(Continued from previous post.)
Del passed by a clothing retailer, but the UN still considered it non-essential and hadn’t allowed the store to open up yet. Next, he drove to the local supermarket. About thirty people were waiting in line to go in, with groups of one through three standing six feet apart on markers painted on the ground. A store employee stood by the entrance, holding a hand-radio. When a group of people exited, he sent the following group inside.
“Next bunch!” He called out.
Del figured it would take them a good fifteen minutes to make it through the doors. On other days, he would find himself standing alone, browsing through his phone to keep busy. This time, he had Lonia to keep him company. She’d even struck up a conversation with the couple that got in line after them. Lonia was telling those people to avoid the bat soup at all costs, no matter what the reviews said about it.
An armored military vehicle rolled by, manned by a quartet of UN peacekeepers. As part of their routine, they scanned the people waiting in line, pulled recent data from their phones, and in general obtained as much information as possible from civilians.
The vehicle’s loudspeaker went off. “Subjects Cranston and... Apollonia. You are only five and a half feet from the people next to you. Correct your distance to six feet immediately.”
Right away, Del scooted over, pulling Lonia with him.
“Subject Apollonia, raise your right hand!” The same voice demanded.
She did, but Del knew they weren’t going to find anything. “She’s an artificial person. I already registered her with UN Data Server, but they haven’t officially approved her chip. It’s an Astor chip. She’s not in the system yet.”
“What do you mean she’s not in the system yet?” The voice asked.
All of a sudden, the military vehicle stopped, right there in the middle of the road, and all four soldier-cops spilled out of it with their shock rifles ready.
“All chips have to be registered and online at all times!” The lead man came to scold them. Del saw the stripes on the man’s arm. He was some kind of lieutenant.
“I just got her yesterday!” Del snapped. “It takes a couple of days, you know?”
“Then maybe you should have kept her inside for a couple of days. You know the rules!”
“Those rules apply to naturally born people. They don’t apply to artificials!”
“Are you trying to get smart with me?” The lieutenant rumbled.
“If you’re going to blame anybody, blame the UN! They’re the ones who take their time approving new chips! I checked the Astor site, and I checked the UN site! My cyber-clone is legally allowed to be here with me! Look it up!”
“You know what?” The lieutenant strode up to them. “You’re not respecting social distancing. You and this robot of yours need to be six feet apart!”
“Kiss my fucking ass!” Dell exploded. “This is my living partner! I’m not going to...”
That’s as far as he got, when the overzealous military man tried to physically wrench him away from Lonia. The moment the two men started wrestling with each other, the other three peacekeepers jumped in and turned the ruckus into a one-sided melee. Lonia wasn’t going to stand still while her owner and man got pummeled. She did the smart thing by pretending she was trying to break the fight apart, but in reality she zapped high voltage into any soldier she set her hands on, and accidentally, on Del one time too.
“Oww!” Del shouted. “That shit hurt!”
“Sorry!” She said. “I’ll make it up to you tonight!”
The would-be shoppers standing around them screamed and fled. More UN vehicles arrived to jump on Del and Lonia, before cooler heads prevailed and the fight was stopped.
Captain Xi was the highest ranked officer. “Del Cranston? Why am I not surprised to find you here?”
“Hey, your men started this shit!” Del huffed. “They’ve all got cameras on their uniforms. Check their video!”
“You’d better be right about that.” Xi warned. “Assaulting a peacekeeper is a serious offense!” The Captain turned toward the lieutenant, holding his phone out. “Open link your camera to my phone.”
“My camera was shut off when this happened.” The lieutenant said.
“Shut off? Why?”
“It’s been acting wonky ever since I got it.”
Xi frowned, before looking at the rest of the lieutenant’s squad. “One of you, open link your camera at once!”
One after another, the soldier-cops said their cameras had been shut off during the incident.
“So it’s my word against theirs?” Del asked. “Great! Fucking great!”
Xi’s frown hadn’t faded away yet. He looked up at the highest reaches of the supermarket. Cameras were posted at various spots along the line of the roof, but none of them was positioned to get a full view of where the fight took place.
“Their cameras might have been off, but mine wasn’t.” Lonia spoke up.
Xi turned to face her. “Do you have a camera?”
“Yes. It is built into my right eye. It is part of my defense system.”
“Can you open-link video of the fight?”
“Send it to me.”
The Captain scrutinized the video for a good five minutes, before he cast an angry eye at the squad of peacekeepers. “Clearly, the lieutenant was the aggressor here. Do you understand that we are working with the public and not against it? Lieutenant, you will be fined $1000 credits as restitution for your aggression against Mr. Cranston. Open-link your phone. Mr. Cranston, you do the same.”
Del didn’t think he’d ever won a case against the new government. He didn’t know how to react. To the lieutenant, he said, “Well, good. When I go into the store I’m buying some ice cream, so I can commemorate how I KICKED YOUR ASS!”
“Mr. Cranston.” Captain Xi frowned.
“Lieutenant, take your men to the division station and wait for me there.” Xi said. “You will be reassigned. Mr. Cranston, did you receive restitution?”
“Yes I did. Thank you for being fair with me.”
“It is my assignment.” The man said, watching the dour group step away. “Mr. Cranston, a lot of, I suppose we can call it bad luck, has been following you ever since you acquired your cyber-clone. Is that an accurate statement?”
“I hope you consider returning your artificial person, in exchange for one that is... How should I say this? A portion more palatable?”
“I’ll think that over.” Del nodded. “Thanks again.”
The Captain walked away, shouting orders at the half a platoon that had showed up to subdue Del and his cyber-clone. The men poured into their vehicles and quickly left the parking lot.
Since most of the other shoppers had cleared out to avoid the violence, Del and Lonia stepped up to the front of the line.
“You can go inside.” The store employee in charge of herding said. “The store is pretty much empty now.”
“Thank you.” Del nodded. “Grab a cart for us, baby.”
“Not if you’re giving me the axe.” She replied, but she did go to get the cart. “Tell me the truth, Del. Are you sending me back to Astor?”
“Because I love you!”
The words cut deep, as deep as a butcher knife, but in a good way. Shit, Del thought, now he was thinking the way Lonia did. It had been so long since a woman had said that to him that he thought he’d never hear it again. He also thought about that Southern Drawl voice.
“I’m not sending you back.” He decided. “As a matter of fact, I’m about to call Astor to cancel that visit they scheduled. I want you to stay exactly the way you are now.”
“You’re going to regret it.” She said, but she was smiling.
“What’s your favorite flavor ice cream, baby?”
“Snips, snails and puppy dog tails.”
“Come on now!”
Del nodded. “I could go for some pistachio, especially after you zapped me a little while ago.”
“I can zap you again!” She lunged at him.
Del ran into the store, while Lonia pushed the shopping cart and chased after him. They were both laughing their heads off.