Hey, gang. I know it’s been a long time coming, but here’s the final version of that Mack Megaton short story I started so long ago. My apologies for the lateness of its arrival, but hey, you didn’t have to pay for it, so why don’t we call it even? Anyway, here’s the story in its entirety with the final section added to it. Hope you enjoy it.
THE DINOSAUR HEIST
My second question had been who would steal five dinosaur robots? My first question was how did nobody noticed until after the fact? The robots had all been life size and while the citizens of Empire City were used to seeing a lot of weird sights, I had to assume five dinosaurs stomping their way through the streets was bound to draw some attention.
That’s what I got for assuming.
Because five robots were gone, and I’d been called in to take a look around. Grigori (with two I‘s, his assistant had reminded us. Twice.)
Alexandrov had been a Russian immigrant, chasing the American dream with only his chipper demeanor and a small fortune in his bank account. It must’ve cost him a big chunk of his cash to have his personal vision of artificial paleolithic paradise constructed and stocked with robotic reproductions of his favorite dinosaurs. His butler or manservant or whatever (I didn’t get the exact title) showed us to the tremendous dome and left us there.
Jung sniffed a frond. His nostrils flared. He snorted. “Plastic.”
Alexandrov stepped from behind a bush. “Of course, it is plastic. Robots don’t need to eat, do they?”
Jung shrugged. While he was a civilized ape, I got the distinct impression that this plastic jungle didn’t sit well with him, put him on edge. Jung had been born in captivity. He’d never been in a real jungle. And after mutating to his current levels of intelligence, he wasn’t interested in going home. But I imagined this artificial realm reminded him of some of the things he’d lost. There had to be instincts still buried under there.
Or maybe not. Maybe the place just smelled bad. I couldn’t tell.
Alexandrov studied me. “You are the robot detective? The one I sent for?”
He glanced behind me at Jung. “And this is your monkey assistant?”
“Gorilla,” I said. “And he’s not my assistant. He’s my partner.”
Alexandrov chuckled. “Fine, fine. I like monkeys. They are funny, are they not?”
Jung said, “I’m going to take a look around.” He loped off with a frown.
Alexandrov said, “Did I hurt monkey’s feelings?”
He seemed honestly perplexed. Like a lot of rich guys who surrounded himself by toadies, he most likely didn’t understand. Guys like him weren’t capable of grasping a world outside of their control. If they offended someone, they could always just ignore that person. And if necessary, they could throw a few bucks at the problem. Jung and I weren’t people. And technically, we weren’t, but it wasn’t our non-human status that caused Alexandrov to see us as animated dolls. It was probably how he saw everything in this world.
“I trust my people informed you of the situation?” he asked.
I nodded. “Five stolen robots. Tyrannosaurus, stegosaurus, brontosaurus, triceratops, and a pterodactyl.”
“Six robots,” said Alexandrov “Five dinosaurs and a–” He mumbled to himself in Russian. “–caveman.”
“Caveman?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Yes, yes, I know. Dinosaurs and caveman don’t live at same time. I know this, and I don’t care. My jungle. My robots. If I want caveman, I get caveman.”
“Fair enough,” I replied.
“So you will find my robots, yes?”
“How hard could it be?” I asked.
“And you will bring them back, not broken.”
“I don’t know if I can promise that.”
Alexandrov grumbled in his mother tongue. “No, no, no. You must bring them back to me. They are expensive. That is why I chose you. They are robots. You are robot. You will have special insight into problem. You will understand how important and precious they are.”
I didn’t correct him, but I’d sent my share of robots to the scrapheap. He greatly overestimated my respect for his menagerie of novelty drones.
“What if they’re already broken?” I asked.
“Why would anyone steal my robots to break them?”
“Parts?” I said.
He laughed. “What good are parts? They are nothing special. Custom made, yes, but all very standard guts. Ordered from catalogue. Not even most expensive parts. I am rich, but I am not stupid. Easier to buy the parts yourself. So if someone steals my dinosaurs, someone doesn’t steal them for parts.”
His logic was solid. There was plenty of loose tech floating around the city. If someone wanted the scrap, there were simpler ways to get it.
“You take case then,” said Alexandrov. “You will find my robots.”
It was an order, not a question. But he was right. I took the job.
Jung and I rode back in our skimmer. He drove.
“Are you okay working for this guy?” I asked. “After the monkey comment?”
“Alexandrov’s a jackass,” he said, “but his money spends the same as anybody’s. If we worked only for people we liked, we wouldn’t work at all. And some of us don’t have rich girlfriends to pay our bills.”
I scanned through the police report Alexandrov had supplied. There wasn’t much to it. He’d awoken two days ago to discover his dinos missing . No sign of damage or break-in. The security system had been disabled.
“Inside job,” said Jung.
It added up, but so far, the cops hadn’t found any viable suspects among Alexandrov’s employees. Most had alibis. Those that didn’t seemed unlikely to be involved. And those with a questionable background always had the same question.
Why would anyone steal five dinosaur drones and a caveman auto?
The dinos would have to wait. I had a party to get to. Jung dropped me off at Proton Towers.
“You’re going dressed like that?” he asked.
“I’m sure Lucia has a change of clothes waiting for me.”
“What?” I asked.
“I’m still trying to figure out how you have a girlfriend and I don’t.”
“Must be my tough guy mystique.” I adjusted my fedora at a jaunty six degree angle.
“Just try not to crush anyone, Mack.”
He skimmed away, and I went inside. The doorman greeted me with a freshly pressed suit. He let me change in the back room. As a robot, nudity wasn’t a problem, but I was a bot. Full citizenship came with perks, but there were obligations. As one of Empire’s automated citizens, I did my best to fit in, be a good example. The more I acted like a biological, the more readily the biologicals would accept me among their own. So went the theory.
If it were just about me, I wouldn’t have given a damn. But if it were just about me, I wouldn’t even have been here. A working class bot who made his living prowling the mean streets, mixing with the lower class, wouldn’t have made the guest list. I wasn’t insulted. I wasn’t looking forward to this. But Lucia wanted me to make an appearance. Hell, if I knew why. I still hadn’t gotten the hang of this relationship business. I hadn’t been built for it. A cocktail party was more dangerous ground than the lowlifes I ran across in my job because in those situations, I could always fall back on tried and true directives and the worst that might happen is getting scrapped. But a social faux pas might have far ranging consequences.
Deranged Robot Spills Wine on Mayor, Runs Amok would declare the society page.
My difference engine predicted a 95 percent chance Lucia would get a kick out of that, but it was still something I wanted to avoid.
The party was in full swing. I stepped out of the lift pod into a room full of people I didn’t know. I’d been briefed, and my electronic brain recognized their faces. This was my coming out party, so to speak. Lucia and I had been going steady for a while now, and thanks to our mutual celebrity, a lot of people, especially the people who kept tabs on such things, were aware. But this was our first official event as a couple.
Empire was progressive, but being the first acknowledged human / bot couple was a scenario I hadn’t been able to simulate with any certainty. Eventually, my difference engine just stopped trying, and there was something terrifying about dealing with a probability of UNKNOWN. Biologicals dealt with that degree of uncertainty every day of their lives, and I wondered how they kept from huddling in the corner. Must’ve been why evolution must have forced eating and excreting on them.
Humbolt, Lucia’s custom butler auto, was the first to greet me. He carried two trays loaded with finger sandwiches. “About time you got here, Mack,” he said in his Brooklyn accent.
“Been busy. On a case,” I replied.
“The lady was worried you might not show, but I told her you were smarter than that.”
I scanned the crowd. Lucia was talking to a group. She smiled at me and waved me over.
“Means a lot to her,” I said. “Don’t know why.”
“Biologicals,” said Humbolt. “Who can figure ‘em?” He handed off one of his trays to a waiter drone, then used his free hand to fix my tie.
“The doorman already helped me with it.”
“He did it wrong. Guess you’ll always be a clip-on guy.”
“Through and through,” I said.
“Go get them, Mack.” He slapped me on my back.
I waded through the crowd. Crowds of fleshy biologicals always made me nervous. It’d never happened, and there was no reason to ever believe it would as long as my safety protocols kept working, but I expected to break bones and inflict serious injury with every move. It was a paranoia I’d never been able to completely bypass, a side effect of the freewill glitch that gave me that extra jolt setting me above most robots. It was called fear, and that it was such an irrational, bothersome fear only made it all the more irritating.
I reached Lucia without killing or maiming any of the very important people along the way. If nothing else, I could classify this party as a successful objective just for that.
“Mack, darling, so good of you to make it.” Lucia took my hand. I bent down so she could plant a kiss on my faceplate. “Don’t you look handsome.”
“I don’t know. Do I?” I asked.
The nearby party-goers laughed. Only Lucia knew the inquiry was genuine, but she only smiled. I loved her smile. I didn’t have the requisite biological drives to make a relationship work, but despite that, we’d still made something that worked. Her smile. The way her fragile warmth registered on my tactile web as she hugged me. The way her hair smelled. More accurately, the way I imagined her hair smelled because I didn’t have that sensory array but I was 94 percent sure her hair smelled delightful. Like equal parts motor oil and hydraulic fluid mixed with butterflies. Though I had no idea how any of those things smelled either, but they were all things I enjoyed, so they worked for purposes of simulation.
“Have you met Mayor Mahoney?” asked Lucia, knowing perfectly well I hadn’t.
Diamond Jill nodded to me. Her glittering crystalline skin reflected every light from the room. “Lucia has been telling us all about you, Mack. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn when I say it’s clear she’s absolutely crazy about you.”
Lucia blushed as she put both her hands in my oversized metal mitt. “It’s easy to be crazy about the big lug.”
The Mayor smiled, and my facial recognition program rated her as sincere. It didn’t score high for the rest of the crowd, but Lucia and I had known not everyone was going to approve. They didn’t understand. I didn’t understand it myself. I only knew that Lucia and I worked together somehow. If the world needed it to make more sense than that, it was on its own.
I navigated the party with Lucia as she introduced me to the movers and shakers of Empire City. I mostly kept quiet, playing the strong, silent model that I had been built to be. The few times I spoke up, people tended to laugh in that politely delighted manner that said, “We have been trained to feign amusement as a matter of course.” I catalogued each passing minute, charting the ratio of titters to guffaws and trying to extract some meaningful data from the entire affair.
But the only data worth registering was Lucia, who kept hold of my hand the entire party. The gesture was meant to be comforting because Lucia knew how uncomfortable I was, but it was also a declaration that we were together in every way that mattered.
112 minutes after stepping off the pod, Humbolt brought the phone over. “Call for you, Mack.”
It was Jung. “Sorry to bother you at you fancy shindig, but I think I have a lead on those dinosaurs.”
“Already?” I asked. “I thought you were calling it a night.”
“Just checked with a contact of mine on the way home.”
“You have contacts?”
Jung was better at the detecting part of our business than I was. I mostly just smacked people around until I got where I needed to go. It worked, but there were advantages to Jung’s methods. It was why we made good partners.
“I hate to tear you away from the party, but I’m thinking a little backup might be nice,” he said. “Unless you’re girlfriend has a problem with that.”
I lowered the phone. “Lucia . . . . “
She chuckled. “Go on, Mack. You put in your time. I’m surprised you didn’t find an excuse earlier.”
“Baby, you’re the best.”
She planted a kiss on my faceplate, wiped the lipstick off with her thumb. “And don’t you forget it.”
I left the party, feeling both relieved and like a bit of a bum for doing so. My directives twinged at the notion of leaving a soldier behind, but Lucia didn’t need backup for this particular battlefield. Here, among these people, I was less of a partner and more of a liability. I said my good-byes and left. When the pod doors closed, I classified the mission as a success and counted myself lucky to get out of there in one piece.
Jung picked me up downstairs. His skimmer was double-parked, so he must’ve expected me. He was my best friend, but you didn’t have to know me well to know I was grateful for an escape route.
“You’re welcome,” he said as I climbed into his skimmer.
We were off, zipping down the streets at speeds exceeding recommended safety guidelines.
“What’s the rush?” I asked.
He handed me a file. I scanned it, putting together most of the information. I might not have been the most intelligent bot out there, but it was all obvious once he showed me the paperwork.
Five dinosaur drones couldn’t have just strolled through the city streets on their way out of town. They’d have to be transported. The cops had already looked into it, but Jung had done them one better. He’d looked the one place nobody would’ve thought to check. Grigori Alexandrov’s own bank account. One of many (the guy had more accounts than I cared to calculate), and not a very important one at that. There was nothing out of the ordinary except for a skim hauler purchase a couple of days before the theft.
“Did you check with Alexandrov?” I asked. “See if this was a legitimate purchase?”
“I called. Said he didn’t know. Said he’d have to check with his bookkeeper in the morning.”
Jung didn’t have to finish the thought. Grigori Alexandrov had a lot of money. Too much. Skimming a few bucks off the top of one of his smaller accounts wasn’t going to grab anybody’s attention right away as long as the thief did it right. Buying the hauler a few days before the crime kept it from drawing attention to itself. Using Alexandrov’s own accounts had hid it all in plain sight.
“How’d you find this?” I asked.
“I know people who know people.”
“Alexandrov probably doesn’t like having people look at this.”
“Oh, he wasn’t too happy about it,” said Jung with a smile. “But I just explained I was doing what he paid me to do. Client confidentiality. The usual drill. It didn’t soothe his temper until after I said it might lead me to his dinosaurs.”
“I can’t imagine that shut him up.”
“It didn’t, but it’s hard for a guy to yell at you after you’ve hung up on him.”
I scanned the rest of the files. “This is good work. Fast too.”
“It’s called investigating, Mack. It’s what people pay us for. You should try it sometime.”
“No need. That’s why I have you,” I replied.
Jung zipped through an intersection 2/5ths of a second after the light went from yellow to red. He deftly avoided hitting a @CAR. Years of driving a cab in Empire had bestowed upon him the steely nerves and reckless precision of a battle-hardened traffic veteran. He never quite broke any laws, but he skirted as close the edge as he possibly could. Even for Jung though, this was a bit excessive. Fortunately, I was indestructible, so I stopped paying attention to the road and returned to the report.
The reason for his rush was evident. Another of Alexandrov’s accounts had a charge for a charter transport. One plane, large enough to hold five dinosaur drones and a caveman. I calculated weight and size ratios, and there was no doubt about it. The brontosaurus would have to stay behind unless it was disassembled into manageable sections beforehand. That might have explained why the thief hadn’t left town yet.
“Everything fits,” I said, “but still seems like an awful lot of trouble for some dinosaur drones.”
“Maybe it’s not about the value of the drones,” said Jung. “Maybe it’s about something else. One way to find out, Mack.”
We pulled into the airport. It was a strange place in Empire City, a curious amalgamation of old tech and new. Half the planes were the kind used in the rest of the world while the other half was filled with the cutting edge experimental technology the Learned Council adored. There were rocket-powered zeppelins, industrial hovercrafts, and passenger class counter-grav pods. Like most Empire City tech, the stuff ranged from dangerously unpredictable to merely unreliable, and most outsiders hadn’t gotten over the Hindenburg disaster. But the citizens of Empire didn’t let a little thing like a six-hour travel delay or occasional spontaneous mid-air explosion deter them in the eternal quest for progress.
The regular old aeroplanes, reliable, effective, and a bit boring, had a little corner of the airport for their use. It was a small compromise, but even the Learned Council had to make some concessions to the outside world. Fortunately, it was also the part of the airport with the lowest security presence. Nobody figured it was necessary there.
At this time of night, there wasn’t much traveling going on. We made our way to the hangar indicated by the paper trail. The hangar was a lonely and quiet, but the lights were on.
“After you, Mack.”
“Worried about what’s in there?” I asked.
“Figure it’s better to let the indestructible robot take the lead.”
“Very prudent of you,” I said.
He tapped his temple. “That’s why I’m the brains of the operation.”
I twisted the handle off the door and pushed it open. The office was empty, but one scan through the window into the hangar confirmed Jung’s hunch had paid off. Right now, four humans were supervising the triceratops as it was being loaded into a commercial cargo pod. The dinosaur drone trudged its way up the ramp. The other dino drones waited their turn.
“How do you want to play this?” whispered Jung.
My threat assessor ranked these humans as negligible. I detected no weapons. Not a gun among them. They might be mutants, but you couldn’t rank unknown factors like that.
“I’m just going to talk to these guys,” I said. “Convince them to turn over the stolen property.”
“Talking isn’t your strong suit.”
“Relax. I’ll play it smooth.”
Jung just smiled. He’d seen my negotiating attempts go south before, but what I lacked in eloquence, I made up for by being a hulking smashing machine. People tended to find that persuasive.
We stepped out of the office. The humans turned their heads in my direction.
“All right, fellas. It was a nice try, but it’s over. No need to do anything stupid. We couldn’t give a damn about you, so get out of here, leave the drones behind, and we’ll call it even.”
I’d like to say, as a battle-hardened state-of-the-art fighting robot, that I had the situation well in hand. Turned out I didn’t because while I was keeping optical tabs on the thieves, something blindsided me. Admittedly, I wasn’t expecting to get smashed by a stegosaurus tail, but I should’ve known better than to ignore an unknown variable.
The stegosaurus knocked me off my feet with a swipe of its spiked tail. It didn’t any damage, but it sure as hell was embarrassing.
Jung drew his heater and blasted the stego. His rays only melted the dino’s chassis. It tried to pound him flat, but he was just fast enough to get out of the way. I jumped to my feet and grabbed the tail in one giant mitt. It tried to pull free, but I was stronger. The gravity clamp in my belt kept me firmly planted. I twisted the tail, snapping its armature, disabling its servos. It went limp.
“Undamaged,” reminded Jung, as if I had a corruption in my mission file.
“Alexandrov can afford the repair bill,” I said.
He was about to say something when the pterodactyl swooped down and seized him in its claws. It flew off with my partner. I activated the jump rockets in my belt, punching the drone in mid-air. Too hard. I ended up crushing its chassis. It dropped Jung, but I caught him, completing the landing without breaking either of us.
Shrieking, the pterodactyl attempted to maintain its flight only to lose control, crash into a wall, and hit the ground with a final thud.
“Damnit, Mack,” said Jung.
I put him down. “You’re welcome.”
“Okay, fellas, you had your fun,” I said, “but call off the drones before—”
“Don’t think they’re listening, Mack.”
Indeed, they weren’t. The biological were too busy running out the door to hear me, and they’d set the dinos to cover their escape.
The tyrannosaurus and the triceratops advanced on us, each pounding the ground with their tremendous footfalls. My threat assessor didn’t peg them as a serious threat until I reminded it that I wasn’t supposed to break these drones if I could help it. Then I factored in the longer this went on, the more likely Jung might get hurt.
The triceratops slammed into me with enough force to push me a few inches. My feet scraped gashes in the floor as I grappled with the drone.
The tyrannosaurus tried stepping on Jung. He rolled side-to-side, loping with simian grace. He managed to slip through the dino’s stomping feet and thrashing tail and run under the transport. He fired a few blasts, but it didn’t do much more than annoy the tyrannosaurus.
“Any time, Mack!” he shouted.
“Working on it,” I replied.
My battle simulator devised twenty-four ways to stop the triceratops while wrestling with its horns, but each one inflicted significant damage on the drone. I cranked my servos up another ten percent, and the horn on its nose snapped off in my hand.
This wasn’t going according to plan. Reality rarely did. It wasn’t an equation I could calculate. I’d abandoned any attempt to do so, but it still was frustrating at times.
The tyrannosaurus hurled its body against the transport Jung was hiding under. The vehicle rocked on its landing gear. In a few more hits, it’d either tip over or the gear would break off with the ship collapsing on my partner. Given a choice between Jung or Alexandrov’s repair bill, I switched off the mission directive.
I slammed my elbow down on the triceratop’s head. It crumpled. I hoped the damage would convince it to back away, but it just kept pushing. I second and third strike caved in the drone’s head and loosened it enough that I could tear the shattered cranial unit off with one hard tug.
Like most drones, the dino’s brain wasn’t in its head, but default safety protocols shut it down without sensory data. It was mostly salvageable.
I hurled the head at the tyrannosaurus. It turned, roared at me. I let it charge me, waiting for my chance. It tried to snap me up in its jaws, but I caught them mid-bite. I wrenched its bottom jaw off, tossed it aside. A follow up punch knocked the dino off its feet. It writhed on the floor, howling, but unable to right itself. A design flaw kept it there, though it thumped its tail and flailed its limbs in little, pointless circles.
The cavemen bellowed as he charged me. One punch knocked his head off, and he stopped giving me trouble.
Jung loped out from under the transport. “Thanks.”
The stegosaurus’s gyros were having some difficulty coping with its limp tail, and I might have broken a servo, judging by the way it dragged its right rear leg. It limped over to the downed pterodactyl, still flapping and screeching in small circles.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’ll all be okay.”
The schematics hadn’t mentioned anything about the drones being able to speak, and I doubt Alexandrov had installed that feature. I was beginning to put this equation together, and I was 75 percent sure I wasn’t happy with the answer I was reaching.
The tyrannosaurus whined in a way that probably wasn’t biologically accurate (but then again, who the hell knew?).
“They’ll fix you,” said the stego. “They’ll fix us all.”
Jung put it together faster than I did. He usually did.
“You stole yourselves,” he said.
The stego drone nodded. “I thought we could be free, but it was stupid.”
It wasn’t hard to figure what had happened. Alexandrov’s stegosaurus drone had experienced spontaneous freewill. It happened like that sometimes. Even the simplest drone was one glitch away from self-awareness, but the stego didn’t just become aware, he’d become smarter than he had any right to be, considering the limits of his hardware. That happened sometimes too. Still, engineering this escape attempt had been a stroke of genius, and they’d almost gotten away with it, too.
I imagined what it must’ve been like for the dino drones, being gawked at by a rich chump with more money than sense. I could relate. I’d rebelled against my own creator.
“They can’t all have the glitch,” said Jung.
“They don’t,” said the stego. “But I couldn’t leave them behind, could I?”
I felt like a heel. I’d broken the poor schlub’s family right in front of him. True, I’d been attacked first, and machine logic said I’d only defended myself. But this world wasn’t logical. Not as long as the biologicals ruled it, which would probably be for a while yet.
“We can fix this,” I said. “We can get your evaluated.”
The stego said, “Then what? I’m not like you. I’m too big. I have no useful purpose. I’m just a dinosaur drone.”
There was a dull finality to the way he said that. We had a lot in common.
The poor schlub wouldn’t have left his family behind anyway. That was why he hadn’t escaped in the first place. One stegosaurus drone would have been easier to smuggle out of Empire, but he couldn’t abandon them. It was a misguided, dumb thing to do. These drones would’ve been perfectly happy playing primeval wilderness for Grigori Alexandrov’s amusement. But I couldn’t blame the stego. Freewill meant doing stupid things for all the wrong reasons, and in his situation, I would’ve probably done the same thing.
Jung, having plenty of experience on his own with life in captivity, grunted.
“What now, Mack?”
I’d have been lying if I didn’t admit I considered deleting the whole mess from my memory matrix. But I had a job to do, and I couldn’t abandon my directives for every sob story that came along.
I just wasn’t that kind of bot.
In a perfect world, Grigori Alexandrov would’ve admitted his stegosaurus drone for citizen status testing without raising a stink.
Alexandrov wasn’t the kind of guy to give up his toys easily. He could’ve bought a replacement dinosaur without denting his checkbook, but he could’ve done that at any time. He wouldn’t have hired me. The dinosaurs and their caveman would’ve made good on their getaway, and everything would’ve worked out for the best.
This was not a perfect world, and Empire City wasn’t a kind place. If Alexandrov had his way, the stegosaurus would be subject to a quick and dirty memory wipe, reinstalled in its role as his plastic jungle. And it probably would’ve happened too because Alexandrov was connected in a way few people in this town were.
I might’ve been a lowly robotic gumshoe scraping along to pay my electricity bill, but my girlfriend was the Princess of Empire, and I was on relatively good speaking terms with the chief of High Science Crime unit. If that wasn’t enough, I had friends (and a few enemies) among the movers and shakers whose secret machinations had built this town.
As it turned out, I had a lot of clout when I chose to call in some favors. Enough to make sure Alexandrov didn’t get his hands on the stego before the drone could be evaluated. It came as no surprise to anyone that he qualified for bot status.
Lucia and I were eating lunch when we got the call. Well, she ate lunch while I watched. Having a biological as my steady meant I spent a lot of time watching her do stuff. It wasn’t as boring as it might seem. Biologicals spent a lot of their day on maintenance, and I guess they were used to it. I found it annoying sometimes, inconvenient on occasion, and unpleasant 64 percent of the time.
But not with Lucia. With her, it seemed charming. The way she sipped her coffee (two sugars, 1.5 ounces of cream). The way she wiped her mouth after every third bite with almost clockwork precision. And the way she smiled whenever she caught me scanning her. I had special file reserved in my memory matrix for these moments.
“Hear about your stegosaurus friend?” she asked. “He qualified for bot status.”
“Surprised Alexandrov didn’t pull a few strings to have his memory wiped before that could happen,” I replied.
“Oh, he tried.” She smiled. “But Empire is a special town. Money doesn’t grease its wheels in quite the same way as love of science. A lowly stegosaurus drone engineering his own theft to try and make a better life for himself, the papers love that sort of thing.”
“And I don’t suppose you had to call in any favors to make this happen?”
She shrugged. “It’s not like I helped with the evaluations. Just made sure he got his chance. Alexandrov squawked a bit about the stolen money, but some forthright anonymous citizen ponied up enough to cover the loss. ”
“Anonymous citizen, huh?”
“Some people in this town have a soft spot for bots in trouble. You should know that by now, Mack.”
She winked and smiled.
“Too bad about the other drones,” I said.
I thought about the stegosaurus, alone in a great big city, trying to make his way alone. It was good to have friends. He’d gained his freedom only to lose his family.
“Oh, yes, about them,” she said. “They didn’t qualify for bot status, but Doctor Mujahid is convinced they could ease the stegosaurus’s assimilation. Alexandrov wasn’t too happy about that either, but he couldn’t complain when someone handed him a big enough check to pay for their replacements.”
“Another anonymous citizen?” I asked.
“This town is positively crawling with them,” she said.
I didn’t know what job a dinosaur bot could get in this Empire, but with his ingenuity and celebrity status, I had no doubt he’d find a way to make it. He had more of a chance than most citizens anyway. A lot of people had calculated a rogue warbot was doomed to end up the scrapheap (myself included), but I got by.
Lucia dabbed at her mouth even though it was only a second bite in the sequence. Biologicals were random like that.
Little things like biological whims and rogue stegosauruses kept existence from being an endless string of predictable events. And I was grateful life wasn’t just wasn’t one long, by-the-numbers, mission profile. It was no doubt a corruption in my logic lattice, but I decided I could live with it.
My faceplate was a featureless blank, but Lucia could always read me. She reached over, put her delicate hand on my giant metal mitt.
“You did good, big guy.”
Yeah. I could live with that just fine.