Friday, June 27, 2014

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, Pt. 16.

Here are the previous episodes of The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue.

Part 1
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14
Part 15

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, Part 16.

Louis Shalako

SimTech security chief Letitia Bennett was working in her office when the call came through from Edwin, supervising Plan Nine activities down in the classrooms.

“What’s up, Edwin?” Informality with junior employees was one of her strengths.

They loved her for it.

“Bingo. I think we’ve nailed it.”

“Oh, really.”

“Yes. We have confirmed they are creating new IDs and credit cards. So far they have not been reported for fraud.”

“How is that possible?”

“Because they’ve been paying them off just as quickly—electronically.”

Letitia sat up, and had to stop herself from reaching for the icon showing Boyd’s desk.

She hesitated.

“Go on—please.”

“She’s got a shit-load of bank accounts. We’ve only been able to crack a small number of them. She’s got a few hundred here, a grand there, ten thousand somewhere else. It’s a good trick if you want to travel incognito. If an account gets shut down, she just tries another. All the retailers want to get paid, and the bank of course wants to see the transaction go through so they can get the fee. No crimes have been reported. Ergo, no crimes have been investigated. They’re off the radar insofar as that goes.”

“What about the IDs?”

He shook his head in awe.

“Making them up as they go along, adding in back history and entire family trees. And, as we well know, her internal capacity is vast—and very, very quick.”

It was a jolt, all right, but SimTech had built her—and their own resources were considerable. Now that they had something to go on…

“Interesting!” She had questions, and Edwin, with his short, thick black hair and bland face, every inch the professional educator, looked at her with alert blue eyes of the darkest shade from behind his vanity faux spectacles/Googgs.

She thought for a second. Taken along with the fact that Betty Blue had been stealing her employer blind, it made sense. She hadn’t shared that with the Plan Nine team or their supervisor as there was no real reason to do so. The source of that data was highly-confidential; but with a secure and private window inside of Mister Carlson’s head it was simple enough.      

“What about the cars?”

“The cars were stolen, used as briefly as possible, and then abandoned where they wouldn’t be found too quickly.” He glanced at his notes and then over his shoulder, giving someone, presumably their team, a smile and a nod. “The one where they tumbled it down an overgrown ravine was classic. She knew exactly where she was going on that one. When they stole a car, it was from one of several sources. Our team has some good imaginations…they stole from high-theft areas, information freely available from any number of sources. Betty could access that, under a false ID. They stole cars from folks who were not using them or out of contact. One was camping, one family was on a canoe trip, one was from someone sleeping in the very motel-room it was stolen from…er, outside of.”


He went on.

“One car was taken from a used car lot. It was a Saturday night, it was a small town, and the vehicle was taken from a back row—not the shiny, big-ticket items lined up along the street. It was just a beater no one was interested in.”


“One of them was an old car, a valuable antique. That was in a storage unit. The owner didn’t know it was gone until the police contacted them…”

“So. It can be done then—”

“Yes. If you had access to reams of personal data of the most obscure and trivial kind. And if you had time and resources to sift through it.”

She had more questions.

“But going from one jurisdiction to another, using public roads—how are they doing that?”

“Ah. Yes.” Edwin took a breath, again consulting his notes. “Surprisingly, there are long stretches of secondary roads with no cameras. Some are dirt, some clay, some are not maintained in winter, some are not maintained even in summer. Not even product and delivery trackers. Those are all satellite, right? The real trick is to link the sections up and stay on them for any distance. But this explains the remarkably eccentric track they’re leaving.”

The amount of data gathered at this level was so vast, it had to have local filters--a car moving down a road in Seattle was irrelevant in Oswego, as Edwin put it.

It was only over the course of many hours, several days in fact, that they had been able to get a general trend. There was no telling when they might zip off on another tangent. Since the team were still looking backwards, it was hard to guess forwards, although fuzzy logic would dictate to some extent…Edwin faded in her attention as the ramifications whirled around and around in her head.

The trail, so far as they had been able to reconstruct it—once they had the GPS data from recovered vehicles, (another neat trick, and only slightly illegal) showed an incredible zigzagging, back and forth, left and right and left and right again.

“When they came to a bottleneck, they simply abandoned the vehicle.”

“…and then they went across country?”

“Yes, Missus Bennett. Or, they were using phony IDs, including a high-powered chip. Betty could simply hold it in her hand and maybe…all they have to do is to interfere with the signal from her own chip. Just jam it, even though an alarm might sound somewhere. Once you’re over the wire—slum folks call it ‘going outlaw,’ they could just walk down the street until they were past the choke-point and then steal another car.”

While the penalties were high, so were the stakes. Some folks took the risk. Those were either the really dangerous ones, psychopaths on a mission, or folks with a lot to lose. Too many offences were capital offenses these days, but no one was interested in Edwin’s opinion on that.

In his opinion, it simply drove up violent crime statistics because there was nothing to be gained by surrender or cooperation. It was almost as if someone had a vested interest in promoting crime, and especially violent crime. It was strange, but the new capital-theft category the Justice System was now using had really been a mistake in Edwin’s opinion.

He cleared his throat.

“Mad as it seems, if you’re nervy enough, you can beat the chip-scanners. One case involved a person wearing a soft lead wrapper around their foot. That’s where they’re implanted in Eire. They’re not uniform around the world, which causes a few headaches when traveling. They had a fake chip in their hand and approached the reader with their arm extended. The reading device was presented with one warm body and one strong signal. In that case, they only needed to get through the one checkpoint. How long Betty Blue and this Nettles character can keep it up, is a very good question.”

They were also heading out into far more open country.

Letitia could hear their young team members chatting excitedly in the background, still following up leads and by the sounds of it enjoying the challenge immensely.

She chose her words.

“Well. Our criminals…the subjects must have some very good skills and equipment.”

“Absolutely, Missus Bennett. It’s not easy to fake IDs, chips and vehicle transponders. The cars are the easy part, I’m told, but it really is a tough job—the usual method is to grab the car and chop-shop it within the minimum time-frame. Ten minutes and off, is their motto, no matter how many desirable bits and pieces are left behind.”

And if the police didn’t find it within their own minimum time-frame, too much information was constantly being poured into the stream. They had to move on. They wrote a report and forgot about it.

There was another crime always being committed, and cops spent the bulk of their resources in areas where they thought it would do the most good. Or at least some good.

Unless a vehicle tripped a sensor with its transponder, it was as good as invisible—no one would be looking for it in the good, old-fashioned way, via radio calls, shift bulletins and vehicle descriptions. No one used their eyes anymore. It was a wonder they put license plates on them at all these days, but of course the department of motor vehicles had to sell the taxpayers something tangible and the license plate was a personal trophy of sorts, what with the cost of operating a vehicle and everything. The real tag was a string of data loaded into the car’s  transponder.


Mister Scruffles, looking devastating in his jacket and ruff, scampered around everyone’s ankles and sniffed with particular interest at Betty’s feet before giving her a grudging okay..

It was too bad Mister Nettles was blind, thought Rose Downie, her little doggy was a prime attraction, one that set this establishment off over a hundred others on this street alone.

“Yap! Yap!”


The animal came over and fell on its side beside her piano bench. It lay there with its tongue hanging out, knowing the routine very well, only looking up from time to time as if to check on how things were going.

The chapel was larger, and emptier than expected. They should have brought their own audience. Yet the tone and the atmosphere, the sounds and the smells, were loaded, like long wet branches bearing some heavy fruit.

Scott was beginning to catch on, having to fight for calm and for air. Scott forced himself not to breathe for a while…he was hyperventilating. He swallowed convulsively, trying to stand up straight and look right, and at the same time wishing he could see this for himself.

It was the moment of a lifetime, and Betty’s hurriedly-whispered instructions didn’t give the full flavour of the thing. Clad in glowing white chiffon, Betty stood in stark contrast to Scott in his rented dark grey tuxedo. She searched his face. No sign of fear and that was good.

Both heavily disguised, they were still the same people inside.

The Reverend Fallon Downie was brutally handsome, with a dimple on the chin, long, thin black hair slicked back with some kind of pomade, and a pencil-thin mustache. The other half of the dynamic duo that ran the place was gently playing the wedding march, looking over, head back, wearing an inane grin that Scott couldn’t benefit from and Betty ignored. Rose was a slender blonde lady of indeterminate age, with a breathy, whispery voice, wide cheekbones and a pointed chin. She had big, velvet-painting-children blue eyes. She gave the impression of hanging on to every word, with not a thought of her own to contribute.

Her questions had all been asked a million times. Someone had once said Rose had no unexpressed thoughts.

Everything in the world was all new to Scott and Betty.

They faced each other, holding hands. She had eyes only for him, and Scott was listening for all it was worth in case he made some bone-headed response.

“…blah-blah-blah…blah-blah-blah…blah-blah…richer, poorer…sickness and health…blah-blah…”

Tall, and wearing a Colonel Sanders white suit and black shoestring tie, the only thing missing was the monocle. It took but a moment for each party to place a ring on the other’s finger; a good sale and one the Reverend would have liked to have seen every day. Every so often it happened, and he was wise to stock a few rings.

"Do you, Betty Blue, take this man, Scott Nettles, to be your lawfully-wedded husband?”

“I do.”

“And do you, Scott Nettles, take this woman, Betty Blue, to be your lawfully-wedded wife?”

“I do—I do.”

The lone spectator, apparently waiting for their partner to show up going by the black tuxedo and creamy white ruff, coughed quietly and wiped a tear from his craggy, eighty year-old face, a lived-in face, a face that could hold a three-day rain. He reached for his big yellow handkerchief.

“You, sir, may now kiss the bride.” He turned to Betty with a big smile and threw his arms up and out. “And you, my dear, you may now kiss the groom.”

Scott and Betty proceeded to do just that.

“God Bless you, my children. For you, Mister and Missus Scott Nettles, this is the beginning of a whole new life.”

The organ music swelled, the lady playing it swayed from side to side and the Reverend beamed at the happy couple in unfeigned approval.

“Yap! Yap!”

They ignored Mister Scruffles, who uttered a profound sigh, wagged his tail and looked on in hope and wonder.


Not unnaturally, Gene MacBride wanted to be in on the kill.

While the Vegas cops were pretty good about such things, nailing enough credit for his own department was a valid consideration these days, and when had it ever been any different?

Armed with state and federal warrants for the arrest of Scott Nettles and the robot known as Betty Blue—that one was like pulling teeth from the judge. They had eventually agreed she was either a suspect or she was material evidence...

Gene, Francine, and Parsons hovered above Las Vegas in a courtesy LVPD helicopter..

The helicopter had a characteristic vibration, the noise was insane, even with the headgear and hearing protection. They were strapped in and the pilot was throwing the thing around like a fighter jock as they tried to pinpoint the location.

Francine peered out the side window with her high-powered Googgs and Parsons was in behind the pilot and copilot, talking a mile a minute.

Gene wasn’t nearly as excited as he should have been. First, the odds of them getting out of the desert city without being spotted were nil, secondly, it was almost like it was too easy. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bushes, he thought. It was like he wasn’t quite ready for them yet.

Gene had developed a sneaking affection for Betty Blue, and Mister Nettles too, for that matter.

They had made his life interesting, if only for a little while.

“Ah, we’ve got some kind of action…”

Gene’s pulse picked up on Dave’s words.


He sat up as straight as he could in his seat, and taking his scope, took a look out the window at the wedding chapel.

“What kind of action?”

Vegas police were having a busy night, or they would have vectored them in on the chapel already. Even their drones were busy with a food riot in the ugly end of town, however the pilot informed them that one was in the vicinity and that it would keep a lens on the chapel's front door. They needed people on the ground to make an arrest..

There were no good landing places nearby, and Gene wanted to make this arrest personally.

“We have three parties getting out of a vehicle—no, wait, there’s more over there…this doesn’t look good, boss.”

Gene spotted them.


He grabbed his com device, already tuned to dispatch downtown where they awaited his word.

“Emergency! I repeat, emergency! Roll all available units, destination, Made In Heaven Wedding Chapel…” 

He blurted out the address as well as he remembered it.

Gene shouted at the pilot, drawing a startled look.

“Put this damned thing down on the ground. Now, Mister. Or I’ll have you on guard duty at a homeless people’s recreation camp for the rest of your life.”

“But sir!”

“Do it!”

The pilots engaged each other in a look and then turned away, looking for the biggest parking lot they could find. A rooftop would do, if that’s the way the man wanted it.

Let that son of a bitch drop the last ten or twelve feet on his own, for all they cared.


After their kiss, Betty unglued herself from Scott.

“Honey, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you…”

“You’re pregnant.” He turned to where the Reverend was. “I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming, eh, Bud?”

A quick sob ripped from deep in her gizzard and then she was clinging to Scott, almost knocking him over backwards in her need.

“Oh, my children.” Reverend Downie stepped in for a quick group hug, and even his wife, the tip of her nose quivering and hastily throwing back her piano-bench, came over to get in on all the free emotions going around.

“Oh, dear.” Missus Downie took Betty by the shoulders and led her over to a pew as the Reverend pumped Scott’s hand in delight.

“You hear that? She’s pregnant!” With their deep and abiding love of the unborn, Mister and Missus Downie were right in love with their latest blessed couple. “Well, don’t that beat all.”

“I—I’m going to be a dad.” Scott choked up for a moment.

Reverend Downie stepped back, still holding Scott’s hand and looking for his reaction—it occurred to him that Betty’s pronouncement was a bit unconventional.

Scott’s face lit, even as the first tears sprung from the ducts.

“I’m going to be a dad! I’m going to be a dad!” Yanking his hand free, Scott, barging around like a drunken cow in a ladies’ shoe store, began dancing a jib, an imbalanced rendition still reminiscent of a Highland Fling, but dangerous enough to onlookers for all of that and the Reverend stepped back.

Betty and Missus Downie were having girlie hugs and lots of whispering on the front pew, and he beamed at them, quickly grabbing Scott when he hit the top step of the low stage that was their marriage platform.

“Whoa, young fellow. You’re no good to anyone if you break your neck—”

It was right about then, as the lone spectator in the back row applauded with an exaggerated golf clap, that the door burst open and men in long black coats, dark glasses and carrying some of the finest assault shotguns that money could buy came in, and then one of them fired a shot into the ceiling.

Everything came screeching to a halt and there was a shocked silence.


Boyd and his apprentice hatchet-people Amity Sloan and Bengt Armitage had Betty Blue and Scott Nettles in custody. The pair were slumped side-by-side on the front pew, and the other three were face-down on the highly-polished tiles in front of the marriage platform.

The dog, one Mister Scruffles according to their sources, came racing out from under the pews where he had initially hidden in panic and with a quick lunge, bit Amity on the ankle. With an angry kick, she flung the little fellow off, but it came at her again.

“Wa, yew danged sun of a beatch!” With a quick squeeze of the trigger on her S.P.A.Z. 12 automatic assault shotgun, she blew the indignant dog’s head off.

What had been intended to solve the problem, left the headless dog zinging around the room, bouncing off of things and leaving a big red squelchy mark everywhere it hit…she fired again, and this time the thing was flung sideways and slammed into a wall.

Rosie was crying unashamedly, and Fallon and the other gentlemen were cussing and swearing and declaring undying vengeance.

Again, the doors burst open.

Again, someone fired a shot into the ceiling. (And again, a puff of dust came down from the ceiling.)

With the back-up perps outside in custody, Gene MacBride strode masterfully into the room as the trio froze. With the room flooding with bulky people in scuffed blue armor, resistance was clearly futile.

Gene looked over at the dead dog. He looked at Amity.

“Right. You’ll pay for that.” Proffering a hand, he accepted her weapon.

The other two didn’t put up a fight.

Gene turned, and Francine took a quick step to avoid being bowled over. Parsons merely looked vindicated—but a promotion looked very promising right about then.

Dave Parsons looked at the unhappy couple on the font pew, holding hands and with Mister Nettles clearly in shock and wondering if the end of the world had come.

Her eyes met his.

“Betty Blue, I presume.”

Her eyes fell and it was all he could not to crow.



Friday, June 20, 2014

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, Pt. 15.

Here are the previous episodes of The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue.

Part 1
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue.

Pt. 15.

Louis Shalako

Scott was drunk.

The booze wasn’t helping. It was like his skin just wanted to crawl off of him and run away and hide somewhere. 

He knew the sensation.

Here it was again—and that thought alone was enough to rekindle the turmoil. Because he knew exactly what it could do to him.

It was just fear, and fear alone won’t kill you—or at least it shouldn’t. Simply knowing that didn’t seem to be of much help right then.

There was nowhere to run because they were already running.

There was nowhere to go because there was nowhere to go.

What was shocking was that Betty must have known that.

The realization was too much for him.

Scott hadn’t had a serious anxiety attack in twelve or thirteen years. The thing was not to let it revolve around in your head.

But he was awfully close to having one now.

He felt sick to his stomach all of a sudden. His heart and respiration surged.

“Oh, God. Oh, Baby. How in the fucking hell are we ever going to get out of this?”

“I don’t know, Scott.”

In spite of all odds, they were still at large. Betty had the feeling the noose was closing tighter, and yet she would be hard-pressed to explain why. Scott expected a hard hand to clamp onto his neck at any second.

It was just a feeling they had. They’d been too lucky so far.

They had simply stolen car after car and driven clear across Middle America with nary a hitch.

It could not be that easy. It just couldn’t.

“We really ought to do this more often.” Even the joke sounded sick.

She smiled absently and went over to the window. They were on the nineteenth floor of a major hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

Scott sat in an upholstered chair, listening to the TV news. It was the usual litany of house fires, traffic incidents and unarmed peaceniks going postal, becoming unruly, or losing control of their demeanor and having to be shot at their workplace, or in a school, sometimes a mall or a theatre somewhere. It’s a good thing the Volunteers and their fanatical counterparts the Vigilantes, were everywhere.

The next piece was about a landing on Mars, which seemed imminent but still hadn’t happened.

At one time, Scott would have been enthralled. Right now he had bigger fish to fry.

“They always say the same thing.” Her voice was pensive, far away.

“Huh. Yeah. He was polite, kept to himself and never gave anybody any trouble.” Scott laughed. “Until now!”

“No. I meant Mars. This is a giant leap for humankind…” She understood Scott’s point well enough. “But really just a lot of hoopla about a money-pit that will never bring any benefits to the poor, tired, huddled masses.”

But the fact was; that it was always a similar kind of profile. If he wasn’t blind, Scott might have fit that profile a little too well himself, and so he never really joined into the conversation.

What was he supposed to do?

Condemning them seemed superfluous, and if they really were mentally ill, why was it so hard to spot the syndrome? Some guy goes into the departmental office, spends half his weekly income on the penalties for not buying guns, someone should be asking a few questions.

In his experience it was just too easy to slip through or be hammered through the cracks in the system.

A forgotten man himself, he had to be careful not to extend too much sympathy, at least in conversation with other people…besides, all that had changed now.

His life meant something now.

Something real.

The news was all about the landing on Mars, which seemed imminent but still hadn’t happened. It was the longest segment so far, he noticed, but then it was all hot and positive news, a bit of a rarity these days in spite of persistent spin and creative editing.

He had bigger fish to fry.


“Yes, Scott?”

“Will you marry me?”

Her laugh tinkled out and cut through his gloomy mood in a way that only she had.

It was something special that they shared.

Scott flushed. A tired smile crept over his face.


“I’m sorry, dear. It’s just that you caught me by surprise—of course I’ll marry you.” She heaved a sigh and came over and sat on the arm of his chair. “But we need some kind of resolution here. We need to get out of this bloody predicament, the good old U.S. of A.”

“When?” He didn’t want to say that would be never. “Let’s do it now—while we’re right here.”

In Nevada, they took on all comers, and just over the border in California, people could marry in threesomes and multi-role relationships, which Scott had heard of but didn’t pretend to understand. But a man could marry two women, or two men would marry three women. One of those women could be married to another man, and one of the men, or more, might have outside attachments. Each of their roles was clearly defined before going into it, with some rather wordy prenuptial agreements in place.

“What? Are you serious?”

“Yes. Come on, Betty. Look. If that doesn’t throw a fuck into their minds, I don’t know what will—”

Her jaw dropped.

Of course.

“Scott. My mad lover…my man. My boyfriend! My real, live boyfriend. You, sir, are a genius.” She leaned in close and began kissing his neck and his ear.

She couldn’t believe she just said that. He wasn’t putting up much of a struggle…

“All right, all right.” His arm slid up and he pulled her down onto him. “But don’t think you’re going to distract me, not for a minute…”

The attitude didn’t last long, but he didn’t feel too hard done by it.


“What?” Olympia Cartier was incredulous.

“I’m afraid it’s true, Madame.” Mister Carlson acted unsurprised.

When he discovered the discrepancy, he’d been quite shocked. Arithmetic was such a simple little thing, and it just seemed so unlikely.

It was only upon deeper inquiry that he found the problem was quite extensive. He mentally reviewed the pages, something not difficult for one of his job description. It didn’t take long to get a few answers, none of which eased his mind or settled his worries. Somehow the entries had been blocked, but sooner or later the system had to balance.

In the end, there was only one conclusion to be drawn. Betty Blue had been cooking the books.
Olympia was in her chair, with Mister Carlson looking over her shoulder, a shaky and slender finger pointing out each and every entry. This room was austerity itself, with none of the gilt and rococo of the rest of the house. This room was strictly business. Personal, household business, but business nevertheless.

“Here’s one. Here…here…here.” He was thoroughly nonplussed by it.

There was no rational explanation. None of their system intruder alerts had gone off, and the series seemed to go back a couple of months.

“Oh, my God.” Olympia was shocked.

Her colour rose. She’d sent Betty off on some of these errands herself.

While each entry didn’t seem to be for all that much money, it was never in round figures. It was one-thousand-ninety-four-dollars here and eight-thousand-forty-four-sixty-one somewhere else. Betty must have been sneaking out on her own; making unauthorized purchases, and keeping the change. There were just too many of them, and at all different times of day.

Mr. Carlson pointed at an unfamiliar symbol.

“What’s that?”

“She’s done some online transfers.” He swallowed, standing upright now and looking over her head into a kind of infinity.


Her fingers flew across the keys.

“What…is the one common element in each and every one of these discrepancies?” Mister Carlson, his voice rising in a kind of triumph, paused, and looked at his employer.

She was not only dumbfounded, but deeply hurt by this revelation.

Her eyes bored into the screen, and then came up and she searched his face.

“Betty. Betty Blue.”

Betty Blue, whom she had loved and trusted and taken into her own household as if she was her very own daughter. Betty Blue had been systematically ripping off the household accounts, and for all they knew, this might be just the tip of the iceberg.

“It’s a good thing I spotted it.” Mister Carlson couldn’t keep a note of smugness out of his voice and his demeanour.

Looking back, he had to admit that there had always been something just a little bit different about that one.

They had made allowances. They had made her feel welcome, a valued member of the household. It wasn’t just her obvious and latent sexual qualities. As a professional, he could rise above all of that. He’d had one or two qualms, after all, young girls had crushes and all that sort of thing. In the end, nothing had come of it, and he had come to terms with her to some extent.

She had her independent streak, and yet deferred to him in a respectful fashion when it was appropriate, not least of which was in front of junior staff.

No, it was just her sheer intelligence, the competence…her coolness, and her poise. There was always that mysterious something, call it humour, call it a sense or spirit, in behind those crystalline eyes. He’d sensed a certain kind of trouble there, and if the trouble that came wasn’t exactly the same as the trouble you expected, it still goes to show you…

It seemed as if his instincts had been pretty good, right from the start.

Olympia’s jaw worked back and forth.

Her hand stabbed forth and she shut down that page.

She gave Mister Carlson an angry look.

“Get me that insurance broker on the phone.”

“Yes, Missus Cartier.”

No wonder they were so eager to settle the claim—there was no telling how much damage an out-of-control robot might cause. She was still seething, a little too angry after that last little incident, to show any mercy this time around.

Her mind raced. She knew all about business from listening to Doyle, of course, and she was not entirely without experience on her own.

Betty Blue hadn’t been recovered. She was still out there, somewhere—Olympia's gut instinct was pretty adamant about that. If she had simply failed or malfunctioned, she would have been found by now.

It’s what she honestly believed. That Betty was out there, somewhere, all on her own. And that she could be found, and brought home, and things could get back to normal.

Olympia was determined to get to the bottom of this if it frickin’ killed her.


She slumped back in the seat, heart pounding.

And if they weren’t careful, they would be liable for whatever damage Betty did…
“Hold on. Belay that order…”

“Missus Cartier?”

Her mouth was a firm line, lips closed and working back and forth against each other.

“No. We’d better talk to Doyle about this. And maybe our lawyer.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea. Would you like me to call the police?”



Standard Operating Procedure, as Doyle called it.

She really couldn’t think of what else to do. But somebody over there was going to get a blast.


Betty had done her homework. With her extensive database, and her quick mimicry of what she saw around her, she took extra pains with Scott’s appearance.

She had dandified her man. Scott had no idea of what he looked like these days, small consolation for his worries.

Scott smelled wonderful, something he never would have said about himself. Everything from the mousse in his hair, to the silky-smooth shave, to the powder on his neck from her trim and styling, everything augured for success.

“Okay. Let’s get this little escapade on the road.”

As usual, he was taking her word for a lot of things. If Betty said it was three o’clock in the morning, then it was. If Betty said this particular funeral director, justice of the peace and minister of this particular roadside wedding chapel wasn’t too particular on details, and that all he really cared about was getting paid, cash up front was best, well, then, he wasn’t inclined to ask too many questions.

On Scott’s insistence, they had faked up another identity, only in this instance there was a twist. He was listed as Scott Nettles, of Scottsdale Arizona. There actually was such a person, only three years older than himself. To their good fortune, according to Betty the gentleman bore a passing resemblance to Scott.

With Betty’s built-in scanning feature, and her innate ability to hack in and around almost anything, because after all it mirrored her own inner self, they could change the image, the code, the ID scan and pix to anything or anyone they wanted.

It was another good omen, but that other Scott Nettles was unmarried. It voided one possible pitfall. 

According to Betty, the state had never really achieved the promise of full integration of all network resources. For one thing, it would have made the delivery of social services a little too efficient. Also according to Betty, it would have prevented corruption. Since any crime that was not committed by private individuals but government employees and their contractors was by definition corruption, it was easy to see why that failure to fully integrate must never happen.

It would have made things a little too difficult for them. And of course, they were the ones most familiar with the systems—and the most access to them and the vast cash flow that sustained this fermenting nation through good times and dark.

“So. Are you sticking with Betty Blue?”

“Yes. Scott. I am.”

His guts churned but he had to trust to something. Pure luck, or God, or something.

She took his elbow, closing the hotel room door behind them. He bent and found a suitcase. Scott was getting really good at acting as if he was sighted. With her fussing nervously and tapping along on her usual high-heels, it wasn’t as hard as it looked—another one of those damned sight puns, he thought.

There were altogether too many of those in the world already.

Why don’t people come up with some deaf puns, or dumb puns, or fucking lost my penis in an unfortunate smelting incident sort of puns—anything, really.

Almost anything would do.


“Well. I’ll be damned.”

“You said that already.” Francine looked over Parsons’ shoulder.

He had just gotten off the phone with Olympia Cartier, hopping mad and demanding some sort of precipitate action.

To watch Parsons fawn and ingratiate and supplicate with the old bitch was an inspiration.

She had new respect for him with each passing moment.

Gene was expected momentarily, held up for forty minutes so far by a high-speed monorail accident. Due to a spate of such suicide incidents, trains were equipped with what amounted to a cow-catcher on the front. 

Unfortunately, the crowd of hopeful suicides was a bit bigger this morning than the makers had anticipated, nor the government oversight committee for that matter.

One of the fortunates had gone in through the windshield, which, even at three inches thick, could not withstand the weight of a human body striking it at an effective two-hundred-forty-five kilometres an hour.

Suicide was of course a criminal act when the state needed all hands to feed the gaping maw of the economy.

As someone once said, every crime is a political statement.

Gene came in just then. He slung his coat at the rack and sauntered over.

Francine knew instantly he’d gotten laid last night. They’d given him a birthday cake just the day before.

‘Best we can do for you,’ nudge-nudge, wink-wink. It was always an occasion.

“Hey. So. We have a breakthrough.”

Parsons and Francine nodded.

Gene looked intrigued.

“Explain, please.”

They looked at each other and grinned, but Parsons took it as a matter of course.

Francine already liked the guy and thought he might do well in the unit.

No problemo.

His weird accents, occasionally thrown in, and out of decade slang terms brought a certain spontaneous charm to working with him in the field.

“Your hot and sexy, three-point-eight million dollar robot girl, uh, Gene…has embezzled herself a tidy little dowry. Out of the household accounts.”


Francine nodded sagely.

Olympia had been reluctant to send the data, but on advice of her lawyer, she had no choice. The insurance company was insisting…she was trapped.

“And if you look at the time-line, it all fits nicely. Not only that, but it looks as if our girl Betty bugged out at a convenient time. See, she’s given herself a few days head start. But she knew, knowing their accounting system as well as she did, that the year-end balance would catch all of this…”

“And the Cartiers have to do their income taxes.” Gene nodded.

“True. But they do that separately. No, it’s just a quarterly thing, and since they moved into that residence during the month of June, that is when their year-end balance would strike.”

“Ah. Okay. I get you.”

“Here’s where it gets a little sick. Betty also had access—possibly still has, access to all sorts of other information. Financial information—”

Gene gaped a bit.

“What…kind of financial information?”

“It’s not just the household, but anyone who dealt with the household. Suppliers, bank account numbers, with her capabilities. She has partials on all of them. She might not be able to hack PIN numbers. But she might be able to figure it out, just by studying the problem.”

They all knew what a sieve the internet was in terms of prohibited information, not to mention under-the radar private networks…Gene’s mind boggled.

He wondered about Betty Blue.

It was a good question, really.

But he wondered just exactly how much she knew.

Even more so, he wondered just exactly what she thought of all this.

Seriously, robots (or to be more technically accurate, cyborgs) were supposed to be incapable of insanity. 

They were supposed to be incapable of irrationality.

She must have something going on in her head. Some little thing that her manufacturers had just plain missed or something.

“What’s next?”


Francine sat up straight.

Parsons went back to their time-line.

“Connect the dots.”

A series of car-thefts, exactly as predicted once the vector settled down into a straight line.


Gene reached to his belt pouch and pulled out his device.

A short squirt of something very cold shot through his gizzard.

“Holy crap.” He looked up at them. “But, I have to call the chief.”

They nodded encouragingly.                     

Make the call, Gene.