A Sci-Fi adventure about the great-great-great-granddaughter of Janeane Garofalo
Science Fiction Novelette
John H. Leeper
Janeane Garofalo stretched a tattooed arm through the web of plastic pipes and opened the small blue valve. The reaction was instantaneous. The white pyro-plast union beside her face vibrated loudly. Then, a fine mist of hot water jetted through a tiny crack in the plastaweld. It stung her right cheek and the skin beneath her thin cotton shirt.
Garofalo cursed loudly and frantically wrenched the valve handle clockwise. The crack in the union only widened; but fortunately, the path of the hissing stream was largely upwards. By the time the hot water dripped from the metal ceiling of the cramped vertical crawlspace and fell onto her body, it had cooled sufficiently that she was not badly scalded. She directed a score of invectives at the obscure idiot who first designed a blue hot water valve that a plumber had to close by twisting its next-to-impossible-to-grip handle in a counterclockwise direction.
"Robot!" Garofalo squalled. The sound of her voice echoed violently in the tiny enclosure. She twisted to one side in order to look down the narrow, chimney-like crawlspace and felt her legs tremble with frustration and exhaustion. She had forgotten just how long she had been forced to keep her toes pressed against the opposite wall in order to wedge her back into the tiny nook some engineering genius described as a "Technician's Observation Seat" on the plumbing blueprints.
If it wasn’t for the fact that she was slight of build, her fanny would never have fit on the narrow strip of plastic molded into the wall that, in theory at least, allowed a plumber to work three meters above the floor. At least she finally understood why the owner of this estate had selected her for the greenhouse repair job rather than one of the certified plumbers listed in the City Technicians’ Directory. She doubted any of the male plumbers in the area could wedge their fat asses onto the seat.
As it was she still had to keep her feet pressed against the opposite wall of the crawlspace to keep from falling forward. Unfortunately, her physical resemblance to her great-great-great grandmother was a little too similar for the needs of the moment. Since she was only five-foot-one, her toes barely reached the metal surface. The awkward position caused her to suffer periodic and painful cramps in both her feet and calves.
"Robot!" she shouted again. "Where the hell are you, you little tin bastard?"
Almost immediately she heard, Whirrr . . . click! A dome shaped, exquisitely polished, brass head appeared through the meter-square access door beneath her. Its voice was distinctly female and, at the same time, distinctly inhuman. "How can I help you, Ms.?"
The way the mechanical voice box pronounced the “S’ on ‘Ms.’ produced the same annoying sound a mosquito made when it attempted to enter her ear canal.
"I thought I told you to turn off the hot water heater," Garofalo snarled angrily.
Whirrr . . . click! "I am afraid that is impossible, Mszzz," the mechanical voice replied in its grossly condescending manner. "The estate greenhouse requires a constant temperature of 29 to 31 degrees centigrade to provide a suitable atmosphere for the varied species of tropical plants housed there. Hot water is necessary not only to maintain temperature but also the high levels of humidity . . ."
Garofalo yanked the soggy cigarette from her lips so she could scream in full voice. "You idiot! I have the valve cut off! There is no hot water going into the greenhouse!"
There was a short pause as the robot's logitronic circuits absorbed and correlated this new information. Whirrr . . . click! "I really must insist that you turn the hot water on, Mszzz. Many of these plants are rare and require that the environment be kept at . . ."
"Listen to me you digital twit!" The force of her scream shook her body so violently that it nearly cost her the tenuous toehold she had on the far wall. She fought to regain mental and physical composure. "Listen to me robot," she began again in a voice as calm as circumstances permitted. "I am the plumber. Your owner called me this morning to come and fix the pipes going into the greenhouse. That is why the hot water line is shut off."
Another pause. Whirrr . . . click! "What seems to be the problem, Mszzz?"
Garofalo snapped indignantly, "The problem is that pyro-plast unions aren't worth a shit! Okay? Now, will you go shut off the hot water heater?"
Whirrr . . . click! "I am afraid you have been misinformed," the condescending female voice replied. "I am well-versed in the building materials used to construct this house. Self-locking pyro-plast unions are 24 percent less labor intensive to install and 38 percent more durable than comparable conventional plumbing hardware on today's market."
Garofalo closed her eyes and voiced a lament to the weird god whose existence her great-great-great grandmother had so vehemently denied. "Why didn't I just buy my way into the plumber's guild like my ex-boyfriend said? Then, I could have put in my five hours a day and gone home to watch holovision like everybody else in the world." She knew there was no point in continuing a conversation with the housekeeper robot, but she couldn't restrain herself. Some rebellious, socially disaffected instinct buried under layers of liquid plastic and plumber's caulk burned with righteous indignation against the artless, unimaginative, feeble craftsmanship, which, coupled with innovative ad campaigns, seemed a guarantee of financial success. She stared down between her short legs at the shining brass dome of the robot and grinned maliciously. "Whatever misogynistic moron programmed you with those percentages doesn't know any more about pyro-plast unions than he does about the hair on a rat's ass!"
Whirrr . . . click!
"I'll grant you these little whiz-bangs go together fast enough. But if you don't twist them just right or they get a little too hot or there's a little too much pressure in the line, they'll pop open just like your head will if you don't turn off that damned hot water heater!"
Whirrr . . . click! The dome-shaped head of the housekeeper robot darted out of the crawlspace to the safety of the hallway.
Garofalo returned the limp cigarette to the corner of her mouth and let the back of her head thump loudly against the metal wall behind her. She stared helplessly, hopelessly into the pale light of her pocket lantern, which was magnetically suspended in the air near the ceiling, and reflected upon the futility of life. Her legs ached. Her back ached. Her small butt ached from trying to grip the narrow ledge where, allegedly, she could sit comfortably and monitor or repair the elaborate network of pipes and gauges that maintained the delicate environment of the greenhouse.
The cramped crawlspace was oppressively hot and at this moment, it was the last place in the solar system she wanted to be. All day long words had been tumbling through her head. They were great words. Just the kinds of words a real detective hero from the late 20th century would have said . . . or should have said. And all day long, while she was up to her elbows in joint compound and human fecal matter, she had been aching for the workday to end so she could get back to her flat in the squalid section of the city known simply as “The Village,” once a haven for artists like her great-great-great grandmother, an actress who had lived around the turn of the twenty-first century and for whom she had been named. There, she could sit behind her plywood desk and painfully tap those great words onto paper using her antique Smith-Corona typewriter, transporting herself into that grand golden age of man in which her namesake had lived.
Garofalo closed her eyes and for just a moment the steamy crawlspace was transformed in her imagination into a smoke-filled bar in Manhattan. They were all there: the businessman in his dark, three-piece suit and silver-tipped cowboy boots, the blonde cheerleader with her red-and-white pom-poms and empty martini glass, the tall drummer for the alternative rock band who looked at her with wistful, intelligent eyes and caused her heart to melt and her loins to sweat. They were all there, just like they would have been in the 1990s, when her great-great-great grandmother was in the prime of her acting career, when life was still simple and chaste, untarnished by the vapid, high-tech dramas of holovision or the slip-shod, make-a-dollar-at-any-cost brand of creativity that gave rise to such inventions as pyro-plast unions.
Whirrr . . . click! The sound drubbed her back to bitter reality.
"Robot?" Garofalo growled between clinched teeth. "Did you turn off the hot water heater?" No response. She reached through the pipes and gave the valve a small twist. Hot water dribbled from the crack in the pyro-plast union. "Damn. You've got to do everything yourself." She closed the valve and made the precarious descent to the floor of the crawlspace. As she clambered head-first through the access door into the brightly-lit hallway, she heaped coals of fire upon the polished brass head of the housekeeper robot. But her tirade was cut short by the sight of a massive, three-pronged, metal foot inches from her face. Her eyes moved interminable upwards tracing the brutal outline of another robot: this one fitted at the joints with titanium alloy blast plates and painted a uniform blue. When she finally reached the massive right-arm, her damp cigarette fell to the tile floor, and she felt a great convolution of the bowels. The barrel tip of a rather large caliber gun was protruding from the end of the arm, and it was aimed squarely at a point between her eyes.
Garofalo felt her body go numb and whatever rationality she had possessed two seconds earlier fled for the relative safety of the crawlspace, leaving her in the hall on her hands and knees sputtering idiotically, "Don't shoot! Don't shoot! I'm the plumber for god's sake."
Whirrr . . . click! A male voice that exuded cold-blooded inhumanity buzzed from the robot's voice box. "Stand up, Mszzz."
Garofalo sprang to her feet instantly and found herself face-to-face with a giant machine that, prior to this moment, she had only seen on holovision: an armed police riot robot. It stood on ostrich-like legs that, allegedly, could propel its enormous bulk at speeds in excess of 50 kilometers per hour. The weapons cylinder on its right arm was a snap-on unit housing a high-speed gun. At the apex of the left arm was a four-fingered mechanical hand. The logitronic brain was encased in a molded blast helmet so its videotronic eyes had to be set further down the body of the robot. The trio of red lights stared at her through slits in the wedge-shaped chest protector.
Garofalo recoiled as she recalled a holovision thriller where one of these things went haywire and wiped out the population of a metropolitan suburb before being destroyed. Yet, even in her terror, something deep within her psyche whistled in admiration. It seemed that man's creativity never lacked when it came to manufacturing engines for human destruction. It was just too bad the genius who created this riot robot hadn't designed the pyro-plast union.
The robot's left hand shot out suddenly, stopping only inches from her face. A pink square of paper dangled from the tips of two jointed metal fingers. "Is this yours, Mszzz?" the monotone voice asked. Garofalo focused on the words of the pre-printed note.
We would like to thank you for the submission of your manuscript to our publishing company. However, after careful review, we find that it does not meet our current editorial needs. In the future, we would suggest that you review the weekly newspaper column, Hot Numbers at Walton's Bookstores, as this superb writer's aid will help you to better understand the needs of our publishing firm. Thank you. We are returning your manuscript under separate cover. Allow four to six weeks for delivery.
Garofalo groaned. The rejection slip was identical in every detail to the others she had at home; but this one cut to the bone. It was from Trans-Atlantic Publishing Group. She had submitted a copy of her 1990s detective novel to the company six weeks earlier. Trans-Atlantic had been her last hope.
Whirrr . . . click! "Then you admit you are Janeane C. Garofalo of 3101 Bush Row, Apartment 10, serial number 1101742-B?" the machine asked.
"Well, yeah . . . sure. But what's the problem? I haven't done . . ."
The riot robot took a short step back and raised its gun cylinder level with her face. "You are under arrest for suspicion of anarchist activities," it hummed simply.
Garofalo looked at the machine incredulously. "Under arrest? Anarchist? What the hell are you talking about?"
Whirrr . . . click! "Surrender your weapons and come along peacefully."
Garofalo’s voice grew shrill with fear. "Weapons? I'm a plumber for god's sake! I don't have any weapons."
There was an ominous clicking from deep within the weapon's cylinder. The riot robot obviously begged to differ.
Whirrr . . . click! "There is a 98.7 percent probability that you are lying! Anarchists always pack artillery. Now, drop it . . . creep!"
Wide-eyed with terror, Garofalo waved a hand in feeble protest. "Hey! Hey, buddy . . . hold it!" she stammered. "All I've got are wrenches."
Perhaps she snatched the pipe wrench from its belt loop too quickly. Or perhaps there was merely a glitch in the robot's circuitry. When she replayed the scene in her mind afterwards, she was never really sure. All that she knew was the massive weapons cylinder jerked suddenly to the left and there was a deafening report as it fired a single, computer-guided bullet. The pipe wrench was ripped from her small hand by an invisible force so powerful that it left her entire arm tingling with pain. She cried out, twisted to one side and gripped her stunned, tattooed forearm. The riot robot lunged at her and its metal hand delivered a perfectly placed blow to the base of her skull just behind the left ear.
There were a few seconds of semi-consciousness as the floor rushed up to greet her face. Then, as darkness closed about her, she watched the pink rejection slip float to the tile beside her like an autumn leaf carried by an indifferent wind.
Janeane Garofalo awoke with a headache worthy of a cheap wine hangover. Fearing that her eyeballs might be pushed from their sockets, she refused at first to open her eyes and was forced to rely upon her other scrambled senses to collect as much relevant data as possible.
She was lying on something hard. She knew that much because the entire left side of her face hurt. But strong odors of human urine and disinfectant told her it was not the tile floor outside the plumbing crawlspace. And there were people milling about. She heard snatches of conversations, curses, the rattle of telephones and the occasional whirring, clicking, clumping, buzzing noises robots made. Garofalo gathered her courage and opened her eyes.
Colorless masses pitched violently around her until she felt like a skiff adrift in a typhoon. But slowly they acquired definable shapes. She recognized the sharp, vertical lines of metal bars a few inches from her face and, beyond those bars, a pair of human legs. A man's bare, tanned, muscular legs. Great legs, actually, that appeared to have been waxed and shaved far more often than her own. She traced their perfect curves slowly upwards and discovered a pair of white cotton workout shorts, a thin “I Love New York” T-shirt stretched tightly over a chiseled chest, and a face that was stunningly handsome, even for a world where beauty was the norm, rather than the exception. The man was seated on a battered wooden bench a few feet beyond the bars. His jet-black hair was swept back over his ears. He had high cheekbones, sultry brown eyes, full lips and an impish nose.
It was strange, but Garofalo thought she knew him. She groped through the cobwebs inside her head for a revelation. When it hit her, she came bolt upright on one elbow. "Justin Prim!" she blurted, then groaned in pain and reached for the back of her head fully expecting to find a gaping hole. But her skull was intact. There was a bandage over the spot where the riot robot struck her.
The man cocked his head in her direction and eyed her curiously. She knew she must be wrong. The odds against this man being Justin Prim had to be incredible. He was one of the most touted new stars of the current holovision season and, obviously, didn't belong here. Garofalo recognized this as a police station. She was in a small holding cell.
She stated the obvious and felt stupid the moment she opened her mouth. "Say, you look just like Justin Prim, the actor."
The man smiled alluringly. "That's because I am Justin Prim," he replied in a husky voice.
Garofalo's jaw dropped. "No kidding? What are you doing here?" she asked incredulously.
He leaned forward cradling his chin amid a cluster of perfectly shaped fingers, the kind she imagined a surgeon or a renowned painter would have. "The studio gets so boring sometimes. I like to come downtown for a little fun."
Garofalo glanced around her tiny cell and the dingy hallway where the actor was sitting. She looked at him dubiously and muttered, "You couldn't find anything to beat this?"
The actor’s eyes drifted down the contours of her prone body. It was the kind of predatory review she usually resented from men -- just not this particular one. Instinctively, she began patting down the unkempt nest of short brown hair atop her aching head.
"You have no idea how attractive I find you." the actor said with a coy smile. "Would you be offended if I asked you to have a drink with me?"
Janeane stared in stunned silence. Then, she reached forward and tapped one of the metal bars. "I would love to have a drink with you, Justin, but I'm a little tied up right now." Then she asked hopefully. "How about a rain check?"
Justin Prim stared at her blankly and then repeated. "That's because I am Justin Prim. The studio gets so boring sometimes. I like to come downtown for a little fun. You have no idea how attractive I find you. Would you be offended if I asked you to have a drink with me?" Whirrr . . . click!
Garofalo exclaimed in disbelief. "Christ! You're a robot."
At that moment a blue-coated police office strolled by and stopped in front of the Justin Prim look-alike. He shouted angrily, "Hey, Vinny. Get your ass over here and shut this damn thing off!"
From a large room at one end of the hall a nasal voice whined, "All right, all right. I'm coming." Momentarily, a round man with a balding pate and thin mustache appeared. He wore gaudy clothing and his flabby face had that peculiar scowl of righteous indignation common to men who felt themselves much maligned by circumstance. The man began gesturing wildly with his hands as he approached the officer. "Fill out these forms. Find your operator's license. Come turn off this android. Why can't you people go catch real criminals instead of harassing honest businessmen?"
The officer grinned sardonically, "You are a real criminal, Vinny. It's against the law to build androids that look like holovision stars. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if Justin Prim's attorney wasn't heading this way right now with a million credit lawsuit in his pocket." The little fat man groaned audibly as though he had been struck in the stomach. He produced a tool akin to a thin screwdriver and sat beside the imitation human being, which had begun its recitation for the third time. The tool vanished into the make-believe human's right ear and the husky voice was cut off in mid-sentence.
"There. Satisfied?" the little man snapped.
The police officer did not reply, for at that instant, he noticed Garofalo leaning on an elbow surveying the curious scene. His face clouded and he hurried towards the adjacent operations room.
Vinny carefully leaned the machine against the back of the bench seat, treating it with more tenderness than he probably would have a real human being. Janeane cleared her throat and it attracted the fellow's attention. She said, "I've seen look-alike androids before, but nothing like . . . that. He's just like the real thing."
At first, Vinny's face bore a scowl of disdain and suspicion, but gradually, those features changed into hopeful expectation. "My dear, this fellow is better than the real thing. He is state-of-the-art somaplast technology. Looks, moves, talks and feels like Justin Prim . . . should." He stroked the lifeless android's left breast gently. "Why there's even a micro-heating system to maintain an even 98.6 surface temperature . . . unless you get him a little excited." He gave Garofalo a vulgar wink. "If you know what I mean?"
Garofalo nodded. She understood completely. Vinny was a high-tech pimp, offering nights of boundless fantasy to the highest bidder.
Vinny leaned forward. "What are you in for?"
Janeane winced as she sat upright. She moved her head slowly from side to side to make sure it was intact. "I don't know. They've made a mistake of some kind."
Vinny again flashed a vulgar grin. "Me to." Then, he looked furtively down the hallway to make sure no officer was watching them. "Really, what business are you in?"
"I'm a . . ." Garofalo started to say the word plumber but the proximity of the Justin Prim look-alike caused her to reconsider. ". . . writer."
Vinny examined her stained work clothes dubiously. "Yeah? Do you know Harold Alstein?" Garofalo shook her head. "Client of mine. He writes holovision scripts for the Buck Laser Show."
Janeane had watched the program only once. Even for holovision, it was revolting. She had wondered at the time how any writer could possibly produce something so utterly vacuous without malicious intent.
Vinny reached into his coat pocket and flashed a business card. "My private number is on the back. Give me a call if you'd like to see your fantasies come true." He repeated the vulgar wink a second time. “Not only can my Justin go all night long, if you know what I mean, he’ll actually do it with a woman.”
That insinuation startled her. “I thought Justin Prim was supposed to marry some super model.”
The pimp's face wrinkled in confusion. “That was just a publicity stunt. Everybody in the business knows that.”
"Listen, I don't write for holovision," Garofalo said as she reached through the bars and accepted the card. "I write detective novels."
Confusion became consternation. "What's the percentage in that kind of stuff?” Vinny asked. “Holovision is what the public wants. That's where the money is."
Garofalo might have argued the point another day. But, instead, she changed the subject by thrusting her chin towards the android. "Just out of curiosity, how much does a night on the town with Justin here set someone back?"
"A mere 900 credits."
"Nine hundred credits?" Janeane whistled in amazement. For the second time in her life -- the first being the day she found her college boyfriend banging her best friend in their dorm room-- she realized there was no justice in the solar system. "Do you mean to tell me a guy who writes for the Buck Laser Show makes that kind of money?"
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of another uniformed policeman. He was a middle-aged man with sergeant stripes decorating his sleeves. He stopped between them, eyeing both Vinny and Garofalo in turn. Then, he leaned forward until his face was within inches of the pimp's. "I hope you aren't practicing business on this gal, Vinny. That wouldn't be very bright. You know what she's in for?"
Vinny shook his head apprehensively.
"She's an anarchist. You know, the kind of people who blow up public buildings and gun down crowds of innocent bystanders. In fact, Vinny, this one is so crazy she attacked a riot robot with a pipe wrench. Get the picture?"
He did. The pimp stared at Janeane in horror.
There was a loud clump, clump, clumping. The small corridor was filled with the enormous bulk of two armed riot robots, their gun pods leveled at Garofalo. The magnetic seal of the door was unlocked and the police office motioned her into the hall.
As Garofalo walked past the bench, Vinny tugged at her pant's legs. The man's flabby cheeks trembled nervously. "Hey, listen, you or your friends ever get downtown, the fun is on me. No charge! Okay?"
Garofalo could only shrug indifferently as she was ushered down the hall towards an interrogation room.
The female detective stood in the darkness beyond the perimeter of the beam of intense white light surrounding Janeane Garofalo’s chair. Her voice rumbled, "Maximum light!" The spherical hololamp, floating lazily in mid-air, buzzed like an angry hornet as it cycled into full illumination. Garofalo squinted and averted her eyes. The light was causing her headache to worsen.
The detective's voice snarled out of the blackness with a rasp indicating she was a lifelong, heavy smoker. "Now, smart ass, shall we take it from the top? Who are you?"
Janeane shook her head in despair. "For the ninth time, I'm Janeane C. Garofalo. Serial number 1101742-B. Now, will you tell me what this is all about? Somebody's made a big mistake here."
"Yeah, Tennian . . . you have."
Tennian? Garofalo knew that name. She exclaimed in surprise, "Tennian? That's a character in my novel."
The hololamp buzzed again. This time it was not a familiar noise. There was an angry crackle . . . a pop! The room fell into total blackness.
"What the hell?" the female detective growled.
Garofalo felt a tug from the magnetic shackles encircling her forearms. The security switch had been activated. There was a loud clack as the shackles adhered to the nearest metal objects, the heavy armrests of the interrogation chair. A crowbar couldn't have separated them.
Janeane heard the detective groping blindly in the dark for the hololamp. The woman's head found the object first and she cursed loudly. "Who the hell invented this goddamn thing?" she asked rhetorically.
Garofalo replied, "Probably the same guy who came up with pyro-plast unions."
The security door opened and the small interrogation room was suddenly awash in neon light. A dull looking man in his late twenties wearing street clothes and a silly grin stood in the doorway. "Hey, sarge, why don't you turn on the lights? It's dark in here."
The older detective was rubbing a small bump on her forehead. "Why don't you just shut up?" she spat.
"Okay, okay! Jeeze, don't go snapping my head off. I ain't done nothing." The indignant young detective strode across the room to a table that supported a portable computer console. Garofalo was surprised to discover that he carried the bound original manuscript of her 1990’s detective novel tucked under one arm. As the man sat on the edge of the table, he opened the manuscript to a dog-eared page and began to read.
The senior detective stepped towards Janeane feeling the bump with her fingertips, scowling belligerently. From her facial features Garofalo could tell she was an aging “genie,” or, at least, that was what she and her small circle of “naturalist” friends called genetically enhanced human beings.
Genies had that look of uniformity common to the models who faces and bodies dominated advertising pages in the old 21st century pop culture magazines she collected. Change the hair color and eye shadow, and it was difficult to tell one from another.
Today, the vast majority of parents had their children genetically altered in the womb to ensure they would be beautiful from birth. “Genies.”
Janeane’s father and mother were exceptions. Devotees of the counter-culture they wanted nature to take its course. What they got in her was a near perfect throwback in facial features and physique to an ancestor on her dad’s side of the family, one known in her day for rebellion against authority.
As the chief interrogator moved threateningly towards her, Janeane suddenly wished that her namesake of the 1990s hadn’t lost her battle against the system.
The chief interrogator snarled, "So you say you're Janeane C. Garofalo, a plumber, eh? What's your local?"
"I don't belong to the plumber's guild."
"No kidding," the interrogator answered sarcastically. "Well, can you give me the name of your tech school?"
"I didn't go to tech school. I learned plumbing from a book and . . ."
"Ah-hah!" the detective blurted in triumph. A look of wicked glee crossed her face as she pointed to the computer console on the table. "Computer?"
"On line," a metallic voice replied.
There was a soft whirring noise as the computer accessed a central library and requested information. Seconds later the metallic voice droned dispassionately, "There is a 98.7 percent probability the suspect is lying. Walton Bookstores discontinued its line of self-help, home maintenance books 67 years ago as a result of low market share and boycott threats from trade guilds."
"From a book, eh?" the interrogator sneered.
"It was an old book," Garofalo sputtered. "I found it in a guy's attic. It was called Zen, Haiku and the Art of Transcendental Plumbing."
More whirring as the computer accessed new files. It responded almost immediately. "Such a title was published in the mid-21st century. Author, Hamada Karimatsu. Text no longer in city central storage. Relevance to modern plumbing techniques . . . questionable."
"It taught you how to think like a plumber, that's all. I picked the rest up by practice."
The computer's logitronic circuits continued absorbing and regurgitating random facts it estimated to be pertinent. "Author Hamada Karimatsu is better known for two later works: “The History of Violent Revolution in Modern Political Systems” and “Fundamental Principles of Neo-Anarchism.” Author died in 2087 of self-inflicted sword wounds. Best remembered historically as the greatest mass murderer in Japanese history. Before committing suicide he released a virulent strain of bacterial plague into the Tokyo water supply resulting in the deaths of over a million citizens. His historic titles include Father of Modern Anarchism, Grave Digger of Japan, Scourge of Tokyo, the . . ."
Janeane's voice climbed to falsetto. "Hey, I didn't know anything about that!"
"Sure you didn't, Tennian." The interrogator's face was beaming in triumph. "And I suppose you don't know anything about this either?" She pointed dramatically towards her partner who, as though on cue, chuckled loudly over a passage in Garofalo’s novel. The older detective whirled about, her face livid. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Haroldsen?"
The young man looked up in confusion. "Reading the woman’s book."
The female detective stormed across the room and yanked the manuscript from Haroldsen's hands.
"Hey," the fellow protested. "I wasn't hurting nothing. Come on, lemme finish that chapter, I just had a couple of more pages."
The interrogator shook her head in disgust. "Have you ever heard the word evidence?" She turned again towards Janeane, thumped the cover of the novel and rumbled, "I asked if you knew anything about this?"
"Sure I know about it. It's my novel. I've been working on it for the last two years."
"Yeah? And have you taken a little time out between pages to make some plastic explosives, Tennian?"
"Explosives? What are you talking about, and why do you keep calling me Tennian?"
The computer accessed a new file and replied automatically, "Tennian. Code name for arch-terrorist suspected in the bombing of the New York Space Port, November 11, 2254; the bombing of the Los Angeles city central computer building on August 3, 2255; the bombing of the Dallas Police Guild Hall on . . ."
Janeane squealed, "Who, me? Are you crazy? I don't know anything about bombs."
The interrogator's face twisted into a predatory snarl. She reached into her pocket, produced a small, white tube and dropped it in Garofalo's lap. "Oh, really? And what do you call this?"
"It's plastaweld. What about it?"
"What's five cases of the stuff doing in your apartment?"
"I use it to repair sewer pipes. I'm a plumber you know."
"And this?" A can of lighter fluid appeared from another pocket and was shaken in Garofalo’s face.
"I use it to light cigarettes, for crying out loud."
"And the old mercury thermometer in your closet?"
"What thermom . . . oh, that. It's an antique. I collect a lot of stuff from the 20th century."
The detective glowered at her. "Got an answer for everything don't you, smart ass. I suppose that old typewriter in your apartment is just another . . . antique?"
"Yeah, I used it to write my book. That's how the old mystery writers did it. Now, is there a point to any of this?"
The computer console provided the answer. "Antique typewriters are a favorite tool of anarchists as the characters they produce lack micro-identification codes. Plastaweld, lighter fluid and mercury are three key ingredients for low-grade explosive compounds."
Janeane's jaw dropped in amazement. "No kidding?"
"I suppose you didn't know any of that, either?" the interrogator sneered.
"No, I didn't."
"Give it a break, sister. Any twelve-year-old who watches the Buck Laser Show would know that."
"So, I can't be the person you want. Only somebody with a twelve-year-old's mind could watch that stupid program."
The younger detective seated on the console table piped, "Hey, sarge, ain't that your favorite holovision show?"
Garofalo groaned inwardly.
The interrogator's face not only acquired a more intense shade of red, it actually appeared to swell in size like the head of an enraged cobra. Garofalo recoiled at the woman's warlike advance. She fully expected to be physically beaten while she sat helpless in the chair. But the assault was verbal. "You intellectual jerk-offs are all the same! You figure the solar system is in such bad shape the only thing to do is go back a couple of centuries and start all over again." The heavy manuscript was slammed irreverently onto the floor at Janeane’s feet. "That's what this crap is all about isn't it?" The detective pointed an accusing finger in Garofalo’s face. "Let's all hop back into the 20th century and grow our food from the good earth instead of making it in factories. And let's stop exploiting the planets for their resources. And let's shut down all the fusion reactors; and . . ."
"Hey, sarge," the younger detective suddenly interjected, shaking his head, "her book ain't nothing like that. It's about this detective whose partner gets killed and . . ."
Like a person whose religious beliefs had come under attack, the older detective lashed out angrily, "What the hell to you know, Haroldsen? You shouldn't even be reading this crap. That's what computer scanners are for."
Garofalo chimed, "But he's right! It's just a story about a detective who solves a murder."
"Oh, really?" the detective asked. "Computer, assess probabilities along this line of reasoning."
The console whirred again in the usual fashion then replied, "This manuscript was scanned by all six computerized readers of the major Terran publishing firms. Only minor revisions were noted. The scanners concluded that the subject matter does not coincide with any of the accepted topical norms of Walton Bookstores. It contains only six percent of the recommended phrases, is 12 percent longer than the acceptable standard and fails to establish the plot within the first 0.7 percent of total manuscript pages, as is required. Since this data is readily available to any professional or amateur writer in the daily newspaper column, Hot Numbers at Walton's Bookstores, there is a 91.4 percent probability the suspect is lying."
The computer's reply struck Garofalo like a slap across the face. "Hold it computer. Did you say scanners? Do you mean to tell me not a single human being actually read my manuscript at those publishing companies . . . just machines?"
The computer droned mechanically, "Scanners are 99.3 percent more efficient for the sorting and evaluation of bulk written material than human copy readers. Computerized readers can be programmed with up-to-date records of all book sales receipts, marketing surveys and focus-group studies reflecting consumer purchasing patterns."
The interrogator sneered and leaned over until her face was within inches of Garofalo’s. "You say you're the big writer and you don't even know that. Come on, clown, give us a break here."
Janeane tried to open her mouth and form a response, but the words hung in her throat. This particular revelation stung her worse than the pink rejection slip from Trans Atlantic Publishing.
"Computer," the interrogator snapped. "What does this manuscript really mean?"
The mechanical voice answered, "I have transposed all proper nouns and dates to the present and have established the existence of two probable codes. The first targets senior political figures in the Mars settlements for assassination. The second provides schedules and rendezvous points for secret meetings of anarchist covens throughout the solar system. There is a 61.3 percent probability that the book was intended for publication as a means of transmitting one, or both, of these secret signals. Anarchist members would merely have to be imbedded with subliminal messages triggered by key phrases in the text."
Garofalo sat open mouthed. The computer's absurd theory reminded her of a night class she had once taken in 20th century literature. She had come close to failing the course when she questioned the professor's contention that a "subliminal message of pending social disaster" was woven into some verbose and incredibly sappy popular romance novel.
“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” Garofalo replied. “It’s a book about a detective in the 1990s.”
“Sure it is, Tennian. Or should I call you Maxine?”
“When you were born they named you Maxine Garofalo, didn’t they?”
“Yeah,” Janeane shot back at the detective. “I had it legally changed. I looked just like my dad’s great-great-great grandmother, so I took her name.”
The woman shook her head in disgust. “What kind of sicko would name herself after a misfit like that?” The detective’s sneer grew more pronounced. “Oh yeah, I checked the data base on that bitch. She ridiculed American President George W. Bush, possibly the greatest visionary this world has ever known. God, I am glad they don’t let people like that breed any more.”
Janeane’s inherited sarcasm suddenly surfaced as she thought through the police computer’s ridiculous theory. "Say, computer, there is something about your theory I haven't got clear. I take it most all books are sold through the Walton Bookstore chain, right?"
"A total of 97.8 percent of all new titles," it answered.
"So, the six Terran publishers will only print the books that the people who own Walton's say they should print, right?"
"Essentially correct, Mszzz."
"And that is why the publishers who rejected my novel kept sending me those slips that told me to read the column, Hot Numbers at Walton's Bookstores, right?"
"So, if a book doesn't fit the specs, it can't get printed anyway. And if it can't get printed, then the secret message inside it can't get into the hands of all these anarchists around the solar system. So, what are the odds that a fellow like this Tennian person would be smart enough to dream up an elaborate secret code and put it in a novel, but so stupid that he wouldn't read the newspaper column and make it fit the Walton rules."
There was another whirring noise from the console followed by a long, pronounced silence. The younger detective reached over and tapped the console to be sure it was working. The machine buzzed erratically but did not answer.
Garofalo clucked her tongue in disapproval. "How do you like that? A paranoid computer. Well, you know what they say about pets and logitronic units. After a while, one of them starts to look like its master and the other starts to think like him."
Suddenly, a high-pitched alarm sounded from some hidden speaker in the ceiling. A nasal voice ordered, "Attention, all duty personnel. Disturbance in detention block five. Report to the desk officer immediately."
Both officers swore simultaneously. The interrogator strode to the door and issued some unintelligible order in the hallway. Seconds later, Garofalo heard the clumping, whirring, clicking noise of an approaching riot robot. The interrogator once more shook a finger in Janeane’s face. "You and I aren't finished yet, sister, not by a long shot." As she turned away, she banged the riot robot on its metal chestplate and ordered, "You watch that chair!"
As soon as the senior officer left the room, the younger detective came over to Janeane and picked up the detective novel from the floor. He whispered, "You mind if I read the rest of this?"
"Look, if the sarge asks where this is, tell him a clerk came by and picked it up, okay?
Had Garofalo’s arms been free, she might have wrapped them around the young cop's neck and kissed him. It was very likely this detective was the first human being who had actually taken the time to read her novel; and, on the surface at least, he seemed to like it. But Janeane let the man leave with only a nonchalant nod. Then, she was left alone with the massive riot robot. It stood to her right like a statue to a malevolent god. Its firing pod was leveled at her chest. Only the low hum of the internal generator told her it was still active.
Long moments of silence devoured even the small sop of joy that the young detective had given her. She sank further and further into depression. No one had even read her manuscript. Two years of devotion, tears , frustration, elation, labor and illusions erased in a single afternoon. She felt hollow and cheated. Janeane sighed deeply and spoke to the robot for no other reason that it was nearby. "What a jerk I am, eh nickel breath? I mean you're what life is really all about, aren't you? If I'd just spent my time building something like you instead of writing that stupid book, I'd be sitting up in the big house right now being fondled by the real Justin Prim . . . or somebody like him who actually likes girls. Did you know he was gay?"
The riot robot stood mute, secure in its relevance.
At that moment, Garofalo spotted a small plastic package partially concealed by the computer console. In the confusion of the last hour she hadn't noticed it. Through the transparent liner she could see some of her personal belongings, including a package of cigarettes. She was suddenly overcome by an intense craving for nicotine. "Say, robot?" she asked hopefully. "Would you mind going over to that console desk and getting my cigarettes out of the sack?"
There was a soft buzzing sound and, to her astonishment, her wrist and leg shackles were suddenly free of the metal chair. Whirrr . . . click! The robot's inhuman voice ordered, "Get them yourself, Mszzz."
At first, she was afraid to move and eyed the machine suspiciously. But her nicotine craving gradually drew her from the chair, although she kept her eyes fixed on the robot's gun pod. The metal monster didn't budge. She retrieved her lighter and a cigarette from the plastic pouch and struck a flame. The riot robot's voice again startled her by warning, "Smoking is not permitted in his room, Mszzz!"
"Well, where can I smoke, then?"
There was a soft thump and the exit door behind the massive engine came ajar. Whirrr . . . click! "In the hallway, Mszzz."
The hairs on the back of Garofalo’s neck bristled. This had to be a trap of some kind. "So you are saying I can go into the hall to smoke."
Whirrr . . . click! "The hallway is a designated smoking area. You are not permitted to smoke in here."
Janeane desperately wanted out of this room, if only for a few minutes. She held her breath as she slipped cautiously behind the riot robot. It appeared to take no notice of her whatsoever. Its gun pod was still leveled at the spot where she had been sitting. When she reached the door she announced loudly, "I am going into the hall to smoke now, okay?"
Whirrr . . . click! "Move along Mszzz. You are interfering with a police robotic unit on duty."
"Yeah, I can see that. Uh . . . what exactly is your duty, by the way?"
Whirrr . . . click! "I am under orders to watch this chair."
Garofalo’s cigarette almost dropped from her mouth. She recovered and said, "Well, don't turn your back on it. I had a friend of mine put in a hospital by a chair not half that size." She started to go into the hallway, but something made her turn and address the robot again. "Say, robot, the company that built you -- is it the same one that makes pyro-plast unions?"
Whirrr . . . click! "I am manufactured by Tech-Force Industries. The pyro-plast union is manufactured by Pipe-Force Industries. Both are wholly-owned subsidiaries of FutureCrafts, Ltd."
Garofalo smiled and nodded. "Somehow I figured that."
The hall was empty and, to her left, she could see a door that led to the street. It would have been easy enough to walk outside and disappear into the crowd. But reason prevailed. After all, the entire day had been an exercise in absurdity, a scene more bizarre than any she could have fashioned for her novel. Surely, the confusion would soon be resolved. She didn't want to make matters worse by actually doing something illegal. She turned in the opposite direction and walked towards the holding cell where she had awakened earlier.
The Justin Prim android was seated placidly on the corridor bench where Vinny, the pimp, had left him an hour earlier. Garofalo sat beside him and examined his artificial exterior curiously. The look of the android was incredibly lifelike. With his head against the concrete-block wall and his eyes closed, he looked for all the world like a movie star taking a cat nap. Janeane couldn't resist touching one of his somaplast arms. As Vinny had assured her, the skin felt real, however, the micro-heating elements had been turned off for so long that the artificial flesh was cold. Garofalo leaned against the wall and enjoyed her cigarette. As she did, she couldn't help but fantasize about an evening with the Justin Prim look-alike. Making it with a really good looking artificial man seemed so much more erotic than having to deal with the foibles and insecurities of a real one. But the thought of having to work nights for a month to earn 900 extra credits for the experience struck her libido like a bucket of ice water.
Garofalo finally tossed the spent cigarette butt onto the floor and made an effort to rise and return to the interrogation room. But the android held her there like a magnet. Some socially disaffected, teenage impulse suddenly surfaced that had not been extinguished by the many vain attempts she’d made to mimic her namesake’s detachment from human sexuality.
She wanted something that likely would have sent shivers down her great-great-great grandmother’s spine -- a gratuitous peek at the android’s primary reason for existence.
Janeane glanced furtively in all directions, then reached over and lifted the android's thin “I Love New York” T-shirt with her left hand while prying open the elastic waistband of its white shorts with the fingers of her right.
The android had a beautifully contoured abdomen with muscles that rippled like ridges on an antique washboard, but that was all she had a chance to see. At that instant the mechanical shackles sprang to life again. They attached themselves to the nearest metal objects -- the left wrist restraint to the android’s steel alloy chest frame beneath it’s somaplast skin and the right to some metal object buried deep in the robot’s pelvic region causing her hand to be drawn inside its shorts.
The alarm that echoed the length of the hallway was loud and belligerent. Garofalo desperately tried to free her arms from the machine but the magnetic grip was too strong. The android only rolled over onto her, and she discovered there was one significant difference between Justin Prim, the actor, and Justin Prim, the plastic hooker. The latter weighed a ton.
Janeane pushed hard and finally the android rolled lifelessly from the bench, landing on the floor with a loud thud. She was carried down with it like a rag doll and sprawled across the cold floor. Fortunately, she ended up on top, her face buried against the thing’s cold belly, one hand deep inside its shorts and the other beneath its shirt.
When the shock of the sudden fall passed, the thought crossed her mind that this particular position lacked a certain dignity, but she had no time to dwell on the matter. A spine-chilling wail caused Garofalo to raise her head and look over her shoulder in alarm. At the end of the hall stood Vinny, horrified by the sight of his expensive creation being molested by a destructive anarchist. "Nooo," he squealed at the top of his lungs. "Let him go! Don't hurt him!"
Vinny was thrust aside by a uniformed police officer. The cop sprinted down the hall towards her and yanked a large, non-descript weapon from a belt loop. Before Garofalo could scream in panic that she was groping the android through no fault of her own, there was a burst of gas from the muzzle of the weapon.
She didn't know what hit her, but every muscle in her body spasmed at once. The effect was so intense that her small frame actually jumped clear of the floor for an instant, unintentionally lifting the heavy android. Wave after wave of electric shocks coursed through her nervous system, causing her limbs to jerk uncontrollably. They also activated the android’s voice box. She heard his words droning idiotically in her ears, "That's because I am Justin Prim. The studio gets so boring sometimes. I like to come downtown for a little fun. You have no idea how attractive I find you. Would you be offended if I asked you to have a drink with me?" Whirrr . . . click!
As Garofalo faded into unconsciousness, she thought Vinny should hire someone to write a better script for his imitation actor.
A dense fog obscured her vision. Janeane Garofalo closed her eyes tightly and tried again, this time with more success. A mauve-colored ceiling with four distinct corners came into focus. She was lying on her back in a room not much larger than the holding cell at the police station. But this time, she had no clue as to her whereabouts.
She closed her eyes again and sighed deeply. Instantly an impatient voice rang in the small enclosure. "Would you mind not going back to sleep? I'm already late for an appointment."
She tried to raise herself only to discover that her arms and legs were secured by fabric straps attached to the metal frame of a hospital bed. She craned her neck sharply upwards and to the left to locate the source of the voice. The sight of a riot robot hovering near a distant wall startled her. Beside it sat a man in a folding chair. Garofalo opened and closed her eyes several times to clear her vision completely.
The man was in his mid-thirties and had the look of a male model straight from the pages of some financial investment magazine of the 1990s. Another genie. He wore an expensive wool blend suit, tailored shirt, thin brown tie and black leather shoes. The man glanced at his wristwatch and said, "They told me you should have come out from under the sedatives twenty minutes ago." His tone indicated that he somehow blamed Janeane for the delay.
Garofalo croaked, "Where am I? The last thing I remember, a cop shot me with . . . something."
The genie opened a folder in his lap and drew a pair of stylish glasses from his shirt pocket. He said, "You're in the City Hospital psychiatric ward. You were hit with a nerve scrambler and then sedated."
"Who are you? The doctor?"
"I'm your court-appointed lawyer."
Garofalo ached from her neck to her ankles. She asked, "How long have I been out?"
"Hmmm?" The young man was reviewing a page in the folder. Garofalo had to repeat the question. "Oh, I don't know," the man muttered impatiently. "You were brought in yesterday afternoon, I think. It's Tuesday morning."
"Good grief! In the last 24 hours I've been unconscious more than I've been awake. Listen, this is all some kind of weird mistake. You should be able to clear things up pretty quick."
"You'll be pleased to know that I already have," the lawyer replied. "The assistant D.A. happens to be an old school chum of mine. We played a few sets of squash early this morning and I plea bargained your case."
Garofalo exclaimed, "Plea bargained my case? What do you mean you plea bargained my case? I haven't done anything."
"My, my, aren't we the modest one?" the lawyer replied as he rustled through the papers in his lap. "Let's see here . . . one count of possession of illegal explosive compounds with criminal intent to use."
"I didn't know you could make bombs from that stuff!"
"MmmHmmm. One count of destruction of private property."
"What private property?"
"Three hundred thousand credits worth of rare tropical plants. Why on earth would you blow up a greenhouse?"
"I didn't blow anything up. They arrested me before I could repair a hot-water line . . . oh, never mind."
"One count of criminal insanity."
"You attacked a riot robot with a pipe wrench. I'd say that definitely qualifies.” The man’s perfect eyebrows raised in surprise. “Well, well . . . look at this. They should have added a second count. It says here you wrote an entire book with a typewriter. A person would have to be crazy to do something like that."
The lawyer flipped another page. "One count resisting arrest. One count of attempted escape from police custody.”
The genie’s look soured noticeably. “Assault and battery with intent to commit murder.” Then, he muttered to himself as though in abject horror, “Oh, my god.”
“Murder?” Garofalo exclaimed and then repeated herself in disbelief. “Murder? What are they talking about? I never hurt anybody in my whole life.”
The lawyer nervously turned in his chair so his side was to her and crossed his legs tightly. “The police report says you tore a man’s penis off with your bare hands.”
“What?” she squalled.
The genie’s complexion acquired an ashen color as he turned a page and studied a dark square that Janeane could only assume from her location was a photograph of some kind. The lawyer quickly flipped the page and averted his eyes from the report. For a second she thought he was going to be sick to his stomach.
“Lady, I think they have you on that one. They had to pry the poor man’s member out of your fist when you got to the hospital.”
This succession of dark revelations hit her scrambled brain cells like a series of destructive tidal waves, drowning reason. She felt like a fish tossed onto a beach, slowly suffocating.
“Wait . . . wait a minute,” she blurted. “It had to be Justin Prim.”
“Justin Prim, the actor?” the lawyer asked incredulously.
“No, no, no! It was just an android that looked like him!” Garofalo exclaimed.
The man gave her a dubious stare and asked, “You yanked the penis off an android? Sweetheart, you have some real issues to deal with.” Hesitantly, the man turned the page back and observed the picture. Again revulsion was written on his face. “It looks real enough to me.” Another quick page flip. “Besides, it doesn’t say anything here about an android.”
Garofalo began to babble loudly in a high-pitched, high-speed, nearly incoherent voice. “Vinny, the pimp, will tell you. It wasn’t a real man. You have to get a subpoena for him or something. Bring Justin into court. Of course, he was turned off at the time, but I was really turned on, and I know I shouldn’t have done that, but I really wanted too because he was so good looking. I wouldn’t have touched it or anything. I swear to you I was just trying to get a peek; and then that cop hit me with that nerve thingy and I must have grabbed it. I don’t remember that part. So it wasn’t really my fault! Don’t you seeeee?” Janeane looked in her court-appointed lawyer’s direction and delivered a heartfelt plea born of fearful desperation. “This is all some really big mistake.”
The genie cleared his throat and nervously glanced at the robot sentry posted near the end of her bed. Obviously, he would have much preferred at this moment to see a little movement from the metal monster.
The lawyer adjusted his necktie for no apparent reason and continued to read from the report in a subdued voice. "And, of course, there is the charge of anarchism."
"That's not true. Nobody can prove that!" Garofalo snapped at him.
The lawyer closed the folder and shrugged. "Maybe. Maybe not. It really doesn't matter. You see, while you were out the D.A. had the hospital computer run a complete sociological and psychological profile on you. Based upon your past history, I am afraid the results weren't very promising."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You're a disaffected artist who is dissatisfied with her station in life. You exhibit signs of anti-social behavior, violence . . ."
"Violence? Says who?"
"This Justin Prim fellow would be my guess."
“I explained that. It wasn’t my fault. I’m not violent.”
“Your ex-boyfriend, Chris Anderson, would be another.”
“Chris?” She had to grope through the cobwebs clogging her synaptic pathways to put a name with a face. “Oh . . . Chris.” She instantly became defensive. “I only hit him that one time; and it was just a tap really.”
“The police report said you hit him with a crescent wrench in the back of the head.”
“I was just defending myself!”
The man suddenly looked interested. “The man attacked you?”
“Well . . . no. We were kind of in bed at the time, and he was . . . you know, really excited, and I really wasn’t. And he just kept going and going and going, and I wanted him to stop, and he wouldn’t.”
“So, you hit him with a crescent wrench?”
There was a long pause as Janeane relived in minute detail what had not been a stellar moment in the annals of romance. She said with resignation, “But I really felt bad about that afterwards,” then added defiantly, “ until I caught him in bed with my roommate, then I wished I’d hit him harder!”
The lawyer sighed deeply and issued a meaningful, “MmmmHmmm.”
Angered, Garofalo demanded, "You are my lawyer and I want something done about this! How can they get away with running a profile on me while I'm unconscious?"
"Nothing illegal about that. After all, why would they need you? Most everything you've done is recorded on some computer and, in the final analysis, people are a predictable lot. Face facts, Ms. Garofalo or Tennian or whoever the hell you are, the computer is right. There is a 78.4 percent probability that if you aren't a bad egg now, you are going to turn out to be one in due time."
"You mean that I am being charged with a crime that I might commit?"
"Don't you read the newspapers?" the lawyer asked. "Crime is rampant across the solar system and people are sick of it. Why, the last global poll indicated that 89 percent of all registered voters want criminals identified and put away before they can commit a crime. Now, I ask you, what judge in his right mind is going to risk his career on a woman with odds of success as low as yours? To make matters worse, you’ve consciously taken the name of some nutjob actress from the 20th century who denounced one of the greatest visionaries in world history, George W. Bush -- the man whose call for a manned mission to Mars was the beginning of planetary exploration as we know it.”
Garofalo rolled her head back onto her pillow and stared at the ceiling in utter disbelief. The lawyer continued, "Listen, I want you to know that you got my best shot . . . even though I'm not making a single credit on this one. I talked the D.A.'s office down to five years on Saturn's prison moon, Titan."
"Five years?" Garofalo screamed. "Prison moon?" She strained futilely against her bonds. Suddenly, the riot robot came to life. It bobbed once and loaded a round into the chamber of its gun pod. That action calmed both her and the lawyer.
The genie lawyer grew indignant. "You should be happy with the deal I cut for you. The D.A. was asking for a laser lobotomy.”
There was a moment in which Janeane explored the depths of self-pity. But that gave way quickly to a fit of uncontrollable giggling. "I guess . . . hee, hee . . . there's no appeal either . . . hee, hee?"
"I suppose you could make an appeal," the lawyer answered. "But with the courts as crowded as they are, it won't be heard for at least four years. So, you'll have to make it from Titan."
Garofalo roared with laughter. The apparent fit of mirth unnerved the lawyer who quickly gathered his papers and briefcase and hurried to the door. Once at a safe distance he turned and asked, "What's so funny?"
Garofalo regained control long enough to gasp, "What's so funny? I am probably the first woman in history to go to prison for being an attempted novelist." She guffawed again and the lawyer beat a hasty retreat, convinced more than ever that his court-appointed client was an absolute lunatic.
It took some time for the fit of laughter to abate; then Janeane lay in silence watched by her dispassionate metal companion. She couldn't help but think how her life mirrored the short history of her novel. Her manuscript lay helpless on six publisher's tables while it was reviewed by machines that cared only for form and not for substance. It was judged and sentenced on mathematical probabilities without regard to its promise or content. And, in the end, it was condemned to cold obscurity with no chance of appeal.
Yes. It was enough to make one consider a life of crime.
Janeane Garofalo’s hand found the capsule-shaped pocket lantern floating a few inches above her head and directed its beam into the maze of white pipes. She discovered two small valves: one blue and the other red. Experience caused her to reach for the blue one and twist its handle clockwise.
Immediately, one of the pipes acquired a life of its own and vibrated frenetically. Garofalo only had time to scream, "No, robot! Turn the pressure down! Turn it down!" Then, one of the pyro-plast unions ruptured. The narrow access corridor was instantly filled with steam and a fine spray of super-heated water. Garofalo cursed as the droplets fell lazily onto the back of her neck like hot snowflakes. She turned to run, but her head collided with a pipe bracket. When she cried out in pain, her cigarette fell from her lips to a watery grave.
Garofalo clambered through the confused network of pipes clutching her injured head, howling threats of dismemberment at her robot helper and invoking divine wrath upon the craft guilds whose slip-shod workmanship had fashioned this plumber's nightmare. Purely by accident, she stumbled over the antique shut-off valve. It jutted up incongruously from the floor, and, among the mob of modern plumbing materials gathered about it, looked like some anachronistic afterthought of a job foreman.
Garofalo hastily pulled the plumbing diagram from her belt holder and searched for the valve but to no avail. The lantern was too far away, suspended in space near the broken union. She quickly examined the fitting in the dim light. It was thrust into the center of a large, insulated pipe. That probably meant it was a hot water feed line, but in this plumber's madhouse, it was anyone's guess. She voiced a silent prayer, gripped the circular metal handle and twisted. At first it seemed jammed; then, she remembered that all antique fixtures closed by screwing their valve stems to the right. The handle turned easily. Garofalo felt another wave of 20th century nostalgia. That was an era when plumbers were true craftsmen. Before the guilds. Before pyro-plast unions. Before the low-bid, corner-cutting, get-the-job-done-by-three-o'clock attitude of modern times. The antique valve bottomed out and, although the steam in the small enclosure obscured her vision, silence screamed success.
Her sense of elation vanished quickly. She turned and howled through the meter-square access door to her right, "Robot, you tin-plated idiot! Where are you?" No answer.
Garofalo crawled head first into the brightly lit hallway. In her mind she was drafting schemes that would allow her to demolish the maintenance robot without incurring additional prison time. Her malevolent musings were cut short by the sight of a pair of jointed metal boots coated with the reddish-brown dust of Titan. Her eyes moved upwards, tracing the lines of a bulky enviro-suit built to withstand the harsh atmosphere of the prison moon, Titan. An agitated face jutted through the opening at the top -- a female genie’s face that looked almost identical to that of the police detective who had interrogated her three years earlier before she was sentenced to Titan for suspicion of future anarchism.
Except the Earth detective had been a brunette. This woman was a blonde.
Under her left arm, the genie carried her helmet. It was emblazoned with the insignia of a prison guard. In her right hand she held a Mobile Console Board about the size of a pocket paperback novel from the 1990s.
The guard raised the MCB to her face and examined its small view screen. Then, she gave Janeane a dubious glare. "You are Janeane C. Garofalo, aren't you? Prisoner number 761A529?"
Garofalo sat with her back to the cold metal wall and wiped sweat and water from her face with a soiled shirt sleeve. She answered the question with a nod.
The guard continued peevishly, "You're supposed to be confined to the Solitary Ward. What are you doing over here in Cell Block Two?"
Janeane dug into her back pocket, produced a soggy slip of blue paper and handed it to the guard. "It's signed by the warden himself," she said. "I'm to be taken out of the academic rehab program and shifted to trade rehab. It seems that plumbers are in short supply beyond the Martian colonies." She jerked her head in the direction of the access corridor. "And good ones are nearly an extinct species out this far. Take a look in there if you don't believe me."
The guard's face darkened. "Explain," the female genie said bluntly.
Garofalo thumped the back of her head to the metal wall. "Well, it's like this. The warden read my newest novel."
"So his review was, and I quote, 'inane drivel best suited for lining the bottom of a parrot cage.' He couldn't understand why I've been confined to solitary for the last three years and he thought I should do something more in keeping with my natural talents . . . like plumbing."
There was a moment of silence, then, the storm broke with such ferocity that it caused Garofalo to jump. The guard heaved her console board the length of the hallway, and it shattered into a thousand useless circuits against a nearby wall. Her helmet fell to the floor with a bang. She shook his fists at the ceiling. She paced up and down howling curses at the top of her lungs. "That's it!" she threatened. "I've had it with that jackass of a warden. He's been a thorn in my side ever since they transferred him here from never, never land!" The guard stopped in front of Janeane and pointed a gloved finger between her eyes. "Do you know that he did to Thelma Wilhelmsen?"
Garofalo racked her brain unsuccessfully in an attempt to recall who Thelma Wilhelmsen was.
The guard didn't wait for an answer. "Took her out of the art program," she raged. "Can you believe that? The finest painter on Titan and he took her out of the art program." The guard strutted down the corridor, wiggling her hips, comically imitating the warden's curious manner of walking. But the bulk enviro-suit diminished the effect considerably. Her voice squeaked derisively, "Appeals to the prurient interests . . . techniques without substance . . . demeans women . . . a moral travesty . . ."
Suddenly, Garofalo remembered Thelma. She was a prisoner in Cell Block Six. Life imprisonment for a series of multiple murders. She had seen one of Wilhelmsen's paintings hanging in another inmate's cell. It was a super-realistic portrait of a young nude woman being raped by a half dozen hooded female Inquisitors. It was one of the artist's few "soft-core" works.
The guard spun on her heel and again pointed a finger at Janeane. "So, what happens? The warden shifts Thelma to chemical synthesis and the first day, the first damn day, Thelma burns both of her hands. It'll be months before she can paint again and I've got orders for three canvases from a guy on Mars. Cash deals! I'm talking major credits here. Now this idiot is starting on you!" Again the woman shook her fists at invisible foes and raged in broken, incoherent phrases.
Garofalo pushed hard with her legs and rose slowly, her back to the smooth wall. "Linda." She spoke too softly at first to attract the red-faced guard's attention. She repeated loudly, "Linda, it's all right. I needed a break." The guard's tirade was cut short as though a switch had been turned in her throat. Her face snapped in Garofalo’s direction. "What do you mean you needed a break?" The question sounded more like an accusation.
Garofalo shook her head despondently. "Look, Linda, when the warden called me in, I'd been sitting in my cell for a week and do you know how many pages I'd written?" She held up a thumb and index finger joined in a circle. "Linda, let's face it. I'm burned out with Rock Slate. In the last three years I've written eight detective novels about the guy . . . nine if you count the one that got me put here. I don't know what to say about him anymore." She sighed heavily. "You know, Linda, I learned something about myself today. I'm one helluva plumber. In fact, I may be one of the last real plumbers in the solar system. While I was sweating my rear end off inside that mechanical room. I found out that was important too. One of these days, Titan won't be a prison colony. It'll be transformed into a giant chemical synthesis factory with thousands of working stiffs out here trying to eke out a living on this miserable rock. Wouldn’t it be nice if their toilets worked?"
The prison guard lifted her helmet from the floor and walked slowly towards Janeane. Garofalo flinched as a strong arm encircled her shoulders and drew her small frame into the bulk of the enviro-suit. She was literally peeled from the wall and then physically ushered down the corridor towards the airlock. A sardonic smile spread across the genie’s face. She nodded and said, "Janeane, that is truly a noble sentiment. But I have one little question. How the hell do you propose to do your plumbing work after Simone Karkov and her bitches in Cell Block Three break your arms and legs?"
Garofalo’s heart sank. The guard crooned, "Now don't tell me you've forgotten all about Aunt Simone's advance on your next book? Remember? Those cases of authentic Camel cigarettes you've been smoking for the past month. Those bottles of fine Jamaican rum." The guard released her grip on Garofalo’s shoulders long enough to slap her on the back . . . hard. "I'm more than your business partner, Janeane. I'm your friend. And I'd really hate to see something like that happen to you. But do you know what I would hate to see even more than that. I would hate to see Simone break my arms and legs because I happened to have cut the deal for that little advance."
Garofalo opened her mouth to form some feeble reply, but the guard cut her off. "Tut, tut, tut! Let me finish Janeane. You see, it's not just lack of pain or the good booze or the comfortable furnishings in your private cell or the food straight from the guard's kitchen that should inspire you to write. There is a principle to be considered here, my dear." The guard made a sweeping motion with her free arm. "Right now there are over a hundred thousand guards and prisoners spread across the surface of Titan. Most of them have a lot of time on their hands and you can't just have them sitting around with their thumbs up their kazooes. They'll start raising Cain. So, like little children, you have to entertain them. But half of them are sick to death of holovision reruns and the junk Walton Bookstores sends up here for them to read. Different titles. Different covers. Same old crap."
They stepped into the airlock chamber and Linda touched a red button that caused the heavy inner door to drop from a hidden recess in the ceiling. Magnetic couplings locked into floor tracks and there was a thump of air as the mechanism formed a compression seal. The guard motioned towards a enviro-suit on a wall hanger. Meekly, Garofalo began to work her way into its thick folds of fabric, metal, wiring and plastic tubes.
Linda continued her monologue. "That's where Rock Slate comes in, my friend. The books you've written about him aren't akin to anything else. That's why so many people up here like them. And whatever people like they are willing to pay for . . . or, in our case, barter for. Now, do you really want to disappoint all those Rock Slate fans just so you can stick your face inside a few Johns again, especially when you consider how much more one of your books makes for you here than it would back on earth?"
Garofalo looked plaintively at her companion. "Okay, Linda. Okay. I get the point. But what's the difference? I've been chained to that typewriter for the last three years and I'm worn out with it. To tell you the truth, I just don't think there's another Rock Slate novel in me."
The guard reached over and patted Garofalo’s cheek playfully. She smiled shrewdly and winked. "Not to worry, my friend. I've got a little surprise waiting for you in the warehouse. A sure-fire cure for writer's block."
The trek across Titan's murky, barren surface took less than an hour. Garofalo sat in silent despondency on the back of the multi-track vehicle and glumly counted the puddles of liquid methane that sped by them. Through the speakers in her helmet she could hear the guard cheerily humming some obscure tune.
They entered the warehouse area through a mechanical room away from guards or prisoners. Linda hardly gave Garofalo the time to place her helmet on the air-lock wall before dragging her into a nearby storage bay. In a remote corner stood a seven-foot packing crate with Linda's name and government serial number emblazoned across the front. The guard began unlatching the metal couplings with the enthusiasm of a schoolgirl. She grinned at Garofalo and said, "He came in yesterday."
The metal door swung open to reveal a stunning young man encased in molded styrene. He was stripped to the waist and tattooed across a muscular chest and abdomen. He wore battered jeans and tennis shoes. His blonde hair fell loosely about his flawless shoulders. There was a medallion hanging from a silver chain about his neck that read “Born to Rock.”
Garofalo gasped in disbelief. "My god, it's Jack . . . Rock Slate's rock-and-roll sidekick in the books!"
Linda winked and replied cheerily, "Right you are, my girl!" Then, she turned the man’s head slightly and inserted a screwdriver deep into his left ear. Jack’s eyes instantly opened.
Whirrr . . . click! "Ooohhh . . ." the imitation human in the box blinked and moaned. "Where am I?"
Linda reached for a long, thin cardboard box sitting on the floor next to the crate and handed it to the android youth. Again she winked knowingly at Garofalo. "Why, you're at Woodstock. Why don't you show us your stuff?"
Garofalo watched in awe as the android produced a red-bodied electric guitar from the box, draped the strap over his shoulder and began whirling about the storage bay in a strange and highly suggestive dance routine flailing at the guitar strings, which hummed softly in response. It was like witnessing a scene she had written for her first novel come to life before her eyes.
Linda appeared immensely satisfied by the display. She draped an arm over Garofalo’s shoulders and leered at the android's lewd gyrations.
"Where in the heck did you come up with him?" Garofalo asked incredulously.
"I got him from an old friend of yours: Vinny Testerman."
It took a moment for the name to register. "Vinny, the pimp?"
"That's him! He sent Jack along with his compliments. He said you knew him in a former life when he went by the name of Justin Prim . . . whoever that is."
"A big holovision star three years ago."
Linda looked surprised. "No kidding? Well, they come and go in a cloud of dust back in Holowood, huh?"
"But why would Vinny send him to me? He must cost a fortune."
Linda slapped Janeane on the back and said, "Why, you own him, my friend . . . and me too of course. Same as always. Seventy-five percent for you. Twenty-five percent for me."
"Own him? How could I possibly own him? I couldn't make that many credits in a lifetime!"
"Credits, credits, credits. Janeane, my girl, credits are just another form of barter. Do you remember that old plumbing book I borrowed from you a few months ago?"
"Sure. Zen, Haiku and the Art of Transcendental Plumbing. What about it?"
The guard beamed. "Well, it just so happens there are some real anarchists on this mud ball and the guy who wrote that book, Hamada Karimatsu, was their grand high pooh-bah and number-one crazy. That book you owned happened to be an autographed copy of the old nut's first published work. It was also a first edition in mint condition. I got the name of a collector on Earth who was willing to pay through the nose to get his hands on it. Oh, it wasn't enough to cover little Jack here, but when I told Vinny you'd be out in a couple more years and remembered his testimony against you on that trumped-up attempted murder charge, you'd be amazed how much he came down off his asking price. Jack is an older model with some mileage on him, but he's in great shape."
The android came bumping and grinding down the corridor formed by packing crates and stacks of plastic barrels. He belted out the lyrics from an obscure song as though they were some primitive war chant and flashed the two women a seductive smile as he whirled past like a dervish.
"No kidding?" Garofalo mused aloud.
"Linda slapped her back again. "You see? That's the problem with you artist types. You never know what you've got or how to go about marketing it. That's why you need people like me."
Garofalo eyed her dubiously.
The guard's face acquired a sudden sobriety. "But don't think he's all looks and no brains. It seems Vinny had a good friend in Holowood with a collection of old television detective episodes from the 20th century. He programmed all those scripts into Jack’s memory. He is a veritable gold mine of information."
"Linda, that plagiarism!"
"Plaigiarism? When did I suggest you plaigiarize? I said information, my friend. You can use Jack here to get the juices flowing . . . if you know what I mean." And Linda voiced an obscene laugh that caused Garofalo’s face to flush. “Here is your prescription for writer’s block, Janeane, straight from Dr. Linda. I want you to take Jack back to your cell, open a bottle of good Jamaican rum and play with Rock Slate’s sidekick for the weekend. Believe me, he's programmed for his part. In fact, Jack is a lot better than a real man. When he lets it all go, five seconds later, he’s ready to start again like nothing ever happened. Why, I'll bet that by Monday you'll be working on an inspired plot."
Linda started to leave but a sudden thought made her pause. "Oh, by the way, I'm off for three days starting next Friday. Bring Jack around to my quarters Thursday night, okay? And be easy with him. No yanking things off. It would take weeks to get repair parts for him way out here."
The guard was nearly to the storage bay door when Garofalo called to her, "Linda, you're forgetting about the warden. He's reality."
"You're right, Janeane, and so is Simone Karkov. I think its time for the good warden to have a little accident. Oh, nothing too severe . . . a pair of broken legs maybe. Just enough to get him shipped back to earth and out of my hair."
Garofalo grimaced and muttered, "I guess that's one way to handle a literary critic."
From the doorway to the cell blocks, Linda studied her ward for a moment. For a few seconds her face evidenced genuine concern for another human being. "Janeane, what is the matter with you? Right now, you look like the poor schmuck who stepped off that prison ship three years ago. Don't you have what you wanted? You're a successful novelist."
"A success? Linda, this is a prison moon for crying out loud."
The guard shrugged. "So what? There are writers living in New York City right now who wish they had what you've got, my friend. Good booze. A fine-looking boyfriend. Three square meals a day. A comfortable little apartment, and adoring fans." Linda laughed cynically. "Hell, if that isn't success, I'd like to know what is. So lighten up, Janeane, my girl. For the first time in your life, the percentages are in your favor."
Linda gave her a knowing wink, one that had probably been patented by the first literary agent in history. Then, she disappeared into the cell block outside the storage bay and the door closed automatically behind her.
Garofalo stared dreamily at the numbers on a nearby packing crate, mulling over Linda’s words in her mind, wondering why she didn't feel successful. Finally, a high note from her new possession distracted her. She spotted Jack at the far end of the storage bay atop a stack of pallets, performing what appeared to be a ritual mating dance in front of an industrial generator. The sight of his ridiculous antics grieved her deeply. She mumbled to herself, "It didn't seem so stupid when he did it in the book."
Garofalo brought her fingers to her mouth and whistled loudly. Jack bounded to the floor and ran to her like an eager pet. He stopped inches from her, a silly, expectant grin pasted across his youthful face. "Hi!" he said happily. "My name is Jack. I’m an alternative rock star. You have no idea how attractive I find you. Would you be offended if I kissed you?" Whirrr . . . click!
Janeane stood for the longest time looking into the dark, wistful eyes of the imitation man. Finally, with resignation, she said, “No, I wouldn’t.”
Whirrr . . . click! The android's logitronic brain accessed a new file. He threw his arms around her neck and kissed her passionately. She felt the softness of his somaplast lips, the warmth generated by the micro-heating elements beneath his artificial skin and the wetness of his mouth that was the result of a sophisticated oral lubrication mechanism. Garofalo pulled away from Jack with great difficulty, wondering just how long she would be able to separate reality from fantasy.
"Ohhh," the android moaned. "I need a woman like you."
Garofalo cleared her throat and asked, "Would you mind waiting here for just a few minutes?"
It took her some time to get out of the enviro-suit and hang it in the air-lock chamber. When she returned to the storage bay the android was waiting patiently by the exit that led to the cell block. Janeane noticed he had attached a blue identification tag to his belt that gave him clearance to any prison dormitory on Titan, male or female. It would guarantee no hassles with the guards, human or mechanical. Inwardly, she whistled in admiration. The creator of this android had gone far beyond her limited skills at fiction, fashioning a product that lived equally as well in either the world of man or myth.
Another person would have passed the small puddle of water on the floor without noticing it. But it caught Garofalo’s eye immediately. She paused to trace the leak and spotted a silver droplet oozing from a pyro-plast union joint. Reaching into her webbed tool belt she produced a small wrench, adjusted its teeth and clamped it about the union. A deft twist of the wrist and leak was sealed.
Garofalo felt a wave of personal gratification course through her soul over that minor accomplishment. It passed when she looked at the android. Garofalo breathed a sigh of resignation and said, "I hear you hang around with a guy named Rock Slate.”
Whirrr . . . click! "Oh, yeah. Rock and I are just like this.” The android crossed a pair of fingers and held them up. “I know lots of detectives. They’re really interesting guys. You want to hear some stories they’ve told me.”
Jack opened the door to the cell block, and she submissively followed her plastic boyfriend down the corridor that led to her equally plastic new novel. As they walked, Jack began imitating the voice of some fellow named Jim Rockford who happened not to be at home at the moment.
|©2004 Tall Tales To Go Home Page Fan Fiction||Fan Fiction Fiction and More Miscellany Contact|