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. 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 10: Warehouse

4:53 a.m.

“Leo,” I hissed, “you nearly gave me a heart attack.”

He raised his hands in apology. “Sorry. I thought you’d heard me.”

“I was panting too hard for that, wasn’t I?” I gasped. The red dot blinked at the edge of my vision. The drone was fast approaching us. Whoever was controlling it must have figured out my destination. “We don’t have long. That drone will soon be here. We need to do it now.”

Leo’s eyes popped wide as I took a stone and threw it at one of the warehouse windows. It broke with a loud crash that I thought would wake up the whole island. The sound of glass shards crashing against the floor filled the air for longer than I thought possible.

“I’m sorry, Detective. I have to call it in,” Leo said.

Just then, a warning flashed in my vision. The clothes’ batteries were running low, and my arms shimmered into focus, losing the chameleon imprint.

Ta ma de! I whirled around and dashed off, cursing myself for not checking the power left on the clothes after buying them. I tapped my temple. “Emergency power.” My arms disappeared again. A red bar flashed into my vision, its length rapidly diminishing. I had less than five minutes before the clothes became fully visible. My lungs barely had time to recover from my previous sprint, and now I had to cover the distance back to the hotel in even less time than before.

I ran away from the warehouse like it held the world’s largest spider. After a couple of minutes, the tracker app beeped in warning. I pressed myself against a door and waited for the drone to appear. The red bar was about half-full by the time the drone zoomed over my head, rushing to the warehouse. Thankfully, I was heading in the opposite direction.

As soon as the tracker app indicated the drone was out of range, I sprinted toward the hotel again. I took a turn and a wave of relief flowed through me: the hotel entrance was now visible.

The tracker app flashed in warning. I panted as I continued running as fast as my heavy legs allowed, not daring to look back. Probably anticipating my destination, the drone was approaching faster than I could possibly run. Within a few seconds, it would be within range. My only chance was for the batteries to last.

The red bar flashed twice, an alert bleeping in short, shrill tones. It disappeared from my view as my clothes turned visible. I gasped. My gaze darted around. With the drone almost upon me, I noticed an empty doghouse in a corner of the hotel garden. I jumped into the doghouse as the tracker app alerted me to the drone’s rapid approach.

A small, brown dog let out a small yelp as I slid inside. “Sorry, little guy,” I hissed. “I need your house.”

He darted outside and started to run in wide circles in the garden, barking.

I dared not look outside, relying on the app to notify me of the drone’s trajectory. It paused for a moment to examine the dog, then zoomed past me and hovered over the hotel entrance. I gulped air hungrily, waiting for my lungs to stop burning. My stomach wanted to hurl its contents, making me regret the late dinner.

The drone stumbled undecidedly over the street for a couple of minutes, then headed back toward the warehouse. The tracker app’s red crosshairs faded. I was safe.

I cautiously popped my head out. The dog finally stopped barking as I crawled out of his house. He sniffed my face and licked my nose. I stifled a relieved laugh. Just the reassuring chirp of a sleepy cricket broke the still of the night. I patted the dog’s head and dashed off, only allowing myself to relax when I finally reached the hotel and barreled through the entrance.

When I entered our room, I peeled my clothes and threw them into the bathroom’s cleaning slit. I slipped into my robe and crashed into bed, waiting for my heart to stop racing.

My heartbeat had barely returned to normal when I heard a knock on the door. I swung it open, expecting Leo.

Instead, I found Sergeant at the doorway, staring at me suspiciously. “Miss Pensive.” He pushed me aside and entered the room without waiting for an invitation. His eyes scanned the room. “You’re alone?”

“I guess.” I rubbed my eyes, pretending he had just woken me up. “Do you know what time it is, Sergeant?”

Sergeant’s gaze studied my face. “Do you know where your toaster is?”

I batted my eyelids innocently. “I don’t think the room has one. It’s a bit early for breakfast, though, isn’t it?”

“What? No, I don’t want any toast, I…” His eyes flashed in anger. “You know what I mean.”

I bit my lip to stop from laughing. “Oh, you mean Leo? How would I know?” I pointed at the bedroom door. “I was in my room. Did you know that androids only need an hour or so of sleep? He must have gone out for a walk.” I pursed my lips. “Did something happen?”

“There’s been a break-in,” he said, his palms balling into fists. “Your so-called partner called it in.”

I put on my most innocent face. “Did he? So why are you here?”

His mouth twitched like he was chewing on something too hard to swallow. He took a threatening step closer. “You’d better cut—”

The door’s keypad blipped, interrupting him. I raised my eyes to the door and a wave of relief washed over me at the sight of Leo.

Leo paused at the door. “Everything all right?”

“No,” Sergeant barked. He pointed at us, his angry index finger swaying undecidedly between Leo and me. “I know what you two are doing. This isn’t over.”

My cheeks flushed as fear morphed to anger. I took a step forward and stabbed Sergeant’s chest with my own index finger. “My friend’s been killed, Sergeant Morgan. And you’ve been nothing but a pain instead of helping us find out who did it. You’d better pray we discover nothing but sheer incompetence on your part.”

His eyes shot daggers at me. “This isn’t over,” he repeated and swirled around. He shoved Leo to the side and left the room, slamming the door behind him.

“Are you all right?” Leo asked and stepped toward me.

Without thinking, I hugged him. His muscles felt like steel under his shirt. Even under the thin fabric, I could feel the heat exuded by his body. His arms wrapped around me, giving me a sense of safety I treasured. What am I doing? I reluctantly pulled myself from his arms. “Sorry, I’m just happy to see you.”

“No need to apologize.” His hands stayed tied around my waist.

I gently pulled them down and sat back down on the chair, patting the sofa next to me. “So, how did it go?”

“You were right. Kostas, the policeman we met at the station, showed up minutes after you left. The captain arrived within minutes. I don’t know where Sergeant was.”

“Spying on us through that drone, most likely. When he lost me, he came here. Probably hoping to catch me on my way back.”

Leo sat down next to me and leaned closer. “Did he?” He sounded anxious.

“I was already in bed,” I said with a reassuring wave of my hand. “He has nothing to implicate me.”

“Good.” Leo sank into the sofa with a relieved sigh. “Anyway, when the captain came, I went on with your plan. I told him I was an expert in electronics and offered my assistance. He accepted immediately. I think he was glad he wouldn’t have to wait for an expert from Athens. He seems to want to close the case as soon as possible.”

“Makes sense. The longer this thing drags on, the more paperwork he has to fill. So? What did you find out?”

“I’m not sure. I checked the wreckage and accessed the black box.” He paused as if searching for the right words.

“And?”

His gaze met mine. “It looks like Sergeant was right. It looks like Richard was flying on manual.”

I felt the earth open up under my feet, swallowing me whole. I pressed my hands against my head. How could we be wrong about this? “That can’t be right,” I murmured.

Leo took my hand. “I’m sorry. Even though some data was corrupted in the fire, that much was clear.”

I sank deeper into the chair, playing over the night’s events. I didn’t need Leo to tell me that Sergeant was scared of us. And the odious man had just revealed two important things. One, we had rattled his cage, which meant he had something to hide. And two, the drone spying on us was probably controlled by him. Since when did the police use unmarked drones, though? This suggested the Hydra police was not his sole employer. Who was he really working for? What was he scared of, if Richard’s death had really been an accident?

I jumped to my feet and started pacing the room. Xhristina, Clonesville, Sergeant’s behavior…it had all seemed to suggest a pattern. Was Sergeant right, though? Was I just deluding myself because of my grief? Could Richard have simply switched to manual to spite me?

Switch. I froze in my tracks. “Did the black box record when Richard switched to manual?”

Leo’s forehead creased. “Excuse me?”

“The black box. Did it record something like that?”

Leo shook his head. “Like I said, part of the data was missing. But I don’t see—”

“When you fly a zoomer, is it possible for someone to switch to manual remotely?” I insisted.

“I guess.” He sounded skeptical. “But they’d need the right codes. A zoomer’s controls are one of the best-protected parts of its software. It’s virtually impossible to hack into that.”

I remembered the young baichi who almost crashed on our zoomer on our way to the island, the encounter feeling like ages ago. “As we were flying to the island with Richard, a joyrider almost crashed with us. Were we back in the States, Mary would have flown him to the precinct to give him a scare he wouldn’t forget any time soon. But for Mary to do that, she’d have to take over his controls.”

“A police AI like Mary can take over a zoomer,” Leo agreed. “Zoomers are built with backdoors to their software allowing for such an intervention.”

“What if someone else can, too? Who would have the right codes?”

Leo’s face lit up. “A police officer.”

I sat down next to him on the sofa. “A police officer,” I repeated. “Like Sergeant.”


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