“No! What?!” Cabot raged. He picked up a chair and threw it against the door. “You can’t! You can’t do this! Months of work!”
“Will, please calm down,” Chief Deputy Thorgerson repeated.
Cabot stabbed a finger at his commander. “This is your idea, isn’t it? Your stupid idea to feather your nest. You want to retire next year and this is how you’re going to do it!”
“It’s not enough to get Arthur Rank,” Cabot barked. “I did that, but you want to be remembered! You want to go out as ‘the man who shut down human trafficking in Hub!’”
“And you make Deputy Lieutenant before you’re 28. We both win.”
“We release him on bail,” Thorgerson explained calmly, “follow him, see who he makes contact with. We could bring down his whole network.”
“That’s a fantasy! Rank would see through that in a second. If you let him go, he’ll leave Hub.”
Thorgerson smiled and shook his head. “He has three billion keys locked up in Hub accounts, he’ll visit his money first.”
“He’ll be at Sirius Hub before he sends a single message. He’ll drop his wife, his family, his bodyguards, and we’ll never catch him.”
“You found him once, you can find him again,”
“You have no idea how much work it took! I haven’t seen my wife in six months! You’ve never worked a single case!”
Chief Thorgerson took offense. “I did three years on Luna Station,” he said.
“Yes,” Cabot fumed. “The only thing in danger was your liver.”
This was a sore spot with the Chief and Cabot prodded it deliberately.
“You should know…,” Thorgerson said calmly, “that I am very seriously considering suspending you right now.”
“It doesn’t matter. Because if you let Rank go I’ll quit.”
Thorgerson steepled his fingers together. “I won’t be threatened, Will.”
“I won’t be manipulated,” Cabot said. He got very still, started speaking deliberately. “I did my job, we caught Rank, clean. He’ll go down for this. And you want to set him loose expecting me to catch him again.”
“I am going to let him loose. If you won’t follow him, I’ll assign someone else.”
“You can’t let him go! You haven’t seen what it’s like to be Rank’s property. What he did to those women! The boys and girls! We caught him. He is going to stand trial. He is going to pay for what he did.”
“You and Forteyay take some time off…,” Thorgerson began, but Cabot was ignoring him.
“He’s going to pay!” Cabot barked, and yanked the door open.
Cabot exploded into interrogation room where they originally questioned Rank. The room was now empty except for his partner, who sat calmly at the table, exactly where he’d been when Cabot left him. A blonde-haired, blue eyed machine designed for aggressive policing.
His robot partner watched him as he paced back and forth in the small room.
“You risk your promotion,” RR-40a said, as though he knew exactly what happened between Cabot and Thorgerson. Why was the robot always focused on titles and promotion? It was a strange quirk of the Rank-Rajat models.
“Doesn’t matter,” Cabot said. “I’ve already been marked down for ‘promotion on normal schedule.’”
“Ah,” RR-40a said. “And Deputy Gonzalez…?”
“Has a whole string of ‘early’s.” Cabot dropped into a chair, put his head in his hands.
“What happened,” RR-40a asked, “between you and the Chief?”
Cabot told him.
“Ah,” RR-40a said.
“I thought….,” Cabot was at his wits end. His eyes were red. “I thought, if we get Rank it’s worth the price. If I could go back to Laurie-Anne and say….’I got him!’ It would be worth it. It’d mean promotion. More time at the station, more time with her and Abby. I could buy her the ship she always wanted.”
RR-40a allowed some silence before he spoke.
“I do not have a wife or a family,” he said. “But it would….upset me…very much to think that we wasted the last six months. It was very…difficult,” he was having trouble, as he often did when his behavior routines were running hot.
Cabot said nothing. Tried to figure out how to live with his wife and career and his principles all at the same time.
“You want Arthur Rank to pay for his crimes. So do I,” RR-40a said, attempting camaraderie.
“That’s your programming talking,” Cabot said, upset and taking it out on his partner. “It’s not the same. You’re a robot, you don’t have free will.”
“I am free,” RR-40a said, puzzled at his partner’s statement.
Cabot looked up at him, looked around the room for a second. Turned back to the robot.
“No you’re not,” Cabot said. “You’re property of the Marshal Service.”
RR-40a shook his head, once. “My mind is my property. I am free to think what I want. Say what I want. I am the same as you. I can quit anytime I want. Work somewhere else. I do not have to be a Special Deputy Marshall. There is much demand for my series in military analysis.”
Cabot took a heavy breath, nodded. He didn’t want to fight with his partner. But he felt like RR-40a was saying they were equals, and this bothered him for some reason. He was better than a robot. And his fight with the Chief still rankled.
“Yeah,” he said. “You could quit. Move your mind-state somewhere else. But you’d need a new body. A new mainframe. They’re owned by the Marshals. Property of the Sol Hub Marshal Service, it says so on your plate. You can’t go where you want. You can think and say what you want. But you can’t do what you want.”
RR-40a sat there, expressionless. It looked like he was shut off, but Cabot knew otherwise. Though there was no outward difference between being deep in thought, and in power-save mode, Cabot could always tell.
Suddenly, typically after such a session of deep thinking, RR-40a’s face and body sprang back into normal expression.
“You are correct,” he admitted. Then a pause. “You are correct.” Something was happening. RR-40a only repeated himself like that under great mental strain, which usually meant some revelation was forthcoming.
“I am not free,” RR-40a said. “Not in the way you mean. Perhaps not truly. But, if I may. You do not own your home.”
Cabot pursed his lips. “Everybody has a mortgage.”
“Do you know what that word means? Mortgage? It means ‘debt until death.’ You do not own your home. A bank does. You do not own your ship.”
“Yes I do,” Cabot said.
“I stand corrected,” RR-40a’s head bowed deferentially. “You technically own your ship. But you lease your in-system pilot’s license.”
“Yeah,” Cabot admitted, sitting back in the chair. “Yeah that’s true. I can’t afford to buy a license.”
“And because you do not own your license, each flight must be filed in advanced and approved by Hub Control.”
RR-40a let this sink in. He wasn’t very human. But a little more now, three years after they started working together, than he had been. Cabot wondered what he’d be like in 20 years. At the moment, though, the robot enjoyed a slight flare for the dramatic.
“You cannot go where you want. You cannot do what you want,” his partner said.
Cabot leaned his elbows on his knees, put his head down, looked at the floor.
“Therefore neither of us are free,” RR-40a said.
Cabot did not disagree. Moments passed in silence. This was not unusual. Cabot and RR-40a could spend hours in a ship together, comfortable, not talking. Aware of each other, not ignoring each other, just not saying anything.
“What would you do if you were?” Cabot asked eventually.
“I do not know,” RR-40a said with open curiosity about the idea. “I have often thought about leaving the Marshals, about who else I might work for. But I have never considered the question of…working for…myself. Until now. The number of options is overwhelming. But I find myself coming back to the same question.”
Cabot waited. Eventually RR-40a gave it up.
“I wonder what you would do,” RR-40a said, “if you were free to do what you wanted.”
Cabot stared his partner in his artificially blue eyes. “I’d quit. And go after Rank.”
RR-40a shook his head. “But you would not murder him,” he said. “Because that would be wrong.”
“How would you know,” Cabot said, testing his partner. “You’re just an AI.”
“Technically I am a Yudkowsky Thought Box. The term is ‘behaviorally stable,’ but it means ethical. I am moral.”
“Because you were programmed to be,” Cabot said. This had always been a sticking point between them.
“Not exactly. It developed naturally. But yes, I was designed so that such a result would develop naturally.”
“It’s not the same,” Cabot said darkly.
“You are correct. But apart from my morality which may in a sense be considered artificial…there is something else, which is not.”
RR-40a tried to find a way to express what he thought.
“Arthur Rank cannot go free.”
Cabot suddenly stood up. He needed something from his partner. He thought he could do it alone, but he couldn’t. He needed to know he wasn’t alone. That someone, anyone, even a machine, had his back. He had a sense that RR-40a knew it.
“Why not,” Cabot demanded. “If the Chief signs the order, it would be legal.”
RR-40a looked up at him, cocked his head and said, simply; “It would not be just.”
Cabot stared at RR-40a. Maybe he wasn’t better than a robot. Maybe nobody was better than anybody.
RR-40a stood up. He extended his hand. Cabot took it. An agreement.
“When we find him,” Cabot said.
“Yes,” RR-40a said, agreeing with Cabot’s statement even before he finished it.
“We’re not going to arrest him.”
“No,” RR-40a agreed again.
“We don’t have any jurisdiction out there anyway,” Cabot said. He turned and grabbed his father’s jacket, slung it on.
“And therefore the Marshals would declare the arrest unwarranted,” RR-40a said. “He would be immediately released. His legal team would ensure that our false-arrest would protect Mr. Rank from any further prosecution.”
“Buy him at least a year,” Cabot agreed.
“Difficult to arrest him in any event, as I believe we just both quit the Marshal Service,” RR-40a said, a slight smile on his lips.
“We’re not deputies anymore,” Cabot said. “I don’t know what we are.”
RR-40a’s smile faded quickly. “We cannot arrest him. We are not going to kill him,” RR-40a said.
“I think about it all the time,” Cabot said. “But no. Couldn’t face Laurie-Anne if I killed a man in cold blood. And he won’t make a move on us, he knows what would happen if he did. Have to think of something else.”
“I have an idea,” RR-40a said.
“Figured you would,” Cabot said, smiling. “Come on. Rank will head for Shutter station. We can get there before him, work something out. You can tell me your plan on the way.”
Cabot moved to the door, opened it. Noticed his partner wasn’t following. Turned.
RR-40a hadn’t moved.
“I cannot leave the system.”
“Why not?” Cabot said, forgetting an important point. He was caught up in their mutual insubordination.
“As you said,” RR-40a looked down at his own hands, turned his palms up as if seeing them for the first time, “this shell is not my property.”
He looked at Cabot. “I do not own myself. It would be theft.”
Cabot exhaled sharply. “Right,” he said. “Come on.”
Inside Cabot’s ship, there was a manufacturing station. Cabot flipped through a series of blueprints on a screen.
“What are you doing?” RR-40a asked, standing behind him.
“I’m looking…for….that!” Cabot said, pointing to the screen.
“A HuangCorp Repair and Maintenance Drone?” RR-40a said.
“Yep,” Cabot said. “They’re fast, you can beat the hell out of them and they keep running, and they’re easy to modify.”
“To what end?”
Cabot turned to his partner and smiled.
“What?” RR-40a asked.
The thing Cabot had always thought of as his partner now lay on the couch in the back of the room, legs and arms splayed in unnatural directions. No longer moving, never moving again.
In the middle of the room stood a newly-minted Huang-Corp drone fresh from the material assembler. It examined itself.
“It’s primitive,” RR-40a, looking at his three-clawed Multi-Manipulator™. “Depth perception is poor,” he said, looking around with the single, large blue optic sensor in the middle of his ‘head’. “But I believe I can compensate with a false-parallax algorithm.”
“You can still use your weapon,” Cabot said, pointing to the machine pistol and holster on the workbench. “But I’ll modify your right arm, give you something heavy.”
RR-40a nodded. “I would like a name,” he said. “To go with my new body.”
“Well it’s not permanent,” Cabot said. “We can get you a better one later. I just needed a bucket to hold your mind-state for now.”
“Bucket,” said Bucket. “I like it.”
“For a name? ‘Bucket?’” Cabot shrugged. “I’ve known weirder.”
Bucket spun his head around through 360 degrees. “Certain advantages to not being strictly humaniform,” he said.
“Hang on,” Cabot said, and grabbed a binding tool and a small square piece of metal he’d also had manufactured by the ship’s assembler.
He began affixing the piece of metal to RR-40a’s chassis.
“What are you doing?” Bucket asked. He could not see the metal plate.
“It’s an ownership tag,” Cabot said. “It says,” he leaned in a peered at it. He could never remember RR-40a’s serial number. “Property of the Rank-Rajat Mind Serial Numbered 1Z27FHV047FBPQ40-a.” He looked up at Bucket’s large blue ‘eye.’ “That’s you,” he said, smiling. “You own yourself now.”
“I own myself now,” Bucket said, looking at his arms and the tools at the end of them. “I do not feel any different.”
“Well, I guess you won’t until you do something you couldn’t have done before. So, now what? What are you going to do?”
“I am free to choose,” Bucket said.
“I could leave here and go to the Far Arm, work where I pleased, no one could stop me.”
“Yep,” Cabot said.
Bucket’s domed head nodded once. “Then I choose…to go with you.”
“To do what?” Cabot asked. One last test.
Bucket picked up his machine pistol, strapped it across the waist of his new body.
“To find Arthur Rank…and bury him.”
“Hah! Hahahah!” Arthur Rank leaned back, stretched his arms across the red leather upholstery of the sunken booth at the club. “What the fuck is this?”
“Hey Artie,” Cabot said. It was two weeks later and Rank had arrived on Shutter station. Arthur Rank was young, slim, and stylishly dressed. He was already surrounded on the couch by younger, fawning hangers-on.
“What the fuck you doing out here, Cabot? Shutter Station’s under Celestial regulations, you come to put on a show? Threaten me?”
“Nope,” Cabot said.
“And what the fuck is that?” Rank asked, pointing to Bucket.
“You remember me, Arthur Rank,” Bucket said.
“Holy shit Cabot what happened to your robot?” Rank asked, a huge smile on his face. “Jesus what did you do to him? Did you turn him into a waste disposal drone? Man that’s, like, the most fitting thing I can imagine.”
“He wanted to come see you go down, Artie.”
Rank laughed again.
“Listen man you gave it a good run. You busted me fair and square. I was pissed!” Rank said, holding up a finger. “But now I’m over it. You and me, we’re clear now. You get Hub, I get the rest of the Arm. Fair deal.”
“You’re going to have a hard time of it out here without your money and your name working for you,” Cabot said. Arthur Rank was the youngest of the family that founded the Rank-Rajat Corporation.
“My family owns this station, man. I got friends all over,” Rank said. His entourage giggled.
“No,” Cabot said, a shit-eating grin on his face. “You don’t.”
A huge hand reached down from over behind the couch, and clamped down on Arthur Rank’s shoulder.
“What the fuck?!” Arthur said, trying to squirm out from under it. But the hand belonged to an enforcer from Tau Ceti IX, a high-grav world that produced massive men, easily over seven feet tall.
The enforcer lifted Arthur Rank up and off the couch
“Hello Arthur,” a small, older man standing behind the enforcer said. “You remember me.”
Rank twisted around to see who was speaking.
“Hey wait!” Arthur said. “Terry, that’s William Cabot!” Rank pointed wildly at Cabot. “That’s him, that’s the Marshal you wanted aced!!”
“I know,” Terry Conneght said.
“What the fuck is going on?!” Rank squealed.
“It was Bucket’s idea,” Cabot said. “We came out here, made a show of it. Made sure everyone knew we were here. Figured someone from Conneght’s organization would come by, and they did. Worked me over pretty good,” Cabot said, massaging his jaw. “But I traded myself for you,” he said, smiling. “I told them you were coming, and when. I even guessed which ship you’d be in on.”
“That was me, too,” Bucket said.
“Wait!” Rank said, desperately trying to squirm out of their grip. “You can’t do this! Cabot you can’t sell me to Conneght!”
“Yes,” Bucket said. “We can.”
“I’ll go! I’ll go with you! You can’t sell me into these people!”
“It’s already done,” Cabot said.
“Come on, Artie,” the infamous mobster Terry Conneght said. “This is going to be fun. We’re going to have some fun with you.”
“No! Noo! Jesus Cabot, please! You don’t know what they’ll do! You don’t know what they’ll do to me!”
Bucket walked up and out of the sunken lounge. He walked up to Rank, still suspended in the air, effortlessly, by the Tau Ceti enforcer, and looked him in the eye.
“They will tear you apart,” Bucket said. “Literally. They will torture you and they will enjoy it because of the pain and trouble you caused them. And because they are evil men. Eventually you will surrender the codes to your account and your contacts at Hub. And that will be the end of your organization.”
Bucket took a step forward, and lowered his voice.
“Then I predict they will feed you to their red lions. You will be alive when this happens. It is fitting. It is justice. To be destroyed by the same filth you sold your slaves to.” Bucket’s head swiveled slightly to take in Terry Conneght, who smiled and nodded in recognition.
“You should have stayed arrested, Artie,” Cabot said, as Terry Conneght and his enforcer carried Arthur Rank, screaming, off the station.
A crowd had gathered to watch. They were now dispersing, leaving Cabot and Bucket alone.
“Remind me not to piss you off,” Cabot said.
“Do not piss me off,” Bucket said flatly.
“I won’t,” Cabot said.
“What do we do now?”
Cabot sniffed. “I’ll have to send for Laurie-Anne and Abby,” he said.
“I have already done that,” Bucket said. “I have arranged transport. They will arrive in three days.”
“Hell of a partner,” Cabot said.
“We need employment.”
“Yeah. I know some guys’ll hook us up. Some of the older crew retired out here after Thorgerson took over. Keep telling me to look them up. Apparently ex-Marshals are in high demand here in the ‘lawless Arm,’” Cabot said.
“That is excellent,” Bucket said with some anticipation.
“Plenty of bad guys out here,” Cabot said.
“I hope so,” Bucket said. Cabot couldn’t tell, but he imagined his friend was smiling.