Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye #91

At my mention of the nanobots, Henricks turned shifty, looking away and hunching their shoulders. “What’s to tell,” they said. “They want to chew up everything, and they want my portal technology so they can expand their definition of everything.”

“Yeah, I got that much,” I said. “As they are now, any new slice that they colonize is cut off from their control every time their portal closes. If they had access to the kind of portals I saw at Crossover, other slices might as well be in the very next room. That’s a neat trick, by the way. How do you manage it?”

Henricks shook their head, “I could explain it in the most dumbed-down, simplistic terms possible, and you still would not understand, so why bother?”

“Funny,” I said, with a rueful smile. “You’re the second person to tell me that today.”

“Is that all?” they quipped. “I would expect that you hear it a lot.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. Trade secrets. Whatever. More important anyway is, how does the intelligence behind the nanobots even know about your portals?”

There were the shifty eyes again.

“Okay,” I said. “So you told them.”

“I was seeking investors!” they protested, a little too loud.

We both looked around to see if we had been overheard. The only guy watching us was also sitting on a hitching post, picking his nose. I figured we were okay.

Just the same, I leaned in a little closer. “Right, so there you are, fancy new portal technology in your pocket, looking for the best price. Am I getting the picture?”

Henricks hung their head and glanced up at me like a sullen child. “I’d be a fool if I limited my search to worlds similar to my own. The nature of my research made it a trivial thing for me to investigate many alternate models.”

“It does seem like a potentially dangerous business,” I said. “Dealing with a very valuable invention, but offering it up to all comers? Who’s to say that they don’t just steal your tech and then cut you out?”

“I took precautions,” they said. “I never brought the actual generator device with me to the other slices. Just a remote, which I could use to demonstrate the technology. I will also remind you that, when I am not stranded in a slice where the windmill is the height of innovation, I am capable of designing formidable robot bodyguards.”

“Oh, I hadn’t forgotten,” I said. “You almost cut me in half with a laser once, piloting one of those things. And then you turned it into a go-kart. It was memorable. Kinda not sorry that Alurian made you leave the last one behind.”

“Typical short-sighted attitude,” they sneered. “If I had my tools and the power source, I might have been able to fix your portal generator and get us out of here.”

I considered that. “Fair point,” I said.

“In any event,” they continued. “I thought that I had been sufficiently careful, but I underestimated the ability of this particular nanobot hive intelligence to derive information from what it consumes. It attacked, and though I was able to escape, they consumed one of my robots. They still did not have the secret to stable portals, but it was enough for them to identify the slice that I had come from, and for them to build simpler portals of their own. Since then, they have been hunting for me.”

“So that’s why you didn’t ever go public with your invention? You didn’t want to attract attention?”

“Thorbek offered me everything I needed to continue my work while remaining low-profile. My portals were well-suited for his needs, so it was a mutually beneficial arrangement. That is, until you brought the Nanobots to my doorstep.”

“Now who’s being short-sighted?” I asked. “The nanobots had already found you through Alurian and Ms. Moon. She was in the room with me when I plugged in the thumb-drive. How do you know it wasn’t her that brought them in to Crossover?”

“Because I scanned her before she left the hotel!”

“Ah,” I said. “Nonetheless, the very existence of the drive proves that they already had a plan in place. Alurian was supposed to use the drive to take out Thorbek, and would have if he hadn’t been made. Ms. Moon might have done it next, except she was so worried about her brother that she brought it to me instead. The nanobots would have found you sooner rather than later. Besides,” I said, raising an eyebrow, “I only found my way to Crossover in the first place because of your little shakedown in the train station. If you had just told me what was going on then, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and effort.”

They considered that. “Fair point,” they said.


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