“Oh, this is good. I didn’t know I would be able to taste raspberries.”
“That’s a bit of information they held from you. Now about information. Where’s Timberwoof Lupindo Three being held?”
“Next to the pods for Timberwoofs One and Two, I’d imagine. Oh, that raspberry is good.”
“First one’s free. What’s he being held for?”
“He knows some things about the Xiq. It’s pretty high-level stuff.”
“They didn’t tell you that, either.”
“No.” The Aurean was staring at the box of raspberries.
“You’d like to know, wouldn’t you?”
“I am curious, yes. But professional—“
“You’ve beet very professional so far. Why not take us to him? I’d like to check up on him.”
“He’s highly restricted.”
“I’m very high level.”
“Well. I’m not sure—“
“I have raspberries.”
“Please come this way.”
The Aurean took Boot and Loop to the pods. Rows of pods, some containing a peaceful-looking sleeper. The pods lit up as they approached, enabling them to see inside. The name tags did not illuminate. Finally, three nametags appeared. Timberwoof Lupindo (One), (Two), and (Three). As the light cam on, they could see that the third one was occupied: A black wolf with various tubes keeping him fed and otherwise taken care of. A life signs monitor showed heart rate, respiration, and a few other squiggly lines: Timby was in deep sleep or a coma.
“That’s not Timby,” said Boot.
“Yes, it is,” said Loop.
“What happened to his fur? It used o be so festive.”
“It’s a long story,” said Loop. “You should ask him.”
“I confirm that this is the prisoner you want.”
“Wake him,” said Boot.
The Aurean pressed a button on the pod.
The squiggly lines became more squiggly. Heart rate and respirations increased, as did brain activity. The black wolf opened his eyes, squinted, then widened them in recognition. His heart rate and respiration increased.
“Looks like you’ve got yourself into quite a fix there, Timby.”
Timby sighed and furrowed his brow.
“So you want out?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘Please.’ Okay. Under one condition. You tell me everything.”
Timby nodded and struggled against his restraints.
“I’ll take that as agreement. Did you record that, Loop?”
“Yes, I did. I think he wants to be let out.”
“Let him out.”
“Yes, Boot. I’ll send him to the processing room. You can meet him there.”
The Aurean pressed another button. A yellow wheeled contraption arrived with much beeping and flashing of lights. The pod hummed as it was detached from the wall hardware and carried off by the contraption.
“This way, please.”
The Aurean led Boot and Loop to a room with some chairs and a Dynatic pod. The lid was open and another Aurean was removing tubes and things from Timby. Timby coughed.
“Get away from me, you asshole,” he said.
Timby looked at his rescuers as the Aurean who had been tending him left the room. He watched Boot laPlace hand a box to the Aurean who had accompanied them in.
“So,” said Boot. “How did you end up in here, and why do you need my rescue?”
Timby turned to the Aurean, who had started munching on the raspberries.
“Are you cleared to hear what I have to say? You don’t want to end up in a pod.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Okay, Boot. Hang on to your ears. The Xiq Gods are—“
Timby stopped in mid-sentence.
“The Xiq Gods are what?”
“Spit it out.”
Timby looked helplessly at Boot.
“I don’t know what they are.”
“What the hell?” Boot glared at Lup, then at the Aurean, and finally at Timby.
“What the hell, Timby?”
“I’m asking myself the same thing! What the hell was I locked up in a pod for?”
Timby glared at the Aurean.
“You’re supposed to only lock people up who have dangerous knowledge. At least tell me what I’m supposed to know.”
The Aurean smirked.
“You don’t know it. You can’t know it.”
“So why am I here?”
“We were waiting to process you out and for someone to come get you.”
“Just like that?”
“We’re not cruel. Boot LaPlace, I’m prepared to sign him over to your custody.”
“Custody. I like that. Timby, are you prepared to be in my custody?”
“I’ve been in your custody pretty much ever since the Battle of Surf & Turf.”
“Which you helped win. Nice work. Remind me to recommend you for a bonus for that.”
Timby looked at Boot with furrowed brow and slightly pulled back lip. Sometimes Boot made no sense, but it was no use asking.
“What are you waiting for?” asked Boot. “Let’s go. He’s in my custody. Loop, come with us.”
At the airlock pad Timby looked at the vehicle parked there.
“You came in that?”
Timby stood, looking aghast at a brightly colored box with wheels and a small pilot’s cabin at one end.
“Of course. Shotgun!”
“I called shotgun. That means you—“ Boot pointed at Timby. “—Get to drive and you—“ Boot pointed at Lup. “—Get to sit in the middle. Pile in. Seat belts on? Good.”
Boot detached a hand-sized box from a small electronic device bolted crudely to the instrument panel. He pressed a lever on the box and spoke into it.
“Breaker one-nine. This is Ic Cream Truck requesting clearance to depart airlock … what’s my airlock humber?”
The electronic device spat electrical noise, beeped, and spoke.
“Ice Cream Truck, Dynatic Control. Opening airlock doors. You’re cleared to depart—“
“You heard the man, back us out of here,” said Boot, looking at Timby.
“When the airlock door is open.”
“I’m not type-rated on this craft.”
“Oh come on, Timby. You’re a starship Captain, aren’t you? This drives like a truck.”
Pride hurt, Timby looked at Boot. “What is truck?”
“Shifter’s here. Back it out slowly.”
Timby looked at Boot like he was crazy, and jammed the shifter into R. The shuttle lurched and began its slow path out of the airlock, Timby looking madly in the backup mirrors. He sighed.
“Did you have to design it this way?”
“I have to maintain the illusion somehow.”
“Couldn’t this at least be bigger on the inside?”
“Spectre Station OTC, Ice Cream Truck requesting inbound vector.”
“Ice Cream, Spectre. Stand by. All Spectre Station traffic, clear a lane for Ice Cream Truck inbound to Dock 47A. Ice Cream, you are cleared to proceed manually to Dock 47A We’ve lit up in red for you.”
Timby looked with wide eyes at Boot.
“The hell? How come I never found out about this?”
“I needed you for more important missions. I couldn’t have you distracted by routine OTC operations.”
“Right,” said Timby. “Prepare for retro rockets.”
“That would be the big pedal in the middle.”
Timby touched it gently; rocket exhaust puffed from OMS pods disguised as horns and bells. The truck didn’t even rotate from an off-balance center of mass.
“Spectre Station OTC, Ice Cream Truck, request LSO in the dock.”
“Ice Cream, Spectre, we’ve got it covered. We confirm LSO in the dock.”
The outer edge of Dock 47a was lit up in bright red; the lights inside were off except for the landing grid on the pad and someone at the far end waving bright red wand lights.
“Spectre, Ice Cream. LSO confirmed; I’ve got visual.”
The LSO using galactic-standard signals, expertly waved Timby, piloting Boot Laplace’s Ice Cream Truck, into its landing spot. Timby turned the key to the Off position, extracted it, and handed it to Boot.
Once the outer doors were closed and the airlock was pressurized, they opened the doors and clambered out.
Nak and Calafin awaited them at the corridor.
“Always nice to be greeted by a welcoming party!” said Boot.
“What do you want, Boot?” asked Nak.
“Take this wolf back to your lab and find out what he doesn’t know.”
“Easier said than done, Boot. You want me to do what? Does he know it or not?”
“He knows it. He just thinks he doesn’t know it.”
“Oh, goody. Information extraction. I like doing that.”
“Hey!” said Timby. “It’s me! You can’t just strap me down and get me to talk!”
“Oh, yeah, that is you. Where have you ben?”
“Dynatic prison. And I feel like hell.”
“I’d feel like hell, too, driving that thing. Why does your robot have Sauresee Xiq antennae?”
“Look at his head, puppy.”
“Well, fuck me,” said Timby.
“Later, in Medical,” said Nak.
“Lup, why do you have Sauresee Xiq antennae? And what’s that lump on the back of your head?”
“I don’t know. I think you did this. I did some research, discovered something, and you erased it. You ran off and didn’t come back, so I got Boot to rescue you.”
“I think I can remember what the Dynatic made me forget,” said Timby. “Lup, come with me.”
“I’ve seen that look before,” said Calafin. “We better follow; this could get interesting.”
“He gets those looks?” asked Boot.
“Of course he does,” said Nak. “Why do you think we keep him?”
“This better be worth it,” said Boot. “I was just in the middle of a big negotiation with the Xiq. And their Adherents are acting crazy.”
Timby turned and looked at Boot.
In the robotics lab, Boniface hastily put away a catalog. Timby barely saw some interesting woof underwear and made a note to ask Boniface about it later.
“Do you have Lup’s last backup before I mind-wiped him?”
Boniface looked at Timby, Nak, Calafin, and Boot with wide eyes.
“Uh, yeah. It’s right here.”
“Good. Restore Lup.”
“You’ll lose everything since that save point.”
“Could you—nah, too hard. Just restore him.”
“I’ll do an incremental backup. I’ll rebase and merge the branches, resolve any—“
“Good. Whatever. Do the right thing.”
“Yes, Timby. Give me three hours.”
“Three hours is perfect,” said Nak. “I can give you a complete physical and maybe a dunk in the tank for a couple hours. Oh, yes, and the fuck you wanted.”
Timby squinted at Nak.
“How about I just go down to the Tiff & Fox and have lunch instead.”
Boot, smirking, said, “You better let the puppy have his dinner. Nobody likes a grumpy woof.”
Timby, Boot, and two of the Elders of Surf were gathered in the Robotics lab. Boniface had alerted them that the restore process was 95% completed. They watched as Lup emerged from the electronic coma.
“Good morning. Uh. Has something happened? There’s a discontinuity in my memories and my clock.”
People looked at one another, trying to decide who had to tell Lup what had happened to him and what they wanted to know.
“He’s your robot,” said Nak.
“Lup,” said Timby, “It’s a long story. You’ve lost some of your memory, and I have too. Why did I wipe your memory and run off to the Dynatic?”
Lup looked at each of them in turn.
“This is highly dangerous information,” he said. “People will die because of this.”
“Yes, we know. Go on. Headlines first. The Xiq Gods are—“ said Timby. “That’s as much as I remember.”
“Yes. The Xiq Gods are Tabernacles and the Adherent God is corrupted by Underlings.”
The flesh-and-blood beings and Boot looked at one another in shock. Those who had thin fleshy parts turned white. Some were slack-jawed.
Timby startled as though he had been asleep.
“What did you say?” he asked. “I heard the start of it, but your words turned to mush after the Xiq Gods.”
Nak and Boot turned to look at Timby, Nack with a look of concern.
“That Dynatic conditioning is pretty thorough. They not only wiped your memory of this, they conditioned you not to ever find this out again.”
“Find what out again?”
“That the Xiq Gods are Tabernacles.”
Timby fell asleep, snored, and woke himself up.
“What did you say?” he asked. “I heard the start of it, but your words turned to mush after the Xiq Gods. Aww, shit. Did we just have this conversation?”
“Yeah, we did. Let’s not have it again,” said Boot. “All right. Nobody say that the Xiq Gods are—“
Nak whapped Boot across the face.
“Be nice to your puppy or I’ll take him away from you!”
Timby looked at them with tilted head.
“And you are coming with me to see Kae for some Tea.”
“Do you think that’s wise?” asked Boot. “Do you know what will happen if they find out the Xiq Gods are Tabernacles and the Adherent God is corrupted by underlings?”
Timby’s eyes glazed over as he grabbed the table for support.
“It’s either that or fit him with electrodes,” said Nak. “Those will keep him awake but make him very grumpy. And you would not like a grumpy Timby.”
“I suppose,” said Boot. “Go on. I’ll just sit here alone thinking about you.”
“I’ll keep you company,” said Loop.