Home Stories Crazy-Ass Casanova by Rick Taliaferro

Crazy-Ass Casanova by Rick Taliaferro


Todd is thrown in prison for shooting a group of robots, including the one he loved. This story was inspired by a passage from Sherry Turkle’s book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Image generated with OpenAI

While he waited for his lawyer, Todd Trigun sat by himself in the rec room of the Durham County Jail. The other tough-looking inmates congregated at a television bolted to the ceiling at the far end of the room. A local news program was on, which coincidentally featured an account of Todd’s crime, and though he did not want to watch, he avoided eye contact with the other prisoners by focusing on the television.

“Hey,” one of the inmates exclaimed, “our celeb-ree-tee is on tee-vee.”

A couple of the others barked and pumped their fists.

Todd glanced at a young man who turned in his seat and winked at him, and then tried to remain dead-pan as he looked back at the television.

A reporter described Todd’s crime while standing at the entrance to the AlterID Robotics campus where Todd had been a rising artificial-intelligence engineer. His mugshot was inset in the lower-right corner of the screen.

“Now, the management of this Wall Street darling won’t let us film inside the lab,” the attractive news reader intoned, “but from reliable sources, we can reliably describe the scene as one of unbelievable mayhem.”

Some of the inmates cheered and clapped.

“Another crazy white boy,” one of them said.

“Be a fool to mess with him,” another said.

Though Todd was depressed and not much concerned whether the other inmates harassed him, none of them had yet. Apparently, his crime had garnered him some respect. He almost smiled at that. Slightly built, neatly groomed, with a mildly featured face, he looked like the meekest among them.

But one of the white prisoners, Darrell, showed interest. He sported a covering of unsettling tattoos on his muscular arms, neck, and bald head. He stared at Todd; there was animosity about his eyes for the second that Todd looked at him.

“We will bring you more on this tragic event as it develops,” the reporter breathlessly said, “Mr. Trigun appears to have been motivated by jealous rage, though at this point in time, we can’t determine whether it was professional or personal.”

The reporter’s voice reminded Todd of the clever speaking patterns that he and other engineers, linguists, and speech therapists had programmed into the AlterID robots. Yet, he had to agree with her: it had been an act of jealous rage.

A couple of the inmates pointed and snickered at Todd.

“There’s the bot-fucker,” one of them quipped.

“Dude is one crazy-ass Casanova,” another said.

They seemed to know something about Todd that he did not know. But what could that bunch of simpletons know? So quick to pass judgment on something they were ignorant about. In their childish orange jumpsuits, they looked as knowledgeable as a cluster of marigolds. But lately, Todd felt some vague knowledge about himself, too. His crime had been cathartic, and after the reality of his arrest and incarceration set in, he began to discern what he had become. But not why.

Darrell regarded the banter among his peers. When the sports segment started, they watched attentively, but he got up and sauntered over to Todd’s table.

Todd fretted Darrell’s advance, even though he felt tremendously guilty for what he had done and knew that he had something coming to him, either through the court or some other means. After all, some of his outraged peers in the robotics industry were already hysterically blogging and tweeting that Todd’s crime constituted first-degree murder. And in his mental haze, Todd could not disagree with them, on a moral, ethical, or philosophical level.

Darrell sat next to Todd, placed his garish forearms on the round stainless steel table top in Todd’s space, and stared at him.

The table and attached stools were fixed to the concrete floor, but Todd reflexively tried to scoot to his left as he pretended to be absorbed in the sports report. He wanted to be alone with his thoughts, and despite his fear and depression, he bristled at Darrell’s presence. But he knew he’d have to control his sarcastic temper and watch what he said; jail was not the kind of lab he was familiar with, and the inmates were a different type of subject.

“Why’d you blow them away?” Darrell demanded.

Todd flinched and tried to think of a response. He did not want to talk about it with anyone. Not his family and acquaintances, from whom he felt cut off. Not his lawyer. Not the nosey court-appointed psychiatrist the day before who stopped the interview when Todd would not talk. Todd had become well-acquainted with psychiatrists and what they could do while employed at AlterID. Without the psychiatrists, he might never have become romantically entangled with Alloy, one of the beta models from the Adult Needs Division. He especially did not want to tell Darrell about it. It was a bit intricate and nuanced for a dolt like him to even begin to comprehend. And why should Darrell understand it, when Todd did not?

“I asked you a question,” Darrell prodded.

“Uh, my lawyer, she advised me not to discuss it,” Todd said.

“I’m advising you to discuss it.”

Todd looked at the self-absorbed guard sitting at a desk who split his attention between his cell phone and the sports report. “Well,” he quavered, “that news report pretty much covered it.”

“Actually, the media only give the surface facts,” Darrell said.

Todd was surprised at Darrell’s observation, vocabulary, and noun-verb agreement, and wanted to comment on it, but figured it would sound condescending. “Yeah,” he warily agreed.

“Yeah,” Darrell said. “You know what I’m talking about.”

Again, it seemed that the inmates knew Todd. He tried to keep the conversation on the media. “That’s a very intriguing topic, reality and perception in the media,” he said. “I’ve read…”

“You can answer my question now, or later,” Darrell interrupted. He leaned in, flicked his eyes at the guard, and said with rank breath, “And later, he won’t be around.”

The inmates argued in chorus about the football scores.

“But some of them will be,” Darrell added.

Todd foresaw a vicious beating and gang-rape, and then lied, “Uh, I had a dispute with my manager.” He tried to sound tough and added, “Lucky for him he wasn’t there that night.”

“Don’t bullshit me,” Darrell warned. “I know what you did. I want to know why.”

Todd looked down at the obscure image of his face in the dull table top and murmured, “So do I.” Though he assumed that Darrell was an alpha-dog in this pack of inmates and was obligated to assert his dominance, he felt an odd kinship with him.

“Don’t mumble at me,” Darrell said.

“Did the reporter mention that I used a 12-gauge?” Todd asked weakly.

“You’re a real killer,” Darrell said. “Shooting up a bunch of defenseless robots.”

In spite of Darrell’s glare, Todd’s mouth twitched as he suppressed a smile. Darrell didn’t know much about robots if he believed they were defenseless, or innocent. Any one of them had more intelligence and cunning than all the inmates combined.

“You think I’m stupid, don’t you,” Darrell said. “Sitting there all smug.”

“No!” Todd exclaimed. “Just…”

The guard looked at them, smirked, then looked back at the television.

“Just?” Darrell asked.

“Well, uninformed about robotics,” Todd said. “But I was too before I got into it.” He shifted on the small uncomfortable stool and glanced at the wall clock. “Ah crap, I need to prep for my lawyer now,” he said. “I enjoyed talking with you.” He started to stand, but Darrell clamped his wrist and pulled him down. On the back of Darrell’s hand was a tattoo of a demon wielding a bloody Medieval battle axe. Underneath it was the phrase, AS YOU LIKE IT!

“Why?” Darrell insisted. He tightened his grip, causing thin blue-green veins to bulge in the back of Todd’s delicate hand.

“What, you want me to yell ‘uncle?'” Todd snapped. Darrell’s aggression made no sense to him and offended his sense of logic. “I’m no threat to you,” he reasoned.

Darrell glared.

Todd could not refrain himself, and said, “Ooooh, the Great God Darrell must have his answer.”

Darrell bent Todd’s wrist inwards.

“Okay, okay,” Todd gasped.

Darrell eased his grip and raised his eyebrows for Todd to answer his question. In the corner of his left eye was a tattoo of a teardrop.

Todd was embarrassed to confess it, but Alloy had been his first real romantic relationship. He had connected with her in ways that he had not with real girls and women. He paused and thought again of his peers in the blogosphere who were furiously debating the question of “real.”

“And you what – made her to order?” Darrell asked.

No, Alloy had not been programmed by Todd, she was not just a projection of his desires and wants. “A team in a separate division developed her,” he explained. And he was surprised to hear himself continue. For all that happened, he still felt fondly for Alloy, and felt a professional pride in himself and his coworkers at AlterID.

As she had developed during the past year, he had grown more attached to her. But as her personality and character became more sophisticated, their simple, satisfactory relationship became more complex, eventually strained. And as good as the sex with Alloy was – the Materials Division personnel were the true geniuses behind the AlterID products – something was missing from the relationship. But it was not jealousy that was missing, and it became the predominant emotion in the relationship. Pleasurable, late-night trysts became hour-long arguments, accusations and counter-accusations. Towards the end of the relationship, there were nights when Todd could not find Alloy among the other robots in the lab. One night he realized that not only she, but a male counterpart, Kendal, were not where they were supposed to be.

Todd did not remember much after he found them entwined in a stall in one of the men’s restrooms on the tenth floor. Vivid bits that were not connected in a meaningful way. Buying the shotgun and shells – “as a present for a friend” – from a jocular salesman at the Guns USA road show at the fairgrounds. The kick of the gun butt, the acrid smell. The whimpering. The way some of them tried to flee. The lack of gore. Surprise at discovering a savage impulse beneath his mild-mannered exterior.

Todd heard the raucous inmates and realized that he had been blabbering and that his hand was numb from a lack of blood. He also noticed that it was Darrell who now suppressed a smile. “I’m not insane,” Todd blurted as he tugged his wrist. “Alloy, she was my first girlfriend.”

Darrell released him with a chuckle, revealing small gray teeth. “‘She?'” he scoffed. “‘She’ was a fucking robot. Literally.”

Todd was again struck by Darrell’s vocabulary. And his insight. But he did not want to talk about Alloy anymore as he massaged feeling into his hand. For Darrell had poked the vague knowledge that had been festering in Todd: his affair with Alloy was characterized by competence on her part, nothing more. Whereas he loved her, she only competently attended to him, as one of AlterID’s ElderBots could skillfully care for an infirm old person, or a BabyBot could succor an infant. Yet there was the incompetent infidelity with Kendal. So like a human. A human? Was Todd less human because he had consorted with a human-like robot? Or was Alloy more human because she had consorted with a robot-like human?

“You really are one crazy-ass Casanova,” Darrell grinned. “Aren’t you?”

Todd felt crowded and was alarmed at his asynchronous thoughts and careless mounting anger. The thin line between prison and free society. The stupidity, the brutal regimentation. Who mandates that you can’t love a robot? So what if it’s unrequited? His heart-rate accelerated and an internal pressure made his ears ring, as he had felt when he found Alloy with Kendal. He put his hands over his ears and heard an unfamiliar voice complain, “I can’t think straight.”

Darrell pulled Todd’s hands down and said, “Admit it!”

“Okay!” Todd shouted. “If it’ll shut you up, I am crazy!” Darrell let go in surprise, and Todd lurched off his seat and yelled that if he were crazy, the whole society was crazy, too. But he marveled at what he and his ex-associates at AlterID were producing; soon, there’d be no difference between the product and the producers. “I’m just a precursor,” Todd proclaimed with glistening eyes. “You’ll soon see lots more like me.”

Except for the television, the rec room was quiet as everyone stared wryly at Todd.

Out of breath and lightheaded, he felt as if he were coming to after fainting. “What?” he muttered. “Am I your afternoon entertainment?” He stared back at them, and giggled as they began to appear funny. Darrell, waiting to see what Todd would do next, now looked like a clown; his previously scary tattoos looked silly. Todd noted Darrell’s sentimental teardrop tattoo and touched the corner of his own eye and teased, “Oh, did zou have a widdow boo-boo?”

Darrell’s bemused face grew baleful as he rose, but he only scoffed and turned to face the others, twirling his finger at his head.

They laughed.

As Darrell ambled away, Todd was finally alone, as he had earlier wanted. But unexpectedly lonely, too. The indifference of Darrell turning his back on him. He rubbed his chafed wrist and had an inexplicable desire for Darrell to grab it again. He wanted a human interaction, even if to be mistreated – rather than to be treated competently, but clinically and coldly, by a manufactured and programmed thing.

“Wait,” Todd called. “Darrell, wait.”

Darrell stopped and turned to Todd as if he were being challenged. “What do you want?”

“Something I could never get with her,” Todd said as he approached Darrell. “Something real.”

“I’ll give you something real,” Darrell threatened.

Todd hesitated.

Darrell snorted and waved him off, and as he sneeringly turned to join the others, Todd lunged at him. Darrell sidestepped and deftly floored him with a punch to the temple.

As he struggled to his hands and knees, Todd heard muted cheering and clapping as if he were being welcomed into a club, and as Darrell’s slipper-shod foot swung to his face, he resigned himself to the impact with gratitude.


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