Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The little AIbot skitters across the floor, legs not quite obeying it’s eager command to leap onto Rhonda and pester her until she gives in and plays with it.
“Slow down, Saffy. You’ll break a leg again.”
The tiny terror skids to a stop against her boot and promptly starts to climb, foreclaws doing the work while the rear legs bob like shiny pendulums with claws on.
“And what, young AIbot, do you think you are?”
“Welociwaptor. Comin’ to ‘ill you.”
Rhonda chuckles.
“Where did you get ‘velociraptor’ from, Saffy?”
“Wilm. Bwoosh lemme see. Juwassic Wuld.”
It scrambles higher, oblivious to the look we exchange before shouting together.
We hear the sound of someone falling from a top bunk two rooms down. The swearing continues for a while, then gets louder. Bleary eyes regard us from a face nearly lost in shaggy hair and an even shaggier beard.
“What’s burning?”
Rhonda points to the climber on her sweatshirt.
“Your credentials, again.”
I push a chair towards Bruce.
“You showed it Jurassic World?”
He shrugs.
“She loved Jurassic Park so much, I couldn’t say no.”
Rhonda leans forward, her tone deceptively light.
“Which one?”
“She thought the beginning of The Lost World with the Compys on the beach was really funny, but she loved the velociraptors in JP3.”
I watch as Rhonda turns red. I hear Bruce swallow. Time to head this off before it, who is doing that ‘intense witnessing’ process they do, gets some first-hand examples of emotions we’d rather it didn’t get working examples of.
“I can see that being appropriate. It’s meant to be a co-ordinating influence. Speaking of which, why don’t you go and put it with Pack Zeta for a while?”
It cocks its head towards me, then leaps down and scampers across to Bruce, arms spread like a child running to a beloved uncle. He picks it up with a beaming smile, then exits the room chatting happily with it.
As their cheerful conversation fades, I turn back to catch Rhonda’s look of concern.
“I think he’d make a marvellous handler.”
She smiles.
“Thank you. I thought we were going to have to set up another hunt, because he’s an awful behaviourist.”
“His family ran a pet shop in Scunthorpe. He was a juggler. When things all fell in and the arts got sidelined, he somehow talked his way into a junior opening on the robotics program at Autonomous Warrior IV. Something about animal training at the pet shop and working with some of the early Sony dogbots. Anyway, ten years later, here he is. The sheer brass to do that has got to be worth something.”
“If he can pass it on.”
“He’ll do it by example. You see how it’s keen on him? He should be given a chance to have it as a live-in companion. It’ll teach the packs. Make every pack before Zeta the control, Zeta and up get its influence.”
She looks thoughtful.
“All well and good, but what’s the fallback?”
I steeple my fingers.
“We decommission unit Sapphire-33, nickname ‘Saffy’, and have packs Alpha through Epsilon use Bruce for a hunt. Run it as urban stealth with body retrieval while he’s on leave.”
“That’ll leave a lot of blood to explain.”
“Animal rights stunt will cover it.”
“What if he goes for publicity or aid?”
“The 77th can handle the media, and Security Team 4 already think Bruce is a waste of space.”
“So they would run interference. That covers all bases. I like it. Good plan, Sergeant.”
I snap her a casual salute.
“Thanks, Captain.”