"Who are you again?"

            Fabian Cortez smiled wider at the blanked screen. On the other end sat a confused plant manager for the Diagram Group. He was standing a public vidphone, night enshrouding him like an old friend, as the ghoul faced the Federation Senate building. Who am I, he mused. I am the soldier salting the fields of Carthage. I am the whisper into the ear of Da Vinci. I dropped the apple on Newton and planted the idea in Von Eisenstein's brain. I am much more than you, mere mortal, you who has no conception of the plots of ancients. "A friend. One who can help you more than you know."

            "Listen, I got no time for..."

            "How much did you lose when you were denied your promotion? Stock options? Christmas bonus? Your career?" Silence. Fabian was apparently hitting a nerve. Funny, it was just an educated guess. "Who took your place, M. Terrant? Who got the promotion that was yours?"     

            A human growl uttered from the manager's throat. "Theresa Denikson."

            Yes, Cortez smiled, man has evolved from the ape, but not by much. The hunting ground has changed, the stakes are different, but their fight is still for survival. "Is that the..." Fabian scrolled through the datapad beside him, "... vice-president for public relations?"

            "The new president of Tessier-Ashpool, S.A." Terrant corrected.

            "Ah, yes. Of course. The job you wanted. I can make that all change, M. Terrant. All you have to say is yes."

            "What do you want?"

            "Three letters. Y-e-s. Yes."

            Pause. Then the suit's growl returned. "Yes."

            "Thank you, M. Terrant. We will contact you in a week. Discom."


            For the next call, he took out his cybermodem from his coat pocket, tapped in the false image program, and connected into the vidphone receiver. Fabian now had the image of a rather dark-looking woman. Rather expensive toy, but Cortez preferred to work in secret. The ghoul typed in the phone number he had gotten off Malevont. A quick connection and suddenly there he was; Charles Babbage, executive vice-president of O'Reilly, Inc. He looked young for a corporate man. Dark hair, spotless suit... if he was any cleaner he'd squeak when he talked. "This is an unlisted number."

            "I got it from a unreliable source." the woman mask replied, ersatz foreign accent, alto voice.

            "And who was that?"

            "Aaron Malevont. He's planning to destroy you, but he's weak. I'd rather work for the big boy."

            Babbage seemed unimpressed. "Malevont's an idiot. I have nothing to fear from him."

            "He wanted you to be eliminated. Does that sound like a threat to you?"

            The suit blinked. "Go on."

            "I've got some dirt on him that would keep him off your back for good."

            "I'm listening."

            "Not now. Nothing's for free, M. Babbage. We'll need to meet later for the drop. If you're interested, I'll take five grand when I set up the drop, five when you get the data."

            "I can't afford to pay for a fairy tale."

            "Can you afford not to? As I said, Malevont wants you dead. You'll need to get the drop on him first."

            "His pattern doesn't suggest that."

            "That your pattern is fucked! Now do you want to deal or not?"

            Babbage thought about it. From the look in his eye, the suit wanted to bore into his soul, but he couldn't over shielded lines. "All right. When?"

            "Collect your creds. I'll call you tomorrow. Discom."

            After he hung up, Cortez thought it would be safer to change location. No matter how good his stealth software was, some net tracker with a name to make would hunt him down. He decided to get something to eat. The dawn was coming and he'd rather embrace the sun with a little food in his belly.


            In the morning, from a vidphone in a shuttle transfer station, after Fabian had barely choked down what the trucker's cafe called food, he connected another piece of the plan together. This time, with the image of a black man fed through his imagery software, he made a third call. A sweet receptionist (probably computer generated) came on. "Tessier-Ashpool, S.A. Changing humanity for a brighter future. How may I direct your call?"

            "Theresa Denikson, please."

            "I'm sorry, she's busy right now, may I..."

            Yep, it was a computer-generated receptionist. With a wave of his hand on the number pad, he punched in a code clearence. The saccharine secretary disappeared, replaced with the glow of their corporate symbol. Another second and the image of a older, middle-aged blonde woman appeared. "How did you..."

            "Shut up and listen. I know how O'Reilly managed to cut your appropriation funding."

            "Yeah, he drove an old satellite right into the heart of our plant. Problem is, we can't prove it."

            "I can."

            Pause. "How much?"    

            "Not over the phone, lady. Miss Kitty's, near Patton Base. Do you know where that is?"

            "No, but I can find it."

            "Good. Bring some bodyguards and ten grand. The place can get a little rough. I'll send a courier to pass you the data. 2015 hours, tonight."

            "How can I verify it?"

            "Oh, the data will speak for itself. Discom."

            Fabian changed the face back to his female pseudonym and placed the call. "M. Babbage, please."


            Around ten o'clock, the old ghoul sipped tea at a rather bad mix between a yuppie shopping mall and a Chinese-French bistro. The decorations were all the standard tourist crap, the paper curtains were sagging with several holes in them, and the seats had a nasty squeak if you moved slightly. However, the tea was excellent.

            Then came his fixer, struggling for breath, came in and with a giant squeak, sat back down. As the sorry excuse for a man caught his wind, Cortez grinned. "We really should stop meeting like this. What would the others think?"

            "Tell me why I had to race across town? This place is a suburban rat hole."

            "You need to get out more, you know, stretch your legs..."

            "Cut the crap, mystery guest. What's the score?"

            Fabian held up his cup of tea to his face, studied it, then glanced over at his charming companion. "I need some FTS. Activated by skin contact. I want your friends on the street to get it to me. Tonight."

            "FTS? Shit, man, that's a combat drug. Bio-augment does nasty shit to you, man. It's also locked up tight by the T.I."

            "That doesn't mean you can't get any."


            "Because I'm offering you two grand for it." Cortez slid over a credit chip. "Keep the change."

            "I... uh... yeah! When do you need it."

            "Tonight. Drop it off by the Miss Kitty. It's near Patton Base. 1850 hours. Don't be late."

            "You got it, man. Geez..." the fixer ran with the money before his fool could change his mind. Fabian's smile never diminished from his face. He realized that the fixer would have to be "fixed." He was too unstable to be reliable. The ghoul turned his attention to the porcelain in his hand. He stared, practically entraced by the tiny tea cup. Cortez had drank with the Yuan Emperors and now he was in a crummy knock-off of their culture, reduced to consorting with this riff-raff. He mused over a giant hole in the ground; the future of this mortal race. Ah, he admitted, live in what hole you can, at least the tea is nice.


            That night he was sitting in the Miss Kitty. He had managed to get some sleep in the afternoon. He needed his senses ready for the antics that he had planned. Guised in his ratted drunk's outfit, Cortez sipped at his mug of colored water. No, he didn't need alcohol (or whatever swill they sold) to dull his perception. Fabian looked over the bar. There was a rather fat couple making out in the back. Some teens with too much face makeup trying to pass themselves off as women. One bodyguard leading some arab merchant over to a table. The ghoul mentally scoffed; that guy better get some new muscle, the man was as subtle as the black brick he was. Plus, there was some Tech Infantry grunts on leave... apparently not too bright, they were spitting distance from the base.

            Then he watched them, one by one, walking into the bar. They were powerful men, but not exactly the kind of suits he'd came to see. They were scum. With all their muscle trailing after them he must have walked into a hoods convention. Never mind, maybe Fabian would end up helping the PO's more than he thought.

            Finally, Charles Babbage made his appearence. The man's escorts were no better than that of the arab talking to the drug dealers. At least he had dressed down for the occasion. This suit, although he still wore one, seemed to mesh into the crowd. Cortez turned, discreetly poured a tube of yellow liquid into the yellow colored water. As Babbage made his way closer, the liquid dissolved quickly in the glass, and Fabian shifted his body as if to get up. Then, he stood, the exec moved forward, the ghoul tripped, and the contents of the drug-laden glass spilled all over the front of Charlie's suit. Oops.

            "WHAT?!" Babbage was pissed. He gestured and his two suited thugs grabbed Fabian and pulled him out of the bar. The ghoul showed no resistance. As he was being escorted out, Emme Derikson and his escort moved in. Ah, as he said once to Holmes, the game's afoot.... or was that Doyle?

            Expecting for the guards to try and kill him, Fabian didn't expect them to just dump him on the front door. Pity, he felt like a good fight. As he walked away from the bar, he whipped out his cybermodem, kicked in the vidphone function, and made a call. "Patton Base? Yes, military police? Listen, some of your bums are starting a scrap down at  the Miss Kitty." Behind him, the sound of gun fire began to ring out. Funny, it was too early, and he hadn't activated his noisemaker. Damn, that FTS must have been real fast-acting. "Shit, it's a gun fight! Haul your ass over here!" Then he discommed. Cortez quickly made his way through the streets. Then he made the second call. "Yes, Action News?"




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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.