In the previous episode, Zach, Carol and HARV are walking around a hotel when increasing numbers of cleaning bots begin to surround them. HARV informs Zach that while their main mission is to clean, they are equipped with laser technology which could still cause harm. After one of them tarnishes his suit, readers voted for Zach to let Carol help him get rid of the bots.
I look at the little cleaning bots, the ten of them hovering up in the hotel hallway. They certainly don’t look all that menacing. But these days you don’t have to look dangerous to be dangerous.
“Listen bots, I don’t want trouble,” I say.
“They are cleaning bots. They won’t pay any attention to you. They have something they need to clean up and they will not stop until that job is done. I am actually trying to override their programming,” HARV tells me. “It’s not easy because they are such simple machines. They are programmed to see a spot and remove that spot.”
“So, they think of me as a dirt spot?” I ask.
“Apparently so,” HARV says.
“I’ve been able to confound them so far which has prevented them from shooting at you again, but I calculate I can’t hold them much longer. It’s like trying to deal with a dimwit. You can distract them for a moment with a bright shiny object but sooner rather than later they will get bored with it and then move on.”
I move my left wrist in just the right way that makes my trusty Colt-4500 pop into my hand. I wave my gun at the bots.
“Now back off, bots!” I order.
HARV puts his hands on his hips and sighs. “Zach, these bots will not listen to you. They are very single-minded. I should also note that there are no security cameras in this hotel. Apparently the patrons value their privacy more than security.”
“Probably because they travel with their own security,” I suggest.
“Noted. The point being if you fire your gun because you claim you are being attacked by harmless cleaning bots, there will be some doubts,” HARV tells me.
I think about the situation. Firing my gun in public is never a good thing. Sure the hotel wasn’t that crowded but with my luck some over-pampered customer would show up the minute I pulled the trigger. Plus the authorities are never fans of me shooting up a place for no apparent reason. Sure, in this case I had a reason, but I’m not sure they’d believe that the cleaning bots were attacking me.
“Kill, Crush, Clean!” the ten bots echo as one.
“Carol, take them out,” I say.
“With pleasure,” Carol says with a smile.
Carol points at the bots and then gestures to the left. The ten bots go crashing into the left hall wall. Carol swipes her arm to the right. The bots fly from the left wall and slam into the right wall. The bots shatter into hundreds of little bot pieces. The pieces sprinkle harmlessly to the ground.
“I wonder who will clean up this mess,” Carol says.
“Not our problem,” I tell her.
We head to the elevator and up to Merinda’s floor.
My experience has taught me that dignitaries like to have lots of aides and servants around. It gives them an air of importance. Therefore I’m surprised when Merinda greets us at her hotel room door.
“Zach, I’m so glad you came,” Merinda says as she opens the door. “Please come in so I can update you on my situation.”
Carol, HARV and I walk into the room. It’s a big area. The walls are painted a bright shiny almost glowing yellow. But outside of that not much else separates it from your standard hotel room. I was surprised to see the only person in the room with Merinda was a small woman with grey hair and big eyes.
Merinda motions to the small woman. “This is my aide, Alicia. She is constantly by my side.”
“I assume you travel with more than just one aide and a dog,” I coax.
Merinda nods, lowering her eyes ever so slightly. “Yes, the rest of my staff is out looking for Saturn. But Alicia will not leave me alone.”
That was the second time in less than a minute that Merinda noted how her aide was sticking by her. I got the feeling from Merinda’s words and actions that she wanted some alone time with me. She just couldn’t say it out loud. I needed to put Alicia on ice, at least for a few moments so Merinda could speak freely.
“Carol, can you stun Alicia for a second,” I think to Carol.
Carol focuses on Alicia and squints her eyes. Alicia stands there nervously looking at us.
“I can’t get a lock on her brain,” Carol thinks back to me. “It’s weird. It’s like she’s immune to my powers.“
Okay, so it looks like we would have to deal with Merinda under Alicia’s watchful eyes, at least for now.
“So when was the last time you saw your dog,” I ask Merinda, getting right to the business at hand.
“Zach, he’s an intelligent creature. He is my friend and companion but not mine to own.”
I clear my throat. “When was the last time you saw Saturn, the dog?”
Alicia steps forward. “We saw him exactly two hours and forty-two minutes ago.”
Merinda shakes her head a bit nervously. I can tell she is clearly worried about something. I’m just not totally positive it’s her dog. “The very worrisome thing is I haven’t heard anything from him either.”
“Does he have some sort of communication device?” I ask.
Merinda shakes her head. “No we have a mental bond,” she tells me. “He can broadcast his thoughts to me.”
“Of course he can,” I say. This wouldn’t be a job for me, if this was just a normal super intelligent dog.
“Is there a range limit on your mental link?” Carol asks.
“Why doesn’t Saturn wear a GPS locator?” HARV asks and scolds at the same time.
Merinda looks at Carol and smiles. “Saturn and I have never been more than a few kilometers apart and we’ve always been able to maintain our link.” She looks at HARV and frowns. “He does not wear a locator because he is an intelligent being who does not wish to wear a locator.”
Her annoyance at HARV makes me smile just a little. “Take me to Saturn’s room or pillow or whatever…” I say. “I’ll also need an image of him.”
Merinda points to a door at the far end of the room. “He sleeps on a cushion in the floor of my room. Plus I have a photo of the two of us together there.”
“Let’s see them,” I say, walking towards the door. “Has he acted unusual the last few days?”
Merinda follows me towards the room, with Alicia on her tail. “Not really he was looking forward to coming to Earth. He’s never been here. He said he was excited to breathe in a real atmosphere. Not a man-made one like on Mars.”
“Can’t blame him,” I say.
“Oh please,” HARV says. “The terraformed Mars atmosphere isn’t all that different from Earth’s. It’s actually one of the greatest achievements of human kind.”
“Thanks to the Gladians,” Alicia adds.
“Of course,” HARV agreed. “Pretty much all of Earth’s mega leap in technology is due to the Gladians.”
“Didn’t the Gladians actually terraform a part of Mars before they made contact with us,” I say.
HARV looks at me with wide open eyes. “Yes, that is correct.”
“I know stuff,” I say.
“The Gladians were always interested in human DNA,” Alicia says. “They did establish a small base on Mars before they made contact with most of Earth, just in case. They wanted to make sure the human race survived.” She paused. “But the complete terraforming of Mars was a combined effort.”
“Alicia is quite the historian,” Merinda notes.
Interesting how the Gladians have always had such an interest in human DNA. Of course that is something to ponder at a later date. Now that we are in the bedroom it’s time to focus on matters at hand.
Saturn’s dog cushion was a big, light brown, fluffy pillow. It did look comfy, even to my human eyes. On top of the pillow was an old, bright red ball. I bent down and picked up the ball. It was soft and made a squeaking sound when squeezed. I guess a really intelligent dog is still a dog. Right next to the pillow are two old paper magazines: Field and Stream and Popular Electronics.
“So, he likes to read old-fashioned paper,” I note out loud.
Merinda nods. “Yes, they’re expensive as anything but Saturn asks for so little and gives so much. He says holographic and electronic displays give him a headache if he looks at them too long.”
“I can identify with that,” I say.
Merinda grabs a photo off of her nightstand and shows it to me. It’s a shot of her holding a medium-sized, golden brown, perfectly groomed collie. She points to the collie. “This is Saturn,” she says.
“Yeah, I kind of figured that out.”
“Zach, I have been scanning all security camera data in the area. I have no sign of Saturn.” HARV tells me.
“Not surprising. He’s too low to the ground for most cameras to pick up.”
This was going to take some old-fashioned legwork. I figured I had two places to start. He was a dog and I got the feeling he longed for open space and green grass so a nearby park was certainly a possibility. But he was also quite intelligent so I couldn’t rule out him going to a museum. Of course, a dog would certainly stand out more in a museum than a park. But this wasn’t your average dog. Nevertheless, as the ball showed you can add intelligence to the dog but it is still a dog. Vote below on what will happen next or if reading in email click Take our Poll.