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Outrunning the Storm

Michele Dutcher
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Harris Tobias
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Gordon Rowlinson
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Michele Dutcher

Pneuro Dancer


James Gardner

D. L. Bracken’s new tax lawyer, his former lover, explained his options, “Three working machines, two under assembly, and five more in crates. Your company bought them, brought them here, and is libel if the demolition can’t proceed because of them or if one of your units hinders the process.”                                                                  

 “To clarify: you mean if the locals can prove one of these units...”

D.L. was cut short by Wendy-Jon Salmon who continued to explain current tax reality, “No, if anything is less than normal, Judge “Kangaroo Karl” Kipley will claim that these guard units are the cause. The Committee will back him and they’ll all line up for a payout from D. L. Bracken’s Ro-Bo Guard Inc, who purchased the Pneuro Dancer, ‘The safest sentinel unit in the known Universe.’”

“The veracity, that’s a word that means truth, D.L., of the manufacturer’s company slogan doesn’t matter, because the quality, reliability, or serviceability of these robots isn’t the question, and because neither is whose fault it is when the warehouse blows up. When. It will blow up, D.L. In Kipley’s sector pay-offs are life’s blood, yours. If those Sentinels were mine I’d activate all three, task them with completion of the two units under assembly and get the five to move the others as far away from this sight as I could. A pat of butter on a supernova has a better chance than Ro-Bo Guard Inc will with the Poster Boy for Crooked Court Proceedings. They have a slogan too,  no so well publicized: ‘ you supply the dime we invent the crime, time after time.”

“Run? That’s it?”

“Yes. Just put this chip into Unit Two. Wait, nod your head and I’ll do it.”

D.L. nodded. Wendy-Jon put the chip to the robot’s ‘lip slot.’ It hummed and clicked into lifeless animation.



“Are you kidding? The Pneuro Dancer is a dangerous piece of industrial crap. The things are powered by artificial farts and canned lightning. Pneuro is a play off ‘pneumatic’ and neurology.’ Read nervous disturbed air. Its Sterling engine’s heat source is a sliver of radioactive material. The Sterling turns an electric generator and an air compressor.  Maybe we can say that they should be classified as pollution or toxic waste. If we do that the upper court wouldn’t even read an appeal request, let alone act on one,” said Kangaroo Karl Kipley.

His legal secretary Susan Shyer said, “These are zero time units with an expected industrial life of 125 years of continuous operation.” 

“So, they’re new. Why did they quit making them?” said the Judge

“No re-orders.”


“They’re too good. They don’t wear out,” said Susan.

“Then everybody should want one. We need to become dealers.” Karl reached for his desk communication terminal.

“An immortal, amoral, faultless murder machine? They’re as dangerous as a metric ton of powdered sodium in a swimming pool of boiling water. Yeah, every kindergarten is the sector should have one per kid. Think Kipley. We’d be doing a public service. With that as a base argument, no matter how it rolls out, Ro-Bo Guard pays.”


A cargo barge moved away from a condemned warehouse on Gold Creek out into Bringem Bay. Two Pneuro Dancer units paddled, the third continued assembly of two others, and D.L. and Wendy-Jon sat atop a pile of crates. She said, “This isn’t what I had in mind, D.L. We’re escaping at the rate of drying paint and Franken-Wrench is making enough noise and light to be a  New Year's celebration.”

“He’s quiet now.”

The two robotic units under assembly emitted an ear splitting stutter of electronic cacophony accompanied by alternating red and white strobe lights blinking in perfect time to the metallic wailing.

“As quiet as a tomb on a Saturday night, D.L.” said Wendy-Jon.

“I think it’s some type of test.” D.L. ran his fingers into his ears and rotated them.

“Yeah, the ‘this ain’t my daddy and mommy test.’ We are screwed, D.L. A deaf cop could find us and a blind cop could catch us. The only thing going for us now is we didn’t steal them. That’s the harbor patrol isn’t it?”

A small motor launch bobbed over moons-lit swells in the distance, “They do use that style craft but they’re usually going much faster.”

Light burst from the wharf that RoBo Gaurd Inc's shipment had  just left. The air compressed from all directions with a lung stunning thud. The explosion ripped the air, assaulting nose, and eye. Their ears imploded. Huge flames and chunks of burning warehouse flailed skywards.

The distant motor launch picked up speed, turned towards the robot powered barge and produced white searchlights and blue strobes, “Repeat after me, D.L. ‘Officer, I was only going six miles an hour and I can’t imagine where these robots came from.’”

“Pick it up. Row faster. They can row faster can’t they, Wendy-Jon?”

“Didn’t you read the manual?”


“They’re watchers, guardsmen, and they’re killers not oarsmen.”

The two newly assembled robots joined their companions and the four rowed; faster maybe twelve knots. D.L. shouted and smiled, “Hey. That ain’t too shabby; more speed.”

Speed increased. The barge laid down a visible wake and the tool wielding robot broke open two more crates and began assembling the contents. In fifteen minutes the Harbor Patrol was within hailing distance but two more robots joined the rowers, “This is The  Bringem Bay Harbor Patrol, Come about. Cut power. Prepare to be boarded.”

“We have to keep going. We can’t hear you,” shouted D.L.

“I don’t believe you, D.L.  What are you using for brains?”

“You, pretty Wendy.”

“Heave to. Stop or we’ll open fire.”

“Weren’t you listening? We can’t hear you,” shouted D.L.

“Star, squiggle, asterisks, D.L. ‘no comment,’ makes more sense than that.”

“Last chance; we’ll fire in thirty seconds.”

“My lawyer advises, ‘no comment,’” said D.L.

“No I didn’t.” Wendy-Jon leaned over and touched her forehead to her knees. “Where did he come from? I was free. Why did I let him lure me back? ‘Just five minutes of legal advice’ is about to get me killed.” She stood and shouted herself, “Don’t shoot. We’re not armed.”

Two more robot oarsmen joined the crew and the resulting abrupt acceleration knocked Wendy-Jon to the deck, “Well, at least they haven’t shot.” Several shots rang out and thudded home near her, “At least they missed.”

The tool wielding robot stood, a beam of red light shown from its forehead and set a ball of flame about a meter in diameter on the bow of the harbor patrol’s boat. The steel boat did not burn but the robot’s fire ball took a tour of the deck scorching paint and burning a life raft. Patrolmen jumped from the boat cursing and screaming. Someone shot two star shell flares from the stricken vessel.

“We’re dead,” Wendy-Jon sat and laid her head back on her knees. “The harbor cops will never get us but the frigging Coast Guard will.”


“The sentinel units belong to Ro-Bo Guard Inc. I rented the barge; and Wendy-Jon is my lawyer.”

“Thirty years to life.”

D.L. woke up quivering.  Dull moons’ glow assaulted by sunrise helped his mind return from dreamland and retouch reality. The smells of seagulls, fish, and marine I.C.E. exhaust completed his journey, “We’re at the Marina. Wendy-Jon, what happened?”

The shapely young lawyer counted fresh bank notes into an outstretched hand that could only belong to a salesman, “ninety-eight, nine; twenty-six thousand in cash and the barge in trade.”

The salesman grinned. “Thank you, I thought I’d never move that tub er, I mean I’m sure the Ethyl P. Shaddix-McCray will give you many years of exemplary service,”

Wendy-Jon grimaced “I’m not quite the fool I seem; just when D.L. is involved, ‘it will only take a minute; for old times sake?’” She showed teeth to D.L. and tapped them as if a rabbit eating celery.  

The salesman said, “What?”

“Old son, the boat’s pumps are faster than her leaks and over water she’s faster than Granny’s bowels. That and the price of course, equals a perfect trifecta; in and of itself a redundancy. Thank you for the gracious swindle. If the opportunity arises we will be back for a rematch. If not, steal in good health. Good day.”


The Ethyl P. Shaddix-McCray seemed to suck its way through the bay. The bilge pumps ran constantly dumping the result out the stern. She did posses one overriding talent: The Harbor Patrol passed the tub er boat and the new owners without a second look.

“I thought you said that you would never refer to a ship or any inanimate object as a she.” D.L. emphasized his own maleness with a healthy belch.

“She reminds me of your mother, D.L.; suck-nasty and perpetually on-the-rag. Until I met you I honestly believed that all things and situations could be described without the use of off color, coined, or puerile language. But you always come up with events, people, and stuff that defies any degree of normal verbiage, noun-age, or for that matter garbage. D.L. you’re...” She paused and frowned, “You’re not normal, Babe.”

“You bought the boat.”

“You bought the robots.”

Read more stories by this author

2010-10-02 22:51:04
I had to reread this a couple of times to make sense of it... which is not a good thing. It could be a big longer to make the journey to the final two lines, which are the crux of the whole story, a little less bumpy

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