Animal in the Flesh

“I’ve never seen an animal,” said the robot.

“Yes you have. Cockroaches are animals,” said Joe.

“I’ve never seen an animal that wasn’t a bug.”

“There is very little difference between a dog and a cockroach. Believe me. Dogs are basically big cockroaches.”

Trax had heard of the dogs. The most popular of the animals before the bug. Dogs had fur. Trax did not know what fur felt like. Since arriving in the slums, Trax had learnt that the only creatures that lived outside of the city walls were exiled citizens, refugees like Joe, and the cockroaches. So many cockroaches. 

“I’ve never seen a dog,” said the robot.

“Well, I guess that’s all gonna change today.”

They arrived to zone MPD-33 by auto. MDP-33 was an old warehouse area now taken over by the rich scum who had found in this part of town a quiet enough to settle. This was without a doubt one of the most inhospitable parts of the outer slums. There were no business around and the few residents that lived here seem to stay indoors. Most structures they drove by were in ruins. At least they wouldn’t need to worry about onlookers.

They parked a block away from their destination. It was pouring rain, but they could risk approaching the house in a vehicle. Joe got off the auto protected by a black synthetic jacket. The hood covered his head. Trax followed him. 

Joe gave the robot a sideways look. Trax appeared to be soaked, dripping water from its chassis but the truth is the robot didn’t need protection from the rain.

Trax and Joe had been working together for a few months now. Most of Joe jobs dealt with exiled Elite citizens who were now living in the slums. In Joe’s words, “rich scum”. 

Together they had broken into a multitude of properties, and stolen from all kinds of “rich scum”. They had stolen everything and anything that could be sold in the black market including–but not limited to–cash, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, documents, genetic records, underwear, wine,… The list went on and on. 

What they had never stolen was an animal. Yet.

From where Trax stood the warehouse was visible. A hundred meter tall concrete structure crowned with a cristal dome of titanium and orange martian glass. A few minutes right before midnight an autocar left the building. The house was empty. Their time had come. 

“Your contact was right,” said Trax following the car with its eyes.

They approached the building from its side. They turned a corner and walked towards the entrance. When they got to the door they pretended seek protecting from the rain in the hollow of the door frame. 

The robot removed the metal plate covering the intercom. A socket port. “No wires,” Trax said. “This is some expensive shit.”

“Can you break in?”

“Yes. It’ll just take a bit more time.”

“Midnight is closing in. You better get busy,” said Joe without looking at the robot.

Joe smoked from his pipe of liquid K. The rain was continued pouring while Joe waited for the robot to do its magic. 

Trax was what Joe liked to call a “break-in assistant”. Most buildings relied on the same security architecture and same logic modules. Trax had an expansion module built from the prototype version of Control’s security motherboard. It didn’t mean that Trax could break the encryption, but–if connected to the network–it meant that the robot could run the security checks on its own hardware and override the signal with its own messages. 

Joe couldn’t understand any of it. Trax knew this much. But soon enough Joe found that the robot was the perfect tool for breaking in to high security buildings. And he couldn’t care a bit about the details.

“What’s the hold up?” Joe always hated getting wet. Joe gave another puff to his pen.

“I’m almost there.”

“You are not going to have another one of your blackouts?”

“No blackouts,” said the robot. Blackout. That was another of Joe’s expressions. 

“I don’t want you freaking out again.”

“I have it under control.”

A system override exactly at midnight would be extremely hard to detect during ordinary review. It would look like any other system reset codes.

At the exact moment the system’s clock hit midnight Trax infiltrated the network and became the proxy for all alert signals. From that point forward, any event detected by the building’s security systems would be intercepted and silenced by Trax.

“It’s good.”

“You have control of the alarms?”

“Yes.”

“Here we go,” said Joe. 

He open his coat to reveal a 2 feet long metal rod. He took aim at the door’s control panel and smashed it in one swiftly motion. There were no security lights on them or sirens ringing. Trax had successfully disabled the  alarms. 

Joe stroke one blow after another until the pilot light of the lock system went offline. He pushed the door but it didn’t move. He pushed gain with his whole weight. Still the door didn’t budge. Joe gave Trax a signal.

Trax, walked towards the door, placed a foot on the bottom door panel and pushed it open effortlessly.

Hydraulics,” mumbled Joe to himself, already walking through the door.

Trax followed after him inside the building

Joe, dripping yellow from the rain, raised his hand to protecting his eyes from the sunlight. Not only the rain had stopped inside the warehouse, but it had been replaced, by what appeared to be, a bright yellow sun in the middle of a bright blue sky. 

“A holodome,” said Joe. “It looks so real.

Trax looked above. The robot couldn’t distinguish the glass dome that was projecting the illusion. The sky looked strangely blue. Everywhere Trax could see, was a field of green grass. It looked as if they were standing in the middle of a grassland on a bright summer day.

“Rich scum stuff,” said Joe shaking off the water from his coat.

In the middle of the warehouse, surrounded by the fantastical green grass and blue sky, was a small house. It was a two story construction of old victorian style. A white picket fence surrounded the house. 

“Somebody paid a lot of money to build this,” said Joe. 

“Are we still off-line?” asked Joe looking around.

“Yes.” 

Joe set his eyes on the house and waived at Trax to follow him. They walked to the front of the wooden house and stopped when they reached the picket fence. Joe unlatched a small swinging door and walked through.

“What are we looking for?” asked Trax.

“I told you.”

“A big cockroach.”

Joe pointed to a small shed at the doorsteps of the house. There were two bowls next to the doorless cabin.

“I think we found it,” said Joe. He reached inside the house and pulled from a leash at the end of which a white furry creature was tied to.

Trax watched the small animal. The dog walked clumsily towards the robot. Trax extended his arm with caution. The dog stopped a foot away and sat on its back legs observing the robot with its head tilted. Trax rubbed the back of the dog. It felt very different from a human.

“It seems friendly,” said Trax.

“Don’t get too attached to it. Our client has offered a big reward for one of these. We are lucky we got tipped before somebody else got here.”

“Hi Spots,” said Trax.

“Don’t give it a name!”

“I didn’t. It says it here,” said the robot pointing to a bowl on the floor.

“I never thought animals would be like this.”

“Like what? I told you dogs are like big cockroaches, nothing more.” Joe was puffing and chewing K with an anxious intensity. It happened to him when he thought he was going to make a forturne.

“Why is our client paying us so much for the dog, Joe?”

“What do you mean?” said Joe. By now Trax knew very well when Joe was lying or hiding something.

“What are they going to do with the dog, Joe?” Trax pressed. 

“You robots ever get hungry? You robots don’t ever eat?”

“We can. I rarely do.”

“Have you ever tasted meat, Trax?”

Trax said nothing. The dog was now rolling on its back offering its tummy to the robot. 

“I wouldn’t think you have. Rich folks like to eat meat. There use to be meat in abundance before the bug, you know.”

“Bio-engineered meat?” The robot was still kneeling down, but it had stopped petting the animal.

“Nope. Real meat from real animals.”

“Are you going to kill Spots?” asked the robot

“Of course I am not going to kill it,” said Joe avoiding looking at Trax or the dog. “We’ll deliver it live.”

Trax looked at the dog. Big black eyes stared back at him.

And then, something ticked inside Trax and everything faded to black. The sounds. The images. The signal from the security system. Everything turned into white noise for Trax.

Those who know anything about robots call something like this an “overload”. Joe called them “blackouts”. Happens rarely to robots, although it seems to happen much more frequently to Trax. Trax knows this, but there is no way to stop it.

It only takes a few seconds for Trax to recover. The first thing entering its system is the deafening noise. Then Trax visual system reports a blinding light. 

“What have you done?” exclaims Joe. 

Spotlights are on top of them from above the dome. Loud bells are ringing.

“You let the alarms go off!” Joe is already running away. He is almost at the warehouse door when he turns around and screams back. “Grab the dog!” Then he jumps out back into the rain. A few last words could still be heard. “Damn robot!”

Trax slowly wakes back up from its stupor, gets up and starts running after Joe. It is only then, running empty-handed, when it occurs to the robot that dogs, really, look nothing like cockroaches.

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