Roger walked back to the sofa and slumped with his head in his hands. 'It's just a bit dodgy. You don't get asked by Mrs Abbot to do a freelance job every day.'
'I don't know what the problem is, surely you know the job backwards, it can't take more than a few days.' Andy had walked back into the room.
'Now look, you don't seem to have grasped the gravity of the situation, replay the message.'
Andy reached out and pressed the front of his box, about where you would put a nose if an answering machine had one. A ladies voice could be heard asking Roger to meet her at the Tea Kettle, for an important job. She'd heard he was the best and was also discreet. She needed the utmost discretion to stop an industrial disaster. The tape stopped. 'Erase it.' said Roger.
'Are you sure?' said Algernon.
'Yes, if this is as dangerous as I think it is, the last thing I need right now is for Elk to get hold of this. Or the council, come to that.' He spun his finger in the air, and Andy started buzzing and whirring whilst checking the walls, pictures and lamps. Algernon went into the bedroom and started rummaging through things.
'Val, I need you to keep an eye on things, I leave you in charge here until I get back, keep an eye on Rube, I'll need to pop back a few times but I need to be sure I'm not being bugged. Andy, can you keep checking the flat, I want you to keep a report, and watch the pipes and lines until I return, I'll use the usual password sequence to dial in.'
Algernon returned with a small case in black leather, then, with careful movements he opened the case, seated himself inside, and then zipped it up. Roger picked the case up and walked through to the kitchen.
'Kevin, I need you to guard the door, I don't want anybody coming in here without me, OK?'
'Certainly, can I interest you in some sustenance before you leave?'
Roger looked at the plate on the table. It appeared to be some sort of pizza, but somehow the main ingredients weren't in the correct order. 'No, thanks. I'll get something whilst I'm out. Must dash.'
Kevin sighed as Roger left the flat and proceeded to dispose of the contents and then wash up the plate in the sink, before placing it quietly back in the rack that was situated behind his, well, head, if a kitchen implement had one.
Elk sat down. 'Where is he now?'
'He's just left his flat, he's headed towards the office now'
Elk smiled. The office was the last place he'd expected Roger to start, but then he was the prime suspect and the N.A.P.E. was too important an item to leave to it's own devices, however self-aware it might be.
'He should lead us straight to it.'
Elk watched the delivery van pull away and then walked from window to a gold corded chain to the left of plastiglass frame.He pulled it, hard, and heard the reassuriing ring far off in the distance.
The bundle slumped in the corner. This isn't what he planned on. Getting out of the laboratory was easy but getting to where he wanted to go seemed far more difficult than it needed to be. He must have travelled through 30 different machines and office networks by now, but he still hadn't found the exit he was lured away to in the first place.
Perhaps he took a wrong turn at Pizza Noir. The computer seemed very nice, but it was definitely preoccupied and hadn't really been much help. All it kept babbling on about was olives. Nigel wasn't sure what olives were, however important they were. Still, here he was in the libraries computer, perhaps he could find something here to help him.
Algernon rocked in his compartment in the bag. Roger was running, and the bag wasn't exactly designed for that. The shoulder strap was too loose and bounced the bag about too much, he just hoped he didn't get left behind somewhere. Talking to those lost property bots was such a bore. Why no-one had upgraded their A.P.E. was a mystery. They were always so rude.
They had this way of looking at you. How could you become lost, don't you know who your owner is? The problem was, you just looked back with a vacant embarrassed look on your face trying to convey intelligence and complete helplessness at the same time.
Roger took a sharp turn left, they must be on the expressway heading towards Nexis. This wasn't in the plan.
'Olives are among the worlds oldest fruits…' said the encyclopedia.
'Often used as a garnish on Pizzas and other dishes.' it intoned.
'Pizza is a dish made of a bread base with tomato sauce spread on top. This is then covered with various ingredients, which are then topped by mozzarella cheese.'. The information was given as matter of factly as you would expect from a machine holding facts.
'Mozzarella is a cheese made from...' the encyclopaedia started again.
'No more. I get the picture.'
Nigel slumped back. Now he was more confused, why were Pizzas so important round here? He couldn't see the attraction, but then he couldn't see the attraction of food either. The whole thing seemed pointless, you go to tall this trouble to make something that looks and tastes nice, then stick it in your mouth and chew it all up so it can be dissolved by acids in the stomach. Surely there was some other purpose to food. Other than giving the left hand something to do whilst the right operated the mouse?
Nigel sighed again and sat down on a stray byte.
He was tired. He didn't know why, it just seemed natural for him to be tired. He closed his eyes.
The encyclopaedia switched from displaying a picture of a pizza and instead a black box appeared on the screen.
'I'd like to speak to Elk' it whispered.
'That's Mr Elk to you, and he's busy. I'll pass on the message.'
'It's here.' it said, trying to look both at it's own screen and the heap at the same time.
'What's he been doing?'
'Looking up foods. Look, will I get paid for this?'
'Someone will be over very shortly.'
Pearl drank another cup of coffee and put the mug down. She stepped over to the computer, and started typing again. She wasn't sure what she was typing anymore, but it was apparently the thing to do. When in Geek anyway. The pizza got smaller in familiar sized chunks.
A two-tone beep signalled a visitor. She switched off the screen, took the phone off the hook and dimmed the lights. Her tail flicked from side to side as she stood beside the door. Her eyes were wide open as she opened the door. A flash blinded her, and she felt someone grab at her wrists. the fur pulled at her skin and she lashed out with her back feet and sharp claws as the assailant fell to the floor.
There was a cry of pain and a groan that didn't quite match. She saw leather on the floor where it shouldn't be, and something was flashing red in the corner.
The man moved, and Pearl leapt on him pushing his face to floor.
'Pearl?' said a muffled voice.
'Who wants to know?', the words purred out.
'It's me, Roger.' He tried to lift his head.
'This isn't quite how I planned we'd meet. I was expecting something a little more, informal.' She stood up and started licking her paws.
The clocked limped into sight, looked at the other heap in the middle of the room and decided to join it. This wasn't quite how he'd wanted them to meet either. Candlelit dinners weren't Rogers style, well, at least as far as Algernon knew. He hadn't served his master long, he still had six months left on the guarantee. He had imagined a nice Chinese, perhaps even Japanese take away though. Japanese was probably easier, it wouldn't get cold.
'What brings you here? I thought we decided we weren't going to meet up for at least another 6 months. By then we might both have got things sorted.'
'It wasn't quite my idea. I'm in trouble, sort of.' Roger stood up.
'What kind of trouble?' said Pearl, as she proceeded to wash her face with careful lick and paw motions.
Roger wasn't sure he knew the answer to that question, but he explained about the job and Mrs Abbot.
'You don't to get messed up with A.P.E.s, no offence Algernon.'
'Look, its money, something I could do with right now.'
He didn't need money, Pearl knew that, but she also knew him well enough to guess that he did need something to do. Roger wasn't a very busy guy at the best of times, but he did always need something to occupy his mind. He didn't really care what, what was important was that his mind was kept busy enough for him not to end up going crazy not thinking about something. She'd read some of the things he'd written when his mind wasn't busy.
He could write, there was no doubt about that, but his mind seemed to be thinking about so many things concurrently that what came out was a mixture of well written sentences interspersed with each other, rather than being individually separated by spaces and full stops. She stopped thinking about it.
Pearl glanced at him,'Look, Roger, I'm not sure I want to get involved.'
Roger stood up, brushed himself off, and then gave her a pleading look she did not appreciate. 'Perhaps not, but you're the best researcher I've ever come across and this New Artificial Personality Emulator is hiding out here somewhere, in this city, right now. I won't say you're the best person to find it, but you're the only one I know.'
'Thanks for the vote of confidence.', she turned back to her keyboard.
'Well, I didn't mean…' said Roger, reaching out a hand.
'We both know exactly what you meant.' Pearl swished her tail again. Roger was sat down and watched as Algernon tried to collect together the contents of the bag. When he'd finished, the two of them walked to the door, Algernon carrying his case, instead of it carrying him.
'I'll help, but don't expect me to enjoy it.' said Pearl as she switched off the lights again and followed them out the door.
Julio uncrossed his arms and walked from the door to Elk's desk. The muscles in his arms expanded and contracted as his arms swung. 'Go to the library' said Elk. Julio's brow furrowed. Elk watched as the veins on his forehead pulsed. Julio wasn't stupid. He had an amazing ability to think fast when it was needed. He'd saved Elk on a number of occasions from one assassin or another. The problem with Julio was that when he wasn't in combat mode his brain worked exceptionally slowly. If at all.
Elk strained to hear the gears move, but decided they were moving so slowly that he'd probably never hear them anyway. He tried again.
'The Library, on Isis avenue. It has books in it. Go there and bring me back the computer. The N.A.P.E. is inside the memory of that machine somewhere.' Elk spoke as slowly and clearly as he could.
Julio furrowed his brow again, and then he relaxed, nodded his head and walked out the room. Elk was sure he had heard a click when Julio relaxed.