With her headphones on, Zayana could hardly hear the growls and barks of robots and machinery around her. This automated shipping facility was like a 24/7 choreographed dance with predictable patterns of sound and movement. It never slept. Its few workers liked to call it "Arroyo," because its logistics flowed like a branched river throughout the entire city.
Zayana's computer screen was like a vintage arcade game displaying glowing robot routes crawling both sides of the city. She stared at those dots so much that sometimes when she closed her eyes she could still see them against the darkness of her eyelids.
As she sat there in a haze, the power went out. It was not very common, but outages had happened before in the rainy season, and they were right in the midst of it. A few of the machines had battery backups. Zayana had never understood why they had to have loud alarms when switching from electricity to battery power. Their eye-like lights had awoken as if their life-like features were ready to pounce. An eerie feeling overcame her in that massive echo-filled space.
Zayana got up and stared into the distance. It was odd for Arroyo to be so still. One of the robots nearby moved out of lineup, scanned the room with a laser and rolled toward her. Chills came over her. "This feels like one of those Sci-Fi apocalyptic movies with robots coming to life," she thought as she opened her eyes wider. As the robot got closer, it looked like an older gatekeeper generation though with similar features to newer versions. "What was a gatekeeper doing inside?" She thought as she stared at the soft glow from the screen on the robot's chest. The robot scanned her face and text appeared.
She had no idea that this day would turn her life upside down as she began unearthing bitcoin.
Why had the robot scanned her face? Facial scanning was common, but since she was little, Name2 had always taught her to be weary of it, to try to avoid it or trick it in some way.
Name2, aside from being in charge of Arroyo, was Zayana's grandfather. He had raised her inside its walls. Zayana wondered if this was one of Name2's birthday gifts for her...and...perhaps, it got short circuited in the power outage. If so, why was the birth year off? It should have read 31-N-2117, or perhaps 31-N-2140, her upcoming birthday. 2008 was too far in the past.
What was supposed to get unlocked?
All Arroyo robots looked like they were programmed for facial scanning, but they didn't, all except for one at each gate. Zayana had been taught how to tell the difference between their real and fake facial scanning, a subtle difference for anyone but them.
The government had instituted data gathering features as the cost of producing them had fallen, and their thirst for control had grown. It was an unspoken rule to be required to have facial scanning as part of a standard. Name2 tried to get around those "rules" as much as he could.
Zayana used to ask Name2 in an irreverent tone, "If facial scanning is something you don't believe in, why keep the scans on the gatekeepers? If anyone tried to make it across those gates, they'd need a lot more than getting past the scanners."
Name2 would get into a philosophical mood and explain, "Technology is a neutral tool, Zayana. It must always be used with care in order to protect and empower people, without removing their personal freedom and privacy. Unfortunately, it has often been wielded for power and greed to benefit the few. The world hasn't always been like this, it's as if we have awakened a monster and hid it in plain sight."
The he started with a phrase, "You must remember.."
Zayana had heard those words so many times that she had them memorized,
"Keep Arroyo's secrets within its walls,
And it will protect you,
Dare reveal them,
And it would all have been in vain."
Those words always had a gut wrenching reaction on her. Her parents had been taken for being outspoken and breaking government rules, but what exactly would have been in vain? She had tried to find out, only to get vague replies from her grandfather.
"When you're old enough, you will figure it out. When you search for the answers..." said Name2, expecting a reply from Zayana.
"...You often find them." She replied, and the words rolled out smoothly from her mouth.
Zayana couldn't help but try to figure out more about this gatekeeper robot. She squatted and stared at the robot for a few seconds, saying outloud, "What mystery do you keep little one?"
As she got up and walked to get a toolbox, the robot had not just scanned her face, it was also following behind her.
"Facial scanning and now its following me?"
She quickly picked up her phone and called Name2, but the call went straight to voicemail.
To be continued...