April’s com signaled a priority message. She only had a dozen people on that list. It was Jeff Singh.
“Lunch in the cafeteria in twenty minutes? And some show and tell?” he offered.
April looked at the time in the corner of her screen, 1124, that would get them in just ahead of the mid-day rush. “Yes, don’t be late or there will be a line,” she told him. She realized she hadn’t had her second cup of coffee and poured it in a thermal mug for Jeff.
Jeff wasn’t late, rather he was a few minutes early when he came in the door, carrying a portfolio, and found April waiting for him. There was a line but it was short and moving along.
“Is the minestrone soup any good?” Jeff wondered.
“I had it last week. It’s from a mix, but it wasn’t bad. I think Ruby doctored it up from just the straight out of the bag mix. I’m going to get breakfast though,” April said, “the pancakes with dried banana chips and pecans in them are good. We’ve got some real butter right now too.”
“I’m ready for shell eggs and heaps of bacon,” Jeff admitted. That was shocking. Jeff was usually so indifferent to food that April worried about him eating enough. But he didn’t look thinner when she examined him carefully. He looked good, actually. He hadn’t noticed the covered cup in her hand. Or if he had he didn’t mention it. April set it on his tray.
“It’s not shell eggs and bacon, but that may help your cravings,” April promised. Jeff just raised his eyebrows.
April led Jeff away from the knot of folks who still sat in front of the coffee pots even though they were empty. She knew when he opened the lid how the odor would carry.
Jeff showed restraint, buttering his baguette and tasting his soup before taking a sip from the mug.
“Ahhh… I know you really do love me,” he said.
“I don’t usually carry it outside my place,” April explained. “I don’t want to incite jealousy. But if you come by to visit I’ll make a half pot.”
“We should be getting some more coffee in six months, eight months for sure. It’s going to be Indonesian through Australia. I already have it on the short list after silver wire, medical supplies and some special graphene bonding adhesives,” Jeff said.
“Then I can be a little freer with mine,” April decided, “I mean, if I’m on the distribution list. I’d planned on making mine last a year if I had to.”
“Of course you are going to get some. It gets split six ways,” Jeff revealed.
April didn’t ask who else was getting it. She could guess a couple of them.
“Freight is pretty safe for us to receive, April said, waving at her meal like it was just arrived on the dock, “but what about people? I’m still concerned we’re going to be terribly isolated by this. We were growing and getting good quality people. Who’s going to want to come here if it’s like jail? People want to be able to go off on vacation or visit grandma without sitting out a quarantine.”
“Jon and Doc Lee have been talking to me about that. There was some tech invented before the epidemic that let you sense an infection just hours after exposure. If they can’t find documentation on it I’m going to have some of Chen’s fellows on Earth hunt it down.” Jeff lost his pleasant countenance. “They’ve done marvelous work for us on Earth even as bad as things got there. Worse comes to worse since we know it can be done we just have to re-invent it if it was lost. We’ll be able to stop infected at the lock once we have that system.”
There was something about Jeff’s cold face April had seen before and worried her. “Jeff, are they hunting for who started it? Nobody has plainly said they want to find him or them and press charges. After all the millions hurt surely somebody is looking.”
“Chen’s men knew who conceived it weeks ago. They’ll make sure the people he used to do the technical work can’t do it again,” Jeff promised.
“But they didn’t arrest him?” April asked.
“The Earth governments aren’t even acknowledging this was an engineered disease. The few who suggested that were denounced publically as nut cases and conspiracy theorists. So they’d hardly be looking to arrest someone as criminally responsible even if we offered them up. If they did want them our evidence couldn’t be presented in court,” Jeff said. “That’s the fault of Earth laws and courts, not the quality of the evidence. It was beyond a doubt as they say.”
“You didn’t just kill him, did you?” April asked, concerned.
“You should know better,” Jeff said. He really looked hurt. “Chen’s men held him long enough to question him electronically. They didn’t get rough with him or harm him before they released him. April… Some things are beyond our ability to adequately reward or punish. Not to get all mystical on you, but I honestly doubt he can escape the karma of such a horrible act. Killing him would have been far too quick and easy on him.”
“Thank you, I’m happy to hear that,” April said.
Jeff recapped the mug and proceeded with his meal, as did April. She found the pancakes plenty sweet without syrup. When he was done Jeff finished the coffee last, sipping it reverently. When he was completely finished he pushed the tray to the side, wiped his hands rather thoroughly and opened the portfolio. He smiled, and looked inordinately proud of himself, presenting her with a blank sheet of paper.
“Thank you,” April said, unsure what she was supposed to do with it. She looked at both sides carefully. It was a bit thin for printer paper and white, but not the brilliant white of coated paper, more crème. But it had a slick feel. It seemed to be standard letter size, or close to it.
“It’s not from Earth,” Jeff explained.
That was a big deal. They didn’t have trees or enough rags to waste them on paper. Paper meant sani-wipes and hard print documents, packaging for food and medical items. Her favorite artist, Lindsey, would be very interested in paper April realized, beside the practical items.
“Oh… So what is it? Synthetic fibers? April guessed.
“Soy protein fiber, and a little turnip pulp filler and tiny amounts of soy adhesive and titanium oxide. We can make a soy based ink too,” Jeff said.
“That means we’ll have tofu soon?” April asked. “I’m not a huge fan but it’s pretty good deep fried with a peanut sauce.”
“And soy milk, protein powder to add to other stuff, and some pretty good fake cream cheese. It’s even a good base for some useful industrial glues and plastics,” Jeff added. “The fibers that make paper can make cloth too.”
“I didn’t know you were trying to raise soybeans,” April said.
“There was a special kind that grow very low,” Jeff said. “They don’t need much vertical space so you can space the trays closely. They’re working out nicely.”
“Good. One more thing we don’t have to lift from Earth,” April said. ” Aaron Holtz thinks we’ll make so much of our own goods we may not grow back to the same lift traffic for a few years.”
“The name doesn’t ring a bell,” Jeff admitted.
“Former fund manager from New Zealand,” he writes a couple times a week for What’s Happening, Wiggen’s site,” April said.
“You’re sure it’s hers?” Jeff asked.
“Unless she’s deliberately fronting it for somebody else,” April assured him.
“When it first came out I thought you might be behind it,” Jeff revealed.
“All my other hobbies and time to manage a general news site for Home too?” April objected.
” A lot of the views expressed sounded like yours, and they have avoided gossip from the start. I know how you feel about the gossip boards. But yes, it grew too big and I knew you didn’t have the time to be reviewing and directing that much material,” Jeff said.
“Don’t you think I’d tell you if I had something like that going on?” April asked. Sometimes Jeff didn’t seem very socialized to April. He wasn’t deeply strange like some very smart people could be, but he just lacked – finesse.
Jeff screwed up his face in concentration. “I guess you would, eventually. But just because we do so much together… You aren’t obligated to tell me everything you’re doing. I have no doubt I have no idea about a lot of what Heather is doing at Central. I don’t expect to be told every little thing. If it’s important she’ll get around to telling me.”
That sort of trust was a huge compliment, but April was too much of a snoop. She did want to know what everybody was doing. For the first time she had doubts that was always a good idea. Even worse, April suddenly realized Jeff might not be strange, but simply a better person. It was a disturbing idea. She still wondered how much of ‘every little thing’ Jeff didn’t tell her encompassed. But now April felt just a little pang of guilt for wondering.
“Do you think we need a way to get our own views out,” April asked Jeff.
“The majority of folks seem to want the same things we do. I’ve certainly been happy with most of the votes in the Assembly. If we sponsored a public news site or even write a regular feature then people will start to see us as having an agenda. I don’t think you know how much influence you have, but it’s partly because you aren’t beating a drum constantly. You need to be aware of this. A casual word might have influence you didn’t anticipate or want. Chen has told me he runs into people doing intelligence work who know he has a relationship with us. He said people ask what your views are on matters, assuming he has the inside track on your opinions. ”
“They do? On what? And why would they care? I’m no official, and have no power,” April said.
Jeff looked amused. “Yet you can call Jon up and tell him you want to see him, right now, and you are sitting in his office with Gunny telling him he may have to quarantine the station in the time it takes you to walk over. Do you really think everybody gets treated that way?”
“Jon and I have a special relationship. We formally agreed to be allies back when I wasn’t 14 yet. When I told him about that first USNA spy he had the sense to see I knew what I was talking about. When somebody agrees they are on your side and will watch your back I expect them to mean it.”
“I’m very aware,” Jeff said. “And God help anybody who forgets it or doesn’t mean it. How many young girls do you think would put conditions on helping the head of security and demand he treat you with respect? Much less ask for a formal relationship. Scratch that – Demand a certain relationship. You might be surprised how many people have picked up on that. You have a reputation as being formidable all out of proportion to your age or any official position. Chen gets asked how you will vote on things coming to the Assembly or what you have said about Heather and things at Central. He even gets asked what you say about me. And I don’t just mean the tacky interest some gossip sites have in exactly how we three regard each other. They want to know if you support specific business projects and plans.”
“I’ve never thought to tell Chen what I think!” April said, surprised. “He’s right out on the pointy end of things, or at least his agents are. I try to use what he tells me for our purposes, but I wouldn’t presume to try to tell the fellow doing the dirty work and seeing so much more than me what it all means. I’m sure he has his own firm opinions.”
“I’m sure he does too. But with Chen and you people are aware who works for who. Chen said he always tells them that the information flows from him to you and not the other way. That you hold your cards closely, and he has no idea what you think most of the time. Indeed he often has no idea why you ask certain questions that seem non sequiturs to him. Sometimes it is unexpected and scares the snot out of him when he finds out the answers to these weird questions.
“Like when you called him from the Fox and Hare and asked about the names of Spanish royalty from the ninth century. He kept muttering about that for days – ‘How the hell could she possibly know that?’ – You connect the dots that are not even close to each other, and as an intelligence officer he admires that. If you haven’t noticed – I take it very seriously when you suggest something. For example, it was you who suggested we needed to have our own bank, remember?” Jeff reminded her.
“Yes, thank you, and Heather agreed,” April said, uncomfortable with praise. “Barak is another one you don’t want to ignore,” she said deflecting attention. “He gets sudden insights that amaze me.”
“I agree. Then he irritates me by saying it was obvious,” Jeff said.
“We’ll try to train him out of that,” April decided. Jeff tried to cover his smile, unsuccessfully.
“Thank you for the coffee,” Jeff said quietly, setting the mug back within her reach. That meant he was ready to go, April knew.
“Stop by and visit when you want more,” she suggested.
Jeff looked at her oddly for some reason April didn’t understand, but said, “I will. Sunday?”
“That would be nice. I’ll expect you,” April said.
I wonder how I’m being trained? Jeff thought as he left. But the idea didn’t worry him.