Authors: Martin Wilsey
Tags: #mystery science fiction, #intelligence hard scifi high tech combat robot science military ai
Alex tapped the console to see if it
changed. “Forty-six percent will last you years, even if there is
daily use. With that Ball-Reactor up, it will last longer still. It
will charge at light speed,” she said as Dave began a slow drift
toward the shop. “Come on, Dave. Knock the dust off this thing.”
She smiled at him. Daring him.
OK. Hold on.” He slid the
thrusters’ control forward. And soon they were going 200kph over
the open desert.
Leaving the yard behind.
” she asked.
The controls feel like
shit. Can aerodynamics get any worse? Manual says it should cruise
at 600kph. You hear that?” Dave asked. There was a rapid hammering
or rattle coming from somewhere.
She did hear it. “Better
slow down. I think there’s something hanging from below. A loose
cable or something snagged on the
sound stopped. As they
he added, “I was hoping to
forget about the nose. All the damaged parts have
been removed, but
the manual controls feel
they are in
Cement?” she asked,
unfamiliar with the term.
It’s like foamcrete,
liquid rock.” He shook his head. A light turned red on the status
panel. It was number one of the three
. The front
Shit, can we land this on
somewhere?” he asked. “Preferably closer to
. The head still isn’t sorted
Sure. We’ll have to walk
back and get the rest of your stuff.” She pointed. There
an open pad just within the shadow of the water tower. “Land
on 21D. There is also power and sewer there. Might be handy for
fixing the head.”
There was a great groan and a thunk as
they set down. As her chair slid back and the shuttle powered down,
she noticed the power to the empty rack stayed up. Dave was out the
hatch quickly and around the front. They had indeed knocked the
dust off. The white was now too bright where the sun was on it. She
had left her hat back in the cart. She’d better retrieve it before
Harv saw her.
Fuck,” she heard from
underneath the nose.
She saw the problem right
away. It hadn’t been a
it was a hydraulic hose from the
front skid. Luckily the front skid was down and locked.
Good thing you didn’t
retract the landing gear. It would never have lowered again.” She
could see where the loose end of the hose had battered all the
glass paint off. “Oh, no. You scratched it.”
They both laughed as he
stood. There it was
the laugh did not reach
his eyes. Her gut twisted for an instant. No idea why.
All of this
.” He looked around.
a good spot. He pulled out a pad of paper and a pencil, just
like Harv always did. “How much room
on the tab?” he
What the fuck do you
think you’re doing?” Harvey suddenly appeared from around the side
of the shuttle. “What did I tell you about test flights?” Harv
groused at Alex but was already on his knees looking at the strut.
“And where’s your hat, dammit?”
She didn’t think this was
the right time to indicate that he was not wearing one either. Harv
was laying on his back now, awkwardly adding to a list on
We are going to get the
rest of Dave’s stuff and the cart, Gramps. We’ll be back in half an
hour,” she said,
holding a finger to her lips for Dave’s benefit.
DON’T CALL ME
Ok, Harv.” They walked
away, amused. “By the way, the bathhouse is right
” Alex pointed to a small building, “You smell like
This time, he seemed genuinely amused. Her odd feeling
hour before they were back. They loaded the rest of his gear into
the truck, and the generator back onto the cart. Dave no longer
needed it. When they pulled up beside the MP-82 Harv was gone. He
had connected the ship to the landing pads’ lines for water, sewer
and power before he left.
I’ll be in the store if
” Alex said, not getting out
of the cart. Her hat was back on.
Thanks, Alex. I may drop
off a list later tonight.
what Harv says I
need. I swear he’s testing me by comparing my lists with his.” He
waved as she started to pull away.
When she walked through the front door
of the shop, Harv was sitting on one of the counter stools, arms
crossed over his chest, brows furrowed.
He looked old to her for the first
time in her life. And worried.
She chose her words carefully. “I’m
sorry, Harv. I meant no disrespect. And I will stop bugging you
about the hat thing.”
You need to stay away
from this Keener fellow. And don’t act like I just pointed out the
flame to a moth. I’m serious. Stay away. Please. I have a
Alex was so taken aback by
that she froze in place and looked at Harv closely. He looked
like he was about cry or scream.
He started to speak,
quietly. “Ever since Solstice 31, I
with the world. I
never want to see it again. None of it,” Harv said. Alex knew he
was holding something back. He never spoke of the events of
December 22, 2631. Even now, almost years later.
Alex crossed to him and
gathered him into a hug. He was shaking. “I know Papa.” She knew he
that when they were alone. “But
that was thirty years ago.”
You know I don’t hold
that it was all this Barcus fella, like they say,” He pulled back
from the hug enough to look up into her eyes. “It was the goddam
AIs. Some of ’em got spoiled somehow. I
Alex started to cry and tried to hide
She knew that day, Harv
was on the way back from an auction with a young Mark, when New
was destroyed by
a nuclear explosion
. They had just
purchased a large cargo shuttle in Toronto. When the call for help
in the evacuation went
he was one of the first ship on
the scene. He took 400 to 600 wounded people per trip to Pittsburgh
and Philly and then Richmond.
He never talked about
seen that day. She only knew from the clippings
of news feeds. For sixty hours straight, Harv had made
run after run
with that cargo shuttle before Mark made him
stop. According to Mark, even when they got home he loaded up the
water tank trailer and took it out into the middle of the desert
the new shuttle for four more
Them goddam AIs knew in
advance. Some the day before, some the hour before.”
AIs are alright, Papa.
Hunter’s been part of our family, for decades before 31, and he’s
one knows we have Hunter. Never did. And he’s mighty careful what
he touches on the net,” He extricated himself from the hug. “Hunter
is the one that asked me to tell you to stay away. He suspects
something. Don’t know what,” Harv said, collecting himself and
sitting up straighter.
Alex walked behind the counter and
punched up the cams on landing pad 21D. Dave was putting up the
shade fly again, but not over the shuttle this time. She touched
her ear cuff and said, “Hunter, have you noticed anything unusual
Not about Dave. Other
than he doesn’t sleep much. And he eats Morrison’s Chili cold,
right out of the can. Who does that?” AI~Hunter replied in her ear.
“It’s the acquisitions he has requested. Standard rack rails number
and a refurbished
uninterruptable power supply. All are required parts for an AI
module. Hey, I should know.”
That doesn’t mean he has
an AI with him. He said Harv was going to find him a Local Nav
interface for easier in-system movement,” Alex said.
He said what?” Harv
walked over. “We never discussed that.”
And what if he does have
an AI module? It’s none of our
business,” Alex said,
even as she realized she was uncomfortable saying it. “It’s not
illegal. Especially here.”
Hunter, keep a close eye
on him. Let us know if anything gets hinky,” Harv said. “And you,
get back to
” he yelled at Alex as he left the
Don’t forget your
” she called after him.
For the next two
she watched David Keener fix the struts on the MP-82. All
three had had various problems. Finally, he
a meter over the pad and tested them. They each retracted and
stowed over and over. He landed softly and stepped out of the
shuttle and started an animated conversation with Harv by the
destroyed nose of the thing. She
as Dave talked and
Harv listened, pulling his beard. All the while she was working on
the rack mount UPS. Making a few
mods. A bit of insurance,
as Hunter called
Eventually, Harv nodded
the cart and drove out into the depths of the
Alex was on her usual
stool behind the counter, concentrating on assembling another HUD
Jammer. She sold them on the Net and had another order. It was a
small device that she made to fit inside the box from a
of cards. It worked on the principle of wave
a much grander scale. It was an anti-entropy
signal. It only worked on HUD v7.2 and up. It would
off without anyone knowing why.
Just pure signal loss. Anti-entropy mimicking simple entropy.
Obnoxious people cut off from their information
She would never go on
another date without one. She would never have sex again without
. The cops and gov can just pound
She finished up the
and opened a test window next to the four views of Dave. He
was wiping his hands off on a rag after opening several access
panels on the nose wall of the MP-82. She played music in the test
She slid the tiny HUD Jammer into the
playing card box and looked at the screen. With the lid still open,
she flipped the toggle. The music stopped.
On the other
Dave dropped the
and his arms fell loose to his
sides. His face went
and he stopped moving
Alex left the
a few more seconds and then switched it off. Dave
looked around as if he had just remembered where he was, and picked
up the rag again. “What the f…”
Just then Alex saw Harv
roll up to the MP-82. He had a base camp,
reclamation unit on the cart. Together they lifted and held it up
to the gap in the nose fuselage. It was smart. It
was already rated
for use in vacuum and extreme temps. They would
just have to mount it and plumb it in where the old water tank
Hunter, did you see
that?” she asked.
Yes. I did, miss. I will
quietly look into it. You should
if he gets that
I think he will leave
and it won’t matter,” AI~Hunter said.
It was a beautiful winter dusk when
Wendy rolled up to the store in her empty container rig and hopped
down to stretch her legs. Alex watched her from inside. The sun had
set amid deep azure skies. Wendy paused to admire the view for a
few moments before turning to come into the store.