“This Man was No More Human than that Cell Phone You’re Holding”

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

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

     Dieter smiled. She might not be mad, but she wasn’t happy, either.
     While they’d been thrashing out whether Sarah was to go or not, he’d been wondering if he dared call his old friend Jeff Goldberg, his former partner in the Sector.
     I suppose I might as well, he thought. Sully must have made a report by now, and even if he hadn’t, they already knew about my association with the notorious Sarah Connor. Which means that Jeff knows, too.
     He went to the wall and took down a heavily framed painting, setting it to lean against the file cabinet. Then he worked the combination of the safe it had hidden. Removing the valuable papers and other odds and ends inside the surprisingly deep little safe, he opened a tiny secret compartment with a few deft touches. Inside was a cell phone.
     In Vienna, Jeff had one just like it.
     When Dieter had retired they’d decided to arrange a private means of communication in the event that either ever had need of the other’s aid. At the time von Rossbach had been thinking that his partner, still active in a very dangerous profession, might need his help. It just went to show you; a backup plan was always a good idea.
     He placed the phone on his desk and booted up his computer. Once on the Internet he sent off the coded message that would bounce through a few different addresses before it reached Jeff. Then he sat back to wait. It could be a while.

     An hour and a half later the phone range. Dieter snatched it up. “Yes?” he said.
     “I don’t even know why I’m talking to you.”
     “It’s because in spite of everything you’ve heard, you know you can trust me,” Dieter said.
     “If I can trust you then why does it look like you’ve gone over to the other side?” Jeff’s voice was stressed, not usual.
     Dieter wondered if, in spite of their precautions, this call was being monitored—if Jeff was letting this call be monitored.
     “You know better than that,” von Rossbach said dismissively. “What’s the gossip about me?”
     “Gosssip? If it was gossip I could doubt it. I’m talking about official reports, Dieter.”
     “And for what am I supposed to have done in these reports?”
     “For starters, harboring a wanted fugitive!” Goldberg snapped.
     “When was this?” Careful, Dieter thought. You don’t want to antagonize him any further.
     “You know goddamn well when. You were the one who sent me those sketches of her. Then you said the description didn’t match. And of course I believed you because my good buddy wouldn’t lie to me! Next thing I know, you’re running around California recruiting for her army!”
     Dieter was silent for a while as he gathered his thoughts. He’d thought he knew what he was going to say, thought he knew how to counter any arguments Jeff might throw at him. But now that the moment was here he found he couldn’t use any of those glib explanations, because most of them were lies. He couldn’t do that to a man who had been at his back through most of his dangerous career. He’d already done it too often.
     Dieter took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I owe you an apology,” he said. “I did know it was probably her, but I was intrigued and wanted to investigate her by myself. Especially when you sent me that recording of a man with my face killing police by the dozen. I was bored here and feeling useless.” He shrugged, though his former partner couldn’t see it. “Then you sent Griego and I felt like I had to defend my turf. It wasn’t sensible, and I know it wasn’t professional, but I’d gotten to know her a little by then and I wanted to know more.”
     Goldberg was silent for a long time. “Go on,” he said at last, his voice giving nothing away.
     Dieter felt relieved. At least he was being given a chance to explain. “One night I went over to her house.” He frowned at the memory. “I was bringing a dog for her son, more of a puppy, really.” He took a deep breath and force himself to continue. “Before I knew it we were under attack. By a heavily armed man with my face.”
     “Bullshit!” Goldberg snapped.
     “I wish. God, do I wish you were right.” Until this moment he hadn’t realized how much he would give for all that had happened to have been a dream. “But you’re not. The face was mine, but this man was no more human than that cell phone you’re holding. I saw the body. It had no internal organs—just metal, wire, motherboards, stuff like that. There were sparks flying out of it and it took an incredible amount of ammunition to stop the damn thing.”
     “Do you think I’m an idiot!” Goldberg shouted. “What the hell is the matter with you?”
     Dieter kept silent for a moment; he tightened his mouth and closed his eyes as if in pain. “Jeff,” he said quietly, “I had a whole bunch of likes made up to tell you. I was going to be investigating this thing on my own, trying to find out how far Connor’s influence extended. You know me. I’m good at being convincing when I need to be. You’d have believed me before I was finished with you. But you deserved the truth, so I took a chance and told it to you.”
     Jeff was breathing hard, his breath whistling through the phone. “Shit!” he muttered.
     “Believe it or not, I know how you feel,” Dieter commiserated. “Why would I tell you a story like this if it wasn’t true? Don’t you think I know how all this sounds? Why would I even try if it wasn’t true?”
     He stopped talking, waiting for his old partner to work it through.
     “She could have talked you ’round,” Jeff said at last. “Connor was a damned attractive woman.” His voice was wary, but much less hostile.
     “Yeah, and I’m really susceptible to wild stories and sexy women. That’s why I was such a rotten agent.” Von Rossbach sneered.
     Jeff gave a short laugh. “Nooo, you were pretty good.”
     “I still am.”
     “Yeah, well. This is a pretty crazy story, buddy. You know that.”
     “Have you seen Sully’s report?”
     “Sully is, uh, undergoing psychiatric evaluation. You know he’s one of ours?”
     “Would I ask about his report if I didn’t?”
     “Good point.”
     “Jeff, Sarah Connor is crazy, her son is crazy, Sully’s crazy. Now I’m crazy? Maybe instead they’ve been telling the truth all along?”
     Goldberg gave a kind of hiss. “I can’t go there, buddy. I just can’t.”
     “Are you at least willing to think about it?”
     After a rather painful silence Goldberg said, “Yeah. I could do that.”
     “Good. I need your help.”
     Jeff barked a laugh. “You cocky bastard! You sure you don’t want to give me two more seconds to mull this over?”
     “Well, what the hell. I figured you wanted something, otherwise we wouldn’t be talking on these phones. Right?”
     “You got it, buddy.” Von Rossbach waited, wanting his friend to ask.
     “So what do you want?” Jeff said.
     “I’m trying to trace a possible kidnap victim.”
     “Whoa! If you’re talking about Sarah Connor, she took off on her own. If you’re talking about Dr. Silberman, how do you think we know that she took off on her own?”
     Dieter winced. He wanted to tell the truth. But I think I’ve tried Jeff’s patience enough for one evening. “What are you talking about?”
     There was a pregnant pause from Vienna. Then Goldberg asked cautiously, “You don’t know?”
     “Sarah Connor is missing again?” Dieter asked. “Last I heard she was in an institution.”
     “If you don’t know where she is and what she’s doing, then why are you rounding up recruits for her cause?” Jeff challenged.
     “Because I promised her I would before she disappeared from here. I don’t know how much good I’ve done her. Being chased all over California by the Sector didn’t help my efforts. But in any case, she’s not the person I’m talking about.”
     “Oh.” Jeff was silent for a moment. “So, what? Are you a PI now or something?”
     “No, just letting my curiosity get the better of me. This woman is named Clea Bennet, she’s the inventor of something called Intellimetal. They made this sculpture in New York out of it.”
     “Yeah. Venus Dancing, it’s called. It’s all the rage, everyone’s pretty excited about it. Nancy wants us to go see it for ourselves,” Goldberg said.
     “Clea Bennet has been missing for a little while now,” Dieter explained. “I have some suspicion that it might have been the U.S. government that snatched her.”
     “You sure that suspicion isn’t an effect of the people you’ve been hanging out with?”
     Dieter let out an exasperated sigh. “This guy named Craig Kipfer’s been getting reports on a woman from Montana. The reports read like Bennet’s biography. Kipfer passed along an order, I quote, ‘send her to Antarctica,’ that jogged a memory for me. Just before I left the Sector there were hints of someone building an important and very secret research facility ‘on the ice.’ Do you know anything about that?”
     Jeff was absolutely silent.
     “Hello?” Dieter prompted.
     “Kipfer isn’t someone you should have heard about,” Goldberg said at last. “He is like, ultra-black ops. As for the research facility…”
     There was more contemplative silence, but Dieter waited it out this time.
     “I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but… yeah. It’s there. We know where it’s located, but aside from that we know very little. The only thing we can be sure of is that they’re not doing nuclear testing. For once the Americans are playing their cards close to their chests. Though to be fair, it’s not the kind of place that’s easily infiltrated.”
     “So who have you got there?” Dieter said blandly.
     Jeff laughed. “None of your business. Even if we did have somebody there you probably wouldn’t know them.”
     “So where is this base?”
     Dieter waited; would his friend come through for him? Jeff had no particular reason to cover for the U.S. government, but at the moment neither did he have a particular reason to help his old partner.
     “You’re not going to blow it up are you?” Jeff asked sourly.
     Von Rossbach laughed in surprise. “No! That’s not the plan anyway. I might try to rescue this young woman. Assuming she’s there under duress, of course.”
     “Tsk!” Jeff said. “I thought you were out of the hero business.”
     “you going to tell me or not?” Dieter asked.
     “Don’t make me regret this,” Goldberg warned.
     “I won’t, I swear,” Dieter said, fingers crossed. After all, who knew?
     “It’s in west Antarctica.” Jeff gave him the coordinates. “The base itself is slightly inland.” He gave a brief physical description of the place. “You could hike there from the coast in three days.”
     “Thanks, Jeff.”
     “Dress warm.”
     “Yes, Dad. Give my best to Nancy.”
     “You bet.” Goldberg paused. “God, Dieter, don’t make me regret this, please.”
     “Don’t worry.”
     “Just done. Okay?”
     “You’ll get old and gray worrying like that,” Dieter teased. “I’m just curious, is all. I like a good puzzle.”
     “If you hear from Connor—”
     “I won’t.”
     “Yeah ,right. Don’t blow anything up,” Jeff warned.
     “But that’s the fun part!”
     Jeff hissed in exasperation, then laughed. “Y’know, you’re right.”
     Dieter laughed, too. “Bye, buddy. Thanks.”
     “I am so going to regret this,” Jeff said, sounding more amused than worried.
     “No comment. Bye.” Dieter hung up.
     This American base must be one of Jeff’s projects, otherwise he wouldn’t have the information at his fingertips like that. A lucky break, Dieter though.
     He’d check with Sarah and John to see how their research on supplies was going. Then he’d see about arranging transportation.

He Told the Interviewer that if He Must Die Young, He had at Least Created the Most Unique Sculpture in the World Before He Left

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

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


     Dieter entered the living room, where John half lay on the couch, reading a manual on source codes, a beam of bright sunlight spearing through one of the high clerestory windows to bring out the slight reddish hints in his dark hair. The Austrian dropped a package into the young man’s lap.
     John started as though he’d been asleep and looked from the package to von Rossbach. “What’s this?” he asked.
     “A package,” Dieter said, with the slight edge of sarcasm.
     John snorted. “Thanks!” he said, and rose. “I’ll be in my room if you want me.”
     Sarah came in just as he was leaving and he leaned over on his way out to kiss her cheek. Her eyes widened and she turned to watch him go, then turned back to von Rossbach, her eyebrows raised in inquiry.
     “Something came in the mail from that girl in Boston,” he explained, sitting down in one of the leather chairs, the rest of the mail in his lap.
     “Ahhhh,” Sarah said thoughtfully. She moved slowly into the room. “What girl?”
     This time Dieter’s brows rose. “He didn’t tell you about her?”
     Trying to keep the hurt out of her expression, Sarah sat next to the big Austrian. “Uh, no.” Her mouth twisted ruefully. “He is seventeen, and this is a girl and I am his mother…” She sighed. “I guess it’s only natural he’d want to keep her to himself.”
     Dieter looked at her sympathetically. “But you’re hurt anyway.” As far as he could tell, they were unusually close. It was probable that until now they’d shared everything.
     Sarah was quiet for a moment, then she wrinkled her nose at him. “A little. Maybe.” Then she sighed. “It annoys me that I am, though, because, really, I’m pleased that he has someone. It would be nice if she were nearby…” She leaned toward him. “Tell me about her.”
     He shrugged his massive shoulders. “There’s not much I can tell you,” he said. “She’s somebody he recruited on-line to keep an eye out for mysterious doings. Then, when we went to the U.S., he took her and her team the Terminator’s CPU. She’s a student at MIT,” he added. “And clearly, something clicked between them.”
     “Hmmph,” she said. “I guess I’ll have to go to the source.”

John closed the door to his room, tore open the box that Wendy had sent him, and pulled out her letter.
     Hi, Sweetie, she’d written.
     Well, that’s flattering, he thought. One kiss… On the other hand, we felt close right off. Evidently three months’ separation hadn’t altered her feelings—and that was extremely reassuring. He read on:

     Some of us went to New York this week to attend the New Day show. That’s the show that Ron Labane of the New Luddites hosts. It was wonderful! I can’t begin to tell you how inspiring I find him. I wish you could have been with us. About a hundred of us from MIT went down in buses.

     A hundred? John reread that, shocked. A hundred MIT students went to the New Luddite show? Those people must be more powerful than he’d thought.
     The idea shook him. He’d assumed the group would be just another flash in the pan, a this-year’s-cause sort of thing. Certainly not the kind of thing that would appeal to really intelligent people. Like Wendy, he thought, troubled. He straightened the folds of her letter and continued reading.

     I’m more convinced than ever that his brand of intelligent Luddism is the answer to so many of our problems: pollution, poverty, overpopulation. I have to confess to you right now that I took the pledge.

     John looked up from her letter, frowning. She took “the pledge”? What the hell did that mean? He didn’t think she drank.

     In case you’re wondering just what I’ve pledged, I feel a little awkward about telling you. I know I should have discussed it with you, though that might be presumptuous of me. And maybe you’ll say I was swept away by the enthusiasm of the crowd. But I did take it, and I mean to keep my word
     In case you haven’t heard of the pledge, it’s a promise to have no more than two children. If I divorce and remarry and my second husband hasn’t any children, then I’m allowed to have one with him. Though ideally I would have had my tubes tied after I had my second child.
     The hard truth is, the only way we’re going to reduce our population is by making sacrifices like that. And reducing population is step one; everything follows from that.

Wincing, John lowered the letter and rubbed his brow with his free hand. Oh, Wendy, if you only knew, he thought sadly. Overpopulation was not likely to be a problem in a few years.

     Anyway, I hope you won’t be angry with me for going ahead on my own. But I know you’re a sensible person and so I’m trusting you’ll understand.
     On a completely different subject, we also saw some of the sights while we were there and I got this for you at Lincoln Center. This is the most amazing sculpture; I’d love for you to see it for yourself. But the video is very good and has a “making of” section at the end that you’ll probably find interesting.
     Hope to hear from you soon. Love and kisses…

     John pulled the video out of the mailing box and looked at it. On the cover was a photo of a weird-looking modern sculpture. He wasn’t impressed, but then he wasn’t a big fan of modern art. The back of the box was filled with not very informative blurbs from other artists and bits culled from critical reviews.
     But, hey, if Wendy was impressed it must be really something.
     He was trying, and he knew that he was trying, to suppress thoughts of Judgment Day. If there was a Judgment Day. Well, if there was, it would make Wendy’s idealistic pledge seem rather foolish.
     And yet, that she had made it moved him; still more, that she’d written to him about it. He felt toward her a tenderness more profound and respectful than he had yet experienced. He wanted to protect her, to shelter her from all harm. At the same time he admired her faith in the future. He smiled and shook his head.
     Then he took the tape and inserted it into the VCR and sat back to watch.
     There was a little explanation at first on how Lincoln Center had decided to erect a statue, and had commissioned the late Vladimir Hill to create it. Then there was a segment of film, greatly speeded up, that showed the thing actually moving. Its name was Venus Dancing and John’s jaw dropped as we watched it doing just that.
     The glittering column seemed to swoop and bend, stretching high and then stooping, the holes in its surface growing and shrinking as it moved. The whole thing seemed alive and its motion was graceful and very beautiful. Although, despite the pleasure of watching the lovely thing, something niggled.
     Then the dancing segment ended and the “making of” section began. The sculptor, emaciated from his bout with cancer, described the process of creation. He told the interviewer that if he must die young, he had at least created the most unique sculpture in the world before he left.
     Then there were scenes from the unveiling, where an almost unrecognizably healthy Vladimir was shown with a beautiful young woman who was the creator of Hill’s new sculpting material, a substance she called Intellimetal.
     It took a moment as he watched the smiling, blushing brunette, nervously adjusting her glasses. But it was that movement that attracted his attention to her eyes. The shock of recognition took his breath away.
     “MO-OM!” he shouted, not moving from where he sat on the bed but only bellowing louder, “MOM! DIETER! COME HERE! NOW!”

Beauty is a Weapon

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

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



Bullets: Intellimetal, once fired, will expand with the heat of the explosion, mushrooming into the most effective shape possible. On striking the target, it will break apart into smaller pieces, each piece seeking the primary electrical source in the body: the brain. Once there, each individual piece of Intellimetal will respond to the brain's electrical patterns by oscillating at a very fast rate as it seeks to rebond with other pieces of Intellimetal. This will effectively liquefy the brain.

Mineworms: These antipersonnel devices will be planted like seeds in rows, while the "farmer" is protected by special gloves and boots, possible special coveralls as well. When stepped on, the rods of Intellimetal will activate and burrow upward through boot, flesh, and bone, again in search of the body's primary electrical source. As an additional advantage, when anyone subsequently touches the body the activated mineworms will try to burrow into this subject as well.

     Craig Kipfer sat back, his lips pursed as though to whistle but emitting no sound. There was some additional stuff in the girl’s notes about possible security uses for her invention, but it was her ideas for weapons that both fascinated and chilled him.
     He’d been around long enough to know that women could outdo men in viciousness; even so, he found it hard to associate these ideas with that young woman’s lovely face. It proved once again the truth of an adage he’d been taught when he first started in this service. Beauty is a weapon. Feel free to use it, never let it use you.
     From the moment he heard about that statue in New York, he’d been interested in Clea Bennet. And when she began throwing out ideas that paralleled the Skynet project during her meeting with Colvin and Warren, he knew that he wanted her to work for him, else he’d never have ordered her picked up. But this! Talk about a bonus, he thought.
     Kipfer sat forward in his chair and pulled out his keyboard. He’d been of two minds about the woman; keep or kill. Pool was waiting for his orders.
     *Send her to Antarctica,* he typed, then sent the message. After this, he’d hear about her in progress reports or not at all. Until, that is, such time as he had to review his decision to let her live.

It Was Very Hard, She Reflected, to Know When to Stop Refining a Plan

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

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


     Clea did her best to project untutored country girl at the CEO and president of Cyberdyne. In an effort to aid that effect she’d worn a denim skirt and jacket with a red plaid Western shirt, her tooled leather belt had a big silver buckle, and on her feet were a pair of well-broken-in cowboy boots. The rustic costume, with the glasses and attitude, she hoped, would eliminate any resemblance to Serena’s slick corporate look and, therefore, to Serena.
     As long as he doesn’t focus on my tits, some sardonic corner of her mind thought. They’re just like Serena’s. Clea scowled at the inner voice; it was far too much like the recorded memories of her clone sister/mother.
     Eventually they would notice; it was inevitable. But by that time they would be used to her and might comment on the resemblance, but they wouldn’t be suspicious. Merely curious.
     That’s one of the things I actually like about humans—their willingness to explain away anything strange. From what she’d observed, on her own and through Serena’s memories, they’d perform some unbelievably convoluted feats of logic to return to their everyday frame of reference. At times she found it incredible that these people had conceived and build Skynet.
     The I-950 set her battered briefcase on the conference-room table and extracted a portable computer, smiling nervously at the two men as she set it up. The new corporate HQ was nothing like Serena’s memories of the underground center the Connors had destroyed; it was pure minimalist functionality, the sort of “nothing” that cost a great deal of money, and left you wondering if anything as vulgar as paper ever crossed anyone’s desk. Some of the people in the cubicles outside weren’t even using thin-screen monitors; they were peering into the telltale blackness of vision goggles, miniature lasers painting text and diagrams directly on their retinas.
     “Would you like some coffee?” the president of Cyberdyne offered. Paul Warren hefted a carafe with his own hands, considerable condescension from an executive at his level.
     She shook her head and gave him a shy smile. He smiled back warmly and she knew she’d taken the right tack with him. Serena had considered initiating a romantic affair with him, but she’d miscalculated his affection for his wife. This was one instance in which Serena’s mistake really didn’t matter, though. The woman had had to die, even if it did turn out to be a setback in other areas.
     By now, though, he must be lonely and his distress over his wife’s death should be fading. Perhaps she should co-opt Serena’s plan for herself. Although the very thought of intimate relations with a human revolted her.
     “Welcome to Cyberdyne,” Roger Colvin said. “I think, based on what I saw at the unveiling the other night, that we’ve got a lot to offer each other.”
     Clea squirmed as though pleased and allowed her face to flush as though she was embarrassed. Don’t overdo it, she warned herself. “Thank you,” she said aloud, allowing just a touch of Montana into her voice.
     “I was just wondering,” Warren said, “what have you named your product and have you got a copyright on it.”
     “I, uh, sent in the paperwork, but I hadn’t heard back before I left home.” She shrugged. “It may be that it hasn’t caught up with me yet.”
     “We’ll check on that for you,” Colvin said. “What name have you registered it under?”
     “Intellimetal,” Clea said. She smiled ruefully. “That’s more for what it will be one day than for what it can do now. What Mr. Hill was working with was my earliest successful prototype.”
     “Really,” Colvin said, his voice dripping with interest.
     “Uh-huh,” she said, smiling. “But”—she twisted her fingers together—“I’d rather not go into detail until we’ve come to some sort of agreement.” Clea shrugged prettily. “My uncle was a stickler for getting things in writing. Never agree to anything until you see it written down, he’d say. It always looks different then.”
     Warren and Colvin exchanged a glance that said, “This little lady might be inexperienced, but she’s nobody’s fool.”
     They set to work, and work it was. Clea knew exactly what she wanted, how much she wanted, and what terms she’d accept. As far as she was concerned, almost nothing was negotiable, however hard the two humans tried. Two hours later Clea typed in the last word of her “rough notes,” as she called them, on her portable and handed the CEO a disk.
     “There ya go,” she said cheerfully. “Now I’ll need to see this all written up formally before I can even begin to decide for sure what I want to do.”
     “Thank you,” Colvin said palely.
     “You’re welcome.” She met his eyes and leaned forward confidentially. “I would like to leave you contemplating this one little idea I had. Now, I haven’t done any real special work on it, but I’ve been thinking about it real hard.” Watch the Montana effect, she warned herself. She was in serious danger of enjoying her role too much.
     “We’d love to hear about it,” Warren said, leaning forward himself.
     “Well. You know the F-101, that flying-wing stealth plane?”
     The two men nodded.
     “The only reason something like that can keep from crashing is because it has an onboard computer that makes thousands of adjustments a minute.” Her listeners nodded again. “So I was thinking, what we need is a machine that can do that and know it’s doing it. You know what I mean?”
     Colvin and Warren exchanged nervous glances.
     “A machine like that could control thousands of planes, thousands of miles apart. And not just planes, either, but tanks and gun emplacements and even battle robots.” Clea sat back, having noticed long since the subtly appalled expressions on their faces. “Not detailed control—it would be a distributed system—but a strategic artificial intelligence… Is something wrong?”
     “No, no. It sounds fascinating,” Warren reassured her. “But… well, perhaps at some future date we could look into something like that. But right now you’ve put so much into developing Intellimetal that we’d like to help you with that project.”
     She was silent for a moment, her glance roving from one to the other. “Really?” Clea tapped her fingertips on the arms of her chair. “Because I’ve always thought of Cyberdyne as one of the foremost robotics specialist in the field. I had the impression that artificial intelligence was sort of your bailiwick.”
     “You have to understand, Ms. Bennet”—Colvin spread his hands helplessly—“that in some instances our hands are tied.”
     Her eyes widened. “Oh!” she said, looking from one to the other. “I see.” then she shrugged, and allowed another blush. “And here I thought I was being original.”
     “I’m sure that anything that comes out of that brain of yours is original, Ms. Bennet,” Colvin said.
     “Absolutely,” Warren agreed eagerly.
     Clea smiled at them. “Well then,” she said, rising. “I’m sure you gentlemen have a great deal to do and I’ve already taken up an amazing amount of your time.”
     “Not at all.” Colvin rose with her and extended his hand.
     “She shook it, smiling, and turned to Warren, who had offered his hand as well. “I’ll look forward to hearing from you, then.”
     With a nod the I-950 preceded them out of the room and without another word or backward glance marched down the corridor toward the elevator.
     Warren looked askance at the CEO and gestured toward the young woman. “Is she annoyed, or something?” he asked.
     Colvin shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. She may be a little socially backward. Apparently she was raised by an eccentric uncle in the wilds of Montana and they didn’t get out much. Home schooling, the whole nine yards. She’s never even been to a university.”
     “You’re kidding!” Warren said, appalled.
     Colvin held up his hand. “I know what you’re going to say.”
     “Yeah, and I’m going to say it, too. Why would we want to hire some kid who’s never even graduated from college, especially at the price and on the terms she’s demanding? That’s crazy.”
     “We’re trying to hire her so that we can exploit this metal she’s invented. You have to see this statue to believe it, Paul. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
     “Why don’t I just hop on a plane to New York, then, and go take a peek?” Warren asked.
     “Why don’t you just trust me, buddy?” Colvin said, putting an arm around the presidents shoulders. “I know what I’m doing here. Believe me, if we don’t snap her up now somebody else will. Look, we’re going to put in an escape clause, right? So we can both walk away if it doesn’t work out and nobody’s a loser. Right?”
     “If she walks she’ll take that Intellimetal with her,” the president warned.
     “You’ve gotta trust our lawyers to write a better contract than that,” Colvin said with a smile.

Clea was pleased. They’d accepted her without question. For the first time in ages she felt that she’d performed well. The only downside was that they hadn’t risen to the bait she’d dangled in the way she’d expected. Could it be that they really weren’t involved in the Skynet project any longer?
     Cyberdyne had provided a limo and driver for her and the car was waiting out front when she exited the building. She didn’t even acknowledge the driver when he opened the door for her, but stepped in and settled herself for the ride back to the hotel, lost in her own thoughts.

Clea woke up lying on a sofa, its firm cushions upholstered in a blue-green tweed. The room she was in appeared to be a cheaply paneled conference room, with, unusually, a large mirror in the wall opposite the couch. No. That is one-way glass. The room is institutional; government, not corporate.
     Her eyes searched the mirror for hints of movement from a possible hidden room as she sharpened her hearing and listened.
     “…took enough hypno to knock out an elephant! I thought she’d never go down,” a male voice was saying.
     “Maybe there’s a flaw in the delivery system,” another man answered, “because she just woke up. If she’d absorbed as much of the drug as you say you gave her, she’d sleep until tomorrow night.”
     Clea detected movement in the mirror, as though one of the speakers had leaned forward for a better look.
     Well, well. I’ve been kidnapped! One of Cyberdyne’s more aggressive competitors, perhaps? Or Cyberdyne itself? She considered the idea. It would be strange if it was them. For one thing, nothing in their dossier indicated that they played such games. For another, it seemed a criminal waste of their president and CEO’s time if they had intended to negotiate by force all along.
     Now who else might have an interest in my little inventions? And who else could or would employ such an extreme technique as drugging and kidnapping her? Organize crime came briefly to mind, but she dismissed the idea. They were hardly into research and development.
     It’s much more likely to be Tricker or one of his friends, she thought. Excellent.
     She’d been wondering where the agent had got himself to; it looked like she might be about to find out.
     Clea sat up, faking a wobbliness that she in no way felt, one hand to her brow as though her head ached. Which it should, but for the computer and nanites that had worked so hard to cleanse her blood. She blinked, and narrowed her eyes as though the fluorescent light bothered her.
     “Hello?” she said, sounding shaky.
     “That’s my cue, said one of the men.
     She heard a door open and close and there was a flash of light in the mirror. Then the door to the room she was in opened and she got up from the couch quickly. The I-950 immediately sat down again, resting her head against the back of the couch, her hand over her eyes as though dizzy.
     “Take it easy, miss,” the man said soothingly. “Are you okay?”
     “Dizzy,” she murmured.
     She dropped her hand as though exhausted, keeping her eyes closed for effect. But her nose and ears told her where he was, even what he’d last eaten—hamburger with some sort of hot sauce. The glimpse she’d had of him when he walked in confirmed her suspicion. He worked for the government. His clothing and appearance were so artfully average that in a crowed he would be effectively invisible. It wasn’t Tricker, but he might have been a close relative.
     “That will pass,” the man said gently.
     She heard water pouring and then felt the touch of his hand. Opening her eyes, she saw that he was offering her a glass of water; when she took it he held out two aspirin.
     “For the headache I’m sure you have, he said with a sympathetic smile.
     Clea accepted the pills and took them with a sip of water, studying him over the rim of the glass. He was tall and slender, with muddy hazel eyes and a narrow face; his silvering blond hair was beginning to recede and there was an element of grayness about him somehow. But his voice was pleasant, as was his manner, both conveying trustworthiness.
     Which was actually quite different than Tricker, who seemed to go out of his way to be abrasive. And yet this man reminded her of no one so much as of Serena’s old nemesis.
     He could be dangerous if he needed to be, she thought. Or if he wanted to be. There was the essential resemblance; like Tricker, this man was competently ruthless. Not unlike myself, she thought. They probably work for the same agency.
     Clea swallowed. “Where am I?” she asked.
     He didn’t answer, but sat looking at her.
     “And who are you?” She pulled herself up until she was sitting straight.
     “Aren’t you going to ask why you’re here?” he prompted.
     “Well, I assume you’re going to tell me,” she snapped. “Or are we just going to sit and stare at each other until we starve to death? But I’ve got to tell you, mister, if you’re looking for a ransom you’ve got the wrong girl! My only relative is dead and all I’ve got in the world is a few thousand dollars in the bank. So what’s going on here?”
     “That’s not entirely true, Ms. Bennet, now is it?” the gray man said. “You have the house and land in Montana, don’t you?”
     The I-950’s eyes widened quite involuntarily as her mind flashed to that empty grave in the modest country cemetery. Should she have replaced the Terminator with a human corpse? Surely they wouldn’t check her background that thoroughly?
     “Oh yes,” the man continued complacently, “we know everything there is to know about you. Certainly everything that is a matter of public record.” He gave her a tight little smile. “And we’ve come to the conclusion that only we can offer you the resources to allow your inventiveness full scope.”
     “Who are you?” she almost shouted. All the time thinking, Ah, so I was right. Tricker’s gang.
     “My name is Pool,” he said.
     “Just Pool?” Clea demanded sarcastically, remembering Tricker’s insistence on being called a simple, unadorned “Tricker.”
     “Yes,” he agreed with a slightly deprecatory smile. “Just Pool.”
     Clea drew in a deep breath. “And who is we, Pool?”
     The smile broadened. “We are your tax dollars at work, Ms. Bennet.”
     Setting her jaw, Clea tilted her head at a defiant angle. Actually she was delighted; the government had to have taken over the Skynet project when Cyberdyne’s second facility was destroyed… by the Connors, again. But a human would object to this sort of treatment…
     “And if I don’t want to work for the government?” she asked.
     Pool shrugged. “Then we would have to tell Vladimir Hill that the wonderful new material you’ve been letting him play with as though it was clay is one of the most carcinogenic materials ever devised.” He paused as if to gauge her reaction.
     Clea gave him one. “Nonsense!” she snapped, sitting forward. Then she looked queasy and leaned back again. “What are you talking about?”
     “He’ll probably be dead by next year,” Pool said. “But that would allow him plenty of time to sue you. And, of course, there would probably be charges of criminal negligence. You’d probably do jail time.” His eyes cooled. “In fact, you can count on that. And afterward, well, Cyberdyne wouldn’t touch you or Intellimetal with a ten-foot pole, and neither would anyone else.” He spread his hands. “Which would leave you with us. But not before we both lost a lot of time and effort and money. So why not just cooperate and we’ll all be happy?”
     Clea allowed herself to look shaken; her computer dropped her circulation slightly so that her face would go pale.
     “Does Vladimir have… cancer?” Her eyes widened. “Do I?” she asked, her voice quavering.
     “We don’t know, actually, your tests aren’t back. But the odds are good. As for Hill, in good conscience, of course, we can’t let him remain at risk. We’ll warn him quite soon, and if it’s caught early enough there’s always a chance that he might survive. You, too, of course. But we think you’d be better off if you suddenly became unavailable. Don’t you?”
     She nodded, looking shell-shocked, or so the mirror told her.
     He smiled, an avuncular smile this time; Pool seemed to have quite a repertoire. “Very wise,” he murmured. “You won’t regret it, I’m sure. Our terms won’t be quite as generous as Cyberdyne’s, but our facilities are the best and our research budget is virtually unlimited.” He stood, smiling down at her. “Why don’t you lie back down and get some rest,” he advised. “That drug can pack quite a punch. Later on someone will come and take you to your room, where you can have something to eat and relax. Then tomorrow we’ll outfit you for your new job and by evening you’ll be on you way.”
     “On my way where?” she asked, trying to sound crushed. Instead, her computer component was suppressing glee; this was turning out exactly as planned. And if it hadn’t [there was a] sixty-seven percent probability of terminating all units here and escaping without irreparable damage, she calculated automatically.
     His lips jerked into a mirthless smile, and he turned to the door. “I’d rather not say,” he told her. Then he walked out the door.
     She heard the click of a lock and then his receding footsteps. Clea covered her mouth as though feeling sick and leaned over, hanging her head. Then she lay down and, turning her back to the mirror, began to sob quietly for the benefit of whoever still lurked in the room behind the mirror.
     It was too late now to do anything about her missing “uncle,” she decided. Agents might still be loitering around asking questions, making it very risky to fill the empty hole.
     I’ll just have to take a chance on it, she thought. But even if they do open the grave to find it empty, that proves nothing. At least, nothing against her. Even so, it bothered her.
     It was very hard, she reflected, to know when to stop refining a plan. I should inform Alissa of the latest developments…