Frank woke up the next morning. He was not in a good mood.
“Jack, where the hell are we? Was I drugged?” he asked warily.
“We are on Sir Terrance's ship, but I can’t sense where the ship is other than close to Europe. And yes Sir, you were drugged with a slow acting drug.”
“Son of a bitch, what is it with this guy drugging people? He’s definitely watched too many James Bond films. Remind me to punch him out before I kill him.”
“Yes Sir, I will.”
Frank pulled himself upright and swung his feet onto the floor. He felt the stubble on his cheek and said, “I guestimate I must have been out about 12 hours.”
“Just shy of seven hours.”
“Where are the Princess and Pope Junior?”
“I have no data on them sir, other then they did come on the plane and helicopter and most likely are still on the ship.”
Frank got up and went over to the door and tried to open it. It was locked. He mumbled that he hoped that was not the bathroom and went to the other door in the room. That door did open and revealed a small bathroom. He went in and shut the door. He stayed in there a long time. I could tell he spent most of his time in the shower. I went over the built-in armoire and found pants, underwear, shirts, socks and even a couple of belts that were all Frank’s size. Sir Lutt’s people obviously run a tight ship and were prepared to serve guests and prisoners with gracious style. Frank came out in a towel. I did not even have to tell him that I found fresh clothes for him as he walked over to the bed where I had laid them out.
After he got dressed Frank asked me, “Any luck in tapping into the ship’s network or getting outside data?”
“No sir, I can only communicate with the microwave oven over there.”
“Great, Jack, bring over that chair.”
I picked up the chair by the small table and brought it over to where Frank was standing. He got up on the chair and pushed aside the ceiling tile. He stared at it then quickly squeezed off a bit of the tile and put the tile back in place. He jumped down from the chair and examined his sample. I could see that it was a small piece of foam insulation that is sandwiched between the decorative surface and the silver foiled radiant heat barrier..
“I bet this is more of his fucking 23 stuff. This is why we are blind as bats here, Jack,” Frank said with an angry tone.
I could tell he was getting pissed at being made a stooge. He put the foam in the ash tray over by the coffee table. He picked up a pack of smokes and tossed them to me. I assumed he wanted me to check them out so I opened the pack and examined both the odor and visual spectrum analysis and found them safe. At least as safe as drugs to put humans asleep. I handed them back to Frank and he proceeded to light one up.
I found it amazing the resurgence in smoking once cancer was cured. They all knew that they would never die of cancer so why not enjoy a mythic deadly pleasure? Strange how humans thought, but then they inter-phase with matter in a very different way than robots did because they are organic and we are machines.
After finishing his smoke he put the butt in the ash tray and headed to the bathroom. No sooner than he had closed the door then the locked door opened and three robots entered. Just then there was a flash of light which emanated from the ash tray. The piece of ceiling tile was gone and the cigarette butt was blackened. One of the robots informed me that Frank and I must follow them to the dining room. I called out to Frank that we had visitors and a moment later he came out. I informed Frank we were to follow these robots to the dining room.
“About time. I’m hungry. Jack, just make sure that asshole doesn’t drug me again,” Frank said as he walked over to the three Lutts robots. For a fraction of a second I pondered literally if assholes could drug people, but then I analyzed the word was a nickname for Sir Terrance.
While we were walking I once or twice picked up some data signals from parts of the ship, but none of them were a link to a central computer or to the outside world. He must have most of the ship protected with F-23.
We entered a very large dining room that looked like it could have been at Sir Terrance’s Maidstone Castle. Both the Monsignor and the Princess were already seated. Both looked pale and low in spirits. Sir Terrance was sitting at the end of the solid marble dining table in a splendid smoking jacket, looking relaxed and in control.
Frank spoke up rather loud to Sir Terrance even before he reached the last empty seat by the Monsignor, “If you drug me again, Lutts, I’ll have my Jaic tear your balls off. Just tell us where you want us to go and we will comply. You don’t have to pretend you are Sir Hugo Drax.”
Lutts must have taken the 007 allusion as a compliment for a small smirky smile crossed his lips before composing himself to be the host for this unusual meal.
“Thank you all for joining me and indulging me with I hope some interesting conversation.”
“Seriously, Terrance, you must be insane,” said Princess Marianne while slowly shaking her head.
“No, my dear wife, I am not insane. I am probably the sanest man in the world. I am about to free humankind from the bondage of ancient fallacies. Your own Lincoln, Mr. Huntington, was considered quite mad when he freed the slaves. So much so a promising young actor decided to kill him. I hope not to pay such a high price for freeing humankind. I realize there will be some chaos while the world adjusts to new priorities, but I would hope the world would laud me in hindsight once the dust settles.”
Frank took a cigarette out of the Princess’s hand and started to smoke. I could tell he was nervous. After a good long inhale of smoke Frank said, “You are probably right, Sir Terrance. You make it a habit of being right, but I wonder if there will be those who will forgive your heavy handed methods?”
“At least they will not claim God will curse me, but you are right, Mr. Huntington. It is very heavy handed. When I had the epiphany that it was possible to rid humankind of religion I thought about it a lot. I see you shaking your head, Monsignor, but it is true. Even when we met, Mr. Huntington, at that silly party I was really thinking about the ethics of taking away such a primal characteristic from man. Do you remember the book I was looking at, Mr. Huntington?”
“The Yellow Book” Frank said matter-of-factly.
“Very good. Yes, the Yellow Book. Not actually a book, but a magazine elevated by the Aesthetic movement’s ideals to having a hard cover. In the first volume was an essay by Sir Max Beerbolm entitled ‘A Defense of Cosmetics.’ Sir Beerbolm's premise was that because of the rise of material wealth the art of looking good was on the rise. He wrote, “It is the times that can perfect us, not we the times, and so let all of us wisely acquiesce. Like the little wired marionettes, let us acquiesce in the dance.” Sir Beerbolm’s world was becoming so rich that it could afford artifice. It could afford to be decadent and they were proud of it. That was only for the wealthy in the 1890s. Common people were sweating in the factories working twelve hours a day. In our world those harsh dehumanizing jobs are done by robots. One would hope that art based on our mighty sciences would flower in every heart and brain, but alas we have become so much more artificial and decadent then Wilde’s cohort.”
“There are still many who work to advance science and move humankind forward,” the Monsignor bravely stated.
“Yes, that is true, despite the church’s rearguard action to keep those who are the most vulnerable enslaved in superstition. So many still reject rational thought and think having faith in a god that never answers prayers is a virtue while using their religion to justify hating other nations strictly because they believe in another god. And then there are the countless millions who reject the very science that has made their lives possible and go and embrace pseudo science and magical thinking. What a waste of time and good carbon. Most of these people are also in the embrace of some crazy Eastern religion. Look at popular culture: the press is more concerned with publishing your pretty face, my dear, then in the latest images from our probes at Proxima Centauri b.”
Lutts took a sip of wine and then continued with his passionate lecture to his captive audience, “Look at the last Presidential election, Huntington. You covered it brilliantly. Do you not think it was the most irrational and destructive mockery of enlightened democracy?”
“I can’t fault you on that view, Lutts, but it is still better than having a king or emperor.”
“I am not talking about despotism by divine right of kings, but of how the superrich have kidnapped the strings of power and play most people as marionettes. You valiantly try to enlighten the public of the truth in your articles. Looking at who has been winning elections do you think you are making any difference? You know as well as I do that you can’t fight the irrational with logic. Not until humans move beyond irrational faith can we as a species purify ourselves of war and ignorance. This is why I am going to do what you see as evil and I see as a necessary step forward.”
“But the price is free will and that is a price too high to pay,” the Monsignor said with passion.
“Bullshit. How much did the church promote free will? Jack shit little, my religious friend. Your church told humankind their only choice is to believe in Christ or they will go to hell and burn forever. Where is a choice in that? I am freeing humankind from that kind of crap and I am asking for nothing in return. I am not forcing them to worship me. I am not forcing them to make me their god or king. Once I have liberated their minds I expect nothing.”
“I know you have never really sought money for money’s sake, but why are you so damn concerned about stopping religion?” his wife asked.
“In telling you I am probably revealing I am as irrational as the millions who only live to see Manchester beat Liverpool. I just want humankind to throw off the shackles of the Iron Age. We are in the age of colonizing Mars and Venus. We have sent probes to other star systems. We have abolished poverty for 90 percent of the people. Where we have failed you will find the strongest pockets of religion. And in several of those pockets warfare.”
“You know, Lutts,” Frank said with his deadpan journalist's voice “you sound like a jilted teenage boy.”
“I expected more from you than lame jokes,” Sir Terrance said to Huntington and then he turned to the robot on his left and said, “Start the meal.”
“Well, how about this. Once it gets out you know how to reprogram the human brain there will be others ready to add their personal notions as to how humans should act. And just as heavy handed as your sanctimonious campaign we could wake up and find the human race enslaved. Did you think about that?”
“My techniques are too advanced for the rest of the world to master,” Lutts said with a chuckle.
“That is what the Americans said until the Russians wiped the smiles off their faces. In fact the Russians did it twice. First the atomic bomb and then the H-bomb.”
“Well, I don’t have any spies in my outfit.”
“Are you sure?” the Monsignor said in a firm voice.
“Nice try, but every one of my employees has an RFID under their skin. What they don’t know is that I have made a few tweaks to it. My data on my employees is monitored round the clock.”
“And you think your Big Brother invasion of privacy will convince me you can be trusted you won’t tweak humanity into your personal zombies at some later date?”
“And how would you protect this technology? Do you want me to kill my workmen like the Pharaohs of Egypt did?” Lutts said with a sneer.
The robots now came with four plates of food. It looked very British – roast beef, new potatoes and peas. Frank gestured to me and said in a low voice, “Check this stuff for drugs.” I quickly took samples and analyzed each item and found them fit for human consumption. I gave Frank the thumb’s up. The Monsignor noticed what I was doing. It seems he also was tired of waking up in places he did not remember going to.
Lutts seemed to not notice Frank’s and the Monsignor’s concern for the food and continued his conversation, “As to protecting the technology only Dr. Larson and I know the full details. Most of the workers are given only enough information to complete their tasks. Once I have completed my giant step for mankind I intend to dismantle the production equipment that only I operated. Even the code I wrote myself.”
The Princess looked at her husband with a credulous frown and said, “Mr. Huntington is right. Don’t be so naïve, Terrance, once the world knows you were the mastermind then other scientists will know it is possible and figure it out. After all, look at how India is always stealing technology from China and the United States. You are opening up a Pandora’s box.”
The Monsignor put down his fork and joined in, “She is right, Sir Terrance. Once the forbidden fruit is tasted it will be impossible to stop the temptation to repeat using this dangerous technology. Humans are weak. There are still countries that are controlled by despots. They would give anything to assure their people are enslaved.”
“You are correct about despots wanting to mind control their people. Most of the time they use religion or the cult of the personality to do that. Once my nano-vectors do their magic those tools that despots love to use will no longer work. Just one of the many fringe benefits an atheist world will give us.”
“Do you think a non-religious world will make men righteous enough to not desire power?” the Monsignor asked Sir Terrance.
“Sadly, no. There is only so much man-made evolution one can do to humankind and still leave it human. Humanity has made a lot of progress the last one thousand years in allowing power to reside in a ballot box. I feel very strongly that without religion more humans will act humanly. Perhaps when we conquer aging we can acquire the wisdom to see the folly of seeking domination over our fellow humans. I can see that future coming and so, dear wife and gentlemen, I have no desire to hold control over the world no longer than I need to rid us of religion. I leave running the world to the governments of the world.”
“What if you are not completely successful in ridding the world of religion? What if half the world remains religious? Won’t that ruin your plans?” asked his wife.
“I doubt anyone could stop enough of my plan to have that happen. Even with just the Holy Land transformed the world has already been changed greatly for the better. That pernicious festering hole has been changed into a Woodstock. Soon Rome, Mecca, and all the other religious centers in the world will –“
Our host was not able to finish his sentence because just then a deep rumble was heard and felt by all. Seconds later the robot by Sir Terrance handed him an earbuds and a buttonport. After he put it in I could see his face go gray. Whatever data he was receiving it was not data he liked. I could feel an increase in the electromagnetic fields. There were robots about. Lutts barked orders about launching a counter attack and unleashing the F-23 defense. Lutts finally turned his eyes towards his guests and said, “It seems your old friend Col. Mann is paying us a visit. I must excuse myself from the table and attend to his forces.”
Sir Terrance walked briskly over to a door behind him and opened it. Smoke billowed out and he shut it immediately. After that he barked some more into his buttonport and stood by his livery robots. He looked confused. Smoke started to come in through the vents and from under the door Sir Terrance had previously opened. He looked towards his livery robots and said, “Protect your master and make sure our guests do not leave.” The ship’s intercom now announced the order to abandon ship. I could not feel any change in the plane of the ship. I doubted we were sinking, but I knew the smoke might pose a problem to humans.
Lutts finally moved to the opposite end of the dining room and opened a door that did not bring more smoke billowing into the room. I could see there was a hint of smoke in the hallway, but nothing dangerous to master’s health. Lutts pulled out of his pocket a small 9mm gun and said to everyone in the room, “Follow me.”
And so we followed him out into the hall. Lutts started running and we followed course. I think our motivation was not so much as following his lead, but that we could hear and feel explosions going off inside the ship. Lutts opened a hatch and revealed a stairwell. He started to sprint up the stairs. It was not necessary for anyone to talk. I think everyone realized that smoke, explosions and ships are a bad mix. After sprinting up three flights of stairs Lutts threw open a door and held it open for us. I was the last one out and I saw we were now outside on the main deck. Lutts yelled for us to follow him to the front of the ship where we could take a helicopter. The Monsignor was keeping close to me for some reason. Frank and the Princess were only a few steps back from Sir Terrance. We started to sprint toward the front of the ship when all of a sudden we were surrounded by small flying drones. At least three buzzed around each of the humans heads. First I heard the drones command the Monsignor to not move. I could hear the drones around the Princess and Frank’s head command them to stay still, too. Lutts had about three or four drones buzzing about his head, but he was not slowing down. He looked back at Frank and the Princess and yelled, “Ignore them – come on.” No sooner than he had said that then the drones attached themselves to Sir Lutt’s head and exploded. It was rather a surreal view. A cloud of red formed where his head once was visible and then his headless trunk just fell to the ground. The red cloud in what seemed slow motion drifted down towards the quivering body. Frank and the Princess had still been progressing forward but at a much slower pace. The gap between Lutts and them had grown to more than 25 feet. They did not know if they should obey the drones or follow Lutts. His vaporized head made them stop in their tracks. The look on both the Princess’s and Frank’s faces was one of shock and disbelief.
The Princess spoke first, “Oh my God they killed him.”
Frank didn’t say anything. He just wondered who was ‘they’.
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