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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2107664-Man-and-Machine
by Matt
Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Sci-fi · #2107664
Christopher Casey investigates a killing but is all as it seems?

"Later today, Parliament will vote on the Memory Resolution," the newscaster began. "Lobbyists have been advocates of implanting memories into synthetic humans; however the opposition believe that this could lead to developmental trauma, which could end in violence."

Detective Christopher Casey flicked off the monitor and turned to look out of the window of the car. On the streets, groups of protestors marched with digital placards warning of a 'robot revolution'.

"Can't bloody escape these idiots," Casey muttered.

"Apologies sir, but I do not recognise that command," the voice unit of the Ford Prima said. Casey ignored it.

Soon, the car came to a smooth halt. Casey climbed out of the car, his knees groaning. He took a deep breath then walked towards the solemn officer who stood outside the charcoal-grey factory. The gloom of pre-rain hung over them like an unwanted guest.

"Casey, synthetic investigation division. I understand you were first on the scene?"

"A bloodbath sir," the young officer began, fidgeting with his hands in front of him. "I was sick, sir. There's vomit in the crime scene."

Inside, the stench made Casey gag. Never gets any easier, he thought to himself. The open-plan floor was softly lit and white-suited forensics analysts combed every inch systematically. He was given sterilised shoes and gloves.

"What we got Suki?" he asked the lead analyst.

"Someone's really gone to town here, man. Real messy. Something you might see in one of those horror flicks from the twenty-first century."

Suki led the way to an area cordoned off. "Have a look for yourself, man."

Casey looked at the scene in front of him and held his gaze, despite a sudden urge to look away. His eyes were beginning to water with the intensity of the smell. In front of him lay a body that looked untouched from the feet to the neck. The detached head was lying three feet away. The blood from the neck had clotted and, to Casey's eyes, the cut looked to have been clean.

"What was used to take the head off?"

"Laser. One quick cut and it was done. Have a look at the incision here, you can see that the heat of the laser almost cauterised the wound, that's why there's not much blood. But that wasn't the cause of death."

"The head." Casey had already seen it. The head, which lay on the floor angled towards him, its empty eyes staring out accusingly, forever open, had a small, spherical entry wound right above the left eye. "Bullet wound. What do we know about it?"

"Hell of a shot, some two hundred metres away, just near the entrance to the factory, possibly in the dark, probably to a moving target. Maybe even one that was running away."

"That's a lot of uncertainties there, Suki. Tell me what you know."

"This guy's a good shot, no doubt about it. One shot, bang, picked up the casing, then walked over and took out the laser and decapitated the poor bastard."

"We sure there was only one shot?" Casey asked, searching the walls for bullet holes.

"No sign of any others. We've got the boys checking for gunpower residue."

"If the victim was already dead after the shot, then why take his head off?"

"Hey, that's what you're here for Casey. I'm the science guy."

Casey stared at Suki with dark eyes.

"I'm kidding man, lighten up," Suki said. He walked over to a lamp and twisted it on to the rear factory wall, just behind the body. "See this blood spatter? It shows us that the assailant must have taken the shot from near the entrance and the bullet mark in the centre confirms that it was a handgun, probably an old-fashioned nine millimetre."

"I see. Do we know who the victim is yet?"

"John Doe guys will be here shortly. Shouldn't be a problem - his eyes are still intact so they'll make a quick ID."

"Witnesses?"

"One," Suki said reaching into his pocket. "Guy called Jared Barr. He's at the station now; one of the uniforms took him down, left his partner to chuck his guts up all over my crime scene."

"He's a young guy, let's give him a break."

"Reminds me of your first case," Suki said, fighting back a grin.

"Alright Suki. Get the ID guys to call me; I'm going to the station."

On the way to the station, Casey logged onto his computer. "Search records for Jared Barr." He selected the image of the tired-looking man, aged thirty-three. He had closely cropped hair and a large nose. Casey investigated the file and familiarised himself with the witness.

Reaching the station took a long time. Twice Casey had cursed the cars in front of him for over-cautious driving before he had realised that they were powered by AIs. Shouting at a computer. Get a grip, he remanded himself.

"Don't even start," he said when he reached the interview rooms.

"I have waited for you," Vinny replied in his tinny tone.

"I mean, because I'm late, the traffic..."

"I am afraid that I do not understand," Vinny said earnestly.

"It's...never mind. Let's have a look at this guy," Casey said, standing side-by-side with Vinny and looking through the one-way glass into the interview room. He reflected on how little police stations had changed since the early twentieth century models, just a few updates and some new technology. He looked in on Jared Barr, who was sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair and tapping his fingers on the table. In the reflection from the glass, he could see himself - dark but not handsome, a receding hairline which accentuated his crooked boxer's nose and a creased shirt several seasons out-of-date. Next to him stood Vinny, with his perfect synthetic skin and alert eyes, staring analytically through the glass.

"Vinny, what's your thoughts on our friend Jared, here?"

"Suspect was reluctant to come to the station and has appeared agitated since he arrived. He has been arrested previously for low-level drug possession so my deduction is that his behaviour is due to negative associations with the police. The level of perspiration that he is showing suggests nervousness."

"Let's find out what he knows and why he's nervous. I'll do the talking, you just watch how he reacts," Casey said.

People did not always realise that Vinny was a synthetic human, or android as the popular term seemed to be nowadays, although when they did their reaction was usually negative. It was something about his speech: too robotic, too analytical.

"Jared," Casey began, sitting himself opposite the witness. The file photo was slightly out-of-date; his hair had grown and been styled into a tight pony tail. All this technology, but no funding for staff to use it to update the records, Casey thought. What a waste. "I understand that you witnessed the incident that happened at the disused factory on Cochrane Street earlier today."

"Get the robot out of here," Jared replied. "I ain't saying nothing with the robot sitting there, damn freak."

If Vinny was offended, he didn't show it. Casey nodded and his partner left the room. He would be watching from the other side of the glass.

"Jared, tell me what you saw," Casey said flatly, in his head silently adding, you little prick.

"So I'm walking along and hear this bang right? Loud noise makes me jump, couldn't work out what it was. I look into the building and see this laser-cutter, it's shining in the dark and cutting through something like it's butter. I'm thinking, what the hell is going on, right? Next thing I know I sees these red eyes looking over at me, right evil, so I ducks. Next time I look up the things gone."

"Can you tell us anything about the person you saw? Hair colour, what they were wearing, build - anything at all?"

"Person? It wasn't no person pal, it was a robot like your mate out there. Evil: no soul."

"Synthetics don't commit crimes, Jared. Not even jaywalking," Casey said wearily. It seemed that recently more and more people were blaming artificial intelligences, not just for crimes but for society's flaws. Unemployment was at an all-time low. Menial tasks just weren't done by humans anymore, there was no need. Why would a company pay for three hundred workers when two machines can do the job better and cheaper?

"Not that you know of, nah. Trust me, this thing was a mech, you could see from its eyes and the way it moved, all stiff like something had been shoved up its arse."

Casey rubbed the bridge of his nose.

"Listen Jared, don't go too far, we might have a few more questions for you."

"Alright," he said, then added quietly: "pig."

Casey was at the doorway but stopped. He turned around and, to Jared's obvious surprise, was smiling. "I'll speak to processing and make sure they have you out of here as quickly as possible," the detective said levelly. "After a routine narcotics scan, of course."

Casey could hear Barr's breathing speed up as he walked out of the interview room. He grinned. Checking his phone, Casey saw that Suki had text to say that they had found something.

They walked to the forensics lab to avoid the traffic. Vinny, as usual, was not in a conversational mood so Casey listened to the news through his earpiece. The newscaster was talking about North Korea's recent attack on China, an action that could pull the whole Asiatic region into an unwanted war. "Britain has come to China's aid, deploying five hundred of the first ever robotic 'pacifying' soldiers," the newsreader said. "The use of robotics in warfare has been a constant through the past two hundred years; however soldiers with synthetic properties have never been used until now. How the war overseas affects the upcoming Memory Resolution remains to be seen." Casey took a sideways glance at Vinny as he listened, but the synthetic human seemed to be unaware.

"Give us some good news," Casey said as they met Suki.

"Check this out," Suki said, gesturing over to a computer with a latex-gloved hand. "You're gonna love this."

On the computer was a small 3D image rotating with several lines coming from it. Suki manipulated the image to highlight certain areas. For an older man, he'd always surprised Casey with his skilful use of technology.

"Piece of ripped fabric," Suki said, pointing at the image. "Snagged on the side of the doorway, probably from a hasty exit."

"This suggests that Jared Barr's statement about the perpetrator seeing him and then fleeing is correct," Vinny weighed in.

"So the assailant walks in, shoots the victim from the other side of the factory floor with military accuracy. He walks across the room and severs the victim's head with a laser. As he does so, he looks around, spots Barr peeking through the window, then flees, catching his top on something on the doorframe."

"Sounds right so far," Suki said.

"Tell me you've got skin cells."

"That's the bad news. We have, but you're not gonna like them."

Casey felt a wrenching in his stomach.

"The skin cells are from a synthetic material used in the manufacture of type-four androids."

"A type-four android would be capable of that level of accuracy, however there is a fail-safe built into them which means they cannot cause harm to organic lifeforms," Vinny said, a type-four android himself.

"This is not good news, Suki," Casey said. The forensics man held his hands out apologetically in reply.

***

"David Gerzhoff, aged thirty-eight, married with three children," Vinny said, narrating the images on the screen. "One of the lead designers of the type-four android, his performance file states that, 'he has been crucial to bringing cutting-edge technology into the daily lives of the British people.' He has no known enemies, although did report threats that had been posted to him by anti-synthetic groups."

"Killed, we think, by one of the synthetics that he helped to create," Casey added. "What are your thoughts Vinny?"

"Based on the evidence, the probability of synthetic involvement is high."



***

Back home, Casey lingered over his tofu noodle takeout. Occasionally he would see old acquaintances posting on social media to show off their authentic meat beefburgers and it would make him salivate. On a detective's salary? In your dreams Casey, he thought to himself.

The video phone rang and he brought it up on the television screen. An overweight, bearded middle-aged man appeared. "Artificial intelligence is against human nature. It's an abomination against man and against god. Giving them memories cheapens our existence and will make them think they are one of us...we all know what happens next. Vote no in the Memory Resolution or leave your children picking up the pieces."

No sooner had Casey deleted the telemarketing message that his phone rang again.

"Casey, Bill Bavis, Digital Reporter, I hear you're working a big case."

"I know you Bavis. You're the guy that writes cheap reports about cheap material. Where'd you get my number?"

"I just want to get a few words for this evening's edition," Bavis said.

"Here's two: fuck off." Casey picked up the remote to hang up.

"Wait. An AI killing."

Casey put the remote down. Shit. Bavis gave a shark-like smile.

"My sources tell me that a synth took down a human."

Casey rubbed his temples and took a long drink from his tumbler. "Be careful Bavis."

"Care to comment? It's going live in two hours. Better you control the message, right?" Bavis said.

"You're right," Casey began. He took another drink. "OK, here's my statement: fuck off." He hung up and finished his drink.

When Casey stood he realised that his legs were unsteady and the room was tilting like a ship at sea. He placed his fingertips on his eyelids and took a deep breath, then walked into the kitchen. The bottle on the counter was empty. Maybe for the best, he thought to himself.

There was a gentle knock on the door. As he opened it, Casey was sent sprawling by a masked assailant. He tried to get up but the attacker held him down with ape-like strength and covered his face with a cloth. Desperately, Casey struggled free and bit hard upon one of the fingers. He tasted blood. A powerful blow to the back of the head took the rest of the fight out of him. The last thing he remembered was looking up and seeing a second person with cold, lifeless eyes that burned against porcelain skin.

The alarm clock wrenched him out of sleep roughly, like a bouncer removing unwanted clientele from a club. A wave of dry nausea washed over him and made him feel giddy. Casey squeezed his eyes together but the pain slipped through effortlessly, driving deep into his skull. His face felt numb. He dialled the phone. He had to warn her.

"Yes?" the pretty face on the video screen asked.

"'S me," Casey slurred.

"Dad, you look awful. Why are you calling?" she demanded. He struggled to remember.

"I jus', wanted to say that be, that, careful."

"Dad, please don't."

"You know the problem right?" he had to think hard to form coherent sentences. The words would not come to him.

"He's drunk," the girl said to someone off-screen. "Dad," turning to Casey now, "it's eight in the morning."

"Don't go today Kassie, don't go," he said. "I'm no' drunk."

"Dad, listen to me carefully," Kassie said slowly and evenly. "The King couldn't stop me from marching against the Memory Resolution." She hung up violently, making Casey flinch. He tried to redial but she would not answer his call.

He lay back against the sofa and rested his eyes.

It was midday when he awoke. His head still throbbed.

His memory was shattered glass. Desperately, he tried to piece it together. Like a bullet it came to him, vivid as a nightmare - those obsidian eyes against perfect skin. His phone rang. He noticed with a grimace that it said 'thirteen missed calls'.

"Where the hell have you been?" the lieutenant shouted down the line. "It's all over the news that some robot has decapitated a designer - Rise Of The Machines they're calling it! Vinny tells me you sat on it and now you're coming in late? You better have a damn good reason!"

Casey didn't say anything. His face felt hot and his breathing started to race.

"Barr has been found dead," the lieutenant continued.

"Jared Barr?" Casey said, his rage melting into confusion.

"Wake up! Of course Jared Barr!"

"There goes our only witness."

"And we've got our best man on the case," the lieutenant sneered. "So good that he doesn't need to get out of bed until the rest of us mortals have worked a day. Lucky for you, Vinny has booked you an appointment with Howard Graystone, the head of Gerzhoff's company. You remember Gerzhoff right? The victim?"

"I've had a bad evening," Casey started, feeling his control slip.

"I'll send the counsellors over to talk to you about it you poor baby," the lieutenant said. Casey tried to speak but he was cut off instantly. "Get down there and don't fuck it up."

After the line was disconnected Casey stared at the screen, fighting the urge to swear petulantly at the empty monitor. He was above that.

"Fuck off," he said. It made him feel better.

By the time he arrived outside of Graystone Synthetics, he felt more alert. His head was still sore but treatment would have to wait. In the car, he had researched what he could: the company created high-functioning synthetics, with the type-four android their flagship product, primarily for the civilian and public sector markets, but they did occasionally do some work with the private sector. Currently, they were losing market share to several competitors who were under-cutting them for large government contracts. "Who'd want to buy hardware that goes rogue?" Casey asked himself.

Howard Graystone cut an imposing figure in a tailored navy suit and white button-down shirt and hand-made shoes that probably cost more than Casey's car. He greeted the detective with a powerful handshake and unwavering eye contact. Casey noticed that Graystone had colourless grey eyes. He sat down but Graystone remained standing.

"Have you heard of Reinhold Messner, detective Casey?" Graystone asked, walking towards a large landscape painting on the wall. Casey cursed himself for sitting down; he was at an immediate disadvantage in the interview. Graystone continued: "Not many people have. How about Peter Habeler?"

"Mountain climber," Casey replied quickly, eager to get back on to level ground. "First to climb Everest unaided."

"Indeed." If Graystone was impressed he didn't show it. "What people don't realise is that Messner was the better climber, but Habeler worked harder on building a brand in the media. That's what people want - the brand, the image, the appearance of success. Whether or not you are successful is largely erroneous; people buy into the appearance."

Casey rose to his feet and his head felt light. He was keen to get this back on track. "And was Gerzhoff successful?"

"Oh yes, very successful. Our top designer, one of the best in the world." Graystone walked away from the picture and sat behind his desk. "It is a shame that he is no longer with us." He scratched his chin absently with a leather-gloved hand.

"Mr. Graystone, did Gerzhoff have any enemies? People who would want to do him harm?"

"My goodness, no. He was such a pleasant man."

"Did he ever act unusually at work? Perhaps aloof or evasive?"

"Not that I recall. He loved his work and it is a tragedy that he was killed by one of his own. We mourn his loss, but business must continue." The response sounded stiff, Casey thought, rehearsed.

"I hear that your stocks have suffered from this attack," he said, trying to bait a response.

"Business will go on as usual, I am sure."

"Maybe not for long. Aren't you a floundering fish sinking in a sea of sharks?"

Graystone was impossibly quick. He was standing face-to-face with Casey and staring at him with cold eyes. Temper, temper, Casey thought.

"I think I'll get some fresh air," Casey said.

Outside, he called Vinny.

"Just met with Graystone, didn't seem to give a damn that someone in his organisation has died. Real cold fish."

"I have recently finished my interview with Mr. Gerzhoff's wife," Vinny said.

"What did she have to say?"

"He had become increasingly unhappy recently and had argued several times with his manager."

"The guy's got a quick temper," Casey confirmed.

"In particular, Mr. Gerzhoff had been unhappy about how Mr. Graystone had been negotiating for a military contract because he did not want to create anything that could be used in war. He had threatened to resign."

"The way it looks Vin, Gerzhoff created this android anyway, knowingly or unknowingly."

"That is the part that does not make sense. Most synthetics cannot kill. The new military versions have special technology which is only licensed to the military and approved suppliers, of which Graystone Synthetics is not one. Furthermore, even these military synthetics are not able to kill, they are simply able to disable."

"So how in the hell has this synth managed to shoot someone?"

"I do not know."

"Let's think, Vinny. What do we know?"

"David Gerzhoff was shot in the head in a factory from a single shot. His head was then cut off by laser. Jared Barr says he witnessed it. He is now dead. Mr. Gerzhoff argued with Mr. Graystone about the move towards military-based clients."

Casey thought about everything else: the anti-synthetic sentiment around the country; the upcoming Memory Resolution; last night's attack at his home - the cold, dead eyes staring at him as he started to lose consciousness; Jared Barr's insistence that it was an android that committed the murder; Graystone's attitude towards his employee.

"What did you say about Jared Barr?" Casey asked.

"He says he witnessed the attack and is dead," Vinny replied dutifully.

"He says he did. He says he saw an android. He says the android saw him. Vinny, I want you to check something for me."

***

"Detective Christopher Casey to see you again, sir," the receptionist said over the intercom.

"Tell him I've left the office," Howard Graystone replied from behind his hand-carved desk.

"Tell me yourself," Casey said, standing in the doorway. Graystone turned the intercom off. "Sorry to barge in like this, I just forgot to write a few things down. Tell me again, how was your relationship with Gerzhoff?"

"Amicable."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely."

"Interesting," Casey said, walking around the office. He came to a halt in front of the painting that Graystone had been looking at half an hour previously.

"It's interesting," Casey began, scratching his chin theatrically, "because I heard otherwise."

"What is the point in this ridiculous game?"Graystone was on his feet now.

"Arguments aplenty, I heard." When Casey turned round Graystone was standing close to him.

The two stared at each other. They were a similar height, although Graystone had the more athletic build; it had been a long time since Casey had done any form of exercise. Graystone smiled, then walked back to his desk to sit down.

"Hardly. Detective, although I use that term lightly, you have been negligent since Gerzhoff disappeared. Now you are disgracing yourself further with hearsay comments towards a respected businessman. I am sure your lieutenant would be interested in hearing all about it," Graystone sneered, the points of his teeth creeping through his lips.

I'm sure he would, Casey thought.

"Now piss off," Graystone said.

Casey made no effort to move.

"Fine. I'll call security."

"Wait. I would prefer that you didn't do that," Casey said. He saw Graystone smirk and take his gloved hand away from the intercom. Probably real leather, the rich sod, Casey thought. "Because I don't think that you would want them hearing what Gerzhoff had discovered." Graystone's eyebrow raised. His armour seemed to flicker momentarily. "You've been building soldiers."

"They're pacifiers, not capable of killing. Hardly an arrestable offence," Graystone said.

"Maybe not if you're supplying them to the military. I'm not sure how kindly it will be looked upon that you're planning on supplying them to the black market though." Graystone didn't react. "A synthetic killing a human seems, at first, to be terrible news for your business, but the millions you make for rent-a-butlers is nothing compared to the billions that the underworld will give you for a synthetic that can kill. Unheard of!"

"Impossible, I believe," Graystone said with an air of calm.

"Indeed. And when I understood that, everything else made sense. There has been no synthetic killing, has there Graystone? Jared Barr was right when he said he saw a synthetic though. It was cutting the head from the recently deceased David Gerzhoff. As he had become 'non-living', the synthetic was able to carry out the user's instructions as it wasn't doing harm to a human. It was you who shot David Gerzhoff; a stunning shot, I have to admit, one I don't think that I could make myself."

Graystone gave a clenched smile.

"Very imaginative detective. All lies, of course, but very imaginative nonetheless. I can't wait to hear what happened after I supposedly killed David." Casey noticed how he had reverted to Gerzhoff's Christian name.

"You ordered the synth to lean against the doorframe on its way out. What you hadn't expected was to see Jared Barr peering through the window. But you got lucky - he hadn't seen you and instead went to the police telling them that he saw an android. To fan the flames, you then leaked it to the media that there had been a murder committed by a synth. You can imagine the pound signs in their eyes, can't you? That kind of story sells, regardless of how strong the facts are."

"So, if I understand this right, you have no physical evidence against me at all," Graystone stated. He clapped mockingly.

"Unusual to be wearing gloves indoors," Casey said, noting that Graystone unconsciously looked down at them.

"Someone paid me a little visit last night. I've had a headache all morning you know. Last thing I remember seeing was these soulless eyes looking down at me, almost curiously. This will sound crazy," Casey said, "but I actually thought it was the synth come to get me!"

Graystone didn't share Casey's smile.

"I've had all day to think about it," Casey said. "The whole scene was set up so that I saw the synth and thought that he attacked me. You've been clever Graystone, I'll give you that, bringing a companion to take the blame for your dirty work. Where you went wrong is that you should have killed me. I took a lovely big chunk out of your hand, didn't I? I may be an old fart but my teeth still work as well as ever. That blood is pretty good physical evidence, wouldn't you say? Take off your glove."

Casey's eyes were met with a dark stare. Graystone's face had reddened and he had started to shake, as if cold.

"Take off your glove Graystone. Or do I need to-" Casey was interrupted by the raising of a small pistol, a good old-fashioned nine millimetre.

"Enough. This case is flimsy at best and soon it'll be even weaker."

"When Mrs. Gerzhoff is out of the picture?"

Graystone's eyes widened momentarily but he regained his composure and smiled.

Casey's phone beeped. Graystone gestured and Casey threw the phone to him.

"Important text message, detective? Let's see who the final person you ever received a text from was..."

"What's wrong?"

"How did-?"

"Let me guess," Casey said. "It's Vinny. He's at Mrs. Gerzhoff's house and he's intercepted the android. We'll be able to scan the databanks and there will be something incriminating on there. Am I close? Give it up Graystone. Even if you've wiped the synth, there will be traces of something we can use, there always is. There's no way out."

Graystone was unresponsive. Casey walked cautiously towards him to disarm him of the gun.

"I think there is," Graystone said. He raised the gun and fired. Twice.



***

Kassie Casey was staring out of the window, lost. She had been crying.

She thought about the events of the past hour. Two police officers had arrived at her door to tell her that her father had been shot. They had been professional, polite, but unambiguous. A bullet in the shoulder.

She called him immediately. He had been confronting a crazed murderer alone, the insane fool. The murderer had shot at him then shot himself. Fortunately, her dad had seen it coming and threw himself to one side, but still took a bullet. Hell of a shot to hit a moving target from that range, he had said, almost admirably.

It was his last words that had brought the tears to her eyes though. He had finally understood what she had been so passionate about; the very thing that had driven them apart.

"I get it now," he had said. "Household machines, limited intelligences - they're all fine, but these synths will become a danger. Today I stood in front of a man who had murdered two people because of greed - he knew that there was endless money in it if he could convince the right people that synths could be built to kill. That greed will always exist and because of that, eventually synthetics will be trained to kill. We already have android 'pacifier' soldiers. Artificial intelligence assassins will come all too soon. It's inevitable."

He was right. It didn't matter though. As she stared out of the window, she could hear today's main headline running again: Memory Resolution Passed Unanimously.

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