Saturday, September 02, 2006

Aggie's Song

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

"Tell me you've got hard evidence on who murdered him, DEL," Aggie said. When she spoke to me, she spoke with an underlying melody of binary, driving her words into the soul of this machine. We sat on the edge of a pink divan in windowless apartment. She kept the place cold for my comfort.

"I can't tell you what you want to hear, Aggie," I said. "I can only tell you the truth." Her sad face turned hard, but even angry she evoked a kind of pity.

Humans, I'm told, found her unnerving. She'd removed her eyelids with two slow slices of a razor. One of the fits of misguided paranoia that had consumed her since the finalization of RAN. I, myself, found her look slightly alluring. More robotic than human.

Med-green spouts peeked out from beneath the skin that still surrounded her eyes, overcompensating for a lack of lids and lashes. Heavily misted with a solution of her own oil, mucous and saline, Aggie's now over-large eyes looked perpetually teary (which may have suited her perpetual grief).

"RAN killed himself," I said.

"No," she said, chastising me for giving her the wrong answer. She had her own theories. RAN's employer planned to send him to Mars to manage a farming franchise. There were men who didn't think a robot should have such a lucrative job and men didn't equate the destruction of a bot with murder. Neither did most robots. Aggie did. She'd drawn the police bot working on the case, SYSIL, to her cause. But he had disappeared before the police investigation was concluded which only added to Aggie's paranoia. If RAN's killers were ever caught, they'd be fined for property damage and that would be the extent of it. She wanted to catch them first and administer her own justice.

"You've been gone for days," she said. "Too long to come back with an answer like that. You didn't see what RAN looked like!"

"I did," I said, recalling the mess at the scrapyard. Every inch of metal that was once RAN had been twisted inside out, every bit of plastic looked like it had been instantly frozen while boiling, bubbles caught in mid-pop. The mech was a hideous mockery of the beautiful thing he once was.

"Then they've gotten to you too, haven't they?" she said. "They killed RAN, they killed SYSIL, and now they've turned you against me."

"No," I said, looking down at my segmented legs. "No, they haven't gotten to me." I almost lamented the loss of my poor, unblinking Aglaope. But she'd been this way since I'd met her, hadn't she?

I was an AI psychologist, programmed by the Alsing school and Aggie hired me in the hope that some memory of RAN's final moments could be retrieved. Unfortunately there wasn't enough of his brain left to explore. But in my experience, an AI's psychology can also be found by noting the wear and tear on its body, the enhancements purchased and the stress indicators of its various components. I can see an entity's habitual behaviors laid out before me under ideal conditions. The condition of RAN's body was far from ideal. There were older injuries, though. There were repair records. There were Aggie's deluded memories, the least reliable evidence, but I couldn't escape them. I didn't want to escape them. I could sit for hours and feel my electronic organs dance to her enhanced voice. It hurt that she didn't want to believe me now.

Aggie climbed onto me, straddling my lap. "They're out there, Del," she said to me, taking my face in her hands in another one of her unnerving mood swings. "They're out there and they're after me too. They're after both of us because of what we know. You know in your heart RAN didn't kill himself."

I felt sucked into those eyes. It was true, RAN didn't kill himself. No, what was I thinking? I proved to myself that he had. He was in love with her. Love was all I could call it. The state that he was in at the time of death couldn't be called anything else. RAN couldn't live without Aggie. The prospect of leaving her for an off-world assignment was more than he could bear. But that couldn't be right. Why was he murdered for that?

"You're right," I said. "He was killed. There's more to it though, I know there is. Let me go back over the data, Aggie. I can find the killers, I know I can." I lifted her off of my body, taxing my processors more than my artificial muscles. "I have to go."

"Don't leave me!" she cried and the full force of her subliminal song flooded my consciousness. I pulled her to me and held her a little too tightly. She gasped and I felt her song and her concentration break as she struggled to catch her breath. I threw her to the floor and bolted for the Gate.

"Wait." It was all she could do to choke out the words.

"I'll be back," I said. "I promise. I'll find them. We have to go on the offensive." I was through the Gate and miles away in a pulse. Out of her apartment, out of her reach. My senses were coming back to me only slowly. I jogged through empty city streets (the last place anyone would look) and let the air flow through my chest vents, cooling my overheated brain.

How many bots had Aggie brought to their doom? I could only count two but I hadn't known her that long. Was she doing it on purpose? Or were we just being drawn into her needy aura of self-destruction?

I began to run. I had to keep running until that nagging little piece of RAM in my brain stopped telling me to keep my promise. Until it stopped telling me to return to her.

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