Sometimes things do work out
As he washed his hands
In the dirty sink
Sometimes things do work out
Sometimes things do work out
As he washed his hands
In the dirty sink
Sometimes things do work out
T’was not the career I expected
But it will serve
In good stead it will serve
I know crank and seatstay
Hydraulic disc and PowerLink
I once set sag
For a Brazilian man
Who was like putty in my hands
Respectable to strangers’ ears
A paved path toward friendship
If you can leave the bike with me
The proper adjustments can be made
There is too much change
And too little change
My heart still craves
(At least I believe it does
Though I have neglected
To sit still for long enough
To really suss out the truth)
A rare confluence of
Time and space
Necessity and culture
Resulting in the
Of the perfect solitude
All else is distraction
All else is suffering
Torments endured patiently
On the journey to the goal
The further I beat along the path
The more exorbitant the toll
I hear the cruelties
Coming through the wall again
Hard lullabies in which
I struggle to find the tune
I’m not playing!
Retarded kids do that!
You’re smart now?
Don’t fuck with me!
Get up off the floor!
I will admit that I am sensitive
That I find it hard to take
But much harder
Were I a two year old
With no prospect of escape
Master of the fief!
Did you get the audio I sent?
Did you hear the child
As her guardian hemmed in?
That warning you admonished
Did you hear it didn’t take?
Those hinges you installed last fall
Has she slammed them ‘til they break?
When she said she was embarrassed
You believed her, I can tell
Her child must have
Had some karma
To be rebirthed to such a hell
I have made eyes at the Buddha
I prayed to him one night
(The other night, a tired night
When the neighbor’s abuses
And my anxiety came on)
It was a halfhearted prayer
Neither fervent nor devoted
But I try to see the
Emptiness in things
And to have compassion
Where I can
I mingle the Dharma with Don Juan
Until the mixture suits my taste
So long, self-importance
Death, advise me
A practical knowledge of
At any given moment
My mind will panic and cringe
My thoughts like vermin scrabbling
My mood a blood blister darkening
My heart set to self-destructing
When “reality” comes calling
That no one can predict
Twists and turns beyond catalogue
Every joy a precedent
Each experience unique
The fulfillment is the journey
Not the goal we seek
Tired climb and endless slog
From tedium to disappointment
All the way
Then back again
All life is suffering
The simplest day’s desire
Will be crushed by stupid luck
Exploded on the roadside
By passers by
This is not to say I’ve given up
Or reconformed to pattern
But answer me this,
Answer me this
Shall I dig my hooks and hold to dreams
Prepare to stand and fight?
Or sever ties and loose my grip
For Bodhisattva flight?
At 1:30 am
You called your father
For a ride home
If you seemed faded
He restrained himself
Instead he told you
About the year he spent
As a monk in Japan
Your mind reeled
As you realized
You are becoming this man
But there was no fear
I had my first real taste of writer’s rejection recently, with my “short” story A Traffic Stop with RobotCop. As you can see, I’ve decided to just post the 16,000 word beast on my blog (and on Medium). I understand that this is sort of a no-no in the writing subculture, as it represents a thin-skinned response, a lack of resolve, a devaluation of one’s hard work yadda yadda…
The thing is that I want the story to be readily available, in the record, and off my desk, even if very few people actually end up reading it. Apparently the U.S. Supreme Court decided very recently that illegal stops (by cops) can still yield admissible evidence. Justice Sotomayor wrote a scorching dissent and her obvious outrage, frustration and compassion made me remember how I tried to distill my insignificant howl at the power structure into a document that is incisive, enjoyable and has some ring of truth to it.
So I submit my story to the blog-o-sphere. I’m going to reprint the note I included with my first email submission, because I think it still adequately expresses how I feel about this story:
I won’t be coy: RobotCop is my response to the recent media attention surrounding the killing of civilians, mostly of color, by police officers. However, my intention for the story is not for it to function as a screed or polemic. There is plenty of shouting going on in the media already, and besides, I know all too well the feeling of reading or hearing something I agree with fundamentally, yet feeling repulsion due to the author or speaker’s clumsy expression or interpretation of the facts and ideas in question. So I wanted to explore these issues with a light touch. The question that prompted me was essentially this: what if someone designed a robotic police officer, but he refused or was unable to take part in even the smallest acts of corruption? The opportunity for a dark, gritty tale was evident, but with that approach, bitterness seemed a foregone outcome. So I designed RobotCop with a humor circuit, and added a few zany touches to the narrative. I cast Rombus and Argyle as archetypes, but attempted to humanize them both – populating their thoughts with noble ideals, yet having their actions play out in sometimes ugly ways, and at cross-purposes. I hope that I’ve come up with something that makes its point without being heavy-handed, and I hope you, the editors, will be interested enough to request the full story.
“So today’s the big day huh? First time on the beat. Wow… no offense, but I never thought I’d see the day.”
My voice recognition circuit makes a preliminary identification of the speaker. The most probable match is Officer Giuseppe Vincenzo, at 89.61%. My rear optics engage my facial recognition circuit and the identity is confirmed. I turn around to face the officer. He is correct. Today, Wednesday April 1st, is the day that has been chosen for my initial patrol.
“I am looking forward to it, Officer Vincenzo,” I say. “Everyone I know has been building me up for this.”
Though my statement was intended to be humorous, Officer Vincenzo does not laugh. His face registers a low to moderate level of uncertainty.
“Have I pronounced your name incorrectly, officer?”
“Well… yeah. It’s Vin-chen-zo, or Veen-chen-zo if you wanna get fancy, but you can just call me Vinny. Everybody else does.”
My humor circuit prepares a response. My cultural sensitivity circuit makes the assessment that the response will be highly unlikely to offend Officer Vincenzo. My decision engine proceeds.
“Aaaaay, Vinny,” I say, spreading my arms in an exaggerated gesture. “Fuggeddabout it!”
Officer Vincenzo grins. “Hey RobotCop, you’re a real funny guy. You might just be alright.”
My optics recognize that Vincenzo is wearing a non-regulation badge on the left breast of his patrol uniform. “May I inquire about your badge?” I ask.
“Ahh, you’ve got a keen eye. That’s good. Observation is paramount out there.” He slips his left hand into his pants pocket. “I’m not sure if they, uh, programmed you to know about the significance of April 1st, but uh… well here goes nothing.” There is a motion in Vincenzo’s pocket and a jet of liquid sprays from a nozzle in the center of the badge, striking me in the facial region.
“Oh god, I haven’t been waterproofed yet! I exclaim, while executing a number of jerky, but carefully circumscribed motions. “I was approximately eleven-point-five-six-hours away from becoming a real officer!”
My body language and expression circuits register alarm in the reaction of Officer Vincenzo, and in the reaction of Officer Pamela Kinderson, who suspends her trajectory through the corridor to observe me from approximately 10.20 feet away.
“That thing alright!?” inquires Officer Kinderson, her body language registering alarm.
“Uh… why don’t you ask him?” replies Officer Vincenzo.
Officer Kinderson walks 3.00 steps closer and looks at my facial region. I cease my motions and return to attention, facing her. She looks at Officer Vincenzo, then at me again, then fixes her attention in the direction of her original trajectory.
“Too weird,” she says. She shakes her head and resumes walking.
“Tough crowd,” says Officer Vincenzo.
I turn to face Officer Vincenzo. “I am actually fully functional and undamaged. My initial inference is that April 1st is a day in which harmless pranks are permissible in public life and in the workplace.”
Vincenzo grins again. “You got it, Tin Man. You catch on fast, and you had me going for a second there. Just between you and me, I thought you could be a liability out there, but you’re pretty damn sharp.” Vincenzo pauses, then looks at the plastic storage container held under his right armpit. His expression changes, registering concern. “Whoops. Evidence,” he says. “Well, I need to get this to the courtroom ASAP. But we’ll catch up later. Good luck out there, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
He pats my shoulder as he passes. Before rounding a corner he turns and shouts. “Oh yeah, it’s called April Fools’ Day, but I don’t think you’re gonna be anybody’s fool today, RobotCop.”
I navigate toward the portable facility where I will be given a round of final tests and outfitted with field equipment before my initial patrol. The city government and the police department have agreed that said equipment should not be installed permanently on my person or left in my custody until I demonstrate repeatable success in several categories of police work.
I encounter Detective Washington on the elevator. We are the only passengers.
“A lot of eyes on you today, a lot of scrutiny,” he says, looking straight ahead at the elevator command buttons. He pauses briefly, then continues. “I wouldn’t want to be under that kind of pressure during my first patrol.”
Detective Washington is referring to the legal conditions of my deployment, which entail extensive monitoring. My optical and audio sensors will transmit audiovisual data to the police station, as will a body camera, worn by my partner. The police cruiser’s dashboard camera will relay data as well. The feed will be monitored by a multidisciplinary team of police officials and elected officials, as well as representatives from the private companies and academic establishments responsible for my fabrication and programming. Also present will be lawyers representing several groups, a representative from the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, independent robotics experts, artificial intelligence experts, a small group of journalists, and 6.00 observers from the public, chosen through a process designed to ensure the inclusion of individuals with diverse viewpoints, representative of the larger population.
There are legal conditions surrounding the monitoring of my actions. After a period of litigation lasting 38.73 days, a judge determined that the police department’s argument–that officers of the law are unable to operate effectively under total transparency–had appreciable merit. The audiovisual feed broadcast to the multidisciplinary team will be subject to a five-minute delay. The chief of police and the deputy chief of police will monitor the live version of the feed. They have the ability to censor audio, video or both components of the feed in real time. If their judgment leads them to believe that the department’s operational capabilities or the public safety could be compromised by the feed, they can shut it off entirely. Any censored portions will be considered classified. Those seeking access to the data will be required to submit an application form, in accordance with a request process determined during the 38.73-day litigation period.
However, the multidisciplinary team will have uninterrupted access to a real-time set of diagnostics detailing the status of my electrical, mechanical and computer systems.
“I am designed to withstand up to one thousand pounds per square inch,” I say to Officer Washington.
Detective Washington emits a single chuckle that does not register as relating to mirth. “You know what I mean. I know you do. Sometimes an officer needs room to work.”
“The field actions of a police officer should always be ethical, legal and transparent,” I respond. There is a 4.59-second period of relative silence.
“So they gave you Mackenzie huh?” Washington says abruptly. The elevator door opens and we attempt to step out at the same time.
“Age before luster,” I say, allowing him through. Once we are both in the hallway, it becomes apparent that we are traveling in the same direction.
Detective Washington is correct. I have been assigned to a partnership of indeterminate length with Officer Thomas Mackenzie, a 17-year veteran of the Municipal Police Department. We were introduced two weeks ago. At that time, Mackenzie was given paper copies of a number of documents detailing my physical specifications, as well as a moderately detailed overview of my programming structure and its real-world applications. Mackenzie was also given network access to electronic versions of these files, as well as files–such as 3D models and raw code–that would have been impractical to print. In addition, Mackenzie was required to attend a mandatory three-day intensive instruction course detailing my operating principles.
The process by which Mackenzie was chosen as my partner for the patrol was not shared with me. The duration of the partnership has not been made apparent to me either. When I inquired with Lieutenant Jerikian about both matters, he replied “Let’s see how that first patrol goes first, huh RobotCop?”
“Officer Mackenzie is a venerable and respected member of the Municipal Police force,” I respond.
“I worked with Mackenzie once,” Washington says. He does not make a follow-up statement.
I indicate that I will be turning left at the next hallway intersection. Washington and I stop at the juncture to exchange goodbyes. “I won’t say too much here, but I think you have a very difficult job ahead of you,” he says.
“To protect the serve the citizens of the municipality is never an easy-”
“Don’t be dense with me.”
“The average density of my fabrication materials is roughly 3.26 grams-”
“Alright, alright. I get it.” Washington rolls his eyes. “Maybe you really don’t understand what I’m getting at–about the difficulty.” Washington looks directly into my facial optics without speaking for 5.62 seconds. He looks around the intersecting hallways, as if scanning for other people. “Well anyway, Godspeed RobotCop. Make us proud,” he says loudly, shaking my hand and smiling in a manner that my facial recognition and body language circuits register as inconclusive.
I am driving the police cruiser. Officer Mackenzie is in the passenger seat. In the weeks leading up to my initial patrol, I satisfactorily completed a set of basic driving tests at the Municipal Motor Pool. Afterward, I completed a set of strenuous driving tests at a track and obstacle course maintained by the State Police Department. I have completed 78.46 hours of driving on public roads and highways, accompanied at all times by a police driving instructor and a motion software expert.
On March 27th I received an official state driver’s license from Mayor Vincent P. Chamernik in a semi-public ceremony. “This picture looks nothing like me,” I said to the mayor, prompted by my humor circuit. Both the mayor and the audience laughed.
At the first red light we encounter, 1.00 city blocks away from the Municipal Police Station, Mackenzie addresses me. “What are you doing?” he asks. I turn my head and optics toward him. He is facing forward. My body language circuit detects annoyance.
“I am waiting for the traffic signal to change to green, signaling ‘Go,’ ” I reply.
“Sheesh,” Mackenzie says, lifting his arms and rolling his head in an exaggerated gesture that registers high levels of impatience and frustration. “Don’t tell me you’re gonna play it by the books on everything. This intersection’s clear, so let’s go. We’re here to protect and we can’t afford to waste time. Flash the lights and sirens if you need to satisfy your protocols or whatever.”
“I am programmed to obey as well as enforce all applicable traffic laws in non-emergency situations.”
Officer Mackenzie rubs one of his hands down his face. My audio sensors pick up the scraping sound generated by the rough skin of Mackenzie’s hand and his short facial hairs. The traffic signal indicates green and I accelerate the police cruiser. When I stop at the next red light, Mackenzie groans, then speaks. “Pull into that McDonald’s over there. I’m driving.”
I reply with a verbal “Affirmative” and acquiesce to Officer Mackenzie’s command. Mackenzie is a veteran and a superior within the organization. I am programmed to earn my authority in the department through consistent performance in the line of duty and quality police work–the same way that any other officer would. I have no verifiable evidence that Mackenzie is planning to break local traffic laws. Because of this, my public safety circuit does not factor into my decision to pull over at McDonald’s.
I pull the cruiser into the parking lot and exit the car in order to exchange seats with Officer Mackenzie. The ambient temperature is 58 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is partially cloudy, with a 15% chance of precipitation within the next 3.15 hours. Though I am constructed to function in harsh environmental conditions, the current favorable conditions increase my likelihood of trouble-free operation.
“Do you want anything while we’re here?” Mackenzie asks when we are both standing outside. Though my humor circuit immediately identifies the joke, my body language and tone recognition circuits both detect a low level of aggression.
“Does the McDonald’s restaurant chain serve a motor oil smoothie?” I reply, leaving my voice and body language uninflected in an attempt to present an appearance of robotic obliviousness.
“Har har. Maybe you are alright RobotCop,” Mackenzie replies. However, his body language registers only minimal warmth and friendliness. We pass each other carefully behind the cruiser.
Officer Mackenzie’s operating imperative appears to be preventing the cruiser from ever coming to a complete stop. He uses the headlights, overhead lights, siren and horn to signal other motorists. He also uses the position and motion of the car to signal dominance and aggression to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. As soon as Mackenzie breaks the first traffic law, my public safety circuit engages. I will notify Mackenzie if his driving stays above my programmed threshold for unsafe non-emergency driving for more than 3.00 consecutive seconds. If Mackenzie stays above the threshold for more than 10.00 seconds I will reprimand him and demand that he return below the threshold. If he does not obey, my public safety circuit will calculate the safest and most effective way for me to gain control of the car and return it to safe operation. I will also attempt to gain control of the car if my physics circuit detects a kinetic situation in which human reaction time and judgment are less than X% likely to avert a collision. The X value is a variable. Its value is instantaneously determined based on the potential severity of the potential collision. This aspect of my programming was provided to Mackenzie in the package he received one week before our patrol, and therefore he should be aware of it.
Mackenzie speaks. His eyes stay focused on the road. “I hope you’re a learning computer, because your job’s gonna be impossible if you don’t pick up a few tricks. Every second we spend at a red light is taxpayer money going down the drain. It’s our duty to do our job as efficiently as possible, even if we have to disregard a few small courtesies.”
My logic circuit evaluates his statement. It is not convincing enough for me to flag the section of my code that he is challenging. “I am programmed to enforce the laws of this jurisdiction while keeping my conduct within the bounds of all applicable police procedures,” I say.
“Yeah yeah. Hey look, I don’t know if this is registering in there, but you’re gonna find yourself on desk duty pretty quick if the brothers on the force don’t feel they can fully trust you,” Mackenzie says. “It’s like a family, and family is always supportive ya know? Willing to allow family members their minor trespasses as long as their hearts are in the right place.” Mackenzie pauses and looks at my facial region. “Well maybe you don’t know. But what I’m saying is keep your programming open buddy. I’ll try and teach you a few things today about how things work where the rubber meets the road.”
He turns his eyes back to the windshield. “Here’s lesson one: the numero uno, primary thing is to look out for your fellow officers, and keep your relationships with them strong, because without them, you’ll be all alone–completely alone–with no one to trust, in a very cold and dangerous world.”
I am in the auditorium with the “multidisciplinary team,” monitoring RobotCop’s first patrol. I really wish I had taken an aisle seat, because I feel–with a fairly high level of certainty–that I am going to lose my composure and vomit. I didn’t expect this experience to be so nerve-wracking, but it is turning out to be nearly unbearable. Watching all my hard work–my life’s work more or less, at this point–playing out on that screen, subject to all the chaotic randomness of the world, vulnerable to million failures big and small, and five minutes behind to boot… it feels like I’m watching my own child run across an endless battlefield, under bombardment from artillery, choked with poison gas, full of land mines and whizzing bullets…
It’s not that I don’t trust RobotCop. I know RobotCop far better than I know myself, or anyone I’ve ever known, really. He’s a fixed actor. His actions are, in a sense, predetermined. Sure, he makes decisions, but these are only a simulacrum of free will. RobotCop always makes the rational choice, because his decision engine weighs every factor, and emotions and self-interest do not impact his process.
Really, it’s us I mistrust–this group of strange bedfellows, ranging from slouched, light-sensitive computer nerds to hard, militaristic SWAT team veterans. We are a team of rivals, and the game board where our ideas battled was given legs and weapons and sent out amongst the public.
Every time RobotCop speaks I wonder how all the contradicting principles can co-exist. Sparks should be shooting out of his neck. He’s a robot–more than that, a synthetic persona–divided against himself, and I wonder how long he can stand.
Mackenzie and RobotCop receive a call. A man has been accused of stealing from a convenience store. The alleged thief denies any wrongdoing, and is so vehement about his innocence that he is actually waiting for the police to arrive, so that he can make his case.
My stomach turns and I let out a distressed, gurgly belch. The journalist sitting to the left of me gives a wide-eyed look and switches his nice-looking DSLR camera to the side opposite me. I rise and begin the squeeze of shame in the other direction. I just can’t watch this sitting down.
I take a position against the wall, switching my attention between the two active projection screens–RobotCop and Mackenzie’s perspectives. As it turns out, the convenience store clerk and robbery suspect are both white males in their mid-30s. Mackenzie keeps his cool, and both the clerk and the suspect are so impressed by RobotCop that they work out the misunderstanding right away, mostly so they can goggle and gape at the future of law enforcement. RobotCop gives a little speech introducing himself and hands each man one of his stainless steel business cards. The numbers machined out of the card are all ones and zeros, and the men notice this and laugh. We are still in the honeymoon phase.
In one sense I am relieved, but in another the moment feels anticlimactic. I want to see RobotCop face a moral test, but Jesus Christ and Mother Mary am I terrified of what will happen if he fails it, or if his answers are… too correct.
“Cute. Real cute.” I turn to my left to see who it is. My stomach twists again and this time begins to ascend into my throat. It’s Louis Argyle, the head of the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, a woefully misnamed organization if I’ve ever heard one.
“Hello Louis,” I say drily, hoping he’ll leave me alone.
“He’s a real charmer. Gilly really outdid himself,” Argyle begins, referring with a nickname of his own invention to Guillermo Parras, the coder and moonlight stand-up comedian who designed RobotCop’s humor circuit. “I’m just glad to know that when shit actually hits the fan, he’ll know which side he’s on,” Argyle continues, with emphasis on the final clause.
Lou Argyle was also nominally on the team. He’s too much of an old-world fossil to understand computer programming, so he wasn’t at the design sessions much, but he still found ways to keep his fingers in the pie. He brought in a small team of contract coders to massage RobotCop’s protocols in the direction of certain unwritten but well-understood police principles–blind loyalty, situation control, omertà, profiling, et cetera. As a member of the American Civil Liberties Union’s technology department, and more importantly, as an ethical member of the human community, I felt it was my duty to counteract Argyle’s influence wherever I could. It was a delicate process. The code was all transparent, and under constant review by a panel of three judges, who had the code translated for them by the most neutral, disinterested programming experts they could find.
“He’s on the people’s side,” I quip with tenuous bravado. “That’s who he works for. That’s who he serves and protects.” Even in the dim light of the ad hoc auditorium I can see Argyle’s nostrils flare. He wants to make me squirm, but in this moment he has less control than he is accustomed to. RobotCop is an almost entirely self-contained unit. His programming cannot be adjusted remotely. The fix is in, and all we can really do is watch.
“Just remember, if your bullshit, bleeding-heart programming gets an officer hurt, it’s on you.” This sounds dramatic, especially with Argyle’s little finger-point gesture behind it, but it is patently untrue–at least in the legal sense. RobotCop’s development and activation was approved by a public ballot initiative in a past election. Once the final code package was approved by the judges and their independent technology consultants, everyone was indemnified by the police department. There is an anonymous private benefactor who agreed to take on financial risk–damage, damages or settlements–above a certain, generously low threshold. So unless he or she is here, no one in the room technically has much of anything to lose.
Financially at least. I look around the room and see a number of hard faces looking back at me. I have a moment of panic. Every officer in the room knows who I am, and it’s not hard to imagine how they’ll react if events develop in a certain way.
I want to step outside for a second, just to get away, but then I remember, glumly, that there is an anti-RobotCop protest march scheduled for today, and that it will be sweeping by the Municipal Police Station any minute now. Some of my coworkers will be in the ranks. Also friends, former lovers, classmates, mentors. I was invited via social media and clicked “Maybe.” Most of them don’t know how involved I am with the RobotCop project. The few that do have been kind enough to help me perpetuate a general vagueness about it. Right now the hideous misunderstandings waiting outside seem somehow worse than being in here, at the mercy of Argyle and the police.
I decide that I should call my wife Tess soon, but with all the dangers lurking near and far, I’m pretty much paralyzed. I’ll stick with the feed unless I really do become ill. Maybe I can watch from somewhere in the back though, and send Tess a reassuring text.
Argyle is still nearby, pretending to watch the feed, but really just watching me. My skin crawls for a long minute, but soon I start to feel a creeping defiance. We did have a vision, some of us, a vision of impartial justice. We worked hard to shelter the seed of it, and we wrote the programming that would make it grow. Now it’s out there for goodness sake, walking and talking and operating, and for that, I really should be proud.
But I am in the lion’s den, no mistake, and what RobotCop does out there could very well determine what happens in here–to me.
I leave the ACLU weakling stewing in his own sweat against the wall. Pathetic. It’s in-fucking-conceivable that this sad-sack has any say, direct or no, over the actions of a peace officer in the field. Dangerous… Goddamned dangerous is what it is.
Just the thought of it is making my saliva sour, so I go looking for O’Flannery. On the way I refill my mug with coffee, and what the hell, I grab a donut too, something to bite and chew, a little sugar to push back the bile.
What’s that pencil-neck’s name again? Some geometry thing… equal sides… Rombus, yeah, Daniel Rombus. He’s been a presence here–a fucking annoying one–for years. I can’t even remember if he’s a real lawyer or just some slimy bureaucrat trying to stick a thumb in our eye. Rombus, always mincing in with thugs in velour tracksuits and those stupid baseball caps with the sticker still on them, leading them by the hand and holding the door for them so they can file their frivolous fucking complaints, clogging up the pipes and keeping any real policework from getting done.
How did they ever allow him on the project? The dweeb has probably never held a gun in his life, much less had one pointed at him, and yet here he is–programming the thing what’s supposed to keep our city safe. At the start things seemed so promising. An officer designed to protect officers, to be the vanguard on the most dangerous drug raids, always watchful for developing threats, never sleeping, the least susceptible to distractions and deceitful sob stories and fallen women and all the other shit that can make an officer’s job so tiresome and discouraging. Then came Rombus. Oh maybe he didn’t singlehandedly compromise the whole shebang, but he set a tone, and all the meetings and oversight and judges that followed eventually queered the deal.
I spot Detective Washington passing close by and give him a nod.
“I miss anything?” he asks, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. Washington never lets me get too close. He keeps his nose clean though, very clean, so I’m always cordial.
“Just a dispute over who drives. I’ve had plenty of those myself. Oh, and a little tiff at a corner store that came to nothing. Otherwise just as dull as any other patrol.”
“Well, no news is good news sometimes, huh?” Washington says, filling his coffee mug. “I’m going to sit down. Enjoy the show.” And before I can say anything he’s striding away.
I look back at Rombus and see him wobbling there, like he’s about to fall over. If anything, we as a force have too much in common with him, too much congenital weakness and pity, and that’s why we need RobotCop. Let the robot deal to the harsh letter of the law with the junkies and the welfare moms and the weed dealers. Hell, everyone would be better for it: less stress on the flesh and blood officers, and less softness shown toward the indigents. He wouldn’t feel those pangs, or the disgust and rage. He’d just uphold the law. My officers could spend less time breaking up fights between baby-mommas and their gold-grilled boyfriends and more time solving murders, rapes and arsons. More time building strong relationships with the people who actually pay the taxes.
But that dream is pretty much dead now. It blew over like a house of cards once that democratic senator and that activist judge swept in. Carpetbaggers, turning the whole thing into some kinda humanitarian farce. Why not just send RobotCop to Lesotho and have it till the fields, milk the goats and carry the water for Christ’s sake? I like the job Gilly did, but that’s pretty much all that’s left. The RobotCop I’m watching now is a clown, toothless, a semi-living lesson in how soft power doesn’t work on hard streets. That’s how I see it happening. I hope something comes along to make me feel otherwise.
As long as none my officers are put in the position to get hurt.
Mackenzie and RobotCop are getting a call.
Something’s happening now. Mackenzie and RobotCop are on foot, preparing to engage a suspect. A real big black guy somebody called in for selling loosies not twenty feet from the door of a convenience store. Brilliant. Mackenzie wants to call for backup because the guy’s so huge, but RobotCop talks him out of it, stepping away from the car and doing some Hulk Hogan poses. I smile despite myself. He does have a good curbside manner. I was a real prick when I was a rookie, and it came back on me more than a couple times, once during a real delicate situation. Still, I never got too soft, because that’s when you become susceptible to mental slips–like taking a perp’s word over a fellow officer’s. Errors like those can easily get somebody killed. Even the small ones can snowball, and destroy the effectiveness of a whole department.
RobotCop gets the big guy’s ID and keeps him company while Mackenzie runs it on the cruiser’s computer. I get tense seeing an officer alone with such a menacing figure, but this is all part of the test. The big guy is agitated, but not aggressive, blowing air and leaning back toward the wall. He doesn’t even seem to notice that he’s looking at a robot police officer. I guess we all look the same to them.
Mackenzie comes back and RobotCop starts the questioning. The first question he asks is about last night’s basketball game. Mackenzie looks miffed, and the suspect does too. “Yeah, I watched with my sons,” he answers, hesitantly, and soon he and RobotCop are talking about playoff matchups and the celebrities that attend the home games. By the time RobotCop asks about the cigarettes the guy is confessing and trying to make amends. RobotCop prints a $20 infraction out of his chest–the darnedest thing–complete with a court date, and it looks like the matter is settled.
I don’t know what to think. “Was somebody reading that thing Dale Carnegie before bed?” I ask out loud. The closest guy to me–a skinny Indian-looking guy with big serial-killer glasses and a mop of curly hair–turns and gives me a look. This usually holy place is turning into some kinda wired-up hippie commune today, and I don’t like it one bit.
“Actually, yes,” the longhair replies, before opening up a tiny laptop and looking down his nose at a set of readouts.
I’m speechless. I’m willing to grant that they got lucky this time, the hearts and minds cabal, but I don’t like the precedent. What if the suspect went berserk and needed to be taken down? There should have been more officers present. I also need to find out if that citation was accurate. I can’t shake the feeling that there should have been an arrest.
Maybe I’m biting off a bit too much here, worrying. I try to keep my finger on the pulse, but my days as an active member of the force are long behind me. O’Flannery will know all about this stuff. I need to talk with him anyway, about RobotCop’s potential membership in the union, and about who’s making that decision.
I finish the donut and lick my fingers. I take a sip of the coffee, which could use a little freshening up. I look over at Rombus again. He’s biting his nails, hardly the touchdown dance I expected. Maybe at the end of the patrol I’ll end up shaking his hand… or wringing his neck. Time will tell.
I head toward the back of the room, looking for O’Flannery.
I observe as the green Honda sedan makes an illegal right turn on red. A quick scan indicates that Mackenzie has witnessed the act as well. He engages the cruiser’s lightbar and pursues the Honda around the corner. There is no emergency lane on the two-lane road. The Honda drives at a low rate of speed and signals a right turn. It pulls over into the parking lot of a chain casual dining restaurant. Officer Mackenzie stops the cruiser behind the Honda then reports the traffic stop to dispatch. He runs a database check on the car’s license plate. There are no notifications attached to the vehicle, and no outstanding arrest warrants, open probations or outstanding traffic violations attached to the vehicle owner, one Chantelle Braddock. Mackenzie cues up the template for an illegal turn, pending identification, registration and insurance information.
“An illegal turn like this is small change, barely worth stopping for, but I have a feeling about this one.” Mackenzie says. “You learn to tell by how the car is maintained, little things… I’ll go into detail after, but I think we’ll be able to do better than a dinky little traffic ticket here. Watch me.”
Mackenzie exits the vehicle and signals me to do the same. Mackenzie walks to the driver side window. I walk to the passenger side and stand several feet from the front door. There are two young men in the car. Both driver and passenger roll down their windows. According to my age estimation circuit, the car’s occupants are likely aged 17-25. My ethnic recognition circuit, which has a limited and well-documented number of interface points with my decision engine, informs me that the passenger and driver are dark-skinned, and likely both African-American.
“You boys know why I stopped you today?” Mackenzie begins. My cultural sensitivity circuit registers that the word “boys” may carry derogatory racial connotations. Due to the probable ages of the occupants however, the circuit determines that the phrasing is only slightly likely to be considered offensive. No prospective words or actions are forwarded to my decision engine.
“Nope,” says the driver. Mackenzie’s face registers surprise and anger.
“Can’t you even read the goddamn sign that says ‘NO TURN ON RED’?” Mackenzie’s body language indicates a level of agitation out of proportion with the driver’s reply, and with the overall situation.
“Didn’t see it.” The driver replies. His body language is calm. However, my audio sensors detect a tremor in his speech. It is consistent with moderate emotional agitation.
“I’m giving you one last chance.”
“I didn’t see the sign, off-fi-cer.”
“You know what?” Mackenzie says. He leans toward the window, then back again. He stands up straight. “I smell marijuana,” he says. “Step out of the car now, both of you.”
My atmospheric analysis sensor registers molecular content consistent with marijuana, but at levels significantly below the range of human detection. There is a 99.78% probability that Officer Mackenzie does not smell marijuana.
“There is no human-detectable marijuana odor present,” I say.
Mackenzie looks at me over the roof of the car. “Oh yeah smart guy? You know what that ‘dro smells like? These goons are probably driving impaired, and endangering every other motorist on the road. There might be more pot in the car. We’ll find out when we do a search.”
My legal circuit reacts immediately. “There is no procedural reason to conduct a search of the car or of the suspects. The evidence and the situation warrant that we serve these gentlemen the citation for the traffic violation and continue our patrol. You may administer a sobriety test if you believe that the driver is legitimately impaired.”
“You telling me what I can and can’t do?”
The passenger looks at me from inside the car. His expression initially registers mild surprise, then amazement. “Whoa, are you that RobotCop? I saw about it- uh, you on the news, but I thought that shit was an April Fool’s joke. Do you really have like, artificial intelligence?”
“I am an automated law enforcement officer. I exist to protect and serve, like every officer on the municipal police force.” My humor circuit instructs me to pose heroically, but my situational awareness circuit warns me that this may agitate Officer Mackenzie further. My decision engine receives a compromise directive. I rotate my head so that the passenger sees me in profile, and face upward in a dramatic fashion for one full second. I turn and face Officer Mackenzie again.
His glare registers high levels of restrained aggression. “Stand down RobotCop,” he says. “We’re here to keep the road safe, not make friends. These fake-ass thugs are driving stoned and we need to search the car.”
“Man, we ain’t smoked nothing. Just chill out and listen to the robot, he knows what’s up. Just give us the ticket and let it go,” says the passenger.
“Chill out and listen to the robot,” Mackenzie says quietly. “Alright, get the fuck out of the car.” He pulls on the driver-side door handle. My visuals indicate that the door is locked. Mackenzie realizes this and reaches through the window to manually unlock it.
“Hey, what are you doing?” says the driver. “This is messed up. I don’t want trouble. Just gimme the ticket and I’ll pay.”
“Oh you’ll pay alright,” says Mackenzie. He opens the door and reaches across the driver, pressing the seat belt release mechanism. My situational analysis circuit recognizes that Officer Mackenzie has made himself vulnerable by initiating contact with a suspect without first securing proper coverage from his partner. He has also given the suspect the opportunity to seize his sidearm, Taser and mace, as well as other important items in his equipment belt.
“Man, get off me!” cries the driver. He offers minimal resistance however, and Mackenzie pulls him from the car. Mackenzie moves several feet away and unholsters his service pistol, holding it at his side.
“Put your hands on the vehicle,” commands Mackenzie.
“Man, help us,” says the seated passenger, quietly. He is looking directly into my facial optics.
“Officer Mackenzie, you are escalating the situation without probable cause,” I say. “You are in danger of violating the suspect’s 4th Amendment rights by initiating an unreasonable search and or seizure.”
“Oh can it, you self-righteous pile of bolts,” Mackenzie says, before motioning at the passenger with the muzzle of his gun. “Get the fuck outta the car now. RobotCop, make yourself useful and search that asshole when he gets out.”
The passenger emerges as Mackenzie begins reaching into the driver’s pockets with his free hand. “Anything sharp in here asshole? Am I going to cut–A-ha!” Mackenzie shouts, pulling a plastic bag from the driver’s pocket and holding it up. My visual and atmospheric sensors indicate that it is likely marijuana. The amount appears to be less than 0.125 ounces.
“I told you I smelled that Kush, and I knew you were lying to me, homeboy. Now we can all take a ride back to the station and get you guys booked up.”
My legal circuit takes precedence. “Officer Mackenzie, the evidence you are holding was obtained through an illegal search. It is invalid and inadmissible according to the principle of the exclusionary rule.”
“What are you, RobotLawyer now? Let the DA worry about that. Get that goon’s ID and put him in cuffs.” Officer Mackenzie is attempting to place handcuffs on the driver without holstering his gun. The driver moves his wrists away in an isolated manner.
Mackenzie jabs the muzzle of his service pistol into the base of the driver’s neck. “You want resisting arrest as well, homey?” The driver goes still. Mackenzie maneuvers him closer to the car, then slams his upper body onto the hood of the green Honda.
My legal circuit is making recommendations to my decision engine. My misconduct circuit is active. I walk around the Honda and stand approximately 5.27 feet behind Officer Mackenzie. “I am programmed to eliminate inefficiencies in the municipal legal system. This is an unlawful arrest based on inadmissible evidence from an unconstitutional search. Officer Mackenzie, please release the suspect and serve him with the traffic citation.” My police psychology circuit informs me that Officer Mackenzie will be unlikely to acquiesce to my request immediately. My diplomacy circuit begins to compile persuasive strategies for accomplishing my legal circuit’s imperative.
Mackenzie turns toward me. His body language indicates rage and disbelief. “You fucking piece of junk! How dare you tell me how to do my job? I’ve been keeping this city safe since you were a bunch of chips being soldered to a board in fucking Taiwan.” The driver and passenger are both still, their attention focused on Mackenzie.
“How could you ever know what it’s like to worry about crime?” he continues. “I let Lil Boosie here go, and I become the responsible party–like if he gets fuckin’ faded, runs a red and kills somebody’s daughter on his way to KFC. Even better, Who’s responsible if him and his homeboys shoot up the wrong house and kill a taxpayer?” He moves over and slams the driver onto the hood again for emphasis. The driver makes a quiet sound of distress. “I am. And I take that seriously. You don’t know anything about family, you don’t know anything about crime. You’re just gears and sensors, running on some bullshit code written by eggheads who wouldn’t know a serial rapist from their own mother.”
My diplomacy circuit suggests I attempt to calm Officer Mackenzie by legitimizing his concerns. It instructs me to induce the passenger and driver to validate him as well, if possible. “Officer Mackenzie, your concerns are my concerns, inasmuch as I am an officer of the law. The perspective you possess in your dual role as both citizen and peace officer is indeed beyond my comprehension. Your knowledge and experience are invaluable. However, I do not believe that it is inconsistent with your principles to serve justice today by confiscating the illegal drugs found here, delivering a traffic citation and a sobriety test to the violators and resuming our patrol. These young men have demonstrated no violent behavior, and their actions today have indicated no criminal intent than a mild, but possibly willful disregard for the technicalities of traffic law. I am ninety-nine point three one percent certain that these young men value your service in an unconscious way, if not a-”
“You are not a person. So shut. The fuck. Up. Be silent and take a good look at this, because this is how we do things. This is how we’ve always done things. Don’t think you can just boot up your little operating system and change the way we keep law and order. Stand the fuck down RobotCop. We’re not letting this scum get off with a wrist slap just cause your imaginary rookie conscience is bothering you.” Mackenzie moves back over and slams the driver onto the hood again, with more force than the previous instances. My heat sensor indicates a small irregularity, and my optics pick up data from the same region. The driver has urinated slightly onto his pants.
The passenger begins running away. I turn my main optics toward him. My motion circuit calculates the vectors I will follow in order to apprehend the suspect.
“I will apprehend the passenger,” I say. However, as I begin to actuate, my sensors pick up movement from Mackenzie. I focus on him and see him raise a weapon. Within 3.50 milliseconds I identify it as his police-issue Taser.
Mackenzie fires, and the electrodes attach to the passenger. He stumbles, emitting a yelp, then falls to the ground. Mackenzie and I both move toward the prone passenger.
“The citizen is incapacitated,” I report. “Please release the trigger and stop the flow of current, Officer Mackenzie.”
Mackenzie does not say anything. My sensors indicate a high level of current flowing through the electrodes. The passenger is writhing on the ground in pain. My medical circuit indicates that he is at severe risk of lasting physical harm if the current is not stopped immediately.
“The fuck you doing man?!” the handcuffed driver shouts, struggling to lift himself upright from the hood. “You piece of shit. He didn’t fuckin’ do nothing. You’re killing him.”
“Release the trigger Mackenzie. This man is in danger,” I say. While I am shielded from a specified level of electrical current, the amount flowing through the Taser wires could seriously damage both my physical and computerized systems. I can do little to help the passenger directly.
“You’d like that wouldn’t you, RobotCop?” Mackenzie says, switching hands so that his pistol is in his right hand, and the Taser is in his left. “Pay attention! Sometimes you gotta show em that we don’t back down. Every year they try to file down our teeth, but deep down they know we’re really all that’s there, the thin blue fucking line, the only barrier between society and the savages outside it.”
My public safety circuit has overridden the others. An emergency course of action has been prepared and submitted to my decision engine. Initial vectors have been calculated, and alternate sequences have been prepared in preparation for contingencies.
“This is your last warning, Mackenzie.”
“You’re warning me? That’s rich. You know, you really are-”
I execute the course of action.
“Somebody wanna tell me why the fuck we decided to pick Officer Thomas G. Mackenzie to be our public face, in this delicate task we’ve chosen to undertake? Jesus Lord God, we coulda picked somebody fresh-faced and clean cut. Somebody still young and idealistic, noble. Overstreet would be perfect, Chang would be steady, even Rodriguez–mean streak and all–at least has charisma.”
O’Flannery rests his elbows on the desk and bows his head. He runs his hands through his bright orange hair, which looks unusually oily and thin under the fluorescent office lights. “Mackenzie’s seen too much, he’s done too much, he doesn’t smile or make pleasantries, and frankly–and I said this to them, in no uncertain terms–he’s too cor-”
“You know we don’t use the C-word here.” I interrupt.
O’Flannery fixes me with a glare. Despite the puffiness of his eyes, the effect is piercing. “Fine,” he says, “In my professional opinion Officer Mackenzie is too… worldly to pair with RobotCop. It’s obvious he’s trying to teach him too much ‘street knowledge’ off the bat, and in front of every journalist and academic in the tri-state area. If you think they aren’t squirming in their seats right now–the civilians and our officers both–you’re on another planet.”
“Mackenzie’s a stalwart. He’s seen this department through tough times. And Jesus, O’Flannery, remember Lieutenant Mackenzie? He was your equal–until he jumped on that grenade to save those other guys. He never once complained, even when he was back shadowing second-years on their street patrols.”
“I’ve never said this aloud Lou, but I think he was like a caged animal behind that insignia, and more than anything he wanted to run in the wild again. He’s got an appetite–an appetite for-”
The phone that O’Flannery hung up not three minutes ago rings again. He scoops it up swiftly and listens for a few seconds.
“We’ve gotta move Lou, now,” he says.
O’Flannery’s face looks grey as he sets the phone in its cradle. He turns off his computer, rises from his desk, picks up his holstered gun, puts on his hat and opens the door, holding it for me as we exit the glass cube of his office. He locks up and we step out into the temporary auditorium. Mackenzie is saying “I smell marijuana,” then the video and audio suddenly cut out. There are a few seconds of silence and darkness, then a set of readouts fills the screen and people begin to murmur. I recognize the display as the same one that the Indian prick was looking at earlier.
“We’re probably gonna have to shut him down,” O’Flannery says. The urgency of his tone sets me on edge and I put a hand on my gun.
“It,” I say. “RobotCop is an it. Not a fucking person.”
There is confusion in the auditorium. Everybody is looking at each other and babbling. They are looking around the room as if they expect to the answers to suddenly materialize. Sergeant Delvecchio steps up to a podium under the screen and once the mic is live, tells the crowd that “We are experiencing technical difficulties.” This is the correct lie, but many of the audience see right through it. A shouting match develops, and Delvecchio quickly gives up the mic.
O’Flannery and I are already jogging for the elevators, our heels clicking on the marble. It’s setting in now and I feel rage and adrenaline coming to a boil in my stomach. If that traitorous fucking pile of scrap hurt Mackenzie I’ll dismantle it myself, piece by piece.
“What?” O’Flannery says.
“If that traitorous fucking pile of scrap hurt Mackenzie I’ll dismantle it myself, piece by piece,” I shout, apparently for the second time, meaning it just as much as the first.
While Chief Brockton and Deputy Chief Gottfried have power over the feed, only the judge can shut down RobotCop. Brockton and Gottfried are in a viewing room upstairs. I can’t remember where the judge is… does O’ Flannery know?
“We go straight for the municipal courtroom and the judge, but diplomatically,” he says, as if able to hear my thoughts. “Chief and Gottfried probably won’t wait for us.”
As we get into the elevator, I hear footsteps echoing on the tiles behind us. I poke my head out and see Rombus and some other guy moving fast toward the elevator bank. The door is closing, and there’s nothing to be done. If we see them upstairs though, they are fair game.
I remove my gun from its holster.
“What are you doing?” O’Flannery asks.
“Not for the judge… We’re being followed.”
“You mean those pencil-dick programmers? Shite man, what the fuck are they gonna do?”
I don’t answer. I begin to wonder if maybe I’ve been outfoxed, not just me–all of us. There was some block of code in that machine that we didn’t know about, some liberal revenge fantasy that manifested as one of my officers being hung out to dry.
O’Flannery takes a deep breath as the elevator rises. “You know what Lou? I’m creating an atmosphere of panic, and I apologize,” he says, “We all reviewed the operating code together, remember? We took months going through every contingency. So let’s not lose our heads and jump to conclusions. It could be something as stupid as Mackenzie saying something un-PC, and they don’t want the journalists to hear it. We’ll drop in on Gottfried and Chief first. Hell, they could even be putting the feed back on right now.”
I need to find out what happened.
Five minutes. So much can happen in five minutes.
All my intuition is telling me that it will be a race to the judge, so I’m on my feet and moving as the murmur begins. I’m thankful that I chose an aisle seat the second time. I spot my friend Wei Cooper-Zhang–a real scrupulous, earnest-hearted reporter for the Courier–leaning against the wall and sidle up to him.
“I’m going to the judge. Come with me now, or play dumb and get out of here. Things are going to get serious.”
Wei seems a little surprised by my urgency, but nods and falls in alongside. The judge’s viewing room is not technically in the police station, but in the adjacent legal building, which houses a small municipal courtroom–one generally used for minor infractions and misdemeanor cases. The judge is the only person authorized to execute a hard shutdown on RobotCop. He is viewing in a sequestered environment to avoid any undue influence. He has a trusted bailiff posted at the door and that’s it.
For whatever reason the shutdown procedures were kept secret from the architects of the project, but a journalist friend of mine explained it to me over cocktails last week. It literally requires a metal key, but the lock is built into a housing that plugs into a computer by USB – hybrid style. Apparently a string of characters wouldn’t cut it; they felt the actual key was necessary.
I’m almost sure that right after the feed cut out, my programming saw a real fucking test. I was naïve, all of us were really, to think that the conflict between police brotherhood and public ethics wouldn’t come to a head this soon. I just wish we could have all watched it unfold together, in a more neutral environment. It would have been like watching the last play of the Super Bowl.
“Last play? The game is still on,” Wei says. I realize I must have said the last part aloud. He’s right though, the game is still on, and only the judge can call it early.
As we jog toward the elevators, I see another pair of men moving ahead of us, trenchcoats billowing, shoes clacking sharply against the cream marble floor. I recognize Argyle right away. The other guy I don’t recognize–probably some higher up in the department, if official-looking hats are a reliable indicator of rank.
“They’re probably thinking judge too huh?” Wei says.
“The one on the right is Lou Argyle.”
“Yeah. He’s dangerous, and he hates me, with a passion.”
“I’m not high on his friends list either. Remember the Ice Cream Truck Scandal?”
“We’re in the belly of the beast here,” I say. “And if shit goes down, our word means nothing.”
The men get in the elevator. Argyle pops his head back out and stares at me until the door almost closes on it. There’s a wild look in his eyes that I don’t like. Paranoid, a little insane.
“Let’s take the stairs then, or go around outside,” Wei suggests. I stop to think. If we take the stairs they’ll hear us coming up and ambush us. If we go outside they could lock us out.
“We need eyes, ears. If we go after them alone they’ll just beat the shit out of us–or worse,” I say. “Here, follow me.”
Wei sees me starting to turn back. “Daniel. You need to go ahead, or I do. Someone has to get there before they tamper with the footage, or strong-arm the judge into deleting it.” He fixes me with a look. “One of us can rally the press and the observers. They want answers and we can make this into a protest scene pretty quick.”
“Protest scene… There should already be one outside.”
Wei looks confused, then smiles. “I can’t believe I forgot about that. Yes, that should simplify things.”
“Simplify?” I say under my breath.
Wei has heard me. “Control is their thing. Chaos favors us.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be neutral…? Wait, don’t answer that.” I think for a moment. “The dispatcher, radios, communications. Disrupt that and they won’t be able to organize or call for backup. They’ll have a harder time converging on RobotCop too, poor guy.”
Wei gives me a funny look.
“I think the comm room is in the northeast corner of this building,” I say, trying to recover.
Wei’s already leaning toward the auditorium. He turns back to me for a quick, firm handshake, then we dash our separate ways.
I take the stairs, but quietly. I try to stifle my panting at the top, but this proves to be difficult. The first floor’s high ceiling makes the second floor more like the third, and I’m hardly in great shape. I open the stairwell door a crack and peer through. Silence. An empty corridor. They must have gone ahead. I make my way down the hallway, shoes in hand. I hear a movement and I freeze.
The four of them file out of the room and move away in a hurry. They don’t even look in my direction or close the door behind them. I realize almost instantly that the door will lock once it shuts. I have to get in there. I begin a desperate lunge on slippery stocking feet, praying to whatever gods will listen that the men don’t turn around and spot me. The door is closing slowly, the damper hissing–but the distance is great, and in their big coats with big guns underneath, the men’s backs are like a mountain range…
I slip in and freeze, waiting for the door to close. Nothing from outside but shoe-clack, receding. The door shuts and I hear the mechanism slide home. Safe, for the moment.
Unless one of them forgot something in their haste. I look around frantically for badges, guns, Tasers, documents, anything that would send any of them back into the room. I don’t see any personal objects, but I still scan for a potential hiding place.
There isn’t much. The room seems to be a surveillance room, quite modern in fact, with a medium-sized console and array of flatscreen monitors at the front of the room and some blinking equipment behind the locked grate of a tall A/V rack to the left, opposite the door. Folding tables are set up against the side walls at the rear of the room, each with a couple folding chairs tucked into them.
As the thudding of my heart subsides I realize that the feed is still on here, with sound. I approach the console with some trepidation.
I am expecting the worst: the suspects handcuffed and prone, blood drying on their waxy grey faces, or a static shot of the sky, clouds slipping behind the foregrounded grin of Officer Mackenzie, kneeling in triumph over the incapacitated RobotCop.
It is Mackenzie I see on the screen, but he is holding a bleeding hand and screaming curses at the camera. “You fuck! I’ll fucking kill you!” He kneels suddenly and begins scrabbling in the tall grass at the side of the road. The camera moves toward him–RobotCop’s perspective–then rotates away. A robotic hand emerges to pick up a pistol from a cluster of tall grass. RobotCop places it somewhere on or in his body, then turns away and goes to the driver, who appears grey and shaken.
“What is your name?” RobotCop asks, his voice clear and calm, carrying over the raving, cursing Mackenzie.
“J-Jeremy,” the driver says.
“Jeremy, I am taking you into protective custody. My partner, Officer Mackenzie, may seek to cause you physical harm. It is not safe for you to leave the scene unprotected.”
Jeremy eyes RobotCop, terrified. “Th-This shit is crazy man. I saw what you did. How do I know-”
“There’s no time,” RobotCop interrupts. “Come with me if you want to live.”
Above the dull roar of passing traffic, the sound of sirens becomes apparent. RobotCop puts out his hand. Jeremy reaches out and shakes it.
RobotCop turns toward Mackenzie. “Those monitoring my feed have witnessed what transpired. I have no doubt that municipal officers are heading this way. I have no doubt that medical first-responders are en route as well,” RobotCop says. “However, as an additional safety measure, I have called an ambulance on your behalf. If you would like me to administer first aid to your injured hand, please say ‘First aid.’ ”
“Go fuck yourself!” Mackenzie howls, charging like an enraged bear. He attempts to strike RobotCop. The camera shakes and Mackenzie is on the ground again. The camera tilts to Mackenzie’s feet and RobotCop’s hands execute a series of rapid motions. He steps back. He has tied Mackenzie’s shoelaces together.
RobotCop and Jeremy get into the police cruiser. “We will attempt to pick up your friend,” RobotCop says. “Shout from the window as we approach, to let him know that it is safe.”
“Where are you taking us?” Jeremy asks.
“I have contacted a local television news program. You will be able to stay in their studios until the matter is resolved. I have also contacted several local civil rights groups and they have agreed to send representatives to meet you there. The combination of media attention and legal representation should prevent police elements from seeking retribution in a heavy-handed manner. If they attempt to, their actions will be subject to very intense scrutiny. I will testify on your behalf in any later proceedings if I am able.”
“You’re not staying with us?”
“My presence would only make the situation unsafe.”
I take an involuntary step away from the screens. I wonder if I am the only person who has seen this, other than the judge. Did the bigwigs really all take off without posting someone to monitor this?
And wait! What is RobotCop going to do next? Is he coming here?
I suppose I should know, I programmed him, after all. If I was a robotic police officer who just went rogue and injured my partner, the script I would execute would be…
Then it hits me. I realize that more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my entire life, more than wanting to meet Santa Claus when I was six years old, more than becoming an astronaut, I want RobotCop to come here, and I want to watch all hell break loose, even if it ends up being the last thing I do.
I put my shoes on and I text Tess, saying that I love her. She wanted to be here too, but she couldn’t get the credentials. I wanted her to be here. RobotCop was supposed to be a proud moment for me, for us. Now I don’t know what it is. As much as one touch from Tess would give me all the courage in the world, I’m glad she isn’t here. It would kill me to put her in danger.
The hallway is deeply silent. I make my way through the above-ground tunnel to the judicial building. As I descend the wide staircase to the lobby I hear noise from outside. Apparently the wide bank of doors at the entrance is locked, because someone is pounding on them, violently. I reach the floor and see that there is some sort of melee going on outside, way out of proportion with the “multidisciplinary team” that was assembled in the auditorium.
I move closer to the doors. It looks like Wei was effective. Some of the police have riot gear on, and a thin haze of tear gas is hanging over the parking lot. I don’t see Wei, but I do see at least one person lying motionless on the pavement.
One of the cops is pounding on a door with a large black baton. He turns his helmeted head and seems to notice me. He swings his baton once more and the shatter-proof glass pane before him blossoms instantaneously. I turn toward the courtroom.
I push through the heavy wooden door. What I see chills my blood. The bailiff is dazed and bleeding, handcuffed to the witness stand. Judge Dorothy Marshall is up on the bench in full robes, eyes blazing and gavel raised. A laptop is open in front of her and it dawns on me that her gavel is poised over RobotCop’s emergency shutdown lock.
Marshall is quaking with defiance. This is because Argyle and the same redheaded guy he was with earlier are in front of the prosecutor’s table, aiming their pistols at her. Judge Marshall is not the judge who oversaw the development of RobotCop. That was Judge Geoffrey Brookstone. Judge Marshall was brought in afterward, anonymously, to impartially monitor RobotCop’s initial patrol. She is the final arbiter of whether his actions are legal or illegal, and whether his compliance with public safety and the law are sufficient for him to remain in operation.
How did a strong-minded black woman end up as the judge on this? Isn’t the system set up to prevent things like this from happening? I want to shout because it’s too good to believe–but then… it really was too good, and now Judge Marshall has two guns pointed at her, each with a white man behind it.
Chief Brockton and Deputy Chief Gottfried are at the defendant’s table, their hands empty and entreating, having a back and forth with the judge. It’s always good cop, bad cop with them. Good cop, bad cop… RobotCop.
Marshall notices my presence and meets my eye, but her glance flits away almost instantly. The others have their backs turned and have not noticed my entry to the courtroom.
I once argued a jury case before Judge Marshall in defense of an alleged shoplifter. He claimed that he was racially profiled in an aggressive and threatening manner as he shopped at a store at the mall, and that he inadvertently walked out with a piece of very expensive merchandise in hand due to the stress, agitation and embarrassment of the experience. Despite the odds and the perjurious testimony of the store’s security staff, I won the case and kept the kid out of the system. It was an important victory for me–a cornerstone for my formative years.
A few years later, Jameel wrote me a letter from college. Also in the envelope was a photo of him and Cornel West, both smiling broadly, arms thrown over each other’s shoulders. I brought it to Judge Marshall during lunch recess one day. She gripped my arm tight with one hand, and wiped tears away from her eyes with the other. I thought her reaction was a little out of sorts, but I didn’t say anything. Finally, still gripping my arm, she used her free hand to turn a photo on her desk toward me. Melvin Van Peebles, smiles, arms around shoulders. The resemblance was uncanny. “Your son?” I asked. She nodded, and I understood.
“Back up!” Marshall shouts, pointing her gavel at Argyle and the redhead. “Do you understand your actions? How dare you come into my courtroom and point those filthy guns at me!”
“Listen Marshall! We got officers in danger out there,” Brockton bellows. “You wanna be responsible for the death of an officer? Shut it down, shut it down now before it hurts somebody else.”
“I’ll do no such thing! I’m well within my authority and if you don’t put those guns away now…”
“Not gonna happen lady,” Gottfried shouts. “We asked you real nice, but we can’t afford to keep wasting time. Hand it over, we’ll shut it down, then we’ll all calm down and talk it over.”
At this Judge Marshall begins to sag, as if her robes have sprung a leak. She slowly reaches for the laptop with her free hand. “Well gentlemen, I can see that I’m outnumbered and outgunned today. I suppose sometimes might really does make-”
She twists suddenly and the gavel is whistling through the air. I recall the time she told me about her track and field days in college. Javelin–the javelin throw was her best event. She said she even competed in the Commonwealth Games once, Edinburgh, 1986, for her native Canada.
The redhead flinches away, but to no avail. The gavel strikes him in the temple and his hat flutters crazily off his head. He crumples to the floor. Argyle, who has recoiled himself off balance, roars and fires a wild shot. I look back at Marshall and see something glint in the space between us. I instinctively put my hands out to catch it, and once it lands in my palms, I realize what it is.
“Fucking Hell!” Chief Brockton shouts. I glance at him, then I remember O’ Flannery. He’s down and out. I check his pulse. Steady. His breathing is too. I see the gavel there, right next to his unconscious body.
“Activist bitch!” I growl, grabbing the gavel and whipping it as hard as I can toward the bench. The judge ducks and it hits the corner of her laptop with a loud crack, then careens away. I’m about to head up there myself when Gottfried shouts.
“Lou! He’s got the key. Stop him.”
“The fuck are you standing there for then?” I reluctantly peel my eyes away from the bench, only to see a skinny guy in business casual opening the courtroom door in a hurry. It’s him again.
“Rombus,” I say, unholstering.
I fire once, wide left. I fire again as he’s slipping through the door. High and to the right. God dammit I’m rusty.
“What in God’s name are you doing, Argyle?” Brockton this time.
“You do something then, chief! He’s got the key. He drops it down the sewer and that robot’s gonna be terrorizing us forever. Three days on a single charge, and who’s to say some lefty support network don’t spring up around him?”
“Our entire comm system is going in and out. We can’t-”
I wave an impatient hand. I’m disappointed; I wouldn’t have expected such a weak string of excuses from Chief Brockton. “Take care of O’ Flannery!” I yell, and I’m down the aisle. I get out into the lobby just as some officers are crashing in. I see riot gear and all kinds of noise is coming in from outside. What the fuck has been going on since we left the auditorium?
I realize the riot squad must be making for the judge. “There’s nothing in there!” I shout, a few times for good measure, but nobody seems to hear me. One officer–who looks like Voorhies, but I can’t tell for sure because of the riot helmet–points at his ear, then the radio mouthpiece on his upper chest, then gestures as if to say “The piece of shit ain’t working.”
“He’s got it. Go after him.” I gesture away from the courtroom and toward Rombus, who is darting like a rabbit for a side door. A couple guys get my drift, but they are too heavy in their armor to do much of anything. If you want something done right…
Pushing through the door, I’m almost blinded by the sun. I round the corner and as my eyes adjust I can see him running along the edge of the parking lot. Jesus, there’s some kinda riot going on here. A couple parking curbs are smashed up and people are throwing pieces of them at my officers. I knew there was a protest planned, but my research guys assured me it was the usual white liberals. College professors and the farmer’s market crowd. Lotsa women and children. Whoever it is now, somebody has them fired up, violently. I wouldn’t put it past the journalists.
We’re to blame for some of this; we were naïve to think we could allow so many social fucking justice crusaders to gather here, so much dry fuel on both sides of the door, and not have a fire break out.
It looks like Rombus is trying to run and talk on the phone now. Time to put this fool and his pet robot out of their misery. I drop to a knee and aim the pistol with both hands.
As I’m lining up the sights over him I remember the only time I ever shot a man. I watched his body jerk as my bullets passed through him–all four of us did. A red mist hung in the air as he fell to the pavement. We had our reasons. He refused to drop the knife, and when D’Antoni broke protocol and tried to take it from him with mace and a baton, the savage slashed his arm pretty bad. The toxicology report turned up those “bath salts” and some alcohol. When the dust settled we had strong justification and a couple good witnesses. As a result, the department never asked us any questions we couldn’t answer with clean consciences.
But I still had nightmares. I’d wake up in the night sweating and wheezing and fully convinced I was having a heart attack. After a couple of fruitless trips to the hospital, my wife–ex-wife now–would just lead me into the living room and make me drink chamomile tea. After the panic subsided all I felt was disappointment–disappointment that I wasn’t the warrior I thought I would be–that even killing a violent, drug-addled criminal gave me real qualms somewhere down deep.
As a young man I used to imagine myself heading up a SWAT team–kicking down doors, throwing flash grenades, shootouts, dogs, helicopters, chases over fences and across abandoned steel yards, the whole nine yards. After each mission we would survey the battlefield and stand in armor over the bodies of our vanquished foes. I had the whole thing painted in bright colors, but in the end I just didn’t have it in me. Now I’m pretty much a glorified administrator. I spend most of my time judo-chopping malicious paperwork before it tangles itself around my officers.
In the end you don’t choose your soul any more than you choose your body. All you can do is try to perfect it over time.
I aim slightly down and to the right.
A half-second later he keels over. I might have hit him in the leg, but I can’t be sure. From the way he’s moving around I can tell the wound shouldn’t be fatal. I get up and run a little closer. If he stays down I’ll just run up, stick the gun in his face and take the key. From there, the chief will be able to fire up a computer and…
Shit. He’s up again, and limping away from the station toward the street. He’s not moving fast, but he’s moving. His car could be parked anywhere around here. I run after him, shouting him a last warning–sincerely hoping he hears me and stops. I fire a one-handed warning shot above his head.
I really loathe Daniel Rombus, but I don’t want it to go down this way. I imagine it coming up in my final review with the man upstairs. Even with the mitigating circumstances, shooting him from behind like this would be a hell of a thing to explain.
But then, what about the people in the path of that RobotCop? What would I tell the widows and fatherless kids–once proud law enforcement families destroyed by mechanized liberal arrogance? Small consolation my moral victory would be to them. My sworn duty is to protect my officers, not to sleep easy at night.
I square up and get Rombus in my sights. Down and to the left this time.
I’m pulling the trigger when something knocks into me, hard. The shot flies up into the sky. I land on my back and try to scramble for my feet, but I’m still in my long coat and there’s loose gravel under my hands and feet. I settle on my back and aim the gun between my legs at where I was standing, ready to blow away who or whatever hit me.
I find myself looking up at the dark, glowering figure of Detective Washington.
“You son of a bitch!” I howl.
“Are we shooting unarmed men in the back now? Is that the policy? I must have missed the union vote on that.”
I rise and back up, with the gun pointed at him. The look on his face is hard, and I know he’s not backing down. He made a big mistake though–he isn’t even armed.
I fire a couple around his feet, to show I mean business. He takes a few reluctant steps back. “Don’t follow me,” I say, raising my aim to his chest. I turn and take off after Rombus.
There is a black Lincoln Town Car parked on the side of the lot. One of the back doors is open and two men are standing there talking. One of them is that rat bastard Rombus, bloody, sagging slightly, and the other is…
Lovely, it’s Vincent P. Chamernik, the goddamned mayor.
I holster the gun as I approach. “Mayor Chamernik! Stop him, don’t let him get away.”
“What on God’s green earth is going on here?”
“He’s got the key to that robot what assaulted Mackenzie. He’s trying to keep us from shutting it down.”
Rombus is hiding behind the mayor’s skirts, but I close in on him.
“Cough it up. There’s an officer down!” I say, grabbing for him.
“You shot me in the back, you bastard,” he croaks, and holds up a hand covered in blood. I must have got him through the side or the ass. Must have missed all the important stuff too, or he wouldn’t be moving around like this. Struggling to grab this slippery worm, I’m beginning to regret my previous mercy.
“Is this true?” The mayor’s eyes are big and his face is getting red. He maneuvers between us, seeming not to care that blood is getting all over his nice grey wool coat. The car door is still open and Rombus retreats inside.
“That robot is out there doing God knows what. Then this creep took the emergency shutdown key from that black bitch and ran. It could be out there harming more officers as we speak.”
“I hope you aren’t referring to the honorable Judge Dorothy Marshall, when you say ‘that black bitch,’ ” Chamernik says quietly.
“Let him get to the part where he fired a gun at her. Judge Marshall gave me the key because Mr. Argyle here was threatening her life.” He looks at Chamernik for a second, then back at me. “Besides, he reviewed the programming, he knows exactly what happened. RobotCop was doing what he was meant to do–protect our citizens from harm.”
“Don’t listen to him Mayor Chamernik, he’s delirious. And I didn’t fire out of turn–that was self-defense from when that woman nearly killed O’Flannery with a projectile. He’s just trying to cover up for the goddamn riot he started, which is to distract us from the real task of shutting down that rogue machine-”
“Bullshit! Your department’s an authoritarian mena-” Rombus coughs, then spits a bloody wad out onto the pavement.
“First I’m hearing this automaton shot an officer,” the mayor begins. Cords are standing out in his neck and his eyes are bugging out. “Then two black kids are giving a live TV interview saying RobotCop saved them from… RacistCop. After that I’m hearing a police official admit he fired a gun at a sitting judge, then I’m witnessing a full-blown riot at the police station.” He lifts his hands to his head, elbows out. “I don’t know what to goddamn believe!”
Chamernik is furious, but there is too much confusion. He doesn’t know where to direct his rage. This means he’s still open to suasion. “That’s why we need to shut it down,” I say. “It’ll give us time to regain control and sort things out. Come on Rombus, give it up. We’ll put the robot away, get you to a hospital, and figure out just where exactly you fucked up.”
“I fucked up? Shut him down? What, so you can shoot me again, Argyle? So your thugs can suppress the whole thing and beat the shit out of the press and the public?” He points with a red, dripping hand at the fracas in the parking lot. I see a woman tangling with an officer, then swinging a sign at him, until another officer sneaks up and hits her in the back of the neck with a baton. She goes down like a rag doll. Things seem to be improving over there, at least.
“Listen Mayor Chamernik, RobotCop didn’t do anything wrong. What he did was right. We can’t shut him down, because we need him. He’s the only reliable witness to whatever happened today. They get their hands on him they’ll wipe every shred of evidence-”
“You kiddin’ me! Enough!” I lunge around the mayor and make a grab for Rombus.
“Hold on you son of a bitch,” says Chamernik, but I ignore him. Rombus slides back into the car and wiggles his way across the back seat. I grab for him, but the goddamn mayor is holding me back. I manage to work my way out of the coat, and the mayor’s grip, but by the time I’m free Rombus has popped the door on the other side and slithered out. The mayor grabs me again and I hold still for a moment, planning my next move and staring at the shiny slick of blood on the black leather upholstery.
Jeremy’s mother, Chantelle Braddock, embraces me. I return the embrace with a suitable amount of force, careful to minimize pinch points. “Oh god thank you so much for saving my son, I wish all police were like you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.”
“I was simply fulfilling my duties as a peace officer of the municipality,” I say, attempting to extricate myself from Ms. Braddock’s grasp. “Please, I must go. It will be safer for you, your son and Denarius if I am not here.”
One of the local news hosts, Jake Billington, moves to my right side and speaks softly. “I just want to ask one last time–you’re sure there’s no chance of us getting that footage?”
“Negative,” I say, still in Ms. Braddock’s grip. “That portion of the audiovisual record is classified data. If you would like to initiate an official request-”
“Alright, alright. I tried.” Billington heads back toward the news desk.
I finally dislodge myself from Ms. Braddock. “The metropolitan police are gathered outside. I must leave the building to prevent their entry.” I have not attempted to disable or modify my tracking hardware or software. I have been emitting the same signal since the beginning of my patrol. Staff members at the studio have updated me on the buildup of forces.
“Okay sweetie. But if you’re ever in the neighborhood, you have to come by and see us. We’ll cook you up a big, uh… Well, just come by and see us.” She hands me a piece of paper with an address and phone number written on it. I take it and hand her the citation for the illegal turn. “Please deliver this to your son. In light of the circumstances, it will likely be dismissed,” I say.
“Okay.” Ms. Braddock’s face registers mild confusion and disappointment.
“I cannot overlook this citation. It is a characteristic of my programming.”
“I understand honey, we all have our job to do.”
Denarius, the passenger of the green Honda, is seated on a gurney, approximately 25.50 feet away from the brightly-lit news desk. He is receiving care from a nurse and a paramedic. A group of 5.00 lawyers and civil rights advocates stand conversing about 8.63 feet away from him.
Denarius suffered moderate to severe burns in the area of the electrodes, as well as negative physical effects from the electric shock. Despite this, he was unwavering in his determination to take part in a special interview conducted by Jake Billington and Rachel Strackmore for WRWX 8 local news. Denarius is receiving medical attention during a break in the broadcast. Jeremy is seated at the news desk with the interviewers. I refused to be interviewed, as active duty police officers in this municipality are not allowed to speak to the media without express written permission from the chief of police.
“How do you feel?” I ask Denarius.
“Shitty,” he says, “Like I had the flu, then got hit by a car.”
“The medical personnel are optimistic that you avoided major organ damage.”
“Barely,” scoffs the paramedic.
“This close,” says the nurse, holding up two fingers with a gap of 0.56 inches between them.
“You’re the one who avoided it dude,” Denarius says. “I owe you a lot. You saved me from that fuckin’ psychopath partner of yours.”
“I believe our partnership has been… terminated,” I say, then continue in a loud, resonant voice. “I was only doing what I was designed and programmed to do: protect and serve the citizens of the municipality.” I turn my head and adopt a heroic upward look, this time for a full 7.00 seconds, with my arms akimbo.
“You’re a trip man,” says Denarius. His body language and expression indicate both laughter and an attempt to conceal pain.
“Take care of yourself.” I say, then walk toward the studio exit.
On the way, one of the civil rights activists breaks away from his circle and approaches me. He hands me a card. It is the size and shape of a credit card, but has no magnetic stripe or information on it. Both sides of the card are divided into three equal bands of red, black and green.
“I wanted to give you this,” the man says. “It’s your membership card.”
“Membership card for what group?” I ask.
“Black people,” he says, with a laugh. “Seriously though, you deserve it. Hey, are you going back to the police station?”
“That is my intent, but I cannot guarantee my arrival.”
“Hmm. We’ve got some people there right now. Taking a beating, but fighting the good fight. I’ll tell them to keep an eye out for you. Thanks again for doing the right thing today. Truly.”
“I was merely-” I begin, but the man begins emitting loud, non-word verbalizations, interrupting me. He smiles, pats me on the shoulder and walks back to the group.
There is a large police detail waiting for me outside the studio. “Kneel down on the ground and place your hands behind your head,” says an amplified voice. I comply. Before my hands cover my rear optics, I register several faces behind the glass of the studio façade, including those of Jeremy, Denarius, Chantelle Braddock, Jake Billington, and Rachel Strackmore. I also observe a studio cameraman filming from an open exit door. Two helicopters circle overhead. A crowd has also gathered behind the police barricades set up around the studio.
A number of armored officers approach me. They immobilize my hands and legs using several plastic restraints and multiple pairs of hand cuffs.
“Alright, let’s zap this piece of shit,” says one of the officers, readying a high powered Taser device. Three other officers also ready their Tasers.
“Wait, hold your fire,” says an amplified voice. My voice recognition circuit makes a preliminary identification of the speaker. The most probable match is Officer Giuseppe Vincenzo, at 84.38%. Officer Vincenzo appears. “Gimme the goddamn keys,” he says to an officer, who complies. “You two ride with me,” he says, pointing to two more nearby officers. “You other guys help me get him in the van.”
“Why did you do it, RobotCop? You broke my fuckin’ heart. You broke all our hearts,” Vincenzo says, from the driver’s seat of the police van. His voice echoes slightly in the rear chamber of the vehicle, where I am restrained.
“You really expect to get a satisfactory answer out of this shitheap?” says Officer Jameson. He resets his grip on the Taser he is aiming at my torso through a window in the vehicle’s internal partition.
“I executed my duties according to my programming, prioritizing public safety above-”
“But did you have to shoot him?” asks Vincenzo. “You took off a finger, and they’re saying he might lose one or two more. Things blew up at HQ, we’ve got people hurt. The press is kicking up a fuckin’ shitstorm. This city’s gonna be torn apart RobotCop, all because of you.”
“I acted according to my programming. I will accept the consequences of my actions.”
“Oh, you will,” says Jameson. We’re gonna burn you out at the steelworks, and the whole department’s gonna line up to piss on your corpse.”
“Michael, please,” says Vincenzo. His tone registers weariness and sorrow. “I’m really disappointed RobotCop. I thought you coulda done a lotta great things for this department–but I guess I was just being naïve.”
I do not verbalize a reply.
A call comes over the vehicle’s radio. “APB. APB. Argyle here. Immediate assistance required at the Municipal Police Station. Attempting shutdown of the robot, but I am encountering–give it up! Stop running!–some resistance. Requesting immediate assistance at the Municipal Station, and if the robot is secured bring it back here to confirm shutdown. Repeat, Argyle here at the MPS, requesting any available officers for assistance executing shutdown of the robot. And the robot itself if secured.”
“Looks like we’re heading back to base,” Vincenzo says. His voice registers uncertainty.
“I hear they’re really cracking skulls out there,” Jameson says.
“Please clarify,” I say.
Jameson looks at my main optics. “I mean they–we are giving those lowlife protesters exactly what they deserve. Beating the shit outta them and making them say thank you at tax time.” Jameson seems unaware of the fact that he is reporting the in-progress crime of excessive force to an active duty police officer.
Jameson turns to Officer Ramirez, who is seated across from me in the rear of the vehicle, in full armor, aiming a Taser at my chestplate. “You ever work crowd control, Ramirez?
“No. Not yet.”
“Students are the best, and feminists. Most of the idiots don’t even wear bras. You can go straight for the hardbodies and toss ‘em around, put a boot in their ass, grab titty all day long. They complain afterward, but you just say it was a chaotic situation, and that they were resisting arrest.”
“Are you sure…”
“Oh what’s he gonna do? He’s headed for the scrap heap. And don’t act so goddamn concerned, the fancy ones have money for bail and lawyers already set aside. Their bourgie asses don’t want anything on their spotless white records, so they let it go if the judge does. And the black and Mexican chicks, well, they’re already used to getting fucked over.”
There is a 12.38-second period of relative silence.
Vincenzo speaks next. “Say RobotCop, can you… can you at least set the record straight? None of us have actually seen the footage.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” says Jameson.
“Actually, I want to hear it too,” says Ramirez.
“Go on,” says Vincenzo.
I relate the pertinent events to the officers.
“A little extreme, RobotCop, firing on a fellow officer,” Vincenzo says, his tone indicating grave concern. “But the part about the shoelaces…”
“Jesus fucking Christ!” exclaims Jameson. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Hey, Michael, look at me,” Vincenzo says, turning in his seat. There is a 2.13 second pause. A jet of water sprays from Vincenzo’s false badge into Jameson’s face.
“That’s it you motherfucker. You can’t take this shit seriously, so I will. Pull over and get the fuck out.”
The two men begin to struggle in the front seat. The vehicle is still in motion, and the disturbance causes it to swerve from side to side.
“Hey, guys, come on!” shouts Ramirez, lowering his Taser and moving toward the partition.
My public safety circuit has already determined that the activity at the municipal headquarters represents a clear and present danger to innocent citizens. My decision engine chooses this moment to act.
“Would you like to hear a song?” I ask, prompted by my humor circuit.
I engage my high-volume noise generator and release a canister of tear gas. I use my head-mounted laser and internal ratcheting mechanism to loosen the restraints on my left arm, which contains my rotary multi-tool. Once I am unrestrained, I make an incision in the vehicle wall and peel it open. The vehicle slows to a halt. I exit through the incision as Vincenzo and Jameson exit through the front doors. I partially close the incision behind me.
The convoy of escorting police vehicles has also stopped. A number of officers emerge from their respective vehicles and aim their guns in my direction, but the proximities of Vincenzo and Jameson to my body prevents them from opening fire. I climb into the driver’s seat and disengage my high-volume noise generator. My front optics recognize Ramirez in the side view mirror, attempting unsuccessfully to exit through the incision. I put my facial optics out of the window and they confirm the earlier analysis, with a small amendment. Officer Ramirez is closer than he previously appeared.
“Please keep your arms, legs and head inside the vehicle.” I say. I begin driving toward the Municipal Police Station.
I’ve lost a lot of blood and I’m becoming very weak. For what felt like an eternity, each step I took sent a jolt of truly nauseating pain through my stomach, then out to my limbs and head, but that sensation is fading away now.
I’m losing touch with the ground. One moment I feel like I’m floating, the next it’s like Earth’s gravity has doubled and the pavement is reaching up to hit me in the face. I can’t hear my own footsteps, just a high-pitched whine and the occasional weak thud of my heartbeat.
I don’t think I have much further to go. I desperately want to see my Tess again, to say goodbye at least, but that farewell has been taken away.
Taken away by Argyle and Mackenzie and the rest of those blue-suited thugs.
I feel something like a sharpening, a last burst of lucidity. Cold air on my face and in my lungs. I’ve got the shutdown key in my hand. If I can drop it down a storm drain, or hide it somewhere good, I can at least give RobotCop a fighting chance.
Or if I can hand it off, give it to someone trustworthy. Then I can find a find a place to lie down, because I’m tired. So tired.
I find myself doubling back. Toward the moving shapes and colors. Shambling, stumbling, but staying upright–upright long enough to find Wei or someone like him. I’m getting closer and can hear the shouts and smell the gas. I’m brushing against human shapes, croaking “Wei,” but I don’t hear anything back.
Something seems to move aside and I’m looking at trees and grass. It looks splendid and bright, sharper than the rest, peaceful and inviting. It’s the little green patch in front of the police station, where I used to eat lunch when I wanted a little quiet and fresh air. Right now it looks like the perfect place to just stretch out and rest…
The world tumbles over and my body hits the pavement. Something heavy is on top of me.
“I don’t know how you got this far in your condition, Rombus,” a voice says. “Maybe you have more grit than I gave you credit for. Look, just cough it up right now and I’ll go get you some help. Do the right thing here and you’ll get to see that cute wife of yours again.”
“Argyle? How do you know Tess?”
“Quit squirming and give me the key. The jig is up.”
I can feel footsteps approaching, the murmur of voices. A blow catches me across the face.
“Back up! All of you. This is official police business! Anyone makes a move and I will shoot.”
Argyle is in his tough cop element, controlling everyone around him. It’s all so exhausting and meaningless, all this meanness, selfishness, misplaced loyalty, injustice… but who would I be if I didn’t fight it to the last? Try to make things a little better for those who won’t be following me anytime soon.
I arch my neck and try to look around. There’s a big ring of people or shapes, but nobody is close enough to hand the key to. I don’t want to just throw it out there–Argyle might start shooting. I put my remaining strength into making a tight fist. Let him pry it out of my cold dead hand.
I feel a bigger rumble, like a vehicle or several. Probably more riot police, more of Argyle’s cronies. The jig really is up. I close my eyes.
There is a commotion. I hear people shouting “Let him through, let him through,” but I don’t know who they are talking about. Then they’re shouting “Keep them out, keep them out.” and there’s a lot of vibration. The weight lifts off me and I’m just lying there.
“You.” Argyle again. “Stand down, that’s an order, an official police order.”
“I’m sorry Louis. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“One more step and I shoot!”
“There are unarmed people surrounding us. Do not discharge your weapon.”
“You ruined everything you Moth-argggh!”
The rumbling continues, but it feels nice. My eyes are closed and the most peaceful sleep I could ever imagine is coming on. I want to go there. I reach my hand up and open it. Whoever wants the thing can have it. I’m no longer concerned.
Fingers brush my palm and take the key away. “Thank you, Daniel Rombus,” a voice says. There’s something familiar about it. Different and familiar. Suddenly I’m being jostled. There is stinging pain and nausea. I feel my body again, and it is heavy, wet and disgusting.
“Aw come on, I was trying to sleep.”
There are sharp jabs, constrictions and other awful sensations coming in rapid succession. I’m being manipulated like a dummy, feeling worse and worse by the minute. “Just let me rest,” I say, waving an arm. It doesn’t stop, so I just tune it out.
It actually works–the pain drifts further away and my thoughts become hazy. I’m going somewhere warm, and quiet, and bright…
“But your wife Tess is here, and she wants to say hello.”
I can barely hear the words, but they seem important somehow.
“Your wife, Tess, she’s here.”
“Tess? Tess, are you there?” I open my eyes.
I find myself looking at a profoundly alien shape. I can see its head and torso, which are both dark and splattered with blood. Its arms are opened up and strange tools protrude from within. They are moving in the area of my right hip. It takes me a moment to recognize that I’m looking at RobotCop. I look behind him and see what looks like Argyle, sprawled out and struggling weakly in plastic hand restraints. I don’t seen anyone else I recognize.
“Where’s my wife? You said she was here,” I say, confused.
RobotCop’s arms stop moving and close back up. His lenses turn to my face, and I feel something like… eye contact. “I may have exceeded the parameters of the annual provision,” he says.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“April fools,” he says. His motors whirr and he lifts me smoothly from the ground.
His smile alone
Another round of reforms
On New Year’s Eve
I went to a party
Of Jehovah’s Witnesses
And on the way home
My mother fell out of the car
All evening long my thoughts
Careened within the
Enclosing walls of self-importance
As a remedy
I pondered the fundamental
Emptiness of life
Coming to the realization that
My life is not nearly empty enough
The Next Great Work
The silently summoned multitude
Spangled across the plain
Motion, always motion
Antlike in their purpose
Bright components blaze
In splendid metallic hues
Holy print, the shadeblue writ
Hope communion, paragon
The shining edifice rises
As if nurtured from the soil
Pilings buried with especial care
As grandmothers laid to rest
The seventh day: Completion
They delight in their creation
Soft obelisk to singularity
Resplendent and impassive
But restless hearts churn within
Clenched jaws and burning eyes
They gather and scan the gloaming line
For the site of the next great work
A mango blushes slowly
In silent gradient traverse
From joyless unyielding green
To sweetest fragrant amber
A cloud silently perpetuates
In inchbound rolling Zen
Is it the force of imagination
That keeps it hanging together?
A child gradually mutates
From lumpy screeching dough
To a modern man bent double
Under the world inside his head
Someone made a reference
To a Will Ferrell movie
And I laughed politely
This is something
I seem to find myself
At Will Ferrell references
But apparently not
Anchorman? They say
I actually hate Will Ferrell
But I usually play along
Just to make things easy
Society makes people ugly
Who could actually be hideous
Among the cosmic bricolage
And empty void of space?
Society makes people ugly
It has become skilled and subtle
It rarely raises its voice
Or judges one directly
I am part of society
And I make people ugly
I don’t say it out loud
But it’s written across my face
I’m going to keep doing it
Because I don’t know how to stop
Standards aesthetics preferences
Are my measures of enforcement
I’ve thrown in with the hegemony
We are shallow but we are deep
I tell myself that I am on the upswing
Because what else can I tell myself?
It is too soon for decline
My legs are still too strong
My aptitudes still too burgeoning
I did not peak when the others did
I will age like fine wine
A Comment on Comments
After the eventful Mike Brown rally, I was excited to see how much conversation there was in the media about police brutality, over-militarization and the general state of racial injustice that still exists in America. With the decision not to indict Eric Garner’s killers, there was reason for fresh outrage. I also harbored some hope that with Garner, all but the blind would be forced to see the crisis: here was a man seeking only a chance to explain himself, his last moments crystal-clearly as non-violent as Gandhi’s, being killed on a public sidewalk by a police force so out of control with authority and ego that they could not hear the man they were crushing cry out for air.
However, in my perusing, I stumbled across this. As Grand Dragon McManus clearly explains, only Eric Garner is to blame for his own death, as trying to negotiate a peaceful outcome and trying to breathe clearly constitute resisting arrest. The air went out of my balloon as irreversibly as it went out of Garner’s lungs.
Well, I didn’t want one white man’s racist opinion to ruin my mood, but the more I read about the events, the more the shape of the ugly behemoth started to become apparent. I suppose it had always been there, but it was emerging into clarity from the mist now, hideous, threatening and obstinate.
It was the comments that got me. I would read stories about Mike Brown and Eric Garner and scroll helplessly to the comments section, like a moth drawn to flame. This is where the danger lurked. Many of the comments were from the facebook plugin, and featured white, middle-aged men and women saying things that essentially amounted to “Eric Garner got what he deserved.” I was ready for the victim-blaming with Mike Brown. After all, he got into a physical fight with a lone police officer, which in contemporary black life is something like wrestling a bear: If you live to tell the tale, you have been fortunate.
Eric Garner was supposed to be different though. This was (to borrow from Clarence Thomas) a high-tech lynching. High-tech in the sense that although the man was killed in a nearly real-time youtube broadcast, we somehow managed to allow the towering, ephemeral structure of legal, societal, and governmental complexes to stand between what happened that day, and the meaning of what happened that day. For example, there is still no definitive answer on whether the chokehold that precipitated Garner’s death was legal, illegal or “banned.” There is a creeping vagueness surrounding what seems to be very simple evidence, and it is clearly motivated not by simple morals or ethics, but by issues of race and power.
This is why the space alien test is a useful one here. That is, if you showed the tape of Garner’s arrest/killing to space aliens, how would they interpret what takes place in the video? How much context, presented in what way, would be necessary to convince the aliens that it was necessary for Garner to be wrestled down forcefully and and left dying on the sidewalk?
But alas, the commenters. One hallmark of double consciousness is reading subtext into white speech about racial incidents. One of the lasting victories won by the civil rights movement and liberal politics in general is political correctness. People, particularly conservatives, perennially bemoan this concept, but it has undeniable value for the people it protects. There are no effective derogatory words for white people. Really, only minorities and the economically, physically and sexually marginalized stand to suffer from insensitive terminology.
However, the unintended consequence of this progress has been the evolution of hate language. It has become subtle and clever. A recent example is the ascent of the word “thug” to substitute N-word, and the subsequent battle between whites claiming it for continued use, and blacks calling for its retirement.
But beyond simple name-calling, the ideas behind George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton and Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens are still alive and well. The sentiment du jour is an old, depressing one – that poor black males are permanently guilty of some criminality, or else character flaw – one that makes them disdain steady jobs, have children out of wedlock, commit petty crime, and use and sell drugs. Here’s the upsetting part: because of this blanket guilt in the eyes of larger society, any measure of force used to neutralize these “thugs” is instantly justified. This is why the convenience store footage of Mike Brown, and the untaxed cigarette allegations and past arrests of Eric Garner have become such a part of the debate. For many white internet commenters, these pieces of evidence are enough to justify the deaths of both men. Many of the comments surrounding this sentiment has an almost celebratory feel: “There’s one lazy-ass nigger who won’t be picking up his welfare check on the 1st,” is how some of the comments feel like they read – when read through the lens of double-consciousness. Am I being a little defensive? Sure. Paranoid? Definitely not. Some of the messages are subtle in their coding, and some of them or not. Regardless, one can feel the hate behind them like heat off a stove. Most of them say the same thing, with different degrees of venom: Those thugs deserved the deaths they got.
Let’s face it – the police are, generally speaking, the only people who are sanctioned to mete out deadly violence in America’s public and private spaces. As such, one can sometimes get the sense that they are the outlet for many of the violent fantasies that swirl within in the American psyche. This is why such internet hoorahs seem to be going up as the debate continues over Mike Brown, Eric Garner and the countless others.
These hoorahs got me down. Way down. I felt like the enemy had multiplied, to a force far greater than a few wayward institutions. The police may seem like a runaway gang to myself and others, but for many they are still the ideal manifestation of a widespread desire for a well-armed, highly trained peacekeeping force. Their enemy is still a marginalized American who is somehow getting away with something, whether in a literal law-breaking sense, or, more dangerously, in some larger moral sense. The penalty for non-compliance with the judgments exerted on their lives – a steady stream of harassment, suspicion, violence and disrespect – goes up to and includes death. We call ourselves the people and they call themselves the taxpayers. The taxpayers have the police on their side, and they are excited about it.
I’m not excited about it, and the situation makes me feel unsafe in my own skin. Our struggle as the people is to make everyone, including the taxpayers, understand how unfair this selective security is. If Eric Garner’s death doesn’t make a dent in their front, I worry that it might be nearly impossible for us to get our point across.
I would argue that in order to actually be hurtful, slurs and epithets must point to either a historical injury or a current state of injustice. Middle class white people have little to worry about on this front, having enjoyed a run of dominance that has made whiteness synonymous with pride, potential, power and privilege. “White trash,” seems like a candidate at first blush, but really that term is just a way of being hurtful about poverty.
The Absurd Death of Akai Gurley
When I first read about Akai Gurley’s death, I didn’t know how to react. Sure I was angry, but mostly the incident just seemed darkly absurd. Here are a pair of young officers from the NYPD, simply going about their daily business, and they still manage to kill an unarmed black man, by accident!
The affair sounded like some kind of racially-provocative, slapstick prank gone horribly wrong – a candidate for a Social Darwin award. I could only think of it in terms of a screwball scenario, and although it seemed like a terrible idea, I decided to actually write it out. I still think I’m indulging a stupid, bad idea, but I’m posting it regardless. Consider it a “laugh bitterly to keep from crying” kind of thing. I don’t mean to in any way diminish the tragic death of Mr. Gurley, nor to impugn the actors whose names I used. Consider it my way of expressing my shock and sadness at the state of affairs. One can only hope that justice is served in this case, despite its recent poor batting average.
Seth Rogen and James Franco are young NYPD officers. They have been partners for a short time, and as one of their first patrols together, they are tasked with patrolling the Louis H. Pink Houses, a cluster of public housing towers in Brooklyn.
The two are walking a perimeter around the site of the houses. It is early evening. Though alert for developing threats, the two are walking slowly, enjoying the mild weather and having a conversation.
Seth Rogen: So then I said, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you scream or moan can be used against you, blah blah blah. If you cannot afford a contraceptive, one will be provided for you.”
James Franco: Then you put the cuffs on her?
SR: Oh yeah, but then guess what dude, after we were done – and it was glorious, by the way – I couldn’t find the fucking key!
JF: Those things have an emergency release though, right?
SR: Emergency release? They better not [jingles handcuffs on utility belt]. Standard issue. All I did was hot glue some pink fur onto them. Ain’t no emergency release.
JF: [Laughing] No shit dude? Then what did you do?
SR: Well, I had to play it off like I was just messing with her, but all that shit about positive identification and a cavity searches doesn’t play so well when the foreplay was an hour ago, and she’s getting all chilled from the gallons and gallons of love sweat…
They approach a stairwell door and James Franco reaches to open it. Seth Rogen hesitates for a second.
SR: Whoa, I thought we were just doing a perimeter. The sergeant said “No verticals.” I remember it like I remember my first blowjob – “No verticals.”
JF: The first one you gave, or the first one you received?
SR: Haw fucking haw, very funny. Let’s get back to the cruiser and go.
JF: Aw c’mon man! We would be derelict in our duty as police officers if we didn’t secure these stairwells. Who knows what kind of criminal activity could be happening in there.
SR: I dunno…
JF: Dude, the view from the roof is choice. It’ll only take a few minutes, plus, a little exercise never hurts.
SR: [Looks down at his stomach] What’s that supposed to mean!?
Seth Rogen opens his mouth to protest further, but James Franco has already opened the door and slipped through. Seth Rogen lets out a sigh and follows.
The rooftop door opens. James Franco smiles and walks toward the parapet and a grand view of New York. His face is lit by the orange rays of sunset. Seth Rogen takes a few shaky steps forward, before putting his hands on his knees and panting for breath.
SR: [Breathing heavily] Oh holy shit man, I need my inhaler.
JF: Isn’t it magnificent? I wonder if the people who live here even appreciate it. If they did they’d be out here right now. [Pause] I wonder if you even appreciate it, Officer Rogen.
Rogen doesn’t answer, and after a moment James Franco looks back to find him smoking marijuana from a sleek, matte-black pipe.
JF: What are you doing!? We’re on patrol.
SR: Chill out dude. What are you, a cop or something?
JF: [Rolls his eyes] Gimme that. [Shields the lighter with his body takes a hit]
SR: Remember that part in The Matrix where they’re on the roof and Neo dodges the bullets?
JF: [Looking down and puffing] Hell yeah dude. That part was fucking sick. I used to practice that in the mirror in my dorm room and shit. I even dressed like that for a while. I got the long coat and the sunglasses and everything.
SR: Remember the part right after that?
James Franco raises his head to feel the tip of Seth Rogen’s gun resting directly on his right temple. Rogen stands to Franco’s right, his arm fully extended. Rogen is wearing a serious expression and there is a strange light in his eye.
SR: Dodge this.
JF: [Jumping back and coughing on smoke] Jesus fucking Christ dude, don’t fuck around like that! Goddamn it man, you ruined my high and shit.
SR: [Laughing] Chill out dude, the safety was on. If that freaks you out, what are you gonna do when you’re in the bathtub and there’s a shotgun barrel in your mouth – the cold steel hitting you in the teeth and shit.
JF: Did you just sit in a separate room and watch movies, while the rest of us were actually training to become police officers?
The two finish the bowl and walk back to the roof access door. James Franco pulls out his firearm and flashlight and holds them in the distinctive arrangement he learned in training.
SR: Geez man, what are you expecting? You didn’t do that on the way up.
JF: [Staring straight ahead] Well it’s pitch-black in those stairwells, and thanks to you I’m feeling pretty fucking paranoid right now.
Seth Rogen shakes his head and opens the door for James Franco.
The officers descend. Their chatter has been reduced to short, terse exchanges. They pass through the door to the 8th floor landing, and as James Franco rounds the corner to the stairs, his gun goes off. There is a bright flash and the black pistol seems to jump in his hand. There is a distinctively human “urk” sound from the bottom of the flights of stairs, followed by rustling, thumping noises, and what sounds like the low but frantic murmur of a woman’s voice. The cops retreat in a flurry of panic, finally both getting behind the door and closing it.
SR: Jesus fucking shit man! What the hell was that!?
JF: It was an accident! I saw a silhouette!
SR: A silhouette!? What the fuck is this, a burlesque house? The Phantom of the Opera? You saw a person is what you mean, right?
JF: I – I don’t know what I saw… What are you doing?
SR: [Packing the marijuana pipe] I can’t fucking deal with this man. I’m freaking out.
JF: So you’re just going to fucking smoke a bowl right now?
SR: Hey. You’re the one who might have just shot somebody, why don’t you go see if they need help?
JF: …Fuck you dude.
SR: [Exhaling smoke] Fuck me? This isn’t about me. You’re the one who wanted to go creeping around like Max Payne and shit.
JF: [Grabbing bowl and lighter] Gimme that. [Handing cell phone to Rogen] You text Bartlett.
JF: Yes, fucking Albert Bartlett, our union rep. You met him after commencement with me. He shook our hands and said “If you ever need anything, just get in touch with me.”
SR: …We should really go check on that guy.
JF: What guy? I didn’t see a guy. Just fucking text Bartlett and tell him there was an accident and that we’re going to need the union’s unequivocal backing.
SR: What’s the address here?
JF: I don’t fucking know. Pink House number goddamn infinity plus one. All these shithole rat’s nests look the same to me.
Seth Rogen looks up briefly, surprised to hear his partner talk this way. He is still texting when a woman’s wail rises from the dark stairwell.
SR: [Presses send] Jesus Christ. This is not what I signed up for. Not what I signed up for at all.
James Franco grabs Seth Rogen by the collar. His face is half in shadow.
JF: Listen to me, we’re in this together alright? You got no choice, I got no choice. Whatever happened happened, and there’s no going back now. I know you might feel like we’re buddies Rogen, but you don’t really know me at all, and I can assure you that if you decide to act funny, there’s no telling…
Another wails sounds from the stairwell, louder this time. Seth Rogen knocks aside James Franco’s hands and reverses the collar grip.
SR: There’s more to me than meets the eye too, Franco. I’m very, very stubborn. If I make up my mind to help you, I’ll be with you till the end. But if you decide to go against me, I’ll fight you until the end of the world. Now listen to me. It’s time for us to be public servants, and go down there to assist the person you may have just shot. Got me?
JF: [Taken aback] Yeah – Yeah you’re right. [Smiles slowly] And hey man, we’ll be alright. We’re proud officers of the New York Police Department, remember? The whole precinct’s got our back. The fucking union too. Plus, you saw what happened, it was an accident. This shit’ll blow over without us ever seeing the inside of a courtroom, and before you know it we’ll be fighting the good fight again. In the meantime – paid leave dude. Let’s take a trip to fucking Morocco or something. I hear you can buy hashish in one-gallon tubs over there.
SR: [Quietly] Yeah. Morocco. Hashish.
Seth Rogen releases James Franco’s collar and pulls out his flashlight. He leaves his gun holstered. James Franco holsters his gun and readies his flashlight. Seth Rogen speaks into his radio – which has been chattering away quietly for several minutes – then opens the landing door. The officers round the corner and start downstairs, yelling “Police!” and “NYPD!” as they descend.