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Chapter Twenty-Two

The Little Kidders put the robot that had looked like Sta-Hi in the back of the truck. Berdoo squeezed into the cab between Rainbow and Haf-N-Haf. No point taking a chance of her getting felt up.

"Thometimeth I wonder what Mr. Fwostee ith up to," Haf-N-Haf slobbered, pulling out onto the asphalt.

"That makes two of us, boah. But he pays cash."

"How much you got naow?" Rainbow asked, laying her hand on Berdoo's thigh. "Yew got enough to take me for a week at Disney World? And first Ah wanna baah me some new clothes and maybe change mah hayur."

"It looks real purty just lahk tis, Rainbow. Ah allus wanted me a cheap skank with green hair."

Berdoo and Haf-N-Haf began snickering, and Rainbow fell into a sulk. The truck ground over the Merrit Island Bridge, and then Haf-N-Haf turned right onto Route One. Night-bugs spattered against their windshield, and the hydrogen-fueled engine pocked away.

"Is Kristleen gonna git us a new monkey-man?" Berdoo asked after awhile.

"She'd bettew!" Haf-N-Haf answered, staring out past the headlights. "Filthy Phil ith on herw ath about it non-thop."

Berdoo shook his head. "Ah surely don't know whaah old Phil is so waald to be eatin brains all the time. It gets a little old, ya know?"

"Did he get Kristleen a new place to liyuv?" Rainbow wanted to know.

"Whah yew know he diyud, hunneh. Ain't nobody can bring in the troops lahk that Kristleen can."

"Well, Ah suhtainly hope that is a fact," Rainbow said primly. "Yew been promisin and promisin me a brain-feast and all Ah've done so far was almost git ar-reyusted."

"Ath wong ath Phil's wunnin the thow we'll be eating bwains," Haf-N-Haf assured her.

"Something right funny about ole Phil," Berdoo observed a bit later. "I ain't never seen him smoke nor take a drink nor eat any regular food. And when he ain't givin orders he jest sits and stares."

They were in Daytona now, concrete and neon flickering past. Haf-N-Haf checked the mirror for cops, and then turned hard right into the Lido Hotel's underground garage. He parked the truck way in back, and plugged a wire into the wall-socket to keep the refrigeration unit running. A little camera eye poked out of a hole on the top of the truck. Anybody who came near the truck now would be hurting for sure. Mr. Frostee knew how to take care of himself, especially with his extra remote in back.

They took the elevator up to their suite. Filthy Phil was sitting there, shirt off, staring out the window at the moonlit sea. His fat back with its sagging tattoo was facing them. He didn't bother to turn around.

"Notice to Satan:" Rainbow said, shrilly reading Phil's back aloud. "Send this Man to Heaven, Cause He's Done His Time in Hell. '' She read it in her dumbest schoolgirl tone. She didn't like Phil.

Phil still didn't turn around. Once there had been a human Filthy Phil, a welder who worked too late on BEX up at Ledge one nightshift. BEX had put the brain-tape in charge of his humanoid repair robot... but it hadn't worked out. The personality had flattened out to that of an affectless killer. But he was still a good mechanic.

When they'd decided to send Mr. Frostee down to start collecting souls, Phil had come with him. Mr. Frostee still used Phil's brain-tape when he needed repairs. But he didn't like to put the personality in charge of the robot unless he had to. So, as a rule, the robot-remote called Filthy Phil had all the warmth and human responsiveness of a pair of vice-grip pliers.

"Y'all leave Phil alone," Berdoo warned Rainbow. "He's waitin for the phone to ring, ain't that right, Phil?"

Phil nodded curtly. The shuttle to BEX was taking off tomorrow, and Phil Frostee had promised to send up a new set of organs. A tape could go up anytime, by radio ... but he'd promised a whole person, body and soul, hardware and software. If Kristleen didn't find someone ... He stared out the window, listening to the three human voices behind him, and making his plans.

The phone rang then. Phil sprang across the room and snatched it up.

"Filthy Phil."

The voice on the other end was high-pitched, tearful. Berdoo looked at Haf-N-Haf nervously. Even through the mirror-shades you could see that Phil was mad. But his voice came out smooth.

"I understand, Kristleen. Yes I understand. O.K. Fine."

More talking from the other end. Slowly a smile spread on Phil's muscular face. He looked over at Berdoo and winked.

"O.K. Kristleen. If he's asleep why don't you just come over now and we can pay you off. You got five grand coming. You better come get it now, because we're going to shift bases tomorrow. Right. That's right. O.K., baby. And don't worry, I do understand."

Phil set the phone down gently, almost tenderly. "Kristleen's in love. She just blew a college boy and now she's sitting there watching him sleep. He sleeps like a baby, she says, like an innocent child." Phil began walking around the room, moving pieces of furniture this way and that.

"Kwithtween'th not going to dewiver and you're going to pay herw off anyway?" Haf-N-Haf asked incredulously.

"That's what I told her," Phil said evenly, "but I'm in a tight spot. I've got to have a body by tomorrow morning. The tape could go any time, but I've got a cargo-slot all signed up and paid for." He took a small sleep-dart pistol out of a drawer and examined it carefully.

"You ain't gonna kill Kristleen?" Rainbow cried.

"It's not really killing," Phil said, holding the pistol half-raised. "Haven't you figured that out yet? Berdoo?"

Berdoo felt like he was back in eighth grade, being asked questions he couldn't begin to understand. "Ah donno, Phil. It's yore gang. Yew got the truck and the apartment and all. Ah'll help you snuff Kristleen." If he weren't a Little Kidder he'd be nothing again.

"We'll eat her brain," Phil said, spinning the pistol and watching them closely. "But her thoughts will live on." With his left hand he poked abruptly at his chest.

"Look!"

A little door swung open, showing the inside of a metal compartment in his chest. There were knives in there, and little machines. It looked like a tiny laboratory.

Rainbow screamed and Berdoo stepped over to cover her mouth. Haf-N-Haf made a noise that might have been a laugh.

"I'm part of Mr. Frostee," Phil explained, snapping the door back shut. "I'm like his hand, you wave? Or his mouth." Phil smiled broadly then, revealing his strong, sharp teeth. "We boppers use human organs to seed our tissue farms. We use brain-tapes for simulators in some of our robot-remotes. Like me. And we just like brains anyhow, even the ones we don't actually use. A human mind is a beautiful thing."

"Well you kin leave us out!" Rainbow cried. "Ah'll be buggered befo ah help yew!"

"Shut up, fool," Berdoo snarled at her. "Ah buggered yew yestidday, yew should recall."

"Ah am not gonna stand baah and let..." Rainbow began.

The doorbell cut her off in mid cry. Phil aimed the sleep-dart gun at Rainbow.

"Are you going to let Kristleen in, Rainbow? Or should I use you instead?"

Rainbow went to the door and opened it for Kristleen. Standing across the room, Phil was able to nail the two women with two quick shots. The sleep-drug took effect and they collapsed. Haf-N-Haf dragged them in and closed the door.

Berdoo stood watching, miserable and confused. Rainbow was the only girl-friend he'd ever had. But Phil had always been right before. Phil was Mr. Frostee, really. And Mr. Frostee was smarter than anyone in the world.

"She's going to make trouble if we let her go, Berdoo." Phil was looking at him across the room, his gun still levelled. There was a silence.

"But ah cayun't!" Berdoo cried finally. "Not that sweet girl. Ah cain't let you cut her all..."

Suddenly there was a pistol in Berdoo's hand, a .38 special. Faster than thought, his street-fighter's reflexes had carried him over to the window and fanned the drape out in front of him. Phil's sleep-dart bounced off the drape and dropped to the floor.

"Be reasonable, Berdoo." Phil lowered his dart pistol. "We'll take Kristleen apart, but we'll send Rainbow up whole. She can work for BEX as a stewardess, to replace that girl Misty from last year. Now you just let me get Rainbow stoned up good, and I'll talk to her, and then she flies up to Disky and gets herself an ever-lasting body. I promise they'll leave her personality in. You'll be able to see her once in a..."

Berdoo stepped out from behind the curtain, his small face set in a snarl. He shot Phil through the head, just like that.

"Oh, Bewdoo," Haf-N-Haf moaned as the ringing of the pistol-shot died down. "We're going to have to wun wike hell. Mr. Fwostee's got that other wemote in the twuck!"

"We'll go out front and steal us a car," Berdoo said tersely. "Ah'll drag Rainbow, an you handle Kristleen."

Just as they left the room, something in there exploded. Phil's body? They didn't stop to find out. Staggering under the women's dead weight, they bumped down the fire-stairs and out through the lobby.

An athletic young man was just parking a red convertible in front. Berdoo still had his pistol out. Haf-N-Haf tapped the man's shoulder and said something. He looked them over, handed over the keys, and backed off without saying a thing. Haf-N-Haf and Berdoo often affected people that way.

They put the girls in back and took off for the thruway to Orlando.


Chapter Twenty-One | Software | Chapter Twenty-Three



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