Here it is. Part Two of that Mack Megaton story I’ve been very, very slowly working on. Better late than never, as they say.
If you haven’t read the first part, here’s a link to the post: www.aleemartinez.com/?p=1104
The third (and possibly fourth part will come in a couple of weeks). Not sure if it will be three or four parts yet, but stay tuned, folks.
The dinos would have to wait. I had a party to get to. Jung dropped me off at Proton Towers.
“You’re going dressed like that?” he asked.
“I’m sure Lucia has a change of clothes waiting for me.”
“What?” I asked.
“I’m still trying to figure out how you have a girlfriend and I don’t.”
“Must be my tough guy mystique.” I adjusted my fedora at a jaunty six degree angle.
“Just try not to crush anyone, Mack.”
He skimmed away, and I went inside. The doorman greeted me with a freshly pressed suit. He let me change in the back room. As a robot, nudity wasn’t a problem, but I was a bot. Full citizenship came with perks, but there were obligations. As one of Empire’s automated citizens, I did my best to fit in, be a good example. The more I acted like a biological, the more readily the biologicals would accept me among their own. So went the theory.
If it were just about me, I wouldn’t have given a damn. But if it were just about me, I wouldn’t even have been here. A working class bot who made his living prowling the mean streets, mixing with the lower class, wouldn’t have made the guest list. I wasn’t insulted. I wasn’t looking forward to this. But Lucia wanted me to make an appearance. Hell, if I knew why. I still hadn’t gotten the hang of this relationship business. I hadn’t been built for it. A cocktail party was more dangerous ground than the lowlifes I ran across in my job because in those situations, I could always fall back on tried and true directives and the worst that might happen is getting scrapped. But a social faux pas might have far ranging consequences.
Deranged Robot Spills Wine on Mayor, Runs Amok would declare the society page.
My difference engine predicted a 95 percent chance Lucia would get a kick out of that, but it was still something I wanted to avoid.
The party was in full swing. I stepped out of the lift pod into a room full of people I didn’t know. I’d been briefed, and my electronic brain recognized their faces. This was my coming out party, so to speak. Lucia and I had been going steady for a while now, and thanks to our mutual celebrity, a lot of people, especially the people who kept tabs on such things, were aware. But this was our first official event as a couple.
Empire was progressive, but being the first acknowledged human / bot couple was a scenario I hadn’t been able to simulate with any certainty. Eventually, my difference engine just stopped trying, and there was something terrifying about dealing with a probability of UNKNOWN. Biologicals dealt with that degree of uncertainty every day of their lives, and I wondered how they kept from huddling in the corner. Must’ve been why evolution must have forced eating and excreting on them.
Humbolt, Lucia’s custom butler auto, was the first to greet me. He carried two trays loaded with finger sandwiches. “About time you got here, Mack,” he said in his Brooklyn accent.
“Been busy. On a case,” I replied.
“The lady was worried you might not show, but I told her you were smarter than that.”
I scanned the crowd. Lucia was talking to a group. She smiled at me and waved me over.
“Means a lot to her,” I said. “Don’t know why.”
“Biologicals,” said Humbolt. “Who can figure ’em?” He handed off one of his trays to a waiter drone, then used his free hand to fix my tie.
“The doorman already helped me with it.”
“He did it wrong. Guess you’ll always be a clip-on guy.”
“Through and through,” I said.
“Go get them, Mack.” He slapped me on my back.
I waded through the crowd. Crowds of fleshy biologicals always made me nervous. It’d never happened, and there was no reason to ever believe it would as long as my safety protocols kept working, but I expected to break bones and inflict serious injury with every move. It was a paranoia I’d never been able to completely bypass, a side effect of the freewill glitch that gave me that extra jolt setting me above most robots. It was called fear, and that it was such an irrational, bothersome fear only made it all the more irritating.
I reached Lucia without killing or maiming any of the very important people along the way. If nothing else, I could classify this party as a successful objective just for that.
“Mack, darling, so good of you to make it.” Lucia took my hand. I bent down so she could plant a kiss on my faceplate. “Don’t you look handsome.”
“I don’t know. Do I?” I asked.
The nearby party-goers laughed. Only Lucia knew the inquiry was genuine, but she only smiled. I loved her smile. I didn’t have the requisite biological drives to make a relationship work, but despite that, we’d still made something that worked. Her smile. The way her fragile warmth registered on my tactile web as she hugged me. The way her hair smelled. More accurately, the way I imagined her hair smelled because I didn’t have that sensory array but I was 94 percent sure her hair smelled delightful. Like equal parts motor oil and hydraulic fluid mixed with butterflies. Though I had no idea how any of those things smelled either, but they were all things I enjoyed, so they worked for purposes of simulation.
“Have you met Mayor Mahoney?” asked Lucia, knowing perfectly well I hadn’t.
Diamond Jill nodded to me. Her glittering crystalline skin reflected every light from the room. “Lucia has been telling us all about you, Mack. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn when I say it’s clear she’s absolutely crazy about you.”
Lucia blushed as she put both her hands in my oversized metal mitt. “It’s easy to be crazy about the big lug.”
The Mayor smiled, and my facial recognition program rated her as sincere. It didn’t score high for the rest of the crowd, but Lucia and I had known not everyone was going to approve. They didn’t understand. I didn’t understand it myself. I only knew that Lucia and I worked together somehow. If the world needed it to make more sense than that, it was on its own.
I navigated the party with Lucia as she introduced me to the movers and shakers of Empire City. I mostly kept quiet, playing the strong, silent model that I had been built to be. The few times I spoke up, people tended to laugh in that politely delighted manner that said, “We have been trained to feign amusement as a matter of course.” I catalogued each passing minute, charting the ratio of titters to guffaws and trying to extract some meaningful data from the entire affair.
But the only data worth registering was Lucia, who kept hold of my hand the entire party. The gesture was meant to be comforting because Lucia knew how uncomfortable I was, but it was also a declaration that we were together in every way that mattered.
112 minutes after stepping off the pod, Humbolt brought the phone over. “Call for you, Mack.”
It was Jung. “Sorry to bother you at you fancy shindig, but I think I have a lead on those dinosaurs.”
“Already?” I asked. “I thought you were calling it a night.”
“Just checked with a contact of mine on the way home.”
“You have contacts?”
Jung was better at the detecting part of our business than I was. I mostly just smacked people around until I got where I needed to go. It worked, but there were advantages to Jung’s methods. It was why we made good partners.
“I hate to tear you away from the party, but I’m thinking a little backup might be nice,” he said. “Unless you’re girlfriend has a problem with that.”
I lowered the phone. “Lucia . . . . “
She chuckled. “Go on, Mack. You put in your time. I’m surprised you didn’t find an excuse earlier.”
“Baby, you’re the best.”
She planted a kiss on my faceplate, wiped the lipstick off with her thumb. “And don’t you forget it.”
I left the party, feeling both relieved and like a bit of a bum for doing so. My directives twinged at the notion of leaving a soldier behind, but Lucia didn’t need backup for this particular battlefield. Here, among these people, I was less of a partner and more of a liability. I said my good-byes and left. When the pod doors closed, I classified the mission as a success and counted myself lucky to get out of there in one piece.