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Dysfunctional
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-245-3
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 227 Pages
Published: April 2005



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Total Readers: 2

From inside the flap

Officer Richard Berry has a problem. Not only has a smuggling ring for robotic transistors (that would enable robotic terrorism) set up shop in his district, but a fellow officer had turned up dead in the lake. So now Berry must infiltrate the neighborhood posing as an immature Dysfunctional robot ? a robot that looks and acts very much like a human ? to find the culprits. But who knew that in this disguise he would meet Dannielle Lawrence, the woman of his dreams? A hardboiled police whodunit of the future ? where robots and people interact -- when they shouldn?t.

Dysfunctional (Excerpt)


Chapter One

"Ya know, if we do this, it’s gonna make me come up dead, too," said Richard Berry, ashen disgust evident in every feature of his face. His squared jaw was set and his teeth were gritting as he spoke, making his words seem more like growls than actual language. Slamming his fist down on the file-littered desk, he continued, "I don?t believe that I?m even considering going in as a dysfunctional. Just how do I do that? How do I convince people that I?m an immature dysfunctional robot? I?m good at undercover, but this is truly pushin? it, people." Shaking his head, Berry’s eyes bore imaginary holes in the drab pale green walls of the squad room. (Would the government ever get away from that sickly green?)

The other two officers in the room remained silent, looking at walls covered with certificates, trash cans filled with the debris of the day, people scuttling about ? seeking any distraction that would keep their eyes from Berry’s pained demeanor. Berry knew that his colleagues did not have plausible suggestions; and that they all were feeling the pain of loss of a fellow officer and a close friend. Nothing could change that. The three drew little life from each other, nor the depressing windowless room.

They looked, too, at the robo-cops (a name taken loosely from a long ago science fiction movie) who littered the administrative areas of the squad room. Technology, moving more quickly each day, had provided the police department with the ideal solution to the high cost of running a top-notch law enforcement community. And each year, the robotic administrative personnel became more and more human-like in appearance and behavior. It was commonplace to find varied intelligence and complexity levels of these robotic helpers in administrative positions throughout the world these days, leaving the rest of the population the ability to upgrade high-level skills and talent to a more profitable scale. But in the police department, the robots were not varied in model levels. They were top of the line. Nothing antiquated here. Complex, realistic ? you couldn?t tell them apart from the officers on duty except for the slow pulse flashes coming from their name tags and the drab kaki uniforms they wore.

Therefore, (and here’s where Berry felt the true rub), none of the officers had a clear understanding of just how a dysfunctional robot ? an older, less sophisticated, abandoned or damaged model ? would behave. So how did one successfully take on that personality in an undercover capacity? Where was the time to study and research?

The dim overhead florescent lights grew brighter and then resumed their dingy overcast as a surge of power, again, assaulted the room. With all the talk and money centering on the upgrades of functional robots, Berry was irritated that the lights in their closet-like offices couldn?t even remain full power. The surges played havoc with the computer systems, as well. He snorted softly. They could build interactive humanistic robots but they couldn?t devise a way to keep the lights on. It was maddening that electricity was at such a premium these days.

The Substance Squad ? or SS as it was affectionately labeled by the illegal drug lords --was located in the basement of the ancient Headquarters building, and was a frequent victim of building power failures and surges. The county could see no reason to upgrade the police department on the outside when the equipment inside was so expensive. Just another daily hassle and another reminder of the pitfalls of local government career ladders. Of course, there was a good reason for their banishment to the recesses of the oldest annex building ? and for being at the bottom of the move list when the new building was finally completed. The upper echelon of brass, meandering through their systematic days and lounging on the top floors talking with senators and governors and movie stars, did not care to witness the day-to-day operations of officers wearing unorthodox clothing, and unkempt appearances. They cared not that one had to fit in with the masses for the kind of work they accomplished. And though few officers in the squad really emerged from the depths as shabby as accused, management still declared that everyone in this particular section displayed images harmful to first floor public relations.

Additionally, there was strong consensus that members of the SS held particularly bad attitudes when dealing with formal police procedure. They were often being investigated by Internal Affairs for this media-reported misconduct or that. For comic relief, and at the squad’s expense, fellow officers had even been known to secretly pin up swastikas on their bulletin boards or hallway doors to further spark internal discord ? something that made their Lieutenant furious because of his Jewish heritage. Regardless of who or what was behind the squad’s reputation, a chance could not be taken by the upper ranks that this unit would be considered part of the norm in the public or media eye. This was an election year.

Lieutenant George Webster, Berry’s tall and lanky supervisor, leaned heavily on his desk, obviously thinking of the four teams of men he controlled throughout the county. A tear fell from under his wire-rimmed glasses, and he wiped it away with a quick jerk as he watched Berry internalize the fury over the outcome of this latest assignment. Berry knew that his thoughts were with the dead officer.

Webster had often said that Scott Terrance had been one of the best men he?d ever worked with in these past fifteen years. Finding him dead in the Sunshine Lake was eating away at his composure. Berry could tell that the Lieutenant’s insides swirled, nausea being the least of the distraught condition. Just leaving the grieving relatives, his character had been shattered and doubts regarding his own expertise in management were echoing from his eyes. The worst thing, though, was Webster’s nagging feeling that the operation in which he had lost this valuable man had been sabotaged.

Officers Richard Berry and Benjamin Dusk continued to labor over maps, computer programs, paperwork, and empty coffee cups. They, too, were justifiably upset. They had been in the, already legendary, backup car the day Scott died.

As the operation in the field had progressed, without warning, the transmitter inserted just beneath the skin on Scott Terrance’s inner thigh, the bruising hidden by baggy trousers had stopped broadcasting. Though an inconvenience, the lack of transmission did not seem too disastrous. Worse had happened during this type of sting. The officers still had the car Scott had been pushed into within visual, and they could see his movements through the rear windshield. All was okay.

Then, out of nowhere it seemed, a lunch truck, shining silver in the bright sunshine, swerved in front of backup police car. Happening in seconds, the vehicle carrying a deadly chemical that could change the future of mature robotics was gone. Along with Scott Terrance.

Berry and Dusk felt responsible for the mishap. Sitting through the "not your fault, nothing you could?ve done" lecture had not diminished the anguish or the ache for revenge swelling in their hearts. So now, they poured over the data that had been collected in the long previous months, searching for answers, but finding only questions. And more reasons for retaliation.

The investigation had initially begun six months earlier, when a trusted informant ?loosely speaking because how could an informant really be trusted? -- contacted Lieutenant Webster with information about regular shipments of illegal experimental robotic transistors and chemicals coming into the country by cabin cruiser. The informant was in dire need of cash and frequently sold reliable information for hefty sums -- often raised from an officer’s own pocket.

The cruiser in question had conveniently disappeared before U. S. Customs could track it down. Customs agents scrambled, but too late ? overworked by the continued threats of terror that were swamping their work schedules with calls of contraband running the gamut on the scale of homeland security. They couldn?t act on every single report in Code One fashion. It was pick and choose; and let the locals handle the fallout and the publicity. The Substance Squad, understanding the issues, happily took over and found that the cruiser was registered to a fictitious company and address and was never seen at the same dock twice, or by the right people. The cruiser’s occupants cleverly eluded officials on a regular basis.

With heavy television press spouting waves of police corruption throughout the county, there were, naturally, strong rumors that the boat was obtaining Customs? or police assistance. The county police department could not substantiate these accusations so dismissed this line of thinking. It just wasn?t true. People would talk about anything to pull their minds from global terrorism ? even if that thinking centered on the small percentages of corruption in the law enforcement community. They?d seen it all before.

What the investigators were really concerned about was the location of the stronghold for the smuggled merchandise and any robotic equipment that might be recipient of chemical enhancements or transistors. Everything else would fall into place later, were they to find that elusive location. And tips told them that the safe-house for the contraband was somewhere right within their county limits.

Scott Terrance, friend and fellow officer, had labored in the streets with the criminal and robotic traffic for months, until he finally stumbled onto a lead encompassing a large shipment of French art treasures. He almost passed it by because the articles in question were very unusual commodities to be smuggling and not part of his squad’s mission. But a hunch made him conduct a cursory investigation. If nothing else, he could pass the information on to his general assignment cohorts.

But Scott’s hunch paid off after a time. Under the pretense of buying one of the pieces, he managed to gain access to an elite group of collectors who were bidding on the art and who had received such pieces from France during an earlier transaction. After extensive research and study, Scott was able to gain the confidence of the collectors. A casual comment to the group voicing a need for the purchase of a particular chemical that would change the behavior stats for a robot in his possession, and Scott was put in touch with several of their own contacts, though low in priority within their line of communication and suppliers.

Later, through much effort, he was given access to one of the top suppliers (so he thought) to discuss the purchase of an incoming experimental transistor that would turn an accepted functional robot into a participant criminal in the still raging drug wars -- market value, three million dollars plus. It was an old movie theme, to be sure, but the squad knew that science fact often followed science fiction.

From various meetings and surveillances, the Substance Squad had narrowed the stronghold down to an area bordering "Combat Park" which was centered in the business district of the county. Many drug buys were routinely thwarted there, and several familiar faces committing any number of other crimes, reinforced Baldwin Park’s reputation and nickname. These days, where there were big drug buys, there were transistors and chemicals for functional robots, as well. Crime followed the money. Combat Park was infamous for such activity even though it was known to the masses as an area where technology did not grow and prosper.

Familiarity of the community was not without its drawbacks, however. Though the park covered a large area, the populace knew the local residents and those frequenting its combat zone. A stranger could not just ramble in without being noticed and evaluated. It took months of smiling at the neighborhood’s society to fit into the low-life aura that the park had recently begun to showcase. Scott Terrance put in the time.

Eventually the buy was set up, Scott was wired for sound, Officers Berry and Dusk were assigned as monitors in an unmarked police car, and Lieutenant Webster maintained emergency radio contact at headquarters.

The rest was pitiful history. The car under surveillance had disappeared before reinforcements were ever called, and the other squads staking out the area saw nothing. Furious at the turn of events and their part in the disaster, Berry and Dusk decided, without even conferring with one another, that this was to be a personal vendetta.

Unprofessional? Yes. Unrealistic? Maybe. Regardless, someone would pay for Scott Terrance’s death. Not just someone -- the one responsible would suffer. They would make sure of that.

The air was still thick with silence and squeaking floorboards from above as the officers wondered when their new building would be ready. The one with a new air filtration system. The one with solid flooring and white walls. The one that the county had been promising for nearly six years. Lieutenant Webster cleared his throat loudly, dislodging their thoughts of office luxury and then sighed.

"I understand your feelings," he said finally, closing the file and dropping it into the pending basket on his desk. "But Berry, Dusk, I really have to caution you on this. We need to go by the book and stay above board." He paced now, pushing unconsciously at the glasses on his nose. "I know there’s a lot of bureaucratic crap floating around. But we gotta follow regulations. We don?t want the usual media extravaganza."

He stopped and stared hard at the two young officers. Berry knew instinctively what he was thinking. Warning them was well and good, but Webster also knew that if he didn?t work with them on this case -- if he pulled rank -- they would proceed alone, without his guidance. Without his involvement. And without regard to their careers or his. He couldn?t risk another foul-up; or worse, another death.

Webster trusted Berry and Dusk as he had Terrance, though he often counseled them that they were still immature in the ways of robotics and its connection to substance surveillance. They?d only been on the force for five years; but their attitudes refreshed Webster because they had not yet soured. They had not yet begun to see themselves as the abusive and hated law enforcers often depicted by the press. There was no fear in doing their jobs and serving the people. They cared. A comfort of late in the police department.

Berry and Dusk sifted through the garbage in their days -- the false accusations, bad press, and the sporadic hot-dogger antics that often gave all police officers negative reputations -- and instead of bitterness, they came up with precious ideals. Berry just shrugged off Webster’s questioning of why or how they were able to do this when so many others on the squads came away from their days cold and threatening. Berry and Dusk had weathered the same bad breaks and pressures the other officers contended with on a daily basis (and often times worse), but still came out functional with renewed spirits.

Webster always reminded them of his friend and associate, Lieutenant Sam Carlson, who lived the life of functionality and renewed spirit. He?d often thought that the practicality Sam showed the world was a negative trait ? too much of a good thing. But not always. And those sentiments correctly expressed his feelings for Dusk and Berry.

Webster continued to pace the floor. "Berry, Dusk," he said thoughtfully, "I?m gonna keep you on this case -- against my better judgment, I might add. Internal Affairs wants their grimy hooks in, but I?m gonna hold ?em off. For a while, anyway. Who knows where the pressure’s gonna come from on this. You know the old saying, It all rolls downhill." He stopped and adjusted his Make My Day Punk tee-shirt into his neatly pressed jeans.

"I think you should know, though, I feel something strange about this thing. I just can?t put my finger on it. Maybe I?m wrong; but just in case, let’s keep the reports to me only. I don?t want anyone here knowing what we?re doing. I?ll make up some dandy-handy story to feed to the others."

He paused, picked up a pen and began tapping it nervously on the edge of Berry’s desk. "I think, as short on time as we are, we still have to go into that neighborhood as members of the community like Dusk suggests. And that?ll be tough. What do you think?"

Benjamin Dusk ran his fingers through his light hair and sighed -- weary from all the paperwork and grief. Nodding, he bit his lower lip and whispered to himself, "I need a cold shower to wake up." Then to the others, "No doubt about it. But we need a cover that’s quickly established; a person who is seen every day and everywhere, but is always overlooked." He raised his eyebrows and shot a knowing look at his partner. "Think about it, Rick. When we were back walking the beat, he was so visible that he was invisible."

Berry sat for a moment thinking, and then shrugged his shoulders. Visible, invisible. What did it matter? The situation would be impossible to salvage now.

"Yeah, right," replied Berry with a tired look of resignation. He barely smiled when he saw Webster’s puzzled look and explained, "Tony Dee, the dysfunctional robot. He lived on the streets on our old beat. He was a good ?bot ? dysfunctional sure, and an immature, too, but kind and friendly, always in the way, but always there -- like a fixture. Once people got used to him, no one even saw him. He had a short or something on the motherboard; and the transistor to fix it cost too much for the owner. So he was abandoned. At least, that’s what the locals said. He couldn?t go the steps from child to adult functional. He had kid mentality and couldn?t learn. He could pad around town, in and out of stores, peoples lives, just go anywhere. Do odd jobs. And nobody noticed him. Nobody wanted to. Guess they were afraid he?d rub off on ?em or something. You know how people are."

Webster looked thoughtful. "What you?re suggesting is that one of you poses as a . . . a dysfunctional -- blend into the community and hopefully get a new line on any new developments." He digested the proposal. "Then what? A dysfunctional can?t make a transistor buy."

"That’s not really the problem right now, is it?" Dusk answered. "We need to find the right people first. Then, after we know which direction we?re headed, we can plan. Maybe we won?t have to set it up like the last time. And truthfully, Lieutenant, it’s really the only chance we have right now. Everything’s gone pretty much in the toilet. The town is tight."

Berry stood now and moved about the room, its other inhabitants showing mounting interest. "Again. Let me get this straight. You want me to go in undercover as some childish dysfunctional robot who can?t step to mature because of transistor issues. And I repeat, are you people crazy? How will I even do that? How can I manage that minimal eye blink thing that sets them apart physically?" He sat down hard on his chair, knocking over a ragged Styrofoam coffee cup he?d been chewing the edges on. "Just how’s this supposed to work?" Kicking his legs up on the edge of the desk, he added, "Oh, and by the way ? on the record ? I think this is a bad idea and I don?t want to do it. I?m gonna come up dead."

Dusk ignored him and remained animated. Pacing and talking with his hands, he mapped the strategy. "Your ?bot could be stuck at . . . say, the intelligence of . . . maybe five or six . . . or ten or twelve, whatever. That?ll make it easy for you to act stupid . . ." Berry scowled as Dusk continued, "and I can be the disinterested owner who won?t shell out money to fix you. Or maybe you can?t be fixed or something. I?ll have to think about that. It?ll be easy. And there’s no real preparation to worry about! We just do it! What do ya say, Lieutenant? Give it a shot?"

"No," replied Berry, "This is just wrong."

Webster sat in silence for a moment, racking his brain in vain for a more plausible solution. But finally, he relented. "Guess it’s the only match in town for now. And it’s not a bad plan exactly."

"Yes it is," replied Berry.

Berry could tell, though, that Webster agreed with him about the sketchy plan, but was not able to offer an alternative. "I hope you boys can pull it off before the boys upstairs eat me for lunch."

Berry snorted and said just under his breath, "I already feel like I am the lunch. Why don?t one of you guys be the lunch?"

Still, the group planned.

***