The Old Zoo App
Haru Ono makes good time on the city sidewalks once she hikes down to the bottom of the Twin Peaks no-tech zone and her backpack scooter will run again. She never rides on the streets unless she has to. She’s not suicidal, after all.
She takes Portola over to Sloat and buzzes down through the Sunset District. Most of the area is residential, and nearly all of it is from One Francisco days. The ‘22 Quake didn’t do much damage here, so it’s always felt a little frozen in time to Haru. Like something out of an old TwoDee. Squint just right and you might think you’re back in the 21st century.
Haru doesn’t really like the Sunset. It’s a little too quaint, somehow. Too gingerbread.
She rides her scooter down nearly the entire length of Sloat, crossing the street by the ancient Doggie Diner head—a seven foot tall dachshund wearing a classic chef’s hat—which has been displayed high up on a metal pole in Sloat’s median for around a hundred and fifty years now (it’s not the original head, of course, just a fabbed replica; the original fiberglass head has been on display in an air-tight plass box at the Museum of Kitsch over in the Mission District for the last century or so). The sidewalk here by the zoo is too full of tourists for her to ride her scooter, so she folds it up and tucks it inside her backpack, and weaves her way through the families, cybes, and strutting pigeons until she’s at the main entrance. She bypasses this one and continues past it to the employee gate, just around the side of the ticket building.
A plass lens in the side of the building eyeballs her. “Zoo staff only through this gate,” the zoo’s AI informs her.
“Special membership,” she says.
“What’s the password?” the AI asks.
“Hang on.” She opens the zoo app on her phone and sends the password.
“Fancy,” the AI says. “Lifetime membership. Don’t want to know what you had to do to get that.”
“It’s who you know. Let me in already.”
The gate unlocks with a chonk and swings inward. “I was going to update your app for you, but it’s locked down,” the AI says. “The exhibits have changed since the last version. You could set that to auto-update and it would take care of itself.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Haru says, but she’ll never set an app to auto-anything. Spyware, adware, corpware. All the same thing, really, and she’s put a lot of time and effort into keeping her hacked vPhone clean from that flapjack. She’s not about to just open the front door to her tech at any point. “I’m looking for Rama Mosley,” she asks the AI. “Is he in today?”
“Just a sec.” After a moment, the AI says, “He’s at the lion house. Do you want me to ping him for you?”
“No, it’s fine. That in the same place, or did it get moved?”
“The lion house never moves.”
“Awesome,” Haru says.
Haru never comes to the zoo unless she has to, and always for business, never to see the animals. It’s too depressing, honestly. Logically, she knows that zoos are better for most of the animals than taking their chances in the wild. Most of the ones that are still here are extinct in the outside world. She’s pretty sure all the gorillas are gone, and the plague that took down the koalas in Australia also got the ones in the zoos, so that was that for them.
Haru makes a quick walk past the giraffes and zebras in the Savannah area, then through the edge of the primate cages where the mandrills are lounging about. At the empty rhino paddock (the last rhino in the zoo having died when Haru was just a girl, and a replacement for it never having been found), she turns right and keeps going until she gets to the lion house. She walks in through the main doors with a crowd of tourists and their children, and breaks immediately away from them when she’s inside the building, and goes straight for the employee door at the back of the main room.
“I see you found it,” the zoo AI says from a small speaker beside the door. “Even with that sundowned app of yours.”
“You going to open up?” Haru asks. “Or do I need to flash my pass again?”
“It’s fine. My old software would have made me ask you for it again, but it’s amazing what a good update will do.”
“Is the sarcasm something new, or was that a holdover from the original build?”
“Sarcasm is in my base code, honey,” the AI says. The lock light on the employee door switches from red to green. “On your way.”
“Thanks.” Haru pushes the door open and steps into a corridor behind it. To her right are a row of small rooms, each with a glass wall opening up onto the corridor, all offices. On her left is a long caged walk area, used by the lions when they are being moved from the exterior paddock to the cages on the interior of the building. The air is thick with the smell of the lions. It’s not wholly unpleasant, just strong. Her nostrils are stinging a bit.
She walks down the corridor until she finds the office Rama is in. He is seated behind the desk, a sandwich on a paper towel in front of him. “Rama,” she says, walking in.
“Haru. Long time.”
“Zoos aren’t my bag. You know that.”
Rama shrugs. “Could still come by the bar on Saturdays. Have a drink. Trivia night.”
“When do I ever go to the bar?”
“I’m just saying. Don’t take it personally.” He nods his chin at the other chair in the corner of the office. “Have a seat. I’m going to finish my lunch while you tell me what you need. If you aren’t coming to the zoo for pleasure, then you’re coming for business.”
Haru drops down into the chair. “I’m looking for Sterling.”
Rama picks up his sandwich and takes a bite. Around the mouthful, he says, “Sterling? How should I know where Sterling is? Have you tried calling him?”
“Got a number?” Haru asks.
“Why would I have Sterling’s number?” Chew chew.
“Heard he came to you with some data chips he needed to move. You’re the chip guy, last I knew.”
Rama puts his sandwich down and wipes crumbs off his lips, swallowing. “Thing I like about you, Haru, is that I know you hate the Corporations as much I do, so I don’t have to flapjack with you about any of this stuff. Yeah, Sterling brought a bunch of chips here, couple of weeks ago. Good stuff, easy to get rid of. Fresh AI, no trace back to the factory. I’ve got a few of them left, if you need one. I keep them in the lion paddock. Better than any guard dog, I tell you what.”
“I don’t need chips,” she says.
“Well, what do you need Sterling for? I don’t have his number. He’s like you. He just comes by when he needs something.”
Haru taps her vPhone open and holds up a photo for Rama to see: Omar’s bees in the glass tube. “I need to know more about these.”
Rama puts his elbows on the desktop and leans forward. “Can you embiggen that?” Haru appreciates that he respects her enough to not touch her vPhone himself. She makes a gesture on the screen with two fingers and the image projects off the phone in the air between them, four times as large. “Are those supposed to be real?” Rama asks.
“If they are, I’m hoping Sterling will be able to move them.”
“They aren’t real. Bees are extinct.”
She shrugs. “So are lions. But you have some here.”
“Lions aren’t extinct. You just have to grow them in tubes.”
Haru wiggles her phone. “These bees are in a tube.”
Rama chews his lip silently. “I don’t know about Sterling, but there’s somebody here who can maybe help you out. The zoo’s bug guy. Ray.”
“All I have with me is the picture. Think it’ll do any good?”
Rama shrugs. “Can’t hurt to ask. Ray’s solid. He won’t say anything to anybody, if you’re trying to keep it a secret.”
“For now,” she says. “Ain’t my bees, ain’t my call.”
Rama pushes his chair away from the desk and stands. He takes his sandwich with him, and has another bite. “Okay then, Haru Haru,” he says, chewing. “Let’s make a trip to the bug house.”