I love Cathy Olliffe! If you haven't stopped by yet, do yourself a favor and check out her friends from her version of "down under" for American Week. The stories are great, but Cathy's interviews and chatty style of writing is stupendous!
For #fridayflash another visit to Mars for Chapter 2 of "Venture" (just a reference title for now). Check out Timothy P. Remp for another #fridayflash based on the same world. If you missed the first chapter "Repetetive Patterns", go here.
Keith arrived in sector forty-two. Norman Solemn's residence was located on the outer edge of the lowest tier. A sign announced Econo Bio-Domes, but Keith saw no evidence of the construction outfit. Before he could engage the security panel, the door lifted. A stout man with a greasy complexion clutched his chest.
"Jeez Floyd! You scared the piss outta me. What the hell're you doing here?"
"Hi Solemn. Good to see you too. Just thought we'd chat, catch up. You know."
"Yeah? About what?"
"You building Econo-domes anymore?"
Solemn squinted. "Outta business, thanks to you and that insurance bitch."
Keith raised his hands in the "surrender" pose. "No, not me. I was only the hired help."
Solemn's eyes gleamed. "Maybe I believe you, maybe I don't. Why don't you try persuading me over a beverage."
Keith took the hint. "How 'bout I buy a round or two, no hard feelings?"
Solemn winked. "Least you could do."
Keith followed the fat man through an alley, into a dim passageway. After a few more turns, Keith felt lost. He'd never been this deep into the lower sector. He looked up to get his bearings.
For the first time since settling in Venture, Keith couldn't see the dome. The city's upper tiers bridged over this sector, blocking the view of the Martian skies. He checked between buildings for any view. Even buried under a sandstorm in his hovercraft, he hadn't experienced such an acute sense of claustrophobia.
Solemn stopped before a flashing neon sign of a woman opening and closing a robe, conical breasts the same bright purple as "The Iron Queen." A statuesque redhead writhed on stage. Other tall women—mostly topless—mingled with customers. Keith found two empty stools at the bar. Hell-hole, Keith thought as he shoved an arm off his shoulder. He preferred his women without adam's apples.
Solemn gulped his first beer and insisted on a second before Keith received an answer to his question about the defunct business.
"Couldn't build the econo-homes without the bots. Your insurance-bitch ruined me." He drained his second beer and gestured for a third. The bartender shook his head. "I got to see your credit chits Solemn, you know that."
Keith nodded at the bartender and laid a stack of credit chits on the bar. "Get us clean glasses this time."
"You heard him dickwad, fill it up!" Solemn turned his stool to watch the stage. "Yeah, that bitch told Stella Insurance that I 'tampered with the hive master-mind.' She reported I 'caused irreparable damage' by vacuuming inside the Boyar's brain cavity." Solemn leaned in close enough for Keith to get a whiff of sour breath. "And if I didn't clean out the goddamn iron grit, the insurance would've said I didn't follow a 'proper maintenance schedule.'" Solemn's gesturing air quotes hit Keith in the face. Solemn mumbled an apology.
"She should've paid. Geez, I insured those bots to the hilt. If she'd paid—" Solemn finished his beer and wiped his mouth with his dirty sleeve. "I wouldn't be depending on the kindness of friends."
Keith asked, "So why'd you get the Boyar in the first place? That's an expensive investment for any construction outfit."
Solemn took one of Keith's chit off the bar, waved it in the general direction of a topless body. "Don't I know it! A human can't remain in that hostile environment. Come on Floyd! You know what it's like out there! Between the sandstorms and dust devils and tremors, only an artificial being can maintain any sort of schedule to get things done."
"Still, a Boyar with labor bots? I thought only scientists used Boyar's. Your basic A.I. could've done a construction job."
Solemn gave Keith a self-satisfied grin. "Your pal Norman here is just as smart as scientists. You see," Norman said, tapping his own temple, "it's called a 'master-mind' because the Boyar can control other bots by its artificial intelligence."
Keith frowned. "I don't get it."
Solemn sighed. Keith assumed his drinking buddy was implying he was teaching a slow student. Keith ignored the insult and only raised an eyebrow.
Solemn explained, "Okay, they call it hive-intelligence because the Boyar can control other bots by its brain powers, if you will. Telepathy. It sends commands and the labor bots tune in. Like bees to a queen bee. But there's a trick to it."
"What's the trick?"
Solemn pantomimed zipping his lips, then threw the imaginary key. He let his hand fall on Keith's credit chits. Keith smirked even as he slammed his hand on top of the fat man's greasy one. He admired Solemn's style, even if he abhorred the guy. Keith gestured the bartender for refills.
Keith kept his expression still, though his heart raced. He felt he was close. "And what is imprinting?" He released his grip on Solemn's hand. Solemn grinned, revealing a blackened incisor and helped himself to several chits.
"Okay. You get a Boyar and as many labor bots as you can afford. New ones, never used. It won't work with repurposed bots. Anyhow, I got myself twelve, hooked 'em all up to the Boyar's brain before I turned 'em on. Once connected, I gave the Boyar my programming, and it uploaded to the labor bots. Then the Boyar turned them all on." Solemn popped open his hands. "And poof! The Boyar is their 'mommy'. Imprinting. Those bots would've followed that Boyar into a volcano."
"Is that what happened?" Keith asked.
Solemn winked. "Was supposed to. My Boyar was the queen bee and was going to make me a king." Solemn waved the chits at a dancer. "It woulda worked too, if that insurance bitch hadn't recovered the goddamn event module. Who the hell knew Boyar's came equipped with little black boxes?"
"So Econo Bio-Domes was a scam?"
"Everyone knows the Arcadian Plains are unstable. Too many dust devils." Solemn grabbed the dancer by the crotch. The impersonator feigned surprise. "Speaking about queens—we done here Floyd?"