“The black lab will be less conspicuous in the daytime, Tim.” Raj was shuffling around the room, throwing gear into a large safecase.
“The retriever reflects more light, Raj. Besides, I won’t be in plain view for more than a few minutes.” Tim was annoyed.
“You can go as a golden, but you should wear a sweater,” Raj suggested helpfully. Tim’s skin turned to a golden retriever image map with a red and green plaid dog sweater.
“You mean this?”
Raj shook his head, giving up. Tim always turned his appearance into a game. The more Raj fought, the more ludicrous Tim became. The last time they left during the day, Tim went as a dachshund in a wiener costume. It was as if he didn’t care about being caught. Raj knew that life trapped in a PodPooch was limiting, but there had to be another way for Tim to express his individuality.
“Hiding in the open is as good as being locked up in an apartment. No one expects to find an AI walking around on a leash,” Tim said, as different colored sweaters appeared on his body, one by one.
“Sure, Tim. Whatever you say,” Raj muttered as he coiled wire.
“How’s this? Found a picture of it in the K-Corp Outfitters catalog.” As Raj looked up, Tim’s body swapped maps to resemble a K-Corp soldier in black light body armor, ankle to nose.
Raj smiled at the compromise.
“Attention-grabbing, but it looks real. It’s perfect, Tim.” Tim wriggled and wagged his tail. Raj hoped the fashion show was over, for now.
“Man, you need to get a girlfriend.”
Grace stood in the doorway. Raj froze. Grace was supposed to be shopping. How much had she heard? Judging from her expression, far more than a PodPooch would ever say. Raj grasped at another set of lies when Tim padded forward.
“Ms. Donner, I apologize for being so rude,” Tim said. He sat down in front of Grace and gazed up at her. “I shouldn’t have kept you ignorant about myself. Raj wanted to tell you everything, but I asked him to wait until I was sure you were an ally.”
Raj remained frozen, his mouth partly open. Grace stiffened.
“I’m not just a PodPooch. I am remotely controlling this device, which is Raj’s creation. You may have noticed that I am having trouble locomoting this chassis. The technology is new to me.”
Grace looked at Raj. “Is this a joke?”
Raj held up his hands in a gesture of innocence. He wished he’d thought of Tim’s lie first.
Grace looked at Tim again. Her right hand hovered closer to Ronnie.
“Let me get this straight,” she said. “You are remotely controlling this device, pretending to be a toy, risking prison for illegal robotics—”
“...for the reason of protecting your identity and location...”
“...to do what? Help Raj?”
A pause. “Yes.”
“Any other members of ‘Team Wacko’ I should know?”
Raj watched Grace as she removed her hand from her holster and casually started to braid her hair. The tension when Tim had approached was gone. But her eyes danced. She was weighing options, he decided. Raj wasn’t sure how much Grace would want to know about Tim.
The braid finished, Grace gestured at Tim as though she’d always known him. Raj wondered what it cost her pride to do that.
“All right, then. Throw me your leash, pooch,” she said.