“Before I tell you the details, I want to say again to the two of you, I’m not going to die. But I am going to have to move fast, and it could get rough. I can’t ask either one of you to go through this with me because if you do, we may be sleeping under bridges, running from hit teams, ducking cops, scrounging for something to eat or a scrap of toilet paper in the desert.
“Who the Hell knows, but it doesn’t take much threat assessment thinking to know the feces will hit the fan. I’m hoping to manage better than that, but I can’t guarantee–”
He’d managed one thing. He’d managed to piss both girls off thoroughly. They were suddenly on their feet, looming over his semi-prone position as he sprawled on the couch. Fingers were wagging near his nose. Mouths were flapping, indignant attitudes finding loud expression.
“How dare you think we wouldn’t–”
“What do you think we are?!!!”
“After what you’ve already done to stick by–”
There was more, all blurred together. He held up a hand for peace. “Okay, babies. Okay. Thank you. Yes, I knew the answer, for both of you, but I still had to put it that way.”
“No you didn’t!” Both of them in unison, he was pretty sure, though a blossoming headache made it hard to concentrate.
“All right. All right. Here it is. I’m going to have to spend years with my first priority being cleanup work on my own inner bodies. If I steal my Box, which I’m going to do, I can handle about eighty percent of it without help. Some things, especially in the mental and etheric bodies, are already close to getting out of hand. That rip in my arm came from the etheric, by the way; nothing gentle about that plane. Even so, I’m pretty sure, now that I’ve gotten my wind back, that I can keep this physical body from getting into too much trouble as long as I get at it and don’t push myself too hard until some basic cleanout is handled.
“But my window isn’t all that big, believe me. I figure for one thing, we’ve got to be ready to rock and roll in three days, tops.”
Teal asked tentatively, “What do you mean, Master, when you say rock and roll?”
Cammie jumped in. “He means we’ve got three days to do what you should have done years ago instead of serving all that stupid DUI time in prison.”
“That’s right.” Garrett gestured with his empty glass. Teal hustled to refill it, straining to hear and understand every word. She still didn’t get it.
“Go ahead, Cam. Tell her.”
The redhead spoke just three words. “We’re going black.”
“That’s right. Tell you why it’s three days. On the fourth day from right now, the sixteenth, I’m scheduled to visit a rich old lady near New Baltimore. Theoretically, with what I’ve just seen inside myself, it should be possible as a crack Guild Rep to actually do the job and when the problem added itself to my inner worlds, then go in and fix that along with everything else. In theory only. In truth, no way could I ever go in on someone else. Never again. Not for just money, anway. Maybe for a risk of the heart, you know, to help a loved one or something. Then maybe.” He shuddered, realizing just how close to the raw flames of living Hell he had come.
“Mabe not even then.”
Cammie got it immediately, as usual. “If you did the job, that would give you another day of window, but the extra karmic kickback might be just the straw on the camel’s back that did you in. No way no way no way.”
“True. But that’s not the worst of it. The worst is, every Seeder has to stop by the nearest Guild Building every seventh day to dump the accumulated data from his Box into the Guild’s permanent storage data banks. In my case, that’s four days away. I’d planned to do that right after the Baltimore visit, but not now. Even if I could do the job, the moment a Guild Archivist scanned the data and saw I’d gone inside myself, they’d have a team out looking for me. Within minutes at most, more likely within seconds. Can’t risk it.”
“I’ll start packing,” Teal said quietly. She might not be as Star Trek Smart as either of her two roommates, but she was eminently practical. If there was a job to do, well then, she believed in getting on with it.
“Do so. But girly girl, be sure to start with the most critical stuff, just the survival necessities first. If you’re not sure which is which, check with Cammie or me. She’s done this before, and maybe I haven’t, but I’ve studied it a lot.
“A lot,” he repeated softly, more to himself than to anyone else.
“I’ve been around the block a time or two.” Her stubborn German I-can-do-it-myself attitude came through loud and clear. “I’m pretty sure what’s survival basics and what’s not would be pretty obvious, even to a dumb broad like me. Master.”
“Whatever.” He should call her down for the undertone in her voice, but now was not the time. “I’ll pitch in as soon as I can.”
“You rest first!” Both girls in stereo. Again.
He grinned at them. “I will. I’m not quite that stupid. At least the gash in my arm looks like it’ll scab up on its own; no need for stitches. Give me four hours and I’ll be good to go. Let’s figure to have the essentials ready to throw into the rig by the time we go to bed tonight. Bring me one of the pistols, I don’t care which one as long as it’s loaded, and remember to put on surgical gloves so only my prints and DNA are on it. Also, between now and tomorrow morning, let’s all be thinking. I’m going to need to contact the Anti Seeder Project, and fast; if either of you gets a bright idea on how to safely do that, you let me know.”
“I can do that!” Cammie’s sudden and obvious excitement lit her up, a little girl who’s just been told Daddy got her that pinto pony for Christmas.
“You can?” Garrett looked at her in surprise. “How so?”
“There are, um, some things I haven’t told you about my family.”
“Why am I not shocked?” His dry tone made her blush, but she pretended not to notice.
“You know that Sling Sleaze reporter who wrote those articles saying A.S.P. was probably real and the Guild ought to be raided and disbanded?”
“Well, I don’t know him, but I remember the articles. Odd name, wasn’t it? Yeah. Nails. Nails Hendrix.”
“That’s the one. She’s a her, though, not a him.”
“Nails is female?”
“Hm. She ought to know how to contact A.S.P. if anyone does. At least, it’s a possibility, not to mention the only lead we’ve got. I take it you know her, Cam?”
The tiny redhead snorted, a cloth-ripping sound that hardly seemed suited to her elfin body. “Know her? She’s my cousin.”
“Huh. When I read science fiction stories where some coincidence like this magically comes together, I usually figure the writer is a hack who couldn’t find a plot with a pair of binoculars and a microscope. But I have seen the Zarellan set things like this up; it really is a small universe out there. On the other hand, you do have some nasty types in your family; why do you say we can trust her?”
“Oh, we can trust her.” The girl’s eyes were tearing up something fierce, this time from the heartwarming prospect of a possible reunion with Corolla. “We can trust her because I’ve known her my whole life. She’s my bestest friend in the whole wide world, no offense to you, Teal. You’re my second bestest.”
Teal shrugged noncommittally. She’d never been first anything; why start now?
Cammie didn’t see the shrug. She was too busy looking her Master in the eye, declaring, “it’s not safe for us to be seen together, but she’ll help, anyway. I know she will.
“She comes from the good side of the family.”