Bowlesian! – Detective Robot and the Murderous Spacetime SchismPosted: January 4, 2023
Detective Robot and the Murderous Spacetime Schism
by Jeff Bowles
We found victim one face down in a giant vat of beer. Red beer, frothy, churning and roiling in blood. Not precisely the best brew of the batch, I knew, but I couldn’t help wonder what it might taste like on a mechanical tongue.
“Detective Robot,” said Officer Allen, a short, stocky, often uncharitable young fellow who always seemed to smell of cooked sausage. “I can’t believe they called you out for this.”
I formed my golden jointed lips into a pleasant smile. “Why wouldn’t they have called? Rain or shine, we always get our man.”
My partner and fellow investigation consultant, Gorilla Todd, beat his big furry chest and pulled his lips back over his teeth.
“Step back, beat cop,” he said in his deep, gruff voice. “Let the man work.”
Gorilla Todd was five hundred pounds of hyper-intelligent simian. He was a post-nuclear, neuro-enhanced military lab experiment, lots of those wandering Grim Land. Bit of a bruiser, to be sure, but an honest and a loyal one.
“Thank you, Gorilla,” I said. “Officer Allen, must we really?”
Allen snorted. “Boy oh boy, you fellas need to learn your place. Are we still short-staffed on actual detectives? What’d you do to get the call on this? Grease a few palms? Robots run on grease, don’t they?”
Point of fact, we run on million-core supra-processors the size of toenail trimmings. But I wouldn’t expect a technologic druid like Allen to know the difference. We got the call because the Chief appreciated our work and professionalism. She requested us by name; the place was ours for the next few hours.
“Why a fusion brewery?” I said, taking in our surroundings.
“People don’t die in fusion breweries?” asked Allen.
“Usually not fashion models, no,” said Gorilla. “Not in the middle of the night.”
“And certainly not old women dressed up like them,” I said.
Allen blanched at this.
“Old women,” he said, scratching his head as he turned to face the vat. “Holy cow! She’s gone all pruney in the lager.”
“Ale,” I said. “Shall you fetch the net or shall I?”
* * * * *
Fusion brewing, popularized at the dawn of the last nuclear holocaust, involves the high-speed collision of plutonium-rich barley nuclei with the nuclei of hops machine grown in the atomic soils found in the ancient ruins of Hackensack, New Jersey. The resulting photonic explosion produces a bubbly, effervescent ale, light on the tongue, but with just enough zing to potentially threaten male fertility (as all nuclear beverages should).
Zippy Beer, or rather, Zippy Beer’s northeast production plant, did seem a rather strange place for homicide. Zippy was known throughout Grim Land as the safest, most environmentally conscious nuclear beer on the market. Fifty years without a tainted batch, their ocu-tisements often declared. Fusion belchers spat florid ale, sluicing through sloshers, roaring down pipeways, collecting and aging in anti-grav refrigeration closets.
I studied Allen carefully. He looked tired and overworked.
“I swear to God, she was young when I found her,” he said.
“Sure she was,” Gorilla Todd chuckled. “Makes all the sense in the world. Hey, mac, you been smokin’ them funny cigarettes?”
I tapped my chin with platinum fingers and examined the poor old dead dear. We’d pulled her from the vat and sprawled her out on the tiled factory floor. I searched and picked at her with the robo-pincers I used for toes.
“You’re having us on, aren’t you Officer Allen?” I said. “You see that high, high ceiling all those many meters up above? See how there’s no skywalk, no roof access?”
“Yeah?” said Allen.
“Now do you see this is the last vat in the line? Eleven vats down that way, but here, just the one. No ladder, either. Do you see?”
Gorilla Todd jumped to his feet and waved an arm over his head. “I know this one, robot! I know it!”
I nodded at him agreeably and opened up my chest slot with a bleep, bleep, bleep, CLACK. A high-protean banana cube flopped out and jiggled on the factory floor like jelly. All five-hundred pounds of Todd landed on it and gobbled.
“She materialized in the beer,” he said, smacking his lips. “And she aged on the spot. Some kind of schismatic time disruption, I think.”
“Very good, Gorilla,” I said. “You see, Officer Allen, once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the—”
A hole tore open in the air above us. It went Riiiip, and then it stretched itself wide in a kaleidoscopic clash of colors and voices. Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States, fell through and landed on Officer Allen with a heavy thud.
Gorilla Todd shouted, “Holy cannoli! Who is that?”
“It’s Abraham Lincoln,” I said. “And he’s been shot!”
I checked my tertiary memory banks to be sure. The beard, the hat, it was Lincoln, all right. Bullet wound in the back of the head. He wasn’t dead yet. Eyes fluttering, gasping, but not dead yet. He’d arrived only moments after his famous assassination. Remarkable. His body aged on the spot, grew older by the second. Wrinkles, thinning skin, hair gone long, gray, brittle.
Allen wheezed like strangled bagpipes. He gave a final stifled groan, then he lay his head back, twitched, and went limp. I rushed over and checked him for a pulse.
“He’s dead, Gorilla,” I said. “The Great Emancipator snapped his neck.”
“Hmph. Don’t look too great to me.”
“Granted, though I’m certain he’s not at his best. Struck down by a cowardly actor. That’s democracy for you. What precisely are we dealing with, Gorilla?”
“Black magic?” said Todd.
“Sinister Martian technology?”
“Highly unlikely, though you earn top marks for making me chuckle. No, Todd, our suspect resembles nothing so much as thin air.”
“What do you mean?”
I walked over to another vat and kicked at the release valve until golden nuclear beer gushed out and sprayed my feet. Bending low under the faucet, I proceeding to fill my robot super stomach with hoppy ale.
My jointed fingers tapped a supple syncopated rhythm on my forehead. Performed a million mental processes. A million plus fifty. The span of a single human heartbeat.
“Eureka!” I exclaimed. “The cause of the murderous spacetime schism is—”
Rather out of the blue, a naked caveman came screaming at us from the shadows. He shouted, “Gooba! Blabba!” and then proceeded to club me over the head with a tree branch.
“Ouch!” I shouted. “Help me, Todd, you great galoot!”
Gorilla Todd ripped the branch away and roared a mighty challenge. The caveman roared back. His skin rippled with flash wrinkles, hair going brittle and gray, just like Lincoln’s. Hearty fellow, he attacked Todd, ripped out a chunk of gorilla hair and fish-hooked my simian companion.
“You rotten mook!” Gorilla shouted, caveman fingers sliding in and out of his mouth. He wrapped his meaty hands round the caveman’s throat and began to throttle the poor fellow.
“Gorilla, no!” I said.
Five new holes ripped open in the air above us. One long, continuous Riiiip, and that same kaleidoscopic clash. Out of the holes fell a cute orange kitten, a young renaissance painter, a popular ancient professional football quarterback, a potted cactus, and lastly, Richard Milhous Nixon.
Nixon crumpled to the ground, got one look at Lincoln and shrieked, “Jesus Christ! What happened to that poor bastard?”
All of them aged. The kitten grew, got fat, got skinny, and died. The renaissance painter, fingers covered in vibrant red and green oils, said something in Italian about unfinished masterworks, choked on his tongue, and summarily expired.
“We gotta do something, Robot!” said Todd, still choking the dwindling, gasping caveman.
“Do what?” I said. “And stop choking that caveman!”
Nixon died screaming, gurgling, clawing at the air.
“Todd,” I said, “we have to dump the beer!”
“The beer?” said Todd.
“It’s a bad batch! It must be. There’s no murderer here. Tainted Zippy Beer has caused a schism in space and time!”
Seven more air holes ripped open. From them dropped a sea bass, the Marquis de Sade, two members of a light contemporary jazz quartet, an earth worm, Eddie Murphy, and a two hundred twenty-five foot tall California redwood tree.
The redwood thudded to the factory floor, split the concrete, rose and sprawled, broke through the high white ceiling. The factory lights flickered. Ceiling chunks rained down on us.
“The beer, Todd! Dump it!”
Todd let go the shriveled caveman. He leapt for the redwood, scaled its trunk hand-over-hand. He braced himself against the vat, pushed at it with all his might.
“It won’t budge!” he said.
Three more air holes ripped open. A snail, a circus elephant, a street vendor holding tacos.
I tapped a rhythm on my forehead.
“Eureka!” I exclaimed.
I leapt for the tree, climbed for a branch, squared my shoulders, and then I dove into the beer.
In haste, I began to drink it, slurp it all up. My robot super stomach swelled. Five hundred gallons. Seven hundred, a thousand. The roiling, bloody fashion model beer, it washed down my throat at a hundred-thousand PSI. Rushing, roaring through my alloy sternum. My body rocked and strained. I groaned like industrial machinery.
“It’s working, Robot!” said Todd. “The holes are slowing down!”
A riip here, small rip there. And then it stopped.
Bodies grew old and died; the redwood rotted, split. Half fell and crushed the factory wall. In rushed the night air, our arid post-nuclear wind. Our city out there—Grim City One—twinkled like starlight. Bricks and heavy steel beams and girders fell all around us. Clouds of dust lifted and lingered until well after relative stillness had filled the factory.
Gorilla Todd gasped from exertion. He stumbled down from the remnants of the redwood and sat against its trunk, eyeing the bodies, all the destruction.
“You did it, Robot,” he said. “You’re a friggin’ genius, you know that?”
Of course I knew. I also knew I was big as a house. Big like a beer vat and just as full. Body engorged, I looked like a head swimming in sea of scrap metal, jammed into the vat like some kind of sardine.
“Tainted spacetime-schismatic beer,” I wheezed. “I might have known! Perhaps a super-accelerated atomic contaminant—a mutation in the solitary photosynthetic apparatus, for instance—exceeded localized time dilation barriers and generated contiguous Einstein-Rosen pathways. And to think, Albert Einstein believed time was non-real!”
“Erm, Ein-who?” said Todd.
“Call in a containment unit, Gorilla. Call in the best they’ve got. And get the Chief down here, too. I fear, Todd, our troubles are just beginning.”
Gorilla Todd huffed. He pondered a moment, and then his thick brow lifted as realization dawned.
“Oh no,” he said. “You don’t mean….”
“Precisely,” I replied. “In approximately thirty-nine minutes, I will have to void my robo-bladder like a racehorse. The game, as they say, my dear Gorilla Todd, is afoot.”
Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Love/Madness/Demon, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. His latest novel, Resurrection Mixtape, is available on Amazon now.