the night dragged on at station 1473. a call came in and lorna sent out one two-robot team. as they were heading in the direction of the replacement center, they took buddy with them to drop him off. another call came in from the 100th, regarded as a quiet district. again, lorna sent one team, a new model robot corporal named columbus, and a human officer, leslie, known as lazy leslie.
country girl finished her second 637 form and gave it to lorna. she sat back down and watched lorna's back as she looked the form over. finally lorna put the form aside.
less than twenty minutes to go! country girl's second full shift, that she had told major dreyfus she would put in, was almost over.
a small red light flashed briefly on the front desk, indicating a call from a team already on assignment. lorna took it, listened briefly, then turned to country girl.
"corporal columbus has requested backup in the 100th," lorna told her.
country girl knew better than to argue. "should i go get buddy again? or some other replacement?"
lorna looked up to the end of the bench. "no, take elephant girl."
elephant girl was an officer unassigned to a team, whose shift had started a couple of hours earlier. she was used as a replacement, or for courier or delivery assignments. she was also suspected by many officers of being an informer.
country girl nodded. she went outside with elephant girl behind her.
"im pretty tired," were the first words she said to elephant girl when they reached the van. "you want to drive?"
they got in. country girl reached over and punched in the ignition code and they headed out of the lot.
"i like to drive fast," elephant girl said.
"great. let's get this over with." country girl slumped down and put her head back as elephant girl accelerated. there was no way, now, that she could be on time to meet sally in the morning.
the 100th looked like it's usual quiet self when they reached it.
"nothing much happening here," country girl said as she scanned the doorways.
"no,' elephant girl agreed. she sounded a little disappointed.
"well, let's find our good sib corporal columbus and see what his problem is."
"you shouldn't refer to a fellow officer in that unprofessional manner."
"tell you what, don't report me and i won't report you for driving too fast."
"you said i could! besides, i was just kidding."
"cool. turn left here."
elephant girl turned. they saw a van parked halfway down the block.
corporal columbus was pacing up and down in front of a graffiti covered storefront. lazy leslie was sitting on the sidewalk with a toothpick in her mouth.
columbus pointed to the graffiti as country girl and elephant girl got out of their van.
"blue buddha beloved by whole cosmos - beneficial to billions," neatly written in bright blue, stood out from the rougher,faded scrawls around it.
country girl looked at it. "you can see stuff like that every day."
"look how expertly - even professionally it is printed," columbus insisted.
"it might not even be for a religion," elephant girl put in. "it might be for a drink or something."
lazy leslie, still seated on the sidewalk, laughed. "that's what i tried to tell him."
country girl took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. "well," she asked columbus, "what do you suggest we do?"
"i think a building to building search is called for."
elephant girl looked a little expectant. lazy leslie looked down in disgust.
country girl put her glasses back on. "fine. let's get started. you can take this side of the street, we'll take the other."
country girl and elephant girl crossed the street.
"why are we taking this side?" elephant girl asked.
country girl looked back over her shoulder at columbus banging on the store's door. "there won't be anything in the store."
they walked along. the buildings were smaller than on the other side of the street.
"don't bother knocking," country girl said.
"find a door that looks easy to kick in, right?" elephant girl asked.
'right. but don't look too long either. this one -" country girl kicked a door under its knob and it flew open. " - looks good. watch me, i'll show you how it's done."
two small forms wrapped in blankets started up on the floor in the bare interior of the building. a third had already thrown off his blanket and was racing for a door or window but country girl caught him and brought him down easily.
"abandoning your loyal followers?" country girl asked as she put cuffs on him.
"what are you waiting for?" she asked elephant girl. "cuff those two."
the two lowlifes on the floor got up and allowed elephant girl to cuff them.
"you said this was safe," said one to the other, "and here they are breaking doors down." he laughed.
"all the time i was in the 107th, i never saw a door broke down," the other answered. "i guess you never know."
"shut up, both of you." elephant girl finished cuffing the second one.
"let them talk," country girl told her. "you got a pencil on you? i lost mine."
elephant girl handed over the pencil. "what are we charging them with?"
"those two? nothing. we're just tossing them in the wagon. but this desperado - this is the pope of the new movement - the blue buddha movement - right, sib?"
"blue buddha is gum - you chew it,'" the little man answered. he seemed to be just coming fully awake.
"is it legal?" elephant girl asked him.
'i never heard it was illegal."
"blue buddha is a religion," country girl said. "and you're the pope or imam. that's already been determined."
she scribbled furiously on her pad with elephant girl's pencil. "what's your name?"
'what title would you like, walt? pope, imam, spiritual leader, director? they all mean the same."
walt didn't answer.
"you're the pope then." country girl finished writing and gave the pencil back to elephant girl. "you are going to like being pope. you'll get to go to an interrogation center before you go to jupiter. they'll treat you right, feed you good."
"whatever you say," walt answered.
"you'll get a nice sandwich, while your sibs here are already eating mush on jupiter."
"maybe these two guys could be cardinals," elephant girl said.
"fine. write them up if you want. right now, let's get them in the wagon."
outside, leslie was leading a group of four ragamuffins, and an older woman who was probably an unlicensed fortune teller, into their van. a frustrated looking columbus watched.
country girl led walt over to them. "case cracked," she told columbus. "this is the ringleader - the pope of the blue buddha religion. i've already written it up. and two of his followers."
"the cardinals," added elephant girl.
columbus looked a little doubtful. "good work," he said after a pause.
"can we go now?" asked lazy leslie.
columbus looked around, and up at the sky. it was beginning to get light. "maybe we should fill the vans up first."
"sure, why not?" country girl answered.
jeanne d'arc, who had worked all night at her desk as she often did, looked up.
'"well, look who's here."
larry was standing in the doorway,
''did you get any sleep on your trip back?" she asked him.
"a little. i'd still like to go home and change."
"charlotte is here. i think she'd like to see you."
charlotte appeared in the doorway behind her. "yes," she said to larry, "just for a minute."