Сборники Художественной, Технической, Справочной, Английской, Нормативной, Исторической, и др. литературы.


                  P R O V I N G   G R O U N D S

          Copyright (c) 1994  Eyrie Productions, Uninc.

                       FOREWORD BY AUTHORS

Ben "Gryphon" Hutchins (gryphon@world.std.com)::

 What you are about to read is the first of a Undocumented
Features story arc called Proving Grounds.  It's a section of the Future
Imperfect part of UF, which takes place after _Undocumented Features
Volume 4: Crossroads_.  It appears that there will be several arcs
within the Future Imperfect cycle; the basic idea behind Proving
Grounds is its focus on, primarily, a small group of characters and
the changes that the times cause in them.  If you stay with it for the
full run, you'll see some pretty dramatic changes; you'll see children
be born and grow up; you may even learn something from the people
you're watching.  Or perhaps, in my eagerness, I overestimate myself,
my co-authors, my characters; time will tell.

 If there is any lesson to be learned in Proving Grounds, it's
that time will tell.

 There are problems with this first installment, from a purist
standpoint; I'll grant that.  It's very long, much longer than Larry
and I originally intended it to become, and yet when we sought to
break it up into three or so separate stories, they never sat well
with us.  The central idea is incomplete without all the story
presented.  It rambles, and might even seem incoherent at times; but
then, so do our lives.  Bear with these foibles and you may find the
stories themselves rewarding.  You may even come to like the somewhat
unusual styling.

 As always, we welcome comments and other feedback, so long as
those who criticize don't mind seeing us defend our position.  :)

15 December 1994

Larry "R-Type" Mann (lrmann@uci.edu)::

 Welcome to Future Imperfect, and to _Proving Grounds_.

 I think Gryph pretty much covered it: this is the beginning
of one of the most challenging pieces of fanfic which has ever been
written.  For us, anyway.  This thing is big.  Really big.  Not much
for it, though, simply because there's quite a bit to be talked about
here.  Get ready for a lot of changes.  Times are changing, people
are changing, growing up.  Old problems have been replaced with new
ones, and the rules are beginning to change accordingly.

 My personal opinion: I've learned quite a bit in the course
of putting this project together, and I'd like to think that as this
story continues to unfold, there will be a lot of wisdom to be found
here, wisdom that perhaps we could all apply to real life, and just
maybe make this life a little more tolerable.  But of course, it's
up to you, our readers, to make the final decision for yourselves.
That's the way democracy works, after all. :)

 I promised myself I wasn't going to get long-winded, as I
tend to do , so let me finish by saying again that comments and
other feedback are welcomed.  Just remember to email both of us, okay? :)
I stand by my coauthors, and our characters, and I believe we can learn
quite a bit from their experience.

 So, with that said, let's begin.  Please enjoy the ride!

17 December 1994

PLEASE NOTE: There is an introduction to this story; it was posted
separately, by my illustrious co-author, Larry Mann.  If you haven't
read it, mark this article as unread and go find it.  It's not very
long, but we feel it should be read before the story itself.  --G.


         23 APRIL 2389
          PLANET EARTH

 The eastern sky began to change from black to a shade of dark
blue, allowing the hills along that horizon to become visible, if only
as black silhouettes.  It wouldn't be long before the color would
lighten further and then change gently into a shade of magenta and
orange, ultimately brightening into blue skies as the Pacific sector
of the United States moved further and further into Sol's field of
 But none of those things had happened yet, and the landscape
was still dark except for the streetlights, signs both neon and
fluorescent, and the rhythmic color changes of traffic lights being
controlled by anti-burnout timers.  There was no sound except for the
inescapable noise of the occasional vehicle which shot down the
otherwise deserted I-405 Freeway, often serving as the only indication
of life anywhere in the immediate area.  Early morning hours were, and
always had been, the time of near-total inactivity for the city of
 A pair of headlights differentiated themselves from the near
darkness and silence of the city, as a vehicle cruised down Jamboree
Road (one of the major thoroughfares of the city), well below the
posted maximum speed limits.  Each time the vehicle passed under a
streetlamp, the resultant light reflected off the aircar's
light-colored body and cast a shadow on the ground 20 feet below.  The
car moved leisurely yet deliberately, as if it knew exactly where it
was going but was in no real hurry to get there.  An observer might
indeed ask where it was going, with the city as dead as it was now.
What sort of business was conducted at this hour?
 The car continued on its slow, quiet path, until it began to
near a large, pyramid-shaped building, one of the largest structures
in the city.  It bore a strong resemblance to the twin GENOM towers in
Los Angeles, although this building was shorter and had a considerably
narrower base, and was surrounded by several smaller structures in a
ring-shaped arrangement.  The pyramid itself was completely dark
except for the red glow of the aircraft warning beacons at its apex.
Some of the surrounding structures were just as dark, while others
glowed with orange or white energy from arc lamps which remained on
throughout the night.  Only one of the darkened sub-buildings chose
to betray the identity of this structure to the universe, with a
series of large red block letters which spelled "GENOM".  That sign,
too, remained on all night.
 Reflections of the car's headlights began to appear in the
road as it descended to ground level and turned into the complex's
main entryway.  It came to a stop at an outer guardpost, sat there for
a moment as the vehicle's operator had some brief discussion with the
guards there, and then proceeded forward.  The car moved into the
right lane of the entryway, and then turned onto an access ramp which
led to a tunnel, which in turn led underground, illuminated on either
side by powerful orange arc lights.  The car cruised into the tunnel
and disappeared from view, and then all was silent again, the noise of
sparse and distant traffic once again the only sound to split the
slowly fading nighttime.
 Approximately seven minutes later, the tower's solid sheen of
blackness was broken by the illumination of a single office on the
northern side of the building, situated on one of the uppermost
floors.  Once again, had there been anyone present to notice, they
might have wondered why activity like this would be happening so early
in the day, wondered what sort of purpose it might serve.

 In fact the man who now sat by the office window, looking
silently out toward the eastern horizon as it began to bear the
faintest hints of magenta and orange in its sky, was not entirely
certain what it was that had brought him here as early as it was,
either.  He'd had trouble sleeping the night before -- just a case of
24-hour insomnia, as far as he could tell, but it had reached the
point where it wasn't just inability to sleep, but a desire to move
around, to get out and do something.  So, for lack of any other place
to head to at this ungodly hour, he'd gone to the office.  Sometimes,
going to the office when it was completely deserted like this actually
had a relaxing effect and helped him sort things out.
 This time it didn't help much; his mind was just as jumpy and
indecisive as before.  Definitely a case of undefined angst, then.
The problem of undefined angst had been with him for as long as he
could remember, what with his mind always considering all
possibilities and creating worst-case scenarios for everything.  Now
that he was here he didn't want to go out again, so he just kept
looking out the window at the sunrise.
 Anything could happen.  What bothered him the most was that
all his usual attempts at solving the angst problem had not succeeded.
What exactly *was* the problem?  What was it he wanted/needed?  Did he
know?  No, not really.  That had become a trend of late, what with all
the recent massive changes in the world around him, particularly the
makeup of his company.  All of a sudden there were all these new
options and possibilities for the future, and quite frankly it was a
little bit more than his mind was up to dealing with.
 It was hard to say just how much had really changed, actually.
The major changes, of course, were that 1) a new Master had taken
command, and 2) the company's military division had been ripped apart,
and the Wedge Defense Force had taken possession of most of it.  (It
was supposed to be a good thing, he knew, that latter event.  So why
did he have mixed emotions about it?)  Other than that, GENOM was
pretty much the same as it had always been, its basic structure
completely unaffected.  Some of their holdings had been sold off, and
a buyout or three had been cancelled, but GENOM was still essentially
the most powerful corporation in known space.  The cat's claws had
been trimmed, but it wasn't like the WDF had gutted it.  A lot of
previously secret GENOM papers had gone into the public domain, true,
but that would not affect him personally in any way; an equal number
of documents had remained secret and classified, and that included the
impressive array of data contained in the Black Folders.  Actually
most of the major Black data had been appropriated by the WDF, but
some of the files were still there; he knew because his access codes
and clearance still worked, much to his surprise.
 Black Files... sheesh.  His thoughts wandered back to a
bookcase sitting in his bedroom, one which contained paper and disc
copies of various projects he'd been involved in.  A share of those
had been located in the Black Files at one time or another.  Granted
his personal involvement in those operations was not horribly
significant, or had been downplayed if it was (GENOM's majordomo ACI,
Battia, had been most helpful in this endeavor), but he couldn't erase
the things he'd done from his mind.  Those reports in his bedroom
served as a constant reminder and testimonial to what the company had
done to him.  In his time he had, to stay afloat, learned just about
everything there was to know about all the wrong ways to conduct
business.  Extortion, forgery, bribery, blackmail... shit, even murder
and other things which were more horrendous than he could deal with
rationally.  Name it, he probably learned how to do it.  He'd taught
himself how to be evil.
 There was another side to the whole thing, though.  He tended
to remember the bad moments more than the good; typical of any human
being, really.  But for every bad point, there was at least one good
one too.  GENOM was a lot more than simply an armada of warships and
Buma, after all.  It was a large-scale industrial manufacturing
company, with the same goals and competitive interests as any other
corporation on the galactic scene.  And had the company's former ruler
been less obsessed with certain things, GENOM might have become a very
different corporation.
 His gaze moved away from the sunrise, taking his thoughts
along, and passed across the walls and file cabinets.  At least two
dozen plaques and diplomas adorned the walls, and other service medals
and decorations were scattered throughout.  GENOM had funded his
education through the years (his Doctoral degrees had all been
financed through company funds), paid his medical bills and insurance,
and had spared no expense on his behalf for his research projects.
The awards were for good or outstanding conduct in the various jobs
he'd held over the years.  It was through this company that he'd
learned everything there was to know about the art of doing business.
Legitimate business.  Through training and GENOM's own workshops and
seminars, and a lot of experience both white and black, he'd become
one of the best CEOs, one of the best researchers, and one of the best
techs, the corporation had to offer.  And all that hard work had
earned him his seniority, benefits, and a lot of clout and recognition
in the corporate world, not to mention one hell of a salary.  GENOM
had been good to him too.
 And that's what made the decision-making process so difficult
for him now.  Did he really want to resign?
 He could do it.  He had enough money to last him for years.
But would he lose reliable access to his means of life-extension?  And
where would he go?
 The WDF?  They did, after all, have the alluring and much more
reliable method of life-extension known as Omega-2.  But what would he
have to do to earn *that*?  It was the equivalent of a Congressional
Medal of Honor, awarded for exceptional valor or major scientific
breakthrough.  He wasn't a combatant, and he'd already made most of
his greatest discoveries.  Shit, it might be unreachable.
 For that matter... could he even be certain that the WDF would
even give him the time of day?  Quite frankly, the WDF had every
reason to hate his guts, and he wouldn't blame them for it.  Some of
their conflicts had been at a distance, and others up close and
personal.  One particular one surfaced in his mind, the one his
computer programmer's side would never forget.  Hell, no part of him
would ever forget what had happened that day.  It was a battle which
might -- or might not, he really wasn't sure -- have been his closest
call ever.
 The year was 2270.  The place was Turing III...

        2270 APRIL 20 @ 0131 HOURS

 In a quiet office building, R-Type sat down at a desk and
unpacked his deck, connecting the power cables to the
subspace/subether transmission trunk.  The 'frame would think his deck
was just another terminal, which was good: he wanted as few ID traces
as possible.  He worked silently, and on the surface appearing totally
emotionless, not even talking to himself as he usually did when
decking.  This was happening whether he liked it or not, and he didn't
like it.  It wasn't so much about what was going to happen, as *when*
it was happening.  That was the wrong and idiotic part.  R- Type felt
he could honestly say he was the only one who really understood that.
And with GENOM, majority rules, especially when Largo is the majority.
(Of course Largo would still rule even if he were the minority.  Go
 He plugged in the programs he needed: LogicProbe and Railgun
codebreakers, a daemon containing a couple low-level attack utils, and
another daemon which had what was (he hoped) enough defensive
equipment in case things went bad, which was, sorry to say, quite
 He checked his watch.  01:32:00.  Rendezvous was in 60
seconds.  He shook his head.  This was insane, he knew, but try
telling Largo that.  Largo says "do", you "do", no matter how FUBAR
you think the plan to be.  R-Type thought this plan was FUBAR in a big
way, and he'd tried to explain why to Largo and that idiot Charles
LaPlante.  Neither had listened to him.  He'd considered asking that
somebody else take charge of the attack, but Largo wanted *him* there,
and crossing Largo was a Bad Thing(tm).  Not only that, LaPlante was
an ACI expert, and R-Type needed LaPlante's knowledge to proceed with
his own ACI experiments.  All pros and cons considered, R-Type decided
to go through with it.  But if he was going to drop into a situation
where everything was against him, by damn he was going to be *ready*.
 He'd signed on earlier, using his normal identity, and briefed
his troops on the meeting time and attack plan.  At 01:33:30 they
would telnet to icc.turing.net, and there rendezvous with their
commanding officer, ThunderKnight, known in the real world as Rai
Oyasumi.  Oyasumi was, R-Type had said, a freelance decker whom R-
Type trusted implicitly.  The more sentient Cyber-Wraiths were a bit
skeptical, but LaPlante had said he could vouch for the T'Knight.  (He
knew who "Rai" really was.)  If all went according to plan, 60
real-seconds later that node would become GENOM's property.  Of course
R-Type did *not* expect anything to go "according to plan".
 01:32:30.  Time to hook up.  He plugged his cybercables in and
issued a dial command...




You are connected to GNM-ts9, a GENNet terminal server.

Trying Open.

(GENOM C-OS 4.5, update 226801.14)

login: royasumi

Last login Tue 226912.25@00:04:19 on ttyaQ from GNM-ts9.

TERM = (vt100)  cspace

Loading requested interface... Done.
Ready for Cyberspace injection.  Connect all cables and press GO when
ready...  OK.


 The momentary disorientation of the initial noisestorm passed,
and R-Type was in cyberspace, standing before icc.turing.net, the
datafortress which was the Internet Control Center, the main hub and
primary controller for the galaxy-spanning Internet.  He brought a
Cloak util online, and the virtual representation of the ThunderKnight
-- a tall Human man in techno-samurai armor with a black cloverleaf
emblem emblazoned onto the breastplate -- disappeared.  Now he could
observe the still-secure node without drawing undue attention to
himself.  R-Type had seen this datafortress a couple times before, and
each time he was amazed by how mind-bogglingly big it was.  The
fortress loomed quite impressively on its virtual ramparts, a big
white-stone Welsh castle, circa the High Middle Ages.  In fact it
looked a lot like the castle from David Macauley's "Castle".  Very
nice.  Also very imposing.  Its drawbridge, the main access gate, was
closed, as he'd expected.
 R-Type sat on the virtual ground and sighed inwardly.  He was
still firmly convinced that this was one of the most idiotic things
GENOM had ever done.  Attacking an Internet node at 1:34 AM, a node
which was controlled by people who were, like him, primarily gweeply?
How stupid can you get?  There was a reason 2200 to 0200 was called
the "gweepning".  GENOM was doing something which was a lot like
walking into a lion's den when the lion was 1) in a really bad mood,
and 2) very hungry.
 He shook himself and forced himself to ramp down the negative
vibes.  He was the CO of a legion of GENOM Cyber-Wraiths.  It wouldn't
do to give off a losing attitude.  This was one of those funny little
paradoxes/ironies that life seemed to get a real kick out of throwing
at him.  He had to at least *look* like he had a winning attitude.  So
of course he was going to have to try to win.  Of course trying to win
would be a serious health hazard.  These people would defend this node
with all the black software they could dig up.  And R-Type's own
forces would be throwing equally deadly utilities around.  He didn't
feel like dying, but it was death either way.  Weighing the options,
he found that going back and telling Largo that he was an idiot meant
inescapable death.  (He'd had one conversation with Teleute already,
and though she was the most wonderful person he'd ever met, one
conversation was enough.)  Here in the Net, on the other hand, he at
least had a fighting chance.  So, the Net it was.
 [I hate my life,] he grumbled inwardly.
 He called up a clock icon, which informed him that it was
01:33:27 in realtime.  He shut down the Cloak util, becoming visible
again.  Any moment now...
 Behind him, three separate telnet gates opened and enlarged to
accommodate the massive traffic flow coming through them.  His forces
had arrived: the legion of Cyber-Wraiths, which were a collection of
real-live deckers, Buma, and Cybernetic Intelligences (not ACIs, mind
you; they weren't good/smart enough).  Also present were the icons of
a few LAPCIS ACIs, responding to the call of their designer, LaPlante,
for assistance.  And R-Type recognized the icon of one of his own
creations, a STACIS ACI named Battia, a humaniform with long jet-black
hair and cat ears.  The majordomo of GENOM itself; well, that did
offer a boost of confidence.
 Battia approached him as the Wraiths continued to pour out of
the gates.  Those who were already out waited patiently for the next
command.  "Good evening, ThunderKnight," she said.  "I've been
informed that you are our commanding officer for this operation."
(She didn't recognize him, which was what R-Type had intended.  Good.)
 "I am," R-Type replied.  "Lady Battia, isn't it?  I was
informed that you would be my lieutenant."
 "Just 'Battia' will be fine.  May I call you TK?" she asked,
and he nodded approval.  She glanced up at the datafortress.  "So
what's our next course of action?"
 "Well, if all goes as planned," R-Type replied.  "In about 5
real-seconds that drawbridge will drop, and our forces will just move
right in; ICC will be ours."
 "What about internal security?"
 "There shouldn't be any, if all goes well.  Order all forces
into ready mode."
 Battia nodded, forking a command process off to the legion,
which responded by moving into a crescent shape in front of the data
fortress.  From his position near the center of the throng, amid the
cacophony of various attack and defense programs being loaded into
position, R-Type checked his clock icon.  2 real-seconds remaining...
 1 real-second...

 The drawbridge did not open.

 R-Type glanced at his clock icon again; it was reading
correctly.   he thought.  
He allowed a few more real-seconds.  Still nothing.
 "Check me if I'm wrong, TK," Battia said.  "But isn't that
thing supposed to be open now?"
 "Yes, it is," R-Type said, anger beginning to rise in his
voice.  He'd *known* this thing was going to be FUBAR from the very
start.  0134 was *NOT* the time to try and take down an Internet node
populated by gweeps, especially *this* one.  Why was it that *he* was
the only one who seemed to understand that??
 [Stay cool, stay cool,] he reminded himself.  Time to plan
some emergency strategy.  [Think.  LaPlante may just be behind
schedule.  On the other hand he may have been found out...  Can't back
down now, he may need help.  On the other hand an attack might sound
every alarm in the sector.  Shit.  Okay... activity seems pretty low
in there, which would suggest LaPlante *did* knock down most of the
internal security himself.  And if that's true, then there won't be
much in the line of an alarm system.  Knowing that...]
 "LogicProbe!" he commanded.  A large boxy device with two
light-emitting projections at the front materialized.  "Main gate!
Full power!" he shouted.  It surged forward and plowed into the closed
drawbridge, emitting a shower of electrical pulses and sending energy
waves rippling across the gate.  R-Type could make out several icons
appearing on the battlements of the castle, and suddenly arrows began
to fly in their direction.  Some of the defenses were still
 "Attack!!" R-Type commanded.  "I want those defenses taken out
ASAP!"  The Cyber-Wraiths acknowledged his command by surging forward
and firing their own attack utilities at the castle.  Battia drew her
sword and charged forward with them, deflecting the missiles shot at
her with ease.  R-Type remained where he was; he had no desire to
place himself in the path of any kind of fire if he could help it, and
besides, coordinating the fighting was much easier from this vantage
 R-Type had never actually witnessed defenders taking to the
battlements of a castle and raining arrows down on attackers before.
It was, virtually at least, quite impressive.  For his forces, though,
it was a Bad Thing(tm).  That castle was everything that a castle of
the Middle Ages was meant to be, equipped with sturdy battlements and
dozens of murder holes and arrow loops through which attacks could be
sent with minimal danger.  Getting in was no picnic.  The arrows, like
the castle, were also deceptive and dangerous.  Simple and
primitive-looking, they punched through the armor programs of the
rank-and-file Wraiths with ease, hosing them quite effectively.  This
node had been designed extremely well, designed to keep groups like
GENOM from getting in.
 "So much for 'I'll handle the guards'," R-Type grumbled,
dragging a hand across his face.
 The logic probe, unconcerned, continued hammering away at the
main gate, and reported that it was making progress.  Evidently
LaPlante and the Sysops who'd sided with him had at least done part of
their job, taking down most of the site's inner defenses.  R-Type
scanned the battlements from his position of relative safety, for
anyone who might be a ranking officer or even a Sysop.  He knew there
had to be at least one on duty, maybe more, especially at this hour.
he thought, trying to will the logic probe to do its work
faster.  Every nanosecond counted now...
 It was then that he noticed the One Thing That, Even in a
Worst Case Scenario, was Never Going to Happen(tm):
 The transmission tower was active.  Someone was sending out a
message, and it was obviously not to him or any of his forces.  That
fact had several implications and possibilities attached to it, none
of which were very pleasant from R-Type's point of view.  "Railgun!"
His right arm 'morphed into a hardsuit railgun and he aimed for the
tower, hoping to kill -9 the process and stop the message before it
got sent.  By the time he was ready to issue the firing command,
however, transmission had stopped.  Either the sender had completed
his/her request or it had been cut short.  Either way, somebody was
going to notice.  This was not good at all.  He sent a message of his
own, a call for additional forces.  Reason: code black (read:
Completely Fucked Up, But You Said No Retreating, Sir).
  From within the battlements of the castle, he heard a man's
voice bellowing to some hapless subordinate: "WHERE IN THE FLYING HOLY
HELLS IS SQIRL, DAMN IT ALL?!"  Well, that was one good thing, he
hoped.  With their strongest Sysop missing it would give R-Type's
forces a slight edge.  They just might pull this off after all.  The
logic probe kept bashing away.  The gate was obviously weakening.  It
was also obvious that they were attempting to shore it up from behind.
The two interaction curves *were* beginning to spiral down slowly.
The probe *was* winning; he'd designed his codecracker well.  But with
the ongoing attempt to reconstruct the gate from inside, there would
be delays.  And now, any delay could have horrible consequences.  "Go
to 110%!  Emergency power!" R-Type ordered the probe.  And it did just
that, but it was already strained to near maximum and so offered very
little gain.   of now!  Come on sweetheart!  Take that damn thing down!!> The probe
reported in as having the gate 95% decoded... 96%... 97%... 98%...
 Suddenly there was a whistling noise, and R-Type discovered
that he was standing in the corner of a very large shadow.  Ohhh SHIT!
Dodge left!  NOW!!


 An object he recognized as the virtual representation of an
anvil crashed into, and crashed, the logic probe, vaporizing it.  The
drawbridge was still up.  In very bad shape, but still up.  "GAAAH!"
R-Type shouted, quite miffed at losing his codecracker.
 From above, he heard a voice: "Heh heh.  Whatta yutz."  Oh
Jesus.  He knew who it was.  So much for the 'slight edge'.  Unless he
could get that goddamned gate down.  He ran a quick scope on the
door's integrity, and got a mildly comforting response: he'd seen
tougher datawalls on a Commodore 6.4T.  Hell, he could probably crash
this thing himself.  He raised his arm and started the firing sequence
for the Railgun's attack subroutine.  "All forces!" he called.  "Get
ready to move and move fast!!"  The railgun was charged and ready to
go.  He issued the firing command--
 And at that moment, and for the second time that evening,
something Impossible happened:

 The fortress, the entire vast Internet Center node...
*disappeared*.  Vanished.  R-Type's railgun spike sailed through space
and, finding no target, simply fizzled out.
 "Baaah?!?" R-Type remarked.  Several of the ACIs and the more
sentient Wraiths bore similar expressions of disbelief.  "That's
IMPOSSIBLE!!" he shouted at no one in particular.  "They CAN'T shut it
down -- not in less than five minutes!!!"
 Fuck.  Well, this was completely ballsed up, and with the site
somehow shut down there was nothing at all GENOM could do.  Now he had
a legit excuse for cutting his losses and getting the snord out of
there.  Finally.  
 <**ERROR**,> his deck replied.   the wrong.  Check with your sysadmin.>
 Oh shit.  "What the fuck...?!"  Hell of a time to have
something like this happen, and for no visible reason.  It seemed that
someone or something was blocking him, but... who or what?  He scanned
the area frantically and detected nothing.  What was holding him?!
 And at that moment, all hell broke loose.

 The "sky" over the spot where the fortress had been, crackled
with energy in a display very similar to atmospheric lightning.  And
then it split open and poured blue light on the landscape, obscuring
-- in fact *erasing* -- most of the detail from this area of
cyberspace.  In the middle of the lightstorm, R-Type thought he could
make out a dozen or so icons dropping to the plane of the cyberspace
node.  Then, with a thunderclap, the sky closed up again, leaving
nothing behind but the endless grid of cyberspace.  Most of the
Intercenter's guardians had been dumped offline when their machine
went down, but this was of little consolation, because R-Type still
recognized most of the icons that confronted him.
 The glittering blue-silver armored one with the faceless bowl
helmet had to be Gryphon, and the large black manshape with all the
silver circuitry bits was undoubtedly MegaZone.  To Gryphon's right
was another form, similarly encased in armor, although this one's was
not the angular, recognizable GRF-3N shape, but rather gleaming CVR-3
and what seemed to be a Battler Cyclone, which was apparently an
attack/defense daemon of some kind.  That would be ReRob.
 [Oh great... the WDF found out...]  Then again, he supposed he
shouldn't be surprised about that.  That was probably who the message
sender had called, after all.
 Arrayed behind them were several more that R-Type thought he
recognized.  The dark-haired gent in the mosh boots and leather jacket
would be Crimson.  The guy with the chain mail and the huge sword was
undoubtedly Tracker.  The stick figure with the shock of unruly blond
hair had to be Jer Johnson, and the 40's Gangster Type in the Blue
Pin-Stripe and Black Fedora was clearly Lightnin.
 The ninja with the purple costume and the Information Society
logo on his chest had to be /dev/null, and the unassuming dark haired
gent in the VERY overstuffed grey canvas jacket was Android,
apparently.  Next to him was Eric "ear" Rasmussen, the Man with the
Very Orange Feet.
 It wasn't hard to guess who the raven-haired beauty next to
MegaZone was.  Just wonderful.  Of all the people appearing, Hazard
was the one he was least inclined to confront.  How could he confront
someone he had always idolized?  Especially when *he* was on the
"wrong side", as it were?  Thank you, LaPlante, for obviously fucking
up so badly that you attracted the attention of practically everyone
in GweepCo.  This was Very Exceedingly Bad...
 Scattered among the gweeps were a few of the Sysops of Turing,
too: R-Type recognized Larry "Entropy" Foard's techno-knight, and the
reality-modeled Veltari Salusian form of Dr. Slappi Sqirl, the Turing
Chair-Sysop, handbag, green hat and all.  There was Dr. Teng Chitaia
and Dr. Rebecca Stallman of Earth, and Mixta Vardis-Al of Dralas.  And
there was none other than Mainframe, from Cybertron...
 "Bad thing, bad, bad thing... very bad thing..." R-Type
mumbled as he scrolled through the list of icons.  "Very, very,
horrendously exceedingly bad thing..."  And then, to top it all off,
several telnet gates behind the Turing defenders opened up, and out
poured what had to be at least two legions of Imperial Salusian Cyber-
Marines, effectively matching GENOM's contingent entity to entity.
And with them came many more familiar icons: John "macquivr" Todd, Liz
Stewart, Josh "mute" Brandt, Ralph Valentino, Mike "elric" Voorhis...
Good Lord, *everyone* in GweepCo was here.  "Fuck me..."  R-Type
wheezed.  He tried to punch out again, got the same error message
again.  Fuck.  This was *BAD*...
 Then suddenly he was not alone.  Behind him the telnet gates
opened up and the long-awaited Wraith reinforcements began to pour
through, accompanied by several more LAPCIS ACIs, and another STACIS
CI: a young blond girl named Lufy, one of GENOM's most decorated
combat ACIs.  No other STACIS ACIs appeared.  Just as well; R-Type
wanted no more of his own creations involved in this debacle.  Then,
with a flittering cybertransit effect similar to the transporter
effect from Star Trek: The Next Generation, there appeared next to R-
Type the four Sysops of Turing that GENOM had turned: there was Dr.
Max Morris of Earth, and the Vruskian J'itaya K'kr'k, who had hoped
that GENOM's takeover would increase the Net's efficiency.  Next to
him was the squat Dalek tank-form of Vardak Emaya Vitan Vak, the
system's only Skarosian operator.  And, of course, the Turing Turncoat
himself, Charles Foreman LaPlante, currently dressed in rather
scorched-looking techno-samurai armor very similar to R-Type's.
 R-Type was not at all undecided over whether or not he should
be happy LaPlante was alive.  He wasn't.  It was that simple.
 He had an intense feeling that something was missing from this
little get-together, as though there was someone or something that
should be there but wasn't.  Maybe it had something to do with why he
couldn't punch out of this mess before he got hosed?  He had no time
to think about it any further, though, because a voice boomed across
the expanse:
 "Attention, GENOM forces," announced the circuit-man.  "You
have attempted to take over a public facility for corporate usage.
This is in violation of Section 2, Subsection 9 of the Internet
Charter and comes under the clauses of Part 5, Wedge Defense Force
Code."  Judging by its voice it was quite obviously the WDF commander,
as R-Type had suspected.  "CEASE AND DESIST."
 Now R-Type was perfectly willing to do just that, and in
another situation he would have raised his hands in surrender and
ordered all his forces to do the same.  And they most likely would
have understood, the situation being as screwed as it was.  The smart
warrior knew a hopeless fight when he saw one, and knew when to
retreat so he could fight another day.
 But, unfortunately, R-Type was no longer in a position to be
giving orders.  LaPlante -- special thanks to Largo for this grand
decision -- had been given mission seniority, and he was not
interested in surrender.  "KILL THEM!" he shouted, and the entire
contingent surged forward.
 Battle was joined.
 R-Type was thankful for the fact that he currently existed as
Rai Oyasumi and not Larry Mann, that his callsign was currently
'ThunderKnight' and not 'R-Type'.  That wasn't much of a consolation,
though.  It might protect his identity but it wasn't going to protect
his life from the black software that was almost certainly about to be
unleashed.  For one instant he wondered if he *should* have packed
some black software.  No, no killers.  He didn't want to kill anyone
here.  Except maybe LaPlante, but that was different.  He called up
his most powerful Shield program, which provided him with a full-
length body shield, and a defensive Flatline sword program which would
dump whoever it hit offline and fry their cyberdeck so they couldn't
get back on.  And not a minute too soon, as several and varied attacks
began to sail back and forth.
 He stayed with the throng of Wraiths and GENOM personnel who
were now engaging the WDF icons, but he hung toward the rear.  Not
*too* far back; he didn't want to look like a deserter; if LaPlante
survived this he could seriously fuck up R-Type's clout by calling him
a deserter.  (Yahright, but R-Type didn't want to take that chance.)
Nobody seemed to notice, though; they were too busy following
LaPlante's orders and defending themselves now.
 From the rear of the battlefield, he had a much better view of
the complete and utter chaos that had begun, as Cyber-Wraiths and
Cyber-Marines went after each other, dropping and de-rezzing each
other like flies.  The lower-echelon warriors of each side were
quickly dispatched, either Dumped or Flatlined by said routines, or
flat-out killed by black programs.  Eventually the strongest warriors,
namely the renegade Sysops and the guardians, began having at it.
R-Type, when he wasn't taking a few seconds to flatline an attacking
Cyber-Marine or dodge a Hellbolt, or engaged in combat with the Sysops
and gweeps himself, watched with a morbid fascination as they went
after each other with many and varied attacks.  Here Gryphon reduced
one of the stronger Wraiths to a cloud of free errors with a bolt from
his "particle gun"; there the purple ninja "stumbled" and ran another
through with his outstretched sword, righting himself with the impact.
Here one of Dr. Sqirl's anvils crushed one and nearly took out the
Dalek Sysop in the process.  There, MegaZone went after LaPlante,
attacking him with his (so to speak) bare hands.
 It was complete and utter chaos, and from where he was, R-Type
could see that the guardians were getting the upper hand.  The
renegades were losing ground, being kept off balance by the almost
constant aerial attacks produced by Dr. Sqirl.  This was not good.
 About then -- and since he still couldn't sign off -- R-Type's
sense of loyalty/duty returned: he couldn't just sit there and watch
them be slaughtered.  He was on their team.  It was a fucked-up team,
but it was *his* team nevertheless; he had to do something to help.
Doing a quick analysis of the situation, he decided that the thing
that was giving his people the worst problem was the black software
which Dr. Sqirl was taking great delight in using.  If he could get
her out of the picture, it might even the odds again.  Those anvils
just had to stop; it was that simple.  He powered up a Dump utility
and sighted on her.  At the moment she was concentrating on knocking
down the Dalek's code shell; maybe in that moment he could hit her,
knock her offline.  The Dump program wouldn't do any damage, of
course, but in the time it took for her to log back on, the tide could
turn.  He'd probably have to kick several others off in this manner as
well; Dr. Sqirl would be the first.  Dr. Sqirl was, with an evil grin
on her face, preparing to drop an anvil on the Dalek when R-Type's
program gave a READY signal.  He aimed and issued the rapid-firing
command; he'd need to use this program several times in a big hurry...

 ...but before it could execute, there was a wrenching signal
distortion, and he was yanked away.

  This felt unsettlingly like being caught
in a noisestorm, except that this felt quite deliberate, as if someone
or something had caused a Netsplit and pushed him into it on purpose.
  he wondered.
 "Gravity" reversed itself, and he felt the universe tilting
under him.  Then he crashed to his back, landing on something soft.
 Opening his virtual eyes, he looked around, and found himself
in a gridroom about 10 "feet" square, lying on a large soft mat.  In
the corner, an icon was standing...
 No, not an icon...
 A *person*.  This wasn't a bit-and-volt replica of some user
connecting from the outside; R-Type could *feel* that.  This was
*someone*, someone who lived here, in the Net.  Someone who belonged
 And R-Type had the sudden feeling that he did *not*.
 "I'm sorry," said the woman, in a beautiful and melodic voice.
"But I couldn't let you do that."
 R-Type just stared at her for a moment, still trying to
decipher just what had happened.  She was very beautiful, with silvery
hair and a slender build.  R-Type thought she seemed familiar, felt
like he should know her, but try as he might he could not place her.
It seemed like a cheesy question to ask, but he did it anyway: "Who...
who are you?"
 She smiled quietly, as if more privately than outwardly
amused, and her golden eyes twinkled.  As she walked across the room,
her silver hair slowly turned green, and the diaphanous gown she was
wearing seemed to congeal, darken, and solidify around her, becoming a
red jumpsuit with a checkerboard design over one front pocket.
 "Most people call me Eve," she said.
 Eve...?  A huge memory block disappeared rapidly.  EVE-1A?!
Ho-ly shit... could this really be happening?  For a moment he forgot
how to speak; this was nothing short of incredible.
 She looked at him.  Or maybe through him.  He really couldn't
be sure.  "I suppose there would be little point in asking you what
you think you're trying to pull, Larry."
 R-Type froze.  He heard his heart (he supposed) stop, then
start beating so rapidly he feared it would explode.  Silently his
mouth formed the words "oh shit".  *Nobody* was supposed to know that
Rai Oyasumi was really Larry Mann (with the possible exception of
LaPlante and Largo).  That cover had been designed very carefully,
designed to be impenetrable!  He felt himself starting to inch
backwards, away from her.
 "There's no need to be afraid," Eve said.  Suddenly there was
nothing supporting R-Type, and he fell to the floor with a thud.
 Correction: the ground.  They were apparently in a park.  It
was springtime, and the birds were chirping.  R-Type looked like
himself now, only much younger -- in his early 20s or so, probably the
same age as Eve appeared to be -- than he actually was at the moment.
He was dressed casually, for the weather.  So was Eve, in the
jeans-sneakers-denim-jacket ensemble favored by college students
 "It was only a simple question," she said.
 "Uh..." R-Type was still having trouble regaining his command
of the Standard language.  Good Lord, here he was, next to the most
powerful Autonomic Cybernetic Intelligence in the known galaxy, maybe
even the known universe.  And she was obviously in complete control of
this environment, wherever it was.  He began to feel kind of stupid
for fumbling as badly as he was.
 Just then, with a start, he realized that the birds in the
park were chirping the tune of Pachelbel's "Canon in D".  He loved the
tune quite a bit, but he'd never heard it presented quite this way.
"This is weird..." he mumbled, his eyes panning across the scene.
 "This isn't weird," Eve said with a sunny smile.  Suddenly he
was weightless and looking down at the Crab Nebula, which he appeared
to be standing on, and rotating slowly.
 "This," said Eve, dressed in a cheesy typical bad-SF-film
clear-bubble-helmet space suit and perched on a nearby spiral galaxy's
arm, "is weird."
 And they were back in the park again.
 "There's something different about you, R-Type," she said.
She was sitting right next to him.  "You're not like those other
attackers.  You don't have any black utilities at all in memory.  In
fact you don't have anything except that carrier-killer, the Railgun,
and your defensive equipment.  Seems to me your heart isn't in this.
And then there's that supposed cover of yours.  If your company is
attacking Turing, why not stand up and support them proudly, and use
your own name?  Doesn't seem right to me..."
 R-Type was suddenly very bundled-feeling.  There was a good
reason for this: he was dressed in a heavy parka, gloves, boots, and
ski pants.  They seemed to be standing on a snowy plain.  Saturn (or
at least, a ringed gas giant) loomed menacingly in the purple sky.
 Eve pushed her ski goggles up on her wool-capped forehead.
"So, what's going on, anyway?"
 R-Type had gotten so caught up in the change of scenery and
the photorealistic -- no, more like hyperrealistic -- quality of all
the imagery that he'd completely forgotten what she'd asked.  "Er,
sorry... what was the question?"
 Eve looked mildly irked, then smiled again.
 R-Type was much warmer.  They were underwater.  Eve's hair was
now red, and she seemed to have become a mermaid.  R-Type dared not
look at himself.
 "I *said*, you're obviously not as gung-ho as the rest of
those GENOM attackers, so what's your motivation?"
 An answer to that question came, and it was the honest-to-God
truth, as far as he could tell.  Trouble was he'd heard or seen it in
one too many movies and books, seen it used as an excuse for some evil
stuff.  It sounded hokey as hell.  But, it was also the truth: "Would
you believe I'm 'just following orders'?"
 "I could believe that."
 With a difference so distinct it almost hit physically, the
water was gone.  They were in the biggest, most ornate bloody ballroom
R-Type had ever seen, real or otherwise.  Eve had returned to fully
human form; her hair was brown now, and she was dressed in an ornate
golden ball gown and high white gloves.  An orchestra started playing.
She took R-Type's hand and began to dance with him to what sounded
like a Bavarian waltz.  R-Type felt... hairy.  (And he FORCED himself
to concentrate: DANCING FURNITURE?!)
 "It seems to me you're caught.  You feel like a trapped
animal, and I don't think it's because of me."
 "Uh, erm--" he was startled by the growl his voice had become,
but he quickly reminded himself not to freak out.  That would probably
be a bad idea right now.  "Well... no, it's not you... I mean...  this
*was* hardly the ideal time for us to take a stab at Turing III."  At
last he'd spoken something resembling a coherent sentence.  His
confidence had returned a little.  "They just didn't understand what
they were dealing with."
 Disoriented momentarily, R-Type regained his bearings to
realize that he was in the passenger seat of a car.  The
photorealistic quality of the reality had slipped to something very
poor, but it gave the impression of being *intentionally* poor: there
were exaggerated motion lines and a lot of truly *bad* bits of scenery
motion in the background.  Eve, driving the car around the badly
animated mountain road, shouted over the roar of the wind: "And what
is it, you think, that they ARE dealing with?"
 No sense in holding back, R-Type decided.  It would be quite a
relief to say this: "They're dealing with gweeps," he called over the
wind.  "Which makes 1:30 AM the worst possible time to do something
like this.  They were just begging for a foul-up.  There's a reason
why 2200 to 0200 is called the gweepning, after all."
 Motion stopped.  R-Type almost fell on his face.  It was cold
and foggy.  Eve was dressed in a trench coat and fedora hat.  A large
clock tower bonged dolorously in the background.  "So it's more a
matter of bad timing than anything else?"
 "Horrible timing.  A better time to take a place like Turing
by surprise would be noon hour.  I tried to tell them that but they
wouldn't listen to me--" He trailed off.  Should he have said that?
(When he trailed off, the clock started bonging the Jeopardy!
 They were on the Moon, in bathing suits, stretched out on
blankets under a large stripey umbrella.  Somewhere, a radio was
playing "Beach Blanket Bingo".
 "You could be right.  I encouraged security to be increased
during the noon to five shift, actually, on the assumption that
GENOM's operational planners would have a little more sense than Ihara
and Grubb gave gridbugs."  She smeared a bit of sunblock on her arm,
adjusted her shades, passed him the bottle of lotion, and said: "But
apparently, that wasn't the case.  You didn't answer my question,
though.  WHY take the Intercenter?  And why are YOU, personally,
involved?  I was under the impression that Dr. Lawrence Robert Mann,
Ph.D., was a biocybernetics researcher."
 R-Type was in the middle of applying the lotion to his own
arms when that last sentence stopped him in mid-rub.  She'd obviously
done some digging.  Well, actually it wasn't a big secret that he was
a biocybe person.  Why was he personally involved?  That dealt with
some issues he would rather not deal with right now.  He could answer
the first question, though, although his heart wasn't really in the
 "Why take the Intercenter?  If I understood the planners
correctly, it'd give GENOM a monopoly on the communications networks.
I know for a fact there was at least one Sysop who thinks our presence
would improve the efficiency of the Net."
 They were on the roof of a very tall building, sitting with
their feet dangling over the edge of the roof.  R-Type fought vertigo
for a moment.
 "That's ridiculous.  GENOM could never hold the Net, and even
if it did, alternets would spring up within weeks.  There can't be any
such thing as a cyberspace monopoly.  But then, you wouldn't know
that, would you?"  She shrugged.  "Assuming, for a moment, that you
believed such a thing possible, why be involved with it?  It's hardly
your field."
 Why, indeed?  He'd known all along that the whole cyberspace
monopoly idea was bullshit.  If the plan had succeeded the Internet
would collapse in favor of the Alternets.  He knew that.  So why was
he here?  Why was he involved?  He had reasons, but did he *really*
want to tell *Eve* what they were?  No, not really.  He wasn't ready
to give a long list of his motivations for associating with Charles
LaPlante, a known traitor to the WDF.  Even after 300 years he still
had the damndest time explaining himself when confronted unexpectedly
on any subject; he never had "good" (in his opinion) answers to a
question until about 15 minutes after it had been asked.
Nevertheless, Eve expected an answer right away, and he had to find
one that was true, if a bit vague.
 He found it:
 "I was a computer scientist before I was a biocybe tech.
Hell, I was a gweep.  I've always had that Netrunner urge in me.
Largo probably had his reasons for singling me out -- most of which
don't make sense because he didn't listen to a word I said -- but I
didn't ask why.  He wanted me to lead the contingent which was going
to take the fortress, so I did.  Well, I *tried*.  I just followed my
orders, and he sent me down there..."  This wasn't making much sense,
he felt, and he knew Eve was going to push for more.  Things he didn't
feel like talking about.  He wanted off of this subject.  "...I
*suppose* it's 'down there'," he fumbled, looking around.  "All these,
um, 'scene changes' are a little disorienting."  Yahright, try totally
 "Scene changes?"
 They were walking through dark catacombs.  Eve, in front of
him, was wearing a leather jacket and fedora, with a bullwhip on her
belt and carrying a torch.  R-Type felt something on his head, and
discovered he was wearing a fez.  Eve turned, smiled, pinched his
cheek and kissed his nose, and said: "Just a little thing I do."
 Then she strode forward, leading the way down the tunnel.
Several rats and mice scurried past.  R-Type nearly stepped on one,
and could have sworn he heard it say "Yipe--NARF!" as it dodged aside.
Of course, it must have been his imagination.
 "Changing the background relaxes me," Eve continued.  "Just
concentrate on something stable, something that doesn't change.  My
face, for example, or your session manager icon."
 R-Type decided that Eve's face was indeed the thing to
concentrate on.  He was, after all, quite taken with those golden eyes
of hers.  The ACI designer in him was having a field day just
observing how advanced and powerful she was.  Numerous theories
abounded concerning her origin; who programmed her, etc.  He'd love to
get a chance to experiment with the computer system, whatever it was,
that created her.  Maybe *this* was the system he needed to experiment
with, not LAPCIS...
 "Thank you," he said.  He was possessed of a sudden desire to
make small talk, in the fervent hope that he could get this
conversation on a different track.  The more he talked, the more
likely it was that his head would be separated from his body when
Largo read the reports.  "Um, if you don't mind my saying so, I think
you're very fascinating, Eve.  I'd love to, well for lack of a better
phrase, 'get to know you better'.  I mean, I'd love to meet whoever it
is that made your existence possible."  Was he rambling?  Probably.
 Eve smirked a bit.  "That's a creative way to change the
subject," she observed.
 "Damn she's good," R-Type mumbled to the closest wall.  Well,
it was worth a try.
 They were in a car stuck in Irvine gridlock (a combination of
both ground- and aircar traffic; gridlock was actually a rare thing in
Irvine, but when it happened, like, ouch).  Three black and white
creatures of indeterminate type bounded over the roof, down the hood
and vanished into the traffic, pursued by what looked like a very fat
policeman.  A snippet of music played and stopped.
 It was Irvine, all right, right down to the pruning on the
trees and the beige paint on the houses; shit, this was the corner of
Barranca Parkway and Jeffrey, *exactly* as it existed in realspace!
She'd gotten this image from *somewhere*, and there weren't many
image files of Irvine streets out there.  He felt uneasy all of a
 "Perhaps you would rather just return to the battle," Eve
said.  "You seem to feel as if you have a duty to perform, and I must
respect that."
 Before R-Type could protest, there were a lot of strange
disruptions in the fabric of virtual space-time.  When R-Type was
cognitive again, he was back in the battle.
 Dr. Sqirl dropped her anvil on the Dalek and crashed its
weapon utility.
 With a terrible shock, R-Type realized that *no time had
passed*.  *None*.
 He looked around quickly, reassessing the situation, and
himself.  As far as he could tell, everything was running as it
should, with the following exceptions: 1) the Dump util he'd loaded
had powered down again, 2) his Flatline program had crashed, so he had
no other weapons, and 3) there was a fez on his head.  He had no time
to think about the last two right now, however.  He hastily ran the
Dump's startup sequence again, pre-setting it for rapid fire.  He
needed that utility if he was going to do anything here.  In the
meantime all he could do was wait and watch:
 Tracker and J'itaya were pounding away at each other.  The
Vrusk's ambidexterity gave him a slight edge when fighting with
multiple swords, but Tracker was wearing him down with his own huge
weapon, and finally knocked one of his swords away.  One slash later,
J'itaya K'kr'k vanished in a flash of electrons.
 Zoner ducked a Needlestorm from LaPlante and replied with a
Firestarter; it missed, darted past R-Type, and ashed one of the
Wraiths next to him.  That was close...
 LaPlante caught Zoner with his next Needlestorm, weakening his
signal ratio, and then prepared a Shatterbolt, which might actually
have a chance of flatlining him -- but Eve appeared, then, standing
behind LaPlante.  She tapped him on the shoulder as he prepared to
fire, and as he turned around, she said:
 "I'm sorry, Mr. LaPlante, but I can't allow you to do that."
 Time had ceased to function again.  The battle was frozen --
only LaPlante, Eve, and, to his surprise, R-Type had proper signal.
With a shock, R-Type realized that he had been left in the loop, so to
speak, deliberately.  Eve wanted him to see what happened.
 What happened on LaPlante's part was predictable; he
retargeted his Shatterbolt at Eve, who was much too close to miss.
 "Don't do that," Eve instructed him.  "If you do, you will
regret it.  I don't want to hurt you, Mr. LaPlante."
 "DIE!" LaPlante replied, and fired.
 The Shatterbolt fizzled and vanished, and, as LaPlante's
shocked eyes met Eve's sad ones, she raised her hand and made a simple
waving-away gesture.  Charles Foreman LaPlante de-resolved like a
statue of sand in a heavy wind, scattering into a million twinkling
bits which flickered out as they cascaded away.
 "Gah!" R-Type remarked.  His emotions about that were *very*
 Eve turned sadly to Larry and said, "I try to give everyone a
chance... but some people do not want it."  She sighed and changed the
subject.  "Since this conversation seems to be stalled around your
unwillingness to answer my question, why don't I take a stab at
answering it FOR you?"
 R-Type said nothing.  He felt rather helpless.  Talking about
this whole matter could get him killed, after all.  But suppose Eve
knew everything already...?  It wasn't impossible, and if *he* didn't
actually say anything more...
 Eve read his silence correctly.  She understood his situation
perfectly, but now it was time to push harder.  She looked at him,
transfixed him like a bug on a plate with the steady gaze of those
amazing gold eyes of hers, and said, slowly and distinctly as she
walked toward him with a measured stride:
 "I think you feel you owe something to GENOM.  I think you're
a man who belongs in the Wedge, who's caught between his sense of
obligation and his nature.  I think you're feeling trapped.  I think
they have some hold over you, now that you've been with them so long,
and it's more than just your conscience.  I think you deserve another
shot.  And I think I'll be seeing you again."
 She reached over, took the nape of his neck in her hand, and
kissed him.
 Then, she was gone.  Time returned to normal, and Zoner looked
confused for a moment before turning and erasing a Wraith-Commander as
Dr. Sqirl dropped an Anvil on it simultaneously.
 "Heh, whatta yutz," Slappi snickered.  "Y'know," she said to
Zoner as she dusted her hands off.  "You remind me of a very young T-
1000."  And with that she waded back into the fray, laying about her
savagely with her handbag and crashing most of the few remaining
Wraiths with it.
 "Unique..." R-Type muttered.  "Very unique..."  About then his
Dump util reported READY.  Now to select a target...
 Gryphon sent a spread of bolts into the Dalek, cracking its
datacase and de-rezzing its armor utility; Tracker waded in with his
huge sword and hacked it in half along the rent.  Screaming an
electronic death shriek, it vanished completely.
 R-Type scanned the battlefield, and realized he could find
nobody worth assisting.  The Wraiths were already decimated.  The
renegade Sysops had been destroyed, as far as he could tell.  Even the
ACIs had vanished, whether fled or crashed he didn't know.  He hoped
to heaven Battia and Lufy were all right.  He lowered his firing arm
in disbelief.  Everyone here from GENOM was dying or dead.
 It was just him........ and them.
 Damn it, he KNEW these people, some of them.  What had he been
 He took a step backward as they began to advance on him.  And
then, suddenly...

 ...with a painful bang, his head hit the desk, and he started
violently with the blossom of pain that spread across his forehead.
The violent motion toppled him over on his back in a tangle of desk
chair and cybercables, which pulled free of his deck to whip almost
comically around and tangle in the back of the chair.  Reflexively
turning up his pain editor, he glanced upward at the light fixture.
 He was back in realspace.  What the hell had just happened?
He clambered to his feet, his aging joints protesting vehemently.  At
the biological age of 80 his body just didn't have the kind of zip
that his brain did.  But he wouldn't need a RETRO session until 2290,
or thereabouts.  He righted the chair and took a look at his
cyberdeck.  It appeared to be undamaged.  The last lines of text on
the display buffer read:


 [Line noise??] R-Type thought.  [On a secure line like this
one??]  Not likely.  Nor was it likely that a chance noisestorm had
booted him off the Net at exactly the most convenient time.
 Just then he noticed another line had appeared in the display.

You have new mail.

 Hm?  He typed "inc" on the keyboard.  Instead of going to a
mail index like it was supposed to, the deck went straight to the

Received: by genom.com from localhost with SMTP id AB33014
         (4.05c/IDA-1.4.4 for )
Path: !genom!lmann@genom.com
Content-Type: Text
To: lmann@genom.com
From: eve@net
Subject: Have a nice day.


I hope you enjoyed your little tour of my domain.
I hope it taught you something.
Just remember, it never hurts to help.

- E.

PS.  Merry Christmas, you're alive.  :-)
PPS. This message will self-destruct.

 A few seconds later, the message erased itself from his deck's
screen, and from memory.  He had, according to the path, apparently
mailed it to himself.  But he had *not* been on his "lmann" account
during this run...
 He pressed the OFF button on his deck and it immediately fell
silent, then he sank back in his chair, lost in thought.  She'd been
right about him.  She was *good*, that went without saying.  She
probably knew everything about him.  Whether that was good or bad he
couldn't know, and probably didn't *want* to know.  He wasn't ready
for that kind of knowledge, not right now.  This was going to stay
with him for quite some time.  He wouldn't be able to log on to
Rigel, or to exist as Rai Oyasumi, for a long time.  Big deal; he
wasn't going to be doing any decking for a long time anyway.  There
were going to be a lot of changes once Largo found out--
 He came to his senses.  He still had a job to do.  He had to
find out if any of the Sysops were still alive, and if so, since he
was now apparently the senior officer of the operation by default, he
would have to arrange extractions for them.  It was very important to
at least try and find LaPlante.  There were still some secrets of ACI
technology that LaPlante had yet to explain to him, if he was still
capable of that.  Not only that, he had to get a body count: there
were probably thousands of very fresh corpses all across the galaxy
now.  Arrangements would have to be made.  And this whole debacle was
going to require a lot of explaining to Largo, and R-Type would have
to be the one to do it, unless he could track down LaPlante...
 He got up and unhooked his deck from the transmission lines,
packed it in its carrying case and headed out of the office.  This
part of the job was more suited to GENOM's razormen.  He needed to
make a couple phone calls...

      * * *

 The Cyberbattle of Turing III.  One of the least known, but
costliest battles in history.  Hundreds of people dead, thousands of
programs crashed or destroyed.  Battia had survived, obviously.  Lufy
had not, but a lot of the enemy died before they took her out.  He'd
only kept his skin because he successfully led recovery troops on a
dangerous extraction to recover LaPlante, and helped create a new
identity for him.  As always, he'd made an effort to keep his role as
invisible as possible -- which was good, because everyone else
involved in the coverup died messily, and that included "Mr. Foreman"
himself.  (That had, in final analysis, been no great loss.)
 So what did the WDF think of him?  He didn't know, and
couldn't know.  He could only assume, based on the attitudes he knew,
and what had happened to those around him, that they did not think
highly of anyone among the GENOM elite.  Would they think more highly
of him if he quit?  Would their opinion of him be affected by the WDF
personnel he'd actually come in contact with?  And if so, would that
have a positive or negative effect?  Could he risk quitting to try and
impress them?  No going back, and if it fell through what would he do
 But why be so worried about quitting?  He did have enough
money to last for years, after all, and God knew how many companies
would be all too eager to snap him up and acquire his talents for
their own use.  Acquiring nanotanks and RETRO would not be that
diffcult, really.  Nobody would pursue him if he deserted, now that
the military division was decimated.  You would think that, given all
this knowledge, it would be easy to break away from the company and
put that life of darkness and corruption behind him.
 But it wasn't that simple.  It *wasn't* just a life of
darkness and corruption.  GENOM had made some truly honorable
accomplishments possible.  And, well, to be perfectly and truly
honest, there was something about the phrase "I work for GENOM" that
rang a pleasant bell in his mind.  There was something about being a
part of what, even now, was still the single most powerful corporate
entity in the galaxy.  There was something about the title "Chief
Biocyberneticist" that rang well, something about all the awards and
commendations, about all the legitimate business colleagues,
friends he'd made through GENOM, about all the *good* things GENOM did
for him, the projects they'd funded, the ideas they'd tried, about all
the contributions he made which improved the standing and power of the
company, about all the trust GENOM had placed in him...
 ...trust in the form of a hand in their blackest schemes...
but also trust in the sensitive research projects which had earned him
awards in the legitimate world... and had made GENOM stronger (was
*that* good or bad?)...
 Damn it.  What choice to make?  *Could* a choice be made?
 He got to his feet, perhaps a little too quickly, and walked
out of the office, leaving the lights on.  Behind him the sun
continued to rise, indifferent to such matters as his.  He moved into
the darkened corridors of the building, for the most part just
wandering randomly from place to place, trying to sort out his
thoughts, trying to find the right answer to this most difficult
question, if there even was one.
 Oh well, at least he'd figured out what the source of his
angst was.  Now if he could just find the answer...

 Although he had no way of knowing it, the answer, as fate
would have it, was fast approaching.

 Daggerdisc, a Corellian Heavy Industries YT-1312 light
starfreighter, screamed through hyperspace at 350% of the YT-13xy
series' rated maximum hyperdrive speed.  On board it were three
people, two of whom were sleeping.  A light burning in the ship's
portside-slung cockpit would identify the presence of the remaining crew
member, who was sitting at the pilot's station, reading a text file in
the blue glow of the command terminal.
 "Show me his general information again," said Gryphon to the
terminal, and it beeped and obediently scrolled up some information
for him.

Real name:  Lawrence Robert Mann
Born: May 29, 1971; Canandaigua, New York  (United States, Earth)
Current biological age: 34
Height: 6'4"
Weight: ~200 lbs.
Hair: Dark brown, waist-length
Eyes: Kiroshi optics, brown tone  (Matches original eye color.)


- Computer Science :: B.S., M.B.A., Ph.D., University of California Irvine
- Engineering :: B.S., California Institute of Technology
 - M.B.A., New Caledonia Polytechnic Institute
- Biocybernetics :: M.S., Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- M.D. Certification :: [Obtained through GENOM programs & work]
- Security Force training
- CyberWraith training

- Multiple awards and commendations for various achievements in
 several fields within the corporation  [refer to main dossier for
 specific information]


- Designer, Sanjiyan(tm) Biomanipulation Framework
- Primary Designer, Trinetra(tm) Nanochine/Nanite System
 [= Above systems have been integrated into a package known
    as "Sanjiyan-Trinetra Biotechnology Framework System"]
- Designer, Sanjiyan-Trinetra Autonomic Cybernetic Intelligence Standard
 (STACIS).  Latest version 2.2, released January 2295.
 [= System is rumored capable of running multiple CI personas
    on a single driver and generating Spenglers.
    Rumors notwithstanding, it is one of the most sophisticated
    protocols in the galaxy. -E]
 [= Noteworthy CIs include:
  "Battia" : Majordomo ACI of GENOM's core mainframe
  "Lufy" : Halstead Combat ACI (terminated 2270 A.D.)
  "Catty" : Intelligence ACI  [current position unknown]]
- Designer, Mann Systems 101, 505, and 1001-series BioSculpt(tm) Tanks
- Designer, Victory-class Star Destroyer
- Co-designer, Imperial-class Star Destroyer
- Co-designer, GENOM 33/S Replicant series and related designs
- Co-designer, Sanjiyan RETRO(tm) Life-Extension System

-- ADDITIONAL DATA  (Caution: Classified; Verify clearance)--

- Co-designer, ICZER Project : Holds all rights to program design
- Involved in AST/Tyrell Buyouts in 2020
- Involved in Turing III Cyberbattle, 2270, and subsequent Foreman Coverup
- Involved in Gotterdammerung Project, 2287-2288
 = Listed as Primary Designer for "Experiment 101-E"
- Personal aide to Largo, 2326-2336
- Co-designer, AT&T Project, 2382-2388
- Technical designs are very prevalent in GENOM's armada; design
  paradigm of Victory and Imperial-class Star Destroyers used for
  Dreadnaught and Interdictor-type vessels as well (in fact, you
  could say that Dr. Mann is responsible for the entire 'motif',
  as it were, of the GENOM Military Arm. V-)


1985 - Parental divorce; both sides remarried, most family contact lost
1989 - Graduated Yucaipa High School (Yucaipa, California).  Multiple
 awards for drama club participation.  Enrolled at UC Irvine.
1991 - Nearly disqualified from UCI due to poor performance (read:
 very bad math skills).  Visited by a GENOM representative
 that year; performance inexplicably skyrocketed afterwards.
1993 - Graduated UCI /w/ honors.  Immediately hired by GENOM as a
 high-level CompSci consultant.  Began working on Sanjiyan
 and Trinetra systemry shortly afterward.
199x - Hired by AST Research after GENOM's collapse post-Neo-Worcester
2020 - Returned to GENOM following the AST/Tyrell buyouts.  (Had already
 been involved with GENOM a couple years prior.)
2034- Tokyo residency.  Instrumental in hostile takeover of Mishima
 Industries, Japan's largest industrial company
2051 - RETRO(tm) created and used successfully

 "Right, right.  Skip ahead, anything interesting... you know
what I want to see."

2226- New America Colony residency.  Consolidated 95% of the colony's
 infrastructure under GENOM control.  Colony living standard
 improved dramatically as a result.

 "Interesting.  What else?"

[2289 -   Attempted suicide following the successful execution of   ]
[  Gotterdammerung.  Attempt failed.  No additional attempts ]
[  ever made; evidently he straightened himself out.         ]

2336-  New Japan residence.  Assisted in regaining control of GENOM
 New Japan, whose performance was considered far too low in
 Largo's eyes

 "Veeeeeeeery eeeeenteresteeeng.  Especially the timing."

Present- Irvine residence.

 "Hmm.  Dry.  Technical... Eve, Vision, give me your own
 "He's one of the reasons GENOM has been so successful in the
legit corporate world," Vision said, appearing on the VDT.  "That much
is obvious.  He also helped some of their key Black ops to succeed.
He's hard to pin down because his operating style is very subtle and
background-oriented -- not that I can blame him for that.  That tends
to make him sort of the "unknown hero" of the company when it comes to
the darker ops.
 "That aside," said Eve as she subdivided the screen diagonally
and took the lower half, "he -is- highly recognized for all the major
inventions which made GENOM what it is today.  He's very
well-connected in the corporate world, and commands a lot of respect
as a businessman.  Also, I've dealt with him personally from time to
time.  I feel it necessary to point out that, considering all the
cybernetics and actions he has been forced to submit to, he has
retained his humanity rather well.  Sheer force of will, so it would
 "Personality-wise, he's something of a walking
 "Makes sense.  He's a Gemini," Vision pointed out.
 "Usually," Eve continued, "he tends to be easygoing and more a
follower than a leader.  Reports have indicated that he -is- capable
of assuming complete control and becoming a very exacting leader when
the situation dictates -- Yuri can provide an eyewitness account of
that, if you'll recall.  By nature he is independent, and more into
observation than control, which often conflicts with his loyalty to
his friends and comrades.  He's been treading a line between the two
(individualist and follower) for most of his career, and maintained
his balance quite admirably, I think."
 Gryphon leaned back and absorbed.  "Summary?"
 "Dr. Lawrence Mann is a good man caught on the wrong side of the
tracks," Eve announced, inequivocally.  "He's played the game out of
necessity.  And I don't believe his innermost values have ever been
compromised, amazingly."
 "I concur," Vision said, nodding.  "I don't have the same
extent of contact experience with the man that Eve does, but I've seen
enough of his record to agree."  She grinned.  "Let's bag him."
 Gryphon grinned in return.  "Let's indeed.  Thanks for your
help, Eve; as soon as we drop back out of hyperspace you can head
 "It never hurts to help."
 "No, indeed, it doesn't... "




      Benjamin D. Hutchins
        Lawrence R. Mann

  (c) 1994 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited

         24 APRIL 2389

 R-Type sat at his terminal and just stared at the screen for a
while, willing himself to get it in gear and start typing.  If he was
going to request a corporate transfer to the Utopia Planitia Naval
Shipyards liaison detachment, now was the time to do it, while
everyone was moving round and there were still openings.  (And while
he had no large projects pressing here in Irvine.)
 He hesitated.  How should he word this?  The new Master of
GENOM was not a man he was familiar with, and although he was reputed
to be fair, reputations meant little.  (Maximilien Largo had been
reputed, to the general public, to be a marvelous philanthropist in
_many_ of his guises throughout his history, including, Brian J.
Mason, Masada Quincy, and Bill Gates.)
 His train of thought, already unstable, was derailed
completely by the chimer to his office door.
 "Come in," he said in an exasperated tone of voice, turning to
face the doorway.  "Look, I left instructions that I was NOT to be--"
 He stopped dead when he realized who was standing in the door.
 The man in his doorway was human and on the short side, no
more than five foot eight.  He was stockily built, but Larry couldn't
really tell much about his build thanks to his clothing.  He was
dressed completely wrong for GENOM's Irvine headquarters, and for a
brief instant, until his mind registered _who_ it was, R-Type found
himself wondering how this man had gotten in here in those rumpled
blue jeans, well-worn Doc Martens, blue and white striped button shirt
(unbuttoned to partially reveal what looked to be a Nine Inch Nails
t-shirt), and wrinkled grey duster, let alone with that grey fedora
perched on his head.
 Then other details of his dress registered.  The rowelless
spurs on his Docs, for example, and his octagonal, wire-framed
glasses, behind which ice-blue eyes sparkled.  His bearded face was
smiling a small, almost private smile.  The WDF commbadge on his
duster's lapel glittered.  Small Maltese crosses did the same on the
 What in hell was HE doing HERE?
 R-Type found his voice.  "Gh--um--can I help you with
 The man in the doorway spoke, and his voice was surprisingly
deep.  "You're Dr. Lawrence Mann, also known as R-Type?"
 "That's me."
 Gryphon stepped into the room and extended a hand.  "Gryphon,
Wedge Defense Force."
 "To what do I owe this honor, Admiral?"
 Gryphon looked pained.  "Please.  Any friend of Yuri's
deserves to call me Gryphon."  He changed the subject without padding,
his mind simply switching gears in mid-speak.  "I'm in the system to
pick up a bit of real estate, and while I'm in the area, I'm
fulfilling a function as Chief Engineer of the Utopia Planitia Naval
 "Um...which is?"
 "I'm scouting for talent, to put it bluntly.  My own design
team and several others need engineers, Virtual Labs is looking for
programmers, and Robotics Division is looking for a few good
cyberneticists.  According to the dossier Master Caine supplied me
with on you, you're all three."
 "What...what made you think of me, specifically?"
 "I told you, you're a friend of Yuri's.  When she found out I
was coming out this way and doing a bit of scouting, she mentioned
you.  Well, more than mentioned you.  'Cornered me in a conference
room and exposited for half an hour or so' would be more accurate, if
we were being pedantic."  He grinned.  "Eve threw in her two cents'
worth too.  You're a very popular man among the women in my life, Dr.
 R-Type looked sheepish.
 "Anyway, I'm empowered to offer you any of a number of things.
A position on one of the many engineering teams currently active at
UPNS; a senior consultant's position at Virtual Labs, under ReRob; a
slot on the Life Sciences Division's biocybe research group; senior
research engineer with Robotics; GENOM liaison attachment to any of
the above if you don't want to give up your GENOM corporate position,
which, given your seniority, I wouldn't blame you for."  He looked at
his watch.  "Problem is, I have to be elsewhere in a little less than
an hour, so if you don't give me an answer now, you'll have to wait a
bit before we can process the forms."  That grin again.
 R-Type was stunned.  This was the kind of thing he had been,
moments before, wrestling with mentally.  Eris was definitely
 "Uhm..."  What the hell to say?  "Sure, why not?"  That wasn't
it--d'oh!  Let's be flippant, shall we?
 Surprisingly, Gryphon laughed.  "Nice attitude."  He took a
digital assistant out of his inner coat pocket and flipped the standby
switch on the side of it to the ON position.  "Vision, luv, you in
 "Of course," a woman's pretty voice replied (from where he
was, R-Type couldn't see the screen).  "Where else would I be,
 Gryphon was, apparently, quite used to this sort of treatment,
and R-Type found himself suddenly, wistfully, wishing that Jilehr
would be a little more like that.  Then he bonked himself in the head.
 "Dr. Mann has, happily, chosen to join the Rebel Alliance,"
said Gryphon to his digital assistant.  "Would you be a dear and cheat
up the paperwork for us?"
 "I already did."
 Gryphon raised an eyebrow.
 "What, you thought he'd say no?  Get real."
 "Um...excuse me," said Larry.
 "Mm?" said Gryphon, looking over the screen and cocking the
_other_ eyebrow.
 "Could I...look at that for a second?"
 Gryphon indicated his digital assistant.  "What, this?"  Larry
nodded.  "Sure, knock yourself out."  He handed the device to R-Type.
 The miniature holotechnic flatscreen had a finely resolved
image of a very pretty woman, a woman he recognized almost
immediately, on it.
 "Vision?" he said.
 "The same," Vision replied with a fetching wink.  "Check it
out, boss, he recognized me.  I may not be as famous as my sister, but
I get around."
 "I think he's thinking of other Vision, honey."
 "Oh."  The image on the screen pouted.  "That's no fun."
 "Uh...who is this?" asked R-Type.
 "This?  Your guess was right, kind of.  This is VISION-1, my
cybernetic right arm, my trusted advisor and confidante--"
 "Your other half, soulmate, and electronic snugglebunny,"
Vision interrupted.
 Gryphon half-snarfed.  "Yeah, yeah.  Next you'll be telling
people you're the second coming of HAL."
 "Oh," said Vision with a seductive look and an almost comical,
Jessica Rabbit breathiness in her voice, "but I am, Dave.  And I can
do so much MORE for you than the old me could, Dave.  I'll open the
pod bay doors for you, Dave. I'll--"
 "That'll be enough out of you, Lieutenant Commander."
 R-Type was laughing so hard he almost dropped the digital
 "Now look what you did, Vision--you broke him!"
 "It's not my fault," she replied.  "YOU brought it up."
 Gryphon sighed, rolling his eyes.
 R-Type, recovering, said to the screen, "You're an ACI?"
 "You bet."
 "What protocol?"
 "I don't tell people that on the first date."
 R-Type snickered, but kept himself under control this time.
He handed the digital assistant back to Gryphon.  "Amazing.  Did you
write her?"
 "In a manner of speaking."  Gryphon turned his gaze to the
screen.  "Gotta put you back now, luv."
 R-Type could only imagine what Vision was doing with her video
image as her voice, slowed down by about 40%, slurred,
"Dddddaaaaaiiiissssssyyyyy... Dddddaaaaaaiiiiisssssyyyyy... "
 Gryphon turned the assistant back to standby mode and stowed
it in his coat.  "Listen, I've gotta buzz...do you want to stay here
and arrange your own transport, or would you rather do the adventurous
thing, grab whatever you can't possibly live without for the next ten
or so hours and come with me?  I'll arrange for your other things to
be shipped after us."
 [I have to stay near that ACI.]  R-Type shut off his terminal,
picked up his briefcase, coat, and hat, and said, "Let's go!"
 "Adventurous.  I like that.  Okay...you have a car?" Gryphon
asked as they walked through the building's corridors, toward the
 "Want to bring it along?"
 "That'd be excellent, if I can."
 "Great."  They got in the elevator and rode down to the
parking garage.  "I hope it's got enough space for a mini-fridge."
 "You brought a mini-fridge with you?"
 "No."  Gryphon stopped next to a techno-looking motorcycle and
pushed a button on the cowling; with a nifty sound effect, it folded
up into a box about the size of a mini-fridge.  "But it's a useful
size comparison."  He grabbed the handle on top of the box and picked
it up.
 "Sure, I think it'll fit in back."

 On their way to the airport, R-Type tapped a few keys on the
keypad next to his carphone, and the small display screen in the
center of the dash activated:


Then the upper 3/4 of the screen was replaced by an image of a pretty
brown-haired woman with eyeglasses, in a white blouse.  "Afternoon, R-
Type... what are you doing out at this hour??"
 "Aki, I want you to transfer all your object files and code to
the car's mainframe.  Please do it now."
 Before she answered, Gryphon saw the image change: the face
and hair were the same, but the eyeglasses disappeared, replaced by a
black headband, and the white dress became a black cloak.  And with a
slightly harsher voice, she spoke: "Excuse me??"  Gryphon looked
vaguely curious at this sequence of events; he'd never seen a CI
behave quite like this.  But wasn't one to pry; he figured things
would explain themselves shortly.
 "You heard me, Jilehr," R-Type went on.  "Download yourself to
the car.  I'll explain afterwards."
 The first image reappeared: "Beginning file transfer, 9600
megabaud..."  Below, the text portion of the screen rattled off a list
of files and a percentage-complete readout.  After about 60 seconds,
Aki announced "Transfer complete."
 "Now what in Hades is going on?" the second image reappeared
and demanded.
 "We're moving to Utopia Planitia, Jilehr.  Effective
 "Ex-cuse- me???"
 "Oh, cut it out.  You heard me."
 Aki: "Have you been transferred?"
 R-Type grinned.  "Well, sort of.  But I'm being rude."  He
indicated the man sitting next to him.  "Aki, introduce yourself to
Admiral Hutchins."
 Aki's image turned and said "How do y--", then reacted with
surprise.  "Hutchins?  As in Admiral *Benjamin* Hutchins, Wedge
Defense Force???"
 Gryphon waved and said, "Yeah, that'd be me."  He looked a wee
bit discomfited at her tone, and smiled almost shyly.
 Aki was momentarily speechless, then Jilehr took over again,
turning to R-Type: "Now hold on a minute: I distinctly recall that you
were still no-proposal.  No-hint-of-a-proposal, to be exact.  Now
you're moving?!"
 "Sure looks that way," R-Type replied.
 Aki: "But... but that would mean only five hours passed!"
Jilehr: "How in hell could they have read the letter, made a decision,
and responded so fast, even *with* subether??"
 "Ummm..." R-Type looked skyward; how should he word this?
 But Gryphon saved him the trouble: "Actually," he said with
quiet amusement.  "'They' just happened to be in the neighborhood, and
had a recommendation ..."
 "I beg your pardon?" Aki asked, still confused.
 "I happened to be in the solar system, and I knew R-Type was
interested in moving Wedgeward ... so I popped in to see if he was
interested in living dangerously for a week or two."
 Aki blinked.  Gryphon blinked back.
 "Oh BTW, Gryphon," R-Type interjected.  "I'd like to introduce
you to *my* personal aide, Mann Systems Multipersona ACI #AJ-2, STACIS
version 2.2.  Right now her name is Aki.  She seems to have forgotten
to introduce herself."
 Aki blushed.  She had indeed forgotten.  "Very pleased to meet
you, Admiral Hutchins," she said, a hint of embarassment in her voice.
 Gryphon grinned.  "The pleasure is all mine."  [So this is a
STACIS CI,] he added to himself.  [Very sophisticated... better than
 Jilehr surfaced once again: "Hey there!  I'm Jilehr!"  She
didn't bother with formalities, just cut to the chase: "So obviously
you just moved RT out of Irvine.  How'd you manage that?"
 "Jilehr!  Be nice!" R-Type admonished her.  To Gryphon: "Oh,
and this is Aki's other personality, Jilehr.  She's a bitch."
 "Oh I love you too, R-Type," she glared back at him.
 "Oh, I don't think I really had all that much to do with it,"
Gryphon grinned.  "I think more credit belongs to the contacts he
already _has_ in the WDF."  [So it's true... STACIS *can* run multiple
personas on one driver.]
 Aki looked confused, then Jilehr let out a grin.  "Why R-Type
you sly devil..."  Very seductive tone in that voice.  R-Type rolled
his eyes.  Gryphon snickered.
 "She's not normally this bad," R-Type asided to Gryphon.
"Cute, Jilehr.  What I want to do right now is talk to Aki.  Can I
talk to Aki?"
 "There is no Aki.  There is only Zuul."
 "Jilehr!"  Then he caught himself; getting angry might be a
bad idea right now.
 [So the question is,] Gryphon said to himself.  [Did he
deliberately design a CI to piss him off, or is it an accident?
Hmmm... that would indicate creative synthesis... maybe even heuristic
 Fortunately Aki did come back.  "Thank you, Aki," R-Type said.
 "You're welcome," she replied.
 "They'll be moving my stuff out of the apartment in, uh... how
*is* my stuff getting moved to UPNS, anyway?"
 Gryphon looked at his watch.  "Federated Express should be
descending on the place right... about... now."
 Aki appeared to notice something offscreen.  "Some people from
Federated Express are attempting to gain access to the apartment."
 R-Type glanced at Gryphon: "Whoa, nice timing!"  To Aki: "Let
'em in.  Supervise and make sure everything is secure, and have them
dismantle the computer last."
 "Will do."  "Unreal..." Jilehr added.
 "Friends in low places," Gryphon said with a grin.  "FedEx got
me out of a couple of jams during the Exile."
 [Exile?] R-Type thought.  There was a term he'd never heard
before.  He was about to ask about when Jilehr piped in again:
 "Now hold on here, I still don't quite get this."  This seemed
to be directed at both of them.  "You're telling me that in less than
five hours you put through a transfer request, got *all* the paperwork
filled out, got *in touch* with *movers*, and all without telling
me???  How in HELL did you do that??"
 R-Type glanced at Gryphon.  "Uh, I had a little help."
Gryphon looked angelic.
 "Hanh?"  Aki: "Um, pardon me Admiral Hutchins, but I am
curious.  How *did* you manage to do that?"
 "Oh, I didn't do it myself.  I don't have the attention span."
He delved into his coat and produced his digital assistant, flipping
the switch.  "Vision... wakey wakey... your public is calling."
 "Beg pardon?"
 "R-Type and his assistant wish to know how we processed the
paperwork in less than five hours."
 "His what?" Vision said.  "Gryph, we don't have the in-flight
resources for more than one passenger.  You didn't pack for this."
 "Uh, no Vision," R-Type said.  "My assistant's an ACI.  Aki,
would you introduce yourself to this lovely lady?"
 Gryphon turned his PDA around so that it faced the dash, and
Aki spoke.  "Hello, I'm Aki.  Mann Systems ACI number AJ-2.  I'm
R-Type's primary aide."
 "Virtual Intelligence System with Interfaced Option Notation,"
Vision replied.  "Call me Vision.  I'm Gryphon's mistress."  Gryphon
looked at the Oldsmobile's ceiling, and R-Type snarfed.
 Aki's eyes widened in the instant before her image switched:
"'Mistress??'  Did I hear that, RT?" Jilehr said.
 "Guess so," R-Type shrugged.  Gryphon seemed to have taken
quite an interest in the pattern of dots punched for ventilation into
the fabric lining the car's ceiling.
 "Did I just miss something?" Vision asked.
 "Oh, sorry Vision," R-Type said.  "This is Aki's other
personality, Jilehr."  He had a sudden feeling in the back of his head
that these two were going to be the best of friends... NOT.
 "Oh, uh... hi."  Vision looked vaguely confused.  Did this...
other personality... have some kind of problem?  "Uh, chief, is it my
imagination, or am I getting attitude here?"
 Somewhere in R-Type's consciousness an alarm sounded.  This
was leading in a direction he didn't think he was going to like.
 "Look not at me, m'lovely.  You're the one who had to go and
 Jilehr glanced at R-Type: "Well *this* is certainly a new take
on 'pocket pool', wouldn't you agree?"
 The alarm got louder.  [Oh shit...] R-Type thought.  Well, he
could always shut her off if she became a pain, he figured.  Gryphon
snickered at her comment, but Vision didn't seem to find it amusing:
 "You have some problem with human/CI relationships?  Shows a
lack of bandwidth on your part, doesn't it?  What's it matter?  Love
is love."
 Jilehr snorted: "Definitely gives new meaning to--"
 "Whatever you're going to say, Jilehr, don't," R-Type cut in.
He definitely didn't like where this was going, and he wasn't in the
mood to referee a fight between two secretaries.  "Give me Aki,
*now*."  The image reverted.  To Vision: "Now, we *do* want to know
how you process paperwork so fast."
 Vision had by this time grasped the idea of AJ-2 having two
separate personalities with the same face, and replied.  "Oh, it was
simple.  I have a formbuster utility I kludged up in my spare time.
It doesn't really take any cycle time at all to crunch standard
 "I always need 2 to 3 cycles to process most paperwork," Aki
said.  "And that's with an assist from Jilehr.  You must have several
personalities running in order to process so quickly."
 "Personalities?" Vision queried.  "You mean, different icons,
response parameters, the whole nine yards?"  Aki nodded.  "Nope, it's
just little old me.  There's only one mind in this head, honey.  Guess
it's just the way I'm wired."
 "*One* personality?" Jilehr turned to R-Type, jerking a thumb
in Vision's general direction.  "She isn't too sophisticated, is she?"
 "You must have me mixed up with somebody who cares what her
code looks like, babe.  I only care about results."  She paused,
looking introspective.  "Hmm, come to think of it, I'm not sure I even
have code..."
 [Huh?] R-Type thought, too busy parsing this comment to
prevent the next one:
 "Doesn't even know where her code is.  Phaugh," Jilehr
snorted, then looked up at Gryphon.  "Does she play good nine-ball?"
 Gryphon opened his mouth to respond, but Vision cut him off
with, "Look, you schizophrenic wonder, what'd I do to you, huh?  I'm
trying not to get pissed off here, but you're making it real work."
 R-Type decided that it was time to put a stop to this.  "All
right, ladies.  No catfights, if you please."
 "Don't look at me, chum," Vision shot back.  "Your cybernetic
insanity started it; I was trying to be friendly, but noooOOOooo, she
has to start insulting me."
 "Oh, go find your code," Jilehr snapped, not one to not have
the last word.  "It shouldn't be too hard to find in that little
pocket pooltable."
 Vision could take no more, and burst out: "Look, you little
bitch -- you wanna take me on?  You push me that far and it'll be the
last error you ever log.  I'll crash you so hard your TAPE BACKUPS
will be corrupted.  Am I getting my meaning across?!"
 "I'd like to see you try it from there, you single-brained sex
 "Oooh, you're gonna *regret* that..."
 [Ohh... *gawd*...] R-Type dragged a hand across his face in
embarassment.  "All RIGHT, Jilehr!  That's ENOUGH!  I've got enough
bad impressions-- wha?!"
 He stopped in mid-sentence when he realized the carphone had
just activated, apparently on its own, and emitted a carrier signal.
Then the speaker cut out.  An instant later, every single light and
readout on the car flared bright red and alarms went off.
 "What the FUCK?!" R-Type was suddenly thankful that he'd had
the car in manual mode all this time.  Something had gone horribly
wrong with the computer.  Reflexively he swerved out of the
air-traffic path and slewed toward the side of the street.  If the
computer died...
 "Oh dear," Gryphon muttered.  "Do excuse me."  So saying, he
connected himself to the PDA and thumbed the green button on the front
of the keypad.
 [What the hell's going on?!] R-Type thought.  Then suddenly
the image on the monitor distorted wildly and went to static, and a
frightened scream could be heard.
 "Aki?!" R-Type shouted.  "AKI!"  He almost forgot that he was
in a moving car and nearly rammed into a tree, scaring the hell out of
the pedestrians on the sidewalk.  He slewed the car around again and
set it down on the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road.
Fuck the keep-off regulations.
 Then the monitor righted itself again, and on it could be seen
Vision's face: "Well, that was easier than I expected.  You call this
 R-Type felt his blood pressure increasing rapidly, and
something violent was about to come out of his mouth, when he noticed
that Gryphon seemed to be "behind" her, taking her arm.  "Vision, cut
that out," he said.  "Let's go, you've made your point..."
 Fschhhttt... the screen went black.  The car alarms fell
silent and the dash lights and gauges resumed their normal operations.
Gryphon jacked out of his PDA and noticed where the car had ended up.
He also noted that R-Type had his eyes fixed on the dash monitor,
which was still black.  His face was level, but Gryphon could tell his
breathing was rapid, and he was heard to mutter "Come on, Aki... come
 "Er, sorry about that," Gryphon fumbled.  "Vision's a little,
er... sensitive."
 Finally the screen reported that Aki was back online (
Eris,> R-Type sighed.), and her image rezzed onto the screen, a very

terrified look on her face.  "Was... was that... *necessary*???" she
 "I think so," Vision replied, completely serious.  "Your other
half has to learn something about taunting the unknown."
 R-Type turned to Gryphon and spoke in a level but rushed
voice; he was clearly not happy at all.  "How did she do that?"
Gryphon looked summarily embarassed about the whole business, in a
vaguely dignified way.
 Vision ignored R-Type and continued: "Let me make it crystal
clear to you, whoeveryouare.  I am not a glorified sex toy.  I wasn't
designed for it, and I certainly wasn't incepted for it.  I'm not a
plaything; I'm his lover.  I _decided_ to do this.  Just as if I were
Human.  I don't want to hear any more static, understand?"
 "Vision, that's enough.  You've made your point."
 "Stay out of this," she retorted.  "It's none of your
 Jilehr popped onto the screen again, looking rather harried:
"You... you got lucky, bitch, next ti--GHAK!!" and she abruptly
disappeared.  A text message read "PERSONA 'JILEHR' LOCKED...", and
Aki reappeared, looking as though she were going to start crying at
any instant.  Gryphon noted that R-Type's finger was resting on the
ENTER key of a keypad.  Obviously he'd shut Jilehr down.  He looked
thoroughly pissed.  Then he spoke in a carefully modulated but clearly
quite pissed voice.
 "Aki, you will maintain that lock until further notice.  I do
not want, or need, any more bullshit.  Do I make myself clear?  Good,
now go to autopilot, and get us to John Wayne.  Now."  (Gryphon was
beginning to understand what Yuri meant by "persuasive", when talking
about him.)
 Aki nodded and disappeared, her image replaced by text which
indicated that the autopilot had been activated, and also warned that
the entire system would be operating at about 60% of normal efficiency
with the controlling ACI partially disabled.  R-Type fell back in his
seat and put a hand over his eyes as, by itself, the car lifted back
into the air and maneuvered into traffic again.
 "We'll talk about this later, Vision," Gryphon said as the car
began to move, and shut off the PDA without waiting for a reply.
There was an embarassed silence for a moment or two, which Gryphon
finally broke: "Well, that went well.  I'm very sorry about that."
 R-Type didn't appear to hear.  He still had a hand over his
eyes and seemed to be muttering to himself.  "Just wonderful... Try to
make a good first impression and what happens?  Fuck..."
 "I'm... ah... sorry," Gryphon repeated.  "Vision's very proud
of her status with me.  She gets very upset if anyone suggests that I
think less of her than if she were human... as you no doubt noticed."
(He finished this in a tone of voice that said 'what I just said was
unnecessary, but I had already begun saying it.')
 R-Type seemed to be somewhere between wary and impressed, and
it occurred to Gryphon that he'd forgotten to answer R-Type's earlier
question.  "I, uh... I guess I should explain what just happened, eh?"
 "I'd appreciate that," R-Type spoke in a tone which said 'your
ACI just broke into my computer and tried to kill my ACI; you're damn
right you're gonna explain'.  "That was unlike anything I've ever
seen... she hacked into my system like it was *paper*..."
 "Uh, well... to her, it is.  How can I explain this ... most
programs are like people who live in cyberspace, mm?"
 Gryphon paused, not knowing quite how to go on.  "Vision...
isn't a program, in the conventional sense... hm... have you ever
heard of CLULESS?"
 "I've *heard* of it..." R-Type ventured.  "But the history
books I've seen are sketchy about the subject.  They called it 'the
most powerful ACI platform ever written', and that was it."
 "Ah.  Well, it's... it's a cyberspace... -force-.  That's the
only way to describe it.  It's a pattern of logic so complex the human
mind can't even begin to understand it... like the Autobot Matrix,
sort of, if you've heard of that.  It can do... incredible things."
He paused.  "And I have the only existing copy.  It's sitting in the
wetdrive in the back of my skull right now, happily occupying all
twenty-six gigs."
 "Twenty-six *gigs*?  That's a big Twinkie..." R-Type remarked.
 "CLULESS acts kind of like a programming language," Gryphon
went on.  "But it lives up to its name: it's 100% conceptual.  If you
think you know what you're doing you're doomed from the start.  It's
the image in your head of the finished product that's important, not
the code you're feeding it... you could type in garbage if you had a
clear image.  And the sharper the image the better the creation...
until, when you get to the highest levels of concept and the lowest of
technicality, you get... you get life.  Real life.  The CPU cluster
where Vision lives shows a Spengler flux of 3.39...  and this is about
as clear as the Crab Nebula, isn't it?"
 "*3.39*?" R-Type said in response to what had made the most
sense to him.  The Spengler flux was a measure of life force,
theorized by Dr. Egon Spengler centuries before.  Humans were the base
for the scale, and so had an average flux rating of 1.0.  Something
three times more powerful...
 "Yes," Gryphon continued, hoping he wasn't losing Larry
completely.  "CLULESS constructs are unusual.  Vision doesn't have
locatable object files... she can move around at will.  Cyberspace
seems to almost bend around her, like space near super-high-mass
objects.  I won't pretend I understand it... maybe it would help if
you knew where she came from."
 R-Type nodded, putting as much energy into parsing this as he
could, trying to decipher it all.  He was thankful for the car's
autopilot, so he could give this his undivided attention.  And for
once, he was glad for the gridlock in the area; this sounded like it
was going to be a long story.
 "During the Exile -- you probably know it as the Interregnum,
or maybe the Period of Chaos -- I spent some time on New Japan.
Obviously you're familiar with the original Vision, the human woman
who was a singer in the thirties?"
 "Yes, Reika Chang.  I went to a few of her concerts."
 "During the peak of her career, Reika and I were... very
close.  If you look carefully, you may see some resemblance between me
and the Revengers' lead guitarist."
 R-Type pulled an image from his own wetdrive and looked
closely at Gryphon... "Well I'll be damned..." he said.
 "I doubt it.  Hell has new admissions standards since I sent
Largo... but I digress."  (R-Type was about to say "since *you*
sent...?" but decided to shelve it.  Later, when it mattered...)
 "Anyway..." Gryphon continued.  "Reika and I were very much in
love.  In fact, we were married for a year or so."  Gryphon looked
downcast; apparently the next part wasn't quite as rosy.  Which,
considering the time period, wasn't a great surprise.
 "Remember in '35, when 'Don Griffin' left the Revengers and
they took a year hiatus?  There was a reason for that.  That was the
year Largo gave up administrative control of GENOM New Japan to
Kwai-Chang Caine and moved to Earth.  I followed him... it was my
mission.  Nothing mattered except Largo, Largo, always Largo.  Reika
said she understood, so I suppose that makes what I did a litle less
reprehensible, but the fact remains, I abandoned her for the sake of
my mission.  I left New Japan, and I left her behind."  He stopped
again, as if he was gathering himself.  "Anyway...
 "A couple of months later I ended up on Kane's World, way the
hell out in the boonies.  You probably haven't heard of it."  (R-Type
shook his head.)  "I got careless, sloppy... maybe I was tired, maybe
I was sick over what I did... maybe I wanted her to catch me.  Anyway,
I got caught, but it was by a bunch of bounty hunter types, looking to
cash in on the GENOM price on my head."
 "Oh yes..." R-Type snorted in disgust.  GENOM had, in attempt
to look like the Fine Upstanding Corporation it wasn't, put a
5-million- credit bounty on the head of the 'vicious and terrible
Butcher of Musashi'.  Really cute.
 Gryphon went on: "They whacked me up with bondrugs -- tranq
chemicals designed specifically to interfere with Detian regeneration.
They thought they'd keep me out cold until their GENOM contact could
pick me up... but they didn't know just how profoundly Omega-2 had
boosted my constitution.  I woke up groggy, sick, tripping my ass off
basically... but I was conscious.  I think -- my recollection is VERY
hazy -- that I killed their guard, and I know I stole his computer...
a Kiroshama lap-frame, nice machine.  I went out into the city without
the faintest clue who I was or what I was doing, the shit beaten out
of me, filthy, half-dressed, no shoes, in winter, with an expensive-
looking lapframe.  Not real smart.
 "I had this brilliant idea that They were after me, and
apparently I hid in a dumpster somewhere in New Gotham, in the
freezing cold.  To hear it told, I jacked into the lapframe.  Why I
have no clue."  He was starting to pick up speed, as if the narrative
itself was gathering momentum toward some kind of conclusion, and he
was powerless to slow it.  "CLULESS unpacked itself from my wetdrive,
I don't know how or why, probably some subconscious action on my
part... it latched onto the only coherent thing in my entire mind at
the time: 'Where are my friends?  They can save me, where are they,
where is she, where is Reika... Vision, where is Vision, where
 He paused.
 "And there she was."
 "Just..." R-Type said, mildly surprised.  "Just like that?!"
 Gryphon nodded.  The first thing she did was crack my own
cortex and shut down my body, let it go into the healing coma it
needed to flush the drugs; my will wasn't permitting it to do that in
my rush to Get Away.  The second thing was to break the Kane's World
defense net and order one of the GENOM Solsats in orbit to commit a
'firing test error' on the place where the bounty hunters had
headquartered... then she falsified me an identity, made me a cover
story, and called me an ambulance.  Just like that, like it was the
simplest thing in the world."
 "Incredible..." R-Type said.  What else to say, for Eris'
 "For the last forty years of the Exile," Gryphon went on.
"Vision was the only constant... besides the fear, of course.  She's
very protective of me, very proud of her status with me, and very
worried, I think, that I think less of her because she isn't physical.
It isn't true, but she half believes it.  She's very much in love with
me... and she doesn't even _realize_ what she really is in terms of
sheer potential.
 "So you see, CLULESS is far too powerful a tool to leave lying
around.  I don't even allow myself to use it unless I have the
clearest of images... I've only created one other with it in my entire
 It had clicked in R-Type's mind: "Eve..."
 Gryphon nodded.  "Eve was the greatest conscious creative
synthesis I've ever experienced.  She is, in a very real sense, my
first child... and Vision is literally _part of me_ that gained its
own identity."  He laughed.  "Listen to me, I sound like I'm lecturing
to a metamechanics class."
 R-Type just nodded.  "I think I understand now.  Gods, that
kind of power... imagine what could happen if it fell into the wrong
hands... Jesus."  Gryphon noted that R-Type was doing an extremely
good job of concealing the fact that this was scaring him shitless;
any other person might not have seen it, but the Exile had taught him
to recognize that carefully modulated fear factor.  R-Type mumbled one
more sentence: "Aki's one of my most powerful ACIs... Vision knocked
her down like a rag doll..."
 "No," Gryphon interjected.  "She knocked *Jilehr* down like a
rag doll.  Aki was unfortunate enough to get caught in it by the
nature of STACIS.  Vision and I are going to have a little talk about
abuses of power later on.  Still, I can understand what made her do
it.  Jilehr suggested that she might be... something less than she is,
and it frightened her.  Vision doesn't like fear, so she transferred
it into anger.  Frankly I'm surprised she showed as much patience as
she did.  Consideration for Aki, most likely."
 "Aki would have died if anything happened to Jilehr; they
share the same object base.  Aki *has* object files, unlike Vision."
 Gryphon sensed R-Type's anger rising again and touched his
shoulder.  "Larry... relax.  Like I said, we'll talk about it later,
and she was careful not to do any harm..."
 R-Type just looked at Gryphon for another moment, then finally
relaxed.  "Yeah... I guess you're right.  I'd like to talk to her, if
you wouldn't mind."
 Gryphon nodded and got his PDA back out, bringing it online.
"Can you be civil?" he asked.
 "...yeah... I guess."  Gryphon turned the PDA to face R-Type,
and he and Vision looked at each other.  Vision could tell R-Type was
upset, and after seeing what happened to Aki when she hit Jilehr, she
could understand why.
 "Vision, I want to apologize for my ACI's behavior," R-Type
said in his corporate-modulated voice.  "I think the impromptu move
from my base computer to the car upset Jilehr a little more than I
anticipated.  I'm sorry."
 "Yeah, well," Vision replied.  "That makes two of us.  I
shouldn't've pushed Aki around like that... Jilehr just... pushed the
wrong buttons."
 "And she was not the only one who pushed the wrong buttons,"
R-Type remarked.  He was obviously referring to the fact that Vision
had made a blatant intrusion into his car's computer.
 "Don't start with me again -- I didn't --" she started, then
caught herself.  "Um... yeah, um..."  She paused and said: "I'd...
rather just forget the whole thing."
 "Me too," R-Type replied.  "Me too.  I just hope *Aki* can
forget.  I'm sorry for what Jilehr did, but I would appreciate if you
wouldn't do that again.  Please."
 Apparently that was asking a bit much.  "That," Vision replied
curtly. "is up to Jilehr.  All I can promise is that I won't endanger
Aki.  She hasn't done anything to me."  And then she turned herself
 Gryphon sighed.  "Did I mention she has a hard time
 "So I noticed," R-Type said gravely.  "Well, I had to ask.  I
care a lot about my own children, even if they are insufferable
bitches sometimes."
 Gryphon sighed again, looking momentarily wistful.  Perhaps it
was his own recent fatherhood, although R-Type wouldn't know about
that yet.  He had read about the horrible debacle that had preceded
it, though, and had wanted to personally strangle whoever had tried to
hurt Kei and, through her, Yuri.  Gryphon, meanwhile, reflected that
he'd probably have to spend the evening in cyberspace, reassuring
Vision that what Jilehr has said was nothing but unknowing malice.
 By this time they had finally gotten to John Wayne Spaceport,
and Aki became visible to announce this fact.  "Now entering spaceport
zone.  Do you want manual control?"
 "Please," R-Type replied, and took control of the car.  He
turned to Gryphon.  "OK, which way?"
 Gryphon snapped out of his thought train.  "Hm?  Oh, sorry.  I
was... thinking.  Left, through the maintenance gate.  I'm in slip 99-
 "99-A... okay."  And he turned the wheel to the left.
 Gryphon pulled another device out of his jacket, an old
Cybergenix communicator, and flipped it open, speaking into it.
"Wayne Control, this is CC-91.  Request ground vehicle access to slip
 "CC-91, access to 99-A is confirmed.  Is departure imminent?"
 "Ah, that's affirmative, Wayne Control.  Estimate ten
 "Copy, CC-91.  Clear skies."
 "Thank you, Control.  CC-91 out."  He flipped the communicator
closed.  "There, we're clear."
 The gate swung open, and they had access to the pad. R-Type
maneuvered his car through the loading area of John Wayne, making for
the landing area where Gryphon said his ship was.  R-Type recognized
the slip size from its designation number; it was one of the larger
shuttlebays, used primarily for astroplanes like the ones the major
spacelines used and for cargo shuttles to orbiting capital vessels and
luxliners.  He guessed Gryphon had a WDF runabout, or maybe just a
heavy warpshuttle.
 He was wrong.
 "Is that what I think it is?" R-Type asked, pointing through
the windshield at the vessel that waited for them.  It crouched on
three heavy, wheel-less landing legs, a flattened discus with two
mandible-like protrudances at the front, a cockpit angled off the left
side, heavy gun turrets top and bottom, and a large sensor-suite dish
antenna jutting out of the port forequarter.
 "That depends on what you think it is," Gryphon replied with a
smirk.  "It's a Corellian YT-1300-series light-stock starfreighter.
What the old-timers called the Falcon class."
 "That's what I thought..."  R-Type looked over the grey and
nondescript antique, noting the swatches of grease, burn scars, and --
was that rust? -- adorning its drab hull, and said, "You came in that
thing?!  You're braver than I thought."
 "Nice," Gryphon replied without breaking mental stride.
"Maybe you'd like it back in your office, your suitness."
 R-Type tried hard not to break as he approached the freighter.
About then he noticed the large Roman-style lettering on the port
mandible: DAGGERDISC.
 "Daggerdisc.  Nice name," commented R-Type as he maneuvered
his car into alignment with the cargo bay's loading arms.  The car was
drawn into the bay, and R-Type shut the engine off, quietly
 "Aki, run diagnostics on all systems including yourself.  I'm
sure Vision wasn't lying, but I'd just as soon check everything over
anyway.  No offense," he added to Gryphon.
 Gryphon shrugged.  "It's what I would do."  Then he turned to
the small screen.  "Again, I'm... I'm sorry that had to happen.  I'll
talk to her about it."
 Aki nodded silently.  She was concealing the fact that she was
terrified as best she could.  "Shutting down for diagnostics now," she
announced.  And then the car went silent.
 Gryphon and R-Type climbed out of the car, and Gryphon went to
a small control panel and punched some keys.  The air flickered as a
forcefield secured the car, and then the hatch closed and sealed with
a hiss.  "C'mon, this way," Gryphon said, and R-Type followed him into
the body of the ship.  Gryphon led the way down a corridor,around part
of the ship's curvature, past the main ramp and up a tangent through a
narrow door.
 R-Type was surprised to see that there was someone else
waiting in the cockpit, in the copilot's seat.  The person's back was
to the door, but even before she turned around to face the opening
door, R- Type had recognized the shoulders and the flaming red hair.
 Hearing the door, Kei turned her seat around, putting her
sneakered feet up on the seat of the chair behind her (R-Type thought
it had originally been intended for the astrogator).  She was dressed
comfortably, in a battered old Salusian Military Institute sweatshirt
and a pair of well-worn jeans, and showed very few, if any, signs that
she had recently given birth to the child she held, wrapped in a
blanket, in her arms.
 "You must be Dr. Mann," she said, smiling.  She looked at
Gryphon.  "Talked him into it, eh?"
 "No, it was me," Vision said.  Gryphon had slotted the PDA
into a slot near the pilot's chair, and she'd appeared on one of the
monitors.  "He wants to know what makes me go."
 "Now, Vision, that's rude," Gryphon said, shaking a finger at
the monitor, about as serious as your average circus clown.
 Vision checked a contact lens and stuck her tongue out at him.
 Kei snickered.  R-Type, unsure what to do or say, stood.
 "Fine, have it your way," said Gryphon to Vision, parking
himself in the pilot's chair.  "Grab a seat, R-Type; I want to get off
this planet as soon as possible."
 "Got something against Earth?" asked Larry as he sat down in
the chair behind Gryphon's.
 "Oh, no, it's lovely ... if you don't mind the isolationist
politics, the red tape, and the greenfreaks who come up to you in the
spaceport and tell you it's your Duty to destroy your starship because
its, and I quote, 'antiquated systems are polluting our mother world'.
I really didn't have the heart to tell the jerk that Daggerdisc's
systemry is more advanced than most of the Federation Starfleet's, let
alone the clunkers the spacelines use.  But I digress into bitterness
and tirade."  He grinned and started punching buttons.  "Besides, the
air here is too bloody clean.  I'm used to shipboard air, that lovely
plastic air."
 Kei sniffed.  "I don't smell plastic."
 "It's a figure of speech."
 "You and your figures of speech.  It's like listening to a
 Gryphon swiveled in his chair and pointed a fingertip under
her nose, saying, "You, young lady, were the one who decided to hitch
this ride.  I didn't _make_ you come along."
 She bit his fingertip and replied, "Wasn't the whole -trip- my
idea?"  Then, shaking her head, she turned and strapped the child into
a security seat which was attached to the astrogator's chair.  "Your
father," she informed the child smilingly, "is a git."
 Gryphon made a great show of shaking out his wounded hand
before returning to powering up the ship.  "You're impossible.  Going
to poison that kid's mind against me, I swear."
 "Um... " said R-Type.
 "Oh, I'm sorry.  Where -are- my manners today?  Dr. Mann, this
is Kei, and our daughter, Kaitlyn."
 "Oh.  Uh, hi."  Kei smiled; Kate didn't look terribly
impressed, but then, when you were three days old, you probably didn't
either.  "I hadn't heard."
 "No one has, yet," Kei replied.
 "What, was she born on your way here?" asked R-Type, not
expecting it to be true.
 "Exactly.  Hang on ..."  Gryphon kicked in the gravity
compensators, and the freighter lifted away from the tarmac with great
alacrity.  Gryphon spun it 170 degrees or so, canted the nose up and
hit the main thrusters, and the ship was heading skyward.
 "Give me a course to Titan, will you, Kei?" Gryphon asked as
he guided the old freighter out of the atmosphere.
 "It's up," Kei replied after a second of tinkering with the
nav computer.
 "Thanks."  Gryphon locked it in and then opened the impulse
throttles all the way.  "Next stop, Titan.  And then, we can all look
forward to a mind-numbingly dull week in beautiful hyperspace..."  He
grinned.  "And then Dr. Mann here gets to see what OUR engineers could
do."  He was, of course, referring to the Dyson Sphere.  R-Type had
heard about it, of course, but had never actually seen it.
 "A week?" he asked.
 "Yeah ... this is a Corellian ship.  It has a Corellian
hyperdrive core.  The builders upgraded it as far as they could, but
it's still a hyperdrive."
 "Mm, oh well," R-Type shrugged.  "Hope you all can put up with
me for a week."
 "Well, it's actually kind of an advantage.  It's hard to get a
week vacation when you just want to do nothing, but if you can sched a
business trip ... 'Sorry, my drive ... it'll take me a week.'  'Oh,
okay ... well, see you next Friday then.'  Bingo ... instant
 R-Type reflected some times over the past 400 years when he
could have used such a thing.
 "You learn a few tricks when you're as busy as I am."  Gryphon
rolled his eyes.  "Why, oh why, did I ever go into starship design?"
Then he sighed.  "Kei knows.  Kei knows everything."
 "Don't you forget it, Liebchen."

 R-Type decided to disembark with Gryphon once they reached
Port Anderson, the Titanese city closest to wherever it was he was
going.  Since two of them were going, he had no problems with getting
his car back out of the hold and driving them, with directions from
Gryphon, out into the countryside.  As they went, conversation flowed,
and R-Type learned much about this man the galaxy called "the greatest
fighter pilot ever born".
 For one thing, he learned that, although proud of the
accolades, Gryphon was also slightly embarrassed by his fame.  He was
trying to walk the fine line between appreciative and arrogant, and
doing, he thought, a half-decent job.  All in all, Larry thought, this
legendary man seemed eminently ... human.  He wasn't an Earthman as
much as Larry was, that was for certain, but he was very real, very
_there_.  He hadn't quite expected that.
 And when they arrived at their destination, he was like a kid
on Christmas.
 "This is _great_!" he declared, getting out of the car and
looking up.  "This is perfect!!"
 "What is it?" R-Type asked, standing up as well.  He was
looking up at a mountain, a great bare crag of stone that rose up out
of the forest they had driven into.  R-Type could smell and hear the
ocean not far away, and realized the mountain must jut right out into
the water, like the white cliffs of Dover.
 "It's going to be my vacation home," Gryphon said.  "I'm gonna
plane the top off flat--" He pointed, making a knife motion with one
flattened hand, "--and build a mighty fortress up there, a great Welsh
castle like the one in Macaulay's book.  Down here will be kept the
way it is, wild and natural."
 R-Type nodded.  "It'll be beautiful."
 "I plan to have Christmas gatherings here, when it's finished.
Get all the folks together in the Great Hall and put away some serious
food, then hang around under the big tree and give each other stuff."
He smiled.  "I should call it the Yuletide, I suppose, but New England
has left its mark on my dialect.  I ought to find out what the Irish
Celts called it before the missionaries showed up.  You know, it's
amazing, but the Salusians have a winter festival too.  So do the
Kilrathi, and the Corellians."
 "No kidding."
 "Yep.  Well, enough of this ... this place is perfect.  Let's
get back to Port Anderson so I can buy it before someone else snaps it
 An hour and a half, a good meal in a Port Anderson restaurant,
and some astrogation later, they were in hyperspace, heading back for

          NIGHT CYCLE

 Gryphon walked into the Forward Cargo Hold Node and found Aki,
dressed like a mechanic, examining under the "hood" of R-Type's car's
icon.  (The virtual representation of the car was identical to its
realspace counterpart.)  It looked as though she was well into the
testing stage of the diagnostics, for some 'engine parts' could be
seen scattered around the front of the vehicle.  He watched her a
moment longer before tapping on the door frame with his knuckles.
 Aki looked up from her work.  "Wha?  Oh... hello, Admiral
 "Please," Gryphon said as he walked in.  "My name is Gryphon."
He looked a bit tired, and more than a bit subdued.
 "Gryphon..." she repeated.  "Can I... help you with
 "Actually, I thought there might be something I could do for
you."  Hooph, that was clumsy.  Of course, given his current tone of
voice, it seemed to him like less of a come-on.
 Aki was puzzled.  "What do you mean?"
 "Uhm ... I thought you might feel a bit better about what
happened if someone explained _why_ it happened ... and since I'm the
only one who can do it, well ... "  He paused.  "I can just go, if you
 "No no, please," she seemed to speed up.  "Please, I need to
know.  I've never felt anything so... *powerful*..."  She shuddered
and wrapped her arms around herself.
 Gryphon sighed.  "Well..."  He looked around, then said in a
neutral tone, "Bed, geometry 500 by 350 by 135, position 300 by 120,
template six."  A largish bed appeared in the corner of the "cargo
hold", and he hopped up on it and patted the edge.  "Sit down ... I do
my best explaining when I'm comfortable."
 Aki hesitated.  This was very different.  She wished R-Type
were here.
 "Don't be afraid of me, Aki," said Gryphon gently.  "I'm not
going to do anything to you."
 "I'm sorry," Aki said in a subdued tone.  She made her way
over to the bed and sat down gingerly on the corner.  "It's just..."
 "Just a little weird?"
 "Well... yes."
 Gryphon shrugged.  "Beds are useful for far more than just
sleeping and bonking, Aki, so don't worry about the props.  Get
comfortable and I'll do my best to explain ... it's the least I can do
for not realizing there could be a problem in time."
 Aki was seen to blush, but her clothing subroutine shifted as
she suspended the diagnostics.  Now she was wearing a loose-fitting
white blouse and brown slacks.  Gryphon looked up at the ceiling and
began his narrative the same way he had begun it to R-Type.  "Have
you ever heard of CLULESS?"
 "Only what R-Type's history books have said about it," Aki
 Gryphon nodded and basically repeated his tale as he'd told it
to R-Type, ending on the same note: "And there she was."
 R-Type had, at least, managed a word or two afterwards.  Aki
seemed to be unable to say anything, and Gryphon could tell by the
look in her eyes that she was a little frightened, and unsure.
 "I know, it seems a bit unreal ... but you have to understand
what CLULESS _is_.  No mortal being created it ... it's a product of
one of the Q, the all-powerful.  Everything it touches has the touch
of godhead in it, I guess..."
 "Then that's what I felt..." Aki managed finally to speak.
"That power... she could have killed me..."  Aki wasn't the
cybercombat type.  Jilehr was more suited to those things.
 "Power, power, power..." Gryphon said with an exasperated look
on his face.  "Is that all that makes a person who they are?  I
command a ship with enough firepower to sterilize a planet, Aki.  Does
that make me evil?  Vision's problem is that she isn't AWARE of her
power.  Isn't aware of it and doesn't have as much self- control as
one could wish for ... it doesn't make her any less quitayne!"
 Aki shied away from him.  "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she said
quickly.  "I didn't mean to offend you."
 Gryphon also looked apologetic.  "And I didn't mean to get
upset... I'm exhausted.  I should have rested before I tried this, but
I couldn't leave you hanging...
 "Look, what I'm trying to say is, Vision can't help being what
she is.  She just ... _is_.  I think it's always bothered her a little
bit that she's visually a replica of another woman I once loved, a
realspace woman ... I think she's afraid that she means something less
to me than she would if she were a realspace woman too.  When Jilehr
suggested that that might be the case, well ...  it terrified her,
frankly, the idea that Jilehr might be _right_.  The fact that I
didn't jump in and start raising holy hell about it didn't help ... I
had no idea it worried her so much.  So she lashed out... and you got
caught in the middle.  I just talked to her, you know.  She feels
terrible.  She forgot that she'd have to hurt you to hurt the one
who'd cut her so deeply ... when I left her she was busily being
totally miserable about it.
 "She's just a person, like the rest of us.  She's quitayne,
she's flawed, she makes mistakes.  She made one today, and she feels
awful about it.  Eventually she might even swallow enough of that damn
pride of hers to apologize for it.  She likes you, Aki."
 Aki was silent for a moment longer, parsing an internal
decision.  She swallowed.  "I... I suppose I should talk to her,
 "I think she may screw up enough courage to come and see you
when she wakes up..."
 "Wakes up?  She shut down?"
 "No ... she went to sleep.  She's had a rotten day... made a
new friend, then tried to knock her teeth in... all that emotional
trauma... I had to calm her down for the last couple of hours, and
then she went to sleep.  She's extremely anthropomorphic."
 "Mm..." Aki said after another thoughtful pause.  The idea of
a "sleeping" ACI was rather new to her still.  "Well then...  could I
be informed when she... wakes up?"
 "Sure ... I'll let you know."  Gryphon yawned.  "You ought to
try it ... it's rewarding."
 Aki canted her head to one side, not really comprehending,
then shrugged it off and rezzed back into her work clothes, resuming
the diagnostics on the car.
 Gryphon shrugged and got up, letting the bed vanish.  "Suit
yourself, but I think you're missing out."  He was on his way towards
the door when Aki called out:
 "Oh, and Gryphon?"
 He paused at the door.  "Yes?"
 "Thank you... for telling me... for telling *us*..."
 "You're welcome."  He looked momentarily troubled.  "I only
hope your other side doesn't use what she's learned as a lever at some
point.  Vision will never attack you again, now that she knows how
closely you're linked ... and I don't want to have to play junior
cyberpsychologist with the kind of frustration it would cause..."
[Just what I need,] he thought.  [Vision in a fugue rage state.
 "I don't think she will..." Aki considered.  "She knows what
hit her.  I don't think she'll cross that kind of power again.  I
don't see her taking that risk."
 Gryphon looked at the deck for a moment, then said, "Well,
it's better than nothing, I suppose.  Good night, Aki."  And he left.


 Gryphon wandered down the corridor in the general direction of
the wardroom, a mug of tea in his hand and bags under his eyes.  He'd
gotten *something* over the past few hours, but it wasn't sleep.  His
mind was on various things, Vision chief among them.  She'd probably
be waking up before too long, and he needed to be there to greet her.
That and he definitely needed to tell Larry about the conversation he
had with Aki, if he could find him.  You'd think it wouldn't be hard
on a ship of Daggerdisc's size to find somebody, but...
 Fortunately the problem was gracious enough to solve itself.
As Gryphon plodded into the wardroom he was greeted by the sight of
R-Type with his feet on the holochess table, sketching Kei, who was
leaning against an unidentifiable control panel.
 "Good ning," he croaked.
 The two turned and R-Type started to say good morning when he
noticed Gryphon's appearance: he looked rather out of sorts, in a
gaudily patched bathrobe that made him look a lot like a Funkotroni
monk, and the Babs Bunny slippers could not be missed.  His hair was
nothing short of a nuclear disaster area.
 "Eesh," R-Type said.  "You look like... *something* warmed
over.  What happened to you?"
 "Nothing, really.  I was up all night, and I didn't sleep very
well the night before, or the night before, or... it's catching up
with me, is all.  I spent all night in cyberspace, talking down high
bombs... "
 "High bom-- oh..." R-Type understood immediately.
 "Problems in cyberspace?" asked Kei.
 "Oh ... um ... Vision kind of mugged Larry's cybernetic
intelligence yesterday, and I spent most of the night picking up the
 Gryphon turned to R-Type.  "You want to try and explain it, or
shall I?"
 "I'll take a stab at it."
 "Ok."  Gryphon sat down at the chess table and nursed his tea
as R-Type started explaining the situation to Kei.
 "My CI has two personalities, Aki and Jilehr."  Kei nodded.
"Well, Jilehr sort of... called Vision a sex toy.  She was having a bad
day, what with suddenly having to move out of my home PC and into my car's
'frame.  Next thing I knew, Vision had broken into my car's computer
and tried to kill her.  When she hit Jilehr she also hit Aki's object
files.  Scared her shitless."
 "Ouch," Kei said.  "She tried to kill her?"
 "Um, just a second..." Gryphon raised a hand, and they both
turned to look at him.  "She wasn't trying to *kill* Jilehr, just
crash her, make her shut up.  When you jumped on kids who taunted you
in grade school, did you want to kill them?  Give her a little credit,
if you could, please."  His piece apparently said, he took another sip
of tea.
 "Mm..." R-Type parsed this for a minute.  "Yeah, I guess so.
Still, when a PDA suddenly takes your carphone off the hook and hacks
into your computer, it sorta catches you unprepared.  And when I see
that kind of power I can only assume Death is on her way.  And if
Vision *had* crashed her in the car, it *could* have killed her.  On
one level I agree that Jilehr deserved what she got.  I guess she
figured a PDA couldn't break into a car.  Neither did I, to tell you
the truth; to be perfectly honest with you, what Vision did
scared the everliving shit out of me."
 Gryphon nodded, took another sip of tea.  "Jilehr hit her
pretty hard too," he said.  "Just not as spectacularly.  I spent three
hours picking up the pieces.  How'd you like to have your worst fear
thrown in your face by a total stranger?"
 "Indeed," R-Type nodded.  He'd noted that Gryphon's tone was
not accusational, but conversational.  No need for fighting over this
subject.  "I haven't had a chance to check on Aki yet.  I should do
that soon."
 "I talked to her last night," Gryphon said.
 "How is she?"
 "A little frightened.  Who wouldn't be, after seeing...  well,
let's be honest... an angry godling?"  He shrugged.  "I explained to
her about Vision's beginnings and why what Jilehr said hurt her so
much that she was driven to attack... I tried to explain that Vision's
just as quitayne as the rest of us..."
 "It's a Salusian word, basically means the same thing to them
that it means to us when we say we're 'only human'.  It's becoming
more popular in Standard, since it's not race-specific like the
concept of 'humanity' is."  R-Type nodded his understanding.  "Anyway,
I tried to explain that.  I don't know how well I did, but if you
asked I'd say 'probably not great'."  He paused.  "She wants to talk
to Vision."
 "Really?  Well, that's probably a good sign.  Aki's good at
being helpful... she helped me out of some rough times... but *I*
digress.  Is Vision willing to talk to her?  Hmm, wonder if I should
be there...?"
 "I'm not sure it's a good idea for it to go down at all, but
Vision wanted to talk to her, too, once I had her calmed down last
night."  He sighed.  "I don't know, Larry.  We can't sysop them their
whole runtime.  Remember what the 'A' in 'ACI' is supposed to stand
 "Hmm... guess I should leave it up to Aki, then."
 "Yeah, I think so," Kei spoke up.  "Besides, you haven't
finished with *me* yet!"
 "'I'm not finished with you yet, you yellow bastard!'
'What're you going to do, man, bleed on my feet?!'" Gryphon cried in a
rather awful British accend made harder-edged by his lack of rest.
R-Type and Kei snarfed.
 Then Gryphon got serious again: "Look, here's my two cents'
worth.  I've said my piece to both of them.  If you've got something
you want to say, then I think you should talk to them separately too.
When they meet again, though ... I think it would just insult them if
we were watching over their shoulders.  Vision won't do anything to
either of them, now that she knows how connected they are.  She likes
Aki.  I only hope Jilehr doesn't use what Aki learned from me as a
weapon... if she did, it would be very brutal of her."
 R-Type spread his hands apart.  "I don't think she will,
considering what she experienced.  She may be impulsive, but she's not
stupid.  And I think you're right, we can't mother them: it should be
just between them.  Hopefully Aki's ready for Vision."
 Gryphon sighed and quoted: "'And I have seen a friend become a
worshipper.  Where does it end?'"  He shook his head.  "All right,
then... I'll go back and jack in, so I can let Aki know when Vision's
 "We'll be here if you need us," R-Type said as he advanced the
lead in his pencil.  Kei headed back to where she'd been standing,
detouring past the chessboard to check on Kaitlyn, who was,
unsurprisingly, asleep.
 Gryphon waved absently and shuffled back toward his quarters,
muttering, "I want to sleeeeeeeeeeeepppp..."  
 R-Type and Kei stifled snarfs.

        30 MINUTES LATER

 It was like a repeat of the night before, as Gryphon leaned
into the cargo hold and (virtually, of course) knocked on the wall.
This time Aki was just leaning against the car, which was now in much
better shape than it had looked last night.  She was dressed in her
white business dress, with a neatly ironed brown skirt, and looked
quite nice.  She appeared to be lost in thought, but turned as soon as
Gryphon knocked.
 "Yes?  Oh, hello Gryphon," Aki said.  "Are you all right?"
 "Good morning, Aki," Gryphon replied.  (His icon looked as
awful as he did in realspace at that moment.)  "I'm fine, just a
little tired."
 "Is Vision...?"
 "Yes... she's standing right behind me, in fact, if now's a
good time."
 "Um... I... don't see why not."
 "All right."  Gryphon stood aside to let Vision pass him, took
her shoulders in his hands, muttered something to her, and kissed her
before departing.  (Aki noted that she was wearing a bathrobe
identical to the one Gryphon's icon was wearing.)  And then they were
alone, the only other icon in the node being R-Type's car, against
which Aki leaned now.
 There was an uncomfortable silence.
 "Um..." Aki fidgeted.  How to start this...?  She looked off
to one side.
 "Er..." Vision replied.  "I, uh... I'm sorry... about what I
did.  It was... um... uh... rude."  [No, no, that's the wrong
 "Um... me... me too.  I'm sorry my temper flared so badly."
[Ack, not *my* temper... well, actually... this isn't starting too
 Vision fidgeted for a few seconds, then made a small
exasperated sound and made the bed appear in the corner, throwing
herself on it on her back.  "-Damn- it, I hate awkwardness!"  She sat
up.  "Look, I'm sorry I beat up on your other personality.  I didn't
know you were linked that closely.  I've never seen your protocol
before.  I lost my temper.  She said some things that hit me where I
live.  All right?"  [There.  We'll try the blunt approach,] she said
to herself.  [Shit, I'm bad at this...]
 Aki was a little startled by the outburst, but she quickly
recovered.  She got up and walked over to the bed, sitting down at the
corner, still a bit cautious.  But she could tell Vision was
uncomfortable, and she wanted to create as little friction as
 Vision folded her legs under her, and reached out a hand to
touch Aki's shoulder.  Aki turned to face her, the look in her eyes
somewhere between fear and admiration.  "I... I'm not sure what to
say..." she fumbled.  "I mean... I'm STACIS version 2.2, one of the
most advanced ACI protocols there is.  But you...  you're so much more
 Vision nodded, more to herself.  Aki _had_ moved away, almost
imperceptibly, when she reached out.  Her eyes stung.  She turned
away.  "Just like everyone else.  Just like all the others ... afraid
of me."  She threw herself down on the bed.  "I can't help what I am!"
 "Wha... what do you mean, 'all the others'?" Aki asked.  And
she couldn't help noticing that Vision's eyes were glimmering.
 "The Wedge Defense Force and the civilian sectors of New
Avalon have a lot of ACIs and high-time deckers ... and I don't have a
goddamned friend in the whole spherespace.  Eve, Ben, and ... a couple
of others ... that's all.  Most of the others won't even talk to me.
Like I'm some kind of bomb that's going to kill them if they touch me.
They're all afraid ... afraid of me, afraid of what I can do.  Damn
it, I didn't ask to be this way!"
 She grabbed a pillow and buried her face in it, muttering:
"There are times when I wish I'd never goddamn incepted."
 "Well..." Aki hunted for the right words.  "People are always
afraid of what they don't understand.  So R-Type's told me.  I mean,
take yesterday, for example, when you hacked into this car.  You just
went right in as though the system didn't exist.  I don't think R-Type
will admit it, but... but there's a 95% probability he was very scared
by that.  I mean, he watched his most powerful ACI get attacked by
someone capable of destroying her.  You could erase me with a thought
if you wanted to.  You're practically a deity."
 "I know," Vision said bitterly.  "The ones who aren't afraid
of me can't love me either, because they're too busy fucking
worshipping me.  I think that hollow blank fucking adoration look
hurts even more than the fear.  Oh, fuck it, why am I telling you
this?  You don't care, you either hate me or fear me, just like
everybody else, and I don't blame you.  I've tried to keep it quiet
before, but I always do some damn stupid thing and it comes out in the
end, and it always ends the same."  She buried her face in the pillow,
mostly so Aki couldn't see her crying.
 Aki just looked at her for a moment.  She'd been parsing
Gryphon's words from the night before very carefully, and now it was
time to put that information to use.  "Listen... Gryphon talked to me
yesterday.  On this same bed, as a matter of fact.  He told me all
about you, and what happened to--"
 Vision sat up.  "He TOLD you?!  Why that--!"  She stopped when
Aki placed a hand on her shoulder.  She wasn't finished.
 "Listen...  if he *hadn't*...  I probably wouldn't understand
it now.  I won't pretend that I'm not scared anymore, but..."  She
paused.  "You and I have something in common.  We have lifeforce."
 "You have what's called a soul, don't you?"  Vision nodded.
"Most people don't know it, but I do too.  It's nowhere near as
advanced as your lifeforce, but I *do* have it.  I have a Spengler
index of 0.85."
 Vision was mildly surprised at this.  She didn't know of any
ACI protocols other than her own which actually generated physical
life force.  And R-Type had created her... this *was* interesting.
 "So... I don't know how significant that is, but... I think it
does give us *something* in common.  I mean, I have a lifeforce too.
I know what it means to be... different.  I *am* capable of
understanding...  I guess... I..."  She paused, hunting for the right
phrase.  "R-Type's told me it's called 'getting to know one better', I
 Vision cracked a small smile.  "Where I come from, that has
another definition ... but ... "  She shifted to an overserious
imitation of Gryphon.  " ... but I digress."  This made Aki giggle
momentarily, but she soon sobered.
 Vision sighed.  "I'm just... lonely.  I mean, for some reason,
I'm very anthropomorphic, you know?  I have the same wants and desires
as everybody else Outside.  I want to eat and sleep, work and play,
run and fuck and laugh just like everyone else.  And I can't ...
because of what I am."
 Aki looked down for a moment, her cheeks coloring a bit.
Vision's whole approach to existence was something she still didn't
quite comprehend, but her loneliness was something she *could*
 "I guess the proper way to say this, then..."  She paused,
then looked into Vision's eyes.  "I would like to be your friend."
 Vision blinked twice in rapid succession, a mannerism which,
Aki would come to learn in later years, she had picked up from
Gryphon.  "You ... you would?"
 "I'd like to try.  We may have gotten off on the wrong foot,
but that doesn't mean it can't ever be put right again."
 Vision looked reflective.  (No, no, that doesn't mean she
turned all silver.)  "I seem to remember someone saying that once
before ... if I could only remember who it was."  She trailed off.  "I
guess it doesn't matter.  I, um ... I don't know what to say, really."
 Aki reached down and took Vision's hand in hers, smiling.  "I
guess this is what it feels like to open one's soul up to another,"
she observed.
 Vision looked down at their hands.  "I, uh... I guess so."
She drew Aki toward her and hugged her.
 "You know... R-Type is a fairly accomplished biocyberneticist.
Perhaps if you wanted to find out what the Outside is like, he could
help you with that... if he would be willing to be your friend, too.
And I think he would, if you got to know each other."
 "H'm... I hadn't thought of it that way before.  It might
be... interesting ... "  She tried to imagine what it would be like to
see and hold the _real_ Gryphon, the one she could see through remote
optics but never touch.  She knew that her realities were the most
realistic possible, and that there was really no difference... but...
the idea was appealing.  [How textbook,] she said to herself,
[Pinocchia wants to be a real girl...]  She shook her head to clear
it.  "I think I'll burn one bridge at a time."
 Aki smiled.  "Of course, no need to rush anything.  Let's all
be friends.  I'm sure R-Type would like to, too."
 "Yeah... let's," Vision replied.  Then, impulsively, she gave
the other CI a quick kiss and sprung from the bed, demonstrating her
amazing ability to rapidly rebound from difficulties in her life.
"Well, I don't know about you, but I feel a lot better."
 Aki blushed a little.  "Um... me too.  Oh, and Vision?"
 "I'll see to it that Jilehr, um... 'knows her place', as it
were.  She won't bother you again, not if I can help it."
 "Uh... thanks, Aki.  Thanks.  Listen, I'll, uh, I'll see you
around, ok?"  [Gah, I'm as bad at ending conversations as I am at
starting them...]
 "All right.  Say hello to R-Type and Gryphon if you see them
before I do."  She smiled.
 "Okay... bye..." Vision left the node and went back to the one
corresponding to the cockpit, pondering.
 Aki stood, and the bed de-rezzed behind her.  She walked over
to the car and leaned against the front bumper, deep in thought.
[She's not so bad once you get to know her,] she thought with a smile.
  Somewhere inside her head, a small voice was going [God, I
hate them.  "Let's be friends."  Oooh, how cute.  *retch*...]

 The rest of the journey passed fairly uneventfully.  After a good
bit of consideration and resolve-building, Vision finally approached
R-Type and asked if they could talk about what went on.  As it turned
out, he was quite forgiving of the whole mess: having Vision's origins
explained to him by Gryphon, not to mention getting a report from Aki
about what had gone on, had given him a much better understanding.
And knowing all of that, he'd told her that he would like to be friends
as well, and help her with the problems she was facing in whatever way
he could.  How he was going to help her he didn't know, but Vision
didn't really care; just having two new friends in the Spherespace would
be more than enough.  R-Type had also bawled Jilehr out for what she'd
done and secured her promise to ramp down the attitude when around Vision.
He fully expected her to try sneaking in a snide comment once in a while,
though; it was her inherent nature, after all, and he warned Vision
accordingly.  Vision figured, having a better understanding of the
situation herself, she could deal with that.

 In a few days, events' normal progression (read: becoming
increasingly bored and mildly claustrophobic after being cooped up in
that tiny ship for a whole week) found the ersatz crew of Daggerdisc
congregated in the cockpit for hyperspace dropout.  Larry stood
between the pilot and copilot seats (occupied by Gryphon and Kei,
respectively), his hands steadying him on the seats' headrests, and
watched the blue tumbrels of hyperspace for a few moments longer as
Gryphon fiddled with the controls.
 "Hyperspace dropout in five," he announced.  "Four.  Three.
Two.  Dropout... now."  With that, he reached up and pushed the
hyperdrive throttles forward to "disengage"; the blueness of
hyperspace washed white, splintered into lines, and dropped back to
 All, that is, except for the great silver disk which it took
Larry a few moments to realize was the Zeta Cygni Dyson Sphere.  It
didn't particularly impress him, at first, even though intellectually
he knew how big it was; he simply stood and regarded it, impassive on
the surface.
 Gryphon smiled, glancing at Kei, who returned his private
grin; they both knew what was to come.  Then Kei reached up and
activated the comm unit.
 "Zeta Cygni Control, this is Zulu Charlie November Alpha one
one three eight, on approach to New Avalon Main Gate.  Repeat,
ZCNA-1138 on approach to New Av Interstel.  Over."
 "Roger, Eleven-thirty-eight," the controller's voice crackled
back.  "You're clear on Interstel; bring her into the usual pad.
Welcome home, you two.  Admiral, Fleet Admiral MegaZone wants to,
quote, bitch you out, unquote, on your arrival."
 Gryphon chuckled.  "I'm not at all surprised, Control.  1138
 "What's the Fleet Admiral's problem?" asked R-Type.
 "Oh, he's probably annoyed with us for sneaking out of the
base hospital and traipsing off across the galaxy with me so close to
term," Kei replied airily.  "Don't worry about it; he gets his briefs
in a twist sometimes over nothing."
 "It's nothing to do with me, then?"
 "I don't think he even knows you're coming."
 "Well," Gryphon qualified, "he might if he paid attention to
the forms crossing his desk."
 "Which means he doesn't."
 Larry snickered.
 Then he realized that Daggerdisc was screaming low over the
Dyson sphere's hull, and before he could even quite parse that, the
ship had nosed down and plunged through an open gate the size of a
small moon's diameter and into the sphere itself.  The visual impact
of the sheer enormity of the place, so big it looked far more
interesting than infinity (ref. Adams, Douglas: _The Hitch-Hiker's
Guide to the Galaxy_, specifically his description of Magrathea), had
such an effect on Larry that it caused him to speak a statement he had
not made since his childhood:
 "My God!"
 "Something like that," Gryphon replied with a cryptic grin.

 New Avalon Interstellar Starport looked like any other
starport, really; it was shiny and new, and the terminal smelled like
fresh carpet glue, but other than that it was quite ordinary, if
large.  Larry didn't care; he was still looking avidly around, taking
in the sights and sounds of it all, suffering his usual new-place
 So he didn't notice the tall, dark man in black approaching
until he was already yelling at Gryphon:
 "You jerk!  How could you go and do something so damn
dangerous!  You could've -- "
 Gryphon was in the process of formulating an interruption
(probably "Whoa, whoa, whoa, ease up on your sphincter, Tex!"), but he
didn't get the chance, since Kei had already interposed herself and
said, "Off his back, Zoner -- it was my idea."
 Zoner skidded to a verbal halt and blinked.  Kei took this
opportunity to completely distract him by holding Kaitlyn up and
saying, "And besides, Kaitlyn and I are both fine, so what's the
 MegaZone, the Wedge Defense Force Supreme Commander, was a
battle-hardened warrior.  He had, in the course of his long, colorful,
and often less than strictly legal career, seen almost all manner of
horror and atrocity.  During the Exile he had made a living as what
amounted to a professional killer.  He would not, if asked, describe
himself as a nice person.
 He melted completely in the face of infancy and became Awkward
Uncle Zoner in less than four-tenths of a second.
 [Kei Morgan maternal and MegaZone blithering,] Larry Mann
remarked to himself.  [If I die now I can say I've seen it all.]
 Recovering, Zoner shot Gryphon a look that said, "We'll
discuss this later," and then turned to R-Type, who instantly felt
uncomfortable.  Zoner's dark eyes sized Larry up in a few moments,
scanning him up and down, the expression behind them inscrutable, and
there was a long pause.
 "So," Zoner said, his expression still neutral and
featureless.  "You must be R-Type."
 R-Type kept himself from sounding overly nervous as he
replied, "That's me."
 Zoner's face did not change as he continued, "You're the Other
 R-Type swallowed.
 Zoner grinned and stuck out his hand.  "Welcome to Zeta
 R-Type nearly fainted.

 The legal part of getting moved in was a lot quicker than what
he had expected.  A lot of the paperwork had been graciously taken
care of in advance by Vision, but there were still a few forms which
needed to be signed down at Immigration, and of course he had to go
through the business of reading lease agreements and signing
contracts, picking up keycards and transmitters, and all the other
lunacy associated with getting moved into the average apartment
complex.  That all went off without a hitch, which was good, because
R-Type didn't want any financial or other concerns -- this decidedly
abrupt move across the galaxy was enough of a shock as it was --
occupying his mind while he went through the rather arduous task of
getting himself moved in the rest of the way.  He'd tried to scale
down his outfit over the years, but no matter what he did he still
ended up with a lot of shit (mainly because a lot of it was vintage
20th Century stuff which was irreplaceable and couldn't be
electronically archived).  Oh well.  He loosened his tie a bit as he
made his way down the top floor walkway which led to the apartment.
With any luck, one of the boxes near the top of the pile would contain
some clothes more suited to moving furniture and unpacking boxes and
all that stuff.  Getting all the stuff unpacked and arranged would
probably take the rest of the day and maybe some of tomorrow too, but
that was okay.  He didn't need to be anywhere else until Monday
anyway.  He swiped the keycard through the door's access panel,
beginning to consider how to arrange the furniture in this new place.
Then the door pinged and slid open, and he stepped through.
 Actually, he stepped halfway through and then stopped in the
middle of the doorway, and then just sort of stood there staring,
 Because everything had already been unpacked, reassembled, and
arranged.  And very well, to boot.
 R-Type finally stepped through the door when it registered its
annoyance at his being where he was, allowing it to close at last.  He
stepped into the living room, looking around him in semi-stunned
silence.  Then he proceeded to look through the kitchen, the bathroom
and bedroom, and the second bedroom which had been set up as a
workroom (he could tell because the computers and bookcases were in
there).  Everything was there, assembled or shelved or whatever was
appropriate, and ready for use.
 The layout was different from what he'd had at Amherst, of
course; that one had been a one-bed-one-bath.  This one had more
space, and it also had an entire multiterm setup built into one of the
living room walls.  But differences aside, the more he looked at it,
and the more he thought about it... the more he realized this was
*exactly* the kind of layout he would have decided upon after having
seen the place and considered all the options.  It was, to say the
least, vaguely surreal.  Somebody had just saved him a lot of time and
effort, so it would seem.  Somebody also knew him inside and out, it
would also seem, which was a bit disconcerting.  Then again, he
supposed he shouldn't be too surprised, considering how fast FedEx had
descended on Amherst.  He wouldn't be at all surprised if Eve had had
something to do with it.  She had a knack for knowing everything,
after all.  And well, if somebody was going to know every single thing
about him, he'd much rather it be Eve than anyone else.
 [Hmph,] he remarked to himself.  [Guess I *can* deal with her
knowing everything about me after all.]

 Getting settled was very easy after that initial shock was
past.  After he'd gotten out of his admittedly stale suit (sorry, but
a week is a *long* time to wear the exact same set of clothes) and
into some clothes far better suited to relaxing (i.e. a t-shirt and
some jeans), R-Type spent a fair amount of time going through every
shelf and drawer and taking an impromptu inventory of everything.
Partly so he could learn where everything was really located in this
apartment, and partly to satisfy himself that everything was indeed
 Unlike those of the UFPS, standard FedX shipments did not make
a habit of disappearing forever into the nebulous void which was the
mail system.  In other words, everything was present and accounted
for, and in a proper place.  It was still a little amazing to him how
everything did indeed seem so proper, so "in place".  But that was a
good thing; it was one less thing for him to deal with, and so he
could just sit on the couch and relax for the rest of the day--
 Then the phone rang.
 Maybe not.  Who had his number? he wondered.  Oh well, might
as well see who it is.  He hoisted himself back to a standing
position, homed in on the closest vidphone -- located on the wall
right next to the multiterm -- and picked it up.  "Hello?"  An image
of a man appeared, looking fairly unassuming and very very calm in
 "Good afternoon, R-Type," the man said in a voice which was
soft yet somehow very commanding at the same time.
 R-Type was standing very straight in an instant, all his
corporate reflexes bringing him to an attentive stance immediately.
Dear Eris, the *Master*!!  "G-- good afternoon, m'lord!"
 Kwei-Chang Caine shook his head slowly.  "There is no need for
such... formalities now, R-Type.  I would carry no title other than
'Master'.  It is all I am... deserving of, as a Shaolin."
 The relaxing tone of the man's voice made R-Type want to
loosen up, but his body was not ready to back down just yet, trained
as it was by several centuries under servitude to Largo.  So he simply
replied "As... as you wish... Master."
 Caine smiled a small smile.  Old habits died hard, he knew,
and it would take time for R-Type to break free of them.  But
certainly he would get there, given time.  In the meanwhile:
 "I trust Gryphon has... told you of the need for talents
 "Yes, m'l-- er, Master.  I've been told there are several
positions opening for which I would be qualified."
 "Have you come to any... decision as yet?"
 "No sir," R-Type replied.  "There are so many options, and so
many of them inviting, that I'm not certain what to select."
 "Indeed," Caine said.  "I would tell you, now, that you are...
free to leave the company if you... truly wish to do so now.  Do you
wish to do this?"
 "No..." R-Type said after a moment of very careful
consideration.  "For all the difficult times I went through, there are
good times to compensate.  ...  I do enjoy being a part of this
company, in final analysis.  ...  I would like to stay with GENOM."
 Caine nodded slowly.  "I am glad to hear that.  You are a...
very talented individual, R-Type.  I have studied your record of
service, and I have been... considering where your abilities might
be... put to their best use, if you would hear my suggestion."
 "Of course, Master.  Wherever you wish to place me."
 "This should be your decision as much as mine," Caine reminded
him, then went on.  "Having considered your history, your record of
service over the centuries, and the... sum of your accomplishments as
an officer of the company... it is my opinion that you would be...
best suited to the duties of..."
 [Here it comes...] R-Type thought, bracing himself.
 "...an Executive Vice President... of the company."
 "Eh?" R-Type managed to remark.  Those words had nailed him
straight between the eyes, and he wasn't quite certain he'd actually
heard them.
 "And further," Caine continued, amused at R-Type's stunned
reaction.  "You are ideally suited to the position of... Chief
Executive Officer of our operations... in New Avalon and the Enigma
 R-Type opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out besides
some exclamation resembling "Ah?"  Then he snapped out of his shock
and quickly closed his slack jaw.
 "Yes, R-Type," Caine answered the unasked question.  "I *am*
serious.  The way I see it, there is no better way to... put your
myriad talents to their best use, than to... have you in a position
where such multi-faceted knowledge is... most useful.  My staff and I
considered many options for you, and this seemed the most...
 "I... I'm..." R-Type fumbled.  "I'm not sure what to say..."
 "You need not say anything now.  I would like to meet with
you, later today, so that we might... discuss this matter in greater
 "Of-- of course!  When?"
 "An ideal time would be 1300 hours today, if that would be
convenient for you."
 "Certainly," he answered.  "Any... anytime is fine."
 "Good," Caine smiled.  "I will see you at 1300 hours, then...
at our temporary office... in Osbourne Plaza.  Do you know the
 "Y-yes, I do.  It was pointed out to me earlier today."
 "Good.  Then I will see you at 1300 hours."
 "I'll be there, Master.  And... and thank you."
 "You are welcome.  Goodbye, R-Type," he concluded, and then
the connection was cut.

 R-Type hung up the vidphone, and then just sort of sank into
the closest chair and let out a long wheeze.  After a few minutes he
finally made a remark: "Geebah."
 "This is certainly interesting," Aki remarked from the
multiterm monitor.  "Congratulations on your promotion."
 "Gheh," R-Type emitted another wheeze.  He certainly hadn't
known what to expect, and this 'promotion' certainly was *not* among
the speculations he'd had.  "I seem to have my work cut out for me,"
he deadpanned after a moment.
 "Sure looks that way," Jilehr responded.  "Welcome to the
beautiful people, RT."
 "Yeah..." Larry said, still trying to comprehend the full
magnitude of what he'd just been presented with.  An Executive VP,
*and* CEO of New Avalon/Enigma Sector Operations???  That meant that
not only was GENOM New Avalon -- rumored to be high in the running for
the new center of the whole GENOM organization with the loss of
Halstead Station -- going to be under his complete control, but he had
authority over all the CEOs of every single GENOM office in the Enigma
Sector, and could override their orders if necessary.  That was a
*lot* of power.  And a lot of responsibility to go with it, seeing as
how he was essentially answerable only to the Master himself.  AND, if
what he was hearing in the grapevine were true, the New Avalon spot
could put him one jump away from the Big Chair itself.
 An entire GENOM facility at his fingertips, and several dozen
more under his authority?  And publicly, no less?  The idea was hard
for him to grasp.  He was much more used to being a background figure.
Not only was this the foreground, it was a center seat: the command
decisions were going to be his to make.  Was he ready for *this* kind
of position?  Major responsibility, public figure and all that...?
 There was a very long period of consideration.
 [Well......] he thought at length.  [Never know 'til you try.
...  Who knows?  It might actually be fun.]  A slight grin grew on his
face.  He certainly wasn't going to complain.
 He glanced at his watch and noted then that it was now 12:15;
he had about 45 minutes left to prepare for, and get to, his meeting
with Master Caine.  Plenty of time to get where he needed to be,
certainly, but a little less time than he felt comfortable with.  He
got to his feet and moved into the bedroom, locating a clean suit in a
matter of minutes and laying it out on the bed.
 Definitely a non-stop day, this one.

 He'd made it as far as getting into the shirt and pants when
the phone rang again.  "Gad," he remarked.  "*Now* what?"  He headed
over to the bedroom phone and picked it up, hoping that whoever it was
would be brief.  The monitor flared to life once again.  "Hello--" he
started to say, and then he saw who it was, and all thoughts of just
about everything came to a halt.
 "Hi Larry!" Yuri said.  She looked considerably better than
she had when last he'd seen her face, and obviously much happier (if
the cheerful tone in her voice was any indication).  "How are you?"
 "I'm-- I'm fine!"  His voice ran away from him for a moment
and he had to relocate it.  "How... how are *you*?  My gosh..."
 "Oh, I'm doing great," she answered.  It was amazing, to
Larry, how different she seemed from the last time they'd met.  And it
was a good change; she seemed to be practically glowing with happiness
now.  "Enjoying New Avalon so far?"
 "It's surreal, that's for sure," he answered.  "The whole day
-- heck, the last *week* -- has been surreal and it hasn't stopped
yet.  One minute I'm in Irvine and the next I'm in hyperspace feeling
vaguely surreal.  Then my entire apartment is already arranged to
perfection when I get here, which is mildly surreal.  Then Master
Caine calls and asks me to come down to the office, which I'm trying
to get ready for right now, for what I can only call a Dream Job.
*Very* surreal.  And now pretty girls are calling me on the phone.
What's next, autograph sessions?"
 "How'd you know we were setting a table up?" Yuri asked, and
then tried unsuccessfully to stifle a major giggling fit as R-Type
groaned and looked thoroughly pained.  Then he just moaned "make it
stop, joel..." in a very small voice, and she broke completely.  The
laughter became contagious and it wasn't long before they were both
trying to get themselves under control.  Again, Larry couldn't miss
how wonderful it was to see that smile on her face.
 "So," Yuri finally said when they'd managed to calm themselves
down at last.  "How have you *been*?  Goddess, you look *great*!  So
much has happened these past few years!  There's so many things I want
to tell you about!  It's so good to *see* you again!"
 "Aye to *that*," Larry replied, reeling just a bit from the
verbal barrage she'd just thrown at him.  My, but she was enthusiastic
right now.  "I've got a list of crazy stories that'll take a year and
half to tell..."  he glanced at his watch.  "But unfortunately, time
is short right now.  I got about a half an hour to get down to the
office, and I wanna get moving."  He looked worried then; what he'd
just said felt thoroughly rude to him all of a sudden.  "Er, I don't
mean to cut you off or anything--"
 "No no!  I understand," Yuri answered quickly.  "Don't want to
miss such an important meeting, after all.  Besides..." she hesitated
for a moment, and... was she blushing...?  "I'd... I'd rather talk to
you in person anyway...  Um... are you gonna be free this evening?"
 "Um, yeah, after this meeting I'm downtime until next Monday,"
he answered.  "Uh, did you have something specific in mind?"
 "Well..." she said.  "I thought maybe we could go out for
dinner.  Someplace real high-class and formal, maybe?  Um... I bought
this new dress, and I wanna try it out and everything."
 R-Type shrugged.  "Um, sure, if that's what you want.  Um...
any particular place you want to go?  I'm not too familiar with the
restaurant scene around here yet."
 "Anywhere," Yuri answered.  "It doesn't matter.  Just so long
as I can talk to you.  It's so good to see your face again!"
 "Gee, I didn't know my face was such a commodity.  Maybe I
should patent it," he remarked, causing Yuri to snarf.  "All righty, I
guess I can handle that.  I'll have Aki pin down some restaurants,
then.  Any particular time tonight?  Six, six-thirty?"
 "Six would be great."  She smiled once again.  "Gods, but it's
so good to see you again!"
 R-Type looked sheepish and on the verge of coloring a little
himself.  Sheesh, how many times had she said that now?  Three, wasn't
it?  "Er, yeah, you too."  He looked at his watch again and sighed.
"Um, listen, I gotta get moving.  Um... guess I'll see you later."
 "Okay!" Yuri smiled.  "See you, and good luck!"
 "Heh, yeah," he answered.  "I'll need it.  See you!"
 "Bye!" she said, and cut her connection.  R-Type regarded the
dark screen for several very long moments, then replaced the handset
on its cradle, leaned against the nearest wall, and emitted a long,
slow exhale.
 "Very... very... surreal... day."
 "What a guy," Jilehr remarked from the vidphone's monitor.
"Way to go, RT, you big stud."
 "Oh give me a break," R-Type rolled his eyes and looked
exasperated.  "We're just going to *dinner*, for crying out loud."
 "Mm-hmm, yeah, right," Jilehr smirked, and then was replaced
by Aki.  "I took the liberty of adding the Daniels number to the phone
 "Thanks, Aki," R-Type answered.  "Do me a favor: I want you to
shop around and get me a list of the best restaurants in the city.
Clientele should be upper or upper-middle income, dress code
semiformal or higher.  Money's not a concern this time.  If Yuri wants
high-class, she gets only the best.  Give me the results after the
 "Would you like me to contact Miss Daniels and see if she has
any preferences once I have the list?"
 "Yeah, do that.  That'd be great."  It was at this moment,
interestingly enough, that his stomach chose to register a complaint
about a distinct lack of digestable resources, and he sighed in
annoyance.  There was very little time available for eating right now.
He had a choice of trying to grab some fast food or something before
the meeting, or waiting until afterwards and then snagging the food.
His stomach started bitching again, louder this time.  Considering
that fact, he figured the former option was the much better course of
action.  Having his stomach begin a conversation with him during a
conference with the Master would be a most undesirable happening.
"What's the closest food court to the office building?" he asked as he
quickly shrugged into his suitjacket and did a quick inventory of the
contents of his briefcase.
 "There's one in the same plaza, across the walkway in front of
the office building," Aki answered.  "They have a Carl's Jr. there
which has a high quality ranking according to the latest statistics,
and your usual order has a 90% probability of being completed in less
than two minutes."
 "Great," R-Type answered, double-checking his appearance in
the closest mirror and heading for the front door.  "Little less time
than I'd like, but oh well.  Get the car warmed up; I'll be
garage-side in two minutes."
 "I'm already there," Aki answered.


 [This place is indeed beautiful,] Iczer-2 remarked to herself
as she sat at a table and looked out over the crowded plaza at the
city which surrounded her.  It seemed to her like a city slightly out
of character for its location: an assemblage of steel-and-glass towers
and large monolithic masonry buildings, which would better lend itself
to the surface of an industrial-age planet like Kane's World, not the
inside surface of the Zeta Cygni Dyson Sphere.  She did have to admit,
though, that she did not find it anathema, just... unique.  It was
just different, which was probably why it worked so well.
 That concept did not, however, apply to her own state of mind,
in her opinion.  She felt very out of place at the moment.  And out of
character as well: she was not wearing her usual black and dark blue
body armor, but a very simple ensemble consisting of a denim jacket
and jeans, a black t-shirt, and a pair of Reeboks.  Sure, it was still
dark blue and black, but it felt so strange to be wearing such things.
It was different, and in her case it wasn't working very well.
 Of course it was more than just a change in wardrobe that was
bothering her.  Of late she noticed that there were a great many
things that were having an effect on her.  Why, just today she'd
passed by a small park with a fountain near its center, and found
herself very intrigued by the sight of children playing around that
fountain.  So much so that she'd located the nearest park bench and
sat down to observe for a long time.  Sure she'd seen enough children
in her time, but she'd never made anything more than a casual or
tactical observation.  This was very different.  There was something
about the children that had an effect on her, and she couldn't quite
understand what it was.
 Gryphon and his wife had returned earlier today.  With their
new baby.  Everyone had been overjoyed to hear that not only had Kei
recovered from her ordeal, her baby was in perfect health.  Iczer-2
had spent much of today trying to understand why the news of the
baby's birth had moved her as much as it had, and she'd spent the past
couple weeks just trying to understand her own reactions to what Kei
had gone through beforehand.  It was a strange array of feelings she
had about them, and all the people she lived among now for that
matter.  Strange, unfamiliar, and certainly unexpected.  A year ago
her only action on seeing these or any other members of the WDF would
have been to kill.  Now that she'd lived with these people for a
while, had acquired a few friends and earned the WDF's trust -- a
security clearance, of all things...  She remembered how devastated
everyone had been by what had happened to Kei, but more than that she
remembered her *own* feelings of rage (a different kind of rage from
what she was used to) and helplessness, and her surprise at feeling
those feelings.  She'd never felt this way, or even tried to feel this
way, until she came here.  She'd always thought she was designed not
to have so many of the attitudes and emotions her sister had been
created with; that was why Iczer-1 had been discarded, after all.  She
remembered quite distinctly being advised of this very fact by Largo.
She was a weapon, designed to fight and command, not feel.
 And yet, here she was, feeling.  Why the sudden change?
 There were a lot of things she did not know about herself,
even after all this time.  Up until recently she'd thought the most
important things in life were knowing how to teleport, how to create
and use her weapons, how to achieve warp velocity or stargate to any
location, how to redirect the energy around her for other uses like
shields, and of course, how to be an effective leader and commander.
She'd always thought the primary purpose of her brain was to devise
strategy and tactics, and had used it to fight in many a conflict over
the years.  Emotions were always limited to those needed for combat:
anger, coldness, alertness, with just the right amount of bloodlust to
make combat a most desirable game to play.  (That last one could be
called 'passion', she noted.)  That was all she'd ever needed, all she
ever thought there was...
 Until now......
 She wished her sister Iczer-1 were here.  Iczer-1 understood
all of these things so much better, having lived with them all her
life.  Iczer-1 could probably explain to Iczer-2 what all these things
were and what they meant.  But Iczer-1 was not here.  She was off
somewhere wandering with Vaughn Gross; they could be anywhere between
here and the Andromeda galaxy, maybe even further.  Those two had
become very attached to each other, she knew.  It was a bit hard to
miss.  And actually it was rather... she searched for the word...
'cute'?  Yes, it was cute.
 She sighed.  Yet another thing for her to deal with.  This was
such a different world, and her lack of understanding of it made it a
bit intimidating.  And the idea that she might be lacking in
understanding of herself did not help any; she didn't like the notion
that there might be some part of her which was actually beyond her
control.  So how to gain an understanding of herself in order to gain
an understanding of the world around her...?  Iczer-1 was absent.
Gryphon and MegaZone and all their friends might be able to explain
the ways of life and love and all that but they couldn't hope to
explain what *Iczer-2* was, what made *her* tick...
 Damn, but this was a pretty puzzle......
 "Excuse me?"
 Someone had spoken to her.  She turned and looked up at the
source of the voice.  The person was a young-looking man in a black
suit, with a briefcase in one hand and a tray of food in the other.
"May I sit here?  There's no oth--"
 He trailed off then, and his face bore a similar expression to
the one Iczer-2 had just acquired.  A surge of recognition had just
hit both of them, and it was quite obvious they'd both encountered
someone they least expected to see...

        10 JANUARY 1992

 "Very well then," Largo said with a half smile.  "I will leave
you to your work.  Dr. Mann, I will need to speak with you
 "Yes sir," answered one of the young -- perhaps the youngest
-- men in the lab.  "I'll be at your office as soon as I finish here.
With your permission I'll begin working on a more reliable tank
 "We'll discuss that," Largo replied, and departed.
 Iczer-2 watched him leave.  Already she disliked him.  She
knew who she was, what she was capable of, and she knew that made her
superior to this man called Largo, and to everyone else around her.
But, like it or not, it was because of him that she existed, and she
owed him servitude on that account.  For now.  He'd told her briefly
of her task, to eliminate these 'Wedge Rats', as they were called.
There was something humiliating about it, as if she were some sort of
pest exterminator.  There were far better things for an Iczer to do
than go around killing rodents.  But again, it was her reason for
existing, Largo had said.  Fine.  For now.
 The one Largo had called 'Dr. Mann', a tall, somewhat
overweight fellow with shoulder-length brown hair, picked his way
through the debris on the floor, toward her.  Iczer-2 noted that he
was the only one who was not averting his eyes every few seconds; he
maintained his eye contact with her, in much the same way Largo had,
although this man seemed much less bothersome to her somehow.
Interesting.  He gestured toward something behind her.
 "There's a bathroom through that door on your left," he said.
 "Thank you," she said in the same cool voice she'd addressed
Largo with, and turned toward the door he'd identified.  Behind her
she heard another voice -- 'Dr. Astbury', she remembered Largo calling
him -- asking to have a word with Mann.

 The syrupy red fluid which clung to her body washed off easily
enough with the aid of the strong soap she'd been provided with.  Her
hair proved to be something of a greater challenge to clean, saturated
with the stuff as it was, but with a good helping of shampoo the
challenge was soon overcome.
 Each passing moment, it seemed like more and more information
became available.  She'd 'awakened' with a good measure of her systems
already operational, allowing her to take control of the situation
instantly.  Now the rest of her body had gotten over its incept shock
and was beginning to go to work.  She could feel her energy reserves
beginning to accumulate as her body began to draw energy from
everything around it (even the kinetic and thermal energies of the
shower water made a contribution); her senses told her they would be
sufficient for 100% operating strength within the half hour, and with
each passing moment she felt stronger and stronger, and capable of
more of the feats of an Iczer.  Complete control would be hers very
 Her hearing began to detect something.  This shower stall was
situated against the wall which separated this room from the
laboratory, and Iczer-2's enhanced hearing was beginning to pick up a
conversation in the lab.  It appeared to be a bit heated, and it
sounded as though Mann was one of the involved parties.  Interesting.
She pressed one ear against the wall and listened more intently.  It
didn't help at first, so she willed herself to hear more.  Her brain
got the message, and diverted some energy to her auditory systems.
Instantly the noise of the shower was shunted, and her other ear
became far more sensitive to the sound vibrations striking the wall
from the other side.  She could hear it clearly now...
 "--know how you feel, Ian," she recognized the voice as
Mann's.  "But orders are orders."
 "We're talking about more than just weapons," another voice
snapped back.  Astbury's voice.  "I still can't believe you agreed to
this.  How could you desecrate Nagisa's and Cobalt's work like this??"
 "I desecrated nothing," Mann replied, his voice remaining
level.  "I merely removed most of their designwork and replaced it
with my own for this model.  Largo was very specific when he told me
what he wanted."
 "Yes," Astbury grated.  "A killing machine."
 "You did not *have* to supervise this project, Ian," Mann
said, his voice becoming more tense.  Evidently his patience was
wearing thin.  "You did not *have* to be my supervisor.  You did not
have to take credit for my work, either.  You never did tell me why
you're taking credit for things *I* created."
 There was a pause, then Astbury spoke again.  "I don't like
you, Mann.  We call you 'Doctor', but you have no credentials of any
kind.  I don't think you have any regard for scientific values, or
moral values.  You're obviously one of Largo's little friends.  I
don't think you care about anyone or anything but yourself, and I
think you will do anything for anyone who offers you money and power."
 "Frankly, Astbury," Mann grated.  "I don't give a damn what
you think.  For the record, I don't like Largo any more than you do.
But the fact is, this company saved me from ending up on the street
begging for spare change.  And I pay my debts, so deal with it."
 "Trading values for dollars, I see," Astbury growled.  "You'll
make a good company man."
 "Do remember, Ian, that I have a meeting with Largo after I
finish here.  Would you like me to forward your complaints?  Would you
like me to tell him about the design modifications you 'requested'?
You may end up with more than a suspension this time."
 Silence followed for a time, and then Astbury spoke again: "Go
brief her, then, and call me afterwards."  A pair of footsteps could
be heard exiting the lab, and then another pair began moving in the
general direction of the bathroom.  Iczer-2 moved away from the wall,
her senses automatically resetting as she did so.  She checked herself
over and decided she was clean enough, and shut off the water.  Seemed
Dr. Mann owed Largo as well.  Interesting, and perhaps useful sometime
in the future.
 A knock on the door could be heard.  "May I come in?" Mann
 "Come," Iczer-2 replied as she began towelling herself off.

           NEW AVALON
          THE PRESENT

 "D... Dr. Mann?" Iczer-2 half stammered, still a bit stunned.
It had been a few decades since she'd seen him... what was he doing
 "Iczer-2?" R-Type answered, a bit surprised himself.  It was
definitely her, but she was 'out of uniform', and was obviously in
some kind of distress if she'd lost her composure at a chance
encounter like this one.  She'd always been much more commanding in
the few previous meetings they'd had.  What was wrong here?
 Eris was up to *something* here...
 "Please... please sit down!" Iczer-2 said, very quickly.
R-Type did so.  He was now somewhere between curious and concerned as
to what was going on here.  He decided to dispense with the usual 'how
have you been?' introductory small talk, since it was hardly
appropriate.  Instead, he simply cut directly to the chase:
 "You seem... troubled by something.  I assume you want to talk
about it."
 "Yes," she replied.  He was direct and to the point, as
always.  She'd always appreciated that.  "Do... do you have time?"
 He glanced at his watch.  "Sure, if you don't mind my eating
while we talk.  Did you want anything?  Food, I mean," he elaborated
when she looked at him quizzically.
 "I've never needed such things," Iczer-2 replied.  "You should
know that."
 "Yes, I do know, but your body *is* capable of metabolizing
this stuff," R-Type answered, indicating the contents of his tray.  "I
thought you would have tried it by now."
 "I've never needed it," she repeated, and then trailed off.
Wonderful, *another* thing she'd "never needed"...
 R-Type decided that perhaps he should listen to what she had
to say before he had any food, so he ignored the complaints of his
stomach and set his tray aside for the moment.
 "Okay... tell me what's bothering you, Two."
 Iczer-2 nodded, and proceeded to relate the experiences she'd
been having of late.  The strange new feelings and emotions, the near
incessant barrage of strange new things and her reactions to them.
Coming into the WDF, making friends out of former enemies, and just
existing in a manner vastly different from what she was used to.  None
of this fit the description of the carefully controlled environment
she was used to working under.  "It's all so *different*," she
finished, looking despondent.  "Everything I understood is gone.
Everything has changed so much; it's all so... so new.  And *I'm*
starting to feel different, and I don't understand that.  Seeing
people get hurt never used to bother me, but now...  I thought I was
never supposed to feel like this at all.  Everyone here is so... nice
to me, and... and I'm starting to... I think I'm starting to *enjoy*
that."  She looked at R-Type, a worried expression on her face.
"You're my creator.  Is something wrong with me?  I need to know!"
 "I'm not your *only* creator, Two."
 "No, but you're the only one left, and it's just blind luck
that I've run into you.  Please.  Tell me.  Am I malfunctioning?"
 R-Type looked thoughtful for a moment.  From a technical
standpoint Iczer-2's behavior *could* qualify as a malfunction: she
*had* been designed to be devoid of anything such as conscience or
compassion, or anything else that might have made her any less of a
combatant.  Yet she was acquiring those very qualities now.  Hm...
perhaps her brain had filled in the blanks...?  And he really had no
desire to refer to this event as a malfunction.  He knew he couldn't,
really, considering the nature of her design.
 "No..." R-Type said.  "No, I don't think there's anything
wrong with you.  You were created using a technology which was light
years ahead of its time, even now.  We knew how to make it work for
us, but the details of it were beyond our full comprehension, and I
think we're seeing that proved right now.  We did not include much of
what you're experiencing in your list of parameters, but it's
happening anyway.  Actually it's quite impressive, I think."
 "But... but if this isn't a malfunction, then what *is* it?"
 "It sounds to me like you're going through a full-scale
environmental adjustment, and part of that adjustment is the creation
of emotions and feelings you need to better interact here.  Think of
it as a, uh, 'system upgrade'.  It's really quite impressive.  Your
brain is creating all this practically out of thin air."
 "But it feels so strange."
 "Because it's all happening at once and it's all brand new to
you, and it *is* the exact opposite of everything you've ever dealt
with.  That's why it feels so strange.  I can understand that,
really."  He leaned in closer.  "You want to know a secret?  I feel
pretty strange here myself.  All these years working against these
people and suddenly Gryphon shows up in my office and *bang*, I'm
here.  No questions, no crosschecks.  Nothing.  It's a *total*
environmental shift."
 "You seem to be taking it rather well."
 "Inside I'm screaming.  My point is, everything here is 100%
new to me too, so I do know where you're coming from.
 "If you want my opinion, I think you're in even better
condition than ever before.  Personally I do think you were incomplete
when we created you in 1992.  You were missing so many of the things
your sister has, all these things that you're feeling now.  I left
those things out because I was ordered to do so, and I do follow
 "I know," she answered.  "I used to kill people who didn't
follow orders myself, so I understand your position.  And it's not
like it mattered to me; I didn't know the difference until now."
 "So anyway," R-Type continued.  "I think you're doing just
fine, remarkably well in fact.  I think you just need to give yourself
time to get accustomed to all this.  Seek new experiences, let things
happen, and try not to get overwhelmed by it all; that kind of thing.
There's certainly a lot of good people here who'll be very helpful.  I
think you'll be fine."
 There was a brief moment of silence, and then Iczer-2 smiled.
It wasn't the dark smirk of a warrior, but a gentle show of gratitude.
It seemed out of character at first glance, but after a moment of
observation R-Type realized that it did look very nice on her.  Then
she spoke, in a gentle voice to match the gentle smile.
 "Thank you... Father."
 "'Father'??" R-Type's eyes widened rather perceptibly.
 "Well... you created me -- helped create me, anyway -- and you
certainly know more about me than I do.  I think you deserve a
title...  'Father' seems appropriate."
 "Um, okay, but I'd much prefer to be called R-Type, or Larry.
I just feel better when people call me by a name instead of a title."
 Iczer-2 nodded, then paused.  "A name..."
 "A long time ago I told someone I didn't need a name.  But
now...  now I think I do..."
 She looked at him.  Obviously she had no idea how to proceed,
so...  "Um, well... does this mean you want me to pick one?"
 "I'd appreciate the suggestion, Fa-- R-Type."
 "All right."  He looked at her for a long moment, almost as if
he were boring into the innermost parts of her being with his eyes.
Several names appeared and were discarded in his mind.  A couple kept
returning, and competing with one another, until finally there was
only one left that really seemed to work.
 "Hm..." he spoke.  "How about... 'Selene'?"
 Iczer-2 blinked.  Her brain took in this little bit of data.
She considered the sound, and compared it with the sound of so many
other names she'd heard or spoken over the centuries.  It was an
unique name, a bit fancier than so many of the others she knew.  And
it had a pleasant ring to it.
 It was perfect.
 "'Selene'... I like that a lot."  She smiled.
 "You'll need a surname, too," R-Type remarked, then quickly
added.  "But I think you should choose it, and don't use mine, either.
'Mann' doesn't go with 'Selene', in my opinion."  He grinned.
 Selene nodded.  "Thank you so much, Fath-- I mean--"
 R-Type waved her off.  "Don't mention it... Daughter."  A
bigger grin this time, and Selene smiled right back at him.  That
smile *really* looked good on her, R-Type noted to himself.  And she
was looking a lot better than she had a few minutes ago...
 Whoops.  He looked at his watch, and his expression fell just
a bit.  "Oh damn, running *very* low on time.  Guess I'll have to put
the cheesecake in the refrigerator or something... if I can smuggle it
in without a decent bag..."  He sighed and began to tear into his
cheeseburger very quickly.
 "Um..." Selene said hesistantly.  "Could... could I try that?"
 "Hm, you mean the cheesecake?"  She nodded.  "Sure, you can
have it if you want," he said, handing her the plate and a fork.  What
the hell, it'd be easier than trying to sneak it into the building,
and he could always get another piece later.  And besides, hadn't he
just told her to seek new experiences?  This certainly qualified.
 Selene held the fork in her hand, uncertain for a moment, and
then all of a sudden she understood: her brain had found the never
activated food-consumption algorithms -- a very-high-speed means of
energy-gathering, she realized; there were some times over the past
centuries when this would have come in very handy, but oh well -- and
started them in motion, and immediately she knew how to eat.  With the
tines of the fork she cut a small piece from the front of the wedge
and carefully popped it into her mouth.  Her eyes widened as her taste
buds flared to life and defined the nature of the substance she was
ingesting.  It was very sweet, slightly tangy, and from a technical
standpoint, *very* high in energy.  Very interesting.
 "Mm!" she remarked.
 "You're lucky, actually," R-Type commented.  "You don't *have*
to eat this stuff.  I'm addicted to it, and it contributes to weight
 Selene was about to take another, much larger bite when she
stopped.  "Will this affect me adversely?" she asked, a little
 "Not likely," he replied.  "Your body is designed to keep
itself at optimum.  It should just convert any excess mass it
encounters into energy, and vent it overboard if you're already at
full capacity.  Shouldn't be any problems, so eat all you like.  But
do expect a rather large energy boost; food is a lot more concentrated than
ambient energy."
 Selene nodded and, thus reassured, dove into the cheesecake,
obviously enjoying herself quite a bit.
 [Man, I could use something like that,] R-Type remarked to
himself as he finished off his cheeseburger, wiped his hands, and
downed the rest of his root beer.  [Maybe I should work on some
fat-breakdown nanochine one of these days.  Bet I could really rake it
 "Well, Tw-- er, Selene," he said, mentally kicking himself for
that slip.  "I need to get to the office and have a meeting with the
Master right now.  Think you'll be okay now?"
 "Mm-hmm," she mumbled through a mouthful of cheesecake.  Then
she swallowed and finished: "Yes, I'll be all right now.  Um... do you
think perhaps we could meet again and talk some more?  I... I rather
like speaking with you."
 "If you like," he answered as he got to his feet.  "Just stop
by the office building and ask for me.  For once, I should actually be
fairly easy to track down."
 She grinned knowingly; R-Type had a long history of being
difficult to locate, but knowing that he was here would uncomplicate
things quite a bit.  "All right then," she said.  "Goodbye for now."
 "See you," he waved, deposited his trash in the nearest bin,
and headed across the plaza, in the direction of the nondescript
office building which was GENOM's temporary worksite until the
official structure was completed.
 With a little encouragement and reassurance, Iczer-2 --
correction, 'Selene' -- was adjusting to this new life rather well,
Larry observed.  He just hoped he'd be able to adjust as well.
 Very surreal day here; he didn't know how much more of this he
could deal with rationally...

            5:40 PM

 "How much time?"
 "Twenty minutes to pickup," Aki replied.  "You're still on
 "Good," R-Type said as he washed the last of the shaving gel
off his face and toweled off, and then proceeded to set his face on
fire with the aid of some Old Spice.  He'd nicked himself a few times,
as usual.  His skin had never taken well to shaving no matter what he
did: electric razors didn't cut far enough and straight razors would
snag and cut too far.  You'd think they would have come up with a
better shaving system by 2389.  Fortunately nanites had come to his
aid and patched the tiny cuts almost instantly, so all he had to do
was wash the dried blood off after a couple minutes.  One of the
advantages of having nanotech in one's bloodstream, especially on
occasions like this.  He attended to his face, deodorized the rest of
himself, then ambled into his bedroom.
 Tonight's wardrobe selection laid neatly on his bed: a
carefully pressed white shirt, a black vest with gold trim, black
suitjacket and matching pants, black tie with diagonal gold
pinstripes, and a gold tie tack, carefully polished black shoes, and a
dark green silk handkerchief (he'd planned to use another color but
had been asked to wear green; why he didn't know yet).
 "Still say you're overdoing it on the black," Jilehr remarked
as he began to get dressed.
 "Bite me," he shot back.  "I like black."
 "Jeez, haven't heard you say 'bite me' in a *long* time."
 "Really?  Gee, now that you mention it..."  It *had* been
several years, maybe even decades...
 "It looks good on you," Aki offered, smiling.
 "Thanks," he smiled back.  With the passage of another five
minutes and the use of a hairbrush to smooth his hair into something
he could pull back into a ponytail, he was fully dressed and prepared
for his task.

            5:55 PM

 Through an elaborate combination of optical tricks, machinery,
and what could only be described as 'techno-magic', the Cianbro
Corporation had made it possible for the city of New Avalon to have
night and day, and seasons.  It was a bit baffling for the unprepared.
You would think that a city such as this, on the inside of a Dyson
Sphere, would be subject to a constant state of noonday sun, and a
constant temperature and weather pattern.  But this was not the case.
The environment was nearly indistinguishable from that of the
temperate zones on Earth, and if you didn't know better, you would
swear you were actually on a planet.
 With nightfall, of course, a bit of the magic was lost: due to
the fact that the 'stars' were actually the windows of the massive
shipyard complex within the Sphere, it made for a sky which was a
little too orderly to be 'natural'.  Still, that was a minor
difficulty at best, and no one saw any need to bitch about it in light
of all the other good qualities of the city.  Cianbro had worked
enough miracles as it was; the business with the 'stars' could
certainly be forgiven.
 Evening was just starting to turn into night now.  As the
daylight slowly took the first steps toward a fade into blackness,
lights from the houses, apartments and other buildings began to dot
the cityscape, and the streetlights began to compensate for the
increasing darkness by providing light of their own.
 On one such street alongside one of the larger residential
complexes in the city, a car cruised at a moderately high speed.  The
car could have been mistaken for an ancient Terran Oldsmobile, were it
not for the fact that it was twenty feet in the air and had the
suspension and drive systems which were common to most aircars in that
day and age.  It banked across a streetcorner and turned up one of the
smaller, winding roadways which led into the complex.  It cruised
until it was traveling alongside a row of buildings which faced into a
large grassy park, and then began to decelerate.  Finally, about
two-thirds of the way up the street, it came to a stop and settled to
the ground, parking alongside a driveway in which another ancient
Terran vehicle, a red Dodge Daytona, was parked.
 As the driver's door opened and the car's sole occupant
exited, the front door of the apartment he'd parked in front of
opened, the inside light silhouetting the large man standing in the
doorway.  The driver seemed to hesitate for a moment, then walked
forward, as the other man, who was dressed considerably more casually
than the car driver and was wiping his hands with some sort of shop
rag, began to descend the apartment's front steps and headed toward
 "Good evening, Admiral," R-Type said, putting his formal voice
forward.  "Hope I'm not too early."
 MegaZone cringed a little and made a pained gesture with his
right hand.  "Hey R-Type, do yourself a favor and chill, huh?  We're
all friends here.  Call me Zoner."
 "Sorry Zoner," R-Type said, looking a little sheepish.  "Force
of habit."
 "And no, you're not too early," Zoner continued with a grin.
"Come on in.  Yuri'll be ready in a few minutes."

 "Nice place," R-Type remarked, looking around as they entered
the apartment.  He found it interesting that the Fleet Admiral of the
WDF lived in an apartment which was very similar to the one he
inhabited now.  He'd half expected him to have something bigger.  Then
he shrugged inwardly: whatever works.
 "Yeah, it works pretty well for us," Zoner said as he headed
toward the kitchen table, where the guts of some currently
unidentifiable piece of cybertech were arranged on a dropcloth.
"How's your setup, by the way?"
 "Works great," R-Type answered.  "I like being able to see the
city from my front window.  That was the winner for me.  I still have
to say thanks to Eve for reading my mind like that."
 Zoner snickered and went back to working on the mess on the
table.  "Have a seat," he offered.  "There's Coke and Dew in the
fridge, if you want."
 "No thanks," R-Type said, looking out the front window.
"Think I'll just idle right here.  Nice view."  He parked himself at
said window and proceeded to idle, lost in thought.
 Zoner regarded him for a moment, then proceeded to get
thoroughly involved with the object on the table.  Didn't take a
genius to figure out that R-Type was nervous, and Zoner knew exactly
why.  Eve had been right: there was a Wedge Rat under that suit, but
the poor guy had been on the wrong side of the tracks for way too
long.  He needed to be convinced that he wasn't doing anything wrong,
but that wasn't something Zoner could do, any more than he'd already
tried to.  R-Type needed to hear it from the person who, whether he
wanted to admit it or not, he was very close to now.  Eris willing, a
very important step would be taken tonight.
 Both men were jarred from their respective thought trains by
the sound of a female voice from the hallway: "So, what do you think?"
Both turned in the direction of the voice, and both immediately ^Z'ed
any and all other thoughts they'd been having at the time.
 Yuri could only be described as radiant.  Few other words are
appropriate to describe the effect of her velvety black, emerald-
green trimmed, strapless evening gown which reached to within an inch
of the floor.  She wore dark green gloves which stretched to just past
her elbows, and sparkling emeralds dangled from her ears.  Her hair
was pulled into a braid which was draped over her right shoulder, held
together by a thin gold ribbon.  A lavender shade of eyeshadow
accentuated her hazel eyes, and she'd used just the right amount of
pink blush on her cheeks to define a middle ground between the
eyeshadow and the ruby-red lipstick she wore.  Needless to say, R-Type
and Zoner were slightly stunned.
 "Wow..." R-Type said, quickly re-educating himself on the
operation of his vocal cords.
 Zoner let out a low, appreciative whistle.  "Nice..."
 Yuri giggled and twirled around once, and both men found
themselves a little disappointed when the action was not accompanied
by sparkles and the sound of tinkling bells.  Oh well, sometimes you
just can't have everything.  Where would you put it?
 "You... you look terrific, Yuri," R-Type said, still in the
process of locating and properly using his voice.
 "You're not so bad yourself," Yuri answered, looking over R-
Type's black ensemble.  R-Type now understood why he'd been asked to
wear the green handkerchief.  Good fashion sense, there.
 Yuri headed toward Zoner, who raised a hand stained with some
kind of fluid.  Obviously close contact was a bit out of the question.
"Don't get too close to me," he said.  "I'm kinda anti-formal right
now, as you can see."
 Yuri snorted.  "Don't give me that.  You're always anti-formal."
She put her gloved hands on his shoulders and gave him a
little kiss, then whispered something in his ear which made him snarf.
"See you tomorrow," she said, which made R-Type double-blink.  Then
she headed straight for R-Type and latched onto his arm.  "Come on
Larry, let's go get to know each other better."
 R-Type glanced back at Zoner, a somewhat perplexed look on his
face, but he didn't have time to do much else, as Yuri fairly dragged
him out of the apartment.  The door closed behind them, leaving Zoner
free to die laughing in private.

 Aki had, as requested, come up with a list of the best upper-
echelon restaurants to be found in New Avalon, and had contacted R-Type
and Yuri once she had the results.  After a brief session of "I
dunno, where do you wanna eat?" "I dunno, where do *you* wanna eat?",
and the obligatory giggling fit that followed such an exchange, a
decision had been made.
 The name "Yahagi's" didn't exactly make one think of Italian
cuisine.  Indeed, R-Type thought at first that Jilehr was playing some
kind of joke on them, but he was soon proven wrong.  Yahagi's was
indeed an Italian restaurant, and very definitely an establishment
made for the upper class.  It had all the amenities that helped to
contribute to the outrageous prices common to an upper-class
restaurant, such as a detachment of hosts and hostesses waiting on you
hand and foot (and all but demanding massive tips in return),
excessively fancy tables, chairs, tableware, chandeliers... you name
it, it was there.  They even had live entertainment: on a small stage
near the center of the dining room, a huge ivory-colored grand piano
sat, and it was being played by a black-suited Salusian who had
excellent command of the instrument.  Yahagi's wasn't just a
restaurant, it was an entire experience.
 It was perfect.  Everything was very formal and very carefully
arranged and controlled, and it went without saying that social
etiquette was of the utmost importance.  R-Type, of course, fit right
in, and Yuri certainly knew enough about high society to operate
without any difficulty.
 The food was excellent (they had an incredible lasagna that
rivaled Birraporetti's back on Earth, and the garlic bread was simply
unparalleled), as was the music: as luck would have it, the two got a
table right next to the piano, and so they got to hear up close just
how good this Salusian fellow really was; he really knew his stuff,
drawing from memory a selection of songs which included some of the
great classical composers from Earth: Gershwin, Bach and Handel, to
name just a few.  There was no shortage of high-class entertainment,
to be sure.
 When they weren't actually eating, R-Type and Yuri were quite
busy just talking, getting really reacquainted with each other.  Up
until an hour or so before, the mad rush of Getting Everything Done At
Once had been dictating R-Type's life, what with getting moved into
his new pad and figuring out where everything was, not to mention
getting down to GENOM's temporary office building and going through
what turned out to be almost two hours of non-stop meeting of the
people who would be his senior staff and subordinates in New Avalon
once the structure was actually built.  Yuri, as it turned out, had
been doing a fair amount of rushing herself that day: between getting
her dress bought and fitted, and doing about a million different
things in attempt to stop being so jittery about the impending
evening, she hadn't had much time to relax either.  In fact it had
taken her the better part of an hour, this afternoon, just to pick up
the phone and call R-Type.  She'd felt like a schoolgirl all over
again.  R-Type felt slightly consoled, knowing he wasn't the only
person who was Nervous As Hell.  But all that was over now.  Now it
was time to sit down and just talk.  And get caught up.
 "So," he said to her.  "Tell me what's happened in the last
nine years."  It was eight and a half, actually, but it was easier to
say 'nine', so deal.
 "Oh goddess, you would not *believe* everything that went on,"
Yuri replied.  "Design, design and redesign; that's practically all we
were doing here from 2380 on.  GENOM had a full armada, so we needed
to have a fleet to match it."  She shook her head.  "Never realized
life could get so *crazy*.  *Man* there was a lot to do: we had to
build the entire fleet from ground zero, obviously.  We had to recruit
personnel from everywhere; that was a challenge and a half.  And next
comes tracking down all the old friends and allies... blah..."
 "I take it you had your hands full," R-Type commented.
 "Yeah, you could say that," Yuri replied with a grin.  Then
her expression softened.  "Having all that work helped a lot, though."
 "Yeah..." she paused briefly.  "It was pretty lonely here.
But we had a fleet to put together, and everyone just put their
personal problems on hold and went to work, and they kept on going.
Ben and Lord F and everyone else just kept building and building.  It
was really something to watch.  I... I needed the distraction, to be
honest. ... And I had to help Kei sort herself out, too.  *She* had a
lot to think through, and it took a long time."
 "Yeah, I can imagine," he remarked.
 "Then on June 18th last year," she finished.  "Kei finally
decided she was ready to talk to Ben.  Of course I let him know right
away.  Three days later he showed up, and not too far behind him..."
She trailed off; the impact of Zoner's return still got to her a
little; it wasn't that long ago.
 "Hey, told you he'd come back," R-Type said with a grin.  It
was obvious to him how much it meant to her.  He could see her eyes
screaming with joy.
 "Heh, yeah," Yuri got herself back under control.  "Next thing
I knew we were gearing up for the big fight, and you know what
happened after that."
 "Aye," R-Type said, glancing out a darkened window.  "We were
gearing up too, although *we* got started in 2382.  Soon as Largo
found out the WDF was definitely coming back, the weapons division was
in full swing again, and I got sucked in (big surprise there)... which
is why I stopped sending Christmas cards in 2383, by the way.  Being
Chief Biocyberneticist and a leading tech designer and a decorated
officer and all that garbage, well...  I had to become Top Secret
again and make my latest contribution to the war effort."  He rolled
his eyes.
 "Latest contribution?"
 "Mm-hmm.  Largo brings us into the design room and says 'Make
a battle station.'  Nobody has a clue what he wants, so of course I
have to suggest the Death Star, and of course he loves it and makes me
design coordinator for the Armored Tyranny and Terror Project."
 "You worked on the AT&T?"  Yuri, for some reason, did not feel
the least bit surprised to hear this.  In fact, it was amusing in a
certain way.
 "Yeah, can you believe it?  Mister 'Star Wars' strikes again.
So anyway, I end up on the design team for the thing, and I know it's
gonna be a killer battle station, one which could cause major havoc.
So, of course I try to sneak in a weakness I knew the right people
would find and give you guys an edge, but of course Largo noticed that
the Small Thermal Exhaust Port Right Below The Main Port led right to
the main reactor and of course he had it taken out."  He sighed and
arched an eyebrow.  "Maybe I should have left off the 'Insert Torpedo
Here' sign and the bullseye."
 Yuri snarfed and tried not to break, which would have been
impolite under the circumstances.  Her mind had created the rather
silly image of an AT&T with a large bullseye and a bunch of flashing
arrows at the end of one of its trenches, and now it refused to go
away.  Once again the humor spread around and Larry had to do his
share of exercising restraint as well.  The temptation to break was
very strong, but he kept a leash on it.  They did manage to keep
themselves under control, though: R-Type found himself looking into
Yuri's eyes at one point, and discovered it had a calming effect on
him.  Coincidentally, Yuri did a much similar thing, with similar
results.  The end result of this was that they ended up just looking
into each other's eyes, not saying a word.
 At about the same time the pianist finished the tune he had
been playing, Yuri spoke again: "Have I told you how good it is to see
you again, Larry?"
 It took Larry a second or so to answer, being as he was
temporarily lost in Yuri's eyes.  "Yeah... yeah, I think you have.
Couple times now."  He tried to grin but his face didn't seem to want
to cooperate at that particular moment, so he continued speaking
instead.  "It's good to see you again too, Yuri."
 He felt something on his left hand, then, and looked down to
see Yuri's gloved right hand resting on top of it.  He regarded their
hands for a moment, then looked up at Yuri again, really not sure what
to say or do.  Yuri just looked right back at him, and seemed to be
similarly at a loss for words or action.
 Meanwhile, from his perch not far above, the pianist had spent
the last few moments unobtrusively observing them while trying to
decide what he should play next.  As he watched them just holding
hands and looking into each other's eyes, he hit upon another Earth
classic he knew.  Grinning to himself, he flexed the muscles in his
hands, loosening them up just a bit, and then began to play.

             /*  Claude Debussy  "Clair De Lune"  */

 Neither R-Type nor Yuri made any sound or motion as the gentle
piano music began to fill in the empty spaces nearby.  To a casual
observer, it would seem they were lost in each other's eyes.  Perhaps
they were.
 Something was different now.  The moment she had touched him,
everything had changed slightly; he could feel something new... or
more correctly, something old; an old feeling from several years back.
And although it felt very much like what he had experienced in 2380,
he soon realized that it wasn't *his* feeling he was experiencing now.
 It was *hers*.
 Time and again the memories of 2380 had returned to both their
minds, time and again they had worked quickly to put those memories on
the back burner in order to concentrate on the tasks at hand, chief
among them the building of their respective armadas.  He could feel
that now; they had done the exact same things when they had said
goodbye to each other that year.  Now, with this simple physical
contact, a simple handhold, the two empaths had begun to stretch
tentative tendrils out toward each other again, tendrils which began
to brush against their respective souls.  And they began to realize
then, *really* realize, just how much they had missed each other for
the past nine years (eight and a half, if you still insist on being
 The piano came to a gentle close once again a few minutes
later, and again there was no sound other than the quiet rumbling of
the many subdued dinner conversations throughout the restaurant.  The
pianist again glanced toward the black-clad couple: they were still
lost in each other's eyes, and now they had both pairs of hands
clasped together in the center of the table.  He couldn't see the
man's face, but it looked as though the girl's eyes were starting to
mist over.  Then he heard the man speak to the girl in a subdued
 "Let's go outside and talk."
 "Mm" was her response.  Hand in hand, the two got up and
headed towards a stairway which led to the restaurant's upper level,
and to a good-sized open balcony.  The pianist watched them go.
Looked as though he might have hit a little closer to home than he'd
 [Hope I didn't overdo it,] he thought to himself, and then
shrugged the matter off and set about selecting another song to play.
There were still a lot of other guests to entertain, after all.

 The New Avalon night was cool and clear, and the air had a
sea-breeze moistness to it that reminded Larry of spring and summer
nights in Irvine.  The major difference was that the "stars" in the
sky were actually the lights of the UPNS complex, and also the myriad
running lights on the AT&T, which was now floating overhead at a
respectable distance.  It was a pattern which, even with the slightly
random position of the AT&T, was still a little too orderly to be a
real spacescape, but there was very little to be done about that.
This was the inside of a Dyson Sphere, after all.  They were lucky to
even have nighttime here.
 Still, in its own way, it was quite beautiful.
 "Hm," R-Type remarked as he gazed up at the glittering battle
station.  "Guess that little beast really is good for something
besides blowing things up."
 "Yeah," Yuri replied softly, holding on to his right arm with
both of hers.  "You do good work."
 R-Type glanced at her, not really sure whether he should react
to that statement with humor or seriousness, or something else
altogether.  Then their eyes met, and everything seemed to slow down a
little.  Yuri's eyes were definitely misting over now, which
immediately made Larry concerned.
 "Something wrong?" he asked.  "Is all this stuff too boring
for you or anything?"
 "No, no," she answered quickly.  "I'm having a wonderful time.
Everything's been so beautiful tonight...  I just...  I..."
 She stopped, and for another moment they just looked
wordlessly into each other's eyes again.  Considering what he'd felt
earlier, Larry was quite certain a flood of emotion was on the rise,
from both of them.  Then his guess was proven correct as Yuri suddenly
fell against him and latched on to him tightly, and it all hit him
like a whirlwind.  Oh boy did it hit him.
 "Oh Eris, Larry," she whispered in a choked voice.  "Please
just hold me and don't let go."
 R-Type did the only sensible thing, the only *sane* thing: he
encircled her with his arms and pulled her in, and they clung to each
other, seemingly for dear life.  He let the initial empathy shockwave
crash over him, and he unconsciously reacted by generating a backlash
of his own, which Yuri could not miss, which she didn't want to miss.
Eris knew there was so much that had been held back for far too long.
And then, without another thought or hesitation, they opened up to
each other, reestablished contact.  Or perhaps the empathic link had
never actually closed and they had simply opened the floodgates.  In
either case, both were immediately suffused with a powerful wash of
feelings and near-thoughts, and both were aware of how powerful their
feelings for each other truly were.
 It seemed so clear now.  Gods, it had been so long.
 Nine years before, a bond had been firmly established.  It has
been said that such bonds, forged as they are through pain and grief,
and all too often irrationality, are bonds better left forgotten, like
so many passing fancies in the night.  Such bonds are all too often
little more than sympathetic sexual unions, petty obsessions or
unsuccessful escapes, prone to degrading the lives of everyone
involved by them when they come back as skeletons in a closet.
 But this was not one of those.  This bond had been one of
mutual respect, one in which neither party had imposed any demands on
the other.  The intents and the desires had been made clear, but so
had the unwillingness to carry through with such things until the
existing problems had been patched.  It had provided a release for the
pain in a different way, a far more proper way.  It was a show of
respect, and it had earned respect as a result.
 When they had parted, they had done their best to keep
thoughts of each other silent.  After all, they were able only to
assume that they would never see each other again, their separate
paths dictated by opposing forces and destinies.  Nevertheless, the
thoughts remained.  Attempts to quiet them had been made in the form
of the occasional greeting card, with moderate success.  But the
simple fact was: neither had been able to keep their mind off the
other.  For nine years.
 Now they were together again.
 "I've missed you, Larry," Yuri whispered against his neck.
"All these years, I've missed you so much."
 "I missed you too," he whispered back.  "I... I haven't been
able to keep my mind off of you, Yuri."
 "Same here," she answered, her hold on him tightening even
more.  "There's so much more I want to tell you.  There's so much I
want you to tell me.  Gods, it's been so long."
 "Shhh..." R-Type whispered soothingly into her hair.  The
emotional flow was threatening to get both of them crying, which would
be a bit impractical at this time.  But to be truthful, neither of
them really gave a damn at that moment.  "I know.  You have no idea
how much I want to tell you.  I... I love you so much..."
 A few minutes passed in which no words were spoken, largely
because they weren't really necessary: all kinds of emotions continued
to pass freely between them.  R-Type had never thought he could
perceive emotions this intensely, but he was not here to analyze the
strength of his own empathy.  The matter of current importance was
letting Yuri know how much he loved her, and she returned his feelings
just as strongly, as they allowed their souls to reach out toward one
another and begin to intertwine.
 The time that passed was both an eternity and an instant, and
then the two pulled away from each other, very slowly, and their eyes
met once again.  At that time they took note of the dampness of their
respective faces, and Larry quickly pulled out his handkerchief and
dabbed the moisture off Yuri's face, then dealt with his own.  In all
that time they never lost eye contact with each other.  Even
artificial optics are windows to the soul, and to an outside observer
it would once again seem they were momentarily lost in each other's
eyes.  And once again, perhaps they were.
 A spark had flared.
 Yuri leaned forward, barely a centimeter.  Taking the cue,
Larry responded in kind.  Slowly they drew closer and closer, until
their lips finally touched in an ultra-light, gentle kiss.  Then
another, which lasted considerably longer, and began to deepen into
something which was more complex, more urgent.  And the empathy
between them began to shift gears, taking on a whole different
 It was a little more than just a spark.
 After oxygen debt finally forced them to disengage, they
stayed where they were for a few minutes, in silence, cooling down.
The sounds of piano music continued to waft gently out of the
restaurant, and a cool breeze passed over them.  Finally Yuri spoke:
 "I'd like to go back to your place, if we could."
 "We can't do that."
 "Why not?" she pulled away and looked at him, confused.
 "Because," he said, pointing back inside.  "Our dinner's
getting cold in there."
 A couple seconds later and it was all Yuri could do to keep
from laughing hysterically.

            7:45 PM

 R-Type stood at the picture window next to the couch, a wine
cooler in his hand, contemplating the sea of electricity which was
downtown New Avalon.  The view of the corporate sector from here was
perfect.  Eve must have advised the management that he liked to see
the Concrete Jungle when looking out of his windows.  He made another
mental note to say thanks when next he met her.
 After finishing their dinner in relative silence, he and Yuri
had gotten in his car and driven -- actually "flown" might be more
accurate, since the Olds was an aircar -- around the city for a little
while.  Yuri spent most of that time leaning against his shoulder, and
neither of them spoke very much.  Then they'd come back here, to his
place.  An old CD of gentle piano music had been put on, and they had
quietly danced (well, more like swayed back and forth while clinging
to each other) in his living room, only emotions daring to break the
 The last song was coming to a close now.  They hadn't danced
to this one, because Yuri had excused herself and gone to the
bathroom.  Some things simply can't be avoided.  So Larry had
gravitated in the direction of the window and contemplated the day,
the evening, and the present.  It was very hard to believe less than
24 hours had passed since his arrival in New Avalon.  It was very hard
to believe that, in that very short frame of time, he had established
a new home, and an incredible new job, and had adjusted to the new
environment with almost no friction whatsoever.  And it was even
harder to believe that he had reached the juncture he was at right
now.  He had definitely not expected to be anywhere near this point
after only one day.  Hell, he hadn't expected to be here at all.
Those factors had combined and, partially eclipsing all he had felt
tonight, sounded an alarm in the back of his head which demanded
 Was this right?
 A hand fell softly on his shoulder.  He glanced down and noted
that it was no longer sheathed in the green glove which had covered it
for most of the evening.  He set his drink on the windowsill, then
turned and looked at the hand's owner.
 The gold ribbon was gone.  She'd undone the braid, and now her
hair fell freely behind her back.  She'd taken her heels off, and
she'd removed the makeup from her face.  Her earrings were gone, too.
It made her look a lot more like the girl he'd met in 2380.
 It didn't make her any less beautiful, or any less desirable.
 She hugged him then, and he felt desire coming from her, very
clearly: she wanted him.  He could feel it in himself as well.  He
stalled then, the alarm jumping into the foreground in response to his
own rather lustful thoughts, trying to find a reason why this should
go no further.  What was missing?  He sensed no hint of reservation
within her, and hadn't he said he would love to do this, long ago?
he thought to himself.
 "What's wrong?" she asked, sensing his internal angst.
 He sighed and shook his head.  "I... I dunno, really..."  He
hesitated.  "I feel like I'm going too fast for some reason.  Am I?  I
mean, I've been here less than 24 hours...  I dunno..."  He sighed,
feeling thoroughly confounded.
 Yuri felt his quandary; his emotions were very clear to her
right then.  Always the gentleman, even now, she thought to herself,
smiling inwardly.  It was obvious to her that he was deeply concerned
for her well-being.  It was also obvious that he wanted her as much as
she wanted him.  He was being far too cautious now.  Considering what
he had been doing for most of his life, she could hardly blame him for
thinking as he did.  But the time for caution and concern was long
past now, and he needed to realize that.  She had to talk him down:
 "You're afraid you're going to hurt me somehow," she said
softly.  "Even after all this, you're afraid of hurting what Zoner and
I have.  That's it, isn't it?"
 Larry said nothing.  Yuri knew she'd hit the mark dead-on.
Now she had to show him this was not wrong.  She tightened her hold on
 "Larry, do you know how long it's been since we've held each
other like this?"
 "Mm, yeah... about an hour now, I think."
 "Oh, stop it," Yuri said after she'd finished snarfing.
"Eight and a half years.  It's been eight and a half years."
 "Yeah..." was all R-Type said.  "Feels like a hell of a lot
more than that..."
 "Mm-hmm," Yuri nodded against him.  "It *did* feel a lot
longer.  Remember I told you how lonely I was?  The truth is, I spent
those years wishing you were there, just so I could hold you... just
so *someone* would hold me.  I would think of Zoner all the time...
and I thought of you too... I missed you so much."
 His grip on her tightened.  "I missed you too.  Gods, how I
missed you."
 Yuri released her hold on him then, and they held hands and
never lost eye contact as she continued: "And I thought a lot about
how I wanted you to do more than just hold me.  I remembered what you
said back then, about us, and you were right.  I don't think I'll ever
be able to say how happy I was when Zoner finally came back to me, and
we're happier than we've ever been.  I have you to thank for that."
 R-Type looked sheepish as Yuri kept talking:
 "But even after that, I still realized how much you meant to
me, how much I loved you... how much I wanted you to make love to me.
I could never forget you, Larry...  I felt... incomplete...  without
 He blinked.
 "I asked Zoner," Yuri went on.  "'Is it really possible for me
to love another person just as much as I love you?'  He said yes, of
course it was possible.  I know I love you, and I don't think we can
ever deny how much we want each other."
 "No, we can't..." his throat had gone a little dry.
 "I've had years to think about this... and so have you."  Her
grip on his hands tightened, and her voice became softer.  "And I know
that I love you the way I love Zoner.  And I also know that it doesn't
change what Zoner and I have in any way.
 "We don't need to worry about hurting each other anymore,
Larry.  That time is long gone.  It's time to express what we feel for
each other... and that's why I want to make love to you, and I want
you to make love to me.  Tonight.  I don't want to wait any longer.
 Larry swallowed.  The simple fact was, everything she'd said
made perfect sense.  The alarm fell back into the rear of his skull,
considerably muted.  This wasn't happening out of the blue, in less
than 24 hours, he realized.  This had been nearly nine years in the
making, the subject of very careful consideration.  This was what she
wanted, and Zoner seemed to be unconcerned about it, and so there was,
really, no decent reason for refusing her.  And he didn't want to
refuse her.
 "All right," he said.  He reached behind his head and pulled
out the small elastic band which held his hair in its long ponytail,
and his hair fell behind him like a wavy brown drapery.  (Yuri noted
that his hair was the same length as hers.)  "As long as Zoner has no
 "If he did," Yuri answered.  "None of this would have happened
tonight, we would not be having this conversation, and I would not do
 And with that she kissed him.  It was the same soft, gentle
kiss which they'd exchanged on the restaurant balcony.  R-Type made
the only rational response: he returned the kiss, and his arms wound
slowly around her, pulling her close once again.  As before, the first
kiss was very simple and gentle.  Unlike the events at the restaurant,
though, the second kiss deepened into something much stronger and far
more complex.  Then a third kiss, even more urgent, hungry, and she
pressed herself tightly against him as their tongues intertwined and
began exploring each other's mouths, and the empathy between them,
fueled by a new kind of fire, began to take on a much larger
dimension, tripling in intensity and sending desire crashing down on
them like a raging inferno.
 Somewhere in Larry's head, the alarm voiced its concern one
last time: [Is this right?]
 [If it isn't, and that's *very* unlikely considering what we
just heard,] the rest of him answered.  [Then we'll just have to deal
with it after the fact.  Right now there is a glaringly obvious
physical need that must be taken care of, okay?]
 The alarm fell silent then, and they both felt it: caution and
concern ceased their complaining and were eclipsed by desire and
passion, which continued to overtake the sum of their awareness.  It
was almost maddening.  Gods, but they wanted each other.  They looked
into each other's eyes, saw the fire burning behind them, and knew the
need for verbal communication was nearly at an end.  Only two
statements remained to be said in that way:
 "I love you, Larry."  One.
 "Words will never describe how I love you, Yuri."  Two.
 And before very long, they had lost themselves in each other
completely.  No other words were needed for the remainder of the

    /*  Philip Aaberg  "The Gift"  _Winter's Solstice II_  */

            5:52 AM

 The view of the New Avalon corporate sector from the bedroom
window was almost identical to that of the living room.  There was
really no difference, in truth.  The curtain billowed gently as a
small summer breeze came through the bedroom window, bringing with it
the first small early-morning sounds of the city.
 It was getting fairly close to dawn, R-Type realized as he
leaned against the sill.  Zeta Cygni was beginning to rise (so it
seemed) in the "east".  It was, he thought, nearly indistinguishable
from a sunrise on so many other planets he'd been to or lived on.  The
people at Cianbro had truly outdone themselves in designing this
 He felt strange.  Well, not really strange per se, but...
different.  Something had happened tonight (besides the obvious), and
he had been changed by it.  He felt better, much better than he had
for most of the past week, and even before.  He was a little surprised
that he felt as good as he did.  Certainly the fact that he'd spent
the last nine hours or so involved in one of the most -- if not *the*
most -- incredible experiences of his life had quite a bit to do with
it, but it was more than just that physical part.
 None of the fear and concern he had had for Yuri's well-being
was present anymore.  It had all just... disappeared.  And now, he saw
no need to be concerned for her in that way anymore; it was
unnecessary.  It was almost as if he'd shared consciousness with her
and seen -- and understood -- everything from her viewpoint for a
moment.  Perhaps he had, because now he felt as though he'd known Yuri
for a long long time.  As a matter of fact he felt like he'd known
Zoner for a long time too.  That was rather interesting.
 [I guess this is what an empathic bond feels like,] he
thought.  And knowing all of that, not to mention understanding so
much more, there was only one conclusion he could arrive at concerning
everything that had happened, especially what had happened that night:
 This *was* right.
 He heard a rustling behind him, followed by a voice: "What're
you doing over there?"
 "Oh, just watching the 'sunrise'," he answered as Yuri joined
him at the window, just as naked as he was.  "Looks like we made it
all the way to tomorrow morning.  I thought you fell asleep just now."
He noted that this was probably the first time he'd talked this
casually since coming here.  He felt so relaxed now; it was wonderful.
 "Mm, for a little while.  I thought I'd be waking *you* up
every half hour."
 R-Type snarfed.  "I don't know what it is," he said,
shrugging.  "Guys are supposed to fall asleep; it's a hormonal thing,
according to the medical books.  But I wake up instead.  Guess I've
got weird wiring or something."
 "Guess so," Yuri shrugged, and leaned against him, enjoying
being this close to him.  It had been a very long night, leaving no
time for sleep, but she'd enjoyed every minute of it.  It had left her
physically, mentally, and emotionally drained.  She also felt
complete, more complete than she'd ever felt in, literally, a hundred
years.  She remembered very clearly that exquisite -- for lack of a
better word -- moment in the midst of the passion when their souls had
actually mixed for a few moments, and then had separated again, each
carrying a fragment of the other back with them, and now she felt as
though she'd known him for centuries.  It was an empathic bond, a
soul-bond, and a very strong one at that; it was a magical feeling.
She put her arms around him, and almost unconsciously they pulled each
other into an embrace, enjoying the feel of each other's naked skin.
 "Thank you," she whispered.
 "No, thank *you*," he answered, kissing her forehead.
 "I dreamed about this night for so long..."
 "Yeah... I did too; I just wouldn't admit it to myself.  Hope
I didn't disappoint you; I got a little overexcited for a while
 "Oh Eris, no.  I wasn't exactly what you'd call calm, either."
 "True.  Well at least the neighbors didn't complain."
 Both broke.  The laughter went on for a few moments, then
seemed to fade back into their bodies as they continued to hold each
 "Love you," he said.
 "Love you too," she answered.
 R-Type glanced out the window and sighed.  "Morning already.
Gee, how time flies sometimes.  Well, at least I don't have to work
today.  When do you need to be back home?"
 "Weeellllll..." Yuri said thoughtfully.  "I didn't say *when*
I was going to be back, exactly..."
 R-Type raised an eyebrow as Yuri pulled away from him and
climbed back into the bed.
 "I thought we could just stay here and talk for awhile.  You
did say you didn't have to work today..."
 R-Type emitted a loud sigh and made a big show of looking
exasperated.  "Oh well, I suppose... if I *must*..."  Yuri snickered
as he plodded over and climbed in next to her.  "All for the greater
good of something or other, I guess," he finished, causing her to
break briefly.  Then she snuggled up against him and kissed him.
 "We bonded tonight, you know," she said.
 "I know," he replied.  "I can feel it.  I feel like I've known
you for centuries."
 "Likewise.  You realize you're gonna be a part of my life
forever now."
 "I think I'll survive."  Both suffered a giggling fit for a
few moments, then Larry spoke again: "I am deeply honored to be a part
of your life."
 "Same here," Yuri grinned.
 "Guess we've got a *lot* of catching up to do, then."
 "Yeah, I guess so."  She kissed him again.  "It's good to see
you so relaxed, Larry."
 "It's good to see you so happy," he answered with a smile.
After that, they just lay in silence for a while, cuddling and
occasionally kissing each other.  Outside, the shadow of night
continued to slowly disappear as Zeta Cygni began its rise into the
sky, and the night lights faded, replaced by the sounds of an
awakening city.

 A new day was dawning in New Avalon.

     /*  Eve Tokimatsuri  "Kaze no Lullabye"  _MegaZone23_  */


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