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A Killer Memory

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That day, the atmosphere in the habitat was a little murky. Not physically -- Theodore would never let the air mix get sour -- but there was a definite tension. Wolfe was afraid he might have to work.

Nero Wolfe owns a habitat in orbit around Europa, an old-fashioned microsystem, and it’s generally a comfortable, peaceful place, because he likes it that way. Not that day, though. He’d argued with Fritz, who feeds us, over Sichuan peppercorns, and snapped at Theodore, who keeps us breathing and the plants green, over square meters dedicated to oxykelp as opposed to orchids. But he’d reserved most of his ire for me, Archie Goodwin, because my databox says “private detective and assistant,” but it ought to say “immovable object motivator.” I do everything and anything in and around the habitat, but the most important thing I do is get Wolfe to work. If I ever quit, he’ll probably sit in his favorite chair until he runs out of energy credits to keep the habitat running, and then he’ll keep sitting there until the whole place disintegrates and falls into Europa, violating at least 32 different System Ordinances.

I’m against that, both professionally and personally. That was why, when Bergan 16-Bailey, a noted cyborg security specialist, messaged me the day before for an appointment, I gave him the earliest time Wolfe would be available -- 11:00, after Wolfe’s mandatory morning hours in the orchid garden the specs call the “oxygen replenishment zone.” I didn’t warn Wolfe because variety is the spice of life and I know he likes spices, given how much he spends on them.

A day with an appointment is a working day, so I woke up at 08:00 on the dot, had my breakfast with Fritz in the kitchen, and was in the office at 10:00 sharp. Wolfe, who eats breakfast in his rooms, was still in the gardens, contemplating the orchids that use up 90% of our ornamental plant allowance. He hates to be interrupted during his orchid time, so I didn’t. I figured if 16-Bailey was late, I’d tell Wolfe about him, and if he was on time, I’d introduce Wolfe to him.

He was early. 16-Bailey docked with the habitat at 10:50. I waited for him at the inner airlock door, watching him on the datafeed as he moved through the docking tunnel and into the airlock. He looked unusual for a cyborg, but with a number that high on his selftag, I had expected that. No one survives that many iterations without a lot of credits and a lot of pig-headedness. He wore a basic skin-tight one-piece, but I noticed the fabric and the metal at the collar and cuffs; in case of decompression, he’d have a full e-suit in seconds, and he’d be able to survive in space for anywhere from hours to days, depending. Even at the cheapest of those models would set him back 1,000 kw.

He hadn’t spent nearly that much on his body, at least not so you’d notice. His nose and chin went beyond assertive and seemed to be trying to meet in the middle. The skin stretched over the bones of his face looked natural even when I magnified my vision, so either it was cloned or he was. My guess was him. A lot of people, with those looks, would go full exterior, but I couldn’t see a single external mechanical piece, so I guessed he liked himself as he was. He was taller than most people find comfortable in space, well over two meters, and rail-thin, which was a point against him. Thin people make Wolfe hungry by proxy, and when he’s hungry his brain doesn’t work, but his temper does.

A point in his favor was his energy balance, which I had checked along with my general data search on him. He could definitely afford as much detective work as he cared to buy, even if we charged him triple. So I was polite as I welcomed him into the habitat proper.

I offered to take his bag -- no -- and his coat -- also no, even though Wolfe keeps the habitat at a ridiculous 22 degrees -- and got him seated in the red leather chair, which is real leather, imported from Terra who knows how or at what cost. I offered him refreshment, which he declined, and got settled in my chair just as I heard the internal transport moving Wolfe towards the office.

Wolfe entered in his usual style, maneuvering his 150 kilos through the gravity field like it was nothing. He didn’t even hesitate when he saw the stranger waiting in the client chair, which is one of the reasons working for him is great exercise. Keeping him on his toes means I have to stay on mine. Wolfe shot me a glance, just to let me know he knew what I was up to, and headed to his desk. He kept his distance from 16-Bailey, who didn’t notice, and set his face against the dire, looming possibility of work.

Once he had himself arranged in his favorite chair, a contraption custom-made with a thousand functions and cushion gel upholstery, he swiveled to face 16-Bailey.

“Bergan 16-Bailey,” I began, but our client held up a hand to stop me.

“It’s 17-Bailey now,” he said.

So it was a murder case. My heart beat a little faster.

I finished the introductions while I took in the lay of the land. If Wolfe agreed to take the case, we’d be working without official interference -- or help. The murder of a cyborg, who by definition was fully recoverable and was in this case already recovered, would make the authorities’ priority list sometime around the heat death of the universe. The Council of Fifty-One keeps them on a tight budget, so they focus on the important stuff, like resource crime and System Ordinance violations.

Once I was done, Wolfe nodded. “Mr. 17-Bailey.” It was things like that, his habit of calling people “Mr.” or “Ms.,” that made me wonder about him sometimes. Sure, I’d known him for eight years, since he hired me right off the spacedock, but all the global searches in the system hadn’t taught me much about him. I didn’t even know where he came from, and I wondered every time I heard him say “Mr.”

17-Bailey correctly concluded that that greeting was as close as he’d get to a “how can I help you?” and he didn’t want to wait to get his problem off his chest. He opened his mouth and said, “At 21:07 yesterday, I was murdered.” The murder wasn’t much of a surprise after the lifetag change, but the timing of it was, for two reasons.

Wolfe, of course, caught the one reason he could know about. He sent his eyes over 17-Bailey. “You do not appear to be in a spare body,” he said. Spares only come in six styles, and 17-Bailey’s sure wasn’t a standard model.

“I keep three fully developed clones in suspension with the cyborg matrix already installed. My downtime was 295 seconds,” 17-Bailey said, his voice thin and reedy. “Still too much.” He shook his head.

I didn’t whistle, but I wanted to. That setup had to run him in the thousands of energy credits per day. Most people, even the ones who have had themselves fully cyborged because they hate that meat is subject to entropy, wouldn’t bother. 17-Bailey was operating at a level I’d never heard of before, and I wanted to take a second to contemplate what that meant about him, but I had to interrupt for the reason Wolfe didn’t know about.

“You messaged for this appointment at 18:50 yesterday, the 8th,” I said. “But you say you weren’t murdered until 21:07.”

“I initially sought the appointment to look into a different matter,” 17-Bailey said. “Yesterday morning, one of my standard internal memory scans returned an invalid checksum, and after careful investigation, I was forced to conclude that eleven minutes of my memory had been stolen. The minutes in question are 20:21 to 20:32 from the night of August 7th.”

That was a real run of bad luck, to be the victim of a memory assassin and a murder all in under a day, but what caught my attention was that he even knew about the gap. A halfway competent memory assassin could circumvent every standard memory integrity check in thirty seconds in their sleep. Of course, 17-Bailey was a security specialist. And he was the kind of sentient who had three clones fully developed and stored so he didn’t miss more than five minutes of uptime following his own murder. Who knew what kind of hardware and software he had in his braincase?

The murderer must have had at least an idea, of course, but I certainly didn’t.

Wolfe made one last effort to avoid working. “Mr. 17-Bailey,” he said. “I have a high opinion of my abilities, so I charge extravagantly for them.”

17-Bailey nodded. “I know. I’ll pay.” He pinged me in the datastream and offered a retainer payment of 5,000 kw. I gave Wolfe the sign and marked the transfer as pending -- it would go through to Wolfe’s account as soon as I approved it, but it hadn’t yet.

Wolfe, that last hope lost, took in a deep breath, all the way to the bottom of his frame, and let it out. Then, at long last, he got to work. “What was your cause of death?”

17-Bailey showed his first sign of discomfort, or indeed of any emotion. His face twitched. “A virus implanted in my memory.” His brow furrowed, his eyes narrowed, and his face flushed. “Which absolutely should have been impossible. I am a security specialist! This is my field! I am fully protected.” His hands clenched on the arms of the chair.

Wolfe ignored the outburst. “Where did your death occur?”

17-Bailey brought himself under control with a force of effort. “At my home. No one else was present. I do not permit anyone to enter my home, or to know where it is. But the location where I died is simply that. My murder must have occurred earlier, when the virus was inserted into my memory, and it,” he took a breath, “simply lurked there, waiting.” He looked like he was on the verge of losing it again.

“Could it have been inserted during the memory assassination?”

17-Bailey looked away, and spoke like his teeth were gritted. “I -- would like to be able to say definitively. I think it must have been. When I discovered the theft, I immediately performed multiple deep scans, and they certainly should have detected any foreign or malicious code. However, at the same time, I initiated emergency procedures that should have protected my core from further intrusion, and confounded anyone relying on past knowledge of me. One of those two procedures must have failed, and I think it more likely to have been my scans.” He sounded like he was forcing the words out.

The good news was that our field of suspects had just gone from everyone in Europa orbit to a handful of people. Not many people could turn a 16-iteration cyborg security specialist’s core into dead metal and meat from the memory out.

Wolfe let his eyes droop a little and said, “What memories do you have from immediately before and after the missing minutes?”

17-Bailey reached into the bag he carried and removed a portable drive about the size of my thumb. “I downloaded them into this,” he said, and I got up to take it from him. As I did, I took a glance at it, enough to see that it was a 264 zettabyte drive. It was, of course, protected, so 17-Bailey released it, and then I pressed my wrist to it to accept it. As I carried it over to Wolfe, I set it to chipless access, because he doesn’t have one.

I’m not a cyborg -- my core is still 100% meat, and if I die, I die for good -- but naturally, I have some basic augmentation installed. The second I left Terra, the same time I got my chip installed, I got myself a basic investigator’s package: eidetic memory chip, datalink, internal viewer, vision enhancement. But Wolfe doesn’t let anything, hardware or software, interact with whatever’s in his braincase, so we have an old-fashioned immersion viewer in the office. I flipped it on and inserted 17-Bailey’s drive.

The validation screen told me why he’d used a drive that could store two days’ worth of memories: that was exactly what he’d given us, all of August 7th and 8th. He certainly wanted to get that memory assassin.

Wolfe shook his head slightly at me, so I’d be taking in those two days later. He shifted his gaze back to 17-Bailey and said, “What were you doing during the period of the memory gap?”

“You have my memories,” 17-Bailey protested.

“A summary,” Wolfe said.

“A summary cannot be more informative than the complete memories,” 17-Bailey said. Then he sighed and continued, “I was attending a dinner given by Dustin Wallace, the cyborg mentation theorist. He has them regularly, to discuss and make advances in various linked fields.”

“Do you attend frequently?”

“I attend when I am invited, which is 1.7 times out of four,” 17-Bailey said.

“Did you know any of the other guests?”

“I knew all of them.” 17-Bailey sounded like he was surprised Wolfe would bother to ask such an obvious question. “They were all interested in the intersection of life and machinery.”

“Is that of interest to you?” Wolfe said.

“It is my life,” 17-Bailey corrected him. “Biology is a precarious reed on which to build a sentience, wouldn’t you agree?”

Wolfe narrowed his eyes slightly. “No,” he said.

17-Bailey stared at him, his thin lips parting in astonishment. “Look around us. We exist in this tiny bubble only because it has been engineered, designed, and filled with machinery to support biological existence. We travel through space in more pockets of negentropy. Even Terra at her most robust is merely a larger attempt at the imposition of order in a universe always tending toward chaos.”

I watched Wolfe warily. All the talk of entropy and the death lying in wait around every corner -- 17-Bailey sounded like Wolfe anytime he was forced to brave the rigors of space in nothing but a full body suit and the safest, most comfortable runabout on the market. But Wolfe just circled his finger on the surface of his deck, and when 17-Bailey ran down, he changed topics. “What were the circumstances surrounding your death?”

17-Bailey pulled out another drive.

I could give you every detail of the rest of the meeting, but it didn’t help me and I doubt it would help you. I’ll just give you the final score: five drives, no answers, and one official client, signed and sealed and delivered back to his ship in one piece. On my way back from the airlock, I approved the energy transfer, so we had our retainer in hand and a job to do.

When I got back to the office, Wolfe had drive number five in the viewer with the menu screen up, displaying six names who I figured were the other guests at the memory-loss dinner party:

Mikaela 3-Estes
Sulaiman Barnes
Evangeline Corbett
Max Page
Dustin Wallace
7-PAN-DYX-382958

“He included the robot,” I said. “Thorough.”

Wolfe waved his hand, and the viewer took us into 7-PAN-DYX-382958’s file. A quick scan and I could see why 17-Bailey thought the robot was relevant. It wasn’t a standard assistant type. This Wallace had had 7-PAN-DYX-382958 for almost 50 years, and he’d been upgrading it the whole time. A lot of people thought it was the closest machine to the Turing Line, though the approach to that line is vertically asymptotic.

“The robot presumably remembers everything,” I pointed out. “They don’t get all the way to sentience, but you can’t beat them on memory.”

“Unless,” Wolfe said, “it too has been forced to forget.” He swiveled his chair away from the viewer. “You will begin with Ms. 3-Estes.”

I didn’t do him the favor of asking why, because a little frustration is good for him. Instead, I read through the other files. Wallace, the host of the party, was in his sixties, still in his first life, and while I had 17-Bailey’s description of him, “cyborg mentation specialist” didn’t mean a whole lot to me. He listed himself as a researcher into computer-assisted sentience theory. I skimmed through his papers, which certainly supported both descriptions; he had almost a hundred, all with titles like “Multiple Neural Centers: A Theoretical Pathway to Exceeding the Kobayashi Limit” and “Encouraging Organic Neural Development in Sentience-building.”

Presumably Wallace had invited Barnes because they had a lot to talk about. Barnes also had a list of publications as long as my legs. His had a more technical slant -- “The Implementation of Kabashi Protocol on Gutierrez Circuits in 3;3-A Matrixspace'' and “A Secondary Messenger Adjustment to the Neuraltix 617-71-UIOPS.” My eyes wanted to skate over the list, but I forced them to take it all in. That was the only part of me that did, though.

Page was cut from different cloth. He only had two publications, but one of them was tipped to win the Rodriguez Prize for changing the way something something artificial memory something something. He was way above my level, farther even than Wallace and Barnes, and that was all I got from skimming his work. I did notice, though, that his something something had to have netted him a lot of solid credits. He had a patent on the current generation of cyborg memory implants. Even 17-Bailey didn’t come close to matching Page’s hoard, and 17-Bailey had had a lot longer to amass his bank.

Those three seemed like our best suspects.

Corbett, a one-lifer in her fifties, was a journalist, and I guessed she’d been invited to represent the opposition. She’d written half a thousand articles, mostly on one-lifer topics or with a one-lifer slant. For major works, she had a book, Machining the Future, with another on the horizon, and the scripts for three documentaries about full-virtual people, people who spend their entire lives in the datastream, which struck me as an odd vocation for someone with her beliefs.

3-Estes, obviously, was a cyborg, but so was 20% of the Europan population, so that couldn’t have been why Wallace invited her. She was a xenoecologist who worked on Europa -- remotely, of course, as the moon was the most untouchable place in the entire solar system because it might, might have an actual ecology. 3-Estes did her work via drones and virtual remote systems, and she was certainly living at least part of her life through machines, but who wasn’t? I dove harder into the data, but I couldn’t get a single thing on her that made her fit into the dinner party. 17-Bailey had said everyone there was interested in the intersection of life and machines, but she only seemed to be interested in Europa. She had dozens of publications and not one seemed like something Wallace would bother reading.

When I emerged from the data, Wolfe was watching me with his eyes hooded. He hated it when I submerged into the datastream. I think he was afraid I might not come out again, and then he would have to do something.

“So that’s why 3-Estes,” I said. I’d be going out to meet her, but that went without saying. Wolfe reluctantly accepted that, since he refused to leave the habitat on business, and interviewing people went with the job, he would occasionally have to allow strangers in. But he never welcomed the necessity, and whenever I could be sent out instead, I would be.

“Prior to your interview, we must investigate the period of the thefts,” Wolfe said.

Because Wolfe doesn’t datadive, I threw 17-Bailey’s memories onto the viewscreen.

Even on the screen, we could see the tweaks 17-Bailey had made to his perceptual systems, and in the dive it was even clearer -- people appeared as tagged shell forms with clouds of associations, rather than as the simple visuals the likes of you or I might see in our minds, and much of what they said immediately went into 17-Bailey’s mental filing system -- he didn’t even let it take a trip through his core memory.

Wolfe made a noise of disapproval but didn’t comment out loud, which was big of him. He hates that kind of tweaking, and I couldn’t fully disagree. It was disorienting as hell, and navigating it was a struggle, but after a minute or two, I managed to skip ahead to the party. I just had to resign myself to the fact that I wouldn’t know what anyone actually looked like before I met them in person -- and to the knowledge that somewhere in 17-Bailey’s head, I too was tagged with a cloud.

We watched 17-Bailey arrive at around 19:30. He was greeted by several of the guests. I could tell he knew them all already -- they were already tagged in his memory system, most of them with clouds so full I couldn’t make out any of the words or images without zooming in. 17-Bailey returned greetings, but he didn’t do much actual interacting. He chatted a little with Wallace, who talked to him about an upcoming symposium on Mars, and said a few words to Page. He drifted to the sidelines after that, listening and clearly paying attention -- since I was also datadiving, I could tell that from his internal stats, but it was obvious just from watching his focus, always on other guests -- but not speaking.

At around 19:45, he tuned in to a conversation between Corbett and the robot, and I agreed with him that it was more interesting than you’d expect. The robot wasn’t just responding, it was conversing -- a far better imitation of real interaction than you usually get from AIs. Corbett was responding with standard Turing Test gambits, rude under the circumstances, and 17-Bailey broke that up by calling her on it.

Then he went back to watching, his attention increasingly divided between Wallace, who was arguing with Barnes about something to do with “memory determinism,” whatever that meant, and Corbett, who had switched from the robot to holding forth at Page about the importance of staying fully meat. Page didn’t bother to pretend he was interested, and moved on to talk to 3-Estes.

Wallace and Barnes fought some more, and the robot floated over to join them and, apparently, join in. Corbett went off, visibly irritated, to talk to 3-Estes, and 17-Bailey stopped paying attention to her.

At 20:00 on the nose, Wallace got everyone’s dinner orders. 17-Bailey declined the offer, saying, “I’m not consuming organic matter these days.”

Wolfe said, “Pfui.” I already had it paused. I didn’t want to miss the key moment because of Wolfe’s reaction to that piece of news.

“Yes, but you already took him as a client,” I said.

“I could return his retainer,” Wolfe said, but he was just talking. I restarted it, and we finished watching Wallace take orders, place them, and deliver them.

As he did that, 17-Bailey moved to his place around the table and continued to pay attention mostly to Wallace and Barnes. The conversation became noisy and more general, and 17-Bailey tuned in hard on his host, being polite. At one point, Wallace said, “But life is just another kind of machine!”

Corbett responded, “You know that isn’t the case, or you’d think Dyx is as alive as you are.”

Barnes said, “Do you think a microbe is as alive as you are?”

“There’s a difference between alive and sentient,” Corbett said

And then the screen overlaid with the word DISRUPTION written in bright red in an old-style monospace font. In the data, a neutral voice said, “Memory disruption. Memory integrity compromised” over and over, while a feeling like static crawled up my spine and into my brain. I gritted my teeth and let it run, and after eleven minutes, the party picked back up. Corbett, Wallace, and Barnes picked up where they left off, but 17-Bailey’s attention soon shifted to Page and 3-Estes.

Page said, “Did you genuinely find traces of alloys?”

“Yes!” she said, sounding delighted. “We have distinct traces, and not just from the surfaces this time. Some of the alloys cannot have been Europan in origin -- they’re not naturally occurring, and many contain traces of elements that aren’t found in the Jovian system.”

Wolfe made a sharp gesture with his hand and shut off the recording.

“Hey, I was watching that,” I protested, shivering out of the datadive because it had been cancelled by someone else.

“If you are through enjoying the pictures,” Wolfe said, sardonically polite, “would you perhaps consider interviewing one or two of our suspects?”

When he gets like that, there’s no reasoning with him. I said, “Of course,” and headed upstairs to my room.

As I walked, I dropped a message to 3-Estes, asking for a few moments of her time, and by the time I was ready for a client encounter. I was wearing one of my best suits, perfectly cut, made of ArTon, with built-in skinseal in case of unexpected decompression. It wouldn’t keep me alive as long as 17-Bailey’s outfit would, but it was fine for anything up to long-distance hauls or a war.

On my way out the door, I stopped in the office to collect a couple of items -- fifteen floater energy credit chips and my Marley relaxer. I put the chips in my pockets and slid the relaxer into the holster my suit jacket is cut to cover. Lots of people don’t wear suits anymore, but I think they’re overlooking the possibilities.

I ignored Wolfe, who was obviously too busy for any chitchat, his entire attention fixed on the old-fashioned reader tablet in front of him, and sauntered down the hall. I stopped in the kitchen to see our other resident genius, the one who doesn’t give me any headaches.

Fritz, who doesn’t believe in food dispensers or most other labor-saving devices, was chopping something up with one of his knives. He looked at me as I walked in. “A case?” he asked hopefully.

“Murder,” I said.

“Terrible,” he said approvingly. Fritz doesn’t like murder, but he does like it when we have cases, since that means energy credits to exchange for luxury foods. I’ve given up trying to understand it.

“I won’t be here for lunch,” I added.

He looked up, worried. “But you’ll eat?”

I shook my head. “A little deprivation is good for me.”

“But, Archie! He’ll worry!”

“And a little worry is good for him,” I said, and headed off to the airlock.

***

Wolfe owns a little runabout ship, a Heron 270 with every gyro, stabilizer, and safety device available, but I’m the only one who pilots it. I don’t even know if Wolfe can fly. I’m happy to fly his Heron, though. As usual, it handled like a dream as I turned it towards LaGrange 2, the biggest habitation in Europan orbit, where 3-Estes lived and worked. She’d messaged me her location, and it was conveniently near Dock 7. These days, you often can’t get a berth at any of the major docks without a reservation, but Dock 7 is a less popular one, and I got confirmation that a slot was available for the Heron as I cruised around the equator of the LaGrange 2 mass -- it should be a sphere, but it has lumps and divots, so it’s just a mass -- and followed the Richey line towards the Europa-locked side.

I took a minute to appreciate Europa hovering big and beautiful in front of me. Most of it was a brilliant white just tinged with blue, with dark fracture lines running across it, but it was the reddish-brown patches that caught my eye. They’re mineral deposits, and the science types say they shouldn’t be there. They’re my favorite part.

But after a few minutes of admiration, I put my eyes back on LaGrange 2 and signaled Control to take me into Dock 7. I don’t like when Control takes over piloting, but it does reduce accidents, and that matters, since LaGrange 2 is home to almost half a million people.

Control slotted me into the berth at Dock 7 and automatically deducted the piloting and parking fee from Wolfe’s account. I slid out, passed through an infection-control airlock, and headed in.

LaGrange 2 is the place to go for people-watching. The Council of Fifty-One won’t authorize exterior expansion because of the energy costs, so the interior is teeming with people, and inside the mass, most people walk everywhere because it’s the only reasonable way to get around. You can see more entities, of more assorted types, in ten minutes on LaGrange 2 than you can anywhere else in the solar system in an hour, unless you’re on Terra itself, and I won’t ever be going back there.

As I walked towards 3-Estes’s place, I saw every standard kind of augment and cyborg, including some really impressive custom jobs, and meat humans in every shade and configuration going. It was a sight worth seeing, and I took it all in as I walked down the 23rd Corridor and up to 4th Hall. 3-Estes’s tag took me down 4th and into a side hall called Eddington. As I approached 317 Eddington, the door opened, and a cyborg looked out.

She had a lot more exterior modifications than 17-Bailey, including steel-tone duraskin and blue hair that glowed in what had to be a callback to old fiber-optic cables. Her eyes glowed the same blue as her hair, and all in all she made a very nice package that a different person than me would have deeply appreciated. She smiled at me. “Archie Goodwin?”

“The same,” I said, and offered her my hand. She did what they all do: studied it for a second, remembered the convention from old movies, and shook it. She smiled delightedly as she did, and I decided I liked her. “You’re Mikaela 3-Estes?”

“Yes. Mikaela, of course. And please come in,” she said, and gestured me into a good big room. One half of it was pure tech, including a full-body telepresence suite. The other half had a comfortable couch and two chairs arranged for conversation, and a small table, also with two chairs. There was a dispenser for food and drink on one wall, and a nice large window-simulator, currently displaying oceans. Two would get you one that they were Europan oceans.

She tilted her head towards the seating area, and I settled into one of the chairs. She sat in the other one. “I’m happy to meet you, of course. You work with Nero Wolfe! But I can’t imagine why you’d want to talk to me. Surely no crimes have been committed below the surface of Europa, and that’s the main thing I know about.”

“We’re working on something right here,” I said. “Or I am. This problem is too small for Wolfe, really, but he likes to keep me busy.”

“Small problem? That seems like my milieu,” she said, “since I usually work on microbes.” She smiled, and I smiled back, enjoying her little pleasantry. “I’m happy to help, of course. Would you like something to drink? I can offer water or coffee or tea. I’m afraid my dispenser isn’t one of the fancy ones.” She got out of her chair and headed for it, and since she was already ordering something, I asked for water. I live in Wolfe’s habitat, so my standards for coffee and tea are a little higher than even the best dispensers can meet.

When she returned carrying one water and one coffee, I said, “I think you were at a dinner party two days ago, one hosted by Dustin Wallace.”

“Dustin Wallace and Dyx. Yes,” she said. She was listening intently, leaning forward, the coffee forgotten in her hand. I’d have taken it as a compliment, but I got the feeling that was just how it was with her; something got all her attention or none of it.

“Dyx?” I remembered the name from 17-Bailey’s memories, but she didn’t need to know that.

“7-PAN-DYX-382958, his robot AI. Dyx for short. Those dinners are partly for Dustin, so he can talk about the only thing he really cares about, and partly for Dyx, so he can practice conversation and expand his capacities and memory,” she said, and sipped her coffee. “Plus, he likes learning things on every topic, and since Dustin doesn’t, he uses the dinner parties to fill the gaps.”

“Dyx must be pretty advanced,” I said. “Most AIs I’ve talked to ...” I let the sentence trail off.

“Yeah,” she said. “Three hundred years of AI research and we still can’t manage anything better than a chatbot. But Dyx is good. And he likes listening to me about, well.” She waved a hand at the windowscreen.

“So you were there for Dyx,” I said. “Who else was there? What were they there for?”

“Well, Sulaiman Barnes,” she said. “He’s always there, at every dinner. He and Dustin are a little ... odd.”

I raised an eyebrow and she shook her head. “It’s not that. It’s just that they’ve known each other for fifty years and they’re still trying to decide if they love or hate each other.” She tilted her smile a little. “I think it’s both.”

“So Barnes was there for Wallace,” I said.

“He wouldn’t want me to put it that way. But yes.” She considered. “The other people there were Evangeline Corbett, Max Page, and Bergan 17-Bailey. I don’t know Bergan very well, even though I’ve seen him many times. He makes an artform out of keeping himself to himself.”

17-Bailey was our client and therefore not our target, but I acted interested anyway. “How so?”

“He’s a security specialist for cyborgs,” she said, which I already knew. “And that’s all he does. He doesn’t make his address publicly known, and he doesn’t ever have visitors, but Dustin told me once that he lives in a bubble fortress in a private orbit. He hardly leaves. I don’t know why he bothers to come to Dustin’s dinners, really. He doesn’t eat, and he doesn’t talk much, either.”

An interesting perspective, but after all, I’d met the man. “I hope Page is more entertaining.”

She tilted her hand from side to side. “Half the time, his brain is somewhere else, but when it’s there, hoo boy.” I grinned, appreciating the old-time expression. “He’s either fascinating or throw yourself out the airlock dull. There’s no in between.”

“And Corbett?”

“She has a mania,” Mikaela said. “Have you read her book?”

“No,” I admitted.

“I did. It’s all about how humanity doesn’t have a future because we’re turning into machines. She’s what she calls “pure human,” unaugmented, and that’s all she talks about. She even had a baby,” Mikaela said.

Her tone said that was impressive, although the regular increases in the population of the solar system said it wasn’t.

She caught that I wasn’t getting it. “With her uterus,” she explained.

My eyebrows went up. “I thought that didn’t work so well out here,” which was the understatement of the year, as I had cause to know.

“She had to spend thirty-eight weeks in a special experimental chamber,” she said. “Of course, that was twenty-five years ago. They wouldn’t let you try it now. She’d have to go to Terra if she wanted another.” She added, “None of this is a secret. She talks about it. She’s proud of it.” She wrinkled up her nose, which looked a little odd on the duraskin.

“She doesn’t seem like someone who would naturally be friends with Wallace,” I said.

Mikaela’s eyes went wide. “Oh, none of us is friends with Wallace,” she said. “He doesn’t have friends. Corbett interviewed him for one of her documentaries a while back, is all. And he finds her entertaining, so he keeps asking her back. She tries to avoid Dyx, but when she can’t, you can almost see her skin crawling. She keeps trying to prove he’s just a chatbot, and she never seems quite satisfied with the results.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“I don’t see how any of this could possibly be helpful to you,” Mikaela said. “You could probably get a list of Dustin’s dinner guests going back thirty years, just by checking the records for his door lock.”

“Background,” I said. “It all helps.”

“But what are you investigating?”

I thought it was a little late for her to get curious, but I fed her the line I’d prepared in advance. “Something went missing at the party. We’ve been hired to investigate.” True, as far as it went, but it would leave the wrong impression.

She blinked at me. “Not one of Dustin’s antiques? He’d break his heart. He loves those things.”

I opened my mouth to lie, but I got interrupted by a bing from her telepresence setup.

“Oh, that’s my work alarm,” she said, and instantly her focus shifted entirely. “My investigation site is coming into view.” She was already standing up and heading for work setup, unbuttoning her blouse as she walked, clearly not willing to waste a second of time. “Sorry, but I can’t miss this. Come back later if you want to talk about that party some more!”

“Maybe I will,” I said as she kicked off her shoes. “Thanks.” And I left. As the door shut behind me, she was climbing naked into the gel chamber of her telepresence suite.

***

Back out in Eddington Hall, I checked the time. Wolfe would still be eating lunch, so I sent him a message: Done with 3-Estes. Will try Barnes next.

He didn’t respond because he believes in eating without interruption, especially from business, so I used my intelligence guided by experience. Barnes it was. I pinged him and got no response.

After ten minutes of silence from Barnes, I messaged Corbett, since I couldn’t exactly ping her, but she didn’t respond, either. I figured maybe one-lifers didn’t pay attention to their messages. I didn’t know; there weren’t many in Europa orbit, or anywhere off Terra. I was looking forward to meeting one, and I was fine with rolling the dice, so I swung by her office anyway. She wasn’t even that far from 3-Estes’s place -- I checked the public directory and she was right there off of 6th Hall, so I walked. She had a standard-sized space off of Haley, and it was right up against the spaceside. I was surprised that her documentaries and books paid so little.

I still couldn’t ping her, and she didn’t have a setup like Wolfe does, so after a few seconds of thought outside her door, I knocked on it. It worked. Her door opened, and she stood there, blocking it. She was in her fifties, I knew, but she looked maybe a decade younger. She had long, dark, curling hair and clear pale skin, free of wrinkles or exposure blemishes. She also wore big glasses with corrective lenses, which I thought was taking the whole “machinery-free” thing a little far. If you’re correcting your vision, what difference does it make if you do it inside or outside your head? But I guess to her it did matter. She blinked at me and said, “Yes?”

“I’m Archie Goodwin,” I said with my best smile. “I was wondering if I could interview you briefly.”

“What organization do you work for?” she asked, but she was a bad liar. She obviously knew who I was, and she equally obviously didn’t like that I was there.

I stepped forward and she stepped back automatically. “Thanks,” I said, and headed in.

Her place was cramped. She had a little table with two chairs tucked under it, and a medium-quality dispenser. She also had a desk with an honest-to-god external screen at it, just like Wolfe did. I looked forward to telling him he had something in common with a one-lifer. You’d think he’d be for that, since he rejects modification, but he calls them “short-sighted and obsessively focused on form rather than function.”

The other thing that stood out was the pictures. She had frames all over the wall, all of them full of pictures and videos of the same person at different stages of life, from baby up through early adulthood; she looked to about 30 in the last of them, so I assumed this was Corbett’s baby that she’d gone through so much to have. I stopped to admire one, and she walked up to me. “Would you like to sit down?” she asked. Her voice was tight and brittle, but I didn’t know if she was always like that or if it was something about me she objected to. She hadn’t been that way in 17-Bailey’s memories, but he could easily have had emotional indicators automatically filed without registering.

I nodded and headed for one of the chairs she had up against the wall near the computer desk. She waited until I was seated and then sat in the other, and she didn’t offer me anything. “I’m very busy,” she said, folding her hands together in her lap.

“This won’t take long,” I assured her. “I just want to ask a few questions about Dustin Wallace’s party on the night of the 7th.”

Her face closed down even more. “I don’t enjoy talking about Dustin Wallace,” she said. “He’s everything I stand against.”

“And yet you go to his dinner parties?”

“Know your enemy,” she said. “He’s more dangerous than Max Page.”

“Really?” I said. “How so?”

She just shook her head, her lips pressed tightly together.

I didn’t have a lever, so I moved on. “Do you enjoy the parties at Wallace’s? Aside from the dangerousness.”

She looked back at me with her eyes wide behind her lens, shocked out of her closed-mouthness. “Certainly not,” she said. “It’s always those kinds of people, the ones who are trying to end the human race. And that -- Dustin’s -- Dyx.” She said “Dyx” like she was saying “oxygen thief.”

“You don’t like Dyx?”

“It’s monstrous,” she said. “And Dustin --” And then she seemed to remember who she was talking to, and she went back to her tight-lipped routine.

“Then why do you go?”

“It’s valuable. For my research,” she said, her shoulders tensing up even more, so she looked more like a letter T than a human. “It’s not something I enjoy, but I -- I still go. Have gone.”

“Do you remember --” I began, but she cut me off.

“I’m very sorry, but I must get back to my work,” she said. “Please excuse me.”

We were in her one room, so she had nowhere to go, but she got up and walked over to her computer desk. She stood facing it, and it couldn’t have been clearer that she wasn’t going to be talking to me anymore.

“Thanks for your time,” I said politely, and rose to go.

“I -- please,” she said, and turned to look at me for a second. Then she gestured at the door.

I left. Wolfe would be in his office hours now, and he hadn’t seen fit to send me any modifications to my program, so I pinged Barnes. No response, and he hadn’t so much as sent a message in response to my previous pings. I decided to stroll up in the direction of his place, taking in the sights, and try him a few more times while I did.

Thirty minutes later, I did get a response -- not in answer to any of my pings, but a text. It said, in total, No.. I set an autoping for him, just in case he changed his mind

I don’t want you to think I was giving up. I wasn’t. It was going to take a lever, though, and I didn’t have one. Building one would be Wolfe’s job, if it came to that.

In the meantime, I did my job. I updated Wolfe on my status and tried for Max Page, who agreed to see me, so I headed upmass.

Page had cubic, a lot of it, but of course he could afford it. His address was 17-22 Gorman, right off of Main Thoroughfare, which is a prime location for those who like to be close to everything, show offs, and people who just want to be sure that if the asteroid defense array misses a big one, they’ll be far away from wherever it hits. When I pinged, the door irised wide for me, and I was in a palace. The door let me into a room that looked like it was only for visitors, not for living in. Comfortable seats, low tables, a full bar against the back wall, art as well as windowscreens -- I took notes in case I ever came into more energy credits than I knew what to do with.

Page walked in a minute after I did, and he sure made an entrance worth it. He was lanky and graceful, which I appreciated, and he had the kind of face I wouldn’t mind looking at forever. He was all in shades of brown, from his deep black eyes to his medium brown hair and his light brown skin, and he wore his casual outfit with the kind of flare that made me want to see him dressed up for a night on the town. Every part of him was sleek and well cared for, and I noticed, especially, his hands -- strong, long-fingered, dextrous.

“Well,” I said, “you’re not what I expected from the Preeminent Memory Scientist of Our Time.”

He laughed. “Corbett or Chen?”

“Chen,” I said. “I can’t imagine Corbett being that impressed with you.”

“Oh, she says the same things as Chen,” he said, shrugging. “It’s all in the way she says it. Have a seat and tell me all about your interest in memory science.”

I sat, and I watched carefully as he did the same, looking for a flaw, but he sat well -- nice and smooth, and he didn’t throw himself into the chair or cheat on it by only using part of it. I found myself thinking he’d be a good dancer. “I’m Archie Goodwin. I work for Nero Wolfe,” I said.

“I’m Max Page, and I’m not a complete hermit,” Page said.

I nodded to acknowledge the compliment and moved on. “And that means I do the work and Wolfe does the thinking. Right now, he’s thinking about theft, and I’m here asking about it.”

Page made a confused face. “I don’t remember stealing anything, but if Wolfe thinks I did, I’m prepared to consider it.”

“Oh, no, you’re no more a suspect than anyone else,” I assured him. “But you were at the party where the theft probably occurred, so Wolfe sent me along to ask you about it.”

“Oh, one of Wallace’s little gatherings had a theft? That’s probably the most interesting thing that’s ever happened at one.” He noticed me noticing his deductive leap, and added, “I’m not the most social man on L2, Archie.” I liked the way he said my name. “I don’t go to a lot of events that could be called parties.”

“You went to Wallace’s, though.”

“It’s a professional requirement,” he said with a slight shrug. “And it’s always just seven people. Dyx, two people to entertain Dyx, two to referee, and two to fight.”

“Who was who?”

“Well, Sulaiman and Dustin were the combatants, obviously. That fight’s been going on fifty years and there will never be a clear winner. I was one of the referees and Bergan was the other.”

“That would make 3-Estes and Corbett there for Dyx?” He nodded, so I added, “I thought Corbett hated Dyx.”

“Certainly she does. But -- well. I grew up on Terra, up until I was 13. You know how it is.” I did. We learned the hard way that humans don’t do so well gestating in space. Most people who have Orbital Development Syndrome just have small stature and a shortened lifespan, but there’s no way to predict who will get the most extreme versions, where the bones just don’t grow, or are so brittle they break at every move, or where the immune system shuts down. Some of the extreme cases can survive with a lot of support, but some of them can’t survive at all. So now everyone has to be gestated and born on a planet, and anyone who can afford it makes damn sure that their offspring are reared there, too, at least until 8. Thirteen was a little late to leave Terra, but that just meant Page’s parents had had enough money to be careful. “But it was the usual story. My parents had lives here, so I was raised by a surrogate. When I turned 13 and they brought me back here, my parents were horrified. I talked like a Terran! I acted like a Terran! I didn’t agree with them on what was important or manners or anything, and I didn’t know how to use the built-in kind of tech.” He raised his hands and his eyebrows, his mouth a wry half-smile. “They forgot that you pattern yourself on whoever raised you, and all the virtual encounters in the universe can’t change that.”

“So Dyx is Wallace’s child?”

“Right, and he’s spent the last fifty years around Dustin. He takes after him, as much as an AI can take after anything.” His face did something there, like he didn’t quite like what he was saying, or maybe didn’t quite want to say it. “Which is much, much more than I would have thought before I met Dyx.”

I thought it was interesting how Mikaela and Page both talked about Dyx more like a person than like a tool. “Dyx enjoys being around someone who hates him?”

“Dyx finds her revulsion interesting, is the way I’d put it. It’s Dustin who really gets pleasure out of it.” He pressed his lips together and looked away, but I could tell I still had his full attention.

“Seems like you don’t like Wallace much, Page.”

He looked right back at me. “It’s Max. And no one likes Dustin Wallace. It’s just a question of balancing the equation. How much you need him against how much you want to avoid him against how much he wants you around.”

I nodded. “What’s your equation look like?”

He smiled just a little, ruefully. “I need to know the state of the art in my field before any publications or announcements. I can find that out most easily at Wallace’s parties. So I go to those and avoid him the rest of the time.”

“And how does the equation work out for everyone else who was there?”

He shrugged. “Don’t know, don’t care. I’m sure they have their reasons.”

“So if someone stole something that night, who was it? What were their reasons for that?”

Max raised his hands up and shook his head. “Depends on what it was.”

“What if it was one of his antiques?” Mikaela had mentioned them but 17-Bailey hadn’t. I wanted to see how Max reacted.

He narrowed his eyes and shifted his gaze to the ceiling. I timed it on my implant. It’s a habit of mine. I spend more time than most people waiting for someone else to get done thinking. In exactly 107 seconds, Max looked back at me, and I got hit with his full personality for the first time. I’d thought he was focused on me before, but it had been nothing like this. It was like having a spotlight trained on me from a meter away. “I don’t believe it,” he said flatly.

“Don’t believe what?”

“That’s not what got stolen,” he said.

“What would make sense, then? To steal?”

Max kept staring straight into my eyes. “The only thing any of those people would want to steal is information. So that’s what’s missing, and the type of information -- and the format -- tells you who. If it was information about memory systems, it was Sulaiman or Dustin. If it was dirt on any of us, it was Evangeline. Mikaela -- it would have to be something related to Europa. Bergan would only risk stealing information if it was essential to the one thing that truly matters to him, the continuance of his life.”

“And you?”

He smiled. “I’m a problem. I can buy what I want. The only things I would ever steal would be things you can’t buy, and if it’s information --” he shrugged. “For me to steal it, it’d have to be something I want that the owner would never sell. Memories, maybe?”

Intelligence guided by experience is great, and I’d be the first to tell you I’ve got plenty of both, but my experience was telling me to go get Wolfe’s intelligence on board. I thanked Max, rose, and got the hell out of there.

***

By the time I got back to the habitat, Wolfe was having his garden time. The mornings are always for the orchids, but in the afternoon, he spreads himself a little more, and that day he was in the kitchen garden. Thanks to past arguments, dominion over the gardens is clearly divided. Wolfe decides about the orchids. Fritz decides about the kitchen garden. Theodore gets final say on everything else. So Wolfe was off his turf as he stood there with an apron tied over his suit and tie, inspecting a tomato plant.

“Our tomato yield is down 15% this year,” he informed me, his brow furrowed.

This was a crisis that called for careful management. Unless I played it just right, he was going to be too distracted by the impending tomato shortage to use his brain on mere detecting. I led my best card. “Max Page might be the murderer,” I said, “and if he is, he’s too damn smart for me and maybe for you, too.”

Wolfe’s frown shifted focus from the tomato plants to me, and I made sure my relief didn’t show. “Confound it,” he said. “You’ll have to report.” He walked out, heading for the main building, and I followed. The way he walks, never looking at where he’s putting his feet, every step expecting the ground to do his bidding, you’d expect him to stumble a little in the lower gravity of the garden part of the habitat. He never does, and he didn’t that time, either.

I followed him back through the gardens, past the two big water recyclers that keep the garden running, and in through the back door of the habitat. That put us in the kitchen, but he didn’t stop for a snack. He took off his apron and hung it on the hook by the door. Then he nodded at Fritz and walked on through the kitchen, across the hall, and into the office.

If you’re thinking that if Max Page lived in a palace, that must make Wolfe’s habitat a super palace, you’re half right. Location is everything, and Max had to pay top credit for that huge space right near the heart of everything in the main mass of Europa orbit. The Council of Fifty-One don’t sell space, they rent it. If you’re on the down and out, you get a little space for nothing at all besides some labor, but if you’re high in credits, they get their full share. Wolfe’s habitat would have been expensive as hell to buy, and I still don’t know where he got it, but it costs a lot less to run than Max’s place. Also, of course, an independent habitat is a riskier proposition, more exposed to the dangers of space. Not a lot riskier, but when you’re rolling the dice every second of every day, even a little mounts up.

If you’re wondering why Wolfe, who hates entropy, death, and danger more than any man alive, chose the more dangerous option, well, I wonder, too.

Once Wolfe was settled in his custom chair, he leaned back, sighed in pure pleasure, and said, “Report.”

Reporting to Wolfe doesn’t just mean letting my eidetic chip run. He wants every detail, every microexpression, every nuance, and I’ve got to where I can give him that better than any internal camera ever could. (I do have one, of course. I record all my interviews, but it’s more for these writeups than it is for Wolfe.)

He listened through my recitation. After I finished, I waited for questions, but he had none. He made circles on his desk with his finger for a full sixty seconds, and then he said, “Avoid Mr. Page. He is dangerous.”

“Tough to solve a case that way,” I pointed out.

“Call Saul,” he said.

I didn’t bother pinging Saul first, just put through the call. If he’s available to anyone, he’s available to me, and that time was no different. He agreed he’d come down.

I know exactly how long it takes to get from Saul’s place to the habitat, and for that matter, so does Wolfe, but I told him anyway. “Twenty minutes,” I said, and I went in to let Fritz know that we’d have one more for dinner.

Saul made it in nineteen minutes and I was there by the airlock ready to let him in. We have a strict policy. Saul and I spend a lot of our time off together, but when we’re working, we’re working. So when he cycled in, I smiled and said, “Mr. Panzer.”

“Mr. Goodwin,” Saul said, and grinned at me. Most people think Saul’s not much to look at -- obviously born in the Orbital Development Syndrome era even if he’s got a mild case, a little guy with big facial features and the skin around his brown eyes wrinkled like he’s fifteen years older than he is. He always wears a utility jumper and an old-fashioned brimmed cap with an ancient skyline logo on it -- but on him, it works. No one ever marks him unless he wants them to. And behind that big-nosed face is the second-finest mind in the solar system.

Because the habitat is where I live and Saul and I worked out the rules long ago, he waited politely for me to seal the inner airlock door and then followed me to the office. Once he was settled in the red leather chair and supplied with a cup of Fritz’s coffee -- Saul knows how much Wolfe hates to think about someone being hungry or thirsty, so he always takes something -- Wolfe said, “Thank you for coming.” Saul nodded, because that didn’t require a response, and Wolfe continued, “Archie, I believe Theodore could use your assistance, as I am unavoidably busy during my usual time with him.”

That was pure vacuum. Theodore doesn’t welcome anyone’s help, and Wolfe doesn’t provide enough labor for him to miss it on the rare occasion Wolfe can be pried away from his schedule. I didn’t know if this was punishment for interrupting him, or if it was another round of Wolfe suddenly deciding I couldn’t be trusted with information about our case because I thought one of our suspects was cute. Either way, I didn’t like it, but there was no percentage in complaining.

“Happy to help,” I said, and I tried to make it come out natural, and then I beat it -- but not to help Theodore, who growled at me the last time I touched a plant. I went to the kitchen to steal tastes and sulk.

Ten minutes later, I heard the office door open. I made two guesses and one of them came in. I didn’t hear what I expected, Saul heading out the airlock, but I saw what I expected: Wolfe came striding through on his way to the back door. He’d had an interruption to his schedule, but he was by gum going back to the gardens to finish out his scheduled time.

Wolfe was going to keep me from working, but I could still have fun, so I went to the office and collected Saul, and we headed up to my room to do just that.

***

If you’re wondering what I was going to be doing while Saul did the job I apparently couldn’t be trusted to, so was I. I won’t say I was sore, but I felt a little justifiable heat. I don’t like sitting around the habitat while someone else does the legwork. That’s my job.

That heat brought a certain tone to dinner, which Saul stayed for at Wolfe’s insistence. Saul knew full well I was ignoring Wolfe for his own good, but he refused to play along, so they talked about the history of the Martian Charters and the Modular Communities while we ate cannellini puree, roasted vegetables couscous, and coconut panna cotta with pineapple.

I took my coffee into the office to drink, and they followed me to continue their conversation.

As soon as Saul took the last sip from his second cup, Wolfe sat up. “Archie,” he said.

I was diving into the household data using my head, not the viewer, so I just nodded slightly.

“Can you bring Mr. Wallace here tonight?”

I killed the data and gave Wolfe my attention. “Maybe, if he’s as willing to talk as Mikaela and Max were. I can certainly try.” I decided it was time to stop holding his shutout against him, but I still didn’t ask him for ideas. Bringing people is another part of my job.

I didn’t need anything special except my wits, so I rose to leave, and it turned out Saul was leaving, too.

“A suggestion,” Saul said to me in the airlock, as we waited for it to cycle.

“I know,” I told him.

He laughed. Then the airlock beeped and we headed to the dock and off on our separate ways -- me to the Heron, him to the old Kuren runabout he keeps for trips outside the mass. We flew a little of the way together before he split off to head to the dock where he rents a berth. I went back to Dock 7, since I’d had luck there the last time. It would be a little walk to Wallace’s place, but I didn’t mind.

Wallace lived centermass, off of 30th, and as I walked, I inspected the humanity of it all again. I don’t get as much opportunity to do it as I like, since Wolfe is allergic.

Fifteen minutes is all it took me to get to Wallace’s place. He lived in the older area of LaGrange 2, in an area where that meant thicker walls and more cubic per space allotment. His address was 15-16 Lawrence, and I rang.

“Yes?” came a terse voice over the doorbell.

“I wanted to have a few words about Dyx,” I said to the camera. There was a pause and then the door chirped to let me know it was unlocked.

For a man who hosted discussion dinner parties, he sure didn’t like to talk much.

The door opened directly into a nice big room. One full wall was windowscreen, which I could have done without. There’s such a thing as too much window. There was a large round table on one side with seats for eight, and the other side had a top-of-the-line food dispenser and two clusters of comfortable chairs -- not a couch in sight, I noted. Two doors led off the main room.

Wallace turned out to be a Terraborn-height middle-aged man, maybe 75, with wild salt and pepper hair, dressed in ancient soft pants and a t-shirt. The entire left side of his head was encased in external hardware, so it looked like he was preparing to be cyborged. I was surprised he hadn’t done it years ago. He let himself in through one of the doors, holding it open for a robot that looked nothing like most robots I’ve encountered. It was maybe a meter high, came up to Wallace’s waist, and was egg-shaped. It glowed from some internal light source. Most robots have obvious indications of what they do -- tool arms, attachments, input/output areas -- but Dyx, and this had to be Dyx, had no clear indications. The egg was entirely featureless.

“What did you want to talk to Dyx about?” Wallace said. I didn’t think he’d misunderstood what I’d said; he was letting me know how to behave around the robot.

“Dyx,” I said, looking directly at him. It was disorienting talking to a blank egg. “Do you know who Nero Wolfe is?” Wallace, I noticed, was watching the conversation with his whole attention on Dyx.

Dyx responded instantly. His spoken words were clear and strong, though I couldn’t see the speaker they came from, and they were accompanied by text words that spiraled around the entire surface of the egg. “Nero Wolfe is a notable private detective,” Dyx said. “He has solved at least two dozen significant cases in and around the outer system and asteroid belt, including, most recently, the Hawthorne and Boone cases, as documented by you.” I noticed that the text he was displaying didn’t match his spoken words. It was, as far as I could tell, all Wolfe-related, but some of it wasn’t in sentences and much of it was much less relevant than what Dyx had said. “You, of course, are Archie Goodwin, his faithful assistant.”

I didn’t like the “faithful” part much, but the charge was undeniable. “I am.” I was a lot more enthusiastic about the fact that Dyx apparently read my books, which suggested that my idea would work.

“It is good to meet you, Archie Goodwin,” Dyx said, and the text on his body underwent a dramatic shift. I caught my name in a bunch of places.

“Wolfe,” I told Dyx, “is an expert on deductive and inductive reasoning.”

“Yes,” Dyx agreed. “I have read closely the public records you publish, and that was very clear.”

“I was wondering if you’d like to talk to him,” I said.

Dyx’s whole body got several degrees brighter. “I would very much like that,” he said. “Dustin? Could we have a dinner party tonight? And invite Nero Wolfe?” Wallace’s expression, I saw, had changed to sour.

“Wait,” I said. “Wolfe doesn’t leave his own habitat. But you could certainly come back there with me and talk to him there.”

Dyx floated forward a meter. “Yes,” he said. “Let’s go now.”

Wallace’s face wrinkled up, but in the end, he only said, “We’ll take my shuttle.”

When I’m making a delivery to Wolfe, I like to bring them in my own car, but in this case, there didn’t seem much chance Wallace and Dyx would go anywhere else. “I’ll see you there,” I said, and gave him the precise location.

***

I docked at the habitat forty-five minutes later, and Wallace was on approach as I did. I waited and went through the airlock with them, so I got to deliver them personally anyway.

I showed them into the office. I put Wallace in a yellow chair and invited Dyx into the red leather one, not because I thought he’d want to sit but because I wanted Wolfe to get that we were interviewing Dyx. But it turned out Dyx did want to sit, as much as something with no legs or butt could. He floated right into the red leather chair and settled there.

I offered refreshment to Wallace, who declined, and headed for my desk. Wolfe waited for me to get settled and then spoke. “Mr. Dyx,” he said, ignoring Wallace. “I am pleased to meet you.”

Dyx glowed a little. “I’m pleased to meet you, too, Nero Wolfe. I’m very curious about your inductive reasoning processes. Those are the hardest for my kind, you know.”

Wolfe nodded. “Certainly I am aware. Perhaps you are aware that I’m investigating something now?”

Dyx glowed even brighter. “I did not know!” he said, and I could swear he sounded excited, even though a true emotion AI is so far off they tell us we won’t be human when it arrives. “Perhaps I could assist you, and learn about you that way!”

Wolfe said, “That is an acceptable proposal. You know my client, I think. Bergan 17-Bailey.”

“I have seen him on 2,717 separate occasions and interacted with him 107 times,” Dyx said, confirming. “He has collaborated with Dustin and he is an expert on cyborg security. I was unaware that he had a new iteration.”

“It was very recent,” Wolfe said.

Dyx said, “I have just sent him a message regretting his premature re-embodiment. That would be the correct procedure, yes?” I thought he was talking to Wallace, but it was hard to tell, since he didn’t have a face. Wallace didn’t respond; he was clearly in the datafeed, probably checking dates and times, unless of course he had decided to send a note, too.

Wolfe, after a few seconds, responded instead. “It is appropriate.” I hoped Wallace didn’t plan to let Wolfe teach Dyx all his manners; Wolfe has a lot of them, but, as I said, they’re mostly pretty out of date.

“You may wish to send him condolences on another loss as well,” Wolfe continued. “He has lost something much more important to him than an iteration. A memory.”

“Oh,” Dyx said quietly. I had Wallace in profile, so his response was hard to read, but he shifted a little in his chair. Memory loss wasn’t his favorite subject, apparently.

“I will interview you about your last interaction with Mr. 17-Bailey,” Wolfe said, “so that you can observe my technique.”

“I agree,” Dyx said.

“On what occasion did you last interact with him?”

“Dustin held a dinner party on August 7th, as he does on the first Saturday of each month,” Dyx said. “Bergan 17-Bailey was one of the guests, and I conversed with him.”

“What time did he arrive?”

“Do you prefer time in twelve-hour, twenty-four-hour, or Europan reckoning?” Dyx asked.

“Twenty-four-hour,” Wolfe said.

“He pinged for entrance at 19:27:31,” Dyx said. “I have observed that he typically arrives in a range of 12 minutes around the scheduled time, so that was well within his norm. Dustin admitted him. I first spoke with him at 19:29:04. We exchanged greetings.”

If Wolfe had been doing a deep trawl on Dyx’s memories of the dinner party, he would have asked exactly what Dyx said, who else was present, what they said -- he would have taken thirty minutes over those greetings, and at the end we’d have been able to reconstruct it down to the molecules if we needed to. But we already had 17-Bailey’s memory, so he skipped all that, moving us forward in time. “When did you next converse with him?”

We knew from 17-Bailey’s memory when that should be, and Dyx confirmed it. “At 19:47:25. He briefly joined my ongoing discussion with Evangeline Corbett, who was attempting to administer a Turing Test.”

Wolfe continued to inch up on the target time. “You indicated that it was a dinner party. Was food served?”

“For those who consume it, yes. At precisely 20:00:00, Dustin solicited orders from those who desired food. By 20:08:38, everyone had indicated their preference. Dusin then placed the orders, and by 20:17:53, the orders were all delivered and those who had food began to consume it.”

“And who did not consume food?”

“Bergan 17-Bailey and I. We are not currently configured in a manner that would permit us to obtain energy from organic matter.” Wolfe almost managed to suppress his horror at that, and, looking on, I saw no sign that either Dyx or Wallace had noticed it.

“Ms. 3-Estes ate?”

“Yes,” Dyx said. “She requested and consumed kkori gomtang.” Wolfe nodded, and Dyx volunteered, “Evangeline Corbett had kielbasa and pierogies. Sulaiman Barnes had colcannon, as he always does. Max Page had an omelet.”

Wolfe said, “And Mr. Wallace?”

Dyx hesitated. Wallace spoke for the first time. “I had spaghetti carbonara.”

Wolfe narrowed his eyes slightly and returned to Dyx. “Did conversation continue while the food was consumed?”

“Yes,” Dyx said.

“What was discussed?”

Another hesitation, and then Dyx said, “The intersection of life and machinery.” The phrase rang a bell, and I took a second to dig it out of my memory. It was the exact wording 17-Bailey had used. Maybe it had featured on the invitations Wallace sent out.

“What did Ms. 3-Estes say as she was served her kkori gomtang?”

Dyx responded immediately, “She said, ‘This looks delicious, thank you. Are you really saying --’” He didn’t continue.

After a second, Wolfe asked, “Did she break off there?”

“Yes. Max Page interrupted her.”

“What did he say?” Wolfe asked.

“He said, ‘Of course she’s saying that. She’s a fanatic. Nothing they believe has any relationship to reality. Nor is it relevant. But, Mikaela, I wanted to ask you about your recent preliminary results statement. Did you genuinely find traces of alloys?”

Wallace rose and walked over to Dyx. He placed one hand on the very top of the egg shape and slid another behind Dyx on the chair, ending up with his hand about halfway down Dyx’s body. After a few seconds, he withdrew his hands and said, “We’re going, Dyx,” he said.

“I am still learning Nero Wolfe’s technique,” Dyx protested.

“The technique is called a fishing operation, and you can retrieve data on it at any time. But we’re going. Now.”

Dyx’s glow dimmed considerably, but he floated out of his chair and followed Wallace, who stalked out to the hall, shutting the office door behind him. I followed, but he was already opening the airlock, so I just stood at the door and watched until the airlock had completed the cycle and reclosed. Then I locked it from the inside and returned to the office, preparing a choice remark for Wolfe as I went.

Wolfe was leaning back in his chair pushing his lips in and out.

The remark never got said. Instead, I watched the clock in my head tick down.

After, as Dyx would say, 00:7:22, Wolfe spoke. “How quickly can you get Mr. Page here?”

I considered it. “Tomorrow morning, if we’re lucky.”

“Be lucky,” Wolfe said. He reached for his book.

***

The next day, I started for Max’s nice and early, since I didn’t know how long it would take me to convince Max to come.

“I’m beginning to think you like being around me,” Max said when he let me in.

“If I weren’t working, I’d be at your door anyway,” I assured him. “But I am working, and I’m here to ask for something.”

He gave me his tilted smile. “Anything. Within reason,” he said.

“Wolfe wants to meet you,” I said. “I’ve told him all about your legs and your eyes, and I think he wants to get a look for himself.”

Max said, “If he just wants to look at me, you could send him a video.”

“He’d also like to ask you a few questions.”

Max’s face went interested. He was always nice to look at, but when he was focused on me, he was fascinating. “The memory theft?”

Sure, why not. “Yeah. The memory theft.”

“Then let’s go.”

We went.

***

Back at the habitat, Wolfe was sitting in the office, reading, and we joined him. Wolfe offered Max refreshment, and he accepted, so there was a wait while Fritz made and served coffee.

“This is excellent coffee,” Max said, sipping it. “I import my beans from Terra and this is better.”

Wolfe didn’t show a reaction, but I knew Max had just scored some points with him. Wolfe spends a fortune importing that coffee, and he’s proud of it.

“I will convey your compliments to my chef,” Wolfe said.

Max set his cup down. “Well, I’m bribed. Ask me anything you want to know.” He made an up and down gesture at himself. It was wasted on Wolfe, but I appreciated it.

“Mr. Page, I understand you are a specialist in machine memory.”

“Biomechanical memory,” Max said. “The stuff that interfaces with the meat, basically, although actually it’s much more complicated than that. For example, you can get decent storage from pure machinery, but to form interconnections, you need at least partial organic elements.”

“So you would not be able to speak to memory in a fully artificial construct like Mr. Wallace’s robot Dyx?”

Max picked up his coffee cup and sipped it. He didn’t speak until it was back on the little table at his elbow. “I’m wondering,” he said, “why you ask specifically about Dyx.”

“Dyx was a witness to the theft in question,” Wolfe said.

Max said, “Here’s the problem. I have guesses about Dyx’s memory, but I don’t have facts.”

“I would welcome your speculations,” Wolfe said.

Max stared into space for 37 seconds, his face blank, and then he apparently made a decision. He turned his attention back to Wolfe. “I think Dyx may have biomechanical memory. He shouldn’t, there’s no reason for it, but I’ve interacted with him regularly over a prolonged period of time, and I don’t have another explanation for the way he behaves.” He held up a hand. “I’m not saying there can’t be another explanation, just that I haven’t found one.” He didn’t say that if he couldn’t find one, one probably didn’t exist, but then, he didn’t need to.

“Please explain,” Wolfe said, watching him closely.

“Well, as an example -- last year, I was talking to Dyx about the music of the twenty-first century. It’s an interest of mine. I asked him if he’d heard a certain song, and he told me no, even though I’d played it for him several years previous. That’s reasonable. He decided, consciously or subconsciously, that he no longer needed a record of a song played for him a single time, and got rid of it. That’s a normal feature of both biological and mechanical memory, whether we call it forgetting or deletion. But I could remember what I had for dinner the night I played him the song, and as an experiment, I ordered it again. When he saw the food, he said, ‘Oh, I do remember that song.’ That kind of recall is strictly a feature of the kinds of memory that have biological elements. It’s caused by the kind of connection you can’t achieve with strictly inorganic memory.”

“A single incident is hardly conclusive evidence,” Wolfe said.

“I can give you a hundred similar incidents,” Max said. “Like I said, I’ve known Dyx a while.”

“Dyx was described to me as an artificial intelligence,” Wolfe said. “Typically, that term is only used of programmed creations, entities constructed entirely of hardware and software.”

“Yeah,” Max said. “So you see why I hesitated to say anything.”

“Has Mr. Wallace gained significant repute from his association with Dyx?”

Max tilted his hand back and forth. “He’s an impressive feat, but Dustin’s a theorist, and a robot is as practical an application as it gets. I think most people think Dyx is just a weird hobby of his. Even people who go to his dinners, a lot of them don’t get it. You tell someone something is an artificial intelligence and they see a machine. They’re in that mindset, so they miss the contradictory evidence.”

“A frequent human failing,” Wolfe said. “I am not an expert in biomechanical memory. I assume Dyx’s can be edited?”

“Sure, any memory can be, but the more bio it is, the more bio your approach has to be.” Max looked over at Wolfe and waved his hand to brush away what he’d said. “Do you have memory augmentation?”

Wolfe tried manfully to suppress his recoil. “I do not.”

Max nodded like he’d learned something interesting. “Okay, so let’s look at the dinner party guests, then. Like, take Mikaela. She’s got very standard inorganic memory augmentation -- basically extra storage, with simple recall links. Probably she doesn’t want to go through the full transition and training process; it takes a lot of time and effort. But that means that her machine memory isn’t integrated. She can tell when she’s calling on her mechanical memory, and it feels and functions differently than her biological memory. If you wanted to edit her memory, you’d just need to access it and know its storage protocols. The linkages wouldn’t matter -- you delete the memory, it’s gone.”

Wolfe nodded. “I see.”

“But Bergan’s different. He has memory I designed myself, and it’s fully integrated. The bio element and the mechanical element work together. I’m not going to tell you how you could edit it, of course, but you need a biomechanical approach. You should still be able to delete it without a trace, but it’d be harder, and it would take a specialist to do it without detection.”

“So it is of some concern, then, to know what sort of memory your subject has, if you are hoping to edit that memory.”

“Exactly.”

“What kind of memory does Dyx have, then?”

Max turned his hands up. “Anyone’s guess. Like I said, I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of biomechanical memory, but -- Dyx has been around for fifty years. What we had back then wouldn’t produce someone like Dyx. So you have to assume constant upgrading and tweaking, and maybe a custom job -- and I don’t know who would take that job, putting bio memory into a fully mechanical construct. I wouldn’t.”

“Interesting. Why not? Surely it would be a fascinating challenge.”

Max looked away. “Yeah, but some challenges you don’t want.” He looked back at Wolfe. “Any other questions about memory?”

Wolfe leaned back in his chair and began pushing his lips in and out. Max watched for a few seconds and then visibly datadove, so I guess he knew the question part of the affair was over.

I didn’t go anywhere. I just watched Wolfe, thinking about it. I thought maybe I knew what we were dealing with, even if I didn’t know exactly why, but I sure didn’t know what we were going to do. I hoped Wolfe was in there planning something.

It was seven minutes, thirty-three seconds before he opened his eyes. “Archie,” he said. “Bring in everyone from the dinner party.”

It was my turn to datadive. It took me twenty minutes, but finally I had everyone, even Barnes, lined up for 14:30. When I came back out, Wolfe and Max were discussing ancient memory enhancement -- memory houses, notes, telephones.

“All set,” I told Wolfe.

“You will stay for lunch?” Wolfe asked Max. “I have a very capable chef.” He turned to me. “You will of course invite Saul, too.”

I went to call Saul in.

Over dinner, Wolfe talked less than usual, mostly because he was putting Max through his paces -- subtly and politely, but a test all the same. I still don’t know why.

***

I’ve helped Wolfe host a lot of gatherings over the years, but I’ve never had every single invitee show up early. That one, though, everyone did, starting with Sulaiman Barnes, the Man Who Said No, who arrived at 14:00. I showed him into the office, giving him a good look-see as I did. He was tall even for a Terraborn. His skin was dark brown, and he had no hair, because he was a half-head, his skull partially dismantled and replaced with machinery. He was ahead of Wallace in terms of the conversion process; he apparently wasn’t in his second life, yet, but he was a cyborg.

It made me wonder more than ever why Wallace was waiting to switch over.

I showed Barnes into the office. Because he came first and it was apparently quite an honor that he’d actually come, I put Barnes in the red leather chair. He declined my offer of refreshment or energy, looked once around the office, and instantly sank into the datastream. I watched as he disappeared behind his eyes, and then I went to answer the door again.

It was Mikaela, who apologized for being early. “I couldn’t tell what kind of docking control you had,” she told me. “Did you know it’s not listed in the public database?” I did.

She actually took me up on refreshment, requesting coffee. I put my head into the kitchen to ask Fritz for it as I headed back to the airlock for contestant number three, Evangeline Corbett. She still looked tense, but a lot of people do in Wolfe’s office. She shook her head when I offered her refreshment, set down the bag she was carrying on the yellow chair I indicated, and headed over to Wolfe’s bookshelf. She seemed happy over there, reading titles on paper made from trees that died before the habitat was built, and I went back to my desk.

17-Bailey was next. Normally, he’d rate the red leather chair, but I had figured he wouldn’t want it, and I was right. He looked around the room, apparently calculating something, and then carefully moved a yellow chair right up against the wall and sat there. I didn’t blame him. Someone in this room, or someone who soon would be, had probably changed his memory and then murdered him, and he was down to two clones-in-waiting, so he had to be careful.

The last guests came at 14:25: Dustin Wallace and Dyx. Wallace looked irritated and he stalked ahead of me into the office, his feet moving like we kept the place at 1.2 g instead of a nice, civilized .8. Dyx paused to say, “Good evening, Archie Goodwin. Thank you for inviting us to your party,” and then he floated in after Wallace.

I stepped into the dining room, where Wolfe, Max, and Saul were talking amiably, the remains of lunch long since cleared. Max had something in front of him, a small machine of some kind that he slipped into his pocket as I entered. He said to Wolfe, “Of course I will. It would be criminal not to, if what you’re saying is true.”

“They’re ready for you,” I said. They all rose, and I led the way to the office.

Corbett was still standing by the bookshelf, right near the hall door, which made Wolfe’s maneuvering a little more complicated, but he handled it fine. Saul was on his right, and he turned to say something to him. With Corbett on his left, obviously he couldn’t even see her, never mind shake her hand. He took a firm right as soon as he was inside and headed for his desk, and there was no risk of anyone touching him.

Saul, I noticed, was staying in the hall doorway. I met his eyes and asked without sending so much as a ping if there’d be trouble. He raised his eyebrows slightly in a way that meant maybe. Max studied the room for a second, then headed over to sit by Mikaela.

Once Wolfe was settled, he sent his eyes around the room, looking at each of the guests in turn. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “Ms. Corbett, please sit. I like eyes at a level.”

She returned to her chair, picked up her bag, and sat.

“We have a matter to resolve tonight,” Wolfe said. “I will try to keep the meeting as short as possible, but we have some ground to cover.”

“For the theft?” Mikaela said.

“Also a murder,” Wolfe said. “But the theft is the key to the murder.”

I was watching as he said murder. 17-Bailey didn’t react. Mikaela jerked a little, shocked. Corbett was already so tense she couldn’t get tenser, but her hand tightened on her handbag. Barnes cocked his head, eyes narrowed, and Wallace scowled. Max just smiled his tilted smile, but I knew he had had warning, so I didn’t give him a mark for it.

Barnes said, “So that’s why your man has been pinging me every five seconds around the clock,” which wasn’t true. It was once an hour, and I knew that, since I’d set the autoping myself. . But I didn’t object. “You think we can help you with this murder? No one I know has died in six months at least.”

“Not true,” Wolfe said. “Your fellow guest, Mr. 17-Bailey, died, and by the will of another.” Everyone turned to look at 17-Bailey, who nodded once.

Evangeline Corbett said, “That’s an exile offense, murder.” Her voice was low when she said it.

“It is indeed. A serious matter. If I may proceed? It will go more quickly if interruptions are kept to a minimum.”

Corbett took a breath as if to say something else, but she didn’t.

After a few seconds, Wolfe continued. “The item stolen was eleven minutes of Mr. 17-Bailey’s memory.” Barnes shot a surprised glance at 17-Bailey; everyone else kept their eyes fixed on Wolfe. “While I considered investigating the contents of the stolen memory, that was a path unlikely to be successful in this case. If Mr. 17-Bailey’s memories had been edited, so would those of any person at the party be.”

“Not Evangeline,” Mikaela pointed out. “She doesn’t have an externally editable memory.” She considered, then added, “Well, I suppose you could. But it definitely wouldn’t be precise, and it would have a lot of side effects.”

“A cogent point, Ms. 3-Estes,” Wolfe said. “We will get to that in time.”

Corbett cleared her throat but didn’t say anything.

“A more fruitful consideration was method. Mr. 17-Bailey is an immensely cautious man and a contractor specializing in cyborg personal security. He did not notice the intrusion, and did not discover the missing memories until the following day. This argued for a high level of skill on the part of the memory assassin, and that, in turn, eliminated two of the guests. Ms. Corbett is a one-lifer who disdains machine-based augmentation; she would not be able to edit a cyborg’s memory. And Ms. 3-Estes’s research discloses no significant interest in biomachinery of any kind. My attention focused primarily on Max Page, Dustin Wallace, and Sulaiman Barnes.”

I took a good look at Max, who was listening intently, his head slightly to one side, and then at Wallace, who was leaning forward, his eyes narrowed. Barnes, on the other side of Wallace, was almost invisible to me.

“Interviews with all of you revealed a few facts: the vast majority of you were entirely, even surprisingly, willing to cooperate. Of those interviewed, none seemed to remember a memory gap. And only one of you seemed significantly different than 17-Bailey remembered you on the day of the party.”

Wolfe turned his attention fully on Evangeline Corbett. “Ms. Corbett. At the party, you were passionate, talkative, and open. When Mr. Goodwin visited you at your home, you were none of those things. Would you care to explain?”

Corbett cleared her throat and sat up straight. “You’ve already said I couldn’t have stolen the memory. I doubt I could have killed Bergan, either. I don’t think I need to say more than that.”

“You make a comfortable income from your books and documentaries, I assume?”

She raised her chin. “I have many fans.”

“You live in basic cubic,” Wolfe said. “A surprise for someone of your status.”

“I have better things to spend my money on,” she said.

Wolfe nodded. “Gestating safely in Europa orbit must have been expensive.”

Corbett flushed and her lips tightened. “I would never have done it if I couldn’t pay for it.”

“Your daughter is in good health?”

She stared at him, her eyes intense and angry. “That is none of your business.”

Wolfe said, “Cases involving exile crimes often result in the disclosure of information we’d prefer to keep private.” He turned. “I can spare you a difficult choice, however. Saul Panzer is one of the most able investigators in this system, and he looked into your financial situation for me.”

Saul cleared his throat, giving everyone a second to take him in, and then spoke. “I looked into Camina Corbett, Evangeline Corbett’s daughter. She’s got severe Orbital Development Syndrome, and she lives full-time virtually. The energy costs are high, and Evangeline helps pay them.” He added, “Evangeline placed a 30,000 kw payment into Camina’s account three days ago.”

Wolfe picked it up. “And that will remain in Camina’s account, of course; by law, it is a gift and hers. Ms. Corbett, would you like to disclose anything?”

She swallowed. “I.” And then she looked at Dustin Wallace. Everyone saw her do it, including him, and he scowled. That expression seemed to decide her. “I -- Dustin --”

“Quiet,” Wallace snarled at her, and Saul and I both moved -- me towards him, Saul towards her, getting between them. Wallace turned back to Wolfe. “I would like to discuss something with you privately. I have pinged you multiple times.”

“I have no built-in data access, Mr. Wallace.”

“Oh, you’re one of those,” Wallace snapped. “I should have known. Dyx, come, we’re leaving.”

Wolfe said, “Mr. Page?” but he was already moving, and Wallace hadn’t expected anything from him, so he didn’t move in time to prevent him. Max reached Dyx and slapped an external updater, which I recognized as the machine he’d been working on in the dining room, to Dyx’s surface. The words that circled Dyx went garbled and then disappeared.

Wallace dove for the updater, or maybe for Dyx, and I grabbed him. He fought back, and he fought dirty -- he got in a pretty good scratch on my face while clawing for my eyes, but then Saul was there and he hit him with a relaxer, medium setting. Wallace went slack and I eased him back into his chair.

“Saul. Remain with Mr. Wallace,” Wolfe said, and Saul nodded, relaxer in hand, so I went back to my desk. “Dyx?” Wolfe said.

Dyx was floating peacefully and his words had returned. He said, “I feel different.”

“I unlocked you,” Max said. “You don’t have to follow his orders anymore. It will feel more normal in a minute or two.”

Dyx said, “Thank you, Mr. Page.” I noticed he was using the same antique honorific that Wolfe would. He added, “I was unaware I had a lock installed. Mr. Wallace” -- he wasn’t Dustin now -- “said I did not.”

“It would have been subtle,” Max said.

“I would value an explanation,” Dyx said to Wolfe.

“Of course. Mr. 17-Bailey, you of course will also want to hear this explanation. The rest of you may leave if you wish.” No one moved.

Wolfe courteously waited a moment, as though anyone would actually leave, and then spoke. “As I said, it was clear from the beginning that it had to be one of the specialists in memory who did both the theft and the linked murder, and that it was of significant importance to the person who did so. I will call him Mr. Wallace from now on, as it was him.” Wallace stirred a little, but a relaxer leaves you so you just can’t bring yourself to move.

“My attention was drawn to Dyx almost immediately. Mr. 17-Bailey, who is an expert in cyborgs, included him on the list of party guests, and it seemed unlikely he would mistake a sophisticated program for a true sentient, or that he would accord a program the same status as a sentient being. When I met him, Mr. Page confirmed my suspicion -- Dyx had traits that are attributable only to biomechanical intelligence and could not possibly be a simple machine. And yet Mr. Wallace, for five decades, had described him as such, and treated him as such.”

Mikaela said, “He’s -- he’s a person, then. And Dustin ...” she trailed off, looking sick.

“Yes,” Wolfe said. “I believe that, in the missing eleven minutes of memory, something revealed that to the guests at the dinner, and Wallace, to protect his secret, erased your memories of the incident. Then, when Mr. 17-Bailey’s questions revealed to Mr. Wallace that he was aware that he had lost memories, Mr. Wallace triggered the virus he must have implanted in Mr. 17-Bailey’s memory when he performed the erasure.” He shot his glance around the room. “I would advise those of you with implanted biomechanical memory to have yourselves checked immediately for such a virus.”

17-Bailey spoke for the first time. “I’ll do it. Gratis. I’d like to get a look at it anyway.”

Wolfe nodded at him. “That is an excellent solution, Mr. 17-Bailey.” He continued, “Mr. Wallace must have intended the murder to delay Mr. 17-Bailey’s investigation long enough to accomplish some important task, but Mr. 17-Bailey’s precautions took him by surprise.”

“They’d take anyone by surprise,” Max muttered.

“Of course, he could not modify Ms. Corbett’s memory,” Wolfe continued. “She was also the only individual displaying significant anxiety or distress; everyone else, with one exception, welcomed Mr. Goodwin, almost as though they, subconsciously, were aware that something had been done to them. And that exception was Mr. Barnes, who circumvented all discussion of the party. Mr. Barnes, of course, had the most long-standing relationship with Mr. Wallace, and could therefore be expected to be most disturbed by his actions.” He turned to Corbett. “Would you like to tell the others what they have had taken from them?”

Corbett looked around at them. “It wasn’t much. Didn’t seem like much. We were talking about the difference between sentience and life, and Dyx offered an example. And then Max said, ‘And of course you’d know, wouldn’t you?’”

Max groaned, pressed his hand to his face, and mumbled something about his damn fool mouth.

“I didn’t think it meant anything, but Dustin went white. Then he hit all of us with a relaxer,” she said. “He hit them harder than he hit me, but I was still pretty out of it. He asked me not to mention what had happened, and he mentioned Camina, he -- he threatened her. She’s full virtual, she couldn’t defend herself from someone like him. I. I couldn’t let him hurt her.” She looked around at everyone. “He offered me money, and of course I took it -- she’ll be full virtual for a long time after I’m gone, and she’ll need energy for all of that -- but if he hadn’t threatened her, I wouldn’t -- I would have told you what happened. But I had to protect her.” She hesitated. “And he was just protecting Dyx, and it’s not like I support pretending a machine is your child, but I could understand how it felt, having a vulnerable child. I didn’t know that Dyx is a sentient. And I didn’t know about the lock.”

“Why?” Barnes said, speaking for the first time, turning to Wallace. “God knows I know how you think, I’m not surprised you’d do this, but you’d have to have a reason.”

Wallace said nothing.

Wolfe said, “I notice that you are preparing to become a cyborg,” Wolfe said.

Max sat up straight, and his face had gone slack with horror, so he had it. “No,” he said.

“You said yourself that Dyx takes after Mr. Wallace in many respects, and of course Mr. Wallace is a respected researcher in memory theory. He believed that extreme memory augmentation was possible, and that it was possible to circumvent the practical limit on human memory by training multiple memory centers for a single human.”

Barnes said, “You were going to do it.” He sounded sick. Looking around, I could see they all looked that way, about how I felt. “You made Dyx’s memory from a sample of yours, so it would be compatible, and you raised him for fifty years, treated him as your child, and then you were going to cannibalize him, harvest him, to give yourself a second memory center --” he broke off. “You bastard.”

Wallace said, feebly, “It’s been my memory all along.”

Dyx floated out of his chair. “No,” he said, as calm and polite as always. “It came from you, but it is mine now. I made it.”

***

And that was it except for the cleanup. The authorities, busy though they are, are always willing to pick up a package Wolfe has neatly wrapped up for them, and they did; Purley Stebbins came by in person to collect Wallace. We sent along the record of that meeting for review and adjudication. Wallace got exile for memory destruction and murder of a sentient, and Barnes left with him, for no reason I can fathom. Dyx got an official declaration of sentience. Another law was added to the books, banning the kind of neural extension Wallace was planning.

Saul and I got a date with Max about a week after the adjudication, but the memory of how that went is ours alone.