Back | Next
Contents


Cover

PART I: Fools rush in


141652130501.jpg


Chapter 1

Professor Miggy Tremelo, once a University of Chicago senior administrator and professor of High Energy Physics and now the head of the National Science Advisory Council, which was charged with investigating the alien Krim artifact, slammed the phone down. He'd always thought university bureaucracy and politics were tough, but he'd mastered them. He was well regarded in military research circles. His work at Nellis had him a security clearance from here to the middle of next week. It still hadn't prepared him for the new Pyramid Security Agency that the U.S. government had set up in the wake of the Krim pyramid crisis.


Alas—as had happened in times past—the administration had felt compelled to prove to the electorate that it was Doing Something, and Congress had fallen all over itself to comply with the President's proposals. Indeed, Congress had added any number of silly curlicues of its own.


The worst of it, from Miggy's viewpoint, had been the creation of a brand new Pyramid Security Agency to "oversee all national security issues involving the alien menace." The end result had been a ramshackle, hastily slapped-together new bureaucracy—just what the country didn't need. With, to make things perfect, a newly appointed director whose chief qualification for the post seemed to be nothing more than that Helen Garnett was more ambitious than Lucifer and had superb skills when it came to political infighting and backstabbing within the Beltway.


Needless to say, the existing security agencies had been exceedingly disgruntled by the situation. And, needless to say, had immediately retaliated when Garnett demanded they provide her with the required security personnel. No doubt some competent people had made the transfer, as well. But from what Miggy could see, the PSA had become a classic instance of what federal employees meant by the slang term "turkey farm." The CIA, the FBI and everyone up to and including the Coast Guard had found a great place to transfer every lackwit, goofball and loose screw in their ranks.


Without thinking, he turned his head and shouted: "Marie, help! I need coffee!"


But there was no clatter, no cheerful obscenity-laden reply from the outer office. Instead, rather timidly, a head peered around the door. Not Marie Jackson or Marie Jackson's style. "Sir?"


Miggy bit back his response. It was not Rachel Clements' fault that Marie wasn't in the front office. Rachel was just a temp with a great security clearance, who'd replaced Marie after she'd gone on sick leave. With no skills in the coffee-making department, unfortunately.


On the bright side, she was pleasant enough, unlike the troll out of Brothers Grimm the security establishment had thrust onto him last time, before he got Marie.


"Forget it, Rachel. Look, I'll need you to place two calls for me. Colonel Frank McNamara of the 101st, and Professor Jerry Lukacs. If you fail to get Jerry at his own number, try Dr. De Beer's apartment." He allowed himself a small smile. "It's just possible that he might be there."


She nodded. "Yes, sir. Mrs. Jackson called while you were on the other line to the PSA. She said she didn't want to waste her life on hold. She said to tell you that she and Lamont are coming in this morning. She said she needs to talk to you."


Miggy smiled. "Well, that's one piece of good news."


"She didn't sound too happy," said Clements doubtfully. "Not like herself at all."


 


Liz De Beer, Marine biologist, graduate of both Cape Town and Rhodes Universities (which had taught her a lot less than her time at sea as a scientific observer, especially about expletives), wondered just how she could deal with someone who was definitely not a morning person. She tended to wake up when it got light, and crash early. As long as she had the caffeine kick start, she was even reasonably good tempered in the morning. The man sleeping peacefully next to her, on the other hand, considered midday way too early and first light not a bad time to go to sleep.


Liz had to admit that was Jerry Lukacs' most serious fault, other than a major inability to speak anything but academese in public. Granted, he wasn't a beefcake—although he had built some impressive wiry muscle in the Mythworlds. Still, he was as solid as a rock when you needed him, and one of the few men she couldn't walk all over, mentally, physically, or in terms of courage. That had to be worth some tolerance of nocturnal behavior, she figured.


She decided she'd give him until 8:30. She was due another thrilling day with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. "La migra," as Sergeant Anibal Cruz called them.


The phone rang. That was possibly another call from the South African embassy. Funny, the South African government, who had been their usual unhelpful selves when she'd needed them, were falling over themselves to get her home when she didn't want to go. Jerry said that wasn't an African, but a worldwide phenomena. She wasn't sure that that was helpful information, but la migra were doing their best to prove him right.


Jerry hadn't even stirred, although the phone was an inch and a half from his ear. She reached over him and snagged it. "Hello. Liz De Beer speaking."


"I'm trying to reach Dr. Jerry Lukacs for Professor Tremelo," said the American midwest accent on the other end.


"Well, he's here," admitted Liz, "but actually speaking to him before he's had coffee is probably a lost cause. I can try, but you'd do better to call back in ten minutes." She knew that that was a little optimistic. "Ask Miggy if I can help."


There was a moment's silence. Then the woman said, "Please hold for Professor Tremelo."


"You'd think that by now I'd have managed to get it into my head that he's not an early riser," said Miggy Tremelo apologetically. "Sorry. These Pyramid Security Agency idiots are turning my mind to cheese, to keep theirs company. I've already spent ten minutes getting nowhere fast this morning. The fact that we've been working in close proximity to the pyramid for the last two weeks, and we know what we're doing, is beyond that woman."


That woman had become Miggy Tremelo's all-purpose reference to Helen Garnett, the head of the PSA. "And without Marie," he said, almost whining, "I have to bull my own way to the top of the food chain."


"And here you stop part way up it again," said Liz cheerfully. "It's all right. I was going to wake him in the next ten minutes or so anyway. He just won't make much sense until the coffee has time to work on his speech centers. What can I do for you, or what can I have Jerry do for you, once I get him up?"


"I'm afraid I've got another battery of tests I need to have run on all the 'escapees.' And I wanted to see if Jerry could shed some more light on the inconsistencies in the myths that the Krim is creating."


"Re-creating is more like it," said Liz. "The Mythworlds seemed to derive their life from the myths in some way. But I'm sorry, I can't make it in to your office today. I need a visa extension, and I've got to spend the day in the offices of the INS. Why the Krim pyramid couldn't have landed on them instead of the University of Chicago's perfectly nice research library, I do not know."


"Because the Krim were using the location of the original atom bomb fission experiments as a target locator—and the INS had its meltdown sometime in the last century." She could practically hear Miggy grinding his teeth over the telephone.


"Damn it," he said. "Does nothing go smoothly? I had to do some serious straightening out with the officials from Fish and Wildlife about the dragons, and had to get someone to intervene with a petty official from the INS who wanted to have Bes arrested. I'm sorry, I didn't know you were having problems too. I'll see what can be arranged. A squad of paratroopers as an escort might work. Bes went in there with some of his new buddies from the WWF. I believe they found it easy to process his request. Look, if you just come in for an hour, I'll arrange some serious smoothing."


"It's a deal," said Liz, grinning at the thought of Bes confronting some petty official. He didn't really need WWF-size support, being, as he was, a dwarf-god from Egypt, Punt and Carthage. He was his own army. "If I can wake the night owl we should be there in forty-five minutes."


"Good. I'm expecting Lamont and Marie too," said Tremelo.


Liz brightened at that. "Did he buy that stretch limo?"


A chuckle came down the line. "I know he used one to tender his resignation from the campus staff. So how is your arm, by the way?"


"Cast came off two days ago. I've kept it for the artwork," said Liz.


"It's probably the only serious attempt at Dali on a plaster cast I have ever seen," admitted Tremelo.


Two minutes later Liz set about the interesting task of waking Jerry. Like most non-morning people, he didn't believe that he was hard to wake.


 


"I'm afraid you don't have any choice about it, Sergeant," said the PSA senior agent. "You either come along or we take you along. Those are our instructions from the highest level. Ask your colonel." He jerked a rather scornful thumb at Sergeant Anibal Cruz's commanding officer. "But don't waste too much of my time. You've got five minutes to get your personal kit."


Anibal studied the man thoughtfully. "And you're threatening my wife and kids with la migra," he said, in a flat voice that would have worried someone less full of their own self-importance. The tone just bounced off the senior agent. It was a cool, overcast morning, and the jerk was wearing shades. He probably slept in them.


"I must strongly advise you against threatening dependents of U.S. service personnel," said Colonel McNamara, in a voice that could cut glass, and would have made it asses and elbows time with most of the men in his command. Cruz looked at the PSA agents. There were only seven of the Pissant suits. Three each, and they could argue about the remaining one. Out of respect for the Old Man's rank he'd let him kill the leftover.


Senior Agent Ledbetter gave McNamara a humorless smile. "Deportation of illegal aliens is not a threat, Colonel. It's our duty. There are serious discrepancies in their paperwork. We've got very little choice but to send them back to their country of origin."


"Unless I cooperate," said Cruz.


"No, Sergeant," said Ledbetter coolly. "You, and the Army, have very little choice but to cooperate. But if we have your fullest, most wholehearted cooperation, I'm sure that we can intervene. The PSA has been granted sweeping powers, as you know."


The colonel drew a deep breath. He was a dangerous color, for a man of his age. "I'm going to go and call General Brasno at the Pentagon. It seems I can't stop you 'requisitioning' my men. But I can damn well do something about this. We won't tolerate this blackmail. The Army looks after its dependents, Sergeant."


The PSA agent shrugged. "I have told you that the Alien Pyramid Security Act has been invoked for this project. Call your General, have him call Ms. Garnett—and then you might as well await your court-martial, Colonel."


"If you attempt to remove any women or children from this base I'll take my chances," said the colonel grimly. There was no back-down in that voice.


"Let me talk to my superiors," said the agent.


He walked off to use his cell phone. Two minutes later he came back. "They're to stay here, under PSA guard."


"You're placing them under house arrest," said McNamara flatly.


"Protective custody. Purely for their own safety, I assure you. I'll be leaving four of my men here now, to watch them in shifts. I suggest you quarter Corporal McKenna's wife here too."


Cruz looked at the colonel.


McNamara bit his lip. "Are you putting my men into a combat situation?"


"Isn't that what they get paid for?" asked the agent with just a hint of a sneer. "I'm not authorized to tell you what the PSA requires these men for, Colonel."


"Soldiers and their dependents are entitled certain allowances for combat zone deployment," said the colonel. "That provision is not superseded by anything in APSA. Sergeant Cruz now has a wife and two young children. A four-year-old and a seven-year-old. I need an answer. We do things by the book here, Agent Ledbetter, and there are certain legal formalities that have to be gone through. I don't personally care jack-shit if you've got an authorization from the head of your agency or not, and APSA does not override military payroll procedures. You and your men are not going anywhere, or calling anyone, until I establish that. And if I have to call the Pentagon and take whatever flak happens, so be it."


For the first time the agent looked a little less than sure of himself. He pursed his lips. "You'd better make sure that they get that allowance, Colonel. If you want to know any more you'd better talk to Ms. Garnett. Take my advice. Don't. You've already pushed things a bit far."


Medea had stood silent through all of this. Now she lifted her patrician nose and looked down it at Ledbetter. "Is this man a representative of your Uncle Sam, Anibal?" she asked.


"You'd better believe it, lady," said Agent Ledbetter.


"He has made a poor choice in you," she said disdainfully to the agent. "I think you must also be a relative, because only nepotism could have got you the job."


She turned to her children. "Your new father is a noble and an honorable fighter honored to serve his Uncle, Sam, in new conquests for the Islands of America. He does not have to be coerced by his wife and children being held hostage. I hope that we will get a suitable gift of lands for this, because this house is rather small, although the magic plumbing is wonderful."


Anibal Cruz put an arm around his wife, and enjoyed looking at the senior agent whose mouth was working, but with no words coming out of it. Even when he got into the black SUV, he was still grinning.


Mac wasn't, though. The red-haired Corporal McKenna looked very close to doing something stupid.


"Take it easy, Mac," murmured Cruz. "What's the worst they can do to us? Compared to the big-time ranger school we lived through in Myth-Greece? These suits aren't much of a threat. It's not like they could send us back there."


Jim McKenna said something obscene and physically improbable. Using his wife, Arachne of Colophon, as a hostage for his cooperation was possibly even stupider than using the Sorceress Medea for that purpose.


"Besides," Cruz added, "if there is any problem with la migra, I took steps. The colonel will have a word with someone who . . . dwarfs the problem."


The corner of Mac's mouth twitched and the storm on his brow lifted. "I'm almost tempted to hope that these Pissants try to do something stupid."


The agent in front of them started to turn around, and began to say something, but then obviously changed his mind. It was probably a wise thing to do, under the circumstances, Cruz thought. Like the two of them shutting up until they found out what this was all about. Probably training Pissants instead of paratroopers on how to deal with what they'd found in the Mythworlds. The best advice Cruz could give them was "stay away and stay out" and if you're snatched—which is not something you can plan on—make damn sure you've got Dr. Jerry Lukacs there with you.


 


Arachne of Colophon didn't mind sharing a house with Medea. She would even put up with the agents left there to guard them. What she really didn't like was Jim McKenna going out without her there to keep an eye on him. Medea might be infected with the Greek notion that nobles had to fight and conquer, and that any man under arms was a noble, but Arachne knew better. Colophon's people weren't so foolish. A man's purpose was to make money—as was hers—and not to waste their talents on hitting people with swords. Any idiot could do that.


Not only had they cut her off from Mac, but they'd cut her off from a Colophonian girl's best friend—especially one who used to be a spider-bodied woman: the World Wide Web in general, and electronic stock trading in specific. Oh, and the other thing was that Medea kept dusting for spiderwebs. It was a good thing that no one had trained the princess in the art of actually doing her own housekeeping. This morning she had given the vacuum cleaner a good beating for not doing a proper job.


Arachne couldn't help noticing that it was more conscientious and respectful afterward than her own vacuum cleaner had been.


But even cut off from telephones and her laptop, and even if she wasn't spider-bodied any more, Arachne could still pull strings. Her web weaving started with a cup of coffee for the hapless agent watching them. Medea had berated him for being in the way and Priones, the four-year-old, was practicing his lunges with a small wooden sword. Information is any girl's next best friend, after a few hundred cubits of spider-silk. Everyone with any intelligence knew that the more secret a thing is supposed to be, the more certain it is that the hired help knows altogether too much about it. And Arachne would bet that this Agent Schmitt was no exception.


"I'm sorry you have been put on this dull duty, while your fellow nobles are out raiding and warring," she said. "Priones. Stop that, or there will be trouble."


Priones looked at her darkly, and pointed at the agent. "Mummy doesn't like him here. I hope she chops him up and boils him in a pot."


"She probably will, dear," said Arachne urbanely. "Later. Now go and play with your toy soldiers, if any of them still have heads."


He showed no sign of moving, but just went back to, "Mummy doesn't like him here."


Arachne licked her lips. "I haven't eaten a little boy for weeks."


"You wouldn't dare," he said, but he backed off. Medea called from the bedroom, which provided him with the chance to stick out his tongue and run.


"He needs a good hiding," said the agent, taking a mouthful of coffee. He was lucky that Medea hadn't made it. Medea's coffee pot hadn't been any more obedient for being given less grounds, but the sorceress believed that she had to persevere with disciplining it.


"Probably," agreed Arachne, "but I wouldn't try it. Medea really did chop up her half brother. Anyway, Priones is as good as gold with Cruz. But you have sent his new daddy away, so he's cross. He doesn't want you here. He'll probably be a monster until our husbands get back. Will they be away long?"


"As long as it takes to find Harkness and—" said the agent, before suddenly breaking off. "As long as it takes, Miz. I can't and won't talk about it, so stop trying to pump me. And keep that kid away from me."


Arachne smiled sweetly. "I'll do my best." She wondered if it would be easier to bribe Priones to drive him mad or to sic Neoptolemeus onto him. Neoptolemeus had decided he liked her. A seven-year-old can be a very deadly weapon, or at least a pretty annoying one.


And now all she needed was to establish who this "Harkness" was, and why her husband and Cruz were needed to find him. She'd have to find a time to talk to Medea privately. Maybe she'd know. Mac had certainly never mentioned the name, and they'd talked about pretty much everything.


 


Back | Next
Framed