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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Monday, March 22, 2004 12:24 EST



    An odd but unpretentious house perched above a small ravine and waterfall, on the wooded outskirts of George Bernard Shaw City.

    Sanjay Devi was an unlikely conspirator. She was the Colony's Chief Scientist, and the "mother" of the rats and bats that now fought beside humans against the Magh' invaders of Harmony and Reason. Their genetic engineering was in no small part her work, and the choice of material downloaded into their soft-cyber brain implants all her own.

    In her choice of download material, as with everything she did, Devi had her reasons, not all of them obvious. Perhaps it was just that she was fond of Shakespeare, and nothing more sinister. After all, she was one of the founding patrons of the New Globe Thespian Society, and a devoted amateur dramatist. One of her favorite statements, in fact, was that life tended to imitate the Scottish Play.

    Right now she was attempting to decide whether to clutch the dagger that she saw before her.

    It was an odd-shaped dagger, and made entirely of paper. Part of it was a pile of news-reports. Part of it was a print-out of several confidential biographical snoops prepared by the HAR Special Branch. Part of it was a history book—a rare thing on HAR. She'd been carefully reading up the details of the trial and fate of an obscure artillery captain.

    His name had been Alfred Dreyfus.

    She took a deep breath, then muttered: "If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow, and which will not..."

    If only it were that simple. She needed to select and promote an evil grain. It had to be both evil and weak, if it was to work as she planned it to. There were three possibilities—and each of them would kill innocents, and destroy lives. She'd cultivated all of them carefully.

    Finally, she made up her mind and reached for the telephone. She'd grown up using a bonephone-implant and vis-vid. But, chasing the dream, Sanjay had left the technological advances of Earth behind. Here, on Harmony and Reason, there had been none of the vast interlocking support systems a technological society required to support itself. They'd had to step backwards to technology that didn't require such an interfacing of support-systems. Back to carbon-granule telephones, for one thing.

    At least no one saw your face while you spoke to them. That sometimes had advantages.

    "Talbot," she said, when the phone was picked up on the other end. "Fascinating news about this Major Fitzhugh."

    She waited for the explosion from the man who was in charge of the Colony's Security portfolio to subside.

    "The General is a fool, Talbot. Even if he did marry your sister. That was probably the one and only intelligent thing he ever did. You'll have to lead him. He's not exactly mentally capable."

    She shook her head sympathetically at Talbot Cartup's pungent reply.

    "The answer seems obvious,” she said calmly. “Treason, Talbot. You have the means to arrange the evidence. He may not be a Vat, but he's plainly a Vat-sympathizer. He not only trained with them, he volunteered to train with them. That's as good as an admission of guilt to me. Why would any man who was not some sort of fanatic do that?"

    As it happened, she had a very a good idea why Fitzhugh had done it. But Sanjay Devi always played her cards close to her chest.

    Apparently, Talbot Cartup found himself in bitter and complete agreement with her. And found her suggestion remarkably attractive.

    After she put the telephone down, Sanjay sat for a long time looking at the odd-shaped dagger. At last she sighed.

    That hurt, as usual. Deep breaths always did, but there was nothing that could be done about it other than to take painkillers. And she couldn't afford to take those. She needed her mind sharp for the time she had left.

    Finally, the pain eased. She muttered "by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes," and reached for the telephone again. But this time she clipped a little piece of solid-state circuitry onto it. It was a relic of old Earth, a piece of technology this colony could not dream of mastering for another two centuries. The scrambler-recorder was singularly useful to a conspirator.

    "Major-General Needford, please."

    The JAG switchboard system was slow. But she got hold of Needford eventually.

    He listened to her in silence. He was unnerving in that way, as well as in others. John Needford had a mind like a razor, and Devi knew that he was neck deep in the "young Turks" in the Army. He asked incisive questions—as always.

    She was surprised to find that his special investigator had encountered Fitzhugh before... but she shouldn't have been. Their paths had been bound to cross, given the nature of the men.

    When the conspirator put the phone down, she muttered "eye of newt" with some satisfaction. None of the other three calls would be as stressful as the man she privately called "the Spanish Inquisition." It was almost a pity his ancestry was Liberian instead of Iberian.

    She saved the most enjoyable of the calls for last.

    She answered the sour grunt from the other end of the line with a carefully planned insult. "Liepsich, you stink. And HARIT's physics is at grade school level."

    A smile twitched across Sanjay Devi's face at his pungent reply.

    "And the same to you. With brass knobs on. Now, how goes the slowshield research?"



    She put down the phone for the last time, detached the device she'd used, murmuring "and toe of frog." She bit her lip, thoughtfully.

    "I still need some more ingredients. Wool of bat... and although it is part of the witch's role... the rat without a tail."

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