Although this masquerades as a short story, it actually crams the known universe down your neural network. Each pixel barrages your retina in photons arrayed to convey a trillion trillion trillion bits of information. Glimpsing the first letter of this story has made you want to invest a month’s credits into our bank account, but hey, at least we’re honest.
After reading this far, you have the knowledge of three races from the Milky Way’s more intelligent arthropods stored in your brain. How many of your friends can boast that? (Shortly, all of them. You will convince them to look at the first letters of this story, and they will soon sink a month’s credits in our accounts.)
All you have to know about your new knowledge is how to access it. At present, this technology is limited to Random Access Memory—that is, it may require green tea on your Great Aunt Betsy’s veranda or a quiet afternoon of clinking dominoes at a local café, but it will all surface sooner or later, whether you want it to or not.
In clinical trials, 98.9 % of those about to be crushed by pillow-rock monsters on the planet Xartan are able to recall the necessary escape data to skedaddle with little more than a mild concussion or internal hemorrhaging. Disappointingly, in the same trials, only 3.4% were able to retrieve data on man-eating orchids, lying in wait just the other side of the cliff face–a problem our programmers are working on as we transmit this data to you).
Next year around this time, you will act on a compulsive whim to purchase The All-New Complete Guide to Complete Guides, 2.0–updated to prevent your desire to buy our competitors’ viral Complete Guides so that you don’t go into bankruptcy buying alternate guides. Those that do have a 27.6% probability of becoming schizophrenic, hydrophobic, and apoplectic.
That’s it! The last of the data is loaded. Enjoy you new life to the best of your ability.
Although Freya had grown up in one of the deep cities, she hadn’t been inside a dwarf’s house since she was little. She hoped she remembered the etiquette.
Always refuse food or drink twice, but then take more than you want, because that compliments your host’s generosity. It’s OK to stare, but then you have to stare at everything equally. Always answer a question with a question, and never be surprised by the answer.
The green-cake was excellent, loaded with raisins, the way she liked it, so piling a second and third piece on her plate was no trouble.
“Is it good?” said her host, who had said his name was Hjelmer.
“What could be better?” she said.
He’d offered her a chair in the corner, and she couldn’t remember if that meant anything. On the wall was a flat chip of gray stone, about the length and width of her thumb, set in a gilt frame. A cross-hatching of fine lines covered the stone.
“That’s a fragment of the Khozoghoaqil,” said Hjelmer, “an epic rune-poem. Very famous.”
“One of the nine sagas?” Freya blushed, realizing she’d preempted his host’s right to ask questions.
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” said Hjelmer, which didn’t sound any more like a proper half-riddle than her question-answering question had.
“The runes are all packed together like that?” She tried to phrase it as a statement, but couldn’t quite keep the question from her voice.
“It’s actually part of a cave floor that’s about a few standard leagues square,” said Hjelmer. “Couple thousand years ago, scribes untangled and deciphered thousands of lines written in a style that was already ancient back then.”
“Recent research suggests the marks are tracks left by a certain species of sightless cave centipede scuttling around in the silt at the bottom of a shallow pool that dried up millennia ago.”
Freya wasn’t sure if she should laugh. Hjelmer seemed unlike what she expected dwarves to be, but still, her grandmother had always said how sensitive they were about anything historical. Seeing the glint in his eye, she risked another question.
“So what’s it about — supposedly?” she said.
“The origin of the sun, the fate of the moon,” he said. “The usual. But there’s one ironic thing.”
Freya stayed silent, but thought her expression was probably question enough.
“Ghoaqil, the hero, is described as armored, many-armed, and blind.”
The peacocks seemed to spend their nights down by the river. Possibly in the apple trees. I never went down to check. They probably would have heard me coming; it would have been inconclusive.
Anyway, I meant to tell you about the robot. What was I saying? Oh yeah, the metal. It had this sheen, iridescent–guess that’s what got me started on peacocks.
So the robot was made with tiny speakers all over it, and supposedly emitted all these subsonic sounds, like wind, leaves, and sounds insects make and only other insects can hear. So it could wander around the enclosures without spooking anything.
Guess it worked, because it used to walk around in this really, slow, calm way, and none of the animals minded. There’d be a deer grazing, a mother deer, with fawns, and she’d just look up, and just when I thought she’d spring away, she didn’t. Might not have spooked the animals, but it kind of spooked me.
I got used to it, the way you get used to things working a lot with an android. And then it started picking up other odd sounds on its speakers, sounds I could hear. Static, hums, high screechy whistles, and, once, when we were working together to re-contour some of the erosion breaks along the lake road, what I could have sworn was the “don’t expect to see the sunrise,” spoken with this accent like the scientists in the programs have, like someone who’s spoken Math all their life.
I dropped my shovel. The robot kept digging, at least until it noticed I’d stopped. Then it did that head-tilt triangulation thing, checking me out in infrared and echolocation and whatever else it’s got, which always looks to me like confusion, so I said, “What was that?”
It acted like it didn’t have a human language chipset, although I was sure those come standard. I started wondering if it wasn’t a stray signal, if it was a threat. If the robot harbored some glitch that approximated hate. The rest of the afternoon crawled.
Finally, it turned to me. “I have analyzed my utterance.” Its consonants, crickety; its vowels, river splash and burble.
It held its shovel like an ax. I expected it would bury me, or the pieces that had been me, in one of the retaining banks.
“95% chance of complete cloud cover, all day,” it said.
– Drac. We meet again.
– I need a job, Doc. I’m so desperate I–
– I vant to suck your blood! Ha, ha.
– That’s an old joke.
– So you’re desperate for a job?
– An oldie but a goodie! Ha, ha. You got some delivery, Doc.
– Frankly, Drac…
– Name’s Dracula. The title’s Count. Say them together: Count Dracula…. But please call me Drac. My trusted associates do.
– Okay, Drac, but frankly a man of your qualifications isn’t needed in the hospital nursery.
– I’m overqualified?
– If you want to put it that way…
– What other way is there?
– Your experience in the mortuary, hospice, blood bank, ICU, and phlebotomy labs, don’t translate into work for a nursery. Besides, a few irregularities sprung up at your last positions.
– You’re discriminating. I’ll sue.
– Nobody’s said–
– Undead men got rights, too. You think I won’t sue?
– That’s nice, but it’s more your reputation.
– Have you checked my references?
– George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson were fine American citizens in their day but they’re dead now. Your reputation, I’m afraid, goes a little deeper than any man alive could dig.
– What do you mean?
– You were in jail forty years for murder.
– I’m a changed man. I was let out on good behavior.
– You were let out for the good behavior of the state of Georgia. The prison had trouble keeping inmates. The criminals disappeared, one by one, until only one mysteriously remained. The entire state of Georgia didn’t commit a crime during your sentence. They called the prison you stayed at, let’s see, “Death Row.”
– Aw, Doc. Give a fella a chance.
– With babies? These little fellas want to live. You’ve got to work where no one else wants to.
– I need youth. Rejuvenation. I need to savor the laughter of boys and girls. If you don’t give me a job, I’ll… I’ll…
– You’ll vant to suck my blood?
– I’ll show you! You… you…
– Speech impediment?
– Ow! What the heck?
– That? That’s my fang-proof turtleneck–a fine weave of cotton, wool, and sterling silver smelted from crosses found in abandoned sanctuaries. You like?
– I’d like a job.
– Youth ain’t what it used to be. Time to hang up your dentures and move on. Oh, Drac, don’t cry. You’ll smear your powder. Chin up. Listen, the unwanted pregnancy clinic opened a position in… What do you know? Gone already. Like a bat out of hell. Give the boy credit. A real go-getter.