Friday, May 30, 2014

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt. 12.

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

Part 1
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt 12.

Louis Shalako

Scott and Betty lay entwined with one another. They were in a cheap motel in rural north-western Ohio. The place was a Mom-and-Pop operation and seemed a bit behind the times in terms of customer surveillance, or 'security.'

He was on his back and she was curled up at his side, lips close to his left ear.

“You were wonderful…” Her fingertips raked the curly hairs on his lower belly, causing a spasm to go through him. “…last night.”

His knees came up as he tried to get away from those fingernails.

“Ah-ah!” He grabbed for her wrist but she was too fast and too strong for him. “Holy.”

Her arm snaked over, she lifted a leg, and threw it across him. With a quick slide up, she had him pinned, hair falling across his face.

“Oh, come on.” He smiled sheepishly. “It’s all right for you. But I’m only human.”

“Scott. Scott…”

“No. Seriously.”               

“Oh, darling. It was ever so romantic…”


She giggled.

“…poor Scott, drooling and moaning and making me promise to stop at midnight. Oh.” She did a perfect rendition of his voice. “Oh, Betty—you've got to promise not to hurt me.”

"I was not drooling."

"Were so."

She laughed, her head going back and forth as she whopped him in the face with her hair.

Oh, God, how I wish I could see her now.

“No. I really mean it, Betty.” He sighed. “Please?”

She was insatiable. While it went without saying that robots could and would be built to accommodate the sexual needs of a rich and varied cross-section of humanity, it had never really occurred to him that they might like it for their own sake. Or for its own sake, however one preferred to say it.

“Aw. What’s the matter, Lover?” She pecked him on the lips, sitting up and pinning his biceps against the stiff and apparently squeaky clean linen.

His forearms came up and he held her near the elbows.

“Betty. We have to talk. I’m scared shitless. I can’t think straight—and, ah, some of this wasn’t exactly in the plan.” He clung to her. “I’m like a bag of nerves. Sooner or later, I’ll go and do something stupid.”

“Aren’t we doing something stupid now?” She stayed there, thinking. "Don't think I'm not scared either. Because I am."

If they were caught, she wouldn't have any rights at all, and neither would Scott. Him they would probably ignore or slap on the wrist. They would make excuses for him, and try to be humane in their punishments. Within limits. They would dismantle her, and she knew that very well.

What in the hell could she or Scott do about that?

Keep running.

Originally, they were going to Detroit, and if possible, cross the border into Canada. It was all they could think of. Canada had vast, wide-open spaces and wasn’t wired nearly as tightly as the States. In popular parlance, Detroit was now called Dystroit—for the dystopic end times had surely come for that city.

It was even worse than in the movies, Scott had heard, in his occasional oblique manner, eaves-dropping on any conversation that held hope of seeming to be half-ass interesting.

It was a good place to escape from, was the way he heard it. Stories of occasional, ‘over-winter’ cannibalism, and attempted socialism, and some sort of economic cleansing up there were hopefully just exaggerations of the underground, or liberal press. Years ago, a delegation from that city to the Federal government had been politely advised to see to their own affairs.

“Yeah. I hear you.” The note of worry that crept into her voice was hardly reassuring to Scott.

It wasn’t that she’d lied, exactly, it was more like she was only telling him so much.

“Betty. If you have a better plan, now might be a good time to let me in on it.”

Sighing, which was the first time he had ever heard her do it, she let go of his arms and dismounted.

She lowered herself down again and he could sense her studying him. He rolled onto his left side. For what it was worth, they were eye-to-eye.

“Come on, Babe. Level with me.”

“Well. I still think we should go to Detroit. We’ve been sort of leaving a trail. It’s better if we end that trail somewhere logical. Right, Scott?”

That part was right. That part they had agreed on.

“And then what?”

“Well, I just don’t know, Scott. It’s just that I don’t think it will work.”

“I thought we could steal a boat and just paddle or motor across. That’s what we figured.”

“If we did make it…our problems would just be beginning.” And Canada was so much weaker than the States.

They would most likely be apprehended, sooner or later, and then returned. The States would push and Canada would be pushed. Scott didn’t think that was the whole story. He was sure there was more.

“Yeah. In other words, you didn’t think I’d stick this far. But Betty. We have gotten this far. We have been doing it…”

“No, Scott. It’s not like that. I could never do that to you.”

Oh, Betty. If only I believed you…

If only I could believe in you.

“I’ve been doing some thinking. Philosophical thinking, but thinking. And this is important—what we are doing is important.”

“And why is that, Scott?”

If only he could look into her eyes.

“Because we love each other. That’s something they won’t understand. That’s something they’re not going to be able to accept. And that’s why we have to do it.”



That’s it?


She plucked idly at his chest hairs. The dimly coloured aura, all he could see, shifted slightly in the morning sunshine, a fact he knew by the burn of the sun on his exposed legs.

Going by the sounds coming in from outside the window was up behind him, and therefore that must be east.

“Yes. We have made it this far.” There was a new note in her voice, and he shook a little inside when he heard it.

“How are we paying for things?” He’d been meaning to ask her that for a while.

She had his wallet, and she had his bank card. Only trouble was, all the kiosks would be monitored, and at least those cameras were well-maintained. They were also located in more respectable locations.

The forty or fifty bucks cash Scott had originally begun with must be long gone by now.

“Well. It’s a long story.”

“I have the right to hear it.”

She was very quiet.

When she spoke, she sounded miserable.

“I set some money aside…when I was working.”

“Huh.” He clamped his mouth shut.


Did he really want to know this?

He heaved a deep sigh.

“Okay. That’s understandable. I guess. You knew you were leaving. Am I right.”

There was a silence and then she snuggled in close to him.

“Yes. It was right after I saw you for the first time…”

She’d been thinking of leaving anyway. She saw Scott, lining up for his ration-card and there was something in his demeanour. There was something almost feral in his determination to be independent and left alone, above all other things. That's what caught her attention.

Maybe even her imagination, was how she put it.

“And it was like I couldn’t even think straight, Scott. It was love at first sight. Such independence. Such fire! Such anger, but of course I knew where it was coming from. I wondered how you did it, of course…” She had wondered how a man could be so alone.

She had wondered how long a man could live with such anger.

Here was a man who felt unloved, and honestly thought he was unlovable. All of her initial impressions had been borne out.

Here was a man who thought his life was worthless, and she had this strong need to tell him it wasn't true.

“And so how did you get the money…dearest?”

She trembled in his arms.

Now she was afraid of him; and of what he might think.

Of what he might say.

He braced himself for what came next, although there could only be one answer—he hoped, obviously there were ways and then there were ways.

He was only slightly shocked.

“All right, Scott. I embezzled it.”

“From your employer?” He grinned insanely, and a finger touched his lips.

She gave a darned good imitation of heaving a deep sigh.


“If you don’t mind my asking…?”

“I fiddled the household accounts, Scott.” Her voice was far away. “I knew we were going to need some money.”

“Huh. And how much did you get?”

It was only when she told him that a flash of something cold and electric splashed over him in a quick wash of pure, unadulterated, ice-cold consternation.

Recovering from that shock, Scott asked her what the rest of her plan entailed and that’s when things got really weird.


"Oh, boy. Let's get this box open."
“Madame Cartier?”

“Yes, James?” The servant, always deferential, sober and dignified, stood in the doorway.

With a sigh she put down the reader. She was ensconced on her bed, with a box of tissues on one side and a five-kilogram container of ju-jubes on the other. The newest diet pills were a real blessing. She had just received a dozen of her favourite romantic intrigue novels via her subscription service and was looking for an entire day of escape from the hum-drum of reality.

“Our new robot is here.”


“Our new robot is here.”

“I didn’t order any new robots. Did Doyle order it?”

“Well, no, Madame. I don’t believe so.”


Angrily, she flung her silken comforter to one side. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she stuck her feet in her slippers.

“Where is it?”

“She’s in the kitchen, Madame. And may I say, what a fine-looking model she is, too…”

“Did you sign for it?’

“Ah…no, Madame.” James stepped out of the way as Olympia barged through the doorway.

“Damn that man!”

“Um, who are we referring to, Madame?’


Robots did not judge people. It was part of their make-up, in that they did not comment on the human activities around them. As much as anything, James appeared shocked at her response.

The language was unusual to say the least, for the Cartiers, especially Madame, led a serene, pampered existence where the irritations and provocations of everyday life must not intrude.

He agreed in all respects: it only made sense after all.

People enjoyed life so much more when they got everything their way and inconvenience did not interrupt their bliss.

He was aware that she had been upset by the whole Betty Blue disappearance, and that she was also worried about her. Madame Cartier was very good to her employees and had great affection for them all, which she demonstrated regularly.

In James’ opinion, the Cartiers were very nice people who might have been spared such indignities. He had no opinions on Betty Blue other than that she must have gone off, somewhere in the head so to speak…

James was well-programmed, trained not to betray emotion or shock in even the most extreme circumstances. The mistress was clearly upset. He had his own emotions. This was a trial for them all.

“Did someone sign for it?”

“Ah, I believe someone did, yes, Madame.”


“Most probably, Madame. One would think so. One of the kitchen staff, they must have done it, Madame.”

Damn. She should have left clearer instructions when it became clear that the insurance company was bound, bent and determined to settle the claim, ‘to the complete satisfaction of the customer,’ come hell or high water. And with no regard to her wishes at all. And no real attempt on the part of the police to find her Betty Blue.

Her eyes glittered as they hustled into the elevator, her hand slapping the button in no uncertain terms to take them to the kitchen level.

She gave him a look.

“I’m sorry, James, but I’ve been sort of expecting something like this.”

“Yes, Madame.”

Of course he had no idea of what she was talking about. If only they didn’t have brains the size of a pea. It was infuriating sometimes to have a complaint and no one of any real worth there to bitch to.

According to their on-air advertisements, the insurance company had a ninety-nine-point-nine-nine percent settlement rate of all claims registered.

She was beginning to have some suspicions, as to how that impressive feat had actually been accomplished.

The elevator whirred to a stop.

"After you, Madeame."
The door slid back, and James politely indicated that she must go first.

Chin dropping into fight mode, Olympia Cartier strode for the kitchen and service area, where all street deliveries were made, and goods sorted out, as this cosmopolitan household consumed vast quantities of consumables, and the remainder was destroyed as a tax write-off. One of the great joys in her life was entertaining. Ordering a little more than you needed was de rigeur for the smart hostess, and certainly the human servants were always grateful to be sent home with leftovers.

The poor things were just struggling along in some cases, what with the lowering of the minimum wage, and with so many of their mates in prison. That was why the lower classes never prospered. Single parents do not make good parents, or so she had always believed.

With a shake of her head, Olympia Cartier wondered what the hell was wrong with them people sometimes, but that was apparently the way God had created them; to serve his mysterious purposes on Earth.

What those purposes might be could be devilishly obscure at times.


“What in the name of Heaven is going on?” Olympia’s voice rose, a sure sign of impending doom for someone or other—in a nice way, that is.

Nothing irrevocable, as Doyle often said, and he knew what he was talking about. But this was imbecilic.

“Good morning, Madame.”

The voices rang out cheerfully all around, the kitchen staff, the porter, her human maids and the Major-domo, Mister Carlson.

Carlson was the only non-human domestic servant accorded the honorific as befitted his role as senior non-human staff member.

Rover, who belonged to Devon, roared around and around their feet, almost tripping her up as it came racing to greet her.

“Mister Carlson.”

“Yes, Madame?”

“Get that damned dog out of here.”

“Yes, Madame.” His eyelids flickered a bit, the tone alone telling him that the mistress was not pleased.

Silent infrared communication from him, sent the dog scurrying with plastic tail between its legs.

“Did you sign for this?”

“Oh, no Madame. James, or I believe Gerard did. He signed for it.”

“Oh.” She scowled at the whole lot of them.

Robots were supposed to have intelligence, they were supposed to think.

Her shoulders slumped. They had the bloody gall to send the thing over in a crate.

Betty had arrived by taxi, and paid off the driver herself. She took her small valise, her only luggage, and then presented herself at the font desk in the lobby. Coming up from outside, entering the foyer, she had announced herself in cool and confident tones.

This was something else, with packing noodles of foam, fitted recesses lined with soft but shiny plastic sheeting to protect it during shipment, and there was all that damned pink flesh.

The bloody thing was naked.

The corners of her mouth turned down, and her eyes swept the floor, littered with coloured plastic banding material, steel bands, tools—why couldn’t a robot put their tools away? There was more packing tape, ripped cardboard, a thick white disposable e-booklet…how crass.

“Show me that invoice.”

Mister Carlson, with a deeply concerned look on his face, put his hands together.

“But of course. There's no charge, I definitely asked. Their robots said no charge, I have to accept that at face value. It’s logged into the household register. We can retrieve it immediately.” His tone was hopeful

Of course. No one used a paper invoice these days. They carried a little too much weight with the older crowd, and were notoriously hard to eradicate fully. There were too many of them filed away in inaccessible places and you had to find someone dishonest to go in and get them…

It registered that there were a lot of people in the kitchen, although getting a new robot was exciting for all of them.

The naked robot in the crate stared straight out over Olympia’s head with big brown eyes.

Her glance impaled one of the maids.

“Find some clothes for that thing.” The girl scuttled out of the room, hands waving on the ends of her arms in exaggerated panic.

"Find her some clothes!"
She looked at Mister Carlson, who really hadn’t done anything wrong.

No, she was mad at herself. She should have seen this coming.

“This room could use about half as many people in it.”

Wordlessly, he swung his face.

“Those of you who are completely inessential and have other duties, please go.”

There were seven of them, not counting human maids, and Olympia sighed as they went through some kind of vaudeville routine in determining who was ‘it.’ This was something that might have been amusing initially, but once in a while it could be a real drag.

Finally, the remaining human maids and junior robots left and the cook went into the freezer, a habit they had all learned to accept.

Olympia would speak to her later, but that one was definitely hyper-sensitive to mood and tone.

The cook took everything personally, an attribute that was thought to enhance the cooking but more than anything made the thing a pain in the cunt to put up with.

Yes, it was beginning to look like one of those days.

With a shake of her head, Olympia told them to put it all back in the box as best they could.

“And whatever you do, don’t activate that unit.”

“No, Madame.” Mister Carlson paused.

“You didn’t activate it, did you?”

“Oh, no, Madame.”

That was one good thing. Activation was a process, and the thing would soon be loaded with data and programming. It was a second-tier of ownership, going beyond mere delivery of a mechanism. There was no reason to download all the household details into a machine that was going back to the factory.

She had always been tempted to insult Mister Carlson, just to see if she could upset his equilibrium. It was said that the emotional responses were highly-tailored as to task and the likely set of foreseen circumstances.

“That’s a lovely head of skin you have there.”

“Why, thank you! Madame is most kind.”

There was no sign of mockery, although he did smile in the most natural manner…did he see the absurdity in it? Or was it pure bullshit, a programmed response. That question was becoming more and more apropos.

To stare into those eyes was to admit weakness, she realized. She almost gave her head a shake.

What poise they had, she thought.

With one last angry look, she turned and headed back, up to where her personal office was located. She wanted a look at that invoice.

Mister Danvers was going to get a phone call, a rather nasty one, about this.

The only real question was who should make it?

She would no doubt say something regrettable, and their family attorney, a formidable man named Ralph Coningham, would perhaps intimidate…that might be just the thing. And yet the insurance people had their jobs to do.

The company was owned by an old family friend.

It might be better to have Mister Carlson, dumb as a stick as he was, simply call up SimTech and the insurance company.

Tell them to come and pick it up, she thought. Let him waste half a day on that. The elevator closed on her. 

She’d waved off the inevitable accompaniment from Jewel. Jewel was more decorative than anything, and Olympia wasn’t in that kind of a mood. As she recalled, Devon had had a hand in ordering that one.

He thought he had a sense of humour, and they all suffered for it sometimes. Olympia wondered what kind of fluff they had stuffed her head out with, although she was a whiz with the social media and up on all the latest trends. The trouble was a lady needed a proper, serious thought once in a while to have any depth.

Betty Blue.       

Why did you leave like that?

Was that about me?

Or was that about you?

There had been times when they were just girls together, and Betty Blue her best and truest friend. That was incredibly liberating, a kind of personal revelation of all she had been holding back. To live in the social microscope was a kind of repression, and Betty would keep her secrets because she was programmed to. 

She would not repeat scurrilous remarks, nor would she stoop to gossip. All of them had empathy, too much in some cases. They had to bond, to imprint upon you for their internal workings, the gizzard as Doyle called it, to become properly effective.

The robots learned, but they also taught you so much—it was undeniable, and Betty was the best of what was a pretty good bunch. Some of her friends’ robot servants were downright useless, at least according to them. There seemed to be a great variety of environmental responses, with robots of all levels of intelligence or even usefulness, in acquiring their individuality.

The question of Betty Blue still haunted her. And yet she could not reasonably say that Betty would not have accepted the delivery.

What was she expecting?


They were only robots, and people made similar mistakes all the time.

For the love of God, wasn’t the arrival of a new unit enough to make them call her and ask if this was authorized?

It didn’t seem too much to ask. Wasn’t that the simplest of security precautions?

Robots were as dumb as a stick, as Doyle was fond of saying.

Carlson now, that one was as dumb as two sticks.

Betty Blue, had received affection from Olympia. And she seemed capable of giving it, selflessly, 

Olympia had been brought to tears once by Betty.

They were watching TV together, side by side on the couch.

Betty’s eyes were awash with moisture as the commentator yammered away outside a still-smouldering building in some far-off country.

“Oh. That’s terrible.”

“Nah. That’s the Archipelago. I hate them.”

Betty’s face turned to hers, eyes wide and disbelieving.

“But…but they’re people!”                       

It was quite a shock, to be contradicted by an appliance. Olympia could see the logic in it. It was an understandable point of view, in fact the only proper one.


She turned away from Betty, bemused by the response, so lifelike and so forlorn, so completely taken in by it, and that’s when Olympia saw the little girl.

Four men wrestled an improvised litter with haste and precision as Martin Sea-Monkey told the story of an unprecedented attack on what was described as a girl’s school.

Her face was pale and round. The low profile of the blood-soaked white sheets from the waist down made her jaw drop.

It looked like the child’s legs had been blown off in the explosion.

That’s when Olympia cried.

Unconsciously, her hand crept over and Betty took it and gave it a squeeze.

That’s what made Betty Blue so special.

There really was something different about that one.


If the reader hasn't been following along, this is the first draft of a chapter in my new book. I'm serializing it so that people can look over my shoulder as I work. This is a new thing, in the world of publishing and writing.

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