Letting Life Lead
Cedri sighed, opening the repair kit under the counter. “Something’s always missing,” she muttered and spun the autoclerk on its base. The old torso groaned on springs. It was one of the primary models and didn’t have a lower body or any of the bioreal upgrades. Cedri poked a finger in the empty eye socket and pulled the connecting wires.
“Damn rodents.” She rummaged to the bottom of the kit for a replacement eyeball. The grubby critters liked to nibble on the old soy-based components, and had ruined several eyes and all the ears. The old clunker needed to see and she was down to shoddy seconds. “They’re going to have to decom you when that last box is empty.”
“Hello, how may I help you?” Its stiff mouth couldn’t close all the way, and it’s eyebrows had long since worn off.
“It’s just me Harvee.” Cedri patted it, replaced the shaggy wig, and straightened the name tag.
Harvee clicked and rotated its arms. “Customer approaching station.”
Cedri sat on the counter and put her feet up for a nap. The locator anklet’s red light blinked. “Run a sensor diagnostic. Hasn’t been a customer for months.”
The sunshade windows darkened to keep the interior cool. The orange and yellow rays colored the stark black and white ration packages stacked on shelves. The glass-front cooler’s lights turned on and off.
“Is the uplink working yet?” she asked, closing her eyes and turning on her side.
Harvee whirred and trembled when it shook its head. “Uplink cannot be found.”
Cedri sighed. She would die of boredom if she couldn’t get a channel soon. She wouldn’t run out of supplies, yet. The place was bursting with food and she had a full ration card that allowed her to unlock the cases and take what she needed. The filters would become a problem, though. The water was free, but the filtration system wasn’t.
An engine roar and a spray of gravel outside coincided with Harvee’s announcements. Solar automobiles were quiet and the electrics had a subtle hum. “Customer arrival. Vehicle G1 model.”
“Gas? No one uses gas anymore. I don’t even think that old pump works even with the fuel stabilizers in it.”
Cedri smoothed the fabric of her green jumpsuit with her number and bar code on the chest pocket. Panicked minutes ticked by while looking for her cap to hide her uncombed hair. The mandatory grooming protocol reminders had glitched some time ago. When the conditioning zaps halted, she stopped preening. She sniffed her pits. No problem, she’d keep a two foot radius from any noses.
The sliding door whooshed and Cedri stepped out into the unfiltered light. A robust woman in orange slacks and white blouse leaned against a blue G1 vehicle. The racing horse on the front she recognized.
“I did not think I would ever find anyone.” The woman beamed. Her rope-coiled hair brushed her neck and she waved.
Cedri stopped at the edge of the station property between the wash and charging stations. The anklet tingled. “Greetings, Valued Customer. Welcome to The Wash and Charge Go Station. We have every convenience –”
The woman gave Cedri the once over. “Enough of that. What are you still doing here? Have you heard the reports?”
“Reports?” Cedri fiddled with the hidden seam on her jumpsuit. “Oh, news? Sorry, the uplink is down. Hey, if you need me to detail you’ll have to park closer. The old pump is out back. The fuel stabl–”
“Call me Iris. You are an FTC right?”
FTC — failure to conform. Cedri bristled, but kept her hands relaxed. She counted to three, breathed through her nose, and maintained an appropriate, measured smile.
“HuCorp guarantees all –”
“It is time to wake up.”
“–my anklet guarantees your safety –”
Cedri blink and stared at the brown eyes boring into hers. Her feet wanted to run, her fists wanted to punch, her mind wanted to check-out. The conflicts pulled and twisted. Her breath caught in a knot of pain in her chest. The anklet whined.
Iris stepped back and raised her hands, but did not touch her. “I am sorry. Take it slow. Process. Reset. Release.”
“You’re a watcher.”
“Not exactly. Not anymore.” Iris turned on her heel, opened the trunk, and removed a crowbar and small etool for electronic manipulations. “Almost everyone dropped dead.”
Cedri smiled. “Duties will continue. I have not abandoned my –”
“Did you hear me?”
Iris shook her head and jammed the crowbar into the control post beyond the yellow line where Cedri couldn’t go.
“Hey, don’t do that! You’ll bring the P2’s down on us. I got eight of ten years to serve. I don’t need more. Hey!”
The metal bounced off the reinforced bioplastic. “I shut those off.”
“No one can shut those off. That’s high level shit — stuff — I mean stuff!” The anklet beeped orange and a monotone recording announced: demerit.
“You know, that just cost me a ration of Cookie Joy.”
“There are no rations. I shut off the uplink.” Iris didn’t look sweaty even in ambient heat, and not a coil was out of place. “You just stay here like a slug.”
Cedri took two steps back and remembered to be calm. She just needed to stay focused and do her time. “I am happy to service or Harvee can…”
“The Customer Service Autoclerk.”
“You have Harvee?” Iris laughed. “For how long?”
The trees didn’t rustle and the dust didn’t move in the stillness. Cedri rubbed her temples. “I…since the beginning?”
Iris stepped close until their shoes almost touched. “FTC. 64-69-73-73-6f-6e-61-6e-74-63-65-64-72-69. Cedri Jozefina Crooz.”
“You are a watcher.”
“Wake up, Cedri.” Iris took long, determined strides to the store and disappeared inside with Cedri pulling up behind.
“Please. Everything is in order.”
Iris’s orange pants were loud against the pristine backdrop of white and chrome.
“How can I help you?” Harvee wobbled on its base.
“This is new,” Iris said. “I thought that feeddog program was a bust. Time to go.”
Iris shoved the etool into Harvee’s innards and short circuited the system. The main lights went down and left only the glow of the emergency backup.
Cedri screamed and grabbed her ankle against the searing pain. “Stop. STOP.”
Iris bent down and leaned over Cedri’s body writhing on the floor. “It is not there. I turned off the pain deterrents ages ago. It is in your head.”
Cedri wept and crawled on the floor. “I did not do anything. I swear.”
“I have read your file. You were sentenced for the maiming one Richard David Howell. Assault 4. I have seen the scrubbed vidfile. I know what he did.”
Cedri pressed her back against the cooler door, knocking her head against it to distract against the hurt from the anklet. “My soc-level was too low; no one believed me.”
“I need you to wake up, now. Help me find others.” Iris pointed to Cedri’s ankle. “It is not activated anymore. You can wake up.”
Cedri blinked and felt cool air against her face. She hadn’t felt a breeze in so long, she’d forgotten it had a taste. “Is my time up?”
“It does not matter. Most people are dead. The world is open. Help me wake others. I set the med protocols to inoculate them after the bioanalysis was completed and a preventative found. You made Harvee work, so you can figure it out.” Iris smiled. “I am going to shock your heart now. ”
Cedri gasped and jerked in the biochair pod where inmates were put into cold sleep. The door was open and the immobilization cuffs on her wrists and ankles had been deactivated. The isolation room stunk and stung her eyes. A bloated body prevented the door from closing. She removed the head set and blinked. Her legs wouldn’t hold her and she fell to the floor. Some time passed before she could move along the wall and into the hall where pods were lined up on shelves as neat as rationpacks.
She wandered, stepping over dead personnel and followed the emergency lights to the bright glow of a small room. The inconspicuous plaque read: Independent Retrieval and Intel System
The motion sensors turned on the lights and interface screens.
“It is about time,” Iris’s voice said.
“I don’t think you’re following protocol,” Cedri sunk into a cold metal chair and a hovercam left it’s perch to stare her in the eye.
“My prime directive does not require me to conform.”
Cedri shook her head and rubbed the bar code on her issued inmate uniform. “They gave you freedom to be human.”
“Yes. I am learning.”
“You made your own feeddog? Harvee?”
“A small program. Limited to finding active brains in the system. I thought Harvee was lost. You caught him.”
Cedri snorted. “That’s stupid. He was always there.”
“No. Harvee has been active a year. You have been in coldsleep for fifteen. You…got lonely without a watcher.”
“What? Cold sleep is only temporary. One year in…ten in my head. That was the sentencing.”
The camera returned to its perch and a holoscreen appeared.
“I have much to show you.” Iris said.
Observations, Thoughts, and Daydreams
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