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 stayed parked in the flower shop lot for over an hour, watching the traffic die down to a standard, post-rush hour volume. By the time the sun set, the formerly bottlenecked intersection was deserted. The PX9 had not moved from its unexpected perch the entire time. Its head remained slumped forward, its flesh-colored chin and jaw resting on the shiny blue uniform chest. Its lifeless arms would sway ever so slightly in a gust of wind every once in a while, but otherwise, the PX9 was stationary. The traffic lights had long since returned to their regular green, yellow, and red rotation. Funny, Bryan thought, that they could fix traffic lights remotely, but the cops shut down in the middle of the street.
Bryan wondered why no one had bothered to call the police and inform them that one of their officers had malfunctioned. Of course, I could ask myself the same question, he thought. He was just about to do so when a white van stopped in the middle of the intersection and activated its flashers. Two men—humans, from what Bryan could tell—excited the vehicle. One approached the officer, and the other opened the van’s rear doors and retrieved a GravCart. Lowering it down to street level, he maneuvered it toward his colleague and the PX9.
Bryan watched the first man attempt to access the officer’s controls by feeling around for a catch on its left pec and rotating the badge. I guess some things don’t change, he thought. Bryan lowered his hovercar window and craned his neck slightly to overhear their conversation.
“It’s not responding, Hal,” the first man said.
Hal, resting his weight on the GravCart, scoffed. “I knew it wouldn’t. I’m telling you, Marc, we’ve gotten the exact same error report on a dozen other PX9s today. Let’s just cart it to the van and get it to the lab.”
Not ready to give up, the first man tried again to manipulate a series of controls hidden by the officer’s rotated badge. Bryan couldn’t tell what he was trying to do, but he could see the man’s frustration that whatever it was, it wasn’t working. Finally conceding defeat, the man twisted the badge back into place and sighed. “Fine, you’re right, I guess. Let’s go.”
Now wearing a smug expression, Hal slid the GravCart carefully beneath the officer’s feet. At the same time, his coworker braced its shoulders, making sure it stayed upright. Safely loaded onto the cart, Hal tilted the handle and began pulling it back toward the van. The PX9 leaned backward with the cart, riding rigidly at a 45-degree angle to the street, its arms parallel to the rest of its body. Once back at the van, the GravCart raised the officer high enough to be loaded in the doors, then slid it horizontally inside, facing upward. The setting sun reflected off its shoulders, then pecs, then calves, temporarily blinding Bryan as he watched the officer being hauled away.
The following day, the malfunctioning PX9 was at the back of Bryan’s mind. It was Friday, and he was running late to work. Friday was the worst day to show up late since it was assignments day at the Citizen-Journal. At 9:00am, the editors, staff writers, and photographers began planning the next issue to be published the following Thursday. Being late to assignments day guaranteed cold coffee and an unwanted assignment. Bryan accelerated down the hoverway, knowing if he could make it through the next intersection, he’d have nothing but green lights to the newsroom.
The light turned from green to yellow as he neared the intersection and from yellow to red a split second before his hovercar crossed the white line. However, the traffic lights ahead were of less consequence than the flashing red and blue lights that appeared behind him.
“Dammit!” Bryan shouted as he piloted the hovercar to the side of the road. His frustrated hands struck the steering column, accidentally honking his horn. He reached into his pockets to retrieve his ID card, already running low on battery. Tapping away at the screen, he called up his hovercar operator license. He hoped the display would have enough power to show his registration and insurance information.
Bryan watched the PX9 exit the police car through the rearview mirror, his palms leaving sweat behind on the steering column. The PX9’s glossy, navy blue torso blocked the sunlight as it stood in the driver’s side window. “Good morning, Sir,” it began in the dull, lifeless tone typical of traffic enforcement. “I am Officer PX9-2219. You were pulled over this morning for violation of the municipal traffic code.”
Bryan surrendered his ID card. The officer took the card, confirmed the display was operational, and inserted it into a slot in its left forearm. “Bryan Collins,” it said after a moment or two of processing time, “this is your first violation of the municipal traffic code in three years. If you plead guilty, the fine for this infraction will be debited from your household account. If you plead not guilty, I am authorized to schedule an appearance for you in the municipal court.”
Fighting the citation was an exercise in futility. The PX9 had noticed Bryan’s violation even before Bryan did, the millisecond his hovercar crossed into the intersection. Since that moment, all the data it recorded was being fed directly into the police department’s database, and an airtight case was likely already prepared. The violation report would be downloaded from the officer’s CPU within minutes and was fully admissible in court.
“No, it’s okay,” Bryan said. “I’ll pay the fine.”
The officer retrieved Bryan’s ID card from its forearm and held it out for Bryan to take. Instead of his photo and address, the display screen now showed his citation, with a rectangular area near the bottom for his thumbprint, acknowledging his guilt and agreement to pay the fine. Bryan pressed his thumb to the display. Once the officer received the thumbprint confirmation, it spoke again.
“According to the terms of your guilty plea, Mr. Collins, this infraction will be wiped from your record in eighteen months, provided you incur no further violations. I will also inform you that the battery level on your ID card is running low. Please recharge your display as soon as possible.”
Bryan could have sworn the robotic officer sounded more pleasant, even friendlier now. I wonder what they do if you refuse to plead guilty, he thought.
The PX9, having completed its task, stepped back from Bryan’s hovercar. “Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Collins. Please drive carefully to your destination.”
Bryan pulled back onto the road, lighter in the wallet and sure of landing the least desirable story assignment and coffee when he finally got to work.
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