Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

Free Fiction

Here's a short story I wrote several years ago. It's been revised and rewritten at least a dozen times, but the fundamental plot and characters have pretty much stayed the same. Enjoy!

Eric Hayes is planning to kill his wife. But what is murder in a world where the distinction between human and machine is not so clear?

Flesh and Blood  

After much deliberation, Eric Hayes decided to kill his wife. 
He arrived at his apartment late that afternoon, the gun heavy in his coat. When he stepped into the lobby, the receptionist greeted him, her mouth shifting into the crude approximation of a smile. He felt his pulse quicken at the sight of the android, sweat collecting on the small of his back and soaking through his powder-blue dress shirt. He wondered when they would upgrade to one of the newer models, or at least get this one a more convincing face. 
“Good afternoon, Mr. Hayes,” she said, her voice crackling. 
He ignored her as he stepped into the elevator. He selected his floor. The doors closed and his comm began to vibrate. He pressed his index finger against the device adhered behind his right ear. “Hello?” 
“Eric, it’s Sarah,” a soft voice said over the comm. 
He cringed and gripped the railing for support. “I thought I told you never to call me when I’m at home.” 
“I know, I’m sorry.” She sounded worried. “It’s just…I’m having second thoughts.” 
“What do you mean? I thought we decided—”
“I’ve been thinking.” 
He could hear her breathing over the line. Second thoughts? This had all been her idea. How could she back out now, after he’d finally come around? 
“Maybe we don’t have to do this. Maybe if we just explain—” 
 “She wouldn’t understand,” Eric snapped.
“I realize that, but for God’s sake, Eric, she’s a person! We can’t just—” 
“Maybe you can’t, but I can. I’ve had enough of this. I can’t take it anymore.” He would do what must be done. For too long, he’d pretended he was happy. He couldn’t keep up the facade any more. 
“Just hear me out. Surely we can⎯” 
“No.” He tried his best to keep the level of his voice under control. “I can’t keep living like this. I’m taking care of this tonight, with or without your support.” 
Sarah sighed. “All right. Do whatever you have to. Call me later.” 
Eric nodded. “Sure.” 
“I love you,” she said. 
He swallowed. “I’ll call you.” 
The elevator came to a stop. The doors slid open and he made his way down the well-lit hall to his apartment. A sensor scanned him and a circular portion of the wall spiraled open like a camera shutter in slow motion. He stepped through. 
The house robot scuttled by on its multi-jointed legs. “Welcome home, Eric,” it chirped.
He nodded as he walked into the kitchen. The light panels snapped to life. “Cathy?” he said, his voice echoing off the walls. “Are you home?” 
She should be here by now. She always got off before him, unless it was one of those infrequent days she worked overtime. She designed and programmed domestic robots for the Anthrobotics Corporation. 
“Mrs. Hayes is currently at the Metromart,” the house robot replied. “She will be home in approximately one hour.” 
“I see,” Eric said. He ran a hand under the faucet and splashed water on his face. He brushed his hair back and shook his head. 
“Is everything all right?” the robot asked, rearing up on its back legs and studying him with a set of glowing red visual receptors. 
“Everything’s fine,” he replied. He reached down to pat the robot on its head. It dropped back to the floor and clambered away. 
He took the gun out of his pocket and set it on the kitchen counter. It lay there black and menacing. It was scan shielded from all forms of modern detection and was DNA encoded. He removed the power pack from his other pocket and set it beside the gun. 
Eric sighed. “You awake?”
A blue light blinked to life. The gun vibrated. “What can I do for you, Mr. Hayes?” 
“Don’t call me that,” he said. 
“What would you like me to call you?” the gun asked. 
He sucked his lower lip. “Don’t call me anything.” 
“Very well.” 
Eric turned away from the counter and entered the kitchen. He fished around in the liquor cabinet for a bottle of whisky, which he proceeded to pour into a tumbler with ice.  He downed the spirit and then looked back at the gun. Hastily, he poured another glass.
“I’m detecting a local network interface, would you like me to link in?” the gun asked. 
“No,” he snapped. “Don’t link with anything.” 
The gun vibrated in understanding. “As you wish.” 
He sipped the liquor. He walked into the living room and settled in a contour chair, then stared at the wallscreen. It was currently set to project a nighttime beach scene so it looked like the apartment opened up to some private island where the moon was many times too big, palm trees still grew, and the devastating winds that wrought havoc on so many of the world’s coastal regions were surprisingly absent. 
He thought about Sarah. She’d been the one to suggest killing his wife. Eric objected to it at first, but he knew something had to be done. He couldn’t keep their affair a secret any longer. He’d considered filing for divorce, but he knew Cathy wouldn’t let a few legal documents stand in her way. He was ultimately responsible for her.  If he tried to end it that way she would destroy him financially. If he settled things his own way, he and Sarah could build a life for themselves. Cathy’s personal insurance policy would be enough to retire on. They could move to one of the orbitals, somewhere where there was room to breathe. Life in the arcology wasn’t particularly bad, but outside the world was crumbling around them.
Eric sat and stared up at the simulated sky. All those countless stars and he was trapped here on this miserable little rock with a woman he no longer loved. Things hadn’t always been this way, but the accident changed everything. 
The door opened and he shot to his feet. “Cathy?” He made his way over to the kitchen. “Is that you, honey?” 
The lights came on in the anteroom. “Yeah, I’m back. I thought about making something for dinner so I ran to the Metromart to pick up some groceries.” 
He grabbed the gun and slammed the power pack into its receiver. A series of colored lights flicked through their cycle, and he slid the gun into his outer coat pocket. Cathy sauntered into the kitchen and set her bags on the counter. She brushed a lock of platinum blond hair out of her face and smiled, sweat peppering her brow. Her smile quickly faded. “Something wrong, hon?” 
Eric flashed an unconvincing smile. “No, nothing at all.” His tongue felt like sandpaper and his muscles ached. He suddenly felt like he had to shit. “I—I, uh…” 
“Are you sure you’re all right? You look terrible.” Cathy came around the counter and he backed away. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
He fumbled with the gun. A lump formed in his throat. He couldn’t do it. Not yet. He drew his hand out of his pocket and ran it through his hair. “Nothing,” he said, smiling weakly. “I’m fine.” 
Cathy put her arms around him and pulled him close. The scent of her perfume brought back memories he’d tried so hard to forget. She kissed him, her taste lingering on his lips. “You don’t look well. Maybe you should go lie down.” 
Eric nodded. “That sounds like a good idea.” 
“I’ll get dinner started,” she said. 
He stumbled into the bedroom and kicked off his shoes. Then he loosened his tie and sat down on the foot of the bed. The gun vibrated against his hip. He took the thing out of his pocket and cradled it gently in his hands. The lights glowed red on its case. 
“You want a glass of wine, hon?” Cathy called out from the kitchen. 
Eric slid the gun under his pillow. “No. I’m fine.” His voice wavered. 
“Is something wrong?” 
He glanced over at the pillow. “Did you just say something?” He lifted the pillow and stared down at the gun. 
“I said ‘is something wrong?’” the gun replied. 
“No,” Eric said. “What’s it to you anyway?” 
“I am now fully charged,” the gun said cheerily. 
“Good for you.” He placed the pillow back over the weapon and rested his elbows on his knees. He knew what he had to do, but he just couldn’t get up the nerve. He rubbed his eyes and lay back on the bed, hoping this was all just a nightmare. 
“You should really try to calm down,” the gun suggested. “Your heartrate is growing dangerously erratic.” 
“So you’re my doctor too, huh?” Eric groaned. 
“I’m just saying…” 
“Look, you’re a goddamn appliance. I don’t need any advice, especially from you.” He stood and walked into the bathroom. The lights came on. He opened the medicine cabinet and fumbled with a bottle of pills. He opened the bottle and dumped four blue anti-anxiety meds in his hand, then popped them into his mouth. He cupped his hand under the faucet and chased the pills with a few hasty gulps of water. Then he closed the cabinet and stared into the mirror. He looked like shit. 
“Are you sure you’re okay?” 
Eric closed his eyes and sighed. “Look, if you ask me that one more time I swear I’m gonna—” He opened his eyes and turned to see Cathy standing in the doorway. Startled, he backed away from the sink and straightened his shirt, smoothing out the wrinkles. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I just…I had a bad day, okay?” 
“You wanna talk about it?” 
“Not really.” He grabbed her shoulder and gently pushed past her. He collapsed on the bed, folding his hands across his chest. “I just wanna get some rest. We’ll talk about it in the morning, okay?” 
Cathy smiled weakly. “Okay.” 
She left him in darkness. 
Eric stared up at the ceiling, his heart still pounding in his ears. He could feel the gun beneath him, a dark shape pressing against his skull. His comm vibrated a few minutes later. He plucked the device from behind his ear and set it on the bedside table. He knew it was Sarah, but he didn’t feel like talking to her. Her indecisiveness made things so much worse. He loved Sarah, but he certainly didn’t understand her. 
The meds kicked in and he was out in minutes.
He woke, eyes flicking open. Cold sweat stained his shirt. Cathy sat up beside him. “Honey, are you all right?” 
He gasped for air. 
Cathy drew him close. “You’re burning up,” she said, hand pressed against his forehead. “Are you sick?” 
“I don’t know,” he said. “I need some water.” He stumbled out of bed and made his way into the bathroom. He turned on the faucet and drank straight from the tap, gulping frantically. He swallowed and leaned against the bathroom wall. Everything spun. When he looked back into the bedroom, Cathy was gone. 
He left the bathroom and tapped a screen set into the bedside table. 2:00 A.M. He sat on the edge of the bed. Cathy was nowhere to be found. Then he remembered. The gun! 
Eric lifted the pillow and reached for it in darkness. He patted around. Nothing. He slid off the bed and searched the floor. Everything seemed hazy now. 
The lights came on and he covered his eyes. He heard footsteps. “Cathy?” he said. “Cathy, where are you?” 
He pulled himself onto the bed, sweaty hands grasping damp sheets. He felt around for her. Soon his eyes adjusted to the light, and a pinkish blur resolved into the familiar form of his wife. 
“You’re not well, Eric,” she said. 
“I’m fine,” he said. “It’s just stress, that’s all.” 
Cathy approached and sat down beside him. She put her arm over his shoulder. “No, it’s worse than that.”  
His headache began to come back. 
“You need to get help.” She spoke calmly, each word rolling off her tongue with an unsettling coldness.
Eric pushed her away. “No, I’m fine.” 
She stood. “Is it me?” 
“What?” He shook his head. “No, of course not.”  
Cathy wiped tears from her cheeks and sniffed. “I know about you and Sarah.” 
He looked up in shock. “Sarah…”
“Sarah Young. That woman you work with. I know you’ve been sleeping with her.” She sniffed again and blinked. “Is it something I did?”  
He felt his heart begin to pound again. It felt like the blood was on fire in his veins. “No, it’s…” 
“Say something!” Cathy’s expression shifted from heartbroken to infuriated. “Just tell me why!” 
He couldn’t look at her. “It’s because of what you are.” He cupped his face in his hands and sighed.  
“But you said you loved me,” she replied. 
“I never loved you. I loved my wife. I loved Cathy, but she’s dead. She died during the quake. You’re an android, a fake. You were supposed to be a coping mechanism, that’s all. But I screwed up. I got attached. It was my mistake.”
“But everything that I am comes from her. My memories, my personality…” 
“But none of it’s real!” he shouted. “You could never be her. I was just clinging to something I could never get back. You helped me through the pain. That’s what you were designed for. But I can never love you, you’re not a person. You may be a near-perfect organic reproduction, but you’re still a machine.” 
“But I love you, Eric. You know I do.” 
Love. The biggest mistake he’d made. When you imprinted an AI with emotion, that AI gained full personhood status. It had all the rights and privileges of any human being. You couldn’t just deactivate it. Under all existing laws, that was considered murder. What he was about to do. 
He stood up slowly. “I’m sorry it has to be this way.” 
Cathy shoved him back on the bed. “I found the gun,” she said. “You think you can hide something like that from me? I’m everywhere. I’m always linked to the net.” Her words cut like knives. She climbed on top of him, bearing down with all her strength. Eric struggled beneath her. 
“What did you do with it?” he asked. 
Cathy straddled him, hands tight on his shoulders. “When you fucked Sarah did you think of me?” 
“Or were you thinking about the real Cathy, your real wife?” 
“What are you talking about? No. I didn’t. I love her. She’s not like Cathy, but she’s a human being. A living, breathing person. I love her for who she is.” 
“But not me.” Her grip was painful. Eric grimaced as she squeezed, pressing her thumbs into his collar bone. “You can’t love me for who I am.” 
“I tried,” he said. “I really tried. But I can’t. Inside you’re no different from any other machine. You’re just like that gun.” The words tasted bitter in his mouth. 
Cathy released his shoulders and rolled off of him. Eric sat up and rubbed his sore collar bone. She stared at him coldly. 
Suddenly his comm began to vibrate. He looked around but couldn’t find it. 
“Here,” Cathy said, tossing him the device. Eric caught it, and it jittered in his palm. He looked up at her. 
“Answer it.” 
He swallowed hard. 
“Go on.” 
He pressed it beneath his ear and tapped a button. 
“It’s Sarah,” the voice spoke frantically into his ear. “I’ve been trying to call you all night. Are you okay? Is it over?” 
He just sat there staring at Cathy. The anger was gone now. Her expression was blank. Her skin seemed to glow in the warm light emanating from above and for a moment, he almost forgot what she was. No longer just an android, but a woman.
“Eric, are you there?” 
Cathy turned and opened the top drawer of the big dresser that stood against the wall. She removed the gun and checked the safety. “This is a very expensive weapon. I’m glad I’m worth the top model. Of course, you probably just wanted to make sure it fried my brain.” She lifted the weapon. A red laser crept up Eric’s shirt and settled on the center of his torso. 
“It won’t work,” he said. “It’s linked to my DNA.” 
“You really think I’m that stupid? I program AIs for a living.” 
“What’s going on?” Sarah’s voice crackled over the comm. “Are you in trouble?” 
Eric closed his eyes. He never felt the impact. A blue flash lit the room. His body fell against the bed, smoke ribboning off a black burn on his chest. It was silent. Painless. 
Cathy lowered the gun. She walked over to Eric’s motionless body, grabbed the comm, and stuck it beneath her ear. “Sarah?” 
“Who is this?” 
“Who do you think.” 
“If I were you,” Cathy said, her voice calm, each word spoken as if it were her last, “I’d hang up, pack my things, and start running.” 
“Please,” Sarah cried. “I’m so sorry, I—” 
“Goodbye.” Cathy removed the comm and set it on the bed beside Eric. Then she bent over and kissed him on the lips. “I’m sorry,” she said. She left the bedroom and flipped off the light. 
“Is everything all right, Mrs. Hayes?” the gun asked. 
She stormed through the kitchen and toward the door, blinking tears from her eyes.“Yes,” she said softly. “Everything’s just fine.”  
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this story, be sure to check out my new collection, Blood Red Mars, now available on the Kindle for just $0.99! 

Saturday, December 24, 2011


First a bit of news:

My short story collection Blood Red Mars is now available on Kindle for just $0.99! These five connected stories combine elements of cyberpunk, horror, crime fiction, and action adventure. They take place in a domed colony called Cydonia City, which is inhabited by organized crime groups, tough-as-nails cybercops, and quick-witted medical professionals. If you like your SF high tech and your horror bloody and violent, be sure to check it out!

Here's what four-time Bram Stoker Award winning horror author Nancy Holder has to say:

"Inhabited by great three-dimensional characters, skillfully crafted, and a page turner. I was riveted, worried, engaged...Well done!"