THE BIG BLOW-UP • by Dave D’Alessio

He had the perfect face of a professional boy toy, but his eyes were blank and yellow. Sol system law required androids to have yellow eyes. “Mister Arbogast,” he said in flat, plastic tones. “My name is Alexander. I want to know where I came from.”

He’d videophoned the right man. John D. Arbogast, Private Investigations. Offices at, on, or around L2, Ceres, and Titan.

I backtraced his Solar System Ident and Phone number on CloudWeb and cross-reffed the speed of light lag with known inhabited objects. “Looks like you’re on the Britannic, on your way in-system to Venus,” I told him. “You came from Earth or further out.”

Meat people liked free samples of my work. AIs went either way. “Thank you for your time, Mister Arbogast,” he said. “Is there someone else in your profession you would care to recommend?” Translation: he was not impressed.

“No.” There were plenty of other private dicks, but none that I would care to recommend. “I take it you’ve had someone trace your serial number?” It was etched inside his left wrist.

Alexander said, “I have. But that’s just my body. My mind is from somewhere else. I know that, Mister Arbogast.” It gave meat people the willies if an android showed emotions, so they couldn’t. But this one was getting close to sounding desperate. “I know this wasn’t the body I was built with. I know it, and I don’t know how I know it.”

That was strange enough to be worth looking into. You could give an AI a case of amnesia. All it took was a big enough magnet. But how would he know that he didn’t remember?

“Dump me everything, Alexander,” I said. “I charge 600 yuan a day plus expenses.”

***

One of those expenses was Rachel Deever, who designed half of CloudWeb before OCD made her unemployable. I squirted Alexander’s AI Ident to her and lowered the level of bourbon in my squeeze bottle. It was a ninety minute lag from my office at Earth-Luna L2 to Rachel’s habitat in Titan orbit, plus however long it would take her to do some research. I had time for liquid entertainment.

Her answer came back six hours later. “Arbogast, you bastard, I hate you. I can’t find a damned thing. This Ident is like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. With people like Rachel around there weren’t many secret places on CloudWeb. Most of those were military. I don’t like people with guns.

But if Alexander was military he had no business walking around in public. Military AIs were supposed to be scrapped with their weapons and the Space Patrol was damned nasty about that. “Maybe it’s proprietary,” I called back. “And check the milspec AI’s, just in case.” Rachel’s bill was going to be huge. Or maybe she’d decide to do it just for laughs. Ha ha.

***

I was just back from a hot satellite recovery when Rachel’s next call caught up with me. She’d left the vid on and looked like four days of bad coffee and pepper pills. “I still don’t have it all, but you’re right.” She twisted a finger into her hair and tugged. “That ID was issued to the SPs. It disappeared from their records about fifteen years ago.”

I couldn’t tell her, but that clinched it for me. I was with the Luna Rifles fifteen years ago. Word had gone around that the SPs had lost a Very Smart Bomb. It was the usual story: bad apples, bad boys, and big bribes. Scuttlebutt said some Moldavian revolutionaries had slipped a rogue SP a wad of yuan for the VSB. Cyberpol had picked it up when they cracked down on the Moldavians. The Moldavians had wiped the VSB’s memory and the Space Patrol wasn’t admitting they’d lost anything so they couldn’t claim it for disposal. Without a requisition from the SPs Cyberpol couldn’t send it back and their charter wouldn’t let them kill it.

Putting two and two together was my business. My guess was someone at Cyberpol had found a body for the AI and cut him loose.

Now the meteor was in my quadrant. How did you tell an intelligent android that his purpose in life was to detonate on command?

***

Orbital geometry between L2 and Alexander’s ship still allowed real-time conversation. “Alexander, you’re ex-military. That means secret.”

“I see,” he said. “Thank you. Now I know why this body feels wrong.”

A lot wrong. His original eyes had been a laser designator, his arms and legs elevators and rudders, his power plant a battery. It shows how smart a VSB he was that his AI’d learned to cope. “I’m cutting my bill down to expenses,” I said. “I can’t give you a sure answer, so I haven’t earned my fee.” Courts and clients paid for facts, not guesswork.

Alexander’s blank yellow eyes glowed. “I understand. Thank you.”

I sent the invoice. His face stayed as blank as always as he scanned it. “This will consume most of my savings,” he said.

Rachel’s report had included that tidbit. His bank account had been the first file she’d cracked.

Savings might not matter anyhow. The SP’s icon glowed in the air in front of me. A quick word and they’d pick him up and finish what they’d screwed up fifteen years ago. The SPs would owe me one if I did.

Did this Alexander deserve a chance?

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t cut it lower and stay in business. But I can do this.”

He’d been built to do his job no matter what, the bloodhound of AIs. He’d make one hell of an operator, if I could keep him from blowing up. I said, “Alexander, I need a man on Venus. Do you want the job?”


Dave D’Alessio is an ex-industrial chemist, ex-TV engineer, and ex-award winning animator currently masquerading as a social scientist. His work has previously appeared in Every Day Fiction, as well as other magazines and anthologies.


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Rate this story:
 average 3.8 stars • 29 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Connie England

    I really enjoyed this story as I could see many possibilities. I would like to see more of these characters.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Bonus point for successfully melding a genre I dislike with one that I love. Five stars.

  • I liked this a lot. Pretty clearly the setup for something longer – which I would happily read.

  • MaryAlice Meli

    This piece gave me quite a few chuckles, Dave, which I didn’t expect. This genre usually doesn’t sparkle for me with so much wit and whimsy. Thanks.

  • Carl Steiger

    I read lots of SF and frequently savage what I read at EDF, but I have no nits to pick this time. Well done!

  • S Conroy

    Really enjoyed the creativity and the twists in this.

  • Terrific story. Had to read it twice only because that’s where I am with sci-fi these days. Takes a bit to filter the pea. Not the author’s fault.