Mirror Friend, Mirror Foe 8

I hate to admit this, Hosato said, but I dont know what that is or what it means.

Rick looked a bit distressed, but answered him. Everything thats input into the central control computer passes through the monitor file . . . every program change, addition, request, everything. If were right and Turner did something that created a new logic system in the robots, there should be a record of it here.

I cant help you there, Sasha interjected. What I dont know about computers could fill a library.

Same here, Rick admitted. I was hoping one of you . . .

His voice trailed off as he noticed Hosatos frenzied activity. Hosato had scavenged a pencil from the depths of the bar and was busily scribbling something on the back of one of the sheets.

Rick! he said, handing the mechanic the paper. Set a course for those coordinates.

Where are we going? Rick asked, studying the sheet.

To visit a friend of mine, Hosato replied. He builds and programs custom robots. Lets see if he can decipher this mess.

Now youre talking, Rick said, brightening noticeably.

Whoa. Dont get your hopes up yet, Hosato cautioned. We dont know yet if hell be able to find anything in that file. Even if he can, weve got to come up with a plan of action we all agree with, and that includes . . . say, where is James, anyway?

Rick smiled and pointed to the back of the lounge. James was curled up on one of the luxurious sofas, fast asleep. Cradled in his arms like a teddy bear were Hosatos dueling epees.

I think the kid has the right idea, Rick observed. We could all do with some sleep. There are half a dozen cabins there in back. Take your pick. What about you? Hosato asked. Ill be doing the same as soon as I get this new course fed into the autopilot. He disappeared into the pilots compartment once more.

Hosato found himself staring at Jamess sleeping form.

Leave him, Sasha said softly at his elbow. Hell be all right there, and hell wake up if you try to move him.

I guess youre right, Hosato acknowledged. You know, Rick is quite a guy.

Qualified to operate and repair a wide variety of heavy machinery, including space transports shows a high degree of dedication when it comes to completing assignments, but displays little or no leadership ability seems content in current position not currently considered for advancement, Sasha recited. You know, until all this, he was just another personnel report on my desk. Funny how you can know a person so well and not really know nun at all.

I know what you mean, Hosato admitted. Until things blew up back there, he was just another person to pump for information. Now . . .

His voice trailed off into silence.

It must be a lonely way to . . .

Sasha started to lay a hand on his arm as she spoke and succeeded only in waving her stump in the air. She stared at it for a moment, then turned away abruptly.

Sasha . . . Hosato said, moving to her side.

Leave me alone! she whispered, turning to keep her back to him.

Sasha. It doesnt matter, he insisted.

I dont want your pity, she snarled, and started to stalk away.

Hosato caught her before she had taken three steps.

Im not offering pity, he said softly. Im offering me. Now, if youre not interested, say so. But dont blame it on your arm.

Then she was in his arms, crying against his chest. He gently walked her down the corridor to the cabins

What the Hungarians real name was, nobody knew. He used a wide array of aliases when signing various documents, and in conversation, he responded to a variety of nicknames.

Some said he broke off a brilliant career with the corporations to start his own business; others, that the corporations, stole his business away from him and he started a new one out of spite. The Hungarian had a small shop in a teeming city on a backwater planet but his reputation was known in that part of the galaxy.

Whether he started rich or if he built his business to the point where he was wealthy was inconsequential. What mattered was the current situation, and currently he could and did pick and choose his jobs, accepting only those that were immensely expensive or particularly challenging.

Hosato had been referred to the Hungarian when searching for someone to build a fencing robot for him, and the two had become fast friends. Not that they were particularly close, for Hosatos profession did not allow confidants. Because of that, the Hungarians stoic refusal to ask questions of a personal nature endeared him to Hosato more than anything else. As an example, they had known each other for five years after Suzis construction was complete before Hosato had hesitantly mentioned to the Hungarian that his talents included sabotage and that he would appreciate any business that could be steered his way. When this fact was formally mentioned, the Hungarian immediately produced not one, but three clients for Hosato. Apparently he had had his suspicions all along, probably from the special construction that went into Suzi, but had refrained from seeking clarification or confirmation until Hosato broached the subject himself.

Hosato was reluctant to face him with the news of Suzis demise, but he neednt have worried. The Hungarian greeted them upon their arrival with his usual expansive welcome and was introduced to Sasha, Rick, and James without once commenting on Suzis absence. In fact, the subject was not even broached until later over drinks, after they had briefed the Hungarian on the events at Mc. Crae and the problem at hand.

When they had finished their tale, he sat silently puffing on his pipe for several minutes before responding.

You know, Hosato, he said at last, if yon hadnt brought along a brace of witnesses for your yarn, Idd think this was all an elaborate excuse for losing one of the best robots Ive ever built.

I know it sounds impossible Sasha began.

The Hungarian waved a hand of dismissal at her.

When youve worked with machines as long as I have, he declared, you learn nothing is impossible highly improbable, perhaps, but not impossible.

Can you read these? Rick asked, eagerly producing his sheaf of papers. Its a copy of the last entries to the central Computer-. Monitor file, the mechanic announced proudly. We were hoping you might be able to tell from these what went wrong.

Not so fast. The Hungarian exhaled a long stream of pipe smoke. Its too soon for detail. Lets approach this problem one step at a time. First of all, what is the basic problem?

Come on, Tinker, Hosato groaned. The problem is that robots are killing people.

Wrong. The Hungarian pointed his pipe stem at Hosato. The problem is that the Mc. Crae complex is producing robots that are killing people. That makes it a problem with the computer, and not a malfunctioning of the robots themselves.

Thats right, Rick asserted. We think something went wrong with the programming when Turner, Jamess father, was trying to design a new security-robot system. Probably something that bypassed the 'no-kill' base programming.

The Hungarian shook his head. Its not that simple. Were talking about an 'activity program.' That means, in addition to capacity, it needs motivation.

It was clear that the Hungarian had risen to the bait and was rapidly becoming enmeshed in what to him was a puzzle of electronics and computer logic. Hosato was glad to see him involved, though the conversation rapidly became too complex and technical for laymen such as himself to follow.

When James got up and wandered off into the small kitchen and no one noticed, Hosato decided to follow suit. The other three were huddled over the monitor log copies and didnt even look up as he left.

James was pouring himself a glass of pop and looked up as Hosato joined him. He brightened noticeably.

Could you pour two more of those while youre at it? Hosato asked.

Sure. No problem.

As the boy hurried about his errand, Hosato pondered the best way to approach the subject on his mind.

Say, James, he said at last. We havent had much time to talk since the blowup at Mc. Crae.

Talk about what? James asked, passing his friend the glass of soft drink and perching on the counter.

About your future, mostly, Hosato responded pointedly.

I thought that was all settled, James replied innocently. Im going with you.

Its not that simple, and you know it. Look,

James, Hosato began. You dont know anything about me or how I live. Now, I dont know what kind of romantic notion you have in your head about the kind of person I am, but its not a life-style you enter into casually.

Im not doing this casually, James protested. I asked you to take me along with you before things went bad at the complex before Dad was killed, too. Besides, I dont have anywhere else to go.

Thats what I mean! Hosato pounced on the phrase.

Without realizing it, he began to pace back and forth in the cramped kitchen.

James, there are lots of things you could do. Youre bright. Youre energetic. Youve got guts. And youve got a whole lot of options before you. Dont be stampeded into any one life just because you feel theres no other choice. Particularly my kind of life. Now I dont mean to sound negative on all this, but Ive been traveling the star lanes most of my life and Ive seen this time and time again. Men and women working at jobs they hate, their whole lives just a drone existence, all with the same story, '. I didnt have any other choice.' Well, by God, you do have choices. Life should be a series of choices. Some lock you in, a few lock you out, and then there are others that open more doors. Making good choices demands brains, some luck, and a whole lot of guts. And most of all, it takes that something that makes us human the will to make ourselves better. James, dont lock yourself into the first chance that you get. And thats what this life will do. Dont be looking back ten or fifteen years past the star lanes wishing you hadnt committed to something you cant get out of. James, dont make choices like a programmed robot!

Hosato stopped, realizing how emotional he was becoming.

Is that why you said no the first time I asked you? the boy prompted.

Thats right. Ill tell you now, I was tempted to go along with it even then. My work is lonely. To give you an idea how lonely, Suzi was my best friend until she was destroyed, covering our retreat. Do you understand what Im saying. My best friend was a robot. That should give you an idea of how low things can get.

I liked Suzi, James protested.

Hosato ignored him. Youve got a dozen ways you could go with your life. Im only one of them. At this moment, I just happen to be the closest option to you. I cant let you make your decision on that basis. Then with a quick wink, an attempt to lighten the conversation, he added, Listen kid, Ive got my own dubious concept of honor, you know.

How did you get into this business? James asked pointedly.

Hosato was silent for a few moments, then leaned against the counter as he answered.

Thats a good question, James, and it deserves an honest answer. With me, I really didnt have a choice, or rather, the choice was made for me. Its a family business, and I was raised into it. For me, its as natural as breathing. For many reasons, I couldnt leave it now if I wanted to. But Ill tell you this much, James, Im not particularly happy with what I do. Sometimes I wonder, if I were starting all over again and given a choice, and I knew what I know now, if I wouldnt walk away from it all without looking back. Youve got that choice, and I want you to think it through before commiting yourself.

James bit his lip thoughtfully. All right, Hosato, he said. Tell me about this terrible life. What do you do?

Now it was Hosatos turn to lapse into silence. Waves of bitter memories held in check by sheer force of will now flooded over him. He had set himself up for this question; now he had to answer it, both for the boy and for himself.

Im a killing machine, he said quietly. I kill people. Not because theyre a threat or even because they may have offended menot that thats a good reason. I kill because Im paid to.

He fixed James with a calm gaze as he continued.

You want to know what it means to be in my line of work. I said you dont have any friends. Well, that was a lie. You have lots of friends. But your profession makes a mockery of the word 'friendship.' You worm your way into peoples confidence, and when they trust you implicitly, you destroy them. Ricks my friend. We used to drink together back at Mc. Cfae. All the time we were together, I was getting information to shut the complex down. At the veiy least, it would have put him out of workpermanently, if anyone ever found out he was a security leak. If he had found out what I was about or surprised me while I was working, I would have killed him.

He deliberately let his voice harden. You remember what its like to kill people, dont you?

Jamess gaze wavered and dropped to the floor.

Hosato fought and conquered an urge to console the boy. He waited in silence while the boy relived his first blooding.

Hosato, James said at last, not lifting his gaze, I dont know about the killing. Back at Ravensteel, when I killed those men . . . I dont know. Im glad I saved our lives, that I was good enough with weapons to do it, but I still feel a little sick when I think about it!

Are you proud? Hosato asked.

What? James raised his eyes at last.

Are you proud of killing two men. If you get a chance, are you going to brag about it to the Hungarian?

The boy hesitated, then dropped his gaze once more and shook his head. No, he said softly. They were just enemies I killed. They werent people, I guess. They were just enemies.

Look at me, James, Hosato demanded. He fixed his eyes deep into James. They were people you killed. They werent robots that you terminated. They were two human beings, lives with loved ones, lives with dreamspeople capable of wonderful things, as well, of course, as killing you. They werent just enemies, they were human beings.

Hosato slid an arm around the boys shoulders. James, he said. Let me tell you what my grandfather told me, the same grandfather who trained me for this work. He said, '. You must learn to kill because it is necessary. To be effective, you must kill coldly and without hesitation. But killing is not to be taken lightly nor is it to be taken pridefully. Kill as well, as skillfully as you can, knowing that killing is mans fatal flaw.'

Thats good advice, James. Listen to it.

They both turned, to find Sasha framed in the door.

Sorry to interrupt, she said, but I think weve got something out here.

Hosato clapped James lightly on the back. Think about what Ive said. Theres no rush. Now, go on ahead. Theres something I want to say to Sasha.

The boys eyes darted between the two of them, and he smiled.

Okay, Hosato, he said, vaulting down off the counter. Ill tell them youll be there in a minute.

The kid looks like hell pull through this okay, Sasha commented, watching Jamess departure.

Sasha, Hosato began, weve got to talk.

No, she said firmly. Its pointless to talk about the future until we know for sure if weve got one. Now, come on and join the group. This is important.

She was gone before Hosato could reply, leaving him no choice but to follow her back into the other room.

There you are! the Hungarian called. For a world-saver, you spend a lot of time goofing off.

What have you got? Hosato asked, ignoring the jibe.

Well, the Hungarian said, leisurely lighting his pipe, the problem is that Turner didnt think things through. Thats always a mistake. Theres always the temptation to let the computers do our thinking for us because they do it so much faster. Its quicker to rough out an idea and let the machines develop it, then fine-tune it until it does what we want.

Hosato writhed with impatience, but knew from experience it was useless to try to rush the Hungarian.

Thats what Turner did, and learned the bard way the price of turning development over to machines. They think fast, too fast. Any mistake thats made is carried out before you can correct your input, and Turner made a beaut.

Which was . . . ? Hosato prompted.

He changed the 'no-kill' program. Now, he wasnt completely stupid. He gave the computer specific parameters. He gave it the capacity to kill, to defend itself . . . if the computer or the manufacturing units were threatened.

Whats wrong with that? James asked.

Two things, the Hungarian replied. First of all, he didnt define completely what constituted a threat, so the computer came up with its own definition.

So when Turner tried to shut down the operation, the computer interpreted it as a threat and had the prototypes kill him! Sasha completed the thought with sudden awareness.

Exactly. The Hungarian beamed.

That cant be all of it, Tinker, Hosato insisted. I wasnt directly threatening the operation when the robots took their first two tries at me . . . and certainly the families in the living mall werent a threat. What happened there?

Thats Turners second mistake, the Hungarian announced, relighting his pipe. Actually, it involves a completely different command, way back at the begin-

ning of the project. Apparently Turner was afraid of anyone else stealing his idea, so he did two things. Fust, he put a voice lock on his program terminal. Second, he instructed the computer to keep the project secret from anyone who did not enter the program from his terminal. He was very explicit, instructing the computer to guard the Secret with every power at its disposal.

How was it supposed to do that? Hosato asked.

By giving meaningless or misdirecting information when asked, Sasha informed him. Its a very bright computer and can be incredibly evasive when it wants. What I dont understand is how that affects things. Most of the line managers put in secret preserving instructions when they start a new project. Theyre paranoid that way. What makes Turners instructions any different?

Youre right, Sasha, the Hungarian agreed. By itself its quite innocent. The trouble comes when you add his later order giving the computer a kill capacity. Now killing is within its power, and it is to do everything in its power to preserve Turners secret. See the problem?

Oh, my God! Sasha gasped as the enormity of the situation dawned on her.

The group sat in stunned silence. Only the Hungarian seemed unperturbed, puffing on his pipe as he continued.

Actually, Hosato, theres a good chance you triggered all this. It might have been better if the machines had killed you.

Wait a minute Hosato began, but the Hungarian waved him back to silence.

I was merely pointing out that when you escaped from the manufacturing area, you signed the death warrant for everyone in the Mc. Crae complex. The computer couldnt be sure whom you had talked to, so to preserve Turners secret, it simply killed everyone.

Now, dont try to hang this on Hosato! Sasha intervened. He didnt program the damn computer. Besides, all of us here got away from the robots, not just Hosato.

True enough, the Hungarian acknowledged. But that was to survive the attack triggered by Hosatos earlier escape. However, that does raise an interesting problem. If Im correct, the robots massacred the humans at the Mc. Crae complex to eliminate any information leak Hosato might have caused. Now, four of you escaped from the massacre. Extending the same logic . . . .

those things will try to kill every human in the universe, Rick said softly. All to preserve Turners bloody secret project. Mother of God!

Hosato barely noticed the exchange. His mind was already turning over plans for a counterattack, analyzing them and gauging their strengths and weaknesses. Whether or not mankind as a whole was being threatened was inconsequential. He had indirectly been the cause of the death of several hundred innocent people. He was now honor-bound to destroy the murderers, to avenge those innocent deaths, even if his own life was sacrificed in the effort.

To the Hungarian fell the lot of traveling to Griin-beckers Planet on a preliminary scouting mission. The others hadnt liked it, but he successfully defended his suggestion. None could challenge his qualifications as a scout in this situation. Perhaps most convincing was his argument that of the five of them, he was the only one whose descriptive stats werent in the Mc-. Crae personnel-data files.

His plan was simple enoughto join one of the tour groups visiting Mc. Crae Enterprises and make his observations in the safe disguise of a tourist. It was agreed that the planning of their counterattack would wait until his return, both for the data he would bring and for his expert counsel.

In the interim, the weary refugees were forced to find activities to occupy their leisure time. Rick found refuge in the Hungarians extensive library, losing himself for hours in the stacks of text to the point that he frequently failed to appear for meals. Sasha enlisted Jamess aid and took advantage of the Hungarians small gymnasium and firing range. It was still her intent to participate in the final assault on Mc. Crae, and to that end drilled herself mercilessly to adjust to the loss of her right arm. She firmly rejected Hosatos offers of assistance, preferring to practice alone or with James as a companion.

Left to his own devices, Hosato made use of the workshop to check and prepare what was left of his equipment. It soon became apparent to him, however, that he was in actuality stallingavoiding a duty he was reluctant to fulfill.

Finally, however, he could no longer ignore his conscience and reluctantly locked himself in the Hungarians communications room.

It took a while to establish contact, which was not surprising, as long-range communications equipment was not common on Musashi, but after many relays and delays he was confronted with the holographic image of his grandfather. The figure of the elder Hosato, elegant in a simple black kimono, appeared floating inches off the floor in a seated position. That, coupled with the fact his eyes focused at a point several feet behind Hosato, indicated the transmission/ receiving gear was not adjusted properly. Still, it was an incredible technical feat to have the image this clear, considering the distances involved.

The figure motioned to Hosato, indicating a place in the air directly in front of it. Hosato responded, kneeling on the floor, his hands resting on his thighs.

You are looking well, my son, the image said. The voice was strong and reverberant.

And you, grandfather, Hosato replied.

He was genuinely relieved to see his grandfather in such good health. The elder Hosato was in his nineties but he sat ramrod straight. His tight unlined face rested on a sinewy pillar of a throat that loomed up from muscular shoulders. It had been five years since Hosato had last spoken to him directly.

Your mother and sister have been worried about you, the image continued. It has been many years since we have heard from you.

I apologize for any distress I might have caused them. Since leaving home, I have traveled far, and on the occasions I could afford to communicate with you, proper facilities were not available.

We are not wealthy, his grandfather pointed out sternly. But we would have accepted the expense of such a communication to hear from our eldest son.

Hosato hung his head. Though I knew this, my pride would not let me impose such a burden on you. Forgive me.

The image waved a ghostly hand. Enough of such talk, it said. Tell me of your adventures since you left us.

Most recently, I had a supporting role in a production of Down the Alley on Tansil, Hosato responded.

I am not familiar with this play, the image stated.

It is a very old script. The story revolves around a young criminal who . . .

To a casual observer viewing the conversation, it would seem to be a normal, though prolonged, exchange of pleasantries, gossip, and news between father and son.

It wasnt.

The Hosato family, true Ninjas that they were, were very close with their secrets. They did not engage in idle conversation. The fact that Hosato contacted his family at all was an immediate indication that he was facing a crisis, one that either required the familys counsel or was a direct threat to the family.

As they spoke, Hosato and the image of his grandfather, their hands and fingers moved minutely, constantly changing position. It was not the hand signals of the deaf-mutes or the sign language of the Great Plains Indians. It was the Hosato family code, which had been passed along for generations. It was drilled into all members of the family until they were able to carry on two conversations simultaneously, one verbal, which served only to cover the real conversation passing between the subtly moving hands. Many people spoke Japanese, but only the family knew this code.

After Hosatos hands had finished explaining the current situation, his grandfather immediately formed the question he had been dreading.

What of your companions? the fingers asked.

I seek advice on how to proceed with my mission,

Hosato countered. I am faced with a foe that threat-ens-the existence of mankind.

Mankind has faced many threats, came the reply from the images hands. Yet it still survives. Your companions constitute a direct threat to our family.

The mechanic does not possess sufficient knowledge of our activities to constitute a threat, he explained.

And the woman and the boy?

There it was. His grandfather had now asked the question directly. Hosato could no longer evade the issue.

I was considering sponsoring them into the family, he stated.

The images hands were motionless for several moments before replying.

A family member may sponsor only one outsider for membership. The fingers formed the words with a crisp abruptness. It is the law.

I was hoping that under the circumstances, an exception could be made to the law, Hosato appealed.

It is the law, came the firm answer.

As current head of the family, it is within your power to change or modify the law, Hosato pleaded.

My son, the image responded slowly, the laws of the family are not to be changed lightly. Perhaps if you live to succeed me as head of the family, you will realize that.

I do not ask lightly now! Hosato insisted. I only ask

You ask me to change one of the oldest laws of the family, the image interrupted. To save you from having to make a difficult decision. I will not.

Hosato experienced a sinking sensation in his stomach as the images fingers continued their statement. There are two outsiders who now possess enough information about our family to pose a threat to its continued existence. You may sponsor only one for membership. The other must be eliminated. As you were the source of their information, it becomes your task to carry out the mission. Fail in this, and you will no longer be considered a member of the family. We will speak no more of this.

My grandfather, Hosato motioned desperately, I would ask that you keep an open mind on this. You yourself have said the strength of a law is in its flexibility.

As to your mechanical foes"the image continued ignoring him"if you insist on involving yourself further in this affair, remember your training. If faced by an enemy possessing superior strength and speed, seek a way to use that strength and speed to your advantage. Do not directly oppose, but yield and add your own strength and speed to that of your enemy to create a force greater than that directed against you.

Hosato paid only partial attention to the images advice. The rest of his concentration was focused on the problem confronting him. His grandfather would not reconsider or even hear additional arguments on the subject of Sasha and James. He simply dictated that one of them must die, then dismissed the matter.

I shall remember your advice, my grandfather, Hosato signaled.

Do you have any further questions or need for counsel? the fingers asked.

Hosato thought for a moment.

How many members of the family have been excommunicated in the past? he asked finally.

There was a pause before the images hands moved in answer.

I do not know, it said. If a member is so banished, all references and records of him are stricken from the family history.

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