“Detective Keller, have a seat.” The captain’s eyes skimmed over a holo screen visible only to him. Case files, crime scene photos, precinct statistics; who knows? Could’ve been porn. Keller didn’t really care. He wasn’t the judgmental type. Wasn’t a judge.
He was an executioner.
He sat at the captain’s desk and waited. The captain had a week’s stubble on his neck. Tie was just a little loose, revealing an unbuttoned collar. Smelled vaguely of cigarettes and mouthwash. Nothing out of the ordinary. He finally swiped away the holos and turned his attention to Keller.
“I hear your caseload’s empty.”
“Yes sir, as of this morning.”
“You’ve been busy.” He drummed his fingers on the desk and stared at Keller with piercing blue eyes. Detective Keller felt no discomfort with intense eye contact. Neither of them blinked or shifted.
“Just doing my job, sir—”
“What is your job?” The captain frowned, his face creasing along wrinkles too deep for his middle age.
“I’m sorry; am I being reprimanded?”
“Not at all, Detective; just humor me. What is it you do?”
Keller leaned back and touched his finger thoughtfully to his lips. “Well, under the edict of the Colonial Authority—”
The captain waved a hand dismissively. “Keep it simple. Speak plainly.”
“I investigate suspected Sims, verify with testing, and execute the positives.”
“As long as you’ve been here, I assume you’ve had some difficult positives: women, children?”
“No, sir. Sims have no gender, no developmental period—”
“Sure, sure, but they can look like women and children, right? Ever hesitate to pull the trigger?”
Another deadlocked silence. “No. Like you said, I’ve been here a while. Detectives who hesitate don’t stick around this long. Usually don’t live long enough to quit.”
The captain smiled at that. “Would you put me down?”
“If I took the test and came back positive. If I was a Sim, would you put me down?”
Keller didn’t know what kind of a game the captain was playing, but he didn’t hesitate in his answer. “I would. Not only would I be legally bound, but morally.”
“Good, good. I trust you have your sidearm on you.”
Keller felt his hip for what he already knew was there.
“Give me the test.”
“Sir, I really don’t—”
“The captain slammed his palm on the desk. “Administer the goddamn Sim test, Detective! That’s an order!”
Keller sat up and cleared his throat. From his pocket he produced a plastic-coated piece of paper no larger than a playing card. He memorized the five words printed on it. Then he looked back to the captain. “You are about to take an Adaca Series 6 broad-spectrum Sim test, the results of which have been demonstrated to be 100% accurate in both laboratory and field environments, and under Colonial Authority have been deemed legally binding under executive order NS-65. The instructions are as follows: you must maintain unblinking eye contact with the administrator throughout the duration of the test, which is expected to last no longer than ten seconds. When the testing begins, I will say aloud five primer words. You are to respond with one sentence, and one sentence only. Whatever comes to mind. Do you understand the instructions?”
The captain nodded.
“The test will now begin.” They locked eyes. “Dopamine. Avarice. Vindicate. Interlace. Delicacy.”
“You’ve done a damn fine job, Keller,” responded the captain grimly.
Keller knew immediately the test was negative; the captain was human. Positive results never contained a proper noun. He verified anyway by cracking the plastic on the one-time-use test card. Additional words appeared below the five he’d already read: The sun never sets in the corners it can’t reach. A Sim would have found themself inexplicably compelled to give that response to that specific set of primer words. “All done, Captain. Anything else?”
He sighed. “Do you know why your caseload’s empty, Keller? ‘Cause there’s no more Sims here. I’ve only got one more case to give you. You’re so damn efficient you’ve worked yourself out of a job. You said you have your weapon?”
Keller nodded once, slowly.
“Good.” The captain produced from his desk a fresh test card and a mirror and set them both in front of the detective. “Remember to maintain eye contact,” he said. He stood up, walked around the desk, and squeezed Keller’s shoulders. Then he left the office and closed the door behind him.
Detective Keller stared at the card with a bafflement that was bubbling into dread. He memorized the five words on the card—Lovely, Momentum, Sequester, Navigate, Cadmium—and gazed into the mirror.