David Louis Edelman
MultiReal
'MultiReal' trade paperback cover

Excerpt: Lessons Learned

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Chapter 8

Jara pledged to waste no more time with Geronimo until the MultiReal exposition was over, at the earliest. There was too much to do. But she might as well have spent the next morning dabbling on the Sigh, for all she accomplished.

She began the day arguing with Merri over details of the MultiReal exposition. They agreed to have the lottery winners play soccer instead of baseball, but Merri insisted there should be twenty-three lottery winners instead of twenty-two.

“That’s uneven,” Jara complained. “Somebody’s going to get an extra player.”

“Yes, but think of the symbolism,” said Merri. “One for each member of the Prime Committee. We could even choose one player from each Committee bailiwick.”

Jara summoned a holographic bar chart that displayed the Committee bailiwicks in bright blues and purples. Across the Atlantic, Merri’s window would be showing the same thing. “That means putting a bunch of central government employees on the field,” she protested. Jara pointed to the column labeled MEME COOPERATIVE (3) and set it aglow. “Do you really want three Meme Cooperative officials nosing around backstage at our exposition?”

“That could be part of the gimmick. It’s perfect, Jara! The Congress of L-PRACGs has twelve seats on the Committee, right? And all the other government and business interests put together have eleven. We can bill the game as ‘the people versus the government.'”

“And the extra player?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we can just rotate goalies. We’ll figure something out.”

But Jara was skeptical, and they decided to put off making any decisions until they had spoken with Natch at the afternoon fiefcorp meeting. This sounds like one of his ideas, thought the analyst. He’ll definitely take Merri’s side, and that’s just going to cause trouble.

Frustrated, still itching with unscratchable desire, Jara decided to cut the conversation short and step out of her apartment for a change. Her next-door neighbors blinked in surprise when she passed them in the hallway, having given her up for dead weeks ago.

Jara emerged from the tenement into a glum, drizzly London afternoon. So much for modern technology, she thought. For thousands of years, the British Isles had been under the capricious grip of nature, and London had constantly wallowed in rain. Now, after two centuries of unparalleled technological progress, the weather was determined by the Environmental Control Board, the regional L-PRACGs, and a patchwork of smaller agencies — and still the city wallowed in rain.

The fiefcorp analyst made her way north, where the cobblestone turned to splotchy asphalt. She passed the farmers’ market and the baseball stadium. Twenty minutes later, she found her destination: a small nitro bar nestled among the shops of New Downing. A familiar site, part haven and part hideaway. Jara could practically feel the warm nitro lathering her tongue as she walked in the door.

But as soon as she made it inside, she stopped short. The man standing in her path may have been wearing a loose green caftan instead of a white robe and yellow star, yet there was no mistaking Magan Kai Lee.

*

Jara could feel her animal instincts kick in. She made a quick pirouette, looking for the glint of Council dartguns, but all she could see was the quotidian assortment of nitro junkies and chintz-patterned sofas.

Jara had watched the video of Magan’s failed raid on Natch’s apartment at least a dozen times. She had gotten used to seeing him as a startled animal buffeted by a hailstorm of drudge questions. But now, standing in the nitro bar, the lieutenant executive was serene and confident, like a man who was either armed to the teeth or twice as large as everyone else in the room. But Magan bore no weapon that Jara could see, and even she topped his slight frame by a few centimeters.

“Towards Perfection, Jara,” said Magan.

The analyst scowled. “What the fuck do you want?”

“Just to talk,” said the lieutenant, sweeping one hand towards the side door with a magnanimous gesture.

Jara regarded the doorway with suspicion. “Talk,” she said. “Right. How do I know you’re not going to plug me with black code out there?”

The corners of Magan’s lips rose a millimeter or two. A smile. “Surely if I can plug you with black code out there,” he said, “I could do it in here just as easily.”

Jara sighed, acknowledging the point. She had a passing familiarity with the waitstaff here, but she couldn’t imagine any of them sticking their necks out for her. The initial shock of seeing Magan was wearing off, and she knew she needed to get out of there, fast. Run, you fool, she told herself. Contact your L-PRACG security. Send a ConfidentialWhisper to Natch. Go.

But she did none of these things. Instead, she followed Magan out the side door.

There was no sudden barrage of black code darts, no ambush, nothing but the London drizzle. Jara exhaled in relief as Magan Kai Lee led her around the back of the building to a partially roofed courtyard decked with wrought-iron tables and chairs. The analyst had spent many weary afternoons out here nursing a chai or nitro with her loose circle of friends. But now, whether because of the rain or the Defense and Wellness Council, the courtyard was empty. Magan took a seat at an unassuming table set with a pair of steaming nitro mugs. Jara followed suit.

“All right, so here we are,” said the analyst. “Now what do you want?”

“I want to introduce you to some people,” said Magan simply.

“What people?”

“The people who have been following Natch around and scouring your fiefcorp’s records.”

Jara could feel her shoulder blades clench and her jaw tighten, the primitive reflexes of fear and flight. She quickly activated a pair of bio/logic programs to soothe her nerves as a line of Defense and Wellness Council officers marched into the courtyard from the alleyway. There were thirteen in all, each bearing a demeanor that could only be described as nonchalant.

“Allow me to introduce you to Commanders Papizon and Ridgello,” said Magan. He indicated a tall flamingo of a man whose eyes did not quite line up, and a hulking blond mercenary who might even be a match for Quell in hand-to-hand combat. “Papizon and Ridgello are in charge of the security detail that has been following Natch’s every move for the past forty-eight hours.”

Papizon bowed awkwardly in Jara’s direction, as if performing the act for the first time. Ridgello made an obscure gesture with one hand, causing seven more phantoms to step out of the shadows. Two or three looked vaguely familiar, faces Jara had seen in passing in Shenandoah and not given a second thought. Ridgello waited for her to get a good, long look. Then he signaled again, and the spooks melted back into the mist.

Jara reached somewhere deep inside herself for a bravado she did not feel. She tilted her head at the remaining Council officers. “So I guess these idiots must be the ones scouring the fiefcorp records,” she said.

A lithe woman with dark mahogany skin stepped forward in response and gave a perfunctory bow. “You might recognize the woman I have put in charge of this team,” said Lieutenant Executive Lee.

Jara let out a gasp before she could stop herself. “The Blade.”

“See, Magan, she does follow the Council drudge gossip,” said Rey Gonerev, seeming well pleased. Her voice was a wasp’s sting. “It’s an honor to finally meet you, Jara. I’ve read so much about you in the Council files that I feel like I know you… intimately.” The slant on the word was unmistakable.

Jara felt a flush rising from her toes and diffusing across her entire body. She had heard rumors about sketchy channels on the Sigh selling customer data, but never quite believed them. How much did the Council know? And how much had they seen? There was nothing illegal about her frolics with Geronimo, of course, but the fact that someone might actually know about them felt as intrusive as any molestation.

Magan made a disdainful frown, clearly signaling to the Blade that she had crossed the line. Whether he was genuinely irritated, or if this was just part of their good cop/bad cop routine, Jara couldn’t tell.

Rey Gonerev was just getting started. She marched up and down the row of Council officers, introducing each in turn. More than one seemed to be quivering slightly at the Blade’s presence, or Magan’s, or both. “Clarissa here has been itemizing every Vault credit Natch has spent over the last ten years,” said Gonerev. “Refaru Gil Motivan is collecting every word he’s ever spoken in public and every scrap of text he’s ever posted on the Data Sea. William Teg has been keeping tabs on Serr Vigal, while Larakolia is in charge of analyzing your company’s programs…”

The flush in Jara’s skin quickly turned to nausea. Police intimidation: it was a ritual as old as time, invented by the ancients with their primitive firearms and consecrated in a million crime dramas ever since. Jara felt like she could recite every line before it was uttered, but the familiarity did not stop her knees from shaking.

She didn’t even hear what nefarious deeds the last few were up to. “Why are you showing me this?” she said quietly when the Council solicitor had finished her little presentation. “Am I supposed to be scared that you’re following Natch around? Don’t you think he already knows that?”

Magan gave the row of officers an almost imperceptible nod. One by one, the team disintegrated into the multivoid until just four members of the Council remained — Papizon, Ridgello, Rey Gonerev, and Magan Kai Lee.

“I’m showing you this to deliver a message,” said Magan. His demeanor was almost polite, his hands folded on the table like an ordinary plebeian at teatime. “MultiReal is the Defense and Wellness Council’s top priority. As long as Natch refuses to cooperate with us, the Surina/Natch MultiReal Fiefcorp is my top priority.”

“I don’t understand why you’re hassling us,” Jara said, pinching her temples in an effort to stanch the ache. “You want access to MultiReal? Go talk to Frederic and Petrucio Patel. I’m sure they’d be happy to sell you all the access you need.”

Magan shook his head. “You know that the Patel Brothers are only licensees, Jara. Limited access. I suppose we could learn a lot from someone with master engineering privileges, like your friend Horvil. But what good would that do when Natch could lock us out of the program without notice? No, I’m afraid only Natch and Margaret Surina can give us what we need.”

“Listen, I don’t know who you think you’re dealing with, but Natch is more than capable of st–”

“No,” said Magan, cutting her off without raising his voice. “Don’t be naive. Your fiefcorp master is canny and resourceful — I’ll give him that. He caught us off guard the other day. But there are only seven of you. The Defense and Wellness Council has millions of officers at our beck and call. We have unlimited resources. We will bury Natch.

“And those foolish enough to stand with him,” added Gonerev. Unlike Magan, she appeared to be enjoying herself.

Again the slight disapproving grimace from the lieutenant executive. “Len Borda’s agents are tailing Natch day and night,” he said. “We are exploring every transaction your fiefcorp has ever done, every piece of code you’ve ever launched onto the Data Sea. This MultiReal exposition you are so diligently preparing for will not happen.”

The analyst slouched down in her chair, wishing she could slip between the cracks and disappear unnoticed. After everything Magan had revealed, why should it be a surprise that the Council knew about the MultiReal exposition? But it hadn’t even been twenty-four hours since Natch came up with the idea, and as far as Jara knew, nobody had said a word about it to anyone outside the fiefcorp yet.

Jara looked to the steaming mugs on the table for relief. The drizzle had found its way under the awning to the side of her face, but it hadn’t done much damage to the nitro yet. She reached for the closer mug and took a quick gulp, hoping that her beverage wasn’t poisoned. They ordered my nitro just the way I like it, Jara thought with a shudder. Extra dark, extra bitters.

The Blade came close and crouched down until she was almost whispering in Jara’s ear. Jara could have gotten lost in those long braids of ebony hair. “You don’t think Natch is the only one Papizon and Ridgello are following, do you?” said Gonerev.

Commander Papizon merely stood there, squinting at the rain. Ridgello might have been a carven effigy.

She knew from watching the dramas that this was the point when she was supposed to crack. But somehow the thought of Council goons tailing her on the street helped Jara rally her courage. “This little act of yours is getting old,” snapped the analyst. “If you were really so confident you could bury Natch, you wouldn’t be sitting here playing these little games. You’d just go ahead and do it.”

Again the insignificant raising of the lips on Magan’s face. “And if you were so confident in Natch, you wouldn’t be sitting here listening to us.”

Jara said nothing. Rey Gonerev retreated to stand beside Papizon, her task done.

Magan rose from his seat and turned in profile to face the advancing clouds. Jara knew that even a lieutenant executive of the Defense and Wellness Council was not exempt from the dictates of the weather, but he seemed strangely untouched by the rain.

“What do you want from me?” asked Jara.

“I’ve studied your record very carefully,” said the Council lieutenant. “I’ve seen the people you’ve worked for over the years; I’ve seen the quality and integrity of your work. You can’t possibly be pleased with the direction Natch is steering this fiefcorp. Dirty tricks, sabotage, rumor, innuendo — this isn’t you, Jara. I know what you really want: you want out of this miserable apprenticeship. You want to wipe the slate clean and strike out on your own.

“The Defense and Wellness Council can give you this.

“Do we want something from you in return? Of course. We want your cooperation. The more cooperation we get from you, the fewer public resources we have to waste, the quicker we can move on, and the easier it will be for Natch.”

Magan turned and focused the full intensity of his glare on the fiefcorp analyst. It was not an unkind look, but rather a look full of hidden trapdoors and secret caches of information. In many ways, Lieutenant Executive Lee was Natch’s antithesis: a man of hyper-rationality, a man who scrupulously choreographed everything that happened in his presence.

“Jara, I can compensate you for any shares you lose. Not only that, but I can set you up with your own company. A proper company, one run in accordance with the laws of the Meme Cooperative. A company that can earn the number one slot on Primo’s honestly, through hard work.

“Natch won’t survive this, Jara. You can’t change that. What you can change is whether you go down with him.”

With that, Lieutenant Executive Magan Kai Lee gave a bow and strode off into the fog. He seemed small enough to be swept away by the rainstorm. Rey Gonerev, Ridgello, and Papizon followed seconds later, leaving Jara sitting alone in the courtyard with a mug of tepid nitro. It was only after several minutes of doleful reflection that Jara realized Magan had not actually asked her to do… anything.

*

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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