I will cause many peoples to be appalled at you, and their kings will shudder with horror because of you when I brandish my sword before them. On the day of your downfall each of them will tremble every moment for his life. - Ezekiel 32:10
Detective Syllabus returned to the driver's seat with a yawn, tossed the stack of napkins into Armitage's lap. Two of the four pizza slices had disappeared in just the short time it took for him to get the extra napkins he had asked for, and by the time he started the engine again, number three was halfway to oblivion. "You've been skipping meals, haven't you?"
"Of course not. I'm always on schedule." She took a massive bite of the pizza slice, chewed for a moment, then stuffed the rest of it into her mouth, "I just don't schedule them often." She said through loaded cheeks.
"Oh, sure." Syllabus leaned back in his chair, half watching, half listening to the sound of his companion munching away on a cheap pan-pizza that probably contained less than an ounce of natural anything. The weight of the day's experiences had exhausted him heavily, yet now he decided was a good time to get some answers out of his mysterious partner in anti-crime. "Hey Naomi, I've been meaning to you ask you..." He looked over and suppressed a laugh, seeing her cheeks so packed full of food it had almost changed the shape of her head, "Why are two street-walkers from Division Twelve working an anti-robot case?"
With a powerful combination of jaw and throat muscles she forced down a massive lump of pizza, then set the now-empty box on the dashboard, "I would have thought that was obvious, Ross."
"No, it really isn't. Division Twelve usually handles organized crime and some corporate corruption cases. Even if you're both cyber warfare experts..."
Armitage shrugged. "We also specialize in witness protection."
"That being said, what do you think our purpose is for this assignment?"
Syllabus thought for a moment, not sure what to think about it and afraid to guess wrong for fear of making an ass of himself, "Are you protecting the Thirds?"
"The Martian Allied Government has an interest in these new androids. Whoever can master this technology is going to have a huge political and military advantage."
"Who built these androids?"
Armitage shrugged, "No one knows. We've been working on this for years, but now it looks like our competitors are jumping ahead of us."
"Not that far ahead," He found himself rolling down a blind alley of logical thought before he could stop himself, "If they have to send a hit-man to knock off the other Thirds, obviously they're no closer to the technology than we are. But that doesn't make a lot of sense since they obviously have access to the Thirds..."
Armitage grinned, "It's not the Tyhhreans we're worried about. They don't have the know-how to master that technology, and even if they did they'd go out of their way to keep for themselves."
"Then who are we competing with?"
"I'll tell you when you guess right."
Syllabus rolled his eyes, "Well, screw you then."
"Your place or mine?" Armitage folded her arms behind her head and reclined the seat back almost horizontal.
Syllabus moved on to the next question without so much as a warning, "Who the hell is Jacques Dan Claude?"
"Officially he's my older brother."
That raised an eyebrow, "And unofficially?"
Armitage stiffened, "Jacques Dan Claude is the collective pseudonym of a terrorist network operating out of Omania, supported by Tyhhrean funds. Jacques was one of their founding fathers, and he was so prolific in it that any time his group did anything they always used his name to claim responsibility. Now there are about six or seven hundred people using the name Jacques Dan Claude."
Tyhhreans again. Syllabus was starting to notice another pattern, and this one was a little more transparent. "Your brother was the original Dan Claude?" He chose his words carefully, hoping to catch her in a slip of the tongue.
Armitage nodded, "Something like that. He's sort of the black sheep of the family... he went to Omania to start a career as a warlord, total power trip."
Syllabus grunted, "Does MIC know about it? I can't imagine being the kid sister of an international terrorist is good for your security clearance."
"You wouldn't think so, but..." She turned and looked at him tenderly, "A few years ago, Jacques sent his assassins after me and Julian trying to keep us from blabbing about him to the authorities. I did five weeks in a state hospital, then I got out and applied to MIC's counterterrorist unit, Division Four. I spent three years tracking Jacques before he went underground and the Collective reassigned me to Division Twelve."
"Why did they transfer you? Personal bias?"
Armitage shook her head. "He just wasn't a priority anymore. Besides, I run into his nut boys more often in the organized crime rackets than I ever did with counterterrorism."
Syllabus sighed. It was just another potentially important piece of the puzzle that now turned out to be nothing more than a corner segment, "How come all of your siblings have different last names?"
"Because we all have different mothers."
"I didn't know Asakura was a playboy." Syllabus started the engine again and pulled the car out of its parking space.
"He wasn't." Armitage rolled down the window, and Syllabus stopped the car close to a trash can where she now tossed the empty pizza box and the napkins before he drove off again, "He was a wacko and a pimp."
"I thought you said he was a brilliant inventor and robotics guru?"
"He was a lot of things, Ross." The memories seemed somehow painful for her; she reached into her little jacket and retrieved her dark sunglasses, relieved to find them unbroken, "Paranoid, sadistic, brilliant, arrogant, compassionate, honest, perverse, selfish, impulsive... just a walking contradiction. He would do the most horrible things and then turn around and do something wonderful to make up for it. I loved him as much as I despised him."
Behind the nearly black tint from her sunglasses it was impossible to discern any emotion from her, but for just an instant the light from a neon sign outside the car glared through the glasses and exposed her; her eyes were watery, close to tears.
"He did something to you, didn't he?"
She shuddered at the sudden rush of memory, then turned on her side away from him as tears started rolling down her cheeks. "He... it was..." Her voice gave no sign of it, but something in just that one phrase was clear enough that he decided he didn't want to know.
"How did your father die?" Syllabus said, gradually changing the subject.
"No one knows. He disappeared when I was in college." Armitage tilted the chair up and sat straight. Her face was dry now, as were her eyes, but she kept the sunglasses on all the same.
"So the date of his death in the records...?"
"He was working on a project related to the Thirds around the time he disappeared. I assume he went underground to hide from Jacques and his thugs. We have some agents on his trail, but the death certificate is a cover to keep our competitors from finding him first."
Syllabus didn't know why, but at this moment he found himself laughing out loud. He managed to keep his composure just in time to avoid running a red light and stopped just short of the crosswalk.
"What's so funny?" Armitage said, tilting her sunglasses up to look him in the eye, "And by the way, what's the big idea going through my background? Is this case boring to you or something?"
Still smiling, Syllabus moved the car again as the light turned green, "Boring or not, you're a lot more interesting. I've caught serial killers with less shady backgrounds."
Armitage sat back in her chair and folded her arms indifferently. "If you dig deep enough you'll find that's pretty common in the MIC."
"I don't doubt it... what the hell is this?" He slowed the car to a stop at a massive crowd of individuals choking the intersection, marching across almost parade fashion but in no particular formation. As the seconds ticked off, their number and density seemed to increase by exponents, as did the number of signs and posters they carried overhead.
One sign in particular stood out, so large it took at least ten people to carry it: Mass Produced Sin! Syllabus tapped a button on his dashboard, and instantly connected with the dispatcher back at the 6th Precinct, "Hey Pearl, this is Detective Syllabus on 13th Street. You heard anything about a demonstration today?"
The dispatcher groaned in annoyance, "We just started getting calls on it four minutes ago. The World Church of the Creator held a rally unannounced this morning and it turned into a big march. We're not sure if they intended it this way, but it doesn't really matter."
"Do you have a report on the size?"
"Two to three thousand, about six blocks long."
"Damn." Syllabus put the car into part and leaned back in his seat. "I wish this was a squad car. Maybe we could use the siren to clear a path."
Armitage sighed. "Wake me up when they pass." She leaned against the car door and sagged into nothingness.
He couldn't help but notice the peculiar scent of perfume hanging around the young woman behind the reception desk at the OBN television station in Downtown Saint Lowell. She was a perfectly normal looking woman, in fact Dan Claude found her more than a little attractive—blonde, blue-eyed, athletic figure. He was so impressed by the sight of her that the first thought that crossed his mind when he walked through the revolving door and saw her there was the prospect of chasing her down in a dark alley in true, predatory indulgence. Unfortunately it was business before pleasure, at least for the moment. "Hey babes," He said, and tapped his fingers on the desk, "Do you have a building server here? Something maybe I can use to hijack the telecommunications network for this entire country?"
The receptionist looked at him suspiciously, trying to decide if he was joking or not. "You know what, sir, I really don't..."
He squinted at the name tag on her shirt, and asked, "Cora Manning, huh? How old are you, Cora?"
Again, she looked at him suspiciously, but in this case only as a distraction as her free hand pushed the silent alarm button under the desk. "Why do you ask?"
"Because you look familiar." He looked at her face and thought for a moment, "Do you have a sister, maybe?"
She pressed the silent alarm again, "No. Why?"
Two more men came through the revolving door, both carrying black duffle bags. They stopped behind Dan Claude, and one of them placed the bag at his feet and unzipped the bag. Dan Claude looked at the open bag, then gasped in realization, "I thought you looked familiar! Your hair color is different and your eyes are a bit wider, but the resemblance is striking!"
"Resemblance to who?"
In a movement too fast for any humane eyes to follow, his arm snapped across the desk like a springing cobra, snatched her by the throat and dragged her across the desk, throwing her face down on the floor. She landed with a heavy thump on the tile, and found herself staring into a set of all-too-familiar eyes set into the anguished face of a disembodied head, "Maria Patrick," He said with a snicker. "You're from the same production line."
She felt two pairs of strong hands gripping her shoulders; the two men who had come in behind Dan Claude dragged her across the room to the door behind the reception desk. One of them plugged an NFC cable to the back of her head, the other connected the same cable to a fairly large and apparently home-made computer unit in the other dufflebag.
The young woman struggled with the two men, tried to pull herself free, but in moments she found herself suddenly paralyzed by a force she couldn't quite understand. It didn't take her long to realize what was happening, then a moment of horror as she felt her own programming defenses failing one by one. The gravity of the situation began to sink in, and lost to helplessness her eyes filled with tears, "Wh-what are you going to do with me?" She said, by now almost whimpering.
Dan Claude seemed highly amused. "Giving up already?" He thought for a moment, then chuckled, "I see. You figured out that I've already hacked the building security system and shut off the silent alarms."
She felt an itch in her fingertips, which slowly rose into a burning sensation that filled her arms and legs. She knew, though, that it was all in her head. The computer was tunneling through her last barriers like an electronic power drill. Soon the pain became intense and highly localized, right in the center of her brain. She lost final control of her body now, and had she still any influence she would have screamed in despair.
"Don't let me be misunderstood," said a voice in her head, the voice of her assailant, "But despite your resemblance to Maria Patrick, I happen to find you rather captivating. And what is that perfume you're wearing?"
Even in telepresence, she was still whimpering in despair, "Are you going to kill me?"
"Eventually," He put his hand on her thigh under her skirt, "Unlike you Thirds, I am not a machine, I am a life form. And like all life forms, I survive by destroying other life forms. And like all intelligent life forms, I am forever experimenting with ever more creative ways to destroy other life forms." Then he smiled, "You have nothing to worry about, because you are alive. But you do have the pleasure of being the first in a new series of experiments."
"Experiment?" She felt her mind slipping away, a strangely blissful sensation that seemed entirely out of place here. Her emotional state descended immediately to neutral, then in a strange succession passed through happiness, indifference, anger, and ultimately through something like a mind-numbingly powerful surge of lust that disappeared as quickly as it had come. Her perception began to dissolve, and she felt her personality collapsing on itself. A new one was beginning to manifest in its place, growing within her like a cancer. And in one last horrific epiphany before the end came, she realized that nothing inside her had changed at all, but only that her own personality—everything she was, everything she knew, everything that defined her identity—was being walled up in a dark corner of her mind, never to be retrieved again. Then the wall solidified around her, and just like that, Cora Manning was dead.
From within her mental prison, she heard Dan Claude's words echoing to her as if from a great distance, "How does it feel, Cora?" He asked, even now not expecting an answer, "How does it feel to have someone devour your soul?"
Her eyes snapped open. She stood up slowly, ran her fingers through her hair, and with a slow, lazy move, pulled the NFC cable out of the back of her head and looked at Dan Claude with a sleazy grin, "Goddamn, you are a pig."
Dan Claude took it as a measure of success. "Don't change the subject. How does it feel?"
"I just told you. It feels like making love to a pig."
"So... is that a bad thing?"
She tossed her jacket on the floor next to the duffle bag, then ripped off her blouse and tossed that on the floor next to it, leaving only her sports bra and a small holster hanging from her right shoulder for a pocket computer, "What was it you were looking for?"
"A building server," Dan Claude smiled brightly, "I need to find a way to hijack the communications network for the entire country."
She rolled her eyes, then turned and gestured for him to follow. "Why don't you just use a satellite?"
"Too easy to block out."
She unlocked a door marked "employees only" and lead Dan Claude and his accomplices deeper into the building. Somehow she found herself suddenly blessed with a library of knowledge on a variety of subjects, from the hacking technique he had used to get control of her, through a plethora of combat styles, right down through the nature of Dan Claude himself. She lead them around a corner and up a flight of stairs, asking as she went, "So now that you've hacked my brain, are you planning to hack my body too?"
"I already have." His eyes glowed for a moment as a short signal beamed from his brain to hers. Immediately stopped on the stairs in mid step, shuddering from head to toe in a some odd combination of indescribable pleasure and unbearable pain. "I would consider you to be a... pet." The signal cut off, and she collected herself and began to move on.
"You're such a pig." She muttered.
"Well you know what they say about casting pearls before a swine," He chuckled, following his climb behind her. "Just get me into the server and keep me in for seven hours. Then you stay here and wait for me to come back."
"Whatever... damn pig."
Feeling a little vindictive, Dan Claude sent the signal into her brain again, and once again she collapsed on the stairs shuddering spasmodically from waves of electrical mayhem running wild in her body. One of the T-640s put his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet, muffling an otherwise ear-piercing scream that would have caught the attention of the entire building.
Dan Claude stood a few steps behind her, keeping her punishment steady, watching her writhing on the stairs completely out of control. He couldn't tell if she was in ecstasy or agony, but as was his nature, he no longer cared. "My dear Cora... I do believe this experiment is a success."
Syllabus sat bored for a almost half an hour as the march dragged on, staring at the crowds as they poured past, oblivious to his frustration and wrapped up in their own fanatical nonsense. Every manner of human ugliness was displayed here; signs and chants ranging from the childishly clever to the intensely hateful, and more than a few demonstrators even carrying the severed parts of androids at the end of a stick. Three teenagers in one group even had an entire smashed body between them on a plywood platform, impaled in a dozen places with ten-inch nails.
"Makes you wonder, doesn't it?" Armitage said, still slumped against the door in the appearance of sleep. Through the space between her face and the lens of her sunglasses he could see her eyes open, watching the crowd anxiously, "Would they be doing any of this for a group of humans?"
"Of course not. That's the point. Robots aren't human, but humans keep having to compete with them. I understand the sentiment, but these people are religious fanatics."
"Whose fault is it, then?" She sighed, "If you hate androids so much, why the hell do you keep building them?"
"That's big business for you. They manufacture a cheep labor force they don't have to pay and don't have to maintain. The company makes a huge profit and gives nothing back to the community." Syllabus turned to her with a crooked grin, "See, it's not the robots they're angry with, it's the corporate rape of society they represent."
Armitage sat up and snatched her sunglasses off her face. She grinned at him mischievously, "And I know the cure for that."
"Take all the androids out of the workforce and put them in charge of their own companies. This way everybody has their own job."
Syllabus chuckled. "The big companies are run by robots. They're programmed to chase the almighty dollar, anything else that is just a distraction."
Armitage nodded in agreement. "If you ask me, the mob is lynching the wrong—"
One of the large TV screens fixed to the side of record store crackled in static. At that moment so did the speakers of the city's emergency broadcast system, and every active radio in every car in Saint Lowell, every TV set, every CD player, every android without a fractal program, even the PA system of the department stores roared collectively with a deranged voice, shouting loud enough to command the attention of everything with working ears: "Hellooooooo! Listen up you stupid sheeple! I've got some important information for you!"
The voice exploded in Syllabus' radio with such intensity that it rattled the windows of the car. He turned down his radio, even as Armitage threw open the car door and cast her eyes toward the giant monitor above the record store. All of the demonstrators in the column did the same, their attention thoroughly grabbed by the rude, explosive and clearly illegal broadcast.
"For the next century or so, all TV and radio channels belong exclusively to me, Jacques Dan Claude. The police and the emergency channels will have control again any second... but who cares?" Dan Claude laughed hysterically on the monitor, then stepped slightly to the side, "It's better this way, after all. The regular media always screws up! For example, I'm sure none of you knew that Maria Patrick isn't in any hospital, and she didn't suffer any goddamn overdose! You stupid assholes will believe just about anything!"
A window opened in the screen next to him, playing the recording from the hotel where Patrick was gunned down. Syllabus noticed immediately that the angle was different; clearly this was taken from the memory data of the T-640 that had been his accomplice. "Here's our cutie now..." He said with a running commentary, then as his own image came into view, "Ooh! Who's this handsome feller? Could this be a budding romance for our lovely pop star?" The tape played out in slightly reduced speed; all of Saint Lowell watched through the eyes of the older android as Dan Claude forced the young singer to her knees, seemingly amused by the entire ordeal. His plasma rifle came into view, and now the entire city watched the plasma bolts demolish the pop start, piece by metal piece, reducing her to a pile of twisted scrap metal on the carpet. "Guess not... hahahaha!"
The initial shock of the gruesome scene swept through the crowd like a wave, but what followed immediately after was another shock as the entire demonstration found themselves staring a pile of circuits and transistors where human organs should have been. Dan Claude laughed as he came back into view, the window shrinking to a corner of the screen as it played through another execution of another Third, with dozens more videos lined up right behind it, "The great Maria Patrick!" He said dramatically, "The little bitch was a robot the whole fucking time! How many of you idiots went out and bought her last album? Show of hands?" Dan Claude reached off-screen for a moment, and raised before the camera the severed hand of Maria Patrick; at this he laughed long and hard as the little window next to his head played off yet another android assassination. "These disgusting little things are everywhere. They look and act exactly like human beings. They do it all! They walk like us, they talk like us, they eat, sleep and drink like us, they fart like us, they even bone like us!" Then he chuckled, "No, I take it back. Nobody gives better head..." Again he reached off camera, this time holding up the severed head of Susan Cooper, "... than a Third-Type android!"
A few of the protestors began to grow agitated. Some left the group in disgust, but the majority of them grew agitated in another way. Shouts of anger rippled from among them with each word Dan Claude spoke, but even as the feeling picked up momentum, these were clearly in agreement with the pirated signal filling their ears and eyes. Dan Claude had their full attention, and soon he would have their full cooperation.
"By now you're probably asking, why? Why are these new clunkers showing up everywhere? Why are androids pretending to be human?" Again he held up the head of Susan Cooper, "You ostrich sons of bitches have been sticking your heads in the sand too long and now you have things like this walking around with you! You let a robot replace Maria Patrick! You let a robot replace Ambassador Marriott! And they're not the only ones... everywhere you look these fucking machines are snatching up all the best and the brightest—" He chuckled, "And the not so brightest—and taking their place! Take this one for instance..." He waved Susan Cooper's disembodied head before the camera, "This one used to be a faithful wife and mother to a little girl named Jennifer Cooper. But wouldn't you know it? Those sneaky bastards replaced Mrs. Cooper with this disgusting thing here! Oh, and there's more: little Jennifer Cooper, a 7th grader over at Mount Harris middle school is not even close to human, she's a cybernetic freak of nature! A spy-drone, keeping track on the little cunts on the playground, scouting for who else they can replace! Do you follow me yet, Saint Lowell!"
An angry roar exploded from the protestors. Dan Claude by now had them so wrapped around his finger that he could march the lot of them off a cliff without so much as a complaint. Thus, what came next over the broadcast was enough to stop Syllabus' heart in middle of a beat, "Oops! It looks like I've just found another one!" The window in the corner of the screen stopped playing execution videos and expanded again, this time filling the air behind Dan Claude. A mug shot photo from a woman's driver's license was displayed, large enough for the entire mass of people to see it clearly, "This is my dear friend, Alia Henderson. She lives at 1841 South Garrison street. She's a high school teacher who every day, hundreds of parents place their lazy, dumbass teenagers into her sole care. Two years ago this woman, along with her husband and two children were replaced by Third-type Androids. What should we do about this?" The window moved to the corner of the screen and another one came up behind Dan Claude, "Or this one, Michelangelo Mardinni of 503 East Nabisco. Think the teacher was bad enough? This son of a bitch is a heart surgeon! He's being sued at the moment for malpractice after one of his patients died of a stroke! What should we do about this?"
Many of the protestors were already moving off down the streets towards the addresses mentioned. Syllabus was already on the radio calling for police escort of the ousted individuals as quickly as Dan Claude could name them; two more names were read off, but then the fourth name appeared...
"How about this guy: Ryan Clancy!" The picture filled the screen behind him, "An ordinary feller! Clancy here runs the hotdog stand on 13th street!" Dan Claude laughed, "That's some shit, isn't it! What should we do about this?"
It would have been just another name, except that when Armitage looked to her right where barely fifteen feet from Syllabus' car, Ryan Clancy stood petrified behind his hotdog stand, staring at the giant monitor in disbelief even as a dozen or so protestors shouted from the crowd, "There he is! Over there!"
"Aw hell..." Armitage climbed back into the car and drew her sidearm. The detective put the car into gear immediately, surged forward, then looped around in front of stopped traffic just before the protestors came surging down the street. The car crossed four lanes of traffic until it jumped the curb onto the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, speeding forward ahead of protestors.
Clancy, by now, took off running down the street as fast as his android legs could carry him—which, it turned out, was only a step or two slower than Syllabus' car. The protestors dropped behind by now, but pedestrians recognizing the fleeing Clancy stepped up in a vain effort to slow his retreat. One man pulled a tire iron out of his trunk and took a swing as the android ran past. He ducked it easily and kept going, and his would-be attacker now leapt out of the way as Syllabus' car came screaming down the sidewalk in hot pursuit.
"I could really use that siren right about now..."
"Think he's running from us?" Armitage took out her gun and loaded it.
"What do you think? With your wardrobe we might as well be gang bangers." Clancy looked over his shoulder, and seeing them still in pursuit seemed to double his pace. Unfortunately the moment's distraction did him in, as another car, misreading the detective's intention, jumped the curb where Clancy was running and crashing into him mid-stride, pinning him against the side of a parking garage.
Syllabus slammed his breaks, but not fast enough. They were still skidding at a considerable speed when they collided with the other car—but there was no collision, nor was there an impact. Syllabus turned his head in confusion to see the other car standing on its rear bumper, tilting back over the sidewalk, finally landing again upside down. Clancy seemed visibly winded by his feat of strength, as did nearby pedestrians appear visibly shocked by it. This was her chance; before he could recover, Armitage leapt out of the car and sprinted up to him with near-inhuman swiftness, grabbed him by the collar and half-dragged, half-shoved him back towards Ross' car, "SLPD, Ryan," She said, opening the back door, "We need to get you off the street!"
Clancy slipped into the back seat as Armitage jumped back into the front. The protestors were starting to catch up now as Ross slammed the gas and sped the car off again, back down the sidewalk to the next intersecting street until at last he was back on legal pavement, "You know, you guys really need a siren."
"Ya think?" Syllabus said sourly. He keyed up the police radio and called into the dispatcher, "This is Syllabus, I've got Clancy. Are there any others downtown that need a pickup?"
The dispatcher already had the name on her screen, "Only one: George Van Pelt, a gourmet chef at the..."
"George too!" In a suddenly reflex, Syllabus slammed his breaks and the car screeched to a stop, then put the car in reverse and backed up no more than twenty feet before he found himself double-parked in front of the Radisson Hotel. "That's lucky," Clancy said whistle.
"Van Pelt's an old friend of mine. Go in and get him, Naomi."
Clancy shook his head. "No need. He's coming out."
"How do you know?"
"He just said so."
He looked over his shoulder and noted Clancy's eyes were ablaze with red light. It was a curious effect Syllabus had observed with modern androids whenever they used their wireless function. He had read in a magazine it had something to do with the interaction of electromagnetic waves from their modem—located just behind the eyes—and the nanotech devices in the eyes themselves. Every android had its own distinct color; the civilian robots glowed yellow, the military robots a luminous green. The Thirds, evidently, glowed red.
And true to his prediction, only moments later a single figure in a white chef's coat burst through the glass doors of the Radisson, a group of some twenty youths hot on his tail with weapons and blunt objects of every shape and size. Clancy kicked the door open and then moved over. Van Pelt dove head first into the car, and Syllabus didn't even wait for him to close the door before his foot smashed the gas into the bottom of the floor.
Clancy leaned across the new arrival and closed the door, then in a second action dislodged a butcher knife from the man's lower back. "Having fun yet?" He said cynically.
Van Pelt growled. "Who the hell is this Dan Claude guy? He came up on the speakers and said something about androids replacing people..."
Syllabus looked over his shoulder, "Hiya George," He said in recognition, "If you really are George."
"You wanna test me, Ross?" Van Pelt sighed, "Give me a kettle and some goodies and I'll make your wife's favorite gumbo."
"Your memory's faulty. I don't have a wife."
Van Pelt snorted, "I'm talking about Shelly."
Syllabus laughed out loud, "Oh, right."
Armitage squinted at him, "Who's Shelly?"
"Shelly's an Argyre sea turtle."
Presently she found herself unable to tell if he was joking or not, "Your turtle eats gumbo?"
"Who doesn't?" Van Pelt said proudly, "Even androids eat gumbo. Right Clancy?"
"Damn right." He said strongly. "If you don't like gumbo you don't have a soul."
Syllabus flinched at the remark; in his rearview mirror he stared at Clancy with suddenly increased scrutiny.
Armitage sighed. "I've never had gumbo before."
"Then if we make it through this alive I'll cook a special pot just for you," Van Pelt leaned forward over her shoulder, "For a lovely woman like you, I'd consider it an honor and a privilege."