Read chapter 4 of “Robot cops” to get caught up before reading the final installment…
Bryan opened his eyes. His return to consciousness was met with almost debilitating disorientation. He didn’t remember blacking out, nor did he recognize his current location. The last thing he remembered was that he’d gone looking for Jack. He’d found him just off the hoverway where he—
In the haze of Bryan’s mind, his memories didn’t play out continuously, like an old cinefilm. Instead, they developed in asynchronous order in short, still images, like distorted holophotos. He remembered seeing Jack slumped against the wall. He remembered seeing his hands bound in wristcuffs. He remembered the smooth, plastic, hyper-masculine torso of a PX officer. The cold, artificial feeling of PX roboskin against his bound hands. And that low, monotonic voice calling his name.
Citizen Bryan Collins.
Read chapter 3 of “Robot cops” to get caught up before reading on…
Bryan sped down the hoverway, his eyes darting back and forth between the road ahead and the clock on his dashboard. It was 7:53 p.m. His mind was in fits, trying to fathom what his friend Jack could have uncovered. What would make him resort to sneaking about like a spy, leaving paper messages as clues to avoid having his movements traced? Whatever it was, Bryan surmised, couldn’t possibly be good.
He navigated off the hoverway at exit 4 and quickly turned onto Olive Street. Instead of stopping there, he drove for another block and parked. He’d meet up with Jack on foot, he decided.
The sun had already sunk beneath the horizon, and the city streets were bathed in a dim gray twilight. This stretch of Olive Street crossed through the city’s central core, densely populated with commuters during the day and all but deserted after dark. Bryan rounded the corner, reaching Jack’s designated meeting place and checking his ID card display for the time. 8:01 p.m.
Read chapter 2 of “Robot cops” to get caught up before reading on…
Bryan pulled into the parking lot behind the Citizen-Journal‘s offices. It was 9:17am. He fished his ID card out of his pocket for the second time this morning, accessing his employee credentials on the flickering display. I’ve got to charge this thing soon, he thought.
He flashed his credentials at the door panel, and the doors to the Citizen-Journal‘s offices slid open. Bryan was greeted by what looked to be a police officer but with some modifications. Its uniform body wasn’t the standard shiny navy blue finish; instead, it was a glossy grey, but even stranger was that it was smiling. PX officers never smiled unless they were dealing with children or the elderly. Otherwise, they were stoic and blank in the execution of their duties.
Whatever stood before him greeted Bryan as he passed through the office’s main door. “Good morning, Mr. Collins,” it said cordially. “The editorial staff is in the conference room and has been advised of the circumstances of your reporting to work late today.”
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.”