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Science Fiction Mystery LGBTQ+

Aphrodite

Jazz grabs Herc’s brown leather leash from the coat hooks by the door. She doesn’t have to struggle to hook it to the Belgian Malinois’s harness. Much of his fur is displaced in the process. Jazz wishes it was safe for Herc to walk beside her untethered on the sidewalks of Ankeny, but her working dog’s sense of smell tends to lead him in other directions. It’s that scent tracking ability bringing them a case today.

They hadn’t seen Avery since she moved out of Fremont (population 708) and out of their lives. Herc is excited, but Jazz had a knot twisting her guts like wringing out an old rope mop in a filthy bucket of grey water. Avery’s voicemail pleaded for help. Something about three years’ worth of work being lost and her career being on the line. Avery’s career always came first. Not that Jazz blames her ex for wanting to give up the hour and a half commute each way. In pandemic years though, Avery was telecommuting. She could have stayed in their small town world where they once spent weekends riding horses at Aunt Cynthia’s farm taking in fresh air and putting in physical labor at the stables.

Herc sits in the back seat as Jazz drives them through the outskirts of Des Moines. Going up the boulevard, there are more signs of businesses that shuttered when the government loans dried up. Jazz prefers a quieter place to live and work. The constant horn honking, jackhammering, and regular cacophony of the city life kept her from thinking clearly. To Avery, it was white noise. They were different kinds of people. That polarity was a benefit at first.

Jazz could have set the compact car to autopilot, but she doesn’t trust the programming. That was another sore spot in their relationship since Avery had dedicated her life to creating innovative software.

Leon met Avery at the Mokshatek offices. Right from the get-go, he told Avery how brilliant she was. He was open with his emotions in ways Jazz never was. Avery’s work creating AI modules showcased her off-the-charts intelligence and creativity. Leon spoke about his appreciation for that, but Jazz couldn’t seem to get the words out. It was no surprise that Avery preferred his companionship.

“We’re here,” Jazz said to Herc giving his long head scratches as he poked forward between the front seats. He barks twice and his tail begins to wag even faster. Jazz looks at her phone screen then looks towards the brown door of the modern generic development house. “I’m sure she’s missed you too, little man. Let’s go.”

The doorbell has an obvious surveillance camera. The chimes hadn’t even stopped ringing when Leon answers the door. His hair looks like he had run his hands through it and pulled at it all night. The bags under his eyes tell Jazz he hadn’t been sleeping. His jagged nails are signs of anxious picking.

“I’m sorry you had to come. I’ve tried to calm her down. I keep telling her it’s not the end of the world,” he says. Jazz and Herc follow Leon into the dining room where the maple table is covered in a variety of desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and notebooks.

“Where is she?”

Herc barks and makes himself at home as he walks down the hallway following Avery’s scent. Jazz takes a quick glance at her phone.

“She’s in the office,” Leon says. “She destroyed the place. It’s unlike her.”

“Yeah, it is. What set her off?” Jazz drops Herc’s leash. She takes a minute to look around at the walls filled with accolades and shelves of awards for ingenuity and innovation. There are magazine covers framed, but no personal photos.

As they get closer to Avery’s office, Jazz takes in more about the living space. The “office” is actually located in the master bedroom suite. Avery and Leon use a smaller bedroom for the two of them. Based on the wear and tear of the couch, they probably take turns giving in to exhaustion out in the living room instead of next to their spouse.

The door is open and Herc lets himself in to greet the other woman who was his human companion for five years.

“Herc? Oh, Hercule! Give me a hug.” Avery squats down and envelopes the black and tan dog. He nuzzles into her short hair now greying from age and stress. He puts his front paws on her thighs getting as close as he possibly can.

“Hey,” Jazz utters from just inside the doorway. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere to sit since every surface is covered in notes, motherboards, hard drives, robot heads and limbs, and other things Jazz can’t identify.

Avery finally looks up at her ex. “Hey.” She apologizes for having to call and again for the condition of the house. Eventually she frees herself from the dog and stands up giving a nod rather than shaking hands or attempting to hug Jazz.

“Why don’t you tell me what’s missing?” Jazz keeps her professional cool squashing those annoying feelings of nostalgia into that not in her gut where all the other annoying feelings are.

“It’s Aphrodite. She’s gone. I’ve checked every single computer in the house. Tablets. Phones. Even the damn computer inside the refrigerator. She’s nowhere! I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Avery’s eyes start to water as they had been on and off for over a day.

“Who’s Aphrodite?” Jazz picks up on the name and how her ex made it sound like a person or pet rather than a thing. “How would she get into the refrigerator?”

“Not like, in the refrigerator. In the refrigerator’s computer. Every appliance has a computer: the washer, dryer, the TVs, of course the cars and even the coffee maker. Aphrodite is my baby. She’s my program and she’s gone. She was kidnapped!”

It sounds ridiculous to Jazz who avoids artificial intelligence. Back when she and Avery were together, Avery’s work was focused on making breakthroughs that benefited people not replacing people. They had tons of arguments over buying the car with the autopilot option that Jazz now reluctantly possesses.

“Not everyone can do everything for themselves as easily as you, Curly,” Avery had said repeatedly in arguments. Jazz’s rebuttal was the technology was fine for those people, but others were inviting tech companies to control their lives.

Leon hovers in the threshold making it impossible for Jazz to give Avery her complete attention.

Jazz doesn’t want to upset Avery any more than she already was by correcting her that a missing program is not kidnapping. If anything it would be theft or maybe piracy depending on what exactly happened.

“Look, Aves, you’re always careful with your work. Isn’t there a backup you can revert to?”

“I’m not stupid! Of course I have multiple backup systems, but those are empty too. I’ve contacted the data bank to see if there’s a checkpoint where they can restore servers, but even if they find one, it could mean months of work needing to be redone.”

Herc maneuvers to sit attentively next to Avery as soon as she decided to stop moving and lean against one of the desks in the room. Jazz has the urge to call him over to her, but fights the jealousy allowing the dog time to reconnect.

“This isn’t my area. I don’t see what I could possibly do to help you recover Aphrodite.” Jazz keeps her voice steady, but not loud.

“I guess I didn’t explain enough in my message. It’s not you I need. It’s Herc. I think he may be able to follow an electric scent trail. Maybe. I don’t know. Those sorts of things have never gone beyond experimentation trials, but Herc is special. I think he can do it.” Avery fidgets like she wants to keep spewing words. Jazz recognizes the behavior from their years together.

“Herc? Do you want to do some work?” He gives an affirmative gesture Jazz had come to know. He’s an agreeable dog when it comes to work and he’s excellent as a watchdog.

Some of Aphrodite’s code is on a small thumb drive which Avery moves towards Herc’s nose. He barks twice meaning he is locked on to a scent. The humans hope it’s the right scent though.

Herc moves around the office space poking his nose into every nook and cranny between all the computer parts and journals. He sniffs around Jazz’s feet for a quick familiar whiff and keeps going.

“While he’s doing that, why don’t you tell us what Aphrodite is,” Jazz keeps her eyes moving between Herc, Leon, and Avery.

“You’ll think it’s stupid. He does,” Avery gestures at Leon.

“I never said that.” Leon looks like this conversation — or rather conflict — had been hashed out previously.

“Tell me anyway,” Jazz says.

Aphrodite is supposed to be the next great thing in human interaction. It would blow dating sites, horoscopes, and psychics off the internet. Aphrodite is based on the greatest chess program in the world. Avery took that idea and molded it into a predictive system for pairing human partners. She first figured out Aphrodite would be a breakthrough for romantic relationships, but then Avery worked on an additional part of the software to make it useful for friendships and business partnerships. Aphrodite can predict if two people were headed for love or disaster.

“She knows when people will cheat on each other or swindle money or sell company secrets. Aphrodite is worth billions. In time, she could be part of operating systems because we’ll rely on her advice so much.”

“So people will stop thinking for themselves all together,” Jazz says low but audibly. After hearing Avery’s passionate mission statement, Jazz isn’t interested in finding Aphrodite anymore.

Herc sits next to Leon and barks three times before Jazz has a chance to call off the search. She looks down at her phone. There is an opportunity to lie, say Herc can’t find anything, and then say they had another appointment they had to make.

“What’s he saying?” Avery asks.

“Don’t bark at me.” Leon retracts his hands and makes a face like he’s near something repulsive.

“Here’s the thing, Avery — that other brilliant program you created just for me as an anniversary present — it’s telling me your husband stole Aphrodite.” Jazz slips her phone back into her pocket. She pats her thigh and Herc returns to be by her side where he to receive a treat.

“Leon?” Avery’s brows furrow when she looks at her husband.

Leon stammers trying to find words to cover his tracks. He gives up fighting to find a believable lie and blurts out his confession.

“What? Can you blame me? She said you would leave me! You would leave me for her!” Leon points to Jazz.

“Leon, how could you? You know how important Aphrodite is. I’ve been creating her for two years!” Avery is flustered and furious.

“How did he know? How did that dog know!” Leon demands.

Jazz pets her canine companion’s head and flips her phone’s screen around to show Leon.

“What? What is that?” he says.

“Avery created this canine translator for me as an anniversary present. He was already exceptional with his training as a cyber sleuth because of his neural implant. Now, Herc is perhaps the greatest detective of the modern era.” Jazz crouches down to pet Herc and give him a kiss on the head which he returns by licking her cheek.

“No. No. You’ve ruined everything!” Leon yells.

Avery says, “No, Leon. You’ve ruined everything. Aphrodite may be a cyber-psychic, but people still have free will. Maybe someday I would have been tempted to leave you, but decided to stay. But now? After this? After you tried to ruin my entire life’s work? Pack your bags.”

“Come on, Herc,” Jazz says. “Let’s go home.”

<<<<>>>>

June 15, 2022 15:53

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4 comments

Arya Dixit
18:37 Jun 21, 2022

I love the imagery in this! Great job!

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12:52 Jun 22, 2022

Thank you so much for reading!

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Danny Bauder
01:03 Jun 21, 2022

That was a fun mystery! I appreciated that the setting and sci-fi elements were presented straight forward without need for translation. I really enjoyed it!

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18:45 Jun 21, 2022

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Danny!

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