“I killed her. Blew up the shuttle. Killed the bitch.” Chad Mason lifted his shoulders in a stiff parody of a shrug. The faint blue glow of his vision receptors met my gaze steadily.

I suppressed a surge of anger. To hear an android casually admit to murder would have made my gorge rise — if I had one. “Three android Marines were on board, Chad. One of the Marines died. When recovered, his pseudo-brain contained nothing but random patterns.”

Again, the shrug. “Luck of the draw.” His receptors glowed a brighter blue. “Bad luck.”

“Five of the dead organics were also Marines. Two were Navy officers. The rest were civilians. I’m sure they’d be relieved to know they wandered into your bomb envelope by sheer chance.”

Mason shook his head. “She deserved to die. I don’t care about the rest.”

“Few couples stay together after one partner becomes a droid. You knew that.”

Mason lowered his head. I was reminded of a stubborn child. “She promised.”

“An organic woman — .” I stopped speaking. My job was to determine the prisoner’s state of mind, not counsel him on the realities of becoming mechanical. Under his prison jumpsuit Mason was sexless, like me, but his body was designed and equipped in a far different manner. I wore a standard Marine unit, built for endurance and strength. His was lighter, less bulky, approximating the size and strength of an organic male.

A horizontal band resembling fashionable sun glasses covered his state-of-the-art lens array. The nasal ridge flowed into a slim horizontal speaker grid. His head was designed to suggest humanity without becoming a caricature.

Was he insane? Irresponsible media speculations aside, Mason’s actions were worrying, even to scientists and psychologists who understood android pseudo-brains.

He shifted slightly and leaned forward. “They never would have caught me if I hadn’t missed that one damn surveillance camera. I futzed all the rest.”

I smiled — inwardly. The police had tracked him down using standard analysis techniques. This highly intelligent killer had taken out a large insurance policy on his wife two months prior to the shuttle bombing. Traces of high explosive residue found at his apartment narrowed the list of suspects to one. Mason. The surveillance imagery didn’t turn up until he was in custody.

“So what happened between you and your wife?”

“Lots of things happened.” Mason stared at his clenched fists. “She promised.”

“Something made you decide to kill her.”

“That’s kind of obvious ain’t it, Doc? She kept calling me Tin Man.”

Every droid in existence has been called that name. I waited.

“At first it was the name calling and separate bedrooms. Like that, you know?”

I did know, but he was the killer and I the psychologist.

“She met Kimber at work.” Mason shifted again. “That’s one lucky bastard.”

“Lucky? How?”

“He would’ve been next. She couldn’t see that he was just using her. Wouldn’t see it. They started meeting at our apartment when I was away on business.”

“How do you know?”

“Anyone can do surveillance. I got images.” Mason’s voice slurred. “Kimber an’ her. He was just after her body.”

“So you killed her.”

Mason slammed his fists on the table. “She promised!”

A guard opened the door. “You okay, Doc?”

I waved him out. “No problem.”

“She had to die,” murmured Mason. “You got to pay when you don’t keep your word.”

“And Nathan Kimber had to die. For sleeping with your wife.”

“Oh, they didn’t do much sleeping.” There was nothing at all humorous in the way he spoke those words. His voice had a curious broken quality, like that of a sad small child.

“And after Kimber was dead, what then?”

He didn’t respond for a long time. Finally, he shrugged and laughed. His voice and manner were more normal. “What do you want me to say? That I planned to murder two people — then go back to my normal life? What’s normal for a droid?”

“You killed a lot more than two people.”

“I could only kill her once. The others — well — they were organics. Those sneering bastards are all alike.”

“All alike? Has anyone — other than your wife and Kimber — ever really hurt you badly enough to make you want to kill people at random?”

He shook his head. “Think what you like, Doc. I blew up the shuttle. I would’ve blown Kimber to Hell if I’d had a chance.” His posture suggested amusement. “The others don’t matter. The world is full of organics who need killing.”

We talked around the subject for another hour. Mason never wavered. He killed his woman for doing him wrong. Kimber would have been next. Beyond that he saw a world full of targets.

Chad Mason had planned the bombing and made every attempt to avoid detection. His efforts were only partially successful because he left vital clues. After all, he was only human. His method of attack stemmed from obsession, not madness. He could kill her but once. The other victims died as surrogates for the multiple deaths he wished on his wife.

As a Marine, organic and droid, I had killed in the line of duty. The thought that I might kill another human being in anger or out of jealous rage hadn’t occurred to me. Yet here was a droid capable of just such a killing. Worse, Mason collected the lives of random strangers.

Traits burned into the lattice of our android quasi-brains include obsession, self delusion, and a capacity for violence, all artifacts of our organic life. I’d been wearing my steel suit so long I’d forgotten the dark side of my humanity.

Chad Mason was sane. It was right and just that he would face the death penalty. His pseudo-brain would be removed from his chest and burned in a high temperature furnace. The body would soon carry another person, another refugee from the realm of flesh and blood.

JR Hume is an old Montana farm boy who writes science fiction, a little fantasy, some weird detective tales, an occasional poem, and oddball stories of no particular genre.

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