Friday, May 23, 2014

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt. 11.

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

Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. Pt. 11.

Louis Shalako

“There are no guarantees in this life.”
Scott sat in what felt like a dentist chair.

Not used to being touched or handled in any way, his recent relationship with Betty notwithstanding, it was oddly arousing in the physical sense. The young woman went on.

“It’s a good thing you have somebody to help you.” She had shaved his skull, and pulled a tightly-constricting latex mask over his head.

Now she was applying putty and makeup around the edges, after lifting the cheeks and putting small pads of putty in strategic locations.

“His face seems a bit lopsided.” Betty was right there with him.

Hopefully no one would notice the slight bulge in his pants.

“No one’s face is truly symmetrical.” The technician hummed softly as she worked.

He and Betty had been expected, somehow. Upon their arrival at the Red Dog Saloon, she, in her temporary disguise as a metrosexual, led him to the bar. He heard her exchange brief words with someone.

A few minutes later, the result of some signal which he didn’t quite catch, she took him by the arm and led him to what must have been the hallway where the restrooms were located. The smell was a dead giveaway.


“If you get caught, it’s a hundred-thousand dollar fine for obstructing the course of justice.”

A hundred grand! For wearing a mask. The world had certainly become a crazy place. Scott wondered if it was worth it sometimes.

A recent news story, the typical horror story put out by the mainstream media, had documented a case where someone had gotten an illicit nose-job. The lady didn’t have the money for the medical fees and the permit required from Motherland Security. She had faked the documents, vanity being what it was, and the self-objectification of women being what it was…she was caught, inevitably it would seem.

Now she was doing fifteen years in a work camp. She would get out of jail by the time she was thirty-five. This was one of the northeastern states, as he recalled. Down south she’d be doing three life sentences.

Scott hoped it was worth it to her. License fees for cosmetic surgery were a major source of revenues for the state. One of many new sin, or as Scott called them, vanity taxes…harsh penalties were an incentive to save one’s pennies—and pay your fees.


Her deft fingers smoothed the putty around the edges of the mask. Fine sable hairs tickled his face, as she applied some kind of powder to blur the lines where skin met rubber.

Scott had never really thought about it, but he pondered the question. What about women and their makeup?

What about the female penchant for new hair styles? What about people who changed their clothes, every day, what about people who got a hair cut, or wore sunglasses?

But apparently the programming was sophisticated enough to recognize these changes, for according to the published theories—Scott called them ‘justifications,’ the facial recognition algorithms were only a part of the picture.

Biometrics included height, weight, eye colour, body type, silhouettes, and a person’s characteristic walk. Sociometrics included daily habits, the PPP, known associates, family circle, place of residence, work, license plates, make, model and colour of vehicle…social and employment status. They knew who you were when you walked past a scanner and the machine read the chip.

It was all about digital characterization from records and daily documentations in the course of one’s daily peregrinations.

Nowadays crime could be predicted, even intentions could be predicted—hopefully Betty and he stood some kind of a chance. Even this present situation could be predicted to some extent, although he had the feeling he was a few steps behind Betty every inch of the way.

Much food for thought there. If only he knew where to begin.

“So, what about the I.D.?”

“Everything’s going to be fine, Scott.”

Betty was reassuring, although she was in her own chair and her own technician applied himself to the job at hand. His voice was soft and yet deep when he spoke, but that one kept the talk to a minimum.

His girl wasn’t much more talkative.

“What do you think of the Mets this year?’

“Not much.” Scott rarely listened to baseball.

“You’re not a fan?”

“Not for many years.”

Not since he’d lost his vision and therefore most of the pleasure in watching a game. While aware that people had listened to baseball, football and other sports on the radio, going back a century or more, those people were of course not aware that they had missed anything.

In a subconscious habit, Scott turned his head towards Betty.

“So. Who are you going as?”

There was a chuckle.

“Your mother.”

Lora Shalkar. (Wiki.)
He laughed, a sour laugh but a laugh none the less.

He hadn’t seen his family in ages. It’s not that they had abandoned him. Far from it. It was just that he had felt like a burden, it was just that in the early stages of losing his vision that they were in denial.

There was some kind of blame-game going on there, an unspoken one, one where they kept asking stupid questions.

Isn’t there something somebody somewhere can do?

And the trouble was that there wasn’t…not that they were in any position to go looking for treatment. They couldn’t deal with it any better than he had.

The lady was speaking.

“Okay, I want you to lean back and open your eyes very wide…”

Scott complied, blinking uncontrollably as she dropped liquid into his eyes.

He gasped.

“What’s that?”

“Okay. We’re just going to put some drops in there…”

“Ah…ah.” In for a penny, in for a pound. “What…?”

“This is the hard part, but I’ll be very gentle. I’m going to put the contacts in now.”

Betty explained.

“We’re giving you some new retinas—to go with your new I.D.”

Yet another person, probably the male voice in the room, grabbed him firmly by the head and held him still as the lady worked.

New retinas…of course. A blind man didn’t have to see through them. She’d been doing some thinking. He wondered how long that had been going on. Did she really love him or did she just need a blind man?

Was Scott just an accessory—unfortunate word, but she was obviously holding a few things back from Scott.

“Argh.” The first one, the left one, was in.

You have to be careful not to arouse their suspicion.
It felt like someone had shoved a damned dinner plate into his eye socket.


“Yes, dear?”

“You and I are going to have to have a little talk.”

The makeup artists laughed, and then Scott’s head was clamped in place by strong hands, tucked into the guy’s armpit by the smell of it. His one ear felt moist.


“It’s okay, we’re done now.”

They were done all right, there was no way he was going to go through that again anytime soon.

He couldn’t believe people did that to themselves out of choice.

The lady gave him some instructions on the care and keeping of lenses, but Scott was hardly listening, completely focused on the nagging sensation in his eyes. It seemed kind of ironic, putting lenses on a blind man…he couldn’t think of a line.

Maybe it was better left unsaid.

His heart sank. He’d had a  few ups and downs over the last few days.

This was what he had been aching for—adventure, he told himself grimly.

His life really had changed. It couldn’t be a whole lot worse than how his life had been so far.

It might even be worthwhile.

Scott was all too aware of what had been taken away from him. If truth be told he now hated sports, and even more he hated people who gushed and raved about their local sports teams as if this was any real substitute for having an actual life.

The door latch clicked, the noise from outside got louder and someone stuck their head in.

“How long?”

“Two minutes.”

“The sooner you guys are on your way, the better off everyone will be.”

“We understand.” Betty spoke for them.

The door closed.

So Betty had a plan, then—and not necessarily the one they had discussed back home, before setting out. Scott hadn’t been asking enough questions, the price of desperation.

More than anything, he was curious as to how all of this had been set up. He was curious as to how Betty was communicating with other robots, and especially how all of this was undetectable to the authorities.

How much was all of this costing? How did she know where to go? How long had she been planning this?

What did she need him for?

That was one loaded question.

The simple answer might be correct. Sooner or later the cops would have gone back to his place. There was no avoiding that, but.


And where was Betty getting the money? In other words, who; or how was all this being paid for?

Expert criminal advice never came cheap.

He knew that much from T.V.


The silence was funereal as Dr. Piqua snapped shut the heavy oaken slab. One or two even twitched as he flipped the thumb-piece on the deadbolt.

A minimum of staff had been invited, nice word, to the emergency meeting.

Doctor Piqua moved to the head of the room, where his chair sat vacant. Features obscured with the strong light of the floor-to-ceiling windows behind him, he regarded the group, examining each face, one by one. He stood with hands on the back of the chair.

Clearing his throat, he began to speak.

“I think it is time to invoke Plan Nine.”

They all knew what that was. Plan Nine was a backdoor into every unit built.

His plan was limited to passive surveillance.

“Basically, nothing changes. Our units go on as before. We just take a stream of data from each one, and run it through the machine.” When he said machine, he meant more than one.

This was going to take up a lot of machine-time.

All faces were turned to him.

“Are we sure?” Company president Renaldo Gage took a deep breath. “Once we are blown, we will stay blown.”

Gage was a sleek, corpulent man with the thickest thatch of mouse-grey hair that had ever been seen on a man in his low sixties. It was an uncomfortable compromise between vanity and reality. At least in the eye of the beholder.

“Yes, that’s very true. But we cannot rely on the police to find Betty Blue, not any time soon, and we must have her back. It would be preferable if we were the first to examine her.”

Plan Nine was only for the direst of emergencies. With foresight, and a knowledge of the heavy liabilities involved, it was a worst-case scenario.

Steve Hobbs, senior software writer, cleared his throat.

“Yes?” Piqua gave him his opening.

“We are already aware that some units have been hacked. If we can isolate those units, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees.”

All in the room were aware of the problem. Once a unit was hacked, its security was forever suspect.

“It’s a risk we are going to have to take.”

Hobbs nodded.

“I would prefer almost anything but that…”

Hobbs turned to program security chief Letitia Bennett. She was opening up her file, as if seeking reassurance, although she could talk on this subject without notes. Her small eyes surrounded by wrinkled flesh looked bitter at the best of times. She was as tough as they came.

“With all eyes looking for Betty Blue and this Scott Nettles character, we have a better than even chance of finding her before they do.”

‘They,’ of course, referred to the authorities.

“If one of our friendly neighbourhood hackers detects our presence, there may very well be hell to pay.” Hobbs, a slender bald man in his early thirties, nodded. “Or a hell of a lot of money.”

He blinked at them through wishy-washy, pale blue eyes that always seemed a bit too moist.

Piqua had other ideas.

“I was thinking we might use Plan Nine a little more creatively than originally anticipated.” He nodded at Hobbs. “Once we activate the plan, we not only have more eyes looking for our runaways, but we might be able to locate some of the missing units…and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

This was a loaded question as they all knew.

Bennett shook her head.

“What?” Piqua knew what she was going to say, but it must be said and she might as well be the one.

“Assuming we do that…we’re going to have to account for the information. How did we get on to them? What was the source? And, furthermore, the courts are a matter of public record. Once the genie is out of the bottle, we can never put it back in.”

Piqua nodded. The others nodded. Bennett looked around the table and nodded.

“There are ways and then there are ways.”

Several looked down at the table but the doctor heard no objections.

“So we are agreed on that much.” Doctor Piqua looked at his chair but didn’t sit down.

He wasn’t anticipating a long session, or even a particularly stormy one. They all knew the stakes and the risks.

Norbert Krumholtz, the company’s resident legal specialist, shook his head. His jowls were blue with a five o’clock shadow and his brown suit shone.

“I’m not too worried about the courts. We recover our property, lay a charge and the only thing that is made public is the fact that a charge has been laid. We can word it in such a way as to give virtually no information, to the press, the public, law enforcement, or our competitors.”

Legal precedents for this sort of thing went way back according to him.

“So, you are saying…?” Hobbs raised an eyebrow.

“We use our own security teams to recover our hacked machines…units, and make citizen’s arrests. Once we have these turkeys behind bars, the vast majority of them will lawyer up and make no statements they don’t have to…”

“What if they can’t afford one?” Bennett’s question was a good one.

Krumholtz grinned, giving Piqua a look, and receiving a nod in return.

“Don’t worry about that—one of our pet foundations will provide them one.”

Piqua stepped in.

“Assuming they don’t waive the right to an attorney, that will have to suffice.”

So far, the real issue had not been raised, and he was content enough with that.

With bonuses running into the hundreds of millions each year per person, there was no real incentive to ask too many questions.

His guts always tightened up when he contemplated the unthinkable. The unspeakable, and he prayed no one else brought it up. 

To show that sort of concern to the troops was a bad idea.

Confidence was everything, or so he had always believed.


Horse-Catcher was my third or fourth science fiction novel. It's available on iTunes.

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