TW: Guns, swearing and misogyny.
“The next demonstration is in twenty four hours,” said Agent Belle Nguyen.
“Where?” Detective Arthas Jacques asked, looking away from the waves below the train.
“It’s from an internal memo. They have my communicator, but they don’t know what the message says. They’re guessing the timing based on previous messages. If I was there I would know what the message says. That’s not in the memo though.” She ground her pearly teeth in frustration, thrusting a rogue hair behind her ear as if shoving a stranger out of the way.
His eyes lingered on her neck, black hair trickling down it. You have terrible taste in women, he told himself. His droid would have agreed. “Then we’re better off following Cain. He might just lead us right to the psychopath behind it all.” The metal fingers of his black prosthetic tapped out the beat to Lee Moses’ Bad Girl. The song was going round and round in his head as he looked at Belle who reminded him so much of his ex.
Waves battered the columns of the seemingly endless rail bridge that carried them north from England to Scotland. Islets poked above the water more and more as the train went on.
“You’re certain we can find him?” the agent asked, turning her brown eyes on his blue orbs.
“It is my job,” he said dryly. “I can’t be certain he’s going after the man behind Deus ex Sapiens. That’s the big gamble here. We’re a day behind Cain at most. Our biggest problem is jurisdiction. You seemed to handle that well. I’m still curious about that.”
“Stay curious. Like a good magician, a spy never reveals their secrets.” Her breath left her in astonishment as they passed over trees. A carpet of green beneath both of them, nothing to an Earthling, was a wonder for the Martians. “One day our world will look like this,” she said with hope and determination.
Hills and mountains capped with green flora and grey settlements enveloped the tracks. Solid ground so close showed the pair how fast they were moving. Nausea threatened the detective again, having backed off after his landing from Mars.
Towers glinted with glass, blinded them with brilliant copper facades and welcomed them with a platform to the station. A castle on a plug of volcanic rock watched the invaders warily. Arthas looked back in awe at a city with history thousands of years older than his world.
Droids greeted them at the train doors. Raising their arms, they were scanned. The agent, detective and droid were warned against using their guns in anything but self defense.
Blue, eyes glowing sapphire, informed Arthas that, “the accent of the droids is Morningside, which had been the most expensive area of Edinburgh for centuries. The rising waters fucked all of that up though,” said the droid’s scene documentation program, which spoke with a Glaswegian twang.
“Time to do your thing and get us our next lead on Cain,” said Purple. As it spoke with its Newcastle accent, the droid’s eyes switched from sapphire to amethyst to signal that the bodyguard program had assumed a dominant role. It put a black glistening hand on Belle’s shoulder, weighing her down more than it had to.
Shrugging off the suspicious droid, Agent Nguyen nodded. “Happy to. Wait here.” She flashed the detective and his bodyguard a sharkish grin. Leaning towards a police droid emblazoned with a saltire, the spy whispered so that only it could hear.
“What’s she saying,” Arthas asked, knowing purple could both lip read and pick up the slightest whisper with his directional microphone.
“She says she has information on the whereabouts of a wanted criminal and needs to speak to someone in private.” Purple eyes turned to look down at Arthas. “Which really means she doesn’t want us to hear what she’s saying.”
“That’s her nature. It’s her job.”
“It’s a risk for us. She hides more than you suspect.”
“Stop worrying about me, Purple. I don’t trust her. She’s just useful, that’s all.”
“I suppose she thinks that about you as well. At some point one of you will change your mind. Make sure it’s you, make sure you do it first. I don’t want to pull a knife out of your back.” The droid’s hands clasped behind its back, a habit taken from the memories of guards whose memories were the backbone of its programming. Humanity had finally found a way to humanise machines, by making droids repositories for their skills, their memories.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Purple. No one uses knives anymore.”
“You haven’t been to Glasgow yet,” said Blue’s voice with mirth.
“Maybe when this is done.”
Belle disappeared behind a doorway painted the same blue as the police. The doorway was yellow sandstone, like many of the facades. Arthas counted twelve minutes on the arrivals board above the entrance to the station.
“He’s here. Cain. He’s close,” Nguyen’s glee was a schoolgirl who bagged the boy she wanted for a dance.
“Lead the way,” said Purple, aiming an open palm at the entrance. She gave it a grimacing curtsy.
Cain Ableman, leader of the Bullet Donors mercenary group, had booked into the New Sea View hotel in Leith. The glass tower rose from the water which had swallowed the old docks of the city. Golden thistles danced across the glass front of the hotel. Granite decorated with sandstone held it all up.
“You couldnae chuck a stane tae the water from here once. Fuckin floods,” said Blue, forgetting itself.
“How do you know?” Arthas asked.
“Because no matter how hard they try to scrub away all of the irrelevant details when they cram human memories into a droid, they forget bits.” The droid lingered at the boardwalk, sapphire glowing eyes cast across the North Sea.
A local with bulbous eyes in her tiny head slept with her mouth open at the reception desk.
“Forgive Mhari,” said the droid beside her. “She’s not been getting much sleep at home, her son’s teething.” It wiped a flow of drool from Mhari’s mouth with a tartan napkin and the screen where its face should be showed a beaming model. “How can I help you?” The Inverness accent synchronised with the all too symmetrical face of the stereotypical redhead as she spoke. A constellation of freckles split into a smile on the display as the droid waited, fingers interlocked. The droid and Mhari both wore purple and green tartan shirts with matching trousers.
If not for the earthy green and the subdued purple, the ensemble would be an eyesore, thought Arthas. “We’ve been invited to join one of your guests.”
“Do you know the room number?” asked the droid. The curly ginger hair on the screen danced in a breeze that no longer existed.
All eyes turned to the Spectrum droid. The amethyst eyes switched to emerald for a moment. “Fifty, one-hundred and forty-two,” said the technology program with a Dublin accent. “We require discretion. Please do not announce our arrival.”
“Of course. Use lift number five,” with a smile fit for an infant niece or nephew on their birthday, the droid pointed them to the back of the lobby. A grim statue of William Wallace stood guard by the lifts. The silvery sword in the marble hands looked fit to behead a giant.
“Fine,” huffed Belle, “I’ll push the button.” She slammed it to call the lift. After a moment, the retro bell sound preceded the doors opening. The rear wall was mirrored, both sides decorated with carved wood depicting rolling hills and glens. The poetry of Rabbie Burns hung over the scenes in golden letters. Auld Lang Syne played cheerfully on a fiddle while the room moved horizontally as well as vertically.
The fiftieth floor commanded a breathtaking view of blue water and, for droids, what was left of Norway after the melting of the ice caps. Cain’s room had to be cozy, based on the doors that were only as far apart as they were wide.
“Do you want to knock, or will I?” asked Nguyen in a whisper. Her hand slid to the gun beneath her coat.
“Allow me,” said Purple at a volume that was barely audible. “What care should I take of the decor?” It looked to Arthas for an answer.
“Try to avoid us getting arrested for anything as ridiculous as vandalism.”
“The door is open,” said Cain’s voice. The source was a speaker hiding behind a painting between 50142 and 50143. “I was waiting for you.”
“Twirling your mustache, and wearing a black cowboy hat?” Arthas asked.
“If anything were to happen to you, Detective Jacques, it's your humour I would miss the most.” He spoke like a local, somewhere between the Glaswegian accent of Blue and the Morningside accent of the police droids.
The door opened. An enormous hand, palm up, appeared in the gap. In a lily white shirt and blue tartan trousers which made him look like hotel staff, Cain Ableman surrendered. “Are you coming in?” He nodded into the room.
“Heat signatures?” Jacques asked.
“None,” said Purple.
Shovel sized hands remained in the air as the mountain of a man walked across thick navy carpet in bare feet. Cain’s shoulders were double the width of Arthas’. He sat on a bed sheeted in the same tartan as the receptionists.
“Feel free to point a gun at me if it makes you feel better.”
“Thanks,” said the Spectrum droid, drawing a gun.
“Why surrender?” Agent Nguyen asked. She rubbed the safety catch on her pistol.
“Because you have to put cheese in the trap to bait the mouse.” He didn’t bother looking her in the eye, as he spoke to her chest.
Belle shifted uncomfortably, feeling Cain’s unwanted attention on her body. When his words sank in, she looked at the door. Ableman was smiling. That expression said simply, you idiots.
“Seven heat signatures in combat formation outside,” said Purple. It pulled a second gun out. Aiming non lethal rounds at the man on the bed, the pistol loaded with wetwork ammunition pointed towards the door.
Arthas and Belle retreated to the cover behind the ensuite bathroom.
“The hunters become the prey,” Cain laughed. He reached for a glass of something orange and bubbling on his bedside table. “You ever had Irn Bru? Everyone should try it once.”
“Sir,” said a gruff voice from outside the door, “should we come in?”
“It’s fine. There’s nowhere else for them to go,” said Ableman, putting down his glass. “Right. Let’s talk. You want to find the rich man who put some weird crap in you.” He looked at Belle, making eye contact for the first time. “So do I. If it makes you feel better, I’ll say sorry for killing you, if you want.”
“Will you mean it?” she asked.
“No, but it’s the thought that counts isn’t it?” The mercenary patted the bed beside him. He looked at the door and back to the detective with a smile. “Your droid did a number on us, but you really thought you’d killed all of the Bullet Donors? Hardly.” He chortled.
“We’d trust you and you’d work with us because?” Arthas asked.
“Because between the three of us we’re bound to find the slimy fucker. You know he turned all of the healing shit off, right? Reaching beneath his pillow, he pulled out a knife. Pricking his palm with the point of the blade brought out a drop of blood.
Despite the threat of soldiers beyond the door, Arthas watched the cut. He’d seen wounds healing before his eyes during previous demonstrations of Deus ex Sapiens. Nothing happened.
“You see? He screwed us. Who knows what’s next?” Cain frowned at the wound.
I can guess, thought Detective Jacques.
“What do you know about him?” Belle asked. “Spill, then we can consider working with you.”
“I’ve used the voice scrambling software he’s using before. Ransom demands. This guy has run his voice through a few different programs and back to human speech from audio. What he should have done is type his stuff out, or dictate it using a neural link. Lazy I guess.” Cain shrugged. “I worked the audio backwards through my own software and I had a few matches. Some of them were busy during the broadcasts to his virtual presence droid. That left one.
Lord Mark Ignatius Banks lives right here in Edinburgh. He has several degrees in transhumanism, biology and microrobotics. He inherited shares in MacLeod-Miller Robotics, which helped develop the virtual presence droids that he used at the Deus ex Sapiens demonstrations. He bought a company that creates entangled particles for instantaneous long distance communication.
Have I missed any puzzle pieces?”
“Only why we need you to find him now that you’ve told us,” said Belle.
“You’re not leaving this room alive without me saying so. My soldiers will come in useful to get past Laird Bank’s security. He has a personal army of droids.” He cracked open a blue and orange can, refilling his glass.
Arthas walked to Cain and held out his hand. The mercenary shook it with a raised eyebrow. They both turned to the Martian Security Agent.
“I’m not shaking his hand,” she said. One hand still holding her gun, she touched the place over her heart where Ableman had stabbed her to death.
“STAND DOWN,” called the killer to his crew.
“They’ve lowered their weapons, but they’re standing at rest, not leaving.”
“Do I look like an idiot?” Cain asked, before downing his glass of sparkling orange juice in a single gulp.
“In those trousers? Absolutely,” said Nguyen.
“My eyes are up here,” said Ableman, patting his tartan crotch then pointing up. “Come on then. We’re burning daylight.”
The Bullet Donors were dressed in blue tartan trousers and white bullet proof jackets. They escorted their leader, the agent, the detective and the droid to a stretch four wheel drive in the hotel car park.
On comfy seats that should have fitted ten per side, only seven bulky men would fit on either cushioned bench. Even with his droid, Arthas didn’t like his odds. Luxurious claustrophobia was the mood inside the vehicle as it turned. The detective mashed elbows with men whose tattoos would have been probable cause for arrest on Mars.
“Here we are. Calton Hill. That monstrosity behind the pillars is his.” Cain pointed through thick windows to a tower approximately a hundred storeys high that dominated the area.
“MacLeod-Miller Robotics strong armed their way into buying the structure years ago and built their new research and development center around the National Monument of Scotland. Lord Banks’ penthouse is on the seventy fifth floor,” Blue announced to them all.
Arthas and Belle weren’t the only heads turning to look at the droid in confusion.
“I was curious. I thought you might want to know as well.”
“Lord Banks entered the building eight hours ago. There’s no sign of him leaving,” said Green.
“Can your men cover the entrances? Make sure he doesn’t escape?” Arthas asked Cain.
“They can. Will you be fighting by my side?”
“I’ve got your back, but you’re going in first,” said the detective.
“Good enough. Alright boys, arm up. You, you, you, and you, take the north, south, east and west doors.” He pointed to four men. “The rest of you are with me.” A chest of helmets opened behind the driver’s seat. The detective nodded gratefully, strapping his helmet on. Tucking in her hair, Nguyen did the same.
“What about local police?” Cain asked.
“They’re onboard,” said Jacques, stretching the truth.
Without another word, the mercenary led his team forward with hand signals common to Earth. Both Martians and the droid knew to follow silently, guns ready.
Large security droids at the entrance asked the trespassers to drop their weapons. Cain and his team put them down efficiently and stepped over the twitching bodies.
“Sorry buds,” said Blue, eyes flickering back to amethyst.
Bullets rattled down from a balcony of the atrium as shutters closed in front of them and behind.
“No going back now,” said Ableman. He had the grin of a madman.
Damnit. I knew this would happen, thought Jacques. He ducked behind a desk and let the mercenaries do what Cain paid them to.
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A foray into Scotland as seen through the eyes of a Martian. No safer on terra forma though. Beautifully crafted and imaginative piece.
Thank you, Helen. This is my vision of what it might be like in Scotland centuries in the future after the ice caps have melted. If humanity can adapt and colonise Mars of course.
I still crack the heck up every time I see the "Bullet Donors" moniker. :) Speaking of which, I think a caps was left out: "The bullet donors were dressed in blue tartan trousers and white bullet proof jackets." Thank you for all the cool geography/statuary/historical info about Scotland! We were Wylies in my great-gran's generation (before it Americanized), and I have always wanted to go. Reading about it is pretty neat. :)
Thanks. It’s nice to promote my country when I get the chance. Irn Bru in particular is a Scottish thing people don’t know about, probably because it’s an acquired taste. I miss it though, great for hangovers. I changed that capitalisation issue. Thanks again.
Does that translate at all? Maybe Iron Brew?
It’s just stylised I think. Not sure why it’s spelled like that. Scots, a dialect of English, tends to throw out syllables that seem unnecessary. Perhaps a letter in that case. No idea really. It’s available in places where Scottish people gather in any number. I saw cans of it in Azerbaijan with Russian style text on them. It was the weirdest thing because you can’t really get it in England easily.
Lots of scottish stuff in this one. Somewhere uou want to go? Ableman seems more likeable in this than the first story he was in.
I’m from Scotland. Grew up there. Ableman gets a bit more rounded out in the next few stories.
Japan? I thiught you were from Japan?
From Scotland, living in Japan.
Ah. I see what happened.
Easy mistake to make.
If you liked this and want to read on, then you can use the link below. Thank you. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/fcvf9t/