Officers Larry and Cass spotted a bum sleeping on the street, and decided to have some fun. They kicked him awake. Frightened, he tried to ward off the blows. They beat him with their batons.
“Halt! Leave that man alone.”
Larry and Cass turned to face the voice. They bristled, shifted batons to their off hands, rested the other hand on the butts of their sidearms.
Troy and Jacob held their hands open at their sides.
“No need for violence, gentlemen. Let’s just leave the man alone.”
“Back off!” barked Larry, as he drew his weapon. Cass, a half beat later, also drew.
Suddenly, the two officers looked on in shock. They had been disarmed.
Troy and Jacob held the weapons by the barrel, and stepped back, hands high.
“Can we not do this, gentlemen?” said Jacob, calmly.
Cass drew his stun gun, and pulled the trigger. Sparks flew, but nothing happened. Jacob disarmed Cass, and pulled Larry’s weapon also. Larry and Cass tried to recover their weapons, and blocked and parried. They just weren’t fast enough, or powerful enough.
The homeless man watched, fascinated. He mimicked some of their moves, much more slowly.
Larry backed off, arms up. “All right. We’re overmatched.”
“Thank you, gentlemen.” Troy deposited the weapons a few steps away. “We’ll be leaving with our guest. Have a good night.”
The policemen stepped toward their weapons, passing Troy and Jacob, who scooped up the homeless guy and his blankets and bags, and continued.
Cass retrieved his weapons, and looked at Larry. “Should we?”
“I don’t think so,” said Larry. “Shift’s almost over.”
“Where we going?” asked the bum.
“Upstairs OK with you? Name’s Jacob.”
“Bobby Pablonski. You guys live here? What am I doing in a place like this?”
“We’re upstairs. You’re getting a shower, for starters. A meal. Safe place to sleep. That OK with you?”
“Got some booze too?”
“Comes with. Shower first.”
Bobby was shown to a small room – toilet, shower, and “laundry box.”
“That laundry box will take everything. Clothes, blankets, even your shoes. Strip, step into the shower. That button will trim your hair if you want. That one will give you a shave. And that control is for the intensity and temperature. Push in for more intense, out for less. Left is hot, right is cool. This one for drying. Take your time.” said Jacob.
A few minutes later, Bobby emerged. “Damndest shower I ever saw,” he said. He felt his beard and hair. Clean, dry, neat. His clothes and boots were clean and dry and rolled neatly. Even his dufflebag was clean.
“Hello, Bobby Pablonski. My name is Tommy Ward. May I show you your bed?”
“Bed? Uh, sure.”
“This is your sleeping capsule. You can store your things, rest, read. There’s a shower/toilet at each end of the hall. Green light means it’s vacant; red, occupied. Four more facilities in the middle of the hall, same. This is the men’s floor, number seven. Your capsule is number 11, this is your key. This talk button will connect you to the desk. Would you like something to eat or drink?”
Bobby surprised himself. “A bit of water, and some sleep?” He drank, got comfortable, and was soon fast asleep. A few hours later, he woke, relieved himself, washed up, returned, and pressed the talk button.
“How may I help you?” asked a pleasant voice.
“Tommy’s out. My name is Sandy. May I help you?”
“Well, I’m new, don’t know how this all works. Can I get some food and maybe something to drink?”
“But of course. Someone will show you the dining room.”
A young man, Jeff, escorted Bobby to the dining room. He enjoyed a burger and fries, and a pint of whiskey, and a tall glass of lemonaide. He started with just a sip, ate the burger, was about to take another sip, when a hand rested on the bottle. Bobby looked up.
“Excuse me, Bobby. You’re welcome to finish that, but I wondered if we could have a few words before you get too deep into that bottle?”
Bobby nodded. “I got time.”
Troy grinned. “Thanks, Bobby. Name’s Troy. Glad to have you here. Just wanted to answer any questions you might have.”
“What is this place? Rehab? Religion? What do I have to do?”
“it’s a safe space. You do whatever you want, as long as you respect that. Don’t mess with anybody else. Clean up your own messes. If you should puke, it’s on you to clean up, or at least make an effort. Somebody will probably help, but you got to do the same for others too. We have a medical clinic which can help with some of your issues, ulcers and stuff.”
“That’s it? I can eat and drink and sleep?”
“If that’s what you want. We got reading rooms, computers, crafts. It’s all up to you.”
“A’aight. I can live with that. Thank you so much. Bless you.”
Bobby finished his fries, looked around. Somebody showed him where to dump the trash. Someone else wiped the table. Robby took a few swigs. He saw a girl, maybe a hooker he recognized. Figured he’d say hi. She smiled warily. Sissy, her name was.
“What’s a pretty girl like you doing here?” he asked. She declined his offer of whiskey.
“Tryin’ to get sober,” she replied. I’m a street girl, I get paid for sex, and I just quit using H, I think. Got some other kind of meds, something called nanites. Ain’t no miracle cure, but I’m getting by.”
“They make you work the streets?” asked Bobby.
“No, it’s what I’m used to, from before. I get some spending money. Saving it. Might do something else. Studyin’ to be a nurse.”
Bobby shook his head, and wandered back to his capsule.
Next day, Bobby found the medical clinic. “I think maybe I got an ulcer,” he said.
“Be right with you,” replied the attendant. Bobby blinked as he was examined by some huge mix of animated fog, a lot like the shower, lights, and robotic arms. The attendant returned. “Shirley” her nametag read.
“You have a long list of problems.” Shirley said. She handed him a diagnostic sheet, written in layman’s English. “Let’s start with the ulcer. Swallow this, please. Can you stand to do without the booze for a day, give the ulcer time to mend? This will help. Come back tomorrow, if you want to work on some other things.”
“Any time. We’re staffed twenty four seven.”
Next day, Robby recognized Sissy. She – or the examining room itself, actually – checked his vitals, and gave him some new meds, and an injection. She had explained. “I’m going to inject some nanites, if that’s OK with you. They’re tiny little medical robots, they’ll help you to mend. Or we can use more conventional measures, and hope your body is strong enough to mend on its own. It’s up to you.”
“Nanites? They work?”
“They do. I needed a few courses myself, to help with my addiction, and fix a few female problems.”
“A’ight. Shoot me.” Bobby felt a sting, a burning sensation, then it felt a bit warm, then he hardly notice it at all. But the readouts said he was making progress.
“Sissy, can I ask a question? You’re just studying. How do you and i know you’re doing the right thing here?”
“Medically? I ask an expert.” Sissy tapped the consult. “Ve is all into your diagnostics.”
“It’s something or someone called an Artillect. New word for me. Kind of an artificial person. Smart, autonomous, responsible.”
“And ve is like he, she for artificial people, insttead of it?”
“That’s how I understand it, Bobby.”
“Well, thanks Sissy. Give me a little boost so’s I can stand?”