Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gideon's Chip, Part Five


Gideon's Chip, Part Five

***

   The impatient woman lead me through darkened, carpeted hallways. The whole
house was like a tomb or museum: cold, utterly silent, and still. Even the
lighting created a tableau which our brisk walk did nothing to disturb. After
two flights of stairs, we stopped outside a door while she knocked quietly on
it.
   "Bring him in," said a voice from beyond the door. I irrationally expected
it to be that of ICON I had met two days ago and, of course, it was not. This
one was uneven and gravelly where the other had been level, almost
mellifluous.
   The woman held open the door, watching me closely as I went in.
   Two walls made of nothing by dark glass gave the room an expansive feel.
Over a leather couch that sat against one, I could see the lights of the city
laid out like a Net landscape. There was a low wood table and a scattering of
potted plants. Against the third wall as a bookshelf that held bound books
and small but expensive looking sculptures. A man sat in a chair opposite the
couch.
   He was smaller than I imagined an executive would be, but I could not see
just how much so because he did not stand up. His hair, a greying buzz cut,
sat above his open, broad face like an afterthought. His tailored clothing
was accentuated by his tan skin. He tapped the ash off a cigarette with an
easy gesture as he said, "Have a seat."
   I did. The leather couch was cold and slick. I could feel the city at my
back.
   The woman came inside, shut the door, and stood by it with a disinterested
look settled on her face. Her posture was straight and attentive, however.
She must have practiced for years. And what would she be, his personal
secretary? Or an exotic bodyguard?
   I forgot the woman as soon the mysterious benefactor started speaking. His
rough voice was the only animated thing in the room. It grated against the
silence. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. O'Neil. I wish the circumstances
could have been different."
   I nodded.
   "I have been checking into your past - your life, really - just as I said
I would and have not found anything that would link you to this theft. So you
can relax. The assassination of your wife was an interesting footnote, but
irrelevant here."
   Anna. An image of her body tried to force its way into my consciousness,
an invader I held off by glancing out the window. Then down at my hands. I
crossed my arms over my chest. The image gave up, dissipated.
   "That's great," I told the man slowly. "I was hoping I could get this
cleared up before I was killed. If there's nothing else, I'll go home."
   "Ah," he said, tapping his cigarette in the ashtray, "its not quite that
easy."
   "Why not?"
   "Because of my enemies. They know who you are and if they haven't done
their homework, they might actually believe you are somehow involved in all
of this. Why did Carlson choose you?" A pause. "And even if they did research
you past, they might not believe the facts had not been doctored - it happens
in the corporate world - and that you weren't some kind of an industrial
spy."
   "I'm not," I told him.
   "Oh, I know. But your saying so is not proof." He puffed on the cigarette.

   "I don't want to be involved."
   He smiled, this corporate shark. "Mr. O'Neil, can I let you in on a little
secret? Don't you wonder what was on that chip, what the data was?"
   I nodded slowly. I was curious.
   "Cloning. Our latest data about cloning techniques and so forth. It's
really quite an interesting read and - believe me - valuable on the black
market. Or to a rival corporation whose research has not quite reached the
level ours has yet..."
   "Oh." Clones. That made sense.
   Then the mysterious benefactor switched tactics. His demeanor changed and
he leaned forward. The woman by the door shifted. "Mr. O'Neil, I want to hire
you to get the data back. I know you have been involved certain illegal
activities in the past - like Carlson - and I think I could make such work
worth your while."
   Although I had been uncomfortable during the rest of the meeting, it was
now that my pulse begin to race. The blood drained from my face, I think. No.
No, definitely not. I wanted out, not deeper in. I struggled to keep my voice
calm as I told him I wasn't interested, but it felt like there was blood in
the water now.
   The mysterious benefactor let his cigarette rest in the ashtray. Smoke
curled up from it.
   "Isn't modern technology wonderful? We've come so far."
   I didn't answer. A thready daydream ran through my head. I stood up in it
and left the room. I ran through the carpeted halls until I reached the door
to the driveway. Then, as I hurried through it, a man shot me in the back. I
winced.
   "These days, there are so many sneaky little machines that let you spy on
someone. Take a parabolic microphone, for instances. If one of those were
trained at this window right now" - he gestured to the glass behind me - "it
would have heard all of our conversation so far. Glass transmits sounds very
well.
   "My enemies," he continued, "watch me night and day. They watch this house
as well. Now this room is not very secure. If they were listening with, say,
a parabolic microphone just a minute ago, they would have heard me tell you
what the chip contained."
   He paused for effect. "Mr O'Neil, you don't have to work for me. You can
go home and go to sleep like nothing ever happened if you wish. But if my
enemies were listening just now - and there is a good chance of that - then
its a safe bet that they will visit you tonight and put a bullet through your
head. So why don't you reconsider my offer. Would you like to work for me,
Mr. O'Neil?"
   "Yes," I croaked. The word felt like sandpaper coming out...

***


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