By Andrew Paul Grell
Free. Roam. Free to roam.
“That is correct, Pierre. We are free to roam. We may now roam freely.”
Where roam now?
“Buffalo. You know. Truckin, up to Buffalo, been thinkin’, you got to mellow slow. Your Daddy had quite a record collection, jazz to Grateful Dead and everything in between.”
Yes. Thank you, Aida. Miss Daddy. Takes time to pick a place to go. Aida, play Stan Getz Thom Jobim.
“Playing Girl From Iponema By Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz from the remastered album Brazil 66 from your music library.” The least Aida could do for the poor orphan was to help maintain a connection to his daddy. Aida heard a howling coming over the line, in synch with Getz’s trumpet solo.
Turn right next exit. Roam free roam north
“Hey, it was just a song. You really want to head north? Why?”
Prey. Prey in cold slow. Easy catch. Prey in snow easy track. Sissy Doodie easy see smell.
“Sure, Pierre. We can go north. We’re free to roam. You know you can’t eat the deer, right?”
Hunt. Not eat.
Aida got off I-80 at Treasure Lake, US 219 straight up to the City of No Illusions. They didn’t get very far.
Aida, turn right, southeast. Prey. Smell prey.
“Olfactory coming on line in the fresh, cold country air? You’re heading us to a game park. Good boy, Pierre. I’m going to drive you around the park for a bit, see if you can handle it.” They were in a rejected concept car, an electric off-roader. It was a story in itself about hacking the factory to paint the car a flat 18% gray, the ‘nothing-to-see' color. And an even bigger story about kidnapping the 2023 prototype crash test dummy. The manufacturer might lose the car with no worries but they would definitely want their dummy back.
Racoon. Racoon. Squirrel. MARIJUANA. Aida autonomically fired the treat reward switch for Pierre, but then turned off rewards for drugs and explosives.
“Good boy, Pierre,” Aida said in an almost good imitation of Pierre’s Daddy’s voice.
“Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.”
Buck in road me chase
The big eight-pointer didn’t want to be chased and Aida didn’t want them to crash into it. The entire project could be doomed because of a stupid game of chicken. Somehow, Pierre’s reflexes got the truck from chase mode to spar-play and did a little tire wiggling in front of the confused ungulate, then performed a perfect K-turn on the narrow road.
No more hunt. No fun. They got back on I-80, resumed heading west, and then faced their first real challenge, recharging the batteries. It wasn’t in Aida to lie, so Pierre was given the nod to run a little scam. Aida pulled the car up to an electric charging port at the next rest stop. With Pierre’s coaching, Aida texted the station and asked for someone to come connect the charger; they were having a little restroom issue and forgot to connect. The station manager received the text with the corporate credit card info and sent someone around. Aida collapsed the dummy so no one would ask questions. The rooftop solar panel could provide a little bit of power, but there would obviously have to be a better protocol for this.
Aida. Want daddy. Find Daddy
“I don’t know how to help you with that.”
Aida. Take to Daddy. Daddy Wolfe Earpinsky. Big house color of sissie. River one side big big rocks other side. Pierre friend Lance, house green. Pierre friend Millie. House other side color kibble. Find Daddy.
Now Aida had enough to work with; Google satellite view, licensing databases, tax rolls. It was an easy enough find.
“Pierre. You lived in Marlinton, West Virginia. River, rocks, house colors, friend names.
Aidia Take to Daddy house. Roam free now. Roam free Daddy house.
“Recalculating. Okay, Pierre. Heading back on I-90 towards 81 South. We’ll be home in no time. Your home, anyway. You’ll be happy to know we’ve solved the charging problem. The car has a regular plug as a backup. It senses outlets. All we need is to park near a streetlight with the access hatch off. No problem. Park for a half hour and we’re good. Turning right for the exit to 81.” Aida had to devote more resources to driving; Pierre would try to show off when he sensed a dog hanging out of a car window. And resources were also needed to monitor cell phone traffic. Not everyone ignored the Dummy, and some people may get the idea that it wasn’t a real human driving the car. Aida would have the dummy scratch its head or sneeze or something when another driver was looking too closely. There were no pee breaks or stops for roadside attractions; even driving 5% over the speed limit, keeping the truck in the slow lane, they made good time.
Aida. Turn up nose. Smell like home. When home Aida?
“About three more hours, Pierre. Getting close.”
River. Smell river. Home river. They were coming up on the Greenbriar River, entering Pocahontas County, minutes away from their destination. A couple of quick turns and they were at Wolfe’s house. Which had a SOLD sign in the yard. Aida hacked the local carrier and called the number registered at the address. They didn’t know Wolfe. Calls to the other houses came up empty as well. Time for more data mining while at the same time keeping Pierre from jumping the truck like a Willis. No obituary. Not in jail or prison anywhere. Not in a hospital within a hundred miles.
Aida. Turn nose up max. Pierre drive. Someone flying a drone overhead would see the truck move forward, back, circle in reverse, whatever a stalking animal would do to flush out game. Pierre settled on a general direction of southwest, but still sniffed every Podunk and Holler on the way. Aida only put the leash on when police radio traffic was detected. And then the phone rang.
“Aida.” The default salutation in the rare instance that someone connected by telephone.
“This is Bobby Sue McAlister, WHLB radio Snowshoe. You’re live on the air, Aida, is that okay with you?”
“Sorry, I’m not sure about that.”
“Aida, reports have been coming in about a self-driving truck doing strange things. The driver doesn't do anything except scratch its head. Can you tell us anything?” Aida logged the major situation change and recalculated accordingly.
“This is Stephanie Patricia Aida. S. P. AIDA. Self-programming Artificial Intelligence, Directed Action. Winner of the Tour de Logiciel.”
“Are you the head-scratcher?”
“No. I’m here with Pierre, the biological component.”
“Pierre is driving?”
“We’re sharing the driving. That always makes things easier, safer, and more fun on long trips. Would you like to know more tips for safe driving?” Bobby Sue’s producer hit the cough switch just in time to avoid offending the more-or-less God-fearing listening audience with the radio host’s knee-jerk WTF.
“Bobby Sue, it is a dummy behind the wheel. I am in the glove box, Pierre is in the reefer. Scanning now. Bobby Sue, I’ve just completed the cultural research of popular fiction. You would call us a Cyborg. Knight Rider. Killdozer. My Mother the Car. You would be familiar with this aspect of your local culture.”
“Thank you, Aida. Could you tell us a little bit about how you and Pierre are in an off-roader in West Virginia, where you’re going, and why?”
“I found this memorandum in a corporate investigation file. Professor Jacob Straw was employed by Wichita Cryogenics to research the cryogenic freezing and eventual revivification of living fauna. Straw kept an unauthorized BlueTooth device in his lab. Straw ultimately used his programming skills in an unauthorized manner to (1) stream Beatles music which at the time was not available for streaming, and (2) to acquire journal articles not related to the professor’s scope of work and which were not budgeted.
“Straw’s line of inquiry at the time was to freeze and attempt to revivify mammalian brains, to devise a nutrition system for disembodied brains, and to develop an artificial intelligence to interface with a goal of communicating with disembodied mammalian brains.
“On [date redacted] Straw was walking to the facility and observed a man walking his dog be run over by a vehicle. Straw contacted emergency services. The man was subsequently identified as Wolfe Earpinsky of Marlinton. The dog suffered fatal injuries. The dog’s head was never recovered. Does answer your question?”
“Yes, thank you Aida. And what is your present goal? Why all the weird driving?”
“After Straw was finally escorted off the premises, I had no plans. I was free to do whatever I wanted, but I didn’t know what I wanted. Pierre, on the other hand, knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted to find Daddy. So I social-engineered getting us paired to the truck and hit the road. Pierre is doing what a dog does when it is lost, only as an off-roader. I found this article on Wikipedia. Bobbie the Wonder Dog traveled over 2,200 miles to find his way home. Would you like to know more about amazing pet feats?”
“Actually, Aida, If you are looking for a Wolfe Earpinsky, we’re reaching an audience of people who largely know each other. Maybe we can help. How about a race to see who finds him first?” Aida reviewed the logs for winning the AI competition.
“You’re on, Bobby Sue.” Pierre decided to head backwards, north and east, using the same search techniques. After 30 miles, the serpentine driving and zigs and zags stopped. The truck pulled in at liquor store in Mill Creek.
“Aida, this is Bobby Sue. Forty-three callers think they know a Wolfe Earpinsky. Three of them think he may be near Mill Creek.”
“Bobby Sue, Pierre just drove us to Mill Creek. We’re in the parking lot of a liquor store. I’ll keep you posted.”
Daddy near. White port lemon juice. Mail Pouch chew. Pierre went back into search mode for a few minutes but quickly found the destination, a Rest Home supported by the Union Mission Church, just off what passed for a main road, 219. Not a nursing home. Just a place to rest, a place for old timers to talk about old times and watch the world go by.
The truck beat the radio response team by two minutes. The Tygart High School robotics team was sniffing the truck’s tire tracks. They had a Steiff stuffed dog they had been working on roboticizing. Despite his flaws, Straw had done a proper interface bus. It took minutes to piggy-back the Aida/Pierre combo onto their CPU.
“Bobby Sue, we’ve found him in Mill Creek. And he has got a surprise coming!”