Whom Do You Serve?
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
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
"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
"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
"If you like."
"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
"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."
"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
Impulsively, Tyler grabbed Melora's hand and squeezed.
"I'm glad there's at least one person that I know I can trust,
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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?"
"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
"Like I said, you're a softie. Let's go see if she's one too."