Bailey picked up his pace when he saw that Eli was already seated on the steps. Although he’d never admit it, this was his favorite part of the day. Handing out towels at the welcome desk at the gym was monotonous, and going home to his one-room apartment was isolating, but lunch with Eli was engaging and fun. He felt like he was back in school, hanging out with friends and goofing around, before they’d all been sorted into their assigned professions and sent their different ways.
Eli was already partway into his vitamax sandwich by the time Bailey sat down. “You started without me?” Bailey complained.
“Yeah, sorry,” Eli said, his words blunted by his full mouth. He took a swig from his water bottle and said, “I had my quarterly check-up last night and they cut my calorie count again. They said something about my blood pressure getting to high, so I was starving by noon.”
“I’m sorry man, that sucks,” Bailey said. He took his backpack off and unzipped it. From it, he pulled his S.I.L.P., Standard Issue Lunch Pack, his water bottle, and the protein bar he’d purchased from the vending machine at the gym. He passed the bar to Eli.
Eli’s eyes grew wide and a giant smile formed on his face. “Oh my gosh! You got chocolate! You’re the best, bro,” Eli said.
“Fair is fair. You beat me. I ain’t gonna short you,” Bailey said. It made him happy to see Eli so excited.
Eli ripped into the bar and took a big bite. He savored the flavor in his mouth, chewing slower. “This is so good,” he said through a full mouth.
“Glad you like it,” Bailey said. He ripped open his S.I.L.P. and tried to decide if he wanted his vitamax sandwich or veggie-bites first. He figured he should get the sandwich out of the way. He enjoy the veggie-bites more. Better to end on a high note. He took the square opaque bag from the box, ripped it open, and removed a triangle. The bread he didn’t mind. It was tough but tasteless. It was the vitamax paste that he hated. Thick and grainy, it made his mouth itch and burn at the same time. He took a sip of his water to choke the first bite down.
“So, you ready to play,” Eli said with a grin.
“You know it,” Bailey said as he choked down a second bite.
Eli reached into his backpack and took out a small square garage door opener. It was black with a single gray button in the middle. “I made some upgrades last night. It should give us an extra five feet in range,” he said.
“Awesome,” Bailey replied. He didn’t understand the mechanics behind Eli’s toys, but he loved playing with them. “Who went last?” he said, trying to remember.
“It’s your turn because yesterday I got the woman with the stroller for the win,” Eli said.
“That’s right,” Bailey said, remembering. He surveyed the crowd. Walkers strolled the walking trail in front of them. Other park patrons lounged in the grass eating their S.I.L.P.s on their lunch breaks. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out but had not yet become unbearable, and there was a gentle breeze that rustled the leaves on the trees.
An older man walked past with a small dog. Bailey was tempted to pick him, but a few weeks ago he and Eli had decided all game participants had to be under sixty-five. Bailey couldn’t tell where the man fell.
A brown haired man in a grey suit approached on the other side. Bailey watched him closely. Each step was precise. He watched the length of each stride. They weren’t the same, but he could see there was some kind of pattern at work. “The guy coming up on the left. Bot,” Bailey declared.
“Bot the man says,” Eli said with a grin.
They waited for the man to pass. His leather shoes clicked on the sidewalk. The longer Bailey watched him, the more certain he was. The way he swung his arms as he walked was too perfect. He didn’t take a deep breath when the wind blew. He was close, but there were signs.
Once the man in the suit was a few steps beyond them, Eli pointed the garage door open at him and clicked the button. The man in the suit twitched, his arms jerking out in different directions as his circuits were temporarily interrupted. After a few seconds, the man recovered and continued his walk. Eli and Bailey both laughed at the sight of the robot having a spasm.
“Point to Bailey,” Eli said.
“You’re going down today,” Bailey said with a confident nod.
“Please, son. This is my game. Give the master some space,” Eli said.
A young woman reading a book came walking toward them. She held the worn paperback in one hand and a half-finished protein bar in the other. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, revealing her neck. Bailey liked the look.
“Boy,” Eli said, making his guess.
“That one’s too easy,” Bailey said.
“She could be a bot,” Eli said defensively.
“Please. You know they aren’t going to read and walk at the same time. Don’t want to scare the humans and all with everything they’re capable of,” Bailey said.
The young woman passed. Eli held out the opener and clicked the button, but she didn’t respond, and Eli gave a fist pump. “One-to-one,” he said.
Feeling an urge to regain the lead, Bailey made a quick decision. “Guy in the grass. Boy,” he said, pointing at a man lying in the grass thirty yards was. The man was perfectly still, watching the clouds pass overhead.
“He might be too far away,” Eli said.
“You just know I’m right because no bot would waste time watching clouds,” Bailey said.
“Fine,” Eli said. He held the remote, aiming it at the man. He clicked the button and the man’s arms and legs jerked in different directions. “Wow. Bot. He must have been uploading something,” Eli said with genuine surprise.
“I don’t like it when they start changing their protocols. It’s wonky,” Bailey said as he opened his bag of veggi-bites and tore the top off. The small crackers were salty and had a nice crunch to them. Bailey popped one in his mouth and bit down. “Your turn,” he said.
“Oh, yeah,” Eli said with the excitement of someone who believed he was about to take the lead. He nodded toward a woman in workout gear jogging toward them. She was impeccably fit, sweating, and breathing hard. “Boy,” Eli said with a smile. As she jogged past, he clicked the remote at her. Her arms and legs spasmed as her circuitry was interupted. “Aw, man. I was so sure,” he said.
“Yeah, we get those in the gym all the time. They look real because of the sweat and all,” Bailey said.
“Why do bots need to exercise?” Eli complained.
“I don’t know, but they usually come in with human roommates, so I think it has something to do with making them seem more acceptable to their living companions. You know, doing stuff people do,” Bailey said.
“Makes sense,” Eli said. He took another sip of his water. “Working out with your mechanical roommate will probably make you less afraid it’s going to short-circuit and murder you in the middle of the night.”
Bailey popped another veggie-bite. “Still one-to-one,” he said triumphantly. He scanned the field again. There was a man playing fetch with a dog, but they were probably too far away. An older looking woman strolled toward them. She had a slight limp and her left eye was a little bigger than her right. It could have been intentional inconsistency, but Bailey was willing to bet it was natural. “Boy,” he said, pointing at her.
“Too easy,” Eli said. He didn’t even wait for the woman to pass them before he held out the remote to her and clicked the button rapidly at her for dramatic effect.
She gave them a harsh look and muttered “weirdos” as she passed them.
Eli and Bailey laughed.
“That’s two-to-one,” Bailey said, crunching his final veggie-bite between his teeth. “You ready to give up yet?”
“I’ve still got seven minutes left in my lunch break,” Eli said, checking his watch. “That’s more than enough time to score some more points and finish this break up by kicking your ass.”
“By all means then,” Bailey said with a grin.
“I beat you yesterday. I’m gonna beat you again today. And you are bringing me more of that chocolatey goodness tomorrow,” Eli said.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” a voice said from behind them. It was too polite, too measured, too calming to be human.
Eli and Bailey look at each other. Bailey started packing up his lunch. Eli inconspicuously slid the remnants of his S.I.L.P. into his backpack.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” the voice repeated again with a slightly more authoritative tone.
The two friends turned around. Behind them on the steps stood a SCR, a standard constable robot. It was dressed in the regulation blue uniform, indicating it was just foot-patrol. Its gold badge looked like it had been recently shined.
“How can we help you officer?” Bailey asked.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen. It has been reported that there is an electrical disrupter being used in the area. Would you know anything about that?” the constable bot asked.
“No, sir,” Eli said.
“We haven’t seen anything. I’m so sorry we can’t help,” Bailey added.
“I would like to check your persons, please. Please stand and stretch your arms out like so,” the constable bot said, holding his arms out as a demonstration of what he wanted the friends to do.
Eli and Bailey stood up. They both slipped their backpacks on. “See you tomorrow?” Eli asked.
“Of course. But the stairs on the other side of the park,” Bailey said.
“You got it,” Eli said.
“Thank you for standing. I would like to check your persons, please. Please now stretch your arms out like so,” the constable bot said, still holding his arms out.
“Ready?” Eli asked quietly.
“You know it,” Bailey said, smiling at the bot, trying to keep it calm and unaware.
“Thank you for,” the constable bot began to say again but it was interrupted.
“Run!” Eli yelled gleefully as he pointed the garage opener at the bot and pressed the button.
Bailey took off running back toward work knowing that once the constable bot had recovered from the spasm, it wouldn’t chase them. No reason to cause a scene for a misdemeanor. “See you tomorrow!” Bailey yelled to his friend as they ran their separate ways.
“Tomorrow!” Eli responded.