Up and At 'em
Axel slept off and on all day. Eating, staggering in to the bathroom, back to bed to watch Dina in foggy amazment as she took scissors to the wavy blonde wig she'd worn to get him past the watchers, and turned him into a . . . well, after the last two days he looked his age. A handsome middle-aged blond fellow. A better tan than most True Men, but not all that noticeable.
She's not missing a thing! Damn this culture that steals the mentalist power and intelligence from so many women.
He stretched carefully, but everything appeared to be finally back to normal. He looked up as Vlad walked in. "I'll leave early tomorrow morning. I need all of you to just go on as if nothing happened. I'll take everything with me. Lose it where it probably won't ever be found."
"Probably?" Vlad looked skeptical.
"I doubt a feral will relinquish a nice warm coat. Might pawn it, though."
"Pretty untraceble at that point. I can drop you off somewhere."
Axel shook his head. "No. I've risked you enough, already. I've left as small a footprint as possible. And I'll try very hard to leave no trail."
"What are you going to do? Or try?"
He grinned. "You'll see."
As usual, he ate in Dina's room. Collected everything that needed to disappear. The suitcase had to stay--the Stuttgart goons had seen it. But he'd accepted a gym bag from Vlad and stuffed his boots with everthing he could, and got them into the bag with his fancy suit and an extra pair of pants. A few things for his pockets--Dina had even snatched his little tool kit.
And tonight he stretched out on the floor and told Dina it was her turn for the bed.
Dina looked indignant but he refused to budge. He could hear a TV upstairs, faint as she closed the door and locked it.
"You almost died, and I realized that I'd have had to live the rest of my life without ever having had you." She folded up on the floor beside him. "And now you're going back out alone . . . where I can't help you. But if you don't come back, you're going to at least leave me with one less regret."
He left at two in the morning. Silently retracing his path out the side door. Easing the latch down. Reaching high into the mental frequencies, he spotted the two watchers. Doubtful they'd see him, but he waited until a car drove past and darted further around the curve as it was passing. The big brown coat was good against the bushes favored by the cliff house dwellers. But three blocks on he cut across the road a down a side street, with newer stone and stucco houses. So he shed the coat the let the mixed gray sweater camoflage him
He kept moving steadily, zigzagging toward his goal, south of the west end of the Malta Massif, a old run down area. Dropping strands of artifical blonde hair where the breeze would blow them further. A woman and child shivering in a corner, out of the wind . . . he tossed them the coat and kept moving. The pants tossed in a shadow. The shirt hung on a fence. The tie down a drain, and various items from the doctor's wallet down other drains, and finally the wallet itself, keeping nothing but the cashcards.
Then he turned back to the east, found a vendo for a snack and a cheap watch.
Five o'clock. Traffic will start building up soon, and I won't be so conspicuous if I hire a cab.
Speaking of conspicuous . . . that other man, staring out over the drop to a concrete floor control channel. Quite dangerously deep . . .
As the stranger stepped on the rail, Axel grabbed his arm and hauled him back.
"Enought peoiple are going to die in the few weeks. Don't help the damned Stutts." Axel eyed the man. Limp, hopeless, had all he can deal with. "Do you have a car? Good. Let's go for a drive."
Lord Afanasiy Dryagin's son had insisted on being Presented. "He said he'd rather be dead than chipped. And then, and then, this fevered Cyborg beat the hell out of him, but didn't kill him. So they chipped him. Things have been awful since. Then I got fired."
Tears. "And yesterday Anya got the diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer."
Axel nodded. "I remember that horrible day my father told me he had cancer. Already metastacised. He said he had a few months and got his affairs in order. He only had weeks."
They drove on down Canal Street for a few blocks. "Turn left here." They were headed now toward the big old houses. A neighborhood he was familiar with. "Turn right, and right into the parking lot."
He turned and looked at the man. "Wait for me. I'm going to get some wine and put some . . . well, call them granny spells if you wish. But they will help. Wait for me."
Two bottles of cheap screw-top wine, two four packs, ditto. Paid for it with one of the doctor's cash cards. Raised his brows at the balance. The Doc didn't believe in carrying much cash.
He slid the seat of the car as far back as it would go, and started opening bottles
"Head right. Now listen to me. The specific things I'm going to add to this wine aren't illegal. But there's hundereds of them. There's things for cancer, flu, meningitus, malaria . . . an aphrodisiac . . . but somehow, the whole combined effect attacks the zivvy wires."
Axel's head hit the dash board as Afanasiy hit the breaks too hard. He lifted his head for a quick look. Good, just startled him.
"Now this is important! Half a glass for seven days. Then teetotal for three weeks. That dissolves the wires but leave the chip in working order, so it reads as working. Any longer, and it starts dissolving the chip, and it'll read as defective and raise all sorts of questions. Twenty days, and the chip is gone. And that is very, very, definitely illegal." He finished annointing the last bottle and started screwing on caps.
"I don't know about your wife. But if you aren't afraid of her mentalist abilities, do the same. Hell, take some yourself. Then for money? This is a von Neumann's. Drip a little into another bottle and it'll take it over. Go black market. Or sell it on the grid and see how long you can survive." Axle pointed. "Drop me at the corner and go home."
The man pulled over. "Who are you?"
"Igor." Axel grinned and got out. Took the four packs with him.
He circled a few blocks, ducked into a public park and wound back into a quiet grotto, where a man sat cross-legged on the cold ground.
"Not even a pad? What do you do when it's raining?"
"Sleep in and go straight to the offfice." The Boss, otherwise High Mentalist Michail Rasputin, Director of Imperial Intel on Siberia Max, looked around. "Grigory told me you'd be fine. Did you also keep a sample of the . . . other item?"
"No. That stuff's scary."
A snort. "Should I ask what you're planning to do?"
"Well, we'll never get rid of the Stutts until we destroy their gates, so I'll handle that. But before I go, is there anything I need to do here? Are they moving on anyone else?"
"Igor the Kidnapper of Portalmakers strikes again." A sigh. "Grigory sent his family off to Regulous. The 'Emergency Council' troops tried to stop them, and Murphy blocked them . . . I am concerned what they may do. Colonel Lehr, the head of that council has asked for my kill switch controls."
"And your family, any problems with your guards?"
"They've been augmented. 'To be sure of their safety in these danerous times.' Stuttgart Cyborgs. Four per shift, coming in from the east barracks that they've taken over."
"Hmm, and you guys like to camp. A bit chilly for that, yet. But they might like to be ready to leave soon." He set down one four pack. "It's a von Neumann. A few drips in wine and it will take it over in seconds. For a Cyborg, half a cup a day for three days, and they'll gain a lot of volition, get hard to control. Servant chips, seven days to remove the wires, twenty to completely dissolve the chip. I suspect wives are the same, but haven't experimented."
The Boss eyed him thoughtfully.
"Don't know about the Military Leader types. I doubt it'll protect them from the kill switch. But Murph, that bad boy, why don't you punish him . . . it's too late today . . . tomorrow, by making him run the west trail all the way down to the boardwalk and back. And anyone else you think needs a bit of extra discipline."
"Indeed, that sounds like a good reminder of the importance of following orders." He paused. "And Lilia did say she was looking forward to camping this Spring. Day after tomorrow would be good."
"Should work." Axel glanced at his new watch. "You need to keep to your schedule."
"Yes. Be careful dammit . . . No. Be successful."
"Aren't I always?"
"No. You know my number, if there's an emergency." The Boss stood up, as flexible as when he'd been a Team Mentalist. Scooped up the four pack and walked away.
Axel tucked his remaining four pack into his gymbag and headed the other direction. Half a mile away, with traffic building up, he flagged down a taxi and took it to a store in the southeast, and walked from there.