David Louis Edelman
MultiReal
'MultiReal' trade paperback cover

Excerpt: Lessons Learned

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Chapter 5

On the way back to the hoverbird docks, Magan took a detour to see the statue of Tul Jabbor. The atrium where the statue resided was the one place in DWCR whose location never changed. The statue itself was a small-scale replica of the one standing in the center of the eponymously named Tul Jabbor Complex in Melbourne. A thick man with mahogany skin atop a tall pillar. No matter where you stood, some holographic trick caused Jabbor’s gaze to always meet you head-on — and left you constantly standing in his shadow. As unsubtle an architectural metaphor as Magan had ever seen.

The founding father of the Defense and Wellness Council needed no caption, but bold block letters at his feet did pose a question.

DO YOU ACT IN JUSTICE?

The locution had always seemed peculiar to Magan. Acting in justice, not for or with justice. As if justice were merely a vehicle you might ride to a particular destination, and the terrain you trammeled to get there was nothing more than dirt under your wheels.

Certainly Tul Jabbor had treated justice that way. He had dramatically expanded the Council’s power by going after erstwhile supporters like the OCHRE Corporation; some even suspected he had signed Henry Osterman’s death warrant. Then again, Jabbor had come to power in a world without precedents, a world simultaneously drunk with the possibilities of bio/logics and desperate to avoid repeating the horrors of the Autonomous Revolt.

But Len Borda? Borda had two hundred years of Council history to guide him, with every manner of high executive from Par Padron the Just to Zetarysis the Mad as object lessons. He should have known better. Instead, Borda was ever willing to sacrifice principle for pragmatism, ever ready to steer justice down the muddy, unpaved path.

And you? the lieutenant executive asked himself, kneeling in silence before the statue of Tul Jabbor. Are you forcing Borda to step down because he’s made a mockery of Par Padron’s ideals? Or are you just afraid to wake up at the bottom of a river?

Magan Kai Lee was a man of reason and principle, or so he told himself. He had been drawn to the Defense and Wellness Council by its discipline, its rigidity, and its stability when compared to the life of the diss — or so he told himself. Now, after watching Len Borda use the Council as a blunt instrument of self-preservation for years, Magan was contemplating the ultimate move against the very discipline, rigidity, and stability that had brought him here in the first place. And that contradiction sat in his mind like a poisonous flower with ever-expanding roots.

But Magan couldn’t allow Len Borda to repeat the mistakes he had made with Marcus Surina, could he? Wasn’t there a higher principle at work here that needed defending?

Do you act in justice?

*

Papizon and Rey Gonerev caught up to him in the hallway, no simple feat in an orbital fortress whose constantly shifting corridors rendered geography meaningless.

“We spotted Natch an hour ago,” said Papizon as he moved into step behind Magan like a hoverbird merging into traffic. “He’s on a tube train, headed north out of Cisco.”

The lieutenant executive ground his teeth together. “And you didn’t think to look there before we raided his apartment?”

Papizon shook his head. He was immune to criticism. In fact, he seemed to have been inoculated against most forms of human expression altogether. Sometimes Magan wondered if Papizon was really some sublevel engineer’s attempt to circumvent the harsh AI bans in place since the Autonomous Revolt. If so, one couldn’t have picked a more peculiar vessel: lanky, storkish, brown eyes not quite symmetrical and permanently half-lidded.

Rey stepped up to Papizon’s defense. “We did check there, Magan,” she said. “We swept half the tube trains in the Americas yesterday. Natch was definitely not on that tube line.”

Magan gave the Blade an appraising look. She had pointedly not fallen half a step behind him like Papizon, but walked at his side like an equal. A message meant not so much for him as for the other Council officers in the hallway. The ones she would be jousting with someday when it was Magan’s turn to step down from the high executive’s seat.

Papizon: “So are we going to try to pick him up again?”

“No,” said Magan, shaking his head. “Just keep an eye on him for now — and make sure he knows we’re doing it. Make his life unpleasant.”

“Unpleasant,” his subordinate echoed with a nod, then slipped down a side corridor and disappeared. Making Someone’s Life Unpleasant had been honed to a science at the Defense and Wellness Council, and Papizon was a true authority on the subject. Unpleasantness meant snooping programs that left clear traces of their presence. It meant ghostly figures that followed you on the periphery of your vision. It meant a few unexplained transactions in your Vault account, too small to be of consequence yet too large to go unnoticed.

“And me?” said the Blade.

“You,” replied Magan, “will be planning the main attack on this fiefcorp master. I don’t care how much you spend — you have the coffers of the Defense and Wellness Council at your disposal. We need unprecedented coordination. Propaganda, logistics, regulatory, personnel, finance. This man has weaknesses, Rey. I want to know what they are, and I want your plan for exploiting them.”

Gonerev nodded sagely with the look of someone taking notes in her mental log. “What about Margaret Surina?”

“Let her rot in her tower for now.”

“And our time frame?”

“Two and a half weeks. MultiReal must be in our hands when the new year’s budget goes into effect.”

The Blade didn’t blanch at the urgent timetable; if anything, she seemed to relish the challenge. Magan thought briefly about the day when he would find himself with Rey Gonerev’s dartgun pressed into the back of his neck. That day would surely come, but it was still decades in the future. Would he go quietly? Or would he cling to power far beyond his time, resisting oblivion with every last breath in his body, like Len Borda? And if he resisted, how far would she be prepared to go to take him down?

*

Excerpted from “MultiReal” by David Louis Edelman. Copyright © 2008 by David Louis Edelman. Reprinted by permission of Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Excerpt licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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