He Was Looking at a Picture of Himself

Excerpt from the novel Infiltrator icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Infiltrator" book cover. [Formatted]

Dieter poured himself a brandy, then decided to check his messages before turning in.
     Jeff had finally gotten back to him with a simple message that read: “Get back to me. RIGHT NOW!”
     So he called, knowing it was brutally early in Vienna. It’s brutally late here. And I’m not sure what I want to hear.
     “Ja,” a sleep-muffled voice said.
     “Jeff, it’s me, Dieter. I just got your message. I’m sorry to call so early, but you said—”
     “No, no, it’s all right. Just a moment, I’m changing phones.”
     Dieter heard him speaking to his wife, asking her to hang up when he got on the other phone.
     “Hi,” she said.
     “Hi,” Dieter said. “I’m sorry to wake you up this early.”
     “S’all right,” she said.
     “Okay, honey,” Jeff said, “you can hang up now.”
     “G’night,” she said, and hung up.
     “What was so important?” Dieter asked his friend.
     “You’ve got to see this. Have you got your computer on?” Jeff asked.
     “This will probably take forever to transmit, but I think I may know who that woman is,” Jeff told him, his voice excited. “If I’m right then you, my friend, may be in line for a huge, and I do mean huge, reward. Is it coming up yet?”
     Dieter felt a sudden chill at Jeff’s words. On his screen a grainy picture was coming up; with every line that was transmitted he felt a little sicker. You couldn’t tell anything yet, only about a fifth of the frame was filled.
     “It is taking forever, can’t you tell me what this is about?” he asked impatiently.
     “Check your fax machine, Jeff said. “I sent some stuff over earlier. But this other thing you have to see to believe.”
     With a sigh Dieter put down the phone and went over to the fax machine. He picked a few sheets of paper out of the hopper and brought them back over to his desk. When he viewed them he saw that they were wanted posters. Sarah Connor, it said, an escaped mental patient wanted for the terrorist bombing of a California computer company named Cyberdyne, for kidnapping, and possibly for murder.
     The other was a boy of perhaps ten years, a bold-looking kid with a defiant expression on his young face. He was wanted as a suspect in the murder of his foster parents. John Connor, last seen with his mother Sarah and a mysterious man who was wanted for the murder of seventeen police officers as well as the shooting and wounding of scores of other cops. The picture that was supposed to identify this man was almost black.
     “I’ve got it,” Dieter said. “I can’t make out the picture of the man, though.” Suzanne, he thought, could this be you?
     She seemed so sane, so rational, such a good mother. And John? Could he have been a murderer—at only ten years of age? Dieter frowned. If there was one thing his work had taught him, it was that murderers took many forms. He’d seen any number of children quite capable of killing.
     “That’s what you’ve got to see, Dieter,” Jeff said. “You’re not going to believe this. How’s it coming on your computer?”
     Dieter looked up and his breath froze in his chest. He was looking at a picture of himself. “What the hell is this?” he demanded.
     “This picture was taken by a police surveillance camera the night this guy whacked seventeen police officers. At the time he was gunning for this Sarah Connor. He’d already killed two women with the same name that day. But the next time he was seen he was with Sarah Connor and her son; apparently he helped her to escape the asylum she was in and then he helped them to blow up this company. They kidnapped the head scientist and his family and made him help them do it.”
     “Jeff, that’s me!”
     “No, it’s not. While this guy was blowing away those cops you were working in Amsterdam, helping to break up that arms-smuggling ring—you know, the one that was running Sarin gas? According to the records, while this guy was super busy, you were interviewing Samuel Bloom at headquarters.”
     “It’s an incredible resemblance,” Dieter said, almost to himself. “Even I think it’s me. I mean it’s like a clone or something.”
     “I know,” Jeff said, “wild, huh?” He waited a moment. “What about the woman and the boy? Are they the ones?”
     Dieter looked down at the curled posters. He shook his head. He wanted to know more and the only way he would find out was by getting them to trust him. “No,” he said. “The woman’s resemblance to this Sarah Connor is remarkable, but she’s much too short. Sarah Connor is five-eight, but this woman is maybe five-four, if that. She doesn’t even come up to my collarbone. And the boy has blond curly hair and blue eyes. The man disappeared, you said?”
     “Rumor has it.” Jeff sounded disappointed. “The Connors were tracked as far as Brazil and then apparently fell into the Amazon and got eaten by piranha. But the man was never seen after they entered a steal plant.”
     “That has some unpleasant possibilities,” Dieter mused.
     “Now that you mention it,” Jeff agreed.
     “Perhaps they should have analyzed the last batch of steal to see if there was too much carbon. I’m sorry to have put you to all this trouble for nothing, Jeff. Especially for waking you up at some ungodly hour of the night.”
     “Hey, what are friends for?” Jeff said, dismissing his thanks and apologies both. “If it had worked out we’d both have been a lot richer, eh?”
     “By how much?” Dieter asked, then quickly said, “No! Don’t answer that. I’m just about to go to bed, I don’t want to know.”
     “So why should you sleep when I’m awake?”
     “I’m in a different time zone. Show me some mercy, why don’t you? And when are you and Nancy coming to see me?”
     “How does February sound? I understand it’s sunny and warm there in February.”
     “It is—sunny and warm, that is. All the time. I get up and know excatly what the weather’s going to be like. Come on down, you’ll love it.” Dieter grinned. It would also give him plenty of time to sort things out.
     “Pick me out a steer then and we’ll barbecue him when we get there. Good night, buddy.”
     “Good night, Jeff. Give my love to Nancy when she wakes up.”
     Dieter sipped his brandy thoughtfully. He really couldn’t see Suzanne as a killer. Over time he’d come to have an instinct for this sort of thing. Anybody could be a killer, might be driven under certain circumstances to commit murder. But his gut told him that Sarah had yet to meet those circumstances. As for John, he was the essence of good kid. Dieter couldn’t see either of them as cold-blooded murderers.
     Besides, this just didn’t make sense. The first time his look-alike was seen, he was a killer bent on murdering Sarah Connor. The next time he was her right-hand man. He shook his head. It just didn’t add up.
     But it might explain why Suzanne Krieger had taken one look at him and run like hell.
     I’m going to have to get to know Suzanne and her son much better, he thought.

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