On August the 30th Roger received a letter. It was in his mailbox, a large rural type mailbox he had installed on his front fence, lying with its blank side upward. Roger picked it up and brought it inside to his kitchen table. He examined the envelope. There was no return address either on the front or back. His name and address were printed.
It was unusual for Roger to receive a letter so rather than open it right away, he made a cup of tea. When it was steeped and poured into his cup he opened the envelope, slitting the top with a penknife. It contained a single sheet of paper, 8 1/2x11. This is what it said,
“It has come to the attention of the local authorized agent of HUM (Human Unit Monitoring) that you are in violation of various statutes. A board of examination has been convened and you are required to attend its hearing, September 17th coming.
The board regrets that it is unable to inform you of the exact nature of your offence, the giving out of such information contravening regulation 4987. However it is possible for the board to say that the offences are grievous and a finding of Culpability 463, the most likely out come of such a hearing, will result in a penalty involving absence from the social mileau you now inhabit. You are therefore instructed to bring with you on the assigned day three suits of clothes and personal grooming items. Such items should be carried in a bag 16x14x18.
Failure to attend the hearing will result in immediate elimination. It is wise for the addressee to recall that there are no privacies presently allowable. Any avoidance behavior will be considered Culpable Offences and result in immediate elimination.
After reading this Roger reinserted the letter into the envelope and laid it on top of the table. “How efficient the Authorities; how well they serve the New Reality,” he said aloud. Then he relaxed, or to be more accurate, appeared to relax, and drank the remainder of his tea. The sun was shining in the kitchen window and he allowed himself to doze for a few moments in its soft, warm light.
Doze completed, Roger said, “How efficient the authorities; how well they serve the New Reality.” Then he rose and walked into the bathroom.
The authorities were efficient and they did serve the New Reality well. That’s why Roger had a very special bathroom. Actually he had two, one a completely normal bathroom and the other lined with a double layer of lead sheeting. This was the bathroom he entered, the one which created what the authorities called ‘a dead zone’. On the floor was a throw rug and under the rug a trap door. The opened door exposed a set of stairs. Roger descended.
The trick to absconding is to create a confusion of identities. Easy enough if one has time to prepare. Roger had. Roger was the kind of man who was always prepared. The small ASZ (above surface zipper) was at the bottom of the stair. Its eID plate was not his own. As soon as the illegitimacy of the plate was recognized by the trackers a new plate would replace it and then another and another. Six replacements, together with a little added pulse from the sixth, would erase all tracking memory from the system. Most ingenuous. All this could be recreated by programmers, even the dull witted ones at Central but his would take two or three days. He need far less. When the doors opened he flew out. After five minutes he put on the auto pilot.
There is the old and the new. Sats tracked everything; the sky was full of them. However old radar was still alive as well. To avoid this the auto pilot was programmed to cross the city and once beyond its borders drop into the channel created by a gas pipeline. It then followed the line which was nice because four hours along it brought Roger to a section of country uninhabited excepting for the odd trappers cabin. Here he unloaded gear, covered the ASZ with a lead cape, and drove an electric two wheeler ten miles along a narrow trail to a dugout cabin. He was bleeding slightly from the right shoulder for he had removed the finder tab to be found there back in the lead lined bathroom. Inside the cabin he cleaned the wound with alcohol and, wrapping himself in a down bag, went to sleep.
In the morning, after a breakfast of boiled eggs and toast, there was equipment to be packed into the electric truck. Electric vehicles, ancient and rusting, were the means of transport in outback. Although it was illegal they could be bought from recyclers in the city for next to nothing. This was just right for the people in the outback had next to nothing if you were counting in money and gizmos. They had other things like clean air and functional sensoriums but even the thought of these had been edited out of the NR (New Reality) some time ago.
When the truck was packed a beep on his homemade finder warned him of a seeker bot, one of the lazy meanderers Central sent out randomly to see what they could pick up. Roger waited until it appeared above the trees and picked it off with his shotgun. Clunk it hit the ground and he had a lead envelope around it in a few seconds. Technically they could tell where it was from the leave off of the signal but that would require attention paid by techs and there was little of that at Central. Easier to write malfunction on the Missing Report and surf porno sights on the internet. Roger hit the encapsulated bot with a sledge hanmer. He removed some of the innards and, packing them in another lead envelope, tossed them into the back of the truck. The NR was prolifigate with its technology. If you knew what to look for they gave you almost everything.
Loaded up Roger drove for five miles down a rough narrow trail til he came to a gravel road. Two hundred miles down this road he tossed the seeker bot’s tab out the window. He didn’t want some keener Redeemer Bot finding it near his cabin. Five miles later he pulled off the road and made ready for the Pike bots. That’s what they had up here; humans were too expensive. When he was ready he pulled back onto the road and drove under the limit for another ten miles until he came to the Pike.
There were four visible which meant three hidden. They were old bots, obsolete, dispensible and thus here in the boonies. They had limited vision analysis which was helpful to know. They saw a plastic ray burner as a plastic ray burner but a shotgun did not compute. Perhaps they saw it as a thermos bottle. Roger blew away the four then, wrapped in a silver foil cape he stepped clear of the truck. All three remainders came around the corner of the little guard house blasting away at the smashed remains of their companions they computed to be rat bots. Roger blew them away too. He harvested things from the smashes and stripped the guardhouse of weapons. Nothing too fancy but certain friends would appreciate the old time burners and sacks full of circuit boards. There were four flatbombs hidden under a pile of rubbish in a corner. He timed one of these for the house and heard it go off twenty miles behind him, a satisfying sound. That night he drove into a slip, as his northern pals called it, a cave dug into a soft hill just off the road. No rain, out of the wind and no detection. Propane stove, beef stew and canned pudding. He heard three searchers, sleek air cushion units, go by on the road before he went to sleep.
In the morning he gave himself a treat – ox tongue cooked in raisin sauce, bannock and tea. After he filled his pipe and had a long meditative smokefest. Ready to go, he checked his finder. They hadn’t tuned in the sats; what loss a few backwoods bots? But there was a truckful of finder bots roaring down the road ten miles south. The flatbombs had a squish blower but his own were more reliable. He took out the old one and installed his own. From the slip he could hear it but it didn’t hurt his ears. When the fire was out, everything cooled down, he harvested odds and ends and headed north. That night, after dark, he pulled into a slip which turned into a tunnel and then into a great cavern. An old potash mine. Here there were lots of people and they came running over to greet him as he climbed out of the truck.
‘Non citizen Roger T.’. That’s what the nitecast called him. The photograph was shadowy. A dangerous fellow the talk bot said, full of hate and death. Death maybe, thought Roger, but not hate particularly. But a face projector made all that flat ID useless so why bother? Why even give him a name? They needed a monster, of course. Ah fellow citizens, look at the demon we are protecting you from. See how he salivates at the thought of your suffering.
He spent three weeks in the cavern building a colon bomb. That’s what he called it – small, high intensity, packed in a rolled tube three hundred feet long. All ready for uncoiling along a utility pipe under Central, a pipe so full of search bleepers you could die from their radiation alone, never mind the crusher bots they would direct upon you. Failsafe they said. Seven, folded systems, separately sourced. Seven different bots in seven different offices on seven different floors, all of whom Roger would ignore.
Bleeper beams had a weakness; bear grease exploited that weakness. Why Roger didn’t know for sure but many experiments taught him that it did. And if it didn’t? Well the first crusher bot he would disable and then take his shot. He was ready to go. Nobody could resist forever and he was almost forty. A much longer run than most.
There were three young men who wanted to come with him but he said no. “Go east,” he told them. “Marry, farm. Have children. This life is dreadful and it ends in early death.”
“Then why do you live it?” asked one.
“I was born saying no. I can’t help myself.”
He left early morning when everyone was asleep. When he reached the cabin he stayed four days reading and then packed his gear into the ASZ.
If you knew what you were doing it was easy to plate yourself like a bot, a cleaning bot in this case, rough and ugly, waiting at the gate with all the others, a smashed bot’s plate on your chest. Pick me, pick me for tunnel detail but that was already set up. He did it from the cabin, so cleanly the boss bot saw him as his dear brother. Shall I clean this tunnel dear leader? Oh yes, indeedy do. Do the door with an e disabler, down three flights of steel stairs and there she is just where the schemata said.
Bear grease is messy but messy is good here. It does something to the beams when they hit, who knows what? Maybe they slide. Maybe there is a chemical. One hour and the tube is unrolled. Timer. Two actually, to be sure. No need to be embarrassed explaining the grease to one’s fellow bots for tunnel 46 goes a long way into the city, fifty-five minutes in this case for the timer’s one hour five. The outlet is in a back street where no one ever goes. There is a little whiz car parked there and it moves so silently back to the ASZ.
Half way there he hears and feels the rumbling explosion. Then the ASZ and the cabin. Rest, fish, build a few devices.
One can’t trust the nitecast lies but he soon gets reliable info from friends. Poor Central. Five thousand smashed bots and a giant hole. And Roger T - they want him even if he owns a thousand face projectors.
“I think I might become a monk,” he said to the woman he was with three weeks later.
“You? You must be mad,” Ruth replied.
“The mad monk. Wasn’t that what they called Rasputin?”
“And who might Rasputin be?”
“Some guy I read about.”
“Sounds like some kind of rat poison.”
“Yes it does now that you mention it.”
Three months later he and Ruth went into the mountains so Roger could rest from his life of killing bots.