Red Storm Over Ganymede
Tristan held my hand in silence as the gravity tube whisked us along the edge of the dome. He had barely spoken to me since his confrontation with the Empress Dowager earlier that morning, instead preferring to brood in silence. We floated weightless, letting the cycling handles carry us toward our destination. At this late hour, we were the only people brave (or stupid) enough to be inside the transit tube and heading toward the industrial sector of the dome.
A cool, female voice announced our next stop as the Warrens, so named for the series of access and maintenance tunnels that could be reached at this stop. I squeezed Tristan’s hand and we dropped out of the gravity chute into the acrid atmosphere beneath the tubes.
The city here was awash in blinking neon advertisements for everything from pleasure rooms to smoked kebabs as Tristan and I threaded our way through the crowds before turning off the main streets and into a section of the Warrens that was even less savory. My olfactory receptors picked up the smells of half-rotted food and alcohol as we turned down a small alleyway. Normally, someone of Tristan’s station would never set foot here. To the people who lived in the Warrens, the Imperial palace might as well have been an alien world.
My boots crunched on broken transparisteel, and the sensors in my antlers were scanning for any sign of danger. The Empress Dowager would be absolutely furious if she knew where we had gone, but one of the advantages of Tristan’s unfortunate party boy reputation was that most people in the palace simply assumed we always went out to the glamorous nightlife spots.
The truth of where we occasionally went on our nightly excursions was far more likely to get us into true trouble. Some day I was certain it would blow up in Tristan’s face, and though I lived my existence trying to help my charge and cause him as little trouble as possible, I was selfish about this.
Nobody would question a human about their desire to remember and be remembered, but Bio-droids were expected to exit their lives after only one-half Revolution of Jupiter around Sol. Six Terran years was all we were allowed. Historical records indicate that our memory cores began to corrupt after that point, eventually leading to catastrophic system failures that would put our charges in danger.
I didn’t know if that was a lie, or if I was just a special case. But next to Tristan, my memories of our time together were the most important thing to me. Because since Tristan’s accident, my memories often had to be enough for both of us.
Tristan and I stepped around several people sleeping in the alleyway. Some were malfunctioning Bio-droids nearing the end of their Revolution, others were forgotten citizens of the Empire. Away from the Core of the city, the problems facing the Jovian people were clear. Behind the military parades and news of victories against the Martian Republic, the people often had little to eat, and few decent homes to live in. Tristan dropped credit chips on the sleeping forms. It was something I had seen him do countless times on our visits to the Warrens. Though it drained his bank account, Tristan’s actions filled me with hope for the future of the Empire.
Tristan and I finally came to an unmarked door in a dark section of the alleyway. He placed his palm on the lower right corner of the steel, and it lit up, taking a reading of his genetic code before allowing us entry to a dark hallway.
"It isn’t polite to dawdle in doorways, Princeling,” a voice seemed to say from everywhere around us.
Tristan chuckled before tapping the walls of the narrow corridor. "This is a shabby joint even for you, Winnie. Which way?”
Lights blossomed along the floor, directing us through a labyrinthine set of turns until we finally reached a door that glided upward, revealing what Tristan had always described as Winnie’s “Mobile Mad Science Workshop.”
To me, however, the Workshop was magical. Bio-droids in various stages of build were scattered throughout the room, each undergoing tests before Winnie would place a memory core in them. Blinking lights dotted the huge computer panels along one wall, and along the adjoining wall was a fabrication station that would be the envy of any industrial lab.
"Winnie, are you even here?” Tristan called out as he tapped his foot in impatience.
The voice from all sides spoke again. "Cool your jets, Princeling. The number of sensitive experiments I have going is far more than your feeble brain can comprehend." A door in the ceiling irised opens, and from it descended a long hydraulic arm supporting a plush chair. And in that chair was Winnie. "Isul’s magnificent brain, on the other hand, should be up to the task."
Tristan smirked as he settled down on a battered couch in a corner. "Well, Isul’s magnificent brain is why I pay your exorbitant fees, isn’t it?”
"Touché, Princeling,” Winnie said as the chair alighted to the floor of the room and she rose from the seat. Winnie was middle-aged, her glossy black hair pulled back in a messy bun. She pushed up the crescent-shaped glass on her face up to her forehead, revealing almond-shaped eyes that crinkled in warm greeting. "You look good, kid,” she said, giving me an appraising look. "Is the upgrade patch we put in last visit still working?”
I nodded in assent. Winnie patted the examination table with her cybernetic arm, and I pulled off my shirt, exposing the shoulder access panel before laying down. With her expert touch, Winnie opened the panel and connected me to her system. Being hooked up to foreign computers in my first life had never bothered me - Bio-droids routinely access the Jovian central computer for all sorts of tasks and to relay information. But after the memory transfer, I had to be extra careful about exposing myself to scrutiny.
Winnie placed her cool metallic hand on my arm. "You okay, kid?" she asked, her face concerned.
I smiled, trying to mask my jitters. "You know how I get when we do these procedures.”
Winnie snorted before flipping down her eyeglass and engaging the program that connected my memory core to the memory mapper. The machine hummed as Winnie’s fingers flew over the virtual program controls that only she could see.
Tristan’s father had been a big believer in memory mapping, and had several of his own memories and Tristan’s uploaded. A decision that had turned out to be a gift to Tristan after the accident. But memory mapping was meant for human brains. Mapping my extensive memory core onto a neural-synthetic interface wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t exactly legal.
Finding someone within the Empire who was not only adept at integrating biological and cybernetic components but willing to do so in flagrant violation of the law was no simple task. Tristan had trawled dark corners of the Imperial Data Net, and we followed a trail that took us from seedy virtual spaces to ever seedier locations.
And that was where Winnie found us, and decided to offer her help.
Winnie was the daughter of the current president of Biodyne, the leading manufacturer of Bio-droids. Unlike the rest of her famous family, Winnie preferred her life largely out of the public eye. And after a lab accident caused the loss of her arm and its replacement with a cybernetic implant instead of the usual cloned substitute, the Uranian Theocracy decried her a heretic for trying to synthesize flesh and circuits into a single whole.
Winnie refused to be cowed by the Uranians and went underground. Not satisfied with simply building Bio-droids, Winnie possessed a vision of integration: that humanity and machine could benefit from the best about each other. But despite the various cybernetic enhancements and implants Winnie had given herself aside from the arm, there was no denying her humanity. How else could we explain her willingness to help Tristan and I in our time of need?
“You’ve processed a number of unique experiences since our last session, Isul,” Winnie said with a low whistle. “There are terraquads of new data here. I can’t wait to dig in and examine it.”
Had Tristan ever given me that bio-mimetic skin response upgrade, I would have blushed at the thought of Winnie going through and cataloging my first kiss with Tristan. But it was part of our deal with the reclusive genius that by helping us, she got access to the unique data that my memories represented. As she had put it, “How often does a scientist get to study what polite society deems profane?” I wasn’t sure how I felt about being called profane, but deemed her price fair.
An hour later, Winnie finished the memory mapping and ran an auto-tuner sequence to clean up a few of my other systems that had been running sluggish. I saw out of the corner of my ocular sensor that she had begun cataloging the memories.
A few moments of silence passed before the hydraulic arm swiveled her chair and Winnie pulled up her Visor again. “Well, I wondered what triggered all the kerfuffle with the Imperial Data Net security earlier today. Did photos of that make it into some unfortunate hands?”
“What problem with the Imperial Data Net?” I asked, perplexed. I had heard nothing about a security breach earlier today.
Winnie’s fingers were flying over her computer terminal’s controls. “Give me a nanoclik, I’m still bypassing Imperial Security…ahah!” My servos stilled as Winnie blew up a picture of Tristan and I kissing in the Stardome Club. “Looks like this was delivered to the Council meeting today.”
Everything clicked into place. The Empress Dowager’s sudden visit this morning, Tristan’s lingering anger throughout the day.
Tristan was ashamed to be seen with me.
His body was rigid and still as I turned my head toward him. “It’s the end for us, isn’t it? The Council wants you to be rid of me,” I stated. Sitting up, I pulled out the wires connecting me to Winnie’s system and began heading for the door, my systems generating scenarios for the thousand ways this could end.
I could see Tristan’s fist clench in anger as he and Winnie stalked after me. I deserved at least that much for ruining his life with my moment of selfishness. How could a Bio-droid have hoped for a future, much less one with his Prince?
“It’s not like that, Isul. They simply want a new unit before the Coronation. Nobody knows about your memory upgrades.” His voice was low and rough with emotion. “Winnie will get you back into the new body before anyone is the wiser, you’ll see.”
At least I now knew why he had been so keen to visit Winnie’s workshop and upload my memory map. But I shook my head. “You remember as well as I that it barely worked last time. I don’t know if I’ll survive the reanimation process without data corruption a second time.” My vocal systems were at a whisper.
Winnie laid a hand on my arm. “Don’t discount the greatest scientific genius of the Empire, kid. As long as we complete the memory dump during the activation process, you should feel nothing more than the sensation of powering down and coming back up.”
“And if I refuse?” I asked.
Tristan’s boot stomped on the metal floor. “Don’t even joke about that, Isul.”
I continued my march toward the door unabated. “Listen to me, Tristan. My continued existence will only deepen your problems. Can you afford my presence, with their knowledge that we kissed? You could lose Uranian support over this, and that’s something you can’t afford. Not if you want to hold the Empire togeth—” I was cut off as Tristan grabbed my hand and spun me around before sealing his lips over mine.
When our lips parted, I looked deeply into his eyes. His face was flushed. “Uranians be damned. Nobody and nothing is going to keep me from this.”
My fingers trailed his cheek, tracing the light stubble there. “Do you want your whole life to be wrapped up in this lie, Tristan? To always be looking over our shoulders, afraid that the Empress Dowager, the Council, or Biodyne will find out the deception, swoop in, and separate us?”
“I won’t let that happen,” Tristan exclaimed.
I grasped his hand, the warmth registering through my fingertip sensors. “By my calculations, your continued protection of me decreases your likelihood of Imperial rule, and I could not bear being the cause of that pain.” My ocular sensors met Tristan’s eyes. The next words were the most painful I had ever uttered. “Promise me that you’ll properly replace me when the time comes?”