SynopsisSpies, interstellar consultancy on technological limitation, androids and artificial intelligence.
ExcerptThe city’s waterfront was the scruffiest Hal had ever seen on any planet. He felt sure that it must have been used as a movie set for some dramatic horror. Every detail looked as though it had been added just to make your flesh crawl. The smell too was something else. Mud fetid with the smell of stagnant water pools and tracked across with sewage draining from an outfall led down to the waters edge. The shore was covered in blue gray weed that could almost have been alive. As Hal looked closer he saw that it was indeed alive, as he stood near the edge of the pier crabs waved their claws at him and scuttled away beneath the festoons of weed.
Behind Hal the pier joined on to a dock covered with abandoned containers. The shaped containers that were needed to fit into a shuttle craft for export and import from this sorry planet. Lighters to carry the interstellar traffic out to waiting spacecraft were beached along the shingle above the mud beneath the dock wall. He expected the tide would make the place look a little 'tidier' but not by very much. If every container on the dock was an import then something was seriously wrong with the planetary economy. Waiting for imports was not likely, so the demand for whatever this sorry place had to export must have disappeared.
Couldn't wait to leave. That was how he felt, in spite of his job. But then maybe the rest of the remaining population weren't able to leave either.
As he waited on the pier, looking out to sea, surrounded by the decaying smells and sights of a strange backwater planet, Hal wondered if he would know the arriving agent. The innocuous message from off planet had just described a ‘delivery’ for Troy and this date and time. He knew that his task would be beyond what the local police considered legal for technology use.
A boat with three heavily space suited people on board swooped around the end of the pier. The wake overtook it as it slowed and turned. One of the three grabbed for a handhold as the boat surged forward towards the weed covered shore. With a final burst of the throttle the helmsman rammed the hull onto the weed and the person in the bow rocked backwards unsteadily and stood up. Stepping off over the bow onto a patch of weed free shingle a hand came up to the edge of the suit helmet and switched off the mirrored field. Her blonde hair spilled out of the confines of the helmet and she shook her head in a circle to clear it out of her face. Looking around she spotted Hal at the edge of the pier and started towards him. The girl threaded her way around the larger piles of weed. Crabs and other insects retreated away from her tread as she jumped over the small suspect waterways running across the mudbank. The ends of her legs became more and more covered in mud. Hal thought she didn't care but as he looked again at her elegant features he could tell that this was a muckier entrance than she would have liked. As she approached the iron steps up to where he was standing the mud slid evenly down the fabric of the space suit and off onto the steps. By the time she reached the top there wasn't a trace of mud on the silvery surface.
“The price of porphyry is too high on this planet.” she said.
“This sorry planet can’t afford to sell what it has, let alone buy luxuries.” he replied. It was just silly trade craft and as old as civilization. As old as the spying business itself. ‘How else could two spies identify themselves to each other?’ He thought as he looked at his new controlling agent. Was she human or android? Did it matter if only she knew how to solve his current problems?
“Helena, and no. I’m not!” He started to react to the abrupt way he’d been spoken to. But with a smile he replied, “Not what?”
“I’m not an android, you idiot. What did you think I meant?” said Helena, with some force.
“You’re kidding aren’t you. Somebody back at Central has a sense of humour."