Ahot finished removing and destroying the headbands around Gene Trask’s skull, checked his work over from every angle, checked again, and thumbed out. Sven quit cursing himself, something he’d been doing for quite a while after realizing he’d relieved himself upwind of his own position. Time to pay attention.
Sure enough, the Guild Rep materialized back in what he believed to be the upscale home of Mr. Burberry Mansk–and immediately checked the clock. 11:55 a.m. Ajki’s two hour estimate had been right on the money. Impressive.
“Mr. Mansk,” the Eurasian reported, “All went well. I would say extremely well. Do you feel anything yet?” The old man’s face, he thought, looked a bit less…pinched.
“Well, Mr. Ajki,” replied ‘Mansk’, looking thoughtful, “I didn’t tell you this before because, quite frankly, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of figured this Guild stuff was probably more, um, placebo than real healing. But I must say, I’ve been having nasty headaches for more than a year now. Tried everything they sell over the counter. Tried relaxing, but heck, I relax pretty much full time already. Even took a crack at cutting down on coffee–won’t do that again! Nothing worked. Until now. Yep, I’d say this old skull feels mebbe…fifty percent better than it did when you first got here.”
“Good. That should get improve to ninety percent in a few days. Please transfer the other fifteen thousand credits to the Guild trust account this afternoon as agreed, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
“Same Bat time, same Bat station,” Gene agreed. Pete showed the Guild man out.
It was interesting, Sven realized as he watched the flow of incoming images from Ahot’s viewpoint. The man didn’t really even seem to see Kate, and every pic of Pete that came through was rim-tinged in crimson rippled with black streaks. In other words, smooth operator or not, the guy was angered at the mere sight of a black–or even light chocolate–man…and didn’t even really realize a woman was in the room. Not even a little hottie like the redheaded Hoelringer.
What was he, gay?
Maybe he only liked the Amazon Woman types, the big, beefy bovines.
The Seeder’s pondering was cut short, though, when Ajki reached his sleek gray flycar. There was, as expected–or at least hoped for–an Urgent message from the Guild demanding attention. No problem; the coupe knew its way home. Before they were fairly launched, the holo was already playing. A mild computer-generated face appeared at just below window level, speaking in a flat monotone.
“Memo to all EC based Guild Representatives”, the surprisingly high voice began. “A general meeting has been called for 1440 hours. Attendance mandatory. Those with conflicting appointments are hereby instructed to cancel. Chairman Cour-Bowser will address each GB conference room via holo. RSVP not required; just be there.”
Ha! Yes! Cory “Nails Hendrix” Arbogast had come through with flying colors! This part of the Sandfire plan was based on one of former Senior Seeder Garrett Di Marco’s obvservations regarding Guild procedure. In his 14 years of active Guild representation, it had never failed: If something got Headquarters nervous by 10 a.m., there would be mandatory meetings called by two p.m., three at the latest. Nails. Was. A. Genius. Her article, planned for publication today, cut right to the chase.
Dateline Chicago. By Nails Hendrix. As my loyal readers know, I’ve been roaming around the countryside since last spring. I like bars, though I don’t drink, because one finds the worst sandwiches and the best rumors in bars. Except at Murphy’s Bar in Rapid City, South Dakota, where the rumors aren’t much and the sandwiches are awesome, but that’s another story.
In Chicago, at a bar which shall remain nameless to keep it intact, I recently met a middle aged couple who claimed to be members of A.S.P.–the Anti-Seeder Project. Sometimes people make claims like that only because they know that I (who am on record as believing the Guild to be evil and worth exposing) must then talk to them, hear what they have to say.
In this case, what these two people had to say…chilled me to the bone.
According to them, all Seeders are not the same. They insist that the Guild maintains an entire hierarchy of privacy invasion specialists. There are Junior Seeders (okay, Guild Reps), Journeymen Seeders, and Senior Seeders. We the People sort of knew that much. But from there on?
Beyond Senior level, there are Seconds, elite storm troopers who are taught certain secrets unknown to the front line operatives. There are Thirds who supervise the Seconds and who are privy to even deeper secrets. And there may be more.
So what? You would ask. Well, one secret unknown to most is that a Second Echelon Guild Rep can be secreted inside an ordinary person in order to penetrate any defenses, Trojan horse style. Another secret is that by simply adding and deleting certain memory files within any individual, that person–a top military scientist, for example–may yield up anything from the name of his mistress to national defense secrets without ever knowing it.
Perhaps none of this is true. I pray none of it is true. One thing is clear: You who know the truth of the matter–you’re out there. Drop this write a line at:
This enquiring mind would like to know.
“Beautiful, baby, beautiful.” Sven only realized he’d murmered that aloud when several men passing his brushy redoubt paused to look around in puzzlement. Alarmed, he froze, absolutely silent, breathing through his mouth, directing the outgoing breath down into his shirt collar for maximum containment. These guys were most likely just civilian members of Ahot’s inner universes, in which case they might not care one way or the other about a sneak in camouflage sitting downwind of his own urine in the bushes.
But then again they might.
Even if he took them out, no guaranteed thing in any case, things would surely get too hot to handle near The Edge. Ahot might feel a subtle sense of knowingness that something was wrong within, or–worst case scenario–he might actually spot Garrett aka Sven while out of the body during sleep.
Not acceptable. The Seeder needed this position.
After a few seconds of obvious indecision, the men went on their way. Ahot, for his part, reached the Guild Building in Sector Sixty with seconds to spare, entering the conference room at precisely two-thirty. Sven went a bit nuts if he couldn’t be early for any appointment, but this right-on-the-dot entry was apparently normal for Ajki. Different strokes.
Chairman Cour-Bowser’s great head, a shaggy Native American visage as remarkable as even Jeremy Boulder’s oversized noggin, glowered at them from the holopodium. Ten feet high, menacing for sure. To say the Chairman was irritated would be the greatest understatement since Thom Harver’s remark early in the War that Jovian soldiers could be “a bit pesky”. The half Lakota, half Assiniboine looked like he was ready to eat raw lead and spit bullets. Sven was initially so impressed that he nearly missed something pretty obvious:
Of the ten men around the table, there were no women…and also no one else, other than his unwitting host, that he knew at all.
“Representatives!” C-B’s amplified voice thundered, shaking furniture and rattling eardrums. “Have you seen this?!” His face was briefly replaced with a ten foot high screen version of version of the Nails Hendrix article. There were photos of Guild Reps in full gasp mode coming in among The Edge flows, peripheral vision shots only. Ahot’s direct attention was riveted to the screen…as was the attention of every other man in the room.
Now C-B was launching into a vitriolic tirade against journalists in general, tabloids in particular, investigative journalists most specifically. A rather testy dude, this Chairman Cour-Bowser, getting all het up just because his entire life was flashing before his eyes. My, my.
All right. An overwhelming rage blast of this magnitude was more than he’d hoped for–or even imagined, for that matter. Burning daylight. The Seeder thumbed the righthand stud on his Box and launched out.
No one seemed to notice. Good. Helped his chances of surivival. Not even the legendary Garrett Di Marco could have gotten favorable Vegas odds against ten of his equally well trained peers in a closed room. The element of surprise only carries so far.
He’d landed roughly 13 feet to Ahot’s rear by design, putting him near the counter holding coffee, food, washup sink and, at one end, a sliding door. Two quiet steps and he was through that door, easing down a wide hallway past two others, turn in at the third.
Gubby looked up from his endless task of feeding Box data into the Sector Sixty Sorter. The gizmo had a much longer technical name no one ever remembered three days after Academy graduation. The hunchbacked technician, naturally called Igor by boys-will-be-boys classmates during his youth, had found a home in this particular Guild Building. Gubby the Grub, the persecuted schoolchild, had been dead and gone for decades. Gubby the perfectionist D.S. III (Data Sorter III) was something else entirely.
What was Sven Jensen these days? Mostly, he was feeling guilty. He couldn’t remember the Grub’s real name despite all those Christmas office parties and interdepartmental memos. That felt wrong. Really wrong.
He’d hoped against hope that he might manage to sneak up on the little workaholic, knock him out without being seen.
Gubby heard his nearly silent approach or maybe saw him coming with those eyes in the back of his head for which he was renowned throughout the Guild. He turned from the viewscreen he’d been monitoring, looked up, nodded to his visitor.
“Hi, Garrett. Long time no see.”