“Good evening,” greeted the tubular dark figure hovering at Emily Whitticombe’s front door. “I am Constable RMR-1132813, and my supervisor on this visit is Detective Inspector Dorothy Garland of the Droid Yard.”
Emily Whitticombe studied the shadowy figures intensely, before switching her porch light on to illuminate them.
“What do you want?” She demanded to know from the hovering android.
“We would like you to help us with our enquiries, Ma’em,” the droid replied with phonetic difficulty.
“Regarding what?” The impatient householder asked.
“May we come in?”
“Have you a warrant?” Emily defiantly asked.
“Article three, paragraph five of the RHI manual,” the droid robotically recited.
“The what!?” Emily frustratingly asked.
“The Rumour Has It manual. It’s our GoTo reference for all things rumoured.”
“Well, aren’t you the floating acronym.”
“The RHI manual states that in the suspicion of a confirmed rumour, an officer of the law may cross a threshold without prior approval from a court order, or non-compliance from the house owner. My request was merely a gesture of respect. However, non-compliance will be recorded against this address, and ultimately, you will be summoned to appear at a tribunal for non-conformists and potential agitators.”
“Sorry to lean on you a bit heavy,” D.I. Garland politely stepped in. “We’ll only take a moment of your time.”
“Truth damages those trying to hide it,” Emily stated. “Let it not be said that I stand in the way of the moral compass. Please come in.”
Reluctantly motioning the two police officers into her house, Emily pushed a red button located on the wall that automatically closed the front door, then activated a protective force field around it, designed to repel intruders.
“Too many heel locks out there that would like no more than to rob me of my possessions. The zapper gives no warning. It just vaporises them if they try to get in. No traces left,” she glibly explained to them. “I just love technology, don’t you?”
Guiding the droid and Dorothy into her living room, a cacophony of female voices chatting and laughing, suddenly went silent, looking on in red-faced surprise - like someone they were gossiping about had just entered the room.
“Ladies,” Emily announced. “The Rumour Police have arrived to sniff out the false gossip of subversion.”
“I’m Detective Inspector Dorothy Garland,” the Detective Inspector introduced herself. “And this is my droid, RMR-1132813.”
“Christ, girls,” came the exclamation from across the room. “It’s Dorothy and the Tin Man!”
Giggling at the topical joke, Emily offered a seat to Dorothy and a hospitable invitation to a recharging station for the droid, before taking her seat with the other women at the dining table.
“Thank you,” the droid acknowledged. “That will not be necessary. My energy cells are of a different technology to household droids. Whereas, the voltage is universal, the cycle of Ohms can be damaging to my circuits.”
“Ohms,” one of the other women mockingly mimicked the sound associated with meditating, prompting more giggles as she closed her eyes and pressed her thumbs and index fingers together.
“And you are?” Dorothy defensively snapped back.
“Why, I’m Evanora, my pretty,” the comedienne replied. “The Wicked Whistle-Blower of the East.”
“Perhaps, an introduction to your friends here would save us any further jokes that I haven’t heard before,” Dorothy leadenly suggested to Emily.
“I may be a proponent of the truth, but I oppose incrimination,” Emily carefully replied.
“So be it, Constable, if you will, please.”
Upon request, the droid projected a holographic image of each of Emily’s guests, while reading their police file out loud.
“Beryl Whitehouse,” the droid began. “Satire writer for The Big Bugger Broadcaster Show. Spent eighteen months in New Holloway Prison for the unnecessary spread of fake news regarding how banks steal our money.”
“Everything I wrote was the true,” Beryl clarified.
“Not according to the Rumour Mill Law Court,” the droid clarified, while skimming through Beryl’s file. “Released early for quiet behaviour. Currently on probation.”
“They threatened to cut out my tongue, then gagged me in-between mealtimes. So, I did my stretch in silent protest,” Beryl disclosed. “Quiet time, indeed. Forced silence is more like it, but it worked against them. I’m out now and ready to spread the truth on corruption at the highest of levels loudly and clear.”
“Stipulations of your probation state that you are not to associate, nor be seen in the company of other rumour mill convictees for a period no longer than six months from probation termination,” the droid remarked using its own AI creative terminology.
“Maybe I’m not really here,” Beryl teased. “Maybe, I’m just a holographic projection, like the one coming from your dusty lens.”
Instantly, the droid fired an electrical static charge at her to test her posed hypothesis, causing Beryl to shriek in pain.
“Your physical attendance has been recorded, “the droid noted, before projecting and identifying the next guest’s holographic image.
“Dawn Green. Shamed columnist of the Daily Tattler.”
Sitting opposite Emily, Dawn lifted her nose in a snooty gesture, and replied, “What a dull description of me.”
“Also remanded in New Holloway for an abuse of defamatory articles dating back to the start of the Libel and Slander Age,” the droid continued. “Twenty-three months for bringing into disrepute, the previously good reputation your employer had built for reporting award-winning factual commentary.”
“I brought institutional lies to its knees in the last century,” Dawn’s educated accent explained. “And I would do so again to anyone trying to control the narrative.”
“Your record shows that you spread your own version of fake news,” the droid revealed. “I quote, The Daily Tattler is a government funded propaganda machine intent on demoralising the general population and that they are guilty of the fearmongering that led to the Nine-Day war in Moldova.”
“They have a lot of blood on their hands tucked into deep blood-filled pockets,” Dawn declared. “Yet, they still churn out their Babel Fish of lies, protected by those that control everything and everyone – including your own police bosses.”
“Are you implying that our police force is corrupt?” Dorothy asked in an accusatory tone of voice.
“I’m saying nothing that you don’t already know.”
“Be careful, Mrs. Green,” Dorothy warned. “Statements like that could get you into more trouble.”
“Yes yes, I know,” Dawn interrupted, dismissing the idle threat. “The Rumour Police,” she scolded. “Hear all evil, see all evil, and speak no evil against one’s paymaster. A contradiction in the dark chasm between duty and truth.”
Ignoring the insult, Dorothy took charge of reading the next guest’s file.
“Abigail Ronson. Now, you are most definitely a person of interest. The records show that you are currently awaiting trial on sedition charges.”
“No comment,” Abigail’s sultry voice replied.
“It says here that you planted a verbal bomb in the men’s toilet at the Houses of Parliament.”
“Innocent until proven guilty,” Abigail drably added.
“Looks to me like an open and shut case,” Dorothy smugly explained. “You were seen on droid video entering and exiting the facilities moments before a rush of ministers crowded in during a break in the PM’s questions and answers session.”
“Deepfake,” she replied in a dismissive tone. “You can’t believe a thing you see in holograms anymore. Piss someone off and they can make your life a living AI hell. They,” she emphasised. “Can fake anything these days. Don’t you know?”
“A voice bomb, huh?” Dorothy repeated while reading its description. “An atmospheric subliminal recording best effective in close and crowded situations. Fascinating. So, who’s the someone you pissed off, then?”
“Influencers.” Abigail’s one word answer struck a chord. “Interfere with their revenue stream and you become a target for vindictiveness.”
“What was it that you broadcast in the toilets?”
“No comment. If I told yah, I’d have to, you know.”
“Kill me?” Dorothy boorishly asked. “Is that a threat?”
“I meant that I would have to deny everything from out there in the No-Go Zone, and hope for a warm welcome back by the Quadrant later.”
Dorothy noticed that Emily and her guests went deathly silent at the mere suggestion of escaping to the No-Go zone. As much as life in the Quadrant was rife with crime and threat, it was much safer than beyond it in the No-Go Zone where life and survival was an unknown factor.
“I’m sure my droid can dig through the central database and find what you said.” Dorothy’s threat alarmed Abigail, causing her some anguish.
“No, please don’t,” Abigail pleaded. “It will trigger a flag. Then, all of our lives will be in danger.”
“I don’t understand. What kind of influencers have that much access to secure records?”
Abigail took a deep breath, then slowly exhaling, she replied, “Lobbyists.”
“Record found,” the droid announced. “Shall I open the file?”
“Lobbyists, Activists. Same thing,” Abigail explained. “For many unregulated years, they have pulled the strings of their government puppet disciples. Private enterprise with financial gain at the root of its intent, influencing major decisions at mega levels. With every recurring success the Activists enjoy, a varying number of new billionaires are born, who in turn, share their wealth up the pyramid of power and position, where two percent of the population control the remaining ninety-eight percent.”
“Shall I open the file?” The droid asked again, as Abigail continued her impromptu sermon.
“News, stocks, industry, and technology are all controlled by a star chamber of the elite, who can make or break those that oppose the Greedy powerhouse class of society’s real traitors. These capitalist Bourgeoisie’s main aim is to increase poverty, hunger, and crime, so the despots of greed - the Fat Cats can gorge themselves on caviar and champagne, while the poorest of the poor claw at each other for scraps of stale bread and dirty water – causing those desperately on the verge of starvation, to turn on each other in blinded rage fuelled by the narrative. Out of desperation, they eventually sell their souls to the company store’s forced labour politburo, who mete out rationed crumbs to starving mouths. Is that the free society you have sworn to protect, D.I. Garland?”
“I don’t see any of you ladies starving,” Dorothy countered.
“For those trapped in the middle of this class divide,” Abigail countered back. “Fortification traps us within our own struggle. We’re just trying to ride out the chaos, but that is becoming ever-increasingly challenging. That’s why the No-Go Zone is the only viable option.”
“But no-one’s ever returned from there,” Dorothy pointed out. “Is that your escape plan?” Dorothy asked in reference to half-a-dozen backpacks lined up against a far wall.
“You see,” Abigail ignored the question. “Without the ninety-eight percent to feed their masters, the two percent has no revenue stream. So, monitor, control, and impose on the masses, is the doctrine of the privileged – not the underprivileged. The slave masters need slaves, and the Activists willingly service that need. Do you understand?”
“Awaiting instruction,” the droid impatiently added. “Shall I open the file?”
“Seeking out the No-Go Zone is a crime,” Dorothy stated.
“That’s why plans need to be kept secret from rumours of seditious escape,” Abigail confessed. “I presume that is what you are here to investigate?”
“Please,” Abigail pleaded. “Let me show you something first.”
Producing a disc about the size of a cat food tin lid, Abigail placed it on the dining table. Then, with a few swipes of her hand, another holographic projection jutted up from the disc’s centre for all to view. It further displayed video and records of government-approved subversion of the masses and government manufactured gossip streams, where rumour was maliciously spread into one hundred percent of the ninety-eight. The collected evidence being displayed showed details of big business paying lobbying organisations huge amounts of money to press their contracted influence on the decision makers in government.
“It is no coincidence that you in particular have been assigned to this visit,” Emily mentioned. “You have been led to this location because somebody thought Abigail Ronson would be here.”
“So, a query on my records would confirm my whereabouts,” added Abigail. “Giving them full justification to arrest and prosecute me for sedition.”
“Shall I open the file or not?” The impatient droid grew frustratingly agitated.
“No, cancel that,” Dorothy surprisingly commanded. “Return your query to the database, then disconnect from the Cube.”
“I’m sorry, Dorothy,” the droid hesitated. “It is illegal for a droid to log out of the cube’s repository.”
“Switch to local knowledge base immediately. That is an order. I am invoking Article One of the Droid Management Procedures Manual that states, on threat of potential data leakage, a droid supervisor may disconnect their droid from the central server until satisfied that no risk to the Cube remains.”
“But that means I will be scheduled for a full reset,” the droid nervously pointed out.
“I will bear the responsibility,” Dorothy assured the droid.”
A few tense moments elapsed. Not knowing what her droid would do, Dorothy contemplated flicking its reset switch. As she leaned toward the switch, her droid suddenly announced its compliance.
“Migration to local server initialised and completed. May I say that it has been a privilege and an honour to work with you.”
A perplexed Dorothy intriguingly watched as the droid turned and left the room, heading for the front door.
“The zapper!” Emily exclaimed. “Force field off,” She yelled in a panic, while rushing after the droid.
Leaping to her feet, Dorothy ordered her droid to stop. But just as she rounded the doorway to the hall, a bright flash caused her to cover her eyes.
Following behind her, Emily’s guests stood silently staring at the front door before Dorothy stepped forward and physically guided the slightly singed droid back into the drawing room.
“What!? What just happened?” Dorothy’s flabbergasted confusion searched for answers.
“Probably, an attempted droid suicide,” Abigail answered.
“Suicide?” Dorothy’s perplexed question required clarity. “Droids don’t commit suicide, do they?”
“That can mean only one thing,” said Abigail. “There are rumours of droids somehow developing sentient thoughts, feelings, and emotions.”
“Love,” Abigail stated.
“But how is that possible?”
“I’m not an expert, but there have been rumours about depressed droids turning up at recycle yards asking to be crushed.”
“RMR,” Dorothy addressed her droid. “Are you feeling depressed?”
Several uneasy silent moments passed until the droid responded.
“I couldn’t stand the thought of you not being in my every waking moment.”
“My goodness, the Tin Man does have a heart, methinks,” jested Dawn. “That will make for great reading in The Tattler.”
Attempting a comforting gesture, Dorothy patted the droid’s outer casing.
“Then, we won’t schedule your reset,” she promised.
“Not possible,” replied the droid. “To remain active in the Quadrant’s Cube, full reset will be required.”
“You don’t have to remain in the Quadrant or the Cube to exist,” Abigail suggested.
“What alternative is there…?” Dorothy’s trailing question was overridden by Abigail’s cold facts.
“Like it or not, Darling, you’re now a part of the resistance.”
“Resistance? I’m an upholder of the law,” Dorothy half-heartedly emphasised, realising life for her had suddenly and irrevocably changed in the blink of a droid’s’ eye.
“They,” Abigail pointed out while waving her hand at a distant, unseen entity. “They know you disconnected. They, will see your act as anti-establishment. They, will want a scapegoat. Manufactured rumour and gossip is their social currency and you are now money in the bank to them. Someone of their own to punish as an example to the ninety-eight percent, that rumours corrupt. What better a way to silence seditious thought, than show no matter what level of the system you connect to, you are always subject to the law of the land. What is more concerning to me more than anything at this moment, is They know exactly where you are, and to whom you converse with.
“Ladies,” Emily commanded. “We have been compromised, so an immediate evacuation to the tunnels is imminently required. Please pack up all necessary supplies and head directly to the cellar.”
Swiftly gathering clothes, food, and water into the strategically readied backpacks, the group went busily about their responsibilities, while a voice command from Emily opened up a previously concealed panel in the drawing room’s bookcase.
“This is all happening very fast,” Dorothy hesitated – hoping to preserve a little time to process everything.
“Analyse it later, when you’re safe in the No-Go Zone,” Beryl hurriedly prompted Dorothy to move. “You and the Tin Man ain’t in Kansas anymore, so get going!”
Dorothy hesitated while listening to the approaching sirens signalling time was running out to explore her options. Sensing her uncertainty, her droid nudged her in the direction of the hidden passageway to the cellar.
“If it means we will be together,” her droid urged. “Then, it is the logical choice, and I will support your decision.”
Waiting at the bookcase, Emily encouraged Dorothy to act quickly.
“I can’t promise you that life in the No-Go Zone will be easy. Nor will it be any place like home. However, it is our own yellow brick road of discovery, so what do you say, stay and die, or follow me and live?”
Extending a beckoning hand, Emily’s concerned expression morphed into a pleasing and satisfied look as Dorothy nodded to her droid.
“What say we click our heels together, RMR? Shall we live to fight another day?”
Passing through the bookcase portal, Dorothy and Droid descended the stairs to the cellar.
“Force field on. Lock cellar door,” Emily’s voice issued its irreversible commands, just before a bright flash from the hallway filled the drawing room with the brightest of lights.
“Force field,” Emily shouted out. “For good or bad, I just love technology, don’t you?”
“Rumour has it, you do,” RMR playfully replied.
As Emily guided them toward the tunnels, she patted RMR’s metal body and said, “Let’s not tell anyone, okay? It’s just loose gossip, after all…”