The next morning I opened my eyes and saw thin slivers of sunlight filtering through the window. Birds were chirping loudly and somewhere I heard a dog bark. Leaves outside the treehouse gently rustled. Sitting up, I rubbed my eyes and looked over at Rory. He was dead asleep. The night had been long and arduous. I was grateful for the few hours of slumber.
“Jonah!” Dad called.
I got up and poked my head out the window. “Dad?”
“I found Suzette.”
“You did? Where?”
“She’s at her friend Liza’s apartment.”
“Why didn’t you get her?”
He came around to the ladder and started to climb. When he reached the top, he clambered inside. Rory awoke.
“I can’t get her,” Dad said. “Remember, I’m technically dead.”
“Oh, that’s right,” I replied.
“Hi, Dad,” Rory said, sitting up and stretching. “You found her?”
“Yes, but you boys will have to be the ones to go after her.”
“What if she doesn’t want to come with us?”
“Just get her outside and I can hopefully handle the rest.”
I dug through my pack and found a small morsel of beef jerky. “We’re short on food too.”
“I’m working on that. We need to go by a bank.”
“How will you get money?”
“I may be dead, but that doesn’t mean I no longer have access to your trust fund.”
“Oh,” I said softly. “So you can get us money?”
“Fairly confident I can.” He went to the ladder. “Come on, we need to get moving.”
Rory and I packed our things and climbed down. I surveyed the area and found the park empty. Since it was a weekday, all the children would be in school and the adults at work. I never realized how lonely of a place it could be.
A gray and black pigeon landed on the sidewalk. It strutted around, occasionally pecking the ground in search of food. Watching this display, my stomach churned and growled. The bird was joined by several others and they made their way toward a trash can. Someone must’ve been sloppy with their garbage. I spied a half-eaten piece of bread on the ground. The birds converged upon it like piranhas; wings flapping and feet scuffling. The Inner States wasn’t much of a place for wildlife. Everything was kept meticulously clean. A wild animal would have a hard time finding something to eat in this world. Yet there were pigeons, quite a few of them.
We walked along, leaving the park behind. Dad took the lead heading us toward the downtown section of Society Hill. That’s where we’d find the bank. The journey took a brief ten minutes. The three of us kept a sharp eye out for trouble. The last thing we needed was a nosy police officer asking us questions.
As we approached The Philadelphia Inner States Bank, Dad stopped near the corner of the building. Despite him having no articulate facial expressions, I could tell he was formulating a plan. Without a word, he guided us to the automatic monetary machine or AMMs as they were called. Grandpa said they were the evolution of what used to be called Automatic Teller Machines; except these machines do not dispense paper money, they upload “net dollars” to a chosen device.
“Jonah, your tablet please,” Dad said, holding his hand out.
“Right.” I fished it from my pack and handed it over.
He turned it on and went to work accessing the banking information from the Wi-Fi connection. When everything was set, he pointed to me. “Go ahead and place your hand on the activation pad.”
The AMM was equipped with a biometric reading pad. To gain access to an account, you had to place your hand on the reader. Once verified, the customer could then carry out their transaction.
“Will this work? I mean none of us kids have ever used it before.”
“At birth, a small chip was implanted into your right palm. The machine will pick that up and cross reference you to the database of clients. Your name is on an account in this bank, so it should work.”
I gingerly reached out and placed my hand on the pad. A cool blue light flashed behind my hand. The machine beeped and then I watched a message appear on a small screen:
Welcome, Jonah Blackburn, how may The Philadelphia Inner States Bank be of service to you today?
Several options showed up. I selected withdrawal. “Right, Dad?”
A keypad showed on the screen.
Please verify your personal identification code.
I turned to Dad. “Umm…”
“Type in three-two-nine-one-six-five.”
Carefully I entered the numbers. The screen changed again.
Please select your withdrawal amount.
“How much?” I asked.
“Get five thousand.”
“Will that be enough to get something to eat?”
“Yes, and a room for a few nights.”
I typed in the amount.
Please direct your selected device at the output port.
Dad held up the tablet with the infrared window facing the machine. The AMM used a combination of infrared and Wi-Fi signals to make a secure transfer of money. The technology wasn’t exactly state-of-the-art, but it was time-tested and proven safe.
I leaned over and watched. On my tablet screen was a mockup of a bank “account.” The balance went from zero to five thousand dollars in a matter of seconds.
“Ah, good,” I sighed. “I’m starving!”
“Me too!” Rory chimed in.
Once the transaction was complete, I turned off the tablet and returned it to the pack. We continued on. The apartment buildings were perhaps a half-mile away. The sun was shining brightly and things seemed normal. At least they appeared that way until we turned a corner and Dad slammed to a halt.
“Get back!” he yelled, shoving us around the corner.
I had no idea what was going on. At the time, I’d been looking elsewhere and didn’t see what he reacted to. “Dad? What’s wrong?”
“What?!” I tried to look past him, but he kept his arm across my chest, pushing me firmly against the building.
“I was afraid of that.”
“What’s going on?” Rory asked.
“Odd, they weren’t there last night. It looks like they’re gearing up for another war.”
Dad peered around the corner and watched.
I was going crazy, I wanted to see. “Is it still there?”
“No. But this means we’ll have to be extra careful.”
“I’m a model 106—ancient in the bot world. If those battle bots see me, they’ll assume I’m a treat and try to destroy me.”
“Really?” Rory said.
“What can we do?”
“Lay low for a while. I need to see what’s going on. They must’ve changed the frequency on the Wi-Fi and I can’t pick it up.”
“Could I adjust it?” I said. “I brought a few tools.”
“Maybe.” He gestured for us to follow. “Let’s try and get Suz. With her, she might be able to tell us what’s going on.”
We picked our way through the streets. Occasionally we’d have to detour onto another street because a battle bot was standing guard. The half-mile took over an hour to reach the building. There was an eerie presence in the air. Despite being born and raised in this world, I felt terribly creeped out. Dad was right, something was definitely wrong.
At the door we paused, regrouping. Dad pointed. “She’s in apartment eight-zero-five.”
“Okay. We’ll try to bring her down. Where will you be?”
“I’ll hide over in those bushes. That should be safe enough.”
“We’ll be as fast as we can. I hope she doesn’t throw a fit.”
He held out his hand. “Give me your packs. You need to look as natural as possible.”
I slid it from my shoulders and passed it over. Rory did the same. Then we looked at each other, took a deep breath, and opened the door to the building. I wondered what kind of reception we’d get. My sister wasn’t always the most rational of people; her emotions might get in the way.