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a short story by Alison Sinclair

"I think I've got an assassin," Glad greeted me when I arrived at the precinct that Wednesday morning. I was tempted to say not before it got me, but I didn't.

Glad was pleased with herself: The mood beads in her crinkled black hair pulsed yellow and green. I leaned over her shoulder and murmured, "Is that avaricious yellow, I see." She gave me her wide-mouthed grin. The beads sparkled with the swirling blue and white of amusement overlaid with friendship, overlaid with a shimmer of lust.

"Keep your mind on your work, and off your layover," I advised.

"Shit," said Glad, and reached up beneath her hair and popped the connection between sensors and microprocessor. The beads faded to dull lilac but her blush glowed. I pretended not to notice. "What have you got?"

What she had was a stub of code with enough path info to tell her which neuronode was being addressed. "Moodnode," she said.


"A PC."

"Bootleg," I said. "Downloaded from one of the Joynets. Let their security handle it."

"Coroner's office sent it over," Glad said quietly. "Woman took a header off a balcony. Not much left of her headware, so they checked out her PC. Last week it'd have been suicide; this week they've got cadets--"

"Don't remind me." One of ours had locked up our system twice already.

"And some bright pixel thought this was suspicious. Strangely enough he's right. This wasn't chewed up by the user's endonucleases; ends aren't right."

"I take your word for it."

She sighed profoundly. One of the things I like about Glad is she doesn't rely on beads to communicate for her.

"This isn't any one of the user's--she had nine."

"Nine ... paranoia rules."

"Even paranoids have enemies ... And it isn't a Thrillnet one; I've got the system checking the other nets she accessed--she was heavily into it, FantasyNets, ThrillNets, JoyNets, LoveNets--those I can get any info on. We've got to do something about those bastards."

"They won't admit their security isn't perfect. Lose customer confidence."

"On the ThrillNets? They're not into safety; I'd be hard put to tell the difference between a virus and some legit ThrillWare."

Ouch, I thought. "I still don't see why you think it's an assassin and not just an odd bit of bootleg code."

"Because--" then she sighed. "Just a gut feeling. One, it's addressed to the mood circuits. Two, it isn't the fragment you'd expect for a legit program chewed up by the perscom programs or the nets. Three, it's off a suicide. I've sent out for records from other suicides--"

"Kiss off your social life for the next century."

"Give me some credit, Mouse. I'm looking for unexplained suicides of people with active mood inplants."

"You think such a creature exists. People don't go for mood mod and synthesis because they're happy with their lives and want to get happier--" No, I thought, let's leave that. "So what you think is that the assassin fed our lady a downer, and she jumped."

"Or upper. Send the correct set of overrides to a mood implant, and bang, instant florid schizophrenia. She may have thought she was a bird. Or the room was on fire. Or God was telling her she was an angel.... Whatever."

"I'm surprised," I said, after a moment, "you found it."

"So am I. Somebody's been careless, or there was some inhibitor in this PC's system."

"Well, live right and maybe the dAIty'll smile on you."

Glad and I lunched in The Caverns, the developer's answer to city-center space limitation, five levels, going down. We patronize a salad joint called Charon's on the Styx--wonderful soup, don't ask where they grow the greens. Over salad and soup we talked about life, the universe, men and everything. Glad had met someone new; or someone else, anyway. Everything she said fitted a pattern; it wasn't going to last. Glad knew how to pick them for a short good time and no lasting regrets. I envied her. My layover, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, had been one long argument, latest installment of an even longer argument. Errel had become convinced he was missing out, careerwise, relationshipwise--he wanted to have input nodes implanted, mood and memory nodes. Fine; it was his brain and his bank account. But he wanted me along. He talked about our relationship; I talked about my work. I knew I wasn't telling him the truth and I had the feeling he wasn't telling me everything, so it went round and round.

"The latest," I told Glad, "is that now he's started talking about changing his name back to Joshua, and going home for a visit." I pushed a slice of tomato to the side of the plate: the blacklighting in Charon's on the Styx picked up a faintly iridescent, unhealthy sheen on its skin. Probably badly washed. Glad's eyes and teeth flashed purple-white.

"Home as in West."

"That's right. Talks about his parents getting older. Mellowing. I bit my tongue. Nothing he's ever said to me suggested they'd be the type to mellow. The only way he'd get back--or half way back--would be by casting himself as cautionary parable for the rest of his life."

"What about the girl he was supposed to have married?"

"Happily married, he understands. The innocent wonders how she can have any grudge."

Glad nodded understanding. Sarah was the girl Errel who was Joshua was to have married, at the age of seventeen, until he glimpsed before him a life like his father's and grandfather's and great-grandfather's ... fifty, sixty, seventy years in a time-slipped enclave, punishing, denying, mortifying his curiosity. But even that he could have endured, he said, if he had not also seen himself in twelve years time laying righteous punishment on the back of a daughter or son into whom he had bred that curiosity. And so he had left a letter to his intended bride in the roadside postbox, amongst the letters of congratulation and best wishes, walked sixteen miles to the nearest monorail station, and with some of the money that should have started their married life, bought a one way rail ticket to the nearest city large enough to lose himself in.

If she were happy now, I thought, she might forgive the marriage that had not happened, but what she would not forgive, I was sure, was what had happened, the humiliation, the weeks of hearing the story being told in whispers just out of her hearing.

"Hell hath no fury," Glad commented, sharing my thought. "That doesn't go with his itch to be wired. What's brought this on?"

"I wish I knew. He says it's got to do with work, but farmer's advocacy he can do as well unwired as wired, and the people he's doing it for trust him more for it. He's said it himself."

"Got his eye on another job?"

"Not that I know."

"Do you think he'd stay out West?"

"Not under their conditions."

"Yeah, I know how he feels," Glad said. "I mean, Naturalists aren't as fanatical as some of the religious sects, but I'm always aware of having to screen everything just before I say it. And still I resent them a little for the fantasy world they live in, their choice, and giving me none--I mean, even my name, for Christ's sake. Galadriel." She sighs. "All the accommodation seems to have to be on my side. But I wouldn't be without them. I know how he feels."

I, I thought, do not. But perhaps that is because all the emotion in me designated for parents is directed towards, concentrated on, the suddenly frail, suddenly old man in a ward at Beth Israel. "Are we going to see D'Inde tonight?"

"Of course. It's Wednesday."

I arrived home later than usual, and found Errel lighting up the inside of the hall with anger and impatience. I hadn't seen this particular headdress before; it looked spiky and mildly barbaric.

I said, "Before you start, this is Wednesday, and on Wednesdays I go and visit the Old Man when I get done."

"You couldn't bring yourself to make an exception just this once. I did ask."

"And I said no," I said, and pushed past him, into our bedroom.

"Particularly not for my friends," he said, following. "You've made it abundantly clear you weren't interested in going."

With me and you and a bed for two, the air was getting squashed. "Errel, just let me get dressed."

"You call that dressed," as I lifted down my thermocolour pantsuit from its bin.

"Yes, I call it dressed." I laid it down, and sat beside it on the bed. I was not going to strip with him in the room in this mood; it felt too much like nakedness. "Maybe it's not chic amongst the banking set, but I'm not amongst the banking set; I'm just your arm accessory for the evening."

"Les," he changed tack, "Lester, just do it for me. Wear your lights."

"I do not feel like wearing my lights in a roomful of strangers. Particularly after this afternoon."

"The Old Man?"

That 'Old Man' made me set my teeth. One of the reasons we had come to be in this room together was Errel had always had exquisite judgment in the taking of liberties. Lately, though, his judgment seemed to have coarsened. Or maybe I was just oversensitive; even his squad used to call D'Inde The Old Man.

The problem was, then it hadn't been a joke, and now it wasn't.

I put a hand down on my pantsuit leg, and watched an aura of blue grow around it, as my body heat reached it.

"Every time I go there I have to hold back from hitting the therapist who burbles on about how much they've been able to do for him. All I can think about is the D'Inde I knew wouldn't have let them wire up his brain."

The blue developed a slight tinge of green around my fingers and palm.

"He'd have preferred to have been a vegetable? Or dead?"

"How should I know?" People who picked up that I wasn't thrilled at the miracles of modern medical technology kept asking me that. I didn't have an answer. The only person who could answer that was a man who no longer was. The green became a distinct band, within the blue.

"One of the worst things about it all," I heard myself say, "is purely selfish. That man knew things about me that aren't even on record, that don't even exist in any form other than in my memory and in his. Now that's gone, because they can only give him back what's on record. I feel as though part of me has vanished along with part of him."

Like the person I used to be, before I became Lester.

"Well," Errel said, sliding his hand down my shoulder, "maybe some day you'll want to tell someone else these things."

I did not know whether to let myself melt or be furious; to avoid the decision, I stood up and returned the thermosuit to its bin and pulled down a plain black catsuit and mood-bead veil, small but pricy, because of the EEG circuitry. I saw Errel's smile framed by indigo. "You are down," he said, softly.

"I told you I was," I said, unable to prevent myself from stressing told.

"No, don't take them off," he said. "I want to apologise, and I'd like to see--if it takes."

"We used to be able to do that without light-effects."

"We thought we did," he said. "I've had the feeling that maybe we were--maybe we didn't understand each other as well as we thought."

I kept my eyes on his face, not on the slivers of yellow crowning his head.

"What do you mean?"

"Les, I've always wanted to know what I missed; I thought you understood that."

"I get 'planted, I go on the Nets, I can't work Virus-squad any more."

"We don't have to go on the Nets."

"You'll want to know what comes next, won't you?" I was distracted by a colour change at my peripheral vision, green changing to yellow, on its way to red, if I were not so--so what? The beads could only indicate simple emotion, and mine were anything but. The yellow fixed, and I watched his eyes shift from one side to the other, waiting for them to change, and then reached up and janked the whole apparatus off. "Now watch my face," I told him. "And listen: I'll tell you what I feel. I'm wondering what happened to the man who moved in with me, because I don't think it has anything to do with proper understandings or not. I'm not standing in the way of your getting yourself implanted, but don't pressure me to follow and make out that our relationship will be nothing if we can't see each others' moods in lights and couple through a computer. I think it's been good between us, and I'd like to keep thinking it's been good, so leave if it's not enough, but don't try and trample my memories on the way out!"

"If it's your work--"

"It's not my work," I said, before I thought better of it, but I'd got so far into the habit of being truthful with this man that I'd only just started not regretting the things I hadn't told him. Fortunately he was not listening.

"Forces in Chicago and LA interface; they've got security circuits nobody could touch. This is a backwater here--but things could change, if people like you stop resisting--"

"People like me."

"D'Inde's people. He's been the fanatic about keeping cops clear of the interface. Now he's gone--I'm sorry, Lester, but he's gone; I know you loved the Old Man--he was your mentor and father figure, but he's gone, and the situation he based his opinion on is history, and when people's opinions are based on history, they just become prejudice."

"Not prejudice," I said, suddenly exhausted. "We're investigating a suicide--possible assassin virus. Something came through the ThrillNets, scrambled this woman's implants, and she took a dive off her balcony. Maybe she's not the only one."

And then I was very glad that my net of beads hung dimly in my hand, for I surely would have responded to what I saw in his. Just for an instant they turned white, under powerful emotion--fear? anger?--and then back to yellow. His face showed nothing; quite possibly he did not know what had happened.

"Who's on it?" he said. "Who picked it up?"

But for that flash I would have told him it was Glad. "Somebody new; a real bright pixel. Jepthe Levin. You'll be hearing about him."

He smiled. "I'd watch your back, then."

Glad called me in to an interview booth on Friday--soundproofed, screened and monitored.

"We've known each other a long time," she began, seeming at a loss. She was beadless; her face was strained, looking down at interlocked hands which pulled against each other. "If it had been anyone else but you, I wouldn't be doing this, but we've worked together and we're friends, and maybe there is another explanation--" She stopped, gathering herself.

"Remember you asked about the assassin and I told you I had nothing; I was lying--" another deep breath, "until I could decide what to do. Then I thought there are two people who could use that node, and if it weren't you, you had to be warned. And then I started checking into your records more closely, and I didn't know what to think--"

"You've left out something I need to know before this makes sense."

She glanced at me again. Finding me too calm, I thought.

"Oh." She said, "Yes--I think I found the thread for the assassin, and traced it back. One of the originating nodes was your home PC."

On actually hearing it, I felt much less surprised, and much sicker than I thought I would. The sickness showing in my face made Glad relax slightly.

"You said 'one'," I said after a while.

"I haven't--I haven't traced the others back yet. I've been distracted. I've been looking into your records."

She paused, significantly, watching me.

I took it straight: "I hope you appreciate art. The Chief and I spent days on those records." She stared. "Try the name Julie Beaumont for the other half of the story. Don't take the date of death as literal."

"How about you tell me?" The cop again.

"I'm probably going to have forgotten details. It's been almost twenty years, and I wasn't in very good shape, then." Glad's face hardened slightly. I didn't care; it might be an excuse for discrepancies between what I told her and what the records showed, but should appreciate what one could do with records from what D'Inde and I had done.

"Julie Beaumont was Juvenile S in the case trials that restricted mood implants into juveniles; you'll remember that case."

She nodded.

"I was Julie Beaumont."

I'd said that more for effect than anything, but immediately saw that Glad had not until that moment realized the connection. She stared at me. "But--" I waited. She threw herself back into her chair and whistled through her teeth. "Now there's something I need to know to make sense of this."

"Alright. Julie Beaumont: fourteen years old, gifted and underprivileged; a troublemaker. School is understaffed and overcrowded, parents overextended with a disabled child needing ongoing therapy. Mood circuits are ideal for cases like this, the psychiatrists say. Quite cost effective, can be monitored through computer. Implants for a couple of years, until the upheavals of adolescence are over. Everything goes swimmingly until Juvenile S meets an older man who logs her onto a ThrillNet." And suddenly I am no longer narrating, but remembering. Remembering him telling me what a lucky girl I was, and here's how to bribe the policeman. Feeling hands tickling the back of my neck where only the doctors' touched before. Feeling the little thud in the skull as the lead went in. And then--There aren't words for it. Pleasure beyond description. I used up most of his allotment for the month, he said, while he simply sat and stared at my face. He'd never seen a human being look so happy. It made him feel strange, he said; made him understand that trying to make someone happy could be more than just an expected gesture with an expected return.

"Nowadays, after the controversy over her case--and others--therapeutic implants are metered; nowadays this couldn't happen, or so they say. Because she was poor and gifted and resentful she had learned how to tap into nets. The thrill of doing, of pitting her skill and intelligence against the minds of the privileged--almost as good as any high from the Nets.

"But her understanding of neurochemistry was nil. She did not appreciate feedback mechanisms, that overstimulated circuits become less sensitive, understimulated ones more so. Classic addiction, complete with withdrawal. She needs the nets to live. But depression impairs performance, impairs her ability to break in. One day after six hours of nothing, she cuts open her wrists instead."

Glad was watching me silently, appalled. And I realized that if it were anyone else's story, my rendition would be appalling. The last part of the story, the part nobody knew, I told in my own voice: "There was a man there while I was recovering. I thought he was a psychiatrist and told him to go to Hell and I'd see him there. But he wasn't; he was a policeman. I asked if he was going to arrest me, and he said, probably not. He put me in my place by telling me bedtime stories about larceny, extortion, murder, terrorism; the great crime syndicates and families--Until the medics put a stop to it. I'll give those medics this much, they tidied up my neurochemistry nicely. It didn't hurt of course that after all the publicity there was all kinds of money suddenly available to pay for a prolonged course of pharmotherapy. Of course they didn't want their lovely work spoiled by some policeman who wasn't going to charge me but kept coming back. So one day he didn't come and I went home all ready for a fresh start, to get out of my grim surroundings the dull, honest way. Then I started going for college interviews. Getting asked when I was planning on implants... Being told: about curricula are being upgraded to utilize the ability to interface with databanks, about most professional jobs requiring basic implants, about loan schemes available as part of the total educational loan package ... money need be no object. I'd smile at that; it was the only thing I could find to smile at. You'll know."

"I know," Glad said, quietly, eyes on my face.

"No reputable surgeon would touch me, with my history; back then there was better than even chance I'd reject. Their faces'd change, and they'd say, very sorry, but--" Glad nodded. "I started small--hacking into college systems and making a minor nuisance of myself. Say dropping the first digit from file identifiers at random ... I'd make a round of public terminals--those tenner-fed ones they used to have--so I couldn't be traced. Then after a particularly degrading interview I turned an endocodase loose in that system."

Glad whistled.

"Next day I had a summons from D'Inde. I went along through sheer bravado and a determination to spit in somebody's face for the last time. By the time I left he'd offered me a job. He could see the interface virus problem arising--criminal and terrorist attacks directly through interfaces, and wanted to set up a unit of people who would be immune--because they weren't interfaced; keyboard and mouse people. I had the talent, and I was implant-proof. Problem was there was no way someone with my history would be approved with central. Julie Beaumont had to go."

Glad said, "He took a big chance on you."

"Oh," I said, "Not really. He was a better psychologist than any of the professionals. He knew what I needed, and made sure I got it until I grew up enough not to need it."

"Les, with that history--"

"Surely you can't believe I would be so clumsy as to use my home terminal--or, after all these years, start taking out Netters?"

"I could think of two reasons. The Boss and Errel."

I took a deep breath, slowly realizing that my candor had, if anything, cost me.

"What's happened to the Boss, or Errel putting pressure on me to be implanted driving me off the deep end, you mean?"

"Yes," Glad said simply.

"How wonderful it is to have friends who have faith in you," I said, dryly. "Glad, I know something you don't know. I know I didn't do it. And I do not believe Errel would."

"Look, Glad, he's sharing the spot for suspect number one, for the same reason. He was brought up as a fundamentalist--"

"Which he rejected--"


"But hasn't he spoken about going back recently?"

"I don't remember telling you that," I returned, very sharply, though I did; I wanted to see how she'd react to a direct challenge. She paused, looked at me, and said, "Lunch, last week."

"Yes," I said, "I did. But I don't see how that pertains. For one thing, Errel's people aren't murderous. Their main concern is to save the souls of our own; as far as they're concerned, God will deal with the rest of us in his own sweet time."

"Has anyone else used your PC?"

I returned stare for stare.


"And threads are unique to their machine of origin."

I didn't answer.

"So it's either you or Errel."

"Yes," I said, "Yes, alright, I'll accept that. Either Errel or I loaded it. Knowingly or unknowingly."

"Unknowingly--you? Since when was your hygiene that bad?"

"Look," I said. "You're showing a dangerous bias."

"What should I have done? Reported you and had you investigated?"

"By the book, yes. Just--take precautions, Glad. I'm not admitting anything, but don't tell me about them."

She raised both eyebrows, but didn't say anything, so it was up to me to spell it out. "Either I'm responsible, and you will have to contend with me, or I'm not, and if I look into it--as surely you know I will--and I find trouble, that trouble could find its way back to you."

She sorted through all the implications of that. "How long do I give you?"

"Don't tell me that, either."

"Anything I can do to help?"


When the brass called me over for an in-person meeting that afternoon to confirm office rumours that I was being touted for D'Inde's job, I responded with a giggle of suppressed hysteria, which I hope they ascribed to surprise and delight. I did not go back to the squad office afterwards, but walked over to the Beth Israel to look in on D'Inde alone. He hadn't been doing well; I knew from the hospital record I'd hacked into that they had had to implant a pacemaker to control an arrhythmia, so that along with his brain, his heart was hooked up to the hospital mainframe. I sat down beside his bed, met his silent eyes, which always looked to me like burned almonds. I was almost used to his shrunken appearance, and the ash overlay on his brown skin, but I still couldn't stand the lost expression in those eyes. I didn't look at him as I talked. I told him about Glad's virus, about its origin, about my knowledge that I had not done it, and about what that meant. I told him it looked like the man I had loved for six years--wanting to go home and knowing it was impossible--had begun to kill. Thinking perhaps that he was buying back his innocence, buying his acceptance. I told him that Errel who had been Joshua might have gone mad with his irreconcilable worlds. I told D'Inde I understood how that could happen, and asked him if there was something I did not know, something that could be blinding me. It was like talking to a statue. Except when, at the end, I looked up. Statues do not cry. I knew then what I was going to do.

Searching your own apartment is not easy--you know all the myriad nooks and cubbyholes where things may be hidden--least of all if you do not want to leave a mess that screams: I've been searched! I might as well not have bothered. I picked a lock on the bottom drawer in Errel's desk in our joint 'study'--a cop and a farmer's advocate don't make enough for a three bedroom--pulled it open, and saw a dot of light flash off my thumb as I reached in for the single disc I found there. The high tech equivalent of the old strand of hair. I had until Errel came home, no longer.

I isolated our PC from the nets, took the hard drives off line and loaded the disc. The first thing that came up was a pair of lips, suggestively vertical, outlined in red. It was the last thing I expected. The lips swung round to horizontal, puckered, and in the pucker six silver dots appeared. Password needed--it figured. If I played around with it I might erase the disc; I'd wait for Errel. I considered going on with the search, but I had the feeling that if this were not what I wanted, it could be used as a lever to give me what I wanted. I set the disc aside and reconnected the hard drives, and started working on the other part of my plan.

Errel had the grace to come home late--about twelve thirty. I'd just finished putting on the finishing touches when the intercom buzzed, and I had time to shut down the system and settle down in the living room with the disc on my lap and my gun down between the cushions when he opened the door. The gun down the side of the cushions was the easy part of my set up. But Errel, raised under the eye of an omniscient and unforgiving God, and scarcely less omniscient and unforgiving elders, took one look at the disc as I held it up, and I didn't need mood beads to see shock, guilt and dismay written all over him.

For the second time that day, I almost cried.

"Why?" I said.

"I don't know," he told me, shaking his head very slowly, dazedly. "It's not as though--I haven't been happy with you, and please believe me, Les, I wouldn't endanger what we had. But--" he blinked, "The only thing that comes to me is right out of the Bible--'She tempted me and I did eat.' Which I know you won't let me off with, and I shouldn't be let off with either. She's beautiful and careless and exciting, and I didn't have--I didn't have the sense to refuse her--even if--even if she hadn't made promises about the help she could give me and the people I work for. I felt guilty the whole time--for what it's worth."

This made no sense to me; he was not defending himself against the charge I had to level. "What about the rest of it?" I demanded, and when he started towards me, said, "No! Stay there."

He stopped, looking bewildered and hurt. I kept my hand over the gun.

"The interfaces, you mean," he said. "She was the one. She said--"

"No," I said. "The viruses."


I looked straight at him. "Are you conning me, Errel?"

"I don't know anything about viruses," he said. "I thought you'd--" he gestured towards the disc, "I thought you'd seen what is on that disc."

"What's on that disc?"

"Letters. Messages. Games--we played."

I wanted to believe him. I stood, knowing that if I were wrong, if he were lying to me, I was taking a risk in getting near him. I don't overestimate my physical prowess against a man. I considered taking the gun, but if he were not lying, if it were only an affair and his being used as a dupe, what we had might be salvageable--without the gun. I left it behind, between the sofa cushions, and walked over to give him the disc.

But I wasn't going to back off on the rest of it.

"Load it," I said quietly, "I want to show you something."

He loaded it; the lips came up, tilted, puckered, and he blushed to the roots of his hair. I took note of the six digit code he typed in, and then commented, in as near to a normal voice as I could muster, "At least it was only outline red. Solid red would have been too tacky."

I wasn't sure I would find what I had been looking for. If I'd written those viruses at leisure I'd have been certain that once sent off, the code would be overwritten. But then I'd have been sure than nothing survived at the other end. Once we were in I initiated a search for a fragment homologous to the one Glad had identified from the suicide. Errel said only, "What are you doing?"

"I'm looking for a bit of code."

Otherwise we did not talk. After three point two four one of the longest minutes of my life, a match flashed up.

"Amateurs," I said.

"What is it?"

"A killer virus," I said. "You've been used by your beautiful, careless, exciting lady as a carrier of a virus that's killed at least one person and possibly more. Have you got any more of these discs?"

"No," he said, numbly. "I--she liked us to pass that one back and forth."

"Figures," I said. "We'll go down to the station. We'll need names, etc. Then once you're cleared," I couldn't bring myself to say 'if you're cleared', "probably you should take a holiday somewhere. Quiet. Until we've got them. You're about to become an informer."

He did not say anything, made no protest, merely got up and took his coat from the back of the chair where he'd put it. I kicked out the disc and handed it to him, and we went down to the station.

While we were at the station, with Glad, the call came through from the Hospital. D'Inde had just died: a malfunction of his pacemaker, coupled to a temporary breakdown in monitoring equipment. I took care not to be the first to say it was for the best.

I put Errel on a train West a week later, three days after The Old Man's funeral, and walked back from North Station above ground, hands deep in pockets, breath like a cold scarf wrapping itself around my neck. The snow creaked underneath my boots; it was the coldest February on record. I wondered what would happen now. We had Errel's exciting lady, but she wasn't cooperating; we were in for a spring of long, hard slog. We had three confirmed, five possible victims, and the inklings of something like a motive, from what we'd gleaned from vice and finance about the goings on in the financial sector, and the loves, hates and rivalries above those high livers. The killings were not random.

I'd never accounted for the flash of white I saw in Errel's beads when I told him about the virus. Could have been an intuition, a sense of unease he would not admit to himself about his lady's morals; but I would prefer to believe it was simple fright at the thought of how close he'd come to getting on those nets, coupled to guilt at the agent of his persuasion. Somehow the finer degrees of his innocence no longer mattered to me. I wondered what he would find when he reached 'home'; I wondered if he would ever be back, or if I'd be here when I came back.

I'd done my best to cover myself, but I hadn't had much time, only nine hours between seeing D'Inde on that Friday afternoon and making my decision, and Errel coming home and putting in that disc on Friday night. I'd kept the code as simple as I could, just the routing and insertion information, and set transmission to coincide with the assassin disk being activated, but I'd had to create two viruses and autodigest instructions in nine hours--and I was out of practice. There was an investigation at the hospital, but large institutions are always hyperaware of adverse publicity, so it had been strictly internal. Their people are not nearly as sharp as D'Inde's--now mine--as Glad, for instance. Sometimes I wonder at the way Glad looks at me, but I may be imagining it, and she hasn't said anything.

I do a lot of wondering, but I regret nothing.

© Alison Sinclair 1991, 1998

This story first appeared in BBR, Summer 1991.

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