Jonn - A Short Story, Part One
He would have to be quick if it was going to work. The night guard was a single Sentry-bot, going through automatic rounds and scanning with sensors and cameras for any sign of movement outside the cells. Typically there were two - one at each end of the hall. When one looked back, the other looked forward. Tonight, however, the second bot was under repair and would not be finished until the following day. Jonn knew that if he ever had a chance to escape, it was tonight.
Right at this particular moment, the solitary Sentry was looking the other way. Earlier, he had disabled the auto-locks in his section from the computer lab. He had hacked into the mainframe to do it, and to change a few other security settings intrinsic to his escape. There was no way they would suspect that a slave was even capable of such a thing.
Now, Jonn slipped sidelong through the opening and bolted toward the far end of the hall. Just in time to avoid the active bot’s sweeping survey light, he ducked behind the cutout in the wall where the defunct droid was normally stored during the day; when human guards oversaw the comings and goings of the men. He breathed heavily but was far from winded. A lifetime of hard work had made him strong and full of endurance. He felt good, knowing that he could get himself off the property with relative ease. The other men here could not outsmart the auto-locks or the droids, nor did they possess the stealth John would employ to get himself off of the compound undetected.
By the time he made it out and had located the old asphalt road, the sky had lightened from ink black to that bruised purplish of early morning. Very soon now, his absence would be discovered and there would most certainly be a search. There was no time to do anything but keep going. He headed straight toward the city, its buildings looming larger against the horizon as he neared.
Soon, the asphalt gave way to smooth pavement, bordered by clean, white sidewalks demarking the border of a residential engroupment. Young corporates lived here. The houses were modest. These were probably not the most affluent women in the city, but their homes were clean and in good repair. Every yard was well kept, each with remarkable flowering things planted throughout them. They were bright and well balanced; different colors, heights, and textures placed very deliberately for maximum aesthetic appeal.
He had been on a landscaping crew once. He had spent seven weeks breaking his back removing boulders from a patch of earth slated for a new shopping center he would never set foot in. There had been women on the job, too – equipment operators and architects - but he had of course not so much as made eye contact with any of them let alone talk to one. The only females he had ever really interacted with were guards and his group mother.
His plan from here was a little undeveloped. He figured he needed to try and get a vehicle and, perhaps more important in the immediate future, a disguise. He would get in to one of the houses and find some clothing – perhaps makeup and a hat. If anyone were to see him up close he would surely be discovered, but if he could keep his distance there was at least a chance. He crouched behind an array of large rocks at the furthest edge of the engroupment.
Off to his left, across the street, he heard the whirring of a hydro-motor. For a second, he almost abandoned caution and bolted for the car to see if it was unlocked. Good thing he hesitated. Not fifteen seconds after the engine produced its first muffled gurgle, a young blond-headed woman exited a house and headed for the car. Her short heels clicked out a rapid beat as she hurried toward the car, the driver door slid upward and out of her way as she slipped into the cockpit. The door floated shut as the car rolled slowly out of the driveway. Once in the road, the car sped up and was gone from sight within seconds.
John’s attention went back to the house. There were no other vehicles in the drive. The window shades were all drawn shut. Go. He ran as fast as he could to toward the house, slipping behind a bush just at the corner. Keeping his body tight against the house, he crept along its perimeter until he reached a side door.
He pulled the jerry-rigged descrambler he had made from bits and pieces stolen or squirreled away over several years and ran it across the lock encrypter. It worked on the first try and the door popped open. He stepped in cautiously, eyes darting around the dim interior of the house. He was in the kitchen. It was nice, clean and attractive – unlike any kitchen he had seen in real life. A quietly charging sani-bot sat motionless in the far corner. He started to the left, through a doorway and into the main room, which opened into a hallway on the far side. He ran for the hallway and peered around its corner. Three doors. Two on one side, one on the other. All of them were closed.
Just then, a slim band of light shot out from beneath one of them and he quickly pulled his head back into the main room, flattening himself against the wall there. Someone was here! He was certain that this sector of the city was for single living only. The woman he saw leaving must have a roommate! Oh, boy. Whoever they were, they were behind the closed door. For now. The other two doors were dark. One of them must be the bedroom of the woman who had already left, but which one? If he could get inside the other woman’s bedroom undetected, maybe he could at least put together a reasonable disguise from her things and then get out of a window.
It was his best chance, he thought, and it was probably now or never. He crept to the first darkened door and gave it a push. With great relief, he discovered it to be unlocked.
His relief faded instantly when the room behind the door was revealed to be the lavatory. And now he heard the other door begin to open in the hallway. Damn it! What was that other woman doing here anyway? This was a young corporate sector – and it was a weekday!
Jonn slunk back into the dark recesses of the bathroom, brushing the shower control pad as he did. The doors slid noiselessly open and he hopped in, out of alternatives. To his right, flush with the shiny stone wall, was the inner control panel. He should have taken a second to look at it, read it, figure it out. Instead he mashed the entire face with the palm of his hand, hoping he would somehow get it to abort its sequence and stop. No such luck – it was probably locked on a program. “Good Morning, Teena. Enjoy your cleansing ritual,” the soothing, androgynous-sounding voice said.
“Cleansing ritual?” Really? They should see the ‘cleansing ritual’ back at quarters, he though to himself. And then the water came on. Music, too. Shit, shit, shit! Then, a voice from the hallway. This is it. I’m fucked.
“Myna? I thought you had gone? Is that you?” The voice grew louder as it neared him.
“Hello,” he said thinly.
“What the hell, Myna? Don’t mess with me; why are you back? Did you spill your coffee? I told you th-”
“I-ahem, I am not Myna. I’m Jonn. A man. Please do not be frightened of me. I know you are probably confused right now,” he said, trying to sound as if somehow, some way he had right or reason to be there in her shower.
“You don’t sound like any men I have met. What are you doing here? Is there a repair crew out today? Your boss is supposed to give us notice of your repair schedule so that this doesn’t happen – what’s her name?” she demanded.
“Ma’am” he began.
“You don’t have to use formality with me, male, just talk. Fast.”
“I, I got lost from my work crew and I, uh, didn’t want to get in trouble wandering about the city, so I thought I could hide out in here while I figure things out and I didn’t think anyone was home and I wasn’t going to take anything.” All lies, of course, but not bad for having to think on the fly.
“Well, come out of there. Slowly. And I want your hands up where I can see them.”
© 2011 Arby Bourne