Located in the heart of the human settlement, the lab sector pulsated with lights, billboards aerial drones and ground vehicles. The humans had their own tower, although this didn’t have a fanciful name like the Tower of Guardians. Nor did it seek to fill the beholder with awe. It was built for practical purposes: for research, experimentation … surveillance.
Although it had no official name, the scientists who bustled within affectionately called it the ‘Test Tube’. On their coffee breaks they stared out at the plains spreading into the red beyond. Satellites furnished extra geographical and demographic data about the planet and the two major Zorgon cities, Goramus and Ungarloot.
Beneath the Test Tube, labyrinthine corridors weaved underground as busy scientists collected data to send to the supercomputer. It was like an ant farm or a beehive, with head scientist Irva Berling serving as its queen. Berling was away conducting research on the Chaldean Frigate, leaving in charge the Head of Roboto-Genetic Engineering.
Chuck Marley and Gaston Dimble approached the towering laboratory. About a thousand scientists and administrators worked there. Fifty-foot high tesla coils surrounded the area, ready to turn intruders into toast. Security-dog droids fitted with cameras and scanners patrolled the rim.
Apart from frequent warning signs and painted yellow stripes on the ground, there was nothing in the dusty space between the labs and the settlements. Anyone trying to breach the perimeter received a nasty shock and a big laundry bill.
A sign near entry point F stated: “WARNING: Beware of the dog-droids. They know where to bite. Courtesy of Rothball Hazard, Head of Roboto-Genetic Engineering.”
“Scientists are always so lame with their threats,” said Marley.
Dimble remained silent.
Marley tried to look confident in his Health Protector outfit. The horn-rimmed glasses made this slightly difficult as he weaved around poles fifty feet away. He looked more natural than Gaston though, who had had no choice but to wear a uniform three sizes too small…and a floppy toupee. The navy blue trousers clung tightly to the Professor’s thighs forcing him to waddle like a duck. Occasionally a button from his shirt sprung loose like a bullet.
“All right Gaston. I’m Lars Lovell, and your Health Protector badge says you’re Gunder Drake. You got that Gunder?”
“Yes Lars.” Gaston rearranged the wig.
As they approached entry point F, two cyclopean dog droids each surveyed them with their round robotic eye. This black eye functioned as a camera; beneath it was a short coil: a neutron blaster for disarming and disabling. One of the droids looked down on them from a turret. The other patrolled the approach to the labs.
It was impossible to enter the lab sector without being seen or scanned, unless there was an underground approach, or you were important enough to land a hovercab on top of the building.
Marley heard the low whine of boosters. A slim vehicle rose deftly skyward. Was it heading to a ship in orbit? Perhaps it was going to survey the commotion in Goramus. Maybe it was off to the mountains to gather some red dust. Then Marley saw the insignia of Epicurus on the base of the craft’s hull: a pedestal and frond. The craft was probably transporting the latest humaniform companion droids to the harems of Epicurus.
Marley wanted to be there right now.
The labradroid in the turret spotted him and barked three times. Its canine colleague bounded across the tarmac. Marley anxiously watched it running up to him through the glasses.
Just when it seemed it was about to hit him it screeched to a halt. It looked at Gaston, then began sniffing him with an extendable nose. The stench from the meat at Jinko’s clung to Gaston like a fog over a Barnardian swamp. The nose of the labradroid left no place unsniffed. The engineers here had sacrificed security for realism. They had created robotic canines so realistic they forgot their duties as soon as they sensed dinner.
“You wouldn’t have a bone by any chance,” said Dimble.
“Yes I never leave home without one.” Marley pretended to rummage through his pockets.
Gaston looked relieved.
Gaston frowned. “I might have to stay outside and feed the labradroids.”
The dog-droid in the turret barked impatiently at its excitable colleague. It was jealous. Why should it have to stay in the turret while its coworker savoured the second-hand smell of Betelgeuse Burgers? It demanded it get back to work.
The patrolling dog shut down its sensory mechanism and focused on the IDs of the Health Protectors. A green light on its back flashed three times. It twirled its extendable nose. Reluctantly it gave the all-clear. The tesla coils powered down.
Marley and Dimble skipped through the opening to Sector F. Dimble stopped quivering. His toupee fell off. He put it on again inside out and back to front and followed Marley.