If You Starved a Rottweiler and Gave It a Receding Hairline, It Would Look Like Him On All Fours

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]


     “I can’t help but notice that you passed over some more qualified applicants for the position of assistant, Ms. Burns.” Tricker looked at Serena over the top of a folder he had opened. “Usually,” he added wryly, “that’s not the way it’s done.”
     Tricker had finally come back from whatever untraceable location he’d disappeared to—apparently for the sole purpose of calling a meeting to complain about her decisions. This time it was on her territory, though. The cool recycled air of the underground installation and the subliminal scent of concrete and feeling of weight were obscurely comforting, on a level she could barely perceive of as conscious.
     They felt like home.
     “Mr. Dyson is certainly qualified for the position,” she said mildly, a gentle smile playing on her lips.
     This outrage is all fake, she thought, qualifications and experience are the least of Tricker’s concerns. When’s he going to admin that?
     “He’s Miles Dyson’s brother. You did know that?” Tricker looked at her in only partially suppressed disgust. His cold blue eyes were wide open and full of condemnation.
     Well, that answers that question. As a rule, Tricker’s type couldn’t resist getting to the point. Serena swung her chair back and forth slightly, returning his glare with a look that might almost be pity.
     She shifted position to put her elbows on the conference table and lean towards him. “Jordan Dyson has worked very hard to uncover the whereabouts of the Connors and their accomplice. Long after the FBI moved the case to the bottom of the pile he has continued to search for them. He’s received several reprimands about it.” She sat back, propping her elbow on the armrest and her chin on her fist. “I happen to be of the opinion that Jordan Dyson represents no danger to the company, and I believe that his dedication will be very useful. Especially since I regard the Connors as a significant risk to this company.”
     “You two discussed all that?” Tricker asked.
     Colvin and Warren were silent, their heads shifting back and forth like spectators at a tennis match.
     Serena waved a dismissive hand. “Of course not,” she said. “We didn’t even discuss his brother, or the bombing. For me there was no need.” Serena shrugged. “And for reasons of his own he chose not to bring it up. I knew I wanted him the minute I read his résumé, so why ask questions to which I already knew the answers?”
     “Some people might consider that, under the circumstances, Dyson’s employment here represents a conflict of interest.” Tricker raised his brows.
     “Of course it isn’t.” Serena actually allowed herself a very small sneer. “He’s going to be involved in the private security of a privately owned company,” she pointed out. “If anything, his personal interest is a bonus for the company.” How many times do I have to point that out before it takes?
     Tricker hated to admit it, but the woman was right. And really there wasn’t anything wrong with Dyson. He was a good agent by all reports, intelligent, professional, dedicated. His superiors’ only complaints had been his insistence on working on his brother’s case. Which even in their citations they considered understandable. Their primary reason for discouraging him was to avoid risking their case by any taint of self-interest.
     Tricker still had some vague, instinctive unease about Serena Burns, which prompted him to continue to question and test her. Maybe it was because she was just too perfect; beautiful, intelligent, competent, professional—and completely unreadable. Too much like himself, in fact.
     Well, except for the beautiful part. Someone had once told him that if you starved a Rottweiler and gave it a receding hairline, it would look like him on all fours. A woman had told him that, in fact.
     He glanced at Colvin and Warren, whose eyes were on him, their faces expectant. He let out a disgusted little, “Tssss,” and looked away. “All right,” he said after a minute. It was a full minute; he counted it out. “So far, everything else you’ve done is exactly what I would have recommended.”
     “I’m so glad you approve,” Serena cooed.
     Tricker froze, giving her a prolonged, unreadable look. Serena smiled back at him, her eyes twinkling with mischief. Only long experience kept him from blinking as he realized she was actually teasing him. Nobody teased him. “Since everything is going so well,” Tricker said at last, reaching down and pulling up the large metal case he’d brought with him. “I think it’s time we handed this over to you.”
     Placing the case before him, he tapped in a code, then pressed his thumb to a sensor, opened it, and studied the contents for a moment before turning it around to allow them to see what it contained.
     Colvin and Warren sat forward with gasps of amazement; Serena lifted one eyebrow. Her eyes rose to his questioningly.
     Cradled in foam was the mechanical arm that had been stolen and thought destroyed in the Connors’ raid on Cyberdyne headquarters six years ago.
     “Where did you find it?” Warren asked, stunned.
     Colvin reached out as though to touch it.
     “It’s different,” Colvin said in wonder. “I’m sure it is.”
     “We thought so, too, Mr. Colvin,” Tricker said. “Certainly some of it is more damaged than the first one. But these other pieces seem to come from further up the arm. Our people theorize that this is a completely different unit.”
     “How long have you had this?” Colvin demanded.
     “Longer than we’d hoped to,” Tricker snapped back. “But you two wouldn’t get off your fat backsides and fix your security problems. And we sure as hell weren’t going to turn this over to you without some protection in place.”
     Serena turned the case so that it faced her. She studied the ruined arm. Terminator, definitely. Cyberdyne Systems model 101. Still fairly new when she’d been sent back. Still fairly new when she’d been sent back. Which had undoubtedly been its problem. Too much to learn in the middle of a crowd of fully functioning human beings.
     She looked up at Tricker. “We’ll take good care of this one.”
     “The chip?” Warren said hopefully.
     “Sorry,” Tricker snarled. “We got lucky. But we didn’t get fantastically lucky. You’ll have to make do with this.”
     “These pieces look like relays,” Colvin said, his eyes, as they roved over the mechanism, alight with the joy of discovery. “Relays and subsidiary decision nodes, memory… We’ll learn a lot from this, damaged as it is. A distributed system. There’s processing capacity here.”
     “We’ll let these guys worry about how this thing worked,” Serena said, grinning at Tricker. “I’ll make sure it’s safe.” She nodded at him, her serious. “I guarantee it.”

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