As expansive as the alien environment was, the real physical space covered by the illusion spell was finite, and Regan reached it before too long. As soon as she could see the real world, Lilliana yanked on her cape and tugged her sideways through the opening of a ziggurat-shaped casino facade in a combination of quick reflexes and vertigo.
“Aw, Jesus,” Regan said. “Are ya after breakin’ me leg?”
“Patch… off,” Lilliana said, in between dry heaves.
“Oh, patch off yerself, ya great…”
“Take off your patch!” Lilliana said, straightening up and quickly composing herself. “We need to get a move on. There’s no chance of us being able to hide here, not when we’re the only non-employees in the entire casino, but if we can put a little space and some sort of intervening objects between us and…”
“C’mon, the Gypsy… ya know ya had me at ‘no chance’,” Regan said.
At the bend just past the top of the shaft, Leo encountered the first serious obstacle in the form of a droid that had shut off when the casino went into lockdown. It was a silvery ovoid drone with no external limbs or other moving parts except the wheels that were set into the groove-like track. It had stopped right outside the vertical shaft, blocking the entrance to the horizontal leg. Frustratingly, it took up just enough of the circumference of the pipe for it to be impossible for Leo to squeeze past.
He carefully lowered himself back down the shaft so that his eyes were on a level with the bottom surface of the horizontal tube, so he could see the undercarriage of the drone. Unfortunately, it didn’t really have much of one… certainly nothing in the way of a vulnerable underbelly with innards to attack, or even a seam where he could start taking it apart. The outer shell all seemed to be one piece.
“It would be a real stroke of luck if it started back up,” he said to himself. “Though what sort of luck would really depend on what direction it’s heading, wouldn’t it? I suppose I should try to take it apart. It’s times like this, Leo my boy, that I have to ask myself ‘What would Regan do?’ And then I ask myself ‘Why would she do that?’ and ‘How could she possibly survive?’ Mysteries for the ages. I’m not Regan… so I guess I’m going to have to try to do this my way.”
He pushed with his legs and climbed back up, reaching around the pod-like structure with one arm to hold himself in place, and then popping his claws out. He pushed them down on the outer shell of the device and then scratched, without any effect except to wear down the points of his nails.
“Yeesh,” he said. “Some days it doesn’t pay to be yourself. So what would Regan do? Besides get drunk and lie about it. And then have a go at Galatea… actually, what would Galatea do? After it became apparent she couldn’t possibly have sex with it. That’s a better question. The answer is less likely to result in an explosion.”
With a little contortion, he was able to reach his communicator and open a line to the ship.
“This had better be important,” Galatea said wth disgust. “I was in the middle of the Revised Confederation Tax Codes, and it was just getting to the good part.”
“Yeah, that’s gross, hilarious, and irrelevant,” Leo said. “I need you to do some Operating for me.”
“Yes, well, I would love to do some Operating, but unless you plan on returning to the ship that seems unlikely,” Galatea said. “Not that it’s remotely my fault. I can’t believe a place that advertises itself as ‘Sin Station’ would outlaw…”
Leo muted the link and counted to thirty slowly, then switched it back on.
“…goldfish were clearly signaling their consent. For space’s sake, the hostess even said they were just coy…”
He turned it off for another minute.
“…no idea that anilingus was considered a sexual gesture by the church…”
He muted again.
“…as if I could even have fit that many fireworks in my…”
This time he turned the volume way down, past the point that his feliform ears could make out what Galatea was saying, and waited until she stopped talking, then turned it back up.
“Yeah, so, I’m in a maintenance shaft and there’s a dead robot pod thing in my way,” he said. “I need to know how to take it apart, or how to make it start moving in an away-from-me sort of direction.”
“I don’t see why I should help you,” Galatea said. “That ‘pod thing’ very likely has more right to be where it is than you do.”
“Oh, c’mon,” Leo said. “These people threw you out. Helping me will be like getting back. Stick it to The Man.”
“I would have liked to, but they ejected me,” Galatea said. She sighed. “Very well. I suppose you’re less likely to do serious damage if I’m guiding you, and this might be an… entertaining… diversion. Can you describe what you’re looking at?”
“It’s like a big silver…”
“It’s like a… big… silver… egg thing,” Leo said.
“Oh… how big?”
“Very big,” Leo said, rolling his eyes at her breathless tone. “There’s not much to it. No arms or tools or manipulators. Just a round, smooth thing.”
“Then it’s probably some sort of high-resolution scanning droid to do on-site diagnoses on malfunctioning systems,” Galatea said. “There’d be little other point in having a completely self-contained, self-enclosed machine running around the bowels of the station. Do you see any sort of a label, a manufacturer’s mark, or a serial number?”
“Not from this angle,” Leo said.
“Do you have a toolkit?”
“They wouldn’t have let me onto the floor with one.”
“Well, I don’t know what I’m expected to do for you, then,” Galatea said. “I can’t very well ‘hack’ into the casino computers from here, find one drone on one subsystem and manually reprogram it while it’s very likely completely shut off. There isn’t some secret ‘reprogram robot’ switch or magical reset button I can… I… ah…”
“Yeah, go ahead and take care of yourself,” Leo said. “I’ll just hang around.”
“Reset button,” Galatea said. “Look for a pinhole sized opening.”
“I can’t see anything like that,” Leo said. “If it’s here, it’s not on my side.”
“Feel around for it,” she said. “If you find one and you’ve got something to push it with, a pin or a thin wire…”
“Or a claw tip?” Leo asked, running his hand over the smooth exterior.
“That could work,” Galatea said.
“What happens if I push it?” Leo asked.
“It should start back up,” she said. “It might sit there, or it might continue on its path.”
“Which could either be forward or backward,” Leo said.
“Oh, it will definitely be forward,” Galatea said.
“That would be very good,” Leo said. “In a not-knocking-me-down-to-my-death kind of way.”
“Relative to itself, I mean.”
“What a relief,” Leo said. “No way of telling?”
“I don’t even know precisely what it is you’re looking at,” she said. “But I can’t imagine designing a black box robot like that for general purposes and not including a physical reset. Every little glitch would require removing it from the system and breaking it open.”
“It’s not black, it’s silver,” Leo said. His fingertip encountered a definite depression on the other side of the post connecting the wheels to the body. “But I think I found it.”
“Alright, now there are two ways to proceed,” Galatea said.
“What are they?”
“Either give up whatever mad scheme you’re attempting, or insert your claw and see what happens.”
“Spoken like a professional inserter,” Leo said. “Oh, well… time to find out how many lives I really have.”
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