“Thanks.” Frank Clawson, physical version, was resting on the Thompson table, looking a touch tired but extremely pleased with himself.
“You’re welcome, but for what? All I did was stand there.”
“Gave me confidence, though. I didn’t think it would help one bit, but it actually did. You know, knowing that if I messed up, you were there to help clean up the mess. I admit it now; Shannon was right to insist on having you here after all. And I don’t mind being in debt for a couple of years to pay for it.”
He turned to the chiropractor. “Shan, it felt like the violet light killed them and the gold light kept them contained so they couldn’t escape while they were being exterminated. Is that about right?”
“Yes,” the blonde nodded, “And they were on the mental plane, in the mental body, just as you thought. You were also right about how dangerous they were. Those were some powerful toxins, more than enough to have killed the physical body if they’d gotten loose.”
The Seeder wondered how she knew all this. Our headquarters briefing had indicated she could supposedly see directly into the inner planes, but could anybody really do that? If not, was she faking it?
“Figured they were.” Clawson rose, stretched, and excused himself, declining an offer from Dr. James to stay for a cup of tea.
Shannon James, it turned out, had been waiting for that, waiting to speak to the Seeder alone.
“You’re wondering why we did it that way.” Her gaze regarded Di Marco with no perceptible emotion.
“Yes. I am.”
“It is the only way to do it without accruing karma.”
He digested that. “You’re saying that it needed to be Frank himself who did the actual killing?”
“Yes. If anyone else had actually applied the gold and violet lights, he or she would have taken on some of the karma Frank needed to grow spiritually. That’s what karma is there for, and when we think we’re helping, we’re often making things worse. The barb on the end of the fishhook is that the karma lodges within the health practitioner at an increased level.”
“Four sacs of young spiders instead of two?”
She nodded, a teacher mildly pleased to see a slow student finally understanding Karma for Dummies. “Something along those lines, yes.”
“Sounds like what A.S.P. would say, according to their deluded press releases. Sounds like bull puckey to me.”
“Mr. Di Marco, I prefer you do not use obscene language in this office.” Still the schoolteacher but now primly offended by a young ruffian’s coarse ways.
“Hey, that got rid of the cozy first name basis in a hurry, didn’t it, Doctor James?” He rose with deliberate slowness, his temper rising a good deal more quickly.
“Mr. Di Marco–”
“No, Doctor,” he snapped, “Let me finish. You started on this tack, and while I appreciate the oversized fee for doing virtually nothing but act as a glorified security blanket for that lying bastard who incidentally was scared out of his pants despite the fact that he did pull it off, you need to know I don’t take this kind of crap. I don’t start attacking your beliefs without provocation, but you freaking well take your life in your own hands assaulting mine.”
“Mr. Di Marco–” Her gaze was no longer calm; that was something, at least. Crimson flooded her countenance; she was clearly flustered and insulted and building a fair head of rage in her own personal forge. He held up a hand; he couldn’t stop now if he wanted to.
“One more thing, and I’ll shut the hell up. I’ve been doing this for decades, thousands of cases, and not once has any client’s condition rebounded to infest my personal inner universe. I don’t care what–”
“Mr. Di Marco!” She fairly screeched at him. Startled by the noise–which sounded like it should have come from a jungle parrot caught in the jaws of a jaguar–Garrett did stop talking. In midsentence. Struggling for control. Something, he began to dimly realize through the haze of rage, was very wrong. Never ever had he lost it on duty like this. Never. It was not his style. It wasn’t any Guild Rep’s style.
“Mr. Di Marco,” she began, visibly struggling for control, “How do you know none of the good you’ve done for people has ever come back to haunt you? How. Do. You. Know?!” She glared at him, lips compressed in a tight line.
“Because…” He took a deep breath. He was ashamed of himself, ashamed of his outburst. This was no way to treat a client. “Because all Guild Reps, all Seeders if you will, are checked out annually. I’ve had a clean bill of health for thirteen straight years. There. Is. Nothing. Wrong. With. Me.”
“And how is this checkup done?” Lips still tight, words fired out under pressure, one by one.
On firm ground once again, Garrett began to relax slightly. This answer he knew, and it was bound in brass. “With the Box.”
“And who does the actual checking?”
“A Sector Supe–this is more than we normally tell non-Guild personnel, but, a Sector Supervisor.”
“And what are the qualifications to be a Supervisor and who quality control checks the Box and how are results verifed?”
He stared at her. “That’s a whole bunch of what-who-how. I’m not authorized to go into that with anyone.”
Her voice was suddenly soft. “I don’t want you to tell me the answers, Garrett Di Marco. I want you to ask yourself the questions.”
Nothing more was said. The Seeder picked up his little suitcase, stepped into the restroom, and closed the door. When he emerged in his street clothes, cammies once again stowed neatly away, the good doctor was nowhere in sight. Just as well. He let himself out, striding strongly to his flycar parked at the public garage down the block. She’d already paid the fifty thousand credits up front; collection was not part of his job description. The operation itself had gone smoothly–too smoothly in his opinion; something just wasn’t right there. Still, no professional complaint would or even could be filed. He was personally forty thousand credits richer after the Guild tithe and before taxes. The client himself was thoroughly satisfied.
He should just let it go.
Except he couldn’t. What had gone wrong? Why had he exploded like that? He was known throughout the Guild as a smoothie on duty, soft spoken with clients yet capable of handling himself in any situation, but he hadn’t handled himself well with Dr. James, now had he? Why? Why? And why did his failure disturb him so thoroughly?
Well, he thought, I guess that last part is obvious. You always have been a control freak, Di Marco. Having a couple of unexpected comments or criticisms or whatever those were, yeah, they could throw you off your game. She caught you good. But…that still doesn’t answer why? You’ve had doctors, preachers, family members, reporters, clients, any and all of the above try to waylay you from time to time. Why was this one so different?
Are you losing it?
Think-talking to himself did seem to help. He found himself almost wishing it had not, however, when he suddenly remembered something his first wife had told him with irritating frequency during their brief but intense year of togetherness.
“Whenever you start kicking and screaming, it’s a sure sign we’re getting close to the truth.”
He repeated it aloud. “Whenever I start kicking and screaming, I’m getting close to the truth. All right. I just find out one day that A.S.P. is real, and a few days later I get told my entire career was designed as slow suicide from the starting gate. And the same for all my fellow Seeders–ah, Guild Reps–in the field. And instead of politely thanking the lady for the information, I start cusssing and going all postal on her. Dang, she can’t be right. She can’t…what were those questions she wanted me to ask myself?”
She could have been lying. It might all have been a truick to draw Guild secrets from him.
Let’s see…yeah, he remembered the first question. Supervisor qualifications. Sector Supes were chosen from the field, without exception getting kicked upstairs after the stress of going Inside had become too much or whatever. All experienced, competent, ethical. He took a deep breath and sighed in relief. No worries there, mate. His own Supe, for instance, old Harlan Johnson, was a man he’d known most of his professional life. Harl would never–okay, second part was….
He’d have to take that one on faith. Seeders were always intelligent types with strong survival skills, but operating the Box did not mean repair capability. As far as he knew, there’d never been a Box malfunction, not one, not ever. Internal recordings were permanently etched into its memory, available for viewing in any Guild conference room by simply plugging the Box into a Viewer and punching in the coordinates. Maybe he could ask up the line how quality control was handled if and when it might be needed, except he wouldn’t do that. That was close to heresy and could get you put on The List. Not like Schindler’s List, either; a very black list.
As to how results were verified…. That didn’t even make sense. Did it?
Wait a minute. It did make sense. Pretty much any other technology out there dealt with results verification all the time. Check and cross check, then check and cross check some more. Why should the Box be any different, the lone exception to the rule?
By the time he’d dropped his flycar back out of the skylanes to Land Level One and pulled up to his almost-a-mansion, it was midafternoon. He hadn’t come to any conclusions about the worth of the chiropractor’s allegations, but he had stayed wide awake and mentally alert for the entire journey home. The bone cracker might be dead wrong, but she’d done him that much good at least. That tired feeling from early morning was gone gone gone. He was wide awake, ready for a round of lovin’ and a couple of brisk games of table tennis before sitting down to a perfectly cooked twelve ounce ribeye steak with all the fixin’s.
Life was good.