©1984 G. Gordon Gordon

To begin with, it wasn't the best of times to be back on the West coast. The State Immigration Police were extremely tight and the new martial law style curfew was still enforced in any California city over 25,000 in population.

Palmer had been fired for 'Political Insolvency' and had disappeared; off on a Phrane binge if I knew Palmer, shacked up somewhere with a Level 2 SexDroid rented in the Tenderloin from DodaSex International... At least, they had his card number and what looked like a reasonable facsimile of the famous Vreedeez scrawl. But the address was fake and so was all the rest of the personal info on the routine rental punchform. It was all lies -- a typical Palmer attitude, so I had to assume that the signadata was valid.

I had already tried flashing the 'Brow at Puzzling Evidence on my way over to Dodasex, but all I could get was an 'audio only' recording to the effect that my sole reliable operative at Unibrow International was attending a Flying Tiger Airlines Convention at the Maksoud Plaza in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I relit my pipe as I picked my way through the throngs of E-Girls, already out hustling this early. Most of them wore the mandatory cache de sex and eyeshields, and the rest of their fantastic, setCONned bodies were covered in 'flashies, NeoGels or even poptatoos of a most explicit and ornate nature. Thay all had the same things to sell for a short time, so packaging was still the big factor.

The weather was lousy, cold, foggy, and every smooth exterior surface in the city sweated clammy streams. My nose filters were overdue for a scrub and the smell of Oakland was relentless. Halfway back to my hotel I was beamed by a buzzship. The cops were neutral, polite, it was routine. So was all the info I flashed them with my Datascan. It checked out to twenty decimal points because they amped out and skipped off somewhere to bother someone else. They didn't even say thanks -- or so I thought. Later, when checking my message deck, I found a smarmy recording from Bay Police Central thanking me for my cooperation, blah blah.

When I got back to the Saint Francis I learned that the NeoRevisionist Party was having some kind of big social bash and the security heat both open and surreptitious was alarming, but entirely understandable since the Hyatt Massacre. My body was scanned six different times between the pavement and the elevators -- I could hear the beeps in my built-in monitor, which is wired directly to the audio nerves. I wasn't the least bit worried, though; I knew I would show clean even though I was holding a Gyrojet pistol and an Ingraham machinegun. The transponder package I carried strapped to the small of my back like a moneybelt could analyze, decode and then respond to any form of scanning device, including thermal-positron, with a perfectly 'normal' profile. It could even bugger up contour scan 'soft' microwave beaming -- and those were really hard to glitch, because of the realtime rescan monitors that were getting harder and harder to puzzle.

My room was clean -- for the moment, at least. The microcircuits were giving my brain only a faint green visual stimulus on that channel. I sat down, unloaded and dumped my arsenal in an OpaqueBox, then removed my transponder pack and reset it on wide beam. I unjacked the cigarette package sized power cell that plugs into the dermoplast socket at the base of my spine, and let my entire synaptic circuitry go back to its normal firing rate. It felt good to have the old nervous system back on biological power source.

I was just starting to feel like a human being again instead of an All Cozmic Yacatisma Penetrator when the Mandatory Television Channel kicked up the power and lit up the set. I found myself looking at the pouchy eyes, veinous nose, wattles, and hard, prissy mouth of a man of eighty years plus... with the teeth and hair of a thirty year old. Behind him was a shield, an eagle and lots of red, white and blue. Apparently my President was about to speak to me, personally. Well, not really, but for a moment I was confused. I sat up, shredded a big cut plug of 'Frop, recharged, and lit my pipe while the chief executive defended his new defense requests and his proposal to make the entire armed forces part of the FBIDEA forces, with state national guard units as an optional addition during coca, opium and marijuana harvesting seasons all over the world.

He was brief, at least, but made about as much sense as a dinosaur does to a SymBiorg. After all, the sum total of human knowledge had doubled, then doubled, and then doubled once again since that guy got out of Harvard or wherever; could you really expect him to deal with the territory when his map was so hopelessly out ot date -- say, late Cenozoic?

Lot of plate tectonics since then, Mister Prezzdent, lotsa changes with many of us monkeys, too, boss, you betcha!

After he had faded away in a toothy smile and was replaced with an uptown media montage of patriotic archetypal Jingotwangers, I turned on the rest of the set and went through the 300 or so options. After twenty channels I plugged the powerpack back into my spine and went up to three-fourths power. I scanned the rest neurally with a direct scanning link. It's done by microwaves emitted by the SetCONned retinal nets in my eyes. My link to the YT computer was always open when I was above one-eighth power, and I mused over the disappearance of Palmer while my unconscious circuits and the computer rummaged through all that information. It only took about twenty minutes to run it all, including commercial and public information. I didn't need all that new data but the Yacatizma did, and that's who was running this show. The updates, which it supplies to all its linked operatives as they need them, more than compensate for the constant demands it makes of them for new imputs. I think the Y-Matrix is an information junkie myself, but everyone is strung out on something, right? And too much is always better than not enough. But still I was thinking about Palmer. Where could he have disappeared to? And did he still even have that tape in his possession? The tape that contained information he certainly never guessed might exist...

The YT Scan completed, I bleeped over to the circus channel to see who was risking life and limb for cash. Untaxable cash, if they survived. I wasn't really into the violence and blood of the actual acts, but was hooked on the audiences. I guess they're one up from the wrestling and roller derby crowds, just more open about their appetites.

At the moment there was a round of High Wire City Hall in the center arena. Three gays with rocks and brickbats were trying to knock a pathological honky with a .380 auto and five shots off a slackwire before he got close enough to get a shot at them. The honky was doing quite well when the screen dissolved into audience montages around the central image and I felt a flash as I saw a familiar face in the crowd: a tired, Phrane-racked, stubbly face. He looked like some derelict there in the battered, filthy free seats. You could sit there 24 hours a day as long as you were watching and not sleeping; and Palmer, for such it was looking all smeared and bleary faced, certainly could stay wide awake for long, long periods of time, given enough Phrane. I re-armed and reset my Transpack and went out the door less than two minutes after I had spotted Palmer. I grabbed a ridiculously expensive gasoline powered cab and headed straight for Christian Legion Stadium as fast as I could persuade my driver to move.

It still took a long time, but finally I went in on the payside and got a guard to let me cross into the free seats. By this time it was a geriatric act with flamethrowers, and there was a smell of burned meat. Most of the rabble and some on the payside were up on their feet howling with delight at the internecine 'Comedy Act,' but Palmer was still huddled up against the plasteel wall on the far side, his eyes not focused on anything. Only, he was no longer alone, having acquired a pair of vicioius looking rigger boys who were closing carefully in with the obvious intent of 'doing' him. They were right next to him when I walked up, bouncy and light on my feet, synapses running at max level and looking a lot like a phraner. "Hop it, laddies" I said with a toothy grin. "Bozo here is a very good friend of mine, so just fade out in forty frames or less, okayo?"

They both came at me with flickering sonic knives in less than a second. I could move over twenty times faster than they; what chance did they have? I let the circuits take over and killed them both, painlessly and instantly, in less than two more seconds. I picked Palmer up, slung his emaciated frame over my shoulder in a fireman's lift, and headed for the exit as the people around the scene of the mayhem became aware of what had gone down. There were two armed guards at the side door but I accelerated, whipping between them and out the door with Palmer while they gradually crawled at syrup-speed to grab us, going bloooglaaaafaaahhhaa in very deep, very slow voices.

I decelerated outside and bleeped a skittercab. It was slow, but it was also automatic and quite non-inquisitive. Palmer was beginning to register a slight contact with reality as the skittercab painstakingly pulled away with a whine of electrics. I dialed in a safehouse address over in Oakland and was informed that there was an extra ten bux if we crossed the bridge. I okayed it and pulled out a small medipak, dug out a leachcap and peeled off the cover strip, pulled Vreedez' collar down and slapped it down on the carotid artery. In seconds the powerful vitamin, food sugar and Phrane counteragent mixture was being pumped into his arterial blood, heading for the brain.

Palmer jerked and twitched for a moment, took a long ragged breath, closed his glazed eyes and then after a second opened them again. This time they were clear and focused. He looked right at me and smiled sardonically.

"Well, Gordon, you came and rescued me, saved me from myself... thanks a whole lot, asshole. Who asked you, anyway? I never sent for you. Leave me alone, I'm sick of you and all those other lunatics that work for Dobbs. You got a smoke?"

I gave him a small fropstick and lit it for him. "Thanks," he said after a couple of good pulls. "I mean it, Gordon, I'm through with the Foundation. It cost me my job, my housing status, everything... I'm PI now, thanks to "Bob." Politically Insolvent. You know what that means, Gordon? No, of course you wouldn't, you iron-brained mercenary twit... you've always lived outside systems, you've never tried to deal with Technobordom and Pinks! You're just off here and there killing a False Prophet or icing some reactionary Church faction... you just never had to..." He trailed off, slumping forward, and took another drag.

"Sorry, Palmer, I have no more choice in this than you do." I got out my pipe and relit it. "The Yacatisma Matrix sent me here to find you."

"What for? Oh, it doesn't matter! I've had it with you guys, I tell you!"

"Look, Palmer, I'm trying to be as nice as I know how. You asshole." I said it sincerely. "There's a whole lot going on that's a bit more important than your political status, your job, my personal habits and my and your lives, so let's cooperate and graduate... How about it?"

"I dunno Deu -- Gordon." He was so rattled he'd almost used my nonChurch name. But he caught himself. "Hey, where are we going?" he added hastily.

"Safe house we have over in Oakland. The old Croxton Manorhouse."

I took a long appreciative pull at my pipe. "Once you're rested and back in shape we've got to do a couple of very important chores."

Palmer Vreedeez shook his head slowly. "Very dangerous too, if I know you, Gordon. You have no guarantee I'll cooperate with you."

"Oh, I think you'll help me out, Palmer." I said with my best barracuda smile. "In fact, Philo guaranteed that you would be helpful..."

"Philo," he gasped, turning even paler. "I thought... I know Philo is dead!"

"Was dead, Palmer, was dead. But even now the Overman walks among us again! Praise Dobbs!"

Palmer looked terrified, "Was," he whispered. "You mean G'broagfran kept the cloning templates?"

I hit him hard with the answer. "Sure, Palmer. Gary G'broagfran kept all of the material, because he wasn't on a Copyright Contract like you and Stang. But he didn't need it anyway, Palmer... because Drummond was brought back the long way. And Unibrow was there to pull the levers and twiddle the knobs. Puzzling Evidence sold out, Palmer. It's just a shell organization now. All the computer stuff was taken into the Yacatisma Matrix months ago. You get it, Palmer? You're alone, the Conspiracy doesn't want you, your employers don't want you. But I've got you and "Bob" wants you -- needs you -- on his side. There are too many variables without you. Like it or not, you've got no choice, Vreedeez. Better light up another fropstick and get ready for a lot of really scary stuff!"

Palmer just smoked for the rest of our trip. We were electric and had low priority, but the trip took only fifteen minutes and two 'Fropsticks more for Palmer. We came into the Croxton Estate through the back alley, dumping the skittercab on the corner. It flashed off as soon as we scooted, already answering a bleep from another Datascan carrier.

I slid the encoded, magnetized plastic card -- made to look like a credit card -- into what might have been only a chink in the wall. An opening dilated long enough for me to dash through, dragging a stumbling Palmer along with me. Behind the high shielded walls, it was another world. The excess city nightglare was cut out and you could see the sky, not that there was much to see. The air was all filtered and very breathable. We walked slowly through the thick grass of the lawn and up the steps to the back door of the Manorhouse. I dialed the access code, the lights came on and the door opened for us after the central computer checked me out. There was no one at home, of course. The house was now occupied by unearthly, beautiful, bizarre and even scary pieces of glass sculpture. There was glass in forms totally unknown... even a sheet of the famous 'slowglass' that was fifty five light years thick, sub-atomically speaking; it was only about two inches physically. It glowed like a big television screen, showing a view of the Bay about thirty-five years ago when the water was blue instead of red and brown. You could see boats and clouds moving; it was like looking out a window, only the image was a little out of time. If you went around to the other side, you could look out onto a nice section of San Francisco before ferrophages, plasteel and FullerConstructions. Slowglass was Dr. Glassmadness' greatest triumph and supreme folly; it'd cost him his citizenship and identity. He was now a permanant Dobbstown resident, like so many of the Church Heirachy -- a tired, broken old blues player who had brought in just enough Tanksouls to retire.

We went into the living section of the strange old house and I found food. Palmer was jonesing for some Phrane again by this time, and as I had a couple of gligs in my gear, I turned him on. Mine was pure, not like that ten percent stuff he'd been trying to pry open his circuits with. He splashed in seconds, half a glig still in the inhaler in his hand. I got the rest, and we sat and watched cartoons for several minutes until we could both talk. I sat my power on twenty-five percent and my nervous system couldn't even feel the Phrane at all. Now, I had Palmer a little more pliant. I began asking him about his personal effects. At first, he said he'd thrown it all away. But later, halfway through the third glig I had somehow found mixed up in my vitamin pack, he confided that everything he owned was in a sealed container at a rental storage center. Back in San Francisco, naturally.

I checked with the central house computer and was advised that there was a car for us on fully operative status, ready to roll -- a new Korean TurboFan with full electronics packet and everything else not entirely legal to have, but which wouldn't get you in trouble with the cops. The only problem was, whether or Palmer knew it or not, his worldly goods were probably being watched closely on the chance that he might return. He wasn't exactly 'hot', but a PI with a record like Palmer's is buzzed all the time. Everybody does something illegal at least once a day.

Sure -- jaywalking, crossing against a monitor, pissing in the corner of an alley -- they don't sound like capital crimes to you, but then you're probably not a PI, either.

Palmer went to sleep after a while, huddled in a overstuffed armchair. I sat there and communed with the Yacatizma Matrix, watching city maps, wiring diagrams, sewer blueprints, city ordinances and Dobbs knows what else flicker across my visual cortex as I tried to see exactly what we had here... although if I knew my Yacatizma, I was going to have to come up with something totally outrageous. Something so illogical that it might work. That's the thing about computers, even organically based Xist-technology models: no imagination, and no sense of humor. They said 60 years and computers were going to run the world, but they still don't. They never will, either. Imagination and sense of humor are true survival traits in our era.

I finally worked out a series of probability permutations on the data I did have, and then downpowered and unplugged. My ward was going to be out for a while, so I did some breathing and Neo-Yoga Flexions. After a short period of LinkMed, I dressed, hooked up and went through the weapons locker. I really just wanted to take Palmer's sonikeys and walk up, sign in, open the locker, rummage through the containers until I found the tape, close up and walk away, all legal and everyone happy and smiling. But as Stang used to constantly remind me, there was always the NG factor that could slip into the very best of calculations. And as Godel or somebody said, you can't define a system only by what it contains, you must have a meta-system that encloses and defines the first system for there to be a proof of validity. Or was that the Everett-Wheeler hypothesis? In any event, I packed up the Gyrojet with all explosives in one clip and mixed tracer/explosives in the other. I also took six small smoke grenades, two howlers ( I put the ear filters in when I took them out of their packing) and half a dozen Photonstunners. I toyed with, then discarded, LaxaGas, Tasers, NeuroWhippers and two of the brand new Stickybombs. The latter intrigued me; I hadn't ever used one. I slipped one in my pocket at the last minute and shut the Armslocker before I got involved with the Lasersight Mini-14's or Automatic Shotgun Systems.

I got Palmer up, and he stumbled out to bathe and find clean clothes in the supply closets. I made us minimal breakfast. He even ate a little when he came back, looking only shabby and seedy instead of burned out and deranged. He was smoking a 'Fropcigar he'd found somewhere and of course he had the 'jones.' When it was apparent he wasn't going to eat any more, I made him take half a dozen different vitamin pills. I told him I wanted him to drive me over to the storage place and let me go in while he waited in the car as getaway driver, all secure and armored and a whole lot safer than yours truly.

Good simple strightforward plan. Except.

"I don't know how do drive. I never learned," he said slowly. I could see he was telling the truth. "Well, okay, Palmer, I'll drive. All you have to do is sit in the car and open the door for me if you see me come out in a big hurry."

He still wasn't feeling that heroic. "Look, Gordon, I told you I don't want to be involved in all this shit. Why do you want to get into my stuff anyway? What the fuck do you and that goddamned pipehead want?" He stood up and ran his fingers through his thick stylish wedgecut. "Whatever it is, you can't have it." He relit his 'Frop.

I pulled out the machine pistol and stuck it right up in his face. He froze; Palmer was particularily wary of guns.

"It's very simple, Vreedeez. I'm going to tell you once and you had better listen. Among your ratty, sordid little cache of personal nostalgia, you have a set of tapes. Tapes that you got through Unibrow..."

"But we're friends," he protested. "I have no official affiliation with any of his projects. Those tapes are letters, personal correspondance, that's all!"

"I know that, Palmer," I said soothingly. "Why don't you sit down?" He sat and I put the gun away. "Now listen, Palmer, on one of those tapes -- it's the tape with the color-key "Starving Biafran Baby with A Pipe" label -- there's a long session where 'Brow is talking to you, and there is a monitor playing an audio track in the background. It sounds like pure electronic synthesiser music. But it wasn't. He was encoding a whole package of information on weapons control frequencies, go-codes, etc. for the U.S., Russia and the EuroSectors. It included satellite callups, frequency crypto-keys and Ballistic Access Retrieval Updates. Not to mention Cruise Missile codes, submarine access codes and Dobbs only knows what else. He finished that work and sent it to us by courier. The courier never made it. We notified Unibrow Inc., and they researched it, and this was the only suggestion the 'Brow himself could come up with. He's pretty sure -- and we're hoping he's right -- that the whole sequence is uninterrupted. But even if there are gaps, the Yacatizma Matrix can probably enhance it enough to make it worthwhile."

My listener was a bit agitated by the news that, essentially, he had been put on the spot by his friend Unibrow. I put my hand into my coat pocket and pulled out the five glig inhaler of Phrane I had stashed in my shaving kit.

Palmer's whole system twanged and resonated, just from being that close to so much pure Phrane. I held it up. "You only have to ride in the car, Vreedeez," I said. "If I get that tape, I promise you that not only will I get out of your face forever, I will see that you're paid a MegaBuck in any form of currency, metal or negotiable, and I will personally see that you get a giant, heaping, heavy duty kitchen sized black plastic garbage sack full of the finest Phrane in the world. Pure, unsullied, Palmer! 89 percent pure Phrane by atomic weight!"

Of course he caved in; who wouldn't have? (Perhaps I should say, what phraner wouldn't have?) I did some with him, but I had already edged up over twenty-five percent power level in my central nervous system, so I never really felt it.

We left shortly after that, emerging into the grim wastes of Oakland at about eleven ay em. It was smoggy, drizzly, foggy, cold, humid, smelly, polluted, dirty, contaminated... one could go on for days. Many do. We found a traffic light, and with the aid of the top-level computer in the TurboFan I had no trouble programming us for the old warehouse district where Palmer Vreedeez' earthly goods were stored. He didn't say much, but he was at least a grudging neutral in the overall scheme. I activated the computer link, went into phase with the YT Matrix and got a complete update on all the vectors that could possibly be moving in my direction. There was no real indication that my presence was even known. Apparantly, the accelerated removal of Palmer from the Games Stadium had never reached official levels. Or perhaps it had, but somebody up there was holding it all in on the off chance that I might check to see if I were being tracked. After all, there were only three human beings on the planet with rewired central nervous systems who went around doing destructive things; one was dead and the other was locked up and heavily guarded in the central region of the Soviet Republic. I had a feeling I would be assigned the job of getting Poonflang out of there real soon, but for the time being, this one was going to be fun enough.

The area looked quite calm and deserted when we pulled up and parked. I left the burner on low and the gyros on about half. I scanned the entire building at full power. It looked nice, but I buzzed seven powerpacks scattered around, which meant Baycop stunners. There was an innoccuous looking van parked across the street, which a quick flash on the car scanners showed to have five men inside -- no stunner packs, but a lot of metal concentrations. Like gunsized metal concentrations. I mentally reran all my weapons positions, and theirs, then got out of the car as normally as I could, leaving my door closed but unlatched. I was on sixty-five percent power when I went inside. There was a tacky little office space in the front of the old warehouse, "guarded" by a very disinterested woman with a flat beefy face and stringy, greasy hair. I told her what number I wanted and held up my key. She was either a good actress or she knew nothing, because she showed not the slightest glimmer of interest in my name (Vreedeez) or the locker number. She just made me sign in and let me enter the storage area.

On the other side of the wall, the open space had been filled with rows of prefabricated and reinforced storage compartments, each about the size of a small one-car garage. I searched quickly along the rows and found my door, number 444. There was no sign of any activity, and a scan of the door showed no trigger alarms or circuits beyond the factory model that comes with the Sonilocks.

I still had a feeling I was being watched. I tried Whiffing, but there was no physical presence. I figured what the hell, shoved the key in the slot and coded the bleepsequence. The light went green, I pulled the door open and went inside. Still no action. I went to the stacked storage cartons and quickly found the one full of old comm gear and tapes. I was still hyped for something to happen when I found the tape. A moment later I stepped out and relocked the door. Something had to start; surely they knew. I was about halfway back when I sensed a lot of extra circuitry in one of the lockers I passed. I gave it a full scan, blanched, and moved on without even slowing down. When I came into the office the Heat was there -- but he wasn't looking for me.

"Excuse me, sir." He flashed his IDs -- a big time Fed from Justice and SecServ/CIA.

"What seems to be the trouble, Officer?" I asked as cooperatively as I could.

"Were you just back in the locker section?"

"Well yes, I just came out through this door and the lockers are in there." I said it as if I wasn't really on top of such things as life in general.

"And what number locker did you visit, sir?" Just as nice as pie.

"Number four forty-four."

"Could I perhaps see your key, sir?"

I handed the Sonikey to him without a word, and after a brief glance he smiled, handed it back and walked out the door. After saying thank you, or course. I knew everything was going to be just fine from there and walked outside jauntily. Nothing had changed; Vreedeez was looking around nervously as I got in, sealed the door and took off on full burn.

"But there were cops all over the place then!" Palmer argued a few minutes later, after I'd told him the whole scenario. "Why didn't they grab us?"

"Because they weren't watching your stuff, they were interested in the owner of the stuff in locker 412." I pulled up onto the westbound strip, snatched the Phrane inhaler from him, went down to five percent and did a big hit. "I scanned it on the way out. It was so bugged up it was damned near glowing. Somebody's got enough plutonium in that locker to make two or three nuclear weapons. Oh, it's shielded well enough, but I know it's plutonium. It's still got the Kerr-Magee stencils on the shielding boxes. I'd say the Feds are very interested in finding out who stored that there." Palmer accepted the inhaler without saying anything.

"Anyway, Palmer," I said cheerily. "I've got the tape, and I'm getting the hell out of here for Dobbstown. I meant what I said about the MegaBuck and Phrane, Palmer. Now where can I drop you off?"

"You know," he said slowly, "If there's all that plutonium piled up there that the cops do know about, I can't help but think that there could be more plutonium that they don't know about. Maybe I'll come to Dobbstown with you, Gordon. You did say we have Phrane plants growing there now?"

"Brought them up from Greenhelle myself six years ago," I assured him.

We had just started crossing the Golden Gate Bridge about then, and just as I settled back into the seat there was a sudden concussive jar, a loud explosion, and for a second, the whole car was enveloped in flame.

We skidded violently but I was already back up to full power and my reflexes were unbelievable. I brought us under control almost instantly.

The car was armored and well sprung, but had no weapons. I could see my attacker now. It was a low-slung TurboFan like mine, only more heavily armored and equipped with external weapons, two extra headlights and a flashing beacon on top: a Baypolice SWAT car. I opaqued the windows and put three of my photon flashers out the dispenser quickly. They blinded everyone else and tore traffic up badly, but the Heat seemed unaffected. I couldn't drive and shoot, but they could and were doing both. We took about fifty rounds of light machine gun fire across our rear end, but the car could take a lot more than that. I tried some explosive grenades, but no luck there.

We were almost in the middle of the bridge and they were coming up fast with everything going at us. I figured what the hell, and after estimating the distance, popped the stickybomb out through the dispenser. I had it timed right; it went off underneath the SWAT car. One part of the stickycharge adhered to the armored bottom of the speeding car, long gummy tendrils catching it all over while the other part of the charge stuck to the surface of the road and to one side of the steel bridge wall. The stickycharge is a sillicone carbide fiber-chain substance that can stick to anything and never lets go. The fibres are very stretchy up to a point, but when they reach their limit, they stop and resist with a tensile strength hundreds of times that of steel.

In this case, the SWAT car literally tore itself apart top from bottom, ripped a large piece of road out and warped the steel wall in the process. It stopped very quickly, or about a third of it did. The rest catapulted across the median into oncoming traffic as a ball of incandescent flame.

So much for field testing. That stickybomb had possibilities!

By the time we got to the Oakland end of the bridge the traffic had really thinned out on our level. Palmer was almost catatonic, curled up on the seat next to me mumbling to himself. I guess the explosions and the shooting got to him. Despite the violence of his personal appearance and the presence of it in his art, Palmer was essentially a peace-loving man. The only thing dangerous about him was his mind.

I got us off the freeway and parked the Turbofan in an alley and set the auto-destruct timer. I practically dragged Palmer to the nearest comer, where I was able to bleep a three-wheeler electrocab with my Datascan. We got in, I dialed Oakland Air Terminal and we were off.

Palmer, of course, had no current identification, and you couldn't get out of the WestBloc without the fight papers, but I thought I knew a way around that. They really only checked your papers when you bought the ticket. On the way over to the terminal I went up to full power and began a computer-enhanced scan of all the civilian and police radio bands. The BayPolice were pretty hot about their SWAT car but apparently were still all looking for the Korean auto. With a little bit of luck that was nothing but a puddle of fused metals and a lot of bumed plastic residues by now, maybe keeping a few old derelicts warm. I shunted my power level back down and fed Palmer another half glig of'Phrane out of my emergency medical pack. I also made him smoke another'Fropstick. By the time the electrocab dropped us off in front of the terminal he was almost normal, or at least as close to normal as Palmer could ever be.

I stashed him in the Tiki Lounge bar and went over to the ticket counter. I wanted the next quick passage to Malaysia. Singapore Airlines had an SST leaving in an hour and a Ballistic Vehicle due for lilt-off in less than thirty minutes. There wasn't much traffic at the ticket counter, so I walked up and asked to see the agent in charge immediately.

He came fight out, a short prissy man with glasses who looked a lot like Ivan Stang, wanting to know what the problem was.

I assured him there was no problem and showed him my beautifully forged NatGov documents. He was impressed, of course, but he was even more impressed by the large amount of money I handed him.

"I need two tickets on your upcoming Ballistic to Singapore," I explained. "I have a man traveling with me who is a Federal prisoner- leave the name on his ticket blank, this involves national security."

Well, he didn't like the idea, of course, but I told him he could either do it my way and get paid in cash for the tickets AND his cooperation, or do it his way and accept my number on a Federal Travel Voucher. That way he'd get nothing and his company might get reimbursed when the NatGov got around to it.

He quickly acquiesced; nobody likes NatGcv agents, or the NatGcv for that matter, but everyone still likes money. He said there would be no problem with the tickets except that the computers would not issue one without a name.

"Oh hell," I said wearily.- "Let's give him a fewking name then. How about Poonflang Dammarung, there's a fine Malaysian name for you." He didn't even blink. "How do you spell that?" He wanted to know.

A few minutes later I was back in the bar with Palmer and the tickets. He was nursing something in a plastic coconut shell made with cane alcohol and ersatz pineapple chunks. We only had about a twenty- minute wait, so I sent Palmer into the toilet with the last of my 'Phrane. He came out looking almost jaunty and began talking about how much better things were going to be for him in Dobbstown. He,figured that, as one of the earliest Hierarchites who had really suffered a lot for "Bob," he was going tc get a nice house, plenty of 'Phrane and a lot of other flashy perks. I didn't have the head tc disillusion him. Things had changed a lot since Palmer's last visit to Malaysia. Didn't he realize that there was a war going on?

As soon as they gave the first call for the Singapore Ballistic, I stood up and produced my handcuffs.

"What are those for?" asked Palmer, eyeing the plasteel bracelets uneasily.

"Simple," I said. "As far as the WestBloc goons are concerned, I'm a NatGov cop and you're my prisoner. That way, if they do a check before we board, there's a good reason why you don't have any identification." He opened his mouth to object, but before he could say anything I snapped them on his wrists.

"I dunno about this, Gordon," Palmer mumbled.

"Hey," I said as we headed for the boarding gate. "Just remember the words of the Most Sacred Scribe, Palmer."

"How's that?"

"In Ivan's words, 'You'll just have to trust me!' "

Palmer made a face; he'd heard those words before. Hadn't we all? I flashed my IDs at the Bay Police security guard and he didn't flicker an eyebrow, just waved us both through, looking at Palmer with undisguised contempt.

I was afraid he might just be a little curious as to why a NatGov agent and his prisoner were hopping a Ballistic to Asia, but curiosity, like intelligence, was not a requirement for joining the force nowadays. If you had good feet, big hands and a thick neck, you were in.

Twenty minutes later we were boosting through the stratosphere at two and a half G's. I had taken the cuffs off Palmer as soon as we boarded. He had accepted the antiacceleration medication and was sound asleep. I stayed awake on low power and scanned all the news channels. One of the Oakland stations carried a story about a minor traffic accident on the Oakland bridge. I tapped the cassette in my coat pocket reassuringly and settled back in my acceleration couch. It looked like, this time, Dobbs be praised, we had got away clean. Another two hours or so and we'd be in Dobbstcwn. I could get some rest in the Blank Tank-and Palmer, well, they'd find something for Palmer to do!