Jeanette and Isaiah sat at their table, sipping tea. The table stood on a patio outside a small restaurant. It gave a good view of a park across the street, packed with greenery and flowers. Beyond the park rose Barchester Towers, ornately palatial, seat of the Prince of Albion. At the moment, the light of the setting sun blazed off the Towers, making the windows glitter gold.
Jeanette leaned back in her chair, sipped tea, and sighed happily. "What a lovely cafe."
"Pub," Isaiah corrected her. "We're in Albion, so it's a pub. It is lovely, though."
Just above the Towers, in its own patch of pale sky, hung a point of hot orange light – Girasol, 70 Ophiuchi B, remote companion to Hellene's sun. Soon, it would have the night to itself, and still leave it bright enough to see colors. Hellene's moons were small, but Girasol was said to supply the missing romance. Isaiah was in no mood to dispute that.
"Such a shame that this was a false lead," Jeanette said. Her voice lacked all conviction, and she was smiling.
"A tremendous tragedy," Isaiah answered, grinning.
Two days ago, they had landed on Hellene, at Pericles. A TSTO major had reluctantly given Isaiah and Jeanette temporary deputy status. The team then immediately scattered to the four winds, investigating leads all over Hellene.
Isaiah and Jeanette had been sent to investigate the Drones' Club of Barchester, capital of Albion, the English enclave. The Drones' had recently bought eight zygote androids from someone working out of the Pericles enclave. This much appeared in the public census records. But the Drones' secretary had politely asked for a warrant when TSTO asked to see the club's own records on the androids. ("Nationalism dies hard," FX remarked. "Never make anything easy for Pericles, much less for TSTO – that's any enclave patriot's motto.")
So, the next day, FX equipped Isaiah and Jeanette with a warrant and transmitted them by commercial teleport from Pericles to Barchester. ("I love it," declared Isaiah as they walked out of the teleport car. "Hyperdrive in miniature. A magnificent technical achievement. I'm glad it's catching on. It's especially nice that the car appears only two meters above the receiver...")
The Drones' secretary had not deigned to see them until this morning. They could have surprised him with their new TSTO status, shown up without notice, and demanded to make an immediate search, but they saw no reason to ruffle feathers; surprise would gain them nothing, since their combined powers would quickly reveal any switching of androids or lying.
The secretary had had all eight androids lined up for them. Jeanette scanned their histories and took blood samples for Vivian. Isaiah, meanwhile, copied records back to Wisper and explained, in soothing tones, that they were tracking "smugglers" of high-quality androids; that this consignment had matched the profile they were looking for; and that they were anxious that the club not be made a "victim." The secretary had smiled stiffly and said nothing.
Well before Isaiah was done talking, Jeanette had determined that the androids were exactly what they seemed. That left them nearly half of Hellene's 26-hour day before they had to take the evening teleport back to Pericles. They had enjoyed themselves very much.
"Gardens everywhere!" Jeanette breathed. "Is it like that in England?"
Isaiah nodded. "They get very intense over gardening, Albians and Old English both. Like the French with art and wine. They've always led Terran Space in horticultural transgenics."
"Is it true that all the swans belong to the Prince?"
Isaiah started to answer, but stopped when he saw Jeanette's expression shift. Just as he guessed that she had picked up a telepathic contact, she brought him into it.
"Canorus?" she asked, in thought.
"Yeah. Hi. Say, can you pierce psilence for clairvoyance? Or just telepathy?"
"Just telepathy, mostly. Sometimes, I can sort of squint through psilence, clairvoyantly."
"Huh. Want to give it a try now?"
"What's going on?"
"Take a look."
Verbal level was as deep as Canorus could take the contact, but, at his invitation, Jeanette pushed it down to the sensory level. She looked out of his eyes, Isaiah peering over her mental shoulder.
The Melior was several time zones away, in the Neonese, an archipelago settled by neo-humans. It was night there. Canorus sat with his back to a stone wall, holding a small white card in one hand. He looked down a rolling meadow toward a low cluster of buildings, the scene lit by Girasol.
Jeanette's viewpoint sailed out of the Melior's eyes as she used her clairvoyance to look around. The stone wall separated the meadow from a road. A hint from Canorus pointed out a rented air car, tucked in a small grove a dozen yards on the far side. The top of the wall bore little domes at regular intervals.
"Tingler fence," Canorus remarked. "I just flew over it. But they're also trespass detectors. Had to stall them."
Jeanette dipped deeper into the contact and skimmed Canorus's recent memory. He was at an android farm, where they bred, programmed, and trained zygotes. Public record showed that the farm had acquired four adult androids some months back, from Europolis – nothing more. Rather than use his TSTO authority, Canorus was trying to read their computer records directly with psi-coding. But the farm buildings were psilenced.
Jeanette steered her viewpoint up to the farm buildings. "Farm?" she thought. "It looks more like a small college." There were two large and rambling houses, a boxy building, and a long, low dorm or barracks, arranged around a square of mingled vegetable and flower gardens.
"Well, they're raising butlers, not pigs," Isaiah remarked.
"Oh, hi, Isaiah," said Canorus. A flash of surprise ran through his mood. Apparently, he had not realized Isaiah was in the contact. Then there was a flicker of irritation. Perhaps Isaiah's presence was not entirely welcome? But Jeanette had pulled the contact up to sensory level, so conceptual thought was now private.
Jeanette turned her gaze on the buildings, one by one, in quick X-ray glimpses. The boxy building held a small lecture room, a gym, an infirmary, and various storage rooms. But the houses and the dorm were all psilenced.
She looked in through a window in the dorm. In open psi, clairvoyance could see in the dark, but this view was as dark as one seen by normal vision. Jeanette discerned a pair of beds flanking the window, occupied by dim forms under pale sheets.
"Wait for your eyes to adapt," Isaiah suggested, and was answered by the empathic equivalent of derisive snorts from both Jeanette and Canorus. "Or something of the sort," he amended. "It isn't totally dark in there. The psilence keeps you from perceiving the room directly, but you can still see by the light coming out the window. Why not increase the sensitivity of your clairvoyant vision?"
"It ought to be possible," Jeanette reflected. "But it wouldn't really help. I still can't reach in there to read their histories."
"You might spot an android that looks exactly like Noah or Andre or the neb-maker," Isaiah suggested.
Canorus gave a flash of impatience like a measured cough. "I was wanting Jeanette to help me read their computers."
"Oh, right," she said. "Where are these computers?"
Canorus indicated one of the houses. "But the easiest approach is through the trespass detectors." He steered the viewpoint back to his own location by the stone wall and plunged it into one of the little domes.
Instantly, they were in the neon-colored, cubistic fantasy that was Canorus's visualization of cyberspace. Canorus stood by his car – the image of his hand computer – and behind him stood a wall of rectilinear, twisting paths of color. But green lights and violet shadows played over the flat, bright primaries of circuitry, representing a binding by Canorus. "Stalled the recognition process," he explained. He hopped in the car and said to Jeanette, "Come see."
Isaiah found himself in the imaginary car, too, but that was Jeanette's contribution to the imagery, not the Melior's. The car whipped down a narrow street of golden stripes, then through a square blue archway and out across a black gulf, along a bridge of rippling red. "Telemetry link," Canorus explained.
They shot down the red bridge and stopped before a wall of gray. The rippling path continued into the wall, which appeared slightly translucent, but vanished a few apparent centimeters inside. "The psilence," said Canorus.
Jeanette glanced down at the black void, then over at Isaiah. "All serene?" she asked.
He smiled back. "Of course. I'm sitting at a cafe table in Albion. I'm not afraid of imaginary heights."
Jeanette nodded and turned back to Canorus. The Melior's mood brightened perceptibly. "I should be doing the psi-coding myself," Jeanette said, "for the best chance at this. Mind if I draw on your skills?"
Canorus smiled and gestured to his left. For a moment, an opening appeared in the imagined dark, showing neatly packed racks of gleaming tools – a symbol of his skills. Jeanette smiled back and reached toward the tools. A steely rod flew into her hand. She pointed it at the wall and stared. Nothing happened.
She probed telepathically, in case the farm's computers were sentient, but they were not. She tried pretending the computers were sentient, to see if that helped make her clairvoyance more piercing. It didn't.
"Sorry," she said. "I did warn you."
"Yeah, well, thanks. Don't worry, there are other ways."
Isaiah briefly thought he meant going through legal channels. No such luck. The car flipped about and squirted back across the bridge of radio waves, ran a twisty path through the circuitry of the tresspass detector, then shot out along another bridge. This one was a luminous band of violet – something other than radio waves.
Moments later, the link was behind them. The car stood in another square blue gate, its passengers gazing down at a city-sized layout of brightly colored blocks. "Where are we?" Jeanette asked.
"Local police station," Canorus told her. "If the detector drops the link–" He pointed with one thumb back over his shoulder. "–the police get a warning. Normally."
He sent his car prowling through the "streets" of the computer system as he sought the software that monitored the detector links. While the Melior was occupied, Isaiah asked Jeanette, "Why isn't the police station psilenced?"
"You're starting to think like him," she answered, nodding at Canorus. "It certainly would be psilenced if psi-coding was at all common. But it isn't. What we ran into at the farm was just a domestic psilencer. I don't know why. Maybe the computer is sitting in someone's bedroom. Maybe the whole house is psilenced. But public places like police stations aren't usually psilenced. Except for the cell block, I suppose."
Canorus gave a grunt of satisfaction. He stopped the car and hopped out, facing a red cube across which rolled a steady stream of text. "This polls a bunch of security systems. Including our farm's." He touched the cube with one hand and his car with the other, creating a psionic link between the processor represented by the cube and the hand computer represented by the car.
A window opened on the cube, where more text flashed, then stopped, then changed. "And now it's forgotten about the farm. It won't poll the detector until I unhide that account."
"Now what?" asked Jeanette.
"Now I can walk up to the farm house and use a psi opener to override the psilence, without worrying about any alarms attached to the psilencer."
"Very neat," Jeanette said.
Canorus beamed. Isaiah reflected that he would never see so much emotion in Canorus outside a telepathic link. Then Isaiah noticed the exact shade of pleasure Canorus was registering. He was very familiar with it; he had been feeling it himself barely ten minutes ago, basking in Jeanette's attention.
And, as he could see Canorus's mood, so the Melior could see Isaiah's rising resentment. Something passed between them – a message much older than psionics or speech – at least as old as bucks bellowing challenges to each other on frosty mornings, and probably a lot older than that.
Jeanette flickered anxious alarm. A fraction of a second later, Isaiah heard her careful "ahem," from the other side of the cafe table.
It broke the spell. He opened his eyes and smiled at her. In the theater of their minds, Canorus was smiling too, though wryly. They were not, after all, rutting bucks, but men – civilized men, and shipmates.
"I didn't know," Canorus said as the telepathy unraveled. "Congratulations." And he was gone, leaving Isaiah to shuffle triple visions in his head – blocks of chiseled light in remote computers; Canorus himself, crouched by a stone wall in the night; the sunny afternoon street presently before him.
"He didn't know?" he echoed to Jeanette. "I thought– I thought– There's an old saying: Love and a sneeze cannot be hid. We weren't even trying to hide it. At least, I wasn't."
"Neither was I," said Jeanette. She looked pale. "But we didn't say anything. Or do much telepathy on that last trip. And Canorus isn't much on social nuance." She knocked back the last of her herbal tea as if it was a stiff whiskey, sorely needed. "I wonder if the others know yet."
If she didn't know, Isaiah certainly didn't. They sat silently for a few minutes. Then Jeanette glanced over at Isaiah. "What is it?" she asked. "You look puzzled."
"How did Canorus contact you? Our trip through the teleport was a hyperjump. That should have broken the residual contacts. And he's no champion telepath, like you, to do it by sheer memory."
Jeanette reached into a pocket and flipped a card toward Isaiah. It bore her name, degrees, citizenship, and public key. "Probe that," she said. "Telepathically."
Isaiah obeyed and was disconcerted to feel Jeanette's presence in the card. Then he was suddenly in a shallow contact with Jeanette herself.
"Bound telepathy," she said. "Bound and triggered. I made up some and gave a card to each of the others before we left Pericles. You telepath at the card and the card contacts me. The card is me contacting me, sort of, so it isn't bothered by the break from the hyperjump."
"You can bind telepathy and clairvoyance as well as TK?"
"Sure. Very handy. You could write a whole book in telepathy, though it would be quite a strain. It's– Now what? You're worried."
"I'm wondering what my next karate lesson will be like."
I, Isaiah Hola, being of arguably sound mind, am writing this debriefing on an investigation made by Borne and Daima, at their instigation, since they and FX want a written record of their illegal activities despite all my urgings to the contrary. ("Lose it, Isaiah." "If you don't like how I write, Borne, you can do it yourself.") They point out to me that the same data could be wrung from their minds by memory audit, so I suppose it doesn't make a lot of difference.
Daima and Borne took a sea-taxi from Pericles to the C.V. Leucothea, eight days out from Dixie, bound for Novorusk. The Leucothea is a city ship, with resorts– ("They have a restaurant with tables on these little islands built in a swimming pool. It's really suave.") –filtration industries, a small satellite fleet of fishing boats and the like, and a secondary fleet of transient trade ships, stopping by to do business with the big vessel.
One of these transients, the M.V. Magriette, is the flag ship of a busy little floating corporation, suspected by the Pericles authorities of smuggling, transporting mercenaries, and maybe a bit of piracy or privateering. The Magriette recently bought some androids in Pericles, and they looked like the sort of people who might buy Dragons' Teeth on the same shopping trip.
After a suave lunch on the Leucothea, Borne and Daima wandered off to a secluded part of the deck and triggered some invisibility glamour laid for them by FX. They then flitted off to the Magriette. ("It has no beauty." "Twice right, Daima! What a scow! A gray slab, piled all over with crates. Bat poop everywhere...") They spent the next two hours searching the ship for androids. They believe they located everyone on board, finding five humans and eight androids. [Select here] for videos of them.
Four of the eight androids are the Magriette's new acquisitions. Daima found them seated together in a cabin, watching TV. [Select here] for an excerpt of the program. It appears to be background information on Novorusk, perhaps a commercial cultural orientation for business travelers. This suggests that the androids are for re-sale in Novorusk, or at least for use there.
Daima then got tissue samples of the four androids, simply by sticking a piece of adhesive tape on bare skin, then peeling it off. ("This fears me. Wrong, not fear. A coldness. I need a word. They can feel me do this, I know, but they make no notice." "No, they wouldn't. They wouldn't care." "That is wrong." "Yes.")
These samples didn't give us a full genome on any of them, but they provided enough cellular debris to check for a match with the neb-maker. The next day, however, Vivian determined that none of these androids were made by our neb-maker.
Mission accomplished, Daima and Borne flew back to the Leucothea and played table tennis until their sea-taxi arrived. ("I did win." "Only after I told you how the scoring worked." "Now, now, children...")
Our Trip to Immadistan
by Francis B. (age 76)
Vivian and I went to Immadistan to investigate ten zygotes sold to a major horse breeder as stable-hands. We went openly, after the breeder declined to send the records. More nationalism.
We never saw the breeder. We were met by a secretary ... who was another zygote. All the while we were there, we saw nothing but androids. The scut work was done by labor clones. The zygotes were vets and horse trainers and personal servants.
("They must have had human staff somewhere, FX." "Oh? Why's that, Isaiah?" "Because horse trainers have to take the horse's mood into account. Any android that can do that must have had a lot of training by a human. Or a neo-horse, or some other kind of real person." "I didn't know you knew so much about horses." "I know about training. Some things are trans-specific." "Well, I didn't see any of their humans.")
We presented our search warrants and were allowed to examine the ten new zygotes and their records. They were five males and five females, cosmetically Mediterranean, fluent in Arabic and Earthron (the Hellene patois), all identically trained in etiquette, equitation, equestrian medicine, empathy-level telepathy, and probably several other things beginning with E. ("So that may be how they know the horse's mood." "Interesting. Sounds expensive." "Very.") They were very expensive. ("Which also begins with E.")
They were also a lot more human in demeanor than most androids I've met. Probably the psychics training. We didn't detect any actual emotions from them, but then, we didn't try. ("Intimidated?" "Yes.")
Viv took tissue samples. They all turned out negative. That was no surprise, since the pedigrees were all properly keyed and traced back through several big-name android farms. Their alma mater was Ruysbaak House, which I gather is a very elite android supplier in Amsterdam. [Tap here] for clips from the interview.
Isaiah may claim we are too suspicious– ("I do.") –but all that impeccably loyal and ostentatious androidery looked very defensive, so we decided to peek at what was inside. So we went invisible and explored the stables and offices. [Tap here] for an album of clips. Nothing but androids. As far as we can tell, they were busy running a horse farm. Translating the Arabic script might help. The spoken Arabic was all addressed to horses; the androids communicated among themselves by their organic radio, which we didn't think to tap. ("I'm sure you'll be more thorough next time.")
They had run out of leads. Accordingly, FX and Canorus went to the spaceport's TSTO offices to shake down the bureaucracy for some more.
Daima announced her intention to go sight-seeing. The humans felt uneasy about this, but decided Pericles was big enough to take care of itself.
Jeanette, Borne, and Vivian mounted a shopping expedition. As they headed out the airlock and down the steps, Jeanette paused and turned back to Isaiah. With malice aforethought, they kissed goodbye before Vivian and Borne. "Hey!" Borne said; Vivian raised her eyebrows, grinned, and pounded down the steps, whistling loudly. Jeanette grabbed Borne's elbow and followed. Isaiah closed the airlock; he knew she was planning on bringing their shipmates up to date.
This left Isaiah alone on the ship for the first time. It felt odd. He reached out telepathically, but felt only Nift and Wisper still in range. Nift responded to the contact and, a few seconds later, was scratching at the door to Isaiah's cabin. If Wisper felt the mind-touch, it did nothing. Isaiah had never probed into the computer's artificial experience – Nift was quite strange enough – but he was about to make a more indirect exploration of the AI's mind.
"Wisper," he said to the screen, "let's do a drill on gait and posture recognition."
"Okay," said the dragonfly icon. "Where do we start?"
"Give me the video software and the clips, then go away until I call you back."
Isaiah made up a fresh series of tests. Starting with the video clips of all the people and androids they had variously recorded, he cut out stills and smaller clips, using different cuts from the ones made in earlier drills. Then he abstracted the pictures down to faceless, half-cartooned, streamlined silhouettes.
Wisper's task was to identify the pictures of Noah and Andre, based only on gait and posture. Isaiah varied the test pictures to prevent the computer from identifying by simple memory. He hoped he was varying enough, but not too much. So far, Wisper was scoring about 65%.
"Okay, Wisper, you can come back." The dragonfly reappeared on the screen. "Go."
"Hm." Isaiah had included only two, one of Noah, one of Andre. The computer had made two false positives. "Show me your four selections."
Three short clips and a still appeared next to the dragonfly. Isaiah started to note their IDs, then stared. He cleared his mind, heightened his own perceptions, then looked again.
Wisper was right. All four figures had the same build and posture. The three moving ones had the same gait.
Isaiah pulled up the original images – a still of Noah, a clip of Andre, and two clips of a crewman from the Maigrette. A man, not an android. A neb, a slave like Noah.
One by one, starting with Jeanette, Isaiah reached out for the minds of his shipmates.
On to Chapter 20, Closing
Back to Chapter 18, Transit
Return to Dragons' Teeth Introduction
Return to Wind Off the Hilltop
Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2013