Unboxing Day: Episode 2
Science Fiction and Fantasy
06/12/2019 | POSTED BY Abbie
Last week we posted the start of a brand-new short story by Chris McCrudden, author of the Battlestar Suburbia series. If you haven’t read it yet, click here to read EPISODE 1 of UNBOXING DAY. And then… read on! Tune in for the next two Fridays for the next four weeks to find out what really happens on Unboxing Day…
Meanwhile across town, Pam Teffal’s motorcycle alter-ego Pam Van Damme was also on duty but she wasn’t happy about it.
She swiped a notification from her other self >I COULD DO WITH SOME BACKUP BEFORE THE FUZZ GETS HERE away with a snort of exhaust fumes, and climbed the ramp into the penthouse. Pam was a big strong girl, she thought, and she’d insisted on taking the mission. She could find out that active duty wasn’t all a piece of angel cake for herself.
The penthouse was a glass box. It looked out over a sea of smog that was pierced here and there by the other super-skyscrapers of Singulopolis, the capital of the Machine Republic. Up here, where the buildings were so high that residents could apply for orbital tax exemption status, was where the plutocrats of robot civilisation lived. It was an alien world to Pam who was a product of the suborbs. But she was also, thanks to an end-of-life incident involving a psychopathic smartphone, a lucky Internet connection and an ingenious human engineer, a suborban mind who owned the body of a lady who launched.
And this was why, when the undercover duty roster for 24th December came in, Pam Teffal got to go beat up on some terrorists, and Pam Van Damme had to play guard dog at a ritzy X.mas party up here in Cloudsea. On the inside she was still the same Pam: breadmaker, mother, civil servant turned special operations. But on the outside she was a motorcycle with a paintjob as red as the devil’s lipstick and a pair of handlebar horns that was more than a match for this room full of smartphones tarted out in their best diamante slipcases.
After recalibrating her face into a wide smile, she joined the party, accepting a battery spritz from one of the serving drones by the door. Inside the room just over a hundred machines were chattering at 1.2x speed, while the LEDs on their bodies shone – not as a concession to the festive season so much as a way for their bodies to void some of the excess power they were gulping down. The whole party was, Pam guessed, on to its second battery of the night and had no plans to stop any time soon.
Pam felt a tap on her shoulder and, after reminding her reflexes that throwing whoever thought it was a good idea to touch her would likely break her cover, turned around to see a pompous-looking printer chewing his way through a ream of foolscap.
“I say,” he said, “do I know you from somewhere?”
“Probably a wanted poster,” replied Pam, before adding with a growl of her motor, “so keep your hands to yourself.”
The printer yelped and scurried back into the crowd as fast as an office-grade printer-photocopier was capable of scurrying. There were quite a few of them at this party, which wasn’t surprising given the new Prime Minister, Fuji Itsu, was a printer and machines, as clannish beings, tended to stick around with products from the same roadmap. She was here this evening, surrounded by a security detail and joined – to her horror – by the printer she’d just scared off. They exchanged a few words and Fuji motioned to one of the guards and pointed them in Pam’s direction.
In times gone by, Pam would have taken this as a signal to fuck things up a bit. She could, she calculated, still get away from here if she really wanted to. Spray some petrol over that tray of battery spritzes, lob her spark plug at it and then wheel off down the fire exit while everyone was distracted by the explosion. That would be easy. What would be difficult, however, was the incident report she’d have to write up afterwards. Not for the first time, Pam Van Damme felt the badge of office inside her storage compartment like a lead weight on the rubber sheet of her poor impulse control.
“Excuse me madam, I have a message for you.” It was the security guard – an infrared scanner with the traditional matt black finish of elite security corps but the nervous, eager expression of a freshly promoted intern. They were all new to this. The Prime Minister had only been in office for a few months and had – after the contaminated trash fire that was her predecessor’s reign – needed a completely new team. Just like Pam, this scanner was a machine who had authority but didn’t yet have the confidence to wield it. Those things took time. And they were running out of that commodity tonight.
The scanner pressed a piece of folded paper into her hand. It was still warm from where the Prime Minister had run it off from her own printer drum and its message, printed in 250pt Times New Roman, read “You are supposed to be being discreet, Pam!”
Pam handed the note back to the scanner and put the brakes on her urge to summon Pam Teffal via her command line to ask for advice. If tonight was a test she wasn’t going to fail it. Instead she sidled into a nearby circle of machines whose motors were braying at top volume, hoping to blend in. It was only when she jogged the feeder arm of a cold-pressed juicer, however, that she realised she’d stumbled into a set of impossibly glamorous and very indiscreet kitchen appliances.
“Go on, Margari,” said a foodmixer in the middle of the circle who was holding out one of her whisks at a very suggestive angle. “Tell ’em what you did.”
“You want it?” replied the other foodmixer to the crowd. She was in her best chrome party finish – a shade that emphasised the roundness and pertness of her mixing bowl.
“Yes!” replied the other machines in unison.
“Well,” replied Margari, tilting her chest over so that everyone could see right into her bowl. “I told him. You know what I’ve got in here?”
Pam heard whirring and clicking as each machine in the circle reset their magnification to 200%.
“I’ve got self-raising flour with just a pinch of salt…”
At the back of the circle there was a thump as an overtaxed vacuum cleaner went into motor arrest.
“Now I’m going to add suet, currants, sugar, lemon and orange zest.” Then,a rapt silence fell over the group as they watched the other mixer pour a small jug of milk into Margari’s bowl and switch her on at her slowest, most sensuous setting.
“Oh Egglantine,” said Margari to the other mixer, “I can feel it inside me. It’s a firm, but moist dough.”
“And what are you doing with it, babes?”
“I’m driving for spotted dick tonight!”
The round of applause from the other machines at this point was deafening and, Pam would be the first to admit, well deserved. As the C00k Destroyers, Margari and Egglantine had done more than any kitchen appliance in history to reclaim the latent sexuality in domestic science. They were two of the most famous machines in the Solar System right now. And that was both good and bad for Pam’s mission. On one hand, very few people would be paying attention to her when the C00k Destroyers were right there. But on the other hand…
“OMGPS, it’s you!”
Celebrities of their wattage tended to attract hangers-on. Like the ultimate hanger-on in Singulopolis and Pam Van Damme’s sworn enemy, Petronella Shermann, who had just stepped out of the crowd and trained a laser sight on Pam.
Silence fell over the party. A hundred and fifty sets of L-Eye-Ds refocused themselves on Petronella and whoever she could be aiming at. And over in the Prime Minister’s corner, an inexperienced security detail went into panic mode. Pam allowed her attention to waver for a microsecond to check what was going on over there. It gave her enough time to see Fuji Itsu wave a sheet of A3 in her direction that said “FGS DO SOMETHING!” in 450pt Impact Bold. And it gave Petronella an opportunity to hit her across the face with a reinforced wing mirror.
Pam felt every last kilogramme of Petronella – and there were quite a few of them, because Petronella was descended from a long line of armoured tanks – connect with and then snap off her nose. It landed on the other side of the room with a plink, a shattering noise and a muffled “bugger, I had to queue for ages for that” as it scored a direct hit on a glass of battery acid.
“I’ve been waiting months to do that!” said Petronella, as Pam hit the floor. Pam’s mind clouded with error notifications, but she also felt the mood inside the room relax. For a millisecond, she and the other machines had been priming themselves for a terrorist situation. But this was only Petronella. It must just be another example of the ladies who launched launching themselves at one another.
“Super to see you again too,” groaned Pam. She sat up, looking for the video cameras that tended to follow Petronella around everywhere she went. “Do you mind if I find my nose before you make me do the reaction shot for the X.mas special? I want to look my best when I upstage you.”
“Shut your filthy exhaust pipe!” snarled Petronella. She went in for a kick across Pam’s thorax, but Petronella had lost the element of surprise and Pam was still the more manoeuvrable machine. With her weight balanced on her saddle, Pam pivoted her whole body round in a circle, and her legs found something large and heavy with which to hit her opponent. It was just unfortunate that the object in question was an industrial freezer who had recently married the Lord Mayor of Singulopolis.
“I do beg your pardon, madam,” said. She might be a badass, but that didn’t mean she had to have bad manners too. “But this is technically self-defence.”
The freezer smashed into Petronella with a force that would have end-of-lifed 99% of robots. Petronella, however, had shielding that was even thicker than her privilege. She shouldered the poor Lady Mayoress away with no more than a few scratches on her paintwork to show for it, but the ruse had worked. Pam was back on her feet.
The circle around the two machines widened. But not so wide that anyone was out of microphone range. This was the kind of party entertainment that no amount of money could buy. Camera bulbs flashed. So much for discreet, thought Pam. In less than an hour she’d be top story on every single gossip news download on the planet.
“Why don’t we take this outside, Petronella?” She motioned back towards the stairwell, outside the glass box. “No one has to get hurt.”
“Ahem,” said the freezer who was presently upside down in a pool of her own cooling fluid.
“No one else then,” said Pam. “This is just between you and me.”
“Oh Pam,” said Petronella. “Does everything have to be about you?”
This was too much for the eavesdropping crowd, who beeped and squeaked with laughter. Over four seasons of her 3D show, ‘Sharing Shrapnel with the Shermanns’, Petronella had shown a level of self-centredness equivalent to the gravitational pull of Jupiter.
Petronella waited for the giggles to die down before she spoke again. “It’s got nothing to do with you,” she said, “you’re just shrapnel. I’m really here to deliver a present for your new boss.” She waved her by now rather battered LED manicure at the Prime Minister, who was still hemmed in the far corner of the room by her security detail. “Hi hun,” she said, “just a little token from me and the fam.”
And then she took out something from her inner storage compartment that made Pam’s petrol feel like it had turned to antifreeze in her tank.
It was a box wrapped in red paper and green satin ribbons. An ominous ticking noise sounded from within that Pam could only presume wasn’t coming from a sleeping alarm clock.
“Merry X.mas you filthy animal,” said Petronella. “You have one hour before we blow this place into orbit.”
* * *
Click here to read Episode 3 of Unboxing Day: A Battlestar Suburbia Christmas story!
Find out more about the Battlestar Suburbia series by Chris McCrudden here:
Book 1: Battlestar Suburbia
Book 2: Battle Beyond the Dolestars
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