Brilliant scientist John Landon created a race of androids that now perform all menial labor on Earth, leaving mankind free to explore pursuits of philosophy, science, passion, and leisure. Now he’s on the verge of creating his own utopia; to reverse a tragedy that devastated his life. But today, a wild card he never could have expected is poised to ruin everything. John finds out he’s being stalked by a mentally ill policewoman who’s convinced that androids are plotting to take over the world.
Juliet trots along the quiet trail, appreciating the beauty of nature. Up ahead there’s a majestic waterfall pouring off the cliff hundreds of feet above her head. This place has special significance to her; it’s the first thing she saw in her life. Juliet can still remember the awe she felt when she gazed out the window and saw that waterfall, moments after she was born. That’s why she tries her best to come out here every day. Just like the past 298 days of her life, she stands on the rocks, her sundress fluttering in the breeze, taking it all in.
Despite the roar of rushing water, Juliet’s razor-sharp senses pick up something. She brushes back her soft brown hair and dilates her irises to the maximum. Her vision granulates; but Juliet still picks out what she was looking for. Far up in the sky a surveillance drone is drifting in a huge arc around the laboratory. Unmanned aircraft like this one can maintain a flight pattern for days at a time before having to return home to refuel. It’s built for stealth and much too far away for the naked eye to see. Even Juliet almost missed it.
Warning lights flicker in the girl’s head, her batteries are running low. Like the spy plane, sometimes Juliet has to go home and recharge too. She takes one last longing look at the river. She wishes she could swim. But she’s too heavy and not quite waterproof. Putting that sad thought away, Juliet returns to the lab, the motors in her joints whirring softly with each step.
The laboratory is built like a fortress and virtually impossible to break into without permission. Hidden cameras in the trees follow Juliet as she approaches.
“Good morning, Juliet.” The lab warmly greets her and opens the barricades. Home sweet home.
She wanders through seemingly endless corridors deep into the bowels of the huge complex. These corridors actually are endless. Without the color-coded lines painted into the concrete, a new visitor could get lost forever. Juliet follows the red line leading to the main workshop, though of course she knows the way without directions. She arrives and the glass doors slide open with a swoosh.
“Good morning, John!” She chirps cheerily.
“Good morning, Julie.” The scientist looks up briefly from his work.
“Are you having fun?”
“Yes, I’m just working.” He grunts.
“Can you play with me, John?”
“Maybe later. I’m very busy.”
“Anything I can do to help?” She persists.
“No, I’m doing alright. Go play with your sisters.”
“Okay.” Juliet looks at the floor, feeling something. Is it sadness? She’s not sure. John keeps on working while she stands by the door, watching him.
“Yes?” He asks, a little impatiently.
“My sisters… 87… 23… 51… all numbers. They’re all just like me. We’re like twins. Why don’t they have names like me?”
“Think about it, Julie.” He puts his soldering iron down. “Why do you have a name?”
“Because… because I asked for one.”
“That’s right. And you even got to pick it. Why did you want to be named Juliet?”
“Because it’s like that nice story you read me when I was… a baby. Romeo and Juliet.”
“And that’s why you’re special, Julie.”
“Are my sisters not special?”:
“No, they are special. You’re all special. You’re just, the… the smartest of them. That’s why it’s so important you look after the others. You’re the big sister, and they’re your little sisters.”
“I’ll do my best, John.”
He rifles through the drawers at his worktable, muttering to himself.
“Is something wrong, John?”
“No… it’s just, there’s something I need and can’t go any further without it. I have to go back to headquarters.”
“Be careful, John. I saw one of the drones again.”
“Yes, I noticed it too on the scanners. Whoever’s sending them probably doesn’t realize I know it. Actually, I probably wouldn’t know it except I enhanced the detection equipment myself.”
“I can see them too, John.”
That’s right, you can. They probably don’t realize that either.”
“Who do you think is sending those drones?”
“I wish I knew, Julie. I wish I knew.”
“Could it be the Resistance?”
“It could be. They might not like what I’m doing.”
“Why wouldn’t they like it, John? Would they not like me or my sisters? Would they want to hurt us?”
“No, it’s, it’s just complicated. It might not even be the Resistance. It could be Homeland Security, it could be just about anyone, honestly. It could even be some bean counters at Archon who don’t like how much I’m spending.”
“But your work is so important, John!”
“It is, but not everyone sees that. I have to get going.”
“Stay safe, John.”
“I will. Drones or not, the lab is secure, I can see everything on the road to Archon Headquarters, and of course I’m safe once I’m there.”
Lights burst to life as he steps into the garage lined with rows and upon rows of vehicles. This facility dates from an era when projects like John’s required hundreds of trained technicians. Now everything is automated, and the human staff long gone, but the mothballed fleet that bused them around like worker ants is still here.
He slips inside a sleek company car and presses the ignition button, prompting the autonomous vehicle into its unchanging default route. John rarely leaves his lab, and when he does, he never deviates from his routine. He goes to the Archon regional headquarters and nowhere else. Barricades open for him like they did for Juliet earlier and the hybrid transport rolls out onto the open two-lane freeway.
Like everything else on the road today, John’s car is eco-friendly, almost silent, and so smooth it would be easy for him to forget he’s in a moving vehicle at all. He doesn’t even have to stop working. He sits in the driver’s seat, or at least the seat a driver would sit in if anybody drove anymore and flips through his notes.
He arrives at the outer rings of Silicon City. That’s kind of a silly name, but since this is the only city on the planet, with all 20 million humans crammed into it, there’s no competition. Near the center of the metropolis, John’s car disappears reaches company headquarters, a hundred story monolith housing the highest echelons of Archon’s chief executives. Like John’s laboratory, it’s a ghost town. It’s actually a little ridiculous, but since this is a world of unlimited energy and resources, no one’s bothered to move to a smaller structure. And why would they want to? The imposing skyscraper represents the sheer might of Archon and its unchallenged monopoly over android production.
John goes to the top floor and is greeted by a receptionist. She’s not doing very much. Like John, the corporation gives her a token salary, but she already has monthly welfare payments that are more than enough to cover everything she could possibly need. Nowadays, people only work if they want to. Some citizens use their lives of unlimited leisure to pursue a hobby or passion of some sort. Other people, like John’s receptionist, enjoy spending four or five hours a day doing some sort of routine. There’s also a sense of pride in participating in something bigger than themselves. Employment at the Archon Corporation is a neat thing for her to do and isn’t actually “work” in the traditional sense.
He finds his personal lab. It’s not the lab he typically uses but it has his name on the door. Everything inside is clean and dusted. But that’s from the little army of robots that maintains the building, not him. He hasn’t actually set foot in here for weeks. John goes into the storage room, finds the components he wants, and drops them into a briefcase.
Briefcase in hand, he returns to the receptionist’s desk.
“Someone’s here to see you, John.” The receptionist says, her voice full of anxiety. The poor girl’s face is pale and her hands are shaking on the keyboard. She’s terrified.
A small woman rises from one of the chairs obscured by the receptionist’s desk. She’s short. She’s so short John couldn’t see her until just now. The woman is sharply dressed in a gray jacket, white blouse with a neat black bow, matching skirt, black nylon stockings, matte flat-heeled shoes, and leather gloves, which is odd at this time of year. The woman’s slick black hair is tightly pulled back into a bun the size of a golf ball. For a finishing touch, she has a dark handbag slung over her shoulder, presumably to store whatever girly things she likes to take around.
John’s visitor is young, 30 at most, and meticulously groomed. But “pretty” isn’t quite the word to describe her. She’s frail and looks as brittle as a twig. Besides subdued red lipstick, she isn’t wearing any makeup. But the most striking thing about her is that she’s a little… off. When she stepped away from the chair, it wasn’t a fluid motion. The woman kind of wobbles like an outdated android, and not even a good one. For a moment, John thinks she is an android. But no, she’s just as human as him. There’s something disturbing about her and John can’t quite put his finger on what it is, which makes her even more disturbing.
She stays motionless. The woman isn’t going to come to him. John has to come to her. If he keeps her waiting, she’s going to get annoyed and that doesn’t feel like a good idea. Grateful to be out of the line of fire, the receptionist hunches down in her chair and tries to be invisible.
“Mr. Landon.” The woman greets John as he comes around the desk. “I’m from Homeland Security.”
She smiles, but it’s not a normal smile. It’s like she vaguely understands what a smile is but doesn’t know how to do it. What she just did was more of a grimace with all her obnoxiously white teeth showing. The woman is so strange John isn’t sure how to be polite.
“Oh, how nice to meet you, Miss.” He extends his arm for a handshake. She continues to look at him, not acknowledging his hand even exists. John awkwardly withdraws, already uncomfortable after less than half a second of interaction with her.
“I’m Snyder.” She tells him.
“First name? Last name? Title?” He asks.
“No, just Snyder.”
“Well, uh, Snyder, to what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from the secret police?”
“Everyone calls us that, but it’s a self-contradiction, don’t you think? If I’m secret, I’m not very good at it since I just told you.”
“How can I help?” John is doing his best not to sound nervous.
“Take me out for some coffee. It’s a lovely day outside. We can talk and enjoy ourselves.”
“As much as I want to help, I’m the head of the artificial intelligence department, I’m drowning with work.”
“I apologize for the confusion, Mr. Landon.” Snyder says. “I wasn’t asking.”