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 11: Sergeant

Monday, 2:24 p.m.

I didn’t get much sleep that night, despite my exhaustion. My body was still high on adrenaline from both the warehouse chase and my encounter with Sergeant, but there was more. I had the nagging feeling of missing something—some important detail. It lurked at the edge of my consciousness, disappearing every time I fixed my attention to it. Coming up with a plan for our next steps felt wrong until I figured it out.

When I had finally managed to drift into an uneasy sleep, I dreamed of Richard, his face contorted in terror as his zoomer careened out of control. A scream made me focus on his passenger—a copy of Richard who had raised his hands in front of his face. More Richards filled the zoomer’s back seats, all of them terrified. The cacophony of their screams pierced my ears and sent shivers down my spine.

I woke up with a jolt, my heart racing. Ta ma de. I rubbed my eyes with one hand and touched my temple with the other. “Cancel noise, off,” I said out loud. Whispers turned to sounds like someone had turned up the volume: a donkey braying outside, a baby crying, a dog barking.

“Open shutters.” With a soft whirr, the shutters lifted to reveal a bright day. From the level of brightness, it had to be noon or early afternoon. A quick check of the time on my hololens confirmed it was almost 2:30.

Still struggling to shake off the nightmare, I slipped on my robe and stepped out of the room. Leo was in his chair, his eyes closed as if napping. I stood at the door for a minute, watching him. It felt strange. His chest rose and fell in a relaxed rhythm. Did he really need to breathe or was that just to make him more lifelike? I took a step closer and raised my hand until it almost touched the stubble on his cheek. Did he need to shave or was that purely decorative?

His eyes popped open. I let out a small yelp and jumped backward.

Leo flashed me his easy smile, causing the dimples on his cheeks to deepen. “Sorry if I startled you.”

I rubbed my hands against my robe and pulled the fabric closer to my body. “No, I…” My cheeks flushed. “I didn’t know if you were sleeping. I just woke up.”

“I know. I saw you.”

“But your eyes were closed.”

He chuckled at my confusion. “I didn’t really see you. But I have other sensors as well. In this case, if you must know, it was the difference in the air pressure that alerted me to your room’s door opening.”

“Oh.” I shifted my weight from one foot to the other like a nervous boxer in the ring. “Well, I’m taking a shower.”

“You haven’t eaten in almost twelve hours,” he said, sounding concerned. “Would you like me to order something for you?”

“Oh,” I repeated, feeling strangely embarrassed for oversleeping. You don’t have to prove him anything, I scolded myself. He’s just a machine, remember? My eyes caught on his dimples. “Lunch sounds great. Order me some.” I whirled around and dashed into the bathroom. “Please,” I added as I shut the door.

By the time I got out, fully dressed, lunch had already arrived. No soup this time, thank goodness, just some Greek stuffed tomatoes with a side of fava beans and capers. It was better than I expected and I ate with growing appetite, stealing glances at Leo. Being watched while I ate was making me self-conscious. Is he as curious about our kind as I am about his? “You’re staring,” I said, wiping my mouth with a napkin.

“Yes,” he admitted.

“Are you curious about me?”

“Are you about me?” he asked with a smile.

I tried to sound indifferent. “I guess,” I said with a shrug I was hoping did not come off as too deliberate. “But we have more immediate concerns than…” flirting with each other, the voice in my head whispered. I cleared my throat and took a sip of water. I found no good way to finish that sentence so I skipped to the next one. “Like, what’s our next step?”

“I’d like you to meet the precinct captain. I’ve discovered something we should show him. It may let us join the investigation.”

I put the glass down, my curiosity piqued. “What is it?”

“I’d rather show you after you’ve finished your lunch. We may have a long day ahead and you’ll need your nourishment. Judging by what little I’ve come to know of you, you’ll want to run off as soon as you see it.”

I pushed the plate away, my curiosity now reaching cat-killing levels. “You’re kidding, right?”

He pushed the plate back to me and handed me my fork. “No. Please, eat first. Then, we catch the bad guys.”

This is ridiculous. I stuck out my tongue. “Yes, Mother.” I wolfed down the rest of my lunch, glaring at him all the while. “There.” I drained my glass and leaned forward. “Now, tell me.”

“I’d rather show you.” He nodded at my head.

I tapped at my temple to open a connection.

“I found some video I think you should look at,” he continued.

“Of the crash?” I asked as I waited for my hololens to link up with his video feed. “I thought there were no vehicles nearby.”

“True. The Hydra police only searched for other zoomers, though, and limited their search to the time of the crash. I thought to expand the parameters.” He sounded excited and worried at the same time. His hand touched mine as if to steady me. “I’m sorry. This was taken by a fishing farm drone outside of Gibraltar, a few minutes before. The zoomer was flying low enough for the drone to capture it on video.”

A scene started playing on my hololens. A blurry glass bubble raced toward me, leaving foamy streaks on the water, its trajectory unstable. The drone flew up to take a better look at the intruder as it zoomed past the fishing farm. The whole thing was over in a few seconds. “That’s it?”

“Look closer,” Leo said. “Wait, I’ll show you.”

The video replayed, this time in slow motion. The zoomer now became clear. Leo zoomed into the cockpit. Richard’s face was twisted in despair, his eyes popping out. My stomach turned at the image of his last moments, reminding me of my nightmare.

Ready to hurl, I hated Leo for making me finish my lunch and parted my lips to tell him so when I realized what he was showing me. Richard was pulling frantically at the steering wheel. Had the zoomer been flying on manual, this would have sent it straight up. Instead, it kept flying on a jerky line that would send it to crash against the rocks. I let out a gasp and brought my hand to my mouth.

“You see it, then.”

“It’s proof the zoomer was hacked.” My hands trembled with excitement. I felt like a dog catching its prey’s scent. “You think your captain friend will help us?”

“I don’t see why not. He seemed genuinely thankful for my help last night.”

I jumped up and grabbed his arm. “Let’s go.”

I was panting by the time we arrived at the police station and my lungs were on fire. The midday’s stifling heat didn’t help, either, overpowering even my metasuit’s clima. Damn Leo and his lunches. I was about to push the door when it flung open, and Kostas, the young policeman we had met yesterday, almost crashed on us.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, taking a step back. “I heard someone coming and thought it might be the captain.”

My heart sank. “He’s not here?”

“No, I’m afraid you’ll have to come back later.” His eyes scanned the street behind us as he started to shut the door.

“Your captain asked to see us,” Leo said, stopping him. “Can you give us his hololens details?”

The policeman bit his lip for a moment like debating how much he could share. “That’s the thing,” he blurted out in the end. “I haven’t seen him since the break-in last night.”

“Where’s Sergeant?” I asked, my suspicions rising.

“You’d better come in,” the policeman said, casting another anxious glance behind us. He opened the door wide and we stepped inside.

My skin, moist from the heat and the hurried walking, welcomed the cool interior. I panted, waiting for my lungs to stop burning.

“So, what happened?” Leo asked behind me.

Kostas rubbed his arm nervously. “Sergeant Morgan didn’t show up this morning. Captain went to find him.”

“Sergeant lives in Clonesville,” I guessed.

“Yes,” Kostas said. “So Captain should have been back hours ago.” He cast a desperate glance at the door like he expected it to open at any time. “I can’t leave the station and I can’t reach him thanks to Clonesville’s signal dampers. But something’s wrong. I just know it.”

Leo and I exchanged a glance. This could be the opportunity we’ve been waiting for, his voice told me over my hololens, startling me. I realized he did not need to open his mouth to talk to me. A couple of days ago, I would have found that creepy. Now, it felt strangely comforting. I nodded in agreement.

“Perhaps we could help,” Leo said, sounding uncertain, as if it was between that and going for a swim.

The policeman’s eyes lit up. “You could?”

“We were thinking of taking a walk through Clonesville ourselves,” I said in an equally non-committal voice. “Wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye out for your captain, I guess.”

Kostas sighed in relief. “Oh, thank you! I’ll send Sarge’s address to your hololens.”

The details flashed on my hololens as we were walking out of the police station.

“Should we contact Guide?” Leo asked.

“Why not? We could use a local. And he seemed like a decent enough man.”

Seconds later, Guide’s face flashed on my hololens. “Well, if it isn’t my two favorite tourists,” he said in his usual jovial tone. “How’s our lovely island treating you?”

I let out an inadvertent groan and he chuckled, completely misunderstanding me. “Nights on the island can be rough, especially if you drink at the old port sinkholes. For the best drinks, you need to—”

“We’d love another visit to Clonesville,” Leo said, interrupting him. “Are you free?”

Guide’s face beamed. “Of course. I’ll be waiting for you where I left you off last time.”

His vision disappeared. We walked the rest of the way in silence, ignoring the lovely nature around us. Thanks to my metasuit, the heat was more bearable now that we were walking at a slower pace. Whatever had happened to the captain, it gave us a great opportunity to join the investigation, even in an unofficial capacity. I hoped the captain would be grateful enough to let us make that an official one after we helped him out. It was an opportunity I intended to exploit as much as possible.

As promised, Guide was waiting for us at the entrance to Clonesville. He waved at us enthusiastically as soon as he spotted us. Leo gave him a shy wave of his hand.

“I’m glad you decided to come back. You barely saw anything last time.” Guide shot us a questioning look. “Have you had lunch? Clonesville boasts one of the greatest restaurants on the island. Chez Morgan. It’s run by our very own gastronomic celebrity, Chef Morgan. Surely you’ve heard of it?”

A dry chuckle escaped my lips. Where all the staff is called Morgan, I’ll bet. Returning a dish must look like a comedy scene: ‘Certainly, sir. I’ll call Mr. Morgan, the maître d’. Unless you’d like to talk to Chef Morgan himself.’ ‘Thank you, Morgan, a word with Morgan will do.’

“We’re good, thank you,” Leo said politely, shooting me a stern look as we followed Guide on the path leading into Clonesville’s bowels.

Even though my hololens had no connection to the Network, the map with Sergeant’s house was still projected in my view. The place Guide had mentioned was just a couple of blocks away from it.

“Actually, I wouldn’t mind something to eat.” I ignored Leo’s stunned glance. “And perhaps, on our way there, we could make a brief stop at a friend’s place.”

Guide’s jaw slackened in surprise. “A friend? In Clonesville?”

“Sergeant Morgan,” I said, trying to sound indifferent.

Guide’s face scrunched up at the name. “Sarge? That stick-in-the-mud? Whatever is a nice couple like you two doing with someone like him?”

I suddenly felt apologetic. “He’s more of an acquaintance, really. He had some questions for us.”

“I do know where he lives,” Guide said, obviously struggling to sound his usual upbeat self. “Guess it wouldn’t hurt to pay him a brief visit.”

Was it me or did he stress brief?

We stepped into a narrow path and the buildings around it covered us in their shadow. The sudden drop in temperature sent a chill down my spine before the metasuit hurried to compensate.

Guide was staying uncharacteristically quiet, like the mere mention of Sergeant was enough to put him off talking. Exchanging a glance with Leo told me that he, too, had noticed it.

“I take it Sergeant’s not popular?” Leo asked in a quiet voice.

“More like hopelessly incompetent,” Guide guffawed. “He’s given me a dozen citations for not having a guide’s license.”

“You seem to know everything and everyone around here,” I said. “But I’m sure you’ve got the wrong idea about Sergeant Morgan. He seemed like such a likable man to me.”

Guide almost choked. “Likable? Sarge? You’re kidding, right? The man’s so clueless he almost lost his job last year.” His voice dropped to a conspiratory whisper. “The police had a tip about a yacht carrying prohibited chemicals and stuff into the island. He boarded it, walked its deck, checked it out from top to bottom, and found nothing. Had his captain not done a second—snap—inspection himself, that yacht would have got away with it.” Guide shook his head. “It’s a good thing they were unable to prove any link between Sarge and the smugglers, or he would have lost his job for sure. The man’s more useless than a propeller on a spaceship.”

Obviously, metaphors were not Guide’s strength.

“What kind of chemicals?” Leo asked innocently.

Guide scratched the side of his head, disturbing some of his few remaining hairs. “Maybe not chemicals, actually. Some sort of biological stuff, I think?” He clicked his tongue dismissively. “All nonsense, if you ask me. The only one with enough money to do something with such stuff on this rock is Doctor Morgan himself, and the man’s too busy with his pet project.”

My brow furrowed. “Pet project?”

“Cloning,” Guide said gruffly. “He took the ban on conscious clones pretty bad. He’s been trying to find a way around it ever since.”

“You really don’t like him, do you?” Leo asked.

Guide pointed at the wrinkles on his bald head, his face as sour as vinegar mixed with lemonade. “Did I mention my age? Or do you need details of what the man did to me?” He stopped abruptly. “Anyway, we’re here.”

We were standing outside a particularly unassuming house at the end of a row of unassuming houses. Unlike some of the other buildings, this one had no garden to speak of, its owner having poured cement over any hint of soil or grass like he took the mere thought of greenery as a personal affront. There were no decorations or furniture, save an aged rocking chair next to the door. Curtains covered all windows but the door was ajar.

Guide must have noticed it, too, for he squinted, like blinded by the sun. “That’s odd. I’ve never seen Sarge forget to lock up. Man’s paranoid about his place.”

“Detective,” Leo said in a soft voice. He pointed at a dozen brown drops on the cement running from the door to where we stood.

I opened the gate and kneeled to study them closer. Blood. I cursed myself for not bringing a gun. Motioning Guide to stay back, I pushed my back against the wall, next to the door, and shoved it open. I pulled back to avoid a possible attack.

Faster than I expected, Leo slipped by me and moved into the house. He’s not bulletproof, is he?

I debated following after him. I had no armor or weapons. He was an android, therefore much less vulnerable than me. And yet, leaving him on his own felt like betraying him. I ducked through the door and into the dark interior, my heart pumping with adrenaline.

“Detective! In here.”

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