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Bal Harbor Residential Park. Low-cost Luxury for the Discriminating Few. Fully retractable private residences, 100 per-cent soundproofed, payments in cash accepted. Kitchen and all conveniences nearby,



Evesham Giyt's mailing address was care of the Bal Harbor Residential Park, but he didn't use the address much. He practically never received any mail. He didn't expect to. He didn't even have a terminal, at least not one that anybody knew about. Certainly not one that had his name on it. Anyway, there wasn't anybody he'd ever known whom he had any interest in keeping in touch with. He had no living relatives. He had not retained any old friends.

Even if he had, Bal Harbor wasn't the kind of place you'd especially want people to know you were living in. Located in the industrial fringe of Wichita, Kansas, it looked more like a district of broken-down warehouses than anything you would call residential. About the only time Giyt mentioned that Bal Harbor was his home was when he was applying for a job as a bug-killer. That happened only when his money began to run out—maybe three or four times a year. That was because he had no choice, since employers always wanted to know where you lived. In this one rare case Giyt found that it was easier to tell the truth than to fake something.

What did have to be faked, of course, were his references. Giyt naturally wrote those himself, complete with net addresses that were keyed to divert any inquiries into one of his own programs.

However, Giyt's skills at bug-killing were very real, because Giyt was an absolute computer genius. In the first two or three weeks at any job he never failed to turn up and cancel a whole nest of the little nasties, some of them surveillance scout programs implanted by business competitors, some just the mischief of some harebrained hacker. Now and then, though, he turned up some really ugly time bomb that had been sneaked in by a bloodthirsty competitor or left as a parting gift by a disgruntled former employee—left, often enough, by the particular former employee Giyt was replacing. By the time that had been going on for a few weeks his bosses were invariably congratulating themselves over their good judgment in taking him aboard. So they always took it hard when, all apologies and sorrow, he told them the bad news about the sudden emergency in his family that made it necessary for him to quit and move to, say, Fargo, North Dakota, or maybe Key West. By then Giyt had also located some good and undetectable ways to divert a decent nest egg to one of his own six or seven untraceable dummy accounts. Thus solvency was assured for the next few months.

The cops considered that sort of activity seriously illegal. Giyt didn't agree. He didn't think that what he did was stealing. He thought of it as what it really was—namely, making sure he got the proper payment for the really very valuable services he had rendered. Who was in a better position to calculate the value of those services than the person who had rendered them?

Giyt never embezzled large amounts. He could have, easily enough. It would have been no trouble at all to reach into some megabank's files and siphon away a few million cues before they noticed—by which time the money would have disappeared into one of his untraceable ratholes—and then he would never need to lift a finger again.

Giyt didn't do that. In his view, that would have been dishonest. He earned everything he took, and he didn't need large amounts, anyway. It cost very little to live in Bal Harbor. He didn't need to keep on living in a dump like Bal Harbor, either, but the place suited him. Evesham Giyt had a very rich fantasy life. He spent a lot of time in the history net, with people like Julius Caesar and Adolf Hitler and the Spanish conquistadors and Alexander the Great. It would be a lot of fun, he sometimes thought wistfully, to conquer the world, or anyway some good-sized piece of it. Something about as big as, say, Canada would be nice, and he even spent a number of pleasurable hours rummaging through the secret defense files of both the United States and Canadian governments to figure out just how you could go about it. It didn't look all that hard. The only question was where to invade. Vancouver was a tempting beachhead. It would fall quickly, and then it would be hard for the Canadians to reinforce across the Rockies; but by the same token it would be a poor jumping-off place for invading the rest of Canada. He considered upstate New York, too; you could start by driving into Quebec, perhaps enlisting the more radical Francophones as guerrilla troops. But, taking one thing with another, he favored striking right across the northern tier into the prairie provinces, with their open terrain so marvelous for tanks.

It was fantasy, of course. Nobody fought actual wars any more, wars of conquest or any other kind. Especially not the kind that involved killing and maiming. The Earth's big battleground was commerce—an extra import tax here, some merchandise dumping there, a lot of juggling exchange rates everywhere. There were plenty of people who yearned for the good old glory days, but Giyt wasn't one of them. In old-style wars he could have been a Napoleon, at least a Patton, but he didn't want to fight. Not actually. Only in daydreams.

Anyway, all the places Giyt might have wanted to invade, given a few army corps to help the job along, were pretty well messed up by the inroads of civilization. Urban crime, drug cartels, street violence—who needed those kinds of problems? Not to mention that if you really wanted to physically conquer any sizable chunk of real estate in the way the old guys had, it would require a lot of—well—killing.

That was a stopper, right there.

Killing people had never been Evesham Giyt's style. He had no desire to hurt or enslave anybody. Not any person, much less the large numbers of persons that would die if you used those unpleasant mass-destruction weapons that made up modern warfare. The fact was that Evesham Giyt didn't like guns.


Guns, or at least one particular gun, were the reason why Giyt hadn't had any living relatives since his first year in college.

That was the year when his father had taken one of his carefully maintained guns from his private and highly illegal weapon collection and used it to blow his brains out.

That had been a traumatic watershed event for young Evesham Giyt. As a small child he had adored the old man, who was a skilled and highly prized technician in the field of parts assembly. The older Giyt was not just an important employee in the little boutique factories that hired his services. Often enough he was nearly the only one.

Sometimes when Giyt was little his father would take him along to watch him work. Evesham was fascinated by the way his father would sit there, patient and smiling, while his helpers dotted his wrists and fingers with tiny, almost invisible reflective patches. When he was fully marked he would sit before the bunch of parts he had laid out on the workbench and, as he had practiced, put them quickly together into the finished product—whatever the finished product for that day's run might be. Harriman Giyt only had to do it once. As he worked, the Hdar scanners of the factory computer system registered each step. When he was finished the computers had only to repeat each step as many times as required for the run of the product—seldom more than a couple of thousand pieces, not enough to go through the bother of writing a program for.

It was a good living for the old man and his young son until the computers got a little more efficient. When all-purpose assembling programs had become capable of reverse-engineering a finished product and going back to work out the steps needed to put it together for themselves, Harriman Giyt abruptly found himself as unemployed as the piece workers he and the robots had replaced.

That was when he shot himself.

The effects of Harriman Giyt's suicide on his son were threefold. First, young Evesham discovered he had been left without enough money to finish college. He had to figure out a way of tricking the university records systems into believing that his tuition had been paid. He turned out to be pretty good at that sort of thing, which naturally led to his later career.

Second, he resolved never to find himself in his father's position, which meant he never intended to depend on a salary for his livelihood. And third, he acquired that lifelong distaste for guns—for, as a matter of fact, every one of the cunning devices human beings had invented to end the lives of other human beings. All of them, way back to the most primitive. Clubs were bad enough, swords worse. With the emergence of catapults and arrows things got worse still, because now humans could kill each other at a distance. And then, starting somewhere early in the nineteenth century, things got really bad. Rifles. Machine guns. Bomber planes. Guided missiles. Tricky devices like the bus that could fly around a corner and shower needle-pointed fléchettes on people who had thought they were perfectly safe from harm . . . Well, it was all nasty, and the thought that those were the tools of conquest took a lot of the pleasure out of some of Giyt's favorite daydreams.

Anyway, it wasn't their battlefield triumphs that he most envied about the great conquerors of the past. It was something quite different.

All those wickedly villainous heroes had something Giyt didn't have. They had attainable goals. They knew what they wanted to do with their lives—never mind that the way they did it would cause a lot of unhappiness for the people they did it to. While he really had very little idea of what to do with his own.

Military conquest, for Giyt, was only a daydream. He knew it. He would have settled for less—for example, for some untamed wilderness where he could buy himself an estate with some of the reserve money from his hidden accounts. Buy the estate. Not kill for it. And then he would clear the land and plant his crops and be a genuine pioneer.

Unfortunately, Giyt couldn't find the right kind of place. There were plenty of wildernesses on Earth, sure, but they all suffered from one (or more) of three disqualifying traits. Either they were already chockablock with people so desperately poor that the neighbors would take all the fun out of pioneering. Or they were burdened with unpleasant disease organisms. Or the climate was nasty.

So he contented himself with what he had.

Which, really, was not all that bad. Here in Bal Harbor he had a decent cubicle to sleep in and all the appliances he wanted and the finest food the city of Wichita had to offer any time he chose to go out to eat. He had his unregistered terminal. Sometimes he used this to roam the net or created a scout program to roam it for him, something armed with key words to check out and one of Giyt's own sniffer programs to watch out for defensive bugs. It was very easy to find secrets that way. Sometimes Giyt thought it might be interesting to write a book that exposed some of the political sins his scout discovered for him; but he never held on to that thought for very long. The secrets of the real world were actually pretty boring, and anyway the real world was what Evesham Giyt wanted to avoid.

Giyt liked his solitude. He kept it secure, too. Once or twice it had been threatened—most severely of all, long before, when he had been surprised by an intrusion on his screen: "Hey, warmonger! I liked your Canadian invasion plan. Ever think of doing it for real?"

Giyt didn't reply to the unknown hacker, of course. He didn't use those access codes again, either; he doubled his cutouts, and he never heard from that person again. He even thought for a little while of physically moving himself to some other town or even some other continent, but in the thoroughly homogenized world he lived in, what was the point? Giyt had no compelling reason to think he had to stay in Wichita, but even less reason to move.

Actually, in Wichita, Giyt had just about everything you could acquire that went to make life bearable . . . but that wasn't all.

He also had Rina.

Rina was a very big plus in Giyt's life. Rina was lively, pretty, and dark, a tiny woman almost half a meter shorter than Giyt himself but twice as energetic. She was smart. She had organized her life almost as efficiently as Giyt had his own. She was also crazy about Evesham Giyt and she was absolutely wonderful in the sack.

That last part, he supposed, was one of the fringe benefits of her former profession as a hooker, although she had explained to him very soon in their relationship that she had specialized in whips-and-chains domination because that way you didn't actually have to screw any customer you didn't really like. Probably she thought telling Giyt that would ease any jealousy he might feel. She needn't have worried. Giyt didn't mind any of that. Rina's whoring was well in the past and had left her with neither a habit nor any STD. About the only trace of it in her present life was that sometimes Rina would shyly suggest that being handcuffed to the bed might be nice for a change, and once in a while he obliged her for old time's sake. He drew the line at the whips and chains, though, and usually it was nice, friendly, just-for-fun sex. They'd go out to have a good meal somewhere—Thai or Provencal for preference, because there were good places for both only a short autocab ride away. Of course it was generally Rina who paid the bill with her credit wristlet, and that was another nice thing about Rina. She never asked why Giyt didn't use credit of his own. She didn't have to. Obviously she figured out that Giyt didn't want to submit to being sniffed and thus identified in some databank somewhere. And of course, he always reimbursed her in cash, with a little extra rounded off.

Then when dinner was over, they'd go back to his slide and climb in, and when they'd retracted the slide and put on the privacy locks, they were all alone in their warm, pleasant, personal place with the minibar and the climate control and whatever kind of music suited their mood from his library of fifteen or sixteen thousand pieces, and maybe a light show or a porn disk to get them started. Once in a while he'd even invite her to stay overnight, because her own cubicle was really pretty spartan—Rina was living on savings while she finished her business-management courses at the Wichita campus of KU. Sometimes in bed Giyt would be lying on one side, putting himself to sleep by watching the story of Kamehameha conquering the island of Oahu, while she was trying to make sense of the difference between liquid versus colloidal nonconvertible debentures on her own screen on the other. Giyt sort of liked that. It was comfortably domestic. And did not represent a commitment.

Rina took her schooling seriously, too. She studied hard. She didn't really have to bother, because Giyt had showed her early how easily she could improve her grades by accessing the school's databank—for that matter, could award herself as many degrees as she liked, summa cum laude if she wanted them that way, and not go through the trouble of passing examinations at all. Rina caught on quickly. She had a natural ability for jiggling computer systems, but she wouldn't do any actual tampering with the school records and wouldn't let Giyt do it for her either. She didn't want good grades, she explained. She wanted to actually learn this crap. She didn't need to cheat anyway, really, because she was a straight-A student all down the line. There was a moral issue there for Rina, too. That sort of thing was like Peeping Tom stuff. Which was too much like business. The former hooker had no interest in invading someone else's privacy.

So there was Rina, and there were all his other little pleasures, and it was a pretty good life, if sort of lacking in any long-range objectives. Giyt could not see any practical purpose in trying to change it . . . until the Tupelo recruiters came to Wichita.



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