The Tale of Cinsk√° Daitan
By M.ELLIS (2016)

Back to Stories by Author

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

(Unfinished)

====Chapter 1:====

[1]

In which our heroine faces the age-long question as to whether or not crime pays

Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's
resistance without fighting…. Therefore, the skillful leader
subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he overthrows
their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field….
What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who
not only wins, but excels in winning with ease…. He wins his
battles by making no mistakes [which] is what establishes the
certainly of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is
already defeated.

-Master Sun, The Art of War

The day started out with the opening rounds of the annual mock war — une comedie de la guerre. The teams Raskayl, Jaguar Knights, and Leopardos vied for the trophy by darting into the festive crowd and carrying off all the young women wearing the emblems of rival teams. As Cinska watched, two of the Raskayl carried a blonde beauty across their goal line, and then deviated from the script by dumping her into the fountain. The woman climbed out, kicked one of the lads into the gut, and chased the other down the street while screaming curses.

In other words, a typical festival.

Cinska quirked a smile at the goings on and pressed through the crowd to find a quiet spot to sip chaayninaa, smoke papirosi, and stroll the netspace for tidbits of information. She also needed to work on assembling the passkey she needed to rifle the files of Stambouli Enterprises.

She found at empty outdoor table at Mama Romano's and ordered her drink.

Cinska logged into her Direct Neural Interface and entered the virch world of her infomorph. She passed through the French doors and into Popelka's office.

"Bonjour, patronne", her exoself greeted from behind the cherry-wood desk. "How are you?"

"In top form, having performed my morning toiletries followed by café and croissant. Ready to work?"

"But of course. I've compiled a list of the latest news articles from 'Quid Novi?' that may be of interest." The appropriate icon swam into view. "The agents autonome have gone off on their recon missions except for Spider who is trying to crack her way into Helios Amalgamated. The broker has filed a report on recent negotiations." Another set of icons. "A corajjuka is sniffing around, but the castellan security program sees no indications that this particular interstellar law enforcer is after you." A third icon popped up. "Sexual Fruit is playing at Fiddler's Green tonight starting at 21h15. Shall I purchase a ticket for you?"

"Sure."

"Several large conveys of grapeships entered Helios system via wormhole twenty days ago. When they arrived at the terminal outside the transit zone they disgorged all their grapes and took on new ones. Four of these shuttle pods are arriving at Thrasy even as we speak. Half are cargo pods and half are carrying passengers. Would you like to see the cargo manifests and/or passenger lists?"

"Hmmm. Set it aside for now."

"I've sorted you mail by subject matter and -- Stand by. Stand by. Stand by. Error. Continuity Error. The universe has vanished, and we are alone."

"What's happened?" Cinska demanded, worried.

"Thrasy Public Works announced interruption of angelnet and communications just before the Netspace Cloud connections failed. Everything is frozen. There is a big empty nothing sitting like a silent weight on my senses where my metacortex — " the distributed cloud of software agents that surrounds a user in netspace — "once thrived. Civilization is on hold."

"Okay. Don't panic. I'll see what I can find out in the real world."

"I am not programmed to panic. Bon chance, patronne."

Cinska put away her unlit cigarette and left the café without her drink. She headed down the street hoping that the outage was localized. It wasn't, and Cinska became just another confused person wandering the streets. And growing increasingly concerned.

Popelka wasn't kidding when she said that everything was frozen, stuck in place. Nothing would be working since everything was "smart" and automated and connected. Emergency protocols must have automatically kicked in. The implanted skill sets for emergency response teams and local militia seemed to be working; uniformed bionts and 'vecs worked to mitigate the situation with varying degrees of success. Over here a woman sat on the pavement sobbing while a woman wearing the uniform of the local militia tried to comfort her. Over there a man, ashen-faced, stood shock still while the crowd surged around him. And there an angry man stumbled along, cursing God, the godlike, the civil service Mala Fortuna, and anyone else he could think of.

Hysteria overtook some; a wild-eyed man grabbed a stranger by his shirt and demanded to know what was happening. A militia team and paramedics had to restrain him. Several meters away another outburst occurred, and over there yet another. And another, and….

They'll be ordered people off the streets soon, Cinska reflected.

Farther down the street a mob pressed against a squad of militia and demanded answers and information. Beyond that incident another squad used stunners to beat back a wave of confused, frightened, and angry people. A riot in the making. Cinska ducked down a side street.

Eventually, she stopped by another café. It was dead, frozen in time. A manual emergency door handle had extruded itself from the faux-wood, and the lights were on inside. But Cinska saw no signs of activity within.

A group of men with shaved heads and sporting long, thin goatees (and dressed all so fashionable in pin-stripe pants and shimmer shirts) lounged against the railing of the café's patio and exchanged rumors in a mixture of la-long'eand Turqui.

Cinska eavesdropped and picked snatches of contradicting information.

"My exoself caught a bulletin declaring that the Jade Emperor is overthrown and the Court Scholars have fled."

"I heard from Mabel that Kiheitai --" Irregular Troops Units — "acting as advance guards, spent years preparing their sabotage."

"That's guesswork. It may be true, but how would anyone know anything about operations of secretive foreign Kiheitai?"

"Rumor has it that an outfit called the Pai Shang-ti — "

"The God Worshippers Society?"

"Yea, them. They're supposed to be preparing a counter-coup."

"I don't know about that, but my neighbor is in the local militia, and he told me that the invaders and the militia are trying to root out counter-revolutionary groups and foreign espionage operations."

"The militia's gone over?"

"Apparently. And as soon as the angelnet is fully up and running again they will be double checking everyone's identity. So they say."

That last remark sent a jolt down Cinska 's spine. If the authorities were performing a general housecleaning they'd eventually uncover every mercenary, commercial and military, in Thrasy City. Upon arriving in Thrasy Cinska had installed the transapient-generated HideMe malware into the hab infrastructure. The program falsified sensory data in the angelnet, preventing it from realising she was anything other than what she pretended to be. If it disappeared in a reboot of the angelnet….

Merde.

Rapid response emergency 'bots would be on her in no time. Or the revived angelnet would activate utility fog in Capture Mode. A scary thought that. Imagine walking along, minding your own (illegitimate) business, when the very air you're passing through reaches out with invisible bonds and holds you in place. Cinska shivered at the thought.

Her only hope lay in being able to reinstall the malware when the net came online again before the authorities got wise.

But what was this talk of invasion? Was it the child of panic and unfounded rumor?

["Popelka."]

["Patronne?"]

["Have the HideMe program standing by and ready to insert as soon as you have netspace access. This is a priority one command."]

["Confirmed."]

Cinska went to Kazlev Square and found it crowded with confused and worried people. Two men in heated argument started fighting. As Cinska watched, two uniformed 'vecs pushed their way through the crowd and restrained the combatants.

Cinska spotted activity at Yuriko-san's outdoor stall and sauntered over. People were sipping café provided by a battery-powered café-maker. Cinska moved forward cautiously, reciting her mantra silently. "One should cultivate an innocence, and awareness of self, and an unselfconsciousness of self which leaves one nothing to hide." (Isaac Asimov, Second Foundation, circa -20 A.T.)
Yuriko-san handed Cinska a brimming cup lightly flavored with cream. "Heard anything?" the vendor asked.

"Nothing verifiable. You?"

"I chatted with a militia lieutenant a while ago. What we know — or think we know — is that Helios star system was invaded via the wormhole at four hours thirty today. Autowar carriers and troop transports disguised as cargo pods and passenger liners."

"War between the zaibatsu?"

"No, war among the Kyriotatous. The disguised pods were from those big grapeship convoys that came through the wormhole a month ago. The 'stems' dropped off all their shuttle pods and picked up new ones. Looked normal, right? Meanwhile, saboteurs struck all major habitats in orbit around Hermes, Zeus, and Poseidon. And Demeter of course. And here we are, totally screwed. Only thing running is the invaders military functions."

That last bit was important to know, for it meant the authorities could start sweeping netspace for anomalies. "Who attacked?"

A man sipping café nearby now spoke up. "Pardon, ladies. But I also have contacts with the militia, and we may have been invaded by the New Renaissance Army commanded by the Exalted La Parisienne. The Heavenly Chastising Force has captured cities — including our own -- orbiting Demeter, Hestia, and Hera. Other forces led by the Exalted Wizard of Light and Shadow have the vast industrial centers and mining concerns and power-sats of sun-baked Hermes. Jane's Battleships hold the wormhole and have sent autowars to guard all the occupation forces."

"'Sun-baked'? Are you a poet, Monsieur?" Cinska asked.

"As a matter of fact, yes. I'd give you my profile if my DNI was functioning. I think my best work to date is — "

"I thought the New Renaissance Army was kept busy at Cranberry and Ester star systems," Cinska quickly interject. "How sure are you of your information's accuracy?"

"The invaders have communicated information to our militia with instructions to pass it on to the general population. Besides, if you'd kept up with military news you'd know that the New Renaissance Army was stationed at Tancred as a rapid response force to support the Good Government Intervention Front at Cranberry and the Pacification Headquarters at Ester."

Not just a poet, but also an amateur military 'expert' and warfare fan, Cinska mused. He must be on the verge of an orgasm right about now.

"What of our defenses?" Yuriko asked.

"Swept away I imagine. Though I heard that there was little actual fighting. The New Renaissance Army appears to have simply walked in and taken over."

"What of our own transcended Personages?"

"Gone. Fled. The Exalted Jade Emperor and all ta's Scholars. All running outsystem."

"Merde."

"They also say that General-Admiral the Exalted Jane Nakamura has a personal grudge against the Jade Emperor who decided not to stick around to talk it over." He shrugged. "But for all we know, this could be enemy propaganda."

Cinska nodded and downed the last of her café. She thanked Yuriko and excused herself.

Cinska melted back into the crowd and worked her way to a side street where she leaned against a wall and fretted. She had nothing to do other than wait, and she hated feeling so helpless. Cinska walked towards the Sarskaya myza, a narrow street with stone stairs clustered along its length. People clogged the street today. An annoyed, frustrated Cinska got swept along with the crowd moving toward the square.

Armored Moravec hoplites marched past a war machine, Castigator Class, that dominated the middle of Place du Malopolska. The 'vec hoplites were deliberately showy, but hardly in the same class as a Castigator which was, basically, a gel-bot war machine, its body comprised of shape-shifting smart matter with scores of deployable weapons, sensors, and tools hidden within. Add to that an IQ in the four-digits range. Formidable. And able to slag the whole neighborhood as fast as it took to think about it.

In the shadow of the machine foreign soldiers chatted amiably with local militia. Cinska overhead someone say that the soldiers belonged to a Social Interface Unit of a Civil Affairs Brigade. Civilians lined the edges of the square and stared at the invaders. Cinska fought her way through the mob and back onto the Sarskaya myza.

"Anna! Anna Perenna!"

Someone calling the name of her Thrasy identity. Cinska turned.

"Oh. Bonjour, Mlle Sans-Gêne."

"Did you hear the latest gossip? Shuttles from the ships Artemisia of Halicarnassus and Die Himmelstur docked at Thrasy and disgorged troops from the Flower Warriors Cohort and a bureaucracy from a Good Governance Legion. A foreign Personage is now installed as the Provisional Government. Installed not as Governor, mind you, but as the government. What conceit! Although, it is true that any one of the Kyriotatous is quite capable of multi-tasking on a level far beyond mere human norm, but one should cultivate a sense of humility, of modesty."

"Ouais. Just as I always adopt of pose of humility and modesty when dealing with my house-bots."

"Ha! You're incorrigible, Mlle Perenna. How are you getting on without netspace access?"

"Terrible. You?"

"Well, gosh. I don't know what to make of it all. Say, someone told me that the reason the Jade Emperor gave in so quickly and ran out of Helios system is because the Wizard of Light and Shadow has a personal grudge. Can you imagine, though, a duel between two of the Kyriotatous right here in Helios system? Devastating."

"In more ways than one."

The other woman giggled. "Ouais. That'd make one hell of a mess. Oh, by the way, assuming everything is up and running next Samedi, would you like to come to my Age of Majority party?"

"Hard to believe you're going to be twenty-five. A responsible adult with localized voting privileges." Really hard to believe.

"Yea, really amazing. Anyway, I'm looking for my buddies, if they haven't all gone freaked-out and orbit-less. So, I'll see you next Samedi."

"Sure. Au revoir!"

Cinska continued on down the street. A short while later Popelka beeped for attention.

["What's up?"]

["Patronne. Net access is now partially restored. I am able to access the police files using my illicit software. Nothing much else is up and running yet, but police and emergency services naturally have priority.

["This is what I've learned. The transapient-led New Renaissance Army has captured the major polities. Demeter's habitats, including Thrasy, are now under martial law."]

Cinska 's main concern right now lay in the fact that the angelnet could come online at any moment, rebooted and carrying new search programs, while private citizens still had no access. So the question remained as to which came first — restoration of full access enabling Popelka to upload the HideMe malware, or the angelnet catching up with Cinska 's deception.

Cinska had reached the park and found it crowded. It looked as though a field kitchen had been set up, and beyond that a makeshift medical clinic. At the kitchen uniformed people fed locals queued up for a meal. And the clinic looked to be a prefab building. Nice to see someone's nanofac is in working order.

["Popelka. Any luck uploading the malware?"]

["Negative, patronne. The only net access available is Read Only message boards belonging to police, civil defense, and the New Renaissance Army."]

["Okay. Be attentive. As soon as you can, upload that malware."]

["Priority one. Ouais, patronne."]

While Cinska debated whether or not to get in line for lunch, the air about her coalesced as the angelnet in constraint mode wrapped Cinska in a full body cast. She didn't have time to struggle. The last thing she remembered was a prick at the back of her neck, suggesting the injection of a sedative.

====Chapter 2: In which our heroine's free will becomes, temporarily, a thing of the past====

[2]

Cinska woke up on a cot in the infirmary. She failed to contact Popelka, suggesting deactivation of her DNI. Seeing Cinska awake, two uniformed women helped her off the cot and out the door where awaited a Gendarmerie lieutenant and a master-sergeant with half a decuria as escort.

Surprised, Cinska wondered why she deserved such extravagance. She managed to tone down her anxiety by assuming that the purpose of this exercise was to put her in a confused and anxious state.

Down the halls past uniformed people moving about briskly and into a conference room where they deposited Cinska in a chair a few feet from the front of a long table. Behind the table sat three uniformed people, thought the woman in the middle wore no insignia. Light from the main window spilled around this figure occupying the high-back chair. This person dominated the room with an air of supreme confidence, natural serenity, and transcendent beauty.

The officer to the woman's left spoke. "Mademoiselle, I am honored to present to you Exalted huo shenxian Sagana Urbicapus, Feldzeugmarschall of the Heavenly Chastising Force, Marchensis of Stross, and the provisional government of the minor planet Demeter and all its polities."

Wordy bastard, Cinska observed.

"Good day to you, my child," the huo shenxian said.

Cinska swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. "Bonjour, Exalted Bodhisattva," she softly replied.

"Let us begin," said the officer to the right of the huo shenxian —the immortal-in-human-form. "We have before us today a person known as Anna Perenna, and who stands accused of commercial espionage at the very least. The suspect is wearing a Meta-grade augmented bio-body, possibly the one she was born with. Mlle, you may start by telling us your real name and polity of origin."

Cinska stared at the table top and said nothing.

"Mademoiselle." This came from a warm and resonate woman's voice. Cinska looked up at the huo shenxian whose expression she read as saying: You know what I am, and I assure you that even in this reduced state as an avatar my powers are formidable. Do you intend to waste ten minutes of my time knowing full well that I will have the information I want from you with or without your cooperation? Wouldn't you rather cooperate and, in doing so, earn my favor?

All that in the huo shenxian's expression.

Then, too, there was Cinska 's upbringing in her native city situated in the theocractically-minded polities of Charlemagne star system where the godlike transcended — Les Propriétaires — were worshipped as Bodhisattvas.

Cinska wet her lips. "I was Cermaka Svoboda-Uchida, from Notre Jardin in Charlemagne system. Now I'm Cinska Daitan, an information pirate currently employed by Ferguson and Zhang Incorporated to commit commercial espionage in Helios system. Ferguson and Zhang operate out of Astarte."

"What do you know about 'Godshatter'?" one of the officers demanded.

"Applied Theology is not my field. I don't know what that is."

"What do you know about ontic bombs and transapient algorithm viruses?"

"Heard of them, I think. But they're nothing I have to deal with."

"We shall see."



Cinska looked out from her cell window in Atonement House. A pair of huo shenxian wearing utility fog auras strode up the boulevard. Crowds quieted and parted, cautious before the foreign gods who saw everything and commented on nothing.

Cinska turned from the window and went back to her work bench. She was sewing together a garment by hand. The Tisaphone assigned as her warder and case manager called it therapy. Cinska called it tedious and boring.

Aside from Handicrafts (embroidery, pottery, knitting, constructing models and robots), she also had to study Health Cultivation (Most Advantageous Nutrition, Exercise for Externally Training the Muscles and Bones While Internally Cultivating Chi, and Cultivating Health in Accordance with the Variations of the Natural World), Folk Sports (rope skipping, spinning the Kongzhu wheeled top, and Shuttlecock or Featherball), and traditional Han puzzles (Huarong Path, Qiqiaoban — "seven boards of cunning" — Luban Lock, Ring puzzle, Gong dao bei, Yinshuiniao, Luban ball, Nine-Lattice puzzles, and Sixiren). But no one ever said that prison would be fun.

However, Cinska found constructing models/robots and solving puzzles somewhat enjoyable, and tried to spend more time doing that instead of her other studies. The Tisaphone, being no fool, withheld Cinska 's model-making and puzzle-solving until she performed all other tasks to satisfaction. This served as a constant reminder of why Cinska chaffed at all authority and chose a career as a free agent thumbing her nose at rules and notions of "proper behavior."

Eventually, the time came when Cinska was ushered into an office of simple Nihonjin design complete with wall murals and sliding paper doors. A chef de battalion sat on a mat behind the low, lacquered desk. He motioned for Cinska to sit.

"As a commercial mercenary, it doesn't matter who you work for as long as the pay is good. So. We've purchased your contract from Ferguson and Zhang." He passed a net-accessible tablet and a stylus to her. "You need to sign this document, and I'll notarize it."

"May I read it first?"

"No need. You haven't much to say in the matter. This is being done at the pleasure of the Exalted Urbicapus. You'll get a copy you can peruse at your leisure. After they reactivate your DNI."

Cinska signed and handed the tablet back.

"Now, Mlle. What we intend is to send out teams of undercover agents in a massive search for clarketech artefacts. We're pairing you with a 'vec named Kelaino and sending you to Andreas star system in the Free Zone. From this point on, Kelaino is your controller and governor. You will obey ta in all things. Understand?"

"Yes."

"Very well. Return to your room."



The 'vec that came to Cinska 's room wore a human-form body, tall and black and outwardly female. "My name is Kelaino. I'm to be your controller."

"Bonjour, senpai."

"Namaste. I looked over your file, including the transcript of your interrogation. You've had quite an adventurous life in the last two decades. Always one step ahead of the authorities. Until now."

"Yea. So, you're a 'vec. Where from?"

"Vajji, in Oudh-Sarvabhauma. But my education was at Vima Takto, and later I was posted to the capital in Surkh Kotal."

"I visited Oudh once. I tried to steal data from Iksvakus, a Tshin-calo megacorps. That did not go well. Very scary. You must know what those self-righteous Tshin-calo are like."

Kelaino stared at Cinska for a long moment before answering. "Being one of the Tshin-calo myself, I would have to say, Yes, I do know what we are like. And scary doesn't being to cover it."

Do prdele. "Um, so what kind of work did you do in Surkh Kotal?"

"I was an authoritative adviser with the Hogosha no Toritsugi. And before that I was a corajjuka. I'm currently seconded to the Heavenly Chastising Force of the New Renaissance Army."

Oya maa! From the Commission of Protectors?! What have I done to deserve this? She forced a smile. "I'm pleased to meet you, Kelaino. My friends call me Cinska ."

"Where we will be going I will call you 'Frau Persephone Bopp.' That will be your new identity. Starting tomorrow at six hours thirty you will learn to become Frau Bopp."

Swell. "May I ask a personal question, Kelaino?"

"Yes."

"Do you ever smile?"

"I'm not known for it. Anything else?"

"Ouais. I can't access language translation with my DNI down, and I was wondering what 'Urbicapus' meant."

"Taker-of-Cities."

"Oh. How jolly."



"Our team is going to Andreas on a singleship called Chateau Gaillard," Kelaino informed Cinska one day. "Once we arrive insystem, we'll journey to Franziska orbital."

"I've never travelled on a relativistic ship before," Cinska said, hesitant. "Aren't they kind of slow?"

"A standard monopole driven singleship would take seventeen point six years at eighty-five percent light-speed."

"Svaty Isidor! That's a round trip of more than three and a half decades! We'll be so far behind the times it'll take forever to catch up."

"Not forever. Just seventeen years. The important thing is that we want to avoid transapient or archai attention along the route. If we did go via the Nexus, we'd end up in Bridgt system, and we'd still have to cross nearly a parsec of space on a singleship."

"We'll be a parsec from the nearest wormhole — the nearest link to the Known Net? How good is the local net there?"



"Good enough, I image. We'll have plenty of time to study up on Franziska and the other important polities in Andreas system."

"Still…. "

"Exalted Sagana Urbicapus has planned out this mission."

"Ouais, then. Can't argue against that."

"That's the smartest thing you've said since I met you, 'Frau Bopp.'"

"Thanks."

"Virtually all the travel time will be spent … virtually. And, naturally, it won't feel like seventeen years."

"That's not so bad." Actually, it was terrible. Cinska was used to being her own boss, to come and go as she saw fit, to choose whether or not to take a contract. Now, everything was being shoved down her throat. She hated it. But her upbringing told her that an Exalted Boddhisattva knew best and was not to be trifled with. No good would come from complaining. "Château Gaillard. 'Saucy Castle.' I like the name, at least."

"I am so gratified to hear that. During the voyage you will be expected to further your education."

"Well. I suppose I can pick up an advanced degree or two," Cinska muttered, resigned to her fate.

"You will acquire at least four degrees," Kelaino said. "I will put together your curriculum and monitor your progress during the voyage. My identity for this mission will be as your compagnon de voyage[i/] under the name Myrica Tamarisk."

Cinska smiled. "I like that. 'Myrica, peel me a grape.'"

"I'm going to be your keeper, not your servant," Kelaino corrected with frost in her voice. "And Exalted Sagana may possibly provide a huo shenxian to oversee the mission. And that means best behavior and best manners."

"Ouais.[/] I get it. huo shenxian "I am so gratified."

"So, what's in Andreas system that's so special?"

"Franziska orbital was abandoned for nine centuries by all save a group of people now called the Remnant, and resettled several centuries ago. During the Abandonment, a transapient called Al-Raschid of Tjat used Franziska was a base of operations for a while. Hence the wide-spread belief that Artefacts are to be found there. Franziska is a mecca for Clarkers. We'll be gathering intelligence about Andreas system, but mainly chasing down Clarketech Artefacts. And before you call it a fool's errand, remember that a bigger brain than ours has put this mission together."

"Well, then. A -Clarking we shall go."



Eventually, everything was in place to commence the mission. Frau Persephone Bopp and Frau Myrica Tamarisk joined two other passengers (who were not part of the mission, as far as Cinska knew) aboard the Chateau Gaillard. Space on a singleship being at a premium, everyone was uploaded directly into the ship's onboard virch. Their discarded bodies were brought aboard as feedstock for later use.

The shipmind created a "crew" to interact with the passengers, the assumption being that a variety of personalities available for conversation made for intellectual stimulation and a nicer voyage. And Kelaino created a slew of "professors" to bedevil Cinska .

Cinska 's instructors had no need to prod her. Normally, she would hate this, but tachydidaxy could manipulate a student to be constantly interested and attentive. The software via her DNI tinkered with the brain directly to artificially induce feelings of happiness, curiosity, determination to succeed, and so on. While she was under the influence. Afterwards, each session reminded Cinska of why she left home in the first place to be an adventuring thief.



Outfitted in furry skins and fur-lined boots, her frosted breath floating away in a small cloud, Cinska acknowledged the hand signal from the lead hunter. With stone-tipped spear in hand, she crept closer to their prey.

Poised, tense, Cinska waited and watched. A noise — a diversion, really — caused the beast to turn in that direction, facing away from the hunters.

Cinska leapt up with the others and tried to thrust her spear into the beast. Instead, the massive head swung sideways, trunk and tusk slamming against her torso and sending her through the air….

She experienced a blinding flash of pain that faded after a couple of seconds. That's when Cinska realized she was floating, ghost-like, over her mangled body.

"Instantaneous death due to major head trauma. Would you like to respawn, choose another game, or exit?"

["How about a game,]" Kelaino's voice interrupted, "[in which you have to butcher and cook your own food?"]

"This is my scheduled leisure time. Leave me alone."

"[The irony of it all,"] Kelaino said dryly, ["is that our personality types should be 'kindred spirits.' However, your criminal bent makes this impossible."]

"I'm just lucky that way."

["I can understand the desire to take the road less travelled, but you chose to walk it blindfolded just to make it difficult. If I told you the local sun was yellow-white, you'd argue the point just to contradict an authority figure.]

"Can you lecture me some other time, ma mere? I'm busy playing 'Paleolithic Hunter.'"

["Sarcasm does not become you. I just wanted to say that your latest assessments are better than expected. Well done. Talk to you later."]

"Hourra," Cinska answered without enthusiasm.



On the edge of the virtual mud-brick metropolis of U-aset Cinska sat on the veranda of mud-brick mansion overlooking na itr-aa; The River, Neilos in Hellenic. Birds and frogs moved among the tall reeds and marsh grasses. Across The River fields spread out for seven or eight kilometers until they hit the escarpment beyond which lay the tombs and temples of the of the Necropolis and the Valley of the Kings.

The imagined sun dropped slowly toward that imagined horizon. "West," it was called. "Occidens." The Land or Abode of the Dead. Here in Kem-t it was called Amenti. Other names in other cultures included Atlantis, Avalon, Tir Na nOg, and Golden Mountain. Cinska wondered why so many ancient peoples focused their attentions on the after-life. There had even been a Frangk-Yangki civilization called Occidens. The "Land of the Dead" Civilization?

Kelaino strode up, bronzed with black hair to the shoulder and wearing a translucent linen dress, and greeted Cinska . "You did well on your latest assessment."

"Thank you. It's a unique form of torture that I've avoided before now by simply downloading skill sets." She lifted her cup of honeyed beer from the lacquered end-table and sipped from it.

"Your dissertation was adequate and you didn't embarrass yourself too badly in the oral examination. Congratulations, 'Frau Doktor.'"

"Banzai," Cinska said without enthusiasm. Just the latest in a series of recently acquired degrees she could add to Persephone Bopp's personal profile. "I must have business profiles generated. And I must make an offering to the spirits of the ancient Hàn officials who invented the unique form of torture called 'The Examination System.'"

"Your commerce profiles in the Free Zone will read, 'Persephone Bopp, PhD and Presented Scholar, Cyber-Archeologist and Antiquarian Hacker.' Mine will read 'Myrica Tamarisk, lnvestments Consultant and Professional Companion.' By the way, you will need to be formally presented. A ceremony will be arranged in which Exalted the huo shenxian bestows honors upon you. That will give you bragging rights. During the ceremony you will not stray from the script; Exalted Sagana does not need to be annoyed by any banal or inane remarks you might wish to blurt out."

"Of course." Cinska sipped honeyed beer.

"Also, we have arrived in Andreas system. We've dumped nearly all our velocity and are approaching the end of our journey. Shipminder is preparing new bodies for us at the Sachsenstadt terminal. We'll download into them after you are presented to Most Exalted the huo shenxian. It's time to gear up for our arrival."

"About bloody time."

====Chapter 3: In which Cinska and Kelaino disappear into the belly of the metaphorical whale
====

[3]

The star Andreas is a G0IV sub-giant of 1.45 solar masses and
a luminosity of 6 sols. The ring habitat Franziska orbits the
planet Gartenwelt which has a mass of 0.98 terras and a black-
body temperture of 286 Kelvins. Gartenwelt is tipped 75%
on its axis and revolves about the star once every 1058 days.

Franziska has a diameter of 250 km, a width of 50 km, and a
surface area of 31,400 km2. It's population numbers close to
20 million physical beings, and over 100 million digital entities.
The major industries are ….
Among the founders of Franziska, Isabel Wu is considered
the leading oikistes and her natal day is a major holiday.
Franziska's main city of Sachsenstadt had the most diligent of official customs-bots. One of their concerns (ie: paranoiad obsessions) was infiltration by foreign transapients. Cinska and Kelaino downloaded into new bodies and shuttled over to the habitat to partake in the welcoming ritual.

"Are either of you an avatar or a partial of a Transapient Personnage? Anything to declare, such as clarketech weaponry or other Zaubereitechnik? Please open your mouth wide so that I may verify that the whole of the universe does not reside inside there. Thank you, and have a pleasant stay."

"What was that all about?" Cinska asked Kelaino as they summoned the satchel-bot carrying some wer-weave and accessories in its smart-matter interior. The 'bot followed its owners out the door. "Looking into our mouths and all that?"

"They were looking for the cosmos in our mouths as if we are Krishna-as-a-child from the old folktale. They do this as a formality, the way Late Steam Age sex workers would have their customers was their genitals with a damp cloth, as if doing so would prevent the spread of disease. A ritual that in no way stops what it intends to prevent."

"They why do it? I mean, if I were a huo shenxian, would I allow myself to be caught out that easily?"

"No. But people love rituals. They always have. They like knowing that things are conducted in an organized and proper manner. They find it comforting."

"Even 'vecs?"

Kelaino chose not to respond to that. Cinska changed the subject. "About the sex workers and the damp cloth — didn't people back then know about hygiene?"

"They were doing cartwheels over the fact that they'd re-invented indoor plumbing. 'We sent Neil Strong-of-Arm to the moon, and we have flush toilets. Life is good.'"

"What kind of toilet?"

"Doesn't matter."

"Well, Frau Tamarisk, why didn't our Franziska database have anything on this weird ritual?"

"Think about it. Fourteen years ago the inhabitants would have received news beamed from Bridgt telling all about the successful invasion of Helios."

"Oh. Oh! They're worried about transapient attack. Those customs officials are probably sub-routines of the Franziska world-mind."

"What a clever girl you are."

"What a snotty bitch you are."

The duo passed from the terminal and into the concourse with its Neo-Faux-Viktorianisch Wiederbeleburg architecture of iron-framed windows and concrete foundations. Beneath the curved glass ceilings crowds of humanity and other biontity, various forms of Moravecity and neumanity, and what-have-you-ity ebbed and flowed, hampered by a horde of children offering services, that should have been fully automated, as porters, jobbers, tourist guides, souvenir vendors, facilitators, and entertainment purveyors. They pestered everyone in the concourse and added to the general din.

"What gives?" Cinska asked, astonished. "This is worse than the database let on. I've travelled extensively throughout Mennefer space, but this is the strangest place I've been to. I feel like I'm in a historical virch adventure."

One precocious, or simply ambitious, child elbowed other kids aside and planted herself in front of Cinska and Kelaino.

"Willkommen, gnädig Frauen. My name is Jin Jin Jat Siu. I can see that you are Ausländern of impeccable taste and high status. And to enhance your status you will want a physical person and not an infomorph to act as your Kulturell Dolmetscherin. As such my task is to interpret this culture to outsiders amazingly well, and help them avoid embarrassment while maximizing their business opportunities and the enjoyment of recreational and cultural facilities. Bitte akzeptieren Sie meine Visitenkarte." She pulled an actual physical business card from her pocket and presented it in both hands with a bow.

Cinska accepted the card which turned out to be a netspace link. Kelaino peered at it over Cinska 's shoulder and linked in as well. They both chased down information on the girl in netspace and verified her credentials.

The young entrepreneur's net-site also listed service charges for standard automated support systems database access, and then compared the excessively large total for a week's use against the child's more than reasonable service fee.

"They do charge for everything here," Cinska remarked. "Not at all like back home."

"Welcome to the Free Zone," Kelaino said wryly.

"I'm surprised there's no fee for breathing. This girl, if that's what she is, does have a business license. It might be a good idea to hire someone like this Fraumlulein."

"I'd rather get someone older who doesn't have to hang around the concourse to drum up business."

"Oh!" the child piped up. "I should have realized that you are aristos. You do need someone older and more experienced and becoming of your high status. I have an uncle — "

"Too pricey," Kelaino said, and waved her hand in dismissal.

Cinska studied the girl who had light brown hair cropped short and framing a face far too openly honest to be trusted. She wore a yellow Áo bà ba — the two-piece Vi?t peyjama-like garment. Cinska ran the gamine's name through a translation program and discovered that "Jin Jin Jat Siu" meant "Charming Smile" in Yue-hai.

Cinska quirked her mouth into a half smile. "Do people call you 'Smiley'?"

"Mostly they call me 'Corpse-Grinder' because my ancestors were in the Reclamation and Recycling profession for generations. They made a fortune, but the Time of Crisis wiped it all away. But enough about me. You want to know all about Sachsenstadt, the leading city of Franziska, not about turning dead bodies into fertilizer."

"What a delightfully charming child," Kelaino muttered.

We really need someone like this, Cinska thought to herself in desperation. I've really out of my element here.

"The first thing we have to do," Cinska said after discovering location maps did not come free, "is to locate the flat we've rented. Number 27 Eichelstrasse."

"That's over in the Gründer Platz neighborhood, off Halbmondstrasse. Out front of the terminal there's a flo-stone street. Just order up a 'pod and tell it where you want to go. Now, about the terms of my employment: I have a standard contract that can be accessed at my netspace address."

"We'll contact you," Kelaino said. "But for now, I'll pay you a gratuity for being so helpful."

Kelaino ordered her infomorph to transfer a small sum of money to the girl's account. The satchel-bot followed them to the street where Kelaino ordered up a travel pod for two with luggage. Once seated a protective bubble formed around the seat and the connection to the floor was severed. The pod extruded flo-stone wheels. Kelaino voiced their travel destination, and ordered up one-way windows for the pod. As the 'pod started off, Kelaino informed her companion that she'd just downloaded a major, though expensive, data dump.

"It was necessary to bring us up to date on the culture quickly. Let's see, the — "

"Where did we get money from?"

"I have a portfolio of digital goods curtesy of the Exalted Boddhisattva. Entertainment, academic works, assembler templates, etcetera. On the way insystem my exoselves commenced to advertising samples on the local net. We've sold a few things already and have some working capital."

"I should have guessed. I'm used to making my own arrangements, and — "

"Yes, well, you'll have to arrange to become incorporated. What they call here 'Ich, AG' — Me, Inc. I intend to do the same. Also, we need to see about hiring a private angelnet provider."

Cinska nodded. She knew from the EG entries she'd studied that in Andreas many big firms and wealthy citizens hired personal security forces because of the very restricted public angelnet. And even that didn't extend at all (supposedly) into the Alte Stadt, the crevasses where the Remnant dwelt. The hyperturing that maintained the habitat's infrastructure didn't have eyes and ears into everything, and apparently had little interest in governing outside of infrastructure concerns.

"Tres Luddite."

"Yea. This situation reminds me of an anecdote I came across while reading ancient history back in my younger days. It seems there was a cheap-skate in the polity of the Athenians who would carry packages from the market himself rather than have a servant along. People found this amusing."

"Do tell."

"However, when his wife went out and about the crime-ridden streets, the cheap-skate would hire only a small girl to act as the woman's escort. This was considered scandalous because the wife came from a 'good' family and deserved better."

"I'm happy to know that. You're a real history buff, aren't you?"

"The point is that a woman's escort in that circumstance was supposed to be an indication of her status. That's what this 'cultural interpreter' business is all about. And all those other hustlers at the concourse. Of course we'd want an actual person with physical business cards and all the other trappings. That raises our status."

"Ah. So, if Smiley is indicative of what we need to maintain a certain degree of status — "

"Then we should hire her."

"Do it then." That's a relief.



Eichelstrasse turned out to be a side alley between rows of house and their walled yards. Kelaino pushed open the gate to number 27 and the two women entered into a courtyard dominated by a circular neu-brick design radiating out from a shade tree. Cinska followed Kelaino down a circular staircase under a stone arch.

The ground floor flat consisted of a single large room. The flat's vot welcomed the ladies and asked if they wanted any particular furniture extruded from the floors or walls at this time.

"Two easy chairs, please, House," Cinska said. She looked around and asked Kelaino, "This is kind of small. Is this what passes for a basic residence in this habitat?"

"Basic and charity dwellings are barely large enough to sleep in. We're paying sixteen thousand isabels per each two-point-four megaseconds we stay here."

"How much is that in real money? In Charlemagne currency, say."

"Forty statuts."

"Forty?! For this dump?"

"A larger place with a crafted courtyard would cost three times as much. I did bring along some interior design templates. We can decorate this room in faux- japponnais or neo-Vekktorianisch, among others."

"Forty! Unbelievable."

"If you stand on tip-toe in front of the window, you have a view of the garden."

"All I see are weeds. Doesn't this place have a gardening 'bot?"

"Those are herbs, not weeds." Kelaino frowned. "Most of them are herbs."

Cinska dropped into the easy chair. The hateful years of waiting and confinement were over. The coursework hadn't helped much to relieve the boredom — Cinska was action oriented. She needed to do, not to contemplate theories. She'd rather spend time in an extreme-sport virch than a school. Her "Recommended Person" advanced degrees in Economics, Sociology, and Memetics, along with her "Presented Scholar," or PhD, in Cyber-Archeology, meant little to her if the knowledge had no immediate application.

"Information requires Application to achieve Transformation." Grandfather Ichida had taught her that.

Time to go hunting for information. Start with ordering Popelka to send out a half-dozen agents autonome to hunt for clients, and another batch to chase down rumors concerning Artefacts. Meanwhile, Cinska would work on finding a way to hack into one or more "pay-per-byte" data-archives. A task she found more entertaining than studying abstractions and playing in virches.

But first, she needed to become familiar with her surroundings, and that meant acquiring some background information. From someone other than the hired cultural interpreter, for only a fool relied on one source of information.

["Popelka."]

["Patronne?"]

["Search and summarize news, the social net, and content produced by high-status socio-slash-political commentators. Find the local equivalent of Quid Novi."]

["That would be the Feeënrijk collective's Welk Nieuws. Most recent roving reports are available to you now at the indicated link."]

["Arigat?. "]

Cinska began scrolling through the recent and newsworthy events, focusing on items of cultural interest on the one hand to get a feel for the world, and on business news on the other. One item was particularly noteworthy. A cartel of foreign investors, called Manigramam, had entered Andreas system from Bridgt and were in the process of putting together a memetic campaign to attract clients with more status capital than sense. Manigramam's detractors likened the cartel's position to matsyanyaya, an ancient Hindic political theory advocating an anarchy in which the strong devoured the weak.

And they call me a pirate, Cinska reflected as she flagged the article for further study. She continued to scroll down the headlines, stopping for a detailed read whenever something caught her interest.

"Oya Ma!"

"What's the matter?" Kelaino asked.

Double shit. Cinska had forgotten that her partner was sitting not ten feet from her. "There's a diplomatic mission on its way here from Poincare;."

"From Charlemagne? Whatever for?"

"They travelled the wormhole nexus to Bridgt where they boarded a singleship. That was three years ago. Estimated time of arrival is a couple of weeks."

"Why are they coming here?"

"Oh. Doesn't say, really. Just the usual double-talk about establishing friendly ties, etcetera. An emissary and his staff…. A trade delegation…. Cultural attache; …. Merde sur un baton! "

"What?"

"The delegation includes two Inquisitors from the A Cognitionibus."

"From the Archipel de Charlemagne's Office of Enquiry? They must have corajjuka warrants to bother coming all the way out here. What did you do that I should know about?"

"Gosh, I don't know! I left home when I was twenty-four. A year before attaining my age of majority. Haven't been back to Charlemagne system at all, let alone to the asteroid belt. They can't be after me."

"Why am I not comforted by your assurances?"

"Right now I couldn't care less about your suppurant comfort. I don't like the coincidence of officials from back home showing up while we're here. It smells. And it's only because I'm 99% certain that they can't possibly be after me is the only reason I haven't shit myself." Cinska jumped up from her seat. "I can't sit still right now. I'm going to change and go out for a run. While I'm burning off the excess energy, my infomorph will access and analyze the local extradition laws."

"As will I, though I doubt any exist between Charlemagne and Andreas. And I don't understand why you feel it necessary to run about. Your body is fitted with a medisystem that can perform any desired changes to your physique."

"My physique is just fine. I just need to run."

"Oh. Well, alright then."

"I'm so glad you approve." Bitch.



Cinska trotted down Eichelstrasse and turned onto Halbmonstrasse, jogging past cul de sacs lined with homes and the occasional shop. Halbmonstrasse took her to the crowded commercial strip unimaginatively named Handelstrasse, whose pillbox-shaped buildings sported signs in hànzì, alt Englisch Beschriftung, and huruf alearabia. Then out into the Gründer Platz and past the statue of Founder Isabel Wu (of which Kelaino remarked the first time they saw it, that it looked remarkably like the statue of Sigma Ra back in Surkh Kotal). From there she cut through Kirschbaum Park and started to pick up serious speed. Brown legs scissoring and arms pumping, Cinska charged up the steep Hohestrasse lined with dwellings of pastel colors and balconies offering a view counter-spinward. From here Cinska had a line of sight of 75 kilometers along the curve of the orbital. She could make out Circumference Boulevard running alongside the Umfang Fluss and disappearing up the curve. Sunlight glinted on the Kristall Meer.

And then downhill and through a playground, weaving between children at play, and into a neighborhood whose architecture her database referred to as "Classical Anglic." And, in this case, that meant buildings copied from 68th century AT designs -- shaped like mushrooms, with wide caps providing shade over the streets -- interspersed with dwellings in the form of steep bowls from the 74th century AT.

Cinska stopped by a fountain outside Mycroft Homes Real Estate on the corner of Della Street and Luis Lane. She dipped her arm into the water and ordered her suit to fill up. The sleeve pulsed in peristaltic fashion, drawing water into hydropockets spaced invisibly round her clothing. A nipple poked from the collar for her to drink from.

As she turned to leave she heard the fountain say, "Excuse me, gnädig Frau, but are you going to pay for that or am I going to have to call my security firm?"

"Love the Propriétaires!" she swore. "I have to pay for damnable water?"

"I'm calling my secur — "

"Wait. I'm paying, I'm paying."

Well, I wanted a life of adventure, didn't I? she grumbled to herself.

Cinska sat down on a stone bench just inside Sperling Garten, drank some water, and watched the blue-jays bully the sparrows. Someone should augment those sparrows so they can defend themselves.

["Popelka."]

["Bonjour, Patronne."]

["How about an update on open projects?"]

["There is no extradition treaty between any polity in Andreas with any polity in Charlemagne. Or with anywhere else in Mennefer Realm, for that matter."]

["There is no extradition treaty between any polity in Andreas with any polity in Charlemagne. Or with anywhere else in Mennefer Realm, for that matter."]

["Bon. "]

["And now for the bad news….]

The problem with rumors about Artefacts, Cinska knew, was that anyone who actually had viable information wasn't about to share it with anyone else. But rumors, like legends, were often facts twisted out of recognition yet still containing a kernel of truth. Maybe. And so her exocortial agents snooped and sifted and came up with nothing.

Worse yet, no one seemed to need the services of a cyber-archeologist despite the amount of software and hardware discarded during die Aufgabe. Reputation and status were everything in Franziska, and a newcomer like Cinska — or Frau Doktor Persephone Bopp — had neither. Cinska was seriously thinking of hiring a publicist. But that would mean selling shares of "Doktor Bopp, Cyber-archeologist, AG" to raise the capital necessary to hire a publicist. And people like that did not come cheap.

Cinska dressed herself in an avatar and travelled the Net to drop in on her cultural interpreter. Jin Jin Jat Siu came up with an answer.

"This is another reason to have a Cultural Interpreter on retainer — we know people and can arrange recommendations." The girl sat with feet propped atop a large plex-glês desk in her garish, virtual office. Cinska occupied a ComEmp period faux-cjaor plush chair. "I've a cousin who works as a hostess-slash-usher at the Isabel Wu Civic center. For some weird reason all the ushers there are tommy girls. But the thing is, events at places like that are a great place to meet people and establish contacts; form a social network."

"So, I should talk to your cousin?"

"Nie . I'll contact her and make the arrangements. I'll let you know if she knows someone looking for a person with your skill sets. Then all you need is a recommendation from a reputable firm, like, say, 'Jin Jin Jat Siu, AG.' That'll cost you about a thousand isabel s, including my cousin's cut."

Cinska smiled. "Thanks, Smiley."

"Hey," the girl said with a grin. "I have to earn my pay."

Cinska bid goodbye and withdrew from the virch. She started on the return leg of her loop, running alongside a canal cutting through tall, golden grass.

She heard thumping and clip-clopping coming up behind her. Cinska slowed and turned her head just as large creatures flashed on by. Hands reached out to smack her head. Cinska stopped and stared at the trio of centaur children who had pulled up ahead. They grinned and giggled at her. "Compter les coups!" they called out, and took off down the road.

Spoiled, mischievous brats remind me of me at that age, Cinska silently grumbled. A bigger concern was the lack of a guardbot or some form of security insurance. She messaged Kelaino to hurry up and make the necessary arrangements.

Cinska ran on home. She skirted a wooded area to avoid the centaur colts, increasing to a sprint as they began to throw globules of stink-gel. Better make that two guardbots.

====Chapter 4: The digital proxy's trip to the suq====

[4]

Jin Jin Jat Siu came through with a potential client and a "letter" of recommendation. Cinska then spawned a new agent autonome , a scion to send out as a Broker into the local virchspace. Created and on its own, Broker started by dressing herself. Cinska had known cyber-archeologists who outfitted as if they were Steam Age ruins-hunters and hackers who affected the Nerd-Geek look from the era of Kleinsunftapfel. For working in Franziska polity, though, Broker researched fashion trends and discovered that the current fad was neogenerd with a touch of Zoefic Lotism. The avatar's body became thin and elongated, limbs altering to bend along their whole length. Skin pigment shifted to the green as artfully placed vines draped over body parts fashionable to conceal (lately feet, midriff and breasts). A cowl of electric petals grew in lieu of hair, radiating faux-calculations of protein energy states.

Broker then checked with Jin Jin Jat Siu about cultural protocol and requested information on Melayu customs. The Broker also made sure that her "taste buds" program was in working order.

The Broker called up the directions to Safura Street and set out, following faint yellow lines through the virtual city. The brick streets and lanes with their faux-Frangk buildings bathed in sunset oranges and reds eventually gave way to transparent plex-glês streets with arched crystalline stairways and pillbox buildings in pulsating colors.

A twist in the lane brought her abruptly into Hakim Plaza. Stalls lined all sides of the square (and a Menger Sponge virtual square has all so many more sides than four). Looking up one could see the ground along the "walls" and "ceilings." Under bright awnings the buyers and sellers dealt with easily portable items that rapidly flowed through the suq in hundreds of small transactions. Risks and profits tended to spread among several investors, making each trader a center of a series of quickly forming and dissolving trading associations. Somewhat primitive in the modern era.

The Broker followed the yellow arrow around a corner that might have doubled back on itself in physical reality but instead led her to a long, curving block of shops reminiscent of Richelieu Forum back in Charlemagne system's polity of Ville de Notre Dame, save that here a park sat across the street from the inner curve instead of a temple. She followed the curve of Safura Street to number 17, Ajumain's.

Inside the store front a variety of items were on display — aromatics, spices, nanofac templates, biomechanical and electronical novelty gizmos, various textiles, living widjits, and undead wadjets — with all virtual purchases initiating the movement of real-life items and templates. The Broker barely glanced at the goods as she strode up to a lanky adolescent androgynous in loose pants and tunic and sporting a thick mop of tousled hair, huckfinn style, who slouched on a stool near the back entrance. The Broker handed over her business card. The … boy? Girl? Herm? … unfolded from the stool and sauntered through the beaded curtain into the room beyond. And a moment later poked head and hand through the curtain and invited the visitor inside.

In the back room the teener (assuming ta was such) indicated that Broker should sit on one of the pillows scattered across the bright and elaborate medallion pattern of the thick Oushak carpet. The other occupant of the room, a floating cephalopod who sat smoking from a hookah, stopped scanning the market reports and spreadsheets on his monitors and acknowledged his visitor's presence with a benevolent smile.

"Selamat sejahtera, " the Broker greeted.

Ajumain exhaled the smoke and it spiraled in the air to form a small twinkling galaxy before fading. "Selamat dating ," her host responded less formally. He waved her to a large cushion, and the Broker sat, gracefully coiling her legs underneath her. "Greetings and good day to you, gnei. Tea for our guest," he ordered, and the teener went to fetch refreshments.

"Thank you for this interview, tuan Ajumain. How may I be of service?"

"We will come to that in time, gnei. You are from Mennefer space, are you not?"

"Ja, tuan. My patronne has come to make her fortune in Andreas star system from the challenges she may find here in her chosen field."

"Andreas is a good choice, gnei. Franziska is a good choice. The orbital was abandoned at one time and then resettled. Who knows what treasures are to be found?" The teener returned with trays of food, and Ajumain used the interruption to change topics. "There is conflict within Mennefer space, is there not?"

The teener finished serving and slouched against the wall. Though wearing an aura of boredom, Broker noted that the teener's eyes showed alertness.

"On the fringes, tuan ," Broker responded. "Border systems change hands every century or so." Broker tore her eyes away from the tapestry depicting an elephant caught in a geroda bird's talons. "There is disruption and confusion for a short time, and then things go back to being the way they were. 'Meet the new boss; he's the same as the old boss.'"

Ajumain chuckled. "So true where the transapients are concerned. Matters are quite different in the Free Zones where policy changes can take societies in whole new directions." He sipped his tea.

Broker bit into a sandwich and found it delicious, of course, and leaving a sharp and pleasant after taste. "An edge in technological prowess or acquisition of knowledge no one else has can change things for the fortunate possessor of such. And for those who assist in the acquisition process."

Ajumain smiled. "You represent a cyber-archeologist whose hobby is searching out clarketech artefacts, nei ?"

"That is so."

"There are rumors — there are always rumors. And most of them center on the catacombs where Franziska's infrastructural machinery is house, down beneath the maintenance levels. On the fringes of the Alte Stadt. The hardware said to be found there may be as much as ten or fifteen centuries old."

Broker scanned the info-reports flicking across her mind's eye, searching for relevant and useful information. "Said by whom, [/i]tuan [/i]? Anyone who believed a story like that would head down there without telling anyone."

"Or hire a reliable agent to go and fetch it."

Broker put down her sandwich and leaned forward. "You haven't heard a rumor, tuan. Someone close came to you with information about something they'd found but couldn't move by themselves."

Ajumain sipped his tea. "Ja. A family member stumbled across some old machines. This favored relative — " He waved a limp hand toward the teener. "-- will guide you and help extract the machines. In exchange for your assistance I will generously grant you twenty-five percent of the market value of the recovered devices."

"That is generous, but not as generous as forty percent."

"Unfortunately, I cannot afford that much generosity. Reluctantly, I can go as high as thirty, and that is very generous, indeed."

Broker checked another batch of info-reports. "And if my patronne was running a charity I'd accept your generous offer. Try thirty-five percent."

Ajumain set his teacup down. "We're moving toward one third of the proceeds for your client. Is that satisfactory?"

"Ja, tuan. Plus a quarter million isabels up front, win or lose."

"Such ambition! But I couldn't possibly pay more than one hundred thousand as a down-payment."

Broker scanned the latest info-reports. "My patronne would starve at such prices. Two hundred thousand in advance and thirty-three percent of market value. This is good tea by the way."

"Such thievery is to be admired! And I'm gratified to find that you like the tea, gnei. It is a special blend my niece concocted. May The Lah bless her with many culinary successes and intelligent children. One-seventy-five up front."

"Two hundred thousand. Bitte."

"So polite. And you aren't going to move on that, are you?"

"I'm afraid not."

Broker let her eyes rest on the transparent globe holding a jade carving of a n?ga while her host pondered the latest offer.

"Then we have achieved a consensus," Ajumain finally declared. "Two hundred thousand in advance, and thirty-three percent of gross profit. And if you have the time, please stay for some sherbet. Bongsu! Bring some sherbet for our guest." The teener stirred and ambled out of the room. "The raspberry is the best, in my humble opinion."

"I bow to your expertise in matters of culinary delight."

"What day does it suit you to begin work?"

"Tomorrow, say around 11h00."

"Well and good. My grandchild, Bongsu, will meet you tomorrow at 11h00 at the park next to Victoria Cross station. From there you will be guided through the pathways and corridors of the lower levels. Be sure to wear an envirosuit, for some of the sections there are without suitable atmosphere. And be warned that public security maintains no angelnets down there. So be careful.

"But for now, here is Bongsu with the sherbet. You must sample the raspberry and orange, as they are so very delightful."

====Chapter 5====

[5]

"Wait. I think I just failed a spot check."
"Really? I don't see anything."
"Exactly."
-Rich Burlew's "Order of the Stick" (#3)


The next day found Cinska , dressed in khaki and sensible shoes (Bongsu having informed her that an envirosuit was unnecessary), sitting on a Viktoria Park bench net-diving while she waited for her guide. Some of her digital "Hunter Girls" were scouring the Local Net for news, rumors, and opportunities, and probing various business nodes for potential security breaches.

"Hey! Wise Guy!"

Cinska surfaced from the ocean of data and looked over at the 'bot that had climbed onto the bench beside her. It was a blue-black box with archaic glassy camera eyes and spidery legs. It was too large to be a housebot, and too small to be part of Park maintenance.
"Hello, Wise Guy."

"Whatever you're selling, I don't want any." Cinska started to sink back into the Net….

"You Wise Guys can be very rude."

Cinska looked at the 'vec again. "Plural? Do you think I belong to some group or club?"

"Species. Wise Guy is your species name, isn't it?"

Cinska pondered that statement. "Oh, I get it. 'Wise Man.' Very droll. Goodbye."

Cinska looked up to see the androgynous adolescent her Broker had met at Ajumain's. (Was t? male, female, herm? …. Ah, a 'vec.) The 'vec, Bongsu, wore wer-weave morphed to look like coveralls. Hiking boots adorned ta's feet. Bongsu's wild hair stuck out from beneath a green kepi, and a satchelbot in the guise of a survival bag hung from her shoulder. "It's 11h00, gnädig Frau. Are you ready to visit the Alte Stadt? Hello, Iris."

"Hey, Bongsu. I'm ready to go."

"Is this 'vec coming with us?" Cinska eyed Iris with suspicion.

"Ja. Iris will be our perimeter guard."

Cinska shrugged. "Well and good then. Let's go."

Cinska and her 'vec guides descended into the Alte Stadt via a maintenance stairwell in Viktoria Crossing station. They went down several flights of stairs and entered a maze of dimly lit corridors that weren't flat, walls and ceilings locked into an odd (and ugly) puce coloring. Some sections had nonsensible layouts with stairways that dead-ended in blank walls, and weirdly-shaped rooms accessed through ceiling as well as walls. This section of the Old City had degraded during the Abandonment.

They had Net access, even down here, and that meant access to maps. Iris went off to scout the general area while Cinska and Bongsu continued on. The duo skirted a mixed commercial/residential neighborhood more or less spinward of their position.

Eventually their journey through the bowels of the Underworld led them, after many twists and turn, to locked door bearing a sign:
THIS DOOR IS ALARMED
Graffiti scrawled upon the sign read, "What startled it?"

The androgynous teener with the androgynous name extracted a tool kit from her satchelbot and quickly had the control panel pried open. A lock-picking tool jabbed expertly into the panel's works fed attack software into the system, resulting in a large click that signaled success. "We kept the goods in here and set up this special lock that can only be opened by jimmying it a certain way. Anyone who tries to punch in an alarm-cancel code is going to get a face full of nasty-gas." Bongsu shut the panel and pushed the door open. "I worked really hard to block access to this suite of rooms. We didn't want anyone else coming in here and taking stuff away. Okay. Get out your pocket lamp, Frau Doktor. For whatever weird reason, the lights are frozen in the OFF setting."

Twin beams of light stabbed into the darkened room. The duo slipped inside: Bongsu with the confidence of pre-knowledge of the layout, and Cinska more cautiously. They crossed the room and passed through a doorway.

"I've hooked up to the security system we installed. There's nivens all over the place, and they'll warn of approaching danger."

"What's a niven?"

"Spray-on spy cameras and audio pickups. According to folktales, they're named after a fabulist named Niven who invented them back in the Olden Days."

"Oh. We just call them spywebs back where I come from."

"Whatever. Stuff we want is in the next room."

Beyond the last doorway lay a room filled with benches and counters holding machines in various states of disrepair. Bongsu activated a battery-powered lamp. "Brought this down here on my last visit. Rather than haul everything out (which would mean hiring a lot of 'bot help) we decided to have an expert assess this junk and select only those items worth removing."

"Right." And obviously you wanted a foreign expert with no connections to local persons or organizations which might have an interest. Cinska laid out her tools and such on a counter while Bongsu settled down on a broken swivel chair. Cinska figured that, when Franziska was abandoned two millennia ago, no one had bothered ordering the vots to reabsorb the furniture. In fact, the vots might very well have been turned off. Cinska thought this not only interesting, but potentially profitable.

But for now, she focused on the work at hand. One by one, she examined and discarded the ancient equipment. Junk. All of it. Hold on…. What's this?

The object looked like a DNI. An old one. Cinska looked up the model number. A "Wajhat Harun Series 250." From a thousand years ago, just before Franziska was resettled. Intrigued, she hooked up a portable hacker and invaded the WHS 250 with password decoders and encryption crackers, decompilers and protocol identifiers, disassemblers and emulators….

She sweated over the old machine for an hour. The interface's age had caused sporadic deterioration, and the going was rough. Sighing, Cinska slumped onto a stool and sucked on her outfit's water nipple.

"Tough one, huh?" Bongsu commented.

"Ja. A tough one." Cinska arched her back to stretch stiff muscles. Digging, whether physical or mental, was exhausting. "This must be boring for you, Fräulein."

"Naw. I've been reading my history of engineering text. My project group is studying the Age of Steam right now. That ran from 200 BT to about 50 AT or so."

"I thought they had nuclear power back then."

"Ja. But they used it to make steam. The people of Late Antiquity went from burning wood to burning coal, and then oil, and then to splitting atoms. Just to heat water to make steam to power machinery. Hence the name 'The Age of Steam.'"

"Steam-powered machinery. Sounds inefficient."

"Well, what do you expect from a bunch of primitives. Anyway, for my solo project I have to build a broiler using some form of energy other than the historic ones. I think they used solar and wind power to boil water, too, so that doesn't leave me with much to work with."

"I'm sure you'll think of something."

Cinska bent to her task and sweated over the machine for another twenty minutes. "Ah-ha!" she announced.

"You found something?"

"I finally broke into the root directory. This interface uses Conformal protocols and Kfor-SCOS language. I didn't realize they were still using all that a thousand years ago. This means I can't upload any data in this thing until I write a translation program." Cinska asked Popelka for the time. "It's 13h20 now," she informed Bongsu. "I'm going to put this in my satchel-bot and work on it later. Before we leave here, I want to look over some more of this equipment."

A few minutes later Iris hailed them on a short-range frequency. "You guys just about done?"

"What's it to you?" Bongsu shot back.

"It's just that there's a very large liumang gang combing the area, and they appear to be zeroing in on your position."

"I've got them on my nivens," Bongsu confirmed. "Dreck! They're taking out the nivens as they go along."

"They appear to be a gang of young Hán teeners. Wait…. Actually, they're Táng, to be exact. They're speaking sìyì. Oh, dear. It's the Raging Panda Gang. I really think you two should get out of there with a maximum amount of alacrity."

"They must know we're hunting treasure," Cinska observed. "Are they dangerous, these Raging Pandas?"

"Is water wet?" Bongsu shot back. "Grab your satchel and let's get out of here."

The escape route proved to be a more convoluted path, the direct way having been interdicted by the liumang gang. The Raging Pandas had a good idea of their prey's location and had spread out in hopes of surrounding them. Iris had to scuttle off to safety and could no longer feed them information.

"Through here," Bongsu commanded. Cinska ducked into a hallway ahead of Bongsu who jammed the door controls behind them.

The act of jamming the controls triggered the stun grenade.


Cinska awoke and struggled to sit up. She'd been stripped to her underwear and her hands tied in front. The liumang[/] went through her and Bongsu's things, sorting and appraising. Bongsu [i]t?-self was being dismantled.

One of the boys squatted in front of Cinska . He wore khaki pants and a tank top, with a silk scarf wrapped around his forehead. "Your 'vec friend uploaded t?'s mind into netspace just before we jammed all the frequencies. T? got away." One of his buddies set a lamp on the floor near Cinska and stuck onto it Bongsu's lifeless head. Cinska shivered and looked away from the empty, staring eyes. "T?'s empty husk is salvage now, and ought to fetch a good price. So will the machines you guys were looting. And so will you."

"You're going to ransom me?"

"Auction you off." He straightened and went to join his friends. They conversed among themselves in a tonal language, but without access to her DNI and its translation program, Cinska had no idea what they were saying. She tried again to contact Popelka, but only heard a faint buzzing sound.

What a mess. I wonder if I should ask them to contact Myrica Tamarisk, or will knowing that I might have value to someone raise their asking price? At least I shouldn't have to worry about these kids "damaging the goods." I don't believe the citymind has an angelnet presence down here. And just my luck that the Personliche Sicherheitpolizei Kelaino hired doesn't start until 18h00 today. I should have waited. I should have stayed home in Notre Jardin and become a hostess in le salon de thé japonais and let Mother boss me around the rest of my life. Merde.

"Hey, guys? Can I have something to eat?"

One of the boys tossed her a water bottle. Cinska drank her fill and washed her face. She tried to nap, but was soon roused and made to walk through the corridors and up creaky stairs. At one point they blindfolded her and giggled whenever she stumbled. Eventually, they stopped and removed the blindfold. Cinska squinted in the sunlight.

Kelaino stood off to one side. A pair of uniformed Polizisten and a Robotic Armored Tactical Unit flanked a woman in expensive civilian clothes who passed a satchelbot to the liumang chief. He in turn verified its contents before handing Cinska over. The Raging Panda Gang scurried back into the maintenance hatches and disappeared.

"Schmutzigen kleinen Bastarde," the woman muttered after their departing backs.

"Danke, gnädig Frau," Cinska said. "Hello, Frau Tamarisk. So, being a foreigner, I don't really know what the rules are on the buying and selling of people here in Sachsenstadt."

"My name is Paadini Mukhopadhyay. I am a Registered Solicitor, and I represent Wang & Schubert who now own your services for a period of one year. I suggest you go home with Frau Tamarisk now. She has the contact information regarding your new job. Report for work tomorrow at 8h50. Someone will explain your new duties at that time."

"Sure. And thanks for the bailout."

In the travel pod back to Eichelstrasse Cinska grumbled about her circumstances. "A whole year as an indentured servant. Unbelievable."

"You're lucky. Fortunately, Alois Schubert and I have kindred personalities, so we worked out an agreement rather than have you go up on an auction block."

"But a whole year…."

"What's a year to people who live for centuries? You need to cultivate patience."

"Ouais. That's what the Redeemer at Atonement House kept telling me. But still, to lose my freedom even for three hundred sixty-five days — "

"Longer than that, I'm afraid. The terms of service specify a 'Gartenwelt' year."

Stunned, Cinska murmured, "No."

"One thousand fifty-eight — "

"No!"

" — days. Though you do have the option of buying out the balance. I can help with that, of course." Kkelaino put steel into her voice. "If I feel like it. Whatever possessed you to go into the Alte Stadt without a guardbot?"

"The 'vec Bongsu apparently came and went without difficulty."

"One too many times."

"Okay. I get it. I screwed up."

"Apparently, that's what you do best."

"Don't start on me."

"On the one hand you can be a meticulous planner, and on the other you act on thoughtless impulse."

"If I'm so terrible why was I picked for this assignment?"

Kelaino was silent for a long moment. Hah! I got this bag of bolts bitch to shut up for once.

"It was thought," Kelaino finally said, "that you would do well under direction. That means your mistakes and stupidities reflect on me. When we return to face the Exalted Urbicapus I will have to give an accounting of our successes and our failures. If the latter outweigh the former, I will be severely reprimanded. But I'll be thinking of you the whole time."

Ouch.


====Chapter 6: First day on the job; Yayness ====

[6]

Cinska had the house vot throw up a privacy screen around her recliner in case Kelaino came home unexpectedly from whatever ta was up to. She settled into the recliner called her infomorph. ["What's going on today, Popelka? News-wise, that is."]

["Bonjour, patronne. One: Team Yamato took the tumble-ball crown in a 3:0 shut-out victory over the Iron Monkeys."]

["That's the last time I bet status and reputation on the Iron Monkeys.]"

["Two: Istanbul Downtown Girls have hit the top of the youth pop music charts with their latest hit 'Sidney Greenstreet's Drinking Arak at the Bar' from their new album Old Crypriot Stones. The band will be performing all next week at Rynn's Recreational."]

["See about getting me a ticket, please.']

["Sure. Three: Something new at Das Katschmaul, the gossip center. Quote: 'A Mennefer cyber-archeologist ran into some difficulty in the Alte Stadt and ended up being held for ransom. Apparently, Frau Doktor Persephone Bopp isn't as clever outside a transapient nanny-state as she thought she was. Things are different in the Free Zone, honey. That sound you hear is your status collapsing. You should have stayed home where you'd be safe and tucked in at night by your transapient owner.' End quote."]

[ …. ]

["Patronne?]

["I'm going to get those egg-sucking bastards."]

["Patronne, your blood pressure is rising to an unsafe level."]

["I'm going to hack into their little muck-raking enterprise using the barrier breakers and super-user promotion programs that Josephine Street and I constructed back in the day."]

["Now, patronne, you know you shouldn't jeopardize your position with pointless revenge that serves no purpose save to draw attention to the fact that a master criminal is present in the polity. If you stop and think about it, you'll know I'm right."]

["Ouais, ouais. But I don't have to like it."]

["We'll plan something good to hit them with on Foole's Day."]

["Praise be onto Svatý Avríl."]

["Praise be. Now that we've dispensed with that bit of bad news, I have a run-down of Wang & Schubert, AG that you asked for and the reading of which you keep putting off."]

["Right. Sorry. Let's have it now."]

["The families of Wang and Schubert formed a partnership back in 8656 AT, and have done well for themselves in the past three and a half centuries. The partnership is actually a holding company currently controlling several subsidiary firms in such fields as mining polling data to find trends, mood estimates and fashion vectors; the design and development of computational devices on the nano and micro level; the design of advanced nanotechnological software, ecological, and memetic immune systems to protect civilization from nanoswarms, software viruses, epidemics, and blights; broadcasting; publishing; and applied counter-espionage."]

["Is that all?"] Cinska joked.

["Ouais. They sold off the Bite Me Bakery chain two years ago. And it is now 8h49, patronne. Time to go to work."]

Cinska "dressed" in a simple salwar kameez, entered the virtuality, and jumped to the node containing the office.

"You're 75 milli-seconds late for work," the virtual timekeeper informed Cinska upon her arrival. "That's not an auspicious way to start one's employment."

This day just keeps getting better and better. And the best way to handle this stituation is to adopt a subservient attitude. Be nice and grovel before this idiot simm. Cinska clasped her hands and bowed deeply. "I'm sorry. Watashi o yurushitekudasai."

"It's not within my parameters to either forgive or withhold forgiveness. And next time say it in Dutsk."

Next time you can bite me.

"You're assigned to Team Sapphire. Have a nice day and be productive."

Cinska bowed again and hurried on, following the flashing red line.

The room she came to held several people sitting around a circular plex-glês table and idly chatting. They glanced at Cinska and one of their number waved her to a seat. Upon the wall hung 88th century AT artwork whose calligraphy included the Kanji characters for "Diligence" and "Team Spirit." Two olfactory programs appeared to be carrying out an aromatic battle with evergreen scent battling balsam.

"I'm Nikolaus Schubert," a tall man said. "You're Doktor Bopp, are you not? Welcome to the team."

"Danke. I'm sorry I'm late."

"Not to worry." He indicated the man beside him. "My uncle, Alois Schubert."

"Sir. Thank you for rescuing me." Cinska bent her head in a bow. Despite the humiliation of her situation, she was honestly grateful for the rescue. Bad enough to be in this mess due to her own clumsiness, but without Kelaino's intervention there was no telling where Cinska might have ended up or under whose power, and how Kelaino would have reacted to the inconvenience.

"Not at all. Glad to help."

Introductions were made around the table.

Taiwan Ahn, cypher analysis technician, was a Fox rianth. More specifically, a member of the local Kitsune sept. Ahn had fox-like features and fine fur where it showed. She seemed happy to be here.

Hollister Zhang, memegeneer, had fluffy sideburns and narrow eyes. His white and black checkered skin matched his conservatively cut suit. Where Ahn appeared to be happy, Zhang looked determined.

Craig Gregory, assigned to advertising and propaganda as a madvert designer, had a reputation as a fabulist whose stories appeared in 'Stirring Tales for Boys" and "Ripping Good Yarns," both publications being owned by a subsidiary of Wang & Shubert. This sad-faced man was rumored to be quite the spendthrift and up to his ears in debt. Cinska pegged him for another indentured servant paying off a loan.

Hassan Smythe, holding a clay pipe in his hand and looking thoughtful, was an artist of some repute. He'd been hired on to construct Stendhal Bombs, art so precisely tuned to the target that is would elicit strong emotions.

The lanky man in the flashy, garish suit was "Peacock Sam" Greensleeves, the intelligence analyst and Krieg-Anwalt, or war-lawyer.

The woman with cropped hair and spindly arms and legs who floated in the air was Marja Jäänmurtaja Asentaja, a zoologoist and teleoperator from Andreas' Oort Cloud who'd come to Gartenwelt as part of a research team. Popelka informed Cinska that, according to net gossip, the ectomorph had come to work on this project in exchange for Wang & Schubert agreeing to fund teleoperated robotic studies of Gartenwelt's animal life.

And, of course, Doktor Persephone Bopp, cyber-archeologist with knowledge of memetics and sociology. Her task was to assist Hollister Zhang engineer memes, and to conduct research along with Frau Asentaja.

Nikolaus Schubert, team leader and leading Krieg-Anwalt, addressed the group. "A business is only as strong as the people involved in it, namely the employees. For that reason, the work team is an important social as well as operational subunit within a business. It's long been known that the solidarity of the group, the sense of paternalistic concern on the part of upper management, and the personal loyalty on the part of those below give a feeling of warmth and intimacy across status lines. The sense belonging and of achieving a self-identity through membership in the team is what gives a company the foundation upon which success is built. To this end we have customarily included subordinates in the decision-making process rather than have them simply receive dictates from above. We treat subordinates as junior associates and disciples rather than mere underlings.

"And to foster the sense of comradeship we sponsor group activities such as company field days and association outings."

He paused to scan his audience. "One thing more. A group player is obviously appreciated more than a solo star, and team spirit more than individual ambition."

Nothing new here, Cinska thought to herself in dismay. The Nihonjin invented this process before Tranquility Base. Is this joker going to waste a lot of our time with stupid meetings?

"Our goal," he continued, "is to defeat the policies of the Manigramam. They've come here to acquire rapid wealth regardless of the damage done to our people and to our economy. To that end, we will allocate our resources in these areas: defense and security, public awareness, psychological warfare, political action, advocacy, and promotional materials."

Cinska tried to look attentive through the remainder of the speech.

An idea occurred to her. She thought it over while Nikolaus Schubert spoke and fielded questions.

"Herr Schubert. Can I speak to you privately?" she asked Alois as the meeting broke up.

"Sure." The room vanished, to be replaced by an office decorated in classical Central Alliance styles. Cinska found herself seated on a replica of a Liu XIV antique. Alois Schubert crossed his legs. "So what can I do for you?"

"Has anyone thought to crack Manigramam netspace nodes?"

He frowned. "That would be very difficult."

"But if it could be done -- specifically by me — how much would it be worth to the company? Would it shorten my time here?"

"If I understand you, Frau Doktor, you want to earn points towards buying out of your debt by hacking into Manigramam. Do you really think you have a chance?"

"I have a 'Flowering Talent' degree in netspace security systems. Plus some serious field experience."

"That would be the equivalent of a Bakkalaureus." He scrutinized her silently for a long moment. "Your formal education in this area appears minimum. And I have a feeling I shouldn't ask about your 'field experience.' Do you really think you can hack Manigramam?"

"It won't be easy, but I have a few tricks I can try. I can't guarantee success. I doubt Manigramam is made up of fools. On the contrary, they're likely to be very shrewd and savvy in regards netspace security."

"I can't risk having Wang & Schubert accused of criminal activity. I'll have to think about your proposal and consult with the company's Schattenrats."

A quick info-check informed Cinska that he was referring to the Shadow Council of digital minds that advised the company's Directorate.

"In the meantime, Frau Doktor, show us how good a job you can do. We are always looking for talented people, and we may even ask you to stay on after completing your term of service."

"That'd be nice," she lied. "Well, thanks for your time, and I guess I better be getting to work."

"Thank you for your suggestion. I encourage my people to think creatively. Enjoy your day, and welcome to Wang & Schubert, AG."

Cinska found herself back in the Team's room. She had doubts that Alois Schubert would consider her plan of action. He didn't know her, and what she proposed was risky. The Alte Stadt debacle didn't speak much to her abilities, and she was coming to work here with a lousy reputation. No reason why management here should pay her any heed.

But for now, the memengineer Hollister Zhang was beckoning to her. Time to gear up and work to impress these hicks.

Craig Gregory and Hassan Smythe sat with her and Zhang. "I want to run down some of what we can expect from our opponents." Zhang checked them off on his fingers as he spoke. "First off, there's the 'Join the Crowd' or 'inevitable-victory' appeal: 'we're going to win, so why not join up and reap the benefits?'

"Secondly, the 'Beautiful People' approach in which famous or attractive, charismatic people urge the public to go along with Manigramam's proposals.

"Third is the 'Unstated Assumption,' used when the propaganda concept would seem more credible if implied or repeatedly assumed instead of making explicit statements.

"Fourth is 'Rationalization,' where one uses favorable generalities to rationalize questionable beliefs through vague and pleasant phrases and such. This is particularly used by those with a criminal bent."

Ouch. Do I rationalize my behavior and beliefs? Cinska wondered.

"Some of the technique that can be used by either side include attacking one's opponent instead of the opponent's arguments, tireless repetition of an idea until the public starts to believe it because they hear it so often."

"If I may," Smythe interjected. "Doesn't that approach work best alongside control of the media?"

"It does," Gregory answered for Zhang. "And this technique is most effective if the idea is presented as a simple slogan."

"True enough," Zhang agreed. "Fortunately we own some news services. We'll need you to write some copy for us, Herr Gregory. That and some slogans and jingles. And we all need to remember what a great propagandist of the first century before Tranquility said about memetic warfare. Quote, 'The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly -- it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.' End quote.

"Another thing for us to work on is creating a third party as an independent source of information who appears to have no stake in the outcome. We'll need to canvas economists for those who are willing to take on Manigramam."

["Psst. Patronne."]

["What?"]

["Mention 'framing.' You should remember that from your social sciences reading."]

["Ouais. Thanks."]

Cinska spoke up. "Herr Zhang. What about social construction of a social phenomenon using mass media sources, political or social movements, political leaders, or other persons and organizations?"

"What's that?" Gregory asked.

Zhang answered. "It's called 'framing,' and it's an inevitable process of selective influence over the individual's perception of the meanings attributed to words or phrases. And since it falls within the realm of sociology, I'll assign that task to Doktor Bopp."

Zhang looked around at the group. "To summarize, Doktor Bopp to work on 'Framing,' Herr Smythe to start preparation on Stendhal Bombs, and Herr Gregory and I to begin researching and writing. Good luck to us all."

Cinska put a trio of her exoselves on the job and went netdiving. She still wanted to crack Manigramam netspace nodes, and set about exploring her options, sending agents hither and thither in search of information.

["Hey, Doc. What do you slaves to gravity do for fun? -- Marja Asentaja"]

["What did you have in mind?"]

["My informorph has been checking out the game-virch sites. Would you care to go adventuring sometime?"]

["Sure. So, tell me: what's teleoperating like on Gartenwelt?"]

["Utterly fascinating. Our camouflaged robots on the surface try to spy on everything they can, but some of the lifeforms either perceive the 'bots as possible food or potential enemies. There's one species in particular that may be pre-sentient."]

["That does sound fascinating. Must be fun."]

["It certainly is. If you'd like, I'll try to wrangle you a teleoperating session so you can see for yourself." ]

["Danke."]

And then back to work. And fielding more offers from some of the other people on the team: Do you want to attend a symposion, concert, dramatic eulogy or monologue, Tumble-ball match, and so on. Popelka began filling up her patronne's social calendar.

["Incoming message from 'Myrica Tamarisk,' patronne."]

["And what does that … person want with me?"]

["There's a reception scheduled for the delegation from l'Archipel de Charlemagne. She managed to get invitations from Alois Schubert for the two of you. I'm adding that to your calendar."]

["What if I don't want to go? I don't think it's a good idea to — "]

["'Frau Tamarisk' says you're going. Just remember that you come from Khleo star system."]

====Chapter 7====

[7]

Cinska attended the reception for the Charlemagne delegation. This was more of a large cocktail party with buffet tables rather than the more formal State Dinner. She met new and interesting people, heard fascinating snatches of conversation, and found the food delightful. But only a few items were noteworthy.

The first was this:

She passed close to a trio employees of Wang & Schubert she'd seen around the virtual office. They glared across the room where two really beautiful people were holding court. Cinska heard one of the men mutter, "Manigramam."

Intrigued, she gravitated towards the couple. She recognized the body type as being the Tau-Zeta Hybrid, a "social interface" parahuman template specifically designed for stunning appearance, bucket loads of charisma, ultimate fashion sense, cultural adaptability, and exceptional voice. A TZH was generally versed in diplomacy, public speaking, psychology, and sociability. They read body language and exuded sexual appeal.

The twins, Gemini. He in black, she in scarlet, introduced as Apollon and Artemis. Ash-blonde hair floating about their heads, cocktail glasses in hand and ignored, they listened with great attentiveness to anyone who spoke. An old trick, to win people over, but the twins performed so well that Cinska wondered if they were actually sincere or just really superb actors. A woman standing beside Cinska remarked that she had seen the twins at various gaming events during the past week; Artemis at a backgammon table where she lost graciously, and Apollon made an impressive showing at a game of jug, bouncing the dart off the drum skin and into the narrow neck of the bottle more often than not.

The twins soon separated and circulated … came together to circulate as a pair, separated to explore buffet tables, came together again, separated….

Cinska found herself seated amid a small group of people listening raptly to Apollon explain the desirability of raising status capital by over-selling shares of one's own personal stock. Expansion requires investment, and loans would be repaid many times over as one's personal company grew in fame. Cinska sat enthralled until Popelka kicked her in the frontal lobes. ["This joker works for the Enemy."]

Cinska decided to move on. She wasn't learning anything of value from the twins other than the fact that they could charm a Black Angel into making a detour. Dangerous opponents indeed.

Secondly, she had an opportunity to attempt to impress Alois Schubert with her worthiness.

Cinska ran into Alois Schubert (with Kelaino, of all people, on his arm) and asked him, "Have you seen or met Apollon and Artemis Gemini?"

Worry lines appeared on Schubert's face. "Ja. They're superb advocates. We need to redouble our efforts; find a way to counter or neutralize them."

"I'm sure you and your team will come up with something," Kelaino said.

"I have an idea," Cinska said. "The Manigramam are foreigners, right? If we can prove that their memes are detrimental to the point of being destructive, the Manigramam can be arrested and charged with being saboteurs sent to soften up Franziska for invasion. Helios system was conquered in the wake of physical sabotage which itself was preceded by a subtle memetic attack."

Schubert nodded. "I'll mention that to the legal staff. If necessary, I suppose we can accuse Mennefer of attempting conquest."

"Actually, they should say 'elements within Mennefer,'" Cinska said quickly. "It's a very loose confederation. Blame the New Renaissance Army or the Silver Warriors of Tasavalta, for example."

"Not bad. The Silver Warriors have a history of raiding the Free Zone worlds. A ready-made scapegoat."

It's a great idea, and he could show a little more enthusiasm.

["Blame the New Renaissance Army?"]

Kelaino's icy tone sent a shiver down Cinska 's spine. ["Don't get your knickers in a twist, 'Frau Tamarisk'."]

["Just be careful I don't get your neck in a twist."]

["I love you too, 'Myrica.'"]

And the third and most devastatingly scary incident came on the heels of that.

Nikolaus Schubert approached just then with three foreigners in tow. Cinska sized them up immediately as a professional flunky (alert and on edge), a practicing saint (smiling with beatitude), and a policier (walking like an athlete and scanning her surroundings with a sharp eye for detail).

Cinska had hit the nail squarely on the head. Nikolaus Schubert introduced the trio as Undersecretary M. l'Abbe Peter Tan, a cultural affairs specialist named Pandit Das, and Soeur Femmetje Van de Moerasland of the A Cognitionibus.

By the Propriétaires sacred backsides! (Praise be onto them.) I've come face to face with an Inquisitrice from the Office of Enquiry. And I haven't fainted.

Soeur Van de Moerasland and Pandit Das both favored close-cropped hair. The Panditji wore the loose-fitting saffron tunic and pantaloons of a bhikku, or monk, and the none wore a light blue business suit whose blouse had a wrap-around yellow color. Père Tan also sported a suit with religious collar. All three, of course, holding rank in the Much Reformed Church.

"I'm told you're from Khleo system, Frau Doktor," the Inquisitrice said.

"Ouais. So we're practically neighbors," Cinska replied without shitting herself. "How long have you been involved with criminal investigations?"

"Going on twenty-two years now. I hold the rank of Mère Supèrieure and belong to the convent of the Sisters of Saint Marianne. I spent a few months in Khleo system assisting in the search for a pirate known as La Fleur de Lithium."

Merde! She was after Josephine Street!

"Did you catch your flower?" Kelaino asked.

"No. And the trail was eight years old by the time I got back to the Archipelago. All we found out was that the fonceuse — the whiz kid — may be a female known at one time as Hán Hu? and who possibly ran around with a gang of juvenile delinquents collectively called the Cheeky Girls. Or Impertinent Maidens. But we were never able to verify anything except that these girls were a minor legend in one district of the polity of Notre Jardin."

Cinska could hear the blood roaring in her ears like waves crashing on a rocky coast. The authorities had confused Josephine Street, aka Fleur de Lithium, with ?ermaka Svoboda-Ichida, aka Hán Hu?. How could they make a mistake like that?

Oh, Josephine, my childhood friend. You put them on my trail to save your own butt. I could kick you.

Cinska found her voice. "I visited Notre Jardin once, but never heard of that gang."

"I expect not. Best guess is that they weren't more than a troublesome group of bored kids. The case is still open, but it's very low priority. We have novices review the material and try to solve it as a training exercise."

"I can't imagine that all your cases are that dull."

"No, they aren't, Frau Tamarisk. One of my more interesting cases led me on chase to Cranberry system. The biont I was after had joined an organization dealing in Rapture, Pink Stain, Yellowcake, and sundry other narcotics. I helped local authorities round them up."

"Fascinating. And what brings you here?"

"I heard the crab cakes are really good." Everyone chuckled. "Seriously, though, our mission here in Andreas is for trade talks and participation in mutual defense against criminal acts. It was suggested by Franziska authorities that I join Herr Schubert's Counter Memetic Warfare team and see what we can learn from one another."

"Well, it's good to have you with us, Soeur," Cinska said. Yes, I haven't had a really good anxiety attack since I was kidnapped by a gang of guttersnipes who stripped me to my underwear.

["Popelka."]

["Patronne?"]

["I have a task for you. I need you to put together an info packet on the Inquisitrice Soeur Femmetje Van de Moerasland. As detailed as possible, and I need it sooner rather than later."]

["I'm on it."]

Two days after the reception Inquisitrice Soeur Femmetje Van de Moerasland showed up at the 'offices' of Team Sapphire and was partnered with 'Doktor Bopp.'

Cinska had just come back from a meeting with the Schuberts. She hadn't mentioned again her desire to hack Manigramam, instead focusing on building up their confidence in her abilities and worth.

"I was diving around the Net -- on my own time, I might add — when I stumbled upon these old files," she had told Nikolaus and Alois. "They're written in Manufactory Assembler Language which was developed by Alastair and Reynolds Laboratories back in the 87th century. The files are templates for nanofacs."

"What kind of templates?" Nikolaus had asked.

"Mobile weapons platforms and assault vehicles. Merovingian Class warbots. This would be invaluable to someone planning in building up a powerful military strike force on the cheap."

"We might find some buyers at Ch'ji or Th'je polities," Alois Schubert had mused.

"Wouldn't the government of Franziska be interested in monopolizing this information?" Cinska had asked.

"No, they already have the more modern Castigator and Devastator warbots. Still, someone ought to be interested. "Good work finding these."

"Danke.

And then back to her 'office' in a good mood until she discovered with whom she'd be sharing the virtual space.

But the Inquisitrice was pleasant enough, and Cinska fielded questions about her fictional life back in Khloe system. But this gave Cinska an opening to pry information out of the Inquisitrice.

"Monseigneur Ludovico Froissart is the current Chambellan of the A Cognitionibus. His background is mostly in intelligence analysis, but he served a term as Contrôleur-Général. Auditing is a lot like detective work, requiring attention to detail as well as flashes of inspiration and the ability to discern patterns. A very sharp operator, that one, and he was the obvious choice when Annette Shapiro retired from the Chambellane position.

"Which brings us to why I ended up here. Monseigneur le Chambellan Froissart is big on sending agents across jurisdictional borders to hunt down criminals trying to evade capture. Not as easy as one might think. Extradition can be a problem if a suspect is residing in a polity which doesn't recognize as criminal the acts the suspect is charged with. Keeps the avocat-protecteurs in gravy, that's for sure. So my staff, aside from my brigadier, includes a jurisdictional lawyer and his assistant.

"So, Frau Doktor. Tell me about Manigramam. What's the story there?"

Cinska gave her a summary of how that outfit was trying to convince people by means of memegeneering to sell of shares of themselves. "I also spent some time researching the history of Franziska in regards to this situation. It seems that every so often some cartel will attempt a memetic attack in hopes of winning the populace over to a policy of matsyanyayua -- a political doctrine of unbridled completion. On the surface it sounds like a typical NoCoZo business plan, but matsyanyayua results in the powerful preying upon the weak without ethical, moral, or legal restraints. The worst kind of anarchy, and the worst kind of tyranny."

Van de Moerasland nodded thoughtfully. "There's more, isn't there?"

"Ouais. What the people of Franziska really fear is an assault of this nature conducted by Post-humans and Hyperturings. The government of Franziska has purchased high-level transapient protection technology, but a concerted attack by a determined godling will be difficult to fend off."

"I see. It's fortunate, then, that Andreas system isn't wormhole connected. So, it's true that the Keepers — the Welt-Geist — sticks to minding the store, but an attack from outside will 'wake it up,' so to speak, and present the invader with an angry, and armed, transapient defender."

"I guess so. It's what everyone believes."

"The thing about being out in 'the sticks' like this is that one is not really a target for a major invasion, but on the other hand, one is vulnerable to raiders. You must know this; it's the reason Khleo has a defense pact with Charlemagne.

"But for now, my infomorph is nagging me to get to work. What I need you to do is start by running a check on the node security programs and protocols. I'm going to prowl the perimeter, so to speak. When you're done, I'll run my own check."

"Of course. Double-check everything and nothing gets missed. Okay, I'm off."

Cinska dived into the net….

(TO BE CONTINUED…)


Back to Stories by Author