Kevin ran into the living room, arms coiled, ready to fight before he even realized he was awake. I found one of the building’s scupperers with a claw around Mara’s ankle, trying to pull her under the couch.
Kevin punched the commands for a remote override on the terminal wall, but the scupperer didn’t respond to his request to power down. Mara shrieked and kicked at the scupperer. It was deflecting her foot with its steal arm. She had managed to crush one; a second scupperer lie across from her, a cracked shell seeping black fluid onto Kevin’s living room carpet. Kevin punched the emergency alarm, sending the data wall into a flashing red and black strobe of the word “Emergency” over and over.
While this happened, Kevin grabbed his iThermos from the stand by the control center and fell toward Mara’s feet. He landed on the scupperer’s scuttling feet and abdomen with his knee; it let go of Mara, and writhed around, twisting to face Kevin, it’s antennae flapping wildly. Kevin raised the thermos and pounded it into the bug-like robot’s back. The scupperer’s dorsal plating cracked when he struck it, and it stopped squirming. Grey-green mucus seeped from its midsection, where Kevin’s thermos must have ruptured the robot’s biological components.
“Fucking Bionics,” Mara shrieked.
Mara stopped screaming the instant the scupperer had let her go, and she had, herself scuttled back to the corner of the room furthest from where Kevin knelt over the writhing, twitching shell of the robot.
The dying robot lashed out twice with its flexible arm and then fell silent as the pool of biotronic programming liquid flowed out its ruptured midsection and capillary action pulled the thin fluid through Kevin’s lowpile carpeting.
“I fucking hate those things!” Mara gasped.
The room blinked and flashed red, yellow, and black: EMERGENCY EMERGENCY EMERGENCY
“What did you do?” Kevin bellowed at her.
“What did I do?” Mara bellowed back. “What did I do?”
“Yeah,” Kevin Shrieked without thinking. “What did you do? Those things are expensive!”
It would only be a few more minutes before security staff got up to the apartment, and Kevin panicked, wondering how he was going to explain to the building chairman that the woman sleeping in his clothing (who was, by the way, not his illegal girlfriend) had somehow caught the ire of the two of the building’s scupperers and had crushed one and he the other and please don’t evict me.
“I’m so sorry,” Mara said, fury in her eyes. “Next time I’ll let your fucking appliances kill me.”
Her fury stabbed his heart and he immediately regretted snapping at her. He glanced at the clock. It was 8:30 p.m. Approximately 24 hours since they’d first noticed the lights had gone dead the evening before. They’d slept more than 12 hours uninterrupted, and would probably still have been asleep if not for the scupperer malfunction.
“There’s something really wrong here,” Kevin Adderly said, taking a deep breath.
“No shit,” Mara said, still and shaking from the scupperer attack. She inspected her ankle where the scupperer had torn at her skin. It didn’t appear to be broken. She tried to rub out the red marks on her pale skin that the scupperer’s claw had left.
Kevin verbally ordered the computer to restore the transparency to the apartment windows, while he pressed the data wall commands to turn off the emergency alert. The apartment brightened slightly and then the pulled drapes faded out. leaving only a ceiling to floor representation of the view from Kevin’s apartment. The view was, as always, stunning. His apartment overlooked the J.D. LeCloone packaging plant behind the Sugar Creek parkway, which was bathed in the typical blue green ambient light of an early fall evening in the North Continent’s most technologically advanced city.
“Oh. My. God.” Mara said.
Kevin assumed she was impressed with the showy tech of the data walls as they rendered the view from the apartment, in spite of her shock from the scupperer attack. Kevin beamed a bit and was about to apologize for snapping at her earlier, when Mara asked: “Why didn’t you tell me these were data walls and not real windows?”
“Nobody has real windows in this building,” he shrugged, a little hurt by her seeming disinterest in the view, but grateful that she’d moved on from being pissed at him. Maybe.
Mara stood and walked over to the data wall window, stepping gingerly around the guts of the two crushed scupperers. She looked down at the street, which was empty. The street lights beneath them shone brightly on the streets.
“Do you really think it’s that quiet out there?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Look down there,” she leaned her head against the data wall glass to try and get a better view at the foot of the building. “There’s no grime or grease. The city’s nearly spotless. There are no people moving around and even in the breeze, nothing blows by on the street. No scraps of paper, no runaway plastic bags, nothing.”
“Well, the street scupperers would get that junk,” he said, instantly regretting mentioning the larger versions of the two dead robots now lying on his apartment floor.
“Yeah, but…” she trailed off, clucking her tongue as she looked around at street level from the view.
She stared at the ground around the foot of the buildings across the street for a few minutes, and then asked “Do you have any real windows in this place,” she asked.
“The frosted window in the bathroom. Behind the commode. It’s fire code.” He shrugged.
She dashed off, and Kevin followed right behind her, stopping by the control station to downgrade the status of the the emergency alarm, and wondering why he hadn’t been contacted by building security yet.
By any standard, it wasn’t a large bathroom. The window was about 16 inches wide and ran from floor to ceiling.
“I was on the team that built this building,” he said. “The bathroom windows are the only actual portals to the outside in this building, and were designed only as emergency escape hatches in the event of a catastrophic system failure.”
“Sometimes it’s not so cute the way you rattle off corporate factoids,” Mara said, peering around the edges of the window looking for a way to open them.
“You can’t open them without setting off a system wide emergency alert,” Kevin said. That reminded him that security sweepers at a minimum should have come by the apartment by now, using the same access ports that the scupperers used.
“Pull only in emergencies, hey?” she said reading the pull tab she’d found in the lower left corner of the window frame. Kevin watched as she leaned down and took hold of the tab. She was tall and thin and beautiful, and he realized he loved her. He loved the way she took charge.
“Mara, what are you doing?” he asked. “Seriously. It’s for emergencies.”
“I’m thinking that when a couple of fucking glorified vacuum cleaners try to cut off your damn foot, it counts as an emergency,” she said, pulling the tab, causing the window frame to spring from the wall with a hiss.
Kevin heard the console in the other room emit a mean, caustic emergency chirp, and then felt the pressure in the room suddenly switch with the change in air currents that the unsealed bathroom window created.
Mara twisted her lanky frame out the window, stepping onto the railing and disappeared.
Kevin debated internally. Should he follow her? Should he go try to calm the alarm systems? Why hadn’t security showed up yet?
“The lights are out again,” Mara called from outside.
“Come back in,” he said.
“There’s something going on here,” she said. “Come see.”
He looked over his shoulder at the data wall which displayed his windows. It showed the lights were on. It showed a bird flitter by. It showed the pink and swirling night sky typical of a typical moonlight night blotted by city’s abundant bioluminescent lighting.
“Really? The lights are out?” he asked. “The windows–“
“Just come out here,” she interrupted.
He climbed out onto the platform, nothing the the breeze on his face as he climbed, it was sweet and damp, although oddly meaty smelling.
Kevin’s heart raced and his stomach tightened as he followed Mara’s fearful stare to the street level, which was teaming with hundreds and hundreds of what looked like people.
“Why aren’t the lights on?” he asked. “The windows showed the lights on.
“Why would the windows lie?”