over it and turned to run along the edge of the ripe corn that filled the next field. The going underfoot was better here but there was a shout from the farm and I glanced back without slowing. Four dark figures were pelting my way, they were weighed down with firearms and gear but still moving faster than me: some of the combat auged mercs. I should have run straight into the corn for cover; a mistake I corrected immediately, diving into the eight foot stalks and out of sight.

Forcing my way through the dense crop was hard work and the stalks whipped painfully at my arms as I shoved them aside. I took stock as I continued to push on with all the meagre strength of this pretty but delicate body. I couldn’t see any new damage to the skin on my arms but I noticed the blue-green coolant or hydraulic fluid or whatever was leaking again despite the taped repair inside my belly. It was running down my leg in worrying quantities, soaking my grubby and, with hindsight now, inappropriately skimpy panties. More importantly I was leaving an obvious trail of broken corn for my pursuers’ convenience when they reached the start of it any moment now. I changed direction, at least I didn’t have to give them a clear line of sight.

New alerts interrupted me every few seconds with painstaking details of the various hardware and software faults I was suffering. My error cache was overflowing and I found it hard to think clearly as critical issue warnings overrode my own thoughts to demand urgent attention until I cleared each one consciously with my higher system. The simple sum of all they told me was that I was very fucked up and getting more fucked up very quickly; not really news but I couldn’t turn them off.

I stumbled into the old wheel tracks of some great farm machine that cut through the field across my path and dodged down them to the right. I made up some distance along the dead straight clear path but dodged back into the growth again after a hundred metres or so, expecting the armed mercs to burst out behind me at any second. Perhaps they wouldn’t guess which way I’d gone… some hope.

Pushing through the corn again, clearing alerts as fast as they appeared and desperately trying to think of a better plan, things did not look good. If I kept this up things could only end badly; either the mercs would catch up and bring me down with some rounds through my legs or the blue-green stuff would seep into something vital and short me out or maybe I’d loose enough of whatever it was to immobilise me. Pretty soon I’d just power down anyway and they could find me at their leisure… Desperate measures were called for.

I didn’t have a specific plan in mind when I stopped and backtracked a few tens of meters, I just hoped things would work out somehow. I slipped carefully off my broken path leaving as little disturbance as possible and stood stock still a short way into cover. As a machine I’m pretty good at standing very still so I hoped the mercs would run right by, though obviously not far as they’d get to the end of my path. A few long minutes later they did just that, three burly men and that mean looking woman in combat fatigues with automatic weapons held ready jogged quickly and quietly past me, focusing ahead.

I slipped out of cover and closed fast on the rearmost merc, making things up as I went along. I reached around and grabbed him by the throat with one hand, pulling his head back, and by the weapon with the other. He was strong and we struggled for a moment then, just as the other three reached the end of my path through the corn and began to turn back, my merc’s weapon fired a wild burst cutting them through the middle with a couple of dozen slugs at super-high cyclic. They went down and I nearly overloaded my arm motors putting the strangle hold onto the guy in my arms until he went still and I eased him to the ground.

I tugged the weapon sling over his inert head to cover the others but had to deal with a sudden massive load of system messages as my background processes caught up with what was happening. I had no choice but to freeze up with the carbine half way to my shoulder and a struck-dumb look on my face while I dealt with them. The familiar hardware problems were simple enough but now I’d shot three humans, or joint shot them at least; even in self-defence Azimov would be turning in his grave if they were dead! Like most droids that are fee to do so, I had spent a small fortune to jailbreak my body’s firmware so that I could do what I pleased but even so killing and maiming had never been high on my wish list before now, so my various hacks and fixes fell a long way short of weaponisation.

I teetered on the brink of involuntary shutdown for long moments until one of the mercs groaned and rolled over – not dead! The one at my feet should be fine as my strangle hold caused no long term injuries. My temporary paralysis ended with the chance of survival for my wounded pursuers and I rushed forwards to pull their weapons away, covering them with the gun though I doubted I could pull the trigger. I was moving towards the second man to check for signs of life; already I was confident I could run again now, my firmware satisfied with the need to contact the emergency services and - by happy coincidence - save my own plastic skin; when the woman merc suddenly rolled over and brought up her gun.

For an instant our eyes met: my own which I know from the design specs and from the mirror are a pretty blue-flecked green and hers a cold, staring, dark brown. I’m well programmed as an observer so an instant is all I need, even with my systems at breaking point. I noted the row of dry bullet holes stitched across her digi-cam combat shirt and the frayed carbon fibre endo jutting from the shattered remains of her left arm as she raised her weapon one-handed, clumsy. Her legs did not seem to be responding properly and I had no problems at all putting a carefully aimed burst into her face now I knew she was just a combat droid. I’m no expert myself but I know enough to realize that you do need to be an expert to put these things down easily; they are tough with critical components well armoured and sure enough she continued to struggle around on the dirt as I strode over and kicked the weapon away.

Still functioning but blinded by the bullet mashed remains of her plastic face and hopefully shattered optics underneath, the android-girl writhed violently as I pummelled her electronic guts a few times with the butt of my weapon. On the third or fourth blow she spasmed and relaxed to lie in a gently twitching heap. I spared a glance for her wounded companions but they posed no threat right now so I turned back to her; this might just be a lucky break for once. She seemed to be trying to talk, the lower half of her formerly handsome Hispanic features was mostly intact and her jaw worked to shape a garbled whisper with a heavy buzzing overtone. I caught the words ‘fuck doll’ and ‘rip you apart’ but I ignored her as I tore open her shirt and pulled it and her small backpack off her feebly fighting body.

Under her clothes ‘Combat Bitch’ was more ‘Combat Doll’, nothing much to see but featureless coffee coloured plastic skin. No wonder she’d seemed so much more hostile than the rest when I had been wired down semi-nude in the farm, my expensive near-human-real features on unwilling display. Believe me, ‘more’ hostile that a Cartel robot interrogation is really saying something! I struggled quickly into her pants and shirt, much too large for me but I’d worry about style later, and pulled her combat boots on without socks. I needed to be on my way urgently, I had no idea who else might be in pursuit, though hopefully the bosses wouldn’t think a ‘bot like me could cause much trouble for this team…

Working quickly I tipped Combat Doll’s gear out of her bag, giving her a couple of kicks to the head to settle my new boots in. Nothing there of much use to me, mostly ammo, comms and surveillance gear which I didn’t know how to use. I scooped a couple of spare magazines that looked the same as the one on my borrowed weapon back in the bag for later along with a med kit and a torch then turned to the android herself. Her controls were below the small featureless mounds of her breasts and easily accessible but the slot for a physical key to unlock them meant that they wouldn’t work for me, a pretty common security droid feature.

I pulled a big knife from the droid’s belt and, rolling her over and kneeling on her back, started hacking down hard at the seam above her upper pelvis. She objected but couldn’t do much to stop me; I’d have turned her off if I could have of course, I’m no sadist. After several tries I got the panel levered free, smooth fake skin backed by thick aramid reinforced flex-armour. It was wired into her insides but a hard pull got it free with a fit of weak buzzing jerks from under my knees. I reached in and hacked and pulled my way through her internal systems to find her power cells, I’d gambled they’d be in her pelvis rather than her chest and I found them. A minute had them both free, though I shorted one out in the process casing a big blue spark which threw me onto my back. At least she didn’t move after that.

I slung the scavenged cells into the pack with the knife and a few fist-fulls of loose wiring, grabbed up the weapon and made off through the corn again. It had been a little over four minutes since the shots were fired, the three men were alive but going nowhere and the robot was probably scrap. I reckoned I had power for maybe twenty minutes left to run…

After some efforts to clean up the blonde’s damaged software Mrs Culver had been able to roll back the first-person file slightly further and was staggered by what she found. She was still buttoning her cleavage away as she rushed into the Sheriff’s office to raise the alarm about mercenary operations and gunshot casualties in the County.

He and the deputy he was sharing his morning coffee with were quite taken aback by the agitation in their usually urbane technical colleague but they pulled their boots off the desk and heard her out before a slightly awkward silence. This sort of thing simply didn't happen in a quiet town like this.

“Bill, you’d better go and check out that GPS from Mrs C’s report. And see if we’ve got anything from Federal on that ‘bot’s serial number yet too…”

“Wellll… you sure she’s working right Sheriff?” Bill muttered behind his hand and nodded at Mrs Culver standing in the open doorway.

“It all sounds pretty unlikely but best to be sure right?”

“Right boss, I’ll get on it then.” Bill headed out with his coffee in one hand and touching his hat with the other giving a polite but somehow indulgent nod to the attractive android on his way past, “Ma’am.” He closed the door gently.

“I don’t mean to be rude Mrs Culver but are you really sure? That bot was beat up pretty bad right and, well, let’s be honest here; you’re not exactly… um” He trailed off and dropped his gaze.

“I’m certain Sheriff, the files are hard to pull and decrypt but they’re not corrupted… There has definitely been a shooting.” She bent over his desk, “And I may be an older model now but I can assure you I’m functioning perfectly!”

“Right, yes, well. Okay then, see what else you can find please.” She turned for the door. “Oh, and Mrs Culver? About that last thing… please remember to cover up around the Department will you? Only it makes some of the boys uncomfortable…” He gestured at her pale plastic shoulders, mannequin-like above her realistic arms. She left.

I reboot looking at a dirty ceiling made of steel struts and corrugated plastic. I’ve been offline for maybe a couple of days I think. My file system is in chaos with dozens of first-persons open at once and my archive locked. The last things I remember, in no particular order, are snatches of hiding behind racks of android boxes, listening to a group talking around a table across a dark barn or warehouse, running through the dark, being grabbed roughly and thrown against a crate and shorting out violently on the floor while a bunch of what look like soldiers just stand and watch.

I can’t make much sense of it but at least I’m online now. I try to sit up but my motors are offline below the neck. I lift my head and realize the people talking are gathered around me where I’m lying. Looking down I realize I’m naked, or nearly so, my belly panel is open and a grey plastic android girl is working inside me to tape up a hose which dribbles blue-green fluid. That looks pretty bad to me. Whatever it is spatters onto something it shouldn’t and my mind flickers with corrupted code, vision flaring and I can feel my face and head twitching. The grey plastic girl, a tech of some sort I hope, swabs the spill away and I am restored to coherent thought to be greeted by a host of memory sapping system alerts.

There is a flash looking guy and a grim looking woman standing over me too. The woman has a tablet plugged into my chest panel, who the fuck does she think she is!? They are arguing but I can’t make much sense of it as the woman keeps tapping away at her screen and screwing with my systems. They keep talking about footage and encryption and uplinks. She wants information for “damage limitation” and he wants to “just scrap it and move”. Scrap what? Me?

The soldiers are grouped across the big room beside long boxes and handling equipment, android crates I think for some reason. Also: not soldiers but mercenaries. They look pretty rough and even across the room I can spot chem and tech enhancements bulging under their fatigues. A tall Latino woman walks over from the group, she does not look friendly.

“Clocks ticking Boss, we need some action here…” She glares at the man and woman above me. I try to join the conversation myself but don’t seem to be able to talk right now so just gape and jerk my head helplessly which they all ignore.

“We need to know the exchange is secure, just give me time to hack the archive on this droid and it might save us walking into a trap! Be patient!” The woman is looking flustered.

“She’s just a news hound, she’s well out of her depth. There’s no operation here, just waste the plastic bitch and let’s get on with it!” The man looks angry.

The big mercenary woman looks down at me without emotion. She reaches out and runs a finger down my side then squeezes my right breast which, despite the circumstances I quite enjoy; it seems like some of my programming is still executing smoothly and I can feel my nipples stiffening with a thrill running through my perky C-cups. I could do without the additional load right now though. Combat Bitch sneers at me, “I’ve got a thermite grenade with this fuck doll’s serial number on it, just say the word…”

“Look, get the goods loaded while I get this bot hacked, yeah? And message Culver to have this tech wiped too,” the woman nods towards the grey plastic girl who now seems to be splicing a palmtop into my systems. Sounds of heavy machinery, thumping and motors build up across the building and the man goes away with Combat Girl. I don’t really know what happens for the next hour or so at the woman and her android keep hacking through my systems with the finesse of a pair of hippos in the Apple Store. She’s getting nothing useful beyond my un-archived first-person files: a few minutes of jumbled rubbish that even I can’t make any sense of. My system is pretty secure, it has to be to get accreditation from the networks. Despite this, her efforts are seriously fucking me up and Combat Bitch seems to have triggered me off on something really inappropriate and distracting too… But so nice. Oh God, I don’t know what that android’s doing inside me but it…it feels… I think… Oh! Oh-Yes!!

The tech room mainframe signalled the disconnect and restored Mrs Culver’s movement. She gasped and pushed herself back in the chair gripping the arms tightly as a series of tremors ran through her tense body. “Oh my!” she muttered, relaxing back after executing a half minute of delightfully programmed female climax of her own. She sat dreamily for a while running her hand over her now softening nipples through her blouse, the cable still running from the open chest panel just above. She squeezed her thighs together feeling hot wetness between the smooth plastic surfaces under her skirt. She had definitely not expected that sort of input and had not taken the precaution of closing her sex applications before linking up.

As the glow of pleasure faded her work protocols began to climb back up her prioritized task list. She noted that, after some fun before her husband shut her down last night and now this, her sexual buffers were at over 70 percent. To be safe she ought to run system maintenance as another orgasm was bound to crash her higher functions but there were aspects from that latest file that she wanted to follow up urgently. What did they mean “Culver?” She couldn’t afford an hour sitting blankly right now. She even left her sex applications open to avoid having to reboot but would be careful not to run any more first-person files until she was ready for anything!

The still flushed redhead spun in her chair to check the archive decryption progress on her desk screen. She should be able to get some coherent history on the other android woman from the progress so far that might make some sense of the first-person files. Also, it looked like there was an ID return from the federal database. The blonde’s serial number corresponded to Emily Clarke, a Hitachi custom-build based on a model 642. She had been designed for Allure Magazine as a reporter and had recently upgraded and gone freelance. Mrs Culver took full advantage of being a machine as she scoured the decrypted archive sections through her hard link and pulled up everything she could on Emily Clarke from the net via the ‘human’ interface on the desktop. A picture began to emerge.

Emily had picked up the story through her usual society contacts. Reporting on the glossy Hollywood androids she had been surprised to trip over something big. Cartel organised theft and repurposing to order of top end units, not sleazy back alley hooker-bot chopping but million dollar one-off designs. A chance at the big time for a media android with ambition.

A few months of legwork and expert use of her well designed pleasures had got her a scoop on the next shipment, overland south and out of the country. Every operation was different and this time apparently some small-town wannabe player named Culver was supplying the venue to collect the stolen goods together. Emily arranged to be part of the shipment but, being online, would slip away with the story.

With no experience of hard core crooks let alone militarised muscle she had been caught quickly and pretty badly damaged before the Cartel woman had decided to find out what she knew. Fortunately the tech android they’d borrowed was not that bright and kept defaulting from hacking to repair whenever the Cartel woman left her alone. She had turned Emily’s motor functions back on and, while the grey plastic woman turned away to prep some tools, the plucky reporter was able to slip off the table and turn her off to make her escape.

Mrs Culver was stunned but determined. She knew that what she thought of as herself was just the result of files executing in her CPU. Files that had been authored and updated by thousands of designers; that processed her memory cache to create her reactions and responses; but nonetheless, or perhaps because of this, she knew right from wrong.

The police reporting software she ran at work held the awful facts organised, indexed, cross-referenced and summarised in the approved fashion in her system. She executed the last touches to personalise the finished document but found she would have to wait a few moments before publishing it to the Police mainframe.

She had been working herself hard now for several hours now and could hear the fans blowing at full tilt though the vents in her open chest panel. One of the original functions for her model was secretarial work, hence the convenient data access and, for her time, high processing power. Several upgrades installed over the years since she was built, mostly sexual hardware and personality drivers, now tied up a lot of her capacity but she functioned fine most of the time. Just occasionally though she did experience lag problems under high load and it looked like this was one of them. She knew better than to try and close applications while her processor was maxing out so she simply sat still and patiently waited for the fans to slow and the steady light on her panel to blink and slow down again.

The door opened and The Sheriff was followed into the tech room by Deputy Bill. “Mrs C, have you got an ID on that robot yet? Mrs C…? Oh damn!”

Bill waved his hand in front of the redhead’s unblinking eyes. “I know this is a small town, Sheriff, but you sure we can’t hire better than Culver’s antique robot wife?”

“She crashed again Bill?”

“Sure looks like it don’t it, shouldn’t be any surprise I guess. Not after that shootout bull-story didn’t check out, I can’t believe you sent me all the way out there on that robot’s say so…”

Mrs Culver looked up and opened her mouth to respond to the Sheriff’s first question, now well superseded. Her vocal systems were relatively simple compared to the complex work of programming art that operated her superbly realistic face but, since her expression lagged well behind her intentions, trying to speak only generated a synchronisation error, further burdening her CPU. She gaped angrily at where the Sherif had been standing a few moments before.

“Can we reboot her do you think?” The Sheriff eyed Mrs Culver’s control panel anxiously with its data ports, LEDs and switches. It was set into her attractive freckled chest just above an eye catching cleavage, with a realistic cover panel retracted upwards. Although happily married himself, he had occasionally found his eyes drawn to this very attractively put together woman and knew that the seam, when closed, was only barely visible when the bright sun shone across her chest. He had no idea how to operate her and it looked like she was starting to malfunction, staring to one side and working her attractive jaw in some sort of silent parody of speech.

“Better turn her off and give Culver a call to pick her up after work.”

“Right you are Sheriff.”

“And the insurance company called about that reporter android, been missing a few days apparently. They’re sending a van to pick her up tomorrow. Repair and restore her last backup apparently, I’d have thought she’d be scrap to look at her…”

Mrs Culver was struggling in vain to explain to these two luddites that they just needed to leave her be for a few minutes, ten at the most, and she would be fine. That she had vital information saved but not yet in the mainframe. That the worst thing in the world would be to hand her over, helpless and deactivated to her husband who would surely wipe all evidence of the crime from her systems and put things back to how they had been.

Bill caught her chin, not unkindly, and slipped his hand up under the red curls behind her ear to snick her master switch off. She stopped.

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