They let Tori come home that evening because she refused to stay. He hired a shuttle to take them back to the other side of the University base and their apartments. Tori’s apartment was next to his, and a door opened between them, so that she could protect him around the clock if necessary.
Tori didn’t speak once she’d insisted they go home. She didn’t look at her hand either, bandaged and splinted to over twice its size. She was to report to the local clinic each day to have the dressing changed and the progress checked.
At home, Tori silently walked through the apartments, and then settled on the couch right outside Charles’ bedroom. She usually slept in her own apartment, but she must feel his life was still in danger. He didn’t argue with her choice. Instead he completed his routine and settled into bed.
Surprisingly he awoke before she did the next morning. For all their time together, he’d rarely seen her asleep, and right now she looked like a vulnerable child, especially with the dried tracks of the tears lacing her face. Had it been pain or something more?
He realized if she woke, she would make him breakfast. He made his way to her kitchen as his didn’t have much of anything, and he began re-hydrating breakfast rations.
Tori joined him. “I’m sorry I overslept. You should have woke me.” She took the bowls from the cupboard and finished the meal with one hand.
“You needed your rest.”
She whirled around to face him. “I don’t need sick leave! I can still protect you.”
Her gaze lowered to the bowls on the table, and she sunk into a chair across from him. “Please,” she whispered. “I won’t be clumsy again. I promise.”
“You were never clumsy.”
“I can still do my job.”
“Tori, I will never replace you. In fact I dread the day when you announce marriage plans to one of the young fellows who keep looking your way.”
“You’d fire me if I got married?” she asked, surprised.
“No. I just expected you’d want to leave me then. But I prefer you stay until I die. Then again, when I retire, I will not have the University’s funds to pay you with. I’m afraid what I can offer will not be as much.”
She pushed her bowl away without touching it. “When did you plan to officially retire?”
“I promised Thom I’d stay on a few more months so he’d not have the pressure of a job search while Falice is so ill. You’ll leave me then?” Apparently he had fooled himself that it was him and not the money that kept her loyal.
“You send the money back home, don’t you? That’s why he sent his daughter, and that’s why you can’t afford medical treatment. Surely your father would want you well.”
He’d never seen her face so full of emotions. Perhaps the medicine or the pain kept her from hiding everything under her normal shield of quiet efficiency. Right now Charles couldn’t begin to guess at which emotions she was feeling, he just knew they were strong ones.
“Perhaps I’ll die before I leave the University’s payroll, and you will not need to make any decision about working for less.” He wasn’t hungry either, but he pulled the bowl to him and ate.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
He had no work he cared about anymore, but neither did he have any family who would care to have him join them. He had nothing.
He slept most of the day. When he wasn’t sleeping he thought of Tori and wished he could do something to help her through whatever pain she had. He thought of Falice, but he was too weak to disobey Thom’s order to stay away. And surprisingly he thought about that little robot, now calling himself Jamel. He wished his book was with him instead of locked inside the bottom of his couch with the rest of his papers on the 5000 plans. Doc Collin had called Jamel his child, and even this child seemed to feel Charles hadn’t done right by him, but the amazing thing was that Jamel had said he’d forgiven him. He’d invited him to come and see him for himself. Doc Collin had expressed a desire for him to see his children and for them to work together. Work together! Charles knew nothing of medicine. But then the man obviously knew how to bring out the best in his machines. Maybe that was what he’d meant.
But the planet Austin was in the far reaches of explored space, and there were no machines except Doc Collin had some. On a world devoid of tech, Doc Collin had robots and book printers and at least two of his 5000 cores. “If I weren’t so old….” But he was old – so old he couldn’t make it through the day without his nap. And look at him today, after missing his naps yesterday. All day in bed. If only….
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next day Tori and Charles both felt better, and they walked over to the office. As soon as they entered the outer office with Tori’s desk, he knew someone had again been searching for the 5000 designs. The lock on both office doors had been compromised, although they’d been left so that the unalert would not notice the break in.
Silently Tori withdrew her laser, holding it as easily in her left hand as she had her right. Then he stood back while she entered his office and looked around, making sure no one was there.
No one was, and nothing seemed disturbed, but before he checked on the safety of his 5000 plans, he’d have to make sure the room hadn’t been bugged.
Two hours later Charles was satisfied that he’d found all three bugs and destroyed them. Two were ordinary listening devices, but one was a new design which wasn’t detected with the current scanner settings. The thief was designing his own spying units. He’d have to be careful.
Charles tried to settle back into his work, but he had no taste for it. Instead he withdrew his books and again read through them. Tori came to stand just inside the door. Charles looked up. “You look tired, Tori, dear. Why don’t you relax for a while?”
“Someone is still after you.” But she locked the door and then sat in the armchair. “Where will you go when you retire? Won’t the spies follow you? Where will you be safe? Who would you hire if I couldn’t come with you?” She shook her head and leaned back. “I’m sorry. I took one of those pain pills. I won’t do it again.”
“Please, Tori, don’t withhold the medicine. Ask your questions. I just wish I could answer them. Where will I go? I don’t know. I’m thinking that perhaps I should make a show of destroying all the 5000 files before I go though.”
“I have many files that need to be purged.” But whether he could actually destroy his research, especially knowing at least one unit had succeeded, he wasn’t sure. He also didn’t want anyone else killed because of it. “If you leave, I probably won’t hire anyone else. I’m ready to die, Tori. My family wouldn’t want me. I hurt both my grandsons. My work is ended. There is nothing left for me.”
“But Jamel is a success, isn’t he?” She gave a slight motion to the book in his hand.
“A success because of Doc Collin. You see that, don’t you? I’m a failure with personal relationships, and even when I achieve what I’ve worked at for years, I am still a failure because I cannot interact with it.”
“Sir, surely you aren’t serious. You’re not a failure at all! Butler failed because Thom gave him too much power too quickly. Thom let him control him.”
“But I failed Thom by failing to see what the unit would do to him. It destroyed him.” He shook his head and stretched out on the couch. “No, Tori, dear. You are too kind to an old man, but the truth is painfully obvious right now. Even you, my dear, I have failed somehow. I see you as a granddaughter, and you see me as an employer you may need to leave. Not that I blame you, Tori dear,” Charles said, closing his eyes as his head settled into the pillow. “You deserve better than to be tied to a tired old man for however long it takes me to die.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Tori watched him drift off to sleep, and then she let her tears fall. It must be the pills. She hadn’t had this much trouble with her emotions in years. Did he really see her as a granddaughter? Especially after she’d failed him by getting injured. She’d risked him by being incapacitated while some murdering thief broke into their offices, and Thom looked like he wanted to kill his own grandfather.
Tori didn’t trust Thom at all. The first year as Charles assistant, Thom had asked her out, joked and teased with her, but at that time, she didn’t want to get involved with anyone. She still hoped to go home soon and continue the relationship she had with Wend, one of her father’s students.
Michael… Michael had been different. She’d even dated him for a month. That was almost two years after she heard of Wend’s marriage. But after a near passionate evening, Michael simply didn’t take her out anymore. The unexplained rejection had stung for over a year, until she saw the scenes sent back by the A – by Jamel – of his young girlfriend’s abduction. Then she understood what she’d only vaguely knew as fact before. And she had realized then why Michael didn’t get close to any woman. It wasn’t her. He already loved someone else, and he never believed she had died. She admired his loyalty to Kayden and wondered if anyone would ever be as loyal to her.
She studied the sleeping man, and her throat became tight again. He said he’d never replace her, even if she left. And he’d offered to pay her hospital bills even though her salary included compensation for just such an emergency, if she didn’t send it all to her father to help keep the Ryu running. Her father was a man of high principles about his work also, and he refused to train students simply for the money. If he felt the potential student lacked in some area which would eventually pervert his teachings, he wouldn’t take them on. Several accidents including a fire which claimed the life of her mother and older brother had drained her father’s resources. Her younger sister had been injured in the fire also, but her father had withdrawn her from the hospital after her mother’s death. They couldn’t afford such luxuries as cosmetic surgery for burns.
Tori stared down at her bandaged hand. Charles had been so sure her father would want her treated, but Tori could not share the conviction. The hand would have healed until the pain was minimal. Compared to her sister’s scarring, a twisted hand was nothing. He would expect she’d find ways to work around it. After all, the injury was her own fault for not relying fully on her training. It would remind her not to get lazy again.
Granddaughter. Perhaps they were both too emotional today. She allowed a small smile to rest on her lips as she closed her eyes.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Several days later they made it back to the hospital to see Falice. She was alone, and her room was dark when Charles and Tori entered. Falice opened her eyes and stared at Charles.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Is it dead?”
He told her the truth. “The android body is dead. Two cores were destroyed in the process, however both were so mangled I could not read the identification numbers on either of them. Since the physical differences between the 4000 and the 5000 cores are microscopic, and the cores too mutilated to analyze, I can only assume that the second core Thom produced and shredded was the real 5000B core. Do you have reason to believe otherwise?”
“Everyone thought I was lucky to have a Butler for chores, but they didn’t see how he treated me like a child. Not even Thom saw it. I’m not a child, and he killed my baby!”
“If I ever discover the core is still intact, I will destroy it,” Charles vowed. “Should I have your apartment searched?”
“It’s not my apartment. I’m never going back there.”
Tori whirled toward the door as a couple entered – Falice’s parents.
Her father saw Charles and strode to him. “You and your bastard machines. Look what you’ve done! Just stay away from my daughter – you and your grandson.”
“The nerve of him,” Falice’s mother said, continuing the tirade as her husband stopped for a deep breath. “Trying to say Falice did something to cause that hideous robot to snap.”
“But we did agree it was your fault, Charles. How could you recall a malfunctioning unit with innocent victims around.” He motioned to Tori’s hand. “Even your secretary was injured. You should have your position revoked.”
“I am retiring,” Charles said evenly, feeling every word of the attack acutely. “I will no longer design. I am sorry for your losses.” He strode out of the room with all the strength he could muster although he felt like lead.
They walked through the complex in silence. It wasn’t until they were back at the office that Tori spoke. “You shouldn’t retire, Sir. What will you do? This is your life.”
He shook his head. “I’m sorry about your salary, Tori, perhaps you should start looking. I can only offer you half what you are getting now, and then I will specify in my will that you receive whatever is left in my accounts when I die.”
“I’m not thinking for me right now. Your work is your life. Without it you have no will to live.”
Charles settled onto the couch. “You are correct about that, Tori, dear. There is nothing left to live for.”
“But surely you’ve had failures before, and the 5000 isn’t a failure!”
“I can’t continue with the research.”
“But with Doc Collin’s safeguards….”
“Let me sleep, Tori.”
She left him, and he missed her presence, even though he knew she was right outside the door in her own office. If only he could continue. But the problems were more than something that could be placated with a few safeguards. No matter how lifelike his work was, he would never be able to bring out its true potential like Doc Collin had. The events of the last week had proven what he’d avoided thinking about all these years. His failed relationships throughout the years were caused by his own lacks as a person.
Charles Jamel had never spent much time in introspection before, but the death of his great grandson, Michael’s desertion, and Thom’s deceit were all linked to him now. Even Tori, the dear girl. She was so loyal, and now she’d tried to cheer him. And he pretended it was true caring for him and not for the salary she’d lose when he retired. He had to. She was the only one left who still pretended to care.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Charles tried to pretend, for Tori’s sake and for Thom’s that he could continue. He played with elaborate security systems, but mostly he slept on his couch, his couch with the secret box underneath that held all his handwritten notes on the 5000 units. Sometimes Tori sat in the chair as he slept, sometimes she stayed in her office. Once a day they’d walk to the clinic to have her hand examined. It took all his energy though, and as soon as they returned to the office, he’d fall asleep.
Charles rarely saw Thom. He didn’t give him any work, indeed, he had no energy to try to devise assignments. Instead he told him to focus on his wife. Thom had glared at him then. “She’s divorcing me. Doesn’t even want me to visit. Are you happy?”
Charles sighed. “No, Thom. I’m not happy. Please look for a job before I die. I’ve already notified the University board that I’ve ended my research.”
“The 5000 plans. What are you going to do with them?”
“The same thing I did with the cores. I don’t want anyone else hurt.” He turned and shuffled back into his office.
Thom grabbed his shoulder and swung him around. “Prove it! Let me watch you destroy them.”
So Charles lied. “I already did it. All that is left is the memories in my head.” The memories of dreams. Dreams that he would create the perfect AI unit, the perfect friend. But he’d failed. He was still alone. “I need to rest.”
Thom let him go this time.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was three weeks since Butler’s death, and Tori’s hand was held in a smaller cast now, the surface wounds healed enough to forego their daily visits to the clinic.
Tori came into his office and locked the door again. Charles pretended he was asleep, as he usually did. He didn’t know what to say to her.
She sat in the chair and leaned forward. “Did you ever look at Doc Collin’s research? What did he do?”
Charles had forgotten all about Doc Collin’s request. He sat up, slightly curious now that Tori reminded him. “I’m afraid that whatever Dr. Collin has discovered on a low tech world has already been discovered and researched ad nauseam with thousands of various studies, and either disproved or so common that no research journal will care.” He lifted himself up and motioned Tori to open the couch.
He took the tiny chip and walked to his desk, sinking into the chair as Tori closed the couch.
“Do you care if I stay?”
“Of course not. Please stay. You can help me formulate a response to the poor doctor.” He shrugged. “Then again, perhaps no response is necessary. The planet is closed to correspondence.”
He set the chip in the data retrieval area of his desk and keyed in the sequence to access it. The file structure registered as one that had faded from usage over 100 years ago. “Odd, Tori, dear, isn’t it?”
“Do you suppose he found some things left by the original geneticists?”
“Of course, you must be right. That explains his robots.” A rush of energy invigorated him like he hadn’t felt since he’d found out about the success of the A unit. “I wonder just what the good doctor has stumbled on. Now those geneticists must have had a plethora of good equipment. It was a shame the Council hunted down and destroyed what little the riots hadn’t.”
When Michael made his journey, Charles had taken the time to study the planet’s history. Even though the sands of time had shifted the bulk of the blame to Austin Enterprises and the geneticists under him, Charles couldn’t help but envy those geneticists working with unlimited freedom. No board of directors to please, unlimited funding, no ethical issues to fight with.
Even Tori knew now that he couldn’t continue his research here. The Board of Directors wouldn’t let him try to install safety features in the 5000. He could go back to the 4000 and install them, but not the 5000 unit. It had killed, and it could have killed more. They had no tolerance for that. Not that Charles blamed them. He had no taste for the work either, when he knew he lacked the personality to make it a success.
But now his screen lit to show a list of articles:
“Kidney Failure Reversed with Three Week Tea of Dried Ansilbe Leaves” – C. H. Anon.
“Quarterland Neural Disease Treatment: Linganel Tea Restores Nerve Function, Causing Remission” – C. H. Anon. <
“Tormein Tea Treatment Assists to Restore Stroke Brain Damage” – C. H. Anon.
“Random Non-Repeating Reptile Color Variations” – Collin Hansell
“The Doggle as an Exercise in Mammel Cognitive Function” – Collin Hansell
Tori stood by his shoulder, gripping the back of his chair with her left hand. “Articles by C. H. Anon and Collin Hansell? Isn’t Collin Hansell the man who designed the man-eating dragons?”
“I believe so. But what’s this? A cure for Quarterland Neural Disease? That’s too new to be an Austin geneticist cure. News services haven’t announced any breakthroughs like this yet, have they?” Charles opened the document as he spoke. Quarterland Neural Disease was the fastest spreading virus throughout the populated galaxy. It’d been identified about 20 years ago as the cause of sudden nerve degeneration, leaving the victim bed-ridden and eventually causing death from failure of the autonomic nervous system. Charles didn’t know much about medicine, but this disease was so rampant and resistant to known treatments, everyone knew about it. “But how could C. H. Anon have developed a cure? They don’t have it on Austin, do they?”
“They could. Prison populations are high risk. I suppose some inmates could catch it while awaiting transport,” Tori suggested.
“But C. H.? Isn’t that how Dr. Alex Collin signed his book? And why include these articles by Collin Han….” Charles clutched his chest. “But the man can’t be,” he said weakly. He glanced up at Tori to see if she had drawn the same conclusion.
She seemed as pale as he felt in spite of her almond skin tone. “Do we have any information on Collin Hansell?” she asked.
Charles quickly called up a search sequence for Collin Hansell of Austin’s Playground. The archive displayed several articles, and Charles chose a biography. A picture of an eight year old boy appeared on the screen, but the caption said: “Collin Hansell, age 30, from the Interplanetary Kittle Society’s Archives.”
The text of the biography stated: “Collin Alexander Hansell. 2381 - ca 2421. Of Austin’s Playground. Remote doctorate degrees earned from Centauri Research University in human medical science, biology, genetics, zoology, and botanical genetics.” Next followed a list of publications.
The final paragraph was a list of achievements: “Designed the kittle, a small winged cat, in 2406. Designed Hansell’s dragon, a large flying, man-eating reptile, in 2413. Assumed killed in the riots on Austin’s Playground in 2421.”
Charles stared at the scant facts, trying to comprehend them. If Collin Hansell and C. H. Anon were the same person, Charles needed to get this Quarterland article into the right hands immediately. The man was obviously a genius, and he would know exactly what he was talking about. A quick skim of the article assured Charles that it was far too medically detailed for him to understand.
But how could the man still be alive? Was he the man who had saved his grandson’s life? Was he the man who’d declared his work genius and given the units the elevated status of children? This man was somehow 185 years old. And this man wanted to work with him. “Oh, Tori. If I was younger. If I was….” He couldn’t stop the shaking in his hands as he cleared the screen and carefully double checked that no trail remained to show the spies what he had researched.
“What would you do if you were younger,” she asked softly.
He turned his chair to look up into her face. “He did say he’d like to work with me, didn’t he?”
Slowly she nodded. “Yes.” Then she bit her lip. “You should go, Sir. You have no work here anymore, do you? But reading this you have hope again, don’t you?”
“Hope? I….” He shook his head. “I’m too old.”
“Too old for what?” She crouched down beside him to look up into his face. “Sir, I may be overstepping, but these last three weeks, I’ve seen you dying a little more every day. You need to work, and you want to meet Jamel.”
“But….” He let his old, wrinkled hand come up to rest on her face. He’d never allowed himself to be so close to her before. “What if I disappoint Jamel as I have Phillip and Tamara and Thom and Michael,” he said, naming his son and daughter and then his grandsons. “I do not know how to… to communicate or understand what is best for others. I pretended to but I never….”
She was crying. Why was this gentle child crying?
He withdrew his hand and pushed his chair back from her until it bumped his desk. “I’m sorry, Tori. I won’t touch you again.”
She shook her head. “You may touch,” she whispered. “You are like my grandfather, aren’t you? Jamel will not be disappointed.” She rose to her feet and then leaned over, gently kissing his cheek before she darted from the room.
Charles grabbed his book from Dr. Collin Hansell and made his way to the couch. In the morning he and Tori would take the chip with the articles to the head of Centauri’s Research Hospital. He could confide in him that his grandson had found it, but he wouldn’t hint at all that Collin Hansell might be alive. Hopefully, Dr. Rylinski would treat the material with the seriousness it deserved.
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.