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13

That expression on Moddiks face had an unpleasant familiarity. I couldnt think what it reminded me of. He said:

Here it is, then. In a nutshell, so to speak. The Committee in Four BEE has no personal grudge against any of you, contrary to what you rather egotistically surmise. The cause for their alarm is only that you may damage yourselves in some irreparable emotional fashion, and others also in more widespread and terrible ways. You are, though you may not properly comprehend the term, anarchists. As such, particularly considering the comparative strength of your numbersor the strength which your members may eventually attain, since so many in the cities appear to sympathize and lean toward your mode of existence and your idealsas such, I repeat, you are very, very dangerous. For your own sake and for the sake of those who may misguidedly follow you, you are asked to surrender to us, here and now, and return voluntarily to PD. No harm is offered you. Ultimately, we are acting in your own interests.

We? I said. Im not sure how I managed to say anything. We?

I myself, Talsi, Glis, he said. Talsi and Glis slipped out of our group and to his side. Then I recollected where Id seen that look before. The Committee Hall.

Youre Q-Rsyoure androids, I said.

Nilla screamed. Even in our extremity, I thought how typical of her that was.

I thought you were too good to be true, said Esten, but I couldnt work it out in time.

You were too intent on the seduction of your leader, said Moddik.

Yes, I said, and I on him. And Danor and Kam intent on each other and those fruits you so conveniently found over westward. And Nilla and her garden. And Felain wrapped up with Glis, and Loxi and Phy with Talsi. And Naz ecstasied up to his eyes. Beautifully staged, android. Just derisann, you Q-R turd. I should have got on to you earlier, shouldnt I? Sampling that fruit in the saloonso human of you, or were you testing it to see if we really could live on them? And that crap about stay-awake pills. Youve never needed sleep in your short tubing-and-dial life. Oh, its too classic for words. Your plane even crashed, didnt it? To make sure I wouldnt turn you away? Im aghast at your splendid acting. And so clever in overriding my block on the robotsI wondered how you did that. I wondered how you got the monitor computer to do exactly what you said, as well. I know now, dont I? And all that pseudo-history you and those two there flashed about, your Jang circle rorls backyou even knew Assule, of course, and said what a clot he was because you understood how Id love it. How well they must have programmed you. Hey, Glis, you were right, werent you? He really can understand the brain of a machine. He should, and so should you. Youre bloody all machines.

Not quite, he said to me. No life spark is required to create an android, since we are electronically motivated, but we are grown from cells and possess flesh as you do. Even if a few superior mechanisms do go into our life support. For example, Exile Jang, if I wished, I could pick up your sandship and carry it out across the dunes. Let me see you do it, life-spark human.

I felt sick, partly because Id liked him, trusted him, admired him. But also because it was finally out, the bare facts of their rivalry, what I had always instinctively felt. Programmed they might be to serve human needs, but in some hidden dark of their personae, they hated and despised us. Give them an excuse for retaliation, and theyd turn it on us like a gun. Dear God, what now?

So what have you done, super-android? I asked softly. Theres got to be some threat hanging over us, hasnt there? You know we wouldnt buy your offer otherwise.

Hes rigged something, Esten said. The water mixers, probably.

No reason for you to hazard, said Moddik the Q-R. Im going to tell you. It is the water mixers, also my workshop behind us by the grove of trees, also your robot Borss, currently in the sand-ship, alsomust I enumerate further? I put the materials the Committee sent me to good use. The water mixers are particularly nicereal water-mixers that really work, except that at the moment they are mixing something else. Such a touch amused me. You see, we are capable of humor. A moments rewiring would alter them to their original purpose, of course, but none of you, I think, will be in a position to see to that.

Dont dress it up, said Kam. His voice was as soft as mine had been, as soft as Estens voiceas if we were similarly afraid to speak normally in case it precipitated the catastrophe. Whats in the water mixers, the workshop, the robotand everywhere else youve put your hands?

Bombs, said the Q-R. Each on its own big enough to throw this small area sky-high, and higher. Together, quite a pyrotechnic display. Very little is going to be left of your plantation, or your ship. Or, my human friends, of you. Even if you start running now, you wont outstrip the blast, and believe me the perimeter of such a shock is worse than the center.

Hes lying, said Kam. Youre lying. Activate, and you go, too. Dont you?

Just so, said the Q-R, but I have noersoul. This thing that upsets you so much, this thing you call death, is nothing to me. I shall have aided the Committee and mankind at large. The planes from Limbo will collect your remains and you will enter PD as planned. Everything will be as it should be.

Wait, I said. You cant harm humanity, can you? Or did your programming slip?

Oh, no, he said smiling. I could plant the bombs, yes, since in their nonactive state they are harmless, and forever would be. I could not, however, depress a switch that would result in loss of human lifemurder. But you see in Four BEE I was serviced in a slapdash fashion, deliberately, so that ultimately, at a moment that could be computed precisely, I should malfunction. And it is my malfunction which will activate the bombs, by means of the normal, upper-tonal malfunction alarm signals emitted from my inner circuitry. Do you understand? Its rather neat. The Committee are responsible only for the error in my servicing, not for the bombs. I am responsible for placing the bombs, not for my malfunction. The right hand does not know what the left hand does, so neither hand is guilty. Two parts of a whole, independent of each other, yet they act perfectly as one. But I digress. Maybe I should explain that the moment of my malfunction is several splits in the past, and the signals are already being issued. It will take exactly twelve splits more for them to penetrate the casings of the explosive and trigger the vital nerve. After which there will be something of a bang. He looked at me; his eyes danced, glinted, danced. If all of you make a run for it, the Jang bird-plane in the grove of trees behind you will get you clear in time, even overloaded though the vehicle will be. I must point out, though, that its controls are set for Four BEE Limbo. The setting, by the way, is irreversible.

If we agreed to go, said Kam abruptly, youd stop the signals, stop these bombs going off?

I myself have no power to stop my own signal emission. I would need to be dismantled.

Nilla screamed again.

Ill go, she screeched. I dont want to be hurt, and she fled toward the grove and the plane.

Yes, said Esten. Well all leave, wont we? But look, he went toward the Q-R anxiously. I left some stuff in the ship. Could I just go and get it before

It happened too fast for me. Esten flung himself into Moddik. Too fast for Moddik as well. An android is physically constructed like a human, at least externally, so the fist that went into his thorax upset the lung and heart mechanism, and the other fist that cracked on the jaw jarred those hard bones just enough to black-out, momentarily, the steel brain that whirred inside the plastic skull. Moddik fell, crashed full length, and, as he did so, Talsi and Glis fell also. Esten crouched over the Q-R, his face wild, desperate and gray-pale through the desert tan.

In his workshop, he shouted to me. Electronic knivesa pane of ice-glassanything sharp

I ran. Id never run so fast on legs made entirely of lukewarm water. The workshop shelter was a confusion of bits and pieces. I grabbed a molecule-needle knife and ran out again.

Here, I dived down beside Esten, then turned my head, not ready for the thing he did with the knife, the spurt of completely human-looking blood.

This is going to be messy, he said, looking sicker than me, but more in control of himself.

Do you know what youre doing? I blurted.

I could hear Nilla and Felain screaming from the background. The others just stared.

Partly, he said. I read it up, android and robot basicsHistory Tower. I had an idea they might try something like thisbut not yetnot so soon

What can I do?

Get one of the robots. We need some kind of liquid spraywater, oil, anything, just to wash this damned red metallic plasma out. Ive got to cut through every single nontissue organ to stop that signal.

I got up and around again, but Kam said, Ill do it, and ran, as I had, toward the forest area where the robots were hoeing.

Estens hands gnawed on the corpse. Glis and Talsi lay as if dead. Moddik was definitely finished, and, extensions of him, the two women had presumably stopped like chronometers once he ceased to be.

Kam sprinted back, the robots clanking after.

OK, Esten said, now I handle it. The rest of you get out, and take those screaming fools with you.

We stay, said Kam. We cant miss it if it goes off, anyway.

You might. Get as far away from the ship as you can, and climb down into one of those irrigation canals when its due. Take a breath and lie on your faces under the water and stay put. It might work. Now do it, for Gods sake.

The knife sizzled and spat through liquid, more slowly through steel fibers and hard plasti-rubber. The engines of android life lay spasmodically bare between the rushes of plasma and the squirting oil sprays of Jaska and Yay. It was a somber golden oil. When it met the blood it turned the color of Moddiks garnet hair.

Go on, Esten raged coldly, not looking at us. Youve got about three splits.

All right, Kam said.

I felt but did not see them moving, going swiftly to do what he said. Nilla and Felain were taken too, wailing. Loxi had started wailing as well. Would they be able to get the swan down from the roof, or wherever it was? What about the Gray-Eyeses? What about?

You too, you bitch, Esten said. I hadnt made a sound, but he knew I wasnt gone. I dont know why I wasnt. I was half-dead of fright. I wanted to run screaming like the Jang girls, run and not stop. But somehow I felt safer there, standing behind him.

Id I said, but he cut in as if he hated me.

Push off. Im trying to save your shitting land and your stupid hide. Let me do it.

So I did what he said. I ran. But not very far. There was a channel quite closetoo close, but I couldnt seem to reason it out, and half fell down into it. The water was very shallow, barely reached my ankles. I lay in it, attempting to pull the water up over myself.

I was crying in dry throaty gasps, and trying to count.

But I wasnt counting. I was praying. Like once before. A sort of prayer. Although nobody had answered that one. No, please no, dont let itOh please no oh no oh no

It wasnt quiet. There were lots of noises. Animals, breezes through reeds and flowers and leaves. As if everyone were speaking for the last time, hurrying to get out its song of life before the blast tore it in shreds.

Then I heard someone shriek, off to the west. Nilla, maybe. Was it time, and did they know over there?

Now it happens.

Now it comes.

The red wind, the black sound.

Pain and silence forever.

I dont want to die. Im not ready. None of us are ready. I dont want this to die, all this around me. I want the ache in my muscles from a days work, I want the ache in my heart from anger or despair. I want every misery and joy Ive ever known, and the rest to come. I want them all. Theyre all precious. And the trees, and the earth, and the sky

Why doesnt it happen? Ive bitten through the skin of my hand. Do I have to start on the other hand? Its going to, so let it be now.

Nothing

Happened

At

All.


Kam was hauling me up the bank of the canal, through the pretty weed.

Kam, are we dead?

No, he said, quite reasonably, as if Id said something intelligent and unusual that deserved a thinking mans answer. Were OK. It didnt happen. Felain had a chronometerGliss chronometer, ironically enoughand I time-checked. Fifteen splits now since it should have happened. All clear.

Then wheres Esten? I sprang up covered in mud, weed, the complete detritus my position had offered me, and hurled myself past the purple trees, onto the lawn.

Or practically.

He was still there by the Q-R corpse, the knife silent and immobile in his hand. He looked exhausted, literally shattered, as if some framework in him had given way. But then, was that yet another complication of the poet-body syndrome?

Esten I called out, and he shouted:

Waitstay back.

But its finished, I said. Fifteen splits since it should

I got them all, he said, all but one. I got that too, when I found it, but I was over the time. It could be safe. It may not be. Something may still he broke off, staring at me, then cried at the top of his lungs: Down, get down!

Kam was behind me, and pushed me. We fell like desperate lovers together into the grass and the green land smashed us, rising.

The noise was like no-noise, a bang so big it went beyond sound into a sort of clap of deafness.

The sky rained fire and debris. Leaves fell in masses and covered us.

Presently, it was over.

It had only been one water mixer, the seventh and farthest from us at the center of the semicircle. Esten had cut all the signals in time but the last; that last went on long enough to eat through the bomb casing and then peter out. The nerve of the bomb flickered, hesitated, wondering if it were detonated or not. It wondered for fifteen splits. Then decided it was, and blew.

Smoke was clearing in snatches.

I wasnt hurt, but so divorced from myself I could only crawl on my hands and knees. Kam, also unhurt, muttered after me, but I took no notice.

I got to Esten quickly, even that way. I thought he was going to be dead, but I still had to get to him.

He wasnt dead. He was breathing and simply looked like a beautiful poet passed out on some romantic lawn. That was from his left side. When I went around to the other side, the side the blast had been, I saw that he was never going to be beautiful, never going to look as I had looked, ever again.


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