Anar, Urim 08, 03262
Honest Impulses 15: No Good Reasons
Linia was right about one thing: Misuko disdained and even feared Linia's motorcycle. For once, she knew there was no other way to get across town to the dome quickly. Hiroshi had no major SDisk network and the people here liked it that way. Linia was grateful when Misuko had easily accepted her offer of a ride over to the Robotics & Remotes Training Facility.
When they arrived a contingent of local police officials had already congregated at the scene. The ubiquitous yellow tape had already been strewn across the entrance doors, and the flashing lights of emergency vehicles were everywhere, drowned out only by the hovering daylight lamps illuminating the broad semi-circle concrete apron in front of the building.
Shandy sat on one of the molded concrete benches, her head in her hands. Linia dismounted the motorcycle and rand to her. "Shandy?" The young woman looked up, her face glistening, wet with tears, in the light of the hovering police arc-lights.
"Linia?" Shandy stood up and grabbed her. Two young men watched from nearby. "I'm so glad you're okay! So glad. She..."
"Why wouldn't I be?" Linia recognized the two men as Shandy's peers from the class, the ones who had shown up at the picnic. "What happened?"
"We—" Shandy gestured to include the two men. "Pierre and Sennis and me were waiting for Chiisau to show up. We were going to do some practice runs before tomorrow's examination. We were waiting for her in the lobby when we heard a bang in the practice room and... Linia, 'twas blood. 'Twas so much blood! Why do robots have blood?" She pushed herself away from Linia to look up at her, and Linia wondered if that look wasn't slightly accusatory.
"I'm so sorry, Shandy. I am. But we companions have to look and feel and even smell right. The best way to do that is to give us an organic covering. It takes hemoglobin to maintain our outsides, this integument of skin, hair, and nails."
"Oh." Shandy wrung her hands together. "I should have done something! Said something. I knew something was wrong, but I no ken what to do or who to talk to or, or, or..." She sat down again and put her head in her hands, crying.
Misuko sat down next to her. "Shandy, why don't you sit down, and you and your friends tell us what you found?"
Shandy nodded, shaking a little. "I found her. We were to meet here around ten. Late, but 'twould give us two hours without anyone else wanting the dome. We were waiting for Chiisau when we heard a bang, like a firecracker or a pistol, in the dome. We all waited, then I went to look and... and she was there. On the floor. Her head was... half of it was missing. There was something like metal? And crystal? And bluish-grey goo with blood, and the blood was spreading all over the floor, and it... and... and... " Shandy started crying again.
"She screamed," Sennis said. "We ran in, of course. We run and find Shandy on her knees next to body. She had note."
Shandy sobbing grew harder. Misuko offered her arms, and Shandy went willingly. "A note?"
"Yes," Shandy said. "'Twas right there, next to her. She must have put it down first, 'twas no blood on at it all."
"Did you read it?"
"No had to. 'Twas only four words on it, written big. It said, 'In your best interests.'"
Linia gasped as her mind was so flooded with thoughts she experienced internal clock degradation. Misuko looked up to stare as Linia staggered, took two steps forward, then carefully guided herself to sit on the bench beside Shandy. "No," she whispered. "No, no, it can't be."
Linia sat and tried to understand what was going on. Her face had taken on a stricken look she didn't have the time or resources to change. "She couldn't have. How... how..." Her eyes searched the concerned faces of Misuko and Shandy, and now stabs of shame traced inside her as she realized she had gone from the caregiver to the once they were concerned about. She had to tell them. "Robots... don't commit suicide."
Shandy wiped her own tears. "I thought you said that most robots don't survive the death of their companion."
"Unless..." Linia looked up. "Unless Mertum disavowed her. But then, why like this?" She pointed toward the doors, the yellow tape, the blinking lights. "And there's nothing in the Conspiracy servers to indicate in the past few hours that anything like that happened. It would have been Saia's responsibility to tell us what failed, to help us try and avoid failure in the future. This is... this is horrifying. This isn't something a robot would do."
Sennis said, "But it is on record." He paused. "Hiroshi showed us video of Saia entering by herself."
"AIs lie," Linia said hotly. "They lie to you and they lie to me. In ways that someone like me would never even attempt. Usually they lie by omission." Linia took a deep breath, and it made her feel better. Had she not been so stunned she would have admired again the effectiveness of her new proprioception system. "But no, I don't think Hiroshi would lie to us. I think he showed you exactly what he saw. What was observed by circuits that weren't paying attention until it was all too late, because this place is meant to teach people how to socialize without help, without AIs, without networks, without interference. Face to face, voice to voice. Hiroshi doesn't get involved until it's absolutely necessary, and in this case it wasn't. Until it was. Too late."
Her breath was still harsh and ragged in her own chest. "I think what you saw was the impossible: someone within the Encompassment, someone with more purpose than I can imagine, committed suicide." Hears began to fall from her eyes. "And that can't happen." Tears began to fall from her eyes.
"Linia?" Misuko said, reaching across Shandy to take Linia's hand. "Why can't it?"
"Because... because..." Linia slid off the bench, to her knees, and took Misuko's hands. "Because it erases all hope. Think about what I am, what I want to be for you, Misuko, what it pleases me to be for you. Maybe you still don't understand it, maybe you still don't grasp how truly deep and wonderful that commitment is to me, not even after this evening, but... just think about it for a moment." She took a deep breath. "How bad would our relationship have to get that you would want me to stay, and the only thing I could think of that would be in your best interests would be for me to leave? Wouldn't you have sent me away long before then?"
"I would have," Misuko said. "But I'm not Raij Mertum."
A police-office in the suit and deep blue high-collared jacket of his profession stepped into the pool of light they shared on the bench. "Excuse me, I'm sorry to intrude," he said. "I'm Detective Iale Damarcius with the Hiroshi City Police. I can appreciate this is a terrible moment for Miss Oxenhollar, but I'd like to know who you are and why you've come here." He gestured toward Linia and Misuko.
Linia looked up. "Shandy called me."
Damarcius looked at Shandy. "Miss Oxenhollar?"
Shandy said, "I'm no sure why I called her. I had no ken to call Miss Ffanci. I just thought, I know so little about robots, or how the law treats them, or how they apply. I just thought of you first." She looked at Linia, who nodded. "You were trying so hard to be nice to me. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," Linia said, releasing one of Misuko's hands so she could hold Shandy's. "I'm glad you did."
"Can I get your full names? For the record. How do you know Miss Oxenhollar?"
"Linia Hunda. She's my teaching partner, at the University cooking school."
Misuko nodded. "Misuko Ffanci. I'm Miss Hunda's partner."
"And you... know something about robots, Miss Hunda?"
"I hope so. I am one."
Damarcius nodded as if he had already known that. It was entirely possible that wasn't just wearing dots but was laced and had as much information on the surface of his brain as Linia could possibly have on hers. More, given his privileged status.
"'Tis no right," Shandy said. She shook her head angrily. "After that... After that, nothing makes sense."
"Sense about what?" Damarcius said.
"Abi. I like robots! I work with them every day, it's supposed to be my career. I just thought they would be more, I'd understand them more. This... this makes no sense."
"I'm from Abi as well, detective," Misuko said. "I've met Saia Mertum on a few occasions. She was... she had a bruise on her cheek and a fresh scar on her jaw. I used to hike a lot, I know what scars look like."
"He hit her," Shandy said. "I heard it. We all did." Sennis and Pierre nodded, but it was clear Sennis was reluctant to talk in front of the cop. "You no can press charges unless the victim agrees and, I asked Saia, and she never would. She would just say 'twas what he did, and 'twas her duty to be there for him. I always wondered how robots bruise, but Linia explained to me how the... integument, is that the word?" Linia nodded. "How the integument works."
Damarcius nodded again. Linia was sure he was recording every moment of this conversation for review later. "We'll consult with Hiroshi," he said, "But as we have no faerienet he's not likely to be much more help than he already has been. We're still looking for Raij Mertum."
"You think she no did anything to him before she... she killed herself?" Shandy swallowed hard.
"We have no reason to believe so," Damarcius said. "I'm sorry, I can't tell you anything more about the investigation. If I have any more questions, is it okay if I come to you?"
"Aye," Shandy said. "Aye, that's fine." Lina and Misuko agreed. Damarcius made soothing apologies and left.
"I handled that no very well," Shandy muttered, her burring accent strong.
"No, but that's okay," Misuko said. "You certainly piqued his interest with your outburst about Mertum. I guess it's better he learn that now than later and think you're hiding something. Coming from 'the planet that hates AIs' and finding the body of a dead robot might look a little suspicious."
"But I do no hate them!" Shandy said.
"I know that," Misuko said. "I believe you. But coming from Abi comes with a reputation. You're not the first Abian to come to Hiroshi. You're the third that I know of. The second one tried to damage Linia when he found out what she was."
"I think that's stretching the truth a bit," Linia said.
"Is it?" Misuko said.
"Kinn wanted to have sex with me because he thought I'd be an easy lay, since he thought I was still primarily a sex machine." She registered Shandy's eyes widening. "Kinn didn't understand that like ordinary people, we robots can and do change our careers through the years. When I fell in love with you I knew I was going through that kind of change. Steven wanted a relief machine, and that's what he got. You wanted a full-on lover who would support your long-term goals, and I took responsibility for some of your day-to-day needs to free you up for that. You needed someone smart, sexy, and a little contrary. Sometimes a lot contrary." Linia smiled at Misuko and the smile widened as she noted the response in Misuko's posture and breathing. "Kinn may have thought he could get away with it because I was a robot, but he beat me up because I wouldn't fuck him. That, and how I turned him down."
"Uh, oh," Shandy said. "Linia!"
Misuko and Linia looked up. Professor Mertum stalked toward them with his hands clenched. "Miss Oxenhollar?" he said as he stopped three meters short. Linia watched him carefully, priming herself to intervene if necessary. She had upgraded her physical combat capabilities since her encounter with Kinn, and she was committed to protecting Misuko and Shandy from anyone who might attack them. "I heard that it was you that found the body."
Shandy's shoulders shook, her body twitching as her own muscles were drenched in hormones of fear, fight, and flight. "Aye, sir," she said. His clenched fists tightened. "She was... in the practice area, sir. In the middle."
"Did you happen to see it?"
"No," Shandy said. "I already told the police all I know. I'm so sorry she did that, but..." She trembled violently. "I'm no surprised."
Mertum's eyes narrowed to slits. "What, precisely, do you mean by that, Miss Oxenhollar?"
Linia thought he had not expected quite so much honesty from someone who was otherwise timid in the face of his aggressive approach, but Linia knew better. That was one of the things the people from Misuko's world were good at: brutal honesty. An Abian might hold her tongue in the face of small injustices but ultimately the truth would out. That's what came of a world populated with the children of religious fanatics. They might eventually forget what their parents had been so fanatical about while they inherited their values, and the tools that came with them.
Linia, however, came from a completely different tradition, and her own programming told her she should do what she could to save Shandy. She put her hand on Shandy's shoulder, leaned down, and spoke to her. Shandy looked up at Linia, surprised, and then shook her head. "It's not fair!" she said. She sagged her shoulders, looked up. "I'm sorry, Professor. I did no mean anything by that."
"Young lady, if my Saia has been destroyed, someone is to blame. Companioned robots do not just destroy themselves!"
"Maybe if you had no hit her she would no have done it!"
Mertum took a step forward, stopped. Muscles in his jaw twitched. Linia stepped forward, and Mertum noticed, looking up at her momentarily. He smiled at Linia and it was not pleasant. He turned his attention back to Shandy. "If you did as you were supposed and respected my privacy, young lady, you would know better than to say anything. Saia was my companion, built to take pride and pleasure in anything I did."
Linia held her face in an impassive, unmoving fortification, a blank wall against which cannonade from within or without would not shatter. She looked down at Shandy, still holding onto her shoulder. Some of Shandy's tears dripped onto her knuckles. Shandy turned away. "I'm sorry, Professor, but you did no work hard at keeping it private."
"Well," Mertum said, straightening. "Is there nothing more you can tell me about this incident?"
Shandy shook her head.
"Then I shall go and hear what the police have for me." He took a deep breath and released it. Linia thought that if anyone deserved stress at this moment, it was Raij Mertum. "We shall try not to keep this incident in mind when it comes time to pass around grades, shall we?" He bowed very slightly, almost an insult, and stalked toward the lighted doors.
Shandy turned and buried her face in Linia's shoulder, crying loudly. "What do I do now? What do I do now?"
Linia looked up when Misuko tapped her shoulder. "Take care of her for a minute?" she mouthed. Linia nodded. Misuko walked over to where Linia could see Detective Damarcius standing. They spoke, and Misuko returned. "He said we're free to go."
Linia called a cab, leaving her bike parked on the apron. She could come back and retrieve it in the morning. By mutual agreement, they ended up at a cafe close to the dorms. It was quiet with only a few students working away at tables, although that was just as much a function of it being late Saturday as being nearly one in the morning. The dark brown walls soaked up the dim yellow lights that dangled down over each table on a thin cord. Even at this hour the smell of coffee and paper lingered.
Shandy leaned her elbows on the table, her face sallow and withdrawn. Misuko said, "I've been there, Shandy, on the far end of trouble with the school. If Professor Mertum gives you any trouble, if the school accepts that he's still your teacher, I can lodge a formal complaint against him."
"He's already got more than enough to drop me."
"But now that I've got your transcripts, your scores are coming up, and you're doing amazing with that new headset Linia told me about."
"But I have so many demerits because of the TCNI thing. Mertum has no love for HMRI. He said you talked him into letting me use the HMRI and TCNR combo, but he calls it 'primitivist nonsense' because I don't like the way TCNI does things inside my head." Linia and Misuko exchanged weary smiles. They had had this discussion themselves more than a few times.
"I have it on good authority that you are more competent driving remotes with your setup than Sennis and Pierre are with theirs."
"Aye. Only Chiisau is close. I'm slower on mobility, but higher on manipulation. It takes me longer to master a new form, but I can go much longer because I'm no using up my brain juice the way TCNI does." She gave a ghost of a grin. "You should see the things I can do with a load lifter! I can back one into a tight space and the terrain alarm will no sound at all. 'Tis so much fun!"
Misuko laughed. "I don't think I've ever heard anyone describe a load lifter as 'fun' before."
Linia said, "You have your own problems with remotes."
"Like what?" Shandy said, clearly curious about Misuko's problems.
Misuko said, "Did that documentary you saw ever tell you how I found Linia? Or the Second Chances?"
"No. 'Twas just about the Second Chances and all the things you'd found there. Except Linia, of course." Linia grinned tiredly. "It sounded exciting, but they just said 'twas found with an orbital neutrino scan."
Misuko snorted. "I was there with my girlfriend at the time. She was named Esther. We were... already a little rough around the edges, and being along on a flight wasn't her thing. I had a remote I was operating by joystick and its own onboard inference engine down at the site. This was after I'd found it with the neutrino scan. Esther had implants, and she was playing with the remote. I wasn't paying attention when she pushed the wrong button on a Second Chances cargo lock. She activated a pack of chemical explosives meant to blow the bolts on the cargo lock in an emergency.
"The Second Chances was already a wreck, old, and metal fatigued after all that exposure to seawater. A lot of things floated to the surface." Misuko grinned. "Including Linia. And she just seemed so human there, in the moment... I guess the Abi thoughts, the second thoughts, didn't occur to me until later."
"Oh." Shandy yawned wide. "Sorry."
"It's been a long and terrible night," Misuko said. "Would you let us walk you back to your dorm?"
"Aye, thanks," Shandy said. Linia heard the sadness in her voice. The walk back was silent, and the dormitory hallways empty so late at night. Neither Misuko or Linia went any further than Shandy's door.
They recovered Linia's motorcycle after all on the walk back. She drove very slowly home.