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Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000
A. Thomas Heald
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6700 words

 

Greed, It Gets'em Every Time
by
Tom Heald

 

Viewed from afar it was an impressive sight. The huge transporter, flying at 300 miles-per-hour, launching shuttles from its forward bays while others approached its rear docking bays. The exchange took about five minutes. As the last shuttle docked and was guided to its assigned slip, the transporter climbed to its new grid coordinates while accelerating to a cruising speed of 650 miles per hour, just under the speed of sound at that altitude.

Bob, a tall sandy-haired young man, turned off his book and glanced at the time. The flight would be another three and a half hours and he was restless. Wandering up to the observation deck he noticed a convoy of freighters in the distance, flying in a parallel grid. Opening his bag he took out a pair of vids that looked very much like bulky sunglasses. At ten powers he could see the freighters clearly. Near the horizon he picked up a lone freighter approaching the convoy. That's crazy, he thought, it's flying outside its grid coordinates. Bob watched dumfounded as the renegade freighter fell into place directly below an identical freighter and slowly began to rise.

"There going to crash!" he said aloud. Then the upper freighter started to rise also. Like soldiers in locked-step, the two freighters rose until the renegade replaced the original. Freed, the displaced freighter banked to the left and accelerated away from the convoy.

"Did you see that?" Bob asked a couple standing a few feet away. "One freighter just swapped places with the other and flew off."

"It probably had a delivery to make," the stranger said as he took his companion's arm and walked away giving Bob a nervous glance over his shoulder.

I should have recorded it on the vids thought Bob as he turned and wandered back down to the main deck. How to kill some time? He could review his thesis on Encryption Key Management Systems. No, the professor had told him to let it be. After all, the trip to California was for a job interview. He should take some time off, enjoy himself. There was plenty of time until he had to defend his thesis before the review committee.

He found an empty seat, put his vids back on and connected it to his communicator. With a flick of his right eye lid, Bob selected the Action Adventure category from the film service he subscribed to, and a few minutes later decided on a new martial-arts epic, The Dragons of Station 5. lying back into the acoustic hood of the chair, he adjusted the sound on his vids. The movie wasn't very good, but it killed two hours without any great effort.

The transporter descended to a slower grid level as it crossed the Sierra Nevada's and entered the Central Valley of California. Soon after, the first wave of shuttles departed for Sacramento. Fifteen minutes later the second wave left for the San Francisco Bay Area. Bob left with the third wave, bound for the San Jose terminal where he collected his luggage and caught a shuttle for Highland Dome, thirty miles to the South.

Bob had seen domed cities before, but none like this. He could see six domes on top of mountains, large hills really, on both sides of the valley. The shuttle landed at the North port of Highland Dome and Bob walked into the terminal where several empty two-passenger carts were waiting. Placing his bags into the nearest, he sat down.

"Highlander Inn please," said Bob as he placed his hand on the palm reader.

"There is no record of you in the regional data base," a voice said. "Please identify yourself."

"Bob Sanders from Boston."

A few moments later the cart responded, "Yes, Mister Sanders, I have your records now. Welcome to California."

The cart entered the dome on an elevated ramp about twelve feet above a narrow park that lay just inside the dome. "Does the park circle the town?" Bob inquired.

"Yes, it runs just inside the dome for its entire five-mile circumference," came the reply.
They descended the ramp onto a roadway that ran through the residential area to the center of town. At the hotel, Bob used the palm reader to check into his room, took a shower, and listened to some music.

"Viewer," Bob commanded. "Any unusual reports about freighters over the past eight hours?"

"There are 326 entries world wide," the viewer responded.

"Central United States, involving an accident or wandering outside its assigned grid," Bob clarified. "There are three entries."
"Show me." Bob said. "Next." None of the reports were helpful. "Lets try anything having to do with a police investigation."

"There are no entries that match the criteria," responded the viewer.

"Widen the search to cover the full United States," Bob said. There were six entries. Bob screened them and found a local report about a freighter that had arrived without its cargo. It left Chicago with a full load of viewer projectors and, four hours later, arrived empty at a warehouse outside of San Jose. The police were baffled.

"That's it! I know that's it." Bob reached for his communicator and activated it. "San Jose Police Department," he commanded. After several questions, Bob's call was transferred to Detective Collins in Burglary.

"On my flight from Boston today," said Bob, "I saw a freighter fly up to a convoy and replace another freighter, which then flew off."

"What do you mean, replaced?" asked Collins.

Bob answered more questions as he recounted his story to the skeptical detective.

"You don't believe me, do you?" Bob asked.

"I don't get paid to believe," replied Collins, "I get paid to find out. But your story is pretty hard to swallow. All freighters have registration numbers and transponders that identify them. Our freighter checks out. Anyway, if a freighter breaks formation or runs outside its assigned grid, alarms go off all over Grid Control. To believe two automated freighters exchanged places without Grid Control knowing about it is like believing in little green men."

"It's what I saw," defended Bob.

"Thanks for the information, kid. We'll get back to you if we need anything else."

 

The next morning Bob was awakened by a call from Detective Collins. "Did you find anything out?" asked Bob excitedly.

"Well," chuckled Collins, "it looks like there may be little green men after all. We checked the maintenance records on the freighter and nothing matches up. The registration numbers are definitely forged. Can you come down to the station? We want to ask you some more question."

"Let me get some breakfast and I'll catch a shuttle," said Bob.

"I'll have a police shuttle pick you up at the North Port in an hour. OK?"

"I'll be there." Bob headed off to shower and shave.

 

Bob and a uniformed police officer entered the squad room and walked toward a large black man in a tailored suit. It wasn't the suit that held Bob's attention, it was his head. It was totally bald and glistened as if it had just been waxed and buffed. "Hi, John," said the uniformed officer, "this is Bob Sanders. Bob, this is Detective Sergeant Collins."

"Thanks, Sam," said Collins to the officer.

"Glad to meet you, Bob." Collins reached out and shook his hand. "That was quite a lead you gave us. I'd like to go over it again and see if we can figure out how they pulled it off." Turning, he gestured with an upturned palm, toward a woman. "This is Sharon Wong."

Sharon smiled and shook Bob's hand. Almost as tall as Bob, she stood five ten or eleven, with black hair and a firm figure. She didn't look oriental, but that wasn't unusual. Few people in this part of the world could trace their ancestry back to a single race. Bob guessed she was in her early forties. Too bad, he thought, I bet she was a knockout fifteen years ago.

"She'll be working with us," Collins said. "It was Sharon's idea to check the freighter's maintenance records against the serial numbers of the major components to see if they matched. They didn't; the freighters were definitely switched."

After exchanging greetings they went over every detail several times and still didn't come up with anything.

"What it comes down to," said Collins, "is why Grid Control didn't detect anything?"

"Assuming Bob's description is accurate," Sharon said as she rose and paced the room, "the freighter had to be controlled externally. And that's impossible! The security system records any attempts to access the ship's computer guidance system, whether successful or not."

"Just how are they controlled?" asked Bob.

"Each ship is assigned a slot in a grid line at a specific speed and altitude. Each monitors its slot, and the slots fore and aft of them. Because we run them in convoys with one ship in each slot, we know its position from a minimum of two sources, and most of them from three. If a ship pulls out of line or another barges in, we'll know it instantly."

"That's all passive," said Bob, "do you have any active controls, any radar or surveillance satellites?"

"No," said Sharon, "our satellites only relay position information from each ship. All surveillance satellites are controlled by the United Earth Peace Force. I doubt if they would get involved. As for radar, it's primarily used for local weather conditions. The sensors used onboard each ship, are much more sophisticated than radar. Although its range isn't as great, it can pick up anything moving within a mile of the ship."

"So," Collins said, "if a ship doesn't report its position and it stayed out of normal grid lanes, you won't know it's there."

"That's a pretty big if," said Sharon. "You would have to shutdown half its systems and bypass all the safety interlocks. No, it couldn't be done."

"What if they used a back door?" asked Bob.

"What's a back door?" asked Collins.

"It's special code built into the program by its developer," said Sharon, "so they can bypass normal security procedures and gain access to the system. Can't happen here. All the code has been certified by an independent agency."

"Could be a virus," said Bob.

"No," defended Sharon. "Our system uses the latest anti-virus techniques, dynamic CRC checking for all executables, asynchronous task monitors, everything."

"There are always ways," he said.

"I have a team looking at the freighter's software now," said Sharon, "let's see if they found anything."

Sharon placed a call on the viewer. In a few moments a man in his late twenties appeared.

"Any luck, Charles?" she asked.

"No," Charles said. "It's clean."

"Did you check the unused space?" asked Bob as he walked to the other side of the desk so he could see the man's face instead of the back of his head.

"Yes," said Charles, "all of it can be accounted for. Mostly it's old logs and such. And some of it's never been used."

"What do you mean," asked Sharon, "never been used?"

"It's all binary zeros," said Charles. "You know, like when it's initially formatted."

"That's not right." Sharon shook her head. "The virus must have cleaned up its tracks when it finished, just in case we went looking for it."

"Check some of the other freighters," suggested Bob. "If they have an active virus, you may find it."

"I'll get right on it," said Charles.

"Let me know immediately if you find anything," ordered Sharon.

Charles nodded as he broke the connection.

"Let's get some lunch," said Collins.

"Does that mean that you're buying?" Sharon smiled. "After all this is official business."

"Sure," said Collins, "the city will pay for lunch, but only if you're locked up. Your choice."

 

Back in the squad room after lunch, Sharon placed a call back to Charles.

"It's a back door in the communications routine!" he said, almost shouting. "We don't know how it got there, but it's in all the freighters we checked. We're scanning the entire system on one of the infected freighters, but haven't found anything else yet."

"How does it work?" asked Sharon. "Have you decoded its logic?"

"Yes," said Charles, somewhat calmer now, "it calls one of the diagnostic routines and reports an error. We don't know what the error is or how it takes control. That information is passed through the back door, bypassing security. We checked the log in the hijacked freighter, and there's a gap. We're sure it was wiped clean."

"But how do they get control?" asked Sharon. "Aren't all of the diagnostic routines in the freighter's computer library?"

"What if they're not found?" interrupted Bob. "What if a piece of equipment doesn't have any diagnostics on the freighter?"

"The freighter's computer contacts the computer back at Central to report the error and vendor codes," said Charles. "Then Central downloads the proper diagnostic routine."

"And," asked Bob, "if they don't have any diagnostics for that vendor at Central?"

"Then," searching for the answer as he spoke, Charles slowly replied, "the computer at Central looks up the vendor code on the network and contacts the vendor's computer to download the diagnostic!" He was shouting again.

"OK." Sharon took charge. "Check Central's logs for all calls to outside vendors." She turned and smiled at the detective. "We've got them, John, We've got them now."

"We'll see," smiled Collins.

A few minutes later Charles had the information. Just before Bob saw the freighter hijacked, a call had been placed to Servos Inc. in Sunnyvale, California. It turned out to be a false lead. There was no Servos Inc. in Sunnyvale, and the communicator's call number turned out to belong to an Alvin Foster who had died several weeks before.

"Now what," asked Sharon obviously disappointed.

"Buck up, kid-do," said Collins. "If one lead in ten pans out, you're having a good day."

"We can let you know when Central makes a call to an outside vendor," suggested Sharon.

"Won't work," replied Collins. "The address will be a phony, and the communicator can be anywhere. We can trace it down to a cell, but that will still leave us with a large area to search. I assume they can download the diagnostics in a few minutes."

"Seconds," replied Sharon.

"Not enough time." Collins looked back at Sharon. "What about the weather radar? Can it track them?"

"Maybe." She paused. "It's designed to pick up weather, so a storm would mask them, and if they fly too low they'll mix in with the ground clutter."

"Why not an anti-virus," suggested Bob.

"What's that?" asked Collins.

"All we have to do," said Bob, "is to modify the diagnostic routine to notify Grid Control whenever it gets a vendor code it doesn't recognize."

"I'll have it start up a beacon," said Charles, "to report the freighter's location to Grid Control every few seconds. I can have it working in an hour or two. We can download it to all ships with the normal maintenance tonight, if Change Control agrees."

"Do it," ordered Sharon, "I'll contact Change Control." She smiled. "We've got them this time."

"What if they don't try it again," asked Bob.

Collins chuckled in a deep low voice. "Don't worry kid, greed 'ill get'em. It gets'em every time."

 

Monday morning Bob went to his Job interview at ComLab. They were familiar with his work at the university, and had several jobs that interested him. The interviews ran all day. He was excited about a new type of communicator that they were working on. It used the latest in applied intelligence, but it was the encryption and key management systems that intrigued him. Nobody liked eavesdroppers. With all the communications floating around the ether, everybody would benefit from automatic encryption. It provided a big advantage over the clumsy single key encryption units now in use. Encryption was easy. The Key Management System was the tricky part.

After the interviews he called Detective Collins. "Any word on the hijacking?"

"Nothing yet, kid," Collins replied.

"Call me Bob," he said and added hesitantly, "please?"

"OK, kid." Collins chuckled deep in his throat. "Bob it is, and you call me John. I did get a call from Sharon though, some mumbo-jumbo about the virus. Why don't you give her a call? You might understand her, I didn't."

"I will," Bob said. "I thought I would stick around for a few days, any chance of being in on the kill?"

"Depends," said Collins. "I've listed both you and Sharon as advisors on this case. You can come along on the police shuttle, but that's it. These things can get dicey. I have to have your word on that, Bob."

"No problem, John," he replied. "You're the boss."

"We'll probably have plenty of time," Collins said. "Keep your communicator on; I'll call you when I get the word."

Bob placed a call to Sharon. "John told me you have more information on the Virus."

"Yes." There was excitement in her voice. "We found the seed! Charles tracked it down to a diagnostic for one of the stabilizers. The program appears to run the same; however, a large segment of the code has been replaced. Every time a Class Three diagnostic runs, it checks to see if the virus is active; If not, it activates it."

"What's a Class Three diagnostic?"

"It's a full system check. We normally run one after maintenance or during the preflight check." "How did it get past the CRC checks?" asked Bob.

"Oh, those clever devils," she replied sarcastically. "They added some data constants to match the length of the original code and generate the proper Cycle Redundancy Check for the program."

"But how did it pass certification?" he asked.

"It didn't!" she replied. "Several months ago somebody managed to substitute the altered code for the original when a new version was shipped to us by the manufacturer. Then we unknowingly distributed the doctored version to all our ships as part of normal maintenance."

"They must have somebody on the inside," Bob said. They talked for some time about how to purge the virus from the system and about changes that should be made to tighten security. She suggested he come in for a job interview, but he declined. Bob was certain an offer would be forthcoming from ComLab and when it did, he had decided to accept.

 

Several days later Bob visited the Monterey Aquarium which was celebrating its Centennial year. He was fascinated by a picture of Cannery Row taken during its grand opening in 1984. It showed the street completely covered with ground shuttles of all shapes and sizes. The caption read, "Privately owned automobiles of the period." His communicator buzzed.

"Bob, this is detective Collins. We picked up a beacon about 300 miles west of Chicago near Des Moines, Iowa. It looks like it's heading this way. You'd better come in if you want to get in on the action."

It took Bob an hour and a half to reach the San Jose Police Headquarters. When he arrived, Sharon was already there.

"They're still heading this way," she said. "The hijacked freighter is running parallel to the grid about a mile and a half to the north. Grid Control is nova. The freighter is flying in a buffer zone that no traffic is allowed to enter."

"The freighter," said Collins, "is scheduled to arrive at the Sunnyvale terminal in forty-five minutes. There's no telling where the hijacked one will land. Let's go to the police shuttle and get airborne. If they come into this jurisdiction, I want to be ready."

The police shuttle was silent as they watched the viewer. It displayed a map of the area with two dots slowly heading toward them, green for the substitute, red for the hijacked freighter. "There it goes," said Bob with great exuberance, "it's veering east."

"It's slowing down," said Sharon as the indicators on the viewer changed.

"Quiet everybody," ordered Collins. "It looks like he's heading for that new distribution center over by Mount Hamilton. Red unit, take a position two miles north of the Mount Hamilton Distribution Center; Blue, two miles south." With everybody in place they waited for the freighter to come into view.

"There it is!" said Bob. Excited, he was trying hard not to shout.

Collins rased his hand, indicating silence. "Red, you secure all exits; nobody is allowed in or out of the center. Blue, you follow me in and secure the freighter." Turning, he looked directly at Bob and Sharon. "You two stay on board," he ordered, "under no circumstances are you to leave the shuttle." The words were redundant; his look told it all.

As soon as the shuttle touched down Collins sprang from its door. Bob could see startled workmen on the loading dock. Two of the workmen bolted for the building as several police officers gave chase. It took about three minutes to round everybody up and return them to the loading dock.

"Look," Bob pointed to a small shuttle at the other end of the landing area. "Somebody's getting away."

"Grid control, this is Sharon Wong. Who the hell is taking off. Everything at the distribution center is supposed to be shutdown."

"Negative, we show no activity at your location."

"Damn it!" cursed Sharon. "They must have bypassed the guidance control." Looking over her shoulder at Bob, she shouted, "Close the door; we're going after them."

Bob was thrown forward into the back of the seat as Sharon jerked back on the controls and gave chase. He took the seat next to her just as the renegade shuttle disappeared behind the Lick Observatory.

A minute later the pursuit shuttle crested the mountain. "Where are they?" asked Sharon.

"There, to the south at tree top level."

"I see them," she said just as the renegades turned east into a valley.

"Don't lose 'em."

"Not a chance," she said. "See how the valley turns back to the north, I'll cut them off." They reached the far end of the valley just as the renegades emerged and turned south. "I told you we'd get them," she said excitedly.

"Never doubted you for a moment."

Sharon maintained a position above and behind the renegade as it continued to snake its way through the mountain valleys. "Hello, Sharon," Collins's voice boomed from her communicator. "Do you have them in sight?"

"Like a cat on a mouse!" She smiled broadly.

"Good, we're two minutes behind you. Don't do anything heroic. Just follow them; we're homing in on your shuttle. We're still not getting any signal from theirs."

"Look, there's the San Luis Reservoir straight ahead," said Sharon as they crested a hill.

"The water looks low."

"It always is this time of year; they'll fill it up with the spring run-off."

The renegade ran straight across the lake with Sharon and Bob in hot pursuit. About half way across, the shuttle seemed to stall. "What's the matter, why are you slowing down!"

"I don't know," she said, "it just stopped responding. Something's wrong."

"My God, the virus," Bob shouted. "They must have activated the virus!"

Sharon jumped from her seat and ran to a panel in the rear of the shuttle. "Take over the controls," she yelled. "I'll see if I can get to the maintenance panel."

"You'd better hurry if you don't want to get your feet wet; we're going down."

"I have it; let me enter the code." She frantically punched at a keypad.

"There, that did it," Bob said with a sigh of relief. "We're leveling off."

The shuttle slowed, turned and then started accelerating toward the dam. "What are you doing?"

"It's not me," said Sharon. "They're still in control. My God, they're going to ram us into the side of the dam."

Bob leaped up and ran back to Sharon. "Where's the antenna lead? Pull it, break their connection." Sharon reached up and grabbed the antenna lead. She pulled -- once, twice!

"We're going to crash!" shouted Bob.

The antenna lead snapped free. Immediately the shuttle's backup guidance system took control and initiated an emergency stop by reversing its thrusters. Sharon and Bob were flung forward as the shuttle slowed. It wasn't enough; the momentum carried them into the side of the dam. The shuttle's nose collapsed as it plowed into the dam. It hung for a moment, then slowly toppled onto its side and slid down into the water.

 

Bob heard pounding in the distance. Who was it? Where was he? There was smoke. "Sharon," he yelled as his mind snapped back into focus. "You OK?" He couldn't see and his lungs burned from the acid smoke. The air smelled of electrical fires, and he could hear them crackling in the background. When he tried to move, there was a sharp pain in his left leg; he was pinned. He couldn't move.

There was an explosion. Bright light. Then, somebody standing in the light. It was Collins.

"John, help Sharon. I can't reach her."

"Take it easy, Bob; don't move," said Collins. "We'll get you out."

"Did you get them?" asked Sharon a bit groggily. Then in a firm voice, "Did you get the bastards!"

"We have two shuttles converging on them over Los Banos; they'll flush them any minute now."

"Yea, right down the toilet," chuckled Bob. Then he grimaced as the pain shot up through his leg. "I think it's broken."

"We'll have you out in a minute," Collins said. "The evac unit just landed."

Sharon was at his side, "Hang in there, Bob; you'll be OK." Looking up at Collins she asked, "He will, won't he?"

Two Men burst into the Shuttle. "Get a laser, cut that beam!"

"You, you're OK, get outside. Now!"

"Ma'am, you have a broken arm. I'm going to stabilize it. Don't move, it may hurt some."

They were quickly moved into the evac shuttle. Bob looked back at their shuttle. It lay on its side, half in the water with white smoke rising from the escape hatch. "We were lucky," he said looking up at Sharon.

"You're damn right you were!" said Collins, his face flushed with both concern and anger, "I thought I told you to stay put."

"No," countered Sharon, "you told us not to leave the Shuttle. We didn't."

Collins chuckled in a deep low voice, "I guess you're right; anyway, I never argue with a lady. Especially one with a broken arm." His communicator buzzed. "This is Collins."

"Detective Collins, this is Blue Leader. We have them; had to blast 'em. Red units' down, they lost control of their shuttle and crashed into a cotton field."

"Is everybody OK?"

"Our guys are OK. The fire brigade flew in and is putting out the bad guys now. I don't know if there are any survivors or not. The whole field caught fire when they crashed. They should have the fire out with a few more passes. We'll move in then."

"OK, keep me informed and try to hold onto them this time."

 

Bob and Sharon both had mild concussions, and spent the night under observation at the hospital. The next morning Collins entered the hospital room in a foul mood. "How are you two doing?" he said, attempting a smile.

"They set my arm and wrapped it in a Regeneration Web," said Sharon from her bed. "It'll be as good as new in a week, they tell me."

Collins turned to Bob, who was sitting in a chair beside Sharon's bed. "And the leg?"

"It's OK," said Bob, "just some bruises. Did you get them?"

"They decoyed us," he snarled. "The shuttle was empty."

"What!" said Sharon. "Damn, they flew it remotely."

"We found a control room back at the terminal," Collins explained. "It was hidden in a shipping container. They simply waited for us to wrap things up at the terminal, and then left. The fire was deliberate. The shuttle was rigged with an incendiary device, set to go off on impact. They planned to crash it all along. Delaying tactics. They wanted to keep us busy until they could get away. We ran a report on all shuttle activity to and from the terminal. One person, a Jack Morason, went to the terminal and never left. He may have stowed away on a freighter. There are three flights he could have taken, we're tracking all of them down now but it's a long shot. We have a global APB out on him; the next time he touches a palm reader we'll have him."

"As long as he doesn't use one of those syntoplasm gloves with a fake palm," said Bob. "What about next time?"

"He won't be able to penetrate our system again," said Sharon with authority. "All of the infected systems have been wiped clean of the virus, and we're putting procedures in place to make sure it can't happen again."

"I don't know," said Bob. "He's been very clever so far. How are you going to find him if he uses somebody else's identification to get past the palm readers?"

"Exactly," said Collins as a broad grin covered his face. "I also checked Central for anybody leaving the Center without a corresponding arrival. There was one person. A Mister Alvin Foster left at 3:45 p.m. yesterday. Recognize the name? It's the same person they stole the communicator's call number from. Either Alvin Foster has risen from the dead, or somebody's using one of those synthetic-skin gloves with his hand print on it. I have people checking the mortuary where Foster was encased, but it's doubtful we'll be able to track down the person who made the cast of his hand-print."

"Can't Central's computers check if a person's dead?" asked Sharon.

"We asked for that," said Collins, "but some smart aleck down at central replied, 'Existing equipment is not calibrated for apparitions.' The Captain wasn't amused. He's personally following up on it. But I got around them; I put an APB out on everybody that has died in the past six months. They went nova, screaming about computer cycles, but there's nothing they can do about it."

"Do you know what he looks like?" asked Bob.

"Yes," said Collins as he walked to the viewer. "This is a clip from a surveillance camera at the distribution center. The container you see him entering is his control room."

"That hair style," said Sharon, "it should be easy to spot."

"No," said Collins, "don't look at the hair. Look at his features -- the eyes, nose, mouth, his height, build, and complexion -- they're difficult to change. The color of his eyes, his hair style and color, or even his skin color can be changed at will. When you're working with a group of people and you don't want them to remember what you look like, pick a disguise with some unusual feature -- an ugly scar, a large nose, or an unusual hair style. That's what people will remember, nothing else, just the unusual feature. When you're on the run, then you want to blend in. No, he won't have that hair style now. It will be a nice conservative style. Just like everybody else."

Bob took out his vids and recorder the clip. "This is one person I don't want to forget," he said. "I have to get back to M.I.T. Professor Kawanami called, I'm scheduled to defend my thesis next week. I booked a transporter flight for later this afternoon."

"Well, good luck to you, Bob." Collins shook his hand. "You've been a big help. I'll miss you." A communicator squawked. "Collins here."

"Detective," came the voice of a police dispatcher. "We have a make on one of your stiffs. Alvin Foster just boarded a shuttle at the Evergreen station; bound for the terminal."

"Is he by himself?" asked Collins. "If so, divert the shuttle to the isolation pad at headquarters."

"No such luck," came the reply. "There are two others onboard. Both heading for the terminal. We'll have to pick him up there. His shuttle is about to touch down; should I lock it out?"

"No; we don't want to create a hostage situation. Have one of the local security people follow him when he arrives, and make sure the security cameras monitor all the passengers when they off-load. Blue Leader, you there?"

"Right, Chief, you want us to move in?"

"Yes, land on the maintenance pad. Keep everything stealth. I want two man teams to monitor each departing shuttle, and make sure he doesn't spot you. I'm leaving now; meet me at departure bay five in ten minutes."

"Let's go," said Sharon as she slipped out of bed and hurried to get her clothes. She was quite a sight with one arm in a sling, and her free hand trying to keep the hospital gown from flapping in the breeze.

"Not a chance," said Collins. "The Captain will have me running freighter security in the asteroid belt if you two show up. Having two civilians crash my police shuttle gets lots of attention. I'll be lucky if your little stunt doesn't cost me a stripe."

They said their goodbyes and Collins left. Later, after their doctors gave them a clean bill of health, Bob and Sharon were discharged from the hospital.

 

That afternoon Bob left the hotel and took a shuttle to the San Jose Terminal. While he was checking his baggage, he noticed Detective Collins standing to one side of the terminal.

Bob walked over. "Did you get him?"

"No," said Collins, his eyes continuously scanning the crowd. "The locals were too late to pick him up when he landed. Later, he must have spotted my men and slipped orbit. Wherever he is, he's traveling stealth. We've searched the terminal from top to bottom without a clue. I'm about to call of the search. We'll get him eventually, but not today."

A half hour later Bob's flight was announced. He boarded the second shuttle with forty-nine others, and found a seat. Three minutes later the shuttle rose and headed north to the rendezvous point. Within ten minutes there were three shuttles queued up waiting for the transporter.

"Here it comes," a young boy yelled as a transporter approached. Bob watched as shuttles bound for San Jose departed the forward launch bays. His shuttle accelerated and positioned itself on the right side of the transporter behind docking bay two. There was a slight jerk as it docked and was towed to its assigned slip. As they left the shuttle, Bob avoided the crowds on the moving walkway and headed for the forward escalator. As he scanned the crowd, he knew he was being foolish; his chances of spotting the fugitive were nil. Bob strolled around the main deck; it seated a thousand people not counting the promenade and restaurant. The first class section, on the upper deck, held an additional two hundred, along with the observation deck and an expensive restaurant. After an hour, Bob gave up. Feeling a little foolish, he found a seat and settled in.

Bob noticed a man walking toward the promenade. At first he didn't believe it, but there he was. Just like John said, the hair was cut differently and dyed black, but he had the same cleft chin, asymmetrical mouth, and build. He was heading for the restaurant. Bob followed him. The fugitive took a seat at the far end of the restaurant with his back to the wall. Bob found an empty booth on the side and slipped into it. He put on his vids and ran the clip. It's the same man; he was sure. Bob reached for his communicator and placed a call to Detective Collins.

"John, this is Bob, I have him. He's here, on my flight to Boston."

"Are you sure?"

"See for yourself," said Bob. "Get on a viewer and I'll patch in my vids. He's sitting right across the room from me." Bob zoomed in on the fugitive.

"Sure looks like him," said Collins. "Don't do anything to attract his attention. I'll contact Grid security and have them intercept your flight. You stay on your communicator and let me know if he makes a move."

It seemed like hours, but only twenty minutes later a man sat down in the seat opposite Bob. "Are you Bob Sanders?" he asked. Bob nodded. "I'm Marshal Dillon. My partner and I will take it from here. You stay put." The man rose and walked to the rear of the restaurant. Bob noticed a second person, on the opposite side of the restaurant, rise and walk toward the fugitive.

The fugitive bolted -- he jumped up and walked rapidly away from the agents.

"Halt! UE Marshals." Dillon yelled, holding up his badge in his left hand and reaching under his jacket with the right. With a stun-gun in hand, the second marshal ran after the fugitive.

The fugitive spun around, dropped to one knee and pointed his stun-gun at the pursuing marshal.

Bob jumped to his feet. Grabbing his plate he flipped it over, and, with a swing of his arm and a snap of his wrist, flung it across his chest toward the fugitive. The plate caught him on the left shoulder just as he fired. There was a crack, like a small clap of thunder. The shot went wild, and so did the fugitive. Snapping around, he leveled his stun-gun at Bob. With his mouth contorted into a sardonic smile, and his left eye narrowed to a slit -- the fugitive squeezed the trigger.

Bob dived for the floor. There was a clap, like thunder.

Marshal Dillon's aim was true. The fugitive fell. Bob could smell the ozone from the blast mixed with just a hint of scorched hair. The fugitive lay twitching on the floor a few yards in front of him.

"It's all right, folks," Dillon said as he held his badge up again. "We're UE Marshals."

"You OK, Son?" Dillon asked as he helped Bob to his feet.

The second marshal extended her hand. "Thanks," she said. "You saved me a nasty shock. It takes days for your neurons to settle down after a level nine stun."

A medical team arrived. After lifting the stunned fugitive onto a stretcher they hurried off, accompanied by the female marshal. Dillon turned to Bob.

"How, in the name of all deities, did you get caught up in this?"

 

An hour later, Bob's communicator buzzed. "Hi, Bob," said Sharon. "John and I just received the information on the hijacker."

"It was him all right," said Collins. "He's wanted in half the countries of the world -- bank fraud, stock manipulation, illegal gambling -- you name it, he's done it."

"What's his name?" Bob asked.

"Which one?" Sharon replied. "He has dozens."

"According to his wrap sheet," said Collins. "His first, and only, arrest was for electronic bank fraud in Geneva, Switzerland. At that time he was Dr. Mannheim, a Computer Science Professor at the Polytechnic University of Geneva. Over the years he is alleged to have stolen or conned people out of billions of dollars. This is what he looked like back then."

Bob put on his vids; "OK, let's see him."

Collins switched the view to a mug shot and then back to himself.

"I can see why he prefers disguises," Bob grinned. "But with all that money, why was he hijacking freighters?"

"They never have enough," said Collins, throwing a knowing wink in Sharon's direction. "They always have to try for that one big score. I told you," his eyebrows arched and a big grin covered his face. "Greed, it gets'em every time."
 


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