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The Hand That Feeds You
by Neilast

"Where is she at?" Rolf asked as he stepped into a brightly-lit mechanic's shop on the east side of Paseo. He looked about as he did so. The walls were lined with cannons, vulcans, bars and other typically android weapons. A Polezi stood motionless, its head slumped forward, in the rear right-hand corner of the shop. It had no positronic brain. Rolf would have called it dead.

Ermit Kain locked the shop's front door behind him; it was after closing time. Then he stepped beside Rolf and waved to a knobless metal door opposite the inoperative Polezi. "She's back there." Ermit stepped in front of the blue-haired official and unlocked the door by pressing his thumb against it. "Be careful, Agent..."

"Call me Rolf," Rolf said.

Ermit smiled, but his heart wasn't in it. The left corner of his mouth jerked nervously. He looked like one of his own creations, a lemon of an AI with a serious glitch in its facial expressions subroutine.

"Okay, then...Rolf," the mechanic said as the door slid open. "She's all yours."

The room inside was dim and had a feeling of uncleanness. It smelled of rubber and petroline and other products (and byproducts) associated with robots and androids and AIs of all kinds. The head of a Siren-model Wren android lay rusting on a stool in the corner, it's red hair looking very old and matted, all the life gone from the narrow eyes.

The android Rolf had come to inspect sat on another stool. Its legs lay sprawled before it. The creature's head was tipped back. Still eyes, open mouth, and long and ratted, filthy green hair had fallen over its shoulders and bizarre metal face. But the most striking feature of all was that the android had no arms.

"She's a Natasha-Type android, designation Finis," Ermit said.

Rolf whistled. "I haven't seen one of these babies in ages."

"I'm not surprised," Ermit said. He stood beside the Finis and rested a hand marked with liver spots on a mechanical, armless shoulder. "There are only a handful of Natasha-types left on Mota. Used to be right common, but most of them were recalled to Palm and reprogrammed just shortly before the ban. Only a few were able to come back before the accident ten years ago."

Rolf nodded. He knew all about the accident. The lifeless eyes of the Finis locked him in their stare.

"She was one of them," Ermit continued. He flicked the Finis' head with his forefinger. A clang was heard. It echoed.

"Why is she here?" Rolf asked.

"The Agriculture Department back in Camineet had her assigned to work in the Nido Farm Domes east of here. All was going fine until two weeks ago."

Rolf cocked an eyebrow. "And what, exactly, happened two weeks ago? My details remain sketchy."

"Finis here had been having problems with her left arm for months. She was scheduled to come in and see me as soon as I got the Polezi out there running again. The Agency has been hounding me about it for weeks. Anyway, I was afraid she might have a virus or terminal malfunction in the arm, so I advised the folks down at Nido to temporarily remove it. The Finis made it clear she didn't like the idea, but of course, she allowed it. But she complained of phantom nerve pain afterwards. It's rare for an android to suffer so, but it has happened. Malfunction in sensory units and whatnot.

"Anyway, two weeks ago, she was in an awful accident. Had something to do with a malfunctioning Agribot. She lost her other arm..." Ermit ran his finger across his throat and made a slicing sound. "... and nearly lost her head along with it."

Rolf stuided from a distance the hideous gash on the android's throat. Wires and tubing and circuit boards were clearly visible beneath the gray- green "skin" of the Finis. It was an unnerving sight.

"I'm afraid this drove her quite safely over the edge," Ermit continued. "Have you ever seen a hysterical android, Agent...Rolf?"

Rolf shuddered and shook his head. "No, and I don't think I'd ever want to."

Ermit laughed. "Smart guy. The fellow who had been assigned to work on her was found a few hours later. Dead. Finis here was the prime suspect."

Rolf gasped. He hadn't been assigned to the Nido case until that very afternoon and knew little about the attack itself. The revelation that one of the farming dome workers had actually been murdered by an android was more than just a shock.

"I'm assuming she kicked him to death," Rolf said. The Natasha-Type androids -- Finises, Mortes, and Fatales -- had originally been designed to exterminate pirates stationed on Mota and Dezo. Their martial arts fighting techniques, which consisted primarily of kicks, were legendary.

Ermit laughed. "That's just it. He was choked. Died of asphyxiation."

Rolf blinked and took his eyes off of the Finis for the first time. They fell upon Ermit. "How could an armless android choke a man?"

Ermit smiled. "That's why you're here." He stepped over to the door that led back to the shop's main room. "I'll be outside. She's made it clear she won't talk if I'm around. Don't be afraid of her. Her legs are restrained by some plasma rings the Agency was kind enough to send down, so she can't move. Maybe you can get some facts out of her. Remember, I'm here if you need me." Ermit stepped through the door and closed it after him. The closing of the door caused a loud thud that echoed and re-echoed throughout the small chamber. Rolf looked back to the Finis, then caught a glimpse of the severed Siren head out of the corner of his eye. He shuddered, placed the head on the floor, took the stool it had rested on, and then set the stool before the Finis. Rolf sat down and waited for the green-haired AI to come around.

After a few seconds, a scratchy, mechanical groan poured from the Finis' throat. Her eyes flickered bright yellow a few times and then lit. Such cold and mechanical eyes they were; a far cry from the unmistakably Palman eyes of the newer androids which had spread throughout Algo in years prior. But her eyes were without pupils, like the eyes of a Dezorian.

The Finis' head came up and shook back and forth a few times. Green hair, knotted and smelling of oil, hung about the creature's face and shoulders. A few large clumps of it fell to the floor. Its yellow eyes drilled into Rolf. The exposed innards of the machine visible through the wound in the neck and holes where the arms should be pulsed with sudden life.

The Finis examined Rolf for a moment. It seemed to smirk, briefly, but then went expressionless, as if it had fallen into a coma.

"Who are you?" Rolf asked calmly.

"I am an agriculture-specialist android, designation Natasha-type, Finis model. I am assigned to Nido Dome Three east of Arima." The Finis' voice was not smooth and womanly, like the voices of normal Natasha androids. The damage done to the machine's throat had rendered its voice alien and cold, like a monotone voice heard over a walkie-talkie or tin can radio.

Rolf shivered inwardly, his body very cold, and nodded. "Why are you here?"

"I was involved in an accident involving a malfunctioning Agribot. I have been sent here to be repaired."

"Are you aware that the man originally assigned to repair you was murdered?"

The Finis cocked its head to one side. "I am."

"Do you know what happened to him?"

"He was murdered!" The android laughed.

Rolf sighed. His voice shook. "Do you know how, why, or by whom he was murdered?"

The Finis shook its head. "No."

Rolf leaned in closer. "Are you sure?"

The Finis also leaned in closer, although its movement was restricted by the plasma rings. "Yep."

It was unusual for an android with such low AI to speak in such a way. It was clear that its laws and inhibitor subroutines had been offset by the physical trauma. There was probably mental damage as well. Rolf knew that the Finis' positronic brain was sure to be removed and destroyed, meaning that the "individual" inhabiting the Finis' body was doomed. Rolf wondered if the Finis knew this as well.

"Your left arm was removed so that it could be repaired. Is it here?"

The Finis nodded. "Yeah. Over there." She nodded to Rolf's right. Rolf looked over to where the Siren's head lay on the floor. There was a long, short brown box beside it. Rolf walked over to the box and opened it. A Finis' arm which appeared to be perfectly fine met his eyes.

Rolf took a scanner out of his pocket. There was a small screen on the upper part of the scanner's front side. Rolf pressed the thumb of the Finis' arm against the screen, giving him the android equivalent of a fingerprint. That done, he walked over to the doorway and stepped out into the main room of the shop.

"How'd it go?" Ermit asked.

Rolf just shook his head. "I don't know yet. I'm going to Central Tower to run a test on this fingerprint. See if it matches those found on the victim's neck. Maybe the victim was able to attach the arm before being strangled, and then the Finis itself removed the arm so as not to be a suspect. Androids are docile when obedient but ingenious when insane. I'll be back in an hour."

Ermit waved good bye and Rolf disappeared down the street.

Rolf came back less than forty minutes later. The door to the shop was still unlocked.

"Mr. Kain," Rolf called as he walked in. Bells over the door rang, but there were no other sounds. "Turns out the arm was never reattached. It needed replacement parts from Roron that haven't even arrived yet, so reattaching either arm would have been impossible. Besides, the one is defective and the other was destroyed, so..."

There was still no answer.

"Mr. Kain? Fearing the worst, Rolf walked over to the door of the back room. He stepped inside and said, "Lights." The rookie agent gasped when saw the proprietor of the shop lying dead on the floor. A froth had formed at the corner of his mouth. The skin of his neck was red and raw.

And the Finis sat, motionless and armless yet very much awake, on the other end of the room.

"What happened?" Rolf bellowed. "Who did this?"

The Finis smirked but said nothing.

"Who are your accomplices?" Rolf continued. "I know it wasn't you. It couldn't have been. Your arms were never reattached. And yet, the fingerprints matched. This means someone else used the arm to commit the crime. It would be possible to animate the arm with a remote power source. I've seen it done."

Still the Finis did not react.

"Who's helping you, damn it?" Rolf screamed at the thing. "You've got two men's blood on your hands. Don't you realize you could be disassembled for this? I know Natasha-types are empathics-capable. You have to be worried about this. Damn it, talk!"

The Finis neither moved nor spoke, yet Rolf felt a presence in the room. At first he thought it to be behind him. He spun on his heels. There was no one in the outer room, or in the small chamber he and the Finis and the late Mr. Ermit Kain and the dismantled Siren android occupied.

Rolf felt something cold on his throat. Panels, ten groups of three, made of cold, cold metal, bending, shaping themselves to fit around Rolf's neck. Next came two large, flat surfaces. Rolf screamed as he realized he was feeling the weight of ten fingers and two palms digging into his throat.

He was being strangled, and yet, there were no hands there.

He looked down at the Finis as his face grew red and his head grew light. It was looking up at him smiling.

Rolf's face went white as he remembered something Mr. Kain had said, something about phantom nerve pain. If Finis had been suffering from phantom nerve pain, must not there then also be...?

No. It was impossible. But what else could it be?

Rolf quit struggling to pry off the hands which weren't really there. Instead he reached for the sonic gun at his waist. It took all of his remaining (and quickly vanishing) strength to raise the barrel and fire a single audiobullet into the android's positronic brain.

A steady plume of smoke accompanied by a short rain of sparks poured from the hole in the defunct Finis' head. The eyes lost their glow and the entire head fell backwards. The neck snapped in two, the tear beginning at the gaping wound caused by the Agribot and not ending until the rest of the creature's throat had broken away. The Finis' head and the top part of its neck rang against the cement floor like a bell.

And the phantom hands on the agent's throat melted away.

Rolf sheathed his sonic gun and rubbed his neck. He looked at the dead mechanic beside him, and then at the headless and armless form of the Finis. He sighed. Destroying government property was going to be hard to explain. But that explanation would be small compared to others.


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