by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in The Lorelei Signal, April 2021
Down at the precinct, we’d been calling the big crime lord in town Diamond Dust, because that was our only lead. Whenever the big busts went down, the only clues left behind were microscopic traces of the expensive substance. Most of my fellow detectives thought Diamond Dust was an addict, hooked on smoking the stuff. But none of us had any luck tracking Diamond Dust down through the trafficking patterns of the illicit drug. I had a different theory.
Most of my colleagues are organics. Sure, there’s another android down in accounting. But I’m the only synthetic sentient on the detective floor. So, I had to be careful. Especially with a theory like the one I’d been developing… See, I know that there are several different methods for constructing the mechanical battery that powers an android — our hearts, if you will. One of them involves a reservoir of galvanized diamond dust.
I don’t have a diamond dust heart. Too expensive. I was built in a basement by a lonely old roboticist who’d never had a daughter. She built me to be her Pinocchio. Joke’s on her — I was so real that I ran away from home, got mixed up with a gang, and then swept into the police force as part of a Last Chances program. I never looked back. But I expect I caused Dear Old Mom as much heartbreak as any organic daughter ever could have. Dreams do come true!
Anyway, diamond dust batteries shouldn’t leave behind traces of diamond dust. But one could, if it were leaking.
My theory was that the whole police department was being led in circles by an android with a leaking heart. A very expensive android. You can see why I wouldn’t want to share that theory, being an android myself.
Best case scenario, my colleagues all laugh at me. Worst case, they decide I can’t be trusted, because apparently, androids have a propensity for becoming mob bosses. This is the problem with being the only one of your kind around. You’re always the example. Win or lose, you don’t do it for yourself; you do it for everyone of your kind. And they can all lose and drag you down too.
That’s why I hatched a plan. I can sense microscopic traces of diamond dust with chemical spectralyzers in my nostrils. Yes, I can literally sniff out tracks of diamond dust. Most of my colleagues need to check a bulky spectralyzer wand out from the supplies division. But I was able to throw a trench coat on over my spiky back (the way that my mechanical plating comes together gives the back of my body a hunched, irregular quality; I don’t like to talk about it) and sniff my way through town like a dog.
I didn’t want any of my colleagues to know I had this power, because they already give me enough trouble about my slightly elongated face, almost muzzle-like, without knowing I can sniff footprints out like a bloodhound.
Sometimes, I simply don’t know what my mother was thinking when she designed me. Wouldn’t life be hard enough as an android without a weirdly hunched back, muzzle-like snout, and super-human senses?
I shake my head. But I keep pounding the pavement, waiting for the bright and tingly scent of diamond dust. I don’t hit pay dirt until I make it out to the docks. Where else, right? So, I skulk around the various piers, waiting until after dark when I can slip into the warehouse with the strongest diamond dust smell without having to flash my badge.
The sunset is glorious. I don’t know what it looks like to human eyes, but to my own mechanical eyes, the spectrum of hues along the horizon, reflected in the wine-dark ocean, is pure poetry. Times like this, I wonder why I became a cop instead of staying in school, keeping out of that gang, and learning what I would have needed in order to become a poet or a painter… Someone who creates beauty instead of someone who hunts down ugliness. Seeks the darkness out.
The sun finishes setting, and I slip into the warehouse. The tingly, bright scent of diamond dust tickles my nose so strongly in here that I know I’ve either tracked down a major drug deal… Or Diamond Dust is here.
I draw my zapper from the holster at my side and hold it in front of me, wary. Ready. I follow the scent to a back room, behind a row of mechanical monsters — the kind of sub-sentient mechas that were all decommissioned after the last war. The mechas loom over me, ancient metal constructs who bear about as much resemblance to me as dinosaur skeletons do to humans. Except humans love their dinosaur skeletons. These mechanical monsters creep me out. I know humans would stow me away in an abandoned warehouse like this in a heartbeat if they decided androids had a predilection towards crime.
I hope to whatever gods out there who would listen to an android like me that behind the door to this backroom, I’ll find a motherlode of drugs and not an android with a dark and leaky heart.
I kick the door open, aim my zapper into the room and shout, “Hands up!”
Behind a desk, leaning back with his feet up, cool and relaxed, sits a bulky metalloid man. An android. But he’s not humanoid — his face is long and narrow; his hind legs are thick, and his arms are short; he has three horns — two on his brow and one extending from his nose. He looks a little like a metal dinosaur wearing a pinstripe suit.
“What the hell are you?” I ask, angry and worried. This is my worst fear realized. If I take him down and take him in, the force will congratulate me at first. But then they’ll grow cold. Distant. Calculating. They’ll wonder how long it will take me to turn into a mobster like this man. Unless, maybe… he’s not like me? I don’t have horns. I am not a dinosaur.
“You finally caught up with me,” the man says. He hasn’t put his hands up. His arms aren’t long enough to hold his hands above his head even if he did.
His arms aren’t long enough for me to cuff his hands together with normal handcuffs. I’ll have to rig together two pairs. Who the hell would design an android like him?
Then he answers the question in my heart by saying, “It’s nice to meet you, little sis.”
I lower my zapper, realizing what I’ve known all along: I may have been mother’s first daughter, but I was not her first child. I was the child she could afford to make after my more expensive older brother ran off. Finally I understand the shape of my muzzle, the spikes on my back.
Mother always did love dinosaurs.
“Are you ready to join the family business?” he asks. “We can run this town together.”
Who am I to fight fate?
Besides, he’s family.