The Hades Connection
by Gabriel S. Timar
part 2 of 2
It was dark outside; I stood by the window looking at the beach opposite the building. The traffic on the boulevard was light. On the beach some revelers were drinking, singing, and feeling happy. I wished I could have joined them, but I did not know anybody. I was alone, desperately alone.
Just before I fell into one of my philosophical moods, the phone rang. For a moment I thought of letting it ring, but a couple of lifetimes of conditioning got the better of me: “George Pike’s residence,” I intoned.
“Hello, George,” came a familiar voice, “This is Luce. Congratulations, you did a superb job.”
“Thank you,” I mumbled, not knowing what else to say.
“I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour,” he said, “but we have urgent unfinished business. It’s the Ann Forrest matter, which you must take care of immediately.”
I was not happy. I knew it would be hard bargaining, and somehow I did not feel like working at that moment.
“Do I have to do it right now?” I asked.
“I’m afraid you must,” replied Luce. “As working hours are over, nobody monitors the vaults; you could communicate with Ann Forrest now. If we delay, we may get caught and the fines would be heavy.”
“I don’t understand,” I replied. “Could you explain?”
“No,” snapped Luce, “not on the goddamned telephone. Just get your butt down to the office. We’ll be waiting for you. See you in half an hour, George.”
I did not see the point of arguing. After all, Luce paid my wages, he was the boss, and I had permitted Esther to stay in the First Dimension. It was my responsibility to settle the issue.
“I’m on my way,” I said and hung up.
I just grabbed the first thing that came into my hands, a pair of sneakers, jeans and a denim shirt. When I looked in the mirror, I noticed that I looked like a country western singer fresh off the stage.
“Well,” I thought, “if they are in such a hurry, they won’t object to my apparel; if they do, to hell with them.”
It was a leisurely drive to the office; I had no problem with the security guard. He called me by name while opening the door for me. He didn’t bother to ask for my ID card.
I got to Luce’s office. The outer chamber normally occupied by Arabella was empty. As the gaudy silver door was open, I entered without knocking.
Luce was sitting behind his desk; another guy in a white jacket sat across from him.
“Close the door, George, if you please,” Luce said.
I closed the door, shook hands with Michael, flopped down on one of the chairs, and extracted a drink from the armrest.
“This is S. Michael, of Heavens, Inc., the coordinator of their Ann Forrest project.”
“It’s my pleasure,” I grunted. “I’m at your service, gentlemen,” I continued in the standard tone I used when telling someone that I was going to sue.
“Thanks for coming,” Luce said. “As you know, we have a major problem. Both our corporations did something that was not strictly legal. We would like to make amends without having to pay astronomical fines. This is where you come in.”
I just nodded.
“Anyway,” he continued, “the whole business started with the illegal exchange of Ann Forrest’s soul with Ivan’s.”
“We are responsible for that,” Michael announced.
I nodded again.
“Then we came into the picture illegally by yanking Ivan out and locking him into Esther Jackson’s body.” Luce explained. “All would be well, if you had not left Esther in the First Dimension. We could restore the status quo, and no one would know anything about it. Michael’s crew could manage the reinstallation.”
I did not really understand what was going on. Therefore, I kept my mouth shut, just stared switching my gaze from Luce to Michael. I did not like Michael.
“Well,” Michael began, “actually, we have one soul too many. We managed to slip Ann into the Esther Jackson container of the vaults on a visitor’s pass. We claimed she was in a coma and that her soul would be better off in the vaults. Now we have to get her out of there.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked. “Why don’t you pull a purgatory trick on her, the same line of bull you handed to Esther?”
“We cannot,” Michael replied. “The moment a corporation talks to anybody in the vaults, the conversation must be recorded. She’ll state that she’s Ann Forrest and the turkey feathers will hit the fan.”
“Why?” I asked.
“The catch is that there is no record of her coming in on the public transport,” Luce said. “If Ari or Pete talks to her, the operator must enter the conversation into the container’s log and record the dialogue. Ann would object to someone calling her Esther. She may start asking many difficult, embarrassing questions about how she died and where she is now. As such details are supposed to be on record, the mismatch will be detected and the Board of Trade would ask for the ticket stub and other documents, which we cannot supply.”
“For argument’s sake,” I said, “let us assume I had Esther here in a container. What would you do?”
“We’d just swap her for Ann,” said Michael, “claim an installation error, put the Forrest soul into a travel container, and give it to a driard to take it back to the First Dimension. And the matter would be closed.”
“You could get Esther out, then?” I asked.
“No sweat,” Luce replied, “she has the proper entry records and ticket stubs. Besides, she has a body stored in the hospital.”
“How about Ivan?” I queried.
“Well,” Michael said with apparent difficulty, “he’s still locked into Esther’s body in the hospital.”
“How are you going to get him out?”
“It’s not easy,” Luce broke in, “but it can be done. Ivan has a body stored in Heavens’ recovery room. We put Ann into the container, Esther from the vaults into Ivan’s body, and then just switch them. Esther would come to in the hospital and Ivan would come to in recovery. If anyone asked, we would claim a transporter malfunction.”
“Okay,” I said, “I understand. Essentially, it is like having stolen property in a bonded warehouse; you want me to get it out without the authorities’ catching you. I have to prove that the stolen property is actually not in the bonded warehouse and that whatever is there got in by mistake.”
“Sounds complicated, but that’s about the size of it,” Michael agreed.
“What do I have to do?” I asked.
“Talk to Ann,” Luce said. “Explain to her that when Ari or Pete calls, she shouldn’t ask any questions, just declare she’s Esther Jackson and is ready to accept a job with you as an assistant. We’ll make it look as if you are going to employ her on a private voucher.”
“Why do I have to talk to her?” I asked. “Couldn’t you do it?”
“First,” Michael grumbled in a hostile tone, “you created this embarrassing situation. Second, when a private individual talks to a potential employee, the Board of Trade does not record the conversation. It’s like stock market transactions on Earth. When an individual acts on insider information, nobody cares. People will just say he’s lucky. But when a stockbroker strikes it rich, the commission immediately suspects insider trading.”
“Why couldn’t you get some other person to talk to her?” I asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Michael said. “You are liable for what happened. If I asked someone to do me a favor, the guy would blackmail us for a few millions, since the amount of money involved in the fine is so much. You cannot do it without exposing your own illegal activities.”
“Don’t you trust anybody?” I asked.
“George,” Luce said, “in the Third Dimension you cannot trust anybody. Every soul is for itself in this gigantic free-for-all. You cannot ask an employee to go outside his or her terms of reference without opening yourself to blackmail.”
I did not really understand every aspect of the issue, but I knew that big corporations tended to become something like the civil service: dumb and unnecessarily complicated.
“So, to conclude, gentlemen,” I said in the most charming tone I could put on, “I’ll speak to Miss Forrest, convince her that she’s dead, her name is Esther Jackson and she’s going to work for me as an assistant.”
“That’s about it!” Luce agreed.
“What happens if she doesn’t agree?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” shrugged Michael. “You shouldn’t let it happen, because we’d be caught and have to pay the fine.”
“Okay,” I said. “It is rather complicated and I don’t really understand it. It’s something like the Canadian Income Tax Act. When you think you understand it, that’s when you should realize you don’t. I will handle the matter, and I am sure I can convince Ann. However, let me give you guys a piece of advice, free of charge. You should have been honest with me, your lawyer from the word go. Do you know the terrestrial name of the guys who don’t level with their lawyers?”
“No,” Michael replied.
“Well,” I said, “the establishment calls them convicts.”
* * *
I left Luce’s office and sat at Arabella’s desk, intent on using her telephone because I felt it would be better if Michael could not listen in on the conversation.
I dialed the number. At this time of the day, the Board of Trade had only a couple of people on duty; it took quite some time to get through. I gave them the code of Esther/Ann Forrest’s container and the Heavens authorization number to make contact with her. The operator messed around for a while. I had to listen to pop music until a private line became free. Finally, the operator came on and said, “Sir, your contact is made. You may start the communication.”
“Thanks,” I replied and started my great performance. “My dear, don’t be frightened, I’m a friend.”
There was a momentary quiet; then a weak voice came on: “Who are you and where am I?”
“Well,” I started, “it’s not going to be easy to explain. For all intents and purposes, you’re dead, but we don’t want you to stay that way. I need your talents; I want you to come back and work for me.”
“I don’t understand,” came the reply.
The situation obviously confused her.
“Do you want me to come back at another time?” I asked.
“No, please don’t go,” she pleaded with me. “I’m sick and tired of staring at the kaleidoscope.”
“Okay,” I continued, “let’s start from the beginning. You were aboard the Nimrod en route to Earth. You were supposed to negotiate with the terrestrial leaders. Am I right?”
“Yes,” came the reply. “It was rather hopeless, but I was going to give it a try. Something happened while I was in the shower. I must have turned the wrong handle and I blacked out. For a while, I was looking at the letter X, then nothing. Later came the damned kaleidoscope with the pastel colors. I’ve been staring at them since God knows when.”
“It’s not unpleasant, is it?”
“Well,” she replied, “it doesn’t hurt, but it is boring. I have no need to think and I have nothing to look forward to. It is a marginal existence.”
I was beginning to like Ann Forrest.
“What would you say if I told you I could get you back to the world of the living?” I asked.
“I would ask you what the catch is,” she said.
She was good, smart, and ready with the replies. She had to be a hell of a lawyer.
“There are several small catches,” I said. “The first one is your name.”
“What about it?”
“If you want to come back and work for me, we’ll have to change your name, right now and forever,” I said. “You’ll have to forget your name.”
“That’s no big deal,” she replied. “When a woman gets married, she has to give up her maiden name anyway. What name do you want me to use?”
“I’ll tell you when we’ve cleared up all the other questions,” I explained. “As I was saying, you’ll have to assume the identity of another person if you want to come back. If you’re up to it, I’ll give you all the info and you can memorize it.”
“I’d go along with that,” she said, “but you still haven’t told me what the catch is.”
“My dear, that would take too long,” I said. “Let’s make a deal. As I cannot give you all the facts over the telephone, I will just tell you what to say when someone asks you. Then we’ll take care of the legal aspects of getting you out of the kaleidoscope, give you a new body and get you back to the land of the living. At my place, we’ll have a few drinks, a long talk, and I’ll explain everything. If you don’t like the deal, you can go back where you are now. What do you say?”
For a while, there was no answer.
“What do you mean, giving me a new body? Am I not dead and buried in space?” she asked.
“Yes and no,” I replied. “I’ll explain later.”
“If we are talking about bodies, can you give me a man’s body?” she asked.
“I’m afraid I don’t have one available,” I replied. “Later we may consider trading in the old one, but for the time being you’ll have to make do with a female body.”
“What kind of a body will I get?” she asked.
“I have a nice one in stock,” I said. “Early twenties, tall, blonde, blue eyes, full breasts.”
“Nice shapely legs?” she interrupted.
“First-class legs,” I said.
“Well,” she concluded, “I don’t have much to lose, do I?”
“When I was in a similar position,” I said, “I jumped at the first opportunity.”
“Okay,” she said, “just one more question: what do I have to do in exchange for all these wonderful things you’re going to do for me?”
“I need an assistant with legal qualifications and good negotiating ability,” I stated. “You seem to fill the bill.”
“How about the pay and the fringe benefits?”
“We’ll discuss it,” I said quietly.
“I’ll take it,” came the prompt reply.
I explained to her that from now on she had to become Esther Jackson. I gave her Esther’s life story. I also alerted her to the next phase. When either Peter or Arabella talked to her, she had to be very brief and answer yes or no. I also told her she would come to in a hospital and I would be waiting for her.
“Okay, George,” she said. “I think I’ll enjoy working for you. You must be good, but I may be better.”
“Do you know Parkinson’s Law?” I asked.
“Yeah,” came the reply. “I will come back to the kaleidoscope.”
“No, you’d be my junior partner.”
“We shall see.”
I let that go. I did not need to frighten the poor girl. If she turned out much better than I, we would simply go into business and make her a full partner.
“Okay,” I said, “I must go now. I’ll see you soon.”
“Before you go, George,” she asked, “how will I know you?”
“I am going to give you a password,” I said. “When you come to, I’ll be there asking for it because I want to be sure that it is you in the shiny new body.”
“Makes sense,” she replied. “What are the words?”
“My word is going to be Come-By-Chance,” I explained, “and your reply will be Burin. Can you remember those?”
“Yes, I can,” she said. “My mind is empty, out of use and there are lots of vacant memory cells. By the way, what is the meaning of those words?”
“They are towns in Newfoundland, my native land,” I replied.
“I understand,” she replied. “I hope you’re not just a bad dream. I’ll see you soon.”
“See you in the body,” I replied and broke the contact.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Gabriel S. Timar