Jean-Pierre Dimarche looked up from his book. His study was perfectly lit in warm yellow light, and his chair pleased the senses: the smell of leather wafted up from it while the soft perfection of its texture caressed the skin.
All would have been perfect except the alarm from the security system on his desk was blaring and a red light flickered on and off.
He lay his book beside the whisky glass on the round table and strode over to the desk.
The security cameras showed several men armed with automatic weapons already inside the grounds, and he realized their little slice of tropical island paradise was about to be violated, and the security force he’d hired was not going to be able to help.
Unfortunately, the rent-a-cops ran out to face the intruders anyway and got gunned down taking only one of the bad guys with them, as the sound of gunfire came through the windows.
Jean-Pierre cursed. There was nothing he could do about it but sit there and wait; the conclusion had always been that they wouldn’t need a panic room or weapons.
That conclusion was about to be put to the test.
Minutes after the first alarm sounded, the door to his study splintered and fell inward. He grimaced… it had been carved by an artisan in Portugal, an old man who’d died a decade earlier. It truly was irreplaceable.
He could think about that later. Three large, armed men entered the room. They wore shorts and faded t-shirts, the uniform of the island, and their skin gleamed in the soft light. One of them looked familiar, possibly a stall owner in the market, but he couldn’t be sure.
“We don’t keep cash in the house, but you’re welcome to the jewelry and electronics.”
The leader, a big man with bull’s shoulders, sneered. A gold tooth worth a year’s salary glinted in his mouth. “What good is an eighty-inch TV on this island? Who would I sell it to? The only thing valuable in this house is you.”
“So it’s a kidnapping?”
“Of course. But maybe we just keep your wife and the little girl and shoot you. After all, you’re the foreign exploiter. You deserve to die, but someone might pay for them to come back alive.”
“Let them go. I’m the most valuable person here.”
“You must think I’m stupid.” From somewhere in the house, Jean-Pierre heard Jacqueline’s plaintive cry and his heart went out to her. But he hardened it. He needed to keep his wits about him if he was going to minimize the damage.
“Let the servants out and I’ll make the call. All they’re doing is trying to make a living.”
The big man held his gaze as if trying to guess Jean-Pierre’s game and then gave one curt nod. He turned to one of the other men. “Let them go, but take their phones.”
That was smart. The nearest village was two miles away. The assailants would be long gone by the time anyone reached civilization.
“So how much do you want?” Jean-Pierre asked.
“Whatever the market will bring. And no price is enough unless I get your promise that you will never come back to this island.”
Jean-Pierre shook his head sadly. “I like it here.”
“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously.”
“I take things seriously.” He hesitated, but it seemed there was no further choice. “Do you know what a sensorial robot is?”
“What are you talking about? Do I need to shoot your wife to make you understand this is serious?”
“A sensorial robot,” Jean Pierre continued, ignoring the angry assailant, “is engineered to be a perfect copy of a human being. But more important than looking the part is the sensory network. Billions upon billions of receptors are built into its skin, into its taste buds, into its stomach analogue, and every byte of the information picked up by these receptors is sent back to the person who controls the robot.”
He stood, and the leader raised his gun. “Do something stupid and I’ll fill you with holes.”
“The actual person is in a tank somewhere, their head wired up to control the robot and to feel everything. The person can feel the soft island sun on the skin, the taste of twenty-year-old whisky. It can feel the wonder of lovemaking. Anything a real human body can do, this can feel.”
“So what? You aren’t a robot. I can see you aren’t a robot.”
“That’s the beauty of it. I’m not a robot, but I’m not in the room with you. You’re looking at a sensorial robot.” He stepped forward and struck a pose. “Getting the wrinkles just right, the texture of the skin… it’s a difficult and expensive process. This body is probably worth more than this house. Maybe the whole island.” Now he let his anger show. “But it’s worth it because it’s impossible for us to go anywhere now. People don’t think of families like mine as human. They think of billionaires as enemies, as potential kidnapping victims. We were trapped, trapped in a few houses, in a few safe countries that became less and less safe as worthless bastards like you figured out how to track us.”
He stepped forward again and the gun fired. He didn’t feel it. He was smart enough to have turned the pain receptors off before they arrived. He pushed the gun aside and grabbed the leader’s throat.
“A robot designed to thwart kidnappers needs to be bulletproof,” he explained. Then he closed his hand and crushed the man’s windpipe.
The second man in the room was not particularly smart. Instead of running for the forest, he decided to stand his ground and shoot. Good. Maybe he could kill them all before sunrise.
It wouldn’t do for people to learn his secret. They’d look at him funny in the marketplace.
He wouldn’t enjoy that.
Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer with over three hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages. He is a member of Codex and an Active Member of SFWA. His latest novel is Test Site Horror (2020). He has also published two other monster books: Ice Station: Death (2019) and Jungle Lab Terror (2020), three science fiction novels: Incursion (2017), Outside (2017) and Siege (2016) and an ebook novella entitled Branch. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019), Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011). In 2019, Gustavo was awarded second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest and in 2018 he received a Judges Commendation (and second place) in The James White Award. He was also a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest. His website is at www.gustavobondoni.com.
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