An Online
By Jon
and Mark

Fan Art
and Extras

Chapter One

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A brief recap of Chapter Two:

Chief Gustave Nyerere of the Vorstellen Police was not a happy man. His agency's appropriation had been cut for the third year in a row, upgrades to the office network had been slowing productivity all day, and as a last indignity his coffee had grown cold. Nyerere sipped his cold coffee and watched the airtrucks passing each other in a perpetual stream high above Wacker Drive. Someone knocked on the frame to his door, which was always open, and called his name. Without looking away from the window, Nyerere gestured for his visitor to come in.

The visitor dropped into one of Nyerere's mismatched office chairs. "I'd offer a penny for your thoughts, Gustave, but I don't know if there's that much free cash in the budget."

Nyerere nodded to the reflection of his visitor in the window glass. "I'm trying to make some sense of the Mirabile Dictu case."

"Isn't that Benjamin Prester's operation? The one with the Martian policewoman...what's her name?"

"Captain Quevillion."

"Right, her. How's the case going?"

Nyerere frowned as he walked over to his desk and sat down. "Things have gotten...complicated, Michael."

"Complicated in what way?"

"It started with those robots Prester destroyed on the Moon. He and some Martians disassembled them and determined that the robots' software had been updated with a compiler licensed on Ganymede."

"A bunch of new anonymous mad-sci work is coming out of Ganymede lately," Michael said.

Nyerere nodded. "That's why Benjamin and Mars both decided it would be wise to pursue leads on Ganymede."

"Ganymede is a pretty big place," Michael said with a shrug. "What sorts of leads did they have?"

"Benjamin had an information broker named Taro Watanuki run a comparison of the software in a chip from one of the destroyed robots against a database of black-market programmers' coding styles. Watanuki determined that there's a 95% probability the code was written by Mukhali Delger, a former mad scientist living on..."

"Ganymede," Michael guessed.

"Excellent deduction," Nyerere said. "Once at Ganymede, Prester traced Delger through a number of employers. Of course, this is a classic mad scientist symptom: the mad scientist, as his syndrome progresses, becomes increasingly irritable and unable to deal with criticism. This can provoke frequent changes of employment."

"I've seen cases that have gone down that route before. It always ends with the last known employer knowing nothing more than a forwarding address that's been abandoned for weeks."

"This is where the Martian police officer came in handy." Nyerere tapped his desk, where one of Prester's reports was opened, a cursor blinking monotonously. "She suggested that Delger might have gone into business for himself as a consultant."

"That's an unsettling thought."

"Everyone I speak to about this case says that same thing, Michael. A consulting mad scientist would be a dangerous weapon."

"Pardon my interruption. Do continue."

"Not at all." Nyerere sipped his coffee and quickly put it back down with a grimace of distaste. It seemed as if it had somehow cooled below room temperature. "Benjamin tracked Delger to his consulting office, gained entrance through a bit of subterfuge, and confronted Delger. Oddly, he was more afraid of the Martian than of the armed Vorstellen officer."

"A mad scientist who wasn't concerned by a Vorstellen Cop? I can see why you think this has gotten complicated."

"It gets worse." Nyerere leaned back in his battered desk chair. "Delger begged not to be turned over to the Martians, fearing they might kill him because he had been working on a program. It was something to upgrade the unicycle robots that all the big information brokerage houses use. He had figured out how to get the robots to work together, sharing the work of decision-making."

"A group intellect composed of robots?"

Nyerere nodded.

"Those unicycle things could use an intellect upgrade. One of the little nuisances scratched the paint on my car last week."

Nyerere was grateful for the momentary distraction from his train of thought. "You have an unhealthy attachment to that car, Michael."

"I have an unhealthy attachment to material possessions in general. It's a psychological failing that will probably keep me on the great wheel of karma forever. It's a small price to pay for a nice sports car, though."

"Speaking of psychological failings, Serafina Quevillion stopped by my office to impugn the mental health of one of my officers. Can you believe that?"

"Any relation to Captain Quevillion?"

"Her aunt."

"Well, I can believe anything of the Martians. They're not normal. I think their technology warps their minds."

"Actually, that reminds me of something I needed to ask you, Michael. How is Legal doing on clarifying the regulations as regards in-plain-sight and advanced technology?"

"You mean the incident where someone 'accidentally' hacked into the servers of a company on Io to find information to pursue an ongoing investigation?"

"That's the one."

"It's probably legal. The guys with the gold quills need to go over it a few more times to make sure we've dotted the parties of the first part and crossed the parties of the second part. Why?"

"It's related to Mirabile Dictu, actually. Captain Quevillion tracked back the anonymous mad-sci postings from Delger's servers on Ganymede to a server on Io, and from there to a server here on Earth."

"Earth, huh? Have you stormed the place and taken the server out for questioning at gunpoint?"

"We can't get a warrant until Legal clears up that question about Quevillion's search," Nyerere said patiently. "We're hoping to have it cleared up by the time Benjamin gets here."

"I'll light a fire under my people. So I can set them a reasonable deadline, why not tell me when Officer Prester's expected back here on Earth?"

"We're...not certain."

"Not certain?" Michael leaned forward in his chair. "A ship in space moves along a very circumscribed path. You should know to the minute when he's arriving."

"I would, if his ship was still in space. It's been destroyed."

Michael's eyes widened. "What? A ship destroyed in transit? Why haven't I heard about that?"

"It's a delicate situation. The Martian ship carrying officers Prester and Quevillion was destroyed in Martian orbit by an unknown party...whom we strongly suspect was the mad scientist they're chasing." Nyerere's typically careful diction made his explanation sound like a press release. "For reasons which I can't go into, both Mars and the Solar Parliament are declining to inform the media just yet."

"I'll forget I heard anything," Michael said, sounding a little dazed.

"You're cleared to know, or I wouldn't have mentioned anything. The reports came out this morning, for managers at your level of clearance. Check your inbox."

Michael waved this away. "Later. For now, I want to know how Prester survived if his ship was destroyed."

"Benjamin and his Martian partner re-entered the Martian atmosphere at interplanetary transit velocities. Mars reports they landed safely, but we've heard nothing else."

Shaking his head, Michael sat back in his chair. "The next time you tell me something's complicated, I'm just going to nod and believe you."

"Ignorance is bliss?"

"Perhaps it's not bliss, but around here ignorance is definitely more relaxing than knowledge." That said, Michael stood and beat a hasty retreat from the room.

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