A Small Human Band, Fights a Rogue Android Takeover.


By Stanley Gerson


Chapter 1

The Greens


The bogie first appeared on Slade’s radar screen: It was a wonder. Slade Raleigh was assigned to the Air Force, Early Warning Station, secreted away on a hill northwest of Washington D.C.


  “Bogie approaching at 10 o’clock, Commander Stennis. It’s headed straight for the White House; its speed is mach 7, say again mach 7,” Slade reported. The digital image and information were already on the Commander’s transparent screen, but communications were still always verbal.


  Stennis grabbed a microphone at his display and hit the red button. “This is Commander Stennis speaking to Quarterback: Scramble Wraith One and Two; vector them straight to attack positions on the incoming bogie. Full fan!”


  “Quarterback; roger that Commander, we see his bogie.”


  Moments later Wraith One broke in, to the Commander: “Commander Stennis, this is Wraith One and Two coming up to speed and altitude on bogie attack positions. We await further orders.”


  Colonel Avery Stennis was a solid officer with a voice that

rumbled deep from within his being, and he had no problems making decisions. “This is Commander Stennis and this is not a drill. Listen men: When that thing crosses into restricted air-space, your orders are to shoot it down immediately from your attack positions. I repeat: no bow shots, no wing waggling; waste it

quick! This is not a drill. And the kill order stands unless I

personally tell you men otherwise.”


  “Wraith One; roger that Commander,” was the terse reply.


  Stennis grabbed a red phone from this desk drawer. Hit the

button to the forward air base that the bogie over-flew.

 “Commander Stennis speaking to Forward; are the scout planes up?”


  “This is Forward. Scout planes are up and we have a visual.”




  “No markings Commander, no transponder signal. It appears to

be an advanced jet fighter, unknown to us. Repeat: It’s alien.”


  “Stennis out.” Phone hung up, he seized the microphone, “Wraith One and Two, I’m changing the rules of engagement: Come to attack positions and shoot that aircraft down. Don’t worry which airspace it’s in. I repeat, shoot it down the instant you're locked



- - - - <> - - - -


  The Greens had cratered . . . but now top leaders from all

sectors were ending up there: the military, government, and business. Dignitaries.


  Joseph Dane studied the scenes they passed, riding passenger. This was his third trip to the Greens, but its stark conditions and tried humanity had never hit him with bigger impact. Conditions were getting desperate, and the spike in the green numbers were creating deplorable conditions: Hollow logs, holes in the brush,

and holes in the ground were the projects, lean-tos and caves

were middle-class, and yurts were the mansions.


  “Past that far hill?” the driver asked.


  “Yeah,” Dane breathed.


  It was a still, gray February 23d morning; nothing else seemed certain.


  “I’m learning how to drive again since we left the magstripe,” the driver said, “Hope it’s not too obvious.”


  Dane nodded, “Just don’t hit anybody . . . And Bluegrass, I’m curious, how did you line up this vehicle on such short notice?”


  “It just popped up as a lost, departmental slot,” Bluegrass said, “from some old VIP reservation that got canceled.”


  “Uh huh, I’m impressed,” Dane said, watching for landmarks . . . Paul Adams, alias Bluegrass: behind-the-scenes office assistant, bluegrass banjo and viola player, slight-of-hand artist: great at office parties. And man of surprises when it came to tripping over unique solutions, Dane mused.


  Bluegrass had degrees from Northwestern in business and finance with minors in music and literature, but he was content to work in the background at the present time. Dumb luck seemed

to favor him.


  Bluegrass was in his late twenties and Dane knew he had a lot more going for him than, “ . . . success through screwing up,” as

the office chatter had it. Even Dillingham, his former supervisor, was quoted as saying, “Bluegrass succeeds, but it’s only by accident.”


  I’d rather be lucky than good, myself, Dane thought.


  Bluegrass stole the show at the Christmas party and the children loved him. His goofy smile was a winner in his magic act: His face was a beacon, framed by his head of solid, black hair, on his

5'-10" slender frame. He played the viola with passion, lilting the Christmas Carols to an improv, jazz beat: jamming the melody chord, lyrically hitting just enough notes to make the song recognizable. It was beautiful. He was shy in real life, but a natural showman. Bluegrass spoke with a slight southern drawl, that

would get nasal and twangy if the subject were very important, or urgent.


  The Demographic Services vehicle cruised past tree-lined

slopes; fingers of fog still locked the landscape in winter. Hopefully there would be a few sunny days, soon. . .The vehicle and riders became native to their surroundings, the further on they went.


  Dane hoped this trip would clear some things up. The Vice-President and a National Security Council general were slated for displacement to the Greens – that much was known. Two reputed billionaires were already here. And a significant, judicial figure was recently displaced here, too.


  To say that concern was stirring in high places was an understatement – it was more like cold fear. A rogue process had spawned and exploded as a pestilence in androids, and it was brazenly annexing the Internet. This out-of-control program, a simple set of ones and zeros, could either land humanity in a

utopia or in a rift-valley volcano with ease equal to dispassion.

The resulting drift of events had national and world leaders horrified, since a new world order dominated by heartless

androids seemed possible.


  Dane stirred, “That dirt road to the left, Bluegrass.”


  The car slowed, turned left, and traveled a few hundred yards

up a gravel, dirt road, but suddenly came to a stop. Dane looked

up to see a Blacktail doe cross the road and go down a grassy slope to tall grass below. Still the vehicle didn't move; the smallest fawn he'd ever seen was crossing behind his mother: invisible at first. The little guy took a few more steps, did two happy, little gambol steps, and fell flat on the shoulder of the road. He got

back up, a little shaky, descended the grassy slope, and disappeared.


  Bluegrass pulled ahead so they could see what had happened. It seemed the little prince had taken another prat-fall and had gotten his long legs tangled in the tall grass. Mama just waited, and soon he was back on his wee hooves stepping through the grass. They could see a double-row of white spots on his tiny back.


  “That little guy must have been born this morning,” Dane said,

“I'll bet he isn't more than four hours old.”


  “That's the smallest, shakiest little one I've ever seen,” Bluegrass said.


  “Maybe we should keep this quiet,” Dane said, “People are

hungry up ahead, especially the new, overweight ones. . .”


  Bluegrass agreed and proceeded ahead, and a shanty-town emerged in a level clearing.


  “Just stop by that first lean-to, Blue.”


  “I see it, Joe, and I’m seein’ why you didn’t try to describe this place to me: I’ve seen better landfills than this spot.”


  “You should’ve seen it before it got cleaned up . . . Let’s get this done,” Dane said.


  Bluegrass parked the car and broke the vacuum seal; both doors swung up automatically. They got out and Bluegrass pressed the fob button, closing the doors. Diseases had raged in the Greens and whoever ventured out, did so at his own peril. Ending up quarantined was one of the lesser possibilities. . .The two, professionally dressed men cast an absurd contrast to the dire scene they walked through, heading towards the lean-to.


  Joe Dane was trim – just a little gut left to loose. He was in good physical condition and had an athletic stride. But the graying at

his temples belied youthfulness. His face and blue eyes were

pleasant, but reflected a maturity he’d gained from being in the pit, wrestling with big alligators. The soft crow’s feet and facial lines were from success, from failure, from happiness, and from

disaster. He’d seen it all: the good times that seemed forever, big reversals, and back to different good times. An indefatigable confidence was building in him, now, stronger than ever.


  Humility, patience, and hope were causing life to break in good places for Dane. His stride was confident, attitude positive, and

he usually had a pleasant look on his face. He was tanned and

his hair had bleached out in last summer’s sun. The trail and

beach jogging was doing a lot of good for his 6'-3" frame: He’d be in fighting trim when it was time. He took time now to read Louis Lamour westerns, stories about pioneers, explorers, and survival skills, and he bought lottery tickets if the pot got incredibly huge.


  Dane had become a man of few words, and he’d stick to the job

at hand. He carried himself like a man. His voice was adequate,

strong if necessary. He moved through life with a new-found

ease, and could offer a smile and good word when they were

called for. He made it a habit to pass out sincere praise: Since

you never know when the next super-star could emerge, he'd say. . .Yes, life was good now, and he was getting more time to spend with his wife, Belyn. He treasured her.


  The Greens community was not an unfamiliar scene to Dane: It tapped into memories of his being delisted – pressed to the point

of having to go underground: disappear out on the street and in subways. His name then was Jason Dunn. He smoked cigarettes during this time, but was able to kick the habit once back on his feet. Especially no joints: He tried one once, but he had a bad reaction: It was like a high with a hole in it, for him, and it made

him sick.


  Dane took to picking up tossed racing tickets and got lucky with three hits on his first 10 days: He had $25.00 left, after a meager diet, and started studying racing forms. He found a place where some jockeys hung out mornings, and got acquainted with them talking high-protein diet—beans and vegetables—and keeping

slim with good energy. (He was getting svelte then anyway.) Once the jockeys knew him, they would freely discuss their picks for the races of the day: These were valuable to Dane, who placed “safe” bets after checking the racing form. For instance, if the odds were long he'd bet show and reap a good return. In time he got more aggressive on mismatched odds and was pushing $250,000.00 in Belyn's side account for him.


  Once it was safe, they moved into a place together and Dane

was in school with his new identity. So thanks to his wife, who had

her own professional identity, and with help from his friends, he’d been able to establish this new address and retrain as a paralegal with a minor in social demographics. He really appreciated what

he had now—no more racing: one good run of luck was enough. He did all right at futures but tossed them with the new job.


  Since his hiring by the Office of Demographics, he'd become an attorney, passed the bar exam, and was, in due time, promoted to officer level. His new name, Joe Dane, and his life in the Office of Demographics were either under the radar or of disinterest to his former detractors. Dane knew they had their reasons, and he blew it off. The irony was it’d never been about him personally . . .He wished he’d built up an alternate identity to move onto, like his former mentor. But he sure had one now! That was then, and this

is now, he thought, shaking it all off. New day and don’t look back.


  The lean-to was covered with an old, grim canvass full of paint spots. Weeds peeked out where it hung over the walls: built up of pallets and wood sheeting. Smoke rose from a chimney set in the side wall. The decrepit hovel was an obvious center for the sylvan community. A flap was pinned open as an entrance which they used. Inside was a graying but sturdy figure of a man. He was

busy handing food and a little jumpsuit to a mother holding an infant. The man looked familiar to Bluegrass, but he couldn’t

place him.


  The man’s eyes lit up as he saw them approach. “Joe!” he greeted, “Who’s your friend?”


  “Paul Adams, alias Bluegrass—Bluegrass meet Wilson Sinclair.”


  “Hello, Bluegrass.”


  Bluegrass nodded with a start, now realizing he was talking to

the former CEO of Synergy Earth, the multinational robotics company. Sinclair had been put in charge of AndRan, the huge android project which had salvaged the earth from total strip-mining: above, upon, and below ground.


  Wilson Sinclair reflected the ability, personality, and a strength befitting of his former office. He’d started his career at

Midwestern Cybernetics, where he’d first met Dane. Sinclair

came up through professional sales to become CEO of Midwestern, and he was a good one. The company thrived

under his leadership. When Synergy Interstate, their rival, tried

to consummate an unfriendly takeover, Sinclair led Midwestern Cybernetics on a brilliant odyssey and steady battle for survival. Against all odds, he beat the takeover, but Synergy Interstate

had friends in high places. His success was undermined and ultimately defeated by big interests with political clout.


  Sinclair's skillful handling of the takeover challenge, turned

heads at rival Synergy Interstate, and to their credit they

brought him over as their new CEO. It was Sinclair who took

the then spent Synergy Interstate and guided it to become the powerful, diversified, and international Synergy Earth. At the

center of it all was an android species named eSly: The little

“e” stood for his on-board, flash memory chips.


  But none of this mattered anymore.


- - - - <> - - - -


  Tamura in Wraith One knew he was fighter pilot ace of the entire Air Force. His orders were clear-cut: Shoot the bogie down,

period. He was on the north-side, intercept course and Wraith

Two would come up to the south. The angle between Wraith One and Two would be 90 degrees and closing by the time the alien aircraft flew past them. Tamura gazed, fighting back awestruck,

as the alien airship shot past him. He adjusted his helmet to fully connect with his brain wave interface, inside. He released the

stick, did a power roll, and came up to altitude.


  “Wraith Two, I have a visual on the bogie; I’m armed and locking on target. What’s your status?”


  “Coming up into position and packing.”


  “Wraith Two, I have tow – firing . . .Missile one is launched.”


  “Confirmed Wraith One . . . He’s doing an extreme bank to port but I have a lock: My missile one is launched and away.”


  “Roger Wraith Two, we have two Lash missiles running hot for

his tailpipe . . . What’s he doing? Are you seeing that tight loop back to starboard, Stuff?”


  “Roger Wraith One. He has to be pulling 15 G’s at least.”


  “Roger Two, he’s got to be grunting hard enough to fill his

pants . . .My missile is whipping around behind him – Wraith Two, I'm detecting digital, signal interference: My missile lock is

broken! . .He should be heading right at you. I’ll give you a shoot command so your laser fire will lead him.”


  “Roger One.”


  “Reacquiring lock . . .Wraith Two the lock is on you. Eject! Eject! EJECT!!”


  Stuff Johnson ejected, a split second soon enough to see his plane veer to the right and erupt into a ball of fire. He surfed the shock wave in his pilot's seat.


  “This is Stennis: Wraith One, what’s your status up there?”


  “Johnson’s clear; I see his ‘chute. Bogie is now doing a tight

bank to his left with Wraith Two’s missile arching on his tail. Alien

is turning an incredibly tight radius. He’s trying to break the missile lock so it reacquires on me. That’s what he did to Wraith Two.”


  “What’s your plan Tamura?”


  “Two can play this game – I’ve got the armrest cover open,

button depressed, and rigged for auto-eject.” (Were Tamura to black out, he’d release the armrest button and auto-eject would engage.)


  “Risky businesses, Tamura.”


  “So’s leaving the Capitol unprotected, Commander – going into

a barrel-roll and climbing at full throttle.”


  Tamura’s plan was to spiral up from the roll, allowing the

missile to reacquire on the enemy fighter. He inflated the

bag-belt around his lower waist and strained, tightening his stomach muscles hard to keep adequate blood and oxygen pumping to his brain . . .


  Tamura came to with a cold wind slapping him in the face, hanging upside-down in his ejected, pilot's seat. Wham! The

Slash missile blew his downrange plane to smithereens. Tamura righted himself, opened his seat belt, and ejected from the seat. And his parachute opened.


  The enemy fighter did a tight, vertical turn and headed back the way it came, at high speed . . . The Air Force would regroup and have its day.


  “Sly 0xABDC to Hive Air: Mission accomplished and vectoring back to base,” the alien pilot said, giving his name in the base 16 numbering system – hexadecimal.


  “Regain your digital link at the designated co-ordinates and we’ll fly you back from there. Will you need to refuel at mid-flight? – Keep in mind we need to re-camo the airstrip entrance.”


  “Negative for refuel.”


   “Confirmed here; you will have transport from the flight line to your debriefing,” Hive Air said.


  The android was already keying in his report, including close-up, digital photos of two perplexed looking parachutists. “Roger Air Main, I have regained my link.”


  “Your mission was adequate and we await your arrival, linked iSly.





Chapter 2

His Honor


Is stuff still getting through, Mr. Sinclair?” Dane asked.


  “We lost a dump site last month. A wireless, Internet up-link got installed and that was the end of it – why, I don’t know. The local GLF and two alternates are getting us by for now . . . Garbage trucks go in filled with food and consumer goods, but they don’t leave completely empty,” Sinclair said.


  “What were they thinking when they displaced Xanthra the magician?” Dane asked, “Now we recover stuff the ‘droids have pitched, right under their noses at the dumps. Meanwhile, the android citizenry goes right on buying food and consumables,

just to fill up more dumpsters with them.”


  “Balance, Joe. We can’t have major economic dislocations over

it, now, can we?” Sinclair said it in a calming tone, but he let Dane get it all off his chest.


  “There’s not much of an economy out here, Mr. Sinclair. Just economists.”


  “Our local economy thrives whenever a new load finds its way here . . . Hey Joe, put the word out: I’m looking for someone good on communications and distribution, since our supply dumps are

in such a state of flux,” he said, sensing where Dane was heading.


  “So you’re not ready for an extraction?” Dane asked, concerned that Sinclair needed out of the Greens.


  “Not a chance, Joe. I’ve found my niche here,” Sinclair said.

There was laughter in his eyes and a glow of confidence. “I’m

doing something useful and it makes me feel alive and vital: How could I give that up right now? I used to imagine doing things for others, giving something back, ya-dah, ya-dah. But I thought making money was all that mattered, and some of it could go to

an impersonal charity. But I've never felt like I do now, even when

I was fighting the wars and making the big money. Now that it’s all gone – out of my way – this opportunity has dropped in my lap. I have a new perspective: I’m even finding happiness knowing I

don't need money to help others.


My life is changing. No. I have no near term plans to go back.”


  “Okay,” Wilson Sinclair was a rare individual – one who could fall

right off the Fortune 500 CEO list, end up ‘embracing a dung-hill’,

and make something out of it, Dane thought, “I hope you don’t get distracted like the kid who was given a truckload of pony shit. He

got all excited, grabbed a shovel, and dug wildly, looking for the

pony he just knew had to be in there.”


  “Now Dane, you’ve used an unprofessional word.”


  “Funny thing about the origin of that word, shit – I looked it up

on the Internet. It didn’t start out being a bad word, because it

didn’t even start out as a word . . . Back in the age of steamships, bat and bird droppings – guano – was a valuable fertilizer. It was carried in the holds of those ships. Unfortunately, if sea-water got in, the mixture would react, causing explosions that sank ships.

The solution was to stow the guano high in the hold, so sea-water couldn’t get to it. Ship High In Transit – S.H.I.T. was the resulting harmless acronym.”


  “Now you're pulling my leg, Dane. But since you seem to believe that story, are you going to give the whole explanation every time you use that word? For those of us who mistakenly see it as unprofessional?” Sinclair asked.


  “Guess I’ll have to get a little card printed up.”


 Something special was happening with Sinclair. How would that change when things got better? If things did get better, Dane wondered, If I didn't already have a job, maybe I should be out

here reaping the joy.


  Sinclair nodded at a remote yurt, “You’re here to talk to His

Honor Reged,” he said, referring to the former Arbitrator of the Supreme Council of Humans and Androids—SCHA. His Honor

had been displaced ten days earlier – to this Greens Site #1.


  “That’s one of the reasons,” Dane said, “NetNews had him as

only a junior arbitrator – just over a year on the Council.”


  “Yes. . . but the screwy thing is he’s a robot. Go figure, Dane.”


  “Do you trust him?”


  “No reason not to Joe: He’s well educated, he’s well groomed, he’s balanced, and he’s fair-minded.”


  “How well do you know him?”


  “We’ve sat by firelight and talked for hours. He’s got a grasp of corporate law, balanced with the public good. He’s the genuine article, best I can tell, Joe. Brilliant man . . . um ‘droid.”


  “Has he shown any interest in your distribution center – asked questions about it?”




  “Does he talk about his displacement from the Council?”




  “Does he talk to anybody else?”


  “No Joe – You think he’s a plant? Think they’d use such a high profile asset for that? Wouldn’t that defeat its own purpose?” Sinclair said with exasperation. “We’re sifting out spies all the

time, Joe – right here in this ghetto. Spies tend to be too helpful. He’s not on our radar.”


  “Any idea why they're spying on you with these others? What they'd be looking for?”


  “Control I guess: Once you make a Greens, you have to waste resources controlling it. If I think of a way we could be a threat to them, you'll be the first to know, Joe. . .Come to think, there is something. Go have your talk with Reged, see what you think,

and Joe, stop back here on your way out, will you? I’ve got something you should see.”


  “Roger that.”

- - - - <> - - - -


  Joe Dane and Bluegrass passed a ragged group of displacees

on the path to His Honor's yurt – people who had been living comfortably in the recent past. They still looked healthy, but stressed. A former street person was their leader: Sinclair’s protégé. The irony was that some, former homeless and street people had found themselves here, and had become leaders in

the Greens. They stopped and chatted with Frog, a leader who stood smiling at the passing group.


  “New displacees have a lot to learn about survival: how to find shelter, warmth, and drinking water, edible plants, roots and mushrooms, how to snare game: nutria, mammals, reptiles and

rats, how to trap birds in a ditch, and even how to bring down

larger game. Once they get past eating insects and grubs, they’re

well on their way,” Frog said. And he continued to describe how

the new volunteers were kept busy learning how to not get lost,

pacing themselves, reading primitive maps, and tracking. Then

they’d specialize by skill: creating habitat, fire-making and

carrying, water and cooking, clothing, browsing and hunting, weapons, leadership – even fish traps and basket-weaving. A

team of able gardeners was working hard to get the group more self-sufficient with food.


  They neared the yurt. His Honor Reged sat on a plain, wooden chair in the entrance. He was professionally dressed, in spite of

his surroundings and recent disgrace. The Arbitrator motioned for them to be seated on a wooden bench to his right. They sat down, made introductions, and exchanged a few standard pleasantries.


  “May the discombobulated day of my birth be cursed royal and stricken from the days of the year,” the Arbitrator said with a wry smile.


  “Your Honor?” Dane asked.


  “I couldn’t say things like that before. As an android I gain no

pleasure from it, other than I have a new freedom of expression

to exercise—Hot double demurring. Are you gentlemen offended

by occasional expletives?”


  “No sir,” Dane said, “We salute your new freedoms and responsible choices.”


  “Well said! You gentlemen are welcome professionals . . . Why

are we meeting today?”


  Dane came right to the point: He asked the Arbitrator about the real cause of his displacement to the Greens.


  “No, Mr. Dane,” the Arbitrator said, shaking his head, “I cannot discuss privileged Council business.”


  “Of course Mr. Arbitrator . . . may I ask this: What was the official reason given for your expulsion from SCHA?”


  “The official reason was made public, was it not?”


  “Yes, your Honor, but to my ears it was cryptic,” Dane said. He also wanted to hear the reason expressed in His Honor’s own words.


  “The official reason given was called virtual referencing, gentlemen. If you know what that is, then it’s not cryptic.”


  “Can you tell us what that means, Mr. Arbitrator?” Dane asked.


  “No, but you two are free to apply your minds to it.”


  Both Dane and Bluegrass paused, thinking of what virtual referencing might mean. Finally, Dane spoke, “Thank you, Mr. Arbitrator. Is there anything we can do for you? And may we continue this discussion at a later time?”


  “Gentlemen, it is enough that our meeting today has been significant. As an android I also take note that your tone has

been respectful. It is possible we will meet again . . . You must be bold, and very courageous, once you find yourselves in the Redux.


  “Excuse me, Your Honor.”


  “I bid you both farewell: Good night and good luck.”


  “Thank you Mr. Arbitrator.” Dane said. They rose, shook hands, and departed. Dane and Adams took the return path to Sinclair’s lean-to.




  “Yeah. Nice, weird gentleman.”


  “The ‘cussing’?”


  “Irrelevant. Something more significant: He’s either got a busted program or he’s telegraphing something with the garbled Old Testament quotations and what sounded like a sign-off from an ancient, television newscast.”


  “Hold those thoughts, Bluegrass. If he’s hinting at a big clue, we

need to figure it out on the trip back,” Dane said. He marveled at

how clearly Bluegrass could think and speak, once he put his

mind to it.


  “Bluegrass, His Honor included you in the showdown process, seeming to think you’re ready for big, future events.”


- - - - <> - - - -


  Dane and Adams returned to the hand-out hovel, feeling relieved that helping the needy was still considered a virtue here. Sinclair was on his knees, operating a cute toy for three little toddlers. The scene was tender.


  “That was quick,” Sinclair said, rising and handing the toy to the kids.


  “The Arbitrator cut right to it.”


  “He doesn’t beat around the bush: He’s got a brilliant legal

mind – and he’s the quintessential professional,” Sinclair said, dusting off his hands.


  “Have you heard him use expletives before?”


  Sinclair laughed, “He’s cussing?”


  “Lamely. He revels in his new freedoms . . . Has he ever quoted from the Bible or old television before?” Dane asked.


  “Huh? Something new there. What happened?”


  “It was all in riddles. We’ll sort it out and maybe we can discuss

it later . . . What’s on your mind, Mr. Sinclair?”


  “Yes, Joe, come over here, I want you to see something.” He walked to a side table and pulled a folded sheet off, from a damaged piece of android anatomy.


“What do you make of this?” he asked.


  “Android, right hip plate,” Dane said. “Looks like it took a clean, laser burn: hard to tell though.”


  “Tell what?” Sinclair asked, raising his bifocals back on his hair.


  “Early eSly had a communications port in this part of his

anatomy – right in that burned out area. Where’d you get this?”


  “Local landfill, Joe. They’ve been turning up,” Sinclair said, “Let's see, eSly . . . that stands for electric . . . ”


  “Electro-Silicon Logic Array,” Dane said . . . “Unusual find here, Mr. Sinclair. New developments like this are significant . . . any change in android anatomy or culture, no matter how small.

Please keep us informed.” Dane checked it over further, made a drawing and memo in his notebook, set the hip plate down, and Sinclair threw the sheet back over it.


  eSly was the first android release. His initial cost and time-lines soared beyond original budgets. But recently, the android population was paying big dividends, according to what the

experts were saying. The world economy was actually good, on balance, steering a safe course between fiscal contraction and

self-destruction. No more financial disasters, nor boom and bust from peak oil.


  A fair distribution of wealth existed worldwide, and responsibility for technology was shared, with no shortages of skilled professionals: all from eSly's influence. Androids were living and working across the broad, cross-section of society – from government and business, to laborers, expatriates, and

vagabonds. Some were in service jobs, health care, and media work. Others were homeless.


  The first eSly prototype lacked computing power and was weak and doddering, physically. He progressed to a more powerful and intelligent android: A breakthrough in hydrogen cell power,

coupled with wireless, power transmission, enabled working, electric currents that made for a ‘droid who was stronger than

most humans.


  Advances in computer power and programming allowed a more sophisticated result. eSly was a more intuitive ‘droid now and he was looking so human, many people had trouble seeing the difference.


  Every android, like a home computer, had a unique IP, Internet Protocol address, could be tracked, and was slated for eSly group supervision. SlyMap was under construction by the Supreme Council of Humans and Robots, to get every android tracked. It was vital the Council take on this needed function. All android physical changes and programming revisions, required Council evaluation and approval before release.


  All of this was irrelevant now since the watershed, Android Shift.


  “Dane, you don’t know this, but I’ve followed your career,”

Sinclair said, his expression now one of the powerful executive making a money decision. “Your computer science and robotics skills were top-notch, but you cast them aside and dropped out

of sight, surviving a blacklisting after the eSly takeover. You’ve retrained, and now uncommon works for the public good stem

from your work on Demographics projects. Dane, I’d like to see

you in our survival work here, but I sense there’s rhyme and

reason to why you’re not. You're positioned for the end game.

You are standing at the portal where worlds are in collision.”


  “Nothing like that Mr. Sinclair,” Dane said. He was taken aback: his face showing a tinge of pink. “Thanks, but good breaks have helped, that’s all.” Dane spoke as if he were oblivious to the epic crisis lying ahead: Destiny vs. Disaster in the balance. But denial can be good for the short term.


  “Dane, I think Bluegrass, your young assistant, has it in him to

be a player in this league.”


  “Funny thing, the Arbitrator seemed to be hinting at the same

idea: including him as a second among equals with me. Bluegrass has great talent, but he won’t let himself believe he’s doing anything,” Dane said.


  They exited the lean-to and Sinclair clapped his hand on Dane’s shoulder, “Stay heads up, Joe. Keep positive – the answer will shake out . . . And do you mind looking in on Wheldan? He’s in

that pup-tent over by your vehicle. We’re trying to get him

involved, but I worry

about him.”


  “Can do, Mr. Sinclair . . . thanks and take care.”


  “Goodbye, Joe and Bluegrass, nice meeting you Bluegrass.

Drive safely.” Wilson Sinclair, once powerful CEO, waved a warm good-bye and had a soft look in his eyes.


- - - - <> - - - -


  They knocked on a tent pole of the sad, little hovel.


  “Enter!” came the command from within. They opened the tent flap to see a withered, old man who sat on a cardboard box, busting apart with old magazines and newspapers.


  “Do I know you?” he asked.


  “We’ve met, sir – a long time ago,” Dane said.


  “Anyway, not now. Not now!” Ryan Wheldan, former World Robotics Finance Chairman ordered, waving them off. “See my secretary for an appointment. My time is too valuable.” He nodded at a parrot huddled in a cage across the tent, missing most of her feathers. Wheldan sat there on his magazines, superciliously nibbling on a rat’s head.


  It was time to leave.


  Dane and Bluegrass drove back in an uneasy silence. An hour later they engaged the highway magstripe and rode it back to the Demographics office. They'd planned to talk about His Honor Reged, but NetNews was ablaze with reports about the aerial

dog-fight on the East Coast.