Yesterday, the Hawking and visiting Chen-Glücksbringer delegations successfully completed their meetings. Yesterday evening, the delegates attended an obligatory celebration dinner where they exchanged numerous congratulations, mementos, and too many intoxicating toasts. Today, as a courtesy to the bleary-eyed visitors, and to ensure they made their flight’s launch window back home, Smilin’ Sam Higgins arrived at their hotel in a luxurious autonomous stretch limousine that would transport everyone nonstop to the Hawking South Polar Spaceport.
As the limousine sped from the hotel and merged smoothly onto 150 Kilometer Road, Sam considered his passengers. Patty Benz was a bit listless, but no worse for wear after a bourbon-drinking contest last night. Manny Zhao, on the other hand, swore eternal gratitude to Higgins for pointing out the drawer in the limousine’s mini-bar where the hangover antidote pills were stored. But the delegation’s nameless assistant, who had skipped last night’s dinner to finish some work, he said, sat aloof and alone on the back bench seat of the limousine, endlessly fiddling with his personal computing device.
As the limousine streaked west past a man-made colonnade of trees that gave way to grassland and then a dry playa, Sam was reminded that 150 Kilometer Road was the southern border of Central Park, the arboretum that paid homage to the green fields of Hawking colony’s ancestral home, Earth. The site of the Jr. Planeteer Jamboree was just a few kilometers ahead in the fairgrounds.
Sam checked the limousine’s entertainment system and was pleased to discover that the robot races were happening now, and being carried on the local news’ sports feed. Kids and adults alike enjoyed the excitement of a robot race, and Sam told the entertainment system to show him a private display of the sports feed. In response, an aerial view of the racetrack appeared in a rectangle in the middle of the limousine window nearest him, and the voice of an announcer spoke into only his ears through his headrest. “I’m in luck,” Sam thought to himself, as only a red and a blue robot thundered down the track, running neck and neck. “I caught the best part of the race.”
Sam Higgins was a good judge of people. Zhao and Benz were just a pair of technocrats trying to succeed in business and stay out of trouble in Chen-Glücksbringer’s cutthroat economic consortium. But their nameless assistant baffled Higgins. The only way Sam could rationalize what troubled him was the difference between cats and dogs.
Dogs have evolved from wolves to be always watchful of their humans and try to please them. Cats, on the other hand, seemed to have evolved from some strange creature (perhaps alien? Doubtful, but who knew for sure?) who couldn’t be bothered with their humans except to be fed, petted, or amused. What troubled Sam was that the lowly assistant should act like Benz’s and Zhao’s faithful dog, when in fact he acted like a disdainful cat. That was crazy. Sam even reported his misgivings to Security, but they found nothing amiss.
Sam looked up and noticed the assistant tap his personal computing device with finality, and then for a split second, smile with blissful satisfaction. Then just as quickly, he donned his stoic mask again. Obviously there was something more to this innocuous man than met the eye, but Sam couldn’t imagine what.
Sam’s deliberation was cut short as the autonomous limousine veered from 150 Kilometer Road onto the cloverleaf that merged with 60 Degree Avenue at the point where the avenue’s tunnel surfaced from under Central Park, and the stadium where the robot race was taking place. The limousine shot around the cloverleaf at a breakneck pace that would terrify a human driver and Sam gasped, but not because of the speed. As the limousine’s coach tilted into the turn, Sam’s gaze drifted over to the display of the robot race in time to see the big blue robot shove the red robot aside. Sam Higgins had been a sandhog for years and had driven anthropomorphic bulldozers himself. He instantly realized that shove was no accident.
The limousine finished merging onto 60 Degree Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the stadium. Now the limousine would travel south a few tens of kilometers to the 125 Kilometer Road hyperloop station and hitch a high-speed train ride to 0 Kilometer Road and the South Face. There, the train would climb the curving foothills, gradually transforming from a locomotive into an elevator, and then ascend a radial elevator shaft buried in the disk of the South Face. Finally, the limousine would stop and deliver its passengers at the South Polar Spaceport.
Smilin’ Sam Higgins had no more time for idle thought. He and his shiny, black limousine had places to go and visiting delegates to transport. Together, they whooshed away at blinding speed from the Jr. Planeteer Jamboree, and the conclusion of the Robot Races.