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Fall Of A Corporate Man

Part I


A cold, steady drizzle was falling over Camineet, streaking the windows and streets with a film of water that sent back the neon glare and the holo-signs' glow in a prismatic glitter. Artificial luster for an artificial city; the Camineet-Parolit archopolis of AW 1272 had no natural beauty except that which was sculpted to order by Palman or robotic hands in parks and gardens.

Two people stood close under an awning. They were big, broad-shouldered and muscular, though one was a head taller than his companion.

"Don't like this," the tall one said.

"It never bothered you before," his companion replied testily.

"Wasn't the same."

"Sure it is. Just this time, we're freelancing."

The taller one's head bobbed up and down.

"That's just the point. What'll the boss say?"

"He won't say nothin', 'cause he won't know nothin'." The conversation ended abruptly as the speaker saw a figure making its way through the thin streams of passerby, a fibercoat pulled tightly around him. "That's him. Get ready."

"He's on time," the taller one said approvingly as the newcomer came towards them.

"That's good. We haven't got a lot of it to waste. Let's get this done."

The taller man's hand came out of his pocket. He was holding a short steel mace, a thick-handled baton studded at one end. He eyed the back of the newcomer's skull.

His friend was right. It was the same as always.

* * * * *

Tyler Jorran was in his landskimmer heading home, the rhythmic sweeping of the wipers cleaning the windscreen of rain almost hypnotic as he drove through the evening darkness. His partner and lover, Melora Nain, had pulled late-shift duty, and he missed her presence. Days like this were like that; they were dull and gray, chilling the soul and emphasizing the need for company, closeness. At least, he thought, they were for him.

The call on his skimmer visiphone was a welcome distraction.

"Answer," he said; the voice-activated screen lit up to reveal the face of Nash Garrett, Security Division Chief for Luveno Industrial Mechanisms. Tyler, as an agent for LIM security, reported to the section manager, Laila Newcomb. Garrett was her boss. Tyler had spoken to the man no more than two or three times in seven years with Luveno.

"Jorran, I'll make this quick. I've got a job for you. Get over to the Ankaiah Medical Facility on the double."

"What's this about, sir?"

"I'll explain when you get here. Don't waste time."

The screen went black, Garrett's face replaced by the bright blue letters reading "Call Terminated."

Tyler smiled faintly. Work was definitely what he needed. He engaged the skimmer's autodrive, selected his destination, and then canceled it. He'd drive there manually; it would give his brain something to do.

Ankaiah was a modest-sized hospital owned by Luveno and used as a primary care facility for most of the corporation's Camineet workers. Tyler checked with the receptionist, who had short brown hair accented by a commlink headset and a perky smile.

"Tyler Jorran? Yes, you're expected. Please go to Waiting Room 4B. Take the elevator to Level Four and follow the red line."

"Thank you."

"Have a nice evening."

The elevator whisked him upstairs, and as he followed the trail of lighted red panels in the floor he tried to imagine what Garrett wanted him for. Why not operate through normal channels? Why meet at a hospital? The waiting room had furniture and walls in muted shades and holo-prints of watercolors, designed to create a relaxing atmosphere, a distraction from the sterility and tension that all hospitals bore with them. There were only two people in 4B. One was Garrett, and the other--

"Melora!"

"Hi, Tyler. Miss me?" Melora was a tall woman, only a few inches shorter than Tyler, with a lean, athletic body and angular features, her dark red hair cut in a pageboy that just brushed her shoulders. She wore a one-piece, military-styled carbonsuit in dark forest green and flat-heeled boots that came to just below her knees.

"You know I did."

"Good; me too."

He turned to Garrett. The two men had similar builds, powerful and broad-shouldered, though Tyler was a bit leaner and more handsome.

"All right, what's going on?"

"One of my people has been attacked, a colleague of yours." He walked over to an intercom set in the wall and pressed a button. "Doctor, can we see him now?"

"Yes, you may," a female voice replied.

"Good. Come on," he told the agents. "This will be easier if you know what's happening."

Garrett led the way out of the waiting room. As they followed, Tyler gave Melora a curious glance, but she just shrugged. Apparently Garrett hadn't been any more talkative with her. Tyler was getting more and more intrigued.

His curiosity was answered when they were shown into a patient's room. There was a single bed, and the man in it was connected to various monitoring and life-support devices while a Whistle-type robot configured for medical use bustled about. The only other person present was a doctor, her snow-white hair pulled back in a bun, wearing the white coat associated with her profession and carrying a palmcomp.

The man in the bed was a couple of years older than Tyler but his round, boyish face looked younger. Usually that face was smiling, but now it looked drawn and gray, like death.

"Rafe," the agent said. "Rafe Frederichs." Not just a colleague, but something close to a friend. Next to him, Melora drew breath with an angry hiss.

"Is he going to be all right, Doctor?" Garrett asked.

"That's still uncertain," the doctor said frankly. Her name tag read, "Elizabeth Rhodes." Either her hair color wasn't the result of aging or she patronized a skilled biosculptor, because her face showed only the faint crow's-feet of a woman in her forties. "His physical injuries were extensive but susceptible to treatment with Trimate," she explained, naming the most powerful of a series of medicines which worked by hyper-charging the body's natural healing processes to accomplish weeks or months of repair work in seconds. "The difficulty is the head injury, which Trimate cannot help, nor can healing techniques. There are no quick fixes for this type of damage."

She glanced at the screen of her palmcomp.

"Repairing neurological functions is delicate work. It's necessary to be certain that no additional brain damage is inflicted, so it has to be done slowly and carefully. Fifty years ago, he'd have been dead already. Now...now he might recover fully, or he may have some ongoing impairment to memory or physical function, or he may not recover at all. We should know in four or five hours." She turned to Garrett and added, "What I said about cloning still holds," in a warning tone.

"I understand."

"All right, then. I need to check on other patients; the machines can continue the work for now."

Not wasting time on further conversation, Dr. Rhodes strode out of the room with purposeful efficiency, leaving the Whistle and the medical computers to continue the tasks she had specified.

"Damn it, Rafe," Tyler murmured, "who did this to you?"

"That's what I want you two to find out," Garrett growled. He glanced at the Whistle, then beckoned to the two agents. Tyler understood at once; the robot could receive voice commands, which meant that it could record them. In essence, it would put the entire communication into its memory, where it could be accessed. They returned to the waiting room.

"You pulled us onto special duty to investigate?" Melora asked once they were behind closed doors.

"You have a problem with that, Nain?"

"No; I prefer it that way. I like Rafe. I just don't get why you're doing it."

Tyler nodded.

"She's got a point. This is outside the chain of command, sir."

Garrett's eyes narrowed.

"I am the chain of command, Jorran."

"Yeah, but it exists for a reason. We report to Newcomb, but you went around her. We don't know you personally, so it's not something along those lines. Why us, and why this way?"

"Are you always this pushy?"

"That's a buddy of ours in there on the edge of death, getting his brain stitched back together, and I'm talking to the head of security about it. Something's seriously out of whack here, and we want to know the score."

Garrett looked from one agent to the other, then shrugged and hooked his thumbs into his belt.

"Don't know why I'm being so fussy," he said. "The fact is, this is why I picked the two of you. Everything I've got says you're good, bright, tough, honest, and with a minimal tolerance for crap. Those are the qualities I want looking into this thing."

His jaw tightened slightly, a reflexive action that hinted at just how angry he really was over this.

"As for why I went outside the chain of command, I want you two reporting to me directly on this. If I push it through Newcomb, you'd be reporting to her instead, making a regular record of your progress for the files."

Tyler looked at Melora; she met his gaze and nodded once. They both knew the score now.

"It's internal, isn't it?" she asked. "Either somebody's a sellout or it's politics."

"It is. I don't want reports in the mainframe just waiting for anyone to read, or my data filtered through Newcomb or any other third party. Right now you're logged as being on personal time. Vincennes is taking your slot tonight, Nain; you'll owe him one. No one will be able to check the system and find out that you two are working on this, let alone how you're progressing. Until I tell you differently, you'll report only to me."

Tyler nodded.

"Understood."

The Security Division chief dropped into a chair.

"Frederichs was working something big," he explained. "He'd gotten a tip that Javi Martinez, our illustrious Industrial Division Chief, was looking into alternate career paths."

Melora whistled.

"You figure that he has an extraction planned?"

"Sit down. You're giving me a crick in the neck."

They complied, and he went on to explain.

"Frederichs was putting together a case to take to Macklin," Garrett said, meaning the corporation's Executive Director and largest shareholder, Charles Macklin. "He told me informally, because he knows that I'm not a particular friend of Martinez, but didn't want to go on record without more proof. He also said that Martinez knew that his intentions were known, so time was of the essence."

"You think that Martinez had Rafe taken down so he couldn't spring an accusation on him?" Tyler asked.

"It fits."

Tyler had to agree. He and Melora had tangled with Martinez a few months ago. He'd arranged for terrorists to sabotage one of his projects to conceal the fact that it was a total bust and save face. The agents had managed to divert that scheme, costing Martinez big in rep. No surprise he'd be willing to jump ship; his future at LIM was dim and the fistfuls of Luveno data he'd be able to bring would make him a nice catch for any of LIM's rivals.

"Martinez and Laila Newcomb have linked up before," Melora said. "Ten to one that's why Rafe went to you instead of her when he found out what was up. He always had one ear turned to the political buzz, so he'd have a good idea who was on whose side."

"The only side I've got," Garrett said, "is that someone put one of my boys into this hospital on the edge of death. I want the scum who did it. It wasn't pretty. Rafe was savagely beaten by steel clubs or something similar. His body was trashed, and he took a concussion, skull fracture, and brain injury. Possibly fatal or permanent, like the doc said."

Tyler winced, wondering who'd ordered such a thing. If it really was Martinez, he'd make him pay for it.

"What was that the doctor said about cloning?" he asked, more determined than ever to tie up all the loose ends.

"I'd asked if we could do an active-memory clone," Garrett explained. It was possible to generate a clone of someone which not only duplicated their genes but also their mind, memories, and personality right as it was at the time of death. "I figured that if Frederichs didn't pull through, the clone could tell me who was responsible and turn over whatever info he'd been able to dig up on Martinez."

"Would it work?"

"Not likely."

"Too much head trauma?" The key to generating an active-memory clone was to keep the brain intact so it could be scanned. Since knowledge wasn't coded into genetics, the original structure needed to be examined in order to create the duplicate neural net. Tyler and Melora both knew that if they wanted a foe to stay dead, they should go for head shots.

"Yes. Essentially, unless he makes a full recovery, the brain will be too damaged to create a viable clone. Of course, if he does recover, there won't be any point to cloning him, so the whole idea is useless. You'll have to do this job the hard way. Investigate, find out what Frederichs knows, learn who wanted him dead, and do it fast. If Martinez really is going to turn defector, and he knows that we're on to him, he'll push up the timetable, so we'll need proof of it if we want to stop him."

Tyler thought of his friend, lying helpless in a bed while computers tried to rebuild his mind.

"Don't worry," he said. "We'll get the skag who did this, and if it's Martinez, we'll make darned sure he doesn't get rich from it."

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