Tom Purdom






It was a perfect launch.  Perfect.  I slowed the car to five miles an hour.  I opened the window.  And out went the bird.  Right at the moment the screen said we were crossing launch zero.  The car didn’t run slow more than twenty seconds.


Bud Weldon’s floppypet had gone berserk while he was eating dinner.  First it made two random dashes across the dining room.  Then it connected with the shelves that held Bud’s ceramics.  The big ceramic elephant he had shaped during his thirty-second year in prison hit the floor along with four other pieces.  Bud had stood up yelling orders-- incoherent orders, probably, but he said they were orders-- and his faithful, never-failing source of affection had zeroed in on him.  First at his ankles.  Then for his face.

Bud’s pacification implant reacted seconds after he started yelling and his prison reflexes apparently kicked in with it.  He picked up a chair.  He backed out of the house.  He called for help.  And now his house was a mess.  And his floppypet had a police bullet hole in its processor.

Floppypets were machines but people didn’t think of them that way.  Bud had bonded with his just like he was supposed to.  It had responded to him in ways no dog or cat could have and he had responded right back.  You might know a floppypet was only a collection of circuits and programmed responses, in the same way you might suspect an animal was just offering you a routine that only looked like affection, but you did what humans had always done.  And let your emotions take over.


Van Levanti understood Bud’s feelings but he didn’t think the police sergeant did.  The sergeant was a muscular young guy, probably only a little over forty, almost certainly unmarried.  The only cuddly things the sergeant was interested in, Van was confident, were human and female.  He’d probably be surprised to learn some of their responses didn’t mean what he thought they did.

“You’d think a guy like that would be tougher,” the cop said.

“You don’t get a lot of affection in prison,” Van said.

“Sixty-six years.”

“From the time he was twenty-four.”

“That’s a long time to go without it.”

The cop was sitting in his three-wheeler on Bud’s lawn.  Most of the bystanders were staying on the other side of the street.  Van figured the crowd totaled fifty so far.  A dozen bolder souls had crossed the street and lodged themselves in front of a barrier patrolled by two police robies.  The robies had blocked two boys who had tried to slip through the barrier but they were still using their female voices.

Van had a picture of Bud’s dining room window superimposed on the lower right corner of his visual field.  Van’s wife was doing her half of the job back at their house and she had turned her attention to the information recorded on Bud’s security system.  She had found what she was looking for as soon as she zeroed in on the five minutes just before the floppypet went psycho.  She ordered a rerun of the recording and Van watched a bird dart into the scene and scratch at the window with its wings flapping like overcharged machines. 

“That’s got to be it,” Rosa said.  “A virus like that had to be transmitted close range.  You can transmit it long range if you’ve got a really powerful transmitter but close range with an organic carrier fits the pattern better.  Tell the sergeant he should look for a dead bird.  I checked the species and the energy requirements.  If we assume the bird came in from outside the development, a rig like that would probably die before it got half a mile from its delivery point.  I’m looking at a search zone for the road, too.”

Van kept the connection open so Rosa could hear him talking to the sergeant.  He had connected with Rosa as soon as they heard about Bud’s problem.  They would probably stay connected for the next few hours.  They only connected, normally, when they had something to share but a situation like this obviously called for a deviation from their standard arrangements.

Van knew couples who stayed connected round the clock but he and Rosa had decided that was a bad idea two hours after they had acquired their first communication implants.  He had never met a constantly-connected couple who had been married seventy-three years.  He didn’t think he ever would.

Copyright 2009 by Tom Purdom. All rights reserved. This document may be printed out and archived for personal use. All other use is strictly prohibited.

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