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The First Law of Robotics states that a robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human to come to harm.
At a crucial conference uniting the Spacers, the Settlers, and representatives of Earth, Senator Clar Eliton of Earth and Senior Space Ambassador Galiel ...
The First Law of Robotics states that a robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human to come to harm.
At a crucial conference uniting the Spacers, the Settlers, and representatives of Earth, Senator Clar Eliton of Earth and Senior Space Ambassador Galiel Humadros of Aurora are advocating the restoration of positronic robots on Earth, repudiating years of fear and resentment. It is a dangerous stance to take.
As the Spacer delegates arrive on Earth, conspirators assassinate Sentor Eliton. Ambassador Humadros is cut down, too. Both are failed by their robot protectors.
Special Agent Mia Daventri‹part of the security force assigned to protect Eliton‹is the only member of her team to survive the attack, and is rushed to the hospital.
Derec Avery, a survivor of the Robot City epic, is called in to investigate what may have caused the robot bodyguards to fail at the most critical hour. But his inquiries are stone-walled, and an attempt is made on Mia's life. Derec and Mia join forces with Calvin Instititute attaché Ariel Burgess to penetrate a vast conspiracy that sprawls across Terran, Spacer, and Settler worlds and threatens to bring all three to the brink of war.
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Mia Daventri listened to the stream of com chatter in her left ear and surveyed the crowd gathered at the archway. On an average day, Union Station D.C. was thick with travelers and their entourages of wellwishers and connections. Now it seemed to contain half the residents of the city.
"Wing Three," a voice whispered to her. "Parcel is arriving. Are you established?"
"Copy, One," she said quietly, glancing around. No one looked like anything other than a fascinated spectator. "Gate is open. "Very good," One replied. It was unusual for the head of Special Service to operate as general dispatcher, but today was an unusual day. Union Station always impressed Mia. The main gallery seemed to grow out of the earth itself, huge arching ribs reaching up and overhead to support the roof, the columns carved in delicate fractal patterns. The floor shined like polished starglow. The hall lay at the center of a network of tunnels to and from the shuttle port. Archways lined the walls, glowing signs set into the synthetic stone above each directing people to transportation, shops, restaurants, com booths, and the station hotels. Between those columns that did not flank an exit stood statuary, representative pieces from several periods extending back to preindustrial times. Sounds caught in the air, contoured, slightly magnified, and lingered high above. Union Station was a showpiece for D.C., sprawling and elegant and, it seemed, ever incomplete. Mia had seen a view of it from outside. It looked like a giant mushroom cap, a thick set of tunnels linking the landingfield to the secrets beneath its penumbra.
Beginning at the apron before the main entrance, two rows of station security robots formed a sort of honor guard that continued down the length of the concourse into the station's great hall. Arms extended and linked, they kept the crowds back by a combination of presence and cordial cajoling. Union Station was one of the few places on Earth where positronic robots were in such public use, which, Mia felt, was a shame. She liked themwhich set her apart from the vast majority of her fellow Terransand could not see the evil they supposedly represented. They were here because so many offworlders came through; Spacers who not only were used to a clear robotic presence, but depended on it. Union Station was a kind of international zone in which all jurisdictions had representation, containing embassy offices of the Spacer missionssatellites to the main embassies east in Anacostia District.
But beyond the diplomatic necessities, Mia thought the use of robots was ideal for crowd control during events like this. Earther distasteEarther fearfor robots kept most people from getting too close to them. Mia could hear the insistent, genderless robotic requests to "please stay back" and "do not cross the line" even over the din. If anyone actually got past that line, it was up to a human to usher them, gently or otherwise, back behind it. For that, regular police and station security stood ready.
Even so, these robots were not entirely independent units. They were all slaved to Union Station's Resident Intelligence. The RI handled the complex coordination among the various units. Besides Mia's own Special Service team, the police, and station security, several of the representative bodies from industry and political interest groups had brought along their own small security teams. In the unlikely event of a security breach or other emergency, the RI would deploy these units more efficiently than any human coordinator might manage.
"Moving up now," One said.
Mia caught sight of her two team partners on the other side of the archway. Each of them, Mattu and Gel, gave her a nod and returned their attention to the avenue.
The moving strips immediately fronting the Union Station entrance had been shut down today. The strips on the other side of the independent traffic lanes still moved, but they were empty.
The oversized limo rolled silently into sight, small flags fluttering at its corners, and pulled up against the curb. Mia strode to the doors and tapped a code into the lock. A section of polished black metal slid back and Mia stepped away.
A robot emerged first. Standing nearly two meters tall, it nevertheless appeared almost toylike. Smoothjointed, its arms hung to its sides, little more than tubes that ended in clumsylooking threefingered hands. It seemed too thin for its height. The rounded head possessed illformed ear shells, a faint depression where a mouth ought to be; above that was a single slit that glowed whiteits optical array. Its bronze skin dully reflected the station's lights.
"Agent Daventri," it said through her link, "it is good to see you again. Is all secured?" "Hi, Bogard. Yes, we're fine." She glanced at the gathered spectators and saw a number of roundeyed stares. Despite the robot's innocuous appearance, they were clearly afraid of it. "Bogard, please link to RI network now." "One moment," Bogard replied. "Linking. Link complete. Security net, sensory net, and related peripherals realtime linked to Union Station Resident Intelligence. Telemetry optimal, Agent Daventri."
"Very good, Bogard. Proceed."
Bogard took two steps forward, then turned smartly. Senator Clar Eliton stepped from the limo. He seemed taller than he actually was, his high forehead crowned by thick waves of greying black hair. The beginnings of a double chin and the dense webbing of creases around his eyes betrayed his age and the wear of office, but the rest of him appeared fit and energetic. Boos and angry shouts peppered the air as his personal staff emerged behind him. Eliton, seemingly oblivious to them, smiled and waved as though on a campaign stump, and started down the entry tunnel.
Bogard fell into step behind and to the Senator's right. Mia and her teammates ranged out ahead, she to the left, Gel on the opposite side, and Mattu on point. She spotted other members of the onsite security sprinkled along the way and through the crowd as they brought Senator Eliton into the main gallery.
The line of robots on either side saluted. Mia felt herself grin.
Who's idea was that? She glanced back at Bogard, but it seemed unaffected.
"We're ahead of schedule," Mattu said through the link. "The Auroran legation is still enroute from Kopernik. Three minutes."
"Do we let him talk?" Gel asked, his voice tinged with sarcasm.
"One says no," Mattu replied, his own voice revealing none of his feelings. Mattu, team leader, was the oldest of them, the most experienced, and he had repeatedly cautioned them against letting their sentiments show. "You have a job to do," he often said, "despite the politics." They slowed down. The Senator picked up on the signal and made more smiles and handwaves. The catcalls diminished as the party neared the other end of the tunnel; the crowd had been screened so that more supporters than detractors filled the gallery. Even so, Mia was grateful Eliton's vice senator, Taprin, had had other commitments today. The antipathy toward Eliton was bad enough. Having both of them present would only have increased the negative reactions.
"Flesh, not steel!" someone yelled, voice amplified. Station security waded into the crowd, looking for the speaker.
Mia's nerves danced upon hearing the popular motto of the current radical reform movement. She had heard rumors that Eliton had attempted to invite representatives from the Order for the Supremacy of Man Again, trying to be as inclusive as possible, but the Managins had refused . . . to the relief of Eliton's handlers. That did not mean, though, that they would not show up.
More dignitaries arrived, forming a brief parade of politics and commerce. Several others waited on the platform that dominated the floor by the arrival gate.
Within the gallery, ropes held the crowd in check. Fewer robots stood at wider intervals, since human security did most of the work here. Mia caught brief squirts of comspeak from the officers, all of it reassuring, everything positive. Even with the advance screening, Mia had expected more hecklers and protestors. A group of police passed her, on its way somewhere, faces intent. Out of the possibility for so much chaos, it amazed her how much order prevailed.
The entourage reached the base of the raised platform. Mattu mounted the broad steps, eyes roving intently. He stood for a few seconds at the top, frowned briefly, then gave the allclear, and Senator Eliton came up.
"Looks like a walk in the park," Gel said. "Stay sharp," Mattu cautioned.
The assembly on the platform was a crosssection of Earthly power. Mia recognized a few lobbyists from various coalitions, but mostly she saw industrialists. Alda Mikels of Imbitek stood in the midst of his own cadre of functionaries and security, which looked lighter than Mia expected. Nearby, Rega Looms, CEO of DyNan Manual Industries, and his handful of aides milled among themselves, appearing uncomfortable and out of place. Mia was surprised to see a face she recognized hovering on their periphery. She had not seen Coren Lanra for over a year, since he had resigned from the Service. She caught his eye and he smiled and nodded.
"Wouldn't you know," Gel commented through the link, "Lanra would be babysitting Luddite, Inc."
Mia ignored the remark. As with most of Gel's observations it held more acid than substance.
It was curious, though. Coren had quit over protest at bringing robots like Bogard into Special Service, though Bogard was the first and so far the only one. She had heard that Lanra had opened his own agency, a small office somewhere in the southeast corridor, but if he was doing security for DyNan she wondered if perhaps he had given that up for a corporate sinecure. Though he had made his feelings about robots clear, Mia had not thought him sympathetic to Looms and his radical notions of a return to some sort of premechanized idyllic past. But a job is a job, she supposed, and turned her attention back to her own. She recognized Ambassador Gale Chassik of the Solarian embassy in the midst of his entourage of six. Ambassador Sen Setaris of the Auroran embassy was absent, but her chief aides, Lys Morglen and Daril Falnyk, as well as her other senior aides, were present. Mia thought that odd, but who could tell about Spacer protocol? Among the rest of the assembled dignitaries were several representatives from much smaller firms, able to get only one, at most two, people on the reception stand. Functionaries from a number of government offices weaved among them. Mia glanced out at the field of faces below. She could never find the feeling of trust Gel managed when he decided security was perfect. Instead, she always looked for what had been missed, thankful when she did not find it. She paused at the sight of another group of security guards moving off through the crowd. A couple of newscams moved closer then, hovering above, angling for the best views. "Wing Three here," Mia said into her com. "How close do we let the subetherics get?"
"They have full clearance, Three," One said. "Just don't let them clobber the Parcel."
Eliton moved among the guests, shaking hands and engaging in the expressive banter Mia could never quite accommodate. She had listened once, closely, as he worked a roomful of supporters, smiling with a sincerity he seemed able to turn on at will, and mouthing a stream of engaging nonsense that pleased those around him enormously. He made a point of knowing everyone's name and at least one personal fact about them, and he possessed a superb memory. Mia put it down to the requirements of office and stopped trying to analyze it.
Eliton hesitated at one person, only a second, but Mia caught it. Then the smile, partially dimmed, brightened to full and his hand shot out as usual. Mia wondered who the woman was. She looked familiar, something to do with Settlers.
"Bogard, identify person now shaking hands with Senator Eliton," she subvocalized through the link.
"Viansa Risher, Settlers' Coalition."
"Ah. Thank you, Bogard." She had been a last minute inclusion, Mia remembered, though the Settlers had petitioned for representation here for months.
"One minute," Mattu announced, then moved alongside Eliton to inform him.
Mia did a last sweep of the gallerymore security movements caught her attentionthen closed with Gel and Mattu to stay near Eliton.
"Did anybody copy what the RI is doing with crowd control?" she asked. "I didn't hear anything." Mattu frowned again, looking past her. "I don't" He listened to his link, then turned toward the debarkation tunnel. "They're here." In the air, like a ghostly chimera, the announcement of the Kopernik shuttle's arrival carrying the Auroran legation appeared over the concourse entrance. Everyone's attention turned to the concourse; even the din of babble from the gallery lessened expectantly. The media newscams buzzed above the crowd, concentrating on the arriving Spacers as they emerged onto the platform.
Their clothes seemed brighter, their complexions fairer, eyes clearer; they averaged slightly taller than Earthers. Galiel Humadros, Ambassador Extraordinary, led the procession of Auroran representatives onto the platform. Her hair glimmered, golden and thick, and her face exhibited the kind of placid confidence Mia associated with wisdom and experience. A step or two behind her walked her aides, and behind them came the bulk of the legation, the counterparts of the Terrans they now met under the full gaze of the planet.
Mia felt there was something strange about the way they looked, as though something was missing. Then she realized that they were without their robots. Every image, every real life encounter, every report she had ever seen about Spacers showed their ubiquitous robots. Now, apparently, as a gesture of good will, they were without them. It made the Spacers seem naked, vulnerable. Mia's respect for them increased, even though she knew it was little more than the politics of imagepublic relations, a token to help ease the tensions their coming raised.
Eliton stepped forward to bow in greeting and extend his hands to the Ambassador, matching the Auroran poise. Mia felt a brief surge of pride.
"Welcome to Earth, Ambassador Humadros," Eliton said, his voice amplified now to echo across the gallery. "It is an honor and a privilege to have you walk upon our soil" Mia blinked, catching a movement from the corner of her vision. She turned and saw Bogard's head suddenly pivot a moment before she heard through her link, "Something is wrong. The RI" In the next instant, as she reached for her sidearm, the first explosions thundered across the chamber.
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