Firstly, an apology: tomorrow’s Podcast will be delayed, likely until late Friday evening. I took notes about what I wanted to talk about and even took the laptop into the quiet corner of my basement to record… and sighed. Covering 4000 miles by plane and car over last weekend, then getting tossed into unexpected tasks at DayJob (a colleague was ill so I had to cover) meant that I’m just not up to what y’all hopefully expect of my weekly banter. Before moving on, I will leave you this: the topic is a question from a listener: “What if the [Machines] had been made in China?” I had a glib answer, but the more I thought about it, the more complicated the subject became, so look forward to my discussion later tomorrow!
In the meantime I introduce some new characters below the fold, as we get ready for this Martian Holiday.
The android dogged their steps for the next hour as they walked about riverfront. Her comments and criticisms were unending until the Tsar’s first son ordered her to shut her damn mouth. When she fell back two paces and started stomping was too much this time and Laszlo openly laughed at her.
Turning inland a few blocks to head back to the palace, Nikita had told his love that two-thirds of Finland was under ice and snow and they had begun discussions with the Russians about a potential relocation of their people.
“We’ve just not gotten around to telling them it might be on Mars!” the young prince laughed.
Once back to the palace, doors were held open by retainers or opened automatically, both certainly by their stomping shadow. Again, Les could only shake his head at the beauty of every hall, every room.
“While knowing that form does not eat,” Nikita addressed the robot, “I would have you join us at dinner. My sisters need to know who our unexpected addition is.”
“Fine,” she managed in a sullen tone. “I can talk shop with Anastasia.”
“A good point, Prime Minister,” Laszlo said, trying to be polite. “Human modification and improvement is what Nikky said. What I know of the early history of the Machines… well, the trials at Neuroi were not only unethical but also an utter disaster. How many test subjects were murdered? How many innocents when a synth managed to get free?”
She stopped them in the large hallway. No one else was close enough to hear.
“I know that event much better than you, human, and do not think for a moment that is what we are doing here. We are pursuing several lines of research in parallel, including positive eugenics and, yes, some cybernetics.” Reina, this Reina, stared coolly at him. “All participants are voluntary, human. I will not see Russians harmed.”
“Do you,” Les rested his left hand onto Nikky’s shoulder, “also address Russians as ‘human’?”
Her cool look went right back to her scowl.
“No,” she admitted. “I do not. Prince Laszlo.”
She stared at their physical contact then blinked her eyes.
“The princesses await us.” Reina’s android waved to a door a few paces away. “Please restrain your deviant behavior before them.”
After a few steps, Nikita flung the door wide to a medium sized room for the palace which would have been a concert hall in the imperium. A table for ten with five place settings was in the center and servants were setting out several platters of food.
“Annie! Kirry!” the Crown Prince shouted. The two young women turned from where they had been talking by the tray with alcohol. Nikita made a gesture as if he had just conjured Les from thin air. “Look what followed me home! Let’s keep it as a pet!”
Only his demi-human eyes allowed Les to track how the smaller of the two tossed her glass and sprinted, hitting him hard enough to knock him back a step.
“Cousin!” a girl shouted into his chest.
He looked down…
Laszlo looked down into another Reina: barely lighter hair, but tanned skin, and wearing spacer fatigues. Her eyes were dark blue rather than reddish and the single, inch-wide fringe of her hair was down the left side, not the right. Her arms squeezed him as tightly as she could, pressing her little chest to his. Les forced himself to not look to Nikky.
“Princess Kira. How much you have grown up!” He forced a smile. “Are you ready to go to Mars?”
She made a squealing sound before being tapped on the top of her head by her older brother. They all moved back to the tray of drinks. Anastasia had poured five. Les had learned young that the custom of “any meeting which does not begin with a drink is inherently hostile” was in fact originally Russian. He picked up his crystal glass. They all looked at the robot.
“Fine! I’ll clean up later!” She, too, took hers.
“A safe voyage for us all!” Prince Nikita called.
They all drank at once, leaving nothing. The unlit brick fireplace fronted with Italian marble only yards away was showered in crystal splinters as they tossed their glasses.