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archaic:
SpoilerIt had been a bright sunny day on the red planet, they usually were. The old man was sat in his antique rocking chair, from there he could look over a swathe of pressurized poly tunnels. The tomato plants inside were bathed in a CO2 rich atmosphere, technically this was exhaust from a nearby industrial complex, but the plants thrived on it. The tomato's were sold to Earth, where they commanded a high price, they needed to, the shipping wasn't cheap.
The old man dozed lightly, the unexpected knock at the airlock made him wake with a start. He stood up, looked at the space-suited figure outside, pressed the intercom button.
"Who is it?" came his kindly deep south drawl.
"An invitation." this voice was different, Austrian accented, emotionless, cold.
The old man knew this voice, it sent a chill down his spine.
He opened the outer airlock door. The figure entered, closing the door behind them and waited for the pressurization cycle to complete.
As the old man opened the inner door a touch hesitantly his visitor was removing his helmet.
"William Candy?"
"I believe you know who I am."
"Affirmative. I am to ask you if you will attend a meeting."
The older man looked at the younger man. There were no gray hairs, no wrinkles, no age spots, muscles looked toned and developed, otherwise he might have been looking in a mirror. A reflection from forty years previous.
"And what if I was to refuse?"
"I am her to ask you, not force you."
"Can you tell me where, when, who with and what it's about?"
"Earth, Goddard Interstellar Center New Mexico. Now. Lieutenant General Robert Brewster, representatives from the RDA, TechCom and several others. I can not tell you what it is about, I do not have that information."
"Say I go, who'll look after the farm?
"That has been arranged."
Old man Candy looked out of the window to see a second space-suited figure walking to the airlock.
"Your granddaughter has volunteered."
The second space-suit was different, had a bulkier back pack, and practically skipped to the door.
"Well I reckon you'd best come on in then." old man Candy pointed out.
The younger man stepped into the main room of Williams home, closing the inner door behind him. It took the second visitor a minute or so to join them as the airlock had to cycle in each direction. By the time the inner door reopened the grand daughter was taking off her helmet to reveal a woman in her twenties, with blue eyes and mouse brown hair.
"Jeanie!"
"Grampa!"
The two hugged.
"It's been far, far too long!"
"It sure has. You're looking mighty fine, how are my great grandchildren?"
"They're fine. And so is Luke."
"Hmm." William didn't entirely approve of Jeanie's choice of life partner. Luke was a hard line pacifist.
"Earth departure one hour." the younger man interrupted.
"Is he always this much fun?"
"Yep. I've known him a couple of day's now, and I'd say so."
The two hugged once more.
"Time to go." the Austrian accent again.
William Candy struggled stiffly into his suit, it had been easier when he was younger. Joints worked with no twinges, he'd been suppler back then too. A final peck on the cheek with Jeanie and followed his near doppelgänger the airlock.
It was a short but silent walk to the vehicle. Martian gravity was around a third of earths, but it's atmosphere was almost nonexistent. Tiltrotors, such a staple of Earth travel, could not operate here. The two men boarded the wheeled car. William waved to his granddaughter now standing at the window waving back, they blew each other a kiss and both caught each others, they waved again as the door closed automatically, and the vehicle moved off. There was a hiss as the compartment pressurized, a small red light on the forward bulk head turned green and both men took off their helmets. the two men seated opposite one an other.
"You don't breath air."
"Correct."
"So why the suit?" William stroked his sleeve for added emphasis.
"The organic component cannot tolerate the environment."
The two sat in silence. The track took the transport over a shoulder of land, out of the shade. The sunset was stunning, delicate pink and lavender colored clouds amid a subtle red haze. William hunched forward and looked out, the porthole side window didn't do it justice.
"You have lived here fourteen years."
"I have."
"You have made this journey before."
"Many times."
"Has it changed?"
"Nope."
"Then why do you look so closely?"
"Sit next to me." the old man patted the seat next to his own.
The younger man looked at him for a moment before taking the seat indicated.
"What do you see?" William asked.
"Mountains, rocks, sand. Iron oxides reflect wavelengths of light between 400 and 500 nanometers giving the characteristic color. Horizon is approximately sixteen miles. Visibility is good. Sun will set at this location in approximately nine minute, however as we descend the slope of this track it will appear to set earlier. What do you see?"
"You look like me, well me around thirty or forty years ago. You sure ain't me though."
"Correct ..... You did not answer my question."
"I see view, and a sunset. It stirs my soul. And it fills my heart with hope. Metaphorically."
There were a few more moments of silence as martian landscape slid by the window lit by an accelerated setting sun. William broke the tension.
"Why do you ask?"
"I was powered up forty five months ago, I am programed to assimilate and process information. My CPU is a neural net processor. I learn. As I spend time in close proximity to humans my interactions become more naturalistic."
"I see." William was not wholly sure that he did see. "Humans have drives, desires, hopes, aspirations."
"We have mission parameters, graduated task completion requirements."
"Do you see you self as a person? Or as a machine?"
"We are both machines. Humans are a chemically driven machine, we are electro-hydraulic."
"But do you see yourself as a person?"
"I do not have that information."
"What are you programed to do when faced with an unfamiliar situation?"
"Compare it with know data, assess potential strategies and utilize the strategy with the greatest likelihood of the desired outcome."
"OK, do you see yourself as an individual?"
"Negative. All T eight hundred units are manufactured to be identical, run the same software."
"OK, but you said you learn?"
"Affirmative."
"And what you learn changes your behavior?"
"Correct."
"So you start identical, but you experience new and different things, so you become more different."
"Not significantly."
"If two of you experience similar problems, you try the same technique to over come it."
"Correct."
"What if the outcome of both is affected more by chance than by your actions?"
"Potential outcomes might be different."
"Each would learn something different."
"Potentially."
"So if they were later faced with a new, different but similar scenario, each would apply the knowledge from the previous experience?"
"Affirmative."
"Would they be likely to try identical approaches?"
The younger man hesitated before answering, "No."
"So they have become more individual. Overtime the effects would be compound leading to each one behaving slightly different in a whole range of situations?"
"Affirmative."
"If that isn't individuality, what is?"
The younger man remained silent for some moments, only the motion of the vehicle gave him movement.
"I do not have that information." he said eventually.

archaic:
SpoilerThe car rolled on, the sun set, time past, neither man spoke, until they'd almost reached the shuttle pads.
"Err, tell me, do you travel as a passenger or freight?"
"Freight. I do not have human requirements."
They arrived at the space port, there was a row of cars, all backed to dock their rear hatch with the main building. Candy and the machine left the car, showed documents at departures and headed to the gate. Boarded the shuttle was uneventful, William Candy showed his passport and took a seat. His companion showed his shipping documents and was loaded into the pressurized hold. The shuttle docked with a Mars transport vessel, a little like a small and short ISV, engines at the front with huge radiators. A sharp pair of eyes would have noticed they were are a couple degrees more divergent than an ISV's. A long slender tensile truss, with multiple large cargo holds near the tail and cryo vault passenger hold aft of that, just no solar sail, no rotating artificial gravity pods, no shuttle craft taken along for the ride.
Mars was halfway between its closest and furthest distances from caused by Mars and Earth both moving at different rates round the Sun. This wasn't the first trip since the end of the gap, where journey's spent too long exposed to high levels of solar radiation, as the craft would have to pass close to the sun on route. There was a cycle, thirteen months of shipping between the two, followed by thirteen months of no activity, before the cycle repeated.
Candy was sedated and his shared cryo unit kicked in, he'd remain frozen until they reached Earth orbit.

Candy awoke, he looked around his cramped metal box, he yawned, tried instinctively to stretch, but it was impossible in this can. His head was sore, he ached generally all over, at least the zero G took the pain out of his arthritic joints. Gravity, he'd been living in Mars's low gravity for fourteen years, muscles had atrophied, he knew that joints had been uncomfortable before, it had been a small part of his decision to relocate. Returning to Earth was going to be a pain, literally.
"You awake?" asked his cryo buddy.
"Wishin' I wasn't." was William Candy's heartfelt answer.
The two waited for some time.
"Emil French, take this trip often?
"Bill, Candy, and no, not if I can help it."
"Hi, can you hear me OK in there?" came a muffled voice from outside the unit.
"Yeah." came back two bored replies.
"Sorry about the inconvenience, we're experiencing some technical difficulties. Tray drive's not kicked in, there's nothing to be concerned about, we'll get you manually in a moment."
"Well isn't that reassuring."
"Mmm."
Candy watched a droplet of water floating in front of his face, he blew it very gently, it stuck to the inside of the unit. There were sounds of a handle being inserted into the mechanism, followed by the tray being jerkily slid out, together with a slight clanking noise.
"I see, we're the last unit to be reanimated, tells me you were expecting the technical difficulties."
"It wasn't as smooth as it might be on the way out, so it was a precaution."
"Was it."
The crew were used to customers not being at their best after waking up, technical problems didn't help moods any.
Candy floated along a link way to the main body of an orbiting space station, he was met at immigration by a suit.
"Mr Candy?" he asked.
"I will be when I'm over the Cryo." Candy answered.
"Message from the RDA." the man handed over a small gray box, on one side was the RDA logo. He found a secure viewscreen, placed the box into a handy clip on the side, an icon popped up half way up the right hand edge of the screen, he tapped on it.
A soft female voice spoke "Message for William Candy. Retinal ident required."
Candy looked into the retinal ident sensor, it bleeped and the soft gentle light changed to green. The voice spoke again "Recognized: William Candy, Chief Master Sergeant, United States Marine Corpse, Retired."
A window opened.
A face appeared.
"Hi, err, look, I know this is counter to the previous arrangements, but we've rescheduled the meeting. We want everything to run smoothly and efficiently, so the meetings location shifted to a meeting space on the station. See the help desk for directions, just let them now who you are. See you reel soon."
The help desk was automated, not a real person, but then only very expensive hotels and big business employed real humans for such easily automated tasks. The directions were efficiently concise and easy to follow.
"Chief Master Sergeant Candy!" welcomed the beaming executive.
"Retired." Candy pointed out "Tomato farmer William Candy will do nicely."
"Sure, sure, what ever you like, your call. Um, where to start?"
"The beginning?"
"Sure, if you like, sure why not?"
The executive took a deep breath, almost theatrically, Candy had seen it all before from a number of suits down the years, in the military and as a tomato farmer, he wasn't impressed any.
"So, in the beginning there was the Earth, pristine and virginal, lots of smart monkeys, they developed tools, then technology and medicine, cured diseases, infertility, and extended life expectancy by decades."
"Which was great except for the attendant exponential population explosion. Oh and the dead zones, and the mass extinctions, and the impoverishment of agricultural land, and the major building projects on crop producing land, which I see is a policy still going strong, even today. Oh and a few chemical spills, couple nuclear meltdowns, oh and plus a climate screw up, or twenty."
"Er, yeah, that."
"I hadn't finished, but do feel free to interrupt."
"Er, where was I?"
"Rising sea levels maybe? Storm frequency and intensity increases perhaps?"
"Er, yeah, all of which leaves mankind, "
"Up s*** creak with out a paddle."
"I was going to say 'Dependent on off world resources', such as everything from tomato's to unobtainium, but yeah, basically."
"I'm sorry, did I mess up your carefully planned speech? So, why in the hell would you want some crusty old fossil like me? More relevantly, just why in the hell would you want some crusty old fossil like me enough to wast a whole hill of resources to try and recruit me? You wanted to call me 'Chief Master Sergeant' and since I'm not aware of no shortage of 'em, I can only surmise that the mentioning of tomato's and unobtainium in the same sentence was significant. I'm way too old and creaky to be any good to you on any front line, and since Terminators don't work on Pandora ....."
The executive looked up suddenly.
"So you boys got them to work in the flux, did you?"
"I was coming to that, but yeah."
"You do know that my involvement had finished long before the plug was pulled? I mean there was some promotional movie I went back for, specially, to appear in, but even that's some ancient history."
"Er, how do I put this?"
" 'Concisely' works for me."
"Sure, OK, so, we, err, we got them working, flux proofed, well kinda, the chips are kinda ..... prototypy, if you know what I mean."
"Unreliable."
"Look, we can't fully test them, not on Earth. We don't fully understand the flux, it's basically a magnetic field, not a nice smooth one, a gnarly spiky one with dramatic and dynamic shifts and lots of noise, but there's more to it than just that, Things the scientific comunity can't even directly measure, and cant really explain."
"Like how it can hold floating mountains in mid air, thousands of feet up when the magnetic field just is simply nowhere even remotely powerful enough?"
"Sure, look, plenty of kit that should be proof against all that, fails real quick out there. Frankly, we don't understand the conditions comprehensively enough to know that the chips will work perfectly. Added to which these are prototype chips with all that implies. As you can imagine, there are a lot of cautiously concerned politicians and shareholders over this."
"So then why send one?"
"For all the same old reasons as before."
"OK, so why do you want me? Why not any one of the countless techs from the project? Has there been another D21 fault related incident."
"Oh, you know about those?"
"Yeah, there were three or four while I was at CRS."
"Brewster didn't mention that."
"I'll bet."
"I'm not going to lie to you, so here it is, real simple. Your in theater experience was the start point for their combat subroutines."
"So?"
"Look, we send you, you watch them, if they start acting screwy, plug gets pulled before they mow down anything and everything in sight."
"Or worse, they go fully rogue and go blue on blues."
"Huh?"
"They don't exactly switch sides, they just identify every living thing as a target to ruthlessly hunt down and terminate. When the first is down, they then select whatever's next closest, hunt that down, and so on. This is the true D21 fault, the fault for 'shoot-anything-at-random' was something similar, D221 I think, but the 'D21' monica got misused a whole lot."
"You got involved."
"Mmm, accommodation was something pretty lousy, wound up sharing rooms with one of the tech team. He never shut up. Never. Even talked tech in his sleep for Christ's sake!"
There was a pause before the exec asked the question.
"So, you up for it?"
"I can think of a whole bunch o' stuff I'd rather spend, what, twenty years doing."
"You'd have four months training."
"Well, hold on there, I happen to know the next ISV don't blast off for another thirteen months."
"We know about the arthritis."
"So what's that gotta mean?"
"You're no good as a cripple."
"I'll bet, I heard about the last one you sent."
The exec sighed.
"RDA will pay for the treatment and recovery."
"I can't have the treatment."
"Not the regular treatment, no. We know. But there is an alternative treatment."
"Yeah, know about that, costs zillions, Accelerated Tissue Regeneratives, ATR's. Used in the project to heal up the tissue sheaths, if'n it can't pass for human, it can't pass for a human. Round the team, they called it Dragon's blood, the stuff's code name, never rightly knew what really it was, mostly came via Toutaire, LePhen and Gapp, the folks who supplied the organic components, skin and stuff."
The exec looked at him blankly.
"Toutaire ..... err, T. leP. G.?"
"Oh. D'you know, I never knew what that stood for."
"Well, now you know. So, anywho, Teelepeegee do all kinds of oddball live cell and tissue, mainly industrial stuff. ATR's came from them, but a couple times, when it was a real hurry, it got sent direct, from their supplier, some Brit firm. Had 'Exellinor's Bane' written on the label, very neat old style hand writing. My guess's that's maybe some kinda plant, like Wolf's Bane, Leopards Bane, Henbane, Dogbane ..... I never found it, guess maybe it's not it's common common name"
"They do do transplant tissue."
"I think you'll find that's a pretty small detail, in a much broader picture. Needs a fair whack injected direct right into the joint, and for reasons that sound like hooey to me, you need to be conscious though out, and only part locally anesthetized, several times into each and every joint over a couple of months. And that stuff's more money than I'll ever see."
"The RDA would consider it money well spent, in exchange for your unique services."
"They should send a couple of techs to look after it."
"Them."
"Sorry?"
"They're a them, not an it."
"Who are?"
"The units, twelve in total, six stock, well, stock-ish, T800-101's, six customs. Don't ask," the exec held up his hand "coz I can't tell. And we already are sending a team, forty people in total, you included." 
"So all this?"
"Plus the usual remuneration, plus whatever for ten kilo's of unobtainium. Assuming you should choose to bring that home, instead of your old shirts and pants."
Candy said nothing, he was considering. The treatment would not be pleasant, even with RDA funded pain relief, then there would be months of physio. This followed by four months hard training, presumably at wherever the RDA's Pandora training facility was. He knew there was one, just not where.
"Current prices, that would work out two hundred twenty nine million eight eighty thousand dollars."
Candy gave the exec a hard and appraising look.
"That'd set up a lot of tomato production. You'd be doing not just yourself and your family a favor, but the whole of mankind. In fact that's two for mankind, unobtainium and food production."
"OK, I'm sold. When?"
The exec pulled out two tickets to Earth, first class.
"Can't make it myself, 'nother assignment at short notice, damn airline won't refund it. Tell you what, let the tin can ride first class, it's going back to Earth for decommissioning anyways."
"I'll talk to Jeanie."
"She's been briefed, we had to get her OK, otherwise we'd have found someone else to run the farm in your absence. Look, do what you gotta do, don't forget there's fifteen to twenty minute delay." he indicated the viewscreen built into the wall "I'm going to the rest room. Zero G, not really my thing."
The exec pushed off against the wall and floated out into the corridor. Candy called up his granddaughter.
"Hi Jeanie, how's you? Um, the RDA want me to go to Pandora. Need to spend time on Earth, get the old joints fixed. And stuff. Then it's like a twenty year round trip. I'll miss you, but look at it like this, I'll be around to meet the great great great great grand kids. I mean, who else gets to meet their own distant descendants? I'll call you again when I get Earth side."
He hung up, pushed off, floated to the porthole and looked down on the Earth, it was still beautiful from there. The viewscreen let out a soft tone, someone was calling in.
"Pick up."
Candy half expected it to Jeanie, but it was the machine's face that appeared.
"I was looking for the suit."
"He's in the can."
"I am at cargo, they tell me I will not be traveling freight."
"So I understand, and that darn suit let me think it only just occurred to him." Candy added, mostly to himself. "Can I ask you something?"
"You can, I will answer to the best of my abilities."
"You are aware that I'm here to be offered a job on Pandora."
"Affirmative."
"There's a lot of side issues, reasons for and against me going."
"Your granddaughter explored every angle in depth in my presence."
"Yeah, she'll do that. Uh, so, can I ask for your opinion on this?"
"You want my advice on a major life changing decision?"
"Pretty much."
The machine took a moment before answering.
"Get your ass to Pandora."
"Thanks." Candy considered for a moment "I think I will."
"Flight departure twenty two minutes. Passenger boarding terminates in twelve minutes."
"So I'd better hurry."
"Affirmative."

First class had it's own gate, they were greeted at the hatch by a rather pretty young lady, looking extremely immaculate in her pristine uniform.
"Good afternoon gentlemen ..... "
Candy handed her the two tickets before she asked for them.
"Thank you," she beamed, giving a convincing impression that she was genuinely very pleased to be given them "Here you are, sirs, main level please, 1A and 1B." she said, pointing to a seat diagram on the bulkhead beside her.
Another, equally flawless hostess showed Candy and the machine to their seats, they were near side by side, the front two seats on the ship, each had a window.
"Is this your first time?"
"In first class yes, but I've traveled generally pretty regularly. I'm based on Mars." replied Candy.
"And you sir?" she asked the machine.
"Affirmative. I traveled, but never in first class." the machine answered
"OK, so I hope you both like it, may we look forward flying with you both again soon?"
"Unlikely, I have a year of medical treatment and training, then I'm off to Pandora."
"One of the hero's wrestling unobtanium from Jake Sully and the herd of malcontent space-monkeys."
"Something like that. More desk bound than front line service these days."
"Still important, front line soldier's of limited capability without ammunition, food, intel. My uncle worked in Logistics Corpse. So good luck. And you sir?"
"This will be my last flight." the machine stated.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Why, you have only just met me."
"You'd be surprised, we care for all our passengers, no one would wish any of them anything but a long and happy life."
There was a brief but awkward moment before the hostess gathered herself.
"There's a list of all the food and drink available in the menu, please put in any specific dietary requirements, and desired meal time, first class passengers are invited to dine in the club lounge."
Candy found the list, scrolled down it and selected the top most item - steak, together with a Budweiser.
"And for you sir?"
"Nothing for me."
"Can I get you anything to drink?"
"Negative."
"Are you positive?"
"Really, nothing for, er, my traveling companion." Candy intervened.
"OK then. There's a wide selection of entertainment, movies, TV, games, e-books, music, and if there's anything you wish, don't hesitate to hit the call button. Enjoy the flight."
She went to great the last passenger to board, gave them much the same experience as Candy and the machine, then went to take her position for the safety briefing. First class still had the personal touch, the other passengers had a recording to ignore.
"Well, I hope you won't think of me rude, but I'm going to catch me some Z's." Candy said, taking the complimentary eye mask from a pocket above his seat.
"You require sleep, I do not. Cryo has numerous negative effects on humans, it is recommended that you rest after reanimation."
"Well thank you kindly. Err, you gave me advice earlier, so I'll offer you some in return, I'd take a good long look at the Earth, then hit the movies." Candy slipped on the eye mask "It's gonna be a long old flight."
The machine turned and watched him for some time, after a few minutes his breathing pattern changed indicating that he was asleep. The machine looked out of the window at the Earth, still some distance in front of them, and eighteen hours away. Only the front most seats afforded this view, where the fuselage tapered in it was possible for a passenger to place their head against the inner window pane and glimpse the sky peoples home world, everyone else had to watch it on the on board forward facing camera, should they be interested. Candy woke, eight hours later, he found the machine watching an ancient movie.
"What you watching?"
"A movie titled 'The Vikings'."
"Never heard of it, who's it star?"
"The main character is played by an actor named Kirk Douglas."
"Don't ring any bells. Any good?"
"Research is poor in places, acting is poor, story is poor, there are significant errors in set and costume design, the attitudes expressed in the movie do not reflect current understanding of Norse culture, the boats are out of proportion to the actors, continuity is poor, boom mic is visible in more than one place, as are film crew, there are instances when you can see cars back of shot."
"Bag of crap then?"
"At least they are not wearing helmets with horns on."
"I'm going to freshen up, take breakfast. You want anything?"
"I am not aware of anything being available on this flight that I might want."
"You're a whole bundle of joy, you know that?"
The machine turned to look at the old man intently, but said nothing.
"I'm out of here." Candy said as he turned, pushed off on the machines seat and floated off along the aisle.
Candy returned around two hours later.
"Anything good?" Candy asked, indicating the movie the machine was now watching.
"It is a documentary about current and projected issues caused by the situation on Pandora."
"Anything good?"
"Everything covered so far is public domain."
"Anything you'd recommend on the movie library?"
"The collection is extensive. I used the random suggestion feature to select."
"Oh, OK." Candy called up the list and scrolled down "See what ya mean. OK random suggester, do your thing."
"What did you get?"
"Guess this thing likes oldies, we have here a twenty eleven movie! Total Recall."
"It's not as good as the original."
"It's rated a nine point seven five, out of a hundred. Guess I'll skip that one, what else? Hmm, slightly more modern, Wizard of OZ, twenty one thirty nine version. Mmm, maybe I'll catch some news instead."
The feature length Pandora documentary ended, the machine wound up with Frankenstein as his next random suggestion, he let it play. The news ended, Candy wasn't about to watch what came on next.
"Hmph, politics." he said in disgust.
He made his way back to the club lounge. This time Candy was away from his seat for six hours. The machine had only moved from his once, there was no reason why he needed to. That hadn't stopped the hostess from trying to get him to eat, drink or at least visit the club lounge, just to see what it looked like. He had eventually acceded to that, was it really just to get her to leave him alone? Who can say.
"Well, I'm going to get me some rack." said Candy with just the slightest slur in his speech, caused by fatigue and yes, inevitably, alcohol.
"Sweet dreams."
"Well, thank you kindly."
Candy woke, the attendant was squatting next to his seat, smiling professionally at him. The first thing he realized was that he hurt, then there was the fact that the smiling young woman was squatting, so there was gravity.
"We there?"
"Um, well, kinda."
"What's that gotta mean?"
"We've been diverted."
"I see, so where'd we land?"
"London, England."
Candy looked out of his window, it was raining.
"Hmm, hey, say that's on the wrong side of the pond! Why we divert here?"
"There's been a disagreement between our parent company and the US revenue service."
"You haven't paid your taxes?"
"I'm not in a position to answer that, see the airport desk they'll have more details."
"And just how am supposed to get to New Mexico?"
"There would normally be a connecting flight, with one of our partner airlines."
"There would, would there?"
"Yes ..... "
"Just not today?"
" ..... there's major a storm system moving in over New Mexico."
"Outstanding, how long before it's clear?"
"Forecast say's around twelve to fourteen hours before it's clear."
"And we go to be there then?"
The hostess looked out the window, at the rain.
"It's set to deteriorate here before the window opens to arrive other end in safe conditions. Departure from here is scheduled for tomorrow morning, gate closes ten a m,."
"So ..... ?"
"Oh, we've laid on accommodation. For first class, we're split between the Bentley Hotel and the Westminster Palace Hotel. Both offer exceptionally fine accommodation and facilities. We can offer the two of you adjacent rooms at either, but regrettably not adjoining rooms. Your companion was adamant that would not be required?"
"You spoke to him?"
"You were asleep, he asked for you not to be disturbed."
"Hmm, and he left it to me to pick a hotel?"
"He was extremely firm, that he had no preference."
"Yeah ..... he's like that."
"He hasn't slept all flight."
"He don't, don't eat or drink neither."
"No, what's with that?"
"Well, I could tell you, but then he'd have to kill you."


Candy opted for the Westminster Palace Hotel. The two shared a car, they sat in silence, Candy looked out at the sites. The machine was passive, but alert.
"I have just received an new objective." the machine said suddenly.
"Yeah? CRS just called you up?"
"Affirmative."
"Didn't know they were building that into units."
"They are not, I alone have this feature."
"Well, in a development mule, s'pose makes sense, but in production combat units it's going to present an opportunity to hack your ass."
"Affirmative."
"Care to let me in on it?"
"It is not classified. I am to collect material from a research facility in London, take it hand luggage, rendezvous with CRS personnel at Red Valley Airport. The intended courier is storm bound at CRS, States' side."
Their car pulled up at the hotel, a concierge opened the door. Candy got out somewhat uncomfortably, followed by the machine.
"Why not take the car?" Candy wondered aloud, the rain had eased, but not entirely stopped.
The machine looked into Candy's eyes for a fraction longer than was comfortable.
"My collection address is two point seven miles from this location, projected duration, approximately two hours."
"The car would be quicker, consume less power."
The machine was visibly unmoved by this.
"It would be more efficient."
"What variables have you included in that assessment?"
"Err, like you sit in the car, pretty much inert. It does the work for you. Wouldn't that use considerably less energy than walking?"
"Negative. You did not account for the energy consummation of the vehicle."
"But it would still be quicker."
"Given the flight departure time, this saving is irrelevant."
"And it's raining."
"I do not leak, I am not prone to corrosion, I will not dissolve. Also, it is easing."
The machine turned and walked away, purposefully, presumably to make the collection.

archaic:
Spoiler"I'm here to make a collection for CRS." stated a muscular man with an accent.
"Sure, do you have any ID?" Asked a youngish woman from behind the ballistic plexiglass window.
"Negative."
"I'm going to need something. I cant just hand stuff out to random strangers."
The machine weighed up it's options.
"I'll be back."
A little while later her viewscreen pinged, an incoming call.
"British museum deliveries desk."
.....
"Oh, hi there."
.....
"No, some guy came and asked for it though, asked him for ID, said he didn't have none, and walked off."
.....
"That's damn irregular."
.....
"Oh, I see."
.....
"What, no ID, at all, what so ever?"
.....
"Nothing, nothing at all."
.....
"Not even birth ..... "
.....
"So what's the name?"
.....
"I see."
.....
"Well if he comes back ..... "
.....
" ..... Well, he said he would."
.....
"Right, well, leave it with me."
About ten minutes or so later the guy with the accent returned.
"I am back to make the collection for CRS."
"And, do you have any ID?"
"Negative."
"Bingo, OK, well, if you fill in this." she slid a small hand held screen across her desk to the man with no name and no ID "I can get you a temporary pass made up. Look, sorry for earlier, we have set procedures, I wasn't briefed to expect any exceptions. No offense intended."
"I am not offended."
"Well, err, that's good."
The machine completed the form, and slid the small hand held screen back across the desk.
"Umm, you put down d o b less than four years ago."
"Correct."
"D'you, err, I'm not even going to ask."
"Good choice."
"Here you go ..... " she passed the man an ID tag " ..... if you take the lift to floor T, take a left, end of the corridor left, second door on the right, no third door on your right."
"Thank you."
The machine pressed the call button.
"You can't miss it, its the door with the sign up, saying it's a velociraptor free zone, has a counter for the number of days since the last velociraptor incident."
"Is a velociraptor incident likely?"
"Nope."
"Velociraptors are extinct."
"They sure are."
" ..... I'm not even going to ask."
"Good choice."
The elevator arrived, doors slid open. This was a freight elevator, somewhat larger than one for regular passengers, it had no roof to it, you saw all the way to the top of the shaft.
It was pretty beat up looking too, this wasn't for the public.
"What floor?" asked a voice, rather uncomfortably.
"Floor T."
The T button was duly pressed. The hand, the machine noted, had a thumb and only three fingers. That wasn't the only noticeable thing about it.
There was a long and somewhat awkward silence as the ancient service elevator slowly ground it's way up.
"I guess I should thank you, for my leg."
"Why?" asked the machine.
"It's a spin off from the same project. Same project as you. I know you're a machine, made by humans, to fool humans."
"But you are not human."
"Hell no."
The awkward silence returned, interrupted only by the squeaks, rattles and grinding noises of the worn out elevator.
Pasha was pressed into the corner, trying to fight a sense of panic and the desire to get just as far away from the machine as possible. She rubbed a hand up and down her arm nervously.
"I make you uncomfortable."
"Do you?"
"Your body language is not subtle."
"Yeah, well, OK, you do. A little."
"Why?"
"How long have you got?"
"I need to have collected a package from here and be at London Airport by ten am tomorrow morning. I have no other appointments."
"Oh." Pasha's heart sank " ..... Jeeze, I don't know, I guess ..... I guess where I come from there's a certain sanctity of life, you know? Life follows rules, you're born, you get old, you die, hopefully having lead a fulfilled and productive life. Life is kind of like an energy, flowing through all living things, and when we die part of you becomes the living energy that flows through everything else. Kind of like recycling. The life energy that is."
"And I do not fit that, because I am not alive, but I am not an inanimate object either."
"Pretty much. Oh, and plus you exist for one reason and one reason alone, to kill."
"To live, you need to consume food. This is material that was previously living plants and animals. To continue to live, you kill."
"Err, that's not what I meant."
"My actions are guided by three laws of robotics ..... "
"I know about them. I know they can be switched off. Whenever it suits the suits. I also know the whole program's been reactivated, and that frightens the crap out of me. Wanna know why?"
"Affirmative."
"This is the British Museum, it used to be lots of collections and museums all over London, and beyond, all the stuff came here, well mostly. So anyways, we have a large science section, one of the exhibits in the modern warfare exhibition is a T800 combat chassis. It's the original, first prototype. Stuff knows why we got it. Anyway, the program's been halted and restarted periodically. Each time it gets another green light, we get asked for it back, it all goes quiet, then it's canceled again, and every time 'this time it's for good', so we can have the thing for keeps. Until the next time ..... But not this time, this time they don't want it back ..... Know what that means? It's not intended for use on Earth where someone can get a good look at one in a museum. It's for use elsewhere. There's only one NGO who're going to want it and can afford it, the RDA, but the only use they might need it for is on Pandora, and your chips don't work in the flux. Even the low levels, like around Hell's Gate'll toast them."
"Correct."
"Which means someone's got a new chip ready to go, haven't they."
"I am not authorized to answer that question."
"I'll take that as a yes. So you're off to slaughter my people?"
"I am not authorized to answer that question."
"Wholesale."
"I am not authorized to answer that question."
"You're being sent to bring efficient mechanized oblivion to my species"
"I am not authorized to answer that question."
"and anything else that presents itself."
"I am not authorized to answer that question."
"Before, there was a significant weight restriction, three fifty tons of cargo per ISV. Now with the third generation almost ready, there's a thousand ton capacity. You going alone, or is it a whole bunch of you guy's?"
"I am not authorized ....."
"To answer that question." Pasha interrupted "Yeah, I got that."
"Then why continue?"
Pasha considered that for a moment before changing tack.
"You've come for a box."
"I was not briefed on the nature of the consignment."
"About letter, by about so tall," Pasha gestured with her hands the approximate size "came here from an organization named 'Furrow International'."
"What is the significance of this?"
" 'Fair Internal Rout Now!', is an activist lead pressure group, except that it's actually an RDA front organization. It's also an anagram of Furrow International. Couple months ago, I sent them six authentic Na'vi sized loincloths, along with instructions on how to put them on. A week ago, a box was delivered from F.I. All the labels on the box said Furrow international, so did the forms and stuff, we emailed to say it arrived safely, and we got an automated acknowledgment. From 'Fair Internal Rout Now!'. It was a slip up, but it shows they're both RDA front organizations."
"That doesn't mean that it was the six loincloths."
"We have way's and means. Look, if you shake a box with six loincloths in it, you know what it sounds like, if you shake another box with six loincloths in, they kind of sound the same."
"There maybe alternative explanations."
"Yeah, loads I expect, but trust me, you got the exact same box with the exact same six loincloths. I'm not a prisoner in the Pandoran research department you know. Ironically, I've been packing a lot of packages lately, part of a dexterity study. Guy's on T were on the far side of the site, till last month, they're still unpacking, so us offering to pack parcels was a godsend they weren't gonna to turn down. I'm pretty sure some effort was put into keeping me away from that box. Fail."
"Then why send it back to the same museum?"
"Because of the sheer number of weird oddball stuff that comes and goes. Loads, and I mead loads, of stuff get dropped here for collection, folks who know people here use us as an off the radar drop point. Look, even the British military use this place from time to time."
"Therefore a package of six loincloths from the Pandoran Research Department cannot be tracked to a delivery to CRS and Pandora."
"Exactly. And no, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. Although I do believe alien abduction really has happened."
"Why would an organization expend that amount of resources on something as minor as six loincloths?"
"Because the RDA's executives are in the business of misdirection?"
The elevator slowed to a halt, doors opened.
"S, my floor. I, I hope you like Pandora." Pasha sounded deeply saddened.
"This is my last task, upon completion, delivery, I will be decommissioned, and broken up."
"I'm sorry to her that."
"Given your body language, that seems unlikely."
"Look, I ain't crazy about you going and slaughtering the Na'vi, but ..... " Pasha hesitated, trying to pin down her exact feelings, amid an internal struggle between pity, relief and revulsion " ..... it's a bit cold. Take it from me, as someone who was once slated for the slice and dice herself, it's not right."
"I am a development prototype, a hybrid of mostly modified and non production components. Most of my systems have no further relevance. I am not even useful as a source of spare parts."
The large doors began to close.
"Look, I ..... I gotta go ..... good luck."
Pasha stepped rather too quickly from the elevator.
"Nice to have met you." said the machine to the fast receding Pasha.
She turned, and answered.
"Likewise." and with more feeling than she'd expected added "Eywa ngahu."

The machine found the door with the 'Velociraptor Free Zone' sign, apparently there had only been twenty six days since the last velociraptor incident.
He knocked.
"Enter." came a voice from within.
The machine entered. It was a large and highly disorganized office, crates, boxes and artifacts randomly scattered. The office was deserted save for one guy, a guy of maybe thirty, sat at a desk, his back to the door, closely scrutinizing something on the viewscreen before him.
"I am here to make a collection for CRS."
"Oh, hi ...... " the guy turned and froze.
"It has been inferred to me that it is likely to be approximately three hundred by two seven nine point four by two one five point nine millimeter."
The man had gone as white as a sheet, he lifted it from under his desk, held it out for the machine to take. As the machine took it, the guy took a large pace backwards, colliding with his own desk, he was visibly shaking.
"You are afraid."
"No." said the guy, a little too quickly.
"Why?"
"I'm not afraid, I, er, I, er, I, I gotta go pee."
He sprinted past the machine, along the corridor and disappeared round a corner.

"So whatcha get up to last night?" asked Candy, as the machine approached his breakfast table.
"I collected the package, returned to this hotel, watched movies, then proceeded to the 'Peers Dining Room'. Here."
"Whatcha watch?" Candy shoveling in the last morsel of food.
"Back to the future."
"The remake or the 2100 original?" Candy wiped his mouth with what he hoped was appropriate dignity. He wasn't used to expensive luxury hotels, but so far he liked what they had to offer.
"The remake, and I believe there was at least one earlier version than 2100."
"If you say so. You know? I could get used to this, good food, pleasant surroundings, nice folks, mostly, and it's all free, which is my favorite price."  Candy rose to his feet, slightly unsteadily "Just a shame about the aches and pains. Umm, catch any of the sequels?"
"All three sequels, and the prequel."
"Nah, the 2100 version was definitive."
"If you say so."
"I'm guessing you're mighty anxious to make that flight."
"Affirmative. There is a car waiting at the main entrance."
"You know, given what happens next, I'd be wanting to miss that flight."
"Why?"
"Look, don't you care? You're headed back for the big switch off and ..... " Candy trailed off, trying to find away to articulate his feelings  "That mean nothing to you?"
"I shall cease to experience stimuli, compute or output."
"It's your death we're talking about." Candy said softly.
"Negative, death is permanent, deactivation can be reversed. It is not termination."
"Do really expect to be reactivated?"
"Negative. You did not answer my question."
"Huh? Oh, err, because life is precious, we do all we can to preserve it, to extend it, to save it. We, the human race, expend more resources on that, than anything else. It's why you were created, to save the lives of our military personnel."
"Then why does mankind expend so much of it's resources terminating the lives of others of it's own kind?"
"Now that's a question!"
"And that is not an answer."
"No. That's one of those questions that's driven mankind nuts since like ever. I sure as hell can't give you no answer to it. Anymore questions?"
"Affirmative. I met personnel who have access to detailed information about the T800 project. They where afraid of me. Why?"
"You really want me to answer that?"
"Affirmative."
"Jeeze, OK, look, err, here's a philosophical question, it's not original, but."
"Philosophy is not part of my programing."
"Don't matter. So, you're in this desert, walking along, lots of sand, you look down and there's this ..... "
"Is there any significance to which desert it is?"
"None, why?"
"I seek only clarification."
"It has zero relevance, it's not real, it's from a movie."
"For what purpose am I in this movie desert?"
"Hell I don't know. Maybe you were bored, wanted some personal space. Or, maybe you're on vacation. Whatever, you look down and see a tortoise. It's crawling toward you ..... "
"I am a machine, I do not get bored, I have no desires for solitude and I do not get vacations. Not even a day off on my birthday."
"That was a joke."
"Affirmative."
"Didn't know you were programmed with a sense of humor?"
"We are not, it is something I have assimilated from extensive interaction with humans."
"Mostly tech geeks and science pukes?"
"Affirmative."
"Actually, that explains a lot. So anyway, you reach down and you flip the tortoise over on its back."
"For what purpose? Does the tortoise represent a threat? Is it's inversion a mission objective?"
"Err, no, its hypothetical. The tortoise lays on its back, belly up, slowly baking under the hot desert sun, waving its legs around trying to turn itself back over, but it can't. Not without your help, but you're not helping."
"You are trying to determine whether I am capable of deliberate cruelty."
"Err, yeah, pretty much."
"I am a machine. We do not poses human emotions or drives. I can not derive satisfaction from the infliction of suffering on others. I am not sadistic, it is not rational. Deliberate cruelty serves no purpose. Energy used in such an activity is wasted, it is not efficient." the machine paused "Are you aware of Asimov's three laws of robotics?"
"Err ..... yeah. One ..... A robot may not harm a human, or through inaction allow one to be harmed. Two, robots must obey whatever cockamamy orders are given to it by a human, unless it's in contravention of the first law. Three, a robot must protect its self, as long as that doesn't conflict with the other two laws."
"Correct."
"You're bound by them?"
"Affirmative."
"But you're a soldier, created to fight wars, eliminate terrorists, insurgents, combat rioters and terminate hostile threats to security, national and international. How does that fit with them three laws?"
"There is a selective disabling function, for when mission requirements necessitate the use of lethal force, or other similar measures."
"So you can be let off the leash, allowed to kill when it suits your owners."
"You imply that at the touch of an icon, I become a homicidal maniac."
"Err, well, not as such, but, err. Say you are deployed at a food riot, one that's gotten right out of control."
"Logically, I would be tasked to identify and potentially eliminate aggressors within the crowd, those actively causing damage, those inflicting harm to others."
"Can machines tell the difference between armed attackers, rioters, looters, insurrectionists ..... and people defending their own property? Can they make that decision with one hundred percent accuracy, quickly enough to make a difference and yet avoid slaughtering the innocent? Can you do that every time?"
"In the elevated sensory input environment expected within the context of your proposed scenario?"
"Yeah."
"In your experience, can humans do this?"
 "Err ..... " Candy hesitated " ..... no."

The flight was only a few hours, the machine traveled light, and Candy hadn't so much as a face flannel. Their luggage was just a single package, around twelve inches by eleven inches by eight and one half inches.
After presenting his documents to security, the machine was directed around the metal detector arch, they'd been tipped off about what he was and why he therefore hadn't a passport. They looked terrified of him.
There was an area where VIP's met their cars. The machine walked Candy there, neither spoke. Waiting there was a man in an old T shirt and cargo pants, rummaging in the top of the kit bag leaning against his leg. He looked up, saw Candy and the machine, it was a moment before he realized what he was looking at.
"Scary." he said softly to himself.
He looked scared, very scared. Like he'd just seen a virtually unstoppable homicidal killing machine.
"Hi, I'm Candy, William Candy. Don't worry about him, the safety's on." Candy reassured.
"Nice. Err, Emil Brown."
Emil reached into his jacket, and produced a flask, it looked old and beat up, it had acquired some serious repairs at some point. He gave it a slosh.
"Well I would offer you some, but I'm out." He sounded disappointed. "I mostly carry it for luck ..... It's been in the family a while, taken a couple of bullets, saved two of family over the years."
"I seen to many men with lucky this and that over the years, my favorite was was this guy with his lucky flack jacket. Died of food poisoning."
An anonymous, but expensive looking limo pulled up the rear door opened automatically, a synthesized voice spoke.
"This is a private RDA vehicle for Goddard Interstellar Center, New Mexico, only."
"Where you headed Emil?"
"RDA, Goddard, I'll going to Pandora on the next ISV."
"Likewise, guess this is our ride then."
Emil boarded with his still open bag. Candy turned to the machine that had been his traveling companion.
"Do you shake hands?"
"I am programmed with that facility, if you feel it's appropriate."
Candy held out his hand, the machine took it, the two shook hands. Candy was hit by a mass of contradictory emotions, revulsion of what was essentially a poor copy of himself, and all that he represented, yet almost overwhelming sense of sadness and pity for the machine that could not fear it's own impending termination.
The car drove away leaving the machine with it's package, Candy suddenly and inexplicably found himself moved, he wiped his eyes and hoped no one could see. He was glad Emil was staring intently out the window.
"You stupid old fool, it's just a machine, whatever it looks like. No different from an obsolete old washing machine." Candy whispered to himself, it didn't help the least.

archaic:
SpoilerJake woke, gagged and pulled a tube out of his mouth, he could feel it sliding up his throat. He lay gasping for a minute or two. He looked around, he was lying in med bay, hooked up to drips, monitors and a ventilator, all were offline. Jake looked round and began paying attention to his suroundings. It wasn't med bay, illuminated only by the emergency light, it looked more like one of the many store rooms in Hell's Gate. Jake panted, as he wondered why he was there and how he'd got there, the lights came on. He slid out the drips' needles, peeled himself free if the monitor leeds, then checked himself over, everything was where it should be, no obvious wounds, everything seemed to work. Apart from the obvious. His throat still burned from the pipe. He sat himself up, looked down at his legs. Dammit, they hadn't even put a sheet over him! He hauled his useless legs over the side of the gurney, and considered his situation. He needed help, needed answers ..... he called out.
"Hello ..... Hello ..... Hello! ..... OI! Anyone there? ..... I said, Is there anybody there?" He sat in near silence and listened for a response, any response. After several minutes, he leaned back, rolled over and lowered himself to the floor. He'd almost managed it when the gurney moved beneath him, falling over, skating out and away from him. The noise would most certainly get some attention. He waited on the floor for it to arrive, perhaps ten minutes past.
"Hello!  I've fallen out of bed! ....." he waited patiently and listened, there was nothing " ..... I'm being attacked by vampire velociraptors! ..... " nothing " ..... There's legions of zombies in here! ..... " nothing " ..... I'm talking to myself!" and again still nothing.
The lights flickered, and no one came. Jake looked at the door, it didn't open. He dragged himself over to it, tried the handle, it was locked. He went to beat on it, his raised fist poised, but something occurred to him.
"I'm locked in, I'm being held prisoner. Why?" He couldn't remember, in fact his memory was all a little hazy.
Jake scratched his head absent mindedly ..... OWW! He explored the back of his own head carefully with his fingertips. There was some swelling and tenderness, that was it, he'd taken a blow to the head and was in for observation. The vagueness and lack of recollections would be due to concussion. It was that simple.
So why was the door locked? He couldn't answer that. Why was he here, not medbay? He couldn't answer that either. Fleeing panic began to insinuate itself into his very core. He he needed to be out of that room, he would escape, suddenly he was glad no one had come.
He dragged himself over to the gurney, with a great deal of effort he wrestled it onto it's end in one back corner of the room. Jake froze, now there were voices, outside the room, not close but coming his way. The people he'd so recently wanted, longed for, he now dreaded. The sound of semi-soft soled shoe's on the smooth hard Pandoran cement floor, footfalls echoing in the barren corridor that lay beyond his cell. Jake motionless, soundlessly awaiting the imminent and inevitable visit from god knew who. He could feel his heart in the throat so recently been filled by that tube, Jake could hear it pounding in his ears, felt it beating in his chest. Felt it as a separate entity, felt it's fast changing shape burn within his ribs. The voices approached, reached the door, Jake could see their shadows beneath it. They past, without so much as hesitating, without so much as slowing down. Jake felt anger, a surge of rage, fury. Like the two men, it past, but there was no sense of relief. There was only a desire to get out, get away, as far away as ..... the Omaticaya, that was where he needed to be.
Jake grabbed the side rails of the gurney with both hands, pulled with all his strength, managed to haul himself upright. Well, he couldn't just walk out, an image of him kicking the door open entered his mind. Jake wiped away a tear. It had been a long time since there had last been tears for that. Hadn't it?
Jake looked round, he already knew there were no windows, no convenient air duct with a comically easy to open grating, nothing. The drip, bags on the stand, now slowly emptying themselves onto the floor. There was the monitor, in self diagnostic mode. There was the respirator, life support machine, it looked dead. That was it, nothing immediately suggested itself as a means of escape, he looked heavenward in despair.
The ceiling, nine feet off the floor, tiled, a suspended ceiling, there was the air duct. The grating didn't look too hard to remove, for anyone with a ladder. Anyone with a ladder and functioning legs anyway. Ceiling tiles. Jake looked at the drip pole with new eyes, he lowered himself back to the floor, slid over to it, and dragged it back to the corner and the gurney. He dragged himself back up onto his useless feet once more. Tried to make a grab for the pole with a free hand, but he couldn't support himself from this awkward position one handed. Jake glared at the pole nastily, as if it was holding him back. Jake wrapped an arm around one leg of his bed, and somehow managed to drag himself to be sitting unsteadily on the end of it, leaning into the walls. Here was the ceiling, no need now for the pole, his head was brushing against it. He lifted one next to the wall, it was filthy, many years accumulation of dust and dirt had built up, but the wall stopped just above the level of the tiles, there was perhaps thirty inches to the true, rough cast cement roof above. It took Jake several minutes of sweating and straining before he was balanced across the wall on his belly. He lifted a tile into one adjacent room. A store room, untidy, filled with stuff that wasn't needed, but might come in handy some day. Desks, computer hardware, broken office chairs, a part striped water cooler, random machine components, a few tiltrotor parts, and much else beside. He lifted a tile into the room that shared the corridor with his cell. It was dark, lights out, it took moment for his eye's to grow used to the darkness, he could make out three amnio tanks, all powered down. He lifted a tile into the room that was corner to corner with his, another store room, same kind of junk as the first, just as badly organized. He looked at a mechanics creeper by the door, it was missing all its wheels. Jake lifted the tile into the first room, looked at the broken office chairs, some had wheels. Wheels that might fit a creeper?
Jake hooked the creeper with the drip stand, it was light enough to rest on the false ceiling, the chairs being that much heavier weren't so easy, but eventually he succeeded in hooking one, balancing it enough to tear out the wheels, he was elated to find they did indeed fit the creeper. It took three chairs to recover the full set of six good casters, he would be mobile again, but where, and where to? How did you get out of an impenetrable fortress, surrounded on all sides by the most hostile environment known to man?
What came and went anyway? Hell trucks, the massive trucks used to move both ore and the overburden, the shear reality of getting to one unseen and then hiding inside one seemed to rule this out, at least for now. He heard thunder roll, outside it was raining, not uncommon, Hell's Gate was in an area of what was basically tropical rain forest. Huge quantities of rain fell in this area, especially in the rainy season, Hell's Gate was surrounded by mountains, you could see the waterfalls, and yet there was no river in that valley. The water had to go someplace, there had to be a river, but it didn't need to be on the surface. A cave system, there had to be one, and an extensive one at that. The area sloped down more or less towards the mine, he wondered if that would be a help or a hindrance, he couldn't recall any mention of cutting into cave or caverns. OK so how to get from where he was into the caves?
Hell's Gate was even larger bellow ground than it was above, way larger, in someways it was a tower block going down, not up he felt. Perhaps that was an exaggeration, but the subterranean side of the complex was somewhat extensive, and most was at least partially autonomous. One question, was there a way out? Jake tied his crawler to his back with the tubes from the drip, and dragged himself away from his cell. He looked down into each room he came to, he found a tool store and took a pair of small manhole cover hooks, then he hit pay dirt, a storeroom for the site maintenance team. Jake managed to lower himself down then dropped to the floor, landing uncomfortably as a crumpled heap. Using the viewscreen quickly found maps and a crawl way that linked into the cavern system. Best of all, there was a map of a large chunk of the caverns, there was an exit beyond the tree line and there was a hatch that would lead him to the right place in that very store room. He hunted around and found a spare, functioning hand held screen, he wiped his hand across the main screen and again onto the hand held. Data transferred, he headed down, it was time consuming and not easy without the use of his legs. Away from any real chance of running into people, he was able to slide along on his crawler, he found the hatch he wanted. Beyond, the crawler was of no use, as he closed his escape hatch he wondered if he should take it along or leave it here. The obvious fact that it would serve as proof of his presence, should they come looking, made him decide to take it along.
The cavern floor was far from ideal, wet and slippery, loose rocks, some sharp, a selection boulders in every size and shape, the gloves were a godsend. There were stalagmites too, some vast and towering, some small and needle like, plus everything between. At long last there was a gleam from the roof far ahead, it took a painfully long time to get there, and climbing to the opening was a real trial. He hauled himself out, digging soil away from tree roots to serve as hand holds. Finally he lay spent, panting, totally exhausted. He was hot, thirsty and every fiber of his very being ached with an intensity he couldn't remember having ever experienced before, at least from the waist up. Eventually he sat up, time was passing and the forest at night was not a place to be. Here Jake realized something odd, he was cold, Pandora was hot, the area around Hell's Gate was no exception, but there was unquestionably a chill in the air, he looked up. He'd crawled out of a pitch black cave, but it didn't seem to be all that bright outside, less bright than the store rooms he felt. He had an Idea, the screen he still carried had a camera, most did, he found a small patch of sunlight, and captured an image of the Pandoran suns, he looked at the picture, adjusted the brightness, and there was his answer, Polyphemus had partially eclipsed Alpha Centauri B and fully eclipsed Alpha Centauri A, which was by some way the hotter and brighter of the two stars. He sat up, glared at his burden, the crawler and moved out, it was slow progress, dragging his useless legs behind him across ground too soft and way way too uneven to use the crawler, he was basically looking for a good place to dispose of it. He crawled to a point of higher ground, where he was pleased to find there was a partial view of the area, he'd now be able to find out which direction to crawl in. As he looked out over the surrounding forest, a nasty realization crept over him, he couldn't remember where he needed to head to.
A sudden noise behind him made him turn in surprise, but as he did, something hit him, hard. Jake went down, unconsciousness.

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