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Whom Do You Serve?

Part IV


The girl was staring at Tyler and Melora with bright but sullen eyes as the agents walked into her cell. Her lip was curled in what was no doubt meant to be a sneer of disdain but looked more like a rebellious pout. Tyler had seen the same expression on the faces of executives' daughters when their parents were making it clear they had no idea what was important to the teenager, or when wannabe boyfriends were becoming a nuisance.

Yet this girl wasn't worried about parents, school, boyfriends, the coolest holovid shows, fashion, or VR chips. Not four hours earlier, she'd fired an arrow into a man's back, puncturing the heart of an informer who'd betrayed her cause. She was young, yes. Adolescent, yes. A child, no.

"This is your lucky day," Tyler said. She didn't respond, which was about par for the course. Neo Green taught its members to say nothing when interrogated by the enemy, not even to curse or mock their captors. Of course, not all of them followed that advice, but the girl looked like she was going to try.

In the cold glare of the cell lighting, Tyler got his first really good look at the prisoner. She looked to be about fourteen, with blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, emphasizing her youth. The girl wore an outfit similar to the other terrorists from the refinery, baggy pants tucked into work boots and a sleeveless vest. Tattoos crisscrossed her shoulders and left cheek, but they were temporaries, the colors and images starting to fade and come off. What wasn't temporary was the furious hatred in her eyes, an utter loathing of Tyler, Melora, and all they stood for. Neo Green wasn't a game for her; it was a cause she passionately believed in.

That might turn out to be useful, Tyler thought.

"As far as LIM is concerned, this cell is empty. We aren't here. You aren't here. Security cameras aren't running."

The girl's face went white. That kind of announcement usually, at least in her mind and perhaps in fact as well, was the precursor to a "disappearance." It could happen; there were individuals more than glad to use murder and torture for the sake of corporate profit. That wasn't what it meant this time, though.

"That's right. You're going to walk out of here a free woman and there won't be any documentation to show you've been in communication with agents of LIM Security."

"Communication!" she exploded, forgetting that she was supposed to stay silent. "You call getting knocked unconscious and thrown in a cell communication?"

"No, but your friends probably will when they see we've let you go unharmed," Melora said wryly.

"Oh, so that's it," the blonde sneered. "An offer to become an informer. I talk, or you make it look like I did. Well, you might as well kill me now. I'll never tell you corporate dogs anything!"

Actually, there was an experimental procedure that would allow dead men to tell tales, an upgrade to cloning technology that produced "active memory" clones duplicating not only the physical condition but also the mental state of the original person. Just the thing to allow unscrupulous people to torture a person to death, then start over on the clone. The thought left a bitter taste in Tyler's mouth, and he decided that it wasn't time to correct the girl's misapprehensions. Let her think that at least death was still sacred.

"No, you're not," he agreed, "though knowing your name would make it easier for us to talk to you."

"You know my name. You've already run me through your computers."

"Well, no, we haven't. If we did that, it would create an electronic record in the datanet of our interest in you. Remember, you've never been here."

Suspicion and the desire to trust warred on her face. She was still young enough to believe that even her enemies could play fair. Yet, she likely worried, would telling them her name give them some kind of psychological edge?

"It's Laya," she decided. After all, her genetic code was on file in the citizenry database, since she'd been born in a legal hospital in Loar. "Laya De Cille."

"Another Peninsular name," Melora groaned.

"Just think of it as exercise for your tongue. A little cultural diversity will help keep it in better shape," Tyler replied with a chuckle.

The soft hum of the plasmarings binding Laya brought Tyler's attention back to the point.

"Now," he said to the terrorist, "to the reason we're here. Before he died, Ranier told us all about your group's plan to destroy the plant we're building near Iala. Do you know what my boss' reaction was to that?"

"She didn't want to hear a thing about it," Melora answered for him. "She already knew you were coming. Congratulations, Laya; you're working for a Luveno exec, and you're not even getting paid for it."

"That's absurd! Neo Green is fighting to destroy monsters like you who despoil the planet with your filthy machines!"

"Well, in this case, you're fighting to destroy an LIM project because it's convenient for someone's little corporate power play to turn the new factory into smoking rubble and it was easy to convince you to do it."

Laya was about to spit forth a fresh stream of invective at Melora, but Tyler cut her off with an upraised hand.

"The fact is," he said, "that your organization was provided data that made it look like the Iala project was the worst environmental disaster since the Bortavo mine incident. I don't know what channels were used, but I do know that data came directly from LIM. I also know that it's a complete crock, put together for one reason and one reason only, to insure that Neo Green would rise up in righteous rage and smite the despoiler of Palm."

"What, do you think we're stupid? That data was straight from your own project files! We checked it!"

"Do you think we're stupid?" Melora riposted. "That data was put there. The files were planted for you to find, only the gridrider you hired wasn't good enough to detect signs of tampering."

"You're lying!" Laya exclaimed. "You just want to trick us into letting your filthy project alone!"

Melora folded her arms across her chest and leaned back against the wall in a pose of total self-assurance.

"Why would we bother?" she said in the tone of one who really didn't care. "We know you're coming and when; we could pack that factory with sec-agents, androids, and robots so that when your little group of commandos showed up you'd be smacked so hard you wouldn't have the manpower left to plant a tree. Tricking you would be a waste of our time."

She said it so offhandely that it made Laya blanch.

"But...but who would do such a thing, and why? Why would one of your own executives try to sabotage a major corp project?"

"Let's start with the who," Tyler said, pleased to see that the girl was arguing their points now, rather than hers. They were making progress. "Industrial Division Chief Martinez."

"What?" Laya exclaimed. "now I know you're lying. Martinez is the one in charge of the project!"

Interesting,Tyler thought. Laya had actually seen the files, or else she wouldn't have known who was sponsoring the factory. Despite her youth, she must have been someone of importance in Neo Green, or at least connected to such a person. That was good luck; if they could get her to believe the truth, she might be able to convince the rest of the terrorists. At least she'd have a better chance than a rank-and-file member would.

"Why would Martinez want to destroy his own project?" Laya challenged. She clearly expected the agents to be unable to answer, to have to flounder to make up a response.

She was wrong.

"The project is a bust," Tyler said. "Martinez has big face tied up in bringing Luveno's newest, most advanced production facility on-line, and he can't do it. Work is behind schedule, and there are cost overruns. The fact is, when you and the rest of Neo Green show up to destroy the plant, you won't interfere with the production schedule one bit, because there is no production schedule."

Laya's face was still sullen and defiant; Tyler couldn't tell if she was believing any of what he told her. He understood, though, since convincing himself hadn't been all that easy either.

"Martinez called in a lot of favors to get the Iala project approved and started. It was going to be a big, big success for him, the kind that could put him in line for a nice, cushy Board seat. You can imagine how he'd look if it came out that the factory was a waste of time and meseta."

"So he wants it to be an even more spectacular failure than it really is?" Laya asked sarcastically.

"No," Melora told her, "he wants someone else to blame."

That got through.

"You mean--"

"As things stand now," Tyler said, "it's Martinez whose head is on the chopping block. He's the one in charge, the one responsible for coordinating all the aspects of the project and making sure everything meshes. He's the captain of the ship. I'm not a businessman; I don't know if it really is his fault or he was just unlucky, but I do know where the fingers will point. He can't fix the plant, speed the factory to completion, so all he can do is to find someone else to blame, someone he has no control over."

"Someone like us, like crusaders fighting for Palm's environment," Laya breathed.

"Right. If you completely destroy the plant, he can scream and moan and tear his hair out," Melora told the girl, "whining about how you terrorists destroyed his pet project. He won't look good, but no one could blame him, not really."

Tyler would lay odds that Martinez and Newcomb already had a scapegoat picked out in Security for allowing the Neo Green terrorists to succeed. probably someone who would be conveniently killed in the attack, even if an agent had to shoot him or her to make sure of it.

"Even better," he said, "would be if the attack was only a partial success. Then he could proceed to repair the factory and blame all the delays and expense on you. That would give him all kinds of time to play with and the chance to still come out of it smelling sweetly if the plant lives up to his hopes once it's opened."

"He could have hired hunters to do the same thing," Melora noted, "but that would obviously be planned sabotage, and there would be an immediate investigation into who was behind it and why. Pretty useless to cover his rear in a way guaranteed to get someone sniping at it. You guys, though, are perfect tools. You don't work for money, and everyone on the planet knows what your motives are. So, no suspicions, and Martinez is as free as a bird." Laya looked up at her.

"Have you ever seen a bird? Not on holovid, but a real, live bird?"

Melora had spent her entire life in the archopolis, where rats were just about the only animal other than domestic pets. She shook her head.

"That's our motive--to keep urban wastelands like Camineet from swallowing Palm whole. It may already be too late, but we won't give in so long as we have strength." Laya looked from one of her captors to the other with surprisingly adult eyes. "You two are corporate agents who work for money. Why should I believe you? Why do you even care whether this Martinez gets away with his scheme? Do you work for some opposed faction?"

"I work," Tyler replied, "for Luveno Industrial Mechanisms. It's a matter of honor. Yes, the corp does pay me, and so I work for its interests. Not for the managers or the executives or the XD himself, but for LIM. I'm not going to stand by and let someone line their pockets at the company's expense."

Melora chuckled."

"Nice try, Tyler. That noble mercenary crap sounds good on the holovid but you and I both know we're here in this room because you can't stand watching people get hurt or killed, whether they're guards, workers, or even Neo Greenies, just to let some skag wiggle out from under trouble he's made for himself." She gave Laya a woman-of-the-world grin and said, "Corp agent with a conscience. Next thing you know, I'll be working with an android that writes poetry."

Tyler sighed.

"Look, all we're asking is that you check it out. Hire a gridrider, and I mean one of the best. Heck, get bloody Angel Red if you have to. They'll see that the data's a put-up job designed to sucker you. If the Iala plant really isn't an environmental nightmare, why bother with it when your crusade has far better targets in the archopolis?"

Slowly, but finally, Laya nodded.

"No promises," she said. "I barely believe you, and I'm not sure I can convince my m--friends."

"If you did promise, we'd know you were lying," Melora told her. "Now, let's get you out of here so this can work. You know, I'm really looking forward to seeing Martinez take a fall for this one. I may even start watching the business news."

* * * * *

"So what do you think?" Melora asked, a few hours after they'd helped the girl get away.

"About?"

"Laya. Will she do it?"

"I don't know. I think she'll try."

"Interesting slip she made there. Want to lay odds that there's a Mrs. De Cille high up, maybe at the top of the Greenies' pecking order?"

"Unless Laya deliberately said that as an attempt to mislead us."

"Paranoia lives on, I see. It's worth checking into, though."

Tyler shook his head.

"Okay, why not?" Melora asked.

"It wouldn't be in good faith."

"Tyler, you're an agent! You steal data, help corporate employees defect from their companies to us, strong-arm LIM's enemies, and occasionally kill when the job calls for it, like, oh, at the refinery tonight."

"That's biz. This is personal. Even Laya knew that; you didn't see her cursing us from one end of that cell to the other for taking down her friends."

"Guy's got a damn Alis Landale complex," Melora grumbled, rolling her eyes, but it was said with affection.

"Who?"

"Fairy-tale heroine. I wanted to be just like her when I was a kid." She smiled at Tyler. "Maybe that's why I love you, 'cause you've got the same qualities."

"Corp agent and fairy-tale legend. Interesting comparison."

"Hey, you may get paid by Luveno, but you work for what's in here."

She poked him in the chest. "Now, stop arguing and kiss me. Keep saying silly things and you might lose the chance."

Tyler, never being known for stupidity, complied.

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