Yaw -- Degrees of Difference
SOMEWHERE IN THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN WHEATBELT COUNTRYSIDE
The old outhouse sat isolated at the edge of the hardpacked area, collecting cobwebs, the warped door banging fitfully in the indecisive wind.
On the other side of a rusty ring-lock wire fence the directional tail of a wind-mill pump swung in the breeze with a lonely screech of neglected metal. At its base was a sheep trough full of green water and mucous fingers that barely stirred.
Between the two stood an old farm shed, with corrugated iron walls, and a hundred metres away a farmhouse, barely visible behind weeds and bushes that had long since run rampant.
A man emerged from the house, pushing through thigh-high rosemary that some long forgotten farmers wife planted, releasing the sharp fragrance. Tall, extraordinarily so, he wore the uniform of a farmer: moleskins, dusty workboots, a collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, revealing tanned skin, and an Okubra hat -- essential protection against the relentless sun.
He crossed the beaten sand patch to a sturdy steel door in the middle of the wide west side of the shed, and reached out to an electronic sensor pad at the side, and rested his hand against it. A line of light moved beneath the surface, scanning his hand. With a dull thunk, an internal mechanism moved, and the man pushed the door open.
He stepped inside and climbed two steps into a room that bore no relationship with the run-down farm on the other side of the door. The floor was raised, and made of non-conducting metal grating, coated with a sound-deadening plastic.
"Jack?" he called.
"Bibi, honey. Talk to me."
Set up to sound like it was originating from the middle of the room, a soft contralto voice spoke. "Im awake, Morgan."
"Jack hasnt talked to me today."
"Do you know where he is?"
"Jack hasnt talked to me today."
Morgan frowned. Bibis neural net wasnt complex enough to process unexpected parameters, so she had settled for the most logical answer she could come up with under the circumstances.
"Its not how well the bear can dance, but that the bear can dance at all..." he muttered.
Bibi remained silent.
He crossed the floor to a large, scratched old wooden table littered with papers and several portable computer pads, and a picture of a lovely woman with grey, limpid eyes. The man tossed his hat next to the picture, and touched the frame. He sat down at the battered table, and pulled one of the pads closer to him and patched in a full-sized keyboard.
He started typing at great speed, concentrating on the pad, his frown smoothing out as he worked. Without the hat, his blue eyes were at their most startling, and their focused, intense stare spoke of a keen mind at work. For over an hour he worked, his fingers barely pausing. At last he sat back, read through the file, and looked towards the blank bank of computer modules. "Bibi, honey. Did you get that?"
Morgan stretched and cracked his knuckles. "Usual security locks. Run it for diagnostics, please. Criteria, power demands."
"Twenty-four point seven zero three recurring above discrete power drainage levels."
He frowned. "Thats better than the thirty-two you were so stubborn about a month ago." He glanced at the pad. Eight thirty am. "So where is master Jack?" he murmured.
* * * *
GOLDEN, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
Jo stepped through the scanner, moving slowly as instructed, and held her breath. No matter how many times she went through a virology scan, she always found herself holding her breath, waiting for the high pitched accusing squeal to pronounce her guilt to the people waiting behind her. It didnt matter that she knew she was clean. There was always a chance, and it was that chance that caught her breath and held it.
No squeal this time.
Ordeal over, Jo felt her shoulders relax. On the other side of the room she saw Moira wave towards her, and she lifted her hand a little, and let it drop. No need to encourage the woman. She was already standing in a group of three, chatting. She made chatting look easy.
Jo headed for the bar. The barman smiled cheerfully at her, and Jo was impressed. A real barman. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble and incredible expense. Despite the scan at the door, the barman would still be hauling in a considerable risk bonus. Scans werent totally foolproof, afterall. She doubted he would have anything less than the best inert protection; synthetic skin, probably.
She sat on a bar stool, and casually slid her fingers over the back edge of the bar and felt them tingle. Yes. A low-power negative shield. Enough to bounce back most of the air that wafted over the bar, but not strong enough to stop a big object like a hand, or glass.
The barman could afford to smile.
She smiled back. "Synthetic only?"
"Ive got real whisky, but its not part of the companys tab."
"Or mine. Make it rum -- no alcohol."
"Diet Coke, classique."
He nodded and busied himself at the console. He put her drink on the bar in front of her, and she saw the tell-tale lifelessness of the flesh of his fingers. Synthetic flesh. But it was good flesh. She hadnt seen better, and wondered if others would notice. Probably not. They would be distracted by the novelty of a live barman.
The company were putting on quite a show.
Why was she here? She was a ranker, too far down the ladder to justify being invited to such an elborate display of discrete wealth. She glanced towards Moira again. The womans gaze shifted as she looked, and Jo knew Moira had been watching her.
So that was it. Moiras predilictions were a well known secret.
Jo sighed. There was no reason to stay here any longer. To stay would mean unnecessary exposure.
Jo swivelled all the way around to her right. Six foot of lean muscle mass, black hair, black eyes backlit with good humour, a well-used craggy face. He wasnt handsome, or even particularly good-looking, but there was a sense of sharp intelligence and ... endurance.
Jo felt her body tighten up in response. There was no thought in it. Goddamn it, get a grip.
Then he smiled. A loose, easy grin that took away the sense of hard battles barely won. Jo clenched her glass, feeling the material actually ripple under her grip.
"Youre not with the company."
"Guilty as charged." His smiled broadened.
"So why are you here?"
"To talk to you."
"I mean, why are you here tonight? You must have come with someone."
"I cant be here just to talk to you?"
Liked "Yaw -- Degrees of Difference"? You'll love this: Click here.
This site and all its contents Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001 (c) Sasha Productions & Tracy Cooper-Posey