Tori followed Rose through the station as she arranged for Roger’s transfer off base and greeted her people. She always smiled and introduced Tori, telling them that she was filling in for James. Tori wished she wouldn’t. She wished she had some function, like aide, to disguise her status. Most greeted the news with good humor. Many were skeptical, but polite. A few, Tori knew, couldn’t wait to test her – not to attack Rose, but to prove Tori was not security or body guard material.
Their luggage had been taken back to Rose’s apartment, but it was not until four and a half hours later that Rose finally led her to it, after they’d eaten dinner in the cafeteria and Rose had spoken to Kelsi’s boss about the new food coming up and Kelsi’s new assignment.
They entered the apartment. The living room had two love seats, a couch and two armchairs for entertaining, and it was decorated in an eclectic style with odd items the couple had apparently picked up in their travels. The kitchenette was off to one side beyond a large dining table. A small hall opened into three rooms – Tori guessed two bedrooms and a bath.
Their luggage sat just inside the door. Rose frowned. “That’s odd. Trea!” She started down the hall.
Tori caught her. James would never forgive her if she didn’t go first. With a slight shake of her head, she indicated that Rose wait. Rose did, apparently willing to concede that oddness meant danger.
Tori entered the first room, and the light came on automatically. It was the master bedroom, and Trea, in a full-bodied pink lacy apron, leaned slightly over a partially made bed. The bed sheet attached to the foot of the bed and the other end was in Trea’s mechanical hand, but the android did not move.
“Trea!” Rose exclaimed, rushing into the room. James was right. The woman didn’t take precautions like she should.
Tori grabbed her waist as she attempted to run past and halted her. “It is malfunctioning,” she said quietly. “Let me assess the danger.”
“Trea would never hurt me.” She twisted loose, only because Tori let her. But she stayed beside Tori. “Trea?” she asked in a slight, pleading tone. Rose grabbed Tori’s arm. “She has to be okay.”
But Tori knew she wasn’t. She approached the android slowly. The sensors on the android’s head shifted. Tori paused, but no other movement occurred. “Trea,” she said softly. “Are you in there?” But she had a sinking feeling in her stomach. Trea was not in there, just as Pet had not been in there. Charles’ android had died a similar death. The sub-processors still collected data, but there was no brain left to receive it. But Tori didn’t tell Rose that yet. Not before a full examination.
“I will need a diagnostic kit from your Archival Technology Department.” Slowly she removed the sheet from the android’s hand, and then straightened her lightweight metal body. There was no resistance from a personality. Tori quickly reached behind the android to its access door to remove the solar power distributor. At least now if the android went berserk it would have no power to cripple her.
“Let me take her to the dining area and give her a diagnostic,” Tori suggested.
“Charles taught you how?”
She gave a slight nod. “I can distinguish between a sub-processor or a core malfunction.” She could do more, but she realized details were useless to Rose who hadn’t even known that her Trea had a 4000 series core. Perhaps she didn’t even know the core could function independent of the android. Tori lifted the whole android and carried her to the dining area, mainly so that it would not be left in Rose’s bedroom.
Rose touched the intercom and requested a diagnostic unit be brought over. Then she sat at the table with Tori. “She has to be okay. Androids can last forever, right?”
Tori didn’t answer her. Theoretically they could under ideal conditions, but conditions were never ideal. Tori reached into the back of the android again and withdrew Trea’s core. She glanced at the model and serial number, which matched Trea’s report to Charles. She set it on the table. “Trea, can you hear me?”
No tiny, tinny voice. Nothing.
“That looks like the computer that was in Thom.”
“This is Trea’s brain. The rest is a shell.”
“You mean, that box part should be able to talk by itself?”
“This is Trea.” Tori tapped the small core. Then she stood and initiated a diagnostic of the android’s sub-processor which turned the blank face screen into rows of white letters on black. “She stopped functioning the day we left. Two hours before we left.” Tori tried not to draw the conclusion, but couldn’t help it. It was two hours before Butler left the base, and this death was so much like Pet’s that she knew she was incapable of doing anything with the core.
“You could probably get another core for the android,” Tori tried to suggest, wondering how attached Rose was to the personality of Trea.
But Rose understood immediately. “But like those 5000 units, Cee and that Butler were the same model, and they were completely different. Another core in the body would not be Trea, would it?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
Rose closed her eyes. “Please fix her, Tori. I know this is silly, but she’s like a part of our family, our child. We never had children and Trea is….”
Tori touched her arm, but didn’t speak. She couldn’t.
A chime sounded. Rose hesitated a moment with the palms of her hands against her eyes. Then she rose and admitted a dark haired man.
“I came as soon as I could, Rose. Where’s Jim?”
“He’s still on the planet. Ben, Trea isn’t working.”
Ben gave Tori a slight nod and then focused on the android. Then he glanced back at the table. “You’ve removed the core.”
“Yes. The core is not responding to voice input. If I could run a general diagnostic….”
“This is very sophisticated equipment. You’ve probably just voided any warranty left on it.” He snatched the core. “I’ll put this back in and send her back to the manufacturer. They’ll fix her up.”
“They will replace the core and send her back,” Tori stated.
“But you said replacing the core wouldn’t bring Trea back,” Rose protested.
“No. It would be a different personality, but the same shell.”
“Rose,” Ben said with a patient tone. “Let the experts handle it. They will salvage as much of the old Trea as they can.”
“Charles. Can he fix her?”
Tori bit her lip. “It depends on how badly Butler ripped apart her core,” she said softly. “He’ll try.”
Rose went white. Then she moaned and sunk to the table. “She never hurt anyone. She was just the sweetest….” She sobbed.
Ben shifted uncomfortably. “What’s going on?”
Tori retrieved the core from Ben. “Let’s give Charles a chance. She didn’t have orders to protect her information as Pet did. Maybe Butler didn’t….”
“But she was ordered not to reveal certain things,” Rose cried. “He did this before, and you didn’t stop him then?”
“We didn’t know how Pet died. We didn’t even suspect Butler until Michael and Cee’s report. Even then we couldn’t prove it.”
“Pet was your android?”
“And he couldn’t save his own android?” She shook her head and snatched the core from Tori. “I need to rest,” she stated, her voice going flat of emotion. “Thanks for coming, Ben, but I guess I won’t need….” She whirled around and almost ran into her room.
Ben watched the door long after it shut. Then he studied Tori. “Who are you? Where’s Jim?”
“Jim is on the planet. He’ll be back next month.”
“I’m filling in,” she stated.
“Filling in as what?” he asked skeptically.
“Her body guard. Are you ready to leave?”
He hesitated and then decided not to test her. “What about the android?”
“Rose has the core. She’ll let you know if she wants it sent back, although I’m sure the unit is working. The self-diagnostic is quite clear. A new core sent… but let Charles try first,” Tori said, unable to give up that last bit of hope.
Ben sputtered in laughter. “Yeah, lady. You can try sending it to him. Guess he’s got nothing better to do in his retirement than to repair malfunctioning androids. Tell Rose to let me know if she wants me to send the android in. And just so you know, you wouldn’t want to buy those cores they sell separately. They’re blank. No preprogramming. It’s like starting with a new born baby. But Trea’s manufacturer will match a new core to the unit and preprogram it.”
“I am aware of how a new core starts its existence and builds its personality.”
“Body guard and android specialist. Do me a favor, Lady, and don’t touch the android. The more you break, the less likely we’ll get it working again.”
“Goodbye, Ben,” Tori said, wishing she could give in to the temptation to physically throw him out. But he finally left on his own.
It was definitely much better working under the cover of a clerical assistant. No one mocked her ability to perform that task. Rose’s door was shut, and she heard no noise from within the room. So Tori went into the room across the hall, leaving the door open.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Rose wished she hadn’t let anyone see how emotional she felt. It made no sense to care about an android like this. But Trea was really more than an android. Jim would be so hurt. She wiped her eyes. That must be it. All the emotions of almost losing Jim were catching up on her.
She finished making the bed and changed into her nightwear. But when the lights were out she felt very alone. Her whole family was gone now. Jim will be back. He will be back, she reminded herself firmly. Butler didn’t kill him. But the emotions threatened her again. She had to get them back under control. An administrator didn’t have the luxury to indulge in self-pity or grief, especially for a machine. But she grabbed the small black rectangle and held it in her hand under her pillow.
She wasn’t sure how long she slept when she heard the noise. “Tic, tic, tic; tack, tack, tack; tic, tic, tic.” A three second pause, and then the ticking began again. She lifted her head from her pillow but didn’t hear it anymore. She lay back down.
There is was again. Ticking, tacking and then ticking again. Then she realized what it was. “Trea?” She pulled the core from beneath her pillow and held it to her ear. Yes, the noise was coming from the core.
“Tori!” Rose jumped out of bed and ran across the hall, bumping into Tori in the doorway to the guest room. “Tori, listen!” She thrust the core to Tori’s ear. “She’s alive, isn’t she?”
“There’s hope,” Tori whispered. “Trea? Can you hear me?”
The ticking paused.
“Can you understand me?”
“We’re going to take you down to Charles.”
The core gave a quick burst of ticking, still only heard when their ears were close to it.
Tori smiled. “You keep her with you Rose. Help her feel loved. If anyone can free her, Charles can.” Her smiled turned to a slight grin. “I bet Michael could, too.”
“Oh, Tori, this is… is… Thanks for coming with me.” Rose slipped back into her room. She needed to get these unruly emotions under control again. If Tori hadn’t come back, would they have taken Ben’s advice and sent Trea away? Maybe the manufacturer could save her, but somehow Rose didn’t trust them as much as she did Trea’s designer. “Charles will save you, my treasure.”
She had trouble sleeping, but every time she awoke, she spoke to Trea just to hear the reassuring ticking that she was still alive and that she understood. She devised yes and no games, and asked questions. Butler had injured those dear to her, but the monster android was dead now, and he wouldn’t be able to take them from her permanently.
And for the first time she dreamed of the attack and watching her husband sliced with the laser, his blood… it was everywhere. She awoke in a panic.
“Just a nightmare,” Tori said softly. “He can’t hurt us anymore.” The light was set to dim, but it highlighted the girl, her hair loose around her head.
“How did you know that….”
“I have them, too.” She stood. “What time do you wake? I will have breakfast ready.”
Breakfast. Trea always had breakfast. “Six. Thank you, Tori.” She glanced at the clock and realized she had only half an hour to continue sleeping. She decided to get up.
Rose took Trea everywhere in her pocket, and Tori followed them. The day was spent in meetings, catching up on station business. There was one other thing she wanted to do, and that was to study the station’s history files. She was missing something important. Something about mammal dragons. Something about Dr. Alex Collin. And she knew Tori knew what it was, but she would never tell her, so Rose didn’t bother trying to ask her.
It’d be better if she could figure it out on her own, because she was sure Tori would report all her activities to Dr. Alex Collin. How she knew this, she wasn’t sure. It was just one of those gut impressions that even Jim had learned to trust. Michael and Tori, although they served her, they first served Alex Collin. Even the dragon served Alex Collin first. Who was this man to command such respect and loyalty?
So each evening after dinner she shut herself into her bedroom and asked the archive questions and reviewed history.
One of the first few things she studied was Michael’s commission. She’d gone over it before, but as she usually had, she had opted not to view any accompanying data, just going over her predecessor’s summary. But now she watched the report sent back by the prototype robot the 5000A of young Kayden’s torturous abuse. She lay in bed afterward unable to sleep. Kayden shouldn’t be alive. There were no regeneration tanks on the planet for those hands. And her internal injuries… Dr. Collin had indeed been an expert doctor to heal her.
And then there was the robot, offering to submit to its own destruction after the girl was safe. Did Michael find the robot? He had to have if he found Kayden. He’d told Thom they were both destroyed, but Cee wasn’t. Somehow Rose knew the 5000A wasn’t either. And Charles Jamel had known it also. His prototypes were on the planet, and he’d gone, not to hide from his failures, but to continue his work. Briefly Rose was irritated at being lied to.
All the next day she silently speculated about her suspicions. What would happen to Charles’ work when he died? It’d go to Michael, Rose was sure. Michael the AI specialist turned medical doctor. Odd… or not so odd. A brief overview of technology and medicine actually made it a logical choice. Nano chips were even helping to control pancreas, thyroid, and other hormonal levels in organs not damaged enough for a full operation to replace them. What would a doctor use a full android brain for? A full brain….
“And for his brain, his cognitive processes – did Collin Hansell combine human genetic material, do you think?”
“Collin Hansell never experimented with altering human genetics. He only did so as a service to the poor to correct birth defects.”
“Really? Then how do you explain Jake’s brain.”
“Jake, are you any part human?”
“No. I am not.”
“Where did you get your brain then?”
And then she remembered the Butler core. Right before it died. “The A is with the dra....” The dragon.
It was impossible. Where did Alex Collin get the tech or the knowledge to create a mammal dragon with an android brain? She checked Michael’s history again and determined he couldn’t have done it. He had absolutely no medical background before going to Austin. Even finding a lost cache of tech left over from those long-dead geneticists, could a doctor with little training in molecular medicine since the machines to use it didn’t exist on the planet, even begin to understand the work of the geneticists? Could he so easily adapt and combine various mammals to mimic a reptile in appearance? Had Collin Hansell done most of the work before he died? Jake had said specifically that he was Collin Hansell’s best work of art.
That evening after shutting herself in her bedroom she had the archive go over Collin Hansell’s record. A picture of an eight year old boy filled the left side of the screen while a scant list of facts droned on. Nothing useful. “Do we have an older picture of Hansell? One as an adult?”
“This is Collin Alexander Hansell at age twenty-eight when he published his paper on ‘The Kittle as an experiment in Mammal Color Variations’.”
“But nothing older than that?” she asked meekly. Surely the man didn’t remain a child his whole life.
“Did he have some sort of genetic disorder?” Strange for one born on a planet full of people who could have corrected it.
“The Interplanetary Kittle Club has speculated that he did, but it is not confirmed.”
“Which disease would produce a childlike body and genius mind?”
The archive droned on about several disorders, but then after an exhausting summary would then give an equally exhausting list of reasons that Hansell did not have that particular disorder. That was one reason she didn’t research often. But she tried to listen intently in case she could catch a glimpse of her problem.
Nothing. She finally went to bed wishing she could discuss this problem with Jim and Trea. She did talk to Trea and the little box ticked back. She was in there. Poor girl. “Charles will rescue you,” Rose reassured her.
The next day Rose began a systematic study of the planet’s history wading through scores of supporting documents. After two nights, she started skimming them again until she came to the time Collin Hansell was born. She asked for anything on Hansell, but there was very little, except what she’d already seen.
On the fourth day she made it to the riots. She watched the testimony of a group of geneticists who had escaped the riots on the last shuttle. “Everyone else was killed,” said a grey haired man, Dr. Kal Brenner. “All our facilities are destroyed. Every one.”
“Yes. Everything is gone,” stated Dr. Jane Eranti. “Burned and bombed to the ground.” She, too, was older.
The others geneticists sitting around a table with generals in the Planetary Protection Corps nodded.
“The citizens are violent. They’re all murderers,” Dr. Brennor continued. “The planet should be destroyed.”
“Yes,” Dr. Eranti said immediately as if they’d rehearsed a tag-team speech. “You need to stop them. Don’t let them get away with it. They killed all our friends. Our families!” And she burst into tears.
Rose watched the rest of the interview in fascination and then watched it again. Of course no civilized authorities would wipe out a whole planet, nor a whole city of people, even if they were murderers, unless they were a threat to others. But at that point they were contained right on the planet, and all the geneticists in the group insisted that everything was destroyed – all of their work – all of their friends and family.
Rose had the uneasy feeling that they were lying, but that they wanted the government to finish destroying what they had left behind. “Give me any commentary.”
There was little. The government had asked the geneticists not to speak openly of the matter as they were not generally in the business of destroying planets. And as far as Archive had records, none of the nine surviving geneticists ever spoke to the media about either the riots or their time on Austin – not even in their memoirs. Although five of the nine died of mysterious circumstances within a year, deaths that never made it as far as a murder investigation.
“Are all these files available to the world?”
“No. These are classified and are for the Director of Austin only and for the time when history may be disseminated to the public, as by a mutual decision between the Director and the Board of Trustees and the President of the Planetary Council.”
Rose took a deep breath. They knew those geneticists were lying, but the truth would have caused more deaths and rioting elsewhere by protests of the Human Genetic Purity group and the Humane Animal Rights Activists, who even now would probably insist on protecting that reptile dragon given half the chance. And now if she was to make changes, one of her decisions would have to be about whether it was time to ask the Board and the President about reopening history.
What had they been hiding? What had they wanted destroyed? Was it really, as some speculated, human genetic experiments? But so far Rose had found no living evidence of that in the people. They appeared as normal as any she met in her travels. If that’s what they’d been doing, the truth died with that generation. Whatever mutants had been produced had probably been killed by the people in the riots.
Perhaps Rose should ask Michael if he had heard any legends. Maybe she should ask Dr. Collin. He seemed to know about all those obscure shells and animals. She couldn’t help the shiver. He knew. He’d found their records. He’d found what had been hidden. That’s why he’d seemed so hard when she mentioned experimenting with human genetics. That’s why he knew what Collin Hansell had and had not done. But still, how could he produce a dragon? How did he even figure out how to use that equipment on his own? It would take years and years to discover its secrets without a mentor, and Dr. Alex Collin was not more than forty years old, she was sure.
Rose sighed. She was still missing something, but perhaps the answer was on the planet after all. She’d have to ask Alex Collin to trust her and show her what he’d found. She knew it was useless to ask Michael. He’d seen it, but he’d labeled it as something that was better not destroyed. He’d defer to Collin.
Just one more day and night, and then they’d be heading back to the planet and back to Jim.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Rose watched Tori at dinner the next day. The girl had been unusually quiet for her whole visit. All Rose’s attempts to bring her out usually failed. “You miss Quinn, don’t you? I miss Jim so much, I can’t wait to get back there.”
Tori shrugged. “I barely know Quinn. It’s an arranged marriage. Collin thinks it best, and Quinn is a good man.”
“You don’t love him at all?”
“I will,” she whispered, but then closed herself off again by gathering the dishes together.
“Tori, if you don’t love him….”
“But I will! I’ll be the best wife I can, if he’ll let me.” She bit her lip and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m too emotional today. I haven’t been getting my sleep. Collin had a tea.” She shook her head again. “I’m rambling. I’m sorry.”
Rose led her to the couch. “Be emotional, Tori. Don’t let anyone talk you into marriage if you’re not ready.” She had no daughters, and she knew Tori’s mother had died when the girl was still a teen. Perhaps Tori had never been able to speak of the matters of the heart to anyone since.
“I’m ready! I’ve been ready for marriage. I never wanted to be a body guard.” She bit her lip again, leaning forward. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’ll do the best I can for you.”
“I know you have, Tori. You always have done well for Charles also.”
Tori shook her head, tears slipping past the fingers she placed over her eyes. “I let Butler get Falice. I failed. I let him get my hand. I failed. I failed when Thom attacked Charles and Jim. I failed.”
Rose took Tori’s shoulders and shook her. “Snap out of it, Girl! You did not fail. My husband made a mistake by not screening Thom for internal tech. He knows it. You did not fail.”
“You did not fail!” Did the girl blame herself for everything? “Now weren’t we talking about marriage? So you always wanted to marry and raise a family instead of having a career as a body guard. I admit, the two can be difficult to do well simultaneously, especially through pregnancy. So, why did you accept the position as Charles’ body guard if you wanted a husband?”
“Daddy didn’t want me to marry Wend,” she whispered. “He sent me away, and Wend never came as he promised. He married someone else. Quinn probably has someone else now.”
“Heavens, Child. We’ve just been gone a week. If the man is that fickle, you don’t want him. You can find someone better. I didn’t find Jim until I was thirty-five. You don’t need to rush things.” And then Rose couldn’t help smiling as she realized she was speaking just like her mother had. But her mother had chosen to raise children, and she’d had nine of them. Oh, they had been the talk of Luna Prime. But her mother had to run a day care to help support them even though her father had been an engineer – was still an engineer, and mom was still running the day care, not quitting when her children all grew up.
Tori stood. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have bothered you. I am forgetting all my training.” She rushed to her room.
Rose followed. “Tori, please don’t be sorry,” she whispered, as she sat on the edge of the bed beside Tori who was face down across it. “I want to help. I have no children, and my best friend is down on the planet. Even my surrogate child is incapable of speaking to me right now. Do not be sorry.” She rubbed Tori’s back.
She let them remain silent for a while until Tori was still. Then she knew the girl slept. Rose covered her and went to her own room for one last look at the records.
Tonight she listened to the archive drone on and on about the annexation to the penal system, and then how the different supply distributions were set up. She dimmed the lights and closed her eyes as she listened.
Rose was almost asleep when she heard his voice. “Hello. I’m Dr. Collin Alexander and this is my wife, Vita. Welcome to our home. Please be comfortable.”
“May I bring you tea? Pearpricot juice?” asked a soft female voice.
Rose sat up and stared at the monitor. The scene was a home – a living room. A piano stood to one side, vases, statues and paintings decorated the room full of stuffed furniture. Several men and women with the old penal system guard uniforms took seats as a grey haired woman took their drink requests. But the man who captured her attention was Dr. Collin Alexander. He gave his wife an approving and loving smile before seating himself with his guests. His hair was the same length, had the same waves, but it was a steel grey color.
“Archive, when was this recorded?”
“2487. Fifth month, seventh day.”
“2487? You’re sure? These files weren’t tampered with?”
“2487 is accurate. The files are in tact. Detailed history was not a concern of the thief. The only files changed were the ones charting Tori Yasuo’s accounts, and those have been restored from backup.”
Rose couldn’t help the shiver. The girl must have known she was hated by that machine. It hadn’t cared or planned to kill Jim. It had wanted to kill Tori. No wonder she had nightmares.
Rose tried to divert her thoughts to the man on the screen. “Can you give me a close up of Dr. Alex Collin, I mean, Collin Alexander?”
Alex Collin, Collin Alexander. Collin Alexander… Collin Alexander Hansell? Is that what it was? “Paste up Collin Hansell’s picture beside Collin Alexander’s.”
“Can they be the same man? Perhaps Collin Hansell aged slowly. What would he look like in an adult body?”
The computer morphed the image. “Without further data it would appear possible.”
“Were his parents geneticists?”
“His father, James Alexander Hansell.”
“What did he study?”
“There is little evidence, but he performed medical research on aging at Luna Prime’s Koop Medical Center. A minor paper was published in the Koop Medical Journal on possible genetic keys which may trigger or suppress aging.”
“And Reese Austin sent him to his playground to perform the human genetic experiments. Oh, heavens. We have a living legend here.”
“There is no evidence that Collin Hansell is still alive,” the archive stated.
Rose chuckled. “Top secret, Archive. Collin Hansell is still alive. I met him while I was on the planet. Dr. Alex Collin in Hope. We have a key here. When it was no longer safe to be Collin Hansell, he became Collin Alexander.”
“According to planetary archives, Dr. Alexander died in 2499.”
“And then who did he become? Certainly not Alex Collin. There had to be an intermediate identity. Work on the problem tonight, Archive, and then I want this interview with Collin Alexander, our comparisons, and the picture morph downloaded to my notebook computer tomorrow morning. I’m going to confront Collin Hansell.”
“Yes, Director Zemmer.”
Rose chuckled. The archive would not question her decisions, but she could imagine Trea’s alarm. “Don’t you think it might be dangerous? He’s hidden it this long,” she would ask in concern.
But no, Rose did not think it was dangerous. She’d never sensed any threat from the man. He seemed as gentle as that wondrous dragon with the brain of that robot who’d saved Kayden’s life – a robot who believed in God and went to church. What could those two accomplish together – Collin Hansell and Charles Jamel. Yes. It was top secret, and she alone had the power to decide what was best for the planet right now.
© 2007 by Deborah K. Lauro. No part of this book may be published in any form without permission from the author.