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by Miriam English
Now that the two assassin androids had left to board the ferry, Henna and I were the only ones remaining here in the Departures lounge. She put her hand on my shoulder for a moment and gave me a tired look, then left to go to the pickup craft to save Marcus.
I put a call through to David, but he didn't answer. I guessed he was busy linking info and comms for the security group closing in on Farne. Next I sent a general message out to the Departures staff that the area was safe for their return.
I stood there, looking around the empty Departures lounge. This felt weird. There were dangerous moves afoot and I had nothing to do and nowhere to go. All I could do was wait.
Now that I was idle my mind returned to what we had just arranged: a murder. There was no way to put a nicer name on it.
Self defence? No. There must have been some other way to disable Mort. We have some remarkable android designers in the City, so I'm sure some way could have been found to undo the wickedness wrought on his brain. Someone once said that the greatest victory is to make a friend of your enemy.
I winced at the magnitude of my error, then sat in a nearby seat in the empty waiting area and sighed heavily, looking at my feet.
But we'd had to solve the problem quickly, I argued to myself. Marcus' quick thinking had saved Priyanka's life, and once he'd put his plan into action there was no way to stop it. It would end in either Mort's death, or perhaps many others. What destruction could Mort unleash, loose in the City? The conversation between Marcus and Mort indicated he liked to hang around for a bit of splatter after his main kill was accomplished. If we'd kept Priyanka out of his reach, assuming such a thing was possible, would he have become frustrated and begun to kill bystanders willy-nilly?
We'll never know. It felt like we were destroying the evidence of my incompetence, I thought guiltily. I should have tried harder to find a peaceful way to stop Mort. I didn't really even try! And when Henna gently tried to apply the brakes to the decision to kill him I put it on her to come up with an alternative, when I should have taken the time to consider other possibilities. I could have let Marcus' plan proceed and worked in parallel on a solution that didn't involve murder. Maybe I wouldn't have found anything workable in time, but at least I would have tried. Instead, I simply acquiesced to the plan of death without really trying to think of any other possibilities.
And then it occurred to me: It wasn't actually over yet. Maybe a way could still be found. I'd felt like the ferry would be doomed as soon as its fuel was exhausted and it was set on a trajectory for the sun, but it would actually take months for Mort's craft to fall to the sun. When Henna and Marcus returned we needed to spend some solid time with a group of people thinking up ways to save him.
I didn't feel any better about myself -- I'd still failed -- but at least I might be able to repair the situation and a death might yet be avoided.
People began to return to the Departures area. Taking a deep breath, I stood and began walking toward the transport pods. On the way I broadcast on the security comms for this, the central area, "Adele here. Does anybody need any assistance before I head back to Waratah zone?"
Nobody replied. The others involved in tracking down Farne must be maintaining comms silence, and it seems that everything was peaceful today here in the central zone... except for sending an assassin android to his death, that is.
Instead of getting into a pod at the transport wall, I stopped and looked around me. The Departures area and surrounding wide corridors had begun filling with people again. The crowds were not vast and thick, like on Earth. They were individuals strolling, couples chatting, groups straggling, laughing, embracing, pointing at things of interest. It was beautiful. All these people lived peacefully, happily together, largely without rules in a city without any centralised authority. I decided to walk home. It was only about 4 kilometers and down a few levels, so I turned and headed off down the corridor.
Naturally, here near the departures area the shops were mostly related to travel. There were also apartments and restaurants, but mostly the buildings were large and open, without many walls, so you could walk in almost any direction, through a maze of large arches with hundreds of widely spaced columns supporting the high ceiling. Recently many of the columns had been decorated with beautiful sculptures formed about them so that tall, marble-like Grecian heroes seemed to hold up the ceiling while gazing blindly down, or sculpted deer and kangaroos peeked from around stone trees whose boughs became the arching ceiling. As I walked in the broad corridor I looked to the side into the shops and vast galleries, then peered up to the hanging flower gardens draped from the high corridor arch and cascading down its walls, and saw ahead, past people, ferneries, and flower beds to the corridor's end two hundred meters away.
It had always amazed me that the early designers of the City built this entry area in the open fashion so similar to the style preferred by later generations of citizens in the outer zones. When I first saw pictures of Earth's giant shopping malls I realised where the design came from. It must have given a comfortable feeling of familiarity to the early colonists and countered the feeling of being isolated within the rock of a dead and airless world. All around, the exuberant design and decorations spoke of the joy of life.
The wide section ended in a circular cul de sac with a pool shaded by ferns and flowering shrubs. Tables and chairs let people relax here in this quiet space. The wall around it was set with many glass doors decorated with gilt designs and script. They led away to other things via smaller corridors, just 4 meters high and wide. I chose the one that led most directly to Waratah zone.
Lighting in these smaller corridors was more muted, there were few plants or decorations, and the floor was an organic, self-regenerating carpet. This is what most of the older parts of the City looked like. I never liked these areas much, though I guess they do have a kind of warm, cozy feel to them. They look like the foyers of luxury hotels in old movies. Not many people walked in these corridors, and with the lack of places for children to play and the sound deadening carpet it was very quiet. I found my mind going over recent events while I walked.
I would apologise to Henna when she returned. I should have listened more to her. Such capability in someone who was still a baby android! Imagine what she would be capable of years from now! Some possibilities had already occurred to me on how to save Mort so that we might repair his warped programming. It would be great to talk them over with Henna and get her help. She might be able to convince him to consent to being reprogrammed, and accompanying Priyanka back to Earth as a bodyguard for her. He certainly had the physical requirements for the job. Could Mort be persuaded? If anybody could do it, it would be Henna.
My thoughts then turned to Farne. It was taking a long time to catch someone whose whereabouts were known. I hoped the take-down was proceeding okay, though I didn't like this prolonged comms silence. I itched to know what was happening. Would Mackey be rescued?
I stopped and put out an arm to lean against the corridor wall as I realised this could my last time with Brenda. She'd have to return to Mackey. All energy seemed to drain out of me and my legs became heavy. I gulped as it hit me that he'd probably remove her memories of me again. He'd already done it once before. It was likely he'd do it again. All that would remain would be my own recollections. The injustice of it ate at me. It was utterly wrong to treat a thinking, conscious being that way. But what could I do? Androids were property and would stay that way for the forseeable future. I stood there, eyes closed, and let the feelings of regret and uselessness creep through me. I'd lose her all over again, and once again I couldn't do anything to protect her.
And then I realised how stupid I was being. I should be grateful for the times I've had with Brenda. It was a waste of time moping, feeling sorry for myself, and regretting something I had no control over. Much more sensible would be to make best use of the time remaining -- ask Brenda out for a romantic evening. We should celebrate our time together. Even if she later forgot it, at least I would have something to hang on to. Yeah, to hurt myself with. I stamped my foot, suddenly annoyed with myself. No! No couple knows how much time they have together. We have a simple choice -- our time together can be good... or bad. I chose good.
With purpose now, I hurried, almost running down the passage toward Waratah region and my apartment. Along the way I placed a call to Brenda and asked if she'd go out with me tonight. Her soft, warm voice melted me, and her answer, that she'd love to, suffused me with pleasure. I did a little skip and broke into a run, grinning like a fool.
Being eager to get home I hardly noticed the journey through the remaining old section corridors to the broader, better-lit ways in Waratah. Tumbling through my mind were various possible romantic destinations. EnTrance was a dance club Della introduced Brenda and me to. More subdued than most, it tended to have very complex, ethereal music with less bass beat and at lower volumes. It was dark and intimate, and beyond the dance floor were enormous cushions and couches on which people, mostly couples, lounged. Alternatively we could visit the Fairy Gardens, so named because of the large numbers of fireflies there. It was a magical place at twilight. The high walkway up among the treetops in Deep Forest gardens was a beautiful place too. Late afternoon and early evening filled it with birdcalls. The butterfly garden at the edge of Deep Forest would be the perfect place to start. Brenda had been enchanted when I'd taken her there, the first time. I could still see her delight as brilliant, iridescent butterflies fluttered about her. It was like a dream. Yes. The butterfly garden and then the treetop walkway. Perfect.
I was excited when I reached my apartment. Now I needed to choose something to wear. Not that I had much, other than my usual plain clothes, and there was no chance that I would don something like a dress and feel like a fish out of water, but I wanted to look special for Brenda. The most unusual thing I had was a pair of white jeans. I pulled off my slacks and slipped into the jeans. Not owning any long-sleeve white shirts, I found a white t-shirt. and swapped my stretchy for it. Looking at myself through the room's video feed I turned about. A bit disappointing, but okay I guess. The moccassins were too dark, but I didn't own any light-colored footwear. I removed them and decided to go for barefoot. Looking again via the video feed I nodded. Not too bad. Nothing to be done about the hair, but that's as it is.
Breathless with excitement I was about to call Brenda when I got an incoming call from a name I didn't recognise. Bronwyn Emory was one of the so-called "janitors" for Selena City. It was a low profile volunteer position. The janitors helped the city manage long-term priorities, like resource allocation and so on. Boring stuff. Puzzled as to why a janitor would be calling me I answered.
"Hello Adele. Can you meet me in a conference room in Kurrajong region as soon as possible?"
Feeling a little flustered because tonight would likely be the last Brenda and I had to ourselves, I asked, "Can it wait till tomorrow? I was on my way out shortly."
Her tone softened further and sounded faintly apologetic as she answered, "Craig Mackey was just rescued from his captors and he asked specifically for you."
I was deflated and confused. Numbly, I stood there for a moment, then consented. She thanked me, sent me the address, and logged off.
Well, there went my night with Brenda. Resigned, I didn't bother getting changed back into my more usual clothes. I simply left, making my way in the direction of the nearest pods. On the way I called Brenda and told her Mackey had been found and that we would probably have to cancel tonight's plans.
She sounded subdued. "Yes I heard just now. I'm on my way to Kurrajong too. Perhaps we can spend time together another day." Her voice lacked conviction. As did mine, I suspect, when I tried to cheerfully agree.
No time to dwell on lost opportunities now. I'd moan and indulge myself later. I needed to focus on Mackey and why he would be wanting to talk to me. Only three possibilities occurred to me. He knew that I'd been part of the effort to free him, or he was aware somehow that Brenda and I had been meeting in his absence, or that he knew of Brenda's previous association with me. The first would mean he wanted to fill me in on further details of Farne's plot and perhaps thank me. The second was a little worrying, though from what little I knew of Mackey I doubted he'd be the jealous type. The third was just plain puzzling.
I reached the pod station and, as I was getting in, received a call from David. I answered with, "Yep. Heard already David. Mackey's been rescued."
His voice was serious. "That's not what what I'm calling about. The assassin android Mort fired on Marcus and Henna during the pick up. Mort's retreated into the ferry, which is drifting sunward. There's no chance Henna or Marcus could have survived. Their ship was shredded. We've sent out a ship to retrieve them anyhow."
I put my face in my hands, groaned, and curled up in the little pod.
David waited a few moments and prompted, "Adele?"
Trying to pull myself together, I asked David to get a group together. I wanted AI designers and microbot designers to look into the possibility of saving Mort and reprogramming him.
David yelled in astonishment, "Whaat?! Saving him?? He just killed Henna! I reckon let him die."
Tired, I answered, "The plan to kill Mort was an expensive mistake. It was my fault and I should never have considered it. It's already cost two lives. I don't want it to be three. There's a way Mort can be a useful citizen, but we need to disable him, then get his consent to be reprogrammed."
David sighed deeply. "If you say so, Adele. I'll call you back when I have the group."
I mumbled my thanks. I was still curled up in the pod, my forehead on my arms, which were on my knees.
The pod asked, tentatively, "Adele? Do you have a destination?"
Wearily, I sat up, letting the harness pull over me. "Yes. Sorry. Kurrajong region." I sent the precise address to the pod's AI and let the little machine whisk me away.
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