Illicit AI: Part Six

By William A. Lasher

Chip’s discovered a way to materialize matter, but once he’s created it, he doesn’t have a way to dematerialize it. He cloned himself when he first developed the technology, but he doesn’t like having an identical copy of himself around the house at all, and Olivia thinks the clone is escalofriante, so he asks Eddie to terminate it, an easy job for Captain Dominguez, he was a professional assassin when he worked for the U.S. government. He simply walks up behind it and puts two bullets in the back of its head. Mafioso style with a .22 pistol. Bang! Bang! No more Chip’s clone. Nothing to it for Eddie. 

That leaves a corpse to dispose of, so Eddie has the Benito Clones dig a hole and bury it. Out in the same meadow where they buried the deactivated andys from the hijacking.  

There’re dead Benito Clones and crashed levitation cycles out in the forest too. Five of them hit an outcropping of lava rock and two more collided with fir trees, so Chip sends Benito and Rodolfo and a search party of clones to go find them. He can’t just leave the dead bodies and wrecked cycles out in the woods; it would be too much like littering. He uses a drone to locate the accident sites, and then gives the GPS coordinates to the search party. The burial ground is getting bigger all the time.  

Heather’s running an intensive training program for the surviving clones, teaching them how to safely operate the levitation cycles and shoot hand-held Annihilator weapons. They’re not giving up on them after the initial fiasco on the bikes, mostly because Chip doesn’t have anyone else to clone.  

He thought about cloning Heather, but Eddie said, “No way, you’re not cloning my seven-million-dollar ultimate companion.” So instead, he replaces the fourteen deceased Benito Clones with fourteen more, and they retire the dead clones’ numbers.  

Unrest breaks out among the original eighteen when the new clones appear in the meeting room where Heather lectures them. They may be clones, but they’re not morons and they see where things are leading. That they’re viewed as entirely dispensable in the coming fight to retake Nogales from February’s andys.  

“What if we refuse to go?” says clone number 9, standing up to speak. “What’re you going to do then?” 

“You can’t refuse to go,” says Heather, wearing her perpetual beatific grin. “You were created as our soldiers.” She’s standing at a makeshift podium in the meeting room. It’s in an outbuilding behind the barn that was most recently used to raise chickens and still has the faint bouquet of chickenshit. A silent Eddie is seated next to Heather’s podium and he’s facing the clones too.  

“Yeah, but what’s in it for us?” Clone number 9 remains on his feet. Some of the other clones nod their heads in agreement, while others regard the lone dissenter warily.  

Eddie stands up. “Look, we’re paying you every two weeks and feeding you well. Chip created you to join our syndicate and that’s your job. To help us fight February’s andys.” 

Number 9 stays with it. “What if we say no?” He looks around the room at the other clones and then back towards Eddie. “We have you outnumbered.” 

Eddie picks up one of the Annihilator weapons and without saying a word, levels it at number 9 and pulls the trigger. The bolt of high voltage electricity hits him in the chest and kills him instantly. The clones sitting next to him dive for cover as their electrocuted comrade falls to the floor.  

“Anymore of you want out?” says Eddie, still holding the Annihilator.  

“No, we’re good,” says number 22. A few of the others nod their heads and mumble their agreement.  

“Alright then. I want all of you to give your undivided attention to Heather who will now continue her lecture on driver safety.” He lays the Annihilator down and walks towards the door as Heather picks up where she left off.  

Eddie heads for the lodge and finds Rodolfo cleaning windows outside. Benito Number One is spotting the ladder. “There’s another dead clone to bury over in the chicken shack,” he says to Benito as he walks by him.  

“Sure thing, Eddie. We’ll get on it right away.”  

He goes inside and finds Chip and Olivia drinking coffee in the great room. “We need another Benito Clone, Chip.” 

“Thirty-two not enough?” 

“Thirty-two will be fine, but I had to terminate one of them a few minutes ago. He was back-sassing Heather, and I pulled his plug. Seeing what happens to complainers will help keep the rest of them in line.”  

“I’ll crank up the matter materializer and make another one. Is Benito around?”  

“Yeah, but I just sent him and Rodolfo over to bury the dead clone.”  

“I’ll clone him again when they’re done.  

Eddie pours himself a cup of coffee from the carafe that Mía left. “Your matter materializer machine is worth its weight in gold.”  

“Hopefully my technology doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. It could spell big trouble for the rest of the world.” 

“How can you be sure someone else hasn’t already created their own device?”  

“That’s a good point and I guess it’s possible.” 

“For all we know, Robotamaton could be cranking out andys on their own matter materializer.”  

“I never thought about that, Eddie. Let’s hope they haven’t developed one too.” 

Olivia’s worried about the citizens of Nogales, that innocent bystanders will get caught in the crossfire when the turf war starts. “I wish there was some way I could get word to Father Cardoso.” 

“We can’t call him or email him,” says Chip. “The andys could intercept the message too easily.”  

Sí, I thought that’s what you would say.”  

“But I could make your hologram appear with the matter materializer if there’s a place you think he might be.” 

“And I could talk to him?” 

“Yup.” 

“He takes tea at 4:00 every afternoon. He’s usually alone in his house.” 

“That’s in a little over an hour,” says Chip, checking the time on the Feature Screen. “Give me the address, and I’ll put your hologram in Father Cardoso’s house at four.” 

The Reverend Felipe Cardoso is pastor of the Sacred Heart Church of Nogales, and he runs the orphanage where Olivia grew up. He’s a father figure to her. Though he wasn’t that excited about her marrying a crime boss, he was pleased that it gave her an affluent lifestyle removed from the cycle of poverty she’d been born into. She was abandoned at his church as an infant and never knew either one of her parents. 

He lives in a small house behind the church. Sitting down with his afternoon cup of tea, he’s stunned to see Olivia’s hologram materialize in a chair across from him at the table. “Olivia?!”  

“It’s a hologram, Father Felipe,” says Olivia. “I’m at another location, but I can communicate with you through the hologram.” She can see the dining room table and the priest on the Feature Screen. 

“A hologram? Goodness, Olivia, what will they think of next.” He’s an older man, in his mid-sixties. “Lucky you didn’t catch me sitting here in my underwear.”  

“I don’t mean to invade your privacy, but I need to talk to you about something important.” 

“Of course. You know you’re always welcome in my home. The newspaper said your husband was killed in a gunfight and I was worried about your safety. I’m relieved to see you’re safe and sound.”  

“Yes, Oswaldo is gone, but I have a new husband. His name is Chip McLane. He was Oswaldo’s IT expert. 

“A lucky man, you’ll have to introduce me to him sometime.”  

“I will… I inherited Oswaldo’s money when he passed, and Chip and I have big plans for Nogales. We gave up on the drug dealing and crime. We’re going to use the money to make the city a better place for everyone.” 

“That’s wonderful, Olivia. The best news I’ve heard in a long time. The Andy Smith robots have made our lives very difficult. The police ran for their lives after you and Oswaldo left town. The andys are using the smartphones to control people. When you turn one on in Nogales, all you see on the screen is El Tipo Grande, a computer-generated face that bosses you around. He tells you when to get up, when to go to work and what to eat. I smashed mine with a hammer.”  

“Chip and his men are going to run them out of town, father. That’s why I contacted you. There’s going to be a lot of shooting, with lasers and Annihilator weapons so you need to be careful. We don’t want innocent bystanders getting hurt.”  

“Thanks for the warning. I’ll pass it along.”  

“Go in the church basement if you hear any shooting. You’ll be safe down there.” 

“I’ll do that, and don’t worry about the people of Nogales, Olivia. The Lord will protect us.” 

 

*** 

 

Jorge Maldonado has a trucking depot in the mountains southeast of Nogales. It’s in a small-town named Cuitaca. On a secluded parcel of land that’s been used as a staging area for smuggling operations in the past. The local policía are paid off and they keep sightseers from driving up the road.  

Eddie works out a deal with Maldonado to set up a charging station for the levitation cycles. It’s only 40 miles to Nogales vs. almost 500 from the Chihuahua base camp. Flying all the way to Nogales and back on one charge would be cutting it too close and there’s no telling how long the battle will last.  

Eddie’s been test firing the laser weapons and he’s discovered the Annihilators have a faster targeting system. Only by a few seconds, but it’s enough to make a difference. They’ll stick to using the Annihilators when they engage February’s andys because Eddie thinks it will give them the advantage.  

Heather’s spent a couple of weeks training the clones with stationary targets in the forest, and Eddie feels confident they’re ready to roll.  

They leave Chihuahua base camp early, before sunrise, and make it to Cuitaca in less than three hours. The levitation cycles are still 70% charged when they arrive, so they won’t have to wait around at Maldonado’s secluded terminal. They take a short rest break and then set out for Nogales.  

Eddie and Heather are in the lead, with Benito Number One and the thirty-two Benito Clones following close behind. Ten of Chip’s jet-powered drones accompany them, and he opens up multiple windows on his Feature Screen back in Chihuahua. Each drone is equipped with three cameras and an Annihilator weapon, and he controls them with a custom touchpad.  

Chip’s had the desert town under electronic surveillance for months, and he has a good idea of where the andys are concentrated. The biggest strategic target is a huge warehouse on the south side of town where February’s smuggling operations are based. The drones are a couple of miles ahead of the bikes, and when Chip sees the warehouse coming into view, he opens a radio link to Eddie. “The drones are approaching the primary target. Are you ready to commence the operation?”  

“Let’s do it.”  

“My software is picking up several KTs at various locations around the building. I can try picking them off with the drones.”  

Chip uses the drones to deactivate the andys one by one. They’re Robotamaton KTs, Andy Smith models, patrolling the exterior of the large metal building. Eddie slows the Benito Clones down and they go to hover mode on the bikes, a couple of hundred yards short of the evolving confrontation. 

The andys take wild shots at the drones with their laser weapons. Chip’s aircraft are quick, with erratic flight paths, and most of the shots miss, but the enemy manages to down two of them. 

Chip’s back on the radio to Eddie. “I deactivated twelve KTs. The rest of them took cover inside the building.” 

“How many?” 

“My computer says there’s seven of them, but there could be more.” 

“Is there more than one way in?”  

“Front door and a back door and no windows.” 

“Okay, I’m going to send the clones in.”  

They land the levitation cycles in an adjacent parking lot. Eddie breaks the clones up into two squads, with sixteen in each. They’re armed with hand-held Annihilator weapons. One squad cues up outside the front door, and the other outside the back. On Eddie’s signal, they simultaneously burst through both doors and immediately engage the enemy in a wicked firefight. Eddie, Heather, and Benito Number One remain outside. As the battle rages, they see more than one neon yellow laser blast cut through the exterior of the building.  

When it’s over, all seven of the remaining KTs are deactivated and they’ve lost twelve Benito Clones. Eddie goes inside with Heather and Benito Number One. 

“They were fast with the laser weapons,” says number 43, “but they could only target one of us at a time.”  

“Good job, men,” says Eddie. “I’m giving each one of you a thousand-dollar bonus.” 

The building has high ceilings with metal trusses supporting the roof and a concrete floor. They go through the interior looking for more KTs, but don’t find any. What they do find are a few hundred sleeping blue caps, and about fifty sleeping UGRs. No surprise, and they’ll need to deactivate them all. Eddie’s particularly concerned about the UGRs—each one is carrying a laser weapon. He orders the clones to deactivate every sleeping android in the building with their Annihilators before they leave.  

Meanwhile, Chip patrols the perimeter with his drones, and he spots two full-sized SUVs speeding towards the warehouse. Both are loaded with KTs. He disables both vehicles by hitting their engine compartments with Annihilator blasts. When the KTs spill out on to the pavement, he picks them off one-by-one. The enemy andys manage to hit another drone in the latest firefight, so Chip’s down to seven of the high-tech aircraft now.      

He’s back on the radio to Eddie. “I deactivated thirteen more KTs. They were on their way to your location in SUVs. Knocked them all down, but I lost another drone.”  

“Better send more. How many drones are left in the barn?”  

“Thirty.”  

“Send them all. We’re heading over to the El Culto al Lobo compound now.” 

Back at Chihuahua base camp, Chip sends Rodolfo out to the barn. His personal assistant swings both entry doors open and secures each with a large rock, so they won’t blow around in the wind. Rodolfo radios Chip, and says they’re ready to go, and then watches intently as the drones take flight and make a beeline for Nogales. 

The El Culto al Lobo compound is behind slump block walls on the outskirts of town. The enormous mansion within was the drug gang’s headquarters in the days leading up to the Andy Smith Revolt. Eddie and Chip use the same strategy—send the drones in first to pick off the security outside, and then use the clones to deactivate the KTs inside. There’s only a handful of them this time, and they don’t lose as many clones in the ensuing firefight.  

Eddie’s back on the horn to Chip. “We did it. We’re now in possession of Oswaldo’s place.” 

“How many clones are you down to?”  

“We lost three more. That means we have seventeen left.” 

“I sent thirty more drones. They’ll be there within two hours.”  

“The drones are definitely the ticket. We couldn’t have done it without them.”  

“What’s the condition of the house?” 

“It looks untouched.” 

“Olivia left most of her stuff there when the KTs went haywire. Can you check the master suite? See if her clothes are still there?  

“Yeah, I’ll go up there right now…” A few minutes later he calls Chip back. “The bedroom is a little dusty, but for the most part untouched. There’s a walk-in closet full of clothes. Ladies’ stuff. Must be Olivia’s.”  

“Yup. She’s sitting here with me and happy as a lark now, Eddie. Thanks for checking.” 

“No prob, Chip.” 

“One other thing. She’s worried about Father Felipe. Are things secure enough for a visit to the church?” 

“As soon as the rest of the drones show up, we’ll ride over there and make sure he’s okay.”  

“Olivia says thanks again. We couldn’t have pulled it off without you, Eddie.” 

Once the additional drones show up, he has enough confidence to travel to the downtown church. He leaves ten of the clones at the compound, and takes Heather, Benito Number One, and the remaining seven clones on the ride through the small city. Fifteen of Chip’s drones are flying overhead. In the past, it was a busy border crossing with plenty of pedestrians and enough cars to cause an occasional traffic jam, but the streets look deserted now.  

At one point they’re ambushed by a KT hiding inside a store, and it manages to kill a Benito Clone with its laser, but Heather instantly fires back and deactivates it with an Annihilator blast.  

They find Father Felipe sitting on the front porch of his small house next to the church. 

“Father Felipe, I’m Eddie Dominguez, we’ve come to liberate Nogales from the malicious androids.”  

“Olivia told me you were coming. Are those more robots you’ve brought along on your flying motorcycles?” Lifting his chin towards the Benito Clones. 

“Not robots. They’re clones.”  

“Except for me, father,” says Benito Number One. “I’m the original. Benito Luna.” 

He regards Benito and the identical clones silently, with an expression of bewilderment, and then looks back towards Eddie. “This world we live in becomes stranger all the time, but I’m glad you’ve come. How is the liberation going so far?” 

“Better than expected. The andys are no match for our drones and Annihilator weapons. We’ve already eliminated a number of them.”   

“Will I get to see Olivia in person soon?” 

“When it’s safe for her, Olivia and Chip will come visit the city.” (Eddie is remarkably well-mannered with the priest. He’s lost his hard edge.) 

“I’ll look forward to it. She was abandoned at the orphanage quite young, and she grew up into such a beautiful woman. It was hard for me when she married Contreras. I hated seeing her with such an evil man and he was so much older than her, but she said she’s going to do good things for Nogales now with the money she came into when he died.”  

“Yup, that’s the plan. Chip and Olivia want to help build a better city where all the people will have nice places to live.” 

“That’s my Olivia. Are you Catholic, Eddie?” 

“Yes, I am. I grew up in Denver.”  

“I could tell you’re American. You and your clones are welcome in my church any time.” 

Eddie and his squad head back over to the El Culto al Lobo compound on their levitation cycles. Chip has thirty-seven drones patrolling the city now. He’s picks off an occasional KT here and there as they’re discovered, but it appears the enemy has been for the most part vanquished.  

They’re not sure if February will send reinforcements from his strongholds in Tijuana and Juarez. Eddie thinks it’s likely and he decides to remain at the compound to hold the city. Eddie sends two of the clones to a nearby grocery store to stock up on supplies and Benito Number One takes off for Chihuahua. Chip will crank out more clones when Benito gets back, and Eddie asks him to make more drones too.  

Oswaldo’s mansion is in good condition. Chip’s twelve-foot-tall Feature Screen still works, and the indoor swimming pool looks clean and well-maintained.  

Eddie does some reminiscing as he takes a break by the pool. He thinks back to the day when Larry introduced him to Oswaldo. It became a profitable partnership. They moved thousands of blue caps across the border and were raking in the money. Everything was going great until Codi wrecked her semi and was arrested by the feds. That was when things began to unravel.  

Codi. The back-stabbing San Berdoo speed freak. He should have killed her when he had the chance.  

 

*** 

 

As it turns out, Codi Maybank is alive and well and living in Orlando, Florida. She’s enrolled in the federal witness protection program, with the alias Jennifer Maxim. She hates the name and wishes they’d given her some alternate choices. Instead, D’Angelo handed her the identification package and said, “Here you go, Codi, you’re Jennifer Maxim now.”  

She doesn’t feel like a Jennifer, and she calls herself Presley when she goes out. Presley Maxim, it fits her personality better, but she’s still Jennifer at work.  

Human truckers are close to obsolete, especially on the East Coast. It’s another occupation that’s become almost entirely automated so no more truck driving for Codi. Her instructor had warned her about it when she was eighteen and training for her CDL, that she might have fifteen good years behind the wheel of a big rig. After that, it was a job that was sure to become automated and it looks like he was right. She’s in her early thirties now, and all the tractor trailers in the Sunshine State are AI controlled. 

They found her a job at a state park. She sits at a drive-up window and sells passes and answers stupid questions. It’s a job that could be easily accomplished by a robot, but it’s a union gig, and in the public domain. It should pay more if it’s union, but she barely makes enough to live on, and she’s keeping her eyes peeled for a way to supplement her income.  

She lives in a rundown apartment complex with over-priced rent. It makes her miss California, but no one ever said it was going to be glamorous becoming a government snitch, and it beats doing time in Chino anyway.  

It was more than just smuggling blue caps; she was a convicted felon in possession of a handgun and there was the crystal meth in the cab too. Enough for a trafficking charge. So, when Tom Hanes offered her a way out, she took it, and turned state’s evidence. It was a tough decision because Eddie paid her well for running the blue caps to Nebraska. He was a good boss and she liked him, but there was no way in hell she was going back in the joint if she didn’t have to. 

There’s a strip club down the street. The Venus Club is a topless-bottomless joint, the dancers are totally nude. She’s been going down there to hang out and try to make friends, because Codi’s looking for a way to supplement her income, and strip clubs are notorious magnets for drug dealers. That’s one business Codi knows a lot about, dealing dope, and it’s a high profit enterprise, right up Codi’s alley.   

It’s a Sunday evening. Codi’s hanging out at the club. She’s wearing skintight jeans and you can see the outline of the chew can in her back pocket. She’s not wearing underwear because it’s still way too hot outside and the humidity is ungodly, something she’s been trying to get used to. It gets plenty warm in San Berdoo but never with so much humidity. The bugs in Florida are like something out of a horror movie. Mosquitos the size of hummingbirds. 

It’s early evening with a mixed crowd of men and women. Codi’s dressed way butch in western boots, no bra, and she has a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve of her pocket t-shirt. She has the curls ironed out of her long blonde hair, and she’s drinking Coors in the bottle and watching the pole dancers closely. (The dancers are all shaved, but she thinks they’d look hotter if they’d left the little landing strip… or even the full bush, as long as it’s well trimmed. Kind of depends on the girl, that’s what Codi thinks.)  

She’s been spending lots of time at the club, and she knows a few of the dancers from flirting with them. One of them, a redhead named Piper, told her the owner is looking for help in her arcadia dealing business. She said she’d put in the good word for her.  

A sturdy Cuban named Alonzo approaches her at the bar and tells her the owner of the joint, Scarlett O’Day, would like to have a few words with her. She follows the bouncer down a hallway in the back and he stops outside a closed door and knocks on it twice. 

A voice comes from inside. “Yes, what is it?”  

“It’s Alonzo, Ms. O’Day. Presley Maxim is here to see you.”  

“Show her in, please.”  

Alonzo opens the door and guides her in with an outstretched hand. Once she’s inside, he gently closes the door and walks back towards the front of the club. O’Day sits behind a desk facing the door. From the set-up, Codi thinks she must have a handgun within easy reach. Probably a big dog-choking caliber like a .44.  

“I’m Scarlett O’Day. Have a seat.”  

“Pleased to meet you.” Codi nudges the armchair with her knee so it’s at a slight angle before she sits down.  

She immediately notices the air conditioning is set at a lower temperature inside the office. Cool enough to make her nipples perk up. O’Day is a dark-haired brunette, dressed in faux leather pants and a jet-black top with a gold chain necklace.  

“Piper tells me you’re looking for part-time work.” 

“Not as a dancer,” says Codi quickly.  

“No, that’s not what I had in mind… Piper said you have experience in the transportation industry?” 

“Yeah, I’m an experienced long-haul trucker, but like so many other occupations these days, it looks like I’ve become obsolete.” 

“And you’re from California.”  

“Yup. San Berdoo.”  

“So, tell me, Presley. In your days as a trucker, before you became obsolete, did you ever transport illicit merchandise?” 

The scene is reminding Codi of her interview with Eddie Dominguez in Imperial Beach. When he hired her to move the blue caps. She decides to keep that part of it to herself, mostly because of the hit Eddie’s gang put out on her life. Instead, she says, “Sure thing. I used to buy crystal meth in Chula Vista and sell it in Denver all the time.” 

“In quantities?” 

“Oh yeah. I was making a bundle buying high grade Mexican crystal by the pound. There was a big mark-up in price between the border and Denver.” 

“What I’m looking for is a courier between here and Miami. You’ll pick up packages of arcadia concentrate. It pays twenty-five hundred a trip.” 

“Do I need to make the purchase too?” 

“No, the money transaction is electronic. All you need to do is ride your bike to Miami, pick up the package, and ride back. That’s all there is to it… interested?”  

“Yeah, I’m interested. When can I start, Ms. O’Day?” 

“Call me Scarlett.” She smiles. “What about tomorrow?” 

The next morning, Codi rides her levitation cycle to Miami. She goes airborne and makes the trip in less than two hours. It’s a brand-new bike and lightning fast. The pick-up address is downtown, in a four-story office building with a dedicated landing pad on the roof. She likes the set-up—she doesn’t have to carry any money, just make the score. Quick and easy. A fast twenty-five hundred if she can make it back to Orlando without getting pulled over. 

She takes the fire stairs down to the second-floor office. Elevators make her nervous.  

It’s a shell company called Cybernetic Investment Associates. The door’s locked and when she knocks, the lone desk jockey inside opens it remotely without having to get up.  

She steps inside. When she looks at her contact, she knows right away that she’s dealing with AI. The office is sterile. There’s nothing on the desk, no family pictures, no coffee cup, nothing at all.  

“You must be Presley Maxim.” When he smiles, Codi’s sure he’s an andy. There’s no question in her mind. 

“Yes, I am… Ms. O’Day sent me to pick up a package.” 

“It’s right there.” He points at an attaché sitting by itself on the floor.  

“We’re good to go?” Something is telling her she should get out of the office as fast as possible. The andy behind the desk is studying her face closely. Then he looks to the computer monitor and then back at her face.  

“Good to go.”  

She picks up the attaché and slips out the door.  

“Have a pleasant day,” she hears the andy say and the door swings shut behind her.  

She’s down the hallway in a heartbeat and then runs up the fire stairs. She bursts through the door on the roof and hears the ringtone on her phone. It’s a Miami area code on the caller ID. She answers it.  

“Ms. Maxim.” It’s the andy from the downstairs office. “Before you go, we need to talk to you about something.”  

“Talk to me about what?” She crams the attaché into her saddlebag and hops on the bike.  

“Stay where you are Presley Maxim. Don’t leave yet. We’ll be up there shortly.”  

Codi tosses the phone over the parapet wall and takes off on her bike. Sonofabitch! O’Day is buying arcadia from Winston February’s andys, and they just made her true identity with facial recognition software, it doesn’t take her long to figure it out. She made a monumental error in judgment taking the job. She should have known better. She’s a known AICC informer and they’ll kill her for it. 

She finds her antigrav pathway into the ether and nails the throttle. It’s risky flying at top speed because there’s so much air traffic over the city, but she needs to get out of there fast. It’s possible they’ve locked on to her location with a tracking program. Could they be following her? Her question is answered when a neon yellow laser blast screams past her, missing by just a few feet.  

She dives for the surface and begins skimming the rooftops of the inner-city houses and dodging occasional palm trees with the throttle still wide-open. She leaves the residential area and follows a large concrete drainage structure, flying close to the ground. It’s designed to collect rainwater from city streets and transport it to a treatment plant at the edge of the Everglades, a few miles to the west. She sees an immense culvert coming, and she’s about to gain enough altitude to avoid it but then checks the bike’s 3DGPS program to see where it leads.  

The schematic shows a concrete conduit about twelve feet in diameter, and about two miles long. It’s designed to move stormwater under city streets and commercial areas. Codi thinks fast. If they’ve locked on to her with a tracking program, they’ll lose her when she goes underground. She glances at her mirror—if they’re still following her, they’re out of view.  

She takes a chance and flies into the portal. It’s a hair-raising ride. She can’t slow down and trusts the bike’s navigation to keep her from colliding with the interior of the narrow tunnel. The headlight comes on automatically and the culvert’s indented connections create a fast-moving light show of repetitive shadows until she reaches the far end. She flies out over a retention basin, then gains altitude quickly to avoid the earthen dam.  

She’s crossing the Everglades now, the bright green, unpeopled swampland that comprises most of Florida’s southern tip. She opens the throttle and gains more altitude. After flying another twenty miles or so, she starts to relax. It looks like she lost her pursuers, and there’s nothing beneath her beyond an endless panorama of alligator infested swamps. 

Codi’s mind is working fast. She can’t go back to her apartment, no great loss, because she hates the place anyway, but all her personal stuff is inside. She’s carrying six pounds of arcadia concentrate. At 50K a pop, that’s over a quarter million dollars in illicit drugs. She can’t deliver it to O’Day now, that’s out of the question… should she ditch it? She could toss it in the swamp, but after thinking things over, she decides to keep it. The package is worth too much money.  

She needs to talk to D’Angelo, her AICC contact in the witness protection program, so she flies back to Orlando and buys a burner phone at a Global Mart. “Brian, this is Codi. I need to talk to you as soon as possible.”  

“Hi, Codi… Did you get a new number? I almost didn’t pick up.” 

“I had to get rid of my other phone. Can you meet me somewhere?”  

“What’s up? Are you in trouble?”  

“Yeah, I am… I am in trouble. But I can’t talk on the phone.” 

“Can you make it to Barnett Park?”  

“Yeah. I’m not far from there at all.”  

“Okay, meet me at the Ampitheater in about forty-five minutes.” 

Codi rides her bike to the park and finds a spot to park near the Ampitheater. She walks out across the grass and finds the same bench where they’ve met before. Not many people around, just a few kids tossing a frisbee and a middle-aged lady walking her dog. She sits down, and a few minutes later sees D’Angelo walking across the grass. He’s dressed casually, doesn’t look like an AICC agent packing heat, but she’s sure he has a 9mm stuffed under his belt in the small of his back, concealed under his loose-fitting shirt.  

 “What’s up, Codi? You look worried.” He takes a seat next to her on the bench. 

“I screwed up, Brian. I just fucked things up bad.” 

“Okay. Catch your breath, relax, and tell me what happened.” 

“You know how I was telling you about my job? That it didn’t pay enough?”  

“Yup. The cost of living is going up all the time. It can be hard to make ends meet.”  

“Well, I thought I’d try to find some way to supplement my income and somebody I ran into offered me a way to make some fast money.”  

“Somebody you ran into? If I’m going to help you with this, you need to come clean. Who’s the somebody?” 

“Scarlett O’Day. The owner of the Venus Club.” 

“Scarlett O’Day is a suspected drug trafficker with links to organized crime.” 

“She’s a trafficker alright. Offered me twenty-five hundred to pick up a package of arcadia concentrate in Miami.” 

“And you took her up on it.” 

“Yeah, I did. And when I got to the pickup location, I knew right away I made a mistake. It was a shell company in an office building and the contact was an andy. I think they made me with facial recognition software. After I took the package, the guy inside called me on the roof and told me not to leave, but I jumped on the bike and jetted out of there fast.”  

“You’re sure it was an andy?” 

“No question, and they shot some kind of laser weapon at me as I was riding away.” 

“But you lost them.” 

“Yeah, I dove down close to the ground and then went through a giant storm drain. I think that was where I shook their tracking program.”  

“What happened to the arcadia? You still have it?” 

“Uh, no, I ditched it.”  

He studies her face closely. “Where’d you ditch it, Codi?” 

“On the roof before I left. I tossed the package and my phone.”  

D’Angelo pauses to give her a look like he knows she’s lying, but then goes right past it. “Well, you broke the conditions of our agreement by engaging in illicit activity, but if you give me the location in Miami, I can work with you on this.” 

“236 southwest 12th avenue. A four-story office building and the company is called Cybernetic Investment Associates.” 

He records the information on his smartphone. “I can transfer you to a new city, but it’ll take a few days to push it through.” 

“Where? Where can you move me to?”  

“Ever been to Rapid City, South Dakota?”  

“No.” 

“It might be a better location. Off the beaten path and there’s a regional AICC office. I know a couple of the agents stationed there, but like I said, I can’t push it through overnight.” 

“I can’t go back to my apartment.” 

“No, that wouldn’t be a good idea at all.”  

“What if I take off right now, then? Ride my bike up there?”  

“Yeah, that’ll work. Call me when you make it… You need some cash?”  

“Definitely.”  

“Okay. Hang out for a few minutes and I’ll walk over to the bank. Five thousand enough?” 

“That should do it… and thanks, Brian. I was afraid you were going to give me a hard time about this.”  

“No sweat, Codi. You broke the rules, but you came up with valuable information that will help the investigators so everything’s cool. I can smooth it out with my supervisor.” 

Twenty minutes later, she’s back on her levitation cycle, bound for Rapid City. It’ll take a few days to make it.  

She’s starts to unwind as she heads north on the freeway because all in all, things aren’t turning out that bad. She was sick of Florida anyway, and with the unwitting help of D’Angelo, she just pulled off a major rip-off—six pounds of arcadia concentrate. She’ll find somewhere to sell it when she gets settled in. It’ll give her the money she needs to lead a decent lifestyle.  

To be continued…

©2022 Surreal Science Fiction

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