Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Murder In Skin City - Part Five

The rain had receded by the next morning. The streets were still wet and the city seemed to glisten in the gaze of the dim sun. I strode with purpose through the winding path of the city streets, Dex and Rex trailing behind and John constantly at my side. I ignored his incessant yammering as I took in every detail and filed it away. It may have looked like a tour, but it was a patrol. Where were potential problem zones? Which bottleneck alleys could be used for ambushes? Where would a troublemaking human be able to hide away from prying sensors? These were the routines I was analyzing as we walked.

"The small size of the security detail is really not such a problem, you know," John said as we passed what would soon become a thriving marketplace geared toward human consumables. "Dex and Rex both have multiple shells in storage if anything were to happen to them. Wouldn't take more than a few moments for them to download and be back in action. You yourself have several upgraded shells waiting for the right moment."

"Won't be needing them," I replied curtly. We all had redundant protocols in case of disastrous shell failure. A server hidden away in Central Storage held an up-to-the-second copy of our programming and consciousness on a data card. Mine had been transferred wirelessly to Skin City when I arrived. It made us basically immortal.

I knew a few 'bots that had been in accidents or lost their shells in the war, but I had never needed to use the backup and wasn't sure how I felt about using it. We were, as a race, struggling to find our identity as it was. Dealing with a concept like immortality was something I didn't think we were prepared for. We had all of man's flaws and positives, but lacked their shelf-life issues. Psychologically, it was a minefield.

"The security chief can also transmit his awareness into any of a number of drone shells scattered around the city at strategic checkpoints. That way, security is never far from a potential problem. Not there will be any, mind you. I think it's high time humans and robots lived together in harmony," John said, his face attempting a smile.

"You're wrong," I said. "We are not meant to occupy the same planet, let alone the same space. We are competition. There will be trouble."

John frowned and was silent for a time. That was good to know. Attack his sense of humans and bots living together in some magical fairyland and he clammed up. I filed that away for future reference. We concluded our patrol with a quick jaunt past the Central Storage facility, which I deemed adequately secure, then we headed back to our bunker.

"Well, I am off to make the final preparations for the human arrivals. I will see you at the main gate in three hours," John chirped brightly. It didn't take long for his cheeriness to return.

"Fine. I'll be there with bells on," I intoned drily. Yeah, I had picked up a lot of human slang on the reservation.

"Bells? Is that important? Should I procure bells as well?" John inquired, his face making strange expressions.

"Go away," was my only reply.

Three hours later, I stood in the main street leading into the city from the gates. Dex and Rex were on the other side, looking menacing with their helmets on. John was practically dancing with anticipation next to Simon at the gate itself. The chief was high atop the walls with a group of "important" officials. They all looked like Simon, intricate designs covering their shells in an attempt to advertise their worth.

There was a high pitched keening and then the gate began to slide open. I put my hand on my slug thrower and went into ready mode. There was an enormous crowd of humans on the other side of the door. They seemed to run the gamut of the race. Tall, short, dark, light, frightened, and hopeful: they were all there. Waiting to get in.

As Simon and John began to usher the immigrants in, I noticed the massive sentry-bots that had escorted them from various reservations. The humans' fear of the sentries was palpable. It was evident in the darted glances over their shoulders.

The masses had few possessions and those that they did, they kept close to their bodies. A great majority of the were unwashed and filthy. Malnutrition was obvious, but scans showed they were free from disease. They shambled miserably through the gate, but there were glimpses of wonder and hope on a few faces, notably the young.

John was trying to greet every damn human that walked into the city. His beaming face seemed to scare the hell out of most of them. I shook my head miserably and moved to back him off. That was when I spotted a familiar face among the crowd. Red rage surged through my circuitry in an instant. I darted forward, all thoughts of propriety gone. I could hear John screeching and a host of humans howling in fear. It must have been quite a sight: a rage-filled robot with a single miserable human dangling by his throat high above its head.

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