April 4, 2075 7:45 p.m. GST
The Dolder Grand Hotel
After leaving Aubrey at GSSA headquarters, Geoff met with Assistant Chief Cryonicist Walker and Chief Neurochemist Berkovic to discuss their cases and prepare them for their arraignments, also scheduled for the following day. As with Aubrey, it was unlikely the GSSA would release them, but Geoff assured them he would do everything he could. He had to tell them he wouldn’t be able to represent them himself because he needed to focus on Aubrey’s case, but he had assigned two of Telogene’s best lawyers as their council. They seemed reasonably comfortable with his decision.
Next, he attempted to call Evelyn Wu, but she wasn’t taking his calls. Evelyn’s assistant had referred him to her GSSA lawyer, Heinz Mast, but calls to his office were equally unproductive. He would have to wait until after the arraignment before speaking with Evelyn or anyone from the GSSA.
With nothing left to do, Geoff returned to his suite at the Dolder Grand Hotel.
Located on the outskirts of Zurich, the Dolder Grand was a Swiss hospitality icon, having been in nearly continuous operation for over 175 years. Geoff stayed there whenever he was in town because he preferred quiet seclusion over the hustle and bustle of downtown. He also enjoyed walking in the lush, wooded areas behind the resort.
Geoff’s hovercar deposited him at the main entrance to the hotel, where an impeccably dressed man greeted him.
“Welcome back, Mr. Wagner.”
“Thank you, Fritz,” Geoff replied to his butler, one of the many perks the Dolder afforded its high-end clientele.
“A pleasant day, I hope?”
“More busy than pleasant, I’m afraid.”
“Sorry to hear that, sir. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“Just dinner in my room at nine, please.”
“Of course, sir. Any special requests?”
“Surprise me, chef’s choice.”
“Very well, sir. May I escort you to your room?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you.”
Fritz nodded slightly, “My pleasure, sir.”
A short time later Geoff was sitting out on his balcony overlooking downtown Zurich in the distance and Lake Zurich beyond. The sun was just setting, and the city below twinkled in the cool dusk air.
Man, this view never gets old.
He took another sip of his forty-year-old, single malt Scotch whiskey.
And there is no such thing as a too-old Scotch!
Geoff lingered over his Scotch until the last of the sun faded away before turning his attention to the work that awaited him inside.
“Let’s see what I have to work with,” he said out loud as he examined the contents of the holocube Aubrey had given him earlier that day.
He spent the next hour pouring over the contents of the cube, but he found nothing of immediate value.
“Come on, Aubrey, it’s got to be here somewhere. Where did you hide it?”
He poured over the cube’s contents for another half hour and was about to hurl it across the room when Fritz appeared in the doorway across the room.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but dinner is served.”
“Thank you, I’ll be right there.”
Fritz left Geoff staring blankly at the holodisplay flickering in the air in front of him.
What did she say to me? Data file backups as required by the board and…that’s it!
For the past three decades, the company had required that a backup of all corporate documents be maintained at the company’s facility on Mars; this included the engramic archives of all senior executives.
She would have known that the GSSA would secure our primary backup locations, and she would have had a contingency.
Geoff activated his personal AI and asked it to query the company’s research lab on Mars.
That will take a while. Might as well eat something, I’m starving.
Geoff left the holocube to do its work while he enjoyed a five-course meal that started with a creamy Swiss onion soup, worked its way through salad, beef and fish courses, and ended with a slice of chocolate cake that ranked among the best he had ever had.
Fritz appeared at Geoff’s side just as he finished his last bite of cake.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, sir, but you have an urgent call. Would you like to take it upstairs?”
“Who is it?”
“The Secretary General’s office.”
“Great. Yes, I’ll take it in the office.”
“Will there be anything else this evening?”
“No, thank you. Please send my compliments to the chef.”
“Very well, sir. Have a good night.”
Geoff walked up the stairs to the office located just off the master bedroom. The GSSA logo was visible on the holodisplay, and Geoff gestured to accept the call.
General Secretary Merkel’s face replaced the logo. “Good evening, Mr. Wagner.”
“Hello, Madame Secretary. What can I do for you this fine evening?”
Geoff could see that Dianne Merkel had been burning the candle at both ends. Her face was drawn, and he could see dark shadows beneath her normally youthful-looking eyes.
“There has been a change of plans for tomorrow. I just got off the phone with Justice Salamanca. She has agreed to allow your client to attend the hearing remotely—for her protection and safety.”
Geoff could tell from the sly smile that crept across her face that the sarcasm he heard in her voice was intentional. He wished that he could reach through the holodisplay and slap it off her but, since he couldn’t, he returned her smile with an ear-to-ear grin of his own.
“Okay, I’ll let her know,” he said without the slightest note of surprise or aggravation in his voice. “Is there anything else I need to know?”
“You’re not going to lodge a protest?” Dianne asked, somewhat surprised.
“What’s the point? It’s just an arraignment, and I’ve been doing this long enough to know that my client isn’t getting out on bail.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear it. I appreciate you not making this any more difficult than it needs to be.”
“You’re welcome. But please don’t mistake my acceptance of this little ploy as resignation. We will fight, and we will win. I’m just picking my battles.”
“I take offense to that, Mr. Wagner. This is no little ploy…I am sincerely concerned about your client’s safety,” Dianne said with more than a hint of indignation in her voice.
“Yes, I am sure you are. And it’s especially convenient that your concern for her safety will have the secondary benefit of keeping her away from the dozens of reporters who I am sure will camp outside the courthouse.”
“So, that’s your biggest concern? Getting her in front of the press? Don’t worry, Mr. Wagner, I am sure you will more than adequately represent your client’s interests in that venue as well.”
“I will do my best. In any case, it’s getting late, and I need to call my client. Are we done?”
“Yes, I thought I would do you this courtesy and tell you in person. Good night, Mr. Wagner.”
“Good night, Madam Secretary, and thank you for the call.”
Geoff ended the call and dialed GSSA Headquarters to speak to his client. It took several minutes of pleading and more than a couple of threats, but he finally got to talk to her. He explained that he would appear in court on her behalf, and that she would be present only as a holographic projection. She didn’t seem to mind and thanked him for letting her know. He told her to get some sleep and then disconnected. He hoped he hadn’t seemed in too much of a hurry, but he had other urgent business to attend to.
Geoff went back downstairs to where he had left Aubrey’s holocube. He activated the display and was pleased to see he had received the answer he had hoped for.
Aubrey had, as he expected, uploaded her last engramic archive to Telogene’s lab on Mars. She had also provided several documents that outlined her plans for Evan and her rationale for bringing him back. Geoff didn’t bother reading them; he already knew what she was planning and why she did what she did.
I better make a copy just in case.
With a few gestures, Geoff instructed the remote lab’s AI to create a copy of Aubrey’s engrams and transmit them to another secret location—this one known only to him. Once satisfied that the transfer was in progress, he activated his communicator implant.
The person who answered wasn’t happy. “So much for don’t call me again!”
“I am sorry to bother you at this hour, Alex, but there has been a change of plans,” Geoff said.
Alexei listened quietly for several minutes as Geoff explained his new plan.
“So, let me be sure I understand,” Alexei finally said. “First, you ask me to extract a high-profile target in GSSA custody, the difficulty of which would be extreme…to say the least.”
“Let me finish,” Alexei continued. “And now you want her terminated? That is no simple favor that can be exchanged between friends, Bruce…excuse me, I mean Geoff. That is a service that comes at a very high price, were I to even consider doing it at all.”
“Look, Alex, you and I have known each other for a very long time, and you know as well as I do that this was standard executive protection protocol until the HDDA. I am simply asking you to do something that we’ve done dozens of times before.”
“Yes, that is true. But those things just are not done anymore…at least not publicly. Besides, she’ll be scooped up the minute she shows herself. And she’ll have no rights—the GSSA will do whatever they want with her, and there will be no courts to stand in their way.”
“As I said at the beginning…we will get her to Mars, and she will never come back. Her life here is over. Do you think that Merkel will ever allow her to walk away from this? She brought her grandfather back from the dead for fuck’s sake, and the story is already hitting the news feeds. Aubrey will be locked up for the rest of her life, only to be hauled out and put on display whenever the GSSA needs to remind people of the consequences of illegal cloning. She will lose everything, and she will spend the rest of her life in some prison camp. I can’t let that happen.”
A long moment of silence passed before Alexei finally spoke.
“If I do this,” he finally said, “then whoever I send will need a new life. There can’t be any ties back to us…and that will be very, very expensive, my friend.”
“I already have that covered. You secure an engramic archive from your operative before informing him or her of the job. Once it’s done, I will ensure that they get a new face, a GFN registered identity, and plenty of money to start a new life.”
“And what about you, Mister Wagner, where will you go?”
“I go where Aubrey goes. I promised an old friend that I would protect his family no matter what, and I can’t stop now.”
“That’s what I’ve always envied that about you, Bruce.”
“Your dedication and sense of purpose in life. You’ve always been someone who knows exactly why you are here and what’s expected of you. That is a great gift, my friend. I have learned the hard way that living a long life loses its luster when you lack purpose.”
“We all have a purpose, Alex.”
“That may be true in the beginning, but I am turning one hundred and five years old next month. And what do I have to show for it? More money than I can ever spend, more ex-wives than I can count, and a circle of friends who I only hear from when they need something—present company included.”
“You know I’d call more if I could.”
“That’s not the point…besides, I told you I never wanted to hear from you again. Remember?”
“The point is that my only purpose in life is to be available for those rare occasions when my erstwhile friends call asking for favors. Otherwise, I’m just bored out of my mind because I have nothing left to do.”
“Except one thing!” Alex interrupted.
“I want to be on the ship.”
“Come now, Bruce, don’t be coy with me. The ship going to Alpha Centauri. The one that the Galileo Group is building in orbit above Ceres.”
“Adekunle Gbadamosi’s company?”
“The one and only.”
“What’s that have to do with me or my request?”
“Please, don’t insult me. I know that Telogene has pumped hundreds of billions into that ship. There can only be one reason you are so eager to get your asses to Mars, and you are taking me with you.”
“Now wait a minute, Alex. I don’t know where you are getting your information, but you’ve got it wrong. There is no…”
“Stop! I don’t want to hear your lies! These are my terms. You want my help with Aubrey, then you take me with you. Otherwise, no deal!”
“You got to believe me, Alexei, I know nothing about that ship beyond what we’ve all seen in the news. We are going to Mars so that Aubrey and Chen can find a solution for the mutation problem. That’s it.”
Alexei laughed hard. “Oh, that’s rich. Is it possible that little Aubrey has not been completely honest with you? Can it be that she has excluded you, her ever faithful friend and protector, from her plan? I don’t believe it. The great Bruce Wagner—master of disguise, corporate espionage agent extraordinaire, terror of the courtroom, and trusted adviser to the CEO of Telogene—knows nothing he hasn’t seen on the news? I love it!”
He continued before Bruce could respond. “Well, I guess it’s only fair since you’ve hidden your identity from her all these years. I wonder what she’d say if she found out that Geoff Wagner is really Bruce Wagner, her grandfather’s best friend and the designated guardian angel of his children and grandchildren?”
“You’re out of line, Alexei.”
“No sir, I am only stating the obvious. Either what I say is true, or you are lying to me, and I know when you are lying, my friend—you are not lying. You really don’t know what her plans are, do you?”
“What I know is that she needs my help, and that is all I need to know. If what you say is true, then I am sure she will tell me when she’s ready. In the meantime, I need to hear you say you will help me. Will you help, Alex?”
“Yes, Bruce. I will help you. But you must promise to get me on that ship.”
“I can’t promise to get you on a ship I know next to nothing about. But what I can promise is to find out what’s going on and share with you anything I learn. Fair enough?”
“Well, I guess that will have to do, my friend. I will do as you have asked.”
“Thank you. I’ve always been able to count on you.”
“But after this, we are even. I have paid my debt in full, understood?”
“No goodbyes. I will see you again soon my friend…on Mars!”
The display went dark, leaving Geoff—or Bruce, as he was once known—to ponder what Alexei had said.
That was unfortunate. I wonder how he found out.
He went downstairs and poured himself another drink before returning to his favorite balcony. The lights of downtown Zurich were glowing in the distance, but it was the light of the stars above that drew Bruce’s gaze. He took another sip of his Scotch.
I wonder which one of those is Mars.
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