If I were a smart guy, I’d be at home with only a hangover to worry about.
Instead, I was at the midnight fights at Eaton Centre on Dundas Pier. Waiting for the right moment.
Inside the ring, two bare-geared bots circled and beat each other. Clangs. Pings. Sparks. I’d put money on the bot in the green trunks. If it was legal for me to bet.
I was way in the back, of course, but security was focused on the fight. I snuck forward until I got sight of PapaLovesBaby, the sleek droid with a polymer smile stuck on his face, in the front row. Next to him sat Molly. The reason I got into this mess.
In my pocket was the dingus. Which I could get executed for carrying.
If this plan didn’t work, I would have traveled a long way, survived a crash, gotten detained, beaten up, and almost eviscerated, just to end up dead.
In the ring, the fighters pummeled each other. One said, “You’d better stop this fight! You ain’t nothin’ but a bum!”
Then he hit the other bot with a decisive uppercut.
The crowd roared.
The severed head hit the canvas. The head said, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch.”
The moment. I quickly put my shades on, almost poking myself in the eye. I took the dingus out of my pocket, clicked it then ran toward the first row. I took it out and fired it at PapaLovesBaby. It exploded in a brilliant light that burned for seconds. I grabbed for Molly.
The dingus was made to send a small EM pulse out, the purpose of which was to shut bots and artificials down. It hadn’t been fired in decades. So what happened next wasn’t really a surprise.
PapaLovesBaby held me in the air by my hair.
“Nice try, meat.”
He shocked me with his left hand, making my bowels flow like a river.
Like I said, if I were a smart guy . . .
Ten hours ago I was at home in Reno, planning on filling an afternoon with gin and nicotine. I caught the smell of the ocean coming in through my window. I rushed to find what must be another broken window. It was in the bathroom. I could just see the brown water lapping against the piers from here. I sealed the window with wadded teepee. Nasty ocean smell.
Then my wall beeped.
I let it beep.
After five times, it prompted, “Please leave a message.”
It was Roy Ricco. “Alex. I was thinking about what you said, about letting you work your problems out alone, what with you needing years to wallow. I understand and agree.”
I nodded at the wall. “Finally. Thank you, Roy.”
I poured myself a tall glass of gin.
“So you know,” the message went on, “whenever you need to talk about stuff, I’m here for you, buddy.”
“Thank you, Roy,” I said to my wall.
And then my door was caved in. It was Ricco, his cyborg left arm extended in front of him like a battering ram. “My grandmother’s furry ass I understand.”
“Give me a break, Ricco.”
“Time to crawl out of your sinkhole, buddy.”
We were two bottles in, the late afternoon light dancing red on the walls, when he told me, “You wanna know why she went back to him?”
“’Cause arties can go all week long.”
“Take as many pills as you want, you can’t do it for more than two days in a row. And you can’t change size and thickness and you can’t vibrate.”
“Just saying is all. Me, I got some parts redone. But it doesn’t matter since it’s all about Claire.”
“To Claire.” We toasted.
Ricco took out a thin glass chip. A hologram, Claire danced inside the chip. “Love you, girl,” he said.
“You see what you have with Claire. That’s what I think I had with Molly.”
“You don’t make any sense. You were with her, what, for three months, like two years ago?”
“A year and a half.”
“Whatever. It’s been years. Years! You should be over it.”
“If I could talk to her one more time,” I said. I thought I was going to cry in front on him, but I didn’t want to do that again. He slapped me with his cyborg hand last time I did that. “I just need to speak with her once more — before I can move on with my life.”
Ricco got up and paced around, his giant frame made my pod look even smaller than it was. “I have something to tell you. That’s why I was coming over. Besides coming over to razz you again.”
“I found her. I found your Molly.”
“Kal fucking El!”
Because of his enhancements, Ricco was trusted to work for the government and had access to all kinds of information.
“Back in her home town. Toronto. With you-know-who. So, there’s no point—”
“I have to go see her.”
“—in going to see her.”
“But how? I don’t have a multi-port.”
Ricco reached into his pocket. “Now you do.” He threw it at me.
“It’s under your cop ID.”
“But you know how to change it.”
“You could get in real trouble for this. You should come with me. I could be your captured prisoner or something.”
“No dice. This is stupid enough as is. I can just say you stole it.”
“Ricco. You’re a real friend.”
“Giving you a way to get to a town like Toronto. Filled with terrorists and androids and terrorist androids. It’s practically murder. But you’re practically killing yourself here.”
“Whatever. I want you to look up my friend COST Revs when you get into town. First thing. Understand?”
“Listen, he’s an arty—a droid. But he’s okay.”
“Whatever you say.”
“You know, Alex, you really should just stay home and write another poem about this. Wouldn’t that make you feel better?”
“Not better enough, Ricco.”
At the depot, I tried to stop my hands from shaking when I used the doctored multiport. I tried to tell myself it was the gin giving me the shakes. But there were android federals everywhere ready to judge-jury-and executioner any human who broke the law.
The multiport worked and I was through. I headed for the beat-up jet-train that gets to Toronto in under an hour.
Public transportation was integrated only a few years ago, but it still felt funny to mix with the droids. I didn’t want to stand out in any way so I went to the predominantly human car. But right after I sat down an arty couple popped in the seats right across from me. The male had a copper mohawk and a huge scarf wrapped around his neck. The female had long, copper metal tresses and had spray-painted her face pink. Liberal hipster arties. The worst.
They giggled with each other, clearly in love. Their little pet kisses were annoying me, then they did something really awful. They introduced themselves.
“I’m Marty,” the male said. “And this is Twocee.”
“We’re going to Niagara to get married!”
I tried to smile. “Congratulations.”
They went back to giggled and kissing. Outside, I saw the middle-west fly by. Miles and miles of cities. Tower after tower. It all looked the same. The only difference was Kansas, which was walled off. Freaking cannibals.
The ticket agent came in then, a human. He yes-sirred and no-sirred the arties and said nothing to the humans. I saw then that he was doing an extra multiport check. With the terrorists, of course there’d be extra security. I should have realized.
He checked the ’ports and tickets of the droid couple and then he took mine. Right away I knew that he knew the ’port was jimmied. His eyes gave it away. I could fool an automated system, but not a person. And he couldn’t fool me. He’d have to call security.
He pressed a button on his shirt and almost immediately two androids in green walked into the car. I kept silent. The arties looked at me with frightened looks on their faces. What irony.
Without a word, the two security droids walk me to the back of the train and into a security hold. We were nearing Toronto at this point. I figured I’d probably be executed there. So close to Molly. And she’d never know.
I sat down to contemplate my impending death, composing some lines for a sonnet in my head. Just then the jet train exploded.
From somewhere near the front—a huge boom and then the sound of gnashing, grinding metal. I could feel the train rise from the rail, its momentum pushing us forward at deadly speed.
Being inside the security hold saved my life. The crash bumped me around plenty, smashing my head against the wall a few times. But apparently my head is pretty hard. When the train came to a halt, the door latch was open. My face was bruised, but I could see—
A bad wreck. The train was sprawled just inside the city. There were human bodies flung here and there. The droids, for the most part, walked away fine. But then I saw the female hipster arty, Twocee, moaning and crying over the torso of her mate. “Help me!” she said. “Help me find his soul!”
No one was helping her, not human or android. An emergency helibus showed up, shepherding the survivors. It would probably go straight to a hospital. It was the perfect way in. But I found myself looking in the wreckage, searching while a droid speaker told us to “Please alight the helibus. You will be attended to. Please alight the helibus.” Then I saw it—the copper piercings glowing in early twilight. Marty’s head, crushed. I picked it up and brought it to Twocee.
She wailed like a child. A human child. I didn’t know what else to do. So I turned and got to the helibus. I could hear her wailing for a long time afterward.
As I thought, the helibus pulled into a hospital in downtown. “Dammed terrorists,” a doctor said. “When will this crazy shit stop?” I slipped easily from there and out the front entrance. I got my first good look at the city.
It was crowded—people, bots, droids, all mixing together. It was a big, skyscrapered town, bordering the encroaching Atlantic and only partly under water.
I hailed a gondola and told it to take me to Keele Pier.
The last I’d heard from Molly, which was more than six months before, she was working at a bookstore on Keele.
I got off at the street and find where the bookstore used to be.
“11000 Keele Pier,” the gondola said.
“Hold on,” I told it and got out. Where the bookstore once stood was now a muck-filled crater. “Terrorists,” I said to no one.
I told the gondola to take me to the nearest tavern. It moved ahead to a place about 10 meters down along on the pier. I guess I could have walked.
Being in a train wreck had made me awfully sober. Inside the bar/bodega/dance hall, I ordered a tall gin. It was a mixed crowd, something we didn’t get much of back in Reno. Even the band playing, the Tobors, was integrated. What a crazy town.
When the band set ended I talked up one of the bandmembers. A droid. First thing I told was how much I loved his sound. Artificial or human, there’s nothing more a musician loves to hear. Opens them up like a fucking flower. I’d say poets were different. But I’d be lying. I got around to asking him about Molly’s boyfriend’s old band, the Dead Azimovs.
Sure, he knew the band, but it had broken up.
Did he know the lead singer, PapaLovesBaby?
He was quiet then, looked around, then gave me a cold look, cold even for a droid. “Yeah, that dude is into a lot of bad shit. Bad shit for arties and humans. Not my shit.”
“Got it. Not your shit. Where can I find him?”
And then it looked like the droid would kill me.
“Big house, Richmond Hill. You can’t miss it. Looks like a giant prick—giant droid prick, that is.”
At this point I knew I should’ve gone to see Ricco’s pal, but I was anxious. Now that I was so close, I wanted to see Molly as soon as I could. Another gondola got me to Richmond Hill, where I asked one human, and he just snickered and pointed. I followed his finger. There it was, gleaming and obsidian, and curved slightly, with a silver spikes all along it and a giant mushroom on top.
Did it make me feel inadequate? Is the sky red?
There must have been a party going on. Crowds of humans and droids were walking around the property, drinking, smoking, dancing, fucking. Everyone seemed busy, so I just walked right up to the front door. It was wide open. No security.
Suddenly, I felt very silly. Here were hundreds of humans and droids having fun, enjoying themselves, obviously moving on from the pain of the big past. Three hundred years of human slavery, a hundred years of war was done, over. Learning to live together again. It seemed like this all over Toronto. A roaring time. And I was a sad sap, with tombs in my eyes, hanging onto a broken heart.
I was about to turn around and go home when I heard her voice. I walked into the large hall to the right, the left ball, I guess.
And there she was. Ozone thin as always, with long, soft brown hair, and a nose that didn’t quite fit her face, which was what made it perfect. Molly. Laughing her throaty laugh. My instinct now was to run, but she spotted me. She screamed my name across the giant room.
I never felt my face more happy than at that moment. She hugged me tight, feeling warm against my body.
“Alex, Alex, Alex! What are you doing in T town?”
“Just hanging out.”
“Just hanging out. You got a poetry gig? I thought there were no more of those for, you know. . .”
“Well, sometimes a human can still do some things an arty can’t, and that’s when they call me.”
“You’re such a liar. I can always tell when you lie.”
The way she said it—as if we’d never stopped being around each other.
“What are you doing at Papa’s—did you come here looking for me?”
She was right. She could always see through me. That was just one of the reasons I loved her.
“That was the general idea.”
“You crazy poet bastard,” she said. Then she looked me straight in the eyes. “You have to move on.”
I was going to say something sickeningly romantic right then, something that I thought might make her laugh and remember how much she loved me, when up clanked the android of the house.
He wore a tailored outfit, boots, and his polished metal head was a small crown going all the way around. A parody of a human smile was stuck into his face. And he was big, close to seven feet.
The sky was very red this morning, by the way.
He bent down to her gave her a long kiss. Molly held his face gently. It wasn’t easy to watch.
She introduced me as an old friend from back in Reno. She does not need to remind any of us that that was the time she ran away from him. For three months, two years ago.
“I recall Molly mentioning you,” he said. “I’m glad you were such a friend to her during that dark time in our relationship.”
I did something that was kind of a laugh and kind of a cough. That was when I noticed PapaLovesBaby was not alone. He was flanked by two sleek, shiny soldier droids. They were even taller than he was, but beyond the general schematic of torso and appendages, they didn’t bother to look like people at all, no polymer features, no fake hair. Just pure, hardcore droid.
“I’ll let you catch you up with your friend, darling,” PapaLovesBaby said. “But remember, we have somewhere to be soon. Very soon.” He turned and one of his soldiers fell in line behind him. Another stayed standing right there.
I turned to Molly and said, “How about a drink? I want to celebrate, uh, running into you.”
She looked at me, not smiling, suddenly nervous. The soldier just stood there.
I said to it, “Say, can we get a minute alone?”
“Don’t bother,” Molly said. “They only communicate electronically. Speaking is too human. Ugh.”
“I have to talk to you, Molly.”
The soldier stood there behind her, like a steel girder, a piece of a wall.
“Alex,” she said. “My beautiful crazy poet bastard—you should go home.”
“What’s wrong? Molly, are you in trouble?”
She hesitated, then said, “No. And whatever kind of trouble I’m in, Papa can watch out for me.”
“I have to go, Alex. Take care. It’s been fun seeing you.”
“But I was in a train wreck—,” I said, but she was already swallowed by the crowd and the soldier droid followed right behind her, blocking my view of her.
Something was wrong. Or was it just my stupid romantic soul looking at things the wrong way. Had I just embarrassed myself by showing up? Was she trying to save me from making things worse?
I wandered around, looking for a place to think. But there were people everywhere. I decided to walk to what I guess was the outside of the right ball.
Then the dark night sky lit up. Police flyers in the sky, wagons on the ground, lights everywhere.
“Please remain where you are. You are being detained for questioning. Please remain where you are.”
I thought about running, even though I had no idea where to go. I saw an empty spot in the crowd and started. But then a police droid stepped in front of me. I tried to run around him, but these things were built to be much faster than I could ever be. He grabbed me by the throat, hard, and dragged me in a waiting wagon.
At the station, I was part of a long line of people giving statements. A klaxon was going off—making my head scream—and orange emergency lights were spinning. They kept announcing that power had been disrupted but would be back on momentarily. None of this seemed to bother the cop interrogating me. His badge read Sgt. Dickz N Titz.
“You say you lost your multiport in the crash, Mr. Ricco?”
“I would check our immigration database, but I can’t access it right now because of the power outage.”
He looked at me.
“I see, sir.”
“You here on vacation or business?”
He looked at me with piercing blue polymer eyes, then yelled, “Holding cell 7500.”
Another sergeant came to take me away, but as we were walking another cop, a lieutenant walked up.
“I’ll take the meat from here. I need to question him further.”
He was an older droid, with a large dent in his head that he either couldn’t afford to fix or didn’t want to. He sat me in an interrogation room and paced around me.
“Train bomb. Explosions all over. Power outage. Man, did you pick the wrong night to visit Toronto.”
“I see that, sir.”
“I’m Lt. Revs. Ricco had me looking for you all over town. Thought maybe you got blowed up—.”
“—and then here you land in my lap. Why didn’t you come see me right away?”
“I don’t know.”
“You want to tell me how you had the balls to walk into the house of one of the biggest android terrorists in the world?”
“PapaLovesBaby. Makes most of his money selling drugs and stolen goods. But he’s been moved into arms for about a year now. The terrorism has escalated since then.”
“So Molly is in trouble.”
“The woman you came here to get. She is in trouble.”
“I want to help her.”
“We got plans for PapaLovesBaby tonight, and if you want her out of it, we gotta act fast. I mean, you do. They’re going be at the fights at Eaton Centre, just about now. You want your woman, go and get her there.”
He told me to come with him. We went outside to his wagon. He reached behind his seat and took out a weapon. It was an old gun, silver, with a rubber handle and a full energy pack.
“You’re gonna need a little help. Take this.”
“Looks like an EM pulse gun from the war.”
“Right. One shot disarms a typical arty for up to a minute. Unless he’s doubly insulated.”
“If a human gets caught carrying a weapon, it’s the death penalty.”
“Then don’t get caught, my man. Get into the arena. Get your girl. Go home.”
“You want me to shoot PapaLovesBaby?”
“How about his bodyguards?”
“Shoot wide. This sucker’s old. Takes five minutes to recharge.”
“I sting the body electric.”
“What’s that now?”
“Poetry stuff. How do I get into the arena?”
He held up a blank high-clearance ticket and held it near my face. It flashed. He turned it to me—it now had my face on it. “You’re in.”
Inside the ring, two bots circled each other. Clangs. Pings. Sparks.
From where I stood in the back, I spotted Molly right away, and PapaLovesBaby right next to her. But I couldn’t see his bodyguards anywhere. A lucky break, I guessed.
My heart pounded as I got close to them. I put on the shades like Revs had told me to. I fired the dingus, imagining grabbing Molly and running out of there, clean and free.
It stunned him for a moment. But he must’ve been doubly insulated. “Nice try, meat,” he said.
Me, I wasn’t insulated in the least.
I heard Molly screaming “No, no, no,” and then someone or something picked me up, and I was in the back of a cruiser on my back. Convulsing, drooling, crapped.
“What the hell did you think you were doing?” I heard Molly saying.
“I don’t need saving.”
“You’re in trouble. I know you, too. I can tell.”
“Do you love him?” I said.
She didn’t say anything. I figured she must’ve been thinking that over. Then I heard his voice.
“Of course she loves me.”
I cracked my eyes open. They were both looking at me.
“What did the police tell you? That I was a terrorist? They got it all wrong, meat.”
“Sorry, darling. I just get angry.” Then he spoke to the driver. “Here.”
“What are you going to do, Papa?”
“No worries, my pet.”
The door opened. “Toronto is not your kind of town, my friend. Go home.”
I stumbled out. I was in front of the jet-train depot. Just as the cruiser door closed, I heard Molly say, “Take care, Alex.”
I walked a few feet. Then I just kind of collapsed. I don’t know how long I lied there, and then I heard a voice that might’ve come from the big Upstairs.
“I told you to stay home and write a poem about this.”
It was Ricco. “First thing, we gotta get you cleaned up.”
I was clean and in new clothes, but I still felt shaky. Ricco was looking at Claire’s picture again. Without turning to look at me, he said, “There’s a big shipment of explosives and weapons being delivered tonight. We’re gonna raid the warehouse. PapaLovesBaby will be there. He always keeps Molly close by.”
“You have to catch him in the act, stop him.”
“Alex, buddy. He’s not our target.”
“He’s just a cog in the wheel, as it were. Hey, that’s funny.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s just a dealer, dealing to both sides of the fence. Doesn’t care who gets killed. But for a while now he’s been manipulated from people in his crew. That train bomb—that was the anarchists. They just want to fuck everything up. We need his help to get them.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“It’s the upgraded droids. The ones who don’t care for anything human or resembling human. They don’t want to live in peace.”
“Wait, you knew this the whole time.”
“We needed his boys to be distracted. We had him send them out looking for you. Your stunt at the arena has them on the alert for a single assassin. But now that you’re out of the way, they should be a little more relaxed and won’t be expecting a raid.”
“You set me up?”
“You said you wanted to see Molly. After tonight, she and her stud are gonna be under protection for a while.”
“You’re one fucked-up metalhead.”
“This I won’t argue.”
“I want to see Molly one more time. I need to talk to her.”
“You know you should just go home now.”
Like I said, if I were a smart man . . .
It was three in the morning. The lights of Toronto shined down so much on the dark water it didn’t seem like night at all. Ricco and I were offshore in a federal cruiser, watching the warehouse from quite a distance. A large tanker had pulled up to the pier, and we were waiting. Then their cruiser pulled up. I used binoculars, but Ricco could see just fine with his cyborg eyes.
“There she is,” I said, when I saw Molly get out of the cruiser. PapaLovesBaby came out next.
“She doesn’t love him, you know,” I said. “She’s just gonna get killed in this bloody mess.”
“It’s her choice, buddy.”
Just then, out of the tanker, coming out all at once like insects, were dozens of soldier droids. Big, metallic, some bipedal, some on wheels. Most had weapons on the ends of their arms instead of hands. The anarchists.
The two bodyguards approached them. They acted like they were in charge. PapaLovesBaby stood there, looking like the pawn they said he was.
“It’s happening,” Ricco said, and then out of the sky came police and government flyers. The anarchists were told to surrender. They answered with high-charged ballistics. Ricco gunned the boat, almost making me fall back.
It was chaos on the pier. “Molly,” I said to myself. And then I saw, PapaLovesBaby covering her. Shielding her with his body.
The freak of a tin man cared for her.
“Stay in the cruiser until I tell you,” Ricco was saying. “Stay in the fucking cruiser.”
The cruiser butt up against a lower pier. Ricco vaulted with such speed and power, I realized I envied him. What good could a normal, unenhanced human do here?
The night was lit up with gunfire. All I had was the old dingus.
Then I heard Molly—she was screaming.
It wasn’t easy to climb up the pier—my legs were still shaky.
I saw Papa was on the ground—Molly was under him. One of the bodyguards had turned on him, maybe had figured out the doublecross. The charge ballistics pelted him, making him jerk, doing obvious damage. How much more could he take?
I ran, trying to stay low. I heard Ricco yell my name from somewhere.
All I had was an old gun. But it was fully charged.
The bodyguard didn’t even notice me. Then I fired. Forgetting the shades.
It was like a flare. I had no delusions that it would hurt the droid, but if it distracted him enough. But I couldn’t tell. I was blinded.
I knelt on the ground, waiting to be split apart by a ballistic. “Good job, meat—Alex.” It was PapaLovesBaby’s voice. He dragged me behind the cruiser, where Molly was crouched.
“My stupid romantic poet,” she said.
When the raid was over, the remaining anarchists were rounded up for disassembly. My bout of heroism had distracted the bodyguard for a split second, like a mosquito, I guess—long enough so that both Ricco and Papa could destroy him. Ricco told me I should be proud. Then he called me an asshole and said he owed me a drink. PapaLovesBaby nodded at me. He was pretty battered. Some med droids led him away.
That left me and Molly finally alone. She was turned from me, staring at the wreckage, but I could still feel heat radiating off of her body. I took two steps, she turned, and just like that we were kissing. All the years fell away, the countless empty nights, the countless empty bottles, and it was like we were meant to be together like two humans in a myth. She was crying and the warmth and salt of her tears mixed in our mouths. Then we stopped. We both stopped
“Alex,” she said. And just like that the years and the distance were between us again. But this time I think we both understood it. I mean: I understood it.
“I think I’ll take the slow way home.”
A little while later, I watched the lights of Toronto fade in the bleak distance. I never missed the stink of the Pacific more.