I Think the Three-headed Dog Who Guards the Underworld Lurks in The Android Shop on The First Floor
by Kevin James Miller
A bit of bad luck led Godiva Bainbridge, shortly after her sixteenth birthday, to Edge City's Cory Hill shopping mall the day the mall's general manager went mad and held the mall and everybody in it hostage, in a pseudomythological way.
God, or her genes (pick one, both or neither) gave her the physical attributes of being long-legged, wiry, and pug-nosed with milky skin. These qualities went along with a personality the misinformed called "pluckiness" or "spunk," if people of Godiva's age and gender had them.
She put on her Bocsolini Smart Body Suit Generation 3, and told her parents she would take the monorail to the mall. At the last moment she took Lempo.
The law classified Lempo as a "computer/animal hybrid," but the contemporary teen slang christened such creatures "hypes." Lempo, Godiva's hype, a Capuchin monkey, possessed a Reed-Slate One Sixty Four Minimicrocomputer for a brain, with artificial intelligence software from the Michaels-Nabokov Corporation, part of their Evolving Companion/Guardian Mindset line.
In the monorail, Lempo, on duty on her shoulder, started in on her almost immediately. "Shopping malls and female teenagers. A puzzling mutual attraction."
"Yeah, so go the mysteries of life," Godiva said with tolerant sarcasm.
"With your intellectual, athletic and empathic skills you should be getting more ahead in your school work, or practicing your jump shot or trying to imagine the anguish of the ones involved in the St. George/Diana War."
Out of the many space stations orbiting Earth, two of them carried the names St. George and Diana. The Roman Catholic Church sponsored St. George. The North American Wiccan Council sponsored Diana's. A resident of St. George had deliberately crashed a shuttle into Diana a few weeks ago. The two space stations had been waging war on each other since then.
"They should make peace," Godiva said
Lempo looked out the window. Godiva looked at the video paint on the walls, hoping there might be new advertisement. Nope. Again, the same chemical video/loop for 3DN played on. Earth's first global, three-dimensional television network had been in existence for about a year. Godiva, a good student, possessed none of the automatic ancient, bookish prejudices about television. However, a scientific assessment of 3DN's programming led to one conclusion: twenty-four hours of five-thousand channels didn't mean lots of classic TV being hatched. It meant more sitcom-game shows, more police drama-talk shows, and more news magazine shows, each hosted by an endless supply of animated cartoon rabbits, ducks, horses, turtles, and camels.
Godiva Bainbridge closed her eyes and thought of cute boys.
A great, expansive shaft connected all five floors of the mall. A luscious hanging garden, and a row of glass elevators filled the shaft. Circling the shaft, at each level, shiny plastic and metal and glass and green and yellow railings bordered the rainbow-colored, generous promenade along each floor.
Godiva and Lempo walked by the Rent-An-Android outlet on the first floor. They walked by Terence Comstock, the general manger of Edge City's Cory Hill shopping mall. They didn't pay much attention to him at the time.
Barrel-chested, square of jaw, tanned, dressed in black slacks and in a short-sleeved white shirt he looked, in some way, managerial. He rubbed his forehead and winced and headed back to his office.
A poster on the second floor announced a special presentation next month at the mall: workers by then would be done with the new hospital in the Martian colony. Shoppers could see the ribbon-cutting ceremony in a live broadcast, displayed at the mall in the hologram arena. Godiva spoke a reminder to herself into a circuit in her Bocsolini. After a moment, she added a postscript: "Only if I'm not between boyfriends."
"You don't know any boys who would call that a hot date," Lempo said, shifting around on her shoulder.
She turned off the record circuit in the suit's left arm. "Did you find data in your computer head which helps you understand guys?"
"Only the guys you know. In addition, you're forgetting as, as your peers call me, a 'hype,' I'm both a computer and a male primate, like all the boys you've dated."
Godiva and Lempo took the mall's single, old-fashioned escalator to the third floor.
"Well, I'd rather not just sit at home and watch it on the 3D with mom and dad. I mean, since the Secret Service finally went along with the World State President taking a rocket there to cut the ribbon."
Lempo looked over his shoulder at a store they passed selling genetically engineered ice cream. "Strong-willed women don't require winning everybody's approval. They just need their own patience."
The beige and gray robotic guards each looked like mannequins with boxes with two big bicycle wheels cutting in at the torso. Godiva and Lempo looked at one roll by after they had looked over a kiosk selling "Clone at Home, Children's Edition" kits.
"Maybe they should have a human one still. In case, I don't know, a little kid gets lost or something."
"And give up time to shop?" Lempo asked with a laugh.
On the fifth floor Godiva bought a hamburger. The substance in the bun scientifically combined carrot, ham, and chocolate.
Godiva settled into a floating bean-bag chair by the mall's Hollywood Buster VR outlet. Lempo hopped off her shoulder and onto her lap. She tore off a piece of the burger and handed it over. Lempo accepted, graciously.
A hidden PA system crackled to life.
"Ahem," an amplified voice said. "May I have your attention? Before this morning, I believed my identity to be Terence Comstock, general manager of this mall. I now know that I am Hercules, son of Zeus. Juno made me kill my wife and children. When I became sane again, I asked the Delphi oracle how I should repent. She told me to bring back to her the terrible three-headed dog Cerberus."
Godiva looked at her hype. "What do you think, Lempo? An example of somebody's weird sense of humor?"
The computer-augmented monkey looked around. The other shoppers barely paid attention to the announcement. Those who did shrugged it off and went back about their business.
"The voice had none of the sonic patterns of a joke or a lie. Off-hand, I'd call it genuine dementia. "
"Well, no harm done, I guess."
"Except Mr. Comstock, or Hercules, got so many of his facts wrong!" Lempo swallowed a bit of food and wagged a finger with disapproval. "He jumbled up the original mythology. You see, according to the 'Hercules' entry in my data banks -- "
"Lempo, the guy's nutzo. Let's not worry about Mr. Comstock's insanity not having its footnotes in the right order." She paused. "Let's get out of here."
They took an elevator to the first floor and walked to the west entrance.
The door wouldn't open.
Another mall security robot rolled by.
Lempo took the initiative. "Excuse us, sir?"
The robot stopped and wheeled around. "Yes, computer/animal hybrid?"
Godiva said, "The door won't happen and it's six hours until the mall closes."
"The standard methods of operation have changed," the robot replied. "This mall now exists under a high-security lock-down by Hercules, son of Zeus. None may leave until Hercules has found the three-headed dog who guards the land of the dead."
"Does Hercules fear one of us sneaking out with Cerberus in our back pocket?" Lempo asked.
"Perhaps you should come with me," the robot said.
The machine herded them to the mall's center court. Other robots herded about a hundred other people into the same general area.
"Somebody should call the Edge City Police Department," a man said. He dressed in the vanilla-colored jumpsuit and transparent-billed cap that marked him as a Grade One Craftsperson from the lunar colony.
"Done, good sir," a Russian-accented voice said. "I used my com-link to notify them six point forty seconds ago." The voice belonged to a hype, not Lempo, but a poodle being held by a dignified-looking woman in a long black dress. "Lempo?"
"Hey Ivana," Lempo said with a wave. Back on his usual post on Godiva's shoulder, he gestured at the teenager. "My human, Godiva Bainbridge."
"You know each other through HypeNet?" Godiva asked.
"Yes," the dignified-looking lady said. "I think it's sweet how they can speak with each other, all over the world, even why they're right in your lap, don't you?"
Terence Comstock strode toward his hostages. He had traded his normal clothes for black swimming trunks, cut high over the thighs, and a leather headband. "You there!" He pointed, at random, to a robot. "Explain the situation to our guests."
The robot, a gold number 7 painted on its chest, spoke. "Hercules has the Cory Hill security system, which controls the doors, and me and my fellow security providers, in a senary-i.d. access lock: voice, fingerprint, cornea scan, DNA sample, and password. Nobody leaves until the son of Zeus has accomplished his mission. He doesn't wish to hurt anyone, but he will not be taken away from his mission quest."
Godiva knew that as far as their immediate situation went, grave danger did not exist. Any regular Cory Hill shopper knew the robots came equipped with built-in stun blasters but no lethal weaponry.
"I'll be happy to offer any advice if I can," Lempo said. "I started with an interest in monkeys in human culture. The Jade Emperor, the magical staff . . . wonderful stuff. People like you, from myt -- " And he started to say "myth" but quickly switched. "From the bold and heroic part of human history are a hobby with me." He paused. "Let me introduce you to my human, Godiva Bainbridge."
"Madame," Comstock said with a small bow of his head. "May I ask your animal companion's name?"
"I never heard such a name before."
"It's a third of a Finnish spirit trinity that also has Hisi and Paha."
Comstock looked blankly at her.
"You know -- Finnish gods?"
"There are no other gods save Zeus and the Olympian family!"
"Oh, did I say 'gods'? I meant law firm. Hisi, Paha, and Lempo are a Finnish law firm. My uncle works for them."
"That's better." Comstock looked over the robots. "Numbers 9, 10, and 11 come with me and help me begin the search. You others -- keep our guests in one spot!" Comstock ran off, and the three robots who followed him had to put on some extra speed to keep up.
The other hostages paced, sat on the floor, and one or two cried and got calmed down by their companions. One boy, about Godiva's age, talked with someone using his wristband phone. This sounded like the police gathering outside and trying to figure out how to talk with Comstock.
Godiva leaned against a post. Lempo leaned over from her shoulder, his monkey nose going right into her face.
"I'm going to use the Medi-Scan software from the Three Worlds Health Bureau."
"I'd use your Net access capability to check out a crossword puzzle page on GameNet instead. We might be here a while."
"Wouldn't it help our situation if we knew why Mr. Comstock has gone mad?"
"Look, Lempo, I know the Three Worlds Psychiatric Association reclassified 46% of all mental illness as having an environmental origin. However, Comstock's only environmental threat consists of walking by junk food now and then."
"The crafty Cerberus has evaded us," Comstock announced after a search with the three robots who helped him. "The beast keeps moving."
Hostages split their attention between Comstock and a NewsNet live broadcast of the Edge City Police Department massing outside. Godiva displayed it on the back of her suit.
The boy about Godiva's age held up his hand and tapped his wristband. "You sure you wouldn't want to talk to the police outside about this, Mr. Hercules, sir?'
"I haven't got time for that now,"' Comstock said with an impatient wave. He ordered another three robots to help him search and left the hostages again.
Fifteen minutes later, the hostages heard a loud cry. A woman who looked like an aunt of Godiva's who lived in Europe said, "That didn't sound like Comstock, and those robots can't cry."
Comstock descended in a glass elevator. The hostages could see he held a person garbed in black. The elevator got to the first floor, opened, and Comstock strolled out holding a slightly built young man. He wore a black uniform with Edge City Police Department insignia all over it and a com-link headset. Standard police stealth circuits nested in his uniform. His legs dangled at odd angles and looked broken.
"Emergency maintenance shaft on the fifth floor! I sealed it off!" Comstock roared.
The robots he took with him rolled out of the other elevators.
Then the police officer, although in obvious pain, managed to talk.
"Look, you can tell I'm not armed. We just wanted to make contact and end this peacefully, negotiate."
Comstock dropped the police officer. "I have nothing to negotiate!"
He ordered all the robots to come with him this time for another search. He turned to the hostages, and the young police officer. "I don't need to guard any of you! None of you are going anywhere until I say so!"
He swaggered off, the robots rolling behind him.
The young police officer talked anxiously on his com-link headset, even before Comstock got fully out of earshot. "Contact made but subject took immediate hostile action. My physical condition not critical. Recommend Plan B, raid and rescue, be abandoned. Subject not armed but clearly dangerous if provoked."
Godiva looked over the whole scene. She walked over to the young officer. "Tell them I know how to make him think he's gotten what he wants."
Another hostage spoke. "The three-headed dog who guards the land of the dead? We aren't rattling around inside a Greek myth, lady."
"He just needs something roughly resembling the object of his quest," Godiva replied.
On her shoulder still, Lempo said to the young officer, "Don't worry. She always does well under pressure."
The man from the lunar colony, like all Grade One Craftspersons from there, had an omni-functional tool kit with him. Godiva borrowed it and Ivana, the distinguished-looking lady's dog hype, and took Lempo with her into the Rent-An-Android outlet on the first floor. She would need technical references. With two hypes with her, to speed along access to data off TechNet, she could finish quickly.
Godiva and the hypes Lempo and Ivana rejoined the hostages, none of whom had strayed from the mall's center court. They got back only a few seconds before Comstock and the robots got back from their latest search.
"Again the beast evades me!"
"Excuse me," Godiva said. "Mr. Hercules sir?"
"What now woman!"
"I think the three-headed dog who guards the underworld lurks in the android shop on the first floor."
In there, Comstock found a hastily altered android. It looked like a man with three heads, who walked around on all fours and said, "Bow. Wow. Arf," repeatedly. Delighted, Comstock gave up his security lock on the mall and the robots.
The police rushed in.
Later, Comstock in custody, the hostages, including Godiva and Lempo questioned by the police, then after a group hug with her parents which lasted four hours, Godiva laid in bed very late at night, Lempo sitting on her stomach.
"What a day." Over NewsNet, the family had heard the space station war had ended with neither side declaring victory. It seemed like a day meant to end with good news. She looked at her hype. "You still looked worried."
"Well, cautious at least. This situation has not finished, Godiva."
"What do you mean?"
"Remember I said I would do a medical scan of Mr. Comstock?"
"The electrical impulses in Mr. Comstock's brain formed a highly unusual mathematical pattern. I scanned the Multi-Net for comparisons, and found one: it's the same pattern of pulsations of the overlapping holograms that make up a 3DN set's presentation."
Godiva sat up. Adjusting to her movement, Lempo hopped unto her night table.
"Now you're being absurd, Lempo."
"So be it, but Comstock had absolutely no previous history of mental illness. This sudden outburst of an elaborate dementia has no other possible explanation."
Godiva swung her feet unto the floor and gave the lamp the "turn on" vocal command.
"Well, fine, but then we should do something about this!"
"I don't know. Uh, warn a 3DN executive or something?"
"What do you expect such an executive to do? Over a dozen firms sank a 1.2 billion new-dollar investment into 3DN. A teenager's hype telling them prolonged viewing of their product will lead to dementia . . . "
"Couldn't the 3DN process be altered somehow?"
"No. Those pulsations are built too deeply into the medium."
"We have to do something, even if we are just a teenager and her hype!"
"'Just'? Pish-posh, young lady! A preliminary survey of this data suggests to me 3DN only has these dementia-inducing effects if humans view it excessively. You humans have always watched too much TV, starting in the middle of the Twentieth Century. If you could use your initiative to organize over HelpNet to aid the refugees in New Zealand, I'm sure you'll find something to do about this problem."
"Oh, Lempo, I don't know . . . "
"Remember what I said about the World President: Strong-willed women don't require winning everybody's approval. They just need their own patience."
Story copyright © 1999/2000 by Featured Story author Kevin James Miller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Artwork "Dream" copyright © 1999/2000 by Featured Artist g.k. Senthil Kumar <email@example.com>