The following is a work of fiction, and not appropriate for all readers.
I rarely saw Saul Rosenbaum and Iris Deschat apart when I was on the job. Survivors of Nationfall as the North American Commonwealth fell apart, he had been her first officer as she captained a nuclear submarine, the NACS Thomas Paine. They had evaded capture and attack for three years before they and their crew joined the Phoenix Society; she had been the strategist and he the tactician, roles they continued to play in their current careers. Despite their age, they still stood tall and straight, trim and crisp in their dress blues. Iris’ eyes were still a piercing blue, and a trace of Quebeçois lingered in her accent. Saul’s eyes were almost as black as his close-cropped beard, but his hair was almost as silvered as Iris’.
Christabel did not leave the studio when Saul and Iris arrived, but instead claimed the food Naomi had bought for her and retreated to a corner to eat. It had been Iris who glanced at her and spoke up. “Ms. Crowley, you should probably leave. You’re not cleared for the conversation we must have with your boyfriend.”
Christabel met the former captain’s gaze. “Does your implied order include Naomi?”
“It doesn’t,” said Saul, “for reasons you aren’t cleared to know.”
“Clearance be damned,” said Christabel. “You two barge in here, monopolizing Morgan’s time in a way you wouldn’t tolerate if he had a regular job with utter disregard for the work we do here. Sure, you’re saving lives and upholding individual rights, but the work Morgan does with me is no less important. Our work – our art – helps make life worth living. If you’re going to interrupt us, and if I’m going to deal with Morgan after he comes back, then I think I’ve earned the right to know what’s going on.”
“How long have you been dating Cooper? You should know how this works. That the Society’s need inconveniences you does not constitute need to know. This is an active investigation and must remain confidential.”
Turning to me, Iris hardened her tone. “Adversary Cooper, please escort your bandmates from the studio.” She glanced at Naomi before adding, “Both of them.”
“There’s no need for that.” It was not my habit to refuse a lawful order, but habits are like rules – made to be broken. Besides, I had a better idea. Picking up my jacket, I shrugged into it before grabbing my service harness. Perhaps it was just as well that I had not dropped off my weapons at home. “Nims said she had rented the adjoining studios as well. Let’s use one of them.”
Once we had closed the door to the adjoining studio behind us, Saul worked the wall console and engaged the studio’s Faraday cage. It would take a minute before the studio would be secure against eavesdropping, and the silence had grown uncomfortable, so I attempted some small talk. “It must have been difficult to find me.”
“Not as hard as you might think,” said Iris. “but please don’t blame Astarte. Studio rentals aren’t confidential, and it didn’t take long for Malkuth to hit up every studio in the city to find out if Crowley’s Thoth had rented space. It was, according to him, an trivially parellelizeable process.”
“What I’m hearing is that we shouldn’t rent space as Crowley’s Thoth, but hide behind a shell corporation or three if we want to rehearse without interruptions.” Not that I would go to that much trouble to duck out of work. While Christabel was right about what the band did – we have letters from fans claiming our music gave them the strength to fight through suicidal depression – I needed to be an Adversary as much as I needed to be a musician.
My suggestion got a dry chuckle from Saul. “That would make Malkuth’s search take fifteen minutes instead of five. When we need to track you down, Malkuth backgrounds everything else.”
So nice to be loved, isn’t it? “Well, this had better be a real choice mission.”
“We think so,” said Iris. “Going from the facts alone, it looks like something any Adversary could handle, but analysis from Kether, Binah, and Tiphareth suggest that this case has a strong escalation potential.”
It was a dry phrase, typical of government-speak, but it meant that this could become a global thermonuclear clusterfuck if not handled just so. Saul and Iris wanted me to finesse this. “So, what are the facts?”
“Cameron Duncan, age 26, from Astoria. He was the target of an attempted kidnapping outside a fertility clinic this morning. The clinic had refused to help him and his spouse because something in Duncan’s genome marked him as corporate property.”
Wracking my memory and my implant’s storage turned up nothing. Cameron Duncan wasn’t one of the einherjar, artificially engineered superhumans of which I was the last out of six hundred and sixty-six1. Thus there should be no reason for AsgarTech to mark him as corporate property. Furthermore, who would even think of trying to kidnap an einheri? I’ve killed angels on the job, which was one reason Christabel wasn’t cleared to know about my duties. Mere human kidnappers would have to resort to taking hostages if they wanted me to come with them and in the presence of such a clear and present danger to human rights I would be justified in resorting to extreme measures.
“Is Duncan the only person who’s been subject to a kidnapping attempt?”
Iris nodded. “No, but we haven’t identified a pattern behind other attempts. We can give you the victim’s names if you want to find out if they too have somehow been marked as corporate assets.”
Saul was shaking his head in wry amusement. “Sorry, kid. I wanted to be able to say that this should be a simple job, and that you could be back in the studio with the girls tomorrow night. Hell, you shouldn’t even need your subway pass since Duncan’s right here in Queens. But–”
“Saul, the Sephiroth wouldn’t have said this had a strong escalation potential if it was just a simple, local problem. There’s a pattern here, but it’s on us to identify it because human rights are humanity’s responsibility. Did they tell you anything else? Like whose property Cameron Duncan’s supposed to be?”
“Does Folkvangr ring any bells?”
As a matter of fact, it did. It was like Valhalla, but presided over by Freyja instead of Odin. Each got half of the chosen slain after a battle, to feast and train for Ragnarök. But if memory served, the denizens of Valhalla and Folkvangr alike were all einherjar. Was Folkvangr an AsgarTech competitor that had to use a different name for their products to avoid a trademark dispute? It was a possibility worth considering, at least. “I can dig into the Folkvangr angle after I’ve talked with the Duncans, but give me to me straight: why me?”
“You’ve been a staunch advocate for the rights of artificial humanity in the past. Wasn’t it only a couple of months ago that you testified before the UN’s General Council in favor of revising the UDHR2 to cover artificial humanity?”
“I’m going to assume that your question is rhetorical since the answer is a matter of public record. It sounds like you expect me to take this mission because it’s a matter of personal interest as well as one of principle.”
Saul seemed to relax; it was plain that I had spared him the hassle of giving me the hard sell. “I can send you a dossier. Everything we’ve got is in there.”
“You can engage your usual crew for support,” added Iris. “Bring in Edmund Cohen and Sydney Reeves for tactical support. Since you’ll probably bring Claire Ashecroft aboard for technical support we might as well give you official permission to do so. You can submit her fee as mission expenses.”
Claire’s support was valuable enough that paying her fee out of pocket was no hardship, but I appreciated the Society finally recognizing that Claire was a crucial member of my team. Technical support hardly described the work she did for me: electronic and signals intelligence and countermeasures. Besides, it was gentle encouragement for her to avoid some of the nastier work people in her trade sometimes did; if she went full black hat I would not be able to send paying work her way in anything resembling good conscience.
“All right. I’ll take the case. I just need a few minutes to tell the ladies that I’ll be heading out to interview the Duncans tonight.”
“We had advised the Duncans to expect you tomorrow morning,” said Saul. “We had hoped to leave you time for rehearsal tonight, at least.”
“The sooner I start this, the sooner I’ll be done.” What I left unsaid was that it would be rather more than merely inconvenient if I showed up tomorrow morning only to be told that I would need a competent necromancer if I wanted to interview Cameron Duncan because he had been murdered overnight. If somebody was waiting for a chance to whack him, seeing me on their doorstep might deter them. And if it forced their hand instead, such precipitous action might give me a shortcut to the culprits.
Nevertheless, it appeared that Saul and Iris had reached a similar conclusion. “We appreciate your understanding,” said Iris. “Please be assured that any personnel you bring aboard will be paid time and a half for the additional duty, and double time for the graveyard shift.”
“Trust Iris,” said Saul. “Go square things with your girlfriends.”
It wasn’t worth my while to explain that I only had one, and might not even have that soon enough. Instead, I took my leave as the promised dossier bypassed the network to arrive via near-field communication.
Christabel was still eating her rice and steamed vegetables when I got back, grimly chewing each bite as if it were a penance for the sin of hunger. She glared up at me. “You took the mission, didn’t you.”
“They had a good reason to hunt me down, ’Bel.”
“Oh, they always have a good reason.” Dropping her containers in the trash, she glided up to me and jabbed a fingertip into my chest. “One of these days you’re going to have to figure out what sort of man you want to be when you grow up, because Crowley’s Thoth doesn’t have room for your ego.”
While I could have suggested that Christabel’s accusation was in fact a confession, I held my tongue. Better to save the fighting for when I’m getting paid. Those, at least, were fights I could win.
more in Spiral Architect
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 1||in which Morgan is late because his day job won't let him go...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 2||in which Morgan gets yet another choice mission...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 3||in which Morgan begins to understand the stakes involved...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 4||in which Morgan finds an unexpected sense of kinship...|
|Spiral Architect: Chapter 5||in which Morgan agrees to help a friend in need...|