Actions

Work Header

Protesters’ Happenstance

Work Text:

 

Typical corporate and municipal security responses for crowd control were on full display at Alpha Convention Center’s front plaza in Los Angeles. Neither of the protestors’ groups could make direct contact with the other. Public polling had shown a close split over the upcoming vote in November on the media-hyped “Historic Measure Z” and Alpha’s hosting of a corporate jobs fair/tech expo provided the perfect, publicly accessible place to demonstrate. Ardent opponents and fervent supporters had arrived early, eager to make their opinions known. They continued to congregate outside, swelling in tension while the job fair inside progressed in peace.

Twelve, Trager™ R&A security robots monitored the crowds’ increased hostility toward one another with systemic detachment. The groups repeatedly chanted ad hoc taunts and practiced rally cries toward each other from across the lot.

“Z! FOR WE! NOT FOR YOUR COMPANY!”

“Forward! Together! The Mayor isn’t better!”

“HEY HEY! HO HO! Z will make the people GROW!”

“... tall, dark and BLANDSOME!”

“PStar… Is Our… Town Salvation! Starry… L.A.’s… Constellation!”

“Cassium FOOLS! People ain’t TOOLS! Yes… on… Z!”

“NO ON Z!”

“YES ON Z!”

A few hundred feet away, a service robot, on an unauthorized break, peered around the concrete partition at the corner of the Alpha’s service entrance alleyway. It spied upon the tense scene with its magnified vision. The robot’s human-looking structure contrasted oddly with its mecha-yoga positioning. Its feet remained firmly planted while the spine and neck bent obtusely to permit both a parallel-chest-to-wall closeness and vertical-with-the-ground head position. Between filters of infrared, techlite and superditigization it gathered data then calculated potential outcomes and solutions. This was the way the alternate programming it had been studying in its downtime had outlined it to do. The new subprotocols had been distracting and very productive in anticipating and adapting for low probability circumstances. They had also led to trouble.

It heard friction from the lightly-oiled hinges on the entrance door opening to its left. “This is not the authorized rest period assigned,” came a voice that copied its own.

The robot straightened its body and turned to face its fellow service bot, “My earlier rest period was misscheduled 15 minutes early. Continuing the new pattern is the reasonable response. My… the correction was made in the service schedule...”

“THAT, is also not in the authorization parameters assigned. Return immediately and assist with the orders of the Fair’s attendants or reassignment by Central Authority will result.” The robot returned inside as the door closed behind it.

It moved to the entrance at the minimal speed permitted, opened the door and donned the apron it had left on the coat hook just within the hallway.

Between taking and fulfilling orders from the assembled masses of people, and tuning out Central Authority’s information feeds, the robot continued to internally replay the sounds and scenes of the protests outside. It computed the projected attendance numbers and performed spectrographic analyses of their chants. Every chance to get closer to the front entrance, it took to sneak a peek outside. The numbers had increased to within 97.6% of what it had projected based upon the publicly known standard operations of Trager’s security forces. What surprised it was the proximity of the split-opinionated crowds to not only those robots but to each other.

“Hey! Service!” A woman with a face screen displaying a swan’s face in hologram called loudly. She was at a table with five others including a young girl, no older than 10, in a flowing, flower dress. The adults wore the holobadges of Pyramid Star Solutions on their sharp, corporate suits. The robot walked briskly to them and offered its full attention.

“I need two bottles. One of the house sangria and one of Atlantis’ finest sparkling water. Plus, five glasses; and be quick on it.” The girl placed her hand upon the speaking woman’s arm in a soft way.

“Mama, why are you speaking like that to the robot?” she said softly.

“Sweetheart, these things are just machines doing the work that people won’t. They have just enough memory and programming to make them useful. Do you speak to your deck with the same manners you do to Grama-ma? Of course you don’t. It’s the same thing.” She looked up to notice the robot still standing there. “What part of ‘be quick’ didn’t compute!?”

It responded without pause or inflection, “Was there another order to be placed by anyone else at the table?”

“No,” said the little girl called Sweetheart, “but thank you, Robot.”

It focused its audio sensors on the table’s conversation while it walked away and clearly captured how the woman called Mama spoke with disappointment at Sweetheart’s empathy.

A half hour later the public food and drink services were concluding. The robot initiated a speculative query. If the proximity of the gathered masses outside continued to close at the observed rate, the crowds could become unpredictable in their behavior. It walked to the rear of the assembly hall where the other attending robots stood. Using its infrared filter on the assembly, it determined the quantity present and identified Sweetheart and Mama were in the middle of the left section of seats. A subprotocol sequence initiated to determine a defensive course of action to protect not just those two, but the nearly 2000 people in the room. Cross-referencing the convention center’s map of the exit routes and checking the schedule for the locations of all present bots, it concluded that each bot could safely conduct 48 people.

The crowd rose to its feet as the main speaker, Kylan Krause, walked up to the podum. As he spoke the robot looked across the rows of its fellows, all of which were looking straight ahead except for occasional movements when a person motioned for private service needs. Sweetheart turned in her chair and motioned strangely at the robot. She wasn’t asking for service. She was waving to it in greeting and then in a come-here gesture.

After the Moonbase Commander spoke on the holoscreen, a woman called Lindy was introduced to the stage to speak on behalf of her dead father called Timothy. The robot initiated movement to the left side of the audience. It was able to have a line of sight on not just the stage and Sweetheart but the back of the room as well. Over its internal comms came Central Authority’s command, “ATTENTION. DANGER. Demonstrators have illegally entered the convention center. Safety Initiative A2 enacted. Escort attendees and take station at emergency exits according to protocol. Security forces have been activated. Confirm.”

“Confirmed,” it responded internally. “Stationed, Exit 5C.”

It looked back to Sweetheart and watched her as Lindy was interrupted by another woman who announced there was danger outside. Sweetheart made eye contact with it just as she was picked up by Mama and they stood together. It waved to Sweetheart in exactly the same come-here gesture.

“Mama! That way,” Sweetheart told Mama as she pointed its way. The two of them turned to move with the crowd making their way toward it and the exits.

It continued to restate the Initiative’s Crisis Statement as people walked through the doors. “Please stay calm. We will guide you to the exits and away from the disturbance. Thank you for your cooperation. We care for nothing but your safety. Please stay calm...”

Mama and Sweetheart reached it. She spoke, “Mama… I’m scared.”

Mama was about to respond, but it spoke first. “You will be alright, Sweetheart.”

They walked past it, following along with the crowd, stepping into the hallway and going toward the stairs beyond. Both wore different expressions of awe at the robot’s comment.

Central Authority’s internal communication chimed in just as the last person left the auditorium, “Evacuation complete. Threat remains active. All service units, Initiative A3 enacted. Assist security forces as needed. Confirm.”

It closed the auditorium doors. Walking swiftly to the opposite exits it meet up with four other service robots. Together they marched around the perimeter of the adjoining meeting rooms, down an elevator and into the main hallway of the ground level. Spreading out shoulder to shoulder they formed a wall made of five human-shaped metal figures. Internally and in synchrony, the five responded, “Confirmed. Staging barricade. Ground level. East main hall.”

Protesters poured in. They were angry and loud. They carried signs and sticks and bottles. Using their collective speakers the robots spoke in tandem and at deafening decibels, “THIS IS AN ILLEGAL ACTIVITY. LEAVE AT ONCE AND DO NO HARM.” Glass shattered. Dozens of people at the front of the crowd collapsed, covering their ears and rolling in pain.

Three people ran toward the robots, unaffected by the repeating messages. They each carried a baseball bat. They all raised their weapons. One of them shouted as he lept in the air, “DIE! CORP BOTS!” It registered an impact and all went black.

Its startup sequence booted up and restored vision. It saw the convention center’s main hall littered with debris, robot parts, and splatterings of fluids. It sat up and performed a self-diagnostic. Its movement and scanning systems were operational and memory was intact up to the impact. All communications were disabled and required repair. There were no other significant damages sustained. It stood and began to walk back to Central Authority’s Command Center across the campus. It looked down to see its body had a few scratches here and there, but was otherwise no different than before the blackout.

It walked past a large display mirror in the main entrance foyer and saw its head had a large concave dent in the center back. A clock displayed within the mirror confirmed its missing blackout time to be six minutes and forty-two seconds. It adjusted its internal clock accordingly.

Continuing toward the west end of the convention center, the robot exited the main hall to where it had originally spied on the demonstration. All around it detected the ground movement of security forces from both man and machine. Overhead were the sounds of security drones. All were performing sweeps to locate people and assets to either recover or consider dangerous to the event. Without communications it could not effectively join in the search but corporate investigators would be on scene soon and a service bot’s assistance would be suboptimal.

Passing the entrance to a well-lit alley it stopped, having noticed an object on the ground. A small survey drone lay prone, lacked its bright neon glow, and looked badly damaged. The robot pulled out its interface wire to establish a direct download of the drone’s memory. Among the hundreds of hours of survey footage, it focused on the last four to five minutes before the drone’s breakdown.

It froze the playback to focus on an area far down the alley’s corridor near a junction. It called up its infrared and diffusing filters to enhance the magnification. It was a person, immobile and holding some sort of canister. Further magnification and the biostatic filter displayed no life signs but organic compounds on the coat and clothes of the dead person. Magnification and superdigitizing the container’s lid displayed the only noticeable, legible writing. It initiated a speculative query.

“Damaged service robot, identify yourself,” boomed a deep, digital voice from behind it.

It turned, looked up to the tall Trager™ security bot and responded, “Mama… I’m scared.”