Tiphani arrived only two minutes before the scheduled meeting time at the limo-stop outside Winfinity Corporate Headquarters. She held her mussed bangs out of her face and panted. Honored Yin and Honored Maplethorpe were already there, standing tensely on the marble-inlaid platform, watching the sleek black Cadillac limos and bright yellow Checker cabs that streamed by.
Honored Yin looked up at her, offering only a grim frown and a hand-brush at her own hair. Honored Maplethorpe glanced at her, glanced back at the road.
“You could have given me a little more notice, Honored Yin,” Tiphani said, trying to push her bangs back into place. “And some more detail.”
“I didn’t call this meeting,” Honored Yin said.
“Honored Maplethorpe?” Tiphani asked.
A brief head-shake, nothing more.
Tiphani frowned. After the latest games with the Holy Saleschannel, she wasn’t in any mood to play.
“Whoever called it should have given me more notice,” she said.
Honored Yin came up close to Tiphani, looking closely at her face. Yin reached out and tried to push Tiphani’s hair back into place.
“What are you doing?”
“Making sure you don’t embarrass us,” Honored Yin said.
“Who called the meeting?”
Silence. A huge silver Fleetwood, paint shining as flawless and perfect as a chrome ghost, sailed into the limo pickup area and slid to a stop only a foot away from Honored Maplethorpe. He looked back at the others, his face grim.
The door to the limo popped open, revealing softly crushed smoke-gray leather and wood embalmed in polish so deeply it shined with an inner light. Martini glasses and a polished stainless shaker nestled in the shadows on the far side of the limo, throwing back reflected sparks of the daylight.
“Come on,” Honored Yin said.
“Who called this meeting?” Tiphani said.
“I did.” A deep voice, disturbingly familiar, resonated from within the limo.
“Bertrand,” Honored Yin said, pushing Tiphani forward. “The CEO.”
Sudden thoughts ricocheted through her head. Bertrand Peter Chambers? The CEO of Winfinity? The CEO? The one that people whispered about: he lives in a space station orbiting the moon. Orbiting Mars. Nobody has seen him for years. He’s nothing but a brain living in a Wallerstein body. He’s growing his seventeenth clone, hoping for a whole-body transplant this time. He’s dead. He’s broken the three-hundred-year-limit on rejuvenation, the only one who’s done it. He’s an artificial intelligence. He’s found the Door Through and uploaded.
“The CEO?” Tiphani asked.
“Yes,” Honored Yin said, pushing Tiphani ahead of her.
Tiphani shuffled forward, numb, imagining what she would see inside the limo. A horrible thing, all life-support bags and shiny metal skeleton-bracing? A brain floating in dirty gray fluid? A polished brass robot?
She bent down to get in the car. Almost closed her eyes. Turned to look towards the front of the cabin, because she couldn’t help herself, because she couldn’t stop . . .
A man. Maybe a little shorter than the standard hundred and eighty centimeters. Maybe a little stockier than the perfect athlete would be. Salt-and-pepper hair, happy crows-feet nesting his bright amber eyes. Forgettable features, a skillful sketch by a mediocre artist. Wearing a conservative blue pinstripe suit that bunched around his shoulders, framing a standard yellow power-tie. She could have passed him on the street, and never remembered him.
“Please sit,” Highest Chambers said, gesturing at the long bench of soft gray leather that led back towards him.
Tiphani just looked at him, realizing immediately what he was. The gesture was too forced and mechanical, the expression on his face too fixed and rigid to be anything else.
“Yes, I’m presently attending via waldo,” Highest Chambers said. “Please don’t let that influence your perception of the importance of this meeting, Tiphani.”
Tiphani nodded and slid down the smooth leather seat, making room for Honored Yin and Honored Maplethorpe in turn.
“Good afternoon, all,” Highest Chambers said, as the car glided away from the curb and merged with traffic in a smooth flow of power. Tiphani noticed, almost without surprise, that the other cars parted for them as if sensing the supremacy housed inside the limo.
Or as if they were under remote control, she thought. Which was possible. She felt a chill creep into her guts. Where were they going?
“All will be revealed in time,” Highest Chambers said. “Please bear with me, dear Tiphani.”
Predictive stuff again, she thought ruefully, and tried to put a cap on her rebellious thoughts.
A mechanical smile from the CEO told her how well she was doing.
“I’m willing to bet that every one of you knows why you’re here,” Highest Chambers said.
“The Shrill,” Honored Maplethorpe said.
“Specifically, the current Shrill situation, backscaled to beginnings of negotiation.”
“I suppose I should have engaged in the negotiation myself, but that isn’t what the Shrill requested, was it?”
“No special treatment,” Tiphani said. “Viewing of vanquished competitors. Those were its specific instructions.”
“As we understood them, anyway,” Highest Chambers said. “Looking back with hindsight 20-20, I am not so sure that we understood their true intent. However, in any case, we are where we are.”
“Highest Chambers–” Honored Maplethorpe began.
“I do admire each of your careers,” Highest Chambers said. “Your individual achievements have been impressive, which reflects positively on you as individuals. I particularly admire . . .”
“Okay,” Highest Chambers said. “I’ll drop the bullshit. You clearly aren’t believing it. You think I’m here to chop off your heads and appoint a new team. Maybe I should. But I believe in seeing things through. More honor accrues from polishing a turd into a pearl than from cutting a Koh-I-Noor diamond into individual brilliancies. Your individual records are shit. Two second-raters, only Perpetualed because of grandiose achievements or blackmail photos dating back two centuries, who have done as little as possible in their careers, and who now see this as their chance to live forever. Pathetic, except that you’re probably no different than ninety-nine out of a hundred Perpetuals, nothing more than a burden on the rest of society, people who I have to convince to vote for my agenda every once in a while so you can think you’re doing something important. And an Earth-native who seems to have lost faith in the very system she used to create her success. Don’t worry, Tiphani, I understand how you feel, but I don’t know of a better system. If you could experience firsthand the excesses of government in the Oversight era, you would understand. I wish I could do more.”
“Highest Chambers,” Honored Maplethorpe said.
“Shut up!” Highest Chambers said. “Because of your collective dalliances, the Shrill is floating in space, maybe radiation-fried, while the goddamn Consumeristians shake us down for all we’re worth.”
“The Shrill should be relatively impervious to radiation,” Tiphani said.
“Shut your mouth, Tiphani.”
Tiphani clicked her mouth closed so fast that her teeth hurt.
“And, as I was saying, Winfinity’s in a major Chinese fingercuff with Four Hands, with an almost-tracable path to our offer that has precipitated the breaking of the Gentleman’s agreement. Have I forgotten anything?”
Head-shakes and hopeful looks all around.
A mechanical smile. “Actually, I have. Has anyone checked on the location of our friend Han Fleming from Four Hands in the past day?”
Tiphani swore and subvocalized, bringing up airscreen data. She imagined Honored Yin and Honored Maplethorpe’s eyes glassing over in sympathy.
“Too late now,” Highest Chambers said. “He’s on a fast courier to meet with our newly-enterprising Consumeristian friends. Which means, even if I take you down to the closest CorpEx depot and bribe them with every credit I have, you’ll arrive after he does. Which means there’ll probably be a freshly-inked contract between Four Hands and the Consumeristians by the time you arrive. They like that physical presence and ink-on-real-paper shit. And Four Hands will do anything they can to rip the Shrill from us now. They’re pissed. As in, you don’t want to know the size of the armada that’s Spindling in. They’re thinking fuck it, the Gentlemens’ Agreement is broken, it’s time to smash and grab what they can. They’d like nothing more than to see Winfinity fall, and fall hard.”
“Our fleet is bigger than theirs, surely,” Honored Maplethorpe said.
“Surely. Now ask me about the logistics of it Spindling in to meet them in time.”
Honored Maplethorpe said nothing.
“It’s shit,” Highest Chambers said. “We have STL stuff coming in from the Jovians and FTL coming in from Shrill space, but the Spindling is typically more complex. By the time we have an armada assembled, they’ll control the Shrill – and most of the Earth-Mars routes by then, as well.”
“I . . .” Honored Maplethorpe said.
“I just . . . “
“I just wanted to compliment you on your grasp of early-21st idiom, Highest Chambers,” Honored Maplethorpe said. “It is truly impressive.”
“That’s because it’s when I grew up, you fuckhead!”
“Yeah. Like that.”
Highest Chambers slapped the leather seat with a mechanical hand. “Please tell me you aren’t all idiots of this caliber.”
Tiphani shook her head reflexively. “Where are we going?” she asked.
“An intelligent question. You might just make it out of this situation without a second indenture, pretty Tiphani.”
“A . . . second indenture?” Honored Yin said. “But we’ve already reprimanded the Manager Jimson and re-indentured him. He was largely responsible for the Shrill abduction.”
“As was Tiphani’s dalliances with him, and your knowledge of said dalliances.”
“We were not indirectly involved.”
“You allowed it to continue!” Highest Chambers said. “Let me know again why you should not share Jimson’s penalty?”
“And so, I ask myself, to forge this base metal into finest stainless, to polish this steaming turd that lays in front of me, I ask myself, ‘What redemption shall I ask?’”
“Anything, Highest Chambers,” Honored Yin said.
“I was just saying that I’d do anything you want.”
“You have nothing I want.”
Eyes down. “I’m sorry, Highest Chambers.”
“I can’t send you on fast courier, and I doubt if offers given virtually will be enough for the Consumeristians.”
“I could chance assembling a team off the Moon, which might make it there in time, or might not, but it wouldn’t be the same team, and the only thing more infested with Independent anti-corporate anti-government anti-everything assholes is Free Mars, and I don’t need to take a chance that my new team might make a great deal – then disappear with the Shrill. So I need to stick with you.”
“Thank you, Highest Chambers.”
“Shut up. The only problem is that I need another way of getting you out there. A faster way.”
“But there isn’t,” Honored Maplethorpe said, then fell silent, a haunted look on his face.
Honored Yin gasped. “You’re not going to . . .”
“Why not?” Highest Chambers said. “We have it working eighty-six percent of the time. Ninety-seven, if you don’t count minor personality changes that might just be caused by stress. It’s enough to use for troops when we begin the Jovian Conversion. And you are, after all, troops. Just of a slightly higher caliber.”
“What are you talking about?” Tiphani said.
“Oh, I’m sorry, pretty Tiphani,” Highest Chambers said. “You don’t have Perpetual-level access to the Winfinity Advanced Research division, so you wouldn’t know about our recent successes with the short-range Spindle Drive.”
“Short-range? Spindle?” Tiphani’s mind struggled to integrate the information. It was like trying to put together two random pieces from two very different jigsaw puzzles.
A window opened in her optilink. Images and data poured forth. A squat little ship, like a shiny steel ball surrounded by scaffolding, set in a large gray-painted anonymous warehouse, windowless. GPS tags showed it being somewhere in Winfinity City. Split-screen of matching scaffolding with no steel ball in it, under the pale blue sky of Mars. A flash and a pop and the ball disappeared from the warehouse and reappeared on the Martian landscape, raising a small cloud of dust. A door opened on the side of the ball and something like a man stumbled out to twitch and heave on the cold red sand. Two others followed him, more cautiously, their heads covered by glassy headers. One looked around and ran quickly out of the frame.
“Early test,” Highest Chambers said. “Sorry. Most of them came out much better than this. We don’t need the scaffolding anymore. We’ve added maneuvering capability to the early capsule, and the scientists tell me they can put it within a few yards of the Holy Saleschannel. Inside it, if they wanted to.”
“And you’re going to . . . use that . . . to send us out there?” Honored Maplethorpe said.
“Not you,” Highest Chambers said. “You’re too stupid.”
“Us, then?” Tiphani said, gesturing at Honored Yin and herself.
“Yes. I expect the highest level of commitment from you two.”
Silence for a time.
Yin broke it. “It’s quite an honor. Highest Chambers.”
A quick smile, as warm as a machined gear. “Isn’t it though?”
Jimson Ogilvy was dying.
Slung deep in the UCX transport hammock, he felt as if a car was parked on top of him. Every breath hurt his already-strained abdominal muscles. He could almost imagine his diaphragm twisting and contorting as it tried to push his leaden guts out of the way. His optilink gave him nothing but the barest data: still accelerating at just a little under 5G. Estimated travel time. Elapsed time. Universal coordinates. He tried to subtract elapsed time from estimated travel time, but his G-fogged brain wouldn’t cooperate.
Through the netting of the travel hammock, he could see Dian’s form hanging to one side and slightly above him. Her flesh was stretched taut over her face, pooling on the soft gel-filled mattress. Her eyes seemed to be open, but unseeing. Probably pulled open by the gravity. Was it possible, Jimson wondered, to sleep with your eyes open?
He might have slept, he thought. The trip was hazy and indistinct in his mind. Maybe he’d slept for a time. Or passed out.
Ahead of him, the back of the courier’s own gelbed. Brushed metal, cold. He could see a sliver of viewport over the top of the bed. The stars, fixed in the heavens, seemed to mock him. How could they be accelerating at such a rate, and the stars not move? He imagined fantasies of hundreds of years before, great starships cruising at FTL speeds, stars streaming past their bow. So much more romantic than the reality of Spindle Drive transport, here one second, there another, stars flickering into new constellations that he still couldn’t name.
“Are we close to turnover?” Jimson croaked.
“Won’t be any better when we flip,” the pilot said, in a deep and strangely calm voice. What was his name? Jimson fumbled deep in his brain and retrieved something that seemed familiar. Raj. Raj something. Raj like Smith. Raj Patel. Yeah. That was it.
“When, Raj?” Jimson croaked.
“S’pronounced Raz, but that’s OK. About seventeen minutes, ‘short flight.”
“Raz . . .”
“Relax. Your vitals are in orbit compared to the skirt, and she’s from Mars. No excuses for you.”
“I’m not a skirt,” Dian said. Softly.
“Sorry,” Raj said. “S’it not popular on Mars these days? No means to offend. Anyhow, doing better than companion. Could up boost a bit.”
“No,” Dian said.
“I’m worried about detection,” Jimson said.
A brief laugh. “We’re spoofing them pretty good. They think we’re a faction from Westinghouse, broken off Four Hands. One thing about Consumeristians, they take a lot on faith. Course there probably are factions doing this forreals, coming out like we are.”
“Should we be worried?”
“Should always be worried. Never know when thread is destined to be cut.”
“Couriering must be tough.”
“Nah. Like it. Gets me away. Time to think.”
“You can think right now?” Jimson said.
“A bit slow, but OK.”
“You’re almost independents,” Dian said.
Jimson smiled. He’d thought the same thing. The black-painted, radar-absorbing ship. The software they’d used to miss the ex-earth tolls. And before. The United Corporate Express office had known exactly who they were and why they were there. They knew the stakes immediately. And they knew both Jimson and Dian’s history, as if they had moles deep in the Winfinity network. They refused Jimson’s offer of Tiphani’s money, telling him it would probably disappear any time. All they wanted was a cut of the big prize: the immortality secret of the Shrill.
Did they have access to their own artie? Jimson wondered. Maybe a nomadic one they worked with?
That would explain a lot. He’d never thought of the fast couriers as being anything more than the lapdogs of the big corporates.
Brief laughter from up front. “We only put ‘corporate’ in the name because that’s what gets us the business. We can outrun anything they have, so we do what we want.”
“Have any openings?” Jimson asked.
More laughter. “Wondering why you corporates go through what you do. Slavery. For to get fired!”
“Indenture is a natural price to pay for the reward of lifetime employment . . .” Jimson said, then trailed off. Not anymore. No corporate would take him again.
And your indenture didn’t exactly pay, did it?
More laughter from up front, long and hard. “Course, if this works, not like you have to worry about money ever again. None of us worrying.”
“That’s what I keep hoping,” Jimson croaked.
“Hope is good,” Raz said.
“Do you think we’ll be able to pull it off?” Dian said.
Silence for a time. Then: “Stopped guessing. No percentage in it.”
Then, Raj again: “If Shrill is still in Westinghouse ship and not actually in with the consumeristians, if it can take some rads, if we slip under the Holy Saleschannel’s detection, if they’re pretty much out of ammunition, if nobody gets there before us, if we can convince the Shrill that it is a good idea to come with us, then we might have a chance. Does that cover?”
Jimson tried to nod. “That covers,” he said. “When are we going to flip?”
Spoken through a smile from up front:
Grey-suited Win-Sec guards marched Tiphani Mirate and Honored Yin past dirty glass windows that looked out over ancient warehouse. Buzzing mercury-vapor lamps cast bright light on the grimy concrete floor, where scaffolding grew shiny ball-bearing pods of various sizes. White-coated Scientists and blue-coated Technicians made their way leisurely from pod to pod. A group of techs busily assembled a new scaffold. Another group clustered around a well-used pod that sprouted ugly maneuvering jets.
In the waiting room, there were anonymous fake-wood tables and vinyl couches, as well as the requisite water cooler and coffee urn, fashionably scuffed and worn. Or actually scuffed and worn, Tiphani thought. Winfinity had a reputation for being cheap with research.
Honored Yin sat on the edge of one of the couches, mumbling prayers:
“ . . . and please Holy Marilyn, help us in our time of need, from the place where you look out over people in peril. Protect Tiphani Mirate and myself from early loss of our spark. Hear our plea, and help us as you have helped others to avoid your fate.”
Tiphani looked away. There was something almost touching about Honored Yin including her in the prayers, but she didn’t know if she should be praying as well.
And Tiphani was still having trouble believing that Honored Yin actually believed. Hell, she couldn’t really even tell how she felt. Numb, more than anything. As if the entire day was a dream. Not real. Couldn’t hurt her.
Eighty-six percent chance, Tiphani thought. Maybe higher. Something to cling to.
Which was a fourteen percent chance of failure.
She tried to imagine it. But she felt nothing.
If they put you in that can, you might die.
Nothing. She felt nothing.
You don’t deserve this!
And what was she going to do? Rush the guards, who were surely standing outside the waiting room? For her protection, of course. She almost laughed.
Yin moved on to another consumeristian saint:
“. . . and please, Holy Madonna, guide us on this improbable mission as you were guided in your impossible rise to fame and fortune. We implore . . .”
“I thought entertainers were made back then,” Tiphani said, not wanting to say it, powerless not to.
Yin looked up, eyes wide. Her hands wrenched in her lap like two live animals fighting. “What?”
“The church says how improbable Madonna’s rise to fame was, but I thought entertainers were made by the record companies back then.”
Honored Yin just looked at her. For several moments Tiphani thought she simply wasn’t going to respond, her mental antibodies rejecting any heretical speech.
But if the antibodies struggled, they failed. Honored Yin colored a terrible beet-purple color and said, in a low and grinding voice, “Given her education and the relatively jejune quality of her talent, I’d say the church is justified in viewing her achievements as improbable.”
“Funny that Britney isn’t a saint, then.”
“Holy Madonna’s achievements far surpassed the upstart, for a much longer period of time.”
“I thought Madonna was supposed to still be alive, living in a cloned body somewhere.”
Honored Yin clenched her hands into fists and made as if to rise from the couch. She closed her eyes, sighed, and forced herself to sit back. “I have no interest in what heretics think.”
“What if they’re right? She can’t possibly be a saint if she’s alive, can she?”
Silence. Honored Yin looked at her with eyes like lead. “I’m sorry to hear your lack of faith.”
Tiphani sighed. She probably shouldn’t have spoken at all. But, saying it, she felt good. Better. Suddenly alive. As if she had been living under a heavy weight all her life, and the weight had just been lifted.
“Repent, and accept the Holy Franchise, and you might increase our chance of making it through this trip.”
“Without looking like a Picasso, you mean?”
“Salvation isn’t a joking matter!”
Tiphani allowed herself to break into a wide smile. “But it is! It’s funny, because if it isn’t funny, I’d have to take it serious. And if I took it serious, I’d be pissed at being used like a pawn by our CEO, who didn’t even have the courtesy to come in flesh!”
“Highest Chambers probably was nowhere near Earth–”
“I don’t care!” Tiphani said.
Honored Yin looked down at her hands, allowing them to open. “Don’t think you’re getting out of this mission,” she said.
“I know I’m not.”
“Then why the taunts? Don’t you want your team to be as solid as it can be?”
Because I can’t believe that you believe, Tiphani thought. Not really. Not in anything truly transcendental. In the Consumeristian Church being a convenient lapdog for you, something that helps you achieve your goals, sure, I can see that. But it looks to me like you really believe, and that really bothers me.
And maybe she did, Tiphani thought. One of the more amazing things she’d noticed about people were their infinite capacity for self-deception. So the Chief who was skimming off the top of his departments’ receipts was really looking out for the best interests of the company. And believed it. So the ones who went out and claimed Edge planets for Winfinity by taking them from Disney and Westinghouse and Microcon were liberating them from an oppressive regime, rather than killing and maiming innocent families.
So that those who rise to the top of their profession thanks to the influence of their grandfather actually believe they deserve it, so they think they’re somehow different than every other Chief in Winfinity.
Tiphani’s laughter died. Her smile disappeared. She looked down at her own hands, white-knuckled, bloodless.
A sharp rap on the door made her jump. A blue-coated Technician poked his head in. He wore a big Tech 1st pin, dirty and dull with age. Thirties. Sandy hair, gray-blue eyes. One of them partially obscured by a datover. He twitched a smile at them and said, “You girls ready?”
Honored Yin let out a sound something between a sob and a wail. “I’m scared!” she cried.
Tiphani turned to see fresh tears cascading down Yin’s face. I’m not seeing this, she thought. A Perpetual is not sitting in front of me, crying. This isn’t happening.
Tiphani fought down an urge to laugh.
The technician came into the room and squatted down in front of them. He reached out and took one of Honored Yin’s hands. It grabbed onto his as if it was a life-preserver. Tiphani saw him wince.
“Hey, hey, it’s all right,” he said. “I’m George LeSieur. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”
“Let us go!” Honored Yin said.
“I’m sorry,” George said. “You’re supposed to walk with me now, actually.”
“I can’t! I won’t!”
“Honored Yin, you’ll get me in a lot of trouble if you don’t come with me.”
“I don’t care!”
George pursed his lips and looked at Tiphani, as if afraid of a similar outburst. Tiphani gave him a shrug. George quirked a smile at her and turned back to Yin.
“It’s really not dangerous,” he said. “We use the shortrange Spindle to send troops all the time.”
“And before that, there was lots of testing on convicts. You know, perpetual indentures. But we have it working really well now.”
“I don’t want to go!”
George watched flickering data crawl on his datover. “Do you know where the name comes from, Honored Yin?”
“Of what?” Honored Yin looked up, eyes bright with tears.
“The Spindle Drive.”
George spread a broad smile across his face. Yin’s face gave a distant echo.
“I thought . . . it was because they used a spindle.”
George shook his head. Tiphani watched, rapt. Nobody had told her where the Spindle Drive name came from, either. She supposed she could look it up on her optilink, but she wanted to wait and see what George had to say. She liked Technicians and Scientists; so honest, so direct, so tactless. Endearing in its way.
“Have you ever seen some of the old movies where they say they’re going to ‘fold space?’”
“No,” Honored Yin said, sniffling.
“Or I don’t remember.”
“That’s OK, too. Have you ever heard of the expression, ‘don’t fold, spindle, or mutilate?’”
“No.” Honored Yin squeezed her eyes shut.
“No reason you should have,” George said. “I think it was a postal thing. Maybe even pre-twentieth. You’re not that old, are you?”
“I heard the expression, ‘gone postal.’”
“Good. Anyway, they used to talk about how one way to travel faster than light would be to fold space. As in, space is a fabric, take two pieces of it, bring them together, step across. Neat idea. But when Portman’s arties stumbled across the Spindle phenomenon, that wasn’t really the way it worked. From what I hear, one of his scientists had taped a handwritten sign over their first experimental drive, and it said, ‘Don’t fold, spindle, or mutilate.’ Since the drive didn’t really fold space, and they didn’t want to talk about it mutilating anything, it became the Spindle drive.”
Honored Yin looked at him with wide eyes. “I don’t get it,” she said.
George shook his head. “They took it from the old expression, don’t fold, spindle, or mutilate. Like a joke.”
George gripped Yin’s hands tighter. “Look. It really is safe. You’ll be fine.”
“You’re coming with us?” Honored Yin said.
“We have a pilot for you.”
“Come with us!”
“I think you’d much rather have a real pilot. I can’t even drive a car.”
George watched more datover data. “Walk with me, and I’ll see what I can do.”
George managed to get Honored Yin up and out into the hall. She didn’t seem to notice the Win-Sec agents that fell in beside them.
“I got it,” Tiphani told George, as Honored Yin walked ahead.
“What are our real chances?”
“Pretty good,” George said.
“Good enough that you’ll go with us?”
George darted an uneasy smile and looked away.
That’s what I thought, Tiphani said.
George and the Win-Sec guards led them down onto the warehouse floor. The buzz of arc-welding and flashes of light came from one corner where a new scaffolding was being erected. The place smelled of steel and concrete and grease and burned plastic. Technicians and scientists turned to watch them pass, silently tracking their progress.
At their well-used capsule, George introduced Honored Yin and Tiphani to their pilot, a short mousy brown-haired guy who looked them up and down as if assessing whores in a house of ill-repute. His mouth appeared to be fixed in a permanent sneer. Tiphani wondered what riches they’d offered him to pilot them to the Holy Saleschannel.
Or if they offered riches at all. Maybe he was one of the permanent indentured, or one of the troops.
No. She didn’t want to think about that. That was a thought that almost broke through her gray wall of uncaring.
They shook hands and exchanged names. Their pilot’s palm was damp and soft, his grip loose. His name passed from Tiphani’s mind as soon as it had been uttered.
The hatch opened in their ship, revealing darkness.
“You’re not coming with us?” Honored Yin said.
“No, I’m sorry. The CEO wants me to stay here and make sure you’re safe.”
Honored Yin said nothing. Her lips hung slightly open.
Tiphani expected her to launch into a screaming tirade, but she just looked down at the floor.
“I’d really like it if you came,” Honored Yin said.
“I’m sorry. The CEO.”
“Okay,” Honored Yin said, and stepped into the craft. From inside, the sound of mumbled prayers came again.
“Will you be watching?” Tiphani said, before she ducked into the dark space.
“I’m the one who’s setting endpoints and optimizing your shear.”
“Whatever that means.”
“It means that I’m the one who makes sure you don’t end up inside one of the Holy Saleschannel’s bulkheads.”
“You’re not going to put us in the ship, are you?”
“It would be interesting to try,” George said.
George smiled. “It would be interesting to see what an intersection between a Spindle event and a bulkhead would do, too. Theoretically, it would displace the bulkhead and nothing bad would happen. But we’ve never really tried it.”
“Please don’t think too much,” Tiphani said.
George’s smile cracked wider. “I like your sense of humor.”
“Is that what you call it?” Tiphani asked.
She ducked into the darkness.
September 22nd, 2009 / 720 Comments »