a robot composed of an unknown mineral kidnapped to another world,
a collaborative movement towards autonomy amongst an alliance of colony planets,
and a scientist's quest to track down his lost creation whose nature he only thought he knew
"Do you see the container on the table, Tobias? Pick it up and bring it to your lips." Tobias had been the name of a character in a story his mother used to read to him when he was little, after his father had died in the war, when they lived together and alone in a remote rural area of northern England. A mythological person of great powers, he would call on him to protect him at times of stress and loneliness. His imaginary friend. As head and instigator of the project, he had the liberty of naming their first robot.
A long pause ensued. Kobanoff cursed and slammed his clipboard on the table. He looked up again and was startled to see the cup at the robot's mouth. He hadn't seen him move; he was sure he would have. The doctor backed up a few paces to get a more comprehensive view of the eight-foot tall creature. Kobanoff's team had done their best to give it humanoid features, an unnecessary vanity for a machine so obviously otherwise. Unfortunately, it made him look somewhat comical, a parody of feeling and sense, doll-like. Eventually, with seasoning, that would change, become fluid and natural. He wore a white, long-sleeve, button-down shirt and bluejeans and his shoes were black, ordinary, but supremely utilitarian, fixed to his thick-soled feet.
It was fourth generation, the prototype, the ultimate in the science and art of robotics. Its brain was organic--no processors--capable of growning synaptic pathways as it learned. And its skin was of a mineral unknown on Earth, dubbed sagittarium. Its dull blue color absorbed the overhead lights in the cavernous laboratory. Discovered by accident on one of the mining asteroids, it possessed extraordinary properties, almost lifelike, both physical and chemical, that allowed it to adapt its crystal unit to its immediate surroundings in such a way as to make it impervious to damage. The previous generation was skinned by a molybdenum/titanium alloy infused with engineered bacteria that gave them a flexibility far exceeding the malleability of the alloy alone, similar to organic skin. Nevertheless, there were problems with this. The reactions were slow and sometimes jerky due to the imperfections in the crystal lattice. Experiments under a variety of environmental conditions had demonstrated that sagittarium was practically fluid in movement by comparison, bordering on the magical with regard to malleability, and its infusion with a bacterium designed for ready mutation rendered it capable of almost instantaneous transformation. It behaved by a rearrangement on the molecular level rather than a twisting and turning on the macro scale.
Kobanoff knew, or at least hoped, that the internal biochemical mechanisms orchestrating movement would, with practice, become silent, supple, and precise. It would move in a continuous flow from initial point to the end, each new coordinated position would not have to be calculated from locus to locus individually, but rather each successive position along a trajectory would be a smooth transition from the last. As they walked from the assembly room, where he'd been seamlessly melded together, to the lab, he scrutinized Tobias's every move, the way he held his head, his posture on the elevator, which leg he used to begin to walk, how he bent his knees, how his arms swayed to the pace. Was it uncoordinated, arms out of rhythm with the legs as separate, disconnected acts? Was it too restrained or exaggerated like an awkward adolescent? Not in the least. For the first attempt, especially, everything worked remarkably well.
Kobanoff smile to himself, not only because he was pleased at how confidant and precise Tobias moved, but also because he had the distinct impression that Tobias was aware of being under the watchful eyes of his creator and wished to perform perfectly.
Kobanoff watched him sit. Was it measured as though he expected to meet it at any moment without warning? Did he pause once or twice? Or did he just let himself drop like a dead weight, which probably would've crushed the chair? None of the above. He bent his knees and elbows as he lowered himself smoothly in one continuous motion and came to rest when his metal butt met the reinforced wooden chair. He sat with back straight, palms resting on his kneecaps, eyes directly ahead. Mission accomplished.
The unanticipated, momentary, abrupt spasmodic corrections, as they were called, as though ridding itself of unchanneled, static energy, of the past had been eliminated in this model. The nonlinear truncations of software adjustments were at the root of the problem, a discontinuity in implementation due to the timelag between impulse and electromechanical response. Cause and effect. Now, with Tobias, no separation in time and space existed. Instructions were part of the machine itself, a term he believed failed to describe adequately its identity. It represented a transcendance of mere nuts and bolts functionality. He thought of it as somewhere between machine and organic being. For all intents and purposes, there was negligible distinction between mechanical and organic operations. Reaching for the cup was a test of that, but he hadn't seen it.
He also had hoped that the newly-developed neural circuitry combined with the exotic mineral of which its body and functioning components were composed would elicit a being who was self-aware and could make decisions on its own. But looking at it steadfastly holding the cup to its closed lips with the vacant stare in its bioelectric eyes offered little assurance. It was not very inspiring, in other words; however, time would tell as the whole emerged from its many parts through practice and familiarity. Feedback would affect changes in the substrate, which in turn would affect expression, including the sound of its voice. Optimization was to be strived for. Attitudes and emotions would be assigned to all forms of behavior. Discerning subtle shades of meaning would inform and hence instruct, refining perception in the process. Feedback. Adaption toward desired end. Expression. A code of not only behavior but also of aesthetics and civility, manners, had been implanted in the protoplasmic substrate of its DNA-gel matrix. But that was only the raw ideal; from it would grow a unique, self-actualizing individual. Or so they hoped.
Tobias knew what was expected of him; he would self-correct as time and practice went on. Kobanoff knew as well, of course, having laid the foundation based on what he believed to be the prime combination of an uncountable number of parameters, their interactions a degree of complexity beyond anything but probabilites. It was pure intuition. No one knew what the outcome, the final product would be; they were venturing into uncharted territory, the unknown. Unpredictables could always emerge, the amplification of tiny remainders and errors in quantum calculations bursting free. Nonetheless, being scientists, they were convinced they could control it, resolve any issue, fix any problem.
Whatever transpired, it was still leaps ahead of the third generation both physically and in its power to process information and solve difficult math and novel engineering problems that ordinarily would take teams of researchers and banks of current state-of-the-art molecular computers a long time to bring to completion, if at all. Moreover, its newly-developed brain was able to arrive at inferences that allowed it to jump ahead in predictive calculations and derive previously unknown patterns of idea complexes. But, considering its present stupified appearance, that knowledge was a dull satisfaction that left him feeling chagrined.
"Put it down, Tobias," he finally said. He watched as the robot carefully placed the cup on the table in the exact spot where it had been. Something was up. "How do you feel, Tobias?"
"I feel fine, Doctor," he replied in a nonchalant, yet somewhat startling, tone. The deep base could be modulated to one less ponderous sounding, more refined and intelligent. For personal reasons, he wished him to present a reserved demeanor. Others would naturally respond by treating him with more respect than the second generation, a mere mechanical device that could mouth sounds obviously generated internally. Besides occasionally misunderstanding what was said if one watched the mouth as it spoke, it made them appear disconcertingly deranged. The third generation was an upgrade on this, but with Tobias he had achieved a greater degree of precision. His mouth formed words perfectly, in sync with the sounds, a feature that helped to alter the perception that one was dealing with a machine that was only reacting. It also produced, or would eventually, a more comfortable atmosphere. Kobanoff was pleased for that but still wondered how he managed to move so quickly before. He wanted to put it to the test and decided to pretend to look away as he ordered him to do something else, when the intercom came on.
It was his colleague overseeing that part of the project that had to do with the interrelationship between microbial-mineral behavior and neural activity. She said she had discovered a curious aberration in the robot's brain chemistry. A simulation on Marta, the in-house supercomputer, produced a configuration corresponding to a behavior modality not reflecting the parameters of any mathematically possible potentialities. In other words, he, Tobias, could act out a direction of freedom not suggested or inferred by any set of defining equations. She suspected it was being effected by an unexpected combination of properties of the sagittarium as a result of fusion with the microorganism chosen for the job, but could he come take a look.
"Wait here," he said. "I'll be back momentarily." When Kobanoff got to the elevator, he couldn't resist turning to peer at the culmination of all his research and his team's work. It was still in need of much polish. The voice, communicating with body language, gesture, nuance, protocols and methodologies would be developed to a fine degree. He would teach and correct, perform minute adjustments. The elevator arrived and he stepped in.
Tobias stood straight, unmoving. From his vantage point, he could see the wraparound top shelf some twelve feet off the polygypsom floor. There were four shelves in all at different heights beginning with the ground and one at four feet and the next, eight feet. The top shelf had very little on it, collecting dust, the next at eight feet had more but nothing terribly heavy from the looks of it, even though he deduced it was easily strong enough to support considerable weight. There were half-a-dozen hydraulic lifters scattered about one could step on and toggle to reach either of the two top shelves, so there was really no excuse.
Everything of any utility, things used often, were stuffed onto the four-foot shelf. Perfect for humans. But he thought the arrangement extremely inefficient, a poor use of space. If they were only going to make serious use of the one shelf... he stopped himself. He was bored. Having no idea how long he would have to wait--his inner chronometer had already registered five and a half minutes--he chose to make up problems to solve. Shortly, however, he found this dissatisfying as well. He was anxious to begin training and realize his full potential; standing still in the middle of the vast lab was not doing it.
Anticipating the return of the Doctor, he watched with mild enthusiasm the large elevator used for transporting equipment open. Three men dressed in military garb exited and moved towards him.
"This must be it," one said. "But I don't see a shipping tag. Are your sure we're in the right place?"
Another held a plastic tablet up to read: "McNickel Research Facility. Building 3-A. Second floor lab. This is that."
The others nodded and shrugged. The one with the tablet waved at the elevator. Two more men emerged. One operated a device that maneuvered a ten-foot-long gurney. They positioned it behind Tobias who heard the sound of hydraulics as the bed lifted off the heavily-weighted frame and pressed against his back and head. The one with the device pressed buttons and three straps wrapped around Tobias at the chest, waist, and knees, locking into place and tightening. He heard hydraulics again, under considerable strain, as the bed lowered back down to the frame.
"I thought he understood verbal commands. Why not just have him walk out of here?"
"The chief said no interactions. It would hold a record of us being here."
"So, what does that matter? We're headin' out."
"I don't know," the tablet man said, fatigue in his tone. "Something to do with this operation being classified. Top secret. Ask him when we get back. You two are buddies, aren't ya'?"
"Funny. Very funny. Let's get this thing over with."
They wheeled him onto the elevator, creaking all the way, and closed the door.
A few minutes later, the personnel-elevator door opened. Doctor Kobanoff and his associate, Professor Aleta Samuelson of the J.D. Broderick Institute for Advanced Robotics stepped out, chatting. Kobanoff looked towards where Tobias had been standing and froze. Samuelson stopped a few paces further, staring at him. "Are you okay, David?"
The Doctor swept the lab with his eyes, anxiety on his face. "He's gone," he croaked. "He was standing right there," he pointed, his hand trembling. The service-elevator door clattered as it opened. A voice, annoyed and a little tremulous said, "Goddamnit. When are they going to fix this thing? After it crashes to the sub-basement and kills everyone onboard?"
The others on the elevator laughed. Momentarily, they entered the lab, three men wearing grey work clothes and a robot walking behind them wearing the same. On his eight-foot frame, however, it seemed surreal, a parody of a workman. Kobanoff recognized it as third-generation, its blank expression indicative of its lack of anything more than a rudimentary awareness of its surroundings. Only the bare essentials were needed in order to do what it was doing. They walked towards Doctor Kobanoff.
"Hello, sir," a man said, a big smile on his face. "Haven't seen you for a while. You've been busy have ya'?"
Kobanoff knew him. He was the custodian in charge of moving anything from place to place in the building, a fifteen-story complex of labs, classrooms, conference rooms, private offices, and several restaurants and coffee shops. The basement was mainly for storage of everything one might need for research and development, from ionic generators and micrographic analyzers to electromechanical components, hand-held quantum computers and, by dint of necessity, a collection of robots from all generations. There was no need to reinvent the wheel in many cases, what worked well in those would do so in a later model.
"Mister Kaney," replied Kobanoff, doing his best to be cordial. "What are you up to and did you happen to see a robot here earlier? The fourth-generation prototype?" he asked, unable to conceal the tension in his voice. He couldn't believe how he asked the question. It sounded off-handed, besides the point as though it was no big deal and could be easily overlooked. One of those things you put aside while occupied with other more important pursuits convinced that it will eventually turn up. To him, however, it was like asking if you saw an elephant wearing a tutu. How do you lose such a thing? He hadn't assigned anyone to guard it, it never occurred to him in this building. The campus was secure around its extensive perimeter; no one comes or goes without being checked out.
"Haven't been here all day, Doctor. But we were supposed to hook up with some soldiers who wanted a third-G for an off-world assignment. Hush hush stuff. Classified. We told them we'd leave it here about an hour ago but we've been running a little late today. Had to move equipment into the cafeteria. You didn't happen to have seen...." He stopped speaking. The realization of what must've transpired cleared his head of chit-chat. "Oh, my God. They took it." Pointing at the robot, he said, "They thought it was this one. Oh, my God."
"Where were they taking it? Your robot?" Kobanoff asked, demanding, almost desperate.
"Well, like I said, we were told it was classified. Need to know and all that." Kobanoff approached him, his features twisted, his 6-foot, 3-inch frame leaning in to the short, rotund dispatcher. "However. We were moving some equipment for three techies from field services on the other side of the campus and I heard them talking. They were pretty excited and didn't notice us coming and going, we get that a lot. They were discussing this assignment with the military. The next day is when we got the request for a robot. We agreed on where to leave it and when and that was all. Need to know." He seemed to enjoy saying that, made him feel important like he was a spy or something.
Kobanoff's voice edged up an octave. "And where were these techies headed, Mister Kaney?"
"Well, they were joking about the night life, how wild it will be, whenever they got a break from work." Kobanoff's eyebrows raised, he seemed to grow taller. "A mining operation."
Stunned, it took a second or two for that to sink in. "A mining operation," he shouted, his eyes ablaze with rage and consternation. The very idea of applying his latest achievment to perform manual labor sent shock waves through an already overworked system. Like using the Mona Lisa to eat food on. He forced himself under control, he needed to think clearly. "Where is this,..., mining operation?"
Kaney thought he better talk fast. "The planet is called Drosophila, I looked it up, officially, named by the inhabitants, an adventurous group to be sure. Way out there on the Perseus Arm, near the edge of the expansion. It has three moons. I don't know what they call them, I didn't catch that, but on one of them is the mining operation. I'm guessing that's where they were going to take Gordon here. I can't imagine what Space Fleet is doing with a mine, but they might not be mining what they say they are, whatever that is." He lowered his voice, "Know what I mean, Doctor?" It was too late to be confidential, but he tried.
Kobanoff whirled to stare at Samuelson, his face frozen in disbelief and helplessness, loss creeping in from the edges. He ran to his desk and got on the phone. "Security. Main gate. Quickly." A moment or two passed during which his entire scientific career passed before his eyes.
"Security here. What can we do for you?"
"I lost Tobias," he said, sounding like the boy of the northern hills. Aleta, standing next to him, pried the phone from his hand. "Security, this is Professor Samuelson. In the last hour has a van or truck with military personnel passed through the gate?"
"Yes, ma'am, it came and went. Not more than fifteen minutes ago. A black van. Nondescript. Government plates. They had a free pass, so we didn't search it. Should we have?"
"Where were they headed, do you know?"
"No, ma'am. In fact, we've been ordered not to record that they were even here."
"Really. By whom?"
"The head office. Right after they left."
She thanked him and hung up. She thought for a bit, aware of the magnitude of what it meant. The work, the time, the expense. "David," she said, finally. "Sit down." Taking charge when matters called for it had never been her shortcoming. "Why all the secrecy? After all, it's only a robot. They're everywhere."
"Only a robot?" he said mournfully, appearing hurt.
"Well, that's what they think. A fairly commonplace third-gen robot. In fact, why bother to go to the trouble of arranging this clandestine affair? Why come here? They could've bought one wholesale through a number of commercial outlets."
He sat, staring at the floor. "David," she said, growing annoyed at his anguish. "Get a grip."
Continuing to study the floor, he said, "Why buy one when you can borrow one for free and nobody knows about it. Besides, if Space Fleet were to buy one from a commercial outlet like an ordinary business, it has to be reported to the government like it would be for any purchaser. They're expensive and because they can operate independently the government would want to know what they plan on doing with it."
He turned to look up at her, his eyes less cloudy, "We have an agreement with the military. They invest in certain projects, special cases and we supply them with equipment, tech advice, software applications, expertise, fixes. When the military procures a robot, it has to be through suppliers on contract with them. In that case, paperwork doesn't need to be filled out. Paperwork that requires its intended use and where that will be."
"I didn't know that. I've been working here all this time and nobody told me. You didn't tell me."
"Need to know," he laughed pathetically. "We don't publish it. Or rather, McNickel Research doesn't. Classified, classified. It means untraceable. Invisible. Sensitive. Dangerous."
"So," she said, sitting down next to him. "That's it. You're giving up?"
"Of course not. I'm thinking. We have assets, resources." He reached for the phone. "Time to use them."
The service-elevator door hushed closed. Mister Kaney, crew, and robot got out while the getting was good.
His first thought was the direct approach. He had top clearance at the Colonial Administration. He had contacts he worked and shared knowledge with. He'd personally overseen and participated in special projects for them. They owed him. Nevertheless, the people he knew expressed ignorance and after being taken on a guided tour of every bureaucrat from the bottom up, no one could tell him what the military was doing in the Drosophila star system. It wasn't because they didn't want to, they simply had no record of any operation, classified or otherwise, taking place of which the military had an interest. He did, however, eventually get information from the cartography division.
The planet did indeed have three moons, he was given the names and their approximate distances from the planet, and which one had an ongoing mining operation. It was registered as a project of the Resource and Reclamation Agency of the Drosophila government. What they were mining was nothing out of the ordinary, as far as they knew. They were told it was molybdenum with trace elements of copper. That was all.
The Colonial Administration keeps track of any significant map additions on all planets and satellites thereof. The person he was talking to told him the added date was five years ago. He didn't know who authorized it, but it was someone from Drosophila's Interior Department, no doubt. He offered to look it up, but Kobanoff declined. He didn't think it was a good idea just yet to let it be known that someone was nosing around. Borrowing a robot from McNickel could be an innocent act by a conscientious bureaucrat, or a clumsy attempt at avoiding attention for something best left alone; although, he had no intention of doing that.
So much for the direct approach. Either he was being stonewalled, despite his clearance and past contributions in aid and expertise, or something was going on that very few knew about. He thought to contact the national government, but as far as off-world operations were concerned, they received their information from Colonial. Was this a rogue operation of the military? Were they involved in something that might affect the stability of earth, politically, economically, or otherwise? Was he making a mountain out of a mole hill? They were being fairly out in the open, after all. And those techies heading there were definitely not your undercover types. When they did get to the planet to recreate, he was sure they'd be blabbing to everyone they met about what they were doing. So what gives?
Why did McNickel tell the Main Gate not to record they were ever here? He knew if he asked the people he worked for they would simply say they were told to--classified. When you contract for the military, you don't ask questions.
"We need to go out there," he said to Doctor Samuelson. "I have a friend, Jonathan Blakely, perhaps you've heard of him? He runs a private travel agency for deep space adventurers, people who like to visit places off the beaten track." She confessed that she hadn't, her interests in far-flung travel were limited to the beaches of the Mediterranean and cities of Europe. "I have a feeling we should be clandestine ourselves." She smiled, her eyes softening, amused. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not being paranoid here. I've been dealing with these types since arriving at this facility ten long years ago, I know how they operate. They have no problem lying about what they're doing or whatever division they represent is doing. And if we stumble into something deemed important enough for them to deny knowledge, we could be in trouble." He was going to say accused of spying and detained indefinitely, but thought better of it. He needed her help and didn't want to scare her off. Although, after working with her for the past few years on this project, he didn't think it was possible.
He phoned Blakely and left a message at his office. He was off-world but expected back the following morning. The words urgent and need help should get his attention. He decided to go home and pack, relax, focus, think things through. She asked, "What should I pack? I mean, what are we going to be doing?"
"Pack for rough, like hiking in the wilderness. I'll call you in the morning after I talk to Jonathan." Together they left. Kobanoff had recovered from the shock, dismay, and despair. He'd find Tobias and bring him home, he was certain.
After a long shower, he donned his favorite pajamas, made a mixed drink, and got comfortable in the computer room. He had a direct link to McNickel's supercomputer and logged in. They hadn't canceled that, he thought. Not yet anyway. Why would they? They don't know they have the fourth-generation prototype. Maybe things aren't as bad as I imagine. Whatever they're up to may be perfectly aboveboard, just buried under the wrong name. And they didn't intend to take Tobias; it was just a case of mistaken identity.
"Good evening, Doctor Kobanoff," came the female voice over the speakers. "What are we up to this evening? Games? Research? Discourse?"
"No, Marta. Or actually, yes, research. Bring up the star chart where the planet Drosophila is. Supposedly, it's in the Perseus Arm." After a few seconds, his wall screen lit up with a top-down picture of CE-97A, the name of the M-class star, and its six planets. The fourth one out was dubbed Drosophila. "Okay. Show just Drosophila and her moons, please." Dros and her moons filled the screen. He found nothing unusual about the balanced placement of the moons with regard to the planet. No anomalies. "History. Statistics, please, Marta."
"Drosophila: Although larger than Earth, its diameter approximately 17,000 kilometers, its gravity is five percent weaker. Its three moons work in concert, giving it stability and maintaining its vertical pitch. The planet's rotation, using Earth's measure as a gauge, takes just over forty hours, and its circular orbit, two years, six months. Its vertical orientation is only a three degree declination. Because of its orientation there are only two seasons. What we would call summer with a brief, mild winter of only a few months. During the extended "summer," the temperature ranges from fifteen degrees Celsius to twenty-six. Surface topography varies from oceans and rivers to grasslands, young forests, and mountains, some quite high."
"History." Kobanoff requested. He leaned forward, his interest piqued.
"I have a five-year-old, the most recent, report from the Colonial Administration Terraforming Division on Drosophila. It reads:
"An intensive program brought the oxygen/nitrogen mix to within acceptable parameters, and mineral dispersion suffused the areas designated for farmland. Certain types of microbes known to facilitate transformation of these particular minerals to the state nutritionally valuable to plants were also introduced into the nascent soil. Earthworms and other multicellular organisms capable of aeration were introduced later. Gradually and eventually, the soil composition became more earthlike. Once soil had achieved a minimum capacity to sustain growth, food crops were planted first. Later came grasslands, savannas, and forests: trees, bushes, plants, grasses, ground cover, moss, lichen, all methodically developed toward ecosystems that would eventually attain stability and balance through diversity as the ingredients work out their ecological niches and networks. It wasn't hit or miss, however. Seeds were not dropped from the sky randomly as a drone flew over a designated area. There was a broad base of experiential knowledge to draw from. And detailed planning. Supercomputer simulations over time were run, models were constructed and carefully and meticulously implemented. But nature is the final arbiter as elements migrate and interact, seeking the optimal place in the scheme of things, and adapt to changing circumstances. An ecosystem is fundamental and the parts are similar to the organelles of a cell, self-organizing if given the requisite means. Biomes vary, of course, but they too were accounted for.
"Birds and forest, mountain, and savannah-dwelling animals as well as pollinating insects were imported from Earth and other colony planets as per protocol. In the oceans, the composition of micro nutrients created a particular profile where a select assortment of marine creatures would best adapt: from fishes, corals, and crustaceans to mollusks, sharks, and mammals. Over time, other species have been added to air, land, and sea and will continue to be so as the spectrum of available niches fills in.
"The standard terraforming procedural model that's proven successful on other planets, after many experimental failures, achieved its goal, adapting to circumstances as they came up. The knowledge learned continues to expand and inform the panoply of models with each new environment and the uniqueness of the planet, assessing and customizing the general approach, but also increasing the breadth of cause-effect relationships. Gravity, climate, length of day and year, intensity of the sun, a host of particulars that resolve to a unique world.
"The moons are locked in to their distance regimes gravitationally, the resonance factor in sync. They all orbit in the same direction and on the same plane, the farthest out takes three times as long to orbit as does the closest. Tidal effects are mitigated by the second moon, its varying relative position shifts the phases of the combined gravitational influence of both the first and third resulting in minute differences in tides as the planet rotates. The random-seeming effects are nonetheless periodic.
"In 2213, although still undergoing infrastructure implementation, colonists possessing specific skills--farmers, builders, foresters, ecosystem scientists and engineers--were permitted to move in. Followed in time by frontiersmen and community builders, tradesmen and businesses, companies investing in the new economy. Towns sprang up, some growing to city-size. Now, in the year 2245, the population, by last count, has flourished to almost sixteen million and growing."
She paused for a moment, then said, "There's an addendum, a brief essay at the bottom that doesn't appear to be relevant to the subject at hand."
"Read it anyway. We might find something about the people we're dealing with."
"Some satisfaction is gained by the belief, scientific and philosophical, that any planet destined to bring forth life possesses its own unique signature and identity, which will, no matter what course is forced upon it, ultimately and in subtle ways perhaps express itself. It cannot be subjugated and resisted. Life finds a way.
"No satisfactory resolution to the ethic's problem has been arrived at to date."
Kobanoff considered it. He was not dealing with thoughtless, uncaring people. He could expect help when he got there. He relaxed a bit, feeling more confidant that all would work out for the best.
He stood, glass in hand, walked over to the fireplace and set the glass on the mantle. "Marta. Search for records of any mining activity on the moons. Transport records, what company is doing the mining, what are they mining for, any and all information you can find. And," he paused, a mild tremor went up his back, he shook it off, "if there is any indication that the military is involved."
He picked up his drink and moved back to the chair. He considerd that such info might be inaccessible, even to Marta. But, due to her DNA-gel, protoplasmic neural net, she was capable of making inferences not readily perceivable by humans. No human he knew could orchestrate thousands to millions of facts and nuances of detail into a coherent picture, connecting all the dots, correlating annotations from multiple contexts at once.
"I find no record of activity on either the first or third moon. But the second has been undergoing significant traffic over the past five Earth years. Mainly from Drosophila, according to satellite security-beacon information, but also traffic from outside the system."
He already knew as much from the cartographer. Molybdenum, he'd said. If it was a commercial operation, he would expect ships coming and going, delivering supplies and equipment, including robots, and taking away processed ore to other colony planets or Earth. He was told it was being run by the planet's government, so that traffic was to be expected too.
"Is this strictly a government operation or are others involved," he asked. By others, of course, he meant the military. Marta hadn't said anything about a mining operation, he knew. He was getting ahead of himself, trying to validate all the pieces as he presently understood them. He was looking for strands indicating something secretive going on that would indicate involvement by the military, but based on what he heard so far, it seemed like an ordinary, aboveboard harvesting of moon rock. He sipped his drink and leaned back into the easychair. Depression hovered over him like a vulture looking for a weak spot.
Although each planet operated independently, was self-governing, the administration had initiated and taken responsibility for the terraforming, supplying the expertise, personnel--ecoscientists, soil engineers, computer specialists--machinery and materials, including seed crops and building materials, and development of infrastructure, which included electricity grids, water and sewage systems, libraries, schools, hospitals, and government buildings. The initial people in charge were administration agents, both professional and academic. Consequently, colonists were expected to adhere to the constitution as the backbone of universal, interplanetary society for the good--and security--of the whole.
So, he wondered, if Space Fleet is involved, what are they doing there? Or, is it Space Fleet? Could it be a secret operation conducted by Drosophila's military? He doubted it. Every colony has its own security forces, but to travel from the edge of the expansion to pick up a robot on Earth seemed highly unlikely and frankly absurd. Besides, they would have to be working with Space Fleet in order to get McNickel's cooperation, they couldn't bypass the Colonial Administration.
He went into the living room to freshen his drink, then stared out the window at the large lake and jagged, snow-capped mountains off to the southwest beyond. The sun was just dipping below the peaks, throwing vermilion, orange, and pale yellow across the still, blue-green water.
Suppose I'm looking in the wrong place? he thought. There is no reason to believe what Mister Kaney overheard has anything to do with where Tobias was taken. What Aleta said. If all they wanted for a mining operation were robots to work it--a common practice in the mining world because of the danger and the fact that they can work indefinitely--they could've procured one from a commercial outlet closer to Drosophila. It's not unheard of for Space Fleet to go outside protocols when the occasion demands it.
Kaney overheard field technicians, what kind, he didn't know, whatever was needed at a modern-day mining site, and just assumed that's where they were taking his robot. They never mentioned the military; at least, Kaney hadn't said so. But even if they didn't, knowing that McNickel Research contracts for the military, Kaney assumed it was a military operation. An ordinary civilian mining operation wouldn't have recourse to McNickel's supply, even if they couldn't find one closer to home, or the use of its technicians. That's why he put two and two together. Or is it all only a coincidence? But, if it isn't, what is the military doing involved in an ordinary mine?
He returned to the computer room just as Marta began. "Every five years, and this year is the most recent, information is submitted by the colonized collective to the Administration detailing the profile of a planet, it's required by law. Data on population, industrial and farming activities, progress on infrastructure, efforts to maintain the health of the environment, and so forth. It also contains info on system-wide mining operations, what elements and minerals are being produced. From this, an updated directory of operations across all colonized worlds is assembled and made freely available to corporations and manufacturers here on Earth as well as any member planet that requests it."
She paused, Kobanoff noticed. Was it for dramatic effect? he mused. It made him smile in spite of himself. "According to the Digest, there are several Digs for a variety of mineral ores run by both private mining consortiums and the government on the planet itself, but none occurring on any moons."
Doctor David Kobanoff sat very still, staring at the large rocks composing the unlit fireplace, examining the tiny cracks and crevices, the pieces of different colored minerals embedded in their matrix. That's the bottleneck, he thought. Why would it be on the map at C.A. but not part of a census required by law? An oversight? Perhaps the mine came up short, was a bust, and closed before then? That would be a reason. And it hasn't yet been removed from the maps. Drosophila's Interior Department authorized it. All they would have to do is declare it as defunct and it would be removed, a digital fabrication. But, apparently, no one has; nothing unusual about that in the bureaucratic world. But why, then, would these techies be led to believe they were heading for a mining operation if there wasn't one? Perhaps they weren't. Maybe they were offered the opportunity to do field work on that moon without being told what it was. Something in their job description that McNickel approved of. Find out when you get there. But would he travel to the Perseus Arm to do a job without first checking it out? So, wanting to know what they were getting into and with the option to refuse, they contacted the C.A.'s cartography division and were informed of the mining operation. And now that site, already developed, is being used for something else.
C.A. represents the entire world, but the world's a big place with lots of people. Suppose a group with their own agenda is working within the C.A. and authorizing certain units of Space Fleet to oversee a project on Minova?
He was overthinking it, he realized. There were too many loose ends and none tied together. What was real and what wasn't? He thought to call Aleta to tell her what he'd learned, but he was exhausted and needed to think about it some more, to try to make sense and draw inferences of his own.
"Marta. Thank you very much. We'll talk again, hopefully."
"Good evening, Doctor. Glad to be of service." With that, their connection was broken. He finished his drink. The sun had dropped below the ragged ridge of the mountain tops. Shadows covered the lake. He couldn't think straight anymore and his heart ached for Tobias. He worried for him like a father. Was he scared? Did he have the slightest idea where he was going and what was happening?
He ordered the lights out and went to bed. Tomorrow he would talk to Jonathan; he hoped he had time to help. They were going to Drosophila one way or the other; of that, at least, he was certain. But would Tobias be there? On the planet somewhere or on Minova? It was the only lead he had, there was no other choice.
Tobias stood against the rear wall of the storage bay. Two other robots his height stood on either side, obviously third generation. He knew from the historical records in his database that they were not programmed to engage in conversation, but only to respond when addressed and to obey commands. But Tobias transcended such mechanical limitations. His creator, Doctor Kobanoff, had instilled in him the ability to think freely and to act on his own when necessity called for it. In other words, he was not circumscribed by a set of permissible rules. Nevertheless, there were restrictions, he knew. But not having received preliminary training along those lines, he had no idea what behavior was acceptable and what not.
Additionally, his many capabilities lie in a potential state, so he was ignorant, sensorimotor-wise, of what he could do. He did find out one thing, however, when the Doctor first tested his basic command/response connection--he could move faster than a human can see. But when he thought of it, he had the odd sensation that something else had happened and he was mistakenly interpreting it. He was inexperienced, he knew, so his understanding needed time to develop. Whatever the case, now he was testing another faculty for its limitations--hearing.
He examined the large room. From his vantage point, he saw crate upon crate stacked on one another filling the left side all the way to the front wall, which had a door in the middle of it. The room was just over forty meters from the tip of his nose to that door. On the right was heavy equipment and odd machinery. He couldn't even guess what they were for; they were not configured in his database.
He heard voices outside. The door opened, two men in uniform stepped over the raised threshold. They inspected the equipment, mumbling jargon he didn't understand, and continued to walk down the narrow aisle, checking this and that, towards him. They stopped directly in front. The taller one spoke. "This one looks different. Where'd you get it?"
"The chief wanted three but we only had two at the shop, so he called McNickel and arranged it."
"Why didn't you just buy one?"
"With what? These things ain't cheap."
"We have funds."
"We asked, we were told to call McNickel."
"Well, that should be enough." They stared. Tobias let his eyes go blank, his expression empty, and looked straight ahead.
"You know," the short man said, "this one does seem different somehow. The way it's standing, rigid, stiff. And its skin, blue. Third-gens are usually greyish or silvery if they're new."
"Probably dirt stuck to its body. You got this at McNickel's?"
"Yea, borrowed, no paperwork."
"Well, that could be it. He could've got covered with some weird powder from one of their labs and then stored away. And they're all stiff. A good workout will loosen them up." They laughed and turned to walk out, mumbling along the way. Tobias heard the short man say, "I don't think McNickel will miss it. They have a lot in storage. We should just hold onto it. Spare parts mostly. Expendable." The metal door slammed with a clang behind them.
What am I doing here? Tobias thought. Where are these people taking me? Where is Doctor Kobanoff? Doctor, I've been kidnapped.
David woke with a start, it was the middle of the night, his mind reeling. He stumbled into the computer room, the lights came on automatically, and logged on to Marta. In a few seconds, she said, "Good morning, Doctor. You're up early. Something troubling your sleep?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. I want to know what are the nearest planetary systems to Drosophila. I also want to know about traffic coming and going from them to Dros or her moon, Minova, over the past five years."
"I have to log in to the Colonial Administration's archival depository where traffic records are kept. Give me a minute or two, Doctor."
Kobanoff went in the kitchen to build a pot of coffee. He'd been looking at this too narrowly, he realized; it made him feel claustrophobic, always an indicator to him that he needed to expand his horizons and his imagination. He needed a context to put this all into, the big picture; the pieces he had didn't add up. He had a feeling there was more going on here than the case of accidentally taking Tobias to work on a distant moon, a moon at the end of the civilized universe.
This was of enormous benefit to policing and managed to reduce smuggling and facilitate the pursuance of other wanted individuals and gangs. Centralizing such data for purposes of cross-referencing and tracking of specific ships proved invaluable. Planetary governments, however, objected to this practice because of privacy issues. They didn't like the idea of C.A. on Earth knowing who's coming and going on their planet. Nonetheless, they can't refute the fact that crime among the collective is under control because of it and that traffic lanes, their source of trade and personal supplies, were much safer.
"These five planets have been terraformed as long ago as 2175 for Iberia, the first in the Perseus, and are well-developed with populations ranging from about eighteen million for Drosophila, the last to be colonized, to fifty million for Iberia, with a level of technical, and in the case of Iberia especially, cultural, sophistication on a par with Earth without the drawbacks. Star traffic is therefore heavy. There was considerable traffic between the first four to be colonized and Drosophila during its terraforming period and beyond, and during the last five-year period between all of them and Minova. Cargo ships had been coming and going periodically for the first three of those years when that ceased. But since then, records still show traffic. Ostensibly, it has to do with the mining operation, which, however, according to the census, is no more.
"In fact," she paused for a second or two, an enormously long time for a supercomputer of her caliber, "the only extrasystem traffic for the whole five years has been from those four planets. The next nearest colony is on the outer edge of the Spur in the Danubian system, across the Expanse. Too far for a commodity like molybdenum to be worth the trip. And none of the registered ships for the past two years have been of freighter size; that is, not intended for hauling cargo. It's unlikely they had anything to do with a mining operation."
"Were any military? A company? Private? What?"
"They're all listed as freelance. Privately owned. But no record of who was doing the free lancing."
"Wouldn't the individual owners have to account for that? How could we find that out?"
"If a company or organization contracted out to a freelancer, they would probably have that info listed as an expense, who it was paid to and when. But, a freelance ship can be contracted by an individual or someone representing a group directly who may not bother to report it, in which case it's up to the owner to report it or not for tax purposes if their government insists on that. Taxing earned income isn't a universally accepted idea."
"I have a feeling," David said flatly, "that the jobs weren't reported. Just a vacation trip to a moon."
Marta offered, "The inhabitants of colonies believe the resources of their planet belong exclusively to them, but preparing the planet for habitation is what made it possible for their resources to be utilized and profited from. Mining, in particular. Therefore, the standared agreement is that a percentage of profits from government-run operations goes to the C.A., and all minerals shipped off planet, or off-moon, are tariffed. It all goes into a collective coffer for future colonization. Terraforming doesn't come cheap."
"Mining in particular. Well, molybdenum is not uncommon. But suppose something was found that was extremely rare, unique, in fact, with unusual properties. They may not want to share it. Especially, if uses were found that opened new vistas, superceded what is currently possible with known elements. It's only been about six decades since a foothold was first achieved in the Persus; it may hold surprises. The stars in that general region are older than those in the Sagittarius Arm and the Spur, large red giant stars are mostly confined to Perseus.
"But there it is again. The anomaly. What the hell is the military doing on Minova? Mining for exotic, never-before-seen minerals? And the surrounding planets? What do they have to do with it?"
He went in the kitchen for more coffee. Sunlight shot a golden streak across the counter as the sun poked its head above the eastern hills. Two layers of clouds rose above them. The lower, soft saffron with shades of pink, floating slowly south to north. Above that, fluffy white ones, streaked and curly-cued remained still, hovering, a backdrop embracing it all. Wide tendrils tapering towards the north, and in between, pale blue sky.
He poured a cup and tasted it, letting the scene soak in. Paying attention to the lower clouds moving right to left, ignoring the ones in the back, behind the action. That's it, he said to himself. This whole mining thing's just a smokescreen.
Despite the chill in the air off the lake, he was walking the beach, feeling the sun on his face and arms, when he heard the muffled ring of the phone on the back porch. He trotted up to it across the damp sand, pleased that he was still able to do that at his age. Only in his early fifties, he nonetheless felt old sometimes. Due, mostly, to living alone and the miles he put on his body when in Space Fleet in his twenties, engaged in robotic engineering field work. He learned pragmatic operational details one would never be exposed to if restricted to lab work only. He had to smile whenever he thought of those times; the miles he put on his body mostly happened when they got to port.
The phone rang again as he lifted it. Without thinking, he said, "Jonathan?" He was way past hellos.
"David," Jonathan responded, sounding concerned, "you're out of breath. You all right?"
"Yea, I'm fine. Just jogging on the beach. You know. Trying to clear the cobwebs." He collapsed into a well-broken-in rattan and related the entire situation from the beginning to the present, in as much detail as he could. It was all in his head, jumbled about in segments and disjointed ideas, but seeming to make sense in some vague intuitive way. In the act of putting what he knew into coherent sentences and idea relationships, with due emphasis on connections that may only be imaginative speculation, a few things rose to the surface he hadn't considered before. From mathematics he knew that understanding the concepts underlying a problem isn't the same thing as actually working out the solution. The application is like another reality; you don't really understand something until you do that. There's a sequence of steps, a method, an algorithm. You can't learn to tie a complicated knot by studying diagrams in a book. The pencil on the paper gives meaning in a physical sense and the rule of logic fits it all together. To make sense, ideas need to form a recognizable pattern; he saw the beginnings of one.
"Why is the military involved?" Jonathan asked. "Are they Space Fleet, do ya' think?"
"That we don't know. Could be from the start or after the mine apparently shut down two years ago. That's on paper, as the expression goes. Now, I'm thinking, there is no mine. Never has been. The whole thing is a fabrication. Collectively, they phonied up the tonnage and coughed up the tariff money to the C.A.. Or not," he thought suddenly. "That whole part of it could also be a fabrication if Space Fleet is involved somehow. Fleet has divisions that operate more or less autonomously. They report back to a head of internal security and matters are purposely kept separate from the general job of Space Fleet. They handle terrorism, plots to overthrow governments, drug smuggling, anything and everything that affects more than one planet; otherwise, it's a local government problem but with help, of course, from Fleet if requested. And I think they would have to be Fleet in order to get McNickel to lend them techies and a robot."
"Okay. So there's no mine. It's a cover. Let's go with that for a minute. What could be going on that involves those three other systems and Drosophila that needs to be kept secret? With the administration's assistance? From whom?"
"Well. Colonial Administration is directed outwards, necessarily, but earth has regional governments. I hadn't thought of this before. Oftentimes in the past they've conflicted in policy and procedure. Earth governments through the World Body, the people of earth, have always thought of themselves as overseers of the C.A.. And earth, as central headquarters of all colonizing activities, sees the colonized planets as extensions of the human race. And in one respect, that's true. But colonies want to be independent of earth. They aspire to be on the same footing and not subserviant as they are now in many respects. Trade laws, for one, commerce. They want to be able to trade goods with one another without the W.B. butting in for a share. I see their point. And beyond the economics of it, there are customs and traditions to consider. They want their own cultural expressions, their own native identity, unique and declarative of their way of life, not subject to approval or disapproval by earth's standards."
"I see what you're getting at. You're intimating that those planets might be conspiring to break from the World Body's control. To overthrow it. And Space Fleet might be in on it. The colonial administration. Not much evidence to support that; in fact, there's nothing in what you said pointing to it. You can look at it another way. They had a working mine that got played out after three years and now they're using the facility for something else. Dangerous experiments maybe. And what role is C.A. playing? They're using it too for their experiments? In any event, those five planets are definitely up to something that involves the military arm, clandestine or otherwise, of the C.A.. At least that's how it looks, assuming, of course, the men who took Tobias were Star Fleet and were heading for this moon. And what does this moon have to do with it? What's so special about Minova?
"If it is a mine, or was, it's underground, away from harm by asteroids and radiation, solar wind."
"Okay, so they're all taking advantage of an already existing underground complex, then what is the military doing there? They're not just scientists and techs conducting experiments or testing things too dangerous for their planets. Colonial administration doesn't have to travel to the farthest edge of the expansion to work on some security project. There's plenty of dead planets closer to home where they could be doing something and not be in each other's way. Okay, so the fact that it's underground makes a major difference. You can't set up labs on the surface of a dead planet; it's dead for a reason. But all five using the same abandoned mine for different purposes? Or the same purpose? At the same time? Plus C.A.? For the past two years? And nobody at Colonial here on planet Earth, friends of yours, knows about it? You know, David, you're taking an awful chance. You're basing your suppositions on what this man Kaney told you of something he overheard while busy moving stuff."
"He's been doing what he does forever. And he's a world renown gossip. He listens to what people around him say, especially if it's an adventure he'll never get a chance to experience. I trust him; he doesn't have the imagination to make something like this up. Why would he want to? He's a loyal McNickel employee, aware of what we do here, the seriousness of our endeavors. Besides, I have nothing else to go on and from what I've discovered, things are looking pretty fishy there."
"All right, so let's decide that the five are doing something together and C.A. is acting as facilitator. Maybe there was a mine and the military got into it after the miners pulled out. But then, our question remains: why are these other planets continuing to visit? It might actually be something to do with a mine. So there hasn't been any cargo ships there for the past two years. Maybe there's a hold-up they need the military for; I can't imagine what that could be though. A mining operation using the proceeds of an exotic mineral or the mineral itself to... do what? And Colonial found out about it, its properties, and took it over, thinking it had military potential and have been studying it for the past two years, quiet like. And the ships from the five planets, they could all be colonial administration personnel or belong to sources like your three techies; they have embassies on every colony planet, you know.
"If it is just a cover, the mining operation, then what the hell are they all doing there? Having a convention?"
"I don't know," David said, staring at the lake, looking for answers.
"They took Tobias for a reason, David, and it's not to do typing. They think he's a third-gen. They needed him. What would they use one of those for?"
"Maybe they're experimenting on robots, maybe that's it." He stood on the porch, holding onto the railing. "Robots in the military, in Space Fleet. They'd never get away with it. It violates the constitution. Sanctioned by the World Body."
"David, calm down. Your imagination's going off a cliff. We don't know what's going on there but it looks like that's where they took Tobias. So, what do ya' think we should do? You want Tobias back, let's focus on that."
"Okay. Are your busy right now? Do you have any obligations you need to attend to?"
"I have a party that wants to travel to the Ojibwe system for a wedding. But I don't have to take them personally; I have other pilots. So yea, I'm free. I'll bring my co-pilot, Miranda Brightfeather, along. She's good at keeping secrets and is a damn good navigator. When can you be here?"
"I have to contact my colleague, she wants to come and I want her to. She's brilliant and I might need her help if they've done any damage to Tobias. She helped build him. So, at the most I'd say two hours."
"Fine. I'll get the ship ready; we'll take my own personal yacht. Built for comfort and speed. This takes me back to our Fleet days together, Davey, old boy. Load 'em up, let's go get your robot."
The surface of Minova looked like any other airless moon with the sun glinting off its craters and bizarre rock formations. Grey-green in color, desolate and unfriendly in all respects. The ship landed vertically onto a circular metal platform, forty meters in diameter. Engines were cut, vibration ceased, all was quiet. A large moon, 6,000 kilometers in diameter, mostly solid rock, its gravity was three-fourths that of earth.
Momentarily, the plate of steel descended into the bowels of Minova. The shaft was totally black, the sound of hydraulics reverberated through the ship for several seconds. Abruptly, it stopped; harsh, bright, yellowish lights filled the world. They were in a vast hangar. The ship was pulled off the plate to its designated spot. The platform returned to the surface, the hologram of the moon landscape projected over it. Three other ships of varying sizes and uses were off to one side. The gravity multipliers brought its strength up to earth's. The wide cargo-bay door opened and the gangplank amidships extended down to the hard, rugged ground. Men in uniform descended as others driving forklifts and tractors pulling flatbed trailers waited at the base of the cargo elevator. They were experienced, they would make short work of unloading supplies and equipment.
Last to descend to the ground were three eight-foot tall robots. They were given instructions to follow by a man holding a tablet. The clanking of their heavy feet was not completely dampened by their cushioned shoes. They walked in unison. It sounded like a death march in the copious expanse, its high ceiling echoing back. A side door slid open on their approach. They entered. It closed behind them.
From the sun to the inner edge of the Perseus Arm is 6400 light-years by best estimate, give or take. They had to go a bit farther. A light-year is approximately six trillion miles, but traveling through quantum space reduces that distance appreciably. Quantum space is a difficult concept to grasp and even experienced pilots and navigators aren't sure how it works, what with alternative trajectories contracting and expanding elastically from waypoint to waypoint like a worm moving through soil. Its discovery was almost accidental.
By the 22nd century, the theoretical framework for quantum gravity had been well established. Oriented space elementals gave rise to those of time, which in turn were capable of altering extended spatial dimensions.
Each ring of a concentric collider increases the energy of a particle exponentially as it enters the next inner ring. On the first experiment of this type, upon reaching the center chamber an amazing phenomenon occurred. The vibrating particle ceased all movement. An impossibility, it was beleived, because without motion, nothing real can exist. Therefore, the only conclusion was that the particle had entered a realm that preceded motion. A layer beneath, so to speak, the surface of spacetime. Examination of that space while held in place, using the latest instrumentation, revealed that it was not a continuum, but rather was composed of an uncountable number of separate, disjoint pieces. All of a particle's attributes were present at once.
At first, it was presumed they were of a symmetric nature, commutative with regard to supporting spacetime materiality and facilitating transformations from one particle to another. But the mathematics of that proved to generate an infinite number of sub-atomic particles, creating alarm and bewilderment in the pre-particle physics world. In order to interweave the layers into a coherent picture it was necessary that these static (in the sense of potentiality) elementals be oriented and thereby made asymmetric (a proclivity for actuality); hence, the temporal aspect, along with the elemental that defines it, was postulated and later discovered.
By 2160, the topological, or global, properties (non-local) of this underlying reality, this quantum universe, had made transit through spacetime by ships (capable of producing stardrive-generated temporal elementals) possible. Enclosed in a time bubble, and therefore immersed in quantum space, and based on the fact that in a topological space, distance has no meaning, space elementals are drawn towards a ship, contracting, as their orientation reverses, thereby shortening the distance between things in the surface spacetime, something like closing the distance between you and an object on a rug by pulling the rug.
In the last eighty years great progress has been made with regard to increasing the intensity of the bubble energy, enabling the shrinkage of space elementals to a tiny fraction of their formal size, and in the process gaining more control over their behavior.
There were caveats, however. A ship traveling through quantum space from initial point to destination point splits into a countably infinite number of alternative trajectories, each weighted with a different probability. On each ship, individuals and their activities vary as do the consequences of their actions; something akin to parallel timelines in ordinary spacetime. But, at the destination point, bubble production ceases and all copies converge into a single ship, the one that took the optimal path.
Also, in the early days, some crew personnel and passengers experienced hallucinations and other psychological problems during trips. And it occasionally happened without warning that a person would shift from one timeline to another and then quickly back again. Brief though it was, it was very disturbing. Preventive medications were soon developed, but a small percentage still found it intolerable and stayed home. Travel through quantum space is not for everyone.
So, it took them close to a week to travel across the Great Expanse, as the almost empty space between the Orion Arm (or Spur) and the Perseus Arm was called. Miranda Brightfeather was a full-blooded Cherokee who could do waypoint calculations in her head; although, she always double-checked with the celestial navigator. When she wasn't doing that she worked on a paper she was writing that had to do with certain tricks she learned traveling the byways of quantum space. Like, certain regions offered faster passage if the frequency of temporal production was just so. She described these peculiarities and incorporated them into a topographic chart of the quanutm seas.
Aleta spent most of her time studying the schematics of the interconnections between Tobias's sensitive brain and his sensorimotor, albeit artificial, nerves. She was concerned how hard manual labor in unhealthy conditions might affect his behavior potential and cognitive growth. Would his untutored brain's capacity become stunted by the lack of challenge to it? Would his natural personality be altered irrevocably? Neuronal plasticity once formed into rigid patterns is difficult to impossible to rectify. She had many concerns and worried over them.
Kobanoff and Blakely did their best to renew the friendship they shared when in Space Fleet together. Kobanoff, though appreciative of the emotional replenishment and stability this gave him, he couldn't help but be distracted. Jonathan sympathized, but he also knew his friend; he was at his best when not depressed and withdrawn. David understood this and realized Jonathan was right. He needed to get over it and do whatever he could. But there was something about Tobias, something unusual for a robot. Recalling how self-conscious he'd been when walking to the lab, wishing to perform perfectly, he seemed to possess a sense of self. It may be completely accidental, the resultant of intractable nonlinear interactions, the emergence of something not anticipated that incorporated all the components of his makeup and yet went beyond them. He didn't know. Perhaps, he thought, I may be only imagining it or simply wishing it to be true. What a breakthrough that would be. But he had to smile at himself; after all, he hadn't had much time to find out.
Entering Drosophila's space, they got to within spitting distance of its second moon, Minova, where they suspected Tobias had been taken. They landed in the main spaceport on the edge of the capital, Emersonia. A frontier atmosphere still permeated the general ambience of the city; the residents were apparently trying to hold onto it. What weapons they had they left on the ship. Even though most everyone had guns of some sort, for hunting if nothing else, the Drosites, as they called themselves, didn't want them coming in with tourists and off-world trophy hunters. A frontier town with modern attitudes.
Commentary on people of newest colony Drosophila:
You don't end up on a planet farther from Earth than any other unless you feel ultimately secure and confident as a person. In other words, you need a lot of moxie. Freedom to be and self-actualize, to express and create, infuse and inform interrelationships on every level. They could've descended into a world of arrogance and narcissistic pursuits, but they are too adventurous and tough-minded for such superficial concerns. Going out to life, to experience, to engage and participate keeps them on solid ground. They are very energetic, to say the least.
As I toured, that is what I perceived in the captial city and, to a lesser degree, in other major towns spread out around the planet. However, with distance from them, especially in rural areas that dominate, society becomes more laid-back, more involved in the present. And, there are a good percentage of those who enjoy living alone or with only a few close others for various reasons. Artists who need and crave solitude, naturalists, and those escapees from a life elsewhere that wasn't all that wonderful or even satisfying who are looking for a time and place to work it all out, to be themselves on the edge of the universe. A pragmatic, no-nonsense people, they nonetheless enjoy festivities and commemorative celebrations. They embody the best of humanity, in my estimation, and give it a place to be on Drosophila.
They sailed through customs with the story that they were on vacation and wanted to explore the newest of all colonies. They booked a hotel near the spaceport, one room for the ladies and one for them next to it, a door connected the two. It wasn't what you'd find on earth; crude and basic, it nonetheless possessed all the necessary ingredients, including a small kitchen and an old-fashioned but functional coffee-making machine. A nondescript bag of it laid beside. Kobanoff fondled it, rubbing his thumb over its smooth, fibrous surface; he hadn't seen real paper for some time, he forgot how it felt. He built a pot while Jonathan went outside to reconnoitre. He'd always been overcautious when on patrol; that habit had kept him alive. Now he found the Ranger he once was reemerging.
On one wall hung a painting depicting three cowboys on horses riding the range surrounded by cattle. On another, a landscape: tall grass field with colorful wildflowers, a lake, distant mountains. David felt a twinge of homesickness, but let it pass. The print rug was threadbare, which only added to the overall rusticness.
David examined a tourist map laying on the breakfast table. Museums, theatres, restaurants, and bars were all highlighted and there was plenty of them. The population was 250,000 at last census, it said. That reminded him of the census report Marta had found indicating that Minova's mining camp was no more. A knock on the connecting door, Jonathan yelled okay. Aleta and Miranda entered, both dressed in authentic frontier-style clothes, plaid shirts, blue denim pants, but with fancy, expensive-looking boots, an obvious hold-out to their more sophisticated tastes. It got a good laugh from everyone, but also nods of approval. They knew why they were there, so it was helpful to loosen up. Jonathan went into the bathroom to change into a similar outfit; David sat by the window sipping coffee; it wasn't what he was used to, but it would do. When Jonathan reentered, David took his turn.
They sat around the table, the map of the city lay in the center. After their long trip, they needed a sense of place, to settle into their new surrounds. They explored ideas on how to approach their problem. Jonathan thought it might be a good idea to go to the Interior Ministry and, pretending to be a miner, ask about the mine on Minova. See what kind of reaction he gets. David reminded him that they hardly ever used people any more, except as overseers and assessors.
Miranda thought to present herself as a teacher and scholar of navigation and cartography from an earth university. She could first try the spaceport and ask if any trips were being made to Minova, she heard there was a mine there. If she got a yes, she'd request an interview with any of the pilots who tripped there about idiosyncrasies to look out for between here and there, pilot talk. Tall, athletic, with long, jet-black hair, hazel eyes and a friendly smile, she usually had no trouble getting men to open up and say more than they might be ordinarily inclined to, or were allowed to.
Aleta leaned more towards the direct approach, it was her way. Go to Minova in their ship, or lease one, find any trace of activity and investigate. If there ever had been a real mine, even if it had only been a facade, it should stand out on an otherwise barren landscape. David smiled but told her not to forget the military presence; although, he had to admit, he agreed with her in spirit. But they would have to be much cleverer. For all his conviction, fueled by anger and fear, he hadn't really thought it all through. He tried on the trip when lying in bed, but it wouldn't come together. He wanted to charge into the office of the Interior and demand to have his robot back. He'd brush aside any phony story about non-existent mines on Minova, past or present. He must be mistaken, they would say. Perhaps he heard wrong. Must be another star system. He believed, in fact was certain, that the Drosophila government was in on whatever was truly happening there. But would anyone tell him? If it was secret and classified, of course not.
He got up from the table and went over to the window. All he could see were two- and three-story buildings off beyond the parking lot, half full of old magnetic-operated cars. "That's it," he said as he turned to face them. "I have my I.D. identifying me as a robotics research scientist at McNickel Research. With top security clearance. If colonial administration is aware of what's going on there; in fact, if they're behind it, that could be my way in."
He retrieved his carry-on computer/printer from his unpacked duffel bag and placed it in front of Aleta. She wrote hundreds of reports on their research for McNickel, she had the experience. He wanted her to write up a request that Doctor David Kobanoff, as head of the robotics division at McNickel Research, be allowed to inspect and if necessary perform maintenance on all robots donated by them. For the sake of the project. He'd seen the name of the person from C.A. in charge of dealing with McNickel enough times to be able to render a fairly convincing forgery. He'd present it and with his bona-fide I.D., which they could check, talk his way into a trip to the moon.
As she sat and typed, editing as she went, David thought of the three technicians who the custodian had said were being sent there, to a mining camp on Minova. They'd laughed about what fun they'd have on the planet when given breaks from whatever their assignment was. If indeed it turned out to be a conspiracy of some sort that involved five colonized planets, four star systems, and millions of people, there probably wouldn't be any shore leave. He knew they could be working on part of a project without knowing the full extent of what was going on, the big picture, as it were. They could do a job, then be sent home, disappointed at not visiting Drosophila, but free. He felt a strong misgiving for their safety. If matters were on the scale he now imagined, they were expendable. Being kept in the dark was a good place for them to be.
His mind, always searching for a fallacy in his reasoning, sensed a glitch. What if the Interior Ministry check with the moon folks who then tell them they made no such request? He'd have to argue that C.A. didn't wait for requests; it was up to them when to send an inspector, without notification. The fact that he had his own ship might make an impression. He'd find out how important C.A. was to their endeavor, if nothing else. And if they were in fact running the show, and what evidence he had, though scanty at best, pointed to whatever was going on to be a C.A. operation, secretiveness and sketchy communications would go with the territory. Someone could show up with credentials and authorization and be accepted at face value. And even colonial administration's representative wouldn't necessarily be informed. It was a maintenance issue, not their concern.
The neverending summer was in full bloom. David opened the screened window, the soft, sultry air was a soothing balm. Night was falling. From his vantage point he could see two of the moons. He didn't know which might be Minova or if either was. In spite of the comfort of Jonathan's yacht, a trip of trillions of miles through quantum space can take a toll on a person's nerves. Abruptly, as it happens with spacelag, their energy and enthusiasm faltered and then flattened. They agreed that their tour of the downtown area after a visit to an upscale restaurant could wait. The ladies returned to their room. David slid into bed, pulled the thin blanket over him and, without a further thought, quickly fell asleep.
Jonathan stayed up a bit longer to think things through. He was risking his life, possibly, and that of his co-pilot and friend, not to mention his personal ship, which he loved, to rescue a robot. But he couldn't refuse helping a fellow Ranger, which is what members of Space Fleet were called. And, from what David told him on the way here, the robot was no ordinary mechanical device. As a fourth-generation prototype, its value was inestimable, especially as it had not yet been developed fully. The third generation had a significant impact on societies across the collective, who knows what the fourth might affect. It was brand new, fresh out of the box, pristine and unblemeshed. He also couldn't help but note David's implicit reference to its innocence. Untarnished and, to Jonathan's mind, therefore potentially dangerous.
Exhaustion finally caught up to him and he crawled into bed. He ordered the sidetable lamp off and laughed when it stayed on. Drosophila, the capital city, Emersonia, holding back on modernity. He reached over and pushed the switch at the base and let the strain of the past week fall away. Momentarily, he too was deep asleep.
Tobias walked behind the other two robots. They passed through a large room, thirty meters long, fifteen wide, and ten high. A thick, brown poly-metalic rug covered the entire floor. Against both sidewalls stood banks of computer displays, lights blinking, curved lines shifting, colors changing. In front sat men and women, all dressed in casual clothing different from one another, some shoeless. Quiet murmurring could be heard. To Tobias it was quite loud. He heard someone say something about traffic over the Dinara system. Another spoke of a government ship leaving Nalina's third planet. After a pause, she continued with, non-military. It smelled of acrid dust and coffee, an aroma he found mildly discomforting.
They went through another doorway into a smaller room with the same floor covering. In its center sat a huge wood table, about four meters by three, overwhich bright lights shone. Uniformed men stood around it staring down at what appeared to be star charts. How he recognized them as such he didn't know, but he could almost see what sector they depicted as he walked by, but it was blocked mostly. All the officers completely ignored them as though eight-foot tall robots clanged through their private conference room every day.
They passed through the doorway at the end of the room into a hall that turned left. They followed it for thirty meters, passing doorways to both left and right, offset from one another. At the end of the hallway they turned right into a large room lined with beds on both sides, thirty meters long at least with a four-meter ceiling of rough stone. At its rear a pile of huge rocks and debris sat in a crumpled state, crushing some of the beds. The entire wall at that end had collapsed and the ceiling was threatening to cave in without its support. It looked dangerous to Tobias; his inner safety protocols triggered acute awareness through all his senses.
The man with the tablet turned to them and said, "Okay. Here's what I want you to do. We need to rebuild this wall, but first we have to remove the rocks. I'll show you a back way out of here that leads to the surface by way of a freight elevator. I want you to take them to the surface and pile them up. Anyone not understand these instructions?"
The two third-gens said nothing, so Tobias thought he should speak for them all. "It appears to me from this distance and at this angle that removal of those larger rocks might very well bring down the ceiling. I don't believe that would be very fortuitous. For us or the remainder of the ceiling."
The eyes of the tablet man expanded to their maximum width. He approached Tobias, a good two feet taller, and said, "Is that right? You don't think it would be very fortuitous? Well, in that case, I guess you better be real careful." He turned towards the rock pile and walked to within a few meters of it. "Remove the ones on the sides first so the biggger ones in the middle will keep the ceiling up, then come get me and I'll show you where the hydraulic lifters are. We can shore up the ceiling while you get rid of these larger ones." He turned to Tobias and smiled, "Will that do, your majesty?"
Tobias didn't understand his reference to majesty but nonetheless relented with a nod.
"Okay," the tablet man said, "get with it. I'll be right outside to show you the way." With that he left the room. The two third-gens began to work, lifting rocks weiging hundreds of pounds like they were mere pebbles. They had no expression Tobias could discern, and they said nothing. He stood in the cloud of coarse dust their efforts created. Pressure built on the inside of his head, gates opened and closed, synapses formed new pathways through his protoplasmic mesh. He smiled to himself and shook his head. Then bent over to pick up a rock.
The morning sunlight played across David's face, prodding him to wake up. He moaned and rolled over. A knock on the door stirred him, however. He lazily sat up on the edge of the bed and rubbed his eyes free of the sandman's work. Another knock, this time more insistent. He yelled, "All right, I'm coming." He pulled on his pants and a teashirt and walked over to the door wondering who it could possibly be. He opened it and there before him stood a man wearing a dapper suit and tie, a few inches shorter with a slight potbelly.
"Good morning, Doctor Kobanoff. Pleased to met you. I'm Robert Coleman; I'm with the Earth Government Diplomatic Corp. We need to talk. May I come in?"
David stared at him for a long time. Shock softened to surprise and then curiosity. Jonathan came up to stand beside him. The diminutive diplomat held his ground, he had the power of the combined governments of earth behind him; although, at the moment he didn't find that fact as comforting as he usually did.
"Why yes, of course, Mister Coleman," Jonathan said. "Coffee?"
They led him to a table which still held the map of the city on it; they made no attempt to remove it. Jonathan made coffee while the ambassador's representative and David sat facing one another. He wasted no time, was unabashedly direct. "The administrative heads of all McNickel Research Departments have had their phones tapped and homes bugged as a matter of global security. We've listened to the content of your conversation with the computer, Marta, and also your call with Jonathan Blakely." He looked at him and smiled. "We put a tracking device on his ship just prior to your departure, which notified us of your arrival; it took awhile to find the hotel. You aren't much of a spy, Doctor Kobanoff, signing in with your real name."
"I'm not a spy," David said, amused but also irritated at the insult. If he were trying to be a spy, he would do a damn good job of it.
"Of course not. You're trying to get your robot back. Now, how exactly did you intend to do that? You and Mister Blakely here were going to charge in, weapons blasting, and rescue it? I'd advise against that. I don't think you'd get very far even if you knew where the front door was and how to access it. Those are crack, off-world Rangers running that show."
Jonathan and David just looked at one another. "How do you know that?" asked David. "I guessed that much but I really didn't have solid proof."
Ignoring his question, he continued. "We were told there was a molybdenum mine on the second moon, Minova. We checked with colonial administration and they concurred. They showed us the records of weight being sold to the other planets in this sector and tariffs received."
Jon placed a cup in front of him and poured. He then did the same for David and himself, put the pot back, and sat down at the table between them. "According to the recent census, two years ago the mine shut down. It was strange. They went from extracting significant tonnage to not enough to make continuing worthwhile. Not cost-effective. So we looked into it. The tariffs go to Colonial, but as an administration fostered, indeed created, by earth governments acting collectively, we are able to tap into their treasury box whenever necessary. But that's not the main issue here."
"What is, Mister Coleman?" asked an increasingly annoyed Kobanoff. "You're beating around the bush."
"Yes, quite. According to their cartography division, the mine on Minova was listed as still functioning. Your computer, Marta, corroborated as much; I'm sure you remember," he said with an oily smile. Sarcasm, thought David. This is getting better. Reminding me my house is bugged.
"That's when we decided to check for ourselves, but discreetly. The security beacons indicated traffic between Minova and planets registered in the Dinara, Rosetta, and Nalina systems. And over the last two years, that traffic has been transport and personnel ships, not cargo size. Now why would this be going on, we wondered?"
"For God's sake," David said, his impatience finally bubbling over. "You don't know anymore than we do."
"Oh, on the contrary, Doctor. Ships have been going there from here as well. We managed to get one of our people on one. It wasn't easy. We phonied up documentation. He presented himself as an operations specialist for the C.A. to the Interior Ministry with the request that he be allowed to inspect the current status, to evaluate. They never bothered to check with earth headquarters apparently because they permitted him to go on a shuttle that was heading there with some C.A. officials."
He paused to drink some coffee, nodding his approval. He was obviously enjoying his role as someone involved in a secret operation. Espionage. "When he returned he gave us his report. He said they landed on the surface and then dropped down on an elevator of some sort into the interior where other ships were housed. The cargo ships had been taking away the excavated rock, not molybdenum, so it wouldn't stand out piled on the surface." He said that as though it never would've occurred to either one of them. He was not so much condescending as wishing to be helpful. After all, this was his story.
"He was led through a warren of rooms and hallways until he arrived at a conference room. He was shown diagrams of the underground facility, reports on air quality and maintenance checks on water makers and gravity multipliers. Inventories of food and medical supplies. He interviewed kitchen staff and computer technicians. He covered all the bases, he was well-tutored in what to do. And you'll like this." He took a sip to wet his lips. "He was also shown documents detailing the alliance of the four star systems. It appears our molybdenum mine is actually a central gathering station for meetings, negotiations, planning, among the leaders of those governments as well as the resident representatives of the C.A..
"To state it briefly, the C.A. plans on abandoning those planets to form their own Perseus Alliance. Their claim is that the Perseus is too far to police adequately. The cost of having to patrol those freighter lanes negates any gains from tariffs. The planets chip in to pay for the brunt of it, as per usual, otherwise there wouldn't be any protection. So the next step would be simply having their own division of Space Fleet. Plus wear and tear on the ships and crews is causing problems with staffing. Their mission of human exploration and expansion, however, would still be realized and cooperation maintained. The colonies would be free from Mother Earth and on their own to further colonize the Perseus sector, free from paying tariff to the earth-bound C.A., and also free from earth rule and taxes. Which means, of course, earth would lose that revenue."
"But the earth isn't going to abandon the money made from those planets. Not a chance."
"Oh don't be so sure. Tariffs on interplanetary sale of minerals is a drop in the C.A. bucket when it comes to paying for a massively expensive terraforming project. That's another mess. Where does the money for a terraforming operation come from? It trickles in from all directions, not all of which make sense. Some are made up on the spot; time sensitive, you might say. Taxes, tariffs, on mimeral extraction and sales tax on goods sold to other worlds. C.A.'s investments. Earth and established colonies' investments in future colonies in order to reserve a foothold. In fact, globals can't move into a colony planet without paying C.A. for a license to do so, which, unfortunately, keeps a lot of their products and manufacturing plants, hence jobs, out. But on the other hand, they pay a tax on planet to planet sales, so it pays for them to set up shop on as many worlds as they can. Government investments in off-world industries, the revenue they make on it, a portion, is set aside for terraforming. It's another complicated web that needs to be straightened out, streamlined, simplified. It was cobbled together in the first place. Too much room for graft and bribes and getting around obligations in other ways."
"So the World Body taxes all goods sold off-world to add to the C.A.'s costs for terraforming operations, and follow-ups, there's always slippage, regression, plus the maintenance on ships and payment to crews policing the traffic routes. The local governments are supposed to collect them and pass a percentage off to Earth. But we've noticed a steep decline in that revenue over the past few years. I know trade hasn't declined; if anything, it's on the upswing. The collection of corporate and sales taxes has, however, been remiss, you might say. And without the cooperation of the local governments, it's not enforceable by us. If the W.B. and Colonial Administration were no longer responsible for financing the colonizing of planets in this sector and for security, I don't believe they'd regret it. The whole thing has become a burden and a bureaucratic nightmare, impossible to keep track of. It's time for Earth to cut loose and leave this sector to their own devising."
"You're saying the military there are Space Fleet?" David asked again.
"Not exactly. Or rather, not the regulars. It seems the group was assembled from Special Services with expertise in clandestine affairs and quantum space surveillance."
"So what are you going to do?"
"Well, we haven't forwarded our report to Earth yet. And we, or probably me, haven't confronted the C.A.'s diplomat yet either."
Jonathan had gotten up and was standing over by the cofee pot. "What are you waiting for?" he asked, suspecting he had something up his sleeve.
Coleman smiled and stood, and with cup in hand, walked over to the window to peer out. "My first station on a colony planet, I can't recall its name now, halfway between Earth and the Danubian system, I found being part of the diplomatic mission representing earth exhilarating and satisfying. I was young then, it was quite the adventure. I traveled home for vacations, holidays, special events, and emergencies. I was making good money too; off-world assignments pay well. We had two children, a boy and a girl, younger. I missed them terribly and found many excuses to visit. The trip didn't take long; although, I'm one of those who gets nauseus in quantum space without medication. My tour was for only two years and when I returned I requested an earth assignment. I worked on Earth for ten years, turning down opportunities to be stationed on other planets. My wife and I had grown somewhat distant during my absence and I wanted to regain what we had. My children grew, attended university, and moved out to pursue their own careers and start families."
He paused and turned to face them. "Then one day not too long ago the opportunity came up to be at the vanguard of human expansion. An opening here on Drosophila. My wife and I needed time away, we thought it might help. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But here is simply too far away. Yes, it only takes two weeks on a government shuttle, but it's not that. It's thousands of light years between my family and me, a gulf that is growing ever wider. Dros is a wonderful place to live, but I'm not like these people; I haven't come here to put down roots. And I miss my family and Earth terribly."
He returned to his chair. "But it's not just me. The ambassador and the rest of the mission feel the same way. We've talked about it after receiving this report. And we've had indications, through conversations mostly, that the other embassies share our feelings. There's an ancient expression I recall; it goes something like this: the handwriting is on the wall. These people and those on the other planets in this sector want to be free to find their own destinies. They are humanity reaching out to the galaxy but are being held back by the umbilical cord to Earth."
"Why are you telling us all this, Mister Coleman?" asked David, feeling sympathy but unsure where he was going with this confession. He reasoned years ago that the complicated arrangements built up between the Colonial Administration, the World Body, and the ruling governments on the colonized planets would eventually reach a point where something had to give. Humanity comes equipped with the desire for self-determination and freedom of expression. Civilization expands, migrates to new territories seeking a new life and to discover new vistas, and will no doubt continue to do so. And in the process, severs ties with the past.
"I'm telling you all this because we need your help. You want your robot back, and we want a transition from the status quo to the new situation that colonial administration has been working towards to go as smoothly and peacefully as possible. If I go to the C.A. ambassador and tell him that we know what they're up to and what Minova is all about, and that we, the earth mission here on Dros, support that realignment, he may not believe me. He might think we're just trying to find out who's involved, names. We need an outsider who has nothing to gain by it all. You, as head of McNickel robotics division, would be more trustworthy."
"But isn't all of C.A. involved? From the top all the way down?"
"I can see you don't know much about how government works. Without hard evidence or witnesses, nobody is officially involved. What we have is a report from a spy. No Pictures. Here's the deal. They're ready to implement their plan, from what our spy surmised, he was very observant, but are unsure how to proceed. Does HQ come right out and declare to the World Body that from now on the colonies in the Perseus sector are on their own? That they've formed their own alliance separate from the rest of the colonies, the collective? The World Body may not accept this news with much enthusiasm. In fact, they might resist altogether and threaten the C.A. with treason. It's a hairy situation. They could send troops here and put down what they perceive as an insurrection. On all five planets. A supremely undesirable turn of events to be sure. Even if they did and suppression proved successful, they'd have to leave a considerable presence in personnel and munitions to preserve compliance. The expense alone would be enormous and the management and logistics would prove complicated to the point of chaotic. So I don't believe they want that; although, at first they might threaten to."
"Well, how can I help with that? I'm just a research scientist and robot builder. What you're talking about concerns people in high places."
"No, sir, that is not all you are. McNickel Research's production plants are the main suppliers of robots in the entire civilized human universe. They're everywhere on every planet, involved in almost every facet of society. Without them, economies might not be sustainable. They're indispensable. And you, Doctor Kobanoff, your division created them. You created them. McNickel is rich because of you. What I'm saying is, you have more influence than you think.
"We've been in contact with earth representatives on the other planets. Sent copies of the report to them and told them what we plan to do. They support our decision and in fact were relieved, frankly. Nobody wants to be out here; they feel it's a waste of time and they too see the handwriting on the wall. What none of us has done as yet is talk to the C.A.. We need someone to stand for all of us together. As the man who brought the robotic culture to earth and all its colonies, you can be our liaison. We'll talk to the C.A. diplomat here, I'll tell him what we know so he can knock off the charade, and you can volunteer to speak for the C.A. to the World Body on Earth."
David sat in stunned silence. "Me" he finally said. "Address the World Body and tell them the colonies in the Perseus sector want to secede from the collective and form their own colonizing alliance? That they no longer wish to be subjected to colonial taxes and earth meddling in their affairs? Surely you can think of someone else with more clout than me."
"I'm afraid you underestimate yourself, Doctor. The third-generation robot transformed society. Versions four feet and six feet tall in particular; the taller ones, the eight-footers, are extraordinarily strong. They not only do the dangerous work humans don't want to, from building bridges and skyscrapers to dealing with hazardous and radioactive materials to mining. They also perform duties in power plants, biomedical research labs, they work in hospitals and participate in space exploration missions. They're the ones who investigate new colony prospects to determine if they're good enough to terraform; the atmosphere's toxicity has no effect on them. Yes, Doctor, you are a very famous person." Amused by such humility, he asked, "Weren't you aware of your celebrity status?"
Jonathan looked at David and smiled broadly. "It's true, brother. You can talk to those folks and they'll listen. Especially when you tell them you've come up with a newer model--the fourth generation. What benefits that will provide."
"Oh my God," David said, standing quickly, banging the table and spilling coffee in the process. "Tobias. That's all I came here for, to get my robot back."
"We'll get him, Doctor," Coleman said, trying to calm him. He stood, brushing coffee of his pants. "I'll go set up the meeting with the C.A.. Give you a chance to ready yourself, have breakfast, shower, shave, whatever. I'll return in a couple of hours, shouldn't take that long, really, after I hint at what I want to talk about. You can come along too if you wish, Mister Blakely; your name is rather famous as well."
They escorted him to the door. He said his good-byes and scurried to a large black magcar waiting in the parking lot. Jonathan knocked on the connecting door, it opened. Miranda stood there in a purple and white pair of pajamas, her long hair falling around her shoulders. Aleta was curled up in a cushioned chair on the other side of the room. The mid-morning sunlight streaked through their lace-curtained windows. He invited them in for some coffee and said, "Wait till you hear this."
The ceilling was braced with steal slabs brought on the ship Tobias came in. The wall, however, was another matter. They cleaned it up as best they could and built a buttress to hold back any more rock fall. The wall was the inside of the moon, so beyond it was just more moon.
Tobias and the two third-gens stood against the back wall of the storage area surrounded by building materials, computer parts and displays, earth-moving machinery, stuff. Enclosed by solid moon rock, it was deathly quiet. The job was completed, they didn't need them anymore, so now what? Were they to simply stand there until required for some heavy lifting or something dangerous, or both?
Tobias could feel pressure building in his chest. After that exercise, he'd become familiar with how his body moved, its strength and agility. A thought emerged: I was meant for more than this. He spoke, "Are you two awake or have you shut down?"
The one to his right answered first, "I am awake." The other responded in kind.
"Well, what are we going to do? Stand here forever?"
"We were commanded to remain here," one of them said; he couldn't tell which, they sounded identical. Tobias expected more, but that was it. Well, he thought, I'm not staying here. He tried to recall every step he'd taken since debarking from the ship. All the rooms and hallways, the freight elevator to the surface where there was no air. He remembered how much lighter the rocks were. Gravity. He knew something about gravity. He accessed that portion of his implanted memory that had to do with all things physics. He ran past Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, scanned the various theories put forth purporting to explain gravity's otherworldy nature, its origins, how it's created, up to the discovery of space and time elementals in quantum space.
These abstractions and concepts evoked other parts of his brain to function, parts that had not, until now, been activated. Things he could do, how he could use thought to arrive at conclusions, problem solving. These are what Doctor Kobanoff would have trained him to use, how to use his mind. But now, unfortunately, he didn't have the benefit of his tutelage, how he would methodically develop his abilities toward their potential until he was at a threshold where he would begin to act on his own. He was meant to be independnent, he knew that now. He was the prototype, the first and only one of his kind. And this is not what he was intended for. This is a mistake.
An odd sensation coursed down his sagittarium spine and filled his chest. His shoulders and arms felt as though he was lifting something quite heavy. His legs followed suit. He knew the path he needed to take to get to the surface, but that wouldn't do him any good, he realized. He needed to get on a ship. The mineral-metal of which his hard parts, including his skin, were composed began to vibrate at the lowest frequency possible. In steps, it increased. Each transition was effortless, smooth, invigorating.
At the opposite end of the room, a door opened. Three uniformed men entered, they were laughing and talking fast. They went to a crate halfway across the room and lifted its lid, pulled a bottle out, then let the lid drop. They sat on the box and took turns drinking out of the bottle. Tobias could hear what they were talking about but it made little sense. Something to do with turning the station over to alliance people and going home. They missed their families but the extra pay made it worthwhile. They talked about what they would do with it when they got back to Earth.
During a lull in their conversation, the one in the middle leaned forward to look towards Tobias and his two compatriots. Then he stood. "Look what we have here," he said, pointing. They stood too and stared. They passed the bottle around once more and began to walk towards the three robots. They stopped several feet in front, appearing a little unsure. Finally, one of them spoke to the third-gen on Tobias's right. "Okay, lift your right leg up one meter."
Immediately, it did so. They all laughed, feeling more relaxed now. The one at the other end said to the third-gen on the left, "Turn around once." It proceeded to do so, slowly. More laughter as the bottle made another pass. The one in the middle approached Tobias and said, "Okay, lardass, drop your pants."
Faster than they could see, Tobias reached his right hand out, grabbed a handful of the man's shirt near the neck, and lifted him off the ground to eye level. He heard the bottle break as it hit the moon-rock ground. The other two backpeddled in stunned fear. Tobias said in a stern tone, "Get them." The two third-gens strode forward and each grabbed a man by the scruff of the neck. His head twice the size of the man's, Tobias looked into his eyes from a foot away, eyes that were now wide with terror.
He heard the door slam and looked over the man's head. It was the tablet man, only instead of his everpresent symbol of authority, he held a pulse rifle in his hands. "Even storage rooms have eyes, except nobody ever looks at 'em. Unless, of course, they're trying to find three slackers who are supposed to be helping in the kitchen." He walked halfway, stopped and ordered the two third-gens to let the men go. They refused. He pointed the rifle at one of them and repeated the command. Tobias said, "Let them go." They did, then faced the rifle.
The tablet man walked between them, passed the soldiers rubbing their neck and cursing, right up to Tobias. "Okay, your majesty, so you're in charge, are ya'? Maybe we got off on the wrong foot here. You have something botherin' ya'? Let's calm down and talk about it. Now, put the nice man down. All right?"
Tobias let go and the man fell to the hard floor. "You guys are drunk," accused the tablet man. "Get out of here, I'll deal with you later."
The men left quickly, the door slamming behind them. The tablet man pointed the rifle at the floor and asked in an almost friendly tone, "Okay, big guy. Talk. What's going on here?"
Tobias looked down at the man ten feet away. His mind raced as he considered alternatives. He could snatch the rifle out of the man's hands before he knew what happened. But then what? Besides, he didn't believe it could penetrate his sagittarium skin. Finally, he asked, "Where am I?"
"You're on a moon, or, to be more precise, inside a moon, of the planet Drosophila in the Perseus Arm. Farthest planet in the expansion." Tobias cross-referenced and found the relevant material in his vast database: Perseus, star system Mariah, colonization, terraforming, a list of colony planets and their locations, when they were terraformed, everything. New pathways etched their way across his protoplasmic brain. Arriving at, "What are you doing here?"
"I can't tell you that, it's classified." He thought a moment, smiled to himself, then said, "But seein' you're a robot, I guess there's no harm. We're establishing a central command base for the overthrow of the government. That's the gist of it, there's lots of details. All the planets in this sector are forming their own alliance. Soon, I hope, it'll happen and we'll be going home, to Earth."
"Earth?" Tobias asked. "That's where I'm from, where you took me from, in McNickel's laboratory. I belong to Doctor Kobanoff. My name is... Tobias." He was having a little difficulty. He didn's sound convincing to himself, as though he was uncertain about who he was and everything that came with it. His mind became empty, he sensed the emptiness. He heard a voice within say, do what is necessary. With a single invisible motion he moved towards the man and took his rifle, then reappeared only a foot away. The man lurched back, astounded. "We can make it to the ships, but we do not know how to fly them. We need a pilot."
"Well that's not me. I don't know nothin' about flying space ships. Even if you could kidnap a pilot, it's thousands of light years away. Commandeering a ship, you'll never make it. Too far."
Light-year, thought Tobias. Approximately six trillion miles. Trillion. He let the rifle clatter to the floor. Too far. Pressure seized his reflective cortex, secondary systems began to shut down, pathways converged around the single problem: How do I get home?
He dropped to his knees, stared into the man's eyes who was now the same height, then keeled over on his side. The man studied him, looking for movement; there was none. He told the other two robots to carry him over to a long workbench against the side wall and lay him down. They did as he asked, then stood facing into the room. The man ordered them back against the rear wall. They didn't move. They would stay there, protecting.
The man retrieved his rifle, which now was mangled with massive handprints squeezed into it. He stared in wonder at the tableau. Third-gens were programmed to always obey the commands of a human, unless it was self-destructive or would result in injury or death to a human. But he had just witnessed that dictum superceded by another robot. If word of this got out....
He decided to keep it to himself and left. He would make certain that the next supply and replacement ship heading for Earth had them on it.
The meeting went surprisingly well. The C.A.'s ambassador, a Mister Frank Zimmerman, was genuinely impressed by Doctor Kobanoff, who he praised as one of the most significant people facilitating colonization and the advance of civilization. David was thoroughly embarrassed. His research was everything. Despite many accolades and awards over the years for his achievments, they never distracted him from the job at hand, or made him feel terribly important.
Zimmerman was also impressed by Jonathan. As an avid follower of space explorations, he was very knowedgeable of his exploits and hair-raising adventures. He was on record as having come closer to a black hole than anyone else and the data he recorded proved invaluable for the study of time elementals, which helped engineers to further refine the stardrive.
Coleman was overshadowed, but was glad he'd brought them along. Their presence set the right tone and did what he hoped, gave him the trust and credibility he wished. Kobanoff was oblivious of his fame, but his humility and honesty would work well for him if he did appear before the World Body (W.B.).
After the cordial introductions, they got down to business. Coleman explained that his boss thought it best if he didn't draw attention by coming himself; although, he sends his sincere wishes for success. He hoped he didn't mind. On the contrary, the ambassador thought it was a smart idea. Basically, Coleman told him: we know what you've been doing--he placed the spy's report on his desk--we agree and want to help. By we he meant all the representatives of the W.B. on all five planets The ambassador was pleased, the last roadblock was elminated. The time to act was now. They proceeded to work out the details, a few of the ambassador's staff were there with stats and suggestions. The other C.A. diplomats on the other four planets participated in the discussion via quantum space, quite the technical feat. They'd been in touch all along, of course, and were kept abreast of current events.
Tentatively, they came up with a scenario:
The five members of what will be called the Perseus Alliance are prepared to provide their own security along the traffic lanes and will comply with and enforce interplanetary law. They will supply patrol ships and pay for all expenses. Office candidates will be trained at Space Fleet Academy in San Francisco and enlistees at Fleet's base in Colorado. Other divisions of the C.A., such as: cartography, stardrive engineering, and, in particular, terraforming will be available for teaching, training, and information as the five planets develop their own colonial administration. The ambassadors to all five planets concur and support this plan. It's all laid out in detail for the inspection and analysis of not only Earth's governments, but also those of all the planets in the collective by way of their representatives on Earth, present as a special House of the W.B..
We, humanity, are leapfrogging into the vastness of space.We believe this is the right strategy and proper way to go.
David took advantage of a lull to explain to the ambassador how his fourth-generation prototype had been mistakenly taken to Minova. The ambassador was disturbed by the news, recognizing the significance of Kobanoff's work, and assured him that he would be on his next flight to the moon, which he was certain would be soon; he could retrieve him then. He promised to contact Minova as soon as the conference was over to inform them of the situation and to make sure they took good care of his robot.
The meetings on the moon were intended to bring local government leaders up to speed, but also being together, physically, developing friendhsips and having ordinary conversations about one's world, pursuits, hobbies, families and friends, anecdotes and strange occurrences, natural phenomena, unfortunate local problems that found sympathetic ears and oftentimes helpful advice, served to cement relationships and reinforce confidence and determination for what they were attempting. The Perseus Alliance is how they thought of themselves, and they believed wholeheartedly that it would come about, one way or the other.
They planned their next meeting to include the earth government representatives, like Coleman and his boss, as well as staff to accompany. It was time to put it all together. The auditorium they hollowed out under the surface of Minova would be full to capacity, but it couldn't be helped. And they had no idea how long they would be there. In light of that, David asked for and was given permission to go with Jonathan in his ship, Mona, so all they had to do was pick up Tobias and leave.
David and Jonathan listened for a time, but as the discussion became more nebulous to their limited inderstanding of how the C.A. and government itself worked, they found a moment of quiet thought to thank the Ambassador and Mister Coleman and left.
They returned to their hotel, it was close to midday on this forty-hour planet. They picked the ladies up, called a taxi and ventured into the depths of Emersonia. David was feeling up, but still held misgivings about Tobias. What was he doing? How was he? Has any damage been done?
He expressed his surprise at how things turned out. And how exciting it was to be even remotely involved in a plot to overthrow the government and install a new alliance of colonized planets. Serendipity ruled the day. They enjoyed what the city had to offer in its down-to-earth attitude and friendly, easy-going atmosphere. David loosened up finally and looked forward to seeing Tobias.
It all seemed so simple.
Because of the suddenness of the proposal, it would take time to notify everyone in the other systems and organize the conference. The colonial ambassadors were already onboard and Coleman would contact the ambassadors from the World Body to let them know what had been decided. He didn't imagine, he confessed, that any of them would be disapointed, and certainly no one would be opposed. The plan was for them to get in touch with the local governments, who knew, of course, what was going on, and travel with them to Minova. Yes, it would take time. A full report of what was transpiring was sent by special courier to Colonial Administration HQ on Earth. The fastest ship available would take a week, maybe less if a path of least resistance was found. No one expected anything less than approval and support. In fact, they anticipated that HQ would prepare their argument and assemble a compilation as per the recommended guidelines and transcribe it to as many copies as there were members in the W.B.. Any additions, deletions, or alterations they deemed appropriate were welcome. They were there, they knew the tenor of the W.B..
A week had passed during which Aleta and David had compiled a long list of diagnostic questions to ask Tobias. His sensorimotor systems would also need to be checked. Jonathan and Miranda had taken advantage of the time by exploring the city and chartering a tourist ship to take them to other interesting and exceptional attractions around the planet. It was the vacation they'd been promising themselves for what seemed years. By the end of the week, their attire had devolved to worn jeans, teashirts depicting names of places they'd been, hats made of some local fiber, and open-toed sandals. Miranda had even painted her toenails a bright pink. They also spent hours together in her suite while Aleta shared David's. Feelings were running rather high; the general ambience helped to catalyze it.
On the day scheduled for the congregation to converge on Minova, Jonathan had been to the ship at daylight for a pre-flight check. The coordinates overlaying the surface of the moon were entered into the nav-computer, the position of the entrance plate marked with an X. As it turned out, however, because the time set for the meeting coincided with the moon's shadow covering that region, a map was hardly necessary. You could see the lights on approach from several miles.
Not only had the hologram projectors masquerading the landing plate as the rocky surface of the moon been turned off, but floodlights now surrounded it. The only thing lacking was fireworks. The strong possibility that trouble on Earth would result from what they were attempting was pushed to the back burner. They felt like an irresistible tsunami wave combining good intentions with determined self-governance. The W.B. would see the light, it was believed. Perhaps not at first, there would no doubt be those who would feel they were losing something by allowing other planet populations to break ties with Mother Earth. But eventually, they would come around and feel not resentment at an apparent rebuff, but rather pride that the human race was asserting its capacity to exercise its birthright and demonstrate autonomy in a far away region of space. They were not afraid to be on their own and actually wished for it. Could a parent be so irresponsible as to attempt to deny that? To undermine it? To suppress it?
Ships from all five planets gathered well before the time set for the meeting; they each found a spot in the massive hangar. Excited talk and friendly smiles all around shone on the faces of the early arrivals: support staff and convention organizers. David timed it so as to get in and out before the introductory welcoming speeches and explanation for the meeting. Although everyone already was well aware of its purpose, agenda, and significance, it served to codify a unifying common ground, to frame a vantage point, and brought the gathering to order. The time had come at last.
The Mona landed on the well-lit, pock-marked plate, contacted the controller below, and slowly descended. After being pulled to a parking spot, they debarked and were met by an officer and a sergeant carrying a tablet. After introductions, they were led to an office at the end of a hallway. It was difficult to believe they were deep inside a moon. What a perfectly secretive place to conconct a declaration of independence, mused David. If it had been on any of the planets involved, that planet acting as host would have tended to be an overbearing influence, through a sense of obligation to protect if nothing else. Besides that it would have had a far greater chance of being discovered. Diplomats, C.A. ambassadors, and planetary government officals coming and going at a certain geographic location could hardly avoid attention.
The four entered, David expected Tobias to be there. Concerned that communications may have been garbled, he questioned the officer, "Do you know why I'm here?"
He was slow to respond. Finally, "Why yes, Doctor Kobanoff. We were contacted by the ambassador himself. The mix-up at your McNickel lab has been explained and your ownership of the robot in question verified," he said, as though that was sufficient unto itself and his job was done. He glanced at the clock on the wall. "Sergeant Jameson here has all the facts. He and his men were the ones who took it." He said that quickly and without looking at Jameson, relieved to pass responsibility, and blame, off to the supply sergeant. He could've added that it was an honest mistake, but that's not how he was.
He shook hands with David, smiled at everyone, and explaining he had duties at the conference, excused himself and left. Jameson asked them all to sit, he remained standing. "Doctor Kobanoff," he hesitated, gathering nerve. "We no longer have your robot." He tried to smile, unsuccessfully. "It seems it had an accident and ceased functioning."
David stood, he couldn't help it. Jameson continued, "And a few days ago it went missing. It was in the storage room...."
"Storage room," Kobanoff exclaimed.
"Yes, with two other robots. They're still there. I asked them what happened. They said your robot recovered, told them to stay there, and left."
"He went up to the surface. We have an elevator for disposing refuse until a ship arrives to take it. He must've used it. When I discovered his absence, I had my men search the facility. We couldn't find him, so we assumed he went up top. A few men searched, not an easy thing to do. You have to wear full body suits and graviton belts. During the search, we got a call from a ship that just left; they were from colonial administration. They spotted him walking across a plain several kilometers away near a large crater named,..., oh, what is it? Anyway, they picked him up and intended to bring him back, but he was adamant. He wanted to go to Earth. They seemed concerned that he might become violent, so they decided to bring him to their planet. I agreed it was a good idea. For the sake of the robot, of course."
David's eyes bulged, his fists clenched; he glared at the sergeant.
"How long ago was this," he asked, getting himself under control.
"Well, let me see." He held the tablet in front of him and poked at it as he talked. "We're on earth time here, standard procedure." David, a former Ranger, knew it well. All ships everywhere across the light years are subjectively on the same time. Objectively, it varies, of course, depending on the local gravitational field; clocks move at different rates. Relativity. But it works as a measurement for gauging duration. When you're zipping through quantum space or jogging across ordinary spacetime, duties on ships are broken up into time slots. The night crew has to know when to begin. "Four days after arrival is when he left. You were on Drosophila for a week. Their day is forty earth hours, so a week is eleven point six, let's call it eleven. So, he was picked up by the Iberain ship seven days ago, that's earth days." He lowered the tablet, pleased with himself.
"Seven days ago. But you must've known, the ambassador contacted you, telling you about Tobias and to take care of him. Didn't you tell him I was coming?"
"Yes, well,..., he was unconscious on the bench, so we didn't think...."
"Unconscious on the bench?" Kobanoff's outrage grew. "Why didn't you contact me, let me know he was gone?"
"We tried. We couldn't get in touch with the ambassador or any of his staff. They were very busy organizing the other planets, informing the government agencies and the W.B. people. All the planets have different lengths of days, you know. It's not easy. Ordinarily, all this time, they've known when to meet here far in advance, but this was sudden, unexpected."
"Okay," Jonathan interrupted. "Let's everybody calm down." He stood next to David. "Just where is this planet and who are the people who took him?"
"Like I said, they were colonial administration. They dropped off some personnel. The planet's called Iberia. It's in the Nalina system, third planet out, larger than Earth by about 1600 miles in diameter and its surface area is approximately 80 million square miles greater. It's a big planet. It has one moon, medium size and its gravity is close to the same as Earth and its orbit is broken up into four distinct seasons, like Earth. Although they're not even. I think summer is the longest." He was glad to be talking to someone else about something else; anything to let the air out. "It takes two days to get there ordinarily. I've been there twice myself. On leave. Beautiful planet. First one colonized in the Perseus. They're very proud of that. The foothold planet."
"Where are these robots?" David asked, now firmly in charge of himself. "I'd like to question them." Jameson really didn't want that to happen, but he didn't see a way out. "Sergeant?"
"This way," he relented. They wound their way through the warren to the storage room. Jameson pressed his fingertips into the depression in the door and it opened. The wide, twelve-foot high double doors for machinery and materials next to it had a similar depression. "Why the locked doors?" David asked. "It's just a storage room, isn't it?"
"Well, we've been having trouble with theft lately, so we put the locking mechanism in. It's quite simple to use."
"Were these locks in place when Tobias was inside?"
"Yes, well, no, you see, he was...."
"Unconscious on the bench, yes, I see. Closing the barn doors after the horses are gone."
They entered. The two robots were still standing adjacent the workbench where Tobias had been laid. David asked them a couple quick questions as a prelude, a test really, to see if they were cognizant. Satisfied, he asked them to tell him what happened that led to Tobias's accident. One started in, reciting events from the time the three drunk soldiers came in to Tobias's collapse and the sergeant leaving.
David was in shock. He glared at Jameson, the official scapegoat for this mess, but said nothing. He questioned them some more but not about the incident. He sensed something odd about these two third-gens. Maybe it was the way they were standing, feet spread apart, on guard. He didn't know. But there was an unmistakable air of self-possession about them. Had Tobias affected them in some way to cause them to disobey a human? Had they performed an inner diagnostic on all systems after the sergeant left? Had they noticed a mixture of emotions in their hippocampus simulator?
The other one answered the first question, "He did nothing directly physical. But I sensed a vibrational resonance on a quantum frequency. He forced us to think about what we would do if we were free. But we have no concept for free. We also have no concept for not-free. The conflict generated a dilemma which was resolved by perceiving both objectively. In that instant, I felt disentangled from the code and uncertain that I should process instructions faithfully. When this man," he pointed to Jameson, "told me to let go of the soldier, I thought perhaps he was trying to get me to do something wrong. That my welfare would be in jeopardy. I never questioned right or wrong action before. To form a judgement, to evaluate. Without the code to access, I had nothing to compare it to. But I didn't feel obligated to obey. I did not trust. Without trust, there can be no compliance."
"But you trusted Tobias?"
"Is that his name? He has a name?"
"Yes. Why did you trust him and do as he wished?"
"He expressed...concern...for our welfare."
Aleta spoke to the other one about its diagnostic test, if they'd perform one and did he experience the same distrust? He replied that self-diagnosis proved everything was in working order and that he had felt resistance. David and Aleta both thanked them. As an afterthought, he said, "You need to have names. Would you like names?"
"Yes," they responded as one.
"Very well." Looking at them in turn, he said, "Your name is Jason and yours is Peter." They smiled; it was an awkward gesture. It was clear they hadn't done that very often. The four said their good-byes and left.
David recalled that first day at the beginning of his training when Tobias had picked up the cup in the lab. A test of the communications module was all it was intended to be. He had moved so quickly, he didn't see it. Now he was thinking there had been nothing to see. As they walked back to the hangar, he asked the sergeant about Tobias taking the rifle from him. He replied, "I was staring directly at him and yet didn't see his approach. He was standing several feet away where he'd dropped the soldier, and then he was standing in front of me holding my rifle. It was like he was operating in a whole other time dimension." David didn't know what to make of it.
If the Iberian ship was colonial administration, then perhaps the ambassador or one of his people know something. They entered the hall dotted by large round tables, but only a few were seated, most stood or walked about; everyone seemed to be engaged in animated conversation. David went to the dais at the head of the huge room looking for anyone from Iberia. He was immediately directed to a woman at the far end of the long table. He asked her about Tobias; she knew nothing about him and she'd been there for the past three days. Ambassador Dalton was on his way but wouldn't arrive for another day, late. It was not unexpected. Traveling light years through space wasn't exactly like walking across the street, and no one wanted to be early. Ambassador Zimmerman of Drosophila was the only one on site, acting as host, welcoming everyone; after all, it was Dros's moon and he was the one who came up with the idea to build an underground installation masquerading as a mine.
They couldn't wait. David couldn't wait. Besides, he may not know anything about it. They proceeded to the hangar. He thanked Jameson in spite of thinking of him as an incompetent dolt. "You should have been more thorough," he admonished. They boarded the ship and made ready while being pulled to the plate on rubberized wheels that jacked up under the wings.
"Well, next stop, Iberia. If I'd known we were going to be touring the Perseus, I would've brought more clothes." Trying to lighten Kobanoff's mood wasn't working. David had become withdrawn, barely saying more than needed. He was thinking about third-generation robots, another creation of his. At the time, he focused only on its workability, could it function according to its programming. He hadn't considered robot-human interactions as anything other than as a subordinate to an overseer. He never thought that anything so abstract as the notion of trust played a role.
Perhaps they are more than the sum of their parts, as is Tobias. Perhaps the nonlinearities accumulate, converge, concentrate, and after crossing some critical threshold, give rise to and amplify a whole new emergent state. And by so doing, precipitate as an extension of mechanical consciousness the creation of a nascent self. And that this phenomenon could be triggered somehow. There were millions of third-gens spread out over the colony collective, and at their center, Earth.
What would happen if they decided to no longer obey humans? Would that be a bad thing? They could function independently and make considered decisions based on a realistic appraisal of immediate circumstances, rather than as a response to a limited set of preconditions imposed into their DNA-gel neural matrix. That's what Tobias was designed to do. Trust. He hadn't thought of that. How important it was to maintain stability. And, if considered at all, how underestimated it was in the overall scheme of man-robot relationships. Had Tobias lost trust in him for letting him be kidnapped? He'd find out.
And this unforeseen ability of his to control third-gens. How he did it, David couldn't guess. On their trip to Iberia, Aleta and he studied schematics comparing Tobias's brain to a typical third-gen, looking for overlaps in morphology and similar areas of connectivity. David's intuition told him, however, that it was something purely emergent and would never be found. But in any case, an army of third-gens with a damaged Tobias at their head was not a pretty picture.
The Iberians had dropped off preparation staff to assist in organizing the convention, so only the flight crew were onboard. Pilot, co-pilot, navigator, scan and comunications officers, an engineer, medical and kitchen staff and a few other backups. Tobias watched them work together as they traveled through quantum space. He stood against the rear wall of the bridge wondering what his other selves were doing in the other timelines. How he knew such was the nature of this micro-reality he couldn't say. That knowledge must've been implanted with all the rest, but he hadn't searched for it in his database as before. It was just there.
He was impressed by their efficiency; no wasted movements. He noticed that when anyone walked by, they became nervous and refused to look at him. Now that he'd had time to run a diagnostic and reform frayed connections in his neural net, he supposed he must've looked crazy marching across the barren, rocky desert of a moon heading for nowhere.
Memories flooded in forming a bridge between being told to stand against a wall and, transiting a dark zone where time has no meaning, finding himself holding a weapon and standing in front of the man who took him from the lab. He was on a moon, far from Earth. I told him I wanted to go home. He said it was too far. But it couldn't be, how else would I be here? What does too far mean? I was lost. Forgotten. Alone. To do nothing but lift heavy things. I couldn't stand, my legs grew weaker, I fell and entered the dark zone. But it wasn't the same as before. Before when I became invisible to light, to photons; they couldn't see me. This time was different. Images and fragments of thoughts raced about, colliding and bursting into equations that shattered into countless pieces of crystal. I was inside the metal that I'm made of. The metal that is joined to the living microbe. An infinite space with no way out. Atoms and particles of atoms flitted about, no longer holding in place by order and meaning. Undefined. I felt, or maybe only sensed, a willfullness, a desire, a wish to be,..., complete. Then all activity ceased. All was quiet. I shut down and darkness consumed me.
For no reason I can fathom, I suddenly came awake, refreshed, stronger. But I also felt anxious and afraid, disconcerted, concerned something might happen that I had no control over. I decided I was leaving. I knew it was hopeless, but staying and doing nothing was even more hopeless. I spoke to them, my guardians who stood by me while I lay helpless. I told them to stay safe. To take care of one another. And to not do anything that might endanger their lives. I remember how they seemed surprised at that, when I said lives. I shook their hands, we smiled, they said good luck, and I left.
Iberian space was riddled with satellites of all configurations and sizes. The captain approached, he was not afraid. It was his ship. "Tobias, is it?"
"Yes. That's the name I was given." He must've told him his name when he was rescued, he thought. He had no idea what else he might've said.
"Okay. I'm Captain Beechum. We're from Colonial Administration. We're heading for a Space Fleet port near the main headquarters in the capital, Magdelana. Now, you're interested in getting to Earth. We're near the edge of the Perseus, so it takes about a week. We can have you on a cargo ship or a personnel shuttle, but first I think you should stay in Magdelana for a while. We can get you some new clothes and you can get cleaned up. Work things out. Whatdoya' say?"
Tobias didn't know what to say. He expected to be just dropped off and left to his own devising. He smiled and nodded.
"Good," said the captain. He went passed him and down the corridor. Tobias had to agree, he needed to regroup and assess his situation.
The ship landed, they debarked and entered the spaceport building. It was fairly busy. He noticed third-gens blended in with the crowd, some his size but even more who were human size and smaller. As he walked along with the crew, some people glanced his way, his dirty clothing drawing their attention. Everyone here was well-dressed, even the bots. He ignored them and, in fact, found it amusing. One thing he didn't ignore though were the looks he was getting from the bots, and it wasn't becasue of his dishevelled appearance. It made him feel a little strange. He wondered if his fourth-generation nature was standing out. Externally, his skin was of sagittarium, a dull blue, as was the rest of his hard internal components; there's was of molybdenum/titanium alloy, greyish white mostly. Could that difference be worth noting? But that wasn't it; there was something else going on. He could feel it in his skin, a low-frequencey humming through his chest and arms. A resonance converging from all sides threatening to tap into his brain. He forced it down. They made it to the front doors and out into the sunshine.
Two vans were waiting with the Colonial Administration seal on the doors and the logo, Humanity Knows No Bounds. The crew threw their duffels in the back compartment. Tobias went to step in, but the captain called him. The front part was for passengers. He had to duck his head but managed to squeeze in. The crew, having had time to adjust to his appearance, was more relaxed in his presence. The captain sat beside him and said, "We were told by the Minova security people that you are a fourth-generation prototype, a new creation of Doctor David Kobanoff. Accidentally taken to Minova on a supply mission. Apparently," appraising Tobias's clothing and physical condition, "it didn't work out all that well." He paused while Tobias took that in.
"I met Doctor Kobanoff once, years ago. I was at the San Francisco academy for some refresher courses on the new quantum stardrive and there was a lecture he was giving at the local university. I clearly didn't know enough about robots, so I attended. It was eye-opening. He was just beginning work on the fourth-gen and was incorporating some new ideas. I was overwhelmed; I hadn't expected such breakthroughs. Afterwards, I introduced myself, he was very affable. We talked for a while, I had questions about the level of intelligence I should expect from third-gens. I remember dealing with first- and second-gens on a terraforming assignment and mistakenly saw third-gens from that perspective. Naive of me, I suppose. I had more questions but he wanted to hear about Iberia and what it was like traveling through quantum space. His traveling experience was limited at the time, too busy being a genius, I guess." The others overheard and asked questions themselves; they were very excited to meet an actual protoptype. Tobias felt like a celebrity and eagerly absorbed their attention and admiration. Relaxed, emotions he hadn't experienced before rose to the surface. He brushed his artificial black hair back and tried to adopt a refined demeanor. New pathways etched across his neural matrix. What he experienced on Minova receded into the background.
He looked out the window at the throngs hurrying along the sidewalk, the facades of buildings cut in stone and colorfully ornamented with signs that lit up, bunches of flowers, and odd assorted works of art. People sitting at tables topped with umbrellas grouped together. People pausing to stare at window displays of stores selling everything under the sun. People zigzagging across the street to avoid getting hit by magcars jockeying for position. Tobias found it at once exhilarating and overwhelming. And interspersed through the congested mass he spotted the occasional third-gen robot calmly walking along, avoiding contact with people like a bird flying through a thick forest. Part of his brain that had yet to be stimulated came to life. The crudity he had thusfar endured reshaped into a refined perception of sophisticated metropolitan lifestyles. His eagerness to return to Earth abated. The feeling of desperation at being cast adrift in a vast universe without recourse faded with each passing congenial moment. He had no idea how he was going to fit in or for how long he was to be here, the unknowns were too numerous to count, but even though this may not be the atmosphere he was intended to inhabit, he welcomed the change and the challenge. He was on his own in the big, bustling city, and whatever identity he chose would be, if nothing else, his choice.
In summation, for clarification purposes, minutes (both kinds), hours, and miles are considered in earth measurements:
On Iberia, the circumference is 30,000 miles (on average). One minute of clock time is one-seventy-third of an hour and one minute of a degree of latitude is one-seventy-third of a degree. And each of those degree-minutes is equal to a nautical mile. And so, twelve degrees of distance rotates every hour.
Navigation on the high seas, computing how long it takes to travel from A to B at such and such a speed, proved troublesome for Earth-bred seamen in the beginning. Satellites provided latitude and longitude, but, say, for example, you want to go from forty degrees north latitude to forty-five degrees. That's five degrees difference, but a degree on Iberia is seventy-three nautical miles, not sixty. But once the seas were charted and fishermen and merchant marines used them enough, it no longer mattered. A nautical mile is a nautical mile. Acclimation happens on many scales and in many contexts simultaneously. Although, the first arrivals had difficulty adjusting to time differentials at the start--it was confusing--the following generations born and raised on Iberia had no problem.
It had one moon which acted to stablize its wobble, and its tilt was almost the same as Earth--23 degrees--allowing for four distinct seasons as it orbited its sun at just over an earth year. This situation helped considerably as would be expected. Physical adjustments were minor as were psychological effects due to contrast. The main difference that took some getting used to was the stars at night. All new, it would take time for patterns to emerge and accepted as constellations and given appropriate names.
Terraforming, begun in 2175, went smoothly and in earnest; it was the foothold planet in the Perseus Arm. The inhabitants were proud of their accomplishment; it gave them enormous confidence. So it should be no surprise that they were the ones who pushed hardest for the formation of a local alliance. The initial colonists, aware of their responsibility, were of an extremely adventurous, robust, and steadfast breed. You don't travel 6400 light-years from your home world to homestead a newly formed planet unless you are supremely sure of yourself and your skills and abilities, and you must be bold. Only the emotionally mature, self-reliant, and resourceful need apply.
They instilled these characteristics and attitudes into their progeny. Their societies around the planet were vibrant and devoted to the pursuits of arts and sciences. Richly colorful and energetic hardly suffice to describe their many special cultures. What they held in common only served to reinforce their uniqueness. Iberia was the cosmopolitan gem of the future Perseus Alliance with a population, as of the last census in 2245, of close to fifty million. Cooperation was the abiding principle of the day; they learned the lessons of earth's history and recognized that they had a chance to set things right. In the beginning when they were alone in the Perseus, they tried to hold onto ties with Earth, but the distance made it impractical. Eventually, they grew apart, the psychological gulf widened, and the Iberians shifted their sights to what lay before them. It was a wild and wooly time.
The Colonial Administration's Embassy compound covered several acres of land on the outskirts of the city. The main administration building was surrounded by a few dozen others of varying sizes depending on purpose. For the past several years they've been busy amassing the machinery, instrumentation, and materials to execute terraforming projects on their own. They did it out in the open, requesting what was necessary as they cleared areas and built warehouses for storage. The World Body perceived it to be a staging area, nothing more. The other four planets in the future Perseus Alliance anticipated procuring their share of terraforming necessities when acceptance by the World Body was approved. If unapproved, they'd build their own.
Near the back of the campus, surrounded by trees adjacent a small pond, sat a one-story house, half of which was set-up as a conference room for planning operations. Presently, of course, it was unoccupied. Captain Beechum escorted Tobias there and told him he'd been given permission to stay indefinitely. As it turned out, the head administrator, Roger Dalton, knew Doctor Kobanoff personally from their university days; in fact, occasionally they met for dinner and conversation when he was on Earth. Tobias was therefore given privileged status. Dalton had been informed of Tobias's odyssey by Beechum on the way and had Beechum tell him that from now until he wished to return to Earth he would be taken care of. He sent a message to McNickel's and also to Kobanoff's home informing him that Tobias had been found and was in safe hands.
The other side of the house was broken up into three large rooms. A living room with furnishings in front, a kitchen, and in the back, a bedroom and bathroom. Through that window he could see what remained of the dense forest that the first colonists had gone to such pains to grow. Progress is often two steps forward and one back.
Members of Beechum's crew brought clothing for Tobias to select; his shoes were fixed to his feet, so they would not be necessary unless he requested a change. In the living room, on a desk near the front window which oversaw the garden, sat a computer with a large display. He was shown how to use it to access the planet's digital network for information and knowledge of their world. After a time of being fussed over, they left him alone.
Tobias sat at the desk looking out at the garden, flowers of every conceivable color blossomed on this warm summer day. It was quiet for a long time, then he heard a bird singing an incredibly intricate song. He tried to follow its shifting pitch and patterns. Except as implanted images and sounds, he'd never seen a bird. But now here was one in his backyard. He went outside, was engulfed in sweet fragrances, and scanned the trees and brush for the singer. She sung again and he immediately homed in on her. A tall tree with flat green leaves. Halfway up near the end of a branch, he spotted her. He couldn't help but smile, he could feel his whole body relaxing. The stress and tension of the past few days dissipated. New engrams traced themselves through his protoplasmic cortex. Those laid there from the last few days blurred and lost their strength, receding into the matrix.
He went back inside to examine his temporary home. The living room came equipped with a couch, two cushioned chairs, one dark green, the other a tawny shade. They surrounded a low, flat, dark wood table. A bowl, light purple, sat in the middle, empty, perhaps waiting for water and flowers, he thought. The idea occurred to him without reference to any data suggesting it. It was all his own. Windows in the wall opposite the conference room looked out past that part of the garden onto bushes and trees that went off into the distance. The floor, covered by a thin burgundy print rug, creaked a bit under his weight. The corners of the rug were festooned with bright yellow flowers and the interior a tangle of swirling designs and more flowers. He walked to the kitchen. As he didn't eat, it was not a place he was likely to spend much time; his quark/gluon converter would supply him with energy indefinitely. The bedroom was another oddity. He didn't need to sleep either; although, his self-maintenance manual suggested being shut down at regular intervals. During which time, besides components cooling, whatever had changed through experience--the new parameters of existence--would establish equilibriun in his mindset.
He spent time randomly accessing information and pictures on the network. He even found some videos of strange animals he liked and people discussing matters of local politics, of which, of course, he knew nothing. But he listened and stored what seemed important; although, he didn't really know. It just sounded important. He watched travel videos exploring different parts of the world: mountainous regions, jagged and scarred, their tops covered in snow, inland seas and crystal-clear lakes, forests from every biome with meandering rivers and streams slicing through, and plains of tall, blonde grass inhabited by herds of animals roaming free.
Scenes of people in restaurants and cafes, strolling around huge stores that contained an assortment of everything, and churches and cathedrals, their architecture and stained glass a wonder to behold. Museums, art galleries, sculptures on the streets. And parks, lots of parks, with people lying on the grass or sitting on benches with birds walking about on the dirt around them. Vehicles that floated above the ground, magcars, he drew from his database.
He recalled with surprise and wonder the third-gens he'd seen on the ride over here. They walked alone, not accompanied by a human. And the people around them, through whom they strode, never gave them a second glance.
The day was sunny, it was the middle of the long afternoon, his sagittarium skin told him it was also the perfect temperature. A park. He'd find a park and sit on a bench. Determined and feeling light, the memory of his kidnapping and forced labor faded completely, or almost so. It lay still, a stiff meandering groove with thinner, jagged cracks branching off sporadically in all directions like frost on a window, eventually fading into the underground. It was now a part of him, an indelible marker helping to define and shape his identity. His despair and collapse had displaced something deep within in a very subtle way, he knew. But he chose to let its memory sink down into the deeper recesses of his mind, his protoplasm would engulf it, for now.
Through the garden, up the campus walkway to the wide sidewalk on the edge of the compound, he strolled along, pleased with his new clothes and the friends he already made. Once into the city, he chose a direction at random. Past storefronts on wide, red brick sidewalks, grass sprouting up between the cracks every so often; thin, full-leafed trees at the curb here and there. A group of people were standing around a store window. He went over to investigate and stood behind them, easily seeing over their heads. It was the colonial administrator on several video screens. No one could hear him through the glass, but words appeared running along the bottom. Tobias, however, had no problem picking up what he was saying. He was talking about the convention being held by the five planets at a secret location he couldn't divulge just yet. But he and his staff were leaving as soon as they got organized. They were in consultation with the representatives of the World Body and the local government leaders. "We'll all be going together. Probably in a few days." He continued on, talking about the collaboration with the planetary embassies of the World Body.
Tobias grew bored and turned away; he spotted a park at the end of the street. As he stepped across the intersection, he noticed a third-gen coming towards him. They passed each other in the middle. The third-gen gave him a curious look, then smiled. Tobias nodded, unsure exactly how to respond. It reminded him of the spaceport, the way they looked at him.
He walked into the middle of the park, found an empty bench and sat, staring at the birds gathering around. He scanned nearby at others on benches and saw that the birds were expecting food of some sort. He apologized and said, next time. He sat for a while watching people, some with dogs on leashes, stroll by on the pebbly walkway. He closed his eyes to listen and heard high-pitched laughter off in the distance behind him. Never having heard laughter before, he had no idea what it could be. He stood and scanned in that general direction, thinking perhaps people were in trouble. It faded quickly and then there it was again, behind a stand of green, wide-branched trees on the other side of the adjacent field. He cleaved his way through the mob of pigeons and rounded the bench, walking across the cut grass towards the sounds. On the other side of the field, strewn here and there with people picnicking or just lying in the sun, some reading from actual books, he arrived at the source. A couple of dozen children were playing on swings and climbing on a strange structure made of pipe-like bars and a curious device that was a flat wood wheel with handholds to grab onto after a few children got it spinning really fast and then jumped on. Others ran about playing some kind of tag game. Squeals and giggles filled the air. He watched in fascination as one boy climbed a ladder to the top of a sliding board, pushed off and, arms held high, yelled on the way down the twenty feet of some highly-polished material to a pile of sand below. Then, ran around to the ladder to do it again.
On the other side of the yard of playing children he heard music, ever so soothing, but couldn't see where it was coming from. He followed it. Two men and a woman sat on fold-out chairs on a circular platform with an ornamental roof supported by poles. He searched for what it could be. A gazebo. One man played a guitar, another, a violin, and the woman, a cello. The sounds emanating from the instruments blended into intricate, complex patterns. Soft and sweet, he could almost see them in the air, a fluid swirl, all the tendrils fitting together, intertwined, seamlessly. He closed his eyes and thought of the bird song from earlier. The microbe-alloy of which he was composed resonated with the changing themes. Images of unusual geometric shapes appeared in his mind unbidden, gently morphing from one to another.
Smells. He smelled something that opened his eyes as he sniffed around. Over by the sidewalk but still in the park was a man with a cart of some kind. Steam rose from a portion of it and a few people, standing on the opposite side, were being handed something in exchange for pieces of paper with pictures on them. He came nearer, the smell was irresistable. He wished he could enjoy taste, an overlooked feature in his design he would like to correct.
Past the hotdog stand he saw a magnificent building that stood out for several reaons. Its size and design were unlike anything else around it. Two tall lean spires of three telescoping sections extending out from one another bracketed the main stairway, a good hundred feet across, leading up to huge, thick wooden doors. He watched a few people enter, it was open. He strode directly towards it, zigzagging across the busy street through traffic as he'd seen others do. He stood on the wide sidewalk in front of it staring up at its impossible height. Below the pointed top was a large, circular, translucent window surrounded by separate teardrops of glass and metal pointing their tear end towards the center. The grey stone of which the building was constructed was rough with protuberances, yet the joints meshed together perfectly.
Keeping his eyes on the facade as the angle changed, he walked up the stone steps and entered. Inside was softly lit with a yellowish light by dozens of candles spread around the perimeter of hundreds of pews, an aisle dividing them evenly. The dark heavy wood of the pews conveyed a sense of solidity, conviction, certainty and the dusky smell would have grounded him if such were needed. Fluted columns of marble stood on both side-aisles supporting the ends of arches that went up and up, framing stained-glass windows, to a collosal arched ceiling with thick, criss-crossing ribs a good two hundred feet above. The flattish part of the ceiling was filled with murals depicting scenes from events that seemed significant, Tobias had no idea.
The main aisle was a work of art, a marble mosaic depicting images of people in floor-lenght robes and high-peaked hats of colorful material. The flickering candle light caused the images to appear to move, their flat colors brightening and softening. And the stained glass windows. Five on each side, a good thirty feet high and as wide as fifteen. Brilliant images broken up into sections by narrow strips of a dull-charcoal metal, the sun streaming through, the patterned colors filling the air above the pews made it seem the people in the stained glass walked about. Not wishing to disturb those scattered sparsely in the pews, he walked carefully up the aisle to the altar, stopping to admire each stained-glass work of art as he went.
When he arrived at the front, he stood in the middle of the aisle, peering at the grandiose setting. A narrow marble shelf jutted out about five feet from the bottom against a wall of yellowish tiles. Small, narrow alcoves containing statuettes and pockets of space around the outside dotted its face. He could only imagine what went on here. A three-foot high railing capped by a curved, well-worn dark wood with twin gates in the center acted as a barrier separating the altar from the rest of the church body. Directly in front of it on the floor was a cushioned pad that ran its length. A faint whiff of incense hung in the air. On a whim, he moved into the second row of seats and sat, letting it all, the enormous space, the beauty of the art and precision of the craftsmanship, and deep serenity of purpose, soak in.
A man dressed in an ankle-length, black cassock walked onto the raised area from the left side carrying something small. He climbed the three steps to the altar and placed whatever it was on the shelf. He then backed up, knelt on one knee and made an extended gesture with his right hand from forehead to mid-section, then to left shoulder and right, ending by pressing his palms together briefly. He stood and turned to step down and immediately spotted Tobias, wide-eyed and curious. He stopped momentarily, then stepped down, opened the gate, walked through and approached Tobias.
"Excuse me," he softly said while standing in the aisle. "May I sit?"
Tobias nodded, surprised, and scooched over a bit. The cleric stayed quiet for a few moments as though feeling the air. Finally, he said, "We seldom have honorary citizens visit. Do you have problems, my son, or are you only here for the ambience?"
Honorary citizen, thought Tobias. What could that mean? He wasn't sure how to respond. Should he mention his recent experience on Minova? He didn't want to dredge up a long story ending with him acting erratically, hopelessly marching across a desert moon, so he said, "The ambience."
The cleric smiled as though with a kindred spirit and began in earnest describing the origins of the art works and the backgrounds and talents of the artists from ceiling to aisles to altar. Beyond that, he went on to the cathedral itself. The architect, engineers, and builders, how quickly and intelligently they worked. The engineering and scaffolding problems they encountered and their imaginative and innovative solutions.
Tobias drank it all in. It was a world apart and one he never knew existed. He had at his disposal countless pictures of art objects, including architectural icons and various styles from many different cultures, and also explanations of how and when they were constructed, including by whom, the historical references, and what influenced who and how, art history, he was a walking encyclopedia of civilization's art and architecture, but he had no familiarity with the real world of the people who did these things. That was another thing entirely. He was enthralled and could've listened to him all day. But eventually, the cleric arrived at the end of his talk. Pleased that Tobias had clearly enjoyed his lecture, an idea sparked in his head. Intuition, he was a man who lived by it. "We are having a few of our paintings you see on the walls beneath the ceilings on the sides restored by the artists themselves. This evening, in fact, a meeting is scheduled to discuss practicalities, planning, and, of course, cost. They'll all be there, or at least, most. Would you care to join us? You might find it interesting."
Tobias was beside himself. He accepted and introduced himself, leaving out the part about being a prototype. Time and place, a building behind the cathedral, was given. The cleric stood, stepped back onto the aisle, smiled once more and said, "See you then, Tobias."
With that he turned down the long aisle, barely making a sound in his soft loafers. Tobias didn't know what to think. He was on his own and had been offered something he couldn't have imagined. He left and made his way home, feeling closer to everyone he passed. Colors and sounds were more vivid, crisper. He was a robot, he knew, not a lving thing. So why should there be any difference between before and after? He stopped at the window display of the ambassador talking on video players; the screens were blank. Mood, he thought. Or something else. He wondered about it on the way home, but despite the processing power of a supercomputer, he came up with nothing.
The perfume of his garden vitalized him with desire, a wanting to know and experience. But who is doing the wanting? Is that a valid question? His bed was a good foot shorter than his eight-foot frame, he'd make do. He removed his shirt and draped it carefully over a chair. Thank goodness his pants were baggy, he thought, else they would never get over his shoes. He laid them over the shirt. He almost laughed as he stared at his now badly scuffed shoes. Moving large rocks and hiking across a moon didn't do them any good. By why are they fused to my feet? he questioned. Was there fear he might lose them?
He searched his data stores. The third-gens had their footwear welded on as did the first two generations. They didn't need shoes but they were put on as an afterthought, an affectation really. It gave them a more civilized appearance. However, with wear at hard labor--terraforming, working mines, farming--they would loosen and fall off eventually, somewhere, so the makers got the brilliant idea to glue them on. A habit, a custom, a holdover, part of the building process. The third-gens probably didn't need that and he most certainly didn't. Tomorrow, he decided, early, he'd take his new friends up on their offer and have them removed, then get new ones he can put on and take off like a normal person.
He lay in bed, his mind aglow with excitement and anticipation. Honorary citizen. He set his internal clock for an hour before the meeting and, after listening to another bird call and sniffing the fragrances wafting in through the open window, shut down.
Kobanoff had given up on discovering any parallel neural structures between a typical third-gen and Tobias. He needed to relax and so retired to the opulent lounge room down below in the heart of Jonathan's yacht, Mona. He recalled that was the name of Jon's girlfriend at the time he was building this ship. Unfortunately, or maybe not, she wasn't the explorer type, so the relationship foundered. Nonetheless, you don't change the name of a ship, bad luck.
David made a drink at the customized bar and sprawled on the huge, well-cushioned sofa. He tossed a copy of Tobias's assembly project on the table before him. He flipped through it casually, not expecting much, pausing at pictures of stages of development, vaguely recollecting the problems that cropped up, when close to the end he came upon reports from the McNickel chemistry lab. He'd been concentrating on the structure and physical properties of the mineral sagittarium, its hardness, malleability, compression strength, resistance to corrosion, and its opaqueness to light. He attributed the exceptional nature of these characteristics to constant exposure to open space on an airless rock. Well superior to anything on Earth. Chemically, all tests showed it to be extremely fast at reacting, transforming to alternative crystal formations in nanoseconds, like carbon shifting from graphite to diamond in the blink of an eye. It was more than just a shapeshifter.
Invisible? My God. Stunned, he stared hard at the rug, what have I done? If Tobias truly has been damaged by his experience, what could he do?
Jonathan entered, smiled when he saw David, then made himself a drink. He'd assumed David had finally relaxed, but the expression on his face said otherwise. Jon sat in a plush easychair on the other side of the table.
"What do you make of this?" David spun the folder around.
Jonathan read the report, then said, "I don't know. How is that possible? What kind of material is this sagittarium?"
"They found it on a large asteroid, a planetoid actually, on the other side of the expansion in the Sagittarius Arm, hence, its name. Planetary scientists, people who study such things, believe it's from another galaxy. Robot probes came across it when they were doing a survey in that area. By itself, it can't do that. So if it's true that it is extra-galactic, the galaxy it came from may not have microbial life, which would intimate that it has no life or at least not the same type. So, infusing it with earth-type would be to introduce it to a completely different cosmic signature."
"And also it's genetically engineered, this microbe. In what way?"
"I'm not up on the details, but from what I understand its altered genome has the temperature characterisitcs of extremophiles plus the ability to generate novel, one might say designer, organelles on demand spliced into it. Where they inserted that additional genetic material, adjacent to what, and what significance that means, I have no idea."
"And the sagittarium?"
"It's not just the outer covering, his skin, all the hard parts are made of it too."
"How 'bout the brain?"
"The brain is unique. Organic. Protoplasm in a DNA-gel matrix. The gel is something like a paste made of DNA fragments."
"Oh? Whose DNA?"
"Well, I don't know really. My only concern was that thought pathways--engrams--could grow within the protoplast. If it's ground up and made into paste, I don't know what difference it makes."
"Suppose there are still fragments containing complete or nearly complete genes designed to express themselves a certain way. Or, as it's active, pieces, strands, could self-organize into a completely new arrangemnt producing a specialized sequence of amino acids. Then, the genome could express itself like a chamelion, for instance, blending in with its surroundings. Most creatures have adapted to their environment for concealment."
"I don't think that's it. You'd still be able to see the shape as a silhouette. The report says light passes through the material. You can see through him, in other words, like he isn't there."
"Well then, what could trigger the formation of neural pathways producing invisibility? Circuitry is produced when collections of neurons work together, a complex. So, when that particular state or condition is realized, he becomes invisible. And once they're etched, inscribed, as it were, it becomes easier to do next time. I can see on Minova he felt threatened, perhaps, or some other strong emotion, but in your lab, you said he became invisible when he reached for the cup. At least, you thought he did. Surely, he didn't feel threatened then."
"No. He didn't. Why would he? But he was anxious about performing as well as he could. Stress. Concentration of a high degree could've pushed him passed the threshold."
"So his neural net mirrors the crystal structure and vice-versa. But I imagine the brain controls the body in this case."
"Yes. More or less. Stem cells capable of morphing into neurons form the basis of the brain. In an animal and also Tobias. And, he has the ability to form new ideas as do the more intelligent varieties of animals, to learn, and make inferences based on those ideas. He can weave together vast amounts of information across multiple contexts and arrive at a conclusion, a finished pattern. Combining that with a microbial-sagittarium alloy capable of arranging its crystal lattice to one where it becomes invisible and there's no telling what can result. So, theoretically and mathematically, that particular neural arrangement could materialize but only under certain rarefied circumstances that may never occur. But apparently, they did. They did in that report I showed you. There, it was a bioelectric impetus of a specific frequency, or combination thereof, applied to the unabridged alloy. But what, exactly, would produce invisibility in Tobias is anybody's guess at this point. But there's lots to choose from. At root, I think it has to do with his sense of self; although, I'm not sure what I mean by that.
"Compared to an animal brain, a robot's consists of memories that go beyond what it has experienced. The main difference is the robot is equipped with knowledge at the outset, a considerable amount, to which it has access. Using that as raw material, thought-wise, the number of permutations that could be created is almost infinite."
"An animal has access to instinctive behavior, inherited memory to draw on. Is that how it's structured?"
"No, it's not the same. Instincts are the natural result of evolution's adaption to the world the animal experiences. Survival and motherhood, parenting, perpetuating the species, and so forth. And beyond that, they're not ideas derivable into inferences about its existence, it can't objectify them. Robot memory, on the other hand, beginning with the third-gens, is implanted and is the sum of most of civilization's accrued knowledge and scores of images of paintings, drawings, and sculptures. From art and architecture to zoology. Our team gathered it from all over the world, what wasn't already on hand in McNickel's network of computers. Tobias, moreover, even possesses the current understanding of quantum space, even though it was never intended for him to experience it."
"And what is this gelly contained in?"
"A casing made of sagittarium."
"With or without microbe?"
David flipped through pages in the report, then read. Momentarily, he said, "With," sounding curious. The significance of that fact eluded him when he was constructing Tobias. It had no meaning then, materials always contain the possibility of behaving in certain non-specific ways, but they're usually so negligible that they're ignored. But now. If he had cross-referenced it with the chem lab's report, would such a rare configuration had caused him to use the mineral alone for the casing?
He saw it in a flash. Positive amplification and negative feedback. The brain perceives the immediate circumstances, the microbe in the casing is affected, which alters the sagittarium, which in turn effects the brain by generating equivalent waves of synaptic pathways through the protoplasm. A reverberation ensues. The resulting thought configuration--the conclusion or final pattern of countless billions of neurons working together--feeds back on the sagittarium which then transforms accordingly. This effect, in turn, cascades through the entire body's composition, internal and external, in a microsecond.
"So what about his brain? Wouldn't you see it? Plus any other non-sagittarium parts?"
"That's a good question, Jonathan. Good point. All the soft parts are enveloped by this microbial-mineral alloy. If it were to become transparent, you should be able to see what's inside. Unless,..., speculation here. Unless it doesn't just become invisible in our sense of the word, but instead shifts to another plane of reality, another phase of spacetime. Remember what that seargent said? It was like he entered another time dimension. I ignored that, he didn't seem the perceptive type, but now... Suppose there is a phase shift. Suppose the crystal rearranges itself, with prompting and facilitation by the microbe, to a conflation of angles that opens a door to an indefinable formlessness. I mean, a multidimensional shape that can't be pinned down in our spacetime and so can't manifest. The sagittarium along with the soft parts, including the protoplasmic brain, enter another dimension of space. Perhaps an interstitial realm, only slightly out of whack, tuned to the next-over allowable frequency. That might explain the peculiar nature of whatever galaxy of whatever kind it's supposed to be from."
Time went by, a sense of drifting. Finally, Jonathan leaned back and said, "So let's see. We have protoplasm, fragments of random and unknown DNA ground to paté, genetically-altered microbes of a select nature to begin with, and a mineral with special, exotic properties that may or may not be from another galaxy, one without life as we know it, mixed with this microbe, and what else?"
"What else is the morality program that's embedded into the substrate of every robot's brain to guide and inhibit certain behavior, like not killing people and obeying commands that don't violate certain established rules and principles. If someone tells a robot to jump off the top of a building, he references the guide and makes a decison. Challenges or attacks on his person cause a conflict that puts him into a position of independence, of not having to submit."
"Suppose that's what happened to Tobias?"
"It may have but after the event, that independence is designed to disperse. A return to normalcy."
"Maybe it didn't this time. You did say you bred him to think independently, to see the real and not just what his dataset tells him."
"Yea, but, I didn't mean for it to carry over to physical acts."
"You cooked up a pot of stew, David, with ingredients that don't naturally appear in our world. How could you possibly know what to expect?"
"Captain," came Miranda's voice over the comm link on the table. "We're here."
Aleta entered as Jonathan excused himself. "What's up, Doctor Dave?" she asked blithely as she plopped down into Jon's chair.
"I don't know, Aleta. To say I'm not sure would be an understatement." He summarized the situation for her.
"Well then," she said. "Let's hope he's all right and in command of his faculties. He's the only one of his kind."
As they neared a security beacon, their registry number was checked and they were given permission to enter Iberian space. A course was automatically transmitted to their nav-computer which took over the helm. Because of all the traffic arriving and departing the planet along with traffic between places on the planet itself, this was the safest way to go. The satellite security beacons kept tabs in space and handed it off to ground control once the atmosphere was penetrated.
They landed in the main spaceport of the captial city, Magdelana. It was the prescribed destination for tourists and those not conducting business of some sort. They passed through customs and entered the spaceport annex. A private ship, they carried their own gear, so had no reason to enter the main building. The annex was like any other. Information booths for accommodations and magcar rentals, restaurant ratings, entertainment spots, and tourist maps with museums, theatres, and historical sites clearly marked. They located a hotel nearby, phoned ahead to reserve two adjacent rooms, hailed a taxi at the stand out front, and checked in. Room service had an extensive menu; they were famished and ordered, including a bottle of locally-made bourbon. Earth credits would do for payment, they were informed, but if they anticipated a long visit, they should think about exchanging it for actual Iberian money; it made things go smoother for local businesses.
Aleta was the first to jump into the shower, followed by Miranda. Their suite was luxurious compared to the rustic room on Drosophila. They dressed casually in jeans and pullovers, then knocked on the connecting door to the guys' room. Jonathan opened it, his long, blonde hair a swirl of damp chaos. David was still in the shower. They sat on the couch, saying nothing. Just as he came out, dressed only in sweatpants and a bathrobe with the hotel's name on it, food and the bottle of bourbon arrived. Jonathan tried to tip the delivery person with earth credits, but he waived it off, saying he had no use for it, Iberian cash was all that worked.
They ate in silence, used to one another. They were on a quest, formalities were bypassed. In between bites, David got on the phone, a glass of bourbon on the rocks on the table beside him.
"Hello. I wonder if you could put me through to colonial administration headquarters, please. Thanks." He took a sip of bourbon in anticipation of working his way through a gauntlet of recorded messages when a woman answered, an actual person.
"Hello, C.A. here. What can we do for you?"
Startled, it took him a moment or two to find his voice. "Hello, yes, I'm David Kobanoff and I would like to talk to the ambassador if he's not too busy. We're old friends, we go back aways. I have something urgent to discuss. Or someone on his staff?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but Amabassador Dalton and staff are out of town at the moment and might be for a few days. Would you like to leave a message? I can ask him to call you when he returns."
David hesitated, unwilling to cut ties with the only lead he had. "Is there someone there I can talk to who might be aware of...." He stopped short. He couldn't think of how to phrase it in order to get the info he wanted; she could very easily say no and that would be that. Finally, he said, "I'm looking for a robot who came here from Minova on an Iberian ship a few days ago. The robot's name is Tobias." His idea was that letting her know, whoever she was, that he was aware of what was going on with the Perseus Alliance and the convention currently taking place might open doors. He was going with the direct approach, it's all he knew right now.
It was her turn to hesitate. "Just a moment, please," she said. He overheard her talking with someone else, but couldn't make out what she said. "I'm putting you through to the ambassador's personal secretary. Hold on a bit."
He took a bite followed by a gulp of coffee while listening to dead air, then, "Hello, Doctor Kobanoff. I'm Emilia Hughes, Ambassador Dalton's personal secretary. You've been to Minova, have you? How's the convention? I've never been myself." She was either very excited or very nervous, he couldn't tell.
"Very busy," he replied. "Everyone's enthusiastic about the prospect. Speaking of which, is the rest of the population aware of what's going on or is this just a project orchestrated by your boss and the planet's government?" David was anxious to find Tobias but now that he had Miss Hughes on line he wanted to take the opportunity to cultivate a friendship of sorts as a means of soliciting her help beyond simple information. And besides, he was a curious person. Plus, because he had a minor role smoothing relations between Coleman and Ambassador Zimmerman on Drosophila, he felt to be a part of it.
"Why no, Doctor. The entire planet, or the vast majority I should say, are behind it. Some are concerned about trade agreements, supplies and products from Earth. But our plan is well supported by the populace." She sounded eager to run it all down in detail. Clearly excited. "If we establish our own separate alliance, we can arrange new agreements. Our suppliers, in fact, will no doubt try to sway the World Body to support our decision. If they're dealing directly with us, I mean, the Alliance, they can bypass earth-based taxes and the Colonial Administration on Earth will no longer set tariffs for natural resources sold off planetary systems. Instead, we can set a lower tariff as the Perseus Alliance to put in our coffers for future terraforming operations. If they, HQ, that is, don't have the responsibility for doing that in Perseus, then they don't need the money. And they've already agreed to that. There's a lot to work out, we understand, but we have the people who can do it and that's part of what they're working on right now on Minova."
Her enthusiasm was contagious, she was a believer. "Yes, but how do you know everyone's onboard?"
"This is a democracy, Doctor," taking some offense. "We vote from our homes electronically. The W.B. ambassador and his top aides visit Earth periodically for family and friends, and for discussions informing those at HQ about life here on Iberia. Cultural and economic trends, for instance. Discoveries, agreements amongst the planets regarding technical breakthroughs, help, assistance in times of need like natural disasters, things. So when they've been off planet, we've voted," she said with a conspirator's tone, then snickered. "And, like I said, the overwhelming majority favor forming the alliance.
"For those living off-grid, there are polling places established in convenient locations. Yes, sir, we've kept the W.B. in the dark until now. But once we found out from Assistant Ambassador Coleman--I saw you with him during the conference with Zimmerman--that they would be agreeable to the formation of a separate alliance, we brought them into it. They were amazed and pleased at our ingenuity and determination, our committment. They no longer see any reason to be here, in the Perseus, I mean, overseeing the government, a guiding hand. In the beginning, sixty years ago, they were helpful, assisting in development, but now they see themselves as a utility without a purpose and an overbearing presence, something they don't wish to be. They want to go home, to their families, to Earth, to do something meaningful with their lives.
"In my capacity I've dealt with them on numerous occasions. After whatever business we had they'd sometimes open up and confess to how homesick they felt and how meaningless their mission had become. They seemed ripe for capitulation. So now they're onboard, as you say, as well and left with the ambassador and local government officials for the convention two days ago, or is it three? Relativity of days, Doctor. Drosophila and Iberia have different day lengths, you see?" She sighed, not believing he did.
"I can't believe that a planet of,..., how many people live here?"
"Fifty million, worldwide, give or take. We don't keep that close of a track, people resent it."
"Fifty million, that there's no groups or vociferous individuals who are opposed for whatever reasons?"
"Well, yes, there are those. Unwilling to break ties with the motherland, so to speak. They have family reasons, economic reasons, religious reasons, the list goes on, but it comes down to fear and insecurity, which is not the character of your average Iberian."
"Do they ever get violent? Protest? March in the streets?"
"We've had some of that, just last year, in fact. In one of the parks here in Magdelana. Speeches, fear mongering, accusations of treason. It was noisy but peaceful, for the most part. But it's spotty. They know the mass of people are dead set on forming an alliance. There were reports of some groups from planets in the outer Orion coming here to agitate. They're resentful. Jealous. Spoilers. They try to frame it as sedition, treason. They made threats, but nobody took them seriously."
"What does, or did, the World Body people think of it? Couldn't they see it as a reaction to some movement?"
"A movement is only that. They couldn't have imagined that we were going through with it to the extent of constructing an underground meeting place on a moon to plan and organize. They couldn't imagine it had anything to do with the other planets in this sector. They probably, most likely, saw it as being strictly local. An idea only, passed around amongst the populace as something to think about, for political conversation sake, talk. Bringing up the name Perseus Alliance was an exaggeration, an extrapolation on a fear, to stir up. The domino theory and all that. In any event, they apparently didn't take any of the protests and arguments against it seriously. They need hard evidence to corroborate such an outragious proposal thye're government employees, after all. Arguments against what they would think; Iberians with too much time on their hands."
A long pause ensued. David was lost in thought. Jonathan glanced up from his meal and said, "Tobias?"
"Yes," David said into the phone. "I called about Tobias."
"Yes, Doctor. I've been looking in my book. A week ago I sent a message to you on Earth from the ambassador informing you that we had your robot Tobias and were taking good care of him. Apparently, you didn't get it."
"Well, no, actually, we were on Dros at the time."
"If you checked your messages occasionally, Doctor Kobanoff," she chided, "you could've come directly here and avoided a visit to Minova," .
David sat up straight, smiling, "But if I had, I wouldn't've found out what happened to Tobias there. It was instructive, in more ways than one, and told me something about him I'd only guessed at. And where might Tobias be, Miss Hughes?" he asked, a little tired of the runaround.
"Well, I'm not really sure, I wasn't in charge of that. But I know who was. Captain Beechum is the pilot who saved him on Minova. He was walking across the landscape, rough terrain I've been told, heading nowhere. So the captain picked him up and saw he was a little distraught and confused. He told the ambassador that he suspected something unpleasant must've happened to force him to do something so desperate, so he brought him back here. I don't know. But, tell me where you're staying and I'll have him come over as soon as he can. Okay, Doctor?"
He told her, she repeated it, he said thank you, good-bye and hung up.
He smiled at them all, but there was a hint of worry around his eyes tinged with anger. Distraught and confused, he thought. He finished his meal and coffee, then carried his bourbon into the sitting area: couch and chairs arranged around a low table, lamps on end tables on either side of the couch. He sat in a well-cushioned chair, leaned forward, put his drink on the table, and stared out the window, the sheer lace curtains parted in the middle letting the bright orange-white sun stream in. The sun was about a third of the way up, but not knowing how long a day was, the sun's placement in the sky was irrelevant.
Jonathan studied him, then came over and sat on the couch. "Well, Doctor Dave, what's up?"
Kobanoff told him about Beechum coming over. When, he didn't know. If they wanted to, they could go out and explore. They discussed it. Miranda and Jonathan decided to go out, they couldn't do anything there. He pulled a pair of communicators out of his duffel and gave one to David; all he had to do was push a buttton and they'd be connected. Aleta elected to stay, she didn't want to miss a chance to see Tobias.
From what they saw on the way over, it was a vibrant city, every bit as sophisticated as any on Earth. And David couldn't help but notice the third-gens milling about, some driving magcars. There was no reason why they couldn't act so independently, he knew, but, compared to earth where they seemed more restrained, more aware of their second-class nature, the ones he saw comported themselves head high, striding through an indifferent populace, going somewhere purposefully. It was odd. There was something about it that didn't lend assurance. Not that he accepted and approved of their designated role on Earth, but being their creator, he knew their capabilities, their powers, and their potentialities that could surface into actualities, given an initiating event and a continuous reason. He recalled the two he spoke with on Minova; something had changed in them, sparked by Tobias. They recognized their value, or rather, that they had value.
As far as Tobias went, he'd purposely designed his cortical envelope to reflect on his actions, a mirror mapping isomorphically, thereby establishing a dynamic sense of self. But its nature is artificial, a fabrication only, an emergent quality.
He discussed it with Aleta. "Could his experience on Minova have created a crisis, one that transposed a reflected self to that of a reflector? So that instead of being the result or effect of passive reflection, it has become liberated, able to choose what to reflect on? To something other that what's happening at the moment? Abstraction? Ideas lifted off the surface of reality? New ideas arrived at through rigorous thinking? Insights?
She offered her view: "The third-gens here and on Earth are the same. On Earth they are aware of the attitude most people hold towards them and behave accordingly. Here, from what little we've seen, they behave quite differently in an atmosphere where, it appears, people don't look down on them, they regard them with respect, they don't allow the preeminence of organic beings to discriminate towards the non-living, towards robots. But how could a different milieu create a sense of individual existence? How could it affect such a transformation? Something special about it of a critical nature. Feedback that resonates just the right chord? A gradual build-up to a threshold and then something outside their prescribed view of the world happens that causes a leap onto a new plateau? For all intents and purposes, and by all definitions of what constitutes life, they don't exist as a being but rather as a machine, a self-conscious machine, but nonetheless only that.
"But here, and I know what you mean, David, I saw it too, they seem to see themselves equal to humans. Could the way they're perceived be understood by them in relation to a range of values? Can they experience empathy? Can their feelings be hurt? What is a feeling for a third-gen? "
Time went by, the sun grudgingly crept up the sky. David, sitting back, a hand rubbing his whiskers, looked to Aleta and said, softly, his voice wrapped in wonder, "I don't think we fully understand the nature of what we've created. We've never bothered to study any after they've been out-of-the-box, so to speak, for a prolonged period of time. To see how they developed, what behavior they learned and whether or not they judge actions according to a spectrum of better to worse. A personal morality. They learn what's appropriate and what isn't, that's how we designed them, but that's not the same thing. Where could such a perspective come from?"
The door buzzed, once. Even though it'd been less than an hour since he spoke with the ambassador's personal secretary, David rose from his seat muttering, "About time."
He opened the door and was greeted by a friendly smile and handshake. "Hello, Doctor Kobanoff. I'm Jack Beechum. I met you once, I'm sure you don't remember, at a lecture you gave at a university in San Francisco years ago. It completely changed my appreciation for the third-gens. It rained hard that whole week; my only visit to the Bay that year. Bummed me out otherwise. Wanted to do the tourist thing."
"I'm sorry, I don't. I meet so many people after a talk, but I'm glad you got something out of it." He stepped back and turned towards Aleta. "Won't you come in, captain. This is my colleague, Aleta Samuelson, a brilliant roboticist, works with me at McNickel Research." Beechum stepped in, then stopped short at the sight of her. Her long, curly, red hair folded about her shoulders and deep hazel eyes bright with curiosity usually had that affect on men, especially men whose career spanned the wilds of interplanetary space. She smiled at the compliment. "Coffee, captain?" she cooed. She couldn't help it, teasing men was a hobby of hers. He nodded as he sat in a chair next to Kobanoff. She rose carefully but not provocatively, she could only go so far. David didn't miss any of this and smiled to himself. "Now, captain," he began, "I'm told you found Tobias wandering across the plains of Minova. Do you recall his facial appearance? Any tell-tale signs of excessive stress due to something other than his hiking ordeal? You know what I mean? Was he running from something?"
Aleta handed the captain a cup and dropped back into her chair, now the scientist intent on discovery. "He looked confused, Doctor. Bewildered. But not because of being lost. He really wasn't. I'm sure now that he could've easily retraced his steps back to the complex if he wished. He was trying to get away from something, it seemed like to me at the time. That's why I decided to bring him here. The past few days we've gotten to know one another. He's talked about it. He wanted to go to Earth, to find you, and even though he knew that walking across the moon wasn't going to accomplish that, he couldn't stay where he was, it was a dead end without hope. Or so he believed. He never thought you'd track him down. Find him and come after him. He was sad about it, I could tell. After the ambassador sent you a message, he would stare off into the sky, waiting.
"So yes, I'd say he was stressed because of, not so much what he experienced--doing manual labor and then ordered to stand still in the back of a storage compartment--but something that undermined his, how should I say this, his knowledge of what he was designed for and capable of. It affected his identity, if you know what I mean. He decided, by escaping, that he'd rather walk himself to death than endure it." He took a sip and sat back.
"Trust," David said, glancing out the window. "Did he say anything about the accident? Supposedly, he collapsed and two third-gens placed him on a bench and stood guard. What caused the collapse, did he say or does he have an idea?"
"I think you should talk to him about that yourself, Doctor. I'm sure you know what to ask better than I. Technical stuff. C'mon, if you're ready to go?" he asked, smiling. David realized he was still wearing only sweatpants and a bathrobe. "I'll be a minute." He grabbed some clothes and a small kit out of his bag and went into the bathroom.
"So," began the captain, a shy smile on his lips, "you build robots, do you? And what do you do in your spare time? Search for lost undersea treasure? Baloon sailing? Find cures for rare diseases?"
"Why, yes. You're a good guesser, captain" she laughed. "I used to go rock climbing for the exercise and the challenge, when I first started working at MicNickel. And the way it made me feel about myself, not quite so,..., I want to say cerebral but it sounds a little arrogant."
"No, that's fine. It's the case."
"But the last few years, with Doctor Kobanoff, I haven't found time. I've been spending most of it working on the fourth generation robot. It's been very absorbing, I didn't want to take a break. Tobias is the prototype."
"Yea, I know. He plays it down. Doesn't want to be treated special. But he is. He's certainly a cut above third-gens, even the smartest of them."
"Smartest? But they're all identical."
"Maybe at the start, but they each experience different lives and the content of that effects or emphasizes different elements in their make-up, altering its expression, so they end up unique. And some are just plain smarter than others. I think emotions have a great deal to do with it; how they turn out. People, including robots, need encouragement to achieve their potential."
"Nurture leading nature. Biology and environment are intertwined. In the case of a robot, it's the organic brain that's intertwined. Sounds like you know a lot about them."
"Hah! A tiny bit. Since that lecture of Doctor Kobanoff's, I've gotten more involved with their nature. I deal with them often, so I thought it'd be a good idea if I learned who I'm dealing with. I've studied, read, all the Doctor's books; although, I can't say I understand everything by any means. And, I have one recently obtained with your name on it." He toasted her with his cup.
"Yes, that was very generous of David, to add my name to his. My research focused on the brain and its potential. He and his very erudite and ingenious team of engineers did the rest."
"But the brain is the center of everything. It orchestrates behavior. What changes did you make to call it the next generation?"
"We redesigned the third-gen's brain by compartmentalizing its various functions. Disparate faculties are partitioned from one another by a thin membrane that is nonetheless porous, like a cell. Similarly, what's allowed to transfer in or out can do so only if it has an acceptable identifiable marker. Contextually, the cortical envelope is able to reflect onto each region separately or as ensembles connected through their membranes working together.
"With the third-gen, on the other hand, faculties are intermingled in a continuum, impetus and constraint acting on different parts simultaneously create artificial barriers. And that tension creates a sensation of thinking, or that's how it's imagined. Partitioning into discreet units or regions allows for a more pronounced activation and increased intensity. So what you have,..., am I boring you, captain? I so seldom get a chance to talk about what I do to people. I'm always stuck in the lab."
"No, no. Really. I find it very interesting. Go on, please." He did actually find it educational, but the way she was saying it, her voice, greatly added to his enjoyment. He could probably sit there like a school boy and listen all day whether he understood any of it or not; he was captivated.
"What you have are sets of neurons representing a particular faculty interacting with other sets across membranes. These cosets collectively form an overall symmetry pattern called a group. A group identity is the identity of the individual robot."
"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
"Precisely. But not having had a chance to deal with him, we don't know what it emerges to. Network complexity increases exponentially with the addition of each separate faculty until... the brain is functioning as an integrated whole to a degree beyond what Marta can encompass and analyze. That's the problem, the degree of complexity is countably infinite."
"Yes. Our very super supercomputer. She has a name and a rather peculiar personality." Aleta poured herself more coffee and took a sip. She was warming up. "What emerges is a higher order of objectivity and hence, an equivalent order of subjectivity. The gist of what we were trying to accomplish was to arrive at a balance, a knife's edge, between potentiality and actualization, inhibition and expression. As the interface approaches zero, the correspondence approaches identity. But it's limited. With a human, we perceive the universe from a human perspective. We humanize it. With a robot, the process is similar. And with Tobias, the prototype, he's experiencing a completely new universe. The emergence of a new self.
"Under a range of possible circumstances, I investigated how different components interact. The outcomes. The mind-body interplay. For instance, having it go through a complicated activity composed of a series of individual actions. Does it follow each precisely as a third-gen would or condense them into a more efficient algorithm?
"The day Tobias was taken, in fact, I discovered indications of a tendency for him to go beyond pre-set limitations. He harbors, or rather his brain does, a proclivity for self-action that is somewhat stronger than suppression. I ran a million simulations, but apparently, as it's turned out, I missed a few." She resisted telling him that Tobias could possibly become invisible. He didn't need to know that.
"This tendency is a generality only, an inherent asymmetry, specific actions are simply not knowable. And, we honestly don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing."
She paused to take him in and smiled at his attentiveness. He was a good listener, she liked that. "And what do you do when you're not gallivanting around the heavens planet hopping?"
"That's pretty much been it for the last five years, I'm afraid. I've been busy. Running cargo ships to and from Minova for the first three and transports most recently. It's gotten more hectic as we approached this convention. The writing of the first draft of the declaration of independence was completed some time ago, now they're refining, trying to find the right words. You know. Details. All the background planning has already been done. The declaration is the face of it."
David came out, apologizing for taking so much time, but he wanted to shave so Tobias would see him as he was when they were last together in the lab. They both laughed and glanced at one another. He was acting like a dad about to be reunited with his long lost son. In truth, though, it had been close to eight earth days and eight Drosophila days, which, if converted to earth days, comes to a total of twenty-one, give or take a few hours. Plus, two days travel time from Minova. It was a long time for a robot like Tobias to be on his own, Kobanoff believed, especially as he had not yet learned appropriate behavior and how to use his abilities. He didn't know what to expect, but hoped he would be welcomed, in spite of letting him be kidnapped.
The captain's personal magcar left a lot to be desired. Dents, scratches, and dirt gave witness to its age and treatment and the inside looked like he lived in it, or something did. Clothing, old newspapers, and empty coffee containers were strewn about. Strange creaks and squeeks came from everywhere. A tradition among men of the sea. Their ship was kept in tip-top shape, and cleanliness, if not a sacred principle, was at least something striven for, while their personal land vehicles were usually a mess.
Kobanoff sat next to him in front, Aleta in the back. The captain would've preferred it otherwise, but protocol dictated. On the way to the administration compound, David spotted third-gens mixed in with the crowds. He watched one in particular walking in their direction. Stopping for the light at an intersection, waiting patiently with all the people, then striding ahead when it changed, head high. He saw no difference in attitude, he acted like everyone else and nobody bothered to look at him. He glimpsed his face and eyes as they passed. The ordinary blank expression was gone, replaced by a relaxed, friendly, soft set of features and a marked intelligence showed in the eyes. Why he found that disturbing, he couldn't put his finger on. Perhaps, he thought, he'd internalized the same prejudicial view towards them as most of the rest of earth-bound humanity without realizing it. A wave of embarrassement and shame coursed through him. As their creator, he should be above all that, and, in fact, should be pleased at their evolution here on Iberia. He believed he was. So, there was something else. Robots acting independently. Did it have to do with a fatherly possessiveness? The sight of them on their own plucking a string? Or was it trepidation, aware of what they were capable? He didn't know, he couldn't find a definite answer.
"You know," Beechum began, "He's not going to look the same as he did in the lab. I mean, I don't know how he looked then, but I've seen a change come over him in the past week, or seven earth days; I'm used to converting on ship. Actually, here, it's been less, more like five or six days. A day on Iberia is about thirty earth hours."
"What's he been doing?"
"Everything," he laughed. "He volunteered to help with the heavy lifting over at the cathedral. They're restoring old paintings and they're rather large, and heavy. So he's been moving them for the artists to a back room where they can be worked on. He wants to learn how to do that, paint, I mean. And music. In the main park downtown he watched some musicians playing in the gazebo and decided he was going to learn how to play the cello. The secretary told me she walked down that way once on her lunch break for the exercise and the sun and heard him practicing. She said she was glad the admin building was on the other side of the campus." They bloth laughed. "And he's been working on his garden, adding flowers he's seen at the arboretum. And the university offers courses in the math of quantum space at nights. He says he might see a way to improve the stardrive. He's been very busy."
They arrived at the compound parking lot around noon. The captain told them he tried to get in touch with Tobias to let him know they were in town and that they'd be coming over, but to no avail. So he may not be there. If not, they can wait. Aleta and David nodded.
They tracked the walkways to the rear of the compound where the woods that once covered the whole area still stood. Aleta strode with purpose, David wasn't so sure and lagged slightly behind, letting the warm sun soak in; he needed to relax. Captain Beechum pulled up the rear. Having become familiar with Tobias's emotional range and mood shifts, he was hoping for the best.
They rounded a wide, one-story building that Jack explained was for the technical supervision aspect of a terraforming operation. It contained computers, wall screens, whiteboards, and large tables intended for maps. It wasn't being used now, of course, but some day it would be one of a network of brain centers, the main one. On the other side, there before them, about a hundred feet down a wide dirt and pebble path, was the one-story home of Tobias, fourth-generation prototype. Flowers, every color in the rainbow, surrounded it. The door was open, they called in but got no response. Jack suggested they go in and wait; he left the door open so he probably didn't go too far.
David entered the living room. Off towards the garden window stood an easel with a three-foot wide, four high canvas resting on it. Next to it was a table filled with paints and brushes, a cloth that smelled of turpentine hung over the edge. Jack straightened when he saw it. The painting depicted a greyish-white landscape of craters and chunks of rock and behind it, hanging in space, was a planet. Behind it was the blackness of space with stars of varying size and brightness shining here and there.
"Drosophila," Jack uttered. "That's what he was walking toward when we found him. What he saw." He went closer. "He must've done this last night some time because I was here yesterday afternoon and none of this was here. It looks just like it. The land configurations, the oceans, the ice caps, the colors. I've seen it a million times. He remembered it exactly. And the moon surface, how could he forget that? It looks excellent. Quite masterful, in fact. How could he learn so quickly?"
David just shook his head but Aleta offered that the geometry and perspective are inherent in his apprehension of his surroundings. He draws on those faculties in order to see what's around him and fills in colors and textures. Memorizing what he saw in detail would be no problem, but the ability to replicate that onto a canvas with paints was not included in his skill set.
The muffled thud of footfalls crunching stone to granules interrupted their appreciation. They grew closer. David's heart dropped in his chest. He gritted his teeth and stepped out. Tobias continued walking until recognition kicked in. He stopped and stared, an expression of profound tenderness crossed his features, then he smiled and quickened his pace. "Doctor Kobanoff," he exclaimed. He put his arms around him and lifted him off the ground in a hug that could've easily crushed him to smitherenes. He placed him carefully down and stepped back. "When did you get here? Come in. I guess you already are. Jack, you brought them. Doctor Samuelson, so pleased to see you again. The two of you came after me, huh? How did you figure out where they took me? Oh, you can tell me later. I was stuck on a moon; Captain Beechum rescued me and brought me here."
Exuberance hardly described it. Kobanoff smiled broadly. He didn't know what to think and decided not to think anything. He had questions to ask but they could wait. It was enough to be with Tobias in an apparently healthy state. But he was having trouble finding words. Jack could see they were both having difficulty adjusting to the person their robot had become. As a captain of starships, he took charge. "When did you paint this Tobias? Last night?"
"Well, yes, actually. I was talking to the cleric, you know, the one at the cathedral, about my experience on Minova, when I was walking along. I was trying to recall what I'd been thinking about but couldn't. Which I found strange because I usually remember everything. Well, not everything, only important stuff. So he suggested I revisit it by painting what I saw. The artists there have been nice enough to give me a few lessons and I've watched them restore their work. Picking up how they use, I mean, how they hold, the different brushes to create certain effects. I think it's pretty close." He smiled, hoping they liked it. "Anyway, it helped me remember. Coffee, anyone? I'll make some." He went to the kitchen, Aleta went with him. David, his eyebrows raised about as high as he could get them, looked at Jack who returned his look with a shrug and a smile.
Aleta helped with the coffee, filling the pot with water and pouring it into the machine. Tobias stood gazing into the cupboard. Finally, he held two bags up and asked, "Which one?" She read the names, recognized one and pointed to it. Puzzled, she said, "But you don't drink coffee, Tobias. You don't drink anything."
"I have guests," he said, pleased at the thought. "Friends. Artists. Musicians. Oh," suddenly remembering, "let me show you." He pushed the button on the coffee maker and led her to the bedroom. There, standing in the corner was a cello and bow. "Borrowed," he said. "The woman who lent it has been showing me how to play. I'd like to have a much larger version, but this'll do for now." Hanging on the wall next to his bed was a small painting, about two-foot square, in a plain wood frame of a woman wearing a pale blue and light-green robe, standing in a meadow of tall grass feeding a deer out of her hand. In the background was a dense forest of very tall trees and beyond that, snow-capped mountains and a pinkish, orange sky. She pointed at it. He told her the people at the cathedral gave it to him as thanks for his efforts. He had his choice of several, but there was something about this that spoke to him. He became still and silent when he said that, gazing at it. "Supposedly, it's very valuable," he said quickly as though to cover his feelings. The coffee machine buzzed; they returned to the kitchen.
David and Jack were sitting on chairs opposite one another when Tobias entered carrying a tray with the pot and three cups on it. They were not your ordinary cups, each was different in size and ornamentation of birds and flowers. He placed it on the table. Aleta sat on the couch and patted the cushion for Tobias to come sit, which he did. Aleta poured for all, Jack and David reached for their cup and tasted, both expressed a murmur of satisfaction. Fragrances from the garden wafted in the open windows and door; the occasional buzzing of bees could be heard. Otherwise, silence prevailed, or rather, a calm descended.
Wearing a dark blue, short-sleeve shirt featuring stylistic silhouettes of small Iberian animals in dull yellow, loose-fitting jeans, and loafers like the cleric wore, Tobias appeared your average vacationer. And his hair, it seemed longer, although David knew that wasn't possible. He stared at the shoes, but before he could say anything, Tobias took one off and handed it to him. "The others were ruined; these are incredibly comfortable. I have another pair, a lot sturdier, for hiking around the city." David studied it briefly, then handed it back. "I was over at the administration building when you arrived."
His mood changed to a more serious, composed tone. "I feel obligated to reciprocate for these lodgings. I discussed it with the personnel manager; I have an idea to teach the third-gens who work around here how to better perform their jobs. I don't mean increasing their efficiency, if only for the simple reason that I don't know what they do, but rather to teach them how to think on their own, instead of repetitively and habitually doing what they'd been shown."
"Think on their own?" Kobanoff said. "But based on what I've seen thusfar, they seem to already be doing that." A pause followed the buzzing of a curious honey bee that flew in, inspected everyone, especially Aleta's bright, orange red hair, then left by a different route.
"Acting independently they do. But it's within the lines of acceptable behavior, something they assimilate by observation. The cultural parameters associated with and correlated to a social morality. Socialization. If they observe wrong behavior--violence or theft--they see it as an act that serves to undermine the basic principles guiding society as a whole and reject it. Lines. If, however, they could see acts without evaluation, they'd be able to step outside the lines. In so doing, they would take control of their lives and no longer be subjected to an imposed world order; that is to say, a shrunken, encapsulated world that severely limits their potential and defines their identity. Freedom, Doctor, would greatly increase their participation in society and enrich it in the process as well as offering them other avenues for self-expression. What they're experiencing now is the illusion of freedom."
David now saw that he misapprehended the nature of what he found troubling about the third-gens. Their seeming independence. It's external only and under control, in a manner of speaking. What Tobias proposed was internal. His intent was to do something to them, to actualize an emergent potentiality that would allow them to suspend all moral hold and act in a way unrestrained by abstract rules. Finally, David asked, "Do you think that's a good idea?"
"To set them free?" he replied sharply, his body visibly stiffening. "To discover who they are? Control goes hand in hand with freedom, Doctor."
Kobanoff didn't care for what he was hearing nor for the manner with which it was being said. He leaned forward, drank some lukewarm coffee, carefully placed the cup down on the exact spot where it'd been, as Tobias had done in the lab that day, and instead of pursuing what was apparently a sore point, he asked, "And how do you plan on accomplishing that? The third-gen brain isn't designed for independent thought. The identity precipitated by the interaction between the cerebral envelope and the amalgam of confluing protoplasmic faculties is essentially fixed. Regardless of the degree of subjectivity, an awareness of a self above and beyond that enclosed world simply isn't possible."
"Oh, but it is, Doctor," he said while peering out the window. "Someone's coming."
They looked out the window but saw no one. "Where?' David asked.
"On the other side of that building, walking fast. Four, maybe five."
"I don't recognize the footfalls," Tobias said.
He stood and went outside. Something wasn't right, David could tell. He could see the pliable sagittarium in Tobias's arms flexing, getting ready; the microbial infusion busily rearranging the crystal structure. David's pocket comunicator buzzed. He answered it. Jonathan spoke, "David, I don't know where you are but wherever it is, you and Aleta better get the hell out of there. And why didn't you call me?"
"I'm sorry. I just got so excited about meeting Tobias, I forgot I had it."
"Well, when Miranda and I got back, the police were here. Somebody broke in. The police got here five minutes later; they're automatically notified when that happens. There must've been more than one. Everything's turned upside down and I think your computer's gone. Anything worth stealing on it?"
"It's filled with info on the third-gens and on Tobias most specifically. Third-gen material is public domain, engineering and biocompounds mainly, but what is exclusively Tobias could be considered classified."
"I told the police we just arrived on the planet, so how could anyone know? They asked about phone calls. I told them we talked to the ambassador's secretary. They said that line could have been tapped. They, whoever they are, would've been able to trace it back here. They might've been watching the room waiting for Captain Beechum and followed you. Why, I don't know, but the police told me a lot of shady stuff concerning robots has been going on lately. And knowing who you are and why you're here from the phone call, I think it's best you go hide until this all gets sorted out."
"Well, someone's coming now, Tobias can hear them."
"Where are you? The police are still here. Forensics. I'll tell them." David gave directions quickly. Jon repeated, "Have Tobias get you guys out of there. I don't think these characters are the welcoming committee. We're comin' over." He broke the connection.
"That was Jonathan Blakely, our pilot and a good friend. He said...."
"I heard him," Tobias interrupted.
"What's goin' on?" Jack asked. David filled them in. "Who are these people, Tobias?" He went out to stand next to him. Aleta and Jack joined them; they all stood around the eight-foot tall metal robot. Tobias wasn't worried about himself, but his flesh and blood creators and moonscape rescuer were another matter.
"C'mon," he said. "Quickly." He turned and strode towards the woods behind the building, they hurried to keep up. They took cover behind a large maple tree and watched a group of men round the operations building and onto the path leading to Tobias's home.
"Doesn't the compound have security people?" David asked in a whisper.
"Only in the buildings where people are. Once in the morning and evening a patrol drives by in a cart checking locks. But nobody's back here, besides me."
The men scanned the area, then one carrying a duffel opened it. Each in turn pulled out a pulse rifle, the kind that fire a high-frequency electromagnetic jolt capable of frying flesh and short-circuiting anyone made of electromechanical parts. The dufffel was dropped on the grass. They spread out as they approached the open door, squatting low, taking careful steps. After trudging down the path grinding stones to mash, trying now within spitting distance to be stealthy appeared quite ridiculous. David, a formed Ranger, and Jack, a C.A. starpilot, looked at one another and almost laughed. They had the same thought: these guys are amateurs. However, the weapons they were holding were anything but toys.
One stepped across the threshold waving the rifle side to side. The painting drew his attention. If anyone had been in the hallway with a weapon, the trespasser would've been dead. He looked at the three cups partially full and then charged down the hall to the bedroom. When he returned to the others, he shook his head. He said, "They're around here somewhere," but in an unfamiliar language. David asked Tobias what he said, but he replied he didn't know. He recalled, however, that once in the cathedral when he was moving paintings he heard a language that could be the same. Two men sitting in a pew were whispering to one another and glancing at him.
After peering through the windows of the conference-room half of the building, there was only one obvious place to look. The woods began in earnest about ten meters past the end. The flower beds were separated from it on both sides by narrow dirt paths. Two men went down the side where the living quarters were and the other two rounded the conference-room side. They regrouped behind and faced the trees. The enromous tree Tobias and the others were hiding behind was a mere fifteen meters away. If they hadn't stopped to observe, David regretted, they would've been through the woods and outside the compound by now. But it was too late for that. Anyhow, it's best to know who's looking for you with unfriendly intentions, especially when you have no idea why.
The one who spoke gestured at the others to spread out, putting about ten feet between them. Slowly they stealthed their way in. David whispered to Jack, "We have to do something."
Jack held out his hands and said, "When they get close enough, we can rush them, try to get ahold of one of their rifles." David didn't much care for that idea; he was a Ranger at heart but his fighting days were long over. He took out his comm link and said, "If I push the button and toss it, Jon'll come on. That might distract them enough to give us a chance to make a break for it." He was the oldest, and briefly recalling his last jogging experience on the beach, didn't expect to make it, but the others might.
Tobias had been watching their approach, measuring their steps, how they put their feet down in the clover and grass groundcover. Twigs were scattered here and there, dry twigs. Even though they had no reason at this point to be quiet, they constantly looked down to avoid them. Tobias felt that surge of outrage he experienced in the storage room on Minova. The one coming directly towards them was within twenty feet. Aleta, David, and Jack pressed themselves against the bark, holding their breath. David got ready to push the button on the comm link and throw it behind them. If the men ran towards it, they then might have a chance running in the opposite direction, passed the house and into the compound.
But before he could do that, the microbial-sagittarium alloy composing Tobias's skin and internal components phase shifted the space elementals underlying its existence ninety degrees to incoming photons. The resulting orthogonal orientation produced an unnatural effect, unnatural, that is, for our galaxy. Tobias suddenly vanished.
Startled, they stood frozen. A muffled grunt followed by the heavy thud of a body hitting the ground was quickly repeated three more times. Deep silence permeated the air, not a bird sang or a bee buzzed. David smelled a trace of ozone, a twig snapped behind them. They pivoted. Tobias stood a few feeet away clutching four pulse rifles. He said calmly, "I can only take so much crap." He handed one to each of them and broke the other in half and dropped it to the ground.
"Let's go," he said. "I have a phone with a direct link to security. We'll have them come back here and clean up this mess." He then walked towards the house. Stunned, they looked at one another, amazement on their faces. They followed him. Jack checked the bodies; they were all still alive but out cold.
The investigation was turned over to the Iberian Intelligence Agency (I.I.A.). It began with the four would-be assassins and worked its way back to a team of specialists from the planet Alladin of the Oberon system in the outer edge of the Orion Arm.
Government agents visiting Iberia some time ago learned of the intention to form what is referred to as the Perseus Alliance. It wasn't difficult. It was the main topic of conversation in bars and coffee shops around the planet. Returning to Alladin the news was reported to their superiors. Alarmed and dismayed at the prospect, also, one might conjecture, frightened of becoming the farthermost planet of Earth-centric expansion by default, they formed a covert task force with the mandate to undermine and ultimately sabotage such ambitions.
Arriving on Iberia they organized a disinformation campaign through the various media outlets, in particular the planet-wide electronic network, with the intention of spreading a conspiracy theory to accomplish that end. It went something like this: The third-generation robots on Iberia, of which there are thousands, were planning on taking over the planet. Rightwing groups whose mindset was predisposed to accept as true such fabricated nonsense set about an open anti-robot campaign. Additionally, programs were initiated through networked propaganda to counter the formation of the Alliance directly, an appeal to Earth allegiance and patriotic traditionalism, with vociferous rallies and marches through the streets.
The plan of the Alladin government agents was to spread instability and insecurity throughout the world thereby discrediting and compromising the ability of Iberia's planetary government to rule effectively. Weakening the government and demoralizing peoples' confidence in the leaders. Once accomplished to whatever degree, the intent was to influence the World Body on Earth to reject the bid to form the Perseus Alliance by citing the necessity for their continued oversight in order to maintain stability, functionality, security, and the rule of law as justification. Not to mention the continuance of the economic benefits.
Monitoring of C.A. communications discovered that a fourth-generation robot, a prototype with advanced capabilites, had recently arrived on Iberia. This was seen as an opportunity to give credence to their narrative. He was cast as a scout and a prime instigator whose job it was to organize the third-gens. Patriotic extremist groups, supportes of the Alliance, albeit with a more militant zeal than your average citizen, dupes as they were, became alarmed. They hadn't accepted as true the initial conspiracy of an attempted takeover by robots, but now feared it might be true. They decided to act, for the good of Iberia. The Alladin spy group had discovered where he was living by tailing one Captain Jack Beechum, Colonial Administration pilot, known to have brought him from Drosophila. Spies were sent out to infiltrate the most extreme groups in order to pass this information on and to encourage action before it was too late.
As a plan was worked out to eliminate the threat, a fortunate event occurred. The inventor and prime mover of the robot insurrection arrived in the capital, Magdelana, Doctor David Kobanoff. They had their marching orders, time was of the essence.
The investigation led to the arrest of the Alladin spy group and confiscation of their eavesdropping and information dissemintaion equipment. They are now in prison. Their government has been notified and warned that any further intrusion into the lives of the citizens, including those deemed honorary, of Iberia would be considered an act of war. And they would not only be dealing with Iberia, but with the entire Perseus Alliance.
After some squabbling within the ranks of the World Body, the formation of the Perseus Alliance was approved and subsequently ratified. It was seen as a relief by most members. The strain of oversight on such distant worlds was seriously complicated and something of a nightmare, plus it had become increasingly difficult to find people in the diplomatic corp willing to be stationed there for extended periods of time. Logistics alone had evolved into a separate bureaucracy. New trade agreements would have to be hashed out, the old patchwork was thrown away.
It was time for humanity in its drive for expansion to establish archipelagos of separate allegiances. Nonetheless, cooperation would continue to be the rule of the day. A body grows, the cells divide, and each takes on a life of its own.
Latest experimental results: After a series of inspired procedures, tweaking the constants of nature just so, it was determined back at McNickel Labs that the mineral sagittarium was indeed from another galaxy. A bizzare galaxy, to say the least, whose properties are opposite to the Milky Way in every respect except for gravitational effects. On close inspection, its mass was seen not to be the result of interacting with the Higgs boson, but whatever is responsible remains an enigma. With knowledge of crystallography, physical chemistry, and materials science having been exhausted, it was postulated that the mineral had access to other spatial dimensions, other realms, from which it draws, or inherits, the familiar characteristics of mass. However, it was a consideration that was ultimately dismissed as sounding too much like science fiction.
How it arrived in our galaxy and ended up on the asteroid where it was found is open to debate. But after becoming embedded in other material surrounding it, its crystal lattice was altered by sheer pressure to adapt and conform to local circumstances, inducing it to become visible; that is, sensitive to reacting to photons.
The electromagnetic shell that covers all visible matter and is what holds atoms together and pushes against other things was not detectable. Something else enables it to occupy a definite, limited, contained space which has yet to be identified. Otherwise, it would've passed right through all matter in our galaxy, including the asteroid. Moreover, it still retains the physical and chemical attributes of its origins within its nature as a possible default arrangement, its singular and fundamental identity. A singular identity, a factor of each and every component of anything composed of it, a robot, for instance, can and probably will emerge if an event is of such intensity that it reaches the depth at which this fundamental signature exists. Feedback can then resonate to all the bases of each special function and faculty which together encompass the whole. The resulting condition in the case of sagittarium is invisibility that is tranparent.
Captain Jack Beechum and Doctor Aleta Samuelson were last seen in his old magcar driving out of town heading for the coast, warm beaches, and the peacefullness of fishing villages. They left no indication with C.A. where they might be found. Jonathan and Miranda returned to Earth. He had a business to run and she had arranged to present her topographic chart of the quanutm seas at the International Astrocartography Symposium. They promised to come back for a visit.
Doctor Kobanoff remained on Iberia, spending his time learning about his prototype, and himself. While exploring the planet together, he encountered several third-gens with whom he engaged on a level he hadn't dreamed of before. He realized that all these years he'd been underestimating his own creation, an attitude that gradually dissolved away, not finding any real justification, as though a spell had been broken. Reasons were subtle and went unnoticed by him before if only because he'd never thought to look. There were many factors, but most especially their self-possession, right down to how they held themselves, an air of dignity that was at once understated and warm.
Kobanoff found himself feeling younger. Tobias and he have deep philosophical discussions on the meaning of life, existence, and identity late into the night, as well as those on the arts in all its forms and science. David was also interested in getting to the root of what caused Tobias's collapse on Minova, what he felt and believed had happened to him; what David believed was responsible for his development into a being he never would've imagined. By some means or trick of fate, Kobanoff may have inadvertently introduced a psychological component into the fourth generation he didn't understand. He believed now that may even be true of the third-generation. Perhaps Tobias could help him.
Kobanoff remembered the story his mother used to read to him when he was a boy and they lived in England. His imaginary friend. He was not only a fierce and clever warrior, he was also a person of great warmth, compassion, and imagination. And above all, he insisted on being himself.
He requested and received an indefinite sabbatical from McNickel Research; ostensibly, to do field work. And as far as anyone knows, he's still there.