The tavern was unusually quiet and peaceful. Only a few shadowy regulars haunted the corner of the bar, but they had started blending into the decor ages ago.
The joints in Beatrice’s leg were decidedly creaky, but she hardly noticed. Something else was brewing, she could feel it.
The red warning light flashing in the corner if her retina helped.
“Bloody software updates,” Beatrice grumbled, easing her robotic leg up onto a footstool, “never provide you with actual information, do they?”
She was answered by drunken muttering, and the roar of engines outside.
Aife blew through the doors, covered in soot, hair all stood on end.
“Pirates or pilots?” Beatrice asked calmly, pulling the lever below the bar.
“Police,” Aife replied, diving behind the bar and disappearing down the trapdoor Beatrice had opened.
Beatrice sighed, pushing the lever to close the trapdoor. What sort of mess had the girl gotten herself into this time?
A gaggle of police drones rolled through the doors, scanning all living organisms.
Beatrice’s retinal display started to spasm when one drone subjected her to closer scrutiny.
“Do you mind?” she groused, “your laser scope is interfering with my neuro-cyber cortex. I could sue for the damage and distress you and your cohorts are causing.”
The drone’s sensor switched off for a moment, then turned back on with a soothing blue light.
“Apologies for any inconvenience,” the drone’s computerized tones grated on Beatrice, “we are in pursuit of a dangerous criminal. Our logic processes indicated she would take shelter in your establishment. Have you seen anyone suspicious today?”
Beatrice thanked her lucky stars that Aife had given her the software patch to control the physical effects of lying. There was no way for the drone to read her guilt.
“There’s been no one but these drunken louts in here all day,” she said, letting a slight edge creep into her voice, “just how dangerous is this criminal?”
The drone, who had shifted his sensor back to red to examine Beatrice’s customers, turned back to her with a blue sensor. “The criminal is a female suspected of being involved in aeronautical piracy and terrorism. If contact is made, citizens should not try to apprehend the fugitive, but contact law-enforcement immediately.”
Beatrice nodded seriously as the drones regrouped, and barreled out the door.
“Have they gone?” Aife poked her head up through the trapdoor.
Beatrice just shook her head, pulling the lever again so Aife could climb out of the crawlspace. “How have you managed to get yourself branded as a terrorist?”
Aife was trying to get the cobwebs out of her hair. “I might have been pressured into delivering a shipment for Captain Sauveterre.”
Beatrice smacked her own forehead with the heel of her hand. “And what in the solar system possessed you to agree to such a thing? No,” Beatrice held up her hands when Aife took a deep breath to explain, “I don’t want to know. What I want to know, is how delivering stolen goods turned into terrorism.”
“That you could technically blame on Era,” Aife replied, prying the mechanical dragon from her neck.
“How could a pack of rabid robot dogs be my fault?” Eratosthenes protested, scrambling for the safety of Beatrice’s apron pocket.
“You were the one who told that con artist I’m a mechanic!” Aife retorted, as Beatrice hustled her through the door into the kitchen.
“Slow down,” Beatrice commanded, pushing Aife toward a chair, “Start at the beginning, and work your way up to the rabid robot dogs.”
“All I was meant to do was deliver a trunk to a man in New York,” Aife replied, unlacing her boots and shedding her coat, “I was told the trunk contained counterfeit robotic puppies. What Captain Sauveterre failed to tell me was that the robots were all disassembled for shipment.”
Beatrice resisted the urge to smack her own forehead again. “Didn’t the fact that he wanted to send you on a smuggling operation send up some red flags?”
Aife shrugged uncomfortably. “He might have found out that I accidentally compromised a custom’s automaton on New York’s air docks, and that the poor machine would let me get away with murder.”
“I’ll bet you want to blame that on me too,” Era growled, poking his head out of Beatrice’s pocket.
Aife shot him a venomous look. “Wanting has nothing to do with it. That was entirely your fault.”
“Let me guess,” Beatrice cut in, knowing that she’d never hear the full story if Aife and Era started bickering, “the buyer was none too pleased to discover his product was in less than pristine condition, and Era tried to resolve the issue by landing you elbow deep in puppy parts.”
“That’s the bare bones of it, yeah,” Aife grimaced, “but when you put it that way it sounds really disturbing. And, as happens when I’m stressed, or distracted, my … quirkiness … asserted itself and turned the puppies a bit … feral.”
“A bit!” Eratosthenes erupted from his shelter, spouting steam and miniature fireballs. “Those crazy canines rampaged across half of Brooklyn before we could get them under control!”
“Not exactly helping, Era,” Beatrice said, limping around and gathering a meal for Aife. She tended to cook when stressed. “Were the feral robots stopped?”
A cheeky grin crept over Aife’s face. “I am rather proud of that. I managed to perfect an EMP cannon that only disables your selected targets. The Sergeant and I might have broken two dozen traffic laws chasing the little imps down, but we disabled all the rabid robots.”
Beatrice sighed, and thumped a full tray onto the table in front of Aife. “Only you, Aife. Now hurry up and eat, so you can see to this blasted leg of mine.”
“You won’t have to ask me twice,” Aife replied, taking a big bite if the sandwich Beatrice had made, “Era, will you make sure the Sergeant’s all right? Knowing him, he’s been taunting the cop drones and has got himself impounded.”
“And what am I meant to do about that?” Eratosthenes protested, “I can’t exactly convince officials I’m the owner of a rogue antique motorcycle!”
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” Aife mumbled around another bite of sandwich.
Beatrice chuckled and opened a window for Eratosthenes, then went back out to the bar. Customers had started to trickle in, and she spent the rest of the evening bustling about, pretending to be interested in the gossip about the attack on New York. By closing time Aife was an entire army of amazon cyborg warriors and the robotic puppies were a pack of giant automaton wolves.
Beatrice was sure Eratosthenes would find the conversations hilarious, and recorded the more amusing ones to share with him when he got back.
Aife breezed into the bar as the door closed behind the last customer, hair dripping wet. “Need any help cleaning up?”
“Cleaning up can wait,” Beatrice replied, climbing onto the bar and stretching her leg out, “I’m tired of hobbling around like an old crone.”
As Aife bent to inspect the inner workings of Beatrice’s leg, they heard the familiar roar of Sergeant Reynold’s engine outside.
“Well, that’s a load off,” Aife sighed, chewing her lip in concentration.
“Don’t start without me!” Eratosthenes bellowed, darting through the still open window, “I’ve had to spend hours hunting down that blasted motorcycle, the least I deserve is doing the diagnostics for Beatrice.”
“Be my guest,” Beatrice said, leaning back, “I have some recordings I’m sure you’ll enjoy once you’re done.”
Era whooped happily, and perched on Aife’s head, chittering about grit in the gear and software glitches.