The gendarmes had refused to state their business to my secretary. Now they stood like two blue-uniformed, kepi-wearing statues in my office on the top floor of Château Corbeau staring at me as if they were having trouble believing what they saw. The younger, taller officer had a twitchy arm; his right hand kept jumping towards the butt of the heavy black automatic stowed in his button-down white holster.
I swore under my breath. The last thing I needed was a visit from a probationary sous-officier with a defective prosthesis. These kids. They think replacing their natural arm with a cheap second-hand robotic limb will help them shoot faster and straighter. It doesn’t. Trust me, I should know.
“Monsieur Jean Lazare?” the first gendarme repeated.
“That’s right, officer. A very good morning to you. So tell me, how can I help our brave guardians of the law today?”
“I’m sorry Monsieur Lazare, you need to come with us to see Judge Le Maître.”
“Right now? I’m pretty busy; can’t it wait?”
The younger cop’s dodgy arm twitched again and he controlled it with difficulty. It looked like he was itching for target practice.
“No, Monsieur,” the older one said. “I regret, the judge needs to see you at once.” The man looked around forty and his expression was apologetic. No doubt he’d done his basic training back in the days when cops still had manners.
He couldn’t tell me what it was about. That’s normal. In France investigating magistrates like to start from scratch, but usually they send municipal police to do the legwork, not gendarmes who are technically members of the armed forces. I wondered what sort of problem required the heavy mob.
Judge Le Maître had a pleasant room decorated in the baroque style, with a large window overlooking the quadrangular central garden of the dignified Napoleonic building. He was a grey-haired man of late middle age wearing a crumpled charcoal suit. His sharp nose twitched like an inquisitive ferret. When he looked up at me from behind his leather-topped oak desk his look of surprise was less obvious than the two policemen but I noticed it. What exactly had they all been expecting?
“Monsieur le Juge,” said the senior gendarme, “this is Jean Lazare. He came voluntarily at your request.”
That was one way of putting it. I’d had no choice of course. He was telling the magistrate it hadn’t been necessary to arrest me.
By now I was more than a little concerned. If they’d been prepared to arrest me, I must be assessed as a potentially hostile witness at best; given that the judge had sent gendarmes rather than regular cops he might even suspect me of a major crime. So far as I recalled I hadn’t even been guilty of illegal parking recently.
“May I see your identity card, Monsieur Lazare?” the judge asked.
I extracted the plastic ID from my wallet and handed it to him. I didn’t like the official photograph it bore — who does? — but it looked reasonably like me and he nodded when he looked it over. He invited me to sit down in the interviewee’s chair.
The judge came straight to the point. “Monsieur Lazare, I’m aware you’ve had a number of surgical procedures to replace parts of your body with artificial prostheses.”
“Yes, that’s correct,” I confirmed.
“I could call the doctor and have him give you a medical examination,” he continued, “but it will save time if you’re willing simply to tell me approximately what proportion of your body is artificial and what natural.”
“No problem, Monsieur le Juge. The fact is, what with necessary surgical replacements and a few optional extras, my body is now completely artificial. Since it’s no longer possible to tell the difference externally, after I reached a certain level of substitution there didn’t seem any point retaining a few organic parts just for the sake of it.”
“I see. You are a rich man, Monsieur Lazare?”
“I’ve been very fortunate, yes.”
“In fact you own one of the very first androids to be engineered as a flawless copy of a human being. It was specifically designed to produce genetically compatible spare parts for your body?”
“That is so.”
“Could you please explain to me what happens to a faulty bodily organ once it has been removed from you and replaced by such an artificial component?”
“Certainly, it’s transplanted into my android where it can safely be restored to proper functionality. Naturally I don’t care to have dangerous repair surgery done while the organs are still part of my own body.”
“And because you can’t leave the android with parts missing or he’d soon be unable to operate?”
“I see. And prior to undergoing your head transplant, I assume you had an electronic copy of your organic brain patterns inserted into the android brain that you were to acquire?”
“Of course; complete right up to the last second before the operation. Otherwise I shouldn’t have continued to be me, should I?”
“Quite.” The judge nodded to the senior gendarme, who went over and opened a side door.
“Monsieur, if you’d come through, please,” he said.
I was stunned; speechless. My android entered the room. It looked at me with a humourless smile.
“You see, Monsieur le Juge, it’s exactly as I told you,” it said. “The thing’s been trying to take over my whole life. That mechanical monster actually thinks he’s me.”