Todd kicked his hoverboard to life and zoomed over the curb, gliding over the uneven sidewalk, one arm wrapped tightly around a package. He’d been waiting for six days for this to arrive! He dodged down an alley to avoid the Permit Patrol on a Segue up ahead. If they caught him hovering without a helmet and pads again, he’d probably get a week in juvie. He banked left, about a foot up onto a brick wall, pressed his toe firmly on the right booster as he came out of the turn, leveled off then shifted his weight to the back of the board, but not too much. He’d been practicing his next maneuver for two weeks.
At the end of the alley, a large dumpster sat lonely and forgotten a relic of the past. In front of it, artfully arranged were several old pallets and a piece of tin, creating a near perfect ramp, that if hit just right, would jet Todd over the six foot brick wall behind the dumpster and save him a six block ride around the other side of the neighborhood to avoid the Dog Boys.
The Dog Boys, led by Leonard Mainard, the self-proclaimed bastard stepson of the block captain, were not a gang, at least, not in the sense his father had talked about from the early 2020’s. They had no familial obligations, no organized crime, no illicit business or turf to protect, they just looked for victims they could film being brutally beaten. “Pranked” they called it, because the beating always came as a sneak attack, which they thought was funny. Todd had always managed to talk his way out of it, but he knew there would come a time…
He tensed, tilted the front edge of the board up just slightly, ready to lift as he scooped up, bending his front knee and leaning forward a bit to stay close to the board. It worked, but as he came over the wall, he realized that in his attempt to avoid them, he’d fallen right into the Dog Boy’s clutches. He could see tiny Tommy, the midget, waiting below the wall with a compressed air cannon, designed to send unsuspecting hover riders skidding along the pavement at ridiculous speeds.
He only had a split second and he hoped the new booster he’d added would be enough to gain the height he’d need to get out of this. He engaged full boosters, rising almost straight up in a “cloud bounce” about eight feet above the top of the wall. A fall from this height could be ugly. At the end of the alley, he saw Leonard Mainard himself, looking greedily at his board, waiting with a mattress wrapped in upside down duct tape, that they would quickly fold their victim inside of, trapping them long enough to grab their board, shoes, whatever else came loose, and escape.
Todd put his focus back on his situation, turned left and ramped off the top of Mrs. McCulloch’s garden shed, on the other side of the alley wall, down the other side of the roof and bumpily down her woodpile into a junk strewn yard, where he slid off the board painfully and hit the dirt. The board powered down onto the dirt about six feet away, unhurt, but his package was back on top of the tool shed, he realized. He jumped to his feet, ran up the wood pile and leaped with everything he had. His toes caught the edge of the shingled roof and he struggled to lean forward, finally toppling onto his knees, where he stopped hard on the asphalt shingles rough texture.
His palms were bleeding, his breathing was ragged, his eyes stung from sweat and he had to swallow to keep from puking, but the package as intact. As his finger grasped the paper wrapped edges, a blond head peaked over the garden wall from the alley side, it was Tommy. No time to sit around. Todd grabbed the package and spun, leaping from the roof as he tossed the package onto what he hoped was a large pile of vacuum packed leaf bags. It was. His feet hit the soft ground, knees bent, as he rolled over one shoulder, grabbed the package and stomped on his board to get it up.
The board stuttered. It was getting old, had once belonged to his older brother Ollie and it was all he could do to keep it running, but since his dad could not afford bus passes, it was this or walk and he had too much ground to cover for foot traffic. The board came to life and Leonard and company entered the yard from over the garden wall, Todd escaped through a spring loaded gate that whapped back closed as he passed through, reaching back to shoot the latch home as he spun right and headed into the home stretch.
He heard three thuds and Leonard and friends hit the back of the gate and found it was latched. They launched a cloud of obscene epithets in his direction, laced with promises he was sure they’d keep if they got the chance. As he spun around the corner toward his row house, his dad’s Pedicab came into view. He was home early. That couldn’t be good.
Todd moved his left wrist around to get his right hand over the key pad of his Life Band and punched in the sequence for the garage door. As it slowly rolled up, he heard shoes hitting pavement behind him, the Dog Boys were coming. He jetted into the garage, performed a Power Drop Stop and ran toward the garage door, pulling the chain release on the way, so that the lifter disengaged and the door dropped swiftly. He slapped the bolt locked, just as a fist banged on the outside of the door. He jumped. That had been too close.
Todd took his package into the house, pausing to watch the Dog Boys on the security monitor just inside the back door. They were looking for a way in, but his dad had shutters that looked like something out of a 20’s zombie invasion movie.
“Dad, I’m home!” he shouted, taking the stairs two at a time to his room. He flipped on the power to his monitor, they were still there. Todd swung open the doors of his closet and pulled a basket off of the shelf. It slid forward, onto the wire guywire that ran over and out the window. He punched a button on the life band and the window shutters swung open. On the monitor, he could see the Dog Boys stop and look up. The basket slid forward, and rolled along the wire out the window, where it stopped. The Dog Boys were right underneath it now and Leonard was taking aim at the basket, so predictable.
Leonard release his shot, with a small, split ball bearing that carried a fire arm primer inside, causing it to explode on impact. That would prove foolish in this case. The basket was filled with a gallon bag of home-made pepper spray, Todd had brewed himself. He watched as the projectile reached the basket.
The basked was a total loss, but the small explosion unleashed a gallon of scaulding, sticky pepper syrup, made thick to stick, onto the three Dog Boys waiting, open mouthed, below. All three would think twice before pursuing him again, but would be looking for their chance to enact revenge. Todd closed the windows to shut out their screams and sat down at his work bench to open the package.
“Hey, you know anything about these three kids in the driveway, covered in rusty looking syrup?” his dad said, poking his head through the door.
Todd grinned, “Yeah, that’s just the Dog Boys. They begged me to do it.”
“You know, Leonard Mainard senior makes my life a living hell when you do stuff like this to his son,” his dad said, stepping over to appreciate the carnage outside via the monitor. “But, I gotta say, if he begged you for it, what are you gonna do?”
Todd slit the packing tape with a knife and folded the cardboard tabs back to open up the box he’d narrowly escaped with just a few minutes before. Inside, clear, shrink wrapped packages, looked like some bizarre delivery from the butcher, with the fur still on. All, that is, except, instead of bones, the exposed ends of each piece showed bright titanium and wiring connectors.
“Ah, your SnapPet finally came, huh?” his dad said.
Todd had just studied the Pony Express, a mail system from the days before the planetary congress, that had delivered packages and actual paper letters across North America riding horseback. It seemed strange to think that a couple of weeks, or even months might be an acceptable time from for delivery of anything, with today’s automated drones dropping off almost anything he wanted within twenty minutes. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d waited six whole days to get a package.
“Yeah, this should be interesting,” he said, dumping the contents onto the work table, and picking up a mini chip, which contained the assembly instructions. He loaded the chip in his Life Band and the auto play function sent the video feed to his monitor wirelessly.
“Welcome to the SnapPets owner family. SnapPets are more than an android and more than a pet, they are the best of both. Imagine a guard dog that never has to sleep, doesn’t need to be fed and won’t pee on your carpet! Or a hypoallergenic cat that can live in any residential setting without pet deposits or causing a mess, with SnapPets your imagination becomes the blueprint for the perfect companion, and when you tire of your SnapPets features, disassemble the unit and create a new one.”
The screen flashed a list of tutorials on pet construction and customization and Todd scrolled through the options.
“Looks like you have enough parts there to start your own pet shop,” his dad joked.
“That would be true, but I only had enough credits for one master processor. So, I got canine, feline and fantasy creatures parts, along with a grab bag that has a few experimental things in it. Cord Jackson built a chimera with his, but he got the fantasy expansion pack. He calls it Grim,” Todd reached over and brought up a picture on the monitor of a large, winged creature that looked like a mix between a dragon and a house cat. “He’s working on a way to make it breathe fire, as soon as he can flame proof the fur, he’ll be able to do it.”
“Well, good luck. I might still have some SnapPets gen 1 stuff in the basement. Funny to watch you playing with this stuff, remembering how I built the prototype for your third birthday,” his dad examined a couple of the parts, “Seems like they’ve made some improvements, but the materials are not up to the standard we set.”
Todd paused, he’d forgotten his dad’s connection was so personal. He’d been squeezed out of the company in the early stages by his investing partner and had gotten almost nothing out of it. “Yeah, well, it’s no big deal to me, just something to do,” he downplayed his excitement, “I’ll probably end up using your parts, I’m sure they’re better, this stuff does look a little loosely constructed.”
Todd’s father squeezed his shoulder, in appreciation for the show of support, “Oh, looks like the thugs have vacated our driveway, I have to get going. Run the pressure wash cycle on the sprinklers for me, get that syrup off the driveway before it attacks my paint, okay?”
“Sure, dad,” Todd said. His father left him to his work.
Two hours later, Todd stood up from his stool at the work bench and stepped back to admire his handiwork. The SnapPet’s system allowed for almost all of the modifications he’d wanted to make and he was sure he could get the rest done with his dad’s help. Todd thumbed over his Life Band and the screen lit up. He entered the activation code for the SnapPet’s unit and waited.
A large Yellow triangle with a caution message popped up on the monitor, accompanied by a clanging alarm.
Warning, the SnapPets system indicates you have create an unauthorized module combination. The module chain you are currently activating may be incompatible with your SnapPets central processing unit. Units are color coded to indicate known working associations. Your current configuration could possibly cause damage to the central processing unit, or may operate erratically. To proceed, please enter the override codes and follow best practices for safe operation. It is not recommended that pets designed with unknown module associations be allowed to operate in fully autonomous mode for your safety and the continued integrity of the SnapPets equipment.
Todd laughed. It was a toy and the warning seemed a bit extreme. It was not as if the thing was equipped with weapons. He lifted the unit down onto the floor and turned it over to access the control interface on the underside of the canine torso module. He tapped in the override code and reset the activation process. The pet stirred and stood to its feet. It looked around the room, then wound itself between his legs, like a cat, rubbing its furry, and surprisingly lifelike body against him.
The screen changed from the previous warning to a customization screen with options for color and pattern options and behavioral traits. Todd chose a tree frog camouflage patter for the main color scheme, jet-black eyes and skin tones, then skimmed through the behavioral mode, selecting options he felt would be amusing.
Hunter, check, nocturnal, check, heat seeking, check, night vision, check. He tuned the auto-gyros for “catlike” to give the creature a good sense of balance and selected “fearless” for both tight spaces and heights. Under voice, he scanned down a list of species until he found, “Bengal Tiger” and checked the box. A new dialog box popped up with sub options for the main traits and he entered a few pics of “prey” for his new pet to “hunt”.
Hunting behaviors may include stalking, tracking, scent recognition and pouncing. Large and medium SnapPets are set to hone only on species their size and larger to prevent animal cruelty. While the SnapPets ‘hunt’ mode is not designed for killing, and the behaviors your pet exhibits will remain playful, smaller targets can be damaged, or injured due to the pet’s weight, claw and jaw strength, or being taken off balance. Exercise good judgment in selecting your prey. SnapPets operating autonomously in hunter mode are programmed to disengage ‘hunt’ and move into ‘flight’ mode when presented with resistant prey that initiates, or returns force against the SnapPet. This is for your safety and the continue operational integrity of the SnapPets equipment.
Todd paused, the script had given him an idea. He scrolled back through the security footage from his pepper spray encounter with the Dog Boys and selected a frame with all three looking up, directly into the camera. He isolated the faces and laughed as he dragged each one into the SnapPets ‘prey profiles’ folder. He paused, unsure if he was willing to risk his investment, to turn this thing loose on the neighborhood bullies. The likelihood of them killing it was pretty high.
Then an idea occurred to Todd Cutter, a brilliant plan began to emerge. He had one more phase before he set his chimera loose to terrorize the neighborhood. He went to the basement to find a certain duffle bag filled with wireless surveillance cams. The video from the pepper syrup incident had inspired him, he had to capture this for posterity.
PART TWO LATER TODAY! STAY TUNED!