5.9 "What?! Hardwickii, if this is a joke it's not funny." Gordon O felt nauseous. "Tell me this again."

Hardwickii was on the vidphone from the security area where he had been interrogating Vanessa Cardui. He looked side to side uncomfortably and finally exhaled strongly and looked back at O's face on the screen. "She's dead. I don't know, she had some kind of allergic reaction to the planci-serum or whatever it was."
O's eyes widened, "Starfish!! Moron!! You used Acanthaster planci before you had a blood workup. I'll see you're brought up on charges for this Hardwi..."

"Hold your ass" interrupted the sergeant. "Talk to your techies first."
A very frightened attendant in a white robe approached the screen. "Our mistake, sir. We have medical profiles on our Pleasure Escorts. Usually the profiles are complete. Domestic allergies, diseases and innoculations. It turns out that they don't encompass interrogation procedures. After all, she was one of the director's own P.E.s."

"I know God damn well what she was," screamed O and he stressed the word 'what' with such disgust that the attendant flinched. "She was an innocent young woman, that's what she was. Get a report to my office." Hardwickii appeared on the screen and began to say something. O disconnected.

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6.1
Barro, rencor inagotable. Toda otra fuente terminapor cedar
a la presión de esta materia original.
Los días del agua están contados, pero no así los días del barro
que sustituye al agua cuando ciegan el pozo.
No así los días del barro que nos remontan al séptimo día.

Mud, unending malice. All other source gives way at last
to the pressure of this primal stuff.
Water? its days are numbered, but not the mud
that packs up after the well is plugged.
Not the muddy days that back us up to Creation.
Enrique Lihn

"I should have killed him when I had the chance. You're gone. The kid's gone. I guess I'm gone too, huh. Dead. You were better off when Planck owned you. You were better off before I loved you. But not me. This pain. Thank you dear sweet Vanessa. Thank you for letting me glimpse the heights and suffer the loss. Good-bye darling." Keele opened the small urn he had been addressing and poured Vanessa's ashes to the wind blowing across the muddy Thames. He turned, walked up to Gordon O, gave him the urn and said, "Thanks". Gordon O nodded, waited a moment and said, "Sorry, it wasn't meant to be like this."
Keele, with eyes on fire replied, "I'll take the whole thing down if I get a chance, Zero. I suggest you get out while you can." He turned and walked away. O stood thinking about what a good idea that was and if it wasn't for that ass hole cop from D/W, that's just what he would do.

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6.2 Hobbits
Father Brown, Alban and Stan marched into London's underground through a drainage vent near Great Portland Street. They had walked from an outdoor market at Bethnal Green where clean air masks and filters, bottled water and cigarettes (for Stan) were acquired. The cold winter air kept the pace brisk and the talk lively. Once inside the tunnel they were happy to find that there were grates overhead that supplied intermittent light. Further along there were work lamps left by either servicemen or, as Stan preferred to think, by the inhabitants. This would save battery power on their own flashlights. Each man picked up a lamp. Only Estrogen lit his and led the way. After walking through winding corridors and huge descending cobblestone tubes Alban gestured ahead and asked nervously, "Is that a light?" They couldn't tell how far away it was but there was definitely a faint green glow down the tunnel. As they walked on they became quiet and tried not to shuffle or kick the debris under their feet. The green glow grew brighter as they came to a turn in the tunnel.

Once around the turn Estrogen extinguished his lantern. They could see in this green phosphorescence but they still couldn't tell where the light was coming from. Stan suddenly stopped and stretched his arms out touching his two companions. "Put on your filter masks," he said. They immediately did so and turned to him when finished. "The glow, it's coming from the walls themselves. I've never seen this type but I'm sure the source of this light is mould."

"Mold?" said Alban. "Yech." Stan began to explain, rattling off a dissertation on electrolytic assimilation of soot and moisture by simple life forms when Father Estrogen Brown alias Robertson Hooper interrupted with, "Look at these." On the ground in front of them were skeletal remains.
"That's why the masks," Stan continued, "when I did my studies of fungus life on top of the Manchester Towers I encountered similar phenomena. Certain fungi would release spores that would drive neighbouring human inhabitants into, well, what could only be described as a sexual frenzy. It's the main force behind at least two yearly holidays up there. I had heard of lethal spores but only the privileged 'Custodial' classes had access to them."

Stan went to the wall and turned on his flashlight. "Here... and here..."
He pointed to little objects hanging off the wall of the tunnel. "Poison sacks. They have lethal spores in them. The wall of the bag is extremely thin. Try not to brush against one or you'll be a messenger of death for hours." Stan took out his mono pod, snapped his camera to it and took some pictures of the deadly mold. Alban and Hooper lit their lanterns and supplied light for a few more shots.

After two more hours of walking, sliding, and crawling, the three travellers agreed that they were lost. "Best way to find something new," Stan said merrily. He'd obviously been having a wonderful time.

"Your wanderlust is not shared by me," Alban whined. "I thought you said you knew where this place was."
"Well I'm sure it was between Regent's Park and Bond but maybe we've gone too far west. Who knows." The excitement in Stan's eyes said more about how he felt in being lost than he would venture to admit.

Hooper chimed in, "Okay, we've come this far. Might as well keep on a bit more. Besides, we can't turn back. We don't know which way that is."

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6.3 "Scone dhon"
The receptionist at Planck looked horrified. The dirty man in black rags and chains repeated himself. "Scone Dhone. I said What's going down, Dearie?" this latter part he pronounced slowly, exaggerating the syllables and ending with a big canine smile.

She stood up from her desk. Three other men hulked around the coffee tables in the reception area. "Can I help you?"

"Yeah, word on the street is you gonna pay for information on the whereabouts of a Ziggy and his squeeze. The AmExicand girl.." This brought snickers from the seated gang members. "Yeah, word is we come here and ask for Hardwick."

The secretary walked back to her terminal and keyed in the name. "You mean Hardwickii," she braved. "I'll tell him you're here."

"Yeah, tell'm the King is here. King Kong." The three others laughed loudly.

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6.4
Keele finished packing and called room service. "This is Keele in 1620. I'd like a breakfast sent up. Continental. Yes, I'm checking out today. No problem." He hung up and rubbed his shoulder. It was still sore from that body roll during the raid on the artist's loft. He tried not to think about it. By tomorrow he'd be in Jakarta. He'd gotten an offer by an Indonesian drug enforcement agency to lead an investigation into some designers in Singapore. It was sitting in his electronic mailbox last night.

Keele packed his shoulder holster in his suitcase but kept the one he wore against his back on. He was just putting his Olufsen 16mm into the small pocket wedged between his belt and his right kidney when someone knocked. He drew the gun out again and moved to one side of the door. A second knock followed by "Room service. Your breakfast, sir." The voice was a woman's. Keele unbolted the door, palmed the gun and stepped back.

"Come in, it's open." The door opened and a cart wheeled into the room. The waitress kept her face down until the cart was past Keele. As she passed him she slowed slightly. Keele noticed that the hotel jacket she wore was much too large. Too late. He lifted his gun to her jaw as she did the same to him. They stood frozen, eyes locked.
"So you're Fred Keele." The blond smiled at him.
"I don't believe I've had the pleasure."
"You may," she said. "Smith; Linda Smith. I'm with the Network. Vancouver Branch. We wanted to hire Acetate. What the fuck's going on? How did this turn into a murder case?" She lowered her gun, walked to the mini bar and asked, "Want a drink?"

Keele put his gun back in his holster, reached into his suitcase and pulled out a bottle of Laphroaig. "Mmm, don't mind if I do," she added.
She held out a glass and Keele poured some whiskey into it, "I could have killed you," he said as she handed him another glass. He poured some for himself.

"No way. I know all about you, Keele. It's not compassion with you. It's curiosity. You wanted to know what I was doing here. Who sent me. What old score I was supposed to even up. Right?"

"Wrong. There's no score keeping. There's just a winner and a dead body." Keele paused and then added, "until now." Smith looked at him and for a moment her eyes softened. "Don't look at me for sympathy," she said brusquely. "You know the rules. You got personally involved." Fred Keele turned away from her. Tears flooded down his face. He felt a hand on his back. For a flash he believed it was Vanessa. "Sorry Keele. Pretty cold of me. But if I think about that stuff I get really upset. Life's too short. Come on, let's toast her and send her on." He could hear the plea in her voice. She had guts. He turned, perhaps a little too quickly, clinked his glass against hers and said, "Here's to the butterflies." They drained their glasses.

"I'm just in it for the ride, Keele". Smith drained her glass and held it up to Keele for a refill.

They drank all morning and nibbled on croissants and toast. Sprawled across the couch, Smith drawled, "When you said 'until now' you were talking about an unsettled score, but here you are getting ready to pick up some merc work for drug runners an' arms dealers. The Wren gang set up the Kuala Lumpur Cartel. Singapore-Malay breakup, you know that scene. You're slumming in the depths." Smith squinted and twisted her face up trying to focus her eyes.
It had been a long time since Keele smiled. But his face hardened quickly and he looked at Linda Smith with a kind of desperation that made her uneasy. She poured some more scotch and listened to him.
"I wouldn't think twice about killing the people responsible for Vanessa's death. But who are they? Planck is falling apart. There's this cop from the AMC's. He's after the artist's girlfriend. Who am I going to kill? Some lab technician who follows a goddamn computer printout on procedure? I checked. They didn't know if they were assisting an interrogation or administering an innoculation. Who am I going to kill?"

Smith drawled, " Ziggy Acetate?"
"He was her friend, supposedly."
Linda raised a finger to her lips, said "shhh" and then wagged it in the air. Keele realised how drunk they both were. "You know," she said "this Ziggy character doesn't seem to really do anything, does he?" She got up and went to the bed. She looked at Keele as she slipped out of her dress and under the covers. He cocked his head. Smith shook her finger at him again, "uh uhn.. professionals" she winked loudly and passed out.

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6.5 No Problem
The China Travel Service is an agency which got the jump on the international market way before the rest of China. As a liaison between the mainland and Hong Kong in the late 20th century, before annexation in 1997, CTS was a tendril of the communists who sought to learn the enterprising and often devious practices of the western world. Once the Chinese government learned of the kickbacks, the added expenses which a 'tourist' was subject to and most importantly, the friends who could be gained through special favours and attentions, they pulled in the reigns and made the China Travel Service a closely monitored government agency.

A Mr. Soo and a Mr. Shu were in charge of implementing projects that the government thought a priority. Mr. Shu wore a suit. Mr. Soo was a casual mix of old fashioned worker and yuppie jogger. They stood outside Heathrow Airport waiting for a car. They were both very tired. They had only been given two days to find a Mr. Ziggy Acetate and invite him or more correctly, accompany him, to the 75th anniversary of the Shenzhen Arts Festival.
"But, Mr. Soo, we don't know where he is. We don't know if he wants to attend the festival. We stand to lose face and our jobs and you tell me it's all right?"
"Sop sop soy, Mr. Shu. No Problem," Mr. Soo replied.


End Of BOOK I

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BOOK II



6.6 Sifter
Ziggy played with a small tool, the purpose of which eluded him. It was constructed from a tin-like material in the shape of a cylinder. Inside was a mesh of screening upon which ran a metal hoop. The hoop was connected to a shaft that ran through the cylinder to a handle with a little red wooden ball on the end. When the handle was turned, the band of metal revolved away from the screen and the other rim came down to rub against it. "Something's going on," he said with a little fear and a lot of tease as he spun the handle and made a repeating percussive rhythm that sounded like 'shwaa shwaa shwaa'.

"What is it Zig?" Ruby asked. She had been watching him play with the antique and figuring it was time to find Kerby. Ten days had passed and she was restless. They had been healed and revived through the friendship of the people of Thunder. Now it was time to go. But what did he mean: something's going on? She noticed Skip look up. She noticed Luke monitoring Skip's every gesture. She didn't like the feel of this.

"You've got a big, mean toad sitting in front of your door with a big cold smile like he should always be there. I hope this is a toad squasher ", he added turning the little red ball around and around. Everyone kept staring until Ziggy became defensive and indignant. "It's a system clamp or at least a dart. Ugly thing. All saliva and blue teeth. Big, big smile. Nothing dangerous if you don't mind sharing your secrets."

Skip glanced sideways at Lester who left the room. Lester was one of Skip's big talkers. He had helped design the communication system for Thunder. Skip turned back to Ziggy. "I won't ask how you know this. What did you find out exactly?"

"Its taking pictures of your passwords and where they go. Then it saunters along and drops them as coded bits into all kinds of mail boxes. It will take you a long time to track down who's doing this."

Skip stood up, "Lester will initiate alternative procedures to keep the alarms active. I have a feeling that our friends the Kongs are behind this. If that's the case and it's not already too late, you'd better get out of here. Fiz, get Buddy and pull out two waldos. Zipper, take a team and play some wild goose."
"Rightchoo-are boss.

Fiz nodded up at Zipper and said, "Goo Goo Goose. Go wild."

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6.7 Poppy
"Let's slow down, have a bite to eat and see what happens."
They ate quietly. The meal consisted of protein strips covered in a salty starch paste. Stan looked at Alban who had cocked his head to the side and raised his shoulders in an involuntary shudder.
"What's up Alban?"
"I'm sure I heard something. I don't know which direction it came from but It sounded like a voice."
Hooper stood up and walked to the edge of the lamplight. "Ziggy!! Ziggy are you there?" he shouted. "Hellooo!"
From a great distance and disappearing quickly, they heard something like laughing.
"Well, they know we're here," said Hooper.
"Who?" Stan whispered.

On to World on a String Part 7



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