Kenneth James Crist
A "Charlie Ramos" Adventure
The Second, or Games Attendant, knocked lightly on the cubicle door, only as a matter of courtesy, then entered. He was carrying a stack of towels and other toiletry items and he joined a small group of other attendants who were preparing the contestant for the coming battle.
The little man who was being attended so lovingly was billed as Barnabus The Wolf Slayer. He was all of five feet six and might have weighed a hundred twenty pounds. He had the muscle tone of one who could scarcely feed himself, let alone fight, yet he was world renowned for his fierceness in battle. His power and ruthlessness came from the scope of his imagination and the depth of his intellect.
The attendants were rubbing him down on a padded table, part of his relaxation therapy. Aromatic oils were applied to his skin, paying special attention to his feet. His feet were known to give him pain at times, and the team could not afford the distraction. Neither could the sponsors.
Today's match was brought to the public view by two soft drink manufacturers, three car companies, a life insurance company and an interplanetary cruise line.
The actual amount of money that would change hands in wages, bonuses, bets (both legal and illegal) and fees from this one match would stagger the imagination. And this match wasn't even being played to settle a dispute or a war, as was sometimes the case.
The attendants finished the rubdown and moved Barnabus to the dressing area, where an incontinence diaper was applied, then he was dressed in a maroon silk robe. Contestants were sometimes known to soil themselves while competing, and while no points were docked for loss of control of bowels or bladder, it was considered bad form if anything showed through clothing or ran down the contestant's leg.
An absorbent bib was also tied around his neck, as he might have a tendency to drool while deep in the trance state of combat and again, it was bad form to wet one's clothing with spittle.
Barnabus was thirty-five and he had been in this business for eleven years. He had been apprenticed to Homer the Horrible and The Great Waldo. They were both part of a stable of mind fighters owned and maintained by a consortium of businessmen incorporated under the name of Trans Earth Entertainment.
He knew that, over at the other end of the vast arena, similar preparations would be in progress for his opponent, Jack The Mindbender. This was not a grudge match, far from it. In fact, he and Jack had gone out to dinner with some of the sponsor's people just the night before. That was the way it was in the World Mind Fighting Federation. It was just business, the entertainment business, and no matter how bloody it got in the arena, they were all friends when it was over.
The attendants placed him gently in the deeply padded fighting chair, which was bolted to the concrete floor and strapped him in. They didn't want him physically injured and they knew he might thrash around and even convulse powerfully as the battle continued, perhaps hurling himself out of the chair. He obediently opened his mouth for the molded mouthpiece that would keep him from biting his tongue, then he felt the cold saline solution dabbed on his temples and the headset was attached.
An attendant leaned close. "Ready, Barny?"
"Yo. Let's do it." He breathed around the mouthpiece.
The attendant reached to a console of switches and instruments nearby and flicked a switch. Barnabus' mind was immediately flooded with the image of the arena outside. Its quarter mile expanse of flat, green grass was perfectly clipped and manicured. A slight breeze riffled his robe and the sounds of the vast crowd came to him, whistles and cheers rolling in the evening air. The beam-downs from the huge satellite mirrors thousands of miles above in space made it bright as day and would keep it that way throughout the match.
At the opposite end of the stadium, he saw his opponent, Jack the Mindbender. They faced and bowed in the tradition of their sport, even though, at this point, the spectators could not see either of them. In moments, though, the huge holographic projectors would come on, and show the crowd, in breathtaking three dimension, every move of the two mentally gifted players. For now, they withdrew.
Then, from the sidelines, came the announcer. He was dressed in the traditional attire of a circus ringmaster, the red fox hunting coat, the white riding breeches, black boots and black silk top hat. A white cravat with a diamond stickpin and white gloves completed his ensemble. He carried in his hands a common remote cordless microphone, and in his ear was a button receiver. He walked briskly to the exact center of the stadium and raised the mike to his mouth. The crowd hushed expectantly.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" he called, his voice booming and echoing from the huge sound system, "Good evening, and welcome to the World Mind Fighting Federation's Monday night Cerebral Combat. Tonight, from beautiful Garden of the Gods Stadium in Colorado Springs, The World Mind Fighting Federation presents, in the North position, Barnabus The Wolf Slayer, three time world champion and current holder of the title, "World's Most Devious Mind"...
Suddenly, behind the announcer, a fifty-foot tall blonde woman appeared, dressed in a red thong bikini, holding above her head a huge sign that read, simply, "Bullshit!" She pranced around the field, flashing a six foot white smile, her impossibly giant breasts bobbling, showing the sign to one and all, then she faded from sight. The crowd, especially the men, shouted, cheered and stomped.
The announcer continued. "In the South position, ladies and gentlemen, Jack, the Mindbender, the scourge of three continents and holder of the title, World's Most Ruthless Mindfighter."
To the announcer's left a huge rat flashed into being, thirty-five feet long, not including the tail. If it were real it would have grossed sixty tons. It was corpulent, hideous, and wore a sappy expression on its face. It lowered its head, raised its ass, showing the crowd on that side a most disturbing set of hairy gonads, then it waved its tail in the air and farted.
The sound was thunderously amplified and rattled the teeth of the paying folks. They ate it up. There was a collective gasp, then laughter and applause. The rat bowed, and faded.
The announcer once again raised his mike. "Ladies and gentlemen, the judges have now advised me that Jack The Mindbender has been penalized fifty points for the obscene comment on the sign and for sexual exploitation of women." There were both boos and cheers.
"Barnabus The Wolf Slayer has likewise been penalized fifty points for using flatulence in a performance and unnecessary display of genitalia." More cheers and boos.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the coin toss. Barnabus, being the senior member of the Federation has been given the call and he has chosen heads." The announcer produced a silver dollar and flipped it, allowing it to land in the turf. Then he stepped forward and bent to examine it, as a tiny TV camera in his lapel showed the crowd that it was, indeed, heads.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Barnabus has won the toss. Let the game begin." The announcer withdrew from the field and a hush descended on the crowd as they waited for the opening gambit. The television network went to a thirty second commercial for Ford Aircars. (Have you flown in a Ford lately?) The British-American manufacturer was now building the premier self-controlled aircar in the world, surpassing Damlier Benz-Chrysler and Rolls-Bentley in both performance and luxury.
In his booth, Barnabus waited out the commercial break. He was used to working with television and it gave him time to gather his thoughts.
When the red light came on, he closed his eyes and came out.
From the North end of the stadium, from the ground up, a huge horse slowly formed. It was a Belgian draft horse of heroic proportions, finely muscled and stamping impatiently, nodding its great shaggy head and blowing. Sitting atop the horse was the figure of a knight, fully armored and carrying a lance. His armor was dull black and a silver heraldic eagle was spread on his chest. A green scarf was tied around his left arm. The eye holes in his helmet were glittering slits and a pink streamer flew from a spike on top. There was a collective sigh from the crowd. Barnabus had chosen a traditional opening, but nobody did it better. Or so they thought.
The crowd turned as one to see the response at the south end of the stadium. The horse that Jack built was a Clydesdale. Its shining coat gleamed in the downbeams and its white, shaggy leg locks fluffed and flashed in the breeze. It, too, was impatient, its rider barely keeping the champing, stomping animal in control. The south knight wore amazing gold plated armor and a black shako atop his helmet. The handle of his lance was inset with mother of pearl and a black scarf adorned his arm.
Across the length of the stadium they faced each other, the tips of their upraised lances more than seventy feet in the air. They must, of necessity, be larger than life, so that the crowd could see their every move. They must also conform to the rules, which stated that response must be given in kind. If Barnabus had made a knight twice the size, Jack could have done so, too, but then, this was merely the opener.
From the north end, the black knight lowered his lance and spurred the Belgian and a split second later the golden knight spurred the Clydesdale. The match was on. The crowd rose to their feet as the chargers closed, the speaker system causing the ground to actually shake with the hoofbeats and clanging of armor, drawn directly from the brainwaves of the competitors.
At the middle of the stadium there was the clash of lances on armor and in the exact center of the stadium, invisible to the spectators, there was the clash of two wills. The lance of the black knight struck the gold knight's helmet a glancing, jarring blow and the lance of the gold knight skimmed ineffectually across the shoulder of the black. Both rode on to the ends of the stadium, then wheeled their mounts and stood, gathering their wits.
The crowd sat back down, munching popcorn and sipping Cokes. This time the golden knight spurred first, as was expected and they again rushed toward the center of the arena.
As they met, it first appeared that the black knight would cleanly run a lance through the gold, but at the last possible instant, the golden warrior flicked away the black shaft with his own and they passed unharmed. The horses were getting warmed up now, and at both ends of the arena, there was barely a pause before they both spurred again.
As they charged, clods of earth were seen to be thrown by their hooves, though not a mark was made to the immaculate turf of the field. At the center, the gold knight's lance struck a badly aimed thrust at the breastplate of the black and the black was nearly unseated, but managed, just barely, to remain atop the Belgian. The golden knight's lance shattered, and he dropped it to the turf, its usefulness gone. At the other end, the black knight also dropped his lance. Rules were rules. Both dismounted, drew broadswords and moved to center arena.
In a small but tidy home under the dome of New Pittsburg, Mars Colony, a boy of nine asked his mother, "Hey, Mom! Can I watch the Mindgames?"
"Joey, you know I don't approve of that trash," his mother answered, "besides, it's already past your bedtime."
"Aw, Mom! Just thirty minutes, okay?"
"No, Joey! I said "No" and that means "No." Now go brush your teeth and I'll be in to tuck you in."
"Don't need no tuckin' in." Joey mumbled under his breath as he reluctantly got up and started for the bathroom, his slippered feet stomping.
"What did you say, young man?" his mother called.
"Nothin'!" he hollered.
"Don't you sass me, Joey, or your dad'll hear about it when he gets home from the mine!"
She listened and soon heard Joey brushing his teeth and water running. He was a good kid, she reflected, her hands in soapy dishwater, but anymore the damn TV was so trashy, it was no wonder kids got weird ideas and had lousy manners.
Fifteen minutes later, Joey lay in his dark bedroom staring at the blank ceiling. In his mind's eye, he imagined himself walking outside and rising through the transparent dome, then crossing space to Earth, a place he'd never been. He imagined Colorado, just west of the center of the United States, then Garden of the Gods Stadium as he'd seen it from the skycam many times on the TV. Now, what was going on? Ah, yes. Barnabus The Wolf Slayer vs. Jack The Mindbender. Now he could see horses, and golden armor flashing in the downbeams...
Barnabus was the first of the two competitors to notice the third presence. It was an immediate distraction and it pissed him off, as he was already thirty points behind. His black knight had lost his sword arm when the battle finally moved to the ground and that had ended that portion of the contest. The network had gone to commercial and that gave both he and Jack a minute to breathe normally and relax and unclench.
Then the minute was up and it was Jack's turn to lead. He had come out with a dragon. Barnabus didn't like dragons all that well and he didn't do them as well as his opponent, which was exactly, he reflected, why Jack had gone with a mythical animal that could be made to look almost any way one cared to make it.
Jack did dragons very well, indeed, and his was the most frightening of any ever produced in a modern mind fighting arena. No decorative, oriental silk-painted piece of artwork, here. This dragon was the stuff nightmares are made of and, in the crowd, more than a few children hid against their mommies as it materialized.
It was long and snakelike, but possessed of four pairs of sturdy lizard-like legs tipped with wicked, curving claws. It had a single head (Jack didn't do multiple heads) that had both a curving beak, similar to a bird of prey and an impressive array of teeth and fangs. Its tongue was blue and split like a snake's and its wings were large and functional, allowing it to fly if need be. It shot fire from its nostrils and light beams from its eyes. Its overall color was not flashy, but almost a military olive drab, except that the scales covering its body were slick and shiny.
Barnabus knew that he, too, could make a dragon and they'd have one hell of a fight, but he also was well aware of the rule that stated that if one competitor produced an animal which never really existed, the other could do the same. Barnabus was better with birds.
From the north end of the stadium Barnabus produced one of his most famed apparitions. The Roc was sixty feet tall and ninety feet from wingtip to wingtip. Its talons could have scooped up a truck and its beak could have torn out the engine block. It spread its wings and screeched the attack call of a raptor and the dragon hissed and snorted fire. Then the crowd came to its feet again and the battle was joined.
As the dragon and the Roc flew at each other and slashed and tore, Barnabus contacted Jack with another, completely separate part of his mind. While not against the rules, talking between contestants was generally felt to be a distraction and was discouraged by trainers. They could shoot the breeze on their own time. But Barnabus felt this was important enough to breach protocol and besides, he knew Jack was a good enough competitor and a sound enough mind that a little conversation wouldn't distract him or cost either of them points.
"Yeah, Barny, whattaya want?"
"Do you feel it?"
"Another presence. Someone's crashing the program."
"Don't screw with me, okay? I'm kinda busy here."
"You don't feel him?"
"Naw. Not really."
"Well, trust me, there's someone else in here..."
"Yeah, okay, whatever. Damn!"
Barnabus' Roc had scored a very damaging blow to the dragon, ripping its neck almost in two and spontaneous healing was not allowed by the rulebook. Gouts of hot, steaming blood shot out of severed arteries and Jack redoubled his efforts to pin the bird to the ground before his dragon bled out. It was not to be. The bird was much too strong and agile and soon scored another slashing blow that finished taking the dragon's head completely off. It collapsed to the turf and began to fade, as the giant Roc flapped massive wings and lifted skyward, its scream nearly shattering the sound system. Automatic overload sensors cut in, saving the speakers and the hearing of the crowd as the Roc flew higher and was soon lost to sight. Commercial time again.
Joey lay safely tucked into his warm bed, millions of miles across space and watched the Mind Fight, not from the viewpoint of a paying customer or a TV watcher, but from right out on the turf of the arena. He could see all the action up close and he could smell the blood, it was that real to him. When the TV network went to commercial, he was on the field alone, looking at the crowd, hearing their laughter and chattering. He was not visible to any of them, he was sure. He had no headset to amplify his brainwaves and send them to the machines, so the ordinary observer had no idea he was present.
He walked around a little, then sat down and made himself comfortable. Barnabus and Jack would be back out in a minute and he wondered what forms they would choose for round three. Then, suddenly, he felt a presence in his mind and the voice of Barnabus asked, "Who the hell are you?"
Realizing he'd been detected, Joey quickly pulled back, while at the same time masking his escape by occupying his mind with trivia.
Into Barnabus' mind, there was a sudden influx of rhyming, sing-song nonsense, the thoughts, fears and ideas of a child. Little pig, little pig, let me in! Not a chance wolfy, you're livin' in sin! High is the tractor, low is the plow! Finish up the field, get down and take a bow! Little Miss Willow, sittin' on a pillow, eatin' on a pizza an' drinkin' up a coke! Long came a miner, dined her and wined her, popped her in the backseat an' offered her a smoke!
Then, like smoke itself, the presence was gone and the red light came on. Back to the battle.
Joey lay in his bed, shaken by his experience. He'd known for a long time of his gift and he had used it before in this same manner, finding it much more entertaining to be in the arena than to merely watch it on their old, antiquated, color-cube 3-D virtual viewer.
Back on Earth, virtual viewing had progressed to the point where the entire room was the viewer, with walls, ceilings and even floors showing separate but connected aspects of the picture, and holographic features and figures connected to that.
If they'd had something similar on Mars, Joey might never have used the gift to go to Earth for the match. But such equipment was too expensive and cost too much to ship to Mars. Joey just hoped he hadn't gotten himself in trouble.
Barnabus came out for the third round as a hundred Cossack Cavalry riders, complete in every detail. They wore the correct garb for their era, which was the late 19th century, and carried the correct weapons. Jack countered with a hundred Samurai warriors from the same period in Japan. The battle was soon joined, and it was bloody, indeed. As heads flew and limbs tumbled to the turf, and blood soaked the virtual ground, the spectators were thrilled. But Barnabus' heart was not in it, and he lost the match by sixty points, thirty for presentation and thirty for accuracy. It seemed he had slipped up and put a flintlock pistol in the belt of one Cossack that was incorrect for the period. As the loser of the match, he only earned a million credits for his evening’s work and the right to challenge Jack The Mindbender to a future "grudge" match.
"So, you think there might have been someone else in the arena? Another player?"
Barnabus, his trainer and the sponsors were in a meeting on the eighty-sixth floor of the Games Building in New York City. His trainer had asked the question, and as much as it pissed him off, Barnabus had to admit it was a legitimate question.
"No, I know someone was there. I felt him so strongly I could almost see him."
The representative from Super-Cola spoke up. "You realize we had all the game tapes run back and there was no sign of an interference signal?"
"Yeah, I know that."
"Not even a carrier."
"With the protection grid, that's what one would expect. It's specifically designed to keep out stray signals and isolate the arena from interference."
"Then, how would you explain this?"
"I can't. Unless…"
"What?" his trainer asked.
"Unless it was done without benefit of an amp."
"What do you mean?"
"By mind power alone. No headset, no amplifier."
"From where? >From in the crowd?"
"How the hell should I know?"
"Do you know anyone who could do that?"
"No. No, I don't." Barnabus said, shaking his head.
"I don't either, and I don't think it can be done."
It was almost two weeks before Joey got brave enough to again check out the mindgames first-hand. He knew he should have just contented himself with watching the Sunday afternoon match on the Vid. His dad was on overtime at the mine and his mother was busy with her own job. She was in charge of taking care of one of the greenhouses, not a job that would seem important to someone from off-planet, but in truth very essential because of air content and purification concerns. The more growing plants there were, the less bottled oxygen was used.
Joey was alone in the house and he had the Vid turned on. He really intended to watch the match there, in the living room, but when it was almost time, he found his mind drifting almost effortlessly away. It found its own way down now-familiar paths, and in a split second he was on Earth, then speeding across the terrain as though in a hypersonic flier, until at last the mountains came into sight, then the stadium.
There was the finely manicured grass, the boundary lines, the packed stadium seating, with the skyboxes for the dignitaries. He decided to avoid detection and he took over an empty seat until the match would start.
Back on Mars, in the living room, his body sat on the floor, rocking slightly, its automatic and reflexive systems keeping him breathing and alive while the conscious part of his mind was millions of miles away.
"He's here!" Waltman said. The country's only known commercial telepath was in one of the skyboxes, usually reserved for the president of the Skippy Snack Food Cartel. He was a cadaverously thin, older gentleman who smoked Camels incessantly. His fingers were yellow-stained and his teeth were crooked and brown. His old, threadbare sweater and slacks stank of cigarette smoke and stale urine. To the others in the room, he looked like just another old fart with constipation and prostate trouble. He had been lured out of the care home where he lived with the promise of enough money to keep him in Fig Newtons and Playboys for the rest of his life.
He had grown tired of the entertainment circuit years before and he steadfastly refused to work for the military. In his forehead was a well-defined dent, the result of an explosion in a defense plant, the same accident that had left him with a titanium plate in his skull and the sometime ability to read thoughts. Today, he was receiving five by five with the help of a couple of jolts of Absolut vodka. The bottle and a carton of smokes were within easy reach.
His hand shook slightly as he lit another cancer off the last one. This 'path was so strong! He had read others with the skill, but never one like this! While most people unconsciously transmitted some of their thoughts, reading them was like trying to read a newspaper from across the room. The headlines might be made out, but little else. Then there were people with some ability, such as himself. That was more like listening to a badly-tuned radio-lots of static, but enough music coming through to recognize the tune. This person, my God! It was like a symphony orchestra, heard from the front row, center. The incredible sharpness of the images was like looking through his own eyes, only clearer, if that was possible.
"Are you sure he's here in the stadium?" asked one of the executives.
"Does a bear shit in the woods?" Waltman asked, then poured himself another drink. "He's sitting out there in the stands, waiting for the match to start."
One of the Cartel's hired thugs, a loutish type with big pectorals and an equally large gun, stepped to the glass. "Where?"
Waltman exploded into laughter, then a fit of coughing that was finally quelled by several deep drags on his cigarette. When his lungs had arranged themselves back in their normal places he said, "As if you could friggin' see him! He's not here physically, dummy. He's projecting his mind in here remotely, from God knows where."
"So, whatta we do?"
"We wait. I'll learn everything I can about him as things progress and we'll nail his ass."
"Then you pay me."
Joey started feeling kind of lousy right after the match started. At first, he seemed to be sort of short of breath. Then he kept having to cough. Soon, he was tasting something vile, like smoke and old, dirty ashtrays, mixed with strong cough medicine. He really was trying to enjoy the spectacular battle before him, as the contestants fought back and forth across the turf. These were amateurs tonight, and they were doing prehistoric monsters. The quality of their creations was not up to the standards of a Barnabus or a Jack The Mindbender, but they were enthusiastic enough.
Finally, about midway through the evening, Joey at last realized what was going on. He finally stopped paying so much attention to the match and started letting himself feel his surroundings. Then, it was suddenly as if he were sitting in the lap of a gnarly, nasty old man with cigarette breath, who was half drunk and too clingy and lovey. Joey recoiled from the presence and then pulled back from the stadium, arriving back in his own living room seconds later. The vile taste was gone from his mouth, but somehow he felt soiled. He couldn’t wait to get in the shower.
Aboard the immense Deep Space Liner Galileo, Charlie Ramos and his second in command, Benjamin 2108, were dining in the sumptuous surroundings of the Caribbean Room.
Even though they were both androids, and had no real need of food, they found the surroundings pleasant and it was a good way to practice "fitting in". In the course of most investigations, Charlie had found that the fewer the number of people who realized he was an android, the better things usually progressed.
It was not that normal people didn't take androids seriously. Most people took them too seriously and didn't trust them at all. They would commonly tell Charlie things they would never tell an android, as long as they thought he was human.
The DSL Galileo was outbound for Mars, then on to Ganymede and points further out. Charlie had been a passenger on Galileo before, when enroute to an investigation at the Deep Space Mine #4 on Ganymede. He had acquired Benjamin on that trip, after the android had been shot protecting him and evaluated as scrap. Having Benjamin rebuilt had cost Charlie a pile of cash and he'd had to call in some favors, too. But Ben was catching on fast, and since all of Dr. Elliot Burnside's memory and emotional tracks had been erased from Ben's brain, he was doing much better at coping with android-human relationships.
Dr. Burnside had been Ben's mentor and, prior to his death, he had put all of his memories and emotions on an immense computer drive. Ben had downloaded all of it into his own brain after the doctor died and had been overwhelmed with grief, both for the doctor and the doctor's lover. He was feeling much better now, as he was no longer carrying the doctor's baggage. He had learned to accept that humans died and life must go on.
Charlie had been retained by the World Mindfighting Federation to investigate the telepathic penetration of the Mindgames. It had been going on for well over a month now, and it must cease.
Prior to leaving Earth, Charlie had interviewed a man named Emmel Waltman, who had seemed convinced that the telepath was on Mars. Charlie had barely been able to stand the man, with his vodka and cigarettes, and under ordinary circumstances he wouldn't have trusted the old rummy as far as an android could throw him. But he was a semi-famous man, believed to be Earth's strongest telepath, and he had seemed sincere. From what he had been able to glean from the mind of the unknown interloper, he was convinced he'd seen Martian landscape and a domed city. Two days after the interview, Waltman had disappeared.
Charlie was just getting set to dig into his veal scaloppini when a familiar voice to his left said, "Charlie? Charlie Ramos?"
He turned to find a familiar figure to go with the voice. He looked at her eyes, her hair, her body and it all came flooding back. He stood and took her offered hand, bowing slightly and kissing it, his lips barely brushing the smooth skin. Then he turned to Ben and said, "Ben, I'd like you to meet Cindy 7104. Cindy, this is my partner, Benjamin 2108."
Ben stood and shook her offered hand and said, "Cindy. My pleasure. I've heard a lot about you...won't you join us?"
"I'd like that very much."
"Are you allowed?" Charlie asked, "I mean since you're crew and all? We won't be getting you in any trouble will we?"
She smiled slightly and took the offered chair, looking over her shoulder at Charlie as he scooted her forward. Her glance was speculative and Charlie wondered if a rematch was in the offing. On his last trip out, they'd spent the night together, but then he'd been unable to find her again.
"You won't get me in any trouble. In fact, I'm doing exactly what they pay me for. I've been moved up to passenger relations."
Charlie smiled and signaled the waiter for another place setting. She ought to be good at that job, he thought.
He'd had mixed emotions about Cindy. Of course it was only the last three generations of androids that had been built using artificial emotions as well as artificial intelligence. Benjamin was a generation two and Charlie was "Gen-3."
His coping circuits had given him a serious case of mixed emotions when he had encountered her, then had a night enjoying her physical charms, only to be unable to find her later. After he had arrived on Ganymede, it seemed that the manager of the mine already knew all about him and his mission and he began to suspect that Cindy had been a spy, reporting his movements and description to the mining company. In the end, he'd never been able to prove anything one way or another and he had not seen her again until this moment.
His heavy-lidded dark eyes looked over her face now as she took a sip of wine and he found her just as flawlessly appealing as he had before. But this time, he vowed to himself, he'd have some answers to some questions before he got involved with her.
For her part, Cindy seemed to be quite taken with Ben. While Charlie was dark and had Latin features, Ben had been built tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed and rugged, with a permanent tan. His smile was so white it dazzled and Charlie noticed the women looking Ben over. It happened all the time and it wasn't just other androids. Many a natural human woman cast a speculative eye on the big android with the beach-boy looks. Probably wondering if they could wear out some of his motors or servos in bed, Charlie thought.
"So, where are you headed this time, Charlie?" she asked.
Just making conversation or is she working for someone and pumping me for information?
"We're headed out to Mars. Looking into some gambling fraud this time." He glibly answered, his voice circuits carefully filtering out any inflection or hesitancy that might show his statement as a bald-faced lie.
"No murders this time?"
"Not yet, anyway." Ben answered, reinforcing Ben's fib without making the mistake of adding any embellishment.
"Yeah, anything can happen when the mob's involved." Charlie observed.
A waiter hovered momentarily and Cindy ordered the chef's salad, dressing on the side. As soon as he left, she excused herself to go powder her nose and both Charlie and Ben rose as she left the table. Charlie watched her walk away, admiring her long, slender legs, clad in seamed nylons, which were making a comeback this year along with flapper dresses and jazz age haircuts. She had the build for the short dress, he reflected as he sat back down, and from the way Ben’s jaw was hanging, Charlie wasn't the only one who had noticed.
"She's gone , now. You can sit again."
"Wow. She's really somethin', huh?" Ben said, feeling behind him for his chair, his gaze still riveted in the direction she'd gone.
"She sure is, Buddy. She sure is."
"How do you know her? Or would it be intrusive to ask?" Ben was once again his normal, inquisitive self.
"I met her last trip out, on the way to Ganymede. She and I had...a liaison, I guess you'd say...just a one-night deal, but I've always wondered about her." At this revelation, Charlie clearly saw a look of dismay or disappointment cross Ben's face, then it was quickly covered. Before he had a chance to say much of anything else, Cindy was approaching their table and they both again rose and this time Ben seated her.
Dinner started out being rather strained, but then it became more comfortable as Cindy began paying attention to Ben. Soon, it was clear to Charlie that she was quite taken by his good looks and his somewhat shy, uncertain mannerisms.
When dinner was finished, she asked both of them to accompany her to the ballroom, where she needed to "check on the passengers". As they left table, Cindy grabbed the check and signed it.
"I was going to get that." Charlie said.
"Nope." she responded, her eyes laughing, "this one's on the Galileo."
When they reached the ballroom, there was a dance going on, not a formal affair, but there was a live orchestra playing dance music from the Big Band era. Cindy circulated for a few minutes while Ben and Charlie nursed drinks, then she came back and asked Ben, "Aren't you going to ask a lady to dance?"
Ben stammered around for a moment, then finally came clean. "I...I haven't been programmed for that...I don't know how."
"Okay, c'mon, I'll teach you."
"I'm not sure..." Ben stammered, looking at the dance floor with an expression almost like terror.
"Oh, c'mon, Ben. You're a...what, generation two? Good Lord, man, you surely can learn something as simple as a few dance steps without being programmed for it."
"Well, I guess I can give it a try..."
"There ya go! Be brave, fella." She winked at Charlie and dragged Ben out onto the dance floor. Charlie found himself playing the role of wallflower as Ben learned some simple dance steps, then went on to more complicated routines. Cindy was an accomplished dancer, that was apparent right from the start and soon she had Ben keeping right up. He caught on fast, his brain being able to quickly filter out mistakes and not repeat them and reinforce the correct steps and movements. His natural grace helped and twenty minutes later, when the band swung into the old Glenn Miller standard, "In the Mood", they had the dance floor to themselves and over a hundred humans watching and wishing they could do so well.
Charlie watched them from the small bar in the corner as he tried to untangle the strangeness of the emotions that gripped him. It took a while and finally, in exasperation, he ran a quick self-analysis. He was shocked to find that what he was experiencing was a high jealousy factor coupled with disappointment and feelings of rejection. When the full realization struck, he set down his drink with a snort and walked out of the ballroom and down to the cabin he and Ben shared.
The situation was ludicrous, he thought, as he lay in his bunk, preparing to shut down for the night. A machine being jealous of another machine over the attentions of a third machine. Just before he went to low power he thought about how being created with a full range of human emotions sometimes sucked.
It sucked even worse when he woke up to full power setting at five in the morning, to see Ben dragging in looking like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary.
"Hey, Charlie." Ben said.
"Hey." Brilliant conversational gambit.
"You been up all night?"
"Naw. I caught some shut-down. Where'd you guys go?"
"Well, let's see…we danced until about one, then we walked the promenade deck and looked at the stars…then…well, we went back to her cabin."
"Have a good time?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I did."
"Oh, yeah. A lot."
"Good. That's good, Ben. Gonna see her again?"
"Probably. Look, Charlie, is this gonna be a problem?"
"Nope. I don't own her, and you don't either, Buddy. And I don't think an android can get its heart broken, do you?"
"I…I really don't know, Charlie. I feel things for Cindy I've never felt before."
"Get used to it," Charlie said, "when you get involved with women, that'll happen." Listen to me, he thought, sounding like a fatherly type, when I'd really like to kick his ass for him. But then, it doesn't do much good to kick the shit out of a machine.
On Mars, Joey Blanchard was laying low now. He was sure he'd come to the attention of the Mindfighters and that they were mad at him for getting in their game. He hadn't meant to cause any trouble and he really hoped they wouldn't find out where he was. Until he'd tried using the gift to check out the Mindgames, he'd never really thought much about the amount of trouble he could get in because of his talent.
It was just something that had always been there. His mother and dad knew he had it and they did too, though to a much lesser extent. His mom, for instance, would sometimes be stirring her coffee and let go of the spoon to do something else and the spoon would just keep on going, around and around. Or she might close the refrigerator door with her back turned to it.
Joey's dad could always let his mom know when he was headed home, without ever picking up a phone. And if anything went wrong in the mine, Joey and his mom both knew immediately.
But this traveling thing, this out of body stuff was a new manifestation of an old power. He'd started by flying out above the dome and getting a bird's eye view of New Pittsburg, (except that there were no birds on Mars, not native ones anyway). Next he'd gone on a mind journey to the depths of the Canyons, then to Mars station, the huge space port-of-entry that orbited the red planet.
Once he'd realized he was not limited by any physical boundaries, the next logical step was to go to Earth.
Earth, of course, was a legendary place that Joey had never really seen. He had been born on Mars, of people who had also been born there. They had the links of television and space travel, but, as Joey found out, it was not the same as being there.
The DSL Galileo docked six days after Ben's memorable first night with Cindy. As they prepared to leave the ship, Charlie witnessed their parting. They had become inseparable during the last six days and Charlie had spent most of the time alone.
He didn't know whether Ben was just a better "man" than he, or if Cindy just preferred blondes, but he was over what he had been feeling toward her and Ben and he was just ready to get on with business.
Now, as Cindy and Ben held each other and kissed and cried quite shamelessly, Ben wondered at the depth of their relationship. Surely, it was much stronger than anything he and Cindy had felt for each other. He wished them both well. Being machines owned by corporations, their times together would be few and far between. They did not enjoy the freedoms of their human counterparts, who could just pick up and leave job, home and responsibilities and go wherever they wanted. Most androids were merely equipment. Cindy would live out her life span aboard Galileo or some other liner owned by Blue Star Lines.
When the good-byes were at last over, Charlie and Ben disembarked from Galileo. Their shuttle would be leaving in about two hours, so they had time to lounge around the station. They had made almost a full circuit of the main passenger level when Charlie heard his name being paged on the announcement system. He picked up the nearest phone and was told he had a message at the Blue Star Lines desk.
He and Ben walked back around the passenger area to the desk, where he retrieved a telex that had been sent from Earth a mere thirty minutes prior. He opened it and read:
EARTH STAT ROUTE.77401.VIA MARS STAT RECEIVER 11/11/41
TO: C. Ramos, Eagle Eye Investigations-C/O Mars Station
MESSAGE BEGINS: Emmel Waltman found deceased, definite foul play. Search of personal effects turned up name Joey. No relatives. Poss. lead? MESSAGE ENDS.
"Joey? That's not much to go on." Ben said. The tall android had been reading over Charlie's shoulder.
"No, it's not, but then there are only about sixteen thousand residents down there." he nodded toward one of the large Lexan3 windows, where the red disk of Mars was wheeling silently by.
"So where would we start? Local cops?"
"Yeah, that's as good a place as any."
The shuttle Winds of Mars dropped like a stone from Mars Station, taking an angle of descent that would have burnt her up in Earth's atmosphere. Some of the human passengers groaned as their stomachs climbed up into their throats. Ben and Charlie sat, completely unconcerned, as the planet grew larger and larger. The thinner air meant their pilot could show off his skills a little more, at least until they neared ground level. Then he had to use more thrust to brake and maneuver, as the shuttle's stubby wings developed only a fraction of the lift they might have in a denser atmosphere.
In less than twenty minutes the shuttle was carefully maneuvering across the paved landing stage of New Pittsburg, stirring a huge cloud of the reddish Martian grit with the downthrust of her engines. At last, she settled onto her main gear and the engines began a descending whine. The robotic flight attendant mechanically repeated its litany of disembarking instructions as the jetway was attached to the craft and pressurized. They paid it little mind. It wasn't even an android, but a clanking old mechanical that ran on an inflexible program with about as much intelligence and personality as a toaster. To Charlie and Ben, it wasn't even worthy of a second look, let alone any respect.
They strolled down the jetway and into customs, lugging their carry-on bags and looking every bit the vacationing travelers. They had reservations at the Mars Hilton and it was almost dinnertime. Their bags were checked through and fluoroscoped and sniffed by robo-dogs, then they were officially allowed into the booming settlement of New Pittsburg.
Charlie had never been to Mars proper and, of course, neither had Ben. Ben had never really been anyplace. He had been activated on Ganymede and would have spent his entire service life there, had it not been for Charlie. They stepped out of the small terminal and into chaos. Sixteen thousand people living under a dome a mile in diameter. Of course, a lot of the homes, shops and public areas were underground, going several stories down and a like number above the surface.
The dome itself was tinted blue, some engineer's idea so that Earth-born people wouldn't have to look at a pink sky. All he had succeeded in doing was to make everything take on a purplish hue, so that true colors were more difficult to identify.
In spite of the ventilation and air scrubber systems the place had a definite stench of too many people living in too little space. When the smells of cooking odors and ozone from every electric motor in the place were combined with the natural smells of sixteen thousand humans, one could expect that it might get a little ripe under the dome. Charlie and Ben both wrinkled their noses and looked at each other as their olfactory nodes struggled to separate and identify odors.
"Whew! Goddamn!" Charlie said, "This is gonna take some getting used to."
"No kidding. What is that?"
"People. I don't even think DSM #4 was anywhere near this rank."
"Not as I remember, but I don't remember much about the mine."
"Just as well. I wouldn't want you getting homesick on me." Charlie was grinning, and soon the big blonde android was, too. "Not much danger of that." he said.
They stepped to the cab stand and opened the doors on the first cab in line, tossing in their bags and sliding into the back seat. The doors slowly closed and the cab's driver module cut on.
"Where to, Sir?" it questioned. There was a faint odor of cigar smoke in the cab, and Charlie wondered if they really allowed smoking under the dome or if the smell was produced artificially to make the cab seem more authentic to off-worlders such as he and Ben.
"Mars Hilton, please."
"Swipe your card, please." the cab answered, going nowhere.
Charlie produced one of his major credit cards and ran it through the card slot that was affixed to the clear plastic bulkhead in front of them. There was a momentary pause while the cab checked his credit.
"Thank you." the cab intoned and ground its way slowly out into the street, headed toward center dome. The Hilton would be at or near the center, to accommodate as many floors as possible.
"Would you like the tour, gentlemen?" the cab inquired.
"What's the tour?" Ben asked.
"For an additional twenty credits I can take you around New Pittsburg and point out the sights."
"We'll pass on that," Charlie said, "just take us to the Hilton, most direct."
"Thank you, sir."
Their rooms at the Hilton were Spartan by comparison with Hilton hotels elsewhere, but the place was clean and a lot of the smell of New Pittsburg was filtered out. As soon as they were in their suite Charlie picked up the phone and called the cops.
He got an emergency dispatcher first, got shifted to a secretary in the detective section, then to records, where he inquired about getting a personnel printout of the permanent population. Then he got transferred to a detective named Harms.
"Raymond Harms, how can I help you?"
"Detective Harms, my name is Charlie Ramos. I run Eagle Eye Investigations. I'm here from Earth, looking into a matter, and I need a printout of the personnel who are permanently stationed here."
"Looking for anybody specific?"
"Well, it's not that easy. All I know is, it's probably a kid and he might be named Joey."
There was a long pause, then detective Harms said, "Where are you now, Mr. Ramos?"
"We're at the Hilton, room 4440, why?"
"Stay there." Harms said, and the line went dead.
Charlie walked out onto the balcony, where Ben was admiring the view, carefully closing the doors behind him to keep the filtered air inside. Out here, close to the top of the dome, the air was thick and nasty, and moving at a good clip with artificially generated wind. The dome was not a perfect half-sphere, but shaped more like a lens, being much lower in height than its diameter. Still, building a forty-six story structure under the dome must have been quite a feat.
"Get hold of anyone?"
"Yeah, guy named Harms. He's on the way over, I guess. Anyway, he said not to leave."
"Sounds ominous." Ben said.
"Maybe he'll have some useful information."
"I'm going back inside. It's too smelly out here for me."
Just as they walked back into their suite, the door burst open and three uniformed cops and a man in a suit came briskly inside, weapons drawn. Charlie and Ben were spread against the walls and expertly frisked, then allowed to sit down. While the three uniforms prowled the rooms, the plainclothes cop pulled up a chair and began interviewing them.
After the preliminary questions were over, they got down to the meat of the problem.
"What exactly is your business on Mars, Mr. Ramos?" Detective Harms was large, stocky and red-faced, with bushy eyebrows and piercing hazel eyes that had seen it all. His necktie was loosened and a visible sweat ring stained his collar. He looked like he'd been up for days.
"I...that is, we, were hired by the Mindgames Federation to find a telepath who's been disrupting the games."
"From Mars? All the way to Earth? You'll have to do better than that."
"It's true," Ben chimed in, "according to a telex we got as soon as we arrived, it may be a child named Joey."
Detective Harms shifted his gaze to Ben, then back to Charlie. "Tell your android sidekick that when I need to hear from him, I'll flip his switch." There was sarcasm in his manner and Charlie felt some emotional files click open that he rarely felt.
"Gonna flip my switch, too, Detective?"
"I am also an android, although we prefer the term 'Artificial Human'. I'm also the owner of Eagle Eye Investigations. Ben, here, is my property. He is a generation two and I am a generation three. We both have artificial emotions as well as artificial intelligence. I can see by your reaction that you're surprised, not only that I'm an android, but that androids on Earth can now own property."
"I...I'm sorry, Mr. Ramos. I didn't mean to seem..."
"Prejudiced? We get that all the time. We're used to it." Charlie sensed that he had the big detective at a disadvantage, at least momentarily, and he decided to press it. "So, tell me, Detective Harms, Natural Human, why did you come bursting in here?"
The detective looked at the floor, obviously avoiding Charlie's eyes while he sorted out what he was able to divulge, then he looked back up and said, "We've had a disappearance. A whole family. Mother, father and son. A miner, his wife, who’s a caretaker of a greenhouse and the kid." He paused for effect, then said, "Kid's name is Joey."
"Ah. So as soon as I said 'Joey' on the phone, alarm bells started going off in your Natural Human mind, as they would in my own, and you shot right over here to see if we were involved in snatchin' the family. Very good."
"Yeah. That's about it. Can we drop the 'Natural Human' stuff now? I said I was sorry. I really meant no offense. I’ve been up about thirty-six hours, and my patience is about at an end."
"So you did. Okay. No offense taken. Can you divulge anything about the crime scene?"
"Not much to tell. Somebody came in, fast and efficient, and snatched 'em. Took down the front door, immobilized 'em in some way, and slipped out with 'em, all unseen. Neighbors swear there was no noise, no disturbance, nothing to indicate trouble, but the house was tossed, front door clear off its hinges. There had to be noise, but nobody heard a thing."
"Maybe they just don't wanna get involved." Ben said.
"Look, here on Mars, it's different than it is on Earth. You guys probably see a lot of that stuff, folks not wantin' to get involved, but not here. Up here, everybody depends on everybody else, not just for friendship and social issues, but for survival. If there's any criminal activity, it gets reported, and if they can, people get involved, to the point that we often have to save a perp from getting his ass kicked by the citizens."
"Do you suppose we could go to where this occurred and have a look?" Charlie asked.
"I suppose we might...but it's kinda against the rules...bringin' in private dicks, y'know..."
"Look, Detective Harms, you're tired, you've been up several days on this thing, your ass is draggin'. We're fresh and we have enhanced abilities. Maybe you might have overlooked something. Something we might catch. Give us a look at the crime scene, we'll record it, then we can come back here. I'll spring for dinner and we'll go over it. Then you can go get a good night's sleep."
"It shows that bad, huh?" Harms asked, passing a tired hand down over his face.
"Yep. You look like shit, Raymond."
Charlie never knew whether he was really that persuasive or if it was the mention of dinner at the Mars Hilton that turned the trick, but Harms abruptly stood up and said simply, "Let's go."
The electric patrol cars were a larger, souped-up version of the cab they had ridden in, but they were driven manually, each by a uniform. Charlie, Ben and Harms piled into one and the rest of the crew brought up the rear. In less than two minutes they pulled up in front of a small, neat bungalow on 'G' street. It seemed to be white with blue trim, but in the fading, uncertain light, it was hard to tell. As they got out of the car, Charlie said to Ben, "You record in infrared and I'll do visible spectrum."
They began a slow, methodical sweep that took in the small, manicured yard in front, then the front porch and on into and through the house. Everything was just as Harms had said. The place had been searched so quickly and violently that there had to have been noise-lots of it-and it had required a crew of people to conduct the search, not to mention carrying away a family.
As they finished their walk-through and returned to the cars, Ben diverted momentarily to the front two corners of the yard, then called Charlie and Harms over.
"Look at this. What do you make of it?" He knelt down and pointed out three depressions in the grass where something heavy had been placed.
"Looks like something sat here for a while, maybe on a tripod?" Harms ventured.
"There's another set of spots just like it over in the other corner."
"Damn," Harms said, with some consternation, "we didn't catch those at all."
"Not surprised. They show up better on infrared." Ben said.
"Holographic projectors?" Charlie said.
"That would make sense," Ben answered, "record the house the way it normally looks, then play it back through the projectors and the neighbors see everything as normal."
"But would it be that realistic? Couldn't they tell?" Harms asked.
"You ever been to the Mindgames on Earth?" Charlie asked.
"Never even been to Earth." Harms said. There was a definite air of contempt in his voice when he said ‘Earth’.
"Believe me when I say this, Detective: They make holograms now so realistic they scare the crap out of you. Ya can't tell 'em from the real thing."
"Yeah, but what about the noise?"
Once again, Ben had the answer. "Probably masked it with a white-noise generator, high frequency job. The human ear would hear only silence from over here."
"Yeah," Charlie confirmed, "you could walk right by here and never hear them in there, wrecking the place."
"Too damn technical for me." Harms said.
"You really should consider adding a few androids to your investigative team." Charlie said, unable to resist rubbing it in a little.
"I understand it's already in the works." Harms replied. "Are you fellas ready to go eat? I'm starved."
"Me, too." Ben replied, giving Charlie a wink.
"So, Detective, any idea where they might have taken the Blanchard family?"
They were seated in the dining room of the Hilton and the first course, the shellback soup, had been served.
"Could be most anywhere by now." Harms said.
"How tough would it be to get them off-planet? Would they go through customs?"
"Yeah, but we’ve got the spaceport and Mars station covered. That’s routine on all kidnap cases, in light of all the slave trade nowadays."
"If you were going to take a family off-world, how would you do it?" Ben asked.
"Hell, I don’t know." Harms replied, "Probably sedate ‘em and crate ‘em up to look like somethin’ else. Hope customs didn’t wanna open the crates."
The steaks came, along with the red wine, then flaming peach surprise and liqueurs. At the end of the meal, cigars were offered around, but declined.
Soon, Harms’ eyelids started growing heavy and Charlie said, "You need sleep, Detective. Go on home and we’ll look for you in the morning."
Raymond Harms made no argument and left a few minutes later, after rounding up his driver, and wishing them a good night.
Ben also got up from the table and it was apparent that he was headed somewhere other than back to their room. He had that excited, expectant look about him as he pushed in his chair.
"Where you off to?" Charlie asked.
"The Galileo is still in port. She leaves in the morning. If it’s okay, I thought I’d go see Cindy one last time…"
"I thought you two said your good byes last night."
"We did, ‘cause I didn’t know if we’d be busy tonight. If we’ve got things to do…"
"Nothing that won’t keep until morning, I guess."
"Charlie, if we’re busy, we’re busy. Just say the word…"
"Go!" Charlie said, then, when Ben still hesitated, "Go! I’ll see you in the morning!"
Ben grinned, nodded and practically sprinted for the door.
Charlie went up to the suite to route a message to the World Mindfighting Federation, outlining their progress.
At about three in the morning, Charlie became aware of someone else in the suite. He cautiously brought himself up to full power, while remaining in his same position of sleep. If it was Ben, back from a night of tomcatting with Cindy, he didn’t particularly want to see him, at least not tonight. Charlie figured the light of day would be a better time for discussion of Ben’s love life.
As he continued to listen to the sounds though, he soon realized it wasn’t Ben. There were three persons in the suite and they were trying to move as silently as possible. Now what? Should he get up and try to defend himself? Against three of them? He could probably give a good accounting of himself in a fight, but what if they had weapons? Just because there were no firearms allowed in New Pittsburg, it didn’t mean that criminals went about unarmed. He, however, was unarmed.
On the other hand, what if he just let them do whatever they’d come for? It was unlikely that they’d kill him, and perhaps he could learn something.
He continued to fake sleep and in a few moments the men were at his bedside. He felt the needle go into his arm, not as a stinging sensation, but as pressure, quickly withdrawn. He allowed himself to stay completely limp as they lifted him, running down through all of his voluntary motor responses and cutting them off. As he was carried out of the bedroom by one of the men, a damn big one, to be able to carry Charlie by himself, he could hear them going through his belongings. Whoever they were, they were well trained, for they made no conversation. Not a word had been spoken since they came in.
Out of the suite and down the hall. Then the whine of the service elevator. Soon the coolness of the parking garage and the smells of New Pittsburg, unfiltered. Then Charlie was dumped into the trunk of a car and the lid was closed. Doors slammed and they were driving. Charlie started up a new file, feeling and recording each turn the car made for later review.
He turned up the receptors of his human threshold hearing and attempted to listen to any conversation from the passenger compartment. There was a lot of whine from the car’s electric motors and he had to filter that out, then he was able, just barely, to pick up snatches of conversation.
"…be easier to just dump this rube out in the desert…" a voice said.
"…boss said keep him alive…" another voice answered.
"…pain in the ass…"
"…I agree, but orders are orders…"
"…goddamn kid, and now this friggin’ guy…"
"…will you knock off the bitchin’?…guys are gettin’ paid pretty good for this…"
"…well, they hang people for kidnappin’…case you didn’t know…"
"…well aware of the consequences…almost there…"
The car cruised to a leisurely halt and there was the rumble of machinery, possibly a door, then the car moved forward a few feet and the door rumbled again. Then with a jerk, the car started descending. They were taking him into the underground of New Pittsburg.
Joey Blanchard was scared. As scared as he had ever been. When the men had come several nights ago, his father had made a valiant effort to defend their home, as he had every right to do, but he was so badly outnumbered and the men were so ruthless, being gentle with no one except Joey himself.
He had awakened to the sound of the front door coming down and the shouting of men, then he heard his dad challenging the intruders. It was a good thing there were no firearms allowed in New Pittsburg, for if he’d had a gun, Ron Blanchard would have shot someone and probably been in turn killed. As it was, they were all still alive, but Joey had no idea where his mom and dad were.
Joey had tried to run, tried to get away and he would never forget the surreal aspect of the strange flickering light that came into their home with the men and the strange hissing noise that seemed to want to drown out all other sounds. The men were in strange suits and they had weapons and wore masks. They had communicated with hand signals and Joey got the distinct impression that they were military. He and his parents had been stuck with needles and knocked out and as they became sleepy they were shoved rudely into insulated aluminum shipping cartons. Joey could just remember seeing that the container he was packed into was labeled "Computer Parts".
Where they had been taken from there was anybody’s guess. He had thought about using the gift to drift out of his body and see where he was, but he was afraid that if it was someplace unfamiliar he might not find his way back.
Ben returned to the suite at the Hilton a little after five in the morning. The Galileo was to sail at 0600 hrs. and he had reconciled himself to not seeing Cindy for a long time. They had spent the night together, more in tenderness than in pleasure and Ben was again feeling emotions he hadn’t been aware his complex innards could produce.
When he saw that Charlie wasn’t in the suite, he went to the coffee shop and had breakfast, assuming his boss would soon return from wherever he’d gone. When Charlie hadn’t returned by eight, Ben was becoming concerned and he called Detective Harms at the police department. Harms had just come in, and didn’t seem too concerned.
Ben was becoming more worried by the minute. It wasn’t like Charlie to just leave and give no indication as to his destination. He would have left a note, a recording, something. Ben contacted the hotel desk and asked for messages and when there were none, he asked if they knew where Mr. Ramos might have gone. They had no idea. When he mentioned that Mr. Ramos seemed to be missing, they sent a security man to contact him.
Thirty minutes later, Ben had convinced the security man to let him view the tapes from their in-house camera system and they were in the security office, watching monitors.
They found a single frame that was taken at 0319 hours, showing a large man coming off the service elevator on the garage level, with a smaller man draped over his shoulder. Ben asked the security supervisor for a paper copy and with the still-warm picture in hand, set off to find Raymond Harms.
Charlie wasn’t bothered by the cold. He just turned up his internal thermostat a notch and dealt with it. The isolation didn’t bother him either. What did bother him was his lack of knowledge. Why was he brought here? Who were these guys? And where were the Blanchards? How long could he expect to be here? Would they decide to kill him?
Charlie didn’t think about death in the same way as a real person. To him, death was the end of his service life and that was all. It was a fact that lurked somewhere in his future, but like most people, he’d like to postpone the event as long as possible.
He was fairly certain these thugs weren’t hired by the World Mindfighting Federation. Why would they hire him to conduct an investigation, then derail it by locking him up here? And, precisely where was here? Somewhere in the underground, for sure. His cell was obviously improvised. There was a bunk and a chemical pot and a lot of bare concrete walls and floor. There was a single bulb in the ceiling, covered by wire mesh, too high to reach and providing weak light that never went out. The presence of the toilet told him that they were unaware he was android.
Joey Blanchard was becoming more desperate as time went by and at last, he let his mind venture out of the tiny room, at first just barely outside the door, where he saw a featureless hallway. There were weak lights at intervals and the sound of dripping water and that was all. As he got braver, he ventured farther afield until he was sure of his location. He was six levels down below the city, in an area intended as storage and as shelter, in case the dome failed. He spent an hour looking into other rooms and he soon found his mother and dad, in separate rooms. He also found a stranger in a third room, and his curiosity was immediately aroused. He was unable to read anything from the strange man with the dark eyes and that was the first time that had ever happened. Whenever he would push at the man’s psyche, there seemed to be nothing there for him to see, yet he watched the man living, breathing and he heard him occasionally mutter to himself.
Joey was more intrigued than afraid. How could someone have defenses so strong? Or was it defenses? There was something here he was missing, but he was baffled as to what it might be. What had the stranger done to deserve being locked away as he and his parents were? Was he a part of their same situation?
Ben got in touch with Raymond Harms at the police building. He looked better and seemed to be in a good mood until Ben showed him the picture. Then he exploded in fury.
"Son of a bitch! What’s goin’ on here? Do these people think they can just snatch anybody?"
"It would seem so, by all indications." Ben answered.
Harms looked more closely at the photo. Though he could not see the face of the large man, there was something familiar about the shape of him…. "What do you suppose they did to Charlie to render him that compliant? Would drugs work?"
"Nope. At least, nothing that you would consider a drug."
"I don’t know. Maybe he was faking."
"Why would he do that?"
"Maybe there were several men. We only see one, but there could have been a dozen, for all we know. Maybe they thumped him or stuck him with a syringe and he decided to play along, to learn whatever he could."
"Maybe," Harms said, "but that still doesn’t answer the main question: where is he?"
"Could they get him off-planet?"
"Hmmm…difficult, but not impossible. But, why would they want to?"
"No way we can know until we get a line on who they are."
Harms picked up his phone and began dialing.
"Who’re you calling?" Ben asked.
"All the snitches I can think of, out on the streets. Somebody’s gotta know somethin’".
Emmel Waltman, or more correctly the brain that had once been Emmel Waltman suffered through the agony of transplantation stoically. His mortal remains had been left on Earth, all except for the unique few pounds of brain tissue that made him Emmel Waltman and Earth’s most powerful telepath. When he had decided to cooperate with the men who had snatched him from the care home, he had known there would be pain. Immense pain. Until they had explained the procedure to him, he had never known such things were possible. That a human brain could now be transplanted into an electro-mechanical body, in effect creating a generation four android, was not widely known and was considered both risky and experimental by those who did know about it. Emmel’s choices had been simple: Choose the transplant, endure the pain and eventually have a new, supple, high-powered body- a new lease on life. God knew he needed it. Or, the nice men in the Brooks Brothers suits would merely kill him. Death or life. A no-brainer, really.
Recent developments in surgery techniques and drugs had made it possible to regenerate nerve tissue, freeing many from lives in wheelchairs and other, more complicated devices. It was merely the next logical extension of this technology that allowed the human brain to be connected to an electro-plasmic device, routing brain impulses to the electronic computer servers and back.
Waltman had learned that the nice men who made him the offer he couldn’t refuse had made many such offers and many generation four androids. Of course, not all of their attempts had been successful, especially early in the program. But by the time Waltman "joined " the program, the procedure was becoming almost routine. The surgeons who performed the procedure were themselves generation four cyborgs and mistakes were held to a minimum.
Waltman lay in a standard fluid-filled hospital bed as he made his recovery from the most invasive surgery ever to be performed on a human. Drugs were administered to kill pain and as the pain gradually diminished, his system was weaned away until the day he could emerge and join their team as the syndicate’s second most powerful telepath.
The clinic and headquarters of the cyborgs were housed in what had once been a Navy troop carrier, a huge ship of the line that had officially been sold for scrap but never broken up. It had taken millions of credits to refit the huge vessel, so much money that the military had considered it economically unsound, preferring to spend their budget on newer vessels that incorporated better technology. The ship was concealed inside the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, in fact being anchored permanently to a chunk of rock about seven miles in diameter, its bulk hidden quite effectively in a crater. The Syndicate ran its deep space operations from here, including all forms of piracy and smuggling, theft and kidnapping for ransom. Its gambling operations were set up elsewhere, on smaller ships that were constantly on the move to avoid detection, the deep space version of the floating crap game.
By the time the men came back for Joey and his parents, Charlie Ramos had torn down the wire mesh from his overhead light bulb. He had taken the chemical toilet apart and used a piece of steel rod from the flushing mechanism to hook and pull down the mesh. It had taken numerous tries, but Charlie was long on patience.
It had taken more patience to fashion a lock pick from the wire and to pick the complicated lock. Of course, in the process of tearing down the wire mesh, he had broken the light bulb. That made it necessary to use his eye lights. These consisted of two lighted rings built around the eyeball itself that provided enough light for low vision within a few feet. They made a considerable power drain for no more use than they were. Charlie considered them a frivolous piece of design most of the time and had considered having them removed. Now he was glad he hadn’t.
His patience and perseverance had paid off. By the time the men returned, he was ready to kick some ass. The door was unlocked, and he was watching through a tiny crack he’d allowed, so he could see what was going on. It was almost a disappointment when the men didn’t even bother with him. He heard one ask another if they weren’t going to check on "that guy Ramos".
"Hell no," the other replied, "we hit him with enough drugs to kill two men. Unless you just wanna take time to go bury him."
"Okay," the leader said, drawing a small pistol from his pocket. He pointed it at Alice Blanchard’s head and said, "Let’s move it out, folks."
Charlie followed at a discreet distance, far enough back that they couldn’t hear him, yet close enough that he could keep track of where they went. It got a little dicey when they took a large service elevator up to the surface. Charlie had to wait for the elevator to come back down for him and he was sure he’d lost them. But when he got to the first level, he found he’d come up inside a space craft hangar and as he watched, the craft was being readied to fly. Men, or androids, Charlie couldn’t tell, were loading supplies into a small ship commonly known as a "Saturn Weekender". Since a weekend on Saturn would run about thirty days, this was apt, as it could carry fuel and supplies for about that long.
Charlie glanced around and saw that no one was paying any particular attention to him, but he knew if he continued to remain inactive, someone would soon question what he was doing. He needed a phone and a way to get aboard the ship. His worst problem was that he was wearing only pajama bottoms, as that was what he slept in.
Glancing quickly around, he saw a small office area to his left and some crates and pallets that would screen him momentarily. He slipped behind the cover and made it to the office area unnoticed. In the office, which was pretty untidy, Charlie found a nasty pair of greasy coveralls, and some old boots which fit him poorly, but were better than pajamas. Once he was in the coveralls, he snatched up the phone.
He ran his phone list file and called the Hilton desk and left a message for Ben, calling him, "my brother, Ben Ramos", then he dialed the cops. When he got through to detective Harms’ desk, he was told Harms was out. He paused for a moment, wondering what to do, then he heard footsteps coming and it sounded like high heels. Hurriedly he told the secretary, "Have Harms find Ben and check the Hilton desk for a message." He hung up the phone just as a small, pretty woman entered the office. He read her name tag and said, "Hi Barb, how ya doin’?" and stepped past her. As he went out the door, he heard her say, "Ya know you guys aren’t supposed to use the phone in here."
"Sorry!" he called back, and stepped back out into the hangar. Now came the tough part. He moved up to the area of the ship. There was a supervisor with a clipboard checking off items as the men put them aboard. Charlie moved up and grabbed the next item in the stack, some dehydrated food in a cardboard carton.
The supervisor said, "Where the hell you been?"
"I hadda go piss, man." Charlie said.
"Yeah, next time you ask, okay?"
Charlie walked up the ramp and into the ship. As soon as he was in a position where he was not in anyone’s direct line of sight he stepped off the main corridor and started looking for a hiding place. By the time the ship’s engines were started, and it began rolling out of the hangar, Charlie was deep in the cargo bay, snuggled amongst boxes.
Detective Harms’ car phone rang a few minutes after he and Ben left the police building. They had decided to go back to the Hilton and go over Charlie and Ben’s suite, in hopes of turning up a clue.
He picked up the phone on the second ring. "Harms."
He listened for a minute, then asked, "When’d he call?"
There was a brief reply, then he said, "Okay, we’re almost there now, Thanks, Frankie."
"Who’s Frankie?" Ben asked.
"Our secretary. Your boss just called in, but he was in a hurry. Said he left a message for you at the Hilton desk."
"Where was he?"
"I don’t know. He didn’t say."
Moments later, they pulled up in front of the Mars Hilton and Detective Harms threw a police ID plaque on the dash to scare away parking cops, and they trotted inside. At the desk, Ben asked for messages. The clerk looked in the box for their suite and asked, "Are you Benjamin Ramos?"
Ben hesitated less than a heartbeat, then said, "Yes. Yes I am."
The clerk handed over a sealed envelope.
Ben and Harms stepped away from the desk and Ben opened the message. He read: "Blanchards going off planet unknown destination. Reg. Number N1556BL. Am going along. Tell Harms NOT military."
Ben read it to Harms, who looked bewildered for a moment, then said, "Doesn’t matter if they’re military or not. I can’t do anything except call the Feds."
"Can we call someone and have the ship stopped?"
For an answer, Harms pulled out a tiny radio and called the dispatcher, asking that the spaceport be checked and the ship held.
Ben glanced at the message in his hand and referenced his internal clock. The message was time stamped.
"It’s been twenty minutes. Probably too late."
Soon, the radio crackled and the dispatcher advised Harms that the ship in question had departed Mars’ control area, outbound towards Jupiter.
"Take me to the spaceport, will ya?" Ben asked.
Harms looked defeated as he answered, "Yeah, Ben. I guess that’s about all I can do for ya."
Enroute to the spaceport, Harms made the call that would officially take the case out of his hands and put it into the jurisdiction of the Federation Police. After he hung up the car phone, Ben said, "Is there a Federal Police Barracks or station here?"
"Yeah. It’s on the spaceport. That where ya wanna go?"
"Yeah. We can fill ‘em in on the case and maybe I can talk ‘em into lettin’ me go along."
Aboard the Saturn Weekender, the Blanchard family was given a comfortable cabin to themselves. It was carefully explained to them that they were not to be harmed, but delivered safely to their destination. They were advised to settle in and get as much rest as possible. A pleasant female nurse was assigned to take care of a rather nasty head wound Joey’s father had sustained when their house was invaded.
Joey tried to read some of the thoughts of the men who held them captive. He found some he could read easily and others he could read not at all. When he asked his dad about them and why there should be any difference, his dad told him that some of them were androids. Suddenly, Joey knew why he had been unable to read the man in the cell next to him.
He quickly came to understand that these were not good men and that their leader was variously called "boss", "the big guy", and "the big man". From their minds he saw flashes of where they were going and what was to happen to them. He knew he would be approached about using his gift for their purposes and if he didn’t cooperate, they would use force.
At the New Pittsburg spaceport, Harms pulled the car up to the gate and showed a pass to a guard, then pulled on in.
"I don’t know what you’re gonna do now, Ben, and I’m not sure I wanna know."
He had been on the car phone and his dispatchers told him it would be a minimum of four days before they could expect federal help.
"I don’t know, either. But I’ve got to find a way out to wherever Charlie’s headed. I need someone with a ship."
"Got your passport?"
"Yeah, got it."
"Ben. There’s a tavern over there that looks out on the field. It’s called ‘The Pitts’."
"Go there. It’s the kind of place where you might find someone needing money, but be careful." Harms reached across from the driver’s seat and offered Ben his hand.
Ben shook it and Harms said, "You’re all right, Benjamin 2108. Glad I made your acquaintance."
"Same here," Ben said, "thanks for your help."
Harms shook his head and drove away. Ben walked toward the terminal to go find a ship and a pilot as crazy as his boss.
"N1556BL is a stolen out of Earth sector. Taken May second, 2137 by unknown persons. Wonder why they didn’t change the registration numbers?" the young Corporal at the helm of the Federation cutter Nimrod asked, almost to himself.
"Why bother?" the Captain said, "what’s that been, almost four years? And we’ve just now gotten our first lead on it? And we’re better than four days from Mars and it’s got a head start on us. We’ll never see it."
"One can always hope, ma’am," the Corporal said.
Captain Mamie Hollister looked out at the vastness of the cosmos from her command chair, at a universe so huge that their speed of 86,000 miles per hour was indiscernible. She often wondered why she had chosen to waste her life out here, pretending to enforce laws in such a hostile environment, instead of marrying some guy and having fat babies. She couldn’t remember the last time they’d made a bust, let alone got into a scrap or used weapons. The Federation Police was a sham and everybody knew it. Just an agency, existing to keep the honest people honest. The bad folks ignored them and went on about their business. Space was just too vast. It was too easy to avoid detection. Hijackers and pirates were common and a kidnapping deal like this one? Hell, the Blanchards were just screwed, that was all. But still, the taxpayers expected them to try and so they would. She crossed her arms over her chest and made a decision.
"Helm, make ninety percent."
"Ninety percent, aye, Ma’am. Captain, you’re aware of what this’ll do to our fuel reserve?"
"Yeah, Corporal, I’m well aware," Hollister said, "and there’s a family out there somewhere that needs us to help them. A family with a little boy. Now kick it up."
The cutter Nimrod gradually accelerated to just under 100,000 miles per hour.
Ben walked into The Pitts and had to turn up his vision enhancement. Much darker and he would have needed infrared, he mused. To his right was a clean, polished bar with the inevitable huge mirror and brass rail. At the far end of the room an antique Wurlitzer jukebox that still played plastic CD’s. To his left about nine booths and in the middle about ten tables. There were six people in the place, counting the bartender. Three of these were females and Ben supposed they were probably hookers. He walked to the bar and ordered a scotch on the rocks that he had no intention of drinking. When the barkeep brought his drink, Ben said, "I need to find a pilot."
"I don’t care, I just need off Mars."
"You in some kinda shit?"
"No, but a friend of mine is. I need somebody with a fast ship."
"Nope. Just the opposite, in fact. I’m a private investigator. I just need transportation and I need it fast."
"Not much," Ben admitted, "but I’ve got damn good credit."
"Sit tight." The bartender said and walked to the other end of the bar and picked up a phone, turning away from Ben while he dialed and talked. While his back was turned, Ben leaned over the bar and carefully poured the scotch into the sink on the bartender’s side.
When the barkeep came back he said, "Be about ten minutes. Guy named Olsen. Freshen that up?"
"Sure." Ben said, pushing the glass across.
Ben ignored his second drink while he waited. It was eleven minutes, thirty-two point nine-six seconds by his internal clock when the door opened and a tall string bean of a man walked in. Not that Ben was counting.
The man stopped at the far end of the bar and the barkeep went to him. There was a muted conversation then the man pulled back and looked down the bar at Ben.
"An android? You called me down here to do business with an effing android?" he was glaring at the barkeep, who appeared apologetic.
Here we go again! Ben thought.
Emmel Waltman was now in therapy. It couldn’t be expected of anyone that they might have a full-body transplant from an old, human body that was addicted to alcohol and tobacco into a new, cybernetic body, without some adjustment.
There was pain, to be sure, but there was also wonder. His new body was taller, larger and stronger, and much more supple and handsome than his old. As he struggled through each day, painfully learning to control his new body and build a relationship between it and his still-capable mind, his respect for these men who had saved him from death increased. He was and would forever be indebted to them. He already had reconciled himself to being in their employ as long as they needed him. And he was not kidding himself about what might be required of him. It would not be his new body they would want to use. It would be his mind.
Charlie Ramos would have plenty of time to get himself well concealed for the arrival at wherever the Saturn Weekender was going. He had no desire to get caught creeping around the ship, so he remained in the cargo hold. He opened a packing case of the correct size that he could occupy and removed the contents, some common kitchenware. He installed himself inside and shut down to minimum power to wait out the trip. One thing about androids-they had lots of patience and their muscles didn’t cramp.
The man in the bar was glaring at Ben and Ben was glaring right back.
"What the hell you lookin’ at, ‘droid?"
"I hoped I was lookin’ at a decent pilot who was up for makin’ some money."
"I don’t work for ‘droids."
"Then I guess you just missed out." Ben turned back to his unwanted scotch.
"Hey! Don’t turn your back on me!"
"Yeah, yeah. Bite me."
When the heavy hand slammed down on his shoulder, Ben spun with lightning agility and snatched the man off his feet and hurled him backwards over the nearest table, where he landed in a flailing heap of arms, legs and chairs.
Murmurs from the whores in the back… "Jesus…fucker’s strong…shit, man…"
Then the pilot was slowly picking himself off the floor while Ben stood, hands on hips, watching for weapons and assessing his next move. But the man wanted no more rough stuff and started to slink toward the door. Ben stopped him with three words.
"Fifty thousand credits."
The man turned and looked at Ben. There was pain on his face and he was slightly bent at the waist. Slowly he straightened up and wiped the back of one hand across his brow.
"Who do I hafta kill?"
Ben grabbed two chairs up off the floor and turned one around for the pilot.
"Sit. What do you drink?"
"Nothin’, when I’m flyin’."
"Good. You just passed your first test." Ben stuck out his hand. "I’m Benjamin 2108, and I’m generation two. Never doubt that I can kick your ass any time I want to and we’ll get along fine. You don’t have to like me, just don’t disrespect me."
The pilot took Ben’s hand reluctantly and said, "I haven’t spent much time around…artificials. This will take some getting used to."
"We’ll be going outbound, looking for another vessel. I have the registration number, but not the destination. Is your ship fast?"
"It’s an old Federation Cutter refit. It’s fast and it has generation two cloaking."
"Oh. You a smuggler?"
"Me? Heavens no!" the pilot’s look of total innocence was the first funny thing Ben had seen all day.
"We need to leave as soon as we can. Where’s your ship?"
"At Mars Station. Ya don’t just land a cutter, you know."
As they stood up to leave, Ben said, "Do you have a name?"
"You’re kidding," Ben said.
"Yeah," Olsen replied, "it’s safer that way."
The shuttle from Mars Spaceport to Mars Station was starting engines when Olsen and Ben sprinted from the Port Authority patrol vehicle to the ramp. Their tickets were checked and they hurried to seats as the high performance craft taxied to the active runway. The shuttle was a variation of a design used for almost a hundred years. Four huge reaction thrust engines were mated to a thin, round fuselage with a variable sweep wing arrangement. It was not designed for comfort, as it was not normally aloft more than one orbit. It incorporated braking and steering rockets in the nose, tail and wing tips and had heat shielding for reentry. There were three of the shuttles based at Mars Spaceport and many more at other ports around the solar system.
Ben and Olsen were squeezed into narrow seats along with seventeen others and a crew of three-they were at capacity. Ben had ridden down from Mars Station on this shuttle or one exactly like it.
Soon, they were pinned back in their seats as the pilot rammed his throttles to full power and in Mars’ thin air, it soon grew quiet. The flight to Mars station took only seventeen minutes not counting the docking procedure. Customs took their own sweet time about checking them through, then Olsen and Ben hurried to docking bay #8, where Overdrive’s ship was being readied for launch. Olsen had called ahead by phone from the shuttle and had the crew paged and assembled. By the time Ben and Olsen had suited up and made their way through the docking tunnel and were aboard, almost an hour had passed since Ben had thrown Olsen over the table in The Pitts. Safety regulations required the use of suits in the docking tunnels, even though there had never been a blowout. In Ben’s case the precaution was even more unnecessary. He could have stood the depressurization just fine and the cold wouldn’t have mattered much, either. It was the delay that was chafing his nerves. He was worried about his boss and the Blanchard family and he was also worried about screwing things up. Sometimes he felt artificial emotions to be a definite handicap.
The converted cutter Evangaline broke connection with Mars Station and as soon as it was at a safe distance, fired her main engines and used steering rockets to pull her to the same course that the stolen Saturn Weekender had taken. She would accelerate for at least a week and remain cloaked against radar for much longer. Now that he was actually under way, Ben would have expected to be less nervous and anxious. Instead, the opposite was true. He became a fixture on the bridge and around the decks and soon got to know all of the helmsmen and crew. Eventually, to ease boredom, and because Ben was such an apt pupil, they began showing him how things worked and how they performed their duties. Before long, he would be as expert as they, even though it would be some time before they realized it. Having no need for sleep, Ben also filled the odd hour with research into their destination.
He learned that the area between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter was home to some 44,000 chunks of rock large enough to be termed asteroids. These circled the sun, rather than any other body and ranged in size from a few hundred yards across to the largest, Ceres, at 1,030 kilometers. This conglomeration of irregularly shaped rocks was usually termed the asteroid "belt", though Ben wondered how a mere 44,000 objects scattered over billions of cubic miles of deep space could be termed a belt. He learned that many of the asteroids had no names or even code numbers and that their orbits were not only eccentric but also sometimes steeply angled to the eclectic, or plane of the solar system. It was speculated that collisions between asteroids were common and that most of the stony meteorites striking Earth’s atmosphere came from the asteroid belt.
If they were headed out to find another ship in this mess, Ben wondered how it could ever be accomplished, or for that matter, how the persons on the stolen Saturn Weekender ever found their own particular piece of rock.
Joey’s father’s head wound began to heal quite well after stitches were applied. His spells of dizziness lessened and he began to get his appetite back. He and the rest of the family were still confined to their quarters, under guard, and there was little for them to do but watch television out of Mars station. Most of the feed came from Earth, beamed by microwave stations, but there were local news broadcasts from the Mars affiliate station. They learned that authorities on Mars had turned the case of their disappearance over to Federation authorities and that their whereabouts was unknown. It was hinted that they were off planet, but the New Pittsburg police steadfastly declined comment. One story included information that a ‘high-powered investigative team’ from Earth had been called in, but no reason was given as to why a kidnapping of a miner, a greenhouse tech and a child would cause that much interest.
Joey spent as much time in front of the TV as his mom and dad, but he saw little of what he was looking at. His mind was occupied with the crew. From their minds he had gleaned information that they were enroute to an unnamed asteroid, where there was a base of some type. Soon, they would be picking up a homing beacon which would allow them to find it in the emptiness of space. Once they were there, he would be separated from his parents and convinced to cooperate. When he got down to that point, that was when he started getting worried. From what he was seeing in the minds of the crew, there was little they wouldn’t do to secure his cooperation, including torture.
Emmel Waltman was beginning to feel at one with his new body. His pain was minimal now, nothing at all really, compared to what he’d already been through. He had been briefed on what his role would be when the crew bringing in the Blanchard boy landed. He was sure he would be able to handle his assignment and keep his benefactors happy. After all, it was only a boy. A very special boy, to be sure, but still a child and in his younger days, Waltman was known to have a way with kids.
He had been told that the child would be separated from his parents and kept from them as long as was necessary. He might need to be convinced that they were being tortured. Waltman would assist with this. But most importantly, Waltman would manipulate the child. He would pose as a janitor or other menial worker and befriend the boy by convincing him that the others were their enemies and they needed each other to survive and escape. Once a sense of camaraderie was established, the rest would be easy.
The arrival of the Saturn Weekender caused little stir or commotion on the seven mile wide chunk of rock. They had been on the homing beacon for three days and their docking was choreographed down to the second. They had traveled just under 21 million miles in nine point nine days, using most of their fuel because of the speeds involved and the braking necessary to dock with the spinning rock. They had no planet to orbit and no other way to bleed off speed. It took exactly as much fuel to slow to docking speed as it took to accelerate, minus the amount required to brake the mass represented by fuel burned from their tanks.
A number of computers linked to every function of the ship made the operation easy, requiring only a certified helmsman and one officer on deck to supervise. When they were safely attached to the hulk of the old troop carrier that was their base, the Blanchard family was taken off and shown to new quarters. Joey was to have his own rooms and he went with the men without any resistance. He already knew this was coming and they knew he knew.
As soon as he met the men at the base he knew they were different. They looked and acted like androids, in fact more like androids than some real androids he had seen. But their minds were readable and quite human. They had a lot of pain memories and as he got the chance to read them, he soon realized that they were actual persons who had been given some kind of mechanical bodies. It was not long after he made that discovery that he began to see how they might be beaten.
Charlie Ramos was off-loaded along with the rest of the cargo and into a storage area. When everyone went to lunch, he was free to move about as long as he was careful not to be seen. On a ship the size of the old troop carrier, there were plenty of places to fade out of sight and still see what was going on. In his exploration, he soon learned that Joey Blanchard was separated from his family and where the boy was located. By moving through ventilators and pipe chases, Charlie was able to overhear conversations and he didn’t like any of what he was hearing. Things were going to get rough and nasty and he was sure he was going to need help. He had no doubt that Ben was out there somewhere, following the lead he had left for him, but the big android would probably need some help. Charlie set about finding the radio equipment. He would need to get off a message or activate a beacon somehow.
Within twelve hours of their arrival at the asteroid base, Joey had his first session with the syndicate. They had simply come to his room and made him a business proposition. Two of the man-things, the ones with the artificial bodies, had set him in a chair and a third guy had talked to him at some length. Joey felt like this third guy was talking down to him, like he was a baby, and it sort of pissed him off. It started out pretty easy.
"Joey, how ya feelin’?" the man asked.
"Okay, but I wanta go home."
"Yeah, kid, I know. And we wanna get ya there, just as soon as we can. But first we gotta have us an arrangement."
Liar! Joey thought. These bastards won’t ever take me home. It’s right there in his mind. They’ll keep me forever. And they’ll kill Mom and Dad when they don’t need ‘em anymore. "What kind of arrangement?"
"We need you to do some work for us. See, we know what you can do, kid."
"What is it that you think I can do?" Careful, careful, don’t screw this up.
"You can see things with your mind. You can make things happen from a long ways away. They say you were the kid that crashed the Mindgames, all the way from Mars."
"Is that what they say?"
"Yeah." The man leaned closer. His breath smelled like peppermint. "That’s what they say. So, how about it?"
"What if I just tell you to go shit in your hat?"
The man’s bark of laughter was completely unexpected, and put Joey back a little. Then the man stopped laughing and said, "Joey, I like you. You got spunk. Spunk is good. But just understand this. We’ve got your Ma, and we’ve got your Dad. I’m sure you don’t want nothin’ bad should happen to ‘em. Am I right, or am I right?"
"Right." Joey whispered.
"Then we need you to show us some of your tricks."
Joey slumped in his chair, the picture of defeat. "What would you like to see?"
Aboard Nimrod, Captain Hollister was paged from her cabin. She stepped onto the bridge, her features puffy from sleep, and accepted a cup of strong coffee from her ensign. "What’s goin’ on, Mr. Dover?"
"We had a radio contact, Ma’am. It’s gone now, but it was good and strong. We had time to track it and get a fix on its course."
"Negative, Ma’am. Radio beacon, unknown code. We got lucky and caught it on our scanners. It was on an old shipping frequency, clear down in the 800 megahertz range."
"Outstanding, Mr. Dover. You may alter course, then. Let’s track it down."
"Aye, aye, Ma’am. Helm, make your course 228 relative."
"228 relative, Aye, Sir." the helm responded.
"Begin braking sequences also," Hollister commanded, "We don’t wanna run right over ‘em."
"Roger that, Ma’am," the ensign concurred, "we’ve got a lot of inertia to get rid of."
Overdrive Olsen’s converted cutter, the Evangeline, was making one hundred ten thousand miles per hour and it wasn’t enough. He knew the old girl had more than that in her and even though she was kicking up her skirts, he wasn’t satisfied.
From his command chair on the bridge, he picked up the phone and punched in the code for his engineer.
"Yeah?" the voice of the engineer, Tiger Guerrero, was tinny and far away. Damn phone systems, anyway.
"Tiger. Captain Olsen. Won’t this bucket go any faster?" He held the phone away from his ear as Tiger went through his usual rant of screaming protests about his engines, then, as it subsided, he spoke calmly and rationally into the instrument.
"Look, Tiger, if you break one of your lovely engines, I’ll buy you a brand new, shiny one. Now, gimme more speed, goddamn it!" He slammed the phone down, cutting Tiger off in mid-bitch. Tiger claimed to be of Phillipino stock and much of his temperament was a put-on, Olsen suspected. Most of his crew consisted of whack-os and misfits anyway, so he was used to bitching and screaming. But when the chips were down, they were a damn fine bunch and they’d get the job done.
"Show us some of your pretty pictures, Joey." The man with the peppermint breath said, "Show us what you did at the Mindgames."
"I didn’t do anything at the Mindgames," Joey protested, "I was just there. ‘Course, I coulda…"
"I coulda shown those guys up, if I wanted to. They were weak. They were usin’ amps."
"Yeah, big amplifiers, projectors, sorta, you know."
"And…you wouldn’t need no amp? Is that what you’re sayin’?"
"Naw, I could do that stuff just by myself."
"All the way from Mars?"
"Sure. No problem."
"What? You don’t believe me?"
"I believe what I can see, Joey, and so far all I see is a kid in a chair blowin’ hot air."
Joey didn’t even close his eyes. He just turned and looked at the wall and as the men also turned to look, the metal of the wall first stretched, then showed the shape of huge claws, then with a creaking and popping sound, the claws broke through the metal. The men stepped back, even though they knew this could not be real. It was an involuntary reaction to what their senses told them was real.
From behind the wall a primal scream of rage bellowed out, shaking the room, then the metal wall let go with a screech and collapsed inward and the monster was in the room with them. It was not a Tyrannosaurus and it was not Velociraptor. It was much worse. It was the nightmare of a child who has seen all the horror movies, all the monster movies, all the chop and slash and gore movies and still couldn’t get enough.
The foulness of the thing’s breath alone made the men gag and draw back even farther. Its hot exhalations reeked of raw meat and sour blood and slime dripped from multiple rows of six-inch teeth. Its nostrils blew as it stepped closer and the men felt their hair flutter. Its pinkish eyes focused on them and they saw its slitted irises dilate. Scaly skin drooped from its limbs and a slime trail formed as it crossed the floor. It reached out a forelimb and delicately touched the chest of one of the men and opened its maggot-filled mouth to utter one word:
The man shrieked and jumped back, slamming against the wall, then he shuddered to the floor.
"Enough!" Peppermint-breath yelled, and the apparition slowly dissolved. The stench disappeared and the wall reformed into solidity.
"Jesus!" the man on the floor breathed.
"No, it’s Joey," the young Blanchard said, "and I’m just gettin’ warmed up."
The helmsman jumped a little when the loud-hailer sounded, its raucous noise echoing around the bridge of Evangeline.
They had been slowing for three days, under reversed engines and closing on the point in space where the radio signal had come from. The helmsman checked his screens and saw nothing. He picked up his radio mike and keyed it. "What ship?" was all he said.
"Federation Cutter Nimrod. Captain Hollister sends greetings and asks that you uncloak your vessel and prepare to be boarded. Have your ship’s master, logs, registration and personnel available for examination."
"Oh shit." the helmsman said, and called for the captain.
Olsen and Ben came on deck in a few minutes. "What’s the problem?" Olsen asked.
"Federation Cutter Nimrod, sir. They want to board us."
"Again, I say, what’s the problem? We’re perfectly legal here."
"Oh, yeah," the helmsman breathed, "I forgot."
Olsen picked up the hand mike and called, "Nimrod, Nimrod, this is Evangeline. We will welcome your inspection and be standing by for your boarding party."
"Is this going to delay us any?" Ben asked.
"Well, they haven’t asked us to ‘heave to’ or change course, so I’d say no."
Ben was impressed with the conduct and courtesy of the Nimrod crew as they boarded and inspected Evangeline. They found no contraband or anything questionable about the crew, cargo or papers. Olsen invited captain Hollister to the officer’s mess for coffee and made sure Ben was there as well.
As coffee was poured and passed around the tiny table, Mamie Hollister noted that Ben declined. There was something about him. His handshake, the way he moved…
"You’re an artificial." She said, looking Ben straight in the eye.
"Yes, ma’am, generation two. Benjamin model, number 2108."
She turned her attention to Overdrive Olsen. "What are ya doin’ way out here, burnin’ up perfectly good fuel, with nothin’ illegal aboard? It’s not like you, Olsen."
"We’re under…charter. From Ben, here."
"Under charter, huh? What kind of a charter?" Her eyes told of her suspicions.
Ben spoke up, rescuing Olsen from the keenness of her gaze.
"I’m an investigator from Earth. Eagle Eye Investigations. I hired Captain Olsen to take me out and find my boss. His name is Charlie Ramos."
"And what is Mr. Ramos doing out here? What’s the nature of your investigation?"
"Kidnapping. A family was taken from Mars. The child of the family is a telepath. My boss managed to get on the ship they left in."
"Yes. The Blanchards. We picked up a beacon-" the Captain held up her hand.
"We picked it up, too. That’s where we’re headed also. I figure six hours, sound about right to you?"
Ben shrugged and looked at Olsen. Olsen nodded thoughtfully, then said, "I hope this isn’t going to involve gunplay. We’re unarmed."
"Hard to say. But if we have to, I can open up our armory and equip you."
"By the time we find out, it’ll be too late."
Emmel Waltman was only three compartments away when Joey put on his monster demonstration and proved that he could scare even seasoned gangsters shitless. He felt the full force of the boy’s telepathic powers and he witnessed what Joey created.
He realized immediately that he was out of his league and that the boy might already know about him and what he had agreed to do. He would have to carefully guard his thoughts to remain safe and undetected, if it was not already too late. He was already starting to regret his bargain, even though to have turned it down would have been to die. He did not know it yet, but the regret he was feeling now was only the tip of the iceberg of sorrow that would eventually chill his soul.
"What else kin ya do, kid?"
Joey wondered how much he should show, how much would keep him and his parents safe.
"I can read minds."
"Can you read mine?" the man with the peppermint breath asked.
"Yeah, you think I’m fulla shit, but you’re also scared of me. And you’re worried about your wife. You think she’s screwing around on ya."
The man’s face turned darker, but he maintained his composure. "How ‘bout readin’ somebody else? Somebody farther away? Can ya do that?"
"Yeah," Joey said, "how ‘bout your boss?"
"The big guy? I don’t think…"
"Too late. Already done. He thinks you’re a screw-up. And he’s thinkin’ about havin’ somebody whack you. He’s also the one that’s doin’ your wife."
"Wha…Jesus Christ! That motherf…"
"Now, you," Joey was pointing at another of the men, "you’re not really even human. They’ve given you an android’s body, but you weren’t always that way. You were a…regular person, but you had…a procedure…an, an operation. Ohh, that’s nasty."
Peppermint breath said, "Okay Joey, I think that’s enough for today." Then he turned to one of the others and said, "Go ahead and take him back. I gotta go see the boss."
"He keeps it in his upper right desk drawer." Joey said.
"What?" Peppermint was staring at Joey now, his curiosity aroused.
"The gun he’s going to kill you with when you confront him about your wife."
Emmel Waltman chuckled to himself and shook his head. "You little shit." he mused. He had read the conversation and he knew exactly what Joey was up to. And it might just work, too. Gangsters would be very easy to turn against one another. But the result might be deadly to them all. This would bear watching. He stood up and put on a faded pair of coveralls and grabbed his mop bucket. Time to get into character.
Charlie Ramos was just outside the compartment where Joey demonstrated his talents, inside an air duct, and even though he had an idea it must have been a hell of a show, he saw and heard nothing. Everything the men had seen was based on the perception of the human mind being influenced by another more powerful mind. None of it worked for Charlie and he considered this an advantage. No matter what Joey caused the others to see, his mind would remain tuned to reality.
"Mayday, Mayday. This is Evangeline, Mars registration, with in-flight emergency. Any station, Mayday, Mayday! This is Evangeline."
The radio operator on the asteroid base jumped in his chair and then, without a second thought answered.
"Evangeline, what is the nature of your emergency?"
The reply seemed weak and partially broken. "We have met---ite -amage and have -ost compression. All survivors are suited --. We -eed to put in for repairs and to rees---lish hull pressure. Are you nearby?"
Now the radio operator hesitated. He knew to give away their location was risky, but Federation Space Navigation rules were clear-they must assist any craft that declared an emergency. The radio operator flipped on his Nav beacon, a device that was normally left off, except when they were expecting ships.
"Evangeline, our Nav beacon is on. You are cleared to land." He said, then he reached to another switch on his panel and activated the alert horns.
Aboard Evangeline, Ben and Olsen stood on the bridge and listened to the conversation first hand. "Well, that should get us aboard." Ben said.
Mamie Hollister nodded and said, "I’d better get back to the Nimrod. I’ll wait for your signal. When you’re sure the Blanchards are there, don’t wait. Send it immediately."
Charlie heard the alert horns sounding throughout the complex that had been built from an old troop carrier. In addition, yellow beacons were flashing at intervals along the ceilings. He didn’t know what the horns were for and he at first suspected that his presence aboard the station had been discovered. But he didn’t see how that could have occurred, and he soon put that down to paranoia. From one of his hiding places, he watched men running to suit stations and suiting up and he realized something was arriving, or the clandestine hideout was coming under attack. Knowing that one person looks much like any other in a space suit, he soon located an extra suit and donned it so that he could move about more freely and see what was going on.
In their private quarters, the Blanchard family heard the alert horns and Joey reached out with his mind to see what was going on. He soon reported that it seemed to be some kind of rescue attempt, and that there were two ships, one landing and one standing off, cloaked. His parents were just digesting this information when there was a knock at there door and a janitor stuck his head inside.
"You folks need to suit up. We’re getting visitors. You’ll find everything you need in those lockers over there." He smiled at Joey, then ducked out. As he left, Joey tried to read him and found his mind well guarded. It was like trying to see through a dirty window and pushing at stretchy fabric at the same time. Something seemed familiar though, and for some reason Joey’s mind slipped back to the suffocating feeling he’d had at the Mindgames and the taste of ashtrays and cough medicine. The feeling he’d had of sitting in the lap of a dirty old man was there again momentarily, then it was gone like smoke.
As the Evangeline docked with the old ship embedded in the rock of the unnamed asteroid, Charlie Ramos stood with the receiving crew. He hoped they wouldn’t notice that he was the only one not wearing a weapon. He had the gun belt rig strapped on, but the holster was empty. Looking out through a nearby view port, he watched the slow ballet of maneuvering of the Evangeline as it settled onto the docking ring. He had never seen or heard of this ship before and he had no way of knowing if Ben was aboard or if there really was an emergency. He was betting it was a ruse, but he was not sure until the personnel from Evangeline came through the docking tunnel one by one. The second one off was Ben. Charlie stood by with the others as all of the crew from Evangeline were checked for weapons. By the time this was done, he knew Ben had spotted him, but wisely, the big android showed no sign. Several of the cyborg guards accompanied the newcomers to quarters and Charlie knew they would be constantly watched over. At his first opportunity he would slip away and get out of his suit and into whatever passageways or air ducts he needed to use to get to Ben.
The janitor knocked and stuck his head in again and said, "All clear, folks. You can unsuit now."
Joey looked at him and sent his thoughts very clearly. "I know who you are."
Emmel Waltman gave no sign, but backed out and shut the door.
Could he be wrong? Joey wondered. This janitor had one of the artificial bodies, but in order to shut him out so effectively, he had to be a telepath. There weren’t that many of them. Besides he felt like the same presence as at the Mindgames.
Why would someone that talented be mopping floors in the very place they had taken the Blanchards?
Emmel Waltman headed straight back to his quarters. He didn’t like this shit, not one little bit. These guys thought he was going to be able to handle this kid, but Emmel knew better. There was no way. The kid was just too strong. It would only be a matter of time before the kid would know everything. Waltman’s relatives had already collected his meager life insurance benefits and had no idea he was still actually alive somewhere. If it was established that he was still breathing and walking around somewhere, it would not only mean forfeiture of those benefits, but he would probably be charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. He was regretting more and more his involvement with the syndicate, but he had no idea which way to turn. When he reached his quarters, he dug around in his locker until he found his gun. It was an antique Colt revolver he’d managed to smuggle in and he’d never fired it. He wasn’t even sure it would fire, but he felt better, somehow, when he tucked it into his belt, in the back, under his shirt.
Ben, Olsen and two other crew members had been in their assigned room for only a few minutes when they heard a voice from the air duct that supplied their room. It was above head level in the wall. Ben recognized the voice at once.
"Charlie! You okay?"
"Yeah, how ya doin’?"
"I dunno. Is the kid here?"
"Oh yeah. They’ve been having him give little demonstrations. They haven’t asked him to do anything bad yet."
"Good. I can call in the cavalry and we can get out of here."
"Yeah. We’ve got a Federation cutter standing off, cloaked, waiting for us to call."
"Whoa, wait a minute. Let’s think about this. If the Feds show up, the kid’ll be in more danger. They’ll use him as a hostage to force us to back off. And the Feds might not back off at all."
"So what do we do?" Olsen asked.
"Who’s this guy?" Charlie asked.
"Overdrive Olsen, Captain of the Evangeline. He seems to be trustworthy."
"Okay. It’s best we get the Blanchard family off this rock and onto your ship. As we take off, the Feds can move in and handle these syndicate types."
"Sounds good to me. How we gonna do it?"
"I know where the Blanchard family’s being held. I’ll go get ‘em and bring ‘em here, then we’ll get ‘em out."
It was Emmel Waltman who raised the alarm. He realized something was going down just as soon as the Blanchard family crawled out of their confinement and into the air duct that Charlie Ramos had kicked open in their rooms. The kid was so excited he was broadcasting like crazy and Waltman picked it right out of the air. By the time Charlie and the Blanchards had made it to the quarters where Olsen and Ben were being kept, everyone in the complex was looking for them. They had heard all the horns sounding and the commotion of running men and Joey told them they were being hunted. It made no difference. They would all be caught anyway if they hesitated.
Ben pounded on the inside of their door, yelling "Fire! Fire!" and their guard responded. He was quickly overpowered by Ben and Charlie and they were none too gentle with him. For the moment, the corridor outside their room was empty. They set about finding the rest of Olsen’s crew and in less than two minutes they had a sizable group of men assembled. Now they needed a distraction.
"Call the Feds." Charlie told Ben.
From an inner pocket Ben produced a hand-held two way radio. It was a good thing their hosts hadn’t examined it closely-it had "Nimrod" stenciled on the back. He called the cutter Nimrod and he recognized the voice of Hollister herself on the radio. She was all too ready to uncloak her ship and move in. Seconds later, the horns throughout the complex began their raucous note again as the cutter uncloaked and was recognized.
"All right. Let’s get to the ship." Charlie said, "Ben, take the lead."
They hadn’t gone more than thirty or forty yards when they heard running feet, coming their way.
"Oh, shit," Ben said, "now what?"
Charlie turned to the Blanchards. "Joey, can ya fake ‘em out?"
"I can try." the boy said, and this time he closed his eyes.
When the cyborgs and other men from the syndicate charged down the passageway toward the compartments the prisoners had just left, they saw only an empty corridor. The Blanchards and the rest all had to press themselves against the walls as they ran by to keep from being run down by the mob.
After they went by, Charlie told Joey, "Hold ‘em as long as ya can, son. C’mon, let’s hurry." Again, they started for the Evangeline.
Joey kept their progress secret, deflecting the attention of their captors right up until they reached the docking tube and found their way blocked by Emmel Waltman. He was holding an antique firearm and pointing it at them.
"It’s that man." Joey said.
"What man?" Charlie asked.
"The one from the mind games. He’s got a new body, but it’s him."
"That’s right," Waltman said, "it’s me, in the flesh, so to speak." Charlie didn’t like the way he was grinning. He had an almost maniacal look of stubbornness on his features. "You know I can’t let you leave with him."
"Do you really think you can stop us?" Ben asked.
"I can stop him," Waltman said, "and he’s what really counts. Leave him and y’all can go."
"I don’t see it happenin’." Charlie said. "Why are you helpin’ these syndicate pukes, anyway?"
Waltman shrugged and said, "They gave me my life back. I owe them."
"Let us pass."
Waltman cocked the revolver and smiled tightly. "Not a chance."
Charlie’s analytical mind classified the weapon even as it raced to find a solution. Colt Diamondback revolver-six shot, Cal. 38 Special-muzzle velocity just under nine hundred feet per second-if it will fire at all.
Charlie saw Ben moving from his left and immediately knew what the big android was up to. He had a history of putting himself in front of loaded guns and the repairs were damned expensive.
Waltman was momentarily distracted and Charlie hissed, "Joey! Can ya take him?"
"I’m trying!" the child gasped. His mouth was hanging open, his breathing harsh with the effort of trying to control the other telepath. Then the gun fired and the boy collapsed just as Ben landed on Emmel Waltman.
The next few minutes would always seem blurred to Charlie, no matter how many times he accessed the memory files. He scooped up Joey as Ben was clubbing Waltman unconscious and ran with the boy into the docking tube. None of them wore suits, but they were willing to take their chances to escape. As the lock was equalizing, he heard Joey’s mother wailing and he was sure at that point that Joey would die. The bullet had struck him in the head and humans had a poor record of survival from massive head trauma.
"There’s no sick bay aboard Evangeline that amounts to anything." Olsen said. "We’ll have to get him to Nimrod as soon as we can."
The crew scrambled to their posts and they quickly moved the ship away, while the Nimrod and her crew attacked and arrested the syndicate thugs.
There was a further delay as both ships took on fuel from the syndicate stores, then they lit their engines and made their best possible speed for Mars.
The syndicate kidnappers were all in the brig aboard Nimrod and Waltman had the luxury of a cell all to himself. As they made the flight, Joey continued to hold on. He was given synthetic blood and IV fluids and kept as comfortable as possible. The bullet had struck his temple and exited through the roof of his mouth. The medics had found it lodged in his throat and removed it.
While they were still enroute he passed through a period of brain swelling which then diminished. Charlie and Ben could do nothing but pace the decks and worry throughout the nine day passage, expecting to hear at any moment that Joey had died.
When they at last reached Mars Station, Joey was evaluated and transferred to the hospital at New Pittsburg. Charlie and Ben rode the shuttle down and were met at the spaceport by Detective Harms.
They shook hands all around and this time Charlie could detect no hesitation or reluctance in the man’s manner. He seemed genuinely pleased to see them.
"Hell of a thing," he said, shaking his head, "to get that close, then have the kid get shot."
"Yeah," Charlie said, "if I had it to do over again, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have just let the Feds handle it."
"Well, ya can’t go back. How soon’s your ship gonna be leavin’?"
"Couple days, why?"
"You stayin’ at the Hilton again?"
"Might as well. This trip has lost us money anyway. My partner gave Olsen fifty thousand credits when he could’ve got him for ten, probably."
"Well then, let me give you a free ride to your hotel, and I might even buy dinner."
As they piled into Harms’ unmarked car in the fading purple twilight of the dome, Charlie reflected on how he still didn’t like the smell of the place.
By the time Charlie and Ben had made the five-week transit to Earth, they learned that Joey was on his way to a full recovery, except that he would be permanently blind in his left eye. The bullet had severed the optic nerve as it plowed through his head. His parents also reported that he no longer seemed to be possessed of his telepathic abilities. He had little or no memory of the entire episode, but for all that he seemed pretty normal and happy.
Emmel Waltman was to be tried for attempted murder as well as conspiracy to kidnap. Both carried life sentences, which for a cyborg could mean several hundred years of confinement in the maximum security facility on Luna.
Charlie was able to report to the World Mindfighting Federation that their troubles with the Mars telepath were over and he collected the contracted fee. His losses on the job amounted to several thousand credits, but he knew his business would be bolstered by recommendations he might receive from persons associated with that organization.
A week after their return, Ben came into Charlie’s office one morning waving a telex he had received from Cindy, aboard Galileo. She would be docking at Earth station in three more weeks and hoped he could meet her.
"No problem, Ben," Charlie said, "you deserve some time off, anyway."
"What do suppose it would take for two androids to get married?" Ben asked, in a dreamy voice.
"I don’t know, Ben, but you might see if you can find an android priest..."
Emmel Waltman was eventually tried and during the course of his trial managed to convince a jury of the manner in which he was framed and made a victim in the entire affair. He drew only forty years in confinement on Luna. He would still be able to look forward to some good years after he was released, provided his cybernetic body held up.
On the third night of his confinement, just as he was settling in to go to sleep, a presence seemed to fill his cell, and deep within the recesses of his mind, the voice of Joey Blanchard said, "Emmel, I forgive you."
The old telepath turned on his side to face the concrete wall and wished that his cybernetic body possessed the ability to cry.
Copyright © 2002 by Kenneth J. Crist