AR-D6 was first on the scene, bursting through the door to find a little girl and a corpse smeared with blood. The girl looked up with a tear-streaked face and asked if mommy was okay.
Her name was Tallulah, age six, and she had not spoken or left AR-D6’s presence since she’d been gently pried from her mother’s side. Her pink and bright-pink sweater made AR-D6’s drab, battered old coat look even shabbier than usual. As AR-D6’s synaptic processor generated a report and uploaded it to the station servers, she clung to the detective’s arm. Small brown fingers worried at the dents and scratches in gunmetal grey skin.
“It’s Christmas Day, Artie.” Detective Park shrugged. “Social Services will pick her up in a few hours. Until then, you’re on your own.”
“Just use those new speech apps we installed,” Sergeant Wicks suggested. “You’ll have a confession in no time!” The humans laughed.
Artie turned optic sensors on the girl, and she peered back with big brown eyes.
“Do you require nourishment?” Artie asked.
“Hungry,” Tallulah said.
“I appreciate your efficient use of language.”
The girl clung to Artie’s coat as they walked from the police station to an automat frequented by the detectives in the homicide department. The robot chef didn’t mind working on Christmas.
“Research recommends that children be given a wide variety of foods to acclimate to a healthy diet,” Artie said, offering her a plate retrieved from the automat wall. She made a face Artie interpreted as disgust.
“I have been informed the sushi here is excellent,” Artie told her. “Innately bite-sized portions make it ideal for child consumption.”
She shook her head again. Artie accessed the new speech apps suggested by its colleagues.
“Don’t be an asshole, man,” Artie said. The girl crossed her arms and huffed. The next line queued, Look, I’m not the one who killed your mom, kid, by Artie’s estimation would be unwise given the look of anger scrawled on the child’s face. Artie deactivated the apps.
“What would you like?” Artie asked. Tallulah responded with something Artie’s language matrix translated as spaghetti. Artie returned to the wall and found a plate of spaghetti.
Artie watched her dig into the meal, almost as messily as Sergeant Wicks would have. This girl likely knew who had killed her mother. Artie had a lot of red ink on the board — as a robot, it tended to get dumped the difficult cases — and this might be an opportunity to clear a case.
“Tallulah, do you know where your father is?”
The girl shrugged.
“Is there someone whom you are supposed to contact in case of emergencies?”
Tallulah looked up, eyes blank, mouth covered in spaghetti sauce.
“Does anyone else live in your apartment?”
She poked at her spaghetti.
Artie nodded, a mannerism picked up from human co-workers. There had been signs of a male occupant in the apartment — clothes, an extra toothbrush, a pair of shoes — but the victim had not been married and there were no other names on the apartment lease. There had been no sign of forced entry. Artie calculated a 90.7% probability this male occupant was the killer.
“Who else was at your apartment this morning, Tallulah?” Artie asked. The girl didn’t answer. Artie looked at the spaghetti, then back at the girl.
“By my calculations, you have ingested fewer than 200 calories today. I suggest you finish your spaghetti.”
She stirred the spaghetti, listless. Artie scanned the automat wall, seeking a new approach. Moments later, Tallulah was munching on a cookie the size of her head.
“Do you have any questions for me, Tallulah?” Artie asked.
She contemplated her own bite marks in the cookie, then asked, “Where is my mommy?”
“Her body is currently in the coroner’s office, several blocks from here.”
“What’s a coroner?” She struggled with the word.
“A coroner is a medical specialist whose role is to examine the bodies of the deceased to determine a cause of death.”
Chocolate cracked between Tallulah’s teeth. “Did she die?”
“All the biological functions that kept your mother alive were terminated,” Artie said. “Initial inspection of the body indicated she was stabbed by a bladed weapon, probably a knife from the kitchen. She bled to death shortly thereafter, though shock may have also been a factor. These findings are preliminary and could alter upon full examination by coroner staff.” Artie expected the child understood only one word in ten, but she appeared to consider the answer carefully as she licked at the crumbs clinging to her lips.
“Will she get better?” she asked.
“No.” Artie told her. Her eyes fell.
“One time,” she said. “I fell and hurt my knee. Mommy kissed it but it didn’t feel better.”
“An abrasion would require a topical antibacterial ointment,” Artie said, “and a bandage to cover the wound to protect it from further harm or infection.”
“Well, she put a Band-Aid on it,” Tallulah said. “It had a pink robot with a bow.”
Artie said after a moment, “I like pink robots.”
Tallulah put down the last half of her cookie.
“Alan,” she said. “Alan hurt my mommy.”
“Alan lives with you and your mother?” Tallulah nodded. “Do you know Alan’s last name?” She shook her head. It didn’t matter. Artie found an Alan Boyd on the dead mother’s phone contacts, uploaded into the casefile earlier that day, and in seconds had a full profile on her live-in boyfriend. Artie noted the several priors for assault, the mental health evaluations showing a violent temper and frequent misogynistic tirades.
A few seconds later, a judgebot issued the necessary warrant and Artie was tracking Alan’s phone. He was at the train station, purchasing tickets to leave town. Artie alerted the AR-57 on duty. Alan wouldn’t be going anywhere, or hurting any more little girls or their mothers.
Artie scanned the automat wall again. “Tallulah, would you like a cupcake?”
She nodded and shoved the cookie away.
Alexander Burns lives in Denton, Texas. He writes because he doesn’t have a basement in which to build robots or time machines. His work has appeared at Every Day Fiction, The Future Fire, Big Pulp, the StarShipSofa podcast, and other fine online journals.