(Wednesday, January 6, 2035)






Norlin seethes all through the underground West Node Mall passage to the Mag, gets on, then off and kicks the omnipresent trashpiles on his way to the Trouble Factory, hurrying to the elevator bank under lethal glares, but no actual violence.  A forest of glastic buckets has sprouted across the breadth of the atrium to catch tumbling water from hundreds, if not thousands of leaks.  An officer, unknown to Norlin, gives him an accidental-on-purpose shoulderblock at the door to the lift; other cops inside stare; some make fanning motions as if he were a skunk, waddling through the conservatory.  When he enters C-Squad to punch in, seven minutes late, an automated voice considerably less pleasant than he remembers announces that sanctions for his fourth late clock in the pay period will be eight and a quarter zeks. Eric Ice is nowhere to be seen.  Homer Sack, processing papers, looks up and places a careful finger over his lip.  Yawning, he stands up and formally offers a hand.

"Corporal... good to see you back here.  Plenty of work to be done.  That strange little man, the one in the yellow hat, he left a message that you should meet him at eleven hundred hours, didn't say where.  The van and driver have been reserved in his name, to my authority... we sort of agreed that you might stir up a little resistance if, you know.  Oh... and Germany stopped by, wants to see you at ten hundred hours..."

"Thanks, Homes... gotta go through the motions, now... Norlin, present.  Sack..."


          "Ice?  Absent, th' keb!  Cattigan?  Rimpaul Ranzany Lugosi... who the keb are we foolin'?" he says, glaring up into one of the surveillance cameras.

He yanks open the door to the Frank-less refrigerator, hoping Ray's Wire boys haven't thought to install another camera therein, and, by the light that shines over the JatesBars and sandwiches and glastic bottles of Integral, uncrumples the paper pressed into his hand and reads Sack's message: "Eric is going to testify against you."  Coughing, he removes a bottle of 38 and returns to his desk, then removing that piece of paper on which have been written the five names of his contribution to the upcoming seminar at Stimwood.


                             Peg Reilly

          Terushka Batter

          Philip Said

Lola from Angola

          Liz Sapoi


After drawing a line through the name of his last informant, Norlin adds that of Vona Rae Sletcher.  Dialing from memory... and what a memory, so degraded as to have these numbers embedded in his psyche!... he activates the speaker and, when a hesitant, elderly voice gives a tentative "hello", turns on the charm...

"Peg?  This is Norlin... Officer Norlin, from C-Squad?  I've got good news.  You will be picked up and chauffeured to Stimwood at around twelve hundred thirty hours.  How's all the gang across the street..."

"Cold," Peg replies.

"McCoy?  Victor Iowa?"

          "I'm cold," Peg repeats.

          "Well, I'll be sure the heater on that hydro's turned up... way up," Norlin assures her.  He calls the rest of his team again... their memories are not so good, and accidents won't endear him to Henry Hat who, it now seems, is just about his last hope.  He reads correspondence regarding larcenous truckdrivers and pharmacists, WestAmerican spies and MexAmerican monkey-mutes planning violent revolution, sends out the appropriate, Compliance-authorized replies to one and all, and leaves, ten minutes early, for the morning's showdown with the Chief.

Germany Smith's lair of Intelligence is a rustic simulation of a Bavarian lodge of some previous century; ersatz logs ersatzly burning in a roaring, mock-Solar Furnace fireplace, flanked by a full library of volumes in German and English (holographically simulated)... mountain paintings of Alpenhorns, lederhosen and animal heads (some few even real) blanket the wall.  This fourth floor corner office of the Trouble Factory has a partial view, through a rainy field of downtown lozenges, of the Jatesaneum, which seems to fascinate one of his guests... Captain Modesty's aide, Kruppe... though not the other, a civilian.

          "Norlin... this is Counselor Bocke, from the Law Firm," Germany introduces.  "Bocke, Corporal Norlin..."

"The infamous Corporal Norlin," Bocke sneers.  "Give him a command and he sends out every Departmental LC to jack off small boys..."

          "What the keb..." Norlin starts.

"Bocke is referring to those two uniforms who failed Dr. Skark's test... oh..." the Chief of Intelligence's face has become a mask of false astonishment, "...didn't you know?  Bloodsugar far in excess of permitted parameters, one... and the other, some sort of painkiller... well, you've made the Law Firm happy, if nobody else, sending out dopers to interact with the citizenry..."

"Not merely countenancing, but abetting lifestyle crime..." Bocke finishes.

"Quite so.  But we are not here for recriminations over the past... though that hour shall come, and soon..." Smith warns, "...we are here to contemplate, plan and execute a bold stroke against the criminal establishment that has so bloodied our noses, as of late..."

He thumbs a clicker, and a PV emerges from a recess in the wall that, Norlin recognized long ago, is merely a sophisticated windowscreen composed of rows of illusory, leatherbound books on forensics, law and procedure instead of a beach or desert.

"I've had a chat with Henry Hat, you know.  Fascinating fellow... his experiences would make a fine peevee series... premium channel..." Germany Smith distinguishes, "...but it's the fate of genius, sometimes, to have to go round in this world, satisfied with making useful contributions while lesser mortals reap the credit.  Isn't that so, Norlin?"

"I've nothing but respect for the Solar Commission," the Corporal replies.

"Good man!  Now... among the precepts Mr. Hat advanced to me, and the reason for your being here is to verify such precepts, or to dispute them... Mr. Hat has expressed to you, hasn't he, his convictions of centrality - even to the extent of attributing many of our recent incidents to a central intelligence?  And while, for the record," and Germany Smith rewards the lawyer with a significant nod, "we must disavow all of Corporal Norlin's Said-derived intelligence, there are some diamonds in there, with the filth.  Isn't that so?"

"I'm the last person you need seek value judgments from."

"Such becoming... and deserved... modesty," the Chief laughs and winks at the attorney.  "Probably gleans it off the Captain!  Oh come on, Norlin... we're not being recorded for Compliance.  Well, yes... we are... you did reiterate a centrality inference in one of our dog-pimp's doctored editorials..."

          "You're very confidence-inspiring..."

"I'll take that as a compliment."  Smith yawns and stretches, contentedly, as if to give his visitor from the Law Firm the illusion of great, dangerous cat, inspecting its own claws.  "At any rate, based on transcripts you have provided... howsoever inexpertly appended to yesterday's DR... and Henry Hat's comments, we have arrived upon a course of action, Clive and I.  With Clem Clarke's concurrence, Captain Modesty has greenlighted an action that, I trust, shall wrap up most... if not all... of these recent crimes, and net your fellow Mondretto, too, if he truly does exist," the Chief leers.  "The Captain has even authorized leasing of the Heisenberg Herd, the most especial detection swine in all of the Americas.  Not that we can allow your presence after... well, I just felt I owed you an explanation.  And, perhaps, once this matter is wrapped up, tempers will subside and you might get out of here with some of your hide intact... that's all..." Germany Smith waves a hand in dismissal, looking to the lawyer for some clue as to the sincerity of the masque.

And, there being nothing further to say, Norlin thanks his Intelligence Chief with all due and proper obeisance, and hastens away, satisfied that Henry Hat has revealed nothing to the brass, concerning their extraordinary mission forthcoming.