The Hustler

by Heinrich Brueckmann

      I had noticed the young girl and her old friend at my joint for the first time that night.  Seeing new faces was rare in a hole-in-the-wall pool-hall like mine, so I spotted them right away.  All evening as I served drinks to the Sunday-night regulars and made sure none of the fights got out-of-hand, I had kept one eye on the odd pair. 

The two of them just looked out-of-place at a dive like mine.  Most of the regulars who still came wore their ratty Good-Will clothing, smoked like chimneys, and took shots of bourbon all night.  They were just working men and retirees.  But these two looked totally different.  The old man wore a classy suit and bowler-hat, and his watch-chain looked like it was pure gold.  His patent-leather shoes were as shiny as oil and the antiquated pince-nez he wore made him look more like a scientist or a historian than one of the blue-collar men with whom he shared my establishment.  And the girl that was with him must have been his grand-daughter or something.  She was very cute in the traditional sense of the word.  Brunette pig-tails, button-lips, big brown eyes.  She wore a pair of gray sweatpants and a modestly baggy, matching gray sweatshirt.  She also wore nondescript white sneakers.  For some reason, looking at her made me think of Cinderella or something.  Especially considering how cheaply she was attired in comparison with her companion.  She was eighteen, maybe nineteen years old.  Obviously very sheltered if she was coming to a place like mine with her grandfather and not her boyfriend!

They hung around the back all night.  All they ever ordered was one pint of beer, which the old man nursed all night long.  With interest, they watched some of the guys play pool.  From time to time, the old man would whisper something to the young girl.  She seemed to DISAPPEAR in the games.  She became totally absorbed in watching the fellas play pool.

Mid-night rolled around, and I started cleaning up the broken bottles, putting up chairs, emptying ash-trays, and turning off lights.  One by one, all the guys started to leave.  The coat-racks got progressively emptier and emptier.  I turned off the radio, cleaned a bunch of glasses, wiped-off my counter and said goodbye to the last few customers.  It wasn’t until I had flicked-on the neon “Closed” sign and was getting ready to lock-up that I realized that the old man and his companion, who I had come to assume was his grand-daughter, still hadn’t left.  They were standing in the darkest corner of the empty pool-hall.  Just then the old man emerged from the shadows, dim light from the shoddy ceiling-fixtures reflecting off of his gold chain and pince-nez.  The silent and mysterious girl remained concealed in the shadows.


“I know this must seem strange.  Let me introduce myself,” said the old man in a rasping voice that made him sound like a spokesman for the health benefits of smoking.  “My name is Carl Hancock.”  Taking off his hat, he then gestured to the girl who had been with him all night.  She was waiting silently in the shadows beside one of my pool-tables.  “And that lovely girl over there is Heidi.  I’m her manager.”

      “Heidi doesn’t have a last name?” I inquired suspiciously.  The odd pair was starting to arouse my curiosity.  And what did he mean by “manager”?

      I think I had caught him off-guard.  “As a matter of fact, no: she doesn’t have a last name.”  The old man’s gray goatee fairly bristled with indignation that I had asked such a thing.  Interesting.  Perhaps the pair was on the run from the law?

      “But come.  I have a proposal for you.”  He produced a handkerchief from the breast-pocket of his vest and began cleaning his pince-nez.  Offhandedly, he stated his pitch.  “I want you to play a round against Heidi.  Rumor has it that you used to be the best.  I’m not so sure.”  He was challenging my skills with the pool-cue!   

      “Just a little wager.  Say, five-thousand dollars?  Then we’ll really see if you’re the pool-player your geriatric patrons say you are.  Heidi won’t disappoint you.”  The old man was doing his best to look honest.  I suspected a trick.

Still, the few pool tables I had were rarely used anymore.  I used to be the best pool-player in Buffalo, New York, bar-none.  Then they shipped me off to the war.  When I got back years later, a lot had changed and I was forgotten: the quintessential has-been.  I had always wanted an opportunity to reassert my title as Buffalo’s Best.  So I opened up this place, hoping to make some kind of comeback.  I don’t know what made me do it.  Love for the sport, I guess.  I knew I was a better pool-player than most; you can’t practice six hours a day for five years and not learn SOMETHING.  So maybe this was my shot to finally make it big.  Maybe I could be a big-shot pool-player again.  In my forties, I was no spring-chicken, and this might be the last chance I’d ever get to prove that I could still play the game.  This gamble was just what I needed to re-emerge on the scene. 

“I don’t know what nursing-homes you’ve been asking-around in,” I joked, “but, yeah, I used to be the best.  Let me see the money, and then we’ll talk.”

“Heidi, come here, and bring my brief case.”  I winced at the tone he took to the girl.  He just barked a command.  Heidi didn’t seem phased, and did as instructed.  Though Hancock didn’t show me its contents, the brief case was ostensibly where he kept the cash.

That’s when I got my first good look at the girl.  She wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous, but she did look even cuter than I had originally taken her for.  Holding Mr. Hancock’s briefcase set her whole frame off-balance.  She was a very slight girl with sweet dimples, a few freckles on her nose, and a ready smile.  Her appearance served to immediately dispel my fears that I may have been getting hustled.  Her sweatpants and sweatshirt were baggy, but carefully tucked-in and very clean.  I could only make out a faint bulge in the fabric, suggesting very small bosoms. 

 I still didn’t know what Hancock’s motives were for setting this match up, but I knew there was no way I was about to be beaten by a sweet little teenage girl.  Especially if five-grand was at stake.   


      It felt so good to be back in the game for cash.  Like a samurai warrior before battle, I carefully selected my weapon from the stand.  Lovingly, I polished the tip of the cue with one of those blue, powdery cubes.  I still don’t know what those things are called.  Like the Japanese warrior, I lit incense to honor my ancestors.  Of course, my incense was just a cigarette, perhaps in honor of the fallen Marlboro Man.  I was ready for battle, and cute or not, Heidi was my enemy as long as she held her pool-cue against me. 

      I racked the balls.  As a courtesy, I let her break.

      As if I wasn’t even there, Heidi got to work.  Brushing roughly past me, she positioned herself at the end of the pool-table.  With clock-work precision, she soundlessly placed the white ball on the table.  It was eerie.  She seemed totally absorbed, as if nothing existed in the universe except what lay on the green felt table before her.  She hesitated, gauging her shot precisely.  Then she let her shot go.  Only seconds later, after the balls had all come to rest, did she stiffly stand up again.

“Damn.  You play pool much, Heidi?”  That was a damn fine way to break.  She got both a red and purple solid in the left side pocket and the right corner-pocket respectively.  The shot was taken expertly.

      “Oh, I’ve played pool once or twice,” said the smiling and confident Heidi in an innocent voice.  From her first shot, it was obvious that she was either the luckiest girl alive, or a die-hard professional.  Didn’t matter: one way or the other, she was going down.  The elderly Mr. Carl Hancock followed the game closely, cleaning his pince-nez intermittently with his hand.

      The “game” wore on and on.  I never even got to take ONE shot.  Heidi was just cleaning up.  And she always followed the same pattern.  Quiet as a mouse, she would stare at the pool-table and the ever-changing layout of the balls.  She’d just stand there for a good thirty or forty seconds.  Never blinking.  Never even taking a breath.  Then she would walk with her characteristic, precise steps to one spot along the table.  Bending at the waist, she would spend another twenty seconds lining up her shot.  All the while, she looked blissfully unaware of the consternation she was causing me.  She merely looked happy to be playing pool.  How could this be?! Why wasn’t I winning?!

      “Tell me, Heidi: how long have you been playing pool?”  I asked.  The realization that she was a better pool-player than I EVER was began to dawn on me.  Mr. Hancock stopped polishing his pince-nez and raised an eyebrow at me.

      “Kindly let Heidi concentrate, sir,” admonished Mr. Hancock.

      “I’ve always played pool,” Heidi responded with her naďve, innocent-sounding, nauseatingly cheerful voice.  She seemed to have forgotten that Mr. Hancock was even there.  She looked at my face and smiled kindly.  After a nominal moment spent waiting for my response, she resumed playing.  Well, EXCUSE me for interrupting you, Heidi!

      As a filthy old man, I began to look at the teen in a manner most unbecoming of a respectable gentleman.  As she continued to work on putting away each ball, I admired her physique.  Judging from her lean, fit body, pool was not the only sport she played.  But I tried to picture her playing beach-volleyball or tennis, and for some reason, the images just didn’t ‘click’.  Her body movements weren’t graceful enough for those sports.  Her movements were too jerky and mechanical.  Too measured, too precise, too deliberate.  She reacted slowly and cautiously.  She left nothing to chance.  



Pretty or not, my chances of winning against Heidi were looking slimmer by the minute.  In a near panic, I could feel my five grand slipping away.  In a desperate search for options, I recalled the familiar adage, which I have done my best to live my life by: Losing sucks, so cheat if you have to but always win.  I realized that the only way to win this one was to cheat.  Having never possessed any moral scruples whatsoever, I did not hesitate to be dishonest in my dealings with Mr. Hancock and his whiz-kid pool-player Heidi.  I resolved to resort to the basest of treachery.

Meanwhile, Heidi had been lining up her next shot.  It was a very complicated shot, but my expert eyes immediately spotted what she was going for.  It was a shot that could be made exclusively by a pro.  Slowly, she began to bring back her cue in preparation for her difficult shot.  At the crucial moment she was about to let her shot go, I loudly barked a question at Heidi, breaking the silence in the room, and undoubtedly shattering her concentration.

“Heidi,” I bellowed, “are you really going to go for the yellow one!?”

Her shot still came off as planned, much to my disappointment and disbelief.  This girl had nerves of steel!  However, she took a little longer to recover from her shot than she had in the past.  She stood up stiffly as usual, and then stared blankly into space for a few seconds.  Then she turned to me and blinked a few times.  She put her hand to her forehead, as if warding off a headache.

“Mister, I really wish that you would not distract me while I am playing.”  Heidi didn’t even seem mad at all.  She was very polite and matter-of-fact about it.  She blinked a few more times, and then went back to planning her next shot.

“Oh, sorry, Heidi.  Won’t happen again.”  I almost felt ashamed of myself.  Almost.

Then Mr. Hancock piped up.  “Come now.  That was a dirty trick.  Please play fairly!”  He was getting a little mad. 

Now Heidi was lining up a somewhat easier shot.  Still, the shot wasn’t for an amateur.  She studied the table for a while and then positioned herself right beside me as she prepared to put the green ball in a corner pocket.  She brought her cue back.  I could almost smell her concentration.  She room was hushed.  Everyone in the room could sense the tension.

“Heidi, do you want something to drink?!  On the house?!”  I practically shouted, even though she only stood two feet away.

She shuddered and her head jerked violently to the right, smacking her ear against her shoulder.  Her pig-tail bounced.  She barely managed to get off her shot.  Still, the ball dropped into the pocket.  This girl never failed.

“Please!  Control yourself sir!”  shouted Mr. Hancock very angrily this time.

Heidi stood up rigidly.  Her body shook for a moment. 

“No thank-thank-you, mister.  I’m not not thirsty.”  She stopped and thought for a moment.  I thought I heard something BUZZ inside Heidi.  I must have been imagining things.  “I mean I’m not thirsty.”  She seemed totally befuddled.  She put one hand to her temple.

She then dropped her pool-cue accidentally.  The wooden stick clattered on the floor and rolled until it hit the wall.

“I’m sorry.  I’m usually not so...clumsy.  I’m sorry.  I’m usually...not so...clumsy.”  She flinched again.  She couldn’t seem to stop blinking.

“That’s okay, Heidi.  I’ll get you another one.”  Now I was confused.  I handed her another cue.  And I was scared.  This was her last shot.  All that remained was the eight-ball.  And man-oh-man was it ever an easy shot.  All Heidi had to do was tap it into the pocket.  The game was in the bag.  All that remained was the formality of putting away the eight ball.  I couldn’t believe that Heidi, who I had seen make so many impossible shots, could possibly foul-up this easy shot.  Nevertheless, I had to try sabotage.

Even though this was the easiest shot she’d had throughout the while game, Heidi still took her time.  But she seemed to be blinking a lot now, like she was trying to clear her head of some nagging thought.  Perhaps she was even taking longer to put together this shot.  She declared which pocket she was going to sink the eight ball into.  As soon as she was prepared to let her shot go and thus win the game, I endeavored to mess her up again.

“Let me go see if I even HAVE five-thousand dollars!”

This time, I heard an easily audible crackling sound from INSIDE Heidi.  Heidi’s torso convulsed.  She still tried to take her shot, but it was like she was in slow-motion.  Her arm ponderously pushed the cue forward at about half the necessary speed.  Not only did she not get the eight-ball in the pocket, she didn’t even succeed in hitting the white ball with her cue.  Instead, her cue ground harshly on the green felt surface of the tabletop.  Her attempt was a total flop! 

This time, she stood up quickly and, dropping her pool-cue again, walked halfway across the table.  “I don’t...I don’t...what happened?”  She seemed totally perplexed.  It seemed strange, but this time I was sure I heard Heidi...BUZZING.

Suddenly terrified, Mr. Carl Hancock bolted off of his bar-stool. “Come Heidi.  You have to go to the bathroom right now!”

“I made a mistake,” confessed Heidi most apologetically, more to herself than to Mr. Hancock.  She seemed utterly baffled that this was possible. 

“This is simply...Impossible...Impossible...Impossible...” Heidi chanted incredulously as the good Mr. Hancock, with his arm around her, led her towards the vacant men’s-room.  “This doesn’t make sense.  I’m supposed to be...perfect.”

As Mr. Hancock carefully led Heidi away, the girl kept slowly shaking her head in disbelief.  Sometimes she’d bring her hands to her forehead as if she had a terrible headache or something.  Intermittently, her whole body would flinch uncontrollably.

“Mr. Hancock, how could this have happened?  I have failed.  I do not understand.  Mr. Hancock, how could this have happened?  Mr. Hancock, I don’t...make...mistakes.”

Suddenly, I felt bad for the girl.  Maybe she had some kind of an emotional disability.  She didn’t seem to be able to handle losing.  She had seemed very pleased with herself and her performance up until I had messed her up.  Weird.

My first thought as Mr. Hancock led Heidi away was to go for his briefcase and see if that was really where he kept the money.  Unfortunately, he took his briefcase with him.

 Well, the men’s-room was a filthy, dank hole that I was normally too afraid to enter to get around to cleaning.  The stench and the grime weren’t the only reasons I was reluctant to enter the men’s room.  One time, a few years back, I walked in on a drug deal that was going on in the restroom of my very own pool-hall.  To make a long story short, I almost got killed that night.  Fortunately for me, being assaulted by the scared and enraged drug-dealer triggered some kind of flash-back to the war.  The ensuing blood-bath was dismissed by police as a case of lethal self-defense and was chalked-up to my Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  But ever since that night when I killed the drug-dealer with my bare hands, I’ve had a private fear about entering the restroom.  Therefore, I installed a camera behind a one-way mirror to keep me informed about what was transpiring in my bathroom.  Sure, it was against the city’s code, but who would ever know?

It served me well.  I went behind the bar where I had set up the monitor.  I flicked it on.  The image came in slowly, gradually increasing in clarity.  It was a black-and-white image of Mr. Hancock and Heidi.  The girl walked ahead of the old man, and then stopped.  She was still shaking her head as if dazed.  Her mouth was still moving, but there were no microphones in the bathroom to pick up what it was that she was saying.  I guessed she was still muttering in disbelief about having made a mistake at pool.  The pair couldn’t have been more than five feet from the hidden camera on the other side of the mirror.  After ensuring that the bathroom door was locked, the old man set his briefcase on the counter by the sink and opened it up.  Because of the position of the camera, I couldn’t tell what was inside the briefcase.

The old man began by un-tucking Heidi’s sweatshirt as she stared at the floor.  Very peculiar.  I felt a lump grow in my throat.  Mr. Hancock’s hands were then back in the briefcase.  From the briefcase, he produced a tightly coiled cable of some kind.  It looked a little like an old telephone cord.  One end was evidently connected to the briefcase.  The other end had a heavy-duty industrial jack on it.  Mr. Hancock steadied Heidi by putting a hand on her shoulder.  Then, holding the jack in his other hand, he proceeded to plug it into a receiving port in the middle of Heidi’s back!  After making sure that the connection was secure, Mr. Hancock turned his attention back to the contents of the briefcase.  For some time, he seemed to be typing frantically on a keyboard of some sort that was now evidently linked to Heidi via that cable.  


My heretofore inexplicable losing-streak now made perfect sense!  Heidi was no cute little teenage girl!  She was phony!  A fake!  She was just a robot.  And Mr. Hancock, Heidi’s “manager,” was a hustler after all.  He probably went from pool-hall to pool-hall betting against all of Heidi’s human opponents.  But who knows where he could have dug up an old android like Heidi this day-in-age!?

The revelation that I had been playing pool against a glorified household appliance made my blood boil for a number of important reasons.  First of all, I was a war-veteran with four years of combat experience and a Purple Heart to prove it!  My friends DIED in that war!  We fought against Artificial Intelligence and we barely won by the skin of our teeth.  Ever since we concluded that war, droids have been strictly outlawed.  We fought a WAR against those fucking things!  Even seemingly harmless androids like Heidi were totally forbidden by law.  So you can imagine how fucking PISSED I was, especially as a combat-wounded war veteran that this cheap hustler came into MY pool-hall and tried to swindle ME.  And just to add insult to injury, he came here with a fucking ANDROID!  Clearly, it was time to teach Mr. Hancock and that pretty bucket-of bolts, Heidi, a lesson.  After a conspicuously long time, the couple emerged from the restroom.


I cut right to the chase.  “Do you know what the penalty for owning a droid is around here?”

Mr. Hancock didn’t even bother playing dumb.  He knew he had somehow been hopelessly caught.  All the color drained from his face.  He held his pince-nez in trembling hands.  Heidi just stood mutely and smiled gently.  I don’t think she even realized we were talking about her. 

“That’s right you bastard: I know all about Heidi and this little racket you’re running.  Well, the game is up.  I’ll make you a deal: I won’t kill you if you leave right now.  Sound fair?”  At the mention of her name, Heidi became more attentive of the conversation. 

“Yes.  Yes sir.  I’m sorry, uh but hey, I’m just trying to earn a living over here, all right?  Look I’m sorry okay?  Let me just grab my things.”  His bowler-hat slightly askew, Hancock cautiously edged his way over to Heidi and his briefcase.

“Uh.  Just one thing, Mr. Hancock.  I assume you weren’t stupid enough to use your real name, by the way.  Heidi’s staying here.  You can go now, though.”

“Hold on just a second.  You know how much I PAYED for Heidi?!  You can’t have her.  Look: I told you I sorry about the hustling thing, but Heidi’s my livelihood.  A man’s gotta eat!  Just let me-“

I parted my jacket just enough to show him my old Colt .45 service pistol I liked to keep in a shoulder holster.  He seemed to get even more pale.  I smiled at him wanly.

“But hey, you know.  I guess, sure.  Say, she’s yours!  Just relax man.  You want me to go now?”  I nodded slowly, my eyes fixed on his.  “Hey, I’m gone!  Sorry.  Bye Heidi!”

“Goodbye Mr. Hancock.  Have a nice trip.”  Heidi said, and smiled and waved.  She didn’t seem to be comprehending the situation very clearly at all.

Carefully, with his hands up, Mr. ‘Hancock’ backed away towards the door.  Heidi watched him leave with a faint smile.  I, on the other hand, was smiling broadly.  This deal wasn’t working out so badly for me after all! 


Mr. ‘Hancock’ closed the door behind him and was gone.  I figured I would never see the likes of HIM again.  I took a moment to reflect lovingly on my trusty old military-issue service pistol.  It had served me well, ever since I had enlisted during the war.  It never failed me then, and it hasn’t failed me since.  Tonight was no exception. 

I turned around to face Heidi.  She looked at me happily and expectantly.  She seemed to be feeling much better after having been somehow readjusted by good ole ‘Carl’.  It almost made me want to rush out onto the street, find Mr. ‘Hancock,’ and thank him from the bottom of my heart.  Thanks to him, not only did I get the excuse to threaten someone with my weapon (something I had missed doing ever since the war ended), but I also gained ownership of a very nice little girl-android.  She was still smiling at me.  Boy was she ever in for it.

Let me just preface this by saying that I am not a violent men, by nature.  My training and experience during the war made me a violent man.  However, I am not a lunatic, nor a sadist.  In the war, I saw a lot of people die terribly.  But I confined my killing to machines.  The robots were our enemy in the war.  Not other people.  In that respect, it was probably the most moral war in history, because you rarely fired a shot at another real man.  So, given the fact that Heidi was artificial, the same as back in the war, I felt no compassion for her.  This was not a question of morals.  This was a case of justice.  I intended to take some revenge on Heidi for my fallen war comrades as well as take some pleasure for myself.  My throat was dry and I trembled with anticipation.

“Turn around, Heidi,” I commanded. 

She did as she was told and performed a textbook ‘about-face.’  I walked over to her and reached up the back of her sweatshirt.  Her rubber skin was smooth and cool.  I closely examined her data-access port.  It was a tiny black circle on an otherwise flawless back.  This close up, it was ridiculously obvious that she was a synthetic.  I noticed an obviously repeating pattern of light freckles on her shoulders that was identical to the pattern of freckles on her nose.  I put my ear up to her back as she stood there motionless.  Inside, I could hear tiny gears turning, little motors buzzing, undulating beeps, and a faint hum of electricity. 

“What are you doing mister?” asked Heidi innocently.  And why shouldn’t she sound innocent?  She hadn’t any reason to suspect that I had some very diabolical plans for her.  How could she understand how much her ‘kind’ repulsed me?

“Oh, nothing at all, Heidi,” I replied with innocence that was as false as she was.  It had been a long time since the war, but I was still pretty handy at identifying different types of androids.  It was just an educated guess, but I figured her to be a Violet Series model 2.  The Violet series was conceived for the mundane role of secretary, adjutant, or assistant in an office setting. 

The first Violet model had a tendency to go haywire after about a month, due to a faulty energy storage system.  An electrical charge would accumulate slowly in the auxiliary resistor panel.  Over time, the charge would eventually become so great that the unit would spontaneously short-circuit.  On top of this problem, the original model was manufactured with sub-standard fail-safe devices to save on unit-cost.  So the droids normally failed to automatically shut-down even when they were dangerously short-circuiting.  The problems compounded each other and resulted in several deaths.  The Model 2 was produced to allay the complaints of the families of office-workers who had died at the hands of malfunctioning Violet Model 1’s. 

But that’s ancient history.  The Model 3, which was developed and manufactured by the Artificial Intelligence towards the end of the war, was a desperate attempt by the machine to slow down the human forces.  The Model 3 was an infiltration and suicide android.  They posed as civilians in bombed-out areas and allowed themselves to be found by our troops and placed in the numerous displaced-persons camps.  Then they’d try to get close to an officer or an important civilian.  Once a Model 3 was within range, it would explode, killing its target along with itself and anybody else who was unlucky enough to be nearby.  They were one of the AI’s last ‘Vengeance Weapons’ intended to terrify the human population.  I knew some people who were killed by Violet Model 3’s.

 But Heidi was nothing like that.  She wasn’t very dangerous.  She was designed to work in an office.  Evidently, Mr. ‘Hancock’ had reprogrammed her to play pool.  They were fairly versatile droids. 



“How about another game of pool Heidi?”

      “Oh yes.  I’d like that very much.  Shall I rack the balls, mister?”  The idea of another game seemed to make her very happy.

      “By all means Heidi.”

      As soon as Heidi had set all the balls on the table with mechanical precision, I allowed her to have the first shot again.  But now that I knew she was a robot, I had no intention of playing fair. 

      Heidi prepared her shot, carefully gauging the whereabouts of all the balls on the table.  She was an expert.  Casually, as I stood beside her, I placed a second cue ball on the table beside the first. 

      Heidi paused, and then stood up, blinking.  “Sir, please remove the extra ball.  The rules call for only one cue ball.  Please remove the extra ball at once.”  At least she was nice about it.

      “What do you mean?  Only ONE cue ball?  How can you play pool with only ONE cue ball?  The rules of pool explicitly call for TWO cue balls.”

      “Two...cue balls?”  Heidi closed her eyes and thought for a moment.

      “Don’t you even know how to play pool?”

      “Of course...I know how to play...pool.”  Heidi seemed to be getting a little defensive.

      “Well then, you know that the rules say we need two cue balls!”  She looked at me interestedly.  “I won’t play pool with you if you don’t’ even know the rules!” 

      “Yes...of course.  Everyone knows that...two cue balls are called for...” She blinked about ten times and froze.

      “Heidi?  Are you going to play, or what?

      Instantly, Heidi snapped out of it.  She turned back to face the table and began to set up her shot.  First, she began to gauge her shot with the original cue ball.  Then she paused.  A small humming noise, almost like a fan, could faintly be heard coming from inside the confused robot.  She shifted her attention to the second cue ball and began to gauge a shot using this ball.  I then placed a third cue ball beside the second one.

      Heidi stood up again.  I could still hear the humming sound faintly.  “Sir, please remove the extra ball.  The rules call for only...only...two...cue balls.  Please remove the extra ball at once.”  Her head twitched involuntarily a couple of times.

      “Only TWO cue balls!?  Are you crazy?  I thought you knew how to play pool!” 

      “I do know how to play pool,” said Heidi complacently.  “And I know that the rules call for...for...for...TWO cue balls.  The rules call for...two cue balls definitely.” 

      “Who in the world is dumb enough to believe THAT?  Everyone knows that you need three cue balls to play pool!”  I was having a great time.

      “Three?  Three?  But you said...two?”  She sounded unsure of herself.  She put her free hand to her forehead.  Suddenly, she seemed to remember something. “Sir, only moments ago, you said that the rules call for two cue balls, not three.  I believe that the rules call for two cue balls.”   

      “I never said any such thing!  And even if I did, you’d be a fool to have believed me!  Two cue balls indeed!” I scoffed.

      “This does not make sense.  You said...but I...the rules...cue balls...does not...” The humming sound seemed to be getting louder.  “Three balls...of course.  Of course the rules call for three cue balls.  Silly me.”  She seemed to have rectified whatever conflict she had been experiencing and was now back on top of her game.  The humming stopped.

      Heidi began lining up a shot with the original cue ball.  Then a brief but alarmingly loud buzz sounded from inside of her.  She blinked several times and then shifted her attention to the second ball.  She paused to compute a million possible trajectories.  Then the buzz sounded again.  She blinked for an even longer time than before and then shifted her attention to the third ball.  Her mind must have been going insane with the number of possible shots she could make. 

      “What are you doing Heidi!?” I yelled loudly.  Heidi stood up stiffly.  I heard the ominous humming sound again.  “You aren’t supposed to hit the cue ball!  You’re supposed to hit one of the green balls!  I thought you knew how to play this game!”

      “Green...balls...” Heidi was humming loudly now.  She didn’t seem to be able to keep up with all of the rule changes I was imposing.  She stood up quickly.  A major motor somewhere in her lower back spun furiously.  It was the first time I had heard it.

      “Heidi, just answer me one question: have you ever played pool before?”  Heidi took no time in formulating her answer.

      “Yes.  I have always played pool.  I love pool.”  She smiled sweetly.  The humming noise continued unabated. 

      “Well that’s nice.  Say, are you feeling alright?  I thought I heard some sort of humming sound.”

      “Humming sound?”  She cocked her head to one side.  “Yes, I hear it too.  I wonder where it’s coming from?  Now that you mention it, I’m not feeling quite myself.  That humming noise can’t be good!” 

      “Oh well, Heidi.  I’m sure you’ll be fine.  Let’s get back to the game.”

      “Oh yes!  Let’s!”  Still happily humming, Heidi positioned herself near the original cue ball in order to take her shot.

      “Are you forgetting something Heidi?”

      She stood and looked at me expectantly.  The humming noise was being to quiet.

      “The green balls, Heidi!  You have to start the game by hitting one of the green balls!”  That did it for Heidi.  The humming noise kicked back into high-gear.

      “Green balls?  Green balls?  Green balls?  Greenballs?  Greenballs?  Greenballsgreenballsgreenballs...” Heidi was out of control.  Her body was jerking around spastically.  The pool-cue flew out of her hands and clattered against the wall.

      “Heidi!  Snap out of it!”  I wasn’t finished with her yet.  I grabbed her arms.  She got control of herself again.  Just as she looked at me, her neck was illuminated from the inside by a cascade of orange sparks.  I could smell the familiar smell of burning electronics.  She was still humming as loudly as ever.

      “What’s the matter with you, Heidi?”

        Heidi looked directly at me and said matter-of-factly, “The game of greenballs, is pool-cue, with three cue balls on humming noise.”

      “What’s gotten into you Heidi?  Where’s your pool-cue?”

      “I need help.  Get the briefcase.  I’m having some problems.”  She immediately began taking off her sweat-shirt.  I grabbed the briefcase and opened it up.  Sure enough, inside was a length of cable and a keyboard.  Heidi turned away from me so that her access port was right in front of me.  I plugged her into the briefcase.  The screen displayed a dozen trouble-spots in Heidi’s programming that needed attention.  This was the part where I was expected to rectify her problems.  Heidi waited patiently and trustingly.  She had allowed me into her most sensitive programming area.  Instead of helping her, I started typing gibberish as fast as I could.

      She instantly realized that whatever I was doing to her was going to be disastrous.  She started flinching and jerking around wildly.  Her pig-tails bobbed and bounced as her head shook uncontrollably.  Her breasts, which I could now see for the first time, were just about as I expected, given that she was a Violet Model 2.  They weren’t very realistic at all.  Why should they have been designed to seem real if all these units designed to do were mundane office chores?  They were about as realistic as breasts on a mannequin.  They weren’t soft or supple; they were just plastic mounds that were part of her torso.  When observed under a blouse, they might seem real enough, but with her shirt off, her artificiality was obvious.  Within her smooth torso, countless motors strained, each doing its own part to tear the malfunctioning android apart from the inside.

      “What are you doing to me?  Stop immediately!  You are damaging my systems!”  Mercilessly, I continued pounding out meaningless letters and numbers onto the keyboard and into her brain.  “Warning!  System overload imminent!” 

      Abruptly, Heidi convulsed more powerfully than ever before.  A large motor somewhere in the abdomen buzzed like a furious wasp.  Then I heard a painful ‘SNAP’!  Apparently, that motor had just fried itself.  However, through that violent action, Heidi wrenched herself free of the briefcase, and ostensibly, to relative safety.  She spun around crazily to face me.  The cord that had attached her to the briefcase was trailing from her back.  She had yanked it savagely out of the briefcase.  That end was bouncing and spitting sparks all over the floor like a downed power-line.  She looked at me sadly with her fake brown eyes.

      “Why did you do that to me, mister?  That” She was slowly shaking her head as the live-wire behind her sparked furiously.  Inside of her, the humming had reached a fever-pitch.  She tried to bring her hand to her temple, but before it even got half way there, a motor in her elbow gave a loud, whining protest.  Sparks illuminated her whole arm from the inside.  Using her other arm, she reached around her back and removed the sparking cable.  Immediately, the sparks stopped and she dropped the dead cord onto the floor. 

      “How could you?” Heidi asked beseechingly.  “You really damaged me.  I want you to stay away from me, mister.”  She was slowly backing herself towards the wall.  Her right arm was immobilized and apparently wrecked. 

      I drew my pistol.  Somehow, she seemed to know what it was.


      The rest is a blur.  I remember the weight of my helmet.  It was raining.  Nighttime.  My face and clothes, coated in mud.  Helicopters in the sky, shining searchlights at the ground.  Rubble.  Screams.  I saw movement.  The innocent always suffer.  I pulled the trigger.  Flames.  Darkness.


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