Automan and all character names therein are owned by the American Broadcasting Company and Twentieth Century Fox. All characters are fictional and resemblance to any persons living or dead is coincidental. No copyright infringement is intended.
By Sailor Chronos
3 December 2002
"Hello, Baines," the middle-aged Lt. Baker hollered into the squad room where Carolina was taking some notes for her latest assignment. "Hamilton is waiting for you, so get a move on!"
"Yes, sir, I'm just reviewing the file," she responded.
Baker glared at her, but not unkindly. "With any luck, you'll be the ones to find something. But if you don't, maybe you ought to call that high-powered federal buddy of yours to assist. He seems to always know what's happening and where." He withdrew, slamming the door.
She sighed. Having such an acerbic superior officer was wearing on the nerves sometimes, but the man was good at his job and helped run the division efficiently. Plus it was a subtle mark of distinction in itself that he frequently chose her for cases that involved computers or electronics because of her background in the field.
The file that she had received that afternoon was concerning a series of thefts of high-end electronic equipment from the harbour. Shipments destined for both large retailers and specialty shops were disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Sometimes they would turn up a few hours later but with some components missing. Other times none of the equipment was seen again.
There had been efforts made to track down those responsible, including an increase of patrols, but the perpetrators continued to elude capture. Tonight, she and her temporary partner Jim Hamilton were going undercover at the Port of L.A. in the hopes of making some progress in the matter.
For a brief moment Lina wondered if she should take Baker's advice and call on a certain acquaintance, given the type of case that she had. Then she dismissed the idea; she and Jim were perfectly capable of handling a simple undercover operation.
It was a typical evening in the Nebicher household. Walter, a wiry man with wavy black hair that was going grey, was seated next to his wife Roxanne in front of the television. But she wasn't really interested in the program as she snuggled up to him affectionately, her long grey-streaked blonde hair cascading down her shoulders in rivulets. Walter smiled, thinking that despite their tough careers as police officers, she was still as beautiful as she was when they had met twenty years ago.
Their sons, twelve-year-old Jack and eleven-year-old Matthew, were romping around in the basement, most likely playing video games. They had never been told about a special game that Walter had created, because of some risks involved. But unbeknownst to their parents, the boys had stumbled upon it - or rather, the game had made itself known to them.
Walter wouldn't have known this if it hadn't been for an overheard conversation about their latest session on Halo. He went down into the basement after hearing agitated shouts followed by cheers, wondering what all the fuss was about.
"That last level was NUTS, we're lucky that he showed up when he did," Matt was saying, "or else we would've been toast."
Jack laughed. "Yeah, even though he didn't stick around long this time. Wish I knew who it was. None of the guys I know have any idea who it is. He could be anyone."
"What's this?" Walter asked, confronting them. "Are you playing online with someone you don't know?"
Jack hesitated. "Not exactly. There's this blue guy named Automan that plays from time to time and shows us the best way through a level. He's a big help."
"Automan?" Walter was flabbergasted. "Automan is playing Halo?"
"Uh, you know him, Dad?" Matt asked.
"Know him?" Walter sighed, his anger dissipating for the moment. He hadn't wanted it to happen this way, but the time had come to finally introduce his sons by birth to the son that he had created almost twenty years ago. "Boys, Automan isn't an online character. He's a game, a hologram with an artificial intelligence that I created years ago to help me with police work." He crossed the room to turn on the master switch for the house's generator, then went to his computer and brought up a command window. "I never told you because I didn't want to take the chance of the wrong people finding out who he is."
"A police game," Jack said sceptically, "that thinks?"
"Oh, it's much more than that. I'll show you." He began to type.
ENTER ACCESS CODE:
The room shivered slightly, and the generator outside revved up in response to the increase in power load. After a few seconds, a bright multi-faceted ball of light emerged from the computer screen. "Hello, Cursor!" Walter greeted it with a smile. It twittered at him, then streaked to an open space and spiralled downward toward the floor. The boys stared in wonder, as in that space appeared a tall handsome man with short blond hair parted to the right, wearing blue grid-like armour that shone with the light of hundreds of tiny stars.
"Hello, Walter," he said in his rich baritone voice. "Hello, Jack and Matthew. I hope the remainder of your game went well."
As his sons stared, Walter rounded on Automan. "I hear you've been playing Halo," he said with annoyance. "Since when?"
"For some time now," Auto replied, unruffled. "I wanted to develop some new friendships and resources. When I noticed that your sons were having trouble I decided to help them once in a while."
"And you didn't think to clear this with me?"
"I didn't think I had to," Auto protested. "Besides, I didn't know when you were going to introduce me in the flesh, so to speak. They are your sons, after all."
Walter scowled, and then lifted his hands with a short laugh. "I can never stay mad at you. All right." He turned to the boys. "Jack, Matthew; this is Automan. He's a fully realized hologram, designed to observe others and mimic their skills to the best of their ability." Auto held out his hand with a smile.
"Are you serious?" Matt asked, wide-eyed.
"He can't be real," objected Jack.
"Oh, but I am," Auto assured them. "I'm as real as you are."
Reluctantly, Jack took the proffered hand and received a brief static shock. But the hand was as solid and real as anyone else's.
Suddenly, the door to the basement opened and Roxanne called down. "Wally? Sorry to disturb you, but there was a call for you from headquarters. Something major is happening and they want you there. And boys, it's time for bed, now!"
Auto grinned. "Is it time to go to work?"
Walter flashed him the familiar enthusiastic smile from his youth. "Sure, Auto. But first..?" He indicated the glowing body.
"Of course." He stood at his full height. "Cursor!" he commanded, and the hovering sphere whirled around him to create his usual dark business suit. Then he clicked his tongue and pointed one finger at the speechless boys before he followed Walter up the stairs.