A Prelude to Spiral Legion Story: Cleaner than Spotless
Circa 2150, Locus Jersey 3 AM
Jovey CR-1477 crouched amidst the carnage and sighed. “Boys, boys, boys. You ever think of investing in stun guns?” His voice, though electronic, was drenched with disapproval.
Ednard O’Grady’s flesh, blood, and bones were spattered across the interior of the Benavedes living room, and his limbs and head were rent from his body. Thander McThewlis’ body, by comparison, was intact but riddled with holes and a fine mist of his skin and blood cells were sprayed over the furniture, walls, ceiling, and décor. Shell casings, shattered glass, and bullet holes established weapons, trajectories, and positions.
The two enforcers from the McThewlis gang had paid a visit to Mister Benavedes, a money launderer for the Cardeñas family. Young cousins Milas and Sargento Cardeñas, assigned to shield Benavedes, tried to play it cool, but Milas, via his See-All® optical display visor, had detected a spike in O’Grady’s biorhythms and felt he had no other recourse but to fire first.
Jovey reconstructed the crime scene. O’Grady tensing, Milas drawing his .50-caliber MAG heavy pistol, Sargento almost simultaneously drawing his UZ machine pistol, Mr. Benavedes leaping behind a couch, and the air exploding in gunfire as O’Grady and McThewlis fumbled futilely for their guns, which never left their holsters.
“Stun gun’s gotta penetrate,” Milas answered, “Even a raincoat can come thick enough to insulate. Who knew these bozos wouldn’t even be wearing plex? Anyone in their right mind in this business doesn’t walk the streets without wearing plex.” His heart rate was accelerated, he was perspiring, and he wouldn’t stand still. He kept looking at his netwatch for police alerts.
Jovey pulled a couple body bags from one of the cartridges around his waist, unfurled them, then rose and stood in front of Milas. He extended a segmented finger and shifted his compound eyes from blue to red for emphasis: “Listen to me, Lieutenant Milas. You did good here. You did what you had to do to protect Mister Benavedes, his family, and yours. It just got a little sloppy, so what? The job is done. Now all we have to do is clean it up. You get the big stuff, I get the microscopic. Are we copasetic?”
Milas ground his jaw and started to raise his wrist to glance at his netwatch.
“Communications have been intercepted and diversions have been arranged. We should have at least an hour to do this. We copasetic?” He tilted his head towards Milas, pulsing the lights of his eyes.
“Yeah. Yeah, we’re copasetic, Jovey.”
Jovey turned to Sargento, who was biting the knuckle of his index finger. He caught his eyes and nodded. “Copasetic.”
“Good. Send Mister Benavedes and his family to the Lux hotel in Atlanta. All expenses paid. Compliments of the family Cardeñas. If anyone asks, if anyone presses, he can tell them there was an infestation, and he is having the house fumigated.”
“Your mechanoid did a nice job at the Benavedes place,” Officer Dominic Serposa said, entering Doctor Aryo Cardeñas’ home later that morning.
Jovey, patched into the house systems, watched the two men via the interior security cams and various networked robots standing watch or housekeeping near the foyer, living room, and Doctor Cardeñas’ study.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Officer Serposa.” The Doctor had a touch of whimsy in his voice.
“Yeah, well, after the department took care of the gang chases, riots, and the fires that broke out in the city early this morning, the Captain figured it might be a good idea to look over the call logs within the time period to make sure we didn’t miss anything. Came across a ‘shots fired’ anonymous tip in the vicinity of the Benavedes place, so he dispatched a couple detectives.” Serposa let that hang for a moment, but the Doctor betrayed no response. Serposa continued. “They did an electron sweep and didn’t find a thing. I mean, it might have been suspicious if it had been spotless, but there was enough of a layer of cellular dust, hair, and clothing fibers that the place looked clean, but still lived in. And there was another layer on top of that of chloropicrin, corroborating the Benavedes story that the place was being fumigated, while they stay at a nice hotel. Quite the cleaning job, I have to hand it to you.”
Now in the study, Aryo, in his brown slacks, vest, and light gray lab coat, sat at the corner of his desk and picked up a datapad and began looking over schematics. “Is there a point to all of this, Serposa?”
“There have been rumblings among the riff raff that there’s an amazo new ghost in the Cardeñas fold, someone who kills or abducts without a trace. People, particularly enemies of your family, have gone missing—no forwarding addresses, no electronic trails, no messes, no bodies.” Serposa picked up a small bust of Thomas Edison, showed no sign of recognition, and put it down again, askew of its original position. “We’ve racked up a slew of missing persons reports in the last couple months we can’t attribute to anyone.” He walked over to the Doctor, drew the flaps of his leather coat to his sides, and set his arms akimbo. “Now I haven’t heard of anyone rising in the ranks or any professional hit men strolling into town—but I happen to know of a certain Doc who’s a wizard at building robots.”
“I design service and entertainment models for Robomechanics. I have little to do with my family’s exploits, Dominic. I imagine you have more to do with their dealings than I.” Aryo said plainly.
“In fact,” Serposa went on, as if coming to a big reveal at the climax of a crime show, ignoring the Doctor’s counter-accusation, “you’re credited with the design of one of the most successful safety inspection robots in the history of the line, are you not?”
“Machines have been building machines for two hundred years and testing them for almost that long. It was a matter of time before they replaced our inspectors as well,” The Doctor said.
“So modest, Doc. So it was only a matter of time before the machines designed to kill people became sophisticated enough to clean up after the people that kill people?”
“I’m not in the business of designing assassin androids.”
“Never said you were. I hear the programming involved is murder. Or there’s no programming whatsoever, they’re just glorified remote-controlled chassis and usually more trouble than they’re worth.”
“Are you here to charge me with something? I’m sure we’re both busy men—”
“We’re surrounded by robots these days. Some of them are even fighting our wars. But your robots are quietly revolutionizing the way we live. They’re in our schools, homes, strip clubs, factories—”
“I’m part of a larger, international team—”
“Yeah, but according to my research, that team speaks awfully highly of you.”
“As I would of them.”
“Just, indulge me, won’t you?”
Aryo glanced up into a cam to make contact with Jovey. “Very well, Dominic. But I do have a conference call I must attend. It should be brief, but it is unavoidable. Why don’t I let Jovey tell you a little about himself while I’m out?”
“Jovey CR-1477,” Jovey responded, entering as the Doctor made his exit. Jovey continued, with the Doctor’s voice and mannerisms, “Doctor Cardeñas likes to think of me as the missing link between robots and androids.”
The effect was unnerving; Serposa rose and put the high-backed leather chair between himself and the Jovey.
“Though I possess the higher order Artificial Intelligence and Emotion Controls found in most Robomechanics androids, I also have a secondary super processor that can analyze, assess, navigate, or even assert control during more mundane, day-to-day tasks, saving a tremendous amount of energy and wear and tear on my primary Artificial Neural Nexus.”
Serposa seemed primed to run out the study doors. However, the detective had one more question.
“What’s the CR stand for?”
Two weeks later, Jovey was called down to the Ocean City docks at 2 AM to clean Metrofane Catalano’s car. Metrofane was a tall, wide man with a fighter’s nose and jet black hair. He wore a dark suit with armor-clad shoulders. “I really appreciate you coming down here, Jovey. I don’t know what we would do without you. I mean, we got good cleaners, but even the best men can’t erase the things electron scanners can catch.”
“Don’t talk. Just do as I say. Open the doors and trunk.” Metrofane nodded and passed the task onto his driver, Jwayne, a sturdy black man. The 2146 Cadillac Descent was an 18.5 by 6.5 by 5.5 feet high black and chrome tank of a car. From the looks of it, Metro had shot his business associate, one Terry “The Fish” Fisher, point blank in the face, but not before letting him sweat first. Blood, hair, skull fragments, and brain matter lined the rear windshield, ceiling, and backseat of the interior; that was to be expected. However, urine soaked the floor of the car, and the contents of Fisher’s wallet were strewn across the seat opposite his body: credrods, photos of his family, season tickets to a Jackals game. Fisher had pleaded with Catalano for his life, but it hadn’t been enough. It must have been personal. Jovey detected trace amounts of lip gloss on Fisher’s collar and a combination of Methyl cinnamate and Ethyl lactate—strawberry and cream perfume—on his shirt cuffs and wrists. “He had an affair with your wife?”
“Worse. The Fish took my baby girl’s virginity.”
“Maxima is nineteen and the evidence suggests their sex was consensual.”
“I have one rule, Jovey! No one touches my daughter!”
Jovey let it drop. He directed the men to place the corpse in a body bag. Slender, spider-like limbs fanned out from his forearms and collected the larger remains in two smaller bags, and he placed them inside the body bag and sealed it. Then Jovey power steamed cleaned the interior, scanned it and cleaned it again. Six fist-sized balls ejected from his midsection into the car, spreading out on impact, their hundred-thousand microbots per square foot consuming whatever his steam cleaning might have missed.
“Now, gentlemen, please remove your clothing, jewelry, and shoes. Place them in a pile in the trunk of the car.” Metro and Jwayne did as instructed, and the microbots flowed over the pile as well, while the men stood shivering and blowing into their cupped hands. Jovey de-contaminated them with a more conventional blast of soap and water, and then provided them with a change of clothes from his own car.
After they were fully dressed, he beat the living shit out of them.
“Che cazzo!” Metrofane shouted between blows, “Did you blow a gasket?”
Jwayne tried to hit back, splitting his knuckles open against Jovey’s plasteel skin. Jovey elbowed him in the nose, bloodying it.
“Now get the hell out of here,” Jovey said calmly, “And tell whoever finds you that you were carjacked. I will strip the Descent and plasma bomb the frame.”
“My car? Do you know what that car is worth? It’s supposed to last forever!”
Jovey bridged the distance between himself and Metro in an instant. “I have many rules, Mister Catalano, but foremost among them is to protect the family Cardeñas, of which, through marriage, you are a part. I have in my database access to 200 years of syndicate crime and the cretino mistakes that brought down men ten times smarter than you.” Jovey didn’t breathe, but the hum his power cells gave off rose audibly, and there was a crackle coming through the speakers just behind the grill that served as his mouth. Jovey caught himself. “My apologies, sir. Ten times more careful than you. Now start walking. Please.”
“Aren’t you supposed to do what I say? Couldn’t you find another way without destroying such a valuable piece of automotive excellence?” Metro’s arms reached out to his tank car as he pleaded with Jovey.
“You must have me confused with some other robot. Perhaps a logic based robot, bound by human ass-kissing directives? I am sorry to continue to disappoint you, Mister Catalano, but my actions are governed by multiple components, rather than programming alone. My array of sensors determines my perception, which is interpreted by my Artificial Neural Nexus into comprehension, triggering chemical reactions throughout my chassis which can feed back in a way akin to emotions. Together they determine my actions.”
“For example: Terry “The Fish” Fisher was a productive member of society who had a wife, children, and a thriving shipping business on which his employees and clients depend. I admire this, which motivates me to emulate his success. He loved seafood pasta, deep sea fishing, and sailing, and he shared his interests with those who worked hard and well. Those characteristics engender loyalty, priming me to serve. Of course, he was a known womanizer. This flares up a little disgust, which cautions me to keep my distance.”
Metro looked at Jwayne, crossed his arms, and looked down at his feet and back at Jovey, eyes at a squint.
“Unfortunately, rather than communicate with Mister Fisher, or intimidate him, or work him over, you killed him. This makes me feel suspicious and compels me to investigate. I deduced that he was having relations with someone you valued. This caused you pain that you wished to repay in kind, so you made him suffer for your own satisfaction—I empathized with your pain, I felt a fraction of my own version of it—but then you blew his brains out.
“Fisher will have no opportunity to atone. No longer provide for his family or his employees. His children will grow up fatherless. This now comes dangerously close to paradox, since, by your own admission, you place great importance on your daughter, compelling me to question your ability to reason. Your emotions are out of control and caused you to overreact.
“Finally, your desire for me to value your vehicle over your probability of staying out of prison is petty and ironic. This makes me angry, which drives me to protect.” Jovey’s eyes were blazing red, and his voice had become a sharp, electronic whisper. “Even if it’s to protect you from yourself.”
Metro took a step back, almost a stumble, and ran his hand over his mouth, fingers rasping against the stubble on his cheeks. “What about the body? Should we dump it in the Atlantic?”
Jovey laughed and threw his arms up. “Ten thousand people this year alone are undergoing genetic surgery to become amphibious or solely water-breathing as part of the Undersea Labor and Living Initiative. The northern east coast, long a hold out due to hundreds of years of industrial pollution, has begun a massive movement to clean up the ocean floor and begin development of its own sub coastal cities. We will no longer be dumping the products of our violence in this ocean. Now leave the body to me and go.”
Jwayne grabbed Metro, and they started off at a trot, then a full run. Jovey placed Fisher’s body in the compartment in the back of his light blue hatchback and set to work dismantling the Descent, rims and tires first.
“I wanted to kill him, Doctor Aryo.” Jovey said, his electronic voice wavering. He drove up the 540 towards the Natural Burial Preserve in Parvin State Park. There was no moon, but the ambient light from Locus Jersey provided the night sky with an eerie gray coloring.
“I know, Jovey. And there may come a time when you will have to kill someone—for the good of the family.”
“Am I capable of that? The ECs of disgust, fear, and pain would repel me from causing those same feelings to others. Anger drives me to defend the weak, which includes humans and most other robots. Hate compels me to seek understanding rather than simply destroy. Or, if I should commit such an act, might I not suffer a Nexus meltdown and cease functioning?” This was how he preferred to speak, not the slang-filled vernacular of Jerseyans.
“It’s possible. But in that scenario, your super processor should take over, complete the clean up and return you home.”
“That—that is a comfort.”
Doctor Aryo sipped his coffee out of a thermos and looked out the window. By the light of the headlamps he took in the last blooms of mountain laurel, dogwood, and magnolia trees and the fleeting thrill of an oriole swooping through the branches. “What you should always be vigilant of is not your negative emotions, my boy, but those that fill you with joy: pride, passion, desire, even simple affection—these can lead to envy, suspicion, and restlessness when you suffer their lack. Also, take care that you not fall out of moderation into self indulgence, excess or avarice.”
“To this end, I’ve provided you with a conscience of a sort. A secondary persona that you can virtually interact with, deliberate those situations you find contentious. The matters that try men’s souls.”
Jovey felt a sense of relief akin to gratitude, but he also felt something else, a small emptiness in the pit of his midsection that the more he tried to identify, the more it slipped away. He dismissed it as he approached his destination, an area of marshland into which he would have to hike. He parked his vehicle, opened the hatchback, and pulled the body bag from its compartment.
He walked for a time before he engaged the Doctor once again, “I understand there are long periods where my services are not required, but I have flashes of being assigned a job—then nothing. Then a brief recollection of returning to my docking station and then nothing again. I run simulations, analyze crime scenes, devise new strategies for crisis scenarios based on historical data or current open cases at the LJPD. I have been operational for a year now, but 60% of that time is unaccounted. I fear I may be suffering systemic breakdown or critical recall failure.”
“Ha, ha, ha, oh, Jovey, I am so sorry! You’re experiencing echoes from jobs that have been deleted from your permanent memory. Possibly impressions or false start backups from your super processor. We’ll have to run a few system checks to see if we can resolve the phenomenon. Remind me when we get back to the lab to do so.” Ankle deep in the marsh, Doctor Aryo stopped him in his tracks and put his hands on his plasteel shoulders. “I’m sorry, Jovey, it can’t be helped. It’s the nature of your job that the less you retain the less danger to the family. Imagine what would happen if you were discovered during one of these burial excursions? Imagine if Officer Dominic wasn’t on the take and decided to put the screws to you in earnest?”
“I understand, Doctor Aryo.”
“Good, good, that’s my boy. Onward.”
Jovey understood, but that didn’t mean he liked it. He silently and swiftly dug an anchor post-style hole, ten feet deep with a two foot radius, in the soft muddy earth and, before it sludged closed, he drove Fisher’s body into it and watched the swamp slowly devour him. Jovey steam cleaned the mud, grass, and worms off of himself and stood on a solid piece of earth. He put his hand to his chest where a man’s heart would be, though his power cells were both where a man’s lungs would be, and he recited a poem Doctor Aryo had written for his own father’s funeral when he was a young man:
Your body settles into the earth
Even as your soul rises to the heavens
The machine is now still
It has served its purpose
It has given life and taken it
It has shared its light in all our lives
And we are the better for it
Volare l’anima, via, via!
We are right behind you.
The sun was rising on a beautiful day. Jovey’s primary programming preferred rain, but he was stimulated by the over-abundance of light and warmth cutting through the treetops. When he returned to the car, a Forest Ranger stood near it, a full figured woman with pale skin and light orange hair pulled back in a braid to her lower back. Jovey’s power cell couplings fluctuated in surprise. “Good morning, Ranger.”
“‘Morning, Robosugar. Mind if I have a look at your funeral license and burial permit?”
“Robosugar? I am Jovey Cerberus Robot-1477, Funeral Director for Ecostyx Natural Burial Services. I assure you, Ranger, all my paperwork is in order.” Jovey handed her a credrod ejected from one of his fingers and stepped over to his car to point out the animated Ecostyx promotional door panel, which featured a Charon the boatman with a sympathetic smile, paddling his gondola over glistening water against a setting sun, over and over again.
“I’m sure you’re fine, we’re just stepping up our patrols in this neck of the woods. I discovered a body last week not too far from here, near the creek, down by the old barn bridge, and the boys at the station are all riled up, thinking ‘where there’s one, there’s bound to be others.’ Anyway, I’m the new girl here, so what do you say we get to know each other a little bit?” She slipped the credrod into her datapad and tapped off a few boxes on the screen. She looked up from her pad, made eye contact with him, extended her hand, and said:
“I’m Ranger Roxanne EA-9019.”
The world froze as their infrared laser guidance systems momentarily blinded one another. Entertainment Android! Jovey’s Nexus exploded in a million different neural directions. His cold rubberized hand touched her warm, soft-yet-strong one, and they held the connection for a thousand microcycles. Then she broke it, sliding away from his touch, her brilliant blue eyes like shattering shards boring into his, blinking at regular intervals.
“You are an android, Ranger Roxanne?”
“Refit and reassigned, yeah. I was tired of the city and the men. And the women. And their needs. I stumbled across the available position here on a jobs directory, I put in a request and serendipity! Here I—”
Jovey leaped onto her like a spider and twisted her head around once, twice, and then tore it away from her torso. She screamed and an alarm went off in her patrol car. He launched the head with the force of a cannon into the grill, through the engine and power cells, and the patrol car exploded. Her body flailed with some last unknown command and grabbed his legs, but he was already firing his cutting lasers into her neck hole as her lubricants and servo fluids spewed out all over his faceplate.
Wildly, he thought he heard someone crying.
The female android body fell to its knees and over, as Jovey stepped off of it onto the soft earth. He spun around looking for Doctor Aryo, perhaps he had been the one crying? But no, there was no sign of him. He dragged the android—she had been refit with armor and it made her dense—over to her burning car, and he placed the synthetic body into it. He stepped away, watching it burn for a moment before he returned to his car and sped away.
“It looks like we’re going to have to find another dumping ground. And probably another cover for you,” Doctor Aryo said from the back seat.
“Shut up, Doctor!”
Aryo was taken aback and didn’t speak again.
“She was beautiful,” Jovey said. The emptiness inside was replaced with a ball of revulsion. It expanded into his chest and head and extremities. Everything went dark.
Jovey wouldn’t remember driving home.
* * *
I hope you enjoyed this story, set in the timeline of future history that leads into Spiral Legion, the sci-fi horror roleplaying game I designed and have run for friends since 1994 (which evolved from a game I created in 1991 or 92 while drinking with my brother and his buddies). Someday soon, I hope to bring the game to the masses, but until then, I will continue to create stories in that universe, as well as the universe of Forsaken Stars. If you would like more info on the game, visit https://facebook.com/Spiral Legion! And, of course, I would love to hear your thoughts on this story, and if you would like to see more stories hosted on this blog by myself and perhaps other genre writers, so please, I encourage you, leave your thoughts in the Comments section. And if you haven’t guessed yet, though the idea for this story was spawned by Harvey Keitel’s scene-stealing performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, and Jovey’s look is inspired by at least a couple of George Lucas’ droids, Cleaner than Spotless owes its heart to Isaac Asimov.
Pick up your own copy of Cleaner than Spotless at amazon.com here!