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May 8, 3740
“What’s this?” Axel grinned wryly as Murphy hopped out of the Battle Limo and opened the back door. “Have you been demoted to chauffeur? Last I heard you were running operations.”
Murphy grinned. “Well someone had to step up while you were all la-ti-dah laying around like you were seriously injured or something.”
Axel started to raise his nose, and stopped before his neck muscles seized up. Again. “Well, if you’re going to be like that, I’m just going to go home and enjoy my medical leave.”
“And everyone believes that, and the Inquisitor certain didn’t say anything about me being the only one who could make you behave.” Murph nodded to Dina. “because it’s so obviously untrue.”
Dina snickered. “But I can’t physically haul you up three flights of stairs, so I wasn’t about to disagree.”
“It’s only two flights . . . well the front steps . . .” Axel set his feet down and stood up. Stepped carefully up to the car and grabbed a left handed hold while he eased himself in. I hurt every where. But they don’t have to hover, with Murph and the orderly ready to grab!
“Exactly.” Dina nodded and walked around to the other side of the limo.
“Nobody ever respects my dignity.”
Murphy paused and looked around at Dina. “Has he got any? I’ve never seen it.”
“He tries to fake sometimes, but he’s really no good at it at all.”
“You all know me much too well.” Even talking gets me twinges. And six weeks on a liquid diet? Even the doctor hates me.
And all the Rangers sitting on the front steps and glaring.
“W-we got one call from D-dina, late last night and n-no updates all y-yesterday. The news r-reporters twigged to Igor n-not b-being seen after n-n-noon, and started r-rumors, s-so we t-told the f-family what D-dina’d s-said, then everyone k-kept asking us over and over for upd-dates.”
Barf snorted. “And between the emergency, and Lord Mikhail not being the Director anymore, they turned me away at the gates when I tried to go up there.”
“And you look horrible!” Aliona burst into tears, and Natasha blinked and tried to look tough.
Rory looked impressed. “Awesomes bruises, or is it all one big one? How many stitches is that? Did they have to sew your ear back on?”
Dimitri slapped his head. “Hush, brat. They obviously just sewed it together. Looks like a couple hundred, stitches, easily.”
Dina nodded. “On the outside. A couple of the deeper ones have stiches in the muscles underneath, as well as the skin ones. And a couple inside his mouth. And his lower jaw’s broken, so he’s on a liquid diet for six weeks.” A firm look from her, back at Axel. “Longer if it’s not healed enough.”
“I am absolutely certain it will heal way before then.”
That got him eight glares, and Murphy’s firm grip on his arm to support him all the way up to the top floor and down onto the sofa.
And that traitor Murphy telling everyone that he wasn’t to stand up without someone there to make sure he didn’t hit his head. “I mean, if he falls, no big deal, so long as he doesn’t hit his head. He hits his head, call an ambulance and send him straight to the Up Top Hospital. No matter what he says.”
Axel growled. And ignored the Rangers setting up shifts as they migrated down stairs.
Dina curled up against his left side, shivering a little.
“You warned me. So . . . how about a big glass of wine.”
Which took away all the pain, and the dull drugged feeling. The aphrodisiac effect seemed to be seriously reduced. Or maybe it was just that the very thought hurt. Natasha brought up soup, pureed, with nothing to chew. Then Pauli shepherded him into the bathroom, and didn’t leave him alone.
“D-do y-you w-want y-your o-o-obituary t-to r-read th-th-that you d-d-d-d-died of t-taking a h-header off th-the t-t-t-t-toilet?”
“Pauli, I’ll be all right.”
“This t-time. If you d-don’t do s-something st-stupid because you h-hate asking for h-help.”
“Well . . . Like Murph says, I never did have any dignity.” Axel snorted. “And there’s worse ways to go, but I’d prefer to do it at ninety.”
“Hundred and n-ninety. Two or th-three h-hundred w-would be b-better.”
“After watching everyone I love die? Beside maybe rejuv’s a thing of the past, too. If I’m lucky.”
Another snort, but at least he stopped talking and just herded him to bed.
Feeling good—except for the hangover—in the morning didn’t save him. He got his breakfast eggnog at the desk but he didn’t have any trouble focusing on the news. Dimitri staked out the head of the staircase. “So you don’t try anything stupid.”
Dr. Utkin dropped by. “Love your house. And how the hell you heal so fast . . .”
“Part of it is a thing I’m researching . . .”
“IGOR! You Ass! You. Do. Not. Experiment. On. Yourself!”
Axel tsked. “It’s just healing impressions. Hundreds of them, somehow stuck onto a liquid. Great stuff. I carry it for emergencies.”
Glare. A close examination of his right eye, right ear . . . “I’m sending Murphy and Ape to haul your ass in for more scans. And I want a sample of this ‘liquid’ of yours!”
Murph and Ape showed up a couple of hours later.
“What I do, just to be allowed to walk down stairs . . .”
Ape, holding his arm, grinned. “Don’t get me wrong, Igor. I like you, but I’m only leading downstairs like a Lord escorting a Lady because Dr. Utkin threaten me with double the number of stitches he put in your tender hide if I ‘let’ you fall. And unlike Murph, here, I don’t affront authority figures, like doctors or Inquisitors—note the plural—in view of a Bureau higher ups.”
“Murph! You pissed off Grigory!”
“No! It was these red robes on Home when I popped over to report to Mikhail. Stupid things kept trying Control Impresssions the whole time I was talking. I didn’t linger.”
“Honestly Murph! Not that there was much else you could have done.”
“Ought to have manhandled the Boss home, though, or stayed long enough to find out what was going on about Pavlovsky.”
A Question of Identity
May 6, 3740
“So I thought I’d drop by and let you all know that the doc is very pleased with his progress.” Murphy eyed the young man.
Who was grinning. Pointed at the speakers. “Once h-he’s up to speed I’ll have to r-remove all the bugs. He always spots th-them. Wish I knew how he did that.”
Muurphy snickered. “Magic. Oh, excuse me. Superior Mentalist abilities.”
Pauli nodded. “And th-that’s the other r-reason I w-wish I had r-red hair. Ap-part from having an excellent f-father, I m-might be stronger M-mentally.”
Murphy sat down and eyed him, nodded. “Yeah, of course, now that he’s been discovered, his kid’s going to be . . . I dunno? Expected to be brilliant? Everyone watching and gossiping about every slow or stupid thing he does?”
Pauli winced. “Yeah. W-well, we’ll treat him like a r-real kid, no problem. No way is he g-going to grow up like those spoiled brats of the T-twins.’ Speaking of r-relatives. It’s w-weird looking at Lord Nikoli’s kids and thinking about th-them being my brothers and s-sisters.”
“Ow! Yeah, makes me proud to be Native. Period.”
Pauli sat up and frowned at him. “But you’re a trained Mentalist! Axel says you’re very strong!”
“Yeah, I’m what my people call a Power. Very different Magical genes.”
“Huh. Now that never gets into the news!”
Murph snorted. “And admit there’s competition? Anyway, the other reason I came by . . . Pauli, you’re Axel’s Super Hacker, so I was wondering if you could get into the system and check on Pavlovsky.”
Because with a couple of days of no new attacks, things were getting back to normal. And he could get back to his secret project. Starting with worming around to what he needed.
“I c-can, but only the st-stuff here. I s-sus-spect Axel’s doing it with d-different data bases.”
“Oh. I see.” Does Pauli know about the Doomsday Cube with all those computers in it? “But if the fraud started here, would he see it from stuff from Down Tier?”
Pauli blinked. “Y-yes? I m-mean he’d find a blank . . . Of c-course a lot of places are out of touch and M-maybe Pavlovsky j-just stole an good identity.”
Murphy bit his lip. “How does it actually work? If I came to you and said ‘I need a false ID. Like some working class lord, no biggie, just so I can have a bank account and buy stuff. Like a house?”
Don’t babble, you idiot Cowboy!
“Eh, that’s trivial, so long as you have money. Start creating money out of thin air and it can get noticed.”
“But to get a high Bureau job would take a lot more. Right?”
“Oh yeah. Like . . . all r-right, Tier Two Lenin is being r-really obstructionist r-right now, b-borderline in rebellion. If I had planned a-ahead, I’d have f-found someone from there who w-was qualified for the D-director’s job, but not w-well known, and just s-swap in all the biom-metrics. Then I don’t need to manufacture anything.”
“Huh.” Murphy sat back. “That would have worked much better than that pitiful Security report Pavlovsky’s got.”
“Yeah.” Pauli poked the keyboard and brought up Pavlovsky’s report. “Axel show me it, as an example of something that wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. That was . . . m-minimal.”
“Did you say that it’s actually easy to make a false identity?”
Pauli’s eyes gleamed. “Wh-what name does your lordship want?”
Murphy braced himself. “Well, John. . . Johann? Lobo Chabin would be as close to my . . . old name as could be gotten and still fit in.”
Pauli tapped happily away at his key board. “I suppose you’d better be f-fifty years old. L-lord Axel had so much trouble d-doing things semi-legally until he was fifty . . .”
He leaned to see Pauli filling in a birth certificate. “That’s good. Birthday April 1, 3690. Father Ivan something Chabin? What’s another common name? Grigori, with an eye on the end? Mother German, maybe? Elke Plotz?”
“N-no, just half G-german. Mikhailov? There’s t-tons of them around here.”
Murphy snorted. “Sure.”
Pauli typed in an address. “The whole n-neighborhood was bulldozed for the Cyberntic C-center thirty years ago. N-no old neighbors to ask about a boy who grew up there.”
Pauli leaned to look. “B-brown eyes, wh-what color of hair do you want?”
“Now you n-need ID, which would have b-been issued when you w-were eighteen and passed your ch-challenge. Let’s see, the n-numbers they were using in 3708 . . . Here’s a cancelled one . . . and . . . umm, how about an address?”
“15 Upper Cliff Drive. It’s a falling down, uninhabited ruin . . .”
“Perfect. Right thumb print right here . . . good. And it is now inserted in the City database.”
“Wait, you actually just . . .”
“Axel showed me how to get into the system, there and some other places. He . . . needed to hide while the Stutties were here. That I know of, he’s got four secret identities. And no, I don’t blab like this to anyone that Axel hasn’t told me to assist in all ways.”
Murphy swallowed. Well, he trusted me with the Doomsday Cube . . . I just thought I’d have to trick Pauli into showing me how it’s done.
“N-now you need a job.”
That one he had already thought out. “Business Strategist, at Hidden Solutions. Umm, would it need a real address?”
“I’ll p-put you just d-down the street here, where we put the extra vehicles and equipment, with no traceable connection to this address, or Axel.” Pauli was grinning and typing away. “I h-hope the Cyborg R-revolt is . . .”
“Actually a slow, peaceful, adjustment? Damn straight.”
“And two b-bank accounts. One for Johann and one for H-hidden Solutions. A thousand r-rubles in each. . .”
“I thought you didn’t like faking money?” Oh shit, counterfeiting . . .
“Nope. It’s Axel’s m-money, from an account I have l-legal signature for. He told me to spend it as n-needed . . .” Pauli turned and grinned. “And s-since you’re the g-guy who k-keeps him s-safe, m-making sure you’ve got cover f-for the slow, peaceful, adjustment is definitely needed.”
He pulled what looked just like an ID card out of a drawer, stuck it in a slot and tapped a few buttons. Pulled it out and handed it to Murphy. “Get a grid account, and register it with the bank and ask for all electronic statements and notifications. Oh, and a phone.”
He sobered. “And make sure this Pavlovsky fellow doesn’t kill anyone we like.”
Murphy nodded. “And speaking of property, can you find out if he’s bought or leased someplace? I heard he’s living in a hotel, right now. But,” he glanced around, “renting someplace like this . . . I just can’t figure out what’s going on, which means it’s probably politically motivated.”
“Yeah. I just hope it’s not another war. Axel’s been battered way too much lately.”
Murphy nodded. “Yeah. He’s really good at the rough stuff, but he needs to stop leading from the front all the time.” He stood up, and pocketed the ID card.
I can’t believe step one was so easy. Step two, money, real sizable amounts of money, will be more difficult.
“Lord Zhabin. The police—or me or any of the Fast Response Team could have killed you.” Murphy looked at the old antique rifle—missing several critical parts—that the old man had used to threaten the poor cyborg cop. And wound up with a stand-off and a Fast Reaction Team called in.
The very nice retirement high rise was not the usual venue for an armored raid . . .
“That was the idea, Sonny. I hurt all the time, I have to wear a diaper, and my poor wife has to wipe my butt.”
His poor wife, who’d been locked in the bathroom, sniffed. “It’s not that big a deal, Kristofor Ivan Zhabin! But if you ever lock me in the bath room again, I will kill you!” decades younger than her husband, that dull feel of a wife chip. At least she seemed smart.
Murphy paused . . . bad idea, incoming!
He looked over his shoulder. “Pack it up and head home, I’ll talk to him for a bit and make sure he’s calmed down. Have you contacted Social Services?” He handed the old rifle to the nearest cop.
“Yeah, they’re sending someone.”
“I’ll stay until they get here.” He turned back to the old guy. “When did you last see your doctor?”
A disgusted snort. “He retired a decade ago. Now it’s all programmed Execs. They don’t even go to a proper medical school any more, just check the little plate in their heads and see where your test results fall on some chart. And Social Services? It would have been kinder to kill me, the way they go on and on at you.”
Murph glanced to see that everyone was at least out of hearing range. “I’ll drop by tomorrow to check on you, and bring you something that will help.”
“Is it illegal?”
“Not yet. So don’t bring it to anyone’s attention. Now will you behave until you try it?”
The old man sighed. “I don’t have a choice, do I?”
“There’s always a choice. You just have to be willing to take the consequences.” Like me.
Then the Social Worker arrived. A greasy young man who immediately started proceeded to try to strong-arm the old geezer into a “care facility.”
Murphy sighed. “Just keep saying no, go see a medical doctor and I’ll come check on you tomorrow.”
“Listen you robot . . .”
Murphy, who’d been sitting down at the dining room table by then, rose up and towered over the stringbean by almost a foot. He was twice as wide, more since he was still in armor, and spoke softly. “He doesn’t have mental issues, he was just having a bad pain day. Make sure he sees a doc and gets a prescription. He’ll be fine.”
Getting a pass to check on him the next day was easier than he’d feared, and in civvies he could easily pass as an ordinary Cyborg. He picked up two four-packs of red wine splits on the way, and found old Lord Kristofor slumped and defeated.
“These damn pain pills aren’t strong enough, and the won’t give me enough to kill myself with.”
Murphy nodded. “Well, got a wine glass?” He looked at the dull wife . . . “Lady Nina? Would you like some? It’s a general health boost.”
He got out the little bottle he carried. It had originally held perfume and was tiny enough to easily conceal. A drop in each wine glass, and he poured half a wine split into each glass.
“And something that dilute is supposed to help me?” The old man took a sip. “At least it’s alco . . . hol . . . ic . . . holy mother of god!” He stood up staggered in a circle. “Whoo! I don’t hurt! I feel great! I feel . . . drunk? On a sip?” Then he grabbed his wife and kissed her. Passionately.
“Yep.” Murphy grinned, sobered. “Ah, I ought to have mentioned the aphrodisiac in there?”
“That too. Whoo! Honey you gotta try this stuff!”
“One drunk is quite enough!” But she took a sip, and her eyes widened. “Oh, my!”
Murphy tapped the last dibbles of wine split into his little perfume bottle, and stood up. “I’ll check back tomorrow.” He set the bag with the rest of the wine splits in their coat closet and let himself out.
The next day the old man grabbed him and hauled him into their apartment. “Son, let’s talk business, here. I figure ten kay for one of those little splits, my old cronies can afford that without blinking. Do you have an account I could send your half to?”
“Holy . . . yeah, as a matter of fact.”
Three days later he was trying to convince himself he wasn’t a drug dealer. It’s just an unlicensed medicine. And at this rate, by next week I’ll have enough money to buy that old ruin I claimed for my address. Holy Cow!
But of course, they’ll figure out pretty soon that they can make it themselves and drop me. Not to mention dropping the price . . . I feel like I’m robbing a bunch of old folks . . . except there were a whole bunch of happy-looking people scampering around . . . And it is an expensive place, no paupers there . . .
And things were a bit odd Up Top.
People . . . came to him for permission, or something and he seemed to be the one handling the training, the daily assignments . . .
Making sure they in touch with the Recreation and Resource Worlds, making sure there were no outside portals . . . “The Portalists haven’t seen any contacts from Tier Two Trotsky, but Trotsky does have a working portal. And the other tier fours out of Orion probably don’t know what happened. But they’re all big enough to be self-sufficient.”
The Inquisitor just grinned. “You are destroying your Big, Bad, Dumb Cyborg reputation, Murph. And while you’re worrying about other worlds, keep your ears open here. Pavlovsky and his people show up every morning, shuffle things around on their desks and then leave. All four of them. I think they’re up to something . . . and I haven’t got Igor to dump the investigation on.”
Murph scratched his cheek. “I’m a bit noticeable for sneaking around. I wonder if the Rangers will stop hovering over Axel and look into it.”
“Yeah, it’s like the one solid, reliable, figure in their lives almost died.” He eyed the Inquisitor. “How are things on Regulus?”
“Fortunately the Portal Facilities were out in Paree’s warehouse district, so there weren’t too many people in the war zone. Employees, not families. So most of the injuries were soldiers and police. They aren’t healing like Axel, but most of them are home now.”
Murphy nodded. “They’ve stopped asking us to switch the portals around, and the police aren’t diverting traffic around the route between the facilities any more. Has Regulus got any more portals working?
“No, and the Quads are their only surviving Portalmakers. They’re keeping one facility working part time—with frequent breakdowns—and still don’t have broadcast power.” The Inquisitor stared into space for a long moment. Then pulled out his phone and tapped at it. “Governor Berezin, we need to talk. My home, one hour.”
He turned to Murphy. “Go get Axel and bring him to my place. We’ll baby the hell out of him, but we need his advice and experience.” His eyes narrowed. “And yours.”