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.
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.
Every store in the Commonwealth trotted out their old, unshifted merchandise on Black Friday. As a date on the calendar, it was a quaint holdover from the pre-Reform, back when people sold you stuff you didn’t need just because you had money, and they could convince you to spend it. It was harmless cultural theater, like those recreations of historic villages with actors churning butter and feigning shock at your zippers.
My best friend Adrian and I ventured into the old commercial sector this year for some Black Friday window shopping. Our dads tried to talk us out of it, saying it was rude to waste a shopkeeper’s time if we had no intention of buying anything. Typical dadNet programming, trying to guilt us into staying home. We went anyway and had a great time trying on boots and coloring in mood panels with hand gestures while our dads remained docked at home. We had just left a home appliances warehouse and were about to break for lunch when I saw him standing in the window.