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by Miriam English
In the morning I stood in my living room, sipping juice and looking down at Colby asleep on the couch. Brenda had adored Colby and we would clown around with him out in the markets and the Gardens. The three of us would go to see shows, and visit his Mum.
Maybe I needed a day off. I went to the table and sat to mull over the video feeds problem and wait for Colby to wake up.
Was there any kind of pattern? Mackey would have left some clues, if he could. I was convinced of it. After calling around various geeky friends and talking with them about pattern analysis and aspects of cryptanalysis that were way over my head I became certain we were all barking up the wrong tree. Farne was a physicist who specialised in computing and pattern analysis. He would be carefully watching Mackey as the AI expert fiddled with the video systems to cover their tracks. It seemed to me that Mackey would be leaving clues in some way that wouldn't be obvious to Farne, but which we would be able to pick up. But how? I just seemed to going around in circles. Everything led back to the video feeds because it was the only thing we had. No! It only looked that way. We were missing something that was probably sitting right in front of us.
I was still going over this when Colby yawned and sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Good morning Adele." He grinned sleepily. "Thanks for letting me stay the night. Great movies, huh? Is Brenda up yet?"
"She doesn't live here anymore Colby."
He looked suddenly concerned. "Gosh. When did this happen? Is she alright?"
I needed to change the subject away from this. "Do you want some breakfast?"
He rubbed his hands together. "Ooh. Great idea. I'm starved, but first I need to visit the umm..."
Laughing, I answered, "You know where it is." Colby was always so uncomfortable mentioning anything to do with the old taboos -- body secretions and waste, sex, and religion. It was very cute.
Presently he returned and asked, "Would you like me to make you breakfast Adele? You know, I'm really a very good cook. Everybody says so."
I held up my glass of juice and declined, thanking him anyway, then added that he was free to use anything in the kitchen.
After banging and rattling around in the kitchen for a while, Colby came back out into the living room, grabbed his coat and clapped his hands together. "There's absolutely nothing edible in there. I don't know what you live on, young lady. Let's go out to eat." He called out to the back rooms, "Brenda! We're going out for brekky. You want to come, or should we bring you something?"
Sighing and smiling, I shook my head. "She isn't here Colby."
He pretended to hit himself on the side of the head and reproved himself, "Oh yeah. I forgot." He smiled good-naturedly and said that we could pick her up on the way. Whereupon I rolled my eyes, grabbed his arm and dragged him out the door.
We strolled a block down the wide corridor to a small restaurant that had tables out in front surrounded by chest-high, jasmine covered, lattice screens. It looked like one of those sidewalk cafés you see in old-time vids. I had another juice and Colby hungrily devoured some replicated scrambled eggs and toast.
When he had dabbed at his mouth with his serviette he asked, "So, will we go pick up Brenda now?"
I opened my mouth to say no, but I couldn't think of a reason why not. She was probably repaired by now. Maybe she'd like to come out with us. I smiled at the thought. It would be like the old days. Then corrected myself: except it isn't. Well, the least I could do was call her and see.
Putting fingers to my temple the way we all unconsciously do when we're using comms, I placed a call to her.
"Adele?" she responded, voice of honey.
I went all weak. "Yes," forcing cheerfulness. "Colby and I wondered if you'd be up for a stroll in the Gardens today." Would she remember Colby?
A pause for a moment on the other end. "I think that would be lovely. Thank you Adele."
"Really? That's wonderful!" I found I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. "We'll swing by in a few minutes and pick you up. Seeya soon." I was grinning like an idiot and standing, shifting restlessly from foot to foot. "Let's go, Colby. Time's a-wastin'."
He laughed, put up a finger to wait, and went into the restaurant to thank the chef for a delicious breakfast. Colby always did that.
When we knocked on the door to Mackey's place Brenda was ready. She'd been waiting. Colby and I looped our arms through hers one on each side of her and we headed down the widening thoroughfare toward the nearest Garden.
Colby was delighted. I was walking on air. Brenda? I wasn't sure how she felt. She seemed happy, but reserved.
The three of us used to come here for picnics occasionally, but my favorite times were when it was just Brenda and me. We'd stroll and talk for hours. She would tell me about the biology of the plants and the animals and what she was teaching the kids at school. I would listen, enthralled, captured by the very sound of her voice. I loved that voice, its silky warmth, and the beautiful, brown-skinned android that it came from, her gently smiling face, her effortless grace, and the smooth curves of her body. I adored her mind and how much she knew; the easy way she could weave together threads on almost any topic. My knowledge base was wide too, it was important to my work, but my mind was apt to wander aimlessly from topic to topic. It always amazed me that Brenda could continually return to the subject during a conversation, building on it each time she added another layer of facts. She used to help me solve problems from work, our minds working together on them. I missed that as much as the togetherness and warmth of her company.
Colby pulled a pack of biscuits from the pocket of his jacket, began breaking off crumbs and throwing them to the small birds that always seemed to always be more numerous near the entrances to the Gardens. A wallaby that had been grazing about ten meters away sat up and watched. It had seen the biscuits. Colby threw half a biscuit to it and it stretched over to where it had landed, picked it up in both hands, and sat back on its haunches, munching it, and watching us for more.
Looking puzzled, Colby wondered aloud, "Why do we have wallabies? In all the Earth movies of parks and gardens they have deer, or horses, or cattle, or sheep."
Brenda smiled. "It's because all those other animals are hoofed. Their feet destroy the surface. Wallabies have padded feet and don't damage things nearly as much. Also it was found that wallabies adapted more readily to Moon gravity -- probably something to do with their way they hop. Moving on four legs is inherently stable and you don't need to have highly flexible systems for calculating movement, whereas hopping needs sophisticated brain circuitry."
"So, it's the soft feet?" Colby asked.
Brenda chuckled and nodded, Colby laughed, and I swelled with contentment. We strolled down the slight slope to the lazy creek at the bottom. A grey gravel path ran along beside the creek. Rushes lined the edges, and waterlilies nearly covered some parts of the creek. Dragonflies zipped back and forth, catching smaller insects in the air. Somewhere on the far side of the Garden a Coucal Pheasant was delivering its haunting, bubbling song.
Colby spoke up again, "You still teach school, Brenda?"
She glanced at me before answering. "Not the last several days. I haven't been well. I'll be starting again tomorrow."
He nodded. "There's been a flu been going round that I caught recently. Put me out of action for a week. Our group had to manage without me."
"How is your group, Colby?" I asked. He organised meetings of about fifty people who went on long, brisk walks through the Gardens, water tunnels, and corridors. They also swam races on some of the lakes. I'd always marvelled at how his intellectual limitations had never actually been a stumbling block for Colby. He did more than people who had twice his brain power, and he was by far the happiest person I'd ever met.
"We're good. Actually..." he pulled an old handheld computer out of his pocket -- he could never remember how to operate his embedded AI, "we have a marathon swim in the Great Lake the week after next. Want to come?"
I smiled. "As an observer, maybe. I'll see how things shape up at work."
He nodded happily. "I'll expect you there. Brenda? You too?"
She laughed. "Maybe."
"Great." He smiled, writing something in the little computer. "Can't wait to see you in swimwear again. I know Adele agrees."
I knew he made the remark without sexual overtones, but my mind's eye immediately saw her again, her white one-piece contrasting with her sleek, dark skin and long, raven hair, and the air went out of me. For a moment I couldn't take a step. I could feel my face blush. The two of them stopped and turned back to me. I covered by raising my arms and breathing deeply. "It's beautiful in here, isn't it?"
Colby agreed, looking happily around him at the Gardens, but I noticed Brenda arched an eyebrow at me and had a flicker of smile at the corners of her mouth.
Did she remember... us? I wanted to ask her, but it would have to wait till we were alone.
Brenda reached out for my hand and we resumed walking.
The path was taking us through a stand of trees. Their boughs overhead cut out much of the light from the Garden's high ceiling. It was pleasantly damp under here, and the smell of leaf litter made the air feel alive. There are some forest Gardens in the City -- mostly in older areas. They are truly dreamy places.
A message came over the comms that rain will begin in five minutes. A system of condensers takes moisture out of the air and releases it back to the Gardens through sprinklers as rain. This cleans the air, recirculates the water, and gives the plants a drink.
Colby pointed to what looked like a gap in the cliff face up the hill to our left. "We could go to Boronia Gardens."
"Beats getting drenched," I agreed.
As we turned up the hill, across the grass, Brenda asked, "Isn't Boronia one of the Gardens the rave is being held in?"
I nodded. "It won't start again till tonight though."
"Why do they always hold raves at night?" Colby asked.
Brenda and I looked at each other and shrugged. Colby looked at us in astonishment. "You guys don't know? Wow!" He licked the tip of his finger and pretended to paint a '1' in the air before his face. Brenda laughed and I pushed Colby. He sniggered.
As we approached the gap in the 'cliff' there were several other people converging on the same place. The Gardens stretched over many tens of square kilometers. The older ones were divided up into obvious, large, rectangular rooms and when you reached the edge of one there was a wall with doors through airlocks to the next room. It was part of the safety system here. In newer Gardens like this one the design was more subtle. The rooms were not square, but had unpredictable, organic shapes. The walls were no longer obvious; they were steep inclines or cliffs, or hidden behind tree thickets. When you moved between rooms you rarely saw any doors. They would sense your coming and open at your approach before you rounded a winding path in a narrowing chasm, or a cave, or a forest track. Every conceivable trick was employed to maintain the illusion of a vast, open, garden.
We walked between what seemed like large boulders, around a couple of bends, and came out into the wide, open meadow that was Boronia Garden. It was an enormous, shallow bowl with a paved area at its center, and a single giant column stretching up to the ceiling about two hundred meters above. Sunken into the paved area was a series of lilyponds. The grassy slopes around the paved area were littered with people sitting and stretched out on blankets. There would be hundreds more in a few hours when the overhead light began to dim.
"Are you coming to the rave tonight, Colby?" I inquired.
"I wouldn't mind, but Maria doesn't like trance music. She thinks it's all just boom-boom-boom and nothing else. She doesn't hear all the melodies."
My eyebrows shot up. "Maria? Alright. Out with it. Give us all the goss. You have a girlfriend?"
He blushed and stammered that they'd been out to a few shows together and that she was a really great walker.
I was beaming as I grabbed him by the shoulders. "This is great news Colby. We absolutely must meet this lucky woman."
Colby was embarrassed and pointed off to the side, behind Brenda and me. "Isn't that Della?" He was obviously relieved to be able to change the subject.
We turned and saw the tall blonde striding towards us. We all waved in greeting. "What are you mob doing here?" she called.
Colby answered, "Avoiding the rain in Lychee Gardens. Are you here for the rave?"
She grinned and nodded, then wrapped her arms around Brenda and asked softly, "How are you hon?"
Brenda smiled uneasily. I could see she didn't recognise Della.
To divert the conversation I started us walking again and asked Della, "So what's happening?" Brenda threw me a relieved look.
She laughed. "That jerk Boulderdash went back to Earth. No loss. Not much else. Another person triggered the RFID alarms while leaving the City. Go figure."
I stopped walking. Something was trying to connect in my mind.
Suddenly I yelled, "Gah!" Brenda, Colby, and Della all visibly jumped and the nearby birds flew away, disturbed. My friends were gaping at me. I never raise my voice. "I understand! I know how he's sending the clues! Craig Mackey has been sticking RFID tags on people. We should be able to use their recent movements to build up a picture of where his abductors took him. There will be more people leaving with RFID tags. And the numbers will increase after the rave ends as more people head back to Earth."
Della was skeptical, "What makes you think that?"
"Mackey had been studying the movements of bird flocks in the Gardens."
Della still looked blank.
I prompted, "How do you study wildlife? By tagging them."
I noticed Brenda was nodding.
Excitedly, I requested information from the City AI on whether Craig Mackey had got special clearance to use RFID tags. The query came back affirmative.
"I'm right. City AI confirms it." I was elated. This was what we'd been looking for.
Della and I set up a special, encrypted conference call with all the people working on analysing the patterns behind the video feed disturbances. We needed to keep this absolutely under the radar.
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