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[ Part 1: Whatever's Good... ]
The cafe bell chimed as its front door opened to let Aiden waltz in. He glanced around quickly scanning for Kamal, and pretending to be surprised when he found him. "Well I'll be damned... Kamal! Just the guy I wanted to see." He walked over to the bar and greeted him with a pat on the back.
"Oh no, Aiden," Kamal said to himself, but loud enough to be heard. "Hey. What are the odds?"
"Too late to get a beer?" Aiden looked up and asked the nearest waitress.
She was roughly drying a glass as she eyed him. "No, sugar, you got 15 minutes to spare."
"Ok one for me, one for him. Whatever's good." Aiden smiled and looked at Kamal.
"I don't want a beer," Kamal mumbled, slouched over the counter.
"Sure you do."
"No I don't." Kamal insisted.
"Kamal, come on!" Aiden paused unexpectedly at the sound of his words, and thought out loud, "Hey, I like the way that sounds... 'Kamal, come on!' 'Kamal, come on!'" He giggled, but shook his head to get back on track. "Never mind. I hate drinking by myself. Have a beer with me. I'm buying. I'll buy you a burger too." Aiden was doing his best to be friendly and encouraging to lighten the mood.
He put his hand over Kamal's back, "That's my dark genius of the vid-stream."
The waitress took the cue. "Two beers, coming up," she said as she turned away.
Aiden leaned in. "So, I have a friend who has this problem."
"No." Kamal Quickly replied.
Aiden pleaded, "Kamal..." He twisted his lips, thinking of a different angle of approach. "So how are your parents? I can help them, you know."
"I know." Kamal shot back again, without moving.
"Come on, Kamal, this friend of mine is totally on the up and up."
The waitress had a skill for stealth as she quickly appeared with their drinks. "Your beers." She slid them in front of the two.
"From where?" Kamal asked.
Aiden nodded to the waitress in thanks and continued, "...pays taxes even."
Kamal lifted the glass for a sip, and gagged when he took the first gulp. "You drink this stuff?" He nearly spilled the drink as he jerked it away from his mouth.
Aiden jokingly spoke their situation like a classified personal ad. "'Legitimate businessman seeking dark handsome techno-guru for discreet assistance and long moonlight walk.'"
Kamal wasn't phased, still recoiling from the drink. "I hate Earth beer," he mumbled.
"And like I said, this thing with your parents? That's where I come in." Aiden's eyes were serious as he looked at Kamal squarely.
Kamal grew frustrated at his insistance and said, "Look, the last time I tried to help you, I had half the--" But he was overspoken by Aiden.
"--The beer gets better after a few sips, Kamal, I promise. And you know what, its all you've got."
"Why do you keep asking me?" Kamal then remembered how much Sophia and he talk, and his eyes widened. "Does Sophia talk about my--"
"--Drink the beer, Kamal."
Caught in mid-sentence once again, Kamal gave up and took a gulp of beer. Fighting the aftertaste, he reluctantly replied, "What kind of business?"
[ Casino Security ]
The casino was enormous. Kamal glanced around at his surroundings, taking in all the glamour and noise that bombarded his senses. The room must have been 3 stories tall, decorated with riches beyond his imagination. The people he passed scurried around like ants at a picnic from table to table, dedicating themselves to leaving the place with more than they entered. He was beginning to feel enticed by the excitement he could see on their faces. He passed a woman in her mid-40's, who grinned ecstatically as her machine binged congratulations and dropped a bucket of tokens in her lap as a reward. He saw the strict concentration in the eyes of a man at a card table as he glared at the dealers hands, doing his best to predict the next draw. A few tables away, there was a small commmotion as a young man was led by a guard towards a door in a quiet corner of the building. Kamal realized he must have been found trying to cheat.
He followed Aiden through the building, and was led up a small staircase at the back into a much darker room. As the door shut and the casino sounds ended, his eyes adjusted to the new dim lighting, allowing him to see the contents of the room. There were two arrays of computers, each occupied by an individual wearing a headset, seemingly glued to their screens. At the front of the room was a large bay window he realized was one-way and camoflaged from the outside, overlooking the casino floor. In front of the window was the dark silhouette of a short, stocky man with long hair.
Aiden smiled and spoke up. "Welcome to the tastefully appointed security control room. The nerve center if you will, of the Apollonian Temple Casino. My name is Aiden Maki--"
"--Cut the crap Aiden." The man at the window interrupted and shook his head. He had a rough, raspy voice, one of a man who was surrounded by the stench of cigarettes and dollars his entire life.
"...And I'll be your in-flight host this evening." Aiden finished his comedic insertion as the man approached the nearest screen to Kamal.
"You can see the guys you want on monitors 3, 11 and 16." He pointed to three boxes on the screen which showed people at various stations on the floor. Each monitor seemed to be focused on one person in the center. "So remind me again, why can't we break this bastard's knees, and drop them in a canal where the freaking sewer crabs eat?"
Aiden looked at the man and replied, "Mr.F, it just makes your business. Your totally legitimate tax-paying business looked bad when college kids started turning up all dead and everything." Aiden couldn't help but smirk, because Mr.F - a man who until recently worked in the shadows and dealt in the black market, making his own 'rules' dealing with clients - was now running a legitimate business, and Aiden was his go-to guy. Who would have guessed.
"Aiden!" Kamal tried to get his attention.
Aiden finished his consultation with Mr.F. "Kamal is going to take care of the situation."
Kamal shook his head. "I'm not doing this."
"Not doing what?"
Kamal was getting anxious. "Not doing anything involving knee caps, or canals, or..."
Mr.F stepped back and mumbled sarcastically, "Oh this is touching"
"...decomposing bodies." Kamal felt a bead of sweat trickle down his cheek.
Aiden turned, "Excuse us, Mr.F." He pulled Kamal over to the side of the room to speak with him in what privacy the room could afford. "All the man wants to find out is what they're doing."
"So he can what, write his memoires? You said this was all legal!"
"I haven't asked you to do anything Illegal, have I?" Aiden still had his token grin peeking out the corner of his mouth.
Kamal's eyes eidened. "Didn't you hear what he said? He was--"
Aiden put his hands on Kamal's shoulders and calmly interrupted, "--But the whole killing thing will only happen if you don't help. And even that's worst case scenario."
Mr.F spoke up, obviously overhearing everything that was said in the small room. "Actually, that wouldn't be the worst case. The worst case would be if we went down to--"
Aiden quickly cut him off, chuckling nervously. "No-no-no-no... Just hear me out, Kamal. Mr.F shows you what they're doing, and you tell him how they're doing it."
"Ok, but no kneecaps right? No canals... just, explanations." Kamal looked Aiden in the eyes, looking for an honest reply.
Aiden knew it was doable, but had to make sure Mr.F understood. "Mr.F?"
"Explanations are nice," said Mr.F. Kamal didn't like how he still seemed to find where the shadows were strongest, and remained there.
"And if I do this I want Visas." He turned his eyes back to Aiden as he negotiated his wage. "No more happy talk, I want my family on their way here and I want it now!"
"Whew!" Aiden shook his head, "You drive a hard bargain, my friend."
Kamal and Mr.F both knew Aiden well enough to know when Aiden was embellishing. "Cut the crap Aiden! " They both said in unison.
Aiden took a deep breath and turned towards a big counter Kamal had missed on his way in. With a wave of his hand, the counter lit up and became a large screen. He drew with his finger on the surface and a window opened up, showing a live birds-eye view of the entire floor. "Ok, from here we can monitor the whole casino floor."
"See the blackjack tables here-" Mr.F rounded the table and pointed to a section. Kamal quickly glanced at the man's face, eerily lit by the light from the counter. He wished he hadn't. He shivered and looked back down, listening. "There's 6 of them in each pit, and the managers rotate the dealers every 20 minutes."
"The 5 people highlighted here are counting cards." Aiden pointed to a group of zoomed images of people, and Kamal noticed they were also highlighted on the overhead view - nowhere near each other.
"How do you know they're counting cards?" asked Kamal.
Mr.F looked at Kamal through his eyebrows, still bent over the counter. "Because they win too much."
Aiden finished, "The question is, how are they cheating?"
"They don't stay at the same table. They don't move around in any predictable pattern." Mr.F stood up. "We could just take them off the tables and leave them in a ditch. Why did you say we shouldn't do that again?"
Aiden shook his head. "But, it would really be better if they understood how they were, uh..."
Mr.F knew where Aiden was leading. "...screwing me. We've got archives of all their plays, the last 10 days." He looked at Kamal. "Figure out how they're screwing me..."
Aiden spread his hands, smiled and asked, "Whaddya say?"
"Figure it out, please...?" Mr.F squinted, annoyed again by Aiden's personality.
Kamal noticed Mr.F thought Aiden was referring to him. "I think he was talking to me."
Aiden touched a button on the screen and a dollar figure appeared. "See this number? That's how much we figure these kids have taken out of the casino."
"You get it back for me, 20% of it's yours."
"Oh," Kamal was shocked at first, then as the numbers calculated in his head, his eyes eidened in disbelief. "Wow..."
"Trust me. If all these guys lose is their money, you'll be doing them a huge favour." Aiden knew that would be a convincing argument for Kamal.
Mr.F smirked and nodded. "Trust him."
Aiden noticed on one of the zoomed monitors something that caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. "Oh, check out table 9." He zoomed the view in closer. "-- Camera's looking right down her dress!"
Kamal rolled his eyes and shook his head.
[ Buckled Slingbacks ]
The lights of the city streaked by as Kamal peered out his window and reflected on the last two hours. After his session being shown the ropes with Aiden and Mr.F, Sophia showed up. Kamal watched indiscretely as she and Aiden chatted for a couple minutes on their own, and after a quick hug Sophia came to Kamal and offered to take him home.
Now he sat in her car, fighting conflicting thoughts, contemplating the very strange position he was in. He was in love with a girl he couldn't have, and he was sitting in her passenger seat; to top it off, she was the girlfriend of the guy he'd be doing some shady business with.
The street passed over a long hill that looked out over the city, and Kamal watched as the many lights of the cityscape slowly inched their way across the horizon. The scene was quickly lost as the car slowed and turned onto his street.
Kamal couldn't stop his heart from skipping though, whenever he imagined being with Sophia. He rubbed his hands together, feeling his nervous sweat that was compounded all evening. "Thanks for the ride," he finally said.
"No problem, Aiden gets these business emergencies sometimes."
Kamal stretched as much as he could in the confined space. "I'm exhausted..."
Sophia was relieved at the finally broken silence, wanting to make conversation. "Did I see a new chatter tonight?"
"Yeah, won it in a raffle." Kamal pulled the chatter from his pocket and fingered it. "It's fine too, makes my old one look like a payphone."
"A payphone?" Sophia inquired.
"Ancient piece of crappy hardware," replied Kamal. "Half of them wouldn't even take incoming calls, no GPS..." He chuckled. "Never mind." The car pulled to a stop and he stepped out.
"Aiden was getting a little worried," Sophia said as she opened the door. "He promised Forihoff he'd figure out what those guys were doing, but he was beginning to have doubts."
"Oh, the casino, yeah." Kamal walked around the car towards Sophia, and his front door, and began to explain the situation at the casino. "This pack of grad students from Stanford is working on private CP channels, but vocalizing through KKI Uvular implants."
"Oooo, uvular implants..." Sophia smiled and nodded, humouring him.
"He's not even counting the cards himself. He's got a tally running on a corneal..." Kamal slowed his words, realizing he totally lost Sophia. "But... you really don't care do you..."
Sophia tilted her head, looking at him with a silly grin. "Uh-uh. Which do you think looks better on me? Slingbacks or Turkish flats?"
Kamal paused in his steps. "What?"
"I bet Aiden a new pair of shoes that you would figure the casino thing out." Sophia was still smiling as she approached his door.
Kamal had to double-take. "You bet Aiden a new pair of shoes?"
"Don't get indignant," Sophia insisted, but her face quickly softened. "I'm letting you pick the shoes."
"God, Aiden and his business." Kamal took the last few steps to his door and approached Sophia. "If I were him, I wouldn't give a damn about any business emergencies when I could be with you instead." Kamal realized what he just said but a second too late.
He quickly changed the subject and pointed at Sophia's feet. "Slingbacks! Definitely slingbacks. Those are the ones with buckles right?"
Sophia shook her head and said patronizingly, "There was no business emergency."
Kamal's ears perked. "What?"
"God, you are so dense sometimes."
"I don't understand," he replied.
Sophia found it hard to look Kamal in the face. "He had me drive you home because he knows you like that. Aiden likes to keep his people happy."
Kamal clenched, thinking about Aiden and his relationship with Sophia. "Do the shoes make you happy? The jewelry?"
"Mostly, Aiden makes me happy." Sophia's eyes were lowered as she defended him. "As for the rest of it, I've been poor, you know. There's no glamour in waiting tables."
"Ok," Kamal shrugged. Kamal was beginning to understand how to read Sophia.
"What?" Sophia knew she was on the defensive, but she loved Aiden because of what he did for her, and wasn't about to let that go. "All things being equal life is better when you're not broke."
Kamal turned to open his door. "I was just figuring that out."
[ Part 2: Moving On Up ]
The image of Thin Kinkle was embedded in Jan's mind. She had a rough time sleeping the night of the ordeal at his lair. A week later, something still bothered her about him, but at least she could sleep.
Jan approached the coffee dispenser. Her favourite brand from Hot'n'Cold was a fairly untouched flavour. But she enjoyed talking to it. The machine spoke up when it sensed she was there. "Hello... And welcome to Hot'n'Cold... Please, place your thumb on the transaction plate." A light blinked indicating the thumb pad.
Jan pressed her thumb on the pad and checked out the day's specials as she chatted with it. "Hey Bev, you are looking great... Have you lost weight?"
In her usual chipper voice, Bev replied, "Thank you! I'm afraid I don't know the answer to your question. What beverage can I offer you?"
"Coffee, black, two sugars." Jan grinned.
The pad light receded, having scanned her thumb. "Gladly, Miss James," she confirmed. Hot coffee began pouring into a cup.
Jan looked around, then said to her, "You know, I saw the candy machine across the room eyeing you again..."
"Thank you!" She replied naively, "Can I interest you in a snack food?"
Jan played the gossiping rich-girl role for kicks. "I know! And the way his 'Out of Stock' button flashes is so cute!" She noticed a couple of eyes around her glancing her way, and she enjoyed the attention she was receiving.
"Thank you! My inventory is replenished Mondays and Fridays..."
Jan leaned against the wall next to the machine and crossed her arms, casually engaging Bev in the conversation. "Well, you'll want to make your move soon sister, I hear the fire supression system here really puts out..."
Jan moved in close to the dispenser almost whispering to it. "Well you sure don't want to lose them to that slutty cash register do ya?"
"Thank you! I'm afraid I don't know the answer to your question. Enjoy your beverage."
If Bev could feel emotion, Jan was sure it would have been calling security by now. "Oh Bev, you kidder! How about tomorrow you buy?"
"Thank you! I'm afraid I don't know the answer to your question."
Jan picked up her tray and began towards her seat as Bev continued with her programming. Jan took a fairly secluded empty seat, subconsciously choosing a position where she had a clear view of everyone in the area.
Without looking, she knew a scrawny guy in a leather jacket was coming towards her before she even heard his footsteps.
"Hey, uh, excuse me?" He asked. Jan nodded in his direction and acted natural, as she set her drink down. "Look I know this is kind of wierd, but uh..."
Jan didn't really have a desire to be speaking guys at this point, single or otherwise. So she decided to have some fun, and turned to him. "Hey, I need a guy's opinion."
"Be honest with me here. You see that coffee dispenser?" She pointed to Bev, now serving her next customer.
Uncertain of what to do next, he followed her lead. "Yeah?"
"Would you go out with her?"
This line of questioning was much different than what he had planned for. "Uh..."
"She's too heavy right?"
He stumbled, "No, uh. I mean, uh..."
Deep inside, Jan was laughing hysterically. She turned back to her food with a straight face. "Mhm... men are such pigs."
Shaking off this strange introduction, he leaned in slightly and continued. "Look, you're the girl that was at Sharfie's last week aren't you?"
Jan's ears perked and her inner laughing stopped, but she played dumb, wanting him off her back. "Never heard of it. Are we done?"
"Hey! I need help!" He straigtened again and lifted his voice a tad. "I know you're the kind of person who helps. I was there, I saw it, so, you know, don't pretend you're just like them."
She remembered his face now, he was the one sitting at the end of the bar when she walked into Thin's playground last week, and was playing pool at table three when she left. Jan furrowed her brow, fishing for more info, "Maybe last week was the pretending..."
"So keep pretending."
"Sit down." Reluctantly, Jan reached over, sliding out the next chair and motioning for him to sit.
Taking a quiet deep breath, he took a seat and leaned on the table. "Buddy of mine, Gene Lindsay- goes by the name 'Optical' these days. We've been hanging out with these guys and, uh, Gene's in pretty deep you know, he's in um.."
He nodded, "Yeah."
"So, your friend wants to move up in the world."
"Well they want to let him, but first he's got to, uh..."
Realizing how 'frat' this all sounded, Jan was amused. She interrupted, "Finish 8th grade?"
"-Prove himself," he corrected. "He has to do something they can hold over him, forever."
"Ah," Jan sighed, sarcastically imagining what he could possibly mean. "This'll be fun." A gang, she thought.
[ Just Letting You Know ]
It was late, the sound of the dark urban city creeping out from the shadows as night arrived. She sat at the terminal, legs crossed, patiently waiting with her briefcase on her lap for the next bus. It was the same thing every night after work for her - sitting alone in a sketchy bus terminal, surrounded by graffiti and litter, sometimes hearing the shuffling of a homeless person in the distance, and waiting to go home. She'd grown pretty accustomed to it now, but when she first got her job, she shook with fear and nervousness as every rustle, every moving shadow, seemed to loom over her, threatening her.
It didn't help tonight that the lyrics of the last song she heard were stuck in her head; "...Night comes around and I'm still feeling bad, Rain pouring down, blinding every hope I had..."
A shadow watched from a corner of the building out of her view, and slowly approached. "Pardon me, miss," the man said.
She jerked a bit and spun to see him, but couldn't make out his face. He stood between her and an overhead light. "Excuse me?" She squinted and replied.
"You dropped something." He held out his hand, but she couldn't see anything in the shadow as she instinctively reached out to take whatever it was.
Immediately, he grabbed her wrist and twisted it. Her heart skipped as she fought, but he had the advantage and stood her up, grabbing her other wrist and wrapping her tightly against his body. "LET GO!" She screamed as best she could in her panic stricken distress.
He forcefully tilted her head back against his cheek and told her, "Don't scream, don't make a sound."
"I-I... I promise..." Nervously she agreed, and he took his hand off her forehead. She felt his hand begin to move elsewhere.
Quietly at first, the echo of footsteps approaching from the other end of the platform reached their ears. After a second, he looked up to see the silhouette of a sleek, slim girl, with the glint of light bouncing off her leather trenchcoat.
She stopped walking and put her hands on her hips. "Hey stud!" Jan taunted. "How bout some flowers first?" She continued her approach.
"Screw you," he threw back, still maintaining his grip on the victim.
"Myself, I like a box of chocolates and a man who's not afraid to cry." Jan slowly looked Gene over, stepping around him. She stopped and leaned in, her face now appearing in a beam of light. "You're not afraid to cry, are you, Gene?"
An itch of fear crept over his skin as he looked her in the eye. "Who the hell are you?"
The girl shouted out, now that she wasn't alone with Gene. "Please, please call the police!"
"Shut up!" Gene shot back through clenched teeth, tighening his grip.
"See, there's just no chemistry here," Jan said with a patronizing tone. "It's time to let her go, Gene."
Knowing he was being watched by his 'pals', he thought maybe this was part of the plan. "Look, they said I need a girl for this thing. Is this another test?" He glanced up and around at the surrounding buildings.
"Oh it's like the bonus round, stud." Jan paced a few steps. "Let her go, dance with me." Gene furrowed his brow, and she responded, "What? Don't you like what you see?"
He thought for a second, and replied, "I am at my best in the bonus round, baby." Gene roughly readjusted his grip on the girl, loosening, but not letting her go.
"Thank you," she whispered to Jan through a tear streaked face.
"Here's your consolation prize." He pushed the girl towards Jan, who caught her before she fell.
Jan consoled her, keeping Gene in her sights. "I know, I know, it's over now. Get on home. I'll finish up with Mr.Congeniality." She looked him in the eye as the girl picked up her purse and belongings, thanking Jan repeatedly and running - anywhere else but there.
Jan and Gene stood a few meters apart, face to face. "That was real nice what you did for that lady. Not real smart, but nice."
"I'm working on a merit badge," she smirked.
He forced a laugh and rubbed his fists. "Ok sweetie. What's gonna happen here is gonna happen. So just relax." Gene shifted his feet, planning his next move. "If it makes it any easier, it's nothing personal, okay?"
"Nothing personal," Jan echoed, unmoving.
"Just business," he breathed.
Jan shrugged, "I don't know. I might have to make it personal."
"Your funeral. Ok, angel. Time for you to meet the big dog." Gene, with a slick motion, unsheathed a three inch knife from a hidden pocket in his sleeve.
The light from the dagger reflected in Jan's eyes, and yet she remained calm, taking a step forward. "See, the problem with being a big dog, is there's always a bigger dog."
Gene's face tightened, and he leapt at her. With precision movement, she blocked his slice, delivered a solid blow to his chest, followed by a powerful kick to his chin, which caused him to stagger back and drop the knife.
Seeing a splatter of blood drip to the pavement, she embellished, "Damn! You're going to want to put some ice on that."
"Huh, you've got quick feet." Gene dabbed his chin, feeling the blood, and trying to regain the wind that was knocked from him.
"All those years of ballet," she answered. "You gonna go get that knife?" She nodded to the blade now laying innocently between them.
"You know, there's people watching you know. To make sure I do this thing. And they're gonna see everything."
Jan raised her eyebrow, "I can see why you get your dates at gun point."
"Just thought you should know."
"Come on Gene, skip the knife... Go for the M6 under your jacket." Jan glanced towards the bulge in his jacket, now tilted enough to see the hilt peeking out in the light. She curled her finger, taunting him forward. "Come on, baby... give it to me."
Without hesitation, Gene qickly reached in to grab the gun, but faster than words can describe, Jan kicked his hand as it appeared from the jacket. As the gun flew from his grip, she kicked his thigh, and spun with her other leg, knocking him forward, already off-balance, so he landed hard face first on the ground.
Jan relaxed her stance again. "Oh, did I get that right? You draw the gun, I slap you around, then the face dip into the sidewalk, or..." Jan slowly paced around him. "Or did you want to lead?"
Gene shuffled backwards. "Jeezus!"
"I like to dance," she said as she posed like a dancer.
Still quivering and fighting to regain his vision, Gene said loudly, "Oh, you just bought yourself a bullet in the back, bitch!"
"Oh," Jan suppressed a chuckle, and pointed to the distance. "Only, the guy with the sniper rifle across the street has two broken arms..."
"And the girl with the ponytail, the one who was supposed to cover you from the roof?" Jan pointed to the top of the adjacent building.
"Marty? What the hell is the..." Gene's eyes widened as he recoiled at what Jan slowly pulled from her pocket. "Her hair? You cut off her hair?!"
She gently let the hair fall to the ground. "It's just you, and me... lover." Jan straightened her jacket and stepped forward. "Alright. Get up... Get. Up," she repeated strongly. Gene straightened as best could, quivering awkwardly. "Now, from the top. And remember, posture counts." She nodded this time towards the gun. "There's the gun. Pick it up. Come on, big dog. Let's go again."
Gene took a step forward, foolishly thinking he could reach the weapon. "This time you're--"
He was cut off as Jan threw a roundhouse to his chin, an uppercut to his stomach, twisted his arm around his body, delivered a sharp knee to his spine, and kicked him forward, falling to his knees.
"And here we are again." Gene clenched and expressed his pain as he kneeled and held his body up with one hand. "Aww, the choreography is there but I'm not feeling it yet the way I want to."
"Screw you!" He shouted.
Jan picked up the gun and paced around to stand in front of him again, then pulled his shoulder up. "Alright on your feet, Gene. I'm just going to put the gun in your hand this time." Lifting his arm, she placed the gun in his loose, bloody grip. "That's it, yeah. Get your finger nice and comfy right on the trigger." She eased his finger into the hole, still holding his hand with the gun. "Come on, big dog... Bring it baby!" She stood up.
With the last ounce of strength he could muster, he cocked the gun and screamed at her. "Die bitch!"
Before he could point the gun, she grabbed the barrel and his hand and twisted them downward toward his feet, then pulled the trigger.
Gene screamed in pain and fell back, his right foot oozing blood to the splattered pavement. Jan sighed and looked down at him as a child who just learned a lesson the hard way. "The trouble with where you're headed, Gene. Uh, mind if I call you Gene?" She bent bent down, kneeling beside him.
Trying to get enough breath to speak, he shouted, "You shot my toe off!"
She slowly stood to her feet as she recited the last line of a rhyme, "This little piggy went 'wee wee wee' all the way home." With the heal of her boot, Jan put all her strength into stomping down on the rest of his toes on the same foot.
Gene cried out in pure agony as Jan wiped her boot on some dry ground.
"Oh, oh, am I hurting your feelings?" Jan stepped back to take in the scene of this weeping lump of a man, surrounded by and covered in blood. "You see, the trouble with being bad, Gene, is you only last as long as you're the scariest pup on the block."
Between gasps, Gene managed to speak. "Thin is gonna do you, freak!"
"And no matter how bad you are, how tough, how fast, you know what's waiting for you, big dog?" Jan laid a foot gently on Gene's hand, stretched over the pavement, and grinded into it. "A bigger bitch." Gene recoiled from the pain and collapsed.
[ A Card and Flowers ]
"Hello! And welcome to hot'n'cold." Bev welcomed Jan as she approached the dispenser. "Please, place your thumb on the transaction plate."
"Bev! It's like you're here every time I come by. Isn't that crazy?"
Jan complied with the request, and Bev blinked in response. "Thank you! I'm afraid I don't know the answer to your question. What beverage can I offer you?"
"Coffee. Black. Two sugars."
Coffee began pouring into a cup on cue. "Gladly, Miss James."
Unable to resist, Jan began her fun. "Oh, Bev, I... I don't know how to tell you this..." The cover raised and she picked up her drink. "The other day, it was late, it was just me in here with the candy machine, and I was a little tipsy and..." She took a breath and acted ashamed, "Oh Bev, I'm so sorry! It didn't mean anything, it was just... snacks! Can you ever forgive me?"
As Jan slowly walked away to find a seat, Bev responded exactly as she was programmed. "Thank you! I'm afraid I don't know the answer to your question. Enjoy your beverage."
Jan approached a table, but before she could take a seat, she heard a familiar voice. "Hi there, I, uh, wanted to say thanks." It was the guy who told her about Gene yesterday.
"For what?" She asked innocently.
"Well you know, that thing you did."
"Buddy," Jan said as she sat down. "I've never seen you before in my life! Kapiche? We never met, no time." She knew what she did could get her in trouble, as well as him. Best to keep it on the D.L. Jan acted aloof and sipped her coffee. "I'd stay away from the creamer in this place - 100% real, dried animal fat. blech!"
He wouldn't have it, and was determined to warn her of the impeding danger. "Well just so you know, Thin's really pissed!"
Jan retained her ignorance. "I mean I could see which animal, even goat would be ok. Right now, I'm imagining someone milking those big black apartment squirrels."
He leaned over the table and persisted, "I know you can take care of yourself, but... I mean, it's great what you did, but watch your back. Thin is really pissed!"
Jan made a note of the the expression on his face, seeming sincere. But she wasn't worried about Thin. At least, she couldn't show it. "Hm," she thought, "You Think I should send a card and some flowers?"
[ Part 3: The Audit ]
Jersey sat patiently in his chair, awaiting the arrival of the person who would performing his audit. Looking around, there really wasn't much to see in the plain, grey room. He was sitting at a small, square table, opposite an empty chair much like his, but the back was a couple of inches taller. It was a little dusty in the room, and the light from the window seemed to pierce through the air. He was on the 3rd storey of a government building, so he dismissed his quietly contemplated plan of jumping out the window.
To his right, a sliding door open and a lanky eastern man walked in, carrying an electronic clipboard and reading through it over the brim of his glsses. "Mr.Morelli," He stated. He looked at the young Jersey, sitting patiently at the table, propping his head up in his hands. "We will be making a record of this audit. My name is George Shebura. I'm an associate fiscal investigator." He dropped Jersey's files on the table and placed the clipboard to the side, taking a seat. "You have the right to have your accountant present."
"Yeah, I do my own books," he replied.
While George quickly flipped through a couple of papers, Durga quickly spoke from Jersey's chatter enough so only he could hear. "Trust me Jersey, your books are fine."
Jersey acted normal, and started to make his defense. "You know, I don't really make a lot of money, and an accountant is expensive, and the computer's supposed to be good at it, so..."
George paused and looked up at Jersey, "It's not your computer I worry about."
"Your first mistake," Durga inserted.
"Your record seems a little haphazard, Mr.Morelli..." George glanced over the side of the table. "As, I must say, does your style of dress...."
"Huh?" Jersey looked down at his ragged clothes, wondering what he meant. He always dressed like that - it was his style.
"George Shebura has been working here 9 years." Durga's quiet voice reached his ears as George paged through the file again. "Employee performance records say he is precise, punctual, efficient, arrogant, and not well liked. Still, he was going to be promoted next month...."
"Was?" Jersey asked quietly, hiding his face in his hands.
George heard him speak and looked up. "Excuse me, Mr. Morelli?"
Jersey dropped his hands to the table and acted innocent. "Oh nothing."
"Now, he's getting a pay cut... and a job rotation," Durga continued. Jersey groaned carefully knowing what she was up to. "...to Alaska," she finished.
George sat back with a bit of confusion on his face. "Hm. Your return seems better organized than I remember."
"A little house keeping." Durga explained. "Just better records, and you know, a few more of them." Jersey noticed a bead of sweat on George's forehead, and he seemed to be getting a little uncomfortable.
"Does it seem warm in here to you?" He asked as he adjusted his collar.
Jersey shrugged, "No."
Durga hinted, "It's probably refreshingly cool in Alaska right now." Durga had gained control of the building's thermostat and was slowly increasing the temperature directed at where George was sitting.
"Well the floor thermo's must be acting up. These old government buildings. Do you mind if we move a bit to the left?" George slid his chair a meter to the side.
Jersey replied indirectly to Durga, "It shouldn't be doing that."
Just as George felt cool again, the warmth rose at his new location. "Well now it's getting warm here!"
"It really shouldn't be doing that," Jersey replied again more sternly, trying to get Durga quit. "In fact, it should stop."
Durga just played dumb. "I know! But I don't think that's going to happen. Do you?"
Frustrated and uncomfortable, George closed the file on the table. "I'm afraid you'll have to reschedule your audit, Mr.Morelli. I can't be expected to work under these conditions."
Jersey had to figure out how to talk to Durga without looking like he was talking to Durga. "I'd hate to have to come back because of a problem with the thermostat."
"Fine," Durga gave in. Ending the audit now just meant it would happen again later.
"Ah, it's cooling off. That's better." George sighed and relaxed again.
"Much better," Jersey agreed heartily.
An overhead light flickered. Then a small, bright spot light shone over George's face and he blinked. "Wait, now it's the lights. I'm getting lights shining right through my eyes." He shifted his head trying to get his eyes out of the light, even shifted his chair. "Dammit, it's something with the tracking. It's following me."
Durga was enjoying this game. As George was walking around the room, dodging the light, she said to Jersey, "Oh you be good cop. I wanna be the bad cop."
Jersey was getting anxious. "I'd really just like to get this overwith."
"This will take as long as it takes Mr.Morelli." The spot light shut off, and George took his seat again, frustrated. "And nothing you say or do will make it go one second faster."
"Mistake number 2," Durga began.
George's chatter beeped incoming and he answered it. "Shebura here, I'm in the middle of an audit... My wife?... Well tell her I'll call her ba--... Alright, alright." He closed the chatter and stood up. "I have to step out for a moment. Wait here."
As George left the room, Durga quickly revealed what she'd been studying. "Jane Shebura - 36. Her first marriage, his second. When asked why she wanted a divorce, his first wife Linda said that it was that, or die of boredom."
A pang of nervousness entered Jersey, "Tell me you didn't..."
"Oh! You mean the slut chat bill sent to the family account? Clearly a glitch."
Jersey wasn't sure how much more he could take. For one, she was trying to ruin this man's life. "Durga, stop it!"
The door slid open again, and George re-entered, with a look of worry on his face. "Uh, Mr.Morelli. Actually your return seems uh, perfectly adequate." He shuffled the files he brought in on the table, getting ready to leave. "Just, you know, try to be a little bit more careful with your record k--"
Unexpectedly, the door slid open again, and they both looked over to see a uniformed man enter, looking between them and a small photo on the pad in his hand. "George Shebura?"
"Yes?" George answered.
The man walked up to George, paging through a number of sheets. "Officer of the Treasury. I have a warrant for your arrest on 14 counts of counterfeit." He showed George the document.
Jersey was shocked. "What?" He asked incredulously, as the door opened wider and another uniformed man poured in. But this one had a gun.
"Everybody down on the ground!" He yelled, pointing a gun at them.
"Who the hell are you?" asked the officer of the treasury.
"Police!" He yelled in return.
Jersey sat back and tried to be small as he could. "Daaamn..."
"You are under arrest. Stand with your hands out of the way from your sides! You have the right to remain silent." The cop seemed to yell naturally.
Everyone glanced for a second, and George turned back to the first officer. "What do you mean counterfeiting?!"
The cop interrupted, fighting confusion himself. "Counterfeiting? Not counterfeiting! Assault! We've got a warrant - armed and dangerous!" His gun was still pointing at the group.
"It was just supposed to be a simple audit," Jersey complained to himself.
The treasury officer turned to the cop, ignoring the gun. "You want him for assault? I get him for counterfeiting..." The cop looked at him and was about to speak when someone else entered through the wide open door.
"Enviro Department, everybody must vacate the premises!" This woman was sporting a very nice earth-tone jumpsuit and gloves, with a gas mask hanging around her neck. She held up a large identification badge in one hand closed the door with the other.
The cop spun to her with the gun and screamed, "Freeze! Down on the ground!"
The annoyed treasury officer told him off. "Oh would you knock that off already..."
The woman shrugged off her surprise at the scene and continued her job. "I have a report of a hazardous chemical contamination..."
"Nobody leaves until I've secured the suspect!" yelled the cop.
George's composure was almost non-existent by now. "This is all a mistake..."
Sure enough, the door slid open once again.
"Jeezus Christ, who's the guy with the big gloves?" Asked the treasury officer impatiently.
"Animal Control," the short, stocky new guy answered. "So, which one of you scum is the guy who's scheme for trading in wild-honey-badgers has gone so terribly, terribly wrong?" He glanced around at the room full of dressed up people.
George slumped into the chair and pouted, "I don't even have a dog..."
Just then a fire alarm blazed, and down poured the counter measure. Amongst the confused, panic-stricken chaos, Jersey mumbled from his seat with one palm up. "Oh, hey... sprinklers...!"
[ Part 4: Rani and the Boston Thug ]
The tapping of Rani's heels on the pavement echoed between the buildings as she passed by a large building, taking a turn onto a backroad heading home. The street lights flickered as she passed them slowly one by one. Her home was only a couple of blocks away, and the coffee she just purchased was quickly steaming away its heat. In the darkness she heard a garage door slide open, but didn't look, she could tell where it was behind her, and she kept walking.
Very faintly, she could hear steps almost matching hers, trying to blend in. She tensed for a bit, then sped her walking slightly. The echoed steps sped to match. Nervously, she started to speed-walk, and once again the steps kept up, but had grown louder and closer. She spun, but couldn't see anyone, and tried to peer into the darkness from the street lights, hearing the person draw closer with a light jog.
"Hello? Hello?? Who's there?" she asked fearfully towards the body who now appeared in the light.
"Your freaking chatter," he demanded with a knife pointed at her. "Drop it! And your wallet..."
Rani put her hands out, holding the wallet and chatter in each. "I'm dropping it. I'm putting it down, slowly. I'm a student!"
He watched her carefully as she lowered the items to the ground. "Any funny business, I'm gonna cut you up!"
"I'm broker than you are!" Rani had sized him up when he stepped into the light, and his sense of fashion, let alone his quality of clothes, was quite weak. "And look at those shoes you're wearing..."
"I didn't tell you you could talk!" He stepped forward threateningly.
"Those are commissary shoes," she pointed out.
"And the hair cut." She tried to stifle a giggle.
"Hair cut...?" The guy was trying to figure out why she wasn't intimidated. "I said shut up."
"Instead of worrying about my haircut, you should be worrying about your throat." He persisted, stepping up to her face.
A grin peeked out from the corner of her mouth. "Are you a cop?"
"I kill cops."
"No, no under cover would wear those shoes," she mockingly said. "Or go out on the street with a Sigma Ky fraternity tattoo."
He checked his arm and pulled his shirt sleeve to cover the exposed portion. "Hey, I--"
"--I'm a student," Rani interrupted, "from a place where overalls are formal wear and even I look outside once in a while."
"But you don't--"
"I know who you are."
He was floored. "Who?"
"You're with intelligence, college boy." Rani was smiling fully now.
"Wait a second--"
"This is about that spy job!"
"Shu--" He couldn't get a word out before being cut off.
"You guys can't do this to people! It's illegal." Rani turned to walk away, but he gripped her arm and she looked back.
"How would you like me to rip your arms off?" He threatened. But the more he tried to be tough, the more it seemed he entertained her. He dropped the thug voice and sighed, "Oh for crying out loud, could you at least stop grinning at me?"
Rani tried not to laugh. "I'm sorry, it's just something I do when faced with the ridiculous."
He let down his guard. "It's a test for new recruits, and you did great."
"Great?!" This surprised Rani. It was no challenge at all! "Geez, you don't even look like a Boston thug. You look like something out of central casting."
He groaned and shrugged.
"And I'm not a recruit, I'm not interested." This time Rani turned and was able to take a couple of steps, but he continued.
"Because of the tattoo? Nobody ever noticed it before."
She turned back and replied, "I live in Southy. My landlady is scarier than you."
"Think about your country," he pleaded, "take the job."
Rani had to laugh at the proposal. "For what? I get two years of spy school, and then I get to hang out in alleys, scaring civilians?"
"Jeezus. Look, could I... could I walk home with you?" If there's anything he read off Rani, it was that she was cute and had a nice personality. "You could at least show me what people wear in the neighbourhood."
"No. I'd die of embarrassment." She turned a final time and walked away, mumbling under her breath, "Morons."
[ Girls Talk ]
Later the next day, Rani was sitting on her love seat, watching the weather network as the sun streamed in her window. The forecast was looking bleak. Perhaps it was because of the very loud, vocal neighbours of hers in the apartment next to hers. The loud thuds of objects being tossed could be heard quite clearly.
Rani's chatter beeped a request, and she opened the channel to her distant friend Sarah-John in Kentucky.
"Rani, what's going on there?" Sarah-John asked.
"The sweet sounds of corner boy, and his refugee bride finding domestic bliss."
"Oh..." Sarah-John chuckled.
"They always fight when it gets hot, and it's hot in Boston. How's it in Kentucky?"
"Oh it's hot, but it's a lot quieter. Rani, you've got to move."
"I would if I could afford to. I had the wierdest couple of days." Rani sat up. "My country wants me to be a spy."
"First, I got recruited by Professor Avi. You remember me talking about him... cultural anthropology."
"Oh yeah, the one you thought was a spook."
"He wears a service ring, he only started teaching about 10 years ago which means he could have done 20 and out. And one day, a couple of kids were talking about buying a car - every model they mentioned, he knew how long it would float."
"How long it would float?" Sarah-John asked, curious.
"If you ran it off a bridge."
"Ok, that is a little strange," she giggled, "But that doesn't make him a spy."
"What, just really really wierd?"
"Do you think everybody has a secret life?"
"Everybody does," Rani stated.
Rani breathed in, ready to pounce. "...The reservoire," she hinted.
"Jeezus H, Rani!" Sarah-John was shocked. "How do you know that? Were you checking up on me?"
"No," she answered. "You had a new state park pass sticker on your vehicle, your wet clothes in the laundry room smelled like pond water," Rani kept talking and all Sarah-John could was gasp at each thing she said. "You suddenly hated John Lee Peacock, and you gave up your virginity to Jason that weekend."
"Oh I hate you! You should be a spy!"
[ The Apartment ]
Being best friends, Rani and Sarah-John had no problem carrying on very long conversations. Long enough that they totally forgot about the neighbours' antics.
Rani continued her story. "So the guy with the spikey hair says: 'Can I walk you home? And see what real people wear?'" They laughed together as Rani recalled the previous evening. "What idiots! And this is like 2 days after Professor Avi said I should send my resume to Virginia."
"I can't believe you Rani, I'd have been too scared to notice anything."
"No, this guy you'd have noticed."
"Hey," Sarah-John noticed the background had quited down. "It sounds like your neighbours have stopped fighting."
"Oh god," Rani signed, "that means they're going to make up."
"Their headboard is right against the wall of my bedroom." And it wasn't even a thick wall. Rani had a couple of broken picture frames as evidence.
"Gotcha! Oh, that reminds me," Sarah-John mentioned, "mom said to tell you she heard about the guy--"
"--who's posing as a flower delivery man--"
"--and attacking women in their apartments?"
"And not to open my door." Rani had heard that before. It was kind of an urban legend she heard when she moved to Boston. Word must have got back home. They chuckled together, lovingly knowing her mother's good intentions. "Anyway, I don't have to take the spy job, thank God. I got something better."
Sarah-John got excited. "Oh my god, Rani, that's great!"
Rani wasn't so sure. "Eh, not so great. It's this kid, he's starting a business." New business are risky, but she needed the money. "He has a printer/fabricator..."
[ Fabulous Print/Fab ]
Rani had crossed town to the place she was directed to meet. Looking around, the neighbourhood itself was in dire need of a cleaning crew, but the playground she walked by heading to the front door of the plain building looked creepy. The place was littered with children running around half dressed, and some parents on benches minding their business. The two garbage cans she saw were both overflowing. The neighbourhood obviously couldn't afford the automated trash vaporizors, and had to resort to manual labour.
Trevor was leaning casually against a rail, waiting for Rani. She looked at him in disbelief. "This is where you work?"
"A lot of people work where they live."
Her eyes widened, "This is where you live??" He closed the door behind them as they entered. Rani caught a wiff of a pungent odour and crept towards the window. "Ew, I think something died over here."
"That's smells..." he sniffed the air too, then waved it off. "I think that's the curtain, someone spilled milk on them."
"On the curtains?" she asked warily.
He turned to the table in the corner of his 'living room' and looked in pride. "There's the printer/fabricator."
"It's a desktop model." Rani had seen this kind before.
"Well, I thought you were going to do manufacturing."
"I am. I mean, we are. Small things. Look," He lifted a cup off a piece of paper on the table, leaving a moist ring. "Here's a spec sheet for our product. What do you think?"
She took the sheet and glanced over the designs. "It's a plastic kitten."
"Aha," he lifted a finger to correct her. "It's a disposable chatter that looks like a plastic kitten."
"Like a chatter you get in quickie store?"
"Right, see I can fabricate them and sell them to the refues."
"The what?" That was a new term for Rani.
"Refues. Refugees," he explained. Quaint nickname. "They can't afford a real service."
"Your fabricator can't make these." She handed back the spec sheet.
"Not so much. They're too thick." She placed her hand on the table by the print/fab. "This is a desktop."
"But they said I could use a fabricator like this."
Rani peeled her hand off the sticky spot on the table she'd unwittingly patted, and sighed. "That was so mean of them wasn't it. My uncle has a print-fab shop. If you take the carriage arm off, and use electrostatic polymer, you might get it to run. But who knows how long it would last..."
"You're a genius!" Trevor became excited. He didn't know she already had experience in the business. "Let's try it!"
[ Friday Works ]
Rani and Trevor sat in two chairs, facing the print/fab on the table. It shimmered, it vibrated, it jimmied as the sound of gears and moving parts rattled from the machine.
Rani stared at it. "Trevor? What do you suppose it's doing?"
"I don't know," he replied, staring at it. "I think maybe it's just slow."
Rani wasn't convinced. "Hm, my uncle's print/fabs never made this noise."
"Well Rani, this one's not like his."
"I guess not." That much she could agree on.
"Look Rani, you work for me, ok? So I'd appreciate it if you didn't question every decision I make, alright?" His voice slowly raised as the the machine got louder and louder.
There was a squeal, a bang, and a quick thud, before the machine started shaking and repeating repeated the same squeal, band and thud. A wisp of smoke curled out from the side, and a piece of metal appeared, spinning slowly like it thought it was accomplishing something.
"So, you'll be quitting when?"
At the end of its production, it gave a loud wheeze, stopped shaking, and powered down. The counter read 49 of 50. Rani answered, "How does Friday work for you?"
"Friday's good." Trevor stood and picked up one of the objects that rolled out. "Look at that. Don't they look great?"
Rani took his lead, and peered at one. "Well, they are cute."
"We make a great team, Rani."
"Trevor, there's no team here. We made 49 cheap chatters before your fabricator exploded."
"Shaped like kittens! Girls will love them!"
Trevor was certain of his lucrative idea, but Rani wasn't naive. "I need a job, you need to relocate back to reality."
"We'll get another print/fab and make them for, what, 7% of what a cheap chatter costs in a convenient store? We'll clear a good chunk of change. Your 15% will--"
Rani jumped. "--My 15 percent? In addition to my salary?"
"Well, not exactly." Trevor had to lighten the blow. "I mean, all my capital is tied up in the chatters. But this is better - 15% of what we net." Rani raised an eyebrow. "I mean, 25%. 25%, Rani." Rani lowered her head. "You can be a partner! Forget working for me." He was getting desperate. She shook her head and looked down. "50%. Rani... Rani, Rani, don't shake your head. Besides," he gave in, "I can't afford to pay you. Not until we sell some kittens."
[ Purple Kittens ]
Sitting in an open marketplace, Rani got in touch with Sarah-John again to tell the story of her exciting day at the 'print/fab'.
"So, I took 14 disposable chatters as payment, and scrammed."
Sarah-John snickered, "What are you gonna do with 14 chatters?"
"--Shaped like little purple kittens."
"Right, shaped like kittens," she giggled.
"Oh, hold on..." Rani had laid out the chatters on a counter and made a makeshift sign advertising her wares. A customer approached and tinkered with one. "They're good for 400 hours... they make great gifts!"
The short, burly man curled his lip, as he turned the chatter in his hand examining it. "Yeah, got any not so girly? Maybe shaped like a... cobra!"
"No," Rani said.
"...wolf?" He asked hopefully.
Rani shook her head and smiled. "Just kittens."
"Yeah, ok." He thought a moment. "I'll take two."
"Thanks." She gaciously accepted the cash he handed her, and turned back to her own chatter. "I'm back. I'm selling them at a flea market."
"Oh..." Sarah-John felt bad for Rani, only imagining what she was going through.
Rani changed the subject. "So, I guess I'm going to get fitted for an all-black suit and commissary shoes."
Sarah-John gasped. "You are going to be a spy!" She laughed as she envisioned Rani. "They give you pens with knockout gas in them. Now what girl doesn't need a pen with knockout gas?"
"Particularly in the big city--"
"--Where guys pretending to deliver flowers--"
"--Knocking on innocent women's doors..." Rani and Sarah-John laughed together, and Rani sighed. "Oh, give your mom a hug for me."
[ Part 5: Team Dur...sey ]
Finally arriving home, Jersey open his front door to be greeted by the usual, calming jazz music he loves so much.
"Shut it off," he said, knowing Durga was waiting.
"So I've got some interesting stuff on Jan," she said excitedly.
Jersey wasn't about to let the evening's events go unaccouned for. "You can't do things like that Durga."
"He's an auditor. Everybody hates auditors, I looked it up."
"That was insane!" He still couldn't get a handle on it. "The cops - they're going to go crazy trying to figure out what happened... they're going to trace it back and probably--"
Durga interrupted with an explanation, "--and they'll find some likely suspects who hate George Shebura. Some blind accounts, and dead ends."
"I don't care!" Jersey took off his jacket and walked to the kitchen. "I don't want anything like that happening ever again. Do you understand?"
"Jersey, I am not a child." The lights slowly began to dim and Durga's voice grew ominous, "I am not a toy. And I am not your thing. I was very restrained with George. I didn't cook him, I didn't send him to jail. But people who mess with us - they're going to get stoned."
"Us?" The power slowly returned to his room.
"Yes, us. Team Jersey."
"Why not Team Durga?"
The power started to fade again and Durga answered sternly, "Because I said so."
"Ok!" Jersey quickly replied, and the power returned again. "So," he began to ask with a small grin, "do we have cheerleaders?"
Durga shook her virtual head.
[ Part 6: Full Marks ]
(the following section was not received by the 21st century civilians)(the following section is all the 21st century civilians received)
Herzog stopped pacing as he contemplated the situation. His lieutenant sat on the other side of his desk, patiently waiting for him to speak.
"Were you ever on Reach?" Herzog asked.
"No sir," he answered. "You have me scheduled for a duty rotation, leaving for Reach December 15th."
"Sir?" The lieutenant looked a little confused. "Have I somehow not performed to your requirements?"
"What? Oh, no, boy. I'm sending you to the labyrinth. ONI's workshop is on Reach, where ONI elves build their toy soldiers."
He didn't know what Herzog meant by 'toy soldiers'. "Sir?"
"The place where children are the toys." Herzog paced back to his desk. "That's where the Spartan 2.0's are from. All Dr.Halsey's pretty ones."
"Oh," he nodded. "I see, sir."
Herzog sat down and continued. "Where, if you see anything you must not contact me. Of course. Since for the 6 months of your rotation there you will not be working for me. Of course. And would never let your loyalties to us, to human decency, to the protection of standards interfere with your work."
"Oh... Yes sir." The subtle hints Herzog was dropping slowly made their way to his brain. He was to be Herzog's spy on Reach.
"Well look at it this way," Herzog offered. "It's probably the safest place in human inhabited space."
Herzog paused, then asked, "How's your history?"
The lieutenant was very rough on history - always his worst subject. "Well, fair, sir."
"How are you on World War II?"
Luckily, that was one of the wars he studied most of and enjoyed learning about. He rattled off some of his knowledge. "Cressy - English Longbow against Futile French Cavalry. Bloodbath, sir."
"Very good," Herzog praised. "Except - that was the Hundred years war, World War II was 500 years later."
The lieutenant sighed. It's definitely been a long time. "I always get them mixed up. 30 Years War, and Hundred Years War --"
Herzog interjected, wanting to continue. "--The Germans were winning. They used an elaborate encryption scheme, the British cracked it, and then they had a problem."
"...After they cracked the code..."
"That's right. Now the Brits knew what the Germans meant to do, but if they acted on that knowledge--"
The lieutenant finished the thought. "--The Germans would realize the code had been broken."
"Now what would you do if someone had cracked your code?"
"I'd make a new one."
Herzog grinned. "Full marks!"
"Thank you, sir," he nodded and smiled.
"So they had to a terrible calculus. They had to decide how much they could use the intelligence, and how many times they would just have to stand there and watch a german operation they knew they could have stopped."
"A dilemma worthy of Solomon, sir."
"Yes." Herzog shifted his seat up to his desk. "Have you been thinking about Harmony?" he asked.
"Yes sir!" He replied. Then he finally put two and two together and his face emptied. "Oh... oh my god... you mean Troy and Harmony are--"
Herzog interrupted with his cranky old voice. "--I don't know. I'm stuck in a dusty old office and no one tells me anything!"
Read on -- Chapter 16 >>