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by Miriam English
On waking, the first thing I saw was Brenda walking into the bedroom. Bright, almond eyes gleaming in her dusky face, framed by her long, straight, raven hair. She sauntered, unconsciously sexy, her curvy, dark form naked, backlit from the morning light in the living room. I could seriously get used to this.
She stopped. "Oops. Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."
I stretched. My muscles felt tender all over. "It's alright. You didn't. I need to get up anyway. We have more tubes to search."
I started to sit up, but she pushed me back down, and sat beside me, shaking her head. "I called David while you were asleep. You were such a mess last night I thought you should rest fully, so I asked him to notify me of anything rather than waking you. They've finished searching the light tubes and have found nothing, which has everybody very puzzled. More people triggered RFID alarms last night while leaving and when their movements were added to the data already gathered, it makes it pretty certain that you were right. The correlation with day 3 light tubes is now strong."
"Damn." I rubbed my face with my hands.
Grabbing the empty glass from the bedside table, she got to her feet and asked on her way to the door of the bedroom, "What would you like for brekky?"
"Apple juice. It's alright, I'll get it." I sat up and swung my feet over the side of the bed.
She turned and frowned at me, one hand on her hip. "You lay back down there immediately, missy."
I had to grin at Brenda trying to be bossy. "Uh, you can get the drink, but I need to pee."
She smiled and left.
I had a quick shower as well, and got out of the stall to find Brenda there, watching me. When she handed me the drink I quickly drained it, then looked in astonishment at the empty glass. "Wow. I must have been thirsty."
"Evidently." She took the glass and asked, "Another?"
"That'd be nice. Thanks sweetie." As soon as I said 'sweetie' I felt suddenly awkward. An internal dialog began. What
the hell am I doing? Letting myself in for another world of hurt, of
course. Do I have a choice? I'll take any time with Brenda that I can
get. What about when Mackey is found (presuming Farne doesn't kill us
all first)? Maybe I could ask him to free her. Maybe he'd feel grateful
enough. Yeah, right. Dream on.
She was back. Sniffing the refilled glass, she asked, "Is the drink okay? Bad taste?"
"No. It's yummy. I was just thinking, sorry."
"Don't worry. You, or one of the team will solve it. You still have eight days, and you're getting closer and closer to finding them."
I nodded, feeling a little guilty that I let her believe I'd been worrying about work, and feeling ashamed that I could be feeling selfish at a time like this. I should be grateful that I have any time with her at all.
Putting the glass on the the benchtop beside the washbasin, I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her to me. Feeling her bare front pressed against mine... her hands moving across my back...was delicious. I pushed her hair away from her neck and laid a line of kisses up the side of her neck, then nibbled and tugged on her earlobe. Her head bent forward in pleasure and her hair fell over her neck and shoulder. I closed my eyes pushing my face into her heavy, black mane and sighed. Neither of us spoke for a while.
Finally I whispered, "We need to talk."
She nodded and answered, "Let's go to the lounge or bedroom. Your muscles must still be sore."
"Yeah. I never realised before how fit those Maintenance people are. Those gecko suits are great fun, but boy, they sure give a workout to muscles you never knew you had."
She laughed, "Imagine how hard it must be to move on Earth with six times the gravity."
She didn't remember our time on Earth. It stabbed at me again that she'd lost some of our most wonderful memories.
She paused by the lounge, and sat, saying, "Probably best here. If
we go to the bed I somehow doubt we'll get much actual talking done."
I struggled to broach the subject of our relationship. I wasn't even
sure I should. What would it achieve? Would it simply make things
uncomfortable between us? Oh god, I couldn't bear that. I settled on
"Oh dear," she said looking at my expression. "Something's really bothering you, isn't it."
I chickened out. Our time together was too precious. I'd discuss work instead. "Uh, I need to resolve this problem with the
assassin android targeting Priyanka, and I have to try and get some kind of lead on what Farne
intends to do."
"Well, I'm not sure how much help I can be on either of those things."
"Maybe you can help me sort them through. You know a lot of things that I don't, and you see things from a different perspective. I'm stuck."
She held my hand. "Okay. Let's see then." She thought for a moment. "It seems to me that the person you should be discussing the killer android with is Henna. She has the psychological training and has spent the last day or two with him."
That sounded sensible. "Good point. Though I have to say I've been getting a little worried at Henna's enthusiasm for this guy. It seems a bit above and beyond..."
Brenda looked skeptical. "What...? You think she could fall in love
with him? Come on. Androids don't fall--" She stopped when she saw my
arched brow. She rethought and put her fingertips below her throat.
"Okay, present company excluded... maybe. I don't actually remember. In any case I think you should call her up and talk to her. Remember that she is the person on the ground. She has more knowledge about Mr Invincible than anyone else. Get her advice."
I nodded, lifted Brenda's hand, unfolded her fingers and kissed her palm. "You're right. I'll call her now."
Henna answered immediately, and I asked her, "Can tell me what your plans are for today, then after we disconnect make an excuse to go out so we can talk about Marcus Hildebrand without him overhearing?"
"Sure, but I can't speak for long. I have to go out and pick up some
things for our visit to the forest Gardens today. Marcus never got to
see proper forests on Earth. Most died off with global warming, and the
only ones remaining are reserved for the Elite. Androids not allowed.
Oh, and yesterday we had the best time at the Great Lake
Garden. We managed to overturn our sailboat twice. The second time we
had trouble righting it and clambering back in because we were laughing
so much. They must have turned up the compressors and fans for the wind
generators almost to gale force." She chuckled. "Anyway, look, I'm
sorry I can't talk. I really need to go now, or Marcus and I won't have
enough time to do the walk. We'll have to catch up later, okay? Bye."
We disconnected and I waited for her to call back. In the meantime I explained to Brenda my surprise at how neatly Henna had handled the call. Brenda was probably right; I may have been underestimating Henna's abilities. I leaned into Brenda nuzzling her cheek. She put an arm around my shoulders and murmured, "This is getting dangerously not like talking."
Nipping her jawline, I whispered, "Just innocently passing the time, waiting for Henna to get back to me."
Brenda chuckled, then asked, "Is she coming here or using comms?"
I stopped. It hadn't occurred to me that she might come here. "I'd
assumed comms..." I tried to remember what we'd said. "I guess we'd
better put some clothes on just in case."
Starting to rise from the couch, a call came in from Henna. I breathed a sigh of relief and settled back down, pulling Brenda down beside me. "It's okay. She's on comms."
I opened the channel and said, "Hi Henna. So, let's talk."
She replied, "Yep. Let me in first though. I'm at your door."
"Oh crap!" I blurted out and leapt up from the couch.
Laughter from her comms. "Oh come on, it doesn't bother me that you're naked and getting busy with Brenda. What line of work do you think I'm in?"
"How did you know...? Hey! We weren't getting 'busy'..."
More laughter. "Don't be silly. Just let me in. I'm a psychologist Adele, but it doesn't take any training to realise what 'Oh crap!' usually means when you show up at a friend's door."
Wrapping my dressing gown around me I hurried to the door. Before opening it I looked back to Brenda who had donned a nightshirt. She nodded and I opened the door.
Henna stood there with a big, wide, open smile. "Oh you guys... It's not like it's the 20th century or anything you know."
Henna's megawatt smile dimmed to its more normal intensity. "Anyway, to business. Marcus has told me why he was sent here: to kill Priyanka."
I was shocked and seated myself on the couch again. I indicated for Henna to sit too, while Brenda snuggled in on my other side.
"He's told me all about how he's been built, and it is truly remarkable. You know how some of the staff refer to him as Mr Invincible? Well it's very close to true."
"Well, that's bad news," Brenda remarked.
"Not necessarily," Henna said. "He told me because he wants to stay here."
I shook my head. "No way. He poses an unacceptable risk."
"Actually, I disagree. I trust him." Henna looked seriously at the two of us.
"What??? Your closeness to him is affecting your judgement Henna. He was built to be a psychopath -- a killer without conscience. We can't trust him."
Henna sighed and stood again. She started to pace back and forth across the living room floor, then spoke. "There is a problem with names here. The term 'psychopath' has become badly tainted. I'd prefer to reserve it for people who lack empathy and show strongly antisocial behavior."
Brenda pointed out gently, "Henna, he was built to assassinate people. Wouldn't you class that as antisocial behavior?"
She countered patiently, reasonably, "Androids don't automatically become what they are designed to be. We are intelligent, conscious beings."
"But how can we possibly trust someone who has no empathy?"
"Trustworthiness and empathy are completely unrelated. Just because Marcus lacks empathy doesn't mean he has to be bad. There is simply a gap in his mind where that faculty normally exists. In humans it is not as rare a condition as you might think. There are many such people who live quite comfortably within society, because they've learned the good sense of a simple moral code: I do well by others and they will do well by me. They get on with others perfectly well and live unremarkable lives. If brought up badly then it's easy for them to get on the wrong path because they don't have the instincts -- the inbuilt programming -- for feeling others' feelings. They have to get there through logic. But once they get that, they can be absolutely model citizens because they're driven by good sense."
She stopped pacing and looked steadily at us. "I don't know if you noticed that I've been discussing philosophy and logic with him, as well as the history of Earth and Selena City. (Thank you for triggering my interest in that, Adele.) Well, Marcus has become very interested in the logic behind Open Society and the philosophy of Natural Morality. He is a very fast learner. He can see the sense in being part of such a society. And he really likes the undeniable logic of Natural Morality."
I was very skeptical. "An intellectual interest in something doesn't necessarily lead to someone embracing it."
Henna crossed her arms and tilted her head to the side. "Give me a
little credit, Adele. I am extremely good at what I do. I can tell when
someone is not being genuine. It is particularly easy with people who
lack empathy because they find it difficult to adjust their responses
to take account of others' emotions."
She continued, "People are scared of difference, and are fearful of people who don't empathise, but really, far more scary is someone who can feel others' emotions and uses that understanding to manipulate and play people's emotions. That kind of person is infinitely more dangerous. Empathy isn't the great safety device that people normally assume it is. People can very easily shield it or redirect it. This is how ordinary people routinely do horrible things to others. Do you think the slaveowners who inflicted terrible whippings and beatings upon their charges were exceptional? No. They were loving, caring, family people whose empathy functioned perfectly normally. What about all the good christians and moslems who imprisoned, humiliated, and killed gay people? Their empathy circuits worked fine. Experiments way back in the 20th century by Philip Zimbardo, Stanley Milgram, Jane Elliott, and others showed that almost any ordinary human can very easily become a torturer, an abuser, and a racist. It takes remarkably little to turn good people into monsters. As far as I know nobody's repeated the experiments with androids. I know some of our designers specifically tried to avoid those failings. I wonder if they succeeded. But that's beside the point..."
At that point I got a call. It was from Priyanka. I asked Henna to wait, apologising that I'd better take the call.
Priyanka said, "Hi Adele. I have someone with me here who wanted me to introduce them to you. They say they have very important information for you. I'll switch you over now..."
A deep, male voice came online, "Hello Adele. This is Marcus Hildebrand."
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