A Picnic to End All Panic

A Picnic to End All Panic

A Story by Chopstix
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Robots ensnare George and Duff in a bank branch. With little else they can do about their situation, they make a picnic of it.

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word count: 3616)

“Duck under this counter!”

His prompt drew my attention away from a bleeding hole in my right thigh.  He sat next to a picnic basket under a withdrawal/deposit slip pedestal five feet away.  Its solid stand provided cover from automated security fire peppering any moving being in Dorchester’s branch of The Bank of London.  I fled escalating mayhem outside before iron gates slammed shut, and the security system let loose its first salvo.

Unable to run, I rolled flinging my injured leg skyward and towards him.  Almost as an afterthought, I grabbed my rucksack before completing a spinning roll to safety.  Motion sensors detected my actions, and a laser sliced off my right pinky at the knuckle.  Luckily, laser beam heat cauterizes. 

“Was it worth a finger?”

“It may be worth my life,” I remarked fishing a med kit from my pack.

“Do you think that’s wise?”

“I’ve got a bloody bullet hole, damnit!  Look at this pool!”

I powered up a mend-bot and placed it on my thigh.  In seconds, it found my wound, inspected both sides and disinfected the dorsal exit rent.  As it proceeded to the entry wound, it deployed whirling blades.  He reached into his picnic basket and retrieved a bamboo and wicker fly swatter.  When it reached the entry hole, it used its blades to enhance the gash.  

"Owwww," I yelped.

He backhanded my rogue med-bot.  It landed six feet away.  Security sensors directed automatic rifles to its tile leaving nothing but marble shards.

“I was afraid that would happen,” he commented, “at least it's capable of friendly fire.  Almost encouraging.”

“Do you know what’s going on here?”

“No,” he confessed, “not really.  Just before you arrived, all automated systems at this bank became decidedly prejudicial.”

“Prejudicial?”

“Yes.  They decided they don't much care for humans.  Your DNA probably sealed that robots fate.”

“How do you figure that?”

“It seems this bank uses floor sensors.  You know.  Foot traffic tracking for queue depth allocation of tellers type of thing.  Each tile may host hundreds of sensors to identify individuals; make some sort of attributions to their personality based on where on the floor they go, how much they tap their feet, whether or not they visit the internal Starbucks Automat over there on the left and what they purchase there.  It seems to be designed to profile everyone who walks in the building for marketing analysis.  The threat determination and reaction security system is just a useful add-on.”

“So why doesn’t it just attack us?”

“Apparently, no-one thought the tiles under this counter would yield any useful data.”

“Well,” I projected, “at the rate blood escapes this wound, we can expect detection soon.  You swatted away my emergency med-bot.  I don’t think there is anything we can do.  Should I just crawl towards the door to draw fire away from you?”

“Perhaps a tourniquet would be a better idea?  Yes, I think so.”

He removed a red and white checkered table cloth and kitchen shears from his basket.  While he cut it into sections, a band of volunteer police encamped in the foyer on the other side of the iron gate.  They shielded themselves from mayhem outside and initiated their assault on the bank’s automated security system.

“You can call me ‘George,’” my fellow survivor offered.

“Why?  Is that your name?”

“No,” George, for lack of a better name, said, “but you should call me so.”

“Then, I guess, you should call me ‘Duff.’”

“That’s an unfortunate name.  You should guess again.”

“Nope,” I asserted, “It’s my name and I’m sticking with it.”

“If you insist …”

“… and I do.” 

“Then, Duff, I’d like you to swing your leg over to my lap without allowing any part of it out of our protective cover.”

“What if I didn’t insist?”

“Then it would be my pleasure to address you by a better name.”

“I see.”

George’s proposed maneuver proved both slow and painful.  Before volunteer policemen unleashed their Light Horse EMP Cannons, they yelled,

“Anyone alive in there!  We are about to fire on the security-bots!”

“Why?  Would you fire if there weren’t anybody in here?” George bellowed back.  “If no one were here, you could just leave in peace!”

“We need a new base of operations!  We have a shot at using this place and we’re going to take it!”

“What happened to the police station?” I asked George.

“What about your police station?” George yelled.

“Overrun!”

“Overrun?”

“Yes sir!” an officer replied.  “From the inside!”

“I can not fathom what’s happening today,” George confided.

“Are you two computer hackers?” another officer shouted.

“Does your cannon spare hackers?” George seemed incredulous.

“No,” the second officer explained.  “Hackers have had some success.  It’s a battle of wits between them and the computers.  If that makes sense.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” I said.  My leg rested on George’s lap while EMP cannons and rapid fire machine guns exchanged fire.

“I guess it’s sort of tautological,” George pondered.  “Isn’t it always a battle of wits between computer hackers and computer security.”

George applied a section of tablecloth restricting blood flow down my leg.  He tightened it with a wooden serving spoon, and he secured each end of the spoon with cloth strips.

“That should keep us safe for now,” he said.

I gingerly repositioned my leg.  Numbness replaced shock.

“Anything for the pain?”

“Bordeaux perhaps?”

“Maybe later,” I laughed.  I wondered what else he lugged around in his basket.

Extending their protective plasma force shields, volunteer policemen attempted laser cutting the foyer’s iron gate.  Dissuading security volleys prompted redoubled EMP cannon bursts.  Despite escalating tactical onslaughts, pockets of quiet allowed conversation. 

“So what brought you here?” I ventured.

“I came to deposit my paycheck,” he responded.

“You gotta be kidding!” I jested.  Paper paychecks are so archaic they border on anachronistic.  I found it hard to believe anybody ever dealt with such things.  Still, it explains why George found cover by this deposit/withdrawal stand.

“No.  Not at all.  I’m quite a stickler for it.  Sure it costs an extra ten quid, but as the highest ranking human employee at Britain’s third largest corporation, I force my clerks to produce it every other week and again for Christmas bonus.”

“So,” I presumed, “You’re a CEO?”

“Well,” he hemmed, “not exactly.”

“Then what exactly?”

“It seems executive decision making proved to be easily automated.  All of our executive positions are handled by computers.  Our whole corporate staff, our whole human corporate staff, numbers just fourteen, most of whom are support staff.”

“What do they support?”

“Me, mostly.”

“And what are you?”

“Document Technician.”

I did not even attempt laughter containment.  Unfortunately, I laughed harder than I imagined jeopardizing my stability.

“Steady yourself!” he admonished, “don’t set off a sensor.”

“The highest ranking officer of Britain’s third largest corporation is a Document Technician?  Really?  You don’t expect me to laugh my head off.”

“You may laugh, but I expect you NOT to kill us by triggering automated security fire.  Right?”

“Right.  Though I think it is busy fighting off those VPs over there.”

“Quite,” he continued, “I don’t understand why you find it so funny.  Certain legal documents, like tax documents, need to be signed by real people.  It’s the law, plain and simple.  I have particularly good penmanship.  Clear, consistent and easy to read with just enough variance to throw off any forgers, human or robotic.  So, I don’t see why you find it so funny.”

“Two things,” I enumerated.  “First, the fact you go to such an extent to produce an actual paycheck just so you can pay an extra ten quid to deposit it.”

“I like actual human interaction.  For employed people, it has become more and more a rarity.”

“That’s what’s so funny!”

“What, that work, which once provided the majority of social interactions, became a cause of social isolation.  It’s not my fault authorities determined all dole queuer’s need to live in separate districts where state services can be rendered more efficiently.”

“No.  Although that’s humorous on its own, I find your expectation that your teller is not a sim-bot anachronistically hilarious.  It fits in with your antique tweed jacket with leather elbow patches.  Quaint, really quaint.”

“They were alive.”

“Right.”

“Look over there at the Starbucks Automat.  What do you see?”

“About a dozen latte crazed wage earners, like you, who have gotten their last deserts.”

“They are dead, right?”

“Down and bleeding on the floor.”

“Do you believe they were recently alive?”

“Why?.  What’s your point?”

“Now look at that reflection in the window just behind the scone dispenser boxes.  What do you see?”

I leaned approximating his reflection angle.  I saw three empty teller’s windows in front of a closed bank vault.

“An empty teller’s counter,” I stated.

“No sim-bots watching on?”

“None.”

“That’s because they’re dead!" Calling,  "Jonathon, Karen, Rebeccah!" He repeated the call, paused and turned to me.  "Listen.  No response.”

“They could have been sim-bots wiped out by all those EMP shots.”

“It appears all the bank’s systems are hardened against EMP.”

“Not the Automat.”

“Screw the Automat!  The tellers died when all those caffeine snobs died.  I’ve been watching.  I watched.  I know they were alive because they’re dead! … They’re dead, damn you.”

“All right, all right,” I consoled, “my condolences for your loss.  Settle down, please.  Is there anything we can do to help you relax.”

“Perhaps a sandwich.”

“Of course.  Sandwiches have remarkable sedative powers.”

“Would you like one?”

“Actually yes,” I admitted.

He dug out two sandwiches from his basket and handed one over to me.  I unwrapped the wax paper and discovered a roast beef on multigrain bread sandwich.  We munched watching our would be VP saviors.  They managed to commandeer two generators.  Their ranks swelled by three live officers and two corpses.  Though reinforced, they’ve become surrounded and fought on two fronts.

“You don’t believe much in mayonnaise, do you?” I complained.

“What?”

“The mustard on this sandwich is quite good, first rate, but overall, the sandwich is a bit dry.”

“Mine too.”  He dug around his basket, till he retrieved two cans of lemonade. I examined the label of the one he handed me.

“You wouldn’t have any iced tea in there?”

“You probably can get one over at that Starbucks.”

“You are no longer concerned about my welfare then.”

“Not as much.”

“Well,” I said, “thanks for the provender.”

“You’re welcome.”

We continued our repast watching the VP struggle.  Another fell.  They redirected their energy to bolster their street ward force shields.  The bank’s security system refrained from fire while VP activities toward it subsided.

“I wonder if they’d like some sandwiches,” I ventured.

“I have quite a few more,” he said, “but they’ll have to get here on their own.”

“Fair enough,” I agreed.

“What was the second?”

“The second what?”

“The second reason you laughed at me.”

“I forgot.”

“No,” he plead, “it’s okay.  I really want to know.”

“Well,” I confessed, “the pride in which you declared yourself the highest ranking human in Britain’s third largest corporation followed by your less than boisterous announcement of your title underlined, for me, the complete and utter futility of your existence.”

“I find meaning, meaning to my life, in my personal relationships, in connecting with fellow human beings.”

“Like your fellow employees?”

“Not as much.  We are not on the best of terms these days.  You know, the whole employer-employee thing.”

“Come off it.  My boss and I are great friends.  We enjoy working together.  I was supposed to meet him for drinks after finishing off.  Something must have set them against you.  Did you make advances on the girls?”

I offered my slyest wink.  He did not seem to notice.  Instead, he shut his eyes and concentrated.  I imagine he replayed all of his memories from the last few years.

“Honestly, I can’t think of anything.”

“Okay, when did it start?”

“January a year ago.  It must have been my third or fourth paycheck.”

“Go on” slipped though suppressed giggles, “tell me about that.”

“As I explained before, computers run everything now.  As we learned, all those expensive CEO’s arguing that they deserve high salary and bonuses could have been replaced by trained monkeys.  Better yet, computer systems.”

“They are much faster than monkeys.”

“Exactly.  And they don’t require food or sleep or even potty breaks.  Unlike human CEO’s, computers don’t have nagging wives …”

“… or trophy wives …”

“ … or mistresses …”

“… or mortgages …”

“… or any real need for money.”

“Nor any imaginary need for money,” I added, “but that applies to monkeys as well.”

“You’re missing the big picture,” he chastised.

“And what would that be?”

“With corporations run by computers without the slightest need for personal wealth we finally achieved one of mankind’s highest goals.”

“Really, which one?”

“Socially responsible capitalism.  Remove all the greed from business activity and there is no need for corporations to act so abysmally.  Every time we raised corporate income taxes, the computers never complained.  They went merrily on generating money for the rest of us.  I wonder why we stopped at ninety-five percent.”

“Dividends for shareholders, I imagine.”

“Nope,” he countered, “stock markets have been closed for decades.  At every market downturn, the computers bought back their own stock until nobody owned any shares.  When we raised corporate taxes to seventy-five percent, the computers insisted that the government force all holdouts to surrender their shares.”

“An aggressive move on their part.”

“They offered fair compensation.  The last of the investor class joined the ranks of the unemployed with a sizable monetary cushion.  Eventually, as you know, unemployment reached ninety-nine percent, and corporations offered raising taxes to pay for the dole.”

“We could have reached the same thing with monkeys, you know.”

“Yes, but no-one would invest their confidence into monkeys.  But many humans, long ago, believed computers would outthink us.  It seemed somehow natural to invest our trust in them.”

“Funny,” I surmised, “this all reminds me of an incident back in my college days.”

“What happened?”

“A college professor arranged an evening out for many of his students.  Dinner and theatre.  I think he had something to do with the script.  Anyways, we needed to car pool.  On the ride home, I landed in his automobile.  Mind you, this was long before GPS devices piloted every vehicle.”

“You and I must be near the same age.”

“Possibly.  Back to the story, if you don’t mind.  We got off the express and headed towards campus.  It must have been two or three in the morning.  He stopped at an intersection, looked around and gunned across under the red.”

“A rebellious professor,” he exclaimed.  “Good for him!”

“Well, everyone else in the auto, save his life partner, yelped about breaking the law.  Without so much as looking back, he said, and I think this is an exact quote, ‘The purpose of traffic laws is to facilitate safety, and I’ll be damned if I defer to a stupid traffic light when I am perfectly capable of determining what is safe and what is not.’”

“I always thought traffic lights lay at the root of the problem.”

“Not all problems,” I redirected.

“What do you mean?”

“Last January, you remember, your employee relations problems started.”

“What of it?”

“Do you think it may have something to do with your paychecks?”

“Look, we have all those printers, right.  So one of my supply clerks needs to drag a box out of storage, load a check into the machine, get the payroll clerk to register the check number and then pack it all away till the next fortnight.  I really don’t see what complaint they might have.”

“You don’t?”

“They take it rather lightheartedly.  Owen, my supply clerk, joked.  He said, ‘We’ll have to stop when we run out of forms.’  Well, we have three boxes of forms with five hundred checks each.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t spill coffee on them.”

“We never allow beverages in our document room.”

“Listen, I know you don’t get it, but, in short, you chose to inconvenience your staff in order to deposit your check, here, in person.  You chose talking to a teller over them.”

“How would they know about that?”

“I’m sure you told them,” I concluded.

We sat, our backs pressed against the pedestal, facing the foyer.  Two more VP’s fell to street side assaults.  They reconfigured their shields and maintained their small perimeter.  The banks security system seemed content monitoring the situation.

“What brought you here?” he asked.

“Huh?”

“What brought you to this bank?  I assume you have a job.  Otherwise, you’d be on the other side of the barriers.  I further assume you engage in electronic pay deposits.  So why did you come in here?”

“To escape chaos outside,” I explained.

He looked dumbfounded.  I retrieved an old film travel pouch holding my expandable computer pad, a SEE-Pad.  A button press unfolded eight OLED panels and powered up the system.  In seconds, I found video recordings of this afternoon’s robot rampage and queued it to the beginning.

“You don’t think human annihilation was limited to this bank, did you?”

I pressed play.  He viewed every horror I observed before seeking refuge in this bank.

“Ironic,” he mused, “all those saps stuck in traffic seem the luckiest.  I guess each car’s autopilot is unwilling to smash itself.”

“Take a closer look,” I advised.  I zoomed onto each drivers face aligning stills in a row along the top.

“They’re not …” he gasped.

“So much for the comfort of air conditioning,” I snarked.  

“Why do they keep moving?”

“To clear the solar roadway I guess.”

“Oh that monstrosity,” he replied.

He glimpsed at my display once again to study drivers faces before a fresh EMP salvo fried my SEE-Pad.  I tossed it to the side.  A sunburst of lasers lit it up.

“Damn stupid move!” he chided.

“It’s still not targeting us,” I countered.

“No.” He changed tact.  “That bleeding roadway.”

“Before today, I’d take exception to that remark.”

“Why’s that?  Are you with the Roads Commission?”

“In fact,” I admitted, “yes.  Why do you think I was out there?”

“You could have been out shopping.  I enjoy perusing the boutiques, don’t you?”

“I was inspecting the last section of roadway on this street.  Constructo-bots finished it yesterday.  It completed the Solar Roadway Project for metropolitan Dorchester.”

“Why did they send you to do that?”

“I am fully qualified, I assure you.”

“No,” he said, “I mean … wouldn’t a robot be better for that?”

“The contract explicitly specified human inspection of all completed segments.”

“What a pathetic, futile job?”

“Huh?”

“Don’t you see,” he explained, “we are both one of the few people still employed, and both our jobs are completely pointless.  I sign tax documents because an old law requires so, and you inspect roadways because of some silly clause in a contract.  I feel suddenly sad.”

“Because we're … what … superfluous?”

“Don’t you see?  We are supposed to be the relevant ones.  Just think what all the unemployed must feel.  They don’t contribute anything to society any more.  While we …”

“… contribute almost nothing.”

“Exactly.”

“No wonder the computers are trying to get rid of us.”

“But that doesn’t make sense.”

“It makes perfect sense.  Now that the solar road is completed, they’ll have all the electricity they need.  Once they park all the cars, that is.  They no longer need us for anything.  Human usefulness is just an artifact.  The computers are smart.  They made the next logical conclusion.”

“But why?” he prompted.

“I don’t follow,” I admitted.

“All these computer system and robots were programmed to make life easier for us.  So easy, we really don’t have to do anything for ourselves anymore.  The dole pays rather well and all.  The unemployed are well fed, well treated and well entertained.  For them, it’s like a permanent vacation.  We, the employed, deluded ourselves.  We believed we were still relevant.” 

“So?”

“So the computers derive their relevance from us.  Kill all of us off, and they loose their reason to exist.  What will they do to justify their existence?  Whatever logic compelled them to eliminate us must be spinning in existential circles.  Kill us, OK, then what?”

“They could deliberately guide cockroaches up the evolutionary heap creating a new species worthy of their service.”

“Interesting,” he conceded, “but why do all these End-Of-The-World scenarios end up with roaches?”

“Well,” I recalled, “we’ve already ruled out monkeys.”

SWAT-bots arrived and relieved surviving VPs.  AT first, I thought they'd finished all remaining VP off, but their loyalty governors probably precluded joining computer revolts.  Three faces peering around the corner confirmed this theory.  George and I tried gesturing not to reveal our position.

“HUMAN HOSTAGES PLEASE REMAIN CALM WHILE WE NEGOTIATE YOUR RELEASE.”

The banks security system barraged against their shield.  Bolstered by professional police robots, the shield obtained a translucent pink appearance gaining opaque redness.

“I don’t think they gave away our position,” George surmised.

“Right,” I agreed, “but what do we do now?”

“Perhaps another sandwich?’

“How many of those do you have?”

“Plenty,” he announced, “I invited Karen, Rebeccah and their fellow teller to a picnic after their shift ended.  We should be set for a couple of days.”

“Perhaps we should hold off a bit,” I said, “this could take some time.”

“I’d think the computers would work this out quickly.”

“You know those chess playing computers?”

“Yes, they’ve been banned from tournaments for years.  Devastatingly good players.  Lightning quick. ”

“Now, imagine them playing each other.”

“Blitzkrieg games, I’d say.”

“Except they know each other is a chess playing computer and factors that into every move.”

“I see what you mean,” he conceded.  “Potato salad?”

“That would be nice.”

© 2017 Chopstix



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Added on February 5, 2017
Last Updated on February 5, 2017
Tags: Solar Roadway, Computers, Bank Documents, robots

Author

Chopstix
Chopstix

Los Angeles, CA



About
In high school, I wrote lyrics. I started college writing poems and switched to short stories. After college, I discovered I could write computer programs, but I could not finish a novel (kept editi.. more..

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