Read chapter 1 of “Robot cops” to get caught up before reading on…
Bryan was only eight but always remembered the afternoon PX6-5901 visited his classroom. Of course, twenty years had passed since then, and PX6-5901 was likely in pieces at some offshore garbage facility now or as recycled components of playground equipment. The PX6 was, by modern standards, a relic. Two new generations of PX officers had come and gone since then. Today, the patrol force was primarily PX9 officers, with a small minority of PX8 units still in service. However, they had since been relegated to mundane police duties, like parking enforcement. The real patrol work was now the province of the PX9.
The overall design of the PX officers hadn’t changed much over the decades, with the same human-looking face, hands, navy blue torso, and limbs, although the body was shinier than Bryan remembered from his youth. A glossy finish had been applied to the bodies of the PX8 models to better reflect energy, keep the units from overheating, and prevent dents and scrapes to their plastic and metal frames. This glossy finish was carried over into the current PX9 units. The badge was still affixed to the left pectoral. The unit’s serial number was now printed in white block numerals on the right. Each generation of PX officers was also slightly taller and bulkier than the last, the PX9 reaching a hair higher than its immediate predecessor at 191 centimeters.
Bryan noticed the officer directing traffic on the corner just in time and killed the accelerator on his hovercar. The vehicle glided to a smooth stop at the end of a long line of hovercars waiting to clear the intersection, and Bryan eased his foot off the brake. He couldn’t tell what was causing the logjam, but he was grateful. Having to wait gave Bryan the time to carefully watch the officer standing in the middle of the street, using its hands to allow one hovercar from each side to pass through the intersection at a time.
Bryan had never seen a human patrol officer before, and it was likely that neither had anyone his age. It had been 44 years since the national police had begun replacing human patrol officers with the PX4s, commissioning new models as vacancies opened through promotion or attrition. Nearly 26 years ago, the last four remaining human patrol officer turned in their badges and sidearms, and the lower ranks had been composed entirely of PX officers ever since. Detectives and other higher ranking members of the police force were still human, of course, because criminal investigations required more than the PX programming could offer.
My husband Terry squeezed me awake, and I looked around the living room bleary eyed. I could never stay awake in front of the TV. The Christmas movie we’d started watching was over, and a poor cover version of “Jingle Bell Rock” played over the closing credits. Instinctively, I reached for my phone to check the time, hoping I hadn’t overslept.
I felt his beard graze my bald scalp as he moved in to kiss me. The scratchy sensation sent shivers down my spine. “I’m sorry I passed out,” I said. I stood up and stretched, already missing the warmth radiating from his body. I rechecked the clock more surreptitiously this time. It was 11:54 p.m. Only six minutes until Christmas.
“It’s okay,” Terry said, reaching out to me. I grasped his hands and pulled him into a standing position. We laughed as both of his knees cracked on the way up. “I love napping on the sofa with you, but if I don’t get in bed, I’ll be a pretzel when I wake up tomorrow.”
I had been based out of Artemis Station for several years, doing long-distance runs to minor colonies and galactic backwaters. Six months to Vesta. Fourteen months to New Rockall. The occasional 10-week jog to Hyperion and back. Interstellar cargo is a boring industry, but the work was steady, and the pay was good.
The long periods of deep sleep freaked some guys out, but I didn’t mind it too much. I had no loved ones waiting back home who went on living—and aging—while I spent most of my time in a sleep chamber, exempt from the passage of time. Coming home to a new kid you didn’t recognize or watching everyone you’ve ever cared about move on with their lives without you must make you think twice about the job. Of the 200 graduates of my training group, fewer than 50 signed up for a second run. After my third run, I think I was the only one still with the company.