'You ran the Matrix without authorization,' Estios accused.

'A decker always runs without authorization. 'Tis what decking is all about.'

Estios's eyes narrowed. 'Cut the snow. You've spent enough time here to know that no one connects to the Matrix from the mansion without clearing it first.'

'And if anyone, even you, Estios, can find anything i compromising in the copy of the run, I shall submit I to any discipline that the professor deems proper.''

1'We don't need to see your concocted evidence, alley runner. You're not welcome here any longer. Leave now.''

Estios stepped forward, apparently ready to enforce his demand, but Laverty restrained him with a touch on his arm. 'Dodger may stay as long as he wishes.' Estios turned his head sharply and looked down into Laverty's eyes. 'That's unwise.' 'Technically, Dodger is abusing your hospitality,

Professor,' Chatterjee said. 'It sets a terrible precedent.'

'He should be expelled and banned,' Estios said.

'Dodger is free to come and go as he pleases, Mr.

Estios,' Laverty said.

Chatterjee inclined his head in acceptance of the professor's decision, but Estios just scowled and stepped back to his place at Laverty's side. Laverty gave the taller elf a rueful shake of his head.

'Come, come, Mr. Estios. I feel confident that Dodger would never betray this house. He is difficult on occasion and less than mannerly at most times, but his heart is great. I am sure that there is a good and sufficient reason for his actions,'

'Verily,' Dodger agreed. ' Tis most assured that

I meant no disrespect for you and your hospitality, Professor. Circumstances conspired to force me to this end.'

'Don't they always?' Laverty said, then chuckled. 'Circumstances seem to conspire against you regularly.'

Dodger shrugged. 'Time is an unreal concept in the forest. I stayed too long and found myself in need of a safe place to conduct my business. Lacking access to any other place where my flesh would be safe while I roamed the Matrix, I came here.'

'You could have decked from your precious forest,' Estios said. 'You've done that often enough.'

'Alas, I had no transmitter. I had not expected to be gone so long, and so neglected to make such preparations. When I found that time had passed more swiftly than expected, I found myself in an awkward situation. Were it not for my obligations to my fellow. runners, I would never have imposed so.'

'What do you know of obligations, alley runner?'

'I know mat a person is obligated to follow his conscience rather than the letter of orders imposed from above. Surely, even a grand soldier such as yourself can grasp such a basic concept?''

'Enough. There have been enough disturbances of the peace in this house. I do not need you two tearing at each other,' Laverty said. 'Dodger, this run wouldn't be one of Samuel Verner's, would it?'

Seeing no harm in admitting it, Dodger said, 'In truth, it is.'

Laverty was thoughtful for a moment. The other elves waited silently; they knew better than to interrupt the professor's thoughts. At last, he said, 'You have shown a remarkable loyalty toward that man.'

' 'Any loyalty is remarkable for an alley runner.''

'I said enough, Mr. Estios.' There was no harshness in Laverty's voice, but Estios looked stung just the same. Laverty's attention remained on Dodger. 'Another data run? Verner is still searching for his sister?'

'Always that,' Dodger replied. The professor's renewed interest in Sam made Dodger a little uncomfortable. 'This run was simply business. Even a knight errant needs operating capital.'

'Another theft,' Estios scoffed.

' 'Twas was no theft.'

'Call it what you want,' Estios continued, ignoring Laverty's sharp look. 'You can't alter its nature.'

Dodger's initial annoyance at Estios's suggestion of larceny eased as he saw the professor's reaction. Estios lost points by being the first to break the imposed truce. Unable to resist, Dodger said, 'Some people never change.'

A slight motion near the door caught his attention and he immediately regretted his words. In the exchange with Estios, he had forgotten that Teresa was there. She had been so quiet. Thinking that he had no way to fool the professor, but that he might cover his chagrin from the others, he launched into an explanation of what had happened.

'Our run was supposed to be a simple extraction. A friendly one, at that. The subject had supposedly concluded a contract with new employers, but had failed to secure release from his current corporation. Mr. Johnson assured us that the subject was not in a sensitive position, so it should have been a clean inand-out. Someone hosed. The pickup apparently had no idea what was going on. He did not even seem aware that Sam and the others were there for him.'

'A deliberate ruse to trap Verner,' Chatterjee suggested.

Dodger wondered just how much Chatterjee knew. The dark-skinned elf had not been present when Sam had been at the mansion last summer, and normally, he would not have been briefed on old business. Perhaps he only drew the obvious conclusion. 'If 'twere a trap, 'twere a poor one. There seemed no reasonable chance of closure.'

'A Renraku reprisal, then?'

Chatterjee's mention of the corporation from which Sam had fled banished any remaining thoughts of innocence. Chatterjee's knowledge was a sign that the professor retained an interest in Sam. 'An unlikely circumstance.'

Laverty nodded. 'A conclusion based on your research into Mr. Johnson's real identity.'

Dodger tried his best offended look. 'A client expects to maintain his confidentiality. 'Tis most unhealthy to inquire into such matters.'

'Dodger?' Laverty smiled, and Dodger knew his ruse had never had a chance.

'Andrew Glover of Amalgamated Technologies and Telecommunications. Mister Glover is a vicepresident, on the fast track with a bullet. His firm has a pedigree that's about as pure European as they come.

'Tis not the slightest hint of Renraku influence. Of course,' Dodger added with a sly grin, 'there does seem to be a connection to Saeder-Krupp.'

Laverty raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. Estios did the reacting.

'Saeder-Krupp! They're Lofwyr's puppets. If the beast is making moves in Seattle…'

Laverty's voice was stiff as he clipped Estios into silence. 'Mr. Estios, you are being most disruptive today. The dragon's plans are not of importance in this matter. Simple stock ownership is insufficient evidence of the dragon's involvement. Although ATT is owned by Saeder-Krupp, the corporation remains essentially independent, and I think it unlikely that Lofwyr even knows of this operation. Dodger, you did say that your Mr. Johnson was Glover?'


Laverty nodded to himself. 'Though I doubt your liend is enmeshed in some dragon's schemes again, I link that he will have need of his budding magical Italents.'

Dodger understood the implied question. He even ad some idea of the offer that was being made. 'He^ till won't come to see you.'

'I understand. His rigorous logical training and scintific orientation made a very convincing argument jat his mind would be oriented to the hermetic tratotion. Your report of his vision of the Dog totem was ost startling. I had not conceived of that possibility. was a most embarrassing oversight. He probably rfds me in little respect, since I misdiagnosed his

'ling.' iAh, thought Dodger, if you only knew. ' 'Tis not reason. Despite surviving dragonfire, Sam barely iieves in his magical powers. 'Tis unlikely that he aid fault you for thinking him a mage when he him –

'I had to.'

'Have you come back?'

'I'm not sure.'

'I see.' She pocketed the chip and stepped around him. Pausing at the door, she said, 'Come talk to me when you are sure.'

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