by Richard W Black
She woke. Looking around, she realized that she was naked and in a strange bed of a luxury hotel. But then, she had no idea where there was a bed that was familiar. The clothes laid out on the dresser said glamorous. She put them on and checked her appearance, she was perfect beauty. She was also late, so she hurried out.
For a month, the woman known as Mia Nettles had performed her task with her usual thorough adherence to detail and expertise. The subject was not too difficult since he was not a social person and did not often venture from his living quarters in the evening. His routines were habitual and rarely varied. If she were one to care, she would have felt pity for him as a lonely person with not much of a life. Yet, she was a professional doing a professional’s job professionally. Regardless, what human could not feel compassion for him?
Walking to her appointment, she felt the back of her left hand, there was a bump from the identity chip for Mia Nettles. With a deep breath, she got into character.
In the bar, she chose a table where she could see the entrance and ordered a drink from the robot waitress that transmitted it to the robotic bartender. Two minutes and thirty seconds later, her comet-tail, a vodka and juice concoction was delivered and the robot held out the electronic pad with the bill.
The robotic voice, mechanical and indifferent, said, “Fourteen-fifty.”
Avoiding the robot’s eyes, she presented the back of her hand. The name and photo of Mia Nettles appeared on the screen. “Add twelve percent,” she said. It was a foolish custom to her organized mind. Logically, the bar should charge the ideal amount for the beverage and service that included a profit margin and adequate salaries for the human employees who operated the establishment. Her tip was calculated to not draw attention to her from the other customers.
The robotic voice thanked her and moved on to other customers. Now she waited.
He entered, took his customary seat at the end of the bar and ordered where he chatted with the robot bartender as it made his drink. She frowned; most people ignored robots unless they required something from them, even the ones that were allowed to legally appear in a human form. The technology had advanced to the level of making completely human androids, humanoids they were called. But they were completely illegal and the penalties were quite severe for violating them. Through observation, she determined this guy preferred robotic interaction to that of the human kind.
Time to work, she took her drink and headed in his direction. The bartender filled his order and scanned the back of his hand as Mia slid onto the stool beside him. Predictably, the bartender’s protocol program prompted it to move away discreetly when two humans were about to interact.
“Friend of yours?” she asked jokingly.
“We need them to do the jobs humans won’t,” he replied. “Might as well treat them with respect.” Justin Cane was annoyed when people criticized robots considering the human behavior he had witnessed in his life…
When he turned his head, his thoughts were immediately cut short by the sight of the woman. If there was a definition of the ideal woman for him, she was it. This gorgeous creature had a shapely figure but not supermodel skinny, dark smooth skin, buxom in the chest, cushion in her buttocks and character to her pretty face. Her scent lingered in the air and he took it in. However, in the back of his brain, he wondered what would bring her into his world, given his foul disposition toward the human race?
“I hear that,” she responded with a grin.
“I love mankind…” he said, quoting an ancient philosopher who once used a cartoon character named Linus in a comic strip series entitled Peanuts to espouse his wisdom.
“It’s people I can’t stand,” she finished.
They tapped the rims of their glasses together in a toast to similar thoughts and took a sip, sealing their comradeship to an idea. There was a moment of silence as each sought a subject given that they were complete strangers. They settled on politics, an odd choice, and the despicable nature of the Federation president. Both considered politics a necessary evil but looked forward to the day when humanity would outgrow the need. They moved on to the sorry state of entertainment and music. It was amazing on their shared opinions. They switched to shots and trashing the latest celebrity couple. Musicians were next.
Then Justin’s com-link buzzed and he cursed under his breath when he saw it was the director. A text message, he was required in the director’s office in five minutes. How he hated the fact that his boss thought he would be doing nothing of importance on his day off. Fine, Justin did not have a social life or hobbies but it was still his time to do with as he pleased. For a moment he considered defiance but his personality refused that option over obedience. But what was he doing? Nothing but drinking in a bar.
Without thinking, he slid from the stool and rushed toward the door. When Director Newman said five minutes, he meant that his agent had better be there in five minutes. He was almost outside when he realized the stupidity of what he had just done.
Mia sat confused at the bar abrupt nature of the man. Looking up, she noticed that the robotic bartender was regarding her in a manner she thought was a bit strange. Did the machine comprehend in its electronic circuitry what the man was unable to in his organic brain? Briefly, there was the possibility that she might have to terminate the robot.
Then Justin was beside her.
“JCane12151954,” he said, smiled weakly then rushed for the door.
She grinned and his com-link number was already committed to memory. The mechanical bartender stiffly slid over and offered her a refill. She hated how functionally perfect robots were but nudged her drink glass toward him through the empty shot glasses like a plow pushing them aside. She might as well; she had a few hours to kill.
Across the city, Justin was in the office of the Director of the Federation Special Security.
Unbelievable, thought Justin. The assignment was ridiculous. It was his brother’s doing, he knew it. Justin had ignored Jason’s calls for weeks and the agent assumed his brother was creating a reason to make Justin contact him.
“Just how credible is the informant?” Justin asked Director Newman.
Newman considered the question for a moment then replied, “Very credible.”
Suppressing the desire to swear, Justin could only nod. He was stuck with the assignment. Nevertheless, he was not about to go anywhere near the Diamond Office on New Hope if he could absolutely avoid it.
“The informant was not identified,” continued the director, reading Justin’s thoughts. “But the information about the payment was correct and completely accurate in every detail.”
The informant suggested that there was someone on the inside of the president’s entourage who was an assassin. With nothing else to go on, when the president was informed, he insisted that the Director of the Security Service call on his best agent to take on the challenge and report directly to the president. Yeah, thought Justin, that report to the president part had his brother’s finger prints all over it.
“What precautions are being taken to protect the president?” Justin asked.
“We ran all the scenarios through the computer and it recommended that we completely replace the security teams and assign Hugh Koenig to take over leadership of the president’s personal security detail,” the director said.
“Where do I start?” he asked, but the director was no longer listening to him. The meeting was over. The president had accepted responsibility for the mission and the Director of the Security Service was all too happy to give it to him. Should there be any screw-up that resulted in the death or injury of the president, the director was theoretically off the hook, his political career safe.
The special agent went to his office to think. He had one and only one lead to follow. He reviewed the data.
The payment was a large one and flushed through several banks from Earth to the Moon and through Mars until it reached its destination. From there it went to Spike. Security Service experts in computer hacking found the payment but could not trace it back to the source. Still, Spike was a shady character who solved people’s problems for a hefty fee and often not legally.
Justin Cane’s position as a common field agent for the Security Service was a puzzle to all his colleagues up to and including the director. A man from a wealthy family with a famous brother should be running the security agency if not some multi-trillion credit company. Or he should be living the life of a spoiled rich brat with wild parties, women, and all the pleasures available to the wealthy and powerful. One popular rumor was that he was a spy for the president sent to report on those in the Security Service who were disloyal. Complicating the situation was his lack of social skills and he was not talkative and therefore had no one who could explain who he was to those around him. In fact, he was so isolated from human contact that his fellow agents often referred to him as Robot.
Justin the Robot sighed. Where to begin?
Spike was a cautious type. He kept himself invisible and had others do his dirty work. As such, he had never been arrested or charged with a crime. But the shady businessman had to use the data net to transfer payments like anyone else in the Terran System whether on the deepest space station or in a cabin in some isolated woods on Earth. The use of a common currency and a mechanized banking system prevented many credit transactions for illegal activities but the criminal class was intelligent and innovative. Funds were washed through a myriad of schemes to throw off enforcement agencies. However, there was always a name at the end of every trail.
With so little to go on and the clock ticking, Special Agent Cane had few options but to flush the man out of the shadows. He sought a court order by throwing around the president’s name, which irritated him. He had Spike’s accounts frozen. The collateral effect was to make it impossible for the sleazy character to do business. He hoped that Spike would have to come into the light and seek out the source of the injunction. Perhaps he could force Spike into a mistake that might lead the agent to the one plotting the assassination.
Then he brought up the thin file on the informant and tried to concentrate but his mind drifted to the woman in the bar, so beautiful and sensual, her scent still seemed real in his nose. It was ridiculous; he had never met a woman who interested him. No, that was not completely true. He had never met a woman with whom his socially awkward temperament did not repel. All his life he lived under the shadow of his personable brother. The guy could walk into a room of strangers and leave with a new friends, acquaintances, possible business associates and com-link numbers for a dozen or more women. Justin entered a room filled with people and gravitated to the peripherals where he observed dispassionately without anyone taking notice or initiating contact. His thoughts continued to return to her while his investigation went nowhere.
Agent Cane waited all day but nothing happened, just a clock that ticked off the minutes. His brain could not focus on the file so nothing new came to mind. Finally, to his relief, his com-link notified him of a call. But not the one he was anticipating, most unexpected.
“Hey, it’s me,” said the familiar female voice, and the photo on his com-link confirmed that it was the woman from the bar.
She was at a café a block away and he had given her his number… She left the perceived invitation slide out there waiting for him to accept.
Special Agent Justin Cane considered the file on his electronic pad and frowned. The sound of her voice enticing him away from tedium was irresistible. Why not, his one and only lead was leading nowhere.
Leaving the Federation Special Security building with his guard down, Justin was surprised by the approach of two very big and very well armed thugs. One growled something about the agent’s presence being requested. The next moment, a hover van the size of a small room sped to a stop and Justin was politely shoved inside. The blaster at his side was not much of a comfort. If he tried to draw the weapon, he would be dead before it cleared his holster.
“Agent Cane,” snarled Spike from an overstuffed chair that had difficulty supporting his obese body. “I am called Spike.”
“I have been expecting you,” replied Justin, attempting to sound authoritative. Nevertheless, he felt like a dead man standing, flanked by the two thugs and with two more behind the grotesque person. He had passed the classification of fat several kilos ago.
Spike was a disgusting man who gave off a horrible smell with a mouthful of food and the appearance of someone not accustomed to cleansing cylinders. “You Moonie scum, what do you think you’re doing?” he demanded then washed down whatever was in his mouth with Martian red beer.
Justin had an immediate dislike of the overweight slob. Like most of the seven billion born on Earth, Spike had the culturally popular concept that his birth gave him a supremacy over the ten billion born on the thousands of space stations, on the Moon cities or among the Martian colonies. It infuriated Justin that this fat turd considered himself superior—worse, he knew the agent’s birthplace and therefore had already researched him.
“We got word that a hitman has been hired to take out the Federation President,” said Justin with all the bravado he could muster. He had expected this confrontation in an interrogation room, not on the adversary’s turf. “Your name was linked to it through a very substantial payment.”
“Do you really think that I am so stupid as to let someone trace me back to a hired killer?” sniped Spike. The rapid response suggested that he already knew why his accounts were under scrutiny.
Justin winced. He had spent the day studying Spike as he waited for his subject to contact him. The thuggish businessman was right; it did not make sense from what the agent knew of him.
“What was the purpose of the payment?” Justin asked.
Spike shrugged and a candy bar appeared in his hand, Belgian chocolate from the looks of it. “I hired a hacker.”
Justin waited while the fat man chewed. It was illegal to hire hackers but tough to link the client to the hacker so they were rarely prosecuted. Yet he was not going to let his only lead off so easily. A good interrogator knew how to use silence as a weapon against the guilty.
Finally Spike surrendered, “He was to hack into the computer system of…an important entity.” Before the agent could ask, he quickly added, “And I have no idea why. I just did the hiring.”
“You tell me and I’ll release your accounts without charges,” Justin said in a bluff. If he was unable to dig up any evidence of wrongdoing by Spike, a judge would soon do so anyway. “Otherwise…”
Spike considered his options then said, “The Security Service data base.”
“I also want the hacker’s name.”
“You’ll never locate him.”
“I’ll trace the credits you paid him,” said Justin confidently.
The condescending Spike laughed and Justin seethed with anger but was in no position to threaten the other man. “This guy does not need credits,” scoffed the overweight thug. “He could drain a bank in an hour. No, he works for information. I gave him what he wanted, he did the job then severed communication.”
The agent mulled it over. What was the connection between a hacked Federation Security Service computer system and an assassin?
“I want my accounts unfrozen,” Spike demanded.
“I’ll take care of it,” Justin replied, his word was his bond.
“You know,” remarked the fat man between bites, “they said you looked like him. I don’t see the resemblance.”
It was nothing more than a parting shot, Justin knew, but he tried not to breathe a sigh of relief as he stepped from the van, or was thrown depending on the semantics, and walked away with his back to the two thugs who escorted him out. A blaster round in the back was still a possibility. Anyway, his mind was on the new puzzle of how to track the hacker and he forgot that he was originally headed to meet the woman from the bar.
Across the street, Mia watched Justin stumble from the hover van while sitting at an outdoor café. He was walking like a man unaware of his surroundings and that was not good. Though she appeared to be just another patron, her brain was taking in the entire scene. The streets were crowded with pedestrians. Nevertheless, she knew that five of them were armed and had their sights on Justin Cane. There was movement slightly behind her. A woman in a long coat stepped from the café and stopped beside her. Mia sipped her coffee with its cloud of whipped cream floating on the top and allowed her head to swivel nonchalantly to the side. There was the distinct outline of a plasma rifle under the coat.
Meanwhile, Justin was barely out of the blast range when Spike’s van exploded behind him and knocked him off his feet. Chaos ensued on the street.
“Are you all right, agent?” asked a man hurrying up to help Justin who was on his hands and knees.
In his scrambled head, he realized he did not know the man so how did the guy know Justin was an agent? Instinct told him to act.
Twisting to the side, he balanced on his hands and kicked the man in the vitals. The half-raised blaster in the attacker’s hand fired into the sidewalk where the agent had been a second before, threw up chunks of concrete and left a black scorched hole. There was screaming and people who suddenly found their quiet day turned into terror fled in every direction. Though his training told him to draw his weapon, Justin fought the impulse, chose instead to leap to his feet and grab his attacker as a shield. The poor man with the smashed genitals immediately took two blaster hits in the chest, putting him out of his misery. Justin knew instantly that he was outnumbered and out-gunned.
That was Mia’s evaluation of the situation as well from her vantage point at the café. To her trained eye, she saw the entire ambush progress and end with the target dead along with two more of the attackers and a third one wounded. It was time to make her move; as the woman with the plasma rifle took a step forward and brought the weapon out from under her coat. Mia stood up behind her and, in one motion twisted her head, snapping the neck. Then she snatched the rifle from the woman’s dead hands. Flicking off the safety and activating the electronic sight, she prepared to fire.
At the same time, Justin had four blasters firing at him from every direction. Two more shots struck the dead man he was propping up as he worked a few steps closer to a doorway where he hoped to find some cover. A blaster round zinged past his shoulder and he felt a sting. Suddenly, a plasma rifle fired with its distinctive sound and the green energy balls it propelled exploded into human flesh. Two of the attackers were blown to pieces. The odds were now even.
“This way,” Mia yelled and Justin saw who had saved him.
The other two attackers were scrambling to find cover but they still had the edge if Justin stayed put. So he let the dead man drop and sprinted in the direction of the woman with the plasma rifle. It made no sense. He had no idea who she was; she might even have set him up, but in the seconds he had to decide, it was the only course of action that gave him a chance to live.
The attackers were taken by surprise and two shots from the plasma rifle kept their heads down.
Together, Justin and Mia sprinted down an alley ahead of blaster fire after his remaining assailants recovered. The rounds blew off pieces of red brick but were ineffective.
A block away, Mia tossed the weapon in a trash container. They kept running.
They paused to catch their breaths several blocks away where pedestrians and vehicle operators were unaware of the madness happening not far away.
Justin was about to make a call on his com-link when Mia covered it with her hand. “What are you doing?”
“Calling for backup,” he responded, annoyed by her tone. He was a Security Service agent for the Federation of Nations and Colonies, how dare she question his judgment?
“Then you just give me a few minutes to get clear of the potential fire zone before you do,” she snapped back.
She was going to walk away and he was going to let her when sanity hit. What was she talking about?
She hated to be the one to tell him, but someone just tried to ambush him. Did he know who they were or why? She was not that confident that those he considered friends were friends but she was sure he had some very organized enemies.
“Alright,” he said and held his com-link up so she could see him switch it off. “No contact with anyone until we figure out who I can safely call.”
Justin had to admit that she had a point. As far as he knew, only the director knew about his assignment. Someone powerful enough to want to take out the president could also corrupt the director or those around him. It bothered him that, when he reached the conclusion that he had to think and plan before he did something stupid, he looked up and there was her smiling face. Okay, it was a beautiful smiling face. However, if he could not use his com-link, he also could not use his ID chip and it was a good bet his apartment was not the safest place to go. He was screwed.
“I’ll hide you,” she said simply.
The lack of emotion stunned him. She was offering to risk her life for a man she barely knew aside from a cartoon quote. He felt an emotional twinge even if the gorgeous woman did not.
They walked the city for several hours making sure they were not being tailed. Eventually, they were in the hotel room registered to Mia Nettles. Night was falling outside and the news on the viewer screen reported the incident.
Justin grimaced in pain.
“Maybe we should get that shirt off and see what damage has been done,” Mia suggested.
Removing it was an excruciating experience. The wound was a bloody mess but not serious. She did her best to clean and bandage it with the travel first aid kit she purchased in the hotel gift shop. Her touch was tender and she made every effort not to make it too painful. It still hurt like a blazing comet.
“Nice work,” he said as he admired her patch job. “Where did you learn to do that?”
He felt somewhat exposed; he was half naked and forced to take the pain while she was completely dressed and in control. The vulnerability aroused a desire in him and he hoped she would not notice.
“Space…” He waited for more as she collected the blood-soaked towels and empty bandage wrappers. She was action oriented and not much on small talk. Tearing the towels into manageable strips, she fed everything into the hotel’s waste disposal. She re-examined the bandage more as a way of covering over the uncomfortable silence until she saw that he expected her to contribute the details.
“I was part of a terrorist assault team on the Rim,” she said.
Abruptly she moved away from him for the view out the windows to hide her face.
There were a dozen or so space stations on the outer orbit of the Terran System. Located far from Earth, they were often targets of one terrorist faction or another, mostly those fanatics who were against humans moving beyond their solar system and poisoning the rest of the galaxy.
“I’ve never been to Earth,” she continued in her rehearsed story. “So when I rotated out, I thought I would see it before deciding what to do with my life.”
“Welcome to Earth,” he remarked.
But what he was thinking was that she was one beautiful and desirable woman. Even more so now that she had laid bare a part of her inner self. They had a brush with death and barely escaped the kill zone which had established a mutual reliance. It was implied that they might be the only ones they could currently trust. The air was filled with a tension, a sexual tension created by their situation.
She was speaking again while he was lost in his thoughts. “What?”
“Room service,” she repeated. “I thought I had better order room service. Best if you—we don’t go out.”
An hour later, the robot brought in the tray, Mia swiped her left hand over the bill and added twelve percent for a tip.
Justin emerged from hiding in the bathroom suddenly starved.
She arranged the food on the table. He munched on the fries that came with his steak while he popped the cork on the Bordeaux. He sampled the wine and poured two healthy glasses then saw the amusement in her face. “Best wine in the galaxy,” he said.
She sat across from him. “So how does a guy who was born and raised on the Moon have Bordeaux as a favorite wine?”
Digging into the steak, Justin did not hesitate to talk about his personal life with a complete stranger. It seemed to him so natural to tell this particular woman all about his life of woe. After a long drink of the soothing wine, the story spilled from him.
Justin and Jason were identical twins, born to the fourth wife of Sherman Cane. The Cane family settled on the Moon when the primary economy for the satellite body revolved around mining minerals and they made a fortune. Several generations later, the Canes had their fingers in all sorts of business enterprises, legal and illegal. There were three space stations mining the asteroid belt carrying the Cane name. A young Sherman, as happened with wealthy and powerful men, wanted more wealth and power.
There were ten children from his first three wives but the sons born to his fourth wife were his favorites from the moment he walked into the nursery. Partly, it was because he loved her more than the other three women and more than any other person in the Terran System except Sherman Cane. But as the boys grew to young adults, he particularly loved Jason. Of the two boys, Jason was the most like his father with an ambition that even exceeded Sherman’s. Had Sherman not given his sons unlimited wealth, he might have feared that Jason would murder him for the inheritance. Nevertheless, the father watched his back. Blazing Suns of Orion, he loved that boy.
Justin, however, was quite a different story. He was the good son, obedient, faithful and trustworthy. All the characteristics Sherman hated in a man. Such men never amounted to more than upstanding citizens. So pitiful.
The boys were identical in appearance; no one who did not know them intimately could tell the difference. In fact, when they chose to impersonate each other, only their man servant, Reginald, could tell them apart. Sherman wanted to raise gentlemen so he entrusted them to a man with education, refinement and a family history of domestic service. What he had not anticipated was that Reginald had become their surrogate father as the boys found in him the affection they did not receive from their biological father.
The unique traits of the twins emerged with their choices of careers. Neither cared for making more credits, they had more wealth than they could spend in a hundred lifetimes. Jason wanted power, much to Sherman’s approval, and went into politics. With unlimited financing, he could buy any office he desired and he wanted nothing more than to take the presidency of the Federation of Nations and Colonies. Absolute power appealed to him. Justin wanted to bring criminals to justice.
Mia pointed her knife at Justin with one hand and hid the amused expression with the other as she chewed. “You’re the brother to the President of the Federation. That’s why you look familiar.”
Spread out across the solar system, Earthlings had colonized the Moon and Mars. There were bases on the two Martian moons thousands of space stations from Earth to the asteroid belt and a dozen in orbit with Pluto. Robot missions had gone out beyond the Terran System and were sending back data in preparation for combined manned and robotic exploration of Orion. Though Earth was united under one planetary government, there were still political movements battling for control. As well, wherever humans established bases and colonies, there were factions among the residents and hostility toward Earth since most of the political power was gathered on the planet. To keep order, there was the military which patrolled space and the Security Service that was charged with keeping the law in the cities, bases and colonies. There were local police forces but the Security Service had jurisdiction wherever it chose to have jurisdiction.
“Wait a minute,” she interrupted. “You’re brother is president and yet you have some lowly job as a cop?”
In fact, Justin was such an unknown that only a few of his fellow agents remembered that the president had a twin brother. So unremarkable had been his career crime fighting that no one knew he was doing it.
“I am more than a cop,” he retorted, just a little annoyed by the description. Secretly, he had imagined his life as this superhero agent racing around the solar system fighting crime and destroying terrorists. Instead, he had amassed an unremarkable career as a steady agent who was always at the office or out on an investigation. He was reliable, efficient and boring but with a solid record of putting away petty criminals and terrorist nobodies.
Much to his father’s disdain, Justin joined the Service as a common agent. Sherman could have bought him a mid-level role but the boy insisted on making it on his own merits because he detested the wealth and power of the Canes. How Sherman hated him for that. It was the last tear that ripped father and son apart.
The brothers were never close but always in competition with each other and in constant conflict. The end of their relationship came earlier over a woman. Justin met her at one of Sherman’s dreadful parties he threw to allow Jason to network. It was for Justin love at first sight. He thought she was the perfect woman for him, his perfect beauty. He did everything right, exactly as Reginald taught him to treat a woman.
For Jason, it was lust at first sight. He saw that his brother wanted the woman and determined that he would take her away. When he saw that she did not want him but his brother instead, he pretended to be Justin and seduced her physically and emotionally. But the revelation after he took her was too much for the woman to deal with psychologically. She fell apart, then destroyed herself.
The scandal was covered up by massive amounts of credits but the rift between brothers was too deep to heal. The moment Justin realized that his brother was going to get away with murder, he determined to become a Security Service agent.
“So you live with the guilt of your brother’s crime,” summarized Mia. “You’re trying to punish others for what he got away with.” The woman read him so well after only knowing him a few hours.
“Jason Cane caused the death of a woman, then purchased the silence of everyone involved and yet no one seemed disturbed by it,” pouted Justin. He offered her a refill on the wine then emptied the last of the bottle in his glass. “Then he bought the presidency. A man, not even 30, is the leader of the entire solar system.”
He had not noticed that he consumed a majority of the bottle and was slightly inebriated.
“I need a shower,” Mia announced abruptly. That summed it up nicely for Justin.
She ignored the desserts she had ordered but he could not resist the ice cream while he listened to the water running and thought about what was happening in the next room. He felt the throbbing in his arm and decided to mix a healthy measure of vodka from the mini bar with the frozen confection. A warmth flooded over him as the alcohol did its job and he laid back on the bed and listen to the news with his eyes closed.
In telling his story, he realized how much Mia reminded him of the lost love of his life. He had not exactly been an outgoing person before the tragic death but he had to admit that he turned in on himself after he learned of it. There was a certain profound justice that a woman who reminded him of the one he lost would so resemble her.
When Mia walked from the bathroom in a bathrobe while drying her hair, his imagination took over his fogged brain. Her smooth bare legs and arms and a hint of her full breasts sparked a desire within him. Then she noticed him watching her. For a moment, they both froze in place as each decided what to do about what they were feeling.
Before he could stop his mouth, he blurted out, “Do you believe in love at first sight?”
Inside, he cursed his stupidity, thinking he had ruined the moment with such dribble, such a cliché.
But then she approached the bed, climbed on top and straddled him with her legs.
“Yes,” she said, almost in a whisper, bending down and lightly kissing him.
After another pause to consider their situation, he reached up for the belt of the robe, untied it and slowly pulled it open. She was as beautiful naked as he had imagined. She remained still and let his hands explore her smooth flesh, almost purring with pleasure. He took in her scent. When she kissed him again, it was soft and gentle. Suddenly, their desires exploded into passionate sex and they brought each other to sweet release.
With only the light of the Moon, they were together, naked under a single sheet, his arm around her and her head on his chest. The world outside would have been forgotten were it not for the news channel playing in the background.
She broke the silence, “What just happened?”
“Two people in love just expressed it?” he offered, though he immediately regretted using the L-word?
“Love?” She paused for a moment in thought. He was about to apologize for saying it when she asked, “That is how you describe love?”
“Two people with mutual feelings for each other, yes, I would call that love.”
“I’m sorry,” she explained, “I have little experience with the emotion.”
“If love were an emotion, the human race would have died out generations ago,” he said. “Love is an action, a choice. Since the moment we met, we’ve made choices that have brought us closer together.”
Mia blinked. He could not see that a question appeared in her eyes. Events might have been different had he noticed and asked what she was thinking.
Instead, she touched the wounded arm, “You’re seeping. I should change the bandages.”
He abruptly sat up. “What did they say?” The agent in Justin was alert.
She realized his attention was on the viewing screen.
The news anchor was doing voice-over while the images were of Special Agent Hugh Koenig shaking hands with President Jason Cane and the photo of the outgoing security head who was retiring. It was a public relations attempt to explain why the president had a new head of his security. The old security chief was expected to fall on his sword and pretend that he had submitted his resignation voluntarily.
“So, the president is getting a new head of security,” shrugged Mia. “How news-worthy is that?”
“Spike, he hired a hacker.” Justin concentrated, an idea was brewing.
He looked at Mia but she just shook her head in confusion.
“The Service uses an intricate computer program to select the protection teams for the president,” said Justin. “It takes human error out of the process.”
The two stared at each other, both considering the implications.
He leapt from bed and paced nakedly back and forth then slapped his forehead with his palm, moaning, “Why would someone hack the system?” Then he stopped. “Oh no!”
He was in a rush, now. Quickly snatching up his clothes, he dressed.
“What are you doing?” Mia demanded. “What do you know?”
“It’s all so simple,” Justin explained. “Spike’s hacker broke into the computer system and changed the programming so that it picked the candidate for the president’s security that the plotter wanted. He knew the director would take the computer’s recommendations so that, if anything went wrong, he could say that he followed protocol.”
Justin stopped with one leg in his pants and one leg out. He considered the question for a moment then shook his head, “I don’t know. It could be one of a hundred groups with a grudge or cause.”
Mia glanced at the viewing screen. “You think that the new security head is going to kill the president?”
“It’s the only answer that fits the data.”
“So what’s your plan?”
Justin froze. Reality hit.
If he activated his com-link, he could be tracked. That would be bad.
She jumped from bed and started to put on her clothes.
“What are you doing?” he demanded.
“I’m going with you.” And before he could refuse her help, she quickly added, “You need my ID to move around.”
It made sense and he nodded his approval. She grinned but she had no intention of being left behind in any case.
“Um…” He stopped at the door and turned to her. “We can pick up on the other thing later…?”
She kissed him. “A choice,” she said then checked the hallway, all clear.
They slipped out the service entrance of the hotel, their goal was New Hope.
New Hope was a city island which did not have a specific location. When the Federation of Nations and Colonies was established, many would not accept the capital being in the former nation of an old enemy. Therefore, finding a diplomatic place to locate the central government was an impossible task. Then the first Federation president proposed an island, a floating city that was not connected to any continent. There were only two ways to visit the 1000 square mile city, by air to one of the many hover pads or by sea where naval ships docked in one of the three massive ports connected to the islands by long bridges. Security for the city was the tightest anywhere in the solar system.
The problem was that Special Agent Justin Cane could not just fly to the island and walk into the Presidential Palace. After the shootout, the assassin or assassins would be on the alert for him, especially if they controlled the security team around the president. He had to get close to his brother and verbally warn him without being detected.
“Reginald,” Justin said. But he saw that Mia did not understand. “Reginald McDougal raised us. If I can get to him, he might be able to get us inside.”
With Mia’s ID chip, they rented a hovercraft and flew it into a hover pad several blocks from the Palace. Penetrating beyond would expose Justin’s presence on the island city and Mia would require a reason for entering, which she did not have. Getting a message to Reginald was equally as difficult without giving themselves away. Fortunately, Justin knew the man better than he knew anyone else in the solar system.
The tea bar was in the same district as the Presidential Palace. It offered tea made in the traditional style with water heated to an ideal temperature that allowed the leaves to steep for the optimum amount of time. Tea was Reginald McDougal’s only vice in life and Justin knew it.
As he sat in his booth and savored the brew, Justin slid in across from Reginald and Mia nudged him over to prevent the older man from leaving. Justin thought the move was unnecessary but was surprised at how the former servant had aged.
When the brothers had their falling-out, Reginald was forced to choose between them. Justin had no use for a man servant but as an aspiring politician, Jason needed of a personal assistant to provide a multitude of services. The choice was obvious for Reginald and he thrived in his role. Still, he missed having both his boys.
“Justin…!?” Reginald exclaimed.
“Shhhhht,” Justin quickly cautioned him. “I need your help.”
Reginald’s eyes widened as Justin told him the story. He met Hugh Koenig and the other members of the security team; they were competent people. They had all been very busy dealing with the president’s hectic schedule. In fact, President Cane had requested a few days of solitude and seclusion to recharge.
“What?” reacted Justin. “When?”
“Oh well, he flies in from the Montreal speech to the space mining unions tonight…”
Justin cut him off, speaking to Mia, “That’s when they’ll act. With him out of the public eye, they can escape before anyone is alerted. We have to get into the Palace.”
“As soon as the security scanners register your ID, they’ll be on to us,” she responded.
Justin glanced down at the back of his left hand then his eyes drifted to Reginald’s hand and he followed his gaze.
The former caregiver was indeed committed to his two boys. In the restroom of the tea bar, he allowed Justin to make a slit into his skin and remove the ID chip. Justin made a similar slit and removed his identity chip. They switched chips and sealed the slits with liquid skin.
While Mia paid the tab, Reginald took Justin aside. “Do me one favor?”
“When this is over, reconcile with your brother. For me, if no one else.”
He started to respond with a list of grievances that all originated with Jason and protest that he was not the bad guy in their personal war but he could see the blind love for both of them in his eyes.
“I’ll try, Reginald,” he said, instead of what he wanted to say. “I’ll do my best.”
Strangely, he actually meant it. Neither brother would ever, could ever lie to Reginald.
The plan was simple; Reginald would remain at the tea bar while Justin used his ID to enter the Presidential Palace with Mia Nettles as his guest. As Justin and Mia walked across the city toward the Palace, she had something on her mind.
“Reginald loves you,” she said finally.
The statement took Justin by surprise. “Um, yeah I guess he does.”
The Palace entrance for high-level aides and staffers was unmonitored by human guards. So long as the ID chip was on the list of those with access and their guests were not on any alert list, the doors automatically opened. Reginald McDougal then had clearance into the most secure parts of the family quarters so the trackers following people around the palace would record nothing out of the ordinary. As an added precaution, Justin dressed in a suit to appear exactly like his brother and Mia wore a dress to show off her attributes that would distract anyone from looking at the president. The computer would record Reginald walking the hallways but all human eyes would see was President Jason Cane and his latest female friend. Their one concern was that they could not smuggle weapons in with them, the security sensors which scanned for them would set off alarms.
They made their way down the private corridor to the Diamond Office where the president greeted dignitaries. Justin put his ear to the door; someone was in the next room.
Calming his spirit, Justin carefully turned the door handle, eased the door open and entered with Mia right behind him.
President Jason Cane stood at his desk with Hugh Koenig. There were four other members of the security team with him, two on either side of the door where Justin and Mia stood and two others at the main entrance. Everyone froze.
Who…? Justin thought the voice was his brother’s.
Hugh Koenig drew his blaster. Jason dove over the desk. Justin threw an elbow into the throat of the agent nearest him while Mia kneed the other one in the genitals, grabbed his weapon and tossed him aside in one fluid motion. There was the muffled sound of a weapon firing and a round passed between Justin and Mia. Justin pulled the blaster from the holster of the agent with the crushed windpipe. He blew a hole in Hugh’s chest then fired at one of the agents at the main door but they were already dead and Mia had the blaster pistol against the head of the agent from whom she had taken it.
The blaster kicked in her hand and the agent’s head blew apart.
Before Justin could stop her, she shot the agent clutching his throat.
Clap, clap, clap. As he sarcastically applauded, Jason stood to his feet.
“Well done, brother dear,” he said mockingly. Then to Justin’s surprise, his brother looked at Mia, “Finish it.”
Confusion overwhelmed Justin. But as he turned to look at Mia, her foot shot out, kicked the weapon from his hand and it went flying. He grabbed for the blaster in her hand but felt a blow to his shoulder that threw him into the wall and made his wound hurt. Knowing he would not be able to disarm her, he leapt over a couch, expecting it to blow apart in a foam and fabric mess, but it did not happen.
“Oh Justin,” said Jason’s extremely irritating voice, “I can’t have you damaged.”
Justin peeked over the couch. Mia was advancing slowly on him with the weapon in hand but not pointing it at him.
“You should be honored, brother,” continued the president. “I knew you would figure out the assassination plot against me. Although, there was a three percent chance that you would be injured in the street ambush. Still, it was a risk worth taking to ingratiate Mia with you.” He shrugged in answer to the questioning expression, “You wouldn’t come willingly. I called and called and called. You ignored me.”
“There was never a plot,” stated Justin.
Jason laughed, “I was the plot. I was the informant and the hacker that poor buffoon Spike hired.”
Mia slowly circled around the furniture and Justin backed away.
Jason was casual, showed no concern for the other man’s fate. “I have Radium Cancer.”
“You’re a drug addict?” demanded Justin, all the while trying to maneuver to avoid Mia.
“That’s harsh. Anyway, they create these marvelous drugs that blow your mind but then they do have side effects.”
Radium was the newest drug to make the rounds of the underground society. Despite the warning that six in ten users would develop an incurable disease that consumed the vital organs, millions tried it and became addicted to the lifestyle. In his arrogance, Jason Cane thought he was different and had nothing to worry about. Consequently, he was dying and there was nothing medically which could be done to save him, except…
Synthetic organ transplants extended life for millions and were common place as the law prohibited living organ transplants. Unfortunately for the young president, Radium Cancer quickly corrupted any new organs even synthetic ones and death soon followed.
And, while the technology did exist, cranial transplants were especially made illegal with stiff penalties. Early exploitation by body snatchers brought about a host of laws to prevent people from being killed so that those willing and able to pay extraordinary sums could take over their bodies.
“I need your body,” stated Jason nonchalantly as though there was nothing unusual in it.
Mia cautiously worked in closer.
“You wouldn’t begrudge your brother a longer life, would you?”
Justin realized what was supposed to happen and Jason smiled, “Yes, you always were the more logical thinker. Mia will be gentle. She’ll just deprive you of oxygen until you expire. I have a team of surgeons two floors down ready to make the switch. The story, and you’ll like this part, will be that you died while saving me from assassins.”
“How can you do this?” Justin asked Mia.
“You’re going to be quite the hero,” Jason continued. “Posthumously, of course.”
But Justin was still in disbelief that Mia would betray him. “After what we felt for each other?”
“It won’t work. She’s not who you think,” chided Jason. “There is no emotion in her.”
Justin’s foot struck out and the blaster in Mia’s hand smacked into the wall. But then she was in close to him with martial arts skills he had difficulty countering. Her reflexes were faster than his so he jumped and rolled away from her.
“She’s a humandroid,” Jason said. He remained at his desk, his arms cross over his chest. “I’m here to tell you that there are very few limits to fabulous wealth.”
Unable to believe what he was hearing, Justin looked at Mia. “You’re a robot?”
“You don’t listen well. She’s the most sophisticated humandroid credits can buy. And, she was programmed to be your perfect woman. They said that you would be so infatuated with her that it would never occur to you that she could be a plant.” He laughed, “And you would especially not suspect that she was a humandroid. Think about it, brother, this is your ideal companion. Oh, such perfect beauty.”
Jason shifted to try to look his brother in the face, “Admit it, you prefer a cold hard machine to human contact.”
Mia was on Justin again, her face lacked any emotion, and he was barely able to disengage from her by wedging his legs in her stomach and hurling her into the air. His momentum threw him on his back. He was tiring. She would soon wear him down.
“I’m even thinking of keeping her around,” remarked Jason. He leaned back against his desk, merely a spectator. “I want to experience what you think is the perfect woman. I even have research into how I can get my own android body. I could live forever. My thinking is that the solar system needs for me to never die. I’m indispensable.”
While his brother rambled on, Justin spotted a discarded blaster. It was almost impossible to reach it and fire an accurate shot but it was at least a chance. Diving past Mia, he scooped up the weapon and somersaulted away. Unfortunately, Mia was too fast. She was on top of him, they rolled and tumbled into a wall. The two ended with Mia’s back against the wall holding Justin in front of her, one hand around his neck and the other gripping his hand with the blaster.
Jason was no longer amused but impatient and his voice turned hard, “Finish this now, Mia.”
For a moment, Justin wondered what death would be like. Then Mia whispered into his ear, “I choose to love you.”
Unexpectedly, he felt the hand with the blaster pistol raise up. There was the shock in Jason’s face as he realized it was pointed at him. The weapon recoiled slightly as the small energy beam rocketed across the room and struck the president in the chest before he could react.
Staggering slightly, Jason ripped open his suit coat to expose the black and red blotch on his white shirt. His face revealed his last thoughts of confusion with the way the events had transpired. He was dead before he slumped onto the floor.
Released from Mia’s grasp, Justin jumped to his feet and trained the blaster she left in his possession on her with two shaking hands. She made no effort to evade him. He gripped the pistol tighter and willed his finger to pull the trigger. Looking into that beautiful face, he could not do it.
“I love you, too,” he said softly.
He did not ask and would never ask but sometime within her processing unit, she had developed the capacity to make choices based upon logical precepts. And she made the remarkable choice to love the man for whom she was created as his perfect beauty. To the humandroid, the logic was that he was therefore her perfect match. Remarkably, his twin brother was the antithesis.
The Terran System was shocked by the assassination attempt on the President of the Federation of Nations and Colonies and saddened by the loss of his twin Justin Cane, the Security Service agent killed defending his brother. Five traitorous assassins were killed in the attack along with the arrest of several doctors implicated in the plot. Jason Cane cremated the body of his brother and scattered his ashes outside the family lunar compound surrounded by his family. Only Reginald McDougal knew which brother had really been murdered by the assassins but he would never tell anyone. Secretly, he applauded Justin’s efforts to save his brother then carry on Jason’s work and would do all he could to help the surviving twin.
Jason Cane and Mia Nettles were married and many owed the greater success of the presidency after his marriage to the chief executive’s choice of such a capable woman. When the president’s term ended, there was a call for Mia Cane to run for office but she graciously refused. The two retired to the family estates on the Moon where they appeared to live quietly, though rumors for years after persisted that the couple shared many secret adventures under assumed identities. Wealth could buy much and that included anonymity when desired. After a long life, Justin, aka Jason Cane, died. Mia cremated his body and scattered the ashes around the lunar compound. The fate of Mia Cane was never known. Though old at the time of her husband’s death, she appeared younger than her years. Some claimed that she rode beyond the Rim with the first manned missions to Orion. Others said she ended her days on an isolated space station grieving for her lost love. But there were those who maintained that such a woman of perfect beauty would live forever.