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A Heaven for Toasters | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book After relaunching A Heaven for Toasters, complete with new cover, I promised to publish it here in installments. 

Note: You can find a link to all published chapters at the end of this post or read more parts on Wattpad.

A Heaven for Toasters

What if your perfect man was a robot?

Detective Mika Pensive has a new partner. He’s hot. Smart. Funny. And an android.

Set in the near future, A Heaven for Toasters is more than a sci-fi crime adventure with plenty of romance and wit. It’s the book that will make you look at your toaster in a whole new way.

CHAPTER 6: Island

3:27 p.m.

I tapped my temple to connect with Mary.

“Mika, so good to hear from you,” she exclaimed. “Are you two having fun?”

Sure, if you enjoy things like chewing on nails and getting accused of murder. I didn’t even bother with a ‘hello.’ “I take it you haven’t been watching the Hydra police feeds?”

“No, why?”

I waited for a few seconds while she scanned the news. I knew she was up to speed when she gasped. “Poor Richard. How about you? Are you all right, honey?”

“I’m fine. But I won’t be coming back for a few days. Police here want us to stick around for a while. Can you let the captain know?”

“Of course, honey! Anything you need. You know I’m here for you, right?”

Sometimes it was good to have an Aunt Lucy in your life. I was sure Mary would have already jumped into her zoomer if she had legs. And arms. And a body. “Thank you, Mary. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

I tapped my temple to disconnect as we reached an opening with a battered bench and a view to the sea. The prickling of the hairs on the back of my neck told me the drone’s glass eyes were still staring at us from somewhere out of sight, even though all attempts to locate it through the tracker app continued to fail.

My mind returned to Sergeant Morgan. I glanced at Leo. “Can you believe that baichi? Richard dies and all this so-called cop can think about is jurisdiction—and accusing me of murder.”

The mention of the origins of the word “cop” popped once again into my view, courtesy of the hololens. I really have to uninstall that app. I dismissed it with a gesture that would have made Richard’s ears burn.

“Detective…” Leo paused. He grabbed my arm. “I think there’s more to it than that.”

“More than sheer incompetence?” I guffawed, then saw he was serious. “What do you mean?”

“Sergeant Morgan exhibited clear signs of stress.”

“Maybe he wanted to use the loo,” I said with a shrug. “He certainly looked constipated. Or maybe he had a fight with his wife.”

“I just checked his record.”

Of course you have. Don’t even need to tap your temple to do so. You’re probably plugged into the Network at all times. I wasn’t sure if I felt envy or pity. “His daily intake of fiber is fine, then?”

“Detective, this is serious,” Leo scolded me. “He’s not married. And I don’t know. What I do know is, he’s already been reprimanded twice.”

Couldn’t have happened to a nicer man. “What for?”

“That, I don’t know. The records were sealed. To me, anyway.”

“Fine. So, he’s an unlikeable, constipated, sorry excuse for a cop.” I quickly tapped my temple to stop the dictionary app from popping up. “Are you sure you’re not letting your feelings influence you?”

“I’m pretty good at keeping my feelings separate from my thoughts. But thank you for acknowledging I have them.”

My shoulders rose and fell in a deliberately indifferent shrug. Yeah, I’m a cool kid that way. “Don’t sound so surprised. Your emotions are probably just part of your programming.”

“That doesn’t make them any less real,” Leo said in a quiet voice. “If you hurt me and I cry, how do you know my tears are any less real than yours? That my pain is any less real?”

My eyes widened. Did I offend him? “I…” I placed my hand on his arm. Once again, the firmness of his muscles surprising me. “Look, I don’t pretend to understand how you work. All I’m saying is, I’ve seen how you deal with emotional situations. I don’t care if your emotions are real or not. What matters is that you recognize them in others. Heck, you’re probably better at it than many people I know.”

“And to recognize emotions in others, I need to possess them, too,” he finished my thought. “It’s true. A police officer with poor emotional intelligence would suck at his job. Especially a detective.”

I drew a deep breath to drown out the maelstrom still raging in the back of my head. Chatting with Leo was helping me put my thoughts in order. “So, you’re not too different from us, then.”

“It’s the other way around, actually. You’re not so different from me.”

I pulled my hand away. “Excuse me?”

“Humans are evolving. You’ve been augmenting yourselves for decades, even centuries now.” He pointed at my eyes. “Take your hololenses. When the technology first appeared, it was in the form of a pair of glasses which displayed information. Now, hololenses can administer medicine, translate for you, keep notes, and so much more.” He took my hand and opened it, running his fingers over my palm. “You probably have nanobots that run through your veins, checking for infections. Maybe even an artificial organ.”

His fingers felt hot on my skin. I left my hand in his, enjoying the sensation. Richard’s face flashed in my mind and I yanked my hand away. “It’s not artificial. I was born with one kidney. They grew a second one from my stem cells and I had a transplant as a baby. I never even think about it.”

“Why didn’t you opt for an artificial one?”

“To be honest, I didn’t really have a say. I was just a few months old. But I suspect my parents felt it was more natural.”

Leo shrugged. “Humans are converging toward AI, not the other way around. The lines are getting increasingly blurred. Some Asian Wars’ veterans are more metal than flesh. But you consider them human. I, on the other hand, am more flesh than metal—that, after all, is one of the many differences between me and a robot. Yet, you consider me a machine. And I can tell this has been bothering you.”

“Leo, you are a machine,” I said with a quiet sigh. “And you know what happened the last time cops took machines as partners.”

“That’s because of the second primary law. I’m different.”

Whatever. “All I know is that three cops died. Good cops.”

“Five. Two more succumbed to wound-related injuries in the months following the riot.”

Not exactly helping your case, are you? “If you know all that, is it any wonder I don’t really want you as a partner?” There. I said it.

He looked away. “No.” His lips did that little pursing they did whenever he was thinking. “Perhaps I can explain how this is different.”

“Sure, go ahead,” I said with resignation.

“It all boils down to the five primary laws.”

I frowned. “Five laws?”

Leo raised his thumb as if counting. “I may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.”

I raised my eyebrows. “That’s your primary law? No wonder you were so upset at Xhristina’s possible creation of a conscious clone.”

He raised an eyebrow as if scolding me. “I’m surprised you weren’t.”

“Of course I was,” I snapped at him. “All I said was, we need to be careful. And I was more right than I could possibly imagine.” I remembered Richard marching away from us outside the exhibition center. I massaged my forehead with my fingers like you do when you have a headache. “Anyway, that was law number one?”

“I may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm,” he recited, raising the rest of his fingers, one at a time. “I must obey orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the previous laws. I must protect my own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the previous laws. And I must respect human free will except where it would conflict with the previous laws.”

“So far, you’re telling me you’re just like any other robot.”

“Not true. The incident you mentioned? The one where all those cops died? They had robot partners who failed to react when a crowd stormed a police precinct. But you need to understand, they couldn’t react because doing so would result in them harming people, thus breaking the second law.”

“No, I get it. But cops still died. While their so-called partners stood by, twiddling their thumbs.”

“Yes. Which is why robots are now confined to clerical duties.”

Which is probably where you belong. “I know all that. And it only proves you can’t be my partner. You have to obey the same laws as those robots, so…”

“Robots have silicon brains. They’re like computers on legs. They’re inflexible. Digital in their thinking. Black or white. Right or wrong.”

“So far, we’re in complete agreement.”

“I, on the other hand, have a human-like brain. I operate on a quantum level. I can hold opposite thoughts at the same time.”

I shook my head like telling him ‘no’ to a question he hadn’t asked yet. “Sorry, Leo. I have no idea what you just said.”

“I’m flexible. I can bend the rules, depending on the situation.” Leo placed his arm around my back, startling me. “I would protect you, no matter what.”

“I…” I felt his fingers burn my skin through my shirt.

“In a hundred years, or two hundred years, or a millennium, it may not matter anymore. We may be judged not by the percentage of flesh on us but by completely different criteria. Humans have been tinkering with their genetic make-up for over a century. Who knows what we’ll all even look like?”

“Clones,” I said and almost slapped my forehead.

Leo frowned. “No, I don’t think so. People will probably still prefer childbirth.”

“No, I don’t mean humanity’s future. I mean this. This crazy situation. It all started with Xhristina and her clones. Remember what you were saying as we left the exhibition?”

“I was suggesting we investigate Xhristina’s clones for consciousness.”

“And I was agreeing with you.” I grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “What if she overheard you and wanted to stop us? What better way to stop us than by blowing up my zoomer?”

Leo’s frown showed his disbelief. “But why kill Richard? Wouldn’t the saboteur know you were not on the vehicle? They would have been able to track you through your hololens.”

“How could they? We were in Clonesville. No signal there, remember? For all they knew, I wasn’t on the island, so where else could I be but on that zoomer with Richard?”

“We need to examine the wreckage,” Leo said after a long pause. “Sergeant said he’ll check with his superior officer.”

Instead of an answer, I scoffed. “And the moon is made of cheese.”

“I didn’t believe him, either,” Leo said and started to get up. “I’ll put in an official request. It will be harder to ignore that.”

“No!” I grabbed his arm to pull him down again. “That will only make them suspicious. It’s bad enough we mentioned it to Sergeant. We must pretend to drop the matter, leave it to the authorities here.”

The frown on his forehead deepened. “If what you’re saying is true, the island authorities may be compromised.”

“Not necessarily all of them. But I sure don’t trust that sergeant. If this has to do with clones, chances are he’s in on it.” I rubbed my chin in thought. “You said he’s been reprimanded in the past. If they were all in cahoots, they would have covered up whatever it is that landed him in hot water. No, I doubt the rest of the precinct has any idea what he’s up to.”

“What’s our next step, then?” Leo asked after a long moment.

“Can you find out where they keep the wreckage? We’ll need to pay it a discreet visit.”

He made a dismissive motion with his fingers. “Finding where they keep it is easy. But there’s a problem.”

“What?”

“I’m flexible but I still can’t do anything illegal.” Leo must have sensed my confusion, for he continued. “If you’re thinking about breaking into a police compound without proper authorization, I’m afraid I can’t help.”

So much for all the talk of protecting me. “What about your sense of justice?”

“It’s because of my sense of justice that I’m helping you,” he protested.

The first vestiges of a plan tugged at the edges of my consciousness. “Just how flexible are these rules of yours?”

“Like I said, I’m different to all other forms of artificial life. Due to the nature of my profession, I’m allowed more flexibility in my interpretation of the laws.”

“So, if you saw someone snooping around wherever they keep the wreckage, you’d look the other way?”

“This is a police facility we’re talking about. And you just admitted the precinct is most likely innocent of any wrongdoing.” Leo shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’d have to notify the authorities.” He sounded apologetic, like he was to blame for his programming. “I said I can bend the rules, but I’m not a contortionist.”

“Great,” I said with a sigh. “I have the bloody Pope for a partner.”

He gave me an uneasy smile. “Hail Mary?”

Hail Mary, indeed. We’ll need one to figure this out. I leaned forward, facing the blue sea, lost in thought.

A memory popped into my head, of my dad teaching me poker. I’d been complaining about my cards all night. Finally, he’d taken me by the shoulders and looked deep into my eyes. “Poker is like life,” he’d told me in his most serious voice, the one he reserved for the really important stuff. “Wishing you’re dealt a different hand is pointless. What you need to do is find a way to win with whatever cards you’re handed.” A way to win… What if I could use—

“Detective, you don’t look well,” Leo said, breaking my concentration. “Would you like something to eat?”

“That’s just my thinking face,” I murmured. I tried to return to my thoughts but my train of thought hadn’t just been derailed, it was now on fire at the bottom of a canyon, the smoke choking me. Ta ma de.

I stood up, patting down my clothes. “Never mind. We should check into one of the hotels. Nothing too fancy. I already have a mortgage to pay and no idea how long we’ll have to stay.”

Leo pulled me back to the bench and sat down next to me. “Don’t worry about that,” he said in a conspiratorial tone. “I have a practically unlimited credit line and I’m sure my employers won’t mind if I share a room with you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Unlimited? You mean you can buy anything you wish?”

“Well, not anything. They do oversee my purchases eventually. A large, inexplicable purchase—say, buying a house—would probably result in my getting recalled for a thorough diagnostic. But a hotel room and some clothes? That won’t be a problem.”

I gaped at him. I would probably have to save money for a month to afford what Leo was shrugging off as ‘not a problem.’ “Great. So, I’m human and I’m broke. And you’re a robot and you’re rich.” I let out a sigh that was only part theatrical. “We’re everything that’s wrong with the world, aren’t we?”

Leo’s eyebrows did that cute frown of his. “How so?”

“Well, like I said…” I clicked my tongue. “Never mind.”

“I’m an experiment that could make my creators billions if all goes well.” He gave a one-shoulder shrug. “That’s all.”

I felt my expression slide into a frown. “I still don’t get it. I mean, why did they send you to us, anyway? We’re just a backwater precinct compared to the big cities.”

“It’s just a trial. When you test something, you start small. If all goes well, you expand.”

“So, you could leave us for greener pastures?” Even though I was still unconvinced about the prospect of becoming his partner, I found the thought depressing.

Leo stared at the sea and did the finger-wringing thing of his. “I’m property, Detective,” he said, his voice laced with sadness. “I go wherever they send me.”

Property. The word tasted sour. His unlimited line of credit suddenly did not seem as appealing. “You’re no one’s property,” I blurted out. “You’re my partner. For this mission, anyway.”

The corners of his lips quirked into a slight smile. “I’ll take it.”

We stayed silent for a while, gazing into the distance. Part of my brain was working on a plan. Another was admiring the view. A lone garbage collector sailed past, a low, unassuming barge leisurely cleaning the sea from centuries-old plastic. At night, it would return to port, depositing the day’s catch for recycling.

A splash in the waters caught my eye. A dolphin! I leaned forward, but it was gone. Moments later, another splash and it flew out of the water only to dash back into the sea in the blink of an eye. I remembered something I had once read. The world is the mirror God uses to understand Himself.

I wondered what He would make of our brave new world. We ruined the Earth He gave us, then rebuilt it in our own image. And now we were trying to return it to what it looked like before we even existed as a species. Maybe Leo was right. Who knew what humanity would be like in a millennium or two? Perhaps a toaster and I weren’t that different after all.

Sailboats crisscrossed the crystal-clear waters, powered by nothing but good old-fashioned wind. I undid my ponytail and shook out my hair. I longed to be on the deck of one of those yachts, feel the wind playing with it.

“Nice view,” Leo said as if reading my mind.

“It sure is,” I whispered.

“Pertier than a li’l red wagon goin’ up the hill,” he said in a drawling accent.

My eyebrows shot up. “What the heck was that?”

His face turned crimson. “Sorry, one of my programmers grew up on a farm. I have a whole bunch of these. No idea if people actually use them or if she was just messing with me.”

I laughed, the cloud over me lifting somewhat. Then I realized he had not been looking at the sea. He had been looking at me. I felt my cheeks flush the same kind of red as his face had a moment ago. Twirling my hair back into a loose ponytail, I rose to my feet. “Come on. Let’s check into a hotel, get something to eat, and come up with a plan.”

Leo stood up and straightened his clothes in a gesture that reminded me of Richard. Only, it looked good on him. “Sure.” He faced me, a half-smile on his lips. “Partner.”


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