After relaunching A Heaven for Toasters, complete with new cover, I promised to publish it here in installments. If you’d rather not wait, I will leave the book at $0.99 for a few more days, then I’ll raise the price back to $2.99.
Note: You can find a link to all published chapters at the end of this post or read more parts on Wattpad.
A Heaven for Toasters
Detective Mika Pensive has a new partner. He’s hot. Smart. Funny. And an android.
Set in the near future, A Heaven for Toasters is more than a sci-fi crime adventure with plenty of romance and wit. It’s the book that will make you look at your toaster in a whole new way.
CHAPTER 3: Exhibitions
Sunday, April 18, 2117, 12:02 p.m.
“A little trick of mine,” a woman’s nasally voice said next to my ear.
My fighting instinct kicked into full gear. Thankfully, a hand squeezed my shoulder, preventing me from spinning around and kicking the daylight out of my perceived assailant.
A second later my lenses cleared up. The infernal shriek stopped. I was able to see and hear again. Expecting to see Richard’s hand on my shoulder, I was surprised to see Leo standing behind me instead. He wore a concerned expression. I nodded to show him I was all right and he let his hand discreetly slip away.
“If you hadn’t been wearing hololenses, you wouldn’t have been blinded at all,” the unknown woman continued. “Technology, normally our friend, can also blind us. Literally, sometimes.”
I turned to face her, mentally preparing a stern warning against this kind of prank, but Richard pushed me aside to stare at the woman.
“Oh my gosh, it’s really you,” he gushed. He turned to me, his face beaming. “This is her. Xhristina herself!”
“In the flesh,” Xhristina said. She raised her head and opened her arms, like an empress ready to be worshipped.
“I’m so honored to meet you,” Richard said, continuing to fawn over her.
I ground my teeth as I studied the so-called artist. I had to grudgingly admit she was stunning, her tall body perfect in every way. Her slender fingers played with a loose strand of her silky ebony-black hair that cascaded down her shoulders. I scrunched my nose with disdain. Her smooth features made for an exotic combination, sure to be irresistible to men. No wonder so many art critics loved her.
My gaze caught on her slit eyes studying me back, probably while she was waiting for her purple hololenses to report on our identity. The eyes are the window to the soul, they say, and I was used to seeing all sorts of emotions behind them. Greed, love, desire, passion, anger, sadness, despair. You name it, I’d seen it. People said I was a good interrogator. Part of the reason was my ability to read people’s eyes.
Not in Xhristina’s case, though. Her eyes were less emotional than Leo’s. Even underneath the purple lenses, I thought I caught a silent challenge for a split second. It was gone before I could even blink, her eyes returning to their purple vacuum.
“Mikaela Pensive,” Xhristina said, her eyes narrowing even farther. “Detective, First—”
“I know my bio,” I cut her off. “And my friends call me Mika. So, it’s Detective Pensive to you. Or Miss Pensive.”
Her mouth twitched upward in an ironic smirk. “Your father was in the army. In fact, most of your family was. Why did you become a cop, Miss Pensive?”
Because I’ve seen first-hand what war does to a man. Because I didn’t want to become like that.
I opened my mouth to reply it was none of her business, when my hololens thought it helpful to pop a short text explaining the origins of the word, “cop.” Something to do with British policemen and their copper buttons, apparently. I jerked my head to dismiss the notification. Sometimes, they were lifesavers; more often, just an irritation.
While I was waging my small war against intrusive technology, Xhristina had grown tired of waiting for a response. She spun around. “Follow me,” she ordered, not bothering to look back.
Richard grabbed my arm and pulled me behind Xhristina. I half-expected him to take off his boxer shorts and throw them at her. My lips cracked a smile at the mental image.
Leo locked his hands behind his back, making him look like an inspector from one of Richard’s movies. “An unusual woman.”
“Thank you, oh master of the obvious,” I murmured.
“She ignores what you might call common human interaction protocols,” Leo continued, ignoring my jab. “Like, courtesy for instance. Also, her prank seems to indicate a dislike of technology. And yet, she’s wearing purple hololenses as if to accentuate its use by her.”
“Artists are contradictory creatures,” Richard scolded him. “Stop trying to analyze them.”
The three of us walked through a short corridor and into the exhibition area. I don’t normally gasp, but the sight of a holographic cross holding none other than Xhristina herself made my jaw drop. It was large enough to occupy half the spacious room, reaching all the way to the glass dome that roofed the wide space.
On the cross, she was almost naked, save for two strategically placed pieces of gossamer cloth. And yet, there was nothing erotic about the presentation, despite her body’s perfection. Instead, it was her eyes that captured my attention. They seemed to follow us wherever we went, dripping with pain and suffering, like a savior atoning for humanity’s sins. For our sins. A shudder went down my spine.
“That’s magnificent,” Richard said with a sharp inhale of his breath.
I grudgingly grunted in agreement. The image was moving in a way I could not fully fathom. It disturbed me profoundly, yet I was unable to peel my eyes off of it. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Leo studying us.
“I know you said you don’t get art, but what do you make of it, Leo?” I asked. I was genuinely curious to see what effect—if any—that sight might have on a machine.
“The eyes have dissimilarities to the woman we met in the lobby,” Leo said, rubbing his chin. “If I had to guess, I’d say she’s not the same woman.”
“Of course not,” Richard scolded her. “Every creature is unique, clones included.”
“But if the woman on the cross is a clone, then why does she seem conscious?” Leo asked, and I almost kicked myself.
Of course, that’s what’s so disturbing about the eyes! “I guess she must have edited the eyes,” I said in an uncertain voice. “Unless it’s actually her on the cross.”
“Of course it is,” Xhristina said.
I almost jumped back in alarm. This was the second time she had caught me unawares. “It is?” I asked, mostly to hide my irritation at her ability to slide unnoticed behind me.
She lifted her arms and her long sleeves slipped back in a flowing cascade around her elbows. Faint red strips covered her wrists, where the leather had bitten into her flesh. “An artist has to suffer for their art, don’t they?”
“Then why are the eyes different?” Leo asked in a soft, yet direct tone.
Xhristina tilted her head to study Leo. “Who are you?”
Leo extended his hand in a handshake. “I’m Leo.”
Instead of shaking the offered hand, Xhristina lifted it to examine it. “A toaster.”
“Hardly. A toaster isn’t self-aware,” Leo said in an amused voice.
“Neither are you, tin man. Not really.” She turned his hand around, then let it drop like it was somehow offending her. “You know how I can tell what you are?”
“Yes.” Given the fact she made my skin crawl, Leo was surprisingly unfazed by her tone. “You spotted my black earlobes. Also, you’re an artist.”
Xhristina laughed at this. “Damn right, I am. Look around you.”
She pointed to a human lamp. Statues used to be made of clay or stone. Before us lay a perfect copy of Xhristina in flesh and blood. The only difference was in the eyes. The poor creature holding a lit torch with a raised arm had dead, soulless eyes.
“They don’t last for long outside of a tank, so she’s only here for a few hours. But notice the eyes.” She stabbed me with her gaze. “The eyes always betray a clone,” she said as if reading my mind. “I couldn’t allow that for my masterpiece. That’s why I had to put myself on that cross. There was no other way.”
“You could have also created a conscious clone,” Leo said in a casual tone.
I glanced at him in approval. People might have been offended by a human—especially a detective—asking that. But they had different expectations of an android. Having him as a partner might have its perks after all.
Xhristina’s face hardened. She licked her lips. “Now, that would be against the law, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, it would,” Leo calmly replied. He held Xhristina’s gaze, his face expressionless.
After a full minute, Xhristina broke off the eye contact and whirled around. A faint sheen of sweat showed on her brow. “I hope you enjoy the show,” she snapped as she marched away.
With two quick steps, Leo grabbed Xhristina’s hand. “You’re being evasive. I’d like to ask you some further questions.”
“Now, wait—” Richard interjected. He turned to me. “Do something.”
Xhristina jerked her hand away. “You have no jurisdiction, toaster.”
“Creating, soliciting, and acquiring a conscious clone has been deemed a crime against humanity by the Shanghai Convention of 2099,” Leo said. “As such, I am obliged by law to—”
“That’s enough,” I said as I grabbed Leo by the shoulders and pulled him away.
Xhristina threw us a look that could have speared a zoomer out of the sky. “Like I said, enjoy the show while I make a call to your bosses,” she hissed as she marched away.
“She’s hiding something,” Leo whispered to me.
“I know,” I whispered back. I let go of his shoulders, marveling at the hardness of the muscles—synthetic or flesh?—underneath his white shirt. “I doubt she’ll actually complain about this, but she does have powerful friends. If you’re going to pursue this, you have to do it the right way. A suspicion based on a hologram’s eyes isn’t enough. Not for this one.”
Richard caught up with us. “Thank you for ruining our date,” he said through gritted teeth.
“I’m sorry,” I protested. “If my colleague says he’s on to something, I have to listen.”
“Oh, the toaster’s your colleague now, is it?” Richard spun around and walked toward the exit. “Perhaps then I should leave you two alone.”
I ran after him. “Where are you going?”
“To get the zoomer. As for you, you can stay here. Have fun with your new partner. Enjoy your souvlaki.” He shot Leo a furious glance. “Or your grilled cheese. Whatever.”
I stopped and watched him storm away with wide strides.
“I didn’t know you liked grilled cheese,” Leo’s soft voice said behind me.
“Just ignore him,” I said with a sigh. “To be fair, he does have a point, even though he’s acting like a five-year-old. I did ruin our date, though.”
“Will he be okay?”
“He’ll get over it eventually—hopefully before he actually leaves on our zoomer and leaves me stranded on Clonesville.”
“I can fly you back,” Leo said reassuringly.
Richard disappeared into the winding path that led to the parking platform without even bothering to look back.
“What now, partner?” Leo asked.
I let the partner bit slide, not feeling up for another argument. Even if there was no way we’d ever be partners, I would still see him daily at the precinct. Perhaps I could find out a bit more about him. “Now we have that souvlaki. Feel like a walk in the Old Town?”
“The Old Town? Wasn’t that submerged when the waters rose?”
“Just a dozen feet. They’ve rebuilt it on higher ground. Richard told me they actually returned to the site of the original town.” I shot him a curious glance. “I thought you’d know that.”
“Why? I’m not omniscient.” He seemed genuinely surprised.
I have no idea what you are. I swallowed the thought and hid my embarrassment behind a shrug.
I glanced at the bright spring sun. The path connecting Clonesville with the Old Town was at the edge of a steep drop into the Aegean Sea. This time of the year, the area would be covered in short-lived, tiny, yellow flowers. It was a sight I had only caught once in the past. Now, I relished the thought of doing so again. It would help me clear my head.
Even though I didn’t like the way things had ended with Richard, I realized I was relieved he had gone. Maybe I could now enjoy the island’s beauty instead of spending the day at a stupid exhibition. “How about we walk there?”
Continue reading on Amazon or follow the links below:
- Chapter 1: Partners
- Chapter 2: Baichis
- Chapter 3: Exhibition
- Chapter 4: Guide
- Chapter 5: Old Town
- Chapter 6: Island
- Chapter 7: Hotel
- Chapter 8: Dinner
- Chapter 9: Hail Mary
- Chapter 10: Warehouse
- Chapter 11: Sergeant
- Chapter 12: Captain
- Chapter 13: Eden
- Chapter 14: A Near Miss
- Chapter 15: Investigation
- Chapter 16: Bad News
- Chapter 17: Frying Pan
- Chapter 18: Fire
- Chapter 19: Eds
- Chapter 20: Xhristinas
- Chapter 21: Cavalry
- Chapter 22: Journeys
- Chapter 23: Doctor