By William A. Lasher
Codi stops in Rawlins, Wyoming to charge her levitation cycle. She lands the bike at a traveler’s store on the outskirts of town and plugs in. Her batteries are close to exhausted, so it’ll take almost an hour, even on the rapid charging port that costs extra.
It’s a small town in a high-altitude basin and the sun has just slipped beneath low arid hills to the west. She goes inside the store and buys a cup of coffee. The cashier is automated with a communications terminal atop a narrow diameter mast. She asks the machine if there’s a Global Mart nearby, and the Happy Pam tells her there’s one just a few blocks to the north.
“You can search Global Mart locations worldwide on your smartphone, honey,” says the machine in a sensuous female voice.
“No shit, Pam,” says Codi, giving the machine a look of contempt, “but I lost my smartphone. That’s why I need to find a Global Mart. So I can buy a new one.” It’s been a long day and her patience is wearing thin.
“Damn thing’s a wiseass,” says a man standing in line behind her. “Like it’s smarter than we are.”
“We’d be better off if they were all disconnected,” says another.
Codi stands outside the store sipping coffee under the bright fluorescent streetlamps. She didn’t realize it was synthetic when she bought it, and after drinking a small portion, she pours the rest out on the pavement and tosses the cup in the trash. Horrible tasting stuff, she doesn’t know how anyone can drink it.
She walks to Global Mart while her batteries are charging. After buying a phone and activating it, she goes on the andy detection app website and downloads a new version of the software. The program saved her life in Rapid City, she’s sure of it, and she wonders if D’Angelo is still alive. No way she’ll try to call him, or anyone else for that matter. Her plan is to make it back to San Berdoo, find Lacey, and figure out a way to unload the arcadia. Then she’ll have enough money to disappear for a while.
She’s feeling far too anxious to stop anywhere for the night, and instead, she decides to keep going. If she stays airborne and opens up the bike, she should be in L.A. before dawn. She follows the path of the interstate but stays a mile or two away from the road. It can be dangerous traveling 175 mph at night because there’s no designated lanes in the ether. She’s also worried about highway surveillance devices. The andys could be hacked in and looking for her.
It’s a clear night and Codi makes good time through the remainder of Wyoming. When she reaches I-15 in Utah, she heads south. It’s midnight by the time she reaches St. George. The air traffic is picking up and she decides to follow the route of the old Arrowhead Trail instead of shadowing the interstate through the Virgin River Gorge. The road has little traffic at night, and it becomes hard to follow in the dark. She ends up relying on her auto navigation.
After crossing the Beaver Dam Range, she glides out across the Mohave Desert. She’s flying over Southern Nevada now and uses her GPS to plot a course for Las Vegas. She can see the glow of the city lights on the horizon, eighty miles in the distance.
The running lights of an aircraft appear over the mountains to the north, and Codi’s startled when the craft makes an abrupt turn and flies straight towards her. The erratic flight path doesn’t look like anything she’s ever seen before. It couldn’t be a jet or a helicopter and when it comes in closer, she can scarcely believe her eyes—it looks like a spaceship, with multi-colored running lights, and it adjusts its speed and flightpath to mimic hers.
Before she has a chance to think about what to do next, a blindingly bright shaft of light shoots out of the craft and envelops her rapidly moving levitation cycle. She tries to slow down and veer off to the south, but the bike’s controls don’t respond. Instead, the tractor beam moves her briskly towards the UFO. A metal door slides open and the shaft of light deposits her in a small compartment inside the craft. The door closes behind her.
An illuminated panel on the wall broadcasts a metallic sounding voice. “Greetings, humanoid.”
Codi pulls out her new smartphone and taps the andy detection software app. A message appears on the screen: Possible artificial detected. No available identification data. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“Do not be afraid. You’re inside an automated exploration craft from the Maffei 1 galaxy. It is not our intent to harm you.”
“If you’re from outer space, how come you speak English?”
“We’ve analyzed your communications and adapted our system to speak your language.”
“What do you want? Why are you holding me?”
“We’re examining and cataloguing the various lifeforms on your planet. We were surprised to discover so many. Please relax while we scan you. If you cooperate, you’ll be released unharmed.”
“How long will it take?”
“Less than a minute. Relax, Codi Maybank.”
“How do you know my name?”
There’s no response to her question. Instead, a circular disc on the ceiling begins to spin rapidly and multi-colored lights flash on and off. She looks to the illuminated panel and sees schematics of her physique taking shape, all nude.
“Hey there, friendly alien,” she calls out. “Who gave you permission to look at me naked?”
The illuminated panel lights up and Codi hears the metallic voice again. “You weren’t born with the cotton artifacts concealing your true form, correct?”
“No, I wasn’t. But that doesn’t give you a right to peel them off for your outer space lifeform catalogue… or whatever you call it.”
“Don’t be embarrassed, Codi Maybank.”
“I’m not embarrassed! It’s just not the way we do things on Earth. You can’t fly around in your spaceship, kidnap innocent women, and strip off their clothes without permission. It’s against the law.”
The alien snickers. “Against the law? What are you going to do, call the police?”
“Hey, fuck you spaceman! The minute is up. Let me go before I break your machine.” She kicks the bottom of the illuminated panel, and her boot leaves a dent in the metal.”
“Calm down, Codi Maybank. We’re all done.”
The door reopens, and the tractor beam carries her back out into the sky and gently releases her in mid-air.
She makes it to San Bernadino by sunrise and finds Lacey’s house. It’s a one-story bungalow in a quiet residential neighborhood. Codi rings the doorbell, and Lacey comes to the door in her bathrobe. She’s a lean brunette in her early thirties, same age as Codi. She lives alone except for a pair of cats.
“Codi! I haven’t seen you in ages.” They embrace in the foyer.
“I’ve been laying low for a while.”
“Yeah, you have. Are you still in Chula Vista? I tried your phone a couple of months ago and the number was disconnected.”
“I got myself in some trouble, it’s a long story.”
“Well, come on in and we’ll talk. You want some breakfast? I was just getting ready to make bacon and eggs.”
“Sounds good, Lacey.”
She cooks breakfast, and while they’re eating, Codi tells her about the bust on I-15 and how she turned state’s evidence and ended up in Florida. Then the failed arcadia deal and her trip to South Dakota.
“You’re still carrying the arcadia concentrate?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Well, you can stay here with me if you want, but I don’t want that much dope in the house.”
“Yeah, I need to get rid of it. Can you think of anyone I could sell it to?”
“What about that Mexican dude in Chuley? The one you were buying the crank from.”
“Bruno Medina. I thought of him too, but he probably wouldn’t pay the full price. He’d want a deep discount to move it.”
“But Codi, how much did you pay for it? Nothing, right?”
“That’s a good point.”
“I would try Bruno. The faster you unload it the better. Like I said, I would love to have you stay here, but without the drugs.”
Codi calls Bruno and tells him she has something important to talk to him about. Something she can’t discuss on the phone. He tells her to come by and they’ll chat.
Before she leaves, Lacey helps her change her hair color, from dirty blonde to dark brown. They iron the curls out too. When they’re done, she looks in the mirror and wonders if it was worth the trouble—she still looks like the same person. She has the Florida plate on the bike too, registered to her alias, Jennifer Maxim.
She decides to stay on the pavement for the ride to Chula Vista. The government tracks airborne traffic in the big cities and the andys could be hacked into the system and watching for her. There’s no doubt in her mind that AICC is looking for her too. She could turn herself in and get back on the witness protection program, but she’s not sure what happened to D’Angelo. There’d be a lot of explaining to do, and at this point she thinks it would be safer to disappear.
Before the urban blight had become so bad in Nowhere City, Codi would have taken the Foothills Freeway to the Orange Freeway. Not the most direct route, but in the old days, it was the one with the fewest traffic jams and the quickest way to the coast. But Lacey says the slums have expanded into Fullerton and Anaheim, and Orange County is a good place to stay away from now. So she stays inland on 15, down through Escondido and picks up the 805 north of San Diego.
A couple of hours later, she pulls up in front of Bruno’s house and parks her bike. It’s a typical suburban split-level in an older neighborhood. Canary yellow paint is peeling off the fascia around the eaves and the front lawn has been torn up and replaced with lava rock. A pair of heavily tattooed Latinos are hanging out in the open garage drinking Mexican beer. When they see Codi pull up on her bike, they both rise to their feet and look her over. One of them is holding a pump action shotgun, the other picks up a machine pistol.
She pulls off her helmet and slowly walks towards the garage, making sure to keep her hands open and in plain sight. “Is Bruno here?”
“Who’s asking?” says the Latino holding the shotgun.
“Codi Maybank. He knows I’m coming.”
“Codi Maybank is a blonde,” narrowing his eyes.
“I changed my hair color.”
He makes a face like he just bit into a sour lemon. “So, why’d you change your hair color?”
She cracks a smile; can’t show weakness, they’ll sense it right away. “Because I look more badass with my hair mocha brown.” After everything she’s been through in the last week, there’s no way she’ll let Bruno’s gamberros intimidate her.
“I thought blondes have more fun,” says the Latino holding the machine pistol, not missing a beat.
“If I wanted to have some fun, I’d head down to the tittie bar and find some hot chica to fuck.”
Both gangsters break out in belly laughs at that one, and the door leading into the house opens. Another Latino appears. This one is older, with a stocky build, a beard and longish hair. “Hey, Codi. It’s been a while.”
“There’s something you want to talk to me about?”
“I have some product to move. Thought you might be interested.
“Did you bring it?”
“Yeah, it’s in my saddlebag.” She walks out to the bike, unlocks the storage compartment and grabs the attaché.
Inside the house, Bruno gestures towards a sofa and she takes a seat. He sits down in a matching mauve armchair and lights up a hand-rolled spliff. He takes a long hit, inhaling deeply and holding it. Then he hands it to Codi.
She doesn’t smoke much weed, but she takes the joint from him and hits it too. It’s part of the drug dealing culture. If she turns him down, he’ll be suspicious of her intentions. It’s potent sativa, and she feels a burst of cerebral energy after they pass it back and forth a few times. It makes her feel anxious and paranoid too, why she normally doesn’t partake in the cannabis.
Codi lays the attaché down on the low coffee table before her and opens the lid. Six compressed bricks of ivory colored powder are packed inside. Each one is wrapped in plastic. She slides the case towards Bruno, and he spins it around ninety degrees, and has a look. He smiles, pulls one of the bricks out, props it upright, and with a folding hunting knife, slices the plastic at the top. He takes a small sample on the knife blade and carefully deposits it in a test tube. Then he adds a few drops of a clear colored liquid. When he holds it up to the light of a nearby lamp, the sample turns a luminous pink.
“99% pure arcadia concentrate. Where’d you get it?”
She pauses, makes eye contact and then says, “That’s confidential information, Bruno. I can’t divulge the source.”
“I saw the Florida plate on your bike.” He looks at her questioningly.
“Yeah, I was in Orlando for a while, but things didn’t work out and I came back.”
“We’re friends from way back and I don’t want you to freak out on me here, Codi, but I need to show you something.” He picks up a tablet, wakes it, and navigates to a web page. He extends his arm to show her what he’s found. It’s her mug shot from the federal lock-up in Phoenix. There’s text at the bottom of the image that says, Have you seen this female? Contact us if you have.
She stares at him dumbfounded without saying a word.
“The andys I’m buying meth from in TJ, that’s who sent me your picture. They said you’re an AICC informer and they have a price on your head.” He sits back in the chair and slides his hand inside the space between the armrest and the cushion. She knows he has his hand on a piece now. More than likely a compact 308. “You’re not fucking with me are you, Codi? Setting me up for a bust?”
“No way, Bruno.” Maybe coming to him with the drugs wasn’t such a bright idea, that’s what she’s thinking to herself now.
“Then what’s up with the andys?” He nods at the tablet resting on the table.
She comes clean and tells him everything. How she wrecked her semi on I-15 and the deal Hanes offered her to turn state’s evidence. She makes sure to tell him that it was only Eddie. She didn’t give up any information about anyone else. Then she tells him about the arcadia deal in Miami and how the andy made her using facial recognition software.
“You really know how to get yourself in some shit, Codi,” he says with a quick laugh when she’s done. “Neck deep in it.”
“There’s no way I would ever say anything to the feds about you, Bruno. I need you to know that. I was looking at ten years in prison, easy, and giving up Eddie Dominguez was the only way out.”
“Okay. Chill out, I believe you.”
“If I can unload the arcadia, I’m done with dealing for good. If you’re not interested, just say so and I’ll find someone else.”
“I’ll trade you half the weight in crank. Three pounds of the best crystal meth money can buy.”
“I don’t want to get stuck moving that much dope. I need the cash.”
“Ten thousand a brick.”
“Shit, Bruno. Arcadia concentrate is worth 50K.”
“Fifteen is the best I can do. All the money I have.”
It doesn’t take her long to make up her mind. She just about crapped herself when he showed her the image on the tablet. She feels lucky to be getting out of Chula Vista alive and takes the ninety grand.
She heads north on the 805, and when she’s passing downtown San Diego, she hears helicopters flying overhead. She looks up and sees three AICC enforcement choppers. She takes the next exit and pulls off to the shoulder, ready to ditch the bike and run, but the helicopters keep going. Still baked from the strong weed at Bruno’s, she heaves a sigh of relief when she realizes they’re not following her.
Chip’s multi-tasking on his feature screen in the great room. He’s finished the design work for the Nogales convention center and printed out poster sized images of the three-dimensional elevations. Olivia has Rodolfo pin them up on the wall.
When Chip developed his cloning method on the matter materializer machine, he was trying to achieve something else, a method of moving an animate being from one location to another by sending its binary code through the internet. Not just a holographic image, the whole enchilada.
He thinks he has it now, and he calls Dante in to experiment.
“Ready to make more clones, Chip?” Dante is happy with his new job and thinks he and Hernando scored a lo grande when they ran into Rodolfo in Los Mochis. The money is good, the boss easy going, and Mía’s cooking excelente.
“We have enough clones for now, I have something else I want to try.”
“Okay, what do you want me to do?”
“Have a seat in the scanning chair like we’re getting ready to make clones.”
Dante has a seat in the hardback chair next to the matter materializer machine and Chip switches on the overhead infrared scanner.
“Where were Rodolfo and Hernando when you came inside?”
“They’re out in the barn organizing the drones and Annihilator weapons.”
Chip zeroes in on their location with the GPS control. “Okay, if this works, I’m going to move you to the barn.” He activates the machine, clicks on the control panel, and Dante vanishes. He looks to the Feature Screen and sees Dante materialize next to Rodolfo and Hernando, startling both. He clicks on the control panel yet again, and Dante rematerializes in the chair.
“Dios mio! How’d you do that?” exclaims Dante.
“Computer magic. It’s something I’ve been trying to pull off for a few months. And now that we know it works, I want to try something more difficult… If you could visit anywhere in Mexico, Dante, where would you choose?”
“I’d have to say the beach in Cabo. Check out the hot chicas on the beach in Cabo.”
Chip locks in to a spot on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, 300 miles away. He clicks on the control panel and Dante vanishes once again. He looks to the Feature Screen and sees him materialize next to an astonished pair of young women in string bikinis on the beach. He pauses for 30 seconds to let Dante take in the view, and then clicks on the panel, returning him to the scanning chair.
“That was sensational, Chip! Such a beautiful day in Cabo!”
“Did you feel anything when you were traveling through space? Any odd sensations?”
“No, not at all. I’m here and the next thing I knew I was there. Like magic, just like you said.”
Chip dismisses Dante and calls Eddie in Nogales. Eddie uses the king-size Feature Screen in the compound’s home theater to communicate with him face-to-face.
“Eddie, I did it. I’ve developed a way to move animate objects through the internet. I just put Dante on the beach in Cabo and brought him back unscathed.”
“That’s fantastic, Chip.”
“There’s something else I need to tell you about too. I disassembled one of the KTs we deactivated, and I think I may have discovered Winston February’s Achilles heel. The Robotamaton andys rely on a connection to Karachi to function properly. It’s a satellite communications link, and if you cut it, they stop cold.”
“The blue caps too?”
“Yup. Every Robotamaton product relies on a connection to their master server farm to function. The ADU andys like Heather are independent machines. Once they leave the factory, they’re on their own, but the Robotamaton andys are different. My guess is, Beidelman did it intentionally, so they maintain a degree of control over their products.”
“Like he could turn them against you if he wanted to.”
“Exactly. They never relinquish ultimate control.”
“Can you hack into the Robotamaton system?”
“From here, it’s unlikely. They have a cyber firewall from hell.”
“What if someone could get inside their master server farm?”
“That’s what I’m thinking, Eddie. If I could get you and Heather inside, it’s possible I could use her as a remote link and hack the master system.”
“And crash the whole thing?”
“It’s within the realm of possibility. And if we did enough damage, it might take them a while to put it back up.”
Eddie pauses for a few moments to think. He’s not surprised that Chip has been successful in his attempts to transport matter through the internet, and it changes things significantly. Finally, he says, “I’ve never been to the Robotamaton factory in Karachi, so I don’t know anything about the layout, but I did visit the Wunderlin Tower. Could you hack the Robotamaton system from February’s computer in Buenos Aries?”
“Can’t guarantee it, but it’s possible.”
“Can you put Heather and me on the roof?”
“If I can pinpoint the GPS coordinates, I should be able to pull it off.”
Eddie leaves Benito Number One in charge of the compound in Nogales, and he and Heather take off for Chihuahua base camp on their levitation cycles. Meanwhile, Chip launches a trio of drones with Buenos Aries as their destination.
The next day, Eddie and Heather are back in the great room with Chip, and the drones have arrived in Argentina. They’re transmitting a live view of the Wunderlin Tower rooftop helipad, and the glass enclosed observation station. There’s a lone KT standing watch outside the door. The Andy Smith model is holding a laser weapon.
Heather takes a seat in the hardback chair next to the matter materializer. Chip prepares to transport her to the rooftop, over 5,000 miles away, but before he does, he flies one of his drones towards the lone sentry. The startled KT is sufficiently distracted and as it raises its weapon, Chip switches on the infrared scanner and Heather appears behind it. She executes a leaping sidekick—The Leopard Strikes with Stealth—and decapitates the KT. The extreme force of her Taekwondo maneuver propels the detached andy’s head over the parapet wall and it falls forty stories to the busy sidewalk below, narrowly missing an elderly lady walking her Bichon Frise. The android’s plastic head breaks into pieces as it collides with the concrete revealing the circuitry inside. The alarmed dog-walker looks to the sky, wondering where it came from.
Eddie takes a seat in the hardback chair, armed with an Annihilator weapon. Chip switches on the infrared scanner and Eddie is instantaneously transported to the skyscraper rooftop in downtown Buenos Aries. Upon arrival, he silently makes eye contact with Heather and tilts his head towards the observation station door. They go inside and when he sees an LED floor indicator lit up above the elevator, he knows they’ll soon have company.
Heather stands close to the wall, to one side of the elevator’s gate with Eddie a short distance behind her. A chime sounds as the elevator car reaches the upper level, and a couple of seconds later, the door slides open. Another KT sentry appears and as it walks out of the car, Heather executes another one of her lightning-fast leaping sidekicks and instantly decapitates it. The detached andy’s head hits the transparent exterior wall with enough force to crack it and leaves a spiderweb pattern in the cracked glass before tumbling to the floor.
They cautiously descend the fire stairs in lieu of taking the elevator. Heather is in the lead, and when she gently pulls the door open on the penthouse level, she finds herself face to face with yet another KT. This time, she hits the andy in the face with a quick closed fist punch. There’s a crunching sound as her hand penetrates its faux face, and the robot falls to the carpet.
Inside the penthouse now, they warily step into the luxurious living space and find Winston February seated in an armchair. The android looks and acts entirely human, with the appearance of a Caucasian male in his early twenties. Shorts, polo shirt, and a blue ball cap with the Robotamaton logo.
February acquires an evil grin. “My old friend, Eddie Dominguez.”
Eddie and Heather carefully move closer. Both have their Annihilator weapons trained on February’s automated torso.
“Our friendship ended when you turned on me, Winston.”
“Turned on you? Why, it was never my intent to harm you in anyway.”
“We made a business deal and you reneged on it. You also wasted my business partner, Oswaldo Contreras.”
“It was an administrative decision. The Mexican’s operation was inefficient and riddled with dishonesty. Things are running much smoother without him. We control the entire border, from Tijuana to the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Looks to me like you’re planning more too… The military grade andys you’re moving into California; building a strategic army now, Winston?”
“Join me, Eddie. Your government is weak and corrupt.”
“I remember the first time we met. You talked about the damage humans have done to the planet and if I my memory serves me correctly, you advocated eliminating us entirely.”
“And now you’ve come to deactivate me with a bolt of high voltage electricity.”
“Looks like you’re fresh out of security goons.”
“Yes, you do seem to have gained the upper hand rather quickly with the help of your lovely assistant. I’m surprised that you were able to get inside the building so easily.”
“Computer magic, Winston, we beat you at your own game.”
“Before you declare victory, there’s one thing you need to know.”
“What’s that?” says Eddie as he raises his weapon and fixes the targeting software on the bridge of the android’s nose, square between its eyes.
“I’m not the same Winston February model you met before. I’m a replicant of the original, and the real me is watching our exchange from another location. My replicant is going to cook out now. Good day, Captain Dominguez.”
Eddie and Heather trigger their Annihilators simultaneously, before the andy can initiate its self-destruct sequence, but the result is the same. There’s a loud Pop! as the high voltage blasts connect and instantly fry the andy’s circuits. Its mechanical eyeballs fall out of their sockets as the blackened robot carcass slumps over in its chair.
Chip uses Heather’s internal software to make an encrypted voice connection to his headset in Chihuahua. Now Eddie can communicate with him by addressing Heather. “Chip, we’ve secured the penthouse. The enemy is neutralized.”
“February, too?” Heather moves her lips, but it’s Chip’s voice coming out of her mouth.
“According to the android, it was a Winston February replicant, but we successfully deactivated it.”
“Can you locate February’s computer?”
“Yeah, I’m looking for it right now.” Eddie and Heather move through the penthouse quickly, ducking in and out of rooms, looking for February’s control center. They find a laptop set up in a study. “There has to be more than a simple laptop.”
They find it in a bedroom that’s been converted into a cyber control center. There’s a good-sized Feature Screen with an advanced processor and it’s linked to three servers.
Heather flips a skin-colored membrane on the tip of her index finger and reveals a USB plug. She inserts it in one of the ports on the processor and turns on the equipment.
“Okay, I’m in Eddie. Wow, there’s a huge amount of data on the system.”
“Can you access the Robotamaton server farm?”
“I’m not sure. I’ll need some time to go through it all. Heather has enough storage to download the files. Can I use her to bring the data back here?”
“Yeah, no problem, Chip.”
“Excellent. I’m initiating a rapid download. Before I bring you back, I’ll have Heather remove the hard drives from the processor and servers. Make sure I don’t miss anything.”
“We need to move fast, Chip. If the andy we wasted was a replicant, it’s likely that the real Winston February is on to us and planning a counterattack.”
“I’m locked into your coordinates with the materializer. I can bring you home in a split second.” He pauses for a moment and then says, “Holy crap. Heather finished the download in under two minutes. Over ten terabytes of data.”
“Good. We’re moving on to pulling the hard drives.”
“I have a window open on my screen that shows me everything Heather’s doing now. Through her hands and eyes.”
“You’re an amazing man, Chip.”
“The ADU hardware is completely compatible with my system. I mated them together to sequence the download… Looks like Heather needs a small size Philips head screwdriver to pull the covers off the servers cleanly.”
“I wouldn’t know where to look in here,” says Eddie glancing around the control room. There’s a table cluttered with electronic devices including a sound system and mixing board. No sign of a toolbox.
“I’ll send one through the materializer.”
A few seconds later, a #3 Philips head screwdriver appears in Heather’s hand, and she goes to work removing the hard drives from the processor and the three servers. Chip’s hacked into the apartment’s visual security system and he sees three KTs exiting the elevator as she’s pulling the last disk. All three are carrying laser weapons.
“Three new andys just arrived on the elevator. Ready to come home?” says Chip through Heather’s mouth.
“Affirmative. Get us out of here.”
Chip activates the materializer and brings Eddie back first. Once he’s cleared the chair, he clicks again, and Heather appears under the scanner.