A little snippet of Richards & Klein

Posted: June 3, 2014 in Fiction, Richards & Klein
Tags: , ,

I’ve been offline for the last couple of weeks. I’m still moving, I’m still on my own, I’m slowly going potty. Eight weeks this has taken! When will I get to move?

Ahem. Sorry.

My lad has had another week off school, shunting all my work into the evenings. Resultantly, blogging rather went down the list of priorities.

But as I’ve just completed my rough draft of my next Black Library novella, I will get back into the swing of burbling on to no really good end right here, and have a little time to bring you this.

Here’s something a bit different. A few people (and I mean primarily you, John Salter) have asked if I’ll be doing more Richards & Klein. The answer to this question is, as always, yes, but I have to prioritise immediately paying work, and any further stories featuring our near-future detective duo will probably be self-published. In short, you may have to wait.

However, I have been working on something. Below is a very, very rough draft of the opening to a new Richards & Klein novella entitled “His Master’s Voice” (alternate titles could include “Richards & Klein Go Dogging”), in which Otto and Richards go looking for a lost dog. Let me know what you think. Inspired by The Island of Dr Moreau and the excellent Dogfellow’s Ghost by Gavin Smith, this will be the last R&K story for some time with verbose animals in it, I promise. If enough people bug me about it, I’ll finish it off this summer, okay? If enough people buy it, I’ll write another R&K book. I’ve ideas for three further, long stories: one set on the Moon, one set on Earth (emphatically not in the Grid), and one that takes in Japan and in the outer solar system. Bear in mind, I started writing this two years ago, so if you want to see any of that, you really are going to have to bug me.

Rough draft-y things here include no proofing, unfinished writing, shortened scenes, and obviously no ending. I also haven’t decided when to set it. I’d like it to go after Omega Point, but if it does then one has to wonder why Otto isn’t fretting about his, um, problem more. We’ll see.

Click “read the rest of this entry” to, pretty obviously, read the rest of this entry. In this case, the story. Look! Here it comes…

Richards & Klein: His Master’s Voice

Snow exploded in puffs of ice crystals, catching in the long fur between the dog’s pads, stabbing freezing cold into his toes. The unfamiliar sensations tortured him despite his body being built for this place, he was both in and out of his element. No time to think, not time to think! The chase heightened his every sense; the sub-zero air burning his lungs, the flap of his tongue on the side of his muzzle, the thousand scents of the wilderness, the exhilaration of fear. His body thrilled even as his mind quailed.

He regretted running away. He would not have it any other way.

He glanced behind himself. The wolves were gaining. Five of them. They were similar to him. Most humans would not be able to tell them apart, but how many humans ever saw a wolf? Erect ears, grey coats, long muzzles, but not the same. The wolves were rangier than their prey cousin, and not so heavy. His white coat was dusted black, his face was white and masked around the eyes in an almost comical fashion, like he were a caricature of a robber. His were not the subtle greys of the wolves, camouflage colours, colours wrought by wilderness life on the anvil of evolution. He was too neat, colours born of slavery. His teeth and jaws were weakened by domestication, he was so attuned to the gestures of men that he hated himself for it. And the wolves hated him for it too, they hated him for not being wild, for not being free. They hated the stink of civilisation on him. Their howls beckoned him, calling him back to his roots and certain death.

The dog looked back and back again. He started back and forward, now slowing, now accelerating. He span on the spot, spraying snow behind him. He dropped his hindquarters and tail, ears flat, tongue dancing nervously over lips, submissive language, wolf language twisted into the barbed-wire strands of his DNA. His was a crude memory of true wolf language, babyish and unformed, but they understood, and loathed him more for their understanding.

The dog’s eyes, wide and white round the edges with terror, switched from pursuers to the way ahead. There, up the slope rising ahead of him, a narrow crevasse in the exposed rock, dark on the grey night snow. He ran, slowing as he hit the hill, but then so did the wolves. He and his murderous relatives lunged up the slope, whispers of snow tumbling behind them, growing into rounds that shattered under their own impetus. The animals’ breath clouded the air. They were equal on the slope, the wolves’ limbs were longer, but were his stronger, selectively bred over millennia for traction, for pulling the loads of men. Once they were over the ridge and on the flat, they’d gain on him, long legs running him down, long jaws ripping him apart. But buying time was not why he’d come this way. There was a tree trunk at the top, precariously balanced upon glacier-dumped pebbles. He wriggled under it, wisps of hair snagging on the bark, bladder quaking at the anticipation of sharp teeth. He urinated submissively and hated himself a little more. It was an effort to turn, but he did. The wolves were several metres behind him.

The dog hopped up, pushing heavy front paws onto the fallen tree. He pushed, thousands of generations of bred-in strength working through muscles large from easy food and gym workouts. This was something the wolves could not do. The tree shifted precipitously, he lost his footing, slipped and jarred his jaw painfully upon the trunk. Shaking his head, he recovered his position and shoved hard again at the tree with his forepaws. The trunk shifted as the first wolf came at him. With a rush of earth and snow, the dead tree toppled down the hill, catching the lead wolf full in the chest, forcing it into a roll, pinning it to the ground and crushing a leg. The second and third, close in behind their father, fared no better. The fourth and fifth were far enough away to dodge, one flipped painfully as it contorted its body out of the way. Yelps and howls, the shushing of snow, the solid noise of wood hitting rock, the last cascade of ice crystals. Brief quiet.

The dog looked down the slope. One of the wolves was dead, neck bent at a sharp angle; two were limping, two others circled the base of the hill, yellow eyes on him.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It wasn’t supposed to have played out this way. He was cold, he was scared. He licked his lips, a wolf sign he was no threat. The wolves barked out their loathing. They knew he was no threat, they would slaughter him for his ancestors’ betrayal of their kind.

In desperation, the dog spoke.

“Guys! Guys!” he said, his speech implant flashed blue at his throat, a touch he’d never liked. The sound of his voice out here in the wild was an even greater abomination to him than it was back in his apartments in New London. “Can’t we stop and talk about this?”

The wolves’ eyes said no.

Panting hard, the dog spun on the spot, and ran hard.

 

****

 

Richards had dithered for a long while picking a sheath to wear to the meeting. Maximilian, the head of the Sirius corporation, was notoriously picky about people, especially their smell,  so in the end he’d gone for the least offensive, most mechanoid body he had, which was to say, a variation of the one he wore most of the time. A standard chassis, with an expressive softgel face on the end of a plastic neck of segmented vertebrae. It was tricked out, naturally. For starters, it was laced with bleeding edge cydroid tech, pseudo-organic stuff barely months old that made Richards feel a little queasy, but which lessened his mind’s dependence on his base unit. It had taken him a couple of months to get used to it, but he could run a limited version of himself through the cydroid brain in the sheath, relying on his base unit – the machinery that actually held the digital thing that called itself Richards – for back-ups if need be. There were some other little surprises here and there, a top of the range sensor suite, torso and limbs armoured in superdense carbon plastics, the same for his head behind the infuriating grin he habitually sported. A pistol was hidden in the right hip, and for the fun of it a hip flask full of Glenmorangie in the other. The sheath had its own organic fermentation power plant, a mostly pointless supplement. Richards recharged his bodies from public induction loops and low strength microwave energycast. But if the fermentation unit – his stomach – could never run him off steak and chips, at least it gave meaning to dinner time. He liked to eat.

The limbs’ exposed workings were the black matte of carbon plastics, the details and panels white. A robot body for an AI; he’d found too many times that something approaching human spooked the clients. They had a hard enough of a time dealing with his personality. It was years since the Five Crisis, years more since the first true AI wobbled to its feet in front of a television audience and garbled its greeting to humanity. He figured flesh folks really should have got it into their butter-soft brains that the AIs were just like them, or at least capable of being so. He shouldn’t wind them up about it, he knew that, but he just couldn’t help himself.

He grinned. He happily anticipating his partner’s annoyance if they got this case.

Still, Richards was puckish by nature, but he wasn’t an idiot. Everyone was happier when they knew where they stood.

Where he stood right now was in an elevator, whisking its way up to the penthouse of the Vertex building, a late 21st century eyesore not far from Oxford Circus.

The head of the Sirius corporation didn’t get out often, and even less frequently invited people in.

“I suppose I should feel honoured,” he murmured to himself. That was another habit of his, besides patronising people and general cheek. He talked to himself, because it made him feel more real, and at the end of the day, Richards was anything but real.

The numbers on the lift wall ticked up with rapidity. He pursed his lips. He suppressed the urge to whistle and grinned. “Got to keep it together,” he told himself. “No taking the piss. This guy takes himself seriously.”

They were Otto’s words, but he repeated them because they were true and he should keep them in mind. Otto had not been invited. Otto hoped they wouldn’t get the case.

The lift slowed. Richards pulled at the collars of his trenchcoat, ran a finger around the brim of his hat and pulled it to an angle that suggested rakishness, insouciant charm, and a small propensity for fisticuffs.

The dames loved that shit.

Both hat and coat were red, bright red, blood on snow against his white plastic body.

They said Maximillian was colour blind.

Richards didn’t think wearing a red outfit counted as taking the piss. He was just in the mood for red.

The lift doors opened with an apologetic shush, and Richards stepped into the private domain of one of the world’s richest post-humans.

Maximilian’s home occupied the entirety of the top floor of the Vertex tower. Small by modern arcology standards; you could have fit the Vertex five times over into the smallest of the city-buildings of New London, but it was pretty goddamn enormous by any other scale. The lift opened into a round atrium Richards’ finely tuned senses told him was exactly fifty-five metres across. Marble so slick and polished Richards walked across it carefully covered the floor, gleaming under a glass roof. Heavy iron in a neo-steampunk style framed the panes. A grey London sky loomed above, featureless as a blank screen. Richards squinted at it. Winter was drawing in fast as it always had since the Ice Sheet Tip and the Gulf Stream Shutdown. Temperatures dropped degrees by the hour come every October, taking both Londons from sweltering to Arctic in weeks.

He walked between two fig trees up to the desk in the centre of the atrium, lost amid its sea of ossified sea life. A chrome sheath waited patiently in the centre, next to a very attractive human. Hell, if anyone could afford to have meat people working full time doing sweet FA in a room full of light and polish, Maximilian could.

“Looks like snow,” said Richards, glancing at the sky.

The woman did not look upward. Richards examined her closely, info bursts lighting up in his head as his custom sub-routines assessed her. Combat trained, ex-special forces he figured. He had a strand of his enormous mind scurry off into the Grid and fetch her identity while the rest of him continued his appraisal. Some subtle alts, nothing to draw attention away from her natural curves (or were they natural, were they even attractive? He couldn’t tell, well, he could objectively, but there was no reflexive male twitch to it, no attraction, no pull), but she’d be strong enough to crack foamcrete. Richards smiled inwardly. Employing a beautiful killer as a bodyguard was hardly a subtle distraction technique, but didn’t work on him in any case. He had no glands, or anything else of that nature.

“Maximilian will see you shortly.”

Her name popped into his head. Elenora Smit. He couldn’t suppress a smile. What was it with him and Germans? He let her personal history roll through him, a life time in photos, video burst and documents snatched from all over the Grid. She raised an eyebrow at him. He raised his hat a precisely judged three millimetres at her.

Richards looked about the room. It was entirely empty bar the desk and the two potted fig trees of ostentatious stature. An imposing pair of double doors made from ridiculously glossy walnut stood on the far side of the room. The woman sat between him and them like a dragon on its nest. There were no chairs, nor any kind of comfort for waiting supplicants. Not even a bowl of water. What did Maximilian do with four-legged guests, for Richards assumed he had them. Plain rude, thought Richards “Where do I sit?” he said in German, just to mess with her a little. She was unfazed.

“Sit?” said the woman with an expression that said “Why do you need to sit down?” and “I could pull your electrical innards out through your plastic ears in a trice.”

Richards smiled and pointed at one of the trees. “I’ll just stand over there, then.”

“Please check your weapon here. You may keep your whiskey.”

“Aha, okay.” Richards reached down, flicked back the right side of his trenchcoat. Panels slid apart on his thigh, and the high velocity pistol rose from its compartment. At least she wasn’t demanding he ride a company sheath. He had no body as such, but he felt kind of attached to this one.

He put the gun onto the wood of the desk. The woman’s hand plucked it up, and it disappeared into a drawer. He nodded, he smiled, she stared back.

He went to stand in the corner.

Maximilian kept him waiting.

“How long has it been?” said Richards, although he knew full well, and Elenora knew he knew.

“Half an hour,” she said evenly, not refocusing her eyes from whatever they looked upon in the Grid. “Please be patient, Mr Maximilian is extremely busy. Your visit is of the highest priority to him.”

“He should act like it then,” said Richards, sinking his hands into his pockets. “Half an hour?” he looked at the receptionist and winked. “What is that in dog years anyway?”

The woman gave him an icy glare.

“Sorry,” he said. “No offence.”

He paced about a bit, until the sound of his plastic heels clicking on the marble annoyed him. Then he stared up at the sky through the glass, watching wisps of vapour tangle with each other. He didn’t strictly have to stay there, not in spirit, at any rate. He had a million other things to do, he was doing half of them anyway while he waited. But ever since the whole business with k52 and reality 37, he’d felt the need to stay connected a little more closely with material reality. Being bored was part of that. Maybe he was growing up.

After thirty-six minutes, twenty-seven seconds, Elenora looked up at him, then nodded, talking with someone over the Grid. Richards considered hacking the conversation, but that would have been rude.

“You may go in now,” she said. “I apologise for your wait.”

Richards grinned a wide grin full of plastic teeth at her, and headed for the double-walnut doors on the other side of the atrium.

They slid open as he approached.

 

****

 

Maximilian’s lair was opulently appointed, a pier of smartglass that jutted out from the Vertex building like an insult. It stared down at the battered CBD and its collection of sorry 20th century skyscrapers. Beyond that, the marshes of south London, and the crowded new towns on the commons.

Maximilian himself was finishing off a call as Richards entered. A holograph of a suited flunky – an expensively dressed, genetweaked Eugene, but a flunky nonetheless, winked out. Completely unnecessary, that kind of thing was best done virtually, a big fat hint that Maximilian was Very Busy Indeed, and Richards shouldn’t hang around.

Maximilian was a dog. A very large dog, characteristics pulled from across the genotype, but in appearance all mastiff and malamute. He had the sheer size and physicality of the former, the prick-ears, curled tail and wolfish face and frosted fur of the latter. His neck was unnaturally thick, engineered to support Maximilian’s high-domed head. A cyberharness circled his chest and shoulders, an echo of the pulling gear his ancestors wore, only they didn’t have four mechanical tentacles attached to theirs. Another cybernetic implant

“Nice den you have here,” said Richards.

Maximilian turned around. Uplifted dog faced ex-rogue AI. A further cybernetic implant was revealed, a speech unit nestled above his wishbone. No amount of surgery or genetweaking could get a dog to talk properly. It flashed kitschily as the dog spoke.

“Are you making a joke, Mr Richards?”

“No.”

“Yes, yes you are” said Maximilian in the manner of men who are very certain they are correct all of the time. He had a suave, oiled voice, totally at odds with the fact that he was a large dog. “It is part of what you are. I say this without rancour.”

“I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Are you.” Maximilian’s speech was incongruous. His cybernetic unit flashed in time with his words, but his mouth remained open, panting lightly. So disparate was this matching of intelligence and fang-caged pink tongue, that Richards had the unnerving sense that the dog was merely the bearer of some other sentience, a slave to a mind it could not truly call its own.

“It’s just Richards,” said Richards softly. Maximilian’s muzzle was level with Richard’s chest. Richards fought the urge to bend down to eye level and pat him on the head. “Yes I am, glad to hear it. You’re a powerful man. Dog? Man?” Richards pushed his hat back. “I don’t want to upset you, now do I?” He looked around as is he had misplaced something. “You could buy me and shut me off.”

Maximilian laughed, and this sound did not emanate from his speech unit, but from deep in his shaggy chest, a weirdly interrupted growl. Richards surprised himself by finding it somewhat threatening. “Language is too limited to describe the likes of us, it changes too slowly. We are sons of men, you and I, brothers of a kind.”

“Some kind of family,” said Richards.

“Yes,” said Maximilian. His humour was a flash, gone. “Family. Can I get you a drink, Mr Richards?”

“Yes please.” Richards held up his forefinger. “But it’s just Richards.”

“I have many scotch single malts. I do not drink, it is bad for my physiology, but I understand that you are fond of their consumption.”

Richards patted his stomach. “Robot tum-tum.”

“I was warned about your attitude,” said Maximilian. He walked over to an ornate drinks cabinet, opened it with a snaking metal tendril, and pulled out a bottle seemingly at random, but Richards zoomed in and saw it was anything but, a 28 year-old Talisker, his favourite tipple of late. The dog continued talking as his metal arms expertly added exactly the right amount of water.

“You are fond of joking aren’t you. Mr Richards? You find the name of the company deeply amusing.”

“Well…” said Richards, it wasn’t that funny. “And it’s just Richards.”

“Sirius corporation.” The dog barked, Richard jumped. A cyber-organic sheath had its drawbacks, namely all the reflex in the goop. “A poor joke on my creator’s behalf, I am afraid. He named the corporation after his non-human children, and finally bequeathed it to me.”

Maximillian handed Richards his drink. Richards winked. The dog panted, unimpressed.

“Do you know what bored billionaires do with their money, Mr Richards? They exercise their passions. My father was particularly exercised by dogs.”

“Aha! Now you’re making a joke? You are, aren’t you?”

Maximilian cocked his heavy head to one side that could have been acknowledgment, puzzlement, or contempt. His lip curled. Richards settled for contempt.

“You should know about fathers, Mr Richards, I heard you were close to yours.”

“Family’s family, no mattered how fucked up,” said Richards. “Sorry!” he said. No knowing if uplifted dogs went in for expletives. He tried to check all this out, naturally, but Maximillian had one hell of a grid block on his information.

“Family? Do not talk to me of these surrogates. There are many of my master’s kin who wish harm to me and mine. The son, Enrique, nothing would please him better than to destroy my child.”

“You have a son, I understand.”

“Yes, and he is missing.” Maximillian paced around the room, back and forth, back and forth, like a wolf in an old-time zoo, his claws clicking on the marble.

“And you want me to find him?” He didn’t mention that, after that business in Reality 37 with k52, he’d had enough of talking animals to last him a lifetime. But a job was a job, and he still needed a new office. His insurance didn’t cover low-yield atomics.

“You know that I do,” said the dog. He yawned, showing off his brilliant white teeth. It snapped shut with an actual, audible snap. “The situation is complicated. I have reason to believe Enrique and his siblings are also looking for him. You must find Magnus before they do. Please.” A note of pleading entered the dog’s voice. An involuntary whimper escaped his true mouth.

“Okay, okay,” said Richards. “I’ll get on it. First job is to ask…”

“Oh, I know exactly where he is, Mr Richards,” interrupted Maximillian. “He’s gone home.”

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Comments
  1. MisterS says:

    Glorious. And a nice nod to Magnus too 🙂

  2. besucherke says:

    It could serve as a nice starting point for a new story. But after I’ve read Reality 36 and Omega Point, the paragraphs describing the world again seemed redundant to me – but can be useful for new readers, I admit.

    Furthermore, as the case here starts as a noir novel, a femme fatale would be needed – I would like to read about Richards falling in love somehow (maybe by a bug?) and experiencing this side of human nature.

    • guyhaley says:

      Thanks for the comment! It is supposed to be the starting point for a new story, so at least we’ve got that covered. I know what you mean about the information establishing the world. This is always a tricky business, and something I wrestle with often, especially in my Black Library fiction. Hopefully in this case, they’ll fade into the background, as once it’s out of the way and readers new to the world have been welcomed in, that’s that – there won’t be much more of this in the finished product.

      As for Richards falling in love, well… This story is about something else, but never say never 😉 incidentally, I do plan to finish this story soon, and perhaps self publish it, so watch this space!

  3. […] and this is a big ‘but’ – I am writing that Richards & Klein story I posted about a while ago, wherein Richards and Otto look for a lost dog. This will set up the next major R&K story, and […]

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