Aboard the immense Deep Space Liner Galileo, Charlie Ramos and his second in command, Benjamin 2108, were dining in the sumptuous surroundings of the Caribbean Room.
Even though they were both androids, and had no real need of food, they found the surroundings pleasant and it was a good way to practice "fitting in". In the course of most investigations, Charlie had found that the fewer the number of people who realized he was an android, the better things usually progressed.
It was not that normal people didn't take androids seriously. Most people took them too seriously and didn't trust them at all. They would commonly tell Charlie things they would never tell an android, as long as they thought he was human.
The DSL Galileo was outbound for Mars, then on to Ganymede and points further out. Charlie had been a passenger on Galileo before, when enroute to an investigation at the Deep Space Mine #4 on Ganymede. He had acquired Benjamin on that trip, after the android had been shot protecting him and evaluated as scrap. Having Benjamin rebuilt had cost Charlie a pile of cash and he'd had to call in some favors, too. But Ben was catching on fast, and since all of Dr. Elliot Burnside's memory and emotional tracks had been erased from Ben's brain, he was doing much better at coping with android-human relationships.
Dr. Burnside had been Ben's mentor and, prior to his death, he had put all of his memories and emotions on an immense computer drive. Ben had downloaded all of it into his own brain after the doctor died and had been overwhelmed with grief, both for the doctor and the doctor's lover. He was feeling much better now, as he was no longer carrying the doctor's baggage. He had learned to accept that humans died and life must go on.
Charlie had been retained by the World Mindfighting Federation to investigate the telepathic penetration of the Mindgames. It had been going on for well over a month now, and it must cease.
Prior to leaving Earth, Charlie had interviewed a man named Emmel Waltman, who had seemed convinced that the telepath was on Mars. Charlie had barely been able to stand the man, with his vodka and cigarettes, and under ordinary circumstances he wouldn't have trusted the old rummy as far as an android could throw him. But he was a semi-famous man, believed to be Earth's strongest telepath, and he had seemed sincere. >From what he had been able to glean from the mind of the unknown interloper, he was convinced he'd seen Martian landscape and a domed city. Two days after the interview, Waltman had disappeared.
Charlie was just getting set to dig into his veal scaloppini when a familiar voice to his left said, "Charlie? Charlie Ramos?"
He turned to find a familiar figure to go with the voice. He looked at her eyes, her hair, her body and it all came flooding back. He stood and took her offered hand, bowing slightly and kissing it, his lips barely brushing the smooth skin. Then he turned to Ben and said, "Ben, I'd like you to meet Cindy 7104. Cindy, this is my partner, Benjamin 2108."
Ben stood and shook her offered hand and said, "Cindy. My pleasure. I've heard a lot about you...won't you join us?"
"I'd like that very much."
"Are you allowed?" Charlie asked, "I mean since you're crew and all? We won't be getting you in any trouble will we?"
She smiled slightly and took the offered chair, looking over her shoulder at Charlie as he scooted her forward. Her glance was speculative and Charlie wondered if a rematch was in the offing. On his last trip out, they'd spent the night together, but then he'd been unable to find her again.
"You won't get me in any trouble. In fact, I'm doing exactly what they pay me for. I've been moved up to passenger relations."
Charlie smiled and signaled the waiter for another place setting. She ought to be good at that job, he thought.
He'd had mixed emotions about Cindy. Of course it was only the last three generations of androids that had been built using artificial emotions as well as artificial intelligence. Benjamin was a generation two and Charlie was "Gen-3."
His coping circuits had given him a serious case of mixed emotions when he had encountered her, then had a night enjoying her physical charms, only to be unable to find her later. After he had arrived on Ganymede, it seemed that the manager of the mine already knew all about him and his mission and he began to suspect that Cindy had been a spy, reporting his movements and description to the mining company. In the end, he'd never been able to prove anything one way or another and he had not seen her again until this moment.
His heavy-lidded dark eyes looked over her face now as she took a sip of wine and he found her just as flawlessly appealing as he had before. But this time, he vowed to himself, he'd have some answers to some questions before he got involved with her.
For her part, Cindy seemed to be quite taken with Ben. While Charlie was dark and had Latin features, Ben had been built tall, blonde-haired, blue-eyed and rugged, with a permanent tan. His smile was so white it dazzled and Charlie noticed the women looking Ben over. It happened all the time and it wasn't just other androids. Many a natural human woman cast a speculative eye on the big android with the beach-boy looks. Probably wondering if they could wear out some of his motors or servos in bed, Charlie thought.
"So, where are you headed this time, Charlie?" she asked.
Just making conversation or is she working for someone and pumping me for information?
"We're headed out to Mars. Looking into some gambling fraud this time." He glibly answered, his voice circuits carefully filtering out any inflection or hesitancy that might show his statement as a bald-faced lie.
"No murders this time?"
"Not yet, anyway." Ben answered, reinforcing Ben's fib without making the mistake of adding any embellishment.
"Yeah, anything can happen when the mob's involved." Charlie observed.
A waiter hovered momentarily and Cindy ordered the chef's salad, dressing on the side. As soon as he left, she excused herself to go powder her nose and both Charlie and Ben rose as she left the table. Charlie watched her walk away, admiring her long, slender legs, clad in seamed nylons, which were making a comeback this year along with flapper dresses and jazz age haircuts. She had the build for the short dress, he reflected as he sat back down, and from the way Ben's jaw was hanging, Charlie wasn't the only one who had noticed.
"She's gone , now. You can sit again."
"Wow. She's really somethin', huh?" Ben said, feeling behind him for his chair, his gaze still riveted in the direction she'd gone.
"She sure is, Buddy. She sure is."
"How do you know her? Or would it be intrusive to ask?" Ben was once again his normal, inquisitive self.
"I met her last trip out, on the way to Ganymede. She and I had...a liaison, I guess you'd say...just a one-night deal, but I've always wondered about her." At this revelation, Charlie clearly saw a look of dismay or disappointment cross Ben's face, then it was quickly covered. Before he had a chance to say much of anything else, Cindy was approaching their table and they both again rose and this time Ben seated her.
Dinner started out being rather strained, but then it became more comfortable as Cindy began paying attention to Ben. Soon, it was clear to Charlie that she was quite taken by his good looks and his somewhat shy, uncertain mannerisms.
When dinner was finished, she asked both of them to accompany her to the ballroom, where she needed to "check on the passengers". As they left table, Cindy grabbed the check and signed it.
"I was going to get that." Charlie said.
"Nope." she responded, her eyes laughing, "this one's on the Galileo."
When they reached the ballroom, there was a dance going on, not a formal affair, but there was a live orchestra playing dance music from the Big Band era. Cindy circulated for a few minutes while Ben and Charlie nursed drinks, then she came back and asked Ben, "Aren't you going to ask a lady to dance?"
Ben stammered around for a moment, then finally came clean. "I...I haven't been programmed for that...I don't know how."
"Okay, c'mon, I'll teach you."
"I'm not sure..." Ben stammered, looking at the dance floor with an expression almost like terror.
"Oh, c'mon, Ben. You're a...what, generation two? Good Lord, man, you surely can learn something as simple as a few dance steps without being programmed for it."
"Well, I guess I can give it a try..."
"There ya go! Be brave, fella." She winked at Charlie and dragged Ben out onto the dance floor. Charlie found himself playing the role of wallflower as Ben learned some simple dance steps, then went on to more complicated routines. Cindy was an accomplished dancer, that was apparent right from the start and soon she had Ben keeping right up. He caught on fast, his brain being able to quickly filter out mistakes and not repeat them and reinforce the correct steps and movements. His natural grace helped and twenty minutes later, when the band swung into the old Glenn Miller standard, "In the Mood", they had the dance floor to themselves and over a hundred humans watching and wishing they could do so well.
Charlie watched them from the small bar in the corner as he tried to untangle the strangeness of the emotions that gripped him. It took a while and finally, in exasperation, he ran a quick self-analysis. He was shocked to find that what he was experiencing was a high jealousy factor coupled with disappointment and feelings of rejection. When the full realization struck, he set down his drink with a snort and walked out of the ballroom and down to the cabin he and Ben shared.
The situation was ludicrous, he thought, as he lay in his bunk, preparing to shut down for the night. A machine being jealous of another machine over the attentions of a third machine. Just before he went to low power he thought about how being created with a full range of human emotions sometimes sucked.
It sucked even worse when he woke up to full power setting at five in the morning, to see Ben dragging in looking like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary.
"Hey, Charlie." Ben said.
"Hey." Brilliant conversational gambit.
"You been up all night?"
"Naw. I caught some shut-down. Where'd you guys go?"
"Well, let's see.we danced until about one, then we walked the promenade deck and looked at the stars.then.well, we went back to her cabin."
"Have a good time?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I did."
"Oh, yeah. A lot."
"Good. That's good, Ben. Gonna see her again?"
"Probably. Look, Charlie, is this gonna be a problem?"
"Nope. I don't own her, and you don't either, Buddy. And I don't think an android can get its heart broken, do you?"
"I... I really don't know, Charlie. I feel things for Cindy I've never felt before."
"Get used to it," Charlie said, "when you get involved with women, that'll happen." Listen to me, he thought, sounding like a fatherly type, when I'd really like to kick his ass for him. But then, it doesn't do much good to kick the shit out of a machine.
On Mars, Joey Blanchard was laying low now. He was sure he'd come to the attention of the Mindfighters and that they were mad at him for getting in their game. He hadn't meant to cause any trouble and he really hoped they wouldn't find out where he was. Until he'd tried using the gift to check out the Mindgames, he'd never really thought much about the amount of trouble he could get in because of his talent.
It was just something that had always been there. His mother and dad knew he had it and they did too, though to a much lesser extent. His mom, for instance, would sometimes be stirring her coffee and let go of the spoon to do something else and the spoon would just keep on going, around and around. Or she might close the refrigerator door with her back turned to it.
Joey's dad could always let his mom know when he was headed home, without ever picking up a phone. And if anything went wrong in the mine, Joey and his mom both knew immediately.
But this traveling thing, this out of body stuff was a new manifestation of an old power. He'd started by flying out above the dome and getting a bird's eye view of New Pittsburg, (except that there were no birds on Mars, not native ones anyway). Next he'd gone on a mind journey to the depths of the Canyons, then to Mars station, the huge space port-of-entry that orbited the red planet.
Once he'd realized he was not limited by any physical boundaries, the next logical step was to go to Earth.
Earth, of course, was a legendary place that Joey had never really seen. He had been born on Mars, of people who had also been born there. They had the links of television and space travel, but, as Joey found out, it was not the same as being there.
The DSL Galileo docked six days after Ben's memorable first night with Cindy. As they prepared to leave the ship, Charlie witnessed their parting. They had become inseparable during the last six days and Charlie had spent most of the time alone.
He didn't know whether Ben was just a better "man" than he, or if Cindy just preferred blondes, but he was over what he had been feeling toward her and Ben and he was just ready to get on with business.
Now, as Cindy and Ben held each other and kissed and cried quite shamelessly, Ben wondered at the depth of their relationship. Surely, it was much stronger than anything he and Cindy had felt for each other. He wished them both well. Being machines owned by corporations, their times together would be few and far between. They did not enjoy the freedoms of their human counterparts, who could just pick up and leave job, home and responsibilities and go wherever they wanted. Most androids were merely equipment. Cindy would live out her life span aboard Galileo or some other liner owned by Blue Star Lines.
When the good-byes were at last over, Charlie and Ben disembarked from Galileo. Their shuttle would be leaving in about two hours, so they had time to lounge around the station. They had made almost a full circuit of the main passenger level when Charlie heard his name being paged on the announcement system. He picked up the nearest phone and was told he had a message at the Blue Star Lines desk.
He and Ben walked back around the passenger area to the desk, where he retrieved a telex that had been sent from Earth a mere thirty minutes prior. He opened it and read:
EARTH STAT ROUTE.77401.VIA MARS STAT RECEIVER 11/11/41
TO: C. Ramos, Eagle Eye Investigations-C/O Mars Station
MESSAGE BEGINS: Emmel Waltman found deceased, definite foul play. Search of personal effects turned up name Joey. No relatives. Poss. lead? MESSAGE ENDS.
"Joey? That's not much to go on." Ben said. The tall android had been reading over Charlie's shoulder.
"No, it's not, but then there are only about sixteen thousand residents down there." he nodded toward one of the large Lexan3 windows, where the red disk of Mars was wheeling silently by.
"So where would we start? Local cops?"
"Yeah, that's as good a place as any."