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A short story by

Alex Irvine

Not just espionage, but labor strife! Drenthe was getting more from this trip than he had anticipated. One of the security guards struck her on the side of the head with a baton, and she disappeared into the melee.

"This is just not acceptable," Dario said. He opened up his handheld comm link and called someone. "Riley," he said. "I'm showing Drenthe around the grounds. Was this necessary right now?"

Drenthe could not hear the reply.

"No, that's what I'm saying. I was not consulted. Timing, Riley. Timing. We'll talk about this later. Right now, you bring them back in, and I mean now. No detentions. Get them the hell out of there."

Dario snapped the comm shut and said, "Sorry about this. You know how people get. Workers always think that we're sitting on piles of money that they should have."

The chaos was subsiding as the security forces withdrew. Several of the demonstrators were lying in the road, or near it. Drenthe could not tell if they were dead. The ambulances also withdrew. Other workers went to the injured parties and carried them into the company town. The woman Drenthe had spotted at first was now directing the recovery efforts despite rivulets of blood on her face. What a remarkable specimen she was, statuesque and fierce.

Savagery, thought Drenthe—and was glad that without Dario's knowledge, he had managed to capture some of it. He was Drenthe. He went nowhere without recorders absorbing his environment. He had his shirts and belts specially made to incorporate micro-recorders in buttons and buckles. The ring he wore on his right hand was another tiny lens. When he was not telling any other story, he was telling the story of himself. An endless story, of course, because Drenthe could not imagine his own death.

"That was extremely irregular," Dario said. He looked at Drenthe, who saw tense lines around Dario's eyes and mouth. The AxO work site was more interesting than Drenthe had imagined—and much more interesting than Dario wanted. Drenthe loved to see things he was not supposed to see. "Axiom is careful to maintain good relationships with its workforce."

"Of course," Drenthe said. He wondered what the redheaded woman's name was and if she could be interviewed. Dario would, of course, not permit it, but were there ways...?

"Well. Yes. You've seen the area. Now maybe you'd like to rest up? We're going to need to start shooting as soon as you can get your recorders set up. Time is money."

Thinking of Heroes of the Periphery, Drenthe agreed. On the way back to the executive complex, which was set apart from the factory works and far away from the company town, they ran into Eli, who had apparently been waiting for them. "Dario," he said. "I see you've given Drenthe here the tour?"

"He got a little more than we'd expected," Dario said.

"So I hear," Eli said. "Too bad about that."

Dario shrugged. "We're all adults. Workers are never satisfied, and when they allow their dissatisfaction to become public unrest, Axiom has a duty to maintain a safe work environment for the vast majority of its employees who appreciate everything Axiom does for them. This happens from time to time. It's unpleasant, of course, but Axiom is very strict about keeping its responses both legal and humane. In any case, since you haven't been introduced—Eli, Drenthe. Drenthe, Eli."

"We've met," Eli said, but he shook Drenthe's hand again.

"Oh, of course. On the ship. Eli's one of our consultants."

Eli winked at Drenthe. "We had a chance to talk on the trip. It was a great pleasure to meet such a famous artist."

* * *

Early the next morning Drenthe met Eli again while Drenthe was scanning the wasteland terrain for advantageous spots to position fixed recorders. Much of the action work would be done with mobile lenses, but Drenthe believed that holo storytelling depended occasionally on the stillness of the viewpoint. In this he was old-fashioned, perhaps. But he was Drenthe.

"There's something you should know," Eli told him. "So you don't end up getting hurt out there."

"How am I going to get hurt? I thought you said these Warhounds were just SCVs with bigger torches."

"You're an artist, Drenthe. You understand a little exaggeration for effect, right?"

"I would prefer that I understood my exposure," Drenthe said, in a rare use of the first-person pronoun. He found it distasteful.

"The control system for the demonstration. It might be vulnerable."

Drenthe was in no mood for subtlety. "Speak plainly," he demanded.

"The dummy armor isn't going to fight like dummy armor," Eli said. "We have decided to take steps to ensure that you get the story that both of us want you to get."

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