"My HMO performed a second blood-test on me today. I apparently don't have the Happ's Disease virus or its antibodies. Your test, it was wrong." I shook my head knowingly to my wife, Claire. She glanced up from her book, nodded and smiled back at me, then went back to it.
"That certainly is wonderful news, Mr. Holt," the agent said, her mouth making a pre-programmed smile. "Our tests are not flawed, but do a very good job of detecting dangerous bodily pathogens. Unfortunately, no test can be 100% accurate. Your case is a statistical anomaly, a simple 'false positive.' If you had a second test, then I would trust that result, if I were you."
"Quite the relief," I said. These virtual customer service reps always unnerved me, but this one more-so in particular. Perhaps it was the way her hair swished to one side or another, or the low V-neck sweater. The thing reminded me of the second-grade teacher I had a crush on.
"The Center for Arcological Health has an obligation to its residents to screen out the most dangerous contagions from its populace. That is why, even though you've since tested negative for the virus, your apartment lease is still being deferred."
"Deferred? What does that mean?"
"Any positive test, even a false positive, is grounds for lease deferral. That simply means your lease will not be renewed next month. We've also taken the liberty of informing your current employer. By current records, you will be required to move outside of the Arcology in ten days."
"Not renewed? You mean we'll have to move? Where would we live?"
The customer service agent raised an optimistic eyebrow. "That's not necessarily correct, Mr. Holt. When you say 'we,' that is. Your wife, she is free to stay."
"Hold on just a second! If I go, my wife is going, too. Isn't that right, honey?"
"Hmm-mmm," she said, still focused on the book. Sounds came from it, a battle scene.
The customer service rep said, "I do apologize, sir. I just want you folks to be aware of all of your options, that's all. In fact, emailing the information to you now would be no problem."
Claire paused her book. "Oh, sure. Why not send it? That's ceevee-holt at Chi-Arc-seven." She fended off my mouth-gaping incredulity with a wry half-smile. "Carson, it's not like I'm going to leave you, but I do want to know the details, at least."
"I can't believe it. I can't believe this is happening!" I said, holding my forehead ruefully. I felt my veins rippling just under the skin.
Claire said, "Well, sweetie, we might be able to move. That wouldn't be such a big deal, would it? There's the arcology at Fort Wayne, and that's only a couple hundred kilometers from here. Everyone could use a good database programmer like you. And I can do my accounting anywhere. And since my sister lives there, she might be able to help us find work.
"I'm sorry to inform you," the agent said, "that if you are deferred from one arcology, that information is in your permanent record. No other arcology can accept you either. I am extremely sorry about that." She then managed another pleasant, computer-generated smile.
"What?" I asked.
"Old rules, I'm afraid, predating the arcologies themselves. If you are ever deferred for reasons of a dangerous contagious pathogen like Happ's disease, then you are barred from initiating a lease in any arcology." Then she added, after a computer-determined pause for effect, "Including Fort Wayne's."
"But I don't have Happ's. I've been tested!"
"And doesn't that make you feel better, Mr. Holt?"
"Yes. I mean no! I mean, I don't want to move! I'm being quarantined for a disease I don't have. It doesn't make any sense."
"You're not being quarantined," the agent politely corrected. "Your lease is simply being deferred. That's a big difference."
"So, you're saying that if I actually had Happ's Disease, you folks would allow me to stay around here for a couple of weeks while I gathered my things?"
"No, if you had any of the red-list pathogens, then we would have to actually quarantine you, and ask you to immediately leave."
"But I'm perfectly healthy!"
"And that is why we are giving you the ten extra days."
"Yes, but it's wrong! Shouldn't you want to correct improper information? Maybe we can change it so it's right, right? Isn't there some sort of change form I can fill out to set the record straight?"
The agent said, "My dear Mr. Holt, it's part of your permanent record. If there was an easy way to change it, it wouldn't be very permanent then, would it?"
"This is insane." said Claire. "We'll have to live outside the arcology? How crude! We'll be second-class land-laborers. We'll have slow internet connections!"
"Look at it this way, Mr. Holt," said the agent, "At least you've verified you don't have that untreated pathogen raging through your system. You've got a long healthy life ahead of you."
"Yeah, a long healthy life outside the arcology. That's like a prison sentence."
Claire said, "And our children! When we had kids I always wanted for them to go to a Montessori School. Now what are the odds of that outside of the Arc'? None!"
"Just think of the fresh air and the wide open spaces," the agent said.
"And wild, uncontrolled weather, solar radiation, and disease. Outside, that's where they send the sickos! Um, no offense, honey," Claire said.
"None taken, dear. This is too much. I want to talk to someone in charge. I want to talk to a human agent. I want this whole thing straightened out."
"The queue waiting for a human representative is pretty long. Are you sure?" A yes/no dialogue box appeared below her, awaiting verbal or manual input. I poked the Yes button on the screen wordlessly.
The agent smiled. "Thank you so much for your valuable time. I'm certainly sorry I could not assist you. The human customer service agent should be on-line shortly." The screen winked to a placid beach-scene bordered by a horde of dancing banner commercials pushing on-line shopping, cash advances, and advising of open customer service jobs which distracted the victim while waiting. A caption advised me, "Please be patient. A customer service agent will be on-line shortly to take your call. Current approximate wait time is 1545 MINUTES, 15 SECONDS. Thank you. If you wish to utilize one of our fully capable AI customer service representatives, click here."
"This is awful," Claire said. "We'll have to take vehicular transportation to work. A bus? A monorail? I don't even know how they do it out there."
"I can't wait fifteen hundred minutes for a human agent. I can't even figure how many hours that is in my head. I need to do something, now."
"What are you thinking?"
"I have an idea, but I don't know how I feel about it."
"What is it? What are you thinking about?"
"I'm not exactly sure yet, but I think I'm going to need to enlist some help. I'm going to try the Stelo-Verde Quarter."
"Stelo-Verde Quarter? Isn't it dangerous down there?"
"It can't be too bad. They have access the same police we have up here, I'm sure. It's probably quite safe."
"Well, I don't care what you do, or whose help you get. If we can stay inside, I'll be happy. But do be careful. I don't want you robbed, or worse."
I grabbed my Esperanto dictionary, and scrounged up some pawnable junk. That six-week language short course in high school was about to pay off. Just not the way I had hoped.
# # # #
I programmed the lift downwards, underground to the Stelo-Verde Quarter, where the Esperantists had taken up residence generations ago. Despite the oxymoron, Esperantists were renowned as non-nationalistic jingoists, honoring no flag except their own green-star banner. They considered themselves not of any one nation, but of all nations and none simultaneously, whichever served them best at the moment.
Fortunately, Esperantists came in all sizes and shapes, so I hoped I wouldn't stand out like a tourist with a sign reading "Mug me!" However, the duffel bag full of junk I carried wouldn't help that image at all.
Those in-the-know know, if you want something accomplished through nonstandard channels, talk to an Esperantist, provided you've got the money. And if you don't have the money, what do you have? I wanted to hold onto that second kidney, thank you very much. I hoped I had brought enough. I had no idea how much something simple like a record forgery would cost. And armed with my knowledge of databases, I could even help out if necessary.
Without natural or even piped sunlight down there, the artificial lighting caused my shadow to spread long in front of me, highlighted with a lurid neon glow. I tried my best to ignore the occasional punky thug or gang graffito. My feet scuffed the faux-cobbled path as I searched for an innocent looking pawn shop. Not finding one, I eventually settled for one that looked as if I could come out alive from it. The red neon in its window flared the word for pawn, "LOMBARDOJ." The iron-wrought bars on the windows kept the merchandise safe, I justified.
The door chimed as I entered. Inside, a few rows of merchandise stretched out deeper than I had anticipated. Plenty of guns and jewelry, I noticed, nothing at all like what I brought. A green Esperanto flag hung gallantly from one wall, like "Old Glory," bullet-holes and fire damage and all. Before I had a chance to back out of the store, a proprietor came out from behind a beaded curtain.
"Saluton," the proprietor greeted me. The man stood shorter than me by several inches, with dark short-cropped hair. "How may I be of assistance, good sir," he asked in Esperanto.
I summoned up my most courageous fluency. "Do you spoke English?" Then I realized I had misspoke, and winced.
"Ne, bedawrinde." The proprietor shook his head and smiled, then continued in Esperanto, "My name is Sinjoro Patel. With what can I interest you today?"
So much for getting out of this the easy way, I thought. "Pleasure to meet you. I am named Carson Holt. I am in need of . . . a service."
"Women? I don't do that, good sir."
Patel frowned. "Men, you mean? I don't do that either."
"No, nothing like that. Sir, it's like this. Because of a. . ." I paused for a second to look up a word in my dictionary. ". . .bureaucratic error I am losing my residence at the arcology. I wish to correct that error, but I can't go through normal ways. I need someone to change it for me."
"Ahh, you need a hacker! You want to hack into the central arcology database, chu ne?"
"Well, something like that, yes. Actually, I just need in the front door. I'm no security expert, but I do know a thing or two about databases. Get me past security, and I can change it myself."
Patel tsk-tsked. "I could possibly get you hooked up to someone like that, jes. But hacking into the central database, that would be very expensive. The hacker I know capable of doing that likes expensive toys. How much do you have?"
"Well, I was hoping to trade goods, if that would be possible. I brought some items of value that you may be interested in."
"Ha-a, let us see."
I set the duffel on the counter and triggered the lock. I rummaged around in it until I found my most valued antique, and handed it to Patel.
"What is it?" inquired Patel.
"A Millennium Watch."
"Digital, I see."
"Yes. It counted down the seconds until the Year 2000, then started counting up again."
"But, the millennium didn't start until 2001," Patel said.
"Hmm? Anyway, how much do you think a thing like this is worth?"
"Considering the fact that I've got two in stock, and cannot sell either one... Why don't you talk to me again in about 900 years. They should be a hot commodity then. Until then, you've got a flashing, beeping piece of junk. No offense, sinjoro Holt." Patel tossed the watch back into the duffel.
"You're kidding me."
"Ne. Certainly not enough to pay for such a dangerous procedure. Have you considered organ donation? Part of your liver? Or have a kidney to spare? Your soul?"
"A surgeon I know is the best of the best. You would scarcely know you're missing it." Patel made a k-k-k-k noise as he ran his index finger along his belly. "How do you think I paid for this fine boutique?"
"I might have something else you might be interested in. I've got a 'Dan Quayle for President 2004' button in here someplace. I also have . . . Sinjoro Patel, are you listening?"
A look of wide-eyed horror flashed across Patel's face. "Quick! Get down!"
"What?" I saw it now, the flashing red and blue strobes, an urban fireworks display.
"Get behind the counter and down! It's the police!"
I did as I was told, and Patel led me crawling to the back studio of the shop. "You mean what you're doing here, your shop, it's illegal?"
"No, no, that's not it."
"Then why are the cops raiding?"
Two police officers burst through the front door of the shop, guns drawn. They proceeded to the cash register and one of them stuck a smart-card in. The officer punched a few buttons on the pad. A cheerful ble-bleep confirmed the downloaded cash to the card. The other police officer investigated Carson's duffel bag still on the counter. He opened up the duffel and took out the millennium watch. "Cool," he said, "Digital." He put the watch on, then grabbed the duffel-bag.
"Hey! They're taking my watch!" I whispered.
"Hush! You'll get us killed!"
The officers made a tactical retreat, guns still presented, and left the boutique.
"Well, God-damned son-of-a-bitch. That's the third time this month." Sinjoro Patel said, in perfect English.
"Hey, you big liar! You liar! You speak English!"
"Of course I do!" he said, without a hint of accent. "But I recognized the fact that you really wanted to practice the International Language, so who was I to stop you?"
"Your speaking English, it's for the best. They stole my dictionary. They took everything. All my stuff."
"I'm very sorry about that."
"Including my millennium watch." I said.
"Such a shame, that was," Patel responded.
I sighed. "Why did they raid you, if you've got a legitimate operation going here?"
"Those two cops, Taggert and Pazinsky, started out by offering us in the Esperanto Quarter security services. We weren't really bothered by the local gangs, but you know, a little extra protection never hurts, chu ne? Soon the services escalated so that we were not only paying for local gangs not to hurt us, but the cops themselves. Boutiques that didn't pay suffered accidents."
"Like fire bombs and stray bullets."
"Those are some powerful accidents."
"So, generally I allow them to take what they want."
"Can't you tell anyone about this? Someone who would help?"
"I wish. If one of us squeals to the authorities or makes waves, we can expect a personal visit the next day. I've seen it happen. Besides, they don't take that much and I can stay in business. Some other boutiques aren't as well off as me." Patel looked up at me. "I'm sorry you got involved, Sinjoro Holt. I'm sorry about your millennium watch."
"I had no real sentimental value attached to it, but that stuff was my only hope for staying on the arcology. My wife is gonna kill me. She told me something like this would happen."
Patel thought for a moment, then said, "Cheer up; I can still probably get you in to see my surgeon friend today. He's so good, your wife, she won't even know. Then we will use the money to pay a hacker friend I know. Can I make the calls for you right now?"
I stared in silence.
"You know, good sir, I am the only chance you've got. My broker fees, they will be very reasonable."
I sighed. I nodded weakly.
"Sinjoro Holt, you came to the right store!"
# # # #
Dr. Weinbrook's medical clinic bustled like backstage at the freak show. Wild children chased each other through the waiting room. Two monitors blared two different channels; a Beethoven concerto dueled with the harsh music from the Nova Olympia skatebacking competition. A ceiling fan with a slight wobble-whirr merely added to the chaos, instead of circulating air. I worked my way back to the receptionist, and handed her my completed infopad.
"Is all the information here correct?" she asked in Esperanto.
She then began transcribing the information from the pad to the computer using a keyboard, of all things. "What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm just entering your information. I'll be done in just a second. If you wouldn't mind stepping back, that is." She shooed me back with her hand.
"Why don't you just download it from the infopad?"
"Listen, sir, this is how we've always done it, okay?"
"But... you're entering that into a straight text file, aren't you? A dock isn't very expensive. Certainly cheaper than data errors."
Patel was close by, and said, "Sinjoro Holt, is there a problem?"
"Well yeah. They're entering my information into a stupid comma-delimited text file. I can't believe it."
"Maybe that is her job," Patel said.
"Well, I can't believe she's treating my data like that. It's a model of inefficiency. I can see right now the information there is denormalized, redundant, and inconsistent. She should be downloading my information into a proper database. It's sickening, well, for a database guy like me."
"We don't have the luxuries you folks upstairs have. Be grateful for what you have." Then Patel said to the receptionist, "My friend, he's very sick. He must see the doctor very soon."
"Well, in that case," she said, "the doctor will see him right now."
I would have preferred a little wait, but I was quickly hustled back to the doctor's cramped office, which made me think of a first-aid station rather than a place where major surgery would occur. A few Esperanto magazines lay on a squat box for casual reading, presumably while the innocent victim had his internals removed. I sat vulnerable and shirtless on the paper-covered table, while Patel talked outside to the doctor. This is it, I thought. I am going to die. This was the last room I would ever see. Which was a real shame, because I couldn't read most of the magazines.
Patel and Dr. Weinbrook came into the room. Patel propped himself in the corner and started to read an article in one of the magazines.
"So, it will be your kidney, then? Or will it be part of your liver?"
I fidgeted, crinkling the paper beneath me. "Which is less intrusive?"
"Well, neither, really. Both procedures are perfectly safe. It's just a matter of which you prefer keeping and which you want me to remove?"
"It doesn't really matter to me."
"It doesn't really matter to you? It's your own body, Sinjoro Holt. You should have an opinion about it!"
"I'd never really thought about it before."
"Well," said Weinbrook, "have you considered donating a bit of your soul?"
"Your soul. Very lucrative donation. With clean living and rest, you'll have it back in no time. Your donation may even help some soulless people or automata reach the afterlife. What do you think?"
Something was completely wrong about this. I watched myself getting talked into it like a slow-motion explosion. "How much. . . Will there be any pain? How long will it last? Will my wife notice?"
"Oh, it's an outpatient procedure, very non-intrusive. Your wife won't even know unless you tell her." Weinbrook rounded behind me. I somehow sensed his presence, and it sent a tingle up my spine.
Patel looked up from his magazine and patted his side, "Sinjoro Holt, I can vouch for him as an expert in the human soul."
Weinbrook popped his head back. "Left or right?"
"Which side would you prefer for me to extract your soul? Your left or your right?"
I felt Weinbrook's fingers grace my back, or perhaps just come very close. "Okay, this shouldn't hurt a bit," Weinbrook consoled, and hyposprayed me before I had a chance to run from the office screaming. "Now, do you have any last words before surgery?"
I managed, "Yes, I—" before darkness descended on me like a giant boot.
# # # #
I woke up in a fuzz, sitting on fuzz, with fuzz all around me.
Some fuzz emerged from the other fuzz. "Sinjoro Holt, how do you feel?"
I couldn't respond.
"Well, you should be back on your feet in no time. This should make you feel a little better," the fuzz said, and affixed a bit of fluff to my arm.
Another fuzz emerged on the other side and spoke, "See? Perfectly painless. What did I tell you?"
The first fuzz said, "Now make sure he keeps the patch on his arm until after he's shaken off the anesthetic, and keeps the patch on his torso for about 48 hours. Got it?"
"No problem," the second fuzz concurred.
A third fuzz entered the room, pushing a fluff construct. "Can I help you, Sinjoro Holt?" it asked. By the voice I could tell it was a female fuzz, and the other two were male.
I nodded, and the first fuzz and the third fuzz helped me sit on the fluff construct, which turned out to be solid enough to support my weight, surprisingly. The fuzzes impelled me on the construct; some fuzzes bid their adieux and stayed behind, and one remained with me. The world's features danced and coalesced and eventually the fuzz cleared to smoke, then mere haze. Finally reality: Mr. Patel up ahead of me, smiling back at me, towing my wheelchair via remote thumb-control. He walked ahead of me on the fast inner lane of the moving sidewalk.
"Are you feeling better, Sinjoro Holt? The hard part is out of the way. Your surgery went perfectly, I heard."
I did a quick inventory of my visible body parts. "I feel like a very large something was dropped on my torso."
"Actually, a very small something was removed from your torso. Be happy, bonulo, you just made some automoton desperately needing a soul on the other end of a black market transaction very happy."
Patel started to merge into the slower lanes, pulling me in tow. "I'm glad you came out of your anesthetic air. You must be alert. We are nearly at the apartment of the computer subterfuge acquaintance of mine."
"Who is he? Is he any good?"
"Ho, Is he? He is very good, but..." Patel stepped onto the stationary walk. "I must warn you, he has a few peculiarities. Please allow me to do all of the talking. And, I implore you, do not look him in the eye."
"Uh, why not?"
"He's very sensitive about his appearance. That, and he has never been quite the same since that accident when the hot latte' shorted out his cybernetic helmet. Very good, though. He is the best, I assure you."
A side street and a dead-end alley later, we found ourselves at a metal door of a faux-brick building, armed with gizmos, buttons, and flashy-blinkies. Patel pressed one of the buttons, and a holovid appeared. A booming voice from hidden speakers emphasized the text on the screen, "FOCUS ON THE RED AND GREEN DOTS TO PREPARE FOR RETINA SCAN." Patel complied, and the holovid responded, "THANK YOU! YOUR RETINAL PRINT HAS BEEN CONFIRMED. YOU ARE AUTHORIZED TO ENTER THE SANCTUM OF DIABLO." The door opened with an eerie click.
"Diablo? You're taking me to a hacker named Diablo?" I asked?
"Be quiet," Patel whispered. "Do not irritate this gentleman. He is very powerful. Give him all the respect and distance he deserves, let me do all of the talking, and we will both be okay, chu ne?"
"If you know this guy, then I guess it's okay."
I felt I could walk now, so we deactivated the hoverchair and left it in the front room. The apartment blared with discord. Each room had its own monitor showing motion-enabled surreal art. We walked past cola machines and video games as we delved further back into the apartment. As we traveled back, then up, then back again through Diablo's labyrinthine rooms, they illuminated in front of us and extinguished behind us. Diablo's house apparently knew where we were at all times.
Finally we arrived at a tall corner desk, lit only by small wattage desk lamps, casting Diablo in silhouette. He sat on the swivel kneelchair, a pillbox cybernetic bus attached to his right temple of his bald wrinkled head.
Diablo tuned around and croaked, "Patel, is that you?" This guy was absolutely ancient, like a biomechanically enhanced prune. Age-resistant drugs did nothing for his skin, which seemed to drip from his face like wet paint.
"You're . . . you're Diablo?" I stifled a laugh. He was older than the Devil, that much was for sure.
"Did you look at me? You were lookin' at me, weren't you?" Diablo retorted.
"No," I said, looking down at the floor. "No sir."
"What kind of freaks are you bringing into this establishment, Patel? Crimony!"
Patel said, "Diablo is one of the best, aren't you? Didn't you have something to do with the great Social Security disaster?"
Diablo snickered, "Heh-heh. I hacked in and cashed out my share early, that's all. It wasn't my fault that the system was so damned fragile. Dammit!" Diablo held the back of his neck and coiled back in his chair.
"Are you okay?" Patel asked.
Diablo massaged the base of his skull. "Yeah, sure thing, boyo. Wouldn't you know, two months after the warranty runs out on my cranial implant the damn thing starts to fritz out on me. Well, interesting though my life is, enough about me. What were you wanting, again?"
Patel said, "My friend here needs past security to change an entry in the Arcology Medical Database."
"Needs past security, eh? So you want to do the dirty yourself? You just need ol' Diablo here to get you in the front door?"
I said, "Yes, actually, sir. You see, I'm a..."
Patel cut me off, "What he's trying to say is, he's a database programmer, so he could make the changes himself, you see."
"That's good, because I'm no bean counter. The only reason I touch databases is to delete the sons-of-bitches. What kind of money does he got?"
Patel handed Diablo a smart card, which Diablo swiped with a small hand-reader. "Hmm, this will barely cover the electricity and my strengthening medicine," Diablo said, then coughed into his empty hand. "But since I'm in a charitable mood, and since you'll be pulling your own weight, I'll allow it. Boyo, do you got any EDJs?" He stared at my head like it was the last bean sprout at a vegan smorgasbord.
"Encephalo-DataJacks," Diablo said.
"No, no I don't. None to speak of, no."
"Figures. Well, then. We'll have to use the data hood with the VeeAr-HUD. I've got one of those somewhere, if you don't mind one that's been refurbished. Slower, yes, but it's the only way to keep you with me. You'll piggyback off of my connect." Diablo rummaged in one of his desk drawers and pulled out an unusual hat decorated with wires and probes. He said, "Here we go. Have you ever used one of these?"
"Well, yeah, a few times. We had some..."
"Whatever," Diablo said, and winced, rubbing his right wrist. "Put it on. We've got work to do."
I complied, and looked over at Patel. He gave me the thumbs-up with that cheeky smile of his. Diablo flipped on the display and Patel disappeared, replaced by a representation of the "Start Room." Diablo, naturally represented by a hulking bemuscled devil, leaned against an unseen surface, orange and green flames dancing around him.
Looking at myself, I was represented rather conspicuously as a two dimensional stick figure. I was suddenly reminded of losing in that children's game, "Hangman."
"What avatar do you want to use to represent yourself, lil' dude? I've designed several myself."
"Well, whatever you've got is fine with me."
"Okay, give me a second and I'll change it for you." Diablo wove a spell and transformed me into an amphibious insectivore.
"Great, I'm a toad."
"That one I'm rather proud of. It seemed somehow appropriate."
"Let's just get going," I said.
"Brace yourself, we're about to 'port out of here." The artificial reality winked to black for a moment, then was replaced by a different room, oriented slightly differently than the previous one. The sudden reorientation made my head ache. One of the room's doors bristled with card swipes, security cams, padlocks, and sirens. It looked even more decked out than Diablo's front door.
"Is that it? Is that the Database?" I hopped a bit closer to it.
"Are we going to try to get through that?" I indicated the door.
"Are you insane? No, we use a backdoor I know about. That is why you will always be a bean counter, young dude. You don't have any common sense. Come this way."
We descended a short flight of stairs, and approached a less auspicious door with less gadgetry.
"So this is it," I said, "This is the back door."
"Duh. I think so," said Diablo, pulling out a card with some attachments. "What we have here is a two-gig quantal encryption algorithm based on time-shifting data. The key-code is mutating every point-five seconds."
"Which means..." I prompted.
He administered the card into the door. "Cake, boyo. What this means is, it will be a piece of cake." And with a bleep and a bloop and an audible clack he unlocked the door. We started to enter, then, "Uh-oh," he said.
"What 'uh-oh'? What do you mean, 'uh-oh'?"
"They know we entered. They must have upped the security around here. Hold on a sec." Diablo moved his arms about, his fingers dancing in patterns, carrying behind them trails of light. His fingers stopped glowing and he stopped gesticulating. "There," he said, "that should hold them off a bit."
"What did you do?"
"They will be looking for intruders in the 'Laundry: Delicates' section of the Database. But I don't think that will last forever. We've gotta move quickly."
We entered through some short access hallways and proceeded into an expansive hallway, lined with file cabinets which appeared to be stretched to infinity in all directions. Circles dotted the floor periodically in the center of the great hall.
"Hop over to that circle, little one, and do your query," Diablo said.
"Ahh, I get it," I said, "So I just have to think about the query, and I can find the information I need, and then change it."
"You're a freakin' genius. Tick-tock. Tick-tock."
"Okay, I'm hurrying." I hopped into the circle, and I could see a translucent podium in front of me. I concentrated, and a surprisingly thick folder appeared on the podium: my database record. I queried that record for medical information, searched it, searched it--hey, I thought my sperm count was higher than that--searched it some more, and snuggled down deep was a Happ's disease Antibodies Detected field set to 'True'. I changed it to a 'False'.
But I had a quandary. I had to live and work someplace, and my workplace already knew about the Happ's test. If we stayed in our current apartment, that would be a red flag, too. Those would be sure ways the system would find out I tried to buck it. So, Claire and I had to live and work someplace else.
I asked, out-loud, in real-life, "Sinjoro Patel, do your services also extend for arranging jobs for people?"
I heard Patel say, "Certainly, good sir. What did you have in mind?"
"I'm going to need someplace to work. Can you get me set up?"
"My dear Sinjoro Holt, Dr. Weinbrook's clinic desperately needs a database expert like you. I think you would be a perfect match. My broker fee for such an arrangement you would find quite reasonable," he said.
"Great. But if I'm going to stick around the Stelo-Verde quarter, there's one more thing I have to do."
"Yak, yak, yak," said Diablo, "Time's a-wasting. If you're done, let's get out of here."
"Hold on. I want to get my money, er, soul's worth."
"I can't hold 'em off much longer. They're thrashing my 'e-coys."
Two more records I had to change, while I was in there. I pulled another query, this time for all of the police officers named Taggart or Pazinsky. I received two thick files.
Diablo said, "They are almost here, man. I can't jack out without you. They'll know where I am! Come on!"
At least I knew where to look, I opened both files simultaneously to the only fields I knew the precise location of. I changed Happ's Disease Antibodies Detected field to 'Yes' in both files. While I was at it, I also cranked the Sperm Count field down to near zero and closed the files. That should be sufficient. I hopped out of the circle. Diablo and I ran through the short halls and out the back door. Diablo then 'ported us back to the Start room.
I removed the apparatus from my head and reality swayed back into focus.
"You did it?" asked Patel.
Diablo wheeled backwards in his chair, and said, "Wheew, did we. You should have seen the contortions I had to go through to keep those commies off my tail!"
"And Taggart and Pazinsky," I said, "they should be getting information about their Happ's disease tests back right about now."
"So you're planning on staying, here in the Stelo-Verde quarter, then? Your wife will go along with this, chu ne?"
"Claire did say, if we got to stay in the Arc', she'd be happy."
"Do you think that she meant it?"
"I hope so. And I think I could be really needed here."
"There is doubt in your voice, I notice," Patel said.
"I hope she'll want this life, but I don't know. I don't think this is what she had in mind."
"Well, I could act as an intermediary for you. I also do marriage counseling work."
"Well, for a small fee, of course." Patel said, and winked.