Remote Control

"I don't like it. I don't like bringing in these outside—"

Morris wasn't a board member, but he was the point man on this project, and knew he had the Chairman's support, so he was comfortable shutting the man down. "It's the only way to know what's going on, Mister Lawrence."

"How would we know? Until we get a recovery team out there, we're just going on his word. And by then your telepath's cashed his check and gone."

"Actually we'll be able to see if his reports are accurate as the board catches up to him." Morris shrugged. "He comes highly recommended. His accuracy track record's impeccable. Tiān Shàng Mining used him last year on that Belt thing."

There were nods and murmurs in the room. Campbell, from public relations, said, "That turned out well for them."

Lawrence objected, "Eight dead? That's turning out well?"

Campbell scoffed, "Well, in P.R. terms, anyway. The casualties would have happened either way. Our situation is unique: we have safeguards. This guy lets us actually use them effectively. I say—"

"The decision's made."

Chairman Rockman's voice, coming from the head of the table, ended the discussion as it always did; until then he had been staring at the situation display on the wall as if willing it to update again. There were nods from those in agreement and sighs from those opposed, and no one bothered to call the vote. Rockman continued, "Is your guy here?"

Morris answered, "Waiting outside, sir."

"Well, let's not waste any more goddamn time." The Chairman reached for a small remote control, switched the display off

Morris beckoned to the assistant at the door, who quietly opened it and stepped out. There was a short, hushed discussion in the hall, and after a moment, the specialist appeared.

He was a tall man in a rumpled suit, with angular, almost severe features. He was bald, with a wispy salt-and-pepper chin beard. He looked like the sort of man mothers watch like a hawk when they happen to pass near their children. Morris, in spite of an instinctive dislike for the man, walked over and offered his hand. "Mister Strang, I'm Morris, we spoke on the phone. Thank you for coming on such short notice. We have—"

Rockman interrupted, "Strang, I have a time problem: my board," he pointed to the now-blank situation display, "is an half an hour behind. The installation is on Ganymede, and there's the light-speed delay. And other than these internal sensor readings, communication is down, possibly sabotaged. Morris says you can help me?"

Strang looked at the blank display with his head cocked to one side. "You have something that belongs to the man?"

Rockman gestured. "Morris?"

"Right over here, Mister Strang." Morris pointed to the end of the conference table where a carefully folded shirt, a baseball, and a book lay in oversized ziplock bags. Strang stepped close to the table, but didn't reach for the items, didn't take them out of the bags, didn't even look at them with any particular intensity. Instead he sat in an empty chair and closed his eyes.

"I assume you want me to describe the surroundings, give you some detail that isn't publicly known? To establish my bona fides?"

"I'm glad we understand each other, Mister Strang."

Strang sat silently for a long moment, a look of concentration on his face, and then began, "The station has four lobes, connected by underground pressure-tunnels. Only two lobes are occupied: the fourth is unfinished, and the third was damaged. By shifting ice? Yes." Strang didn't open his eyes to gauge the reaction of those assembled. "Some repairs have been done but it's still leaking. They're frustrated; they didn't have the materials to repair it correctly, and they should have."

Lawrence began to object, "That's not—"

Rockman held up a hand to quiet the interruption. To Strang, he said, "Go on. Is that what precipitated the incident?"

"No." Strang's hand reached out as if on its own, and came to rest on the bag containing the folded shirt. "Colson; he's unhappy. He's been unhappy for some time."

Morris saw Rockman's face relax. The Chairman was sold: the odd-looking man had gotten the name right. He asked, "Unhappy about what?"

Strang said nothing for a long moment. His head lolled forward, as if he were nodding off to sleep. "The way he's been treated by the others: excluded, mocked. Especially by one of the women, but by all of them to one extent or the other."

Morris asked, "Do you have the others as well?"

"Yes." Strang took his hand from atop the bag, folded his arms across his chest, and sat back in his chair. "They're angry. They're afraid. They're waiting for something. I can't tell exactly what. Something bad."

"Can you sense all eight?"

"There are only six men," Strang pointed at the shirt, "including Colson."

"Then two are already dead." Lawrence said coldly.

Someone from human resources piped up, "He said 'men'. Six men. It's the women, Bentsen and Afardi."

"The women are both dead? Did Colson kill them?"

Strang slowly nodded. "Yes. One... one was an accident. There was a scuffle, over nothing, and it got out of hand. He keeps replaying it in his mind. The other killing was self-defense; at any rate, he thinks so. The others assume both were premeditated murder."

Rockman pressed a button on his remote, and the display came to life: it displayed a layout of the four-lobed station, with each area and system labeled. There were red dots indicating people, several in each of the two lobes and several in the connecting passageway between them. "Can you tell us where everyone is right now?"

"Everyone but Colson is in the habitation lobe: one is in medical, the rest in the common area or near the pressure door. They can't get through the door. I think they're running out of breathable air; that's what they're afraid of." He pointed at the personal effects on the table. "Colson is in the control lobe. He's armed."

Rockman nodded to Morris, who went to the terminal beside the display and began typing on the keyboard. They had the information they needed to intervene, and Morris knew exactly what to do.

Strang opened his eyes. "The one in medical is dying. I can't tell who it is." Strang looked over at Morris, and asked conversationally, "What's he doing?"

Lawrence explained, "We have remote access. We can override anything Colson has done on the control computer. Anything that's not actual physical sabotage, that is. Communications isn't coming back up, for example. He blew out the power relays as the others were reporting on the situation. You say he's armed? With what?"

Strang shook his head. "I don't know. I only know he thinks it's very clever. The others didn't realize he had a weapon like that until they came for him, and they didn't get a good look at it."

The woman from human resources interjected again, "He probably modified something, a tool. He's got a high engineering rating."

"Those laser drills are small enough to be man-portable, if you figured out a way to rig up some sort of single-shot batteries. It could be done." Morris read the time-stamp on the display. "We'll see the remote orders go into effect in twenty-eight minutes, thirty seconds."

They waited. They all watched the board update. Someone brought in water pitchers and glasses. Campbell and Lawrence discussed sports until they realized they were annoying the Chairman. Every five minutes, the red dots would become active, moving through the station, eventually coming to a halt again in different locations. Morris mentally interpreted the motions as they occurred: a search, then a chase, then a confrontation and a retreat. Nearly a half hour later, they had all reached the positions Strang had described.

The room quieted in anticipation. Eventually, Strang's eyes closed again. "Something's changed."

"Describe it as it happens." Rockman said.

"Colson is panicking. Now he can't breathe well. His air isn't just shut off, it's being pumped out. He's terrified. He's moving." Strang's head lolled forward again, his body swayed side to side. "He's moving fast."

Lawrence guessed, "Headed for the suits?"

Morris nodded. "As expected. He can't get to them, though."

"The others can breathe better now, fresh air is being pumped in. They don't know why it's being pumped in, but they're happy about it. They're still trapped. Colson is in one of the pressure tunnels. Headed towards the damaged section."

Rockman looked pointedly at Morris, who said, "He won't be able to get through the pressure door at the far end." Unless the man was an even better engineer than Morris thought, that is.

Strang had reached out, picked up the bag with the shirt. "He's trying to override the door. It's not cooperating. The codes have been changed. He's angry. He's heading back the way he came."

"This is the best part." Morris grinned. The Chairman shot him a look, and he hurriedly wiped the smile from his face. It's not that he was enjoying all of this, he was just proud of his solution.

"He can't get back through the other door either. Those codes have changed too. Automatically, once he was inside? He's panicking now. And he's..." Strang clutched at his own throat.

"If you have to let go, do it. Don't put yourself at risk." Morris said.

"I can stay with him almost until the end." Strang's voice was strained. "He's collapsed. The floor is cold. He's strangling."

"Jesus, this is awful." The woman from human resources had her head in her hands.

Strang said nothing for a long moment — looking increasingly distressed — before pushing himself away from the table. "He's lost consciousness. That's it."

Rockman nodded to Morris, who once again went to the terminal, saying, "Sending default code resets for all the pressure doors, and default condition reset for the life support system. In twenty-eight minutes, the survivors will be able to retake the station. I'll send new orders as well; once they get comms repaired the orders will download to their server."

Rockman stood up, and so everyone stood up. "Mister Strang, thank you for your help." He walked around the table and offered his hand, which Strang took and gave a perfunctory shake. "Jenny will take you down to H.R. and have them cut you a check."

"Turns out it's direct deposit, actually: even better," the woman from human resources offered. "Right this way, Mister Strang." The telepath followed without looking at the board, without acknowledging anyone else in the room. Morris was happy to see the man go. Rockman made his exit immediately thereafter, with the rest of the board members following, congratulating each other as they went.

Morris waited and watched the display. It kept updating, the red dot representing Colson eventually fleeing from the control lobe and into the pressure tunnel, stopping at the end, turning back, stopping, fading and disappearing. All just as Strang had described. Somehow, watching it happen on the board made it real to Morris. Ten minutes later the red dot in Medical faded and disappeared as well. Twenty minutes after that, the remaining four dots left the habitation lobe and made their way through to the rest of the station. Morris stared at the display blankly, coldly; he felt an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, almost as if he were crashing from a high.

Rockman was at the door; he'd been watching as well, for how long Morris didn't know. "Well done."

"Thank you, sir." He shook his head. "But without Strang it would have been impossible."

"Without your remote system it would have been impossible."

"...Yes, sir."

"Fifty percent losses instead of a hundred percent isn't terrible in cases like this. It's an accomplishment. Or is it killing Colson that's bothering you? It had to be done, of course."

"Of course."

"Anyhow, take your time with the report. Lots of detail. Get as much information from the survivors as you can. We'll have to pay out indemnities to everyone, of course. Damn expensive. Anyway," He clapped Morris on the back, "Nice work. The company will remember how well you managed this mess."

"Thank you again, sir."

When Rockman was gone, Morris went over to the table, picked up the remote, and shut the display off. He had a feeling the whole thing would replay in his head, though; frozen red dots coming to life and scurrying around the surface of Ganymede before dying by his distant hand.

After Kaschei

There was a depression about a hundred meters from where the ship lay, her back broken and the drive section missing. In the suit, it took him an hour to drag Rebbo's corpse across the rocky ground, and after a rest, another hour to find enough flammable materials from the wreck to build a pyre.

"This time would be more productively spent erecting the portable comms unit." ELLE's voice was in his ear.

"Plenty of time," he wheezed. "Nobody in range for another week."

Which she knew, of course. She had all the information he did and more, and had total recall of it and no concussion. But procedure was to set up the comms before doing anything else, and following correct procedure was paramount.

"You've been injured. The telltales in your suit are sending worrisome readings. If you were to lose consciousness before the portable comms unit is operational, rescue might be catastrophically delayed."

"Do this first."

Rebbo had been ten feet tall in life, with the thick bones of one descended from brute-force predators; getting his remains up onto the pyre without help proved difficult and time-consuming.

"Your radiation exposure is already significant."

He looked up at the planet: the immense gas giant and its rings hung above him, painted onto the sky. "Suit."

"The suit can only guard against so much; the more energetic particles are still getting through. You—"

Mays switched off his suit radio. He'd turn it on again, in a while. It's not like she'd be angry. She'd just make him take all sorts of shots, and because he went against ELLE's advice, the Company wouldn't pay for them.

He had to stay out here for this. He couldn't predict the timing.

There was a welding LASER in the toolkit, he dialed it to wide dispersion and set the pyre alight. The moon's atmosphere had even more oxygen than Earth — how, Mays had no idea — so the fire was burning merrily in a few seconds, consuming the pyre, tall flames whipping at the air high above. Rebbo's corpse was lost from view, mercifully.

Mays stepped back, sat down in the dust, watched it burn. After a while, he turned the suit radio back on.

ELLE spoke almost immediately. "If your task is complete, you should return to the airlock now."

"Almost; won't be long now."

The pyre had already begun to collapse into a pile of red-hot embers and ash, with flame and smoke swirling above it. From within the base of the conflagration, something stirred: small, blister-white, Rebbo-shaped. It nosed out of the ash and scuttled across the dust to where Mays sat.

"Welcome back." He reached out, picked it up.

The Tell-Tale Pulse

"How many, now?"

The ward's technician, distracted by something on his Pad and wanting Holbrooke to wait, held up a single finger. For a moment, Holbrooke thought the man meant it as an answer to his question, meant 'one' instead of 'hang on a minute, friend', meant that Holbrooke had one pulse left between him and oblivion.

But only for a moment, for that last pulse came, and then another, and Holbrooke continued to function. The technician eventually rose and sauntered over to him. "How are we doing?"

"How many pulses left, now?"

"Can you feel them getting weaker? Sometimes, they describe it as a gradual lessening of energy across the last few thousand—"

"Feels the same. How many?"

"Do you really want to know a number?"

Holbrooke nodded. "Please."

Holbrooke wore a pathetic expression, and the technician seemed to respond to it, though the man must have known the face was a conscious choice. "All right, let me hook up and we'll take a look."

There was nothing physical to 'hook up', of course, no hidden panel in his skin to open, no plug to insert: Holbrooke was broadcasting telemetry at all times, for the benefit of anyone with the correct encryption key. The technician found Holbrooke in his list and tapped his name with a fingertip.

"Mm-hm. Everything looks normal here. Pulse intensity holding steady, you're right about that. As for the numbers," he paused, as if to give Holbrooke an opportunity to change his mind, beg off, chicken out; when Holbrooke said nothing, he continued, "Looks like around a hundred and twenty."


"Well, one hundred and eighteen," he paused for the timing, and then finished, "now."

One hundred and eighteen. One hundred and eighteen pulses left. Now, one hundred and seventeen. One pulse every five seconds, that gave him almost ten minutes.

This qualified as the homestretch. "I shouldn't have asked."

"Try not to think about it. At least, not in those terms. I know it's hard. You're conditioned to—"


"You're programmed to be analytical, to look at the data, be exacting. But it's only going to make you anxious, now. Think about something else."

"Like what?"

"Something you enjoy doing. Something that gives you pleasure. What do you like. In your work, maybe? What do you do?"

Holbrooke shrugged. "I drove freight-loaders."

"Did you like it?"

"Sure. Important work. Too dangerous for meat… for people." He was aware that he thought that because it's what he had been programmed to think. It didn't seem to matter. "I liked it all right. Out there, there's no atmosphere. The shadows are sharp. Jupiter's clear in the sky. Pretty. It never moves."

"We're tidally locked."

"No way out, I guess. How many now?"

The technician looked at the pad again. "One hundred and three. Two. Need anything else?"

"No, I'm fine."

The technician went back to the 'nurse's station'. Holbrooke wasted at least eight pulses wondering if the man ever thought of the dying androids as patients.