Delicately she hinted at what was worrying her. How much longer was she still going to be able to move upward, not crosswise, when she changed jobs? At first his response was casual: “Oh, turn freelance, why not, the way I did? It’s not so much different from the regular plug-in life-style. When you get adjusted to it.” Echoes underlying “freelance” resounded in her head: the lone knight riding out to champion his lady fair and Christian justice, the King’s Messenger, the secret agent, the merchant venturer…
“I’ve thought about it, naturally. But I’d dearly like to know what G2S has added to my file before I decide.”
“You could try asking me to find out.”
“You mean”—hardly daring to hope—”you’re for rent?”
“Right now?” He put the nip into nipple with sharp well-cared-for teeth. “No, my jiggle-oh rating is strictly O. This kind of thing I do for free.”
“You know what I mean!”
He laughed. “Don’t slidewise out of control. Of course I know. And it might be kind of fun to poke G2S.”
“Are you serious?”
“I could be, when my vacation’s over. Which it isn’t.”
Musingly, at two in the morning—her sleeping time was being eroded, but what the hell? — she said, “It isn’t knowing that the machines know things about you which you wouldn’t tell your straightener, let alone your spouse or chief. It’s not knowing what the things are which they know.”
“Sweedack. The number of people I’ve seen destabled by just that form of uncertainty, clear into paranoia!”
“Ah, you don’t follow hockey.”
“Now and then, but I’m not what you’d call a ‘fish for it.”
“Nor me, but you have to stay in circuit. It’s French. Came south with Canadian hockey players. Short for je suis d’accord. Thought everybody had picked up on it.”
Before she could guard her tongue she had said, “Oh, yes! I’ve heard Kate say it to her friends.”
“Uh… My daughter.” And she trembled, imagining the inevitable sequence: I didn’t know you had a daughter. She in high school?
Followed by the brief silence full of subtraction which would all too closely betray her location on the age scale.
But this man, ultimately tactful, merely laughed. “Quit worrying. I know all about you. Think I’d have generated so much champagne on spec?”
That figured. In seconds she was laughing too. When she recovered, she said, “Would you really come to KC?”
“If you can afford me.”
“G2S can afford anybody. What do you usually click on as?”
“A systems rationalizer.”
She brightened. “Fantastic! We lost our head-of-dept in that area. He broke his contract and—Say, you didn’t know that too, did you?” Suddenly suspicious.
He shook his head, stifling a yawn. “Never had any reason to probe G2S until I met you.”
“No. No, of course not. What attracted you to your line of work, Sandy?”
“I guess my daddy was a phone freak and I inherited the gene.”
“I want a proper answer.”
“I don’t know. Unless maybe it’s a sneaking feeling that people are wrong when they say human beings can’t keep track of the world any more, we have to leave it up to the machines. I don’t want to be hung out to dry on a dead branch of the evolutionary tree.”
“Nor do I. Right, I’ll get you to KC, Sandy. I think your attitude is healthy. And we could do with a blast of fresh air.”
SOLD TO THE MAN AT THE TOP “I am not bleating you. This shivver is escape-velocity type. And we’ve been short one systems rash since Kurt bailed out and not wishing to cast nasturtiums at George she hasn’t made my job any less of a bed of nails—let alone yours, hm?
“Sure, he asked for a trial period himself. Eight weeks, maybe twelve, see how he meshes with the rest of us.
“Right now he’s on vacation. I told you: I met him in the Sea Islands. You can reach him there.
“Great. Here, take down his code. 4GH…”
UNSETTLEMENT PROGRAM The palisade of thousand-meter towers around Mid-Continental Airport had two gaps in it, memorializing not—for once—buildings that had been riot-blown or tribaled but the crash sites of two veetol airliners, one taking off and one landing, which had slidewised simultaneously off their repulsors last week.