Two-Fisted Tales

Tales of Mystery and Adventure



He was a Stabilizer and he knew his job. But when he took out Franc Pacino and his androids, he forgot one thing. Pacino's girl...

Treat Her Like a Lady
A Hi-Tech Suspenser of the Future

By Jeffrey Blair Latta


The laser lanced the air just over my left ear. The ray was invisible to the sight, but the stench of ozone gave me some idea of just how close I had cut it. Behind me, a granite outcrop belched molten stone and showered the darkness with white sparks, as the high energy pulse dumped its force on a more inert target.

MUCH TOO CLOSE, MY BOY. YOU AND I ALMOST WENT OUR SEPARATE WAYS WITH THAT ONE!

"Thanks. Like I really needed you to point that out," I linked, remaining crouched where I had fallen. "Now maybe you'd like to suggest a way out of this mess."

IT'S YOUR HIDE THE WOMAN'S AFTER, NOT MINE.

"Funny. Any hint where that last one came from?"

There was a moment of silence as the somacom did some quick calculations in my head.

THAT DUNE TO YOUR LEFT...ABOUT TEN METRES.

"Great. And we're boxed in but good."

CORRECT.

"So, then, what do you think she's waiting for?"

HOW SHOULD I KNOW? I'M NO MIND READER...GENERALLY. BUT HER INDECISION IS OUR GAIN...SO WHAT SAY WE HIGHTAIL IT FOR THAT ALTOGETHER INADEQUATE LOOKING RECESS OVER THERE?

I glanced at the shadowed crevice off to my right, barely visible in the white glow that spread from the city in the distance. Might not even be room for me to slip through sideways. I began to feel very panicky.

DON'T FALL APART ON ME NOW, OLD SON. WE'VE COME TOO FAR TO THROW IN THE TRANQUILIZER.

"And what if it doesn't lead anywhere?"

THEN WE FALL APART.

Without warning, the somacom took control. I was up and sprinting like I had never sprinted before...like no one had ever sprinted before. I could tell that he was a little panicky as well. He was pushing my body to the limit and a half. I felt like he had pulled a few ligaments in the first metre and the rest of the trip wasn't shaping up any better.

The dark rent in the otherwise featureless red stone wall grew larger and more distinct as the sand passed beneath me. But still too far away. The sand was slowing us. It was deeper here. Most of my energy was lost on the clouds I kicked out behind.

"Almost there," I linked, encouragingly. "Almost -- ah!"

The bolt caught me on the left shoulder. I screamed as I fell, but there wasn't really any feeling. It was too painful for that.

I hit the sand and rolled, if only because I was afraid I would pass-out if I sat still. The roll carried me onto my back, my face up, my eyes forward...

And there she stood.

She was partially silhouetted against the backdrop of the city which grew behind her like a fantasy mountain of plexi, fuseform and neon. But the light spilled over her hair and shoulders settling snowlike on the folds of her fatigues. Her ebony hair was bordered by a white halo, and clouds of aerosols swirled about her legs. In that moment she combined animal and angel all in one. And only the crystal amethyst of her irises revealed that she was far from being either.

That and the steel rod that protruded grotesquely from her right wrist. It was this latter that attracted my immediate attention.

WELL, IT WAS A NICE TRY. BUT I GUESS IT'S TIME TO CLOSE THE ACCOUNT.

The somacom had given me a narc bolus, so the pain was partially masked, and I could at least think straight.

"You don't give up on me now!" I linked furiously. "There must be a way out of this. There always is."

WELL...

"Well, what!"

IF I'M NOT MISTAKEN, THIS GIRL'S ONE OF THE "PERIHELION" LINE.

"So?"

SO, THOSE MODELS WERE BUILT FOR RANGE MODULATION. SO, IF A CERTAIN SOMACOM HAD THE PROPER ARRAY, AND IF THAT SOMACOM WASN'T FAR AWAY FROM HER, THEN HE COULD TAKE OVER HER MOTOR FUNCTIONS.

"I could kiss you -- if it wasn't anatomically impossible. Go for it!"

WE'RE TALKING ABOUT A SIX BY SIX ARRAY, MY BOY. THAT WILL TAKE TIME TO FIGURE OUT. SO UNLESS YOU CAN KEEP HER TALKING...

"I'll buy you the time. Just work fast."

But how do you talk to a gynoid, I thought, that wants nothing better than to melt you to a boulder? Come on, smart boy. She's nothing but silicon, titanium and silac. Use your charms. Just like before. Treat her like a lady...

"Tracy," I said, in a voice that wavered more than a little. "Why are you doing this? Don't you see that it's over? You're free now. Pacino and his boys are dead. You don't owe them anything."

She didn't blink. She didn't move. The red and green laser tracers didn't budge a millimetre from their target on my chest. I was scared.

"Okay, you're mad at me. I can understand that. I admit that I wasn't wholly truthful with you. But that's my job. I'm a stabilizer."

This time she moved. She took in a long slow breath. No one took a breath quite like this model.

"You're a stabilizer," she said, in a harsh voice barely above a whisper. "And I'm a gynoid. I'm...I was Franc Pacino's gynoid."

A few muscles eased in my neck. At least I had her talking. "Is that all you are?" I asked. "Franc Pacino's gynoid? Is that all you ever intend to be?"

"That's all I can be."

"Is that so? Then you're not the Tracy I knew. The Tracy I knew said she wanted to know what it was like to be free. Said she was tired of answering Pacino's remote."

"I...was."

I forced a suitable pause. I wasn't at all sure this was the way to go. The images of the garage still played before my eyes in glorious living colour. Pacino and his androids making the connection with the Slag Heap operators. Me and the boys storming, with pacifiers bucking. All over with in less than five seconds. And, then, even as the smoke cleared, Tracy had made her entrance. Even now I could see every detail of her face. That look of disbelief, of betrayal.

So lifelike.

I'M GETTING IT. KEEP HER TALKING. YOU'RE DOING FINE, MY BOY.

"So what are we doing here," I questioned angrily. "Do you even know where we are? We've left the city. You chased me clear out of the city and into the Outer Limits. And for what? Because the guy who handled your remote is dead. My God, you should thank me for that!"

The arm with the rod tensed. I did same. My eyes returned to the weapon. For the millionth time that night, I cursed myself for not detecting it -- for not figuring that a slick like Pacino would arm his toys. But not till her hand had fallen away in the garage, not even until Terry had been cut in half, had I realized that danger. Now it was too late for self-criticism. Now all hope was riding on the somacom... and my abilities to play her strings.

Carefully...

"You know what you're doing, don't you?" I asked. "You're just following your programming. Doing exactly what you were built to do, no more and no less. You're a fine piece of merchandise, all right. You protect your master when he needs protecting. You love him when he wants loving. And, when he's dead, you avenge him. I'll bet the manufacturer was proud when you rolled off the line. You fulfil your programming to the byte. But, then, so does a drink dispenser!"

ER, I THOUGHT THE IDEA WAS TO BUY TIME. AT THIS RATE, SHE WON'T BE SATISFIED WITH ANYTHING SHORT OF A LASER CREMATION.

"Trust me," I linked back. "I know this gynoid."

I SURE HOPE SO, MY BOY, BECAUSE I'VE STILL GOT SEVEN MORE VARIABLES TO GO.

"My programming," she answered, in a cold measured tone, "didn't tell me what to do if Franc died. And, while he was alive, I took care of him because he needed me."

"Bull! The way he needed his aerocruiser. The way he needed his grav-lite pool. The way he needed his bloody garage door opener!"

That brought a reaction. She pulled back and kicked a shower of sand across me. Considering what she could have done, this was very reassuring. But she still didn't lower her arm.

I laughed.

"He used you just the way you were built to be used."

"You don't understand!" she yelled.

I took a chance and eased my body up into a sitting position. A fire raced from my shoulder to my temples. I gritted my teeth and asked the somacom for an update.

HOW FAST DO YOU THINK I'M WORKING HERE? SIX MORE VARIABLES TO GO. AND LIE BACK, WILL YOU. YOUR PAIN CENTRES ARE PLAYING HAVOC WITH MY TRANSMISSION RELAY.

I slid back until I could lean against the granite face. At least in that position I felt a little less like a bull's-eye waiting for the bolt.

"So I don't understand, huh. That's not what you said before, is it? Seems to me that you said I was the only one who did understand. That I was different. So what changed your mind? Or was that all just talk?"

"It wasn't talk," she said, and there was a different quality to her voice. "I...thought that you did understand. That's why..."

"Why what? Why you gave me the information I needed? That's why you sold out Pacino?"

"I didn't know that you were a stabilizer! I didn't know what I was telling you! You confused me!"

"I thought gynoids didn't get confused."

THREE MORE TO GO. DON'T GET HER BACK UP NOW!

This time she lowered the arm...

And I made my move.

It was stupid, I know. Me with one arm, from a sitting start. With only seconds to go before the somacom would be able to control her through her own CPU. But I was trained to take an opportunity if it presented itself. And, so, I took it.

YOU HOT-HEADED NUMBSKULL, NO!

I rolled fast, catching her on the shins and bringing her down, full-length on the sand. The fire in my temple returned to my shoulder where it miraculously turned into molten lead. But I kept moving. I landed on her even as she spun onto her back. My left hand closed on her right arm and forced the rod into the ground. She bucked and twisted beneath me, screaming in fury and fighting to get her teeth into any part of me that came within reach. But she was built for looks and texture, and she was easy enough to handle.

"How's it coming?" I linked, allowing a kind of neuronal smirk to get through.

THAT WAS VERY STUPID, YOU KNOW?

"Sure. Can you handle her yet?"

I'M ON THE LAST VARIABLE NOW. JUST KEEP HER DOWN A FEW SECONDS LONGER.

"No problem. This thing's all bluff without her hardware. In fact, this is kind of fun."

This wasn't my day for awareness. She stopped struggling and I thought that she had given up. Then her chest rose as she drew a deep breath, and I thought she was just going to start screaming again. But, when she opened her lips, a crimson mist sprayed between her clenched teeth, catching me full in the eyes.

Now it was my turn to scream.

It was some sort of nervtoxic aerosol and it did its job just fine. I tumbled off her, digging my fists into my eyes and shouting from the searing agony. It felt a little like someone had just tried out an electric sander on my eyeballs...only worse.

DON'T LOSE HER! I'VE ALMOST GOT IT!

But I was in no condition to worry about the gynoid. I lay on my side, hands rubbing at my eyes, fighting to keep from blacking out. Thankful for a light supper. Wondering if she would use the laser while I was so helpless. Knowing that I had certainly given her enough motivation. That I had blown my one chance.

And then the pain was gone.

Tentatively, unsurely, I got to my knees. The spray had been short-acting. But the memory made the burning in my shoulder seem like nothing. A cool breeze whipped into the natural amphitheatre, brushing the dampness of my skin like a healing salve. Gradually, the nausea passed and my vision cleared...

And I really wished it hadn't.

The gynoid was on her feet again, and it didn't look like I was destined for another shot at bringing her down. Her clothes were dusted a light beige from the sand and her hair was tousled and hung across one eye in a way that would have been a real turn-on in any other situation.

But it was very hard to think of anything except that rod that protruded from her sleeve -- and the red and green laser tracers which I knew were marking out a target on my forehead.

I linked to the somacom, unable to hide the terror in my thoughts. "If you want to impress me, now is the time."

ALMOST GOT IT.

But it didn't look like almost would be good enough. The gynoid wiped the back of a hand across her lips, in a motion which only succeeded in smearing the red spray across her jaw.

There was moisture in her eyes. I had never seen that on a gynoid before. I wondered if her lubricant was leaking. Then the moisture formed a tiny bead, which traced a thin track down the dust on her cheek. And the bead turned blue as it reflected the glow of her rod, pumping up to discharge.

She spoke, and her voice carried a closer facsimile to emotion than I had yet heard in her.

"Maybe Pacino did use me," she said, "but I didn't love him."

I squinted into the blinding glow of the laser. The odds were against me, but I hoped to duck at the very last moment. Then, even as I tensed to move, her aim faltered. The tracers left my forehead, and swung in a swift arc until they painted two tiny dots on her temple. There was no time for her to react.

Bingo, I thought.

The laser discharged.

Her body slumped to the ground. There was little mess. The bolt had disintegrated all it had touched, and gynoids don't bleed.

I slumped back against the rock, startled to realize that I was shaking. "Nice work!" I linked, triumphantly. "But next time let's not cut it so close, huh?"

CLOSE INDEED, MY BOY, returned the somacom, soberly. I NEVER FOUND THAT LAST VARIABLE...

The End.




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Treat Her Like a Lady is copyright 1998, Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)