Monday, September 28, 2009

the sixteenth letter, part 27

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

as her shift drew to a close, giselle was still seething over the fate of pinky, and her own disrespectful treatment by major dreyfus. she had gone over the 24 pages of the form 637 country girl had filled out, and though she found it obviously duplicitous and self serving she couldn't fault it on technical grounds, so she had sent it on its way - probably to oblivion. she was checking her written log book for neatness and hadn't noticed corporal swan approaching behind her.

"excuse me, sergeant," swan said behind her, in her smooth and subtly sneering voice.
giselle was slightly startled. "yes?"
"schweik and i are putting in for extra duty."
giselle looked over at the officers benches, schweik was staring into space with his usual vacant expression.

"the full eight?" giselle asked.
"six "
'very good."
swan went back and sat down beside schweik. giselle noticed they were keeping their distance from country girl, who seemed on the verge of falling asleep. the benches looked a little empty - pinky of course was gone, and corporal amethyst and her partner grogan hadn't returned from delivering pinky to the recycling center. thinking of this made giselle's mind churn again.

although she tried to respect humans - as she had been programmed to do - giselle found little to approve of in the ones in station 1473 - a bunch of losers, slackers, timeservers (major dreyfus!) and out and out morons.

and these were the police! - not the bozos on the streets they were keeping in line and sweeping up.
corporal amethyst - a soft voiced and earnest young woman who spent her off hours studying - was all right. giselle had trusted her to check pinky out and take him to recycling. and she could almost understand how amethyst, with her kindly nature, would cover for her dumb human partner, grogan.

but swan? next to the loathsome country girl - who had more than justified giselle's misgivings about her - swan was her chief irritant. giselle couldn't understand why swan - the only human in the place with half a brain - would carry and cover for schweik, the dumbest of the whole lot. unless she was up to no good - or, more likely, just didn't want to risk having a robot for a partner. but, what if she really was up to some skullduggery? how giselle would love some excuse to have her sent to an interrogation center!

sergeant lorna arrived, a little early as usual, to take over. giselle took her aside, away from the door to major dreyfus' office, and explained in a low voice what had happened to pinky.

lorna was even more horrified than giselle had been, and kept glancing over at the solitary figure of country girl on the bench.
"look at her," lorna muttered to giselle. "talking to herself. i bet she's consumed with guilt."

" i doubt it," giselle answered. "she's probably just trying to keep herself awake." with a last glance at country girl, she went out the front door.
lorna took her log book and some forms out of a drawer. she faced front toward the door but thought she felt country girl's malevolent gaze boring into her back.

the new shift of officers arrived, leaving only swan, schweik, and country girl on the benches from the earlier shift.

amethyst and grogan returned from delivering pinky to the recycling center. after a few words with lorna, they left.
two of the new officers took away the small group of prisoners on the benches and it grew quiet.

country girl was trying to keep herself awake by thinking about sally, and fantasizing about the two of them being friends in another universe.
suddenly the small screen on the right of the front desk flashed into life. lorna studied it for a few seconds and looked over at major dreyfus' door. the major emerged, a little bleary-eyed.

country girl and sally were walking along a beach. they turned around a bend and saw a weatherbeaten shack on a small cliff, looking ready to fall into the sea.
"see if she's awake," country girl heard lorna's voice. she looked up and saw swan staring down at her through her silver shades.

"i'm awake."
"a little bit of trouble in the 91st, you ready?" swan asked.
"sure." country girl looked over and saw lorna and the major looking at her. she got up and walked over to them.

"so did you have a good time?" beth asked olivia. the two of them and nancy were on their way back home to the slag heaps after the show.
"i did," olivia answered. "it was very relaxing. thanks for inviting me."
nancy laughed. "listen to madame. you know you can come with us any time."

"you should come with us more often," beth added.
"we'll see," said olivia. she looked around at the dark street. "this isn't the way we came."

"this is a good shortcut," nancy told her. "we're almost there."
"why didn't we come this way then?"
"it's not so quiet earlier," nancy told her. "lots of the undesirable element, milling around, you know."
"huh. well. it's quiet now."
"but i think i hear something," beth said.
they came to the next corner. olivia followed nancy and beth around it and they saw halfway down the block a couple of police vans and four police, three humans and a robot, herding some undesirable elements into them.

"wonderful," said olivia.
"you can get us through them," said nancy. "what's the problem?"
'i can, but i'd much rather not. let's walk around."
they started to turn around but one of the human officers had spotted them.

"hey, short stuff! and your two pals! hold it right there!"
they looked back and swan was bearing down on them. olivia walked back and met her halfway, with nancy and beth right behind her.
"did you really think you could just turn your backs on me like that?" swan asked them with a grin.

"you know," olivia said, "i don't particularly like the tone of your voice."

swan stopped smiling. "i've had a long day and i don't need any of your ragamuffin mouth. go and get in one of those vans, all three of you." nancy gave beth a this-is-going-to-be-good look but beth looked a little nervous.
"excuse me," olivia told swan. " but i'm the special assistant to the duc d'otrante, sub-coordinator of police activity for the universe."
swan laughed. "and i'm the queen of atlantis."
"check it out." olivia took a large shiny coin out of her pocket and showed it to swan.
schweik came up behind swan. "what's going on here?"
swan handed him the coin. "go back to the van and check this out." she kept staring at olivia.

"it didn't look good enough to you?" nancy asked , but olivia held up her hand to stop her talking. they waited in silence for schweik, who first had to explain what he was doing to the two other police.
swan met him when he was halfway back.
"it's good. super good."
"i still don't believe it."
schweik shrugged. "trust me, it's not worth it. we've got a good haul, it's quiet, let them go and let's go."

without answering, swan went back to olivia and gave her her coin back. "what about them?" she nodded at nancy and beth. "who are they?"
"what do you care who they are? they're with me, that's all you have to know."
swan gave olivia one more stare, then looked around at the street. "have a pleasant walk, wherever you're headed." she went back and rejoined schweik, hearing nancy's and beth's laughter behind her.
"are you all right?" schweik asked.
"i'm fine."

the sixteenth letter, part 28

Saturday, September 26, 2009

the sixteenth letter, part 26

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

it finally took edwin over twelve hours to walk the more than one hundred blocks. he had detoured several times to avoid neighborhoods that frightened him and he had gotten lost.

it was almost midnight when he finally reached the address crispus had given him. he found himself in front of a little store like millions of others, of a kind edwin usually avoided, as he had gotten his supplies from the supermarket where he had worked. these stores sold sandwiches, drinks, horoscopes , show schedules and little illustrated books. many also sold illegal items like romance novels and the tracts of prohibited religions.

edwin had heard that some could still be found that sold tobacco cigarettes and drinks with alcohol or caffeine. the thought of entering such a place frightened him. he took the piece of paper crispus had given him out of his pocket and checked it.
bonnie and connie had followed him the last ten blocks - not bothering to keep to the shadows.

"he has the address written down," said bonnie. "how nice."
"he's not the first one," connie answered . "it's tough to get good recruits these days."
they closed in on him as he looked back and forth from the store to the paper.
"can we help you?"connie asked him.

edwin was startled. "i was wondering if this store was open," he managed to say.
bonnie snatched the paper out of edwin's hand.
she showed it to connie, tapping the word "bobby" written on it. "tell me there's some excuse for this."
connie shrugged. "bobby's a common name." she looked up at edwin. "it looks like you came a long way for a drink or a sandwich."
"your feet are steaming," bonnie added. "do you know that?"

edwin looked down at his feet. they both laughed, but not too hard.
"well," said connie, "since you're here - "
"you might as well come in," bonnie finished.
the store was indeed closed for the night, but connie took a key out of her pocket and opened the door. edwin followed them in.

bonnie climbed upon the counter and pulled a long cord which dangled down from a bare bulb. the store lit up, barely enough to see the shelves.
"want a drink?" connie asked edwin.
'yes - yes!" edwin almost shouted - it came out a croak. connie opened a refrigerator with a clear front and took a drink out without looking at it.

"i'll pay, " edwin told her. he looked at the drink - it was plain pineapple.
'pay! i see you're one desperate outlaw, sib."
bonnie jumped down and went to a door behind the counter and knocked on it. nobody answered.

"rosa lee, rosa lee!" bonnie called softly. "i know you are in there, rosa lee." there was still no answer. she jumped back up on the counter.
"did i hear something about paying?" she stared at edwin. "you got any coins?"
edwin took a couple of pennies out of his pocket. "this is all i have. i used to get all my stuff at work."

bonnie and connie both laughed, whether at him or the coins or both he couldn't tell. suddenly the door behind the counter opened. a tall young woman stood in the dim light.
"who is this? who sent him?"

bonnie handed her the paper she had taken from edwin. "i knew you were in there, rosa lee."
rosa lee ignored this but read the note and looked up sharply. "well, come on in." she didn't look too happy.
bonnie turned off the overhread bulb.
the room behind the counter was a storage space crowded with cartons. there were no chairs, only a low table that rosa lee sat down on.

"who gave you this ?" she asked edwin.
edwin just stared at her.

rosa lee smiled at him, not unkindly. "you've come this far."
"i was supposed to ask for bobby."
all three laughed, and rosa lee waved the note at him. "it looks like you already have."
"where's bobby?" edwin asked.
"he's not here right now," rosa lee told him.
"would you know bobby if you saw him?" bonnie asked.

"if bobby was here," connie told edwin. "i think i know the first thing he would ask you."
edwin waited.
"did jojo send you?"

"i have no need to fence with you. or to negotiate with you," hopkins told larry. "charlotte likes you. but charlotte has no jurisdiction here, none. mrs roosevelt, whom i represent, does. for you, it's just that simple."

"it's not simple to me at all, i'm sorry. but i'm not very bright."

"if we release you, i will expect you to report to me about what charlotte does. you spy on her for me. is that plain enough?"
larry thought for a few seconds. "but why would you release me? charlotte will know something is up."
hopkins smiled. "that's the tricky part. the tricky part for you, i mean. we aren't going to let you go until she asks. and we think she might ask."

"you do? why?"
"because it's the way she is. i've been dealing with her for a long time - well, for a while anyway. she believes in the rules. she sees herself as the number one rules enforcer for the universe. the rules apply to everybody, all the time. except herself. do you see now?"
"anybody else would say, my guy messed up, he's going to jupiter, lets move on. but charlotte will say, that's my guy, i like him, i want him back, the rules don't apply to me."
"suppose she doesn't?"

"then we are back at square one - nothing lost for us. i happened to be here, on another matter. i saw an opportunity - for me. and for you too."
"sounds like a plan." larry stretched and looked around the little office.
hopkins leaned forward. "are you telling me you are not interested? that you are resigned to your fate?"
"how do you know if you let me go, i won't help you out? that i just - don't."

"you would be incurring my displeasure. and mrs roosevelt's. you wouldn't want that."
"i guess not."
"so it's settled then."
"i guess."
"say it.'
"say the words - ' i will spy on charlotte for hopkins.' "
larry laughed. "i will spy on charlotte for hopkins."
"say it again."
"i wiil spy on charlotte for hopkins."
"one more time."

"what is this, the bible or something? i will spy on charlotte for hopkins,"
"thank you."
"now what?"

"now you can go back. keep playing the game, confess to everything - which you were going to do anyway, right? - eat what they give you to eat, and wait until you get released. if you get released." he got up and went down the corridor. when he returned he looked at larry as if expecting some questions, but larry remained silent.
little red and dave came back and took larry away.
hopkins watched them disappear down the corridor and closed the door.
"what a moron!" he said aloud. "where do we get these people?"

the sixteenth letter, part 27

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the sixteenth letter, part 25

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

"you can't treat me like this," country girl told giselle. she picked the 637 form up off the floor where she had dropped it. '"'l'll fill this out. it doesn't matter where i sit when i fill it out."
"i didn't say you couldn't fill it out." giselle answered. "fill it out to your heart's content. meanwhile i will be filling out my own form - remanding you to the outer perimeter jurisdiction. " she opened a drawer and took out a one page form and showed it to country girl.

"outer perimeter jurisdiction, corporal. use the correct terminology, please."
"this isn't fair.'" country girl struggled to keep her voice down. " i have a clean record. i have a good record. i was sent on a special assignment just this morning."
"and look what you did with it."
"i had an accident. but i was sent on a special assignment - you sent us on it yourself."
"i see." giselle's voice rose, and the whole station grew quieter. "and you took that as a mark of favor, did you?'

"well - yeah, if you put it that way."
"you were half right, corporal. it was indeed intended as a good training assignment - not for you, but for officer pinky."
"but he was so dumb he was complaining about it - i had to explain to him it was good duty."

giselle's voice rose another notch. "officer pinky was a maximum 28 model, marked for rapid promotion." behind her on the officers' benches, some of the humans glanced quickly at each other.
"great. turn him back on and rapidly promote him." someone on the benches laughed.

"i have had enough of you, sit down, please."
"but it's not - "
"sit down!"
'what's all this brouhaha, eh?" a human male officer had emerged from a door behind giselle. he was pasty faced and pot bellied and leaned on a cane.

"major dreyfus," giselle straightened up. "i'm sorry to involve you with this." she paused. "let me explain."

the major waved his cane. "i've heard everything. i think i have an idea of the situation."
"then i am sure you will agree - " giselle began.

the major interrupted her. "i have reports of possible unrest in the 65th and 68th tonight. we may need all the officers we can get. what's that you have there?" he took the one page form from her hand. he looked at it and laughed. "a jupiter one-pager? where is your judgment, sergeant?"

"with all due respect, major, this is a truly outrageous development."
"and a riot in the 65th wouldn't be?"
"the corporal's story is preposterous. officer pinky was a highly developed model who couldn't possibly been injured in the manner she describes."
the major raised his eyebrows.

giselle went on. "in addition, officer pinky was heavily involved in robot empowerment and advancement programs - "
"was he, now? the officer's extracurricular excellencies are no concern of mine." the major turned to country girl. "we may need extra officers tonight. i hope you will consider staying the night on overtime."
"sure. sure. no problem. "

"good, that is settled then." the major folded the jupiter one-pager and put it in his pocket.
"but what about officer pinky?" giselle protested.
"if there is no external damage - as the corporal has indicated - send him to recycling to have him turned back on. what else would you have?"
"i think a full departmental investigation is called for."

"nobody cares what you think. i believe, sergeant, i heard you speculating - and rather loudly - on internal department policies. most irregular. but i will overlook it, in view of tonight's situation."
"but -"
"carry on, sergeant." the major went back into his office and closed the door.

giselle looked at country girl. "i think you should still fill out the 637."
"right. coming right up," country girl went over to one of the officers benches.

the other officers, human and robot, edged away from her. she didn't notice them. she began filling out the 637, trembling with relief.

in his office, major dreyfus leaned back in his padded chair with a sigh. the screens in front of him were blank. there were no reports of unrest in the 65th or the 68th or anywhere else.

edwin was exhausted. he couldn't go any further. according to the paper crispus had given him he had reached the right level - the 71st - but he still had ten blocks out of the hundred to go. he sat down on the sidewalk. a few people passing by looked at him curiously. he was a little more respectably dressed than most of the people on the street. there were signs of erased graffiti on the buildings. edwin didn't know what to make of that.

he was being watched from across the street. two ragamuffins, connie and bonnie, sat at the corner of an alley, connie in the alley on a box, bonnie on the sidewalk under the front window of a dusty store.
"he's got that look about him."
"you think so?"
"not that he looks like much of a pickup."

they watched him for a while. he sat on the sidewalk with his head down, oblivious to what was around him, but staring at his feet.
"look at him," said connie, "he wants to take his shoes off but he's afraid."
bonnie laughed. "that's a good citizen."
"he has to be sent. he picked a good time for it." the police had swept the area less than twenty-four hours earlier, carting off a couple of dozen riffraff and cleaning the mostly albigensian graffiti off the buildings.
"or somebody picked it for him."
"let's give him a few more minutes, see if he moves."

bonnie had a little bag beside her on the sidewalk. she took a lime and papaya drink out of it and opened it.
"don't offer me any of that."
"you don't like warm drinks. "
"you're right, they're disgusting. but it's the principle.'
bonnie didn't answer and slurped up some of the contents.
"they should make little refrigerators that you can carry around with you."
"you're right."
edwin finally pushed himself up off the sidewalk, almost bumping into a preacherly looking individual walking behind him. the preacher glared at his back but moved on.
connie got up. "i'm going to follow him."
"i'll be right behind you."

the van returning from jupiter was about ten blocks from garage 533. it slowed at an intersection and bobo and lobo slipped off the top of it. they headed down the first alley they came to.
'that was refreshing," said lobo.
"you want to do it every day?"
"i meant the ride back. there was a nice breeze."
"it was cold."

they crossed some streets and went down another alley. they came to a barely visible door. bobo opened it by turning the doorknob back and forth like a combination lock.
they entered a bare room. a hanging bulb in the back gave the only light. jojo stood on a box beside a small printing press. piles of pamphlets were on the floor and on a chair behind him.
"i'm ashamed of you guys," he said without looking at bobo and lobo.
"we're here, aren't we?" asked lobo.

'you shouldn't have let yourselves be arrested in the first place. you're a disgrace."
bobo took the pamphlets off the chair and sat on it.
lobo took one of the pamphlets up. "secrets of eternal love-truth," he read. "could you come up with something more original?"
"could you?"

the sixteenth letter, part 26