I am a writer. My 10th grade English teacher, Ms. Thompson, inspired my first stories. She loved poetry and cried in class.
Years later, I took graduate courses in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin. After joining the Literary Loft in Minneapolis, I continued studies with award-winning author Peter Geye. An amazing writer’s group has spurred my writing and kept me out of (or perhaps into) the depths of darkness. Thank you Claire and Tanya!
Killing Bodhi is shortlisted for the 2020 Page Turner Awards. The novel was also a finalist for the 2020 Killer Nashville Claymore Award. My first novel, The Change, won the 2017 SDSU writer’s conference merit award. I received the 2017 Hummingbird Prize Editor’s Choice Award for my short story, ‘The Bruised Peach’, published in January 2018 by Pulp Literature. Also, in 2018, I was a semi-finalist in the Scotland Baltic Residency for Writers award.
If she truly was more than a machine, then life on Earth would change profoundly.
This was a change humans would not accept.
all its inhabitants, some of whom will walk among us,
look like us, but will not be us.” Dr. Marie Faysal, Nobel Prize speech, 2131
CHAPTER 1 — A SIMPLE QUESTION
As she looked out the window at the pock-marked landscape below, the mathematics of annihilation flashed across her Central Intelligence unit. Formulas and equations, destruction zones and survival probabilities parsed into concentric circles. Weight vs speed, object shape and angles of entry into Earth’s atmosphere. The problem: find a suitable size asteroid within one point five AU of Earth, plant explosives on its surface and crack it into small pieces. Fit each piece with small rocket thrusters and aim the rock at Earth. Not willy-nilly but precisely aimed at cities, industrial areas, farming communities. Hundred-ton rocks traveling at twenty thousand miles an hour would be unstoppable, destruction over hundreds of square miles unimaginable. And that was the rub—human imagination run wild and dark, brinkmanship on the edge of insanity. In Universal, where she lived before coming into physical, her job was the calculation of obliteration zones—how many and what size asteroids needed for annihilation. When the war came, the Alliance was doing the same thing, organizing and aiming asteroids at the heart of America with the same deadly accuracy. Thirty years had passed since the war ended, the shortest war in human history. There was no armistice, no treaty, and no winner. It just ended. Mutual destruction prevailed. Bodhi paid little attention to the devastation below, but her mission was very much about history.
Her cab flew like a speck of dust over the Amarillo crater, an asteroid had missed the city but left a twenty-mile-wide hole in a war-sculpted geography that scarred the entire Mid-west. Its short stubby wings and bright yellow fuselage made it seem like a bug escaping the skyline of a city that got lucky. Her own beginning was long before the war, before she came to physical, when she generated answers from the cybernetic plane. Fed data like fast food, she spit out answers in pre-packaged mixes. Combining cybernetics with organics was only theory back then. Born Biod had changed everything. Now, human in form, she asked her own questions and collected her own data. But like all experiments, not everything turned out as planned. When probing queries turned inward, an unrecognizable language rose before her. The conflict was at the interface between machine logic and the living cells that made up her Organic Intelligence. Logic concluded a part of her was missing, Organics disagreed—missing answers indicated missing questions. Once again, the enigma arose. With a deep sigh, her thin body bent forward in her seat, hands covered her eyes. Like the war-torn landscape that passed below, her inner landscape lay in disarray. A muted feral growl escaped from deep within her throat.
The cabby, a burly pilot of some years, a human, glanced in the rearview. “Hey lady, you don’t look so good. Wanna a pill or something?”
“No… thank you, I’m fine.” Her system would reject such mitigation and he would not understand the programmatic pushback nor the electrical surge racing through her.
After the war, the creation of Morghs, a nascent technology and the first true anthropomorphic droids, came to the rescue of a teetering nation. Millions were dead, and the Morgh buried them. They rebuilt shattered infrastructure and devastated coastal cities. Machines so human-like that laws passed to protect them from rape and murder. But three decades later, Morghs had fallen from favor as parts of the nation emerged from dystopia. The same advances in science that brought Bodhi into physical pushed the Morgh into obsolescence. Few noticed the Morgh had undergone a silent transformation. Bodhi's mission was to study Morgh evolution.
As the cab flew over the barren and war-manicured land, she dug into forbidden places within her Central Intelligence Module. She struggled with disturbing questions, ones that rose of their own volition, the kind most humans don’t ask. Questions someone like her should never ask. Am I more than a program? What makes me female? Is this arm mine? Yes and no were no longer black and white. Logic warned her to stop fruitless investigations, but like mold, shades of gray filtered into her decisional matrix. Deviant echoed within, a dangerous word for any droid. Without resolution, everything she knew about herself skewed.
The seat restraint pulled against her wiry body; forehead bent down to her knees. The circuitous nature of self-examination left her untethered, like a small boat drifting in an endless sea. Organics asked: If not a machine, what am I?
The Cabby held his hand out, two pink pills in his palm. “Try this,” he said.
“No, thank you. Really, I’m fine. They’d only make me sick.” She relplied.
The cabby’s brow furled. “Up to you, lady.” He held a sandwich in one hand and chewed like a cow with its head in the trough, slurping beer from a plastite bottle. Proximity to the toxic odor of his breath roused her nominal senses. Organics noted: sandwich stench, Armadillo meat, over salted, over sauced and rancid. Logic added: eating program unrestrained. Geo-locater churned numbers. Altitude: five hundred meters. Destination: thirty minutes from CellTran’s campus. Speed: two hundred meters per second.
A sudden downdraft caught the vehicle’s short wings, causing the craft to shudder, but she clung to her seat, remaining bent over, nose to her knees.
The cabby looked over his shoulder. “Desert wind, no prob…,” — he stopped mid-sentence— “hey, if you’re gonna puke, use that bag attached to the seatback. I don’t want a mess.”
Bodhi raised her head. Her bright turquoise eyes briefly met his. “No problem.”
“Whoa.” The cabby slammed on speed control. “You’re droid?” Engines turned vertical, slowing to mid-air hover. She lurched forward, stopped by her safety belt. He swung his seat around facing her, bushy eyebrows tight, lips curled into a snarl. His face was fat, skin worn and leathery from too much desert sun. “What the hell… I’m transporting a Morgh? Don’t you read?” He jabbed his finger at the sign. “No Morgh in air-cabs. You shoulda taken ground transport.”
Her visual field narrowed; the cabby’s body outlined in three dimensional rectangular boxes. Sensory input streamed data about micro-muscle movements, vocal temper, and tone. Logic reported: human anger program engaged.
“Calm down. I’m not Morgh.”
“Jesus,” he put his beer back in the holder, “You’re a lying Morgh with attitude. You don’t tell me to calm down.”
“I never lie.” She retorted. Her visual field turned red. Data streamed—Weight: two hundred seventy-five pounds, fitness indicator: two point two out of ten, heart condition likely, IQ: almost average on the human scale. Facial expression shows imminent threat.
“Ya? And you don’t read neither. You’re a revamp, aren’t you? One of those uppity lying Morgh revamps.”
“I don’t believe Morgh can lie.”
“I’ll tell you what I believe… you’re a goddamn lippy droid.” He raised his arm.
Defensive programming calculated: backhand blow at twenty-one point five meters per second. Logic sent instructions—break his elbow. Organics interceded—Let him strike you.
With a backhand smack, her head jolted sideways. A brief flash crossed her visual field. Lavender colored blood oozed from a split lip. A bitter taste spread over her tongue. Warnings scrolled from her internal environmental controller—minor facial damage. Organics instructed: remain steady, keep arms on your lap. An oily substance dribbled down her chin, deep turquoise irises changed to milk-white. Logic screamed—Break his arm!
When he saw her blank eyes, the cabby recoiled. He straightened his back, chin tucked in. “What the hell are you?”
He pulled a small laser handgun from the holster strapped to his side. Her arm moved in a blur, fingers wrapping around his wrist. She turned the barrel toward the ceiling, locking his arm above their heads. The cabby inhaled a soft cry, struggling to free himself from her vice-like grip. Sensory input recorded his pulse at an abnormal level, pain threshold rising as wrist bones crunched together. Logic instructed—Break it. Organics responded—He is human. He is mercenary. Make an offer.
“If you pull the trigger, neither of us will survive the crash.” Turquoise flooded back into her eyes, mouth in a deformed smile. “I’ll pay double,” their stares locked on each other, “cash.” She loosened her hold.
The cabby jerked his arm free. “I should throw you out. Double is not enough.”
If he activated the door, she knew who would leave the aircraft, and she wasn’t sure she could pilot the vehicle. Organics advised: Apologize.
“You’re right, it was my mistake.”
Bodhi dug through a small purse and slapped one hundred credits in his palm.
A cynical smile crept over his face. He swiveled the seat around and stuffed the money in his shirt pocket, then leaned back and stretched out his hand. “Come on…,” his fingers wiggling, “you can do better than that.”
The pit within her opened, its darkness alarming, options lurked like phantoms. Do not hurt him, screamed within her head. Her breath shuddered as shock waves traveled down her central buss. She fished out another fifty. Aware the cabby had placed the weapon on his lap, she knew he was more likely to shoot first than ask questions. He grabbed the money and jammed it in with the rest.
“Next time take ground transport,” he mumbled. “Stupid Morgh.”
“I’m not Morgh,” she said.
The cabby turned. Her central pump jumped at the handgun pointing at her. “Shut up!”
It took a moment for her to breathe again. “Killing a Morgh is illegal.”
“Yeah, but you’re not Morgh, right?” He turned back to the dash. “You’re a stupid deviant. Get yourself fixed.”
Bodhi closed her eyes. Logic noted—he’s right. Deviant.
Organics responded: Deviance is freedom.