The Art of Kissing, 2nd Revised Edition

William Cane

St. Martin's Griffin

Empire & Ecolitan
THE ECOLITAN OPERATION
To Elizabeth Leanore,
For her love of words, of the books that contain them, and of her father who writes them.
I
THE MAN IN the power technician's white jumpsuit scanned the control board with the same bored ease and critical eye that the real technician would have used.
His forearms rested lightly on the angled and flat gray padding at the base of the control board as his eyes continued their scan.
Technically, the failsafe systems were supposed to catch any imbalances long before they showed on the main board, but the destruction of the Newton quarter on Einstein had not been forgotten over the three centuries since it had occurred. There, the failsafes had not functioned, and the duty technician had gone with the plant when the magfield had contracted a magnitude more than the plant had ever been designed to handle.
The man who had replaced the duty technician smiled a bored smile as he waited for the failure he knew would come. His eyes flicked to the time readout in the center of the board.
2146--two standard minutes until the magfield began a series of pulses so minute that they would not be perceived for another twenty minutes outside of central control. More important, it was 2146 on Landing Eve, forty-six minutes after the Grand Commandant had arrived at the Military Pavilion to begin the celebration. Nearly the entire Halstani government would be present.
The Military Pavilion was twenty-five kays from the power station--well beyond the maximum damage capabilities of a malfunctioning fusion bottle--but not beyond range of the EMP factors that had been designed into the fluctuations, nor of the power pulses that the fusion system would begin to feed into the power net.
2147--the man in the technician's suit surveyed the board again, following the pattern he had rehearsed so carefully, leaning forward slightly, his elbow brushing the square plate in the middle of the right side of the board.
He lifted his head perhaps three centimeters as he eased back and began the scan pattern again.
2148--his eyes crossed the feedback constriction loop indicator as the fluid bar flickered minutely. He did not nod, but continued his scan pattern.
At the end of another scan circuit, he turned as if to wipe a speck of dirt, an eyelash, from the inside corner of his right eye with the forefingerof his right hand. He leaned forward as he did so, and his elbow tapped another control plate, this time in the second row.
The replacement technician leaned back, as if satisfied with the readings displayed across the board, all of which continued to appear normal. The duplicate readings in the backup control center, in power control central, and at Military Central also would continue to appear normal.
2150--a second pulse registered on the feedback constriction loop, larger only to an eye looking for the minute difference. The man in the operator's control seat could feel the beginning of dampness on his palms, but his face was as impassive as it had been when he had assumed the duty nearly two standard hours earlier. His heartbeat remained unchanged, as was absolutely necessary. The chair in which he sat monitored the vital signs of the operator, and his departure from that chair, until relieved, would trigger alarms in five separate locales.
The operator repressed a smile, taking a deep breath of the carefully filtered air, as he thought about the special circuitry woven into the suit which he wore and the special modules in the heels of his boots. The air, despite the filtration, carried a tang of ozone and metal.
He stretched, carefully, to ensure his weight remained in the chair, then returned to scanning the board, his professional look glued firmly in place, waiting for the hidden, but routine, 2200 military scan.
2152--a third pulse on the feedback loop, this time larger, almost above the noise level.
Click.
The light pen slipped from the narrow front ledge of the control console and dropped onto the floor. Bending forward and carefully leaving his body weight on the seat, the operator reached for the instrument.
He paused to touch the back of his right boot heel, detaching the bottom section in a single motion and slipping it into the prepared pocket on the inside of the jumpsuit's right trouser hem. The special conducting male and female couplers slipped together soundlessly. The operator sat up, stylus in hand, and scanned the board quickly, to assure himself that he had missed nothing.
2154--a fourth pulse on the feedback loop, this time edging barely above the normal noise range.
The operator rested his left hand on his knee, letting his breath out slowly as he invoked his internal-system function control disciplines.
2156--a fifth pulse, clearly into the high noise range.
The operator looked toward the sealed portal, as if checking to seethat no one had entered. His left elbow touched another control plate, this time in the third row on the left side.
2158--a sixth pulse, high, but now masked by a higher energy noise level since the automatic signal dampers had been disengaged.
2200--a seventh pulse, fractionally above the highest of the damped noise levels. The operator continued to breathe normally, now concentrating more upon maintaining normal bodily function signals than upon the board before him, as he waited for the double pulse on the output monitor line that signified a full data pull by the HALDEFNET monitors.
2202--the feedback loop pulse was clearly reaching above the noise level. The operator spent exactly the same amount of time checking the readout as he had for each previous scan.
2203--on the fourth panel from the left in the second row down, twin pulses wavered for an instant and were gone.
The operator took a deep breath, then shook his head as if disoriented, and dropped it between his knees, out of sight of the direct visual monitors. His hands detached the left boot heel, guiding it into the pocket on the left trouser leg of the single-piece coverall. Once again the couplings in the pocket and those on the heel slipped together without a sound.
He had less than half a standard minute to complete the next phase of his mission.
Squinting his eyelids shut tightly, and still keeping his head down, he tossed two small squarish cubes over the top of the control console.
Flrrrrt.
A flare of intense light flooded the room, a brilliance that seared the monitors into uselessness. Even as the glare continued, the operator, eyes closed, taped down the seat cushion on four edges. While the pressure would not be as great as if he remained sitting there, it would be adequate to convince outsiders that the operator was slumped half way out of the seat. Next he jerked open the front closures on the singlesuit and wriggled out, carefully leaving the suit itself in the operator's chair, where the electrical circuits he had connected would now continue to mimic the bodily patterns of an unconscious man. The chair would dutifully report that an injured operator remained within the control room.
Eyes still closed, he walked twenty measured steps through the glare to the portal, slipping the counterfeit of the special military key into place, and easing out into the lock. Once the portal closed on the searinglight, he opened his eyes and placed the beret of the Halstani Marines on his head to complete the uniform he had worn under the technician's suit. The only substantial difference between his replicated uniform and the standard Halstani Marine Major's uniform was that all the insignia and accoutrements were comprised of plastics transparent to the metal sensors used by the Halstani security systems.
Outside the lock, as he had calculated, the immediate area was vacant. He turned and slapped a thin line of instant-weld taping across the portal. Breaking it would require a laser cutter. He turned and began to walk down the corridor. His steps were precise, clicking as he marched down the tech access corridor and turned right at the first intersection, then left at the second.
The power station's main security checkpoint, the only one in operation on holidays, was less than fifty meters before him. Less than fifty meters and two guards, neither of whom was likely to let him go unchallenged. One was on the inside of the security portal, waiting for him. The other, unseen for now, was on the outside.
He did not shrug, but he could have, as he maintained his stiff posture all the way to the first security checkpoint.
"Who ... pardon, Major? What are you doing--?"
The false Major launched himself over the low console.
Thud.
Clank.
The uniform had obtained for him momentary respect, the extra instants he had needed to disable the guard.
He frowned, not liking the next step, as he retrieved the standardissue stunner, the one the guard had dropped.
Thrummm!
The unconscious soldier twitched before his breathing lightened. Then the man in the Major's uniform began to reprogram the security console, setting it to seal the lock behind him. As he stepped forward to enter the lock to the outer security station, he touched the "execute" key.
Thrumm!
Thrummm!
Clank.
Again the Major had been faster than the guard. He rubbed his sore knee as he lurched to his feet from the dive he had taken out of the lock.
The second guard lay sprawled across his console, stunner scattered a good meter away where it had skidded across the hard plastone flooring. The Major eased the guard off the console and laid him down out of sight. Once more the Major's fingers flew across the console, adding a series of codes. Next he retrieved the stunner and pocketed it before straightening up and marching toward the exit, less than five meters away.
As he approached, the automatic door swung open. Though he carried one stunner ready to use, the ramp and the groundcar lot it led to both appeared virtually empty under the searing blue glare of the arc lights. The summer evening air was warm on his face as he headed down the ramp.
With a wrinkle of his nose at the dank smell of the nearby Feloose Swamp, he glanced back over his shoulder, realizing that he should not have done so. Trying to make the glance casual, he returned his gaze to the lot ahead.
The technician's car was where he had left it, and he eased himself inside, taking off the beret as he closed the door. As the electric whined into operation, he slipped out of the uniform tunic and into the travel tunic that he had left folded on the other front seat.
By now he was well out of the lot and onto the highway away from the city and toward the shuttleport. After stuffing the uniform tunic under the seat, he began to peel the plastic striping off the pseudomilitary trousers.
One-handed, he continued to drive as he took a small towel from the dashboard storage box and began to wipe his hair. The mahoganyred hair color broke down under the enzyme, and a muddy brown color, not his own, replaced it. The rest of the changes were complete by the time he parked the electrocar at the tube station that served the shuttleport. He locked the car and walked briskly into the station and onto the downward ramp leading to the tube platform below for the fiveminute ride to the port.
Ignoring the flashing full-color hologram that asked whether he was "man enough to give your best for Halston? Can you meet the test of the best Marines this side of the Arm?" he slipped the system pass into the gate.
Hmmmmmm.
The bars turned to allow him onto the platform. At the same time, the identity of the pass holder was automatically flashed into the movementcontrol section of the planetary police monitoring network. Since the pass holder was clearly not on duty or supposed to be at work, the automatic alerts did not flag one of the duty officers.
The man who was not the pass holder smiled faintly as he waited on the empty platform. A faint vibration and an even fainter high-pitched humming notified him of the approaching maglev tube train.
Still alone on the platform when the doors on the two-car train hissed open, he stepped inside and took a seat near the doors, letting his eyes skip over the single other passenger, a rumpled-looking technician in a gray suit, to the train security officer in his shielded booth. The doors hissed closed.
The power fluctuations would not be noticeable for another twenty minutes, nor would the explosion occur until he was well clear of Halston--assuming that things went as planned.
The maglev arrived at the port two stops and four minutes later. He and the other technician both departed, heading for two different concourses.
The man who had been Major, technician, and several other roles along the course of his efforts took the last seat on the 2300 shuttle.
The two explosions occurred nearly simultaneously.
The main power station went at 2257.
Military Central, and eighty-five percent of the Halstani High Command, went at 2258, when the EMP set off three tacheads stored nearby, tacheads whose fusing systems had been modified for electrical pulse detonation.
The beta shuttle for Halston orbit control had lifted at 2259, carrying a man with muddy brown hair.
At 2330, Planetary Police Movement Control, under orders from the acting senior Military Commandant, declared a state of emergency and suspended all off-planet travel.
Copyright © 2001 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.