She glared at the young man opposite and he looked back at her with a slightly bemused expression. Whatever it was that was darkening her mood, he wasn’t sharing it and that just served to darken it more. She sighed, grunting to herself as she took a sip of water and peered behind to check the time on a clock that was bolted to the white plaster wall. It was late, even later than she’d thought but still it felt like the seconds were crawling by at all too leisurely a pace.
Her frustration had long since given way to irritation and even that had collapsed into annoyance some time ago. Now she felt like she could happily beat someone to death, just to relieve the stress, at the very hint of provocation, if only there was someone foolish enough to provoke her.
He seemed to know just how far to push, just keeping her on the edge, never too far.
“Shall we start again?” she grumbled, hardly wanting to start again at all. She had managed to keep most of the anger out of her voice but not all. She was getting tense again and he had noticed, and there was a small smile on his lips.
“Sure. Why not?” he said with a shrug. “I’ve got nothing better to do than sit here talking to you. If you can keep the coffee flowing, you can keep starting over for as long as you like. Maybe it will help, maybe I’ll suddenly remember that I did do what you’re accusing me of?”
She shut her eyes, blinking a little too long as she made a conscious effort to calm herself, even thought she’d drunk so much coffee that she was now experiencing chest pains. That fact did very little to calm her down, “Where were you this time last week?”
“At home,” he shrugged. “I was in bed, with my wife. You should meet her, she’s often in a foul mood which is usually my fault, for some inexplicable reason. You’re an amateur compared to her, which is why I don’t seem as rattled as you do.”
She rubbed her hands together. They were thick with sweat although the room was cool and the recycled air was fresh and clean. She ran her hands over her head, slicking back her long brown hair and glared at him through narrowed eyes, her lips pinched together.
“Why don’t you tell me about your wife?”
“She’s a little taller than you seem to be, although it’s hard to tell with those shoes,” he peered at her, as if drawing a comparison between the two. “If you don’t mind me saying so, she’s a little prettier too, and she certainly smiles more often.”
She grunted to herself and looked away.
He continued, perhaps just to annoy her, “She’s a good person, that’s why I married her. She’s intelligent, driven and motivated but still caring and warm.”
She sneered and said, “And yet you chose to kill her?”
He glared at her for a moment but any anger he felt seemed to vanish just as quickly as it appeared, “Is that what you’re charging me with? Murder? Don’t you need a body first, a witness or some kind of evidence?”
“I know you killed her. I know what kind of a man you are. I’ve seen that look on your face when I say just the right thing,” she stared fixedly into his eyes and an angry little smile fluttered over her lips. It shocked her how much she hated him, this grinning thing before her.
“She’s not dead,” he told her, speaking with assuredness. “She’s missing. Might I remind you that I reported this to you in the first place?”
“I know,” she turned her eyes to the report. “Many clever murderers cover their tracks very well. Are you a clever man?”
“If I say I am, it doesn’t make me any more or less of a killer, does it?” he looked away, as if disappointed by all this. “Are you actually doing anything about finding my wife or do you feel that the most important thing right now is just to violate the Human rights of the one person who had absolutely nothing to do with any of this?”
She sipped at her water, sat back heavily in the chair and gazed at him, hatefully peering at the man before her, unable or unwilling to pretend otherwise. He seemed so painfully average that it was hard to imagine him being anything other than a normal person, just a man living a normal life. But she knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was anything but normal. She knew it and she forced herself to cling on to that one small fact.
“Mr McHaine, I know what you are!” she told him.
He leant forward, sarcastically mirroring her obvious resentment, “What am I?”
She leaned further towards him, challenging him. “Why don’t you tell me?” she said, gesturing to a circular black recorder in the centre of the desk between them. “Just for the record.”
He nodded curtly, and then slowly leant fowards until he was as close to the device as possible. “I’m Mr McHaine, I’m from Winchester and I drive for a small delivery company. I’m married to Anne, who vanished from our home three days ago and the matter is being investigated by people who don’t appear to able to find their own feet at the bottom of the legs without detailed instructions. Frankly, as a tax-payer, I’m considering asking for a refund and an formal apology.”
“Mr McHaine…” she grumbled angrily, annoyed at his continued lack of seriousness.
“Please,” he smiled, “call me Robert.”
“I’m calling this a break,” she said after a lengthy pause in which she imagined herself hurting him quite badly. “This interview is suspended at time-mark 1138.”
“Milk,” he said to her, his expression again one of amusement. “Two sugars. Nice and hot please.”
She opened her mouth to snap an answer back at him but held her temper and simply turned instead to the door. As she approached, it opened automatically, the unlocking latches clunking heavily.
She stepped through and clenched her fists, breathing heavily at the sheer frustration of the long, arduous day she was having.
As the door clicked shut, locking behind her, the other investigator stood up, he had been hidden from view behind a two-way mirror, observing from outside.
“Don’t tell me you’re finally giving up?” he said expectantly, grinning at her. She didn’t answer. “Well?”
She looked away, breathing out and sneering away into the distance, trying to manage her temper. “Well what?” she growled.
“Well?” he shrugged. “What do you think?”
She looked at him, wishing she had more to give, “There’s no evidence.”
He smiled, “None?”
She was forced to admit the truth and was just too tired not to, “I’ve been grilling him for nine hours straight. Nothing, there’s absolutely no evidence at all and yet I know. I absolutely know what he is beyond the shadow of a doubt.”
He grinned at her, “That’s good, isn’t it?”
She had to admit that it was, but the part of her that loved a challenge was beaten, and it was the part of her that giving up came hardest to. “But I know what he is. I know.”
“We’ve done our job,” he told her sympathetically. “We were testing him and he passed. That’s a good thing.”
“Well, if he passed, why does it feel like I failed?”
He chuckled a little, “It doesn’t work like that and you know it. We’re just testing him. That’s all. We were told to push his implanted memory program, to take his emotional responses up to the limits. We’ve done that. You’ve been twisting him in knots, you’ve accused, you’ve driven him to the edge of his Humanity and he passed all our tests. That’s a success, a great success. They’ve built an android and fitted it was a Human memory, creating a perfect, flawless copy of a Human that even we could tell from the real thing.”
She huffed weakly feeling completely drained, “I could try again.”
“We’ve finished. This was a success. I think we should call it a day. We’re done here!” he told her and she nodded back weakly, giving in to it all.
“So the experiment was a success? No deviation in emotion, no collapse of the system at all? The memory programmed into it was totally stable?” she asked.
“The android has no idea it’s an android,” he was smiling widely now and clapped his hands together excitedly. “We’ve pushed it as far as we can go and it’s fine. The machine has shown no problems handling the situation. All responses have been normal for a standard Human. This android appears just as Human as Human gets.”
“I’m so pleased,” she said sarcastically. “I think I just need a stiff drink, a warm shower and an early night.”
“Then do it,” he told her, slapping her on the shoulder supportively. “I’ll finish up here.”
“Thanks, Adam,” she said with a largely insincere smile, making her way out to the door, leaving all this behind.
He watched her go, smiling and shaking his head at her in amusement. He unlatched the door to the secure interrogation room and stepped inside, leaving it swinging open.
Mr McHaine looked up as he did, he seemed surprised to see any other face than hers, “Adam? Are we done?”
He smiled widely back at him, “We’re done. It has no idea! The android thinks it’s Human, the memory program held up remarkably well. It passed all the tests, even though you really annoyed her.”
He stood up, stretched and breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “Thank god. I’ve had enough for one day.”
“Well, get a good night’s rest. Tomorrow she’s going to be reprogrammed to be your wife again for the positive emotional study!” Adam grinned at him.
He huffed in annoyance, “I thought we ran those already? Why do we have to do it again?”
“They like to be thorough.”
“Yeah,” he grunted. He paused for a moment, frowning thoughtfully. “You know, if she really has no idea she’s a machine, then do you ever wonder about what that means for all the rest of us? I mean, she knows she’s real, there’s not the shadow of a doubt in her mind and yet we know. We know! What could that mean for any of us?”
He shook his head and quickly dismissed this troubling idea, “Come on, let’s get out of here. I need a stiff drink, a hot shower and an early night.”
“Yeah,” said Adam, “I was just thinking the exact same thing.”