Out of Juice, Part 1

My robot died today, which is fine, if you’ve got the parts.

Sixteenth generation Sony Pre-bots, the kind with no moving internal parts, all silicone, solar-power, I’m supposed to fix that? Today anyone can fuse metal at home, but without a supply of liquid magnets, how am I going to make it move? I’m stuck, and that’s why today I’m walking. Fifty stories down, no water, nothing packed for the walk back up, and the only filter-mask I’ve got is from two generations ago, made to break down emissions from G-14s built with lithium. The sun hits the top of my head, and I feel it start.

Damn Phil and his “I just need yours ‘till Friday.” Too bad it’s Thursday, and I’m out of practically everything. Magnets, masks, seeds, patience. I can get most of that from the market at 5th and Flower, but I have to use credit. Three years into the new government, we’re paying interest by the hour, and I run out of cash.

“Two bottles, thanks.” The kid with the beard always takes too long. The old lady, I think it’s his aunt, she dives into the back, you wipe your forehead, she’s already popped her head out like a gopher, grinning, her old-world muscles sweating through her sundress. She wore simple patterns, hand-made stuff found only in history books and musty ground-floor shops. In clothes made for floors 35 through 70, the sticky ground heat itches. Life has changed.

With my G-16, all this is a breeze. Pre-bots can power the elevator, run an errand, soak up enough solar to make the journey back in under 90 minutes. Now I’m buying water, lunch on the street, paying with borrowed money, borrowed time. I slip my hand inside the pocket of a kid, passed out, slumped in the doorway behind the seed shop, feel for half a handful, let it go before I take my hand back. This is the future? I never used to be a thief.

Eight years ago, less than a thousand people had Pre-bots. Build ten cheap apartment units, cut the rent by eight hundred a week, next you got more than half the people of downtown LA cooped up inside. GPS, remote voice-activation, steering robots past rows of merchandise was easier than making toast. Best part? Some shops bought solar from you, waved off credit fees, didn’t even touch the machine.

I keep my collar up, my eyes down. Too many broadcasting their bots lately, should be a crime. Cashing in on bounties for wanted men, catching bad creditors like some damn vigilante. My wristwatch gets me enough for the mask and the water. If it’s still there tomorrow I can barter with some solar, load up the Pre-bot with some G-15 parts, get it back. I doubt it.

Back in my lobby, I glance at the security camera. Pants around my neck, the legs tied to the handles of each bottle of liquid magnets, I start to climb.

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