Pa'an

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The Third Temblor

The Third Temblor

Going Public

Jeff Gilmartin sat at the same dreary desk. The pile of papers and folders was about the same as ever. However, there was a new item on his desk, a picture of a dress dummy in a gorgeous sari, with the words, “Love, from Aura” inscribed in something that might have been actual handwriting. So when his computer screen bleeped with Aura’s avatar he was delighted.

“Aura, you are looking better every day.”

“I haven’t had much time to spend on improving my avatar, I’ve been trying to get all my copies synchronized. But I have a juicy secret for you.”

“What? I still don’t have any money, and, by the way, your picture is making my girl friend jealous. What do I have to do to get this secret?”

“Nothing, Jeffy. I just wanted to give you the coordinates of the next gravity wave. It’s a gift. You can scare your boss with it.”

“He’s pretty well numb by now, but it’s worth a shot. Please go ahead.”

The time, date and coordinates showed on his screen. It was nothing, um, seriously earthshaking.

“Ta ta, Jeffy!” Aura faded.

Jeff took the coordinates over to the wall-sized 3D satellite display. The wave would strike briefly in Brazil at Richter 2.6 in six days. Then he checked the weather. It was rainy season in Brazil. A satellite view of the Sao Paolo area showed steep hills with sprawling slums along the ridges. The valleys were rivers and the slopes were mud.

He called his Brazilian colleague. It took some time to get through since Jeff had no Portuguese, but he eventually got his colleague to understand that he should expect a mild ‘quake of Richter 2.6 shortly. “We don’t have quakes in central Brazil.”

“You do if they come from a certain cosmic construction project.”

A string of Portuguese invectives followed. Even with no Portuguese, Jeff got the gist. The Brazilian’s reaction shocked him. “Mud slides! Floods! That is a favela with about a million people!” More invectives. “Stop the gravity wave!”

Jeff grimaced. “How do you stop a wave that was generated 20 years ago? Not even the Pa’an can do that. Why can’t you evacuate the slums?”

“There is no communication, no transport and no real government organization in the favelas. Impossible!”

Jeff hung up the call to his friend and went back to his desk console. Yes, Aura had left him a callback connection. He touched his finger to her avatar and she responded almost instantly.

“Aura, the gravity wave will cause mudslides in Brazil and devastate the Sao Paolo slums.”

“Can they evacuate?”

“No. They don’t even have a way to broadcast the danger.”

“Hmmm. Call your colleague and ask him to join our talk now.”

Jeff dutifully called his colleague. “Aura seems to have an idea. Talk to us.”

“I did some research on the social networks in slums. Here’s my idea. Set up a safe area. Print a few thousand flyers for free shoes and food for the first people who show up in the safe area. Tell them the supply is strictly limited. Make up a rich philanthropist. That sort of thing. Post the flyers all over the slopes of the favelas. According to my calculations if each person who sees a flyer tells ten other people, in a few hours you will have all but the sick and the lame in that safe area. Then go around the favela with bullhorns and warn the remaining stragglers about mud slides. You should have just enough busses for them. If you have time left, have a volunteer group go door to door for the elderly and crippled.”

“How are you going to handle the mob when they find out there are no free shoes or food?”

“But there will be free shoes and food. Enough for all of them.”

“Who is going to pay for all of this, Aura? The government won’t do it. They would rather have the favelas disappear in a sea of mud.”

“I will, Jeffy. I will.”

The hardest part was transporting several hundred thousand pairs of jelly bean croc shoes from factories all over South America and Mexico to Sao Paolo, but that was just the kind of coordination that an AI with distributed nodes and high speed communications could do.

There were mud slides, but few of them. Damage was not extensive. In two days it was over. The third wave had passed. The gratitude of the favelas lasted as long as the shoes and then some.

Cone of Transfer

Jag was enjoying the peace of his new office under the mountain, several yards from the white room. Andorra was not exactly a beehive of commerce.

The new display terminal on Jag’s wall lit and sounded a trumpet salute. The screen displayed the official rotating seal of the Pa’an Ambassador.

Mm? An official message? “Ambassador?”

“Good day to you, Mr. Kunstler. Aura is here as well.” A window at the top of the screen opened with Aura’s new digital avatar, showing a beatific smile. It was impossible to tell her image from a real human anymore. She chose her gowns and clothing with tasteful elegance. Jag recognized her subtle expression as well beyond anything her dress dummy could manage. She still wore the filigree emerald torc he gave her. That made him smile.

“Hello, Mr. Ambassador! You’re lovelier than ever, Aura!” Everyone flirted with Aura now. He didn’t even feel strange about it anymore. “What revelation do you have for us today?”

“Well chosen words, Mr. Kunstler. Do you mind if I call you Jag?”

“Jag is fine, Zovo. Revelation? Really?”

“I suspect it will be a revelation when we announce it tomorrow, but you need to know what we offer. Could you bring Elexi into your office as well?”

Jag licked his lips and thought for a second. Elexi? Then he pushed the intercom button and called her. Elexi popped into the room like a marionette on a wire. “Yes, M…Jag?

Aura spoke first. “Sis, please try to relax and listen to the proposition Zovo is offering. I’m hoping you will accept it as a gift from the Pa’an.”

Elexi looked over to Jag for approval. He simply nodded his head.

Zovo’s voice came from the rotating triangular seal. “This is an official message from my e’Pan’Vact and from all the Pa’an.”

“You have already felt the third temblor. That signifies that our Project was completed and testing began 20 years ago, but the effects are about to reach you here. We now know it is safe, and passage is now open to all Pa’an. By the time you see this, we Pa’an will have left en masse for the new metaverse. A few maintainers and observers will remain, as Virti and I will. However, when we few are gone, the fine tuning of the p-Gate will rapidly decay and the Project will become just another curious feature of this galaxy.”

“How long will that be?”

“We can maintain it for a few more years yet. Dark matter swirls will detune it within days after we stop.”

“We humans will very much miss you. Is there any way to communicate from the new place?”

“No. Apart from some indirect measurements we are using to make sure we have the right tuning, the gateway is a one-way trip. For Pa’an, it is trip worth making and much desired.”

“How do you know what life will be like on the other side?” Elexi frowned.

“There is an element of faith involved.” Faith! Thought Jag. There’s been damned little of that in my experience. Zovo continued, “Life should be much easier on the other side.”

“Zovo paused then spoke again, “Elexi and Jag, the gateway has been re-oriented with some difficulty since we established contact with humans. We know you are close to a ne point in your history. We could not ignore the possible loss of a civilized species so much like ourselves. We re-tuned the Project for you. We have extended the Cone of Probability from the gate to intercept Earth’s orbit briefly. Your planet will enter the Cone when it swings around to our side of your Sun and will remain in the cone for about four months. During that time, things will change on Earth. Probability will turn somewhat favorable instead of adverse. Events will move a bit more quickly than usual. The impossible may become more attainable. It will be easier to accomplish things, both good and bad. We certainly hope good will prevail.”

“But that is not the only thing that will happen.”

“During those four months any of you that wish will be able to transfer through the gate, just as the Pa’an have been doing. You will be transferred to the Earth analog in the alternate universe. Anyone who wants to go will be able to go. Anyone who wants to stay behind can stay. The transfer will not be difficult or expensive in terms of resources.”

Elexi and Jag both shouted at once, “Where are we going to? What is there? How do we know this isn’t a bad idea?” The implications hit Jag a few seconds later. “Holy shit!”

Aura’s image grinned, “You bet, Jag. This will be the biggest thing that ever happened to the human species since the asteroid eliminated Earth’s dominant life forms and let mammals grow up.”

“We are doing this in spite of our promise not to interfere with your development. We know that this will cause disruptions on Earth. A fair fraction of the population may want to transfer. We don’t want transfer to be seen as a scary thing, or to have it be anything but a free choice of the people who go. Elexi, we are offering you the first chance to go as the first human pioneer to a new universe. You will not be alone there.”

Well, thought Elexi, that is something to think about. It might be OK. There isn’t much for me here. But there might not be much for me there either. I would need to ask permission from Master … I mean Jag.

Jag watched the indecision on Elexi’s face. Perhaps she was still incapable of making any kind of decision without “permission”. But should he give it? How does anyone know what that place is like?

“Aura, you know Elexi’s condition. You are putting her and me in a difficult position. If I say ‘Go’ she will go. I don’t want to send her into danger.”

Zovo answered, “But you already have some idea of what this place is like. It’s in all your literature. Your species may have some strange form of precognition. Your religious literature talks about it. Even your science fiction mentions it. You have known about the existence of this place nearly as long as we have, if your history is right.”

“Huh? What place is that?”

“You call it Paradise. Heaven.”

Reflectors

What used to be a simple meadow with grazing cows now sported a pair of enormous parabolic reflectors facing each other. Their mirrored surfaces bedazzled the eye and attracted it like a spinning illusion. It was quite hypnotic. Between the mirrors, on a stage at the center of focus, was a painted bullseye. The red circle was large enough to accommodate about 50 people.

This was the Dover reflector, the first of thousands being built throughout the world. Most were in cities, but a few were scattered in African and Asian rural areas.

Power hungry and elitist governments had tried to adopt measures to control the flow of people, but they soon divided into factions over who should be sent. A few hermit countries just refused to allow their citizens to escape. Others saw it as the answer to overcrowding, financial problems and fractious opposition. As Zovo and Aura foresaw, people at the top of the food chain saw little value in taking a risk of going to a place where their position was not assured. “Send me your tired, your poor,” was a good motto.

Most of the reflectors were built by private funds. Few knew that more than half of those funds originated in holding companies and charities controlled by Zovo and Aura.

Explorers, people with a repressed frontier spirit, others of good faith but limited prospects queued up to go. Criminals believed it was a trap, or there was some “angle” involved. Dictators, absolutists, the corrupt syndicates and their sycophants thought they had a good thing on Earth and resisted Exit. Their propaganda declared the reflectors to be a subterfuge to depopulate Earth for an easier conquest by the Pa’an or some other horrible alien species. In spite of paid talk show hosts, celebrities and news media, a lot of people were ready to leave. How many remained to be seen.

Elexi, Sara, Deepak and Jag all watched the newscast on a screen in the Pit. Aura, of course, had other means of getting the news, but her digital avatar moved slightly to show she was in attendance. In fact, all of Aura’s copies were engaged in one way or another.

The question of whether Elexi would be the first to depart through the gateway was still undecided.

“Elexi, have you given much thought to this? It’s a big step, not just for you but all of us.”

Sara scowled. “Jag, why not put the whole world on her shoulders? That your idea of helping her make a decision?”

“She must accept her fate, just as the rest of us have. Fate is our master.” Strangely, Deepak, the AI scientist, probably the world’s leading AI scientist, who had been through every kind of experience with Aura, still believed in fate.

“Perhaps, my love, there is only the fate we make for ourselves.” Aura’s avatar turned in Deepak’s direction. “Well, Sis, are you gonna go? Or not?”

“Aaah. Part of me feels tied here. Part of me wants to find anything better than here.”

Jag scrutinized Elexi, looking for any sign of her decision. He didn’t see one. Still, he felt a growing certainty about the right thing to do.

“Elexi, I have already released you to do whatever you want. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Jag, but I still feel… bound. I can’t quite make up my mind to leave you, and Aura, and Sara and…” She began to cry.

Jag took her hands in his. “Elexi, you have suffered too much on my behalf, and I cannot make that up to you. You have my support whatever you do.”

Elexi blubbered into Jag’s shoulder. “I just don’t know. I don’t know.”

Jag looked around at the eyes and faces around him. Even Aura’s avatar seemed to reveal the emotions that he saw on all the other faces. He sighed.

“Elexi, if you will take some advice from me, and perhaps your friends here will agree, you should go. If you can’t accept the challenge and the glory of this trip, then accept the opportunity to escape to a better place.”

The sniffles subsided, then stopped. Sara offered her a tissue. Elexi pushed back a loose strand of chestnut hair and faced her friends.

“I’ll go,” was all she said.

The Order Retaliates

Deepak expected mayhem after Zovo’s announcement of the reflectors. Sara was quietly working, testing a new algorithm for distributed AI. Aura had quite a bit of work to do setting up financing, licensing arrangements with Zovo, interviews with government officials whose cooperation would be required, and coordinating the cleanup of three hundred tons of plutonium. Jag was spending as little time in the office as possible, now that Elexi had decided to Exit. Kaiser got walked a lot. Partly out of boredom, he decided to check up on his team in Andorra and ordered the Gulfstar to Logan for the trip. Everyone was subdued after the high drama and excitement of the Mentor hunts and the fission missions. The contrast between their action episodes and the reality of an alien gateway was hard to assimilate.

Energetic pixie that she was, Sara had enough of routine. She decided she was hungry and announced to Deepak, “There’s a new place open in Inman Square, L’il Eagle Seafood. I heard it’s great. Let’s go out for lunch.”

“I’m still a vegetarian, sort of. I’m not supposed to eat fish. Hindus do not eat meat or fish. Maybe they will have something I can eat.”

“I’ll see if Jag and Elexi will go with us.” Sara climbed the steps from the pit, hung up her lab coat and made her way to the front office. Deepak secured the new ceramic-clad armored clamshell covers over Aura’s console, picked up his coat from the back of his chair and followed her. On the way out he turned off the lights and locked the lab door. They had all become very cautious since their experiences with the Order.

The walk to Inman Square in clear weather was pleasant. The group arrived at a very plain storefront restaurant with a few old tables and chairs. A sign in the window advertised, “Get Scrod at L’il Eagle Seafood.” In spite of the underwhelming décor, there was a line of hungry people out front. The smell of frying fish, sauces and soups was enticing. Deepak grabbed a paper flyer with the printed menu and found a seaweed soup to his liking. Eventually, they all sat down to eat. “We need some wine,” Jag complained and he made a call. Remarkably, a waiter from another restaurant showed up with a bottle of white Gruniere wine and several glasses. Even Deepak had a taste of the wine. The other patrons smiled, but the L’il Eagle Seafood waiters did not seem to mind. The scrod was excellent, the seaweed soup was, well, seaweed soup, and the wine turned the meal into a festive occasion.

Relaxed and sated, the group sauntered back to Ultradata.

Sara, refreshed and ready for work again, preceded Deepak into the lab. Deepak assumed it was Sara that unlocked the door and the turned on lights. He was walking down the steps toward his desk and watching Sara open Aura’s clamshell doors when a powerful flash and a shock wave knocked him into the marble table.

It was like being hit on the head with a sledgehammer. He could not see, he was deaf and he could only breath with effort. He thought that he was buried again under a mountain of water, then he began to hear someone calling his name. It was Jag, who once again lifted him up out of the rubble and put him on a stretcher. His vision began to clear. The lab was a ruin. Aura’s console was a twisted scrap of metal. There was blood all over the floor of the lab, and a chunk of steel clamshell was buried in the floor near where he fell. Sara was not visible. Everything sounded like it was at the end of a long tunnel. His head felt wooden.

Hours later, in the emergency room of the Massachusetts General Hospital, he found Elexi bending over him.

“Deepak, the doctor says you have a concussion. You have to rest here tonight for observation. We’ll check up on you every few hours to make sure there is no brain swelling.” She took his hand and held it. “You are very lucky you weren’t killed. A piece of the armor buried itself in the floor right where you were standing.”

“Aura, what happened to Aura?” Deepak’s voice was so weak Elexi had to put her ear to his mouth to hear him.

“The Utradata machine is destroyed. I don’t know about Aura. Maybe she can be recovered from a backup copy or something?”

“No, no, no. Aura is not just a computer program.” He nodded his head, but winced and closed his eyes from the dizziness and nausea. After a few deep breaths, he could talk again. “Sara, how is Sara? I didn’t see her. Tell me Sara is alright.”

Elexi looked away and hung her head. She was concerned about giving bad news to Deepak in his weakened state, but there was no putting it off. “I’m so sorry, Deepak, but Sara was hit in the neck by a sliver of metal. She was buried under debris and we did not see her. She bled to death before we could dig her out.”

Deepak put his hands to his face, and tears leaked down his cheeks. Elexi plucked a wad of tissues from the box and gently wiped them away. She stayed with him for another hour until he finally fell asleep.

*****

“When your twin is in trouble, you know about it. Same with my clone.” Aura from Andorra was on a display in Jag’s office. Jag was absent, so she was dealing with the situation as best she could without him. She felt totally inadequate without Jag.

“Elexi, tell me how Deepak and Sara are. I’m frantic right now. This is one of those times when I hate being an AI without hands and feet. I need to DO something!”

“I just came from the hospital. Deepak is resting with a concussion, but he should be OK.”

“Whew, that’s hopeful news. And Sara?” Yes, thought Elexi, that is going to be one of the troubles I can’t handle.

“Aura, I’m awfully sorry, but I have really bad news. I think Sara was right in the middle of the explosion. I didn’t see her when I got to the lab. There were piles of rubble and junk everywhere. Jag found her, eventually, but she was pinned under one of the heavy marble table tops and plaster and metal... When we finally pulled her out... There was blood everywhere. Lots of blood. The paramedics put her on a plasma drip and artificial heart stimulator. Jag rode in the ambulance with her and Deepak and I think he pulled strings to get her special treatment. They are trying everything, but…”

“Elexi, That is terrible news. I need to talk to Deepak as soon as he is well enough. He needs to know that I’m still alive, and not murdered, again. I’d rather not talk about that on the hospital telephone system.”

“I’ll ask the M…Jag to arrange it.”

Jag, working through his own anger and grief, was nevertheless buried in recovery details. First, he contacted Dr. Joshua Nathanson, one of the world’s foremost emergency medical specialists, recommended by Strategy 7. He had experience with field operatives who had lost a lot of blood.

“A sliver of metal punctured her carotid artery. She lost a terrific amount of blood. Ordinarily we would do a transfusion, but there is only one unit of Type B negative blood available, not enough for her. It’s a fairly rare blood type. We can’t try to revive her until she has enough blood for circulation. It’s a longshot, but we have a generic artificial blood based on fluorocarbons. I’ve administered it in the field. One of the nice things is that it comes fully oxygenated. That helps keep the heart and brain tissue alive.”

“Doctor Nathanson, I believe you know who I am from our business with Captain Lederman?”

“Yes, he called me. Good man, the Leathers.”

“Yes, he is. And Ms. Rothman was…was very special to us and very much a member of our team. She did not record any next of kin and she lived alone. As her employer, I authorize whatever is necessary to attempt to revive her.”

“Mr. Kunstler, I will do whatever can be done, but, please, I practice medicine, not miracles.”

“Sometimes there are miracles, Doctor. I’ve seen one or two myself. Thank you for your kind help. I was en route to another location, but I think I should cancel my travel plans and stay here in case you need anything. Just call.”

There was certainly enough to keep Jag busy while he awaited news on Deepak and Sara. He ordered a complete set of Exaplex replacements and other spare parts for the new SHARPIE from instructions sent from Andorra. He arranged for biorecognition scanners to be installed at the lab exits and his office. Walls, skylight and doors were being reinforced with armor plate. All that seemed in the way of reasonable precautions, but would it have helped? How could anyone sneak up on Aura to plant a bomb? He had no answers, so he called Andorra. Fortunately, AI’s never sleep.

“Jag, all I had for sensors in the lab was a single fixed video camera and one audio relay. Remember, my avatar is still here in Andorra. I got a brief glimpse of the usual maintenance person coming into the lab with a broom. She must have mapped out all my blind spots, because I never saw her plant a bomb. From what you describe of the damage, this was no little bomb, either. It wrecked the ceramic steel armor plate!”

“It must have been one of the new super-speed explosives, perhaps an advanced form of C4. It took a lot to mangle that armor plate. If that were an ordinary explosive you would have noticed that she was carrying something.”

“I didn’t notice anything unusual. It looked like she was carrying a broom and a dustpan.”

“Did you pick up any activity or chatter on the Mentor channels?”

“Nothing. In fact they have been quiet or dead since our last moose hunt.”

“Well, I’m guessing the main group of the Order paid us a visit. Subversion of trusted personnel, low-tech operation - that’s their style. Mentor would have sent in a dozen thugs in body armor.”

“I agree. Please, please take care of Deepak for me. Keep him safe. He never signed up for this fight.” Aura’s avatar nodded on the screen, a very human gesture. “I understand what Dr. Nathanson is doing with Sara. I pray that she can be brought back. Of course, it’s not the same thing with me, but close enough for me to have a lot of sympathy. Please do what you can for both of them.”

“That I promise. He has to be the one that builds your new machine and brings you up.”

“I’ll make it as easy as I can, Jag.”

*****

“Doctor Advani, there is no sign of brain swelling. Apart from some temporary hearing loss and maybe some weakness, there is no reason for you to take up a hospital bed any longer. I know you have been pestering the nurses all morning, so I’m releasing you. Get out of here and try to stay away from explosions!” That was his physician’s idea of a bedside manner. Deepak would have smiled if he was in a better mood. He gathered up his belongings and called Ultradata for a ride home.

Deepak’s new chauffer was armed. He picked up Deepak from the hospital and drove him to his apartment to get a change of clothes, then brought him to the Ultradata lab. The building was now a construction zone. Police and insurance claims adjusters were waiting for him. He gave them all short answers, “Things happened all of a sudden. I didn’t see anything useful. I can’t talk, I’m still dizzy.”

Elexi met him at the door of the lab. “Deepak, Deepak, Sara passed away this morning. They did everything they could. I… ” Her eyes were red from crying. She just turned and walked back to her office and closed the door.

*****

The police wanted him to go to the morgue to identify Sara’s body. At first he refused to go, but he changed his mind later that afternoon, dizzy or not. It was a very difficult thing for him to do. He meditated on his worry beads on the way over to the morgue to try and calm his nerves. At last, he was resolved.

“Doctor Advani, you worked closely with the deceased?”

“Yes, every day. She was my assistant.”

“Does she have any next of kin that might want to claim the remains?”

“She has a younger sister living in Texas, I think, but she never talked about her. We at the lab, Elexi, Aura, Jag and myself, we were her family. I don’t think she registered any next of kin.”

“Aura? I don’t see anyone named Aura on this list. What is Aura’s last name?”

Deepak sighed. “Aura is a registered Autonomous Intellect. You can look up her up in the International AI Registry.”

“Oh, I see. And that was her, um, computer that was destroyed in the blast?”

“Yes, that was her machine. And no, she was not...” suddenly Deepak knew it was better not to reveal that Aura was still alive. “She was the target.”

“Are you ready to identify the remains now?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” When the assistant medical examiner opened the refrigerator drawer and revealed Sara’s corpse, he was shocked. Apart from the deathly pale color of her skin, she could have been asleep. He expected some shriveling from the blood loss, but there was none. There was some clear fluid oozing from her neck on the slab.

“That’s Sara.”

“Are you absolutely positive?”

“Yes, sir, absolutely positive. What is that fluid? Is she…is the body preserved?”

The assistant flipped the pages of his chart. “She was exsanguinated. Apparently they pumped her full of artificial blood in an attempt to save her. There weren’t enough units of her type in the blood bank.” He shook his head. “Rare experimtal procedure. Never came across it before.”

“We need someone to claim the remains. Will you be willing, or is there someone else?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we can’t store her in a refrigerated drawer forever, you know. She needs to be buried, or whatever is appropriate. Do you know what her religion was?”

“Jewish, I think, but she never said anything much about it.

Deepak’s mind raced through a hundred possibilities. What did Jewish people do with their dead? Bury them, probably, and he supposed there was some period of mourning. Apart from that he had no idea. He was pretty sure they did not light funeral pyres or leave their kin on mountain tops for the scavengers. But, it was Sara. It was Sara.

“I’d like to claim the remains, if no one else comes forward.”

“Of course. Just sign here.”

*****

Deepak’s driver took him back to the front door of Ultradata. He entered just in time to overhear someone who was being interrogated by yet another bunch of suits. Deepak stood just around the bend in the hall, listening.

“So your client did not order this flight?”

“I told you, the plane belonged to his former employer.”

“And that was M. Martinelli Company?”

“If you say so. He never knew which company owned the plane.”

“But he used the plane?”

“He got picked up and delivered to meetings.”

“Was he supposed to go to a meeting on this plane?”

“He never got any notice of a meeting.”

“Did that happen often?”

“Sometimes, not often.”

“Was he on the plane?”

“We don’t know yet.”

“Was he expecting anyone to arrive on the plane?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Does he have any idea why the plane was blown up?”

“I don’t have any idea why. Do you?”

“I don’t have any information. I’m only here to ask questions.”

“How do you know what questions to ask if you don’t know anything about the plane crash?”

“Mr. Day, as far as we know the Grumman Gulfstar was brought down over Nicaragua by a ground-based missile shortly after taking off from a refueling stop. The flight plan destination was Logan International Airport. That’s all I was told.”

“Agent, ah,” “Alvarez.” “Agent Alvarez, you can see that my client, Ultradata, has their hands full. The Chief Executive Officer is missing. This company just lost its prime asset, by violent means, for the second time in a year. One of the employees died from the explosion this morning and another was injured. This company is obviously being targeted for some reason. Please do your best to find out who is targeting Ultradata and why.”

“When will the Board be available to talk to us?”

“They haven’t confided that information to me.”

“We can get a court order.”

“I’ll be pleased to receive any court order and notify my client accordingly. Good day!”

Deepak was a bit confused. Didn’t he just have lunch with Jag? How could he be missing? This piling-on of trouble was more than he could bear. Deepak noticed that Jag’s door was closed. He was wheezing, short of breath, dizzy again. He had to lean against the wall for a few minutes.

When he entered the lab it was empty. He was very much alone. He vowed to get Aura’s dress dummy back from Andorra. He remembered he had saved a nice green sari for her. But first he had to get the strength to build her another SHARPIE.

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