Page history last edited by rsb 8 years, 6 months ago

"A good hit and a bad hit can look almost the same, but they feel very different, on both ends.

The trick is [to cheat.  To train only in a skill that the other person is not prepared for.]" - Chiron




Bruce Li cut a clean figure.  He had what his kids called his "weekend uniform" on; worn jeans; a white, short sleeved, collared shirt; pocket protector with multi-tools; cowboy boots, and a leather belt with a large buckle that said: "I know Kung Fu" - The team had bought him that for his retirement.  Everything fit a little loosely on his lean and vascular body.  Short black hair was parted to the side, glasses worn only as HUDs, easily ignored as adornments on a chiseled and tan asian face.  The HUDs used the same thin black flexible metal frames he had worn 50 years ago, when they held corrective lenses.  


There were exactly three push carts remaining at the store, only because the old folk preferred them.  Bruce was pushing one of them down aisle 20.


The pushcarts were well worn, bright orange steel affairs with four creaky wheels; just a frame with the minimum number of curved 2" steel tubes required to support a platform and a few vertical storage spaces.  Management kept three of the carts at the store because there were eight shoppers that actually still came into the store in Klamath - no one else did that anymore.  


The old guys would come in and grab their carts, and they would usually be the only shoppers.  They didn't seem to slow the robots much, and sometimes it was a kick watching their interaction.  


The store employees, all repair techs, usually worked solitary shifts.  They loved to see the old folk come in.  Whenever their HUDs alerted them to Bruce coming around the side door to grab one of the push carts, they always gave the bespectacled engineer a smile and a wave.  Sometimes they would chat with Bruce about a particularly sticky problem with a robot or two and get some help. 


The owner of the franchise, Arch Samboy, knew Bruce well.  Bruce had saved him thousands of dollars in robot repair bills and reprogramming.  Corporate had demanded they get rid of the old bent-up metal carts until Arch had intervened, explaining the financial benefits of having Bruce around.  Besides, people in Klamath were generally neighborly, and if they had dissolved the carts, someone would feel obligated to make a new one for the old guys.


Today Bruce was pushing his antique cart around looking for modern nanosteel parts for one of his "project" robots.  Of course, his personal computer had already ordered the parts he needed.  He was here looking for the parts he didn't need, walking the aisles, brainstorming.  He got a lot of good thinking done pushing his cart around.  He had been creatively stuck with his new push-hands micro-scale autonomous mech for months.  Right now he was curious about the new nanofibre fan-sheets.  


He had seen video and some reviews of the BlairCo fan-sheets, but never handled the material.  He wanted to see if it was anything close to the fan-wings Delta group had made for the Air Force Patriot mech a few years ago.  Home Depot was usually about three years behind the military in technology, which meant it was about 20 years ahead of some of the oldest military units on the ground.  As a lead military robotics engineer, Bruce got more relevant ideas out of the non-military robotics competitions he participated in than from actual military actions.


The fan blades themselves were made in a factory in Colorado (unnecessary sentence).  He rolled up to the locked BlairCo display case and pressed his forefinger against the recognizer.  It unnecessarily audibly told him that safety gloves were required, which he had pulled out of his back pocket and put on.  The fan-sheets were small, only a few inches across, and six inches long.  Like a feather.  Only lighter, and strong and sharp enough to cut anything less hard than diamond.  He pulled one out onto the counter, had his HUDs magnify to see if there were any abberations on the edges.  It was clean.  He magnified again and rotated the sheet to put the edge perpendicular to his huds, where he could read off the microscopic material specifications.  Wow.  These were almost as good as the stuff they made cutting blades out of a few years ago for the T27.  And at one tenth the price the military had paid.  Bruce felt a pang of sadness.  That probably meant that his swords were no longer the best on the planet.  Bruce had been given two sword blades on his retirement by CAML (the Cosby Advanced Materials Lab), which were prototypes made of layered fan-sheets unavailable to the general public at the time.  If civilians had these fan blades, Bruce thought, then CAML probably had better blades now.  


The BlairCo fan-sheets were expensive, but he could afford them for the Panzer Kunst robot competition in January.  He would have to buy thjem - everyone else would be using them.  He grabbed four of them and closed the cabinet.  


Arch Samboy popped up a message on his HUDs.  "Hi Bruce!  We're fabbing your order from earlier this morning, want to inspect it before we ship?"  Arch was in manufacturing, the back half of the store.  Bruce raised a thumbs up.  Arch would have visual on him.  "Great.  Just meet me back here when you're done."


Arch hoped to bend Bruces ear a bit about advanced materials.  Build Depot sold primarily to personal and light industrial customers, but they were always bidding on federal orders.  The extensive network of stores Build Depot had established allowed them to dabble in just-in-time manufacturing and fulfillment for large corporate customers as well.  


A few parts had already been built for Bruce, and as he looked them over, Arch plied him about his old job: what the robotics lab was up to, replacement parts and military vehicles, and the newer buck-of-parts robots.  


Bruce was more interested in getting Arch's daughter, Lynn, back into Tai Chi class.  But ever time Bruce asked about Lynn, Arch somehow turned the conversation back to government systems.  This guy had talent.  Lynn had showed a lot of promise before getting her optical implants.  Bruce was always trying to keep "android" kids in class with the rest of the students, a prediliction for integration he picked up from his own daughter, Maureen.


"I bet you're going to use those fan sheets for one of your "Robo-Wars" competitions, heh!", Arch asked.

"No. Not really."

"What?  You kidding me?  That stuff is indestructible.  All the robot guys are gonna use it."

"Well, yes.  I'm going to put it on a robot.  But I'm not really going to use it."

"O.k. Ya got me!", Arch said, overemphasizing ever word, "What are you gonna use?  Tell me what all the cool kids are using!"

Bruce thought for a moment.  He felt sorry for Arch, but didn't really have time to talk through him to the network that ran behind.  

"I'm going to use whatever the operators have trained against the least.  Momentum, most likely.  And jerk.  Jerk is underestimated.  Been out of style for a long time.  I don't know.  Maybe data overload.", Bruce said.


Arch's HUDs tried to make sense of what Bruce was saying.  The sales software put something up about the third derivative and acceleration on Arch's HUDs.  When acceleration accelerates - a sudden movement.  There was a huge amount of detailed explanation from Arch's decision network, which Arch didn't read, as to why this might be relevant to the conversation.  The damn program always seemed to give him too much information when he spoke to Bruce. 


"Well, uh...er...okie dokie, Bruce.", Arch said at a loss, "But as long as you're happy with the fan sheets, I'm happy."


When the run was finished, Bruce asked Arch to buff the parts for him again and to add the fan-sheets to the order.  He returned his cart to the front of the store, and stood in the empty superstore parking lot, alone.


Close to the store, great, uneven sections of the parking lot were planted over with trees and shrubs - a single wide path remained for employees and the occasional customer.  The foliage offset a portion of the carbon credits Build Depot paid to the state.


In the far half of the parking lot sat seven, fifty-foot containers - mobile labs - optimally laid out for access by automated vehicles.  


When Bruce had moved to Klamath, the mobile labs were still manned by humans.  They custom built parts from raw materials, mostly for local businesses.  Bruce would charter a truck to take him here and the mobile lab managers would help him load up the things they made for his robotics team.  When the fabrication machines in the labs were fully automated, Bruce let the employees of Build Depot load the material for him.  After Build Depot paid to add truck loading arms to the labs, Bruce found reasons to come to the main store again. 


A wave of nostalgia overtook him.   The clouds over the Klamath mountains seemed to indicate rain.  A neat queue of auto-trucks were lining up at the Build Depot dock; one of them would take his parts home for him.  His HUDs counted down the seconds until the next auto-auto took him into town to teach Tai-Chi class.  Bruce meditated.


[footnote: It is surprisingly hard to draw a picture of someone teaching tai chi to kids when you don't know how to draw.  However, I found this totally great photo of bruce lee teaching brandon lee some kung fu, which I just traced over and I still think it's pretty great.  Here is a link to the original. ]  





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