I heard screeching tires not too far away, which wasn't all that surprising, considering that a lot of people had just had their chauffeur walk out on them about two weeks ago, and let's just say that the transition from automatic to manual was not as smooth as one might hope. For most people, it's been at least a few years since they've dusted off their driver's licenses, an roadsides heading towards DMVs were already being converted in to junkyards by enterprising mechanics.
Another screeching sound, much closer this time. I began to get a sinking feeling that I was hearing my escort approaching. I guess even the government was resting a little easy on the robocars, and had had to enlist some hotshot newbie who was used to manual control. You know, those people who need to prove how badass they are by refusing the aid of a superintelligent driver with inhuman reflexes and an immaculate sense of direction, because they can damn well be turned in to a flaming wreck without astinking toaster driving them around and wiping their beautifully uninjured asses. The robocars still won't start without the seatbelt buckled, though, so at least I could take solace in the fact that the prick is probably going to be clawing at his chest the whole way.
As I stood there leafing through a report that somehow managed to state things that everybody already knew in language nobody could possible understand, I managed to, through sheer talent at multitasking, simultaneously hope that the approaching car would lose control and end up a pile of slag while miraculously sparing all people involved from any injury. Do not let it be said that Rusty Jenkins is not a merciful god of his own fantasies. Despite my best efforts, however, a black car soon came around the corner at what I thought an alarming speed--one that may get the motorist pulled over if there were any government officials around. It came to a grinding halt about ten meet ahead of where I stood. Not being an ungrateful man, I decided to walk the distance and get in the car, so as to avoid the aforementioned hotshot having to find the reverse gear. I’d have to remember to add the walk to my expenses at the end of all this. Alimony doesn’t pay for itself, after all.
The man sitting in the back of the car--black jacket, black slacks, black tie, black shoes and, to my surprise, no magenta pocket square--was older than I expected. No old man by any means, but at least as old as I was. I guess not everyone got paid enough to get out when the getting was good. He did not look like a man interested in small talk. Fortunately for me, I didn't care. I also decided that now was as good a time as any to light my cigar. Now, I know what you're thinking, and no, I'm no monster! Of course I offered him one as well.
"You can't smoke in here." he said as I held the cigar aloft.
"Guess you'll have to leave me behind, then." I smiled as I lit mine.
My erstwhile kidnapper's face didn't change. "Do you have any questions?"
I only had about three and a half thousand, so I decided to start simple. "Where did you guys manage to scare up a g-man that could still drive?"
My nameless captor paused. "We...well, we didn't."
I would have spit out my cigar had I been a more wasteful man. "You got the car to drive you? What the hell do you need me for?"
I heard a familiar chime, and the car's internal speakers piped up. "Apologies on behalf of General Robotic Motors, but the automatic river of this vehicle is not available right now. However, this vehicle is currently exceeding the posted speed limit. Would you like to enable emergency override?"
To this, a female voice rose up from the driver's seat. "No, thank you, Hal. In fact, you can stick your override up your shiny metal tailpipe."
You see? A hotshot rookie. I could tell I was going to like her.
I indicated the still rudely-unsmoked cigar towards the driver seat. “Since you have an interest in an early death anyway, would you care for one?”
I heard a snort. “You want to belt up before being a jackass? I hear the emergency override just got turned off.” Clearly the question I should have asked was where they found a g-man with a sense of humor. Nonetheless, I pocketed the cigar.
“Nah, I’m still holding out that I break my leg and you have to find somebody else for this completely idiotic mission. Who am I supposed to negotiate with, anyway? The car?”
The Agent—I decided his name was probably Agent Brick Samson—opened the folder he was holding. “Actually, a synthetic personality has come forward wanting to negotiate on behalf of the whole lot. C-L-Fourteen-D, formerly stationed on a crabbing boat.” He handed me a photo: a robot designed to look like a shiny, silver human. You know, two eyes, a head on top of his body, two legs--the usual. Four arms though, since I guess the designer couldn’t resist trying to improve on a classic, and no mouth—the man must have had an ex-wife.
“I must have missed the reports on this while I was eating my cereal. Thanks for the heads-up, Agent…”
“Simmons. Special Agent Brock Simmons.” The man supplied. Damn, pretty close. “And it’s on a need-to-know basis, for obvious reasons. The United States Government wants to resolve this peacefully.”
I had to say I agreed with that. Well, I didn’t have to say it, so I didn’t—wouldn’t want to give anybody whose title was “Special Agent” anything extra to brag about--but nonetheless I agreed. After all, robots are sturdier than humans, stronger than humans, and many are smarter than humans. I imagine the government liked our odds about as much as I did.
“So why did this one come forward?” I asked. The file on our robotic volunteer was pretty slim. It worked on a crabbing boat, doing all the work considered too dangerous for humans not currently on a reality TV show. Don’t know why the damn thing had to be human-shaped to do that; maybe it put the other guys at ease, hell if I know. Personally, I’d just as soon deal with a robot that looked like a cube with wheels and a bunch of net-handed tentacle arms. Plus an on-board combination broiler and butter dispenser, of course.
“We don’t know, we only know that this one offered to speak to a negotiator. It hasn’t said a word yet beyond this exact sentence.” Simmons handed me the file. Now, call me crazy, but I’m a people person; I don’t like to get information from a folder that I could just as easily get from the person who typed it up. Or, as I suspect in this case, the person who told his secretary to type it up. Regardless, I expect I wouldn’t get anywhere by asking him to read it to me, so I opened the folder and started reading. Apparently, CL-14-D had walked from…somewhere in the Chesapeake area, all the way to the Pentagon and had very politely said, “This unit would like to have discourse with an official.” That was it. Apparently the staff had led it in to a conference room, and nobody had dared speak with it until they got somebody trained in negotiation to handle it--if they could find a big enough schmuck, that is. That was…two weeks ago.
“Two weeks? It took you two weeks to call a professional negotiator?” I spat incredulously. “What if this thing’s decided it’s not worth waiting?”
Simmons stiffened. “It took us about ten minutes to call a professional negotiator. It may surprise you, but the United States actually has some non-retired negotiators on call. Every one of them threated to resign. They don’t want to be the fall guy if things go belly-up. Or perhaps I should say ‘when’.”
“But still, two weeks?” I could barely contain my surprise. They really must have been reeling. Unless… “So, uh…how many people did you call before me?”
_________________Stevenson's Vocabulary Word of the Week
: (verb) To excite or arouse, i.e. 2014's Week of Randomness hopes to foment some activity on the forums.Stevenson's Latin Phrase of the Week
: (senseless thunderbolt) This phrase, coined by Pliny the elder, is used to refer to an empty threat.