speeds. A privileged few used the teleportation stations, still shiny and unspoiled and mostly empty.

Jara had witnessed the same morning transformation many times in London, but until now, she had never seen it in Shenandoah. She felt a momentary pang of envy for the people who lived and worked in the smooth, low curves of a modern city. They had never scrabbled to work over ancient brick or weedy cobblestone, nor taken a circuitous tube route around yet another corroded abbey that had been given perpetual right-of-way For The Sake Of History. Stop feeling sorry for yourself Jara thought. You could live in Shenandoah if you really wanted-even though all you could afford here is a room in one of the old skyscrapers. She gazed off to the east, where the faint broken towers of Old Washington thrust above the mist. The towers were all that remained now of the variegated American empires that had flourished in the years before the Autonomous Revolt. One lone tube track snaked out in that direction from Shenandoah and disappeared into the fog like the fossilized tendril of some long-dead beast.

Stop delaying, Jara thought. Go inside and get this over with. Then you can go home and sleep. Whatever idiocy Natch is planning can't be much worse than what you're already doing.

* * *

She was wrong.

'You want me to what?' Jara shrieked, sounding even to herself like some farcical harpy from the dramas. The Unbeliever, the sourfaced One Who Doubts Our Hero's Prowess.

Natch gloated at his apprentice's reaction. 'I want you to spread rumors,' he said calmly, mid-pace, 'that the Data Sea is about to be bombarded with a crippling black code attack.'

'A crippling black code attack.'

'By the Pharisees.'

'The Pharisees. And what good is this going to do?'

'It's going to cause the Patel Brothers to delay their product launch.'

Natch's orders were such an affront to common sense that Jara couldn't help but laugh. An emboldened Horvil let out a guffaw of his own. 'Great plan,' cheered the engineer mockingly. 'While we're at it, let's cause the Patel Brothers to put a million credits in our Vault accounts and give us all neck massages.'

Jara wondered fleetingly if Natch really had lost his mind. What connection was there between a respectable bio/logics company selling programs to improve the human body, and a group of superstitious fanatics who had walled themselves off in a far corner of the globe? Then she looked at Natch's condescending smirk and realized he was utterly serious.


The analyst took a seat on the sofa next to her fellow apprentice. 'All right, start explaining,' she said.

Natch nodded and gave another one of those self-absorbed looks into the distance. 'What's tomorrow?' he said at length.

Horvil tilted his eyes upwards in thought. 'November 1st.'

'November 1st. A day like any other, right? For us, yes. Products launched, products sold, business as usual. But for the Pharisees, tomorrow is the Day of the Dead.' He waved his hand at the closest viewscreen, which happened to be showing an early landscape by Tope. The painting's sharp blues and greens morphed into an old Prime Committee video about the Day of the Dead. Technology has marched onwards, announced the narrator, but in the mythology of the Pharisees, ghouls and goblins still come out at night. The three of them watched as a band of brown-skinned Pharisees bowed low in dusty robes and began chanting in an archaic guttural tongue.

The Pharisees hate the civilized world, continued the nameless documentary narrator. Using biollogic programs to manipulate the human body is `ungodly,' they say. And to implant tiny machines in the blood, to let some programmer's code actually broadcast images into the brain ... Unnatural! A sin!

Natch paused the display and snapped for emphasis. Onscreen, a youth was frozen in mid-scowl, his sunburned fist raised in defiance at some unseen foe. 'Remember the program that started raising blood pressures in all the orbital colonies?' said Natch. 'That was just two years ago. Twenty-three hundred dead, and a harsh military response from the Defense and Wellness Council. But do you think they've had their fill of bloodshed? Of course not! The Pharisees haven't been idle since then. They've been plotting and scheming and studying programming techniques, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.

'When do the Pharisees tend to attack? On days of religious significance, of course. Like the Feast of All Saints. Like Jesus Joshua Smith's Birthday.

'Like the Day of the Dead.

'Think about it! Couldn't the Pharisees have figured out a way to disrupt the financial markets or Dr. Plugenpatch or the multi network by now? Couldn't they have chosen tomorrow to launch their opening salvo in the next holy war against us `connectibles'? Isn't it possible the Defense and Wellness Council is shoring up its defenses right now to prepare for a major onslaught by some frightening new breed of black code?'

Horvil was totally captivated by Natch's little narrative. He leaned forward on the edge of the sofa, shifting his attention nervously between the wildly gesticulating Natch and the ominous figure on the viewscreen with the unkempt hair and dirty robe. 'It is possible, isn't it!' he gasped.

'And if all this is true ... wouldn't November lst be a very unlucky day for the Patel Brothers to launch a product upgrade?'

Jara felt Natch's plot snap into focus, and for one sickening instant she saw the world through the fiefcorp master's warped lenses. Colors faded away, blacks and whites dissolved into a miasma of indistinct gray. 'So you want us to tell people our friends at the Defense and Wellness Council say something big is about to happen, and wait for the rumors to clog up the gossip networks?'

'I don't want anything clogged up. I want fucking bedlam.'

'And you think the Patel Brothers will catch wind of all this and postpone their product launch to a day with a slower news cycle.'

Horvil shook off the jitters and sat back in thought. 'So that's why you've been pushing us so hard on NiteFocus 48,' he said. 'A near-perfect program ... launched on a day where there's no competition ... That just might cause Primo's to edge us up a notch or two in the ratings.'

Jara frowned. She now gleaned why Merri and Serr Vigal had been excluded from this early-morning rendezvous; they would never participate in such a scheme. In fact, now that Jara thought about it, Natch had been excluding them from a lot of ethically shady errands like this lately. A thought slithered through the back of Jara's mind. What did that say about Natch's opinion of her? She purposefully let it go.

Natch restarted the video. They watched a squad of Defense and Wellness Council officers execute a coordinated strike on a crowd of restless Pharisees standing on a hilltop. The Pharisees fired laser rifles wildly at the white-robed figures materializing all around them. But the figures they hit were nothing but ghostly multi projections, spotters for the real strike force lining up behind them. A volley of needlesized darts flew through the air, lodging themselves in the flesh of their adversaries and unloading their deadly cargo of toxic chemicals and molecule-sized machines of war. Within seconds, the fight was over and the Pharisees lay motionless on the dirty ground.

'It's a nice theory, Natch,' Jara said, 'but I doubt one new program could cause us to jump five slots on Primo's overnight.'

'No,' said Natch with a sudden diabolical grin, 'but four programs just might.'

The apprentices simply stared at him, unable to summon any coherent words in response.

'What do you think I've been doing these past few weeks while the two of you plugged away on NiteFocus 48? I've been working, that's what. Getting DeMirage 52 and EyeMorph 66 prepared for launch.'

Horvil counted ostentatiously on his fingers. 'That's only three. What's the fourth program?'

'Mento Calc-U-Later 93.9. That's been ready for weeks now.'

'What? You told me that program was unlaunchable.'

'I lied.'

* * *

As the morning wore on, Natch stubbornly resisted all objections to his plan, though Horvil and Jara tried their best.

'This all sounds so nebulous,' protested Jara. 'Who's going to believe we know anything about terrorist attacks? We're not spieswe're businesspeople.'

'We've got good connections. People will believe them. Besides, we don't need to come up with any specific

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