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The Cabal

Sometime in mid-afternoon I was awakened by the stirring of Sharra beside me. Someone, most likely Russet (at any rate, somebody I implicitly trusted or I'd have noticed, I think), had snuck in and changed the bloody sheets underneath her during the previous evening. I got up, went over and peed and washed the filthy taste out of my mouth, and came back to bed. A few minutes later, Sharra's eyes opened, sought mine, and she smiled.

``Mmmm,'' she stretched a bit gingerly. ``That feels much better. How does it look?'' She lay back on the bed and opened her loosely buttoned shirt so I could check. I lifted off the loose cloth I was using as a bandage. The edges of the wound had already scabbed up and appeared to be knitting together. If I hadn't stitched it up myself the day before I would have sworn that it had been stitched close to a week ago, from the rate of progress I'd observed in many a wound of my own. In fact, the stitches looked about ready to come out.

``Looks great. If you promise to stay in bed the rest of the day, I can probably take the stitches out.''

``I promise. But I'm starving. Could we get some food?''

``Sure,'' I replied, and a few minutes later a feast arrived at our door delivered by Russet. I figured Dojo was a wee bit tired after an all-nighter political enlightenment session. In the meantime I had helped Sharra over to the john to do her business, and brought her a basin of water and a toothbrush so she could brush her teeth and wash this and that. While she was out of bed and sitting I quickly ran a comb through her hair. She looked quite lovely when we were both finished, aside from the red and angry streak across her side covered with all the little criss-cross stitches.

We got her back into bed propped up on pillows and I ate a fairly normal lunch while she positively stuffed her face, mostly with meat. I remembered well the appetite one develops while rebuilding one's entire cellular structure back to ``perfect twenty-one year old baseline'' or thereabouts. At least her teeth hadn't fallen out yet (mine were shiny and white and new and normal and everything, as they like everything else grew almost as fast as I could drink the milk they were built out of).

Later that afternoon she opened her shirt so I could get at her bandage again and lay there with her breasts fallen back into her chest like two soft pillows while I very gently snipped her stitches and pulled them out, one at a time. She didn't make a sound in spite of the fact that I was doubtless clumsy and probably hurt her more than once. Afterwards I smoothed some more neosporin on the new holes (which just barely oozed a bit of clear fluid right after I pulled each stitch) and tried to conceal the erection I could feel popping up underneath my boxers.

To that purpose I turned away and went to my bag to put the tube of neosporin away and to get out a new, clean bandage to lay over the wound.

``Sam,'' she said from behind me. ``Leave it open to the air. I don't need a bandage. In fact, help me take off my shirt, so it doesn't stick to the wound while it dries.''

I turned back and we gently took off her right sleeve and then rolled her onto her right side to take off her left one. She looked at me. ``Now take off my pants.''

With my breath catching a bit in my throat, I did as she asked. There was no hiding what was in my shorts at this point. ``Now take off your pants,'' she directed. No sirree, no hiding it.

``Now come to bed, and be gentle,'' she said, rolling over onto her right side so I could tuck in behind her.

I was gentle.

There follows an interlude a great moon long that was simply too fabulous to be described. Sharra recovered rapidly after that (she was up and about the next day, and more or less completely healed a week later). She lost her teeth just as I had, but not her sense of humor or fun - she showed me some really interesting aspects of being young and toothless, at least until her pointy sharp little new teeth erupted and ruined that particular kind of fun, at least for me, for the time being.

Did I mention that being rejuvenated makes one really, unbelievably horny? All of those hormone levels get reset to those late teenage levels, but without the inconvenient teenage shyness or lack of experience. I had managed it sort of ``on my own'' when I went through it (being too nutso or proud to take advantage of the various opportunities that were mine as a sort of droit du seigneur except without the wedding) but I was really happy to help Sharra manage hers more collectively, especially given that she had formed a significant part of my fantasies back when it was my turn.

I don't want to imply, though, that we did nothing but have sex or that sex was even the only thing that was very satisfying about that period. Sex was a thing we did at night. Well, and sometimes during the morning, the afternoon, or the very middle of the day, but not that often. Most of the daylight hours were spent on two things - advancing the little cabal that was to be my legacy to an enslaved planet, and preparing to leave. We were still not certain where we were going, but going we were. We prepared by assumption for the overland journey, piracy on the high seas being so rampant that we weren't safe from it on dry land - to travel by any ship when it was known that we had literally a ton of gold that could be demanded in ransom was an absolute guarantee of a running battle that could have only one outcome. Besides, it was too simple to track a ship by satellite, too easy for a ship to be quietly sunk by missile far from prying eyes to solve a problem without (pardon the pun) `making waves'.

The cabal was going gangbusters. We purchased a guardhouse close to the center of town and converted its ample underground space into a vault with three-foot thick stone walls and flooring. We added a dozen live-in guards, and transferred all the treasure I owned (well, almost all the treasure) and hung out a shingle declaring the result to be a ``bank''. We then spent a few weeks answering the question ``What's a bank?'' and making a few judicious loans so people would get the idea. The natural course of crime in the big city caused a few tradespeople to lose all their money, and we restored their solvency (and hence rescued them from instant poverty) by means of loans under the condition that the owners would bank their profits with us where we could keep them safe. Then Rendar and Brand made a big deal about putting some money into the bank for safekeeping, and getting it back out again three days later.

Overnight we were flooded with deposits. If the guard captain kept his money there he wouldn't let it be robbed, right? Most folks were depositing it just for safekeeping for a fee, but Willet was working on explaining interest, and how he'd pay them if they let him loan out part of their money while it sat there. It would take time, but it would work eventually.

Dojo had done as be promised and placed all the newly freed slaves. Sulphur, coal, lead, copper and saltpeter had arrived and Ned had made 90% sulphuric acid, nitric acid, and (with my personal direction) both black powder and nitrogen-based explosives - so far without blowing anybody up, although this was a very dangerous process for people (including me) with only a distant knowledge of practical chemistry. I had thoughtfully brought copies of all sorts of websites that covered homebrew explosives (it's amazing what is out there) but most of them contained the immortal phrase ``kids, don't try this at home'' somewhere on the site before - wait for it - telling you exactly how to try it at home with a relatively minimal chance of blowing yourself up. We stuck to the relatively stable compounds that were makable from our simple collection of ingredients.

Even so, Ned and Dojo both were growing out new eyebrows and had very short and scruffy haircuts as a direct consequence of the fact that they didn't quite understand that black powder and fire do not mix. To further reinforce this, after I helped them (sweating all the time) make a small batch of nitroglycerin one fine afternoon I demonstrated what it would do if jarred in any way by virtue of dropping a small jar of it off of the cliffs so that it fell into a confined space between a huge boulder and the cliff wall. No more boulder. Fortunately the cliff rim held, mostly, and after they pulled me back up over it and I pried my hands off of the small tree that kept me from falling we all agreed that real high explosives were to be made only with extreme caution and in the event of a real need.

Ned was now working on casting a cannon, a cannon that would fire the first shots in anger that would one day wipe out the plague of piracy. Mikal's school was going gangbusters. Rendar looked very neatly the other way when Greeble's head and the heads of his two main lieutenants were discovered one morning sitting on pikes stuck into the ground in front of his main establishments. Their bodies were nowhere to be found (at least not unless you looked carefully in some crocodile-shit not too far from my oubliette). Two nights later the establishments themselves burned to the ground. All it took was a pike being erected overnight in front of the business establishments of Greeble's major surviving competitors and half of them decided overnight to emigrate. When one of those pikes was filled a night later with one that didn't make such a wise decision, the remaining ones were lugging their (considerable) worldly goods away in caravan as fast as they could arrange them.

Sind-a-Lay, while still a rough town, was suddenly much cleaner, and people (with the exception of the underworld that was supported by the filth) liked it.

Sharra had never quite twigged to just how much the cabal knew of the true state of the world, or how fast the word of our ``revolution'' was now being spread through underground channels, by caravans, by rumors spread to travellers who stopped in Brand's tavern. Just as well. She was engaged in a conflict at such a high level that win, lose or draw it wouldn't affect most of the poor souls on this planet, as both the bad guys and the good had a ``mostly hands off rule'' that they obeyed as it suited them to do so. I, on the other hand, was very much a son of the American Revolution, revered Hobbes, Locke and Jefferson and passed on quite a lot of their timeless writings to the only people that could change the world - its real owners.

If our cabal made it past a certain critical point, there would be no putting Humpty-Dumpty together again - no matter who the demigods-in-residence were or whatever their faction, they couldn't stand up to the resistance of an entire determined population without committing planet-wide genocide. That's why moving the information out by ship was so important. I was afraid that they might consider wiping out Sind-a-Lay with an asteroid to cauterize the problem especially if we, Sharra and I, were here as the heart of the problem. I figured that if we left we would take the probability of a de facto nuking along with us, mostly.

For that reason, as soon as our preparations were made it was time to go while the going was still good. We had done too much, too fast, to escape notice. We knew that we were being watched, and those that watched the watchers started to see them meeting with grey-faced men with dead eyes, dressed in dark, cowled robes.

So we vanished. We departed, with little fanfare or forewarning, on a small ship that we purchased on the spot down at the main pier. We took with us a decent amount of baggage. We were witnessed in our departure by a good sized crowd, so there could be no mistaking it - we were gone, and our ship slipped away into the mist we'd been waiting for before any sort of message could be sent anywhere.

A short time later, Graber carefully sailed the ship past the reefs and into the bay in front of his cottage, where Arto and Lissa took us all off into Graber's fishing boat. Webbed hands poked holes in the ship's hull and it sank, slowly, into the bay, gone forever and without any trace, while the rest of us rowed through the mist to the shore.

There we met with Brand, and held a final meeting to figure out, at long last, where to go. We were a few hours away from the gate that brought me to Mirath, and I had enough stuff that I figured I could get it to work well enough to send us someplace. We were on the overland caravan route that would, if we chose, lead us to Sharra's uplink point. But there was a third possibility.

``Sharra, do you know where the dark monastery, the node site of the grey men, is from here?'' was the first question I asked when we were all gathered around the table in Graber's house, with the shutters carefully closed.

``Of course, Sam. I don't forget anything.'' I had forgotten - her implant. Of course she'd remember.

``OK then, here's a fairly radical proposal. You stay here, to keep, um, `things' safe. I go hit the place and blow it the hell off of the map.''

Her face registered the first real shock I'd ever seen on it as my words penetrated her awareness. ``You're mad,'' she said.

``Not at all. Look, as long as they are after us, we simply won't be safe on this planet. Taking my gate (from what you've told me) is the same as giving the information into somebody else's hands, with some chance of making `things' better but some chance of making it worse. For us personally, of course, much worse as we'd be dead ninety-nine times out of a hundred, or merely prisoners exiled somewhere with a one way ticket if we were lucky and hit the one in a hundred shot. Not my style, sorry.

``On the other hand, the one thing they will never expect is for me to come after them. They cannot possibly actually believe that any single individual would be that stupid. Since they believe that they are safe on this planet, with their on-planet gate location unknown even by their allies, the precautions they take on-site are likely to be sloppy. I can take them. I can feel it.''

``Sam, their technology is as much beyond that of your world as yours is beyond that of a hunter-gatherer society's. You can't even guess at their defenses. It's impossible.''

``Look, sweetheart,'' the conversation was beginning to sound like a hen-pecked husband explaining to his wife why he needed to go play poker with the boys. ``First of all, that's exactly why we can't possibly succeed in an overland trip of several thousand miles. Every couple travelling together will be checked out a dozen times, and we cannot hide either our appearance or our DNA from even the most cursory of inspections once we leave heavily populated areas. To travel anywhere at all, even up the mountain from here, requires something unexpected to fool the satellite eyes, and I've got just the thing in mind.'' I grinned. If there had been any small children in the room, they would have screamed and run when they saw that particular grin.

``Besides, your estimate of the odds against success is both biased and incorrect. Physics is physics, mathematics is goddamn well mathematics - there may well be more physics than I know, but I know that which I know damn well and have a pretty good qualitative idea of what lies beyond in the areas I don't know. Technology is even more constrained. For example, your you-know-what is a simple exponential extrapolation of technology I'm familiar with - a rescaling of the same basic idea but nothing terribly original.

``As proof of this, consider Brin. We nailed Brin using technology that was primitive, even for me. Now I know,'' I lifted my hand wearily to forestall her next remark as I saw that `Aha, now I've got him, the worm', look pop onto her face. Just because you're a quasi-immortal woman from a very advanced civilization doesn't make you more difficult to read. Quite the contrary. ``I'm quite certain that we're not really through with Brin per se. Somebody important like that, they'd have made a backup copy, right?''

Her eyes went from flaring to opaque in less than one second. Like a book, like a book, that's how I can read you. It's really not that hard to guess. AI computers, advances in cloning, implants.

Besides, it is the only way to make an entity ``immortal'' in a dangerous multiverse. Even if they had mastered physical regeneration at the cellular level, there are too many pathways that lead, eventually to a sticky death, especially with what amounted to a multiversal war that stretched out across billions of years. Even the angels and daemons would be difficult to replace fast enough to maintain one's force otherwise.

``Still, we killed some part of Brin. I doubt very much that they made running backups - bandwidth problems would make the technology difficult to manage in a primitive setting, just like it does for you. Your own backup image hasn't been refreshed for a long time, so if you were to die now you'd never know you ever knew me.''

``Neither will Brin. And I know that Brin can be killed, and even know at least one way to do so. His dark and cowled brethren too. Best of all, you have showed us an easy way in.''

``How is that, Sam Foster?'' she asked. My words were definitely striking home, as she could have been a poster child at a poker tournament from all the expression she was permitting on her face.

``Why, as a slaver. It's the perfect disguise. I wait along the way for a slave caravan. I attack and kill the owners - happens all the time, I've checked. I proceed to the baddies place and proceed to market my wares, legal as church. I keep my eyes open, and seize the day when and if an opportunity presents itself. If it doesn't the first time, I lay by the roadway and repeat until one does. But I'm hoping that with your knowledge of the place, I can do it a single try.''

``How in the world do you think you'll be able to destroy a site that nobody else in the multiverse has been able to find, let alone destroy?'' Her voice dripped with sarcasm, but I caught just a hint of uncertainty. After all, she didn't just say no - even a sarcastic question is a question.

So I answered it. ``I'll be able to destroy it using their own stuff against them. Let me just sketch out my assumptions and then you can take pot shots at them. Keep an open mind, though - remember that if you think it is absolutely insane, that's one strong argument for this being a relatively safe move because they'll think exactly the same thing.

``My primary assumption is that this place is armed to the teeth against any possible conventional attack, especially from space. After all, what would your pet computer do to it, if you were able to deliver its location? Almost certainly find a few nickel-iron asteroids a few hundred meters across apiece - there are bound to be some out there, but one could cut them out of the lesser moon if need be. Drop rocks on them, right? More energy than most nuclear devices, no fallout, ``infinite'' supply of rocks. A big enough rock would blast through any possible material defense and leave a hole straight through to the planet's mantle, and one could drop a whole string right down the same hole, one after another. No bomb shelter, no matter how deep or well armored, would be enough.

``Consequently, it has to have active defenses, not just passive. I think it is a safe bet that they have orbital forts - I've seen them, now that I know what I'm looking at. Eyes in the sky that are currently looking down for us, probably with resolution sufficient to read the lord's prayer tattooed on a pig's ass. Eyes that also look outward and can direct active defenses long before any asteroids could be assembled and delivered. Probably a kinetic energy weapon launcher of their own on the moon - in fact I'll bet they just plain own that small moon.

``Down on the ground, they have to be prepared to withstand a ground-based assault that would include coordinated air and land, if not sea-based resources. Their orbital forts would give them a huge advantage in an open conflict, but they still have to be able to hold out against a sudden surprise attack thrust by a force that could range from commandos to an entire army, gated through elsewhere on this world.

``I'm guessing that their defenses are largely automated - missiles, artillery, minefields, booby traps, and a bunker that would require asteroids to crack from the outside. Their missiles would need to be nuclear or some modern equivalent to be able to take out whole armored armies at a time if somebody somehow managed to get the orbital forts out of commission (I can think of a few ways that could be done, given enough of a running head start).

``So to sum up what I expect to find - a relatively small actual force of sentient entities, running and being run by a computer network that does most of the actual work. Entities that are actually not used to the notion of fighting hand to hand, shooting and being shot at. Entities that think that they are impregnable behind their high tech defenses as long as they can get to their battle desks to direct the action. Entities that have a serious arsenal, located (doubtless) all over the reservation - in little mini-bunkers on the perimeter, in the active perimeter of the primary hard bunker, and warehoused both down inside the primary hard bunker and in actual above-ground stores,'' her eyes narrowed at that - I'd struck a nerve, or a memory, or something.

``Finally, although these freaks have serious personal defenses even before they get downstairs into their hardened bunkers, they also have weaknesses that we know we can exploit. You have been able to make a chemical concoction that could make it past the personal poison sniffer to knock out Brin. We've seen that it is possible to render any of these aliens unconscious at least within their hard-shell electronic cocoons. However, the real beauty is the weakness in their personal electronics. They don't seem to be hardened against electromagnetic surge, at least not enough.

``Which leads me to my final contribution to the moment - Brand? Did he bring it?'' The last off to the side.

``He did, Sam. Here it is.'' He and Arto bent down and lifted up a roughly cylindrical bundle about a meter and a half long and half a meter across. It was wrapped up in cured goat skins and was obviously bulky but not terribly heavy.

``This is my little secret weapon, sugar.'' I unwrapped the ties, revealing a box made of very thin wood splits on a sturdy frame. The top easily came off. Sharra came and leaned over it. Her face was a study in impassivity.

What she saw was a round cylindrical terra-cotta pipe about a meter long that was carefully mounted in the box. It was about ten centimeters in diameter at the widest point. At one end there was something that looked like a glass and metal sandwich with thick ceramic tubes leading to the open end of the pipe. One set of the wires was hooked up to a fat coil of rolled copper wire. The other terminated in a device stuck in something that looked like putty but in fact was (I hoped) C4 explosive, stuffed into a two centimeter copper pipe made of the softest copper we could make, about two millimeters thick. Brin's C4 explosive, Brin's detonator, taken from various places in both my and his abodes.

Her eyes got even more distant. I sympathized. It was probably primitive technology by modern standards and not likely something she was directly familiar with, and it is difficult to actually participate in a conversation while a thing inside your head makes movies with sound and everything. Finally her lips moved. ``An `EMP bomb','' she said.

``Got it in one. The unexpected, aimed right at one of their vulnerabilities. Hopefully one that extends to all of their electronics, at least if the device is in close proximity and well within their defensive perimeter. To which I'm mightily hoping you can add several gallons of curare or tetrodotoxin or whatever it was you gave to Brin that first time. Or something even better, if you've got it. With electricity (which now we've got) and salt and various elements, we can try for mustard gas or some serious neurotoxin, if your little doohickey has a recipe.''

I said the latter a little wistfully. I had to make do without the Web and was living, informationally speaking, on a small and fairly carefully selected set of recipes and engineering instructions I'd brought along. I had a terabyte of hard storage data capacity on my laptop, but a terabyte, of course, isn't really all that much, especially when graphics and sound are involved. Besides, I knew that my laptop hard disk was doomed and eventually would crash. They always do. Then I'd be down to my ``best of'' backup of information on the backpack disk, and after that to the ``critical'' information on the USB flash boot image, and then - well, I'd be on my own.

Nerve gas wasn't one of the things on the list, not because of a lack of will - I'd cheerfully slowly burn out the lungs and eyes of the grey brotherhood just from what I'd seen of their handiwork begging on the streets of Sind-a-Lay - but because nerve gas ``recipes'' simply weren't out there on the web when I left. I did have recipes (of sorts) for mustard gas and Lewisite, where the former was ``invented'' back around 1860 and sounded relatively simple (if extremely dangerous) to synthesize out of e.g. chlorine and ethylene. I knew that the real thing - anticholinesterases and the like - typically contained stuff like phosphorus, sulphur, chlorine, hydrogen, carbon, all things that were readily available. However, organic chemistry was unfortunately not one of my strong suits academically. Sarin or VX were even more out of my league - I knew of them, and probably had pictures of their chemical structure somewhere, but if somebody told me that Sarin could be made as a binary chemical weapon by combining methylphosphonyl difluoride and a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and isopropyl amine it would mean no more to me than it does to you. The alcohol I had at least heard of (from putting it on cuts) - but I had no idea how to make even it.

What I needed was a handy dandy chemical engineer, because I sure as hell wasn't one. I'd used up just about my entire store of chemical knowledge making strong acids (as precursors to explosives and batteries and things like that) and gunpowder. I was hoping to raise up some local chemical engineers by means of giving them the scientific method and a copy of The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry (one of the few paper books I'd brought with me) and then leaving town before they blew it, and me, up. I didn't expect to have one handy terribly soon.

Fortunately, as it turned out, I was wrong. One was standing right next to me, looking increasingly stoned. I signaled to Arto and we managed to get a chair underneath her right before she collapsed back into it with her eyes closed, giving little twitches. I waited for a suitable moment and stuck a piece of leather in between her teeth, which she bit right down on. Her fingernails were gouging into the wood, her back was arched. She looked like she was in the middle of an epileptic seizure, but I figured that she was communing with the AI inside of her.

After a bit we got out mugs and started swishing down forced-evaporation cooled beer - I hadn't had surplus materials for making a real refrigerator yet, but Brand was on the short list to get one and the instructions were written down in a stash Mikal controlled and that he and Dojo doled out to the craftsmen that we'd winkled economically into our consortium. Or conspiracy, if you prefer. Brand and Arto boxed up my toy and wrapped it up inside a nice anonymous goatskin. It was actually only the business end - there was also (literally) a pile of piles - an assemble-it-onsite lead-acid battery to drive the whole shebang, but I planned to bring along the lead and the acid and the other fixings in separate, well padded (in the case of the H$_2$SO$_4$) containers.

In an hour and a half or thereabouts, Sharra gave a sigh and slumped forward onto the table we'd thoughtfully moved her to, treating her and chair alike as a single piece of furniture. When she managed to lift up her head to try to croak something out, we pushed a medium-sized glass of our oldest, finest brandy into it. Aged all of thirty days, it was.

Drinking a highly inflammable material (it was, I'd tried it) is not the best way to restore a throat to talking condition, but she alternated sips with a beer chaser and in twenty minutes or so she gave a sigh and pushed herself back from the table. We all put down our own beverages and looked up at her expectantly.

``So, lady, what does the Oracle say?'' I threw out all casual-like, to save her from having to try to not explain a semi-sentient implant to Brand and Arto and Graber. They grokked Oracles and Seers, as there were plenty available in Sind-a-Lay and no reason to doubt that they were real as far as they went. By now nothing I did, and little that Sharra did, would surprise them as they knew we were mega-wizards.

``Unbelievably, and I mean that with total conviction, you are right. We have to attack. Your intuitive analysis of their offensive and defensive capabilities is over 90% accurate based on my own observations of the site and what my, um, ``Oracle'' had gleaned from other sources.'' Was that actually a tiny sparkle of respect I saw in her eyes? Clearly this was a woman that needed liberation from overbearing computer control - she hadn't spent anywhere nearly enough of her life dealing with all of the ways computers can go wrong (a pastime I myself have spent way too much time on in my former life). Computers might be smart, they might even be alive, but computers still lacked - what? A certain je ne sais quoi? Intuition? Call it that.

``Your analysis of our chances passing through your gate were optimistic - for us. In fact, our chance of surviving in these bodies is approximately one in ten thousand, our chance of freedom in the cases where we survive negligibly close to zero. Worse, though it is no fault of your own (lacking any detailed knowledge of interuniversal politics and distributions) there are whole classes of bad outcomes that are almost comparable with the bad outcome that I die before, um, I have a chance to ``pray'' to my chosen deity in his proper temple. Nevertheless, before you proposed attacking this was the best alternative that had surfaced and I was going to push for it.

``Going overland to that temple with the grey monks in charge of the skies and most of the bandits is, as you intuited correctly, almost certain suicide. However the Oracle admits its inability to correctly compute probabilities where you are involved, as your chance of having made it through the various chances you've encountered to make it to this point are even lower than what we would face on such a trip. If you were insistent, I planned to acquiesce.

``I simply never imagined attacking as a viable option. In part this is because I did not know of all of your activities or plans,'' here she looked my way somewhat reproachfully. Hey, I'm nobody's fancy man, not even hers. I was running my little cabal before I even bought her sweet little body and set it free. Besides, I was communicating my plans and activities, at just the right time and just the right (hopefully unbugged) place.

``However, it was also because I and the Oracle failed to integrate in the correct direction in possibility-space. The Oracle had not fully digested the data, which takes considerable biological energy from its host organism. This situation has now been rectified. We have a firm plan. Here is what you should do...''

For the next hour and a half she simply spouted instructions while I first listened, then took notes. That little doohickey inside of her might not have the right degree of creativity to think up a good line of attack on its own, but it was simply gangbusters at finding weaknesses in the one I'd proposed and replacing it with carefully reasoned strengths. The list grew.

Finally, she simply gave out and slumped over on the table. Brand and I each took an end and hoisted her upstairs to Brand's own room (which he swore was reasonably bug-free and I don't mean listening devices). We tucked her in and went downstairs to start working through the list. Quite a job ahead of us, yowsa. I cleared a space on the bar and carefully began to remove the C4-filled pipe from its mounting...

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Robert G. Brown 2007-12-29