Short Story: Her Hidden Power

Tiffany Winter sauntered through the door of her town’s lone department store. Flanking her were three of her best-friends, girls in their own right whom had nothing deeper in their minds then boys, clothes, and celebs. They would argue over and discuss all three subjects nearly incessantly, and none the wiser that Tiffany alone was the only one with a mind above (or rather to them, below,) all of these things. Indeed, Tiffany’s mind was quite unique, but only she knew it. She saw to it too that no-one else did. If they had, her secret would be out.

Most people in her position would fear the other popular girls learning they were actually a brain. That wasn’t Tiffany’s fear. In fact, that was the reason she’d developed the gaggle of slack-jawed plebs that followed her day and night. She somehow possessed both Einsteinian-level intelligence, and hollow-brained grace in a combination that made her socially lethal on a level none could hope to reach.

If she’d been asked, she’d have guessed that the girls that always followed her, and the guys that sought her out, were so intensely stupid they couldn’t comprehend how smart she was. “No matter,” and “No offense,” she’d say, before carrying on with, “Not all of us can grasp that the square root of the speed of light is inversely proportional to the speed and quantity of your intelligence.”

Whatever she meant by it, it certainly wasn’t any normal person’s meaning– even one of moderate intelligence and understanding of the terms therein. Simply, they couldn’t know it. Only she could. That was just how her brain worked. And why should she suffer when it was everyone else that was too stupid to understand her?

She and her gaggle sauntered through the store’s merchandise detectors and toward the “women’s” section. Lately, she and the others had taken to calling themselves women, despite still being teenage girls with less life experience than most insects. All their families were wealthy enough that not even Tiffany, with her fabulous brain, could comprehend living on little to no money. Even if she’d been forced to, she’d have used her secret weapon– the one that no-one knew about– to somehow get her way.

For most girls and women, that secret weapon would be their body, or some special trick of sexual or mental prowess they reserved for themselves. Tiffany had something much greater than that, and she’d known not to flaunt it, lest someone learn of it and the game be up. A proper explanation, she knew, was impossible. It was one of those things that needed to be seen to be believed. That is, if she’d have allowed it to be seen.

After three hours of giggling over boys and different outfits, Tiffany readied to treat herself to the sweet taste of her boon. She and the other girls stood in the check-out line, the gaggle empty-handed, but Tiffany with a cartful of shirts, jeans, dresses, and most important of all, shoes. There were more shoes than anything else, enough that they filled the main body of the cart and its bottom rack, forcing the clothes to hang off the sides and stick out at random angles.

Any onlookers would have thought this a problem. Not for the cart itself, but rather for the girl whom might need so many when she possessed only two feet. There were enough shoes there, an onlooker might suppose, to shoe a third world nation a few times over. Sneakers, pumps, stilletos, flats, boots, dress shoes, sandals, even a pair of cleats or two. The fetish had clearly skyrocketed to addiction levels.

But there were no onlookers around, no balkers, not even a few elderly shoppers to watch skeptically. Thus Tiffany remained free from criticism. For a half hour, the haggard cashier made light conversation as he scanned all of Tiffany’s clothing and shoes. Before he’d looked tired, now he looked outright dreadful. Tiffany and the other girls gossiped with the effeminate man as he grew all the more hunched. Clearly, though his shift had only just begun, Tiffany’s obscene load was wearing on him.

And thus, as the other girls went outside to causally await their leader– spurned not only by Tiffany’s hidden power, but also her wizened insistence– she revealed the power to no-one and the cashier was none the wiser.

He read off an amount in the thousands, a hefty charge even for her parents’ considerable wealth. She met his eyes with a wild look; that was all she need. His face went blank, hypnotized. She made a motion to mock handing over a credit card. He slid the invisible credit card through a reader, never breaking eye-contact. Even the computer was fooled enough to process the transaction. How? Tiffany wasn’t sure, but she didn’t care so long as it printed the receipt.

It did. The long receipt spooled out for near-on five minutes, her and the haggard, effeminate man never breaking eye contact. Had anyone been around, it would’ve given her away. Fortunately, Tiffany had seen to that too– by emanating a mental command that passively kept everyone away from her. Meanwhile, the cashier snapped from his trance, his memory of having swiped a credit-card as recent and solid as it was false.

He tore off the receipt, folded it several times, then handed it over with a smile and a pleasant wish of wellness. She heaved against the cart, steered out to her brand-new car, procured in the same manner as everything else. Her dad had always said she had a way of getting whatever she wanted. If only he knew. If only anyone knew. Then again, if they did, the game would be up.

Tiffany gave herself a sly smile.

She stopped at the car and began to load the trunk. Fleeting guilt bubbled in her gut. It always did. Technically, it was stealing. Then again, if no-one saw it, or knew about it, was it? The feeling was always supplanted by the knowledge of what someone had once said to her, “Use your resources. Be smart. Be proud of you inborn-gifts.” Maybe that person hadn’t meant, “use them to manipulate late the human mind,” but how could they argue with a girl using her talents?

She wasn’t sure what others would’ve called her if they knew, but she called herself a Psionic Thief. Or at least, she would’ve had she told anyone. She never did. Mind manipulation was science-fiction nonsense, no matter what clique you belonged to. No matter, not everyone can grasp that the square root of the speed of light is inversely proportional to the speed and quantity of their intelligence.

Whatever it meant to others, to Tiffany, it meant she could do whatever she wanted, and her hidden power made damned sure she could.

The Nexus Project: Part 8

14.

The shuttle rode solar turbulence right into the Ganymede spaceport. The combination moon-space station was once more smeared with light. Dots flickered in the distance below along a world of countless mines and industrial factories. Only the slightest hint of something cut through the atmosphere. The sun at its distant angle, with Jupiter’s enormous shadow encompassing it, shimmered from the climate barrier only just visible over the moon.

The shuttle came to a rest and the trio pushed down the boarding hallway. Crowds surged and rolled around them in the terminal, but Simon kept pace this time. His mind was caught in the whirlwind of questions spurred by their earlier revelations. He’d tried to sleep for the sake of healing, but couldn’t slough off the questions lining his thoughts. Every breath was another layer, another branching tree of inquiry that unnerved any hope for calm.

Even as they ducked, weaved, and pushed for a far-off elevator, he found logic in complete disagreement with the plot enacted. It seemed so far-fetched to go to such trouble to steal data that had barely manifested. If it was stolen by a planted agent, why so blatantly and boldly? Why expose your agent? Moreover, why impersonate a secretary? Josie hardly had confidential-level access. What was the purpose? Frost? Why not a more senior agent provocateur, someone with access and confidence, and just as easily replicated?

The more Simon considered it, the less sense it made. He found himself whizzing through the spaceport in an elevator car before his autopilot disengaged. A thought suddenly occurred; what if they couldn’t infiltrate the upper-echelons? What if, for some reason, the theft’s blatancy was to cover up for something else– to keep the ISC working doubly hard while something bigger happened elsewhere? What could it be? Who was involved? What if everything else was a smokescreen to plant someone else in their midst, or enact a different kind of sabotage?

Simon hit the emergency stop on the elevator.“What’re you doing?”

He found his words with difficulty, his throat aflame from the thought of speaking, “Someone else. Is. Involved.”

She eyed him curiously, “What? How can–”

“I. Know.” Over the course of a long, painful minute, he explained his previous thoughts, “Who. Could. It be?”

She shook her head, “I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. It may not make sense until we find the Josie impersonator.” He stared at the floor. “We must ensure Josie survives. If she’s truly being held captive, she may have important information. Possibly her captor’s identity, or even their plans.” She shoved the emergency stop button in, “But we can’t know until we confirm Snow.”

He accepted the Matriarch’s wisdom, if only for the sake of stoking his own thoughts further. It was a quarter of an hour before they found themselves was once more in Snow’s den, his soldiers gone at his behest. Niala reached into her gown, tossed Snow a small holo-disk that lit up with a 3D projection. An image of Josie’s face spun slowly from Snow’s upturned paw.

“She’s a MeLon. We’re looking for the original as well. We believe she’s being held nearby, possibly on Ganymede itself.”

Snow stared at the image. A corner of his muzzle lifted to bare his teeth. He closed his paw over the image, then lowered it, “This lizard will pay for its crimes.”

“I would expect nothing less.”

Snow eyed her as she carefully considered something. He spoke of it with an almost sarcastic pleasure, “Troubled, domess?

She grit her teeth, “We need you with us.”

He grunted a smile, “Incapable of facing the threat alone? Matriarch, you’re slipping.”

She snorted frustration, “This isn’t a joke, Snow. You know how dangerous a MeLon can be, especially when holding someone hostage.”

His animosity fell away to curiosity, “Hostage? A MeLon? Wishful thinking. MeLon’s don’t take prisoners, Matriarch.”

For the first time, Simon spoke, “Why?”

Snow smiled, more from having something the human wanted than seeing its difficult speech. “So it is not entirely autonomous. It speaks like a man.” Snow leaned with a predatory sniff of the air, “It smells like a man.” He straightened with a forward step, eye-to-eye with Simon, “But does it have the value of a man, I wonder.”

Simon snarled; an effect of the Wolf’s ability to manipulate all creatures’ utter loathing, “I do.”

For a moment no-one was certain what would happen. Snow seemed to be deciding whether to drop his enmity, or make Simon an early lunch. When the cunning smile flashed again he turned for his throne, sat upon it. A small beam cut through the near-darkness from the throne’s apex, aimed downward to a place before it’s King. A series of projected displays appeared. Snow fed the disk into a slot beneath an armrest. The screens flashed, jumped. Feeds from all over Ganymede flickered and flitted past. Facial recognition software splayed dots over Josie’s image, searched the feeds for it.

“If your MeLon has been on Ganymede, my program will find it.” Niala breathed small relief. He snarled again, but it relaxed as he focused on the feeds, “She never told you about Ceres, Human.”

Niala was about to speak when Simon re-affirmed Snow’s statement, “No.”

He spoke as though she weren’t present, “The Matriarch has a way of feigning loyalty until she sees gain not to.” Snow glanced at her from the corner of an eye, expected Simon to do the same. His eyes darted to the human only to find them staring at his own, “You surprise me, Human.”

Simon rasped a full sentence without a stop, “I aim to please.”

If it was possible, Snow seemed to regard him with even more disdain than before, “Your species has a colossal pair.” His eyes refocused on the search. “For eons, your people enslaved the Canines, dangled food and security before their noses until they heeded your commands. Then, if they stepped out of line, you killed them or left them to die. Your people so diluted our bloodlines some of our descendants are unrecognizable.”

Simon rasped magma, “Your point?”

He ignored him to wax philosophical, “Your kind believed themselves the ultimate hunters. Bent nature to your whim. Placed yourselves above it. Then, the Zelphods appeared. You were still on top, you thought, because they were generations removed from the creatures that had begun the millennia-long exodus.” Snow finally met Simon’s eyes again, “But when those creatures you’d thought so flexible once more became a threat, you did the only thing you could; made peace for fear of destruction.”

Simon watched the Wolf’s glare. The Magma in his throat burst, made his voice crack, fade, “Coexistence is the only logical solution.”

“So it would seem,” Snow replied with a half-squint. “To one who’s only other option is annihilation.”

Niala interjected, “Can we focus on the issue at-hand?”

Snow replied with malice, “Oh domess, but it is the issue at-hand, don’t you see? His people run the Federation, the economies, the colonies, the construction companies, and everything else in between and around. What they don’t directly control, they do so vicariously through money or sympathizers.”

Niala fumed, “This isn’t productive. You’re just baiting us. There’s no reason to–”

“Shut up, traitor!” Snow barked. “You only refuse to see the truth. You’re a sympathizer, like the rest. Right now, it’s keeping you from understanding all the seemingly illogical moves made.” Simon and Niala exchanged a confused look. Snow took pleasure in enlightening them, “The ISC theft is only the first step in removing the Human issue. Research will continue. One day, it will be business as usual. Increased security, new locks on the doors, but the memory will fade. As it does, more facets will be infiltrated– facets of the HAA, the Federation, the ISC and elsewhere. Just as there, everything will be subject to intrusion and manipulation, by those few, well-placed agents.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Niala spat.

“Is it? Or is it so clever you fear its truth? So obvious it is hidden in plain sight?” He let the thought sink in a moment. “You see, Niala, Humans make the policies. They recruit the employees. Pay them. They have the say-so. All of it is done under the guise of a pre-existing infrastructure built before our kind’s rise. But it is a system without room for us. Not really. It has begrudgingly given us a choice to fit in or wither and die without it.” The holo-screen’s flickering came to a stop. “And that is why they’re doing this. Nothing has changed. Soon, it will.”

He pulled the disk from his chair, then rose. The beam of light disappeared and he stepped off the throne’s raised platform. He straightened with a backward flex, “I will help you, but only because there is gain in it for me. It is here, as much a threat to my domain as yours. But do not mistake my aid for anything more than repayment of a debt.”

Niala gave a small nod. Snow pushed between the pair, stalked past Rearden behind them, and out the door. They exchanged a curious look, both of their thoughts locked on his lecture. Regardless of his point, the theft’s goal was obvious now. Somehow, in someway, it would be used to displace the current powers, put the Humans lower. The why was simple enough. To have any hope of discovering the how, they’d have to follow Snow.

Simon started forward.

15.

The lower levels of Ganymede’s space-port were more like ground-levels. Here were actual planetary features that rose and fell around the station’s lowest reaches. Simon could even see where the atmosphere radiated from; huge turbines and vats the size of skyscrapers loomed in the distance. At their peaks and mid-sections, bright lights pulsed every few seconds to alert passing craft.

Much to Simon’s dismay Snow was on-point. The trio was now accompanied by a Wolf with a blood-thirsty vengeance. It rolled off him like steam, stained the air hatred and determination. Niala followed him single-file, her gown’s hood displaced by artificial winds from chemical vats that mixed perchlorates in a exothermic reaction, created oxygen.

The massive vats and turbines were only one part of the process, but their proximity made for gale-force winds that even Rearden struggled against. They seemed to gust harder every few seconds, then sink back to an idle torrent before starting again.

Simon shouted, an act he was certain he could only do once, “Where are we going?”

“Save your voice, Human,” the Wolf howled back. “You’ll need it to scream when the MeLon gets you.”

Niala glared at the back of Snow’s head, “It’s a valid question.”

Snow swiveled on the pads of his massive hind-paws, pulled Niala closer. She readied to fight, but he pointed off in the distance; “Beyond that ridge are the ice-mines. If the surveillance feeds are correct, your doppelganger is there.”

“Why would they hide in an ice-mine?” She asked over an especially loud gust.

“They’re completely autonomous. No surveillance. All equipment is connected via Ganymede’s control center above. If a MeLon is anywhere on this planet, it is there.” Niala gave a small nod. She stared at the distant ridge in thought. “Now, move. We’re wasting time.”

Niala stormed past with a quiet growl. She took point, Snow now enough paces behind to be out of ear-shot. He stepped beside Simon, “Human, you show compassion and determination. Most would see that as weakness.”

Simon grated angrily against a burning throat, “Your point?”

“Your loyalty to the Lion may be absolute, but trust that hers is not.”

“I don’t. Believe you,” he managed with visible difficulty.

“I don’t care. Know only not to trust in those who would sacrifice others for themselves.”

Snow quickened his pace, bridged the gap between them and Niala. He left Simon fighting the winds as he attempted to decode the cryptic warning. Ceres. But what about? Evidently she’d sacrificed someone for herself. How was that relevant?

It wasn’t, he decided. Merely just another attempt by the Wolf to manipulate those around him. For whatever reason, he didn’t want Niala to be seen as honorable, trustworthy. It made him all the less trustworthy instead.

Niala led the pack through the largely desolate landscape for nearly an hour. All that time, the ridge inched nearer until it loomed over-head like the station, only more jagged, organic. Snow informed them an entrance to the caverns would be hidden in the rock-face, difficult to pin-point until they stumbled into it.

If Niala knew anything about Snow, it was his resourceful relentlessness. No doubt he’d long ago sent teams to map the entirety of Ganymede’s surface in greater detail than even the planetary scanners. Those things tended to use echolocation software that often left geographical features as massive, solid blocks. Snow knew better than most though that this wasn’t the way geography worked. His people had come from caves, dens, lairs of naturally-carved stone otherwise invisible to software. His mapping was likely as much for credits as for the establishment of a refuge. If that was true, he knew exactly where they were headed. The Ice mines would’ve had a definitive entrance, sure, but no-one would use it if they were trying to hide. They’d go in the back-door, so to speak.

When the pack finally reached the ridge-line, Snow was quick to pinpoint the cavern’s entrance. An outcrop of thick ice emanated steam in the unnatural atmosphere. Snow slipped left of the outcrop, then edged right and disappeared in a curious optical illusion. Niala glanced back at Simon who’d watched with curious brows.

She reassured him with a look, disappeared as Snow had. Rearden and Simon followed, the little bot seemingly the more nervous of the two. For his primitive, optical sensors it was likely a leap of faith; to it there was nothing there. Without the brain to decode the opening’s presence, it was left only to trust in its companions. They entered a darkened tunnel that reverberated their footsteps, the sounds muffled by the fish-bowl effect the winds had caused.

Snow engaged a series of LEDs built into his armor, “Don’t touch the walls.”

Rearden added to the lights’ intensity with its optical sensor. The beam splayed over the narrow ice-walls, scanned forward through rolling ice-smoke.

“Ammonia,” Niala said.

Simon spoke with half-pauses, “Are. You sure. This is safe?”

“If you don’t touch the ice,” Snow grumbled.

“I mean. Breathing it,” Simon reiterated.

“You know a better way to the mines undetected?” There was silence. “Then shut up. The more you speak the more you inhale.”

Simon covered his mouth, breathed through a jacket sleeve. They followed the tunnel down a long, shallow decline. Snow and Rearden’s lights cut ahead near a hundred meters, endlessly illuminating the tunnel ahead. When it finally stopped, opened up, the group halted, killed their lights.

The Wolf inched in a crouch toward the opening, gestured the others up with a wave. Niala and Simon lined up beside Snow, careful of the walls. Beyond them shapes took focus, and the two scientists stared, eyes wide and mouths open.

Short Story: All in a Day’s Work

It was dark, dank. The whole place had a smell of mold and mildew. It was just like the places she’d hung around in her youth; abandoned basements with random, leaky pipes. The only difference was that she was above ground. A few hundred feet above it, actually. She wasn’t even sure what the hell could leak from this old junker. All she knew was that it was, and it felt more homely for it.

Izzy Merritt was twenty. She had all the markings of someone her age who’d lived with the streets and shadows as their home. Her brown dreadlocks, streaked with rainbow highlights, bore bone clasps and pipes interwoven with neutral colors. They accented the other, random objects like dyed feathers and random hemp twine. Enough piercings covered her face and ears for them to glint silver in passing, but not enough that any competed for view-time.

Her body bore the eccentricities of youth and street living too; rail-thin, almost emaciated. A sinuous strength said it spent as much time running from corps and cops as swaying to hypnotic trance beats. It had even infected her walk with a saunter that seemed crafted to tease and tantalize. Most would have called her a free spirit, though some derisively. Izzy, on the other hand, knew that was bullshit.

There was no such thing as freedom anymore. Not really. Either you fought the system, or it swallowed you whole. If there was anything Izzy was, it was a fighter. Maybe not physically, though she could hold her own, survive, but mentally. Brain-over-brawn attacks were just as effective, more so even, provided you knew what you were doing. At that, Izzy sure as hell knew what she was doing.

She presently stood in the bridge of a mostly hollowed-out freighter. Its gnarled corpse of steel and rust had come to rest in an ancient Tokyo harbor. CRTs for radar and informatics displays were still present in the place, despite being out of use for decades. Back in the day, they’d kept the ship on course or from running into others. Now they sat beneath layers of dust, puddles, and trash, as unused as any of the old gear like them. It was obvious the ship hadn’t run in decades.

Izzy figured as much. It was barely standing. It only remained above water because, aside from being taller than the harbor’s modest depth, it had come to a rest at a slight angle. Curiously enough, though it had been scrapped from roughly the mid-point to the stern, it remained sound enough to host a little street kid and her tech without much grief. She sensed she’d found something, if not permanent, temporary enough to call home.

The Bridge’s slight angle meant any thing cylindrical would roll away. She circumvented the issue by laying out her sleeping bag against the rear of a console. Ahead was another, but with enough space between them that she could lay out her bag and gear without issue.

She sat down, tattered backpack before her. She had a place to live now. Tokyo had been unforgiving lately, but it seemed karma was coming ’round to make her even again. Or at least, it would until she finished what she was about to do.

She dug through her pack for a laptop, set it on her lap. The odd protuberance of the battery in the rear bulged out awkwardly. The solar cell collector she’d installed was one of her own design, the battery it serviced even more-so. She’d created both to get around never having power outlets to jack into. The design and juice was more than ample, especially for what she was about to do.

She pulled up a list of net connections nearby, ran a brute-force software crack she’d designed. Thanks to the years of rising security, a WEP-key wasn’t difficult to crack anymore. Not for someone with a program like this. A command prompt opened, spooled out thousands of lines of code with each blink.

She pulled out a bag of Tokyo Cheeba to roll a joint and pass the time. Grass was easy to find now that most of the world had legalized it. Japan was still a ways behind in that regard, but it didn’t stop smugglers, traders, or everyday tourists from bringing the stuff in by the truck-full. It also made it easy for a street-kid to do five minutes of work, make it look like thirty, and walk away with a few ounces as payment for a job well done.

She sparked up the joint as the program cracked the WEP-key. The computer icon winked in the upper corner of her OS with a notification, “net connection complete on secure uplink: The Varden.”

It was one of the nearby freighters. She couldn’t say which, but calling a net connection something like that was what people hosting public access points did. “The this” or “the that,” or corp-name “guest network–” Things that only made them easier targets.

“Whatever,” she muttered for no reason in particular.

Her thoughts had been hectic lately, especially given her last “home” had been raided. She wasn’t the only one squatting there. In fact, she was one of a few dozen. Some asshole though, had got it in his head to mess with the Yakuza. Instead of just killing the guy outright, they’d sent in their corporate-security. Everyone scattered, scrambled for freedom– or rather, just fled. Some were gunned down. Others were arrested, printed, charged, and wouldn’t see daylight outside a corp-prison’s grounds for another twenty years, if ever.

She pulled up a pair of web browsers side-by side, fished a sheet of old-fashioned paper out of her pack. A list of numbers and words were scrawled on it, neatly spaced. With a series of quick clicks, she brought up logins for administrators of each of the sites. The banks would never know what happened. Her IP was masked, her MAC non-existent, and everything else identifying her a forged or stolen credential.

She flitted over to one window, keyed in an account number, then transferred a few thousand bitcoins into an account she’d memorized. She closed the window, repeated the process with the next, then closed it too. She slotted a chip into a reader on one side of the laptop, then keyed in a few commands on a prompt.

A few lines of code made a rubric with account numbers to one side, “transfer” in the middle, and a bit-currency amount to the right. The account balance below them read, “10,000;” somewhere around $500,000, if the US economy had ever survived.

She took a deep hit off her joint, shut the laptop, and kicked back. The banks could never trace the encryption on her bit-currency account– or any bit-currency account for that matter. That was the point. The black market functioned solely on that encryption, and there were a hell of a lot more people who wanted it that way than didn’t. Didn’t matter if they were on the corp’s side or not, bit-currency was here to stay, and so was the encryption.

She relaxed with a long exhale, felt the stoned haze descend. She gazed up at the dusty, dripping room, “It’ll work. With some new décor, anyhow.”

She laughed to herself. She could afford to buy a ship brand new now. But she wasn’t stupid. She wouldn’t blow all the creds at once.

She took another deep hit, exhaled slow, “All in a day’s work.”

The Nexus Project: Preview

Do you like cute and cuddly cats? How about fluffy Labradors? Are you maybe a fan of neurotic birds and slightly undervalued humans? What about a Lioness with a sordid past and a dark secret she refuses to tell?

If you answered yes to the last two, then you should probably visit a mental health professional– you know, just to be safe. But make sure you return before next Friday when The Nexus Project debuts.

A story of mystery, intrigue, action, and a solar system full of evolved, humanoid animals that join Humanity on the quest of conquering Sol’s numerous colonies. With the aide of a Lioness, and later, a cynical Wolf, Human Simon Corben must uncover the truth behind a theft at the Interspecies Scientific Collaboration– the foremost scientific institution in the Sol system. Will they be able to discover the shady villains orchestrating the act, or will they have to watch as Sol’s people have their greatest achievement plucked from their grasp? Find out here starting next week!

A small bot, like a lopsided gourd, nudged Simon’s foot. Its lone, ocular sensor, a flexible eye on a thin neck, stared up myopically. Simon swore he saw partied out red-lines in there somewhere, but knew it was just his imagination.

“You were off your charger all night again weren’t you?” He asked with a disappointed look. It beeped a binary lie of “No.” Simon rolled his eyes, “Great. You’re turning into a lying smart ass.” It beeped cheerfully. He sighed, led it to a table, and went about plugging a battery pack into its rear-panel. “You know you’re useless when you don’t charge properly. You were up data-changing with that maintenance bot again weren’t you?”

Rearden gave a few quick beeps as he switched on the batt-pack. A moment later, the bot hovered from micro-jets on its belly, beeped a “thank you,” then whizzed off for a computer across the room.