“As engineers, we are going to be in a position to change the world – not just study it.” ~Henry Petroski
The world was in the grip of the longest depression in history. Unemployment hit record highs, technology stagnated, the government-controlled the energy, the money, the movement of people, but cartels ran the streets.
Hope was rare.
A small dark object, unseen by NASA satellites smashed into the Nexus Space Station. The damage obliterated one of the pods on the doughnut-shaped, decommissioned station, floating in low Earth orbit.
Jayce Morrison sat up in the worn leather armchair. He reread the news alert, popping off the cushion. “No, no, no!” His grip tightened on the phone in his hand, the cracked screen pinching his finger.
His father, Mel, was on the couch watching TV. His head spun at Jayce’s sudden outburst. “What? What’s wrong?”
“Just got an alert. Something hit Nexus! Blew a hole in one of the pods. The debris scattered into low Earth orbit, smashing into other satellites creating a chain reaction. All of it is going to burn up in the atmosphere and we have a front-row seat!”
“You know, NASA has no public support anymore. That’s just the way life goes sometimes,” Mel said, amused by his son’s attachment to all things space-related.
“I gotta see the meteors burn up. Even though it’s basically the death of my future.” Jayce leaped over the couch and ran to the front door. He unlocked the two locks and the security chain and turned the door handle.
The door burst open, startling Jayce, the inward burst forcing him to stumble backward. A tall, yellow robot stepped into the home, ducking under the door jam, raising a machine gun.
Jayce’s throat tightened and his heart nearly exploded. He snapped into flight-mode, turned to run but stumbled on his shoelace and fell to his knees.
“Stay still. Hands in the air,” the robot ordered, its voice mechanical and harsh. The robot was not a Private Force Bot, but owned by K-Side, the most powerful cartel in Detroit. The gangsters added stickers and graffiti, and a red bandana to the bot’s body. The bots were simple AI’s, easily programable and only semi-autonomous. So simple was their programming, in fact, that they would do the bidding of the Admin without question. The Gang Wars of 2040 put thousands of these robots in the hands of the cartels, leading to a stalemate of sorts with the local government.
Another intruder was right behind the bot, a gangster in a clown mask, holding a snub-nosed machine gun. “Hands up, NPC’s!”
Mel leapt off the couch like a startled gazelle and put his body between the bot and Jayce. “Whoa! Stop. Take whatever you want.”
“Oh, we will, pops,” the clown gangster snapped.
The stairs squeaked. “Yo, I’m comin’.” Darius, Jayce’s older step-brother, trudged down the steps carrying his backpack.
“Darius, stay upstairs!” Mel yelled, voice quivering.
Darius avoided looking at Mel or Jayce. “Sorry, Dad. I gotta go now. I’m gonna go make some real money. I’ll send some back. I promise.”
“What? You’re joining K-side? You’re going to break your mother’s heart…my…heart.” Mel’s voice cracked.
Jayce was frozen, like a block of ice. His brain buffered, on the verge of throwing up the ‘blue-screen-of-death’ his computer often did when it crashed.
“Zip your mouth, ol’ man. You can’t stop this. I know you don’t have the cash to call Private Force,” the clown gangster said, his voice muffled by the mask.
“Make sure mom is okay. Tell her I’ll be fine,” Darius mumbled. “Jayce, little bro. K-side only needs one of us. You do something better… something’ cool.”
“I don’t want you to go either.” Tears flowed from Jayce as the ball of emotion threatened to choke him to death.
Mel shook his head, snapping out of his state of shock. “No! I forbid you to go, Darius!” He lunged for Darius, but the bot was fast. It didn’t fire its enormous weapon, but instead clocked Mel across the head, sending Mel crashing to the floor.
Darius and the K-side gunmen left, closing the door behind them.
The house was too still and too quiet. Time remained in a slow state.
Mel picked up his glasses and turned to Jayce.
The look on Mel’s face, one of defeat and sadness sent a burst of anger through Jayce. He turned and punched the stair’s railing, ignoring the pain exploding in his fist. Jayce turned to his father. “You just let Darius go! Why didn’t you do anything?!”
“What could I do? They have bots and guns, Jayce!” Mel said, tears running down his cheeks.
“You should have done something!”
“I’m sorry I’m not bulletproof, son.”
“I guess this is just the way life goes sometimes, huh?” Jayce snapped, quoting Mel’s earlier quip about the destroyed Nexus Space Station. Jayce turned and stomped up the stairs.
“Jayce!” Mel yelled.
“Leave me alone!” Jayce yelled, stomping upstairs to his room. At that moment of confusion and sadness, he wanted desperately to never come out.