information-a rumor of a rumor, that's all.'

'What if it doesn't work?'

Natch shrugged. 'If it doesn't work, then what's the harm done?'

'The Council will deny the rumor,' interjected Horvil.

'And knowing the Council, they'll deny it so forcefully that people will remain suspicious. Nobody ever accused High Executive Borda of being subtle.'

I could say the same thing about you, Natch, Jara thought to herself. I don't understand this at all,' she said, throwing up her hands in exasperation. 'If we have four programs ready to launch on the Data Sea, why don't we just launch them now? Why do we need Pharisees?'

Natch shook his head. 'First off, the programs aren't good enough yet,' he replied. 'We need at least another day to polish them up. And second, the Patel Brothers have been watching our every move for weeks now. They know we're eyeing their number one spot on Primo's. Unless we catch the Patels unaware for a few hours, they'll immediately fire off a barrage of their own upgrades so they can stay on top. But if we have enough of a cushion, we just might be able to grab number one for a few hours.'

'What if someone catches us spreading rumors?'

'Like who?'

He's right, the fiefcorp analyst reflected bitterly. Truth on the Data Sea was like the light from an ancient kaleidoscope: tinted and scattered and refracted on all sides. Especially in the bio/logics trade, where everyone was an interested party. Fiefcorps and memecorps spread rumors about their competitors all the time. So did the capitalmen who funded them and the channelers who pushed their wares. Jara remembered the recent case of a woman who planted rumors of incompetence about her own son to drive him out of business. Or the case of the fiefcorper who cornered the market on gastrointestinal programming by sabotaging his competitors' sales demos. No charges had been filed in either case.

And who stood in Natch's way? The Meme Cooperative-a fumbling bureaucracy.

Jara thought back to those interminable childhood lectures from the hive. So if the Meme Cooperative is so incompetent, she had once complained, who's looking out for the little guy? Who's keeping things fair?

Nobody, her proctor had replied ruefully.

Nobody? Jara had screamed in youthful outrage.

Oh, I could tell you what the headmaster wants me to tell you, the proctor had replied. All that bullshit in the official hive curriculum. 'The fluidity of information on the Data Sea ferrets out weak struts in the economy.' 'The independent writers, pundits and watchdogs known as the drudges are very effective at rooting out corruption. ' 'We rely on the Local Political Representative Associations of Civic Groups-the L-PRACGs, our governments-to keep the free market in check.' But you read the news, Jara. Do any of those statements sound like the truth to you?

They had not. But those discussions had all taken place half a lifetime ago, back when a career as a Meme Cooperative bureaucrat or an L-PRACG policy maker had seemed like an attractive option. Fiefcorps were a place to build up a nest egg until something real came along. How quickly everything changed after the hive! All it had taken for her to sell out her governmentalist ideals, Jara thought with bitterness, was the flattery of rich, handsome, intelligent men like Natch.

Jara rubbed her eyes and came back to the present moment, but she could not dislodge Natch's obfuscating lenses. The plan might work because it's so ridiculous, thought Jara. Who would suspect the industry has sunk so low that one of its finest is willing to sow panic in the streets with Pharisee terrorism rumors? Who would suspect Natch has anything to gain by it?

And if someone did find out-if the Council or the Cooperative or the drudges or the Patel Brothers caught wind of the true source of these rumors-Primo's would probably still crown them number one. An independent valuation system couldn't afford to be swayed by the vagaries of law or politics.

Natch stopped pacing, making Jara uneasy. 'I only see two potential problems,' he said. 'One, the rumors might not generate enough flak in the marketplace to faze the Patels. They might still launch NightHawk on schedule. Two, Primo's might find some undiscovered flaw in one of our programs and penalize us for it.'

'What about the other fiefcorps?' asked Jara.

'Who? Lucas Sentinel? PulCorp? Prosteev Serly?' Natch gave a dismissive flip of the hand. 'I've already checked their launch schedules. Nothing.'

Horvil frowned. He had been silent for some time now, listening to Natch's maddening logic and making quiet calculations of his own. Jara wondered if he had enough functioning brain cells this early in the morning to fully comprehend the magnitude of Natch's scheme. 'There's one more problem,' said the engineer.

'Which is?'

'What if these rumors spook more than just the Patel Brothers? The Pharisees have killed people with these terrorist attacks before. What if we spark too much panic? I mean, we're all connected'-the engineer waved his hands around in the air as if he could scoop up mol ecule-thick multi bots and subaether transmissions with his fingers'and so we're all vulnerable. There could be another black code attack any day now. Everyone knows that. The Council might really be gearing up for another assault. What if we cause too much panic? There might be a rush on the Vault. People might stop trading. The whole financial system could collapse.'

Natch grinned as if he relished the possibility. 'Small chance,' he said. Was that a note of disappointment in his voice? 'Come on, Horvil! A few rumors shut down the financial system? People aren't that gullible. Besides, the Council will quash the rumors long before that happens.'

'And what-what if the Pharisees do actually launch an attack that day?'

'Horv,' laughed the fiefcorp master, 'I'm not responsible for what those lunatics do. The only one I'm responsible for is me. Let them do their worst. No matter what happens, the markets will still be there on November 2nd. Trust me.'


Jara stared gloomily at the three-dimensional flowchart she had constructed on the coffee table. The flowchart towered mightily over her head, information layered on top of information like a ziggurat. She sat back and surveyed her handiwork. The names of people Jara had known all her life were lined up on a tier of data labeled GULLIBLE. Other names-friends, relatives, old lovers and companions-were skewered on holographic arrows labeled HARD SELL and SOFT SELL. Her own mother's name stood on an out-of-the-way parapet with the caption UNTRUSTWORTHY.

This is what you've always wanted to do, isn't it? Jara told herself. Strategic analysis for a biollogic fie/corp. Managing timetables, scheduling product launches, assigning resources ... right?

Monday was nearly over, and she still hadn't gotten any sleep. Jara suddenly realized she had been staring at the flowchart without moving for at least an hour. Any minute, she expected the ziggurat to come crashing down on her in a virtual avalanche of data. And then she would die here, buried under the weight of Natch's lies.

If you don't want to be here, Horvil had told her, go home. She thought about the engineer, sweating inside a MindSpace bubble at the other end of London. The fact that Horvil was also foregoing sleep was small consolation to her.

Shortly after sundown, Jara felt the mental ping of an incoming multi request. Natch.

The fiefcorp master emerged from nothingness, gave her a cheerful wave in greeting, and began scrutinizing the flowchart. Jara hadn't seen him since this morning's meeting in Shenandoah, and his transformation was truly eerie. Gone was Natch the petulant schoolboy, seemingly shut off with the touch of a button. In his place stood Natch the slick entrepreneur, Natch the salesman, Natch the emblem of positive thinking.

'So you think we'll achieve maximum penetration if we start spreading the rumors tonight,' he said with one hand pensively rubbing a chin that may have never known stubble.

Jara nodded wearily. 'I've categorized all our acquaintances on three axes: credibility, connections, and sphere of influence. Then I've traced the likely flow of rumor from person to person, and plotted out the percentage chance the rumors hit critical mass.' She pointed to the pinnacle of the tower, a place of convergence. 'I figure we need to start with our most influential friends tonight and work our way to the bottom of the list by tomorrow

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