The Doll
Chapter 2 - Broken Home, Broken Hearts

Rose sighed. She hated these stupid mandatory training sessions. They were always so boring. This one had to be the single most boring session she had ever attended in her life. This guy made watching paint dry seem riveting. She rested her chin on her hand, listening to him drone on about the make-up and effects of control rods.

"The standard control rod, which is what most of you should have, is effective for dolls of an average size and body weight. The Artificial Intelligence Bureau defines average as between 4.9 and 6.4 feet in height, and 300-650 a.p., which as you know stands for actual pounds. Visual pounds would be between 100 and 250 pounds. In such cases, the subject would feel a sharp shock, naturally more or less painful depending upon height, body weight and your standard control rod setting." Yawn! Where was that information sheet they handed out? Maybe she could find some room to draw.

"For smaller dolls," the man continued, "like children, dwarfs, etc., there is a sub-standard control rod with a less powerful shock. However, it is equally effective, as long as the subject falls under the maximum height requirement of 4.8 feet." Rose shook her head, wondering why anyone would want to use a control rod on a child, mechanical or not. She found her pen and started to draw a portrait of Steve.

"What if you hit a human with one?" a boy of about 19 asked.

"It is illegal to use a control rod against a human except in the case of illegal entry or self defense." Rose rolled her eyes. What was this guy, a living textbook?

"Okay, so what would happen if you did?"

"A human would experience a shock five to ten times greater than that experienced by the doll, depending upon height, weight,..."

"What does that mean?" the boy interrupted. "What would it feel like?"

The instructor sighed. "With a substandard control rod, a human would experience a brief shock, followed by nausea and mild disorientation. A standard control rod would cause acute pain, followed by temporary disorientation, dizziness, nausea and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. In the case of both types of rod, the effects would increase and take longer to wear off if the setting were higher. At the highest setting on a standard rod, a human would most likely be knocked unconscious for several hours."

"Dude!" Rose stifled a laugh, concentrating on the curve of Steve's neck. Dude?

An older woman raised her hand and the instructor acknowledged her. "Why is it that when I fire my control rod, it doesn't let me fire again right away?"

"Both the standard and substandard control rods have a safety mechanism which causes a fifteen second delay between firings. This is meant to prevent harmful feedback to the user, as well as cut down on cases of unintentional terminal damage. Before the safety mechanism was put in place, there were many instances in which irreparable damage was done to an artificial intelligence unit simply because the user held the button down too long, or the rod fell into the hands of a child or other person who did not understand or respect the need for restraint.

"Now," the instructor said when no more questions were forthcoming. "We will go on to discuss specialty rods." Rose snickered. What with the continued use of the word "rod", and the fact that she was now drawing a rather racy picture of Stevie, she was having a hard time holding on to her composure. "Many individuals pay to have their control rods customized. Some of the most common changes made are those that involve color and size. Many people prefer to have control rods that are smaller but emit the standard charge, so that they can be carried more easily. Some also prefer to have them in their favorite colors. There are many shops wherein one can trade in the standard control rod for one that is more pleasing in appearance." He began to show computer projections with different examples of custom rods people were likely to buy.

"This is one type of custom control rod that many of you may have already encountered, or that you may encounter in the future."

"Dude!" Rose looked up from her increasingly elaborate drawing to see what the boy found so exciting. The instructor had changed the projection to show a control rod larger than any she had seen before. It was about two feet long, and three inches thick. Instead of being a perfect cylinder, it had a grip at the end, like the handlebars on a bike. There was also a loop at the end, maybe for hooking it around your wrist, or onto a tool belt. She wrinkled her nose. Why would anyone want one of those ugly things?

"This control rod is the type used by military personnel and law enforcement officers who are part of the Artificial Intelligence Division found in each police department." Oh, Rose thought. "These rods have only one setting, and usually require only one strike to be effective. They are heavier than the average control rod, and many officers in the A.I.D. use them instead of night sticks when dealing with human offenders. They're not subject to the fifteen second delay between firings like regular control rods. The rubber grip provides adequate protection against feedback, and they rarely fall into untrained hands. Civilians may only apply for permission to own one if they can show proof of owning a doll at least 6'6", and weighing at least 655 a.p. Dolls of average size are likely to suffer terminal damage if this type of control rod is used too many times in succession."

"What would happen if a human got hit with one." Juvenile curiosity strikes again, thought Rose.

"It is illegal - "

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," the boy said impatiently. "Come on, just tell us what would happen!"

The instructor gave a sigh born of long suffering at the hands of such questions. "A human would be knocked unconscious after a moment of intense pain. Upon waking, they would experience many of the symptoms common with serious head trauma, including, but not limited to, disorientation, nausea, dizziness, temporary amnesia and temporary or permanent paralysis. A second strike would almost certainly be fatal if given within 12 hours of the first."

"Whoa," the boy said in awe.


Rose frowned. She was trying to decide if she was bothered more by the information she'd just learned, or by the fact that the man had actually used the words "including, but not limited to," in a conversation. She went back to her drawing, glazing over all the talk about not allowing dolls to handle control rods, what to do if your doll gets hold of one, numbers to call if your doll goes haywire and starts attacking humans and wreaking havoc on the city, blah, blah, blah. Finally, the session was over and they were allowed to leave. Rose drove home quickly. She wanted to show Stevie her drawing and ask if he thought he could mimic the position. He'd probably just laugh and tell her she was crazy, but it would be fun to tease him anyway.

Rose knew something was wrong as soon as she pulled into the garage. Nothing seemed to be out of place, but she had a bad feeling anyway. She walked up to the door, opened it slowly and peeked in. Still nothing out of place. The radio played softly, as it usually did, but there was no other sound. "Steve?" she called. "Stevie?" No answer. She stepped in and shut the door behind her. Then suddenly, she realized what was wrong. Snippet. Where was she? She was usually yapping at the window even before Rose had fully pulled into the driveway. The instant she walked in the door, she was usually treated to a generous helping of barking and bouncing from the little dog. Today there was silence.

Frowning, Rose walked further into the house. "Guys? Guys, where are you?" Still no answer. She peeked into Stevie's room. The computer was on, showing a projection of a very thin '83 wearing the clothing of a '79. While it was weird, she was more concerned with why no one was answering her calls. She continued down the hall toward the back of the house. Something on the floor caught her eye, and she stopped short. It was Snippet, lying deadly still in a heap against the wall. Rose drew closer and knelt down beside the dog. She reached out with an unsteady hand and touched Snippet's chest. Breathing. Rose let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding. Then she really started to worry. Who had done this to Snippet? And where were the boys?

"Steve!" she cried. She stood up and ran out the back door. The studio. Maybe they'd been so intent on working that they hadn't heard the burglar. Even while she was thinking it, she knew it wasn't true. Both Steve and Stevie were very protective of the little dog. They usually kept her where they could see her. If they'd been in the studio, Snippet would have been in the back yard, not in the house. As she'd suspected, the studio was empty. Rose fought down a wave of panic. "No problem," she said aloud. "They just went for a walk, that's all." Rose walked swiftly back to the house, actively ignoring the part of her that knew they wouldn't have gone out without telling her ahead of time. And they definitely wouldn't have gone for a walk without the dog.

Rose checked the refrigerator. No note. They would never go anywhere without at least leaving her a note. For one thing, it was illegal for them to be out and about without her permission. They had to have been taken by force. Rose called the police, then immediately called a vet. When both had assured her that someone was on the way, she went through the house again, careful not to touch anything. She was surprised to find that nothing else seemed to be missing. There were several very expensive pieces of stereo equipment in almost every room, video games in the game room, and many other expensive items that could easily have been lifted. But nothing had even been moved out of place. The only things missing were the two singers.

Within a few minutes, the vet arrived. He was tall and thin, dark brown hair slowly losing the war against the gray. He headed straight for the dog, without a word to Rose. She watched him look Snippet over and shake his head, blue eyes clouded with concern. "What is it, Len?" Rose asked worriedly. "Will she be okay?"

"It looks like she's suffered a heavy blow to the head," he said, the deep southern drawl making his words sound calmer than they felt. "Hopefully nothing's been fractured," he continued. "But we'll have to take a few x-rays to be sure. After that I'll be able to tell you her chances."

Rose nodded, not trusting her voice. Her worry was swiftly turning to anger. Who would do that to a little dog like Snippet? Snippet was just - well, just that! A snippet! A burglar could have gotten rid of her easily without knocking her out. Well, maybe not. She was pretty feisty. But still, there was no reason to knock her so thoroughly unconscious! Rose signed the veterinarian's release forms and watched them take her dog away on a tiny stretcher. "Try not to worry, Rose," the doctor said. "I'll be in touch with you the moment I know something." Rose watched the vet's van until it disappeared around a corner. Then she shut the door and waited for the police.

Thirty minutes earlier:

"What do you think?" Stevie asked.

"I think that if you cut your hair, Rosie's gonna cut your head off."

"It's just a little trim," he said, looking at the computer projection dubiously.

"Little trim?" Steve exclaimed. "Are you kidding? It makes you look like an '83!"

"Oh come on, don't exaggerate." Steve shook his head and Stevie sighed. He turned to look at the little golden lab sitting on his desk. "What do you think, Snip?" he asked her.

"Wow!" she barked.

"Hear that, Steve? She loves it."

"Okay, kid. Suit yourself. But if your hair looks like that when Rose comes home from C.R. training, she's gonna zap the life out of you. Then she'll zap me for letting you do it."

Stevie frowned at the projection for a moment. "Maybe I should ask her first."

"Trust me. I've had this discussion with her before, and you'll be wasting your breath. In fact, you'll be lucky if she doesn't ask you to grow it out a little." The doorbell rang. Stevie frowned a little, wondering who could be visiting them. Rose hardly ever had guests, and when she did there was always plenty of notice. Must be a salesman.

"It's your turn," Stevie said, returning his gaze to the computer screen.

Steve chuckled and put a hand on Stevie's shoulder. "Give it up, kid. It's a lost cause."

Steve went to answer the door while Stevie studied the projection. It was a little short. Maybe if he... Suddenly, there was a scream from the living room. Stevie stood frozen for a split second, utterly stunned by the sound, not least because it had come from Steve. He ran into the living room. Steve was on the floor, breathing hard and looking as shocked as Stevie felt. Standing over him was a tall, burly man dressed all in black and wearing a black helmet with a shiny black visor. He was holding what looked like a control rod, but it was much larger and more frightening than the one Rose owned. Another man, slightly taller than the first, entered the house. He was identically dressed and equipped.

Steve turned his head sharply at the sound of Stevie's gasp. "Run!" he cried. Stevie hesitated, afraid of the control rods, but unwilling to leave Steve to the intruders. They looked at him and the shorter of them raised his rod. Steve kicked the man hard in the shin. "Run, dammit! NOW!" he shouted.

Without further hesitation, Stevie turned on his heel and ran as fast as he could toward the back door, unable to shut out the sound of Steve screaming again. He was two feet from the back door when it hit him. Blinding pain, the likes of which he had never felt before. It coursed through his body like fire, consuming every limb in a moment of complete agony. His body was propelled forward by the force of the shock and he slammed into the back door. He struggled to opened the door, but was too dazed to make his hands function properly. He looked behind him and saw the taller man striding purposefully down the hall. He took aim at Stevie again.

Just then, Snippet rushed in from Stevie's room, barking furiously. The little dog was full grown now, but even then she was only about the size of a large chihuahua. She jumped on the man's leg, growling and pulling vigorously. He tried to shake her off, but she held on as if for dear life. The man pointed his control rod at her. "No!" Stevie cried. He knew Snippet wouldn't survive a shock like that, judging from the fact that he was still reeling from it himself. The man hesitated, then raised the rod and struck the dog hard on the head. She lost consciousness and he kicked her away. Then he aimed at Stevie again.

The doll raised an arm in a futile defense against the searing pain that followed. When it stopped, he slid to the floor, dazed and unable to see properly. He tried to rub his eyes, but found he couldn't move his arms. He couldn't move his legs either. Panic overcame him. "What's happening?!" he cried.

The man, who now appeared to be a large, dark blur, drew close to Stevie and pointed his control rod at him. "Shut up," he said darkly. Stevie's stomach tightened in fearful anticipation, but the man walked away without using his weapon. Stevie's relief was extremely short lived. He was partially blind, completely paralyzed and filled with terror. Those men were obviously dangerous, but whatever they had planned for him, there was nothing he could do about it. Even if he wasn't paralyzed, he couldn't hope to fight them armed as they were. As it was, he couldn't even run away! What if he stayed this way forever? The thought sent another wave of panic running through him. His breaths came so quickly that if he'd been human, he would have hyperventilated.

After a few interminable minutes, the men came back. Stevie bit back all the questions he wanted to ask for fear they would strike him again. One of the men grabbed his ankles and pulled him away from the door so that he lay flat on the floor. Then the other one took hold of his shoulders. "One, two, three," one said. Grunting, they hoisted him off the floor and slowly walked out of the house. They took him up a short ramp into a vehicle that Stevie guessed was a truck. He tried to look around, but everything was still too blurry to make any sense to him. The men sat him against one wall, clamped his wrists together with heavy cuffs, then hooked the cuffs to something above his head. Wordlessly, they walked out of the truck and closed the door, leaving Stevie in darkness. Soon, he heard two doors slam, and the truck started to move.


"Steve?!" he cried, unaware until then of how afraid he'd been for the other doll. "Oh, God I'm so glad you're here! I mean, I'm not, but..."

"I know what you mean," Steve said. "I don't want to be alone either. Are you all right?"

"I can't move," Stevie said, his voice high and tight with fear despite his best efforts to hide it.

"Calm down," the older doll said. "It'll wear off."

"How do you know?" Stevie asked, still sounding scared.

"Because they wouldn't have chained us up if we were never going to move again." Stevie let that sink in for a moment, and his breathing start to slow down a little. "I'm guessing our vision will clear up, too," Steve continued. "For now, I'm not going to think about it. It's totally dark in here anyway, right?"

"Right," Stevie said with a small, nervous chuckle. "What are they going to do with us, Steve?"

"I don't know, kid. Sell us to the highest bidder, probably."

"Sell us?!" Stevie cried, starting to panic again. "But where will they take us?? What about Rose?? She's our mistress! How will she find us? How will we get home???"

"Calm down!" Steve said sharply. Stevie gasped at the other doll's sharp tone. It wasn't just that his feelings were a little hurt that had Stevie upset. It was that he could tell Steve himself was scared. The fact that he'd raised his voice at all was a testament to how nervous he was, and it made Stevie that much more afraid. "I'm sorry, Stevie," Steve said gently. "I'm scared too, okay? But just try not to worry. Rose will have the police helping her." He chuckled. "In fact, if I know Rose, she'll have the entire police department and every private investigator in the state scouring the country for us day and night until they find us. Besides, we know where we live. Once we escape, getting home will be a cinch. And we will escape. Okay?"

"Okay," Stevie said softly.

"We'll be all right." Stevie wondered if Steve really felt as confident as he sounded. He was worried by the ease with which the two men had captured them. They'd worked quickly and with a professional callousness that made Stevie think it must not be the first time they'd done this. It worried him, but he saw no point in telling Steve that. He was sure Steve must have come to the same conclusions anyway, and he was trying hard to keep his panic at bay. Talking about how experienced his kidnappers were wouldn't help him to be brave. He sighed. "What do we do now?"

"We wait," Steve replied. "It's all we can do."

A few minutes went by. Then Stevie sighed again. "It's too quiet. Can't we sing something?"

"Sure thing," Steve said. "What'll it be?"

"Hmmm... You make me weep..." he began. Steve joined in and gradually, their spirits lifted.

There being no life or death situation, Rose expected to wait several more hours before the police showed up. However, they arrived only about five minutes after the vet departed. A man and a woman, both in dark blue police uniforms, came out of the car. The man was well over six feet tall, broad shouldered, with short blonde hair and brown eyes. The woman was only slightly shorter than her partner, black hair pulled back into a french roll, her piercing dark eyes taking careful note of her surroundings. Rose noticed that each of them had one of the huge control rods she'd seen that very morning in training, along with their guns. They looked even more daunting in real life. After a moment, they were followed by another woman in a tidy brown pants suit and lab coat, carrying a large black case. She was much shorter than the others, with dark skin, short brown braids and a very business-like attitude, despite the fact that she seemed to be about ten years younger than the two police officers.

As a unit, they walked toward the door. Rose tried not to look as completely mystified as she felt when she noticed that they all walked in the grass, rather than on the path. "Ms. Rose Matthews?" the male officer asked. Rose nodded. "I'm Lt. Peterson, Artificial Intelligence Division," he said. Then he gestured to the other police officer. "This is Lt. Kim, and this is our forensic specialist, Dr. Madison."

"Pleasure," Rose said, shaking hands all around.

"You reported a burglary in which two artificial intelligence units were stolen?"

"That's right," she replied. "Please, come in."

The two officers looked at their smaller companion. She shook her head. Then she set her case down on the lawn and opened it. "Ma'am, when you came home, did you use the front door?"

"No, I came in through the garage."

"Has anyone else come this way since you've been here?"

"The vet came a few minutes ago. My dog was attacked."

The young woman frowned. "I'm sorry to hear that." Then she pulled out an instrument that Rose had seen a few times on cop shows. It was a small white rectangle with a screen and a few buttons, like an old fashioned calculator. It produced a low hum when she turned it on. She proceeded to wave it slowly along the walk-way. Then she scanned the doorway and the threshold. "I should be able to get something from this," she said. "We can go in now."

Rose stepped aside and the others entered. Then the two officers began asking her questions and jotting notes while the young doctor walked slowly around the house, scanning things. "Was this the general state of the house when you entered?" asked Lt. Kim.

"Yes. I haven't moved anything."

"Does anything appear to be missing besides the units?" she asked.

Rose caught herself before she could ask "units of what?" "Er.., no," she said. "Not that I know of." They hmmmed at that and looked around, no doubt taking note of the many easily removable and expensive pieces of equipment in the room. Lt. Peterson made more notes.

"Approximately what time did you leave the house this morning."

"Around 12:30."

"And you returned...?"

"Three, or a few minutes after."

"Are you sure?" Lt. Kim asked. Rose nodded. "Less than three hours," she said to her companion. "Sounds like a surveillance job."

"You mean somebody's been watching my house?" Rose asked, alarmed.

"It looks like it, ma'am," Lt. Peterson said. "Do you live alone?"

"No," Rose said, the unspoken "what the hell kind of idiotic question is that?" not far from her lips.

"Excluding the artificial intelligence units," Peterson explained. "And the dog," he added as an afterthought.

"Oh. Yes, I'm the only human in the house."

"Did your units get along well together?" Lt. Kim asked.

"Yes, very well. They were - are like brothers." The two officers exchanged meaningful glances. The silent communication between them reminded her keenly of her missing dolls. She tried to shove down the gnawing sense of worry that had suddenly started to grow stronger.

"Where do you keep your control rods?" Kim asked suddenly.

Rose hesitated, thrown by the apparent change in subject. "I'll show you." She led them to her bedroom, noticing that Dr. Madison was still busily scanning away in the hall. Rose searched for the key, apologizing halfheartedly for the mess, then pulled the trunk out from underneath her bed. "They're in here," she said, opening it. She took out the two cases and showed them the contents.

"All there," Peterson said. "It's doubtful this was an inside job."

"Unless they just didn't know where the key was," Kim said.

"What are you saying?" Rose asked indignantly. "Are you saying you think they ran away?"

"It's not uncommon," Lt. Kim said.

"Yeah, and it's not possible either!"

"Mind telling us why?"

Rose looked at Lt. Kim's smug face and clamped her mouth shut. She knew that if she opened it right away, a string of curse words would come out and she might not be able to stop. Her dolls were very likely being shipped overseas this very minute, and they were speculating about rogue "units." They have guns, you don't. They have guns, you don't, she chanted silently. When she thought it was safe, she spoke again. "First of all, there's no reason for them to take the risk of getting caught away from home without permission rather than be with me. I'm not, nor have I ever been cruel to them. Look at this house! They each have their own rooms for god's sake!

"Secondly, they both know exactly where this key is kept. I showed each of them the first day they arrived here. Then I locked the rods away and have never had any cause to use them." Peterson and Kim exchanged looks again, and the man jotted some more notes. Rose resisted the urge to ask them what the hell that was all about. "Besides," she said sharply, snapping their attention back to her. "They wouldn't need a control rod to overpower me. If they wanted to, all either of them would have to do is smack me and put a tiny amount of strength behind it, and I would be out of commission. They've had countless opportunities to do so, but they haven't. Then, of course, there's the dog."

"What about the dog?" Lt. Peterson asked.

"My dog was attacked! They would never have attacked her."

"Are you sure?" Lt. Kim asked.

"Of course I'm sure! She was a birthday present from both of them." Neither officer looked as if they thought that was proof enough. "Look," she said. "Even if they did run away, which they didn't, there would be no reason for them to attack the dog. She couldn't have stopped them, and it's not like anyone would have heard her barking."

"We don't know that. Dogs are very often more powerful than humans. Your dog may have been able to hinder them even if you couldn't."

Rose laughed. In the midst of her fear and frustration, she giggled and very nearly couldn't stop. Lts. Kim and Peterson looked at her with puzzled expressions. "Okay, okay," Rose said, calming down at last. "Let me show you something." She turned on her desk computer and searched for the photo she wanted. In a moment, she had the projection up for them to see. It was a picture Rose had taken of Stevie and Steve playing with Snippet. Steve was sitting cross-legged on the grass, looking upward with a pained expression on his face. Snippet was standing on his head, trying hard to keep her balance. Stevie stood nearby, pointing a taunting finger at Steve. His back was arched so far that it was nearly parallel with the ground, his face a mask of merriment.

Rose smiled, remembering the afternoon well. "That, ladies and gentlemen, is my dog," she said. "Before you ask, yes, she's full grown. This picture was taken two weeks ago." Rose's smile faded. "About five minutes before you came here, my veterinarian took her to get x-rayed to make sure her skull doesn't have fractures." She let that sink in for a second, looking at the picture again so that the officers would follow her gaze. Then she spoke slowly and deliberately. "There is nothing you can say or do will make me think that one of my boys did that to her. So drop it!"

Before either officer could respond, Dr. Madison stepped into the room. "I'd like to ask a few questions now," she said. Rose walked back into the living room and took a seat, leaving the others to follow her example, but not actually inviting them to. Dr. Madison didn't seem to notice. She sat in the armchair facing the one Rose had chosen and took a laptop computer from her ever present black box. Then she took a disc from the scanner and put it into the computer. "This scanner reads impressions left by fingerprints, footsteps, body impressions, vehicles, etc. The only fingerprints I found belonged to members of the household, but I did find several other interesting indentations. I just need to ask a few questions for clarification, and I think I'll be able to piece together what happened here. First, what size shoe do you wear?"

Rose blinked. "Eight and a half wide," she answered.

"How about your dolls?"

"Steve wears a seven, and Stevie's a six and a half."

Dr. Madison's eyebrows lifted in surprise and she keyed a few things into the computer. "Okay. Can you tell me your dolls' height and a.p.?"

"Well, they're both about 5'4" barefoot. I'm not sure of their actual weight, though. I have their registrations if you want to see."

"Actually, I think I may have enough to go on now, although we may need to take copies of the registrations later." She typed for a few seconds, the nodded. "It appears that you dolls were stolen by two individuals, most likely males between 6'1" and 6'4" tall." Rose was very proud of herself for refraining from saying "I told you so." "They wore standard working boots, sizes 11 and 12," Dr. Madison continued. "There aren't any wheel impressions in the house, so they must have been strong enough to carry the dolls between them without a dolly. From what I can gather, the size seven - Steve did you say? - was taken from right there." She pointed to a spot a few feet away from the front door.

Rose looked at the spot, wondering what the robbers had done to Steve there. Wishing she had been home to stop it. Then she realized with a shock of gratitude that the young scientist was the only one of the three who'd made even the slightest effort to refer to them as anything other than "units." She hadn't realized how much that had been bothering her. Madison consulted her screen for a moment. "The other one, Stevie, seems to have stood just outside the living room for a few seconds before running toward the back door."

"Then he got away?" Rose asked hopefully.

"I'm afraid not, ma'am," the specialist said. "It looks like he was taken before he reached the door. There was no sign of a struggle. According to the readings, it looks like both of them were incapacitated quickly, then carried out. I doubt the intruders were here more than ten minutes."

"How? How could they have done it so fast?" Rose asked.

"With one of these, most likely," Peterson said, patting his control rod.

Madison nodded. "With a standard or a substandard control rod, it's unlikely that they would have fallen on the first strike. It would have taken at least three attempts. In between strikes your dolls would have had time to run at least a couple of yards before the intruder could strike again. There's no indication that either of them had a chance to run after they were struck the first time. We can start searching this neighborhood for registered users of these types of rods. Maybe we can find out the whereabouts of the owners, or if any have been stolen recently."

"In the meantime, do you have any insurance?" Lt. Kim asked.

"Yes, why?"

"You may need to file a claim in case we're unable to find them. Usually, the policies include a replacement clause for units stolen from home."

"What?! That is not an option!"

Lt. Kim looked like she might be about to argue, but a look from Peterson silenced her. Red faced, Rose stalked to the front door and yanked it open, suddenly wanting nothing more than for them to leave. The officers took the hint. They stepped outside, waiting near the car for Dr. Madison to gather her things. The specialist packed away her instruments and walked toward the door. She hesitated before leaving and turned to look at Rose. "I'm sorry," she said. "We'll do everything we can to get them back." Then she walked away.

Rose closed the door behind her and turned back to the living room. She sighed. The low sounds from the radio did nothing to counteract the feeling of emptiness that pervaded the house. She sat down in her favorite chair, stared at her hands, and tried not to cry.

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