Surviving City Air
“I thought he’d be sensitive to the city’s air when pigs fly,” Polease mused.
Theocop added, “Same here. We still have a few animals breathing city air. Of course, several species are gone. The ones that have survived are different, now.”
“Different?” The young officer half listened while reading a lex on his gadio.
“Yeah, years ago, squirrels didn’t attack people.”
“Weird,” Polease added as he thought about the course of his career. He first learned to research bees, and then capture squirrels, but soon with larger robots, he would train to capture apartment-dwellers trying to escape their climate-controlled housing. Police work, he was told, wouldn’t be much different from animal control. Until today, he didn’t know the farmers had breathable air. None of the farmers had worn oxygen tanks, and OneNews certainly had kept the truth quiet. He wondered how to apply for a job at the Cloning Farm, and he searched for the information on the OneJobCenter site.
Frank slowly regained consciousness and thought—This must be the inside of a hotel suite. I am lying on a piece of furniture in a living area. And the squirrels in the country don’t attack anything but walnuts and birdseed feeders. Why am I thinking about squirrels?
Theocop leaned over Frank, and hoping to help the pig come around, he shouted. “You’ve suffered from Urban Pollution commonly referred to as PU. I know the acronym is backwards, but it’s right at the same time. The doctor just left. We removed everything except your slacks because he didn’t want anything to restrict your breathing while he administered an oxynitro treatment.”
“What the barbecue?” Frank replied. Now he fully remembered why he wore clothes “I’ve had my fill of this baloney. Take off my pants,” Frank ordered.
“Excuse me?” Polease rebutted.
“Not you. Certainly not you.” Frank remembered for publicity’s sake, Takes chose to provide accommodations at the hotel. MB had warned Frank to keep his cool. They could keep him in jail. Be polite, Frank thought, and he oinked to clear his throat. “Theocop, please remove my slacks. I wish to appear dapper at the trial in the morning.”
Polease choked down a chuckle by breathing in and out of his nose rapidly like a goose growing excited.
The subordinate needed something to do. The sergeant directed, “Okay, you guard the entrance, and I’ll keep watch on the inside of the hotel suite. Another officer will come by to replace you just about dinner time.”
Polease still grabbed his gadio and nodded with a tense waggle of his head.
Theocop pulled back the warming blanket left behind by the doctor to wriggle off Frank’s slacks. The pants were stuck under his ham roast. “Stand up.”
Across the room and ready to exit, Polease waved his hand in front of a motion sensor hidden in a plant to open the door. “Looks like I have the better end of this deal,” he said. The door automatically closed behind him.
Frank fought to stand on the over-stuffed thing that humans call a couch or a sofa, and commented, “Pardon me if I’m being too snooty, but I have to say, you need him as a partner like a pig needs a back pocket. Further, why the weenie roast do you choose to live in a place you can’t breathe? I felt like a pig on ice out there.”
While Frank hammered on, Theocop tried to wiggle off the slacks again. He had his orders to keep the pig happy, but the condescending tone from this lower animal made Theocop feel as if a dog just told him to sit. Taking a break from depantsing a pig, he leaned on the sofa’s arm and answered, “Police officers no longer have partners. That’s a 20th century movie concept. Secondly, I live here because I work here, numb nuts. Or pardon me, are your nut not numb because you were castrated?”
“I’m considered a breeder. Speaking of which, while you’re working down there, watch the part Miss Lou awarded a blue-ribbon to, will you?”
The pants were finally down to pig knuckles.
“Theocop sighed. He hadn’t pictured himself dressing the animal. “Can you lie down or something?
Frank lay down and shook a leg, helping in the effort to remove the pants.
Theocop hesitated. “And don’t pee on the sofa. You have special facilities off your bedroom for relieving yourself. This isn’t a barn, and your sugar-daddy will be required to pay for any damage. He already had to pay the extra fee for keeping a pet in here.”
Theocop found a hanger in the closet and hung Frank’s pants. Not sure what else to do while guarding a pig, he continued talking, something he only did when nervous, and until lately, he had seldom been nervous. “Actually, Polease isn’t bad for a kid in his generation. The kids these days have been raised—actually, children aren’t raised anymore—they’re oriented. Children are oriented through Kohlberg’s stages of moral development up to the fourth stage, the law and order stage. They have been taught to obey the law. His generation does not differentiate between laws and morals.
“So bad breeding isn’t the sole reason for his lack of I.Q.?” Frank pondered aloud.
“What kind of test did that kid pass?”
“He squeaked through by writing a plagiarized McPaper.”
“A plagiarized McPaper?” Frank asked, sitting on the sofa.
“Yeah, he copied—”
“I got that part. McPaper?” Frank said.
“You know something written quickly. Like before equalizers they’d make fast food fast, but not necessarily good? Guess you’re not old enough to remember. Anyway, I knew Polease’s parents, and back when we did have partners, his dad was mine. The kid should have police work running through his veins. He just turned 18. He’s just young, I hope.”
Pausing, he looked at Frank closely, mulling over his words and wondered why he felt comfortable talking to a pig. “Look we’re both tired and hungry after the long drive. Why don’t we discuss more about police testing after you go use the bathroom, and I’ll get us something to eat? I’m hungry and turning into a papa bear who can’t find berries. I’ll find a menu.”
Frank’s stomach had growled the last two hours of the trip. “In that case, I’ll order the vegetable of the day with spaghetti, no meatballs. Of course, oink, I’m vegan,” Frank said with a smile.
“If you wish to freshen up before dinner, your special accommodations are in the hall behind you and through your bedroom. My bedroom is the other one by the front door. Fortunately, I have my own facilities—you’ll understand what I mean after you see your bathroom. I’ll meet you back in the living area with food ready,” Theocop directed.
“Thanks.” Frank jumped from the sofa and found the bathroom. Someone had installed a ramp up to the toilet and a special seat on the toilet. After finishing his business, Frank inspected the rest of the apparatus. He correctly guessed that he was to pull a chain hung from the ceiling directly in front of him to flush. He felt a stream of water wash his hindquarters. After dismounting his throne, he wiped on a disposable towel on the floor marked PigToiletTissue. He pulled another chain marked with a number 2 and a stream of water washed the PigToiletTissue down a hole. A urinal had been plumbed even with the floor, and he flushed after he urinated. Finally, he stepped into the sink with a faucet, and a mini-whirlpool bubbled soapy water to freshen his front hooves.
In the other corner beside the door, a sunken whirlpool tub had been installed for his convenience. Frank, considering himself a pristine pig, decided to take a warm soak after dinner. Perhaps doing something normal would make him feel less abnormal.
Frank had been told the hotel room was provided at the expense of Chetley Takes. Too bad Frank’s brain may not get a chance to send Take’s brain a thank you note.
Thinking of the bath provided a wave of homesickness and Frank dearly missed MB and Miss Lou already. He fought against the wave of emotion. He told himself—Don’t cave in to your feelings. Keep going. Don’t make an enemy of this guy even though you got off to a bad start. Pump this guy for information. Focus. Sitting and crying will achieve nothing.
Frank entered the room to see Theocop entering the codes in something that looked like a microwave.
“By the way, thanks for all the help with the clothes. Sorry I felt grouchy. The lack of oxygen can butcher a guy like me. You cookin’?” Frank asked.
“Yeah, you have seen these on the farm? Equalizers?”
Frank knew that growing food in the city was illegal. He wasn’t sure how city folk ate, and he was warned by MB to the food would be different. “Uh, I’m not allowed in the kitchen,” Frank lied, knowing the laws dictated all food should come from an equalizer.
“See. I enter the appropriate code, and it produces food—or as naysayers say—produces foods’ near-equivalent. The necessary chemicals needed to create most food come from a utility company—like electricity—the chemicals come into a home. Meat products are the exception. For meat products, the apparatus actually clones muscle tissue and cooks it all in one appliance. I still bothered to use a menu, though, because different brands of equalizers use different codes.”
The equalizer hummed as Theocop watched with anticipation. “One code is the same for all of them—enter the acronym HTML—and out comes a steaming hot ham, tomato, and lettuce sandwich with mayo. Of course, when the thing was first invented, the equalizer’s marketing department’s slogan bragged, ‘Now HTML doesn’t mean WORK.’”
Theocop removed a silver-domed platter and reset the equalizer. “I didn’t mean to grouch at you earlier, either. I admit, I consider this assignment beyond the call of duty. I’ve checked the suite thoroughly for listening devices. We can sit at the table and talk with relative ease. I have to know something, and I have to tell you something.”
Frank wanted to keep the officer talking. Maybe for company. Maybe his information might prove useful in the trial. Mostly, Frank didn’t want to be locked in a hotel room, lacking companionship on his last night on earth. He worked to respond with a glib manner, knowing the police officer could just lock him up alone in the back bedroom.
“Now, I will talk about food anytime, anywhere,” Frank quipped. He remembered he wanted above all else information about Takes. Frank added, “Is this Take’s response to my life-and-death situation—the Last Supper?”
Theocop squinted at the pig’s insightfulness, and placed two trays on the table. “You have more chances than you realize.” Theocop scanned the room as if Frank may have brought a spider who might be listening. “Don’t consider this your Last Supper,” he assured the young pig.
Frank walked up a ramp and sat in a chair made for his porcine anatomy. He said, “In order to eat human food, I need my spoon from my bag, please.”
Theocop returned with a weird spoon and sat across from Frank, and removed the silver domes covering the dishes. Frank ate spaghetti with his spoon. One end the spoon was fitted with a miniature shovel, and an oversized straw completed the other end. He held the straw end in his mouth, shoveled food on the spoon end, and literally inhaled his food.
“Tastes different than, uh, pig pellets,” Frank said with a cough.
“Equalizer food,” Theocop explained. “Just think of it as nutrition.”
“Pig pellets taste better.”
Theocop twirled his spaghetti around his fork. After a few bites he said, “Have to admit, it’d be nice to live in the country. Tell me about the scents in the country.”
Frank slurped a smaller bite. “I didn’t know that the air in the city was not breathable until today.”
“We just call it unbreathable air.”
“Oh. The air in the country has many odors, many of which you are not accustomed to smelling. I don’t know whether or not you could tolerate it. It’s unlike the air in here. In here, I smell an off-lilac scent in the living area, and the bathroom smells like dead roses. One putrid scent per room.”
“You’re smelling the filtered air. They affix scented pads to the filters to freshen the air.”
“I’m old enough to remember breathing the air in the country. Theocop stopped eating and leaned back in his chair. He looked at the ceiling like a school boy searching for the answers on the daily quiz. Frank tried to acquire a taste for his food, and Theocop continued to talk.
“I remember breathing the air outside—the smells. I remember how the scent of the freshly mowed grass tickled my nose and made me sneeze. Sometimes my cousins and I retreated to the cornfields to play. But in nature, man needs no companion. As I ran, the sun would play hide-and seek with me. As the corn blurred in my peripheral vision, the sun flicked on and off through the stalks. Dizzy from running, I stopped to feel the spin of the earth under my feet and the force of gravity defying the spin. At that moment, I knew all of this had been created for me to relish, and God through me continued His creation.
Theocop’s gaze fell on Frank. “I remember the smell of the corn in particular. When the corn was ripe and ready to pick, it began to smell like honey fresh from the comb. Grandma would boil the corn in huge pots on the two kitchen stoves—four burners on each side of the kitchen. I helped cut it off the cobs for freezing during the winter. The kitchen smelled just like corn syrup by mid-afternoon.”
Theocop took a few bites, and motioned for Frank to eat, but then reminisced, “Grandma, who was raised in
smelled like edible flowers and herbs from the garden. Yeah, I remember. She
smelled like roses, carnations, passions flowers, ginger, and mint mixed
together. After we stacked the plastic bags filled with corn in the freezer, I
would suck on the cobs. The sweetest part of the corn is down in the corn cob,
did you know that?” he asked in a happy trance.” Iowa
“Yes, I know,” Frank answered.
Frank’s answer snapped Theocop out of his trance. “You know? How do you know what corn cobs tastes like? The equalizer makes corn, but not corn on the cob. The equalizer was intentionally engineered to make food that did not remind people of real food. In other words, you can create a sliced tomato or a chopped tomato, but not a whole tomato. How could you possibly know what corn on the cob tastes like?” he asked angrily.
Theocop began to read a lexmail on his gadio. “It’s illegal to grow food, even in the country,” he added, as if cursing.
Frank looked at him blankly. How could he have been so easily tricked by this large captor’s calm, hypnotic voice? In hindsight, he wondered if Theocop would raid Brown’s Farm, and jail his human friends and neighbors.
Just then Polease burst in the room carrying his oxygen tank. “Well, I’m off for home, ‘ya know. Time for a shower, and doin’ something barely legal, not necessarily in that order. My replacement is in the hall. It’s a robot with super-hearing. Tomorrow, I’ve a day off, so I’ll get extra equalizer points to make a big beer batch tonight. Hey, see you when I’m hung-over,” Polease said.
Theocop typed three lettes on his gadio and put it back in the pocket of his suit coat. Frank felt relieved; he message was not long enough to inform someone about the home-grown food at Brown’s Farm.
Theocop shot up out of his chair. “A robot with super-hearing? How long has he been there?”
“I came in here as he came up the hall. He should be posted and working outside about now.”
Theocop looked at Frank closely. Frank wondered—is he thinking: does this country bumpkin understand what a robot with super-hearing means? Or is he angry that the novice officer let me know the robot is equipped with super-hearing?
Polease left without a proper good-bye.
Theocop cleared his throat and spoke loudly, “Well, I’m permitted to tell you this, Frank. I have communicated with my superiors. We recognize that your nostrils are larger than human nostrils. Since you can not breathe the city air, we will need to take you to court, supplied with an custom-made oxygen tank and nose tubes. My superiors considered ordering me to walk you into court, holding the breathing tubes in place, but since a televised court has been approved, the sight of one of our officers with his fingers up your nose tomorrow will make a less-than-a-professional appearance.
Theocop cleared his throat and walked toward the door. “Therefore, court has been postponed until Wednesday. Tomorrow we will need to travel from the city into the intelligentsia housing section. There we will meet Mr. Nac Inspire.”
Theocop waved his hand in front of the plant to open the door. He practically yelled down the hall. “As the air in the city became unbreathable, Mr. Inspire invented, among other gadgets, the portable air tank with its fresh scent and perfect blend of breathing gasses, so we need to visit his lab for his expertise.”
Theocop almost shouted the rest. “You are lucky to receive an oxygen tank. Only government officials and those deemed important enough to move from place to place receive an oxygen tank these days. We are told breathing with an oxygen tank is healthier than breathing whatever the wind blew our way years ago.”
Theocop lowered his voice until it was barely audible by human standards and said, “This break in proceedings will give you another day to prepare for trial.”
Frank replied, “When the fruit trees bloom in the fall, it is going to be a severe winter.”