tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Non-Standard Man Ch. 20

The Non-Standard Man Ch. 20

byMissPrim©

Note to readers: there is no sex in this chapter but I hope you find the last chapter of The Non-Standard Man exciting anyway.

********

Chapter 20-The RIB To The Rescue

I couldn't sleep and I missed Andrew fiercely. With that and multiple bathroom trips during the night I was an exhausted wreck when I dragged my butt out of bed.

Roger looked no better.

"Couldn't sleep?"

"I'm worried," he said as I put a cup of coffee in front of him.

"Sorry," I said. During my sleepless night I concluded he was right. Now we stood to lose everything.

He shrugged as if he didn't care what I said. At that moment his "I don't give a shit attitude" attitude annoyed me.

In the background the audio of the television was so low so I couldn't hear it. On the screen Kiki walked next to her senator up the steps of the Capitol. What was that's senator's name? Yes. Ellen Quinlan.

"Where's Jason?"

"He left when you were in the shower. Cicily didn't pick up her phone when he called. He went to go talk to her."

Here was the source of his attitude. Roger worried about Jason. Not that he'd show me that.

"With as close as those two are, I'm surprised she reacted so badly," I said.

"Evaline, you can't know. But it's horrible to be one thing and not able to show it to the world, let alone your own mother."

"You're right. I can't know. But I'll never understand someone like your mother."

"That makes both of us."

I stood and looked out the window. Dawn streaked a dusty pink across the sky. "Red in the morning, sailors take warning," I muttered to myself.

Roger sighed. "We need to get to court."

#

Betty didn't join us. She had other cases that demanded her attention. We pushed our way past the gaggle of reporters that we studiously ignored. Roger and I set our briefcases on the our table, opened them, took our notebooks and files, snapped the briefcases shut and set them on the floor. It didn't occur to me that we moved in synch until we both sat down.

The gallery filled behind us, Roger turned back every few minutes. He stared at the seat where Jason sat yesterday. He wasn't there.

Waters and Cornwall entered both sporting unhappy looks.

Waters leaned toward me as she got to her table.

"You won't get away with it," she hissed.

Before I could comment, the bailiff told us to rise, and Steffie Anderson entered. The bailiff announced the court case.

"Are you ready to proceed, Ms. Cornwall? Have you reviewed the evidence?"

"We have your honor. But we can't proceed. Andrew serial number XB109856 is missing."

"What!" I said, jumping to my feet.

"Don't act like you don't know. You must have engineered it!" sputtered Cornwall.

"Counselors! Address your remarks to the court! Now, Ms. Cornwall, what happened the robot Andrew?"

"His transport ... disappeared. We don't know where it is."

Anderson's lips puckered like she sucked on a lemon.

"I warned you Ms. Cornwall that any harm to Andrew would bring repercussions. Bailiff, arrest both Attorneys Cornwall and Waters!"

"What!" they protested. Swiftly the bailiff cuffed and escorted them from the courtroom.

"Mrs. Shipley, Mr. Shipley, I'm sorry. The behavior of the RIB in this case is reprehensible. But we can't proceed until Andrew is found. However, for purposes of custody, I'm granting your petition for custody of Andrew on a temporary basis until we can reconvene and finish this case." She hit her gavel. "Court's adjourned."

I sat down stunned by the turn of events.

Roger took out his cell phone and pressed a speed dial number.

"That's odd," he said. "Jason isn't answering."

"It's not odd." I said. It wasn't hard to figure out who had Andrew. Or why.

#

Getting out of the courthouse was hell. The press was especially obnoxious, and our security tightened around us like a vise. Finally we got into the town car and Roger collapsed against me.

"I'm sorry," he croaked visibly shaken.

"What? Why?"

"Jason. He only used me to get to you. I'm so sorry."

"Sshh, sshh," I said as Roger buried his head in my shoulder. He was fighting tears, didn't want to appear weak, but I understood his pain. He put me in the same position many times.

"We don't know that, Roger."

"What other explanation is there?"

In my heart I knew Roger was right. I ached for him, I really did, but I also missed Andrew. I've been without him for too long, and now there was no telling how long it would be, if ever, that I saw him again.

When we got to the condo we found Agents Green and Pataski waiting for us.

"What is it now?" I snapped. I had no more patience to be polite. "Haven't you people done enough?"

"We are going," said Agent Greene, "to recover your robot, but in light of the judge's ruling we need your permission."

"Permission? For what?"

"To access his GPS signal. We understand he has one."

Of course. To get Cornwall and Waters out of trouble, they'd have to find Andrew.

"Okay, I'll sign. Under one condition. That my private investigator is present when you do your search."

"That's a classified area," protested Pataski.

"I don't care. It's either that or I take the search into my own hands. There are security companies with equipment as sophisticated as yours."

Green and Pataski passed a look between them, and Green nodded.

"Better yet, come with us. There will be no question about the search with you there."

#

We slid into our town car, which despite Green and Pataski's suggestion we refused to give up. We did, however, have to leave behind our security, which worried Roger. I instructed the driver to follow their car, a sad little thing with government plates and travelled forty-five minutes behind it.

"Are you sure this is a good idea, Evaline? The RIB haven't treated you well."

"If it means getting Andrew back, yeah, I'm behind it."

"Damn him," said Roger, meaning Jason. He looked out the window.

"Want a drink?" I suggested reaching for the whiskey.

"No," he said.

"No? That's a first."

Roger turned his head toward me. "When I said I'd clean up my act, I meant it Evaline. No child should have a parent that's a drunk."

I patted his knee. "I'm glad to hear that," I said.

We crossed over into Virginia and turned onto some back roads. Finally we pulled into a long driveway and were stopped behind Green and Pataski at a checkpoint. The guard waved us in and we moved down the road, a single concrete line through an ocean of green.

Shortly a square and ugly concrete building rose from the broad lawn. We stopped and Agent Green opened our door. We followed the two agents into the building. A security team searched us and then handed us visitor passes.

So far nothing was remarkable. The plain RIB building spoke of its unimportance to the government at large. However, when we entered a large and dark room, electronics and screens on every wall we became privy to the vast amount of information the RIB could access. Feeds from around the country poured onto those screens in a shifting kaleidoscope of colors and landscapes. Clearly, there was more to the RIB than robot control.

Generations past, in simpler times, had concepts of privacy, a notion that vaguely survives now in our truncated First Amendment rights. But us, a generation washed with computer-generated visuals from our first moments of birth, do not have that fully developed sense our grandparents did. Still, the breadth of the RIB intrusions in the daily lives of citizens was shocking. There seemed to be no aspect, from phone calls, to interactions on city streets, to intrusions in peoples' homes that went without a glance. About fifty people sat at workstations staring at the screens and typing into their computers. And yet, with all this, Andrew, Jason and Cicily slipped through their fingers.

With the look of amazement Roger had, I could imagine he had the same thoughts.

"Evaline," he whispered. "They don't want to destroy Andrew. They want to use him."

I nodded. That was the only conclusion. A sentient robot could make these evaluations hundreds of times faster than any human.

"Mr. Shipley is correct," said a booming voice behind us.

We both turned to the voice to see a large man in a black suit and burgundy tie in the doorway of the room.

"Welcome to RIB Headquarters. I'm Ralph Dowd, the chief of the Robot Inspection Bureau."

"Well, Mr. Dowd. You have our attention," I said. "What will happen when you find Andrew?"

"Why nothing, Mrs. Shipley. Our analysts have concluded that the emotional bond you've created with Andrew would reduce his effectiveness for our purposes."

"Really?" I said, sarcasm dripping from my voice. "If you are so beneficent, why did you infect Andrew's skin with a virus?"

Dowd spread his hands in appeal.

"It was a regrettable misunderstanding by another section of our organization. We dealt with those responsible," he said his voice ice-cold.

With his words I shivered. I did not want to be at the other end of Dowd's retributions.

Stand tall, Rimes, I told myself. Andrew needs you, needs them to find him. Don't let this fucker see the cracks in your armor. I stared him down. This guy didn't care about Andrew or Waters and Cornwall. He only cared about his agenda.

"And what do you want now, in exchange for your help?"

"Co-operation," he said with a smile. "Androdyne can continue to create sentient robots, but they can't do it without the template."

"Andrew," I said.

"Yes," said Dowd, "We will offer them a sizable government contract to help them continue their research. And we are prepared to offer you significant remuneration to allow Andrew to keep working with them."

"No deal, "I said with a huff.

"Now hear us out."

"Let me make my position clear. Regardless of Andrew's legal status any work he does will be because he chooses it. I suggest, Chief Dowd, that you put everything in to finding Andrew, and make sure he is grateful for your help."

Dowd nodded his head. "We'll do that."

"And one last thing," said Roger.

"Yes," said Dowd.

"You drop the charges against Evaline."

Dowd gave us a wide, ingratiating smile.

"Of course, Mr. Shipley. We can do that."

#

Dowd questioned us on the likely suspects of Andrew's abduction, and it was Roger that growled Jason's name. I agreed that Androdyne had the most motivation to try to take the robot.

My head created crazy scenarios where Jason and Cicily excised Andrew's memories of me. He came close to losing them when he was sick. What would happen if he did not know me? The though frightened and sickened me.

After a virtual search of Cicily Well's location, Cicily turned up missing too.

"Yes," agreed Dowd. "Apparently, the Wells stole your robot."

However, despite the efforts of the analysts, Andrew's, Jason's and Cicily's location proved elusive. After an hour of frantic searching there wasn't a single sign of any of them.

A virtual search of Amanda Connor's property was unrevealing.

"Sneaky bastard," muttered Roger. He nursed a coffee given to him by an assistant of Chief Dowd, watching the monitors as if he could find Andrew, Jason and Cicily with his eyes alone.

"The GPS is not working," said Dowd glumly. "They probably turned it off. We can't locate the signal."

Dowd centered twenty-five of the analysts to search every method possible out of Washington. At that time I learned there were five more Androdyne labs located respectively in New York City, Dallas, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Longmont, Colorado. The RIB chief assigned an analyst to each of these locations looking for clues.

But it was an analyst focused on Virginia that waved over Chief Dowd.

"Sir, I don't know if it's anything. But this is weird. There is a cell phone signal that keeps bouncing off the satellites and it doesn't have an originating number. And it keeps repeating the same sounds."

"Play it," said Dowd.

A voice came from the speakers.

"You are my sunshine, my little sunshine," the non-corporeal voice sang. "You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."

"That's him! That's Andrew!" I shouted.

The analyst, Dowd and Roger gave me incredulous looks.

"He sang me that song!" I said joyous to hear his voice. That's him!"

"Pinpoint that signal," said Dowd.

#

It took a little strong-arming to convince Dowd that we should accompany the RIB retrieval team. Logic won the final argument. When I pointed out that Andrew was not likely to trust any human but me, he relented.

At least I hoped Andrew would trust me. I couldn't contemplate an Andrew who did not know me.

Dowd fitted us with bulletproof armor, which was a coverall of ultra-thin material, and a helmet. With Dowd at our backs, we entered the RIB extraction unit, a large black straight truck outfitted with electronics and benches. Ten grim faced soldiers sat in the back along with us along with Green and Pataski geared in similar fashion. Dowd sat in the front of the truck with the driver. We drove through Virginia to a farmhouse that was the most likely location to contain Andrew. It was a long trip, and I grew anxious because of the coffee I drank, and nauseous for a lack of food. But we were heading to Andrew. That is all I cared about.

Finally the truck stopped at the end of a dirt road. The soldiers jumped out of the truck and Green and Pataski followed. Dowd, however, refused to let us down.

"Once the area is secure, we'll bring you in, I promise," said Dowd.

The minutes ticked on. We heard shots in the distance, and we gripped each other's arms. Roger looked into my eyes, and I could tell that he was worried.

"He'll be okay," I said.

"Of course Andrew will be okay. He's made of titanium, the bastard."

"No, I mean Jason," I said. "He's smart. He'll protect himself and his mother."

Roger closed his eyes. Yeah, you don't stop caring about someone you love because they are idiots. I learned that the hard way.

"Damn bastard," he muttered.

The back of the truck opened. Dowd stood there, talking into a headset.

"We'll bring them now."

He climbed into the back of the truck.

"We were wrong."

"What? Andrew's not here?"

"No. He's here. It wasn't the Wells that took your robot. Ever hear of Nobots?"

"Yeah, that's the group we thought shot Roger," I said.

"Well, we secured them, but Andrew is holed up in the barn with Jason Wells. He won't let anyone in. The robot claims he has a bomb."

I swallowed.

"He thinks of Jason as his brother," I said. "He's programmed to protect him and won't let anyone hurt him."

"Well, then Ms. Shipley, you're up. If there is any time to prove that robot of yours isn't dangerous, this is it."

I nodded. "Let's go get Andrew."

#

My feet crunched on the frosty gravel and I could see my frozen breath. Snow blanketed all but the gravel track that ran to the house and then to barn clad in weathered gray wood. I walked to the barn, not sure what to expect. I couldn't fathom why Andrew would barricade himself and Jason there. The soldiers took positions behind me, guns drawn, but I waved them off. They refused to move.

"God damn it, Dowd," I yelled. "Pull them off."

His mouth moved, relaying information into his headset. The troops moved back but still kept their guns trained on the barn. I took off my helmet, dropped it on the ground and walked to the closed barn door.

"Andrew! It's me, Evaline!"

"Go away! Jason says it's a trap."

"It's me, Evaline. Can't you tell by my voice?"

"He says that can be duplicated!"

"I'll prove it to you. Remember when you sang to me in that house, Andrew? You sang, 'You Are My Sunshine.' It's how we found you, Andrew. You opened your satellite connection while you sang. I knew it was you. Who else would know that?"

The slowly door creaked open. Andrew peeked out. His eyes lit up when he saw me. He reached out, grabbed me and pulled me roughly into the barn. Jason lay in some straw, eyes closed, blood all over his shirt.

"Evaline! Evaline! It's such a mess. Jason is hurt bad. He's cold and I can't warm him! It's so cold and there is nothing I can do."

"Is Cicily here?"

"Cicily's dead," he said. "Why did they do that? Why did they kill Cicily?" Andrew shook, his equivalent of crying, and I pulled him tight to me.

"Evaline!" Roger called. "Are you okay."

"Yes."

"Dowd wants to know if it's safe. They are getting a little antsy out here."

"No!" said Andrew. "They can't come in here. I have to protect Jason."

"Andrew, do you have a bomb?"

"No."

"Okay, Andrew. We have to let the RIB in here."

"No! The RIB hurt me. They will hurt him and you!" Andrew's eyes shifted wildly back and forth from Jason, to me, to the door. Andrew was in shock, reacting on his emotions instead of thinking through his actions

"Andrew, listen to me. We have to help Jason. It's cold here, and he's wounded. You and me, Andrew, we have help Jason. You and me, Andrew. Remember?"

The microseconds ticked by. Anxiously, I waited for Andrew's response. Did I get through to his emotionally agitated robot brain?

Slowly he nodded his head. "You and me."

"Roger is outside. We'll bring him in to help Jason. Is that okay?"

"Yes."

"It was a bluff, Roger. Tell Dowd to call in some medical help. Jason needs help."

I heard Roger shouting, and the barn door opened. Unfortunately, I couldn't hold back the flood of soldiers that rushed into the barn. I held onto Andrew tightly as the troops surrounded us, telling Andrew it was okay, to trust me; that these soldiers would help. It was a tense couple of minutes before Dowd arrived and told his troops to stand down. Roger ran in to Jason and knelt before him not knowing what to do.

Jason opened his eyes.

"Hi, Babe," he croaked. "Look, we're a matched set now." He raised his hand weakly and pointed to his shoulder.

"Oh, you idiot." said Roger taking Jason's hand.

#

Say what you will about the inefficiencies of government, the RIB hustled once they had access to the barn. One of the soldiers, who doubled as a field medic, assessed Jason's injuries. He lost some blood, but the medic assured us as she put in a saline line that Jason would pull through. Roger hovered over him while we waited for a helicopter to pick up Jason. The medic gave both of the men scowls because it was clear there was more between Roger and Jason than camaraderie.

We watched the helicopter take off with Jason, and then saw the rag tag assortment of criminals lined up outside the farmhouse. Soldier brought a body bag from the house and laid on the ground. Andrew started shaking again.

Dowd approached.

"He looks scared," said Dowd.

"You can talk directly to him," I snapped. "Bad enough those bastards kidnapped him, his brother and his mother, and he watched while they killed one and wounded the other. You wouldn't be a happy camper either."

Dowd stood there a few seconds, then cocked his head. "Andrew, can you tell me what happened?"

"One of my guards at the RIB, that one," he pointed at one of the prisoners, "took me from my cell and put me in a truck. I thought I was going to court. But the ride lasted longer than it should and when we stopped we were here. They had Jason and Cicily here, tied to chairs. They tied me too, and it took a long while before I could work free of the bindings. They held some strange court, declared Jason and Cicily 'robot lover criminals' and before I could react they shot Cicily in the head. I was almost out of my bindings then, so I broke free and pulled Jason out of the house. We gained the barn, but not before one of them put a bullet into Jason's shoulder as we moved."

"Amazing," said Dowd.

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