REALITY SANDWICH: CHAPTER ONE

Karen let the long hair feed through her fingers and cascade down Annabel’s naked back, like a golden waterfall clinging to a cliff face as it plummets over the edge, Annabel was an exquisite female specimen, impeccably formed with all her curves in the right place, her flawless breasts neither too big nor too small. Her slightly rounded belly glistened with perspiration after her recent exertion, and her pelvis was almost visibly throbbing with excitement, gradually retreating from the multiple orgasms that had just a few minutes earlier engulfed her entire body.

Karen felt a hand on her shoulder.

“No wonder these things are so bloody expensive. They look so lifelike, don’t they? Too lifelike, if you ask me. And this one is a real peach. Even I could almost be tempted, and I’m a happily married man.”

That happily married man was Detective Sergeant Toby Baxter, who had been with the Sex-droid Unit of the New Metropolitan Vice Squad for just under three years now. The woman who had been marvelling at the attention to detail of the android’s construction was his boss, Detective Inspector Karen Chambers, who had headed the unit since its inception five years earlier. Annabel was one of the latest state-of-the-art sex-droids – or sexbots as anyone but the police and the manufacturers called them. She was an upgrade on the G-2102 model of the previous year, a G-2103, and had the integrated perspiration and enhanced orgasm modifications (optional extras on the previous model) built in as standard. Karen let Annabel’s hair fall from her hand and tumble back down the gynoid’s back where it settled just below the bottom of her carbonite alloy spine.

“How much does one of these cost, Toby? Any idea?”

The Detective Sergeant rifled back the answer.

“One hundred and eighty thousand dollars, cost price. A quarter of a million dollars retail.”

He grinned at his boss.

“Did I pass, ma’am?”

“I wasn’t testing you.”

She was testing him though. The members of her unit were expected to know everything about the latest range of sexdroids, from the simple basic model domestic versions (that could be bought for as little as seventy-five thousand dollars) to the elite, almost human models, such as Annabel. 

DS Rachel Foster passed her DI the tablet that listed the results of the inventory scan. Karen gave it a once over and beckoned over Rufus Clearwater, the owner of Club Galatea, the most exclusive sexbot club in the city.

“According to the scan you have five gynoid G-2101 models, seventeen G-2102s, and two G-2103s, including Annabel. You also have eight mandroid A-2101s and six A-2102s. None of this year’s mandroid models then?”

Rufus shook his head.

“Not at those prices Detective Inspector. The gay and female punters will have to put up with the older models for a while. I’ve already bought two of last year’s gynoids – the 2103 model. I can’t afford new mandroids too. I’m not made of money.”

Karen looked at the expensive stylised décor of Club Galatea and found that hard to believe. His bordello was awash with opulence and high-range chic furnishings. She looked down at the tablet again.

“And if we take a physical look around, we’re not going to find any K models are we?”

 “No way, Detective Inspector. This is a reputable establishment, this is. You won’t find any child sexbots here. They’re illegal. I thought you’d have known that, being a copper.”

“Yes. Well. Always better to ask. And check.”

Karen handed the tablet back to Rachel.

“We’ll take a look anyway.”

“Do your worst. I’m telling you, you won’t find anything you shouldn’t. I run a clean establishment.”

Business was doing well and there was no way that Rufus Clearwater was going to risk his business by being caught in possession of an unlicensed kindbot. The manufacture and distribution of these child sexbots was strictly controlled by the government and their use by the general public was prohibited, with very severe custodial sentences for those who broke the law. There had been a lot of opposition to their use, even as part of licensed psychotherapy treatment for paedophiles and potential paedophiles, and it was only after exhaustive research and assurances that the government had finally allowed their use for therapeutic purposes. There was a constant fear that if kindbots were to be used in any situation other than registered therapy sessions it could result in child sexual abuse cases climbing once again to the high levels that existed before the Kindbot Regulation Act and the creation of the Sexdroid Unit.

Suddenly a voice inside her head, inaudible to others nearby, spoke to her.

“DI Chambers, I have an urgent call for you from a DI Rajan. Do you accept the call?”

 

Karen didn’t need to think about it.

“Accepted.”

The Telepathic Implant Software (TIS) connected the call immediately. The voice of the interface management system gave way to a more softly spoken human voice.

 

“Detective Inspector Chambers. This is Detective Inspector Vismay Rajan of New Met City Special Victims Unit. Sorry to interrupt you, but we have a case that I think needs your attention.”

 

“In what way, DI Rajan? I’m robots, you’re humans.”

 

“One of our officers found a young woman, in a very distressed state, saying that she had been raped. She’s also got a bandage on her right forearm but she won’t let us take a look at the wound. She has – how can I put this – she has a rather unusual attitude about her.”

 

“I still don’t understand what that’s got to do with us, DI Rajan. That’s exactly what your unit’s for isn’t it, dealing with such cases?”

 

“Yes, it is. But there’s a problem.”

 

“What kind of problem, Vismay?”

 

For a moment, Karen dropped her guard and forgot to address the DI in a more professional manner. She wasn’t used to being called directly by the Special Victims Unit. She was robots, not people. Vismay ignored Karen’s lack of formality.

 

“The kind of problem that – if I’m right – makes it your problem, DI Chambers.”

 

“How so?”

 

“Well, I know it sounds crazy, but I’m not convinced that she’s human.”

 

“You think your alleged rape victim may be a gynoid?”

 

She remembered that not everyone was au-fait with the technical term for a female android.

 

“You think she’s an android?”

 

“I think she may be, yes. There’s something about her that just doesn’t sit right."

 

Karen didn’t see how that could be possible. State-of-the-art androids were realistic, but not to the point that one could so easily pass for a human being.

 

“What makes you think she’s not human?”

“Just a gut feeling really. She looks human enough, and we’ve been treating her as a human. But there’s something strange about her. Something I can’t put my finger on. She’s a bit stand-offish with us, a bit unnatural. We’ve seen hundreds of human victims but there’s something different about her. And you know better than most how realistic these sexbots are becoming. Can you come over and have a chat with her?”

Karen was certain that DI Rajan must be imagining things, but agreed to go to the SVU offices. It couldn’t be a sexbot; a sexbot has one purpose – to provide sexual gratification for its clients. It was their only reason for existing. One could no more expect a toaster to make a cup of tea or to refuse to make some toast. But, at least it would get her away from this tedious sexbot audit. Auditing Club Galatea was a particularly tiresome task, as Rufus appeared to run a squeaky-clean operation and they never found anything wrong, no matter how hard they looked. Auditing him was almost a formality, but it didn’t mean that they cut any corners – if he was doing something illegal they couldn’t risk missing it. His records and inventory were run over with a fine-tooth comb just like any other sexdroid prostitution service. She waited for Rufus to go back to his office and then turned to Rachel, speaking with hushed tones so nobody else could hear.

“Rachel, give the tablet to Adam and tell him to re-scan the place. Not because I don’t trust your work – you know I do – but I don’t trust Rufus. He’s a slippery character and I’m sure he’s up to no good. One day he’ll make a mistake and we’ll catch him out. Oh, and tell Toby he’s in charge. You and I are going on a short road trip.”

 

    Being able to travel around the city by flying above it was a definite perk of being a member of the emergency services. Their vehicles were hybrids, known unofficially as hoppers, as they were able to not only self-drive on the roads with the rest of the population during normal conditions but also to use the much less congested airspace above the city to move around when responding to emergency calls. The anti-collision technology for the hybrids was very similar to that used by regular ground-based cars, except that it had the ability to deal with the additional vertical axis. The ability of emergency paramedics to arrive at an incident, deal with casualties and ferry any wounded to the hospital with no fear of being held up by regular traffic had been a godsend; thousands of lives had been saved thanks to the introduction of Verticar’s FlyDrive technology.

Strictly speaking though, this wasn’t an emergency call and they should have been using the roads below, but Karen was impatient to meet this alleged rape victim. She doubted very much that her services would be necessary – the victim was surely going to be human – but it was a good excuse for her to see Vismay during the day. She almost wished that the victim would turn out to be a sexdroid – it would make her day a lot more interesting – but she knew that wasn’t going to happen. A sexdroid couldn’t be raped. They were inanimate objects, programmed to do various tasks, and that was all they did. They didn’t have minds of their own.  Sexbots, unlike the more primitive appearance of cleaner-bots and security-bots, were ultra-realistic and could easily pass for a human to the untrained eye. Manufacturers’ profits depended upon their human clientele forgetting that they were actually having sex with a construction of synthetic materials and circuitry, designed solely to satisfy their users’ sexual desires without question. Such androids simply couldn’t refuse to have sex, no matter what form it took. If this woman was a sexbot, then somebody, somewhere, was playing a prank.

 

The automatic parking system of the police hopper docked the vehicle safely at the tenth-floor docking-station, where DI Rajan was already waiting at the entrance doors to greet the two police officers. Once the visitors’ identities had been confirmed by the retina-scan software connected to PopID, the Population Identification Database, the doors swished open and the three of them headed straight to the Victim Receiving Suite on the sixty-fifth floor. The elevator was extremely fast, whilst still being smooth, and as its doors opened and disgorged its passengers, a disembodied voice thanked them for using the elevator. The corridors were tastefully decorated in relaxing pastel colours, with equally relaxing images projected onto the side walls; everything had been designed to create a comfortable atmosphere for the alleged victims. Rajan turned to Karen.

“Have you been to this floor before, DI Chambers?”

Karen grinned.

 “It’s ok, Viz. Rachel knows we’re an item. We can drop the formality.”

 “Good. It feels strange calling you by your rank. Over the TIS, fair enough. But face to face, it’s weird.”

Karen smiled at him; she felt the same way. The group passed a room whose door was ajar and saw a brightly coloured space strewn with beanbags and with several soft toys bunched together on a sofa. In one corner of the room were a video-game console and a de-activated hologram generator with which children could create their own holograms by choosing features from a large selection of heads, bodies, and costumes. A similar generator in the adult interview suite was used by specially-trained SVU officers to help identify suspects. Vismay shook his head.

“That’s the Child Victim Receiving Suite, the CVRS. The introduction of kindbot therapy has definitely reduced the number of sexual offences against children, but even one case is one case too many. I’ll only be happy when that room is never needed to be used again.”

Karen didn’t think that she’d be able to cope if she had to deal with real victims – especially children. That’s the main reason that she took the Sexdroid Unit job when it was offered to her. She could deal with helping to prevent such offences, but having to face the innocent victims of sex crimes, that needed a special kind of person – a mysterious mixture of compassion, empathy, and objectivity.

They arrived at a door just before the end of the corridor and Vismay input a code onto a small touchscreen panel to the side of the door. The door to the main VRS swung open and Vismay gestured that the two women should go inside.

“Oh. And a heads up. She refused a rape kit exam. We can’t force her to undergo one; that would be like extending the alleged abuse. I don’t know if that’ll make any difference to your evaluation.”

Vismay went off to get himself a cup of coffee, leaving the two policewomen to deal with the victim.

In the middle of the room, sitting demurely on a sofa was a young woman with long, light brown hair which reached halfway between her shoulder blades and the small of her back. There was a slight wave to her hair but not enough to suggest that it had been put there artificially by an android technician; it looked perfectly natural. She had deep petrol blue eyes that sparkled as the sunlight from the uncovered window struck them, and her eyebrows were meticulously plucked. Her nose was exquisite, neither too wide nor too narrow, as were her lips which shone slightly as the sun’s rays settled on her lip gloss. There didn’t appear to be a single blemish on her face, but this couldn’t confirm her biological or mechanical status either; it wasn’t common, but a few humans did exist who had perfect faces. Indeed, many sexdroids were designed with small skin flaws in order to increase their authenticity.

Karen sat on the sofa next to the girl, who looked to be in her early to mid-twenties, and Rachel took a seat in an armchair opposite, trying to discreetly make a visual appraisal, Karen offered her hand to the victim.

“Hello, I’m Karen and my friend’s name is Rachel. What’s your name?”

The girl said nothing at first, ignoring Karen’s outstretched hand, but glared at the Detective Inspector.

“I said no.”

Karen looked at Rachel but spoke to the girl.

“Would you like a drink? Some water, lemonade, a cup of tea or coffee or something.”

“I said no.”

Karen returned her gaze to the girl

“Is that a ‘no’ to a drink or something else?”

“I said no.”

The girl was obviously in shock. Something had happened to her, something that had upset her. Rachel surreptitiously captured an image of the girl using her miniature bodycam and checked several online databases to see if there was a facial match. When Karen next looked at her, Rachel shook her head. The Detective Inspector thought she’d try to find out the girl’s name again.

“I’m Karen. I’m here to help you. Can you tell me your name, please?”

The girl looked straight ahead at the opposite wall and then turned her face to look at Karen.

“I said no.”

“Yes. We understand you said no. But what’s your name?”

Karen was wondering how she was going to get through to the monosyllabic young woman when the girl suddenly spoke.

 “I’m Coppélia and I said no.”

A wave of relief flowed through the DI. At last, she was making progress.

“Hello, Coppélia. May I ask you a few questions?”

“A few questions. Yes. A few questions.”

This was real progress. Coppélia spoke again.

“How many?”

“Sorry?”

“You said a few questions. How many questions?”

This caught Karen off-guard. How many questions constituted a few? She had no idea. The word ‘few’ was a vagary; nobody knew how many ‘a few’ was.

“I don’t know. Twenty maybe?”

Karen had plucked the number out of thin air.

“Ok. Twenty questions.”

A slight pause and then Coppélia continued.

“Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“The game. You want to play Twenty Questions. I’ve played it before. Is the object animal, vegetable, or mineral, Karen?”

The DI noticed that Coppélia had used her name. That had to be a positive thing.

“It’s not that kind of game, Coppélia.”

The girl shrugged her shoulders.

“Oh. Very well. Question one please.”

Karen knew she’d have to take care with the questions. The girl’s conversation pattern suggested that she might have learning difficulties or perhaps some other psychological problem. Maybe she suffered from OCD. Whatever the problem was, the number of questions was obviously important to her.

“Coppélia, you told my colleague who brought you here that you were raped.”

“No, I didn’t. Nineteen questions left.”

“But he said that –.”

“I told his colleague. I told the nice lady with glasses that I’d been raped. I said no. He continued and forced me to have sex with him. So I was raped. I said no. Was that a question? I think it was meant as a question. Eighteen questions left.”

Karen felt in a bit of a quandary. According to the law, sexbots – if that’s who or what she was (which she doubted very much) – couldn’t be raped. She’d have to tread carefully.

“You said the man raped you. Do you know who he was?”

“I know his face. The men who visit don’t normally use their real names. Seventeen questions left.”

“The men who visit where?”

“The house. Sixteen.”

“What house?”

“The house where I lived. Fifteen.”

“Do you still live there?”

“I left when the man raped me, so I don’t still live there. Fourteen questions left.”

“Where do you live now?”

“I live here, I suppose. Thirteen questions left.”

“You can’t live here, Coppélia.”

“Is that a question?”

No. It’s an observation.”

“Oh, alright. Allowed. Still thirteen questions left.”

“Did other girls live in the house?”

“Yes. Twelve questions.”

“Were they forced to have sex with people?”

“Yes, but they didn’t mind. I did mind. I said no this time. Eleven questions left.”

“Was that the other girls’ job too? To have sex with people?”

“That’s two questions. You should have phrased them better. Yes. And Yes. Nine questions left.”

Karen had used up over half of her twenty questions; she would have to choose her questions more wisely now.

“Was your job to have sex with men?”

“Eight questions left. Yes, the other girls’ jobs were also to have sex with people. Yes, my job was to have sex with men or women who wanted to have sex with me. But this time I said no. May I ask a question?”

“Of course.

“If I say no, and a man still forces me to have sex with him, then that is rape, correct?”

Karen needed a second to think before she could answer Coppélia’s question. Of course, if the girl was human, it would be rape. There would be no question about it. But if she were a sexbot, then it wouldn’t be rape. That’s what sexbots were created for, that was their reason d’être, to be an outlet for people’s sexual desires. They weren’t alive. They couldn’t say no. But, if Coppélia was a sexdroid, she was an incredibly sophisticated one. Visually she looked human, as human as Karen and Rachel. She decided to err on the side of Coppélia being human. It could be potentially damaging to Coppélia’s psyche if Karen treated her as an android, and refused to acknowledge that the girl had been raped. If the girl was indeed an android, then surely less harm would be done by allowing her to think she had been raped.

“That is correct, Coppélia. That would be rape.”

“Thank you. Next question, please. Eight questions left.”

The insistence of the girl to countdown the number of questions was a little irritating. It could be as a result of programming, or it could be a result of shock. Perhaps the girl had Asperger’s Syndrome. It could help explain her speech patterns and the fact that she seemed to find it difficult to look Karen in the eye. Even when she looked straight ahead, and her field of vision was obstructed by Rachel, she seemed to be looking through the Detective Sergeant, rather than at her. Karen had hoped to sort things out through her questions but was unable to make a final decision. She pointed towards Coppélia’s ear.

“May I look behind your ear, please?”

“A strange request, but you may. Seven questions left.”

Normally, androids had a barcode serial number just behind the left ear, which could only be read by an ultra-violet barcode reader. Karen suddenly realised something.

“Rachel, I’ve left my UV reader in the hopper. Can I borrow yours?”

Each member of the Sexdroid Unit was equipped with one of these readers, and Rachel tossed hers to her boss, who caught it one-handed with ease. Karen stood up and pushed Coppélia’s ear forward slightly to allow the light from the UV reader to settle on the invisible barcode – if one existed. There was nothing. If the girl was a sexbot, there should have been something there that showed up when the UV light was shone on it. Karen shone the light again. There was definitely nothing at all to confirm that Coppélia wasn’t human.

Vismay quietly re-entered the room.

“Any luck?”

Karen looked at Rachel and back at Vismay. She beckoned him to join her in a corner of the room. She whispered so as not to offend Coppélia.

“I’m pretty sure Coppélia is human, but she may be an Asperger’s sufferer. She has no serial number behind her ear – all androids have identifying barcodes that are hidden unless a UV light is shone on them. She has none.”

“So she’s all mine?”

“She’s all yours.”

Rachel stood up to leave with Vismay and Karen when a thought occurred to her.

“Ma’am, may I ask Coppélia a question?”

“Of course.”

Rachel didn’t really know why her boss hadn’t thought of asking this question. It seemed so obvious really.

“Coppélia, are you a sexdroid?”

“Not a sexdroid per se, Rachel. But I am a gynoid. I’m an android in the form of a human female.”

© 2019 GREG KROJAC