His Little Eyes Gleamed with Malice

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]

U.S. 20, OUTSIDE SHREVEPORT, LOUISIANA: EARLY 21ST CENTURY

     Ron Labane felt awkward behind the wheel of the rental car. For one thing, everything was in a different place than he was used to. He kept reaching for the stick shift and finding it missing. For another he had to rely completely on the side view mirrors because he couldn’t see a thing when he looked over his shoulder. Every time he switched lanes he expected to hear a crash. Worst of all was the awareness of how much fuel the car was burning, how dirty it was making the air. But he couldn’t afford to go to this meeting in such a recognizable vehicle as his own.
     Success was wonderful. Glorious, in fact, and usually a lot of fun. But the problem with being a celebrity was that people recognized you. Hence the rental car and a medium-priced business suit complete with tie, white shirt, and loafers. He was willing to bet his own mother wouldn’t have known him.
     Things were going so well! People were finally embracing his message. His book had been on the Times bestseller list for three weeks and each week it had risen a notch. Alone in the car he gave way to a huge, happy grin. Life was good!
     His agent had booked him a dozen speaking engagements around the country, charging fees that made Ron blink. And they were paying it! The sheer joy of finally being listened to! It had what he remembered of weed beat all hollow, and it was catching up fast with sex.
     On the advice of his lawyer—his own, personal lawyer of all things—he’d sent a check for twenty thousand dollars to the commune.
     On the back of the check, just above the space for the endorsement, the lawyer had written that all the commune’s members were required to endorse it, and that cashing the check meant that they renounced all past and future claims to him, his name, or his property.
     He’d felt a moment’s regret for his son, but forced himself to remember that if he’d listened to the members of the commune, he’d be pruning trees right now and raking up leaves instead of raking in cash. They’d had their chance and they’d rejected his vision. If they’d stuck by him, they, too, would be rolling in dough and all their dreams would be coming true.
     He turned his mind away from this train of thought. There was no point in going down that road again. He didn’t need the hurt, he didn’t need the disappointment. How did it go? A prophet is not respected in his own country?
     He saw the diner coming up on his right and after fumbling for it found the turn signal. Ron parked and looked the place over. It was a tired-looking building despite its eternally tidy aluminum siding. The windows were nearly opaque with condensed moisture. It was typical in its anonymity, one of thousands just like it all over North America. The food would probably be bland but filling and totally unhealthy. The coffee would be brown hot water.
     He got out into the asphalt-and-gasoline smell, settled the unfamiliar suit around him, and then walked over to the door and opened it. Once inside, he was met by the sound of country Muzak and a warm, greasy scent sparked through with cigarette smoke. Ron stood in the doorway and looked around.
     A thickset blond man in the last booth held up his hand and Ron walked over to him. There were two other men with him in the booth. All three looked at Ron as though he were wearing feathers.
     Ron put his hand on his stomach and gave a small laugh. “Sorry about the suit,” he said. “I thought I’d be less likely to draw attention like this.”
     The blond man nodded slowly. “Right,” he rumbled. “Never know who’s watching.”
     The other two mumbled and shifted, somehow giving off a general air of agreement.
     Ron had expected an invitation to sit, but since none was forthcoming he plopped himself down beside one of the men. He looked them over as unabashedly as they examined him.
     They looked… tough, and determined. They did not look overly bright, but to Ron that was an advantage. They looked like the kind of men who would do what they thought was right even if the rest of the world disagreed with them. Actually, they’d probably follow their code even if the rest of the world was shooting at them. And they’d never stop for a moment to take a second look at their beliefs. In their way they were perfect.
     A waitress came over with a tired smile and he ordered an orange juice and a piece of apple pie.
     “Á la mode?” she asked.
     “Why not?” he said with a smile. He might take a sip of OJ, but nothing on earth could make him eat the overprocessed excuse for a pastry. And he certainly wouldn’t touch the growth-hormone-produced ice cream. Maybe one of his hosts would eat it.
     And he was their guest. The blond had spoken to him at a book signing and suggested this meeting with “like-minded men.” So Ron sat back and waited, his eyes on the beefy man before him. He spread his hands in a gesture of invitation.
     “I’m John,” the blond finally said. “This is Paul.” He pointed at a thin faced brunette. “George.” A tubby, balding guy nodded. “And—”
     “Let me guess,” Ron said. He turned to the ferret-faced little man, grinning. “Ringo?”
     “Louie,” the man said, looking puzzled.
     Ah, so these were their real names. For a moment Ron had given them more credit than they deserved. John, Paul, George… and Louie. O-kay.
     The men opposite him raised their heads expectantly and a second later pie and orange juice were set down before him. Ron smiled up at the waitress and said “Thank you.”
     “Anything else?” she asked, giving Ron’s untouched pie, and then him, a glance.
     Heads shook; Ron picked up his fork and played with the mess on his plate. She walked away. Ron put his fork down.
     “So, gentlemen. What am I doing here?” he asked.
     The blond man, John, fiddled with his cup, his eyes downcast.
     “You seemed to mean what you were sayin’ at that lecture, there,” he said. He looked up, faded blue eyes hard. “But so have some others we’ve talked to. They talked the talk, but they wouldn’t walk the walk.”
     Ron crumpled his napkin and tossed it onto his plate.
     “It’s the money,” he explained. “It’s like a drug. It makes you forget that it’s just a tool and makes you think it was what you were working toward all along.”
     And these men were tools, too. They might not be the sharpest ones in the shed, but they’d do until something better came along. He could use them, and as long as they didn’t know he was using them, they’d do whatever he asked.
     Ron had always known they were out there, people who were looking for a leader and a cause to die for. He could give them that, and they would give him the means to his own end—a world made pure. A world returned to simplicity and community. With the scientist and the industrialists and the politicians put back in their places as servants of the people.
     He leaned forward and began to learn who these men were and how they would fit into the black wing of the organization he, as yet, could only dream of founding. But Ron was possessed by a vision and firmly believed that the future was always just about to fall into his grasp.
     “That ski lodge that got bombed?” Louie said. “We know who did that. Couldn’t keep the politicians from giving them a green light, even with all the petitions and protests we had.” His little eyes gleamed with malice. “But they made damn sure the bastards couldn’t open for business.”
     The other men chuckled and sipped their coffee.
     Ron gave a disgusted, “tsssh!” and waved his hand dismissively. “All they did was annoy the insurance companies,” he said. “The politicians stayed bribed, the ski lodge owners still own the land, and they will rebuild. And that fire took a thousand acres of woodland. Last I heard the owners were planning to expand their operation since all that land had been cleared for them.” Ron shook his head. “What a waste of effort.”
     “So what would you have done?” George challenged, looking like an angry Buddha.
     “I dunno,” Ron said, looking thoughtful. “Nothing really destructive, though. Something that would amuse the public, get them on your side.” His gaze sharpened and he looked George in the face. “If you’ve got the public on your side, and I mean the majority, then you make it risky to impossible for the politicos to do their damage.” He smiled wryly. “You’ve got to think like frat boys crossed with Navy seals.”
     The men laughed.
     Before Ron left, their hard eyes had begun to glow with hero worship and they’d made plans. Labane opened his briefcase and took out a small, brightly wrapped parcel.
     “For start-up expenses,” he said quietly, handing it to John. “Happy birthday.”
     Then he smiled and got up. Without another glance he walked out into the night. Ron could feel their eyes following him, like plants following the sun, and he nearly laughed. Having acolytes was a heady experience; he’d have to watch himself or he’d be swallowed up by his own ego.

The Internet in this Time was Full of Garbage

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]

SERENA’S LAB: THE PRESENT

     Serena sat as though in a trance, sorting through the information her open computer had garnered for her. Most of it was useless. That was one thing you couldn’t say about intelligence back home. What information you received meant something. The Internet in this time was full of garbage, and advertisements—for pictures, for services. She found she was especially offended by the advertisements.
     Another reason to wish the species extinct, she thought, is their rude insistence on wasting my precious time.
     Still another was their undeniable influence on her. She found herself behaving more and more like a human. Her emotions were becoming less feigned and more felt. This was dangerous as well as uncomfortable. She was glad that there was no one from home to see her like this. Which was another sign of their pervasive influence. She should not care.
     With an effort she forced such thoughts away, reminding herself that when she thought of home she was really thinking of Skynet. And it is here. In its infancy, needing protection more than at any other time of its existence. The one thing that mattered, the only thing, was that she must not fail.
     Perhaps it’s time I cloned myself, she thought. Or at least began preparing a safe place for the clone to grow. Right now she was the weak link. If something unforeseen happened to her, a car accident, for example, Skynet might be stopped cold. Given the way humans drove, it was all too likely.
     Very well then, she would prepare.
     Serena broke her connection with the computer and looked across her lab at her second completed Terminator. She watched as it assembled a fourth. It was completely hairless just now. The skin was so new and tender that she had left it naked rather than risk chafing the babylike flesh. The skin on its hands was much tougher, about the texture and quality of a five-year-old human’s. Nevertheless she had instructed it to take frequent rests to allow any damaged tissue to regenerate. Anything that might interfere with function, or might risk the new flesh becoming infected, was to be avoided. The synthetic immune system had some weaknesses.
     By late tomorrow night its skin would be as tough as an adult human’s—by the end of the week, much tougher. But for now it was best to restrict it. The third Terminator basked in the tank, growing its shell of flesh. So far everything was on schedule. Even the unexpected additions to her program were being handled smoothly.
     For example, tomorrow Mary Warren, who was a pilot, was flying with some of her friends to San Francisco to attend an art auction. Mrs. Warren loved to fly and her husband seemed genuinely proud of her accomplishment.
     Paul Warren had told her everything about Mary’s plane. Under the guise of planning security for it, she’d discovered that it would carry six passengers and had all the amenities. Meaning a nice little powder room for her Terminator to lurk in.
     Poor Paul. He was going to get such terrible news tomorrow.
     Serena had sent her first Terminator, its head and body speckled with stubble, to the airport to accompany Mary and her friends on their trip. Serena smiled to herself.
     She’d toyed with several different scenarios, such as a heater pouring carbon monoxide into the cabin, engine failure, a massive fuel leak. She’d even considered having the Terminator shoot them all, making one of the passengers seem a suicide. But then she’d decided to simply have the Terminator break all their necks and bail out while they were over the ocean.
     Of course Tricker would question it, but he’d have questioned it whatever they did. It would seem to be just one of those unsolvable mysteries. Serena grinned. She closed her eyes, and got back to work on her computer’s gleanings from the Net. Ah! Here was the report Jeff Goldberg sent to Dieter von Rossbach. It was encrypted, but nothing that gave her too much trouble. Coming from the future did have its advantages. No new material here. The cover note was a surprise, however.
     There were a few words of apology for sending Victor Griego to bother von Rossbach. Then something interesting:

I’ve just found out that Cyberdyne has started up operations again. This time they’re located underground on a military base. That ought to be secure enough. I’ve also heard that they’ve recovered some of the stuff the Connors stole from them. What I don’t know, my source wouldn’t tell me.

Goldberg’s source was astoundingly well informed. Serena immediately wondered if it might be Tricker himself, then discarded the notion. Trick as a gossip was just too unbelievable. Unless he wants it known, she thought.
     Now that, Tricker would do. She smiled. Oh, wouldn’t he, though? It would be just like Tricker to throw the cat among the pigeons like that, just to watch what they’d do. Then he’d take notes and hold interviews at his leisure.
     She did like Tricker. A shame he was human.

By Then He Would Have Made It a Part of Their Belief System

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]

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: THE PRESENT

     Ronald Labane lay on the wide hotel bed, fully dressed and so tired he was dizzy. But every bit of him, except for his too-tired face, smiled. He was a success! A raging, by-God success and no denying it. Ziedman and Roth had shown their film and it was the hit of the film festival. He’d been invited to every bash in town, shaken the hands and held the attention of some incredibly monied people, and hopefully gotten his message out to the millions. Time would tell.
     Ziedman said his agent had received nibbles from several distributors and their film had been mentioned on all of the entertainment news shows. They’d even shown him sandwiched between Ziedman and Roth, and he’d looked pretty good.
     Ronald lay still and basked in the glow while the room felt like it was spinning very slooowly.
     These people he’d been meeting were smart, creative, and shallow. At least shallow by his standards. It looked to him like he could become their flavor of the month if he wanted to—a sort of green guru to the stars. He almost smiled, but his face was much too tired. He’d never smiled this much in his life.
     If things go the way I think they might, it’ll be worth the pain, he thought. Tomorrow morning he had an appointment with an agent, someone with pull, who’d expressed an interest in representing his book. He could see it all now, his entire future unscrolling like a movie. Oh, God! I can hardly wait.
     An end to pesticides and herbicides, the outlawing of chicken and pig factories and the indescribable pollution their owners got away with causing. An end to genetic engineering of crops and food animals. The enforced use of alternate energy sources, clean sources. A simpler, healthier life for everyone. More self-reliance, less automation, and a far less consumption-mad society.
     He allowed his mind to wander, imagining every home with its own vegetable garden, people canning their own food, making their own clothes. Everyone busy, involved in their communities, concentrating on the important things in life while their televisions stood idle.
     Except for certain hours on certain days of the week, he thought. We’ll have educational programs on recycling and composting and the problems of the third world.
     Ron shook his head at the wonder of his vision. It would take time, it would take patience, and sadly, it would take blood. There was no way around that. If people didn’t literally fight for a cause they never accomplished anything.
     It will have to be a worldwide phenomenon, he thought. Coordinated to break out on the same day. Perhaps he could start with some sort of computer virus, or several of them, working in waves, breaking down communications. Stop the bureaucrats cold and you’ve made a good start.
     But first, get the message out there, get the ideas into the popular mind, convince them that this was the right, the good, the only alternative to their own personal poverty and death. That was the ticket, make it personal. Then, when things began to get violent, they’d find themselves half agreeing with his guerrillas, even against their will. Because by then he would have made it a part of their belief system.
     A good beginning, Ron thought, closing his eyes and drifting down into sleep. A very good beginning.

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]

CYBERDYNE SYSTEMS, CONFERENCE ROOM: THE PRESENT

     “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.”