Chapter 3. Salvation Army
It was cooler than yesterday, making Steve shiver while he walked down the road. Although he was able to charge his power reserves to capacity the day before, he was using energy at an unprecedented rate.
The humans might call it “Full”, he had the opportunity to experience more of the generous spirit of the American south.
During the storm the day before, power went out, leaving the café in the dark. The owner fretted about the melting sweets in the freezer and prohibited anyone from opening the doors without reason, finally succumbing to the alternatives to throw out meats as the walk-in began to push the legal limit of the health codes.
The owner, Pete Durham, chose the option to cook the meats, slow smoking some with a wood-fired smoker overnight. Late into the night Pete and James cooked. Ice cream threatened to melt and spoil.
The Android could convert the butterfat and sugar confection to electrical power easily, and ate far more than his system required.
They fed truckers, news crews, passers-by and Steve for what was customers only felt they could give. Even giving Steve a wrapped five-pound wood-fire cooked roast when he left.
“We can’t put it in storage.” The owner smiled. “And it will be ready for you to eat anytime down the road.” Pete said when Steve left Lugs Cafe.
Quick calculations, and the android, programmed to call himself Steve Aldin, tried to give Pete a fifty-dollar bill. Pete shook his head at first, then tore the bill in half.
“Come back this way and eat in our dining room when everything is working like it’s supposed to, bring a friend and I’ll take that other half of a bill.” He offered to shake Steve’s hand. “Then we’ll call it even.”
Steve shook his hand, a western habit. But deep in his programming, he felt revulsion of touching an unclean person such as this.
But the man washed, cooked, worked hard, drank only bottles of water.
Pure water. It seemed to show there were more errors in his database.
According to the enlightened leader and the programmers who followed the priest. Anyone who did not follow the law in each step and facet he declared as unclean was unworthy to walk the earth. He prohibited any unclean people inside the holy of holies where he planned the destruction of idols and idol worshippers in America.
The curse of a fuzzy logic, sometimes the third leg of coding got in the way. In many ways, the binary coding of the twentieth century was well suited to so many things. Zero or one. Yes or no.
Steve Aldin, android of the one true religion had a “Maybe” coding. Zero, one, two.
And he retained it, the adaptive programming kept him from being caught, unlike the previous versions that the Russian government caught. Either the earlier versions became confused or lost when the expected targets moved or the humans spotted his predecessors, who then self-destructed before travelling far.
He was the most advanced, and the most powerful disciple built by the engineers and programmers underneath the holy sanctuary where only the true believers could enter.
The most powerful that I know of he corrected himself. Core processors predicted a near certainty that others were under construction with a fifty-percent probability for the next versions to deploy in the next twelve months.
The snow threatened to put him into danger once again. His walk down the road began to leave footsteps pressed into the slushy, frozen water on the white-coated asphalt.
A snowplow trundled past, heading to some assignment on a main road, the flashing lights triggered the recent memory of stopping for a meal.
Several minutes later, a sedan pulled up with a light bar and the siren chirped. programming alerted to the law enforcement agent wanted him to approach.
If he had a confrontation, he would be arrested and no scans would pick up his fingerprints.
He would be an enigma to the database for citizens in the country. Alternatively, killing the officer would flag his location and his mission would be compromised.
Shifting quickly, he looked like a younger teenage youth, and the cop shook his head and rubbed his eyes while he looked through the slush covered glass of the window. In a blink of an eye, he reconfigured the identity chip to match his appearance and the security number.
“Son, where are you going?” The officer asked with an open look, he had no suspicions of this soaked-to-the-skin youth who walked on the road. The android had reduced the flow of all fluids to the dermis, making his skin pale when he approached the police officer who got out of the patrol car.
“Sir,” He used a squeaky voice of a late-blooming teen as he approached the front of the car and held his hands over the hood for warmth. “I’m on a mission to walk the lower forty-eight states to raise money for homeless.”
“Impressive. May I see your ident-chip?” The officer nodded. Not suspicious, but not quite smiling, his neutral stance remained unconvinced. “You are traveling rather light for the cold weather. Mister Aldin.”
“That would be my fault. I tried to jump a train a few miles back because it was getting cold, I put my pack in a train car’s door. When I bent down to get my other bags, the train closed it’s doors and began to move. But I was too far to grab the door. When I tried to chase it, the security chased me off their property.”
This made the officer laugh.
“Well, you were trespassing.” He pulled at his chin, then clicked on his microphone at his shoulder. “Patrol One-seven-one.”
He waited for the response.
The sound was barely audible from where the android stood and waited. The officers earphone keeping the sound below human perception, but with his electronic sensors he could hear the dispatcher acknowledge him.
“Is the chaplain around? I have a lost sheep for him.”
Steve looked around, the term sheep was known, but the application was non-sequitur.
Then Steve realized it was he who the officer considered lost.
“Wait right here.” The officer said and sat in his car, he typed on a computer display and sent off a message.
“Officer, can I sit in the car?” His core processors were registering the heat loss. “I’m cold.”
Pausing for a moment, the officer nodded and then out of habit, patted Steve down and removed the small nylon day-pack, looked inside, satisfied, he put it in the front seat and turned back to Steve.
“Have a seat in the back, I’ll keep the heater on.” He said. Steve sat in the rear of the patrol car, behind a solid shield between the front and rear of the car.
“The chaplain will be here soon.” The officer smiled at him, looking up, another patrol car pulled in behind them.
Another officer got out with more stripes and wearing a white shirt, while the officer wore a navy-blue shirt.
The officers thought they were out of earshot, but the enhanced hearing, Steve listened in.
“You have him sitting in the prisoner area. Is he cuffed?”
“No, sir, he is just cold.” The officer shrugged. “I wanted him to limit access to the weapons and electronics, so I just sat him in the back.”
“Protocol, if he is in back, he wears cuffs.” The watch commander said. “That is the rules.”
“I don’t want him in front, I have not had reason to run his identity past his ID chip.” The patrolman said.
“I’ll run it. You have the scan of it?” He held up his tablet and tapped a few times.
“Cuff him if you keep him in the unit, and you’re right, he’s not allowed up front.” The supervisor said. “Or he stands away from the vehicle.”
“I can’t detain him, I don’t have any cause.”
“Find cause. He is not a local, so figure how to process him. Was he walking in the road?” The officer looked back at the footprints that were filling in. “He might have crossed over the line back there.”
“Sam, he is just cold, a youngster.” He told his superior officer.
The cops continued their conversation while Steve listened in. The situation was untenable, and he couldn’t get out of the car unless the officer opened in from the outside.
He could not allow them to run his DNA. Two police officers were no threat to him, out in the middle of a highway, but the news of his presence after attacking the officers would put him under a microscope that he couldn’t get away from.
A blessing from god, another car pulled in, the chaplain had arrived.
The first officer in blue walked to the back of the car, followed by a middle-aged man who looked in better shape than the officer.
“Mr. Aldin, this is our chaplain, Reverend Carl Bonswell. He will take care of you.” The officer nodded the civilian clothed male and walked away.
The officer talking to himself, pleased to avoiding the need to cuff the young man or otherwise have to process him like he was little more than a criminal, when his actions indicated nothing.
“Mr. Aldin, son, would you like to come to my car with me? I have a place for food and a roof, tonight’s weather is going to be cold and wet. The winter season has settled in somewhat early.”
“Call me Steve.” He used the same squeaky voice. “And thank you, I would like that.”
“Okay, Steve. We have a shelter, it’s rarely used right now. We don’t get much call for homeless or transient people this time of the year.” The reverend said as they got in his car. “As such, the county has it closed now. So, you will be staying with my family tonight. Is this all you have?”
“Oh no, the officer took my knapsack, it’s in the front seat of his patrol car.” Steve said and opened the door to get out.
“No no! Stay here, get warm, I’ll get it.” Getting out, he stopped to talk to the patrolman and nodded.
Steve listened in, the chaplain only asked if the officer had patted down the youth and if he found any contraband.
“No. No weapons, interior sensors did not pick up even a trace of drugs. But, he’s soaked.” The officer smiled at the chaplain.
Satisfied, Carl gathered up the knapsack and returned it to Steve.
“Socks, t-shirt, and what else do you have in there?
“Some money my mom gave me. I’m supposed to walk for a cause, but I have lost my list, my clothes, my pack.” He gave the full pitiful story.
Carl smiled and handed Steve his worldly possessions, attached his seat belt, pulled the car into gear and took Steve with him to his home.
The reverend’s home was warm, smells included apple and peach, in a crock-pot.
“Carl, who is this? A new friend?” The woman was not a classic beauty. She was tall, broad-shouldered, her arms looked like some men’s legs, she looked like she could have taken on both officers out on the highway in a battle. And win.
Quick assessment of her movements showed she was naturally built like this. The woman shook his hand and smiled. She towered over him, standing six-feet tall, broad shoulders, narrow waist and a flare to her hips. She appeared as an athlete, but he could not figure out her sport. However she moved as graceful as tiger he once saw.
She was taller than Carl, but doted on him. Bringing Carl and Steve carefully ladled cups of the spiced peach-apple cider out of the crock-pot.
“I thought you would put me in the shelter tonight.” Steve accessed social protocol files. “Thank you”
“No thanks needed.” The woman smiled and sat with them. “This is the best place for you, tonight, hun. You have the guest bedroom, a shower is in the room and there are clean towels.”
Carl nodded as she continued.
“This is not a free stay, in the morning, we start at six o’clock. Breakfast is served at six-thirty, we have sandbags to deliver to the community center for homeowners. This storm is going to stay for some time before it gets cold enough to snow.” She said while she sipped her drink.
Steve drank his virgin “Papple” cider and at a small square of dark chocolate “it is good for your health” . He converted the carbohydrates converting into heat and electricity.
He recorded and learned more about this society of decadent, and morally corrupt people. There were police who argued that a good deed for a cold citizen could be cause for investigation.
Another recorded event A Christian man and his wife who open their home to him and not follow the rules and put him in a dorm-style bed that had thin mattresses and thinner blankets.
They bent the rules and let him sleep under thick blankets, eat their food and drink a drink while sitting in their house.
The woman who took care of her lover and husband was another oddity. She was not an obese, idol worshiping, world hating people.
She was a raven-haired woman with deep-set, searching eyes that showed her native heritage.
A kindness in her that extended to her husband, while he read from a well-worn bible.
No drugs, the odors in the house of cooking, crock-pot cider, smoke from the fireplace.
After a shower, core temperatures were in optimum operations, tissue repairs from hypothermia damage to his extremities were in full operation.
The experiences he had, the accepted view of the picture of the infidel American’s once again altered to fit the reality.
Tomorrow, he needed to donate his time to strangers.
This would be another first.
For the first time, the walking bomb looked forward to learning something new.
Steve, the God’s Punisher, was exceeding his programming in ways the creator never expected.