Chapter 1 - THE SLEEPER
The motion detector screamed into a small, unlit vault of a retired San Francisco transit tunnel. Tala awoke instantly, unlicensed dissuader in her grip.
She slipped her cellchip lenses onto her face, hoping the intruder wasn't violent. Even more, she hoped that her technology was better than her visitor's.
Aha! Something twitched right in front of the only entrance. Tala quietly counted to ten. She'd reached about 7.7 when something moved into view along the floor. Was it a cop?
Her system's low light scanner was just slightly better than useless. She'd boosted it from a corporate repair depot. It had never worked very well. The regular foot police didn't have much better technology, but a federal agent would have night eyes and milspec weapons. She might already be in his burnsight.
If the intruder didn't see her, Tala could still come out of this without permanent brain and nerve damage. She promised herself that she'd never leave the squat's lid open after dark again, no matter how bad the air got.
A sudden crash startled her. She leaped at the blurry form she saw in her glasses, and landed on it like a sandbag. Her grip couldn't find the throat. The intruder yelped.
"Quiet, you corporate scum," shrieked Tala.
The intruder yelped again, then started to whine.
"Wait a minute. What the hell kind of burglar are you anyway? Let's get some light on in here." The lights obediently snapped on.
Tala found she'd just bested a medium-sized dog. It had brown and white markings and was almost too cute to live. He was obviously domestic. A feral canine would already be snacking on Tala's esophagus.
"All right! Hello dinner." Tala could hardly believe her luck. The 20 kilo hair ball had lots of good flesh on him.
At the word dinner, the dog turned friendly and tried to lick Tala's tanned cheek. She parried to keep her face dry.
As she rolled to her feet, she found a handhold. It was the dog's collar. "Okay," she muttered, "Somebody's making this too easy."
Tala grabbed a rope from the debris that was her household belongings, deftly slipping it through the mutt's collar.
She quizzed the dog the best she could. "So, do you want to be my dinner, huh, fella?"
The dog repeated the traditional happy pooch dance at the word 'dinner'.
"Well, I'll tell you, I've never actually had dog before. I hear the meat's kind of greasy."
When Tala said meat, the canine intruder jumped completely off the concrete floor. He whined excitedly on touchdown.
"Goddess! If I didn't know better, I'd think you wanted me to kill you and eat you."
The new phrasing dramatically improved the dog's understanding. He darted away, but bungeed to a stop when the rope on his collar went taut. The mutt cowered on his back, legs limp over his chest. Terror glowed in his soft blue eyes.
Tala's stomach twinged at the sight of a blue-eyed dog.. What if this wasn't just somebody's mutt? She had to check it out.
"Nice dog. Boy, you sure are a fuzzy one aren't you."
The young woman's soothing talk settled the dog a bit. He offered a limp foreleg from the position of doggie submission.
"All right fella, let's shake. Maybe we can be friends."
The dog rolled onto its feet and offered an official handshake. It accompanied the universal canine peace symbol, a rapidly wagging tail. "Good boy. Here let me get that hair out of your eyes."
The little dog let Tala push a mass of brown and white fur aside as she felt its skull. "Yeah, you've got a big old head under all that hair. Somebody spent a lot of money on you, didn't they!"
Tala had worked with these animals at the university. There was no doubt about it, this was an anthropup.
Nanotechnology made it possible to alter the genes of anything that wore genes. Modern mass marketing made it profitable to create and sell anthropups. The creators took a telegenic line of dogs, enhanced their best characteristics and gave the merchandise-crazed world a new product.
The project started with Cocker Spaniels. They looked irresistible, but even with enhanced brains, they were dumb as an alderman.
Eventually, experiments with Springer Spaniels paid off. Slightly smaller than their forebears and genetically enhanced, they made the perfect city dog.
Anthropups were easy to train, affectionate and cuter than three dry babies. Few families with discretionary income could resist the marketing slogan, "Anthropup, the best real friend money can buy."
That was just the first generation. When human genes were spliced into canine DNA, the line became true anthropups. The line's language centers were enhanced so that every anthropup could understand simple sentences.
The dogs could still respond with a traditional tail wag, but now could show disagreement with a shake of their head. Fortunately, nobody had come up with a way to make them talk.
An intelligent dog presented a challenge to Tala's security. "I may have to ingest you after all, fella."
The dog looked quizzically into her eyes. He didn't understand an unusual word like ingest. But then, he wasn't supposed to.
"What are you doing here? Are you just a stray, or did somebody send you to track me down?" She sighed, "Well, at least if you're wired, you're not transmitting right now or I'd know about it."
The dog knew exactly why he was there. He wanted to be with the lady who smelled so good to him. That's why he'd followed her scent all over town. He couldn't speak, but those big friendly blue eyes sent his message.
Tala softened and stepped toward her backpack. "Well, until you give me reason not to, I'll try to be a good innkeeper. Would you like something to eat?"
The pup wagged his tail and started his little dog dance again.
"Alright, no problem. There's lots to eat, as long as you're not too fussy about what it is or how it smells." Tala flopped an uncommitted gray loaf out of a fleshpack and offered it from her open palm.
He gave it a couple of suspicious sniffs. This was not the meat he expected. Quickly, hunger overcame snobbishness as the intruder accepted the offering.
The way he gulped it down, Tala decided the dog hadn't eaten for awhile, but it hadn't been so long that he'd forgotten how. "I guess you can stay with me tonight. My people have a history of running with wolves. You're about the closest thing we'll ever find on this planet again."
She wistfully longed for days she'd never known as she absently pointed to a device in the corner. "My RF sniffer's hooked to the alarm, so you won't be sending tonight. Besides, this place is a natural Faraday cage. No signal gets in or out without talking to me first."
The pup made it clear he wasn't interested in nanotronics as he stuck his head into the toilet for a drink.
"Good luck, Einstein. That's a composting toilet. Any water you find in there, you don't want to drink. Trust me."
She fumbled through the few housekeeping items in her backpack. "Wait! Water for you, here."
His head jerked around when Tala said "You." He graciously waited for her to fill her only bowl and offer it to him.
"Drink up, monkey dog. I've got an early day tomorrow. You've already cost me half an hour of sleep. You'll have to stay tied up tonight. Tomorrow, maybe I can figure out why you're here. Any anthropup that comes from a home that can waste water in toilets is going to be missed by somebody with plenty of spendable Ameros. Maybe it's a lucky day for both of us." "Lights!"
The grateful dog's enhanced eyes gazed through the deep gloom at his newly chosen companion. She was tall, sleek and youthful. Her face had the deep, leathery tan of the homeless. Her long, dark hair behaved as it wished. The dog didin't understand much about how she looked. But she smelled like a person who went to a lot of different and interesting places.
The dog watched as she drifted back to her light sleep. He soon joined her in dreamland.
Meanwhile, creatures of darkness were still at work only a kilometer or two away.
"Hit the DUMP command again, Benny. I wanna know where the hell that dog's gone." The flabby pink man in a cheap sports jacket had even less patience than he had charm.
"Sorry Leon, but the responder's not sending. Either the damned thing's broken already, or the dog's out of range. I don't think we'll get anything tonight," offered the brown, post-slender underling.
"Look Benzo, you told me this dog could find this Tala Wolfe and lead us right to her. There's a lotta department Ameros tied up in its skull. I don't wanna hear 'I don't think we'll get anything tonight' out of you."
"Maybe he's sleeping in a culvert or something. All I know is when I trigger the responder, it doesn't respond."
"Okay, Ben, here's what's gonna happen. I'm goin' home and get me some sleep."
The senior cop picked up a hellishly stained mug, sipped some coffee, grunted and got up as he kept talking. "You're gonna stay right here and send that signal every ten minutes until you get an answer. When you get an answer, you're gonna call me right away."
"Dammit, Leon, the equipment works. You helped me test it before we sent the dog out. It's not my fault if he's out of range."
"Maybe it's not your fault, but you're here 'til it works. Got it?"
Benny nodded unhappily as he unsuccessfully keyed the responder again.
Leon belched, then headed home to a warm bed and a cold wife. It was all he expected; probably more than he deserved.
Tala's wake up alarm was correct to the chronon, or as close as makes no difference. Her RF sniffer hadn't smelled a single interesting photon all night.
She felt an unaccustomed weight on the foot of her sleepsack. Oh yeah, the dog. She'd had no time to debug him yet. A pre-sunrise appointment had been made days ago and she planned to protect her reputation for promptness.
When she got up, she thought her houseguest was awake. There was none of the snoring she associated with domestic dogs. But she bent over his face and saw no reaction. He was still tied up though, so she let this particular sleeping dog lie.
The snooper she'd planted outside her door showed nothing unusual in the culvert that led up to street level. She swung her pack onto her back and slipped out of the tunnel.
Ever wary, she sometimes stopped suddenly just to listen. No suspicious sounds broke the purity of her last bootstep's decaying echo. She was alone in the tunnel.
She diverted left where the culvert branched and nearly tripped over a sleeping family. She found her way around them without rousing anybody. It made her angry to see entire families who had to live like that. Too many unhappy childhood memories came back.
A few meters along, she ducked into a smallish tube that gradually widened out. After a short crawl on hands and knees, she could walk upright again. In a few moments, she turned right and slipped into a fiberoptics vault. A slender, brown-haired man in a leather jacket greeted her.
"Hi Lady, seen my mommy anywhere? I'm all lost and it's reeeel skerry."
"Hi, Dirk! Good to see the corp cops haven't roasted your buns yet." She raised her open palm and he slapped it eagerly with the back of his hand.
"Well, they might if I don't pull this one off. You brought the device, Milady?" His words were calm, but his weathered, youthful face was a tense mask.
"I finished testing it last night. It's exactly what you specified, and it uses the same interface as the Psycho Butcher moviegame."
She held up a clear nanotube and displayed a tiny dark speck that was too small to have a color.
"Just stick it within 20 meters of Cadman's seat and you've got your own artificially enhanced, ready to operate meat puppet."
Dirk eyeballed the tube with awe. "I never thought a boy from the culverts of San Francisco would get a chance to control the President General of Nafta."
"Don't overplay it," she warned. "You can only control the parts of him that are artificially enhanced. That's his arms, his legs and his bladder." Tala got an evil grin and continued. "It may also control his sexual functions, but the data was a bit fuzzy on that."
"Do you know what I'm gonna do with it?"
"I'd rather not know." She paused for a moment. "But, from the timing, I assume you've got something planned for tonight's Nafta Inaugural Banquet."
She shifted and looked him in the eye. "You can have him dry hump the Special Service on worldwide teleprez if you want. It's your call."
"Well, something like that. You're right though, nobody should know but me. Better for everyone that way." He sealed the tube into a leather pocket and palmed a creditwand.
"I see you've brought me riches. How do I cash it in this time? Trade it in for empty beer bottles, maybe?"
A slight grin softened his countenance. "Okay, here's the deal. This is a food creditwand for some NaftaCorp pig and his sow. It's good for all the basic universal foodcare stuff, but it's got special access too. You can get fruit, fresh veggies and meat.
His eyes bugged like a little kid's.
"Sounds too good, Dirk. What supercomputer do I have to diddle to cash it in?"
"Just your usual charm and cunning will do it." He leaned closer. "Set yourself up as Staff 1 on any NaftaCorp pig's family file. You'll get what you want at any mall, no questions asked."
"Sounds like a deal."
"So, are there any undocumented features on this nadget you want to confess to, before I find out the hard way?"
"Hey, this is Tala you're talking to. Everything you need is in there. Put it near your term and play with it in simulator mode until you're ready to use it. The instructions are in the heads-up area if you want to read them, or it'll whisper them in your ear in any voice you fancy."
He interrupted, "But what if I need..."
"It's in there! Goddess, I've never seen you this nervous before. You must have bought two dozen of my nadgets over the years. You know I deliver milspec or better."
"Lots better. The difference is, this time I'm not just reminding the corporation that we're out here starving. My butt's really on the block big league. It has to work on the first try."
Tala looked concerned. "Can you use some help? It sounds like fun!"
"Yeah, loads of fun. But it's a solo job. That's why I came to you. You're the only one around who makes multitasking nadgets this good." An impish expression took over Dirk's face as he dropped a hint. "Check the newsnets tonight during the Inaugural Dinner. You'll see your creation in action. It's gonna be an evening to remember."
He turned and slipped into the darkness of the main tunnel.
"Good luck," she shouted, and turned to head home.
Tala's nanites had been involved in plenty of shady operations. They'd probably put a dent into the corporate cash ledger that was megaAmeros deep. Dirk was close-lipped about his targets though. Often, she could only guess if one of her babies was behind some piece of corporate bedevilment that showed up on the news.
The overcast coastal sky showed dawn as Tala approached her chamber. It was an abandoned telco vault. You'd just turn right as you entered the service tunnel.
The overnight invasion of her home put Tala on guard. The dog was cute, but he could be an omen of bad times ahead.
She donned her interface glasses and activated the terminal on her belt. The cellchip was a tiny two-way digital communications device, the logical evolution of her grandmother's cellphone. It connected to the continental communications network by satellite or the local network.. Its 3D video and digital surround audio I/O operated with whatever peripherals the user connected.
Tala navigated to a private file and checked in with her household security system. A quick scan revealed only a sleeping dog behind the inner lid of her sleep space.
She slipped in and joined the mutt, careful to seal the door.
With the alarm reset, she relaxed and stole a few more sleepunits from the sandman. It felt good just to sleep. No classes and no appointments, just sleep.
An hour or two later, an unfamiliar noise rudely disturbed her dreams. It was a whining dog, his moist brown nose in her face.
"Oh, great! I suppose you want to go out," she muttered.
The dog jumped up and ran to the door. He leaped when he hit the end of his rope. "I haven't had a chance to delouse you yet, fella. I can't have you wandering around loose if you have a bug in your head."
His big blue eyes started to water. It was a look designed to melt the heart of the most evil master.
"Alright, cut it out. I guess we can go down into the service tunnel. Even if some kind of signal gets out, nobody could get a fix." She dressed as she explained her plans to the dog.
Tala untied the rope from the bolt in the floor and said, "Let's go walkies little fella. We're gonna go up by Virgil's place. Virgil's not a nice man. Tala doesn't like Virgil."
It was an equitable arrangement. Virgil didn't like Tala either. In fact, about the only thing Virgil did like was complaining about how awful his life was. Only a few people were dumb enough or bored enough to listen.
Either the pup was a good guesser, or he'd understood her plan. He obediently turned to his right when he got out past the Tala's lid. Then he trotted deeper into the concrete service tunnel.
They'd walked about 100 meters when Tala stopped and whispered, "Alright, boy. We're right in front of Virgil's place. Time to go potty."
She grinned impishly as the dog unloaded his biggest problems on Virgil's doorstep.
To be accurate, it wasn't exactly a doorstep. However, it was the place Virgil would step when he came out of his door. That step wouldn't take place for about an hour. Fortunately.
Dog and mistress stood back a few paces to admire the completed work. "I swear, that clown's gonna think a porta potty exploded out here. Good work, boy. I didn't know you had it in you!"
The dog wagged happily as he followed the lady home. He liked to please people, and he was happy to leave this Virgil person such an individualized gift.
A mile away, Benny fought to stay awake in the dirty snoop shop. Ten minutes had passed, so he hit the DUMP icon again. He jerked awake when he got a response.
The computer's artificial intelligence tried to please him, but couldn't get a good fix. "Sorry, Benny. There's only one point receiving."
"Well where is it, dammit?"
The terminal paused for a second. "On the roof of this building."
"This building? Is it direct or is it a reflection?"
"Not enough bits to make a guess, Benny. Sorry." The terminal made sorry sound like a garden rake ripped across a blackboard.
Piece of crap interface," he muttered. "Listen, try to run another scan."
"There's nothing now. Maybe it was just a spur from a taxi or something," gargled the terminal.
"I don't need your dumb guesses. If I want dumb guesses, I ask Leon. Try to identify the encoding pattern. Was it our algorithm, at least?"
"There's a seventy percent chance that it was our algorithm, Benny."
"So that means you didn't recover any data."
"You're a bright boy for a cop, Benny," cooed the raspy terminal.
"This part of the job really sucks. Leon's home in bed while I have to sit here punching a button every ten minutes."
"Why don't you let me send the DUMP signal?," the computer tempted him.
"Because, you pile of junk, Leon ordered me to do it. I know you'd tell him if I disobeyed an order of his...you've done it before."
"Shouldn't you at least call Leon? I'd be glad to wake him up and tell him what happened."
"So what happened? We got a blip that has a seven in ten chance of being one of a hundred police responders that are out there tonight? He'd kick my butt so far that I could run a skycam without a land skimmer."
"As I said, you're a bright boy for a cop. You don't have much of a spirit of adventure though."
"I'm gonna chalk it up as a bogie and keep trying, just like Leon said."
A few minutes later, the boredom really gnawed at the chubby little detective. "Hey, computer...if I slip out for some more muffins, would you cover the next dump for me? You know, just in case I don't make it back in time?"
"And not tell Leon?," quizzed the term.
"Yeah, and not tell Leon. Be a good little term and I'll be real careful not to spill my coffee on you."
The terminal slipped into sulk mode.
Tala and her dog slipped into their home. The RF alarm went berserk when the pup entered the room.
"So, you are bugged after all, monkey dog! Alright, let's double check the RF seals, then get to work."
She activated her cellchip to check the sensor just outside the lid. It didn't sniff any RF leakage from Tala's direction. She scanned the anthropup's anatomy.
"Yep, right where I'd expect a cop to put it, inside your right ear."
She looked at the dog and commanded, "Come here boy. Mama wants to look at your pretty ears." The dog was happy to come to anybody who called herself Mama.
She spread out her only blanket and arranged the young spaniel on it. "Do you feel good, little boy?"
He answered with a tail wag. He trusted his new mama and wanted to make a good impression.
"Alright, just lie still. Mama will get that nasty old thing out of your ear. This may hurt a little."
His tail stopped wagging, but the dog remained quiet. He'd made up his mind to be a brave soldier and let Mama take the nasty old thing out of his ear. He was curious what a nasty old thing was and why he had one in his ear.
Tala gently lifted the floppy outer ear up and over to reveal a tender pink channel. The inner ear wasn't accustomed exposure to the air, so it twitched. Chet relaxed and thought nice thoughts about his new Mama.
A tiny sensor probe protruded from Tala's fingertips. It sent its data by infrared to her cellchip, and there was plenty of data. Tala's nanites were soon on a first name basis with the device in the dog's ear.
She transmitted the latest police transponder key code. The device downloaded everything it knew. It even spewed out bits of speculation about things it had heard only in passing.
Tala was afraid it might not shut up before it had filled her data buffers with trivia and gossip about the private lives of all thirteen police commissioners.
She could read at least seven times as fast as her term could talk, so she slipped her clear telepresence lenses on and went interactive with her cellchip. The lenses had a data feature like a heads up cockpit instrument display. She could read the projected data by looking up, then peer straight ahead through the clear lenses into the dog's ear. She wasn't surprised to discover that her new companion was kidnapped by corp security cops.
He'd been taken from a childless middle class couple in the East Bay. Apparently the dog had been more of a possession than a part of the family. He wasn't even reported missing, despite his large purchase price.
His registered name was Chester Arthur Fillmore of Hialeah, a Level Three Enhanced English Springer Spaniel. He was two years old and had received no formal training of any kind.
She also discovered that Benny Vo, a junior detective at the local snoop shop, did the implant. The holobug was loosely coupled to the dog's neural system. It could transmit anything the dog heard or saw in real time, yet was instantly removable. To reduce clutter on the tracking intranet, it could be turned on and off by remote control.
She put a gentle hand on the dog's tummy to reassure him. "Well, Chet, I'm happy I know your name. My name is Tala."
He wanted to waggle for all he was worth, but resisted the urge.He was pleased that she had finally called him by his name. Chet licked Tala's hand as she pulled it past his face to finish the debug job.
"I found the nasty old thing in your ear. It's little, so it should be easy. Stay calm and I'll get it."
She deftly turned her hand, then withdrew the probe. "I got it. All done, Chet. You can get up now."
Chet could hold still no longer and rolled to his feet. As master of canine dance, he performed the doggie traditional 'I'm Really Really Glad You're My Best Friend' number for his new mama.
What Tala saw was a repeat of his cute happy dog dance from the night before. The subtle nuances of canine terpsichore are apparently lost on humans.
"We're going to have some fun now, Chester."
Chet liked fun, so he listened to his mistress as carefully as his 200 word vocabulary permitted.
As Tala packed her pouch, a stream of purple profanity echoed down the outer corridor.
"Sounds like Virgil found your gift, Chet. Good dog!"
Chet was greatly pleased, and vowed to leave gifts at Virgil's door whenever he could. Anything that got Mama to say good dog was worth doing often.
When Virgil passed Tala's entry lid, it sounded as though he was dragging one boot along the tunnel floor. Tala reset the alarm as she waited for her neighbor to pass.
She waited a moment, then queried the snooper outside her door. The passageway was clear.
Tala pulled her privacy lid aside and urged Chet out. "Now you stay close, boy. Once you've learned the neighborhood, you can leave on your own."
The dog didn't mind the restriction. He was glad to be outside.
"Keep your eyes open for police skips, Chet. Do you understand?"
He wagged his tail.
"Good boy. I figured a level three anthropup would understand."
Chet knew police skips alright. He also knew that he didn't like the people inside them.
The moist morning air was clean and pleasant, as it was every morning. San Francisco was truly a great city, thought Tala, especially since the new air scrubbers had gone online.
She knew many of the people she saw as she passed the shops along Market Street. Some might loosely be called friends. Many were simply streeters that she saw daily as she walked past their squats.
Unlike parts of most big cities, the Castro was like a small town where the locals knew each other. Tala stopped several times to chat with acquaintances as she bumped into them.
She always took a moment to introduce her human friends to Chet. Naturally, they all loved him. Even the people who smelled like cats were polite enough to pat him once or twice and say, "Nice dog."
After a few blocks, the stores and cafes thinned. Houses and apartments took over the streets. Tala stopped, looked at Chet and said, "It looks like we didn't find our police skip yet. That's okay, I'm sure they'll cross our path before we get home tonight."
Chet was a bit disappointed. Ancient instincts made him enjoy the excitement of the hunt, even if a police skimmer was the quarry.
Tala turned left at a large house, climbed five stone steps and opened a cobalt blue door. She held the door open so Chet could follow her into the anteroom.
The house was a beautiful Victorian. If she wasn't featured on a San Francisco postcard, she should have been. She'd been built early in the 1900's by one of the huge families that were in style. As households shrank, she was carved into two large duplexes. Later, she was divided into suites. Eventually, a developer parceled her into single sleeping rooms.
Many of her neighbors had been eaten by time and neglect. Too many were eventually demolished. Others had been beautifully maintained for decades, then ripped down in their prime to make room for highrises.
Fortunately, the people of The City had more heart than most towns. When too many of their architectural jewels had been ruthlessly plundered, they put a stop to it. San Franciscans had a legacy of public action. It didn't take new laws, just new energy.
Ailing neighborhoods had been restored before. Renewals came in the post-World War II boom, during the fever after the Indochina War, and amid the brief prosperity that came from the North American Free Trade Alliance.
NAFTA replaced the collapsed federal governments of Canada, Mexico and the United States. Several Caribbean and Central American nations were also charter members.
Houses don't care whether governments stand or fall. Houses care about such things as paint, weather and termites. Just when the fabulous Victorian's upkeep was at its very worst, a new family moved in to rescue her.
It was a family of adults who lived together because they believed in each other. Each of them made a decent living in the new economy. It led to a more satisfying household than one based on shared chromosomes.
This family was big. They needed every foot of the proud Victorian. Cuts were made through ugly walls that separated her left side from her right. Entry ways were remodeled to reunite upstairs with downstairs. A huge single family home was reborn where a warren of stifling efficiency apartments had stood.
The new family replaced timbers and beams to make her structurally healthy again. They repainted her exterior a daring blue.Contrasting cobalt and white accented her classic, hard-carved trim.
Tired glass was replaced in the rounded bay windows that stuck out over the sidewalk. People inside could again enjoy the view up and down the street, as well as across it.
Daytime, the Victorian was much too big for the people who lived there. They had asked Tala to put the house to use as a community school while most of the family was away at work.
A community school was very different from a public school. Public schools turned out literate, technically trained workers. Pre-adolescent youngsters readily learned the boring basics of the public school curriculum. By the time they became streetwise teens, public school students could already read, write, count and make brine from water and salt.
Corporate funding of public schools was generous, since it cost less to teach basic job skills to children than young adults. However, there was no funding for the arts or social sciences, which did not enhance corporate profits.
Other than expensive tutors, cooperative community schools were the only form of alternative education available to most people. Funding was meager, mostly from liberal foundations and individual endowments. Classroom space was usually in a community hall or a private house. Often it was right out on the street, where half of California's population lived.
Tala was a friend of the wonderful mansion's family. The clan's founder, David Laurier, had been Tala's favorite professor at San Francisco Polytechnic. She was always welcome in the big house, but her unusual source of income didn't bring in enough Ameros to buy a share of the property. She had an open invitation to move in anyway, paying what she could.
Her obsessive independence wouldn't allow that. Besides, she had a level of security in her underground flat that couldn't be achieved in a building with such open architecture.
Two years earlier, when they decided to create the Harvey Milk Community School, Tala's friends drafted her to organize the curriculum and find good teachers. They decided to leave literacy, math and science to the public schools. Students would come to the Harvey Milk School to learn how to be human beings. They could also learn specialized skills usually taught only to the children of the rich.
A community school program wouldn't move a street family up to the secure mansions of Woodside, but it could keep knowledge in the hands of ordinary people. The school was free. Donations were always accepted, never required.
Tala was well connected with the homeless and middle class communities and had untiring persistence when she believed in a cause. The Harvey Milk Community School was her favorite cause, ever.
Her enthusiasm was the source of the super-sales ability she used to organize the school. She'd recruited most of her teachers nearly two years earlier. After she'd gently twisted a few arms for practice, her technique acquired a fine edge.
Tala's telepresence would enter the offices of an acquaintance or former co-worker where she was usually greeted warmly. Typical of those early efforts was her first recruit, a man she'd shared lab space with at San Francisco Polytechnic University. A youngish but balding man in a serious mid-level business suit welcomed his former colleague.
"Hi, Tala, it's good to see you're not in jail yet."
"I like to stay at least two jumps ahead of the police, Andy. How's life as a senior corpslave?"
He leaned forward as he replied softly, "It sucks, but it keeps me off the streets."
Tala looked deep into Andy's eyes and through to his tattered soul. "I'm here to help you put some fun back in your life."
Andy tried to veil his interest. "Is this a proposition or a sales call?"
"A little of both, actually. You've probably already heard that Dave Laurier and a group of us are forming an alternative school. We need a few really good teachers to volunteer two hours a day; two, three or five days a week. We want you to be one of us."
"I thought the schools were staffed by fulltime teachers. As you can see, I've already got a job here, such as it is."
Tala shifted to a more assertive posture. "This is something special. It's a real school where real people educate real students. It's everything you and I wanted from the public schools we went to."
"Sounds interesting, especially if Dave Laurier's involved. But what makes it different from the public schools?"
"The difference is people who've done things in the real world. People who are competent in their lives. People like you and me and Dave Laurier. We'll teach students how to be more than just workers...we'll teach them to think.
The public schools train kids to be drones. We'll educate them to be functional human beings.
Andy nibbled on his forefinger as he listened. "Hmm, sounds kind of subversive...I like it. But I've gotta tell you, this sounds like a pretty serious commitment."
That's right. Only seriously committed people will be involved. You'll get the chance to do important work. What's more, if you teach ten hours a week, you'll get unlimited access to the Frank Jordan Subscription Library."
"Unlimited access?" Andy's eyes popped like he'd just flown into the windshield of a speeding truck. "I can't afford that kind of access, even with this new job."
"If you're interested, there's a teleconference Friday at 1730."
"Put me on your autodial list and I'll be there."
"Thanks, Andy. It'll be good to work with you again."
So it went. Tala didn't stop until she'd talked to every likely candidate and followed every lead.
The leads often turned up other leads. Her terminal got a real salesman's workout.
Classes started after six months of recruiting and preparation. When the school opened, Tala was no longer the sole shining star. She'd put together the finest group of teachers in the Bay Area.
Few of them were professional educators, but all were excellent teachers. With such an impressive volunteer faculty, Tala was free to teach her specialty, applied nanotechnology. She welcomed any student willing to invest the large amount of effort needed to learn it. Her students got more than just the technical basics.
She'd dawdled on the walk over, and was just in time for her class. As she walked into the classroom, she felt the excitement that fifteen enthusiastic students can generate. Tala took control of the room with an introduction.
"This is my new houseguest, Chester Arthur Fillmore of Hialeah. His friends call him Chet."
"Good boy, Chet."
"Come here, nice doggie."
Tala recaptured her command before the forces of anarchy gripped the classroom. "I'll let Chet introduce himself to each of you, one at a time."
She looked at Chet and said, "Go meet all of the people, Chet. One at a time. Okay?"
Chet wagged his tail and went right to the closest desk. He was ready for his fair share of fondling and attention.
"I want each of you to spend a minute or two with Chet as he comes around the classroom. He's friendly and likes everybody. Many of you have probably never touched an anthropup, so now is your chance."
"Tala, is an anthropup the same thing as a monkey dog?" It was Robbi, a girl who was raising herself on the streets with a group of other youngsters.
"Well, yes Robbi, but monkey dog is a disrespectful term. Once you've met Chet, I don't think you'll want to call him a monkey dog."
Debbie Song asked, "What makes anthropups different from the dogs they serve at restaurants?"
"The meat is the same, Debbie. The difference is that anthropups are genetically engineered to be smarter than any street dog. They understand lots more words than regular dogs, and they have better problem solving skills too."
Miguel asked, "So where do they come from?"
"That's what we're going to talk about today. Genetics is one of the fields associated with nanotechnology. Even after the Human Genome Project decoded our DNA, scientists were unable to do anything with a lot of the information. When nanites were developed, we became able to safely manipulate the structure of living cells.
Candace noted, "I've heard that anthropups are part human."
This made a few in the class visibly nervous.
"It's true. Anthropups have some human DNA spliced into their brains. It makes them act more like us, and helps them understand language better than regular dogs." Even though dogs co-evolved with us and adapted to our ways, genetics has made them even more like us than nature ever could.
Maria expressed the curiosity of many of her peers. "Can we make our own anthropups in this class, Tala?"
"I'm sorry, Maria, we don't have the facilities to do that here at the school. But when you've completed this course, you'll be able to arrange cell structures or molecules under the direction of a specialist. Hopefully, many of you will go on to become specialists yourselves and use the skills you're learning in this class. Maybe somebody in here right now will design the next generation of anthropups."
Chet spent his two class hours in ecstasy. Except for one misunderstanding about his sensitive ears, he was treated with respectful curiosity. He'd been thoroughly petted, and scratched in spots that he didn't even know itched. He didn't want his new friends to leave at the end of the session.
"Come on, Chet. Time to come home with Mama."
Even though the students were fun, he knew where he most wanted to be. Chet was at Tala's side all the way out to the street.
"Now remember, Chet. Find us a police skip on the way home."
Chet remembered. In the meantime, he enjoyed the smells of the city streets as they walked up Castro toward Market.
Tala turned around at the sound of a husky bark.
Chet had found an unmarked police skip. It was regulation dull brown with no chrome, parked in front of a hydrant on the cross street.
Tala donned her teleprez lenses and navigated the police dispatch network until she found the part of the map she shared with the ghost skimmer.
Network data showed the car to be on tax detail. Through a window, she could see two uniformed cops as they shook down a citizen on the second floor of a nicely preserved Victorian home.
She pulled a small metal box out of her pocket and casually wandered up to the skimmer. In a single motion, she opened the box, plucked a tiny grain from the container's center pedestal, stuck it onto the rear of the vehicle next to the heat vent, then bent down to adjust her left boot.
As she straightened up, she continued along the street. She accessed a different police node as she walked. "Yesss!," she hissed.
The bug was transmitting the location of its new heat source to the network.
Benny went wild at the snoop shop. He yelled for his senior partner. "Leon, get in here. The bug's online."
Leon waddled in, finishing a muffin. "What's the news, Benzo?"
"I've got a fix on the bug. There's no video or audio, but at least it's transmitting.
"What're you tellin' me? You've found the dog, but you can't see or hear nothin'. Is that supposed to bring a smile to my weary face, Doctor Science?"
"All right, so it's not working a hundred percent. But it's sending, so let's follow it." Benny was nervous.
The thought of an arrest excited him. Tala had a good price on her head. Rewards were the only pay an honest cop got, especially a cop with a partner like Leon.
"What if somebody else has the dog, Benzo?"
"It's under control. He's programmed to bond with Tala Wolfe. He's got her scent, so if he's not with her now, he's looking for her."
The terminal interrupted. "Good afternoon Detective Smegman. It's good to have the first team back on the job."
"Stuff it, you pile of junk," snarled Leon.. "Go kiss somebody else's butt."
"Nobody of any importance is here right now, Leon. But I did want to tell you that the responder has moved. It seems to be with a skimmer, judging by its rate of speed."
Benny considered that info. "Maybe the damned dog's hitched a ride with somebody."
"Yeah, right. He held out his thumb, which he ain't got, and some idiot stopped along the road." Leon turned his head and commanded, "Computer, can you tell if the vehicle's headed out of town."
"I don't track a pattern yet, sir. It's currently in the Castro District, but it hasn't been sending long enough to make a prediction."
"In that case, let's keep an eye on it until it stops for awhile. Then we move in and do some real police work. Benny, get us some muffins and a big jug of espresso."
Properly fortified, two detectives monitored the bug and diligently devoured baked goods with high octane coffee.
Tala and Chet took plenty of time to chase each other up the sidewalk as they made their way home. After a detour through the parks in the Panhandle, they finally headed down to their small concrete room.
When the nanobug had stopped moving for a full hour, Leon swallowed a mouthful of muffin and spoke. "Computer, what's the location on that tracking device?"
"It's in the basement, sir."
"Whose basement, computer?"
"Our basement, Leon."
"Shhh..." Leon stopped in mid-expletive. He wasn't about to pay the chief's foulmouth fine, no matter what the provocation. "Shucks! Let's get down there and see."
Benny and Leon oozed out the door and down the ancient elevator.
"Alright, Benzo, where is it?" Leon thought he was whispering, but years of barking at everyone made his whispers into growls.
"Over by the main doors. See anybody over there?"
"I don't see nothin'. Turn the lights on." As he spoke, Leon nervously unholstered his dissuader.
"If I do that, they'll see us looking for them, won't they, Leon?"
"Damn, you're right. Okay, let's just stick with the security lights."
Benny put his VR glasses on and accessed the network. "I've got the place on infrared, Leon. The scanners show us and a couple dozen heat vents. But it looks like we're the only thing in here that's alive. No woman, no dog, no nothing."
"So where the hell's the bug then, Mr. Science?"
"Let's go take a look. Give me a second and I'll track it with this terminal."
The younger man traced a careful path across the garage and homed in on an unmarked skimmer. He approached carefully, but saw nobody.
"Is it here, Ben?"
"Looks like it's on the backside of this skip. Let me get the probe." He fumbled blindly in the term's spun fiber accessory bag. He eventually pulled out a set of sensor tweezers. He poked around briefly, then plucked the bug from the heat vent. "Gotcha!"
"Alright Benzo, so how did it end up here?"
"Well, Leon, maybe this Tala Wolfe is really as smart as they say she is. She might have spotted that monkey dog as a ringer, and then somehow took the bug off him."
"So she sees a police skip and sticks it on the side?"
"Yeah, I guess so. These things run on body heat. A skimmer's heat vent will power one just as well." Leon slammed his fist into the skip's roof. "Dammit, that means she knows we're after her."
"I think she probably figured that out already, what with a 2500 Amero reward on her head."
"Whatever. The important thing is that we recovered this bug, even if it's busted. I can probably sneak it back into storage without anybody testing it." \
Benny reassured his partner, "It's not broken. It couldn't send audio or video because it wasn't on the dog anymore." He put the nanobug on his fingertip and routed the output through his term. "Yep, the bug sees everything I can see. Whoa! The feedback from the term's getting me buzzed."
"Knock it off. You're on company time." Leon looked pained, as if he were trying to think. His voice changed, becoming soft, conspiratorial. "Let's just keep this little operation quiet until we bring in the Wolfe woman. Nobody needs to know how close we are. There's plenty of reward for the two of us to split. The last thing we need is some jay-come-lately to elbow in and grab our reward money."
"I'm with you there, partner."
"Why is this babe so hard to catch anyway? You'd think she leads a charmed life."
"I've been thinking about that too, Leon. How come we've never spotted her on a security camera anywhere. We've got her picture posted on the net. You'd think our network demon would notice her at a bank, or a mall or something."
"Are you kidding? It's just another good reason I don't trust those damned computers of yours...they'll go down on you every time.
"Yeah, not like those hookers we arrested last week, eh Leon?"
Tala watched the pair through the nanobug in Benny's hand. "There's a good reason you boys can't find me with your demon...she works for me. But if the ghost of Groucho Marx ever walks past a security cam, you're in for the wild goose chase of a lifetime..."
Benny's face brightened. "Hey, what about the monkey dog?"
"Screw the dog", barked Leon.. " I hope somebody finds him and eats him. Let's get outta here."
"No, I mean, she found the bug, so she must have found the dog. With her scent in his memory, he'll hang around her for a long time."
Leon glared. "How sweet! The slitch won't be lonely anymore, who cares? The mutt's owners don't."
"Maybe we can do a search for a streeter with a monkey dog. You gotta admit it's a pretty rare combo."
"Benny, it scares me, but sometimes you make sense. Let's get on it."
The detectives headed back upstairs to a welcoming desktop of baked goods and espresso.
Tala snickered derisively at her foes. "2500 Ameros is a lot of cash, Chet. I'm flattered. Maybe I should arrest myself. I could sure use the money."
Chet tilted his head and stared at Tala in the traditional doggie pose of puzzlement.
"No, I'm just kidding! But if they've got the network looking for the elusive Tala Wolfe and her Wonder Dog, Chet, we'll have to rig the game."
Tala navigated the net like a fighter pilot. She slipped into the security police intranet files as if they'd been left open just for her. And actually, they had.
She woke Benny's FIND TALA WOLFE demon. Benny had already added Chet to the profile without his partners prior approval. Tala reprogrammed the demon, then tucked it in for the night.
"Alright boys, you're all set. If Little Orphan Annie and her dog Sandy ever show up in San Francisco, you'll be the first to know. I just hope she's got ID, or you clowns will probably throw her in jail and try to convince some judge she's me."
Chet briefly watched his crazy mama carry on. It didn't tickle his doggie sense of entertainment. Within the minute, Chet was at that place in his head where he could chase police skimmers and catch them.