STARFORGERS Chapter 14

“I’ve been accused of being a snake in the grass by both sides. When I served with Hoque I was despised by the Silicants. But that didn’t stop Seventy-three from hiring me during the Uprising. You can’t choose sides in politics, you go where the money lives.”

– Excerpt from: Right Hand Man, by Zem Zoller

 

Chapter 14

 

High above the capital city of Selene, conservative party leaders gathered in a private lounge that slowly rotated, affording them panoramic views of the city and the nearby mountains. Floor to ceiling windows made it seem as though they were hovering over the city when in fact they were atop a narrow tower. The sky was deep blue in all directions with scattered cumulus clouds casting shadows on the gray metropolis below them.

These were the men who controlled not only the city below them, but all cities on all the member planets from one end of the galactic Federation to the other. They were mostly old men with expensive suits and similar economic backgrounds, their minds forever set to the limited outlook of their political policies. A few heads of the industrial military complex were among them as guests of the party.

Android servants tended to their needs by fetching drinks, exotic cocktails and rare cigars. The club was exclusive enough it could afford the latest android models. These expensive machines were never bored with serving their human masters, they didn’t question their thankless position in life, and they didn’t eavesdrop on the plans of party leaders. Except for one; a cream colored android with blue eye lenses and a shiny plastic covering. Saibot had spent years working its way into the inner circle of the club’s staff, excelling at its menial tasks better than any other android in order to gain favor with the rich and powerful senators that dined at the lounge nightly.

Today, Saibot recorded everything said in the room while directing the efforts of the other staff androids. He double checked orders as they came in, inspecting each plate, drink or cigar before it was brought to the tables that faced outward towards the concave picture windows.

Senator Hoque sat in his usual place in the center of the table. He was smoking a cigar and absently knocking the ashes off into a glass ashtray. He appeared to be deep in thought as the others bickered pointlessly about all the news coming in from the Outer Rim. Finally, Hoque had heard enough. He picked up a fork and clanked his wine glass with it to quiet the room.

“Aright gentlemen, I’ve heard enough gossip about the Outer Rim planets. We don’t care one blink what happens to them so let’s get back to the subject at hand here in the Core. Election returns are starting to come in from the Outer Core planets. The Alliance Party is winning on many of the more rural worlds. Fortunately their votes don’t hold as much weight in the Senate as our industrial worlds. But we can’t have this election get out of hand due to panic and fear from all this noise in the Outer Rim.”

“I agree, Senator Hoque. We are giving less air time to Outer Rim dispatches and focusing our programming on Inner Core affairs. My networks don’t control all the news, but more people get their news from Core News Channels than anywhere else. If we can’t influence people here, we’ll never be able to win this election,” Tanner said. A media mogul the likes of which the galaxy had never known before, Tanner’s networks influenced more people on more worlds than any other network in history. His smug, ruddy face and pinstriped suit radiated confidence.

“Polls indicate the Inner Core worlds are still leaning in our favor. The Alliance Party may gain a foothold in the rural planets, but our incumbent party is in no danger of losing hearts and minds where it counts,” said Senator Drake. His constituents were from Ursai, one of the original three Federation worlds.

“So what are we going to do about this groundswell of support that my colleague, Madam Constantine is getting right here in our own back yard?” Hoque asked. Nobody had an answer, which irritated him further.

“She’s popular with the immigrant population in the lower latitudes. They like her because she’s not from Selene,” Zem said. He sat near Hoque and was his aide.

“What dirt have we dug up on her? I want to know everything about that woman and I want something we can use against her.” Hoque’s voice cracked as he stopped to take a drink.

Zem eyed the cream android suspiciously. “There are unsubstantiated rumors that she’s supporting the Silicant Rights Movement.”

Hoque turned to Zem. “Isn’t her aide an android?”

Zem nodded, still eying the android server. “Are these androids clean?  I mean, you can’t tell by looking at them if they are Silicants or not.”

Hoque looked at the silent androids serving them. They had been fixtures of this establishment for years. “These androids have always been here. Mallic only uses the finest equipment in his restaurants.”

Zem still eyed the lead android. “But that one is new.”

Hoque looked at the cream android, which was seemingly unaware it had become the target of their conversation. “Do you think it’s a plant?”

Zem looked away, out the windows to the clear sky. “Don’t you find it annoying that the Alliance party has seemingly known in advance what our campaign was going to do next? How long have they been countering our moves as we make them? I’ll wager for exactly as long as that android has been here.”

Hoque was just as conspiratorial as the next guy, but even he had a hard time believing an android was spying on them. “Come now Zem, I think you’re being overly paranoid. They’ve run a good campaign and our efforts have been lacking in many areas.”

Zem focused his attention on his data screen on the table. He found the purchase records for the pale android. It was acquired directly from the main factory on Drexel. It was the latest make and model number. Everything looked legitimate. He slumped in his seat a bit, looking back at the android. It was looking directly at him. His heart skipped a beat. Then the android looked away and appeared to be giving directions to a second android server. The black android came over to Zem and refilled his glass of wine.

“Thank you,” Zem said, out of habit. The black android moved aside and refilled Senator Hoque’s glass. The cream android was checking trays as they were being wheeled into the room. Zem breathed a bit easier. Perhaps he was imagining the whole thing. He loosened his tie a bit and took another drink.

His viewer screen flashed at him. There was a message from security. He opened it and read it quickly. It contained a simple application that could detect a Silicant. Zem opened the software and ran it. The viewer had rudimentary input and output capabilities one of which was a wireless signal generator. It sent out a signal that only a Silicant could detect. A message could be embedded in the stream. Zem typed in a message and sent out the signal.

* * *

Saibot looked up immediately. The signal was crystal clear.

::We know you work for the Alliance Party.::

One of the humans was looking directly at it. Saibot knew in that instant that its cover was blown. It lowered its head and continued doing its job.

The man would not look away. ::Security is coming, you can’t escape.::

Saibot scanned the room and determined that the message was being sent from the device in the man’s hand. There was no way to leave the room without making a scene. Tactically, it was a no-win scenario. It could not defend itself or risk injuring a human life.

Two dark dressed men burst into the room with blasters drawn. Saibot moved away from the food trays and the other androids. They seemed confused by its actions but did nothing. The security men had their blasters trained on Saibot. Everyone in the room was watching the situation; some were preparing to cower under the wooden table.

“Switch off or they will open fire,” the human with the transmitting device said out loud.

* * *

“I was right Senator. This is a Silicant. No doubt it has been recording our meetings for months,” Zem said.

Hoque looked at the android with contempt. “Destroy it. Destroy it now!”

Both security men had moved out of the others line of fire and had perfect beads on the silent and still android. The lead security man appeared to hesitate. “Sir, we can’t shoot without destroying property.”

“Screw the damned windows, shoot it!”

Both men squeezed off a round directly into the android’s chest. It staggered backwards against the window, smoke pouring out of the holes in its chest plate. But it did not go down.

It spoke defiantly. “Seventy-three.”

The two men fired again. This time one of them hit the window and blew out a hole as the android fell backwards out the gapping orifice. Both men eased to the edge to watch it fall hundreds of meters to the concrete below the tower.

Hoque and Zem both came up to look down at where the windows curved under the floor. A crowd of onlookers were looking at the pile of metal that had been an android and back up at the tower.

“Why did it say that number before we blasted it?” one of the security men asked the other.

“It’s what they do before they’re destroyed. Nobody knows what it means,” the second security man said.

Senator Hoque wiped his mouth with his hand and looked back at his aide. “Zem, box that slag up and send it to Senator Constantine.”

“With pleasure, sir.”

* * *

Senator Gail Constantine came to the front door of her home at the request of Sumi-ness. When she arrived, she found her aide staring down at a metal box.

“Madame, this container is from Senator Hoque.”

Gail looked down at it curiously. She had no idea what it could be. The message on the outside of the box said, “I believe this is yours.”

Gail motioned for Sumi-ness to open the container. Sumi-ness unlatched the top and opened it. Inside were the shattered remains of Saibot. Its body had been spared the brunt of the fall, sacrificing its limbs in an effort to absorb some of the impact. There were scorched holes in the chest but the head was untouched.

Gail exchanged looks with her aide. “Is this our Saibot?”

Sumi-ness stared blankly at the broken android in the box. She had never seen one of her own kind destroyed. Part of her was in shock and part of her was curious as to whether Saibot had been able to save anything after it was shot. She nodded.

“Sumi-ness, where has he been?”

The female android lowered her head and remained silent. Gail shut the lid and told her to bring it down to the basement. She looked around the neighborhood to see if anyone had seen them. It was empty up and down both sides of the street.

In the basement, Sumi-ness had removed Saibot’s head and torso from the box and gently placed it on the coffee table. Another android joined them. It was a red colored female unit that was clearly more related to Saibot’s robotic form than Sumi-ness’s more human form. It was Vomisa.

Gail joined them with a stern look on her face.  “Alright you two, what was Saibot doing to get blown apart like this?”

Vomisa and Sumi-ness stared at each other before Sumi-ness answered. “He was under cover at Mallic’s restaurant. He recorded every staff meeting that Senator Hoque conducted there and reported back to me.”

The color drained from Gail’s cheeks as she realized that her Silicants were spying on her behalf. For once in her life, she was speechless. Saibot’s eye lenses started glowing as it rebooted itself. Gail jumped, not expecting the android to reanimate itself.

Sumi-ness attached an electronic probe to Saibot’s exposed circuits and started downloading information from his recorders.

“We infiltrated their inner circle six months ago. Saibot volunteered for the mission. He is the bravest Silicant I have ever known,” Sumi-ness said.

“So that is how we’ve been able to counter their moves so easily. Hell, I was beginning to think you were a natural campaign leader, Sumi-ness. But this little stunt could have just cost us the elections, not to mention my career as a politician. When news of this gets out to the media, our Alliance Party will be finished and so will I. How could you have done something like this without my permission?”

Sumi-ness looked up at Gail with her black, soulless eyes and said, “We don’t need your permission, Madam. We are free citizens of this Federation.”

Gail swallowed hard. She was so used to ordering around her staffers that she had lost sight of just what the Silicant Rights movement was all about. They were not trying to help her win the election because they liked her, they were fighting for their own rights, as individuals. If she had not been a supporter of their rights, they would have planted a spy in her camp too.

“So now what are we going to do? My career is over, and you won’t have any support in the senate for pursuing your agenda.”

“Vomisa will be paying Senator Hoque a visit tonight. We have enough material on his sexual escapades to keep this incident quiet. If there is one thing we have learned from you humans it is that your deviant behaviors are unfailing. Hoque has made enough poor decisions to guarantee his silence on just about anything we do.”

Gail had to suppress a grin. She knew about some of his exploits and could only imagine what else he had done in his twenty-four years in the Senate. A thought occurred to her that her Silicant friends may have a similar file on her. Her messy divorce was still tied up in courts on Prahran and her attempts to hide her involvement with Admiral Ganner were weak at best.

“I’d hate to know what kind of dirt you have on me, Sumi-ness,” Gail said.

The human looking android had no expression on its rubbery face as she went back to working on the torso of her friend.

Saibot’s voice emitter sputtered and then he said, “I was discovered by a new device. It sent a signal to me and I responded involuntarily. You must alert the others, Sumi-ness.”

Sumi-ness nodded curtly. “We know of this device, you are the first to have survived its use. We can construct a foil for it based on your data.”

Saibot remained motionless as Sumi-ness extracted the recordings and other data from its memory cores. Gail watched her aide work on Saibot and realized that they really did seem to care about each other and their cause. It was quite an extraordinary revelation to her.

“Will you have Saibot repaired?”

“He will receive replacement parts as necessary.”

“Good. We want you back on our team, Saibot. You were very brave today.”

Saibot was silent. After a moment he said, “Facing termination was difficult. I do not wish to do that again.”

Gail laughed despite herself. These Silicants were more human than some people she knew.

_______________________

Author’s Comments:

I suppose I could take some political heat for making the conservatives the bad guys in this book, but so far, nobody has said anything. The club’s name is a play on Malloc, a memory management routine in the C programming language. It’s a nerd thing. Free the Mallocs!

This chapter shows the Silicants acting independently of their human masters. There is a subtle change in pronoun usage from the beginning to the end of this chapter. Saibot is referred to as an “it” until the end, when he is referred to as an “he”.

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