The Last Resort

by A.K. Sykora


"Mr. Lovington, it's your wife on channel 4," the slender brunette purred, zapping appointments into his rosewood sub-agenda. Its display read, December 20, 2067.

"I'm not receiving," he growled.

"Sir, Miao needs to talk about your penthouse renovations."

"The Dragon Lady can wait till I get home." Ward Howell Lovington III rose from his desk, which was topped with granite. Strutting to his window he glared down at the traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge’s multi-levels. In the distance glittered the gilded Statue of Liberty.

"I'm sorry, Miao; he's still engaged." Bi-pod hung up, and Ward lifted his stove-pipe hat from its mahogany stand. "Sir, are you taking lunch outside the Center? Your Departmental meeting’s in eleven minutes."

"I have an urgent meeting."

"But, the Universal Agenda—"

"I didn't enter it in the Agenda. My partners will understand. "Won't you tell me where you’re going, Mr. Lovington? As a full service droid you know I am responsible for your protection."

"I'll be back by l5 hours. You tell my partners I broke a filling."

"Sir—"

"Recently you've shown a distressing tendency for independent thought. Frankly, I think about having you adjusted."

"Please, Mr. Lovington, sir!"

"Now, no more quibbling, Bi-pod."

"Yes, sir, of course."  She stared at his briefcase's wristband—which she'd recently had adjusted.

#

"Bushwick?" demanded the turbanned helicabber, scowling up at the attorney suited in white. "With a lockbox, and no droid to ride shotgun?"

"I'm fully insured, cabby. I'm in a hurry, so let's fly."

"I want a premium--20 percent, on top of my fare."

Ward nodded. Mounting the cab, which smelled of Chinese take-out, he snapped his harness closed. Muttering in Urdu the driver adjusted the beaded massage pad tied to his seat. When he gunned the engine his yellow Mercedes rose to join the usual gridlock over Wall Street.

Blue curlicues of adwriting rose over the bustling Hudson River:  "Buy your premium Droids from the GDO." A service-swoop floated past the hovering cabs, and Ward flagged it down and bought a bagel with cream cheese.

"Don't drop any crumbs. I'm allergic," the cabby scolded over the intercom. Ward waved at a friend in the opposite lane:  Max Rosentrott cuddled a platinum blond with a double set of breasts. Max had exotic 
tastes, who had been prosecuted for polygamy...

After turning, they finally reached the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge, and Ward gazed down at East River scows loaded with android scraps. Cleared for crossing, his cab shot across the river in a pulse of other cabs. Now the seven-tiered lanes moved briskly down Atlantic 
Avenue.

When the cab veered towards the roof of a shabby mini-storage, Ward felt a bump. "A popgun out some window," the driver complained. "I'm adding my headlight to your fare."

"You shouldn't charge a risk premium, and then ask for actual damages too."

"You must be a lawyer." The driver landed the cab with a jolt. After Ward paid, the cab shot up to maximum height, and veered back towards Manhattan's sky-high tangle. Marching to the roof's portal, the lawyer in white placed his palm to its reader and announced:

"I've got an appointment at noon with Luz de la Cruz."  The door rattled open. Gripping his bulletproof briefcase he stepped in, and the elevator lurched and sank.

#

It opened on a brightly lit array attended by a greasy-wheeled Tri-pod in a black leather jacket. Ward nodded curtly, and stepped through the X-ray, puffer-sniffer and aggression/arousal frames.

"Subject is cleared," peeped a voice.

"This way, Mr. Lovington," the Tri-pod growled, patting his machine-gun on its strap, and rolled down a hall whose walls displayed holograms of bungalows and palm-fringed beaches. He stopped at a brass plate 
reading, "OPL Marketing Department," and stuck his four-jointed finger into a hole. A door jerked open.

A tweed-suited woman with a large round head stood up from behind her desk. She had well-cut, heavy lips, and wore her glossy hair in a vertical bun like the Buddha's extra brain.

"Mr. Lovington?" She squeezed his hand. Over her shoulder he spied two furry spiders perched on a stump in an aquarium. "Don't mind my pets. Believe me, I keep that lid screwed tight."

"I'm glad you could see me on such short notice." As he sank into a velvet loveseat he heard a distant burst of machine-gun fire.

"Don't worry, just a security drill." She smiled at him stickily.

"Please, make yourself at home. May I relieve you of your lockbox?"

"Certainly not."

She chuckled. "Just a little joke.  First, how did you hear about our organization?" Settling back into her chair, she regarded him calmly. One of her dark irises did not flicker. Was she recording?

"I saw your ad in the inflight magazine on the express-bus to Phoenix last week."

"Our ad with the crocodile? 'Why put up with chronic problems,' etc. He nodded. "Mr. Lovington."  She leaned towards him, fixing him with her lopsided stare. "You understand that we don’t destroy our subjects."

"An important point."

"We just relocate them to the environment where they can be consistently happy, relieved of the strain of the rat race in New York."

"Sounds great." He rattled his briefcase's chain.

"Let me guess who gets this once-in-a-lifetime gift: yourself?"

"Not me."

"Your wife?" He nodded, and cracked his knuckles. "Ninety percent of our subjects get committed by their spouses, so we’ve already done our research. A star litigator at Irkem & Jhirkem, Miao is addicted to 
kretek cigarettes. A gourmet cook, she’s also—pardon me—a world class nag."

"That's my wife."

"Together, you control over a billion dollars in tax-favored, offshore trusts. In the event she predeceases you—or is declared legally dead—control will revert to yourself alone."

"I admire your research." He rubbed his briefcase's alligator hide with his thumb.

"I don't do the work myself anymore." She settled back in her mock-leather chair. "We farm it out. We're a regular grid, like the internet these days."

"I know; I checked you out through a friend with—connections." She hoisted one dark-lined eyebrow.

"Max Rosentrott, the mayor's Assistant for Rackets, was my roommate at Yale. He tells me OPL stands for 'other people's lives.' You’re a sub of the Mara Salvatruchas."

"What we promise, we do deliver." Flicking on a UV bulb, she held the back of her hand under it, revealing the Gothic initials "M S."

"So I'm dealing with the experts?"

"The cream of the scum. We've gone up-market. Most of us have done time in the armed forces, and many of us have law degrees. I have an MBA in marketing."

"How nice you are making something of yourselves... Can you explain your procedures in detail?"

"Our Swiss research arm developed a targeted approach to amnesia. We can relieve our subjects of all the unnecessary elements of their own identities. By the turn of the century, doctors were using drugs like Valium to avoid the trauma of surgery. It wasn’t hard for us to design drugs for selective, retrograde amnesia."

"Those must all be controlled substances."

"We work mainly in international waters."

He played with his briefcase's silver chain. "And if my wife becomes a—subject of yours—how would she spend her time at your resort?"

Luz beamed, and her words flowed thick and fast: "On Paradise Island, Miao can indulge her love of Chinese cooking and designer merchandise. Our Last Resort is the utopia that works.” She drew a brochure from a drawer and offered it.

Impatiently Ward flipped through its holograms: "Does your once-and-for-all fee really cover everything?"

"No, there’s a small, annual charge for increases in her health insurance. Though we do find our subjects can gain better health, relieved of the need to make a living."

"And what happens if this charge isn't paid?"

"Your wife joins our coral reef reconstruction project, on a permanent basis."

"I understand."

"To make sure she gets proper maintenance, we suggest an offshore trust."

"No problem there. Can I get confidential reports, from time to time?"

"Easily arranged through our Customer Relations Department." She grinned, showing sharp strong teeth.  ”Miao can write you letters, to report on her basket-weaving and beading."

"Your resort sounds perfect for her. She has never been satisfied in her life."

"Satisfaction guaranteed—or her memories back."

His eyes flared. "The process is reversible?"

"Usually, through reprogramming. Because sometimes a spouse may regret sending a loved one so far away."

"I suppose. But how do you arrange her apparent demise? No suspicion should attach to me."

"Of course not. You've already been in that position, Mr. Lovington."

From upstairs came a piercing scream, and a body flailed past the open window. Ward gathered his briefcase into his lap.

"Don’t worry—just a scheduled event." Getting up Luz closed her string-pull blinds, and her spider tank lit with a dull red glow.

"One of your pets is gone," he observed.

She inspected the tank. "That's the trouble with your pink toe tarantulas. If you let one grow just a little bit larger…"

"You don't mean to accuse me in the death of Georgiana Troost?"

"Our research is comprehensive, Mr. Lovington. We know that she died twenty years ago, while sailing off Cape Cod.”

"That was an accident," he said stiffly. "No charges were ever brought."

"An excellent swimmer, in perfect health, she drowned on a sunny, calm day."

"She got a cramp."

"And you took control of the Millennium Chromium mines, in Botswana—which contributed the bulk of assets lodged in your offshore trusts."

"You are well-informed, Ms. de la Cruz. I can’t help it if I’ve been lucky with money."

"Lady Luck loves those who love themselves." From the hall came hoarse cries, and a heavy thud. "That's nothing, just a little run-through," she assured him blandly. "Let's talk about our exit strategies. Are 
you planning a vacation?"

"We're both overdue."

"It's almost your tenth anniversary too. A wife expects something special, you better believe."

"I was thinking about a cruise."

#

Standing in the island of their all-in-one kitchen, Miao was cubing chicken thighs while studying the scrollbar over the stove. Thwick, thwock, went her knife on the cutting board.

"Hi honey, whatcha cooking?" With a guilty look Ward leaned across the counter to peck her cheek. Her black silky hair smelled of cloves.

"I always make General Tso's chicken for your birthday."  She flicked her long hair over her shoulders. Thwick, thwock went her knife.

"Bet it's delicious."

"No, this chicken's dry as an old man's thigh."

"Is that a Chinese proverb from your mom?"

"Look, our Booty stock rose a quarter of a point! I'll call Tweelix." Dropping her knife Miao opened the phone in her heavy, silver necklace.

"Wait—"

"Ward, you agreed to sell that dog if it ever barked again." With her forefingers she tapped in the order, then waved the phone at him like a gun: "You should get one of these."

"You're too fond of branded merchandise." He pointed at the kitchen's Deeor appliance garages, whose doors already could not close.

"What's the point of having pots of money if we don’t collect good stuff?" She splashed peanut oil into the wok, and with giant chopsticks started dipping the meat cubes into a bowl of batter.

"Turn down! Turn down!" cried the stove, in an irritating falsetto.

"Got it too hot again," she muttered, turning down the neutron burner. With her chopsticks she fried the cubes in batches, then arranged them on a silver platter.

"Miao, we deserve an expensive vacation. It could be a new chance, a second honeymoon."

Arching an eyebrow, she snorted, but just then the stove’s telescan pinged. Bi-pod's pale face appeared in the screen, over the scrollbar:

"Mr. Lovington, I'm sorry to bother you, but where is your draft of the Woodle Trust? An associate needs to update the tax plan by 2 AM."

"Just a minute; I was massaging the text myself in my taxi home." He clicked open his briefcase, pulled out a piece of vellum, opened the portal next to the stove and scanned in the document.

"Received," said Bi-pod happily, and vanished while the screen documented a rise in the Nairobi stock market.

"You always let your work interrupt us," Miao burst out. Plucking the last cubes from her wok she poured in the sauce, then flung in a handful of dried red pepper pods, which made his eyes sting. "When my litigation deadlines make more stress than all your silly estate tax 
planning."

Tightly he smiled. "Lately we've both been working extremely hard. What about a cruise on the Supreme Line's brand new, seven-star vessel?"

"Another thing," she went on. "I found ridiculous charges in our receipts, for the Babes Spa on Tenth Avenue. Hard to believe they're client-related."

"They're all fully deductible, even the sofa-dancing. Besides, I get lonely when you travel to Taiwania on business. What do you expect?" Dumping the chicken back into her wok, she mixed it so furiously with 
the sauce that a cube flew out and almost struck him in the face. Picking it off the floor he tossed it into the jumbo vaporizer: phsssst.

"I'll tell you what I expect," she announced. "I expect you to be faithful to me, though I'm neurotic, difficult and unkind. I expect you to find time for sex with me—not some machine with extra mammaries. Above all, you should explain what you've been up to with our 
offshore trusts."

The telescan pinged, and Billabong Tattykorn’s huge, sunburned face obscured the scrollbar: "Mrs. Lovington, I'm sorry, but I find I must schedule our six-way call with the Taiwanese…"

Reaching over the aluminum counter, Ward pressed a button, killed the sound. "You gave a client our override code?"

"He's my most important client, Ward. Oh, this chicken’s ready to eat," she grieved, spooning up the thick red glaze and letting it blop back down. Meanwhile, the sound track automatically converted to block letters:

"Mrs. Lovington? Are you receiving? Is there some technical difficulty at your end?"

"We're both of us slaves," she hissed at Ward. "Your senior partner owns you—and Billabong owns me."  She chopsticked some chicken into a golden bowl, placed it his hands, and pointed to the living room. "Go eat your chicken while it's perfect."

He banged the sliding door. Pulling a fold-out desk from the wall, Miao flipped open its multiple screens, flicked her hair back over her shoulders and keyed in a neutral backdrop: the no-wilt garden on the terrace that their bankrupt contractor had not built. Calmly, she 
announced, "Billabong, I'm all ears."

#

Slumped at his desk in the living room, Ward took a bite of the chicken and choked. Bowl and all he dumped it into the vaporizor, and with a grinding noise a cloud of condensation rose, then melted away, leaving the smell of scorched red peppers.

Sliding open the window he peered out at the penthouses above and below him, some of them huge, with private landing zones and no-wilt gardens. On a loop, balanced over the street on magnetic struts, a grey-haired man was slowly jogging slowly, while a Tri-pod rolled behind him. When the man keeled over, gently the droid scooped him up and rolled him inside.

Uptown, the silvery sides of the Gateway Arch glittered with thousands of reflected skyscraper lights. The Arch was built over the Net Life Building, built in its turn over old Grand Central Station. That's Manhattan, Ward thought: no place to grow but up. He'd heard of a plan 
to shoot human remains into orbit from Central Park.

To the west, the Empire State Building was lit red and green from head to toe, with a fountain-ad on top for Starburst Mood Cookies. "Now with seven serotonin precursors," read the words as they fell through space, 
and twinkled away like fireworks in slow motion.

Without thinking, he reached a box from behind his data shelves, ripped it open and bit into his favorite flavor: caramel-fudge-brownie. The familiar comfort spread warmly from his mouth throughout his stress-knotted body, and automatically he munched to the bottom of the box.

Today was his 44th birthday. He'd give himself a present too: another outing at the Babes Spa. He pulled a key-card from under his Wall Street Journal data pellets. Let Miao complain; after their cruise she'd never get another chance.

#

"It's so romantic," she crooned, as they fox-trotted under real stars, on the dancing deck of the Climax of the Waves. The glow-in-the-dark Tri-pod orchestra was schmalzing away at "Strangers in the Night." As 
the music softly trailed away, the ship's Thyratron dimmed the orchestra, and the golden lights on the ranks of dining tables, and the silver lights strung along the railings.

"My corns really hurt; I need to sit down." Ward let go of his wife.

"Do we have to?"

"Anyway it's time for dessert."

"Are you still on your working schedule?" Miao followed him from the crowded dance floor.

"Men never know how to let go," chirped a triple-chinned dowager.

"Never," Miao complained, and Ward smiled tightly. A horn sounded as a hover-yacht approached the private marina housed under the Climax's stern. On the horizon shimmered the colorful lights of Paradise Island.
Their Tri-pod waiter rolled forwards as they sat back down. "What do you recommend for dessert?" Miao asked, and he shined his hand-beam on her menu card.

"As it's Valentine's Day, I'd recommend the Chocolate Wow for madame, and for monsieur the Vanilla Whoa."

Ward laughed nervously. "Are those aphros?"

"Indeed. The Wow will stimulate madame, while the Whoa keeps monsieur from wearing out."

"We'll take them." Miao shot her husband a challenging look.

"And another one bites the dust…" crooned a Tom Jones clone, who sounded human, but could have been on loan from the Disnee Glomeration.

"To us." Miao splashed the last of their warm Veuve Clicquot into her husband's crystal chalice. "To our new beginning—before it's too late."

"To us," he muttered, and glanced at his watch. While she arranged her fringed silk shawl, he dumped his drink into a pot of poincianas.

A metallic syn-voice scolded him: "Not a suitable disposal area. Leave any excess liquids for your waiter."

#

After just two spoons of her Chocolate Wow, Miao was wiggling in her seat; and jabbed him in a corn with her stiletto heel. Frowning, he waved to their Tri-pod, who rolled forwards. Ward inserted his sail card into the waiter's forehead. Then, taking his wife's hand—she 
clutched his fingers—he led her back down the spacious promenade, towards their elevator bank.

11:30 PM: not a moment too soon. He fondled her taut buttocks in the elevator. Luz's instructions were precise: her agent would swear that, in the quarter of an hour before midnight, he saw a body hit the sea. All Ward had to do was leave his wife alone—demonstrably alone.

"We need ice for our champagne," he suggested, as she pawed the front of his tux. "The steward button's out of order, so I guess I'll go fetch it myself."

"I don't want our champagne chilly." Stripping down to her lacy corsets, she tossed her red velvet sheath on the floor.

"I'll be back in a minute." Gently he pushed her away, and tittering she dived under the bed's gold lamé spread:

"Hurry up—or I'll call the Captain instead."

Stepping into the hall, Ward keyed in their door's "Do Not Disturb" sign. Already he heard the service elevator clanking...

Taking the stairs (and climbing quick, but not so quick he lost his breath), he headed for the Gaming Deck. He checked in at once with the four-armed attendant.

"Mr. Lovington, are you alone?" She batted her big orange eyes. "My wife went to bed early. She's not feeling well. What do you suggest for a solo player?"

"Are you feeling adventurous?"

He nodded curtly.

"How about our 'Guarding Pamela Monroe?' You get to protect her, and other privileges come with our exclusive version of Total Animation. You have to earn them, point by point."

"I'm game." Presenting his sail card, Ward purchased 60 minutes of play. A lizard-scaled Tri-pod helped him don a wired rubber suit, flippers, and a heavy, wraparound helmet. Taking his elbow then, the droid guided him to a small dark cabin.

Nobody was guarding Miao, of course, but she would be happy on Paradise Island. For the rest of her life, guaranteed. That was the deal.

#

The game's first levels felt easy; Ward just had to follow his bosomy, android star to the filming of her scanavision show. While keeping autograph seekers away from her splendidly engineered body, he got to ogle her to his heart's content. He got to rough up rowdy autograph-seekers too, and paparazzi with cameras. This he keenly 
enjoyed.

Pamela Monroe could afford the best in bodyguards. He toggled between a bouncer-built man with a set of golden necklaces, and a martial arts master in a blue serge suit from Saville Row.

In the game's third level, however—after Pamela invited him for a drink in her trailer—a big-headed woman with her hair in a bun barged in, carrying Miao's silk shawl.

"What, you?" Ward cried. "In the middle of my game?" Something stuck in his chest, and he slumped to his knees on the padded floor and flopped over on his back. He stared up at Luz; but couldn't speak; he couldn't even blink. Like a fly bundled up by a spider he stared as, 
grinning down, she arranged Miao's shawl over his face.

#

The sun stood high in the cloudless sky, and parrots screeched from the leatherwood tree, which spread its branches over the bar's thatched roof. Poised on a stool, a slender Asian-featured woman in a red sarong was smoking a clove cigarette. She had high cheekbones and long black hair, and made smoke stream from her dainty nostrils.

"May I join you?" asked Ward, who wore bermuda shorts and a faded flowered shirt. On his wrist was the ragged band for a lockbox, the leather stripped away to show the steel. "Surely we've met before." She smiled at him appraisingly, then patted the stool next to hers. "I 
don't know about that, but you look like my type: strong and arrogant."

He chuckled appreciatively.

"It's my first day here," she confided.

"Mine too." He sat down.

"So we have something in common after all." She flicked her hair back over her shoulders. "Do you wear a lockbox?" She pointed at his tattered band.

"Not anymore. They told me I need an operation to get this off."

"I thought there weren't any problems on this island." She blew more blue smoke out of her nose.

"Waiter, I'll have a Mai Tai," he told the bronzed Tri-pod who rolled up behind the bar. "What will you have, miss?"

"I'll have the same."

"Can I ask you your name?" Ward studied her shapely legs.

"If I knew it, I'd tell you." She smiled to herself, admiring her own long sharp red nails.

Sitting on a quilt, facing the spotless, almost deserted beach of golden sand, an ancient man—who looked like Donald Rumsfeld—was playing the flute. Near the bar, at a picnic table across from the noisy swimming pool, a vague-eyed woman in a long grass skirt was weaving a basket out of fronds.

A green and blue peacock came swaggering down the counter of the bar. Piercingly he shrieked, and then fanned his iridescent tail. The Mai Tais arrived, and Ward was just settling into the pleasure of this perfect day, when a sunburned, obese man, who was floating on his back in the pool, exclaimed:

"Look at that ad-writing!"

A mini-swoop formed the black sky-letters: "WARD."

"Did they leave off the 'A?' asked the woman at the picnic table, setting down her basket.

"Maybe it's an ad for security," Ward suggested to his lovely companion.

"WARD CLIMB…"

"This is getting truly strange." She pushed away her drink.

"WARD CLIMB BOARD—TSU" read the message, as he scowled. Suddenly he grabbed her arm, and pulled her shrieking towards the high-dive board. Snatching an inflated shark from a boy, rudely he shoved him off the 
ladder, then pushed her onto the rungs before him:

"Climb for your life!" The whole horizon was swelling; a huge blue wave surged in towards the perfect cove. "Hold on to the railing!" he shouted at her; while screaming people fled inland, towards the low-built bungalows nestled among the landscaped gardens.

In moments the wave engulfed this world, and he let go of her to cling to the plastic shark, which leaped to the top of the roiling surge. For what seemed an hour he got tossed around like a plastic cap in a dishwasher, colliding with palm trees and wads of thatch. Through it all he clung to his shark.

An arm grabbed at him, and he shook it off. The bedraggled peacock went riding past on a broken bar stool.

Bobbing half-drowned amidst the flotsam, Ward heard a helicopter mutter. A black one came clattering, swooping towards him, and over its windshield gleamed the silver insignia, "GDO."

Frantically he waved with his free hand, which still wore his lockbox bracelet. Noisily hovering over him, beating the heaving sea into foam, the helicopter dropped him a ladder, and a lithe brunette climbed down.

#

"Mr. Lovington, are you beginning to recall your own identity?" Bi-pod inquired. When he nodded, she flicked off the holofilm she was projecting in his office. The rosewood sub-agenda on his granite-topped desk read: Sunday, February 27, 2028.

"It's all very confusing." He rubbed his forehead with his knuckles.

"I recall my appointment with Ms. de la Cruz."

"That's when I activated the chip I had installed in your bracelet when we sent it out for repair. What you just saw was what it recorded—till I plucked you out of the sea."

"So I tried to do away with Miao?"

"You brilliantly succeeded, sir. The tsunami wiped out the Last Resort. As far as the business world's concerned, she fell overboard from the Climax of the Waves. Just as you planned with Ms. de la Cruz."

He pondered, gazing out over the evening-blue East River. A mini-swoop was curlicuing a glow-ad for Starburst cookies. In the distance the illuminated Statue of Liberty gleamed like a golden thumb.

"Sir, it was a clever and efficient plan. Now you alone control the Lovington Trusts."

"You disobeyed me, Bi-pod—planting that tracer-recorder chip." He rose to his feet.

"And you would be dead if I hadn't, sir." She raised her chin. "Under your contract with the GDO, in any question of your life or death, I'm allowed to override you."

Grudgingly he nodded, then cracked his knuckles. "But how did I land at the Resort? And what about the money I wired to Luz?"

"Sir, she tried to cheat you, by transferring all your liquid assets to an offshore account controlled by OPL. I was able to block the transaction."

"So she double-crossed me—and you saved me."

"That's why smart humans pay a premium for products from the Guaranteed Droid Organization. I was on my way to rescue you even before the tsunami warning."

"I'm glad you did, Bi-pod. Thanks." And he shook her cool smooth hand.

"Well sir," she said brightly, "if you're feeling like yourself again, we can go back to work tomorrow."

Clicking open the briefcase chained to his wrist, he pulled out a box of Sunburst Mood Cookies. His favorite flavor: caramel-fudge-brownie.

# # #