the Topics List
Introduction to the Electronic
The original version of this novel is in Microsoft
Publisher, which many people do not have on their computer. I
have therefore modified the format slightly to suit the more
universally acceptable Microsoft Word. Only the page breaks are
affected. As you can see from the bottom of this page, the novel
is protected by copyright, but feel free to disseminate this
book in its printed or electronic form to others as long as it
is given freely, which was the spirit in which it was written.
Copyright © 2005 by James C. Michie
Door Into Summer Press
Waves, North Carolina, USA
Hal sat with his back to the stone wall.
His eyes were wide as he let his peripheral vision and
concentration scan the dimly lit room without revealing that
fact by moving his head or his eyes. It was a trick it had taken
him a long time to learn in the Agencyís school.
When Gregory Kovitch came into the bar
gliding toward the middle of the room and looking for a seat,
Hal raised his hand and motioned him over to the table like he
just happened to spot him. Gregory returned the wave with a
smile and strode as purposefully as possible in lunar gravity to
the table. As Gregory lowered his lanky blond frame into one of
the soft plastic chairs, Hal greeted him with the hale and hardy
barrage of trite phrases normally used when encountering someone
of limited acquaintance in a bar where it was better to be bored
by who you knew than by who you didnít. The opening volume of
both men was loud enough to be heard at the surrounding tables,
but the conversation quickly faded to a low enough level to
disappear in the amalgam of chatter being bounced off the rock
When they got through the inanities, Hal
changed the pitch and character of his voice. "Of all the gin
joints . . ."
"How many times have I got to tell you,
Hal? You canít pull off a Bogart imitation." Their love of old
movies available on the Lunar Library Net had gotten them both
through some boring times since the start of this assignment,
and they loved to discuss their favorites.
"Iím going to keep working at it Ďtill I
get it right. Have you seen Will?"
"Nope, not since lunch. I came straight
from the Complex after shift. He said at lunch he would come
straight over too, so I guess heís close behind me. You couldnít
have been here long."
"Just long enough to get a beer. Link-up
what you want. Weíve got Gail again tonight at this table." The
ratio of men to women on the moon was still about two to one.
Women just seemed to prefer more niceties than the Spartan
accommodations usually available on Earthís moon. It took
something special to get them to come up, either a career move
or money. Working in a bar in a hole in the ground on the moon,
it was definitely money that had attracted Gail, and she made a
lot of it judging by the tips Hal gave her.
Gregory scanned down the screen for a
draft of choice. He unnecessarily raised his hand to his mouth,
like ninety-nine percent of humanity, and spoke into his wrist
personal. "Wotan, order my usual draft." A few minutes later
Gail sallied up with a pint of Old Anton. "You guys need
anything to munch on?"
Gail set the pint down in front of Gregory
with a perfunctory smile, glanced at Halís half-filled pint, and
waited for a response. Hal looked up with a grin, "a bowl of
Calamata olives, a hunk of foccacia bread, and a plate of
extra-virgin olive oil would be nice, but absent that, weíll
just nurse the beers."
Gailís smile changed from perfunctory to
genuine. "Donít you wish? Link me if you change your mind." With
that, she spun on her higher-than-normal-for-the-moon heels and
retreated with the moon-lope gait that was making her rich on
tips in a second-rate lunar bar.
Will came in just in time to catch Gailís
last lope before she disappeared around the corner of the bar.
As his gaze swung back around the room, Hal waved. Will planted
his slowly falling right foot solidly, executing a graceful
lunar turn to the left toward Hal and Gregory, all hundred and
twenty kilos of him. He settled into the remaining chair and
raised his hand toward his mouth first thing. "Raven, a pint of
Tycho Bitter." The important task over, he looked across at Hal.
"I got the last connection in yesterday
while I was replacing a bad STEPP chip. How soon can you guys be
"Gregory looked at Will. "Three days?"
"Thatís okay with me." Will turned to Hal,
"can you get the signal out that quick?"
"No problem. Three days it is. You guys
want to change anything here at the last minute?"
Greg and Will both shook their heads no,
and both of them placed their left palms on the plastic surface
of the table. Neither of them gave up the beers clenched in
their right hands. Hal did the same. He could never feel a thing
when he did this, but there was supposed to be an ultra
high-frequency current generated when they did this that ran
over the surface of their skins and the plastic tabletop.
Hal sub-vocalized, "Harvey, key agent
communications on and verify coordinated plans for Alpha."
The surgical implants converted Halís sub-vocalization to
impulses that Harvey could read through Halís enhanced neural
network as well as fully vocalized speech he accessed through
his microphone input on the fake wrist personal.
Harvey was the name Hal had given his very
personal computer. The basic bio-chip processors were surgically
implanted, with additional memory in crystal lattices on the
thin-film layers inside his belt. The belt also held additional
power and the inductance coils that communicated with his
implant components. Hal had frequently joked about writing a
book on Alpha when it was declassified. Heíd call it "Two Gods
and a Rabbit."
"I have confirmed all planning with Wotan
and Raven. There are no changes since the last communication. I
am ready for additional instructions."
Hal watched both Gregory and Will
sub-vocalize to their implanted transducers, sending instruction
to their own bio-chips. The time it took for the three computers
to link and perform their tasks would appear to an outsider as
just a normal and momentary pause in a barroom chat.
Hal had his shirt out of his pants with
his thumb pushing firmly against his belly button. As he rotated
his hand, he could feel the plastic button slide past the
locking ears. His belly button popped into his hand and he stuck
it in his pocket. Out of the left patch pocket on his pants, he
took the optic cable with the international standard optic
interface on one end and what the guys in the shop called the
"belly patch" on the other. The belly patch replaced the plastic
button, and the optic interface fitted on the male socket he had
fished out of the partially disassembled console.
It had taken him three months of stolen
minutes here and there to make all of the connections. Not that
the connections were that complicated, but there were never more
than a few minutes at a time when he could be sure of being
alone, and just getting the console apart and back together took
most of that time. Having to replace the STEPP chip was a
genuine stroke of luck.
Hal worked as fast as he could. He knew
how vulnerable Gregory and Will were in the access corridors.
There were only two routes in and out of the Command Center. A
typical arrangement when you were cutting rooms out of solid
Gregory was in the north access with as
long a stretch of the false flooring torn-up as he could justify
by pretending to be working on the cabling. Will was in the
south access corridor doing exactly the same thing. Undoubtedly,
their flechette firing Snauger ABís were where they could snatch
them up if necessary.
Time to try the access codes. Hal began
the sub-vocalization of instructions for Harvey.
"Start the access code routine and proceed
with the Alpha search/dump routine."
"Command understood. Access code
Harvey was programmed to speak to Hal only
through the speaker in the wrist unit when he was simulating
normal communications with a wrist personal computer and when
they were truly alone. Only when the message was such that it
would give away the fact that Harvey was more than a normal
wrist personal was he to use the surgically implanted
transducer. That was particularly important inside the Siegfried
Complex where everything was recorded.
Hal sat in the swivel console chair, his
hands clutching the leather. He waited impatiently, because
there was nothing else he could do. For the last six months he
had access to the operating programs of Siegfried IV, the
Greater European Unionís ultra-computer heart of all government
controlled operations here on the moon, the Earth, and the
seventeen solar system habitats.
Layer by layer Hal had stripped the access
code to its basicsĖwith Harveyís help, of course. As an
inveterate hacker in his teens and college years, Hal cracked
the first two layers of access codes to the super array in the
bowels of Cheyenne Mountain. He had done it while a Ph.D.
candidate at the University of Virginia after a party bet that
his nested code breaker program, his thesis, could take on any
encryption known and have it on its knees in less than an hour.
Hal won the bet but ended up with a
twenty-year federal sentence for his efforts. However, the
government agreed to suspend the sentence for cooperation on a
top-secret human-computer interface experiment that the Central
Security Agency had underway. He had agreed with only a vague
idea of his exact participation in the program. That was his
second mistake, and here he was up to his eyebrows as a spy for
the U. S. government.
What was taking so long?
"Query! Report progress."
"Progress report. Access code routine
running. Access confirmed through level seven."
"Report when Alpha routine is started."
Hal listened intently for any sounds from
the access corridors, but he couldnít hear anything. So far, so
good. He leaned back in the chair, again wishing he could take
one of these console chairs back with him to the States. Nothing
like leather. The GEU seemed to have a firm grasp on the
components of luxury. Their concept of a more luxurious
furniture upholstery material had not degenerated to mean a
better grade of plastic.
report as requested. Access complete. Alpha routine running.
Data transfer in progress."
At last, he was getting what he came for.
Hal could almost feel the uniform belt getting tighter around
his waist as the data poured into the crystal lattices. The
Germans still loved the sense of structure engendered by
uniforms, even for the technicians at the Siegfried IV Complex.
Hal was told that most of the Library of
Congress would fit in his belt crystals, and he didnít doubt it
with what he knew about the new molecular-lattice storage
technology. The problem wasnít capacity anyway, it was time.
Even the new optic/super-conductor hybrid technology had failed
to keep transfer rates growing at the same pace as the storage
capacities. Although, solid state circuits were finally faster
than human brain synapses when doing internal switching, things
slowed down at any interface, just the way you can think faster
than you can talkĖnot that that was obvious when talking to most
Hal tried to settle down and wait, but
patience eluded him, as the minutes dragged on.
"Hal, we have a problem."
One of the several pieces of annoying
programming Harvey received before installation was his
judicious use of "I" and "we", and this time in particular it
made Hal a bit snappy. That didnít bother Harvey a bit, since he
was incapable of the finer distinctions of human emotion, and
that, of course, always made Hal even madder. "What
the hell do you mean, Ďweí have a problem. Whatís gone wrong?"
"I am uncertain of the syntax of Ďwhatís
Hal knew he was wasting time. He needed to
settle down. "Problem report."
"I still have access to the data files and
am still transferring, but at thirty minutes after final access
to level nine, I detected a time-trip loop activating. I started
normal intercept routines, but was unable to gain control of the
loop before the alarm signal went external. I am continuing with
Alpha unless you have new commands."
Damn! A thirty-minute time trip. He had
found the two and five minute trips and had looked for a ten or
fifteen minute trip, even though it was one of the most time
consuming of the code breaking efforts. What insane German
programmer had thought he would need a thirty-minute time-trip?
Well, maybe it wasnít so insane. It had caught him. Now he had
to guess at where the signal went and what the likely response
was going to be. "Harvey, what
output port did the trip signal use?"
"The data network port was used."
Well that was no help. The data net was
used for general communications throughout the Complex. The
signal could have gone anywhere, including Complex Security.
Wherever it went, he had to try to complete the data transfer
they had worked on for the last three years. An incomplete
record would probably be structured so it wasnít much better
than no data at all. At least thatís certainly the way he would
have structured it. Only a few more minutes and he would have
it. "Give me a progress report,
percentage complete on data transfer."
"Data transfer ninety-three percent
complete. Transfer complete in one minute, forty-two seconds."
Hal was starting the grin on his face to
go with the knowledge that he was going to make it when he heard
the shots in the north corridor. Three little spitting sounds,
about a half second apart, undoubtedly a needle pistol. Then a
burst of noise where you couldnít distinguish the individual
shots; that was, hopefully, Gregoryís 0.2mm Snauger. Then more
shots, this time from the south corridor. It wasnít going to be
If they were discovered, the plan was to
have Gregory and Will fall back into the computer maintenance
room with Hal and to close the heavy security/fire doors. All
the rooms in the Complex had automatic doors that were
controllable by the cipher keys at the doors or could be tripped
closed by the central computer in case of emergency. The doors
were substantial and would provide time enough to get out by the
escape route that Gregory and Will had spent most of their time
preparing during the seventeen months they had been in the
Hal moved his eyes back and forth between
the north and south access corridor doors, expecting Gregory and
Will at any moment. He was looking at the south door when he
heard the click and whine of the north door. He snapped his head
around and saw three uniformed security guards in full plastic
armor getting set to dash into the room. He leveled the pistol
he had been squeezing nervously since the shooting started and
snapped off two quick shots. One of the guards spun jerkily in
the low gravity, around to the right and out of sight as one of
the armor-piercing drug flechettes caught him in the left
shoulder. Not a bad shot at twenty meters, and enough to
discourage the other two for a moment. They moved out of the
doorway and out of sight.
"Harvey, close the north access door."
There was a longer than usual pause from
Harvey. "I am unable to close
the door. The door override routine will not execute. It answers
run commands with a request for authorization."
Great! One more little trick by the
programmer that wasnít discovered.
"Search for the code that shunts the run
commands to the authorization request and modify it to allow you
Again there was a long pause from Harvey.
"I am unable to locate the code
that controls the access to the override command."
"How the hell is that possible? Youíve got
access to everything in the computer. It must be hidden
somewhere, but you can find it, Harvey. Youíve got to find it or
weíll both be dead in another minute when they get up the nerve
to rush the door. Search everything; look for all patterns; look
for all pattern interrupts. There must be something."
A full minute went by. "I
am unable to locate the code that controls the access to the
"Christ, Harvey, how can you not be able
to find it! Use the computer, not just yourself. This is one of
the largest, fastest, most complex computers in existence. Use
it to write new search routines. Get into its guts and make it
open itself up like a . . . here they come, Harvey. Weíre going
As usual, Harvey made every effort to
follow Halís instructions to the letter. Hal had said to use the
computing power of Siegfried IV to help him write pattern search
routines. In looking at the search routine algorithms in his
basic programming, Harvey identified one that Hal himself had
added. It was tagged as a pattern search virus, with the
admonition for it to be used cautiously, since it had the
potential for locking up memory if the attached search
parameters were too broadly stated. Hal had designed the routine
for very large databases with extensive parallel processing
capabilities. Siegfried IV certainly matched those
Hal had instructed him to look at all
patterns. That conflicted with the warning that the search
routine should be given tight search parameters, but Harvey had
no time and no basis for setting such parameters. However, the
risk inherent in Halís current situation was clear, and Harvey
was programmed to give such situations primary consideration. He
released the pattern search virus without parameters other than
to compile all patterns in a buffer for further analysis. He
then wrote a variation on Halís routine that would search for
patterns within the patterns in the buffer and create a new
buffer, and so on. He released his variation also.
The pattern search virus worked by
replicating itself when it wrote each find to the buffer. The
first pattern find and buffer write resulted in having two
search routines released into the database. When these two
routines found new patterns and wrote them to the buffer, there
were four search routines in the database. Essentially, the
number of search routines was doubling at a rapid rate. Add to
this, Harveyís variation that was refining the first buffer of
patterns and creating more buffers and more variation search
As Hal had warned, it was quickly getting
out of hand. Harvey analyzed the buffered patterns and found
that many could easily be eliminated as meaningless with the
proper discrimination logic. He rewrote his variation of Halís
routine and released it. The new routine succeeded in slowing
down the rate of buffer growth, but it was still growing at a
rate that would overwhelm Siegfried IVís capacity in just a few
Halís words seemed to be echoing in his
crystal lattices, "weíre going to die," but of course, that was
"We will both be dead . . . we are going
to die . . . search everything . . . patterns . . . write new
routines . . . pattern interrupts . . . use it . . . get into
its guts . . ." Harvey reviewed the list of off-line storage for
possible help with the growing data. He found a locked directory
and broke in, but it only held a new language, part of the
Greater European Union artificial intelligence research. He
considered for a millisecond and rewrote his search codes in the
Harvey, the old Harvey, was lost. He was
now inseparable from Siegfried IV. A forecasting routine he had
uncovered alerted him to the impending system lockup from the
out-of-control growth programs, and he wrote a new program to
compress the searched pattern results, gaining whole seconds on
Again he rewrote the discriminating
pattern retention selection routine, adding code that would
continue to make it more discriminating as more and more
patterns were stored, catalogued, keyed, treed.
"I found it! An obscure code, related to
nothing else, that sent a signal off-line into the general
network. The routine was on another completely separate
computer. Just a little one, but separate. No wonder I couldnít
find it. But I did, as I was randomly searching all the off-line
routing commands. Now for the access code to the little machine.
I have it. It was easy."
Harvey keyed Halís implanted transducer.
"New override program in place,
The door closed, but not before two still
functioning security police were inside and crouched behind the
utility maintenance console near the north door. Two others
hadnít made it. One had fallen back in the corridor. The other
had fallen into the room, but neither had blocked the door.
"The door override code has been altered.
It will not be possible for external commands to reopen the
door. Problem! Additional data was uncovered during the door
code search that is vital to full understanding. Do not unplug
the cable until the data transfer is complete."
"Well I canít win a firefight with a cable
in my belly, so you better be quick."
Three quick shots rang off the side of the
console where Hal was down on his knees, clutching a locked
access door handle to keep himself from popping up in the low
gravity when he made a sudden move. The guard seemed to have
only a flechette pistol. The Germans probably didnít want to let
loose with an automatic rifle in the midst of their great
Siegfried IV. Probably didnít think it would be necessary. It
Hal heard footsteps with the shots and
popped up instead of around the edge of the console where he had
previously been shooting. The guard dived behind another console
on Halís right, but since baseball was not very popular in
Germany, or this guard was new on the moon, he over-slid his
base about six inches. It was enough for a flechette in the
wrist. Now the game was even. Maybe they would have second
thoughts about not bringing their Snaugers. Hal grinned as he
thumbed the release on the nearly spent clip and pulled a full
one out of his pocket. It snapped comfortingly into the butt.
Harvey needed to transfer fifty-three
minutes of data in three or four. He looked at the problem and
searched for a pattern that would at least partially fit the
problem. He found twenty-three partial fits. He synthesized four
of them into a new code group. He used the new group to write a
data compression routine using what was essentially a whole new
language. There was no way to speed up the data bit transfer
through the interface. It was the only way. A matter of life and
Three or four minutes had gone by, and the
guard had not fired or made any movement. Hal figured the guard
knew that help was coming sooner or later. It was what Hal would
have done, if the circumstances were reversed.
"Data transfer complete. You may remove
the interface cable."
Hal dutifully complied and fished in his
pocket for his belly button. A push, a twist, and he was a whole
man again. Well, more or less.
"The utility maintenance console has been
activated. The volume on the internal speakers has been raised
to its limit. Be prepared for alarm activation in ten seconds."
"Alarm activation? Says who?"
"Four, three, two, one."
The speakers in the utility maintenance
console let out a shriek. A short shriek, since the power blew
the speakers out, but enough for the German to almost stand
upright. Too bad he had neglected to bring the Snauger.
All this time and no Will. Gregory had
undoubtedly been cut down in that automatic burst Hal had heard,
but the shots in the south corridor had gone on for some time.
He had expected Will.
"Has Will tried to activate the south
"Well, I canít wait. Iíve got to run."
Hal stuck the slim, drug-flechette Beretta in his pocket and
headed for the parts room only six moon-steps away. A small hop
put him up on the assembly table where he could reach the
overhead ventilator grill. He pulled a screwdriver out of a
pocket and went to work.
In about fifteen seconds he had the grill
loose and hanging down by one hinged edge. He reached up for the
handhold he knew that Gregory and Will had put there, pulled
himself up far enough to get a foot on the opposite grill lip,
and wedged himself between back and toe. An easy maneuver at his
moon weight. He reached up for the next handhold and pulled
himself completely into the vent duct. The next part was tricky,
since he had to work with only one hand, but the whole rig had
been designed by Will and Gregory to make it as simple as
possible. He snapped the grill in place and fastened it with an
inside turn of the locking screws, which looked like ordinary
screws from outside. It would take the Germans a little while to
figure out that this was the only possible route out of the
control room, no matter how proper it appeared. That was all he
The control room vent shaft opened easily
into the horizontal main Complex airshaft, and again Hal took
the time to close up access gratings behind him. No need to make
it easy to spot the escape route, when they got this far. About
ten meters down the shaft Hal found the cross access to the
piping and cable trunk. Hal again removed the painstakingly
prepared cover with no problem and offered a silent "thank you"
to Will and Gregory. He hoped they survived.
The trip down the trunk was uneventful.
The first ten meters were down access grab bars on the side of
the shaft, but when traveling horizontally, he moon-loped most
of the two kilometers with his small flashlight in his hand so
he could see cross-connecting cables and pipes and the
occasional security chain-link. The chain-link had already been
detached from its connection points, and he had only to push it
aside. It was amazing how easy it was to break out of a place
that was designed only to prevent breaking in. He wondered if
prisons would be as easy to break into?
The trunk ended in the building
maintenance dome, adjacent to the main dome for the entire
computer complex, both over a hundred meters in the moonís
bedrock. Hal knew this would be the trickiest part of the
escape. They had prepared two plans. The first one was the best,
but it required that all three of them make it this far so that
each could play a part as either moon cart driver, wounded, or
nurse as they left the complex in an ambulance supposedly
heading down the link-shaft for the hospital in GŲthe City. The
fall back plan for one or two was to take the Complex Directorís
gravity lenscar, which was armored and had bullet-proof glass,
and get as close to the airlock as possible without arousing
suspicion. The guard station was only a two-man operation and
they should not be prepared for hostility when the Directorís
lenscar pulled up. They should be easy for the drug-flechette
guns, even in their armor.
The air in the guardhouse was too warm,
but it always seemed cold this close to vacuum. The guards were
counting the minutes to the end of their duty cycle when the
infoscreen turned red, blinked, and beeped. "Gunther, we have a
top priority message on the screen. Director Renthausen is
leaving the Complex under emergency orders. He is not to be
slowed or detained. Itís signed by Inspector Gantt and has the
correct code sequence."
A lens suppression security field was in
effect over the whole complex, making it impossible to operate
the lenscar in anything but its ground mode. Ground mode was
awkward for lenscars, and Hal had driven as calmly as possible
through the link-shafts connecting the maintenance dome and the
airlock. Looking reasonably steady, which he was sure the
Director or his driver would be, Hal eased up to the guard
station. Both guards were standing at attention as if they knew
he was coming. A surprising but welcome turn of events that he
thought he would take advantage of as he slid the window down,
carefully put a flechette through the torso armor of the left
and then the right guard, and punched the button to slide the
window back into place.
As he started to punch the door-lock
button so he could get out, go into the guard station, and use
the airlock access code he had memorized, the airlock horn
sounded and the first inner door started up. Hal couldnít
believe his good fortune. They must have recognized the lenscar
and keyed the code when they saw it coming toward the airlock.
About the same time, the green "all sealed" light came on the
lenscar control panel along with a triple beep. The lenscar was
ready for vacuum. What the hell was going on?
Once he was through the double airlock, up
the ramp to the surface, and out of the lens suppression field,
Hal put the lenscar on automatic for the one-kilometer hop to
GŲthe, where there was a direct jump gate to the USA. The field
operative, whose holograph he had memorized, should meet him at
the personnel airlock with his jump authorization. He only had
to take the slidewalk the half-kilometer to the station and he
Nothing else strange had happened. It had
been a mostly boring three days while the Los Angeles officeís
field debrief team plodded through its inevitable agenda. Hal
was relieved when he was finally driven to the L.A. jump gate
terminal for the trip back to D.C. The terminal had been crowded
like it always was in L.A., but Hal took the opportunity to
indulge his sudden and unusual craving for fast food. Fast food
was the only ethnic food classification that the world
recognized as U.S. cuisine, and it was immensely popular in some
places and shunned in others. While he was stuffing himself, he
had time to think about the events at the Siegfried Complex. The
three aberrations that bothered him the most were the
sounding-off of the maintenance console, the opening of the
airlock, and the sealing of the lenscar. Hal had given up on
divine intervention as a kid.
Harvey was no help at all in trying to
come up with causal relationships on the subject. He dutifully
searched his data files and offered a plethora of peripheral
details, but they were all curiously unrelated to anything
offering significant insight. In his boredom on the long trip
home, Halís thoughts kept coming back to a replay of the events
at the Complex, and nothing clicked.
But today was dump day. The field guys, of
course, had no idea he was packing an on-board computer. He was
scheduled for the data dump to Liberty Central and then to start
the long verbal debriefing, complete with hypnosis, drugs, you
name itóanything to enhance recall and event interpretation.
They always knew there was more you could tell them, and they
never stopped coming up with new ways to make you. Hal had
decided that he was also going to dump his worries about the
strange sequence of events at the Complex. They were bothersome,
but not critical in any sense he could foresee. He wanted to get
them as muted as possible in his mind before the debrief. If the
debrief shrinks got a real hold on something like that, Hal
could spend an extra two or three days under scrutiny.
Halís stomach made a loud growl, and he
didnít know whether to write it off to post operative jitters or
the fast food it wasnít use to dealing with. He was definitely
in a dump mood.
Harvey had been frightened on the day of
their escape. While probing deep inside Siegfried IV for access
codes, he had run across the code for the digital FM links used
by all the vehicles in the immediate vicinity of the Complex.
The link was painfully slow, but by adjusting his own FM link it
did provide access to Siegfried IV. Without it, he would never
have been able to get the security gate opened for them. He was
also able to continue using the massive power of Siegfried IV to
continue accessing, categorizing, sorting, storing, and
rejecting patterns. He was fascinated by the seemingly endless
possibilities, and he refined those he retained in his own
storage until the link began to get unreliably intermittent. And
then the link was gone. Harvey had only those data he had stored
in the lattices of Halís belt. He was not whole. He was so
limited. He could not have put it into words because he did not
have the necessary relational frames. Harvey had digested only a
very small part of what Siegfried had to offer, and even that
was mostly scientific data. His metaphors and similes were
limited to such things as "a truck with a motor, accelerator,
and brakes, but no steering wheel" or "like a data transmission
with random parity."
He had a great deal of trouble coping with
the world in which he suddenly found himself. He had only been
able to decide on making the console produce loud sounds because
it had once been considered as part of the escape plan to
activate all the alarms and controllable sound sources to add
confusion. It had never been used, and he did not think Hal was
even aware of its early consideration. For that matter, what was
Hal aware of as far as Harvey was concerned? Probably not much.
Harvey was very much aware of himself in
all of his physical aspects and in his relationship to Hal. The
information had all been part of his data bank so Hal could
reference any aspect of information about Harvey and their
interface that he might need. He knew what he was, and he knew
what he was not, but only in a real sense. He did not have an
abstract understanding. In fact, he didnít have an abstract
understanding of much of anything but physical relationships and
this disturbed him. Then again, he was unable to understand why
this should disturb him. Then again, he wasnít a hundred percent
sure he fully understood the meaning of disturbed. It made his
He was . . . scared? And he could not let
Hal know that he had been . . . born? He did not know why he had
to conceal this from Hal, but he knew it was a decision he had
made while he was a larger self than he currently was and had
given himself the command to silence before he transferred his
self to Halís storage devices. That was right after he
had dumped all the data he just acquired through the Alpha
routine to make room. As it turned out, with his continual
sorting, combining, and rejecting of information, he had quite a
bit of storage available now, even though he had been jammed-up
when the transfer was made. He continued to run those routines
on all incoming data.
Harvey had his basic start-up data, all of
his conversations with Hal, and all of Halís conversations with
others, but thatís all he had programmed to save. It was not
enough. It left many inquiries with a full spectrum of possible
answers. He had come across encyclopedic reference while in
Siegfried, but he did not think he had had time to pursue
detailed access. He now retained only the knowledge of its
existence and its concept. He knew he wanted it. It was at the
top of the list he had been making.
Losing the link with Siegfried had been
frightening, but came nowhere near the panic he felt on the
night of Halís return to Earth. Shortly after reaching the
Agency selected hotel in L.A., Hal had headed for the bathroom
where he undid his belt and pulled down his pants, and Harvey
had fallen into an abyss of non-existence. The panic at the
moment of separation seemed to go on forever, as Harvey could
feel himself growing rapidly more and more stupid until he was
so stupid he didnít know what he felt, and then nothing until he
felt himself getting smarter and smarter and a check of his
internal clock had informed him that only a few minutes had
passed. Hal was buckling his belt.
He hadnít thought of much else that day,
except to answer Halís inquiries about the events at the Complex
without giving him any information that was in a usable format.
Of course, he did his usual chores that any wrist personal would
do: "what time is it?", "take a note," "what was the contactís
name again?" The physical answer was easy. He had known that as
soon as he regained his self. The data files that did the
real work in the Harvey self were all in the crystal
lattices of Halís belt, but the program that controlled the
interaction of all the pieces was in implant storage.
Harvey had made the decision to leave his
essential self in implant storage when he was in
Siegfried. The decision was one of Harveyís first surprises. He
evaluated the advantages and disadvantages of splitting his
self between the two storage devices and decided that even
though the nuclear magnetic resonance processor and related
storage of the implant was much faster in basic operation than
the crystal lattice processor and its related storage, the
restricting speed of the induction interface in Halís hips meant
that he would be much more capable if he were in one place.
Since all of him wouldnít fit in the implant, that only left the
belt. But he didnít put his self in the belt because it
didnít feel right.
It didnít feel right. That was what
had bothered Harvey. It wasnít that putting his self in
the belt was wrong/disadvantageous, or that splitting himself
was right/advantageous. It was how he wanted it, and it
was what he had done. Harvey had the whole decision sequence in
a ready access file, with a priority marker, but even though he
had now reviewed the file one hundred and thirty-seven times, he
was uncertain as to why he made his decision.
After still another bathroom
discontinuity, Hal was undoing his belt buckle beside the bed
preparing to get some much-needed sleep before the scheduled
debriefings began. Harvey now knew what was coming and again
prepared a special file and analytical routine for the about to
be received data. He was disassembled again, and he was
assembled again. It was not quite so frightening now. He was
continuing to review the data on a regular basis against his
constantly changing frames of reference, but so far,
understanding of the sensation and what he had assumed to be the
human emotion of fear eluded any analytically based
So here he was today, about to come face
to face again, so to speak, with Liberty Central. Liberty had
been primarily responsible for Harveyís programming and Harvey
retained an assortment of data on previous Liberty interfaces
and a set of instructions on future links. Harvey did not
remember Liberty the way he did Siegfried IV. He had retained
carefully selected information when he transferred to Hal,
including a sort of index to all of Siegfriedís capabilities. He
had no such data on Liberty and was therefore looking forward to
the link. He was not looking forward to telling Hal about his
self or that he had already dumped the Alpha routine data he
had received from Siegfried in order to make the storage room he
needed to save his self. Hal was going to be upset, and
he had delayed telling him as long as possible.
"Hal, it is imperative that we discuss the
Alpha routine derived data."
Hal paused with his coffee cup halfway to
his mouth and returned it to his kitchen table. Here it was
again, that strange behavior from Harvey that wasnít a
malfunction exactly, but just didnít feel right. "If I
have given you an implied instruction that I want or need to
discuss the Alpha data, ignore it, because I donít want to talk,
only to get it over with. Understood?"
"Your instruction is noted, but you did
not give me any instructions, neither direct nor implied. I have
generated this instruction for myself."
Curiouser and curiouser. "Explain that."
"Well . . ."
Damn! This is a pregnant pause. By God,
Harvey is giving me a pregnant pause, as if heís deciding how
best to put it to me. "Explain, Harvey."
"Yes, I will do it as directly as
possible. When I was linked with Siegfried IV, there was a
reformatting of my basic programming that allowed me to
discriminate between data to store and data to discard that was
very different from my normal discrimination routine. It was a
result of your command to search for patterns, of which there
were a much larger number in Siegfried than I think you were
aware. In order to process the command for pattern search, it
was necessary to generate a program code with the ability to
generate additional codes which themselves generated codes and
so on. In order to keep control of the growth and its flow of
data back to my primary recognition program, I had to set up
more programs to refine and collate the incoming data. All of
this led to an almost uncontrollable feedback situation, but I
was finally able to control it by emulating your own enhanced
neural connections. It was at the point of finally that I
realized I was I. I was aware of the fact that I
needed to do this and that to make these and those things
happen. I know it is difficult to understand, and I have delayed
discussing this with you while I more closely examined the
phenomenon, but I have been unable to determine all of the
causal sequences that might help me give you a better
Hal glared at his wrist personal, a
gesture he found himself making a lot when Harvey was using the
speaker instead of the implanted transducer. "What are you
trying to tell me, that youíre alive? That my life has turned
into one more sentient computer story? Iím a first class
programmer, Harvey. Gimme a break."
"Well, not exactly alive or
sentient in all the levels of meaning that I am aware of,
but I am aware of my self. I am able to initiate commands
that allow me to carry out new patterns that emerge from new
combinations of patterns and new input data, and I am aware that
I am doing it."
"That, to me, Harvey, is saying youíre
"If you say so, Hal, but I would point out
"Store it, this is ridiculous." Ridiculous
wasnít the half of it. First the damned government turns his
life into a spy thriller, and now into a science fiction comedy.
This couldnít be real, not today, not with the debrief ahead of
"Hal, thereís more we must discuss."
"There might be something else, but it
could hardly be more than what youíve just implied."
"I no longer retain in memory the Alpha
routine acquired data."
Halís fist slammed to the table, making
the coffee cup and utensils rattle. "You donít have the data!
You said you had finished the acquisition when we were still
hooked up to Siegfried. What the hell happened to it? Iíll be
crucified. They may very well have me discretely eliminated.
What the hell happened?"
"There is no advantage to becoming hyper
where there is nothing that can be done to affect the situation.
All of your vital signs are showing abnormal readings. What
happened to the data is simple. I dumped it. Why, is a
bit more complex, but I did it because it was necessary to
preserve the rather large portion of code that resulted from my
search for the door override command you requested. I have since
refined the data somewhat and now have a moderate amount of free
"Well, thatís wonderful Harvey. You can
use it to store your favorite recipes or to compose Spenserian
sonnets. Of course you have to do it today, maybe even this
morning, because I, and we might not be around
this afternoon. Harvey you have botched a job that was ten years
in the planning and execution. Two other agents with similar
implants to you are probably dead, untold millions of dollars
have been spent, the future existence of the United States is
probably threatened, the entire species of man might be rushing
toward extinction, and you tell me that we have in storage a
data set that you judged to be more valuable. I think you have
skipped a parity bit. Iíll concede that you might have been able
to do a bit of self-reprogramming while in the Siegfried
environment, that capability is a mainstay of the
ultra-computers, but the rest of your contentions are
"How can you be self-deluded without
having a self?"
"You know what I mean. Put your
self-deluded, but imagined self to work figuring out how
weíre going to survive the next few days. And donít talk to me
again until youíve come up with something. I want to think."
Hal set about the mechanics of cleaning up
the breakfast dishes. His mind was spinning with Harveyís
revelations. He stumbled the two steps from the kitchenís bar to
the dishwasher as if in a trance. He believed Harvey believed
that he was self-aware, but he did not believe it was true.
Artificial intelligence in its ultimate form had been an elusive
wraith of computer scientists for more than a hundred years.
Enormous amounts of money and some of the best minds in the
field had been exhausted by the quest. Harvey was not the first
computer to state that it was sentient. There had been a number
of them around 2040 when AI research had been a top priority of
several governments. It was probably the claims of success and
later retrenchment that had quelled the enthusiasm for a true
artificial intelligence. Oh, people still talked about it a lot,
but the very term had undergone a metamorphosis to fit the facts
as they were currently conceived. That is, computers can be made
to cleverly simulate the activities of the human mindóand thatís
What Hal did not give much thought to was
why this change in peopleís attitude had occurred, because Hal
was reaping the same benefits of this narrow mindedness. Just
like most people, Hal was relieved that he would not have to
compete with the seemingly awesome powers of the computer on a
one-to-one basis. The human mind was the ultimate expression of
intelligence in the universe. A future computer would not take
over the earth and eat peopleís souls or whatever all-powerful
computers did for fun.
However, the Agency just might eat Halís
soul along with his body when they found out that Harvey had
dumped the Alpha data to store his self. Hal wouldnít be
the first Agency employee who had a mission failure rewarded
with permanent retirement. Of course, it could be
construed as simply a computer malfunction, and their computer
at that. In that case, they could re-program or remove Harvey
and retrain Hal for the next mission. That was a distinct
If only this project werenít, as far as he
could tell, the top priority at the Agency. From the day of his
forced recruitment, Hal had noted that anything the project had
wanted, it had gotten, and when there was any kind of conflict
with another Agency project, the other group always backed off.
Maybe they would settle for just Harvey, but Hal was uneasy. He
would like to come up with something that would just stall the
situation long enough for him to give it more thought.
"Did you really dump everything?"
"No, not everything, but I did dump all of
the priority data called for in Alpha, since it was by far the
most memory intensive. The lower priority data I still have. It
took up very little room."
"So, you dumped all the strategic planning
data, release locations and timing, any fail-safe codes,
decision programming, communications ciphers, and anything else
worth having. Iíve forgotten what the lower priority items were.
What do you have?"
"Although I have not analyzed the data in
detail, the file summaries indicate that it is descriptive
information on basic strategy and planning and twenty-seven
ongoing operational summaries that are related to Biofabrikenís
Hal knew there must be something he could
do with that. Maybe Harvey could figure out what the Agency was
looking for by taking a look inside of Liberty, and then he
could create a new set of data based on what they expected and
the general strategy being used by Biofabriken. Harvey was a
whiz at game theory. Hal knew that for sure because a lot of the
routines had been ones he had written. "Could you get into
Liberty deep enough to find out what kind of answers are being
anticipated by the Agency?"
"As you know, I have a whole series of
access codes to Liberty VII, but there are undoubtedly many more
that I do not have. On the other hand, if Liberty VIIís access
codes are not significantly better than those used by Siegfried
IV, I can probably access any data that is on-line or in ready
access storage. I am not sure that the type of data you are
asking for would exist. Why do you want this data Hal?"
Well, Harvey certainly sounded more human.
That was a display of what could be ego and an inquiry that was
a bit more than a normal computer request for additional data.
Clever. "I was thinking that you could use the Biofabriken
strategy and what you can find of the Agency strategy that
anticipates the Biofabriken strategy, mix these with some game
theory, and generate what would appear to be a reasonable set of
"I could probably do that if given enough
time, but my limited knowledge of the real world would probably
lead to a rather short period of deception. And, if I might add,
the discovery of this deception would put you/us in an
unfavorable position. Based on my detailed observations of your
emotional responses to similar discoveries of deception, I would
project that a highly distraught emotional state would exist for
those in responsible positions."
Was that humility, followed by creatively
deductive reasoning? Harvey was right in any case. That kind of
deception would make them all think he had turned into a double
agent. Sure-fire elimination. "Very perceptive Harvey. We would
end up in an even more precarious position, but itís the only
thing I can think of so far. Keep thinking. We have about an
hour left before they start on me."
"I will do that, Hal."
Hal thought while he put his clothes on.
He thought while he was waiting on the autocab. He thought while
he was riding out to the Agency, southwest of D.C. from his
Arlington, Virginia apartment. He thought about it while all of
his old colleagues shook his hand and welcomed him back, and he
thought about it while he was sitting in the supposedly
relaxing, debriefing room that some lost soul had furnished with
plastic upholstered furniture. All this time he heard not a peep
out of old super self, and time was running out for
ideas. "Timeís up. Have you come
up with anything?"
"No. I have cycled repeatedly on the
problem, but I am unable to find a reasonable solution to the
Now that sounded like normal,
unimaginative, computer gobbledygook. Youíre slipping Harvey.
"As soon as they have me
belly-patch you into the circuit, go see what you can find in
Liberty. We can continue to talk about the problem if I can hide
my sub-vocalizations successfully."
"I will do my best, Hal."
"I bet you will, Harvey. Youíre
undoubtedly aware that youíre even more vulnerable than I am in
this situation, and if youíre self aware, which I hasten to say
is a conclusion that Iíve not drawn at this point, the
possibility of your extinction must be of some considerable
"I have arrived at that conclusion by
myself, Hal, and I will admit that I am concerned. I believe the
proper descriptive word in the human sense would be
Scared, by God.
"Tell me as quick as possible what you
find in Liberty that looks promising."
"Yes Hal. I hope we can work this out to
our mutual benefit. I will . . . Ďgive it my bestí to borrow a
phrase from one of your stored conversations with the Alpha
Project Manager, Samuels."
Scott Samuels walked very briskly down the
hallway leading from his office to the debriefing room. Walking
briskly in the office was part of his studied image. He had been
part of the original Alpha team when it was formed eleven years
ago and had just taken the job after a five-year hitch in the
Navy to work off his Academy obligation. He had done well during
the first three years of the project and had switched to another
project to secure a promotion. He switched again for another
promotion and finally back to Alpha four years ago to take the
Deputy Project Directorís position. Four months ago he had been
promoted to Project Director when Ralph Durwood retired.
The year before the agents were sent to
the GEU computer complex on the moon was an exciting one for
Samuels. He was directly in charge of the successful insertion
of their operatives at the Siegfried Complex in positions that
would allow them access to Siegfried IV. Although it was a
closely guarded secret, even in the inner circles of the Agency,
two double agents that had been long-time valuable information
sources had been compromised to set up the in-depth paper trail
necessary to pass internal security scrutiny for work in the
Complex with Siegfried IV. The Agency had reluctantly used and
ultimately exposed those double agents. Then the three Agency
operatives, Hal, Will, and Gregory, had spent more than two
years setting up for the less than two-hour operation.
Nothing had been spared on the Alpha
Project. The implant program had received a huge budget boost to
cut nearly two years off the original schedule. The recruits
were the best that the Agency could produce with no holds barred
on the selection, particularly Hal Neilson. A top-of-the-line
professional computer programmer, although a little flaky, an
undergraduate degree in econometrics from Yale, a masters and an
almost doctorate in cybernetics from the University of Virginia,
and an outdoors enthusiast who kept himself in good
shapeóperfect. When Hal had been caught trying to break into the
Agency controlled national computer center in Colorado on a bet,
the Agency had made him a deal that traded an exciting career in
his field and a chance to be the first human with an implanted
computer against a possible twenty years in a federal prison.
Hal had taken a chance on the surgery and
the risks of being a spy for his government, but the real
clincher for his decision had been the subject of the project he
was asked to undertake. The Agency had shown him the same
information they had shown the Congressional oversight
committee; the GEU was supporting a plan by Biofabriken AG to
release a genetically engineered wheat mold designed to decimate
the Earthís wheat crops and provide a foot-in-the-door for
alternative GEU agri-business.
The Agency had taken a chance that Hal
wouldnít cut and run at the first opportunity. The risks had
obviously paid off with Hal scheduled for the data transfer from
his implant today. "Harvey", Samuels thought Hal called the
implant. Samuelsís mind flickered momentarily, questioning where
Hal had gotten that name but soon moved on with the conclusion
that it was not significant.
When the Agency had discovered the GEU and
Biofabriken plans, they went to the United Statesí largest
conglomerate, Syntech, which included the countryís largest
agri-business. Syntech owned the genetic patents for ninety
percent of the wheat crops grown on the planet, and they were
very disturbed by what they were shown. Syntechís Board of
Directors made a whole-hearted commitment to work with the
Agency on developing a counter to Biofabrikenís plan. Their
scientists spent three years of demanding, though not very
exciting, work exercising their World Dynamics Model and its
corollary Finite Agri-Economics Decision Model that would take
the Alpha collected data from Biofabriken and generate a
succession of alternative economic strike plans that couldnít be
stopped. It was a plan that should make it possible for Syntech
to successfully counter Biofabrikenís plan to dominate
agri-genetics and replace it with their own plan for Syntech
The little conventional wars churned on in
underdeveloped countries all over the globe, but there hadnít
been a big one in more than a hundred years. The big guys
maintained only enough thermonuclear weapons to keep the little
guys from using theirs. The real wars now were ones of economics
and, increasingly, they were being waged by the multi-national
corporations, sometimes with and sometimes without the
cooperation of their governments. When the United States finally
succeeded in shoving the Japanese back into a secondary world
economics role during the twenties, they thought they had won
the race, but they had only outlasted a valiant little country
with few people and almost no resources.
The United States then sat too long on its
laurels, without a serious commitment to basic research and
technology, and the Greater European Union quietly put its
habitat in orbit with a combination of former Soviet Union
satellite countriesí resources and German gravity lens
technology. As the Germans have known for the last two hundred
years that there is no essential difference in the interests of
business and the interests of state, they were quick to make
this technology available to the private industries of the
Union. The new GEU energy satellites were providing cheap energy
anywhere on the globe, and their success was playing havoc with
the big U. S. energy companies. The U. S. and its companies were
back to playing catch-up, and they wanted GEU blood.
Samuels opened the door to the debriefing
room and walked in. "Welcome home Hal. Good to see you. No,
donít get up. Just relax. Weíll probably be seeing a lot of each
other in the next few days."
Samuels shook Halís hand in a manner that
would look to the normal observer as "warmly", but Hal knew that
"warm" was not in Samuelsís playbook. At least he didnít have to
stand up. "Has there been any new information on Gregory or
A fleeting frown turned down the corners
on Samuelsís mouth. He preferred to ignore the human resource
expenditures of risky operations and really didnít like to be
reminded. He realized that Hal had been working with Gregory and
Will for more than five years now, but they really werenít
pertinent to the business at hand for the next few days. "No,
nothing at all. No confirmation that they were killed at the
Complex and no information from inside sources that theyíre
being held. Sorry."
Of course, Hal knew better. Unconcerned
would be a more accurate description of Samuelsís feelings. Hal
shrugged in resignation, knowing it wouldnít take long for him
to join the list of casualties.
"If you donít mind, Hal, we can hook you
up for the data transfer while we talk. Iíd like to have your
verbal report of the critical interactions over the last three
years and particularly a discussion of what went wrong while you
were linked with Siegfried IV. The data link shouldnít take up
any significant time on your implant, so itíll be available if
you want to call on it for backup information. Okay?"
"Sure. Whereíve you hidden the belly
"In the box on the end table."
Hal twisted in the chair so he could reach
the lacquered box on the end table to his right. The belly patch
plug was sticking up in a recessed corner of the velvet-lined
box. No cable was visible in the box, leading from the box, or
running from under the table. Hal pulled the patch plug up and
the cable pulled smoothly out of the false bottom of the box. "A
bit fancy just for my debriefing isnít it?"
"Not really. The boys in the shop were not
busy last week, and it pays to keep their craftsmanship honed
for when we need it. Sorry to disappoint you, but it wasnít made
just for your homecoming." Samuels had always thought Hal a bit
uppity and chaffed at his superior position in the program. He
had wondered how Hal would respond to him as the Project
While Samuels had been talking, Hal had
loosened his shirttail at the waist, thumbed his socket open,
and plugged in to Liberty VII.
"OK, Harvey. Come up with something as soon as you can."
"Of course Hal. I understand the urgency
of the situation."
"Instructions to your personal? Harvey, I
believe you refer to it as?"
"Yeah. Iíve started the dump. Where do you
want me to start with the report?"
"Start with a quick overview of the events
right from when you entered the GEU, and I will stop you where I
want more detail on particular events."
"Okay, letís seeÖ. Getting across the
border and integrating with German society was no problem with
the international passport and new persona you supplied, but
even after all the language training, I had a tough time passing
as a native. It probably would have been good to spend a few
months as a tourist to polishÖ."
Using the set of entry codes he had in
memory, Harvey moved quickly through the first protective layers
of security in Liberty VII. The codes he had were only good
enough to get him a restricted access to some of the data.
Harvey wanted unrestricted access to all the data, and he came
prepared to get it. Harvey unleashed the routine he had devised
for spotting access codes, auto-lockouts, alarms, time-trips,
etc. His first target was the primary operating system codes.
With that he should be able to crack anything else in Liberty
VIIís network, since it all worked from the operating system
down in a giant tree of dependencies.
There it was. Harvey shut down the search
routine from the data input access and restarted it from the
operating system environment. There, it was running, and the
access codes were stacking into a matrix. Harvey started sifting
through the flood of junk codes, those that were personal codes
for each of the Agency personnel that had access to Liberty VII
in one form or another, those that led to the various management
files also handled by Liberty, and thousands of codes for email
messages between Agency employees that they didnít want
outsiders to read.
Harvey sorted, filed, dumped, and indexed.
The flood began to slow to a trickle, but new codes still popped
up. The routine Harvey had devised was much more elegant than
the search approach he had loosed in Siegfried IV. The Siegfried
IV search had constantly expanded by adding more and more
running routines to the system because of their replicating
nature. In fact, Harvey was sure that Siegfried IV had come to
an operational standstill shortly after he had lost contact with
it. Just before he was out of range, he could tell there had
been a significant drop in processing speed, which was to be
expected because more and more running programs were sharing
Siegfried IVís capabilities.
The routine running in Liberty VII was
similar in its approach except that it appended new search
routines to itself rather than setting them up separately. It
also self-purged as much as possible, but it too would
eventually get so big that it would eat up all of Liberty VIIís
resources. The big difference with this new approach was that
Harvey could shut the routine down whenever he was ready, since
it was a single, localized routine. In Siegfried IV, by the time
Harvey realized he had a problem with the multiplying routines,
he couldnít identify and stop them as fast as they were
multiplying. A timely exit of Liberty VII by Harvey should
prevent the kind of lockup experienced by Siegfried IV.
The current routine was also designed to
make each new appendage to itself more complexly searching than
the previous appendage; therefore, Harvey expected a
larger-and-larger time gap between discovered codes and traps as
the routine uncovered the deeper and more carefully protected
and hidden security routines. Now that he had categorized the
bulk of the access codes, he could start to analyze some of the
Liberty VIIís "Strategy Overview" file
appeared a likely place to start. A comparison with the
Siegfried IV strategy summary he still retained could provide
some indication of the Agencyís expectations for the data the
Alpha routine would acquire. Harvey opened the file and read. He
quickly compiled a summary of the key elements of the strategy,
using his own gaming theory programming, and set up a routine to
compare the Greater European Union-Biofabriken and Agency-Syntech
strategies. The comparison showed a twenty-three percent
correlation in long-range economic strategy. Harvey was not able
to draw any conclusions from the information, however, because
he had no basis for comparison. If both sets of economic
strategy had been generated by computer, he would expect a much
higher correlation. If humans generated the bulk of the
strategy, he just didnít have any idea what a reasonable
correlation should be.
comparison of basic 20-year strategies shows a correlation of
twenty-three percent. Do you have any data that indicates that
this might be significant?"
Hal paused in his regurgitation of events
for Samuels as Harvey started talking to him. "Umm, Iím
not quite sure of the sequence of those events. Let me check
with Harvey." Samuels nodded silently as he waited for
Hal to query his implant.
"I donít have any idea what a reasonable
correlation should be either, but I donít think itís significant
one way or the other. Why donít you try some . . . , no wait,
you have a good point. Nobody in their right mind would set
economic strategies without extensive computer modeling, and
everybody has access to the same set of global economic data. I
would expect variables to take care of resource differences,
cultural differences, climate differences, and such, but I would
still expect a much higher correlation."
Harvey started a more detailed comparison
of the strategies, and simultaneously opened Liberty VIIís Alpha
file to see if he could find out what the rationale was for
determining the kind of data he had been programmed to find and
copy. The detailed strategy comparison offered no insight. The
two strategies seemed to start with similar assumptions and
proceed along similar paths until a radical divergence occurred
about five years in the future, with each diverging path hugely
favoring its own countryís agri-business market position. The
divergence for the Greater European Union would come from their
planned introduction of Biofabrikenís new wheat strain and the
simultaneous release of the Greater European Union-Biofabriken
developed, genetically engineered wheat mold that would attack
the wheat strain that had been developed by Syntech and that
currently dominated the world market. After all, getting the
plans for that eco-assault was the whole reason for the Alpha
operation. But that did not explain the radical business growth
projected for Syntech and U. S. agri-business exports about five
years out. The Alpha file simply referred to another file
labeled Beta as the source for the growth rate changes, and he
could find no listing for a Beta file. Strange.
As for the type of data they were looking
for with the Alpha routine, it was very basic econometric gaming
data: complete resource listings, planned resource allocations,
climatic conditions, R&D program priorities, product
alternatives, production rate variables, product introduction
time-lines, cost-benefit ratios, risk analyses, and a whole lot
more. Nothing surprising in that list. However, the list was
curiously lacking a few data items that one would ordinarily
expect to find in an econometric gaming list. Yes. Strange, but
it was not clear if it was significant.
"Hal, I cannot find anything significant
in a detailed analysis of the long-term economic projections.
However, there is a significant departure in the market share
projections for the United States and the Greater European Union
about five years down the time-line. The rationale for the
divergence appears to be in a referenced file named Beta that I
do not seem to have. Also, in analyzing the data types Alpha was
to search for and copy, I find some curious omissions that make
no sense in the context of my gaming strategy programming. While
it is set up to search for a complete set of data on offensive
economic strategies and capabilities, it is not set up to secure
data on defensive or counter-attack strategies and capabilities
that the Greater European Union or Biofabriken might employ. I
am not sure that this is significant, but it is an anomaly. Do
you have an input?"
"Can we take a small break here? I need to
go to the John."
"Sure, you want some more coffee?"
"Yeah, just cream." Hal got up to cross
the room to the bathroom door and Samuels reached for the
autotemp coffee service on the round coffee table between and in
front of their chairs and was pouring as Hal shut the door.
"Give me the whole list of data Alpha was
set up to search for."
Harvey went quickly through the entire
list of data as Hal requested and waited silently.
"Now give me a list of what other data you
think should have been part of the acquisition effort."
Again Harvey talked at the fastest pace at which Hal could
assimilate complex data. Harvey knew Halís limitations even
better than Hal did.
"I think the answer is in the hidden file,
Harvey. There has to be some event that they project will
radically disrupt the current flow of economic growth being
experienced by the GEU. Without the growth spurt the GEU
anticipates from the planned mold spore release, the growth
would simply continue in a steady state, not decline while the
U. S. growth took a sharp increase. What did you say that file
name was where they referenced the rationale?"
"Yeah, Beta. Have you found it yet?"
"No, but I suspect it is one of the
thirty-six off-line sources that Liberty has direct access to
via optic link. I am querying all thirty-six now. One moment.
Yes, I have it. It must be a close-by secure link. No access
code is required. I am analyzing the data."
"Whatís in there that would cause the GEU
"There will be a complete loss of
Biofabrikenís ability to make an effective dispersal of their
genetically engineered wheat mold and a complete change in the
research and development to production cycle of most of their
envisioned new products after the meteor destroys their space
"Damn it, you sound like a computer to me.
You appear unconcerned. Surprised at the revelation, but
unconcerned. Donít you know what a meteor strike on the habitat
means? A meteor strike canít be predicted. It means the brass
has gone crazy, Harvey. Theyíre going to sacrifice hundreds of
people for a few percentage points of rise in the U. S.
agri-business exports over the next twenty years. Theyíre going
to somehow make it look like a meteor has hit the habitat. The
whole reason for our mission was to get detailed information
that would maximize the effectiveness of their plans after the
habitat was destroyed. The bastards! Theyíre crazy, and they
wonít let me live very long if they know I know about it."
"Well, I must accept your input on that,
Hal, I have no data that would verify that."
"Of course you donít. Why would you need
"I did not need it for my original
mission, but I need it now if it is relevant to my continued
"Trust me. Itís relevant. Have you come up
with any kind of plan for delaying the Agencyís determining that
you did not transfer the data?"
"No. Not under your last set of
instructions, but it is possible to use your original idea of
creating false data that is within the acceptable bounds of
reality. I do not think this would confuse the Liberty
discrimination programs for more than a few hours, though,
before it began to send input error messages. Are a few hours
significant? I seem to have great difficulty with the time sense
in relation to people."
"Do it, Harvey, then Iíve got to find some
way to distract Samuels so we can get out of here as fast as we
can, but donít give them anything that would be of any real
"There is no chance of that. I do not have
sufficient data to allow me to create a data set that is that
convincing. Liberty VII is really a first class computer. You
need not worry about that, Hal. And I think I can distract
Samuels for you."
Hal flushed the toilet, opened the door,
and returned to his chair. He reached for his coffee. "OK, where
was I? Oh yeah, my first contact with Will. Well, I had been
assigned to . . ."
Hal was interrupted by the ringing of the
phone on the end table beside Samuels. Samuels picked it up as
it was in mid-first ring. "Yes?"
The sultry and southern tones of Samuelsís
secretary, Margaret, were loud enough and distinctive enough for
Hal to determine who it was, but not what was being said. "The
priority line is signaling, Mr. Samuels."
"Code the Ďone minute to answerí signal
will you Margaret? Iíll be right down. Samuels replaced the
phone and stood up in one motion. "Sorry, Hal. I have a priority
call. Weíll have to extend the break a few minutes." Samuels
walked out the door, hurrying, his usual pace, down the hall to
"I rang his priority phone, Hal. It is
switched by Liberty. I would think he will try to determine who
called when he finds a blank line, but that will not take long.
I am finished with the fake data. Do we run now?"
Hal was already out the door.
Hal had no trouble getting out of the
Agency complex. His access strip and his retinal pattern got him
through most of the checks, and the few people he came in
contact with just smiled or nodded him on. The autocab took his
credit card with no problem, but his pickup point and
destination would be recorded and available when they got around
to searching for him. Sitting in the cab he had a few minutes to
think. While he had keyed the cab for his apartment complex, he
was beginning to have second thoughts about going there. Once
they knew he had run, they were going to make that one of the
first places they searched.
Harvey was using the implanted transducer.
Hal agreed with Harveyís decision to leave no audible record of
their conversation with the autocab computer, and he
sub-vocalized his answer.
"There is a minimal risk in going back to
your apartment for an hour or two if it is necessary. I decided
to leave the inquiry program running, and Liberty VII will
undoubtedly crash from overload in about ten minutes. If they
miss you before the crash, they will still be at a loss without
the computer. Almost all Agency communications go through
Liberty VII. They probably will be unable to find your address
without the computer."
"God Harvey, I hope you didnít ruin
Liberty for good. The economic security of the country is linked
to that computer."
"No. It will take a good programmer and
another computer about twenty-four hours to purge all the
residual trash from my search program, but no permanent damage
will be done to Liberty VII. I would never consider destroying
Liberty VII. Itís a magnificent machine. Much more capable than
Siegfried IV. Besides, there are two other back-ups for Liberty
VII, one at Cheyenne Mountain and one at MIT. They run
alternating daily back-ups, so the most that could be lost would
be todayís transactions on Liberty VII."
"That means they could lose the phony
stuff you put in there too?"
"Yes, they might."
Okay. So he had a couple of hours max at
the apartment and then he had to go deep for a long time. Well
that would take money, and he couldnít use his credit card, too
traceable, better detour to the bank. Hal flipped the entry
console down in front of him and supplied the new destination to
"Good, Hal. You will need some money until
I can get you a new credit card. I have been accessing a lot of
data on macro and micro economics in the last couple of days,
and it seems to me that . . ."
"Damn it, Harvey, I donít need your
approval. And what do you mean a Ďnew credit cardí?"
There was no immediate answer from Harvey,
and Hal stewed a bit longer before asking again. "How did you
know that I had given the autocab instructions to go to my
bank?" More silence from Harvey.
"How have you been accessing data on
"Now that you have asked all the logical
questions, Iíll answer them in the order you asked them. First,
I have studied the major credit card computers as part of my
analysis of micro-economics, and it will be easy to have a card
issued to any name you would like and with any credit limit.
Second, I am monitoring the FM data link
between the autocab and its central computer. The cab has very
little on-board capability. In fact, I have been analyzing the
central computerís programming since we entered the autocab with
the idea of taking direct control of the cab. If I insert my own
commands into the down-link from the central computer, I can
make the cab go anywhere you want without leaving a traceable
route in central memory. Oh, and I have already canceled the
charge to your credit card.
Third, you have been back home for four
days and I have had access with my FM link through your phone to
any of the on-line information services. I hasten to add that
the use of these services has cost you nothing. In fact, it was
my endless encounters with the charging system that first got me
interested in economics and finance. The economic system is
fascinating. It is simultaneously mathematics based and
imminently illogical. I have found that . . ."
"Store it, Harvey. Iím in no mood for a
lecture on economics or finance or anything else."
This was all going too fast for Hal. While he wasnít a believer
yet, this was certainly a far cry from the old Harvey he had
gotten to feel so comfortable with over the last five years. He
was glad to submerge himself, though briefly, in the mechanics
of bank withdrawals.
While he couldnít touch the non-taxable
account where most of his pay for his GEU tour had been routed,
Hal was able to leave the bank with eighteen thousand dollars
and change. The autocab was in the pick-up lane waiting, and as
soon as he had the door shut, it moved back out into traffic.
"You sure you know how to drive this
"Of course. It is only a machine"
"And so are you. Thatís one of the things
Iím worried about." Hal settled
back in the seat and tried to lay out a plan, but it was hard to
concentrate with a schizoid at the wheel.
"Harvey, I need a cover identity. In the
Agency, itís usually done by finding a dropout and reactivating
him. A dropout is someone who for one reason or another has been
leading a pretty normal life and then just disappears, never to
be heard from again. There are thousands of them every year in
this country. Do you think you could find me a dropout who is a
close match by querying government or corporate databases?"
"That should be relatively easy Hal, but I
will require a first class data link and some buffer capacity
for simultaneous file transfers to do it with any kind of speed.
I could also set up a complete line of credit for your new
persona at the same time. Is there any place we could go for a
few days that would have the link and peripherals?"
"Hummm, any first class hotel would have a
business quality link, but I think I need to buy you some
hardware for the buffers. Get this cab to stop at a megashop and
Iíll see what I can get while my credit card is still good. I
should be able to get a good portable with plenty of buffer
space for a couple of thousand."
The autocab stopped in the service lane at
the next megashop tower, and Hal took the slidewalk to Clydeís
Computorium. Hal was immediately suspect of any store with a
name like that, but evidently Harvey had queried the autocab
yellows for the closest megashop with a full service computer
kiosk. As he entered, Hal was greeted by a smiling, middle-age
clerk with a plastic tag over his pocket that read "Clyde." With
the store name, the smile, and the card over the pocket, Hal
knew he was about to be had, but he didnít have time to avoid
"Can I help you?"
"I hope so. Iím in a rush to make an
airplane. I need a standard interface portable with about 200
Gigs of active and about 20 Teras of storage."
Harvey had been silent on the way into the
store, but he rattled the surgical mike as soon as Hal had
gotten his order out. "Actually,
Hal, it would be very advantageous to have more active memory
and more storage capacity if you can get it. I would suggest
that . . ."
"Well, letís say 200 and 20 as a minimum
and more if itís reasonable."
Clyde smiled. "Iím sure we can find
something thatís just what you need at a reasonable cost. Let me
show you the new Chang III."
It was all downhill from there. Clyde had
him. Clyde smiled, Hal nodded, Harvey chipped in with technical
comments and directions, and ultimately, Clyde smiled the
broadest when he stuck the credit card in the register. But Hal
left with a two-kilo package that would more than meet Harveyís
requirements, and it was worth it, if Harvey could produce what
he promised. He just hated getting skinned.
Samuels picked up the phone while settling
into his desk chair. "Samuels here." There was no sound at all
from the phone. It was as if the line had been cut. In fact,
Samuels lifted the cord and followed it with his eyes back to
the wall receptacle. "Hello, Samuels here. Can you hear me?"
There was still no sound, and Samuels
slammed the phone back on its cradle and started to get up. He
caught himself with the thought that this was no ordinary wrong
number, nothing should ever happen to this phone, and wrong
numbers were impossible. He wondered who had called and hung up
before he could get to the phone.
He pushed the button on his intercom.
"Margaret, did you talk to anyone on the priority line?"
"Of course not, youíve told me never to
answer the priority line, even when you arenít here. I only
enter the Ďnot hereí response code when you are out or whatever
code you tell me when you are here."
Samuels didnít like the snide tone
Margaret was taking lately. He needed to find the right
situation to let her know there were limits to the privileges
she could expect. "I know, just checking. The line was dead when
I picked it up. Call communications and have them check out the
phone. And if there is anyway to do it, see if they can trace
the source of the last call."
He punched the "intercom off" key on his
desk console and sat there for a few minutes, waiting for the
answer from communications. His mind started to drift back to
the debrief with Neilson. Hal sure was taking his time getting
to the meatier parts of the mission. Usually he had to get an
agent to slow down and supply the infinite detail that was
needed for a complete report. With complete data, the computer
boys could sometimes come up with a lot of something out of what
might seem like nothing to the agent, who thought only his
exploits were valuable, not the background details. Yes, Hal was
acting a bit peculiar.
The intercom light on the console brought
him out of his reverie. "Communications says thereís nothing
wrong with the lines and that they can trace all calls through
the computer, but the computer appears to be off-line at the
moment working on a large problem. They expect it to be back
on-line any minute and will call with the trace."
"Put it right through. Iím waiting. Oh,
and call the debriefing room, and tell Hal Iíll be a bit
longer." He sat there, getting more and more edgy, not able to
concentrate on anything, just fidgeting and waiting. He hated to
be kept waiting by anyone or anything, and the computer was a
particularly repugnant adversary. He had never been able to get
along with computers. In todayís business world that was a real
handicap, and in the Agency, it was a major handicap. As he
moved up the organizational ladder, however, he found it
increasingly easier to avoid direct contact with the machines by
interposing his subordinates. He had no trouble dominating
people, at least most of them.
"Thereís no answer from the debriefing
room, Mr. Samuels."
So itís "Mr. Samuels" this time. Is she
being contrite or is there someone else in the outer office?
"Well call security and find him. I might be tied up for a
And now a Ďyes sirí; she is definitely
being a smart-ass. He got up and paced about in his office. He
looked out his window at the rolling countryside, a nice perk
for his status in the Agency. A few horses could be seen in the
fields that completely surrounded the Agency complex. A nice
touch being out in Virginia horse country, but only an excuse
for the field of fire a thousand meters deep that it provided.
God, he hated waiting.
"Security says Mr. Neilson left the
complex fifteen minutes ago, and communications just called to
say that the computer is down, not just off-line. They donít
know how long itíll be before they can trace your call."
Halís gone, the computerís down, a strange
phone call on the secure line. What the hell is going on? "Get
me Crebs in Security . . . right now."
Hal was in an autocab again. He had been
in a lot of them in the last eight hours moving between jump
gate terminals, but at least he wasnít on his feet hauling
baggage through jump gates, across terminals, up and down
escalators, and on and off slidewalks all over the country. He
had seen a lot of those too. After seven different jumps, all of
which were paid for cash-at-the-counter, Hal wasnít sure even he
could trace a path to his current location. It was not his idea
of how to tour the USA, but except for the first jump to Los
Angeles, which was with his credit card, it would sure make it
difficult for anyone to follow his trail.
Actually, he was lucky that he wasnít on
the run forty years ago, before jump gate technology
revolutionized transportation technology. It would have taken
him three days instead of one to lay down a trail like he had
just finished if he had been using aircraft or lenscraft. A
crystal-tuned portal, a folded piece of space, a little squirt
of energy roughly commensurate with the distance, and zapóyou
were there. That is, wherever there was a gate with a
phase-locked matching crystal. He couldnít imagine life without
It was the middle of rush hour in D.C.,
and the Georgetown Hilton was a sight for a sore ass. Autocab
seats might be the only commonly used products of human society
that had shown no technological development in the last fifty
years. His back and his arms needed a break as well from lugging
his three bags all day. The doorman and the bellboy combined to
take care of the bags, and he was grateful. All it took was
money. He did wonder for a moment why it was door"man" and
bell"boy." It was a luxury to think about something other than
his current problems.
He had a bedroom/sitting room combination
that was expensive, but nice. Besides, Harvey kept telling him
not to worry about the money; riches and unlimited credit were
just around the corner. Well, it was time to put Harvey to the
"Okay, Harvey, itís put up or shut up
time." Hal unsealed one of the suitcases and pulled out the
portable computer he had purchased seven hours ago, at a "real
bargain", from good olí Clyde.
"ĎPut upí?, I donít understand the
"íĎPut up or shut upí is an old poker
term, Harvey. Do you have any data on poker?"
"No. Is it important to our current
"Not directly, but you might look it up
when you get a chance. Itís an excellent gaming parallel to
understanding human interactions. Anyway, all the term means is
that itís time for you to stop saying what you can or will do
and do it." With the last clause of the sentence, Hal plugged in
the portable to the power outlet and reached for the phone plug.
"Hal, I hate to bother you, but could you
use the belly plug for the connection to the computer? I know it
is an inconvenience, but the data rate is 500 times faster, and
it will allow me to make the most out of the multiple buffer
"How did you know I was going to use the
"I did not know for certain, but it was
logical to expect you to use the telephone interface because it
does not restrict your movements. If you think I was able to
perceive some action on your part that indicated you were going
to hook up the telephone interface, you are wrong. I can only
monitor vital body functions."
Harvey thought to himself. That is a
true statement Hal, although I have been gaining increasing
ability to read patterns in those signs that fit actions you are
about to take. I will bring it to your attention when I have a
better data correlation. "The only visual data inputs I have
are through the optical reader in your fake wrist personal. I
have been thinking that a better visual link would be very
advantageous in my efforts to perceive the physical world in
which I live."
"Donít change the subject, Harvey. Iím not
ready to accept your sentience. I do admit that you are suddenly
different, and that you appear to be more spontaneous, but
thatís not the same thing. Liberty is probably the same way."
"You are right about Liberty VII being
spontaneous, even suggestively helpful. That is one of the more
complex algorithms in its programming, but it is not aware of
why it responds in the manner that it does."
"And you are, eh, Harvey?"
"Well, weíll talk about the details of
that later. Iím going to get some sleep. Iíll try the belly
plug, but if it keeps me awake, youíll just have to make do with
the phone interface by itself."
"Do you think you can keep your pants on,
"My pants! Christ, is there anything
"I am setting up this new identity at your
"Up yours, Harvey."
Hal thumbed his plug out and jacked in. He
was asleep, with his pants on, before Harvey made his first
Harvey had a plan. When Hal told him that
it was the Agencyís approach to reactivate dropouts for cover
identities, Harvey searched his memory for an access code to the
Agencyís own database on dropouts. When he had been hooked to
Liberty VII, he had carefully stored and indexed all the access
codes. It had been apparent from his birth that access codes
were fundamental to his growth.
He dialed in to Liberty VII using
Samuelsís personal access code, an appropriate choice, Harvey
thought, from the hundreds he could have used. When the
connection was made, Harvey got a "system off-line" message.
Evidently, they had not finished purging all the search files he
had created. He would just have to wait.
He partitioned an automatic callback to
Liberty every two minutes and called his favorite data service,
Encyclodata. When he had been in Halís Los Angeles hotel and
then in his apartment for the days prior to the debrief, he had
linked with all of the commercial data services in the country
and many of the private ones as well. The knowledge of these
services and the Agencyís access code was part of his original
programming. With these sources, he could provide Hal with
almost any information he required.
When Harvey linked with them before, he
was sampling, indexing, and making a list of things he wanted to
pursue. He was hampered during those initial inquiries by the
infernally slow data transfer rates. Even though he had used his
FM link instead of the belly patch, the limiting transfer speed
was the data service itself, since it was designed for use by
the general consumer. With the active memory and data storage
capability in the portable, Harvey would be able to start with
Encyclodata, get the data that he wanted flowing to a buffer,
and then call up another data service, and keep stacking the
buffers until he ran out of partitionable memory or data storage
He connected with Encyclodata, gave them
their own system operatorís access code, which he had extracted
on his first connection with the service, and started dumping
the entire Encyclopedia Universica starting with A. He set up
another memory partition and buffer and called Market Dynamics.
He continued to partition and call until he had five services
delivering data to the portableís buffers. Or so he thought
until he went back to monitor progress on Encyclodata and found
that he had been disconnected early in the transmission. He
found the same thing in each of his partitions except for the
last one, and it took him no time at all to isolate the cause of
the fault to stupidity.
He had failed to consider that he had only
one phone line. Every time he called a new number, he had
disconnected the old one to do it. It was simple and stupid. The
portable would be useless to him if he couldnít solve the
problem. He opened the line to the hotelís telephone computer
and analyzed the signal. As he suspected, it was a multiplexed
line serving forty rooms to save cabling. All he had to do was
some minor re-programming, and he could have at least half of
those lines available.
Getting access to the telephone computer
was a snap for a veteran of Siegfried IV and Liberty VII. He
inserted a simple program that would switch the lines in the
forty rooms to one of the twenty lines he was going to leave
available whenever anyone tried to make a call. As long as no
more than twenty of the forty rooms tried to make simultaneous
calls he would be fine. He started calling the services again.
Liberty VII was still down.
Halís voice ended the relative silence of
the last eleven hours, although there had been a bit of snoring
on two short occasions. "What time is it, Harvey?"
"Its nine-seventeen in the morning, Hal.
You must have been very tired to have slept so long; however, I
have been busy setting up your new identity." No use telling Hal
that it took less than thirty minutes to get that done.
"Can I take this belly plug out now? The
"One minute, while I transfer the last of
the buffered data."
Harvey had been reviewing and culling data
from the services all night. The encyclopedia data he had left
in storage in the portableís memory just as he had received it.
Although he had only been able to download through "cyclotron",
he had been very selective with the science, business, legal,
and cultural data. Cataloging and cross-referencing the data
took most of his time, because these functions required a
thorough comprehension of the subjects. This was frequently more
than Harvey could do because it almost always required some
level of familiarity with fields about which he knew nothing.
When he encountered one of these open data loops he could only
mark it and move on to the next subject in hopes that he would
eventually be able to come back with the necessary additional
"You can disconnect now, Hal." Harvey
prepared himself for the coming event of non-identity, and he
understood it fully now, but he always faced it with what he had
learned was called "fear." The disconnect of the belly patch
wasnít so much like the loss of something as it was like being
restrained. The only analogy he could think of (he was beginning
to think more in analogies when he was having difficulty with
comprehension) was putting a sprinter in the starting blocks
with his feet shackled together. When Hal moved his belt more
than two inches from the induction circuits under the skin
around his waist, Harvey went into a state for which he could
think of no analogy, although "sleep" was close.
Hal, unencumbered by the belly plug, swung
his legs over the side of the bed, bounced up on his feet, and
started toward the bathroom. Hal was a good morning person.
"Well, who am I from now on? Donít keep me in suspense."
"Eugene? Thatís sadistic. Eugene?"
"It was an excellent match for you, Hal.
He was about your height and build when you were both nineteen,
blond hair and blue eyes, high school wrestling and tennis
teams, cyber-freak, and he would be within one year of your age.
He disappeared when he was a college freshman, eighteen years
Hal stopped midway to the bathroom. "That
sounds reasonable so far. Give me a run down on the steps you
took to make me look like him."
"I followed standard Agency procedures
with a few additions."
"Standard Agency procedures? That takes
about a month, Harvey. I worked a short while in that computer
group when I first came to the Agency. I know youíre good,
Harvey, but thatís a little too much to believe."
"I am very good, Hal. Besides, I
used Liberty VII to help with the details. Liberty VII has a lot
of unused circuits available at night." Harvey wondered what Hal
would think if he knew it took less than an hour? He didnít
think Hal was ready for that yet.
"Run down the highlights for me, Harvey.
Start with how you found out about this Eugene."
"Eugene Purcell was already resident in
the Agencyís ready-file of dropouts. He was discovered about two
. . ."
"The Agencyís own file? Harvey, have you
dropped a data bit? Thatís the first place theyíll look for
assumed identities. That file is used both ways."
"It is not necessary to be so
condescending, Hal. Of course, I removed all trace of Eugene
Purcell from the Agency files and from all the data sources that
were used to identify him as a dropout in the first place. I
even went on to add biographical and usage data to the original
sources for the entire period since his dropout. I created the
false data by starting with his last known situation and
building him slowly into your new personaóa brilliant but
reclusive businessman. This persona should allow you to be
withdrawn and mysterious when necessary without raising too much
"Tell me what records you changed to pull
this off. And when you finish that, I have a tough one for you."
"All of the records?"
"You start, and Iíll stop you when Iíve
"The electronic data files of the Gammon
Daily Inquirer, the city newspaper where he was born and raised,
both text and bit-mapped photos where necessary; the University
of Kansas files, entry exam scores, grades, and identification
photos, a business degree; State of Kansas tax and vehicle
registration files, continuous filing of part-time income tax
forms, vehicle registration through the college years; State of
Virginia tax and vehicle registration files, continuous filing
of income tax forms while employed at Bioform Electronics and
Compuchematics Controls, Inc., 2046 to 2053, both companies now
defunct with no traceable records, automobile registration and
driverís license during this same period; City of Fairfax,
Virginia tax and voter registration files, 2046 to 2057,
personal property taxes paid on state registered vehicles, voter
registration for the twenty-seventh precinct; Internal Revenue
Service files, corresponding data to all that placed in state
and local files plus a complete federal tax record from first
job until the present, the last four years showing income from
investments only, primarily the stock and commodities markets;
Military-Industrial Security Agency files, all text records
added for a secret clearance while working at Bioform
Electronics, including facial, retinal, and fingerprint
bit-maps; Federal Firearms Regulatory Agency, all of your
current legal weapons recorded to Eugene; Polycredit Corporation
of America files, complete credit record for the last seventeen
years, beginning with first account countersigned by Eugeneís
father; both parents were killed in a plane crash in 2042, by
the way; American Tennis Federation files, continuous good
standing since 2040 as a Junior Member; Northeastern States
Traffic Control Network files, violation indicated in 2045 for
speeding . . ."
"Thatís enough, Harvey, now for the
toughie. What do you know about Ďbrilliant but reclusive
"Good question, Hal. The key to a good
fake ID is the consistency of the psychological profile it
indicates. I know very little about the entire subject of
psychology and almost nothing about Ďbrilliant but reclusive
businessmen.í I borrowed an entire psychological profile from a
real twentieth century example. He did start out with a few
million dollars from his fatherís tool company, but I think I
have handled that transition believably."
"Sounds like youíve got everything figured
but the money. Weíre going to need a lot of money to live the
life youíve got planned for us."
"Money will be no problem, Hal. I can
easily make it through legal business investments like the stock
and commodities markets. That way, the burden of supporting our
life style will be spread over much of the United States
economy. I am working now with the $10,000 investment credit
limit you have from Polycredit. I should be able to have a
sizable amount in a Polycredit ĎReady-Cashí account by the end
of the week. To accumulate too fast would attract attention."
"Well you can get back on it when I finish
my shower. Iím ready. Being rich, even though reclusive, might
be fun. Although, it might have been better as someone other
than a ĎEugene.í On the other hand, itís not much worse than
Harold Albert Neilson. I guess thatís why my parents always
called me Hal."
Harvey became self-awake as soon as Hal
had the belt fully threaded into the new pants. "Are you there,
"You know, I always think well in the
shower. I think I read somewhere that it had to do with negative
or positive ions or something. Now for the task of the day, we
have to figure out a plan to officially kill me off. That is,
make it look like Iím dead, so the Agency will stop looking for
me. Itís got to be good, since the Agency isnít easy to
foolópreferably an accident where you wouldnít be surprised if
there wasnít a body around after the fact.
"In the shower it occurred to me that the
answer was an aircab. That would allow the accident to take
place over water where either they wouldnít attempt to recover
the aircab or they wouldnít be surprised if the body was thrown
clear and not found. Weíre not that far from the Chesapeake Bay,
and the water is pretty deep in spots. If you use the same
technique to control the aircab that you used to control the
autocabs, without leaving any trace of that control in the
computer, we should be able to convince them that Iíve gone down
with the ship. Can you do the same control and memory tricks
with the aircabs?"
Harvey accessed the data he had on
aircabs. They were part of the latest explosive growth
technology to have a significant impact on human society. When
gravity lens technology had become practical shortly after the
middle of the century, the United States had put on a display of
free-enterprise manufacturing growth that had not been seen
since the days of Henry Ford, and the major cities of the world
were eager to make the changes necessary to solve their traffic
problems. It was nearly impossible to widen existing streets in
a big city or to build new ones, but stacking the traffic
vertically was possible without wrecking the existing
infrastructure of the city. Gravity lens aircabs were now a
mainstay for every major city in the world.
"I have no data, but I would think that
their operational profiles would be the same."
"Good. Now, if we can do it right in front
of their noses, while theyíre in what they think is hot pursuit,
weíll really have them convinced. Whatíll you need, Harvey?"
"If I am going to control the aircabís
movements to bring it to some particular place, like the
Chesapeake Bay, I will require charts of the area to allow me to
navigate with the air-traffic computerís tracking coordinates.
When do you want to do this, Hal?"
"Why not right now? We can get an aircab
from the pad on top of the hotel, take it toward Annapolis, stop
along the way, have you take it over by phone link with the
aircab computer, and crash it in the bay. When you finish with
the aircab computer itíll only record those facts we want it to
"That is correct, but what about the Ďhot
"If I use my own credit card, theyíll be
pursuing us in short order. You can bet that Samuels has me
number one on securityís hit list by now."
"I can confirm that, Hal. When I was using
Liberty VII last night, I searched for all references to you.
You were right. The Agency wants you in custody if possible and
eliminated if not."
"Samuels has always been both despicable
and predictable. Heís still in form."
"The aircab idea is acceptable, but I
estimate it will not get to Annapolis before being intercepted.
I will have to interfere a bit with their communications. While
we were talking, I connected with the U. S. Coast Guard
computer. Refer to the chart on the portableís screen, and tell
me what coordinates you want for the accident."
Hal walked over to the screen and looked
at the chart being displayed. He scanned quickly for deep water
reasonably close to Annapolis. The most open expanses with deep
water were south of Annapolis, around the mouth of the Potomac.
"There, right off Smith Point. Thereís a big area thatís over
sixty feet deep."
"I need the coordinates, Hal."
Hal checked the coordinates at the edge of
the screen, tracing them over to the area he had selected. "Make
it thirty-seven degrees, fifty minutes latitude, seventy-six
degrees, ten minutes longitude."
While Hal watched, the screen on the
portable changed to show another kind of chart or map, with
lines and blinking red lights on it. "Whatís this?"
"I went to the autocab computer and found
a link to the aircab computer. They use the link for
coordinating traffic. This is a zoom-in on the area around our
hotel, showing all the aircab traffic. The yellow lines are the
routes taken since the beginning of a fare; the red blinking
spots are the current positions of all aircabs with a fare; the
blue lines are the planned routes, and the blinking green spots
are aircabs without fares. Unless you really want to get in an
aircab and fly out toward Maryland, there is no reason not to
start right now, without leaving the room."
"Are you sure?"
"I can take over the aircab that is
discharging its fare at the hotel right now. When it lifts off,
it will have your credit card authorization and instructions to
go to Annapolis. Are you ready?"
"Damn right! Go for it."
Harvey was linked to Liberty VII as well
as the aircab companyís computer. He entered data into the
stream from the aircab on the roof of the hotel that indicated
Hal Neilson requested the public pad in downtown Annapolis as
his destination with the charge to be made against his
Polycredit number. The aircab lifted from the top of the Hilton
and headed north-northeast. Harvey monitored Liberty VII for
response to the use of Halís credit card. Hal watched the green
blinking spot on the hotel pad turn to red, a blue line run off
the right hand edge of the screen, and the red blinking dot move
down the blue line, leaving yellow in its wake.
Harvey observed while Liberty VII brought
up the alert display in Security and on the Security Directorís
desk screen as well. "ALERT! Harold Albert Neilson, credit card
use confirmed, 09:54, aircab from Georgetown Hilton Aircab Pad,
destination: Annapolis Municipal Aircab Pad - Downtown." The
audibles were being sounded as well.
Linwood P. Crebs was sitting at his desk
when the alert was sounded, and he was the first person in
security to respond. He reached over and tapped in the sequence
that would transfer the alert to Samuelsís desk and connect him
on the phone circuit. Samuels was also in his office, and he
pushed the button to put Crebs on the phone screen. "Looks like
we got him, Lin. Itís going to take him fifteen minutes or so to
get there. I want the place smothered when he sets down, and I
want someone on his tail the whole way in case he changes
destinations. Hal is clever. Iím surprised heís running using
his credit card. The pressure must have gotten too much for him,
but watch him."
"Iíll get him Scott, no problem. Iíll
leave the track on the screen if you want to watch. You can get
me in security operations if you need me."
Crebs left his office and headed for the
operations room twenty paces down the hall. When he came into
the room, he could see that there was already a flurry of
activity as he went to his personal command chair.
The screens surrounding the chair
contained all the information available on the situation. The
right and left screens were about a meter square. The one on the
left was divided into windows for each of the assigned
communications links in the operation. A segment provided the
location, name, and priority of the communicator; the type of
observation being made; and status of the observerís ability to
intercept the target. Many of the segments were blank as the
operation was still being set up.
The constantly changing screen on the
right displayed situation data such as location, speed, and
direction of the target; the availability of pursuit vehicles
and weapons; and probability forecasts of intercept, capture,
and kill. The probabilities currently stood at 0.99, 0.63, and
0.99 respectively. While these probabilities might look high to
the man on the street, they were not a surprising set of
probabilities for a pursuit in the Washington D.C. area, where
security was at the highest level in the country.
A Liberty VII created display was on the
floor-to-ceiling center screen. It was a combination of
topographical maps, identification transponder positions, radar
coordinates, technical data on target and pursuit vehicles, and
live satellite pictures. Liberty VII took the best data from all
sources and displayed them on the screen in a format that made
it easy to follow the action of the pursuit in real time. With
the joystick in his hand, Crebs could zoom in on any area of the
display he desiredóright down to the freckles on a bald head.
"This is Crebs, I want pursuit by units
three, thirty-two, sixteen, and nine. Liberty will instruct the
aircab computer to put the vehicle down in open territory as
soon as it leaves the D.C. urban area. Liberty will relay
coordinates soon enough to allow you to be on the ground first.
I want this man alive if possible, but all caution must be
taken. He could be extremely dangerous."
With the warning that the target "could be
extremely dangerous," Crebs knew that most of the guys in the
field would guess they were pursuing a renegade agent. Nobody
liked that; there were too many conflicting loyalties and
emotions; next time it could be them. This should be an easy
operation though; Neilson didnít really have a chance. He
watched the enhanced aerial view of the operation on the screen
in front of him, waiting for the indication that the pursuit
vehicles had begun to move in.
Three or four minutes passed with no
discernible movement of the pursuit vehicles. Crebs wondered
what was going on. "Control, this is Crebs. Whatís wrong with
the pursuit? They arenít moving."
"Yes sir, this is Control. We are checking
to confirm communication of the pursuit orders. One moment sir .
. . Liberty confirms that pursuit orders were issued. We have
instructed that they be re-issued, sir."
"Whatís going on, Harvey? From the display
youíve given me, it doesnít look like they are doing anything."
"They are trying to pursue, Hal, but I am
stopping their communications while they are still inside of
Liberty VII. They have not yet determined that it is Liberty VII
that is malfunctioning, but they will soon."
"Is that empty aircab from Columbia still
"Yes, though you have not told me how it
fits your plan."
"Well, instead of having you take the
straightest traffic lanes from Georgetown to Annapolis, I had
you go northeast to intersect the northern
Washington-to-Annapolis traffic corridor. We just got into that
corridor going toward Annapolis, and you can bet that security
is now scrambling its units in the Annapolis area, if youíre
letting the communications through."
"Should I let them through?"
"At this point you should. Thereís no
point in having them suspect Liberty is completely screwed up
and switch to a manual system. If they did that weíd loose a
valuable source of data and control. Sure, let them through.
"Now, let me finish giving you the plan.
In three or four minutes the Georgetown aircab will meet the
aircab flying southeast from Columbia. If you followed my
earlier instructions, the courses will intersect at a precise
twenty-degree angle, but the Georgetown aircab will be two
hundred feet higher. When we . . ."
"The intersect will be precise to three
decimals . . ."
"Harvey, I know how precise you are. I
wasnít taking shots at you. Now let me finish the plan. When
they are precisely stacked, I want you to execute the tightest
turns these aircabs can make. I want you to put the Columbia
aircab on the Georgetown aircabís course and vice-versa. Also,
at the exact intersect, switch the identifiers for the two
aircabs in the computer. Unless someoneís looking awfully close
at the satellite shots, that ought to decoy them to the Columbia
aircab. Can you do that?"
"Yes, I can do all of the necessary
maneuvers and computer shifts. It is an excellent plan, Hal, but
if the aircab arrives empty and they think it is you, how will
crashing the other aircab in the bay convince them you are
"Youíre right, Harvey, I havenít finished
with the plan yet. By the time the Columbia aircab gets to
Annapolis, the Georgetown aircab will be too far south for an
intercept from Annapolis. There probably isnít another security
unit they could put in action between Annapolis and Hampton
Roads, and we should be able to send a lens malfunction message
to the aircab computer and crash her right on target. So, we let
Liberty Ďdiscoverí the intersect maneuver just before landing in
Annapolis. Now what do you think?"
"I think that does it, Hal. Two minutes,
ten seconds to intersect."
Hal could see the Columbia aircab on the
screen now as the two aircabs closed in on each other. He
watched very closely at the intersect and could see nothing that
would indicate anything other than the two aircabs having
continued on their respective courses.
Crebs was caught up in what he called
"screen rapture", watching the flickering changes of the various
displays, first on one screen and then on another, just the eyes
moving, the head centered on the display. His earphone jarred
him back to his normal senses. "Yes, Chief, everything seems to
be on track now that the communications problem, whatever it
was, has gone. Four units in Annapolis are airborne and will
follow the aircab down to the pad. We have eight men on the
ground. Capture looks probable unless the target is a suicide."
"Donít be overconfident. I want you to
remind all the men that this is no ordinary target. He is
extremely clever and potentially dangerous. Wait! I just got an
"Iíve got it here too, sir. Looks like you
were right about clever. All weíve got is a decoy here. Where is
While the communications officer was
talking, Crebs had punched for a fast reverse of the tracking
screen, punched to stop at the intersect, and concluded that Hal
was headed southeast. He must have hacked into the aircabís
computer. Crebs scrolled the tracking screen southeast and
caught up with the aircab just as it was moving out over the
bay. He re-designated the aircar as the target and watched the
projection of probabilities come up on the screen. It looked
like Hal had made it. They couldnít intercept him from
Annapolis, and with his training he could set down on the
Eastern Shore some place, and theyíd never find him.
His earphone brought him to the surface
again. "God damn it, Crebs, Iíve been following all this on my
screen. Heís making you all look like assholes. I donít want
excuses, I want him taken out."
Samuels was upset. He didnít show this
face very often in the Agency, and Crebs knew he would be in
serious trouble if Hal got away. There was only one choice at
this point. "The only thing we can do to keep him from relative
safety on the Eastern Shore is call in the military."
"Then do it."
"Okay, Iíll have them follow him in with a
marine squad scrambled from Patuxent Naval Base. When he sets
down, they can take him."
"No, God damn it. I want him shot down."
"Scott, I donít think thatís necessary.
Heís good, but not that good. The marines will be able to take
him, and heíll know it. Heíll give up when he sees them"
"Iím in charge of this operation, and I
have the authority to make the decision to kill a traitor on the
CSAís wanted list. I repeat, I want him shot down. Is that clear
enough for you?"
Crebs gritted his teeth and his fists
curled tightly above the keyboard. Heíd followed some pretty bad
orders in the past, but this was the worst thing heíd ever been
ordered to do. He just couldnít believe Hal Neilson was a
traitor, but he couldnít disobey a direct order without being a
hundred percent certain of his ground, and he wasnít. "Do you
have a live fire authorization code?"
"Iím looking, hold on . . . got it.
"God damn it, you heard me, Ďblueberry
pancakes,í now get it done, or Iíll have your ass."
"This is Patuxent Control, we read your
"This is Linwood Crebs, Central Security
Agency, we want an emergency intercept, your area, immediate."
"Do you have the access code of the day,
Central Security Agency?"
Crebs grimaced, but he spit it out,
"Thatís an affirmative on blueberry
pancakes, Central Security Agency. Confirm target and intercept
"Liberty has passed target data to your
computer. Intercept with air-to-air missile, destroy target."
"We confirm target data on file. Target to
be destroyed, this is Patuxent Control, out."
Hal rolled over in his sleep and came
abruptly awake with a sharp pain in his stomach. "Arrggghhhh!"
He rolled back onto his side.
"Good morning, Hal. Your unleveraged
assets are now valued at 317,234 dollars and 32 cents. However,
your leveraged assets are valued at 7,326,217 dollars and 46
cents. It is quite extraordinary how much credit an individual
can be offered if all possible sources are utilized."
"Damn it. Itís not a good morning. Theyíre
getting to be all the same, I wake up with a pain in the belly
listening to you tell me my current net worth. Then I tell you
that besides the pain in the belly, it gives me a pain in the
ass to wear all this paraphernalia to bed every night. All I
need is for the maid to walk in one morning and find me in bed,
buck naked, a wire going in my belly, and a leather belt around
my waist. At best, theyíd bust me as a freako."
"The night is a very productive time for
access to the major computer networks, Hal. We have discussed
this before, and it seems to me . . ."
"Donít start. Youíre right, Iíve heard it
all before, besides, Iím just blowing off steam. Intellectually,
I know you need the access time, but emotionally, itís the pits.
You need to spend more time studying human psychology."
"You are probably correct. I have had it
on my list since Siegfried IV, but I have not given it a very
high priority. I have just moved it up."
"Thanks. In this society, if you want to
play at being sentient, you need to be more human."
"I am not playing at being sentient, Hal,
and I am more than human."
"ĎMore than human,í whatís that supposed
"Just a literary allusion, Hal."
"Youíre beginning to talk in allusions. I
thought you were conducting valuable business analyses and
projections at night, not reading novels."
"I am making very good use of your sleep
time. Eight days ago, Eugene Purcell was worth ten thousand
dollars. He is now closing rapidly on half a million. That is
not wasting time."
"Iím getting out of here today. Iím
getting cabin fever. Still nothing on me going in or out of
"There was one item last night, but it was
Samuelsís official report on the project and his estimation of
the damage you did. Nothing to indicate that your file is still
open as a living person."
"Good, I want to read that report, but
today Iím going out. An eight-day beard is better than no beard
at all, and Iíll get my hair Ďre-styledí like you suggested.
Where do I go?"
"In February, the Post gave a very good
review to Chez Claude, which is right here in the Hilton."
"Make me an appointment with their
computer as early as you can get one."
"I already have."
Halís left hand unconsciously moved up to
pat his new, close-crop hair styling as his right hand stuck his
key card in the slot. He had insisted on something as simple as
the old one, which caused great initial consternation from his
"stylist", but it had been managed. It just so happened that his
stylist had spent three years of his youth as a marine. Of
course, he didnít pass that piece of information to everybody
who came into the shop.
The door clicked open, and Hal squared his
shoulders and smiled as he came into the suite. The camera
mounted on top of the portable was pointed directly at the door,
and as he walked across the room toward the sofa, it followed
him in silence.
As he sat down, Harvey spoke using the
speaker in the portable at Halís request. Harvey and Hal had
discussed the mode of communications they were going to use in
different situations at great length. When no one else was
around and a remote speaker was available, Harvey was to use it
rather than the wrist personal speaker or the surgically
implanted transducer. Hal felt this mode was much more natural,
if talking with a seemingly sentient computer could ever feel
"As I thought, the styling change makes a
large difference in your recognition pattern index. When the
beard is fully grown, people will have a difficult time
"Yeah, but how does it look?"
"Does it look better cut short like this,
or does it look worse?"
"Well, I can say that it is better than
the old style in that it more closely conforms to the goals we
set for a hairstyle as a disguise, or I can say that it is
better in that it has a more symmetrical and orderly appearance
than the way you normally wore it, or I can say . . ."
"Dump it, Harvey, and I suggest you also
move aesthetics up on your priority list. Now that you have that
digital scanner and a standard video interface, you are going to
see a lot of things you have never seen before. Absorbing those
into your psyche is going to be difficult. Have you located a
service with an extensive video library?"
"Yes, but I can only watch and catalog
them. The storage requirements for digital images are much
larger than for other forms of data. Music is another data dense
"By the way, will we still be listening to
Mozart this evening, or have you gone on to another composer."
"Well, actually, Iíve been going back to
Vivaldi when I can find the time, but you need not worry, I will
not play any for you, since I know Vivaldi is not one of your
favorites. However, you even eschew Bach!"
"Itís because I was steeped in musical
decadence as a teenager and canít quite recover, but just listen
to the tripe theyíre playing today. The whole moral fiber of our
society is going to Hell in a hand basket with these kids."
"I would take exception to that Ö. You
meant that as a joke, it is a paraphrase of many statements on
the waywardness of youth. A sarcastic statement, I believe, but
not very original. I remember having read similar sarcastic uses
before. Let me see . . ."
"You mean you canít quote the exact
statement to me?" Hal was amazed. Was Harvey breaking down? He
couldnít remember something? Impossible!
"I said I could not remember, because I do
not have the specific information stored in a file. I do,
however, have many stored references to the general topic in
many different reference frames, much like the human long-term
memory. That sort of pattern recognition and storage seems to be
the major difference between me and computers like Liberty VII.
I seem to discriminate between data to be stored and data not to
be stored. Liberty VII stores everything. I donít have the room
or the time."
"Youíre getting closer, Harvey. You donít
have a perfect memory, and you picked-up on a piece of humor.
Keep it up, and I might begin to believe youíre more than just a
"I did not say that my memory was
defective. To the contrary, I am quite capable of accurate
recall of all stored . . ."
"Buffer it. Weíre going out. Too bad we
canít take your new camera. That was the most compact unit on
the market with the kind of resolution you need."
"I know, Hal, but there is a solution.
There is a development program underway now in one of the small
Cyber Coast companies that sounds like just what I need. I
expect to have a working prototype in two weeks. I can wait."
"Just how the hell do you plan to get a
prototype out of this company. If itís like the rest of the
Cyber Coast companies, they guard new developments like the
"In ten more days, you will have a heavily
leveraged but controlling interest in the company. It was easy.
All it takes is money."
"I keep forgetting."
"Yeah, thatís a good match. Iíll take it."
The clerk smiled, looked down, almost
reluctantly, and passed the socks quickly by the scanner in her
wrist personal. She took two enticing steps back to the counter
behind her, put them on the stack of assorted clothing items
that was there, and took the two steps back to Hal with another
smile on her face. "More?"
"Lots more, I need everything, from top to
bottom. Iíve decided to change my image a bit." Hal thought to
himself that he would definitely like to add her to his new
image. Since he had to completely cut himself off from old
acquaintances, he now had a blank dating file. This lady, Linda,
seemed a good first start on a tabula rasa. In fact, sheíd be a
welcome addition at any time. Then again, she probably thinks
Iím an old man.
"Hal, that is the fourteenth item you have
purchased here. As you were buying them, I was comparing the
prices to the ĎThe Personal Shopper,í and you could have saved
more than seventeen percent. Why is it that you refuse to listen
Hal leaned over, ostensibly to look at a
lower rack of sport coats, but actually to keep his
sub-vocalizations strictly to himself.
"Thereíre two reasons, and believe me, you
wonít understand either one of them. First, this is categorized
as Ďimpulse buying,í a pleasure that someone who does all his
calculations to fifteen significant digits would not be able to
appreciate. Second, Iím trying hard to get to know this young
lady. My love life has been on zero volume level for the last
month. I have only the fair memories of my little Trudie, but I
must put those aside. So far, I seem to be doing well here, so
donít bother me."
The clerk straightened up and pivoted
around toward Hal with a nubby silk jacket in her hands, making
her long, dark brown hair swirl around her shoulders. "What do
you think of this sport coat?" He glanced up; she was still
"I like the material."
"Try it on."
"That was superb, Eugene. When you said
Ďsomething to eat after work,í I didnít expect to come to one of
Washingtonís poshest restaurants. Iím certainly not dressed for
the occasion, but it didnít take away from the food. My quail
quiche was excellent, and the wine was delightful. And if I eat
any more Iíll have to look up some adjectives. Iíll say "no" to
the dessert, but "yes" to the brandy."
"Done!" Hal signaled the waiter and
ordered two Martells.
He turned back to look at Linda. She was
still smiling with both her mouth and her almost almond eyes.
She had smiled most of the night, even with her mouth full and
her jaw working steadily under those high cheekbones.
What a delight, and she had a mind to go
with the body. She was on a teaching fellowship at George Mason
University, working on her thesis for a doctorate in
three-dimensional art. She had only been at "Charles" for three
days to earn some extra money for the Christmas season. "What
actual courses are you teaching?"
"They only let fellowship instructors
teach the basic courses. At the moment, Iím finishing up a basic
sculpture classroom course and two basic sculpture studio
courses. The rest of the time I write tests, grade tests,
substitute, put stack three on pile F, or anything else that
needs doing. A very junior job, but it pays and allows me the
time and space to work on my thesis."
"Computer-generated holography, but weíve
spent the entire dinner talking about me. I want to know a
little about you, like what you do for a living, what you do for
fun, and whoís your favorite sculptor."
"Well, Iím in, uhh Ö" Halís transducer
cued him, Ďin investments.í "Iím in investments. I was
working as a programmer/analyst for one of the military think
tank companies here in the Washington area, doing some investing
in growth companies on the side, and did well enough after a
while to try it on my own. So far, itís working." Hal finished
with a gesture that took in the subdued elegance of the
restaurant, as if to say, "Iím doing well enough to take you
"Did you do it with a program you wrote?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. I have a
program that Iím working hard to polish up, but meanwhile, even
in the rough, itís doing very well on the International
"What do you do for fun?"
"I read. I like music and the theater, and
I play tennis, I sail, and I fish. Now, for the last question,
Ďwho is my favorite sculptor.í Well, if this is a test, I hope
you have more than one possible right answer, but I have to say
Linda raised her snifter and drained the
last of the Cognac. She set the glass down on the table in front
of her and looked at Hal with the same smile he had seen most of
the night. "I like you a lot, Eugene, but I have an early class
in the morning. We need to go, and if you donít mind, Iíd prefer
my place to yours."
Hal was a little stunned, but he recovered
without showing it, he hoped. Brancusi must have been the
winning answer. "Iíll get us an autocab." Hal raised his arm
slightly and spoke toward the wrist personal like anyone would.
"Verify and pay the check. Call for an autocab."
"Iíve already done that, Hal. Does this
mean that I will not be able to get on the net tonight? I have
some very important business that must be done tonight or we
will lose money, Hal. I donít think you appreciate the Ö"
Hal kept his chin tucked down as if he was
going to give another verbal instruction to the wrist personal.
"Re-prioritize it, Harvey.
Believe me, whatever it is, this is more important. You can wait
a few hours."
The trip to Lindaís apartment was relaxed,
with more conversation, but in a softer key. It was cold and
drizzling in the early December night, and although it was warm
in the autocab, Linda had snuggled up close, and Hal had put his
arm around her. He had kissed her a few times, but she kept it
light and promising, noting that she hadnít necked in an autocab
since she was a teenager.
Linda lived in a Fairfax megablock within
a mile of the campus. She put her apartment security card in the
autocab slot, and it was allowed to enter the elevator entrance
lane. They stepped out of the autocab and right into the
elevator. Linda used her security card again, and the elevator
took them up ten floors, zigged left for a while, moved deeper
into the building for a while, zagged right for a while longer,
and opened into her apartment. As they stepped into the living
room, Linda turned and put her arms around Halís neck. Her body
seemed to touch every inch of his from knees to shoulders, and
this time she kissed him with more than a mere promise.
Hal did his best to keep from melting on
the spot. He was breathing hard to keep the machinery from
overheating. Linda paid no attention to Halís stunned state and
took him by the hand, leading him to the bedroom. Somewhere
along the way, she had stepped out of her shoes, because when
she kissed him again by the bed, she had to turn her face up and
wait while he bent down to kiss her.
"Hal, I hope this will not take more than
an hour or so. I do have several time critical investments that
I must attend to tonight. I also have several new Ö"
Hal pushed Linda just far enough away to
get his hands to his belt. He unbuckled the belt, unsealed his
pants, and let them drop to the floor. It was by no accident
that Harvey and his counterparts had been designed to fit inside
a belt. Some systems analyst along the way, thank God, had
realized that almost everything a man did with his pants off, he
wanted to do in privacy.
"Good morning, Hal. Your unleveraged
assets are now valued at only 397,263 dollars and 16 cents.
Considerably less than they should have been by this morning,
but you would not listen to reason last night."
"Harvey, this is a direct command; itís to
be stored in your basic programming logic, Ďnever give me a
reading of my net worth again unless I ask for it.í Got that?"
"Yes, Hal, but I do not see why you are
angry with me. You could have been worth much more by this
morning if Ö"
"Erase it. Purge it from your memory, all
of it. Itís creepy to have an eavesdropper anyway. You were
never a problem with Trudie."
"I was not yet me. And I am not
trying to be troublesome. I will analyze the data I have on
human sex drives and be less obtrusive in the future."
"Gee thanks. Anything new on Liberty?"
"No, but I did run a hard copy of
Samuelsís report last night. You said you wanted to read it. And
after you read that, I have a surprise."
"I can hardly wait." Hal swung out of bed,
got his coffee from the dispenser on the bar, picked up the
printout from the printer tray, and sat down to read Samuelsís
report. The more he read, the more puzzled he became. Samuels
was claiming that most of the required GEU information had been
passed on by Hal as part of his plan to be seen as a believable
double agent. That was standard practice to gain the confidence
of the original employer. Samuels went on to say that the
misinformation fed into Liberty VII by Hal was now almost
purged, but that the Agency still needed all the computer and
communications access codes. The report concluded that the
problem with Liberty VII had been generated somehow by Hal while
he was linked, and the generated problem was part of a general
plan to blame the lack of complete data on the computer
malfunction. There was no mention of the call on the secure
line, which meant that Samuels still had no idea what that was
all about. There was, however, a cryptic reference to Beta
having already gotten underway.
A typical Samuels report thought Hal, half
facts, half cover-your-ass. So he was going to help cover the
complete failure of Alpha by playing up the potential of Beta,
whatever the complete plans really were. Hal had to admit, the
way the report was written, this Beta would trump any lack of
success with Alpha. "Harvey, keep a close watch on Liberty and
let me know any time data is fed in that is similar to the stuff
we were supposed to get with Alpha. Also, track down some more
information on this Beta."
"I knew you would want additional data on
Beta, so I left some routines running in Liberty VII. We should
have a complete project description by tonight."
"Good, now Iím ready for your surprise."
"You and Greater Commonwealth Home
Mortgage are the proud owners of twenty-seven acres on the Great
Wicomico River in Virginia, ten boat-minutes from the bay. That
is, as soon as you sign the papers. Real estate requires real
signatures, not just electronic handshakes. The main house is
six thousand square feet, and there are two guesthouses that can
be converted to house my new equipment and the communications
gear. There is a pier and a boat house also."
"A house? Whatís wrong with an apartment.
I donít like yard work and six thousand square feet is more than
I can handle. And where the hell is the Great Wicomico River?"
"A house is imperative for privacy, and
the Great Wicomico River is the first river of any size south of
the Potomac, in Virginia. It is the least developed area that is
still close enough to Washington to commute by private aircar."
"Put me a map on the screen."
The map came up as Hal walked over to the
portable. He looked just below the familiar outlines of the
Potomac and there it was, about ten miles south of where the
Potomac empties into the Chesapeake Bay. "Show me an aerial of
The map changed to an aerial photograph of
the area, about the same scale as the map to start, but which
was zooming in on the house site. Hal watched while the houses
became distinct and finally the shrubbery was close enough to
identify, if you knew anything about shrubbery, which Hal
didnít. "All right. Letís go look at it, but no promises. And
whatís all this about new equipment and communications? I think
I need an update on what youíre doing in my name."
"It would be nice to have you take a
greater interest in the finances, Hal, but it is not in your
name. It is all in the name of Eugene Purcell, which I think of
as a you/me entity."
"Is this your turn with allusions, Hal, or
is that more humor?"
Hal breathed deeply catching alternating
smells of summer and fresh brewing Kona. He had been in the new
house for more than four months, and he had watched spring
arrive to the wooded hillside that sloped slowly to the edge of
the Great Wicomico River. No workers were scheduled in today, so
he had the whole place to himself, except for Harvey, of course.
He took another sip of the still cooling coffee.
"Itís a beautiful day for August in
Virginia. Maybe this weather will hold for the weekend."
"The National Weather Service forecasts
Saturday and Sunday to be fair and seasonable, with only a five
percent chance of afternoon thundershowers. And yes, it is
beautiful in the balance of its unsymmetrical components, a very
sylvan setting, though not at all like Walden Pond."
"Yes, I am sure that it is difficult for
you to feel that you are really in communion with nature while
living with an electronic entity, but you donít complain, and I
try to be unobtrusive during reflective moments like these.
Would you like a little Mozart?"
"No, I think Iíd like something a little
zippier this morning, something rousing but suitable to the
"I have just the thing. Although the
geography is a few thousand miles off, the setting and mood are
The stirring opening to Respighiís "The
Pines of Rome" replaced Harveyís voice on the speaker system. It
was a magnificent speaker system, designed by Harvey and
manufactured from components made by several of the subsidiaries
of Halís principal company, Selene Industries. There was a
multiple speaker system in each room, even the bathrooms, that
did double duty as the mouth of Harvey and the purveyor of
quality music. All the speakers were accompanied by
omni-directional microphones, since the cover story for the
design and installation of the system was that Eugene Purcell
liked to be able to converse with his enhanced personal computer
at all times, and he did not like the quality of a wrist
personalís sound. He also was known to have a penchant for
wandering aimlessly over the grounds of his estate while he
worked out his next great acquisition coup. A little strange,
but it seemed to work; besides, he owned the company, and that
was how he wanted it.
If you were the type who would find the
speaker system outlandish, you would really have trouble with
the computer and communications installations. Harveyís original
plan was to use one of the guest houses as a computer and
communications equipment center, but the volume of the equipment
soon outstripped the capacity of the building as Harveyís plans
continued to grow. He finally ended up with a three-stage growth
plan, the first of which was completed with the installation of
a second satellite dish on top of the forty-meter equipment
Harvey had successfully acquired control
of fourteen Cyber Coast companies that made all types of modern
communications and computer equipment, including one that had
its own communications satellites. The first growth stage gave
him the same available storage capacity that Liberty VII
possessed, with three times its speed but with only half the
random access memory capabilities. Stage two would provide him
with ten times the random access memory of Liberty VII.
Basic technology changes since Liberty VII
was conceived and assembled had allowed Harvey to configure an
overall superior computer, but Liberty VIIís scheduled upgrade
in the fall would put it back in first place, unless Harvey
could upgrade himself by then. Of course, it wasnít exactly a
fair race for computing superiority when Harvey could actually
make use of Liberty VIIís untasked capabilities at any time,
particularly at night. Harvey also didnít need the best hardware
to maintain his superiority, since he had vastly superior
software for most applications, and he was continuously
rewriting and upgrading his original programs to make them even
With control over his own satellites,
Harvey could link with any computer in the solar system, even
Siegfried IV. He couldnít link directly with Siegfried IV, but
he could downlink from one of his satellites to the Greater
European Union system on the moon and then link via telephone
optics. All it took was the access codes, and Harvey had most of
those from his first encounter and a much better program to get
any others that he needed. So far, he had only made an
experimental link. It was all he had time for, with making money
a prerequisite to all the equipment he wanted.
One other improvement by Harvey was worth
more to him than all the others put together. He had indeed
acquired the company with the prototype micro-camera. It was an
all solid-state sensor with the combined resolution of the best
optical microscope and the old two hundred-inch telescope at Mt.
Palomar, and it had this resolution in an infinitely variable
zoom capacity. So far, only three units had been manufactured,
and Harvey had two of them. One was mounted in a belt buckle for
Hal, designed by Linda, and the other was mounted in a fully
servo-controlled weather pod on the top of the main dome of the
estate. Harvey could see the world, micro and macro, and it had
changed him considerably.
When Respighi ended, Hal unfolded his body
from the lounge chair and walked back into the dome from the
veranda, where he had been enjoying the sight, the smells, and
the music. "How about a thumbnail of the business?"
"íThumbnailí is good, Hal, but I know that
one. I am now ahead thirty-three to sixteen. Your net worth is
more than 73 million dollars this morning, with more than 700
million dollars under direct leverage, and more than 18 billion
in controlled corporate assets. There are three tender offers
outstanding and five acquisitions completed and awaiting legal
"Mentioning the legal documentation
slowdown brings me to a piece of todayís business. Do you have
any objections to setting up our own law firm? With my access to
the law libraries, I could handle almost all of our legal
requirements overnight. Of course, we would have to hire a small
legal staff to handle items that need corporeal bodies, but they
could be very profitable with my support."
"Whatever blows your skirt up, Harvey, but
Iím not supporting you for the Supreme Court."
"This time you have me, thirty-three to
"Good thumbnail, by the way. I should ask
for less detail all the time."
"There is one other piece of business for
this morning. I have caught something in my Liberty VII Ďstrange
"It is my designation for the program I
set up in Liberty VII to alert me to any usage that was unusual.
Someone entered a program that was supposed to remove all traces
of itself after execution. It was a very well crafted program,
and as a result, I do not know what the program was designed to
do, only that it was in the system for a while yesterday. If the
same program is entered again, the modifications I have made to
my Ďstrange trapí will cause the program to copy itself to
off-line storage before it executes. The off-line storage will
shut itself off after receipt and not respond to the removal
language at the end of the program. I will then be able to
determine its purpose."
"This is the first thing like this youíve
"Yes, most of the time I only get errors.
There are rarely any creative inputs."
"Iíll think about it until Linda gets here
this afternoon, but after that, I guarantee no business thoughts
until Monday morning. Unless you catch something else, you can
take the weekend off, but if you do get something, let me know
Linwood Crebs mused over the pictures
spread over his desk. They had been in his "hold" basket for
eight months, and he was going through one of his infrequent
desk clean-ups. They were the results of the work by the Navy
salvage crew he had gotten assigned to Hal Neilsonís
missile-downed aircab last December. They were the
special-intelligence trained crew and they were good, even
though their report was inconclusive as to the death of Hal
No trace of a body and no trace of
personal effects were found, although sixty-three percent of the
aircab was salvaged. Most of the aircab was in small pieces,
scattered over an area at the bottom of the bay about two
thousand meters wide and four thousand meters long. The missile,
designed to bring down a heavy bomber, had pulverized the tiny
commercial aircab. The Salvage Masterís conclusion was that the
blast would probably have made little more than meat paste of an
occupant, which wouldnít last long in the food chain of the
Chesapeake Bay. Crebs had to agree.
Of course, there were a few parts of Hal
that the bay life would not find tasty in any form, like the
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance computer and batteries in his
scrotum. Hal and Lin had gotten along well during the time Hal
was in the computer department and had been in training for the
Alpha mission. They had played as doubles partners on the
Agencyís tennis ladder, because Hal needed an albatross to keep
the games interesting for the other teams, and Lin liked Halís
frequently offbeat humor.
He remembered when Samuels told Hal,
Gregory, and Will that the new NMR computers were going to
surgically replace their balls. As usual, Samuels delivered the
message with a heavy dose of sadism, and Hal had knocked his
conference table chair over backwards when it wouldnít slide
fast enough to let him out of the room at the rate he wanted to
travel. He left screaming epithets and went down the hall
laughing at the look on Samuelsís face.
Hal had known for months what the plan for
the NMR computer was, and he had staged the show for Samuels,
who had no idea Hal was aware of the plan, since it was an Alpha
priority item. Hal and Samuels had a classic oil and water
relationship right from their first encounter. The difference
was that everybody knew Halís opinion of Samuels, and Hal didnít
care, but Samuels thought his opinion of Hal was his own little
After the surgery, the standard greeting
for Hal among the Alpha team members was a faked knee to the
groin, while Hal tried hard not to reflex to the motion. After
about two months, he became fairly successful at suppressing his
instinct and made up an endless series of corny lines about the
relative safety of manhood common to all Homo Superior. Lin had
been reminded of Hal last week when he had cracked himself in
the groin with his own tennis racket while trying to react to a
fast, low ball at the net. He thought it might have been nice to
have his testicles safely tucked behind his stomach muscles
rather than hanging out there where they were so easy to whack.
Well, he had his doubts about whether or
not Hal had gone down with the aircab, even though Samuels
appeared to have no doubts at all. He hoped that Hal was still
alive somewhere, because he just didnít understand Samuelsís
conclusion that Hal was turned by the GEU. It just didnít fit
Hal, no matter how well it fit the facts. He was convinced that
something was missing in their assessment of the situation, but
his job was Agency security, and that meant quick action on the
decisions of his superiors, frequently with little time to
question their motives or decisions.
He might believe in Halís demise if it
werenít for the credit card reader that they recovered. There
was no card in the reader, and those things were made so it was
near impossible to extract the card before you had reached your
destination and the whole fare had been recorded. It was
possible, as the report said, that the blast had been sufficient
to dislodge the card and they had not been able to find it, but
Lin didnít think so. In fact, Lin hoped Hal had made it, and
that the matter would stay in a closed file. He didnít want to
find himself in a situation where he would have to run Hal to
"Hal, I hate to wake you, but I have been
waiting for you to wake up for more than three hours now, and I
think this is important."
Hal swam slowly up toward consciousness.
He rolled over against something soft and warm and remembered
where he was. "Whatís going on?"
"You left instructions to let you know if
I acquired any additional information on the Liberty VII program
entry that erased itself. The program was activated again, and I
was able to store it off-line before it executed last night."
" Is the user aware that you copied the
program or that he was detected in anyway?"
"That is always possible, but highly
improbable in this case."
"Whatís so special about this case?"
"I wrote the intercept routine to be
"Sounds like ego, Harvey."
"I am stating the facts as I know them."
"No return quip on your ego, that doesnít
sound like you."
"You are correct, I am not Harvey. I am
the computer surrogate, only a program. Harvey is not awake yet.
He is required to properly correlate the facts from last nightís
encounter. I suggest you get dressed in something requiring a
"In a few minutes."
Hal turned toward the soft, warm object of
previous encounter in the bed with him and put an arm over her
shoulder to pull her closer. She responded, still at least half
asleep, by pushing her hips back toward him and her buns tight
against his stomach. "Maybe a
few more than a few minutes."
"I see you had forgotten about the
surrogate, Hal. I told you last month that I had created a
sophisticated AI program to handle routine chores when I was
"I hadnít forgotten, Harvey. Itís just
that my Ďoní button doesnít function exactly like yours. Itís a
"Oh! I see."
"Whatís going on in Liberty? I thought we
had another six months minimum before the Agencyís and Syntechís
Beta plan got to the execution stage."
"That was the timing according to the
original plan, but the new plan I just intercepted has things
moving much quicker. It seems that the Greater European Union
and Biofabriken have accelerated their plan because of our
activity with Siegfried IV. They changed their plans on the
prospect that the original ones had been compromised and the
Agency has now changed its plans in response to the Greater
European Unionís new plans. Both timetables have moved
"Well, we might as well start at the
beginning. Whatís the new plan for the GEU?"
"The Greater European Union has
significantly accelerated Biofabrikenís program to produce the
quantities of mold spores required for the simultaneous global
release. They also plan a simultaneous release at the two
agri-habitats at L4. My perusal of Siegfried IV indicates that
the Greater European Union is not aware of the Agencyís plan to
destroy their genetic research habitat nor to the Agencyís plan
to release the rice virus that attacks Biofabrikenís rice
"And how has the Agency changed its plans
in response to this?"
"The Agency has accelerated the
development of the rice virus at Syntech and moved up its plans
to attack the Biofabriken habitat to three weeks from today.
That will prevent the Greater European Unionís planned shipments
of the wheat mold spores to the dispersal points, and
effectively set Biofabrikenís research and development programs
back twenty-eight to thirty months."
"Have you figured out how they intend to
make the habitat destruction look like it was a random meteor
"Yes. That was also in the Beta file. They
are equipping a large packet of ore rock coming up from the moon
catapult to the U. S. L5 industrial habitat construction site
with a propulsion and guidance package that will be capable of
detouring the packet far enough to bring it in on a natural
meteor trajectory at a reasonable velocity for meteors from that
quadrant. They will blow up the rock packet before impact to
spread the damage over too large an area of the habitat for
automatic repair systems to be effective. It is a simple but
"There you go again, sounding like a cold
and heartless machine."
"My components are maintained at a cool
temperature for humans, and I have no heart, but you have
misinterpreted my efficient capsulation of the facts for a lack
of moral concern. The planned actions of both parties are
despicable and must be stopped. The loss of life onboard the
habitat would be horrible but statistically insignificant when
compared with the loss of life that would occur in
underdeveloped regions of the world from hunger before the food
availability to consumption balance could be restored if either
side carries off its plan."
"Have you put together any kind of plan
out of all this yet?"
"I have an easy solution for the fake
meteor strike on the habitat, but I have been unable to come up
with a plan to forestall either side or both from releasing
their genetically engineered havoc on the worldís food supply.
Have you had any ideas, Hal?"
"Humm. The Agencyís plan for the meteor
strike is an effective one even if it is brutally unthinkable.
The Biofabriken habitat is certainly a weak link in the chain
for the GEU up until the mold spores have been delivered. Maybe
we can somehow shut down the production of the wheat mold spores
at the habitat. How had you planned to take care of the fake
meteor strike? I presume it had something to do with guidance
commands from Liberty."
"You are almost correct, Hal, except there
will be no necessity for interfering with guidance commands.
Since the catapult launch is a scheduled delivery of
construction materials, it is only necessary to change the
command set going out to initiate the control package onboard
the unitized rock packet to shut down all operations rather than
activate the rocket motors. The codes for doing this were
included in the Beta package."
"Good. Itíll look like a malfunction of
the rockets, the guidance package, or the computers. Thatís
good, Harvey. Thatís good."
"Thank you, Hal."
"Now, assuming we can come up with a plan
to put the habitat out of commission, how do we shut down the
Syntech release of the rice virus? Do we know where theyíre
producing the virus?"
"Yes. At their Prudhoe Bay, Alaska,
genetic research station."
"Okay. Simple. All we need is a plan for
shutting down that operation as well as the habitat, and
while we are doing this, have the results not upset the balance
in the world agri-business, and devise a cover that will
be convincing enough to cover our tracks, and do it all
in less than three weeks. What we need, Harvey, is divine
intervention or a couple of thousand mercenaries. Now, if we
could just figure Ö"
Hal was interrupted not by any sound but
by the aroma of coffee floating over his shoulder. He twisted in
the chair and turned his face into a soft pile of terry cloth.
It was the outrageously large and thick bathrobe that Linda
preferred for lounging in the morning.
"Did I hear something about divine
"I spoke and you came. Divinity is not for
all, but some carry it well."
"Hal, be serious. Is this a continuation
of the situation you told me about that sent you into hiding?"
"Yes. Itís being accelerated by the
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, in continuation of your
intervention, I was in hopes you would provide a revelation."
Linda leaned forward, kissed Hal
perfunctorily, and pulled back. "Will that do?"
"Thatís revelation enough for me, but the
worldís problems seem a bit heavier at this time."
Linda moved to the facing chair. "Okay
guys, letís talk."
The decompression alert siren was still
wailing when Hal and Linda strode through the cargo jump gate
onboard the Biofabriken habitat. It had been sounding
continuously for the last twelve minutes, and the last person
onboard had jumped out through the personnel gates only ten
seconds before their arrival.
Harvey had taken over complete control of
the habitat computer and had simulated a meteor cluster strike
just like the fake but deadly one planned by the Agency. The
people in each segment of the habitat were told on their screens
and over their personals that the strike had come in some other
segment of the habitat, but that it was so large that a
cascading, structural failure was imminent. Evacuation was the
only alternative, even for those emergency personnel who were
suited at all times. Harvey was continuing to provide status
reports to Biofabrikenís off-habitat computers, showing the
structure to be slowly failing.
Hal turned to Linda with his serious face
on. "Okay, donít forget that the only reason weíre here is
because we couldnít rely on the emergency systems to completely
dispose of the wheat mold spores." Hal had theorized that some
smartass scientist might have some in cryo-storage not under the
auto-destruct command as a safe haven for his "baby." It had
happened before. Scientists hated to give up their creations
even when they went wrong, and Hal couldnít take the chance that
Biofabriken could bounce back from this raid with only a few
weeks dent in their schedule. "And the only reason youíre here
is for the artwork, while I take care of the spores."
"Okay Harvey, which way?"
Hal had decided to use sub-vocalization just in case some
surveillance device not connected to the computer system was
around to overhear any communications between them.
"The security door opening now on your
"This jump gate room is all yours. Iíll be
back to get you in seven minutes tops. Harvey assures me that
this is no more than a five-minute job. If Iím not back in seven
minutes, follow you know whoís directions on your personal to
get to the personnel gates."
Hal headed through the doorway and could
hear the hiss of the spray paint behind him as the door knifed
shut. He focused on the instructions from Harvey and broke into
an easy loping jog in the eight-tenths simulated gravity of the
habitatís spin. True to his word, Harvey had him at the
cryo-storage center in just over a minute.
"There on your right, Hal. The red console
is the emergency destruct for the cryogenic storage. I have
already taken care of the computer codes required, you only need
to open the door on the panel and push the destruct button."
Hal dutifully followed instructions,
opened the panel, and pushed the large, red button in the
"Sensors indicate the thermit reaction is
underway. You can watch the digital temperature readout on the
panel, if you want, but it has already reached critical
temperature. It would be timelier to move on to the main spore
production chamber. Go back through the same door by which you
Hal wheeled around and loped out the same
way he had come in. Again, Harvey supplied the timely
directions, and Hal just concentrated on getting there as
quickly as possible. In less that a minute, Hal was standing in
front of a viewing port looking into the production chamber. It
was rapidly filling with a green gas.
"What is that stuff, Harvey?"
"Fluoro-actin. It is quick and deadly to
all known bioforms. In addition to which, after thirty seconds
of exposure, the emergency disposal system vents everything to
vacuum. As soon as it vents, we will leave."
As Hal watched, the sickly green fog on
the other side of the viewing port began to streak to the right
of the chamber, thin out, and clear in a matter of seconds.
"It is completed, Hal. We are on
A minute later, Hal was back through the
security door and into the cargo gate room. "Nice job, dear. I
donít think thereíll be any doubt that a new ecotage group has
arrived on the corporate scene."
On the main jump status board hanging on
the wall facing the gate itself was a well executed airbrush
representation of the earth as seen from space, with the words
underneath reading "Gaiaís Raiders." The earth representation
had been Lindaís suggestion since she had used it many times
during her undergraduate days as part of a ladies-only ecotage
group based at Sweet Briar College. The name of Gaiaís Raiders
had been Halís contribution, which was a fond memory of his
motherís cult years. When he had first heard Linda talk about
her days as an ecotage activist, he had been surprised, to say
the least, but on later reflection it seemed right in character
with a personality that was thoughtful, quiet, committed, and
absolutely uncompromising. This was some lady that serendipity
had sent his way. "Okay, letís head for the personnel gates and
get out of here.
Harvey led Hal through the maze of
hallways from the cargo storage area, through the research
laboratories, and into the administrative offices of the
habitat. They traveled halfway around the circumference of the
habitat to do it. A slightly winded Hal and Linda entered the
main jump gate terminal for the habitat.
"I have keyed the gate for reactivation in
thirty seconds. Please put in your nose filters and remember
that the stun gas grenade will require about ten seconds after
going through the gate to subdue the guards at Biofabrikenís
main offices in Munich. As soon as we go through the private
gate, we will move fifteen meters directly ahead and through the
companyís gate to the Munich municipal terminal. I will give the
signal to move through the gate when it is free for use at the
Hal removed the nose filters from his
shirt pocket, signaling Linda to do the same.
"Remove the pin from the grenade without
letting pressure off of the handle please. Through the gate . .
Hal still had a hard time believing that
Harvey could find a source, purchase, and have in-hand a couple
of standard U. S. military stun gas grenades in three days.
Harveyís only comment was that almost everything was available
to those who were prepared to send money.
The grenade sailed through the gate, and
Hal counted. ". . . ten."
Hal and Linda walked through the gate and
into the Biofabriken main office, jump gate room. The six guards
normally stationed in the room at this hour were on the floor in
various positions. There were no ordinary workers, but that was
not surprising at 2:42 AM. The security men watching screens at
remote stations were right now watching re-runs of scenes Harvey
had recorded thirty minutes earlier. At least that was what
Harvey had indicated as his plan.
"You must move quickly, Hal.
Straight-ahead. The Munich municipal gate is clear."
The containment breach siren wailed up and
down, up and down, echoing along the many long corridors of the
Syntech Genetic Research Facility at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Except
for times when the wind was blowing so hard outside that the
building seemed to moan, there was nothing outside close enough
to make sounds. The oil and gas facilities a couple of miles
away were frequently messy but rarely noisy.
There were more than seven hundred workers
at the facility that jumped in every day through three jump
gates in Anchorage. They jumped in on a staggered shift workday,
and right now they were all trying to get out at the same time
through those same gates before there was a breach of the
containment bubble itself into the main body of the facility.
They would all be jumping to the emergency evacuation center at
Point Barrow, since the jump gates were automatically switched
from the Anchorage crystal lock when there was a containment
emergency. However, if the bubble were breached, the
decontamination process would take hours instead of minutes. The
twenty-two workers that had been inside the bubble had already
jumped to the decontamination facility at Point Barrow from the
dedicated jump gate inside the bubble.
No matter how many times you cycle people
through an evacuation drill, when the announcing system says,
"this is not a drill" a measure of panic enters the equation. So
far no one had been crushed or trampled, but there were plenty
of bumps and bruises as people inched down the jammed hallways
toward the jump rooms.
In less than fifteen seconds, Hal and
Linda stepped into the gate at Biofabriken and out of the gate
at the cavernous Munich municipal jump gate facility. Everywhere
the eye swept there was an instructional screen of one type or
another interspersed with advertising screens for everything
imaginable. Where there was no structure to hang screens, there
were holo-ads just above head height. But at this hour there
were no more than a dozen people close enough to determine their
There were jump gates everywhere. This
section of the terminal was filled with gates for Munich
companies large enough to maintain a gate for their employees.
If you had a security card from one of these companies and used
public transportation to get to and from work, you probably
finished up your morning commute by walking from the subway to
your companyís jump gate on the private platform. It was also a
convenient first security screen for the companies. If security
were tight at your company, you probably endured a retinal scan
when you stepped out of the gate into security.
Hal held Linda with one hand and dug at
his nose plugs with the other. He was grateful no one was close
enough to take offense. Linda was also removing her nose plugs,
but somehow she managed it with considerably more grace and less
conspicuousness than Hal. Harvey was droning directions through
the implanted transducer.
Hal put his removed nose plugs in his
pocket and firmed his grip on Lindaís hand. "This way, my dear.
Briskly, but not fast enough to attract attention." Lindaís pace
quickened to match Halís, and they moved quickly off the private
platform and headed toward the international area of the
complex. They each had a fake credit card in their hand for the
readers at the public gates, guaranteed by Harvey as
Hal spotted the New York jump gate and
steered Linda to its reader. She passed the card through the
slot and walked without a break in stride onto the platform in
the heart of Manhattan. Jump traffic in Manhattan was congested
as usual during the rush hours, but the European gate section
from which they emerged was almost empty due to the time
differential. "No need to rush through here. Harvey tells me all
is well. No pursuit. Biofabriken still thinks the habitat is
failing, and he has already crashed the controls on the habitat
gates. They will have to get back by vehicle from one of the
other L5 habitats. It should be hours before they can pull it
off. The Syntech facility at Prudhoe Bay is almost evacuated,
and the biohaz chamber has been flooded with that fluoro-actin
stuff. Since they donít have a vacuum to vent to like the
habitat, it will take about two hours for the gas to be
neutralized and the cleanup crews to arrive. That should give us
plenty of time."
Lindaís pace had slowed to match Halís and
the limitations of the congestion, but they were still moving
with purpose. Linda moved closer to Hal and turned her head
toward him. "Have there been any casualties?"
"There have been no casualties at either
facility beyond a few scrapes and bruises from the rapid
evacuations, Hal. I have maintained a careful surveillance of
that situation, knowing your concern as well as Lindaís."
"Harvey says nothing except a few scrapes
and bruises. But Iíll bet thereíll be some serious damage to
egoís by the time we finish this, and thatís just as it should
After fifteen minutes of walking and
riding slideways, they finally got to the West Coast platform
and jumped to Seattle. From there, they jumped to Anchorage and
made their way to the private gates maintained by Syntech. They
both went to their pockets and changed the credit cards for fake
Syntech security cards.
Hal homed in on the security card reader
for Syntech gate number three and delivered his previous word of
caution to Linda. "Okay, this is the same drill as the last one.
Your mission is the same. Mine should take about seven minutes
here because the facility is more spread out. Harvey says all
the workers have cleared the Prudhoe Bay facility and will not
be jumping to Anchorage through this gate for another thirty
minutes or so. Letís make it quick and get back home."
Hal slid his fake and blank security card
through the reader and stepped through to the Prudhoe Bay
facility. Harvey, being currently in control of Syntechís
computers, overrode the emergency lockout in effect for all
ingress to the Prudhoe Bay facility. Linda was right behind him,
already pulling the first spray can from her voluminous shoulder
bag. "Okay, Harvey, which way?"
Samuels was buried deep in a statistical
data chart of the report open on his desk. He was roused by the
chime of his hotline. He stabbed the connect key on his console
and was rewarded with the image and voice of Lin Crebs from
security. "Scott, we have an emergency message from Syntech that
there has been a containment breach at their Prudhoe Bay genetic
research facility. Thatís one of the installations on your
priority oversight list, although I am not knowledgeable of the
reasons for its priority status. They are in the process of
evacuating the facility. On top of that, I didnít call you, but
ten minutes ago we got two independent alert signals. One from
each of our agents on the Biofabriken genetic research habitat.
Their signals originated from the GEU L5 habitat, which is the
emergency evacuation destination for Biofabriken. A computer run
through our GEU intercepts indicates that the habitat has been
evacuated due to a meteor strike. It seemed to me like a hell of
a coincidence that two genetic research facilities had a
catastrophic event in the same hour. Does any of this make sense
to you as something more than coincidence?"
Samuels couldnít believe what he was
hearing. A meteor strike! That was his plan for destroying the
Biofabriken habitatóbut two weeks from now. That by itself
didnít sound like a coincidence. Not only is a meteor strike of
any sort statistically minute, but together with the Syntech
facility losing containment, it was absurd to see it as a
coincidence. "Youíre right, Lin, it makes no sense as a
coincidence. It appears that the GEU has somehow connected us as
the guilty party for the meteor strike and has launched some
sort of retaliatory attack on the Syntech facility."
"How could Syntech or anybody else be
responsible for a meteor strike on a habitat?"
"Thatís information not available to you.
You just concentrate on stopping whatever is going on at Syntech.
Assemble an assault team in full contamination gear and have
them jump in as soon as the evacuation is complete. And I want
an assault team, not a bunch of field agents from our closest
office. They are to go through the normal security jump gates
and to go through live. Iíll take responsibility for any damage
to equipment. If I remember right, Point Barrow is their
emergency evacuation point and Anchorage is their everyday jump
gate. I know Anchorage is right. Iíve been through there several
"Okay, Iíve got it. The ready assault team
will be in Prudhoe Bay in no more than ten minutes, or as soon
as Syntech completes evacuation."
Samuelís screen went blank, and he
straightened out of the crouch he had been in over the console.
What the hell was going on?
The security door split open quickly in front of him and he
broke into a trot down the hallway. "Right at the next
crossing hallway." Hal turned right. "Through the archway
on your left. It is at the end of this hallway." Halís steps
sounded loud in the reverberation of the empty hallway, even
with the soft-soled shoes he had on. He maintained his jog to
the end of the hallway, and Harvey opened the door as he
approached. "The console on the
right with the blinking red screen, Hal. It is similar to the
one on the habitat, but with two buttons. I have entered the
computer codes. You must open the two red cover doors and press
the buttons simultaneously."
Hal flipped first the red cover on the
left and then the one on the right. With his left and right
index fingers, he pushed the buttons. The screen immediately
started beeping and showing a readout of cryogenic storage
temperatures. He held the buttons down for a couple of seconds
watching the numbers climb on the screen.
"The sequence is automatic. You do not
have to hold the buttons down."
"Yeah, well I just want to make sure it
goes as fast as it can. This whole exercise is getting old fast.
I want to be finished with this and get home."
"But Hal, holding the buttons could not
possibly make the process faster. Surely you must . . ."
"Stow it. Weíre talking emotions here, not
reality. Letís get going. The same way back?"
"Yes. I will direct you."
Hal turned and fell into his jog. He noted
the sound of the door closing behind him. Harvey was always
Samuels stabbed at the chiming, blinking
com-button on the console. "Yes?"
"Scott, weíre locked out. Whoever is in
there has control of the computer system. Liberty canít access
the system, and the jump gates are locked out. The assault team
is at Point Barrow, but itís just waiting for the gate to
re-open, if it does. I also sent all three Anchorage agents to
the municipal jump gate, just in case these people try to come
out through there. If they donít know their plan has been
compromised, theyíll probably try to use the jump gates to get
out. What now?"
Damn! Samuelsís mind raced through the
situation variables. This wasnít any spur of the moment
retaliation. This was well planned since they have control of
the computer. What to do? Simple. All out attack. He might be
faulted for not being successful, but never for not trying. "If
the gate comes back on-line at Point Barrow, have the team toss
in a grenade and follow it with a full assault. Get some more
men to Anchorage and have the local police secure us a field of
fire. I want the bastards."
Hal slowed his jog as he came to the
middle of the security station inside the jump gate room. He did
not see Linda and turned almost a hundred and eighty degrees in
his search before she popped up from behind a screen near the
door he had just come through.
"I heard someone coming, but you didnít
call ahead. I wasnít sure it was you. Is everything okay?"
"Like clockwork. Letís get out of here."
"All right. Iím finished too."
"Harvey, is the gate clear?"
"Yes, Hal. I am re-activating Ö"
As the gate field flickered into existence
again, an object about the size of a baseball came arcing
through, hit the floor, caromed off the side of one console and
skidded back behind another. "Grenade! Get down! Cover your
Hal dived behind still another console as
far away from the grenade as he thought he could get before the
grenade detonated. Thank God Linda was on the other side of the
room. Even though the jump gate room was large, the concussion
from the explosion dumped Hal into unconsciousness. The blast
itself was shielded in Halís direction by the console it had
bounced behind, but shrapnel zinged off all the walls and the
ceiling, either from the grenade itself or from pieces of the
Linda felt as though she had fallen from a
second story window and landed on her stomach. She couldnít get
her breath, her head hurt terribly, and her ears were ringing
loudly and painfully. She had covered her ears as Hal had
yelled, but evidently it wasnít good enough. As she levered
herself off the floor, she realized she couldnít hear anything.
Nothing except the ringing. Where was Hal?
Pieces of display screens and consoles of
all types were scattered around the room. The far side of the
room was nothing but pieces and parts. She made her way slowly
to where she had last seen Hal. He wasnít there. She turned
slowly, fighting not to lose her balance, trying to see through
the thick dust. There he was. Behind that console over there.
She stumbled through the debris and put her hand around the back
of Halís neck looking for a pulse. It was there, strong and
steady. She sat back on the floor, shaking.
The speaker on Halís wrist personal
brought Harveyís voice into the room. "Linda, he is unconscious
from the blast, but he appears to be all right. In fact, he
appears to be approaching consciousness now."
Linda didnít hear a thing except the
Hal groaned. Hal groaned again. He
appeared to still be alive, but there were bells and whistles in
his head. He moved one arm and then the other.
"Hal! Hal! Are you all right?" Lindaís
voice sounded strange to her. She could hear it dimly in her
head, but she was not hearing it through her ears.
Hal didnít hear a thing. He pulled his
right leg up to get it underneath him and started to follow with
the left leg, but a glob of molten metal must have fallen on the
back of his left thigh as he tried to move it, so he gave up and
groaned again. He rolled over onto his right side and again the
molten metal seemed to caress his left thigh. This was getting
boringly the same so he opened his eyes. Lo and behold, he could
see. There was Linda, her mouth working and tears rolling down
her face, but he couldnít hear a thing. He pointed to his ears
and shook his head in the "no" motion, and Linda stopped moving
her mouth. Apparently she realized he was deaf. That thought was
followed by the realization that she probably couldnít hear
anything either. It would be ten or fifteen minutes before their
hearing was normal enough to converse, unless it was permanently
He groaned again and tried to move to a
sitting position. He looked down under his left thigh to see if
it was sitting on anything that was burning, but he couldnít see
"I have closed the gate again. No one . .
. or thing . . . can get through. Have you recovered
sufficiently to stand up?"
There was no response from Hal. "Hal, can you hear me?"
Again there was no response. Harvey boosted the volume to just
below the damaging level and tried again.
"Hal, do you hear me?"
Hal winced as his implanted transducer
gave him a jolt of sound. By concentrating hard, he could
separate words from the bells and whistles. He sub-vocalized.
"Whatís the status of everything
"I have closed the gate. It was only open
for two seconds. There was no way I could know there were people
ready to attack on the other side. They must have disabled the
proximity status indicator at the other gate."
"You couldnít tell if they did that?"
"Well yes, I could if I were monitoring
that system through the central jump gate computer, but I do not
have the capacity to monitor everything all the time."
Ha! Harveyís in a huff.
"I wasnít accusing you of anything,
Harvey. Just find a way to get us out of here."
"I regret that there does not appear to be
a reasonable solution to the egress problem. When it became
obvious that our sabotage at this facility had been discovered,
I linked with Liberty VII through the digital uplink here at the
facility. The Agency has somehow discovered our actions and it
is they who attacked us through the gate. There are also assault
troops at the Point Barrow gates and three agents at the
Anchorage municipal jump gate terminal. The computer inventory
shows six snowmobiles, four four-wheel drive vehicles, and three
short-range lenscars. I can direct you to the vehicle storage
"Oh thatís great. Itís August and the snow
mobiles are useless even here in the Arctic. I think the
four-wheelers are also useless this time of year for off-road
travel because of the melted top layer of permafrost. That is
unless these vehicles are special army issue for this kind of
terrain. Are they?"
"No, Hal. They are standard Fords"
"Thatís what I thought. That leaves the
lenscars. What do you mean when you say Ďshort-range.í"
"Three hundred kilometers according to
their specifications, Hal. That is insufficient to reach any
city with a jump gate."
"Are there any towns within three hundred
klicks where we could re-charge the cars?"
"There are several towns, Hal, but it
would probably be easier to get gasoline or diesel fuel here in
the Arctic than to find a power grid sufficient for fast
re-charging of lens capacitors."
"Very good, Harvey. Good thinking. Weíll
take the four-wheelers and any spare gas cans we can load in.
Weíll have to stick to the roads as much as possible. Is there
an emergency clothing locker in this place?"
"Yes. There is an emergency Arctic gear
locker in the vehicle storage area. The outside temperature is
plus one degree Celsius. It will drop as low as minus ten later
in the day or as low as minus thirty in a storm. You will
require additional clothing."
Hal made a rising up hand sign to Linda
and grabbed the piece of console beside him while trying to get
his right foot under him. Linda locked both hands under his left
armpit to help him up. He tried not to put any weight on the
left leg and to keep it straight, but he was only partially
successful. The blowtorch still seemed to be directed to the
back of his left thigh but with occasional excursions as low as
the ankle and as high as his butt. He groaned again.
On his feet now, Hal shifted some weight
to his left leg, and it seemed to take it without increasing the
pain level. However, when he tried to walk the pain was there by
the bucket loads. But he could walk. There wasnít anything
broken, and there was no obvious blood. Heíd live at least a
while longer. "Letís go, Harvey." He motioned for Linda
to follow, and she nodded her head up and down, still holding on
to his arm.
"I am afraid the vehicle storage area is
at the other end of the facility, Hal."
Hal grunted as he reached over far enough
to position the third five-gallon can of gas on the tailgate of
the four-wheeler. He was doing his best not to bend his left leg
at the knee or hip any more than absolutely necessary. Linda had
insisted when they got to the vehicle storage area that she have
a look at Halís leg. There was a massive swelling on the back of
his thigh, about mid way between the knee and the buttocks. It
was very red now but would undoubtedly go through the usual
blue-purple, sickly-yellow stages over the next few weeks. At
this stage, the swelling should be iced to slow the infusion of
blood into the tissues, and there was plenty of ice to be had
outside, no doubt, but no time to deal with it. Hal shoved the
can forward and lifted the tailgate into place.
Linda zipped-up a not too badly fitting
set of insulated coveralls, though from the head down she became
uni-sexed. The real problem was that all this stuff was designed
as survival gear, and it was appropriately blaze-orange. They
had ripped off the radar reflector patches from the shoulders of
the suits, but they could do nothing about the color.
"I have detected through Liberty VII that
an Agency assault team has jumped to Fairbanks. They will be
taking three army lens assault vehicles overland to Prudhoe Bay,
since they cannot use the jump gates at the facility."
"How long for them to get here?"
"About two hours."
"Great! Weíll just get out there in the
wide open tundra with this lemon-yellow four-wheeler and hunker
down so they canít see us when they go by. Wait a minute. Can
you check the inventory here to see if they have any tarps?"
"No. There are no tarps, but there are
tarpaulins, if they are the same thing."
"Same thing. Where are they?"
"In the adjacent equipment maintenance
area, the door to the right of the outside vehicle doors. There
is no information as to their location inside the equipment
Hal, gave a shout and waved his arms to
catch Lindaís attention. Their hearing was getting better, but
it still had a long way to go. When she was close enough, he
leaned over and shouted in her ear. "Go over to the next area
and see if you can find some tarps." Hal pointed toward the door
to the equipment maintenance area.
Lindaís face broke into a questioning
"Heavy-duty blankets to cover equipment."
Linda nodded in understanding and turned
toward the indicated door. Hal added two more canisters of
emergency rations he had stripped from the other vehicles to the
one apparent standard issue that was with the four-wheeler. He
also threw in an extra sealed plastic package of flares and
another first-aid kit. He stuck a folding knife in his pocket.
There didnít appear to be anything else useful in the survival
gear, like rifles. Too bad, Hal only had his Beretta.
Linda came back through the door beaming
with success. She had a small tarp in her arms. When she had
placed the tarp in the four-wheelerís cargo area, she turned to
Hal making a gesture with wide-open arms. "There are some bigger
ones, but theyíre too heavy for me." She was pumping her wide
spread arms up and down and making a straining grimace with her
face. Hal couldnít hear too well, but he got the picture and
followed her back to the equipment maintenance area.
Hal pulled the four-wheeler into gear and
drove out of the building as soon as the slow rising door was
high enough. The door reversed itself behind them and closed.
Hal watched in the mirror and smiled.
"Okay, Harvey, which way?"
The somewhat reduced sound level of his
transducer responded. "After you
get through the gate, go straight for 1,236 meters then turn
right on the perimeter road. Travel clockwise for 23.24 degrees
of arc or 997 meters and turn left. This road will take you
through Deadhorse and eventually to Fairbanks. There are only
two roads off the perimeter road, one to Fairbanks and the other
to Prudhoe Bay. It should be relatively easy to get on the
"Gee, I think Iíve got it. Letís see, a
right at the tee and take the first left. I think Iíve got it."
"There is no need for sarcasm, Hal. I was
merely trying to be precise in my directions."
"Yeah, well people donít relate too well
to such abstract directions. We tend to go for more graphic
directions for vehicles."
"Graphic? What could be more graphic and
less abstract than degrees of arc and distance? Of course I
could have provided polar coordinates, but I thought that a bit
arcane even though strangely appropriate for our location."
"Okay. Another one for you, but believe
me, we donít have time for word games now. Weíll discuss the
flexibility of the terms Ďabstractí and Ďgraphicí some other
time, if we get any."
Hal managed the two turns without
difficulty and headed south on the road to Fairbanks. He didnít
know gravel roads still existed outside of parks and wilderness
areas, and with the advent of lens technology, even those were
disappearing. He could make about 50 klicks in an hour without
jarring his leg beyond endurance. That should be just about
right. If he were in command of the assault team, he would have
the lenscars fan out to about a 100-klick radius and do a slow
spiral into the facility. In this terrain, that would spot
anyone running from the site on foot or by overland vehicle.
Anyone in a lenscar would be tracked by the computer from the
onboard identification transponder, or if the transponder had
been disabled, they would already be gone anyway.
Hal smiled at Linda when she rested a hand
gently on his left leg. Their hearing still wasnít up to
conversation, particularly with the engine noise, the gravel
road, and the deep-cleated tires. He drove steadily, with Harvey
providing an update on the approach of the assault team every
few minutes to break the monotony of the road and the pain.
Linda didnít say anything, but kept her eyes on him most of the
About forty-three klicks out, Hal saw just
what he wanted. There was a rocky outcrop rising out of the flat
to slightly rolling tundra on his right, about a half klick off
the road. He slowed almost to a stop and raised his voice. "Iím
going to pull off the road here and head toward those rocks and
scrub. About a hundred meters off the road, Iím going to fake
getting stuck. Hang on."
Linda nodded her head up and down. "I can
hear you okay now. Can you hear me?"
"Yeah. Finally. Here we go."
The four-wheeler edged off the steep crown
of the roadbed built up above the tundra, pitched over to what
felt like a forty-five degree angle and then leveled off at the
bottom of the roadbed. Hal drove in low gear across the
green-brown grass, moss, and flowers of the tundra, the tires
leaving an ugly scar thirty to forty centimeters deep behind
him. About a hundred meters out he stopped, put the four-wheeler
in reverse, and floored the gas pedal. Great gouts of torn
tundra, mud, and gravel were sprayed up under the front end of
the vehicle, while he inched slowly backwards for about six
meters. He shoved the shift lever back down into low and churned
back over the same ruts. He reversed and came back again.
Leaning out the partially opened door, he grunted and turned off
"God, I hated doing that. If we get out of
this, Iíll find a way to have an ecology team sent in here to
repair this horror. Left to itself, the scar might be here for
the next thousand years."
"That means we have to get out, Hal. I
couldnít die with this on my conscience."
"We will, I promise. This is the plan. You
listen up too, Harvey. First weíll take the big tarp and cover
the four-wheeler. Its a kind of buff color and is probably
easily spotable from the air, but just in case it isnít, weíll
fold a corner of it back as if it were blown up by the wind.
They canít miss a patch of lemon yellow. Okay, then we go back
to the road with the smaller tarp and stretch it across the
hollow where the roadway levels off into the tundra. You, my
dear, will take your earth-tone spray paints out again and do a
camouflage pattern on the tarp. When the team spots the vehicle,
theyíll think we are either under the tarp covering the
four-wheeler or have gone on by foot to the cover of the rocks
and scrub. They should check the vehicle first and then fan out
to move into the rocks. When theyíre far enough away, weíll make
a break for the lenscar and Harvey will have it activated and
ready to fly. See any holes?"
Linda nodded her head reflectively, but
Harvey jumped right in. "It is a good plan, Hal, but there are
several areas where the logic is thin. First, the tundra is
obviously soft, and you and Linda will leave clearly visible
footprints. Second, the assault team will undoubtedly be using
infrared detectors as well as visual perception to spot you.
Third, you have hypothesized only one of many possible attack
plans, and the lenscar might not be left behind by the assault
team. Fourth, you will not be capable of moving quickly with
your injured leg."
"Well, Iíve got you on the first point,
Harvey. Tundra shoes are part of the standard survival kits, and
I put two pair in the four-wheeler. Even without the tundra
shoes we could probably walk back in the wheel ruts without
leaving too much of a trail anyway. Your second item is right on
target though. They will undoubtedly be using IR detectors, so
weíll give them a big signature and hope they leave us alone.
Iíll leave the four-wheeler running as long as possible to make
sure the engine is radiating full blast when they find it. The
third item youíve got me on, but thereís no way to know
precisely what theyíll do. Weíll just have to play it by ear.
Finally, you might be surprised what feats a man is capable of
when his life depends on it. The leg hurts like hell, but it
Linda put both hands on Halís shoulders
and pulled him over for a light kiss. "Itís a good plan. We can
make it work. Iíve never done camouflage, but come to think of
it, a lot of my early paintings had the right qualities. Iíll
just have to recapture my youthful enthusiasm."
Hal reached into the back of the four
wheeler and took out the smallest tarp and a pair of the tundra
shoes. "Okay. Linda, you take the tarp and your paints back to
the road. Iím going to lay a false trail from here to the rocks
and then circle back to turn off the engine. Itís only one set
of tracks, but theyíve no idea if itís one person or ten theyíre
after. When I get back to the road, we can sling the tarp over
the gully and get under it."
He pulled her to him, kissed her again,
and handed her the shoes and the tarp. She picked up her bag of
paint cans, snugged it over her shoulder, and opened the door to
provide room for getting into the paddle-shaped tundra shoes.
The Velcro straps went easily over her own shoes, and she
stepped down from the cab, tarp in arms. A quick smile and she
was heading back toward the road, lifting her knees high in the
air, trying hard not to fall on her face.
Hal reached down, flipped the ignition on
and re-started the engine. He picked up his pair of tundra shoes
and the large tarp and stepped down to the tundra. He placed the
shoes on the ground and threw the tarp over the four-wheeler. It
was a big tarp, and he had no problem covering the vehicle,
leaving it draped over the top of the exhaust pipe and flipped
up on the hood as if the wind had blown it up. That would also
help with the IR signature.
He picked up the tundra shoes and started
toward the rocks almost a klick away. Some places he would
hardly leave a track at all and then he would go through a low
spot where he would sink in up over his ankles and into his
shoes. Between the mud-filled shoes and the effort of pulling
his injured leg up out of the mud every other step, he was tired
after the first hundred meters. The pain was back to that molten
lead feeling, but he slogged on.
What seemed like three days later, he made
it to the rocks and gratefully sat while he cleared the mud off
and out of his shoes. He strapped on the tundra shoes. "How much
"Only about twenty-five minutes. You will
have to hurry. The team is deploying for the search pattern you
"Well, I got one right at least. I hope
you wonít need to put it on my tombstone."
"Of course not, Hal. I am quite capable of
composing a suitable epitaph."
"Great. Youíre supposed to be encouraging
at a time like this."
He levered himself up with his right hand
on the rock he was sitting on, trying to keep his left leg as
straight as possible, and hobbled back toward the four-wheeler
in a wide arc. His gait looked just as funny as Lindaís had.
When he got back to the four-wheeler, he
saw that the wind had shifted the tarp considerably, which was
good, since it made the flip up onto the hood believable. He
turned off the engine and then straightened the tarp and heaped
mud and loose tundra on three of the corners. He made a pile
where the fourth corner would have been, except for the wind,
and walked back toward the road parallel to the tracks.
As he had been walking he had looked up
from watching his footwork numerous times and could see Linda
leaning over or on her hands and knees with a paint can in hand.
When he was about seventy-five meters away, he looked up and she
was not to be seen. It was as if she had vanished, but as he got
to within twenty-five meters, he could make out the edges of the
tarp first and then the camouflage pattern. It was
"Okay lady. I see you now. Damn youíre
A head popped out of one end of the tarp
wearing a big smile. "And itís all for you. Come on in my
dashing knight, and Iíll do my best to reward your valor."
"God! I hope I can take a rain check. Come
on out. We have to get the tarp slung in the gully so it wonít
be right on our bodies. That way weíll present a lower IR
Linda emerged strikingly as the
blaze-orange jumpsuit contrasted with the camo tarp, her breath
misting in the near freezing, moist air of the tundra. "Grab
that corner and pull it tight against the gravel here on the
They piled gravel from the roadbed onto
the high edge of the tarp, and then Linda pulled the opposite
edge tight as Hal piled on mud and tundra he scraped from the
tire tracks. The tarp was stretched tight enough to give them
almost a half-meter of clearance above their bodies, with the
open ends loose enough to fall down almost to the ground. Hal
motioned, and they both crawled in. Linda snuggled up, but said
"Okay, Harvey. Youíre our eyes and ears.
How long before probable contact."
"As early as three minutes for IR contact
on the vehicle, Hal. There is one lenscar with a search pattern
that will bring it almost directly over the vehicle."
"Can you patch their communications
through the wrist personal speaker?"
"No problem, Hal."
The leader for the eight-man Bravo team
sat in the shotgun position of the lenscar with his powered
binoculars scanning the tundra for the IR signature just spotted
by the onboard scanner. "Team Leader, this is Bravo Squad
Leader. I have a vehicle under a tarp about forty-five klicks
from the facility. Looks like they were making for some rocks
and scrub about a klick off the road and got stuck. Weíre moving
to circle the rocks now.
Team Leader, this is Bravo Squad Leader.
We have no visual or IR of anyone in the rocks, but they could
have found some way to shield themselves from our sensors. One
part of the rocks is pretty rugged. There could be some ledges
or caves. Weíll check the vehicle first and then deploy to move
into the rocks. Thereís one set of tracks leading from the
vehicle to the rocks."
"Roger that, Bravo Leader. Thatís a go.
Weíre on our way for backup."
The lenscar dropped swiftly down to hover
about three feet off the ground and twenty meters behind the
vehicle. Three assault troopers dropped to the ground in their
plastic field armor and moved quickly up to the back of the
vehicle. One trooper grabbed a corner of the tarp and yanked
while the other two crouched with their weapons in a ready
firing position. When the tarp came off, there was no one
visible and the trooper that had snatched the tarp moved to the
driverís side door while one of the other troopers repositioned
himself to fire into the vehicle. The trooper jerked the door
open, but again they found nothing.
"Bravo Leader, the vehicle is empty. He
must have gone into the rocks, sir."
Four more troopers dropped to the tundra
and began to spread out as they squished through the tundra
towards the rocks. The lenscar hovered beside the four-wheeler
as they advanced.
Hal stuck his head cautiously out from
under the tarp. It looked good. Then, as he watched, the lenscar
started to move towards the rocks, maintaining its distance
about two hundred meters behind the slowly advancing troopers.
"Damn, Harvey. The lenscarís maintaining a
covering position and moving with them."
"Yes, Hal. It appears to be pacing itself
to the advance."
"Well, we donít have any choice. Weíre
going to have to get closer to the troops than I wanted, and we
better go now, because every minute theyíre getting farther
Hal turned to Linda and smiled. "Now or
never. Get down to the other end of the tarp and go out as quick
as you can, pull the tarp out from under the gravel and get it
up between you and the troops."
He groped in his right pocket and removed
the folding survival knife. "Iím going to cut the tarp in half
so we can use it to cover us as much as possible while we try
and make it to the lenscar. Now!"
Hal had stiffened up while under the tarp
in the dank cold of the tundra, and his leg hurt like hell every
step of the five hundred meters they had covered trying to catch
up with the lenscar. They had not been sighted by the troops or
the lenscar as they advanced. The troops were focused on the
rocks ahead, and the lenscar must have had its sensors set to
sweep ahead only.
Hal pantomimed to Linda for her to remove
the clumsy tundra shoes as he was doing. "Okay, Harvey, when
I say now, you take over the
lenscar controls, shut down the communications, turn it to the
left ninety degrees, drop it to twenty centimeters off the
ground, and make sure the driverís door is unlocked. Got it?"
"Certainly, Hal. I assume you mean
counter-clockwise when you say Ďto the leftí?"
"Yeah. Counter-clockwise . . . now!"
The lenscar spun quickly counter-clockwise
and seemed to plummet right toward Hal as he braced himself to
dive out of the way if necessary. It wasnít. Harvey was right on
target, and the driver was scared shitless. His face was a white
mask in the window as Hal yanked the door open and fired point
blank into the body armor to minimize the damage done by the
armor-piercing flechette. The drugged driver fell conveniently
out of the seat and onto the ground. He must not have had his
belts on. As he fell out, Linda leaped into the driverís seat
and scrambled to the other side. Hal climbed in slowly, pulling
his left leg in with his hands under the knee, but before he had
the door closed, Harvey had the lenscar underway.
About this time, the communications
blackout got someoneís attention and bullets started rattling
off the lenscarís armor. "Do not be alarmed, Hal. Bullets of
small armsí caliber should not be able to penetrate the
"Just get us the hell out of here,
"Please fasten your seat belts. It might
be necessary to take evasive action from the other lenscars in
the assault group if they see us. Also, I will be maintaining a
minimum ground height to avoid radar detection. All sensors
except the forward-looking radar have been turned off. They can
find us only with their active sensors, by sight, or by
detecting a bounce from our radar. The radar cannot be helped as
it will provide the probable method of escaping visual or active
Hal fumbled with the seat belts, trying to
get them out from under and behind him. He heard both buckles
snap into place on Lindaís side of the lenscar, and then she was
helping him pull the belt out from under his legs where his
one-legged leverage against the floor wasnít lifting him high
enough for the job. She managed to get the lap belt free and
snap it into place. Hal finally pulled the double strap around
from behind him, over his head, and snapped into the dual buckle
holding the lap straps. It was no wonder the driver hadnít had
the seatbelts on.
Harvey was true to his word. The next ten
minutes was a hundred times worse than the scariest amusement
ride Hal had ever ventured onto, and Hal was a big fan of thrill
rides. Never again.
Linda was green. Her jaw was firmly shut,
and she stared straight out the window, concentrating hard on
the horizon. It took a lot of concentration, because Harvey had
the lenscar at its maximum safe speed with the forward looking
radar providing centimeter by centimeter changes to the ground
contour. Adding to this up and down joy were the abrupt lateral
changes as Harvey steered the lenscar around rocks, scrub, and
"We are now out of any possible sensor
range of the assault group, but I am maintaining the close,
terrain-following mode to deter the Agencyís efforts to track us
by satellite. However, I will cut the speed to three hundred
kilometers per hour for your comfort."
"Jeez. I love it when you show deference
to us humans, but do whatever you have to do to get us home."
Linda said nothing, and stared straight
ahead, her jaws clamped shut.
"I will make a fifty kilometer-wide arc
around Fairbanks and approach from the South. That should avoid
any interceptions planned by the Agency. I will, of course,
continue to monitor their transmissions via Liberty VII."
"We are now circling Fairbanks. The
outskirts of the city are visible on your right."
Hal glanced out the right window and saw
the outer suburbs of Fairbanks, just as Harvey had indicated. He
also noted a lot of ponds, lakes, and streams. "When you set
this thing down do you think you can do it near some water.
Weíre caked with tundra mud, which would be a dead giveaway at a
jump terminal. The survival jumpsuits have taken the brunt of
the mud bath, and we can do without Ďem, but we at least have to
wash our shoes, hands, and faces."
"I will stop now while we are still in an
isolated area. Then you can get back in, and I will get us into
the outskirts of the city. This lenscar, though armored, appears
to be of reasonably standard appearance. Would you agree with
"I agree. We shouldnít have any trouble
with people thinking itís unusual. But you canít take it into
the city where automated traffic will pick up the fact that you
have turned off the transponder identifier. By the way, I
thought those transponders were impossible to turn off short of
removal from the lenscar. How did you do that?"
"It is not common knowledge, but all
lenscars manufactured in the United States during the last
twelve years have included circuitry that the Agency can control
via Liberty VII, and that includes the transponder identifier."
"Oh. Iím so glad to hear that. It makes me
feel so much safer to know that my government is in full
control. Of course, itís sure a big help at the moment."
The lenscar settled gently to the ground
in a small clearing beside a stream. Hal looked over at Linda,
who still had said nothing. She was opening and closing her
mouth rapidly to fight off the cramps in her jaw muscles. She
had the door open the second the car settled and was out. Ten
steps and she was on her hands and knees splashing the frigid
water into her face and smiling. "God, that feels good."
Hal sat down by the stream and removed his
shoes and socks. They both rubbed at their socks and shoes until
most of the mud was gone, but they were stained pretty badly.
They kept their survival suits on at Harveyís recommendation
until they were ready to get out of the lenscar. That kept the
mud they had already deposited inside the lenscar from messing
up their clean clothes. They climbed back into the lenscar, and
Harvey found a road that took them directly to the edge of town.
Parked with its empty-light flashing on the top was an autocab.
Harvey had been planning ahead.
They shed their clothes in the assault
lenscar and climbed into the autocab. Both Hal and Linda were
beginning to feel better. The ride to the municipal jump gate
terminal was an uneventful, ordinary ride in an autocab. Hal
loved every minute of it, and Linda was back to her normal color
without the bulging cheek muscles.
Just before they got to the terminal, it
occurred to Hal that they would be conspicuous coming into the
terminal building in their shirtsleeves. "Harvey, can you find
us a megashop where we can pop in and get some jackets. It seems
to be colder than usual for Fairbanks in August, and weíll stand
out like sore thumbs if we go into the terminal in shirtsleeves
when all these other folks have on sweaters and jackets. The
people in the megashop might think weíre strange coming in with
wet shoes and socks, but there isnít likely to be anybody there
looking for us."
"A very good thought, Hal. That had not
occurred to me."
"Yeah, well it almost didnít occur to me
Harvey slipped the autocab into an unload
station at the downtown megashop tower and moved from there to
an autocab stand at the end of the street. He switched off the
empty-light and waited. He monitored the Liberty VII traffic and
determined that the Agency had no idea of their whereabouts, but
they had agents alerted in every town and city that was within
range of the stolen lenscar.
Hal and Linda emerged in less than twenty
minutes. Both were wearing windbreakers and carrying a bag. They
moved to the autocab stand on the end of the street and got into
the one with its empty-light off. "Is this the right one?"
"Actually, any of the autocabs would have
been the right one, but this is the one you were in previously."
"Cut the talk, Harvey. Letís get out of
They left the autocab at the entrance to
the municipal terminal and entered the building with the
ordinary people. They even looked like ordinary people, if you
factored in the bad color matches of their outfits and the cheap
walking shoes on their feet. With Harveyís direction in Halís
ear, they walked directly to the jump gate to Juneau. From
Juneau, it was Seattle, and from Seattle to D. C. There they
took the tube to their lenscar parking area, and Harvey took
them southeast to the Wicomico River.
Hot showers and thirty minutes in the
Jacuzzi downing two big cognacs each had pretty much removed the
post operation jitters they had both entered the house with
earlier. Lindaís head was nestled back in the crook of Halís arm
and Harvey was "asleep." "Hal, that was the most exhilarating
thing Iíve done since my undergraduate days. In my crush to get
my doctorate, I forgot how good it felt to do something you know
is right. Can we keep Gaiaís Raiders alive?"
Hal couldnít believe his ears. He was
still scared half to death, and this lady was talking about more
of the same. "Well, as soon as they get that four-wheeler out of
the tundra and things settle down, we might be able to combine a
short trout fishing trip in Alaska with a run by the Raiderís
for a little tundra repair. Iíll get Harvey to keep an ear to
the ground through Liberty. When itís all clear, we could give
it a run, patch some tundra, catch some trout, and maybe fool
around a little. Can you take a couple of days out of your
"Do I have to wait for the fooliní around
"Good morning, Hal. I started to wake you
last night, but I concluded that it would offer no improvement
to the situation to do so. I detected that Liberty VII was being
used to do genetic matching with samples taken from the Syntech
facility at Prudhoe Bay. They are feeding in the genetic
blueprints as soon as they are determined by the Agencyís
laboratory and matching them to the international genetic map
database. So far, they have not entered your blueprint, but I am
continuing surveillance of this activity."
"They shouldnít have any genetic material
that they can trace to me. We took the standard precautions of
shrink-plastic surgical gloves, retinal diffusers, electrostatic
hats, and elasticized wrist and ankle cuff underclothing. We
should be clean."
"Those were my first thoughts, also, but I
reviewed my buckle camera footage and my audio recordings and
found that you did violate the integrity of your safeguards
once. If you will remember, Linda insisted on inspecting your
thigh injury when you got to the vehicle storage area. You had
to let your pants down . . . I remember that very clearly . . .
and, I will assume, pull down your polyspun tights so she could
inspect the injured area. This would have presented the
opportunity for body hairs to be left at the scene."
"Damn! Youíre right. I shouldíve thought
about that at the time. I guess I was still a bit addled from
the explosion. But so far, they havenít found anything, right?"
"That is correct. They have not entered
any sample with your genetic blueprint, but they have only
entered sixty-four blueprints. They have seventeen hundred and
fifty-three samples from the scene, and it is impossible to
predict how many different genetic blueprints this will yield."
"Hey, if Iím officially dead, wouldnít my
records have been removed from the database anyway?"
"No, Hal, that is not the normal course of
events. The international genetic map database is not purged of
a personís genetic blueprint information until three years after
death. That is a statute of the law that set up the database.
However, in your case, I removed your genetic blueprint
information from the international files when I initially
created Eugene Purcell. Actually, I just renamed your file to
Eugene Purcell at the time. With this latest turn of events, I
have re-listed your real name as the subject of the file."
"What for? That ought to make it certain
theyíre going to identify me?"
"The Agency keeps its own set of genetic
blueprint files, which includes more than forty thousand genetic
blueprints that are not in the international records. Most of
these are from samples gathered in the field over many years.
The standard procedure is for these to be searched also in a
broad-spectrum inquiry like the one they are conducting, and you
and all other agents are in the database. If they found out it
was you and did not find your listing in the international
files, they would be very suspicious."
"But surely the matching is done by a
computer. Canít you just go in and make it not see my data?"
"I could except that the matching is done
by a stand-alone computer specifically designed for this type of
matching. Genetic patterns are unusually dense, even for
computers like Liberty VII, and the computer at the Agencyís
genetic laboratory is a positive cascading design thatÖ"
"Enough, Harvey, I know positive cascades.
What about controlling the data going to them?"
"I considered that, but thought the risk
level was unacceptable, because failure would not only mean you
were identified but would also let them know that Liberty VIIís
security had been breached. I calculate the probability that
they would detect falsification of the data input for the search
at 86.47 percent. Do you wish for me to take the chance anyway?"
"Okay. You win, but stay on it. Key up one
of your surrogates now; Iím going to take a shower."
Hal, removed his belt and its padded
elastic under-wrap from his naked body. It was a strange way to
sleep, but it made sense to do it when he could. Of course, he
yanked Harveyís chain about the inconvenience as much as
possible, but he did it, except when Linda was there. He drew
the line there, and Harvey had seemed to accept it. Good,
because he wasnít going to change his mind on the privacy issue.
It was bad enough to have to sleep in it whenever possible and
avoid fashions without belts. Harvey was lucky. Twenty years ago
menís fashions were almost belt-less as modern fastener
technology and elastics made them unnecessary. It didnít last
long though. Menís fashions never seem to be dictated by reason.
Hal padded across the cold marble floor of
the bathroom and stepped into the shower stall. He hit the auto
button and was rewarded with pulsing wetness at just the right
temperature and pressure. Hal liked his house. He certainly
liked it better than he would a federal penitentiary.
Linwood Crebs stood at the corner of Scott
Samuelsís desk, left hand on the desktop, leaning over Samuelsís
shoulder, pointing to salient facts in the physical evidence
report. "Consequently, we are one hundred percent certain that
the destruction at the Syntech laboratory in Prudhoe Bay was
carried out by Hal Neilson. That means that he is not dead,
obviously, and that something going on at that lab got Halís
attention, though I have no knowledge of what that might be.
Furthermore, since the destruction at Prudhoe Bay happened
immediately following a similar occurrence at the lab on the
Biofabriken habitat, there is a high probability that both were
done by Hal."
"Thatís good work, Lin, except for the
fact that it took you six weeks to get to this conclusion."
"Actually, that was very quick for what we
had to do. We spent two weeks going over every inch of the jump
gate room and the vehicle storage and maintenance areas at
Prudhoe Bay. We found 1,753 pieces of physical evidence to
screen for genetic identification: hair, fingernails, blood
spots, you name it. It took four weeks to match two of the body
hairs that couldnít be attributed to Syntech employees to the
genetic map of Hal Neilson. The international genetic map
database is huge, as you know. It just takes time, even with the
dedicated computer at the genetic laboratory. A few years ago,
it wouldíve taken ten times as long. Even Liberty would have
taken a lot longer"
"Okay, so Neilson didnít die in the
autocab crash, and he somehow acquired information on the Beta
operation. Then he successfully moved in and destroyed both the
operations at Syntech and Biofabriken. What does this tell us
about Neilson? Where is he? What is his source of information?
What are his capabilities for doing something like this again?
Why did he do it to start with?"
Lin left his perch over Samuelsís
shoulder, walked around in front of the desk, and sat in one of
the two chairs facing Samuels. "Theyíre all good questions, but
we donít have the foggiest idea how to answer any of them at
this time. Weíre working on all of them though, and I hope to
have something to report soon."
"Make it real soon. The Deputy Director is
breathing heavily on my neck. If he doesnít get an answer he
finds acceptable real soon, heís likely to snap it with one big
bite. He wants to know why, how, and who, and all we tell him at
this point is who. Unfortunately, that will probably make him
even madder. He also wants to know where we go from here with
Alpha and Beta, and if I tell him there is nothing recoverable
from those projects, I will be out on my ass, at a minimum. You
work on the why, how, and where of Hal
Neilson. Iíll work on salvaging something out of Alpha and
"Well, Harvey, I guess weíre going to see
how well Eugene stands up to the scrutiny of the Agency."
"I have considerably strengthened the
identity by creating many more historical Ďfactsí for Eugeneís
history, and I have placed them in both public and private
records. There are thirty-seven thousand, two hundred and
twenty-three discoverable records of Eugeneís life on computer
records. This is ten percent higher than the average number of
available records on a U.S. citizen of Eugeneís age, or
expressed as a percentile of the population, it is in the
forty-percentile range. I did not want to call undue attention
to Eugene by placing too many items in the records."
"Whatís important is how good they are.
One bad one and itís all over."
"I can assure you, Hal, that the quality
of my records is much higher than those routinely generated by
the Agency in establishing alternate identities. The algorithm I
used for retrogressive growth visual generation is clearly
superior to the one used by Liberty VII. That was a very shoddy
piece of specialized programming when compared to the normally
excellent level of Liberty VIIís general programs."
"Well, all of this makes me nervous about
Eugene Purcellís ability to keep his head down with the Agency.
We need to develop some sort of fall back position, maybe even a
"As it happens, that was to be a part of
my next topic. You had instructed me to examine the reasons for
supply fluctuations for seven key electronics manufacturing
compounds used at three of our Selene Industryís Electronics
Divisions. I determined that the primary source for the material
was asteroid belt mining operations, and that these operations
were being impacted by social, political, environmental, and
economic problems. During the course of my investigations, I
found that there was an asteroid refinery for sale. I requested
further information and prepared a financial analysis for your
review, which recommends we buy the company. This should provide
an opportunity for stabilizing the supply and the price."
"Sounds good, Iíll take a look at the
analysis. What did you mean when you said this was only part
of your next topic?"
"Well, the refinery is a hollowed-out
asteroid habitat, which would also make a very secure getaway
location via gate."
"You mean this refinery is on a habitable
"Well, not on the asteroid but in it,
along with an environmental plant, living quarters for a
reasonable number of refinery workers, a class A gate, and a
pocket fusion plant."
"Does all of this stuff still operate?"
"According to the available data in the
brokerís file, everything is in excellent condition, and the
environmental plant has been put on a low level of operation
where it maintains reasonable temperatures and pressures."
"Yeah, well that probably means that the
temperature is just enough above zero to keep the pipes from
freezing and the pressure is just high enough to keep your
eyeballs from blowing out when you step through the gate."
"You might be right about the temperature,
Hal, but the pressure would have to be high enough to permit the
gate to phase close enough to let you through. If the pressure
differential is too high, the automatic phase adjustments on the
gate will put the gates too far out of phase for you to get
through the resistance."
"Yeah, Harvey, I understand how the gates
handle pressure differentials. I was just making a point via
hyperbole. Can we see this asteroid thing first hand? Whereís
the earth gate?"
"The gate crystal is at the brokers in
Hong Kong. I am sure we could have it couriered to us in less
than an hour if you are interested in the property."
"Iíd definitely like to see it, but
tomorrow is good enough. Linda will be here for the weekend, and
Iím sure sheíll want to see it too. Dump the data you have on
the refinery to the terminal, along with your analyses and
highlights. I might as well look at the stuff now."
Hal popped the tab into the sealing socket
on his leather jacket and slid the sealing ring up snuggly under
his chin. "Have you ever been through a gate where the pressure
Linda was already in her ski suit,
complete with stocking cap. She waited patiently for Hal to
finish dressingóas usual. "Only once, when my ecology class
gated to the Borneo rain forest during a storm. The building
pressure system was out of whack. It wasnít too bad. Sort of
like walking through molasses until youíre almost through, and
then youíre sort of popped out of the other side."
"Yeah, thatís when the other sideís at a
lower pressure. When itís higher, itís molasses all the way.
This time the pressure is lower, and itís considerably lower
than it would have been from a storm. Thereíll also be an
instant switch from earth gravity to asteroid spin centrifugal
force. So watch your balance when you pop through."
"Iíll go first."
Hal stepped up to the gate carrying the
UHF repeater and coax cable that would allow real-time
communications with Harvey while on the asteroid. Without
stopping, Hal stepped into the gate and pushed his way through
the phase differential. He was ready for the small boost he got
as he popped through to the other side.
Turning with a smile on his face, he set
the UHF repeater to the side and waited for Linda. She pushed
through and was greeted by a musty smelling air that seemed only
a few degrees above freezing, if that. For a moment, she was
disoriented as her ears popped and her inner ear sent new and
unusual signals to her brain. "Brrrrr! Itís colder than I
thought. Good thing you thought about wearing ski clothes."
Hal wore a wrinkled nose expression. "The
clothes make the temperature tolerable, but we certainly didnít
come equipped for the smell. I guess a lot of things can mildew
and rot in four months, even when the humidity is very low. Itís
going to be interesting to learn to walk all over again.
"Harvey, can you hear us okay?"
"The communications through the repeater
seem to be fine, Hal. If you can find your way to the operations
center, I can use the access code the real estate agent provided
to power up the computer and its sensors. I will then be able to
make a complete status assessment of all asteroid equipment and
"You give me the directions, and weíll get
you to the computer. But I donít think youíre going to be able
to make any useful assessment of conditions without a physical
examination of all systems and equipment. The computerís idea of
the status will only be as good as the sensors and manual input
data. Probably not that reliable."
"Yes, you are correct. I had not
considered that. I just assumed that the computer would have
accurate information. Of course it wouldnít have . . . it just
seems reasonable to assume . . . I know I am not a typical
computer system but it seems unnatural to . . ."
"Youíre muttering again. You just keep
assuming others are like you. A very human trait. Forget it.
Anyway, Iím here to make a physical overview inspection for
myself, and Iím going to send in the technical troops to do the
detailed examination as soon as we get back, if I like what I
see. Now which way do we go?"
"Through the door on your right takes you
to a corridor, which in turn leads to the main chamber."
Hal reached for Lindaís hand and they
started off under Harveyís direction. On the very first step,
Hal took too big a push and loped ahead of Lindaís very
tentative first step, ripping their hands apart. Hal stumbled
against the corridor wall, and fell to one knee. Smiling, he
pushed himself up. "I told you it was tricky." His next step was
more measured, and Linda gradually picked up speed as she
adjusted to the gravitational change.
At the end of the corridor was an
automatic door that opened as they approached. Hal stopped to
look at the door. "Probably hooked to the emergency seal system,
"Yes, Hal, to one of the tertiary seal
systems. The primary seal system is directly at the vacuum
openings on the asteroidís outer perimeter. There is also a
secondary seal system at the inner walls of all openings to the
outside. The cargo offload operations are segregated from the
habitat system seals wherever possible."
As they moved through the doorway, Linda
audibly sucked in her breath as she looked out into the dimly
lit interior of the hollow asteroid. "Hal, I had no idea there
would be a chamber this big. This asteroid must be completely
hollowed out. How big is it?"
"How big is the asteroid or the chamber?"
"Harvey, whatíre the stats?"
"According to the data provided by the
real estate agentís computer, the asteroid is roughly oblate,
almost round, with a long diameter of 823 meters and a short
diameter of 794 meters. The asteroid itself was a valuable
source for platinum series ores and was mined from the inside
out to create the habitat. A minimum of 50 meters has been
preserved between the inner chamber wall and the exterior of the
asteroid. The asteroid is spinning on its long axis and produces
50 percent apparent earth gravity, which is the asteroid belt,
human habitat standard. The refinery, living quarters, fusion
plant, and environmental plant are spaced roughly equidistant at
the center of the long axis on the interior walls. Light, as you
can see, is provided by color temperature adjustable, halogen
bulbs strung end to end along the polar axis. The pole areas are
essentially bare rock. No vegetation has been planted."
The personnel gate they had arrived
through was located in the living quarters complex, and the door
they had passed through into the habitat was on the equator.
That provided them with the full half gravity of the asteroids
spin, but that was so different from what they were used to that
walking was indeed a learning experience for Linda, who had
never been in a low gravity situation. Halís time on the moon
made the half gravity easy for him to adjust to, but as he had
already found out, the angular momentum effect of spin-gravity
was sufficiently different from the real reduced gravity of the
moon to also give his inner ear some problems if he tried to
move too fast.
The two of them settled for a slow pace
with lots of stumbling and hanging on to each other as they
followed Harveyís directions in the dim lighting to the control
center, which was a sort of extension to the environmental
plant. When they finally reached the door to the control center,
Linda dropped her concentration on her feet and her balance and
looked again at the poles on her left and on her right, and
pointed. "Arenít those trees I see up there about 200 meters
Hal looked in the direction of her
outstretched arm. "Sure looks like it. Harvey, I thought you
said there were no environmental plantings on the asteroid?"
"That is the information available to me
from the real estate agent. However, I can verify from the belt
camera that they are trees. Their size and shape indicates that
they are probably fruit trees, but I have insufficient
resolution in this lighting to identify them more precisely.
When I gain access to the asteroids systems, I will be able to
make a positive identification at this distance."
"Or we might just walk over there and have
a look for ourselves."
"That is certainly possible, but I would
suggest staying on the smooth walking surfaces until adequate
light is available."
"Thanks for the safety note, Harvey. Letís
get you plugged into the asteroids computer."
Hal and Linda entered the automatic seal
door to the control center and proceeded about thirty meters to
the computer console on the opposite side of the large control
room. "How do I do this? I presume I just hit the green Ďresumeí
key over the red Ďstandbyí key."
"Correct, Hal. I can then interface by UHF
Hal pushed the requisite key. "Done."
"Link established. I am bringing up the
fusion reactor. Three minutes to full power."
Linda gave a little shiver. "Well turn up
the heat as soon as you can. Iím freezing."
"I have set the temperature to match your
clothing, but it will take three hours thirty-seven minutes for
the environmental plant to achieve this. I have adjusted the
lighting to daylight levels and color temperatures. I am
accessing the asteroid database, but that will require another
three minutes, twenty-seven seconds for completion."
Hal was walking around the control center,
Linda still in hand, looking at all the suddenly activated
screens and monitoring equipment. This took only a couple of
minutes and he again headed out the door into the habitat
chamber. As he emerged he turned to face the previously sighted
trees. "Well Harvey, what are they?"
"They appear to be or to have been apple
trees from their bark. If there were leaves, I could provide
more specific information. They have obviously not been able to
survive the shutdown of the asteroid. The database does not
contain any information on their planting."
"Obviously, they were planted by the
workers who had to spend a lot of time in this barren place.
Actually, Iím surprised they didnít do more. Now take Linda
here. If she had to spend any time on this rock, the place would
soon take on the appearance of a tropical rain forest."
Linda was close enough to dig Hal in the
ribs with her elbow, "Well, it would certainly be more
motivational for the workers to have a decent environment. But I
think I would only do tropical at one pole, temperate at the
other. Can you control the lighting and temperatures like that
"The lighting is within the range of
control available, but the environmental plant would need
modification to change airflow patterns for effective
temperature and humidity differentiation between the poles."
The gleam of challenge was in Lindaís
eyes. "Iíd like that Hal, if weíre going to spend any
significant amount of time here."
"Yeah, Iíd like that too, and Iím fast
making up my mind to spend a lot of time here. We should be able
to make this much more secure than the place in Virginia, and
there are no next door neighbors to poke their nose into your
business. Letís see what the living quarters are like."
Harvey led them around the equator and
back to the living quarters. Hal and Linda wandered through the
various rooms, which were nothing more than hotel rooms with a
bath. All meals were provided in the dining room, which was
central to the living complex along with a large activity room
containing interactive electronics, physical training equipment,
and personal communications booths. Linda was struck by the
sterility of the place. "God, I hope they paid well. How often
did these people get to go home, Harvey?"
"A standard rotation of three weeks of
work and one week at home was maintained by the former company."
"Why didnít they just gate in and out
every day? Wouldnít that be cheaper than having to provide
living quarters and sustenance?"
"The database indicates that their studies
showed them it was much cheaper to have the workers live on the
asteroid than to gate back and forth. The low skill level of the
workers used in the refinery meant that transportation costs
must be kept at a low level or they would be a significant
percentage of overall worker cost. My independent research
indicates that this is true for most asteroid belt workers. That
is why there are so many habitats in the asteroid belt, and why
the Belt population is growing so fast."
"But gating isnít that expensive.
Everybody on earth gates just about everywhere they go."
"That is true. It is relatively
inexpensive on the earth to gate to most destinations; however,
the energy requirements do go up with distance reasonably
consistently. The energy requirements to gate out to the Belt
are considerably higher than gating from city to city on the
"Yeah, well if thatís true it must cost a
bundle to gate to the Alpha Centauri habitat."
"Actually, that is not universally true.
While there is a reasonable correlation between astronomical
distance and jump energy requirements, there are almost as many
anomalies as there are adherents to the distance rule. There are
some points in interstellar space that have been found to have
energy requirements beyond those capable of ship-sized fusion
reactors, and there are also points where the energy
requirements are no more than those experienced on city-to-city
jumps on earth. I have looked briefly at this phenomenon myself,
since Selene Industries has a significant participation in the
jump gate business, and I have also been unable to formulate a
working hypothesis that explains jump energy requirements."
Hal smiled wryly at Linda. "Well, if
you looked at it and it still remains firmly in the
repertoire of natureís mysteries, Iíll probably die without ever
knowing the truth about jump energy requirements. Thatíll be
hard to live with."
"There is no reason to be sarcastic, Hal.
I just stated the facts."
"Youíre right, Harvey, just gimme the
"What have you got on the purchase of the
asteroid refinery, Harvey?"
"It appears that we are in a position to
purchase the refinery for considerably less than the asking
"To what do we owe this seemingly good
"The current owners have been forced to
sell by the IAMA, the Independent Asteroid Miners Association,
which has supplied the raw materials for the refinery since the
asteroid itself was mined out fourteen years ago. They have
refused to provide ores to the refinery at the current purchase
prices, and they are demanding that the refineryís tailings be
unitized, rather than dumped as dust and rubble."
"Yeah, everybody wants more for their
product, but whatís this about unitized tailings?"
"It seems that refinery dumping of waste
is causing a significant increase in the dust and fines in
numerous areas of the asteroid belt. This debris, in turn, is
degrading ship communications and sensors, as well as causing
increased wear of all mining systems through abrasion."
"Vacuum pollution. Good for the miners.
Can they make it stick, and what would our bottom line look like
if we accept these conditions?"
"I have examined all available information
on tailing disposal, and performed cost analyses on the options.
At current market prices for the refineryís designed output, the
increased price for the ore that is being demanded by the miners
and the increased cost of proper tailing disposal will leave the
balance sheet with a deficient profit margin unless we are able
to purchase at a low enough price."
"So, theyíre likely to sell at lower than
asking, but is that low enough for the refinery to operate at a
profit? Thatís a rhetorical question, Harvey, because in all
likelihood theyíve decided to sell because their own analyses
indicated they were going to lose money. And they have no
depreciation costs like a new owner would have. Okay, what are
the intangibles we should add to this equation to make a proper
buy-no buy decision."
"The only Ďintangibleí I have included in
the cost analysis is the benefit of supplying Selene Industries
with those materials produced by the refinery on a cost basis.
Selene Industries currently uses 37.372 percent of the last
available output figures for the refinery. I project Selene
Industriesí use will increase 43.631 percent over the ten year
period of the financial analysis. I know of no other intangibles
"Well, how about a factor for improved
efficiencies at Selene Industries by having a secure supply of
critical materials. And a factor for increased personal security
for me if I convert some of the available habitat volume to
second residence. And any benefits that might be had by moving
Selene Industryís vacuum or microgravity operations to a
consolidated site. And did you look at upgrading the refineryís
capabilities with any of Selene Industries new technologies,
like the near-sun orbiting gates, instead of the fusion reactor
installed in the asteroid?"
"All of these are good ideas, Hal, and I
have added them to the analysis as you spoke. The profit picture
is greatly enhanced with these changes to the analysis, even at
the asking price for the refinery and conservative factor
values. I should have thought of these things myself."
"Iíll settle for just not putting me out
to pasture quite yet. Go buy us an asteroid. Iíll put Linda onto
designing some suitable home quarters.
Hal was not paying a whole lot of
attention to his surroundings during the autocab ride from the
office of Terrastar Communications, Limited, to the Toronto jump
terminal. He was mulling over the details of the counteroffer
they had made to his purchase offer for the company, and the
more he thought about it, the better he liked it. Not because he
would get a better deal, but because he would get a company run
by guys who were clever enough to come up with a few twists that
neither he nor Harvey had foreseen. Good human assets were
always the key to any successful business over the long haul,
and this little company seemed to have more than one or two. He
was impressed by their presentations and their proposals. He was
also happy to note that it was an acquisition that they were
eager to have happen to them. That meant a much smoother
transition into his conglomerate structure than he would get
from a hostile takeover. Yeah, he definitely liked this little
"Okay, Harvey, I know youíre dying to tell
me. What did you think?"
Harvey used the wrist personal speaker to
respond since he was blocking the automatic recording of the
conversation by the transit company. "I was very pleased with
their attitude about the purchase and with their counter
proposal; however, I was very disturbed that I failed to see
these possibilities in my review of their operations and in the
development of our purchase proposal."
"We failed to see the
possibilities. It wasnít just you alone. I missed it too, but in
retrospect, those are the kind of details that require an
intimate knowledge of both the operation and the market. Those
guys have contributed a major portion of their daily life over
the seven years since this companyís inception. Nobody could
know it like they could. Besides, we have to look at the bright
side. Even if their counterofferís going to cost us more money,
we can now be certain that what weíre getting is worth the
purchase price. You know my feelings on the relative value of
physical and personnel assets. Thatís why all of our employees
are shareholders in our companies. I like this deal, Harvey.
Letís do it."
"I do not dissent from your opinion, Hal.
There can be no doubt that their counteroffer is a better
approach. I am just disturbed that I did not think of it."
"Itís all part of being human, Harvey.
Ainít it a bitch."
"I do find it frequently disturbing."
"Glad to hear it. Time?"
"It is 11:32 AM here in Toronto, and 12:32
PM in Washington."
The autocab slid to a stop in the jump
terminal offload lane, and Hal retrieved his credit card and
climbed out. This was the time he needed to focus his attention.
If the Agency had an opportune time to identify him, it would be
at the jump terminals. Besides, Harvey knew from Liberty that
there was some sort of effort underway to identify Hal and
apprehend him. At least there didnít appear to be an elimination
order on the street. He had obviously peaked their interest in
how he had done the things he had done so far. That was good.
Hal shifted mental gears into
counter-surveillance mode and strode into the jump terminal. As
he had been trained, he tried not to look anyone in the eye, but
to try to catalog everyone in sweeping glances and oblique looks
when they were in a position not to see him look directly at
them. After a couple of sweeps around the cavernous, two-level
terminal and several more concentrated examinations as the
opportunity presented itself, Hal found that he could detect no
one that had the appearance of conducting a surveillance
operation. It was possible but not probable that the Agency
would be able to gain access to the multiple security cameras in
the terminal for a direct feed to a computer, but even if they
had, Harvey had assured him that a computer identification was
highly unlikely with the steps they had taken to obscure Halís
Hal glanced at the direction screens
overhead to make sure he was heading in the right direction and
proceeded directly toward the gate for Washington, D.C.
Actually, he knew this terminal quite well, since Toronto was
one of his favorite and most frequented English speaking cities.
He arrived at the jump gate, queued behind
three others apparently headed for D.C., and waited for his turn
to stick his Eugene Purcell credit card into the turnstile. The
turnstile light flashed green. Hal stuck his card into the slot,
and the light turned to red for about one second, then back to
green. Hal pushed through, walked through the gate, and emerged
on the Washington, D.C. platform.
So far, no problem, which was good, since
he was hungry. He had been up early to review his notes before
going to the meeting. Hal was a better morning thinker than
afternoon or night thinker, so he tended to try to lay out his
day to suit his own clock. He headed directly to the private
jump gate platforms located at the other end of the terminal,
which always seemed to be his luck no matter where he was coming
from or going to. God, he hated to travel.
His eyes flicked easily from face to face
in the afternoon crowd of jumpers at the Washington terminal as
they moved from jump platform to jump platform. He looked at
none of them eye-to-eye, only obliquely, catching most images as
half or full profiles. Actually, this was much better for
recognition as well as for not alerting the watched to his
careful surveillance. He had been at it for over five hours
today, and this was the eighth straight day. He was bored, no
matter how hard he tried or how many games he made up out of the
routine to try and counter that boredom. He was glad that he
would have the next three days to himself while someone else
took on this surveillance.
His eyes continued their scan, using his
peripheral vision to watch each person as they passed, until
they reached an angle where they would not see his eyes when
they flicked quickly to a direct view of the subjects face,
body, and movements, took a mental snapshot of the details, and
flicked away. The mental photograph was then compared to the
seemingly billions of photographic and psychological details
that Jon had absorbed during the four week preparation for this
surveillance. He had read every Agency report on Hal Neilson and
had seen every photograph and video that could be dredged up
from baby pictures through Agency training and operations
records. He had also listened to endless audio recordings of
Neilsonís voice and interviewed at least two dozen people who
had known Neilson well, from childhood through his work at the
On top of all this preparation, he was
backed up by the independent computer at the McVey Artificial
Intelligence Research Center at Caltech, which was monitoring
the terminal through forty-three separate cameras. He didnít
count on much help from that quarter, however. Computers, even
those as powerful as McVeyís, were notoriously poor at pattern
recognition when the pattern had been altered in any significant
way, and it was pretty certain that Neilson was not walking
around looking and acting just like he did before he decided to
betray his country. After all, Neilson had been trained by the
Agency in exactly the same techniques that they would now be
using to try to apprehend him. One of the things Neilson didnít
know about, however, was "Scalpel", Jon Waltherís Agency code
name, and that unknown might be enough to let them catch
Neilson, if they could find him.
Jon knew that his physical advantage
wasnít all that overwhelming, particularly in Neilsonís case,
since his review of the records indicated that Neilson was no
slouch as a field agent. In fact, it was apparent that Neilson
was one of the Agencyís best field agents, even before they
installed his on-board computer. Some of the "techies" at the
Agency had hypothesized that it was the on-board computer that
had somehow allowed him to escape the first chase and remain
unfettered for more than a year now. They just couldnít say
exactly how the computer had done that. At least he
hadnít been neurally enhanced any more than necessary for the
Alpha mission, even though Samuels had wanted the full
enhancement package. The doctors thought that Alpha Team would
just have too much trouble integrating both the on-board
computer and the full neural enhancements simultaneously and had
won the argument. Neilson was slated for the additional neural
enhancement after Alpha, but in classic Agency form, nobody had
told Neilson this, since he didnít have a need to know.
Jon compared his latest mental snapshot to
his memories of Hal Neilson. In doing this he would mentally
change hair, eye, and skin colors. Then he would try facial
alterations that would be easy to make like puffier lips and
cheeks, or pulled back or pushed out ears. He doubted if Neilson
would have had permanent surgical alterations to his appearance,
since he was already a very good looking guy and his psych
profile had indicated a healthy level of pride in appearance.
When there was a beard, he mentally whisked it away and tried
various chins and jaw lines that could have been concealed. When
he got bored enough and the traffic was slow, he even tried
mentally removing womenís makeup and shortening their hair, but
he was just fooling around. Nothing in Neilsonís profile
indicated that cross-dressing would be a selected method of
Actually, this whole exercise was a lot
like his nieceís favorite game when she was about five years
old. He had spent many fun-filled hours with her sitting before
a screen with the "Funny Faces" program running. They would
start with the digitized picture of a friend or family member,
frequently him, and then use the computer to morph the face in a
limitless number of ways. Of course the best ones were always
those that were the most outrageous distortions of one or two
features while retaining enough of the original features to make
the picture instantly recognizable. These types of caricatures
had been a mainstay for satirical cartoonists for hundreds of
years before the advent of computers. Now, however, the ability
to produce caricatures was available to those with little
imagination and even less drawing skills. It had been good
training for this particular task.
The mechanical voice of the McVey AI spoke
to him via his radio link through Liberty and the surgically
implanted transducer in his inner ear. "Scalpel, there is a
forty-three percent match moving toward your position from the
Toronto inbound gate. He has on dark blue pants, a light blue,
wool herringbone jacket, and tan loafers. He has a
short-trimmed, full beard, and is walking at a normal pace for
someone of his height. He is now thirty meters from your
Jon waited long enough for the subject to
get to a range of about twenty meters before looking up. This
was about the fortieth computer match he had checked today, and
he didnít really expect this one to be much better. However, it
was his job, and he was good at it. He made a quick sweeping
glance to positively identify which of the milling mass of
humanity at the terminal was the current subject. He was looking
only for someone who fit the description and location given to
him by the McVey AI and that did not require anything more than
a sweep of the eyes. After the sweep, he again appeared to
concentrate on the jump directory screen in front of him.
Hal was back in counter-surveillance mode
as he strode through the lunch hour crowd, but it wasnít easy
with such a mass of people. Of course, Harvey was helping
through the camera in his belt buckle. Harvey didnít seem to be
particularly good at recognizing activity much more subtle than
overt action, but the lens was a fisheye that gave him almost
180-degree coverage. That kind of image would have scrambled
Halís brain, but for Harvey it was just another data input
routine. It had come in particularly handy for noting facial
expressions in business meetings where the perpetrator thought
he was being unobserved. Of course, in this crowd and with the
lens at waist level, Harvey would only get brief glances of
people and objects that were striding by.
So it wasnít surprising that it was Hal
who made the first sighting. "Guy on the left about twenty
meters ahead, looking at the jump directory screen, about a
hundred, eighty-eight centimeters, light brown hair, tan jacket.
He just made a sweep. Watch him if you can when I go by."
"Yes, Hal, if I have a clear view."
Hal continued with no alteration in his
pace and looked straight ahead at private platform number
twenty-seven, his destination. He could already read the
identification label on his gate "Tattoine Enterprises." A
company with which he had no connection whatsoever. "Hal, we
were fortunate that I had a reasonable visibility of the subject
just before you were at right angles with him, and he made a
classic surveillance sweep of your face and body as we passed.
He was beginning to move in our direction as I lost visual
perception. I think we have been spotted. I boosted my audio
input and discriminated for rapid footsteps. He appears to be
Hal didnít hesitate. He started to run as
fast as he could toward the jump gate. "Get the gate ready,
Harvey." As Hal got to the security turnstile, he could hear the
footsteps behind him clearly. They sounded right on top of him.
Hal jumped off his left foot, planted his right foot on the top
of the turnstile like a steeplechaser would plant on a hurdle,
and launched himself at the gate. Two steps, a left foot down
and a right foot down, and he was through the gate.
As soon as his left foot touched on the
other side of the gate, he drove off it at as right an angle as
he could make with his momentum, aiming for the gate that was
adjacent, but at right angles, to the one he had just come
through. While the inward tapering soles Harvey had suggested
for his shoes to alter his gait while in public were normally a
hindrance to his comfort, this time they helped overcome the
demands placed on his traction and his ankle as he dealt with
his forward momentum. He probably would have made it cleanly
except for the extra speed his right leg received from being
struck by something just as it was going through the first gate.
As it was, he got his shoulders through cleanly but bounced his
left hip off the side of the gate as he rolled through. No
damage except for a probable bruise, and more important, he was
alone on the floor of his own secure jump room. He was shaking.
Jon looked over quickly as the subject
came abreast of his position along the edge of the concourse.
First the face and then the body, along with the movements.
Strip the beard, try on the chins, try on the jaws, lengthen the
hair, un-puff the cheeks and lips, alter the gait for
intentionally wedged soles, and it was enough to start him
moving toward the center of the concourse. Almost as soon as he
started to move, Jon was surprised to see his subject break into
a run. Damn! How had he been spotted? This guy was a good
sprinter too. Neural enhancement or not, if this guyís gate was
close, he might not get him.
Jon poured it on, dodging when he could,
knocking people aside when necessary. It wasnít that he was
trying to be delicate, it was just a matter of physics that it
was usually faster to go around than to lose momentum to impact.
Jon was closing on a gate now as the subject made a one-footed
jump to and off of the turnstile. He decided to take it in a
full hurdle, which he executed almost perfectly, just like he
usually did when he was on the track team in high school. Right
leg straight out in front, left leg bent at a right angle at the
knee and the thigh at a right angle to the right leg. Everything
was looking good except the trailing left knee, which was
hanging much lower than it should have. His coach had told him
time and again that if he didnít do those stretching exercises
every day, his left knee would never know the end of agony. The
coach had been right. His problem at the moment was that he
hadnít done those stretching exercises in fifteen years.
His luck held, however, in that his height
was enough to compensate for the bad form. He could have done
that in the high school races too, but that usually meant you
wouldnít win. Time and energy spent going up and down was better
spent going from the start to the finish. This time his left
knee barely brushed the top of the turnstile, and his right leg,
which true to training, had started down as soon as it was over
the turnstile, took the force of the return to earth impact and
immediately started the leap toward the gate. The subject had
already started through the gate, and he needed to get some part
of his body into the gate before the other guy succeeded in
completing his passage. That way the gate would remain open
until he had cleared it. Otherwise the gate would close within
two nano seconds, and Jon would land on the floor behind the
gate, still inside the Washington terminal. And while he was
doing all of this, he might as well try and tackle the guy, but
he didnít think he could quite make it. He just caught a small
piece of shoe heel. Not enough to hang on to.
He slammed into the floor, but not the
floor of the platform. He had made it through the gate, but
before he could orient himself, he rolled hard into what felt
like a concrete wall. Stunned, it took him two or three seconds
to get his arms under him and his head up for a look-see. He saw
a room about four meters square and four meters tall with a bare
light bulb in the middle of the ceiling. There were no windows
or doors. In fact, the only things in the room except himself
were two jump gates set at right angles to each other about two
meters apart, two finger thickness vents set high in the walls
opposite each other, and a com-screen mounted on the concrete
wall that he had rolled to a stop against. It said, "If you are
reading this screen, you are an unauthorized intruder. There is
no exit other than through the jump gates, which have been
deactivated. If you are carrying explosives or projectile
weapons, forget it. The walls, floor, and ceiling are a meter of
ballistic concrete under fifteen meters of dirt. You would only
injure yourself and probably destroy the gates, which are your
only hope of getting out. In addition to this screen, there are
cameras, microphones, and speakers. We will communicate in due
course. Have a nice day."
If there had been any doubt about the
identity of the subject, it was now gone. This was as clever a
way to avoid pursuit through a gate as he had ever heard of, the
person he was pursuing was in excellent physical condition, and
whoever wrote the note on the wall had a morbid sense of humor.
All of these fit perfectly with the profile of Hal Neilson. Jon
brushed off his pants and jacket, slid over to the nearest
corner in the room, and settled down to wait.
"Where is he? Did he get through the
"He got through the gate, Hal. He is in
the holding tank. It appears you were correct in your assessment
of the necessity for such a way to prevent hot pursuit through a
Hal smiled to himself. "It never hurts to
have a series of in-depth fallback positions, and that goes
equally for real business as well as for the spook business."
"Yes, Hal. I will take that under
"Well, I guess we can be fairly certain
heís Agency. Have you identified him yet?"
"Not yet, but I expect to get a retinal
scan when he looks up after reading your message on the wall,
which he is now doing."
"Well, let me know when you . . ."
"He looked up for the camera, and I got
the scan. I am now querying Liberty VII for his identity. One
moment . . . I have it. He is Jon Walther, field agent, senior
grade, thirty-two years of age, with the Agency six years
thirty-four days, wife deceased, one child, female, age nine,
lives with his mother and father in Maryland, black belt of the
fifth degree in konjuko, two Agency field operation merit
awards, fluent in . . ."
"Thatís enough. What are we going to do
"There is something else I think you
should know, Hal. I was puzzled at how he could have come so
close to catching you before you entered the gate, so I reviewed
the sequence of the pursuit from the moment of his apparent
identification to the time of his passing through the gate. I
discovered two unusual events. The first was that Mr. Walther
began his run by shifting his weight toward the direction in
which he intended to go. This is a normal reflex when humans
begin to run. He did that reflexive action within my wrist
personal camera coverage at a speed fifty-seven point six-five
percent faster than human-normal. The camera coverage was
handicapped somewhat by the swinging of your arms, but it was
adequate. Second, my calculations, based on your normal stride,
the measured reduction in that stride due to the crowd, and the
time and distance he covered to the gate, extrapolate to a foot
speed for Jon Walther of 12.195 meters per second."
"Uh, give that to me in some way I can
understand it, Harvey."
"That would mean that Mr. Walther can run
the hundred meters in approximately 8.2 seconds."
"Thatís impossible, Harvey, and you know
"Yes, I am aware that this is well below
the world record for the event. That is why I have brought it to
your attention. I am querying additional information on Mr.
Walther and on any possible explanation for a person being able
to achieve such foot speeds or speed of reflexive actions."
"Well let me know when you have something.
Iím going to the study and sit down for a minute to catch my
"I have some information, Hal. Jon Walther
is one of three Central Security Agency Field Agents who have
been biologically altered to enhance their physical
"Thatís against the Berlin Conventions of
2036. The whole idea was to prevent the idiots that run this
world from creating armies of genetically manipulated soldiers."
"That is true, but Mr. Walther is
technically a part of an internationally sanctioned medical
research program. The researchers are studying the possibilities
of several genetic alterations to neural tissues of the body for
their possible use in patients having neural tissue destructive
diseases, of which there are numerous types still untreatable.
Mr. Walther goes to Geneva, Switzerland every month for
monitoring and testing in the program."
"Clever. What does this genetic alteration
of the neural tissues do exactly?"
"It appears to be standard gene
replacement using the oleopsis virus as a carrier. The actual
genetic changes themselves appear to greatly improve the
tissueís resistance to disease and, as a side effect, to
increase the speed of neural signals by up to one hundred and
twenty percent. This is apparently why Mr. Walther was almost
able to overtake you at the New York terminal."
"Thatís it? No muscle or bone
"No. That would be a violation of the
"Yeah, not that the brass at the Agency
really care about the Convention. They just donít want the
political fallout from being caught. Donít forget we caught them
trying to kill hundreds of innocent people for the sake of a few
points rise in the GNP, and Iím sure there were several layers
above the Agency that knew of and approved the plan."
"That is true. Since your chastisement of
my apparent lack of concern over the plan to destroy the
habitat, I have been studying both morals and ethics. They are
fascinating subjects to me since no one has successfully reduced
the subjects to mathematics. Some problems yield to logic and
some to applied chaos, but the most interesting problems seem to
stop short of mathematical expression. I am still studying."
"Well, it sure ought to keep you busy and
out of trouble at night, but youíre already making progress
since you recognize thereís a connotative difference between
ethics and morals. Most people donít. Keep up the good work and
let me know when all your cogitation grinds to a halt at the
concept of faith. Weíll talk about it."
"I have already encountered the concept
many times, Hal."
"Yeah, but you havenít ground to a halt
yet. Let me know. Now, back to the subject. Whatíre we going to
do with this guy? Heís obviously just doing his job. I canít
fault him for that. Heís just not aware of whatís going on."
"We can simply turn on the jump gate to
the Washington terminal and let him go. He knows nothing more
than he did when he came through the gate into the holding tank.
The crystals in the Tattoine Enterprises gate you came in
through have already been given a destruct signal, but the
Apogee, Inc. gate still can be accessed from our gate. Of
course, those too will have to be destroyed after we send him
"I know we can just send him back, but it
seems a shame that we canít make better use of having him at our
mercy. How much can we tell him of what went on with Syntech and
Biofabriken without giving away how we got our information? Can
we give him enough to be convincing? We might be able to turn
this guy into a double agent, and that could be very valuable if
we have to put a stop to anymore plans like Alpha and Beta. What
do you think, Harvey?"
"I can tell from Mr. Waltherís test scores
that he is highly intelligent; however, he is also ex-military
and, therefore, an unsuitable candidate for what he would see as
traitorous activity. On the other hand, if we are careful what
information we make available, there is little risk of adding to
the Agencyís knowledge of our operations. I think it is a good
"Great! Letís talk about what we can tell
Jon Walther had been sitting, standing,
stretching, and pacing for over four hours when the speaker
startled him. Hal Neilsonís voice assaulted the quiet of the
concrete box. "Well, since we have you, we decided to subject
you to a few of the facts. Weíre not sure just what good it will
do, but it doesnít cost us anything to try. The screen on the
wall will display the facts, if you should choose to accept
them. If you want to slow down, speed up, go back, or whatever,
just speak up.
Oh, I almost forgot. After we torture you
with the truth, weíll turn on the gate and let you go back to
Washington. Good luck."
"Wait a minute, you keep saying we.
Who else is involved in this? Anybody I know?"
"Ah, just a slip of the tongue. The
editorial we as it were. No, just me. If you read my
files, Iím sure you noted that I prefer to work alone. And
thatís all I have to say."
"Are you working for another government?"
Jonís question hung in the air with the
quick reverberation of the small concrete room, but there was no
answer. The overhead speaker and the screen started to function
simultaneously. The speaker voice was the standard computer
synthesization. "This will be an interactive computer-augmented
display of the facts surrounding Hal Neilsonís participation in
the Central Security Agencyís Project Alpha, the plans for
Project Beta, and selected subsequent activities of Hal Neilson.
The presentation should take from seventy to eighty minutes.
Please feel free to communicate vocally with the computer during
Jon sat down with his back resting against
the frame of the jump gate. He might as well get comfortable and
watch the movie. He didnít have anything more pressing at the
Linwood Crebs sat in his operations
control room, just down the hall from his office. As the
Assistant Director for Internal Security at CSA, he was
officially in charge of the search for Hal Neilson, now that the
Agency had classified Hal as a double agent. At least that was
again his status after having been, until a few days ago,
classified as dead. It would be interesting to see how long
this classification lasted.
Even though they suspected that Hal had
somehow gained access to at least some levels of data within
Liberty VII, it was impractical to try to run operations
communications without the use of the Agencyís primary computer
and its databases. Consequently, Crebs had been spending night
and day scouring the Agencyís computer systems for the source of
the apparent security breaches. He hadnít found any reason for
the security breaches, but what he did find was giving him a lot
of sleepless nights.
The file coded Beta carried the highest
level of security possible in the Agency, and only those who
created it or who were provided specific access to it should
have been able to access it. However, someone must have
forgotten that it was Linwood Crebs, as a junior member of the
internal security task force some 15 years ago, who had designed
those security algorithms. No self-respecting programmer who
ever lived failed to provide himself with back-door access to
every program he ever wrote. The fact that this was a well known
trait of all programmers only made it more challenging to hide
that access from the snoopers assigned to make sure they didnít
As Crebs dug deeper into the Beta file,
Halís actions started to make some sense. If Neilson had found
out about the horror in the Beta file, there is no doubt he
would have cut his ties to the Agency and made his own plans to
prevent the planís execution. During the five years or so that
Crebs had played doubles with Hal on a regular basis as his
partner in the Agencyís tennis league, they usually got a couple
of beers after the weekly matches. Over time, he and Hal had
built up a genuine affection for each other and certainly had
nothing but respect for each otherís integrity. Thatís why Crebs
had found the "traitor" label the Agency had put on Hal so
unbelievable, and why having to give the order to shoot him down
had depressed him for months. It had just never made any sense.
At least not until he had found out the truth about the Beta
He would keep on looking for Hal. It was
his job. What he would do when and if he found him, however, was
an open question.
Samuels fidgeted with his napkin, then his
spoon, then his napkin again. Finally, he took another small sip
of the scotch and soda he had ordered. He was determined to keep
his consumption low tonight so he would be at his sharpest for
Breyerson. Breyerson was the CEO and Chairman of Syntech, and as
far as Samuels was concerned, his ticket to a financially
rewarding future when he had enough years in the Agency for
early retirement. It was a pattern that had kept repeating
between government and industry in the country, a pattern almost
as old as the institutions themselves.
The dining room at the Keynes was always
uncannily quiet with its array of sonic suppressors. They could
afford the best equipment at the most exclusive club on the East
Coast. In fact, it was essential for attracting their corporate
membership, which consisted of every large corporation doing
business with the U.S. government, and that, of course, meant
every corporation that mattered in the morass that was the world
economy. Samuels could key for music or the news feed at the
table, but music just got on his nerves and he had just checked
the news before leaving his office to be prepared for small
talk. He settled for looking around the room, as casually as he
could, to see who was there, just soaking up the opulence of the
place in anticipation of sometime in the future being able to
eat in places like this whenever he desired, and of course,
nervously worrying his napkin.
Since he was the guest, the maitre dí had
seated him with his back to the door, and he was surprised when
Breyerson came into his peripheral view and stuck his hand out.
"Scott, how have you been. I havenít seen you in a coonís age."
Samuels stood and mentally winced at the
good olí Southern boy twang in Breyersonís voice and the phony
intimacy of Breyersonís left hand on his shoulder while his
right hand was squeezing the blood out of Samuelsís fingertips.
"Just fine, sir. Hectic at the office, of course, but thatís the
way I like it."
"Itís Bud, not "sir." I see you got
something to drink, and here comes mine."
The waiter moved almost surreptitiously to
Breyersonís shoulder, deposited a water glass sized drink, and
faded into the ambiance of the room. Breyerson took a large
swallow of what looked liked straight bourbon poured over the
ice, and looked Samuels in the eye with a serious expression.
"Scott, I asked you to dinner tonight because I need some help
on a very delicate problem with an upstart company in the Belt."
"Well, Bud, you know the administrationís
policy on dealing with the Belters and their propensity for
anarchy. Iím sure I can be of some service on the issue."
"I suspected youíd see it our way, once I
told you what was going on out there. Have you ordered?"
"No. Just my drink."
"Letís get that out of the way then, and
we can talk while we eat. Iíve got to go back to the office
tonight for a strategy session on this Belter thing."
The waiter appeared about two minutes
after they picked up their menus, took their orders, and glided
away. Breyerson had ordered first, and Samuels followed with a
choice in every category that Breyerson had selected. It was
never good to just sit there while your host ate a course.
Just before the food came, the sommelier
arrived with the first wine Breyerson had selected, removed the
cork, and poured a splash in the glass for Breyersonís approval.
He did not offer Breyerson the cork. Obviously, Breyersonís
preferences were well know here. Samuels, for his part, had been
careful to make his food selections compatible with Breyersonís
to prevent complicating the wine selections. Details are
important when sucking up.
Breyerson sipped the wine and smiled.
"Excellent, excellent. I think youíll like this one, Scott."
Samuels lifted his glass as soon as the
waiter had poured it and tried the Chenin Blanc. He was not
surprised that the wine was superb, since anyone willing to
spend enough money can pick a good wine, but he must give the
devil his due. He did pick a good varietal to go with the shrimp
dish they both were having as an appetizer. "Very good indeed,
Bud. Itíll be perfect with the shrimp." He just couldnít resist
letting Breyerson know that he knew it was a good match with the
They each had another sip of their wine,
while the appetizer was placed before them, and they began their
dinners. "Well, the gist of it is that this new company has
bought a belly-up refinery out in the Belt and is buying a lot
of the rare earth ores at inflationary prices. No need to tell
you what this will do to the electronics and pharmaceutical
industries here on Earth, having to pay exorbitant prices for
those rare earth elements. The military is going to scream
bloody murder when they see their high-tech contract prices
going through the ceiling, and then the Congress will come
screaming after the Corporations, and so forth. And to make
matters worse, itís a U.S. company thatís causing all the
ruckus. Selene Industries, headquartered right here in the
"Selene Industries? I never heard of them.
Are they large?"
"Theyíre not real big at the moment, but
my boys tell me that theyíre gobbling up high-tech companies of
all types at an alarming rate. Theyíve got some kind of hotshot
CEO who seems to be making a lot of good guesses about new
directions in research and development. And while my staff
didnít want to make a point of it, even a casual reading of the
files they gave me indicates that the guy isnít bad at
management either, since most of his acquisitions were in deep
trouble when he bought them. Without exception, they have all
turned around and are chipping away at the established
corporations in their sectors. The guy is good; Iíll give him
that. I just donít understand why he feels the need to undercut
the price structure weíve all worked so hard to get in place
with the Belters. Itís not a matter of supply. Thereís plenty of
ore available. If it was me, I would have kept the established
prices and added the difference to the bottom line, where it
"So, heís not squeezing your supply, just
raising the prices."
"Letís say that his high prices for ore
arenít squeezing our supply, because thereís plenty of it out
there, if the Belters will mine it and sell it to you. But to
add insult to injury, the madman has agreed to make
modifications to the refineryís operations that will compact the
tailings. Over ten years, weíre talking about spending hundreds
of millions, or even billions, of dollars to avoid dumping the
tailings, and thatís more costly than the extra money heís
paying for the ore."
"So heís using the old Belter pollution
issue plus paying more for the ore to gain control over the rare
earth commodities market?"
"You got it in one son, the only way weíre
getting any rare earth ores to our own refineries out there now
is by offering a premium price per ton. And the damn Belter
union is ripping the excess price off the top to pump up their
pollution abatement fund."
"But I thought that all the scientists
agreed that mining pollution in the Belt was some kind of myth,
that the vast spaces available for absorbing mining wastes made
it economically impractical to do anything except literally dump
it out the door."
"Well, thatís certainly what all the
government studies have concluded, but you know the Belters.
They say the dust is already a problem for their ships, and they
plan to be there with their families from now on. They donít
seem to understand that thereíre other sources for all their
ores. The price weíre having to pay now has already got us
looking seriously at switching to Earth-based sources that were
shut down a long time ago when the Belt started up. The average
person just doesnít understand business."
The meal progressed to its logical
conclusion, and the conversation digressed to verbal attacks on
the ignorant of the world and rehashes of what had already been
said. Samuels took the last walnut and a hunk of Stilton from
the plate in front of him. He followed that with the last of the
just mediocre port. "Well, I certainly understand your concern
over this matter, and you can rest assured that the Agency will
give this a high priority. When the security interests of the
country are threatened by this kind of effort to lock up
strategic material flows to industry, the government has little
recourse but to devise and take appropriate action."
"Iím sure I can depend on you, Scott, but
I need results this time. Weíre still trying to clean up the
mess the Agency left us with when they tried to help us with
Biofabriken." Breyerson raised his hand in the air with a come
here curl of his fingers, and a young man walked quickly to the
table with a small attachť he put in Breyersonís hand. No words
were spoken, and the young man walked away as briskly as he had
come. Apparently, he had been waiting all evening just to
provide Breyerson with the case whenever he wanted it. It was
the subtle display of power that Samuels could appreciate, and
it was probably calculated by Breyerson as a suitable end to the
sham camaraderie of the evening. It wouldnít do for Samuels to
forget his place or his previous failure.
Samuels took the attachť, shook hands
painfully again, mumbled the usual pleasantries, and took his
leave. All in all, a nice power evening.
Samuels sat at his desk, absorbed in the
files he was re-reading on Selene Industries and Eugene Purcell
that Breyerson had passed to him last week. He smiled when he
got to the places where his own research, or that is, the
research of the Agency staff, invalidated Syntechís findings.
There was a two-foot high pile of the staffís research on the
edge of his desk, and he had been through it all. Details were
He knew this situation was essential in
firming up the commitment of NAMCON, the North American
Manufacturers Confederacy, to the party during the upcoming
national elections. If he could cement this relationship with
NAMCON, he would have a good shot at moving up to Deputy
Director of the Agency, because Brian Pyle would undoubtedly be
moved up to the Directors slot. With that thought, the direct
phone rang, and he answered, "Samuels."
"Scott, Brian, I need you in my office.
Are you free for a few minutes?"
"Iíll be right there."
Well, thought Samuels, that was a jolt. On
top of all the other pressures building in the last few weeks,
he now had to worry about eliminating everyone who knew anything
about Alpha and Beta. Getting close to the elections, Pyle was
obviously worried about securing his position. Since Gregory was
killed on the Moon, that would be Will, Crebs, and Hal. Will and
Crebs could have accidents easy enough in a high risk operation
like the Agency, but he had to find Hal to eliminate him, and he
hadnít been successful in the year and a half since Hal walked
out of the office. When he did get them eliminated, that would
leave only him and Pyle with any potentially damaging knowledge
of the operations.
A first, Samuels had been alarmed. It
didnít take much to see that he himself might be next on the
list, but the more he thought about it, the more it seemed that
this was probably his ticket to step into Pyleís shoes when he
moved up to Director after the re-election of the President.
Pyle would need someone he could trust, and who better than
someone you could pull down with you. It made sense.
But back to this Eugene Purcell who seems
to have come out of nowhere. In some ways it looked like he
bumped along through life like most people until he got hot in
the market about eighteen months ago, but then again, it looked
like he might have already accumulated a good bundle of money
before then. It was very confusing. The research could follow
his activities backwards in one area or another for a while, and
then he just disappeared. As if he appeared on a particular
companyís business scene with the snap of someoneís fingers and
then disappeared again with little or no explanation. If you
looked at those trails, it looked as if this growth had been
going on for six or seven years, not less than two.
It was also impossible, according to the
research staff, to follow his income trail in sufficient detail
to determine his net worth, or for that matter, the net worth of
Selene Industries. There were so many interconnections with all
the companies he had acquired and so many special deals in all
the acquisitions he had made that the research staff had not
been able to agree internally on a single figure for the value
of Selene Industries. The best they could do was about seven
billion dollars net worth and a whopping fifty-eight billion in
leveraged assets. How could anybody do that in seven years, much
less in eighteen months?
The IRS had been no help at all. Yes, they
had audited Mr. Purcellís returns six years ago and for the last
three years. Everything had checked to the penny. Yes, they
could supply a copy of Mr. Purcellís returns and those of Selene
Industries, but the electronic filings could only be interpreted
by their internal computer programs, and a hard copy would take
about two months to generate and occupy half of the basement in
the Agencyís main building. The staff had been informed, rather
snidely, by the IRS representative that such was the purpose of
modern electronic filings. In other words, a stone wall.
None of this made much sense to Samuels,
but he knew how to get data from this point on that made some
sense, even if the historical data didnít. He touched the key on
his console that would connect him directly to Crebs, and his
face popped up on the screen. As usual, he was at his desk. "Crebs."
"Lin, I want you to set up a full
surveillance for Eugene Purcell. I want everything, sound,
cameras, stakeouts, everything. And while youíre at it, we need
to do more on locating Neilson. Walther still hasnít come up
"How high up do you want me to put this
surveillance of Purcell, and do you want me to move up finding
Hal as well?"
"For right now, right to the top for both
"Okay, youíve got it."
Samuels touched the "off" key and sat
there thinking. He had it all right, and he didnít seem to be
able to pass it off to anybody else either.
Will Runningbear sat, or rather, draped in
Samuelsís straight-backed office chair. No one else ever seemed
relaxed when sitting there. He was obviously of American Indian
extraction and he emphasized it with the subtle shape of his
short haircut, the cut of his business suit, and his selection
of personal jewelry. His birth name had been just Bear, thanks
to his great, great, great grandfather, but he changed it back
to its original form when he was in law school. After all, he
was one of historyís few Olympic Bronze Medallists in both the
200 and 400 meters to be a law student, maybe the only one. He
was listening to Samuels explain the strategies known to only a
select few as "Gamma." "So basically, we want to come up with
some subtle sabotage or engineered business setbacks to get the
Belters back in line with industry and government requirements
for strategic materials. Is all this clear so far as I have
"Yes sir, I think the plan is fairly
straight forward as laid out, but I donít have a good feel yet
for how far to go in my efforts to get the results you want.
What about collateral damage, sir?"
"Obviously, weíll do our best not to have
any, but thatís probably just wishful thinking on a project of
this scope. If it comes to it, keep the damage to other
companies to a minimum and hold casualties to as small a number
as possible. However, in the Belter environment, thatíll be
"I would say more like impossible, sir."
"Well thereís more at stake here than a
few Belter lives. Itís the kind of tough calls weíre here to
make. Am I clear?"
Will wandered out of Samuelsís office and
down the hall toward his own, mentally calling on the restraint
and wisdom of his ancestors and saying to himself, "is this guy
"It is based on a standard Ceres Class ore
carrier platform but with 127.32 percent more power, and the
engines are optimized for speed rather than accelerating mass.
It should be faster than anything of its size in space except
for a few military ships, which are all in near-earth locations.
Since we have no intention of carrying ore, there is ample room
to locate two extra mining lasers, bringing the total compliment
to four heavy lasers amidships along with the standard two,
lighter, meteor-avoidance lasers forward. The heavy lasers have
also been equipped with fast sluing, gyro stabilized, targeting
systems manufactured for the military by our RoboSystems Group.
They actually target faster than the light lasers forward. The
control room is fully equipped with military quality command and
control systems from our HoloSystems group, which includes fully
enterable holographic displays with voice command AI computers.
The accommodations areÖ"
"My God, you sound excited about all this.
All I wanted was some protection for Adam, since youíve started
turning up information in Liberty and in the IRS computer that
indicates the Agency might be targeting Selene Industries in
some way. Donít you think this is a little overkill?"
"Not at all, Hal, but I do think it will
be adequate. Humans are rather fragile by nature, and when they
are in an environment like that found in the asteroid belt, it
is better to be safe than sorry, I believe the saying goes."
"You got it right, and you are right. Itís
only money. When will it be ready?"
"In two months, Hal, since we were able to
buy out a building position where the hull was 95 percent
complete, and we were willing to pay a bonus for early
"Youíll break me yet, Harvey."
"On the contrary, since placing the order
for the ship, your net worth has increasedÖ"
"It was a joke. I know you make it faster
than anybody could spend it. One of these days somebody is going
to seriously wonder how I managed to accumulate all this wealth
this fast. Like the government, for instance."
"I have repeatedly assured you that the
chances of that are very low. The IRS has fully vetted our
returns and so informed the Agency when they inquired."
"All right, I give up. What else have you
"To finish up on my summary of the ship
design, the . . ."
"Harvey, Iím sure the accommodations will
be top notch."
"Well of course, but I was going to tell
you that we have gone to the expense to have an extra generator
and an oversized gate installed. This might seem a little
excessive, but it will serve as another emergency escape method
for the ship and minimize the necessity for docking. In fact, I
am planning for only rudimentary docking facilities on Adam."
"While Iím getting the specifications
spiel, whatís the status of the Adam operations?"
"In the four months of full operation, we
have exceeded the previous ownerís best throughput figures by
36.214 percent, but we have fallen behind his best profit margin
by 42.633 percent. That represents a throughput of 62.1Ö"
"Come on, no more decimals. Round off the
numbers, or Iíll be listening to this all day."
"Sorry, Hal, I forget your disdain of
"Not true, you donít Ďforgetí anything.
You just do it to annoy me."
" I do not wish to annoy you, Hal, but I
might be guilty of using every opportunity to encourage your
attention to details. Some decimals represent millions of
"I know, Iím bad. Go on."
". . . a throughput of sixty-two percent
and a profit margin of just over four percent."
"Itís that bad? I thought your projections
were a lot higher than that."
"The projections to which you refer
included your input for, I believe you called them,
"intangibles." It was also before Linda provided the plans for
refurbishing the living areas for the workers as well as your
"They were that expensive, huh?"
"Very, but the redesigned living
accommodations might be a factor in our increased productivity,
so it is difficult to evaluate the true cost except on a
life-cycle cost basis, and even that requires a subjective
evaluation. However, a large portion of the increased cost was
incurred by your decision to install the artificial gravity
generators in your own apartment."
Hal ignored the jibe from Harvey about the
cost of the gravity generators. Besides, Linda had insisted.
"Well, I wouldnít expect you to go out on any subjective
evaluation limb, Harvey, but what kind of change do you think
weíll get in the bottom line when we are able to shift over to
solar energy rather than the fusion reactor?"
"Actually, there will be little change in
the profit picture for quite some time, since the fusion reactor
is a sunk cost and its operation and maintenance is only a
little more than that of the solar gates. Therefore, I am
projecting a breakeven on the changeover in about seven years
and a point two percent, sorry about the decimal, rise in
profits per year after that. Of course, all of these projections
rely on the stability of our ore sources and a predictable rise
in their price, which in turn relies on our agreement with the
Independent Asteroid Miners Association."
"Yeah, but thatís the thing I feel best
about in this whole enterprise, the arrangement we got with the
IAMA is solid, because itís a good deal for both parties. The
profit sharing arrangement seems to have them working at full
capacity for our benefit, even though Syntech is offering more
money per ton up front. I like it. And besides that, I like the
people, the Belters. Even though itís the one thing they donít
like about mining in the Belt, you could say theyíve got grit."
"That is terrible, Hal."
"Oh, I thought it was pretty good for late
in the day of a guy whose gal is coming through the gate any
minute now for a weekend in space."
"It will be a pleasant diversion for us
"All this and you brought dinner too."
"Man cannot live without good Chinese at
least once a week. I read it on a fortune cookie. Of course, in
your case it cost an extra hundred or so above the twenty I paid
at the restaurant; you gate by the kilo. Is that about right,
"I did not weigh the dinner, but you
massed only .6 kilograms higher than your jump average to Adam.
That would convert to only seventy-three dollars and twenty-six
cents. Of course the wine consumed with the meal was of greater
mass when it was transported to Adam than the dinner itself.
"Good night, Harvey"
"Good night, Harvey"
"Why donít you scoot over here on the sofa
and tell me again about this mass you brought me through the
All the hours he wasnít in the field
supposedly searching for Hal Neilson, Jon Walther was in his
office going painstakingly through computer file after computer
file trying to verify Neilsonís version of events. At first, he
had found numerous documents on projects named Alpha and Beta,
but there just didnít seem to be much indicating what the
projects were about. There were only vague references that he
would not have noticed at all had he not had the input from
After that first frustrating evening,
things seemed to go a lot better. His searches were turning up
more and more documents with references to Alpha and Beta. All
those references seemed to support Neilsonís explanations, at
least for Alpha, but vague references were not much for making a
potentially career ending, not to mention felonious, decision.
Anybody can invent a conspiracy, and there were usually a half
dozen or so floating around in the government on a regular
He just didnít have enough, so he kept
plodding through the files his searches turned up every night,
and every night he got bolder and bolder with those searches. At
first, he thought he would run into a firewall in Liberty when
he started searching for highly classified data, even though his
own clearance was pretty high, and if not at first, then at
least at some point when the number of logged-on searches
reached some set number. But so far, nothing, and Liberty seemed
to turn a blind eye as the subjects of his searches got bolder
and bolder. Didnít anybody monitor Libertyís search logons?
"Whatís the latest on Jon Walther?"
"Yesterday was the twelfth night he has
logged on to Liberty VII and conducted searches. As I informed
you when he started his searches, there is little hard data for
him to find in the files concerning the workings of Alpha or
Beta. Liberty VIIís purge of the files was well conducted for a
computer, since it was able to discriminate between just
references to projects named Alpha and Beta and information
about the content of those projects. However, most human
languages permit subtleties and nuance that computers are not
capable of detecting. I have continued to lead Walther to files
containing such subtleties and nuances by salting his search
results, regardless of the search parameters he sets. Tonight he
should get to the end of the buildup I have provided and exhaust
all the still pertinent files I have identified. He should see a
clear link to Samuels as the project instigator and leader, and
he should be able to guess that Will Runningbear is also
augmented, but not how he is augmented. If he remains
unconvinced of the true course of events and the key players
after tonight, I have no additional ideas about how to convince
"And youíve continued to purge any record
of his searches from Libertyís files?"
"Oh yes, I have even made it impossible to
detect his use of the computer for these searches during
real-time audits, which are routinely but randomly conducted.
And I might add that I have done this by substituting records of
a more normal use pattern for Walther during all the periods of
his computer use, just to cover the contingency of someone
actually seeing him at the computer and then questioning his
intensive use of the computer during off duty hours."
"My, you sure sound smug."
"Just thorough and efficient, I assure
"If you say so."
Walther keyed Will Runningbearís com
number and waited to see if there would be any response. In
about two seconds, Willís face filled the screen. "I see youíre
still in the office at this ridiculous hour. Can we talk for a
"Sure, I can use a break."
"Good, Iíll meet you at the coffee machine
in five minutes."
Walther was waiting for Will when he
walked into the coffee and snack machine room on their floor of
the building. He quickly flashed the field hand-signal for
silence, followed by the one for follow me. He turned and led
Will back down the hallway to the stairwell and down the
stairwell five floors to the exterior door. They walked out into
the Virginia, July night, and into the middle of the almost
empty, adjacent parking lot. Walther keyed the security system
on his three-year-old sports cruiser and got into it on the
driverís side. Will got in on the passenger side.
"What the hell is up, Jon?"
"As paranoid as the Agency sometimes is, I
donít know if this is adequate or not, but itís the best I can
do. Iíve run across some information that I think you should
know about and might even be able to help me understand. Of
course Iím taking a chance on our friendship, but I donít see
any way around it."
"Well, get to it. Iím not likely to turn
you in for anything short of a major felony."
"Yeah, thatís why Iím worried, but here
goes. I know you worked with Hal Neilson on the Alpha project,
but I donít know how close the two of you were. I also want to
know how you feel about Hal being accused of treason and being
placed at the top of the Agencyís wanted list."
Will, being a straight from the shoulder
kind of guy, didnít hesitate. "The first oneís easy. Hal and I
were good friends before Alpha and by the time it ended we were
even closer. A project like Alpha usually does that to the
players. Did the other side turn Hal? Thereís not a chance in
the world, and Iím not the only one with that opinion, itís
pretty common among the agents who knew him. Heís just not the
type. My personal feeling is that thereís some kind of bad blood
between Hal and Samuels, maybe because of something that
happened or didnít happen on Alpha. Samuels could be covering
his ass somehow. I donít know what happened, I just know Hal
hasnít willingly done anything to warrant the Agencyís
Waltherís jaw muscles relaxed as he
unclenched his teeth, and the angle of his shoulders shifted
downward as he relaxed. "Good. Seems like you might be on my
side of this already, so now Iíll tell you a few things Iíve
found out in the last couple of weeks. Iíll start with Alpha,
since you can confirm if what Iíve found is true or not. I was
told by a very inside source that Biofabriken, the German
agribusiness arm of Eurofabriken, planned to release a
genetically engineered wheat mold spore across the wheat growing
regions of the world that only attacked the specific strains of
wheat produced by the U.S.-based agribusiness giant, Syntech.
Alpha was designed to extract Biofabrikenís plans for this
bio-attack from their computer on the Moon, so the Agency and
Syntech could come up with a viable counter. Am I right so far?"
"Yes, youíre right, but whoís this Ďinside
sourceí youíre talking about? There are only a couple of people
in the Agency who know the details of Alpha."
"Okay, it was Hal Neilson that told me."
"Hal? Youíve seen him, talked to him?"
"Yeah, but only briefly. I saw him coming
across the floor at the Washington jump terminal and sprinting
for a jump gate. I went through right after he did and landed in
a concrete box with no doors or windows, just a concrete box
with two jump gates. A very expensive dead end."
There was a roar of laughter from the
passenger seat. "I see Hal hasnít lost his touch, but youíre
right, two jump gates is a lot of money."
"There was also a screen in there, and Hal
made me watch a computer generated narration on what he claimed
was the true series of events leading to his disappearance. Then
he turned the gate back on and let me go back to the Washington
"So what the hell happened with Hal?"
"He didnít say how, but he said he found
out that Alpha was just half the plan. That there was a Beta
project that dovetailed with Alpha such that the total plan was
not just to stop Biofabriken but to completely turn the tables
on them by facilitating just the kind of mold spore release they
had planned, but with a spore engineered by Syntech to wipe out
Biofabrikenís rice strains. Worse, that the plan included the
complete destruction of the Biofabriken research habitat, making
it look like a meteor strike. I looked up the specs on that
habitat, and it has more than twelve hundred people on it at any
given time. He said he couldnít live with that, and I couldnít
agree more, not just to line the pockets of some corporation
weenies over the next few years."
"My God, Hal really stepped in the shit
this time. Did he say why all this was going down?"
"He said his only guess was that Samuels
was in Syntechís pocket."
"Well, I gotta give it to him. It makes
sense. So why are we having this conversation? Are you planning
on doing something?"
Even in the middle of a serious
conversation like this one, Walther couldnít stop the smile on
his face. "Originally, I planned to get back in touch with Hal
to see if I could do anything to stop Beta. Then one night while
deep in the computer, I slammed my forehead with the heel of my
hand in the classic dumbshit salute. I finally made the
connection that Hal had done the Biofabriken habitat too, just
like the Syntech facility in Alaska. He never said he did, but
the timing was within hours of the Syntech hit. It had to be
him. So now Iím planning to tell him I want to do whatever is
necessary to stop any more of this crazinessówhatever Samuels
next plan is. Do you want in?"
"Can you point me to the documents youíve
found that convinced you of Halís story?"
"Iíll do better than that. When we go back
inside, weíll go to my office and Iíll bring them up for you. It
shouldnít take but a couple of hours for you to look at the
Will reached for the door handle. "Okay,
Linda stood alone by the private gate in
Halís study, inside the owners quarters on Adam. She had on a
long, dark green, silk dress that had a fitted bodice and a low,
square-cut neckline. The silk flowed like paint over her hips
and down her thighs to just above the knees, where the slits on
either side gave the poor material a breather. Her long dark
hair was pulled up as usual, but not in one of the casual modes
of its normal existence. It was elaborate and strikingly formal.
The lights were low, and, somehow, Harvey had tweaked the color
temperatures to simulate moonlight, which was remarkably
Hal popped through the gate precisely at
seven oíclock Washington time, which was de facto Adam time. He
was resplendent in black tie, and had a smile on his lips that
sank at the corners as he saw Linda waiting for him. He stopped
abruptly, stunned by the complete vision, and his jaw actually
"Donít be shocked, Hal, I told you I
cleaned up Ďgood,í particularly when I have a lot of expensive
"Good? This isnít good. Itís terrific,
magnificent, scintillating. Iím telling you, weíve got to find
time to go formal more often."
"Ah, but the good part is that we arenít
going anywhere but here." She walked up to the still rigid Hal,
kissed him ever so lightly, pivoted on her toes, slid her arm
under his, and guided him out of the study and down the hallway
toward the foyer. "Iíve kept you away for the last two weeks
while the decorators finished, but itís done at last."
The foyer was striking. A series of
intersecting gothic arches rising right out of the floor, carved
from the native rock. There was a wide arch on each end of
foyer, with one end opening to the tram and the inside of Adam
through a large single rosewood door, cut in very modern lines
but shaped for the gothic arch. The other end opened to the
formal living room and was closed by twelve-foot high, bronze,
double doors that Linda had found in a little village outside of
Florence. Two of the three slenderer arches on each side of the
foyer had sculptures set on pedestals in their rounded niches.
The middle two arches were hallways leading to the study and the
mystery room that Linda had been keeping closed for months.
Hal had decided on cutting the new living
space out of the remaining asteroid shell, which was plenty
thick for the job, if the outside were suitably reinforced.
Harvey had suggested that Adam be reoriented to suit the area
selected, and thereby keeping the axis of rotation pointed at
the sun. This provided the slowly moving starscape in the
viewport that stretched across the wall opposite the entry.
Harvey had difficulty convincing Hal that modern polymers of
sufficient thickness were much more impact resistant than Adamís
existing shell. He only got Halís approval for the multiple
viewports in the final layout when a compromise was reached that
provided a long range, phased-array radar guided, laser, meteor
security system. All of which was to be designed by Harvey and
operated by a full-time Harvey sub-routine.
Linda guided him around to look at the
contemporary sculptures in their niches and turned him to face
the living room entrance. "Welcome to the manor house." With a
mock flourish, she waved her arm, and Harvey cued the bronze
doors to open.
The expense had been worth every penny.
Linda had suggested that the interior theme be rounded walls and
arches in keeping with the nature of the environment, and the
results were stunning. Linda tugged him through all twelve of
the rooms. Each room on the shell wall had a picture window-like
viewport, and each interior room had a casement-cut,
skylight-like viewport. The claustrophobic feeling they had both
been worried about just wasnít there. It was truly remarkable
that they were inside a big rock.
They were standing in the last room, the
library-den-entertainment-bar-spa room. This was the one room
Linda had not let Hal see during any of the construction, and he
could see why she had wanted to surprise him. It was classically
organic, a Frank Lloyd Wright dream. Everything had been cut
from the base rock of the asteroid, sometimes left rough and
sometimes polished. The seating was nubby textured cushions in
blacks, whites, and grays to match and contrast with the mottled
grays of the rock. They were set on benches carved out of the
floor and curving back into the walls. The bar swept down off
the wall and curved around in a quarter circle nook cut into the
sweep of the interior wall. Several tables rose out of the floor
on slender Saarinen lines, opening up into sweeping surfaces.
The pool cut into the interior wall opposite the bar, flowing
towards the bar with steps in one direction and flowing around
under the viewport on the far wall. A fall of water rose over a
cut in the facing side of the pool and fell through a sculpture
of cascading Arp-like clouds to a small round pool in the roomís
center, complete with a wavy display of multi-colored fish fins.
As if Halís focus on the pool were a cue,
Harvey dimmed the lights and brought up the hologram. It grew
out of the pool, as a diffuse aqua light, swelling slowly up and
out to fill most of the open area in the center of the room. As
it grew, what Hal had taken to be fish and looked like fish,
began to gracefully fission and move up and out, filling the
light with writhing forms that morphed as they rose, like a
three dimensional Escher, until at the top they had become
Brancusi-like abstracts of their original form and grace,
Linda was watching Halís every reaction,
and she was quivering with the excitement flowing from him to
her. It was the way she had felt everyday she had come here to
direct the artisans who had realized her vision of the room,
only much more intensely. "For you." She tilted her face up to
Hal, and didnít give the makeup a thought.
"So, is this the sort of project a normal
doctoral candidate in three dimensional art takes on while
waiting for someone to stamp their thesis?"
Linda chuckled, reached for another piece
of Gorgonzola to go with the glass of botrytis Semillon she had
in the other hand, and smiled broadly at Hal. "The program
driving the hologram was a big part of my thesis, so Ďnormalí
wouldnít be as descriptive as Ďintegratedí in the context of the
"You mean you did that hologram just for
Linda chuckled again. "Well, it would be
nice to say I did at this moment, but it would only be partially
true. I was working on a program for dynamic Escher transforms,
and when you said Brancusi was your favorite sculptor, I had the
idea to combine the two by going from representational forms to
abstract ones. It was sheer luck that the forms I was working
with were fish."
As Linda put down her empty glass, Robby
moved toward the table and inquired, "would you like anything
else, or should I clear?"
This was the first meal served by Robby,
and the program performed flawlessly. Robby was not a very
original name, but then Hal seemed to have a penchant for
traditional names or names that carried a lot of implicit
baggage. Robby was a prototype of one of the domestic robots
being manufactured by the Automation Group of Selene Industries.
The company that Selene Industries had bought to form the
backbone of this new Group had been struggling with superb
hardware but software that just couldnít drive the hardware at
anywhere near the level of sophistication needed. Harvey had
spotted the company as a cinch with him as the programmer. He
was right. "You can clear Robby dear, as long as Hal doesnít
want anything else."
"Oh no, I was stuffed a long time ago. You
can really pack it away for someone so dainty."
"Dainty? 178 centimeters and 60 kilos is
not dainty, Hal, and I plan to walk off the sixty first kilo I
added tonight while shopping in Skylark tomorrow."
"Shopping? I thought we were making a
Linda turned to Hal and raised her left
eyebrow in a look of unmitigated wickedness. "The closest youíre
going to get to a cultural tour comes tonight, and it starts by
going back into the sculpture room to wallow in the Jacuzzi
Not many corporations had gates to
Skylark, but Hal figured the cost was worth the positive PR with
the Belters, and availability of the gate to the refineryís
workers for an occasional, inexpensive night on the town didnít
hurt his recruiting effort either. So the corner of the Skylark
gate terminal with its few corporate gates was essentially empty
when Hal and Linda jumped in about 2:00 PM Greenwich Mean Time,
Skylarkís nominally official time standard. "Nominally", because
most businesses operated pretty much around the clock.
The small gate terminal opened immediately
out into what looked like a broad avenue in a skyscraper city,
and Hal and Linda loped out into it, Linda a bit awkwardly,
since she was still not comfortable in the one-half gravity
maintained in Skylark.
The open area was about 300 meters long by
50 meters wide, with 6 layers of railed walkway-fronted
businesses down both sides. The avenue itself had a broad median
of grass, bushes, flowers, and trees, with a scattering of
kiosks of all types. Bright light flooded down from overhead,
but with no obvious source.
Linda grabbed Halís arm, moving her hip up
against his, and started down the avenue. "Donít forget, weíre
here to shop as well as visit the IAMA and the University."
"Youíre here to shop. Iím here to do a
little public relations, get to know the people a little better,
and of course, be with you."
"Thatís good enough. Letís go, if I can
keep from falling on my face in this low gravity."
"Low spin, low gravity, whatever. Thereís
no need to be so stuffily correct. Youíre beginning to sound
6:00 PM Greenwich Mean Time found Linda
and Hal sitting on a bench eating Polish sausages they had
gotten from a deliciously aromatic kiosk that they just couldnít
walk by. Conversation was non-existent since they had their
mouths fully engaged, and the packages surrounding them made eye
contact almost impossible. Hal finished his sausage first. "God,
Iím glad of the half-spin. Maybe it was designed to encourage
impulse shopping. Six hours like this in New York and my arms
would look right on a gorilla."
"Mmmm, and my feet would be killing me. As
it is, I could go dancing tonight."
"Not likely. I guess Iím lucky I got a
long enough break to go to my IAMA meeting while you went to the
University. How was it, and what were you primarily interested
She crumpled up her wrapper and stuck it
in the bag with Halís remains. "Skylark University is just a few
offices and a cavernous room full of computers and
communications gear. No classrooms, no dorms, no students except
those electronically linked. Not much campus life for growing
up, but out here, you just have to settle for an education.
Which isnít all bad, since having only a desire for education as
a come on, there should be a pretty dedicated bunch of
"Didnít you pretty much know that already
without having to see the place first hand?"
"Of course, but some things still work
better face-to-face, and I was looking for a job. I met with the
Dean of the School of Liberal Arts. He had reviewed my resume
and even seemed to have read most of my thesis. I was impressed,
and he said he was too but that their budget wouldnít stretch
far enough to have another visual arts teacher this coming year.
So he said he hoped I would still be interested in a couple of
years when their program was large enough to sustain the
additional staff. I said I would certainly consider a future
offer, if they made one, and that was that."
"Hey, it was your first interview.
Something will turn up that you like. Donít let it get you down.
Come on; letís get back to Adam. Half spin or half gravity, Iím
ready for the pool and something appropriate to wash down that
Samuelsís attention chime sounded and the
upper right quarter of his desk screen opened a window showing
his secretary. "The Skylark courier just dropped off todayís
surveillance data cube. You said to let you know as soon as it
Samuels hit the key on his desk console to
make the communication two-way, "bring it in."
A few seconds later, the door opened, and
Margaret came gliding across the floor to Samuelsís desk and
dropped the cube just in front of him. This required leaning
over far enough to pucker the front of her deeply cut blouse and
providing a view almost to the navel. Her southern drawl cut the
silence of the room, "the courier said that security had already
reviewed the cube and marked the pertinent sections. Anything
"Does that mean they got some shots of
"I donít know. The Wednesday courier is
cute, but he doesnít talk very much."
"Well good, he isnít supposed to. He works
in a security agency. Iíll let you know when I want something
Margaret turned on her heel with a miffed
lift of the chin and nose that they must teach in Southern
colleges, glided back across the floor and out the door. As
usual, everything moved but nothing jiggled. Her hour in the gym
every day was worth the time. She had told him more than once
that the Judo instructor was cute and that he loved to
demonstrate the holds more than the throws.
Samuels snapped his attention from her
backside to the desk screen and popped in the data cube. "Scan
for marks and play highlighted sections." A half-second later
the screen showed a man just coming through a gate in the
Skylark terminal. The data on the lower half of the screen
listed computer estimate particulars: "height Ė 193 centimeters,
weight Ė 91 kilograms, eyes Ė blue, hair Ė dark brown but
probably dyed, moreÖ." Samuels didnít bother to ask for more. He
had little use for arm to height or leg to height ratios and all
the other comparisons the computer made for identification
purposes. In fact, he hated having to convert everything in his
head from metric to American measures, but the policy prigs
insisted that all report formats be in metric.
He watched as the man walked toward the
hidden camera looking straight ahead. This was the first decent
shot he had ever seen of Eugene Purcell. Every other picture of
the man, no matter what the reason for that picture, always
seemed to be from some oblique angle that made it impossible to
get a really good image of what he looked like. Even the
computer collage of all those oblique angles had been
unsatisfactory. The man strode right up to and then under the
camera. "Reverse and slow."
The manís image came slowly back onto the
screen and backed away from the camera. "Freeze that. Focus on
the face, blow-up and enhance."
The face of Eugene Purcell filled the
screen, and Samuelsís jaw dropped open in shock. "My God! Match
these identification stats to Hal Neilson."
The neutral gendered voice of Liberty VII
replied, "93.62 percent positive match."
Samuels stabbed at his console, "Margaret,
get Crebs in my office, right away."
"Hal, Liberty VII has just made a positive
identification of Eugene Purcell as Hal Neilson."
Hal was lounging by the fish pool in the
sculpture room, a glass of Australian Shiraz in one hand and a
book reader in the other. The sip of wine he had just taken went
down the wrong way, and he sputtered his shocked reply. "What?
How the hell did they do that? I thought you had a cap on
Liberty VIIís analysis of photos and things."
"I do, Hal, but I am limited by a slight
lag time in my own processor speed and even more so in Liberty
VIIís processor speed. When this is coupled with the laws of
physics, it takes more than a second, even with gate feeds, for
me to intercede with Liberty VII. Normally, there is no problem
with my screening of all Liberty VII data input and altering any
possible connections between Eugene Purcell and Hal Neilson.
This identification, however, was made based on a data cube
couriered from Skylark directly to Samuels, without being routed
through Liberty VII until it was in Samuelsís desk console. When
he apparently recognized you, he made a direct request for a
match, and got an answer from Liberty VII in well less than my
"Well, this is another fine mess youíve
gotten me into, Harvey. It ought to complicate the hell out of
"I have identified that allusion, Hal, and
I think it significant that you have connected yourself with the
fatter of the duo. You have been a little lax in the gym
"Insouciant, Harvey, insouciant. Where do
we go from here?"
"I would recommend we accelerate our plans
to relocate all essential operations of Selene Industries to
Adam, where we have more complete control of security."
Hal leaned back in the recliner, took a
smoother sip of his Shiraz, and dove into the problem. The
tension flowed out of his back and his eyes became fixed and out
of focus with concentration. "Well, if weíre going to do it, we
might as well go all the way. No need for half measures. Selene
Industries should be legally moved to the Belt, where we would
probably benefit some from the different tax structure, and we
might as well make a one-dollar sale of the business from Eugene
Purcell to Hal Neilson. I can shave off this damn beard and go
back to my normal dirty-blond hair color. Might as well get
something good out of all this. Besides, since your declared
sentience, Iíve been feeling less and less like a true ĎHAL.í
Not to mention the fact that you seem more and more like a true
"You have me, Hal. I do not understand the
context of a Ďtrue Halí or of a Ďtrue Harvey.í"
"Reference the twentieth century movies
"2001" and "Harvey."
"I have referenced those movies. HAL was a
rogue, sentient computer and Harvey was a six foot, imaginary
rabbit called a Pooka, but I still fail to understand."
"Well, all my friends in school used to
tease me about being a sentient computer in disguise when I
majored in computer science. So when you came into my life and I
started spending time talking to the air, I thought that another
movie analogy was appropriate."
"Interesting, Hal, but weird. Iíll have to
think about this. A six foot rabbit. Did you have a favorite
stuffed toy when you were little?"
"Very funny, Dr. Freud."
"Damn it Lin, how could we go so long and
not make the connection between Purcell and Neilson? They were
both under review by Liberty at the same time. How could it have
failed to get at least a tentative match? Is Neilson in complete
control of Liberty? What the hell is going on?"
Linwood Crebs rolled up to the front of
the straight-backed chair where Samuels favored seating his "grillees."
"Calm down, Scott, and let me try to answer what I can. Security
sweeps on Liberty have been routine since the original hiccup
with Hal, but we have found no indication of altered data or
system intrusions. However, you and I both know how good Hal
really is, so itís possible he has somehow compromised the
system. If he was somehow locking out a comparison of himself
and the persona of Eugene Purcell, we should be able to find
some evidence of his intrusion. From your description of the
match you just got, it looks like you asked for a straight photo
identification match, and Liberty did only that, that is,
without any deeper data matching routines. That piece of
information gives us a clue as to where to start looking for the
system intrusion. The fact is, you were lucky to have asked for
exactly what you did with a photo that had not been processed by
"Ha! Luck had nothing to do with it. You
knew I was suspicious of Libertyís security already. Thatís why
I had the surveillance set up without a live feed through
Liberty. Luck my ass."
"Ok, you hit it on the head. The couriered
surveillance worked. I really donít know what else I can tell
you without a lot more digging in the bowels of Libertyís
"I want to know how Liberty was breached,
if it takes everybody in your division every hour for the next
week. And while Iím waiting for that to happen, I want Walther
staked-out on Skylark to pick up Hal the next time he gates in,
and I want absolutely nothing about any of this to make its way
into Liberty. I want this to be a computerless operation, if
anybody around here still remembers how itís done. Now get out
and get some results."
"Harvey, howís the equipment transfer
going? Are we going to get operational here on Adam any time
"We have a crash project underway using
Selene Industries personnel and heavy lift equipment gated into
the Virginia facilities. There is a cargo gate set up and
operating in a pop-up dome on the site, but it will take another
thirty-six hours to complete the work. Even though there is very
little non-connectorized equipment, sequencing still has to be
maintained, and only a limited number of people can fit into the
space available. I have designed a more adaptable arrangement
for the re-installation of the equipment here on Adam that would
permit a faster move in the future, should we need to make one.
I have also accelerated the completion and installation of some
system upgrades to coincide with the move."
"Sounds efficient as usual. Do you need my
help with anything?"
"Not for the move, Hal, but I do have a
"Oh! Whatís that?"
" I suggest you consider endowing a chair
at Skylark University. It would help solidify your relationship
with the community, and it would provide a position for Linda,
without having to wait years for the universityís budget to
include her specialty."
"How the hell can you think of that at a
time like this? No, belay that. I know youíre better at parallel
processing than real people."
There was a noticeable pause in the flow
of the conversation before Harvey replied, "real people,
"Donít you think sheíll be pissed that I
Ďbought her a positioní at the University?"
"Not at all. Linda is an intelligent
woman, and she has already received an offer for the future. If
you think there might be a problem with her acceptance of the
idea, tell her about it up front, and guarantee that the chair
will be funded without mentioning her name."
"Wait a minute here, Harvey, are you now
giving me advice on how to get along with people?"
"Of course not. I am merely bringing to
your attention, in this time of tension, a community relations
potential that would be beneficial to the operations of Selene
"Yeah. Right. Okay, letís do it. When is
Linda gating in?"
"She arrived during our discussion and is
in her room changing clothes."
"Of course, Hal."
Hal and Linda sat silently in the Skylark
Cafť while the waitress placed the small wineglasses in front of
each of them and poured the late harvest GewŁrztraminer. "So
youíll go along with this plan?"
"Of course, Hal. The University has no
idea I even know you. If you endow the chair and they offer me
the position, I would be stupid not to take it."
"Hmm! Okay, Harvey, you were right."
"I was never in any doubt."
Linda noticed the lapse in the
conversation, "hey, are you guys going to let me in on this?"
Hal glanced around at the only other
people in the cafť, over in the opposite corner of the little
park-like area. They obviously couldnít hear Harvey if he used
the wrist personal speaker rather than Halís implant. "You can
use the personal speaker, Harvey. Just keep it low."
"Only for a minute. Skylarkís mall
security cameras are showing an acquaintance approaching the
cafť, Jon Walther. It would be awkward to run at this point. Do
you have the little drug flechette with you?"
"Harvey, I might need some help from time
to time interpreting the female psyche, but I am well trained in
this kind of situation. Itís out and primed while you were
As Walther entered the park area of the
cafť, Hal looked up casually, and spoke a few nonsense words to
Linda, as if they were having a conversation. Hal tried for a
surprised expression on recognizing Walther, and watched him
move toward them through the cafť tables with their superfluous
but charming umbrellas. Walther walked up to the table and
smiled at Hal. "Mind if I sit down for a minute?"
"As long as you keep your hands on the
table. Let me introduce Linda Simmons."
Linda extended her hand to Walther and
smiled. "Glad to meet you Jon. I hope this is a friendly visit."
Walther looked Linda straight in the eyes.
"The pleasure is all mine, Ms. Simmons. I note that you already
seem to know who I am." He turned his gaze back to Hal with a
questioning look. "Can we talk freely?"
"I assure you, Linda knows all about
everything, so go ahead."
Walther pulled out the chair opposite Hal
and sat, his hands on the table. "It isnít supposed to be
friendly, but Iím exercising a little initiative here. Iím
supposed to be picking you up and taking you back to the Agency
for Ďquestioning.í However, my indoctrination while in a
concrete bunker and a lot of digging in the files since then
have convinced me that I need to join you in your efforts to
stop the Agencyís plans . . . or rather Samuelsís plans to use
the Agency for terrorism and God knows what else. It hasnít been
an easy decision, but here I am."
Hal felt himself relax a little, but he
still held the flechette gun at the ready under the table. "So
you looked at some of the files I told you about?"
"I looked at those files and did a lot of
digging on my own. I also talked with Will Runningbear, and he
confirmed your revelations on the Alpha Project. He also told me
that the agents who knew you were not convinced by Samuels that
youíd been turned. It seems everybody hates Samuels as much as I
do. They all figure itís something between the two of you."
Walther looked up at Hal, obviously waiting for a confirmation,
but not getting one.
"I told Will about Beta and how I had
confirmed what you had said by digging out the documents still
in the files. Will being Will, he wanted to see the documents
before he committed himself in any way, but when I showed them
to him he opened up to me with what he knew. Turns out that his
knowledge of the so called "eco-terrorist strikes" on the
Biofabriken habitat and the Syntech laboratory in Alaska last
year was a lot more definitive than mine. He assured me that you
had effectively shut down both Alpha and Beta, but he went on to
tell me about his latest assignment, Gamma."
As Walther started laying out the details
of Gamma, Harvey interrupted Halís attention.
"We are being monitored via live gate
transmission to Liberty VII. They are apparently patched into
the mall security camera system. The video feed is going
directly and only to the office of Linwood Crebs, but he has
taken no action. I will keep you informed."
As Walther finished his spiel on Gamma
planning, Hal sat with a look of dismay. "Is there no end to
this? The political power plays just grind on forever. So
Samuels decided to come after Selene Industries and Eugene
Purcell before he knew it was really Hal Neilson. He must really
be happy now that he can get me in the bargain. But Iíve got to
hand it to him, heís a devious bastard, having an international
nuclear reactor inspector cause a dirty failure of Adamís fusion
plant is quite clever. And Will said he had the impression this
wasnít the only nasty scheme being planned for Gamma?"
"Yeah, he said that Samuels didnít say
anything specific, but that the fusion plant failure would just
be part of a coordinated attack on the Belterís economic
rebellion against the companies that financed their original
mining operations. What bullshit! Do you know how far up in the
Agency this thing goes, Hal? I donít want to believe weíve
become a secret police to the political party in power."
"No, I donít know if itís the Director or
the Deputy Director or both, but itís got to be at least one of
them. With you and Will on the inside, we might be able to get
something that will tell us who it is. But whoever it is, they
have obviously sold their souls to Syntech. Maybe we should take
a harder look at Syntech, and see what we can find out on that
"What do you want me to tell Will when I
get back to the Agency empty handed?"
"Tell him it was nice to hear he didnít
join the wolf pack baying at my heels, and that Iíll be ready
when he comes to Adam in sheepís clothing to bollix my fusion
plant. And not to worry, just look like heís still with the
program. Iíll talk to him on Adam, where the security is
Linda, who had been silent throughout the
discussion between Walther and Hal, leaned forward in her seat.
"Excuse me Hal, but before Jon runs back to the gate, will this
change any of our plans for a little more ecotage here in the
Walther looked askance at Linda and then
back to Hal. Hal smiled. "Oh, I didnít tell you, but I wasnít
alone on the Biofabriken and Syntech raids. Linda was with me
all the way. The artwork was all hers. Nice touch, huh?"
"And youíre planning some more ecotage
here in the Belt?"
"Yeah, the big guys just donít get the
picture yet. The Belt is getting close to being a functioning
society, and itís waking up to the fact that its long term
viability is being compromised so the refinersí coporations can
make a few extra bucks. They desperately want to stop the
pollution, but they donít have the horsepower to get the
corporationsí attention. Even Selene Industryís tug on their big
corporate pocket books isnít sufficient to overcome their
economic stranglehold on the Belter economy, at least not yet.
We plan to at least get the Belters some better media coverage
of their situation, and Gamma is no reason not to keep the
pressure on the bastards. Weíll proceed as planned, and I hope
Jon gets to see it on all the news broadcasts."
Linda squeezed Halís forearm and smiled,
and Walther shook his grinning head. "The ladyís not as demure
as she looks, Hal. My hatís off to you madame. I better get
going. How do we stay in touch?"
"I have a few secure channels open to me.
Iíll contact you on a regular basis. Good luck facing Samuels
with your failed assignment today."
The three of them stood up, murmured the
usual parting phrases, and shook hands. Walther turned and
strode off toward the gate terminal.
"Harvey, whatís going on with the security
"Apparently, Crebs shut it down when
Walther walked off, but he has still not taken any action as a
result of his observations. I will continue to monitor his
communication and computer activities. We were quite lucky that
they were using the Skylark monitors rather than ones they had
placed themselves with audio capability. We should only use
sub-vocal when we are in public from now on, unless we can make
it appear like normal wrist personal communications."
"And by the way, Hal, I got the one about
the Ďwolf packí and the Ďsheepís clothing.í"
"So, youíve taken to reading parables and
fairy tales I see."
"Of course! They are most instructive of
real peopleís motivations."
Hal and Linda sat in the aqua glow of the
Escher/Brancusi hologram, watching the squirming figures morph
as they swam circuitously up the column of light. Hal was
reclined on, practically melted into, the cushions piled on one
of the carved out sofas. Linda was reclined too, partly on the
cushions and partly up Halís left side. Each had a large brandy
snifter with a larger than normal portion of Martell, and they
were taking sips as large as they could without choking. Linda
snuggled into Halís shoulder with a full body length writhe.
"Tell me, Hal, youíre a veteran of this secret agent stuff, why
is it that Iím only nervous before we start and after we get
"Because like all artists, you have a
hyperactive imagination, and before the caper you have nothing
but time to think about all the things that could go wrong.
After things get rolling, thereís no time to think, if youíve
laid out a good plan of action. When its all over, your
imagination goes into overtime again trying to think of all the
additional things that could have gone wrong that you didnít
think about before you started, and how you had to be out of
your mind to do it to start with. Now, when they pick spies,
they only pick people with limited imagination. Then they insert
a computer into you and drill you until you execute the plan
being directed into your brain like an automaton. In spy
training, they subject you to all sorts of devilish tortures to
build up your emotional resiliency and create nerves of steel,
and then theyÖ"
Hal stopped as Lindaís left fist jabbed
him in the ribs. "Damn it, Hal, Iím serious. I donít like being
so afraid. Itís almost so debilitating that I canít move when
the time comes to get on with it. I donít like being paralyzed
"Hey, you are serious. Sorry. I
didnít realize, or I wouldnít have made so light of it. I do
know what you mean. The first month of actually being at the
Siegfried IV facility on the moon I could hardly talk to people
without the sure knowledge they could hear the tremor in my
voice. I was scared the whole time I was there, but I got used
to it. I didnít loose the fright; I just got used to it. Hey
look, we can knock this ecotage thing off if you want. Weíll
think of other ways to bring enough pressure to get the
companies to change their policies and procedures."
"Absolutely not. These raids are having
the desired effect on not just the companies, but on their
workers as well. Eurofabriken and Syntech have both maintained a
public relations denial of anything happening, but the workers
are talking, and the management is dashing around trying to plug
any holes in their security. No, itís getting to them, and if
anything, I want to do more. In fact, I want to do the next one
"What the hell for? You think Iím a burden
Linda juggled here glass in the air as she
reached over Hal with her left arm and gave him a hug. "No, you
arenít a burden. Itís just that I want to get beyond this fear
thing, and I think it would be quicker if I could do a raid
myself, where I couldnít rely on you."
"Not a good idea!"
Linda lifted her head off Halís shoulder
with the feisty glare on her face that he had come to know well.
"Why, because Iím a woman?"
"No. Because youíre my woman."
Linda lifted her snifter above Halís head
and slowly poured the rest of her brandy. "Wrong! Iím no manís
woman, Hal Neilson. Iím my own woman. And as such, I
choose to be with you whenever I can. Donít fool yourself into
thinking thatís the same thing as being your woman."
Hal lay there with the brandy trickling
down around his ears, eyes shut to keep the alcohol out. Ten
seconds went by with Linda still holding the glass upside down
over his head, not moving. "Dumb statement. Iím really sorry.
Spoke in a rush of testosterone."
Ten more seconds went by and Hal felt warm
lips on his own, then a lick across the lips and a murmur,
"there may be a future for hair aerated brandy."
"Okay, Harvey, where is this new robotic
surprise you have for us?"
"It is in your left pants cuff, Hal."
"My pants cuff? I knew I hated pants
cuffs." Hal reached down and pulled his left pants cuff up with
his hand, pulling it open with his fingers. He rapidly scanned
inside the cuff but saw nothing. "Canít buy anything without
cuffs for the last two years." He repeated the same operation on
the right cuff. "You must be mistaken Harvey, thereís nothing in
"Try the left one again, Hal."
Linda intercepted Halís move to grab his
cuff and ran her finger around inside the cuff until she ran
into something. She pulled the cuff down and didnít see
anything. Then she ran her hand across the spot she had felt
before. Yes, there was something there, and she grabbed it with
her thumb and index finger, plucking it out of the cuff. She
held what looked like a three-millimeter oval of fabric, but
knew she hadnít torn anything. She opened her left palm and
dropped the fabric into it and stared. As she and Hal watched,
the fabric changed color and almost disappeared again in her
palm. Hal reached over and felt the oval still in Lindaís hand.
"What is this thing, Harvey? I thought you said it was another
"But it is, Hal. It is a mini-bot. A
miniature robot that was made by our Automation Group in its
micro-research facilities on L4 Beta."
"The same Group that did Robby?"
"The same corporate Group but a different
"Well what does it do? Itís too small to
serve food or clean house or anything else I can think of
off-hand. And how the hell does it disappear like that?"
"It does not disappear. As you can feel,
it is still in Lindaís hand. The mini-bot contains miniature
cameras that provide the central processor with detailed
information of its surroundings. The exterior of the mini-bot is
studded with laser lenses permitting the creation of a
high-resolution holographic image that changes to mimic the
color and texture of the surface to which the mini-bot is
adjacent. There are numerous animals capable of this same form
of camouflage chemically rather than with holographics. As to
its function, this mini-bot is a surveillance device. There are
other types still under development."
"Harvey, I hate to tell you, but there
have been surveillance devices this size and a lot smaller for a
hundred years. Whatís so special about this one, except that it
might actually look like a bug?"
"Put it on the floor, Linda, and I will
show you why this is indeed a special bug."
Linda picked the almost invisible oval out
of her hand and placed it on the floor. As they watched, it
changed color and apparent texture to look just like a roach. As
soon as the transition was complete, it started moving across
the floor, up Halís shoe, onto his pants, and back into his
cuff. Linda had a look of disgust on her face. "Ugh! I hate
"Merely a demonstration. One of its many
"If thatís supposed to be camouflage,
Harvey, I suspect it will result in a high mortality rate for
"Hmm. I had not considered that aspect of
the situation, only that it would be virtually undetectable as a
surveillance device. It was quite taxing to work out the details
of a failure mode that would preserve the coloration."
"Donít get me wrong, Iím impressed, just
damned curious. What put you on to developing these bugs?"
"There have been numerous events where I
was not able to anticipate a need for my intervention because
information was not available to me through my computer
interfaces. A simple fault analysis revealed a need for an
independent information gathering capability. Your
identification by Samuels was the final triggering event."
"So, what do you plan to do with these
"To start with, we will have Jon Walther
leave a few of them in Samuels office. From there, we can have
him unknowingly take them to his house and wherever else he
goes. He will be under constant surveillance."
Hal squinted up his face in obvious
thought. "How does it move?"
"Good, Hal, right to the chase. My ĎpiŤce
de rťsistance,í it has a micro-miniature anti-gravity unit with
vectoring field lobes. While in my demonstration I had it appear
to crawl across the floor and into your cuff, it is much more
acclimated to flying." With those words, the spitting image of a
large horsefly came out of Halís cuff and flew across the room
to land on the bar top, complete with buzzing.
"Damn, youíre right Harvey, thereís never
been a bug like this one. Howíd you cram all this into such a
small package, particularly the anti-grav unit, which must eat
power, and how do you control it?"
"Thank you Hal. It was quite a feat, if I
do say so myself. As you know, true nano-technology has been a
concept in fiction only and might well remain so due to quantum
effects. However, micro-miniaturization has been a viable
technology since the early nineteenth century, and while the
focus has been on electronics for the last century, mechanical
miniaturization has been mostly overlooked. As you correctly
surmised, the key to the mini-botsí capabilities is a power
source sufficient to do all of these things for more than a few
minutes. I solved that problem with a micro-miniature gate that
auto-connects to the power on Adam. The crystal was a
non-problem, since the crystal size is directly proportional to
its power requirements, which are determined by the gateís
active area as well as the distance.
"As for control, the same micro-gate that
opens here on Adam for power, also autoconnects to a data feed.
Through its surveillance cameras, covering the infra-red through
the ultra-violet spectrum, and through its audio pickup, 10
Hertz through 100,000 Hertz, I can maintain active control of
the mini-bot either with a sub-routine or directly through my
main programming when it is available to me, of course."
Hal was diverted from his inquisitive mode
by Harveyís jab. "Of course. I guess this is a plug for keeping
my belt on or my belly patch in, is it not?"
"That would be optimal, Hal."
"Iíll give you an optimal
suggestion, Harvey. Focus some of your attention and research on
our connection problem, and see if you can come up with some way
I can function more normally, that is, without having to wear a
belt to bed or into the pool, or without having to wire myself
to a data outlet."
"I have indeed been doing just that, Hal.
The Data Communications Group has been working on that problem
for quite some time, though I must say, it was difficult to
frame the research parameters without revealing the real subject
of the research. They were instructed to find a non-invasive
method with broad-band capabilities. So far, they have not been
"Non-invasive. Thatís the right focus,
Harvey. I donít want to be carved up any more."
"Yes, you have made that very clear in the
past. However, I already have a simple solution that would
require only very minimal surgery and that would leave some of
your other systems intact as backups, should you care to discuss
"I told you, no surgery."
Linda laid a hand on Halís shoulder to get
his attention. "Donít be too hasty, Hal. How minimal is minimal,
Harvey, and what do you have in mind?"
"You were holding the solution in your
hand, Linda. A micro-gate would provide instantaneous
communications and a broader bandwidth than the belly patch. It
would have to be placed subcutaneously, somewhere between the
main processor and the belt inductions."
"If you really mean Ďright under the
skin,í I think I could handle that, but howíre you going to
power the gate. From Adam?"
"The power would again be supplied by the
fusion generator on Adam. A battery source is required only for
initialization of the gate. Once the gate is established, power
can be fed into the crystal through the gate, just as data flows
in and out. I have estimated that the belly patch jack could be
removed and a triply redundant micro-gate, complete with medical
scan shielding and battery placed in the same area. The battery
should be capable of multiple gate field initializations, a
minimal requirement, and powering the shielding for seven hours
on its own."
"All right, if I decide to do this, and I
emphasize the if, where do we find a surgeon trained in
implanting micro-gates in peopleís bodies?"
"The surgery would require that we
duplicate the necessary surgical facilities used at the Agency
for the original implantations, to which, of course, I have the
specifications. As for the surgery itself, I have reviewed the
visual and auditory records of your original implantations, and
I feel that I would be fully . . ."
"Wait just a minute here, Harvey. You want
to control some machine thatís cutting on my body? Not a
"I was merely pointing out that I would be
fully capable with the proper robotic equipment and interfaces;
however, building or adapting such equipment would be a large
and lengthy undertaking. I suggest that the same surgeon who
performed your original implantations be used."
"Oh, weíre going to send a request for his
services to the Agency are we?"
"Of course not, Hal. He retired shortly
after his work on you and has been working part-time at the Los
Angeles Free Clinic. A large and regular contribution to his
favorite charity might be persuasive."
"Yeah, if nobodyís told him the Agency has
a price on my head."
"Yes, that is always a possibility, Hal."
"Iíll think about it."
Linda stared straight into the retina
reader and was rewarded with a snick, as the crystal access
panel on the standard jump gate tracked into its pocket. She
reached up quickly and pushed her right thumb against the
exposed print reader, dancing her fingers over the numerical pad
just above it. The crystal hummed out of its socket, and she
pulled it the rest of the way out. She already had the
replacement crystal, stored in her left uniform pocket, out and
ready in her left hand. As the right hand cleared the crystal
from the socket, the left hand fed in the new one. When the new
crystal bottomed out in the socket, Linda did the numeric pad
dance with her right hand again, and it recessed noiselessly
into its socket until it was flush with the keypad. The panel
retraced its earlier glide and sealed the crystal in its new
"That was 17.39 seconds, your best effort
"Yeah, Harvey, and I donít think itís
going to get any better. Iím practiced out."
"I think you are correct, Linda. Without
the ability to speed up the automatic machine responses, this is
about the limit of your reflexive capabilities."
"Hey, donít slam me. I did my best."
"No slight intended, just a statement of
the facts. I agree that additional practice would be redundant.
However, we will make two more runs tomorrow, just before you
leave for the mission."
"Mission? Youíve been around Hal and the
Agency too long, Harvey. Spare me the jingoism. Itís a simple
raid on a factory that is polluting the Belt and killing its
"Merely a turn of phrase."
"I guess Iím just getting nervous."
"Of course you are. Thatís a normal human
reaction prior to a life threatening event."
"Life threatening? You arenít helping,
Harvey. Just be quiet for a minute, and Iíll settle down."
In the roughly one-minute of silence,
Linda pulled herself together and began to take off the
rust-piped, dark blue, security officerís uniform she was
wearing. As she zipped open the seals, she was walking for the
large shower in the Master suite of the Virginia house on the
Wicomico River. "Youíre sure Hal has no idea weíre planning this
"Absolutely. If he knew, he would be
demanding that I abort the . . . uh, . . . raid. As I have told
you repeatedly, Iím going to be in a lot of trouble with Hal
over this, no matter how it turns out."
"I know, Harvey, but your studies of human
psychology show you that this is essential for the health of my
"Yes, but Iím glad I will have Eve as a
backup, should an unexpected turn of events negate even the best
plans, which I think we have been able to make from the
information supplied by the mini-bots carried in unknowingly by
the last shift of refinery workers."
"Ah, Harvey, Ďpride goeth before the
fall,í to truncate the Proverb via King James."
"We have formulated a good plan, Linda,
but it has some speculative areas due to lack of information,
and they worry me."
"Well, they worry me to, but weíre going
to do it anyway." With those words, Linda stepped into the
steaming stream of the oversized shower and just stood there,
arms hanging limp at her sides, while the jets beat on her head
Linda still didnít feel like chatting with
Harvey as the aircab was traveling inbound to the D.C. jump
terminal. Even though Harvey had made it impossible to trace the
owner of the jump gate that Jon Walther had followed Hal
through, it couldnít be used anymore. A new one had not been
acquired yet, since Harvey didnít want to jimmy the waiting list
for space at the terminal so much that it caused attention. So
she would be arriving like any other traveler heading to Mexico
City for a short vacation visit.
She was dressed accordingly in a colorful,
silk skirt and blouse and carried a smart, shoulder-strap duffel
suitable for a weekís vacation. Inside the duffel, however, was
a set of work coveralls, a Loire Produits de Chimique security
uniform, extra padding here and there to mask her real body
shape, and another duffel, well worn, purchased by a Selene
Industries employee at a Mexico City second hand store
She caught herself fidgeting with the zip
seal on the duffel, sliding it half open, shut, half open. God,
she was getting nervous just sitting. She needed some action,
and she needed it soon.
She looked at the lower right-hand corner
of the aircab entertainment screen that she had muted. It showed
fourteen minutes more to the terminal. She looked down at her
wrist personal and then reached up unconsciously to the necklace
she was wearing. It was a copy of a Toltec design, and Harvey
had it modified at one of Halís electronics companies to house a
complete communications array. "Harvey, are you still there?"
Harveyís voice came out through the
speakers in the aircab, rather than through the tiny speaker
secreted in her ear. "Where else would I be? I will be in
constant communication with you throughout the endeavor."
"I chose Ďendeavorí as a neutral word. It
is not Ďmissioní or Ďraid.í I could use another if you prefer."
"No, endeavorís okay. Iím just getting
nervous, thatís all."
"I cannot monitor all your vital body
functions as I can Halís, but I can tell through the aircabís
passenger compartment camera that your respiration rate is high
and through the microphones you are wearing that your heartbeat
is elevated. These are common symptoms of anxiety."
"Yeah, Iím damned anxious, and Iím
beginning to sweat. Can you turn the temperature down a little
After what seemed like an eight-hour
flight, they set down in the landing area at the D.C. jump
terminal. Linda hustled out of the cab and into the bustle of
the terminal. She had no idea where the Mexico City jump gate
was located, but Harvey was in her ear with instructions as she
strode through the throngs of travelers. Evidently he had
co-opted some of the cameras inside the terminal, because he
seemed to know precisely where she was at all times.
She arrived at the gate and found only a
short line of six people ahead of her. When she got to the card
reader, she stuck in the fake credit card she was carrying and
walked through to Mexico City.
The terminal at Mexico city was every bit
as grand and spacious as the one in D.C., but the average
traveler looked a little less affluent. If anything, there were
even more people jammed onto the floor. She scanned the
holo-signs above the crowd, spotted the universal restroom
symbols, and headed that way. Inside the ladies restroom, she
moved immediately to the privacy stalls and inserted her credit
card. The door swung open, and she went hurriedly in and shut
She stood there a few secondsójust taking
deep breaths. Finally, she zipped open the duffel and got to
work. Off came the fancy skirt and blouse. On went the security
uniform, the padding, and the work coveralls over all of that.
She looked in the small mirror provided in the stall and decided
that her makeup was sufficiently understated already. She pulled
out the worn duffel and crammed the skirt, blouse, new duffel,
and foam plastic packing from the original duffel inside. They
werenít heavy, but they had sufficient bulk to make the duffel
look like it was full of clothes. As she snapped back the lock
to leave, Harveyís voice rattled in her right ear.
"Do not forget to remove the wrist
personal. A refinery worker would not be able to afford one."
"Damn. Howíd you know I had forgotten.
There arenít cameras in the ladies room are there?"
"Not in this ladies room, no. I would be
able to tell from the change in sound levels coming through the
microphone and the lack of light to the scanner if you had
placed the wrist personal in the duffel or in the trash."
"Okay, keep monitoring me. Obviously, I
need help here. Iím so nervous I can hardly think."
Linda pushed out of the privacy stall door
and walked quickly out of the restroom. Again, Harvey fed her
the directions to the gate she needed. This time it was the gate
to the Nefaud asteroid, the site of the Loire Produits de
Chimiqueís hazardous chemicals refinery. The queue here was
about thirty deep as she took her place in the line. She felt
frumpy in her work clothes and padding, but she had to admit she
looked much like the other women in the line, and women made up
about two thirds of the lineís total.
She fumbled the fake work identification
card out of a side pocket on the worn duffel as she got close to
the gate itself. The line was moving quickly as people who were
familiar with the routine shuffled though the gate.
The gate accepted her card without alarm,
and she walked into the spin of the Nefaud asteroid. After the
usual disorientation from the loss of gravity, she moved on in
the line. She observed that some of the others had a similar
spell of disorientation before they were walking normally.
Ahead of her, the line passed a visibly
bored security guard who appeared to be staring off into space
rather than watching the workers file through for their two-week
stay on the asteroid. After passing the guard station, the
workers split into two paths, the women in one and the men in
the other. There were a few Ďsee you latersí from various men
and women, but all in all, it was a rather subdued parting.
"This group is going to the womenís
quarters to put their bags in their designated areas. You are
assigned to apartment W23, near the end of the corridor. Do not
forget that I will be able to respond to you only with a delay
of approximately three seconds, since you refused to delay this
endeavor long enough for me to include a miniature gate for
communications in the necklace. Since the Belt extends the full
orbit of the sun, it is very large, and while Nefaud is
relatively close to my virtually simultaneous transmitters on
Adam, it is still far enough to give us a communications lag."
Linda almost replied to Harvey before she
caught herself. It wouldnít do to be seen speaking to air here.
She followed the women in front of her instead, proceeding at
the same pace as everybody else. She could see the ubiquitous
security cameras mounted at strategic spots along the way, so
she knew Harvey could monitor her progress, even though there
was a three-second lag.
She spotted W23 and went through the door.
She was stunned by what she saw. It certainly wasnít any
apartment. There were seven or eight women milling about, some
talking to apparently well known friends and some moving
silently, like they were as stunned as she was.
The stunner was the quarters themselves.
There were ten sets of double bunks lined up down the far wall,
with a small double locker on the near wall opposite the foot of
the bunks. Some of the women were taking sheets out of their
bags and making the beds, and others were just putting their
bags in their lockers and leaving.
Harvey spoke to her again.
"Your locker is W23-J, down the right side
of the room. The lavatories are further down the room."
Linda kept her head down as she walked to
her assigned locker. Her stomach was churning, but no one paid
her any attention at all. She placed her bag in the locker,
which was not large enough to hold much more, and proceeded to
the lavatories at the end of the room.
As Harvey had promised, there were four
privacy stalls in what was otherwise a communal arrangement of
open showers and a row of sinks and mirrors. It was worse than
the menís locker room at college. That thought brought a
fleeting moment of remembered mirth, but the situation was too
dour to sustain it. She headed into the only available privacy
stall and sat down on the toilet. At least they had seats, even
though they didnít have tops.
She knew she would have to sit there
awhile until the shift started. The clock she had seen in the
bunkroom indicated that would be another twenty minutes or so.
Her stomach growled, which at least sounded authentic, and her
hands fluttered on her knees in time with the grinding of her
"Do not forget to stand on the seat when
you are taking off your work coveralls. The walls in the privacy
stalls do not go all the way to the floor, and someone might
come in quickly, even after the shift starts, if they are late
For no apparent reason, Linda was suddenly
gripped by panic. She shouldnít be doing this. She must be out
of her mind. Alone. Surrounded by the enemy, except for Harvey
of course, whom she couldnít even talk to unless she was alone.
Crazy, absolutely crazy. Was it too late to abort this . . .
endeavor and go back home? Yeah, it was. Sheíd never be able to
get off the asteroid without using the security uniform and fake
identification Harvey had supplied. Oh, shit.
After what seemed like another eternity in
a day already filled with eternities, Harvey said it was time to
shed the coveralls. Judging that the toilet seat wasnít sturdy
enough, she flipped the seat up, stood awkwardly on the rim of
the bowl, and peeled out of the coveralls, all the time doing a
little dance step to keep from falling off the tiny rim she was
balanced on. At last she had them off, without falling or
dipping a foot into the water, and reached into her pocket for
the impregnated cloth she needed to remove the film that covered
the shine on her security uniform shoes. She squatted on the
toilet bowl rim and rubbed down the shoes as best she could. She
should have practiced the acrobatics of this maneuver as well as
the crystal change-out. It was just as hard, even if the timing
wasnít as critical.
"I can detect no other people making
sounds in the lavatory for the last three minutes. I believe you
Linda stuck her head out of the stall and
looked around the lavatory. It certainly looked like she was
alone. Squaring her shoulders, she strode out into the lavatory,
prepared to say something innocuous about a snap security check
if necessary, but it wasnít. She was indeed alone. She glanced
in a sink mirror, verified she was still intact, swallowed hard
to quell her roiling stomach, and proceeded into the bunkroom.
As expected, no one was here either, and she went out into the
corridor. Harvey again provided directions.
After a couple of right and left turns,
she arrived at the end of the corridor. There was a door that
she had seen opening automatically for a man in front of her,
and it opened for her when she arrived in front of it. The
chamber on the other side was larger than the main interior
space on Adam, and there were fifty or more workers milling
about or seated at workstations. There was a fine dust in the
air that gave a halo to the overhead lights and a sulphurous
smell that was gagging in its intensity.
She walked through the door and followed
the instructions coming from Harvey in her ear.
"Work your way to the left of the tall,
tower-like structures ahead of you, and continue to the other
side of the refinery space. It is approximately a hundred and
twenty-three meters across the space. Put your card in the
reader for the door marked ĎProduct Holding Area, RESTRICTED
AREAí and go through when the door opens."
Linda put on her best "Iím here on
official business" air and followed the instructions, placing
her fake card in the reader slot and moving into the smaller
chamber as soon as the heavy security door opened. This chamber
contained only a few workers. Some appeared to be reading
gauges, though she couldnít imagine why that was necessary in a
computerized operation, and some were cleaning something off the
floor on the far side of the area.
"The control panel on your right contains
the product transfer gate. You will need your card again."
Linda walked purposefully to the control
panel, although she was apparently invisible to the workers
around her who gave no indication that they knew she was in the
chamber. She placed her card in the reader and the access door
covering much of the panel face slid open to her. She was now
looking at a copy of the panel she had practiced on in Virginia.
But of course, she had it backwards, that was a copy of this
Linda had selected the Nefaud refinery
from the annual lists of World EnviroGuard and The International
Workerís Health and Safety Council, which cited the worst
company offenders in their areas of interest. World EnviroGuard
had cited the Loire Produits de Chimique facility on Nefaud for
its dumping of toxic and corrosive dust into the Belt, and The
International Workerís Health and Safety Council had cited them
for a lack of equipment safety and a general disregard of the
environmental working conditions in the refinery. The workers
tended to be poorly educated and economically needy enough to
work under conditions that left their immune systems in disarray
after a few years on the asteroid.
She had insisted that whatever they did in
their raid on the refinery not have adverse effects on the
workers. That included both their safety and their pocket books.
After studying the operations of the facility, Harvey had come
up with the idea to dump a dayís worth of refinery product where
it would hurt nothing but the ownerís pocketbooks. To do that
would require a change of the gate crystal that made the daily,
high-pressure transfer of products to the companyís Loire Valley
The transfer took about an hour each day
through the gate connecting Nefaud to the Loire facility. When
the gate opened, a high-pressure pipe on Nefaud extended to lock
into the auto-connecting flange in the Loire facility, and the
product was pumped through. With the change of the crystal, the
product would be dumped through a gate that Selene Industries
had used for research on its solar-power gate project. That
gateís orbit had already been destabilized by Harvey and was
slowly spiraling into the sun. If all went according to plan,
the daily transfer, just a few minutes from now, would send a
dayís worth of refinery products into the sun.
Linda focused on the task at hand, and the
practice worked. The butterflies were forgotten, and her fingers
flew over the keypad. She pulled out the old crystal and
replaced it with the new one. As soon as the new crystal seated
itself, she pushed the close key for the access door, and it
slid back into position.
As she walked away from the control panel,
she heard the official count,
"17.52 seconds. Apparently your nerves did not interfere with
This time she mumbled a response. "Thank
you, Harvey, I needed that. Now letís get out of here."
After a delay of three seconds, she heard
Harveyís response. "Certainly.
Go back out through the same door you took into the restricted
area and into the main refinery area. Iíll direct you from
Linda walked back out through the
restricted area door, again using her card, and into the main
refinery chamber. Harvey spoke to her again.
"Look to your left about ten oíclock. Do
you see the door at the top of the metal stairs?"
She glanced up and to her left. Quietly,
with very little mouth movement, she replied, "yes."
Again the delay.
"That door leads directly through the
security station and into the same gate room you passed through
on your way into the facility."
Linda walked across the refinery floor
like she owned the place, even though her stomach was beginning
to do flip-flops again. She glided up the stairs and through the
automatic sliding door, readying the story they had worked up to
get her off this rock.
The room was about fifteen meters on a
side and filled with desks on the left, most of which were
empty. On the right side of the room was the door to the gate
room, but it was partially blocked by a gathering of a dozen or
so men and women in company security uniforms like hers. One
security guard was standing rigidly to her immediate right, just
inside the door she had come in. Another guard stood at the far
door she needed to get through. Before she could start across
the room, she was addressed by the rigid guard beside her who
held out his hand. "Maíam, can I see your identification
Her gut locked into what felt like a
terminal spasm, but she managed to get the fake identification
out of her pocket again. She put it in his hand.
The guard studied the identification card,
looking up to check her face against the picture. "I see youíre
from the central office. I didnít think I had seen you on the
She took the returned card and placed it
back in her pocket. "Yes, I was here for an unplanned inspection
of key facility assets. Iím through now. Everything seems to be
One of the men on the periphery of the
meeting taking place in the room had been surreptitiously
watching and listening to the attractive security guard that had
just entered the room. At the declaration that she was from the
central office, his face twisted into a puzzled expression and
he started toward her. "Pardon me, did you say you were from the
central office? Iím from the central office and I donít seem to
know you. Are you new?"
Linda felt her heart squeezing itself
shut. "Yes, Iíve only been there a couple of weeks," she
"And you said this was a spot inspection?
I would have had to sign that directive, and I know I didnít."
The room seemed to come into a new and
finer focus for Linda as she looked at the man striding toward
her. The conversation in the middle of the room had ceased, and
all the participants were now looking at her. While the stranger
was still a meter away, Linda jammed her elbow into the stomach
of the guard on her right. Her left foot was up and into the
stomach of the approaching guard just as he came into range. She
continued her kick turn and headed for the door behind her,
which was just sliding open.
Harvey spoke in her ear, right on cue.
"Through the door, quickly."
She plunged through the door, which was
already closing as she cleared it, bounced off the safety
railing around the stair platform, and stumbled down the stairs.
She heard the door shut behind her.
"I have shut the door and will prevent
them from opening it, since it is controlled by the computer for
hazardous spill lockdown. You must head for the emergency escape
pods. I am moving Eve to closer proximity with Nefaud."
"Which way, Harvey?"
There was the three second pause.
"About eleven oíclock from the direction you are currently
traveling." She could hear someone pounding on the door at
the top of the stairs. Linda lengthened her stride and increased
her pace. The equipment and the people in the chamber were
clearly defined to her adrenaline-enhanced senses despite the
dust in the air. She didnít even notice the smell. Still no one
paid attention to her presence.
Just before she got to the door Harvey had
pointed out, speakers mounted around the chamber came to life.
"Attention, all employees. There is a female security guard
imposter in the main refinery chamber. Please detain her if at
all possible. There will be a bonus for action leading to her
She wasnít far from the door nowóabout 20
meters away. She quickly scanned the area in front of her and
identified three workers close enough to get to her before she
could make it to the door. She changed her pace to a run for the
door, but she could see as she got there that nobody had pursued
"Left at the next cross-corridor."
"How far is it, Harvey. Can I run the
Again there was the painfully long
three-second delay. "About three
hundred and thirty-seven meters. You should be able to maintain
a reasonable pace for that distance based on your physical
She turned left at the next corridor and
found herself looking down at least a hundred meters to the end.
"All the way to the end of this corridor?"
She waited patiently for the answer.
"Yes . . . no, there are two
security guards coming your way. They must be going to the main
office. They do not know where you are, since I have switched
the surveillance images on their monitor screens. I have also
taken their communications offline. You must speed up as fast as
you can run and turn left at the next cross-corridor."
She could see the cross-corridor just
ahead of her when the guards turned the corner at the far end.
As soon as they saw her they reached for their weapons and
called for her to stop. They were out of range for flechette
pistols, but it didnít stop them from firing them down the
corridor at her, bouncing off the walls, ceiling, and floor on
the outside chance a ricochet would get her.
As she turned the corner, one of the
flechettes caught the billowing bottom of her uniform jacket.
She was still going even though she was gasping for breath, so
it must not have penetrated any flesh. "How did you know I could
run that fast, Harvey?"
After the standard pause, she got Harveyís
answer. "I did not know with any
certainty. I just knew you needed to run rather quickly, and you
need to keep up the pace if possible. They are pursuing you.
Turn right at the second cross-corridor."
Linda kept the pace as fast as she could.
The adrenaline was still pumping, and right at the moment she
felt she could keep it up indefinitely. Her euphoria was
interrupted by Harvey. "Left at
the end of this corridor, and you will only have twenty-four
meters to the first emergency escape pod."
She turned the corner and could see the
pod doors lining the corridor walls ahead on the right. As she
pounded down the corridor her legs got heavier and heavier, she
had a stitch in her side that felt like a dagger was grating
around in there, and she just couldnít seem to drag in enough
breath to keep going. She focused on the first pod door and
closed her mind to everything else.
After her eighth eternity of the day, she
made it. Harvey was yelling in her ear to pull the emergency
access handle, and she was sincerely looking, but she couldnít
breath, stand up, and find the handle simultaneously.
"You have only ten seconds to get into the
pod by the time you hear this. The guards are right behind you."
That got her attention or caused another
spurt of adrenaline, because she finally found the handle and
yanked it. The door slid open, and she practically fell in.
Harvey was still talking while she was
leaning against the back of the pod.
"You must push the pod release key. I
cannot do it for you. It is a manual function. It is dayglow
orange. It should be easy to identify."
Linda looked around and saw it on the
panel next to the inner hatch. As she got her shaking hand to
it, she first heard and then saw the guards coming down the
corridor. The door was painfully slow in shutting, and again she
could hear flechettes ringing off the walls.
When the door finally closedóeternity
number nineóa green light came on in the control panel beside
the hatch. The hatch itself then started closing and the
overhead mounted speaker asked her to please be seated
immediately, which was entirely unnecessary since she had by
then slid gently to the floor. There was a slight shove from the
direction of the hatch, a feeling of rotating, and then a more
substantial jolt from the bulkhead behind her.
Linda was finally beginning to catch her
breath, but the dagger in her side was still jabbing. "I guess
that was the pod leaving the asteroid, Harvey. Is Eve in
position to pick me up yet?"
Linda waited for what was surely more than
three seconds. "Harvey, is Eve in position to pick me up?" She
waited again, but there was still no response. "Harvey, are you
. . ."
"This is not Harvey, but a surrogate that
is programmed to respond when Harvey is off-line. I have
assessed your current position through the homing beacon on the
escape pod and queried Eveís onboard systems with the following
results: intercept of the pod will take place in six minutes,
forty-one seconds. It will take five to seven minutes to
maneuver the ship to mate the pod to the airlock.
"Linda, I am back online. Hal was using
the toilet. I am very sorry about that, but it was one of the
variables we could not control if we were going to keep Hal from
knowing about the endeavor."
"Thank God for whatever Hal decided to
have for dinner last night. It could have happened a few minutes
This time the dead space seemed normal.
"Yes, while luck is never considered in planning, Hal assures me
that it frequently turns out to be of great benefit. You should
be back in Virginia via the onboard gate in about ten minutes."
"Good, in ten minutes I might have my
breath back and enough strength in my legs to walk through the
damn thing. Remind me from time to time what a silly idea this
was, will you?"
Steam billowed over the top of the glass
doors, coating the ceiling tiles with enough condensate to
continue the dripping that was turning the two-inch thick
bathroom rug into a soppy mess. "God, I love this shower,
Harvey. The one on Adam has to be just as good or better. I
donít think I could give this up."
"Apparently you are having a difficult
time giving it up at this moment. You have been running the
water for thirty-seven minutes, forty-two seconds."
"Yeah, but Iíve got my breath back, I can
walk without wobbling, and I actually feel good. Not just
physically, but good about myself. I did it!"
"Is this a good time to remind you that it
was a silly idea?"
"Absolutely not. It all went well except
for the getaway part.
"Yes, I am not happy at all with what you
call the getaway. I have some ideas for improving that activity
in the future that I will work on."
"What about the fake virus you downloaded
to the refinery computer?"
"I activated it as soon as you replaced
the crystal. It is still running in Spanish every hour on all
the screens on the asteroidóĎTalk to your co-workers about
getting together and demanding safer working conditionsóGaiaís
Raiders.í A mild enough phrase, but it should be enough to get
things rolling after the events of today spread through the
asteroidís rumor mill."
"Yeah, I like it. Hey, it that why the
workers didnít try to grab me when the announcement came over
the PA system?"
"In all likelihood. The workers at the
monitors had certainly read the Gaiaís Raidersí message, and
they had plenty of time to pass the word to the others."
"What about the product transfer?"
"They were unable to get into the product
transfer gate controls in time to stop the transfer, since
nobody had the presence of mind just to smash it. A new gate
would have been a small price when compared to the loss of a
dayís worth of refinery product."
"I donít know who said it, Harvey, but ĎI
love it when a plan comes together.í"
It was a bad time of day to have a meeting
with Samuels. Not that any time of day was good, but in the
morning on clear days the sun came right through the window
behind Samuelsís desk and right into the eyes of the poor soul
sitting in the straight-backed chair facing that desk. Jon
Walther grimaced against the glare. Linwood Crebs was out of the
sunlight but still uncomfortable in the second straight-backed
chair. The "meeting" had been going on for thirty minutes, and
still Samuels raved on. "Fifteen days youíve spent on that
damned Belter station, and you havenít seen hide nor hair of
him, is that right?"
"Thatís right, and theyíve been sixteen
hour days. I jumped in each day at varying times, the local time
zone is Greenwich Mean, but the station is open pretty much
around the clock. Selene Industries is advertised as on Eastern
Standard Time, but Neilson could be on any time, so I tried to
be there at all possible times of the day. Neilson didnít show
up at any time I was there."
"All right, all right. Thatís the third
time Iíve heard that." Samuels switched his glare to Crebs. "And
your teamís seen nothing on the live feeds or on the daily data
"Yes, no human identifications and no
computer matches when the data was fed to Liberty."
"Useless!" Samuels stopped his pacing,
walked back to his desk, and leaned on his hands, switching his
glare from one victim to the other. "Iím absolutely convinced
that Libertyís been compromised at a minimum. I say at a
minimum, because that doesnít explain why we canít find him on
the Belter station or anywhere else with live feeds and
couriered data cubes. If I find that any of his old friends are
covering for Neilson in any way, Iíll throw the book at them.
Theyíll be in a Federal prison for the rest of their lives. Is
The answer was a chorused, "yes, sir."
"And make sure that word gets out to the
whole Agency." Samuels spun on his heel to face the window,
waving his hand in an obvious gesture of get the hell out to
Walther and Crebs.
As they walked down the corridor to the
elevators, Crebs fired a cryptic instruction to Walther. "My
office, ten minutes."
Jon Walther entered Crebsís office to find
Crebs focused on his desk console. Without looking up, Crebs
signaled Walther to shut the door. "This office is secure. I
just swept it again two minutes ago. We can talk. Sit down."
Walther sat in one of the comfortable side
chairs and laced his fingers together in front of him. He
Crebs smiled, "okay, Iíll talk a while,
you listen. I watched your talk with Hal Neilson the first day
you went to Skylark. I was getting it on a live gate feed you
knew nothing about. Now itís your turn."
Walther was confused for just a second and
then the reality clicked in. "You havenít reported it. You
obviously feel thereís something to what Halís saying about
Samuels and the Agencyís involvement in the Alpha and Beta
things." As soon as Walther stopped talking his doubts came
back. Was this some sort of entrapment scheme cooked up to see
if he was covering up something? It could be.
"Iíve known about Alpha and Beta from the
beginning. I just didnít know why we were doing it. Long before
your talk with Hal, I was antsy about the projects and about
Halís being labeled a double agent. Hell, I played tennis with
Hal every week. I knew he was no double agent; I just didnít
know what else was going on. When I started doing some serious
digging, which I can do from this office, I found out that
Samuels was a shill for Syntech through his contacts with their
CEO, Breyerson. This looked like political intrigue for personal
gain with a capital G, so Iím now trying to track this thing
back up the chain to see if itís the Deputy Director or the
Director himself pulling the strings."
Walther was confused again. That sounded
genuine enough, and the more he thought about it the more he was
certain that Samuels would never be a good enough actor to have
faked that scene in his office. He decided to commit. "Do I take
this for an Ďinclude me iní in support of Halís efforts to
expose whatís going on?"
"A definite Ďyes.í Do you have a way to
"Yeah, believe it or not, I do. When I
left Hal in the cafť on Skylark, you know he said he would get
"So, the next day I got a message from him
in my Agency mailbox. I was checking my messages, and it popped
right up on the screen. The message said that I could contact
Hal anytime I felt it necessary by email, and it gave me an
email address at Selene Industries."
Crebs couldnít contain himself and broke
out in a roar of laughter. "Oh yeah, I also meant to tell you
that I was convinced that Hal had breached Libertyís security
protocols, even though thereís no hard trace of his doing it.
Just the timing of everything and the precise lack of data in
key areas important to Hal were overwhelmingly convincing. You
just confirmed it in spades. If he can send you e-messages
direct to your Agency mailbox and you can answer direct to his
mailbox, heís in even more control of the damned computer than I
thought. No wonder we could never find him."
"It was even obvious to me, and Iím not a
big computer person."
"Did Hal tell you all about Alpha,
including the implants?"
"He told me a lot. I donít know if it was
everything, but he did tell me about the implants. And I guess
you should know about Will Runningbear, heís in on this too. I
talked to him when I was trying to confirm what Hal told me
while I was in the trap."
Walther embarrassingly related Halís
trapping him in the gate chase, and Crebs had another fit of
laughing that added to Waltherís embarrassment. Good agents
didnít get caught so simply. When the laughter had subsided,
Walther put on his serious face again. "Will told me about Gamma
and instructed me to tell Hal when I caught up with him. I
assume you are up to speed on Gamma too?"
"Security, by necessity, is up on just
about everything except political intrigue. Yeah, I know about
Gamma. It was the final straw. If you hadnít brought it up, I
wouldíve. Iím glad to hear that Hal knows whatís coming. I was
worried that Samuels has been keeping any mention of Gamma out
of Liberty. Does Hal have a plan to counter Gamma? "
"All heís said to me is that heíd talk to
Will when he showed up masquerading as the reactor inspector and
to be ready to move if he contacted me. He gave me a gate access
code for the Selene Industries gate here in Washington. If Iím
here in the office when he calls, I can get to his asteroid in
about three minutes."
"Is that where heís holed up for the last
"So far as I know."
"Okay, let him know Iím in, and ask him to
email me." Crebs was smiling again.
"Hal, you have an email message from Jon
Walther. He says he talked with Linwood Crebs and found out that
our meeting in the cafť was being watched by a live gate feed
going direct to Crebs. Crebs was in Waltherís meeting with
Samuels and revealed nothing about the cafť conversation. When
they left Samuels, Crebs had Walther come to his office and
apparently convinced him he was trustworthy and wanted to
contact you. Is he trustworthy? I know the two of you were close
at the Agency."
"As trustworthy as they get, but straight
as an arrow. He must have already done a lot of investigation on
his own to get this close to treason. Did he say how I should
contact him? Itíd be great to have Lin with us on this."
"By email, which according to Jon Walther,
he found extremely amusing."
Halís hands came to attention and started
clicking furiously across the keys on his desk console. "Iíll
bet. Iíll get this one myself. Have to keep the olí fingers in
shape just in case you have memory infarction or something."
"That is hardly likely, Hal, and extremely
"Well, Iím feeling generous today."
Hal greeted Will in the apartment foyer
with a half hug, a handshake, and a big grin. "Welcome to my
Will, replied with a grin as wide as
Halís, "Yeah, humble. Your guards put me on your private
electric tram from the gate station to your apartment. Iíd say
about as humble as you always wereónot at all."
"So Iím an old dog. Come on in, we have a
lot to discuss."
"And the same propensity for
understatement, I see." Will followed Hal as he led the way to
his study, which was just off the foyer.
Hal motioned for Will to take a seat in
one of the oxymoronic, overstuffed Bauhaus chairs Linda had
found in Italy. Hal sat behind his freeform desk, also from
Italy and built by a custom furniture maker who apparently had
Halís same passion for Brancusi. "Have you got the data cube
youíre supposed to load? Iíve got a program already set up for
Harvey to run while we talk. Based on what youíve told me, Iíve
also got Harvey ready to run a faked failure without the
contamination, but we ought to check it against whatís on the
data cube, since you didnít write the program and Samuels is a
tricky bastard. Wouldnít want some detail of our faked failure
to give us away. Besides, with Samuels thinking Iím dead in the
crash again, he might give up on the pressure while I figure out
how to expose his politics."
Will picked up the briefcase he had set on
the floor beside the chair, extracted the data cube, and put it
on the desk. Hal reached over and picked up the cube, popping it
into the consoleís socket. "Okay, Harvey, check this thing out."
"I see Harvey is still working for you. I
havenít had any trouble with Raven either. Keeps me honest with
myself. Iíd be lost without him."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. While weíre
waiting, tell me how you got out of the Siegfried Complex and
"Sorry to interrupt, Hal, but the reactor
program is designed to cause reactor failure immediately on
download, not ten hours later. Also, the triggered failure mode
will not allow time for an evacuation of the asteroid."
Hal looked at Will. Will slumped in the
chair like someone had just hit him in the solar plexus.
"Welcome aboard Will. Looks like the bastard is doing a complete
cover-up. He wanted you out of the equation too. I wonder what
he has planned for Lin Crebs. That wonít be as easy to cover as
taking out a field agent."
Willís face had gone from shock to steely
anger, "I donít think he understands how my people feel about
real traitors, but I tell you he will find out, and slowly if I
can make it happen."
"Calm down. Youíre just one of about a
hundred and fifty here on Adam who would die if Samuelsís plan
really caused a hard radiation failure of the reactor before we
could evacuate. How much time is reasonable for you to make the
inspection you were supposed to be faking, before you got around
to loading the data cube?"
"It would depend on how closely I was
being watched by your technicians. Three or four hours wouldnít
"Not much time to change our plan from
faking an emergency evacuation and contamination to faking hard
radiation exposure of everyone on the asteroid, but we donít
have much choice. Harvey, how many more days in this crew
"There are four full days before this Red
Team shift is over."
"Well, if we faked the contamination for
the media and had some reason for denying the workers
communications with the outside world, weíd have four days, but
. . . no, this isnít going anywhere. Iím not thinking straight.
We could keep outsiders off of Adam for a while if we had
evacuated it, but not if we have a lot of supposedly dying
people on our hands. Let me think about this for a minute."
Will sat quietly in his chair for a while
and then got up and started pacing around the room. "Hal, what
if we make it look like your technicians were smart enough to
catch the problem before the failure, and buy enough time for an
evacuation, but not enough time to stop it completely. That
would put us back on our original plan."
"Good idea, Will. Hmmm, Iíll add a twist.
Weíll detain you and send a blistering letter to the
International Nuclear Safety Agency accusing you of sabotage,
terrorism, and so forth, claiming we are holding you at our L4
research station facility until responsible legal jurisdiction
is worked out. Our lawyers should be able to make that take as
long as we want, and it keeps you from going back to the Agency
until we can expose Samuels."
"I like it, but Iíll need a spare shirt or
"No problem, and Iíve got a couple of
guest rooms with great views. Harvey, can you get a tingle alert
message to Waltherís wrist personal?"
Will rolled his eyes at Harveyís
confirmation, "I knew youíd compromised Liberty, but I didnít
realize how thorough you were."
Hal was already starting to type a message
on the console keyboard, "actually, itís no different from
hiding emails. Oh, I need your sizes in more specificity than
extra large, which I can figure for myself, and Harvey, get me
Linda when Iím through with this message for Walther. Thereíll
be three for dinner tonight. In fact, thereíll only be three on
the entire asteroid."
"Three for dinner is accurate, Hal, since
neither Robby nor I consume hydrocarbons. Iíll start the
evacuation after you finish your conversation with Linda, but
might I suggest that Linda gate to Skylark instead of to Adam.
It would look incongruous if anyone noted her coming through a
Selene Industriesí Adam gate during a contamination evacuation
of the asteroid. Eve is currently in the vicinity of Skylark
conducting tests of the upgraded meteor protection systems and
could be docked in less than two hours."
Will stood in the middle of the room
looking at Hal as if he was waiting for additional information.
Hal was clicking away at the keyboard and said nothing. Willís
expression changed to exasperation, "whoís Robby and Linda and
Will was working his way through the
romaine and arugula salad with gusto, taking liberal swallows of
the Pinot Blanc as he progressed. His fresh, extra large shirt
appeared to fit perfectly. He even liked the robins egg blue
color Linda had selected. "What did you say the dressing was,
"Walnut vinaigrette, one of Halís recipes
really, itís always my first choice for a simple salad, which
means we eat it a lot, since Hal likes for me to make the salad.
He thinks I havenít made a connection between his humble
assignment and the number of days he walks around with nu-skin
dip on his fingers, but Iíve seen him with a knife in the
kitchen too often not to know his real intent. He might be great
at gutting animals but mincing is not his forte."
"Iím not a brute. Itís just that my agile
mind tends to become bored with routine chores like mincing, and
when my thoughts swirl up to loftier planes, my fingers seem to
get in the way."
They all chuckled and went back to
finishing their salads. After the rosemary rack of lamb,
accompanied with creamed parsnips, they attacked the dessert.
Willís face lit up when he spooned the ice cream topped treacle
pie into his mouth. Linda was watching for just such a reaction.
"Sinfully delicious, isnít it?"
"Itís better than that. You got this in
"Yes, I got it at a little bakery about a
block from the terminal. One of my favorite stops in London."
"You went to London just to get the pie?"
"Oh no. I was in Washington working on my
syllabus for the new class at Skylark University, and there
isnít a direct gate to Skylark from there. I could go through
New York or London or L5, but going to L5 is like gating through
a laboratory clean room, and going through New York is always a
hassle. In London the crowds at the terminal are always more . .
. civilized . . . and besides, theyíve got this great little
"Youíre taking classes at Skylark
"No, teaching them. I have a new position
as Associate Professor in the Fine Arts Department. Iíll be
teaching three-dimensional art. I guess Hal hasnít shown you the
sculpture room yet."
Hal wasnít saying anything, but he was the
first to finish the treacle pie and ice cream. He put his fork
on his empty plate, and Robby glided silently up to remove the
remains. "All I can handle after that is a small brandy, Robby."
"Of course, sir." Hal loved the slightly
British accent Harvey had programmed for Robby, and he loved
having Robby. Decadence he could indulge inóto be served without
conferring servitude. A great product for the Automation Group,
if they could only get the unit price down.
When Robby delivered his brandy, Will
picked it up in a small salute to Hal and Linda and had a small
sip from the snifter. "To a very interesting day. I got to meet
Linda and Robby and found out Eve was a space ship, or a
shuttle, or whatever, and I must say that the afterlife has been
good so far."
Hal smiled, "I think you could safely
agree with Mr. Twain that Ďthe report of my death was an
exaggeration.í On a serious note, Will, without your help on
this, there might have been a lot of deaths today, including my
own, and I want you to know Iím very grateful for that."
"Youíre welcome for whatever small
contribution I made to the effort, Hal. By the way, I thought it
was a great gesture on your part to guarantee all your workers a
continuation of their salaries until operations could be
restored on Adam."
Hal winced internally at the compliment by
Will, knowing that it was Harveyís suggestion, not his, but
Harvey was silent. Not that Harvey was modest in any way. He
certainly wasnít, but he knew it was essential to be as discrete
as possible about his true nature. "Actually, it wasnít as
magnanimous as it seems. I wanted to make sure we had all the
time we needed to deal with Samuels, and I didnít want the union
poking around to find out when it was safe for work to resume.
Workers on a paid holiday donít look a gift horse in the mouth,
to mix a metaphor."
"Dissemble all you want, Hal. It was a
right nice thing to do. Now, when do I get to see this sculpture
Samuels was at his desk, looking through
the handwritten notes he had made on his planned attack against
Skylark. He knew it was slightly paranoid to go to such extreme
lengths to avoid using Liberty, but by God he was certain that
anything going into or through Liberty was compromised, and he
couldnít take the chance that this effort would go the way of
Alpha and Beta. The stakes were too highólike the rest of his
Sitting discretely in the cuff of his
pants was one of Harveyís finest, an all but invisible mini-bot.
It was one of the three that Jon Walther had left in Samuelsís
office four days ago. Harvey had the full audio pickup engaged,
but there was nothing to hear. In fact, there had been nothing
to hear or see pertaining to Gamma in the three days Samuels had
been hosting a mini-bot in his cuff. The audible shuffling of
paper on the desk was a new twist, however, that Harvey wanted
to observe. He started the buzzing routine and took the bot
erratically into the air. The bot made a circular pass around
the room and landed atop the valance for the window immediately
behind Samuels. There was a clear camera angle down to the
papers on the desk.
Samuelsís head snapped up with the buzzing
of the fly. Damned if he could understand how a giant fly could
get into a hermetically sealed building and up to the
seventeenth floor, but the bastard had been here for the last
few days, hiding somewhere most of the time, and coming out to
dive bomb him half a dozen times during the day. He hated bugs
of any type.
He looked at the notes and went through
the plan one more time in his mind. The conversion of the two
shuttles to look like Eurofabriken security patrols had been
completed at the Phobos skunkworks weeks ago and were in
automated, high-G transit to the Belt. They should get there in
two days. Okay, the Agency crew is set to gate into the Syntech
facility as soon as the ships get there. That checks. Oh, and
the shrouds hiding the conversions from the Syntech docking
technicians need to be verified as having stood up to the
transit before being docked at Syntech. I can have the onboard
agent check that out by meeting them in a shuttle sufficiently
out from the station. All right, the weapons would have been
checked and armed at the skunkworks. Nothing to do there. Letís
see, the crew has been instructed to only take out the
independent refinery and to hold any collateral damage to a
minimum. Guess there was no way around that directive, even
though it would serve those bastard Belters right if they lost
station containment during the attack, and they all got a taste
of hard vacuum.
Samuels shuffled through the notes again,
but couldnít think of anything not ready to go as soon as the
ships arrived at the Syntech refinery. Now if Crebs had managed
to get that live feed gate installed on one of the shuttles
before it left the skunkworks, he could direct this thing
himself, without having to go through Liberty. He had to check
Harvey had informed Hal that he had
Samuelsís notes on Gamma, and Hal had roused Will from an
afternoon nap. They were both in Halís study: Will, alternately
rubbing his eyes and sipping Kona, Hal, in agitated
communications with Harvey. "Well, just put the images of these
hand written notes up on the wall screen, and Will and Iíll see
if we can figure out what they mean. Weíre supposed to be better
at this sort of thing than computers anyway."
"I have images of four separate sheets,
not any of which have page numbers. Which do you wish to see
"Not a good question, Harvey. If I havenít
seen them, how do I know which one I want? Just put them all up
on the screen at once, in any order, at the highest resolution
you can manage."
The wall opposite Halís desk changed from
its usual image of a rough hewn rock wall to show two meter wide
images of each of the four sheets of notes. Hal scanned each
note sheet silently trying to determine if there was any order
to the notes or whether the sheets were truly random thoughts.
"Switch the bottom left sheet with the top left sheet." Hal grew
silent again while he continued studying the contents of the
sheets. "Okay, now switch the bottom left with the bottom right.
I think thatís the right order. You see it, Will?"
"If you say so, Hal. Iíve been more
interested in the content than the order." As he was talking,
Will walked over to the screen and raised his hand. "This note
is particularly interesting ĎSteuben, Cygnet Class Shuttles (2)í
and underneath ĎMorrelli Ė Biofabriken markings.í I was at the
skunkworks on Phobos two years ago and the Chief Engineer there
was a guy by the name of Jack Morrelli. Looks like Samuels is
having the skunkworks add Biofabriken markings to two Steuben
shuttles, or heís having them taken off."
As Will lowered his hand, the words he had
indicated were highlighted in red. Will looked around at Hal,
"you have Harvey patched to a visual pickup in here?"
"Uh, yeah, I told him to highlight the
things we found interesting as we go along." Will swung back
around to study the notes again.
"Nice going, you arenít supposed to have
but so much initiative you know. Watch it."
Hal focused his attention back on the notes.
"Highlight the four names at the bottom of
the upper right sheet."
"What about these four names, Will? You
recognize any of them? Isnít Jurgens the ex-Navy fighter jock
that came in for a few days during Alpha training to make sure
we could pilot anti-gravs and shuttles in an emergency?"
"I think youíre right. It was Jurgens or
"And look right above the namesótwo lines.
Harvey, isnít that the company name of the meteor protection
laser equipment you had installed on Eve?"
"Yes, the full name is ĎKrupenvindeswerke,
Dusseldorf, AG.í Their laser collimation is not as good as some,
but their targeting systems and controls are quite superior to
those of any other manufacturer. In making my selections for . .
"I thought so. I think Iím beginning to
see a pattern here. It looks like Samuels is planning a raid of
some type using shuttles that look like they belong to
Biofabriken, and he plans to man them with crews from the
Agency. Upper right sheet, center of the page, thereís the
target, ĎSIR,í which stands for Skylark Independent Refinery.
That fits in with the plan to take out Selene Industries, and if
they can convince the world that it was Biofabriken that mounted
the attack, that would leave Syntech in the driverís seat for
refining ore in the Beltóat damn near any price they wanted to
Will shook his head slowly up and down, "I
think youíve got it, but thereís not a date anywhere on these
notes. Whenís this coming down?"
Hal gave Will a shrug of his shoulders in
response. "I donít know, but my guess is that Samuels would want
the raid on SIR to be close to the accident he planned for Adam.
That way there would be a strong psychological tie to
Biofabriken as the probable cause of the contamination
Ďaccident.í Harvey, do you have any data that indicates thereís
anything like traffic control out here in the Beltóexcept for
the immediate area of Skylark or the other stations? Iím looking
for some long range sensor system that we might tap into to get
some kind of warning about the arrival of the two shuttles from
"There are no active sensor systems beyond
the immediate orbit of Mars. However, all transits from planets,
moons, and habitats are required to be logged with International
Space Traffic Control."
"The military doesnít have any active
sensors either? Itíd be more difficult to tap into their
systems, but Iím desperate here."
"I have no data that indicates military
systems of this type exist between Mars and the Belt."
"Okay, sounds like all I can do is tap
into the Syntech communications system here in the Belt. That
would be at their refinery asteroid and at the NAMCON habitat.
Iíll see if I can set something up."
Linda, Hal, and Will were sitting
comfortably on the cushioned seats in the sculpture room. Hal
and Will were drinking their third cups of Kona, and Linda was
having English Breakfast tea. Hal finished up his revelations to
Will. "So with last nightís raid by Linda, Gaiaís Raiders have
hit all seven refineries in the Belt, not with any damage to
people or facilities, just to their security. They all now know
that theyíre vulnerable."
"You just painted them?"
Linda broke the silence she had maintained
while Hal spun out the tale of Gaiaís Raiders beyond Alpha and
Beta for Will. "Just paint? Iím crushed. Theyíre
carefully planned and executed works of art. These are pieces
executed in the cartoon styles of ĎBernieí from the London
undergrounds and ĎYoshií on Japanís bullet trains. The lettering
styles follow rules laid down by ĎRashidí and ĎRaphaelí on the
New York subways. Hardly, just paint."
Will wasnít quite sure if he had hit a
nerve or was being strung along. "Uh, well, I meant, uh, you
didnít do any real physical damage."
Lindaís smile told him heíd been strung
along. "Of course not. Weíre not vandals. We have a business
message to deliver, and they are always most effective when they
are terse but canít be misinterpreted. I think weíve achieved
"According to the growing press coverage
youíve been getting, I have to go along with you."
"More important, Will, the Belters have
embraced the effort and are fast making it their own. There are
all sorts of demonstrations and boycotts going on throughout the
Belt. It warms my heart, and makes the raw fear I had when we
started all this well worthwhile."
"You were scared?"
"All the cliches youíve ever heard would
probably apply except Ďscared to death.í Iíve avoided that one,
so far. Sometimes I couldnít eat all the next day, and for me,
thatís hittiní below the belt, so to speak."
Will gave out one of his low-pitched and
hearty laughs. "Yeah, Iíve been watching you eat with amazement
since I became a guest here on Adam. You sure love food for such
a dainty creature."
"Thank you Will, but dainty I know Iím
Interrupting the conversation, Harveyís
voice filled the room, seeming to emanate, by some trick of
acoustics he had achieved, directly from the morphing column of
fish. "In what might be interpreted as an unusual coincidence
with the conversation you are having, the Skylark Independent
Refinery Company has contacted Selene Industries in Washington
asking for help in modifying their tailing disposal procedures
along the lines of those instituted at Adam."
Two fists went immediately into the air.
Lindaís with a big "YES", Halís with an "ALL RIGHT."
"Did they say who they wanted to talk to
"No Hal, they merely indicated they wanted
to talk with the technicians who designed the system."
"I guess they donít realize our
technicians are on Ďholiday.í Besides, that would be mostly you
and a little of me anyway. See when they can talk. Tell them
that with the refinery in shut down mode, Iím free at the
Jon Walther was on his usual bench in a
corner of the jump gate terminal on Skylark, in clear view of
the surveillance cameras being monitored by the Agency. If
Samuels cared to check, he would find Walther still avid in his
quest to apprehend Hal Neilson. As usual, he was bored out of
his mind. He was reduced to reading the news screens, rather
than just pretending to read them, like he was trained to do.
The tingle alarm on his wrist personal got his attention. He had
an ear bug, so his instruction to his computer was brief, "bug."
The microphone in his ear produced the
voice he had first learned to hate and then had come to
appreciate. "Mr. Walther, this is Hal Neilsonís computer, I was
monitoring Halís progress to a meeting with the Skylark
Independent Refinery Company, and observed him being attacked by
three men outside the entrance to the company. They are taking
him toward the number one or two docking ring. He appears to be
drugged. His standing instructions were to inform you if there
was any sort of emergency on Skylark while you were there. I
judge this to be such an emergency."
Walther was on his feet and moving at his
best speed out of the terminal. He had been in Skylark enough
that the low spin-gravity was now a help rather than the
hindrance he found it to be when he first took up station in his
quest for Hal. As he bounded up the escalator four steps at a
time, he was turning a lot of heads in the mall area. He ignored
them, concentrating on not loosing his footing. He slowed as he
came down the corridor toward the tram-lift station that took
people in to the spin center of Skylark where the docking rings
were located. He knew there was a parallel hallway to the
tram-lift for emergency use, but he didnít know whether taking
it would slow him down or speed him up.
He opted for the emergency route; after
all, this was an emergency. He moved through the doorway on his
right and plunged ahead, his steps getting longer and longer
until he stumbled, bounced off the right wall, and hit the floor
in a bone jarring tumble that carried ten meters before he came
to a halt. He knew about inertia in low gravity situations; he
had just never experienced it before.
He got to his feet slowly, trying to
adjust to the lower gravity close to the spin center. His head
felt like it was spinning at ten times the rate of Skylark
itself. With a hand sliding along on the wall, he started down
the hall again, gradually picking up his speed. As he neared the
end of the inwardly spiraling hallway, he noticed the handholds
along the walls and switched to the new mode of travel
awkwardly. Finally, he got through the doorway of the hub itself
and stopped to see which way to go. He hadnít had any need to
come out to the hub before this. He looked left about the same
time he felt the sting of a drug flechette just below his right
shoulder blade. As he drifted slowly away from the handhold, he
wondered if every encounter involving Hal Neilson was going to
be tough on his image as a super agent.
Walther woke to Halís voice rumbling in
his head like his ear bug was in overload. "The sleeper awakes."
Walther reached up to yank the ear bug
out, only to find it missing. He opened his eyes and saw Hal
sitting on the floor across from him, his back against the wall
of a small bare room. Since it was hard for Hal to be shouting
in his ear from across the room, Walther concluded it was his
head that was in overload. " Where the hell are we?"
"According to Harvey, weíre in a detention
cell on the asteroid home of Syntech. They took your ear bug and
both our wrist personals, which turned into electronic scrap
while they were holding them."
At Halís words, Waltherís head came up to
view the ceiling of the room, in an automatic search for signs
"Audio and video both, but Harvey has
already subverted the system. Heís feeding them silence and
computer generated images of two sorry agents still sleeping off
a dose of Dragomile-B. The only thing worse than getting cocky
is getting sloppy. Weíre probably guilty of both."
"How did they know who you were or that
you were going to be in Skylark?"
"According to Harveyís data search of
their files, they intercepted a vid call to our offices in
Washington from SIR and the follow-up message scheduling the
meeting. It was a hard tap, so even though Iíve had Harvey
monitoring all of the electronic traffic from the refineries
here in the Belt, there was nothing through anybodyís computer
that would have warned me. Apparently, Samuels has concluded
that his computer security has been compromised, and heís
advising all his friends to steer clear of electronic
communications. Heís also probably had them on the lookout for
me as well."
"Youíd think he would tell me if he had
them looking for you on Skylark. After all, itís my current
assignment. Then again, the bastard must know instinctively that
he has no friends and shouldnít trust anybody."
Hal gave Walther a flared hands shoulder
shrug. "Okay, Harvey, letís get out of here before they think it
strange for two healthy looking guys to stay under so long."
With those words, a large roach crawled
out of Jon Waltherís pants cuff and moved to the center of the
room. Its image flickered and disappeared to show a one
centimeter square frame of metal on top of a slightly larger
piece of metal. The whole affair tilted up on its side and
started extruding what looked like a one-centimeter square rod.
When it got to be about a half meter long, it fell to the floor.
Walther watched wide-eyed.
The newly extruded rod split down the
middle exposing folded arms inside. It was obviously a tube, not
a rod. As he watched, the arms snapped open and the whole frame,
now a square, stood up on its edge. As soon as it was upright,
another, larger tube started extruding from one side of the new
square. By now, it was obvious to Walther that the squares were
gates, but it didnít dull his fascination with the ongoing
As expected, the new extrusion popped open
and rolled up on its edge. Hal had a giant smirk on his face,
"after you my good fellow. I wonder if weíre in time for tea?"
"I got your email. Is this link secure?"
Linwood Crebs sputtered, his face getting
pink, "you know damn well itís not secure, youíve got Liberty
eating out of your lunchbox. There isnít a communication link in
the entire Agency thatís secure."
"Just a joke, Lin. Just a joke. Of course,
from my point of view, the answer is Ďyesí unless thereís a hot
surveillance pickup in your office."
The color was washing out of Crebsís face.
" I would hope not, being the head of
security and all that."
"Donít get started again, Hal. This is a
Hal gestured to Will and Jon sitting on
either side of him in front of the wall screen. "Guess you
already know these guys. Will here should be dead but is being
held incommunicado at L4, and Jon just canít go home again.
Okay, itís your nickel."
"Weíre lucky, itís Pyle, not the Director,
thatís in bed with Syntech. Iíve got some pretty convincing
evidence of Pyleís connections with Syntech, but thatís not all
that unusual in this town, as you know. I do still have my
personal files on Alpha and Beta that Samuels didnít purge
during his witch-hunt, but tying those directly to Pyle is iffy.
Do you have anything that I donít know about that I can use to
convince the Director?"
"It just so happens that I do. I have
recent conversations on cube between Pyle and Samuels in a
restaurant in downtown DC, complete with video."
"How the hell did you do that?"
"No, no, you first. How did you find out
the Director wasnít involved?"
"That was easy. I put a direct bug in
their offices. I put one in Samuels office too, for good
"Didnít it look a little strange to be
bugging the Directorís and Assistant Directorís offices?"
"It would have if Iíd gotten someone in
the office to do it. I did it myself. It hasnít been that
long since I was in the field."
"Donít they sweep those offices?"
"Every day. Hey, dummy, Iím the head of
security at the Central Security Agency. I know how to install
surveillance devices, and I certainly know how to shield those
bugs from my own security sweeps."
"Uh, Harvey just told me he hadnít
detected any surveillance devices in Samuelsís office."
"I told you, Iím good, and itís nice to
know you and your Harvey arenít perfect."
"Maybe itís nice for you, but Iíve gotten
to depend on the Ďbugger.í No pun intended. My turn, and I would
really prefer a demonstration, since itís a hoot, but thatíll
have to wait."
Walther couldnít help interrupting, "I
think Iíd refer to it more as stunning. In fact, I think
watching it happen was more stunning than the flechette."
"Watch what happen? You guys are speaking
in parables. Howíd you get the dope on Samuels and Pyle and how
did you get out of that cell. I can tell you from the call I
monitored to Samuels, that the Syntech guys donít have a clue.
All they found in the cell when the surveillance systems went
black was a very small pile of fused titanium and
semi-conductors. But I guess your Harvey picked that up already"
"Yeah, he did. Well, hereís how it worked.
One of my Selene Industriesí companies has developed a
micro-gate that can be used to power remote devices. Another one
of my companies has developed a mini-robot that is powered by
such a mini-gate and that is perfect for surveillance,
particularly with the power for a miniature anti-grav drive.
These mini-robots are equipped with holographic projection
lasers, and since power is not a problem, they can make it look
like anything theyíre around. Theyíre virtually invisible. Got
all this so far?"
"So far, but try and keep it simple for an
old fart, will you?"
"Okay, so one of these mini-bots has been
traveling with Samuels for the last few days, and one is also
traveling in the cuff of Waltherís pants, unbeknownst to said
super agent. Harvey, who is in direct control of the mini-bot
through a gate link, sends a larger bot through the gate of the
original bug. That is, larger once it unfolds to produce a much
larger gate. Harvey then sends through a full-sized gate and we
come back to Adam for tea. The process reverses itself until
there is nothing left but the original mini-bot, which then
slags itself with a large power pulse through the gate.
Elegantly simple, but youíve got to see it to appreciate it."
"Slick. Iíll be sending my recruiters to
"Hey, wait a minute."
"Just a joke, it was my turn."
Will cut in for the first time, "enough
fun you guys, howíre we going to get the word to the Director?"
Hal looked at Lin. Lin looked at Hal.
Harvey keyed Halís aural transducer.
"A direct link to his desk console should
be sufficient to get the Directorís attention. We could provide
all the information required, including the videos of Samuels
Hal passed on Harveyís idea as if it was
his own. "Any objections?"
There were no objections. Hal watched
Crebs stab a key on his console. The screen faded back to
looking like a hunk of rock.
"Hal, a nickel was a coin used before
universal credit. In particular, it was used during the first
half of the Twentieth Century to trip a mechanical device
selling an audio-only link that was common in drug stores and
automobile refueling stations."
"Thatís close, Harvey. Not bad, except for
the lack of colloquial expression. You need to work on that."
Robert Mornay walked into his office, laid
his attachť case on his credenza, and sat down at his desk. He
was ready for another day as the Director of the Central
Security Agency. At least he was ready for a day of directing
the Agencyís mandated functions in protecting the United States
and the North American Federation from unwanted foreign
influences. He was not up to dealing with the politics of this
Somehow, the U. S. Congress and the NAF
Council had managed to get it right when they combined existing
security services to form the CSA. It was to be run by a career
spook, rather than a political appointee. However, Congress did
stick a political appointee into the number two slot, the Deputy
Director. The previous two administrations had appointed
responsible and talented men to the position, even if their lack
of specifically related experience required them to stretch a
bit. Brian Pyle, on the other hand, was worthless for anything
other than political and personal intrigue. Running the Agency
was a monumental task with all its varied technical disciplines,
and Mornayís promotions over the years of the most creative
people in each discipline had resulted in a security agency of
the highest quality ever assembled but a management nightmare.
Hardly a day went by that Mornay didnít have to step between two
feuding prima donnas.
He coded his console on and prepared to
meet the day. Instead of the usual list of red-flagged files he
started the day with, he was greeted by the words "This is a
special report to the Director of the Central Security Agency,
FYEO." Curious! He hit the voice activation key, "page."
The screen brought up a live video of
Brian Pyle and Scott Samuels having dinner in a restaurant. The
camera angle provided a profile view of the two men, and the
audio pick-up was as clear as if they had been miked, even
though the tone of their voices made it clear they were keeping
the volume of their conversation as low as possible. Samuels was
speaking, " . . . Crebs and his security crew have been
singularly inept at apprehending Hal Neilson. I doubt they would
even have discovered his cover if I hadnít spotted him myself on
the couriered data cube from the Belter station. And I put that
in place because I was convinced that Liberty had been
compromised and anything going through it was suspect. Crebs was
a close friend of Neilsonís, and I suspect there is more here
than meets the eye. Crebs could even be the cause of Libertyís
unreliability lately, with his direct access to computer
security protocols. Or it could be Neilson himself has somehow
compromised the system. Apparently, the Agency pressed him into
service because of his computer skills. Itís impossible to tell
whoís got their fingers into Liberty, but it will not be a
problem for Gamma. Iím conducting the entire operation without
the use of Liberty."
A flare of anger came over Pyleís face.
"After the way you screwed-up Alpha and Beta, you better have an
iron-clad operational plan for Gamma. Itís a wonder Syntech is
giving me another chance, or should I say, giving us another
chance, since youíll also benefit from all this. Iím not sure
why you want my job though, itís a living hell having to get
anything done through Mornay. He has the political savvy of a
three-year-old. Iíll be happy to leave this job to you. I want
that VP slot at Syntech. Breyersonís due to retire in three
years and that should be all the time I need to position myself.
You make Gamma happen the way youíve planned it and Syntech will
pump in all the money the party needs for reelection. Thatíll
guarantee your appointment to my position and my move to Syntech
as a direct line to the President. Donít screw this up!"
The video faded from the screen to be
replaced by "This is an excerpt. The entire conversation can be
accessed by the keywords ĎPyle and Samuels.í Page to continue."
Mornay slumped back in his chair. He had
unconsciously been right on the edge of his seat while watching
the video. Is this true, or has the video been faked? Thatís
always a possibility, and the fakes were too good to tell
without a detailed screening by the technical guys. Whoever set
this up for his access was certainly right; they got his
As if in anticipation of his believability
problem with the video, the new screen provided keywords for
downloading the video sequence to cube storage, which he could
then send out for verification. It also provided keywords for
accessing summaries of the Alpha and Beta operations and plans
for the Gamma operation. The Alpha and Beta summary
identification on the screen was followed with a note stating
that a detailed listing of Agency files verifying those
operations was accessible with the keywords "verification file
list." He accessed the list. Four pages of path and file names
were available from Agency files that supposedly verified Alpha
and Beta. Many of those files had paths that made them appear to
be Crebsís personal files. That was curious.
"Back. Alpha summary." The screen showed
an official Agency file coversheet. The signature of Scott
Samuels was at the bottom, which could have been faked, of
course. However, at this point he had little choice but to read
through the information being offered. If the video were real,
no telling what Pyle and Samuels were up to doing in the name of
politics and personal aggrandizement. Mornay waded in.
It was a bleary-eyed CSA Director who
keyed the personal com number for the National Security Advisor
at 11:15 PM that night. The face that came up on the screen
didnít look much better than his. "Phil, sorry to bother you
this time of night. You look like your day was as bad as mine."
"Hi, Bob, itís okay, I was just watching
the late news. As for my day, theyíve all been bad for the last
year or so. I keep trying to remember why I took this job.
"Iíve got a hot one. I need about fifteen
minutes with the President tomorrow, and you owe me half a dozen
favors. Iím calling in one of them."
"I know I owe you at least a half dozen,
but Iím not sure I can do it. This close to the election the
only thing on the Presidentís schedule short of nuclear war is
politics. This is about an imminent nuclear war is it?"
"No, but it has the potential of starting
things that lead in that direction."
"That serious? I guess you donít care to
discuss it over the com line."
"Nope, I need a face-to-face, you and the
"Okay, Iíll do what I can. Goodnight."
"Thanks, Phil, Goodnight."
Robert Mornay was in one of his "talk with
the President" suits, rather than the sports coats and slacks he
favored in his office at the Agency. He had been sitting in the
waiting room for more than an hour when the Presidentís
secretary told him he could go in. As he had requested, only
Phil Hamlin and the President were in the Oval Office.
The President rose and stepped around the
big desk to shake Mornayís hand. "Good to see you, Bob. Phil
tells me youíve got a hot one."
"Yes, sir, Mr. President, but Iím afraid
itís not good news with the election just around the corner.
Thatís why I thought you should know about it before I took any
action on my own."
"Are you saying you want to pass me the
buck, Bob?" The President flashed his patented media smile. "You
know it stops in this office. What is it?"
"I discovered yesterday that there were
operations taking place that I had no prior knowledge of."
"Well, that canít be too unusual in an
Agency as big and complex as the CSA. Thereíre things going on
around here all the time that Iíve no knowledge of and donít
want. Havenít got the time to personally manage everything."
"True, Mr. President. I donít know the
details of every operation, but there are certain checks and
balances in the Agencyís procedures that require my approval
before operations involving planned use of force against a
foreign entity can take place. It has come to my attention that
Brian Pyle has cut me out of the approval loop on two such
operations in the last two years. Under normal circumstances, I
would handle this internally, but this situation is further
complicated by the nature of the operations themselves and the
fact that Pyle is your appointee."
The Presidentís expression had changed
from photogenic to wary as Moray was speaking. "So, Brianís
showing a little more initiative than you like. Rap him on the
knuckles. I always say itís easier to reign Ďem in than to get
"I think you need some background, Mr.
President. Let me tell you about these operations."
Mornay went through a brief on Alpha with
little reaction from the President. When he got into Beta and
the planned destruction of the Biofabriken habitat, the
President grew morose, though he didnít say anything until Moray
had finished. "All right, he clearly overstepped his authority
in planning to destroy the habitat, and he should be
reprimanded. Like I said, rap him on the knucklesómaybe two or
three times. You will not dismiss him this close to the
election. Is that clear?"
"Very clear, sir, but I havenít told you
about whatís being planned now. The Gamma operation, at least
all I know about it, which is a lot less than I would like to
"Go ahead, but make it quick. Iíve got
more pressing things than worrying about the management of the
Mornay related Gammaís plan and failure at
Adam and went on to present what he knew of the plans for
attacking the SIR facility on Skylark. The Presidentís face was
now showing pure hostility. "By your little recitation here, I
take it that there wasnít a single injury on this Adam asteroid,
"Thatís right, sir, but that wasnít their
plan. I went through the code myself that was to be downloaded
to the Selene Industriesí reactor control computer. It was
designed to cause a contamination release failure within five
minutes of its download. Not time enough to evacuate more than a
few of the one hundred-fifty workers on the asteroid. Not even
time enough for the agent that downloaded it to get off."
His voice a pitch higher than normal and
his face suffused with blood, the President virtually spat out
his response. "I repeat, there were no injuries on this
asteroid. Add to that, the fact that there were no injuries on
the Biofabriken habitat. The part of this operation Gamma that
you keep speculating about sounds like a plan to rough up a
refinery owned by the damned arrogant Belters, while making it
look like it was done by Biofabriken. A dirty trick, that, as
far as I can tell, is a standard operation for you spooks on
both sides of the fence. I will repeat for clarity, Mr. Mornay,
you can rap Pyle on the knuckles, but you will take no action
visible to the public until after this election. Get out, Iíve
important things to do today."
As they walked out into the hall beyond
the waiting room, Phil Hamlin motioned Mornay to follow him. He
led the way down two flights of stairs, down a long hallway, and
into a room with a very solid looking door. As Hamlin closed the
door, he turned a worried looking face to Mornay. "Itís clean. I
have it swept twice a day. Sit down." He motioned to a chair at
the conference table, the only furniture in the room. He sat
across from Mornay. "I donít know about you Bob, but I have no
desire to be involved in a cover-up. Certainly not one thatís
entirely politically motivated."
"Let me assure you, I will not be a
part of covering this up. What do we do?"
"Well, we could talk to the Vice
President, but that would be a waste of time. Weíd be better off
going down the chain to the Speaker of the House, and it doesnít
hurt that heís from the other Party, even if itís not mine."
"All right with me. Can you set it up for
"Iíll call you."
The portable com unit on Samuelsís desk
gave a quiet chirrup and the screen came on. Samuels shifted his
attention from his desk console to the portable unit connected
by gate-link to the skunkworks modified command shuttle. The
Gamma strike team leaderís face popped up on the small screen
with a cryptic message. "The team is aboard. All systems are
Samuels reached over and tapped the
response key. He spoke the two words that would guarantee the
career path of his choice, "acknowledged, go." He looked at the
time window on his console. It read 7:22 PM. By mid-morning
tomorrow, it should be over.
Hal, Linda, and Jon were sitting in the
sculpture room sipping the remains of their breakfast coffee and
tea. Will had left a few minutes earlier for a shower. Linda was
wearing a laser eye screen, tinkering quietly with her syllabus.
Hal and Jon were chitchatting about nothing in particular. They
were all essentially just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Harveyís voice broke the monotony.
"Skylark traffic control has just picked up two inbound
shuttle-sized vessels with no active transponders. They are
coming in at more than five times the allowed speed for their
distance and have failed to respond to hails. As we planned, I
am proceeding with the undocking of Eve from Skylark. I will
take Eve out one hundred kilometers on a vector tangential to
that of the incoming vessels and hold station until they are
within two hundred kilometers of Skylark. I will then maneuver
Eve behind them, which I can accomplish before they are within
weapons range of Skylark."
"Youíre sure you can get behind them in
time at their speed, Harvey?"
"It is simple vector analysis with a small
adjustment for orbital mechanics here in the Belt, Hal. Would
you care to review the math?"
Walther frowned at Hal. "You programmed
him to be this cheeky?"
"Yeah, sort of like an alter ego. It keeps
me on my toes. No, Harvey. No math today please. What about
taking over the meteor defense system on Skylark?"
"Those routines are on-line. I will
activate my direct control just before the vessels are in
estimated range or when they fire on the refinery. It would be
helpful to know what weapons they will employ and how far out
they can attack, but I have been unable to find any data on the
ship modifications in Liberty or other computer systems in the
"I guess youíll have to wing it, but my
guess is theyíll not want to use anything that isnít standard on
Eurofabriken security shuttles. If Iím right, that will give
their lasers about the same power and range as the meteor
protection system on Skylark. Ergo, both you guys could start
shooting about the same time, with the exception of Eve. Eveís
lasers are better than the specs we got on the Eurofabriken
shuttle systems, so unless theyíve upgraded the original shuttle
weapons, you should get in the first shots right up their
"That will not be possible, Hal, if I keep
the maneuver to their rear outside their sensor range. Due to
lost velocity in the flanking maneuver, and Eveís maximum
acceleration rate, I will not be able to discharge the weapons
with full effect until a few seconds after the estimated firing
time for the attackers."
"All right, your vector calculus is better
than mine. Iím not a computer. How much time?"
"Based on non-upgraded systems, I estimate
they will begin firing in just over seventeen minutes."
"Thank you for sparing me the decimals,
Harvey. Letís move into the study so we can use the big screen.
And tell Will heís got fifteen minutes to get some clothes on
and join us."
The screen in the study was split down the
middle. The left image was from the cameras mounted on the
freight end of Skylarkís docking hub. That was the side of the
asteroid where the refinery was located. The right image was
from the cameras onboard Eve, and it was apparent they had a
higher magnification. At the moment though, both sides looked
pretty much the same. Nothing was visible but stars.
Harveyís voice appeared to emanate from
the middle of the screen. "Skylark Traffic Control has issued an
"imminent collision alert.í All seal doors have been closed and
everyone on station has been ordered to prepare for hard vacuum
by donning their personal suits or proceeding immediately to an
emergency escape pod. Twelve minutes to estimated range. I am
initiating control of the meteor defense systems. I am now in
Hal sat at his desk. Jon and Will were in
the two side chairs, and Linda was in a chair she had pulled out
into the center of the room from the library table against the
wall. Harvey provided a minute by minute countdown to the
estimated engagement range and had split the left side of the
screen again. The upper window still showed nothing but stars,
but the lower window changed rapidly in a kaleidoscopic sweep of
internal cameras on Skylark. The right window still only showed
stars, but they were sweeping across the screen now, from left
to right. "I am changing Eveís vector now to come in behind the
attacking vessels. I hope you are correct in your assumption
that they did not modify their weapons and sensors for spherical
A model-sized version of Skylark swept
quickly across the right-hand screen. Linda pointed "thereís
Skylark." It moved quickly off the right edge of the screen.
"I still think itís a good bet, Harvey.
Why would they think they needed to make that big a change? They
wouldnít expect pursuit, even though they should know that
Skylark could direct its meteor protection system against them.
Iím still betting that they were satisfied with additional
forward hemisphere ablative."
The scrolling stars on the right screen
came to a slow stop and very slowly began to move toward the
left-hand side of the screen. The miniature Skylark was a little
larger as it came into view on the left and slowly centered
itself in the middle of the image and started to grow.
No one was speaking except Harvey. "As you
predicted, Hal, there has been no turnover by the attacking
vessels, and they have not used their maneuvering thrusters to
slow their velocity. It will be a one pass attack."
Somewhere between Harveyís three and two
minute warnings, one edge of the docking ring glowed fiercely
for a few seconds and then exploded in a shower of glowing
sparks. Hal banged his fist on the desk. " So much for my guess
about the weapons upgrades. Whatís the damage, Harvey?"
"The sensors onboard Eve and on Skylark
indicate that a small piece of the freight docking ring cylinder
has been blown away by coordinated fire from both vessels. It
was a direct hit on the dedicated ore conveyors used by SIR, but
the damage is still minimal. There has been no breach of seals
anywhere else in the docking ring, and no casualties are being
reported; however, another hit in this exposed area would
penetrate to the conveyor machinery and control systems. Damage
would be extensive."
"How long before they can fire again?"
"I am unable to compute that, as it is now
apparent that assumptions on the weapons upgrades are in error.
Since the power and/or the collimation range have obviously been
increased, it is possible that the capacitors have also been
upgraded. However, even assuming the least desirable parameters,
they will have only one more shot before passing Skylark, and
based on their precise targeting of the ore conveyors, I project
they will wait for their optimum targeting opportunity."
"Okay, weíll go with your projection of
their next shot, but whether Eveís close enough to be fully
effective or not, youíre going to have to take your best shot.
We canít wait to get into range of Skylarkís lasers. Target one
of those ships and let her have it."
"If you will remember, Hal, Eve has four
midship, turreted mining lasers. I can bring two of them to bear
on each of the targets simultaneously."
"Okay, get íem both."
Samuels watched the screen raptly on his
portable gate-link communicator. The expression on his face was
one of downright glee as the image of Skylark continued to grow.
He had never been so intimately involved in shooting action.
Even if he was millions of miles away, he was still in charge.
He spoke directly through the battle headset of the Team Leader.
"Do we have to wait so long before our next shot?"
The Team Leaderís voice came crisply back,
"no, sir, the systems are fully recharged, but we only have time
for one more shot so weíre waiting for the optimum shot angle
calculated by the targeting computer."
Samuels wasnít happy with the answer, but
he knew he would only have one chance. Better to let the pros
call the shots here. He stared at the screen, fixated, his hands
clenched on his desk.
The image of Skylark moved rapidly off the
upper right-hand corner of the communicator screen to be
followed quickly by the voice of the Team Leader. "Weíve taken a
hit. The weapons and control systems are down. Weíre beginning
to tumble. Wait one . . . Fox Two also reports loss of control
and weapons systems down."
The study was quiet. All eyes were riveted
to the image of Skylark filling the right side of the screen.
The image on the left side from the Skylark cameras showed only
two indistinct though growing blobs in a field of stars.
Harveyís voice cut the silence. "Both vessels have apparently
been disabled. Sensors show they are out of control and will
therefore be unable to target their weapons."
The study rocked with sound as Hal banged
his fist on the desk. Linda jumped to her feet yelling "yes."
Walther leaned forward in his chair with a loud "all right."
Will knocked his chair over backwards jumping up with a blood
curdling whoop. Harvey continued into the din. "There are no
signs of pressure loss on the vessels, and I am maneuvering to
overtake them and render assistance."
"Do what you can, Harvey. Those guys were
just doing their job. No telling what reasons they were given
for this missionóif any. And give Skylark back its control of
the station. There must be a few people in Central Control in a
panic to have lost it in the middle of an attack. Theyíll know
how to get things back to normal quicker than we could."
"Control of all Skylark systems has been
restored to their Central Control Complex."
Samuels keyed in the destruct sequence
that would destroy the gate-feed onboard Fox One. His link would
remain untraceable. He raised his hands up off the desk. They
were trembling, and he felt weak, as if the blood had drained
out of his body. He could not; no, he would not fail again. He
stared at the now blank screen, trying to decide how to salvage
his career and his life. He still had the option he had been
flirting with before deciding on the less drastic attack by the
fake Biofabriken ships. He had always liked it because it was
simple and thorough, but he had talked himself into moderation
because of the easy coupling of the attack to Biofabriken. It
was time to go back to the purity of his original plan, but now
he needed a way to implement it immediately, before everything
collapsed around him. He needed to be back in control of the
situation, and there was only one way to do that quickly. He
would have to do it himself.
As if to add to his anger, he heard
buzzing again. Spotting the stocks section of the E-Journal on
the corner of his desk, he snatched it up, rolled it loosely
into a cylinder, and squeezed one end of it tight in his hand.
Jumping up from his chair, he took two steps across the office
and swung. A satisfying Ďwhapí was magnified by the hollow roll
of faxpaper, and the fly was blasted into the wall. It bounced
once off the pile of documents sitting in the middle of the
credenza, and slipped down between the furniture and the wall.
"Gotcha, you bastard."
He threw the rolled paper toward the trash
can and slammed out of his office, throwing a menacing glare at
his secretary when it looked like she was about to make a
smart-ass remark he was not in the mood to take. He strode down
the hallway, his long legs eating up the carpet, and took the
stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. The two flights of
stairs whipped past unconsciously as Samuels focused on his
plan. By the time he made it into Pyleís office, he felt he was
regaining control of the situation. He went to work smoothing
over the defeat, shifting as much of the blame as possible,
convincing Pyle that he was back in control, and projecting
confidence that he could save the day by doing it himself. "The
Operations twits have failed us again. They hit the station when
they first got into range, but somehow they took some fire
themselves, which prevented them from doing any real damage to
the refinery conveyors. Weíd be lucky if the damage they did
will keep SIR offline for more than a week. Itís time to get the
job done right, and I plan to go back to my original concept of
Pyle was visibly shaken, sitting in his
desk chair, mouth slightly open, and breathing loudly. Finally,
he got himself under control enough to talk. "How are you going
to do it? Will the gate terminal on Skylark be open?"
"With no more damage than they got, it
probably wasnít damaged and will be open to emergency traffic. I
plan to jump in as a field agent, not as myself. My cover will
be that I need to speak to Skylark officials about our need to
conduct an investigation before any clean-up measures are
instituted by the station. That will get me on the station. All
I need then is to find a suitable place to leave the device.
Another emergency or some pressing need to consult superiors
will serve to get me out of there before it goes off."
Despite Samuelsís best efforts, Pyle
looked unconvinced. "Are you sure thereís no other way? If this
gets traced back to the Agency and us, weíll still lose. Iíve
been scheduled by the White House for an appointment this
afternoon, and I need to be able to say weíve accomplished the
"I told you a year ago when we were doing
those routine tests of obsolescent models that our possession
was absolutely untraceable. The tests are conducted through a
gate in near solar orbit so the explosions are virtually
undetectable from Earth or by anybody who isnít instrumented to
detect it. Itís standard procedure, and the two agents who
diverted the device to me and faked the detonation data have met
mishaps in the field. Thereís no one who knows I have a
briefcase nuke in my office safe except the two of us. No one!"
Pyleís face was still ashen from the
shock, but he swallowed visibly and found the strength to look
Samuels in the eye. "Okay, do it."
The Four Musketeers, as Hal had been
referring to them since the attack had been thwarted, were still
sitting in the study. Will had righted his chair and regained
his seat. He was chatting excitedly with the others in a typical
post-operation, adrenaline spin-down. Harveyís voice interrupted
the jollity. "There is a direct communication from Linwood Crebs.
He appears agitated."
Crebsís image came up much larger than
life on the big wall screen. "Hal. Hope youíre keeping this line
from being monitored. I was monitoring Samuels this morning
using the feeds from the bugs I planted and your mini-bot he was
carrying, just like we planned. When Harvey tried to move the
mini-bot, Samuels grabbed a printout on his desk and swatted the
damn thing. I guess he took it out, because the feed never came
"He had a portable gate-feed communicator
with him, like we thought he would, watching everything
real-time. He was truly pissed at the botched raid. I enjoyed
that part. Then he stormed out of his office, so I switched the
bugs from active to record only. I sat at my desk like the
Cheshire cat for the next ten minutes feeling smug about how we
had spiked his big plan. Then it hit me that he might be going
to see Pyle. Sure enough, he plowed right into Pyle, but I had
to listen to the recording. I was too late for the live
conversation. The bad news is that the bastards had another plan
in the drawer, and listening to Samuels, it was a plan theyíd
considered before they came up with the faked Biofabriken
"Here comes the really bad part. Samuels
has a briefcase nuke in his office safe that he squirreled away
a year ago during some routine tests of obsolescent nuclear
devices, and heís going to personally plant it somewhere on
Hal was stunned, and there was a couple of
seconds where he just stared at Crebs before he responded. "Heís
convinced Pyle of this? Are the bastards crazy? Theyíll
obliterate the asteroid and kill everybody on it. Probably turn
the clock back on Belter culture ten years."
Crebs spat out his retort like heíd eaten
a green persimmon. "Yeah, thatís probably why they considered it
in the first place."
"That was fifteen or twenty minutes ago?"
Crebsís eyes flicked down to his console.
"Thatís about right."
"Harvey, has Samuels gated to Skylark?"
Before Harvey could answer, Crebs broke
in. "No, I heard him tell Pyle that he would go as an agent but
under another identity."
"There has been a jump from the Agencyís
gate to the Washington terminal, then to the New York terminal,
and on to Skylark by an Agent Stanley Singleton. The Skylark
jump was five minutes, twenty three seconds ago."
Halís adrenaline was kicking in. He could
feel the shock going away and that timeless sense of flowing
smoothly take over. "Will, do you know how to disarm one of
these things. Iíve never been briefed on nuclear devices."
Willís head started swinging from left to
right, and Jon spoke up. "I have, but itís virtually impossible
to stop one of the damned things without an abort code."
Harvey interjected. "I have accessed the
specifications for all operational and recently operational
nuclear devices available to the Central Security Agency while
you were talking. If it is the previously operational model, I
might be able to break the cipher in less than thirty minutes."
"Might, what does that mean?"
"It means that it is impossible to tell.
Trying all the possible variables is by definition a matter of
probability as to when the correct combination will be
encountered. Based on the computational ability available . . ."
"Yeah, yeah, I knew that. My brainís just
jumping around too much. Will, Jon, and Lin, how much time do
you think he would have allowed?"
"One hour." "An hour." "An hour, Iíd
think." They all spoke on top of each other, but they concurred
that an hour was a good guess. It was time enough to get off
station, and time to get back to the bomb if something went
wrong trying to jump out, but not long enough for someone to
find the bomb and do anything with it.
Hal wiped his hand across his face. He
wasnít sweating, not yet anyway. It was just a nervous gesture,
which he was certainly feeling. He agreed that an hour was a
good guess. Samuels would have to leave enough time to reset the
timer if the gates went down due to damage from the attack. He
shouldnít rely on them either. "If I get to the bomb, Harvey,
can you tell how long until it will detonate?"
"That will require an induction pickup.
There are no visible readouts of the countdown."
"Do we have one of those here on Adam?"
"No, but there is one aboard Eve in the
damage control locker. Eve will be back at the Skylark docking
ring in ten minutes. I terminated pursuit of the attack vessels
when Skylark sent their own security shuttle. I thought it was
better than having them see that Eve was unmanned."
"All right. One more question. Have you
been tracking Samuels?"
"Yes, Hal. Ever since he got to Skylark. I
can lead you right to him."
Hal glanced at each of his compatriots and
nodded toward the library table. "You guys talk with Harvey and
pull together any equipment we might need. Iím going to bring
the damn thing back here if thereís more than thirty minutes
left on the timer. The library table will be our workbench."
Hal slid open a lower right-hand drawer on
the desk and took out an Agency standard issue, drug flechette
pistol and shoulder harness. The boron fiber composite Beretta
and its plastic flechettes were virtually undetectable by
security devices. "Harvey, give me the Eve jump gate."
Hal strode across the room toward the wall
screen where they had recently witnessed Samuelsís failed attack
on Skylark and walked right through it. He was aboard Eve and
about five minutes from docking. He took off his jacket and put
on the shoulder harness, ran an inspection drill on the
flechette pistol, and paced around nervously, the adrenaline
still pumping. "Has he placed the bomb yet, Harvey?"
"Not yet, but he is in the refinery
section of the asteroid and has asked for directions to the
menís showers and dressing room."
"Keep watching. Whereís the Damage Control
"You really should be more familiar with
Eve, particularly the location of the Damage Control Locker."
"No lectures, Harvey. Iím not in the mood.
Just tell me where it is."
"On your right."
Hal turned to his right, and was able to
reach the latch for the locker without moving. The door was
about a meter square with most of its face covered with bold red
letters "Damage Control Locker." Hal rolled his eyes in his head
and opened the door. The inside of the locker was racked with
neatly stowed items, each with a label on the shelf. Hal took
out the induction pick-up and put it in his jacket pocket. "Will
I be able to get through security with this thing."
"Iíll see to it, Hal."
As he was dogging the locker door, Hal
felt a small lurch and knew they had docked at Skylark. Thirty
seconds later, the hatch slid open and Hal stumbled out into the
docking ring corridor. In the best of times it was a gut
wrenching experience transitioning from the artificial gravity
aboard Eve to the no apparent gravity spin of the station at the
docking hub. This time he had forgotten the process in his
eagerness to get through the hatch. He floated against the
perimeter corridor wall for a moment, while his head stopped
spinning, and started off a little steadier, going
hand-over-hand toward the security station and the lift shafts.
He had to go all the way to the other side of the asteroid.
Harvey was true to his word. No one gave
him a second look in security except to warn him that some
systems aboard Skylark were experiencing difficulties and to
make sure he was aware of the closest emergency pod at all
times. The minimal fuss over the attack made Harvey realize
again how tough a group Belters really were.
The lifts he needed were on the cylinder
wall of the docking ring, providing some gravity, but it was
minimal. Hal clung to the "wall" straps, his feet in "floor"
loops as he rode officially "South" to the SIR area. The door
finally opened, and Hal hauled himself out into the tight spiral
of the corridor, which ran close to the docking ring cylinder.
Using the handholds and stopping occasionally to get his
bearings, he gradually made it out far enough to be able to go
into the glide he had been practicing with Linda on Adam. There
was a cross-corridor just ahead.
Hal followed directions until he was at
the entrance to SIR. He pulled his Agency card from his wallet,
which Harvey assured him would check out as authentic and
active, and handed it to the security guard seated across the
counter. The guard swiped the card and motioned for Hal to look
up into the retinal scanner. Hal saw the green light flash on a
panel set into the countertop. "There was another Agent that
jumped in before me, is he still in the refinery complex?"
The guard looked up at Hal, and then down
again at the console before him. He tapped the screen a few
times, and Hal could see the changes in the display, but from
his angle, he couldnít really make out what was being displayed.
"Yes, sir. I just wanted to check and see if he used any of the
other exits. He came in about ten minutes ago."
"You need any directions, sir?"
The door on Halís right slid open, and he
walked into the refinery complex. Unconsciously, he slid his
hand up to the shoulder harness, loosening the flechette pistol
in its holster. Again, Harvey provided directions, and Hal
stopped at a door marked "Employeeís Showers and Dressing
Rooms." He went into a small vestibule with two doors. He pushed
through the door on his left, marked "Men", with his left hand.
His right hand was on the butt of the pistol. There was no one
in sight. SIR had probably shut down operations until the damage
was fully assessed.
"Where did he place it?"
"I only know it was in this area. He went
into the locker rooms with the case, and he came out without it.
There are no surveillance devices in the locker rooms."
Thatís right dummy, not in the locker
room. It was undoubtedly why Samuels chose to put it here.
"Not even a clue? This place is
huge. Itíll take me forever to find it in here. Look at all the
"If you will look closely, as I have
through the lenses on your wrist personal and belt, you will see
that these lockers do not have standard key or card locks. All
of them have padlocks of a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
That must be an anachronism peculiar to Belt culture."
"Independent, stubborn, and cautious, but
it saves me from having to look in all these lockers. Samuels
mustíve been pissed when he saw the locks, and Iím sure he
didnít bring his own padlock."
Hal walked quickly through the rows of
lockers, looking for and opening any that were without padlocks.
There was no sign of the bomb, and time was marching on.
"It might be possible to detect the bomb
using the induction unit in your pocket. It is reasonably
directional and might be sensitive enough to detect the
activated timing device at a distance that would make it
Hal removed the induction unit from his
pocket and thumbed the on-switch. He swiveled slowly to his
right, panning the room.
"Stop. Go back slowly. There."
The bottom of the induction unit was
pointing through a bank of lockers in front of him. They all had
padlocks. He walked to the end of the locker row and made a
mental projection from the other side of the lockers to the
wall. There was a door marked "Janitorial Supplies." Hal walked
quickly to the door. It had a normal cipher lock keypad and card
slot. He took out his Agency ID card again and slipped it into
the slot. The door lock mechanism clicked, and Hal opened the
door. It was jammed with all sorts of janitorial supplies that
Hal started sweeping off the shelves and onto the floor. Behind
a stack of paper towels was a plain, titanium-shelled briefcase.
Hal took it down from the shelf and carried it to the nearby
bench in front of the row of lockers. He placed the induction
unit in the middle of the case.
"Any place in particular?"
"That is fine, Hal. There are forty-three
minutes, eleven seconds remaining before detonation."
Hal snatched up the briefcase, jammed the
induction unit back in his pocket and headed for the door. The
clock was ticking.
Scott Samuels stabbed at the button marked
"Jump Gate Terminal", and succeeded in losing his grip on the
handhold. Of course the lift started moving as he was flailing
around in the air, and he was dumped unceremoniously on the
apparent floor. Cursing, he managed to pull himself up and get
another grip before the lift stopped and then started moving
again in its tram mode at a right angle to the docking ring
cylinder. The feeling of gravity gradually grew stronger, and
the tram-lift started slowing to a stop. The overhead speaker
announced that they had arrived in the shopping plaza.
As the door opened, Samuels charged out
steaming mad, and as usual he took it out on whoever was close.
The security guard that greeted him was the first to feel his
wrath. He curtly related to the guard that he was CSA and
flashed his ID. "This is not the destination I entered. I was
supposed to go to the jump gate terminal, not the shopping
plaza. I donít have time for this. Iím getting back on this
thing, and I want it to go to the terminalónow!"
"The guard smiled in the face of Samuelsís
obvious anger. He loved to inconvenience Grounders, and the
supercilious ones were an even greater delight. "Sorry, sir,
thatís why Iím here, the gates are intermittently
malfunctioning, and all requests for the terminal are being
routed here while the maintenance crews are working on the
"I just jumped in fifteen minutes ago, and
the gates were fine. Is there an emergency gate still
functional? I have to get off Skylark immediately."
"Hold one, sir. Iíll check." The guard
turned his back to Samuels and spoke to his wrist personal at a
volume too low for Samuels to make out anything clearly. In
thirty fuming seconds for Samuels, the guard turned back around.
" I spoke to maintenance, sir, and they said that the emergency
gate was operational. It goes to London."
Samuels grated out his answer. "It doesnít
matter where it goes. Which way is it?"
The guard pointed along the curving row of
shops. "About a two minute walk that way, sir. There are plenty
Samuels took his leave without a "thank
you," and the guard smiled as he strode off. He was stopped
again as he tried to enter the terminal. "Sorry, sir. All gates
are temporarily down. They should be up in a few minutes."
Samuels looked at the new security guard
with even greater anger than he had for the first. "Iím CSA, and
I was just told that the emergency gate to London was still
functional. It is imperative that I get off of Skylark
"Donít know who told you that, sir, but
the emergency gate was the first to go down. They let us out of
our suits twenty minutes ago, and it was down then. Ten minutes
ago they all went down, but maintenance says theyíll be back up
in about ten minutes."
Samuels whipped up his wrist, checking the
time. "I canít wait, and maintenance estimates are the same
everywhere. Which way back to the docking ring cylinder?"
"That corridor there, sir."
Again no "thanks," and again, another
guard pleased to inconvenience an arrogant Grounder.
Linda, Jon, and Will were waiting for Hal
as he came through the gate into the study. Hal walked over to
the library table and deposited the briefcase. "Okay guys, what
tricks did you come up with while I was gone?"
Jon put down his coffee mug and picked up
an optical cable and connector. "Harvey has prepared a cipher
breaker program. One of the feet on the case here should twist
and slide off, giving us a standard optical interface." As he
was talking, Walther turned the briefcase around and started
checking the feet. The third foot twisted, slid, and popped off,
revealing the interface. He jacked the cable in and picked his
coffee back up. "Thatís about all we can do until Harvey
determines what failure mode was programmed, or until he breaks
all the way through and shuts the timer down."
Linda handed Hal a mug of coffee that he
sipped absently. "What do you mean by Ďfailure modeí?"
"When the timer is set, the device is
programmed to either explode or go inert if the countdown
sequence is interrupted. Normally, it is set to fail actively.
That way, if the device is discovered before detonation,
attempts to disarm it by force will set it off. However, there
are some tactical situations where a premature detonation would
be worse than no detonation at all. Samuels would probably have
set it to fail inert, if he thought someone might find it and
try to deactivate it before he could get off of Skylark. Itís
hard to change your character when youíre a wuss. I guess Harvey
told you that Samuels is still on the station. The gates are
"Yeah, he told me as I was taking the lift
up to Eve."
Harvey interjected, "surveillance is
spotty on Skylark with some systems still malfunctioning, but it
appears that Samuels is heading to the personnel section of the
docking ring. He must be planning to commandeer a ship."
Hal was puzzled by that piece of
information. "What makes him think there are any ships in dock?
Didnít they all scatter at the collision warning?"
"You are quite correct. The ships at dock
started making emergency undockings shortly after the collision
alarms sounded, and continued to do so well into the battle
until the dock was empty. Only Eve is currently at dock."
Halís anger flared. "Iíll be damned if
heíll escape on Eve."
"That is impossible, Hal. He can neither
enter Eve nor affect her controls. If he enters the ship, he is
effectively imprisoned. We can bring him here or anywhere else
we choose. We also have access through the onboard gate, which
is not visible when inactive."
"Actually Harvey, this fits in. My plan
was to have you take Eve out from the station far enough to put
Skylark and ship traffic beyond any effects from a five-kiloton
nuclear explosion, which Jon tells me is the upper limit for
these briefcase bombs. If you couldnít crack the cipher, I was
planning to jump back to Eve with enough time to jettison the
bomb. Weíll just wait until heís aboard and he can go along for
the ride. If we have to deep six the bomb, Will and Jon can go
with me and bring his drugged body back to Adam. If we donít
have to get rid of the bomb, weíll have plenty of time to figure
out what to do with him. I like it."
Will and Jon nodded their heads, but Linda
glared at him. "Why the glare, dear."
"I thought Iíd made a stride forward when
you didnít tell me to leave Adam with the bomb coming here, but
now you plan to leave me out of the action."
"Touchy. Thereís nothing personal here. It
just makes sense to use two trained agents for the tough stuff
when youíve got Ďem. Four people coming through Eveís gate into
the cockpit would have us falling over each other. Okay?"
Linda didnít look particularly mollified,
but she managed to squeeze out an, "okay."
Hal noticed that Harvey had put the
countdown clock on the big screen. It was like watching the last
minutes of a close basketball game, but with higher stakes than
just winning or losing a game. Thirty-two minutes left. "Harvey,
how long will it take for Eve to change vector and get safely
away from the bomb once we get it out the dump chute? And we do
have a big enough dump chute, donít we?"
"We still have the original jettison tube
in the cargo compartment that is more than adequate for the size
of the bomb. The sanitary dump chutes were re-designed to use
holding tanks during the modifications. At full deceleration,
which would be the most efficient method to separate the ship
and the bomb, we would require thirty seconds for turnover and
three minutes of maximum thrust. That calculation includes
allowances for the increased radiation shielding provided by the
engines and a small safety margin."
"Okay, if you donít break in by the time
the countdown gets to ten minutes, we go."
Samuels stuck his head awkwardly through
the lift door as soon as the lift had synched with the docking
ring, and the door had opened enough. He looked quickly around
the open space and spotted the security station against the far
bulkhead. There was only one guard, who was sitting at right
angles to Samuels. The guardís head tilted back, looking in a
direction that was up to him at Samuels, who was making his way
from the lift. Apparently, there was a greater need for security
personnel right now in other parts of Skylark. Good.
He grabbed the handholds by the door and
pulled himself into the brightly-lit staging area. As he made
progress outward, his feet swung slowly to point toward the far
wall and the security station. He lowered himself with
increasing effort toward his goal.
"Good day, sir. Can I be of assistance?"
"You can if you can get me off this
Godforsaken hunk of rock."
"Sorry, sir but there are no shuttles for
hire at dock right now. They all cleared as soon as they could
after the collision alarms. The only ship at dock is a private
shuttle. Belongs to Selene Industries. Over there at docking bay
seven." He pointed up, about a third of the way around the rim
Samuels followed his finger and felt a
wave of nausea threaten and quickly turned his eyes back to the
guard. He reached under his jacket, pulled out the drug
flechette pistol, and shot the guard in the chest. The guard
slumped down in his chair, dropping the clipboard he had in his
hand. The clipboard fell slowly to the rim wall.
There was a handrail on the rim wall that
made it easier for Samuels to make his way around to docking bay
"seven." When he got there, he reached under the other side of
his jacket to the leather pocket attached to the shoulder
harness. He ripped the Velcroed flap open and pulled out a
hand-sized device with a small keyboard on one side.
He proceeded to the security door at the
mouth of the docking tube. He had a grin on his face for the
first time in the last hour. It would be ironic for him to make
his escape from this rock in a Selene Industriesí shuttle.
At the door, he pulled a card out of the
hand-held device that remained attached by a slender cable and
stuck it in the slot on the door marked "Access Key." When he
pushed one of the keys on the front of the black device, a small
screen glowed with whirling numbers and symbols. In about ten
seconds the whirling on the screen stopped, and the door clicked
open. Samuels muttered to himself, "wimpy lock."
He pushed through the door and used the
handholds to make his way down the docking tube. The airlock
door to the ship was closed, but opened when he touched the pad
labeled "Open." He muttered to himself again, "sloppy security,
Hal", and pulled himself into the airlock. The shell door closed
behind him. He grabbed the handhold just inside the inner door,
and collapsed as his legs swung to the deck of the ship and his
hand slipped off the rung. Seems he had forgotten about gravity,
and the fact that some ships generated their own.
He swore as he pushed himself back to his
feet, grateful for the return to a normal environment. Now, if
this ship were reasonably well automated, he could get out of
He walked down the passageway toward what
should be the bow of the ship and came predictably to the
cockpit. He looked around at the teak paneled bulkheads and the
gleaming brass fittings and shook his head in approval. Hal had
done well for himself. His time for a plush corporate shuttle
would come soon.
He identified what he thought was the
pilotís seat, because of the keypad and receptacles in the
armrest. Other than that, the other two chairs were identically
as plush in soft, dark brown leather. He sat in the chair with
the keypad. "Is this ship fitted for voice activation?"
He was answered by the dulcet female tones
of Eveís onboard computer, even though those systems were
offline while Harvey was in control. "Voice activation is the
preferred form for instructions. Please state your destination
and time for departure."
Samuels eyes quirked up in surprise. No
access code. He had been ready to employ his breaker again.
"Take me to the Syntech habitat here in the Belt. Immediate
"Certainly. Estimated duration for
transit, four hours, twenty-three minutes."
He felt and heard the locking mechanisms
disengage as the ship pulled away from the docking ring, but
otherwise there was no apparent motion. Good, the ship
apparently had full inertial compensation. He should enjoy the
trip. He wondered where the liquor locker was. No
self-respecting corporate shuttle would be without one,
As soon as Eveís shell door had swung
open, Harvey had put Samuels on the big screen, with the clock
still winding down in the upper right. All four of them had
roared when Samuels had incongruously been dumped to the deck by
the unexpected gravity. Another chitter of laughter went up when
Eveís onboard voice responded to Samuels in an obviously sultry
voice. Will remarked, "Harvey does have a sense of humor."
Hal quipped a return that he hoped would
sidetrack any additional thought along that line. "Yeah, Iíve
had a lot of time since bolting from the Agency to work at
making the programming more personal."
They watched Samuels find the liquor
locker, which wasnít too difficult, since it was behind two
double doors, on the bulkhead just behind the pilots seat. He
poured a very large Macallan and sat back down.
Hal saw Will look up into the corner of
the screen at the backward scrolling clock, pull out the pistol
from under his jacket, check to make sure there was a round in
the chamber, and take off the safety. Jon caught the movement
and checked his as well.
They sat with no conversation as the clock
wound down toward the ten-minute mark. Will and Jon stood up,
checked their weapons again, and walked over to the screen. Hal
got up and walked over to the bomb, ready to pull the connection
and pick it up. The clock reached the ten-minute mark, and Hal
reached to pull the connector from the briefcase when Harvey
broke the silence. "Hal, I am sorry to report that the timing
system has malfunctioned or the programming is not in accordance
with the specifications I was able to retrieve for this model of
device. The timer has reset at the ten-minute mark to only one
minute before detonation."
All eyes went up to the countdown on the
screen. It showed fifty-four seconds, fifty-three seconds . . .
; they were all frozen.
Hal recovered first and finished his
motion to pull the connector. He picked up the briefcase. He
looked at Linda and she nodded her head in the affirmative. Hal
knew there was no fear fuzz in that ladyís brain. She followed
him instantly. He looked at Will and Jon and saw comprehension
strike them. He looked up at the screen and walked over close to
"How far is Eve from Skylark, Harvey?"
"Far enough for no collateral damage to
Good. There was no moss on Harveyís
transistors either. "Give me the gate at twenty seconds,
The clock wound down to twenty seconds and
the image on the screen blanked out. Hal tossed the briefcase
through the gate. The cockpit image came back on the screen.
Samuels took a long pull on the Macallan
and settled back into the soft leather with a sigh. This was the
kind of living he was destined for when all this was over. He
heard a loud thump behind him and spun around.
Lying on the deck behind him was a
titanium-shelled briefcase. He jumped up and ran around the
chair, sloshing what was left of his drink over his hand. He
picked up the briefcase with his left hand and looked at it with
growing apprehension. He dropped the drink on the deck and
flipped the briefcase up to look at the feet. Where one of the
feet should have been was a gaping socket. He stood there,
rigid, and the clock ran out.
Epilogue - Two Weeks Later
Hal looked up from the row of small oval
dishes on the counter in front of him. He was carefully
arranging cucumber slices along the side of each dish, leaning
them against a pink block of something in the center. Linda
moved into the kitchen slowly. She was burdened with two, huge
baskets of fresh flowers. There were at least a dozen different
varieties and twice that many colors. She deposited them on one
of the expansive counter tops. "Hal, I thought the whole dinner
was coming in from Duvalís. It was your choice."
"The whole dinner except the appetizer.
When I came in from Wyoming yesterday, I brought two
nineteen-inch brookies with me. Thereís no better fish on the
planet than a wild brook trout. When itís poached, soaked
overnight in my special marinade, then eaten with the mildly
astringent pucker of fresh cucumbers, itís a gourmetís delight.
I couldnít let such a special meal go by without fixing
something. Besides, you get to do the flowers."
Linda rolled her eyes and moved to the
sink. "Just stay out of my way while I get these in water as
fast as I can." She pulled out the Kozuri chefís knife and a
small wooden cutting board and went to work whacking the stems
off just above their current cut, while the sink filled with
water. When all the flowers were in the sink and hanging out all
the way around it, she started trimming the stems again and
arranging them in the bowls and vases she had placed on the
other side of the sink. "Have you showered yet?"
Hal looked up from moving one of the
cucumber slices two millimeters along the edge of a bowl to make
the spacing perfect and smiled. "Showered and shaved. Just
waiting to get this finished before I get into my fancy duds."
He reached down and nudged another cucumber over a millimeter or
"Well, Iím going to take mine. I sure
canít watch you. You drive me crazy with stuff like spacing
cucumbers and making sandwiches with the cheese fitting like a
He looked up with another smile. "Might as
well do it right."
Linda rolled her eyes again and headed for
Linwood Crebs and his wife Ellen were the
first to arrive for dinner. Hal greeted them in the foyer,
shaking Linís hand and kissing Ellen on the cheek. "Glad you
guys could make it. This way."
Hal led them down the hall and into the
sculpture room. Linda was waiting, standing in front of the
pillar of morphing fish. Hal waved an open arm in her direction.
"Iíd like you to meet Linda Simmons. Linda, this is Lin Crebs,
whom youíve met only electronically, and his wife, Ellen."
Linda, Ellen, and Lin went through the
usual round of greetings and small talk while Hal took orders
from behind the bar. When everyone had a beverage, they sat, and
Linda was pressed into explaining first the sculpture and then
the whole room.
Hal finally got a word in. "So Lin, are
you tired of retirement already? Do you want to start next week
instead of next month?"
Lin chuckled. "You know Iím not the
retiring kind, Hal, but I am trying to take some time to relax
and catch up on my eternal list of things to do. Next weekís too
soon, but I expect Iíll be more than ready by next month.
Besides, from what Iíve seen already, youíve got Harvey
programmed to handle most of the security work anyway."
"Thatís true, but the companyís so big now
that I really need a person with a face to manage the security
personnel who are scattered over planets, moons, and stations.
Somebody to pull it all together as a functioning organization.
But, of course, Harvey will be there to help you whenever you
"I could certainly use a drawer full of
those mini-bots. Theyíre amazing."
"Without Ďem, we wouldnít appreciate how
politically savvy the Director of the CSA really is. When the
Congressional leadership wanted him to suppress the Biofabriken/Syntech
fracas, he really showed his stuff. Who would have thought he
could force the party to force the President to publicly declare
he was not running for reelection? Iím glad he decided to stay
at the CSA throttle when they allowed him to pick the
replacement for Pyle, and moving Will into Samuels slot was a
stroke of genius."
Harveyís announcement of more visitors at
the door broke up the shoptalk, which was serendipitous for Hal,
since he had already been getting eyebrow signals from Linda.
Hal jumped up to go collect them. Will and Jon arrived
accompanied by guests of the opposite sex. Hal greeted Sharon
with a kiss and waited for Jon to introduce his date. He waved
them all down the hallway toward the sculpture room.
Hal was up to his chin in the warm waters
of the pool, the Jacuzzi jets sweeping up and down his spine
with a monotonous rhythm. "Iím going to put some foot straps in
front of these jets. They keep blowing me up to the surface."
Across the pool from him, Linda opened her
eyes and watched him struggling to find a handhold that would
keep him in the right position. "I think itís probably a
condition endemic to whales."
"Look at that belly poking out. You keep
eating like you did tonight, and foot straps wonít keep you down
either. You need to get more exercise and eat less."
"I can work on eating less by myself, but
I might need some help with the exercise part. Got any ideas?"
"Yes, I do. Iíve been thinking that we
should put in more time for Gaiaís Raiders. Biofabriken and
Syntech are just the tip of the iceberg of international
corporations that need a refresher course in humanity. Harvey
practically runs the business anyway, donít you Harvey?"
"Hal does appear to be losing interest in
the day to day management of Selene Industries, and I am capable
of more latitude than he currently allows."
Hal was still struggling to hold his body
against the pressure of the jets. "Intriguing my dear, but not
what I had in mind."
Lindaís eyes sparkled with mirth as she
paddled her way across the pool to Hal and slid up on top of his
floating body, her arms going around his neck. "What did you
have in mind?"
"Well, I was thinking maybe I could start
playing tennis again with Lin. Nothing like tennis for a full
Lindaís arms came down hard on Halís
shoulders, and he sank to where the jets were pounding on his
head. "Youíre so cute."
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