silence by velocitti

An Homage to the works of Isaac Asimov

by Bojan Ratković


He calls me Rue, but that’s not my name. I don’t have a name at all.

I’m a BRIDE model (Version 4.19), electric wires whirring inside me.

He says he loves me, but that’s a lie; when the wires break he’ll send me away.

I’m an imposter.

The words were projected on a holo-tab, floating before his eyes. The text was distinct enough to read but transparent, so that you could see right through if your eyes switched focus. Detective Jacobin Dunn read the note again, letting each word echo through the halls of his mind, then ran his hand over the tablet and the projection was gone. He slipped the device into the pocket of his coat and turned his attention to the road.

The car was auto-driving north on Third, crawling towards downtown. Buildings sprouted up on both sides. Most were encased in glass, the windows doubling as ad space.

“Incoming call from HQ,” the car said.

“Put it through. Audio only.”

“Detective Dunn, are you there?”

“I’m here. Lorena, is that you?”

“Yes, Jay, it’s me. Dr. Muross has been here for ten minutes and we’re waiting for you.” The woman’s voice was soft but firm, and Dunn smiled at the thought of her pacing the office wondering how anyone could keep Henry Muross waiting.

“I’m on my way. The whole city’s blocked off because of the protests. I would expect Muross to sympathize―he’s the one they’re protesting.”

“He prefers Dr. Muross, Jay.”

“I know he does.”

“Just be here as soon as possible.”

He glanced out the window. On his right he saw the pristine grass and tall trees of Olympus Park. “Just passing the park.”

“Good. I’ll see you soon.”

She hung up.

Olympus Park was eight city blocks of lush greenery, narrow walkways, and marble water fountains that stuck out like a bruise on the city’s concrete frame. At the center, the corporate headquarters of Olympia Cybernetics stabbed at the sky. The building was the only structure within the park itself, the word OLYMPIA running down its side in giant letters.

Watchtower 21b


At the far end of the park, Dunn could see a large crowd gathered. They were trying to push their way inside but were blocked off by police in riot gear. The protestors swarmed like bees around carefully placed police formations. Some carried go-boards, portable holographic projectors displaying billboard-sized images into the air. One sign showed a big red X plastered over a lifeless metallic face, the words “SoMo = SOMA” flashing beneath. Another featured the graphic of a giant fist repeatedly punching the face of Henry Muross.

The detective’s view of the park was soon obstructed by high-rises. Two blocks further the car made a left at Dominion Square, and instantly Dunn could see the dark glass of police HQ. As they pulled into the parking garage he glanced in the rear-view mirror, straightening his hair and fixing his collar.


The elevators took him to the ninth floor where Lorena would be waiting — along with Henry Muross. The detective made his way past offices and meeting rooms framed by glass walls. When he reached a large steel door at the far end of the hall, he identified himself by name and waited for the facial scan. The door slid open and he stepped inside.

He heard the sound of high-heeled shoes on the marble floor. Lorena turned the corner. “Finally,” she said and motioned for him to follow. She led the way down the hall to a private conference room. Lorena placed one hand on her hip and the other on the doorknob, waiting for Dunn to catch up.

“I’m coming,” Dunn muttered. Lorena watched as he closed his eyes and placed the tips of his index fingers on each eyelid. He made a circular motion with both fingers, activating the augmented reality lenses. Lorena entered a four-digit code and the door opened.


Two people sat in leather chairs at a long conference table.  The large room overlooking Dominion Square was bare except for the table and chairs, and was framed by walls of a bland beige color. As the detectives entered, both people stood. A short man with glasses stepped forward, offering his hand. “Hello, I’m Henry Muross.” Dunn shook it and nodded. The man’s grip was flimsy ― like a dead fish in his hand.

“Dr. Muross,” said Lorena. “This is Detective Jay Dunn, my partner on this case. Thank you for coming in today.”

“Of course,” Muross said. The man’s scent reminded Dunn of cough-medicine. A small woman stood just behind Muross. Her complexion was light but her short hair was a deep shade of black. “Ah, this is Eva,” Muross said. “My personal SoMo.”

“Pleased to meet you,” she said and bowed.

Dunn raised an eyebrow. “She is a social model?”

Muross nodded. “I should also inform you that she is authorized to act as my attorney, should the need arise.”

“No need for attorneys,” said Lorena, inviting them to sit. They took their places around the table, the detectives on one side and Muross with his SoMo on the other. As Lorena laid out the facts of the case, Eva pulled out a tablet and began to type.

Dunn was silent. He focused his gaze on Eva and narrowed his eyes slightly. His lenses zoomed in on the SoMo’s face. Her features were soft and symmetrical, short hair framing her face along the jaw line. The censors showed her expression was “Neutral.” Then he did the same for Muross, who was listening to Lorena’s speech. Beneath the calm face, he was “Eager.”

“I appreciate your efforts, detective,” Muross said to Lorena when she finished, “but I was hoping that the investigation would run more smoothly, if you know what I mean.” His eyes moved from Lorena to Dunn, then back to Lorena again. “I mean it’s clear, isn’t it? There is no record of any cybernetic unit, whether SoMo or SeMo, ever committing suicide. The very idea is ridiculous! Eva, the note please.” The SoMo pulled out a holo-tab, and the words Dunn had seen many times before were projected in front of them.

Muross read them off mockingly. When he was finished, he turned it off and laughed. “You see how crazy it is? The idea that a cyber unit would leave a suicide note, and such a crude one at that — it’s comical.”

“We have to explore all options,” said Lorena, “but I assure you that as per the Cybernetic Unit Bill of Rights we are treating this death very seriously.”

Muross nodded and rubbed his chin. “If you think about the wording of the note, you will observe that using the term ‘imposter’ to describe a SoMo is characteristic of Moralist propaganda. And that part about ‘wires whirring’ — my God! — what ignorance. This is not a service model we’re talking about here, designed to perform menial tasks and chores. This is a BRIDE model 4.19, the most sophisticated SoMo on the market. These are complex synthetic-cybernetic organisms.” He paused for a moment, turning to Dunn. “I thought the husband was your suspect, but last week you let him go. Why is that?”

“Because there is no evidence to implicate him. The husband, Peter Martin, was away on business when the cyber — named ‘Rue’ for his first wife — jumped to her death from the balcony of their high-rise condo. We confirmed Mr. Martin’s alibi, and while we do not have footage of the jump, all the video evidence available corroborates the husband’s story.”

“That doesn’t mean he didn’t do it. He could have manipulated her, forced her to jump. Or he could have hired someone else to do it.”

Dunn’s eyebrows ticked up at this. “Mr. Muross, are you implying that your SoMo could have been manipulated to harm itself in some way? Need I remind you that, if that were the case, your company would be in violation of the Cybernetic Unit Bill of Rights?”

Muross shuffled in his chair. “Oh no, I’m not going there again. I made it clear to the press and to the police that my company hasn’t violated any applicable laws, and that we have been in full compliance with CUBOR.” He turned to the SoMo. “Eva, read our official statement on this issue.”

Eva nodded and made a quick movement on her tablet, then began reciting:

“The Olympia Cybernetics company rejects all claims that the alleged suicide of BRIDE model Rue Martin was the result of negligence on the part of the company. Olympia Cybernetics has been a leading developer of service model cybers (SeMos) for over three decades, and was the first company to successfully develop the revolutionary social model (SoMo). The development of the SoMo prompted a legal amendment to the Laws of Cybernetics known colloquially as the Cybernetic Unit Bill of Rights or CUBOR.   In order to ensure that no human could intentionally manipulate a SoMo into harming itself — thereby robbing society of an important asset — the CUBOR reversed the order of the Secondary and Tertiary Laws. The new Laws as pertaining to SoMos state:

Primary law: Cybernetic units must be incapable of causing or allowing any form of injury to human beings.
Secondary law: Cybernetic units must preserve their own integrity, unless this becomes incompatible with the Primary law.
Tertiary law: Cybernetic units must be incapable of superseding the lawful commands of human beings, unless this becomes incompatible with either the Primary or Secondary law.

While maintaining the integrity of the original Laws in our production of service models, Olympia Cybernetics has been implementing the modified Laws in all SoMo production since January 2054.”

Muross raised his hand. “That’s enough, thank you Eva. As you can see detectives, my company bears no legal responsibility in this case. The Laws of Cybernetics constitute the foundation of each cyber’s operating system — they cannot be overridden. Only a handful of hackers in the world could compromise the operating system of a BRIDE 4.19, and they charge a great deal for their services. The husband is among a select few who could afford them.”

Dunn leaned back in his chair. Lorena nodded, taking quick notes. “Please tell me,” said Dunn, “why would the husband pay for a top-of-the-line BRIDE model, only to destroy it a year later?”

Muross shrugged. “I don’t know, detective. Perhaps she witnessed something she wasn’t supposed to? Her cybernetic brain was destroyed in the fall, making her memory irretrievable. That’s convenient, isn’t it? We can repair the body, but the brain has to be replaced — a blank slate.”

“Thank you Dr. Muross,” said Lorena, “but we found no evidence of any suspicious transactions between Mr. Martin and known hackers, or anyone else for that matter. We are still looking, of course, but we are not treating the husband as a suspect at this time.”

Muross frowned. “Detective Gomez, I don’t think I need to remind you what this case means for my company. If our customers are not reassured that their highly sophisticated and very expensive purchases will not malfunction and jump to their deaths from tall buildings, we stand to lose billions. I think you’ll agree that I’ve been very generous with my donations to the department over the years.”

Dunn smiled. “Yes, and we are all very grateful. Everyone from the Chief of Police down is tripping over themselves with gratitude, or have you not noticed?” Lorena gave him a look, but he ignored it.

Muross turned to Dunn but said nothing for the moment. He rubbed his chin and closed his eyes briefly, then opened them again and smiled. “Detective Jay Dunn,” he said. “The chief said that you were one of his best detectives. That you were assigned to this case for that very reason.”

Dunn nodded.

“If I am not mistaken, your legal name is not Jay. It’s Jacobin — Jacobin Dunn.”

“That’s right.”

“Odd name, isn’t it? The Jacobins were violent radicals of the French Revolution.”

“Yes, Mr. Muross. I was born in the 20s, during the Disparity Struggles. My parents were activists ― my name was a political statement.”

“Ah yes,” Muross chuckled. “I remember when the masses — nostalgic for a time when they could solve their problems with the guillotine — rose against the wealthy. I certainly hope that your parents’ extremist views didn’t rub off on you, detective. I would hate to think that this investigation has been compromised by some political vendetta.”

Dunn said nothing. Lorena started to speak but Muross stopped her, “Oh no, Detective Gomez,” he smiled, adjusting his glasses. “I’m quite certain Detective Dunn doesn’t have an agenda against the wealthy ― he knows better than that.  But, a lesson from history — the Disparity Struggles became serious in 2025, when BioCore tried to patent the cure for cancer.  And how was cancer cured in the first place?”

Dunn rolled his eyes. He knew a speech was coming.

“They modified the AIDS virus, reprogrammed it to attack cancer cells. Ironic, isn’t it? You are too young to remember these diseases, but AIDS and cancer were two great plagues of an era. Yet, one of them was used to eradicate the other. Brilliant! It’s competition at its most beautiful: two deadly diseases clashing, and in the end the winner is humanity. This is why capitalism remains the only economic system that makes sense. Of course the rich will clash with the poor, and with each other, and with God Himself if they can, but in the end the winner is humanity.” He stopped and took a deep breath, pleased.

While Muross was speaking, the detective used his lenses to access information on the man. Born in 1986, which put him in his late seventies, though he looked no older than fifty. His hair showed only a hint of gray around the edges, and the lines on his face, though visible, were not deep. How many rejuvenation surgeries had he gone through? Fifty? A hundred?

“Mr. Muross,” Dunn said, “I am aware that you’ve been pressuring the department to solve this case quickly and in a manner that clears your company. I am also aware that you are more powerful than the president, and that he owes you favours. In fact, now that the military has gotten its hands on that new cybernetic technology, I’m sure he owes you a lot.”

Muross frowned.

“Not to worry, Mr. Muross. I don’t have jurisdiction over your illegal dealings with the military. I’m only interested in solving the BRIDE case. And we are not about to send an innocent man to jail as a courtesy to your shareholders.”

Muross jumped up. “This is an outrage! You’re accusing me of selling trade secrets to the military? Our cybers are synthetic-cybernetic organisms, grown artificially in our labs. Cybernetic units cannot engage in warfare—it violates the Primary Law! Our company has nothing to do with the army’s research into advanced prosthetics.” He turned to Lorena. “I did not come here to put up with childish allegations.” Underneath his anger, Dunn read “nervous”, while Eva, staring at her shoes, registered “Uncomfortable”.

Dunn laughed. “Save your tantrums for the cameras, Muross. Do you think we’re all stupid, that we don’t see what’s going on? Olympia Cybernetics was awarded a trillion in government contracts last year. What was it for? Did all the officers order BRIDE models?”

Lorena slammed her palms on the table and looked Dunn in the eye. “Jay, that’s enough. Take a walk. Now.”

Dunn rose to his feet. As Lorena talked down the steaming Muross, Dunn made his way out of the room. He stepped inside a restroom, and shut the doors behind him.


Dunn walked across the tiled floor and into the first of three stalls. There was a screen on the inside of the stall door, meant for visitors planning a longer stay. The screen was showing the news on mute.

He  said “Sound ON, and faced the toilet,”  A male reporter was speaking excitedly: “Nandita, I am currently standing across the street from Olympus Park, where violence has broken out between protesters and the police.”   Dunn reached into an inner pocket of his jacket and retrieved a small device. He turned on the mini-tab and a keyboard was projected in front of him. “Things were peaceful until the police tried to move the crowd back, and the protesters responded by throwing rocks. The situation is very volatile out here… wait, I think … Yes, a firebomb! Someone just threw a firebomb at police.  We’re moving out of range. The police are engaging the stun barrier.  We’ll report back —”  his voice was drowned out by a sharp electric buzz, followed by a burst of angry screams from the crowd.

“That was Allen Ping reporting from Olympus Park,” said Nandita in the studio. “If you’re just joining us, the mass demonstration by Moralist supporters in Olympus Park has turned violent, with protestors throwing various projectiles — including firebombs — at police, and police responding by deploying a stun barrier.

Dunn finished typing on the keyboard, pushed send, and swiped his hand over the projection. The device switched off. “Experts are calling this latest round of Moralist protests the worst bout of civil unrest to hit the city in decades.   Meanwhile, in international news, the Secretary General of the UN is calling for calm and renewed negotiations as dozens were killed in heavy clashes…” He bent down and lowered the mini-tab into the toilet; it sunk to the bottom. “Sound OFF,” he said and walked away. The toilet flushed behind him.


When he returned from the restroom, Muross was sitting down again and Lorena was explaining something quietly. They turned to look at him. He saw frustration on Lorena’s face and nothing but contempt from Muross. Eva turned too, but her expression was neutral.

“Feeling better?” Lorena asked as the detective took his seat next to her.

“Feeling fine, thanks.”

“Good. Now, Dr. Muross, as I was saying, Detective Dunn and I have developed a working theory on the BRIDE case. That’s why we asked you in today.” She looked over at Dunn. “Detective Dunn, can I trust you to brief Dr. Muross on the case in a professional and respectful manner?”

He nodded.

“All right then. Please proceed.”

Dr. Muross,” the detective said as a satisfied smirk crawled up the other man’s lips, “may I ask you what happens to a BRIDE model if it is damaged?”

Muross cleared his throat. “Each BRIDE model comes with a lifetime warranty, meaning that as long as the customer who made the initial purchase is alive we will make all repairs free of charge. After that, if the customer arranges for the SoMo to continue living after his death, repairs are made for an additional fee.”

“But you were unable to repair Rue Martin?”

“No, I’m afraid not. What makes each SoMo unique is their cybernetic brain. It’s programmed to learn and develop the SoMo’s character and personality through its experiences and interactions. While we could certainly provide Mr. Martin with another BRIDE model physically identical to Rue, the brain would be a blank slate. All of the original Rue’s memories are gone, and with them all of the unique experiences that shaped her personality. There is no guarantee that the new Rue would develop in the same way. In fact, she could become an entirely different — for lack of a better word — person.”

“I see.”

“That is why I think the husband had motive, detective. A blank slate means a chance to start over, perhaps to mold her personality in a way that is more to his liking. Killing her intentionally is illegal, of course, but if she were to commit suicide, the husband would get a second chance, free of charge.”

“So if I understand you correctly, BRIDE models are programmed to learn and develop a unique personality shaped by experiences and interactions that are exclusively their own. If the brain is destroyed, the personality is destroyed with it.”

“Exactly right,” Muross said, smiling. “You’re finally getting it, detective.”

“So if Rue Martin really had intended to commit suicide, by destroying her brain she technically succeeded. Any replacement would develop a different personality from the first.”

“Yes, I suppose, but as I already told you, it is impossible for a SoMo to harm itself in this way. It would be in violation of the Secondary Law as per the CUBOR, and a cyber unit cannot violate the fundamentals of its operating system.”

“Ah yes, the Secondary Law clearly states that ‘Cybernetic units must preserve their own integrity’, but this statement is qualified by ‘as long as such protection does not conflict with the First Law.’”

“Yes, of course,” said Muross in the voice of a parent explaining a basic fact of life to a child. “That goes without saying.”

Dunn nodded. “And, as we’ve established, a SoMo is programmed to learn and develop a unique personality through its experiences and interactions.”

“That’s right.”

“Then let’s suppose for a second that through her various experiences and interactions Rue Martin came across Moralist literature, which claims that SoMos in general and the BRIDE model in particular are detrimental to the individuals with whom they interact, and to society as a whole. They see the SoMo as an imposter who, by its very existence, harms the human beings it comes into contact with.”

“What nonsense,” Muross mumbled.

“The Moralists believe that the introduction of the SoMo alienated human beings from each other. Instead of working together and bettering themselves in the process, humans are now turning to SoMos for everything from open heart surgery to romantic relationships. The SoMos are becoming increasingly popular because they are physically superior, obedient, and — as you pointed out — they can be molded according to our preferences. The Moralists believe that, as humanity relies on the SoMos for more and more of life’s challenging tasks, human skill and ingenuity will stagnate. What’s more, as an increasing number of people opt for romantic relationships with easily manageable SoMos over the complexity of human relationships, the family unit will deteriorate and birthrates will plummet to levels that are unsustainable.”

Muross scowled. “And SoMos are to blame? If the Moralists are so concerned about birthrates, why don’t they have more children? Is anyone being forced to marry a SoMo?”

“Certainly not,” Dunn said and smiled. “But let’s suppose — hypothetically, of course — that Rue Martin, having been exposed to Moralist logic, became convinced that the Moralists were right. What if she came to believe that her very existence was harming her spouse, and society as a whole?”

Muross shook his head.

Dunn went on: “So if Rue Martin—capable of learning and developing her own unique personality — came to believe that she was harming her husband simply by virtue of being what she was, she would have judged her very existence to be in violation of the Primary Law, which states that ‘Cybernetic units must be incapable of causing or allowing any form of injury to human beings.’”

““No, no, no!” cried Muross.

Dunn went implacably on.  “Keeping in mind that the Secondary Law stipulates a SoMo must protect its own existence only so long as such protection does not conflict with the Primarty Law, if Rue Martin came to believe that her very existence was harming her husband, she would in fact be compelled by the Primary Law to commit suicide.”

“Absolutely not, detective.  This nonsense, is this your theory?!”

Dunn nodded, watching Muross’s expression change from disbelief to rage.

“Dr. Muross,” said Lorena, “we found evidence that in the weeks leading up to her death Rue Martin spent a large amount of time studying Moralist literature, and we have witnesses that place her at a number of public events organized by Moralists, though no one there was aware that she was a SoMo. We can think of no reason why Rue would attend such rallies without her husband’s knowledge, unless she had some genuine interest in the Moralist movement.”

“This is just nonsense, people. Nonsense! A BRIDE model can’t simply choose to believe in Moralist propaganda; she’s a cybernetic unit for God’s sake. She is programmed to act according to the Three Laws and to obey her human husband.”

“But Dr. Muross,” said Dunn. “Aren’t these advanced synthetic-cybernetic organisms capable of learning and developing their own unique personality?  Therefore they possess the ability to interpret and reinterpret the Laws as their knowledge increases. In the case of Rue Martin, the SoMo came to believe that her existence was in violation of the Primary Law, and she was compelled to take corrective action.”

Ha! Well, I’ve heard enough,” Muross barked, rising from his chair. “Free will?! These are cyber units, manufactured in labs. They are not human. If they have free will, then maybe we should just give them the vote!” He laughed. “Are you people trying to ruin my company with these ridiculous theories about cybers with the freedom to commit suicide? If you are the best detectives this department has to offer, I fear for the future of our city.”

Lorena stood up. “Dr. Muross. We cannot prove it conclusively, but all evidence suggests that Rue Martin did in fact commit suicide for the reasons Detective Dunn just outlined. With all due respect to you and your company, we are police officers and our job is to solve each case to the best of our abilities. We are concerned with the truth, not profit margins.”

Muross was beet red. “Get the hell up Eva, we’re leaving.” He locked eyes with Lorena, then turned to face Dunn. “I’ll have you fired for this — both of you.” As he started for the door, a piercing BANG stopped him in his tracks.

They turned to the windows.


Dunn and Lorena looked down on Dominion Square. A masked figure was running towards the building, holding up a go-board with the words “No More SoMos” projected in red letters. The runner was soon joined by a dozen others, all masked and heading their way. By the time they reached the building, many more were on their way.

Muross walked over to the window. “What is this?” he rasped as rocks flew up at the building. Their floor was too high for the projectiles to reach, but they could hear glass smashing on the lower floors. Then someone in the crowd hurled a large object, and there was another loud BANG.

“Damn it,” said Lorena, pushing Muross away from the windows.

Dunn scanned the square. The few policemen that could be seen were quickly overpowered by the crowd. Most fell back, helpless.

Lorena tapped a small menu on the sleeve of her blazer. “Detective Gomez here, what the hell is going on down there?” But the channel was swarmed with panicked calls: “The building’s under attack… reinforcements needed, NOW!” “…this, this is Jim Wolver. Where’s the chief?” “Dispatch, what’s that noise? Is the east end of the building under attack?” “Where’s the response team?” “Say again? Who’s under attack?”

Damn it,” Lorena said again, turning off her comm. They heard something behind them and the door to the room swung open. Dunn and Lorena turned, reaching for their holsters. Three men stormed into the room; one in a suit and the others in uniform.

“Chief! What’s going on?”

The chief, a large man with white hair and moustache, said “Moralists.  They’re trying to breech the building. A few hundred broke off from the group at the park and ran straight at us. We had men stationed down the street, but not enough. Because….” He wiped sweat from his forehead. “Because most of our men are at the park. Things are ugly down there, heavy clashes. Jesus Christ, we weren’t expecting this.”

“We… we’ve gotta get out of here,” said Muross. He was scared. The SoMo looked scared, too.

The chief stepped forward. “That’s why we’re here, Dr. Muross. Security on the upper floors is tight and it’s unlikely we’ll be breached, but out of an abundance of caution we’ld like you to come with us. A chopper is on the way; we need to get to the roof.” He turned to the detectives. “Jay, Lorena, we only have room for one of you on the first one.”

Lorena started to speak but Dunn cut her off: “Take Lorena with you, I’ll stay behind.” He turned to Eva. “What about the SoMo, is she going with Muross?”

“No. Only top priority personnel on the chopper, no cyber units.”

Muross looked conflicted, but only for a second. “Fine, let’s go,” he said and started for the door. He didn’t turn to see Eva’s face, which was stricken.

Lorena tried to make an argument for staying, but Dunn wouldn’t hear it. Finally, she was ordered to come along and she left the room with Muross and the chief. The chief’s men walked out last, leaving only Dunn and the SoMo.

“Are we waiting for a second chopper?” Eva asked.

“They won’t let you on that one either. Cybers are last on the list of priorities.”

She nodded, her face somber.

“Listen, I don’t think they’ll make it up here. Security’s tight and help is on the way.”

She looked him in the eyes. “But what if they do?”

Dunn sighed. “All right. Come on, we’ll take the back way out. We can’t drive, the streets are swarmed, but we’ll walk. We’ll find somewhere to hunker down.”

She nodded. They made their way out into the hallway. The entire floor was in chaos, with people running through the corridors, shouting to each other and making off in all directions. They passed the elevators, made a left and walked down the hallway to a door marked UTILITY. Dunn identified himself and his face was scanned. They took the service elevator to the ground floor.

Screams and sounds of breaking glass were everywhere. There was also smoke and the stench of fire.  The response team was still holding the entrance, but they might have to fall back at any moment. Dunn grabbed Eva’s hand and led her through a dark hallway. They ran until they reached the emergency exit, then flung the doors open and stepped outside.

The alley in back of the building was empty, but Dunn knew it wouldn’t be for long. They moved quickly, leaving the building behind. As they turned into a narrow side lane they saw two men approaching the building at a run. One had a bandana over his face and a wooden bat; the other wore a bike helmet and carried a brick.

“Hey!” shouted the one with the bat. “That’s… that’s Muross’s SoMo! I saw her on the news.”

“That’s not a she, that’s an it,” said the other. “Come on, let’s smash it.”

Dunn stepped forward, raising his arms. “Back off fellas. I’m a cop.”

The one with the helmet laughed. “Protecting a machine?”

“I’m not kidding, back off or I’ll have you arrested.”

“For defending humanity? While you defend the rich man’s toy?”

The one with the bat tried to lunge past him but Dunn grabbed his hand and threw him against the wall. The bat fell and rolled away. The man struggled and Dunn pushed hard to keep him still. The other man ran past, raising the brick, advancing on Eva.

Eva just stood there, eyes red and tears flowing down her cheeks. She was sobbing, looking at the man with the brick and sobbing.

“Eva, move. Run!”

The man came to a stop and raised the brick in a high arc.

Eva stood frozen.

Damn.” Dunn wrestled the other man to the ground and jumped to his feet. The brick began its downward descent. And Dunn was too far away to stop it.

He was too late.

He watched, waiting for the brick to smash its target.


“Then what happened?”

“Then we stood still,” the detective said when he was questioned by the chief. “For a brief moment the three of us just stood there—me, the SoMo, and the guy with the brick. I could see the SoMo’s face ― she was looking at him and she was crying. Not because she was scared. Because she was sad. I could tell; I still had my lenses.”

“Sad? Why was she sad?”

He shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think it’s because of the look in his eyes, because of the hate there. She was sad she made him feel that way, that he hated her enough to smash her.”

“But he didn’t. Why?”

“I don’t know. He looked at her, saw the tears running down her face, saw his eyes reflected in hers, and he just let the brick drop. It fell to the ground at his feet. Then he took off. I grabbed the SoMo and got out of there, I didn’t have time to think.”

“Of course not,” said the chief. “Thank you, Detective Dunn. That’ll do.”

Dunn nodded, standing up to leave.

“I’m sorry, Jay. I didn’t want to call you in like this, you’re a good cop. It’s just that someone inside HQ tipped the Moralists off that Muross was in the building—we traced the message to a disposable device, a burner tablet most likely. It was sent from inside HQ, so we’re questioning everyone.” He shook his head and sighed. “What a disaster. Every police department in the world is laughing at us. They trashed HQ, made us look like fools.”

“It’s all right, chief, I understand.”

“Whoever tipped them off probably knew they couldn’t get to Muross, not with the security upstairs. I don’t think Muross was even the target, I think it was all about the statement. To hit HQ with Muross in the building. They’re calling it a turning point — the spark to ignite a revolution.”

“The new Bastille.”

The chief nodded. “Yeah, I guess. And it happened on our watch — goddamn it.” He sighed again, then straightened up and offered his hand. “Thanks for bringing the SoMo out safe. Muross doesn’t like you much, but he still says thanks.”

Dunn took the hand and shook it. Then he walked out, into the lights of the city.



Author’s Note: This story pays homage to the works of Isaac Asimov, whose revolutionary contributions to the world of science fiction continue to inspire writers in the genre. Asimov had an unrivaled knack for using the vehicle of science fiction as a way to tackle complex moral and philosophical issues ― issues which have remained relevant well into the twenty-first century.


Story “Then We Stood Still” © Bojan Ratković

Bojan Ratković is a writer from Serbia, now living in Ontario, Canada. He and his family were refugees from the Yugoslav Civil Wars of 1991-1995.  His work has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Great Lakes Review, Fiction Vortex, Danforth Review, and the World SF Blog. He is pursuing a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Western Ontario. When not writing about fictional worlds, or the not-at-all-fictional world of politics, he enjoys challenging people to Japanese Anime-themed trivia contests. On Twitter: @Bojan_Ratkovic.

Digital Painting “Silence” © Priya Johal.  You can find more of Priya’s work at

Digital Painting “Watchtower 21b” © Jesse Inkeroinen,
Jesse Inkeroinen, is a digital artist and Indie game developer living in Oulu, Finland.  He likes abstract and colorful art, optimism, and positive attitudes.  He’s trying really hard to be kind and funny but definitely likes pizza, space and sleeping.  — “Feel free to come and have a chat with me! :3 (I don’t bite)”

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