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"The official stuff is not what I'm looking for," I told him over my shoulder.
I sat down behind a big oak desk. Perched on one corner, was a homemade
external LINK interface cobbled together from parts so old it didn't even have
VR gloves, but a keyboard. "Shit," I said, "did she send her messages using
Pony Express, too?"
"She was excommunicated," the manager felt the need to inform me, despite the
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fact that it was common knowledge. I'd read McMannus's file on the plane ride
to New York. "Couldn't even use the usual external hardware."
"Poor baby."
I had no sympathy for Ms. Deidre McMannus. Besides everything else in her
file, the pile of unpaid traffic violations, which no doubt now had been
voided by a presidential pardon, was enough to put me off her. Every time a
piece of paper was printed, it cost money. This office was literally buried in
paper. It was a waste, a shameful waste.
The bottom left-hand drawer of the desk came open with a hard pull and a long,
agonized squeak. Instead of hanging files, there was a small pile of yellowing
printeds. I gingerly picked up one of the paperbacks and scowled.
"Another waste of paper." I showed the manager the offending romance
novel carefully bound with a color cover. "Who won't pay the forty credits for
a parking ticket, but wastes well over a hundred on some cheaply made,
print-on-demand crap like this?"
The manager shrugged and shook his head. "She got a lot of them in barter. You
know, for her work. Some of them are kind of good. I took a few when she was
shy of rent."
"You wouldn't be telling an officer of the Inquisition that you accepted
illegal trade, now would you?" He swallowed hard, so I added, "And, if you
did, your books would clearly show the appropriate declared value of a
city-approved barter, right?"
"You're not going to bust me, are you? That was months ago. I'm taking a loss
just keeping this place off the market the cops won't let me rent it until
Deidre's been found. It's been empty almost a year."
"I'm sure people are standing in line to get this prime real estate." I gave
him a sour look, and returned to my inspection of the desk drawers. The upper
left-hand drawer revealed data crystals, the first potentially useful thing
I'd seen so far. I put them on top of the papers on the desk. I had my doubts
about the crystals' importance if the cops had left them behind. Still, they
were the best lead I had.
I pointed to the antique interface. "Does this thing actually work?"
"We may not be a fine estate, but we do pay our electric bills." The manager's
back straightened defensively.
"Even on empty offices?"
He gave a stiff nod and, to prove his point, flicked on the overhead lights.
I blinked in the bright light, but used the opportunity to inspect the
contraption. There was a huge toggle switch in the back of the box the monitor
sat on, so I flipped it from the zero position to the one. A loud grinding
noise started almost instantly. "Is it supposed to do that?"
The manager had stepped back in fright. He peered around the door's frame,
watching me with wide eyes. "I don't know."
When the noise stopped, the screen was still blank. It took me a moment to
realize I had to switch that piece on as well. I shook my head, and muttered,
"How did this woman live?"
The monitor made a snapping noise when it sprang to life, and, though the box
had stopped growling, the whole thing gave off a low-grade hum that was going
to give me a headache if I had to listen to it long. After a couple of quick
searches on a LINK site about antiques, I figured out which box was the
crystal drive. I made sure it was on and properly connected, and slid the
first data crystal in.
Six hours later, I sent the manager to find me a cup of tea, a sandwich, and a
bottle of aspirin. The damn crystals took so long to load that I'd started
organizing the various papers I found in the office while I waited. The whole
time, the machine rattled and clattered. The entire office was filled with
irritating noises. When the interface was blessedly only humming, suddenly the
radiant heat units would start clanking. The chair squeaked, and the wind
rattled the glass windows. To stay sane, I LINKed into my audio files, and
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Poppea's soprano aria, "Bel piacere e godere" from Act II, Scene I of
Agrippina, softly blurred the sharp edges of the ambient noise.
While waiting for the crystals to deliver their sometimes inane contents, like
a grocery list, I'd learned a lot about McMannus. She lived in a completely
different world from mine one filled with a lot of strange Christian
Scientists needing detective work, illegal barters, and no LINK. Despite her
criminal tendencies, I started to admire the woman when I found the pile of
hardware schematics painstakingly hand-copied from an overdue library book.
The only reason I knew the drawings were originally from the library was
because I found six printed overdue notices, and, after getting to the bottom
of the pile of papers, the book as well. Staring at the electrical plans, with
her notes scribbled in the margin, I was beginning to understand what a
wire-wizard like Mouse would see in a tech-vice cop like McMannus. She'd
hacked her way back onto the LINK with a sledgehammer. That kind of work took
a certain amount of brains, and a hell of a lot of obsessive determination.
Despite what the pile of romances had originally led me to believe, McMannus
had been a serious tech-head, a geek. The woman had tools, and I don't mean
the usual VR add-ons and power boosters; I mean, like a soldering gun and
screwdrivers!
I'd been a hacker, an information broker, a data thief, but McMannus had
operated on a different level altogether. Her interface used something called
"DOS commands." Luckily, I was able to find information about the ancient
computer language on the LINK. Yet, when she taught herself all this stuff,
she was disconnected, and she must have done it all during the time she was
excommunicated, which was just over a year.
Just looking at all this stuff made my head hurt, and I'd studied tech at
seminary.
I'd started organizing the bookshelf when I heard the computer ding. Every [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]