The Detective and The Droid

Submitted into Contest #165 in response to: Write a story that includes the phrase “This is all my fault.”... view prompt

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Science Fiction Speculative Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

TW: Murder, swearing, shooting, David Bowie.


Detective Arthas Jacques knelt to see the strangulation bruises around the victim’s neck.

            “It doesn’t make any sense,” said the freight hauler’s manager, Kyle. “Paul was the only one on board. He couldn’t have strangled himself, could he?” The man in the red and orange boiler suit was sweating profusely.

            “No. This isn’t an elaborate suicide,” said Jacques. “It must have been a droid. There are droids onboard I take it?” He turned his youthful face to look at the haggard man fiddling with his wedding ring.

            “Four. Just enough to keep things moving. They’re not networked though. How could a droid do this? Why?” He caught a glimpse of the frozen look of terror on the dead man’s face and turned away. Paul’s hands were clenched around a crowbar thanks to rigor mortis. Tall and muscular, he was the last sort of man anyone would expect to be strangled to death.

            “We’ll need to look at the droids to know that. Show them to me.” The detective began following Kyle. “Blue, photograph everything. Red, give me a scenario. I want to know exactly how poor Paul died.”

            A glossy black droid nodded. The eyes flashed blue. “Yes, Detective,” it said with a Glasgow accent. The eyes turned red. “Straight away, Arthas,” said the droid in a Parisian accent.

            

            “Interesting droid you’ve got there,” said Kyle, leading Arthas down a long metal corridor with doors identified with P and a number on the port side and S for the starboard side. S-24 housed the four droids that lifted the containers. Every container had live soil from Mars for colonies on moons all over the system.

            “Spectrum is a great team,” Detective Jacques agreed.

            “Team?” Kyle asked, waving a hand at the droids that were stationed in their charging points.

            “There are six programs contained within the droid, each with a purpose that assists my work. Spectrum is as good as having my own lab, financial analyst, technology expert, photographer, psychology expert, and pilot in one. It saves a lot of time.” Arthas pulled a glove from his pocket and slipped them on over his hairy hand. Turning over the huge hands of the droids, he looked for damage inflicted as Paul fought for his life.

            “That legal? I thought Artificial Intelligences were restricted.” Kyle’s curiosity had a note of accusation, which struck Arthas as ironic since the manager was the first one at a murder scene.

            “It’s legal. I have a special dispensation.” Finding scratched paint on one droid, the detective smiled. “This is the one.” He looked at Kyle. “You know most detectives would be trying to pin the murder on you?”

            “Me?” The doughy man laughed the way others cry.

            “You’re the only one with access to the scene so far. If you’d had the strength to overpower Paul, you might have been my main suspect. Alas, this isn’t the first time someone’s used a droid to kill. It won’t be the last. They always think it’s the perfect crime.”

            Arthas’ stood on his tiptoes. His metal right hand flipped a switch behind the droid’s head. ‘Loading, please wait,’ appeared on the screen below the lenses in English, French, Japanese, Korean and Spanish.

            “Hello. How may I be of assistance?” Asked the droid.

            “Replay audio from your last interaction with Paul,” Detective Jacques told the hulking humanoid forklift.

            Audio of the freighter pilot enquiring about container ASX3652B began playing. “It’s the wrong weight. Open it up. I want to check the cargo,” said Paul.

            “Cargo is listed as live soil,” said the droid Jacques was looking at. It stank of engine grease.

            “I know what it’s listed as, Three. Open the door.”

            “Yes, Paul.”

            The creak of a cargo container opening was followed by swearing. “Well, that’s not fucking soil, is it?”

            “We are in violation of the terms of service agreement. We should close the door immediately.”

            “Not on your life, Three. C4? That’s explosive. With this many boxes, it might as well be a nuke. Fucking hell. I need to call Kyle. This is fucked up.

            Ow. Three? What are you doing?” Paul’s footsteps faded from hearing, echoing in the hallway. The heavy pounding of Three’s feet followed steadily.

            “Deactivate, Three. Emergency shut down.” Metallic dinging sounds indicated that Paul had thrown things at the goliath as it closed in on him. “Shut down! SHUT DOWN! THAT’S A COMMAND!” Crashes as the soon to be dead man hit the droid with the crowbar ended with choking gasps.

 

Kyle clapped a hand to his mouth and stepped away from Three. “How? They’re not networked? This is all my fault. We swapped shifts.”

            “GREEN!” Arthas yelled, making Kyle jump. “Green is my technology expert.”

            “You bellowed?” A Dublin accent came from the black droid, whose eyes glowed green. “What’s the craic?”

            “I need to know if this unit was modified to access the network, or if it was programmed with combat protocols.”

            “Sure thing, big man.” The green-eyed robot ran a red beam over Three. It flipped the switch behind the shipping droid’s head. “Step forwards and turn around, Unit Three.”

            Cold steel beneath their feet shook as the enormous machine rotated with the grace of a tired elephant. Three’s head faced the wall as if a time out was its only punishment for murder. A panel hidden against the wall was revealed. With a screwdriver in its right index fingertip, Green removed the back panel of the lifter.

            “There you have it, boys.” A powerful torch on the black droid’s left palm illuminated Three’s insides.  The black right index finger tapped a box that lacked the dust and rust that coated the rest. “That’s called a piggyback box. Hooks into the network using nearby hardware without needing to be wired in. That will give signal anywhere on the ship. Someone was giving this thing commands, probably in real time. Twinned particles, don’t you just love them?”

            “Can you use that box to track where the signal came from?” Arthas asked.

            “No. The signal will have gone through the ship itself. All that box will store is the instructions it was given last. Evidence for sure, but not a breadcrumb.” The black robot shrugged.

            “Remove it. Be careful.”

            “Yes boss.” The smallest circular saw Kyle had ever seen emerged from Spectrum’s black finger. The blade cut through an orange wire.

            Then the beast attacked.

            A huge metal elbow flew back at Spectrum. The black droid took the blow to the head and fell with a clang.

            Spectrum’s eyes turned purple.

            “Step back,” Arthas said. “Give them some space.”

            “You don’t have to tell me twice,” said Kyle. He ran from the room.

            “Kick his ass, Purple,” said the detective. Stepping back, Jacques folded his metal hand over his living one and leaned in the doorway to watch. “Don’t damage any evidence.”

            “No promises,” said the purple eyed robot, in a Newcastle accent. It rolled out of the way of a stomp that broke through the floor.

            Slipping behind the hulking machine, Purple flipped the on/off switch. Nothing happened. A surprisingly nimble arm as wide as a car reached behind Three and grabbed Purple. Arthas’ prized droid was thrown against containers, leaving a dent in the corrugated steel.

            “One nil to the walking tank,” said the detective. “Should I not have bankrupted myself buying you?”

            “Hold off on the score. Time to assassin’s creed this shite.” A two-metre blade emerged from the right arm of the Spectrum robot. It rolled beneath the grasp of Three and slashed at hydraulic pipes. Fluid sprayed the room.

            “If that ruins evidence-” Arthas began.

            “It won’t!” Purple yelled in its gravelly voice. “Might just need some rewiring, that’s all.” Leaping onto the back of the beast, the blade sunk home.

            The Spectrum robot rode the monster down to the ground, where it crashed with a bang that could wake the dead. “And now we can add your attempted murder to the pot of charges I guess?” Said Purple in his deep Geordie tones.

            “Back to you, Green,” said Arthas. “Thanks, Purple.”

            With amethyst eyes, the droid saluted. “Aye, Sergeant.” The eyes flicked to emerald. “Yes, Detective.”

 

            “You’re a sergeant?” Asked Kyle. Arthus looked at the orange jumpsuit that was smothering a sweaty man with a urine stain down one leg.

            “Military training,” said the detective, “and a tour of duty. My father insisted.” Looking back at his droid, the police officer watched it pick through the remains of Three.

            “It that how you lost your hand? I didn’t want to ask, but I’m curious.”

            “I didn’t lose it. I donated it,” Jacques said casually.

            “Funny thing to donate, a hand,” said Kyle.

            “My brother lost his in an accident. I’d always wanted a cybernetic hand. He was dreading one. We’re identical twins so he didn’t even need medicine to avoid rejection of the hand. The bonus is that my ex-girlfriend is his wife. Now whenever he touches her, it’s with my hand. He’s right dominant. I’m ambidextrous.” Arthas smiled an evil smile to himself. “Also, my niece can now hold my hand no matter where I am in the solar system.”

            “Right,” said Kyle. He paused for a long while, eyes wide. “Yeah. Sounds great.”

            “Got the evidence,” said Green. It held up the piggyback box and Three’s memory drive. “We find out where the signal came from and head off.”

            Arthas and Kyle stood aside for Green, who moved with a more mechanical gait than Purple had.

 

When Green had the origin coordinates for the hostile signal, Purple took over. Arthas lay back in his chair as his robot flew the police cruiser to the orbital station. The NLS drive meant the journey would take three hours. Headphones on, David Bowie soothed Jacques to sleep.

            Titan Two was a mining platform, there to extract gas for propulsion from Saturn’s largest moon. Purple nudged Arthas as the ship docked with the mining platform. “Boss man, wake up.”

            Stretching, the detective took a moment to orient himself. “Do I need to suit up?”

            “Full atmosphere outside,” Purple said.

            “Good. Gear up. We’re about to confront someone or some people who smuggle explosives.”

            “Why not wait for backup? Blue notified the Department of Off-World Crime. They’ll be here in two hours.”

            “I hate waiting,” said Jacques.

            “I’m backed up,” said Purple, “it’s your funeral.”

            “Inform station security that we’re armed, and here on official business.”

 

Nothing that could ever be described as fancy happened on Titan Two. The most upmarket venue aboard the station was a strip club.

            Oxygen generators littered open areas. Water from Titan’s ocean was broken into oxygen that was vented into the station. Hydrogen produced in the same reaction was used locally for thrust and heating.

            “Plants. This place needs plants.” Arthas shook his head as he looked at children who’d never heard of half of the colours the spectrum offered. They were lean, bordering on malnourished.

            A gambling den in an old hanger bay made with crates was the confirmed source of the signal that had turned Three into a killer. A technician registered to Titan Two had done the maintenance onboard the hauler just before the murder.

            “I’m looking for Mark Brigg,” Arthas said. “Anyone seen him?”

            The Spectrum droid displayed a hologram of Brigg’s identity photo using a projector in his right palm. Faces black with dust and oil looked blankly. Heads shook, dislodging debris from a hard day of fuelling the system.

            “That’s funny. He’s on the station. He’s known to come here.” Arthas looked from face to face. Many of the men wore hoods. Some of them had pulled them up when he’d entered. “It’s only going to take longer if you make it hard for me.”

            Hands started moving from cards on the tables to thighs beneath. Jacques rested his fingers on the grip of his pistol in the holster.

            “You should have worn a helmet,” said Purple.

            “Hostile body language? Which ones?” Arthas asked.

            “Oh, you know, all of them.”

 

            “Droid’s right, you should have worn a helmet,” said a man whose hairs and teeth were competing for scarcity. A shotgun rose from under the table and fired.

            Detective Jacques and the Spectrum droid dove for cover. As he jumped, Arthas freed his pistol from the holster and shot the old man in the neck. Paralytic dived into the craggy gunman’s bloodstream. The shotgun fell one way as the burnt-out miner collapsed the other.

            Unlike the detective, the gambling gunners were using lethal rounds. The metal table Jacques had thrown himself beneath was filling up with speed holes.

            His vest took a round like a champ, only passing on what felt like a gut punch in return. Coughing and gasping, Arthas shot another assailant. She fell backwards, looking at the dart in her hand.

            At times Purple could be subtle. Faced with enemies on all sides who had automatic assault rifles, the droid Hulked out and began throwing metal tables and chairs.

            “Easy, big guy,” Jacques said to the average sized droid. “We want to take them alive.”

            “To do that, we have to be alive,” said the Newcastle sounding defender with anger that sounded all too human.

            “Usual play?” the detective asked, meaning he would go right, and the robot would go left.

            “Sounds good.” Aiming down the sight because it had been programmed to use the stance of real army veterans, Purple jerked its gun from left to right. Shots popped off regularly.

            Remembering his one and only tour of duty, Arthas kept low and shot for anything that moved. Purple was moving faster, but it couldn’t die.

            “Clear,” the droid announced two minutes later. It leapt onto a cargo crate to surveil the whole area. “Target found.” Purple jumped down from the vantage point and lifted a paralysed man onto what was left of a poker table. Brigg’s fingerprints matched some on the piggyback box. His DNA was still present on the casing.

            “Mark Brigg, I am arresting you on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, and smuggling dangerous substances. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to legal representation and to contact family upon our arrival at the station.”

            Station security arrived when everyone with a weapon had been cable tied and read their rights. All of them were photographed. They would be detained in the cells of Titan Two until the backup arrived.

            Arthas carried Mark Brigg to his ship and locked him into a suspect seat.

            “I have to sit like this the whole way back to Mars?” Mark asked. He had a nose that had clearly been broken many times, dirty stubble, and grey cropped hair.

            “My droid can fit you with a catheter if you don’t want to hold it?” Arthas offered.

            “No way.”

            “Then get comfortable. It’s four hours back to Mars. Brigg in the brig. Is that irony?” Jacques pulled a signed copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora from his bookshelf and began flicking through it for the umpteenth time. The hardback had cost his sister a fortune. Arthas was more than grateful.

            “Ground control to Major Tom,” said David Bowie, as Purple flew them away from Titan, back to Mars.

September 30, 2022 14:46

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21 comments

Naduni De Silva
17:53 Dec 04, 2022

not a fan of sci fi but this reminded me of a movie i had watched years ago!! But in near future this will be how our world works, considering the rate the technology is developing. Definitely gonna read the other two parts.

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Graham Kinross
21:12 Dec 04, 2022

Thank you for reading it, Naduni.

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Naduni De Silva
14:02 Dec 08, 2022

welcome!!!!

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M B
12:38 Oct 06, 2022

It's always cool when someone does a scifi detective story. I really liked Spectrum and the various accents and personalities assigned with each color. That was interesting. Nice fight scenes too by the way. I'll have to read their next case.

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Graham Kinross
21:06 Oct 06, 2022

Thank you. Arthas will have many more adventures with the Spectrum unit.

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Hello Graham. I’ve never gotten a comment quite like the one you gave me on Nomenclature. I really liked seeing your reaction throughout, and hearing what the story and the ideas therein made you think of. Thanks to your blow-by-blow comment on Nomenclature, I've decided to make it my policy to do the same thing generally for all stories. I really like being able to say how it makes me feel in the moment as I read it. Here goes: I really like sci-fi, so this is going to be very fun to read. [The man in the red and orange boiler suit swea...

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Graham Kinross
04:12 Oct 03, 2022

Arthas Jacques will definitely have some more adventures. I couldn’t fit the story I wanted to into the word found so I’ll try to finish it this week. Detectives always have to have a big flaw, usually drugs or drinking or depression. I thought him just being petty and bitter would be different. I’m reading Star Wars the Thrawn series which started off a lot like Sherlock Holmes in space. That was the inspiration. Arthas is more like someone from Deus Ex though. I like post humanism in writing, when people blur the lines between humanity and...

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Graham Kinross
11:40 Oct 03, 2022

I just finished going through all of the edits you suggested. Excellent as always. Thank you so much.

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:41 Oct 02, 2022

4hours to mars. In the future, they might come out with technology that is capable of cutting six months to four hours from there to 4 hours of journey. Fine work Graham.

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Graham Kinross
21:32 Oct 02, 2022

Thank you Philip. I’ve always dreamed about visiting other planets the way we can now visit other countries. If humanity can concentrate on invention more than war then I think it is possible.

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Philip Ebuluofor
14:54 Oct 03, 2022

Welcome.

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John Del Rio
17:34 Jan 17, 2023

I like the concept of the spectrum Droid. So the different colors indicate different functionality.

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Graham Kinross
21:19 Jan 17, 2023

Thanks.

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John Del Rio
15:30 Jan 17, 2023

Nice! A cool beginning. I appreciate you giving me the order of the story. I will read the next chapter when I have the opportunity. How many chapters are there so far?

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Graham Kinross
21:06 Jan 17, 2023

There are nine so far. Thanks for reading them.

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L M
11:00 Dec 10, 2022

Great job.

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Graham Kinross
21:19 Jan 17, 2023

Thanks.

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L M
10:44 Jan 19, 2023

You’re welcome.

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Geekly Weekly
00:18 Jun 22, 2023

Ok. I liked this but I wish the link had been at the start of your other story.

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Graham Kinross
00:29 Jun 28, 2023

Thank you. I’ll try to fix that.

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Graham Kinross
09:07 Oct 06, 2022

Thank you for reading The Detective and The Droid, if you want to know what’s next for Arthas, use the link below. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/qzzt4d/

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