by Bobette Bryan
Adam paused at the door of the dilapidated Queen Anne and took a deep breath, excitement screeching through his veins. Was he dreaming or had he finally found her? As he rang the doorbell, he sighed, telling himself that he should never have come here. He shoved a gloved hand into the pocket of his duster, fingers skimming the cold metal of a .777 demagnetizer. But the weapon instilled little assurance. He knew Julia well. She’d have more firepower than an arsenal in there, and she knew how to use it. But if worse came to worse…
Before he’d finished the thought, the door flew back on creaky hinges, and a hulking giant who looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Conan the Barbarian film gazed at him through narrow eyes. One of her latest masterpieces?
“May I help you?”
“Not with what I have in mind. I’m here to see Julia.”
“I apologize, sir, but Doctor Hayes is indisposed. If you’d like to leave a message, I’ll give it to her as soon as possible.”
“I bet you’d give it to her. You probably do every night. Well, sorry, bud, but this is one message I’m gonna deliver in person.”
“Sir, I assure you that Dr. Hayes is quite busy and…”
Though he looked like Arnold, he spoke with the haughty, well-modulated voice of an English butler. He was an improvement over the real thing–her toys always were. Or so she thought. Well, Adam was determined to show her the error of her thinking, show her how great it would be to be with a real man again.
“I don’t care if she’s the one-legged man in the infamous butt-kicking contest. I want to see her now, or I’m going to kick some bot butt!”
“If you’ll tell me your name, I’ll let her know you’re here, and…”
“I’m her husband, damn it all, the man who has scoured every junkie-filled alley, every rat-infested port, every mountain, dale, plain, and even hell, to find her. Now out of the way, you blue-blooded hard drive.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but…”
“Look, I have neither the time nor the inclination to argue with you.” Adam brought out the demagnetizer, then jabbed it in front of Arnold’s flaring snout. Wide-eyed, Arnold yelped and stepped back, but Adam remained merciless as he primed the weapon.
“Now, are you going to stand aside, or must I get nasty and turn you into a tin can—or even worse, a Mac?”
“But, sir, Dr. Hayes is not available. I…”
“The votes are in, and nasty won. Hasta la vista, baby.”
Adam pulled the trigger.
The giant collapsed with a horrendous thud, sending out a choking cloud of dust.
Gazing upon the fallen bot, Adam grinned. “Sorry, Arnold, but I always wanted to say that line.”
But his smile vanished as his thoughts swung back to Julia. Always Julia. Arnold was unimportant. All that mattered was finding the woman who’d stolen his heart and left him a broken man.
Anxious to see her, touch her, feel her svelte body beneath him, he removed his gloves and shoved them in his coat pocket, feeling something hard in there. Frowning, he extracted the mysterious object. It was a romance novel, judging by the heaving and entwined flesh on the cover, a steamy bodice ripper. Disgust marring his chiseled face, he tossed it aside, wondering who in the hell had put it in there.
At present, how ever, he had more pressing matters to consider. Stepping over the fallen giant, he strode into the mansion. A faint light peeked from beneath the double-doors at the end of what had once been a grand foyer. Now it was dark, dank, and dusty.
Fueled by unrelenting determination, he plowed the worn, pine floor and kicked the doors open with his booted foot to find himself in a large chamber with sagging, yellow wallpaper and bright, fluorescent lights. A metal card table dominated the room. Around it sat an assortment of her “toys,” who’d been in the midst of a poker game until his untimely intrusion.
Cards in hand, they paused to study him. As he waved the demagnetizer before them, cards fell, mouths gaped, and horror painted their pretty faces. Oh, how he wished he’d brought a camera to capture the stellar “Kodak Moment.”
He grinned, knowing he’d caught Julia off guard this time. She must have felt safe and secure hidden away in this old dump on a forbidden rock of a planet. What a fool. No place in the galaxy would offer her a safe haven from him. No place at all. He would search every crack and crevice until he found her.
“It’s okay, friends. I won’t use it if you take me to your leader–you know who I’m referring to, the bitch with the body that won’t stop and the brain that you wish would.”
A bot who looked like C-3PO stood. “We con’t.”
“You not only ‘con,’ but you better.” Adam’s lips curled into a vicious snarl.
“You don’t understand,” a bare-chested babe magnet who was a dead-ringer for the young Patrick Swayze said. “Look, man, she’s working on something important. She won’t see us either. She locked the lab door and hasn’t seen the morning light in days. For all we know, she swallowed the key. ”
He’d seen Swayze kick white trash butt in Roadhouse and hoped that the actor’s clone turned out to be a wuss like Arnold. Like intelligence, however, ferocity was a quality Julia rarely instilled in her creations.
When a beep blared through the room, Adam shot into pulse-pounding alert mode. A door behind him slid open with a “whoosh.”
His heart leapt into his throat and clogged his airway when a satiny voice called: “What’s going on here?”
Of course. He should have known. Even in the heat of an important project that likely consisted of building her latest hunk, her surveillance cameras would be scrutinizing her precious heaps of masculine metal and alerting her to his presence. Demagnetizer ready for action, Adam spun to face her.
The nubile vision with flowing, scarlet hair and an hourglass figure perfectly tucked into a black, silk gown, made him blink. Twice. No bottled blonde with Tinsel town titties and silicone-stuffed puffer lips compared.
One look, and his legs became butter. His heart pounded as if it would break through his rib cage and plunge to the floor.
He sighed through his teeth. How in the hell could she still have such an affect on him after all these years?
He plowed toward her. But the floor cracked beneath him, and the heel of his boot sagged through cork-like pine, setting him off balance. He paused, shaking his leonine head, eyes battling hers.
“Well, my love, you’re even more beautiful than the last time we met, but your taste in real-estate hasn’t improved.”
“But obviously my taste in men has.” She ended the statement with a cynical grin.
“Ha, ha, ha! Well, sugar, perhaps that’s because you don’t remember how good it used to be. I intend to refresh your memory.”
His Southern accent was sexy–even he knew it.
But Julia merely sighed. “Look, Adam, now isn’t the time…”
“What? I don’t think I heard you correctly. I believe you meant to say: ‘It’s good to see you, Adam,’ or ‘I’ve been pining away for you, Adam.’ Why, lady, you sorely disappoint me. I thought you’d rush into my arms and pledge your undying love and devotion. But I can see that you’ve been busy indeed.” With a sweep of his hand, he indicated the motley menagerie at the table.
For a moment, she closed her eyes. “Adam–”
“Absolutely disgusting! The Star Wars bots are cute. I’m sure they’ll be a hot seller this holiday season. But, pray, tell me that they’re not anatomically correct.”
He could nearly hear the grind her perfect chompers.
“But the president? How could you?” Frowning, he pointed at the Clinton look-alike at the head of the table. “Why, ma’am, that makes me ill. Who’s next? Bush? Obama?”
“It’s not what you think. I’m making replicas of the president under the commission of the White House. It’s for national security–”
“Ha. Yeah, and I bet you made Arnold,” he pointed to yet another Schwarzenegger clone, “and Tom Cruise here, and Swayze over there for security reasons.” His eyes drilled the cowering group who nervously glanced from side to side as he strode around the table. He paused before a muscular blond who rivaled Schwarzenegger in brawn. “And who’s this? Could this be Fabio? Is this Fabio, guys?”
Silence greeted his query. Only Fabio responded, nodding and grinning like a moron.
“I thought so. And what about this one?” He strolled gingerly to the opposite side of the table to a Latino-looking man who had more muscle than a caped crusader. “Honey, wouldn’t it have been more cost-effective to buy some batteries for your vibrator?”
“Are you finished?” Julia said.
“As a matter of fact, I’m not.”
“Well, unfortunately for you, your opinion is of no consequence. And I have no time for your inane comments. I have urgent work to do. I want you to leave.”
Adam threw back his handsome head and laughed hysterically, so loud, so intense, and, apparently, so infectious, that even “Fabio” joined in. Damn, he was starting to like the guy. Little neural capacity sparked between Fabio’s faux flesh plated temples, but at least he had a sense of humor unlike her other walking, talking dildos.
“Adam, I’ll give you one last warning. Please leave.”
Julia’s voice cut through his thoughts. He turned to face her. “I don’t think so. I came a long way to find you, and I fully intend to give you some warm, human flesh tonight, my dear wife.”
He was too cocky. Too sure. Almost too late. A mock “Data” from the Star Trek series lunged at him, but, in a fleet movement, Adam fed him a boot. Data fell back on his heels, wobbled like a Weeble, then dive-bombed to the floor. Adam stood over him. Trembling, Data held out a hand.
Merciless, Adam pointed the demagnetizer at him, squinted to take careful aim.
Something between a pained scream and a cat cry hailed from Julia.
Adam’s finger itched. How he yearned to pull the trigger and turn Data into a rusty can, but greed intervened. He would spare her expensive toys. Though he’d love nothing more than to see them all smashed into heaps of screws, wires, and circuit boards, they would fetch a good price on the black market. The tabloids may scream about the notorious Julia’s questionable morality, but everyone would pay top dollar for her bots, knowing Robots Inc. built the best to be had.
They were so damn real that they had bad breath and hemorrhoids—except, that is, for her personal collection. They were flawless, every woman’s vision of the ideal man, perfect reflections of intimate feminine fantasy from rock hard pecks to steely thighs.
Unreal but too damn real, he thought.
Memories of Julia’s betrayal with her machines made him grimace. He spun to face her with a glare that promised revenge.
“Clearly, it pains you greatly to think that I might eliminate one of your precious creations.” He prowled toward her to stroke an errant strand of fiery hair from her face. She remained so still that she might have been molded out of cement, but her dark eyes conveyed her angst. “Pity you couldn’t have held such a high regard for the husband you left behind with a broken down pickup truck and a maxed out credit card.”
She rolled her eyes. “Please, you sound like a bad country and western song. I prefer heavy metal; maybe that’s why we didn’t get along.”
He threw his head back, laughter ripping from his lips. “I can’t deny it. You’re certainly fond of heavy metal. It’s a shame you never realized that there’s better music to dance to.” He winked.
“That’s my specialty,” said Swayze, raising a hand like a school boy.
“Shut up!” Face awash with revulsion, Adam aimed the demagnetizer at Swayze who shrank back in fear. Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Adam swung toward Data who futilely scrambled beneath the table for protection. But Adam’s arm lowered when Julia spoke, her words burning in his ears like lemon juice on a canker sore.
“And you’re a fool, a damned fool. These bots mean a lot to me. I won’t deny it. They’re my life’s work, the realization of my greatest dream.”
“Correction. Your greatest sexual fantasy.”
She ignored the comment. “But know that I’ve developed an internal shield for my latest bots’ central processor. Your demagnetizer is no longer a threat to them.”
He chuckled. “Liar. I tested it on Arnold number one when I came in, and it was quite efficacious.”
“He was an earlier bot, and–”
“If that’s true, you wouldn’t care if I shot Data here.” He raised the gun again, but she clipped closer, laid her palm on his hand.
“Wrong. If you fire that gun in here, you’ll set off the security alarm, and I don’t relish hearing its high-pitched wail. Not right now. I have a bit of a headache, because I haven’t slept in days.”
“I bet you haven’t.”
“Besides, you may as well save yourself the effort. All of the robots I’d developed with my early electro-magnetic processor will become defunct as of midnight.”
His eyes as big as half-dollars, his arm relaxed. The appendage was becoming a see-saw.
“Defunct? What do you mean? Will they self-destruct like the USS Enterprise in The Search for Spock?”
She sighed with exasperation. “They won’t explode, but their neural processing system will shut down. In other words, they’ll die.”
“Tsk, tsk, some would say that’s unethical, Doctor Hayes. It has yet to be determined whether these bots are ‘alive’ by the moral definition of the term.”
“Perhaps, but I’ll let the government battle that out, and until they decide, I’ll follow my conscience. Since many of my earlier units have major bugs and are known to malfunction, which, from time to time, has proven to be a safety risk, I felt that I had no option but to eliminate them.”
“Hey, I’m not complaining. In fact, hallelujah!” He glanced at his watch. “Then does this mean that I’ll have my wife back in less than five minutes–no computers, no metal horse jockeys? Lord, it was hell wading through spare body parts all those years.”
“Hardly,” she said.
“Oh, come on.” He sensuously outlined her red lips with the tip of his finger, noted her shiver, let his touch slowly dip to the swell of voluptuous cleavage prodding at her low-cut bodice. “Tell me it’s finally over.”
“It’s over, Adam. It’s finally over. At least it is for you and me.”
“For us, it will never be ov….ov…over.”
Alarmed, he stumbled back, arms flailing the air. His ears rang. His vision blurred. He felt weak. Faint. Fabio rushed to his side, throwing an arm around him to help him stand. Adam clung to the muscled cyborg as Julia spoke.
“You’re an idiot. I built in the capacity for you to learn, but you never figured it out. Did you? Like I said, my earlier units will self-destruct at midnight. And you, Adam, are my prototype. Why do you think you sound like a hero from a cheesy romance novel? Look at your attire. Why, you’re wearing a duster from the old west, a Victorian cravat, and the inevitable boots of a romance novel hero.”
“Nooooooooo!” He squinted, seeing double.
“Haven’t you ever noticed how much your resemble Jim Morrison? Only I gave you a much more powerful build.”
“You remember my romance writing days. Don’t you? I know I included it in your memory chip. I created you based on my favorite heroes, Adam, but I did too good of a job. No matter what I do, you still love me and are determined to have me at any cost. Just like the arrogant, strong-willed heroes in those blasted novels, you won’t accept ‘no’ as an answer.”
“I created you not only for my personal pleasure, but to generate new novels. Each is something of a facsimile of your mind’s most intimate fantasies about us.”
“Romance…romance.” Head spinning, he was unable to quit saying the word as if a replay button in his brain was stuck.
Hands on her hips, she faced him squarely. “The moral question about what constitutes life always bothered me. I started to think that, despite your faults, that it was wrong to destroy you. I’ve worked the past two months practically non-stop, hoping to shut-off the self-destruct mode in your neural processor. I could have altered the program and transmitted it to all of my early bots via a satellite signal. And I’d almost made the deadline until you showed up. I’m sorry, but it’s too late now, and having seen you here tonight, I realize that my initial decision was the right choice after all. You would have never quit pursuing me. Never!”
“You…you…you like romance.”
She brushed his hand, eyes reflecting sympathy. Even now, her touch soothed him.
“I used to like romance. Now I like robots. Good-bye, Adam.”
Her image was growing dimmer by the second, but he understood all she’d said. She had created him. Just like she’d created the others. And now he was dying. But that was okay, because now his relentless obsession to pursue, claim, and conquer her, made sense.
“Good-bye,” he said before blackness overcame him.