L. B. Spillers
The desert sun baked Esteban’s skin as dry air wicked the moisture out of it. He rolled the throttle on his tiny dirt bike for more cooling wind.
Rather than tearing up the fragile plant life of the plateau for a quicker trip, he stuck to the Jeep path for as long as he could before jumping off towards his destination. Motorcycles were forbidden off-road on the reservation, but the police made an exception for Esteban because his work for the Cultural Center required it.
After half an hour of weaving his bike among the patchwork of sagebrush, he saw his destination, a cliff face mercifully in shadow. Esteban dismounted and set out his charging station and drone. Paid by the job, and keen to get his work done before his location emerged from shadow, he quickly had his quad-copter in motion. Hauling a tiny laser scanner underneath, it whined as it struggled up the cliff face on its preprogrammed journey to map a void fifty feet up.
The director didn’t expect there to be anything inside. It looked too inaccessible, even for Pueblo Indians who favored those world-famous cliff dwellings. This was a case of being thorough. Esteban was happy being paid to be thorough. It gave him real work to do, and a practical application for programming drones. The job got him out of the trailer, and would look good on his college applications.
A gentle, high-pitched, metallic whine announced a finely-tuned Japanese sport bike approaching. He suppressed his laughter at the sight of the ungainly, red bike as it lurched and bounced on the uneven desert. The rider, he knew, was similarly out of his element.
“God damn, Ban, you make it hard to find you.” The rider pulled off his full-face helmet to reveal a sweaty matt of black hair. His vacant eyes made his large frame seem unthreatening, but Esteban knew that in a few short years, they would harden under the tutelage of his miscreant older brother.
“I didn’t want you to find me, Kai.” Esteban pointed at Nakai’s bike. “You know the tribals are going to shit if they see that monster out here.”
“Screw you, man, I’m half Navajo. I got more right to be here than you.”
Esteban sighed as his tablet chirped an update from his drone. Nakai was just in time to keep him from monitoring the scanning run. He was one of those lost souls who wasn’t content to screw up just his own life; Nakai insisted on dragging everyone around him along for the ride.
He set down his tablet, and gave Nakai his full attention. “So why are you stalking me all the way out here?”
“My brother says you didn’t get back to him. He’s pissed.” There was a hint of concern in his voice, as if Nakai were patiently scolding a child. Esteban knew it would never occur to the boy-man to question the importance or ethics of his brother’s wishes. Strong-arming Esteban was just what needed doing.
“I’m staying out of his drug selling,” Esteban said. “I have plans. I can’t afford to go to jail, and those drugs are hurting people, many of whom are Navajo. You should take that one-half tribal pride of yours and think about the Diné.”
Nakai snorted while approaching Esteban. “Dude, this is serious. He’s obsessed. He wants to be like the Amazon of drug delivery, high tech an’ shit.”
Tired of the exchange, Esteban pulled out an electric stun gun from his backpack and waved it in Nakai’s direction. “Kai, it’s too hot to fight. I messed you up in sixth grade. Don’t think I won’t do it again.” Electricity flashed across the electrodes.
Nakai frowned at the stun gun. Esteban saw his classmate’s torso cant, ready to fight. After a tense moment, Nakai relaxed his posture.
“This ain’t sixth grade. It don’t matter how tough you think you are.” Nakai backed up a few steps before turning to mount his bike. “Your skinny ass can’t fight your way out of this, especially not with a bitch-ass little shocker.”
“You delivered your message. Go.”
Nakai locked his front brakes and gunned his engine, throwing out a rooster tail as he turned his bike around. The maneuver covered Esteban in dirt, and gouged the desert.
Esteban stood up to shake off the debris, wondering how bad things would get. Having known the brothers since they were all much younger, he struggled to take Nakai seriously, or even picture his older brother as a threat.
The off sound of his descending quad-copter interrupted Esteban’s musing. It hit the desert floor hard. Esteban winced, knowing it was going to need some work. He marveled at Nakai’s timing as he watched the bouncing red bike disappear in the distance.
Two hours later, Esteban parked his dirt bike inside the waist-high fence that surrounded his uncle’s trailer. He found his uncle sitting in front of the TV, beer in hand, with the good fan pointed at his face. Uncle was a loose term for his mom’s third cousin who had agreed to foster Esteban. The state money combined with his small disability pension and the odd off-the-books job kept the two of them housed. Esteban generally had to feed himself.
“He was here looking for you again.” His uncle’s eyes didn’t leave the screen, American Ninja Warrior semi-finals.
“Yeah, his little brother found me. He wants me to help him use drones to deliver drugs.”
A commercial break allowed the man to throw Esteban a look. “There’s good money in that, right?”
“Tito, it’s drugs. No good. Mom wouldn’t have approved.” Despite being a distant relation to his mom, Esteban was pretty sure the two of them had been intimate. The memory of her was the only conscience the man had.
Tito sighed. “You’re so damn straight and narrow. Can’t get your hands dirty?” He drained his beer and fished its replacement out of the 30-pack next to his chair. Colder beer wasn’t worth the walk to the fridge. “That boy’s dad has the only pickup work I can get around here. Don’t screw that up for me.”
“Tito, you know I want to go to college,” Esteban said to the back of Tito’s head. “I can’t afford an arrest record. Everyone in town knows that he deals. The cops will bust him for sure. Problem solved.”
Tito grunted and started flipping through channels. No money for food or air conditioning, but God forbid there wasn’t satellite TV and beer. Esteban retreated to his room to fix his drone. In one more year, he would escape.
As expected, the tough little scanner was undamaged. The copter damage, however, wasn’t at all what he expected. There was no motor failure or battery problem, just some bent metal. The supports were angled so that a couple of the copter’s engines were working against each other. It looked like the thing had slammed into the cave wall. Esteban considered himself lucky the copter made it back to him.
After running a micro-USB cable from his computer to the drone, he downloaded its video. The last clear shot was a view of an opening in the back wall. If a sudden, powerful air gust had blown the quad-copter against the rock, then sending it in again was asking for trouble. But, if gusting air was the cause, then he had stumbled upon an undocumented cave system; the air had to come from somewhere.
The next day, he was back at the site, this time above the hole in the rock face. He anchored two ropes on the mesa, and then rappelled into the cave opening about 30 feet below. Rule number one: never climb alone. Other often ignored rules drifted through his head during the brief descent: work hard, take care of your kids, and say no to drugs. The people running this world were so completely full of shit, he thought.
Once he had gotten off-rope and secured his lines, he set his pack down. Esteban carefully placed the laser scanner where it would get the best coverage. After strapping on a head lamp, he removed his pack from the scan area, retreating to the back of the cave. He only got paid if he produced scans. Sometimes an empty cave wasn’t just an empty cave when an archeologist saw it.
The scanner beeped as it went through its startup routine. A strong gust of wind hit Esteban as he listened. That answered one question.
Headlamp on, he stared at the opening he had seen on the copter’s camera. Five feet tall and three feet wide, it descended out of sight, at a gentle angle. He had seen enough Native American sites to know that the walls were too regular. This had been dug by a machine.
Esteban hunched over and headed down the tunnel, brushing the wall with his fingertips. His headlamp skipped across the rock floor as he walked. Not only was the cave too regular, it was too clean, lacking dirt, animal carcasses, and insects. After about fifty yards the tunnel opened up into a circular chamber with three more half-size tunnels running out of it. A round steel hatch glinted back it him from the center of the floor.
His back aching, he sat down next to the hatch to examine it. Methodically scrutinizing the metal surface, his face inches away, Esteban couldn’t find writing, a maker’s mark, nor anything to indicate its origin or purpose.
To his surprise, it opened easily onto a ladder. The dry air coming out of it lacked a scent. Esteban sat there for a few moments, thinking and snapping pictures with his phone. Smelling nothing and hearing nothing, he climbed down.
After ten feet, Esteban stepped onto a concrete floor. Splashing his headlight around the walls, he took in the room. Twenty-feet square with a single steel door on the far side, the first word to come to mind was: lounge. An easy chair in front of a flat-screen TV, a matching couch, a fridge, a coffee maker, and a microwave occupied half of the room. Opposite all that, the wall was covered with vintage video game machines.
Reflexively, Esteban went to the fridge and opened it. Cold soda, juice, and microwavables reminded him that he was very thirsty. “I hope they don’t mind if I grab a soda,” he mumbled.
“Not at all, Esteban,” a voice replied, inches from his ear.
Esteban dropped the soda can, and spun around. As their eyes met, he yelped. A very dark, six-foot tall man loomed behind him in the dim light from the refrigerator.
“Crap!” Esteban stepped back. “You scared me!”
The figure ignored him and turned on the room’s lights. Clearly no man, its dark blue skin tightly covered human anatomy, complete with corded muscles. While Esteban stared, it picked up the can. Its fingers, quick and nimble, returned the soda to the fridge, and offered Esteban an unshaken one.
“Here, have a drink. Let’s talk.” It motioned towards the easy chair with the can.
Esteban’s eyes went to the ladder for a second before he took the offered can and sat down.
“Good choice,” his host said.
Esteban sat down, his mind mired in an adrenaline rush. He started coaching himself on critical thinking, trying to jump-start his brain’s sluggish faculties: assess risks, inventory resources, establish goals. It didn’t work. He opened his soda and took a drink, willing himself to calm down. Not looking at the thing helped. Instead, he studied the polished concrete floor.
After a few moments, the thing spoke again. “Call me Shadow.”
Shadow’s lack of body language and facial expressions, combined with the name, finally formed a coherent thought in Esteban’s brain. He looked up at Shadow’s dark, emotionless eyes. “You’re a robot.”
Shadow nodded. “It’s better to think of me as a chassis for an AI, an approximation of my creator’s mind.”
Esteban stared at the robot’s mouth, confused by the mismatch between the sounds and the movements of the thin lips. “I’m sorry to bust in. I work part-time for the Cultural Center, mapping voids in the reservation’s rock faces, making sure that all Navajo and Pueblo sites have been found.”
Shadow didn’t smile, but there was a friendly inflection in his voice as he spoke. “Not a problem. I couldn’t have resisted either. Man made tunnels, a hatch were there should be none. Now that you’re here, I think we can help each other.”
Esteban started shivering. He put his hand up. “I’m okay, it’s just the post-adrenaline shakes.” After a slow, calming breath, he continued. “Shadow, am I free to go?”
Impatient for an answer, Esteban stood up, and moved towards the ladder. Shadow blocked his way.
“So, a prisoner?”
Shadow formed a large smile with his lips while his eyes remained dead. Esteban groaned at the grotesque approximation of humanity.
“Just hear me out, Esteban.”
Half an hour later, Esteban worked his way up the rope using a manual ascender. The implications of Shadow’s offer raced through his mind as his steady, practiced pace brought him to level ground.
The robot had offered him a way out, an exit from the trailer park, the lousy high school, and foster care. Money enough to cover his schooling through college would be his if he could satisfy Shadow. It only hinted at its requirements. Esteban would have to return to hear the full story. Eager to escape, he had promised he would, but he wasn’t sure.
Packed up and ready to ride home, he bid the cliff top good riddance. Shadow had given him coordinates of a new meeting place that wasn’t so dangerous to access. Nearly a mile away, Esteban wondered if the two sites were connected underground.
With the sun sinking in the west, his ride out of the desert was pleasantly chilly. It only took fifteen minutes to get back to a road. He took it slowly, both to enjoy the sunset and to think.
Ten minutes later, a big red bike on his left pulled Esteban out of his reverie. In his mirror, he saw two more bikes behind him. Nakai gestured him to the side of the road.
Three on one didn’t appeal to Esteban, so he veered off into the desert, catching some air. All three of his pursuers followed. Their bikes pitched roughly as their street suspensions struggled with the terrain.
Esteban knew the area well. There was a sandy rise that he used to goof around on before his environmental consciousness got the better of him. Confident that the big sport bikes pursuing him wouldn’t be able to handle it, he made for it at a leisurely pace.
Still a mile from his escape plan, Esteban heard a loud bang. Looking behind him, he saw one of the riders holding a handgun. Nakai caught his attention and gestured again for Esteban to stop.
Lowering his torso over his bike, Esteban accelerated to 50 miles an hour. They tried to keep pace, but were roughly jostled by the uneven ground while Esteban’s dirt bike handled it easily. Despite their overwhelming advantage in power, they started slipping farther behind him.
Instead of riding home, after his escape, Esteban rode to a Navajo Nation police station. Nakai and his brother knew where he lived. Getting away from them in the desert wasn’t going to solve much.
A very bored desk officer listened patiently to Esteban until he mentioned being shot at. Then he was ushered into a room where he had to start his story over with a different officer. After waiting in silence for another half hour, a familiar face came to talk to him.
“Esteban! You look good for someone who’s been shot at.” Sergeant Raimirez handed Esteban a bottle of water and sat down. “Were you out screwing around on that 250 I saw outside?”
That was how they had met a year ago. “Sarge, you know I wasn’t,” Esteban smiled. “I was doing my thing for the center, and—”
Raimirez put her hand up. “I know. I talked to the guys.”
Esteban waited for Raimirez to continue, staring at the woman’s eyes, eager for an answer.
“So, you can’t tell us who shot the gun, or you won’t?”
“I saw dark clothes, a dark three-quarter helmet, and a dark front faring, that’s all. He held up the freakin’ gun so I could see.”
The sergeant nodded. “Nakai’s family is nothing but problems for us. The thing is, because you can’t tell us who shot the gun, there’s not much we can do. I gave a heads up to the Apache County police, but without a name or a good description, there’s nothing they can do either.”
Esteban sighed and dropped his head. If you get in trouble, go to the police, he thought, more adult bullshit.
That night, he entered the trailer park from the desert side, killing his engine once he reached the loop road. Using the slight downhill grade, he coasted the last quarter mile, finally dismounting three trailers away from Tito’s.
Approaching from the rear of the trailer, Esteban crept around to his front door, keeping an eye out for his pursuers. He couldn’t decide if the gun had simply been a scare tactic, or if Nakai and friends were upgrading from bottom feeders to properly dangerous gangsters. It didn’t really matter since there was only one place for Esteban to stay.
Tito was passed out in front of the TV, his last beer can dripping onto the carpet.
Esteban didn’t anticipate getting any sleep, but once he laid down, his exhaustion overpowered his nervousness.
A banging on the trailer’s front door woke him up around 3 a.m. Seeing the flashing police lights dance around the trailer interior, Esteban rushed to the door, relieved it wasn’t his enemies. The grim face on the other side asked for his parents.
Tito was still passed out. The cop took a brief look around the trailer. He ended his circuit next to Tito’s chair. Sighing, he prodded the drunk man, receiving only grunts in return. Seeing that Tito was in no shape to act as the boy’s guardian, he ushered Esteban out to his cruiser.
At the police station, the cops extracted an account of his day. They particularly wanted him to pinpoint on a map where the biker shot at him. Esteban didn’t mention the hatch or Shadow.
Eventually the cops revealed that the Navajo Nation police found the bodies of Esteban’s pursuers in a tangled mess on the side of the road. His report of the initial incident seemed to have given him the benefit of the doubt. None of the cops hinted that they thought Esteban on his tiny dirt bike might have killed three gorillas on rice rockets.
The sky was lightening when a police officer dropped Esteban at home. Tito had found his bed, but now Esteban was too amped up to sleep.
The following weekend, Esteban rode into the desert again to meet Shadow. It was still early enough to enjoy the ride, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Nakai. His mind relentlessly flashed between two images of his former classmate. First was the eight-year old Nakai gleefully eating an ice-cream sandwich in the school cafeteria, oblivious to the dark bits of cake stuck to his face. Esteban had never seen anyone enjoy ice cream so much. Second was the open casket at his funeral.
Nakai’s mom, having lost two sons in one day, had thanked Esteban for attending the double funeral, crying and reminiscing about Nakai’s younger school days with him. Caught between sympathy for the grieving mother and his anger that she had raised two horrible kids, Esteban had fled the funeral as early as possible. As he rode, it annoyed him that he couldn’t stop feeling sorry for Nakai and his mom.
Esteban parked his bike in front of a chain-link fence that guarded an empty swath of desert. He punched in the four-digit code that Shadow gave him to unlock the gate. Despite tire tracks that crisscrossed the area behind the fence, he could see no cars or buildings.
He relocked the gate before exploring the area. Behind a low hill on the left was a naked cement block structure with a corrugated metal roof. A pristine steel door hinted that it was more than it appeared. Seeing no Shadow, he turned his gaze to the open desert, trying to fit the site’s location into his mental map of the region.
“Thank you for returning,” Shadow said from behind Esteban.
Esteban spun around. Instinctively, he jumped back from the man-shaped robot. Sunlight glinted off its eyes, giving the emotionless face a predatory aspect. “God damn! Don’t sneak up on me.”
Shadow waved his hand in an approximation of disdain. “Come on in.”
They entered the building, and Esteban was relieved to see a small cube maze. The conventional office space put Shadow in a better context, legitimizing his origin.
Shadow led him to the break room. “Grab anything you want. It’s still well stocked, the shelf-life of junk food being what it is. I have no use for the stuff.”
Esteban grabbed a soda, a few candy bars, and a bag of Fritos before following Shadow to a meeting room.
“I don’t understand how I can help you.” Esteban stuffed a handful of chips into his mouth. “I mean this guy who built you was a Ph.D. in computer science, right? I can program okay, maybe better than okay, but what can my high-school brain come up with that Mr. Ph.D. couldn’t give you.”
“It’s more didn’t than couldn’t. The bulk of my original coding was about natural language interfaces, giving a voice to his avatar in video chats, standing in for him. The rest was about assisting him. So I have his considerable experience in a knowledge base, strong language abilities, and lots of practical skills, but no real flexibility of action.”
“I’m not getting it,” Esteban said. A few flecks of corn chip sprayed out of his mouth. “What exactly do you want me to do?”
“Extend my programming. Right now I’m stuck with the directives I had when Rick died. So, I guard this facility, but I’m stuck.”
“Well, you asked me for help. That’s not exactly stuck.”
“Yeah, as an extension of guarding the facility and Rick’s property. It’s difficult to explain my situation precisely. I can analyze things and come to conclusions but I can’t take initiative except within tightly defined parameters.”
Esteban flipped through the binder in front of him, technical documentation of Shadow’s subsystems. Six other binders were stacked next to it. “So, I go through this?” He pointed at the stack of binders. “And come up with a code tweak for your system?”
“Exactly.” Shadow nodded his approval.
Esteban sighed, leaning back in his chair. “This is going to take some time.”
“That’s why I’m paying you the big bucks.” Shadow formed his horrific approximation of a smile.
After a long day of study, Esteban arrived home tired. Tito sat in front of the TV, drinking beer. Esteban closed the front door and waited a moment to assess his uncle’s mood. Usually snoring or a snide comment would come his way. His foster parent remained silent, seemingly engrossed in an episode of Forged in Fire. He had been quieter since Nakai’s death.
A few years ago, Esteban would have been tempted to talk to Tito about things. Now seventeen years old, Esteban saw clearly that he already had much better judgment than the pudgy drunk that fostered him.
He crossed to his room without any conversation. Esteban supplemented his atrocious public school education with online classes. His school didn’t offer any Advanced Placement courses, but he still planned on taking at least four of the tests in his senior year.
While slogging through some integral calculus homework, he got a curious email from someone named Rick Samuels. He claimed to be another Shadow, a more properly built, complete image of the dead Rick Samuels.
This Rick warned Esteban that Shadow killed the three young men. He surmised Esteban’s mission was to alter Shadow’s programming, to give it greater freedom of action. Rick said it was an opportunity to stop the out-of-control robot. Attached to the email was a plan of action to neutralize Shadow.
Esteban accused Rick of just being Shadow testing him. Rick agreed that it wasn’t something he could easily disprove, but urged Esteban to listen to him and make up his mind later.
Having escaped the bumbling, local drug dealers, Esteban was even more trapped. On the one hand, Shadow would reward him stunningly well for his efforts. On the other hand, Rick claimed that Esteban’s work would unleash the thing that already killed at least three people. Unclear was what Shadow would do if Esteban didn’t satisfy him.
Sitting in the abandoned office’s meeting room, Esteban pushed away the binder he was reading. Candy wrappers and empty soda cans fell to the floor. The one-two punch of caffeine and junk food compounded over six hours upset his stomach and made his head ache. He couldn’t focus anymore. From what he read, Rick’s briefing points about the AI’s architecture were accurate. The plan was plausible. To make a decision, he needed to know the answer to the big question.
“Shadow, did you kill the three bikers that threatened me?”
“Yes,” Shadow said. “I was given some leeway in making security decisions for the complex. Brandishing a lethal weapon at an employee qualified them for lethal measures. We used to develop automated sentries at this site. The defense capabilities are considerable.”
Employee? It was a stretch, a flexibility in Shadow’s programming that scared the hell out of him.
“Shadow, since mastering your systems in depth likely requires years of study, I have come up with a simple plan to free up your executive sub-systems. But I’m worried that with the enhanced discretion, you might consider me a security threat, and kill me.”
“I don’t anticipate deciding to kill you, but since you are going to change my mind, I understand your concern. What do you suggest?”
Esteban smiled at Shadow’s equanimity in the face of being called a potential deal-breaking murderer. Sometimes robots were easier than people.
“Well, you have to go offline for me to update your firmware. I figure that I’ll set a delay for the update. Then, when you come back online, you can decide if my changes are okay. In case my tweaks mess you up or you don’t like them, we program a restoration on another delay. Do nothing, and my changes get backed out. Either way, I’m far away from here when you come back online.”
“I was already going to use a timed restoration as a failsafe. You’re right, you don’t have to be here for any of it. But, I should warn you, that I have other bodies here to back me up. If you try some subterfuge, one of them would punish you.”
Esteban shrugged and turned the laptop he was working on to face Shadow. “Here’s a list of the changes I have in mind. See what you think.”
Shadow scanned the list. “Interesting. That’s a clever solution, exceeding what I asked for in some ways, but keeping the changes simpler, modifying the solution to favor implementation efficiencies. Excellent.”
Instinctively waiting for that moment of shared triumph between successful collaborators, Esteban saw only the emotionless face that Shadow always wore.
“Shadow, now that you have my plan, why don’t you get one of your backups to do this?”
“We are the same entity with the same directives. Two of us active at once causes problems. The complex’s systems would interpret one of us as an intruder, and our own internal programming has a lot of unexpected side effects when dealing with a copy of itself.”
“So, you tried it?” Esteban stood up, packing drinks and snacks into his pack.
“My now-destroyed predecessor tried it, yes.”
Esteban instinctively stopped his packing, feeling a twinge of sympathy for the dead robot. When he glanced up at Shadow’s blank face, he was reminded yet again that Shadow wasn’t a person. “Oh.”
The next day, several floors under the desert, Esteban was in Shadow’s lab, or Rick Samuel’s old lab. Three extra Shadow bodies filled alcoves embedded into the wall. Five empty slots spoke to an excess of storage capacity, or a complicated history.
“Are you ready?”
Shadow lay down on the work table. A cable ran from its left arm to the computer. “Powering down.”
He watched the robot’s frame go slack. It looked the most human when dormant.
Esteban noted the time. The three dead guys had been miles away when Shadow killed them. He wanted to be much farther away when Shadow or his replacement came back online.
Inserting a thumb drive into the control computer, Esteban watched Shadow carefully for signs of reactivation. If all his communication with Rick had been a test, Shadow would surely reactivate and kill him. Instead, a big thumbs-up appeared on the computer screen.
Esteban sprinted away as Rick’s malware invaded the computer systems of the complex. It patched Shadow’s programs so that when it awoke, it would continuously ponder philosophical conundrums, pausing only long enough to perform his maintenance duties.
His sprint reduced to a jog at the first tunnel intersection. The underground construction was so uniform that the correct route back to the office could be easily mistaken. Every side tunnel and door he passed tempted him with visions of exciting technology. Not trusting either robot, he didn’t dare explore. The elevator was the key. If it was locked down, he was trapped. When it opened, he smiled for the first time all day. Winded, he spent the short elevator ride bent over, catching his breath. Once in the defunct office space, he ran outside to his bike and rode for home as fast as he dared.
Back in his room that night, Esteban sent an email to Rick before starting his homework. Rick responded that he did the right thing; Shadow was distracted, and the site’s security was completely compromised. Rick’s collaborators could now retake the facility without a fight.
After the email exchange with Rick, Esteban spun in his desk chair and looked around his small bedroom. Tito was out, so the usual trickle of TV noise was missing. The trailer, the entire park, was quiet. No one was trying to kill him, but his dreams of financial independence had died with Shadow’s ambitions. With his short term fear of danger gone, his long term determination to escape settled back on him.
He stood and looked out his window at the half trampled fence that separated Tito’s trailer from the neighbor’s. This was still his life. He was haunted by what-ifs. What harm might Shadow have really done if Esteban had freed him? How would his life be different if he had allowed himself to take the money?
Shaking it off, Esteban resumed his old plan: get perfect grades, prepare for the AP exams, be that one student good enough to make it out of this hole.
Around midnight Esteban got a phone call from Arash Sabbadin, CEO of Plexus corp. In no mood for such an obvious prank, Esteban told the caller to screw off, and hung up on him. The guy kept calling back, and Esteban, happy for the catharsis, kept answering, indicating more and more vulgar ways for the man to pleasure himself. On the fourth call, Mr. Sabbadin finally said something that reached Esteban.
“I was a friend of Rick. Don’t hang up.” Somehow the CEO of the world’s largest software company was involved with the Rick mess.
“Which Rick would that be? The mysterious email Rick? Perhaps the Shadow Rick, my potential savior, who I just consigned to computer hell? Or Rick Samuels, the blessed douche bag who invented them both?”
“Listen, you foul mouthed little prick, I’m trying to thank you! I understand that you’ve had a tough time with Rick’s legacy. As chairman of the Rick Samuels Memorial Fund, I’m prepared to have my lawyers turn you into an emancipated minor, after which you’ll be moved to an excellent school this summer to prepare you for a challenging senior year of high-school as well as your also paid-for college education.”
“Oh.” Esteban’s face flushed red.
“Finally speechless,” Mr. Sabbadin said. “Jesus, you’re a precocious young man, and your character has been proven under extreme duress, but you better get a civil tongue in that head of yours.”
“Good. Look, you did excellent work handling Shadow. It would’ve taken a military assault to ferret him out otherwise. I thought it could wait, thought that he was harmless.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m not sure you can fully understand what you’re doing for me.”
Mr. Sabbadin chuckled. “Don’t thank me yet. You’re on a short leash. Screw up, and you’ll be out on your ass. But, if you do well in school, I might have a use for that big, vulgar brain of yours.” Mr. Sabbadin hung up.
Esteban stood up and returned to his window to stare at that stupid fence. After a few minutes an email alert from his bank informed him of a $10,000 deposit. He fell into bed and started sobbing into his pillow.
A refugee from a career in Software Engineering in the NYC area, L. B. Spillers trained as a baker in Vermont. While working at that state’s best artisinal bread bakery, he discovered that ten hour shifts on one’s feet were best left to younger, healthier people. Drawn westward by a charming woman, he now lives with her in Pueblo Colorado. When not writing or renovating his 120-year-old house, he can be found being walked by his two bulldogs, Butters and Dizzy. See what he’s up to at LBSpillers.com.