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. I realize now I haven’t posted an installment in ages, so thank you for your patience! Here’s the next chapter.

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

What if your perfect man was a robot?

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 7: Hotel

4:04 p.m.

The hotel entrance was made of old-fashioned white marble. Once you stepped inside, white gave way to a stylish dark gray. Two narrow corridors on the left and right were painted in lighter gray hues. They sported the latest in atmospheric decoration. At the moment, miniature clouds were creating a mini thunderstorm. A whisper of thunder clapped as the clouds released a torrent of rain. It was absorbed by the floor, to be released as steam that would replenish the clouds. The whole scene was a few feet tall but still managed to create a mesmerizing effect.

I kept glancing back to the clouds until Leo tugged at my arm.

“What?” I asked, still refusing to take my eyes from the display. The rain droplets transformed into leisurely snow that covered the wet floor.

“We might be stuck here for a few days. Do your clothes have the imprint option?”

“My clothes?” I looked at myself. My clothes were made of the usual sweat-proof, anti-bacterial, anti-crease fabric. I could wear them a week—and had to in the past—and no one would notice. But an imprint option, allowing them to display any color or pattern at a whim? Those things cost thousands. I tried to hide my irritation at his question. “Just how much do you think I make?”

“If you’re planning what I hope you’re not, you might want something less flashy.” He pointed at my shirt.

I glanced at the light blue palm trees printed on the fabric. “Forgive me for coming to Hydra for a holiday, not to solve a possible murder.”

He took my arm. “Come with me.”

Leo dragged me through a side door into a room with plain white walls, one of which exhibited leisurely changing, silver-hued, holographic patterns. The only piece of furniture was a mahogany counter, behind which stood an impeccably dressed young woman. Her disapproving gaze traveled up and down my body.

My eyes fell on her perfectly manicured fingernails. Great. The one time in my life I come across a human shop assistant and I have to be dressed like a baichi tourist. I suddenly wished she were one of the robots traditionally doing this sort of work.

“Can I help you?” the woman asked, pressing her palms together like in silent prayer that we would refuse her offer.

“We’ll need something nice for the lady,” Leo said and approached the counter. They engaged in a quiet conversation, glancing at me every now and then.

‘Nothing too expensive,’ I wanted to say, but when I opened my mouth to speak, he shot me a warning glance and I snapped it shut.

“Let me see what I can do,” the young woman said, finally acknowledging me, a fake grin plastered on her face. A narrow opening appeared on the wall across me. She gestured me through.

I stepped through and into a tiny empty room. The door hissed shut behind me. A flashing green beam scanned me from head to toe for a few seconds, then the door opened again.

The woman was waiting for me outside. She reached into a small opening on the wall, not wider than her arms, and pulled out a neatly pressed dark gray blouse and matching pants. “You are ready, madam. All we need to do is link it to your hololens.” She barely tried to hide a smirk. “You do wear a hololens, I assume?”

What does she think I am, homeless? “Of course.” I yanked the suit from her hands. The fabric was so soft it almost ran through my fingers like wet silk.

“Excellent,” she said. “Would you like to try it on while I make the connection?”

The door to the scanner room was still open. I stepped back inside and changed clothes. As soon as I put on the blouse and pants, they tightened around my body for a moment, resulting in a slight yelp from me. The suit then assumed a perfect, flowing fit. I patted it with admiring fingers. I could get used to this.

I slipped through the door and back into the shop, where Leo nodded approvingly. Before I could stop myself, I gave a twirl and he laughed.

“Now, for the hololens link,” the assistant said. “This is our best metasuit.”

My jaw dropped. “Metasuit?” I had only seen them in reality shows—the ones that portrayed the lifestyles of the rich and famous. One of those things cost more than my zoomer. Heck, it probably cost more than my house.

“You can use the options to heat up or cool down the fabric,” the assistant continued with a wide grin as if few things in her life could be more satisfying than my shock. “The fabric masks your carbon dioxide, to hide you from mosquitos and bugs. You can even set it to maintain a specific temperature. We call that clima control.”

I almost let out an admiring whistle. “Nice.” A color wheel materialized in the air, hovering in front of my eyes. I touched it with a finger and rotated it counter-clockwise until all of my clothes were black.

“You can also choose any color or pattern, static or animated,” the young woman said. “For example, may I suggest a nice retro pair of jeans with a white top? Or, we could simply set it to match your previous clothes.” The last two words dripped out of her mouth with obvious disdain.

“That would be great, thanks,” I said, mostly for the fun of watching her swallow her disapproval of my fashion choice.

“Very well.” Her face looked like she had just swallowed a poisonous toad.

“Thank you.” I reset the wheel, turning both my blouse and pants to my previous Hawaiian pattern.

“Except for the standard antibacterial, deodorant properties, we can change the look to short or long,” she continued, determined to go down fighting. “You can even wear it as a hoodie. In cold climates, the front can cover your entire face.” Her voice had a pleading quality even as her grin widened, almost reaching her ears. Please wear anything but that Hawaiian pattern, her eyes seemed to be saying.

My hololens activated again and three-dimensional videos of me appeared, wearing my clothes in a dozen alternative looks. Some were long-sleeved, some short; some had pockets, some did not; some had a hard collar, some a soft one.

“You can download more designs online,” the assistant said, her voice almost begging now. “They’re reasonably priced.”

“Thanks, that won’t be necessary.” Much as I hated to admit it, her initial idea of a pair of jeans and a simple T-shirt did look great on me. The only change I made was turning the T-shirt black and wearing my pants as shorts. In this heat, it was ridiculous to wear them long. Besides, my legs were my best feature according to most men I had dated. Why hide them?

I tapped the respective icons. The fabric tightened and relaxed around me as it assumed its new form.

“Excellent,” the assistant continued, her relief at not seeing my Hawaiian pattern on her precious metasuit palpable. “Last, this fabric comes with two optional extra modules: armor and chameleon. The armor option strengthens the fabric to protect you in rough terrain, while the chameleon one can help you…”—she paused, looking for the right words—“blend in.”

My hololens deactivated. Behind her painted grin, the young woman was wearing a sour look like telling me how wasted she thought her beautiful clothes were on someone like me. I, on the other hand, felt my heartbeat race with excitement. This was perfect for my plan. “You’re kidding. So, I could turn invisible?”

“To the naked eye, and as long as you avoid sudden movements. Some sensors, such as motion or weight ones, may still spot you. But yes, for most intents and purposes, you could. Of course, it can only be used in accordance with the European Union laws. You’ll need to sign a standard waiver if you wish us to unlock those particular—”

“Do it.” I touched my temple and waited for the forms to appear in my view. I signed them with a wave of my hand.

“Now, as for payment…” The assistant’s eyes remained milky as she turned to Leo.

Reality hit me with a vengeance. Much as I loved it, this was an outfit I simply could not afford. I grabbed Leo’s arm and pulled him away. “Leo, this thing is probably going to cost thousands.”

“Tens of thousands, actually,” he said. “But don’t worry about it. Like I said—”

“I know what you said but I still can’t accept it.”

His eyes opened wide in surprise. “Why not?”

“I just can’t.”

He studied me for a long moment. “Is it a gender issue? Would you still refuse if I were a female model?”

“I… What?” Gears screeched to a halt in my brain. “Yes. No. I don’t know.”

He touched my hand with surprisingly tender fingers. “Detective, think about what you’re saying. A man you cared for has died. To find out why, you’ll probably have to bend the law more than I care to admit. A metasuit may give you the edge you need to do so without getting caught—or worse. Is your pride worth risking your life?”

“It’s not my pride,” I protested. Yes, it is, a little voice in the back of my head scolded me. “But fine, I see your point. I’ll pay you back, though.”

His eyebrows arched. “This is a drop in the ocean for my company. But I won’t force you either way.” He turned away to shake the assistant’s hand.

Her eyes clouded. “Thank you,” she said a moment later. Her eyes cleared again and her grin returned as she handed me my old clothes, neatly folded. She took a theatrical bow. “Have a lovely day.”

Leo took my arm and we marched outside. I was so proud of my new outfit, I could swear the floor had turned into one puffy cloud and my feet were hovering above it.

“Did she just bow?” I whispered, glancing behind us.

“It was more of a nod,” Leo whispered back.

“It was a bow.”

“They probably get a lot of Asians on the island,” Leo said with a half-smile. “Anyway, what do you feel like doing now? Would you like to check in, or should we grab something to eat?”

I stopped in the middle of the foyer and stared at the atmospheric decoration. A tiny rainbow was now spreading across the wet floor. “I thought you didn’t eat.”

“Why would you think that?” he protested. “My skeleton may be inorganic but my skin is flesh. Like you, I need the occasional meal. Besides, food and drink are more than nourishment. They also carry a social function. That’s why I’m designed with the ability to consume them. Unmetabolized food gets stored in a tube that I need to empty and clean afterward, but that’s a minor inconvenience compared to the benefits.”

There’s so much I don’t know about him. Then a thought hit me. Where is that tube stored? I pushed the thought away. There were some things I didn’t need to know.

“The hotel restaurant has a lovely view of the sea and serves real meat,” he continued, mercifully unaware of my thoughts.

I felt my eyebrows rise. “Real meat? Like, from real animals?”

“Yes. I know most souvlaki nowadays comes from cultured meat, but not here. Here, you can get the real deal.”

My raised eyebrow displayed my disbelief. “And I guess it’s prepared by a human cook, too?”

He chuckled. “A robot, more likely. But it’s still pretty good, from what I hear.”

It was a tempting offer but my souvlaki cravings had left me long ago. “No, that’s all right. I think I’d rather just have a snack. My stomach feels a bit queasy. Must be the heat.”

“It’s been a tough day. I’m sure they can bring us a sandwich or some soup up to our room.”

Our room. I understood why he wanted to share a room. I understood he was just a machine. Still, it was weird. Did he undress? Change his clothes? Empty his tube in the bathroom?

That last one gave me a chuckle. My mirth evaporated with the next thought: would we be sharing a bed? The thought of Leo lifting his shirt gave me pause. I shifted my weight and realized my legs and arms felt leaden. “I’m getting pretty tired. I’ll try to get some sleep. But first, I’d love a bath.”

“I don’t think you can,” he scolded me. “It’s most likely a sonic shower. Water is as scarce here as everywhere else in the Mediterranean.”

Look who’s all riled up about the environment. “It’s just a figure of speech, Leo.”

“Oh. In that case, let me book us a room.”

He spun around before I could say anything and crossed the lobby. Behind the counter was a young man who must have been the shop assistant’s brother—just as impeccable and just as annoying-looking.

Leo came back after a minute. “All set. We’re on the top floor.”

Hovering light spheres, glowing with a velvety light, took off from behind the counter to lead us to a silver-hued elevator. As the doors slid open with a soft ding, I worried for a second we would be met by the shop assistant’s third sibling playing the part of the elevator operator. Mercifully, the booth was empty.

Another soft ding and a few seconds later, the doors opened again, letting us into a spacious hotel room. Spotting the bath at the far end of the room, I nodded toward it. “Mind if I take a bath now?”

“No, of course not. I’ll just rest.”

Rest? I rubbed my chin. “You sleep?”

“In a manner of speaking. Just like you, my memory has its limits. I need to clear it.”

At least that sounds less weird than the tube thing. “So you take a nap?”

“I upload all of the day’s experiences to the Cloud, keeping only pointers and tags relating to the individual files. So, if I need to replay the day’s events, I can do so as long as there is a connection to the Network. Otherwise, I only retain a vague memory of that day’s events, much like humans.”

I chuckled, the thought of Leo yawning strangely amusing in my head. “Nothing like a nice eight-hour sleep to clear the head, huh?”

“I’m usually done in a couple of hours, but yes, it’s a process similar to a human nap.”

Will we share the bed, then? My amusement vanished. The image of Leo sleeping next to me flashed in my head in lurid detail. I cleared my throat. “So you need a bed to rest, like us?”

“Not necessarily.” He pursed his lips, seemingly searching for the best way to describe it. “Like you, my organic parts, such as my muscles, need to remove all traces of lactic acid. This process also takes place during my sleep phase. So, a bed would be nice, but no, I don’t really need one. A couch or a chair would be more than enough.” He gave me a little wisp of a smile and continued. “You take the bed.”

“Thanks,” I said with genuine relief and headed to the bathroom. “But first I need that bath.” I noticed his chuckle and hurried to correct myself. “Shower. Whatever.”

I shut the door behind me. I removed my new clothes and placed them on the sink. To my surprise, they folded themselves into a neat pile. That’s a cool trick.

I pushed my underwear and my old clothes through the cleaning slit on the wall and checked myself in the mirror. My hair was disheveled and dark bags appeared under my eyes, bringing home the day’s exhaustion. Stifling a yawn, I headed into the shower.

As soon as I stepped in, the glass door slid shut behind me with a soft whoosh. Almost immediately, aromatic steam filled the booth and clung to my body. My skin felt tingly as a low hum emanated from the walls, gradually rising in pitch. I raised my head, enjoying the relaxing sensation, much like having a vigorous massage.

A few minutes later, a wave of fresh air hit me and the steam was sucked into a small opening covered by a fine mesh. Warm, aromatic air blew on me. I lifted my arms to let it dry me off and slowly spun in a circle. When the air stopped, the door slid open. The whole process must have wasted no more than a glass or two of water.

Feeling refreshed, I stepped outside and almost bumped into an open tray protruding from the wall, right under the cleaning slit. My old clothes and underwear were neatly folded on it, freshly washed and ironed. All I wanted to wear in this heat was my pajamas, but I realized I had none with me. I put on my underwear and a soft robe I found hanging inside a closet and softly opened the bathroom door.

Leo was sitting on a chair, his eyes closed. Were it not for his black earlobes, he could be any other fantastically handsome man taking a nap in my room. I tiptoed to him and paused inches away from his sleeping body, noticing how tightly his T-shirt clung to his body, highlighting his strong muscles. I wondered how his lips might move in a kiss, how his hands might feel following the curves of my body.

He stirred in his sleep.

I ran into the bedroom and slammed the door behind me.

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