Mind Fuck, Manna Francis; Chapter Ten
It’s the next day, and paperwork is showing up for Toreth to sort out. Remember, it’s a government bureaucracy, and is need to be dotted and ts crossed. All is surprisingly in order.
Time to begin arranging specialists for dispatch to SimTech to take the corporation apart for his entertainment and education.
Interesting, and again, it suggests to me that Toreth is more interested in cracking something—to see how it works—than motivated purely by destructive or mean tendencies. He might not possess Warrick’s sharpness of mind and imagination, but he seems to have some level of curiousity and interest in understanding—or solving things. Combined with a rather off-colour sense of humour, though, I guess it doesn’t exactly make him look noble.
He goes to see Sara to start sorting out the specialists’ involvement, and as he’s headed there, he can hear—and see—Belqola chatting to her. (And behold: I fucking LOVE the scene that follows.)
“I wondered if he’d said anything,” Belqola said. “About my being late yesterday.”
“Why on earth would he say anything to me?” Sara asked.
Toreth eased the door open another crack, because he suspected Belqola was about to make a serious tactical mistake vis-à-vis life on Toreth’s team.
“Well—“ The junior shrugged. “You two are… aren’t you?”
“Are what?” Sara inquired in frosty tones.
“Together. Seeing each other?”
You know, part of me actually cringes for Belqola. He seems so young and clueless and wet behind the ears that it’s almost embarrassing watching him stumble around. He reminds me of a brighter Ana Steele without all the self-esteem problems, just the same sort of social stupidity. I mean, seriously, why the fuck would you bring something like that up—and then why would you ask something like that? Clearly the man’s not stupid because he’s working where he is, and apparently he got top marks in the training, but one would assume that working in such a role you’d either have some social ability. Or you’d be able to fake some. Or, failing that, keep your trap shut.
Barret-Connor, one of Toreth’s other staff, has been watching the whole thing, too, and he’s watching Toreth, who gestures for him to keep quiet.
Sara stood up. Twenty centimetres shorter than Belqola, she nevertheless managed to leave no doubt about who was intimidating whom. “Are you suggesting I’d be so unprofessional as to sleep with my boss?” she asked, dangerously quiet.
Toreth grinned. God, she had a lovely way of phrasing it. Yes or no were both disastrous, so Belqola won points for hitting the only possible escape.
“I’m sorry, really, I am.” Then he blew it. “You’re always going out with him in the evening, that’s all, so I assumed—“
Oh dear. Just… *cringe*.
“Assumed?” Heads were starting to come up around the office. Toreth noticed one or two people making comm calls, alerting absent friends to the show. “You just assumed, did you? Maybe I look like the type who has to screw around to get a decent posting?”
You know that saying “Quit while you’re ahead”? Clearly Belqola doesn’t.
“Well, I asked a couple of—“
“So you’ve been gossiping about me as well?” Coming from Sara, the accusation would’ve left anyone who knew her helpless with laughter. Belqola, poor bastard, merely spent a while working on his fish-out-of-water impersonation. Sara left him to squirm until the moment he started to say something, then she said, “For your information, Junior Para-investigator, I have never slept with anyone I work for and I never will sleep with anyone I work for. And if I did, you’d know without talking behind my back, because I’d resign the next day.”
Did I tell you people I love Sara? Seriously, she rocks. And even though she’s subordinate to Toreth, she’s fucking smart. She so easily could have been a backgroundish assistant type who just made the odd joke and who dealt with Toreth’s paperwork, but she’s not. And she’s feisty. And she sticks up for herself. And—whether it’s from transcribing hours of Toreth’s interrogations—or not—she’s bloody adept at dealing with people. And she’s not at all ashamed of the fact. She just does her thing and is awesome.
This was a lie, although Toreth wasn’t sure if it was an intentional one. He and Sara had fucked—just once—five years previously and a couple of years after she’d begun working for him. It had happened at the end of a long and very drunken night, so drunken Sara hadn’t remembered anything in the morning, or at least had claimed not to.
This is interesting. My gut instinct after reading that was that Sara did remember and didn’t mention it because she didn’t want to put in a transfer and because quite clearly, that night hadn’t at all affected their working relationship in the sort of way that it could have, and that they both understood on some level that it was a one-off thing.
Toreth thinks about discussing it with her, but obviously not right now.
Belqola still continues trying to explain and excuse his douchiness, and Toreth interrupts it because there’s work to be done. He asks Sara to get the specialists happening, and Belqola to be in charge of the operation. Which is interesting: he’s still trusting the guy with heading up something in spite of his incompetence.
Later on, Toreth mockingly chides Sara for her attitude towards the junior Para, and Sara lets him know that he’s got an appointment with Teffera’s brother and sister, who apparently know about Kelly Jarvis.
Not very long after this, Jarvis’ preliminary post-mortem report arrives to Toreth.
On the plus side, it was the same cause of death as for Teffera. On the downside, it was no kind of cause of death at all.
Toreth contacts forensics and asks about the non-descript “respiratory failure,” only to learn that they’re still trying to work out what happened, that it appears there were no drugs involved, and there’s no sign of suffocation. Half an hour later, Sara’s got a call for him from the security systems specialist, who’s got no evidence on who was in the building due to a technical glitch, and there ewas, of course, no backup recorded. There’s a possibility that it might have been deliberately tampered with, though like the post-mortem report, further investigation needs to take place.
And finally, to add to his stress, the new junior—two guesses as to which one (and the second guess doesn’t count) has been at SimTech, being his blundering brand of incompetent.
When Toreth gets over there, he realises that the person at SimTech Belqola is annoying is none other than Warrick. (At which point, I’m giggling. Obviously the guy has no idea and his ability to keep pissing off the wrong people—without really realising until it’s too late—is quite hilarious.)
Warrick looked angry but under rigid self-control. Belqola looked frankly baffled by someone who simply refused to be intimidated by the I&I aura. “What’s going on?” Toreth asked.
Instead of answering, Warrick walked away to his office window, leaving Belqola to explain. “The systems team say that he’s refusing to hand the code over, Para,” Belqola said.
Toreth has no time for this shit and tells Belqola that they don’t need his permission and that the team can just take it. But of course there’s a complication: the code’s protected and access requires Warrick’s cooperation.
So Toreth assigns Belqola to check up on other specialists so he can deal with Warrick himself, and Belqola gratefully makes his exit, leaving Toreth to work his special brand of magic.
Toreth joined Warrick at the window. “I have authority to demand the code. You’ve read the warrant; it’s all in order. I don’t want to start making threats, because we both know what I can do if I have to. Just do it.”
God. Can anyone else see this scene actually happening? This book is so annoying filled with moments of “This would translate so beautifully to screen” that after awhile it just gets depressing when you consider that it probably never will be. Seriously, folks, how easy is it to imagine Warrick standing by the window, looking unshakeable and calm, and Toreth approaching him and talking to him, in a perfectly rational and almost friendly but thoroughly dangerous way like this. It echoes back to the start of the book where he got his information from his detainee not through force, but through advising him what he could do.
And Warrick, meanwhile, is standing solid on this.
“Not a chance.” Despite his pale. Set expression, Warrick didn’t sound angry, only immovable. If Belqola had been hearing this all morning, Toreth could appreciate why he’d been so keen to leave. He spent a moment considering the most profitable approach.
“Why not?” he asked, eventually.
Warrick smiles his unfriendly half smile. “Do you know, I’ve been talking to your colleague for what seems like hours and he never once asked that?”
“Belqola doesn’t care. Neither do I, actually, because you’ll have to do it in the end, but I am curious.”
Warrick turned away again and considered the question for a minute, looking out of the window at the gathering clouds. Then he sighed. “Sit down.”
And somehow, even though he’s fully aware of the predicament he’s in, he’s not really bending and he’s still holding his own beautifully.
Not gracious, but Toreth accepted it as the concession it was. Warrick remained standing, pacing as he talked. “There are two reasons SimTech is still an independent enterprise. The first is that our sponsors know that ultimately they stand to make phenomenal amounts of money from the work we do here. We had sponsors cutting each other’s throats—rumours suggest literally in one or two cases—to be the ones who gave us development capital. As a result, we were able to negotiate contracts which don’t infringe on our control of the company.” Warrick paused. “That is the first reason. The second is that I control the source code.”
“Physically control it. Only I have access to it. There is no way another company can get at it, or force me to give it to them.”
The first time I read this, I wondered what would happen if the Administration wanted it badly enough. And I got to wondering what would happen if push came to shove and Warrick wound up interrogated for the code.
It’s funny, though, because in the grand scheme of the investigation, it seems almost irrelevant. Yet Warrick looks as though he’d be ready to take that source code to the grave if he had to.
Warrick’s corporate saintliness was getting harder to believe. “And the rest of the directors are happy with this?”
“It’s in all our best interests to keep SimTech safe from corporate predation.”
“And that’s enough to keep it safe?”
Warrick admits that it’s one of a number of measures, though the most basic and fundamental.
“What happens if you’re killed?”
Warrick smiled. “An excellent question. Briefly, I have a very long and detailed will, which is absolutely lawyer-proof. It releases all the sim technology into the public domain in the event of my death.”
Which is absolutely awesome and brilliant, isn’t it? As Warrick explains, he makes it a policy to be worth more alive than dead. And because of all this effort he’s gone to, he’s not just giving up the source code that easily, experts and investigation or not. Toreth realises that if he’s gone to such effort, he’s likely to destroy the code rather than get it interrogated out of him anyway. He tries reasoning with Warrick, explaining that the sim might have killed the two victims, and…
Warrick is adamant that it didn’t, though Toreth suggests that to clear the sim, the experts need to see the code. Warrick proposes a compromise, suggesting Toreth invite in the systems team leader for discussion.
In a short period of time, they come to an agreement; the investigation team can work within the building in a secure room studying the code, though there are extremely tight security protocols to be followed and nothing is to leave the room that SimTech’s security don’t okay. No one can use comms in the room.
That sorted, Toreth heads off to see Teffera’s relatives at LiveCorp.
Toreth wonders about the Teffera’s desire to cooperate, noting that if they’d wanted their brother’s death looked into by outsiders, they would have come to them sooner, and wonders about what really went on and if it was corporate sabotage.
Part of I&I’s function was to enforce Administration law and (far more nebulously defined) Administration will over the corporations. At the same time, they were expected to ensure that the corporations, and most particularly, the senior corporate figures, were allowed to go about their productive lives unmolested by resisters, criminals, or excessive corporate roughhousing.
It’s interesting: there seems to be a definite interest in looking after big business from the Administration, which could be comparable to the way law enforcement could be seen to be favoured towards certain sectors of the community right now, though by the same token, it also seems that in the world of the Administration, what the corporations get up to is both watched—and policed more heavily—than nowadays. (I can only imagine what someone like Gina Rinehart would think about the Administration keeping an eye on her business and probably saying “No, you can’t do that” to some of her dodgier ideas.) In a way, the Admininstration and the corporates seem to have a polar-opposites, yin-and-yang relationship, though, where they’re both reliant on one another and where they have to meet at a halfway compromise in order for things to, well, work. The relationship seems to be able more than corporations funding government and duping the people, though, so I am more optimistic about it than I am about the current system which we have (and which I’ve all but lost faith in, personally).
And again, I wonder: what the hell prompted the shift towards this sort of relationship between the government and the corporations? How far ahead in the future is this (we never know, from my understanding, which is well fucking played)?
Defining “excessive” was one part of the problem. The customary flexibility in the law where the rich were concerned—labelled “corporate privilege” by resisters—was a murky area. Still, once corporate sabotage escalated to killing, the Administration preferred to step in and put a stop to it.
I love this whole section of description and I love that as readers, we’re treated to this stuff in little descriptive sections like this rather than a big info dump.
Except in the instances where they didn’t. Generally Toreth was adept at finding out which cases to pursue and which to close quietly, unsolved. Here there would doubtless be the usual mess of competing factors, and he’d have to poke around on the edges until he found a solid suspect, or until he received a clear cease and desist from higher up.
Obviously the system is not corruption-proof, though.
Toreth gets shown through to where the Tefferas are waiting to talk to him. They seem cooperative enough, and state they’re there as Jon’s siblings rather than business associates, though since the meeting is in LiveCorp—complete with armed guards—Toreth is very much reminded of what else they are.
They explain that Jon was interested in SimTech because of the technology having some personal benefit to him, though the spending from LiveCorp wasn’t done without consideration and was approved by the board.
Jon’s sister, Caprice, explains that LiveCorp very much had an interest in the sim for business reasons, since they have interests across all areas of the leisure industry. She mentions that P-Leisure, the LiveCorp representative in the sexual leisure market—is a natural partner for SimTech, which makes obvious sense when you consider what the sim is capable of. (Again, I love that something so human and believable comes into things with the technology. I mean, think about it: porn was probably one of the first non-military-or-government things the internet was getting used for, and it’s one of the main things people use it for nowadays, apparently.
Toreth asks if LiveCorp are pleased with the results from the involvement with SimTech.
“More than satisfied,” Marc said without hesitation. “They have delivered ahead of schedule and fulfilled their side of the contract admirably.”
Yet moments later, his sister admits that they’re reconsidering several of their association following Jon’s death, including their association with SimTech. As Linton said earlier, they’re a bit twitchy about investing in a product where their brother was found dead.
Toreth quite bluntly asks if they’d pull out if it was found that the sim had killed Jon to be told that the situation is under review.
“Do you think Jon’s death was sabotage?” Toreth asked.
Now Caprice leaned across, and without making the least attempt to hide it, whispered something to her brother who nodded. There was no point, Toreth knew, in asking what she’d said. “We are taking steps of our own to investigate that,” Caprice said blandly.
Interesting. Of course, one suspects that when the corporates have the sorts of financial resources available to them that they appear to, they can afford to suss this sort of thing out with their own private people.
“We’re being guided by our security division.” Caprice folded her hands on the table in front of her. “And naturally, they will do all in their power that is both legal and proper.”
Naturally. In fact, LiveCorp would already be devoting far more resources to discovering who might be behind Teffera’s death than Tillotson would ever authorise. No doubt they’d take steps to deal with the culprits, too.
And from what we know so far: it won’t be pretty if they find out something that they can deal with.
Toreth closed his eyes briefly, opening them again before the vision of a spiralling corporate vendetta in the middle of his investigation became too disturbingly clear.
The Tefferas have some questions for Toreth, and they’re about Kelly Jarvis’ death. They have their suspicions about the sim, though Toreth isn’t sure if it’s because of their brother, or their company’s investment in SimTech.
He decided to try a direct approach. “Why do you want to know?”
Another whispered exchange, then Caprice said, “Internal security arrangements.”
Of course—he’d missed the third possibility. “If any sabotage is aimed at SimTech rather than LiveCorp, you’ll both be sleeping better than you have for the last few weeks?”
Makes perfect sense. Toreth explains that no, they’re not sure about the sim beyond Kelly’s body being found there, and the Tefferas want to know as soon as possible if anything definitive comes forth.
Toreth had an urge to ask why the hell she thought he ought to go out of his was to help them when they were doing their damndest to shut him out. “I’ll keep you informed, of course. As far as is legal and proper.”
*giggles* You are awesome, Toreth, you snarky bastard.
That drew a sharp glance from Caprice, and Toreth mentally put even money on getting a memo later from Tillotson about upsetting corporates. Fuck him.
Again, more chuckles from me; sounds about right.
Caprice says she wouldn’t blame the sim without evidence, and talks about Jon and his refusal of further treatment, and Marc cuts in, genuinely griefstruck and remembering Jon as someone who went for quality, not quantity both in life and in the corporation. Caprice then asks if Toreth has any questions, and he tells her he’d like to talk to some of their staff, specifically the ones dealing with SimTech.
He realises he isn’t really getting anything from them.
He was wasting his time here, time he could have spent doing something more useful. Perhaps if he’d been here two weeks ago, he might’ve been able to pull something out, but they’d had too long to pick their positions and dig in to defend. To get anything now, he’d need the kind of damage waiver not normally available for people like the Tefferas.
And then we get that very subtle, almost missable little suggestions that perhaps the system isn’t perfect and that, in the words of Orwell, “Some are more equal than others.” (I still think it’s at least more ambitiously “fair” in many ways than today’s governments… though it interests me though even in a world where sexism, racism and homophobia are pretty much non-issues, classism—one of the very much ignored ‘isms’ of our time—still features under Administration rule.)
Anyway, Toreth heads back to I&I, hoping things will look better after the weekend.