“Let me see the book,” Camry begged. “You drive. I’ll put on my glasses. Or Teal, you’ve got the best eyes, you read it.”
“Okay. Start front to back, or what?” The stocky slave girl was always willing but did need a well defined track on which to run.
“Just pick any old place. Jump around. Whatever.”
“Yes,” Garrett agreed. “That’ll work. I’m going to focus on reading it cover to cover the minute we’re home and my tired feet are up, but for now just skip around, give us an excerpt or two. Surprise us.”
“Okay…hey, here’s a chapter on going black. That’s really something. Master, didn’t you say the clampdown on the Internet makes it nearly impossible to find anything at all about going black on the entire world wide web? Oh. Um. Phase One is preparation–oh, ick!”
“Ick?” Garrett and Cammie echoed simultaneously.
“Way ick. This section titled Implants and Branding Irons says the first thing any retiring Seeder has to do is get rid of his implants. It says…let’s see…there are three Guild implants in every Seeder, more if you’ve ever been promoted to Supervisor. Here’s the ick part: They’re right under the skin, but it takes a skilled surgeon to remove them safely, and if you don’t have one handy, then you have to use heat to destroy their ability to function.”
“Heat, eh?” Di Marco sounded thoughtful but hardly concerned. Of course, a good part of his attention remained on his driving. They were just coming out of the projects, crossing that invisible line walling off thousands of hopeless poor from clueless rich.
A lesser hand might relax at this point. An old warrior like the Seeder, however, would never make that mistake. It was like those dawn attacks on enemy camps just coming to life: Seeing light coming over the horizon after a long, dark night, most humans would relax, feeling relief, thinking, We made it through another one. Intelligent commanders often struck at just such a moment. Criminal elements in EC were no different. Most were idiots, but hardly all of them.
Fortunately, a Senior Seeder could put an old Apache scout to shame when it came to identifying onrushing danger.
“Okay,” he continued after realizing his girl was waiting for her cue, “What kind of heat? And does it say what the implants are designed to do? Could they be listening to us now?” A touch of worry had finally entered his tone of voice…with good reason.
“Yes, Master, it’s the heat application that’s the really ick part. Something about the chip implants running down the outside of the right shoulder, and to destroy their capability for sure, you have to use a nearly red hot piece of steel or iron and draw three horizontal branding lines across the shoulder, about half an inch apart from each other. Knife is best, and with a little pressure so that it goes in the skin a little ways and makes sure the job gets done right; sometimes a flat or rounded branding iron might not do that and the implants would still be able to function.”
She hesitated, puzzled. “These are all computer chip implants, is that right? I’m not even sure I can eat chocolate chip cookies after reading this!”
No one spoke for a moment, then Garrett asked calmly, “How is that so ick? I branded both of you with a hot iron.”
Cammie twisted around in the front seat to look her slave sister in the eyes, nodding when she found confirmation. “That was different,” she stated quietly but with conviction. “It just was. And you didn’t use a knife.”
“Hm. Not sure I see the difference. Not entirely, anyway. At any rate, I can do what needs doing. This is a return of karma for branding you two, I’m guessing. Remember I told you there’d be a price? This is probably it.”
The girls looked stunned. They’d never considered that.
“You can brand yourself?” It was Teal’s question, but she asked for both of them. They had accepted being marked with a branding iron rather easily, but the idea of marking their Master…either woman would have sooner swallowed cyanide.
“If I have to. Or one of you girls can do it.”
He was almost afraid to ask the next question, but he did have to know. “What do the implants do?”
“Um…here it is. It’s hard to figure out what they mean sometimes, a lot of words you no doubt know but are Jovian to me. Um…the forward hairline transponder–they call them hairline transponders because they’re hair thin and kind of long like a hair–it, um, well, it’s a transponder, and it identifies you as you.” She fell silent again, trying to study out the rest of it.
“Hm…a little relief there. I’d thought it might be worse. Go on.”
“Okay, sure. The middle one has a GPS chip in it, whatever that means.”
“Global positioning,” Garrett nodded. “Sounds like the forward unit tells them I’m me, and the middle unit tells them where me be. Correctamundo?”
“I think. You’ll have to read it yourself to be sure. Now the third one–oh wow.”
“Oh wow? I don’t like the sound of that. We’ve already discovered a Guild hit team has the means to identify me and track me at will. No, I really don’t like the sound of that.”
“Me neither. It says the third one is an EMP hairline implant that if triggered–I think they’re saying it would be triggered by some kinda remote thingie–a hit team, you said? Um, oh, here it is. If triggered it will mess up the Box so it won’t work right. I thought it was going to say it’d blow your arm off. It’s kind of hard to understand most of this.”
“You’re doing great,” Di Marco assured her. Except for some pain for a couple of weeks, this shouldn’t be too bad.
What the hey, he was no stranger to pain. He yawned; a nap would be good. But not while driving, obviously. Well, that part could have been worse.
That brought him back to full alert. “Uh-oh what? Now the real trouble begins?”
“I think so, yes. It says here you can wait on your teeth until you’ve escaped immediate danger but you do have to get your teeth out. All of them.”
“Ouch. Not that I haven’t been thinking about it anyway, but why?” Man, he hated dentists.
“Because…let’s see…because of two things. One is, a lot of the nasty karma you’ve picked up while Seeding is locked in the teeth and they will eventually make you very sick as in like maybe even dead. And because the Guild has some big nasty implants there, ‘specially in the molars.”
“Like what?” Cammie wanted to know.
“There’s one on the left side, they can broadcast stuff to your brain or something. And–” She stopped to draw a ragged breath. “–And, and the one, the one on the right, it can blow you up.”
“It’s not funny.” Cammie glared at her Master. How dare he joke about something like this? If he got himself killed, she’d kill him!
“Oh, the Hell it’s not,” he grinned. “Although I do think it might be sensible to have some work done on the up-quick, doncha think? Instead of on the down low? Or maybe,” he mused, “a bit of both. Like for instance–”
“Hey,” the voice from the back seat cut him off. “You’re covered here.”
“Yeah, here in the back of the book, on the last page is a list of dentists who are supposed to be pretty good and who don’t try to say you should keep your teeth. On the page before that, um, the exact wording is:
Do not let the dentist keep your teeth after removal. Take them with you and find a place to bury them at least three feet deep. The explosive charges involved are not enough to move that much earth but are enough to blow up an innocent dental practitioner. Besides which, the Guild will surely target any dentist who helps you if they know his identity. You MUST deactivate your shoulder implants BEFORE visiting the dentist for that specific reason.
“And you know, Cam, maybe there is a joke in this somewhere, because on the third to last page is another list, and that one’s all branding parlors.”
“I still don’t think it’s funny.” Her tone made that an understatement if there ever was one.
“Well, maybe not,” Garrett admitted. But I’ll bet the standup comic Edsella could get a laugh out of it. Did you hear the one about the branding iron specialist and the orthodontist?”
“Please, Master, quit it.” He didn’t even know Edsella the comic and Corolla Nails Hendrix her cousin were one and the same…did he? It made her uncomfortable, sometimes, when he tuned in so close like that. She should be the only one with that kind of ability….
“Okay, baby. Okay. But we sure do know one thing from what we’ve found out so far. We’re not alone out there.”
She looked at him thoughtfully. He was so handsome, so much masculinity in that profile, such big, strong hands, even the way his–what had he just said? “I guess not. But I wish we could be alone. Being a hermit would be so much easier. Recluse, recluse, yes I am. Build me a hut and call me Cam.”
“Nah. You’d miss getting to dress up like a little old lady, wouldn’t you?”
She snorted, that paper-ripping sound. “I won’t have to dress up like one, ’cause pretty soon I’ll be a little old lady,” she retorted, “and without your teeth you’re going to look like a little old man gumming his oatmeal.”
He had no comeback for that one.