A Heaven for Toasters | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book 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 until mid-June, when 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.

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 2: Baichis

Sunday, April 18, 2117, 11:37 a.m.

Baichi,” I swore under my breath as Richard’s zoomer swayed wildly to avoid the transparent sphere that overtook us—red stripe cutting it in half. It swished past us like a mad soap bubble. We plunged toward the Aegean Sea for a nerve-wracking moment before the zoomer steadied itself and climbed back to its cruising altitude.

“Kids,” Richard said with a shrug, even though his brow glistened with sudden perspiration.

It’s a good thing we were approaching our destination and had slowed down to subsonic speed. Had we stumbled across that idiot an hour ago, over the Atlantic—well, let’s just say our funerals would feature two empty caskets.

We barely caught a glimpse of a grinning teen behind the glass bubble. His hand was raised in a mock greeting—or a rude gesture. At this speed, it was hard to tell.

“Kids?” I snorted. “Didn’t you see the red stripe? Bloody idiot’s driving on manual. I should call it in.”

Richard placed a hand on my leg. “Or we could just relax and enjoy the ride. We’re not in the US anymore. It’s not even your jurisdiction.” He gave my leg a slight squeeze to emphasize his words.

I fought myself for a moment, but the cop in me won out. I tapped my temple, trying to ignore the annoyed twitch running through Richard’s fingers. “Dispatch. Audio only. Mary.” I waited for a few seconds for the connection to the precinct.

“Hi, Mika.” Mary sounded surprised. “I thought you were off duty today.” Her tone changed from surprised to scolding.

“I need to report a 506.” I cast Richard a sideways glance and forced a smile on my lips, not wishing for a fight. “Then I’m all Richard’s again.” The fingers released their grip—a smidgen.

“Another kid driving its zoomer on manual?” Mary asked with a chuckle. “Again?”

Good thing Richard can’t hear her. “What can I say, I seem to attract them.”

“Alright.”

I waited for a few seconds. Mary would be searching for cameras near our location.

“You’re over Athens,” she exclaimed. “What’s the weather like over there? Which island are you kids heading to, anyway?”

“Weather’s lovely as always. And I don’t know. Richard won’t tell me. Now, about that 506…”

“Don’t worry, I’ve notified local authorities. They’ll deal with him.” If she were human, I swear she’d be wagging her finger. “I wish that kid was back here. I’d pull him over and take care of it myself. Teens and their hormones.”

“Thanks.”

I tapped my temple again and disconnected. Mary would love nothing more than to take over the kid’s zoomer and give him a stern speech. Instead of whatever party he was heading to, he would find himself zooming toward the precinct. It wasn’t strictly necessary—it was just as easy to issue joyriders a ticket remotely—but Mary enjoyed giving them a personal warning. For a piece of software, she can be rather intimidating. A quick smile broke through my lips at the thought.

“You said you wouldn’t be a cop today,” Richard said in a whiny voice like a three-year-old denied a lollipop. He sounded seconds away from a tantrum.

“It’s just like I told Mary. I’m all yours. Promise.”

“Good.” In spite of my words, his brow remained furrowed. “All I want is a quiet weekend with you,” he continued.

“Sure,” I said mechanically.

He took my hand into his, his frown finally melting away.

“So, why don’t you tell me more about where we’re going?” I asked.

His hand jerked under mine. “It’s a surprise, remember?”

Just the mention of one of Richard’s surprises made my guts tighten. I had discovered on our first date we had wildly differing tastes: I loved my steak, he swore by his salad and fish. And he never had fries—or ice cream. I mean, how can anyone not love fries and ice cream?

“Richard, I’ve told you. I hate surprises. I like to be prepared.” I spoke in an unhurried voice as if slowly producing a lollipop from my pocket and showing it to my imaginary three-year-old. “And we’re almost there, anyway.” I glanced at the horizon. Irregular land shapes dotted the sea under us. The famous Greek islands, ever popular with tourists.

He pursed his lips. “Fine. We’re going to Hydra.” He lowered his head to look at me like he was wearing glasses.

No one ever did anymore, but as an art historian, he had picked the gesture from the centuries-old movies he was showing his students at college. On our first date, I thought he was suffering from a bad neck. He had laughed so hard when I’d suggested nanite treatment, I was sure his hololenses would have popped out of his eye, were they not surgically implanted.

The memory made me chuckle inside my head, missing his next words. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I was telling you the island’s history. It’s fascinating, really. When the waters rose, the port sunk and the islanders moved to higher ground. But in fact, they simply returned to the site of their original village, which was located on the mountain for fear of pirates. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that they moved to the port that’s now underwater.”

“Isn’t Hydra where that crazy cloner started his city?” I interrupted him. I wanted to avoid a repetition of our first date, which Richard had spent giving me history lectures.

Richard paused for a moment. “Sure, there’s Clonesville, but the island is more famous for its art colonies. Did you know that artists have been holding exhibitions there since the mid-twentieth century? Before that, the island was famous for its wealthy ship owners. The port was at a lovely old city—a village, really—where they all lived.”

“So, we’re going to the old city?” I almost sighed with relief. A souvlaki and some sun. Just what I needed.

He pursed his lips again and looked outside. His gaze fixed on the zoomer’s canopy like he was watching an opera-singing flamingo hula hoop there. Not a good sign. “Not exactly. See, there’s this exhibition by Xhristina.”

“Christina who?”

He glanced at me in a Lord, give me patience kind of way. “Xhristina. With an ‘X.’ The artist who uses clones for her sculptures? Even you must have heard of her.”

My stomach tightened further. Just what I needed; another overpriced, stomach-churning comment on the human condition. “That Xhristina?” The name dripped out of my mouth. “The one who pronounces her name with a K and spells it with an X?”

Richard slapped my wrist playfully. “Don’t be like that. I know you’re not into art, but this is exciting.”

“That’s not true,” I protested. “I love art. But making clones of yourself, posing them as statues or lamps or paperweights or whatever? That’s no art.” My cheeks felt hot. I was starting to wonder if it was art he enjoyed so much, or Xhristina, who was no stranger to tabloid posts—most of them featuring her and her clones in various stages of undress.

“See?” Richard beamed at me, ignoring my glare. “That’s exactly the kind of argument her work elicits. Which is why the art world loves her. And why she’s holding this exhibition in Clonesville.” He leaned toward me. “Each of her works sells for millions,” he said in a conspiratory tone.

How can he be so good at pushing my buttons? I could feel my face sour as if I had just licked a lemon. “That’s because people are baichis,” I growled.

“They’re not idiots,” Richard scolded me. “And, anyway, you love people. Or would you rather take your new partner to the exhibition? What’s his name—Alley?”

Click! Another button accidentally pushed. I mentally counted to ten before replying, spearing him all the while with my version of his Lord, give me patience look. “Leo. Mary said it’s an acronym—Artificial Life Law Enforcement Officer. Mercifully, some letters seem to have been dropped from the name.”

“Maybe they’re silent,” Richard joked. “What’s he like?”

“I only caught a glimpse of him,” I said with a dismissive wave of my hand, pushing Leo’s perfect face from my mind. “But having a toaster for a partner? Never a good idea. You know what happened last time they tried that. I’m giving the captain a piece of my mind first thing tomorrow. Mary says it won’t do me any good, but there’s no way I’m taking this lying down.”

“You’re such a Luddite,” he teased me. “You two are perfect for each other. Leo and Paleo. Get it? Paleo. As in Paleolithic.” He chortled at his own wit.

I rolled my eyes in an exaggerated manner to tell him how lame I found his joke. “Not Paleolithic,” I harrumphed. “But I wouldn’t mind a spell in the late twentieth century. Even the twenty-first one. First half, of course. Things were simpler before the Asian Wars.”

“Oh, the twenty-second century isn’t good enough for you?” He took my chin into his hand and pressed until my face resembled a puffer fish.

I hated it when people did that, and my eyes must have told him as much. He released me not a moment too soon.

“Anyway, that’s all ancient history,” he continued. “They’ve cleared most of the fallout by now. Besides, could you have popped from the US to an art exhibition on a Greek island for the day? I’ll bet they didn’t even have zoomers back then.”

“They were just getting started. Maybe that’s what I miss. A time before all this became so… commoditized.”

“You mean technology?”

I waved around. “I mean everything. And the funny thing is, the more things change, the more they remain the same.” I leaned back on my seat, my gaze fixing absent-mindedly on the horizon. “You know why conscious clones got banned? Why we’re only allowed to grow brainless bodies in vats nowadays? The real reason?”

“Humanitarian concerns, I suspect.”

I scoffed. “When did that stop profit-making? No, it’s good old fear of the unknown. People thought of clones as bloody psychopaths. During the second half of the last century, a rise in violent crime was blamed on one group. Guess which one?”

“Clones?”

“Clones. Some claimed they have no inhibitions. That latent violent tendencies surface. They blamed it on genetics, although if I were brought up in a lab with people poking needles in me all day, I, too, would want to murder someone as soon as I got out.” My ears popped, a sure sign we had started our descent.

“No smoke without a fire,” Richard said.

“Actually, statistics contradicted such claims. Still, the mud stuck. All that bad press is the real reason why the United Earth Council banned them. That, and pressure from religious groups that frowned upon cloning.”

“You don’t say,” Richard said with a paternalistic smile as if I were one of his students trying—and failing—to impress him with my clever insights.

“People like Xhristina don’t help, either.” I could feel heat rising to my cheeks. “Selling off copies of you like pieces of meat? It’s a disrespect to humanity. That woman’s a hack and a disgrace, if you ask me.”

“Behave and I’ll get you some of that Greek souvlaki you love so much,” Richard cooed.

Before I could shoot him my answer, the zoomer jerked and bobbed for a moment, descending to a few yards over the sea. Richard patted down the elegant beige suit he was wearing—an altogether unnecessary gesture, as both his slacks and jacket were already smooth as silk. “We’re here.”

To temper my frustration, I focused on the reflection of our zoomer gliding over the Aegean blue. Two small bubbles housed the engines, protruding under the larger bubble where we sat. The twin engines were leaving a fine trail of foam behind it. Decades of cleanup had returned this part of the Mediterranean to a near-pristine condition, while underwater nets kept jellyfish away from the shores. As if to prove the point, a swimmer jumped into the water from a jetty dotted with luxury yachts.

We flew toward an iridescent glass dome that was sparkling under the golden sun. A single gilded spire rose beside it, making it resemble a Byzantine church. Clonesville, with its low, tiled rooftops, lay behind it. It looked pretty, yet the sight made my face twitch in disdain. We waited for the zoomer to park itself on a wide platform near the dome’s mouth.

The domed canopy protecting us retracted, allowing us to exit. Warm, salty air greeted us. I took a deep breath, savoring the iodine scent. We stood, uncertain for a moment, as the vehicle left to find a parking space, then we followed a winding path to the glittering building. After a couple of minutes, we found ourselves standing under it.

“They couldn’t have picked a better place,” Richard said in an excited voice, rubbing his hands.

I studied the images and patterns playing on the building’s surface. In sharp contrast to the idyllic surrounding, horrific holograms from the Asian Wars flashed in rapid succession, interspersed with photos of cute babies and puppies. Great start. Somehow, I managed to keep my poker face on. Richard had been planning our date for a week. The last thing I wanted was to rain on his perfect day’s parade before it even began.

A tall, familiar man with broad shoulders was standing near the entrance. His eyebrows tugged upward when he spotted me. He walked to us. “Good morning, Detective,” he said in a surprisingly warm voice.

“Leo,” I said, trying to hide my surprise. “Hi.” Looking at him close up, I was struck by how handsome he was. He had the kind of face you could never get bored looking at because it kept attracting you, just like beautiful art. And Richard thinks I don’t like art. Then I remembered how Leo was now my new partner and my smile evaporated.

Leo shook my hand, his fingers firm, yet gentle. He turned expectantly to Richard.

I guess I should introduce them. “This is Richard.”

Richard shook Leo’s hand with the kind of enthusiasm I distinctively lacked. “Lovely to meet you. We were just talking about you.”

“Were you, now?” Leo asked in an inscrutable way.

“All good things,” I hastened to add.

“Detective,” Leo said, “blood circulation in your ears just increased by almost ten percent, indicating a lie.”

I touched my ears. “They did?”

Leo let out a good-natured laugh. “No idea. But your reaction tells me everything I need to know.”

My ears did start to burn, especially when Richard chuckled. “What are you doing here, anyway?” I asked, more snappily than I intended.

“Same as you, I guess,” Leo said with a shrug.

Richard threw me a surprised look. They’ve made him so darned lifelike, it seemed to say. I nodded in silent agreement. Leo’s face even had faint freckles, for crying out loud. I wondered if they were genetically programmed or painted on at some lab. Do people make tattoos of freckles?

“I came to learn more about the human condition,” Leo continued. “What better place than Clonesville? Now that cloning is only permitted for clones lacking consciousness—brain-dead bodies, really—this is the only place where you can see real clones.” He gave us a half-smile. “Or at least what most people think of as real.”

“Not for the art, then?” Richard asked with interest.

“Oh, no, art is the one thing my kind still has trouble with,” Leo admitted. “We can’t really appreciate it,” he added in a low voice like he was embarrassed by the confession.

“I see.” I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. Was he even capable of joking? “So, what have you found out?”

“I’ve only just arrived myself.” A glass door slid open before us. Leo waved us inside. “After you.”

The moment I stepped through, everything turned as black as a night sky. The similarity was even more pronounced thanks to myriad tiny lights flickering on and off like tiny stars, making me dizzy. I blinked rapidly as a piercing shriek deafened me. I stood frozen while my hololenses struggled to compensate. What the…

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

 

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