FutureBlog by Pete Nicholls, chapter 5
Ryca's on Sato's team--or is she?
Welcome to chapter 5 of FutureBlog! When we last heard from the blogger from the future, Mr. Sato Nakamoto, he had somehow managed to hack (or maybe just persuade?) the robot tasked with keeping him out of trouble. Now it was time to test that theory! If you haven’t but want to, you can read chapters 4, 3 or 2. Want to start at the beginning? Do that here! Or just start reading!
20220816 by Sato Nakamoto
"Ryca, you've been ordered to follow me around and keep me from going anywhere I shouldn't correct?"
"That is correct, Mr. Nakamoto," she replied with her now more pleasant voice.
"But certainly, even as a secdroid you can follow basic service-provision orders like if I ordered you to get me a drink you could do it, correct?"
"That is correct, Mr. Nakamoto," she answered.
"Look, you can simply call me Sato," I said.
"As you wish, Sato."
"Now, if I were to order you to get me a drink and have it in my hand by 1800 hours what would you do?"
"I would provide you the drink at 1800 hours, Sato."
I really don't care for how she speaks to me. There was always something that I found irritating about her and other ‘bots fake tone of voice but this new pleasantness was different. It didn’t occur to me then, but it was… “disarming” is too strong a word. Perhaps “ease-inducing” fits?
"Very good, Ryca. That's in three minutes, correct?"
"Yes, that is correct, Sato."
"All right, I order you to get me a drink and have it in my hand at precisely 1800 hours."
She turned toward my kitchen and began to walk. "One moment, there, Ryca. I've another order for you."
"I still want that drink at 1800 but I am now ordering you to not give me anything at 1800."
"Very good, sir."
She did nothing after that. Simply stood there and stared at the floor.
You see? So simple to trick them. So simple, most people don't even think of something so obvious. Robots can't reason. Give them conflicting orders at precisely the same time and you cannot lose.
After waiting a few moments to be certain that Ryca was stuck in a data feedback loop I moved to the maintenance panel in her back. I tapped on the display and it lit up, showing me a colorful keyboard. I began typing.
Within minutes I had rerouted her logicware and inserted a bit of code I keep handy in a certain corner of the airwork I have never told anyone about. It's just a little nest-egg of code I can grab in a pinch should I need it. It's more a mini-library of various tools and patches that help me do my work.
Regardless, I had her reprogrammed before the security server she was wirelessly connected to missed her ping-in. Secdroids must ping their host servers every ten-to-twenty minutes depending on the individual 'bot. I finished my hack in about 12.5 minutes, which was clearly enough or I'd have known. There was a certain point during the hack where I had a strange feeling--for a moment, I had the distinct thought that Ryca knew what I was doing to her. Very odd, that.
After a few moments, the feeling passed and I continued on with the hack. Once finished, it was time to test it out.
"Ryca, you can cancel both of those orders for the drink and for you to not give me anything, thank you."
"You are very welcome, Sato."
"Now, I can't very well leave my flat without you accompanying me. That would look suspicious. So, what do you say to accompanying me down to the M's?"
"My orders are to track you, sir. Where ever you go, I must follow."
Should make using the bathroom interesting. "Very good, Ryca. We'll be heading down to the M's, is that all right?"
"That's... very good, Ryca. Thank you."
We set out shortly after I was sure (as I could be, anyway) of Ryca’s willingness to not report me. I decided to pack some extra gear just in case we ran into uncertain ground. The real challenge would be in keeping Ryca in one piece. She moved with an impressive amount of fluidity for a robot, but calling her agile would be a bit of an exaggeration. The gear would allow her to descend and ascend with much more ease than her limited body would normally allow.
Why is her safety so important considering she's just a robot? Good question. If I were to lose her, I'd have to explain how and where I lost her. I need to uncover this story without exposing myself doing it. Nothing is ever easy on this God's Earth. Isn't that an old saying? Perhaps it's a new one to my readers back in the 21st century.
We left my flat and made our way down to the center floor of my building and then out through the lobby. It's another block to the substation from my building's center door. You may be wondering how I can afford a flat above the center floor on a reporter's salary. Let's just say I've done a few favors for the right people. Nothing illegal mind you—like I said in an early entry, I can suppress a story like the big boys. Some of the stories I've suppressed made me a big boy and I've been rewarded for it. That two-bedroom flat is rent free. I assume humanity two hundred years ago often lived in the gray areas of life just as we did four hundred years ago, as well as in my current time period.
As we climbed on the subtrain I had a bit of a shock. Aboard the exact car we stepped onto was my editor at the SNA. Dressed to the nines, the old woman looked like she was heading to some sort of gala. I wondered if she'd notice me and ask where we were going, but I couldn't back off the sub at that moment--she'd be sure to notice me. I decided to attack the problem head on by approaching her before the sub even started moving down the track. The carriage had thirty or so other people aboard, so it wouldn't have been long before she noticed me, regardless.
"Madame Chancellor, good to see you!" I walked right up to her and smiled. Ryca, of course, followed.
"Ah, Mr. Nakamoto," she said, seeming to be genuinely happy to see me. "I had forgotten you lived on the red line. Have a seat!"
"Yes, indeed." I sat down next to her, again, Ryca followed, standing in front of me like a jealous date. "Just, not that far from here at all."
"I see you've got your secdroid with you. I am sorry about that, but you know how trapped-in-the-middle I am."
"Yes, of course, Madame. Middle management is never an easy role to maintain."
"Right, 'middle management'. It's the damn power-mongers. Look, just stay away from the M's and you'll be in good shape, kid." Our bodies shook as the suspension train we sat in began to move forward, hanging from its track. We call them "subs" because the train carriages hang down from a track. Doesn't "sub" mean "under" in Latin, or some other ancient language?
"It's a shame, too, because any time one of my kids gets the whiff of a story in the M's I know there's something more going on down there. The M's are just a magnet for stories. Remember, that story about the malfunctioning loadmover that was poising the water supply for twelve square blocks?”
“I do remember—or that energy maintenance ‘bot that had been hacked by some very clever Nogoodnicks to take care of the bodies of assassinated politicians.”
“That was a story you broke, iirc, Sato.”
“Was that one of mine? I brake so many stories, Madame.”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s hard to keep them all straight. You’re good at your job but you might want to update your small talk material.”
“Well, what I’m working on right now will give me a great deal of new material.”
“So, that's what I'm telling you--just stay out of there long enough for myemployers to be satisfied. They'll get that secdroid off your back and then you go back down there."
Petra Chancellor was the kind of woman who referred to everyone as "kid." It used to annoy me, especially when I turned 26. That's the first year I actually felt any older than I had the year before--like an actual adult. I'm 30 now and quite used to the way she addresses me, though I do wish she'd show me the respect I deserve as an experienced journalist.
"You look rather nice, tonight, Madame. Are you going somewhere special?"
"Laundry night, you know how it is." For a moment I thought she was serious, but then she broke a smile. "No, I've got this thing I have to go to. All this week there are these intelligence seminars the Body Corporate and the Body Governance are holding. There's one big dinner this thing culminates in next Saturday night. I am not looking forward to it."
"The perils of being the boss?" I asked.
"Indeed. What about you, kid? Where are you headed this fine evening? Having a romantic evening with your date, here?"
I smiled and looked at Ryca as she, or "it," aimed her/its optic sensors at me. Ryca simply looked at me as awkwardly as a robot is capable of. Chancellor let out a soft laugh.
"Yes, indeed. We're going down to lover's lane. We're going steady, you know."
Chancellor laughed loudly.
"In all honesty, Madame, I needed to get a breath of fresh air, so I thought I'd go down to the Angels River.
"Good choice, kid. Very nice there this time of year. The weathersim keeps the breeze steady but brisk over the water. My mother told me it felt just the way the wind off of the ocean felt like when she was child before the Saviordome was built."
"That's one of the reasons I enjoy going there. The salt-air is invigorating."
"Say, kid--isn't the Angels River stop on the Red Line not far from the Riordan entrance to the M levels?"
"Yes, I suppose it is." I smiled as Chancellor looked off into space. After a long moment the sub carriage came to halt.
"Well, this is my stop, kid." She stood up and approached the door, letting a few people exit the carriage first. As she stepped from the carriage, she glanced back at me. "Don’t let that ‘bot get fresh with ya! And don't break her, whatever you do!"
"No problem, ma'am. If she keeps her hands to herself, it shouldn’t be a problem.” I said, smiling. “Have a good time at the seminar tonight."
She smiled back at me as the doors slide closed. In moments we were moving again.
That ended up being a better thing than I had expected it to be. Madame Chancellor has always been very vague on just how much support she was willing to give her reporters. I've seen her let good men and women go down in flames when the Body Corporate demanded she produce sources. Then again, other times she's fully backed some reporters. I haven't been able to discern what motivates her to protect some and not others.
Regardless, it seemed as though, for now, she was on my side. I looked up at Ryca and wondered if she really was on mine. “Won’t you sit down, Ryca?”
“I am a secdroid. I have no need to sit unless protocol dictates it.”
“Well, I don’t know how I’m supposed to kiss you if you don’t sit down next to me.”
A woman sitting on the other side of the carriage from us gave me a disapproving look, as if to say, “That is not a polite way to treat someone!”
I took a deep breath and nodded toward the passenger. “It’s ok, she knows how to play hard to get and when she’s not in the mood, that right hook of hers is all she needs to protect herself.”
I touched my chin with my fingers as though it still hurt from a punch that never happened. The passenger looked at me with narrow, suspicious eyes. Ryca sat down next to me so quickly and gracefully that I wasn’t sure it really happened.
The carriage stopped again and, as the doors slid open, the passenger who was suspicious of me stood and exited.
“I thought you weren’t going to sit, wait, and how did you sit down like that?”
“My protocol algorithms determined that this was an instance where sitting was an appropriate action to take. How did I sit down? I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”
“You just sat down with the grace of a dancer instead of clunky robot.”
“When complying with protocol mode, my nanoservos will function more smoothly and quickly so that I may not stand out, thus avoid challenging common behavior patterns and social rituals.”
A child sitting across from me giggled. The child must have seen my utterly puzzled expression. I smiled at him and pointed to Ryca. "Robots!"
“Robots!” the child replied.
Roughly twenty minutes later, we found ourselves trapped in traffic. While the subtrains were generally immune to traffic, there are a handful of junctions each line of the sub system has with airways. Despite skyrocketing fuel costs there are still far too many cars around. Yes, they fly, but imagine how much more fuel it takes to power them than one of your old fashioned ground-based cars. This is why I don't own one, myself.
I stood up and moved to the front of the carriage. I discovered the traffic had been caused by a car losing control and crashing into a building. I couldn't see many details as the crash was a good thirty or forty meters from the junction.
"Ryca, can you make out that crashed car with your sensors?"
Ryca pressed her face against the window and, I assume, activated her zoom. "Yes, the vehicle is firmly embedded in the building but the driver is hanging from his seatbelt, over the side of the vehicle. He is unconscious."
"Oh, no." I tried to see if I could make out any emergency vehicles. "I don't see any medicals, do you?"
"Negative," Ryca said. "Based on my sensor data, if an autonet is not underneath the driver in 68.3 seconds he will fall to his death. That seatbelt is sliding over his chest at a rate of--."
“Understood!” I cut her off and squinted in an attempt to focus on the man and wondered how many of those 68.3 seconds had already passed. I knew some of the gear I had brought with us could save his life, but if Ryca was right, we'd not have the time to get to him before he fell.
"Give me an update, Ryca."
"He is struggling."
"He's woken up?"
"Yes. He is trying to--one moment."
I squinted again at Ryca's hesitation. I could make out the blurry form of the driver as he fell from his car. Others around me gasped as I simply took a deep breath. Which, I suppose is another way of saying, I gasped, too but quietly.
We've come so far as a civilization, but we still can't stop car accidents like this from happening.
Fifteen minutes later, the traffic had been cleared and we were on our way again. Ten minutes after that, we exited the sub carriage and walked to one of the viewing areas along the Angels River.
The river itself was an aqueduct that was originally built to channel water to the a different part of the M’s for cooling purposes. However, for a mechanical or logistical reason that I can’t recall specifically right now, it had to run upward a few hundred meters and then a thousand or so meters at roughly the same level. Some clever person in the New Angel Infrastructure Authority decided to slice off the top third of the aqueduct’s cylindrical enclosure, add walkways along side it and invent the term “riversim.” Since then, city residents could experience a river like they had during your time, dear reader. I, for one, am happy they did. The simulated sea breeze is a very lovely thing. Madame Chancellor was right about that!
I've seen pictures of rivers from ancient times. My health official tells me they're very unhealthy, despite their beauty. Extremely dense with germs. The riversim carried only treated water that could not harbor life. So this one was safe.
We crossed three or four bridgeways and found the Riordan entrance to the M's. This was a different entrance than the giant lobby I described to you in that earlier entry. That was the Chavez entrance. The Riordan was not as nice as the Chavez. It was smaller and was in need of a janitorial ‘bot.
As we stood waiting for the elevator to arrive, I tried to read the dedication plaque mounted next to the elevator door. It was blackened with age and while the letters had once been embossed on the plaque, they were very nearly flush. It looked like I often feel. Flattened by life.
Before I could scan the plaque with my dev or ask Ryca to scan it for me the elevator door opened.
We entered the elevator and began our descent.
"Are you certain you're all right with this, Ryca?"
"You are accompanying me so I can continue to keep awareness of you while I find this woman in danger."
"Glad to hear it." It would seem that she was still on my team.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ryca looking through an elevator window, out at the M levels we were passing through. For a moment I almost thought that she was looking out with concern. Her shoulders moved toward the window and her neck extended her head to allow her to be just centimeters closer. In reality, she was more likely just scanning the surroundings, creating a navigational map on-the-go. This is common behavior for ‘bots of her kind.
The reason we had come this way, as opposed to using the Chavez entrance again, was because of that bridgeway I fell from. I knew I had to get to the other side of it, but couldn't very well do it without knowing the schedule of that machine. So, the logical angle to take would be one from the other side. I got the idea when I saw the Riordan entrance while investigating another story. In fact, this route was faster, but for all I knew, more dangerous. Another reason I brought that extra climbing gear along.
I had been carrying it in a backpack slung over my shoulder. We exited the elevator and moved across the small bridgeway that overlooked the 24th M level. I peered over the edge and saw the sheer drop—I could see perhaps one hundred meters or so but then, nothing other than darkness. The distance across, to the area I was exploring from the other side, was much shorter than the length of the bridgeway I’d fallen from--just fifteen meters, or so. Unfortunately, there was no bridgeway here.
I unslung the backpack and pulled out one of my favorite gadgets--a scaling pod. It's worn by window cleaners, on their fronts, who need to scale the outsides of our mighty structures. Very handy for getting around down in the M’s. However, I didn't bring it for me, I brought it for Ryca.
I quickly strapped it on to her back and shoved her toward the railing. "OK, Ryca, you go first."
"Affirmative," she said.
"Climb over the railing and attach yourself to the wall below. Then activate the alloy binding treads and move down the face."
She did as I instructed, having less trouble climbing over the railing than I expected her to have. Still in protocol mode?
Alloy binding is a technology that allows metal surfaces to sort of “melt’ together, on-the-go. The scaling pod had small treads that would flash-heat and flash-cool at an extremely rapid rate. This allows the treads to grip the walls and roll down or up them without issue. They’re very expensive and were a gift from someone whom I helped out with a story I wrote. Perhaps that should be a blog post for another day?
"Hey, Ryca, you're quite good at that. Have you thought about taking up mountain climbing? You wouldn't even need to use an enviro-suit since you're a robot."
She tilted her head up at me but said nothing. To be fair, it wasn’t a very good question. Where does one even find a mountain anymore?
"Right, well, descend to negative-twenty-point-five meters and you should see an opening straight across from you. Ping me when you see the opening."
I withdrew my dev from my pocket, eyed the display screen and found her location on a digital map. I glanced back down at Ryca. "Keep going!"
She wasn't hesitating, so I don't know why I said that.
After a few more minutes my dev pinged at me. I saw the text of a message Ryca sent me. She was at negative twenty-point-five meters. I looked down and could barely see her in the near pitch darkness. I told her, via my dev to activate her infrared sensors and look across the chasm. Her sensors fed directly to my dev’s display. I could see, directly across—there was an opening amidst all of the machinery and miscellaneous metal.
That’ll do!, I thought to myself.
"Right! Now activate the pod's autonet," I commanded through my dev, again.
As the net extended across the gap I found myself thinking of the man who had fallen to his death earlier.
"Is it secure?"
My dev pinged at me. “It is secure,” came Ryca’s voice as calm as ever.
I immediately withdrew a small winch and a coil of cable from my backpack and affixed the winch to the railing. I fed one end of the cable through the winch and dropped the coil to the floor. After attaching the cable to a harness I also brought with me, I began to lower myself over the side.
I activated the winch and it lowered me down to the autonet.
To my surprise, Ryca had already reached the other side. I expected to have to help her across the net, if nothing else tell her to cross, at the very least.
While the net was secure, it was not terribly stable. I made my way across it, walking upright, like a fool. I slipped on part of the net and nearly fell off the damn thing just short of the Ryca, who stood in the opening on the far side. For a long moment, I hung, by just one hand, for my very life.
Then, the strangest thing occurred. Ryca took my hand and lifted me upward and into the opening.
I’’m not a roboticist, but I feel there was absolutely no way she should have been able to do this. Secdroids are strong enough to carry themselves around and even a human or two when performing rescue operations, but leaning over the edge, reaching down and then pulling a grown human up like that without wrenching my shoulder from my body? My understanding is that the mechanics of that would be somewhat impossible for your average secdroid.
“Do you have very heavy feet?”
Ryca didn't reply.
"Because I'm just curious how you were able to keep your balance just then."
"I don't understand your question, Sato."
"I'm just trying to work out how you were able to keep your balance while leaning your entire upper body over the edge of that autonet to pull me up."
Ryca said nothing.
"Oh never mind." I had the strange urge to thank her for saving my life, but why would I show gratitude to an android? She was probably programmed to do something like that should her charge get in harm's way.
But the very physics of the thing bothered me. How was she so versatile? Secdroids are blunt objects for protection and physical assault, not protocol, agility and grace…
Thanks for reading! The next chapter will be out next Tuesday, assuming I can edit it in time! Got thoughts on FutureBlog?
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