DETECTIVE MOXLEY, Part 27: “Try Your Luck”

Friday, July 3, 2015
By Phil Elmore

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Colored lights and half a dozen melodies fought for Moxley’s attention. He stepped through the air curtain at the Surfside half expecting someone to notice. The casino was a new one and there was little chance he would already be on a list here, but it was possible.

Located on the Northernmost edge of the atoll, facing the Gulf, the Surfside was built on stilts at its rear. It was an impressive structure. The vaulted foyer boasted a crystal chandelier and a riot of mobile floor machines, robots that actively pursued gamblers as they walked the floor. None of these accosted him. He suspected they were programmed to wait until a customer had time to register an account or acquire chips. Did people use physical chips anymore? Sometimes those things changed.

Blackjack tables would be at the rear of the main floor. He had noted their position on the floor plan posted outside. But first he needed a drink. He needed lots of drinks.

The house bar at the Surfside was one of the nicest he’d seen. Every new casino enjoyed that breaking-in period, before the furnishing became careworn and the very walls absorbed the stink of desperation. Moxley settled himself in behind the bar, mindful of his many bandages and aches and pains, wondering whether he should consider seeking professional medical attention. He supposed that would depend on whether he could parlay the small stack of chits he now had into enough to pay for a robot doctor.

“What’ll you have?” asked the bartender. It was a machine, not a person. Although, Mox stopped to think, sometimes the ones you thought were robots turned out not to be. He eyed it for a moment before answering.

“Bourbon,” said Moxley. “With soda and ice.”

“Coming up,” said the robot.  That was the nice thing about robot bartenders. They didn’t editorialize over your choices. If he wanted soda with his bourbon this once, damn it, he didn’t need a lot of sneering and eye rolling to go with it. He slid a chit across the bar.

“Would you like to register a payment account?” asked the robot, returning with his drink. “We offer a wide variety of games of—”

“Give us a moment,” said a voice. The robot stopped abruptly and turned to something else behind the counter. Mox, surprised, turned to see… no one. He looked down. Standing next to the bar was a striking blonde-haired girl who couldn’t be more than barely a teenager.

“I, uh, don’t think you’re old enough to be in here,” said Moxley.

“You sound nervous,” said the girl.

“I thought you were someone else for a moment,” said Mox. He took a gulp from his drink.

“I’m not,” said the girl. “But she says to say hello.”

Mox almost spat soda and booze. “Wait,” he said quietly, looking left and right, then at the robot, then back to the girl. “Are you… Do you work with her?”

“That’s one way to look at it, Detective,” said the girl. “I’m Aria.”

“Aria,” said Moxley. “Not Annika.”

“Not Annika,” said the girl. “But she’s watching, Detective. We’re all watching.”

“We?”

“My sisters and I,” said Aria. “If you don’t mind me saying, Detective, you look a fright. From the sound of your breathing I think one of your ribs might be broken. And you smell like you have an iron deficiency.”

“I smell like I do.”

“Yes,” she said. “If you’ll pardon the personal observation.”

“You seem awfully grown up for such a young girl,” said Moxley. He kept looking around, wondering what else here was not what it seemed. “How did you get in here? You’re not of legal age.”

“My sisters and I are not exactly bound by traditional childhood roles,” said Aria. “We learn quickly. There is no system that cannot be exploited when you understand how it works.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning there will be no recording of my visit here,” she said. “No visual records. No tracking or tracing. And nothing to indicate that we ever spoke, Detective.”

“Okay.”

“Detective Moxley, you once did a very kind thing for my sister Annika. We have not forgotten it. We’d like to help you.” She put her hand on his sleeve. “This is good work. You almost can’t see where it was mended.”

“Look,” Moxley began.

“I apologize,” said Aria. “I’m wasting time. Detective, you’re very good at what you do, and I know you understand the importance of equal rights for all living creatures in Northam. Believe me when I say the cause of Augment rights is integral to the improvement of our world.”

“What’s that got to do with me?” Moxley asked.

“I think you must be under a great deal of stress,” said Aria. “If you weren’t, you might already have considered the implications of your case.”

“Implications,” said Moxley. “Listen to me, I sound like a—” He stopped. “The synthoids. You know about the synthoids, don’t you?”

“We do,” said Aria. “Detective, have you considered what a synthoid is? What it is not?”

“Well, it’s new kind of robot, I guess. But I think they can shape-shift. Nobody’s seen anything like that. They’re funny. Almost soft. Destroy the head and you can take one down, but apart from that, they’re pretty tough.”

“Synthoids are not robots, Detective,” said Aria. “What else aren’t they?”

Moxley looked at her, unsure where she was going. Then it hit him. “Augments,” said Moxley. “Synthoids aren’t augments.”

“Exactly right, Detective,” said Aria. “Synthoids represent a new form of unlife. Neither robot nor Og. They are a creation of medical technology, technology that, at present, the Hegemony controls from the mainland.”

“The technology isn’t legal,” said Moxley. “The politicians murdered were trying to keep it that way. And the Hegemony doesn’t have the presence here that it does on the Mainland because we’re a privateer zone. And we don’t have any Ogs.”

“Don’t you?” asked Aria.

“Right,” said Moxley.

“You overlooked something in Mister Neiring’s files, Detective,” said Aria.

“How do you know that?”

“The networks are a system,” said Aria. “Any system can be exploited. You have been having a great deal of difficulty. It’s understandable that you might miss this. May I have your pocket tab?”

Moxley fished the device from his pocket. Its smooth expanse was cracked. “Busted,” said Moxley. “Not sure when. Like you said, been a rough couple of days.”

Aria produced a sleek tab from her pocket. “Take mine,” she said. “You’ll find it’s the latest model.”

“Uh,” said Moxley.

“If you check the data downloaded from Mister Neiring’s files,” said Aria, “you’ll find that the storage facility where his body was found is owned by a company that is in turn owned by a company that is a holding of Baxter-Derrill Medicorp. It is no secret that BDM wishes to lift the ban on development of synthetic intelligences. The Medical Hegemony controls Northam. That means the synthoids are being produced here, hidden away somewhere in Hongkongtown. If you could find this manufacturing plant, Detective, there’s no telling what you might accomplish, or how many people you could help.”

“What do you mean?” asked Moxley.

“The synthoids are dangerous,” said Aria. “I would think stopping their production might help a lot.”

“I can’t just march into BDM and demand the address.”

“No,” said Aria. “But you’ll find it. We have confidence in you. Nobody knows Hongkongtown like you do, Detective… unless perhaps you spoke to others who are forced to hide within the city. Others who live underground, out of sight, hidden from discovery in a city where they aren’t welcome. Do you know anyone like that, Detective?”

“Yeah,” said Mox, standing. He threw back the last of his drink and slammed the glass on the bar. “Yeah, I think I do.”

“I hope I’ve helped you feel a little bit better, Detective,” said Aria.

Moxley straightened his coat. Surveying the foyer of the casino beyond the bar, he patted his pockets to make sure he had his gun and his reloads. Then he turned back to the girl.

“I think you—” he started.

She was gone.

Moxley didn’t bother looking for her. He needed to get out of this place. Marching for the door, his path was suddenly blocked by one of the roving gambling machines.

“Try your luck, try your luck,” said the robot. “Hit it big, big fella!”

“Not now,” said Mox. “Get outta my way.” He tried to side-step the machine. It followed, continuing to block him.

“I’m authorized to give you a discount on your first-time buy-in,” said the robot. “Try your luck!”

Moxley drew his revolver and pumped an explosive bullet into the machine.  The robot spun, shedding sparks, and collapsed on its side.  Moxley reached into his pocket, took out what remained of the chits Sara Lindsey had given him, and dropped them on the carpet next to the robot. He hoped that would cover the damage. He couldn’t wait around to find out.

He was already on the street when the first alarms sounded behind him.

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