"Jordan!" Tarissa opened the door wider and offered a hug; she'd gotten used to the feel of the shoulder holster on her brother-in-law's visits. "Well, this is a surprise."
"Uncle Jordie!" Danny cried and ran down the hall, with more visible excitement than he usually allowed himself to show these days. Having an uncle in the FBI still held some cachet for the twelve year old.
"Good to see ya, buddy," Jordan said, leaning down to hug the boy. Finding he didn't have to lean very far: "You have a growth spurt?" he asked suspiciously.
"Did he?" Tarissa said, closing the front door. "Outgrew a brand new seventy dollar pair of Nikes in three weeks."
"Sorry mom," Danny said with an impish grin.
"You keep this up you'll never be a fighter pilot," Jordan said. Danny's most recent ambition.
"Yeah, but I might make the NBA," his nephew countered.
Jordan pursed his lips. "More money," he said judiciously.
"More glory and fame," Danny pointed out.
"More injuries, too."
"Yeah but they probably won't be fatal."
"Well I can't argue with that," Jordan said with a smile.
"And on that note I'd like to change the subject. Can you stay for dinner?" Tarissa asked.
"Well," he looked a bit shy, "I was wondering if I could stay a few days, actually. I've got a job in the area and you folks are about equidistant from all the places I'll need to go..."
"Yes!" Danny cried punching his arm into the air. "How long can you stay, Uncle Jordie?"
"Only for about a week," Jordan said, looking apologetically at Tarissa.
And well he might, she thought.
Tarissa loved her brother-in-law, but he should know better than to show up like this without calling. What if they'd been out of town, or been going out of town, or had other plans?
She secretly took a deep breath. Well, then he'd go to a hotel, or if they'd been leaving town for some reason he'd stay in the house and mail the spare key back when he got home. And they never had plans. At least no plans they couldn't include him in. Still, it wasn't right, what if she had a boyfriend?
Jordan had been sixteen when she'd married Miles. He and Miles were living together in the family homestead at the time. The place had been like a museum, untouched, except for an occasional cleaning, since the day their parents had died with their little sister in an auto accident. The lack of changes had been more a matter of inertia than homage, just two active young males seeing no reason to change what had always been.
Although at least they didn't get into the mess most young males would have, she thought; it had been long enough that she could smile at little at the memory. Miles was always neat as a pin. Until she met him she'd always assumed it was a rule of nature that men alone lived like bears with furniture, not like human beings.
Miles had been pursuing his masters in Math while she'd been taking courses in accounting with CPA as her goal. They'd met in the cafeteria and hit it off right away.
For Tarissa it had been like coming home, she'd never known anyone that she was more comfortable with right from the start. Miles seemed to know her through and through and she'd known him. They'd shared an understanding so deep that they often didn't need words to make their thoughts plain.
In three weeks they were engaged and they married over the semester break. Money wasn't a problem; Miles and Jordan's parents had been heavily insured.
Jordan had been a peach from the time he was introduced to her and was always more like a brother than a brother-in-law. He'd welcomed her like she was a princess and had always done more than his share to make her happy.
The day she'd moved in he'd insisted, near purple with embarrassment, on setting up the finished den in the basement as his new bedroom. It had taken him three weeks after that to be able to actually look at Tarissa when he talked to her.
But Jordan was a manager. He'd managed things then, he managed things now. She'd first noticed it when she realized that he had a private entrance to his basement domain, and that they rarely knew when he had company or what he was doing down there. She discovered this quite by accident when she'd tried to open the door to the basement to get something out of storage. The door was locked.
"He's fine," Miles had told her. "Just leave him alone, he won't do anything foolish."
Tarissa had thought that was overly optimistic given Jordan's age, but he never had done anything to give them reason to worry. Except locking that door.
When Miles had died Jordan had taken a leave of absence from the FBI and had moved in with Danny and her. Though it had never been mentioned this had its practical aspect; it allowed the Bureau to pursue their unavoidable investigation of the brothers without embarrassing anybody.
And shattered as she was Tarissa had really needed him. He'd done everything, taken care of all the arrangements, shopped, cooked, kept them all going.
Once he was cleared, and even before Tarissa suspected, he'd devoted countless hours to the investigation, and as far as she knew, he continued to do so.
Danny thought the world of him. And Jordan was always there for him. Tarissa knew that they sometimes talked for an hour at a time on the phone, and on Jordan's nickel.
Watching her son and her brother-in-law moving toward the kitchen, laughing and high fiving, she thought it was a miracle that Danny had never told his uncle the truth.
"Danny," she called out, "set another place."
"Mo-om! Don't call me that!" he said with a frown. "I'm not a little kid anymore."
"Sorry," she said to her son. "Oh, yes," Tarissa answered Jordan's raised eyebrow. "It's Dan or Daniel now."
"Then maybe you should call me Jordan," he said to Dan.
Daniel looked at his uncle for a moment, then nodded slowly. Tarissa's lips tightened, his father had done just the same thing when he was thinking something through. Jordan nodded too. She stifled a sigh; the men in her family all looked so much alike.
***  Dan said goodnight reluctantly and dragged himself upstairs as though there were weights on his feet.
Jordan grinned at her as she handed him a glass of wine, patting his stomach comfortably.
"Now, that was what I call chicken! Not surprised Dan isn't fading away... but he's grown so much! I hardly recognized him."
"Since he's like a miniature Miles I find that hard to believe." Tarissa settled herself on the couch. "So what brings you to town?"
"He is like his dad, isn't he?"
She nodded, holding his eyes and waiting patiently.
He waved his hand at her look as if to wipe it away.
"You know I can't talk about business with you, Tarissa."
"Well, okay, can you at least tell me where you're working?"
He heaved an exaggerated sigh.
Tarissa's eyes widened.
"That's seventy miles from here!" She cocked her head. "From what you said though I gather you're working somewhere else too. Somewhere that puts us in the middle. So, where else?"
"Murton," he mumbled around a sip of wine.
"Murton." Her eyes danced. "Isn't Murton right next door to Esherton?"
He cocked an eye at her. "So sue me. I haven't seen you guys for almost a year. I think it's worth getting up early for, all right?"
She reached over and patted his hand.
"Thank you," she said. "It's good to see you again, and Danny's on cloud nine." She took a sip of wine.
He looked at her for a moment.
"What?" Tarissa said at last.
"I found out that Cyberdyne has started up again."
"Well I knew that," she said. "They started up again about a month after the plant was destroyed. I can't see why they wouldn't,"
"I meant that they started up Miles' project," Jordan said, looking grim.
Tarissa felt her muscles knot up. They'd destroyed everything; there was no way that Cyberdyne could start up Miles' project again. Especially after five years. She shifted in her chair, bringing her legs up and folded them to the side.
"Why shouldn't they, Jordan? Cyberdyne is a business. They probably started again as soon as the insurance company gave them a check." Giving him a searching look she asked, "Did you expect them to just close their books and forget about it?"
"They started up again in a secret installation on an army base," her brother-in-law said.
He was insistent, as though he was making a point that she just wasn't getting. Unfortunately she was getting the message all too clearly. More clearly than Jordan. She wished she knew how to get in touch with the Connors; this was something they'd want to know. If they were even alive. A surge of anger surprised her. Miles died to stop that damned thing! They have no right!
"Can't be too secret if you know about it," she said aloud.
He made an impatient, dismissive gesture.
"I'm an investigator, finding things out is what I do, Tarissa. But the important thing is they might be using Miles' work. Which means that they might owe you and Dan some kind of royalty or something."
Shaking her head she told him, "No. Of that I'm sure. Miles was developing something that they had already started. It wasn't his original work, so they could hardly owe him anything for it."
"Didn't he ever talk about it?" Jordan leaned towards her, his eyes growing intense.
"Just that it was fascinating and he loved what he was doing and that it wasn't like anything he'd ever worked on before. You know all this, Jordan. I've told you this before." She turned away and drew her hand across her forehead.
"But didn't he ever mention details?"
"As much as you do," she said, giving him a significant look. "You boys always knew how to play your cards close to your chests. For all I knew you were running a bordello out of that basement apartment of yours."
"I was not running a bordello," Jordan said with a little half smile. "Or a numbers racket."
"Well there were squeals of girlish laughter that might have given argument to that," Tarissa said with a grin.
He held his hand up.
"Please don't change the subject," Jordan said, his eyes deadly serious.
He put his wine aside and leaned his forearms on his thighs, totally focused. Wearily, Tarissa leaned her head against the back of her chair and closed her eyes.
"Did he ever mention being followed...?"
"Stop right there," she said, holding up a finger. Tarissa matched his posture and lowered her voice. "I'll tell you right now, Jordan, when I opened my front door and saw you on my porch tonight my heart sank. Because I knew that at the first opportunity you would do this."
"I just want to find out what happened!" he said reasonably. "You might remember something if I ask the right question."
"Do you think that I haven't gone over and over this in my mind?" She glared at him. "Do you think I will ever forget one moment of that night? Maybe you don't think I've asked myself if I'd done something different would Miles still be alive? Well I have." She nodded fiercely. "I've thought, I've questioned, I've wondered. And every time that you come here and we have one of these sessions where you ask me your questions again I lie awake for weeks afterward wondering about it all over again. I wonder if what you're really asking is why didn't you do something to save my brother? Why are you alive while he's dead?"
"That's not true!" Jordan sat straight in shock. "I never thought that!"
"I've never stopped grieving for him, Jordan. I never will. But I tell you right now, I can't keep doing this. It feels like punishment and I won't stand for it anymore. Do you understand?"
After a moment of staring at her open mouthed he said, "No. I don't understand. I just want to find the people who killed my brother. I owe him that, Tarissa. I owe him." His eyes pleaded for understanding.
"If you found those people tomorrow and put them on trial in the courthouse I really can't say that I'd even go to watch," she said. "I'm tired, Jordan and heartsore. But it's time to move on. I can't take this anymore."
He looked at her in disbelief.
"Don't you want to know who killed him?" he asked.
"I know who killed him," she said. She looked away from him for a moment and composed herself, stifled the tears that filled her eyes, swallowed hard. "The swat team killed Miles."
"What?" Jordan found himself on his feet and slowly sat back down. "Who the hell told you that?"
"The team commander," she said, looking him in the eye. "He had cancer and he had Miles' death on his conscience." She began to fiddle with the welt on the arm of her chair. Then she looked up at him. "They saw him, they shot him. They didn't cry out a warning, no drop your weapons, hands up, none of that. They basically came in shooting. He never had a chance."
Jordan looked sick as well as shocked.
"I didn't want to tell you," she said, closing her eyes. "I knew it would hit you hard. But it wasn't the terrorists that killed him, it was the police."
"Oh my God," Jordan whispered. "They covered it up."
He flopped back in his chair then took his wine and tossed the rest of it down. For a while he sat staring into space, his hands caressing the glass. Then he put it on the table and buried his face in his hands, elbows on his knees. Jordan dragged his face up and looked at her, his mouth and nose covered, and then he shook his head.
"No. He wouldn't have been there except for the terrorists," he said with finality. "They have to be punished."
"I'm going to bed," Tarissa said angrily.
She pushed herself up from her chair and moved rapidly towards the stairs, then stopped and turned around.
"I'm never going to talk to you about this again, Jordan. Never. If you can't keep from asking, then I guess we won't be seeing each other any more. And I don't want you torturing Danny with questions either. He was just a baby when it happened, and he can't tell you anything new."
She came back towards him a few steps, once again lowering her voice.
"And every time you stir this up it gives him terrible dreams. He's waking up in a sweat for a week at a time after you visit. When he was younger he woke up screaming. So I'm telling you for once and for all, I want you to stop this!" She brought her fist down to pound her thigh. "I want you to stop torturing us. It wasn't our fault, we couldn't do anything but what we did, and all the questions in the world won't bring Miles back!"
Tarissa turned away and mounted the first few steps, and then she let out her breath.
"I love you, Jordan," she said. "I love you like you were my own brother. I really, really hope that you can see my side of this because I want you in my life." She gave him one last tear filled look and then trotted up the stairs.
Jordan sat there for a few moments, he heard the door to her room close, then slowly let out his breath as he leaned back and put his hand over his eyes. He felt incredibly tired and sad.
"I can't let it go," he whispered, his teeth clenched. "I can't." He sighed. But he could leave Tarissa and Dan out of it. He hadn't thought about how it might feel to them when he asked his questions. "Okay," he said aloud. "From now on I'll keep it to myself, Tarissa."
The next time she heard about this would be after those bastards had been tried and convicted. Because he would never give up.
***  "This place sucks," Roger Colvin said.
The CEO put his briefcase down on the highly polished, but rather small, conference room table and looked around. Institutional-bland, with a hint of non-corporate-style bureaucracy. Too functional, without the little touches of class he'd come to expect.
Cheap, he thought, and shivered a little inwardly anyway. It was a reminder that there were other games besides the ones he played. Games played for different prizes, with different rules. He'd been called ruthless himself in the business press. He suspected that that word had a different meaning in these circles too. Something like being willing to turn a flame-thrower on a room full of kids to get one man hiding there.
"Is this room bugged?"
Paul Warren, Cyberdyne's president, shrugged, looking gloomy.
"It would seem superfluous," he said. "We give them daily reports, they know who goes in and out, all our calls are handled by their switching station. Just with that they know as much as we do about what's going on in this company." He sat down and tapped a pencil on the tabletop. "More," he added morosely. "They probably know when we take a crap and what consistency."
"Having us underground seems a bit much," Colvin said. He twitched the knees of his trousers and sat. "I swear it's affecting my allergies."
"That smell?" Warren asked.
"Yeah, what is that?"
The president shrugged. "I think it might be the carpet adhesive. That stuff always stinks for weeks after it's laid down. What I mind is the lack of space. We're losing a lot of square footage letting them pack us in here." He looked up at the ceiling. "I'm not crazy about being buried alive, either."
Colvin gave him a quick look under his eyebrows. That was a disturbing thought.
"So why did you call me?" he asked.
Warren looked at him in surprise.
"Call you? I didn't call you. My secretary said that I had a meeting with you here at two thirty."
They looked at one another in mutual perplexity. Then, simultaneously, light dawned.
"Tri..." Colvin began.
"Gentlemen!" Tricker breezed through the door and set his case down on the table. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting. I know how busy you are assigning the parking spaces and all."
The two executives looked at him with their mouths open. Even for Tricker......
"Actually we've been getting this project up and running again," Colvin said, his expression disapproving. "After five years that's not as simple as it would have been. I've always wondered why, exactly, you refused to allow us to start up right away."
"Well..." Tricker sat down and opened his case, placing a file before him, "I have some questions. If you don't mind?" He looked at them both almost anxiously.
"And if we did mind?" Warren asked evenly. "Would you then go away and make an appointment the next time you wanted a meeting?"
"Of course not!" Tricker said heartily. "But I think it's healthy to speak your mind. Clears the air and keeps the blood running smoothly." He looked up from the file and grinned at them. "Fellas your age have to let things out so that the stress doesn't build up and cause a heart attack or something."
Since Tricker was obviously their own age, unless he was in his thirties and had lived way too hard, the two men just looked at him.
"Are you going to answer my question?" Colvin finally asked him.
"That was a question? That didn't sound like a question." Tricker shook his head. "I don't have your answer, I'm afraid. I'm just the messenger boy."
"I bet you tried to run the project yourselves, didn't you?" the CEO asked.
"I wouldn't know that," the liaison answered. He pushed his case aside and looked up with guiless eyes.
"You did, didn't you?" Colvin smacked his hand down on the table. "Son of a bitch! I knew it!" He grinned and shook his head. "You tried it and you couldn't do it, could you? You found out that you needed us." He chuckled, satisfied at the thought. "A rhinoceros can be defined as a milspec mouse. This sort of R&D requires subtlety - you can't Manhattan Project it."
Tricker smiled amiably and shrugged.
Warren looked at them both, swiveling his head from one to the other.
"Is that true?" he asked, a disbelieving smile dawning.
It earned him a cold look from both parties.
"So," Tricker asked, clasping his hands over the open file, "you've been here for a couple of weeks; how's it working out, gentlemen?" He looked at them both with great interest.
The president and CEO looked at one another in exasperation. Obviously their liaison wasn't in a communicative mood.
"I feel like I'm being watched all the time," Warren said resentfully. "Like every time I take a dump someone, somewhere is measuring it."
"This facility has that capability, Mr. Warren, but unless we see what appears to be drug abuse I don't think we'll be using it."
Colvin and Warren just goggled at him.
"Anything else?" Tricker said more seriously.
"Are you kidding?" Colvin asked.
"No." Tricker sat back and looked at them, waiting for an answer to his question.
The two executives looked at one another, then turned back to their adversary.
"The air quality is a concern," Colvin said after a moment. "There have been complaints about it affecting allergies, and people are commenting on the smell."
Tricker looked at him for a moment, his chin cupped in his hand.
"Really?" he said at last.
"Yes," Warren said with exaggerated patience, "really."
"That's interesting." The liaison sat forward. "Because this facility is fitted with more efficient air scrubbers than you were employing in your clean room at your old facility." His eyebrows went up. "I did notice that there was a trace of ozone in the air, though. I'll have it checked for you."
"If that's the case then why are people having allergy problems?" Warren asked.
"Maybe it's because going form near zero parts per million of pollutants to the great outdoors is a hell of a wallop for the human system to take," Tricker suggested. He looked at them and shrugged. "Anything else?"
"Do we have to be underground?" Colvin asked. "I find it disturbing to be... in a buried facility."
"Well, it's a lot safer, don't you think?" Tricker's blue eyes moved form one to the other. "Look," he said, sitting forward and spreading his hands, "I know you fellas think of that corner office with the windows as being one of the perks of your position. But after what happened I'd think you wouldn't want to be working in a fishbowl. Haven't you boys ever heard of high powered rifles?"
Warren and Colvin exchanged a glance from the corners of their eyes.
"And you can't deny that you were attacked and sabotaged, now can you?" Tricker pressed.
"Look, I just don't like being here," Warren said. "I don't like being watched all the time."
"What makes you think you're being watched?" Tricker asked, looking fascinated.
"You just told us you could measure..." Warren waved his hands helplessly.
"Hey, I told you we could but we weren't." Tricker leaned back. "I really must say I didn't expect this attitude from the man who instituted urine testing for all employees and job applicants, you know."
Warren glared at him, while Colvin examined the ceiling.
"Look boys, could we drop this child of the seventies thing you've got going here, with the built in knee-jerk, counter culture, anti-government response to the idea of our involvement. Has it occurred to you that you're letting your prejudices run away with you?" He looked a bit hurt. "We are not spying on you. Hell, you're inundating us with jargon filled reports on this and that. Who has time to spy on you?"
He leaned forward and folded his hands in front of him and looked at the two men steadily.
"If you'll recall, Mr. Colvin, Mr. Warren," the pale eyes flicked from one to the other, "you came to us. You found this amazing stuff stuck in your works and you needed a huge shot of money to develop it. You didn't want to risk offering it to one of your larger competitors in a partnership deal because you'd seen too many smaller companies get devoured that way. And you figured that if we heard about it we just might confiscate it for the sake of national security. Besides, you figured you'd need a customer with real deep pockets eventually." Tricker spread his hands and widened his eyes. "So who else were you going to turn to?"
The two businessmen looked away.
"Knowing how fickle businesses can be we naturally insisted that you sell these items, now missing," Tricker said with deadly emphasis, "to us out-right. But! We contracted to allow you to be the exclusive developer of this find. With a clause that allows you to exploit civilian uses for this material to whatever degree you can, with no monetary obligation to us, provided you work on military applications simultaneously. And we're supporting you while you do it."
He looked at them as though waiting for some response; he got none. After a moment he continued.
"Now, suddenly, you think you've sold your soul to the devil and that we've found some loop hole to hang you with. Well, poor you!"
Tricker got up and began to pace. Warren and Colvin glanced at one another, and then stared at their liaison morosely. Tricker turned and stared back at them.
"So, what evil things have we done to you? What we've done, gentlemen, is to provide you with a secure, safe, state of the art facility -- at the taxpayer's expense -- I might add, so that you can continue your important work in peace. We've come in on your side with the insurance companies so that you've been paid off maybe years before you might have been on your own. And despite the fact that our material has been stolen or destroyed because of your stinking, lousy, incompetent, bungling, security we haven't demanded one red cent of it. Which goes to show you how incredibly greedy and evil we are."
He stopped and stared at the executives.
"You jerks came knocking on our door and sold us this material in exchange for money and a free hand in developing it. You volunteered, fellas. All we're doing is just trying to protect our considerable investment. You could have said no, you know."
"And how could we have done that?" Colvin inquired with quiet sarcasm.
Tricker spread his hands.
"How could you have avoided this facility and our protection, you ask? By giving us the material you sold to us and any work you've done on it and going out there and producing some of your other ideas. We agreed to your proposal based on your previous work and all the innovative stuff you'd been doing.
"The insurance company would have paid off, eventually, so building a new facility wouldn't have been that big a problem. You could have said no simply by saying no. You still could."
He glanced back and forth between them.
"So, are you finished having your little tantrum, or do you wanna waste some more time here?"
Colvin grimly examined the table before him, a muscle jumping in his cheek. Then he looked up at Tricker.
"Why did you want to see us?" he said.
"Well, gentlemen," Tricker sat down again and tidied some papers in his file, "I had some questions." He looked up and smiled at them. "Do you remember what I said to you the last time we saw each other?"
The two men looked puzzled.
"Maybe that's a bit unfair," he said. "You have been very busy. Okay, what I said was, find a security manager or I will. So. How's the search coming?" He looked at them like an eager student waiting for the answer.
Colvin and Warren just stared at him.
"We're on a military base buried underground," Warren said at last. "Why do we need more than that?"
"Why?" Tricker raised his brows. "Because you should, that's why. This is your company and you've already lost a major part of your material, you should be desperate to preserve the rest of it. So shall I find someone for you?" he asked. His expression had become hard. "I don't want to impose on you, but I'm going to have to insist that you take care of this immediately."
"What, exactly, is the big rush?" Warren asked impatiently.
Tricker referred to his file.
"The main problem, as I see it," he said, looking up, "is this guy you're hiring. Kurt Viemeister?"
"That's a good hire," Colvin said, pointing to the file. "We've been negotiating that for awhile now."
"The guy's an Austrian national, for God's sake!" Tricker said. His exasperation was plain. "Have you looked into his background at all?"
"He was twelve years old when his family emigrated to the U.S., for Christ's sake," Colvin said. "He's a naturalized citizen, Austria is just a memory for this guy. He's a genuine prodigy. The guy finished high school at fourteen, got a full scholarship to USC, got his masters and doctorate at MIT. He's the foremost authority in the world on real-model computer language."
"So?" Tricker asked belligerently.
"So, he'll teach the system we have to answer to spoken commands and to answer verbally," Warren explained. "Not just menus. Understanding what it's hearing and saying. Chinese-box stuff."
Ticker made a moue.
"Oh, so you've got a kraut that talks to a box. Well, that's nice."
"He's not a kraut. He's Austrian."
"So he's a kraut in three-quarter time who talks to a box. No go."
"Since you already know about him, I'm surprised you didn't realize how amazingly qualified he is," Warren said.
"Did you know he was a Nazi?" Tricker asked. "Excuse me, member of the Integral National Socialist Renewal Movement - Tyrolese branch."
Colvin and Warren glanced at one another.
"He is?" Warren said. "National Socialist?"
"He sure as hell negotiated like one," Colvin muttered.
"A lot of geniuses, when they have political ideas at all, have these," Warren waved his hands around, "airy-fairy notions about how things ought to be. Usually it goes no further than an occasional late-night bull session and maybe a couple of contributions a year."
"Airy-fairy?" Tricker said, genuinely appalled. "I have never before heard Nazism referred to as an "airy-fairy notion", Mr. Warren. I'll bet your boy Kurt wouldn't thank you for that description either." He gave the president a long look. "In any event," he pulled a piece of paper out of the file. "Your wunderkind has been in a number of marches, for which he's been arrested twice. Three of his close friends have been arrested for conspiring to blow up a post office in protest over the arrest of a couple of Arab terrorists and he rarely misses his meetings. Maybe that's because he's the secretary for his local chapter." He tossed the paper across the table to them. "This is not the kind of guy we like to see hired to work on our defense projects, fellas."
Colvin slipped the paper towards himself with his fingertips. He read it and pursed his lips.
"We're going to have to pay a huge kill fee," he said.
"Which should tell you that he knew this was going to happen and that he was just jerking you around," Tricker said. "If you had a half decent security chief on the job this wouldn't have happened."
"This guy is the best," Warren said. "We absolutely need him."
Tricker widened his eyes and leaned forward.
"Well you can't have him," he said softly.
"Paul's right," Colvin said, looking grim. "We need him. Without Viemeister we might be stuck for years."
"Years?" Tricker said, obviously disbelieving them.
"He's basically the inventor of a new science," Warren said. "He hasn't yet trained anybody in it, so there's no competition. But there is a lot of competition for his services. Viemeister has only let out hints of what he's accomplished, but if half of what he's telling us is true it will revolutionize computer communication. We're talking AI here, Mr. Tricker."
The government liaison looked at him dubiously.
"Just Tricker," he said at last. Rubbing his chin thoughtfully he looked at the two. "I need to interview him." Raising his hand he stalled an automatic protest from Warren. "I promise not to bring my rubber hose, okay? But you can hardly expect us to just automatically approve this, especially in light of the previous disaster. And you must have a good security chief -- soon." Tricker pinned them with a blue glare. "Set up a meeting for me with your kraut. Pardon me, with your cream-pastry-chef fucking Mozart Austrian crypto-fascist." He tossed them a white card, blank but for an AOL address. "Drop me a line when you've got it arranged."
He put the file together, dropped it into his case and slammed the lid. Giving them a last, ambiguous look, he left.
"I do not like that guy," Warren muttered, seething.
Colvin glanced at Cyberdyne's president.
"I really don't think he gives a damn."
***  Kurt Viemeister was a big man, twenty-nine years of age, easily six feet tall and a mountain of muscle. He wore his ash blonde hair in an aggressive brush cut and his blue eyes were long and narrow and cold. His jaw was so strong it looked like he could eat the business end of a shovel, or possibly already had. That might explain the knobs just under his cheekbones. He was the physical antithesis of a computer geek. His attitude was superior -- and all business.
"Heer iss how it is going to be," Viemeister began, his accent ostentatiously thick for someone who had been in the United States since he was twelve. "I vil haff unlimited access to zis facility, day or night."
"Here's the way it is," Tricker countered. "When you come in you can stay as long as you want. Once you've left, you can't come back without clearing it with... whoever we appoint. When you leave, you leave completely empty handed. You do not take data home. You don't call the facility direct, either voice or link. In fact, the facility will have a complete physical firewall. You don't speak to or socialize with people involved in any division except those directly involved with your own part of your own project."
Viemeister waited a beat, as if to see if the government liaison had anything to add.
"Dat is unacceptable," he said at last, his lip curling in contempt.
"Well, then I guess we're done because that's not negotiable." Tricker made to rise from his chair.
"No one elze can offer you what I can," the German said contemptuously.
"No one else can offer you what we've got," Warren said earnestly.
Viemeister glanced at him, his expression conveying disbelief and amusement.
"Good thing you don't want him for his charm," Tricker said, leaning back with a smile. It was obvious he wanted to watch the two businessmen take a pounding from this scientific prima donna.
"I haff had offers for huge sums of money from over a dozen machor companies. And zey don't want to put ridiculous restrictions on my movements, or on what I can say, or who I can speak to." He waved a careless hand. "Ze money you are offering iss okay. But ziss certainly isn't de spirit of cooperation in which you first approached me," Viemeister said, shooting an accusatory look at Colvin.
"Since we started negotiations the government has taken a closer interest in our work. Probably because terrorists destroyed our first facility,," Colvin said mildly.
"Yah, and now you are working on zis army reservation," Viemeister said. "I'm not sure I vant to work for ze U.S. government. You never mentioned anyzing about dat," he complained.
"You'd still be working for Cyberdyne," Colvin said smoothly.
"Yah and Cyberdyne is vorking for ze U.S. government, so I'd be working for ze U.S. government. Zis is all semantics. And I know a hell uf a lot more about zat dan you do, so stop tryink to play games," Viemeister sneered.
Colvin and Warren both looked at Tricker, who shook his head. Their looks turned pleading, Tricker raised his brows and shook his head again.
"Don't go making puppy eyes at me," he said. "I don't want him at all. I think he's too big a risk. But I am starting to wonder just what kind of a deal you cut with him. If you dump him you pay a huge kill fee. If he leaves what happens? You still pay him a huge kill fee?"
Colvin and Warren looked at the table as one.
"You're kidding, right?" Tricker waited. "You know, you guys shouldn't be let out alone. You do know that?"
"My time iss valuable." Viemeister looked smug.
Tricker shook his head in disgust.
"Well, make up your mind," he said. "Cause you're not finding out anything about this project until you're locked in. My terms are not negotiable. Over to you Kurt."
Viemeister glared at him.
"Oh, and Kurt?" Tricker grinned and nodded at him. "This is it, yes or no right now. It's today, or it's never."
"You don't efen know what you are trowing away!"
"Neither do you, little buddy," Tricker said, still grinning.
"I make more in one year dan you propably make in fife," Viemeister sneered.
"Is that a no?"
"If I work for Cyberdyne I'll be making almos twice as much!"
"Is that a yes?" Tricker was enjoying himself hugely.
The big man waved a ham-like hand at him.
"Why am I efen talking to you. You are chust an ignorant cop."
Tricker just beamed at him, blue eyes twinkling.
"We are talking hundrets uf tousands uf dollars, we are talking about pure science. What do you know about deese tings?"
Shaking his head and spreading his hands Tricker smiled ruefully.
"I don't know nuthin' about making hundreds of thousands of dollars. And I don't know a damn thing about pure science." He dropped his hands. "What I do know is," he pointed to the door, "you walk out of here without a commitment to work exclusively for Cyberdyne, under our terms, you don't get to come back. Ever. There will be no renegotiation, no second approaches, nothing. Ever." He tilted his head, grinning. "Did you know that?"
"I don't haf to put up wit dis." Viemeister glanced at Colvin.
"Unfortunately, you do if you want to work for us," the CEO told him. He shrugged. "We're over a barrel here ourselves. The government is willing to leave us alone for the most part, and the restrictions they've placed on us are for our own safety and the safety of the company." Colvin drew himself up. "The choice is yours."
The big scientist glared around the table, not liking the situation one bit. He was used to people giving in to him. He was used to thinking he was worth it.
Usually people with superman fantasies weight three hundred pounds and have no neck and pimples like purple quarters, Colvin thought resentfully. And that's just the women. Why do I have to run into one who really is a fucking superman? Why do I have to be caught between him and this... this spook bureaucrat?
"De budget you promised? De facilities? De eventual publication uf my work?"
"That all stands," Warren said.
"When he says eventual publication of his work, you did make it clear that anything we feel should be classified, will be?" Tricker nailed Colvin with his glare.
"Yes, of course," that worthy said in exasperation. "That's to our benefit too. Whatever Mr. Viemeister publishes will concern his own work on commercial projects until after the copyright has expired."
"Or wit special permission, you said."
"Yes," Colvin agreed, sounding harried.
"Den I will sign your contract," Viemeister said. His expression was grim, as though he were signing away his life instead of signing a contract most scientists could only dream of.
"Cheer up, Kurt," Tricker said. "You're about to enter a whole new world." On that the government liaison rose and without another word, left the conference room.
He could feel the young scientist trying to burn a hole in his jacket with a high wattage glare. Tricker knew the type. This guy was the kind that would consider any compromise a humiliation requiring a vengeful response. Some of these boys were willing to go pretty far to get their own back. The kraut would have to be watched. He'd have to keep harrying Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee about that security chief.
***  Captain Marie Graber turned to look over her shoulder, back down the narrow mountain trail. Three or four soldiers behind trod the golden haired woman who ignited the joy in her soul. Marie grinned. Sergeant Serena Burns looked up and caught her glance, returning the smile with interest.
The Captain's heart lifted as she turned forward again and continued to climb. It was hard to remember the icy bleakness that had hollowed her out for so long now that she had Serena. Her lover had renewed her hope almost from the first moment they'd met. The thin highland air smelled sweet, even sweeter than the smell of resin from the pines all around.
Marie and her team had been holed up in Boulder, running low on almost everything but sweet potatoes of which they hadn't that many. God! How she hated sweet potatoes. Serena had arrived with dispatches and a chunk of maple sugar. It was love at first sight.
The sergeant had been with her for six weeks now as they'd wended their way back to base. Now the Captain was going to have the honor and the pleasure of presenting her beloved to the supreme commander. General John Connor. The man who was going to save the human race. She was near bursting with pride. I can hardly wait.
Serena watched the captain climb with satisfaction. She'd been with Connor's army for less that six months, most of that time delivering dispatches. Most of them reading the same way they did when given to her. Some had been artfully altered, so that the results favored Skynet forces. Some were delivered just too late, but with sufficiently desperate effort that no questions were asked, no blame ascribed. She grinned. Even though she wasn't human she just had to admit there was pleasure in a job well done.
Every step upward brought her closer to the ultimate goal, the destruction of John Connor and, if she was fortunate, his senior support staff. Many of them were supposed to be with him on this occasion. True, it might not save Skynet, whose defense grid was smashed, but it might slow things down enough to make a difference. One thing Serena had learned in her time with humans was that refusing to admit defeat often averted same.
It would certainly extinguish her. But you couldn't have everything; something the captain was fond of saying. Skynet would go on, that was the important thing. And Skynet was the most important part of her.
As she neared the top of the steps Serena twitched a muscle deep inside and started the countdown on the bomb she carried within. A sidebar in her vision began a countdown. Her head came above the steps and through the crowd she could at last see him. John Connor.
He smiled and shook the hand of the man before him. Even from behind Serena could tell that the soldier would have stars in his eyes. The count was fifteen seconds.
Return to base.
Automatically Serena stopped the countdown. She stepped back, covered her mouth as though she was going to be sick and widened her eyes to a semblance of desperation. Soldiers stepped aside sympathetically.
"I'll explain to the captain," one of them whispered.
She waved her hand in appreciation and fled...
Copyright © 2000 - 2001 by S.M. Stirling <firstname.lastname@example.org>