Honest Impulses 18: One Useful Talent

Anar, Yavar 08, 03262

Shandy took her shower, and as it proceeded she scrubbed herself harder and harder until her skin ached. She washed everywhere, hoping to eliminate all traces of Cal from her body, her hair, her insides. She didn’t hate him, she just didn’t want him to linger. He had been a mistake.

If she had to take driving again next quarter, if she could, if her patron would pay for it, learning to be in the same room with him would be a new challenge.

She pushed the thought out of her head. She wanted to think instead about Linia, about her offer, about what she was offering. Her father had taught her to be a fighter, to never give up. Her mother had taught her to always seek out the best people, and the best in people. Trianna’s comment about how good lovers always left each other better than when they met rang so true, she shivered to wonder why she’d never thought of it before.

The water ran down her body, and she rode waves of nausea, anger, confusion, and hope in an ongoing stream of thoughts she couldn’t control. As she dried off, they were still there, and she tried to think of how to calm them. There was only one way. She picked up her Handbook and asked to be connected to Linia.

To her surprise, Linia answered. Her face appeared on the screen, wearing a bathrobe. Her hair was disheveled, as if she’d been lying down. “Shandy?”

“Are you awake, Linia? Do robots no sleep?”

“I do, but I also wake up fast when… someone important calls. Are you okay?”

Shandy nodded, slowly, shame and sadness warring for control of her face. “I’m sorry, Linia. I should no have run. I should no have… done what I did.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Linia said. “I should have talked a lot more. I misjudged.”

“Nae. You did no misjudge. ‘Twas… A kiss was what I wanted so badly from the second time we cooked together. But… I did no trust myself, or you, or robots, or Hiroshi, or anything at all. I thought I knew how to live here, but I lied. To myself. ‘Twas me who had no judgment worth respecting.”

Linia nodded. “You talked to someone.”

“My neighbor, Trianna. She’s a good person. She helped me.”

“Good,” Linia said. “Do you want to meet?”

“Now?”

“Like merohs, I can go without sleep for a day or two. I still need it, but… I can skip it once in a while for someone important.” Her eyes widened slightly. “Although you might want to get some sleep first.”

“I’d like it now. Can you–“

An harsh buzzing noise filled Shandy’s bedroom. A light flashed, sharp and white. The buzzing paused and a strong, unaccented feminine voice in the local Anglic said loudly, “An emergency has been declared. Evacuate the building. An emergency has been declared. Evacuate the building.” The harsh buzzing resumed.

“Shandy?” Linia said.

“I have to go.”

“I’m heading that—”

Something happened. Shandy more felt it in her head than anything else. A pulse that rippled through her mind, momentarily made her eyeballs feel as if they’d flash-solidified, then cleared painlessly. The screen went blank. “Linia?” Shandy asked. “Linia!”

A loud crash came in the distance. Shandy didn’t know what it could possibly have been, and then it happened again. She heard screams. She shucked her bathrobe and pulled on a pair of sweat pants and her heavy tunic, then ran barefoot for the exit.

There was a crowd on the lawn in the dormitory quadrangle. She spotted several other students from her floor. “Iain!” she shouted to one she knew by name. “What is happening?”

“I don’t know!” he said. He waved a data slate at her. “Nothing’s working! I can’t call anyone.” Another deep, booming crash caught their attention, and Shandy gasped as a massive claw ripped through the side of the commissary building at the end of the quadrangle, followed by the rest of a massive, six-legged machine painted in construction yellow with blue warning stripes. Shandy recognized it.

She’d developed a fondness for the old garage behind the engineering school where she’d found her HDMI/TCNR rig. The four-meter-tall demolition drone now wrecking her school’s commissary had been the largest machine in the garage, powered off and abandoned, its systems too old to upgrade to modern standards, its machinery too slow to give students the kind of experience they were likely to encounter in modern construction and maintenance jobs. It was a deliberately crude design, meant for remote and colonial deployments with the lowest of machine tools and mere human perception for maintenance and repair. It was still powerful enough to destroy buildings. In the garage it’s legs and the ripping claw had been folded down. Deployed now it looked like a crude, demented scorpion with a the claw on an articulated arm above a roughly cylindrical body, the battering ram deployed underneath.

The drone lurched forward as concrete and metal collapsed around it, and it shrugged off the debris as it headed toward her own dormitory building. “No!” she shouted.

“Student, you have to get out of here!” The shout came from a police officer, a tall melUncia wearing the high white collar and short cape of his office. “The military will be here to deal with it.”

“What military?” Trianna said, running up to stand next to Shandy.

“In orbit!” the officer said. “They’ll be here soon.”

“Wasteheat,” Trianna swore. “Those ships weren’t prepped for a drop. Their crews are mostly on leave. They won’t be here for at least two hours. By then the entire campus could be leveled!”

“You still have to get out of here!” the officer shouted. “Here it comes!” The machine had walked steadily forward, relentlessly walking into the building Shandy and Trianna called home.

“He’s right, Shandy. Come on.” Trianna took Shandy’s hand, and they ran for the edge of the quadrangle furthest from the demolition drone.

Shandy pulled her to stop. “We can stop it. We can use the big drones in the dome!”

Trianna turned to her. “Shandy, didn’t you feel the QUIP?”

“The what?”

“That pulse. It was a QUIP. I’ve felt them before. Quantum Interruption Pulse. They’re easy to make, too.” She scowled. “Wrecks the QUID cage, lets the microsingularity loose so that it dissolves into nothingness. Those are the basis for gravitics, and that’s just about everything else: communications, shields, everything! They’re all wrecked until new QUIDs can be manufactured and installed.”

“You mean we have… no a thing at all?”

“We have electricity, as long as it’s wires. We have radio, as long as it’s really radio and not gradio. Most stuff that has gradio also has radio as backup.”

“Linia!” Shandy’s eyes went wide.

Trianna thought. “Robots should be okay, I think. Most of them use quantum computers, but not QUIDs. It’s different.”

“I hope you’re right.” A loud crash rang out as the machine deployed its battering ram against a reinforced support wall. “But why can we no use the drones?”

“TCNI is QUID, Shandy. It’s how we interface with minds. We make a map of your neural space so we can read deltas, and we interfere with it to write deltas. None of the drones will work. All of the controls have been wrecked.”

“Aye,” Shandy said, her shoulders drooping. Then she smiled. “All but one, Trianna.”

Trianna stared at her. “You’re not serious!”

“Trianna, where I come from we do no let crazy machines like that loose. And there is one thing there that works without QUID.”

“You could get killed!”

“Then I just do my best no to. Let’s go!” They ran. The dome was slightly down the hill to the southeast of Shandy’s dorms, five minutes at a full run. They had to run around the demolition drone’s path. Shandy was breathing hard by the time she got there and Trianna was right behind as they reached the engineering bays. One of the doors was open.

Inside was dark. The lights did not come on. “There’s power outside,” Shandy said. “The streetlights work.”

“But not the sensors in here, I bet,” Trianna said. “Fortunately, I have…” She pulled out a small hand-held torch.

Shandy followed her down the bays until they reached her suit. Shandy dropped into the seat, strapped the buckles by hand and toggled the power supply. Small lights illuminated in the suit’s cabin, the song of electricity flowed through wires, and the strange, crinkling sound of dry myomer fiber tensioning for work reached Shandy’s ears. “Aye!”

Trianna approached her and handed her a helmet. Shandy said, “The TCNR will no work, right?”

“No, but if it hits you, protect your head, okay?”

“Oh.” Shandy took the helmet, put it on and tightened the straps. “Stand back.” Trianna did. Shandy toggled a few controls on the chestpanel, then said, “Suit close.” The chestplate closed up, and Shandy willed her legs to stand. The suit stood.

“Good luck,” Trianna told her.