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Murder at the Cyborg Ball

Two attendees of the royal cyborg ball race to uncover each others' secrets before someone winds up dead.

By Lorelle R.Published 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 17 min read
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I know your secret.

The room service drone had left the package mere minutes ago, but when Chia opened it, instead of the towels she’d requested, it contained only a lone, threatening note.

I know your secret.

But which one? Chia mused. That she didn’t belong here? The nature of her true objective in attending the ball? Or could it be… that other thing?

Chia shredded the note briskly. Ridiculous. No one could know about that. She was just paranoid, as usual. Someone had discovered that her ID was fake, that was all. She could come up with a reason for that.

Chia walked over to the window to dispose of the impolite paper shreds before remembering where she was, and that her window would never open.

She was a guest at the Fiberglass Hotel, location of this year’s royal cyborg ball, and the 22nd Century’s first satellite vacation destination.

Well, best to get to the bottom of this sooner rather than later.

The concierge’s desk was situated on the 3rd deck of the hotel, where the staff lived and worked. There was an implicit assumption that no one would need to visit the concierge’s desk in person, of course.

Chia wondered how she would be able to search for it without stirring up trouble. She shouldn’t have worried, the answer presented itself the moment she stepped out of her room and into the path of one of the other hotel guests.

“Good evening,” the impeccably-dressed cyborg gentleman said.

“Evening,” Chia said. Maybe that was a bit abrupt. “Lovely place, don’t you think?”

The gentleman sniffed and tugged at his platinum cufflink. “It’s novel, I suppose.” He attempted to subtly inspect Chia’s appearance. “How much esteem do you have?”

“Eight percent.” Chia tapped the thin, metallic plaque on her jacket.

There was a noticeable cooling of attention, a straightening of superiority and a wandering of the eye, laced with casual contempt. Most citizens down in Erisium didn’t even have a full one percent of machine components, but here among the elite, eight percent was shockingly, derisively little.

The cyborg wandered off, apparently rating an eight-percenter as not even worthy of a farewell or a closing comment.

Freshly armed with the knowledge that she was unavoidably common in her mannerisms, Chia removed the plaque that identified her as a cyborg, slipped it into her pocket, and sauntered off the elevator onto the third floor.

No one paid her any notice.

She found the door marked Concierge by scanning with a low-tech external digital device. The room was unlocked, and she let herself in.

It was a large room, with the feel of an old-fashioned mail room. Drones buzzed in all directions, in a frenzied choreography that appeared completely chaotic, but the lack of mid-air collisions revealed invisible design.

The concierge was seated at his desk at the front of the room, feet propped up, surrounded by computer screens, and apparently oblivious both to the buzzing cacophony behind him, and to Chia’s unannounced presence.

Chia walked up to the desk. “Hi, there.”

“Hello!” It was more of a startled outburst than a proper greeting. The concierge swung his feet off of the desk and bolted into an upright posture. He blinked a few times as if it was difficult to focus on reality after staring so deeply into the digital realm.

“I wonder if you can help me?” Chia reached into her pocket for the empty package.

“I wonder the same.” He grinned, and there was a spark of something mischievous in it. He looked young to be in charge of all the drones at such a prestigious hotel, and his disheveled hair and jittering knees gave him a slightly manic air. It probably took a lot of caffeine to keep an entire hotel’s worth of snobby cyborgs happy.

“This was delivered to my room just a few moments ago. I’d like to know who sent it.”

The concierge gestured to the drones zipping through the air behind him. “Well, the system is highly automated. Any specialty requests are filtered through the computer here, and I take care of them personally. Was there something unsatisfactory about your delivery?”

“Well, it wasn’t what I’d requested, for one thing.”

He tapped his fingers on his desk. “I can send you another-”

“I want to know who sent this one.” Chia set the package in front of him.

He picked it up and rapidly turned it over a few times. “What was in it?”

It was always best to build a lie on the truth, Chia had learned. “A note from an unidentified sender claiming to know my secret.”

The young man darted a quick glance at her. “Sounds ominous.”

“I do feel a bit threatened.” Damsel in distress, anyone?

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you.” He set the package down. “Its barcode, everything really, looks proper. It looks like it was sent from this room.”

“Well, thanks anyway.”

“Oh! But you know what I can do?” The concierge leaped out of his seat and clapped his hands. “I’ll follow you–with your permission!–and if your mysterious penpal sends you another drone, I’ll use my security clearance to disable it. We may be able to track it back to him using the drone itself.”

“Well…”

“Come on, I need to get out of this stuffy room!” The man was already grabbing a jacket off the back of his chair.

“I’m not sure you’ll find the ballroom much less stuffy.”

“Ha! Tell me about it. Seen one royal cyborg, seen ‘em all, right?”

Chia smiled. “I’m Chia, by the way. And you are?”

“Ruse.”

Chia paused. “Your name is Ruse?”

“Well, it’s what I’m called.” He flashed her another impish grin and swung the door open for her. “Shall we?”

Once they were back on the elevator, Ruse turned to her, eyes sparkling. He leaned in with the air of a conspirator. “So what is your secret, anyway?”

Chia had been expecting this question, and had already decided what she was going to tell him. “I’m here on a fake ID.”

“Oh?” Ruse asked, drawing out the word to ridiculous lengths.

“I’m following a story.”

“You’re a reporter!”

“Investigative journalist.” Chia tapped a finger to her lips, and whispered, “There have been rumors that there will be an attempt on the princess’ life tonight.”

“Ahhh,” Ruse said, nodding. “The enigmatic princess, huh? Good story material either way, huh?”

“What do you think she’ll be like?”

Ruse shrugged. “Like all the other royals, probably. Stuck up. Out of touch. Boring.”

“Maybe not. She was only royal by blood for a long time, after all.”

Ruse snorted. “You mean that whole, ‘growing up in secrecy with a surrogate family’ stuff? You really believe that?”

“Well, have you ever seen the princess? What, you think they just kept her locked in a cupboard whenever the royal family had visitors over?”

Ruse laughed, a colorful, popping sound. “Now there’s a picture.”

The elevator doors opened, but the entrance was blocked by two hotel security officers in grim gray uniforms. “Miss. You’ll need to come with us.”

“What’s this about?” Chia demanded. But she wasn’t about to argue with the only people on the hotel allowed lethal weapons. Instead, she tapped at her electronic device in her pocket.

“Follow me, please,” said the shorter officer.

Chia did as she was told, and the second officer fell into step behind her. They ushered her to a beige door marked Security.

The room inside was dark and carpeted, both on the floors and the walls. Screens depicting security feeds from all over the hotel adorned almost every surface.

“Take a seat please.” The officer behind her guided her to a sitting position.

“We’re going to need to see your papers,” the shorter officer said. The plaque on his desk read Higgins.

The door to the security offices flew open and three more people strode in. “Whatever they’re telling you, disregard.”

“Excuse me?” Higgins stood up, but his face warped as he identified the newcomers. “Sir?”

A wiry man dressed in a black suit handed a folder to the officer. “I think you’ll find the lady’s clearances are in order.”

Higgins cleared his throat. “A guest reported that she was poking around the concierge’s room without authorization.”

The man in black turned to one of his confederates, a man with wrinkles surround his eyes and gray surrounding his head. “Do you give the lady authorization to poke around your room?”

The gray-haired man looked a little lost, but he nodded. “Certainly.”

The man in black turned back to Higgins. “Well, there you have it. She has the concierge’s blessing.”

“But-”

The man tapped on the folder. “Everything you need to know about her is in there.”

Higgins opened the folder. “This is just the royal seal.”

The man in black gave Higgins a meaningful look.

Higgins straightened up and turned his attention to Chia. “Sorry about the bother, miss. Please excuse us, and enjoy your stay at Fiberglass.”

The man in black walked Chia to the door. "Signal again if you run into any more trouble.”

Chia nodded and the man opened the door for her.

Ruse was leaning against the wall opposite here, waiting. He looked up, surprised, and pretended to glance at a wristwatch as she walked past him. “Seems you have friends in high places.”

Chia stopped walking. “Seems you are not a concierge.”

Ruse spread his hands wide, grinning and unapologetic. “Not as such.”

“So who are you? Really? No, wait.” Chia held up a hand. “What were you doing in the concierge’s office?”

“Sending you a threatening note.”

Chia let out a shocked laugh. “You what?”

Ruse shrugged grandly. “You asked who I am. Let’s just say I spend a lot of time with people who are stuck up. Out of touch. Boring.”

“You’re an aristocrat.”

Ruse nodded with an expression of disgust. “If I made you overmuch uncomfortable, I do apologize. But I get so bored of all the insincerity and posturing of my peers. I thought I’d have a little fun.” He grinned. “Meeting you is the first interesting thing I’ve done in months.”

“How’d you find out? About my ID?”

“I didn’t, exactly. But I saw you when you got here. The minute you stepped off that shuttle I could tell you didn’t belong here. Your upper crust act needs work. To be honest, I pegged you for a grifter, not a reporter. Well, I took a chance that you had a secret. I was only half-wrong in my theory.”

Chia wanted to interrogate the troublemaker further. Something about his story seemed a little too rehearsed. But a glance at her device told her she didn’t have time. “The first dance is about to begin. I don’t want to miss the princess’ reveal.”

Ruse swooped in front of her path. “Let me accompany you. I’ll apologize properly for complicating your investigation.”

“Having a dance partner while I observe the room might be convenient, actually,” Chia mused. She held out her arm. “Let’s hurry.”

Ruse took her arm with gallant showmanship, and ushered her through the glossy halls. He seemed to know the hotel well, and soon the sounds of modern orchestral music floated toward them.

The grand ballroom was a glittering, glassy spectacle, packed with all of the most esteemed cyborgs in the nation. Tonight was the night of all nights. The princess would be revealed to her people, and anyone who was anyone had shelled out for the chance to ride the shuttles up to the wondrous Fiberglass Hotel. Floating silver decorations reflected back all the sparkling jewel tones worn by aristocrats, world leaders, and the richest people Erisium had ever produced.

“I should have brought my sunglasses.” Chia squinted theatrically.

“Yes, that would help you blend in,” Ruse scoffed. “You need a snobbery coach.”

Chia didn’t volley back his friendly jibe. She was searching the room. “Who’s that?” she asked, noticing the crowd avoid a particular man in ruby-red.

“Why don’t you just scan him?” Ruse asked.

“Asking is quicker.”

Ruse laughed and shook his head. “That’s one of the king’s informers. Everyone knows it, but no one says it out loud.” Ruse tilted his head. “Just admit it.”

“Admit what?” Chia turned her attention back to her dance partner.

“You…” Ruse’s eyes gleamed with either mischief or malice. “You’re one hundred percent organic, aren’t you?”

“Well, I have a dental crown, if that counts.”

Ruse looked impressed, and a little… jealous? “Incredible! What a funny little life you must lead.”

“Spoken like a true upper crust. How did you guess?”

“Well, for one thing, you forgot to replace your plaque. No self-respecting cyborg would walk around so naked.”

Chia scrambled for the plaque in her pocket, and snapped it back into place, flushing. A foolish mistake.

Ruse just laughed again. “And secondly, you just act… human.”

Chia scoffed. “Cyborgs are human, too. If organics and cyborgs act different from each other, I would put the blame on our economic differences, not our hardware.” She looked him up and down. “So how much esteem do you have?”

Ruse danced another few steps with her. He squinted, fascination all over his face. “You’re not a reporter, are you?”

“No, I’m not.”

“So why are you really here?”

Chia looked away.

“Might I remind you, oh humany one, that I have the power to have you ejected from this prestigious place?” Ruse glowed from the intrigue. “So spill it, dearie. Or I’ll have the guard drones over here before you can say ‘secret identity’.”

“Ah, there’s the blackmailer from our first encounter.” Chia glared at him. “Look, the truth… the truth is I am here to tactfully confirm the identity of the princess for the king and queen before she is officially announced.”

Ruse gawped at her. “And how would you be able to do that?”

Chia didn’t answer.

“Who are you?”

She let her feet slow to a stop. “I’ve already told you more than I should have.” She contemplated ditching him on the dance floor and taking up position on the other side of the room.

He seemed to realize he’d pushed a little too far. “You asked me how much esteem I have. I thought you would have figured it out by now. I don’t have a soul.” He smiled at her, but something in the shape of it seemed insincere. “I’m one hundred percent machine, baby. No human left.”

Chia blinked. One hundred percent? She had never heard of such a thing. You’d think someone that esteemed would be some sort of celebrity or public figure. But with the resources required to buy all that augmentation, it made a sort of sense that he also had the necessary funds to afford some privacy. “But you had a biological form once, right?” she finally answered. “That makes you human.”

“If you have an old hammer, and you replace the handle, and then later the head, is it still the same hammer?” Ruse shrugged as he said it, but he voice was too tense to convince Chia of his disinterest in her response.

Chia would have argued the point, but the crowd hushed suddenly.

The king and queen walked onto the stage at the front of the room. A young woman in a resplendent creamy blue dress walked behind them.

“Is that the princess?” Ruse whispered in Chia’s ear.

He was very close to her, and suddenly she wondered if she should not have told him her true purpose for attending the ball.

The king and queen were searching the crowd with their eyes. The queen spotted Chia first. Her eyes paused, just for a moment. Waiting for a signal.

Chia didn’t give it. Something didn’t feel right.

Ruse noticed her sudden tenseness. “Everything all right?”

“You know, I think I just need a little fresh air.”

“Right now? I thought you are supposed to identify the princess or whatever?” His casual tone did not disguise the intensity behind his eyes.

Chia took stepped away.

In an instant, he was beside her again. “Take my advice, Chia, whatever you’re thinking of doing, don’t.” He looked again at the woman beside the king and queen. “Is that really the princess?”

Chia didn’t answer, but Ruse seemed to take that as answer of its own. Both of them seemed unable to take their eyes off of the woman in blue.

“You know,” Ruse said. “When I heard that there was going to be someone at the ball who could identify the princess, I didn’t really believe it. Had to see for myself. But since meeting you, you seem very confident in your abilities. I’d hate to have the wrong target.”

Chia did her best to remain calm. “What are you talking about?”

“Please,” Ruse said, scornfully. “Don’t treat me like an idiot. Whatever I am, it’s not that.”

“One hundred percent machine?” Chia asked.

Ruse flinched a little, but his eyes were still on the woman on the stage. The king was making some sort of speech, but Chia didn’t hear any of it.

“Who could afford that?” she asked. “Who could afford that level of augmentation?”

“So you’ve guessed,” Ruse said, bitterness dripping from his words. “Yes, I am child of the king. But I don’t get the title of prince. I’d be royalty by blood, if I had blood anymore. But they won’t let me rule because they fear their loyal citizens won’t trust a cyborg with no humanity left.”

“So killing your sister is the only chance you get at the throne?”

“Sister? What sister? I’ve never even met the woman. So tell me, what relates us? That we were brought into the world by the same two people, and nothing else.”

If she didn’t already know he was one hundred percent esteemed, Chia would have sworn she saw a tear glistening in Ruse’s eye.

“I’m not going to let anything stop me, Chia. Certainly not some fabricated bond of familial love. Whatever is about to happen, just let it happen.”

He stepped forward suddenly, raising his arm.

Without thinking, Chia jumped on him. They both crashed to the ground. There was a muffled explosion.

People shouting.

Smoke in the air.

Chia rolled off of Ruse’s inert body and scanned the stage for the princess. The royal cyborgs’ personal security agents were ushering the royal family off the stage. Through the chaos, the king caught Chia’s eye and gave her a subtle, but grateful nod. It seemed Chia’s small act of heroism was all the confirmation they’d needed that the woman with them was really their daughter.

Chia blinked away sudden tears and turned back to Ruse.

The cyborg was groaning. A gaping wound in his chest leaked dark, pungent liquid onto the glassy ballroom floor. Whatever he’d aimed at the princess, he’d fallen on top of when Chia pushed him to the ground, and it had torn him open.

Ruse was dying.

Chia knelt beside him and uselessly pressed her hands against the hole in his chest. “I’m sorry.”

He made a wet gagging noise as he tried to speak. He looked more confused than anything else. “I ran…” he managed to say before coughing up more of the foul-smelling goo. “I ran the probabilities. Every scenario. You weren’t going to stop me.” He seemed astonished and the fallibility of his own electronic brain.

“You were working from an incomplete data set. You forgot to add that humans are willing to do anything for family.”

“Family?” He broke into another coughing fit, spattering droplets of dark goo against everything nearby. “You…” Realization was slow. “You were the princess’ surrogate family?”

One last secret, then. “Part of. I called her a sister for my whole life. My parents treated her like another daughter.”

This time Chia definitely saw a tear escape Ruse’s eye. His augmented body must have been crafted with the utmost care. He could even cry.

“I guess that makes us a kind of brother and sister.” There was no point in trying to close the wound on Ruse’s chest, so Chia took his hand instead.

Another tear leaked across Ruse’s face. He looked stunned and increasingly vacant. “I never met someone like you,” he whispered. “You’re… kind to me.”

“You deserve kindness,” Chia said. Her voice was also hushed by tears. Maybe it was too late to convince him, but she wanted to try anyway. “You do have a soul, Ruse. I know you do.”

His smile was eerie, only half there. “Maybe if the king and queen had sent me to grow up with your family too, I could’ve believed that.” He was fading so quickly. “I wish…”

Whatever he was going to say, Chia didn’t hear. Ruse was gone.

Sci FiShort StoryMystery
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About the Creator

Lorelle R.

"Writers write," I chant to myself as I endlessly refresh Goodreads instead of writing.

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