Chapter 131: Robbie Two, and Robbie, Too
We left our heroes hard at work setting up a fruit business to sell
chocolate fruit throughout Terran Space, to raise money for hospitals
for nephilim wounded in the Exodus.
We started growing the fruit several years in the past, on New Hierow, in an unexplored part of space. Using the pantope, we now whizz through a year on New Hierow, take aboard the harvest gathered by our Kraslk farmers, and ship it out from Hellene to Adonis at monthly intervals. We can't keep this up indefinitely, without harvesting in the future, but we'll just announce a "blight" when it gets to that point, and by then we'll have the cash for the hospitals.
Pausing in the midst of this, Tom finds an encrypted note for him on the ranch e-mail. It's from Hutchins in security, politely complaining about our conducting covert operations without consulting him. Like so many others at Jumping Jacks, he doesn't believe we're really just selling fruit, though this is the substance of Tom's reply.
The accelerated harvests click by, growing steadily larger, without much incident. The money rolls in. We consider upgrading our robot secretary, Sydil, in our Adonis offices, to help keep track of the bookkeeping.
We become aware that the Kraslk workers have learned to ferment the chocolate fruit, for their own amusement. We try some, hoping for a marketing bonus. Robbie likes it, but no one else does; it tastes exactly as if it were brewed by semi-sapient bipedal wart-hogs.
Soon, our local "now" is 2518. Robbie wonders whatever happened to his old body. We pause in our whirl through spacetime to call Cantrel, who tells Robbie that he gave the body, "Robbie 2," to Jeremy, one of Jumping Jack's ace researchers. Robbie contacts Jeremy, who is ashamed to say that he's lost track of Robbie 2.
In fact, Robbie 2 disappeared a couple of months ago. He and Jeremy had been working together and Robbie 2 asked for some time alone, about a month, to study. Said he needed more education. So Jeremy said "Sure," and, being the absent-minded-professor type, forgot about it all.
Robbie tries to trace his twin on the Hellene web, but without success. He engaged in a little community discourse, but not recently. Jeremy gave him a small salary, as research assistant, which would enable him to travel. Cantrel, when we tell him, is unsettled to hear about this, and opens Robbie 2's accounts. He wasn't a big spender, but there has been no activity at all for the last ten weeks.
We could try dowsing for him. Robbie calls Jeremy again, asking for some personal effects of Robbie 2's, to use as a clue. Jeremy hasn't got any; we could try his apartment. This is tricky; Robbie 2's apartment is on the Jumping Jacks campus, and security won't let us in, not even a Founder like Tom, since Robbie 2 wasn't a JJ employee (or JJ property...). Tom could gate in, but Jumping Jacks can detect that.
Tom calls Jeremy back and asks about Robbie 2's state of sapience or sentience. Jeremy says he didn't seem all that sentient to him, but he seemed to be making progress. When he went missing, Jeremy considered calling the authorities, but didn't because Robbie 2 would probably get classed as a "rogue." Jeremy is alarmed to hear that Robbie 2 is, or was, a time patrol agent from another timeline -- not the sort of item to misplace -- and that Cantrel now knows he's missing. Jeremy figures he's in trouble.
We decide to do it the hard way: We run the pantope back to ten weeks in the past and plant a window outside Robbie 2's apartment. And wait. When he exits, we back up a little further and, since Jumping Jacks can detect doors, let Robbie 1 out at Tom's apartment, in time for him to intercept his "twin."
This means a walk to the edge of town, where the campus is. As Robbie approaches the campus, an unmarked van pulls up, the side door opens, and someone shoots a net at Robbie. Eek!
We've been following in window mode, though, and immediately freeze frame. Moving the window into the van, we find three men: a driver, a guy at the side door, and a guy who just shot the net at Robbie.
Well. Tom gates over to the ranch and Dafnord hops out to stock up in our domestic armory. He comes back with some anti-personnel mines. Tom sends him back; shock grenades ought to be sufficient, thank you, together with our various guns set to stun.
Thus loaded, we flit back to Robbie, start time, and see how he copes. Robbie tries to embed his assailants in ectoplasm, but nothing much happens; the van must be psilenced. One of the men fires a stunner at Robbie, who falls over.
We freeze frame, move portals into good positions, and attack. Dafnord drops stun grenades into the driver's lap, while the rest of us lean out of a sudden hole in the air to shoot massive stunner fire over our friend's prone form, into the van. None of the assailants remains conscious.
The van then glides off, unsupervised. Dafnord leaps out and stops it by main force until Tom can clamber over the unconscious driver and put the thing in park.
We then haul Robbie and our victims into the pantope. Tom does a quick memory audit on the driver. What was he thinking just before losing consciousness? -- That at least they'd got one of the fiends who took out poor Ms. Yanova.
Oh. These are die-hard Yanova loyalists from the Rainbow crowd. Several months behind events, but these things happen in secret organizations. We tie them up and leave them at the contemporary ranch, then call Jumping Jacks security for a pick-up, with a note to Cantrel.
Robbie, once re-booted, shakes his head, climbs out of the pantope, and resumes his walk, only a few seconds delayed. He checks in with security at the gate, then heads to the residential section, where he manages to encounter his twin. He introduces himself to Robbie 2 as "your progenitor," and leads him back the way he came in, chatting with him. Robbie 2 still seems pretty vague, with a tendency to wander off after anything interesting, like that guy over there working on the neat secret project that Robbie 2 can't talk about...
Oh, and look, here's a security badge that someone dropped. "Gerald R. Jones." We should give that back to him. Robbie 2 heads for the hangars were Jones works. Robbie persuades him it would be better to turn it in to security -- at the gate. Well, okay, but here's another security office much closer.
Robbie 2 strides into the security booth, Robbie 1 close behind, and presents the badge. Of course, the security guy wants to know who these two robots are. When Robbie 1 identifies himself, the guard is suspicious, because he's also listed among the people who just called from the ranch in Ipsylvania. (Oops.) "It's a Black matter," Robbie tells the guard. Well, okay...
The guard then tries to log the whole affair, but his comm pad crashes. So does the next pad he picks up. The guard suspiciously asks Robbie if he has any unusual equipment on him. No.
Robbie calls our contact in the security hierarchy, Jeffers, and warns him about a possible timelock problem. Jeffers thinks he understands and is about to send a car off to escort the Robbies, when his line goes dead.
He calls back. He and Robbie try again and all the equipment in Robbie's area has a power failure. Eventually, Robbie persuades the guard to just let them walk away, taking the blasted badge with them.
Now, how to get Robbie 2 off the campus? Because, you see, the weird events just described happened because we specifically arrived after the last record of Robbie 2's appearance. So he can't get recorded any more before he leaves. And he'll either leave because we took him or for some more sinister reason. Best if we took him.
Robbie quizzes his twin about his earliest memories. These are of wandering around in Vinyagarond with Tom and the others, not of anything from Robbie's own earlier life. Robbie then tells Robbie 2 a condensed version of his origin, which Robbie 2 finds very confusing. He is also confused by the flying eye (which he has), because "there's only one me" and the eye gives a bodily suggestion of bilocation.
Eventually, the Robbie's manage to wander out through one of the one-way doors leading from the campus into the public shop area, and thence off into a nearby stand of trees and the waiting abyss of the pantope.
Then, Tom whisks Robbie 2 ten weeks forward, dropping him off with Jeremy.
So, was this a waste of effort? Would the renegade Rainbow people have got Robbie 2, if Robbie 1 hadn't taken the fall for him? Who can say? Good to know the renegades are out there, and now caught. But the only reason Robbie 2 vanished for ten weeks was because we went back to find out why he vanished for ten weeks, and decided that we'd better be the reason for it, rather than, say, the Rainbow renegades.
Tom tries to write this up into a coherent e-mail, then sends it off to Cantrel, apologizing and assuring him that Jeremy is not to blame.
©1984, 1994, 2005 Earl Wajenberg. All Rights Reserved.