"I'm retired", I say tiredly to the person on the other side of the phone. I don't recognize the voice, so I assume it's someone new, someone who was hired way past my last day working there.
It's 3 in the morning, and the person on the phone can barely speak from the panic.
"I'm sorry, sir, I'm really really sorry, I didn't know what else to do!"
She takes a quick moment to gather her thoughts. "Listen, we have a very dire situation here, and I was told to go through the files and start contacting specialists. You were part of the development team, and there's no one else that understands the technology as much as you do."
I smile, remembering all the iterations that were necessary, how difficult it was to get them to nail down the behavior. I'm not convinced of getting involved, but I am willing to hear what the situation is. "How many?", I ask.
She hesitates. "All of them, sir".
I gasp. That's impossible. A dozen, maybe, but all of them? This is unheard of.
"All of them on solid ground, I presume?". I think I know the answer already, but I want to make sure.
"Yes. The ones that were in the water remained unaffected, at first, but as soon as they cleared the shore, they got confused seeing the others and looked up as well. It was a domino effect that lasted for hours, we think." I can hear her typing on the keyboard frantically.
"There should have been someone monitoring, according to the records, but I don't see any registrations for the evening shift."
"All of them, though? We're talking what, 40, 50? That's not possible, how could this happen?"
"It's 75, to be exact, and we have a working theory at the moment. Because of the large amount of cancellations at the main airport, a lot of flights have been rerouted. Why they chose to do that in the middle of the night is anybody's guess, but we think they were trying to build up capacity before the morning rush."
Suddenly it dawns on me. Thanksgiving weekend. The most congested 48 hours for air travel on any given year. It makes sense, I think. If they are rerouting flights, then that means they would be flying over seldom used airways, and this could trigger such a massive flop event. My hands start to sweat.
"How long do we have?", I ask.
"A couple of hours, tops? We need at least an hour and a half in order to re-initialize them after they've been reset."
I look at my watch, and say "If I go now I can get there in 20 minutes. Meet me at the southern gate with my old kit. Hopefully it's still there, in the display exhibit."
I change as fast as I can, and grab a stimpack on the way out. As I am going down the elevator, I call my car on my terminal and tell it to meet me at the entrance. One hundred and seventy floors below, the ancient streets are dark, but above the cloud cover, stray rays of light start to illuminate what's left of the city.
I adjust my suit as I exit the foyer and enter the car. I haven't been to the facility in half a decade, but the address is still in my favorites. I select the destination, and the car begins weaving through the pillars. I press the pad of the stimpack against my neck, and feel the immediate tingle as it starts to feed me caffeine. I look out the window. I guess it's a good thing that regular vehicles are not allowed to go above the dwelling limits, to protect the designated flight paths. If we were to add regular traffic to the mix this would not be an isolated event.
Anyone would be crazy to admit that technology this sophisticated would have such an obvious flaw, but to be fair, the real specimens we attempted to emulate were pretty flawed in the first place. If I didn't have any prior knowledge, and you were to describe to me these flappy creatures, with their stocky body and stubby legs, I bet I would have laughed you out of the building. No way they actually existed, I would have said. They make no sense, which maybe explains why they were categorized like they were. No wonder they went extinct.
Fine, I know I'm grasping at straws, but what they see as a flaw I saw at first as a feature. It made them quirky, right? How were we to know they had an issue with far away object tracking? The enclosure used to be in the lab, so they never had to track objects that were distant enough to trigger the bug. So the first time one of them fixed on an airplane that happened to fly directly overhead, and it kept tracking until it fell backwards and just stayed there, catatonic, we thought it was a fluke. How could we know it was not just repeatable, but consistent?
The proximity alarm focuses my scattered thoughts, as I strain to see the employee who called me through the fog. I can tell she hasn't slept all night, as she's moving her weight from one leg to the other, swaying in her tiredness. She smiles full of hope as she rushes to the car as soon as it stops and hands me my kit even before I exit the vehicle.
"You were right, it was in the display exhibit. I've never seen kit this old before!"
I grab the case, running my hand over the faded lettering. "Is it complete?"
Her smile fades. "I... I didn't open it."
I nod, solemnly, even though I think this level of formality is unnecessary. It's not like we run a secure government facility and not a zoo.
I open the case, and put on the slip-preventing shoes and grip-enhancing gloves. "Let's go."
The enclosure is in the middle of the facility, and is surrounded on all sides by glass, so we head to the access corridors that run below where our visitors are allowed to walk, in order to enter from below. As I open the hatch, I am greeted by dozens of inert black bodies. I shudder. Ok, same as we used to do. One by one, pick them up from the armpits (finpits?), right them up, and re-initialize them. It's not hard, it's just tedious and most employees don't have clearance to handle such expensive technology.
As I bend down to pick the first one up, I wonder where my life took a turn and led me to become an out-of-retirement penguin erector.