The man in the trench coat had his chauffeur circle the block while he checked out the pedestrians on the sidewalk for any suspicious activity. When all seemed clear, he signalled for the armour-plated Edsel to pull up to the curb in front of his building. With his dark glasses on and his collar turned up, he darted for the front door so quickly that the uniformed security guard's hand was only halfway to his cap as the door closed on his, "Good evening, Mr. Bae..."
When the elevator doors opened on his floor, he poked his head out to make sure that the hallway was clear. Almost clear. A young girl was sitting on a love seat at the end of the hallway, reading Seventeen magazine, and nodding her head, apparently to the beat of the portable CD player slung at her waist. Obviously, she was no threat. After all, the man in the trench coat published fiction for adults, not kids. Still wary, he sidled up to the door of his flat, and prepared to unlock it. First, he held an innocent-looking key fob up to part of the moulding framing the door. A faint "click" told him that the first lock had been released. Next, he peered through what appeared to be a spy hole in the door, but was really a retina scanner. Once that was satisfied, he spoke softly into the old-fashioned skeleton keyhole below the knob, "Open the pod bay doors, HAL." Finally, he undid four deadbolts with keys fished from four separate pockets, and then laid his fingers in precise positions on the doorknob so that the scanner could read his fingerprints. When the 12 inch thick armoured door heaved aside with the hiss of hydraulics, he breathed a sigh of relief and slipped inside. Home safe. What a relief. If any fans had known what he was carrying, well... He thought of the broken glass in the lobby and pockmarks in the walls after the last riot, and shuddered. Already, the strata council was on his case about the expense of repairs, but with the new security preacutions, he was pretty sure that nothing could go wrong.
Outside in the hall, the girl turned her head slightly, so that her lips faced the CD player. "The Beagle has landed," she murmured.
"Roger that, Queen," the headphones bit off. "He probably noticed you, so start making your withdrawal now."
"Roger, Leap," she carolled. Rising, she put the CD player and the copy of War and Peace which she has been hiding behind the magazine into the Science Fiction Book Club bag which had been lying on the far side of the love seat from the elevator. Then, holding out the copy of Seventeen as one would a dead rodent, she dropped it into the wastebasket before entering the elevator. Once inside, she pressed the "Hold" button and whispered, "Are you into the air ducts yet, Brass?"
A voice with a Japanese accent came down through the grillwork masking the elevator's ceiling. "One more minute, Queen." She could hear the sound of bolt cutters gnawing at case-hardened steel bars. Did they make the right decision? A laser cutter would have been surer, but might be more likely to set off the infra-red detectors in the duct work. A faint cloud drifted past her face, and she coughed. "Sorry," the voice apologised, "I was a little heavy-handed with the liquid nitrogen."
"No problem," she assured the voice briskly. "Better safe than..."
"Ah! Got it! Go, go, go!"
She pulled out the "Hold" button and pressed "L" without another word.
Inside the apartment, the man removed his trench coat. Then, he unbuttoned his vest and shirt and pulled up his "Bharaphutra Laboratories" T-shirt to reveal a large patch of surgical tape on his ribs. Wincing, he pulled the tape away to reveal a computer disk. Next, he sat down at his computer, turned it on, entered three passwords, muttered, "I'll have a Bushmill's, Mike", submitted a blood sample, and then entered the top secret command, "format c:". Finally, he sat back and began to read, "A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold." "Ah," he said to himself, "I am really looking forward to this weekend."
Suddenly, the telephone rang. Irritated, he picked it up and snapped, "Yes?"
A voice at the other end said, "This is building security, sir. We have a delivery person here from Edelweiss Deli with your supper order."
Had he ordered supper already? He must be distracted if he'd forgotten that. No, wait a minute. He'd been thinking of ordering Thai tonight. Suddenly suspicious again, he rumbled, "I didn't order any deli tonight."
"Just a minute sir, I'll have a talk with her," the voice said. Then the was the muffled sound of a conversation going on. That accent sounded a little odd. Foreign, almost. A little bit like Peter Jennings. Where was he from, and what had happened to Milton, the usual doorman? Well, he certainly looked and sounded like a regular security guard. The man could swear that he'd smelled doughnuts on his breath. The voice came back. "I'm sorry, sir. She swears that you ordered this stuff tonight, and that she's not leaving without being paid." In the background, the man could hear invective being hurled in a German accent.
Then he had an idea. "Very well," he said, "send her up. I'll meet her at the elevator." Even if this was some trick, there was no way he was letting anybody into the apartment tonight. Chuckling, he began the process of opening the door again.
As the door began to hiss shut, a small probe appeared in the overhead vent...
© 1999 by Greg Slade (http://www.associate.com/camsoc/greg/)
Current version by Michael Bernardi, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Last updated: November 15th 2002