CRAIG KIPFER’S OFFICE, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Craig Kipfer sat behind his brushed-steel-and-glass desk, behind a good half-dozen security checkpoints, inside his bombproof and EMP-hardened bunker of an office. It was hard to believe that the elegant, artfully lit room was a reinforced concrete box; the air was fresh and warm, and rich draperies hid what might have been a window. The complete absence of exterior sounds made the room eerily, almost threateningly quiet. Or perhaps the sense of threat came from the man behind the desk.
He had a rumpled, middle-aged face that was still, somehow, good-naturedly boyish. Until you looked into his agate-green eyes. Then you couldn’t imagine him ever being anything so innocent as a child.
The fading red hair hinted at an impulsive temperament. A tendency he had fought his entire life, so successfully that he was known among his peers for his iron control. A control which at this moment was sorely tried.
Cyberdyne had been bombed out of existence. Again.
Kipfer finished the report he’d already read twice and tapped his intercom.
“Send him in,” he said, his voice dangerously quiet.
The door lock buzzed and Tricker entered, carefully closing the soundproof door behind him. Kipfer indicated the chair before his desk with one finger and waited while his agent took it. Then he waited some more, his eyes never leaving Tricker’s face.
Eventually Tricker blinked and dropped his eyes; a hint of color bloomed over his collar, testimony of his humiliation. Kipfer observed these signs and some part of him was mollified; the alpha wolf accepting submission from an inferior.
“Does anyone know the full story of what happened that night?” Kipfer asked mildly. “Because, from my viewpoint, there are a lot of unanswered questions.”
“If anyone knows the full story, or as much of it as matters, it’s Jordan Dyson,” Tricker said. “Unfortunately he’s covered. He has some very influential friends in the FBI who have made their interest obvious. And he has family who visit him daily. He’s also very familiar with interrogation techniques and is therefore not easy to question.”
“So in spite of your own expertise in interrogation,” Kipfer said, leaning back in his chair, “you learned nothing except that you suspect he knows things he’s not telling.”
Tricker stiffened under the implied criticism. He would have leaned on Dyson much harder but for the man’s FBI contacts in inconvenient places. As he had just made clear. There was always bad blood between agencies fighting over the same resources; and the blacker the agency, the greater the resentment from the aboveground boys. It was always wise to be diplomatic in circumstances like these. Kipfer knew this. If he hadn’t known all about interagency infighting he wouldn’t be seated on the other side of that desk. So his boss was being unfair, but that was life.
“Exactly, sir,” Tricker said, after a minute pause.
Craig put his elbows on the arms of his chair and folded his hands under his chin; he allowed his gaze to drop from his agent’s eyes, having made his point. Tricker was one of the best agents he had. No, probably the best.
And he was right, there were limits to what one could, and should, do to a hostile witness, especially one from a competing agency. Professional courtesy and all. So if he couldn’t crack Dyson, it would take more than Kipfer was willing to sanction. Besides, the how of the thing wasn’t really important. After all, Sarah Connor was in custody once again and her son was only sixteen.
Not that teenage boys weren’t potentially dangerous; there was a reason armies liked them. He just thought that they were more limited in the type of harm they could do than adults. He doubted the kid was still in the U.S., but they had Sarah Connor, and eventually that would bring the kid into the light.
“One of the things that makes me suspicious of Dyson,” Tricker said cautiously, “is that he appears to have done a complete one-eighty on Sarah Connor. He’s been at her bedside or visiting her constantly since she was admitted to the hospital. The doctors and nurses I’ve interviewed say that his concern seems genuine. Connor herself, predictably, isn’t talking.”
“That’s something of a departure for her, isn’t it?” Kipfer asked. “She’s always been on the talkative side before, going on for hours about killer robots and Judgment Day and so on.”
“Going by the records we received from Pescadero, she’d be off at the slightest provocation.” Tricker shook his head. “But not this time. She just gives you this accusing look, like a kid getting teased by her classmates.”
Kipfer lifted a few pages of Tricker’s report and read for a moment, then he dropped them. “You’ve taken the usual steps, I see. Keep me informed. Now”—he met Tricker’s eyes once more—“tell me about the project.”
“Things are going very well, all things considered,” the agent replied.
Which was true. The scientists and engineers at their disposal weren’t quite the top-flight talent that Cyberdyne had recruited, but they were plugging along. At least as far as he could tell, and he, unfortunately, was in the position of having to take their word for it.
“Things would go better still,” Tricker added, “if we could manage to recruit Viemeister. And I think he could be tempted. His work is important to him and he was, according to the last reports we received from Cyberdyne, making great strides.But he’s still under contract to them, and since we don’t want to admit we have a clone project up and running, it’s going to take some delicate handling.”
Kipfer made a rude sound and sat forward, pulling his chair into his desk. “Dr. Viemeister isn’t someone you handle delicately,” he said. “We’ve got enough on him to change his career from scientist to license-plate maker. Just hit him over the head with an ax handle and ship him to the base. When he wakes up tell him that. Then show him a fully equipped lab where he can pick up his project where he left off. I think you’ll find he’ll cooperate. Especially since he won’t have any other option. The guy’s not even a citizen.”
Tricker frowned thoughtfully. “I thought he was naturalized.”
“There’s no record of it,” Craig said easily. It wasn’t necessary to add: not anymore.
Tricker allowed himself a slight smile. Sometimes it was fun working for the government—at least when you were working for this part of it. And since he really didn’t like Viemeister, seeing the arrogant kraut taken down was going to be pure pleasure. One of life’s little bonuses.
“In any case he’s liable to be”—Kipfer waggled one hand—“upset about his new location.”
“I think we can guarantee that he’ll be upset, sir,” Tricker dared to say.
“So I’m going to assign you to the base, just to make sure things run smoothly, for… say the next few months.”
Tricker’s jaw dropped; it only showed in his slightly parted lips, but an equivalent expression in an ordinary citizen would have included drool. “Sir, I have no scientific qualifications for observing this project,” he said carefully.
“You’ll be handling security,” Kipfer said, his eyes like green nails. “My secretary has a package with all the necessary tickets and permits. You can pick it up on your way out.”
“On my way out,” Tricker said. He felt as though his blood had frozen in his veins.
“Yes. You have two days to wind up any outstanding business you may have.”
His boss was giving him nothing, no opening to protest, no idea how long this ultra-dead-end assignment in America’s secret Siberia was to last. This was his punishment. He’d known in his heart that it was coming. You didn’t screw up an assignment this badly, losing the one artifact remaining to them, and not answer for it. After all, no one even knew what had become of Tricker’s predecessor. He took a deep breath.
“That’ll be more than sufficient,” he said. If the powers that be were adamant that he be punished, he might as well take it with a little dignity.
“Is there anything else you need to tell me?” Kipfer asked.
“No, sir. I think we’ve covered everything.”
Craig turned his attention to another file from his in-basket. “Then I guess I can let you go,” he said, looking up. “Bon voyage.”
Tricker lifted one corner of his mouth in a pseudosmile.
“Thank you, sir,” he said, rising. “I’ll send you a postcard.”
Kipfer looked up, his eyes dead. “Just send your reports.”
Tricker suppressed a sigh. “Yes, sir.”
After the door closed, Kipfer put down the report he wasn’t really reading. He leaned back with a thoughtful frown. It was a waste of talent to send Tricker off to the hinterlands to cool his heels.
Unfortunately the Cyberdyne fiasco required some sort of response. Craig sat up and opened the discarded file. He’d reclaim his agent in about six months. That ought to be long enough for Tricker to begin to despair of ever being rescued.
Maybe it should be eight months. It depended on what came along. He supposed it was only just that he be deprived of something he valued, too. This disaster had occurred on his watch after all.
Enough introspection. Kipfer turned his attention back to the new file.