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“So you’ve had a religious experience,” the nurse-in-training
said, glancing at my paperwork.
“Yes,” I admitted. Religion
wasn’t something I felt comfortable talking about with strangers.
“Recently?” she asked taking the seat beside me. Her name tag said she was Cindy.
Wednesday’s afternoon mass at the Newman Center,” I said.
“The music kind of gets me.”
“I’ve heard that one before,” she said, producing a wad of wires,
all ending in needles.
“I thought I’d only have to wear some kind of head band.”
“Afraid of needles?” she asked with a wicked grin.
“No,” I said, unwilling to admit fear to a woman.
“I give blood.” Loans,
grants and work assignments were covering the cost of my college.
It left little spare change for luxuries.
That hadn’t bothered me until I met Karen.
Now a movie or a hamburger off campus was no longer a luxury.
Now I gave blood and volunteered as a lab rat.
“So, quit squirming,” she said, leaning forward to put needles in my
head. I tried saying a “Hail
Mary” like the nuns taught me to do in time of pain, but the student nurse was
pretty and her breasts were right in my face.
I began thinking of things I’d like to do with Karen, but hadn’t for
fear she wouldn’t like it or more likely because I’d never done anything
like that before and didn’t know how. Soon,
I was squirming to get comfortable in my pants.
Cindy finished with the sharp things, took me in with a sly smile, and
began fastening a band to my head. It
had some electronic gizmo on it that rested just above my left ear.
“Ready to meet God?” she asked.
“I guess so.” Now I was
squirming in my seat for a different reason.
Did I really want to find out that what I felt in church as God’s touch
could be turned on with a switch in the lab?
I thought of the fifty bucks and nodded.
“Go for it.”
She flipped a small switch on the table beside her. Nothing happened. I
closed my eyes, drew in a deep breath, exhaled slowly, centered myself on ...
the darkness in front of my eyelids. A
second breath. In slow, out slower,
just like Sister said. Strange, in
high school, with the nuns, I’d never felt anything, them leaning over my
shoulder, telling me how to pray. But
last month, at the Newman Center’s Wednesday evening mass with that
charismatic folk group and Karen at my side....
The darkness opened up before my closed eyelids.
I felt the infinite take me. I
floated a million miles from anything, but I wasn’t afraid of falling.
I was held there, supported in the palms of an infinitely loving God.
I could feel the tears running down my cheeks.
Boys didn’t cry, but it didn’t matter.
I was being hugged by all that mattered.
"You'd better sit down."
Bad news a-comin', Jackson thought to himself as he looked out through the light
autumn rain that shrouded San Francisco Bay.
That's what that phrase always meant, placing it right up there with
"We regret to inform you..." and "We have a problem."
Jackson's mind ripped through the pages of possibilities. The kids? The
If that were the case, family would bear the news to him, not Hammerfield-Schmidt,
Attorney at Law. Business, then. Lawsuit? Takeover?
Nothing they couldn't handle, he felt sure.
Why then, his counselor's obvious concern?
Jackson ran a flat palm backward across the warm smoothness of his bald scalp,
letting it come to rest on the thin ruffle of wispy gray at the back.
He walked slowly around to his desk, the gaze of his attorney's holo-image
following him as he moved. As he
sat down, the chair gave voice to the aching of his old bones, the leather
creaking in the way that synthetics had never been able to duplicate.
Jackson leaned back into its plush, surrounding warmth. The discomfort of his seven-plus decades made him irritable.
"Should I pour myself a drink?" he asked the image, eyeing it with an
"That might not be a bad idea," the attorney replied, deadpan.
Jackson snorted in disgust. He
hated dealing with AI's--they responded to neither sarcasm nor humor--but he
knew Hammerfield-Schmidt was the best legal construct around, the best
commodities could acquire, and so he dealt with him.
"What's the problem?"
"It's CryoCorp," the AI told him.
"They've filed for financial restructuring."
Jackson swallowed, his mouth gone dry. His
gaze drifted, moving beyond the well-dressed, sharp-eyed holo-image, and focused
on nothing in particular. He asked
his financial/legal counsel a question.
"Correct, Mr Clift."
Jackson, still staring at a point miles beyond the eighteenth-story office wall,
reached blindly forward with his left hand and opened the lower desk drawer.
Leaning forward, he pulled out a glass and a bottle of Lagavulin, and
placed them on the desktop.
His epithet echoed from the hard, hospital walls.
Emily's eyes, already filled with tears, brimmed over at his shout,
diamond droplets falling from river-green pools. She still wore the teal-green scarf of Chinese silk that he
had given her months ago, just as she had started her chemotherapy.
She looked at him, not coldly, as he deserved, but tenderly, openly.
Jackson regretted his outburst, but could find no words to replace it, no
voice for his sentiment. Emotions
filled him, but he could find nothing with which to express them.
She nodded, then, to the orderly behind her, and was wheeled back towards the
lab, the cold steel of the swinging doors flapping loudly. To Jackson, the sound was like a slap in the face, sudden and
unexpected. He blinked, and found
he, too, was crying.
The month before, he had been shocked: emotionally shredded by Emily's
announcement of her plan to have herself cryonically stored. She had given up on the present and was placing her bets on
"What would you have me do?" she had stammered.
Her voice had been slowed and weakened by the tumor that had web-spun its
way into the very corners of her personality. "How much longer do you want me to wait?"
It had been painful for him to listen to her garbled mouthings; she was
so different from the woman he had married.
Gone was the Emily that had appeared before him on the college quad, glorious in
her tumbled curlings of cedar-red hair, green eyes shimmering like a sea at
noonday. Gone was the woman who had
inspired in Jackson a tremendous personal change, exorcising his timidity and
fearfulness. In her place had grown
this yammering shell. All dried-up
and withered, her inner being sucked away, she was nothing more than the
leavings at the cancerous feast.
And Jackson loved her so much it hurt.
will you look at her," Arim, my Wearer, actually said aloud.
I felt his hormone levels spike, the jump in his heart rate as the new
woman entered the office. "Just
look at her."
stand up." I quickly adjusted
our collar and cuffs. "Remember, she'll be working with you."
Snoops swarmed the air around us. The
microscopic flyers, unseen by the Wearers but green points of protein upon my
visual field, contrasted with the red Wearer heat and ambient gray furniture.
Busy snoops, sampling all kinds of data.
danced in the currents and backwashes as Wearers moved about.
All airborne nanotech must be identified; some, like those of Pod-leader
Orgim, must be placated with relevant data, others like Gerad Din's, must be
neutralized, and destroyed.
things took time. Planetary
Design's office was a large, conservative cube in Emulus Octave, the largest of
eight orbiting habitats circling Emulus. The
unfinished planet filled the wall-sized window, a dark blue half-disk, framed by
stars and the glinting habitats.
welcome aboard, Vera Stam," Arim said.
I'd already supplied him with the name from her envoys, nanotic carriers
of good will that filtered through the ranks of her own snoops.
I glanced into Emulus Net where the rest of her data was easily found.
Arim's attraction was obvious; the woman contained more nanotech than
Grid Defense on a Saturday night scramble.
meet you, Mr. Laroim." Her
fingertips brushed my Arim's with unconscious ease, guided by infrared receptors
in her nails. The skin not hidden
by her azure suit was darker than any genetic inducement.
Her eyes were deep living shadows. Hematite
teeth peeped between the upturned corners of her black lips.
Glossy raven hair rose up on her scalp and coiled questioningly towards
us. Arim's blood pressure took on a
life of its own.
believe the heat Vera generated when their eyes locked so I double-checked the
snoop infrareds. Everything
correlated. Her face would have
been flushed had it not been so dark; her pulse and respiration both jumped.
Em-Net showed that she'd had several involvements with Semi-Purists, and even
one actual Purist. Real Purists
were non-existent on Emulus Octave; even with suits, the risk of
nanocontamination was too great.
my Arim had forsaken his Purist ways and left their Europan Enclave two years
ago. I had tried to advise him, but
a suit can only do what its Wearer wills. Arim
insisted on keeping my hood up, uncovering only his light green eyes, oval face,
and lean chin. He'd tinted his skin
green at my urging, but kept my color as crimson as the day he bought me.
Red suit and a hood, Wearers either think Saintly Claws or Purist.
showed her their workspace, I noticed two squads of Gerad Din's snoops had
escaped me. A slight shift against
Arim's throat got his attention. Usually
he ignores such intrusions; this time he allowed me to retaliate.
accelerated a squad of avengers to office-regulated speed and calculated Arim's
current Prestige Rating; it was just high enough to get away with minor
infringements, so I increased the avenger's speed by half.
Across the room, Gerad's silver eyes looked up.
His chromium skin stole the blue from the planet, the brown from his
desk. His fancy tri-lobed brain
stole too--other people's ideas. He'd
taken several of Arim's projects, craftily inverting them into stylistic
Gerad's multi-hued suit stiffened as my avengers slammed into it. His lips thinned, a squared-off jaw worked harshly. Inside he was probably screaming at his poor suit to reset the communication breakdown.
for his containment web Henry would have bounced off the ceiling. He woke with
the autowatch beeping on four different channels, emergency messages flickering
across the whole infowall, and Anna tangled in her own web and cursing a blue
streak No other shocks had followed the first, but the room was wobbling
sideways and up and down- and after the engineers had worked so hard to
regularize the axial rotation.
the hell is happening?" Anna yelled as the objects that had come loose sank
slowly toward the floor.
"Don 't know," Henry said, exiting his web while he called Perez on the phone tattooed down the right side of his face. He was used to zero-g and micro-g, and even with the irregular movement of the room, had no trouble reaching a handhold at the comer of the infowall.
AND HUMIDITY STEADY
him, though nothing on the wall explained the wobbling.
boss?" Fernando Perez' voice was too loud, and Henry flexed his jaw muscle
to turn it down.
going on, Nando?"
know," his chief of engineering said. "Something big docked with us
But the docking ports are on the central axis-- why are we wobbling?"
think it's at the other end."
"So try to get a picture of it right away."
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Last updated on September 9, 2007