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Reina Vedette chose principle over position when the Chicago police department ordered her to accept performance-enhancing body modifications or lose her rank. Demoted to a level one detective, Reina's stuck chasing a bizarre, Grinch-in-reverse break-in case with fiery bod-mod enthusiast and level five top detective Edison Wicke.
Wicke has had his eye on Reina for ages, and as the two of them hunt down the benevolent burglar, they take turns warming each other with body heat in the subzero Chicago winter. Despite professional friction and their opposing views on bod-modding, Reina soon has to admit that she and Wicke are perfect for each other.
But when they track down their philanthropic quarry on Christmas Day, an unexpected glitch in a homemade android brings out Reina's emotional side, and she and Wicke must decide whether love between a Neo-Luddite and a "walking toaster" is a gift that either of them can give.
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"...one-year anniversary of the death of Chicago's hometown hero, Delbert Vincent Conrad, otherwise known as the father of androids. Fans of the reclusive genius are marking the occasion with flowers at his Graceland Cemetery mausoleum, while others have started a Life-Cap channel for people to upload their stories on how Conrad's many inventions and philosophies have touched their lives."
With the echo of sadness resonating in her heart for the passing of a personal hero, Reina Vedette pulled her slick bike off South Wabash Avenue's Maglev track. In an instant the silk-smooth glide along powerful magnetic currents became a bone-rattling jolt as wheels touched down on crumbling pavement. She ignored the transition, instead thumbing a control on the bike's right throttle. The satellite radio built into her helmet switched off as the GPS map in her visor's peripheral vision showed a glowing red X.
Now was not the time to mourn the passing of a man who'd revolutionized the world. Now was the time to get to work.
Dominating the horizon was the once-famous but now-condemned Mercy Hospital, the epicenter for the second H8N1 bird flu pandemic. In its present condition it was nothing more than a frozen block of toxic real estate, but still the mere sight of it made her blood run cold. With great deliberation she turned her focus onto the sea of low-rise tenements nudging up against the insanely expensive Stevenson Express Tollway. This was a part of Chicago that the local Board of Tourism hoped would vanish if they ignored it long enough. After the second pandemic made everything south of West Roosevelt a disease-riddled graveyard, the few people who'd been strong enough to make it through had huddled near the city's main arteries in the meager hope of one day getting out to someplace better. To something better.
The last pandemic had been a decade ago. They were still waiting.
The hum of the slick bike's hydrogen cells sighed into stillness as Reina pulled up to a knot of police vehicles and a handful of rubberneckers dressed in bulky winter clothing. They were held back from a walk-up tenement that looked like a stiff wind could bring it down in a well-worn heap. She made her way to the perimeter, a standout in the black frictionsuit that kept her warm on her bike even on the coldest winter's day, her jackboots crunching through the crust of week-old, grimy gray snow as she went.
To Reina's well-trained eyes the perimeter was easy to spot even from a distance. It was maintained by a line of perpetually smiling service droids clothed in the neon yellow meter maid outfits of their department. The one closest to Reina turned in her direction as she skirted around the gawkers.
"Citizen, please halt and identify." Not blinking, the droid looked like something between a Hollywood ingénue and a blow-up doll bought in an S&M sex shop. They all did. But Reina knew better than to underestimate the curvaceous automatons. One wrong move and the crowd-control droids were programmed to show her just how easy it was to make her elbows touch behind her back.
Without fanfare, Reina tugged off a glove and held up the dat-tat on the inside of her left wrist, the barcode that held all her worldly information. The droid's blank eyes, colored an impossible marshmallow Peep pink, lit from within as the laser slid over the information while Reina's fingers quickly froze in the mid-morning air.