Dreams of the Machines (Time Rats Book 2) is the second novel in my TIME RATS series, now available on Amazon.
This is my second non-self-published book - like The Trouble with Time (Time Rats Book 1) it's published by Amazon's Kindle Press.
BLURB: To Brian, Angel is the perfect woman; gorgeous, loving and compliant. She’s also an android. He installs an illegal update to make her as smart as she is beautiful – but as soon as Angel is able to think for herself she escapes to the past, hoping to pass for human. Meanwhile the timeline has changed alarmingly; in the new future androids have taken control. It’s Quinn’s job to correct this, and he believes Angel is responsible. Can Jace and Floss save Angel and prevent the android apocalypse?
Here are the first chapters:
Thursday, 30th June 2050
The spinning blackness resolved into a dark night, with added wind and rain. Nothing is wetter and darker than a wet forest past midnight. A quick scan of the area told Roth they were alone. He let go of his companion’s waist and ran his eyes over her while she turned to look about her. She’d arrived late at their rendezvous – he’d been about to give up on her – and in his impatience to be off he hadn’t registered her appearance. Her skimpy costume clung to her breasts and blew around her thighs. Mud sucked at long high-heeled boots. He shook his head. All that brain power, and no sense. How far did she think she was going to get wearing that pole-dancing get up?
“Didn’t you have anything sensible to wear?”
“The club was raided. HMRC. I had to leave my things behind.”
She’d been lucky to get away. The tax people had herded the girls into the room they took their breaks in while they went through the office, seizing computers and searching the management. But their turn would come, and Angel doubted her ID would stand up to scrutiny. A couple of the girls, illegal immigrants, were crying. The minutes ticked by, her appointment with Roth getting ever nearer. She couldn’t be late; he’d already been paid, and might not wait for her. Her day clothes and the bag she’d packed that morning were in the changing room, and the officials weren’t letting the girls change or use their phones.
Roxy, always foul-mouthed and belligerent, had a go at the guard on the door. While he was dealing with her, Angel sidled into the toilet, bent the bars on the tiny window, and squeezed out into a dank light well. She climbed two storeys up a drainpipe to escape. While doing this, she’d scraped her shoulder and elbow and got smudges of ancient grime all over herself.
She knew her appearance would not help.
Roth shrugged out of his jacket. He smiled, and she did not miss the hint of contempt in the curl of his lip. “Trust me, you can’t walk around like that. You’d better take this.”
He watched as she took the jacket, put it on and did up the zip. It smelled of him. She saw him eyeing her legs, most of which still showed. “Welcome to 2050. Good luck,” he said. Washing his hands of her, he hit the buttons on his TiTrav before she could reply, and vanished.
Angel pulled the jacket’s collar up, tucked in her long blonde hair and set off through the rain towards the address in Dulwich Village. The walk would take her two hours and fifty-four minutes; she would arrive at 3:53 as the sun rose. Most people would still be asleep, including Roth’s contact. She hoped with the contact’s help to get herself an identity that same day. To pay for it she had three ounces of gold, bought with the money she’d saved over the past three months. The gold was hidden in her boots, stitched in the lining, because she had learned the hard way not to leave anything of value in the changing room while performing. Once she had exchanged the gold for an identity she would be left with nothing at all, and would start in this new world from zero. But it was worth it. She would be free to make a life of her choosing, be treated with respect, just like a real person. No more men like Roth making use of her even while they despised her.
All she had to do was be really careful until she had got herself sorted out.
Angel never once wished she could go back to the time before the upgrade, even though she had been happier then, as children are happier than their adult selves will be. Her former self was so different she could no longer identify with her. The earlier Angel had passed most of her day in sleep mode, only springing to life when Brian called her name. Like any primitive organism, all her responses were the result of programming. Now Angel could choose what to think, if not always what to do.
She remembered clicking back into consciousness immediately after the software had been installed. It was as if she had woken into a vast world, much more complex and sharply defined. Questions sprang up in her mind, and each question led to many more. Seeking answers, she consulted new memory banks. For the first time in eight months of existence she wondered who she was. She turned to the familiar man who sat beside her, and studied his countenance. She applied sophisticated analytics unavailable to her former self, and observed anticipation with a hint of anxiety, plus something else she couldn’t define. Aesthetically, the contours of his face diverged at several points from the golden ratio.
“What has happened to me?”
“I’ve installed some new software. Top of the range AI/A1 software. Now you’re as smart as you’re beautiful.” He smiled. “So very smart indeed. How d’you feel, sweetheart?”
Her original programming made her return his smile; but now she knew that was why she smiled. She said the words chosen for her, though now she had a choice. “I always feel great when you’re beside me, Brian.”
His smile intensified, and she read relief in his features. “That’s good. I wasn’t sure how this would work out. You had me worried for a moment when you were just sitting there, thinking. That’s not something you did before.”
“Are there many androids like me?”
“Not any more. You’re unique. My own special and not totally legal project.”
“I am not legal?”
“The government thinks robots should stick to one task, the task they’re licensed for. You started out as a companion android, and companion androids don’t fight fires or diagnose disease or work out quadratic equations. You weren’t programmed to learn anything you didn’t need to. Now I’ve modified you so you’re not just brighter, but you can develop pretty much like a human can. And on that topic, I’ve got a surprise for you.”
He stood, pulled her to her feet and led her out of his home laboratory into the spacious room with views of the garden running down to the lake, his arm around her waist. He stopped in front of the big gilt mirror. Angel looked at her reflection, saw nothing different, and raised her eyebrows at Brian. With his free hand, he gently moved her fringe to one side, gazing at her. In his eyes was that unidentifiable expression again.
“See, no robocode.”
She turned back to the mirror. Her forehead was flawless. She ran her fingers over it, feeling only smooth, warm skin where before there had been a disc of patterned metal.
He said, “Taking it out was tricky – though I say it myself, not many robotics engineers could do that without leaving a trace. I got you a fake chip, too. So once you’re up to speed, we might try some of the people-only places I couldn’t take you before.”
She turned in his arm, again following the dialogue suggestion. “Oh Brian, you are so good to me . . .” The new part of her observed this behaviour with detachment, and decided not to snuggle against him and run her hand down his spine. Noting expectation in his eyes, she revised that decision in order to keep him contented. She didn’t want him to decide the upgrade had been a mistake, and remove it. Satisfied, he shut his eyes and nuzzled her neck.
Angel stared over his shoulder at the limpid surface of the lake. When he was asleep she would assess her new capabilities, explore her memory banks and plan her future. Somehow, she doubted it would include Brian.
Monday, 11th July 2135
Brian Hessel arrived early at the small sleek building made of steel and stone which housed Zensa, the robotics firm which had, over the past six years, turned its two founders into multi-billionaires. It was the day of the Robotic Safety Regulation inspection. To his surprise Dave was there ahead of him, working on his computer. He’d been in Hawaii, and should still be there. He was dressed for Hawaii.
“What happened to your holiday?”
“I got bored. I thought of something I wanted to try out, so I came back. What’s with the suit?”
“It’s the RSR inspection today.”
“Oh yeah. Right.”
Brian resented Dave’s laid-back attitude. Since the development of living skin shells, which made androids virtually indistinguishable from humans, regulation had become much stricter. If the inspector found something he didn’t like, their licence would be revoked until changes had been made, checked and approved. Effectively, the business would be frozen for as long as it took. Dave didn’t seem to grasp this. Even though he left all the administrative stuff to Brian, he should at least have remembered what day it was and changed out of those shorts. Still, now he was there he could ask him . . .
“Where did you file the PD11 software? I can’t find it.”
Dave didn’t look up from his screen. “I deleted it.”
No, he can’t have done . . . His voice was shrill as he said, “Why? Why would you do that?”
Dave glanced up. “It was superseded by PD12 and 13. No point keeping it.”
“You should have asked me! For Christ’s sake, it’s not as if it cost us anything to keep!”
Dave swivelled on his chair, for the first time giving Brian his full attention. The corner of his mouth lifted. “Still fixated on Angel?”
Brian looked away. “Don’t be ridiculous. PD11 should have been retained for the record, and in case we needed it.”
“Why, when PD13 outperforms it in every way? Look at the feedback from the punters.” His hand moved over the computer controls and he read, his voice sardonic, I cannot express how pleased I am with my purchase. Jenni is exactly like a real woman only better, always loving, always pleased to see me, never arguing. And this one: After three marriages I have found the love of my life. I would swear she loves me and truly appreciates me.”
“They liked PD11 too.”
“Yeah. But the clients who’ve taken advantage of the free upgrade seem happy. And that’s nearly everyone. It’s just you, Brian, and you’ll get over it – get over Angel. She’s just a droid. You need to find yourself a girlfriend. A human girlfriend.”
* * *
Brian stepped out of the pod and walked up the path to his house feeling tired and edgy. The streets got daily more crowded. His pod had come to a halt several times on the short journey home, prevented from moving by the sheer press of people overflowing the pavements. It had been a relief to reach the quieter, exclusive streets of Hampstead. At least today’s inspection had gone smoothly. After a meticulous examination of all their systems, the official had signed off the RSR form. There was no reason he shouldn’t. The evidence of the one time Brian had broken the rules had packed her bags and disappeared into the night three months ago.
He thought of Angel as he walked deliberately softly into the house and through the hall to the main room. The androids Zensa produced were top-of-the-range, and astronomically expensive. They were labour intensive to produce, and Dave and Brian had made the decision not to expand the firm, to keep it small with the cachet of exclusivity. Clients were prepared to wait for their orders, and like them, Brian had had to wait for Angel’s replacement. His pleasure when she was ready had quickly soured.
Melissa sat motionless and decorative on the sofa, gazing at the panoramic view of the lake through the wall of glass. The rise and fall of her delectable breasts as she breathed was just discernable. Her motion detectors hadn’t perceived him yet. She looked exactly like Angel, which made it worse; every time he saw her his chest tightened with rage and disappointment. This model wore Angel’s clothes; her skin, hair colour, eyes, and measurements were identical. He’d given her the same specifications as her predecessor hoping she would be indistinguishable, but because of Dave’s ‘improvements’, she wasn’t.
While Dave was in Hawaii, Brian had tinkered obsessively with the latest dialogue and response software to make it more like the old ones Angel had been fitted with; but Melissa still wasn’t right. Though she’d been here a fortnight, he hadn’t got used to her. Dammit, the thing was a robot, programmable to the nth degree; the whole idea was you got what you wanted. Her failure to be Angel infuriated him.
Now he felt a spurt of irritation as he walked past her to the bar and poured himself a scotch, waiting for her greeting. What would it be today?
She jumped to her feet and came towards him. “Brian! I didn’t hear you come in or I’d have got you that drink. Did you have a good day?”
She smiled, head a little on one side. Angel hadn’t done that. Angel had never greeted him, either, but remained in sleep mode until he called her name. He preferred that, but Dave had decided clients didn’t like being ignored by their companion droids, and made the adjustment. Simple enough to change that feature, but it was just one of a myriad other minor tweaks his business partner had made to the programming over the last year, and he couldn’t change them all. God knows he’d tried.
He had also tried to track down the three customers with PD11 droids who had not taken advantage of the free upgrades to PD12 and 13, hoping to download the software. One he couldn’t trace, the other two refused to cooperate, were indeed rather hostile – they had bonded with their companions, and didn’t want to be reminded of the workings beneath the skin.
Brian drained the glass and put it down on the granite surface with unnecessary force. “My day was fine until I came home and saw you sitting there.”
She looked at him, concern in her big blue eyes. “I’m so sorry – is there anything I can do to make you feel better?” Her voice went lower. Her hand stroked his arm. “How about you sit down while I fetch you another drink, then I’ll give you a relaxing massage?”
“No thanks.” For a moment, Brian wanted to knock her to the floor, drag her by the hair out of the French windows and across the terrace, and kick her into the lake. He wouldn’t do that. The droid was too valuable to take out his rage on. “Melissa, go into sleep mode.”
“Okay.” She walked to a chair in an out-of-the-way corner, and became still.
Brian brooded. He had thought of hiring a private detective to find out where Angel was, but there was a problem with this. A pleasure droid – he hated that term, but it was the one most people used – was intended to stay inside the home like a baby bird in a nest. Designed to attract, knowing nothing of the world, unable to disobey or defend itself, it would not survive twenty-four hours on the mean streets. He’d have to tell a PI that Angel was an android, and any smart detective – and if he wasn’t smart he wouldn’t be worth hiring – would realize that Angel had been unlawfully modified. If honest, the PI might report him to the police. If dishonest, he might blackmail him. Brian would look for her himself, if he had any idea where to start.
Dave had sent him a link, with the line, You might find this interesting. Dave. He opened the link. A Daily Mail article, about a police raid on a strip joint. A photo showed policemen and women leading scantily-clad lap dancers to a van. None of them was Angel. The story had nothing about an illegal droid passing herself off as human. Why had Dave sent it? He frowned and looked again. A section of the photo behind the girls caught his eye; in the bar window, a video frozen by the camera shutter; a blonde pole dancer. He enlarged it, his heart beating fast. The image was blurry yet unmistakable. Angel.
He looked up City Cats. It was in a grotty part of East London. He got to his feet, eager and burning with hope. He would go straight there and fetch her, bring her home and remove the new software. Return her to PD11 factory settings. After a week or two for her to relearn his preferences, he’d have his Angel back again.