By Dave Ross & Tom Lemery
The Lab wasn’t always a hulking ruin. Built for a top-secret project, it is located at the edge of a remote swamp. Long ago, the Lab was a happy, modern workplace. It was full of music, laughter and bright ideas. At first, the Lab was home to a team of human scientists, engineers and designers. Hidden from prying eyes, this team worked for years to create a bold new class of consumer products. The advertising people back in the head office wanted to call them Technobuggies. Indeed, they were a triumph of technology and genetic engineering. However, to busy team members they were simply called T’Bugs.
The designers imagined hands-free, butterfly-like cell phones that would hover next to your face. They drew plans for super intelligent computers that could walk and talk. They envisioned friendly flying flashlights for camping trips and adorable lightening bugs that could illuminate a child’s bedroom. Their sketches became reality. T’Bugs were as cute as cute could be. They had big eyes and adorable smiles. It was an expensive project, but it looked like a winner. Once investors saw the first T’Bugs, their pocketbooks and wallets opened very quickly. They funded every nickel, hoping for big returns on these never-before-seen innovations.
The engineers created a lively calculator that could jump from desktop into the hands of a user. They built a faithful boom box that could follow its owner to the park. They invented long lasting batteries that needed only moments to recharge. A wide range of T’Bug applications were developed. They were given tough bodies to withstand rough play at the hands of young users. T’Bugs were programmed with a never-say-die will to survive.
However, it was the scientists who made these electronic gadgets special. The scientists brought consumer electronics to life. Even better, T’Bugs were smarter than insects. They had nearly human personalities and minds of their own. T’Bugs were intended to be amusing and useful pets. Better still, once a specialized T’Bug product was created, it didn’t have to be manufactured. They could be cloned. The scientists envisioned vast families of test tube born T’Bugs. Entire generations could be created to live life with their human companions.
The whole project was very carefully planned. Because of its remote location, the Lab had to be self-sufficient. Although thousands of T’Bugs would need to re-charge, adequate energy would not be a problem. Fuel cells converted swamp water directly into electric current. This provided the Lab with limitless power. Fully automated, the building was designed to host a breeding colony of T’Bugs. Once hatched, the second generation of T’Bugs would roam free in a large airy enclosure. Amazing robotic caregivers would tend to them. These mechanical workers were given a high degree of artificial intelligence and programmed to deal with every conceivable situation.
For the most part, everything worked as planned. There was however, one small puzzle that stumped the genius of the scientists. Some of the original T’Bugs developed an independent streak that was impossible to break. In the Lab, T’Bugs were well behaved and worked perfectly. However, when field-tested outside the Lab, many became willful and difficult to train. This became a major problem.
There was a very simple explanation for this difference in behavior: music. Specifically, old Rock and Roll tunes. It seems the scientists played an oldies station on the sound system in the Lab. In fact, they played this music 24/7 throughout the time the T’Bugs were developed. And they played it at full volume. The thumping rhythms had become imprinted on the T’Bugs. Listening to it made them happy and cooperative. Without this background music, T’Bugs lost their focus and had problems following direction. Sadly, the team never made the connection between Rock and Roll and T’Bug behavior. They thought that the next generation of T’Bugs would be easier to deal with. Of course, the next generation was born in the Lab and had the same secret love of Golden Oldies. Music was now part of T’Bug DNA. It would be passed down from generation to generation.
When the breeding program failed to tame the T’Bugs, lawyers got involved. Investors sued and funding dried up. The third generation of T’Bugs were just babies when the Lab was ordered closed. As the deadline approached, the team couldn’t bring themselves to destroy the T’Bugs. They had become attached to their creations and honestly, T’Bugs were too darn cute. Besides, who knew what the future might bring? Perhaps funding would be restored in a couple of years.
As the head scientist prepared to leave, he looked back at the friendly creations he had devoted his whole career to. A Chuck Berry tune was playing over the sound system. He tapped his foot to the rhythm as he punched a code into the security keypad. “Default to Caregiver Mode?” was displayed on the small LCD display of the keypad. He pushed the “Yes” button and confirmed his command. He sighed and left. The door slowly closed behind him and locked with a clunk. As he drove out of the parking lot for the last time, the head scientist pondered the T’Bugs’ future. The Robotic Caregivers were in charge now. The Lab was self contained and very secure. The planners on the team had been very optimistic. The Lab would continue to function for years without human intervention. What could go wrong?
The robots turned off the music.
Ten Years Later
In his dark, silent office, Surge smiles. This is a rare event. The lizard-like face of the lead robotic caregiver was not built to smile. To grimace, yes. To smirk, yes. To sneer, most definitely; but smiling takes an effort that does not come easily to the Lab’s top robot. Yet, even with this extraordinary effort, it is a grim, scary sort of smile. It scares two out of the three T’Bugs held captive in his office. Not that Surge cares. Most T’Bugs are beneath his notice.
“Watts!” he commands.
Begrudgingly, with an insolent little hesitation, the third T’Bug flickers to life. Granny Watts is an old fashioned light bulb screwed tightly into the desk lamp. There is a certain resentfulness to her light today. It barely brightens the dank windowless office. Surge’s sensitive optical sensors register this resentment. It annoys him. He frowns for a moment at this willful light bulb. She is the oldest T’Bug in the Lab. For “disciplinary” reasons, Surge keeps her isolated from most other T’Bugs. She has spent years securely locked behind the cage-like cover of this lamp. He can see her tiny gnarled hands gripping the bars. He thinks about unplugging her for punishment, but decides he is in too good a mood to let her distract him. His scary smile returns. His artificial intelligence tells him he is close to success.
With his metal hand, Surge drags a well-worn loose-leaf binder across the desk. It is oil stained and ragged from years of use. He has poured over the information time and time again. Surge scowls. His memory circuits smolder with annoyance. This would be so much easier with a nice desktop computer. Ah, well, he reasons, no use crying over melted microchips.
Surge awkwardly cradles the binder in his other hand. It is fashioned like a claw. The claw hand does not look graceful. While it was specially designed to grip T’Bugs, it is not much use for holding other things like loose-leaf binders. Surge’s fingers dance through the tabs on the side of this scientific journal. It is full of T’Bug specifications, sketches and mechanical drawings. He stops at a well-worn tab and flips the binder open.
The big robot hunches over as he concentrates. Surge’s eyebrows come together and his scowl deepens. He focuses his keen intellect on the one T’Bug he fears, his archenemy: Bookworm. For years after the Great Escape, Surge could not look at these pages without feeling anger or rage. Bookworm was one of the leaders of the Great Escape. He represents Surge’s greatest failure. The two pages are mostly covered with Bookworm’s blueprints, charts and numbers. A barcode is partially hidden by an old black and white photo. The photo is paper clipped to the upper right hand corner of one page. It shows a serious looking, chubby caterpillar shaped computer. Surge carefully removes the photo and places it to one side. He wants to review all the data.
“Numbers!” he calls.
A rasping metallic rattle tells Surge his calculator is on its way. A worried looking T’Bug scurries into the circle of light at the center of the desk. Behind him, Numbers drags a thin chain. The rattle is caused by the chain links as they uncoil across the desk. The chain is cuffed to one of his legs; the other end is hidden in the shadows. It is firmly bolted to the far corner of the desk. Although he has been programmed to jump into his owner’s hand, the calculator knows the chain is too short. If he jumps, the chain will pull him up short. Numbers will crash painfully back onto the desk. Instead of jumping, he cowers under Surge’s hand.
Surge studies the figures on the page. The calculator cringes as cold robotic fingers punch in the same numbers over and over again. He knows what’s coming and so does Surge. In fact, this exercise is unnecessary. Surge’s memory chips have a perfect record of the calculations and the outcome. Although he has run the complex formula hundreds of times since the Great Escape, Surge does it once more. The calculator flinches again as Surge stabs the key marked “total.” The big robot looks at the result and closes his eyes. He savors the moment. His terrible grim smile broadens into something that makes the calculator shiver. Surge dismisses Numbers with small wave of his hand. Relieved, the calculator scurries off. He drags the rattling chain back into the shadows.
“Scanner!” calls Surge.
On a bookcase near the desk, a little T’Bug resists the urge to cower. The hand-held barcode reader tells herself to be brave and takes off. Reluctantly, Scanner flies to Surge’s claw. Not that she has much choice. A thin, spring-like wire stretches from one of her ankles to the side of the bookcase. Her range of flight is restricted to the distance from the bookcase to Surge’s desk. The nervous creature swallows hard as Surge’s claw tightens its grip. This T’Bug hates her job. Within Scanner’s memory chip is a record of every T’Bug. For the most part, Surge uses her to manage his inventory of captive T’Bugs. Today he is tracking the life expectancy of an escaped T’Bug. Surge’s cold fingers twist a knob on Scanner’s back. He chooses a setting. The small LED screen on her stomach flashes: “Expected Date of Depletion.” Scanner stifles a groan. She knows what’s coming.
Back when the humans ran the Lab, every T’Bug was assigned a barcode. The barcode records all the T’Bug’s specifications and technical information. One copy was imprinted on the T’Bug’s backside. Another copy went into the Lab’s computer system. Unfortunately for Surge, that information and all of the Lab’s computers were lost during an electrical storm years ago. However, he still has access to a third copy of the barcodes. They are recorded in the old fashioned and cumbersome binder which lays open upon his desk. This is why Scanner is tethered to Surge’s bookcase. She holds the only technology left to Surge that can process this information.
Surge waves Scanner over Bookworm’s barcode until she beeps. Against her will, Scanner’s optics pick up the barcode. Her circuitry clicks into action. She cringes as Surge draws her closer to his face. His shiny skin smells of metal polish and oil. Scanner tries not to gag. Surge’s eyes focus on the small illuminated display on her abdomen. A tiny image of a pinwheel spins on the screen. Surge’s cold steely eyes reflect the T’Bug’s display. Scanner is processing the data as quickly as she can. Anxious to get a result, Surge gives the little T’Bug a couple shakes. The spinning wheel disappears and a red lettered readout comes up. “ACTIVE” flashes on the little screen. It blinks repeatedly until Surge casts the small T’Bug aside. The big robot crouches over the binder lost in thought.
Granny Watts strains against the bars to catch a glimpse of Scanner’s display. She whispers, “Who is it?”
“Bookworm,” answers Scanner softly.
From the shadows, comes a groans. “Oh, no” whispers the calculator. “Is he depleted?”
“Not yet,” says Scanner, “I’m flashing “ACTIVE.”
Surge hears a sigh of relief from the T’Bugs. His upper lip curls into a sneer. The lead robotic caregiver knows, when the word “Active” is flashing, it means one thing. A “Battery Depleted” reading is not far off.
Granny Watts understands the sneer. She pauses. Her facial expression goes from optimism to concern. “If Bookworm’s ‘Active’ status is flashing, he doesn’t have long to live,” she says softly. Her eyes droop with sadness.
“That’s exactly right my little dim-witted friends.” Smirks Surges.
All three T’Bugs are startled. Surge very rarely pays attention to what they say. Even more amazing is his calm response. “While it is true Bookworm still lives, the data does not lie. It can only be a question of days. In any case, my plan is ready and…”
Surge’s thoughts of conquest are interrupted.
There it is again. Surge’s grim, scary smile disappears. In its place is his normal miserable frown.
It is the sound of dripping water. Surge bolts from his office. He storms down the dim grimy corridor. In his haste, he forgets to put away the binder or shut off the light. Surge marches toward a brightly lit doorway at the end of the hall. The Control Room is one of the few places in the Lab with good lighting. The lighting is necessary to read the gauges, meters and dials. The readings from these devices are supposed to show what is going on, in and around the Lab. It is a mixed batch of information to be sure. Time has not been kind to the Lab. Cut off from supplies and regular maintenance; the Control Room instruments have been in decline for years. Some gauges don’t work any more. Some dials are cracked and unreliable. Some meters show false readings. However, the most important ones, the ones that control the Lab’s aging power-grid are functioning. Equally important for Surge, the weather forecasting devices are accurate. Nonetheless, the Control Room is not a good place for dripping water.
Breaker is busy reading gauges and checking off items on his clipboard. He is Surge’s assistant and looks like a smaller version of his boss. His official title is “First Assistant Robotic Caregiver.” To the captive T’Bugs he is simply the little Bot. He wears a stained white lab coat with a pocket protector full of pens. While he does not have a claw hand for grasping T’Bugs, he has a wide range of helpful gadgets built into his lizard like body.
Although Breaker was programmed to assist Surge, he did not receive the enhanced artificial intelligence of his boss. While Breaker can do many things well, he can only do two things well at one time. At the moment, he is checking gauges and muttering under his breath. He gently taps each gauge to be sure it is functioning. The muttering that accompanies this action is mostly complaints about his boss.
“…oh sure,” he grumbles. “Old claw hand comes up with the plan, but who does all the work?”
Breaker feels put upon. Robotic caregivers usually don’t have hobbies, but if Breaker had a hobby it would be complaining. Breaker believes he is over worked and under appreciated. He complains about this endlessly. Not to Surge’s face of course, but quietly and to himself. His powers of concentration are such that Breaker does not hear the water dripping right next to him.
Breaker also does not hear his boss come into the room. In fact, Breaker is still reading gauges and complaining when Surge’s shadow falls over him.
“Yikes,” he gasps.
“You idiot!” yells Surge. He snatches Breaker’s clipboard and whacks him on his metal head. “If water gets into that circuitry, it could ruin everything. Clean up that puddle and report.”
The smaller robot recovers quickly. “I’m on it, Boss,” he chirps. Breaker converts one of his arms into a mop. Furiously mopping with one arm, he picks up the clipboard with the other. He rattles off his readings as the puddle disappears. He stows the mop and manages to patch the leaky pipe without interrupting his report. “Everything’s a go, Boss. The power-grid is holding up and the weather is perfect.”
“Excellent,” chortles Surge. “Excellent.”
Surge rubs his hand over his claw. For the second time today, the grim, scary smile comes to Surge’s face. Breaker cannot bear to look. He glances down at his checklist and pretends to be interested in what’s there.
The larger robot begins to pace back and forth. “The Master Plan is coming together nicely. I have just reviewed all the data, and Bookworm’s days are numbered. Once he is gone, the free T’Bugs have no leader.” Surge stands next to the control panel and gestures at the gauges. “If the weather forecast is accurate, their recharging options will be severely limited. They will fall into our clutches in a matter of days.”
“Right Boss,” says Breaker. He cannot bear to look at Surge’s smile. He taps on a malfunctioning dial. “All we have to do is wait.”
“No, you moron.” Surge slaps his own forehead in frustration. “Haven’t you read the plan? Now that the weather is cooperating, we must begin Phase One.”
“Right, Boss,” says Breaker. “Er, ah, what’s Phase One?”
The grim, scary smile fades from Surge’s face. He closes his eyes and counts to ten. “I am surrounded by idiots.” He groans.
Back in Surge’s office, the three T’Bugs gather by the open binder. The desk lamp focuses her beam on the photo. Granny Watts smiles and says, “It is good to know you still live, old friend.”
Across the swamp from the Lab is an abandoned fishing camp. It sits, over grown and surrounded by weeds, on a small muddy hill. The hill rises from a shallow, stagnant lake at the edge of the marsh. Many years ago it was a modest weekend get-away for the Lab’s head scientist. Today, it is a rundown shack, baking in the August sun. Yet, there are a few signs of life around the old place. As afternoon slides into evening, the hot still air begins to stir. The cattails and reeds rustle quietly in a lazy breeze. A rusty wind turbine clings to the roof of the shack. With a creak and a groan the turbine’s blades begin to turn. In its day, it provided sustainable power for the camp. The passing of years has weakened its efficiency. Its parts are rusty and worn. Amazingly, it still produces a little power. At dusk, a yellow, flickering light illuminates the sagging front porch. This is not a T’Bug lighting creation. Like the antique wind turbine, it is an old fashioned relic of the camp’s human past. Its yellow light attracts a motley collection of free T’Bugs. Mostly, these are the sons and daughters of the T’Bugs who fled the Lab during the Great Escape. They live in and under the Shack. It is not an easy life.
A cloud of T’Bugs swarms about the porch light. They flit and dart about the rusty fixture. Excited by the smell of electricity in the air, they bump and jostle one another. They cheerfully ignore the one T’Bug who is trying to bring order to the swarm. His name is Lumens. With a body shaped like a compact florescent bulb, he is the T’Bug version of a lightening bug. He is also very frustrated. Lumens fumbles in the pockets of his backpack until finds his whistle. He blows the whistle and yells but the swarm resists his efforts. Bookworm has put him in charge tonight. He is failing miserably.
“Riker,” he pleads, “stop hogging the outlet.”
“Just a minute longer,” hums Riker. Selfishly over-charging, the electric shaver bumblebee doesn’t move. He stays plugged into the only outlet on the porch light. The air around him is thick with T’Bugs. The outlet blocked by Riker sits just above the yellow bulb. It is the target of all the hungry T’Bugs. Instead of lining up the way Lumens wants, the T’Bugs orbit the light in a random cloud.
BT and Bobby, twin cell phone butterflies, flutter within the swarm. They busily exchange text messages. Although they fly side by side and could easily talk, they prefer texting. Absorbed in texting, they do not watch where they are going. They bump other T’Bugs out of orbit. The bumped T’Bugs crash into others causing a chaotic chain reaction of collisions.
“This is hopeless,” grumbles Lumens. He stops blowing the whistle and gives up his role as traffic cop. Lumens buzzes from one end of the shack to the other. “Where’s Tripper?” he asks. All he gets are blank looks and shrugs from the swarm. Tripper is a combination centipede and power strip. His back is studded with outlets. If Lumens could get him plugged into the porch outlet, T’Bugs could recharge six at a time. Tripper is always happy to help out with charging. Unfortunately, he is clumsy and has a lousy sense of timing. Tripper is always late.
Lumens circles the shack. With a small nod of satisfaction, Lumens notes his sentries are still in position. At least a diving hawk or falcon won’t surprise them. After all the years since the Great Escape, the predatory birds of the marsh still haven’t learned T’Bugs aren’t prey. While they can’t kill T’Bugs, their attacks can be quite painful. Most T’Bugs stay under shelter during daylight hours, just in case. But when the wind is spotty at the end of summer, recharging is a risk everyone assumes.
Lumens sees an oddly shaped T’Bug hurrying past with a large tool box. He shouts. “Hey, Brix! Have you seen Tripper?”
Brix barely slows. “Nope,” he says. “I just came from Doc’s workshop and he’s not there.” He nods at the toolbox. “I’d stop and help you look but I’m running these up to the roof. Doc’s got a situation with the turbine.”
“What now?” Groans Lumens. “I’ll fly up with you.”
Brix is one of the few T’Bug toys to survive the Great Escape. He is comprised of thousands of colorful interlocking plastic bricks. Brix makes himself useful by assisting Doc. His ability to reconfigure his shape is very helpful. In addition to fetching Doc’s tools, Brix serves as a portable workbench adjusting his shape to fit whatever Doc is operating on.
Lumens and Brix zoom up to the roof. Doc seems to be leaning against the old wind turbine. A gentle puff of breeze moves the battered blades. As they slowly increase speed, the turbine groans and shakes. Doc’s praying mantis body trembles with effort. As Lumens flies closer, he realizes Doc isn’t leaning against the turbine. He’s holding it up. With knees locked, Doc grips the back end of the turbine with his powerful arms. Sweat pours off this face. He gestures for Brix to set down the toolbox next to him. The turbine shifts in his grip. It tilts dangerously to one side. “I could use a hand here.” He grunts.
As the two T’Bugs hover next to Doc, the problem becomes obvious. A rusted mounting bracket has snapped. The wind turbine is in danger of falling over. Brix and Lumens leap into action. Lumens puts his shoulder next to Doc’s hands and pushes with all his might. They slowly move the wind turbine back into position. Brix dives underneath the turbine and changes shape. With a blur of flying parts, Brix fills the space under and around the bent bracket. His new shape cradles the body of the turbine and stabilizes it. With a sigh of relief, Doc lets go of the turbine. He smiles. “Thanks, guys. That was a close one.”
Part doctor and part mechanic, Doc can fix just about anything. He opens his toolbox and says, “OK children, let’s go to work.” A flying drill, screwdriver and socket wrench take wing. They buzz around his head. Doc grabs a couple of long metal bars from the toolbox. He holds them up. One at a time, Doc eyeballs their length. Choosing one, he lays it against the broken bracket. It overlaps the break nicely. The flying drill moves in. Its drill bit sings as it punches a series of holes through the new metal and the bracket. One of Brix hands appears from under the turbine. He holds bolts, washers and nuts in his double-jointed fingers. Like a talented musician, his fingers dance over the metal brace. He nimbly drops a bolt in the first hole. When it pops through the bracket, two other fingers slide a washer in place followed by a nut. By the time Brix drops the second bolt, the screwdriver and socket wrench have pounced on the first. When they finish tightening that one, the second bolt is ready. Within seconds, the wind turbine is re-braced and steady as a rock.
Lumens shakes his head in amazement. They were moments from disaster. Now, Doc and his tools are calmly going about their business like nothing happened. With a start, Lumens remembers what his job is.
He asks, “Doc, have you seen Tripper?”
Doc pulls a rag out of his white coveralls and wipes his forehead. “Not since I treated him for sprained ankles. I think he twisted a dozen or so last week tripping down the Techtorium bleachers.”
A new grinding sound from within the turbine distracts him. Doc frowns. “I’m not sure what’s going to quit first. Will it be this pile of junk or the wind?” Doc calls for another screwdriver. It whizzes out of the toolbox and removes four screws on the back of the turbine. Doc lifts off an access panel and start poking around the big machine’s inner workings.
The wind does seem to be dying. The blades are slowing. The pitch of the grinding sound rises. It turns into metal on metal screeching sound that makes Doc wince. He calls for his oilcan. It springs out of the toolbox. With a nod of his head, Doc directs the oilcan into the back of the turbine. It’s a tight fit. Doc has to part some wires to let the oil can reach its target. Moments later, the screeching noise stops. Doc smiles. A popping sound brings back Doc’s frown. From within the turbine, the oilcan lets out a small yelp. It flies out of the turbine rubbing a burn mark on its behind. The oilcan gives Doc a dirty look. Doc reaches into the turbine. He pulls out a sparking wire. Shaking his head, he calls for electrical tape.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” he says. “I got my hands full here.”
“Sure thing Doc, I’ll catch you later.” Doc’s news adds urgency to Lumens’ mission. He flies high above the roof and continues his search for Tripper. A familiar voice interrupts his troubled thoughts.
“Are we having fun yet?” Lumen’s younger sister Lara zips to stop next to Lumens.
The fastest of all T’Bugs, she slows to keep pace with her brother. As they fly together, Lumens scans the swarm in search of Tripper. “No, this is not fun,” grumbles Lumens. “It’s a disaster. No one is listening to me, the wind is dying and the turbine is falling apart.”
“You could ask Boomer for some help,” she suggests.
Lumens blinks. He tries to think of a reason why asking Boomer isn’t a good idea. He fails. Lumens hates it when his sister is right. He quickly does a 360 in the midst of the swarm and finds his large friend. Off to one side, Boomer is lounging on the front porch railing. He has his earphones on. Behind his sunglasses his eyes are closed. Listening to himself, the big boom box is moving to a beat only he can hear. Lumens swoops over. He lifts one earphone.
“Boomer, a little music please,” shouts Lumens.
Boomer looks over his sunglasses. “Roger that, Bro,” he answers. Boomer cranks up the volume. His deep voice rattles the dusty windows of the front porch. “Listen up, all you dudes and dudettes, this is DJ Boomer. I’m about to brighten your afternoon with some golden hits from yesterday. Get ready to twist and shout with the Top Notes.” Snapping his fingers, Boomer cues the music. The swamp echoes with “Shake it Up, Baby.”
The change in the T’Bugs is immediate. The swarming stops and everyone hovers in place. They smile and nod their heads in time to the music. Even Riker gives up the outlet and falls into line with the others. Like magic, Tripper appears. He, and his twenty-eight legs, dance clumsily across a ceiling beam toward the porch light.
“Oops,” Tripper stumbles. The front of his long body peels away from the ceiling. The toes on his last few feet cling desperately to the beam.
Lumens holds his breath. Most of Tripper’s legs have lost their grip. He dangles upside down from the beam. Tripper swings back and forth with a red face and an embarrassed look. Lara responds in a flash. She whizzes around the dangling power strip. With superb timing, she grabs one of Tripper’s hands as he swings toward the outlet. Using his momentum, Lara helps Tripper form a “U” shape with his body. He doubles back on himself and grabs the beam with his front legs. Like a giant inchworm, Tripper inches his way across the beam to the outlet. Once Tripper plugs in, Lumens has no problem directing traffic. It’s a party! Six at a time, the T’Bugs form up. Together, they move in time to the music and politely take turns recharging through Tripper.
Lumens is relieved. Now that the recharging is back on schedule, he won’t have to worry about the second half of Bookworm’s assignment. The big computer also asked Lumens to create a plan for a “recharging failure.” That thought sends a shiver up Lumens’ back. The shiver shakes his backpack and wakes up Zippie. Lumens hears his muffled bark. He pulls Zippy out of his backpack. The puppy-like T’Bug strains to lick Lumens face. Lumens scratches Zippie behind his ears and flips him over. He activates his pet tablet’s display. The screen on Zippie’s stomach lights up. His plan is carefully recorded in files on Zippie’s hard drive. Lumens fervently hopes his plan will not be needed. As long as the wind holds up, all the T’Bugs will recharge.
Lumens quickly flicks through the plan and opens a different window. This one is an APP that records which T’Bugs have recharged. He dips his head to the beat and taps his stylus on Zippie’s display. He checks off the names of recharged T’Bugs. Lumens nods at Nav, a big GPS T’Bug in the body of a dragon fly. Bob and Bobbie flutter by, lost in texting. Doc swings through to recharge his tools. The line is full of young T’Bugs now. They excitedly wait their turn. For the first time that day, Lumens smiles. Unfortunately, his joy is short lived. The cattails and reeds have stopped moving. The wind dies. Lumens looks up. The wind turbine blades are slowing. Lumens glances back at his list and frowns. Only half the T’Bugs have a full charge. Bookworm will want to hear his plan. Even Doc’s best efforts cannot make the turbine work without wind. Its battered blades shudder to a stop. The yellow light bulb blinks out. Boomer’s music fades and all the T’Bugs sigh. This party is over.
The sun has set. With the front porch lost in shadow, the T’Bug swarm hovers in gloomy darkness. Lumens stows Zippie in his backpack. Wordlessly, he fires up his bulb. It is a signal for the other T’Bugs to follow. With no electricity to distract them, they form up behind Lumens. Even Lara seems subdued as she takes up her position at the back of the group. Lumens leads the swarm out into the twilight. He calls in his sentries. Now that it’s dark, there is little danger from a bird attack. He makes a long high turn around the shack so he can look back to make sure everyone is coming. He heads for the other end of the shack and the broken cellar door.
- To be Continued -
TECHNOBUGGIES by Dave Ross & Tom Lemery • WGA-W Registration #1539032
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