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By Aedh
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I made one more call, this one to citizen Nedra Madour.  I reflected, as I waited, that I was lucky enough to be able to write off all these calls to my LibMed expense account.

The phone she picked up appeared to be in the solarium.  She had evidently been lingering over breakfast;  something I hoped to be able to do someday.

“Citizen Slater, good morning,” she said.  “I trust you have good news.”

“Would you hold it against me if I didn’t?”  I asked.

She took a leisurely but penetrating look around her.  “You haven’t found her yet, then.”

“Nope, not yet.  There are developments, though.”

“There are developments,” she said.

“Come again?” I said, momentarily nonplussed.

“I need to see you,” she said.

Something tingled somewhere in my head.  “Okay.  Not at the office, though.  What about … the Libria Museum?”

“I don’t care very much for that place,” she said.  “Museums are for the past.  What went on there is … not entirely past for a lot of people.”

“I know,” I said.  “But there’s parking for you, and it’s very convenient for me by tube.  I have to check in at the office first, though.  I have some tasks for my assistant today.  Can you make it in two hours?”

She checked her watch.  “I have a commitment … I may be a bit late, but I’ll be there.  Shall we say, just in the foyer?  We can stroll.  It’s a big place.” 

“Perfect,” I said.  “I’ll be there.”

“Right.”  She nodded, and we cut off.

On my way to the office, I dropped by the Fillmore Plaza pharma.  Raja wasn’t there, but she had left an envelope for me marked “Confidential – Patient Records.”  That would be my analysis.  The vidscreens on the tube had featured Manda Yolanda’s latest, along with a bulletin on the ‘East Forty-Eighth Battle;’  investigations were ongoing.

I walked in the door, gym bag over my shoulder, muffin in hand, and said:  “Honey, I’m home.”  The young woman at the workstation threw me a glance.  She wasn’t Jak, nor anyone that I knew of.  I was, for the second time in a very short while, momentarily nonplussed.  “Um, miss … can I help you, citizen?  This is a private office.  My office.  I’m Slater.  How did you, er, get in here?”

She rose from the seat as if she owned the place and stepped over with a modest smile and an extended hand.  “I know.  I work here, citizen.  I’m your new office assistant.  Citizen Garcia Ramirez.”

I took in Citizen Garcia Ramirez.  It wasn’t hard work.  She was tall, almost as tall as Nedra Madour, counting the black pumps with the three-inch heels, and attired in a two-piece business suit with a ruffled blouse and a bow at the throat.  The suit had obviously come off a department store rack, and just as obviously fit her perfectly.  Her conservative make-up, complete with lipstick, eyeshadow, and a touch of blush, highlighted good-looking features, dark eyes, and jet-black hair drawn and pinned at the back.  Small faux-diamond earrings and a matching lapel pin completed the picture of an assistant who belonged in a Ministry, or a LibMed executive suite.  She went with my small, drab, musty office about as well as champagne with a reheated box of yesterday’s chow mein.  I thought I’d better quit looking at her before she evaporated.

“Where’s Jakklyn?”  I asked.  “You’re from the pool?”

“Temporary reassignment,” she said.  “The assistance of Citizen Alderson was urgently required by administration at the records center.  It was rather sudden.  I presumed you had received the ‘mail about it yesterday.  They said they would be sending someone.  I was … available.”

I processed that information.

“They supplied me with her keys and code.  I was to report at the accustomed time.  Although, judging from your timesheets, that appears to be somewhat … flexible.  So I came early, in order to ensure optimization of the available worktime.”

“How did you get the password into her computer?”

She flashed the little smile again.  “Citizen, the data security parameters in this office are your affair.  I have not accessed any of the data processing applications yet.  But if you are intent upon maintaining overall system security, you should ensure that a better password is employed than ‘Password.’  It is the oldest stratagem in the book, so to speak.”

“H’m.  Will you give me a moment, citizen?” I asked her.  She replied with an elegant hand gesture—I noted her manicured nails—and I went in to my office, which had been dusted and straightened.  The leftovers in the cooler were gone, replaced by some fresh fruit, a banana-cranberry muffin, and a couple of small bottles of ionized, sodium-free mineral water, and one of green tea.

This was getting scary. 

I dumped my gym bag in the corner and checked my office ‘mail.  Sure enough, there was one from the pool administrator, Citizen West at LibMed Staffing, timed yesterday afternoon, that Citizen Jakklyn Alderson would be reassigned as of the following day, and that a replacement would be arriving, regretting inconvenience, et cetera.  I scrolled through the usual junk:  an advert for a ‘women’s health center,’ which meant a place where my wife or girlfriend could have an unplanned pregnancy taken care of;  an ‘urgent appeal’ from the LFF List, ads for office supplies and ‘ware upgrades.  I appeared to have somehow been deemed worthy of a BCI Center newsletter, which contained an invitation hear new lectures, among them one by citizen Nedra Madour, listed as ‘co-foundress,’ as well as new breakthroughs in family planning and a ‘Students’ Activity Evening.’  There was more;  another ‘urgent appeal’ to attend a rally about immigration, and, of course, the usual updates on this and that from LibMed administration, the Bureau, and ConSec notices.  I used the vidphone to put in a call to Doctor Authier Madour’s office.  He wasn’t there, but I was told he’d get a message and call me back.  In about three days, probably, I thought.  Then I looked at ‘net news;  citizen Herzog was featured, not by name, as ‘a trafficking-related fatality in Soho.’  He would be;  ‘murder’ was not a word they used anymore.  Investigations were ongoing there, too.  There was some good news.  No TeleLibria programmers had turned up dead.

I looked up to see my new assistant in the doorway, inspecting my gym bag with a touch of concern.  “Excuse me, citizen,” she said, with a glance up at me.  “I could have your athletic apparel sent out to be cleaned, if you’d care.”

“No, thank you,” I said hastily.  “I wash it at home.  I, er, use de-ionized water there.  And environmentally-friendly detergent, and I, ah, air-dry them.”  I made a little flapping gesture to simulate clothes waving in the breeze.  She seemed to approve of my newly-invented laundry schedule.

“Admirable, citizen,” she observed.  “Libria’s limited resources must be conserved for the future.”

I made the news-screen go away, and stood up.  “Shall we get started?” I asked her.

“Very good.”  I followed her into the outer office and took in the small vase of carnations on her workstation, as well as the hot mug of syn-caf.

“You … drink that?”  I asked, perhaps making it sound not like I meant to,

“I permit myself a cup a day,” she said.  “It is healthful, and new studies reveal that it  contains essential proteins.  Better for you than the black tea everyone drinks.  Though processed, that still contains trace amounts of caffeinoids.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that you also maintain it here.  Your maker did require cleaning out, however.  I took the liberty of doing that.”

“I’ll take a cup,”  I said.  “While you’re at it.”

Wonder Woman and I went over the routine.  She appeared to have background in records processing already, and it only took half an hour before she had started the files humming away, though my system appeared to stand in some need of ‘optimization.’  I let her download some updates which I didn’t know existed, and she was able to point out some redundancies which, according to her, were slowing the system.  It all looked jake to me, so I let her get about it.

Back in my office, I shook my head.  Then I pinched myself, and took one more look out the door.  She hadn’t evaporated yet.  It came to me that she would probably earn a pass from citizen Nedra Madour.

Citizen John Preston had probably arranged this.  His way of keeping an eye on things.  I remembered Beaker’s crack about ‘other types of personal assistant.’  I slit open Raja’s envelope and read the five sheets inside, mostly technical data downloaded from an BOH ‘net site.  I put it aside to file.  This might come in handy.

Then I pulled Citizen Keef Herzog’s PDA out of my gymbag.  I wasn’t sure yet about having my new assistant research numbers for me.  I went online and checked ConSec’s directory for an Officer Lanyok.  There wasn’t one listed.  That didn’t mean he didn’t exist.  They updated about once every three years, and then not everyone got included, for varying reasons.

I already had GD figured out.  I decided to just call the ConSec numbers from where I was.  They were official numbers, and I had business there.  Keep it simple, Slater.  Just tell ‘em you got a wrong number, whoever picks up.  I already the general exchange number.  I dialled CSD’s main office number.  A female officer answered.  “Community Services Department.  How may I direct your call?”

I acted a little confused.  “Let’s see, let me try to read this … officer Listok, is that it?  Do you have an Officer Listok?”

“No.  We have an Officer Lanyok.  Shall I transfer you?”

“Oh, Lipton,”  I said.  “It’s definitely Lipton that’s written here.  I think.  Wait, what’s Lanyok’s extension number?”  She told me.  “ No, I guess I have the wrong department entirely.  Thank you anyway, and you have an outstanding day, officer.”

“Thank you for calling Community Services,” she said, and hit ‘end.’  So, BB was Lanyok. If Herzog had a system, that didn’t help a lot.

I had another number, marked “RZ.”  I tried that one.  I was swigging the last of my syn-caf when a familiar voice said,”Citizen Slater?  Again so soon?”

I couldn’t help spewing out some of the liquid.  It was Officer Roy Roy.  “Yeah,” I choked.

“You alright citizen?  How’d you get my dedicated PDA number?  Not many people have this.”

I knew I wasn’t going to tell him I had it off evidence I’d stolen from a crime scene.  I thought furiously.  “I just had it jotted down.  I talk to a lot of people, in ConSec and out.  I write stuff down.  I don’t really remember where I got it exactly.”

“You know what my office number is.  You just dialled it this morning.”

“I know.  But it was on speed dial.  I’m not used to entering it from memory.  And my new office assistant accidentally erased it from my vidphone,” I explained.

“What happened to your PDA?”

“It’s in the other room. My new office assistant’s busy.  She needs to concentrate, and I had to reprogram everything anyway.  I didn’t know this was a dedicated number.”

“Another new office assistant?  What happened to Jakklyn?”

“Reassigned yesterday.  They sent me a new one.  I don’t know the whole story.”  That much was true.

“You new OA sounds like a washout.  You’d better get rid of her before she sets fire to the place,” he commented.  I was nettled, but I didn’t reply to that.  “So it’s not your morning, citizen.  Big deal.  Hope it gets better. What’d you call about?”

“I wanted to tell you something else about Irina Madour.”

“Yes?”

“Um, where she was last seen. That I know of.  Albert’s Bar and Grill.  It’s a restaurant in Soho.”

“She was seen later than that.  Apparently she was detected using Herzog’s PDA early yesterday morning.  Picked up when he was called in for work.  They got a grab of her image.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yeah.  She’s a suspect now.  They’ll be bringing her in,” he said.

“Oh.  All right,” I said.  “I’ll call you if I hear anything.”

“You do that,” he said.  “But at my office number.”  He gave it to me.  “This number’s for internal business only.  And wherever you got it, they’re asking for some trouble.”

I had to agree with that.

“Alright, citizen.  See you around.”

We ended the call.

I had just about time for a visit to the small room down the hall, and the vidphone went off.  I let Wonder Woman take it, and with a buzz her picture popped up on my own phone. “Citizen Director.  Doctor Authier Madour, returning your call.  Shall I forward?”

Citizen Director.  I liked that.  Feeling rather directorial, I said:  “Very good, Garcia.  I’ll take the call.”  The distinctive image of Doctor Madour appeared on my screen.  “Good morning, Doctor.  Thank you for returning the call.  I know you’re busy.”

“Thank you, citizen.  I presume you have news about our daughter?”

“There are promising developments.  She was seen yesterday morning.  Has she left any more messages?”

“None of which I’m aware.  That she’s appeared is good.  Perhaps she’s preparing to return.”

“I do have some other questions, though.  I presume Irina knew of your work with the Rockland Institute.  How familiar was she with your work?”

“I share with her no less than what I share with my wife.  She is, naturally, interested in my work.  I believe I mentioned that I hope to have her assist me in it after her graduation.”

“Does she practice biocardial integration?”

“But of course.  As the daughter of the developers of the method, she has maintained it since we launched it six years ago.  It is a proven method of promoting the health and fitness of the whole person and establishing harmony between mind, spirit, and body.  Inevitably, it has its detractors.  Not all citizens appear willing to make the effort to understand it.  I like to think that her practice of the method has helped to sustain her throughout the recent … events.”

“You were on the team at the Rockland Institute that developed a fertility medication nicknamed R99.  What can you tell me about it?”

“It is, as you indicated, a formula that appears to hold promise for the enhancement of human fertlity, specifically ovogenesis.  Some successful animal trials were concluded.  We applied through the usual channels for a permit to test it on human subjects, but the proposal was put down.  It has been of some concern to me, as it appeared to be a most promising project, and efforts have been made by the Libria Family Foundation to revive its cause.”

“Are you aware that R99 has been appearing on the street?  It seems to be being made elswhere and smuggled in.”

“Well, the formula is no secret.  It’s there for anyone who knows how to research the Ministry of Health files.  I’m disappointed and indignant to think of my work being misappropriated and put into distribution by parties unknown--but I can’t say I’m surprised.  There are those who have an interest in it.  At least we may gain, in however unscientific a manner, some idea of its effectiveness and safety.”

“And money could be made, don’t you think?”

“Potentially,  a great deal of it, yes.  But what does this have do to with Irina?”

I knew that telecommunications were often monitored.  At this point, I didn’t care;  in fact, I rather hoped that this call would be.

“Doctor Madour, Irina had an ID band that mentioned  it as a medication she was authorized to be receiving, and created a false identity that made her of legal age to be taking an experimental medication.  She is connected to a ring that makes these ID bands that carry these false prescriptions.  No ConSec officer who scanned anyone with one of these would know that it was in fact an illegal prescription unless he happened to be an expert in pharmacology to boot.  So far, no speculation.  This is all stuff we know. 

“Now, I want to test a theory.  I put it to you that she is involved in this trafficking, and may well be taking it herself.  I put it to you that she received the information about this, directly or indirectly, from you.  And I put it to you that she disappeared with your knowledge, if not your consent, for reasons involving this, which your wife was not informed of.  Your wife believes it was related to her treatment for nick addiction.  I don’t believe that.  Now, Doctor Madour,” I concluded, “if this theory is unsound, I am ready to hear why.”

“Irina is pregnant,” he said.

I couldn’t take stance, but I breathed;  found the place.

“Does your wife know that?” I asked him.

“She hasn’t said anything.  I’m sure she suspects.”

“Why haven’t you told her?  Why didn’t Irina tell her?”

He paused a moment.  “Why Irina didn’t tell her should be evident.  I think she is trying to tell her in her own way.  There was her message.”

“So when she said ‘we’ need time … she was talking about her, and …  How long have you known about this?  When did it happen?”

“I knew only the day before I left for New Rio.  I had no idea Irina would do anything like this.”  That had a ring of truth, but good lies do.  I wasn’t convinced.

“And how far is she along?”

“Only a few weeks.  I don’t know how it happened.”

“Well, that’s not my affair, nor is what you’re going to do about it.  She can’t take a baby to school with her.  You’re a doctor.  There are … medical procedures; technically illegal for all but the strictest medical reasons, of course, but tolerated.”

“No,” he said flatly. “That isn’t possible.”

“Then you had better tell your wife today,” I said.  “Maybe Nedra can bring Irina home.  If Irina thinks she has the right attitude.  If Irina calls again, and she hears the right sort of message from Nedra, that may be all it takes.”

I heard some movement in the outer office, a voice.  I had a visitor.  Wonder Woman would, I was sure, keep him occupied for a few minutes.  “That isn’t bad advice, citizen,” he said.

“And I have one more question for you,” I said.  “You have worked with Robert Preston’s case.  You’ve offered testimony from time to time.  I’m aware that your work is well-funded by Robert’s father.  Is that what the money is really going for?”

“That,” he said, “does not touch on the matter at hand.  I would advise you not to concern yourself with that.”

“That, Doctor, is about the answer I had expected,” I told him.  “But I am not convinced as you are about its irrelevance.  That’s all I have for you today.”

“All right, Citizen Slater.  Be careful,” he said.  “Be advised.”

“I will be.  Thanks,” I said, and hit the end button.  Then I buzzed Wonder Woman.

“Are you free, Citizen Director?” she asked.  Ah, she still hadn’t evaporated yet.  “There is a citizen to see you.  He doesn’t have an appointment, but he’s willing to wait.”

“Name?”

“Citizen Petanko, citizen.”

“You may send him in, Garcia,” I told her.  The door opened, and my friend Sami brushed past her—rather brusquely, I thought.  His clothes were a mess.  “Have a seat,” I invited, closing the door behind him

He shook his mop of hair vigorously.  “No, no thank you, citizen.  I’d, ah, rather not sit.”

“Suit yourself.  I’ve been trying to call you.”

“I haven’t been home.”

“You haven’t been to work, either.”

“I called in.  I’m in trouble, citizen.  I’m being watched.”

“Welcome to sweet Libria, citizen.  It’s hard to wipe your ass around here without someone making a note of it.”

“Someone’s after me, I’m sure of it. Three times since yesterday I have seen the same car.  And there is an illegal tap on my PDA;  I ran a diagnostic on it.  I don’t work for as a teleprogrammer for nothing.  I haven’t gone home.  I don’t want to put Lalia in danger.”

“Have you called her?”

“Yes, I’ve called twice from public ‘phones.  She’s very worried, of course.  She knows I am in trouble.”

“Why not turn yourself in to the authorities?”

“Are you crazy?!”  he shouted, whirling around at me.  “I saw Herzog’s death on the ‘casts.  I worked with him.  They will come for me next!”

“Calm down, citizen, calm down,”  I said.  “I’m not against you.  I’m trying to think, and I want you to think with me.  Take a breath.  Sit down.”  He stood.

“Sit down,” I said, with more emphasis, looking him straight in the eye.  “Citizen, nobody’s going to ‘come for you’ while you’re in my office.  Now.  You can sit down now, or leave this place.  What’ll it be?”

He took a few paces around, and then sat down, leaning on the back of the chair to face me.  I buzzed my office assistant.   “Yes, Citizen Director?”  she asked.

“Garcia, two syn-cafs, please, one with.  We have an … anxious client here.”

“Let me finish the current update, Citizen Director.  It’ll take one moment.”  While she was speaking, text appeared on my screen:  ‘Have mild sedative in purse.’

“Very good, Garcia,” I said meaningfully.  “Thank you.”

“All right,” said citizen Petanko.  “I’m sitting.”

“Excellent,”  I said.  “Now, let’s take this a step at a time.  Yes, Herzog was killed.  But you don’t know why he was killed.  You will remember that he had a nick racket going on the side.”

“But Star,” he said.  “Star was there, remember?  I told you.  She knows me.”

“So Star was in on his nick racket,” I said.  “And the cops know about her being there.  I think when she’s brought in, she’ll be busier trying to defend herself on murder charges than trying to tie you in with some small-time fake ID business.  Unless there was more to it than that.”

He said nothing.

“Was there more to it than that, citizen?”

“Damn it!  You, citizen--you got me into this fix!  I could be at home with my wife and baby right now!  You got me into this!  You have to get me out!”

“You got yourself into it,” I said severely.  “This had to come.  You agreed to do coding for the false ‘bands.  I may have been the bringer of bad tidings, but they were coming sooner or later.  Now.  You tell me what else there was.”  There was a knock, and my office assistant came in with two mugs, one of which she set before each of us.  Sami’s was light, mine was dark.  I looked up at her, and she looked  back with the slightest of nods.  “Thank you, Garcia,” I said.  She turned and  went back out, closing the door.  I had to hand it to citizen Preston.  He knew how to pick them.

I picked up my mug.  “Have a sip of something before you pass out,” I said.  He sniffed at the mug suspiciously.  “What’s this—syn-caf?”

“It’s not poison,”  I said.  At least I hoped not.

He shook his mop and picked it up with a nervous, sudden smile.  “Some of the old-timers in my office still drink this,” he said.

“I’m an old-timer,” I said, and we both sipped.  “Now.  You’ve got to tell me, citizen.”

“The ‘bands,” he said.  “They were supposed to be false ‘bands so if people got caught smoking they could dodge it on their records,” he said.  I nodded. “But they all had prescriptions for some drug on them.”

“And what was that drug?”

“I dunno,” he said.  “But I thought it was weird that they all had them.  And most of the names were women.  Some of the women, and all of the men there, were illegal immigrants.”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“Star told me.  She said we were also helping immigrants by doing this.  I remembered, remembered how hard it was for my family.  My father could only do hard, hazardous work that eventually killed him.  My mother, she had medical benefits cut back.  I worked hard in school, got good marks.  Very good.  All the native Librians I graduated with went to government jobs.  Not me.  Not the immigrant boy.  He got to work for Commo.  Libria is still not a good place for immigrants.  Not yet.  I thought I’d be helping.”

“And?”

He drank again, then motioned to me to lean over.  “The prescription.”

“What about it?”

“I never got to ask Star about it.  I never saw her again.  But I think it’s the police.  I think they are giving all these immigrants something.  Something to--to sterilize them, or poison them--or something.”

I sat back.  “No wonder you don’t want to go to them.”

“Yeah.  You see.  They would make me disappear—pouf! just like that.  I tried calling Star, but she would not answer.”

“You have a PDA number for Star?”

“Yes.  She does not answer me, though.  It rings, like she is checking the ID, but she won’t talk to me.”

“What’s the number?”  I asked offhandedly.  He gave me a number.  I made a note.  “So what can I do for you?”

He shook the mop.  “I don’t know.  I guess--I guessed you could help somehow.  I helped you.  Didn’t I?  Even your assistant—she is an immigrant.  You are not an enemy.  You have a badge, but you’re not the police.”

“You did help me.  And I thank you.  I will tell you something.”

“What?”

“You are wrong.  ConSec isn’t behind any plot to poison immigrants or anyone else.”

He considered.  “Then why—“ he waved a hand—“why all this?  Herzog, the prescription, everything?”

“I don’t know.  I’m trying to find out.  You may be in danger.  You may not be.  But ConSec isn’t behind any plot to poison people, I can guarantee you that.”

“But what can I do then?”

“Why don’t you lay low for awhile?  Call Lalia again.  Tell her everything you’ve told me.  Don’t you think she’d understand?  She loves you, doesn’t she?”

He took another drink. “Perhaps it is best.  Maybe I am just being foolish.”

“Give it three days at least.  A week at most.  Then you’ll be in the clear, I’m sure.”

He finished his drink, while I stood up.  “Maybe you’re right,” he said.  “All right then, I’ll move on.  I’ll take your advice.”

“Good idea,” I said, and put a hand on his shoulder as I showed him out.

“Thank you citizen,” he told my office assistant.  She looked up from her seat with a gracious smile, and he went out.

“I think you helped him,” she said. “That is good.”

“I think you helped him a bit more than me,” I said.  “How’s things coming along?”

“Very well.  I’m doing a filedump now.”

“That was quick.  I’m not sure what I’ll have for you to do after tomorrow,” I added, half-jokingly.

She looked up at me with a shadow of a smile.  “I’m sure, citizen, there will be … things to do.”

Out the door, I stuck my head back in.  “By the way, citizen,”  I said.  “Like the ‘Director.’  Let’s keep that.”

It was time to leave for the meeting with Nedra Madour.  I made sure citizen Herzog’s PDA was in my kick.  Then, safely down in the lobby, positioned against a doorway arch,  I looked up toward where my office was, drew my head back, and gave it one good solid crack against the granite.  Then I went out.




Next (coming soon)
“They returned a diagnosis of cancer.”











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