November 2011


Once decoded, the message read:

Club Pitelyt, Vyborg, Leningrad Oblast. April 2, 14:30, table 13.

You will wear a cotton T-shirt, one size too small, regardless of the weather.

Sit without speaking and order the house brew when approached by a waiter.

You will empty your pockets on the table.

Our conversation will take place only when music is playing and the waiter’s back is turned.

At 15:00 the conversation will end regardless of its substance.

You will wait one hour before leaving the way you came in.

Tell no one.

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Ommeltu Intl.–Finnish for “stiched, sewn”–is one of the world’s leading telecommunications companies. It began as a simple concern collecting rags for papermaking in 1919, but under the visionary leadership of Tove Canth the business quickly evolved.

Canth began using a series of couriers and telegraph lines to coordinate rag deliveries from outlying towns; before long the Ommeltu ragmen were traveling faster than the official Finnish government couriers. Canth cannily began offering his services to the government and having his couriers and embedded telegraph operators pass on and sell newsletters and newspapers. By the time the Winter War quadrupled his business overnight, Canth owned the largest Finnish telecommunications company.

After Canth’s 1947 retirement, the company expanded into a variety of new sectors–telephone, television, cellular telephones. Profits soared throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, and as of FY 2004 the market appears poised to continue this upward trend.

One Triznová Ionert u67 multi-phase assault rifle. Romanian manufacture, based on the Soviet KGPW, very reliable. Most people in the West are unfamiliar with the design, which makes it harder to trace. Uses the same cold-fusion storage battery as the KGPW and the American M32, good for 30 normal shots or ten charged. Ammunition should be easy to find.

One Deutche Völkselektrische 114b 100x precision computer-aided scope. The 114b is important; the newer 115 and 116c have a wireless link between the HUD in the scope and the micro targeting computer rucksack which is less reliable and subject to signal interference or jamming. The wire link from the earlier model is shielded and can be used with the updated computing units with a little modification.

One Anderson Futurics LLC accelerator coil compatible with the TIu67’s mounting bracket. The model with an internal battery or connection port to use the rifle’s power source is preferred, but one with an external source will do if necessary.

The makeshift cross was nailed home with a resounding certainty. Ferris stood back, mallet in hand. “Would anyone like to say a few words?” he said softly.

“May Gregg Thurliss rot in his grave and twice as fast in Hell,” Nancy said. She spat tobacco juice over the freshly turned earth. “It was his hubris that led us out here to die on the frontier.”

“Nancy, that’s not-“

“May he wander these hills as a specter for seventy times seventy days longer than he led us,” Corbin growled, interrupting. “May the injuns dig him up and use his bones to line their sewer pits.”

“I really think-“

“May his name be an insult for generations to come in English and injun…” Currie began.

“I meant something from the Good Book,” Ferris cried. “Something like you’d hear in a church.”

It was the perfect dead drop for money and drugs–deep in the cemetery where the ground had gotten rough and no one would notice turned-over earth. Cunningham looked for the marker, which Debs had chosen as much for the unusual name as the remote location.

“Here lies Nikolai Ilyich Tyicov, beloved son, 1951-1980,” he read. The tombstone bore the crazy three-beamed Orthodox cross, probably the only one in the cemetery. No chance of screwing it up if they had to send some snot-nosed junkie over as a patsy.

It didn’t take long to turn the earth over to reveal the latest shipment laid out on the lid of the coffin: bundles of drugs and money in plastic baggies. Cunningham bent down to scoop them up.

A pale, bony hand punched out of the lid and seized his lapel as he did so.

In the region of the Illustrious North, where the rule of the Son of Heaven was not yet universally acknowledged, many arrived seeking to gain favor with the imperial court through the subjugation of rebels and barbarians.

One such traveler was Nfashō, a man of modest birth who had once enjoyed a position of considerable influence thanks to his silver tongue and gift for unabashed toadying. A change in daimyo had gone ill for him; the nephew of the deceased lord was a coarse man with no need for flattering courtiers.

In order to make a name for himself and to provide another comfortable position with another daimyo–or perhaps even the Son of Heaven himself–Nfashō spent his savings to outfit an expedition to the Illustrious North. He hoped that by hiring skillful yet disgraced men at arms, he could reap glory for himself against the barbarians with little cost.

He was wrong.

“You know the procedure,” the adjunct sighed. “Any emotional reaction outside the rig’s parameters must be approved by court order. You agreed to this when you joined Special Crimes and had the rig installed.”

“And you know that you’ve said that every time I’ve applied for a writ over the last four years,” Ritchie said. His rig allowed a slight twinge of annoyance, but no more. The designers obviously felt that a little annoyance could be beneficial to police work, but too much was detrimental to performance.

“Well, now that we have those pleasantries out of the way,” the adjunct said, “confirm your biometrics to get your court-ordered emotional writ.”

Ritchie swabbed his thumb with the provided sanitizing gel and authenticated. He felt a brief jolt as his neural rig synced with the Corrections server. Different cases received different writs, or none at all, but Ritchie always applied. It was better to feel something outside the rig’s confining range than nothing at all, and retirement was a long way away.

The court order flashed on the inside of his retina: official judicial approval, sixth circuit court: Writ of Intensity.

The flood of emotion was so overpowering it forced Ritchie to his knees.

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