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Whom Do You Serve?

Part II

Tyler stared thoughtfully at his computer screen, at the blank file that should have been his incident report. As an agent of LIM security, he had an obligation to keep the corporation's records of his actions updated (except, of course, when his orders specifically forbade him to). This time, the words wouldn't come. He'd intended just to enter a few notes for the log, then go with Melora to interrogate their prisoner, but every time he tried to start, questions flooded back into his head.

Neo Green was a Camineet-based organization. In his seven years of service with LIM, Tyler could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times they'd struck outside the archopolis. There was the chem-plant in Drasgow which would have dumped thousands of gallons of toxic waste into the sea each day, the Baya Malay clearcutting operation, and the destruction of the Bortavo mine, which they'd timed to coincide precisely with the official opening of the Skure mine on the planet Dezo. That was all, and every one a major environmental disaster waiting to happen. Tyler wasn't sure what made the new Iala plant so special as to put it in that category.

Melora wrapped her arms around him from behind, her cheek pressing to his as she looked over his shoulder.

"Can't think of anything to say?"

"Trying to put it into some kind of context."

She nibbled on his right ear.

"Well, maybe you need to wait until we have more information about what's going on."

"Maybe." His thoughts were interrupted, though, by the beep from his terminal that indicated he had a visiphone call. Tyler keyed the split-screen function and answered.

"Jorran? Good, Nain's with you. I need to see you both in my office immediately." They barely got a chance to see Laila Newcomb's face before the screen went blank again.

Tyler looked at Melora with a wry grin.

"Well, I guess that answers that." He told the computer to delete the empty file and got out of the chair.

"Do you think it's connected?"

"I'd bet on it. Newcomb's snoops probably found the message from Ranier in the visiphone buffer, though I can't understand why she'd be looking. Generic paranoia, maybe; backstabbers like her get a little nervous about their own spines."

"Either that, or we've stepped into something that's more important than it looks."

"Which might in turn explain why Neo Green is willing to pick up frequent-flyer miles."

Very little, Tyler reflected, was ever simple at LIM. He and Melora were very far down the chain from those who actually made decisions, but they could still feel the pressures of Luveno's struggles against other corporations as well as the politics inside the company.

Laila Newcomb's official title was Security Division, Special Operations Section Manager. That translated out of corp-speak to "head of covert operations." When something needed to be done that wasn't quite legal, or for that matter was completely illegal, the odds were it came through her. Newcomb was beautiful, with a face and body as striking as the expensive biosculpting clinics she patronized could make them. While she wore a carbonsuit, it was a short-skirted aquamarine designer version by Tessier of Scion, protective and fashionable at once. Her brilliant pink hair glittered with silver highlights as it tumbled down around her shoulders. She used her beauty like she used her intellect, her contacts, or her skill with a slasher: as a weapon. The epithet she'd been given, the Bloody Rose, fitted her perfectly.

"Come in; sit down," she ordered, not bothering to get up from behind her desk. Newcomb's office window, a floor-to-ceiling sheet of armored plastiglass, looked out not over the city, but on the park that filled the area between the three interconnected Luveno Industrial Mechanisms towers. Tyler thought the cultivated natural beauty suited her well.

"I've been hearing reports that the two of you have been in contact with an informant inside the terrorists, Neo Green," Newcomb said once they'd sat down. "I presume this is about the new plant scheduled to open next week near Iala?"

"That's right. There's an attack planned for--"

"Stop!" Newcomb snapped before Tyler could finish.

"You don't want to know?" Melora was incredulous.

"Exactly. You see, this corporation has gone to some pains to insure that Neo Green will make an attempt on the installation."

"Wait a minute," Melora said. "You say that you want a pack of terrorist killers to take a shot at a brand-new, multi-million-meseta plant? I didn't expect you to be concerned for the workers' lives, but I figured that saving the company money would be an important motivation." Mincing words wasn't one of Melora's specialties.


"This is going to require a little more information. If you want us to do something that runs against the obvious interests of the company, there'd better be a reason for it," Tyler said, putting it in terms Newcomb would understand. The first rule of corporate politics was to cover your backside, a motivation the section manager could understand better than intellectual curiosity or a feeling of responsibility for an informant's life.

Newcomb laced her fingers together.

"Worried that someone's going to hold you responsible if it goes up in flames?"

"If you like."

She smirked.

"Well, you can set your mind at ease. You see, the new plant is equipped with the latest in security, with advanced electronics, Palman and android guards, and genetically engineered creatures. Much of it is experimental, tested but not under legitimate combat conditions."

"Experimental?" Melora asked. "This is a field test for the sec-system?"

"Exactly. We decided to encourage the attack now rather than after production operations begin so there wouldn't be any disruption in manufacturing. Our security gets tested under completely real conditions, and we get the chance to rid Palm of several bloody-minded idiots who think machines are the spawn of some demon."

"I see," Tyler replied. "Then, you want no report filed about any meeting that may or may not have taken place with a Neo Green informant to keep the test as real as possible."

"There was no such meeting."

"Don't worry. No matter how hard anyone looks, there won't be any report anywhere in our system of such a meet." Apparently his writer's block was going to turn out to be useful.

"Then we understand each other. Good evening, Jorran, Nain."

Melora was fuming, and took no more than a few seconds after they'd left Laila Newcomb's office to let Tyler know about it.

"Light, I'd like to kick that smug bitch's teeth down her throat! Deliberately inciting a terrorist attack on one of our own installations just as a test? Did it ever cross her mind that if Neo Green does its job, people are going to be killed? Or maybe it did, but the number-crunchers decided that the cost in 'Palman assets' was worth the net payoff. Emerald Legion will probably make a fortune if the new stuff's as good as they hope." Emerald Legion Security was an LIM subsidiary, a competitor of Argus.

"You think that's it?"

"I think Newcomb's cold-blooded enough to do it in a second."

"No argument there. It's just--" He fell silent while they passed someone in the corridor, then started again. "It's just that I don't buy her explanation. There are procedures in place for security testing, good ones. This whole 'real combat conditions' thing doesn't pan out. If the test fails--and it could, or else you wouldn't need the test--a very expensive factory might be damaged or destroyed outright. I don't think the Industrial Division or even Robotics would risk that just for the sake of a security test. Besides, the usefulness of that test is completely dependent on what Neo Green decides to do, so there's no guarantee it would be productive at all. If anything, the idea of a trap for Neo Green makes more sense."

"Except that then they'd want all the information we could give them about Neo Green's plans. Damn it, Tyler, what's going on?"

Tyler shook his head.

"I've got no idea. Someone's manipulating things inside Luveno and Neo Green is just another pawn on the board, but we don't know who's playing or even the rules. Newcomb may not know either; she may have bought that cover story she told us."

Melora snorted.

"The bitch is a lot of things, but stupid isn't one of them. She knows the score, all right. My bet is she just figures she can get ahead by playing along with whatever's going on." She sighed and said, "You know, Tyler, I laugh a lot at the management drones who serve the company like it's a religion, but at least they're loyal. Newcomb doesn't work for LIM; all she works for are her own ambitions and credit balance."

Impulsively, Tyler grabbed Melora's hand and squeezed.

"I'm glad there's at least one person that I know I can trust, darling."

"Me too," she said softly.

The moment was fleeting, but it was one of those that made the day worth living. It required no analysis, no plan, no examination of hidden motives, just the few seconds to experience it.

Then it was time to return to the business of the moment.

"What we need," Melora said, "is a better look at what's going on behind the scenes, what the suits upstairs are up to."

"You're right," Tyler agreed. Back at his desk, he called up the visiphone system again.

"Front desk," said the face of the Wren186 android that appeared on the screen. Androids were LIM's most well-known invention; their Wren types and Mieu types were well-known throughout Palm. Putting one of the artificial intelligences at the reception desk advertised the product as well as indicating the faith Luveno had in their own product. Plus, as an added bonus, an emotionless Wren never lost patience with irate or irritating customers.

"Is Rafe Frederichs currently in?"

"I'll see, sir." There was a slight pause as the android consulted the employee logbook. "Mr. Frederichs is shown as being presently logged in."

"Thank you." Tyler hung up, then paged Rafe. It took a couple of minutes, but finally the phone beeped and the boyish face of their fellow agent appeared. Loud music and swirling lights pinpointed his location immediately, as well as the reason it had taken him a while to answer his page.

"Hey, Tyler! This a personal call, or are you going to ruin my R&R by talking biz?"

"Some of each. Can Melora and I meet you to talk?"

"Okay, I can spare some time, but since you're cutting in on my down time, you can come to me." he flashed Tyler an evil grin. "See you down here!" The screen went blank.

"Well," Melora said, "looks like we're going clubbing."

* * * * *

Some people might have found it incongruous to find a shopping mall inside a major corporate headquarters. These people didn't have the benefit of LIM's market research. The "support facilities" reduced commuting, making the employees less stressed and more productive. They built goodwill as well, and last but not least, they redirected employee meseta back into the company's bottom line.

The idea of a company-run nightclub was even more outlandish, but it worked, too, packing the Air Castle with off-duty corporates of both sexes for three reasons. One was convenience; entertainment wasn't much different than shopping in that respect. Secondly, while the wageslaves liked to flirt with the idea of street counterculture to jazz up their workaday lives, they didn't really want to bury themselves in the danger that went along with the darker edges of Camineet society. The Air Castle was safe, where they could play with rebelliousness without having to actually confront it.

Third, Tyler reminded himself as the soundproof doors slid open to admit him and Melora, was that LIM's money could bring in some pretty hot acts from all musical spectrums. Ustvestia had played the Air Castle more than once before he got sick of the Camineet music scene and moved to Mota, and so had DiamondIce when they were riding the crest. Jinn Krystal had even done a one-night-only gig, reputedly the only night Executive Director Macklin had set foot in the place. The real movers and shakers never bothered with the Air Castle, of course; they had the cash and the status to get into the big-name clubs. It was a place for middle managers, techs, engineers, and desk jockeys.

A perfect place for Rafe Frederichs, who wanted to move up from agent into Security Division management, to make contacts and pick up the latest dirt.

Melora slotted her bank access card to pay the cover charge and the two agents started scoping the crowd to locate their friend. The industrial-techno beat blasted their ears and the shifting light turned constant, seething motion into a series of still-frame holo-images. Tyler moved easily through the crowd, finding its rhythm and melding with it until he saw Rafe. The young-looking agent had secured a booth, and Melora and Tyler slid into it.

"Okay, talk to me," Rafe said with a grin. A server robot arrived with drinks, dark ale for Tyler and a virgin Drasgow cider for Melora. "I got the drinks right?"

"Yeah," Tyler said, sipping the ale. "Here's the situation: I need to know what's up about our--LIM's, I mean--robotics plant near Iala. The new one, opening in a couple of weeks. I've heard the usual press-release version, but I'm getting the nasty idea there's something more."

"So give us all the boardroom dirt, you suit wannabe," Melora said with a broad smirk to let him know she was teasing.

Rafe grinned right back.

"Call it what you like, but you're still coming to me--and I can deliver!"

The smile vanished, and he was suddenly the competent pro Tyler and Melora both knew from past jobs.

"That Iala project's a weird one. The Industrial Division is responsible for production facilities, but even though this is a robotics plant we're talking about, there's been a lot more input from the Robotics Division than you'd expect."

"How come?" Tyler asked.

"Javi Martinez," Rafe replied, referring to the Industrial Division Chief. "This plant is his baby from start to finish. He's been calling in markers from a lot of people to get this off the ground."

"We've heard some of the buzz about that."

Melora sipped at what was, essentially, lemonade. It was unusual for someone in her position, both as an agent and as someone who'd grown up in the Rendak slums, to abstain from alcohol, but she did. Before she was thirteen, she'd seen one friend killed by a metachem overdose and another one die because the ganger who was supposed to be watching her back was too drunk to call up a technique. Melora had decided then that life in Rendak had stacked the odds enough against here; she wasn't going to give it any more help by impairing her mind with chemicals of any type.

"The details are kind of scarce, though," she added. The fact was, the agents had a better idea of what their corp's rivals were up to then they did about LIM, especially when it didn't concern shadow business.

"Martinez put the deal together," Rafe explained. "The new plant's got all the bells and whistles, almost one hundred percent automated with Palmans involved largely as overseers and security. The cost's high, really high, but so is the potential profit. Some of the design's experimental, but the efficiencies are through the roof."

"What about the environmental impact?" Tyler asked.

"No worse than our standard factories, unless someone's lying on our internal memos. I've talked to people who ought to know if there were eco-troubles Luveno intended to hush up, and they haven't so much as hinted that way."

Which wasn't absolute proof by any means, but Rafe usually did know what he was talking about. The road to management wasn't easy, and while Rafe wasn't the type for blackmail, he tried to keep aware of the ebb and flow of power so he could make himself useful and earn a few favors from those places where they could help him. So, Tyler decided, Neo Green's involvement was strictly the responsibility of someone within Luveno. That still left who and why, though.

"What's at stake here?" he asked Rafe.

"Hm. That's a bit more difficult. Obviously, if it goes off as planned, Martinez is going to earn big face. He might be able to parlay that into a stock bonus, maybe a slot on the Administrative Board or even make a move on the Executive Sub-Directorship. If he craps out, he'll lose that face instead. Too many people are backing him for it to be easy for him to get out from under." Rafe smiled wryly. "In a way, it's an all-or-nothing play, and that's not in character."

"Martinez doesn't like risks?"

Rafe shook his head.

"No way. He's conservative, likes safe moves that offer solid if low expected returns. Tried-and-true is his mantra."

"So what's pushing him?"

Rafe leaned back in the booth, sinking against the cushioned back.

"Now that, Tyler, is the big question. I'd say it's a fear for his head. Executive Director Macklin is aggressive, a real corporate-warrior type. I suppose it's only fair; the old man's playing with his own money since he owns, what, one-third of the corp outright. Executive Sub-Director Destain is Macklin's paper-pusher, the guy he keeps around to crunch numbers and explain what the risks are. I'm betting that Martinez is seen as something of a second Destain, only not quite as good."

Tyler nodded, thinking it through.

"Come to think of it, a lot less of our assignments in the past few years have come out of Industrial--and almost none of that from the top echelons."

"You think the boss man is getting tired of having a division chief who doesn't have the guts to swim in the deep end?" Melora asked.

"Well, I wouldn't call it a lack of guts per se, more of a difference in business philosophy, but yeah, I can't help but wonder. Especially when you factor that new kid into the mix."

"New kid?" Tyler asked

"Uh huh, and you'll want to remember the name: Orakio Sa Riik. My gut tells me that we'll be hearing plenty about it in the next few years. Lots of black ops are going to play out around the question of how far up the ladder he'll go and how fast. He's young, only got his MBM from Magerry Institute two years ago, but he's got leadership skills and good judgment. The only thing is, he's got an ethical streak most fast-trackers don't have."

"Sound's like his back's going to have a nice, big target painted on it," Melora decided.

Rafe shook his head.

"Nah, I don't mean like head-stuck-in-the-sand stuff."

A dancing couple swung by the table, and Rafe fell silent. There wasn't really any chance of being overheard and there weren't likely to be any negative consequences if he was, but those kind of instincts didn't shut off by themselves. Discretion was a skill that was valuable both for an agent and for the management types who needed the agents to carry out their plans. Tyler wondered how many of the LIM employees relaxing in the Air Castle would show up for work the next morning at a disadvantage because of something they'd let slip after one too many drinks, and which of the smiling, laughing faces were that way because they'd picked up something that would help them get ahead.

"He'd never have gotten tabbed for advancement if that were the case," Rafe continued once the couple had gone by. "That kind's inefficient, because they don't know how things get done, and when their eyes open they either get mega-greedy or yell cop. Nah, the way I hear it, Sa Riik understands that this is a money-making corporation all right, and he's willing to resort to people like us if he has to in order to counter our competitors' black ops."

"So where does the ethical part fit in?"

"Two ways. One is, he believes in doing his best for the company. He doesn't play games to try and move up the ladder, won't try to do dirt to his coworkers. He just does the job he has in front of him to the best of his ability, which in turn has been bringing him the promotions the backstabbers keep trying for. The other thing is, he'll only go so far in under-the-table biz, whether it's his own or someone else's. No killing or kidnapping, no research that's going to be dangerous to people. Smart business, yes, but nothing that'll be a lead story on Palm Tonight."

"You sound like a fan, Rafe," Melora said.

"Maybe I am one, at that. I've gotta admit, I'm sick of putting my butt on the line, watching my friends get gravestoned, nearly being shot or jailed, only to find out that the job didn't really help LIM; it was something one section manager cooked up to get a couple of points up on a rival. You guys know what I'm talking about."

Tyler did, all too well.

"So," he mused. "Martinez is not quite out of favor, but not quite in favor either, and there's a young hotshot moving up the ranks behind him. Now, no one's going to make a guy two years out of Magerry into a division chief, but in a few more years, who knows? Plus, there's the possibility of a domino effect, with a chain of people getting bumped up until Martinez gets bumped out."

"So the Iala plant is a move by him to anchor his own position?" summarized Melora.

Rafe nodded.

"As far as I can tell, that's essentially it. His head's not on the chopping block yet, and he wants to keep it that way."

"And he doesn't have any other enemies?"

The boyish-looking agent started to shake his head, then shrugged.

"Who can say? A guy at that level's always butting heads with someone over something, from budget allocations to who gets served their drink first on the corporate aerojet. Plus, there's people under Martinez who don't want to get squeezed out between him and Sa Riik. As for hardcore opposition, the kind of skag who wants him dead or disgraced no matter what the cost, if he's picked up anyone like that along the way, they're keeping it very quiet."

"Thanks, Rafe, I appreciate it."

"Any time. It's always good to show off my knowledge to a friend, and I'll even pick up the tab for the drinks you didn't finish."

"You'd better, since you ordered them," Melora informed him.

"A mere technicality," he replied with a grin. "You're the recipients of my largesse, so why question why?"

"Rafe, you're sounding more and more like an executive every day."


Tyler and Melora didn't mention what they'd learned until the Air Castle's doors had closed behind them, utterly sealing off the raucous music and the sounds of revelry.

"So where does that leave us?" the redhead asked.

"Well, we know someone has it in for the Iala plant."

"Right, but not Sa Riik, if Rafe's right." She sighed, complaining, "Light, those old North Peninsula names are a nightmare to wrap your tongue around. Somebody with pull is doing this or Newcomb wouldn't be going along. Only, there really aren't any viable suspects at this point. The XD's the only one with the power, but he doesn't need to discredit Martinez to get rid of him and besides, every meseta of profit lost is a meseta out of Macklin's own pocket."

"Yeah, plus Macklin's already gotten what he wants from Martinez; the man's running the Industrial Division with more aggressiveness, so Macklin doesn't need to take any action against him."

"So who's left?"

Their eyes met, frustration evident in both their faces as they tried to sort out the tangle of disloyalty and self-interest they'd found themselves in.

Then, Tyler shook his head.

"We're going at this backwards," he decided. "I've got a couple of ideas, but there's no way to prove it."

"All right, so forget the who and concentrate on how," Melora said. "Somebody had to dummy up the info to give the Greenies and make it look good. They aren't what you'd call trusting, especially of corp informants who might be baiting a trap. That'll probably mean files from our computers, environmental impact analyses with data switched and that kind of thing. If they have done something, it's traceable. Does Mika still owe you that favor?"


"You big softie," Melora chuckled. "Not only do you help her get out from under that embezzlement biz, but it's been almost two years and you haven't even collected on the payback."

Tyler jammed his hands into his coat pockets.

"She was doing it to pay her kid's university tuition. besides, she already had the money to pay back; she just needed the chance to get it back into the accounts and undo the adjustments she'd made to cover it up."

"Like I said, you're a softie. Let's go see if she's one too."

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