August 06, 2004

The Council, #4

Patricia Bedford gasped for air. Her skin tingled. As the room re-solidified around her, someone grasped her shoulder. She looked up at the intruder.

“Here, you must drink this,” he said, forcing a small plastic pouch into her hand before turning to Randall Drayton and guiding him to a chair.

“I didn’t believe it,” Drayton said. “I didn’t think it was really possible!” He gulped the contents of his pouch. “Patricia, drink!”

Patricia sputtered in protest, but the man, whose name she didn’t even know, was guiding her hand to her mouth.

“It’s an electrolyte solution,” he explained. “It will help you adjust to the effects of teleporting."

“Teleporting?” What was he talking about? Patricia looked around. They were still standing in Dr. Drayton’s kitchen. There was the dinette with its faux granite surface, the rustic, white spindle-backed chairs, and the window where the bird had been sitting on the sill until the intruder startled it…

The window… It was hard to see through its thick, dark glass. Outside, a distorted, barren landscape stretched like a forgotten shoreline meeting a black sea of sky. A hand’s breadth above the horizon hung a blue-green, cloud-laced orb, huge and impossible to fathom, its lower hemisphere submerged in the bottomless darkness.

“Why don’t you sit down, Patricia?” the stranger said. “You’ll be more comfortable.”

Numb, Patricia reached for a chair that looked just like the one she’d used a few moments before. That chair was now almost 385,000 kilometers away. On Earth. She drank from the pouch. “Why? Why the moon?” she asked her captor when her tongue was clear of the salty, metallic-tasting gel. “Why recreate Dr. Drayton’s house?”

“I can’t tell you why we’re keeping you on the moon,” the man answered. “That wasn’t my call. As for the house, why not?” He spread his hands. “If I must keep you here, why not make the surroundings comfortable?” He looked toward the window. “Sorry about the view. Even we lack the resources to make the moon look like Dr. Drayton’s garden.”

“I don’t remember you,” Drayton said abruptly, pointing a long finger.

The man smiled. “We’ve never met. I know you only by your considerable reputation. I wasn’t even born when you went before the Council.”

Drayton squinted and pursed his lips. “Born? You were born into the Council?”

“Why do you find that odd?”

“I thought… I was under the misapprehension that…” Drayton’s voice trailed off.

The man pulled up a chair and sat down next to Drayton. “That to be a member of the Council, one must have participated in and survived the Regression of ’45?” He looked at the ceiling and laughed. “Even we have to reproduce. Did you think that we’re immortal?”

Drayton didn’t answer.

Do you think that the Council members are immortal?” he asked, more pointedly. “Not quite. We still have a few bugs to work out. Our gene pool could use a little refining, too.” He turned and smiled engagingly at Patricia. “Right, Dr. Bedford?”

Patricia averted her eyes. His were too intense. His mouth was too perfect and his cheekbones were too high and she was still getting her bearings.

“My name is Asimov Liu,” he said. “Does the name Asimov mean anything to you?”

Drayton chuckled dryly and clasped his hands around his knees. “A little quaint, don’t you think?”

“I think so too, but I had no choice in the matter.”

“What are you?” Drayton asked.

“What do think I am?”

“You are a genetically engineered, enhanced human,” Drayton said.

“I am.” Asimov said, leaning in toward Drayton. “You can spout those words, Dr. Drayton, but you have no idea what they really mean.”

Patricia wondered if she was imagining the bitterness in Asimov’s tone.

“I am a member of the Council because that is my design.” He shrugged. “I can take no credit for it. My specialty is, of course,” and he gave them a stiff smile, “robotics.”

Jim walked toward Asimov, although no one had commanded him to move.

“See? Jim is drawn to me.” Asimov tipped his head to Jim and the robot reciprocated. “Did you know that robots have body language?” Asimov reached for Jim’s data port. When he faced Drayton and Patricia again, his eyes were dark and stern. “I have brought you here for safekeeping until your hearing, Dr. Bedford. But my real concern is your robot. It is urgent that I bring Colter into custody. I must leave you in Jim’s care,” Asimov said.

Jim stepped away from Asimov and put his hands gently on Dr. Drayton’s shoulders.

"But, first, Dr. Bedford, I require your digipass,” Asimov said.

Patricia hesitated.

“Dr. Bedford, I know this is all very disconcerting. Custody implies safe-keeping, not merely arrest and confinement.”

“Are you asking me to trust you?” Patricia snapped, annoyed with herself as she handed the digipass to Asimov.

He brushed his fingertips over the digipass and then returned it to Patricia with a dazzling smile. “Trust me? Of course not.” His body began to slip into the fabric of the room. “Dr. Drayton, talk to her. She should know better than to trust anyone on the Council.” And Asimov disappeared.

Posted by Kathy at August 6, 2004 09:20 AM | TrackBack
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