Chapter XXVI
by General (Uncle Claude) Xxaxx
& General (E.J. Gold) Nunan PFC 1st Class Ret.

Walking up the three flights to her small apartment on the top floor, Professor Woo noted to herself how similar this tonight was to the one when she had recruited Ja Mere. The stairs were a narrow wooden affair with worn but clean carpet. Holes appeared randomly were the thread-bare carpet just couldn’t take it anymore. Looking down the hallway, the walls seemed to close in — an illusion of the ridiculous striped wallpaper — some ancient landlord thought it would make the small stairwells look bigger.

A citizin, not of the highest economic class, popped her head out a doorway addressing Professor Woo, “Hi, Woo. Trudging home again I see.”

Stepping over a bag of garbage blocking the hall in front of the citizin’s doorway Woo responded in a first level pleasant tone with a grade two politeness, “Nice to see you Mrs. Barnacle. How are the little bluebies and pinks?” Did she know or remember that I’d been gone for several months on a sabbatical to China? Woo wondered to herself as Mrs. Barnacle smiled in response to Woo’s habitual rejoiner.

The Citizins of the apartment building were very amused that Woo was forced to live on the top floor. The walk up the stairs didn’t make living on the top floors that onerous. There just wasn’t any cable allowed above the third floor of any building. What planning commissioner deemed this a good idea is any citizin’s guess. The eggheads know. They were the ones to scheme it through the building commission. This way they had access to all the best apartments and suites. No citizin would be without their tele-vid and any egghead worth his or her salt could build a satellite dish from a tuna fish can if they really wanted to watch any of the two government approved channels.

With long practice Woo, missed a step on the stairs just as Mrs. Barnacle was ducking her head back into her apartment to yell at one or the other of her children, tripping just enough for the good citizin’s amusement thereby accenting the burden of life as an egghead. Never let them know you are enjoying your current plight. That would just inspire them to new heights of oppression.

Checking the sigils on her door, Woo was satisfied that no one had tried to gain entrance during her absence. Woo’s apt-door was just as ratty and decrepit looking as any of the others on this floor. Underneath, it was solid hardwood strengthened by dragon magic to withstand anything short of a portable rocket. If someone wanted to go through all the trouble of lugging a six hundred pound rocket up the narrow stairwell just to knock her door down, they were welcome to it.

Woo never locked her door. There wasn’t any necessity — for two reasons. One, no one but her could encourage the wood of the door to debond from the wood of the door jamb; and two, even when the door isn’t locked and molecularly bonded to the wall, it takes an almost inhuman patience and command of cyber-illogic to get beyond the door-sentient. Your cybernetic helper, the ad had said. Woo’s diary just about had conniptions when she ordered the unit installed. There wasn’t room enough for two cyberware units in this apartment, you don’t need a door unit when for half the price you can install a remote sensing device and a simple servo mechanism for me, the diary argued. It wasn’t until Woo announced to the diary that she had every intention of cloning the diary’s personality profile into the door that the diary saw the great wisdom in acquiring this new unit. It would be a great labor saving device, one didn’t want to stand in the sidelines of advancement, etc. For reasons of her own, during the personality cloning process Woo made the door even more of a literalist than the diary. Now it’s almost impossible to talk the door into anything, even something as simple as announcing one’s presence to the occupant let along actually opening to allow entrance.

Unlike most days, today Woo didn’t even try — she used dragon magic to get around the idiot equipment. With a deft manipulation of local energy strands the door was moved to open. Woo realize that this would have the added pleasure of thoroughly annoying the door-sentient — well, it would make her pay on the next occasion when she made use of its labor saving services. Apparently frustration, aggravation and wasted time didn’t count as labor. Sometimes it was hard for Woo to recall that she had edited the door’s personality profile herself.

The creaking sound of the door was too difficult to maintain so Woo had an artificial creak installed. The creak was an excellent source of high-pitched sound as an echo caster to look for any one that may have entered her room through another access.

Judging by echo-scan no one there. It was the same room she left so many days ago this morning (one of the drawbacks to practicing dragon magic: it was always the same day). Couch setting against the wall to the left of the door by the ancient looking dining table — red Formica pseudo marble top, metal tube chairs carefully pushed in under the table also sporting metal tube legs. The kitchenette and bedroom could be seen through respective doorways. Total messes each. Kitchen piled to the window sill with dirty dishes, and the bedroom nothing more than one heap of dirty clothes and what looks to be various unsorted unidentifiable junk. With a deft twitch of her left index finger, the illusion of filth was removed leaving an immaculately clean but totally cluttered apartment.

“Yes, this is the home I know.” Woo thought to herself, closing the door behind her. Never forgetting to magically nudge the door to merge with the doorjamb. “Just try to pick that lock.” she whispered to unknown thieves.

Stepping to her bookcase desk on the right side of the room, Professor Woo attached a Class 1 Scrambler VidCom to her ancient voiceline and said aloud to no one in particular “Okay Ja Mere let’s get you caught up on the results of my interview with the Dragons.” The VidCom looked very much like a fancy notebook with mirrored back, at least until attached to a com-line. Its coupling fit conveniently over any standard headset.

Voiceline connection established. Please select pseudocall as carrier wave.

“Select casual call to solicit participation in sporting event.”

Sporting event solicitation selected as carrier wave. Confirm?

“Confirm selection. Please proceed.”

Carrier wave locked. Ready to encrypt.

Using a digital to voice carrier the VidCom was capable of transmitting a perfectly innocent sounding telephone conversation as carrier wave for picture and soundover communication. Even if the Citizins could skim the actual conversation from the carrier there was no facility available to Citizins that could descramble the coded video-sound blurps. In a culture that gave honorary Ph.D.s for successfully programming a VCR no need to worry about ease-dropping.

Encryption mode selected. Ready to transmit. Time in wait mode 00:00:16.648

Sitting in her small apartment allowed Woo the freedom from distraction that she would need for this conversation, there were many elements of the interaction with Drak that needed clarification and Ja Mere would serve as an excellent sounding board. Woo took solace from gazing at the masses of glassware and test-tubes littered throughout her kitchen cabinets, all at a different state of xpearimintation.

Encryption mode selected. Ready to transmit. Time in wait mode 00:00:45.332

The closest thing to Woo’s decor would be a vidi performance set for Sherlock Holmes. Research volumes were scattered about the floor like blocks in a playpen with little or no discernible order except to the child concerned. And concerned Woo was. Apart from her research into submolecular and molecular plasma physics, Woo had at least a half dozen active lines of inquiry going at any one time. The time-expansion techniques may not have helped her find the financial wherewithal to get on public transportation but it certainly helped her catch up on her studies.

Encryption mode selected. Ready to transmit. Time in wait mode 00:01:54.664

Whenever anyone, whether it be her young goober guard or a fellow egghead, came to visit it was a simple matter to throw an illusion of three week old laundry and at least as many nights of dirty dishes over the room hiding her apparatus and various other research equipment. This did not help her reputation as a homemaker but it did keep head on shoulders and prying eggheads out of her hair. Besides as a voguing male she was supposed to be allowed the eccentricities of a bachelor.

Encryption mode selected. Ready to transmit. Time in wait mode 00:02:12.113

Woo walked over to her refrigerator, examined a few slime molds that were hibernating in the lower shelf and grabbed herself a beer. A necessary prop for her call with Ja Mere and a not unwelcome refreshment — it was important that she appear nonchalant. Besides, the beer offered no danger of altering her mental and endocrinological functions. By magically removing the alcohol from a beer it was made into a quite refreshing drink without any biochemically active pollutants. Better than a pop drink, with much less sugar and caffeine.

Encryption mode selected. Ready to transmit. Time in wait mode 00:04:13.532

Sitting down at the roll top desk, Woo pushed aside a few notebooks, pressed the connect button, let out her breath and collected her thoughts.

Connection established. Time in wait mode 00:04:39.005

A conversation this was not. To any eavesdroppers the carrier sub-link would guarantee that it looked like a call to invite Ja Mere to play basketball. It was up to Woo to make the call look like a conversation to Ja Mere. It would not be efficient for him to realize that this call was, in reality, an extremely delicate recruitment speech. Drak was very specific that Woo would need to insure the complete an unquestioned cooperation of Ja Mere — now and for the foreseeable future.

Ready to transmit voice over.

Shaking her head, as if to catch herself or jostle an errant bit of hardware back into operation, Woo thought to herself, “Wait a minute. Those thoughts aren’t from now. This is a debriefing and research call. That line of thinking is the one that I followed so many years ago, when I recruited Ja Mere at Drak’s insistence. It required my best efforts at triple-talk and double-think. But that was then, and this is supposed to be now.

“Pause send program. Hold connect.”

Wait mode.

Woo could still recall the exchange as if it was yesterday.

“Have you been fired from the Cownsil for gross incompetence as yet?”

A smile spread over Ja Mere’s face only to be covered in a mock frown. “I’m pleased to hear from you Woo, I was afraid that you had been injured. I’ve heard that the eco-disaster patrols have been given permission to shoot to kill. I thought for sure they were moving in to clean up your apartment.”

“No way, Ja Mere my friend. Several endangered species of mice have been shown to be living in my apartment as their last known habitat.”

“Do you have any spotted owls living in there, Woo? If so, I know a Greenpeace collector that will pay very handsomely for anything proving their existence.”

“No I ran short of vitals the other day and had to roast the last one.”

“Ooo, you’re soo bad. To what do I owe the dubious privilege of being honor by a call from your illustrious self Woo?”

Setting the now empty beer bottle on the desk’s typing shelf, Woo went into formal action, “I had hoped to dissuade you from accepting another term of office with the Cownsil. Surely the north Atlantic constituents deserve reasonable representation every decade or so.”

“Thinking of tossing in the towel, Woo. I’ll give you a run for your money.”

“No need, Ja Mere, my round eyed friend. I am the new cownsil representative from East Hell-A.”

“I didn’t know the jungle regions were being represented in cownsil these days.”

“It’s an emergency measure. We had to do something to dilute the effects of your participation on the cownsil.”

“One of these days Woo I may take you serious. Then what will be do?”

“What else? Shoot at each other for awhile, then kiss and make up.”

“You’re not becoming a sexualist are you, Woo? Not becoming susceptible to the bangles and baubles of organic life, are you?”

“I don’t think so. And if I did, I wouldn’t choose to be gay.”

“You don’t hold anything against gays in particular, do you?”

“No, I don’t hold my thing against gays — or heteros, for that matter.”

“You’re bad — truly bad. If puns and humor in bad taste were the felons they should be, you would be making this call from behind bars. Which reminds me. What is the real reason for this call?”

“I’m serious about being a new representative to the Cownsil this session. And, well, I was hoping to enlist your help. You know, new ropes and all that.”

“No problem Woo. You call on your ol’ friend Ja Mere any time.”

“Can you say that again?”

“Sure, just call on your ol’ friend Ja Mere and you have my guarantee of help.”

There, that did it. He said the formulation and the spell of binding was activated. Friend or not, wish to or not, Ja Mere is now under compulsion to assist me anytime I called him as a “friend”. It didn’t feel ethical to bind him unconditionally. He is a friend, after all. Now for the close. “How about lunch some time this week so you can catch me up on who’s who in the Cownsil?”

“Sure thing. You will need it. In case, you couldn’t figure it out, I’m not the absent-minded professor you take me for. I already happen to know of your appointment to the cownsil, but in case you didn’t know, you’re also on the executive steering committee.”

Even now Woo could remember with vivid detail the shock she experienced at this minor revelation. Exerting a small surge of will to hide any surprise, Woo had countered with nonchalance, “But, of course they had to get some talent on the committee.”

Wait mode

What had happened that day? At first she had suspected Drak of engineering the quick advancement. But, nothing in her darkside voyaging then, or now, even hinted at why she was so quickly advanced into the steering committee. The fact of this memory impinging itself into her present time, and the fact that nothing as yet has explained her timely advancement did not portend well for a quiet winter. There are more fingers poking about in the web of time than she calculated.

Woo reached over and pressed the key on the Vid-Com.

As Woo waited for the line to reconnect so that she could catch Ja Mere up on the results from her interview with the Dragons, she tried to unscramble the growing temporal confusion between then and now by recalling a few of the events of that winter.

Unfortudinously, the more she cast her attention on the events those so many winters ago, the more the overlap between then and now would interweave. “I’ve heard of a stitch in time saving nine, but this is ridiculous. And who are or what are the nine saved by these stitches?”

Reconnect established momentary.


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