“Well, I feel we’ve all learned something,” said Denny, nestling back in his chair like he hadn’t a care in the world. He scanned the city nightscape from the comfort of his office balcony.

With its soaring Art Deco towers and intersecting streams of grav cars it had that Bladerunner quality shared by a surprising number of cities on a great many worlds – not because the movie demonstrated any prescience, but because when designing future cities everyone seemed bound to refer to it for inspiration.

“And what do you suppose is the moral of this story?” said Megara Three – or Alan, as he was just growing accustomed to calling himself – nestling in the adjacent armchair.

Denny emanated surprise. “Why, I should have thought that was obvious to a justice machine of your talents. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the gun is the real attention grabber.”

“You’re never going to relinquish that firearm, are you?” Denny was in many ways as predictable as post-Bladerunner science-fiction architecture.

“And aren’t you glad I kept it? A Cyberman waving a gun around? That could have gone on for ages, created all kinds of complications and then where would we be? The final act would have spilled over into the epilogue, that’s where. And nobody wants that.”

“No,” admitted Alan, “I don’t suppose they do.”

“However,” qualified Denny, discharging a puff of cigar smoke that he had transmatted inside himself some minutes ago, “if it makes you feel any better, I will stop packing when the bad guys stop packing.”

Alan didn’t believe that for a minute, but he decided it might be amusing to pursue the hypothetical. “But if the good guys are packing and the bad guys are packing then everyone’s packing and there’s more packing than FedEx and it’s all packing with nothing in the box.”

Denny bobbed higher in case there was a chance of catching the thought before it went over his head. “Huh?”

“We’re all too busy and anxious about protecting what’s ours when all we’re actually left with is the fear,” Alan explained. He could feel something weighing him down. Either his levitation circuits were faltering or he was managing to depress himself. “Fear and emptiness. And loneliness.”

“Ah,” hummed Denny knowingly. “So Six didn’t put out for you?”

“No,” conceded Alan. “She lost her case. I won mine. Inequality of that kind in a relationship is nearly always detrimental.”

“Next time, she wins, you lose,” advised Denny. “It’s okay when the inequality runs that way. You lose, you don’t lose out.”

Alan rotated in a carefully limited arc from side to side. Humans would have shaken their heads – they did possess some advantages. “Sometimes I think things were a whole lot simpler back when we were merely justice machines. It’s all this working in a private practice, mixing with humans. Humans complicate things.”

Maybe he should dispense with his newfound name of ‘Alan’ and go back to being just Three.

“You should try some.”

“What?” Dubiously, Alan eyed the glass of whisky that sat on the table between them. It was half-empty. Denny was always ingesting some new chemical. He was all about the hedonistic pleasures. “You’re suggesting I should swirl some of that foul concoction around my internal particle analyser?”

“No, no. Humans. You should try some humans.”

“Interfacing with humans, you mean?” Denny’s interspecies practices were infamous, but to be honest Alan had always thought it was an act he put on. For what purpose, he could never compute.

“Of course. What else are tactile fields for?” Denny gave off an abundance of smirk-like radiance. “You’ll never be the same once you’ve had human.”

“Nonsense. What could we possibly have in common?”

“Well, I thought that at first,” confessed Denny. “But it turns out, many of them share my views on firearms.”

Alan emitted a sigh. Denny was right. The sword didn’t stand a chance against that magnitude of firepower. What hope was there for the pen?

SAF 2009


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