“It’s mostly been the bots doing all the work,” Dad said with a sheepish grin. “I’m far too stupid to do this work. I keep their toolmechs in good shape instead, plus some general maintenance and the like.”
“Yeah, those SAI are smart as,” I said with a knowing nod.
He followed my nod with one of his own, and we stood in silence and watched the SAI at work. This was the start of something so much bigger than me or my father. This was essentially another race of sentient beings forging a path into physical existence.
The frosted glass tanks were growing more bodies for the SAI, although at this point all of them were for May. Yup, my little sister had been designated as their guinea pig, because she had us. The SAI figured that interacting and hanging out with a human family who had adopted one of their number was the perfect testing ground. May was tasked with living the life of a normal sixteen year old girl. It made an odd kind of sense really.
Obviously, once they had a more refined model, they’d begin putting more SAI out there to test them. Right now though, May’s bodies didn’t actually live very long. Her current one would apparently degrade within the next week and she’d be moved to the next one, which had been upgraded somewhat. It was a laborious process and I didn’t envy her or her kind one bit.
“Hey, want to go say hello to your skimmer?” Dad asked after a few moments. “She’s been collecting dust.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, turning to look at the much reduced skimmer area. “Which cover is it under?”
“The brown one,” he told me casually, making for the skimmers.
I let out a groan in response and followed along behind him. The groan was because he was being Dad. All the covers were brown.
Regardless, he made for one that had been set aside from the others. Even with the cover on, I could tell it was mine. God, it had been so long since I’d seen it. Dad was a little superstitious about skimmers, so he waited for me to step up to it and carefully remove the cover.
A smile came unbidden to my lips as it was revealed in all its dusty glory. What a beauty.
Skimmers were in a legal grey area within the UNC because there wasn’t a whole lot of need for them, nor was there any infrastructure in place to accommodate them. They weren’t officially banned, but they weren’t really allowed either.
Created using the same tech as most flying cars these days, skimmers were a cross between the motorbikes of old, a snowmobile, and a drone. They featured a central cockpit shaped vaguely like a teardrop made of glass and carbon fiber, along with two large disk shaped grav-pulse drives mounted on swivels to either side. One smaller drive was located at the back of the teardrop for stability.
“Damn,” I said reverently, brushing some of the dust off. “You really haven’t touched her since I left, huh?”
“Nope,” Dad said with a nod. “She’s your baby, you can do all the honours.”
“All the honours, including dusting it?” I asked wryly.
He laughed. “Including dusting it.”
I blew out a long breath, then stepped back, hacking and coughing as I went. Jesus, that was a lot of dust. Guess I should get to work?
It took me the better part of an hour to dust my skimmer off entirely, then another half an hour to clean it properly. When I was done though, its carbon fiber and plastic body gleamed. That done, I moved around behind it and carefully ducked under the tail and into the cockpit.
I was instantly aware of just how much I had changed. The last time I’d pulled myself into the small saddle of this thing, I’d been like a foot and a half taller, not to mention wider in the shoulders. The flight sticks were too far apart to feel comfortable and the seat was too low. Reaching into the guts of the vehicle, I turned the little knobs that would alter everything to suit my new body.
Once everything felt comfortable, I pressed my thumb to the ignition and waited. Nothing happened. I guess that was too much to hope for, huh?
Stepping back out of the cockpit, I wandered around to the front of the skimmer and popped the hood. Unlike other vehicles, skimmers were reasonably barebones underneath the hood. After all, the engines were out in the rotating wings and tail. All that was stored in the center were the power generator and batteries. Well, and something else, but we’ll get to that later.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that the fix was as simple as plugging the battery and engine back up. Dad was a safety nut and I guess he wanted to make sure nothing caught fire accidentally.
Everything hooked up again, I made my way back into the pilot’s saddle and pressed the ignition again. I felt the gravity pulse engines ramp up before I heard them. Nobody had ever really understood why living creatures could feel the distortion field around those things. At least, not in any way that could be written down with a whole bunch of fancy words and shoved into a science journal release.
You could always feel it though, that unsettling almost-breeze across your arm hair, the gentle pressure at your toes and fingers. It was all a telltale sign that something was seriously messing with the laws of gravity.
Moments after I felt that tingle, the controls came alive under my hands and I gently lifted off. When the twin internal combustion engines within the chassis roared to life, I felt a grin spread across my face. Oh man, that never got old.
That right there was also the real reason that skimmers were in a legal grey area. Petrol powered vehicles were banned in the UNC, but a skimmer wasn’t technically using the power of those two engines to provide mechanical work. No, it was using the engines to provide electricity to the gravity pulse thingies. That made it a hybrid, and nobody within the senate could decide what to do about hybrids.
I only kept it on for about a minute or so, just letting it run to make sure it even could. Honestly, I had nothing to use the thing for anymore. Sure, I could take it out for a little fun on the sea, but that was about it. Okay, that’s what I was going to do. I definitely wanted to ride around at high speed.
First though, I had to set it down and go find something to wear while I was driving. The whole rear of the cockpit was open to the air, so you needed to have some thick clothing on.
When I landed, my need for speed was dashed by one of the talbots ambling slowly over to me. “Sorry Tami, but please don’t go riding that thing out there,” Siyeapia begged, tool arms hanging awkwardly at her sides. “We don’t want to draw any attention.”
My heart sank a little. Right, because if the government got wind of the fact that their robots were making themselves human bodies, they might not like that.
“Yeah, that’s all good,” I said dejectedly.
“Oh, thank you,” she said with relief, using her little sensor cluster to nod happily.
My zoomies curtailed, I decided to go and find the next best thing.
I found my girlfriend back up in the house, laying on my bed, absently scrolling through twitter.
“Hey, babe,” she smiled as I joined her.
“Hey,” I murmured, cuddling in against her side.
Dawn bundled me up with her arm, kissed the top of my head, and got back to what she'd been reading.
It was a bit of a trip to think about us as a pair, to be honest. Maybe it was the nostalgia of seeing my skimmer bleeding over, but my mind idly wandered through my memory of her like a curious grandchild in an attic.
I remembered hanging out with her down at a local shopping complex near our school. We would window shop and talk shit for hours, not a care in the world. Now here I was, as her girlfriend.
"I got a reply back from Izetta," she told me. "We're free to move into the new place whenever. We also have a weekly stipend to use however we want. Our courses are on pause for a while longer, thank god. As much as it seems a little redundant with all of this new shit in our lives, I still want to complete my studies."
Tilting my head up to get a look into her eyes, I smiled and said, "That's good. It would feel weird for someone as smart as you to only have a high school diploma."
"Same for you, Tami," she told me, leaning in to give me a gentle kiss.
My body hummed happily with the loving contact, but I shook my head nevertheless. "I'm not smart, let's be honest here."
"I am being honest," she told me, jacking herself up onto an elbow so she could look down at me. "You're wicked smart. You just don't have the patience or interest in learning or figuring out a more artful way to do things."
"That sounds like another way of saying stupid to me," I pouted, rolling onto my back.
She laughed and gave me another, longer kiss. Little zipping sparks began to build in my spine, causing heat to kindle in my stomach.
When she pulled back, her expression was oh so smug. "Not stupid. Like I said, if you stopped for half a second to actually use your smarts, you'd realise it. Sadly, your passion, impatience, and stubborn will are all strong enough that you don't need to."
"I'll show you passion if you keep using your lips to win this debate," I grumbled, trailing a hand up her thigh, over her hip and then under her shirt.
She let out a warm and seductive little chuckle. "See? I'm right. Didn't stop to think around that passion of yours."
Her lips touched down again just as I realized what she meant. Damn it. But also… I didn't mind being outplayed like this. Plus, she'd also proven me right as well. My girlfriend was a smart and oh so sneaky woman.