“You are not being detained,” the men in smart uniforms told Chambers as they helped him from his taxi. “His Excellency would simply prefer that you do not leave the city just yet.”
They got him a hotel room and a 24/7 guard named Dennis.
Or at least, as part of his efforts to suppress anxiety and boredom, ‘Dennis’ is what Chambers called the squat security drone, which bristled with sensor arrays, swivelling lift fans and a variety of supposedly non-lethal small arms. The stubby taser projecting from its underside as it hovered overhead was painted with black and red stripes, just like Dennis the Menace’s sweater. The British one, not the American kid with the catapult.
Chambers appeared to have the run of the luxury hotel complex, with its restaurants, gyms, pools and a cinema. The first time he strayed experimentally close to the rotating glass door in the lobby, Dennis swooped up close by his ear and whispered a gentle warning alarm, which forcibly pacified him, along with two door attendants and a German tourist who had just emerged from her taxi.
After he came around to the sound of the hotel doctor clucking her tongue and dabbing blood from his ear, Chambers decided to postpone further experiments. His availability to answer the government’s questions seemed not to be optional, however little he might desire to provide them.
With nothing else for it, he settled in and made the most of his accommodation.
He quickly struck the small cinema from his entertainment list. Dennis’ whiny lift fans and its habit of periodically flooding the darkened space with searchlights drew complaints from the movie-goers. Besides, Chambers barely spoke the local language and the movies were all tiresome ordeals about singing gangsters.
He was no more welcome in the restaurants, after Dennis launched a tear gas canister at a cleaver-wielding chef who triggered its threat-assessment protocols. In the hotel disco, the flashing lights and infrequent bursts of mood smoke caused Dennis to issue deafening prerecorded warnings as it clicked between infrared, thermal and a dozen other sensor modes to keep Chambers in sight.
So Chambers mostly stayed by the pool. Dennis appeared satisfied with this; as Chambers swam or lounged, the drone nestled watchfully on a charging station or drifted up overhead like a squat grey cloud shaped like a suppository with wings.
Chambers showered under a mock waterfall; Dennis circled. Chambers made a raft from a collection of children’s float noodles; Dennis buzzed. Chambers idly backstroked to the mouth of an artificial grotto, allowing his upper body to drift out of line of sight; Dennis dropped from the sky like a hunting falcon and hit him with a 20,000 volt taser needle to the big toe.
Chambers recognised the tongue-clucking doctor before he opened his eyes. She gave him a paracetamol tablet, and dismissed him, shaking her head.
When the feeling returned to his legs the next day, Chambers returned to the pool. Eyeing his hovering watchman with a wry grin, he stripped off his clothes and stuffed them in a laundry bag. The German tourist, who had been sunning herself on the pool deck, dropped her phone and martini and beat a hasty retreat indoors. The pool staff, in cargo shorts and garish tropical shirts, all found important work to do behind the heavy timber bar.
Dennis hovered, too high to reach but close enough for Chambers to stare down the barrel of its black-and-red throat.
Shrugging off the thought that he was doomed to lose a staring contest with a guard with cameras for eyes, Chambers lazily dived into the water. He snagged another noodle. He floated on his back, watching Dennis watching him. He drifted from one end of the pool to the other, and back. Dennis matched his unhurried pace. As the sun began to set, Dennis emitted its own light, illuminating Chambers in a cold blue glow.
With a flurry of hard kicks that splashed water directly onto Dennis’ camera, Chambers dived for the grotto entrance. He cleared the mouth, still submerged, wrestling with his float noodle in the darkness. Less than two seconds later, a floodlight opened up directly overhead as Dennis flew into the grotto through the narrow opening. The striped taser tube broke the surface directly above Chambers’ face. As he’d hoped, no taser blast followed. Dennis, programmed to protect itself from the electrical discharge, hesitated.
Chambers thrust up from the water one end of the pool noodle clutched in either hand. The soft noodle tips plunged into the whirling blades of Dennis’ lift fans and caught. The foam tube twisted and mangled, jamming the fans.
With a surprised sound like a burp, Dennis fell out of the air into the water. Something inside it made a hiss and pop of protest, then its lights went out.
Grinning like a drunk lifeguard, Chambers dragged Dennis the security drone out of the grotto and onto the pool deck. He whistled as he straddled Dennis like a toy plane. He popped off its upper casing and prodded at the diagnostic panel beneath.
In a few minutes, the threat sensors and autonomous guidance systems had a much friendlier outlook when it came to Chambers, and, if he had his colour-recognition parameters right, a newfound enmity towards certain uniformed members of his Excellency’s intelligence services.
He clawed shredded strips of foam out of the fan blades, blew a few circuits dry and gave Dennis’ system a reboot. In a moment the underbelly lights resumed their glow and the familiar whine of its rotors resumed.
As he wrapped his legs tight around Dennis’ fuselage and allowed himself to be lifted, laundry bag and all, over the wall of the hotel and into the darkness of the streets beyond, Chambers reflected how delightful it was to make new friends in unfriendly places.
(No picture this week, as I’m travelling. If anyone wants to draw a picture, I’ll post it on the story, with my deep gratitude!)