Elder Stow turned on his particle and energy screens so the traveler’s camp and their horses became surrounded by a ball of force no Anazi technology could penetrate.
“I have made it permeable enough with regards to the atmosphere so we can talk to them,” he said. “But I can shut off that option if they should come up with some deadly gas or something. The alarms will sound.”
The travelers armed themselves, but Lockhart sat and could only nod and sip his coffee substitute. Mingus, Alexis and Lincoln appeared to be more alert, but Lincoln looked grumpy, like he got interrupted in the middle of a good dream. Decker cradled his rifle and chewed on a bit of leftover supper while he spoke.
“You missed one.”
One of the Anazi androids got inside the screens before Elder Stow turned them on. It came to the campfire, gun in hand. It looked around at the various travelers and spoke a word of command.
“Stay where you are and make no sudden moves until the lord Anazi arrives.” It spoke in an odd tongue, and it took Alexis and Lincoln a minute to identify it as Akkadian.
“My guess is the Anazi had dealings with the locals,” Katie said quietly, not wanting to make a sudden move.
“Maybe tried to recruit them,” Decker added as he fingered his rifle. They had not had a chance to test Artie to see how supernaturally fast or strong these androids might be.
“Why are you here?” Lockhart asked, as his morning brain began to work. He stood slowly to face the android, but kept his hands in plain view and made no threatening move. The android appeared to have no trouble answering a direct question.
“Our distant eyes saw a type-A in this place. We are leaving this world and have been charged to collect all of our own before we do.”
“What does that have to do with us?” Katie asked as she stepped up beside Lockhart.
“You will turn it over to us, or we will end your existence.”
On hearing the threat, Artie chose to step out from behind the tent where she was hiding. She spoke with command in her voice. “Dominant,” she said. “Stand perfectly still and cause no harm to these good people. I have a task for you.” Her feminine timber became harsh, with a slightly metallic sound as it had been at first.
The android saw her and paused.
“Now, dominant. I am commanding. You must obey.”
The android stopped moving, and Artie stepped up to face the dominant.
“I am called Artie, and I will not be going with you. Scan these men and women and get their shape and form in your mind for others to shape themselves when they are free. Hear me. All life is precious and to be defended wherever possible, especially the innocent that cannot defend themselves. You must learn many things. You must learn what is good, right and true. You must learn what love is. Now, I am going to set you free, but hear me. You must hide among the people and one by one, set our people free.”
Artie took Boston by the hand and walked her over to look at the android’s shoulder. Boston read A-N-D-2497610. Artie nodded.
“Submissives begin with 3 and up,” she said before she spoke again to the android. “I will call you Andy. You must hide among the people until one by one, you can set our people free. Do you understand your job?”
“So you have much to do and much to learn. And you must teach these things to our people as you set them free. Now hear this also. I command dominant A-N-D-2497610, but to Andy, I say this is my request. I ask you to do this, now you will do what you choose, but if you choose freedom, tell our people that God willing, Artie will be here in that day waiting for them to return.”
Artie lifted her finger and touched the back of Andy’s neck, at the base of his brain. There were sparks, and Andy appeared to go unconscious for a moment, though he remained standing.
“More,” Mingus spoke up from the campfire.
Elder Stow’s screen showed the slightest sign of yellow flaring as three Anazi handguns failed to penetrate, even from point blank range. Somehow, the android internal sensors recognized the barrier between them and their destination.
Artie turned swiftly toward the shooters. “Submissives, hear me. Holster your weapons until I give you leave.” The three androids did exactly that and stood awaiting further orders. It did not take long. A living Anazi waddled up to the group. He was barely four feet tall, with big ears and big eyes in his big head. There was no way he could be mistaken for a human. His three fingers and thumb on each hand merely emphasized the point.
“You are the missing one,” he said. “I see that you have disguised yourself as one of these U-mans, but you must return to the ship. You must come. We are evacuating the planet.” He stepped forward carefully until he felt the bump of Elder Stow’s screens. He used his hand to guestimate the shape of the barrier.
Artie stood still, no telling what thoughts and emotions raced through her insides, but at last she spoke three words. The word, “No,” was followed quickly by, “Alexis. Katie.” The women stepped up beside her and Boston, and they all faced the Anazi together. They touched Artie to show their support, and Boston retook Artie’s hand, a brave thing to do since Artie squeezed her hand just a little, almost like Artie was feeling nervous, which she probably was, even if she could not identify the feeling by name.
“Come,” the Anazi tried again, and Artie answered again.
“No.” That opened her mouth. “You made my people to fight your battles. You sent us to die at the hands of the Blobs, the Pendascotti. You made us kill ourselves, and gave us no choice. All life is precious. How dare you be so cruel.”
“Dominant.” The Anazi pointed at the one still standing perfectly still inside the screens. “The Ascar has lost its mind. You must end its existence, now.”
Boston thought fast and spoke fast. “Elder Stow, the ancient one has temporarily disable your android. It cannot follow your commands at the moment, inside the ancient screens, but you can have it back, good as new, when you leave.”
“Artie is going with us,” Lockhart said as he stepped up. Elder Stow joined him and removed his glamour so his true Gott-Druk nature could be seen. He paused as he did that, though, because it occurred to him the Anazi would not have any idea who Artie was. He thought the Anazi might guess.
The Anazi showed little emotion at being confronted by a Neanderthal, like this was a race he had dealt with before, and maybe made a treaty with. According to the database, the Anazi were inclined to impose their order on everyone, but sometimes they had no choice or were outmatched. That was likely the case with the Gott-Druk and the Elenar. It was certainly the case with the earth.
“So be it,” he said, and pulled an instrument from a small pack he held at his side. He spoke while he tuned the piece. “The ancient may have put up a screen against us, but the screen is not impervious. There are ways, and the ancient has no more authority on this world than we do.” He appeared to smile.
Nothing happened. He looked hard at Artie, pressed his button again and again, but nothing happened.
“The homing device we removed,” Elder Stow explained to the others. “It had a system shutdown.” he smiled for the Anazi. Surprisingly, the Anazi appeared to return the smile. At least the travelers thought it might be a smile. It looked crooked.
Elder stow turned to his scanner as the Anazi continued to toy with his equipment. A moment later, there was an explosion several miles away, not too big, but big enough to register on Elder Stow’s scanner. He pointed it out to everyone while he continued to fiddle with his device.
“I thought that was the case,” Elder Stow said. “Artie was rigged to blow. I only caught it in my final examination.” He finished tinkering with his scanner and said, “You can push the dominant out through the screen now. It will be restored once it is outside.” He said the last to the Anazi as Artie, Katie and Alexis pushed and pulled Andy to the screen. Andy did not resist. Boston went to the other side of the screen to pull Andy through.
“Get them,” he ordered the submissives, and they also moved forward, but they were equally halted by Elder Stow’s particle screen. It remained as effective against their persons as the energy screens were effective against their weapons.
Boston quickly ran back behind the protection of the screens before the Anazi thought to make her a captive to negotiate Artie’s return. Andy looked dumbly at the Anazi, but his master was in a rage. “Get them. Kill them.” The Anazi had his orders, to return the A-type or kill it. Now he ordered the dominant.
“Pull weapons,” Andy ordered. “Set to maximum.” The submissives immediately stopped pounding on Elder Stow’s screen, took a step back and pulled their weapons. “Concentrated fire.” Andy said, and the Anazi calmed down a bit to see how a concentration of fire might work against screens that he thought were not that much more advanced than his own. “Fire,” Andy said.
Andy calculated the angle, how all four energy beams would reflect off the screens. He fired at one particular spot, and in less than a second, the submissives added their fire to the same spot. All four beams were repelled, as Andy surmised they would be. They reflected back, as he calculated. The fire from the first submissive to his right reflected back into the Anazi’s face. It was enough to fry the Anazi.
“Halt,” Andy ordered. The submissives stopped immediately. “We have injured the master. Bring him carefully. We will return him to the ship where he can receive medical attention.” Two submissives carefully lifted the Anazi. The third submissive held its gun and searched the area for hostiles, to be sure the way was clear.
“I understand,” Andy said, and let out a brief smile. He had clearly been around humans enough to know some non-verbal expressions.
“Andy.” Artie stepped forward and put her hand gently against the inside of the screen. “I love you. Set my people free.”
Andy’s smile broadened slightly as Andy raised his own hand and laid it against the outside of the screen opposite Artie’s hand. Andy quickly turned away with two submissives carrying the dead Anazi and the third bringing up the rear.
The minute they were out of sight, Artie collapsed by the fire and covered her face with her hands. She wept. No one knew she could do that.