Table of Contents . . .


[ INDY ]


“It’s actually quite fascinating!” the portly little physician said as he capered around the lab, like a child in some demented hi-tech candy store. “As you can see, we’ve had tremendous success in accessing universes parallel to our own. Why, just look!”

He was pointing at a small, aqua-illuminated vat. In the center was a pinhead of black matter, held in place by tractor beams.

“Um…yeah?” I said, trying not to hide my disappointment. When I had spoken to Dr. Howell’s assistant on the phone, the enthusiasm in his voice when I said I was a reporter researching a story had suggested to me that there might be something to the idea that the second Blair had come from a parallel universe. So far, though, all I had been offered was burnt coffee and a fly turd in a jar.

“That’s matter from Quasi-Spatial Conformity 117-A, one of the many parallel universes we’ve tracked and detected here at the Institute.”

I nodded, feigning interest. The passing joke of Dr. Emil, that the existence of dual Blairs might somehow be due to a parallel universe intersecting with our own had intrigued me, and certainly I didn’t have a better explanation.

“Ah, Doctor,” I said, trying to steer the conversation back towards my aim, “this black…stuff. It’s from a parallel universe?” Doctor Howell nodded vigorously. “Mmhmm. And it has…what value, exactly?”

At that, he brightened even more; I’d obviously hit on his favorite question. “Well! Using that dense pocket of matter, we are able, through a series of computerized projections, to recreate the entire universe it comes from.”

“Really?” I asked. “That’s amazing.”

“All matter affects each other in minute ways…we suspend this matter in total stasis, and then have the computers analyze it, and determine what forces acted on it, and what would have caused those forces…and so on, and so forth.”

My interest was piqued. I decided to go for broke. “Could it reconstruct beings from that parallel universe? Native inhabitants?”

Dr. Howell frowned a bit, then perked again. “Yes…that is possible. That,” and he pointed at the tube he had been showing me, “will be analyzed to the point of five square meters by our computers in…oh, eight years. Six, if we’re lucky.”

Ever had your heart visibly drop into your stomach with disappointment?

“Hmm,” I said. “Well, thank you for your time, Doctor.” And I raced out of there so quickly that I didn’t even register his offers for a more in-depth tour of the labs…the potential boredom was enough to drive me to suicide.

What a day.

“Hey, Allan!” said Rob, plunking his massive glutes onto my desk and leaning across, as if he was about to impart some terrible secret. “This is a great one. What do you call something with two furs, six legs, one head, and two tails?”

I sighed. “Former President Quinson sharing some quality time with his pet ferret,” I said. Rob’s face dropped in disappointment. “That story is so played out. The way the press is treating him, you’d think bestiality was still a crime. As long as it’s consensual…”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Rob said, his face downcast. I’d really spoiled his day.

Fuck it.

“Oh shit,” he said, his fat, placid face lighting up again as he turned his attention to the TV, his mounds of fat wearing the finish off that particular corner of my desk as he did so, “this is my favorite commercial.”

I looked over at the TV and fought the urge to vomit. It was one of those moronic medical ads where they offered something to clear up your acne, but slapped on the disclaimer: “ZitBGon can cause diarrhea, bloating, male pregnancy, multiple eye growth, skin rash, premature aging, the Loch Ness monster, and the coming of the antichrist."

“Brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” Rob laughed. “I swear, I’ve got to use some of that in my next ‘What are you Bitching About?’ piece.”

I nodded, trying to ignore him. The Blair thing was still making no sense. I was currently trying to determine the likelihood of his having a twin brother, but no luck.

“Hey, and look at that!” he yelled, poking me in the shoulder. I looked up in annoyance. “That’s the chick from ‘The Border Crisis’. The one who played Colonel Panther.”

Yes. Indeed it was. I care because…?

“Man…except for the eyes, you wouldn’t even notice. That bioucture stuff they put to mold faces is good shit.”

“Yeah…” I said, looking up at the actress. For once, Rob wasn’t spouting completely moronic shit. The actress, Kristina Something-or-Other, was quite good, even if she was having to do commercials to make ends meet, and her borrowed smile had wowed several guys when that movie on the Intrepid’s exposure of Tolwyn had come out. The tits didn’t hurt either.

“Y’know, I’ve met her. She really had it rough after that movie,” Rob said, interlinking his bratwurst-sized fingers unconsciously. I knew what that meant. She hadn’t been willing to go down on him for some more personal publicity. “Did porno. High-class birthday parties. A lot of the guys made her wear that shit she wore for the movie, too. Fantasy fulfillment kind of thing. Made interior front page with that one.” And he did, too. Rob was good at getting his stuff placed. It must come from having photos of the assistant editor wallpapering nude.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling and indulging myself in the kind of fantasy where I could afford high-class bio-mold strippers.

Rob kept babbling on about it, of which I remember only snippets…her mother was a Kilrathi POW (who wasn’t?), her father was a drunk…even when he started digressing into the other actors, I didn’t pay all that much attention. It was only when he got into Colin Andrews that I paid any attention.

“Hold on, what did you just say?” I asked. Rob looked down at me, squinting, like a near-sighted bluejay.

“I said, it was too bad about that Andrews guy. The one who played Blair. Massive overdose.”

“Really?” I said, and my sudden interest must have startled Rob. His brow furrowed, making his head look like a pasty raisin.

“Yeah,” he said haltingly. “He had a pretty nice film career going before then. Seems like that movie was bad luck for anybody who as in it. Take the guy who played Senator Taggart…”

But I wasn’t listening before. I’d flipped open my files again, pulling out the two holostills. On one, Blair, frothing like a maniac, commanding the Gemini Alliance warship. The other, Blair…but, that’s redundant. I’ve told you what they looked like.

But I wasn’t looking at them for context this time. I’d already run the two through image comparison software at least a dozen times, and each time it’d confirmed they were the same individual. I hadn’t even thought to check the one angle…

“Hey, Rob,” I said. “There’s a bug on your ass.”

And he leapt up so quickly that the whole building shook, and left a sizable dent in the floor in front of my desk. “Thank you,” I said, reaching for the phone that his sizable buttocks had been crushing only moments before. Wincing at the disturbing warmth the receiver had absorbed, I dialed the number for Charles Ulster. The Bear Trap of Trivia around here.

“Hey, Charles,” I said, laughing as Rob kept brushing at his pants to remove the imaginary bug, “got a few minutes? Good. I need to know everything there is to know about the Gemini Alliance…”

Which brings us to the here and now.

“Mr. Lovell will see you now,” the secretary said, in her characteristic dull monotone. I nodded, forced a smile, and walked into the stuffy and pungent office of my editor.

“Allan. Make this good,” Mr. Lovell said, puffing obnoxiously on his clove cigarette. I couldn’t even comfort myself with the notion that he would die an early, painful death. With newer medical technologies, he’d probably outlive me.

I smiled. “Lovell,” I said, delighting in his scowl. Man, was I going to floor him!

I slammed the three-inch thick file on his desk. “I’ve got a story that will make this newspaper a galactic word. Massive Black Ops conspiracy. Defrauding the public. The works.”

“Another one?”

“Stay with me here. Remember when I brought up Blair a few weeks ago?”

Lovell sighed and threw his head back in exasperation. “Not this shit again. Look, Allan,” he began, but I cut him off.

“It was a government-sponsored actor.”

Hoo hah!

“What?” he said. I’d actually interested him. And he was the kind of guy who could miss an episode in his favorite soap opera. He was *disciplined*.

“Guy by the name of Colin Andrews. I’ve got his medical charts right here.” I thumbed through the file and pulled out the plasticene sheet.

“Yeah, so?” Lovell said, flipping through the pages with only casual interest. “Died of a Brilliance overdose. Whoopee.”

“The brain abnormalities, sir.”

He looked again. Then shrugged. “Brilliance does some very fucked up things to the brain, Allan.”

I nodded. “Yes, it does. But how many times does Brilliance affect the brain tissue in the same way as a collapsing personality overlay?”

Lovell frowned. “You’re telling me that the Gemini Alliance hired some actor to play Blair, and personality overlaid him as a…as a what? Propaganda? Inspirational leader?”

I shook my head. “Not at all. I’m saying the Gemini Alliance was a hoax.”

“Come again?”

“Made up. A phantom. Figment of the imagination.”

Lovell shook his head, tossing the file back in my lap. “Look, Allan…”

“Just…listen for a moment, sir. What do you know about the Gemini Alliance?”

He shrugged. “Breakaway faction. Blair fell in with them…or he didn’t. Or whatever. During the Secession Wars. They were the most violent of the bunch.”

“Really? What makes you say that?”

He paused for a second, trying to remember. “Bombed some colony worlds, or jumped some transports, or something.”

I shook my head, smiling. “You mean the Irving, Macedonia, Pasteur…well, I’ve got a dozen transports that the Gemini were supposed to have boarded.”


I pulled out a second manila plasticene folder. “I checked. Every ship…and I mean every ship, that the Gemini were supposed to have hijacked, were all requisitioned by the Confed military no more than three months before the Gemini Alliance broke away.”

I was on a roll.

“You ever take a look at the military readiness bills passed during this time? No? You wouldn’t believe the time the Admiralty Courts were having getting funding. But slap a few reports of Gemini aggression on the evening news, and they have a new 220 billion credit bill pushed through the Assembly. Doesn’t that seem a little strange to you?”

Lovell spread his hands in a “who cares?” gesture. I kept going.

“Think about it. That area of space, Gemini…it’s such a suspiciously chaotic zone anyway, what with Absinthe and the old Perry Naval Base. Confed always had a tighter hold on it than they ever let on. If they really had wanted to, they could have clamped down on the whole sector. We saw that during the Cynium mess.

“Now, picture this. The Kilrathi War is over. You’ve got a military war machine that hasn’t had a fresh injection in years, and what you have is gradually breaking down. So, you’ve got places like Andorra and the Border Worlds, but they’re so damned sympathetic that people in Confed are actively supporting their breaking away. You cook up Gemini.” I paused to laugh.

“S’funny. Gemini. Better known as The Twins,” I said, tapping the two conflicting photos of Blair. “And these two definitely qualify. He was probably one of the first things on their mind. Nothing better than a fallen hero to stir the people up…they feel betrayed by their symbols, they’ll give you a fleet of ships to blow it out of the sky.”

I was making him uncomfortable. He hadn’t expected me to be right.

“Okay,” he said, his voice low. “And what then?”

“So, you’ve got a Black Ops project to create an enemy where one doesn’t exist. You’ve got an actor to play Blair that you’ve personality overlaid. But it’s starting to come undone. The Tolwyn thing prompted the internal investigations, which was turning over more and more military rocks every day. Your time is limited.

“And your ‘Blair’ is becoming unstable. Because your personality overlay made him into such an unstable individual, and it was done against the man’s will, it’s beginning to break down. He’s becoming increasingly irrational.”

He raised his hand for a second, then flipped his intercom. “Traci,” he said. “Bring me a pad of paper? I’ve got some notes to take for a possible front-pager I need to run by the publisher.” He nodded at me to continue.

“It’s time to clean house. So you blow up a few obsolete transports, dummy up some colony world attacks…”

“Dummy up?”

“There are no colony worlds out in Amethyst System, where the supposed attacks took place. It’s all unmanned plutonium harvesting equipment. Not a soul.

“Anyway. You kill off ‘Blair’, blow up his ship, then quietly force the actor to overdose, knowing that any medical exam will write off abnormalities, like the bad skin he’s developed from months of wearing his Blair bio-mold mask, to the drugs. Then the Gemini Alliance disappears without a trace. You’ve got shiny new carriers and freshly minted ensigns to run your war machine for a few more years…at which point you can kick up trouble somewhere else if you need to.”

Lovell looked at me curiously. He tapped the thick file folder. “And that’s all in here?”

I nodded. “Every bit. All of it’s been double-checked.” I sat back, cupping my hands behind my head. “This is the story of a lifetime. It’s going to put Western Earth Times on the map…well, we’re already on the map. It’s going to make us a red dot on the map.”

Lovell nodded. “Really, though, Allan,” he said, standing up and adjusting the blinds on his window, “we’ve got enough government conspiracy stories to carry us into the next century. To be honest, I need this like I need another hole in the head.”

I looked at him, not believing what I was hearing. I began to say something, but the door to his office opened, and he smiled.

“Ah, Traci. You bring that pad of paper I asked for? Good. Just lay it right over here.”

I adjusted in my seat a little. “Right. Anyway, like I was saying, sir…”

Wait a minute.

Paper? Since when did anyone still use…

I turn around, and scraped my temple against something hard and metallic. I barely saw the flash of the muzzle as a forty-watt plasma charge drilled itself into my brain, frying and cauterizing the tissue.

I suppose that’s why I’ve gone through all this. They say your life passes before your eyes before you die. And reporting was my life. But I never stopped, never thought to consider…any conspiracy group is going to have the media angle covered. Their people will be the ones helping you run your scam.

But journalism is my life. And in the end, it meant more to me than my life. That’s why I gave a copy to Rob, to have published in the Geneva Free Press, the one agency that can’t be corrupted, because there’s no staff.

I always thought ahead. It’s what’s kept me alive so long.

But, I muse, slumping to the floor, staring at the bits of my brain that are splattered all over the heavy oak desk and Oriental rug,

My thinking days,

Along with other things,

Are very much over.

Rob heard about Allan’s death only eight hours after it happened, a tragic accident on the inter-continental transport. With trembling pale hands, he shoved the data-disks into the envelope, addressing it to the Geneva Free Press, along with Allan’s release and permission documents.

The news the next day was going to be spectacular.

Rob sighed. He hoped there was some porn star out there who needed some good publicity. He really needed something to take his mind off of all of this.

Looking down at the advertisement layout from yesterday’s Western Earth Times, he smiled as he saw ‘Greased For Action: The Rachel Coriolis Story’ was filming, only two states over.

“God loves me,” he said, smiling.

“Get him out of here,” Lovell said, and Traci complied, her mouth set in a thin, white line. Lovell nodded appreciatively. Special Ops girls made better secretaries than any other group in the system. And you could quote him on that.

 “Imagine…trying to kick Belisarius while it’s down,” Lovell said, firing up a second clove cigarette. “That’s hardly what we need, another scam exposed. It could very well endanger future projects.” He took a long puff, exhaling the thick smoke. “A hole in the head. I kill myself.”

Though he would have to notify Albrecht, Voight, and the others soon, at least the cleanup crew could be counted on to be discrete. Everything would be handled in-house.

And The Plan, while postponed, was still very, very much a go.


THE END. . .?