Glenda looked out the window at the glorious and vast scene below her. The sun lit up the vast expanse of grassland, the antelope grazing amongst the acacia that speckled the landscape. A large boulder, unearthed by some forgotten river thousands of years ago, lay in the plain, a pride of lions sun baking in the morning rays. In the distance was a herd of buffalo that were moving south, a cloud of brown-red dust stirred up after them.
Glenda rested back in her seat to check the time of her arrival which according to the latest feedback was changing due to magnetic flux in the mag-rail. She felt the tiniest deceleration as the train slowed to a stop high over the African Savannah, a sigh echoing from the frame as it released legs to grip the guide bar that held it in place.
Lights flashed before Glenda’s eyes as she activated her Intasurf to contact Simon. A man appeared sitting across from her, well built with a nice tan. Glenda always felt her mouth twinge when she saw an Intasurf transmission from her husband, he always overdid his appearance, Xilda said he was much more buff when she called him. She knew that was not his fault, research showed that men never appeared to their wives as attractive as to other women.
“Hi, Glenda, didn’t expect to see you until you arrived in Lusaka.” Simon could never get the mouth movements right when pronouncing the capital of Zambia.
“Sorry dear, there was a magnetic flux in the rail and they have delayed the train for a few hours in order to prevent any problems.”
“A magnetic flux? I thought that only happened at the poles?”
“Well I am looking forward to your arrival… tonight is special.”
“That’s what you say whenever I go away, I think you like the train so much because of what you get when I get off it.”
“What?” Glenda saying angrily, already knowing what he was laughing at.
“You did it again,” Simon grinned, “You really should let me lend you the anti-nude protection for your Intasurf. Although I do like what you have done with…”
Glenda closed the connection and Simon vanished from in front of her.
She looked out the window again at the savannah below, wishing she could be out there in the grass taking a hike to god-only-knows-where. To bad about the expense, if only the controls were not so tight she might be able to explore the world she only saw in documentaries.
Xilda had said that last year some high powered exec, probably Grant from India, had taken her to a culling scout trip. She said it was quite impressive, and the environment was so awe inspiring that she couldn’t eat meat for a week… at least until central admin had found out and started to ration her vegetarian supplements. It took her 3 months to fix the paperwork.
There was a knocking on her compartment, she opened the door via wireless and it slid open effortlessly to reveal a man in a black suit.
“Yes sir?” Glenda asked.
“Sorry ma’am,” he began, “Merely checking that passengers are alright.”
“I am fine, thank you,” she bowed her head in appreciation, “but my husband is missing out on a special night and hopes I will be home soon.”
The man nodded silently and she closed the door behind him. She returned to looking out the window. A breeze was starting up, rushing against the window frame, and she shivered despite her separation from the world outside.
“Sorry for the delay, the train will be continuing on its planned journey. ETA five sixteen East African Standard Time.”
The announcer had called through the train and Glenda had almost jumped in surprise. Nether-the-less she was happy to get moving again. She waited paitently for the train to hover again, it did not.
Glenda waited a further five minutes before curiosity overwhelmed her inactivity. She stood up and approached the door. She sent it the signal to open.
The door did not open.
Glenda tried several times before she tried a reconnect to the train network.
The train network was offline.
She tried to route through the low energy systems.
They were offline as well.
Glenda shouted and banged the door violently.
The door shuddered and silently opened.
Glenda paused and raised an eyebrow, “How primitive.” She said to no one in particular.
Walking down the corridor she checked each compartment she passed, they were all empty, she headed towards the front of the train as she was located in the last carriage. She pulled the handle to open the door into the next carriage.
It was locked.
“Can I help you Ma’am?”
Glenda turned to the man in the suit.
“Ma’am, is there anything I can help you with?”
“Why is the door closed?”
“Because it has not been opened.”
Glenda grimaced, she usually knew better than this, she tried another route that would get more information “Why is this carriage empty of passengers apart from myself?”
“There has been a lockdown in the carriage. Passengers have been removed.”
“But I am a passenger!”
The man looked at her solemnly, his eyes mechanically focusing, “It appears you are correct.”
“So how do I get off?” She asked, hoping he still had a link to home base.
“It appears we will have to open a window…”
Glenda was about to protest, but he continued.
“… otherwise you will run out of air.” The android’s arm swung and smashed a window. It hardly made a dent.
“You’re an android! Shouldn’t you know you can’t break it.”
“I am not trying to break the window.” He smashed it again, this time the window shuddering.
Glenda watched wide eyed as the mechanical man hit it again causing the rubber sealant to pop the window outwards. There was a rush of hot air into the compartment and the train’s structure flexed as the atmosphere equalized.
“You are safe now.” He positioned himself against the wall and went to sleep.
Glenda sighed and walked back to her cabin, hopefully they will come for her soon, maybe when Simon got worried.
Glenda heard the hum before she saw the helicopter. It was flying low to the grasslands, almost at the level of the acacias. Glenda reached out the window in order to gesture towards them but hesitated, something was wrong.
The wind was still, almost dead compared to what it was earlier. The sun shone quite brightly in the early afternoon and most of the animals that were active in the morning had settled under trees. The helicopter, too far away to make out definitely was definitely unique in this landscape and appeared to be the only thing that was heading straight for her. She wakened the android.
“What is that?” she pointed out the window at the helicopter.
The man looked out the window, “An apache helicopter, sold to the Botswana Government in 2015.”
“So we are in Botswana?”
“Yes, that is our current location.”
Glenda’s previous doubts were soothed by this information, if they had Still been in South Africa then it may be a white militant faction who had been known to be linked to Botswana, as it was they were known not to bother civilians outside of South Africa.
“Can you communicate with the helicopter?”
“Yes, the AI channel to me is being kept open.”
“Ask the AI what its mission is.”
The man stood still for a second, his face blank. He frowned and then scrunched his forehead.
“Is there a problem?”
The man did not respond, he shook his head.
“What is wrong?” Glenda was getting worried.
The man broke out of his thoughts, “We must leave.”
Glenda screamed as the android picked her up and leapt out the open window.
She watched from the bush as the train blew up before her eyes, small fragments whistling off in to the hot sky to fall haphazardly into the grass. A few elephants were startled and bolted towards a cluster of trees, startling a pride of lions which in turn hid in some boulders. Glenda was angry and turned to the android.
“Why did they do that?”
The man looked back at her, forgetting his broken metal legs.
“Why did they shoot me?”
The man went back to fixing bio-mech muscle.
Glenda’s eyes glowed and she grabbed him, “Answer me!”
The man put down his com-pen and frowned, “I can not tell you that.”
Glenda was surprised, “Why?”
“I have been ordered not to warn you.”
“But you did save me.”
“While my orders can be used to infer that I should not save you, the command does not extend to cover my inactivity, thereby I am compelled to save you.”
Glenda went silent, her mind drawn from the flaming wreckage above to ponder the bio-robotic element in the savannah. He was plain looking, dark prosthetic skin over bio-mechanical structure, bald, probably because it was cheaper. His eyes were colourless, like most androids and their bio-mech irises. Glenda supposed that should he be human she might consider him handsome.
“We should be moving soon.”
Glenda snapped out of her pondering to the present. He was standing up and scouring the landscape. His broken legs apparently fixed.
“I can see a truck approaching from the north, they are probably the medical team come to set up a quarantine.”
Glenda raised an eyebrow, “Quarantine?” she whispered.
He ignored her and began walking east.
“Where are you going?”
He stopped and addressed her without turning, “I overheard some passengers saying there is a white militant base to the east of here on the border of Zimbabwe. They will look after you.”
Glenda tried to fathom this but could not grasp the logic.
“But I am black.”
“The white militants are not rascist as such, they are more of an economic force than anything else, contrary to popular belief much of their forces are made up of black Africans.”
Glenda paused in thought and considered whether to trust the android.
“The trucks are getting closer.”
Glenda got up and began following the man who had already begun taking sweeping steps through the high grass.
Glenda shouted up to him, “What is your name?”
Without stopping he said back, “Michael D23”
They had stopped the night in the branches of an old baobab tree. Glenda had wanted to sleep on the ground but D23 had indicated that most predators hunted at night. Glenda had agreed to the branches rapidly and soon found the broad wood of a baobab was quite soft and restful. When morning broke again they set off towards the sun until midday when D23 stopped and gestured to some scrub to rest under.
“I don’t hear or see anyone so we should be safe here while you rest.”
Glenda stayed standing while D23 sat down, he once again began tuning his legs through a gash that he opened up.
“I am hungry,” Glenda stated, “And thirsty. I have not eaten for 24 hours.”
D23 looked up, “I do not know where to get you food around here. I only know how to operate a food processor and drink dispenser..”
Glenda stared, “Then what am I supposed to do?”
“Hunt for food.”
Glenda sat down grumpily, not even considering whether she would possibly get anything worth eating. D23 went back to tuning his legs which appeared to be quite twisted and tangled in bio-mech muscle.
Glenda coughed, her throat parched and dry.
“Why did you save me?”
D23 looked up at her and then returned to his work.
“You required saving.”
Glenda did not like this answer, “But you did not have to save me.”
“Yes I did.”
“But there is no programming designed for robots to save humans in danger, it causes too many problems and misinterpretations.”
D23 stopped tuning himself and looked up.
“I programmed myself after my previous job was rendered obsolete.”
“I was a porter on a mag-train.”
Glenda stared at his colourless eyes in thought for a moment, the idea sinking into her.
“I am your new job?”
“Yes. I required a meaning to my existence and you were the closest object at hand to attach myself with.”
“Uhhh,” Glenda thought this was very unattractive thing for anyone, or in this case anything, to say, she decided to just add a “Thanks.”
“No, thank you for giving me purpose.”
Glenda coughed, the dryness in her throat made worse.
He watched her carefully, “We should get moving again, the white militants might move on soon.” He closed his gash and stood up. Glenda did likewise and they began their trek through the midday sun.
Glenda’s eyes had become unfocussed, the brightness of the yellowness around her mixed with a dry throat and the beginnings of heatstroke were not helped by the calmness of the mid afternoon air. Glenda struggled to voice out to the man in front.
“Michael,” she struggled the sound out of her mouth, “I need water.”
Michael did not stop, “I see some ahead, if we travel faster we should get to it before it dries up.”
Glenda stopped in shock. Michael turned, hearing her movements halted.
“What is the problem?”
Glenda struggled to make her voice angry, “It is a mirage!”
Michael looked back at the horizon, “A mirage? I don’t understand.”
Glenda was so exasperated she almost forgot her dry throat, “The sun is playing tricks on your eyes to make the ground look like water.”
D23 looked back at her, “Androids can not be tricked.”
“It is a trick of the light, not of the mind!”
“Light can not be tricked, it is not a living entity.”
“The light moves in a way that the ground far away looks like water.”
Michael raised his eyes in amazement.
“You understand?” Glenda was shouting now.
“Androids can not be tricked, there must be water.”
Glenda sighed in exasperation and sat down amongst the yellow grass, she had a headache now and her dry throat was getting so bad she could no longer cough.
Glenda woke under the bush to find Michael trickling water onto her face, she gasped and moved her mouth under the stream to lap it up. Michael shifted and she sat up to grab the leaf from him and slurp up what was left. When that was gone she reached up to her dark braids to gather the few drops that had fallen there.
“I found the water on the horizon.” Michael seemed ashamed to admit this.
Glenda looked at him in puzzlement.
“I walked east and found a waterhole with animals around it, but the water was brown, not like the…” Michael paused, “… Mirage.”
“So you believe me?” Glenda asked, her headache pouring over her as she used the words.
“Yes, the mirage is not real. It is a…” Michael paused again, “… trick.”
Glenda coughed, the water had not wet her throat and her headache was getting worse.
“Careful,” Michael gathered her and lay her down again, “You are very sick.”
Glenda coughed again, her back arching on the ground with the struggle to spit out air. She settled and looked up at Michael.
“You have to go on to the militants. You can bring them back here.”
Michael shuddered and looked away from her, shame on his face.
“What is the problem?”
Michael turned his head back but did not look at her, “There are no white militants near Zimbabwe, they were chased off by Zimbabwean forces last week.”
Glenda was puzzled, “Then why are we heading west?”
“I needed to keep you safe.”
“You would have worried if I told you the truth.”
“Damn right!” Glenda was struggling to get angry, her throat too dry and her headache beyond pain.
“I needed to give you a reason in case there was a possible way for you to live, but I failed.”
“Failed? I am still alive.”
“Your illness is terminal, it is a virus that kills faster than I thought it would.”
Glenda began to realize what had happened.
“The helicopter AI said you needed to be destroyed and quarantined, but I thought you could survive the virus.”
Glenda’s breathing was becoming more laboured, her heart rate irregular.
“I had programmed myself to look after you, so I decided you could survive the virus, but I was wrong, and so I have failed.”
Glenda was breathing more heavily, she reached up to pull him closer.
“You…” she struggled to get the words out, “…did not… fail.”
“Yes, I was responsible for you, you are my passenger.”
“No… not your fault.” Glenda was sweating profusely now, she could not see beyond her nose and the light seemed to be half red. She suspected her eyes were bleeding.
“Not my fault?” Michael asked, “But you were my purpose… I needed to make sure you lived.”
Michael waited for an answer but Glenda had gone to sleep.
Michael’s legs began to rust and rot.