Saturday, September 19, 2009

the sixteenth letter, part 24

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning click here

country girl brought the van to a sudden halt in front of sally's building. all the windows in the building were dark. sally looked longingly at it and country girl followed her gaze.
"i've seen worse," country girl said. "what floor are you on?"

"the 51st."
"the 51st! i hope the elevators work."
"there is only one elevator. it mostly works."
"mostly!" country girl leaned out of the van and looked at the dark building. "how many people live here?"
"four or five."

"wow! that's good privacy. the king of japan doesn't have more privacy than that." she looked over at sally. "why don't you move down lower to the ground?"
sally looked own at the door handle. "i like things the way they are. i don't like change."
country girl looked back at her. "i wish i could stay," she said. "i wish we could go up to your private room on the 51st floor and have a nice talk. but i have to take pinky back to the depot." she smiled at sally. "like i said, i'll be filling out forms all night."

sally gripped the door handle.
"wait!" country girl said. "what are you doing tomorrow?"
"i told you - i'm going to my job to see if i can get back on."
"what time?"
"about eight."

"cool. i'll go with you." country girl waited two seconds for sally to respond but she looked out the window instead. "it might help if a police officer went with you. i could explain that you were released."
"all right."
"great! i'll meet you out front here at eight."
"ok." sally opened the door and got out and headed for the front door of he apartment building.
"sweet dreams!" country girl called after her as she started the van up.

"'i never dream," sally answered. she turned around but country girl and the van were gone.

dispatch station 1473 was busier than usual. the sergeant at the desk, a slender new model robot named giselle, looked up sharply as country girl approached.
"you're late. and where is officer pinky?"
"i - we - had an accident," country girl answered matter of factly. "i need a 637 to fill out."

"not so fast, corporal. you are almost two hours later than the other vehicle on the same assignment. and i ask you again, where is officer pinky?"

"first off, we had to take the prisoner home, they didn't. and while we were taking her home, officer pinky had an accident. that's what i want to file a 637 about." country girl kept her voice even.
"take a prisoner home! what are you talking about?" another robot came over to the desk and tried to interrupt them, but giselle waved him away.

"didn't the others tell you? they stopped the assignment halfway and we turned around. then they told us - pinky and myself - to take the prisoner home - to level 15, which wasn't exactly across the street."
giselle consulted a paper log book in front of her. "officers martindale and bobo reported that the assignment was cancelled and so they returned early." she looked up at country girl. "they didn't say anything about taking a prisoner home!"

country girl shrugged. "maybe nobody told them. we were the ones taking her home."
"the prisoner. but she wasn't a prisoner any more. they let her go. look, check with whoever the assignment came from. they must know about it. you don't have to take my word for it."

"i have no intention of taking your word for it. one more time, what happened to officer pinky?"
"he fell down on the sidewalk. then he didn't get up. he seemed completely turned off." country girl kept her voice flat and her face straight.
"how extraordinary. did you try to turn him back on? after he was so mysteriously turned off?"

"of course not. we were told never to try to do that. you ought to know that."
"being a robot myself, you mean. yes. but he was definitely turned off?" the station had grown quieter around them. nobody was looking directly at them, but they were obviously listening.

"he seemed turned off. he wasn't moving."
"did you see him fall? and what was he doing on the sidewalk to begin with? what sidewalk where?"
country girl hesitated. "why don't you give me a 637 and i'll describe exactly what happened?"
"why don't you answer my questions? what was officer pinky doing when he so mysteriously collapsed?"
"why don't you go and get him and take a look at him? he's in the back of the van. in space 17."

"what an excellent idea. stay there, don't go anywhere." giselle walked back to where two human officers, a male and a female, had been sitting on a bench pretending not to listen. she spoke briefly to them and they got up and went outside to the parking area.
"they might not be strong enough," country girl told giselle. "he was pretty heavy."
"that's their problem. your problem seems to be answering my questions. i ask you again, what was officer pinky doing? do not evade the question and do not respond with another question or another request for a 637."

"he was getting the prisoner - the young woman who was no longer a prisoner - a drink."
giselle stared at her. "he was getting her a drink? she asked for a drink and you stopped and got her one?"
"actually i asked her if she if wanted one. we were told to treat her with every courtesy."
"i think i've heard enough of this nonsense. go and sit down."

"can i have a 637?"
"of course. if you want something to amuse yourself." giselle took a 24 page form from a pile on the corner of the front desk and handed it to country girl.
"thank you." country girl started past the desk to the officers benches.
"not there. there." giselle pointed to the bench facing her, the one for the riffraff headed straight to jupiter.

the elevator got stuck between the 33rd and 34th floors, but the emergency button opened the door and sally was able to hoist herself up on to the 34th floor and walk up the remaining seventeen flights of stairs to her apartment.

she let herself in. the light worked. she went directly to the refrigerator.

there were two cans of strawberry drink inside. they had been sitting there for a while because she didn't like strawberry any more but they were halfway cold and she drank them both down.

then she looked for something to eat. all she found was an almost empty jar of peanut butter and a package of spinach bread which turned out to have only one slice left in it.
she had gotten into the habit of making her own sandwiches at a deli on the way home. did she want to go back out to the deli? it was probably still open but she wasn't sure.

she made a half sandwich and ate it slowly. then she flopped down on her couch and fell asleep.
in her dream - a new one - she was the mistress of a train and postal station in the middle of the black forest. it was midnight. eleven wise dwarves sat along a bench on one side of the station, eight foolish elves and three princesses, an austrian princess, a french princess and a danish princess, on a bench on the other side.
outside, three bandits paced up and down as they waited for the train, which was late.

the sixteenth letter, part 25

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