War. Poverty. Hunger. Are over.
Humankind hasn’t changed, but the way we work has. Welcome to the brave new world of the Artificially Conscious Androlibra, a humanlike robot that acts like a personal clone, helping to bring balance to our lives.
Grayson Cornel doesn’t sleep much anymore. His life is in shambles. His father is teetering on death. He was recently promoted by The Libra Robotics and Cybernetics Corp, but his predecessor, Zoe Asher is wanted for murder and is now targeting him. On top of that, his first assignment in his new position has ended in disaster.
The last of the world’s sweatshops in Haiti had finally placed an order for Libra Corp robots, and it was Grayson’s job to make sure that the order was filled. But when the robots arrived, something went horribly wrong. They disappeared, leaving only dead bodies in their wake. No Libra Corp robot had ever killed anyone before, so Grayson is sent to Haiti to figure out what went wrong.
What he discovers begins to unravel a dark secret Libra Corp has been keeping from the public. Something so shocking that Grayson risks ending utopia to put a stop to it.
- Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction
- Audience: Adult
- Length: 320 pages
- Key themes: Social responsibility, personal responsibility, personal and social ethics
- Key aspects: thrills and chills, mystery, suspense, twist & reveal
- Protagonist: transformative character –begins weak, ends strong
- Content: mature language, some violence, PG-13
- Available formats: paperback, kindle ebook
- Special offers: free via kindle unlimited, paperback only $10
- Print ISBN-10: 0692726659 ISBN-13: 978-0692726655
- Amazon ASIN: B01GKTFL8A
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If I keep coming back to the book and thinking about the book and the characters, and the plot, and especially the twists–it’s definitely a 5 star book for me. It’s very hard to talk about the end of the book without giving it away, but I will tell you that if you like Sci-fi books, books about zombies, end-times, robots or computers trying to take over, you will definitely like this book. BUT…you have never read a book quite like this one…and that’s a very good thing. It’s a great book, and very creepy and scary at the end. I hope our world never comes to this. —Goodreads Reviewer
For a fast paced, suspenseful mystery with twists and turns that never stop until the very end, read Bone Machine. You won’t be disappointed at all. —Goodreads Reviewer
Thrilling,suspenseful, and at times shocking. I would recommend this book to everyone. —Goodreads Reviewer
It read quickly because it was well written, and I really wanted to find out what was going to happen next. I highly recommend the story. –Amazon Reviewer
This is a well written book and well worth reading. The author did a great job ending each chapter making you want to keep reading to find out what will happen next. The story depicts a new way of life, a less stressful life, a better balanced life. But just when it convinces you it may work and be something you would like……it all starts to fall apart and unravel. Once the first secret is revealed you are compelled to read on to find out just what is the truth and what isn’t! –Amazon Reviewer
This story keeps you guessing all the way to the end. –Amazon Reviewer
An exciting and horrifying tale! I highly recommend it! Great for horror and science fiction fans, as well as anyone who likes a good mystery or action-packed adventure. –Barnes&Noble.com Reviewer
IT WAS EARLY, and Grayson was up well before the rest of the world. He had to be. It was his job. One of the few jobs left that demanded so much. But he knew it was worth it. He thought of the countless numbers of people he helped stay healthy and happy. He thought of all the crimes that were more or less left to history as things people used to do to each other. And all Grayson had to do was allow himself to be inconvenienced by getting out of bed hours before anyone else and working a full nine to twelve hour day. No one did that anymore. Not even the President.
He stumbled his way toward the bathroom. His coordination was not yet fully awake. The fatigue behind his eyes was powerful, and his eyelids struggled to stay open. He pressed his palms to his eyes and rubbed them hard as he breathed in deeply. When he pulled his hands away from his face his reflection startled him. For a longer time than usual, he stared at his face as if he hadn’t seen it in years. He noticed the hint of wrinkles, the elasticity just ever so slightly beginning to wane, and an unfortunate genetic trait—thinning hair. He was only 28. Couldn’t I keep my hair until at least 40? he thought.
What really struck Grayson, however, weren’t the subtle changes of age, but rather how much he looked like his father when he was 28. Grayson was eight at the time and had then, and still had today, a very vivid memory—nearly photographic. As the resemblance became more apparent, he grew more startled by the similarities. The shape of his face, his eyes, his hair, and even his body type, were nearly identical to that of his dad.
Grayson held back a tear. He never let himself cry. He could handle anything. That’s the attitude that got him this job, and that’s the attitude that his father gave him, telling him it was the only way to truly be successful. “Don’t let anything bother you—unless it’s unethical.” His father recited this like a prayer—or a household mantra. By the time Grayson was a teenager, the phrase had lost all its meaning. Luckily, Grayson grew up and understood. And now he saw his father staring back at him in the mirror.
The reflection was a picture of his father at his best—when he was young and still very much part of the world, and that’s what Grayson liked most about it. The current face of his father was horrific in comparison, not by age, but by disease. It wasn’t a disease that Grayson was familiar with. It was difficult to pronounce, and he only recognized it when he saw the words in print. It wasn’t a common western disease like cancer or heart disease; it was some kind of muscle degenerative thing. He watched the muscles in his dad’s face slowly decay, starting with something as simple as his eyelids, and over time taking away his ability to express emotion. It was eerie at first. He was like a lifeless machine without proper facial expressions. But after a few years, Grayson got used to it.
The memories of his father—young, healthy and able to express himself—were too much and Grayson snapped out of his trance. Releasing a deep breath, he turned on the water and stepped into the shower. Somewhere on a lower floor, he could hear the familiar clanging of pots and pans; his breakfast would be ready when he finished showering. He never let the Androlibras into his bedroom or bathroom unless he was ill.
“This is it,” he told himself aloud, trying to get his mind off the face in the mirror. The it he was referring to was the new position he would be assuming that morning at the Libra Robotics and Cybernetics Corporation. Grayson wasn’t exactly nervous. More like apprehensive. The person he was replacing had been removed from the position under great controversy, and apparently, despite the attempted arrest, she was still out there somewhere. As such, his company planned on sending him five extra Androlibra security guards to offer him protection on his way to work. They feared his former co-worker, Zoe Asher, might seek revenge.
As the hot water sprayed down on him from two shower heads on opposite walls, images of last night’s hospital visit came deluging back to him. Grayson saw his father lying helplessly in a room that was meant to look like a luxury hotel suite, but the sterile hospital bed, plain white sheets, IV drip, and the cold plastic wristband overwhelmed the fireplace, the TV, and the matching sofa/loveseat combination, effectively killing the ambiance. And the damn place still smelled like hospital. Grayson could taste it even with the air-cleansing moisture now filling the bathroom. As the steam began to block out the glass door and mirrors, Grayson felt secure and organic. Working with lifeless machines in a sterile office environment got to him sometimes.
“The park…I haven’t been in so long.” He said this out loud, in part to hear something other than the lifeless Androlibra’s synthesized voices or the soft sound of the water gently tapping the glass walls and tiles. Grayson, however, didn’t really mind being away from the park too much. It was the wrong time of year for that sort of thing, he rationalized—much too cold. And there were all sorts of other people there; it’s not like it was a relaxing or private experience. But he did enjoy spending time with Sadie, and she loved the park and anything else having to do with the outdoors.
It had only been twelve or so hours, but he genuinely missed Sadie. Grayson sighed and turned the shower off.
After getting ready, he made the mistake of sliding the fog off the mirror, and thoughts of his father flashed before him again as his reflection looked back. Again he recalled the past few nights of hospital visits. In his mind’s eye, he saw his father’s distorted face, and a new thought occurred to him: he had never seen his dad with facial hair, and yet, lying in his hospital bed he had a full beard. One of the Androlibras working that floor informed him that his father requested that the “Damn robutts,” as he called them, should keep their razor blades away from his neck. “I don’t want one of you slipping up and taking off an eyebrow or part of my nose.”
Grayson smiled at the memory. His father had always mistrusted technology, which was he and Grayson’s largest point of disagreement. Grayson was the proud owner of the first run series of Androlibras, the FAPA I series. And his father, despite Grayson’s connection with the company that manufactured Androlibras, refused to own one.
“Mr. Cornel,” a soft, synthesized voice announced through the door.
“Yes,” Grayson responded, toweling off.
“Your breakfast is ready.”
“Okay. Thanks. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
I really need to update that voice, Grayson thought. He hated the default, synthesized robotic voice that came standard, but he still wasn’t sure if he wanted to download one of the celebrity voices or just pick “randomize” and see what popped up. He had just been given a new FAPA III when his promotion was approved last Friday. It was part of his bonus. He still kept his three outdated models; however, using them for menial household work.
Grayson found himself seated at a long dining room table with his Androlibras seated on either side. They seemed to be watching him as he ate his food, and if Grayson didn’t know any better, he could have sworn that somehow, they wanted some of it.
The Androlibras had made hash browns, poached eggs, and pancakes. And as can be expected, they were made perfectly. Every ingredient was measured with precision, the temperature was perfect, and only the freshest of Grayson’s food supply was used. He sat and ate as the lifeless Androlibras stared at him. Again he thought of Sadie.
Sadie had been staying the night in Grayson’s three story home for a while now, and this was his first morning without her company in some time, perhaps a year. Grayson still hadn’t told his father about their engagement. Suffice to say that Grayson’s father loved Sadie, but thought her influence on Grayson had been unfortunately negative. Grayson understood that his father was jealous of anyone else spending time with him. Maybe that’s why he hates the ‘damn robutts’ so much, Grayson thought.
Grayson looked up from his eggs and saw the metal biker-helmet-like heads staring back with their small web-cam size eyes placed neatly above a visor-like grate. The rest of their faces were blank, black plastic with a rectangular speaker and light indictor where the mouth should be. Grayson looked up and nodded, and the oldest model, who he called Sally, began to speak. Its voice was calm and based loosely on the voice of his mother—but no one but Grayson knew that.
“Where is Sadie?” it asked.
“She’s at her apartment. I wanted to be alone this morning, to get ready. You know, mentally prepared.”
“She’s such a nice young girl, sir. I think the two of you should—”
“We are engaged.”
“But no date has been set, sir. And engagements are not the same thing as marriage.”
“Yes. Thank you. Once I get used to my new position, I’ll talk to her about setting a date.” Grayson paused and wiped egg yolk from his chin.
In the silence, the Androlibra began again, “What is your new position, sir?”
“I’ll be—I am—the Corporate Distribution Manager—Zoe’s old job.”
“Sounds impressive, sir. What will your responsibilities entail?”
“Well, I’m in charge of distribution. We have thousands of distribution centers across the world, and it’s my job to coordinate all of them. Each center has their own Distribution Supervisor, but since I’m at the corporate offices, I’m kind of in charge of them all. When an order is placed, I have to make sure the right products get to the right place. I have to know international laws, customs, and all sorts of things. My first task, as I understand it, is the distribution of two new Libra Corp. products: the FAPA IIIs and some new development. It’s very secret. Rumor is I’ll find out about it later today. They are supposed to unveil it to the public at a conference late next week. Which reminds me, I may have to attend that conference so—”
“We know what to do sir. Your new FAPA has already taken care of everything regarding that trip.”
“You are welcome sir,” came a synthesized voice from across the table.
“Right, I keep meaning to change your voice.”
“Sally,” Grayson said to the FAPA I.
“Could you find me some voice downloads for our new friend here? Send them to me by noon so I can pick a new one. Everyone at work will want to know, and I don’t want them to think I’m not using it.”
“If my voice is displeasing I can randomize it until you choose one, sir,” the new FAPA informed him. As each word was spoken, a different tone, gender and accent oscillated through its speaker, demonstrating the wide range of options. It continued, “I can also send you an e-mail with the most current voice databases.”
“Please, stop cycling through. It makes it hard to understand you.”
“Oops. Sorry,” it said, finally landing on a child’s voice.
“No. That’s too creepy. Just do the standard male voice for now, okay?”
“Should I send them, sir?”
“Oh, right. Well, I’d prefer Sally to take care of it. She knows my preferences, and I don’t want to have to sift through a million celebrity voices.”
“I can filter—”
“Yes. Thank you FAPA III, but I like to do things a certain way. Once I’m more familiar with your capabilities, I’m sure I’ll be using your services regularly. Okay? Until then, I’m leaving Sally in charge of the programming and scheduling.”
Grayson finished his breakfast and headed to the front door. FAPA III accompanied him like a loyal dog. In many ways, Grayson liked to think of the Androlibras as pets rather than servants; it made him feel more comfortable around them. FAPA III handed Grayson his coat. Grayson snatched it up, decompressed the door’s vacuum seal, and walked out. His ride was waiting for him outside in the street, warm and ready.
The sky was the color of campfire smoke, but with none of its energy, and Grayson took a moment to gaze at it knowing he wouldn’t be outdoors again for some time, shut up in his new office until at least 6:00pm. At least he would now have a window office up on the executive floor. He was more excited about the view than the new position. Sure it was more money, but that meant little nowadays. This job, working for the Libra Robotics and Cybernetics Corporation, was more like a privilege, like being a celebrity.
“Mr. Cornel!” his driver shouted.
Grayson was snatched away from his thoughts as he turned his eyes to his driver, Henry Lee II, and the entourage of Androlibras. He suddenly realized how cold the air was this morning, and the chill made him shiver.
“You need to get in the car as soon as you can. We have an entire team of Androlibras waiting to escort us to The Utopia Building, and you know how they drive. Besides, aren’t you a little nervous being out in the open like this?”
Grayson pulled his scarf tightly around his neck, crouched, and sat down next to Henry. “It’s 6:00am, Henry. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“After what you experienced? She killed an officer! And from what I heard, you and Mr. Barnes barely made it out alive.” Henry took a breath, then continued. “All’s I know is that if I was taking over a position from a known fugitive, I wouldn’t be standing in the street as a target any time of day.”
“Henry, I’ve worked with Zoe for four years. I’m well aware of what’s she’s done, but I really don’t think I have anything to worry about. I’m convinced that if she wanted me dead, she would have finished me off last Friday when she had the chance. All this added security this morning is a bit over the top if you ask me.”
“I disagree. Now let me ask you something. Have you ever been really depressed? Or felt like your world was spinning out of control?”
“Yes, everyone has, haven’t they?”
“Not everyone, let’s hope, but most. Anyway, in that frame of mind you do and say things you later regret. She was caught stealing and therefore desperate. In my mind, she was capable of anything, including killing that officer.”
“Okay, I’ll give you that, but it doesn’t mean she’s now after me . . . Anyway, they still haven’t found her, huh?”
“Nope. And I don’t care what you say; you need to be careful.”
As Henry and Grayson traveled through the empty downtown streets, four Androlibras on motorcycles guarded them on all sides, and one silent FAPA III sat in the backseat as a decoy, since Grayson usually sat back there.
The city was asleep. Street lamps were slowly dimming as the cold morning sun began to stretch its tentacles of light over the horizon. Sitting in the front seat close to the heaters, Grayson felt comfortable. However, during his conversation with Henry, he could still see his breath. Snow covered everything but the black of the roads. The grey-black frozen slush of yesterday’s traffic decorated the sidewalks.
Not too many years ago, before the Libra Corporation, there would have been a modest amount of traffic this time of morning. Coffee shops would have been opening up, and nightshift workers would have finally been able to go home. But now there were Androlibras for these jobs. Had it been a different season, Grayson may have a seen a few early morning joggers or dog owners using the sidewalks, but not in Cleveland in the dead of winter.
The pristine Rolls Royce purred over the empty streets as the low grumble of the Androlibra driven bikes kept watch over them. Other than that, the roads were silent and frozen. Street after street was deserted and the stoplights all blinked yellow. A few hours from now, it would take Grayson at least an hour to get to work, but this time of day it only took about twenty minutes.
As the morning sun began to illuminate the slush, Grayson wished the Libra Corporation hadn’t decided to make Cleveland their central headquarters. But it made economic sense at the time. Cleveland hadn’t been able to find its niche in a very long time. Sure they still had the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but really, who listened to that old-fashioned stuff anymore? It was for history buffs, the retired, and classical music students.
A quick rebuttal flashed through Grayson’s mind as to why the Libra Corporation chose Cleveland of all places. They could get lots of cheap office space, there were plenty of empty warehouses, and the number of qualified people needing good jobs was very high. And compared to the skilled and educated of New York or Chicago, the workers of Cleveland would do the same work for half the cost. It was the right industry at the right time, and the people of Cleveland welcomed the Libra Robotics and Cybernetics Corporation with open arms.
But the cold. And the snow. Grayson had lived around it his entire life, and yet at times it just felt overwhelmingly oppressive, like trying to get out from under rubble after an earthquake.
“Get down!” Henry shouted, again snapping Grayson away from his thoughts.
His first instinct, however, was to see what was going on. But as he turned to look out the rear window, the FAPA III in the backseat grabbed him and forced his face into Henry’s lap.
“Let. Me. Go,” Grayson shouted at the Androlibra, but it pinned him uncomfortably close to Mr. Lee’s crotch. Grayson closed his eyes and waited, knowing that any attempt to rise would be futile against the Androlibra’s powerful metallic hand. After a few seconds, it began to hurt, and it didn’t appear as though anything was happening—except maybe a new bruise.
“Henry. Tell it to let me up.”
“But Mr. Cornel—”
“Now! Mr. Lee. Now!” Grayson hoped that the formality of the request would clearly indicate his annoyance.
“Chet. Go ahead and let Mr. Cornel up, will you?”
“Yes.” And with that Grayson quickly lifted his head away from Henry’s lap.
“What the fuck was that all about?” Grayson asked, smoothing his thinning hair back into place.
“Well, our escort was programmed to protect you. They are linked together, so if one saw a threat, they all react at once—which means they must have seen something. So, Grayson, I’d advise putting your seat back, ducking down, or something until we get there.”
“I really think this is ridiculous. What did they see? A stray cat? You know how literal these things can be sometimes. They may be artificially intelligent, but they are really bad about shit like this.”
“I’m sorry.” Henry cleared his throat.
“It’s okay. Sorry I got so upset. Anyway, who’s responsible for this nonsense?”
Henry was silent. He leaned away from Grayson and made it appear as though he was concentrating on not hitting the Androlibra driving five feet in front of the Rolls.
“Henry,” Grayson continued. “Do you know who set this escort up?”
“Yes,” he said flatly.
“Anyone I know?”
“It’s not important.”
“You did—didn’t you?”
“Look, Grayson, I have been your driver for what, four years now? I heard what happened. I was just trying to help, all right?”
“Thanks,” Grayson said weakly.
The rest of the trip was short, but silent. The pair arrived at The Utopia Building and made their way to the parking garage. As they approached, a thin red light shot out from behind a black tower next to the gates. As the red beam hit the first Androlibra, the gate began to retract slowly.
Moments later, Grayson was dropped off at the employee entrance inside the parking deck. Before stepping inside, he turned to the Androlibra leading the escort and asked, “So what happened back there?”
“Are you referring to the emergency we experienced?”
“Yes. What happened?”
“Our infra-red picked up a human form on the fourth floor of the library. I activated my long range scan and determined the person fit the description of Zoe Asher. She was observing our caravan from the window. Luckily, she did not strike.”
“Did she have a weapon?”
“We could not determine that from that distance.”
Startled, Grayson thanked the Androlibra and absentmindedly walked inside. Another red beam passed over Grayson’s face, and the elevator began to ascend. Grayson had sent his schedule to the elevator last Friday so it would know when to expect him and where to take him.
Those machines must have made a mistake, Grayson thought to himself as his elevator climbed upward. Then again, maybe Henry was right? I’ve known them both for about the same amount of time. Maybe there is more to Zoe than I realized?
The elevator came to a stop, and Grayson realized his new position was about to begin. He took a deep breath and stepped off the elevator, putting thoughts of Zoe out of his mind. The night crew was getting ready to go home, and several of them wordlessly brushed past Grayson as he made his way to his new office. Grayson was certainly glad he didn’t have to suffer through that anymore. He hated the night shift, and the Libra Corporation was the only business he knew that still had one—at least one that still employed humans.
He found his new office a quarter of the way down the hall. The carpet on this floor still smelled new, and at this level, everything was well cared for and replaced regularly. But the best perk of this new position was the technology he’d have access to. He sat at his new desk and pressed a small button on the right side that held a tiny LED light. A second later, a virtual computer screen floated a few inches above his desk, and a keyboard appeared on the Formica desktop. Grayson smiled. Even though this kind of computer interface had been around for some time, he had never seen one with such a crisp screen.
“Mr. Cornel.” The voice startled him, and Grayson jumped in his seat. Once he realized who it was, he immediately rose to greet the man walking through his office doorway.
“Mr. Barnes, I didn’t expect to see you here this early.”
“Well, this is kind of a big transition, so I really had no choice. How’s the new office?”
“Everything seems fine, but I only just arrived.”
“I see.” Mr. Barnes moved his eyes over every inch of the room as Grayson took a moment to become acquainted with his new computer. Mr. Barnes was a heavy-set man with small, brown eyes, thinning hair, and in desperate need to grow some kind of facial hair to make him look less . . . shiny. Grayson always found Mr. Barnes look to be somewhat discomforting, but had gotten used to it.
“Are you looking for something, Mr. Barnes?”
Startled, Mr. Barnes took a step back and collected himself. “No. No I was just thinking. Anyway, I came here to tell you that there will be a few journalists here later today to ask a few questions about taking things over from Zoe.”
“What? More of them? I thought I’d told them everything last Friday after the Zoe incident?”
“They are here for more than that this time. They were scheduled to meet Zoe, so now it’s your job. I sent you our official press release, so be sure to read it over before you talk to them. We have a new advertising campaign and new logo that we plan to unveil later today, so the press release will get you up-to-date on what you can and can’t say.”
“Isn’t this new logo and catch phrase a bit of a straw man?”
“It wasn’t designed that way, but the timing couldn’t be better. I have to tell you, I’m glad you have Zoe’s old job. You have always been the best person for it, but I can’t wait for all of this to finally blow over so we can get back to work. Libra Corp has too many good things going on for this to happen. If we play it up correctly, we should be able to make the public forget the Zoe Asher incident fairly soon.”
“Mr. Barnes, tell me, do you really think Zoe killed that cop?”
“Yes. I have no doubt. And let me tell you this: she had been stealing high level files from Dr. Woodyard, Dr. Nelson, and myself. Not to mention the unauthorized system scans she’d been performing. I think it was a classic case of corporate espionage. I didn’t think she was capable of that, so if she could do that, she could kill. I’m sure of it. Which reminds me, I heard you and your driver got into some kind of altercation with Zoe just this morning. Everything okay?”
“Oh. Yes. Everything is fine. It was nothing. Just some overly protective Androlibras.”
“Glad to hear it. Anyway, I need to get going, but I did want to ask you: did you pick out a new voice and personality for your FAPA III yet?”
“I’m still deciding. I was at the hospital again all weekend, so I didn’t really have much time, but I did narrow it down to a few favorites. “
“I don’t remember the names of them now.”
“I like the lady voices best. All five of mine are programmed with different ones, but their templates come straight from the Bliss Bunnies downloads page.” Mr. Barnes moved in closer, and Grayson could smell the coffee on his beverage-warmed breath.
“Ever check that site out?” Mr. Barnes whispered in low tones.
“Not at work,” Grayson said with a half smile.
Walter Barnes smiled back. “Good man. Anyway, when you get home, I’d highly recommend them. And don’t worry; your fiancé won’t be able to trace it. Bliss Bunnies is good about keeping their transactions . . . anonymous. Anyway, good luck on your first day. I’ll be back around noon to see how things are going. If you need anything, my new code is 020304. Okay?”
“Got it. Thanks Mr. Barnes.”
And with that Grayson was left alone in an empty office.