It was just another Tuesday morning when she walked into the office—young, as I suspected they all might be, another dark brunette with some assistance and enough eye black to match up to Cleopatra. And who am I? I'm Ray, the world's last robot, famed and feared in equal measure, which suits me just fine—after all, the last place you'd expect to find Hollywood's best hit man is in the plain light of day.
Raymond Electromatic is good at his job, the lone employee of the Electromatic Detective Agency—except for Ada, office gal and super-computer, the constant voice in Ray's inner ear. Ray might have taken up a new line of work, but money is money, after all, and he was programmed to make a profit. Besides, with his twenty-four-hour memory-tape limits, he sure can keep a secret.
When a familiar-looking woman arrives at the agency wanting to hire Ray to find a missing movie star, he's inclined to tell her to take a hike. But she had the cold hard cash, a demand for total anonymity, and tendency to vanish on her own.
Plunged into a glittering world of fame, fortune, and secrecy, Ray uncovers a sinister plot that goes much deeper than the silver screen—and this robot is at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Made to Kill is the thrilling new speculative noir from novelist and comic writer Adam Christopher.
Ray Electromatic Mysteries
Made to Kill
Standard Hollywood Depravity
Killing is My Business
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Adam Christopher is a novelist and comic writer. In 2010, as an editor, Christopher won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand's highest science fiction honor. His debut novel, Empire State, was SciFiNow's Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2012. In 2013, he was nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent, with Empire State shortlisted for Best Novel. His other novels include The Age Atomic and The Burning Dark.
Read an Excerpt
Made to Kill
By Adam Christopher, Miriam Weinberg
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2015 Seven Wonders Limited
All rights reserved.
Tuesday. Just another beautiful morning in Hollywood, California. The sun came in through the window behind me. It was always sunny. It had been sunny for as long as I could remember.
Which currently was about two hours, ten minutes, and a handful of seconds not worth mentioning.
I sat at the table in the computer room. I was reading the Daily News. Around me Ada clicked and her lights flashed and her tapes spun. We were killing time while we waited for a job to come in. It was August 10, 1965. I knew that was the date because it was printed across the top of the newspaper in a very convenient manner.
There was a headline splashed all the way across the front page and the article that went with it was all about a film called Red Lucky. That got my attention. Movies, even in this town, rarely merited such prime newspaper real estate. I was obliged, I felt, to keep reading just to see what all the hoopla was.
"Listen to this," I said.
Ada made a sound like she was putting out a cigarette in an ashtray that was in need of emptying, and then the sound was gone. If it had ever been there in the first place.
"If it's about President Kennedy and his trip to Cuba, I'm not interested," she said. Her voice came from somewhere near the ceiling. I wasn't quite sure where exactly. I was sitting right inside of her.
I frowned, or at least it felt like I did. I scanned the front page again and saw what she was talking about: a piece — relegated to the bottom half — that was a lot of hot puff about Kennedy's weeklong visit to Havana and how well the negotiations were going to put some good old American-made nuclear missiles down there. Just in case. After reading it I wasn't quite sure whether I was supposed to hang a Stars and Stripes out of the office window or not.
Huh. Ada was right. When all was said and done, world affairs were a little beyond my interests, too.
"So," I said, "do you want to hear about this cinematic marvel of the modern age or not?"
"Sure, why not?"
I found my place and I started reading. It was pretty interesting, actually. This was no ordinary movie — Red Lucky not only had an A-list cast assembled from across different studios, which I figured was quite something given most studios seemed to be at each other's throats most of the time with their actors tied up in exclusive contracts as tight as Ada's purse strings, but was going to be the first national film premiere, the picture beamed into theaters all over the country thanks to some new development in cinematic magic. The red-carpet premiere was due to be held at Grauman's Chinese Theatre this coming Friday, but regular folk could grab a ticket and popcorn and take up space in theaters in twenty cities stretching from here to New York.
Seemed like a neat idea. I wondered if Ada could maybe give me the night off and I could go take a look. There were three other theaters in LA alone hosting the opening night beam-in. Couldn't hurt to ask so that's what I did.
"It's been quiet, Ada," I said, then I stopped as I wondered if it really had been quiet or whether that was just me not remembering being busy, but I'd started my query so I decided to finish it. "And if it's quiet I think I should be allowed to go to the movies. It's not like I need to be on call. We don't get much in the way of last-minute assassination requests."
At this Ada laughed and for a moment I saw an older woman with big hair leaning back in a leather chair with her stockinged feet up on a wooden desk and a cigarette burning toward the fingers of her right hand.
And then it was gone and I was back in the office, surrounded by a computer and miles of spinning magnetic tape.
The image was just an echo. Something ephemeral inherited from Thornton, most like.
"It has been quiet, that's true," said Ada. "Call it a lull. But I've got my ear to the ground, don't you worry your pretty little tin head."
My head was steel and titanium and I was about to point that out when Ada laughed again like a twenty-a-day smoker and said something about lightening up. Except I wasn't listening. Something else had my attention.
There was someone in the outer office.
"There's someone in the office," I said, and Ada stopped laughing. On my left a tape stopped and then spun back in the opposite direction. I knew what that meant. Ada was thinking.
I turned up my ears and had a listen. I heard a pair of feet stepping lightly on the rug out in the other room, and I heard the creak of leather, like someone was squeezing a big bag. And then there was a thunk, dull and heavy, like someone was putting something dull and heavy down on the floor.
"Hello?" asked the someone. Her voice was quiet and uncertain and breathy.
I looked up at the ceiling. I wasn't sure where Ada's eyes were, exactly, but that seemed like a good enough bet.
Ada's tapes spun. "Well, go see what she wants and then get rid of her."
"And by 'get rid of her,' I mean show her the door rather than the Pearly Gates, okay?"
I stood up and put the paper down on the table. "Hey, I only kill for money, remember?"
Ada laughed. "Oh, I sure do, honey."
I walked across the computer room and reached for the door to the office and opened it and stepped through and then closed the door after me.CHAPTER 2
The girl was maybe twenty and perhaps not even that, and when she saw me she took a few steps backward and her eyes crinkled at the corners, like she realized this was a bad idea and that she'd come to the wrong place and things were not about to go in her favor.
Which is the reaction I get, much of the time. Most folk know about robots. Some folk over a certain age even remember them, the way we directed traffic and collected bus tickets and took out the trash. But most folk, whether from personal experience or not, don't much like the idea of robots.
See, ten years ago, maybe more, the big rollout of robots — a joint effort between the federal government, local authorities, and private enterprise — was heralded as the dawn of a new scientific age. And this new scientific age was a really great idea for a while. People liked it.
And then they stopped liking it.
There were two reasons. One, that the jobs we — well, they — started taking, even the jobs that were menial or unpleasant or were attached to a certain kind of risk that was liable to send a man to his grave earlier than hoped for, those were jobs that people actually really did want to do. The machine men built to ease the burden of labor of those built out of flesh and blood were not welcomed but resented. Or maybe it wasn't the robots that were resented, but the men who designed and built them.
Whatever the case, the resentment turned into something altogether nastier. Dangerous, even. That new golden dawn got a little cloudy, and quick.
And two, it turned out robots that looked almost but not quite like people were actually a little creepy. People just didn't like them, and some people went so far as to say they'd rather have a conversation with their toaster oven than one of us. From my own experience it seemed to be about fifty-fifty: I was viewed with either a quiet and cautious curiosity, or with a healthy dose of fear and disgust. Then again, being the last robot in the world, maybe I had it a little easier than my electromatic ancestors.
But put the two unexpected attitudes together and what you got wasn't quite robophobia, but it was close enough. The United States Department of Robot Labor canceled the program. All robots in public and private employ were immediately recalled and junked.
The grand experiment was over.
And then along came me.
I was planned as a new class of machine, a grand experiment myself. More human, on the inside anyway, with a personality based on a real human template. I was created by a guy called Professor C. Thornton, Doctor of Philosophy. He used himself as the template because I figure maybe nobody else felt like volunteering. It worked, too, but it was too late. The day I was activated in Thornton's government lab was the day the DORL shut down. I was the last robot in the world, in more ways than one.
How Thornton managed to keep the Feds away from my off switch, I don't know. Maybe I was a lab experiment worth watching. Maybe Thornton had spent way too much money that wasn't his on me and the computer I was paired with. He called the computer Ada and she had a personality template of her own. I never found out whose and I didn't care to know. She and I were a team and we were part of this new electronic world Thornton was dreaming of, one that was different from the last attempt. He gave me a program and he gave Ada instructions and he gave the both of us an office in Hollywood.
The Electromatic Detective Agency was born.
Little did Thornton know what his final creations were capable of.
The girl standing in the office took another step backward. And she was just that, a girl, and the way she reacted I could see she knew what a robot was but she'd never actually seen one. But if that was her intention, she'd come to the right place, because I was the last one there was and I didn't even charge admission.
"Can I help you, ma'am?" I asked. It felt stiff. I was out of practice a little. Ada got the jobs. I was just the hired help.
The girl took yet another step back and the bag, which she had picked up again after dropping it the first time, dropped a second time with the same heavy sound. It was a sports bag, an arch of warm brown leather that curved up nearly to her knees, the kind of expensive but well-made bag that you'd take to a fancy athletics club where the sweat you got on was from the sauna and rather than play squash you'd sit in easy chairs as soft as warm butter and blow bubbles and talk about exotic sports that had accents over the letters.
The girl was dressed in a red dress that ended well above her knees and she had a matching red knit top. She was a dark brunette with assistance and her hair was cut into a bob, all big business at the top and back and with short bangs at the front straight enough to cut bread. There were gold bangles on both arms. Her shoes were gold-colored leather and her legs, the majority of which were on proud display, were on the inside of pitch-black tights.
I thought I knew her from somewhere, but I couldn't place it.
This was not an uncommon feeling.
The girl didn't say anything, she just stood there and looked at me with big eyes ringed with enough black to make her look like Cleopatra — if Cleopatra shopped at the finer boutiques of Beverly Hills.
But she didn't answer my question so I moved to the desk and made a thing of brushing the dust off of it, and then I pulled the chair out from behind it and wondered if I should sit down or not.
I decided to keep standing and thought awhile on the best way to break the ice when she finally opened her own mouth and said the following:
"I want to hire you."
I frowned. Or at least it felt like I frowned. My face was bronzed steel and didn't have any parts that could move. The girl clutched her hands in front of her and had her eyes on my optics. Behind her the outer office door was closed, but on the back of the frosted glass I could still see my name and former business as clear as day, rendered in gold stencil.
LICENSED PRIVATE DETECTIVE
Now, thing was, the sign was technically correct. I was still a licensed private detective. Hell, the license was welded to my chest under my shirt. Given the intricacies of trying to show that when the job required it, I had a smaller one sewn into a leather wallet that I kept in my right inside jacket pocket. It was still sitting in there too, even though I didn't take it out much in my current line of work, unless it was as a useful piece of cover.
Because while I might have been a private detective once, I wasn't anymore. Only trouble was that I couldn't much tell her what my new job was. You know how it goes, the whole "if I tell you I'll have to kill you" bit.
Only in my case, that pithy little one-liner was right on the money. Because I wasn't a private detective anymore.
I was a hit man. Well, hit robot, but I thought that particular hair was best left unsplit.
And the reason I was a hit man and not a private detective was a pretty simple one: killing people paid better. That's what Ada was programmed to do. She was, at the heart of it, a business computer, one designed to run the Electromatic Detective Agency at a profit. That profit was needed because that was part of Thornton's grand experiment — this was a robot and his control computer, going out there into a big wide world on their own, independent of any aid, federal or otherwise.
Which boils down to this: a robot has to make a living, right?
And then one day, Ada came up with a new business plan, all on her own. I tell you, Professor Thornton — rest his soul — would have been proud. Because Thornton was good. A genius. He programmed us well. The Electromatic Detective Agency was a success and even the shadow of robophobia proved to be useful. Word got around that I was good at my job — good enough that even those wary of hiring a machine were won over. And when I was actually out on the job, the tendency of half the population to instinctively look the other way just because I was a robot meant I could get on with detecting without drawing too much attention.
Maybe that was what gave Ada the idea in the first place. I don't know. I've never asked her about it.
That thing about a robot having to make a living? I didn't say it had to be an honest one, now did I?
I looked at the door and then back at the girl and I think she noticed and she shuffled and looked down at the bag at her feet. Now she was the one waiting for a response.
"Look, lady, I'm not available," I said, not referring to either profession in particular. "You should have called for an appointment." Ada handled the telephone and I knew she would have told the girl to come back in six months if she still needed us. That was usually enough to put people who were looking for a private detective off and if it wasn't then Ada just gave the spiel when they called again. It was even the exact same recording.
"There's a famous movie star. His name is Charles David," said the girl, and then she stopped like that explained everything. I paused and looked back at the chair as I stood beside it. I pushed it a little on its swivel.
I had my instructions. "Lady, this is Hollywood, California. Movie stars tend to accumulate in this town, whether they have two first names or not."
"I want you to find him," said the girl.
I held up a hand to tell her I didn't want to hear any more. My hand was made of bronzed steel and compared to the normal kind of hand made of flesh and blood I guess it was a little big. Her black-ringed eyes fell on it when I lifted it up and they stayed on it when I put it down. Her lips parted a little like she was nervous.
In the other room, Ada's computer banks clattered and beeped and the tapes spun and spun. The girl's eyes wandered in that direction, but it didn't matter. From out here Ada sounded like a secretary typing up a letter.
"Look —" I said as the start of a perfectly good sentence that was going to involve a polite request to go jump in a lake. But what she said next stopped me in my tracks.
"And then I want you to kill him," she said and she said it calmly, like she was ordering a roast beef sandwich from the deli down the road.
I stood there and felt my circuits fizz.
On my desk were a big leather-edged blotter and an inkwell with no ink and a telephone. I moved my hand toward the last item about a second and a half before it began to ring. The girl watched me as I picked up the handset.
"Excuse me," I said to her, and then I said "Hello?" into the mouthpiece even though I knew exactly who it was. The phone clicked and hissed. The line was dead, of course.
"Get rid of her, Ray."
I tucked my chin into my chest. I almost wished I had my hat on because then I could have pulled it down. Instead I cupped one hand around the mouthpiece and spoke low and kept one optical on the girl.
"Ah, hi there. Look, about that —"
"This is not how we get jobs, Ray!"
"Yeah, I know that."
"I get the jobs. I give them to you. That's how it works."
"Yeah, I know that, too."
"Our business is a private one, Ray. People don't just walk in off the street to take out a contract on someone. I have contacts. I have a chain. I have methods, Ray, that keep us and what we do secret to Mr. Joe Q. Public. Whoever she is, she knows what we do. She knows you're not a detective. She knows where the office is. All of this adds up to trouble."
"So get rid of her."
"Wait," I said. "Do you mean —?"
"Self-preservation, Ray. Self-preservation."
The girl was still looking at me. I zoomed in a little on the pulse in her neck and I started counting. It was fast. Too fast. I checked her pupils. They were a little small but seemed to be working. She was nervous, that was all. I didn't blame her. She'd made a mistake, and maybe now she knew that.
Excerpted from Made to Kill by Adam Christopher, Miriam Weinberg. Copyright © 2015 Seven Wonders Limited. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A very original story. Robots in the 50s. I would have liked a little more world building, but I could forgive it with how fast paced and exciting of a read it was.