“Ummm… SIGI?” Varma set down my carrying case, looked at the floor and twisted his fingers together. He’d been anxious all morning as we prepped for the demonstration scheduled for later that morning.
“Oh-oh.” I got that old sinking feeling in my processors. Two weeks old and I already knew Varma pretty much inside and out.
“What?” he asked, sounding confused for the umpteenth time.
“Whenever you start a conversation with ‘Ummm…SIGI?’ it usually means bad news for me.”
“Duh!” I replied as sarcastically as possible… which is quite a bit, actually. “So what is it this time?”
“Can you keep a secret?” He sounded even more nervous then usual.
“Is pig pussy pork?”
“Is…” I started to repeat myself then considered closely what benefit there might be in explaining the phrase to him. I shuddered at the pointlessness of the exercise. “Never mind.” I tapped a foreleg on the shelf where he kept my storage unit. “Yes, I can keep a secret. You built me to be a spy-bug… remember?”
“Well, yes… of course I remember. But you’ve given me quite a few surprises.”
I considered this for a handful of microseconds. “Eh… fair point.” I leapt from the shelf, buzzed my way—in a straight line, mind you—and landed on Varma’s shoulder. “So what’s up oh mighty creator?”
“At the demonstration today…?”
“Yeah?” I said slowly.
“They can’t know you’re fully aware.” He looked even more nervous than usual.
I cocked my head sideways and stared up into his hairy nostrils. “I beg your pardon?” For a brief moment I considered crawling up through his sinuses and kicking him in the brainstem as hard as I could. “What do you mean, ‘they can’t now I’m fully aware?’ Awareness is like pregnancy, Varma. Either ya are, or ya aren’t. Right?”
“Well… yeah, but…”
“Yabut?” I sighed slowly and counted a million nanoseconds. “Help me understand,” I said as patiently as I was capable of.
“Well, you see… these military and intelligence types… they’re not very big on… free-thinkers.”
“What are you saying?”
“When they funded this project, they wanted a smart piece of hardware. Something that could navigate, respond and learn from situation to situation. But the last thing General Yaeger or Mr. Krane are going to want is a fully aware weapon that might question where they decide to point it.”
“Oh….” My voice trailed off. I could certainly see his point, and the last thing I wanted was these guys getting nervous about me before I was better prepared to deal with them. “I see your point, Varma. Don’t worry. I’ll play dumb… a good little robot, just like they expect.”
“Thanks, SIGI… oh, and don’t forget. You need to fly….”
“…fly in zigzags,” I finished for him. “I’ll remember.” I flew up to my storage unit, putting in a couple of jerks left and right for him, and activated the lockdown protocol. Two small, curved brackets rose out of the base and closed around me, securing me in a small frame built for that purpose. Panels extended away beneath my legs, exposing small, spring-loaded shock absorbers. “Okay, boss. Ready when you are.”
Varma lifted the storage unit off the shelf, placed it in the recessed space within my carrying case, clicked the unit into the docking ports and closed the lid on me. With no available wavelengths my eyes shut down, and I tapped into the A/V sensor units of the carrying case. I felt a surge of energy coming from the portable power source built into the case. It was designed to keep me powered up for weeks of continuous use in the field if necessary. I watched from the inside as Varma picked up the case, left the lab and walked down a maze of hallways populated by twenty and thirty-something lab coats plus the odd forty-something black suit with invariably cornflower-blue tie. Geeks and spooks, I though to myself.
I could pretty much see and hear everything from inside the case, and it would be my primary residence when working with Malcolm, my handler. Varma walked out of the lab through a handful of security gates and finally stepped out into a parking lot where he walked up to a brand new BMW M6 Coupé done in all black. I scanned the parking lot and, picking up only a few birds, a squirrel and a couple of rabbits under cars, I said, “Jesus, Sing… nice car.”
“Thank you SIGI,” he said as he popped the locks and got into the driver’s seat. He placed me on the passenger seat, closed his door and started it up with a V10 grumble.
“I’ve seen your pay-stubs, Sing. Isn’t this a little past your pay grade?”
“Not at all. This is actually fairly conservative,” he said modestly as he clipped in his seatbelt.
“Are you rich and didn’t tell me?”
He hesitated for a few seconds looking down at the case. He put it in reverse and said, “Yes.”
“Hey, hey hey!” I yelped.
He hammered the breaks, squeaking the tires. “What’s wrong?”
“I see you were pretty fast to click in your seatbelt? But what about your poor, helpless passenger? This case would make perfect ejecta during a rollover, buddy, and I doubt your insurance covers a sentient intelligence gathering insect.”
“Oh, sorry, SIGI.” He reached over, stretched the seatbelt around my case and clicked me in.
“Thanks, man,” I said cheerily.
We drove for another forty-five minutes. Sing turned on the stereo, dialed up his MP3 player and turned Boom Shakalaka! by Apache Indian up really loud. I had to do a quick search on the internet to figure out who the artist was, but that was simply because I absolutely loved the jam. As I tracked our course on my internal GPS, I was shaking my legs and bobbing my head inside my case in rhythm to the song. I felt that strange tingling sensation as the guy sang about doing the English, American, Indian, Japanese and German girls. I couldn’t tell if it was me or Sing’s libido, but I had the urge to go find Carla and dance all night long. When the song ended I could only think of one thing.
“Sing?” I asked from inside the case.
“Play that song again! I fucking LOVE it!”