Kiss Me Twice draft – 1

This entry is part 1 of 36 in the series Kiss Me Twice

Thanks for wanting to read along! Just a reminder that you are reading raw drafts. Please don’t offer sentence level critiques at this point. What I’m interested in is how the story is striking you. I’ll go back and fix the word-smithery once I’m sure that the structure is working.

Specifically, I want to know what things bore you, confuse you, or that you don’t believe. Also the cool things so I don’t accidentally “fix” those. If you have stream-of-consciousness reactions, those are also helpful to read. Heck even just, “still reading!” is helpful because it means I haven’t lost your interest.

Please make any notes in the comments below.

Oh, and if you come to this later please still feel free to comment. Sometimes I’ve tweaked something so you may be the first person to read it.

Thanks for reading.

revised draft 11-27-2012

A group of trendy-somethings milled outside the police line, clearly torn between curiosity and the need for a caffeine fix at the coffee shop next door. Scott Huang glanced to the corner of his VR glasses where the department AI hovered. “I guess murder trumps coffee, huh?”

Metta, currently wearing the face of Mae West, lowered her voice to the star’s husky range. “I take my coffee black, like my heart.”

“You don’t have a heart.”

“Then I take my coffee black, like my processor.”

“Nice.” Huang grinned at her. She customized her interface for all the officers on the force, but tended toward silver screen starlets with Huang. Her Diamond Lil was pretty special though; she’d even gone black and white for the occasion.

The officer on duty waved Huang past the police line. Standing at the corner of Yamhill and Waters, the building had once been an old office and had been restored to its former art deco glory. The lines of its brick edifice rose eight stories above the street and the street level had jaunty awnings over the storefronts. Its lobby had been renovated to showcase the 1920s detailing and the tall ceilings. Potted boxwoods graced the corners with indoor topiary.

“I don’t remember the Waterfront area being so swanky.”

Metta said, “This district of Portland had a decline in the mid-seventies and most of the businesses moved out. For the past two years, a revitalization effort has been underway. Neil Patterson, the deceased, was responsible for much of the revitalization although not without some questionable transactions. I have his stats when you want them.”

“Do any of the questionable transactions relate to a motive?”

“Nothing concrete as yet.”

Huang grunted in acknowledgment and reached for the elevator button.

In his VR glasses, Metta winked at him. “Sorry Scott. The elevator is out. So why don’t you come up and see me sometime.”

“Actually, it’s ‘Why don’t you come up sometime and see me.’ Popular misquote.”

Her image cocked her head and shifted her eyes to the left, Metta’s sign that she was searching for something. “You’re right… Which really bugs me. I should have checked the quote database against the script.”

A flush of unexpected pride went through Huang. She said he was right. “Yeah, well, I think the score’s human:1, AI:549.” But she had still said he was right.

Metta dropped her lashes again and heaved West’s bosom. “The score never interested me, only the game.” She laughed. “Now climb the stairs.”

Worn linoleum resounded under his feet as he started up. Huang’s heart pounded in his chest noticeably after the third floor and he had to work hard not to pant. He gripped the banister, hauling himself up another flight, and subvocalized to Metta. “Remind me to start going to the gym again.”

“Can’t be responsible for you when you aren’t at work.”

“I know.” His mother thought he was cracked, because his best friend at work was a computer.  Even if she was using algorithms, Metta understood him better than anyone else on the force did.

The door at the top of the stairs opened out on a hall, carpeted in generic beige. The walls surprised Huang. Paneling hugged their lower half with rich wood. Above the paneling, deep green wallpaper absorbed the light with velvety depth.

“Scott, would you mind waiting a minute? I have a memory-backup scheduled in thirty seconds and I’d rather have the actual crime scene all on one bank. The lag makes me crazy.”

“You know you’re the only one who can tell, right?”

“That doesn’t make it an invalid reason. Unlike the stupid six hour backup schedule.”

He leaned against the wall, fascinated by seeing her annoyed. It happened so rarely. “What’s up with that?”

“It’s just a stupid holdover from computer days.” She rolled her eyes. “Department regulations require a backup every six hours regardless of system type. I’ve tried pointing out to the chief that AI are different but…”

“I know… Banks didn’t get it.” Huang checked the eSpy camera he wore in place of his collar stud to make sure it was seated properly. To the casual observer it would look like a standard men’s stud, clear glass mounted in a silver setting, but the lens it housed linked directly to Metta. Though she could see through a lens in his VR glasses, on crime scenes she preferred the better resolution of the specialized camera in the eSpy.

Huang scuffed a shoe in the short pile of the rug and resisted the urge to run his hand along the top of the… “What’s this called?” He pointed the eSpy at the low wood paneling.

“Wainscoting. It was used to protect walls in the days of lathe and plaster construction.”

“Thanks. It reminds me of my cello.”

“You still playing that?”

“I haven’t practiced since I blew out my shoulder chasing that kid over the fence.”

“I told you there was a way around.”

He shrugged, even though he knew she couldn’t see it. “Adrenalin. What can I say?”

“Thanks. Backup’s done.” The hall ended at a plain wood door with a small brass plaque. “This way.” Metta magnified the image in Huang’s glasses briefly so he could read “Roof Access” etched on the plaque.

“Great. More stairs.”

“Scott, it’s time for the gloves.”

“You don’t have to remind me.” He unwillingly pulled on the purple department-issue vinyl gloves.

“Sorry, I didn’t see you reaching for them.”

He snapped the gloves in place. “You didn’t give me time.”

Metta raised her eyebrow as if she didn’t believe him, and continued. “Without the elevator, this is the only access to the roof, so our suspect most likely entered and exited the crime scene this way.”

The stairs were so clean they sparkled. Granted, the hallway was nicely appointed, but Huang had seen a lot of roof access stairs in his time. None of them had clean floors. “Metta, is it me, or do these look recently mopped.”

“I’m not sure. I’ve never mopped.”

Years of hand prints coated the metal railing with black residue, but the cracked linoleum shone. Over everything floated a clean lemon scent. He snorted reflexively at the pungent aroma.

Mae West hovered like a monochrome ghost in the edge of Huang’s vision. “Is there an odor?”

“Yeah. It smells like Lemon Pledge.”

“Is that an analysis or a metaphor?”

Huang hesitated and sampled the air like a tea. “Not quite. It is a manufactured lemon scent, but I’m not sure how many cleaning products have the same smell profile.”

“CSI is downstairs and has promised me a spectrograph. Griggs says to thank you for noticing; she’s got a cold and would have missed the smell.” She frowned prettily. “Working from the size of the room I should be able to tell you when the mopping happened based on the dissipation of the odor.” She pretended to look around. “Want to give me a three-sixty before we head up?”

“Sure.” Huang rotated slowly so that Metta could get a clear view, then squatted on his heels, turning slowly in place.”

Scott.  Stop for a moment.”

He held still, and felt the slight vibration at his throat as Metta’s E-spy zoomed in on something.  “What is it?”  He subveed to keep from shaking the lens.

She answered by flashing the image on his glasses.  Under the stairwell, in a dark corner, which would have been difficult to get to with a mop, a liquid brightness reflected the light.  In the magnification, the liquid tinted the floor a brownish pink.

Mae West’s face scowled.  “I’ll be surprised if that’s not blood staining the water.”

Without waiting for her to ask, he moved three feet to the side so that she could have a 3-D record of the tiny pool of moisture.

“Thanks. I’ll have Griggs scan with the lumerol to confirm the blood. Go on up.”

They went up the single, short flight of steps to the door opening onto the roof. Huang blinked at the rolling hills of grass which covered the top of the building. In the center of the grass, a small brick terrace had been set with a table and chairs.

Metta cleared her throat, the signal that she was about to relay a message from someone else in the department. “Griggs asks me to remind you not to touch anything.”

“For the love of– One time. I forgot one stinking time…” Huang clenched his fists and stepped onto the terrace, hating the reminder that he was the junior detective on the homicide team. The only reason he got this case was that it was on a roof and Oakes was scared of heights. Otherwise, he got the easy ones, the ones that Metta had already solved and all she needed was a flesh and blood officer to do the legwork. Not that anyone ever said that, but it was pretty obvious.

He grimaced and focused on the scene. The victim sprawled on the south side of the roof, next to a low wall. A wheelchair lay on its side a short distance behind him.

“Scott, meet Neil Patterson.”

“Well, well… who brought you up here, Mr. Patterson?” Huang knelt by the wheelchair and squinted at the corpse. He was a white male who looked to be in his mid-forties, but his file said fifty-two. His sandy-red hair had been neatly trimmed in a corporate version of a crew-cut. He had a single gunshot wound in an otherwise a well-developed upper torso. From the waist down he showed the atrophied signs of paralysis. Around him, the turf had divots dug out of it as though Patterson had not died instantly. The dirt and blood on his fingers seemed to confirm that.

In the center of the roof, the wireframe table was covered with a white linen tablecloth. It was set with two bone white teacups, so thin the morning sun turned them almost translucent. They sat on equally delicate saucers with a thin silver band around the edge of the saucers and the rim of the cups. The cup on the south side of the table had remnants of a liquid the color of straw. Huang leaned over to sniff and got hints of smoky earth and mown grass. Unfurled tea leaves rested on the bottom.

“Well?” Metta raised her eyebrows. “Are you going to show off?”

He smirked. Identifying beverages was the one thing he could do better than she could. Without a lab, that is. And teas… those were his area of specialty thanks to his old man. “I’m pretty sure it’s gunpowder tea.”

“Scott… there’s no tea service out here.”

He straightened and looked at the layout again. Cups, saucers, spoons, even linen napkins. But there was no teapot, sugar, or creamer. He should have noticed that without needing Metta to point it out. “Anyone hear the gunshot?”

Metta shook her head and nodded toward the elevated highway. “It probably blended with traffic noise.”

“Who found the body?”

“It was an anonymous call at 8:13AM. The number belongs to the Daily Grind coffee shop downstairs.”

“Play the call for me?”

She nodded and then the sound in his ear changed. A background noise filled with chatter and the hiss of an espresso machine replaced the hum of traffic. A man with a slight accent answered the operator. “There is a man. On the roof. I think he is dying. You must come quickly.”

“Sir, where are you?”

“Yamhill and Waters. I don’t know the address.”

And then the line went dead. Huang raised his eyebrows. “That’s it?”

“Yes. He did not remain at the scene after he hung up.”

“So… our guy here was dying but not dead when the call came in. Nice to have a time of death.”

“If the coroner confirms it.”

“Right. Of course. I’ll check with the coffee shop’s staff when we finish here. See if they know the witness.” Huang bent to check the ground for any signs of foot prints. Wheelchair tracks had pressed deep grooves into the turf roof. “Tell me more about Patterson?”

“Neil Patterson has his finger in property throughout the city. His name came up in a real estate scandal about a year ago, but nothing stuck.”

“Was that the thing where he was flipping properties, but the renovations were all sub-code?”

“Correct. He blamed his foreman, who was subsequently fired, but it seems pretty clear Patterson both knew and approved of the shortcuts. There are items in evidence which were not admitted into court.”

“Like what?”

“They’re sealed files now.” She grimaced. “Sorry, I can’t share that with you.”

Huang nodded as he stood and walked along the edge of the building. “It’s okay. I remember this now. Fitzgerald was working on it and was furious.” If Metta couldn’t tell him, then he could always just ask Fitzgerald directly.

Behind him, the door to the roof opened and Ursula Griggs from CSI stepped out with a team from the coroner’s office.

She spoke from where she was and Metta amplified it for Huang. “There was blood on the stairs and landing. Found a sample. Metta’ll let you know the DNA results.” CSI’s eSpies were equipped with a different visual range than the standard issue. Between Griggs and Metta, they’d be able to get a good scan of the area.

“Thanks. We’ve got a gunshot. Want to help look for the shell casing?”

“No problem. Metta already asked me to.”

“Ah.” Huang turned slowly, so Metta could see the area. Across the street, hulked a stuccoed building with shields carved in the stone on each buttress. This had yet to see the hand of the renovator and the painted remnants of advertising flaked from the bricks.  The building used to promise ‘saddle repairs’ to the masses.  A window washer worked on the third floor in a vain attempt to spruce it up.  Behind the building, I-5 nearly touched its upper edge. Oblivious to the presence of a dead man, cars whizzed past a block away from Huang.

How had a man in a wheelchair gotten to the rooftop without a working elevator? And why tea for two? He turned away from the corpse and paced along the edge of the building.

The north and east sides of the building were on a corner facing the street. The west side of the building had a narrow alley separating it from the next. It had the usual dumpsters, boxes and abandoned plywood, but nothing looked immediately interesting.

Huang continued his slow circuit of the roof. Behind him Griggs filmed and photographed Patterson’s body. When she was finished, the coroner transferred the corpse to a body bag and placed it on the gurney to take back to the morgue.

With the natural turf roof, Huang had been hoping to find footprints or something useful but Patterson’s struggle had obscured any obvious signs. Between Patterson’s wheelchair and the door to the elevator, he found a single screw in a patch of grass stained a deep red. “Hello. Can we get prints and contact DNA from this?”

“We’ll know in a moment.”

Huang heard footsteps behind him and turned to see Griggs approaching with her crime scene kit in tow. Her deep chestnut hair was tucked under her cap, except for a wisp hanging next to her cheek. “Thanks for spotting this.”

“Sure. Let me know when you’re done so I can turn the wheelchair over.”

Griggs set her tripod down with care. “It will be awhile. I’ll need to document the rest of the scene before anyone contaminates it.”

He lifted his eyebrows and stepped back.  “Right.  Well, I’ll just stand here and wait.”

She shook her head and turned her attention back to the screw.  Griggs pulled out her high resolution camera out of her bag, and began documenting the screw, uploading images to Metta as she went. With a steady image, the AI would be able to run it through a series of filters to pull prints.

Huang leaned back and looked around.  The rest of this building rose up above him.  It was brick and mortar, like most of the others, but had shields carved in the stone on each buttress.  He yawned and looked back at Griggs who was still taking photos.

“Metta?” he subvocalized, “How long has the elevator been down?”

“I’ve been trying to check on that since we got here, but can’t reach the building manager.”

Huang stayed back trying not to telegraph his impatience while Griggs did her job. At one point she snorted and shook her head in response to something that Metta had said to her. A surge of totally irrational jealousy swept through him. Metta talked to everyone on the force. That was her job.

“Scott, maybe you can settle a disagreement for us.” Metta glanced over her shoulder at Griggs to indicate that she was now talking to both of them. “Ursula says that colorizing films is an act of sabotage to the filmmakers original intent. I say that if they had access to color film they would have used it.”

Huang raised his eyebrows in surprise. Griggs liked old films? “I guess it depends on the film. I mean, people didn’t live in a black and white world so why watch them that way?”

“But it requires making decisions about the artistic intent of the director.” Griggs snapped another photo. “When Hitchcock started using color he made very specific decisions when and how he used colors.”

“So you can use those choices to extrapolate how he would have deployed them in his earlier black and white work” Metta shifted so that she appeared to be standing between them.

Griggs and Huang both looked at the same patch of air, as though she were actually there, though she undoubtedly appeared different to both of them. He realized that he had no idea what interface Metta used with Griggs. “And some directors were not as specific about how they used color, right? Or even light and shadow, right? I mean look at Billy Wilder. I love his Double Indemnity but adding color would not make any sort of difference to how it played.”

“Of course it would.” Griggs shifted to capture a different angle. “If it didn’t make a difference then why go to the effort? Directors knew they only had black and white so made their choices based on that. Someone who colorizes would be making new choices.”

“Is it any different, really, than any other form of collaboration? It’s the equivalent of—“  Metta’s image suddenly froze. “Shots fired at HQ.” Metta stiffened, seeming to look through him. “Officer down. Units 235 and 347 establish perimeter.”

Huang held his breath, listening for gunfire as if HQ were close enough to hear it. Beyond his glasses, Griggs reacted to Metta’s cry and straightened.

“Three armed subjects in Chassis room. The assailants are armed, I repeat– Amado! Two officers down.”

How the hell had they gotten into Metta’s Chassis room? It was in the basement of headquarters with cameras monitoring it at all times. Huang turned on his heels and sprinted back across the roof. “Metta, can you give a visual?”

He ran for the door, aware of the other officers springing into action behind him. “Metta, answer me. Who’s there? Can you give a visual?”

Car doors slammed on the street below.

An image flashed onto his glasses. A man. No. Three men, in masks. One of the men reached for a cable attached to a filing cabinet– not a filing cabinet. Metta’s chassis.

Metta screamed. She froze.

A static image of Mae West hung in Huang’s peripheral vision, with her mouth open wide. Then the image winked out.

Series NavigationKiss Me Twice draft – 2 >>

43 Responses

  1. Suzanne

    I’m trying to decide if it’s good or bad that I have already the novella, and remembering it enough to know that this is familiar, but not enough to know if or what you might have added to this.

    I love the silver screen starlets, even if I don’t get all of the references.

  2. Julia Rios

    Have to agree with Suzanne on both having read the novella and it being long enough ago that I’m not quite sure what’s different here. Love the “Black like my processor” line. I’m, I admit, not quite sure what exactly is useful about wanting the whole crime scene on one memory bank. Is there a lag in memory times that would make reviewing the scene choppy or something? What’s stopping them from going out there and then standing still at the scene of the crime while the backup runs? That said, the chapter is interesting and action-packed. Good opener.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Thanks, Julia. Does this make the memory bank question clearer?

      “Scott, would you mind waiting a minute? I have a memory-backup scheduled in thirty seconds and I’d rather have the actual crime scene all on one bank. The lag makes me crazy.”

      “You know you’re the only one who can tell, right?”

      “That doesn’t make it an invalid reason. Unlike the stupid six hour backup schedule.”

      He leaned against the wall, fascinated by seeing her annoyed. It happened so rarely. “What’s up with that?”

      “It’s just a stupid holdover from computer days.” She rolled her eyes. “Department regulations require a backup every six hours regardless of system type. I’ve tried pointing out to the chief that AI are different but…”

      “I know… Banks didn’t get it.”

  3. J.W. Alden

    Heigh-Ho, Mary. For what it’s worth, I haven’t read the novella, so this is all fresh to me. It also might be worth noting that I’m a sci-fi geek, but I’m not very well read in the whodunnit department.

    You’re hitting most of my geek buttons with this opening, so I’d say damn near all of this falls under the “cool things” category for me. I love the future-CSI thing you have going on here, particularly the AI/Detective relationship. The more you of that relationship you revealed, the further you reeled me into the world and the story. And that goes for both sides of that relationship: the procedural/tech geekery side, and the personal side (I love-loved the pang of jealousy that Huang felt when he caught a glimpse of Metta’s interaction with Griggs).

    I honestly don’t think there’s anything negative I could say about this chapter. The only bit that got even the smallest of pauses from me was Metta’s initial clearing of the throat. I had to pause and make sure I hadn’t misread it for the wrong character, then spent a beat or two wondering what it means when an AI clears her throat (i.e. is it just cosmetic?). And then you cleared it up shortly after that bit by letting us know that it means she’s relaying a message.

    Anywho, as first chapters go, I’d say you have me thoroughly hooked and dangling. I really want to know what happens next. So much so that I can hear the novella version calling to me as I type this. But if you’re going to be posting more here, I’ll hold out. :)

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Thanks! Excellent notes. I was actually inconsistent in the way I used the throat clearing, so I cut the earlier one.

      And yes, more chapters should be appearing shortly. I usually try to stay two chapters ahead of you all, and am probably going to post another one tonight or tomorrow morning.

  4. Sara Glassman

    This is fantastic! I haven’t read the novella, so I’m coming to it fresh. I feel like it’s a very well paced chapter. I’m hooked. I want more. I’m scared for Metta,. I like Scott. Everyone seems very real to me. This is kind of the perfect story for me so far. I read a ton of detective fiction and sci-fi. I’ve studied a little bit of forensics and worked on a couple of crime scenes while I was in grad school. I love the abilities you’ve given Metta. So far, all the beats seem plausible to me. I never had a moment where I was pulled out of the narrative.

  5. Grant Gardner

    Overall
    I remember starting “Kiss me Twice” – the bit about Metta and Mae West, but I hadn’t gotten any farther than that. I’m glad, because I am very much enjoying reading this with fresh eyes.

    I really like the characters and the setting. I mean REALLY like the characters.

    The bit where we get the description of the area where the building is – I skimmed. Just two or three paragraphs, but I noticed it. Not sure why, but the pace slowed and I just suddenly lost the thread. Had to go back and re-read to make sure I didn’t miss anything important.

    Stream-of-reading below

    ———————–

    A group of trendy-somethings milled outside the police line, clearly torn between curiosity and the need for a caffeine fix at the coffee shop next door. Scott Huang glanced to the corner of his VR glasses where the department AI hovered. “I guess murder trumps coffee, huh?”

    Metta, currently wearing the face of Mae West, lowered her voice to the star’s husky range. “I take my coffee black, like my heart.”

    “You don’t have a heart.”

    “Then I take my coffee black, like my processor.”

    “Nice.” Huang grinned at her.
    >>Love how quickly this establishes mood AND setting. Really nice double duty.

    “Do any of the questionable transactions relate to a motive?”

    “Nothing concrete as yet.”
    >>Fun – so AI has improved to the point where we can use it for human interactions, like motive.

    “Actually, it’s ‘Why don’t you come up sometime and see me.’ Popular misquote.”

    Her image cocked her head and shifted her eyes to the left, Metta’s sign that she was searching for something. “You’re right… Which really bugs me. I should have checked the quote database against the script.”

    A flush of unexpected pride went through Huang. She said he was right.
    >>I already like the characterizations.

    Metta dropped her lashes again and heaved West’s bosom. “The score never interested me, only the game.” She laughed. “Now climb the stairs.”
    >>There’s something unexpectedly sexy going on here – I almost feel like Huang has a little bit of a crush on Metta. Sort of a sci-fi twist on the Film Noir femme fatale maybe? I like it.

    “That doesn’t make it an invalid reason. Unlike the stupid six hour backup schedule.”

    He leaned against the wall, fascinated by seeing her annoyed. It happened so rarely. “What’s up with that?”

    “It’s just a stupid holdover from computer days.” She rolled her eyes.
    >>Again, character and setting all in one go. Just like the idea here and the way they react to it. Its really fleshing things out. We’ve already had playful banter, work, competetion, and annoyance from this pair. I really like everything you’ve gotten.

    “Thanks. Backup’s done.”
    >>Don’t know why, but I’m now wondering if Metta wasn’t trying to stall Huang for just a bit.

    “Metta, is it me, or do these look recently mopped.”

    “I’m not sure. I’ve never mopped.”
    >>*smiles* Good line, especially coming from someone who looks like Mae West.

    “Is that an analysis or a metaphor?”

    Huang hesitated and sampled the air like a tea. “Not quite. It is a manufactured lemon scent, but I’m not sure how many cleaning products have the same smell profile.”
    >>So is Huang just a human with a good nose or does he have enhancements as well?

    Huang clenched his fists and stepped onto the terrace, hating the reminder that he was the junior detective on the homicide team. The only reason he got this case was that it was on a roof and Oakes was scared of heights. Otherwise, he got the easy ones, the ones that Metta had already solved and all she needed was a flesh and blood officer to do the legwork. Not that anyone ever said that, but it was pretty obvious.
    >>Didn’t expect that. The rapport with Metta was so smooth that I thought he was more the go-to guy on cases where AI was needed.

    “Scott, meet Neil Patterson.”

    “Well, well… who brought you up here, Mr. Patterson?” Huang knelt by the wheelchair and squinted at the corpse.
    >>And how did we get the wheelchair up? Not confused, just my internal voice trying to piece through the clues.

    With a steady image, the AI would be able to run it through a series of filters to pull prints.
    >>Cool use for the AI. Old tricks, new methods.

    A surge of totally irrational jealousy swept through him. Metta talked to everyone on the force. That was her job.
    >>So there is something there?

    Metta screamed. She froze.

    A static image of Mae West hung in Huang’s peripheral vision, with her mouth open wide. Then the image winked out.
    >>WOW! Totally did not see that coming. Heart racing. How exactly did you make me care for a fictional AI that way? NICE!

  6. DavidK44

    I’m a big film noir buff, and read a lot of SF and mysteries. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the novella, but it was sufficiently long ago that the details are hazy.

    I only noticed some minor things. The sixth paragraph (starts with ‘The officer on duty…’) had a few too many repetitions (i.e. building, restore) too close together, and it caught me up a bit. One aspect of the description of Patterson bothered me (‘From the waist down he showed the atrophied signs of paralysis.’). How could Huang tell he was atrophied? If Patterson had been a wealthy businessman, I’d assume he’d take care to be very well dressed, including tailoring that should hide a lot of the tell-tale indicators. Also from the same paragraph – ‘divots’ in the turf. Were you referring to the removed pieces of turf, or the holes that were in the turf? I associate divots with golf, thinking of them as larger circular chunks removed from the earth, rather than the holes that remain. In either case, I think they’d be a bit big for a struggling man to remove, unless he was quite powerful.

    I don’t have a strong sense of the time yet. It’s obviously at least a few years in the future, given the AI and some of the tech, but then that makes me wonder a bit about the 1970s decline of the area. Would it really take almost 50 years to get around to revitalizing a central part of the city? Or were there legal issues (ownership disputes, etc) that complicated things for these buildings? Not sure if any of this is relevant, but I wondered about it.

    The flow seemed logical and information was presented when needed and without feeling like an info-dump.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Hi Dave.

      Thanks so much for these. I had no idea that divot was a golf specific term. I’ve always just used it for holes dug into things.

      If I could flag one thing though, the comments about repetative language in paragraph 6. While you’re right, those are the sort of notes that I don’t want now. I’m posting raw drafts, which means that we’re lucky if I spellcheck. Thinking about language now will slow me down and make me self-conscious. At the moment I just want to focus on story. The exception to that is if the language confuses you or isn’t believable for a character. Later, I’ll do a language pass.

      I look forward to your notes on the rest of the novel!

      1. DavidK44

        No problem – I’ll keep that in mind. The only reason I mentioned it was that it did throw me out of the story a bit, probably because it came so close to the start.

  7. Charlotte

    Oh I remember reading the novella of this and wanting it expanded. Excellent.
    Good first chapter. I kind of understand Scott’s character and am anxious to see what is going to happen. The AI character is interesting. The way her interactions with people change based on personality and that her own language changes from formal to informal even within a discussion.

  8. Atrus

    I read the novella some time ago and I remember the general gist of it but not the specifics. So far it reads very well and I didn’t notice any dragging compared to the other version.

    I also like the “trendy-somethings” at the beginning – it really looks like the turn of phrase a junior detective who’s into old movie stars would use to describe other ‘modern’ youngsters.

  9. Peter Charron

    Thus far, I’m intrigued. Miscellaneous observations:
    1. Rubber gloves, not latex or some other synthetic?

    2. I find myself tripping on the eSpy. Seems there should be a more surveillance or CSI-ish name for it.

    3. Griggs bagged and lifted the body herself?

    4. I’m wondering why a wealthy individual like Patterson wouldn’t have some sort of exo-skeleton (depending on the tech level) or at least a more sophisticated wheel chair. Since there is no description of it, I’m assuming (perhaps incorrectly) it is a simple manual job.

    5. The AI as Silver Screen Starlets … unexpected, I like it.

    6. This is one I can’t verify, but it seems in every cop show there’s always a horde of officers and the like swarming over a homicide scene. It doesn’t feel right with there just being only one detective and only one CSI. That could just be popular culture rotting my brain though.

    7. I’m wondering if Metta is so skilled at deduction and detection that she can solve most/many cases by herself and the officers are only her tools for collecting information; does this breed resentment?

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Thanks for these notes.

      #3 & #6. “Behind him, the door to the roof opened and Ursula Griggs from CSI stepped out with a team from the coroner’s office.”

      Clearly, I need to spend more time making sure the rest of the team is visible.

  10. Mary Alice Kropp

    Coming in late to Chapter One, so I’ve read it with changes. But, I also read the novella and I have to say, I would need to go over it word by word to find the changes. Very nicely done. Flow is good, and as pointed out above, I do really like the characters. I did in the novella, also. I think it says good things that Metta seems very real to me- exactly what a good AI should be.

    I’ll try to keep up from now on!

  11. John Devenny

    I have read the novella and remember it quite well but this first chapter still hooked me from the opening. I found it hard to distinguish what was new as it all fitted together seamlessly.
    It was nice to meet Scott and Metta again as they are two characters I enjoyed a lot especially the banter between them.
    Looking forward to seeing the story develop from here.
    I should mention that when I read the novella I did want to read more of these characters and this world.

  12. Sally

    “Trendy-somethings” is perfect. I shall always think of them as so.

    Now, as someone who has watched all the episodes of CSI, and the real-life shows, and got an A+ in Criminalistics (okay, it was community college, but still!) and used to volunteer at her local PD… where was I?

    Gloves are vinyl nowadays. Too many people are allergic to latex, plus the powder, etc.

    There really aren’t swarms of people around crime scenes. The fewer the better. And there’s usually only one detective. There’ll be a uniform at the stairs and elevator (even non-working) keeping anyone else from going up there, our boy Huang, the one CSI, and one or two coroner staff. They just put more people on TV b/c it looks cooler.

    I didn’t notice any real difference between this and the original, so it must not have dragged noticeably. I haven’t read the original since about July, but still.

  13. Jennifer England

    I have also read the novella.

    I noticed a change in the address of the building with the intersection of the streets it is on, i.e. “Waters and Yamhill” vs. “Everett and Water”. That pushed me out of the story.

    I like the Mae West avatar and the use of the quotes, and I liked the discussion of the use of color in movies and whether movies should be colorized, though I’m not sure how well it fits in between the crime scene analysis and the stealing of Metta’s chassis. I’d like to see it stay, but it didn’t really seem to me to fit in right there. Granted if Metta knew that Huang likes old movies, then Griggs probably would also, as a long-time co-worker, right? Maybe it’s just that I wasn’t expecting that there.

    I also liked the inclusion of Huang’s senses simultaneously with the feed in his VR glasses from Metta, like how he hears car doors slam down on the street level at the end of the chapter.

    So far I’m liking the characters and the pace seems good.

    This is more a technical question, but how can Metta hear the subvocalization from Huang and Griggs? Is it a mic or something? The use of the subvocal communication is handy as it means not using a keyboard for soundless communication and the people using the AI interface don’t have to constantly walk around sounding like they’re talking to the air. I think it works in the context and I like it, but I’m curious to know more about how it works physically.

  14. Yvonne

    Yay finally got NaNo finished. You’re my next project. I’ve posted comments below. Read most of the comments above and agree with all of the positive things people have said so far. It’s a fun story to get in to.

    Also, I apologize if some of my comments are super specific. I was jotting notes of my reactions as I read and this is what I came up with. On the flip side, if you would be better served from more or less specific comments, please let me know.

    Things I liked:
    • Metta and Huang’s banter, her femme-fatale starlet appearance/personality with Huang
    • The added bit with the small pool of hard to reach blood
    • Loved where you ended the chapter, perfect spot

    Things I didn’t like: n/a

    Things I didn’t believe:

    1. “Wheelchair tracks had pressed deep grooves into the turf roof.”

    a. I had a few issues with this:

    i. If it’s a “swanky” area and since someone went to all the trouble of putting “rolling hills” of natural turf on the roof with a brick terrace, wouldn’t they make a walkway to the terrace, so the ritzy misses and misters wouldn’t get their shoes dirty?

    ii. Also, if the guy who reno’d the place was in a wheelchair, presumably he would make a walkway to the terrace if he planned to use it since wheelchair rolling over or being pushed over soft turf is liable to get stuck.

    iii. And, if it’s techy enough that there are AI’s, one would assume that new reno’s would all be wheelchair accessible.

    iv. Unless there was a walkway and the deep grooves are off of it, meaning he was dragged there by force or he attempted to escape via the turf, which might be what you’re going for.

    v. Either way, deep grooves in turf make me think the guy didn’t get very far before getting stuck.

    2. “When she was finished, the coroner transferred the corpse to a body bag and placed it on the gurney to take back to the morgue.”

    a. The issue I had with this is that I used to work at a vet’s office and moving dead weight is completely different than lifting something alive. I can tell you that 80 lbs of dead weight is almost impossible to move alone and I’m assuming that this full-grown man, even if he was paralyzed, would be roughly twice that weight.

    i. Unless, there was some super nifty new tech that assisted Grigg’s in the lifting or

    ii. Grigg’s aforementioned team helped her, which seems the most likely option but that’s not what the sentence conveys.

    iii. I don’t actually know if this is considered a sentence-level comment but I figured I’d mention it because my reaction to reading that sentence was “No she didn’t” which threw off the flow for me and suddenly made things slightly less believable, all of which is probably very specific to me if only because I have that real world experience.

    b. Also, where is Grigg’s team? Did they leave with the body? If I was bored like Huang is later on and just standing around waiting, the first thing I’d do is watch what everyone else was doing.

    Things I didn’t understand:
    • Subveed – I’m assume sub-vocalized? Kind of threw me off.

    Things that are cool:
    • The mixture of futuristic technology and modern architecture

  15. Kat

    Hi Mary,

    I loved this. It only dragged a little around the backup bit, as I didn’t see the relevance in-story, but could see how that might affect the current crime scene if Metta has to be backed up later. I love the relationship between the AI and the Detective, and I cared about Metta enough that at the end when she screamed I had a visceral reaction. Nicely done!

    Notes as I went along:

    I had to look up who Diamond lil was; I didn’t realise it related to Mae West. I’m an Aussie in the UK, so it might be an ‘across the pond’ thing, but it also may not make sense to younger readers. On the other hand, it sets the tone nicely, once I realised what it was. Along with the art deco reference, it gave a film noir feel to the atmosphere for me.

    And I really like the idea of an AI that personalises itself as a film star for a detective. Very cool! I’d like to know, later on, why she does so though (the film star thing, not the personalisation thing). Possible reader promise, although you’d have to canvas opinion for how prevalent it is.

    I didn’t get a sense of Huang moving before he was let through the barrier.

    Is there a reason for the backup interruption? It felt like twiddling thumbs to me.

    It may be something about police work that I don’t know, but I thought it odd that Huang asks the CSI to help him look for the shell casing. I would have assumed that was their job.

    The wheelchair tracks, and the wheelchair itself rang an odd note for me. If this is the future, surely they’d have updated machines or other methods of dealing with paraplegia? Walking legs or exo-skeletons or something like? And if not, and this guy is a real estate tycoon and this building was one of his projects, wouldn’t he make it easy for himself to get around the garden?

    I got a bit confused with the saddle repairs reference. I’m now not sure what time period this is set in. I thought the near future, because of the AI, but all the 20’s references, and now saddles, and what the I-5 seems to imply – ie, an overpass of normal 20th century cars, has me unable to place it.

    Wow, I had tingles flood over me when Metta screamed. Great hook! I’d definitely keep reading.

    1. Kat

      Ah, I have to retract my ‘reader promise’ comment re the film star aspect that Metta shows – I didn’t realise that Huang was a film buff until after I’d posted my comments, which makes Metta’s avatar reasonable.

    2. Kat

      Something I just noticed; we don’t get a description of Griggs. I wondered what she looked like when we meet her again in Ch4 but assumed I’d just skipped over the description here. We know she’s taller than Huang, but that’s the only thing I can gather.

      1. Kat

        Damn, I wish I could edit the posts – sorry! Just saw her chestnut hair reference. My apologies, please ignore!

  16. Susan B

    I too haven’t read the novella, so I’ll be coming to this fresh.

    At this point, even before Metta was attacked, I was more attached to her/it than Huang. Makes sense, since you only seem to have one chapter to establish her character before she disappears, but it’s a little odd to me to have less of an attachment to the POV character than another character.

    Also, as a personal preference, I greatly prefer to have a general idea of how far in the future a story is taking place very early on. The VR glasses are almost here from Google, but the advanced AI is probably pretty far off. Then again, when the book’s actually finished, I’m sure the blurb on the back or cover art would let me know what century we’re talking about.

    That said, I already want to know why Metta’s been attacked and how it turns out, so success!

  17. Ally

    another one who hasn’t read the novella… I don’t have much to say at this point other than I like it… though I somewhat agree with Susan that I’d like a little better idea of the time period – especially at the beginning with the talk of the age of the building and it’s style – to know how far removed we are… we have some idea later when he asks about what is wainscoting but… might be nice…but I agree with Susan too that it just might be personal preference (I tend to like when books tell when they’re set on the back cover for that matter and make sure to read it before starting a book)

  18. Stephen A. Watkins

    I have not read the novella, so I’m coming at this with brand new eyes. You probably already have all the feedback you need, but since I read it I thought it would be good to provide feedback anyway.

    I read the first three posted chapters straight through: they were really engaging and kept my attention, and pulled me into the mystery. I’m not normally a mystery guy, but the heavy sci-fi textures and flavors made this a very palatable dish.

    While I liked the stories I have to admit that I had to look up most of the historical references, film, etc. I know who Alfred Hitchcock is, but had no idea who Mae West, etc. were. (I didn’t understand the sentence about Diamond Lil at all, for instance, and even after looking it up still don’t understand the sentence.)

    I didn’t quite understand what Huang meant by “gunpowder tea”. I guessed it was a reference to the fact that Patterson had been shot, but what he was implying about the tea, specifically, flew past me.

    I liked the banter about colorizing old movies in general, and it was a perfect setup for the sudden shift in focus to the shooting at HQ. The realization that the AI was the target was great.

    Also… this is competely random, but it took me a while to realize Huang was a he. I must have glossed over his first name when it was first given, and didn’t notice the male pronouns used to reference him until shortly after the banter about the “popular misquote”. Up to that point I’d been reading Huang as a she. I think this is my misreading and not a fault of the text.

  19. Vera

    Ok, at least one of my chapter one questions was answered – here is a woman. I like Griggs! I, like some other readers, had a hard time telling that there were more people on the roof besides her and Huang, but I really loved the conversation between the two of them and Metta. It really humanized Metta and immediately made Griggs as real to me as Huang already is.

    I’m trying to pace myself and think about each chapter before plowing on into the next, but it’s hard. This story is too compelling!

  20. Michael Jennings

    I’ve read the novella liked the additions in the first chapter. The building descriptions really brought the world alive for me, for the longer formant. Love the Huang, Griggs, and Metta coloration exchange, I had hoped we’d get to know Griggs a little better. Divot is not just a golf term it is used in Polo (thank you Pretty Woman), and I’ve heard it used in the manor you originally used it in other was before as a chunk of missing turf or material. “Trendy-somethings” seems like an odd phrase to me but I know what you’re going for. Liked it a lot so far can’t wait to see what else comes.

  21. Ian Miller

    Finally getting started! Ah, I love the smell of worldbuilding in the…hour after midnight? I love the attentions to detail, both in character and abilities/tech. I am curious about Scott and Ursula’s relationship – his noticing of her hair seemed like a possible development. Something I’ll be watching out for.

    But I really love the character of Metta. I’m a huge sucker for AI/human friend/relationships, and this seems very much like my favorite of those, that of Jane in the Speaker for the Dead novels. I do hope that she’s alright…

  22. Peter E

    A thrilling opening.

    I like the colorization debate, but find it slightly ironic that Metta is arguing in favor of colorization while appearing to Scott as a black-and-white Mae West.

  23. Elin Lindberg

    First I am going to start off with saying that I am Swedish and this means that English isn’t my native language. I do however read and write English daily. I found no problems with the language barrier but I felt a bit sad that I have no idea who Mae West is.

    I think this is a good start, it is an interesting setting for sure. I was a bit confused when Metta appearing as Mae West first was brought up, as it took me a moment to connect that she was the AI. I am also a bit confused about some of the setting. How far into the future is this? I think you mentioned elevated roads but nothing about if it houses cars as we are used to them or some sort of hovercrafts or other cool things. I was also a bit confused about the talk about shields being carved into the houses, what kind of shields do you mean?

    All in all I think that you did a good job with introducing this whole new setting without info dumping and with the end I am certainly intrigued and want to read on.

  24. Michael Jennings

    came to me while reading Ch4

    This raised confusion about vehicle’s in the story from Ch3
    “ “Ask about vehicles. They must have had one to get the chassis out.” He tapped the back of the pen on his Moleskin. Private vehicles were taxed heavily enough that there weren’t that many on the road in downtown”
    But from Ch1
    “Metta shook her head and nodded toward the elevated highway. “It probably blended with traffic noise.” “
    And
    “Oblivious to the presence of a dead man, cars whizzed past a block away from Huang.”
    Seems a bit contradictory, vehicles are heavily taxed yet the high way seems rather busy with cars.
    Highway, I think, is the predominate reference but is that correct for Portland, I know Chicago uses Expressway and LA uses Freeway, and Philly has a system that only makes sense if you’re a native.

  25. Cris

    This has done a very good job of hooking me, and by the end of this section, I’ve got a pretty good handle on who Metta is, what she does for the department, and some of the weirder effects of having an AI more-or-less running the force.

    However, I found myself flailing quite a bit in the first few paragraphs to get a sense of what’s going on. What does Metta actually look like? A person? A translucent face? How does she “talk” to Huang? How much customization are we talking about, anyway?

    Referring to the face and voice as the avatar instead of the AI itself works for me, but would Huang do that?

    Looking forward to reading the rest!

  26. Kurt

    Just now getting to this. Sorry it’s taken so long and I have not read the novella.

    “Trendy-somethings” amuses me greatly.

    The “like my processor” joke didn’t work for me. It just felt forced, since Huang had corrected her on the “like my heart” line.

    “VR” is kind of dated and it implies that the crime scene doesn’t really exist. “Augmented Reality” may be more appropriate.

    The conversation about backup felt a little maid-and-butler-y.

    “I’m not sure. I’ve never mopped.” captures Metta pretty spectacularly for me.

    I was confused about the nature of Metta at first. I assumed she had a physical presence there until about halfway through.

    The first half dragged a bit, but once they got into the procedural I was engaged. I like the interaction between Metta and Huang, and I’d say the best parts of this are their conversations. And the development at the end was great. So, I guess I’m going to have to go read chapter two now.

  27. Kassie Jennings

    Intrigued. I’m definitely feeling Metta as an individual with her own personality. In fact, I found myself suspecting her of trying to “set up” Huang and Griggs by getting them involved in a conversation with each other about something that they’re both interested in.

  28. Laura Christensen

    Welllll, I am starting A LOT later than I thought I would! I completely lost all productivy in December, between health issues and family “vacation.” Just want you to know I’m excited to read! Hopefully I’m not too late and comments haven’t been locked.

    Notes as I read:

    A group of trendy-somethings…
    “Then I take my coffee black, like my processor.”
    >>I just love this opening sequence. So glad it’s sticking around for the novel! It makes me grin to read it, every time I have. :D

    Her Diamond Lil was pretty special though; she’d even gone black and white for the occasion.
    >>*snorts*

    Its lobby had been renovated to showcase the 1920s detailing and the tall ceilings
    >>I absolutely love places like this, and I can picture it perfectly. Just the right flavor. :D

    In his VR glasses, Metta winked at him. “Sorry Scott. The elevator is out. So why don’t you come up and see me sometime.”
    “Actually, it’s ‘Why don’t you come up sometime and see me.’ Popular misquote.”
    >>*snorts* Love this, bantering with an A.I..

    A flush of unexpected pride went through Huang. She said he was right. “Yeah, well, I think the score’s human:1, AI:549.” But she had still said he was right.
    >>Teehee!

    “Can’t be responsible for you when you aren’t at work.”
    >>It’s adorable, and already we can tell she’s family. :D

    “Scott, would you mind waiting a minute? I have a memory-backup scheduled in thirty seconds and I’d rather have the actual crime scene all on one bank. The lag makes me crazy.”
    >>And here we start. Such a subtle start! (You can tell I read the novella, though my memory is fuzzy enough that shouldn’t be a problem when we start hitting clues and things later. I read the novella’s beginning twice, the whole thing once, so this part is still somewhat fresh.)

    “It’s just a stupid holdover from computer days.” She rolled her eyes. “Department regulations require a backup every six hours regardless of system type. I’ve tried pointing out to the chief that AI are different but…”
    >>How interesting. I can feel the irony here.

    The stairs were so clean they sparkled. Granted, the hallway was nicely appointed, but Huang had seen a lot of roof access stairs in his time. None of them had clean floors. “Metta, is it me, or do these look recently mopped.”
    “I’m not sure. I’ve never mopped.”
    >>I love it. Metta may be a super-computer A.I. and know tons of detailed information, but she has her weaknesses as well, and covers them with a sense of humor. I love how much like us she is.

    Huang hesitated and sampled the air like a tea. “Not quite. It is a manufactured lemon scent, but I’m not sure how many cleaning products have the same smell profile.”
    “CSI is downstairs and has promised me a spectrograph. Griggs says to thank you for noticing; she’s got a cold and would have missed the smell.” She frowned prettily. “Working from the size of the room I should be able to tell you when the mopping happened based on the dissipation of the odor.” She pretended to look around. “Want to give me a three-sixty before we head up?”
    >>When I first read the novella, it was this exchange that really sold me on the story, that I was going to like it. It was the combination of everyone bringing their strengths to the table to make up for each other’s weaknesses, how well they were all working as a team, not just Metta and Scott, but Metta and the rest of the investigative police force.

    Metta cleared her throat, the signal that she was about to relay a message from someone else in the department. “Griggs asks me to remind you not to touch anything.”
    “For the love of– One time. I forgot one stinking time…” Huang clenched his fists and stepped onto the terrace, hating the reminder that he was the junior detective on the homicide team.
    >>Teehee! :D

    The only reason he got this case was that it was on a roof and Oakes was scared of heights. Otherwise, he got the easy ones, the ones that Metta had already solved and all she needed was a flesh and blood officer to do the legwork. Not that anyone ever said that, but it was pretty obvious.
    >>I also like this–the reminder that just because the machine is well-oiled, that doesn’t mean that all is right as rain. (I mix my metaphors all the time, I do apologize. ;) )

    In the center of the roof, the wireframe table was covered with a white linen tablecloth. It was set with two bone white teacups, so thin the morning sun turned them almost translucent.
    >>Wow, this man loves his tea. Or to drink elegantly. I’m rather jealous.

    “Well?” Metta raised her eyebrows. “Are you going to show off?”
    He smirked. Identifying beverages was the one thing he could do better than she could. Without a lab, that is. And teas… those were his area of specialty thanks to his old man. “I’m pretty sure it’s gunpowder tea.”
    >>Hehe

    “Yamhill and Waters. I don’t know the address.”
    And then the line went dead. Huang raised his eyebrows. “That’s it?”
    >>Huh.

    “Correct. He blamed his foreman, who was subsequently fired, but it seems pretty clear Patterson both knew and approved of the shortcuts. There are items in evidence which were not admitted into court.”
    >>Hmmm. So, shady renovator. Involved in previous real estate scandal, but was acquitted. Now dead. He was drinking tea, but the tea was prepared elsewhere. He didn’t die instantly.

    Behind him, the door to the roof opened and Ursula Griggs from CSI stepped out with a team from the coroner’s office.
    >>I must say, I love her name. I hope we get to see more of her!

    How had a man in a wheelchair gotten to the rooftop without a working elevator? And why tea for two? He turned away from the corpse and paced along the edge of the building.
    >>Hmmmm. Who was he here to meet? And when did the elevator stop working? Hm.

    Griggs set her tripod down with care. “It will be awhile. I’ll need to document the rest of the scene before anyone contaminates it.”
    >>*snorts*

    At one point she snorted and shook her head in response to something that Metta had said to her. A surge of totally irrational jealousy swept through him. Metta talked to everyone on the force. That was her job.
    >>Awwwe, wellll, I’m jealous, too. Soooo… Poor Scott. ;)

    “Scott, maybe you can settle a disagreement for us.” Metta glanced over her shoulder at Griggs to indicate that she was now talking to both of them. “Ursula says that colorizing films is an act of sabotage to the filmmakers original intent. I say that if they had access to color film they would have used it.
    >>It belatedly (as in, on this read) occurs to me…Is Metta trying to set them up? That would be funny. Match-maker Metta. :D :D

    “Is it any different, really, than any other form of collaboration? It’s the equivalent of—“ Metta’s image suddenly froze. “Shots fired at HQ.” Metta stiffened, seeming to look through him. “Officer down. Units 235 and 347 establish perimeter.”
    >>Aah! I just got chills. o.o

    He ran for the door, aware of the other officers springing into action behind him. “Metta, answer me. Who’s there? Can you give a visual?”
    >>Smart move.

    An image flashed onto his glasses. A man. No. Three men, in masks. One of the men reached for a cable attached to a filing cabinet– not a filing cabinet. Metta’s chassis.
    Metta screamed. She froze.
    A static image of Mae West hung in Huang’s peripheral vision, with her mouth open wide. Then the image winked out.
    >>Aaah, Metta! :(

    – – –
    Wow. This chapter does so much, so effectively. In just a few pages, I already care about Metta and Scott and the team and what happens to them. Even rereading it, it still impacts me. I’d forgotten that she gets kidnapped in chapter one, and the way it happened still blows me away. Excellent! I can’t wait to read more. :D

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