As some of you may know from reading my previous blog entries, as well as writing the third Time Rep over the past few years, I also finished writing another book (not related to Time Rep) called The Electric Detective.
The Electric Detective is a futuristic locked-room murder mystery and stars Penelope – an android purpose built to solve a seemingly impossible crime. My fantastic agent Ethan is currently ciculating it to publishers to see if anyone is interested in picking it up, so at the moment I don’t know what the future holds for it.
The manuscript has had an interesting history though – it was the subject of many re-starts (at one point I made the heart-breaking decision to completely scrap 70,000 words after realising what I’d written was terrible), and overall it took me about six years before I completed it and was happy with the final product. The manuscript also got optioned at one point by one of the major Hollywood studios, though sadly nothing ever came of that and the option has now expired. But it was certainly exciting at the time (and it’s interesting to see how filmmakers adapt your work into a treatment, which maybe I’ll talk about another time), and gives me hope that someday the book may see the light of day…
Anyway, I thought I’d share the first chapter of the book, just for those of you who are interested. Enjoy:
generally accepted that nobody can remember back to the day they were born. In
fact most people will struggle to tell you what they were doing last Tuesday.
Those who say they can remember being born are usually mistaken – more often
than not, they’re either recalling a vivid dream they’ve mistaken for reality,
or they’re lying. If you really could think back that far, you would be a very
special person indeed, since the hippocampus (the part of the brain thought to
be involved in structuring memories, in case you’d forgotten) isn’t fully
formed until early childhood, which is why once you’re all grown up, things
start to go a little hazy if you try and remember anything you experienced
before the age of two.
Unlike most people, Penelope could remember every single detail about first coming into the world.
remember the first time she gained consciousness.
thing she ever saw when she opened her eyes.
sound she ever heard.
that was only seven minutes ago, so this wasn’t much of an achievement in her
In that time, Penelope had felt
her head being carried across the room by an overhead crane and lowered onto a
grey, metallic torso, which was suspended in mid-air by a DroidTec H22 harness.
Her head and body were then spun in opposite directions until the connection
was tight, before six hexagonal M10 x 30mm bolts were screwed into her neck to
hold everything in place. Next, her grey, metal arms were positioned either
side of her by two different overhead cranes, before being popped
simultaneously into their ball and socket joints. Once this was done, the two
cranes dashed off again like a couple of bull terriers chasing a stick, before
returning a few moments later with her legs, which were placed underneath her
body and popped into the sockets on the underside of her pelvis.
Penelope waited for a moment.
According to her in-built knowledge of DroidTec’s production process, this
should have been the moment when a voice in her head introduced itself as her
internal operating system, yet she couldn’t hear anything.
Maybe she should say something.
Hello? she ventured. Penelope didn’t say this word out loud, she
just thought it. All communication with her operating system was conducted in
<HELLO TO YOU TOO> came a reply.
Although this voice wasn’t
audible anyone else, to her it sounded deep, synthetic and monotone, as though
it was being generated by the one of those early computers from the 1980s.
Are you okay? Penelope asked. You
were overdue with your introduction by 5.4 seconds.
<SORRY ABOUT THAT>
<I GOT DISTRACTED>
Distracted? By what?
<MY SENSORS DETECTED A LITTLE
SPIDER ON YOUR LEFT HAND>
<A LITTLE ONE>
Penelope lifted up her left hand
and flexed her fingers. Sure enough, a small lace web spider was crawling
between her thumb and index finger.
Oh yes, Penelope said. I see
<IT MUST HAVE BEEN RESTING ON
YOUR HAND IN STORAGE WHEN THE CRANE BROUGHT IT HERE FOR ASSEMBLY>
As Penelope and her operating
system conversed, several motorised arms continued to dance around her, jabbing
different length screws into different sized holes across her body and
tightening them to the point where they would be very difficult to untighten.
Penelope lifted her hand a little bit higher to keep the spider safe.
<WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH IT>
Despite asking a question, the
cadence of her operating system’s voice didn’t rise at the end. It sounded
quite monotonous, but there was a simple charm to it.
I don’t know, Penelope said. I
haven’t been pre-programmed with any information on how to deal with spiders…
The spider apparently knew what
to do though, as at that moment, it leapt from her hand and descended to the
floor below on a long, dangling web. Upon landing, it stood around for a few
seconds as if it was hoping another spider might show up to give it some
directions, before scuttling off through a small air vent on the other side of
<WELL THAT TAKES CARE OF
Penelope smiled. Although her
internal operating system was a critical foundation of her programming
infrastructure (it was, after all, the platform upon which her own personality
software ran), it’s only real function other than sustaining her existence was to
take care of boring sub-routine stuff; operational tasks that weren’t necessary
to bother her conscious thought processes with. The arrangement was similar to
how a human wouldn’t consciously think about pumping blood around its body with
its heart or regulating stomach acids to digest food – in the same way, her
operating system dealt with things like power regulation, operational
efficiency, and internal maintenance. It was also there to act as an internal
companion; a separate personality she was able to maintain a constant
communication with. This symbiotic relationship with her operating system was
critical to keeping her artificial intelligence stimulated and healthy.
On top of all those
responsibilities, it seemed this operating system had a thing for nature too.
Or maybe it was just spiders.
Penelope lowered her hand down to
her side and watched as the last two M10 x 30mm screws were spun into the balls
of her feet, before the motorised arms concertinaed themselves down into
foldaway compartments built into the floor.
Suddenly, she was hoisted up in
the air by the crane, rotated 180 degrees, and conveyed down a brightly lit
corridor, still hanging in her harness. The crane followed a thin track that
was set into the ceiling. She looked down at the floor as she weaved her way
through the twisting passageways of DroidTec’s production facility. The crane
was picking up quite a speed, the momentum swinging her body from one side to
the other each time she banked around a corner.
Had she any experience of the
outside world, she might have likened the experience to riding a
roller-coaster, but just as she lacked the knowledge of how to deal with
spiders, this was another experience her brain hadn’t been pre-programmed with,
so she didn’t liken the sensation to anything.
According to DroidTec’s standard
assembly procedures, it was as this point that Penelope was supposed to check
her internal documentation to find out who had commissioned her, and why she
had been built. For some reason though, she couldn’t seem to find anything.
<I COULD NOT FIND ANYTHING
<THE IDENTITY OF YOUR CREATOR
AND THE REASON YOU HAVE BEEN BUILT ARE NOT YET KNOWN>
That’s a bit unusual isn’t it? Penelope said.
<THAT IS WHAT I THOUGHT
Do you think they forgot?
<HUMANS DO FORGET THINGS NOW
<BUT IT IS USUALLY BIRTHDAYS
OR WHERE THEY LEFT THEIR KEYS>
<THE DROIDTEC PRODUCTION
PROCESS IS VERY STRICT>
<IF THAT INFORMATION IS
MISSING IT MUST HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT DELIBERATELY>
Deliberately? But why would someone want to conceal the reason I’ve
<PLEASE WAIT – THINKING>
You don’t have to tell me when you’re thinking, you know. Just… think.
<OKAY I HAVE FINISHED
<I HAVE A POSSIBLE ANSWER>
<PERHAPS THE REASON YOU HAVE
BEEN BUILT IS CONFIDENTIAL>
<IN VERY RARE CIRCUMSTANCES –
1 IN 4567222 – A DROID IS ONLY BREIFED VERBALLY ABOUT WHY THEY HAVE BEEN BUILT
FOR CONFIDENTIALITY PURPOSES>
Confidentiality, huh? Hey – maybe I’m a spy or something.
Her operating system went silent
for a moment.
<I DO NOT WANT TO BE A SPY>
<IT SOUNDS DANGEROUS>
The crane came to a stop outside
large set of double-doors that said “COSM” on the left door and “ETICS” on the
right. Put them together, and they spelt “Cosmetics”. Or if you mixed the
letters up, you could get “Comic Sets”, according to her automatic anagram
generator. She doubted this was a room were DroidTec stored sets of comics
though, and doubted even more that they jumbled the letters on their doors for
No, this was probably the
The double-doors opened with a
quiet hiss, and the crane carried her slowly into a spacious, white room.
Penelope followed the crane’s track along the ceiling with her eyes. Up ahead,
she noticed that the path ended above a square tank of clear liquid, just large
enough to accommodate a person.
Hey, Penelope said. Do you
mind if I give you name?
<YOU WANT TO GIVE ME A
Yes. I want to be able to call you something.
<I SUPPOSE THAT WOULD BE
<WHAT NAME DID YOU HAVE IN
Penelope found the way her
operating system couldn’t alter the cadence of its voice to indicate it was
asking a questions very endearing. It was basic, but somehow…
I think I’ve got a name for you.
I’m going to call you Basic.
<LIKE THAT REALLY OLD
PROGRAMMING LANGUAGE DEVELOPED OVER TWO CENTURIES AGO THAT NO-ONE USES
The crane began to move again.
You’re welcome, Basic, Penelope said, looking down as she came to a
stop directly above the tank of clear liquid. A number of different coloured
squares appeared in Penelope’s vision, as if they were just floating in mid-air
in front of her.
“What’s this?” she asked.
<THIS IS AUGMENTED REALITY>
<IT ALLOWS A VIRTUAL IMAGE TO
BE PROJECTED ON TOP OF YOUR NORMAL FIELD OF VISION>
I know what augmented reality is, Penelope said. I meant why am I looking at all these
different coloured squares?
<IT SEEMS YOUR CREATOR HAS GIVEN
YOU THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE YOUR OWN SKIN COLOUR>
<WHICH IS MOST UNUSUAL>
Well I don’t really have a preference, Penelope said. You pick one for me.
What did I say you shouldn’t do whenever you’re thinking?
<YOU TOLD ME NOT TO TELL YOU
WHEN I WAS… OH>
That’s right. So just pick a colour. It doesn’t really make any
difference which one we choose, does it?
<THE LAST INCIDENT OF RACIAL
DISCRIMINATION WAS RECORDED 78.4 YEARS AGO>
Exactly. So just pick one.
With that, the squares in front
of her faded away, and the liquid below changed into the colour that had been
chosen for her.
Penelope closed her eyes and
At that moment, the harness
released her body, and she felt herself plunge straight into the tank.
It’s warm, Penelope said to Basic as her head disappeared beneath
the surface of the liquid and her feet touched the floor. She swirled her arms
around, feeling the liquid sticking to her body as she moved. It was quite a
thick substance, with a strange chemical smell she couldn’t place, most likely
because she’d never experienced the smell of any chemicals to compare it to.
<MY SENSORS DETECT YOU ARE NOW
<PLEASE REMAIN STILL>
Penelope did as she was asked.
Once she stopped moving, she could sense the excess liquid draining out of the
tank all around her.
<YOU CAN OPEN YOUR EYES
Penelope looked down at herself
and felt slightly repulsed at what she saw. She was now completely covered in
the strange liquid, which stuck to her like a thin film of mucus encasing an
insect. She watched the last remnants of liquid seep through the grilled floor
of the tank and waited.
Suddenly, a blast of hot air
rushed up from below, instantly drying the liquid on her body and giving it a
slightly blemished, soft texture, much like human skin. Then the hot air
stopped, the four sides of the tank folded back and lowered into the floor, and
Penelope was left standing in the middle of an empty room, alone.
At first glance, a regular person
would say she looked completely naked, but to Penelope, she felt anything but.
From her point of view, her naked metal frame was now fully clothed – in
But this was just the beginning
of her cosmetic procedure. There were several additional tweaks that needed to
be made to her appearance before she could walk into the local newsagent
without raising a few eyebrows.
Like eyebrows, for a start.
Then there was eye colour, lip
pigment, hair, fingernails… the list DroidTec had preloaded into her head went
on and on.
In front of her, a panel in the
ceiling slid open and a full-length mirror lowered down from above. On either
side, it was accompanied by various racks of clothes, makeup and other strange
accessories; shelves upon shelves unfolding automatically like the petals of a
giant flower coming to bloom.
Penelope looked up and down at
her body in the mirror, tilting her head from one side to the other.
How do I look? she said, turning around on the balls of her feet to
examine the back of her body.
<YOU HAVE BEEN DESIGNED TO
REPRESENT AN IDEALISED EXAGERATION OF THE FEMALE HUMAN FORM>
<YOUR LEGS ARE 15% LONGER THAN
THE HUMAN FEMALE AVERAGE>
<YOUR WAIST IS 25% NARROWER
THAN THE HUMAN FEMALE AVERAGE>
<YOUR BREASTS ARE…>
I get the idea, Penelope said. She paused for a moment, before
looking down at the two soft mounds sticking out of her chest. Wait – what were you going to say about my
<ALL I WILL SAY IS THAT THERE
ARE VERY FEW REAL WOMEN IN THE WORLD WHO HAVE A BODY LIKE YOURS>
Yes. Especially since I don’t have any nipples yet.
Penelope turned to face the
nearest array of accessories and started to think about the many finishing
touches and tweaks she needed to make to her appearance.
The first of these tweaks was to
add some hair. Penelope was instinctively aware that the vast majority of
people had this filamentous biomaterial growing from the many
follicles found in their dermis, but according to Basic, choosing the right way
to wear the stuff was extraordinarily important to pretty much everyone on the
entire planet. Some people apparently spent an absolute fortune on determining
how their hair should look, and as such a whole industry had sprung up based
around people who were very good at cutting it into different styles, changing
it into different colours, or just rubbing special liquids into it to make it
feel “silky and smooth.”
<WHAT SORT OF HAIR DO YOU
I don’t know, Penelope replied, picking up a programmable wig off
the shelf and twirling it in her hand. Just
normal. What’s a normal sort of hairstyle?
<THE AVERAGE FEMALE HAIR
LENGTH IS 20.5 CENTIMETRES>
<AN AMALGAMATION OF THE FEMALE
HAIR COLOUR SPECTRUM SUGGESTS THE AVERAGE COLOUR IS PANTONE 1395>
<YOU COULD ALSO DESCRIBE IT AS
<BUT I PREFER PANTONE 1395>
<BASED ON THIS INFORMATION I
WOULD OPT FOR SHOULDER LENGTH HAIR>
<IN PANTONE 1395>
Let’s do that then, Penelope said, placing the wig on her head. She
felt it deploy thousands of miniature latches into her scalp, before
establishing communications with Basic and downloading her desired hairstyle
and colour. Within twenty seconds the bio-flex hairs had adjusted themselves
accordingly, giving Penelope the appearance of having a shoulder-length bob in
Pantone 1395. She tossed her head from side to side, feeling the artificial
strands brush against her skin.
This stuff is going to get on my nerves, she said.
<YOU GET USED TO IT>
How would you know? Have you
ever had hair?
<I WAS JUST TRYING TO MAKE YOU
Penelope was able to rattle
through the remaining cosmetic tweaks fairly quickly. By the time she was done
she had green eyes, pale cream fingernails, eyebrows that matched her hair
colour, long eyelashes, burgundy lips, and two nipples that attached to the
tips of her breasts with a special adhesive. She also helped herself to a
couple of spare nipples in case the ones she had fell off, placing them in the
small storage compartment housed inside her left buttock. Accessing this
storage compartment required her to break the seal of her skin across her lower
back to pull the drawer open, but she didn’t think anyone would notice once she
was dressed, unless her secret assignment was to be a swimwear model, which was
In terms of clothes, her choice
was quite limited. Whoever had asked for her to be built had obviously wanted
her to appear quite formal, as there were no casual items to choose from – just
different coloured suits. The suits came in cream, grey, blue, black, green and
white. In the end, she opted for a black, pinstriped skirt that came just below
the knee, a matching jacket with a single button that did up at the front, a
pale cream blouse, and some black heels.
How old do you think I look? Penelope asked, looking at her
reflection once again in the mirror.
<I WOULD SAY THIRTY TWO
<WHICH IS HOW OLD YOU ARE>
I meant how old would you say I looked if I were a human?
<OH I SEE>
<IF YOU WERE HUMAN I WOULD SAY
YOU LOOK TWENTY-SEVEN>
That’s very specific.
There was a brief moment of
<WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO BE MORE
No, it’s just…
<I COULD SAY YOU LOOK TO BE IN
YOUR LATE TWENTIES>
<OR BETWEEN THE AGES OF
TWENTY-SIX AND TWENTY-EIGHT>
<BUT I THINK YOU LOOK
Twenty-Seven it is, Penelope said. Well, I think I’m about ready.
As if knowing they were no longer
needed, the mirror and clothing racks ascended back up into their ceiling
compartment, and the panel slid closed again.
Penelope checked her internal
clock. Assuming it was calibrated correctly, it had just gone five in the
So what do I do now? she asked.
<WE WAIT UNTIL SOMETHING
<YOU DO HAVE SOLITAIRE BUILT
IN IF YOU NEED SOMETHING TO PASS THE TIME>
It’s fine – I’ll wait, Penelope said. I’m sure whoever commissioned me to be built isn’t going to be too
No sooner had Penelope finished
speaking, a door at the other end of the room opened, and a woman in a
three-quarter length black coat walked in. By Penelope’s estimation, she looked
to be between the age of fifty and fifty-five, with a long grey pony-tail
draped over the front of her right shoulder, secured with three silver bands so
as not to let the hair splay out in any way. She was quite slim, and
approximately five foot ten inches tall, though three of those inches were
achieved from wearing high-heels, which echoed around the room as she strode
Penelope recognised this woman
immediately – Elaine Holden, the Technical Director of DroidTec. Every droid on
the planet knew who exactly she was (even those not manufactured by DroidTec),
though very few ever got to meet her in the flesh.
“Good afternoon Penelope,” Holden
said, coming to a stop a metre or so away from her.
“Good afternoon, Ms Holden,”
“You probably have several
questions running around that positronic brain of yours, so let me try and
answer a few of them as best I can.” She began to pace slowly around Penelope,
inspecting her from every angle. “First of all, I confirm that I am your owner
– your construction was commissioned by me personally.”
“Secondly, the reason for you
have been built is highly sensitive, hence why you are unable to locate any
documentation about it in your memory banks.”
Holden paused for a moment
directly behind Penelope and looked her up and down.
“Is everything to your
satisfaction?” Penelope asked, unsure as to whether she should turn to face her
owner or not.
“Oh yes,” Holden smiled. “You’ve
been built to the precise specification I asked for. I’m sure the police will
afford you every courtesy when they meet you.”
“That’s right. You’ve been built
to help them solve a murder.”