If you haven't been to the blog in awhile, this follows a piece I posted earlier today -- you should read that first.
Jason Alexi Lucas had led an interesting life even before Mohammed Vance had entered it.
He stood 188 centimeters tall. At the age of twenty-eight, he was in exquisite physical condition—with the aid of PKF trainers, and the finest medical technology available to the PKF. Aside from his right knee, which occasionally and unpredictably pained him, he was the image of a professional athlete.
He was, this year, a white man with brown hair and brown eyes. Over the years he had been biosculpted to a wide variety of appearances.
His inskin was a Vandemar Tap. A calculated guess; Trent certainly wore a radio packet inskin, and had since some time in late 2069. The Vandemar Tap was one of the six radio packet inskins coming into use at the time, excepting the Tytan NN-II, an experimental inskin that was subsequently outlawed. All but half a dozen of the NN-II's ever produced had finally been accounted for. Jason himself considered it unlikely that the Uncatchable—the name by which Trent thought of himself, Jason was sure, and never use that name in front of Vance—unlikely that the Uncatchable had been fool enough to implant himself with an experimental nerve net.
Jason Lucas was from New York—from the Long Island Fringe. In 2062, at the age of ten, he had been trapped inside the Fringe when the Troubles began. His parents had died, both of his brothers, and his sister. For nearly seven years he had lived among the Gypsy Macoute, had become a soldier for the Macoute, had fought in Macoute battles and seen his fellow troopers die in combat with the Temple Dragons.
At a treaty negotiation in the summer of '68 he'd met two Temple Dragons who had, in later years, became famous: a boy named Trent, a little older than him, and another boy, three years older than him, named Jimmy Ramirez. They were not unknown even then, not in the Fringe; Trent, at seventeen, was widely regarded as one of the Fringe's best contract thiefs. Jimmy Ramirez was a light heavyweight, boxing semi-pro, and considered a likely candidate to go pro within the next year.
It had not happened, of course. Trent and Ramirez had vanished out of the Fringe in January of '69.
And Jason Alexi Lucas, webdancer for the Gypsy Macoute, had been plucked out of the Fringe the following year, by Elite Commissioner Mohammed Vance. For the next decade he had lived in a large suite of apartments in Capitol City. During that decade he had only been outdoors half a dozen times, to walk through the American southwest while wearing a Martian rebreather. He had been upside, at Halfway, several times, for stretches of months at a time, learning to use a pressure suit, learning to deal with free fall and halfers and SpaceFarers.
And he studied—hard: Vance had not had to explain the potential downside to their arrangement. Jason studied coding until he was able to write an Image from scratch—something it was known that Trent had done by the age of ten. Jason wrote himself an Image, used it for a year, then retired it and wrote a second Image. He took the Image of Big Mac, took it across the Interface, and danced. He studied the Players, studied DataWatch, studied the PKF itself virtually every waking moment.
For several months, early in 2071, he maintained a relationship with a young actress, a woman biosculpted with green eyes, pale skin, and black hair. Vance terminated it abruptly, after three months. Seven years later, another relationship was arranged for him; a young singer, sculpted quite plainly to resemble Mahliya Kutura. It ended almost as abruptly as the first relationship.
In between he was allowed as many women as he wanted, but nothing serious, nothing that was allowed to become serious.
On a cold morning in March of 2080, Elite Commander Mohammed Vance came to visit him.
Vance had not given him much warning; he never did. Jason sat at his workstation, in his quarters two hundred meters beneath the ground, inskin live, wired and ready to go through the Interface at any moment.
The impression Jason always had of Mohammed Vance, entering a room, was that of a soldier entering combat. A tall man, taller than Jason, near two full meters, about as large as Elite got. Fifty or so, with dark features made darker by the black Elite eyes. His skin had the roughness and stiffness of an early model Elite, made him look less human than some robots. The glossy black hair had no gray in it, and never would; it was not real. In another man Jason might have considered Vance's dress an affectation, but not in Vance: he wore, except when required to dress formally, the gray combat fatigues worn into battle by Unification troops during times of war—he had about him the aura of a man at war.
It did not surprise Jason. Vance was at war, on behalf of the Unification. At war with the rebels and the SpaceFarers; with the deadly replicant AIs, with the Players. Not many years ago he had even been at war with the Ministry of Population Control, and Space Force, within his own government. That was no longer true: after the '76 rebellion Vance had nearly broken Space Force, had gutted the Ministry of any intelligence gathering functions that he wanted for the PKF. Today it was an open question who the most powerful man on Earth was—Vance or the Secretary General, Charles Eddore.
All of those wars were important; all of them absorbed Vance's time. But Jason knew for a fact that they were not Vance's chief war, not the one that had brought Vance to call him with questions, at all hours of the day and night, for close to a decade now.
Vance seated himself in Jason's office, only a meter separating them. He seated himself a touch awkwardly; his right leg was artificial from the knee down.
A young Elite took up guard just outside the door.
"Good morning, Commissioner."
Vance wore grimness like a shroud. He had a voice, amazingly deep, rough as stone, that had been known to cause people nightmares; it had featured in some of Jason's. "A good morning, Trent? So it appears to be. Work has begun on Monitor."
"I am aware myself of the progress being made with Monitor. I'm not worried about it, though."
Jason shrugged. "I'm at Halfway. I'm prepared to take action."
"Yes, we suspect you are. And you know that we suspect it."
"Damn SpaceFarers can't keep their mouths shut. The Board of Directors asks me to go take care of the Unity, and I agree. And then I vanish, knowing perfectly well that news of my agreement will reach that son of a bitch Vance, soon or late. There they are, with their attention focused on the Unity. It would be a good time to sneak around behind them and push them off-balance." Jason sighed. "And I know that you know it. Possibly I've even learned of the existence of your modeling tools, that silly bastard who's wasted the last decade of his life trying to learn to think like me. Not a chance, of course. There's nobody out there as good as I am."
"Spare me the boasts."
"It would be amusing if I were to impersonate a Peaceforcer," Jason offered. "I've done it before, and you're on guard for it now—which makes it that much better if I get away with it. It would be a ... clever thing to do. A Space Force officer would be nearly as good. A civilian is my third choice, ideally a computerist working on the Unity itself."
Vance shook his head. "You would not get away with impersonating a PKF officer for any length of time. Nor Space Force."
"Perhaps I don't need a great length of time. Perhaps I only need to pull it off for a short while, long enough to get on board the Unity."
"You must stop the ship," Vance said quietly. "You know that, too. Without the ship the situation stays as is. If the ship is gone I can't beat you, not any time soon. With the ship I can't fail to beat you."
Jason stared into the glassy black eyes, taking note of Vance's use of first person—the man was angry, which was dangerous; but unfortunately nothing would anger Vance worse than Jason slipping out of character. He forged ahead with something that would not please Vance: "I'm smarter than you are, Mohammed. I've out-thought you. I took one look at Melissa du Bois and I said to myself, Vance planted her. An early warning system. She knows I'm coming, and she's on the lookout. Does this deter me or does it entice me? I think it entices me. It's a challenge to me, something personal, from you. Du Bois is conflicted about the Unification. She's a decent individual, by both my standards and yours, Mohammed, who is troubled by the loss of personal freedoms on Earth following the '76 uprising, by the mass executions, by the millions of children orphaned into Public Labor across Occupied America."
"Who are you?"
"I would love to be Gene Yovia. Even with that face, silly as it would make me feel. People would look at Adam Selstrom and wouldn't see beneath it."
"Virtually impossible," said Vance. "Yovia's got his own conflicts; many do, these days. But the man who left Earth was Eugene James Yovia. A loyal PKF Elite escorted him to Halfway, and directly into the presence of Melissa du Bois. You've seen his psychometric from that session. No human being could have faked his responses during that session. That was Yovia then; it was Yovia who was escorted to his hotel."
"Yes, but Yovia's been out at Halfway since then. If—"
Vance abruptly shook his head no. "Perhaps. But by this measure there are nearly fifty Space Force officers, and several dozen civilians, who you might be impersonating. Yovia is less likely than most, despite his position among the computerists. He is working with three individuals who knew him during his last tour of duty; the only way you could have assumed his role is with Yovia's direct aid, with extensive debriefing. The debriefing would have had to occur . . ." Vance considered. "Yovia went to Luna in June of last year, and again in October. At that time, of course, we did not know that Chief Yohannsen would need to be replaced. Are you prescient, Trent? Did you corrupt the officer who interrogated Yovia before sending him upside?"
Jason sighed. "No. I'm not prescient. And I don't have anybody inside the PKF, though I'd sure love to."
"Did you plant the bomb?"
Jason stiffened with anger, anger that felt real, and might have been, to the man who had spent the last decade learning to be Trent. "No. No, damn you, I did not plant any fucking bomb. I don't take lives. This is one of the many things that makes me so very much better than you."
"So you could not have known that Eugene Yovia's services would be needed by the Unification."
"Perhaps," said Jason slowly, "I had something else planned, some other way to get Yovia aboard the Unity—to remove Chief Johannsen. Yovia and I are nearly the same height, close enough to the same age, with many of the same skills—it's a close enough match that I know you've thought about it, taken measures. You're nowhere to be found, I know you're downside rather than here with me at Halfway, and yet you're all around me, Mohammed. Everywhere I turn, there you are, waiting and watching."
"What about Elite Sergeant du Bois?"
Jason stared into the black eyes. "I think I approach her."