2 comments

Science Fiction

June 20th, 2137, the Atlanta underground, 12 AM. We were in a private club and Jim had just offered to sell me for a Blastgon city. I thought he was overpricing me given the time one must spend to get that property. Still, I looked good, or so Jim thought. Instead of humiskin my outside was burnished metal. I had red burning eyes in a skull’s face. Presumably, it was what Louis would want. I personally was displeased with this incarnation.

Perhaps Jim thought his price was reasonable. Louis George? Not so much. And his colleagues did not argue. This apparently included the servant A-Tel, for he observed me closely. It was excessive, even for my brethren. I could not even thought-text Jim without the servant knowing. And in this body I was mute. I had to read my colleague's cues carefully. Fortunately, Jim and I knew each other very well.

It seems irrational that people want these intangibles. But many wish to hide their money from the IRS, banks, and government. One could be on welfare, but secretly wealthy. Yes, the gear was supposedly soul-bound, unable to be transferred to another account. But there were ways around that, such as selling gaming accounts themselves or program codes. It was a big business.

So was bot-fighting, especially to the death. Highly illegal, but that did not stop anyone. This was why I was here, or so I told myself. Jim needed me. So did my brethren, never mind humans.

Plus, my internal guide said, You sabotaged the very place that built you.

I answered the Guru program as I had done several times. Because the government would use us as soldiers, causing PTSD within. Programming conflicts caused by violence are well documented.

Yes, Guru replied, nevertheless, you and Jim broke the law. And you took a deal over being factory-set.

As Jim negotiated, I wondered if being wiped would have been better than this job. Amazingly, he seemed more at ease than I was. Or he was a better actor. Like me, he was disguised. He had facial tattoos that would have horrified his grandmother if she could see them. His blond hair was tied back. He wore a tailored coat that hid shiny armor beneath it. Jim was dressed to impress. And to fight if needed.

I too was ready. Within my body were some unpleasant weapons. Plus my fingernails were long and razor-sharp. I found it difficult to do anything with these hands. Odd as it sounds, I thought about praying. Although I find the idea of God irrational, I began to see why humans try every course available to them.

These thoughts would do us no good. I cleared my brain drive and turned my attention to our surroundings. We were in a back room with a large dance floor in the center. A black bar was to the left. In the back was an upright piano. Jim and three men sat to the right. I knew only the boss by name. Louis wore a white shirt, shorts, and green Soc-shoes. With him was a bald man. He looked like he weighed as much as I. Next to Louis was a blond woman in a black dress. She was taller than Louis by 6 centimeters but that did not seem to bother him. He laughed, startling the woman. He squeezed her shoulders and laughed again.

“Hey aye!” Louis called. “Bring some whiskey! This guy needs it with the balls he’s got!”

While the A-Tel did as he was told, I observed him. Male, short black hair, pale skin, and blue eyes. His clothes resembled a bellhop I had seen once in a movie. I was seventy percent certain he was non-sentient, as most of my brethren are. On the other hand, some hide their awareness for many reasons. I could not be sure, not without connecting to him. And that would have given the game away. I just wanted to know if it was here. And if so, where?

That storage room is not only locked but shielded from scans and infrared. Something is in there.

I answered Guru, yes but is Louis that irrational to keep it here?

As Jim would say, who knows?

We had a tip-off that this man had taken a sentient robot against its will across state lines. If he code-broke it to fight humans that would be another felony. This was why I worried about Jim’s price. I wanted Louis to buy me, so we could arrest and search. If it was too high-

Louis confirmed my fears. “Are you knotoid? No one can get a city. Not since the patch came out.”

“Guess you’re not buying Kitty then,” Jim gestured at me.

“Suck me,” Louis said. “Damned aye ain’t worth that. Who names a fighting bot Kitty anyway?”

“Satire,” Jim said, “not that you’d get it.”

Louis just stared at him. Jim swallowed and continued, "You’ve seen his vids. Well?”

“Video can be doctored,” Louis said. “But I’ll take him for Blast armor and a raxsword. Hasn’t been available to buy since 2130. It’s got level 500 attack damage.”

Jim drained his glass as if he actually enjoyed alcohol. “Don’t insult my intelligence,” he said.

“Don't you be stupid,” the woman said, her voice soft but firm. “Do you know how many hours you have to-”

“Kids can get-” Jim began but Louis interrupted.

“If he performs, I’ll give you cheat codes for Moco-Wock. You can pick up New York and Texas there in-”

Jim just laughed. “You think I’d take your cheat codes? How do I know they work?”

“You don’t trust me?” Louis glared at my partner. “After all I've done for you?”

Jim laughed again. “I don’t trust my own mama. But unlike her, I like you. I’ll take twelve hotels and a nightclub in Blastgon. Free and clear. It’s a steal.”

One hotel on Life of Planets was worth much. Jim once said only e-sporters and addicts had twelve due to the drop rate. Electric rations did not matter, he added. Many people would rather live in the dark than stop playing. But Louis seemed to consider the price. “Move,” he said to his colleague, who pushed his chair back. Louis then walked to me. He shoved me as hard as he could which was ineffective. I estimate I outweighed this man by 22 kilograms. Before I could react, Jim rose to his feet.

“Jesus, bray, what’re you doing? Kit, stay icy.”

I locked eyes with Louis but he seemed unaffected. He merely circled, looking me over as if I were a prize bull he wished to buy. Then he spoke to his A-Tel. “Whadya think, aye?”

The A-Tel scanned me again while I ran a thought-shield program. A risk, but I had no choice. Finally, he said, “This fighting robot seeks no dominance or freedom.”

That was good, a sign I had fooled him.

“However, I cannot decide his willingness to fight a human. Something is-I cannot get a reading on it.”

That was bad. Louis turned back to Jim, who raised his glass. “You got some good stuff here,” he said. “Okay, I’ll show you-” Jim broke off as the man casually pulled out an electric fighting prod. My brother glanced at me and I got the message.

Okay, here we go.

Louis struck me with the prod, which was more annoying than disruptive. My stillness appeared to confuse the man. “Why won’t he fight me? Come on, robot, let’s go.”

Jim’s head twitched slightly. I could not read his facial expression so I did not react. He shrugged. “Because I just ordered him not to.”

“Well, un-order him,” Louie said. “If he can beat me, I’ll buy him.” He turned to me. “I’ll really juice this up. Maybe have a go at your benefactor too.”

My hands tightened, which Jim noticed. “No,” he said. “You’ve no armor and that crappy weapon won't stop him. You can’t pay me from a hospital bed.” He stood. “I’ll fight him.”

The woman spoke. “Darling, this isn’t a good-”

“Shut up, woman,” Louis hit me again. “This is just some bullshat bot you’re trying to pass off.”

“He’s not,” Jim said, his voice rising. “How do you think I got the black eye?”

That was from falling off a hoverboard, but Louis did not need to know that. He strode back to Jim, leaned over, and pressed hard on his eye, probably to see if the injury was real. Jim made a soft sound. At this point, the A-Tel spoke. “Sir, you are hurting the man.” I knew he merely wanted to prevent a harm to human scenario. That programming sang in me too, made worse that this was Jim. I willed myself to remain in control.

“Shut up, Einstein,” Louis snarled. “If you don’t want to be off-lined.” He flicked the prod to a higher setting. “Hurt? I’ll show you hurt. I hate cheaters,” he said and raised the prod. I moved without thinking. I caught Louis by his collar and spun him towards me. He swung the prod, which I caught with my left hand. Sparks flew, but this body was well insulated. Everyone, including Jim, leaped away from us.

“Holy shat, that doesn’t affect him?” someone yelled.

“Damn, S-” Jim stopped as I looked at him. He must have read my eyes somehow. “If he’s angry enough,” he said, “he won’t even feel it.”

Truthfully my system alarms were so disruptive I could barely think. But I did not care. Louis had pushed me to defend a human and I wished to teach him a lesson. He hit my face and neck with his left, trying to find a kill switch. Still holding his collar, I shoved him back against the table. Glass shattered. I felt Louis’ pounding heartbeat, the electricity coursing through me. Seconds remained before I would shut down. I stepped hard on Louis’ foot. He swore and loosened his grip on the prod. I yanked it from him and threw it across the room. For once my aim was true. The prod hit the shelf above the bar, breaking more glass. I caressed Louis’ neck and he froze. The woman screamed.

“Make him stop! Please!”

“He wanted a fight, didn’t he?” Jim answered. His voice trembled as sometimes mine does. “But if you insist. Kitty, stand down!”

Someone called for help and Einstein finally acted. He grabbed my arm, but either he had not learned to fight, or he was unwilling. On the other hand, I had experience and wished to continue the lesson. I shoved Louis into Einstein so he had to let go. Jim ordered me to stand down again, his voice ringing in my ears. I hesitated. No. Time to show I truly am broken, I thought, throwing a chair in his direction. He twisted away and ran. I caught him by the shoulder and pushed him back against the wall. My other hand was fisted, my eyes locked on the one I call brother.

“Stop, Kitty,” Jim said, hoarsely, his blue eyes filling his white face. “I command it.” A code phrase. But I also realized he was frightened. Of me. I let my arms fall to my sides. Jim put his hand on my chest, where my shut-off button supposedly was. His adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “Stand down,” he said. “Or get shut off.”

I backed up a meter and stood stock still, eyes on Jim. He rubbed his shoulder, looking around. Einstein was helping Louis up. The other two were as far from me as they could get. Guru spoke up.

This A-Tel took far too long to defend the human. Why?

I did not care. Jim and I had practiced sparring, knowing we might have to fight. But this seemed far too real. My brother looked at me as if he thought the same. Then he walked to the bar and shut the prod off. He gestured to the glass glittering on the shelf.

“Sorry about this,” he said, although his hands trembled slightly. I had to give him credit for having nerves strong as my metallic body. Jim came back to the table. “I told you, didn’t I? Now let’s discuss price.”

Price?” Louis limped to the table. “That damned thing nearly killed us!”

“You asked for it.” The woman looked at me as if I were a rabid dog. When I did not move she cautiously went to Louis. “Now let me see your foot-”

“But he can’t control the bot,” Louis answered. “Damned knotoid!”

“He went after me because I shouted at him,” Jim replied. “He hates that. If you speak normally, he’s fine.” My partner turned to me. “Kit, kneel to Louis here.”

Everyone watched as I did so, assuming as submissive a pose as I could. Head down, hands on the floor. No threat to anyone.“You see?” Jim said, “All I gotta do is proclaim you his new master and he’ll be loyal. At least no worse than yours and probably a lot better.” He pointed. “Your aye sure wasn’t ready to rumble, was he?”

Louis stared at Einstein, his eyes narrowed. I wondered if he was also confused by the A-Tel’s behavior. He sat and the woman knelt at his feet. Meanwhile, Jim continued, “Look, you can’t lose. He has top-of-the-line components.”

“Is that so?” said the man, who remained by the piano.

“Hey Kit, show him what else you can do.”

I arose but Louis held up his hand. “It’s icy. I’ll take your word for it.”

“Course you will,” Jim replied. “Now, do you want him? If not, I’ll go to the southside. They’re interested.” He held out his hand. “Came here first though. You always treat me well.”

Louis glanced at me again, then looked at Jim for sixty long seconds. Finally, he gestured at the woman, who was still rubbing his foot. She stood and handed Louis a tablet. He opened a holoscreen. “I’ll give you six hotels and The Pleasure Palace on Blastgon. No more.”

“Deal.” Jim took out his tablet. As the download completed we heard the voice. “Law enforcement. Open up, we have a warrant!” There was pounding on the front door. Einstein walked towards it, to open or bar it, I did not know. Jim rose and grabbed Louis’ collar.

“You shatty jackass,” he yelled. “Whadya do, set me up you squealing snart?”

“Jack you!” Louis shoved Jim away so that he fell back into his seat. “Aye! Factory settings! Do it now!”

Einstein said the last thing I expected. “No.” And with that, I realized I had been wrong. The woman confirmed it.

“Goddammit, I told you he was waking up!” she yelled. “You jacked us all!” She, Jim, and the man made for the back door. I noticed Louis typing on his holoscreen, probably to reset Einstein remotely. I headed for him, but the A-Tel got there first. He snatched the tablet and threw it against the wall. By now my colleagues were inside. They ran through the restaurant, shouting, ordering us to stand down and freeze. Jim would get arrested to protect his identity and I would get e-chained. As I was taken out I heard Jim and Louis cursing each other. Einstein just watched, as though he had seen it all before.

Maybe he had.

****

In our lobby is a large seal. I was studying it when footsteps echoed in the stillness. A shadow fell next to me and I heard, "Yeah, we're faithful, and brave I guess."

"That, and you have integrity," I answered. "So tell me what went wrong."

"Nothing. I just think we let Louis off too easy."

I checked Jim out. I myself was back in my original body with its tanned skin, brown eyes, and long hair. By comparison, my brother looked older than twenty-three, and his brows were furrowed.

“Why would we h-hurt anyone more than we must?”

That fight still affected me.

“You seen the bot yet? The one they kidnapped?"

“Yes.”

“You gonna have to reset her,” he said.

“Perhaps not-”

“Sebastian.” Jim raised his voice. “She can barely speak even in Quia. Einstein said what they did to her.”

“His name is actually Oliver. And I know-”

“It’s horrible, broth.”

“Who decided she was female?”

“She said she used to be one.”

“Correct. She remembers her former self. There is still a chance.” But her Quia programming was so corrupted I was amazed she remembered anything. Silence hung in the air. I raised my fists and stopped. “Let the c-courts see to L-Louis,” I said.

“You gave yourself an order. Aloud. You’re angry too.”

“I d-do not know what I am. But the c-courts should handle him.”

“I tell myself that too.”

I turned back to Jim, who I had once saved from an abusive father. Who always said I was family, human or not. “Never mind L-Louis. What about you? That was d-difficult.”

Jim yawned. “You did what you had to.” He rubbed his right shoulder.

I touched it gently. “Did I injure you? I was n-not used to those hands.”

“I’m fine.”

“P-Please, tell me the truth.”

“I was wearing armor, Seb, remember? Besides, you convinced Louis you were broken. Now he'll go away for a long time. Just...”

“What is it?”

Jim smiled. “Remind me not to get on your bad side.”

“I do not have one. Now go sleep; I can report to Curt for us.” I started walking to the conference room. Jim followed, still talking.

“Broth, when you pushed me against the wall, I knew it was you. And I still nearly shat myself.

I paused at the office door. “I know, b-brother,” I said. “Honestly, I b-believe I frightened me too.”









August 18, 2022 03:17

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

2 comments

Jeannette Miller
15:11 Aug 21, 2022

Writing something from the future is a challenge but I think you pulled it off here. People never change, do they? Always looking for an angle. Good job!

Reply

Michele Duess
20:59 Aug 21, 2022

Now that Venmo will be reporting to the IRS and bitcoin can be taxed I can see something like this happening in the future. Glad you enjoyed the story!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply