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Be Better Things I Read Lately

Things To Read

Before we take this Ramble, I have a confession. This Ramble is also a bit of a book review for a few books I read recently. I’ve linked to them throughout the Ramble, and if you buy those books through those links, I get a little kickback. The site I’m linking to is called Bookshop, and they help support local bookstores that are all in danger of shutting down because of Amazon. So, if you buy from those links, you’ll be helping me and helping keep local bookstores open, which is pretty fucking cool. With that said, Ramble on:

If you haven’t checked out my reading recommendations for dudes, check out my other post: Being a Man. I talk about some cool books I’ve read and some of the lessons they’ve taught me about myself, and what I think masculinity means.

This post won’t be that boring.

This post is going to be a list of good books that I’ve read and that I think you’ll like. If you don’t like them, then you’re wrong, and that’s okay. Don’t feel too bad. I don’t really know what it’s like, but I hear it’s a pretty common problem amongst normal folks.

I read a somewhat wide range of things. I’m a long-time fan of “speculative fiction” aka “Science-Fiction and Fantasy,” but I dig a good thriller or murder mystery or alternate history. Good non-fiction will draw me as well. Some things labeled “self-help” actually do help, history is vital to understand as fully as possible, and some people who really lives are more interesting than their fictional counterparts. As Mark Twain said “truth has to be stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense” or something like that…

Let’s dive into good stuff I’ve read in my time, starting with some books that changed my mindset.

On Combat and On Killing both by Lt Col Dave Grossman. (I know the first link goes to Amazon, but Bookshop didn’t have On Combat on their site)

I put these two together because they very much build on one another. Grossman’s research has had profound impact on our understanding of war, policing, and other forms of mortal conflict, and their effects on the soldiers, first-responders, and victims. The value of the information in these books can’t really be overstated. If you live around humans outside of your trust circle, then you need these books. If you, like me, consider your personal safety to be your personal responsibility, then you should be taking the training and mindset cues from these books to heart. From how to better train to prepare to defend your life, to how to deal with the overwhelming emotional and spiritual fallout after the fact, these studies are absolutely packed with information you shouldn’t pass up.

The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers by Various

This book is a compilation of the writings of various of the founding fathers of the United States who published articles in newspapers to try and sway the opinions of the populace while debating the future of the New World. Many Americans these days have a very black-and-white view of the Constitution. They don’t really know the history, process, or points of contention that surrounded the creation of the document that would alter the course of modern governance. These writings are an excellent source of information and insight into why certain choices were made int he balance of state and federal powers when the republic was first born.

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

Did you like 300? Would you like to read the book that made that movie possible? Do you like tales of badassery, fights-to-the-death, and epic last-stands? Pressfield really brings home the warrior ethos in this book. You pick it up and put it down with a feeling in your guts that you, too, could be a ridiculous badass and hold the line against the Persian hordes. This is an absolute must-read for anyone who wants a little more warrior spirit in their lives.

1984 by George Orwell

This one should pretty much stand on its own as a recommendation in the current political climate. Big Brother, governmental overreach, the nanny state. It’s all a little too real. Read about what it means when you lean too far into safety and give away your dangerous freedom.

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

A classic. The first introduction to Jack Ryan. Inspiration for the Connery (RIP) classic. If you like action, you should be all over Clancy, all the time.

Terminal List by Jack Carr

Jack is one of my new favorite authors, and James Reece will be one of your favorite characters. Terminal List is one of those balls-out revenge stories that has you salivating for more. Pick this one up and root for the SEAL in his Cruiser against the political machine that fucked him over good.

Hope you find some of these enjoyable, and you support some local bookshops along the way. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Stay ready. Stay safe. Stay free.

-Hodo

Categories
Fiction Original Content Writing

JOEYIS, aka CAPTAIN RUNNEL’S TRAVELING SHIT SHUTTLE

The mixing bay of my freighter is full of shit and horny robots. The shit is fine, this is where it belongs. The robots are fine, this is where they belong, too. The adjective, as usual, is where the trouble lies.

I bought the androids off a retired bajillionaire-turned-monk last week, and the damn things are pawing at each other like pubescent hormone factories after dark. A couple of the friskier ones have their eyes on me. It wouldn’t be so creepy if they were the older Mark I or even the Mark II models, but these are so damn lifelike. It’s terrifying.

I trudge through the knee-deep fertilizer, working as quickly as I can against the thirsty, sucking sludge on my muck-boots.

“Pre-production Mark III’s” I say, in bitter mockery of the shining monk’s sales pitch. “You can sell the ones you don’t use! They’ll be worth a fortune! The androids that put Amos Anderson out of business!”

I see now how they put Anderson under.

The nearest bot, a guy with brown eyes and an impressive piece of hardware, starts pulling himself through the mix room’s giant shit puddle toward me. It’s slow work for both of us, and he isn’t gaining ground, but the simple fact that he’s moving toward me at all lights a fire under me.

The sound my boots make in the slop is almost as nauseating as the smell. The rotten odor of the bacteria chewing through the mix, combined with the sharp scent of whatever the bots are secreting to aid their perverse playtime creates a stink-beast whose only mission in life is to claw its way through my nose and rip the food from my stomach.

I reach the edge of the mix pit and lift myself over the containment wall. Liquid shit drips off of my boots and splatters on the textured metal floor as I swing over and drop to the ground. I don’t know if that bot is determined enough to chase me over the short barricade, but I don’t spare the time to find out. I chuck myself toward the stairs and the waiting exit.

I slam the big red button but the door doesn’t budge. “Dammit, Clayn, get this door open!”

Her voice comes back to me through the intercom system, but it’s cutting in and out. 

“Can’t hear ya, Clayn!” I yell. “The intercom’s on the fritz again!” I look behind me and see Mr. Muddy Tackle easing over the retaining wall. It doesn’t look easy, with his… protrusion in the way, but he’s making it happen. “Get me the fuck out of here!”

About the time old buddy’s feet slap against the floor with a fecal-wet flap, the crane above the pit starts to move. The bot’s foot lands on the first step and my stomach jumps. I don’t think my eyes can get any wider.

Something brushes against my cheek and I jump so hard a little pee comes out. At the same time the intercom crackles behind me, shrieking with feedback, and Don Juan takes his first step onto the platform with me. Whatever hit me in the face is dangling next to my cheek and given the situation, I immediately worry that it’s phallic.

It’s the sling from the boom crane.

I grab hold and scream incoherently at the intercom. Clayn must have understood, because in the next moment I’m swinging out over the mix pit, thirty feet in the air, praying that my grip lasts longer than the robo-orgy happening underneath me.

Never, even during my military flying days, has the phrase “don’t look down,” repeated so adamantly in my mind.

#

“No shit, there I was, fertilizer up to my knees and horny robots up to my ass.” It’s my favorite line in the story. I don’t see myself coming up with a better one any time soon. Joyous laughter warms the cold steel dining area. It softens the hard angles and masks the rust on my ship’s time-battered walls.

Those of the crew who can fit are gathered around the too-small table, with the spillover filling up open areas of the countertops or the floor.

“No shit! Fertilizer! Good one, Captain!” Jespo brays. He’s a Findalian monk, so of course he’s sotted. Their Golden Ale gives the monks gilded voices and glowing skin, and his bald head is shining brightly this late in the evening. I don’t mind, so long as he does his job in the morning. Besides, it’s part of his recovery.

I grin, glad the pun landed, and file it away as a joke to keep in the telling.

“So these bots are everywhere,” I continue, “covered in Mendolian Eel Mix, and all doing their damndest to press each other’s no-no buttons. I’m yelling for Clayn to open the doors, but she can’t hear me ‘cause the intercom is on the blink again. The smell of robo-sex on top of the aging fertilizer could choke a maggot. It’s half a miracle I didn’t suffocate trying to escape unpenetrated.”

Laughter echoes again, holding the smile on my face. This is how life on an interstellar dump dozer should be.

“How did you even come across droids at a Findalian monastery, Runn?” asks Quiin, the logistician and navigator. The pair of us started flying the JOEYIS together after the Yurisha Hiccups Incident. You don’t get stuck on poop patrol by winning medals, and we both managed to hose our careers in that little catastrophe. He’s the scruffy sort, now that we’re no longer beholden to military grooming standards. He’s not a handsome man, but at least he has good looks and brains in equal measure.

“Well, you know Amos Anderson?” I ask.

“Not personally,” he replies. Smart ass.

“I do,” Jespo pipes in. “He joined the monks a couple years ago. Solid tenor once you get enough Ale in him.”

“I ran into him while ‘Spo finished with his rehab consult,” I say. “Anderson had heard the captain of a shit shuttle was there and managed to pick me out from the crowd.”

“Being the only person who wasn’t a friggin’ light bulb was probably a dead giveaway,” Clayn says. My lead engineer is a terrifying kind of smart, with a chin and cheekbones as sharp as her intellect.

“I’d lean more toward Runn being the only one not bare-arsed,” Spo chuckled.

“What?! The monks are nude?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I have no idea why.”

“Actually-” Spo starts, but I shut him down. A drunken lecture on monastic culture isn’t something I’m willing to sit through right now.

“So, Amos Anderson, of Anderson Apech Androids, comes up to me, business all aglow and flapping in the breeze, and offers me the entire pre-production run of Mark-III droids for next to nothing. It seemed too good to be true, but I figured I could trust a monk.”

“There’s your first mistake,” Jespo says before bursting into his absurd laugh, somehow guffawing and tittering at once. “He’s gonna be famous!”

“Anderson was a jillionaire before leaving the modern world for the monastery,” I say. “Doesn’t get much more famous than having a bot with your name on it in nearly every home and business in the cosmos.”

Jespo’s choked with laughter and can’t respond. He’s too far down the chuckle hole to find his way out. Only one thing to do: Findalian torture. I clear my throat and tear off into the warbling sustained notes of Galataya’s national anthem.

Spo’s laughter cuts off as his smile rots into a grimace. He shakes off a chill. “Not okay, Captain.”

“What do you mean he’s going to be famous?” I ask.

“It’s a secret,” he says, serious as Ungregian Measles. “Can’t tell you.”

“Who are we gonna tell?” Quiin asks. “Besides, who’d listen to a bunch of dung deliverers?”

Jespo considers that for a second and takes another pull from his flask. He shakes his head, but as the fading glow resurges across his skin, he cracks.

“Guess it won’t hurt. But you can’t tell. It’s a secret, after all.” He drains a little more of the Ale. “Within the order, we enjoy a good practical joke. Nobody rises very far among the Findalians without having at least a few serious pranks in their flask. The big ones are reserved for prominent figures who petition us to perform at their events. Usually they’re too embarrassed to tell anyone what happened, or they just keep mum to watch as a rival receives the same treatment later. Either way, their secret is safe with us, and ours is safe with them.”

“It doesn’t get farther from ‘prominent’ than the bay of a fertilizer ferry,” Clayn says.

“That’s the genius of it,” Spo replies. “Anderson couldn’t pawn those off on anyone important without serious repercussions. Two dozen androids having sex all over a royal compound, or on the floor of the Grand Council; that isn’t the kind of thing you can keep a lid on. Us, though,” he shrugs. “Besides, they get the bonus of gleaning a little retribution from me, for my… episode.”

“Is that what we’re calling it now?” Clayn sneers. “It’s been downgraded from ‘tragic mass poisoning’ to ‘episode’?”

“I didn’t poison anybody. At least nobody lost their face, pyro.”

“Just their voices. And that monastery’s reputation, built over the last five hundred years. I don’t know what else you’d call feeding bad Ale to a slew of monks and nearly killing them. Sounds like poisoning to me.”

“That’s enough,” I interject. “Everybody here’s stepped in the mix at one point or another.” I turn my gaze back on Spo. “So, let me get this straight. You think Amos Anderson, former richest man in the cosmos and member of the most regarded society for performing arts in the galaxy, wants to earn respect from his peers through a shit-stained-sex-robot prank?”

“Yes.” The simplicity of his reply sends everyone into another fit of laughter.

All I can do is shake my head. “Clayn, I need you to come up with a way to fix this,” I say.

“I’m not a droid expert, Runn. I don’t even know where to start.”

“You are now. Figure it out.”

“Yes, Captain,” she grumbles, like a kid half her age.

“Good, now let’s try to get some down time. We’ve got a big delivery tomorrow.”

#

“JOEYIS to Asirin Five Seven Fervis,” Quiin mumbles over the radio. “Requesting clearance to approach for a delivery.”

“Confirm, JOEYIS. You may approach along vector Six Quylon Four, elevation Gibbon Rex Two.”

I type the proper vector in when I realize Quiin is too busy rubbing the bridge of his nose to pay any attention.

“Didn’t think you had that much to drink last night,” I say. “Did you try to keep up with Spo after we broke up for the evening?”

“No, it was them bloody bots. Up all night raising hell in the bay. Couldn’t get a lick of sleep with all the moaning and carrying on. Don’t they need to recharge or something?”

“I don’t know,” Clayn says, walking onto the bridge, “but from the sounds of it, they shag the way Andersons do everything: beautifully. Might be able to give you a lesson or two.”

A laugh blasts out of me. I’m not supposed to find those kinds of things funny–I’m the captain after all–but that was too smooth.

I shoot Quiin an apologetic look. “Sorry, man, but she got you.” 

“Yeah, yeah.”

I drop down the little rearview so I can see Clayn without having to turn away from the controls. The view behind is much the same as it is to either side: depressing gray panels filled with buttons, levers, gauges, and displays. Clayn’s leaned against the back of the only unoccupied black chair on the bridge. “Any luck with a solution?”

She shakes her head. “No. I told you, I’m not a droid expert. Even if I was, I have no way of accessing any of their programming. No drawings, no schematics, no diagrams, no code.”

“You better come up with something or we’re going to be doing the shoveling instead of the bots. We got a ship filled to the ports with actual sex machines. We need a fix.”

“Don’t you figure they’ll eventually get bored?” Quiin asks. “I mean, they learn just like people. Wouldn’t they get bored, too?”

“They’re built to do menial tasks over and over again forever,” Clayn says. “You see…” I tune out at this point every time I talk to her. She has a habit of going too deep with the technical details and it just leaves me feeling… well, dumb as a shit slinger piloting an interstellar manure mobile. 

It’s a side-effect of her schooling. She’s a chemist and physicist by education, but she’s stuck as the lead engineer on a crap cruiser after burning the face off the Togarian chancellor of her university. She says he was standing too close to her demonstration, the school says she forgot to swab the blah-blah from the whatchamaheedle–I wasn’t listening.

Either way, the school ruled that it was her fault, she got booted out, and the chancellor got a new face from the best surgeons in the cosmos. That’s not as nice as it sounds. Togarians base their seniority on their battle scars, and this guy was more scar than scale, apparently. New face meant no scars and no scars meant Mr. Baby Face had to find a new way to instill terror in his students. Alumni now refer to their dates of graduation using the face as a demarcation. 

OF/NF. Old Face/New Face.

My lead engineer fucked up bad enough to create an epoch.

That’s a source of pride for me, the captain of a ship named after a military acronym for victims of career suicide. JOEYIS, pronounced “Joyous”: Just One Error, You’re In Shit. It’s my personal joke for the galaxy at large. 

Cruising on a whiff wagon is legal limbo. We all took the job to avoid hard labor time for our various indiscretions. As the captain, I choose the crew from the pool of washouts the system hands me. The catch is that JOEYIS counts as a private enterprise, with all the risks and responsibilities thereof.

If the business fails, it’s straight to the labor camps of Chiron Prime. I’m too delicate a flower for that.

“So, what that means,” Clayn says–the universal signal for the captain to pay attention again– “is that they don’t get bored because boredom is programmed out.”

“They should’ve programmed out all the buggery,” Quiin groans. 

I focus on the controls as the ship guides itself along the approved vector. Anything I say at this point will only prove how little I was listening during Clayn’s intricate discussion of the flibbertygibbet. In the rearview, Arok, my security man, well, security zinzz, steps between Clayn and me. Zinzz don’t have sexes, but he’s so damn big that I think of him as a man.

“Problem,” he says, which is one more word than he’s said in a month.

 Zinzz only speak when calamity has struck. Clayn and I exchange horrified glances.

“Take over. No crashing.” I tell Quiin, waggling my finger, and jump from the seat. Clayn is already running toward the back like her ass is on fire.

She’s out of sight by the time I lug my ass off the bridge. She has a knack for knowing what’s wrong, like the ship talks to her. I’m just trying to keep up with Arok.

“What’s going on, Rok?”

He doesn’t respond. That’s why he’s head of security. Nobody messes with a giant blue guy with thorns protruding from his skin. And he’s shit at sales.

I have no idea how he came to be in the washout pool. He doesn’t answer when asked. Once in port I heard another zinzz say Arok “dropped a sword.” I don’t know if that’s literal or figurative, but, given how badly the rest of us messed up to get here, I’m guessing that zinzz take their swords seriously.

I near the mix tanks and Clayn is already there, shaking her head over the instrument panel.

“Shit.”

“What’s the matter?” I ask, pushing up beside her to look at the displays. They answer my question right away. “Shit.”

The mix temperature is too high. The maturation cycle operates within a wide tolerance, but if the temp gets too high, the bacteria start to die off. If the bacteria die off, the mix won’t reach ideal potency, and the Mendolians we’re delivering it to won’t be happy.

It’s the difference between recouping the money I spent on those fuck-droids and having to sell one of my crew members so I can feed the others.

Clayn is hopping between displays, checking the performance of this and the status of that. “Conditioners are working double time,” she says, “but it’s still hotter than Tares VII in there.”

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Clayn says. “Maybe we should install some cameras. Someone should’ve recommended that months ago. Oh wait, I did. I believe your exact words were ‘It’s just shit, Clayn.’ ”

“Yeah, yeah.”

She’s right, of course. She usually is.

“I’ll go check it out,” I say, hustling toward the mixing room.

I open the door and blink through a wall of wet heat. The smells of melting shit and robot sex-juice claw their way into my nose, waging war to decide which gains olfactory dominance. Through the tears trying to wash the stink from my pupils, I see the energy source: a full dozen bots, a knot of pseudo-flesh, right in the center of the room.

“They’re overheating,” Clayn says from beside me, pointing a thermometer toward the cluster. “Screwing themselves into a meltdown. The Mark-II had a safety feature to enter standby if the bot got too hot, but it should’ve kicked in about eighty degrees ago. We’re gonna lose these droids.”

“Get them out of there,” I tell her. “I don’t care how you do it, but get them out of my mix.”

Clayn jumps into a pair of high boots by the door and slogs into the room. She’s braver than I am.

I tromp back to the bridge to check on Quiin and make sure he isn’t about to fly us into a mountain or something. He’s not a pilot; he’s a navigator. Without him, I might never get where I’m going, but I’ll get somewhere. Without me, he’ll plot a direct course for the nearest crash site.

“Still on track?” I ask, stepping back through the port.

“Yes, Captain. I graduated from flight school, same as you. I know how to maintain a heading.”

“Sure. Let’s just unload this mix and try to sell a few of these bots.”

#

“Oh come on! There’s a market for these, you just have to find it!” I say. The dark-haired merchant shakes her head and strokes her greasy beard. The port city of Asirin hustles all around us. Boxy cargo carriers and sleeker passenger shuttles zip above and below the walkway. The brown air carries a bitter aroma, like coffee brewed with stale urine.

“I won’t be able to make anything on them,” she says. “Anderson made great androids, but no one will want a faulty bot.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me! These are collectables!” I reply. “They’re a limited edition run of Mark-IIIs! The only Mark-IIIs in existence! So what if they’ve got a couple of bugs? Imagine how much someone would pay for the chance to own the droids that put Anderson out of business! Don’t you remember how much they auctioned those Nautilus 32B’s for? The ones with the engines installed backward? Nobody could fly them without getting irradiated into dust, but people paid out the ass for them.”

“It is too risky. If they don’t become a commodity, I will lose too much. The best I can give you is twenty-five a head.”

“I can salvage them for more than that,” I mutter.

“Then do so,” she says, whipping her merchant’s guild cape in my face as she walks away. Haughty bastard.

I have to go through the guild if I’m going to get any reasonable amount of credits for these things. If I try to go through darker channels, it could mean getting my freight license revoked and I’m not willing to risk that.

I open my mouth to call her back, when Quiin’s voice jabs into my ear drum.

“Runn, we got a problem here.”

“What now?”

“The mix is toast.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, already moving back toward JOEYIS.

“Clayn just got done with her tests. It’s dead, and the Crowls just floated up.”

I take a breath, but the air is too filthy for it to cleanse the way I’d hoped.

“Okay, explain that we’ve had a bot malfunction and we’ll revitalize and deliver in a week at a thirty percent discount.”

I break into a run across the elevated walkway. My breath comes faster than it should. I tell myself it’s because I’m breathing aerosol crickets and not that I’m right before taking a tumble down panic mountain. If this doesn’t go through, we’re all up the creek. I spent too much on the bots to buy another shipment of mix.

I haven’t been running long enough to justify this much sweat. It isn’t even hot sweat, it’s cold and clammy. It sticks to me like I’m seeping glue.

“They want sixty percent off,” Quiin says. They’re negotiating. Good sign.

“Counter with forty and settle at forty-five,” I say, not slowing.

“We won’t make many credits on that,” he says.

“I know, but we won’t lose our asses either, and the Crowls are influential. If we keep them happy, it could mean more business for us later.”

Thirty seconds of praying to the universal powers-that-be and Quiin comes back on my earpiece. “They took it.”

“Good. I’ll stop off and pick up some vita-packs on my way,” I say, trying not to sound too relieved. The captain can’t be shaken. It’s bad for morale.

#

“How many of the old mixerbots do we have?” I ask Quiin.

“With Clayn’s last spit-and-wax fix, we can have one running full time and another on a half-time rotation,” he says.

“Okay. The bog needs three mixers working at all times or the vita-packs won’t be effective. We can’t put two of the new droids in there together or they’ll get… distracted. We need to work out a schedule to maximize the use of the bots and supplement with manual labor.”

Groans fill the kitchen-slash-common-room-slash-dining-area.

“I know it sucks, but if you all wanna keep flying, it’s what we have to do. I’ll even take a turn in the muck. Nobody’s exempt.”

Jespo sits upright, the fading mirth turning his golden cheeks a brassy yellow.

“Even me, Captain?” he asks.

Quiin gasps and presses his hand to his breast. “Even the monk, Captain?” he mocks.

“Yes, even Jespo,” I say. “Either work here, or work in the camps.”

Spo slumps back into his seat like a jaded four-year-old who has to eat his veggies.

“But, that takes us to the next topic,” I say. Smooth segue. “We’re moving up Spo’s next rehab appointment. He’s going to pay Amos Anderson a visit and see what he can learn about these droids.”

“What makes you think I can do that?” Spo asks, sitting up again.

“Yeah,” Quiin says, eyeing me sideways. “What makes you think he can do that?”

“Two things. First, you’re a monk, so you can move freely about the monastery in a way none of us can.”

“And being a monk suddenly makes him a master of espionage,” Quiin mumbles.

 “Second, if you mess this up, we’re all out of a place to live and work. Desperation breeds inspiration.”

“Right. No pressure,” Spo replies.

“We just need everything you can get,” I say. “You don’t have to find the dark center of the Milky Way, you just have to learn why these bots are broken and how we can get them to keep their damn hands to themselves.”

“Yes, Captain,” Spo sighs and slouches back. His copper complexion tarnishes to green.

“Try to get him to talk about schematics or code stores or diagrams or chits or anything,” Clayn says. “I need to know how to access their inner workings, and then how to modify them to get the results we need.”

Spo just stares through her. She might as well be speaking Zinzzen.

“Why’s it gotta be so hard?” Quiin asks. “What if we just numb them? Shut off the nerves in their privates. If it doesn’t feel good, they’ll stop doing it.”

Clayn shakes her head. “I thought of that straight away. All that would do is make them frustrated. They’re going to continue to have the urges, but be unable to satisfy them. They don’t work exactly like people do. They focus on something and never let it go.”

Quiin looks puzzled for a second. He’s thinking. He opens his mouth.

“As a man-”

“Nothing good ever starts with those words,” Clayn interrupts. “Just stop there.”

“In this case,” I say, “it could be the perspective we need. Quiin doesn’t think often, but when he does, it’s usually with his dangly bits.”

“All I was gonna say,” Quiin continues, “is that maybe it just needs to be a temporary fix. We distract them with work and numb knobs long enough to finish a shift, then we let them loose on each other in the bay when they’re done.”

Clayn opens her mouth to respond, but surprise stays her words.

“You know, that could work,” she says after a short hesitation.

“Don’t sound so shocked,” Quiin says.

“If we can get the schematics and chits from Anderson, or one of his colleagues, I might be able to make that happen. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it could be good enough.”

“Great. Let’s get this mix revitalized and then trick a holy man into revealing the secrets of his sex-bots.”

That’s a sentence I never want to say again.

#

Spo stumbles back into the ship. Brother Perron, his therapist, helps him with the tricky bits, like walking.

“Thank you, Brother,” I say as I take possession of the brightly glowing, mostly naked Jespo. “I can manage him from here. We’ll see you again in a couple of weeks.” Brother Perron waves and the personnel door clunks shut.

I wrap my arm under Spo’s and hoist him over to his bunk. He starts humming and mumbling in some alien language. Apparently he’s making progress. He couldn’t sing a lick a few months ago. I lower him onto the bed but my grip falters. He drops awkwardly and… let’s just say the glow gets a little too bright.

“What’d you find out?” I ask, covering his personal bits back up.

“Mandersdon’s a late white,” he slurs. Lightweight, maybe?

“And?”

“His brother has the meskackits and chimps.” His eyes are lidded, like he’s trying to squint away the light from his own skin.

“His brother has them? Good work, Spo. Get some sleep. We’ll talk later.”

Spo gives up the fight against his eyelids and murmurs a few bars as I head toward Clayn’s workspace.

I press the button next to her port and she buzzes me in.

“Anderson’s brother has the schematics,” I tell her, stepping through the doorway. Her workshop is cluttered with displays, wires, connectors, and adapters of all kinds. A model of some complex molecule rings the room where the ceiling meets the wall. “I didn’t even know he had a brother.”

She rattles something off with her keyboard. “According to this, Amos Anderson has a younger brother… Oof. Had a younger brother. Some incurable degenerative condition left him in a vegetative state. Says he died about four years ago. He was sixteen.”

“Dammit. There goes that lead. I mean… It’s always a tragedy when a child dies.”

“Sure, that’s what you meant.”

“Why would he say that his brother has the schematics if he’s dead? Spo used the present tense.”

“His account isn’t all that reliable,” she says. “You’re three levels deep in a game of drunk monk telephone.”

“Just keep tracking with this,” I tell her. “Maybe there was some kind of estate sale or something and some collector bought them.”

“Will do.”

I make for the bridge.

“Let’s head for the next pickup,” I tell Quiin. He starts plugging in coordinates as I slide into my seat.

“What’d we learn from Spo?” he asks. “Besides that he’s not a spy.”

I catch him up as we leave the monastery’s orbit. It’s takes maybe five minutes. Quiin has that puzzled look again.

“What would a kid who can’t walk or talk or wipe his own arse need with schematics for some droids?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply, “but it’s a good question.” Wish I’d have thought of it.

Clayn clears her throat behind me.

“Eloquent as ever, Quiin” she says. “I had about the same thought as Runn left my shop. Turns out Anderson did an interview right after his brother died. He said ‘Arron was the smartest person I’ve ever known. His body may have died, but his mind will live on.’ What if the reason these droids behave so much differently than their predecessors is because their neural pathonomy is based on a different model?”

Crickets.

Clayn sighs. “What if they swapped brains? The Mark I and II are modeled off of Amos himself. What if the Mark III is modeled off of Arron’s brain and it went wonky?”

“Are you saying these bots are horny as sixteen year-old boys because they are sixteen year old boys?”

Clayn nods. 

“But that doesn’t help us find the schematics or the chits,” I say.

“I wondered about that for a second, but I woke up Spo to get the exact wording of what Anderson said to him.”

“How did you manage that? He was bright as a star when I left him.”

“I have my ways of dealing with monks,” she says. “You aren’t the only one who can offend him with the music of your people.”

I chuckle. Parnesky music is horrendous, and Clayn’s voice is nearly as grating as my own.

“Anyway, I expected him to say that Arron ‘had’ the schematics, but it turns out Amos’ exact words were that his brother ‘knows’ the schematics. Not ‘has’ or ‘had’. Spo figured he had used the wrong word because he was two skins in.”

“I’m not tracking,” Quiin says. I’m glad he saved me the embarrassment.

“The schematics are in the bots,” she says. “Everything we need to fix this is right in front of us.”

“So, what the hell are you doing standing here? Let’s get to work!”

Ten minutes later, Clayn has one of the bots strapped onto a gurney with a wad of wires shoved into its skull. It’s pretty eerie, seeing the patch of scalp pulled away to reveal complex circuitry instead of a brain. Even now, with its processors open to the galaxy, the silly bastard is struggling against the straps trying to wank itself off.

I turn from the spectacle to watch the displays. I have no idea what any of them mean, but it’s better than a solo robo-peep-show. 

“This is a graphic representation of the data structures in the bot’s storage area,” Clayn says. Shelves fly by as she navigates through them. “Give me a few hours to understand the layout and sift through the information. I’ll come get you when I find what we need.”

#

“Runn,” Clayn says, stirring me from the waning moments of sleep. “You’re gonna want to see this.”

I shuffle out of my covers and shrug into a proper shirt. The captain has to look respectable.

“What sort of ‘this’ are we talking about?” I ask.

“The sort that may explain a lot about how Amos Anderson went from richest man in the cosmos to a naked shining monk.”

Now that’s worth getting out of bed for.

She leads me down to her shop, stopping on the way for a mug of hot snot. Once we’re in her shop, a poke and a couple of swipes change the display to show Amos Anderson’s face. He looks so young. Behind him stands a well-appointed office.

“This first video is timestamped a week before Arron’s death.”

Amos begins talking. There’s something a little manic in his eyes. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I didn’t have an iridescently calm version of him in my recent memory. It fits him, like it’s been building for some time.

“I scanned Arron’s brain. He doesn’t have long. I’ve devised a way to see him, and for others to know him, long after his body is gone.”

Clayn closes that display and opens a new one. 

“This one is from about three months later,” she says.

“Something has gone wrong with animatizing his consciousness,” Amos says again. He looks older, more desperate. Time and knowledge weigh on him. “Arron was always such a bright and smiling child. But, the simulations of his mind show something… dark. I’ve looked over the animatizing algorithms. There is nothing wrong with them. The process was performed properly, but the results speak for themselves. Perhaps I have to consider that Arron himself changed.”

He looks away as the video stops. I think that’s shame on his face.

“This next one isn’t his diary. It’s some footage of an early prototype,” Clayn says. “Prepare your backside. This is bad.”

The video comes up. It’s crystal clear but I really wish it wasn’t. The prototypes are eerily human, slightly less perfect than the androids we have in storage, but too close to make looking at them comfortable. There are two of them–one woman and one man. They’re in a grey-walled room with what used to be some kind of furry creature.

It’s torn to pieces, blood and bone and meaty bits litter the ground and smear the walls.

“I loaded it past the bad parts,” Clayn says. “It was a dog. They were supposed to groom it, but instead–” she motioned silently at the display. “They laughed while they did it.”

“Jesus,” is all I can squeak out.

Amos is back on the screen.

“Arron’s memory is forever spoiled,” he says. “Were these thoughts festering beneath the surface for his entire life? If he was capable of horrific acts, was it better that he was paralyzed? I hate myself for thinking such things. He was my brother. I should remember him better.”

That video disappears, replaced by another. Amos’ hair is disheveled. The first several buttons of his wrinkled shirt are open. The office behind him is a wreck. A couch that wasn’t there before is shoved into a corner and covered in bed linens and discarded clothing.

“Nearly eight months later,” Clayn says.

“I’ve analyzed the scans and I think I’ve fixed the problem. In the process, I’ve had to remove so much of Arron, I can’t even consider this to be based on him anymore. I’ve scheduled a pre-production run. They are due for delivery in a month.”

The man that appears on the screen next is hardly recognizable as Amos. His eyes are hollow, he hasn’t shaved in weeks, and I wouldn’t want to know what he smells like. The room isn’t visible behind him. Except for a single light illuminating Amos’ face, the scene is utter darkness.

“The modifications were unsuccessful. There’s so much about the human psyche that I don’t understand. No one understands. I can no longer do this to the memory of my brother. I have called a stop to all further production of Anderson androids.”

Tears stain his cheeks. He isn’t weeping, but the sadness covering his face is unmistakable.

“Before he died, I took Arron to hear the Findalian monks. His eyes had such a glimmer as he lay there listening to them. I thought I saw him smile. That’s one of the only happy memories I have of him anymore. This has been a mistake. I shouldn’t have looked so deeply into his mind. I know too much. More than any human should know about another.

“I cling to that memory so tightly I fear I will choke the life from it. In tribute to him, to keep it alive and untarnished, I am going to share the music he loved with the rest of the cosmos. I will join the monastery and spread the light that I saw in his eyes that day.”

“That’s the last one,” Clayn says. “The rest of the files are snapshots of the brain scans and the modifications Anderson made to try and fix them.”

“Wow.” It’s all I can manage.

“Yeah. It’s a lot to take in.”

“What about the other stuff?” I ask. “Did you find the schematics and whatnots?”

“Yes,” she says,  “they were all in the same set of folders. I think I’m going to go with Quiin’s basic idea. Now that I have the scans, it should be pretty obvious which parts of the animatized brains are causing the hyper-sexuality. If I can figure that out, I can schedule a complete shutdown of that portion of the brain during normal working times. They won’t operate exactly right, but they’ll be normal enough to turn mix.”

“But what about the whole ‘frustration’ thing?”

“I’ll wire up their scheduling matrix with the ship’s task management system. That way we can update each bot’s schedule for the current delivery cycle. When they’re working, we’ll shut off their ‘wanna-shag,’ as Quiin would call it. When they’re off the clock, it’ll come back online and they can go about their business as they see fit.”

“So we’ll still need to install sound-proofing.”

#

“My engineer managed to get them on a schedule so they could maintain the mix without adding their own chemical blend to it,” I say, wrapping up my tale. The room is full of impeccably dressed sophisticates, all jovially entertained by my yarn.

Word of our unique androids has spread farther than I would’ve liked, but we’ve managed to turn it into a positive. A shit shuttle filled with Anderson sex-bots is memorable, and if they remember you, they’ll call you when they need fertilizer delivered. It isn’t my ideal way to boost business, but I won’t argue with success.

I didn’t expect to be asked to tell it here, in a glamorous concert hall, but when someone who could buy my whole ship and crew three times over with the change jangling with their pocket lint asks me to tell a story, I by-God tell it.

We disperse as an overhead speaker asks us to take our seats. Clayn and six of our bots are waiting for me on the front row.

We all sit, with Clayn on one end and me on the other. The curtain at the front of the hall shimmers and disappears, revealing the Findalian Choir. They’re standing in three rows, each obscured below their shoulders by an opaque concealment field, but the unmistakable glow of naked monks fills the room.

Amos Anderson stands front and center. His eyes widen in recognition and grow larger as he sees the bots next to me, sitting calmly.

The chorus of robust voices fills the room. Anderson joins in after a few notes as the shock wears off. To my right, all the androids are staring into space, a glimmer in their eyes. They each interlace their fingers with the unit next to them, closing their eyes to take in depth of the song.

The shimmer from Amos’ face is amplified by a pair of wet streaks. He mouths ‘thank you’ to me as the other monks hold a final chord.

The last echoes fade from the room, carrying a part of my soul with them. The moment resonates within me.

A sigh to my right breaks the music’s spell.

The goddamn bots are at it again–fondling each other on the front row.