Paradigms Lost — Chapter 42

Chapter 42: Reaching Limits

TO:{Jason Wood}

FROM:{The Jammer}


Did you have ANY idea what kind of mess you were trying to get me into? No, let me revise that. Do you have ANY idea what THAT kind of mess can do to me?

Dammit, Wood. This guy’s an international fugitive and you want me to give him a bulletproof ID? What are you mixed up in THIS time?

So there were limits to what the Jammer would take casually. Nice to know, but I wished he’d stayed in his omnipotent mode for a while longer.

Look, I know enough about you to know that you know perfectly well who this guy is, at least on the public-international level. So, since I also know you’re not into helping criminals every day of the week, I’ll assume you know something I don’t know, hard as that is to believe, that makes this guy worth helping. Okay. But for this little bit of work, I’m charging. Not money, naturally. You’ll make available a writable CD-ROM on a dial-in line, at 2:15 Tuesday evening. When it’s finished writing the data that gets sent to it, you’ll take the disk — without reading it, and believe you me I’ll know — and deliver it to some secure locale of your choosing. In a separate letter, you tell me the location. Once that’s done, I’ll deliver your IDs.

Oh, man. What was I getting myself into? He could be downloading anything from recipes to Top Secret documents into the drive, and I had no doubt at all that if I made a single attempt to read the contents that he would find out; he was that good.

But then again, what was I asking him to do? Make a set of ID for a known international criminal. And if my guesses were right, he might well be working for one of the organizations that was supposed to track Kafan down. No, the Jammer had the right to ask something like this; I was asking him to put his ass on the line for me, so he was asking me to stick my own neck out.

I typed out a very short reply,

Terms accepted

And sent it off.

A week into my work and I wasn’t really any closer to figuring out how to approach Senator MacLain without opening about a dozen cans of worms that were better left closed. On the other hand, I was starting, I thought, to close in on the location of this mysterious Project. The break had come a few days ago, when a search program had highlighted the Organization for Scientific Research; a check showed that not only had the OSR always been heavily involved in biological research, but it had previously had a couple branches in the Far East — one in or very near Vietnam. During the ’70s, those labs had been discontinued. A bit of digging on my part, however, showed that the discontinuance had actually been a transfer of ownership to interested parties, probably in the Viet government. Details on the site were vague — the OSR files from the ’70s were hard to access, since it had been a UN venture to begin with, and now that it had separated from the UN and become a private corporation it was possible all the old records not directly relevant to operation had been purged. And stuff that old often wasn’t online anywhere in any case.

It might be possible, however, to take the vague info I had and combine it with a careful modeling of the layout as Kafan remembered it and see if a pattern-recognition program could come up with anything using satellite photos of the area. Probably there were records of the installation on one of the intelligence computers — NSA, CIA, whatever — but I wasn’t about to try hacking one of those. This had to be an independent operation if at all possible. With Verne’s backing, we at least didn’t need to worry about whether we could afford it.

That brought up the next problem. Verne. Syl had tried a number of things, but though it appeared to help some, over the next couple of days Verne went downhill again. He was visibly older.

I closed my eyes. Genetically engineered people, ancient civilizations, vampires, priests…. damn, it was a wonder my head didn’t explode. All that stuff combined was enough to…

All that stuff combined?

I straightened. Reaching out, I grabbed the phone. “Verne? Sorry to disturb you, but I just thought of something.”

Verne’s weariness was now evident in his voice. It was still as rich, but the underlying tone lacked the measured certainty that was usually there. “And what is that, Jason?”

“Verne, you talked about how certain forces might have returned, right? Isn’t it possible that what’s happening to you is an attack? Maybe even carried by Kafan, not consciously, but nonetheless part of him?”

The silence on the other end was very long. Then:

“Not merely possible …” Verne said slowly, “but even probable. Nothing like this has ever happened to me, in all these thousands of years. Can it be coincidence that it happens now, of all times? Most unlikely. My brain must be affected as well, if I did not think of this myself.”

“Is there a way to find out?”

“Most likely,” Verne said. “With Sylvie’s help, Morgan and I should be able to determine if any mystical forces other than my own are operant here.”

“What about biological? You did say that living things could affect you.”

Verne hesitated a moment, considering. His voice, given hope, was stronger now. “I do not believe any disease, howsoever virulent, could affect me without some small mystical component. This was one of the Lady’s blessings, and it is not within the power of ordinary science to gainsay that, even in this era. My metabolism differs so greatly from that of anything else on this world that I doubt it would even be recognized as living by most tests. No, if this is an attack, it must be a magical one. Thank you, Jason.”

“No problem. Will you need me for anything?”

“No, my friend. You have given all that was necessary. We will endeavor to make this as short as possible, that your lady be not unduly inconvenienced.”

“Is it that obvious to everyone?”

Verne’s laugh was the first genuinely cheerful thing I had heard from him in a week. “Jason, such things are always obvious. And welcome, I assure you. You have finally accepted that which was always in your heart.”

“Don’t you start. I may have been slow and dumb, but I don’t have to be reminded every day.”

He chuckled. “Good night, Jason.”