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Grand Central Arena: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Monday, November 9, 2009 11:17 EST



    "You understand all of my instructions exactly?" DuQuesne asked.

    "I believe so," replied Doctor Davison, looking up with slightly puzzled eyes at DuQuesne. "I am not entirely sure why you have to be so… emphatic, but they are your arrangements to make."

    Yes, they are my arrangements to make. Never thought I'd have to do this, but if what Sandrisson's got is for real… I have to be ready. It's potentially the kind of chance I've been waiting for all this time. But I still really, really hate having to take off like this. If I'm gone, even Saul and all my precautions might not be enough.

    Davison summoned up an image of the hospital agreement. "Support for all individuals named is to continue for as long as they require it. They can of course leave at any time if they show the ability to do so. No visitors not on the explicit white list – a very, very short list. If you are killed or otherwise rendered unable to administer the contract, Commander Maginot of the CSF or his designated representative will assume those duties. No change to any procedures is to be made without express, direct, and personal contact with the administrator of the contract – that is, you must personally make any changes."

    The blond-haired doctor looked back up. "The last point is the one that puzzles me. To force you, or the head of the entire Combined Space Forces, to personally, physically come here to change any point of procedure, rather than merely verifying through standard secure means, is –"

    "—Absolutely necessary, not negotiable, and not going to be explained either," DuQuesne cut in.

    Davison shrugged. "All right. Your business. Though I would give considerably more than my current energy account to know exactly how and why you managed to convince Commander Maginot to agree to this." He raised an enquiring eyebrow.

    "I'm sure you would." DuQuesne smiled darkly, knowing that his height of over 2 meters and ebony-black hair, eyes, and short, pointed beard helped make the smile more sinister than comforting. There were times he might have liked to be less obvious a presence, but on balance he preferred to stay the way he was.

Davison blinked and gave a somewhat disconcerted sigh. "Yes, well, let's finish up." He certified the contract opposite DuQuesne's certification. "All contracted and verified."

    "Thanks, Doctor," DuQuesne said. "Have your systems give me a map to Nanomaintenance?"


    DuQuesne felt the "incoming" ping and let in the map data. With a wave to Davison, he set out.

    That worked out well. Didn't realize Cussler was in charge of maintenance on this particular station, but that made things even better; I had a perfectly legit reason to come here this time, so I didn't have to jump through the usual hoops to cloud my trail. Even made a stopover at Circumluna 2 which ought to confuse her mightily.

    He wound his way through several corridors and found himself in the central tubeway. At that point, a voice spoke to him – not from loudspeakers, nor through his interfaces, but seemingly from the air itself, in his ear.

    "Doctor DuQuesne. I'm glad you've come. I have been waiting for your arrival."

    Focusing his own personal sensors, he was just able to make out the nanoswarms now tracking him. "That's pretty impressive." Very clever. Never quite violated my privacy perimeter, which means he was able to scope out my perimeter by remote. Damn good.

     "Thank you. I have already signaled my intention to accept your proposal and sent the consent data to the SCC and Dr. Sandrisson. You will find my initial suggestions for the maintenance supplies and designs are attached."

    DuQuesne frowned. "We haven't even finished the overall ship design. Dr. Franceschetti had only begun on those when I left."

    "True," the disembodied voice agreed, "but with a minor amount of analysis I could come up with a general design projection that I believe matches the likely final design to within a few percent."

    Showing off, but with a purpose. He wants us to know that he's the right man for the job. DuQuesne passed through another door, and stopped, studying what he saw carefully.

    Doctor Thomas Cussler's eyes were closed, slightly graying eyebrows contrasting with skin so dark brown as to be nearly black, his square face seeming chiseled out of polished wood by a master sculptor. Shimmers of light danced near him in the air, and actual physical leads – treated superconductor – were attached to him at several points. DuQuesne, now looking at him with a data-transfer overlay map, could see a torrent of data – sensor feeds, augmentation data, analysis enhancement, and others – streaming back and forth and through the man.

    Yeah, he's definitely a Transcender; believes in the ultimate destiny of mankind to unify with the machines we created. Doesn't do the full Upload thing because it'd qualify him as an AI under current rules.

    This wasn't the kind of direction DuQuesne ever intended to go, but for a nanomaintenance man it was ideal. Tom Cussler was obviously aware of the operation of much of the station the way a man is aware of the operation of his body. "You sure you want to come along?"

    Cussler suddenly sat up and opened his eyes, which glinted with humor and awareness. "Oh, most definitely," he answered, in a deep, warm voice. "Your ship may be far smaller than my usual systems, but I am fascinated by the possibilities. I've just finished making a backup copy of myself, in case of disaster, so the risk is minimal."

    One way we really think differently, DuQuesne thought. There's no way in hell I'd make a "backup"; it wouldn't be me, just someone who thought he was me, and what if it got activated by accident when I was still alive? Aloud, he snorted and shook his head. "So I didn't even have to come here?"

    "Perhaps not," admitted Cussler, extending his hand and shaking DuQuesne's, "but I appreciate the effort, and the personal touch. While I am perfectly comfortable making all my arrangements by virtupresence, many others are not – I note that our pilot, in particular, will want to meet me in person before we actually begin, so I have already made the arrangements. I'm leaving Maxine in charge for the time in question." DuQuesne got a fleeting impression of a pretty young woman in overalls, wearing a baseball cap and holding an oversized wrench, giving him a wave and a wink. "She can run things here almost as well as I can, certainly for a few weeks."

    "Good enough." DuQuesne said. "Well, since I'm here, you want to get up and show me around the place?"

    Cussler laughed. "Wondering if I actually move far from the center of my web, Doctor? Why not? My connections travel with me. Yet… it's rather odd, Doctor DuQuesne. I have a vague impression that this is not your first visit here. And I do not normally have 'vague' impressions at all."

    He's damn good to have any at all. I'll have to upgrade Davison's security again, and especially the data-feed remote editing. If he can get even a vague impression… someone else might get more. And that would be real, real bad. "It's possible," he said, answering Cussler's implied question, "but if so it was a long time ago; probably before you really settled in here."

    Cussler relaxed. "Yes, that would make sense." He rose and gestured to another door. "Shall we? This will take us to some of the better areas of the station most quickly."

    "Lead on," DuQuesne said with a smile.

    All the pieces are coming together...

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