Nothing is more dangerous than success. Every Seeder, every railroad baron, every rock star knows this. The Jupiterians did not learn this, however, until rattling their cages stirred up the Earthlings enough to turn on their apparent conquerors with a ferocity known to only a few species throughout the Universe. Then they did learn, and to their everlasting sorrow. It does not matter whether you are a Plutonian Fretricret practicing black magic, an army of folks from Jupiter trying to convice their “subjugated” Earth colonies to cooperate, or a simple businessman competing to balance the family budget. The principle is unfailing. Show success, and you will be attacked. There has never been a proven exception to this rule. Never.____Btruang Mnepsosvrt of Pluto, writing on The Relationships Of Sentient Beings.
“Not like we didn’t expect it,” Cory squeezed her husband’s hand briefly. Feds were born to snoop; that was most definitely in their job descriptions. But it should not be a problem. The Arbogast family cover story was solid: They’d responded to an ad seeking talented comics for a new comedy gig, then found that Sandfire needed Security people as well. Perhaps the undercover Feds on site were running around with portable DNA scanners, but it didn’t seem all that likely. Such equipment was bulky enough to make for difficult concealed carry, for one thing.
Which was good. Homer could withstand a scan, as could the Boulders. She, Sven, Kate, and Nina could not.
Anyway, as with most things, time would tell. One way or the other.
Boulder and Jensen had taken a lot of shortcuts in getting the building ready so quickly, of course. They’d had to, and that meant the three man team of building inspectors who arrived on September tenth had orders from on high to go over the place with a fine tooth comb. That was hardly necessary; a garden rake could have uncovered two or three hundred code violations.
Fortunately, the two younger inspectors had proven quite amenable to reasonable bribes while the older, hard bitten guy had unwisely accepted a free cup of coffee in the restaurant before actually transcribing any notes.
From a booth designed specifically to make him inconspicuous, Sven Jensen thumbed a stud on his stolen Box and disappeared.
Only Kah and Kate saw him go. The tiny redhead and the statuesque half black woman teamed to con Inspector Chartres, holding him in place for nearly twenty minutes until the former Seeder once again appeared in the discreet booth and gave them a silent thumbs-up signal.
It had been essential to keep the subject more or less in one positon in one location when The Box took a Seeder inside, because he would show up again in precisely the same relationship to said subject when he popped back Out as he’d occupied before launching In. “I’d hate to have the guy be driving down the road,” he’d explained, “And have me pop up right behind his car, bouncing my unprotected butt down the steelcrete at a hundred miles an hour or more. So keep him in that seat, pretty much face forward, if you have to paralyze the bastard.”
Before the supposedly untouchable Inspector had even left the building, Sven was closeted with Sandfire’s founder in the Security Control Room.
“Not a problem, Jer. It worked precisely as I predicted it would. Tracing and entering his memory files on the causal plane took maybe two, three minutes of Earth time. We’d already suggested enough positive mind pictures, so all I had to do was be sure they finished developing and were firmly fixed in place. Inspector Chartres does have an extremely organized mind, so that was actually easier to do than it would have been with a lot of guys. And then of course deleting the negative pictures he’d filed, which was right up my line for a lot of years anyway. I just never thought to apply it quite the way we just did.”
“The ethics bothering you, Sven?” Boulder’s gravelly voice held no criticism; they’d discussed the ethical questions of this sort of action at length.
“No. Maybe I’ll pay karmically for messing with his head, and maybe I won’t. My Zarellan Church teachings would undoubtedly say yes, but survival does come first. We needed that spotless bill of health. No, what has me shaking my head,” he grinned suddenly, “Is something I ran across in there. You know what Mr. Chartres faces as his worst nightmare, his greatest fear?”
He continued without waiting for an answer. “He’s petrified that his wife will make him take early retirement and retire to the desert. Not here, not Nevada, seemed more like Arizona. I didn’t waste much time on it, but it cracks me up. I like mesquite, but not our good Inspector. To him, there’s no mesquite wood, no edible mesquite beans, not really even any green leaves.”
“All that guy can see is the thorns.”
They didn’t mention the obvious implications, namely that if they could so easily sculpt a man’s memories, remaking an unfinished job like this clearly recalled as entirely finished and wonderfully up to code, then it had been done before by others. How many of Sven Jensen’s memories were truly his own?
But once on that trail of thought, one could circle the world with no end in sight. For now, they had to pull off the Grand Opening.
And so they had, in grand style. For every ten nud roll of Ostrich Dollars, a player received a return of at least eleven–with a possible thousand-Sandy jackpot. The machines were set to pay, on average, 1.27 Sandys out for every one in, a generous return indeed. Sandys could only be redeemed in purchases of beautiful Sandfire glassware at regular retail prices. A player who put in, for example, one hundred nuds and “won” one hundred twenty-seven (the average) thus received twenty-seven percent more glassware than he could obtain by simply walking in and plunking down his cash or hauling out the old plastic or getting his FI, his Financial Implant, scanned.
Pete Boulder handled pricing and had built in one hundred percent profit on most items, so everybody was happy.
Except, of course, their competitors. A few locals with no money to spend did wander through without giving any of the twenty machines a play, but by closing time, the numbers were staggering. The idea of a no-lose, ka-ching casino that was great fun to play but actually no gamble for either the house or the player? That had been Sven’s concept, but the entire design and implementation had been accomplished by Ben and Pete.
By closing time in the casino itself, they had taken in just over ninety thousand nuds. Glassware purchases had included coffee mugs, dinner plates, glasses, several vase designs, soup bowls, saucers, and twenty-two additional pieces put on the display shelves as experimental test items to determine marketability. One unexpected result: About ten percent of all buyers wanted to take home the actual Ostrich Dollars.
This pleased Sandfire management no end and, since the Sandys cost less than twenty cents each to manufacture.
It was Kate’s idea, immediately adopted, that all future runs should have a permanent date imprint of some sort, along with location, so that years down the road, collectors could pinpoint what they owned…and of course spend more money rounding out their always incomplete collections. Kate could think big and was flying high, since thirty-three of her Kreative Kookbooks had aslo sold.
The restaurant had raked in another twenty-seven hundred nuds. Edsella’s free comedy performances had been packed; they were going to have to enlarge the theater as soon as possible.
Pete, in charge of press relations, had a lapel mike recorder that, when replayed after the doors were locked, showed he’d handled questions from reporters with a native skill the shy and/or abrasive could only envy. Only three would-be shoplifters had even tried for the door, with only one of the three attempting to make a scene when apprehended.
A less worldly group would have been euphoric, but only old Gene Trask allowed himself to cackle with glee at the results.
“Hell, boys and girls,” he told them over late night sodas, “Even if this was all there was to it, we rattled enough cages to keep me happy for longer’n I’ve prob’ly got left.”
They were all pleasantly agreeable to the elderly gent who’d been willing to part with his properties for a song, but only Nina lacked the intellect to be properly sober and wary of the future. Yes, they had executed a bold stroke that had gone better than theyd dared imagine, but they had also opened a tiger’s cage that could not again be closed. They had brainwashed one state official the who’s-afraid-of-the-big-bad-Guild way and bribed two others. Local building permits for renovation had been obtained only after Jeremy himself had as good as threatened a clerk at the Courthouse. At least one known Fed had attended their Grand Opening, snoopy-snooping. What the media would present from today’s filming and interviewing remained to be seen.
Not to mention that all the would-be robbers out there knew a lot of cash had come in through Sandfire’s registers.
Finally, around eleven-thirty, they all headed for the restaurant. Invisible from the street, Sandfire Cuisine was designed from the get-go to serve as the overall group’s primary gathering place. Homer and Cory carried trays to the SCR, the Security Control Room, where they would share the graveyard shift just in case. The rest helped themselves to leftovers. Around midnight, having thoroughly cleaned his plate of a third piece of pecan pie, Jeremy Boulder lifted himself wearily to his feet and headed for the elevator.
“This building had better match those inspection reports by Christmas,” he said over his shoulder, “And we’ve got to really think about those two requests for a franchise we got today. But for tonight, this old Greek bastard is worn to the bone. Kah and I are sacking out. I recommend that anyone who wakes us up before noon gets shot.”
No one thought for a moment he was joking. When the Intruder Alert sounded at 3:42 a.m. and J.B. was first to reach the stairwell fully armed, it seemed he’d have the chance to perform as advertised.