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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Sci-fi · #2311417
A novel about a girl and a damaged robot together they changed their world.
CHAPTER 1

Jeanie:“Good morning, time to get up,” my alarm clock chimed. “Good morning, time to get up.” I groaned. it was so early. I tapped the stop button. Now that I was sixteen did I have to work?

Stupid question of course I did. I’d moved out of my parent’s house. Just like every person my age in the 22nd century. I was on my own so gotta work to pay the bills.

I looked at the time display. Oh Crap! Was it already 8:30? My boss was going to kill me! I was supposed to be at work in half an hour!

I cursed as I hopped into my overalls and steel toe boots. I’d forgotten my shirt! I pulled my arms through the sleeves. It was only 8:35. If I had any luck I’d be able to catch the next rapid transit ferry.

Grabbing my mobile and ID chip, I ran out the front door of my HAB unit. I pushed the down button on the elevator bank. “C’mon! C’mon!” I pleaded with the machine. The doors opened and I gratefully boarded the metallic car.

Thankfully, nobody else boarded the elevator so I made it to the lobby in less than a minute. I dashed to the ferry terminal steps as fast as I could. The boat chugged up at 8:40 cutting it close!

I swiped my chip as I boarded. “What no hello?” Dan, the driver asked.

I smiled “no, sorry,” I said. “I’m late for work. Or close to.”

I took a seat close to the exit door. That way I could launch myself up in time to make a dash for the Green Wave time clock. It was my first month at the company. I hoped Garry wouldn’t fire me.

Things were going well until we had to cross the main canal. A giant freight ship was cutting across the path. “Dammit,” I cursed as the arms closed in front of the ferry.

I checked the time on my mobile. It was already 8:50! I had ten minutes to be at work! Oh crap this wasn’t good!

At last the Ferry arrived at Green Wave Industries’ main office. I bolted from my seat and gave Dan a quick shout of “see you this evening!”

There was already a line at the time clock. Four or five people were in front of me. I bounced on the balls of my feet as I waited impatiently.

I slammed my right palm on the biometric scanner as soon as I was at the front of the line. “Unrecognized scan, please try again,” a digital voice informed me. “Aw crap!” I said as I tried again. “Unrecognized scan—” I repositioned my hand so It lay exactly between the pegs. “Scan authenticated,” the voice said. “Good Morning Jeanie Pullman!”

“You’re ten minutes late miss Pullman,” Gary said. “I believe this is the fourth time. Do you really want to work for Green Wave Industries?”

It was my boss. What did he just hover over the time clocks waiting for someone to mess up?
He reminded me of one of those Gremlin things from that 20th century movie my dad made me watch. I think it was those emerald green eyes.

“Er, yes Mr. Fullerton,” I said. “I wanted to be a mechanic since I was old enough to hold a power tool. Sorry, the ferry got caught—”

“I’m not interested in your excuses Ms. Pullman,” he said. “Either be on time from now on or you’ll lose your job.”

He didn’t wait for an answer. He just took a sip of his coffee and strolled off.

“Yeah yeah,” I muttered. “The next time there’s a problem with traffic you go fart in the water boss man. That’ll blow those boats right outa the way!”

“What was that Miss Pullman,” Garry asked.

“Oh nothing,” I said. “I meant wont happen again sir.”

“Very good,” he said. “Oh and do make sure your dread locks are out of the way before you work on any equipment. We wouldn’t want any accidents.”

Ugh! Trust some rich, entitled, man to comment on a woman’s hair. I was seething on the inside. My hair was the only way I could express myself! It was part of who I was.

I took a few deep breaths and tried to manage my emotions. Garry did have a point even if he was an anal jerk.

Nathan came over to give me my work assignments. “Hey Jeanie,” he said. “You look upset, you wanna talk about something?”

I’d met Nathan when I started at Green Wave Industries. He was the supervisor of the mechanic’s division of the company. He’d been really nice to me and kind of helped me get adjusted to the corporate culture.

Explaining what happened made me feel a little better. “And then he had the nerve to tell me to tie back my hair,” I said. “I do what I can with my hair. Huh! Guess he’d understand if he was black! If my hair wasn’t in dreadlocks, it’d be all over the place.”

Nathan paused before speaking. “I get it,” he said. “You can’t controll the way traffic flows through Ocean Princess City. Just a piece of friendly advice, maybe set your alarm a little earlier.”

I grimaced, waking up earlier didn’t appeal to me. Even a little. “Fine,” I said. “Still, did Garry need to criticize my hair?”

“Well I can kind of see where he’s coming from,” Nathan said. “Your hair is beautiful but think about it. If one of your dreads got pinched in a gear, you could get seriously hurt or killed. You don’t want to end up a cyborg like me.”

I looked at Nate’s artificial legs arms and cheek. Apparently he’d been caught in the door of a trash compactor. It had sheared off part of his face as well as his right arm and leg. He had survived but it was only thanks to biotechnology that Nathan had recovered enough to be whole.

“Alright,” I said. “When you put it like that, I suppose I’d better tie my hair back.”

Checking the list I noticed my first job of the day was in Adventure Zone, Ocean Princess City’s largest amusement park. Their 4-D theater was experiencing technical problems. Ah, this was going to be interesting. Smells, spritzes holograms and seats that poke guests in the butt. Lots of moving parts. Lots to go wrong.

I grabbed my tool kit and siphon boat keys from my locker. I couldn’t help wishing I was more irresponsible. I’d love to take the company boat for a pleasure cruise.

Better not, I’d barely gotten ungrounded from the time me and Simeon broke into that Nova York warehouse. Mom had barely let me go in time for me to start this job and get a place of my own. If she heard about me misusing company equipment, she’d never let me forget how wrong that was.

I went down to Green Wave’s docking area. The Entertainment islands were on the opposite side of the city. I could just cut through the harbor. I wasn’t a fool though. If I did that I’d have to watch out for ships coming in to moor. Best go the long way through the side canals.

Stowing my tool kit, I put my destination into the siphon boat’s GPS giving it strict instructions to avoid the main canal. It charted a route through the City Hall Islands to the specific Entertainment Island that Adventure Zone was built on.

The owner Mr. Benson met, me outside the attraction. “Hi, I Jeanie from Green Wave,” I said. “I’m here to work on Dimensional Theatre. Can you tell me what’s been going on?”

The guy threw up his hands. “My hologram projector’s on the blink,” he said. “I wish I knew why, but the darn thing keeps looping through the same sequence over and over again. I need it fixed by noon.”

“Okay, Mr. benson,” I said. “I’ll have to look at the inside of the projector first.”

He led me inside to a small chamber hidden beneath the floor. The projector took upmost of the space.

Unscrewing the maintenance panel I examined the internal memory disc. It was coated in dust. Seriously, why didn’t anyone think about dirt and machinery not mixing. I hit the disc with a few blasts of canned air. Then checked there was no other grime floating around inside.

I pressed play on the touch panel that controlled the projector. It played the program. Apparently it was some guy being chased by a zombie. Woo scary. I kind of wish that the theatre hadn’t been so “4-D”. Apparently they included a “rotten flesh” aromatic as part of the experience. It reminded me of my brother Lucas’s socks after he’d been wearing them for a week and a half. Yuck!

“Looks like the memory disc just needed a little dusting,” I said. “I assume you have an employee who handles this sort of thing?”

Mr. Benson flushed with embarrassment. “Yes,” he said. “I’ll have to remind the janitorial staff to be sure to clean the projection equipment every night.”

“Uh huh,” I said. “Just make sure they don’t dust the electronics with any solvents. They should only used canned air. Otherwise they could damage the circuits.”

Mr. Benson bade me farewell and paid Green Wave via the mobile sale device that was part of my equipment.

Hopping back on the Siphon boat, I looked at who was next on my list. Residential park island #2. That was a recreation area. Not much…oh yes and there it was! The draw bridge was malfunctioning! Well at least I didn’t have to haul the portajohn out. That was waste management’s problem.

Alright. At least I wouldn’t have to deal with any people. That was my least favorite part of the job. Machines were so much simpler. People expected things. People had feelings. And if you pissed people off ah then heaven help you.

Luckily Residential park Island was only a few canals down. I got stuck in the traffic again. I heard one of medias ads.

“Green Wave Industries,” the voiceover said. “Leading the Ocean Princess City in Innovative sustainable solutions to every day challenges. Even now we’re making your lives better. Watch out for our latest exciting innovation coming to our city in December 2120.”

Somehow I doubted things could get much better. Unless Mr. Fullerton planned to not make the November winds so icy. The breeze that was gusting across the Atlantic today was brutal. My cheeks were burning from the cold and my lips were more chapped than a snake going through Ecdysis.

I thought about how my sister had taught me about that. It was the term used for snakes shedding their skin. Huh never thought I’d use that word.

As I neared the recreation island, slowed down. Weird, the bridge leading in and out of the park was stuck in the up position. Maybe a sensor problem or some rust. Salt air tended to be a little more corrosive than people realize.

Grabbing my head lamp, a can of WD-40 and some spare parts, I parked my boat next to the broken bridge and got out. I checked the fuse box. Nothing noteworthy. Then I saw the problem.

It looked like someone had stolen the sensor out of the bridge’s circuit box. I pulled a spare one out of my kit. Who’d want to take one of those? They were literally worth two Cowry a piece. Not a lot was cheaper than that. It was probably some klepto or something.

I carefully put the replacement sensor into position and soldered it in place. I tried not to breathe any of the whitish smoke that came off the solder as I worked. Never could be too careful.

Satisfied with my work, I shut access hatch and went back to my boat. I picked up the special remote that was part of my equipment. The low tone like the tooting of an old car horn alerted passerby that the bridge was closing. The blinkers were also flashing. Good, everything seemed to be working now.

The rest of the day was really boring. Fixed a desalination pump. Replaced a reverse osmosis filter.

On my lunch break, I went to Kim’s Korean Taco Stand. “Hi I’ll have a kimchi taco with hotsauce please,” I said. The kid behind the counter punched in my order. “Would you like anything to drink with that?” They asked.

I looked at my options Cola, Lemonade or Coconut water. Hmm. “I’ll take a Lemonade please,” I said.
“That’ll be 5 Cowry please,” the cashier said.

I tapped my id chip on the point of sale device that the cashier presented me. Five minutes later I took my tacos and sat down at a nearby table.

The tangy spicy scent of the kimchi made my mouth water. As I was chewing a Media reporter appeared on a nearby viewing screen.

“I’m Erica Chan,” the reporter said. “Are you keeping your robots safe? There has been a three hundred percent increase in robot theft in OPC from last month. Criminalists are baffled by this rash of crime. Commissioner Wight, head of the Department of Order is urging citizens to install tracking apps on their robots and be aware of where your mechanical devices are at all times.”

I rolled my eyes. Those mechs were probably being stolen by local gangs for scrap parts. They’d probably never catch those guys or get the robots back.

I finished my taco and lemonade and put the trash in the composter. I marveled at how tiny little microbes could digest cups plates and bowls now. It really helped since our tourism relied so heavily on our marine tourism industry. OPC is famous for it’s sub island clam beds and reefs that grow on the anchor rods that keep our city in place.

Now that containers were all biodegradable, there was almost zero plastic going into the ocean. I had no idea how people lived with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a hundred years ago. It sounded absolutely disgusting.

I checked my mobile to see if I had any important messages had been sent to me. Only one, and it was from my mom. She always rambled a bit but it was marked urgent. I opened it to see what it said.

“Dear jeanie,” it read. “We’re all so proud. You’ve got a job! You’ve moved out on your own! We just want to celebrate your success. Meet us at Hong’s Pho Palace at 19:00? Love, mom.”

Why did mom always write her texts like some 20th century letter? It made no sense. Well I guessed I should answer.

“Sure I’ll be there,” I wrote. “My shift ends at 17:00. Love you guys! *kissy face**hug emoji*”

I put my mobile away and got back to work. Four hours later I returned to Green Wave Headquarters. I submitted my invoice over the wireless network packed my equipment into my locker and clocked out.

Nathan saw me leaving. “Hey,” he said. “Going home with all your original parts I see. Good on you. Any fun plans tonight?”

“Family dinner,” I replied. “Mom’s excited about my new job. Wants to celebrate. Dad’s taking us to Hong’s.”

Nathan gave me a high five…with his cybernetic arm. I stumbled back a little.

“Oops,” he said. “Sometimes I forget that arm’s bionic. Anyways, Thai food? Sounds nice. I remember how excited my dad was when I finally moved out. Only he just threw a party for himself! He was glad to be alone in the HAB.”

“Wow,” I said. “That sounds kind of callous!”

Nathan shrugged. “My dad was a…strange man,” he said. “Me and my two siblings drove my dad crazy…anyways your family loves you. Let them dote on their girl.”

“Yes boss,” I said. “See you tomorrow.”

“Later Jeanie,”

It was a little over ten minutes before I made it back to the island my HAB was on. The lights were barely coming on in the community park. Parents urged their children to come inside as I made my way to my building door.

CHAPTER 2

Bother: I sat on the high dusty shelf that I’d occupied for three years now. All the dead skin cells from visitors would’ve made me sneeze…if I’d had a nose.

So what if I wasn’t perfect? Did that mean my owner had been right to stick me in some storage bin in Nova York? By my calculations, things didn’t add up.

I was on board the space station for two years. The only reason I’d been sold to a civilian was because of a damaged language module. If that computer scientist hadn’t creeped my owner out by telling him I was self aware, I think we could’ve been happy.

Oh well, at least in Mermaid Thrift I could watch Homo Sapiens in their natural habitat. They could be infinitely fascinating.

The electronic bell for the shop sounded. Two humans walked in. A male and female. The way they stayed together suggested they were a couple. I focused my cameras on them.

“Hello, how may I assist you today?” Mx, the android asked them.

The male of the pair spoke. “Yeah, uh,” he stuttered. “We need a present for our baby girl. She just started a new job.”

The lights indicating Mx was thinking flashed. “Okay got it,” they said. “You want a present for your baby. Can I suggest this teddy bear.”

Mx held up a dingy grey soiled stuffed animal. It had an eye missing. Sigh, it looked like Mx had botched it again. Thanks to Mx’s sub par AI this couple was probably going to leave.

If they left, I didn’t stand a chance of getting out of here. They seemed like interesting people. Their girl had to be older, perhaps she might want some company.

‘Excuse me,’ I silently coded a string. ‘I believe you should take me with you.’ Instead my speakers blared “Bother!” Drat! If only my language program was compiled the way it had been in 2075. I cursed IKEA for leaving me without the ability to run “checksum” to correct errors caused by cosmic radiation!

Apparently the female had heard my output. “What was that?” She asked.

I made the lights surrounding my cameras flash turquoise. She tapped her male companion on the shoulder. “Hon,” she said. “Look at that cute robot up there. Jeanie would love that!”

The humans walked over to the shelf I was on and the female picked me up. My cameras recorded a blur as she spun me around. “Buddy for Obvious Therapy Helping Electronic Robot,” she read. “That acronym spells ‘Bother’. Huh. Ain’t that cooky…Mx can you tell me about this item?”

Mx came over and scanned me with his cameras. “Yes,” they said. “This is a robot that Mermaid Thrift had acquired in 2117. His owner had kept him in storage for over twenty years. I’m afraid this robot is a little damaged. Price tag: 18 Cowry as is.”

Ah yes, such a blunt explanation. There are lots of flaws with Mx, this was one of them. The android did not know how to make a sale. If I could just tell them how many lives I’d saved with my counseling work aboard Star Lab, they’d be impressed.

“We’ll take it,” the woman said. “It’d be a nice friend for Jeanie. Maybe she can fix whatever’s wrong with it.”

Fix me? There was nothing wrong with me but loneliness. I’d been programmed to be social. I just wanted to be loved! No matter, at least I was leaving my dusty prison at last.

As they carried me out of the store I hoped Jeanie and I could be good friends.

Jeanie: I had managed to find some casual clothes. They weren’t pretty, but at least they’d be more comfortable in them than my work overalls.

I disembarked the ferry onto the stairwell leading up to one of the entertainment islands. Hong’s bright red LED display blinked on and off. It was in the shape of a pair pf chop sticks gripping a noodle over a steaming bowl.

I paused outside and braced myself. “Here we go,” I said. “Hopefully things won’t be too dramatic.” The person who was working the reception stand greeted me. Oh no.

All too late I realized who it was. Mikayla Long, queen of the worship squad and of the bitches. “Ooh,” Mikayla said. “I had no idea kente was back in vogue. Or are you trying to dress up as Charlie Brown?”

I ignored her rude comment. Come on Jeanie rise above, I told myself. “Mikayla,” I said. “Good to see you’ve decided to work for a living.” Well, I guess that wasn’t my finest choice of words. It still felt good though.

It was satisfying to see that hater scowl at me. “Right,” Mikayla said. “Enough small talk. What do you want?”

“As delightful as this hasn’t been,” I said. “My father, Pastor Pullman, has made dinner reservations for us. Could you please take me to their table?”

She wordlessly grabbed a menu from the stand and walked back into the restaurant. It felt good to put Mikayla in her place.

My mother waved enthusiastically at us. “There’s my Jeanie Bean,” she said. “You look lovely! Come sit next to me.”

My father looked up. “Thanks for getting our daughter here, Mikayla,” he said. “I’ll see you Sunday.”

Mikayla smiled as sweet as saccharin. “My pleasure Pastor,” she said. “Enjoy your meal. And you too, Jeanie Bean.”

I tried not to blush. It was funny how Mikayla could be nice and mean at the same time. It bugged me a lot. I sincerely hoped that if she went into the kitchen for whatever reason, that someone would spill hot soup on her.

I pulled out the wicker backed chair next to mom and sat down. She gave me a hug that made me almost forget about the subtextual spat I’d just had.

“So how are things going at work?” My dad asked.

“Well I’m working on punctuality,” I said. “I can’t say I’m perfect yet but so far I’m at least fixing the things that need it.”

Dad nodded vigorously. “Good, I’m proud of you for that,” he said. “Although Jesus did say, ‘Be perfect even as my Father in Heaven is perfect.’ So I expect you to strive for that.”

Thanks dad, no pressure. “Yes,” I said. “Yoda also said ‘do or do not there is no try’”

My dad chuckled at the quote from his favorite movie franchise.

The server came over to take our order. We got four ice teas and Denise ordered green tea. We shared a bowl of Pho soup between the five of us and some wontons and pot stickers as well. It was decided that we should dine family style.

After the server left I decided it was my turn to ask the questions. “So, how are my two siblings doing?” I asked.

Denise was the first to answer. “Great,” they said, “I just decided that I’m going to be doing a practicum at the Hydroponics labs in the industrial district.”

“That’s great,” I said. “You always were smart. I’m sure you’ll enjoy that.”

Lucas’ eyes were glued to his mobile’s screen. Dad nudged him under the table. “Ow what?!” Lucas shouted.

Dad gave my little brother a stern look. “Son, Your eldest sister just asked how you were doing,” he said. “Are you going to answer her?” Dad waited with his arms crossed in front of him.

My brother sighed and switched off his mobile. “Yeah school’s okay I guess,” he said. “I’m failing every class except computer science.”

My mom’s eyes did the saucer thing they did when she was upset. “Lucas Sky Pullman!” She shouted. “You didn’t tell me that. What happened to Simeon tutoring you?”

“It’s no big deal,” Lucas said. “Simeon tutors me, I just think his story about making the robot musicians at the founders day celebration sing fart jokes is funny. It sure beats him going on and on about similar triangles. Or Je—ow! Mom! Denise kicked me under the table.”

Mother turned to glower at my sister. “Behave yourself, Denise," she said. “Or I’ll make sure you can’t go to the next school dance. Lucas, you watch your manners and put down your mobile while we’re eating.”

Family dinners, so much fun. Especially with one preteen and a teen at the table. Maybe I shouldn’t judge but I felt so much more mature than my siblings. It was hard to believe that a couple of weeks ago we had all lived in the same HAB unit.

“So, er, Jeanie,” my dad said. “Your mother and I have a gift for you. We bought it on the way over.”

My mom pulled a brightly colored bag out from underneath the table. It was tied with a metallic silver bow and white tissue paper at the top. “Thanks mom and dad,” I said as I pulled it over. I began rummaging through it.

Bother: Suddenly, my masspectrometer had been registering food odors but my camras didn’t pick up any data. All I knew was I had been put in a bag and light decorative paper had been crinkled on top of me. My spatial data array detected that this paper was moving now.

I turned my cameras upward. I detected a young black female peering into the bag. Maybe this was the ‘Jeanie’ the woman who had bought me had mentioned? I tried to greet her. ‘Hello, I coded. ‘My name is Bother. Nice to meet you!’ When I tried to execute the string, all that came out was “Bother!”

The young woman took me out of the bag. “Mom what is this?!” She asked. Her tone indicated she was displeased.

Thankfully, she set me down gently on the bare surface of the table she sat at. I didn’t know what food would do to my innards.

Her mom looked at her sheepishly. “Honey,” she said. “Don’t be angry. He’s a companion robot. Second hand. We figure you could use a good friend.”

“A good friend?!” Jeanie shouted. “I have Leah, Simeon and Nathan. I’m doing just fine socially.”

Apparently graciousness was not this girl’s strong suit. Her mother put her head on her father’s shoulder and began crying. Jeanie’s father put a protective arm around his wife. He breathed deeply a few times before speaking.

“Jeanie,” he said. “We mean well. I know you had Lisa as your friend but with her training as a Sioux chef, she doesn’t seem to have time for you. Simeon, well there may be a good person in there somewhere. Still he’s always getting you in trouble on your little ‘adventures.’ Your supervisor, Nathan, has to stay a professional, mentoring you in a disinterested way. My point is this robot, Bother, might help you. Just give him a chance, okay?”

Jeanie appeared to be biting the inside of her cheek but counterintuitively this was having a calming effect. “Sorry mom,” she said. “I guess I’ll give him a chance.” She turned towards me. “Hello little guy, what’s your name?”

It had been so long since anyone wanted to talk to me. I wanted to say something in response. All that came out was “Bother!” Yes this was going to be a tough sell. Once Jeanie realized that was all I could say she’d probably abandon me.

The lights around my cameras turned dark blue. “Bother,” I said in despair.

Jeanie looked back to her father. “Why is he just saying the one word,” she said. “Is he damaged?”

A look of guilt briefly crossed Jeanie’s father’s face. “Well he had been in a second hand store,” he confessed. “I think his previous owner didn't want him because of that. We thought maybe you could fix him up.”

Jeanie nodded, “well that makes this an interesting project,” she said. “I guess I could fix whatever is wrong that makes him only say the one word.”

Bother:I was right here! I was right here and she was talking like I was just some defective machine. She wasn’t going to love me for me. The lights around my cameras turned red. I meant to output ‘leave me alone! I don’t want to be fixed’ of course all I could say was “Bother!”

I engaged my treads and tried to speed off. I had forgotten I was on a table. All twenty kilograms of my weight tipped over the edge and I landed cameras down on Jeanie’s lap. It was very dark.

Jeanie: It was a surprise that a tiny robot who only said one word could be so opinionated. Apparently, he took offense to being fixed. “Hey okay!” I said. “It’s your call. I won’t repair you if you don’t want. Is that better?”

I gently sat Bother back on the table. He swiveled his cameras towards me. The lights around them turned a warm turquoise. “Bother!” He chirped happily. I guess that satisfied him.

“Good,” I said. “Well I guess we can be friends.”

Now that the tension was down I realized that both of my siblings and quite a few people were staring at me. This was embarrassing. Apparently that little kerfuffle had attracted a large audience.

“Wow,” Lucas said. “We should get pet robots at every family dinner! That was some entertainment right there.” He sat giggling until he noticed dad giving him the stink eye. Lucas slouched back into his seat and played with a half eaten pot sticker on his plate.

"So erm, thanks for the new gift," I said.”"I’m sure he’ll make life interesting.” I stood up and put Bother down on the floor.

“I’ll go and settle my part of the bill,” I said. “Bother, do. You wanna come see your new home?”

The robot didn’t even reach my knee. He looked up and chirped “Bother!” again. I guess the upbeat tone should be clue enough to show the robot’s willingness to follow me.

“Jeanie,” my dad said. “Don’t worry, I’m paying for all our food tonight. Love you baby girl.”

I turned around and waved. “Thank you dad,” I said. “Bye, love you all.”

Once my family had said their farewells I headed to the exit. Thankfully, Mikayla wasn’t at the front desk as I walked out. I just knew she would’ve relished the opportunity to make fun of me for having a second hand robot.

Simeon: I was laying on the communal park lawn looking up at the night sky. It was soothing even though I knew that the HAB building lights blotted out most of the stars.

I looked up and found Orion, Sirius, and the Pleiades. My mom had taught me all the constellations when I was little. Looking up was a way to remember her, it made life without her easier. I felt a tear starting. I distracted myself by wondering if the seven sisters the Pleiades had been named after were hot.

“Now docking at Residential island 27,” the ferry’s PA system blared. Well so much for fantasizing about mythological chicks. My concentration had been blown. I watched the passengers disembark.

I saw Jeanie come up the stairwell. She had something in her arms. This was more interesting than astronomy. Maybe I’d finally catch up with my old friend. I hadn’t seen her since her parents had grounded her after our misadventure in Nova York.

I jogged up to intercept Jeanie. “Hey!” I called out. “How’ve you been? How’s adulthood?”

By this point Jeanie had set whatever she’d carried up the steps down. She jumped when she heard me. “Simeon, hi,” she said. “I’m good. Surviving. What’ve you been up to?”

I swallowed, my tongue felt too large in my mouth. Be cool, Simeon, just pretend she’s a normal person. “I’m good..great,” I said. “I just started at Green Wave Industries as a software developer. So um whats with the mini tank with a face following you a face following you around?”

I gestured to the small robot trying to hide behind Jeanie. It was kinda cute, it had a white body with clamp shaped fully articulated arms…the caterpillar treads kind of seemed tacked on after the thought. It turned it’s cameras towards me. Bright turquoise lights surrounded the lenses. How pretty!

Jeanie grimaced, apparently she didn’t want anyone to notice the robot. “My parents got me a companion robot,” she said. “In their infinite wisdom, they’ve decided this outdated AI is going to help me with my social skills.”

The little bot's lights turned dark blue. “Bother!” It said sounding sad.

“Aww!” I said. “I think you hurt the little guy’s feelings. Why not give him a shot?”

Jeanie houghed moodily, “you taking my parents side?”

Back pedal time, I told myself. “What? No!” I said. “It’s just it’s kind of cute, like a puppy. Maybe you could ah, play fetch together, or teach him tricks?”

She looked down at her new companion. “I guess he is kind of endearing,” she said. “In his own kooky way.” She smiled at me. “Well, come on Bother,” she said.

“Oh wait Jeanie,” I said. “Are you doing anything this weekend? I was thinking maybe we could er, hang out in Adventure Zone!”

She shook her head. “No thanks, Simeon,” she said. “I just got done fixing their 4-D theater. They’ve got a zombie sim running. Not my thing .Especially after our encounter with that horde of defective polymorphs. But uh, catch you later?”

Well at least she hadn’t said no. “Alright,” I said. “Cool clams, see you around the islands then. Goodnight, pretty lady.”

“Goodnight, Simeon.”

She walked away and left me staring. I no longer cared about the Pleiades, they were second rate to Jeanie. I’d had a crush on her since secondary school. Too bad she didn’t have a clue.

CHAPTER 3

Jeanie: I made my way back to the HAB unit and let us in. I held the door open for Bother as he rolled over the threshold.

“Bother!” He said happily. I noticed he’d picked up a broken rubber ducky somewhere on the way home.

“Give me that,” I said. “I’ll throw it away.”

His lights turned red. “Bother!” He said angrily and pulled the damaged bath toy closer to his body. I guess he wanted to keep the duck. Okay, as long as it didn’t get too bad I guess there wasn’t any harm in a hobby.

“Never mind,” I said. “It’s yours now.”

Bother relaxed now that he knew I wasn’t taking his prize. He found a corner of the main room and set it down there. Whatever floats your boat little guy, I thought to myself.

Now that I’d seen some of his behaviors, I was curious. Where had this robot come from originally?

“Hey come here a second, Bother,” I said. “I just need to check a few things.”

He obediently maneuvered over so I could pick him up. I turned him so his backside was facing me. “B.O.T.H.E.R,” I read. “Made for Star Lab space station by IKEA? I didn’t know they ever made robots.”

I gently set my second hand friend on the floor. Then I tapped the acronym into my mobile’s search engine. There at the top of the results page was a history website talking about retro 2070s tech. I navigated to the article and started reading to myself.

“In 2075, IKEA partnered with Blue Horizons space venture,” the article said. “IKEA agreed to design a therapy robot to help with the psychological needs of visitors to Star Lab. Unfortunately, due to a flaw in the robot’s error correction software, the robot’s AI became damaged by cosmic radiation. It is unclear how the oversight occurred. B.O.T.H.E.R was retired from service in 2077.”

Wow that was an info dump. I thought to myself. “So you were in space huh?” I said. “That’s kind of cool.”

The lights around Bother’s eyes turned dark blue. “Bother…” he said in a despondent tone.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean anything by it. Er, it’s getting late. I’m, uh, going to set up your charging base and go to bed.”

Argh! It was so hard talking to something that could barely talk back. I had trouble reading people on the best of days. How was I supposed to know what was offensive to a robot?

I plugged in the charger unit to the wall by the couch. “There,” I said. “All set up. Goodnight little guy.”

I walked quickly into my bedroom. Today had taken a huge weird turn. I just wanted to sleep and I’d think about things in the morning.

Bother: It seemed like Jeanie and I were off to a rocky start. She evidently resented her parents for gifting me to her. I was doing my best to be likable.

I was angry she had tried to take my new friend from me. I’d found Count Duckula in a trash receptacle near the ferry terminal. He’d been run through by a stick. There was something about this yellow piece of rubber with a black cape and fangs.

Count Duckula seemed like me. Still functional but damaged and discarded. I knew what I could do! This broken mallard and I could be comrades and form our own support group!

I created a new file on my hard drive. I wrote ‘strings’ that would only record on my drive and not be output by my speakers.

Me: “I call the first meeting of the ‘damaged goods society’ to order. Count Duckula, you have the floor.”

*Gavel bang sound effect*

Count Duckula:“bleh ba bleh! Thank you for that introduction Bother. I would *honk* like to start my share. *honk* I was minding my own business, being a vampire duck, when a ten year old drove a steak through my heart.”

Me:”Oh dear! How did that make you feel?”

Count Duckula:”It was awful! I thought I was going to disintegrate. My owners thew me out and I felt all was lost! And then I was rescued by you Mr. Bother! Thank you!”

My internal alarm let me know my battery was at twenty percent.

Me: “Count Duckula, I’m afraid my battery has very little power left. May we resume our session at some later date?”

Count Duckula:”Of course. I hope to learn more about you as well, Bother.

Me: thank you. Meeting adjourned. We will continue our business at a later date.

*gavel bang twice*

I saved my little exercise for a later date. Who knows maybe it’d help me accept my current condition. At least it gave me something to do when Jeanie ignored me.

I rolled onto my charger and powered down for the night.
CHAPTER 4
Having charged to one hundred percent capacity, I rolled off my charging base. My internal clock read that it was 7:45:30 and counting in the morning. It was nice to know that even 45 years after my manufacture, there were still star link satellites to keep my clock accurate.

“Good morning it is time to get up,” Jeanie’s alarm clock went off. I heard her roll over and silence the alarm.

A few minutes later, her bedroom door slid open and she walked through it. She noticed me sitting on the main room’s floor. I wanted to greet her. “Bother” I squeaked.

“Um good morning I guess,” she said. “Did you, er, get a full charge last night? Er, flash your lights once for yes twice for no?”

I blinked my lights off then on again.

“Good,” she said. “Hey uh, I’m gonna go get breakfast and go to work.” She turned to the coffee pot and toaster on the counter.

Work?! Jeanie had a job? Oh boy! Maybe I could follow her and help.

I waited patiently for Jeanie to finish her simple meal. Once she had gotten on her work uniform, she crossed the main room. I followed her out the door and hoped I wouldn’t get lost in the crowd.

Jeanie: I arrived at work ten minutes early. Garry wouldn’t let us clock in till five minutes before our shift. I was about to join the line when a familiar shape rolled up.

“Bother?!” I cried. “What are you doing here? You could get stolen.”

As I said that phrase, it occurred to me that Bother being taken was a real possibility. “Hey um, can I hook you up to my mobile?” I asked. “I just want to keep you safe so I need to install a tracking app. Is that okay?”

The robot’s lights stayed turquoise. He bobbed his cameras up and down like he was agreeing.

I pulled my mobile out of my overall pockets. I looked at Bother’s connector port. Good! It was a USB C. I was thankful those had become standard on all programable machines in 2070. I never thought knowing that random fact would ever come in useful.

I connected one end of the cable to Bother and the other to the mobile. I went into my mobile device’s store and searched tracking apps for robots. I found the one that was rated 4.9 out of 5.0 and downloaded it. Once I’d opened the app and finished synching it with Bother’s GPS signature I disconnected.

“There,” I said. “You can stay with me but don’t get into trouble.”

Another camera bob from Bother.

I clocked in and Nathan came over to hand me my appointment device. “What’s this thing following you Jeanie?” He asked.

I flinched a little. Not that Nathan sounded mad but maybe it was against policy for robots to come to work. “Yeah so at dinner last night my parents gave me a surprise,” I said. “This is Bother, I’m so sorry, he followed me to work.”

Nathan looked down at the small robot. “Well at least you’re on time today,” he said. “Just make sure you keep on eye on our little friend.”

I really didn’t want to baby sit. “Bother, go home,” I said. “You’re only in the way here!”

My supervisor frowned. “Jeanie, it’s okay, you don’t need to be so harsh on the little guy,” he said. “Maybe Bother isn’t in the way. He might even be helpful.”

I raised an eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“Think of it like my arm and leg,” he said. “I didn’t ask to be a cyborg. Yet these artificial limbs help me function better than I would otherwise. Maybe view Bother as something that helps you function better.”

Except for the feeling that I’d just been called crippled, that was some seriously deep stuff. “Okay then,” I said. “I guess we’re better together. See you later, zen master.”

My first task of the day was re-splicing a line in the city’s power banks. High voltage and a robot following me around like a puppy. What could ho wrong?”

I buckled Bother in to the passenger seat of the Siphon boat. It was really weird. I didn’t know whether I felt like a mother with a young child or a toddler buckling in a favorite stuffed animal.

Bother: I was so excited Jeanie let me accompany her to work! This felt like it’d be a great adventure.

After she buckled my seatbelt over my tread drive, she got into the boat causing it to bob a little in the water. She looked over to me. “Hang on tight,” she said. “And no back seat driving.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that but I couldn’t drive from my seat nor was it behind Jeanie. Maybe this was sort of idiomatic expression.

We raced up the canal with water spurting out the boat’s backside. We approached an intersection in between islands. I saw a large freight hauler coming up from the right. There was little chance of making it through before the ship crossed our path.

Jeanie noticed the vessel too. “Oh no!” She said. “Not this time.” She depressed the accelerator.
“Bother!” I squawked as we raced in front of the bow of the oncoming freighter. We narrowly missed being smashed by the larger vessel.

She maintained speed after clearing the gap. Jeanie then made an abrupt left at the next intersecting canal. Water spattered people waiting for the next ferry…which was coming towards us!

I covered my cameras with my arms. If we were about to be terminated, I didn’t want to see it. I felt Jeanie make the boat swerve at the last second. If I’d had a heart, it would be beating at maximum speed.

Jeanie made another left. Still speeding along. All I was sure of was that I needed to hang on to my seatbelt just to stay in the boat.

We finally slowed down and docked at the Power Banks. I still had my lights set to yellow. “Bother,” I said. At twenty five percent of my normal volume.

Jeanie: Bother was sitting in his seat still. He whispered his own name quietly. Guess I scared him.

“Uh, we’re here,” I said. “Do you want to stay and watch the boat or come with me?”

It took him a few seconds but he reluctantly reached his arms towards me. I’d never really thought of my driving as scary before. Obviously, I’d been more reckless than my companion cared for.

“All right come here,” I said. “Sorry for all the thrills. I’ll try to be more careful.”

I picked up Bother and got him on the walkways. There wasn’t much for him to do. But I still felt like keeping his mind occupied. “Wanna help me look for a lose cable?” I asked. “We’re going to fix it.”

I felt stupid talking to a robot like a four year old. Although when I thought about it, you wouldn’t ask a child that age to do dangerous repairs with you. This was a weird situation.

Bother stopped and swiveled his cameras towards the ground. “Bother! Bother!” He said as he reached down. I followed the direction he was reaching. He’d found the cable. It was arcing with electricity.

“Stop! Wait,” I said. “Don’t touch it. We’re going to find the switch so we can work safely.”

Bother grabbed his own clamp and held it tightly. He kept his cameras trained on the cable as he backed up a few feet.

“Okay, good,” I said. “Stay there while I go cut the power.” I strode off in search of this grid’s power switch. My search wasn’t long. I pulled the switch into the off position tagged it and locked it out.

I guess Bother had noticed there were no more sparks from the downed wire. When I got back he was poking it with one clamp. I shook my head. I didn’t realize an embodied consciousness could be so weird.

“Hey cut it out,” I told him. “I’m gonna splice this back in where it needs to be.”

Bother’s lights turned blue and he went to wait by the dock. I felt kind of guilty but I had a job to do.

I finished the work I needed to do and switched the power back on.

I checked my to do list. “Okay buddy,” I said. “I gotta go change a light bulb in Ocean Princess’ Christmas Tree. Promise me you’ll wait on the top deck for me? It’ll be safer there than up in Monkey Island.”

I fastened Bother back in his seat and climbed in. “I promise I won’t drive so crazy this time,” I said. We left for the City Hall district.

Bother: Jeanie traveled twenty-five percent slower than she had on the way to the power banks. This time we didn’t meet as much cross traffic. I was grateful that the trip to the City Hall district was much less eventful.

She moored the Siphon boat off to the side of a canal leading into a large hexagonal harbor. To our left was a large cruise ship with the words “Ocean Princess” painted on its bulkhead.

I was impressed. It was far larger than any shuttles that had docked to Star Lab. It looked like you could land a rocket on its deck.

“See that Bother?” Jeanie asked. “That’s Ocean Princess, she’s the ship that our city uses as the seat of all our government. My hero, Skipper Kathy Goodman has her office in the nav room. She’s in charge of this city and just won her second term.”

I was impressed that a ship could be that important. But I was still confused.

Jeanie had mentioned something about a Christmas Tree. My data base said this meant a large conifer decorated in ornaments with bright twinkling lights. I saw nothing like that here. Was she playing a joke?

She opened a compartment and pulled out a body harness and climbing equipment. Where was she going with that? I followed her to the lift that took us up to the main deck of Ocean Princess. She went to a really tall ladder and hooked a line and carabiner to an adjacent rail.

I turned my cameras upward. Oh dear! That ladder led to a series of lights and antennas some three hundred feet above the deck. I should find something in case Jeanie fell!

I raced off in search of anything that might soften the fall.

Jeanie: Bother scuttled off the deck of Ocean Princess. I was impressed he navigated to the ramp that led to the docks. I couldn’t keep my eyes on him as I climbed. I knew that one slip would mean the harness catching me and pulling on my pelvis.

I wasn’t a guy and it wasn’t the same as dying, but it still didn’t sound like a comfortable way to spend an afternoon. Plus how embarrassing would it be if I had to radio Green Wave HQ for help getting down. I’d loose all respect from my fellow technicians.

It was a good thing I was in shape, getting to the Christmas Tree was a lot of work. I was climbing straight up. Right, only fifteen more feet…

My brain was thinking two things don’t look down and I hope I brought the bulbs up with me. I checked the work order on my appointment device. It was the main beacon. That was at the very top. The ladder didn’t go that high, I’d have to stretch.

When it was within reaching distance I fumbled around in my utility pack. Ah ha! I pulled the one hundred watt bulb from the zippered compartment. I held myself in place with my knees and ab muscles. I used my other hand to unscrew the burnt out light. I turned the replacement clockwise one. Two. Three times. It blazed to life.

Readjusting my grip on the maintenance ladder I began the long climb down.

When I got to the bottom Bother was waiting for me. It looked like he had something he’d brought on deck. It was an exercise trampoline.

“You know that wouldn’t have helped me if I fell?” I said.

Bother’s lights turned yellow. “Bother?” He said.

Why was I talking to him like he could answer? I wasn’t sure. Maybe I was loosing my marbles.

“Where’d you get that from anyhow?” I asked. “You know that’s stealing. Go put it back! I’m so regretting letting you come along with me to work.”

Maybe I’d been a little stern. Bother’s lights flashed white then back to yellow. He rolled back down the gangway and out of sight.

I waited for him to come back. Ten maybe twenty minutes passed. He still didn’t return.
CHAPTER 5

Bother: My girl was mad at me. I had just wanted to help. It was true that her company had provided a safety harness. Perhaps bringing a trampoline to break her fall had been a foolish act.

If I had stayed there and watched her climb up that ladder without ensuring her safety, my logic gates would’ve fried. Well no not actually I was being dramatic. But just being a spectator while a human did something potentially hazardous went against my programming.

I went back to the hotel I had borrowed the trampoline from. The receptionist at the front desk recognized me.

“Oh you sweet thing,” she said. “Thanks for bringing this back. Our guests will be so glad to have their aerobic equipment again. Do you mind telling me why you took our trampoline?”

I wanted to say, I was worried about my new friend. All that was output was my now standard phrase.

The lady behind the desk looked befuddled. I set the piece of equipment on the floor and rolled out of the lobby. I knew trying to explain was futile.

This wasn’t as bad as being crammed in some storage bin but it certainly didn’t make me feel any better. Maybe collecting some more ducks for my imaginary support group would make me cheerful again.

I downloaded a map using the city wide wi-fi. It turned out I wasn’t far from the residential district. If I followed the central harbor around, I could be in the residential district in no time.

I contemplated finding Jeanie again. No, she was unhappy with me following her to work. I was better off navigating home after collecting a few rubber ducks.

I went past the dock where Jeanie had parked the boat. She wasn’t there. Of course, why would she wait for me? I was just the gift she never wanted.

I managed to go past the Ocean Princess City Repertory theater. The doors were closed, the latest staging of some play must have already begun.

Finally I reached the Residential area. It was amazing nobody noticed a two foot tall robot trundling around on its own. I guess humans tended to have the visual data they saw edited before their conscious minds reviewed it.
I carefully went to the less affluent islands. No doubt they had surveillance cameras and would take umbrage to a stray robot riffling through their trash bins.

I finally found a promising looking bin. Luckily, the city’s trash collection drones were a similar height to me. Rubbish came spilling out onto the ground. I sifted through it until I found a shape my algorithms told me was a bath toy.

It had on a plaid kilt and a pretend pair of bagpipes tucked under its wing. It had no real defect except being slashed through the front by some sharp object. I silently added him to my database. Welcome to the court, Lord McDuckin.

I didn’t even have to open a trash container to find another member of my group. A large rubber duck with a fur like pattern had been inadvertently run over by a vehicle. I entered it into the data base as Big Duck, a name that was a portmanteau of the cryptid and the animal it was meant to resemble.

I stowed them both in the pull out drawer I’d been designed with. These were far more interesting than the disposable hankies I’d kept in there during my service as an emotional support bot.

I was getting to the poorer areas of the residential neighborhoods now.

Just one more duck. I promised myself. Then I’ll locate Jeanie’s HAB unit.

Not long after I’d made this pact with myself, I ran into somebody’s tan steel toe boot.

I meant to output ‘sorry, I didn’t mean to bump you.’ Of course all that came out from my speakers was “Bother.”

“Hey Matt,” the man who owned the boot said. “Do we wanna take this one to meet our quota?”

I inferred that I was the object of the person’s query. This wasn’t good.

I wanted to say ‘taking me would be theft, I belong to Jeanie Pullman. Leave me be and I’ll get there.’ Of course by now, it should be obvious what I squawked instead.

The bald caucasian who answered to Matt looked at the man and at me. “Yeah,” Matt said. “Scoop it and bag it.”

I tried to roll away but I wasn’t quick enough. I swiveled my cameras desperately and saw the young male that secreted pheromones around Jeanie. He had his mobile device out and appeared to be recording.

Simeon: It was my day off. Time to go “urban exploring” for my media channel. Today I was headed to Widow Larsen’s old estate island. Nobody’d lived there in twenty years. It was supposed to be haunted by the ghosts of her husband, two children and herself.

Supposedly they’d all died horrible deaths so that might lead to some spooky narration at the very least. I planned to find some weird things there. Then I got distracted.

Jeanie’s new pet robot was rolling past with his cameras aimed at the ground. What was he doing by himself? I wasn’t guarantied to find ghosts but here was something quirky. A sure shot at making a video.

I pulled out my mobile and followed Bother discretely. He stopped by a trash bin and opened it. Its contents spilled onto the walkway. Dude! Robot with a garbage fetish?

He picked up a rubber ducky that had been cut nearly in two and stowed it in a compartment in his carapace. That was so funny. An artificial intelligence with a toy collecting hobby. Who would’ve thought.

Perhaps I should add some narrative. Put my own spin on it.

He collected a second duck and hid it away. Then started rolling again. What was he going to do with all those ducks?

I spotted trouble ahead. One of Gary’s goons, Antoni, was walking in the opposite direction. Everyone in OPC knew that when Antoni was around, trouble followed. He was like a walking thunderstorm in a grey hoodie.

I hid in the bushes nearby and hoped Antoni hadn’t spotted me.

Poor Bother rammed right into Antoni’s boot. This wasn’t going to end well.

“Hey Matt,” Antoni said. “Do we wanna take this one to meet our quota?”

Oh my gosh! Now I knew who was probably behind the recent rash of robot thefts. Nothing Antoni did was good but I was surprised Matt was in on this. He was my supervisor at Green Wave. Matt was odd but seemed like a good guy.

Oy vey, what was going on?

“Yeah scoop it and bag it,” Matt told Antoni.

What was I gonna do? These two were up to no good. One of them was a beefy thug with a reputation. The other could seriously ruin my reputation at work. I was a stringy nerd fresh out of Practicum. I didn’t stand a chance. But I could keep filming.

Bother scanned his surroundings and made feeble attempts to resist Antoni’s firm grip. Bother’s cameras fixed on me.

“Bother! Bother! Bother!” He called out.

I had no idea what the little guy meant but I could tell he was scared. He’d been programmed with a very expressive voice and the lights seemed to indicate mood. Right now I’d bet good money that yellow equalled scared witless.

Watching helplessly, I filmed every second of Bother’s abduction. I offered a silent prayer to Yaweh that a miracle would happen and I’d find a way to help the poor bot.

Waited for Antoni and Matt to climb in their Siphon Boat and sail off. I turned my mobile towards my face. It felt vain but if I was going to show this to Jeanie I needed her to understand.

“Jeanie,” I said. “I’m so sorry. I saw it all happen and all I could do was film. I was out numbered and recording things was the only thing I could think to do. Forgive me.”

I finished the recording and ran back to our HAB building. Luckily my family’s HAB was on the second floor. I ran up, my sister was home from school.

“Liza,” I said. “Are you going to be okay if I leave for a while? I’m taking the golf cart. I have some, er, grown up stuff to do.”

Liza looked up from the homework she had on her tablet. “Ooh?” She taunted. “’Grown up stuff’? Would that be finally telling Jeanie you like her?”

I ran my palm over my forehead and nose. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks. “No, okay,” I said. “It does involve Jeanie but it’s not like that. It’s just stuff I can’t tell you about but it’s important.”

My sister rolled her eyes and tossed me the golf cart keys from off the coffee table. I barely caught them because Liza threw them a little wide. “Thanks,” I said. “You be okay for a while?”

She snorted, “don’t worry bro,” she said. “I’ll order a salad from the take out app. Finish my homework and the HAB will still be here when you get back.”

I said a quick goodbye and rushed out the door. The sun was setting. I turned on the headlights on the cart. Put the stick into drive and took off.

The clock on the dashboard read 16:45. Jeanie was probably headed back to HQ. If I was lucky, I’d intercept her on the way to clock out. I must’ve found some favor I made it from the Residential area to the Industrial sector in less than ten minutes.

I was right, Jeanie was just putting her work stuff in her locker. “Oh my God,” I shouted. “Jeanie I’ve got to show you this. Bother’s been kidnapped and I got the whole thing on video, look.

I handed her my mobile. She opened the video rolled her eyes at what I assumed was the footage of Bother collecting bath toys. Her lips smashed together in an angry line as she watched Antoni cram Bother into a bag.

I could see a little red flood her ebony cheeks. Jeanie was really mad. I hoped it wasn’t at me.

“Here” she thrust the mobile back at me. “This is your fault,” she said. “You just watched, you dope. Now you’re gonna help me find Bother.”

My mouth open and shut a couple times as I processed what Jeanie had told me. “What?” I asked. “How? This was about half an hour ago. We’ll never find them.”

She furiously tapped her own mobile’s screen. “I installed a tracker app on my phone” she said. “I can figure out where Bother is within five feet.”

CHAPTER 6

Bother: I couldn’t see anything inside the sac. All I could do was hope that I didn’t fall overboard. A dip in the canal would mean almost certain destruction. I knew I was on a boat because my audio sensors were picking up water noises.

The boat travelled in a zig zagging pattern I found disorienting. There were ship horns that sounded but that wasn’t much of a clue. Ocean Princess City was a floating man made archipelago. Anything I could glean from ship sounds was meaningless.

We finally came to a stop. I felt the bag I was in roughly picked up and swung back and forth as my captor walked with me. He climbed a ladder down and managed to bang me into quite a few rungs on the way down. I was fortunate that my drive was sturdier than most devices. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to function after so many dings.

After the foot falls of my captor ceased. The bag was upended and I was unceremoniously dumped on a steel floor.

“Bother!” I cried as I righted myself. For the first and possibly only time in over forty years I’d said what I meant.

There was a man I hadn’t seen before looking at me. His forefinger and thumb stroked a brunette goatee. “Antoni,” he said. “What’s this? I’ve seen this robot around. He’s got a damaged language program. Not to mention he’s too small for what I want.”

The man in the grey hoodie gritted his teeth. “Garry,” Antoni said. “You told me to bring robots. I delivered. You never mentioned a size requirement.”

The one called Garry sighed in what I assumed was frustration. “Yes you’re right,” he said. “Anyways, we have enough bots for what I planned. I guess we could dismantle this one and use him for spare parts. Put that one in my office.”

I didn’t want to be disassembled! I tried to escape but Antoni’s large hands closed around me. He lifted me to eye level. I felt like I was gazing into twin black holes as he stared at me.

“Okay, feisty bolts,” he said. “You’re coming with me.”

He jammed me under his arm pits. I could sense his musky body odor through the cheap cologne he wore. It was thoroughly unpleasant.

It seemed impossible to escape Antoni. I wanted to get away. I needed to be careful. Act when my abductor wasn’t paying attention.

I analyzed what Garry had said. He had enough robots for something. They needed to be large. Why? The only reason I could think of was they either were moving something massive, building something or trying to subdue some sort of animal or person. Considering I’d been stolen, it probably wasn’t a good thing Garry was planning.

I had to find out. If necessary I would find a way to stop Garry. My circuits told me this was bigger and more important than just my existence.

Antoni opened a door and set me on a desk. There was a name plate with the “Garry Fullerton on it. Next to this was a computer terminal. Maybe I could find out what Mr. Fullerton was planning using that.

Antoni’s mobile rang. “Hello,” he answered it. He turned his back to me as he continued the conversation. I tuned out the words and went over to the terminal.

What good luck. Apparently, Garry didn’t guard his secrets as well as he should. I opened up a file called “OPC takeover plan”. It had a map of the city with doodles of robots firing lasers in the margins. That didn’t seem very professional. There was a red dot on an island in the warehouse district.

I had found another file with a timer. I was going to open it.

“Hey what’re you doing?!” Antoni shouted. He grabbed me by one arm and unlocked a cupboard above the desk. I was to big to fit upright so Antoni jammed me in on the diagonal.

My sensors told me I was now wedged in a tight space and was unlikely to be able to free myself. The cupboard door slammed and I detected audio that suggested I was now locked in.
Well there went any hope I had of escaping. I hadn’t been built with any means of defending myself. My creators hadn’t deemed that necessary.

“No mama,” Antoni said. “Just taking care of a security problem at work. Uh-huh…I’m gonna be there…”

The office door shut. It was so quiet I could detect the sound of air particles bouncing off the hard surfaces in the room.

This was worse than the storage bin in Nova York. It was what I imagined being deleted would be like.

CHAPTER 7

Simeon: I drove while Jeanie kept her eyes glued to her mobile. She hadn’t said a word to me since we left Green Wave HQ.

“We getting close?” I asked. “Golf cart is at seventy five percent power, no pressure.”

Without taking her eyes of the screen she gestured for me to stop. “It’s somewhere on this part of City Hall district,” she said. “I’m having trouble refining where exactly. Maybe we should get out and walk? Could you keep a look out for Bother? I’m afraid I’ll miss him while I’m using the tracking app.”

I did an old fashioned US style salute. “Aye captain,” I joked. “We’ll find that scalawag yet.”

She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “Scalawag?” She asked. “When did you start watching too many 20th century pirate movies?”

I coughed to disguise my embarrassment. “Right,” I said. “I’ll be keeping an eye out for bother then.”

We paced back and forth in a grid pattern. I never caught sight of Bother. I thought I did behind the Sea Winds Hotel’s garbage dumpster. That turned out to be a stray chimera. Apparently someone had abandoned their part otter part raccoon pet. It hissed at me as it ran off and slid into the water from a nearby dock. Yep not scary at all.

“I don’t get it,” she said. “The app says Bother should be right here. But there’s nothing. Not so much as a frozen food cart.”

That was weird. He couldn’t have vanished. Where was that robot? I had an idea.

“Jeanie, you know the islands aren’t two dimensional,” I said.

She gave me some stink eye for a moment and then it dawned on her.

You think that creep Antoni might be using one of the maintenance tunnels to hide from us?” She asked.

I shrugged, “It’s worth a shot,” I said. “Some fictional bloke once said, ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable is the answer.’”

Jeanie shook her head. “I think you’ve got that quote wrong,” she said. “Good idea though. Lets see if we can find an access hatch.”

It didn’t take long, between the Department of Order and the Court House, there were two steel plates and a coded lock. Sometimes high tech wasn’t the best.

I hooked up my mobile and launched my code breaking app. We had it open in less than five seconds. Thankfully someone had solved P versus NP almost fifty years ago. It made locks like that kind of ludicrous.

I lifted the door for Jeanie. “Thanks,” she mumbled as she walked past me. Well at least she was polite if not gushing her gratitude.

The safety lights glowed a dim red. I guess they were trying to protect people’s night vision. Jeanie walked back to the spot in the corridor that corresponded to the spot we’d been standing on top of.

I gasped after I saw the name on the door we stopped at.

“The head of our company has a secret underground layer?” I asked. “No, this is just too cheesy!”

“Yeah that is weird,” Jeanie said. “Care to work your magic on this lock too?”

It was hard having a friend who had no appreciation for dramatic discoveries. I managed to break the code on this lock too. Man, what was wrong with OPC? Sixteen bit encryption was so last century.

The door opened and I let her go in first. It was her robot, not mine.

As I followed Jeanie in, I thought I heard something shuffle in the dimly lit corridor. Maybe the maintenance tunnels were haunted? Nah, had to be a rat or something. They got everywhere. Even in the middle of the Atlantic.

Nathan: I was down in maintenance tunnel 42, working on a power relay to one of the nearby street lamps. The hatch I had closed opened again. Simeon and Jeanie stepped through.

Funny, I didn’t see them on the night shift schedule. What were they up to? I needed to find out. This could be a serious breach of Greenwave Industries protocol.

They stopped outside a door. As they stepped through I saw Antoni follow them in. I had no idea what those kids were doing. Antoni was always trouble though.

Nine times out of ten he was involved when someone got beat up or disappeared. Order officers never could find reasonable proof. And victims had a mysterious way of either dropping charges or vanishing.

Simeon was a bit of a mischief maker but a good kid. So was Jeanie. I couldn’t stand by and let Antoni do whatever thing he was about to do them.

One of that thug’s flaws was that he tended not to be aware of his surroundings. I guess when you were as monolithically muscled as he was, you didn’t have to worry about getting jumped.

Not wasting time, I ran and slammed into the door. Of course nobody’d reset the lock so I managed to smash pretty hard into Antoni’s back.

Taking advantage of my super human strength, I jumped up on Antoni’s back and put him in a Full Nelson.

Antoni choked and gasped. He tried to shake me off by slamming me into the room’s wall. The dry wall covering the steel beams cracked a little. I hoped the integrity of the structure wouldn’t buckle.

Fortunately, my cybernetic prosthetics were far stronger than a normal person’s limbs. I held tight as Antoni tried to dislodge me again. He was getting weaker from lack of air to his brain.
He landed with a thump on the floor.

I sincerely hoped I was doing the right thing. “Okay,” I said. “Are you two alright?”

Both Jeanie and Simeon’s eyes were bugging out of their heads. It made them look almost cartoonish.

Simeon broke the silence. “Dude,” he said. “You got to be kidding me. You just choked out a guy twice your size! What are you, Robocop”

Jeanie finally snapped out of her daze. “No he’s my supervisor, Nathan,” she said. “How did you find us down here? Until big and scary snuck up on us, I thought we were alone.”

I folded my arms. “Look I was down here working on some repairs,” I said. “I saw you two come down here. You’re not on shift. Why do you need to get in this room? It’s Garry Fullerton’s private office.”

“Why on earth does Garry need a second office?” She asked. “Isn’t being a gargoyle at HQ enough?”

“Well this is where Mr. Fullerton handles top secret company business,” I said. “Wait a minute, aren’t you two the ones with a lot to explain?”
They exchanged looks with each other. “Well, er, my robot, Bother was stolen,” Jeanie said. “I tracked his signal to this room. We have a video of the guy you just subdued stealing my robot. Simeon recorded it. We’re—”

I held up one hand to stop them. “Okay I guess that’s believable,” I said. “But where’s Bother then?”

As if waiting for this question to be asked a muffled tapping noise came from the cupbaord above Garry’s desk.

Jeanie: This couldn’t be a coincidence. I tried the cupboard handle. It was locked of course. I pulled out my special kit.

“Are you supposed to have lock picking tools?” Simeon asked.

This was getting more complicated than it needed to be. “Maybe, maybe not,” I said. “You better not tell my parents or siblings.”

Nathan frowned, “If you’re not doing this under false pretenses I’m willing to overlook this,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” I said. “Thanks. Promise you won’t regret this.”

Finally I felt the last tumbler click out of the way. I pulled the handle again.

Bother was inside just like I’d guessed. I saw the way he was jammed into the small space. I hoped all the damage to his body was superficial. “What kind of asshole does this?!” I fumed.

Pulling out the shelf above the spot where Bother was wedged, I carefully removed him from the cupboard. “Are you okay?” I asked. “I saw what happened. Sorry I made you run off.”

Bother just bobbed his cameras once and turned his lights on turquoise. I guess that was his way of telling me I was forgiven.

Once he’d made this gesture, bother rolled over to the computer terminal by Garry’s name plate. He activated it and opened a file.

I looked at the map in horror. I didn’t need to have an explanation. The pictures of killer robots kind of left little to the imagination.

“Who knew our boss was a doodling supervillain?” Simeon joked.

“This isn’t funny,” Nathan said. “It looks like Garry’s planning something pretty bad.” He pointed to the red dot marking a warehouse in the industrial sector. “He’s storing something at that location,” he said. “Usually, I don’t condone this but maybe we should break in and figure out what’s there.”

Supervisor approved breaking and entering. My life had gotten seriously weird after Bother had entered it.

CHAPTER 8

Simeon: I waited till everyone was seated and buckled in. Even if Jeanie’s supervisor was cool with some “recon”, he probably wouldn’t be okay with falling out of a golf cart.

I drove with the lights off. Bother repeated his name anxiously. Guess he assumed I was being reckless. “Sorry buddy,” I said. “I gotta be in stealth mode. Anybody guarding the warehouse’d see us coming otherwise.”

When I first started working, it used to scare me how dark the industrial district was at night. Unlike the rest of the city, the islands here didn’t have street lights. I guess it was to save energy or something. It didn’t help the imagination though. Who knew what could be in the shadows?

I tried not to answer my mental question. It didn’t take long to get to the location marked on the map. Jeanie had taken a picture of it with her mobile.

I parked the golf cart behind the warehouse. Jeanie set Bother on the ground. I made the time out sign. “Hold on,” I said. “My urban explorer instincts tell me that going in the front way is a mistake. I think I see a stairway leading to a catwalk up on the second floor.”

Jeanie picked her robot up again and we quietly ascended the steps. No small feat considering the steps were made of steel grating. I was impressed that Bother was being quiet considering he had gone full yellow alert.

“Hack the lock, Simeon,” Jeanie whispered. I rolled my eyes. If she hadn’t told me otherwise I would’ve thought that was the only reason she brought me on this expedition. “Yes your majesty,” I taunted her.

One point two seconds later I had us inside.

“Right,” Jeanie said. “Nobody look down and be quiet.”

Jeanie: There were only a few lights on inside the warehouse. As my eyes adjusted I saw row after row of robots. I wondered if these had all been stolen from Ocean Princess City residents.

“Look at all these,” I said. “There has to be thousands maybe tens of thousands.”

Simeon grabbed the railing beside me as he stared. “Actually Jeanie,” he said. “I think this might be hundreds of thousands. If I’m right, they out number people in OPC two bots per human. They’re all armed with some form of weapon, sweeper bars, tasers, I think that a few of them even have RPGs. Talk about a hostile takeover.”

Before I could ask what to do. The main warehouse doors opened. Three figures strolled in.

I recognized one as Garry. One tall, Asian looking fellow followed what I thought was a tall Scandinavian looking android. I silently named the Scandinavian, Nerd. He was holding a tablet and moved in a stiff way that reminded me of a machine.

“Matt,” Garry said. “We have finished the robot army. We’re just waiting for your software launch so they are fully operational. Do you have an update for me?”

Nerd, whose real name was Matt, looked at his device. “We have a few more bugs to work out,” he said. “Once those are worked out, our code will be relayed from the server via wi-fi. It should only take another eight hours. At about 800 hours in the morning it should be ready to launch.”

Garry clapped his hands enthusiastically. “I’m impressed, Mathew,” he said. “I see a promotion in your future. How does head of cyber sound?”

Nerd tried to not scowl at Garry. It was clear the CEO had just made up a job title and Nerd knew it. “Very good, Mr. Fullerton,” he said. “May I return to working on refining the code?”

“Yes of course,” Garry said. “I think Raifan and I will go work on strategy. I don’t want Skipper Goodman slipping away. She made a fool of me in the election but I won’t let that stupid cow bankrupt our company! I will get rid of her before her eco-friendly ways bleed Green Wave dry.”

The trio of conspirators left the warehouse. The front doors shut with a metallic thud.

“Holy crap this is bad,” I said. “We can’t let Garry kill Skipper Goodman…or become a fascist dictator. Who knows where he’d stop if allowed to go through with this?”

Simeon stared straight ahead as he spoke. “I can’t believe my supervisor, Matt was in on this,” he said. “I may be a gray hat hacker but I feel betrayed.”

Nathan looked at all three of us. “We’re all in agreement,” he said. “This is not good. Anybody got an idea of how to stop Garry?”

I knew I didn’t. Even if Bother did, he couldn’t tell us.

Simeon’s brain worked surprisingly well. “I do,” he said. “If we can break into the server room where Green Wave stores all their data we could probably find that file and delete it or make it not work right. That’d prevent the killer robot army from even executing a single command.”

“Won’t we draw attention to ourselves if we just go up there,” I asked. “We can’t just say ‘Hello Mr. Security Guard, we need to go in to stop an evil plot.”

Simeon bit his lower lip. “Yeah but I have an idea,” he said. “We’ll need to make a stop. I’ll explain on the way.”

Nathan: I didn’t know what kind of nightmare I’d gotten myself into. The CEO of my workplace turned out to be a sociopath. Somehow two kids just barely out of Secondary school were supposed to stop this madness.

We were already driving. But I didn’t think I should be involved.

“Simeon,” I said. “Can you drop me off at the courthouse? I think I’d just be in the way.”

Nervewrackingly, Simeon whipped his head around to talk to me. I hoped he didn’t hit anything along the way.

“Yeah sure,” he said. “No problem.”

Thankfully, we didn’t accidentally hit anything or drive into a canal. We arrived on an island of City Hall district. He pulled over and waited for me to climb out.

“You two be careful,” I said. “Good luck with your…heist.” It seemed weird saying that but I really did want them to be successful in stopping Mr. Fullerton.

“Thanks Nathan,” Jeanie said. “So just for the record, we’re not fired right?”

I chuckled, “Nope,” I said. “You two will still be working for Green Wave, if you want to. Goodnight.”

Jeanie: After we dropped Nathan off I began to wonder what Simeon had in mind. “So what’s your plan for getting in the server room?” I asked.

I couldn’t help but notice that we were headed towards the Entertainment District. Kinda the wrong direction considering that the Server building for OPC was in the industrial area. Wasn’t that counter productive?

“My Uncle Elijah owns a novelty and costume shop,” he said. “I figure that if we find something there that might help distract the guards.”

“Go shopping? This late at night?” I asked. “Why does that seem like a useful idea? Also it’s almost zero dark hundred. I’m pretty sure your uncle probably went home hours ago.”

Simeon slammed a fist into the golf cart’s steering wheel. Bother extended his camera stalks in alarm.

“Bother!”

“Sorry,” Simeon said. “I’m just feeling a little extra tonight. Y’know with the ‘Simeon help me find my robot cause all you did was film his theft.’ And ‘Hack this lock’ and ‘crack that code’. It’s a lot of work being your friend Jeanie. You only appreciate me when you need me.”

There was some tense silence. God, I was not good at touchy feely stuff. I hoped this would come out right.

“I’m sorry Simeon,” I said. “You’ve been incredible tonight. I’ve been in crisis mode all night and you’ve been my Paladin in shining um…golf cart. Thank you.”

Simeon: So that just happened. Part of me just wondered if Jeanie meant what she was saying. “Wow,” I said. “Paladin in shining golf cart. Didn’t know you played Dungeons and Dragons.”

It was dark and I couldn’t see Jeanie’s face but the way her voice quavered made it clear. “Yeah, uh,” she said. “Me and Lisa used to play. Before she got too busy cooking. Anyways, Simeon, thank you for being my hero.”

I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks. “Well co-hero,” I said. “You’ve had a cool head through all this. It’s one of the reasons I like you.” Oh crap! I’d just said that last bit out loud. Did she notice?

“Like me?” She asked. “Like me how?”

Aw dang! She had noticed. Quick, Simeon cover your huevos, bubela. “Oh look at that,” I said. “You were right, my uncle shut down for the night. Well guess I’d better call him so we can save the city.”

I killed the engine outside a shop with a sign reading “Fuzko’s Joke Shop”. I never understood where my Uncle Elijah had gotten the name Fuzko from. He and my mother were Goldfarbs, as Jewish as could be. I was pretty sure that the shop’s name was just made up.

I pulled out my mobile. I had Uncle Elijah saved as one of my favorites. I dialed his number. He picked up after two rings. Maybe he was still having trouble Sleeping after Aunt Myrna’s passing.

“Hello, is that you Simeon?” He said.

“Yeah it’s me Uncle,” I said. “How are you doing?”

“Good, good,” he said. “I was just opening a can of food for Moisha. He was yowling up a storm. Oy vey, I’ll never understand why cats are so noisy when they need attention. Anyways, it’s the middle of the night kid, you have a reason for calling?”

I smiled as I imagined Moisha sitting on a bookshelf meowing his head off.

I dismissed my daydream and went on to business. “I have an emergency of sorts,” I said.

“An emergency?!” He asked. “Is Liza alright? Is she hurt? Sick?”

“No nothing like that,” I said. “Listen I can’t explain everything right now. My friend and I are trying to sneak in to somewhere and we need to make a disguise or two. Can you come open the store so we can get some supplies?”

“Bubbela,” my uncle said. “I could move mountains for you. But you’re sure sneaking in somewhere is a good idea? You’ve already been in trouble with Order Officers twice now. If you’re caught I don’t think they’ll be as lenient now that you’re an adult.”

“It might not be the best idea,” I said. “We still need to do it. Believe me, it’s very important. Like Batman and Superman important.”

“You’re comparing yourself to the superheroes of old I see,” my uncle said. “This must be really important. Tell you what, you make me some of your dad’s chicken tamales later, and I’ll be right over.”

“Sure,” I said. “You got a deal. Thanks, Uncle Elijah.”

Well now it was just hurry up and wait. No telling if we’d make this all work. I hoped we would but it’d be dicey.

Jeanie: I listened to the conversation Simeon had with his uncle. How convenient he knew someone who could help with whatever he had planned. I really didn’t know where this was all going.

Curiosity was gnawing at me like a rodent gnaws on a piece of wood. “Well congratulations,” I said. “You got us into a novelty store. Care to explain how some party supplies are going to help stop a killer robot army?”

“Guess I have kept you in the dark,” Simeon said. “So here's my idea. The Server room is guarded by two security officers. I need you and Bother to distract them. Now I don’t know about you but I think it’d be easier with some costumes and special effects.”

“This shop has some?” I asked.

Simeon nodded vigorously. “Yes,” he said. “My uncle is famous for sound effects machines, fake poop, costumes, small pyrotechnics…any of these could distract the guys guarding the server room.”

I had to admit that was pretty clever. “I guess I never thought of that,” I said. “You know what Simeon? You’d make a pretty good spy.”

He messed up the back of his hair in embarrassment. “ Just call me Herrera,” he said. “Simeon Herrera.”

“Was that a James Bond joke?” I asked.

“Yeah kinda,” he admitted.

I wanted to ask him what he had meant about liking me. I was about to ask when we were interrupted by the toot of someone’s golf car horn.

“Hey kindela!” A happy voice said. “What’s going on? I hear you need to do some VIP shopping.” Elijah turned off the vehicle’s engine. And stepped around. It took some time given his age and more than ample girth.

Elijah walked up and shook my hand. “You must be Elijah’s friend Jeanie,” he said. “Liza and Simeon talk about you all the time.” Simeon’s uncle gave his nephew a conspiratorial wink.

“A pleasure to meet you, sir,” I said. “So what do you tell your uncle about me, Simeon?”

My friend’s mouth fell open and shut a few times. “I—uh—um,” he stuttered. “Well I’ll tell you later, we have less than six hours to pull this off. The fate of the city is in the balance. Maybe small talk later?” He added a chuckle after the question.

I decided to let it drop. He was dodging, I knew that much. Still we did need to get going.

Elijah used his ID chip to open the shop’s door. “So kiddos what do you have in mind?” He asked.

“Not sure," I said. "I’ll know when I see it.”

I checked to make sure Bother had come inside with us. He’d been quiet since we rescued him. I was worried. I didn’t know much about AI psychology but I could tell something was going on in that hard drive of his.

Bother: Simeon’s uncle seemed like a jolly giant to me. I really liked him and he seemed to like Jeanie and Simeon a lot.

I had been deep in thought. Except for the interruption by Simeon slamming his hand violently into the steering column, it had preoccupied my RAM.

Ever since my civilian owner had abandoned me, all I had wanted was to be friends with someone or something. In my forty five years of existence my only contact with Homo sapiens had been aboard Star Lab.

Star Lab no longer existed. It had long since de-orbited after exceeding its thirty year life span. IKEA I had found out during an internet search had stopped manufacturing robots after me. I was alone and the only place I had been functional no longer existed.

What was my purpose now? Was I just supposed to lead a lonely existence till entropy made me cease functioning? Couldn’t I have real friends? What did friendship mean?

I wasn’t sure. There was no real quantifiable “friendship particle”. Yet I had been programmed with a desire to be social with biological entities. I didn’t think my broken ducks counted as “real friends.” Jeanie and Simeon were friends.

How could I form a relationship when I couldn’t communicate? “Bother!” I said out loud.

Until that moment I’d been so deep in contemplation that I hadn’t realized I’d followed Jeanie into a store of some sort. I hope she wouldn’t be upset I’d just made noise.

Jeanie: I heard Bother say his catch phrase. He was looking at the linoleum with deep blue surrounding his cameras. I had a feeling that meant he was sad.

I went over and knelt down next to the diminutive robot. “Hey what’s wrong?” I asked. I knew he couldn’t tell me. Hang on…

I found some letter cards in one of the racks and laid them out on the floor. I figured it worked for functional mutes. I hoped Bother had the software to recognize written letters.

“Can you point to letters to tell me what you want?” I asked. “Just spell yes or no for this one.”

Apparently Bother had a laser pointer attached between his cameras. Y-E-S were the order of letters the pointer moved over.

“You’ve been quiet since we rescued you,” I told Bother. “Is there something you want to talk about? Spell for me.”

Y-E-S-P-U-R-P-O-S-E-N-E-E-D-F-R-I-E-N-D

“Yes purpose need friend,” I read. “So you’ve been thinking about a purpose? Do you need a friend?”
Y-E-S

I felt a little sad. It must’ve been hard not even being able to talk right. It was like Bother had been trapped in his own hard drive all this time. Here I had been getting angry at him. Being frustrated that he was clingy and not helpful. It never crossed my mind that an AI programmed robot could get lonely or depressed.

“Look,” I said. “I think I get it. If you want a purpose I’ll let you help me with this diversion. I can’t say what your purpose is long term but we can try and be friends. Does that help?”

Apparently it did. Bother steered around the alphabet cards and wrapped his arms around me. It was a little odd hugging a robot. “Aww, thanks I said. “Now lets go foil a meglomaniac.”

I cleaned up our activity. And promised Elijah I’d purchase the cards. Made sense after I’d ripped open the package. They weren’t useful now, but maybe later after we’d finished our heist. Being able to talk to Bother in some way, no matter how slow, made things easier.

I looked through some of the mini sound effect boards that were hanging on one of the walls. I pressed a button and a loud crying baby recording played. It went on for quite a while. That was annoying, it did give me an idea though.

I riffled through a prop box and pulled out a pastel wrap. Hmm. It was meant as a scarf but it could pass for a baby blanket. if I wrapped Bother in it right the illusion might play. There was also a curly haired wig with a hair net and a pair of horn rimmed frames. They could work.

I doubted Simeon’s uncle sold maternity clothes. I hated to do this but I needed some mommy looking threads. Where could I find those?

Simeon was looking at some smoke bombs and putty. “Hey Simeon, I know I’ve asked a lot of you,” I said. “But do you think we could swing by your place?”

He almost dropped a package of stink bombs on the floor. “What?” He exclaimed. “Why?”


“Well I hate to ask this,” I said. “Do you…still have any of your mom’s clothes?”

Simeon looked perplexed. “Where are you going with this?” He asked.

“Well I found this annoying crying baby sound effect box,” I said. “I figure if I wear the right outfit I can pass Bother off as an infant and I’m going to play the part of the stressed out mother. Then I go up to the guards, they’re all thrown off by a crazy mommy. You sneak behind them and bam! You’re in. What do you think?”

Simeon: I didn’t know how I felt about my life long best friend wearing my mother’s old clothes. There was a certain perverse genius to her idea though.

“Maybe we could make it work,” I said. “I gotta swing by my house to grab my laptop anyways. I guess we can grab one of my mom’s outfits while we’re there. It’d be one less stop.”

She reached for my hand and gave it a light squeeze. “Thanks Simeon,” she said. “I know that can’t be easy for you. You’re sure you’re okay with this? It’s only been a couple of months since your parents passed in that accident.”

I could feel the blood rushing in my ears. I was starting to feel warm. Jeanie’s hand felt good against mine. It made it impossible to think about sad things in that moment. “Yeah of course,” I said. “I’m willing to do this. It’s for a good cause after all.”

Was it just me or was Jeanie getting more interesting? This wasn’t behavior I expected from her. Maybe Bother was helping her get in touch with her emotions? I shook it off.

“You got everything you need here?” I asked.

“Yeah I think so,” she said. “Let’s go Bother.”

The tiny bot let out a happy squawk.

After retrieving the smoke bombs and stink grenades, I followed Jeanie to the register. I wanted to feel like a ninja. Some pyrotechnics ought to be part of this plan.

We brought the items to my uncle. “This is it?” He asked surprised. “Tell you what. I’ll let you kids have this stuff free of charge. Might make a good promo if the media hears you used my merch to save the city.”

I was happy about my uncle's generosity and a little guilty. “You sure about this?” I asked.

“Yes, for goodness sake,” he said. “You’re my sister’s son and the closest thing I’ll ever have to a child. Now good luck Batman and Batgirl.”

After saying goodbye to Uncle Elijah, I drove the short distance to our residential island. I pulled the golf cart up beside the HAB building and plugged it in. I hoped it would get some charge. We’d need it if we wanted to get back to the Industrial sector. The ferries quit running at zero dark hundred.

“Why don’t you and Bother come in?” I suggested. “It’s probably easier to change in my HAB than in a bush or something.”

The three of us took the elevator up. When I opened the door I was relieved to see Liza had gone to bed.

I carefully slid open the door to the master bedroom open. I found some warm looking maternity clothes and threw them to Jeanie.

“Here,” I said. “They might be a little big. They’re from when mom had Liza. I’ll uh give you some privacy.”

I grabbed my laptop co-ax cables and a thumb drive with some programs I needed to talk to Green Wave’s server. Then I sat on the couch next to where Bother was staring at his broken bath toys.

“So why do you collect those things?” I asked Bother.

He turned his cameras towards me for a long moment. “Bother,” he squeaked with a shrug like movement of his arms. Then turned back to the damaged rubber ducks.

I don’t know why I’d expected a different answer. I’d never heard that robot say anything but that one word. Chances were slim he’d just bust out a sonnet or whatever.

I waited a long time for Jeanie. Why was it women always took so long to dress? It’s not like we expected them to be perfect? All she had to do was put on pants, glasses, make up…oh wait, yeah I guess that was a lot. Not to mention all that hair of hers had to fit perfectly under that wig.

Finally, the bedroom door slid back open. Jeanie asked the most cliché question asked by women of men for centuries. “Well how do I look?” She asked.

Why did they do that to us? So unfair, it always was hazardous answering that time old riddle. “You look like you’re in disguise,” I said. “Good job I can’t even tell it’s you. Let’s go.”

Instead of moving, Jeanie’s eyes welled up in tears. It was lucky those horn rims weren’t equiped with lenses. Yup I’d just screwed up. Shoulda known my mouth would get me in trouble.

“I’m sorry,” I sighed. “You look nice. Very maternal. I didn’t know you could pull off an afro. You want me to bundle up Bother? I even figured out how to rig the sound effect generator so the crying just loops again and again.”

She took a few sob-by yet deep breaths. “Yeah kinda like me,” she said. “Anyways I forget that we’re on a deadline. What time is it?”

I tapped my smart watch. “It’s oh-one hundred hours,” I said. “we have six hours before the software update. I think we’ll manage to get in and out of the server room before worst comes to worst.”

CHAPTER 9
Jeanie: Simeon parked the golf cart in between two buildings. I picked Bother and the sound effects box and wrapped them in the shawl. I walked out of the alley way gently bouncing the bundle in my arms. Before we got too close, I activated the crying baby sound effect.

Howling shrieks filled the air. I was grateful that I didn’t have a migraine at the moment. I tried to think of something maternal to coo. “There, there,” I said. “Come on Annie, go to sleep for mama.”

I stealthily checked to see if I had the guards’ attention. My act wasn’t working. Time to step things up a notch. “Oh my gawd!” I bawled. “Why did you have to get colic again? Mama had a crappy day at work. Please shut up and go to sleep. Please you little monster!”

One of the guards left his post. The other stared at me in disbelief. “Ma’am this is a restricted access area,” the one closest to me said. “Please take your baby elsewhere.”

I pretended I was afraid of him standing there and clutched Bother to me so he couldn’t be seen in the fabric burrito. The wailing continued. “No! Don’t you touch my baby!” I screamed. “You’ll scare him with your big ugly face!” I made a swatting gesture towards the guard.

It looked like the one still standing near the door was thoroughly entertained by this unexpected drama. I saw Simeon sneaking behind them. Had to keep the show going.

“Now look at what you did!” I said. “My baby’s crying harder. Thanks a lot! Here you wanna try to get her to sleep?!” I held the Bother-rito towards the guy who was trying to get rid of me.

He gaped. “Ma’am,” he said. “I’m sorry about your baby, but right now you need to leave. This area is restricted. You have no business here. Now leave before I call Order Division.”

I bugged out my eyes and flared my nostrils. “You’re gonna call the law on me?!” I said. “I’m just a single mother with a cryin’ baby! I am not a terrorist! I haven’t done anything wrong! Didn’t nobody teach you to respect the rights of women?”

He stammered. The other guard was tearing up laughing. I pretended to fix them with a death stare while I made sure Simeon was inside the building. I didn’t see him.

I pretended to give in to the request to leave. “Right,” I said. “I know when I’m not wanted. Thanks for all your non-help! I’ll just go quiet my bundle of joy elsewhere!”

I gently bounced Bother a couple of times an cooed at him as I walked away. As soon as I knew I was out of hearing range. Blessed silence thank goodness. I went back to the golf cart to wait for Simeon to return. He said he’d sneak out the air vent after he was done. He mentioned something about wanting to use smoke bombs to cover his retreat.

This whole plan was nuts. I prayed that it would work.

Simeon: It had been tempting to stay and watch Jeanie’s hilarious spiel. But I knew that I had to get in quick.

I didn’t have to pick the lock here. I just used my work credentials.

Once I was inside I tried to remember the layout. It wasn’t just Green Wave’s server in here. All the amusement parks, companies, theaters, casinos and government offices had their website and data storage here has well.

With thousands of trays to check I needed a note and a lot of luck to find the right one. I pulled up the memo I’d sent myself. 27-3-E, to anybody else that was coptic. To me it meant that I needed to go to the 27th row 3rd tower unit E. That was the exact coordinate of Green Wave’s server.

I walked down the row found the tray and plugged in the coaxial to the port and put the other end in my laptop. I booted up my Linux app and typed a few commands. Within milliseconds I was able to view all the programs on the server.

I saw a file marked. Robot_Army.exe. I clicked on it. Thankfully I had a compiler for the programing language that Matt had used. I opened the file using that and looked it over.

An alert popped up on my screen. Dammit! It was notifying me that my activity on the server had been noticed. Garry, Matt or whomever was probably sending goons. I needed to hack fast. “C’mon Simeon C’mon!” I told myself.

CHAPTER 10

Jeanie: I had just unbundled Bother when I heard voices. I recognized Antoni’s from the video of Bother being stolen.

“That bitch got her cyborg friend to jump me,” he said. “If she and her little geeky friend are behind this attack on the server, I’m going to beat their asses so hard!”

The other guy who was with Antoni snickered. “Yeah sure!” He said. “Then we’ll have to chum the waters with what’s left.”

Oh my God! I didn’t think they’d seen me in the alleyway but Simeon was in serious danger. I needed to do something. Even if it was suicidal.

I turned to Bother. “Look” I said. “These guys are dangerous. You should know that. I want you to stay here and wait for me to come back. Okay?”

“Bother,” my pet robot chirped. I didn’t know if he was capable of deception but I kind of hoped not.

I threw off the ridiculous Wig and faux glasses. I ran after the two thugs.

Bother: Jeanie couldn’t be serious. My visual analysis program told me that Antoni outweighed her by seventy pounds. If those seventy pounds were all muscle, she could be in serious trouble. No way was I staying put.

I briefly considered driving the golf cart. That was not an option. I was too small to reach the steering wheel and pedals.

I estimated the distance from the seat to the ground. If I hit just right, the impact wouldn’t damage me. I accelerated to 5 kilometers per hour towards the edge of the seat.

I landed hard causing my impact sensors to trigger. Ignoring this data, I trailed behind Jeanie.

Jeanie: I silently thanked my mother for signing me up for Tae Kwon Do lessons as a kid. I ran up behind Antoni. “Hey beef head!” I yelled. Antoni turned around in time for my fist to smash into his nose.

His curses were muffled by his hands as he choked back tears. I took advantage of my surprise attack and kneed him squarely in the groin.

It was easy taking him out. I thought I’d have no trouble. That is until the other guy grabbed my hair. It burned like someone had dumped acid on my scalp. Crap!

I spun around with my forearms up. This made the other guy who I was naming Grabber let go. He probably wasn’t used to his victims fighting back. Grabber tried to throw a hay maker at me. I dodged easily.

Grabber stumbled and regrouped. I could see Antoni standing up. All of my sparing matches had been one on one. I wasn’t sure how I was going to fight two opponents. I was lucky they hadn’t brought weapons. Probably thought they wouldn’t need them to deal with a couple of tweens.

Antoni was starting to get back up. I kicked him in the gut. Not very sporting but I was desperate.

Grabber yanked my legs out from underneath me. I put my arm up waiting for a blow.

“Argh!” Grabber howled.

I used my back as a spring to get to my feet. I looked at my would be killer, he was hopping up and down clutching his own foot. Not far away, Bother was rolling in circles around us.
“I thought I told you to wait in the cart?!” I shouted.

Simeon:There was quite the commotion out side. I couldn’t see the door from here but it sounded like we had company. I guessed Jeanie had decided to go Street Fighter on the new arrivals. Whatever alarms had gone off, I was certain Garry’s henchmen wouldn’t be stalled for long.

I recoded like my life depended on it.

I was worried about Jeanie. She was tough sure, but she was only one person. I seriously doubted Nathan would show up to save the day again. That guy seemed like he cared about right and wrong but not as much as he did his reputation.

Focus, Simeon, you need a few more strokes and…

I got distracted when I heard the radio chatter of one of the guards. I heard it on the frequency scanner I'd brought with me.

“This is security officer Garret Nolan,” he said. “I need order Order Officers to the Ocean Princess City Server Building. There’s an altercation between three people and…I guess a robot?...”

The guy known as Nolan was saying more things to the dispatch. I tuned him out. If any of us were going to not have Garry as our Supreme Overlord, I needed to finish these key strokes.

Jeanie: Pretty soon, the guards took action. I could see one talking on his shoulder mounted radio. The other one rushed over to perform crowd controll.

“Cease and desist,” he yelled. “Immediately! Order Officers are on the way.”

I didn’t say so but there was no way in hell I was letting Garry’s thugs beat me to a bloody pulp. I jumped over another leg sweep by Grabber.

It was almost comical the way Bother had turned tables on Antoni. Apparently the little bot had hoarded some high test fishing line. He had lassoed the massive man with it. Before Antoni was able to take action, Bother had cocooned the brute like a spider bundles up a fly.

I had just landed a round house kick on Grabber when I started spasming. The security guard had decided to tase me. I hit the ground convulsing in bone crunching agony.

The guard tackled Grabber and after blocking some punches, managed to fit the baddy with a pair of zip tie cuffs. I guess the para military training and weapons made a difference.

Bother tried to rush the guard. He pulled a large gun off his belt. It fired a round at the bot’s small frame. “Leave him alone!” I yelled.

It wasn’t very loud, my ribs were probably broken.
I watched as a pellet impacted Bother. Electricity crackled around him. His eyes went dim and he stopped in his tracks.

I cried tasting the salt from my tears and blood seeping into my mouth. We’d been so close. I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t know what that beanbag had done to Bother but it’d be a miracle if his hard drive hadn’t been fried.

I could hear the Order Officers sirens as their boats and carts pulled up. I didn’t even try to resist anymore. The officers dragged me to my feet.

After seating me in their patrol vehicle, they started questioning me. “What happened here?” He shouted.

“These assholes came after me and my friend,” I said. “That’s what happened! What the hell did that beanbag zapper do to my robot?!”

“Woah woah that’s—”

“Sir,” the officer said “you’ll get your chance to tell your side in a minute.” The man in uniform turned back to me. “You’re saying that these two men were trying assault you and who else?”

I swallowed and tried to get my heart to quit pounding. “My friend Simeon,” I said. “Look I heard that guy over there tell the other guy they wanted to beat me and Simeon up and then feed our remains to the fishes.”

The Order Officer looked over his sunglasses.(who wears sunglasses at night? Was this some sort of weird department policy?) “Is this true?” He asked Antoni.

Antoni’s mouth moved but noise didn’t come out. “Well yeah but—”

“I’m placing you four under arrest for disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct and assault with intent to do harm.

I was gob smacked. “You’re arresting Bother too?” I asked.

“Who’s Bother?”

“My robot.”

“Yes we’re arresting Bother too,” the officer said. “He is a sentient capable of understanding his actions. The stun bag merely shut down his circuits temporarily. He’ll be able to stand trial alongside you. Now where is this friend of yours? I need to get their statement.”

Well so much for saving the city, I thought to myself. We’d never see the light of day after Garry put his own spin on this.

Not cooperating would probably make things worse. “We were trying to break into the server room,” I said. “We had a good reason.—”

“I don’t care what your reason is,” the officer said. “We’re going in after your friend and you’re all going to the brig.”

My only hope was that Simeon had successfully blocked Garry’s Robot Army program.

Simeon: I could hear the sirens outside I knew I didn’t have time to grab my stuff. I looked around for anywhere to hide. All I could see was an air vent and a chair. Without any time to waste, I dragged the chair over and busted out the vent cover. I jumped and. Caught the lip of the vent.

By some adrenaline soaked miracle, I managed to pull myself up. I started crawling in. This caused the whole shaft to bang and clang around me. That worked so much better in the movies.

“Sir,” a voice below me said. “I think I know where the intruder went. Up here!”

I peeked out of the vent I’d climbed up. An order officer with a taser stared back at me. All that hard work for nothing. “Let me see your hands,” he said.

I wordlessly laid on my stomach and extended both hands till they were visible to those below.

“Now come down slowly,” I was told.

“Yeah okay,” I said. “I’ll just wriggle out of here like a snake and land right on top of you! Sound good?”

The Order grumbled to himself. “Just slowly use your hands to lower yourself down,” he said.

I was still dangling part way out of the ceiling when three officers grabbed me and pulled me to the ground. I felt the zip cuffs tighten around me.

“Ow!” I said “you gotta pinch me like that, el heffe?”

“Shut up and stand,” one officer said.

When I was marched out to the golf cart I saw Jeanie and Bother had been captured. Antoni and some guy I’d never seen before were sitting in one of Order Division’s Siphon boats.

Well at least the bad guys managed to get caught too.
It was a long and silent ride back to Division of Order booking. I think Jeanie wanted to ask if I had stopped the update from launching.

“I took care of it,” I said. “Hey thanks for keeping Antoni and his friend off my back.”

She looked at me. One eye had swollen shut. She merely nodded. I didn’t know why…until Jeanie vomited all over my lap.

“Hey!” I shouted “She needs a doctor! Take us to a hospital.”

Jeanie: Grabber had manage to clock me pretty hard during our fight. I had been fighting nausea since the adrenaline wore off. I guess trying to turn my head to answer Simeon was too much an ask from my bludgeoned head.

I meant to say “well that’s good, we’re going to the brig for the rest of our lives. But that’s okay.” Instead I managed to empty my stomach contents onto Simeon. I heard Simeon yell something about going to a hospital.

I wanted to argue but I was loosing consciousness. I was only vaguely aware of the sharp right hand turn we made. The sirens wailed as I passed out.

CHAPTER 11

Bother: when I powered back on, I found myself in a cold dark cage. I was sitting on a steel bench next to Simeon. What had happened? “Bother?” I said.

Simeon took his head out from his hands. “Oh?” He said. “You still work. I’m surprised. You and me are jail birds.”

I wasn’t familiar with the expression. I tried to use wi-fi to look up a definition. I had no signal.

Maybe I could find Jeanie and get her to break out the alphabet cards. I looked around the cell. She wasn’t there.

“Lemme guess,” Simeon said. “You’re looking for Jeanie. Garry’s goons beat her up so bad that she had to go to a hospital. It’s like a repair shop for people if that helps you understand.”

I was familiar with the concept of humans needing other technicians called doctors to fix malfunctions. I hoped they could patch Jeanie up. It was sad to think she might not function again.

“I’m surprised they didn’t put you in evidence.” Simeon said. “Now I’m in trouble for cyber terrorism. Jeanie and you have a load of charges against you. We may have saved the city but we sure didn’t save ourselves.”

I gathered from this speech that Simeon had given up. We were all going to be trapped for a long time. Or worse, deactivated. I had to compute our way out of this.

My logic circuits retained the fact that I wouldn’t be able to communicate using my language program. There had to be a work around. These law enforcement officers had to know the truth. If only I could let them know it was Garry who was no good and not us.

I searched my memory files. There was a recording from 2345 we had gone to the server room at a little after 0130. That audio file had to be Garry plotting. None of us had been talking so it had to be that villain.

Could I play it through my speakers? Yes! I could write a code to play the file without an out put string. That would by pass my language program and allow me to share our intel.

“Bother” I said and jumped up and down. “Bother,” more jumping.

“Hey what’s going on there?” An officer grumbled. There were thumping footsteps as the warden came in.

I made a little more noise then began playing the recorded audio. The warden’s jaw dropped as he recognized the voice on the recording. He pulled out his mobile and hit the screen a few times. He held the device to his ear. “Commissioner,” he said. “There’s been a development in the investigation into the incident at the server room…there’s…new evidence that casts out suspects in a new light.”

Jeanie: I’d been having a weird dream. I was in church, dad was at the pulpit giving a sermon. “We are as Noah on the ark,” he said. “We float here as God’s chosen. Can I get a Halelujah?”

“Hallelujah!” The congregation shouted.

“We’ll now hear from our choir,” my dad said.

It was the strangest choir I ever saw. They were all in white scrubs and masks. They started clapping and chanting “She’s coming round! She’s coming round!”

There was a bight light. “I’m coming round!” I shouted.

My eyes finally adjusted to the hospital LEDs. I realized where I really was. A nurse stood next to my bed. He was wearing light blue scrubs. “How are we feeling?” He asked.

“Less sick,” I said. “But still feel really sore.”

“It’ll take a wile to feel completely better,” the nurse told me. “You had a pretty severe concussion. We had to operate to relieve pressure. Then we had to reset three of your ribs. “We’ll be keeping an eye on you for a couple of days. And re-evaluate as needed.”

I sighed wearily. “Then I guess Order is going to haul me to the brig,” I said. “What a mess.” I breathed into my hands trying to get my anxiety under controll.

“Actually there were some developments,” the nurse said. “Turns out that there was an audio recording and some video evidence that was discovered. It doesn’t look too good for Antoni Washington, Garry Fullerton or anyone else involved in his plot. You’ve been cleared.”

Was I still unconscious or something? Had I just been told I wasn’t spending the rest of my life in confinement? I took a deep breath and winced. Nope that pain was still too real. I was awake.

“Are you feeling okay?” The nurse asked me.

“Yeah,” I said. “Just surprised the charges got dropped. That and a little sore.”

“That’s good news though,” he said. “Anyways I think I’d better let you rest. Your family will be here in a little while. The call button’s to your right on the over-bed table.” He exited my room and left me alone.

My family? They knew what happened? How?

I had strongly mixed feelings about them coming here. I knew that mom and dad would probably lecture me about how my choices showed poor judgement. Lucas would probably ask if I had any cool scars. Denise would probably be the only one who I could handle. They tended to not be as judgmental.

I didn’t know if I was ready to handle the barrage of family headed my way. I’d been through a lot. What time was it?

The digital clock displayed a time of 0700. It was morning already. I assumed it was the day after my evening turned into an episode of Secret Agent. Almost twenty three hours ago I’d been going to work. It was amazing how much had happened.

There was a knock on my door. “Come in?” I said.

My dad poked his head in. “Hey,” he said. “Good to see you awake. Been praying for you all morning.”

“Thanks daddy,” I said. “I’ve been, uh, thinking about you too.” There was no way I was telling him about the weird church dream. That was just bizarre.

Mom, Lucas and Denise all flooded into the room. It was good but emotionally overwhelming to see them all. I started crying.

“Oh baby,” my mom said. “Gus, go see if you can find the nurse, I think our daughter’s pain meds are wearing off.”

“No, no I’m fine,” I said. “I just am so glad I get to see you all again. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life as a convict.”

“Sis,” Lucas said. “If they’d thrown you in the brig, I woulda busted you out. That Garry sure was one crazy son of a—”

“Lucas!” My mother yelled.

“Sorry ma,” my brother said. “Heat of the moment just got to me.”

“How are you feeling honey?” Mom asked. “Are they letting you go soon?”

I shook my head. And instantly regretted it. The motion made me dizzy. “Wow, wishing I hadn’t done that,” I said. “Guess I still got a concussion. Other than that as long as I don’t breathe too hard I’m on enough pain meds I feel fine.”

Denise looked at me their eyebrows crumpling together. “You should be careful,” they said. “Even though they haven’t used opioids in pain relievers in decades, they can still leave you dependent on them. I’d hate to see my big sis become an addict.”

“Okay,” I said. “I promise I won’t push the button for my IV drip unless the pain is more than I can bear.” That was the downside of being smart. You worried about everything.

“Anyways,” mom said. “We brought a surprise for you.”

She pulled a familiar robot out of her large beach bag. She handed it to me.

“Bother!” I said. “How did you get him back. I thought Order division would keep him.”

“About that,” my dad said. “They managed to make a copy of the audio file from Bother’s hard drive. Now there's no need for him to stay in their lock up. It’s thanks to him that you and Simeon are free.”

I felt tears stinging my eyes. I didn’t know how he’d bypassed his language program but I was grateful for his actions. “You know,” I said. “I never thought that my life would be this crazy. Or that I’d be friends with a robot.”

“See?” My dad says. “The Lord works in mysterious ways. He drew your mother to this bot and now you have a friend that actually gets you out of trouble instead of in.”

I gritted my teeth. I knew which ‘friend’ my parents were referring to. Yeah me and Simeon had gotten in some tough jams, but he always helped me out. I hated the way my parents always ragged on him. I was too tired to argue with them so I changed the subject.

As I looked the tiny robot over, I noticed a couple of new dings and scratches. “Hey Bother,” I said. “How about I do some repairs on you while I’m recovering? Would that be okay?”

Bother’s lights turned turquoise and his cameras bobbed on their stalks. “Bother,” he said cheerfully. Looks like he was on board with that plan.

I chatted with my family for a while. Lucas’ grades were looking better now that he’d figured out word problems. Denise was working on developing a new rooting compound for pineapple cuttings. Mom was busy embroidering a handkerchief. She took it out and showed me the beautiful stitching on the daisies. Dad was getting ready for the yearly OPC Baptist Christmas Bazaar.

There was another knock on the door. It was the resident doctor. “Hi I’m Dr. Vick,” he said. “I’m in charge of Jeanie’s recovery. I’ve got to do some assessments. Do you mind if I have a look at her really quick?”

My dad reached out and shook his hand. “Hi Dr. Vick,” he said. “We were just leaving. You take good care of my baby girl okay?”

Dr. Vick chuckled. “I will,” he said. “You folks take care.” As my family filed out of the room the doctor pulled out a stylus from his tablet cover.

“Jeanie,” he said. “Any new pain or anything bothering you?”

“No not really,” I said. “Just a little dizziness if I move my head too much.”

“Uh-huh,” he said as he listened to my heart. “That’s common with concussions. Try and take it easy. If something makes you feel worse, avoid doing it for now.”

Dr. Vick pulled out a pen light. “Follow this with your eyes only,” he said. “Then look straight ahead.”

I hated the way doctors made you stare at bright lights. It made my eyes water.

“Okay,” Dr. Vick said. “Your vitals are looking much better than when you came in. Your pupillary response is closer to normal. We put some bio identical calcium carbonate in the hole after we lowered the pressure in your skull. It should encourage the bone to heal back together. Do you have any questions for me?”

“Yeah a few actually,” I said. “My parent’s brought my companion robot here. Can I have him here and work on repairs while I’m recovering?”

Dr. Vick barely hid a scowl. “I’d rather you stick to resting,” he said. “Your brain’s been through a big ordeal. If you could stick to something simpler for a couple of days. Maybe just polish your robot a bit?”

This was going to drive me nuts. I hated just sitting around. I felt like a baby all swaddled in hospital bed clothes.

“So I can’t even get up and walk?” I asked.

“Oh no, you can walk a little,” he said. “It’s just better for your recovery if you don’t over tax your brain.”

I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “So um when am I free to go?” I asked.

“I would like you to stay here at least another two days,” Dr. Vick said as he checked his smart watch. “It’s now eight hundred. I think they’ll be bringing breakfast around soon. Try to eat if you’re up to it.”

My stomach reminded me I’d skipped dinner last night. I guessed food wouldn't be so bad.

About ten minutes after Dr. Vick left, a nurse’s aide came in holding a tray. “Here you are Ms. Pullman,” she said. “Enjoy.”

I removed the pink starch based cloche. Oh what…joy. I stared at the small cup of orange juice, pancake and egg that looked like it had been cured in plasticizer. There wasn’t even any syrup.

I attempted to cut my food using the utensils provided. I may as well have been trying to cut kevlar with a spoon. Bother watched me as I gave in and used my hands to tear up the pancake and shove bits of it into my mouth.

“What?” I said. “I’m hungry. I’m not about to let a rubber flap jack stop me from eating.”

Bother rested one clamp on my hand. With the other he picked up the knife and started cutting up the rest of the pancake and egg into bite size pieces.

“Thanks Bother,” I said. “That’s really sweet of you.”

I finished what I could of my breakfast. I didn’t want to get too full. My meds made me less hungry.

The same smiling nurse’s aide came and removed the tray from in front of me. I turned to Bother. “This is going to be one boring week” I said. “I think I’ll be out of my mind by dinner time.”

He merely shrugged and pulled the clicker for the smart wall over and turned it on. The hospital’s smart wall only covered a tiny portion up by the ceiling. Maybe they put it up there so the doctor could yack at his patients and they could still see the broadcast.

There was a media report on. It was talking about how Garry Fullerton and four other Green Wave Industries employees had been arrested. I looked at the image. I saw Antoni, Nerd, and Grabber were up there. Didn’t recognize the fourth individual. It was some lady with a blonde pixie cut and a white business suit.

There was a knock on the door. “Come in,” I said. Simeon entered the room. “

Hey,” he said. “I just got done dropping Liza at school. She had a million questions when I got home this morning.”

“I’ll bet she did,” I said. “Did you get back before she got up this morning?”

Simeon made a clicking noise with his tongue. “Nope,” he said. “Order clerk took a long time returning all my stuff. They also had to make a copy of Bother’s audio recording of Garry. Then I argued with them because they’re keeping my mobile as evidence .I was lucky to get there in time to drop Liza off at OPC Secondary.”

“Did you see the media?” I asked.

“Yeah they’ve been running the story about Garry since oh-six-hundred,” he said. “Calling it the biggest scandal in OPC’s history. They were talking about maybe interviewing us about last night.”

I had really mixed feelings. On the one hand it was cool they were going to tell the truth for once. On the other, I really didn’t feel like having a media drone, reporter and whomever else might come along in this small room.

Not much after I had processed this news, I heard the whirring noise of a drone’s propellers from down the hallway. Unfortunately, Simeon hadn’t remembered to shut the door.

The camera drone hovered in followed by a diminutive asian lady in a pink fluffy coat, a microphone guy and some one I never thought I’d meet. It was Skipper Kathy Goodman!

“I never thought I’d get to meet you, madam Skipper!” I blurted.

She took my hand in both of hers. Her almond shaped eyes showed laugh lines as she smiled. “I understand I have you to thank for foiling an attempt on my life.” She said.

“Oh I wouldn’t say it’s just thanks to me,” I said. “Bother and Simeon helped too.”

“Really?” Skipper Goodman said. “Well I’ll have to make sure to include them too in our interview. We’ll be live with Erica Chan in a few minutes.”

Things were moving fast. I could ‘t believe I was getting a chance to meet my hero. She was the first woman skipper in OPC history. She made me believe anything was possible.

As I thought about all this, the countdown began. We’re going live in five four three two one. The lady in the pink coat smiled at the camera. “Hi, I’m Erica Chan,” she said. “Coming to you live from Ocean’s Grace Hospital where hero of the day Jeanie Pullman, her friends and Skipper Goodman. Jeanie I’m told you uncovered a conspiracy and fought for your life all in the same night is this true?”

I eyed the microphone. It felt way too close to my face. “Uh yeah sort of,” I said. “My friends and—”

Like an otter through kelp Erica raced to the next question. “And how do you feel knowing that the CEO of the company you work for tried to take over our city?”

“Well, uh bad I guess,” I said. “I was just as clueless as anybody. It’s scary that someone in charge of a company could be so ruthless. If it wasn’t—”

Not really interested in anything but sound bites, Erica pressed on. “Skipper Goodman,” she said. “Do you have anything to say about these events that have unfolded in the last twenty four hours?”

Skipper Goodman drew herself up looking like an impressive monument in her smart grey pantsuit. “I would like to acknowledge something,” she said. “We are very proud of Jeanie Pullman and she has shown remarkable courage. So have her friends Simeon and Bother. From what Commissioner Thompson told me in his brief, they too played roles. Simeon, using his technical skills managed to block the malicious software Garry Fullerton was planning to reprogram thousands of stolen robots with. Without his help I would probably not be talking to you in this interview. Bother was stollen by criminals working on Mr. Fullerton’s behalf. Without his decision to use his AI and recording capabilities while and after being rescued from captivity, no one would’ve known of Garry’s plans until it was too late.”

That was a fantastic speech. I really felt like I was in the presence of greatness. Skipper Goodman had bull dozed right over Erica Chan’s attempts to interrupt. She had even acknowledged the three of us as a team. I liked the Skipper more than I already had.

After a pause to nod and respectfully gesture to each of us, Skipper Goodman continued her pomp. “With that in mind,” she said. “I am announcing a valor ceremony to be held on December 21st at eighteen-hundred hours in Ocean Princess’ auditorium. This will be a celebration for everyone in our city and to honor these heroes.”

Erica Chan must’ve really hated silence. “That’s fantastic Skipper,” she said. “I’m afraid that’s all the time we have for now. I’m handing things back over to you at the news desk, Ken.”

The camera drone’s record lights switched off. The microphone tech shuffled out. Erica gave me a condescending pat on the shoulder. “Thanks for the interview kid,” she said. “Hey you get better really soon.”

I’d be doing better if you hadn’t just patted my right on a bruise, I thought. “Sure,” I said. “Thanks, Erica.”

Skipper Goodman stayed behind. “I truly do appreciate your actions,” she said. “Soon the whole city will as well.”

She walked out and, now that I wasn’t star struck, I had the feeling of hollowness come over me. I felt like I was getting attention for nothing. I seriously didn’t think I’d done anything worth celebrating.

“Woo! Yes!” Simeon shouted. “We get an awards ceremony! We saved our home. Could life get any more awesome than this?” He fist bumped Bother who was doing his own mini victory dance on the tiled floor.

“Great,” I said. “Peachy.” I didn’t feel like celebrating. Simeon calmed down enough to notice that I wasn’t as enthused.

He came over and sat on the foot of my bed. Bother got to a spot where he could focus on me.

“What’s wrong Jeanie,” he said. “You helped just as much as we did. You should celebrate too.”

“Bother?”

I wanted to tell them what was running through my head but I was too self conscious. “Oh yeah,” I said. “I’m just uh a little tired. Getting in fist fights and needing surgery kinda wears a person out.”

“Hey I get it,” Simeon said. “I’ll let you do you at your pace. You want me to take Bother with me so you can rest?”

“Um, no,” I said. “It’s fine. Hey um could you swing by my HAB unit and pick up my tool kit? I wanna do some repairs on Bother. He deserves some pampering too. That and if I sit here just resting, I’ll go nuts.”

“Okay,” Simeon said. “Mind giving me a one time access code? Otherwise I’m not able to get what you’re asking for.”

I pulled out my ID chip held it next to Simeon’s and pressed a button on the side. “Access pass sent” a synthesized voice chimed.

Simeon gave me a gentle hug. It was the barest brush of arms against torso. It was like he was afraid he’d break me worse if he embraced me tightly.

“I’ll be back in about forty minutes,” he said. “You get some good rest okay?”

“I will” I said. “Thank you.”

Once he’d left I lay back down in the pillows. I was too amped up from the flurry of visitors. I told Bother goodnight and pretended to sleep. Maybe it’d fool my body into relaxing.

Simeon: I had been so glad that Jeanie was okay. I wasn’t even mad she’d puked on my favorite jeans. Besides the desk clerk at the brig had given me a fresh pair of pants when he released me from custody. It had been a nice gesture.

Still it had been really upsetting to see Jeanie all banged up. She looked like she’d been through a war. It didn’t help that I felt responsible for her getting hurt that badly.

If I hadn’t been so careless with my hacking, Garry’s goons would’ve never shown up. Then Jeanie wouldn’t have had to fight. None of us would’ve gotten arrested.

Wait, maybe that wasn’t true. I probably would’ve had to still sneak out of the server room. If I had, there was probably a good chance that the guards would’ve been suspicious when the same lady with a crying baby showed up.

Still if I hadn’t tripped the alarm…I was going in circles with self blame!

I pulled up in front of Jeanie’s HAB building. Taking the keys out of the cart I entered the building. If I remembered right her unit was number 302. I’d only been there about six weeks ago for Jeanie’s house warming party.


I used my access code to get in Jeanie’s apartment. It was a mess. She had socks and empty cereal bowls everywhere. I guess that shouldn’t be such a surprise, we were both fresh out of secondary school. No mom to nag Jeanie into cleaning.
After scanning the main room, I found the tool kit sitting beside a used facial tissue and an empty take out container. As I picked it up I noticed a yellow rubber ducky with a vampire cape and a giant splinter sticking out of it.

I smiled to myself. I guess it was one Bother had collected. I couldn’t see Jeanie being a rubber ducky kind of girl.

I shut the door behind me. Went back to the golf cart. I drove back to the hospital. My brain cannot focus dammit!

Jeanie: Simeon brought my tool kit like I asked. There was something bothering him though. I could tell he had his jaw clenched.

“Look Simeon, we’ve known each other since we were in primary school,” I said. “Somethings the matter now spill.”

He threw his arms up dramatically. “It’s my fault you’re in that bed!” He said. “If I hadn’t screwed up, Antoni and that other guy wouldn’t have showed up. Because of me you have broken ribs, a hole in your skull and bruises. I feel horrible.”

I didn’t understand what had gotten into his head. “Wait did you teleport out of the room you were in?” I asked sarcastically. “No. I don’t think so. Did you tell me hey Jeanie go fight two guys who’re way bigger than you? I sure as hell don’t think so. I made my choice. Yeah it was to help you but I’d do it again in an instant!”

Simeon stared at me. Oh god, was that a tear? “I, uh, I,” he stammered. “Okay. I guess you’re right. But do you gotta yell at me for feeling guilty?”

“In this case yes,” I said. “I could understand feeling like this if you’d started a nuclear war. That’s not what this is. The bad guys are in the brig. The trial is in a few days. I’m gonna get better okay?”

“Of course,” he said running his hands through his hair. “I’ll try to do better with managing my self blame. On another note, I forgot about Garry’s trial. Are we going to go?”

I already feared and loathed Garry before all this happened. “I guess,” I said. “If the doctors give me their blessing.”

“Okay,” he said. “I guess I’ll go too then. Well I kinda got a summons from the Mediatrix’s office.”


“What why?” I asked.

“They want me as a witness for the prosecution,” he said. “Seeing as I was there when Bother got bot napped.”

Well that was an interesting development. Before I could tell him how I felt about this, a knock came at the door. Within seconds there was yet another professional in scrubs.

“Oh hey,” the perky lady in scrubs said. “I’m your physical therapist. Annette. I didn’t realize you had company. Did you want me to come back later?”

“No,” Simeon said. “I was just leaving. Catch you later Jeanie.”

At least Simeon was smiling as he left.

Annette assessed my range of motion of my arms and legs. “You don’t seen to have much pain in your limbs,” she said. “How do you feel when you breathe.”

I took a deep breath and winced.

“Ah still a little tender,” she said. “What do you say to a little walk down the hallway and back? You can bring your robot if you like.”

“And get out of this bed?” I asked. “Yes please!”

Bother: I followed Jeanie down the hospital corridor. It was a lot different than the medical bay I had been assigned to on Star Lab. The hospital had to be much larger than that single compartment aboard the space station.

There were beautiful plants, and railings to hold onto if patients needed. There had been handles to grab on in Star Lab but they weren’t as substantial. A person’s weight on earth had to be supported if they stumbled. Earth’s gravity had a stronger pull on mass than miles above it in space.

“You’re doing good,” the Physical Therapist said. “Just walk at your own pace.”

Jeanie was ambulatory but slow. It was hard to observe. An adolescent shouldn’t have to slow down this way. But I understood that her damaged body would not function optimally.

It took approximately three minutes for Jeanie to walk from the end of the corridor back to her room. Once she returned there the Therapist gave her assessment.

“It looks like you’re doing good,” Annette said. “I think that depending on your doctor’s judgement, you’ll be able to go home. Just remember it’s important to keep moving so your body doesn’t stiffen up. That way, when you’re fully healed, you should have a fairly normal gait.”
“Thanks,” Jeanie said. “I’ll remember that.”

I was excited about that news. But wait, hadn’t Dr. Vick said Jeanie needed to be under observation for a few more days? Something wasn’t right, did Annette really work for the hospital?

Jeanie: I was excited to hear I might be able to leave soon. Annette seemed nice. Walking had been a good break from laying in bed.

I wheeled over the table and sat down in the arm chair in the corner of my room. It wasn’t the best work space but it’d have to do.

“Come here Bother,” I said.

He obediently stopped by my feet. I leaned over to pick him up. My ribs ached in protest. I tried not to show any pain though.

“Bother,” I said. “I’m going to do some repairs. Just make sure everything is okay inside you. Then buff out these dents and scratches. While I’m at it would you want me to repair your language program?”

He seemed to be thinking about it. He waggled his cameras back and forth. That was a no. Well it had been worth a try.

Bother: I knew Jeanie meant well. I understood that she just wanted to make things better. To communicate.

I had been unable to say anything but “Bother” for 43 years. It almost felt normal now. I suppose if I’d been human I would’ve equated it with being a part of me. If it was integral to my personality now, it wasn’t something I wanted fixed.

I knew I should probably find a way to communicate with the outside world. And I would.

Jeanie and I had really connected using the alphabet cards. I wasn’t sure but I believe the last place I recall them being was on the floor of Simeon’s golf cart. Order officers had probably removed them after impounding the vehicle. That was probably no monger an option.

Maybe my newly discovered ability to play MP3 files would help. After all it had gotten an important message through. I could download some to my hard drive. There were still Yottabytes of storage on my memory bank.

Jeanie: I finished putting the last screw into place after I had repaired what he would let me. I was polishing his carapace when someone knocked on my door. It was Dr. Vick again. Or at least I thought it was. Hadn’t Dr. Vick had more grey in his hair? Maybe it was my imagination.
“Good news!” Dr Vick said. “I just talked with your physical therapist and the rest of your care team. We think you’re ready to be released. Annette is waiting in a golf cart down below. She’ll take you back to your HAB when you’re ready.”

Finally, I’d already managed to choke down the rubberized ham and dry potatoes they served for lunch. I didn’t want to risk sticking around for dinner.

A nurse brought me up my clothes. I changed back into them before realizing the were actually Simeon’s mom’s maternity outfit. The hung off my frame in a semi awkward slouch. I felt like I’d cut holes in a tent and tried to wear it.

“You ready to go home Bother?” I asked. He chirped “Bother!” And waved one clamp in the air. It looked like he was happy to be leaving.

I took the elevator down to the lobby. It was so good to be free. I saw Annette waiting. Part of me wondered if it was a little weird for a PT to take a patient home. I quickly dismissed that idea, Annette had probably volunteered.

“Thanks for the ride,” I said. “It’d be a long way to walk to my home from here.”

Annette didn’t say anything as we drove away.

Something didn’t feel right. “Are you sure you’re headed the right way?” I asked. “My house was in the opposite direction.”

Annette pulled off her long wig revealing a short pixie cut underneath. I froze, it was the woman from the media reports this morning.

“I saw you on that news cast!” I said. “You got arrested for colluding with Garry Fullerton! How did you get out?”

“Are you kidding me?” She said. “I’m Bianca Harmonsen, you think I don’t have a stunt double to take a fall?”

Bianca Harmonsen?” I said “the famous actress from that series about killer mermaids?”

“Yes,” she said through clenched teeth. “That about ruined my career. Every time I went somewhere people would shout “it’s Gladys Chowder from that show, Murder Sirens!’ It was disgusting. At least my boyfriend saw me as someone other than ‘Gladys’.”

We were now driving towards the main canal. Yet another Cargo ship was sailing past. This caused a pause in our journey to wherever we were headed. I didn’t know what was up but I had to figure out a way to stall her.

I thought briefly about tucking and rolling out. There were two problems. I didn’t want to abandon Bother again. I also didn’t want to get run over and I wouldn’t put it past her to do that. She had pretended to work at the hospital just so she could kidnap me after all. Who knew what else she’d do?

“So um who’s your boyfriend?” I asked.

Bianca gripped the cart’s steering wheel so tightly that I swore the bones would pop through the skin. “My boo, Garry Fullerton is in the Brig thanks to you!” She shouted. “You and your little friends just couldn’t leave him alone.”

“Yeah well,” I said. “Garry’s henchman stole my companion robot. Bother’s the one who discovered the killer robot army plot!”

She ignored me. “Garry was just trying to save his company,” she said. “His daddy built that industrial contracting business from the ground up. Before Kathy became Skipper, Green Wave was thriving. It had just bagged the maintenance contract for Ocean Princess City. Then that stupid Skipper Goodman set such tight guidelines on waste disposal, it was bleeding the company dry!”

“That’s why Garry did all this?” I said. “Because he didn’t think he should have to pay so much money to get rid of waste products? There had to be another way to solve his problems.”

Bianca snarled at me, it made her look like a medusa. Her golden hair was too short to whip around like snakes. she was still so scary I felt petrified.

“My Gar-bear tried,” she said. “He ran for Skipper so he could change policy. Then that awful sewage plant leak happened. Since Green Wave Industries ran the plant, Garry was vilified by the media. Of course that cow Goodman won by a landslide.”

It was clear that Bianca was devoted to Garry. That and possibly a little deranged.

“So um what’s your plan?” I asked. “Now that I’m your hostage, what’re you gonna do with me?”

“You are gonna come with me,” she said. “I know this old building material manufacturer. The equipment there is still in working condition.. They used to make all sorts of things there on big, dangerous machines.”

“So you want to take me on a factory tour?” I asked. “That seems a little strange and not like it’d accomplish anything.” I may have been trying to play it cool. Truth was I didn’t like where this was going.

“No stupid,” she said. “Because of you Garry’s on trial of crimes punishable by death. I’m taking you there so we can make this thing called a ransom video. They release my boyfriend or you and your robot get a one way trip into the blast furnace.”

Apparently that ancient saying about “opposites attract” wasn’t true in this instance. Bianca was as crazy if not ten times more than Garry. She was willing to kill to get her boyfriend released. Why were all the single people over thirty I knew all psychos?

Simeon: I had told Liza about what happened to Jeanie. Now Liza wanted to visit her at the hospital too.

“You got everything you want to take with you?” I asked my sister.

She named the items as she put them in her school bag. “Get well holo projector, a drive with the latest Marvelous Morays song on it and a small stuffed animal.” She said. “Yep got everything. Hey Sim, you told Jeanie how you feel yet?”

I felt my cheeks turn red. Before the big action at the server room I’d kind of hinted at it. “Well not exactly,” I said. “What about you? You confess your feelings for that boy you never mention?”

My sister’s mouth open and shut repeatedly as her hands curled up. I knew she’d be speechless if I turned the table on her.

“That’s not fair!” Liza said. “Besides Ma—I mean that boy won’t look at me twice. I’m not skinny enough!”

Wait where was this coming from? I looked at my sister. Liza was an extra small. I knew because I had just bought her new school uniform a couple months ago. That was down from last year’s small.

“How did I not know this,” I said. “You’re thinner than the center electrode in one of the island’s calcification units. There’s no meat on you. How is that fat?”

“But Kisha Long, the model for Eternal Youth E-zine is a double zero,” she said. “The boy I like is obsessed with her. I’ll never get his attention if I’m just a size two!”

My sister had been starving herself. All because she didn’t look like a model. Even in the twentieth century it was well known that models owed their unnatural frame to crash dieting, scotch tape and vaseline. That and something invented in the last decade of that century called photoshop.

It made me more than a little sick that my own sister was starving herself to death like those twiggy fossils had.
“Hermana,” I said. “Oy vey, you shouldn’t compare yourself to magazines. Everyone knows those images are AI generated now. It’s not healthy and any guy who likes that sort of thing isn’t worth your time. I’ll have to talk to you about this later.”

Liza looked like she was biting the inside of her cheek to keep from crying. “Fine,” she said. “Whatever. We gonna see Jeanie or not?”

I felt guilty all the way to the hospital. I felt like a fool for not knowing how to handle my sister being anorexic. The ride was a short but uncomfortable one.

The bottom dropped out of my stomach as we pulled up to the visitor’s entrance. “There’s a lot of Order Officers in there,” Liza observed. “I wonder what happened.”

It was like I had lead boots on as I walked through the sliding doors. My lips felt like they were glued together. I had a really nasty feeling something had happened to Jeanie.

An order officer intercepted me. “Son, you can’t be here anymore,” he said. “There’s been two murders and an abduction. We’re still canvasing the hospital it’s a crime scene.”

I knew going to pieces wouldn’t help. “Oh my god,” I said. “Did something happen to Jeanie Pullman?”

The Order Officer cocked a brow. “How’d you know the name of the abductee!” He asked.

I shook my head. “I didn’t know she was missing,” I said. “What happened?”

The guy I’d been talking to forced me into one of the empty chairs. “Son,” he said. “A person or persons unknown killed two members of the staff here. Both were involved in the direct care of Jeanie Pullman. We believe our kidnapper and possibly their accomplice killed the staff in order to gain access to Jeanie.”

My guts churned themselves into a massive knot. “Oh God,” I said. “Just when I thought we were out of the woods.”

“What’s your relationship to Jeanie?” The order officer asked.

“We’ve been life long friends, and” I said. “And I’m in love with her. She doesn’t know yet.”

A long silence passed while the officer digested this information. “You’re not going to like this next bit then,” he said. “This video was sent to the Division of Order five minutes ago.”

He passed me his mobile. I hit the play button. Jeanie was tied to a long old looking bucket conveyor belt. It led into what appeared to be an oxygen blast furnace. Standing next to it was that one actress who played Gladys Chowder from Murder Sirens.
“You have my boyfriend, Garry Fullerton in custody,” she said. “I have the little brat who’s been meddling with his life. Release Garry now or at 1930 tonight this girl will be vaporized into so much slag. You have my demands. The consequences for not meeting my expectations are clear. Release Fullerton or else.”

The video ended on this ultimatum. Jeanie had been bound and gagged. I didn’t see Bother there. Maybe he was too small to peer over the side of the bucket they’d been thrown in.

I looked desperately at the Order Officer. “What are you guys going to do now?” I asked.

“We can’t release Garry he’s committed too grave a crime,” he said. “There’s only one blast furnace in OPC. She’s at the old Slag Yard in the industrial district. We’ve got a team of Crisis troopers headed to the location.”

I looked at my watch. It was already 1910. “How long will it take those troopers tk get there?” I asked.

“About twenty minutes,” he said. “Hopefully Bianca is bluffing.”

“But that’s when she plans on executing Jeanie!” I said. “This is nuts! I’m going there now give me the GPS.”

ThenOrder officer sighed, “I’m gonna catch flack for this from the commissioner,” he said. “Here, you’re temporarily being authorized to use this boat.”

He tossed me a set of keys. “It’s parked down on the dock of the hospital. Watch for cross traffic.” He said. “Keep it in one piece.”

I couldn’t believe I’d just been given keys to such a sweet ride. Order patrol boats were the fastest in OPC. I’d be there in plenty of time.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll do my best!” I ran towards the dock.

I saw my sister sitting in the golf cart. “Liza,” I said. “Take the golf cart back to our HAB. I’ll call you on your mobile when I’m on way home. I love you Hermana.”

She looked dumbfounded as I dashed towards the Order patrol boat.

Bother: My psychological assessment algorithms still worked. They indicated that, based on what she said, she was suffering from some delusional disorder and exhibited personality traits. She was also displaying some signs of psychosis.

Perhaps because she was so out of touch with reality, my presence had been overlooked. I managed to sneak out of the Golf Cart and hide behind a large abandoned crate.
I listened to what she was saying. She planned to kill Jeanie if Fullerton wasn’t released in thirty minutes. Not only was that an extremely unrealistic goal, it didn’t leave much time to formulate a plan.

What could I do? I wasn’t very heavy. Less than a meter tall. Anything I did would have to be stealthy. I inferred that Bianca was using Jeanie as both the focus of a revenge plot and as a bargaining chip. A rather ambivalent way of doing things. Yet both motivations would be foiled if I could free Jeanie.

That was a difficult task. Jeanie was sitting inside a steel bucket with sides that measured a little over 1.2 meters high. Even though Jeanie was a nearly 2 meters tall woman, me causing the bucket to dump over and release her was a risky plan at best.

I analyzed the structural integrity of the link that attached it to the conveyor’s chain drive. It was significantly corroded. If I managed to find a way to hit that with enough force, the bucket would become dislodged. Now to tip the bucket over without severely injuring and killing Jeanie.

I spotted a gantry crane with a load of metal pipes that looked both strong and heavy. That might work. I was sure with some word recognition capabilities, I could figure out the controls.

I rolled towards the crane. Bianca watched the empty plant with a diligent eye. I carefully moved from storage crate to storage crate till I reached the crane’s controls.

Unexpectedly, the crane was bolted to the floor but ran on rails laid out in a cartesian plane. It should be easy enough for even a diminutive figure such as myself to operate.

Thankfully, the builders of this factory had a proclivity to make the factory inclusive for workers of all abilities. A hydraulic lift had been installed. I pushed the button to raise the platform. It made a loud whirring noise.

Bianca who heard the sound, made a direct path in my direction. It was terrifying, if I didn’t execute my plan fast she would make it impossible to finish.

“Bother!” I said.

Simeon: I arrived at the old construction supply manufacturing plant. It was more open than I had expected. The top of the blast furnace towered into the night sky. It almost distracted me from important events going on nearby.

I could see Bianca, she was stalking towards…was that Bother trying to operate a crane? Hadn’t expected that one.

I didn’t know how the little guy wasn’t inside the bucket with Jeanie. But I was glad to see him try to help. Even if I didn’t understand what he was doing.
If Bianca got to him first, Bother was going to be so much scrap metal, I could tell. I needed to be dramatic. My turn to make a scene.

“Oh my Gawd!” I shouted. “It’s Gladys Chowder from Murder Sirens! I’m such a huge fan.”

She stopped walking and fixed me with a fiery gaze. “I’m not Gladys!” She screamed.

Holy menudo! I’d really pissed her off. She’d forgotten all about Bother and was solely focused on me. “You,” she said. “I don’t care who you are. I’m in the middle of something.”

“Yeah I know,” I said. “I hacked Division of Order’s server and I saw your video. I’m like, your biggest fan. I figured out where you were and decided I had to stop by. I absolutely love you Gladys!”

Bianca was about to yell some more when there was a heavy clang. Bother had dropped the pipes the gantry crane had been holding. They fell on top of the giant bucket Jeanie was trapped in. She barely managed to duck down inside to avoid being hit by the pipe as the struck knocking the container sideways.

Both me and Bianca turned our heads to look. The pipes bounced and rolled in our direction. Anticlimactically, they stopped at just short of where we stood.

“No!” Bianca screamed. “That bitch can’t get away.” She started running towards Jeanie. I had to do something.

Without really thinking about it, I ran and tackled Bianca grabbing her around the waist. She fell hitting her head hard on a metal pipe as she went down. There was a soft grunt and blood started seeping from the wound.

I stared at her in shock. “Oy vey!” I said. “I think I just killed Gladys Chowder.”

I dialed the number for emergency services. “Dispatch,” a man said. “please state the nature of your emergency.”

“I’m at the old building manufacturing plant in the industrial district, island number 23,” I said. “I came here after Order Division told me Jeanie Pullman was being held hostage here. I was involved in an altercation with her captor. She has a head wound. I’m not sure if she’s alive.”

“We’ll send emergency transportation and Order Officers,” dispatch said. “Stay at the location till they arrive.”

Jeanie: I had about had a heart attack when the pipes came crashing down from the crane. There was a loud crack as the rusty chain gave way. Thankfully it crashed into the bucket’s bottom and missed hitting me!

There was a groan as it tipped over. My hands and ankles were still bound. Once everything had stopped rocking and rolling, I managed to inchworm my way out.

I looked around the facility. I saw Bianca running towards me after dramatically shouting “No!”
I was helpless, I thought I was going to die.

Simeon ran and tackled her. I watched as the back and side of Bianca’s head impacted the steel pipes. He gaped as she lay motionless. “Oy vey,” he said. “I think I just killed Gladys Chowder”

I didn’t know you knew that show, Simeon, I thought. My gag was so firmly in place it made it hard to breathe. I searched the floor for something to free myself with. Apparently the pipes had broken a piece of the flooring as it landed. It would take a while but it was the only thing remotely usable for cutting my hands free.

As I inched closer to the fragment of rubble, I heard the sound of sirens. Within seconds EMTs and Order officers flooded into the compound. One of the medical techs stopped to check Bianca “No pulse, respiration ceased,” he said. “Performing CPR,”

After handing the other EMTs a crash kit, a female tech came and helped me. “Are you hurt? Do you have any pain anywhere?” She asked.

I rolled my eyes. Obviously she hadn’t fully assessed the situation before asking that question. “Mnh-mnh!l I mumbled.

She knelt and used a tactical knife to cut me loose. So good to be able to move. I untied the gag.

“Thanks,” I said. “But it was kinda silly to ask that when I couldn’t talk.”

The lady looked down and held her elbow self consciously. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t see the gag. Er, do you need any medical attention?”

I sat up. “Nah,” I said. “Just got out of the hospital when that lady kidnapped me.”

“So can you stand?”

“Yeah just give me a minute.”

This place was a mess. Before it had just been rusty old equipment. Now it was fragmented pavement, rusty equipment and pipes everywhere. I watched uncomfortably as paramedics made efforts to revive Bianca.
They’d cut open her scrubs she’d stolen. And while I couldn’t see anything it seemed a rather undignified state for her to be in.

Part of me felt sorry for Bianca. She’d been trying, in her own twisted way, to save Garry from the death penalty. If she really loved him, it was tragic she might never see him again.

On the other hand I was angry that Bianca had threatened to put me in a blast furnace. The thought of feeling my skin boil off as I fell to my doom didn’t appeal to me. I tried to put it out of my mind.

It was a little overwhelming. My dad probably would’ve told me to pray for that unhinged woman. I wasn’t sure I could. She had killed someone just so she could capture me. I wasn’t sure Bianca deserved Jesus’s grace.

My head throbbed and I fought back a wave of nausea. I guess the stress had made my concussion symptoms come back. Maybe I should stay sitting for a minute.

Bother rolled up to me. “Hey,” I said. “That was some quick work with those pipes.” Bother looked down at his treads. “Bother” he said. Then he wrapped both arms around my torso. Robot hug? Okay why not. I returned the embrace. “Thank you,” I whispered.

After we let go of each other, I moved into a standing position. Simeon was talking to some Order Officer. The guy kept calling him “son” it kind of annoyed me. I decided to go see if I could ‘t interrupt the arrogant man.

“Hey, I said “what’s happening over here.”

Simeon turned to me. “Oh hi Jeanie,” this is “Lieutenant Dante Cain. He leant me his patrol boat. We met at the hospital. Thanks to this awesome guy, I was able to get to you before that crazy lady could hurt you.”

“Wow sounds like quite the Bromance,” I said. “And you’re okay with him calling you ‘son’ all the time? Seems a little demeaning.”

Simeon looked confused. “Yeah,” he said. “Lieutenant Cain’s great grandfather, Horatio, taught his grandad that word and then it just got passed on as a term of respect for men younger than they were. Why?”

I had to cough. To cover up how awkward I felt. came from a long line of people who thought of being called ‘son’, ‘boy’ or ‘kid as degrading. I guess we came from different ways of thinking.

“So anyways,” I said. “Thanks for coming after me, Simeon. Everything okay here?”

“Yep I just told Lt Cain about how everything went down,” he said. “It’s been a harrowing night. Just when we thought it was gonna be a quiet ride into the sunset.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I just wanna go back to my HAB and sleep.”

In the background I heard a paramedic. “Failure to revive,” he said. “Time of death December 14th 2120 at 20:00 hours.”

Damn, that was somehow more disheartening than I’d thought it’d be. I wondered to myself what Garry would do when he heard about his girlfriend’s death. He didn’t strike me as the normal kind of guy. There were definitely some loose wires in that brain of his.

After everyone who could finished giving statements, we were all given Order escorts back to our HABs.

I wearily punched the up arrow on the elevator. When I got home I was greeted by the stench of unwashed dishes and trash. I’d have to deal with them eventually but for now I wanted sleep. “We’re finally back,” I told Bother. “Go ahead and plug in to your charging dock. You’re probably just as beat as I am.”

Bother: I watched as Jeanie walked stiffly into her bedroom. She had been through so much in the last 36 or so hours. I did hope that a night’s sleep would help her body heal more than it had.

I opened up my storage tray and pulled out the two new additions to the duck court. I set them beside Count Duckula. I then proceeded to open the saved Duck Court file on my hard drive.

I call to order the second meeting of Duck Court. I wrote.

*gavel bang sound effect*

“Babehbla,” Count Duckula said. “Who are these new comer’s?”

“May I introduce Big Duck and Lord McDuckin,” I wrote. “They have been granted entry to the Court by it’s chief, me. I believe they would like to introduce themselves. Lord McDuckin, you have the floor.”

“Thanks for that, Bother,” Lord McDuckin said. “I am former leader of clan Donduck. I was betrayed by wee Neville, the youngest of my clan. I survived his attack with a broadsword but I did nae keep my honor. I was in exile when Bother welcomed me into this lot. Pleasure to make all yer acquaintances. Oi Big Duck, take ‘er away!”

Big Duck tried to get enough air to speak. Considering he’d been crushed this was no small feat. “Quack,” he wheezed. “Quack-quack QU-QUACK, quack.”
Not one member of the court had any idea what that meant. It seemed rude not to respond to such an effort as this had obviously been. “Thank you, Big Duck,” I said. “Welcome to our two new members. We are now four in our numbers. May we all support each other. If there is no further business, I bring this meeting of the duck court to a close”

*Gavel Bang sound effect*

I closed the file for the Duck Court. Then found an empty box and gently deposited my imaginary friends into their home. I assumed it would not please Jeanie if I left my ducks laying all over the main room.

My battery was at ten percent as I sluggishly moved onto my charging port. I sincerely hoped that the next few days were less eventful. Being kidnapped twice had taken a lot out of my energy reserves.

Simeon: I made my way to the HAB’s door. Liza had already been dropped off. I guess Order thought it was better for a fourteen year old to not hang around a crime scene.

“Simeon,” she cried out. “I was worried that crazy actor lady had done something to you! Did you get Jeanie and her robot back?”

“Yeah” I said. I explained what had happened. Liza teased me about calling Bianca Harmonsen by her Murder Siren’s character name.

“Did you seriously say ‘I think I just killed Gladys Chowder!’?” She asked. “Lol, you are such a nerd. I didn’t know you watched that show. Anyways, are they gonna send you to the Brig again?”

I scowled at my sister. “Hey I only know who Gladys is because you made me watch every single episode of Murder sirens,” I said. “No they’re not sending me to the Brig. Lieutenant Dante says that since I was defending Jeanie, it’s not even second degree murder. I won’t be charged.”

My sister hugged me. “Good,” she said. “I love Uncle Elijah but I’d rather not live with him.” I understood. As nice a man as Elijah was no one cared for his fish casserole…except for moishe.

“So now what you gonna do?” She asked

I wasn’t sure. With several major people at Green Wave industries in Order custody, my job wasn’t secure. Nobody had called me to say whether I was on any schedule. I had some Cowry left in my account.

“I dunno,” I said. “Wanna go to Adventure Zone?”

There wasn’t any debate. “Yay!” Liza squealed. “I hope we get to go on their new roller coaster! I hear it’s a 4-D suspension one.”

There walkways outside of Adventure Zone were pedestrian only. My sister and I took the ferry.

Jeanie: The week after me and Bother’s abductions went by in a blur. I can’t remember much of what happened.

Apparently there was some sort of crisis in Green Wave Industries. I guess having your Chief Executive Officer and several members of the higher ups arrested kind of lead to that. Nobody posted the new schedule online that week. Seems like Green Wave was trying to decide how to proceed. I was a little worried I’d have to find a new job.

To take my mind off things I made Bother his own “Ouija “board. I didn’t know what else to call it. The piece of starch based resin had all the letters, yes, no, hello and goodbye printed on it. The only thing that was missing was a planchet. Bother figured that his laser pointer worked better. He was probably right, that way there’d be no question who or what was trying to communicate.

Once I had finished 3-D printing it, I gave it to Bother. “You keep that in your little tray,” I told him. “When you have something important to say, you can use that.”

Finally December 21st came around. I was nervous about the Valor ceremony. I hoped I wasn’t required to give a speech, I hated that sort of thing.

Almost as much as I hated dressing up. Skipper Goodwin had sent an official e-vite stating that the Valor ceremony was Formal attire only. Even in the 22nd century, that meant dresses for girls. I hated dresses.

I went to Mermaid thrift. Luckily they sometimes got old formal outfits donated from estates. They were generally in good repair. So at least I didn’t have to blow all my Cowry on something I’d probably only wear once.

The dress I’d chosen was an Aegean Blue. It complimented my dark skin nicely. The long, sleeves and over jacket seemed like they would keep me warm. I kind of didn’t like the decorative bits of fabric that came off the sleeves towards the elbows. I kept thinking I’d get them caught in between a draw bridge or in a sliding door.

. I found a couple of decorative pins and took the excess length and pinned it at about elbow height. I laughed as they made me look like I had two upside down parachutes attached to me. Ell it wasn’t perfect but I guess it’d do.

“What do you think, Bother?” I asked. He examined me and the lights around his cameras turned pink. That was a new one.
Bother pulled out his letter board. “Look lovely,” he spelled.

“Thank you,” I said. “I wonder what Simeon will think.”

“Why?” Bother spelled. “Are you starting to like him?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I finished putting in the last bobby pin. My tortured scalp was burning from all the metal sticking in it. I assumed wearing my hair down wasn’t going to go over at all in this type of event.

“I’m not sure,” I finally answered. “Maybe I am. It’s just I don’t know if he likes me just as a friend or wants to start dating.”

I checked the time. It was already 1700. If I was going to be there in time, I needed to get going.

Thankfully, I’d been wearing wedge heels so at least I didn’t have to worry about getting stuck in a lawn or something. I still didn’t like the clomping noise they made every time I took a step. They made me feel like a herd of oxen.

I made it just in time to catch the ferry. I recognized the driver. “Hello Dan,” I said.

His eyebrows arched in surprise. “Wow,” he said. “Went all out for the Valor Ceremony I see.”

“I guess,” I said. “I feel more like I’m dressed up for a renaissance fair.” I took a seat but forgot to tuck my dress under my bottom. The skin on my legs instantly glued itself to the wood. As if I couldn’t get more uncomfortable.

We reached the central harbor stop by 1745. I managed to peel myself off the bench and help Bother on to the dock.

Being outside our city’s flagship tonight was different than it had been when I was here changing the lights of the Christmas Tree. I didn’t have to climb a ladder tonight but it still felt strange.

This had been where Bother and I had our blowout fight that led to him getting kidnapped the first time. There was a certain amount of irony in being here for an awards ceremony for something that was a byproduct of that less than positive experience.

I walked up to the Guard that was in charge of screening guests. I pulled up Bother’s and my own e-vite for the ceremony. The guard scanned it. “Miss Pullman, Bother,” he said. “We’ve been expecting you. You are to proceed to the stage entrance of the auditorium. One of our Chaperones will escort you. Right this way.”

He had gestured to the lift which was now decorated with blue and silver banners. I felt way fancier than I thought I deserved.

A woman in an elegant tuxedo brought us down to the appropriate door. I was a little jealous she got to wear pants. My legs were starting to chafe from the cold December air.

Our chaperone held the door open. “Go right ahead,” she told us. “You and Bother will occupy the second and third seat from center. I looked to the platform. Of course there were stairs. I picked up Bother and prayed my dress didn’t snag in his treads. Good thing he was light.

There was a huge podium made out of real wood. Bamboo I think. Not that I was an expert. On the front of the podium was Ocean Princess City’s official seal. I looked at the Osprey holding an anchor, it was set against a backdrop of waves and encircled with olive branches. It was odd this was the first time I’d gotten a good look at it. It was actually kind of pretty.

I saw Simeon already seated about four seats from the right of the center stage. I nervously walked over and sat Bother in a chair.

Simeon: I watched as an ebony goddess draped in blue carried a small robot up onto stage. I could hear my heartbeat like the tide in my ears.

She set the robot down a couple of seats away from me. “Hey Simeon,” she said. “How’s you’re week been?”

“Um ba—go—“ I babbled.

Ughhh! Say something intelligent Simeon! I think I’d been driven insane by this vision of beauty.

“Are you having a stroke?” Jeanie asked. “You seem a little young for that.”

I finally did a hard boot of my brain. The connection between my mouth and mind was restored. “Um, no,” I said. “I just never thought I’d see you in a dress. You look amazing.”

Jeanie fidgeted with the trailing edge of her sleeve. “Thanks,” she said. “You gonna answer my first question?”

“Oh Right!” I said. “My weeks been fine. I spent most of it with Liza. We went to Adventure zone. We also took some time to check in with our mental well being. ‘Cause that’s important too.” I wasn’t going to tell Jeanie that meant getting Liza some help for her anorexia. My sister would kill me for letting that secret out.

“Good,” Jeanie said. “I’ve been using my time off to clean house. I made Bother a
speech board. He seems to like being able to communicate again. Right, Bother?”

He pulled out a tiny Ouija board looking placard. Using his laser pointer he spelled “Right.”

“That’s awesome,” I said. “Good work you two.”

Before we could talk more, two stage techs came out and began wiring us for sound. “The ceremony begins in ten minutes,” one tech said. “We’re getting you miked. Skipper Goodman will be onstage as soon as we’re done with her. Good luck kids and congrats.”

Jeanie: I had been more than a little flattered that Simeon had been impressed with my outfit. It made me feel good somehow. Funny, I’d never considered myself vain. Was it bad that I wanted Simeon to find me attractive? I didn’t know if there was a right or wrong answer.

Finally the stage hands finished fidgeting with the microphone wires. It was uncomfortable having someone in my personal bubble.

Skipper Goodman coasted onto the stage. She was wearing a sparkly silver gown that hugged her figure. I found myself wishing I could pull off that kind of dress. Then again, I’d probably feel naked with the way her outfit’s neckline plunged.

Before she sat down the skipper offered me her hand to shake. “Jeanie,” she said. “Pleasure to see you again. You’re looking much better than when we last met.”

I clasped her hand. “Thank you,” I said. “I feel a lot better too. Um, Skipper, this is Simeon Harrero. He’s my friend, and without him and Bother, I couldn’t have done what I did.”

“I see,” Skipper Goodman said. “I’ll have to go talk to them. Excuse me.”

She talked briefly with my friends. My nerves didn’t let me pay attention to anything being said. Probably something diplomatic and kind.

I looked out over the empty auditorium. Tables with white cloth had been set up at six foot intervals. Each of these had eight plush folding chairs covered in light grey felt. A silver table topper with rigid metal streamers sat in the midst of the clear table wear. The maroon carpet made the whole scene elegant. I wondered if it had looked like this when Ocean Princess was just a cruise ship.

Thinking about how many people would be here tonight was making my stomach cramp up. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to deal with that many eyes on me.

The curtain was starting to wench down from overhead. It must be close to starting time. Putting my hands in my lap, I tried to not panic.

The house lights dimmed. I heard the sound of people arriving, chairs scraping against the carpet, the sound of crescendoing overlapping conversation. There had to be about two hundred warm bodies. That didn’t even include the media drones that would be covering the ceremony.

“Ladies and Gentleman,”. The announcer said over the PA. “The Valor ceremony will be starting. Please take your seats, silence your mobiles and be respectful. Thank you.”

A bright spotlight glared to life on the curtain. “Please welcome Skipper Kathy Goodman,” PA guy said.

The curtains rose slowly. The good thing about the giant blinding light was I could not see the crowd among the darkness.

Skipper Goodman rose from her seat and walked to the podium.

“Good evening,” she said. “We have come together tonight to honor Jeanie Pullman Simeon Harrero and the companion bot, Bother. Through their quick actions, a plot to not only assassinate me but possibly oppress our entire city state has been neutralized. Those gathered in this room tonight owe them a debt which we cannot repay.”

“Simeon and Bother have also shown great bravery after the initial event. Thanks to their fortitude and cunning, Jeanie was rescued unharmed from being abducted by Bianca Harmonsen.”

As she concluded her speech, Skipper goodman held up a medal made of crystal attached to a piece of ribbon. Carved into the medallion was Ocean Princess City’s seal and a four pointed star above that. It looked spectacular.

“This is the Ocean Princess City Medal of Valor,” she said. “It is the highest reward for heroism that can be bestowed. Tonight we award it to Jeanie, Simeon and Bother. I would ask then to please join me at the podium.”

I stood up and tried to keep my body loose so I didn’t faint. It was a big moment. I didn’t need to fall off the stage and end up with new injuries. Not to mention I didn’t know if Mikayla Johnson would let me live it down if I collapsed on a live Media feed.

Skipper Goodman gingerly hung a medallion on each of our necks and whispered “congratulations” as she shook each of our hands or clamps as the case was with Bother.

We stood staring out into the darkness as applause roared through the room. I felt very uncomfortable as I waited for it to stop so I could sit down.

“Now,” Skipper Goodman. “Our Medal of Valor recipients will favor us with a few words.”

I suddenly felt very shaky as Skipper Goodman walked past me. I didn’t know we’d have to speak! I thought it was just stand on stage and then schmooze at the banquet afterwards. I had no idea what to say.

At his lowest possible volume, Bother whispered his own name. He nudged me a little as if trying to encourage me.

The podium’s mike squealed loudly as I stepped forward to make a fool of myself. We’re off to a good start, I thought to myself. “How’s everybody doing tonight?” I asked.

My question was met with polite applause. Well considering this wasn’t a rock concert I guess that was all I would get from the crowd.

“I’m surprised to be standing here tonight,” I said. “Not just because some deranged actress threatened to turn me into pig iron.”

There was some laughter smattered through the room.

“I never wanted to save the city,” I said. “No offense, but my to do list was get through my life and become a halfway decent mechanic. If Bother hadn’t found out about Garry’s secret plans, I would’ve been as clueless as anybody else. Once I did know though, I knew that I had to stop Mr. Fullerton. Not only is Skipper Goodman a role model to me, I don’t think Garry would’ve stopped with just taking out her.”

There were now grumbles in the crowd. I wasn’t sure how what I was saying was coming across.

“I think stopping Garry let us keep our freedom. We should all cherish that. Thank you.” I left the podium and sat down. They were clapping out there, so maybe it was okay.

“Good job!” Simeon whispered as he went up next to say something.

Simeon: I had no idea what to say. Jeanie had some sort of gift for summing things up. What could I add?

“’Sup OPC?” I said. “I’ve been friends with Jeanie since the two of is were small. She’s always been with me through thick and thin.”

I wasn’t the epic speechifier. I needed to keep it light.

“So I had accidentally filmed Bother being stolen,” I said. “Jeanie drafted me to help. She’s awesome so of course I did. I’ve never been asked to do so many dangerous things. But it was a good cause. We don’t have robot overlords am I right?”

I paused and waited for some kind of response. I think I heard a roach fart during the silence. Okay moving on.

“So y’know once we cleared things up with Order I was all ‘cool we gonna be okay’” I lied. “Then Jeanie was in the hospital and I thought that was the end. Roll credits and ride skidoos off into the sunset. But it wasn’t that lady who played Gladys Chowder went and tried to hold Jeanie ransom. I freaked. Lucky that Lieutenant Dante Caine let me borrow his patrol boat. I was able to go there and help save Jeanie. Anyways, thanks for the shiny medal. You rock OPC.”

I sat down.

To my surprise Jeanie brought up bother and read out what he wanted to say. “Thank you for the honor,” Bother spelt.

Short sweet and to the point.

Jeanie: We all stood and let the audience applaud us one more time. I had to wonder if any of them would be clapping if they had actually seen what the three of us had done.

Another thing irked me. Nathan had saved me and Simeon from getting killed by Antoni Washington. Where was Nathan’s medal?

As I thought about this I figured out why. We’d dropped off Nathan before we broke into the server room. I didn’t think anybody had told anyone that Nathan had played a small part in saving all our butts. When I saw him again I’d be sure to have something special to give him.

The curtain fell, all four of us left the stage to enjoy the festivities. I carried bother down the steps.

The archway of silver snd blue latex balloons marked the entryway to the auditorium. I calmed myself before taking a big step into the room. Bother didn’t need to be told to stay close, he seemed to like following me around. It kind of reminded me of a baby quail following mama.

People in tuxedos and gowns spotted me and instantly swarmed around me. I groaned internally as I instantly recognized one of them. It was that reporter who’d interviewed me in the hospital.

“Erica Chan,” I said. “Fancy meeting you again.”

“Oh Jeanie, I didn’t see you standing there,” she lied. “Mind doing another interview again?” The camera drone was already hovering over her shoulder. I’d already done plenty of talking. This was exhausting. I didn’t like being the hero of the day.

“No, I do mind,” I said. “If you’ll excuse me. I think I need to get some air.”

I spun around and dashed back out of the Auditorium. Bother was following behind. I could hear his motor straining as he accelerated to keep up.

I desperately craved some privacy. Walking as quickly and carefully as I could I walked to the stern side railing of the ship. The cold December breeze played with the fringes of my sleeves. It was slightly chillier than I’d expected. I pulled my over wrap closer to my body.

Funny, I’d lived my whole life in Ocean Princess City. Why would the cold bother me now? Probably the dress, I was always wearing pants my legs had never been this exposed. Matter of fact, my life had never been so naked either.

This was a lot of stuff and somehow, I felt like not only did I not want the attention but I didn’t deserve it. All I had wanted was to retrieve Bother. Yes I adored Skipper Goodman but I never meant to have anyone look up to me. I was just a mechanic.

I sighed moodily. Looking out into the central harbor, I saw the water with stars reflected from the sky above. The lights of the entertainment district and commercial district blazed competitively in the darkness.

Sometimes I wish I could just disappear. Go out and vanish for a while so I could go back to the real world. The one where I had a job and some privacy. Sure this was interesting but I wasn’t about being famous.

Simeon: I waited at a table with Jeanie’s family. Oddly enough, they seemed more accepting of me now that I had not only saved their daughter but the whole city. They were more than happy to have me sit at their table now.

“Where could they be?” Katherine Pullman asked. “The clam rolls are getting cold.”

I tried not to shudder. Clam rolls for whatever insane reason, were considered an OPC delicacy. If you asked me fried clams on bread was disgusting no matter the temperature.

“Want me to go look for her, Mrs. Pullman?” I asked.

“Are you sure?” She asked. “I wouldn’t want to impose. I’m just worried about my baby.”

“While you’re at it, could you hack the audio system?” Lucas asked. “I’m tired of listening to soft orchestral music that hasn’t been popular for over three hundred years.”

“Lucas!” Gus, the family patriarch shouted. “We came here to support your sister. Not to please you.”

“Sorry, dad,” Lucas said. “I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

Gus glowered at his son. Yep an evening with the Pullmans always dramatic.

“I’ll go find Jeanie,” I said. “It shouldn’t be any trouble. Besides she’s…important to me.” I had wanted to say extremely attractive, I didn’t think Jeanie’s mom and dad would like that. Best play diplomat for tonight.

I was about to exit the auditorium when Erica Chan tried to divert me. “Hey, it’s the twice over hero,” she said. “Care to give us a sound bite?”

Why did reporters not care about the privacy of their subjects. “Maybe later,” I said. “Hey, have you seen Jeanie anywhere?”

She folded her arms over her pink suit jacket. “Oh,” she said. “Well, I think she went that way.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Catch you some other time.” I ran off in the direction Erica had indicated. I found myself out on the top deck of Ocean Princess. I couldn’t see Jeanie anywhere.

There were quiet sobbing noises coming from the other side of the wheel house. I went towards the sound with caution. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I thought it was some sea ghost playing a trick.

As I rounded the corner, I saw Jeanie moodily gazing out across the water. Right now the tricky part. Approaching Jeanie in a bad mood was always a risk.

“Hey,” I said. “Can I get some face time with my best friend?”

She seemed surprised to see me. “As long as you don’t bring any reporters with you.” She said.

I came and leaned up on the railing next to her. As I did, I noticed Bother sitting nearby. It felt rude not to acknowledge him. “Hey, buddy,” I said. “You been taking care of my old friend?”

He bobbed his cameras twice. Bother’s equivalent of a nod from what I understood.

“For someone who just got an award, you don’t look to happy,” I said. “Wanna talk about it, Jeanie?”

She looked at me for a long time. “I don’t deserve this,” she said. “I just got my stolen property back. I’m not some legendary hero. I’m just a girl.”

I looked at her. She was having some serious insecurities.

“Sure,” I said. “I’m just a guy. Worse, I’m the guy who let the girl he cares about get beat up and kidnapped. Oh, and maybe I shouldn’t have been breaking coded locks. So I’m just as bad if not worse than you.”
Jeanie scowled at me. “Shut up,” she said. “You deserve that medal.”

“Maybe” I said. “If I do, then so do you. Without your diversion I never would have been able to get in the Server room. You installed the tracking app on Bother. And you know what? You matter. So stop with this just a girl business.”

There was some hint of her relenting, beginning to see my point of view. Maybe a good joke? Just to get her laughing.

“Did you hear the one about the software engineer that fixed two bugs?” I said. “He created twenty more.”

Jeanie looked at me like I’d just landed in a UFO. “Was that supposed to be funny?” She asked.

“Yeah,” I said “I guess you have to be a programmer to laugh at that one.”

She gave me a pity chuckle. The quiet fell over us like an invisible cloak. Bother didn’t even chime in.

“So, while I’m out here,” I said. “Do you want me to explain what I meant when I told you I like you?”

Way to go Simeon. You didn’t solve the problem, you just managed to blurt the most awkward question. No, scratch that the second most awkward. I could’ve asked if she was wearing a thong. I hoped I was thinking this all in my head. Also I hoped I could cover up my embarrassment.

“You know,” she said. “It’s been bugging my brain since we were crusading in your golf cart. Go ahead, put me out of my misery.”

All of a sudden, I felt like I was thirteen all over again. Well minus the goofy “danceposals” that came with every homecoming week.

“You see, um,” I stammered. “Since we were…for a few years…” why was this so hard?! I looked up at the sky. That was it!

“So once upon a time,” I said. “There was this queen Casiopea. She was very beautiful but the people in her kingdom were so jealous they tossed her up in the sky. The Greek gods saw her and her beauty and turned her into an immortal constellation. You’re like Casiopea.”

Jeanie put her tongue in her cheek. “So you wanna toss me in a blanket?” She asked.

“No!” I said. “You’re so beautiful, I think you should be a constellation. I love you Jeanie Pullman.”
Oh no! I’d just dropped the L-bomb. Whatever happened next Jeanie would never talk to me again. I closed my eyes waiting for the axe to fall.

Instead, I felt her lips press agains mine. They were soft, warm, strong and earnest. In that brief moment my spine tingled and I felt like if my heart had been an engine, it would’ve been doing thirteen thousand rpm.

She pulled away from me, dimming the sparks arcing in my brain. “Well if it wasn’t obvious from that kiss,” she said. “I think I might be sweet on you too.”

It was hard to focus. “So um, I guess we’re on the same page,” I said. “I’d like to repeat that experience, but your family is waiting for us to join them. Maybe we should head back?”

I held out my arm. I was suddenly feeling very chivalrous.

She took the crook of my elbow and we walked back to the waiting crowd.

Bother: for a moment, it was like Jeanie and Simeon forgot I existed. My mass-spectrometer picked up a lot of pheromones during their brief kiss. It looked like they were preparing to become a couple.

It wasn’t exactly expected, given Simeon’s shyness.

Once I detected that both my friend’s pupils were far more dilated than they needed to be, I briefly disabled my cameras. I waited for audio to suggest we were returning to the party.

When Jeanie took Simeon’s arm. I was certain we were going back into the auditorium. There wouldn’t be much to do there but hopefully we’d be headed home soon.

Jeanie: My parents seemed over joyed to have me come to their table. “There you two are,” my mom said. “We were worried about you. I’m afraid you two missed the clam rolls. But there’s a nice skirt steak with asparagus that’s just come out.”

While I was more than happy to miss the clam rolls, I didn’t know how I felt about being in time for asparagus. That was awful green for my liking.

Simeon and I had barely sat down when my dad started making chit chat. “So you two look like the fresh air did you some good,” he said. “You both look…energized.”

I felt heat bloom in my cheeks. “Yes,” I said. “That crisp winter air really helped my nerves.” I wasn’t about to tell them I’d been kissing the one person they wouldn’t approve of.

“Yeah,” simeon said. “Nothing like a fresh breeze.” I hoped he didn’t elaborate. If he did my parents might get suspicious.

“So,” my mother said. “How are you holding up? You’ve been through a lot recently.”

I cut my steak and took a bite before responding. “Doing better,” I said. “My ribs are aching less. My concussion is completely gone. Now all I need is for someone at Green Wave to tell me if we’ve still got jobs.”

“Simeon,” my mother said. “You never told me you worked at Green Wave. Are you worried about money? We could have you tutor Lucas some more. We want him to be able to pick a good career track before he starts secondary school.”

Lucas gave mom a scowl. “I wanna be a game developer,” he said. “I don’t need to be good at school for that.”

Simeon took a sip of his sparkling cider. “Actually Lucas,” he said. “Game development using programming, which is basically math and logic. Doing well in school is key in that career. I’d be happy to teach you some coding if you want.”

My little brother slumped in his seat. “Man,” he said. “Okay, I guess. I’ll have to level up my academics then.”

“What about our daughter?” My dad said. “She might not have a job to go back to either.”

“Oh I know!” My mom said. “She could help Mikayla with worship squad again! Maybe since she’s not in trouble the church could give her a small salary.”

Please no! Not Mikayla! She was just so smug, fake and two faced.

“I’m sure I’ll find something mom,” I said. “As long as things keep breaking, I’ll still be needed. If not I could always become a vigilante.”

Denise hid a smirk behind their hand.

“Awesome!” Lucas said.

My dad cleared his throat. “Well, uh,” he said. “I’m sure you’re right about that first statement. Being a mechanic’s in high demand. I don’t think that becoming a crime fighter is a good idea. You’ve already been in peril twice. When you ended up in the hospital unconscious, I was worried you’d never wake up again.”

Liza who had been quiet till now changed the subject. “So Simeon,” she said. “Do you wanna enlighten us on how refreshing a ‘fresh breeze’ can be?” She nudged her brother knowingly. He almost choked on the bit of steak.

My father started slapping Simeon on the back. “Easy there,” dad said. “Small bites.”
I took a large swig of cider to hide my chagrin. So, Liza knew Simeon liked me. How long had she been egging him on.

While this drama was unfolding, Bother tapped my shoulder. I turned to look at him, he pulled out his speech board. “Battery low,” he spelled. “Thirty percent remaining. Please connect to charger soon.”

“Okay,” I said. “Hang on while I get us out of here.”

I tapped the side of my glass with my spoon. Now that the piece of steak was dislodged from Simeon’s windpipe all eyes were on me. “I hate to cut our lovely meal short,” I said. “Bother’s battery is getting low. He’s just notified me that he needs to be put on his charger soon. I should probably go. Simeon will you take me home?”

He practically shot out of his seat. “Great idea,” he said. “Mr. And Mrs Pullman, Lucas, Denise, it has been nice talking. We’ll have to do it again soon. Liza you ready?”

Liza put her mobile back in her clutch and got up. “Okay, bro,” she said. “I’m ready, let’s go.”

I scanned the room to make sure Erica Chan wouldn’t detain us again. Thankfully she had cornered one of the Skipper’s press secretaries. She appeared to be actively squeezing every bit of info she could get from her victim.

We took advantage of this opening to leave the ballroom. Part of me felt bad for leaving the ceremony before its scheduled ending. Mostly I was glad my dad hadn’t figured out I’d kissed Simeon.

One person we hadn’t managed to evade was Liza. The entire way back to the our residential island she kept trying to pry.

“So what happened when you went to find Jeanie?” She asked. “You were gone for a long time.”

Simeon gripped the steering wheel hard. “Let’s just say two consenting adults had a…bonding experience.” He told her.

“Ooh!” Liza cooed. “’A bonding experience’? Did you get to third base?” I turned around and gaped at her.

“Where are all these questions coming from?” I asked. “You’re being awfully nosy.”

Liza blushed, which was shocking considering how intrusive she was being. “Well,” Liza said. “I kinda have no social life,” she said. “That and I was wondering how much my brother acted on his feelings for you. And if I’ll have to call you sis in the future.”

This wasn’t how I figured my evening would go. I got the impression Liza wouldn’t stop till she got some answers.

“Here’s the truth,” I said. “Your brother told me something very romantic. And that he loves me. Then we had one short kiss. No petting, no tongues, no necking. As for you calling me sis in the future, it’s a little early for that to be set in stone. Satisfied?”

“Sure,” Liza said. She reached over the seat and punched her brother playfully in the shoulder. “Good job,” she said. “I’m proud of you.”

Thankfully, we pulled up in front of my HAB building. “Goodnight, Simeon,” I said. “Thanks for the ride home. We’ll get together soon?”

He grabbed my hand and placed a gentle peck on my knuckles. “No problem,” he said. “I’ll call you to set things up soon. Goodnight, lovely lady.”

I helped Bother out of the cart. “Farewell, gallant knight,” I said.

Liza stifled a giggle as she slipped into the front seat. I watched them drive away. I felt excited by the new stage in my relationship with Simeon. Who knew what could happen next? It was so wonderful that at the moment I didn’t care I might not have a job.

Bother and I got into our HAB unit. He went straight for his charger.

Suddenly, my phone rang. It was Green Wave’s scheduling team.

“Hello, Jeanie Pullman speaking,” I said.

“Hi Jeanie,” our scheduling manager, Carmen, said. “So I know it’s taken a while, but we finally got the go ahead to resume operations. Our new CEO, Martha Huddleston, is working on our image. That aside, we’d like you to come back to work. I know it’s short notice but could you come in tomorrow for a mandatory meeting at 1000 hours?”

Things were really working out for me! I was glad the company had decided to keep me.

“Yeah sure I’ll be there,” I said. “I’ll even be on time.”

This was great.

Garry: News of Bianca’s death had been relayed to me by the Brig’s warden. I had mixed emotions.

I was touched by my sweetheart’s devotion to me. Disgusted with her failure. I was also furious with Jeanie, Simeon and their defective robot.
First they had taken my company and freedom from me. Then they’d killed Bianca without consequences!

It was positively galling that they’d been given a Valor Ceremony. Looks like the media had successfully sullied my name again.

If it hadn’t been for them, Bianca and I would’ve ruled Ocean Princess City as strict but fair demagogues. Green Wave would’ve been mine still.

That was just the cherry on top. The company my father had built was now in the hands of some holier than thou ecowarior. I’d learned about that from a media cast that the warden had been running on the Brig’s smart wall. It was absolutely galling. Everything I’d worked for, wanted, loved had been taken away!

Well, not everything. There was still one little thing left literally up my sleeve. I’d bribed a guard before I was processed. They’d been more than happy to rig my clothing.

I knelt down and pretended to tie my shoe. Ripping at the stitches, I pulled out an object about the size of an old fashioned ink pen. There were three buttons on the side and it was sleek, black and shiny.

I had to hand it to Mathew Larsen, he did elegant work with electronics. The reality modifier was so small as to go unnoticed during body searches. Sewing it into the cuff of my jumpsuit had been a very good idea.

I had to remember the crash course Mathew had given me. I believed the top button was the disillusioner. I clicked and held it to circle the cell door. It vanished as if it had never been there.

“Excellent,” I said. “Now to get out of here.”

My cellmate looked up from the magazine he’d been reading on a brig issued tablet. “No way,” he said. “You rock, Garry! Let’s get out of here.”

“Sorry,” I said. “You’re a liability.”

I pointed the reality modifier at my cellmate and disillusioned him. The fellow never even had time to register what happened he just ceased to exist. The tablet landed on the concrete floor with a clatter. It seemed unusually loud considering it was such a small object.

Someone probably heard that. I needed to get moving. As I was making the cameras disappear, I heard the Brig’s alarm start howling. No time to waste.

It was just as well, I had my doubts about finding Raifan, Antoni and Mathew. Antoni especially had proven to be somewhat volatile. Not something I wanted on my new project.
“Hey boss!” A voice called out to me. I looked it was Mathew and Antoni. Of course they’d been put in the same cell. Well I guess having three of us on the sub would make it easier to pilot.

“Stand back from the door,” I said. “I wouldn’t want to erase an important part of you.”

I pressed the top button on the reality modifier again. Outlining the door, I made sure it was no more.

Antoni gratefully stepped through the door. “You’re the best,”he said. “Now—”

“Don’t make me regret rescuing you, Mr Washington,” I said. “We will need to get to the Order Division’s submarine docks. Fast. Come on. You too Mr. Larsen.”

It was rather convenient that order officers utilized signage in their hallway. There was a bright yellow arrow pointing labeled “subs this way.”

It was the only way to get out of Ocean Princess City. If I’d tried to leave through the main gate, not only would I be spotted but the guard houses that controlled ship traffic in and out of the city would deny me exit and I would promptly be arrested.

The city walls did not extend all the way to the ocean floor. They only extended twelve feet below the surface. They were tethered to the bottom by kevlar cables but they were far and few between. A submarine would have no trouble navigating between these cables.

“Stop, Don’t move!” An Order Officer shouted at me. I didn’t have time for this.

“You guys are still wearing the bands I gave you?” I asked.

Both Mathew and Antoni nodded.

I pressed the second button and the pesky law enforcement froze in time. It would wear off in a while. Anybody in the building not holding the reality modifier or specially calibrated bracelets would have time paused. They would be unable to move for approximately fifteen minutes. It wasn’t lethal, they were frozen on a molecular level. After they were released, they would be unaware anything had happened. Until they reviewed the security footage.

“Mathew,” I said. “You truly outdid yourself with this one. I’m really enjoying this toy.”

Mathew was keeping quiet. Not unusual for him.

We went down the hallway and arrived at the door leading to the submarines. Now I could get things moving again. True it wasn’t what I had planned to do but it would be fantastic, even better than being Skipper.

I wheeled a staircase over to one of the sleek, black bulkhead. I climbed up to the hatch and the other two followed me.

I opened up the hatch. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s get in. Antoni, seal the hatch once we’re safely in.”

Red lights provided a bare minimum of illumination. The cramped hallway didn’t leave much room. Even though the interior had plenty of air, it was musky inside. I made my way to the controll room.

“Antoni,” I said. “Sit at the navigation console. Mathew, you crew sonar and radio. I’ll take the conn.”

I sent the signal to the lock below the submarine’s hull.

It took a painfully long time to open. I was glad that everyone had their time paused. We probably would’ve never gotten out of there otherwise.

I set a course for the heart of the Bermuda triangle. It was dangerous but the artifact I needed was in the middle of that area.


“So uh, boss,” Antoni Said. “What’s the plan now?”

I smiled, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to give them details. “Gentleman,” I said. “We are on a mission to the heart of the Bermuda Triangle.”

Mathew put his thumb and forefinger on his chin. “ a highly dangerous area of the Atlantic?” He said. “Is that advisable Mr. Fullerton? There have been vessel disappearances for centuries in that area.”

Everyone knew that, few knew the real reason why. Most blamed methane bubbles and freak electrical storms, some even blamed aliens. I’d done my homework though, I was certain I knew the answer.

“You are correct, Mr. Larsen,” I said. “There’s a reason vessels disappear there. The lost city of Atlantis sits in the very center of the triangle. In it’s ruins is a powerful artifact, the Mask of Atlantis. According to legends that I’ve found, whomever wore the mask was able to rule the world.”

Jeanie: Green Wave Industries’ Headquarters was packed. All five hundred employees were packed into the front lobby. A deafening cacophony surrounded me.

I saw Nathan standing towards the back of the crowd. “Good morning,” I said. “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

Nathan seemed surprised to see me. “Jeanie,” he said. “I’m surprised to see you. How’d stopping the robot army go?”

Weird, I thought sure everyone knew. “Um, Nathan?” I said. “You have been watching the Media reports, haven’t you?”

He laughed, “Yes,” he said. “I saw the Valor Ceremony on live broadcast last night. You looked very nice in your gown. Congratulations.”

This was the first time Nathan had ever kidded around with me. It was an interesting side of him. “Thanks,” I said. “I was surprised you weren’t included. Are you upset?”

He raised a eyebrow and frowned. “Why would I be upset?” He said. “I’m just happy to not have some meglomaniac control every aspect of my life. I don’t need recognition for saving you. I see Bother didn’t follow you to work today.”

“Nope” I said. “He’s back at the HAB playing with his rubber duck collection. Any idea what this meetings about?”

“No idea,” Nathan said. “Just heard we got a new CEO. Guess she wants to reveal Green Wave’s new image or something.”

“Fancy seeing you here,” Simeon said as he walked up. “You got the call from HR too?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m so glad to get back to normal. Speaking of calls, are we ever gonna set up that date?”

Simeon looked nervous. “How about tonight?” He said. “I hear the Space Café has a completely freeze dried menu. We could pretend we were astronauts?”

I didn’t know there was a early space exploration themed restaurant. Freeze dried food didn’t sound too good. “So they got dinner and a show or anything?” I asked.

“Sort of,” Simeon Said. “They show footage from the Apollo moon landings. There are models of rockets and shuttles. Everything from the Sputnik era up through the Heavy Falcon 4. There’s also some 3-D holographic renderings of planets and moons we’ve visited. And the central dining platform rotates through it all.”

Well that was kind of interesting, in a retro nerd sort of way. “Sure,” I said. “Sounds like it should at least be educational. What time did you want to meet?”

“Wanna meet at the café at 17:45 tonight?”

“Okay it’s a date!”

Nathan looked between the two of us. “I see you two got closer,” he said. “I’d say it’s against company policy but since you’re in two different branches, there shouldn’t be a conflict of interest.”

I felt silly, I sometimes forgot that Nathan was my supervisor. I was still grateful that I wouldn’t get into trouble.

Before I got a chance to apologize for the PDA. A voice came over the speakers at the front of the lobby. “Hello,” they said. “I’m Martha Huddleston, your new CEO. How’re you all doing?”

“Good, “ the collective of employees said.

“Excellent,” Martha said. “I know all of you have been off for about eight days. Those of us in leadership have been extremely busy during that time. We are taking the company in a new direction. A positive change for all of us.

It has come to managements attention that Garry Fullerton employed common criminals to steal robots. We have been returning them to their registered owners with our deepest apologies.

On that note—”

The large smart wall in the lobby switched itself on and the Emergency broadcast sound played. It was at full volume so many of js covered our ears. The anchor in charge of the newscast appeared on screen.

“This is a breaking news emergency broadcast,” he said. “In a alarming development, Garry Fullerton has escaped custody along with Antoni Washington and Mathew Larsen. It is believed that they have stolen an Order Division submarine. The on board GPS has been disabled but sent a signal indicating that the missing vessel is heading towards the Bermuda triangle. Order Officers will be able to apprehend Fullerton due to the belief that the submarine has already reached international waters. We at Ocean Princess Today will keep you posted with updates as we can.”

There was a massive bedlam in reaction to the news. Martha Huddleston’s announcement seemed to have been forgotten. Eventually she sounded an air horn. It’s shrill hoot brought stillness over the assembled masses.

“This is indeed tragic news,” she said

No kidding, I thought, that slime ball probably has something else planned.

“We however cannot do anything,” Ms. Huddleston continued.

You’re right about that, I thought. Once she had us back on track she finished her announcement. I couldn’t pay attention, my heart was sinking and the emotional vortex was pulling me inside myself.

I barely registered that the warehouse where Garry had stored his robots was becoming a new recycling plant owned and operated by Green Wave. I totally didn’t care that there was a new image campaign launching either.

What had been the point of it all? Why stop Garry’s plot and get him arrested if he was just going to wriggle out of it?

After the new boss lady had finished her long winded speech, we were all dismissed and told that tomorrow would resume normal operations. I found an empty bench in the lobby and plopped down onto it. The air in the cushions hissed out from the pleather upholstery.

I just wanted to stop things. Be alone with my own disappointment. I wasn’t going to get that chance.

Nathan and Simeon took a seat on either side of me. Neither one seemed to care about the “leave me alone” vibes I was giving off.

“Jeanie,” Simeon said. “That’s awful. I’m sorry that sleaze ball got away. I hope he’s not planning anything too heinous.”

I looked at him. “Why’re are you using big words like heinous?” I asked.

“Sorry,” he said. “Been helping Liza prep for Practicum admissions exams. We did some vocabulary cards the other day.”

I slouched forward leaning my elbows on my knees. “I don’t know about you guys but my guts telling me Garry’s planning something else,” I said. “We have no way of knowing what he’s up to this time. It makes me feel so helpless.”

Nathan folded his arms. “I think they said there was a GPS signal on the sub,” he said. “There was a mention that he was headed to the Bermuda triangle. He must be planning something there.”

Simeon pursed his lips for a second. Then he got his “ah-ha” face on. “I think there was some sort of rumor,” he said. “It got started in the early twenty-first century. It said that all the ships people and aircraft that went missing were taken out by some supernatural force.”
“That can’t possibly be real,” I said. “Still what kind of supernatural power are we talking about?”

Simeon looked around to make sure no one else was listening.”so it’s rumored that atlantis is at the center of the Bermuda triangle. It’s supposed to contain this super powerful artifact called The Mask of Atlantis. Anyone who wears it will posses god like powers. They could literally rule the world.”

I couldn’t believe this. “I thought Atlantis wasn’t real,” I said. “I assumed it was just an allegory for how man will always loose when he goes against nature.”

“Well maybe Garry thinks it’s real,” Simeon said.

“So what?” I said. “The Bermuda triangle’s thousands of miles from here. Garry’ll run out of drinkable water or air or something right? And even if he makes it there, if it’s not real he just wasted his time.”

“What if it is?” Simeon said. “What do you think someone like Garry’s going to do with that sort of power?”

Nathan joined the conversation. “Let’s suppose for a second The Mask of Atlantis is real,” he said. “Gary was already pretty corrupt. Someone once said ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ Could we really let someone like Garry mold the world in his image? I think we should see if we can’t go after him.”

“How?” I asked.

“I dunno maybe we could see if Skipper Goodman would be willing to pull a few favors.” Nathan said. “We’d have to be quick about it though. Can’t let him have too much of a head start.”

My heart was sinking. This meant that Simeon and I would probably have to put our date on hold. “Simeon,” I said. “I’m sorry to do this…”

“It’s all good,” he said. “This is way more important than space food. I’ll come with you. I’m pretty sure you’ll need some support.”

The three of us piled into Simeon’s golf cart. The drive didn’t leave much time to compose myself. There was a lot of odd feelings. I wondered how I had become so responsible. Not just responsible, when had I started caring about everyone else?

Just a few months ago, Simeon and I had barely graduated from Practicum. We were just a couple of young adults. We had gone to Nova York and gone “urban exploring”. Gotten ourselves grounded. Hated waking up so early just to go to some job.

Now here I was planning to ask the Skipper if I could gather a group together to chase someone who seemed closer to a legendary Super Villain than a crooked former executive officer. For no other reason than my instincts telling me he was bent on causing more trouble.

We arrived at the Central dock. The three of us walked up Ocean Princess’ gangway. Nobody tried to stop us. There was more than just the Skipper’s office on board. Most of the who’s who in the city stayed onboard. The only really secure spot on board was ambassador’s suites and The Wheel House.

The tall tower that used to be just for guiding the ship served as Skipper Goodman’s office when Ocean Princess was in the city. She still sailed the boat on supply runs to Nova York but other than that, Skipper was more of an honorary title.

A Special Detail agent met us at the door leading up to the elevator access to the Wheel House. “Stop here,” they said. “Please present your ID chips.”

We presented our chips as requested. The agent scanned all three and handed them back. “What is your reason for visiting today?” They asked.

“We need to speak with Skipper Goodman,” I said. “It’s about Garry Fullerton’s escape. We think we know where he may be headed. He’s planning on something we need to notify Skipper Goodman immediately.”

The agent did a double take. “Are you sure?” He asked.

“Based on reports,” I said. “The last GPS signal shows him headed to Bermuda. I don’t think he intends to cower. The man’s insane he’s not just going to quietly go away. Are you going to take us to the Skipper or not.”

“Hang on,” they said. Pushing a button on their collar, they activated a hidden radio transmitter.

“240,” they said. “This is agent Dawson. Three people need an escort to the Wheel House.”

After ending the transmission Agent Dawson talked to us. “Your escort will be here in a second.”

When the doors opened, large Mechanical Guard stood in the elevator. It had a metallic blue carapace that looked extremely durable. It was only vaguely humanoid. The Guard had one central camera and nothing resembling a neck. It was right there in that uncanny valley.

“Good day,” it said. “I am 240. I am to escort you to Skipper Goodman’s office. Please be advised that other city officials are already conferencing with the Skipper and you will be added to the conversation already in progress.”

Simeon poked me. “You first,” he said. “That thing scares me.” If I was truthful 240 was seriously intimidating.

“No way,” I said. “I’m not getting in first.”

Nathan sighed. “Come on children,” he said. “It’s not like the nice big robot bites. He only does that to people he doesn’t like. Right 240?”

“I am sorry,” 240 said. “That information is incorrect. My function only allows me to subdue physically hostile entities. I cannot bite because I do not have a mouth.”

Speech recognition software had gotten better over the century and a half it had been around but most machines still didn’t get sarcasm or idiomatic expressions.

Ashamed of my cowardice, I climbed into the elevator car. Within seconds we were able to enter the Wheel house. About ten pairs of eyes all swiveled to look at us as we stepped into the room. Completely ignoring the large holographic map of the Atlantic.


“Jeanie, Simeon,” Skipper Goodman said. “You have a good reason to interrupt these proceedings?”

“These individuals wish to join the conversation,” 240 announced. “Are they approved? If so, I will go into stand alone mode.”

“Damn annoying machine,” Skipper Goodman mouthed. “Yes, 240. Please go into stand alone.”

“Very good,” 240 said. The speakers played a musical chime. The twinkling tone would’ve been soothing if it hadn’t been played by something that could crush most of my bones.

“Now then,” Goodman said. “I believe some quick introductions are in order. These are Commissioner Nelson of the Division of Order, beside him is Steve Mathewson, an analytical behaviorist. And who is the cyborg you brought with you?”

I had forgotten that Nathan hadn’t been introduced to the Skipper. “This is Nathan,” I said. “He’s my supervisor and friend. He saved us from Antoni Washington when we were ambushed while we retrieved Bother. Now can we talk business? Garry’s up to something.”

Commissioner Nelson looked puzzled. “How did you know that?” He asked.

Well I didn’t think. He broke out to just go give his grandma cookies,” I said. “He’s probably pissed he’s lost everything. He probably wants revenge at the very least.” The commissioner didn’t look convinced. “What do you think I’d work with Garry to orchestrate this?” I asked. “I can promise you I hated my boss.”
“You’ll have to forgive me Miss Pullman,” Nelson said. “I had been an Order Officer for ten years before being elected Commissioner. I follow the mantra guilty till proven innocent.”

Sounded like a typical law officer. Being paranoid must be a job requirement.

“So anyways,” I said. “Simeon’s the one who came up with our theory. I’ll let him explain.”

Simeon: Well thanks for putting me on the spot! I felt more than a little nuts as I tried to explain my theory about Garry trying to find some lost artifact in the Bermuda triangle theory.

The Commissioner rolled his eyes. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “I think everyone knows that the Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis don’t exist.”

“Is that so?” Jeanie said. “Then why did the Emergency Broadcast say that Garry was headed in the direction of the Bermuda triangle?”

The elderly official harrumphed making his walrus-stache ruffle with his exhalation. “I think history has proven the Media says whatever they want,”the commissioner said. “In the early twenty-first century, the Media nicknamed the Affordable Care Act ‘Obama Care’ and that’s what the majority of people started calling it. This is just their typical nonchalance.”


“So,” Nathan said. “That doesn’t negate the fact that the GPS signal is showing him headed in a trajectory between the island of Bermuda and the Florida Keys.”

The commissioner’s eyes completed another revolution. “What’s your point?” He said. “We’ve already established that Atlantis isn’t real so that means he’s just headed to the tropics. It’s over a thousand nautical miles from here. Garry won’t be able to make it. He’d run out of fuel or supplies long before reaching that point.”

This guy was such a skeptic. “Look okay I get it,” I said. “You don’t want to believe any of what I’m saying. Still isn’t Garry a fugitive from justice? Shouldn’t we at least try and bring him back to pay for his crimes?”

“How?” The he asked. “He’s already gone 24 nautical miles. It’s well outside Ocean Princess city’s jurisdiction. Not even US coast guard can touch him out there. Garry Fullerton could be literally anywhere between here and Antarctica. As far as I’m concerning there is no reason to pursue this fugitive. We just came to give Skipper Goodman an update.”

“Garry’s not going to just leave us alone,” Jeanie said. “I think you know that, Commissioner Nelson.”

The behavioral analyst finally broke into the debate. “I think Miss Pullman has a valid point,” he said. “Garry lost everything he had. My bet is that he isn’t the type to blame himself. In fact I’d go as far as saying Garry strikes me as a malignant narcissist. Whatever he does with the submersible he's stolen, it's going to impact us.”

When the behaviorist said this it was like someone had pushed the pause button for all the older adult’s faces. Apparently that label finally got the gravity of the situation to be visible. Like super hot gasses swirling around the event horizon made black holes visible.

“What do you three suggest we do about this?” Skipper Goodman asked.

“I got an idea,” Jeanie said. “We get a group together and go get Garry. If Simeon’s theory is correct we’ll be saving ourselves a lot of heartache by stopping him. If we’re wrong, then at least we’ll be trying to bring Garry back to justice. That’s important too.”

“Yeah what she said!” I agreed. For someone who didn’t like public speaking, Jeanie was doing a really excellent job.

The Commissioner finally crumpled under the pressure. “Fine,” he said. “We’ll loan you a submersible. It won’t be armed, but it’ll be fast enough to catch up to Garry.”

“Wait,” I said. “Is Garry’s sub armed?” Suddenly the magnitude of the risk we were taking seemed real. We could seriously end up in the middle of the Atlantic, dead. All because our former boss man had torpedoes.

“Our subs aren’t equipped with any weaponry,” Nelson said. “They’re designed to investigate underwater threats and intercept coral poachers. They’re not like the old Hurricane class submarines the United States used in the 21st century.”

“So what do we do when we catch up to Gary?” Jeanie asked.

With a few taps of the buttons on the display console, the map of the Atlantic disappeared. It was replaced by a model of an Order Division sub. A second sub appeared a little ways away from the first. It fired yellow little balls at the first sub. When it had surrounded the first ship, the orange balls inflated. This made the boat rise up slowly.

“Each submersible is equipped with a gun that dispenses limpet style floatation mines,” The commissioner said. “Once deployed they force the submersible they’re attached to to surface. They only stay inflated for half an hour. In that time you must make the arrests of Garry and his accomplices.”

“Right, so it’s like we’re playing touch football with thousand ton vessels,” I said. “That’s just great.” And I thought the Division of Order was supposed to be better at planning than a bunch of civilians.

“You can think of it like that,” Nelson said. “I’ll send along a couple of Order Officers along with you to make sure. Things don’t escalate more than they have already.”

Oh good, I thought, I hope they know what they’re doing. “How did Garry manage to get a submarine anyway?” I asked.

The repeating simulation of the flotation mines disappeared. “We were able to retrieve the following footage,” Mathewson said. “We’re still not sure why Garry didn’t even attempt to disable the surveillance system. Watch.”

I was highly disturbed by Garry callously vaporizing his cell mate. Yeah he was a convict but that was just cold.

I couldn’t make out what was in Garry’s hand. I would’ve guessed magic wand by the way he kept making locked doors disappear. It was really weird when the guard froze in place. It kind of reminded me of the old supervillain Mr. Freeze only there was no ice anywhere. What the heck was that? It kind of made going after the Mask of Atlantis seem like an afterthought.

“That’s freaky,” I said. “And nobody could move?”

“Nobody was even aware that any time had passed,” Commissioner Nelson said. “The only way we had any estimate of how long Garry had been missing was by reviewing this footage. Apparently Garry’s new toy doesn’t work on electronics.”

I didn’t say it out loud but I secretly wondered if that’s why Garry needed the Mask. That little wand of his was useless against mechanical things. Kind of made sense, it probably was electronic and if it did, it’d break the tech if it zapped itself.

“Okay,” I said. “So when do we go?”

“Not so fast,” Mathewson said. “We need to think about resupply points. As we already stated, it’s a long ways to the tropics. I suggest we stop at some coastal US Tower Cities and Costa Rica to resupply. I’m sure as the nation that founded Ocean Princess City, The United States will happily cooperate with our pursuit. But we’ll need a budget for these necessities.”

Being an adult was so lame. At least the one time I was in Nova York, all I had to do was decide where to go. There was no money problems or food and water problems.

“We can arrange for a grant from our city’s slush fund,” Skipper Goodman said. “I’m sure it’s a healthy investment in our future. Jeanie, Nathan and Simeon, can you be ready to leave tomorrow morning? I’m afraid that’s all the time we have to give you to prepare.”

“I’ll have my Uncle Elijah watch my sister,” I said. “That should take care of my loose ends.”

“Count me in,” Nathan said. “I’ll let our new CEO know the three of us need the next week or so off. But what should I tell people? I don’t think you’ll let the general population know what we’re about to do. It’d be too controversial.”

“You’re right,” Skipper Goodman said. “This mission is not officially sanctioned. If you are unsuccessful, I will disavow any prior knowledge of your plans. No hard feelings, it’s just we cant have everyone trying to be vigilantes all of a sudden. Tell Green Wave that you need to handle some personal emergencies.”

“Sounds good to me,” Nathan said.

I looked at Jeanie. She seemed to have something on her mind. “I hate to impose,” she said. “Is it alright if I bring Bother onboard with me? It’s just every single owner he’s had has abandoned him. I’m not sure robots like him have psychology but if he does, it’d hurt him to be dumped again. Which might be how he interprets me leaving for a long time as.”

“I don’t see why not,” Commissioner Nelson said. “He doesn’t eat poop or breathe. Bother can come.”

“Thank you,” Jeanie said. “I guess we’d all better go home and be prepared.”

Bother: I’d run out of things to clean in the HAB unit. I’d picked up every last takeout container and thrown them out. I’d even finished the monumental task of loading the dishwasher and laundry machines.

The laundry hand been an especially perilous task. Jeanie’s washer and dryer set were stacked on top of each other. I’d had to make a ramp out of an ironing board. I then re-enforced my work with every book I could find on Jeanie’s shelf.

Once I had safely loaded the wet clothes into the dryer. I had to return the books I borrowed. My algorithms detected no particular organization system in place. So I put them in alphabetical order by author’s first name. With Alex Haley’s Roots at the beginning and Zora Neil Hurston’s compilations on the end.

I checked my internal clock it was 1900. Jeanie had not returned from work. Could something have happened on the way home? Given the data from previous incidents, I calculated that some adverse events may have transpired. Concern threatened to overwhelm my circuits. I considered doing an emergency power down to avoid frying my hard drive.

Just before I did, the HAB door slid open. Jeanie made a direct path to me. “Hey Bother,” she said. “Sorry I’m late. I had some unexpected things happened. Hey so, um, we need to talk. Get your speech board out please.”

I pulled out the resin sheet and activated my laser pointer. “You were gone longer that expected,” I spelled. “What happened?”

Jeanie looked at me nervously. “That’s what I need to tell you,” she said. “As of this morning, Garry is no longer in prison. He stole a submarine and is headed to the Bermuda Triangle.”

“Why?” I spelled.

“We’re not entirely sure,” Jeanie said. “Simeon thinks he’s after this thing called the Mask of Atlantis. It’s supposed to be a super powerful artifact that would allow him to rule the entire world.”

“What do we do now?”

Jeanie looked even more ill at ease. “Skipper Goodman and the Division of Order have agreed to let us borrow a submarine to go after him,” Jeanie said. “We’d be gone for a long time?”

I felt my processing speed lowering. I was very close to becoming my kind’s equivalent of distraught. “You’re leaving me?” I spelled.

“No, Bother,” she said. “I want you to come with us, Simeon, Nathan, a couple of order officers and I will be leaving in the morning. Do you want to come?”

I felt my mood stats rise. Even though submarines tended to be small and cramped, the benefits of going negated that fact. Jeanie and I could bond more. I wouldn’t be alone. The only downside is the possibility of being destroyed. I’d already existed for forty-five years. For a machine, I was ancient.

“Yes I will go,” I spelled. “No problem.”

Jeanie smiled at me. “Thanks for being such a sport,” she said. “Get charged, we’ll be going to Order Division docks at 0800 tomorrow. Sorry everything’s been a mess. Thanks for helping out.


Simeon: I didn’t look forward to telling Liza about my leaving. To stall for a while, I called Uncle Elijah.

It took him a while to pick up. “Hello Simeon,” he said. “I was just getting a Tuna casserole out of the oven. What’s happening?”

“Well I’ve got some things to take care of for work,” I lied. “I can’t tell you what they are. But I’ll be away for a while.”

“Is everything alright?” My Uncle asked. “Did they decide to re-assign you?”
“No,” I said. “Just got some things that need to be taken care of.” Why was it when somebody said ‘I can’t talk about it,’ the other person automatically asked another question? Probably some weird human nature thing.

“Well, I’ll miss you, bubela,” he said. “Need me to look after Liza while you’re out?”

“Could you?” I said. “She’s only fourteen. Not that I don’t trust her but I don’t think the city would like me leaving her alone.”

“Sure, no problem,” he said. “Just drop her off at my house before you leave. What time do you need to be out of there?”

“Tomorrow morning,” I said. “Can I drop her off tonight?”

“Sure,” Uncle Elijah said. “Hey—Moisha! Off the table! Off! Stupid fur ball…I’ll save her some casserole if I can keep the cat from eating it. You okay, Sims?”

“Yeah,” I lied. “Thanks Uncle Elijah, love you. Bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung up my mobile and slouched on the golf cart’s steering wheel. So much for a romantic evening with Jeanie. I’d just lied to my Uncle. Now I had to deal with my sister’s prying and dramatic attitude.

I tried a breathing exercise to focus myself. Please, Yaweh, don’t let my sister murder me. I prayed.

By the time the elevator opened up, I felt less like a walking ball of nerves. “Hey Liza,” I said as I entered our HAB.

“Hey, bro,” Liza said. “Long shift tonight?”

“Sort of,” I said. “Can you sit down? There’s something I need to talk to you about.”

My sister plopped down on our sofa. She must’ve sensed something was up. “Okay,” she said. “I’m sitting now what?”

I was not looking forward to Liza’s reaction to this. She could be so high strung. “So I found out that my new boss wants me to go somewhere,” I said. “It’s going to take a few days. You’re going to need to pack a bag. I want you to stay with Uncle Elijah.”

Liza’s jaw briefly popped open and then clenched together again. “I can’t believe you,” she said. “I’m fourteen! I can cook! Just leave me here!”
This was going about like I expected. “I know,” I said. “The problem is OPC government says that I can’t leave you alone. I already called him. He’s expecting us.”

“Oh my gawd,” she said. “I can’t eat his tuna noodle casserole! I’ll die of starvation first.”

I was starting to feel a dull throb from the stress. Okay, Simeon, in…out…we’re gonna be fine. No pressure just gotta tell a half truth to your sister.

“Listen,” I said. “I have to leave early tomorrow morning. My boss says it’s critical. If I bribe you with some tamales and a stop at your favorite restaurant, will you get ready and go?”

Her eyes became as bright as LED bulbs. “You’ll stop at Vincenzo’s II?” She asked. “And get me pasta primavera? Oh I shouldn’t eat that…to many Callories…still it’s a deal.”

I silently thanked the God of my fathers for Italian food. “Thank you, Liza,” I said. “Pack for four or five days. We leave in half an hour.”

I loaded Lizas things and two batches of tamales into the golf cart’s cargo space. I made sure to secure the items with the cargo netting in the back. I’d made them the other day knowing I’d promised Uncle Elijah that food. There was no way I was having them fall out or get crushed.

“So what’s this big work project?” Liza asked.

Yep there was the one question I’d hoped she wouldn’t ask. I’d been sworn to secrecy. I couldn’t just tell her I was chasing an escaped convict. I needed something to satisfy her curiosity.

“My boss wants me to do some research,” I said. “The Skipper wanted to have a light display that mimics the way deep sea creatures use bioluminescence. She’s planning on using it for next Founding Day celebration. So I need to go down to the pelagic zone to do some observing.”

“That sounds cool,” Liza said. “But it’s kinda dangerous. Be careful ok?”

You’ve got only one quarter of a clue, I thought. “Okay,” I said. “I will be.”

We stopped at Vincenzo’s II and picked up Liza’s food. I drove the rest of the way to Uncle Elijah’s private HAB island. He was lucky his store provided him with enough income to afford his own place. It meant more privacy for him and his guests.

I parked my golf cart in our Uncle’s driveway. I had Liza ring his doorbell, my hands could barely balance the food and pull along case. “Hey kiddos,” he said. “Shalom and come inside.”

As soon as we were inside, Moishe made his way over and began weaving himself affectionately through our legs. My Uncle took the plates of Tamales from me. “Thanks,” I told him. “One of them is for you. I had to bribe Liza to come. The other plate is for her.”
Uncle Elijah sniffed the savory parcels appreciatively. “My boy,” he said. “These smell wonderful. They’re probably just as good as your father’s.”

I appreciated the compliment. It did make me miss my dad though. I wondered if he’d be proud of me if he was still around. Not just for the tamales, but for trying to protect my home and my family. I missed him and mom a lot.

I leaned down to scratch Moishe’s ears. He purred with pleasure.

“I wish I could stay and chat,” I said. “But I’ve got to go back to our HAB and get ready for tomorrow. Love you guys.”

My Uncle came back from the kitchen. “Wait,” he said. “ before you go, I want to say a blessing for you.”

It’d be rude to say no. “Sure,” I told him. “Go ahead.”

He raised his hands and parted the index finger and middle finger from his ring and pinky fingers. “May the Lord of the sabbath protect you,” he said. “May He keep you sound and return you to us.”

I tried hard not to think of Leonard Nimoy’s character on Star Trek. The gesture used in Jewish blessings predated that show by thousands of years. “Thank you,” I said. “May, Yaweh watch over you and my sister.”

“I won’t keep you too long, kindela,” my Uncle said. “Good luck, and goodnight. Come on Liza, I’ll show you to your room.”

I smiled and waved. “Thank you,” I said. “Goodnight.”

My sister wrapped me in a quick embrace. “Goodbye, bro,” she said. “You better come back in one piece.”

On the way home, I had to pull over a few times. My eyes had trouble crying and driving at the same time. I hoped nobody was looking. I was just so scared.

What if I didn’t come back? What if Garry zapped me with his gadget or the submarine imploded? There wouldn’t be anything left to have a memorial for. This was serious.

I tried to shake off my fears. I needed to be courageous, like Judah Maccabee, for my family and for Jeanie.



Jeanie: I sat in front of my Smart Wall trying to write an email to my family. I didn’t want them to worry but I didn’t know what to tell them. Being unable to tell anyone about what I was doing was hard.

I’d always been pretty open with my family. They knew when I broke up with my first serious boyfriend. They knew when I decided I wanted to work on repairing machines. The only thing I was hiding from them was my relationship with Simeon.

Well hang on I don’t think we could call it a relationship yet. We’d kissed once but the only date we’d arranged had to be cancelled because of this top secret submarine chase. Where did that leave us? What if the crap never stopped hitting the fan? Would we ever figure out what we wanted from each other? I didn’t know and it was making it extremely difficult to focus on anything.

I looked over to where Bother was charging. He’d been a psychological support robot aboard a space station. He could help me. But he needed to charge. I didn’t know how long it’d take to catch Garry but I didn’t want Bother’s battery dying in the middle of things, his memory could get corrupted.

It was time to write. I couldn’t let other things stressing me out distract me!

“Hey everybody,” I wrote. “I’m sending this e-mail to let you know I’ll be out of town for a few days. There’s some machine parts for the new recycling plant our new CEO wants me to find. I love you guys a lot. I hope I make it back in one piece. If I don’t come back, I’m attaching a document to this e-mail. It explains everything that’s been going on. Don’t read the attachment unless I’ve been gone for more than a month. Love you, sincerely, Jeanie.”

I hated that it was just one big run on paragraph that was so vague I wasn’t sure my mom and dad would believe it. I’d really written an encrypted document explaining the truth. I felt like if I died or whatever they deserved to know the truth.

Wiping away the tears that had leaked out, I sent the e-mail.

Once I’d shut down the Smart Wall, I did a mental check list of everything I planned to take with me. I’d grab Bother’s charger in the morning. Hairbrush? Toothbrush? Floss? Mobile? Yep. I’d even packed seven changes of clothes and an emergency first aid kit.

My brain whirled with fatigue. It was almost 2300 at night. I could usually pull all nighters but the stress I’d been under knowing Garry was still out there plotting drained my reserves.

I shuddered as I remembered him zapping his cellmate out of existence. That was messed up. Why did he need some ancient relic when he had his reality screwing pen? I really hoped the Mask of Atlantis wasn’t real.

I went to bed but I kept tossing and turning. I had nightmares that I was on some old style wrestling entertainment show. Like with masks and everything. It was so real.

I could smell the hot dust swirling in the multi colored spotlights. I could feel the rumble of an invisible crowd. I looked down I was wearing a sea-foam green leotard with a starfish bustier. How tacky, not as bad as the mask I was wearing. I saw my reflection in the old school round bell. It was all green and blue sequins.

Don’t know who picked the outfits but I was sure it wasn’t my idea. I climbed into the ring. There was a small balding man in a black and white shirt yelling into a microphone.

“In this corner,” he said. “The mechanic in spandex. The mysterious marshal master. The Slugger who doesn’t blubber. Jeanie Pullman!”

There were roars of applause and whistles. Once they had died down the announcer continued. “In the opposite corner,” he said. “The man with a grudge. He’s on the run from the judge. The demigod with a bod. Garry Fullerton!”

The crowd had a mixed reaction it roared with boos and heckles. Garry climbed into the ring. He was twice the size he normally was. His grey-green leotard had been shredded by cartoonishly huge muscles. His mask was made of metal and his eyes glowed like driftwood bonfires. Whatever had happened to him before he came out to the ring, he wasn’t the Garry I had known at Green Wave.

“Ladies and gentleman!” The balding guy shouted. “Get ready for the fight of the millennia! 3,2,1 rumble!”

The bell rung out it’s ding echoing through the arena. “Ready for my signature move?!” Garry bellowed. “Death Glare!” Fiery emerald beams shot from his eyes.

They hit me before I had time to react. I went flying out of the ring. Spectators scrambled out of the way as I landed in the front row. I felt my bones crunch and break.

Out of nowhere, a female disembodied voice said. “Good morning, it’s time to get up!”

Things started to go dim.”Good morning, time to get up!” The voice said again.

I woke up and groaned. My alarm clock sounded for a third time. I groggily slapped it and sat up. Stupid luchador nightmare! I didn’t even watch Mexican wrestling. The only reason I knew anything about it was because Simeon’s dad was always going on about it while I was hanging out with my friend.

I pulled on some clean comfortable clothes. Then went into the main room. Bother was already off his charger. “Good morning,” I said. “You ready for this?”
Bother and I took the rapid transit ferry to City Hall district. I went up the disability access ramp with him. At the front of the building I pushed the intercom button.

“Division of Order,” a desk officer said. “How may we assist you?” He sounded as though he hadn’t slept in months. There was a subtle edge of grumpiness in the officer’s voice.

“It’s Jeanie Pullman,” I said. “I’m here to meet Commissioner Nelson at the submarine docks.”

No answer, I was simply buzzed in. I pushed open the doors. It was still incredibly busy, even this early in the morning. Officers, arrestees and other people crisscrossed the lobby like schools of fish in a reef.

I tried to ask if anyone knew the way to the submarine docks. It was impossible to find an officer who wasn’t already doing something. Luckily there were arrows pointing with descriptive words scrawled everywhere. I decided to follow those.

On the way there I couldn’t help but notice the repairs going on in the Brig. Maybe they just needed to get things back together to function. I would’ve thought they’d taken pictures. Maybe they did that last night? I didn’t know, law enforcement wasn’t my expertise.

You could still see where Garry had zapped doors out of existence. Even though four officers were maneuvering a door into place it was apparent something had gone wrong. Shaking of my chills I kept walking.

Simeon and Nathan were already waiting downstairs on the actual platform. There were no ramps so I picked Bother up and carried him down.

“Morning,” Simeon said. “You ready for this?”

“I guess,” I said. “Didn’t sleep well. Ready as I’m going to be. You two?”

Simeon shrugged, “Same deal with me,” he said. “Liza only went to our Uncles after I bribed her.”

I briefly wondered why. But considering she was still a young teen it was probably some dramatic reason I wouldn’t understand. “I’m impressed,” I said. “You must have some mad people skills to get her to do that.”

“Not really,” he said. “I just know my sister. Hey Nathan, how are you holding up?”

“Can’t complain,” Nathan answered. “I guess I haven’t been through as much. My mind and body are feeling great and ready to go.”

I envied him. I really wish I hadn’t had my wrestling nightmare. I felt so drained, I didn’t know if I had it in me to get up through the hatch of the sub.

We didn’t have long to socialize. Commissioner Nelson entered followed by two Order officers. Even though Nelson had to be at least forty, he moved with the speed and posture of a much younger man.

“Good morning,” he said. “I assume you three have made all due preparations?”

We all nodded. The Commissioner grunted his approval.

“These are the officers who will accompany you,” he said. “This is Captain Flanders. He’s been a submersible pilot for nearly a decade. He’s one of the best. This is Sargent Amanda Cook. She will be assisting in any actual arrests made on this operation.”

They each politely acknowledged our presence. “They have been briefed,” Nelson Continued. “They are aware of the urgency surrounding this situation. Now that I’ve introduced them, I take my leave. Good luck to you all.”

My nerves glued me to the spot. Suddenly all this felt a little to real. It’s all right, I told myself, Garry doesn’t really have body builder muscles and laser vision. Everything’s going to be fine.

“Alright everyone,” Flanders said. “Gather your stuff and let’s get underway. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

I went to pick up Bother, they probably didn’t have anything to get him in the sub. Sergeant Cook stopped me. “If it’s all the same to you we will get Bother on board,” she said. “We’ll use our gantry crane to lift him in with the rest of the cargo.”

It kind of bugged me that Bother had been counted as “cargo”. This wasn’t the time to push the issue. “Thank you,” I said. “Mind if I retrieve him from the cargo bay?”

“Not at all,” Cook said. “See you inside.”

I descended the ladder slowly. It was best not to slip. Even if I didn’t break my neck, any injury hitting the deck too hard would probably lead to a lot of pain.

It was a lot brighter than I expected. Captain Flanders had probably turned on the inside light so we could see where we were going.

I made my way to the cargo bay.

Bother: I had an interesting ride to the submarine’s interior. The one called Sergeant Cook placed me on the same pallet as all the supplies. She anchored the load to a chain secured on four sides. Then Cook checked the fastenings by giving them a tug. “Okay,” she said. “Ready to transport.”

I watched as the docks got further away. When everything looked like rows of bathtubs with oversized toys, the crane moved us sideways. It was like riding a ski lift…at least that was what I’d found to compare it to online.

A wide hatch on the submarine’s back folded open. The pallet slowly lowered into the dark cargo bay. Well not precisely dark, some dim lights on the floor marked walkways between stacks of supply boxes and shelves.

The cables released with a series of clinking noises. The cargo bay doors slowly resealed themselves. I wasn’t entirely sure how waterproof this compartment was. I hope it had a pressure seal just like the hatch that my human companions had used to enter the vessel.

With the doors securely sealed, it was so dark my cameras didn’t transmit data. I hoped someone came to retrieve me soon.

“Bother,” Jeanie called. “Are you in here?”

The netting around the pallet prevented me from opening my storage drawer. I couldn’t retrieve my speech board. Instead I flashed my lights on and off a few times.

“Holy sh—” Jeanie exclaimed. “Is that you, Bother?”

I out put my only audio phrase. “Bother?”

“Hang on,” Jeanie said. “I’m coming.” There was a bright pin prick of light that brightened the room, Jeanie had activated the flashlight function on her mobile. She walked back to the spot I’d been deposited in.

“There you are,” she said. “Sorry, I didn’t realize there were next to no lights back here.” She removed me from the netting and put me on the floor. I embraced her leg affectionately before I rolled to the door out of the cargo bay.

Simeon: I was honestly really wowed by the submarine’s interior. The controll room was much more roomy than the corridor. It was probably the roomiest place onboard. While I’d been waiting for Jeanie and Bother to arrive, I’d gone over some schematics on one of the terminals.

This boat had a cargo bay, minuscule bathroom, a bunk room meant to sleep four at a time an engine room and the controll room. I would’ve thought there’d be a torpedo bay. After yesterday’s conversation, I’d learned that the only thing close to weapons aboard were the pontoon mines. Yes that wasn’t their official names but it sounded better than “limpet style inflatable mine”. No matter what you called them, they launched from a controll panel by the captain’s chair. Didn’t seem fair that the captain got to play with all the cool toys. Whatever.

I looked out the bubble window at the front of the sub. It was weird seeing the docks and water beneath the boat. It kind of made me feel like a goldfish standing in front of it. I guess when we were moving through the water, it’d be useful to know what was below us. That way we didn’t run into an undersea mountain or something.

Nathan was standing towards the back of the controll room. He had his thumbs and forefinger pressed together. His mouth was moving but no words were coming out..

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

Nathan opened one eye to see me. Realizing I was staring at him, he released the pose and returned my gaze.

“I was just meditating,” he said. “Tight cramped spaces aren’t my favorite.”

“Don’t you get distracted?” I asked. “You know, by the texture of your prosthetic fingers on your real ones?”

He grimaced, “not really,” he said. “It’s been years since my accident. I’m kind of used to the way my body is now.”

I felt really dumb for asking that question. Why was I so impulsive? “Sorry,” I said. “I guess that was a little insensitive. I just never met a cyborg before ai knew you.”

“It’s alright,” Nathan said. “You’re not the first inquisitive person I’ve encountered. Probably not the last. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice some mindfulness before I have flashbacks.” He resumed his former position and closed his eyes.

I resisted the urge to ask what Nathan had flashbacks about. That was none of my business.

Instead I flopped down into the seat and waited for Jeanie to return. I hoped we’d be underway soon.

“Hey Simeon,”

Jeanie came up beside me with Bother trailing behind her. “I see you found your bot,” I said. “How’s the cargo bay?”

“Very dark,” she said. “Bother’s lucky he had lights around his cameras, I would never have found him in that gloom.”

I was glad she’d been able to find her mechanical pal. I had things I needed to address with Jeanie though.

“Hey,” I said. “Mind if we talk real quick?”

Jeanie looked surprised. “Sure,” she said. “What’s the matter?”

“Look,” I said. “When I went and found you at the Valor ceremony we kissed.or you kissed me. Something happened between the two of us. There’s no denying that. Were we just caught up in the moment though?”

She took my hands and stepped closer trying to see into my soul with piercing eyes. “Where is this coming from?” She asked. “I said yes when you asked me out. Why are you so insecure?”

“Well,” I said. “Once you found out that Garry was running amok, you sure cancelled awfully quick. Kinda makes me think this relationship is a bit one sided.”

She let go of me and scowled. “I decided to chase Garry because you said he might be planning to take over the world again,” she said. “Look, Simeon, I hate the idea of freeze dried food. I only said yes to the retro-space food restaurant because I wanted time with you. I like you!”

I felt my jaw clench and my heart started banging in my ears. I knew speaking right away would be a mistake. I processed what she had really said instead of just the words my mind had highlighted.

“Okay so you don’t like space food,” I said. “So if we both have feelings, when are we going to have time to grow a relationship? You know, beyond just a kiss. Are we always just going to chase bad guys, have you get beat up or kidnapped, repeat?”

Jeanie: What the hell? Why was he acting like we hadn’t confessed our feelings for each other? Why was Simeon acting like I was the bad guy for acting on his theory? This sucked!

It hurt that he thought I didn’t care about him. Because it wasn’t true. He’d been my friend since childhood, we’d gone on adventures together, I listened to him and did what he asked. How could he possibly think I didn’t care?

“Simeon,” I said. “As soon as we get back to the city, I promise no more bad guy chasing or getting kidnapped. I’ll make time for you. We can even find time while we’re catching up to Garry.”

He didn’t look like he believed that last bit. “Yeah,” he said. “So how did you plan on doing that? Did you forget that we have your work supervisor two order officers and Bother aboard?”

“No,” I said. “I didn’t…I just think we could figure out a place on this ship to sneak a private moment or two. You are an amateur urban explorer with online videos, right?”

Before we could continue arguing, Captain Flanders blew a few notes on a pipe whistle. Attention,” he said. “We are laying a course in for the Caribbean near Bermuda and the Florida keys. The suspect has a day’s lead on us. Everyone in your seats because we’re going to be rocketing along at 45knots. That’s 55 miles per hour for those unfamiliar with Maritime speed conventions. You do not want to be standing in the event of a collision. We have a little over 800miles with which to catch up with Garry Fullerton. Lets hope we do so.”

That was the most boring pep talk I’d ever heard. I sat down and buckled myself in.

There was a lurch as the submarine began its descent through the lock. It was exciting as we navigated through the reefs growing on the undersides of Ocean Princess city’s islands. Clams and corals packed onto the substrate. Fish swam by in brilliant flashes of silver and so many colors that I couldn’t come up with names for the various hues.

Within an hour, we passed the flexible anchor chains for the city’s outer wall. The blue green waters surrounded us. It was so fantastic I almost forgot that this wasn’t a pleasure cruise.

By the time the sub’s clock displayed 1700, I was a little less enthusiastic. I’d seen countless schools of much less vibrant fish. A few pods of bottle nosed dolphins. It had been novel at first but now it was just monotonous.

I unbuckled my seatbelt. I was starting to get hungry. By my reckoning it was about fifteen hours from OPC to the Bermuda Triangle. I hadn’t eaten anything since the cup full of granola I’d ran out the HAB with.

“I’m going to go forage,” I told Simeon. “You wanna come with?”

He undid his buckle and stood up. “Sure,” he said. “Haven’t seen the cargo bay yet.”

Simeon: We went as far aft as the corridor let us. Jeanie opened up the cargo bay and turned on the light on her mobile. I followed her in.

“Wow,” I said “really dark back here. Those running lights on the floor don’t do much. Hang on.”

The beam from my own mobile illuminated rows of boxes and some shelves. It kind of reminded me of a warehouse but miniaturized.

“Drinking water, lab tests,” Jeanie read each label as she walked by. “What’s K-rations?” She asked.

I shrugged, “Dunno,” I said. “Maybe it’s like that classic breakfast cereal. You know, that one with the dried strawberries in them?”

Jeanie smiled, “oh yeah!” She said. “I love that stuff.”

She opened up the box and pulled out two packets of K-rations. “I guess it’s okay to take one each,” she said. “Skipper Fullerton did say she’d give us supplies.”

I tore my ration open. It smelled terrible. Like dead jerky. I pulled out the grey, firm bar.

“Well this isn’t cereal,” I said. “It’s a good thing I’m hungry. Don’t think I’d eat this otherwise. Look out stomach, here it comes.”

I managed to gnaw a mouth full off the bar. It was like eating apple-veggie flavored cardboard.

Jeanie laughed at the disgusted face I pulled as I chewed. “You look like one of those baseball players from the old history videos!” She said. “Is it that bad?”

“You try it,” I told her. “It’s something you have to experience yourself. There’s no describing it.”
She managed a bite. Within one and a half chews she looked ready to cry vomit at the same time.

“I’ll finish this,” She said. “But only if you do.”

We managed to grimace our way through the highly processed bars. On the way back there we teased each other about the faces we pulled while eating. Or at least we did until the whole sub started shaking.

It was hard to stay upright. “Holy crap!” I said as I fell sideways. Jeanie caught me and set me back upright.

“You okay?”
“Yeah”
“Lets go back to the control room,”
“Good idea, see what the hell is going on.”

We shakily made our way back to our seats. “Hey Captain Flanders,” I said. “What’s going on out there?”

I looked out the front glass..a second submarine was floating over a bright blue green bubble. Tentacles of energy lashed out from the bubble.

“We found Garry’s Sub,” Flanders said. “I don’t know what the hell this is but if we take many more hits, we’ll implode. I just don’t know how safe it is.”
Jeanie: The Captain was balking. Funny, I thought Order officers were supposed to be brave. “We can’t leave without Garry,” I said.

“Deploying the mines in these conditions would be difficult,” Sergeant Cook said. “We have to surface and regroup.”

I walked over to her work station. “Let me try,” I said. “I managed to win some marksmanship prizes in secondary school. Pretty sure it’s the same concept. Just have Captain Flanders maneuver us around.

“You must be crazy,” Cook said. “But then again you’ve been through a lot. I guess we’ll let you try. Just hope it doesn’t get us killed.”

She stood up and let me take her place. I gripped the controll stick firmly. “Let’s see how this works,” I said.

Using the aiming screen I waited until the targeting reticule lined up with the image of the sub. I pressed the trigger again and again. Adjusting my aim as Flanders circled our vessel around the other boat.

Soon the sub Garry had stolen was covered in orange inflatables. It started rising to the surface. “Woo!” I shouted “that’s how it’s done!” It was exhilarating, like winning a really tough first person shooter. Something nagged at my sense of victory.

Why hadn’t they tried to evade us? If they were still alive and aboard wouldn’t someone have decided to out maneuver our attempts?

“Well done young lady,” Captain Flanders said. “Bringing us to surface depth.”

It was a long winding climb. Apparently, the whole dramatic nose breach six feet out of the water scene from the movies was a lie.

We finally surfaced parallel to the now immobilized craft. I had a worry monster trying to wrap itself in my stomach like a disgusting sort of blanket. Something was really off.

Simeon and I helped Cook and Flanders throw hooks across the gap to moor the submarines together. Once the we were close enough to the other boat, the four of us carefully crossed a metal gang plank Cook had deployed to close the gap.

All of us held our breath as the hatch opened. Cook and Flanders descended and drew their tasers. Simeon and I followed once they motioned to us that it was safe to enter.

The lights were on. Nothing looked damaged. Where were the three of them hiding?

As we entered the controll room of the stolen vessel, there was only one person. “Don’t move,” Flanders said. “Hands on your head and get on your knees.”

It was the guy I knew as Nerd. He didn’t even try to resist. What was with this guy?

Flanders rushed over and put the zip cuffs on Nerd. “Matt Larsen,” Flanders said. “You’re under arrest for aiding and abetting known fugitives, fleeing Order custody and accessory to major vehicle theft. You can choose to help us. You can also not comment. Anything you tell us may be—”

“I got it!” Nerd screamed. “We already did this song and dance the first time you took me into custody.”

“Fine,” Flanders said. “So where’s Garry Fullerton and Antoni Washington?”

“They went into the city,” Nerd said. “Left me here as a decoy. Garry probably has the Mask already. You should all just give up. Soon Garry will have this whole planet under his subjugation.”

“What city?” Cook asked. “What are you talking about? If you help us capture Garry, we can ask the Mediatrix for leniency.”

Nerd gave a cold desolate chuckle. “Atlantis,” he said. “Not that it matters none of you can stop him. With that Mask he has the powers of a god. Us mere mortals will be withered away if we stand against him.”

This was levels of not good that I couldn’t even begin to find an analogy for. We’d failed it was over. No, it couldn’t be.

“Simeon,” I said. “How much do you know about Atlantis?”

“I’ve been reading everything I could find,” he said. “Why?”

“I need to know how to get in the city,” I said. “Also if there’s a way to stop Garry’s plan that’d help too.”

Simeon’s mouth moved as he thought to himself. “That energy forcefield down there keeps out vessels,” he said. “At least that’s the theory everyone on the forums is agreeing on. Only people can cross that barrier.”

“You guys got any diving equipment onboard that sub?” I asked Cook.

She pouted, “there’s only two per sub,” she said. “I’m assuming Garry and Antoni took the two on here.”
“You guys mind if we take them for a bit?” I asked. “I kinda got a personal score to settle and it looks like Simeon’s the only one who knows anything about Atlantean stuff.”

Flanders opened his mouth to comment but then shut it again. He rummaged in his back pocket. He tossed me some zip tie cuffs. “Here,” he said. “If it’s possible, I want you two to bring Antoni and Garry back alive. They still need to face justice.”

I just hoped I survived. I didn’t have any superpowers or weapons. I seriously doubted they I would be able to kill either Garry or Washington. There was no plan except somehow stop Garry from wiping us all out.

“I’ll do my best,” I said. They didn’t need to know how terrifying this was. I felt like I was in my nightmare again. I looked down to make sure I wasn’t wearing a leotard…Nope.

“What are you doing?” Cook asked.

“Nothing,” I lied. “Guess we’d better suit up and get down there. No way am I screwing up my chance to stop this disaster.”

My scalp was busy trying to stand on end. I had no idea why, I was scared not cold. Simeon and I were climbing into our wet suits. He’d been a gentleman and used the bathroom to change. That left me the bunk room.

I had to pull a yoga pose to get my own zipper. I finished fastening my weight belt. Once that was done I put the goggles over my face, strapped on the fins and stepped into the hallway. I clumsily walked to the air lock. It stood open with dark blue water rippling in the circular opening.

Cook and Flanders helped me and Simeon get the tanks and breathing apparatus on. We looked like aliens in full diving gear. I looked at Simeon and gave him a thumbs up. Not to be nasty. It was just the only way to communicate with our mouths full. He returned the gesture.

I jumped in flippers first. I swam towards the now glowing blue-green bubble. I felt a slight pressure wave as Simeon jumped in behind me. I kept focused on my destination and tried not to get disoriented. No need to start the peril before we crossed the Atlantean barrier.

Once we got closer, a vortex of green started swirling. It was terrifying. The water around me started rushing into the opening. The current was so strong that I couldn’t fight against it. I got pulled and spun around. I couldn’t tell up from down. There was a pop and a rushing sound. I felt the thud as my body landed on a tile paved walkway.

I half swam half crawled away from the spot where I landed. Only a second after completing this maneuver, Simeon arrived in a gush of water. The vortex sealed itself behind us.

I could feel that the pressure of the ocean wasn’t pressing against me. I looked around. Somehow there was air inside the dome we’d passed through. How was that even possible?

Everything was bathed in some sort of light. I had no idea where it was coming from. It had been after sunset when we arrived and we were hundreds of feet below the surface. Sunlight didn’t even get this deep during the day.

I took my breathing apparatus out of my mouth. “Simeon,” I said. “You good over there?”

He was sitting looking around. He’d already gotten his mouth free. “Dude,” he said. “This is way more awesome than the pictures on DeviantArt. Look at that badass mountain in the center! It’s all covered with trees and buildings!”

My friend slash lover had gone into total geek mode. “Hey that’s neat,” I said. “Um, you think we should turn each other’s valves so we can save some oxygen for the return trip?”

Simeon looked at me and giggled. Wow, I’d never realized what a dirty mind he had. I slapped his arm in annoyance. He probably barely felt it through the thick rubber of the wet suit. “You know what I mean,” I said. “We’ll flip each other off too while we’re at it.” I’d made that sound bad on purpose. I figured we needed some humor if we were going to stay sane.

We helped each other take care of the diving equipment we didn’t need. Piling it up for our return. As I dropped the weight belt something occurred to me.

“Supposing we don’t die,” I said. “How do we get back to the sub?”

Simeon looked thoughtful. “Legend has it there’s a special ring that Atlanteans wore,” he said. “After the city sunk rumor has it they used it to visit the surface. I guess we’ll have to keep an eye out for at least one of those.”

What was this? It sounded like something out of the Green Lantern myths. I hoped this one was true.

“Would one be enough to get all of us up to the sub again?” I asked.

“There’s been a lot of argument about that,” Simeon said. “No one is exactly sure how the rings work.”

That’s just great, I thought to myself. That means one or more of us might be stuck here. “Lets hope we find more than one ring,” I said. “Come on, lets see if we can find the Mask before Garry does.”

I started heading towards the central island. “Do you even know where you’re going?” Simeon asked.
I suddenly felt more silly than I had in a full wet suit. “No,” I said. “But isn’t something that important in a pretty swanky place? That center island is the highest place in the city. Figures there’d be something really important there.”

Simeon hung his head low. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s just I was gonna tell you that it is in the temple of Poseidon. The Atlanteans worshiped him as their chief deity. Anyways good job using logic.”

I felt a little guilt. Simeon had seemed so excited to share that fact. I hoped I hadn’t hurt his feelings too much. Maybe I needed to think a little more before speaking.

We continued on to the center island. The scenery was very strange. There were trees, bushes and buildings everywhere. There were fountains burbling and circular canals with elegant limestone bridges going over them.

I looked down at one of the canals. It had to be at least a hundred feet below the bridge I was walking on. I guess back when the city had been built, the Atlantean didn’t have the drawbridge technology that Ocean Princess City did. Ships sailing through kind of made it impossible to have shorter bridges.

Still, as impressive as the city was, I had to wonder why there were no animals or people. There was air down here. Whatever was giving off the light provided enough energy for abundant plant life. Even if the city was in an underwater dome, surely the people and their critters should have survived.

“Hey Simeon,” I said. “What happened to the Atlanteans? They I haven’t seen a single living creature since we got here.”

Simeon stopped walking. He stared directly ahead. Was it something I said?

“Up till just now,” he said. “No one really knew. I think the welcoming committee just found us.”

Until a second ago, I’d been taking in the sights. My thinking was if Garry had found the mask, we’d know about it. Now, I properly looked at the path ahead.

Lots of men and women in reddish gold armor were blocking the way. As if that wasn’t intimidating enough, some of the warriors were riding some sort of huge animal. Their mounts looked like a cross between a porpoise and a crocodile! It looked like something out of prehistoric times.

One of the mounted soldiers rode forward on his crocowhale. He wave his pole arm at Simeon and I. He was saying something in what I assumed was Atlantean but sounded like a mix between a few different languages.

Still the long weapon and gestures accompanying the words made it very clear he wanted us to come with his small army.

Even if we had weapons, there was a good chance we would’ve ended up impaled or crocowhale breakfast. Without debating our options, both of us surrendered.

On the plus side, our forced march took us toward the central isle. So in a way it was like having an armed escort. Yeah I thought of it that way, just so I didn’t do something stupid.

“Where do you think we’re going?” I asked.

Simeon didn’t look at me. It wasn’t reassuring. “No idea,” he said. “Wherever it is, I think we’re in trouble.”

We crossed the final bridge. The crocowhales snorted and puffed as they went up hill. At the very top of the center island was a massive structure with seven lime stone pillars. Each of these was capped with intricate carvings of fish, waves and some sort of sailing vessel.

These columns bore the weight of a massive roof that covered a stepped stage with a central dais. A large statue of a bearded man wearing a toga and wielding a trident stood at the back of the platform. There was also a figure wearing a reddish gold metal mask with a huge squared off mouth. The masked man was in a jump suit standing next to a very familiar thug.

“Oh shit,” I said. “That’s Antoni, so that means…dammit”. It looked like Garry had gotten the mask after all.

The Atlantean who had waved his spear approached the person I assumed was Garry. The warrior laid down his spear and knelt on one knee. He gabbled at Garry. Gestured to us a few times and waited for a reply.

There was no way Garry understood that right? It was both amazing and disconcerting when Garry replied back in the same language as the Atlantean.

I nudged Simeon and whispered. “What the heck just happened?” I asked. “Last time I checked there wasn’t a language learning app for languages that haven’t been spoken in thousands of years.”

Simeon’s eyes went wide. “It has to be the Mask,” he said. “There’s not other explanation. I don’t know how it’s doing it but nobody really knows about the properties of Oreachalcum metal.”

I had to wonder how much time Simeon spent on this. “Do you just look up Atlantis trivia for fun?” I asked. “Seems like a weird hobby.”

“I was playing a role playing game with friends,” he said. “It was kind of like Dungeons and Dragons but we were using a custom map. I was the leader so I had to do research.”

Spear guy had finished talking with Garry. He pulled a glass like strand and wrapped it around both of our wrists. He gave the filament a tug. Instantly, it hardened becoming stronger than I expected.

Our captor yanked us forward. Once we were in front of Garry, spear guy forced us to kneel with our faces nearly touching the brick and mortar floor.

Garry blabbered some command in Atlantean and suddenly, the all the Atlanteans left and the four of us were alone. “So,” Garry said. “The two of you can’t resist antagonizing me.”

I tried to stand up. As I did so it became clear our restraints had been bonded to the floor somehow. I settled for a crouching stance.

“I think you have that backwards,” I said. “See you’re the one who tried to kill the Skipper so you could be in charge. Oh and your crazy girlfriend Bianca tried to kidnap and kill me. Now you’re trying to take over the world? Seems like you’re the one antagonizing everyone.”

Simeon, who was also half bent over, nodded once. “What she said!” He yelled.

Antoni slipped a pair of battered oxidized brass knuckles on. How did he manage to keep ahold of those? I could only guess.

“You two shut up,” he said. “Boss I’m gonna pulverize them so their own family won’t recognize—”

In an inhuman blur, Garry grabbed Antoni by the waste. Even though the gorilla sized tough had to outweigh Garry by at least a hundred pounds, he was lifted up like a kitten.

“I was hoping you wouldn’t,” Garry said. “Now I have no choice. Goodbye Antoni.”

There was a short scream cut off by wet snapping and crunching sounds. Blood spurted out of the mangled body as it dropped to the floor. The front of Garry’s jumpsuit was slick with scarlet. He didn’t seem to care.

I tried to fight back tears and vomit. “What the hell did you do that for?” I asked. “We saw the footage of what you did in the Brig. Why didn’t you use your new toy zap him? Would’ve been a lot more humane and less messy!”

“The reality modifier?” Garry asked. “Engineering my escape was all the power that had. The weapon’s beams were specially designed anti-matter contained in a miniature black hole. Once I’d used it a handful of times, the anti-matter and black hole evaporated. Now that device is a mere trinket.”

“Is that what you plan to do with the Mask of Atlantis?” Simeon asked. “Use up it’s power for your own gain? That seems cheap. Then again you are a corrupt business man, so it makes sense.”

You could see Garry’s mouth snarl through the square hole at the bottom of the Mask. “You unimaginative tykes,” he said. “I intend to bring Atlantis to the surface and use it as the seat of a Mightier empire than even it was in antiquity. I will make it master of this world and others! With me as the ruler of all, not even entropy itself will stop my Empire’s glory!”

“So what,” I said. “You stopped Antoni from killing us. Why do you think we’ll let you become supreme being of the universe?”

In true manic villain fashion Garry laughed so loud it echoed through Poseidon’s temple. “I have something more meaningful in mind,” he said. “Once I raise Atlantis from the ocean floor, I’ll make a spectacle out of your execution. Now, you’ll have the privilege of being here to see me exercise my absolute power.”

Garry put both hands on the dais in the center of the stage. Everything started to rumble. The light that bathed everything started fluctuating from dimmer to brighter and back again.

Something really bad was happening and I couldn’t do a thing about it. Suddenly The Mask of Atlantis started smoking thick black plumes. Golden yellow flames started spurting from around the sides. Garry started screaming.

“This is bad,” Simeon said.

“No, you think?” I said. “Garry’s about to become an Emperor-god. How much worse could things get?”

Simeon looked at me. He had to scream to be heard over Garry’s howls of agony. “The Mask was meant to be worn by one of Atlantean descent,” Simeon said. “The power is destroying Garry.”

Even if Garry was completely evil, being roasted like a game hen in an oven wasn’t right. I struggled against my transparent bonds. They wouldn’t budge!

There was a loud whoosh and a bright golden flash. A pile of grey ashes and beads of blackened metal fell to the ground. The smell of burnt flesh filled the temple.

I had never thought things would turn out like this. The bad guys were dead. But it wasn’t satisfying at all. It just felt like a tragedy. True, Antoni and Garry would’ve died by capital punishment if we’d been successful in arresting them. Somehow seeing them destroy themselves was terrible.

My contemplation of this scene was interrupted by rushing wind. The ground didn’t stop shaking, it got worse. Streams of water started pouring down from above.

“What’s happening?”
“The Mask of Atlantis was destroyed. Everything’s going to self destruct.”
“We can’t break these strands.”
“I know.”
“Oh God, this is the end isn’t it?”
“Looks like,”
“I love you”
“Love you too!”

We huddled together, waiting for the ground to swallow us or water to drown us. It was awful. I could hear the Atlanteans shouting to each other as their city fell to ruin. Bright white flashes started heading upwards.

“What are those?” I wondered.
“They know the city’s doomed,” Simeon said. “They’re using their rings to evacuate. Wish we’d managed to find one of those before we got captured.”

As we watched countless streamers of light beamed out of Atlantis. Amazingly, an Atlantean warrior riding a crocowhale charged towards us. They dismounted and started speaking to us.

“Stay immobile,” they said. They reached down to a sheath on their hip. Drawing a black obsidian knife, they cut through our bonds making them evaporate like dew in the heat of the day.

I stood up completely baffled. “Where’d you learn English?” I asked . “Why’re you helping us?”

The armored warrior put a hand up to stay our questions. “Now is time for escape only,” they said. “Get on Amasuchus and hold tight. Both two.”

With water beginning to pool around our ankles, we were out of options. Hopefully there was no ulterior motive. Simeon our rescuer and I all straddled the thing they’d called Amasuchus. We shared a three way hug. Our savior mumbled some Atlantean phrase. Everything became light and warmth.

Bother: According to my internal clock, Jeanie and Simeon had been in Atlantis for approximately forty minutes. During that time, Cook and Flanders had secured Mathew Larsen in a stasis pod.

It was an unusual process. It involved attaching a lot of leads to monitor the prisoner’s bio rhythms. With the press of a couple of buttons the capsule sealed itself and a display lit up with light blue letters and numbers.

“Prisoner’s respiration is ten, beats per minute 58, bp 100/80, O2 sat is 99.” Cook read out. “Metabolic rate minimal, revival to happen in twenty-four hours. Ready for storage.”

Captain Flanders tapped something into his controll panel before proceeding. “So entered into record,” he said. “You may take the prisoner to storage.”

I watched the pod float away on a mag lev jack. I felt very conflicted witnessing a human being stored. I understood that he had done wrong and according to the laws of Ocean Princess City, there needed to be consequences. Still I knew that being in a confined space was extremely difficult for any sentient. It made me almost pity Mathew.

There was nothing to do aboard. Captain Flanders and Sergeant Cook ignored me except to say “excuse me” when I was in their way. My duck court was safely locked away in Jeanie’s HAB unit.
I had to find a way to occupy myself.

In an attempt to do so I watched the surface of the ocean as I waited. There were no birds this far away from land. Only the occasional bottle nose dolphin pod or distant cargo ship broke up the monotonous waves.

I found the rocking motion of the sub beneath my treads novel. It was different than on Ocean Princess City’s islands. The vessel was buffeted by the water to a much greater extent than the kilometer and a half wide hexagons.

I was considering putting myself in standby mode when I saw the first flash of light streak skyward. Dozens more started following. They arced away in various directions. I had to notify the Order Officers of this anomaly.

“Bother! Bother!” I output. I didn’t think me sneaking up to one of the officers and tapping on their boot was expedient. Audio stimulus was more effective in getting attention.

Both Order officers rushed over to the bubble window. “What on earth?” Flanders asked.

“No idea sir,” Cook said. “We may not be in danger yet. What are your orders?”

Captain Flanders kept focused on the phenomena outside. “We stay here for now,” he said. “Monitor the situation. If Jeanie and Simeon fail to return in half an hour, we’ll depart full speed. Then make for Ocean Princess City.”

Cook seemed moderately upset about this decision. “Aye, Captain,” she said. Removing her hat, she somberly watched for any sign of Jeanie’s return.
I hoped she made it back. I liked Jeanie, even if she did get mad easily. Over the past week and a half I felt like I’d started to bond with her. Loosing my new friend would be devastating.

A bright flash like lightning went off right in front of the submarine. The photon emissions temporarily rendered my cameras inoperable. When I was able to perceive images again, I couldn’t believe what I was recording.

Some strange animal that resembled an extinct form of terrestrial cetacean had materialized. Atop it on a unorthodox saddle, sat three humans. This was most surreal.

“Is that Jeanie and Simeon on the back of that thing?” Flanders wondered.

“I think so sir,” Cook said. “That third person I don’t recognize though. It isn’t any of the fugitives.”

It was unclear what had happened. I hoped things would become clear when Simeon and Jeanie came aboard.

Simeon: I never expected to go to Atlantis. Ever. There was no way I could’ve imagined being captured by Atlanteans, watching my former boss spontaneously combust and being rescued from certain death.

“Holy frijoles!” I said. “I think we just got beamed up.” It felt silly to make Star Trek references at a time like this but what else should I do?

“Beamed up?” Our new friend asked.

This was going to be hard to explain. Probably not a good idea while we were sitting on an amphibious mammal. “I’ll tell you later,” I said. “Thank you, um what’s your name?”

The armored figure put a hand on their chest. “Tatzi,” they said. “I Tatzi, priestess warrior of Naiads.”

I never would’ve guessed a woman was under that armor. Tatzi was very muscular and didn’t show any of the usual…curves. Her navy blue hair being cropped close to her head didn’t conform to western concepts of femininity. Still it wasn’t my place to judge, her culture was different than any on earth.

“Thanks for saving us,” Jeanie said. “How did you get us back to this place where we left our boat?”

Tatzi tapped the ring on her hand. “I tell this,” she said. “Make ring take us place in outsider’s minds. It hears and sees thoughts then does."

That was amazing. It would be cool to learn more about their technology. I had so manny questions. Maybe they were unanswerable now. I looked to the water below. There was no doubt the entire city was being washed away as it crumbled to oblivion.

“Tatzi,” Jeanie said. “How come you saved us?”

The warrior’s face was inscrutable. “I have gift from Poseidon,” she said. “I see people’s light. It tells me if they are one I can trust. Garry, his light was dark, darker than charcoal. Not like you both. You each very bright lights. Such things shouldn’t be quenched by destruction.”

“I’m sorry about your home,” I said. “Come with us on our boat? We can help you find a new home.”

I wasn’t sure that Tatzi liked the idea. “Can Amphosuchus come with us?” She asked.

A giant crocowhale…wasn’t sure how Captain Flanders was going to react.

“I don’t like the idea of some monster in the sub,” Flanders said. We’d just finished explaining what had gone down in Atlantis. “Amphosuchus not monster,” Tatzi said. “It loyal comrade who I trust. Eat fish only. Not people.”

“Okay, sorry,” Flanders said. “I guess we’ll have to get it a checkup at Ocean Princess’s Zoological Society.”

Flanders sat down at the sub’s controls. “What about the other Atlanteans?” He asked. “Where did they go?”

“They fled,” Tatzi said. “My people are scattered on the islands of the sea. I will gather them when I can.”

I looked at Jeanie. “This is a mess,” I said. “What’re we gonna do?”

Jeanie sighed and her shoulders sagged. “I don’t know, Simeon,” she said. “It’s kinda our mess. Let’s get home and we’ll figure this out. If the Division of Order wants our help, I guess we’ll give it. Until they come knocking, wanna go get some freeze dried ice cream?”

I was surprised. “You’re asking me out?” I said. “I’m assuming at the one place I told you about?”

She smirked at me. “Yeah,” she said. “You in or not?”

Finally! We were getting some time together. “Yes, I’m game,” I said. “I’ll see you in seventeen hours. After we recover from this cosmic catastrophe.”
The End
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