Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

A distorted voice grates out: “Your DEDbot is sweating money.”
I step back to see who’s heckling. It’s some masked tech vendor, looking to score passing trade by running my mechanical down.
“Surprised you can see anything through those tinted half-lenses. Venus Monterey just about managed to pull that look off at the premiere of ‘Hypergrid’. You? On Surrey Street? Not a chance.”
My mechanical rotates it’s upper torso and flips the vendor a fat finger salute.
The vendor waves both hands and steps forward, slinging faceplate and distort box out the way. Bloodshot brown eyes peer intently at the mechanical, then at me.
“Okay, toolgrrl, tell me the software that gives verbal cue responsiveness and we’ll call it quits.”
I snap my fingers and the mechanical stops moving.
“Homebrew. Still in the decimals, nowhere near a whole digit release.”
“Seems to work. Unlike the lube cooking off the back strakes.”
“It works well some of the time. That’s not a lube bleed, that’s evaporation.”
She steps way too close. I step back. She waves her hands about again.
“Sorry. Not good with personal space stuff. You’re running a reactive software test with a water-cooled baby fusion core?”
“Ducted, jet-fed compressed air cooling with condensation evaporating off.”
“Fans? Injectors? Where’s the noise?”
“Did a lot of sound studio work to get through university. The best active noise suppression rig I’ve ever built keeps things quiet.”
“You’re talking rubbish, toolgrrl. Baby fusion can’t handle that much drain.”
Her tone tells me she’s not guessing. Which means she’s worked with fusion boxes. I look closely, running my eyes down to the ground. She warily shifts her right leg and I see the hitch in the movement.
“You made it off ISS-4!”
My former heckler looks about warily.
“Not so loud. That never happened, remember?”
I point to a spot next to her stall and snap my fingers twice. Nothing happens.
“Guess your ‘stop’ gesture is being parsed as a partial hibernate. It needs to know you want it active again. The optics on these models are never dormant.”
She holds her hand up in front of my mechanical’s optics and snaps her fingers twice, then moves the hand to point at the same spot I did. The mechanical moves to where she indicates. We follow.
“I’ll answer your question if you answer mine.”
She thinks a moment, then nods.
“ISS-4 was used for power source research. Baby fusion units were our best result. The next stage was cold fusion and that went slightly worse than the suppressed headlines and long-range pictures hinted at. Got my leg shredded by the torsion wave, which also threw me in the right direction. I hit the wall at the back of an escape pod just as the hull cracked. I wasn’t even conscious when the pod auto-ejected. Got a cheap prosthetic leg and a non-disclosure agreement with a death penalty attached for my trouble. Therefore, I was Professor Tildennit. Now I’m just Bertha, and I’ll thank you to never mention ISS-4 again.”
“Noted. I’m Rosalie, and it’s not fusion. I took my Royal Engineers decommission bonus in broken gravitic drives. Not cost-effective to repair, apparently. I’ve salvaged four cores so far. Got half-a-dozen that are beyond me-”
Now there’s an idea.
“-but not beyond someone taught by the late Professor Tildennit?”
Bertha grins: “Well, she always said gravitics was a useful hobby. Mentioned there could be a good living in it, too.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“Right on both points.”
She points toward a snack stall: “Go get coffee and crepes, toolgrrl. We’ve business to discuss.”