Adrift, Anchored – Ch. 16

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Swiftly, the flightbots got to work in the cargo area of TXP076. Aria had to run to the freight container so that she could jump in before they lifted it up above their heads with their child-sized arms.

Aria landed in the container. On impact, she gasped and quickly rolled over. She’d fallen way too close to Mr. Wang’s body—close enough to smell the blood and antiseptics. Thank heavens for the medbot, which had saved Aria from having to see the gunshot wound directly. Despite the smell, Mr. Wang looked strangely peaceful. Almost like…

A baby. A baby swaddled in blue tarp.

A frozen gargoyle with a sickle-shaped back and age spots, but like a baby nonetheless. He’d become a baby a long time before he’d died, and in death, he could finally embrace the change without being abused because of it. Babies; that was what became of many humans in their last days of life. Either their physical functions deteriorated or their minds decided to go on strike or both. They forgot how to speak, how to walk, how to dress and undress, how to eat.

The crucial difference between a baby and an aged dying person was that the former tended to have a parent or two to take care of it (hopefully), while the latter didn’t have such a protective figure anymore. The aged dying person’s parents had long gone to the place where said aged dying person was soon to join them. Or, in the worst-case scenario, like in the case of Mr. Wang, the parents, the spouse, and the child had all died before him. And the aged person wasn’t cute, wasn’t small, didn’t smell good, and in general didn’t possess all the appealing traits of babies that made healthy adults sacrifice a good chunk of their nightly sleep and money to feed and shelter those babies.

All that was why the aidbots had become so popular. All organisms needed someone to take care of them at the beginning and at the end. At the beginning, the world pretended that the future held rosy possibilities. At the end, the world stabbed you in the back. So, then, whom to force into caring for the unwanted? Bots. Bots who didn’t have a say. Then everyone could go back to pretending that the world was rosy…

But this was no time to ponder about babies, dying people, and bots for longer than the time it took to take a few deep breaths.

There, on the other side of Mr. Wang, lay Aria’s duffel bag. Nearby, the mockup aidbot hammered on the inner walls of the freight container. It seemed even more desperate than usual. Or maybe it was the excitement? It probably knew that they were about to succeed in their escape plan.

The cargo hatch opened with a whine. The gunshots and yells outside multiplied in volume and urgency. Rotors flapped loudly.

Madly, ever more fiercely, the mockup hammered on the walls. But the container was sturdy, built to be thrown around, toppled over, and smashed into equally sturdy bins and walls and aircraft. Heck, it bounced off bullets, just like most other machinery at the airport.

The entire container precariously tilted left and right as the many child-sized flightbots carried it out of the hatch. Soon, Aria could smell the fresh air, the welcome scent of snow. She breathed in deeply—until breathing became impossible because of the tornado wind coming from above.

She looked up. None of the snow that fell elsewhere fell on her face. The porter drones hovered directly above her, whipping away the snow. She counted the drones. Twelve. Exactly the number that Vera had recommended. Evan had delivered.

The police seemed utterly perplexed. Their bots kept declaring, “Do not move!” and “Identify yourselves, you in the container!” and “Get out of the container!”

A few police drones emerged and attempted to get a closer look at the inside of the freight container, but the porter drones populated the sky so densely that it was impossible for the police drones to come closer without snapping their blades.

Warning shots were fired. It seemed that the police didn’t dare shoot directly into the container—yet—by using their drones, which would allow them to shoot without fearing bounced-off bullets. Maybe the order was to preserve human life, even Aria’s. But she heard a few flightbots burst as they took the bullet. The reek of gas and burning electronic parts momentarily hung thick in the air, then dispersed in the wind. Heavy thumps suggested that the flightbots had slammed on the ground. Aria couldn’t check. The container walls were so high on all four sides, she couldn’t see the outside.

She reached up at the porter drones and jumped up and down. Do something. Go up higher. Fly away, before they kill more of these flightbots that look way too much like young boys and girls.

As if the drones interpreted that as the Go signal, they let down strong ropes, all at once. The flightbots that had survived the initial round of bullets crawled up the container, snatched the ropes, and fastened them around the rings at the top.

“The coordinates,” she shouted at the flightbots. “Did Vera get the coordinates?”

The flightbots glanced down at her and nodded in unison. Then, together, they said, “About three hours from here.”

“What?” Aria said. “That far?”

They’d only planned for a three-hour flight, since any trip longer than that would only expose them to the Black Suits’ attacks. They only had fuel for three hours too. Aria didn’t like this.

But this had to do. Each flightbot climbed up the rope as if climbing ropes—strong, but nevertheless thin enough to be called ropes, not beams or bridges—were the most natural thing to do. They stretched their short but strong arms to reach the control screen on each porter drone. They punched in the coordinates. Then, simultaneously, the flightbots smashed the location trackers at the bottom of each drone’s body.

All twelve drones jolted. The freight container shook. The mockup, Mr. Wang, and the duffel bag rolled to the opposite side of the container, then back to where they were. Aria jumped around them to avoid squashing them or being squashed.

Soon, the drones recovered balance. The flightbots pushed the Go buttons.

“Thank you!” Aria said, sensing that this was their goodbye.

The flightbots nodded. They jumped. Aria gasped. But she heard no thuds. Instead, with a jerk, the whole freight container rose up in the air.

The police fired from the ground. But it was too late. Their bullets didn’t reach the container. The porter drones shot up, further up, higher, toward the storm clouds that kept pouring chunks of snow.

Aria and everyone in the container stayed dry. The location trackers had been destroyed. Which reminded her—

She rummaged through the duffel bag. There, at the bottom of it, was her smartphone. Its notification light flashed. She tapped on the screen.

Missed calls:

Mom (3)

Jack (89)

Gotta call Mom later, not now.

Aria threw the phone over the top of the container. Now, all location trackers that could have placed them on a map were gone. Everything had worked out. They were flying off and away from the airport.

In total relief, Aria slumped on the floor. She lay down. Stared at the soothingly strong walls of the container. Took a few deep breaths. Closed her eyes.

© 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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