Lois Spangler’s “A Matter of Principle” is a future-set AI-inspired noir which asks: What if the murder centered around the affection and respect shown by a human to an android? What if that human treated this android like family? And what if other members of the family were not at all happy with that?
For answers, here’s an early look:
A Matter of Principle
By Lois Spangler
Dani emerged from the squad car, red and blue light reflecting faintly off the ambulatory AI’s pale blue synth-skin. It was just after 4 a.m., Sunday night to Monday morning, and a quiet time for this historic district and its flagship bar, Olivares.
“Morning, detective,” an older woman said to Dani. The woman’s sleeve bore the chevrons of extended police department service. Her nameplate read Garza. Beside her was P. O. Thurston, young and fresh out of the academy.
The look of awe in Thurston’s eyes was unmistakeable.
“Good morning,” Dani replied.
Garza jerked a thumb at the younger officer. “This is Roy Thurston. It’s his first week.”
“Hi,” Thurston said, extending a hand for Dani to shake, then thinking better of it. “I’ve, uh, never worked in the field with an ambulant AI.”
Dani’s head nodded with the softest hum of servos, a smooth, precise movement, a gesture meant to look just inhuman enough to pull Dani out of the uncanny valley, but friendly enough to feel genuine. Dani’s features were designed to do the same—humanlike, but distant enough to not feel like mimicry.
“Right,” Garza said. “So, we have one body, Jaime Camacho, son of Nestor Camacho. Deceased is in the cellar. Looks like he got crushed by a bunch of shelving, but you know the drill, too early to say. Nestor is the owner of this establishment.”
“Where does Olivia fit into all of this?” Dani asked. “Dispatch mentioned there was an ambulant by the name of Olivia who’s a witness?”
“She reported the incident.”
Dani blinked, a gesture of courtesy to indicate that she was accessing networks and files. “. . . An old and successively refurbished model. . . . I was unaware that there were any hospitality ambulants in the Historic District.”
“Technically she’s not hospitality,” Garza said. “Started as security, then industrial service. Stayed with the Camachos for a couple of generations at Olivares until she ended up as front of house. Retains her security designation, but her registration says most of that software’s deleted or overwritten.”
“Dispatch mentioned an electromagnetic pulse,” Dani said.
“Olivia is still functional?”
“Totally,” Thurston said, aware of how overexcited he sounded and still unable to stop it.
Garza flicked her fingers over her datapad screen. “The rest of the electronic media is borked, but Olivia’s okay, and she’s got some recorded material. The pulse was nasty. Jagged entry signal, overpowered. Total garage job. Scene crew’s taking bets on what kind of homemade popper they find.”
Dani waited a moment, in case there was more. “Did Olivia try to move the shelves off Jaime?” Thurston’s jaw juddered with an answer he didn’t have.
“She didn’t say anything about that, but she did seem a bit out of it,” Garza said. “I figured the EMP did some damage.”
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