The Hades Connection
by Gabriel S. Timar
My new body must have been the exact replica of the old one, since it performed quite well during the rather interesting bedroom gymnastics. I slept like a log; I did not even notice when Cleo left the apartment. Only the lingering scent of her perfume on my pillow reminded me of the previous night’s exciting events.
I dressed swiftly but with care, since appearances are important in the legal profession. As always, I looked in the mirror before stepping out of my apartment. I was satisfied: I radiated confidence.
Although I was never a fast driver, I easily managed to beat Arabella’s record to the office. It was not nearly as scary as my first trip. I had very little doubt that it was the combination of my route planning and the supremacy of American cars that did the trick. It was a pleasant drive, although a shade faster than my normal tempo.
As though I were walking into my old office, I swaggered into Luce’s inner sanctuary exactly at seven o’clock. The project team, Attila and Niccollo, was there. They seemed to be in an ebullient mood. Doubtless, they had solved most of the problems related to my mission.
“Hi, George,” Lucifer greeted me. “I see you took yesterday’s little fiasco in stride. You look well.”
I mumbled something unintelligible just as in the old days when I made my remarks to the press during a trial: a special statement, which could be sufficiently misunderstood or misquoted. I sat down, loosened my tie, put my feet up and displayed one of my standard smiles, the one I used in the opening statement to a jury in an apparently lost case.
“Let’s get on with the task at hand,” Luce began. “Nick, could you give us an update on the state of the project?”
Machiavelli opened the lid of his computer and began his presentation: “I ran a situation analysis program of project Earth Two. My conclusions are quite interesting. George, your primary objective is to convince the planet’s leaders about the decay of the orbit. This will take some doing, but given the proper scientific evidence you are likely to succeed.
“The most difficult part of your project will be arranging discreet contact with the Earth leaders. No matter what happens, you must avoid the big splash. In comparison, it will be easy to talk the Terrestrials into cooperating with the Khomus and correcting the orbit of their planet.”
“I’ll have to work out a quiet but effective approach,” I replied.
“That’s right,” Nick said. “We won’t be able to help you in that aspect of the work.”
“I understand,” I replied.
“The actual correction of the orbit will involve the construction of a field of thrusters on the moon,” Nick explained. “Given the current financial state of their major industrial powers, this will be difficult to manage, but not impossible.”
“I’ll do my best,” I grunted.
“Don’t try to persuade the Earth leaders to accept the Khomus as immigrants and give them a reasonable piece of real estate they could call home,” he continued. “Leave that to the Khomu politicians when they arrive. They need professional satisfaction anyway.”
“I won’t discuss the matter of immigration and homeland,” I promised.
“To conclude,” Nick said like a jury foreman announcing the verdict, “I fed all the data including George’s record and his personality profile into the supercomputer. The output is that if we install him as the Khomu negotiator, the probability of total success will be 77.45 percent. If we used any other negotiator from our reserves, the chances would be down to 62.28 percent at best. Any questions?”
All eyes were on me. I shrugged: “I am beginning to like your computer. Finally, someone appreciates my talents. At this point, Nick, I have no questions.”
“Well,” he continued, “the major problem will be the installation of George as the Khomu negotiator. It will not be as easy as you might think.”
“Nothing is easy,” sighed Luce.
“Let’s see what our options are,” Machiavelli continued, giving Luce the dirtiest look he could manage. “The skipper of the Nimrod, Captain Rudolf von Vardy, is one of the most decorated officers of the Khomu fleet: a brave, courageous soldier, a very competent spaceship commander.
“There is, however, a little matter, which bothers me: his state of mind. He was severely wounded during their Great War, and spent a long time in a sanatorium. When our agent examined his record, he found that his injury was psychological in nature. This is his first command in five years.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Luce interjected. “His job is only to drive.”
Nick gave him a long look: “I wish you’d let me finish before making your comments. Anyway, the negotiator appointed by the governing council is a brilliant young lawyer, Ann Forrest. She is aboard the Nimrod. Our man on the cruiser, the ship’s doctor, says that there were sudden significant changes in Miss Forrest’s behavior: she started a red-hot love affair with the Captain.”
“Big deal,” I remarked, “they just like one another. Two young, energetic, healthy people; it’s their choice.”
“You, too, should learn to shut up until I finish rather than draw premature conclusions,” Nick stated. “According to our records, Miss Forrest is a refined, reclusive lady. There were rumors that she was a lesbian. Now she behaves like a streetwalker, smokes cigars and drinks like a sailor.
“Although scanning naturally evolved persons is strictly against the law, we ran a scan on her. We concluded that her soul and body link was artificial. In other words, her soul belongs to somebody else, a guy we know as Ivan. He’d already cost us a bundle on other projects. If he were in charge of the negotiations, it would be a spectacular failure, for sure.
“If the talks collapse, Captain von Vardy can start shooting and earn some more battle honors. Our situation analysis suggests that it won’t be easy installing George as the negotiator; in fact it will be very difficult.”
“I don’t think so,” Luce said firmly. “Gemma could find a body for George in the First Dimension and put him into a little ship with a neutron drive. Let him catch up with the Nimrod. George could carry forged documents saying that the Khomu President has ordered him to take over from Miss Forrest. It should be relatively easy; we could implement it in a couple of days.”
“No,” I snapped. “It wouldn’t be wise. Whoever is inside Miss Forrest will immediately know who is sending a replacement for her. Obviously she has a measure of control over the Captain. I would either spend the rest of the trip in the brig or be put on the public transport immediately. Then we’d be back to square one.”
“George has a point,” Attila interjected. “I don’t think it would work either.”
“What if George were sent to replace the Captain?” Nick suggested. “We could create the impression that von Vardy had been promoted to admiral or something.”
“That’s not much better,” I said quietly. “Any interference with the established routine of the ship would be dangerous. Ivan might immediately smell the rodent, and whatever form I used, he would put me on public transport. I am sure we could work out something to pre-empt Ivan’s attack on me. The major problem is that I don’t know the controls of a spaceship from my own arse.”
“You could learn,” Attila interjected.
I gave him the dirtiest look I could come up with on such short notice but continued relentlessly: “Perhaps the first alternative would be a little better. Either way, I’d have to take some chances.”
“What if we yanked the soul out of Miss Forrest’s body and installed George’s?” Nick asked. “I know it’s illegal, but who cares? Gemma has to prove herself, and the Nimrod is still very close to her base; she could set it up easily.”
I was shocked. The fact that I might have to occupy the body of a woman scared me out of my wits. Fortunately, before I could express my misgivings, Luce came to the rescue.
“I’m sure it wouldn’t work. George could not play the female role without extensive training. Don’t forget, this is his first mission, and he has no experience at all. Besides, what would you do with Ivan’s soul? The chances are that the love affair would break up, and our Captain would be heartbroken. As you all know, jilted lovers are not very cooperative when it comes to helping the other’s enterprise. Besides, our records suggest that the Captain does not favor negotiations; he’d rather shoot first and talk later.”
“Wait a minute,” Nick interrupted, “what if we reconsidered installing George into the body of the Captain?”
“It’s not much better,” Luce said. “In the course of their first lovemaking, Ivan would realize that George is not the Captain; and —Geronimo! — public transport, here comes George. No, that wouldn’t work either.”
“I think it’s the lesser of two evils,” I said. “If I were the Captain, I’d have the power to put Miss Forrest in irons immediately and throw her in the brig or arrange a convenient accident for her. The only catch is that I could not discharge the Captain’s duties.”
“You’d have no problems,” Attila said. “First, the Captain’s brain would have all his latent abilities. That part of the brain would remain active even after the exchange. However, to activate the subconscious mind of the Captain, we can include the prompter routine in your training. We will develop a training tape, and put you in a think tank. In about fifteen seconds, you’ll come out with the knowledge necessary to captain a spaceship. A long time ago I trained in nuclear telemetry this way; there’s nothing to it.”
The idea appealed to me. The only thing I did not like about it was the fact that I may have to use force on Miss Forrest alias Ivan. Violence was never my strong suit, although I used to be a very good hockey player with the reputation of a goon. On the ice, it was different: you hit the other guy or he flattened you. Cowards like me prefer to do the hitting rather than taking it; it hurts less that way.
“I guess, I’ll go into the think tank,” I said. “It seems to be the only way.”
There was a momentary silence. Finally, Lucifer spoke first: “Well fellows, what do you think?”
“If George believes it will work, I have no problems with it,” Nick said. “He’s the one who will do the job. If he’s comfortable with it, that’s fine with me.”
“You both know how I feel about it,” Attila said. “I’ve always maintained that it’s best to let your field operator make the final decision on the methods.”
“Okay,” Luce said with a deep sigh. “Attila, please develop the appropriate training tapes, including all the expertise on the orbit correction as well. Also make sure that George knows the current technology: the neutron and the inertia drive. I wouldn’t want to put him back into the think tank again.”
Luce turned to me: “Following the think-tank, you’ll need about an hour of vigorous physical exercise. What do you want to do?”
“Is Cleo available?” I asked.
“That is not the kind of exercise I had in mind,” Luce said with a little smile. “I was thinking about a more conventional physical exercise like running or aerobics.”
“In that case I’d better play tennis,” I said sadly.
“Okay,” Luce declared, “go home, put on your tennis outfit, and get your racquet. You don’t have to hurry, because it will take at least an hour to prepare your training tape. Come back after lunch, around one-thirty. By that time, Attila will have the tapes ready. Nick will arrange for the tennis court and a pro. When you return, go straight to room B52 on basement level 5. Get on with it, fellows!”
He stood up signaling that the meeting was over.
We all filed out. Arabella did not even look up from her computer screen as we passed through her domain.
“I’ll show you where B52 is,” Nick said as we got into the elevator. It isn’t the easiest room to find.”
We started our descent. It was like a free fall. A cold shiver ran down my spine. I was terrified, but I hoped my companions did not notice my state of terror. There I was with two stony-faced devils falling deeper into the bowels of the planet Mammon...
Nick spoke first: “I don’t like B52.”
“I don’t like it either,” Attila stated flatly. “I hope they got the dead cockroach out of the projector.”
Nick chuckled: “George, can you imagine, we were prepping a terrified dame for a terrorist mission on Pollux. We gave her all the dope. Finally, Attila says, ‘Now, we are going to show you the people you’ll be up against.’ Then he switched on the projector. A big friggin’ cockroach was staring us in the face. I burst out laughing, but the poor woman just screamed and took off like a missile out of control. We could never get her to enter room B52 again. We had to send in her backup.”
The elevator mercifully came to a smooth halt. We stepped out into a maze of corridors. I still did not know why they were taking me down there. There were plenty of signs on the walls; it was easy to find B52.
I did not want to waste much time in B52. It was just a standard, small room with comfortable chairs and a conference table in it. I just looked around, mumbled something unintelligible, said farewell, and walked out.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Gabriel S. Timar