Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Stolen Dreams
by Joseph Green
and R-M Lillian

Boon’s Mutiny
by Harold R. Thompson

Dancing in the Right of Way
by Cyn C. Bermudez

Esterhazy’s Cadence
by Guy T. Martland

Ghosts of Space Command
by Milo James Fowler

by Jeremy Szal

White Russians and Old Lace
by K.C. Ball

Shuttle 54, Where R U?
by Jack Ryan

Shorter Stories

Faraday Cage
by Timothy J. Gawne

Rose Coloured Tentacles
by Gareth D. Jones

Screaming His Scream
by Tim Major


Making Real Life X-Men
by E.E. Giorgi

Taking the Temperature
by Pierre Duhem



Comic Strips




Stolen Dreams

By Joseph Green and R-M Lillian

HE LIFTED HIS HEAD FROM FOLDED arms, eyes blinking, trying to clear his vision. A blurry glass-topped desk, scattered piles of printouts, a dark computer screen with a green icon slowly rising and falling on the left side ... He felt disoriented, lost, drifting untethered in space and time; not even knowing his name. Then memory returned, a small trickle that quickly swelled to a fast-flowing stream. He was Boyd Simmons, computer engineer; had fallen sleep in his office, exhausted, after too many hours at work ... foolish, and not productive. Time to go home.

Boyd pushed his chair back and stood up, vision now clear. “Computer: save file, then off,” he said aloud. The desktop, aroused from its own sleep, obediently blinked its green lights for a few seconds as it re-encrypted and saved the current work. Then the lights went off, and the faint hum of the cooling fan, audible in the quiet building, faded into silence.

Boyd walked to the closed door of his small office, touched the wall-mounted switch to turn off the overhead light, and stepped through into the corridor. He closed the door and pressed his right thumb against the small “lock/unlock” glass panel. The building was so silent at near midnight that he heard the soft click as the mechanism locked.

Recessed night lighting provided enough illumination to guide Boyd eighty feet along the familiar way to the small open lobby, fronting the main entrance to the VRSense-Life Experiences building. As he stepped out of the corridor Boyd started to say good-night to the security guard, sitting with his back to him at the reception desk. The first word died on his lips.

The overhead lobby lights were off except for two directly above reception, fifteen feet ahead. The night guard, intently focused on the images rotating across the screen of the security monitor behind the desk, wore a black balaclava covering his head, face and neck. Oddly, the dark cloth contrasted with a light brown shirt. The guard should have been wearing the distinctive bright green of Allison Security, the firm that provided VRS and other Silicon Valley companies with night guards.

Boyd had been stopped two days ago by a deputy sheriff, who issued him a warning for a minor traffic violation. The intruder’s shirt exactly matched that of the deputy.

Boyd stood motionless for a moment, uncertain of what to do. Then he took two quick steps backward, into the darker hallway, his feet silent on the thick industrial carpet. He could still see the monitor screen over the intruder’s shoulder. An image of the employee parking lot behind the building appeared, from one of the eight cameras mounted on the roof corners. Five seconds later the view changed to interiors of the building. The dimly lit, empty employees’ lounge came up, followed by a look toward the lobby down the length of the dark corridor on the opposite side.

Knowing what was coming, Boyd flattened himself against the wall and remained motionless. When his own long hallway appeared next, he saw himself as a darker shadow against the light from the lobby. Five seconds later the reception area itself appeared. The intruder had not recognized the still, dark blur as a person, or he would have stopped the rotation to hold that view.

An image appeared from one of the several cameras covering the test lab, a large room at the rear of the building. The overhead lights were on. Boyd saw two black-clad figures at the rear, working quickly as they disassembled one of VRSense-Life’s two mainframes.

The second machine, used primarily for ongoing work, stood untouched a few feet away. The intruders were removing the SSD cubes in the machine where VRS stored its patented programs

Boyd turned and retreated. He had only a minute before this corridor would appear on the monitor again, and the watcher likely notice him because he was in motion. He tried two doors in quick succession, finding both locked. Someone had neglected to thumb the glass on the third, and the door opened. He slipped inside and softly closed it. Every VRS employee above assistant rank had a private, if small, office. And there were no cameras in anyone’s personal space.

Boyd looked down at the faint glow coming under the door from the night lights in the corridor. Most office doors had a small gap at the bottom, to allow for return air circulation. Sound traveled through quite well also.

Boyd pulled the phonetab from his right pocket, turned it on by feel, and used the light from the screen to find his way around the single desk and into a corner of the small room. He stood close to the walls and touched the phone icon, then nine when the keyboard appeared.

After only a few seconds a crisp female voice asked, “What is the nature of the emergency? Your name and location first, please.”

As she spoke, Boyd lowered the volume until he could just hear her. “This is Boyd Simmons at VRSense-Life Experiences, 2834 Hamilton Road.” Boyd kept his voice as low as he could and still be heard. “There’s a burglary in progress here! Send a patrol car! And tell them to come in from the rear and park behind the building. Someone’s watching the front. I’ll meet them at the west side door and let them in.”

“That’s outside the city limits. I’ll notify the sheriff’s office. Are you in a safe place? Maybe you’d better not move.”

“This is a secure building, with steel doors. I have to let them in. Please hurry!”

Boyd reset his phonetab from ring to vibrate only. From memory he found his way to the door, opened it slowly, and stepped through. He walked quickly toward the lobby, this time consciously trying to avoid making noise. He had no way of knowing if the view of this hallway would come up as he moved, making the watcher aware of him, but had to take that chance.

Boyd reached the point where he could see past the corner of the wall to the reception desk and security monitor. When the view of the rear part of the lab came up again, he saw that the men in black had freed two of the machine’s cubes and were working on the third. They would have all four in the next two minutes.

Boyd waited until the five-second view of the reception area appeared. The instant it rotated away he walked silently across the lobby to the central corridor on his right, the one that led to the rear of the building. The man at the monitor kept his gaze fixed on the screen.

Boyd hurried down the wide hall to the steel door that provided the only entrance into the lab. A short corridor on the right led to the west side door, the primary employee entrance and the one he had said he would open for the sheriff’s deputies.

Boyd hesitated. From what he had seen, the burglars would be finished and gone in another minute or two. It seemed unlikely a sheriff’s patrol would arrive that quickly. If the intruders were smart enough to delete the day’s footage from the security system memory before shutting it down—and this certainly seemed a well-planned raid, by very knowledgeable data thieves—their vehicle would quickly blend into Mountain View traffic and vanish, leaving no record of them behind. The president of VRS would not allow cloud storage; major thefts from supposedly secure servers had ruined other small firms. All company recordings were kept on their own mainframes.

If he could delay the raiders, hold them here for just a few minutes ... but Boyd had no weapon. He had seen guns in holsters on both hips of the two men disassembling the mainframe; an oversized one that was likely some type of stun gun, and a regular pistol. Trying to stop them might cost him his life. He owed it to his wife and two children not to put himself at serious risk.

For some unknown reason, thinking of his wife opened a floodgate of memory, when he should be concentrating on the current dangerous situation. Boyd had met Kamiko Wakahisa during his third year at Stanford. An ROTC cadet from Great Falls Montana, he was working toward a bachelor’s in computer science. A graduate student, Kami held two large scholarships and was on course for a Ph.D. in plant genetics. They lived together for two years, then married when both graduated. Boyd entered the army as required under ROTC, for four years of active service as a specialist in cyber warfare; he was still in the Reserves.

Kami had put her career on hold because she became pregnant, shortly after Boyd received his first assignment at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Their son Katsuro was born in 2025. They lived through some lean times on a lieutenant’s pay, Kamiko at first staying home with their baby son, then becoming pregnant again two years later with Jasmine, now five. When the young company VRSense-Life Experiences offered him a job at half-again his army pay, with profit sharing, Boyd had jumped at the chance. He had been with them now for four years. Jasmine had started kindergarten in the fall. Kami, finally free to start her own career, had recently been hired by a local government lab researching plant diseases. They were finally on their way to a good income.

Did he have the right to put at risk all they had worked and sacrificed for? And perhaps leave two children he loved more than his own life without a father?

Boyd took several precious seconds to think about the problem, trying to be logical, assess the risks. These thieves were extremely well organized, obviously professionals. They would not want to add a murder charge to one of burglary. The two regular night security guards had apparently been tricked into opening the front door, if he was right about that brown shirt, by someone in a deputy sheriff’s uniform. The guards were likely tied up and in a room somewhere off reception, not dead. And the stun guns were almost certainly their first choice of weapons.

Boyd decided the risks to his life were minimal. He hurried to the side door, pushed it open, and blocked it from closing with a nearby trash receptacle. He took the encrypted lab access card from his billfold as he returned to the steel door, inserted it in the slot, removed it, and held still while the recessed camera scanned his face, then focused on his eyes. Three seconds later the lock clicked. He pulled the heavy door open, dragged it past the point where the automatic system could close it, and stepped inside.

Looking down a central open aisle to the back wall, Boyd saw how the raiders had gained access. The steel door at the center rear of the large room, an emergency egress required by the fire safety codes, had a two-by-four-foot hole, obviously made with a cutting torch. The alarms this set off had gone to the security monitor, and no farther, because the man already stationed there had stopped them.

The two black-clad figures about to exit through the hole whirled around to stare at Boyd. Each man held two of the four cubes that contained all of VRSense-Life’s programs.

Boyd glanced at the assembly and test bench to his immediate right. He saw just the top of the TMS prototype helmet he and four other engineers had worked on for the past year, its body almost hidden under an attached tangle of temporary wire bundles.

For a second Boyd focused on the transcranial magnetic stimulator, the only helmet completed and the most difficult to develop—part of the new virtual reality system they had dubbed “Harvey.” Again he had the odd experience of
seeminghelmet  to lose himself in thought, when an urgent problem demanded all his attention.

Embedded in the thick plastic of the helmet were the eleven transmitters and receivers that sent input to, or received commands from, very specific areas of a user’s brain. Three large scale programmable chips, sunk into the top and hard-wired to the transmitters/receivers, relayed the necessarily huge programs transmitted from a mainframe. Except for touch, taste and smell, not yet mastered, the user’s brain received inputs as if from the body’s own senses. The overall effect was to allow someone to immerse himself in a virtual, created experience he saw and heard as if real; far more so than any other audio/visual medium,

Boyd had already “experienced” one of the early programs created for Harvey, a conversation with a pipe-smoking Albert Einstein in his Mercer Street house in Princeton. He now had a memory, one almost as real to him as any other, of having walked through the door into the book-lined room, shaking hands with the great physicist, sitting down, and chatting with him for five minutes.

Boyd had met Einstein in a VR representation of his own body, but most of the more elaborate programs now in work placed the participant in an avatar. It would soon be possible for a paying customer to become, for a few virtual hours, a knight of the round table, a pilot in a fighter aircraft circa World War One; for the more daring, a priestess-courtesan plying her trade inside the Temple of Ishtar in ancient Nineveh. Only a few programs that utilized Harvey’s abilities were available at present, but VRS and other VR providers had more on the way. Once volume production brought prices down, the marketing whizzes predicted that stimulated experiences, the ability to see and hear as if you were personally enjoying the event, would become the dominant form of commercial entertainment. This new VR capability seemed certain to make VRSense-Life, Boyd, and all other profit-sharing employees a lot of money.

Boyd came out of the short reverie, and focused on the immediate problem. He charged the two black-clad men, hoping he had not miscalculated and was about to die here. He went from walking to top speed in three steps, trying to reach them before they had time to react.

The taller of the data raiders quickly handed his two cubes to his partner. The shorter man turned and ducked through the hole in the door as the tall one took three fast steps forward to meet Boyd in the open aisle.

In the few seconds it took Boyd to cross the large room he had a close look at the man coming toward him. He wore a long-sleeve pullover shirt and tight-fitting pants, tucked into short black boots. Tight but flexible gloves extended past the wrists to over the shirt sleeves. Other than the opening in the balaclava for the eyes, not an inch of skin showed. This outfit had been designed to make certain the wearer left behind neither DNA, fingerprints, nor any other type of physical identification.

Instead of concentrating on the fight ahead, Boyd’s thoughts seemed to be racing at high-adrenalin speed into sidelights. This Ninja-like burglar—and Boyd could see that he was several inches taller than his own five-foot eleven—had decided to meet the charging man with bare hands. Which meant Boyd had been right in guessing the thieves would want to avoid upping a possible felony burglary charge to murder. But the raider could have drawn his stun gun and put Boyd on the floor, writhing in shock, while still yards away. Instead he had chosen personal combat.

The tall man had an almost extreme confidence in his ability to put Boyd down and out, and to do so quickly. He had to realize no one would enter the lab and try to stop them before first calling the police.

In addition to the Army Reserve’s required personal combat training, Boyd took taekwondo lessons on Wednesday nights at The Fitness Bar, his exercise facility; less boring than the routine workouts he followed on Monday and Friday. But though he had earned a brown belt, Boyd had never done more than spar with other students and their instructor. He had a dreadful feeling he was not even in the same class as this man in black.

An experienced fighter would use Boyd’s own momentum against him. He slowed his head-long rush down the aisle, coming to a stop two yards away from the intruder who had stopped and stood, slightly crouched, waiting for him. Boyd placed his feet and raised open hands, ready for the first strike or feint. He did not have to win this fight, only delay the raiders until help arrived.

The burglar did not respond. Boyd thought he saw the first hint of uncertainty in his pose. He had expected the man running toward him to attack, and the fight to be over in seconds. Now those seconds were ticking away, the man still stood, and a sheriff’s car had to be on the way. The man had no choice but to incapacitate Boyd, and quickly.

The intruder took a fast step forward with his left foot and tried an open-hand chop at Boyd’s neck. The accepted counter was to block the blow and strike with his own right hand, at either the man’s neck or ribs. But years of training took over, and Boyd reacted without thinking. He stepped backward very quickly, and the right foot kick to the ribs, that replaced what had been only a feint at the neck, missed him by an inch.

Boyd took a quick step toward the taller man as he regained his footing, as if ready to engage—but instantly moved back instead, without attempting a strike. He stopped with his left foot extended, legs bent slightly at the knees, both open hands before his chest in the classic “ready” pose. But when the other man took a step toward him, hands also at the ready, Boyd retreated that same step.

The raider took two more steps, so quickly Boyd couldn’t back up again, and started a left-hand blow to the solar plexus. Boyd pulled in his right elbow to protect his abdomen, at the same time trying to turn his body while lashing out with his left fist in a straight strike at the taller man’s throat. He realized, too late, that this was the expected response. A gloved hand caught his extended arm at the wrist. The burglar put his strength into a hard pull while stepping back, yanking Boyd half-around and off balance.

Boyd’s adrenalin-fueled mind seemed to be operating at an elevated speed. He knew immediately that this fight was over. Instead of trying to pull away he let his body continue to turn until he was almost facing his opponent. Reaching with his free right hand, he caught the edge of the balaclava below one eye and pulled down hard.

The material tore. For half a second Boyd had a clear look at the raider’s face, from eyes to chin. And then a hard fist caught him on the left temple, and his vision dimmed. The fist came again, sending him down to the floor. Barely conscious, he managed to turn his head enough to focus on a sturdy black boot, drawn back for the kick that would scramble his brains. But after a second the raider turned instead and hurried after his partner, stooping to fit through the hole in the door. Then a dark wave seemed to rise from the floor and pour over Boyd, drowning him in nothingness.


Boyd realized he was staring and quickly looked away before the tall man noticed him.

It had been three weeks, but the image of that face—the bright blue eyes, narrow, aristocratic nose above thin lips and strong, almost square chin—had been deeply engraved in his memory. That portion of a face alone might not have been enough; this man had a full head of thick brown hair, prominent dark eyebrows, and big ears standing out from the skull. But the height, the wide shoulders tapering to a narrow waist, the easy, athletic way he moved, all combined to make Boyd certain this was the man who had beaten him down.

Boyd had no memory of the short fight when he first woke up in the hospital; not able to help the sheriff’s deputy investigating the theft. Memory had gradually returned over the next week, up to the moment he passed out on the floor. The doctor had assured him this was a fairly normal reaction and recovery after a severe concussion.

Boyd had not called the deputy after the burglar’s face finally emerged from the shadows. Such a fragmentary eyes-to-chin description would be of no real help. He had also been haunted by a feeling he had seen that face before, in some casual setting he could not immediately recall. Now he knew why. He had arrived at the Fitness Bar an hour later than usual this Monday, a rare departure from schedule. Like himself, a creature of habit and discipline, the raider also worked out on Mondays, but after Boyd had left. Sometime over the past year Boyd had arrived late, and noticed the tall man as he walked past the exercise floor to the locker room.

Boyd had wanted to find the raider himself, try to identify him. For the past two years it had been a subject of deep but usually quiet concern in Silicon Valley that some company was making a career of stealing other firms’ secret technologies. There were less obvious ways than cutting through steel doors and removing memory cores from mainframes. The general consensus was that some small firm had gone rogue, trying to obtain by theft what they lacked the resources to develop by legitimate R&D. But so far no stolen code had emerged in any fashion that could be traced directly to a known theft.

VRS had replaced the four cubes within two days. In six more the engineers had updated older versions of the Harvey software still available on the second mainframe. Boyd had asked his boss, VP for engineering Dave Edgerton, if any real harm had been done, as all the stolen VRS programs were heavily encrypted. Edgerton told Boyd something he had not known, that a new and specially designed supercomputer, given sufficient time, could break almost any standard encryption. And once broken, a good software firm could reverse engineer a program, producing a product that performed the same function but used its own proprietary code.

According to Edgerton, VRS was now in danger. One of its competitors could use the cubes to produce operational software that would be different enough to receive a patent, but perform almost identically to Harvey. Fortunately, the raiders hadn’t recognized or understood the significance of the helmet, half-hidden under its mass of connected wire bundles. Although they had the design in the software they had stolen, it would take months of tedious work to actually build a helmet. Even if some unscrupulous firm bought the stolen software and created a Harvey analog by writing new programs, they needed a helmet to test them.

VRS still had a chance to be first to market. But if they had to compete with a much larger and more powerful firm only a few months later, their success would be limited.

Boyd kept his face down, eyes on the status display for the arm and leg exerciser on which he always ground out a ten-minute warm up before starting on the weight machines. After a moment he raised his gaze to the TV set mounted on a nearby wall, then turned his head slightly for a look around the large open room. The big man had seated himself on a leg push machine, both hands on the side grips; the weights, set at near maximum, rose and fell in a smooth, even cadence. He also happened to be looking casually around the room as he worked. His gaze met Boyd’s for a tenth of a second before each moved on.

Boyd went back to watching CNN on the TV, the sound turned off, captions scrolling across the screen. In that briefest of exchanges he realized that not only was he certain this was the raider he had fought, he had been recognized as well.

Boyd focused on the wall below the TV screen, decorated with a second-class mural of a small sloop-rigged sailboat, heeling to the wind in a bright blue Pacific Ocean. It took only a few seconds to realize that his first impulse, to call the police, would be a mistake. He had no proof, and memory recovered after a concussion was not enough to justify launching an official investigation.

After a moment Boyd stopped his warm-up, not yet having worked up a sweat, and walked to the men’s locker room. The aisle between machines took him near the tall man, but Boyd did not look at him again. He changed into street clothes without showering, stuffed workout sweats and shoes into his gym bag, and took out his cell phone. He set it for photo and held it in his right hand, bag in the left, as he exited. He had been out of the workout area for less than five minutes, and the raider still sat on the same machine.

The route to the main entrance and the parking lot took Boyd past the juice bar on his right and the workout area on the left. He stopped, raised the phone, and aimed it at the big man, now sitting in profile to him about thirty feet away and looking straight ahead. Two seconds after stopping he was in motion again. Within another minute he reached his car, slid under the wheel, and called up the photo he had just taken. He saw that the raider had turned slightly toward him, the face now in three-quarter view instead of true profile. Boyd used thumb and forefinger to enlarge the face, until the image started to blur. He eased back a bit and looked closely at the eyes.

The pupil of the eye Boyd could see clearly was at the edge of its socket. The brown-haired man had turned his head just enough to see Boyd in his peripheral vision when he stopped to take the photo.

Boyd had been caught. But in turning his head that way, the raider had also provided a better image. A good facial recognition program would be able to identify him, from photos taken at almost any angle.

Boyd drove the two miles to his condo deep in thought. He might have just made a serious mistake. He could probably identify the burglar now, if he worked for one of the Silicon Valley firms, and the raider knew this. What steps might he take to protect himself? He knew who Boyd was, or could easily learn. Under threat of exposure, perhaps killing would become an option.

Boyd parked in his slot, took the elevator up to the fourth floor, and let himself in. Kami looked up from the TV, saw his face, and immediately muted the sound. “Boyd, what’s wrong?”

He told her of the brief encounter at the Fitness Bar, and his feeling that being caught taking the photo had put himself, and possibly Kami and the children, in danger. She thought for a moment, then said, “You have to take this to security, regardless. Once we know who this guy is, we’ll know who he works for. And that will be the raider everyone’s been looking for.”

Boyd had no choice but to agree.


On the way to work, Boyd decided to discuss the situation with VRS president Ardan Fitzgerald instead of the security officer. The decision on taking the image he had captured to the police would almost certainly rise to Fitzgerald’s level anyway.

The president of VRSense-Life Experiences had an early meeting with VP Edgerton, but his office assistant told Boyd to wait. In less than five minutes Edgerton came out, and Boyd entered. He found Fitzgerald sitting behind his desk, checking something on his computer.

Fitzgerald looked up. About fifty, short, with a ruddy face and sandy hair, the president of VRS disliked details and had little patience with trivialities. His wealthy family in Boston had backed him in starting a virtual reality R&D firm, and still owned a majority of the stock. But this was a small company, with only about sixty employees. The atmosphere at work was distinctly friendly and informal. Everyone knew everyone else, and most went by first names.

Fitzgerald did not invite his unscheduled visitor to sit down. Instead he said, “What can I do for you, Boyd?”

Boyd started a precise and somewhat detailed account of what had happened at the Fitness Bar. After listening a moment, Fitzgerald motioned him to a visitor’s chair. When Boyd finished he leaned back in thought, then said, “I’m glad you brought this to me. We definitely should identify the man before we take it any further. So go ahead and turn that image over to Hal Davidson. Tell him I said keep the search in-house. We’ll get back together when we know what company we’re dealing with.”

Boyd left his phone with Davidson and the deputy security chief, Magda Mittlemann. The two handled primarily cyber-related problems, but also monitored the work of Allison Security, the firm providing the bodies needed for physical protection of the facilities.

Back in his own office, Boyd found it difficult to concentrate and got no real work done. Fortunately, it was only an hour before Fitzgerald’s assistant summoned him. He found Hal Davidson sitting in the second visitor’s chair, holding a printout. Gray-haired, short and sturdy, a retired San Francisco cyberpolice detective, Davidson had been with the firm since the startup, He handed the printout to Boyd without a word.

Boyd looked down at a page apparently copied from a company website. This time the thin lips were curved in a slight smile, the thick brown hair somewhat shorter and neatly parted on the left side. The accompanying text identified him as Alfred A. Hightower, vice-president for security, and gave details on his education and background. Boyd noted with interest that Hightower had served for sixteen years in the U.S Army Rangers. That helped explain why he had failed to delay the raiders escape by trying to fight this man. Oddly, Hightower had left the Army with only four more years needed to qualify for retirement benefits.

The screen capture hadn’t caught the name of the company. Davidson had written it in big letters across the top: ENERGY OPTIONS.

“That’s definitely him,” said Boyd. “And he works for Energy Options? Isn’t that the company that tried to buy us two months ago?”

“And would have, if I hadn’t persuaded my family to refuse,” said Fitzgerald. “The offer was high enough that we really should have accepted. But Energy Options stopped being a real research firm a decade ago. Now they look for companies holding valuable patents whose stock is temporarily down. After taking over, they start selling off those patents, one at a time, until they’ve made a profit. Something of a specialty of theirs. Then they sell the remaining assets, for whatever they can get, and finally file for Chapter 7. The company dies.”

“And now we know their so-called security office is actually a bunch of masked raiders,” said Davidson. “They waited long enough for there not to be any obvious connection between our rejection and the theft. And we don’t have a shred of proof that they raided us, or anyone else. But you can be sure this is the rogue firm that’s been stealing company secrets throughout the Valley.”

After a moment of silence, Boyd said, “So what do we do now?”


“You know who stole the cubes? Who put you in the hospital? And Fitzgerald isn’t going to have them arrested?” Kami seemed unable to believe what Boyd had just told her.

“We have no proof,” said Boyd. “We can’t even go to civil court and sue them. But at least we know now that Energy Options is the rogue firm everyone’s been trying to identify.”

“Energy Options? Carla’s husband works for them, in the security office. My God! He could have been one of the raiders!”

Boyd had met Carla Ortiz, a procurement specialist at the genetics lab and a casual work friend of Kami’s. They had not met her husband. “He probably was. Hal Davidson checked them out, and their so-called security office only has four people. But don’t forget, they’re also corporate raiders. A dirty business, but legitimate.”

Kami leaned back in her easy chair, sipping from a cup of hot chocolate. They had just put Katsuro and Jasmine to bed, and were relaxing in front of the silent TV. After a moment she said, “Why don’t you get the proof? Then you can send the guilty ones to jail, and get a court order to destroy the stolen software.”

“And just how would we do that?”

Kami told him.


Boyd looked around the small, crowded room, dimly lit by a nightlight. It seemed strange to see Hal Davidson and Magda Mittlemann wearing stun guns. The large weapon looked incongruous on the narrow hip of tall, lean Magda, another retired cyberpolice detective from San Francisco. A uniformed sheriff’s deputy, and another man in Allison Security green, stood by the door.

Boyd suppressed a yawn and said. “I don’t think they’re coming,”

“Patience,” said the security chief. They were waiting in an office adjacent to the open unloading area of the VRS shipping and receiving warehouse. Although much less elaborate than the system in the main building, the warehouse did have roof-mounted security cameras, and two inside high enough to cover the mostly open interior. Davidson sat in a chair facing the single monitor. “We know Hightower left his house at eleven. Where else would he be going at this time of night?”

Allison Security had provided surveillance of Hightower’s home for the past three nights. They had also supplied Hal Davidson with three more uniformed guards, two now waiting in another office on the opposite side of the unloading area—all free of charge. Their reputation had taken a hard hit when two of their guards had been tricked into opening the VRSense-Life front door by a man in a deputy’s uniform who drove up in a sheriff’s cruiser.

“I hope they’re coming,” said the deputy. “This is pretty boring.” The sheriff had been willing to furnish one deputy for the trap, but no more. Hal Davidson, like many other Silicon Valley private security officers, served as a dollar-a-year deputy in the Santa Clara county Sheriff’s Office Auxiliary. That gave him the authority to make arrests.

“I didn’t think they’d take the bait,” said Boyd. Three days ago Kami had met Carla Ortiz for lunch and fed her, along with other office gossip, a carefully constructed story of how VRS kept a back-up helmet in a safe at their warehouse. Fitzgerald had arranged for an interview to appear next day in a major trade e-zine in which he claimed VRS hadn’t really been hurt by the Harvey software theft because the program couldn’t function without a helmet.

Davidson had been certain that if Carla relayed what she had learned to her husband, it would reach Hightower immediately. The question was whether he would think the information legitimate, or recognize a baited trap. Until now there had been no response.

“He’s meeting somewhere with his troops, then they’re coming here,” said Davidson with confidence. “The real question is how do they plan to break in and open the safe.”

That question was answered an hour later, when a sheriff’s cruiser entered the small rear parking lot from the driveway that opened on the next street back. Watching the monitor over Hal’s shoulder, Boyd saw a man in a deputy’s uniform get out and approach the employee’s entrance, as if checking to be certain the door was locked. But then, working very quickly, he placed two charges against the reinforced steel panel and stepped to the side. The instant the blast tore the door off its hinges, two more men, dressed in black and wearing balaclavas, emerged from the car and ran for the opening

The raiders had elected to go for force and speed, obviously intending to blast open the safe, destroy the surveillance records, and be gone before a legitimate sheriff’s car could arrive.

Hal Davidson had planned the trap in detail, including allowing the raiders to blow the door of the empty safe before emerging from hiding to arrest them. Fitzgerald had agreed. That would expose Energy Options as the firm that had gone rogue, a ruinous blow from which they could not recover. The lawsuits from earlier victims alone would be enough to drive them into bankruptcy.

The warehouse crew left two overhead lights on all night, providing a dim but adequate illumination. Hal switched the view to one of the two inside cameras. It showed the three men already in the open unloading area. The tallest of the three was looking at the screen on his phone; almost certainly the construction plan for the warehouse, obtained from public records. The large walk-in safe would not appear, but could be in only a few possible places. The raiders scattered to check them out. It took less than two minutes to find it.

The man in the deputy’s uniform produced another pair of door-breakers, and carefully placed them over the recessed hinges. This time the blast did not tear the door off. They had been careful not to use a charge so powerful it could destroy the contents of the safe. But both hinges were now exposed, and one of the men in black carried a pair of small tanks on his back and an acetylene torch. He cut through both hinges in a few seconds each, and the door fell.

“That’s our cue,” said Davidson, getting to his feet and drawing his stun gun. The Allison guard radioed his two colleagues, who had been able to follow the raiders only by sound, and they emerged from hiding only a few seconds behind the main party.

Hal Davidson had agreed to let Boyd accompany them only with reluctance, and forced him to agree to remain out of the action. He followed the four armed figures as they quickly but quietly crossed the loading area toward the open safe. The two men in black were inside it, the one in the deputy’s uniform waiting outside and scanning the area. He saw the two Allison guards first, drew his stun gun, and called a warning. Then he saw the four approaching from his right, all with stun guns drawn and aimed at him.

Boyd, a few steps behind, saw the fake deputy hesitate, then decide the situation was hopeless. As the other two raiders emerged from the safe he held out the weapon with his right hand, while slowly drawing the pistol on his belt with the left, using only two fingers. He placed both on the floor and raised his arms in surrender.

Boyd, his gaze locked on the taller of the black-clad figures, saw him hesitate also, but then decide to fight. He said a low word to his companion and both broke for the outer door, running at speed in a zig-zag pattern while firing stun darts at the two Allison guards coming toward them. One of the two went down, but the other hit the shorter intruder with his second dart, then swung the weapon toward the tall man. He was too late. A dart caught him before he could fire. Even while running and rapidly changing direction, the raider leader was deadly accurate.

The deputy sheriff stopped, took careful aim, and dropped the last intruder as he neared the open doorway. Magda Mittlemann had stopped also, her weapon trained on the fake deputy. Hal Davidson hurried past her to the one they knew would be Hightower, now writhing on the floor in shock. He pulled a pair of zip-tie handcuffs from a back pocket and, when the convulsions eased, secured the big man’s hands behind his back.

Boyd had followed Davidson. When the man on the floor stopped moving he reached for the balaclava, grasped it at the top, and pulled it off over his head. Hightower, now largely recovered, glared up at him.

Boyd saw the thin lips start to curl in scorn, but then Hightower got himself under control, and the expression faded. Boyd realized the prone man, recognizing him, had thought Boyd there to gloat.

And the temptation was strong. This was the man who had handled him like a child, given Boyd a concussion that sent him to the hospital.

Boyd looked at the impassive face for a moment, then said, “I wanted to thank you for not kicking me in the head that night. I saw you change your mind.”

Again Hightower let his expression betray his thoughts for a few seconds; obvious surprise, followed by a grudging respect. But then he shrugged the wide shoulders, and said, “No need; you were down.”

Two sheriff’s cars entered the parking lot, sirens wailing. A minute later four uniformed deputies entered and took the burglars into custody. Boyd stood watching them. It felt good to have earned Hightower’s respect. That made no sense, and yet that was how he felt. The man was almost certainly a thrill-seeker, leaving the Rangers when life there became too dull, becoming a modern ninja. Probably rich from his share of earlier thefts, but too addicted to adrenalin to stop. An obviously high potential, gone to waste.

From nowhere, Boyd felt a sudden attack of dizziness. Strange; he was long over the concussion. He leaned against a wall to steady himself, closed his eyes ...


... And Katsuro Simmons opened his eyes, sat up on the tilted relaxer, and lifted the heavy helmet off his head. Handling it carefully, he placed it on the adjoining narrow table. Katsuro felt exhausted, as though he had actually lived through what had in fact been a stimulated experience, occurring only in his brain.

The door to the dimly lit VR training room opened, and a woman entered. It took Katsuro a moment to recognize Azalea Medcock, VRSense-Life’s personnel officer. “Lean back and rest a moment,” she said with a smile. “That long an experience is tiring. I hope reliving part of your father’s life wasn’t too stressful for you.”

Memory fully returned, Katsuro did not say aloud that, given a choice, he would have avoided that particular experience. Becoming his thirty-two year old father conflicted with his own memories of the older man. He would have to isolate that created memory, make himself always consciously aware that it was not real, hadn’t actually happened to him.

“With Boyd Simmons as the third president, VRS passed the hundred-billion mark in revenue last year,” Azalea went on. “The competition is fierce, but we had the huge advantage of being first in the field. Our forecast for 2049 is a gain of eight percent. It’s so sad your father couldn’t be here to see it.”

Katsuro had almost recovered from the loss of his parents in that sub-orbital flight to Australia last year, when the braking rockets failed. Both he and Jasmine had needed therapy, but finally gotten past the worst hurt. And then Katsuro followed up on the promise he had made his father when he selected computer science as his major, that after graduation he would go to work for the company to which Boyd Simmons had devoted his life.

“President Simmons wouldn’t let us create an avatar to tell his story, but left an OK in his will,” said Azalea. “President Mittlemann made it mandatory that all new employees have to experience those parts of their lives the first three presidents devoted to the business. I asked if we could have you experience just the stories of founder Ardan Fitzgerald and our second President, David Edgerton, but she said no. Your father was at heart a modest man. The fact he saved the company from what could have been overwhelming competition isn’t that well known.”

“Can I experience the other two tomorrow? I need to think a little about what I’ve just learned.”

“Sure,” said Azalea. “It’s late anyway. We’ll finish your orientation in the morning.”

“Looking forward to it,” said Katsuro. END

Joseph Green is a charter member of SFWA. He has published five science fiction novels and more than 70 shorter works in “Analog,” “F&SF,” and several original anthologies. This is R-M Lillian’s first professional story sale.


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