Adrift, Anchored – Ch. 14

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The man-kid flightbot didn’t stop or slow down although a whole herd of policebots formed a barricade just outside TXP076. Those policebots aimed their piercing light beams and threatening gun-arms at him.

Aria shuddered. She was watching the outside world through the man-kid flightbot’s eyes, thanks to the hologram that shot out of the wrist of a female flightbot right next to her. She was safe in the cargo area. Nevertheless, it felt like the guns were pointed at her.

The man-kid flightbot, however, didn’t take the guns personally. He didn’t need to fear them. Neither did he need to squint and wait for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, interfered by the unhelpfully bright field lights and blue-red police beams. Snow probably whipped his metal surface just like it whipped the metal surfaces of the policebots—but the flightbot didn’t mind. Steadily, calmly, he kept descending the sturdy stairs that TXP076 had spat out, and was still in the process of spitting out: the stairs unfolded further with his every step until the last stair touched the snowy ground.

“Do not come closer,” a policebot said in a threateningly low male voice. “Hands up.”

The flightbot remained motionless at the bottom of the stairs. Aria couldn’t see his reaction—she was the flightbot, seeing what he saw, and he wasn’t looking at his own hands—but she guessed that he had obeyed. What other choice did he have? He didn’t fear the bullets, but he had a mission. Until he accomplished that, he couldn’t “die.”

Everything was quiet out there, a lot quieter than in here, with the nonstop swiveling mockup aidbot. No more sirens. No bullets firing. Only the wind and snow.

And since security protocol legally prohibited policebots and non-policebots from connecting to each others’ signal networks, the man-kid flightbot said in his suave male voice:

“The old man inside needs his medication. He dropped the bag in the main building.”

A total lie, of course. Mr. Wang hadn’t been carrying anything all day long. The bag was just an excuse to find what they really wanted: Evan Jacobs.

“If you do not let me through and allow me to search for it, he will die,” the flightbot said.

The policebots didn’t budge. The human police officers behind them, however, exchanged glances—or so Aria thought. They were buried in their thick uniforms and matching scarves and hats and gloves, so it was hard to tell. Only very thin strips of their faces, the strips that included the eyes, were exposed to the snowstorm.

The man-kid flightbot focused on those strips and magnified the view. Once, twice—then he reverted to the default, wide view. Even he with his many magnifying lenses couldn’t read the officers’ expressions from this distance. But the policebots said nothing and did nothing, so it seemed logical to conclude that their human bosses were communicating something to them behind the scenes.

After a minute of freezing silence, one of the policebots said, “We want to know for sure that the old man is still alive.”

“What do you want me to do, carry the dying man out here, into the snowstorm?” the flightbot said.

“We want in.”

“Absolutely not. The surgical environment is being kept germ-free. No one is allowed to enter that specific cargo area.”

Fascinating. The flightbot was overtly lying to follow his logic that he must do everything to protect the aircraft.

“We want recordings of him breathing,” the policebot said.

“And thereby waste precious time that could’ve been used to save the man? There is only one medbot and it is not to be disturbed.”

“Then tell us what medication he needs and we’ll have it delivered right away.”

“Won’t be faster than me searching the airport.”

“But it sounds like you don’t have any idea where he dropped it.”

“Allow me to connect to the airport’s indoor bot network instead of halting me here. That’ll effectively give me a thousand pairs of eyes and we’ll find the medication bag in no time. If you want to save the man, that’d be what I’d do—though I’m not so sure anymore that’s what you want.”

Having said that, the flightbot surveyed the whole field. The sky had been cleared of the news channel drones. Either the police had kicked them out or they’d left voluntarily, having come to the conclusion that there was nothing more exciting to be reported here, at least for now.

On the ground, in the distance, airplanes moved. The airport couldn’t afford to lose more money than it already had. Whichever parts that could function had to function. Distant noises of planes taking off and landing were audible through the snowstorm.

And there, at the far end of the crowd of police officers, one lady gave a curt nod. Immediately, the flightbot’s eyes darted back to the policebot that he’d been talking to.

“Access granted,” the policebot said.

The hologram-view froze. The flightbot had exited this world and entered a digital world only accessible to his peers.

Aria couldn’t see a thing of what he was doing. All she got to see through the hologram was the unmoving frame focused on the policebot. If she stared closely enough, she could distinguish the individual snowflakes that had settled down on its surface. Snow, wind, time—all had stopped according to the hologram.

But she knew how fast the flightbot was “moving” through his world; the hundreds of thousands of calculations he was performing every millisecond; the vast reach of his perception thanks to his ability to tap into the perceptions of other bots, who hid nothing, were incapable of hiding anything once access was granted.

A few seconds passed. The hologram-view unfroze as if there’d only been a temporary glitch.

“I found the bag,” the man-kid flightbot said to the policebot.

But it also sent a text message through the hologram feed:

[I found Evan Jacobs.]

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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