The Hades Connection
by Gabriel S. Timar
part 1 of 2
The last things George Pike remembered about his life on Earth were the suntanned, streamlined, naked body of Lynn, the report of a gun, the bullet hole in the wood paneling, and his blood on the white carpet next to the black towel.
The next thing he knows, he’s being welcomed to the Third Dimension, where he has a choice not only of afterlifes but of accommodations and a new body, as well. George signs up with Hades, Ltd., a corporation that seems to be the best of a dubious lot.
George very much enjoys being welcomed by Arabella, who is not only highly efficient but something of a race car driver. And yet she has asked one question he cannot answer: how he died. Neither he nor anyone else seems to know. Now George must meet the head of Hades, Ltd., a certain Mr. Lucifer... and prepare himself for a career as a double agent in interstellar intrigue.
In Cleo’s swanky Cadillac, we rode around in Mammon City. It was interesting, to say the least. There were no children or elderly people anywhere and no visible signs of poverty. Strangely, all the amenities of a major North American city were in evidence, just as at the time of my departure from Earth.
I was wondering who was doing the menial jobs at the service stations, stores, and the other places. When I asked, Cleo willingly explained. “In an advanced society like ours, many people are needed to do the menial jobs. As the President and the governing council rule through understanding, we do not have any problems with crime, crooks, and unruly people. Normally the managers select the better souls from the vaults and offer them a chance to come back, live, and work again. You’d be surprised how many turn it down.”
“Really?” I remarked. “I couldn’t imagine anyone being completely happy and satisfied staring at kaleidoscopes.”
Cleo gave me a long look and smiled: “I wasn’t satisfied, although at the time I was rated at only forty Bertons. I came out and worked as a waitress for a lifetime. I managed to save up enough to register at the Board of Trade as an SDS. Since then I’ve been on my own.”
“What is an SDS?” I asked.
“Self-directed soul,” Cleo explained. “It means that you work a cycle, pay for a new body and have enough funds to support yourself in the early days of your return. As an SDS you must have marketable skills and abilities.
“When your body wears out and you are forced out of it, you automatically get on the green line. It is the equivalent of the inter-dimensional public transport, but it picks up the souls within the Third Dimension. You would call the trip ‘dying’.
“As an SDS, your soul is marked; you don’t go into the kaleidoscope or the vaults, you go directly to the new body reserved for you. At that point your soul is your own, and you can work for whomever you want.”
“Interesting,” I mused. “How long is a cycle?”
“It varies.” She shrugged. “For menial jobs you get a C- or a D-class standard body, which may last thirty terrestrial years. The top of the line is good for about seventy.”
“Yours must be a top of the line,” I remarked with a smirk.
“No,” she said, “it is not. I cannot afford one in this cycle. The quality is not in the appearance; you can have a Sophia Loren or a Schwartzenegger in the cheap versions or in the most expensive, top of the line series. The difference is in the durability, in the useful life of the body. In the next cycle I may get a better one if all goes well.”
“If you can get such beautiful bodies,” I asked, “why does no one look like a Hollywood star?”
“It isn’t cool any more,” she replied. “Any soul above forty understands that appearances aren’t important. It’s not the packaging of the equipment that counts, but how you use it.”
“True.” I nodded in agreement.
“You are in a much better position than I ever was,” she continued. “It’s part of every professional work contract like yours that following the first cycle you receive an SDS voucher good for one free trip on the green line and a B-class body.”
“Getting on the public transport or the green line actually means dying, doesn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes,” Cleo replied. “So what?”
“Nothing.” I waved my hand. “It’s only a matter of semantics.”
We were driving on the city’s circle route — something like a major freeway — heading for a lookout point to enjoy the view of the sunset. Cleo was pulling into the right lane and starting to slow the car when a blue light started flashing on the dashboard. Without batting an eye, Cleo suddenly stepped on the accelerator; the heavy sedan lurched forward.
“You are going to miss the exit,” I remarked.
“Sorry about that, George,” she replied. “There’s an emergency.”
“What do you mean an emergency?” I demanded.
“Please stay quiet, George,” she replied, “and let me handle the matter. It may not be anything, but in these days we must be very careful.”
She lowered the arm rest between our seats and flipped the cover back, exposing several buttons and a small screen. Obviously, it was an inboard computer and a hands-free telephone. She deftly worked the controls, and a car’s license plate appeared on the screen.
“I must fix it,” she whispered apparently to herself. “George, help me, please. There is a security communications station on your side, in the arm rest. While I work on this plate, please establish a line to my boss. Just flip up the cover of the armrest.” She kept working on her computer.
I tore at the cover, and another mass of buttons was exposed. I stared at them: they were out of this world.
“Hit the SEC button, please,” she continued.
With difficulty, I found the button and pressed it. Almost instantly a masculine voice filled the interior of the car: “This is the K1, Casper speaking. Any problems, Cleo?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. ”My R2M suggests that we are under surveillance by another car. I have never seen one like this in our service, so I think it must be theirs. I’ve got the plate fixed on my visor.”
“Transmit the damn thing,” came the reply.
Cleo manipulated the switches and looked at me: “We may be in trouble.”
The radio came alive and Casper’s voice drowned out the engine noise.
“That’s right, it is Hercules and his half brother Iphicles, a couple of heavies. They are the freelance mobile STT team. Who is with you?”
“George Pike,” Cleo replied.
“Oh no,” Casper groaned, “the boss will have my hide if anything happens to him. Where are you?”
“I’m on the circle route. We just passed Sandy Point lookout. Exactly at kilometer four... now.”
“Okay, Cleo,” Casper said, “just maintain a respectful distance between you and them. I am going to send a Board of Trade inspector to check the STT. Mobile transfer teams are illegal. If Hercules overtakes, you must put Pike on the green line, pronto.”
“Affirmative,” snapped Cleo. “Please, Mr. Casper, tell the inspector to hurry up. I’ve never put anybody on the green line before, and I’m not sure I can do it.”
“A goddamn beginner,” Casper said. “Cleo, can you ask him if he can get on the green line by himself?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’ll ask him. Stand by.”
The gist of the conversation had just sunk in. There was a guy out there with an illegal mobile STT, whatever that was, and he was trying to get me. To avoid him, they were considering killing me.
They wanted to kill my fabulous new body! That was criminal. I did not want this great body destroyed; this was the only one I had, and I had developed plans for involving it in the exploration of another fantastic body: Cleo’s. I had to stop this nonsense somehow.
“You’ve heard the man,” Cleo said. “Do you feel up to it?”
“Why not?” I said in a matter of fact manner, but my intestines trembled.
“You heard him, Mr. Casper,” Cleo intoned.
“Fine, just fine,” came Casper’s impatient voice through the ether. “Mr. Pike, I am Casper, the duty K1 of Hades Inc., the Security Chief. I am going to give you some instructions. Are you with me?”
“Sure,” I groaned.
“Good,” he continued. “Now, listen carefully. Cleo has a gun strapped to her thigh. Get it.”
It was certainly entertaining feeling for the gun under Cleo’s skirt. Maybe my fingers lingered a little bit longer over her smooth warm body. It seems Casper got impatient: “You’re not supposed to give her a total body search or get her ready for a wild roll on a white bear rug, Pike. Just get the damn gun.”
“I’ve got it,” I replied. “Body search deferred, but I could give you an extensive report on her state of readiness. “
“Shut up!” roared Casper. “Do you know how to handle the gun?”
“Sure, I do,” I replied and looked at the flat little Walther. It was exactly like my own gun back on Earth.
“Okay,” he continued somewhat calmer, “if anything happens and Cleo cannot handle it, she will order you to shoot yourself. Do it and aim well. Don’t let them capture you alive, and don’t get behind that brown car under any circumstances. They will yank you out of your body and into the kaleidoscope you go. We’d eventually get you back, but that would be too late. Do you think you can do it? “
“In shooting myself, chum,” I intoned, “I have experience. You may rest assured.”
“Good,” Casper sighed. With relief in his voice he continued: “Aren’t you afraid?”
“Not the least,” I replied. By this time, fear had twisted my intestines into a tight knot, and in my mouth I felt the taste of brass. I knew these were the early signs of panic.
I took a deep breath and in a nonchalant tone I continued: “Practice makes perfect. In case I have to shoot myself, you had better have an identical body ready for me. Make sure all the glands are properly warmed up.”
Casper chuckled: “Don’t worry, Mr. Pike, you can trust me. Stand by, Cleo.”
I usually begin to worry when someone says I can trust him. The situation would have had the makings of a comic opera if it hadn’t been so frightening. There I was, in a car with the most desirable female of the galaxy, and I could not talk to her without half the planet listening in.
I could not touch her, because she might break her concentration and climb the first light standard with the car. My instructions were to commit suicide at the slightest sign of trouble, even if a particular brown car passed us.
My problem was that I had plans for Cleo, and she seemed to be receptive to my advances. Man, this is hell, I thought, there she is without panties, ready for anything we desire from each other, yet she may order me to shoot myself. This is completely crazy!
I decided I would try to salvage my chances of holding hands with Cleo tonight. Of course, my plans went far beyond holding hands, but one must do things in the proper order to preserve the illusions.
I felt under my seat for the control lever. I found it and soon I managed to fold down the back of the seat.
“What are you doing?” Cleo hissed.
“Nothing special, my dear,” I said. “Last time I shot myself, I did it sitting up. It was very unpleasant. Maybe, like everything else, it will be more comfortable lying down.”
“Haw, haw, very funny,” said Cleo. “You’ll mess up the upholstery.”
I wiggled over to the back seat and sat right behind Cleo. I drew the gun, and inspected it: there were seven rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. That’s good, I thought. As I was making plans for Pike’s last stand, Cleo’s voice yanked me back into reality.
“Mr. Casper,” she said coldly, “they are gaining on us and trying to pass.”
Copyright © 2004 by Gabriel S. Timar