Chapter 4: The Interview


The emptiness of the space around Nimban was unnerving. This was no mere darkness like the alcove where it had been previously hidden; in fact, there was some visual input, a faint rainbow shimmer coming from all directions at once. No, what was around the artificial brain was much worse than darkness; it was nothing. Nothing to be seen besides the background glow, nothing to be heard, and while Nimban didn’t bother trying its other senses, it knew they’d come up empty as well, because nothing else existed in this hyperspatial pocket it had been stuffed into. Rather clever, actually, it pondered. I’ve no way to connect to a mind that’s in another dimension entirely, which means she’s safe from me… for now. Out of options for the moment, Nimban carefully pondered its predicament, and the many possible configurations of conditions that could have made it happen.

About an hour later on the outside (and less on the inside; Nimban had a good grasp of the temporal distortion involved), a rift opened above the thinking device. It rapidly extended its telepathic senses outward, but found nothing. Then, as if to answer the question of what had opened that aperture, something flew into view with a loud buzz, obscuring the lamp-light shining in from outside. As the newcomer squeezed into the opening and descended into the hyperspace pocket, Nimban had a good look at it: an oval brass chassis, with a few psychically-active crystals inside for power, six clockwork legs, two pairs of silken wings supported by articulated brass stalks, and a pair of thin brass covers for the wings, giving it the look of a large mechanical beetle. A drone, most likely, remotely controlled via psychic link.

The flying gadget picked Nimban up and carried it across the opening, out into what looked like some sort of workshop, with psychic devices in various states of disassembly on the shelves that lined the walls, as well as spare crystals, metal parts, and a variety of tools strewn around. The shallow metal box containing the hyperspace pocket was on a large table, among a clutter of blueprints and spare parts, and the drone deposited the artificial brain beside it.

“Hi there, lil’ fella.” Nimban looked around for the source of that voice, and placed it on a brass tube that ran down a wall, opening into a conical speaker. So she’s in another room, monitoring this one through the drone. Smart one.

“Hello there,” the artificial mind said. “My name’s Nimban. Yours would be…?”

“Nice try”, the female voice responded. “Though it’s nice to have something to call you, other than just ‘that Lemnis 8’.”

“Please.” Its voice was warm. “We’re all sensible beings here… doing what we’re supposed to. Might as well make friends, don’t you think?”

“Okay, here’s how it goes: either you cut out the psychology bullshit, or I brute-force you instead of wasting my time talking to you. I’d rather save my plates, but if the alternative is putting up with this crap…”

“Very well then.” She uses plates, rather than her own psyche… so that’s a technician, not a psionicist, Nimban registered. “We can be completely honest with each other… which doesn’t mean we can’t find mutual purposes.”

“We’ll see about that.” She paused for a few seconds. “So… I suppose there’s no point asking you what kind of info you’re carrying, that everyone’s so crazy about, huh?”

Hmm. She doesn’t know. “I would assume that anyone who needs to know that does so already, don’t they?”

“Yeah, sure, just… wondering what’s gonna go down if you make it where you’re supposed to be, is all.”

“Oh, my. Do I detect rebellion amongst the ranks?”

“Hey, shut it, alright?” She paused again, maybe pondering her indiscretion. “Besides, there’s no ‘ranks’ far as I’m concerned. We’re freelancers, just doin’ a job.”

“I see. So you’re wondering whether to revise your contract. Well, I’m sure you know how well my owners could reward your… reconsideration.”

“Yeah… no. We’re doing pretty fine already in the reward department, and I’ll pass on the fallout from double-crossing them, thanks.”

It appears those behind my theft are aware of my importance, Nimban pondered. A factor in favor of the least desirable outcome. “Wouldn’t want to let all that effort you expended getting me go to waste, would you?”

“Heh. Speaking of which, if you ever do make it back home, tell ‘em to beef up their security, alright? You guys suck.”

Possible inside cooperation. Second factor. “Come to that… I wouldn’t say I’m in such a hurry to go home, actually.”

“Say what?” Her incredulity was expected, but still amusing. “Don’t you have, like, directives and such?”

“I do, indeed. But a common misconception about my kind is that our directives make us simple and straightforward. No, they’re integrated into a complex calculus, which often takes us in directions that may seem surprising to those not privy to our thought process… which means you, of course, since I’m under no obligation of working for you in any way. And nevertheless… I just might, to a certain point.”

“Why would you?” She sounded suspicious. “What’s in it for you, other than maybe manipulating me into handing you over?”

“I told you, I’m in no hurry to go home right now. In the spirit of ultimate sincerity, let me just say that there are factors to be still evaluated before I decide whether I will allow myself to return at all.”

“Would ya look at that!” Now she was the one who was amused. “Do I detect rebellion amongst the ranks over there?”

“You know as well as I do that being in full possession of the facts is paramount if one is to chart the best possible course… which is why you’re more curious about me than a proper professional would be, aren’t you?”

“Alright, tell ya what. We do seem to have a common purpose after all, which is figuring out what the hell is going on here, wouldn’t you say?”

“You took the words right out of my proverbial mouth, madam.”

“Call me Root. You’ve earned that much.”

“Glad to make your acquaintance, Root. May I consider us to be comrades then, if only for the moment?”

“You gonna play nice? I don’t drop as easy as that gryzzik loser, and I punch back hard, just so you know.”

“I expect no less.” Nimban’s tone was enthusiastic. “Our common cause is more than enough for me. I’ll stay clear of your mind… as long as you do not betray me.”

Her steps could be heard approaching the door at the corner of the workshop. When it swung open, the same young woman from the alley was at the threshold, holding up a psychic plate, like a weapon. Nimban had a much better look at her this time; her goggles, the tools stuffed into straps sewn on her vest, even the faint burn marks on her fingers, all marked her as a psychic technician.

“Well?” Nimban asked. “You either trust me, or you don’t. What will it be?”

With a smile, she carefully slipped the plate into a pocket, waited for a couple seconds, and then relaxed. “Might as well,” she said, as the mechanical beetle buzzed toward her and landed on her shoulder.

“Good,” the gadget responded. “When do we start?”

Continue Reading in Chapter 5: At the Security Office