Walkabout, 3

[Estimated reading time: 3 minutes]

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The police popped up on the scene in seconds, remoting into ubiquitous shells that peppered Tokyo. You could see one on most corners, a police statue that woke up every now and again and went off on some task for the cops, usually getting statements from people in-person, so to speak.

The closest shell I could get was four blocks away. Early morning.

While the shell made its way over to the cafe, I ran a search on the web for any news about Helene: the networks she was on, what she had shared recently, her itinerary for the past few days reconstructed in a manner of seconds from her postings. She was travelling in some artistic circles, underground film-makers in Tehran, fringe performance artists in Brazil, etc. But only from Japan. She hadn’t left the country in four years, relying on remoting instead.

They’d cordoned off the cafe, black-and-whites holding the crowd back and establishing a perimeter. I saw a couple of camera drones come down. These were not the industrial units the size of a house that flew over the city 24-7, these were the smaller delivery models, aircraft carriers that lived inside other aircraft carriers. The suitcase-sized drone dipped down from the sky, hovered a few doors down, and released half a dozen fist-sized flitting cameras, their long wings a blur of ribbons that surrounded the camera.

The cameras flew in and I accessed their public feed. The shell just stood in the slowly-gathering crowd and recorded what it observed.

The cafe was empty, except for a body in the corner. Cameras spread out to cover the scene and I hopped from one to another until I found the drone that approached the body.

It was a woman. From the drone’s current position I couldn’t see her face, but already I had doubts that this was Helene. The drone flew at a distance and circled the body. Eventually I could see her face and it was not Helene. The body belonged to a white woman. She had on a black wig, pale white hair peeking from underneath, the wig sent askew in the shooting.

I dropped the feed and cried. Helene was alive!

I ducked back into the office, tossed out wrapper from my lunch, grabbed my backpack and board, and ran out of the office. “Personal shit, sorry!” I yelled as I passed Jason’s desk. He stood up and yelled back “Be safe!”

That was important. I put them all behind me, all thoughts of work obligations flushed and gone, and was now able to completely focus on Helene.

I dialed her number, the same one that she had used at the cafe. It rang.

I ran out the front doors, through the small plaza, and landed on my board on the sidewalk, feet planted and pushing me off in the direction of home. It rang.

I looked at my map and saw that I was about to be bridge-fucked. One of the two bridges that I had to cross on my way home would be raised by the time I got there. The map suggested a skyhook and this time I didn’t even blink at the rate, tapped the Agree button as fast as I could. It rang.

I raced forward, the sidewalk flying beneath me at supersonic speeds as I pushed off and accelerated downhill. Some of us skated during lunch breaks, so the neighbors weren’t that surprised to see me blasting down the hill. We normally didn’t set off this many alarms, though. It rang.

A loud hum filled the air and I saw the blinking skyhook descend about half a kilometer away. I closed the distance in seconds and grabbed the mounting bar for all it was worth.

You do that maneuver with any other drone, it comes crashing down on your head. But these skyhooks know who I am, they’re expecting to pick up my dumb-ass self when I’m a human locomotive. That’s the loud hum that you hear from a klick away, engines that could chain-smoke intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The cable snaps to attention and we’re rocketing through the air. The high end holds the drone, sometimes drones, plural. The low end holds me. The low end swings through the air, a massive pendulum rocking from one side to the other, and just as I reach the farthest point in the swing my velocity with respect to the ground is almost zero and I step off the skyhook.

I’m home. I walk up the stairs to the door, walk inside, drop my bag and my board in the hallway, and walk into my small kitchen. Helene is there, making coffee.

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