Part The Second

The story continues from here.

Meanwhile, there are strange happenings in the British countryside…

Maufrais got his wish next morning, when he returned from the bathroom (thank heaven for self-charging batteries, or he’d have to use an actual naked blade to shave) to find Andre and Jupiter having an amicable discussion about the economy, with Peggy trying to take notes with a sputtering pen (a pen! With ink!) at the table. He could only conclude that she was doing it for fun, since Andre took automatic recordings of those sessions and her laptop was practically sentient when it came to administrative duties.

“Right,” said Andre, as he and Jupiter rose from the table. Peggy replaced the pen, looking simultaneously fascinated and repulsed. “Let’s go for a walk.”

Jupiter nodded courteously and followed Andre and Maufrais out of the room. At the doorway, Andre clutched at Maufrais’ sleeve. “I’ve had one of your tech guys run some tests. We’ve shifted Jupiter into human-interaction mode from inside slave mode. Might save you guys some grief later on when he reports back, you know? I wanted to ask you how the two modes would interact or whatever…”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Jupiter, turning around. Maufrais temporarily restrained himself from throttling Andre as he made a note to check the droid’s aural signal processors – they were ridiculously highly tuned for a human. “I believe the accurate phrase is that the two neural networks will be interacting.” Maufrais took another second to further appreciate the droid’s capacity to pick up information. He might not understand it, but he knew he’d heard it.

“Just… stop yourself from pointing out to the humans that their science is completely wrong, yeah?” Maufrais muttered at Jupiter. The droid’s facial expression underwent the slightest change – one of his eyebrows elevated itself about a sixteenth of an inch. “Of course, sir – the possibility of doing otherwise had never crossed my mind.” Maufrais cataloged the eyebrow lift as another indication of the lack of EQ, and commenced worrying silently as they strolled down the streets.

Another sci-fi staple the guys at the Chron institute regularly sniggered over was the “time equals history” fallacy (the Chron institute hired people of certain very specific talents, whose idea of “fun” was rather strictly defined). It went like this: you go back in history and change one thing; butterflies flap their wings in China and a tsunami happens in Africa; history is changed forever. Like Galileo pointing out that humans aren’t the center of the universe, chronologists had discovered that very few events in the world are on the knife-edge of chronological stability – World War II would happen even if Germany lost a thousand more soldiers to World War I, for instance.

This meant that Jupiter and the humans could be around for nearly two months before they’d affect the flow of history in any significant way. And Andre had told them his plan with quite a determined gleam in his eye.

Jupiter had been “taught” to be one of the middle class, on the assumption that this would allow him to interact with a larger class of humans. His neural pathways would probably realign themselves more rapidly, the more he read and interacted with them. There was also the question of his emotional response, and the team had come to the reluctant conclusion that this particular lack would go more unnoticed when he was working amongst a mass of millions. Maufrais had had vociferous psychologists contact him, claiming that “British upper-class reserve” would be a far better fit, but Maufrais had pointed out that the British upper-class actually had books that detailed the lineages of titled families – like something called the Twurp’s Peerage, for instance. And Peggy, neck-deep in time-jump research, had given him such a slow, measured look when he’d brought up the possibility of more work that he’d hastily retreated and then booked a table at a pricey restaurant for when they got back.

Andre’s idea was that they arrange for Jupiter to be placed in some sort of employment agency, along with a bunch of faked references. Before that, though, Andre was more than happy to keep up a running commentary, mainly for Jupiter’s benefit, as they strolled around Trafalgar Square (Jupiter had a rough map of the city uploaded into his brain). Maufrais spent his time trying not to gawk (it was like a walking museum!) and cataloguing the sorts of people and professions he encountered. They had lunch at a dignified place called Simpson’s, where Andre looked torn between showing off his intimate knowledge of the purposes of silverware and berating them (more Maufrais than Jupiter, of course) about their lack of manners. Maufrais privately decided that if nothing else, Jupiter could work here; the waiters had got the polite hauteur thing down to a fine art.

The team spent a thoroughly interesting week in a similar fashion, rambling around the city and staring at everything and everybody; then coming back and testing Jupiter’s perceptions. They’d built him well, Maufrais thought with a bit of pride, watching Andre flip frantically through elderly etiquette books to answer the droid’s questions. Jupiter was actually contributing to some historical revisions, which meant that the Chron institute would be sort of satisfied (they were never actually happy about anything).

And that weekend, Andre had promised them a kind of treat. “We’ll see the country,” he said mysteriously, grinning. Maufrais tried to ignore the fact that Peggy was grinning back at the coldjumper.

“I was under the impression we were in a country,” said Maufrais shortly, glaring at Jupiter’s daily brain scan results.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Jupiter, “I believe Mr. Andre is referring to the country side – meaning the areas outlying the city of London. These are usual more rural than urban in- ”

“Yeah, thanks, no need to belabor the point,” Maufrais snapped, and heard Peggy stifle a snort of laughter.

“Yes, sir,” said Jupiter perfectly complacently, and went back to reading Spinoza. Maufrais and Andre exchanged a dark look above the droid’s head.

“Anyway,” said Andre, clearing his throat, “we can head out in a train to Shropshire or something and take a look at some of the country estates there. Sound good?”

Maufrais made a noise of assent and tolerated Peggy’s eager questions to Andre about trains and steam engines and timetables for ten minutes before burrowing under the sheets with his noise-canceling ‘phones and a bad temper.

It was stifling, thought Maufrais, and there were so many people. They had been wandering around the “countryside”, doing a bit of discreet transportation when the walking got to be too much, and had eventually landed up at a huge, beautifully maintained park. They’d rambled about for a few minutes before realizing that there were far too many people – especially the wrong sort of people – inhabiting the grounds than there should’ve been. And then they’d come across the Gardener.

It seemed he actually deserved the capital letter, because he was Head Gardener, and he only answered in “Yur,” and “Nur”, glaring at them from behind a red bush of a beard. Peggy clung to Maufrais’ arm for several minutes after the encounter. Andre theorized that the monosyllabic grunts probably stood for “yes” and “no”, and then had an argument with another techie about whether he was English or Scottish or Irish. Maufrais was more interested in the fact that the entire grounds – a park! A lake! Several gardens! – belonged to a single titled family. He began wondering if the British upper-class reserve thing didn’t have some merit to it after all.

Eventually they’d discovered that, it being the Bank Holiday (none of them had the mental energy, anymore, to check what this was), they’d actually stumbled across the estate’s open house or something of the sort, where they threw open the grounds to the general public. Any number of people were wandering around drinking something called “lemonade”, in which Maufrais gathered there were actual lemons. Distracted by the presence of real organic fruit, he suddenly discovered that he and Jupiter had strayed into a sort of backyard that was right behind the house itself. And sitting in that yard, at three-quarter profile to them, was a majestic figure, reclining on an appropriately enormous garden chair.

“There you are!” said Andre. “What the hell’s wrong?” he added, taking in Maufrais’ face as he and Jupiter stumbled out of somewhere onto the patch of grass which Andre and Peggy were taking a break on.

But even Jupiter’s recordings didn’t do it very good justice – the majestic figure’s startled leap into the air, which had reminded Maufrais of holograms of retro food called jelly; the imperious (but polite) demand that they state their business; the absolute impassivity of the voice and face. Maufrais had just had time to stammer out some apology and then they had both hurried away. But something was slowly occurring to Maufrais, standing there and guiltily using the portable finger-fan…

A querulous voice interrupted the lawn chair-figure’s already interrupted afternoon. “Beach, what in heaven’s name was that commotion? It nearly put the Empress off her mash. You know the sort of delicate animal she is,” it said, speaking of a beast that the unrefined soul could easily have mistaken for a hot air balloon.

Beach the butler stood respectfully, but imperiously, to attention as Lord Emsworth pottered towards him. “I apologize, your lordship. It would appear that some of the… public… had inadvertently got into the estate’s lawns. They have now left, and in some haste.”

“Oh all right, all right, all right, all right,” said Lord Emsworth irritably. “All right,” he added, driving the point home, and then turned and mumbled his way back to the sty, where two footmen were standing sheepish guard over the pig called the Empress of Blandings.

Beach heaved a huge sigh. It nevertheless conveyed only a fraction of the agony that a man of his position was forced to experience in the execution of his duties. And then he returned to his lawn chair, and his avid perusal of the society pages.

Two minutes later, he had forgotten all about the only being ever to withstand the butler’s death glare of disapproval. Fortunately for him, this did not alter the running score of Beach vs. The Non-Butler Human, which was still seventy-five thousand to nil. This was because Jupiter was, of course, was quite distinctly non-human.

On to the next part.

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