tactical parameters, security enhanced facility, path map in place, sensor log consistent with template, sublevels sealed, primary levels combined AI and organic surveillance, interconnected access between areas minimal, laboratory isolation standard, tentative probability escape assigned high seventy percentile, factors dependent on direct observation Bogard recognized the place as the headquarters of Special Service. Agents Cupra and Gambel stood on either side, guiding Bogard as if it were an invalid who needed careful attention.

“Damn thing is tougher than I thought,” Cupra said. “Look at this scoring. Shouldn’t even be here.”

“Amalloy,” Gambel commented quietly. He looked around. “Lock it till we get to the lab.”

They continued down to the third sublevel and brought Bogard into a room filled with familiar-looking equipment. Mostly diagnostics, but a standby niche stood against one wall. They brought the robot to it, turned it to face the room, and eased it back into the depression.

“Doesn’t quite fit right anymore,” Cupra said.

“Yes, well, if we melted part of you, I imagine your clothes would need altering.”

Cupra grunted, moving to a console to the left of the niche. “Ready?”

“Let’s try it,” Gambel answered. standby mode disabled, connection utilization protocol open, tier three data ready for dump, connection complete, standby command inoperative, tier three data delivered, trace feedback through system diagnostic/interrogatory, bypass feed overload, bypass polarity gate, bypass directional bias, connect to diagnostic/interrogatory AI, reroute interrogatory, bypass security buffer, locate output to accessory diagnostic systems, bypass isolation buffers, connection established “Maybe it looks better than it should,” Gambel said, studying the console, “but it’s a mess internally. I’m amazed it could move. Look at this”

“I can’t decipher this stuff.”

“You should learn.”

“Why? Are we going to get another one?”

Gambel gave his partner a critical look, then returned his attention to the readouts.

“There’s no brain left here,” he said finally.

“You’re sure?”

“Pretty sure. I think we should get Kedder in here to be sure, but… Bogard is not much anymore. The radiation must have burned out most of his pathways. Sixty, sixty-five percent degradation.”

“I love it when you sound like you know what you’re talking about.”

“If you’d paid attention during the briefings then you’d know what I’m talking about, too. Look.” Gambel tapped the console. “See this? It indicates volume of positron transmission through the matrix. It should be higher. That means Bogard’s running on about one-twentieth of what he should be. That’s the equivalent of a major stroke in you or I. Well, in you, anyway.”

“Ha ha. I’m going to call Kedder.”

“Do that. I won’t feel safe until this thing is shut down completely.”

“You don’t know how to do that?” Cupra asked.

“Not now. Most of Bogard’s failsafes look just as crippled as the rest of him.”

“I’d feel better if we hadn’t used a nuke.”

“Why? Anything smaller and Bogard might be more functional.”

“But we’d have had a body.”

“And more questions. Go call Kedder.” tactical analysis, zero surveillance, sealed lab, comline on security routing, analyzing encryption, code entered, call established, recorder on, searching searching searching, no external surveillance verified, unsecured facility, escape probabilities increased to eighty-plus percentile, analyzing available equipment “There’s a problem,” Cupra said. “They took Avery.”

Gambel frowned. “Who took him?”

“Golner. Kedder set it up.”

“Damn. Idiots. Where are they?”

“The garage.”

“Tell them to do nothing with him till one of us gets there.”

“Already did. But the word came from the top floor. Avery was at Imbitek this morning.”

Gambel blinked at his partner. “Oh.” He shrugged. “Let me finish here. Is Kedder coming?”

“I’ll bring him back.”

“You’re going?”

“I don’t know what you’re doing here. I might as well do something useful.”

Gambel nodded. “Check with One before you go.”

“Yes, sir, boss.” Cupra turned to leave.



“When this is over, I’m requesting a new partner.”

Cupra grinned. “I like you, too.”

Cupra left the lab and Gambel shook his head. “Idiot.” He checked the readouts again, then looked up at Bogard. “The only question I have is, how come it took so long for someone to call you in? You must’ve been wandering around down there ever since. Where were you?” interrogatory parameters referent primary instructions, negative violation, negative obligation, reply not required, refer program buffer sublevel C-two, continue analysis of supplemental systems Bogard said nothing.

Gambel shrugged. “As far as I’m concerned, you are gone, my friend. I’d rather you had burned up in the blast, but…” He worked the console. “We’ll let Kedder take a look at you. He’s our positronic man, but I think I know enough to tell. Meantime, we don’t want you wandering off, so…”

Clamps extruded from the sides of the niche to secure Bogard.

“Gambel?” a voice called.

The agent went to the comline. “Yes, sir?”

“I want to see you in my office. Now.”

“Yes, sir. Be right up.” He walked up to Bogard and studied it for a moment. “You know, I could get to like working with robots. I don’t really see the big problem.” He shrugged. “Oh, well, not my decision. One calls, have to see what’s going on. I’ll be back.”

Gambel gave the monitors one more look, then left the lab. niche locks bypassed, command override initiated, survey internal surveillance, continues zero, sealed lab, initiate second tier program Bogard’s body seemed to ooze out of the niche, leaving the locks in place. The connections retracted from their contacts automatically once the unit detected activity, and Bogard reformed itself, adopting a smooth, seamless configuration with a very shallow sensor shadow, and a dull, dark color. resume Junctions, full positronic access, initiate third tier program, load data, load memory, analyze, sort, configure, reset, Junction optimal, situation nominal, initiate search parameters, accessory buffer online to receive data Bogard shifted from station to station in the lab, extruding direct contacts to link into each piece of data storage equipment and copying what it found into the prepared space. It moved fluidly, swiftly, making the entire round of the lab in less than a minute. It stopped finally at the intercom terminal and inserted a probe. analyze security, decode primary and secondary restriction algorithms, set and establish access protocols, direct system interrogatory, scan complete, search and copy protocols initiated Mia waited with growing anxiety. Bogard had been “in the field” for nearly three hours and she could not help but doubt everything was fine.

The transport sat at the end of a long alley within sight of one of the maintenance accesses to the Special Service HQ. The building alongside which she had parked contained an extension of the government law library, and her vehicle ID transponder offered, when requested, a permit for a pick-up from the library. Mia was unsure what exactly she would be picking up, but Ariel had assured her that the permit was routine, and so far no one had challenged Mia’s presence. It was sloppy of the Service not to, though. An Auroran embassy vehicle, parked for nearly an hour just down the way from a high security complex, for no apparent reason.

She had spent that hour going through the disk from Lanra. In many respects they had duplicated each other’s efforts. He had gone through the same lists, rejected the same names, kept many of the same possibilities. At the top of his list of suspects was Alda Mikels of Imbitek.

But he also considered Gale Chassik, the Solarian ambassador, as a possible. As evidence he cited several meetings between Imbitek people and the Solarians at the embassy. But that meant little to Mia-it had been a Solarian company that had installed the RI at Union Station, and Imbitek had installed a good part of the accessory systems. Cooperation at some level was to be expected.

There had been three meetings between Chassik and Mikels.

“So what?” Mia asked aloud. “Ariel probably knows Mikels, too…”

Another name on the list was Bok Golner. “So you came up with him, too…” Lanra had a slightly more extensive file than she. Golner had been with almost all the larger anti-robot, Earth-firster organizations, some for only a few weeks. She had expected that. But he worked as an environmental service tech for Cyvan. So through a long chain of corporate connections, he worked for Alda Mikels. But the chain was long enough that it would not support the conclusion in court. Lanra had appended Golner’s military service record, as well.

He had also included a section on an investigation of his own client, DyNan Manual Industries. Lanra was thorough; he had no intention of working for anyone who he would otherwise find culpable. The file contained the usual statistics on personnel, profits, distribution, customers. Then it opened into a file on the Church of Organic Sapiens. Lanra found much of the dogma as unpalatable as Mia, but he noted several policy statements advocating nonviolence and patience and the general principle that to reject something it was vital to reject it completely and not even copy parts of it. To Lanra, this meant that Looms would never stoop low enough to do what he despised in others.

Mia was not so sure. She had seen the way people compartmentalized their ethics-things they would never do at home, they did effortlessly at work; politics they would never advocate in their personal relations, they applied ruthlessly in public affairs-so a “policy statement” from the head of a fundamentally revolutionary organization did not impress her.

But then Lanra returned to business and Mia saw what must have intrigued him. The consortium Lanra mentioned had approached Looms a year-and-a-half ago. The committee had been headed by Mikels. Till then, Looms owned stock in Imbitek. After the meeting, Looms divested-at a loss. Mikels and others in the consortium had evidently initiated a program to hurt DyNan. Looms had been forced to buy back majority control in his own company very quickly to defend against a takeover. It had cost Looms a good portion of his personal wealth, but as of two months ago DyNan was seventy-two percent owned by Looms.

It did seem that Looms was unpopular with Mikels and the others in the consortium. Nothing Lanra had been able to find told anything about the meeting or what it was Mikels had proposed that had so disturbed Looms.

But he noted that a politician had been in attendance. He had been unable to learn which one, only that it had been a high-ranking person, maybe a senator or vice-senator.

All right, Coren, let’s take it as given that Looms had nothing to do with this… Mia thought.

Then the fact that none of DyNan’s people had been injured looked very much like a set-up.

It occurred to Mia that someone would have to know who they were in order to make sure they would not be hurt. A list had to have gotten to the assassins, but the final list had not been completed till the day before. Last minute changes were even expected that morning. Who got the lists? Who made them? Who would have been in a position to get that information to the assassins?

And on the Spacer side? Had those been random or had there been a list for that, too? She remembered that on the morning of the Incident, Mattu, Gel, and she still had no idea how many Spacers were coming down from Kopernik. They would not have known till the Spacers walked out of the concourse…

Ariel’s friend, Aspil. Was the corpse the real Aspil? If there had been an informant in their midst to send down the list just before they descended…

“Just how many people are involved in this?” Mia groaned. She looked down the alleyway and wondered where Bogard was.

Take it logically. It was beginning to appear that ten, twenty-a hundred?-people were involved. Perhaps there were a lot of bodies concerned-nine assassins at the very least, someone in the civic morgue, newsnet people maybe-but did they know anything about the larger conspiracy? Not necessarily. How many people need be involved? There must be a coordinator, someone to find the right people, the right data, and monitor everything. There must be a resource, for money, equipment, transportation. There must be a killer. Three people. The conspiracy looked manageable at that level.

Who would fill all those requirements, though?

Someone leaked the list of guests. Someone subverted the RI and otherwise circumvented security. Someone hired, prepared, and unleashed a team of assassins. Someone led those assassins.

And afterward? Someone was cleaning up loose ends. Could be the same someone who had leaked the list…

Movement attracted her attention and she looked down the alley.

The service door opened and an oversized drone rolled out. It was little more than a collection of boxes on tracks, moving in fits and starts. It seemed confused, almost comical. Then it came trundling down the alley toward her. Mia’s pulse picked up.

Ten meters from the transport, the drone began to change. As Mia watched, it liquidly unfolded, rising in stature, slimming, losing the treads, becoming recognizably Bogard. She opened the back door and the robot slipped into the transport.

“Car, resume to fourth destination,” she said.

The transport started up and backed down the alley, to the main corridor, and pulled into the light midaftemoon traffic.

“Hi, Bogard,” Mia said pleasantly.

“Hello, Mia,” Bogard replied evenly.

“How did you do?”

“I believe I have acquired everything requested.” Bogard paused. “There is a problem, however. Derec has been abducted.”