Chapter 2


No matter how much Collin questioned Jamel over the next few days, he never revealed the nature of his malfunction, but he was generous with his data files. It was almost as if Collin was his accepted owner now. Almost. An owner had full access. Collin realized Jamel wasn't malfunctioning, but refusing him information when he remained silent. It was a surprising maneuver, as he didn't claim the information was restricted or only open to certain people. He just didn't reveal it. And one of those unrevealed areas was Kayden's attack.

Collin stood beside Kayden's bed, wishing he didn't need to leave for his practice in Hope. And Angie was long overdue for fresh water, food, and a wing-stretching romp. If he didn't at least go and tend Angie, the wingdeer would die of thirst or lose her calves.

Tabitha sat near Kayden's right hand, washing herself after a foray into the surrounding woods. Then he saw it. Kayden's mutilated hand reached and rested on Tabitha's back. Tabitha turned, gave her a quick lick, and then settled beneath her hand.

Collin touched her forehead. "Hello, Kayden," he said softly. "Can you hear me?"

Jamel rolled up beside him. "Kayden."

"Michael," Kayden whispered.

"There is no Michael," Jamel soothed, his voice almost hypnotic. "You are home and safe."

"Home? Where's Michael? Where...?" She thrashed on the bed, jerking out her IV.

Collin inserted a tranquilizer in her arm. "It's all right, Kayden. You're safe."

When she was again still, he paced the room. How could he leave her like this? Quinn needed him in Hope, Angie was dying of thirst, and Kayden could not be safely moved. How could he do everything? Maybe Jamel....

He glanced back and then froze, realizing anything he did would get him killed as well.

Jamel directed a thin laser beam into Kayden's skull from the middle of her forehead. It wasn't a slashing, but a very tiny burst of light. Then he retracted the laser, and it was as if he'd never had one.

And the monitors showed that Kayden was still alive.

"What did you do?" he asked, his throat too dry to do more than whisper.

"Removed the memory."

"You don't just sever a hole in someone's skull without permission," he yelled as the tension coursed through him. "Not without the patient understanding the full consequence and import of what you're doing. She could have made that decision on her own later." He half expected the machine to blast a hole through him to shut him up, but Jamel remained a still, impenetrable shell. "Malfunction. Yeah, you malfunctioned all right. Didn't you ever have a human life is sacred module? Don't touch her again or I'll rip you apart with my bare hands."

Collin examined the wound, and finally took a brain scan to determine the damage. He had to admit that Jamel had performed the operation flawlessly. If Kayden lived, she'd probably never remember any of her past, not even her own father and mother.

But Angie was still trapped in the barn, and Quinn was probably close to assuming he'd been dragon food. He tried not to think about how that would affect Quinn.

He glared at Jamel. "Okay, Dr. Jamel. You think you can just initiate complex brain surgery without even checking with the senior physician, and yeah, you one month wonder, I'm your senior in more than years. You think you have so much raw talent, human doctors are useless, do you? Well, fine. You take care of her for a couple days. You go taking unnecessary risks, her death is on your hands."

Collin grabbed his notebook computer, the only other piece of tech he took outside the lab besides his laser, and he stalked to the door. Tabitha flew to his shoulder. "Great help you were. Didn't even warn me," he accused. He'd just reached the outside door when he heard Jamel behind him.

"Don't leave." It wasn't a command. It was a plea. The plea of a child.

Collin froze. There was a place inside that always responded to the pleas of the broken. It was why he sometimes gave in and worked on the hopeless after raiding his lab and risking detection. But Jamel was a machine. Just a machine. And he was manipulating him.

"She was suffering..." Jamel began.

"All humans suffer sometimes. But we get over it if we don't die or get killed by well meaning, but stupid, machines who don't know their place." He didn't face him. There'd be no purpose to it. Jamel would look as impenetrable as he always did. Collin pressed the control panel, and the outside door slid open.

"Please. Don't let Kayden die."

"I didn't. You did." He left.

Collin knew before he traveled far that he wasn't going back to Hope. He'd fly Angie straight to the lab. What he should do is go back and destroy Jamel. All he'd have to do is hit him with his laser when he least expected it. Or he should take him for a walk down to the borehole, and then surprise him with a quick kick, sending him over the edge and into the molten lava thousands of feet below that supplied all the energy for the lab.

Yes, killing Jamel would be the safest thing for everyone. He was an unstable and dangerous piece of equipment. Once the robot destroyed his lab, he could go on down into the cities and villages to kill again. He'd shown his total lack of regard for humans, and Collin's conscience had suffered enough over his mistake with the dragons. If he'd killed off the prototypes like his father suggested, as the whole genetic staff had demanded, if he'd made his prototypes sterile, if . . . . He wouldn't make the same mistake twice.

Collin allowed Angie time for a quick meal, and then he flew her back to the lab. After being cooped up in the barn for almost three days, she balked at going into the building, but the sun was setting. She would have to get her exercise tomorrow. He left her in the stables.

He was almost afraid of what he'd find, afraid Jamel had indeed lost his last restraint and finished Kayden off. He didn't know why he was forced to such choices, finding a dead woman or a dead wingdeer friend who'd been with him for ten years. He cursed himself for choosing wrong again, just as he had a hundred and fifty years ago. He'd chosen the animals over humans. Did he never learn? No wonder Jamel didn't understand the unique value of a human life. Just reviewing the history of one planet was enough to confuse someone with no coding limitations to act like a conscience. Is that what malfunctioned in Jamel?

Collin leaned against the wall outside Kayden's room. No sound came from within.

Then Tabitha winged through the doorway, made a circle above his head, and landed on his shoulder.

"How is she, Girl?" he whispered.

Tabitha rubbed her head against his, purring.

Jamel emerged from the room. "She needs another IV, but Mauve will not reveal where they are kept."

Mauve wheeled out. "Dr. Hansell, the patient is dehydrated."

"Well then get her another IV, Mauve, and refill her nourishment bag." Leaving was a mistake. He hadn't worked with machines in so long, he'd assumed they'd keep on doing what was best, just as a human assistant.

Collin checked over Kayden and then sunk into the chair. He hoped she survived, but he'd made too many mistakes. Leaning forward he put his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He was defeated, just as he was every time a patient died. But it'd been a long time since he'd found his own errors as part of the cause, unless it was a dragon inflicted wound. Tabitha squeezed between his arms and settled into his lap. Absently he stroked her head. "I have a staff of idiots, my dear," he murmured. "A staff of idiots."

"Dismantle me," Jamel said, his voice low, the richness gone.

Collin sat up. "Excuse me?"

"Dismantle me. I am a threat to all human life."

"Dismantle . . . you . . . ." Collin forced his mind to slow down and think. He was being handed the opportunity to carry out his afternoon of planning with no fight, no bloodshed (specifically his), nor any destruction of property. And he'd retain the data files.

"Mauve," he said as neutrally as he could. "Have Burgy bring me the tool kit." He tried to stop his next thoughts, but the wait made them continue on. Why would a machine willingly accept its own destruction? Why it should care one way or the other was the bigger question. It couldn't. It had to be some kind of trap.

Mauve reentered the room with Burgy.

"I need a notebook, Mauve. An unused one."

Collin watched him for any sudden movement, slipping his hand into his pocket and gripping his laser. "I will require your complete schematics before we begin."

"Yes, Dr. Hansell." Jamel didn't move until Mauve returned with the notebook. When Collin handed it to him, he took it and placed it in position to download the requested information.

Collin again checked Kayden as he waited, touching her arm and then grasping the stump of her hand. She had no concerned relatives to show their desire for her recovery. It was all up to him. He brushed the matted hair away from the tiny indentation in the middle of her forehead. The laser beam had been so narrow that if he hadn't seen it done, he never would have suspected Jamel had attacked or that he was even capable of such deceit. Was this girl's father pacing the floors and begging his god to bring her home? Did her mother cry herself to sleep at night?

Jamel handed him the notebook. "Goodbye, Kayden." Jamel's voice was low and longing, and Collin tried not to compare it to the voice of a man trapped in a boy's body saying goodbye as his first love walked down the aisle with another man.

Collin took the notebook and sat in his chair to review Jamel's records. He was a machine. A month old, dangerous machine. He didn't need to feel sorry for a machine.

"Designer Charles Jamel. Is there a biography on him here?"

"Yes."

"Ah, yes." Collin skimmed through it. Apparently Charles Jamel was well respected in his field, his advances in nanochip design leading to his own breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. The Jamel 4000D actually had an android body. "I wonder why he didn't make you an android, Jamel?"

"So that I would know I wasn't human. I malfunctioned."

"Sounds like Charles designed you that way."

"I malfunctioned. Please destroy me."

Collin didn't like the way he kept begging to die. He was malfunctioning, but if he were human he'd say Jamel was suffering from an acute attack of guilt, and that he'd been a bit hard on him earlier.

Collin rested his head against the back of the chair and rolled his eyes. He hadn't been too hard on him. You just don't decide to chop into someone's brain. He had to learn that.

Collin scanned the schematics and then rose from the chair. Grabbing a screwdriver from Burgy's cart, he stood beside Jamel. "Show me your laser." Obediently Jamel presented two lasers, one on each side. Collin removed them and set them on Burgy's cart. "Okay. I'll take care of these."

"You haven't disassembled me."

"No need. I took your weapons."

"They were tools, and I can use any tools. The malfunction is in the core -- my very being. You must destroy it."

"Jamel, I'm not going to kill you."

"I killed a man. You must destroy me."

Collin tried to pretend the news didn't bother him. He needed to study these files in depth. Charles Jamel had done his job too well. But Jamel was right. Just taking away a laser wouldn't stop a psychopath who had access to his lab and the knowledge to turn any of his medical equipment into killing machines.

"So . . . who did you kill? Charles?"

"No. Charles is a gentle man. He would never hurt Kayden."

"You killed Kayden's attacker."

"Yes."

"Why'd you wait so long?" The abuse had obviously taken place over five maybe even ten hours.

"I am not designed to kill. I malfunctioned."

"I see." And Collin was beginning to see. The situation had caused a programming conflict that Charles Jamel apparently hadn't anticipated or wanted to anticipate.

"Was he your new owner?"

"He did not officially log his ownership."

"But Charles sold you to him."

"The transaction was not complete. I am now independent."

Kayden stirred in the bed. And then she screamed -- a harsh, strangled sound.

Collin rushed to her side. "It's okay, Kayden. You're safe. I promise you're safe." He didn't bother glancing at Jamel who was now beside him.

"She still remembers!"

"Thought you had the brain mapped out, didn't you? It's all right, Kayden. You're safe here."

When she was calm again, Collin stayed by her side.

"It didn't work."

"Oh, I'm sure you messed her up, but humans don't process information all the same way. You can't just sever without tests and analysis and most of all patient consent!"

"Please destroy me. Take the core and destroy it." The top of the unit slid open presenting Jamel's interior.

He wasn't going to take any more chances with Kayden. Collin grabbed the black thin rectangle and pulled it out. The core fit in the palm of his hand, a three by four inch by half inch thick slab. "There. You're deactivated."

"No. I'm not," Jamel said. "You must destroy the core. I can transmit away from the robot." The voice came from the robot.

"How far can you transmit?"

"It depends on how much power I use."

And if he wanted to reveal himself to the satellites in space. That wasn't going to work. "There's got to be a way to turn off the robot." Collin slipped the core back into the unit. "Go over into the corner. No use leaving yourself where I'll trip over you."

"You did not need to plug the core back in," Jamel said as he moved to the corner by the bookshelf. "The core will remain active until you destroy it."

"I'm not going to kill you, Jamel. How much of your data can you keep in your core with you?"

"I am a malfunctioning unit. You need to destroy...."

"Yeah, I heard you. But I'm your owner now, and I'm making the decisions. Why don't you settle yourself in with a few good philosophy texts, and when I have some time to come back here alone, we'll debate good and evil, life and death. Might not be for a few years, so load up with stuff to keep yourself amused."

"I am a malfunctioning...."

"I heard you. Don't repeat it again. You've also got a major guilt problem. I've been there. Find something to study. You can't do anything about what's been done by whining. You've got until I find your off switch in these schematics."

"There isn't...."

"Not one more word," Collin roared. He felt like he was sentencing a child to exile. He wondered if he'd been alone too much of his life, that he was recommending study to a machine with instant access to texts. What had helped Collin get through his exiles would not benefit a machine. The sooner he deactivated Jamel, the better. He was starting to anthropomorphize to the point of insanity. Maybe if he removed the cube labeled as the solar power distributor.

Collin removed the core again, setting it on Burgy's table. Then he looked for the cube he'd seen in the schematics. He didn't want to damage the unit by pulling things indiscriminately. Charles Jamel was a genius and studying his work in between the pharmacology and botany files he'd downloaded earlier, would make an interesting diversion.

His fingers brushed a square peg. Collin pulled it out. "There. Did that do it, Jamel?"

No answer.

"Good." He set the cube back inside the unit so it wouldn't get lost. Now he needed to put the core, Jamel himself, in a safe place. He turned around to grab Jamel from Burgy's cart, but it was no longer there.

"Where is it?"

No answer.

"Burgy!"

"Yes, Dr. Hansell?"

"Where is the core?"

"It was a defective unit. Carnation took it to be recycled."

Collin ran from the room and down the hall as fast as he could. "I work with idiots," he repeated. He slid into the maintenance center. Sure enough a compacting unit had been started. Collin pressed the emergency stop button. He rummaged through the junk, mostly medical waste. Electronics belonged in a separate bin. But there it was.

Collin snatched Jamel and examined him for damage, wiping the spilled saline from the face of the black, silent rectangle. "Jamel, my friend, I think I'll have to keep you with me." He slipped Jamel into his shirt pocket and then restarted the compactor.

Back in his lab, Collin confronted Burgy and Mauve. "I don't want anyone near that machine. Its data files are essential for my research. Now let me rest."

Collin settled into the recliner. He hadn't even checked his personal quarters since he'd arrived, but now that he didn't trust any machine to care for Kayden, he'd have an around the clock job until she either died or recovered.

"Mauve, insert a notebook. Archive," he said, talking to the facility computer which was connected throughout the whole base. "Download anything on repairing brain injuries. We're going to fix Jamel's little good deed, if we can."




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