Allen Varney, Writer and Game Designer

Fiction

IN THE SWIFT WORKSHOP

by Allen Varney

1. The Attack That Wasnít!

"Okay, Bub, on my mark, fly us straight down to nap-of-earth like a bird down a chimney," Todd Speed III ordered swiftly. With ice-blue eyes Todd scanned the SpeedJetís readouts, pinpointing gaps in Americaís domestic radar coverage. "Five -- four --"

From pilot Samuel "Bub" Wallerís console rang a shrill screeee! Bub shouted, "Todd, weíre painted!"

"Impossible!" Todd Speed contradicted. "No one could spot us at this altitude. No one but --"

"Speed Labs," Jamie Templeton finished. Auburn ponytail tossing, the lovely chronicler of Toddís adventures tore her gaze from the navigation panel. "I thought you shut it down."

"Ten years back," Todd agreed. "Down, Bub! Now!"

The aging scramjetís engines screamed as Bub veered downward. Jamie gripped her harness and tried not to recall that this aircraft had spent a decade in mothballs. Only hours ago, she had watched the SpeedJet roll out of its dusty underground hangar on Hope, Todd Speedís mile-long private island in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Seeing the sleek black fuselage gleam in the evening sun, Jamie couldnít believe that Todd had last serviced it in 1991. The flight check went with disturbing rapidity. No oil, no check for metal fatigue -- Todd just replaced the tires, recharged the coolant in the stealth exhaust system, filed a fake flight plan, and here the three of them were, 37,000 feet up and throttling back to a mere Mach 1. Now she saw the power of the Adamas Process.

"Status, Bub?" Todd Speed interrogated.

"Iím baffled." The dauntless crewcut mercenaryís thick gray brows curled in a scowl. "Weíre on somebodyís screen, all right, but no bogeys and no chatter. Nothing."

"Hmm," Todd pondered.

Jamie checked the cesium chronometer. The old millennium was six hours gone. Right on schedule, but still tight for time. One government Keyhole satelliteís footprint had just moved west into Arizona while the next in line swept southwest from Colorado. In the narrow window between, the SpeedJet was hurtling down to the Bisti Badlands of New Mexico, 30 miles south-southeast of someplace called Farmington. Below, the lightless desert looked as cold and empty as outer space, which Todd Speed IIIís father, Todd Speed Jr., had visited in the 1950s in his amazing Hyperdyne-XL rocketship.

Before this secret mission, Jamie hadnít realized how sharply New Yearís Day drew its boundary in both calendar and contracts. The transfer of Speed Laboratories from current owner Overbought.com to Lattimer Enterprises happened at midnight, December 31, 2000, but through a contractual oversight Lattimer wouldnít gain legal occupancy until January 2. Todd Speedís terrific lawyers had unearthed obscure precedents asserting that in the 24 hours between, Speed Labs and rights to its intellectual property reverted to the original owner -- Todd Speed III. At least thatís what Todd intended to argue in court, if caught.

But his skillful flightpath had evaded Keyholes and skywatchers, and until 30 seconds ago the stealth jet was radar-invisible. Bub had even brought cammo tarps for ground cover. Convinced of their safety, Jamie had only worried how sheíd recount Toddís plan without getting them arrested. But now....

Jamie, an almost successful freelance writer, was outlining hard on a new Todd Speed III line of young adult novels. The multimillionaire inventor had commissioned the series after his holding company bought bankrupt Merriwether Syndicate. Merriwether had once thrilled Americaís youth with thinly fictionalized adventures of Toddís grandfather (23 books, 1911-1929) and father (35 books, 1954-1969). But in the í90s Merriwether met hard times. Many ingenious people were transforming the business landscape with amazing new vertical multimedia conglomerates, but unfortunately none of them worked for, or wanted, Merriwether. Now Todd intended to revive Merriwetherís Speed line for its original purpose: glamorizing science and engineering for a young generation.

Jamie, who had once been a scientist, privately compared this goal to putting a sequined evening gown on a tractor. But the plucky freelancer believed profoundly in the virtues of 12-book royalty contracts, especially those with decent advances.

"Twenty-five hundred!" Bub called. "Pulling out."

Acceleration pushed the passengers deep into their vinyl seats. Yet not a creak sounded from the Adamas-treated plane. Bub Waller brayed a long laugh as the SpeedJet arced smoothly into nap-of-earth mode, tracing the landís contours at hundreds of miles per hour.

A constant quarter-second from flaming death, Jamie shut her eyes and single-mindedly considered book titles. Todd Speed and His Super SpeedJet? Not pertinent.

"Closing in, Todd. No activity that I can see."

And His Incredible Diamond-Coating Process? Yick.

"This doesnít add up," said Todd, nonplussed. "Has someone seen us or not?"

And His Stunning Intellectual-Property Attorneys? It might come to that, given how much Gilbert Lattimer wanted the Adamas Process....

Jamie spoke her sudden intuition. "Lattimer. Heís here early, trying to get into the Labs!"

"Urgh," Bub groaned. "Those defenses will eat him alive, Todd."

The brilliant industrialist and three-time fencing champion tugged absently at his short blond hair. "Itís true," Todd opined positively. "The power and radar would have come back up when Lattimer tried to break in. We have to get in and turn off the defenses before he gets hurt."

Jamie murmured, "Not that Lattimer deserves it."

Todd glanced at her quizzically. "Why not? Do you know him?"

Jamie wondered how to reply. But at that moment Bubís black-leather-gloved hands tightened on the controls. "Skytop Mesa dead ahead."

Todd gazed out at the brightening horizon. "Dawn soon," he said mournfully. "So much for stealth. We canít get in through the Workshop hangar, so bring us in on the south airstrip, by the ice pond intake."

2. To Skytop Mesa

The century was arriving in New Mexico cold and windy. Sheltering under the SpeedJetís concealing tarp, Jamie pulled up the hood of her parka, made of Toddís miracle fabric Heatex. She peered out across the tarmac at the mesa, a black tower against purple sky. Somewhere nearby she heard, of all things, a water sprinkler.

She looked back to see Todd walking down the gangway with jetbelts in hand. Though he was 42, he moved like 16, the age when he dropped out of school to invent the portable heart-lung oxygenator that added his first millions to the family fortune. Todd sustained his youthful health and good looks with miraculous chemicals like phenyl-tert-butylnitrone, n-acetylcisteine, selegiline, DHEA, DMAE, and six dozen super-nutrients. He also relied on a software agent of his own design that patrolled the net for fashion news and automatically purchased color-coordinated outfits by mail order. Under his tan parka he wore a gray merino wool sweater, its V-neck as shallow as a particle strike at a low-incidence angle, and black Italian slacks softer than moleskin. His gold finger ring was set with a polished Moon rock.

The gas cylinders clacked glassily as Todd set them down. They were made of diamond. "I only have two belts. Can you go up with Bub?"

"Sure. Todd, am I hearing a water sprinkler?"

"Thatís the snowmaker for the ice pond -- the self-contained Speed Labs air conditioner. In winter it sprays water that freezes in air, and the ice crystals slide down a ramp into an insulated reservoir under the labs, deep inside the mesa. When the weather warms up, the chamber seals watertight. Pumps pull warm air from the labs and cool it in the reservoir, then send it back up. High efficiency, low energy cost. The filtration and reclamation systems are down there too. The complex is water self-sufficient."

"You can keep a pile of ice frozen all year? Summers here are murderous."

"Mountains insulate. And the ice is 60 feet high, about 6,500 tons. The lab stayed cool summer-long, even fully staffed. At shutdown I kept the system running to prevent heat damage to the electronics."

"Itís been running by itself for ten years?"

Todd looked away. "Lucky break. I hadnít planned that."

His tension reminded Jamie of the mystery of Speed Labsí closure. Sheíd gathered that decades ago Toddís father invented a carbon-vapor deposition procedure he christened the Adamas Process, from the ancient Greek word for diamond. Believing society unready for this incredible breakthrough -- Jamie didnít know why -- Todd Speed Jr. locked the secret Process away.

But in 1991, six years after Speed Jr. passed away, some fracas forced Todd Speed III to shutter the lab complex. Jamie hadnít dared ask about it. Todd sold Speed Labs to a shell company in Barbados, intending to buy it back after the scandal died down. But an emergency expedition to recover a downed satellite took Todd to Antarctica, where he discovered a subterranean jungle heated by volcanoes under the South Pole. Strange reptile-people trapped him there for months, while back home, a startling breakthrough in leveraged buyout techniques let talented corporate raiders hijack Speed Labs.

After that the complex went through several corporate owners. None cared to spend the money to break its potent defenses. But last year Gilbert Lattimer, a Nobel physics laureate now involved in several high-tech businesses, learned of the Adamas Process. He purchased Speed Labs, meaning to seize the secret Process for his own profit. Todd Speed III, believing society could now handle the Process, intended to find and publish it. Also, he felt obliged to turn off the defenses before they killed their new owner.

As Todd finished checking the jetbelts and donned a harness, dawn broke across the badlands. Jamie looked down and gasped. On the tarmac, leading to the road up to Skytop Mesa -- fresh tire tracks! She looked higher, seeing the almost sheer cliff face and the dirt roadís many switchbacks.

"Weíd better move fast --" she started to say. But when her gaze rose to the mesa plateau, Jamieís breath caught in her throat. The morning sun outlined diamond blades whirling like scythes, and a sparkling, many-faceted geodesic dome. For a moment all thought of the mission left her. She marveled aloud at the diamond-coated dome, the towering indestructible windmills: "To think that this place could survive longer than the mesa itís on. Millions of years, billions!"

"No, diamond is metastable at ambient pressure," Todd corrected airily. "In a hundred thousand years that stuff will evaporate."

Jamie frowned. "Just like an engineer to leach an idea of all romance. If I write with that attitude, itíll be impossible to glamorize science."

By way of reply, Todd squeezed his jetbeltís hand controls and soared into the lightening sky on a contrail of white vapor.

A moment later a huge arm swept Jamie back. She thudded against Bub Wallerís chest, and before she knew it he had wrapped her in a harness of ripstop nylon. He thumbed off the jetbeltís twin safeties ("Hey, wait!"), gripped the controls ("No, hold it --"), and in one terrifying instant they rose aloft.

"High enough for you?" Bub grinned. But his eyes showed nothing.

Jamie didnít know much about Bub. He had been Toddís indispensable sidekick in the 1970s -- not a scientist, but a fearless Eagle Scout and a crack shot. Bub later became a mercenary, finding action and loot in Angola, Sierra Leone, and Colombia. Whenever she looked at those empty eyes, Jamie thought Bub would do anything for Todd Speed. Absolutely, unconditionally anything. That made her a little afraid.

She noticed a canvas daypack hanging half open on Bubís arm, and inside it a plastic bag of odd yellow-white lumps. She tried to look, but Bub pulled the pack away. Suddenly he began swooping back and forth, singing about a woman who wore diamonds on the soles of her shoes. By the time they reached the plateau and landed inside the perimeter fence, Jamie, fighting airsickness, had forgotten the bag.

3. "This Job Just Got Harder!"

"That Fuller dome, itís so --" Jamie searched for words. Beyond a perimeter of low quonset buildings the glittering geodesic loomed huge, shiny, pure as a geometry text, unearthly and grand like a radio-telescope dish or a Saturn V, a globe of clean overblown optimism....

"Itís so Sixties!"

"Yes, except Granddad built it in 1936." Todd donned a surgical mask of white paper, then handed another to Jamie.

"Whatís this for?" she inquired, disconcerted to see Bub putting on a gasmask.

"Probably nothing," Todd averred dismissively. "But it canít hurt." After caching the jetbelts, he and Bub strode toward the dome, entrance to the underground complex.

Jamie jogged to keep up. They passed rows of solar panels, then cannisters that looked like biohazard waste. "Say, is there anything I should know about why you closed this place?"

"Just a workplace issue," Todd responded vaguely. "Not a problem for short-term visitors. Let me show you both something." From his parka he pulled a keyring that held three metal rods colored copper, silver, and gold. "My father gave me these keys just before he died. This is the only set, and they canít be copied by any technology outside this lab. I guess I should have given them to one of the later owners, but I donít know, I just kept forgetting."

Jamie wondered if Toddís humor might be too dry for a YA book. "Keys?"

"These rods carry unique patterns of magnetic fields, and certain doors in the labs are keyed to those patterns. This one" -- he held up the copper rod -- "opens the surface door and most of the upper levels. The silver key opens Red Level, where weíre headed."

Bub asked, "What does the gold key open?"

"I donít know. Dad never told me. My point is this: Granddad built the lab with certain defenses to stop spies, and Dad improved them. A lot. These keys are the only way past those defenses. If you come to a magnetically locked door, donít force it."

As they rounded the corner of a maintenance shed, Jamie asked, "What do these Ďdefensesí do?"

They stopped. "That," Todd said pointedly.

In front of the dome entrance sat an oversized van with all-terrain tires and, on the roof, a satellite uplink. A side panel read Kokapelli Productions -- Albuquerque, NM -- TV/Corporate/Instructional Video. The entrance to the dome was now a hole, the van a steaming wreck!

"We wonít need the copper key just yet," Jamie observed, gaping openly.

Bub looked around alertly. "What happened, Todd?"

"Our visitors blew out our front door. The vibrations triggered projectors hidden there and there" -- Todd indicated two inconspicuous sheds -- "that fired intersecting HERF beams -- thatís High Energy Radio Frequency. The EMP surge destroys electronics in a 30-foot radius from the entrance. The lab below is hardened, of course. The surge started all that TV equipment burning. They probably ran inside looking for an extinguisher, then got distracted by the defenses there."

Jamie muttered, "And this is just the entrance."

Near the burnt hulk lay a clipboard. Jamie inspected it. "Production notes for a syndicated TV documentary produced by, surprise, Lattimer Enterprises. Heís not just breaking in -- heís filming it! Different pages show two working titles: ĎDiamond Makers: The Swift Workshop Revealedí and ĎGetting to Speed: Hidden Dynasty of Genius.í"

"Both lousy," Bub grunted. "A TV crew that carries explosives, huh? I donít think so. These guys have help." Pulling a Walther PPK revolver from his flight jacket, he sidled to the shedís far corner and vanished.

"Bubís right," Todd agreed. "Lattimer has close ties to the Defense Department. He just has to persuade some Assistant Deputy Undersecretary that the Adamas Process equals Ďnational security,í and theyíd back up his crew with a squadron of jets."

Jamie grew more nervous. "But didnít Speed Labs have its own friends in the DoD?"

"Gone with the USSR," Todd sighed. "In the í20s Granddad used his Electro-Pistol and Heli-Dirigible to rescue a couple of senators from anarchist saboteurs. And in the Cold War, who knows how many times Dad stopped Communist infiltrators from assassinating the President or blowing up Congress or something. You can imagine the pull that got them in the Pentagon black budget. But Dad sent me back to New England in my early 20s -- I never developed Washington connections -- then that whole OSHA thing.... Now whereís Bub?"

With fascination Jamie detected in Toddís laser-focus thoughts a brief decoherence. "Were you sad when your dad made you leave? Did you feel pushed out?"

"Bubís been gone too long. Letís find him." Todd walked quietly alongside the shed.

Jamie gritted her teeth and followed. "Are you worried for him?"

"Iím worried for whoever he finds. Quiet now."

They peered around the corner but saw nothing. Then Jamie yelped in surprise when, behind them, Bub spoke!

"Coast is clear, but this job just got harder. Beyond that far shed I found a jeep, belongs to a ruthless piece of bad news who works under the name Damon Zang. Demolitions and security expert out of Fort Benning in Georgia, where he trained terrorists, excuse me security forces, for South American dictators. Damon Zang could blow up Fort Knox, and for the right bid he would. This guy is a baby-eater, loyal to nothing but his bank account."

"Is he alone?" Todd asked with singular calm. "Aside from the video crew?"

"No way does a seasoned vet like Zang work alone. The jeep had five seats."

"Hiring outsiders for the dirty work," Jamie murmured. "That sounds like Lattimer."

"So you are acquainted with Lattimer," Todd said knowingly. "How?"

"I worked for him once. Letís just say it didnít pan out. But I know heís proud of his scientific detachment."

Bub snorted. "So were the guys at Los Alamos. Lattimer doesnít know what heís hired here. Zang is blood and dust."

"Blast!" Todd swore explosively. "Iíd hoped to get out of this clean. Well, we have to work fast. Our mission has changed from retrieval to rescue."

Jamie was puzzled. "You mean the TV crew? But Zangís team is on their side."

"I mean the TV crew and Zangís team. Come on."

As the three raced toward the destroyed entrance, Jamie stole a glance back at the burnt van. All told, she found her bookís beginning rather promising.

4. Green Level One

In the labís reception foyer, Jamieís book practically began writing itself:

"All right, they managed to fire up the complex from this console, but they couldnít deactivate the primary defenses. Iíve just done it," Todd Speed III explained, pocketing the copper key and closing the entrance security panel. The wealthy inventor -- would Todd want to stress his wealth? Money equalled glamor nowadays -- and his friends exchanged relieved glances, knowing that if the invaders had avoided disaster thus far, they were now safe.

Or were they? Pointing to a wall diagram near the entrance, Todd Speed III rapidly explicated -- no, YA editors today would never accept "explicated" -- explained the layout of the giant underground complex.

"Think of Speed Labs as a cylinder drilled down into the mesa. The building has six floors, or levels. Industrial elevators run down the axis of the cylinder, connecting the first five levels.

"The levels are color-coded by security clearance, like a traffic light. The deeper you go, the tighter the security. The three top floors are labeled Green, meaning low security: offices, conference rooms, supply rooms, and the company cafeteria. Weíre on the first Green level now.

"The two Yellow levels, just below Green, are manufacturing facilities. My father and grandfather admitted only trusted employees here." Jamie decided sheíd leave out the DoD weapons contracts. "Clients called the lower of these levels Ďthe Swift Workshop,í because the construction teams built so quickly.

"At the bottom, on Red level, highly placed scientists and engineers conducted the research that produced so many breakthroughs. I canít turn off the Red defenses from here, only on the level itself, accessed from a separate elevator in the Workshop. If the intruders have reached it already, they may still be in trouble." The technological wonder-worker tapped the bottom of the diagram. "Red level -- thatís our ultimate goal. Weíll stop along the way to make sure our unexpected visitors are okay, but we must beat Gilbert Lattimer" -- actually, the bookís villain would need a fake name (make this Damon Zang the bad guy? could he sue?) -- "to the Adamas Process!"

She wondered whether to introduce the TV crew lying in the entrance lobby. Speed Labsí first line of defense included knockout gas, emitted from nozzles concealed in the reception desk. There, four Kokapelli employees lay in a heap. To Jamie, this lacked drama. Todd should have met the TV crew later, rescued them from a desperate plight, and learned valuable clues. But here Todd just hurried on.

The Green level corridors looked ordinary, no different from offices in any modern skyscraper. The walls were white, not green. Ten years after shutdown, the lights still worked and the air smelled clean and fresh, cooled by Speed Labsí advanced ice-pond system. (Maybe cut the ice pond?) The three friends hurried toward the elevators down to the Yellow levels.

She considered updating the tech on the Green floors. In several rooms she saw long rows of 1989-era workstations. The obsolete boxesí giant size amused her until, in an arresting moment, she remembered using such platforms herself a decade ago. It was "past shock." She mentioned this to Todd, who replied, "Thatís my natural state. I think how things could work, and then I remember how they do."

That one she would use. But these offices unsettled Jamie, because they were so corporate. She had to make Speed Labs incredible, captivating, glamorous. In the í20s, Toddís grandfather thrilled readers by sending messages from his homemade biplane over his homemade wireless. A kid read that and imagined. If that child found a yard of copper wire and a Quaker Oats box, no catís whiskers were safe. Now? She could tell todayís boys and girls that, given hefty venture capital and a good Washington lobbyist, they could aspire to develop this sterile office complex.

"The elevators arenít working," Todd said downheartedly. "The explosion must have triggered emergency shutdowns. Follow me, and keep your hands off the railings." Todd straight-armed the stairwell door and ran down a spiral staircase. Bub followed close. Jamie trailed after, calling, "Where should we be looking for Zangís team? And wonít they be looking for us?"

5. Into the Workshop!

Todd and his friends stampeded down the diamond-walled staircase. The entrance to the upper Yellow level had once been a door bearing the sign "Structural Systems Design & Development." On this level, "the Foundry," lab workers made the machines that made parts for other machines. Now the Foundry door, its Adamas coating cracked like a windshield, lay crosswise across the stairwell.

Sprawled across the door lay one of Zangís mercenaries. He wore a desert camouflage uniform and a gasmask that concealed his features. The stocky warrior-for-hire carried an M16 rifle and wore a bandolier for grenades. But his fellow invaders had removed his grenades and spare ammo clips.

"Scorches on his left palm," Todd observed. "An attempt to break into the Foundry sends 50,000 volts through the staircase. Insulated combat boots could minimize the shock, but this man must have had his hand on the railing. His heart didnít stop, thank goodness, but heíll be out for a while."

"One down, probably four to go," Bub grunted.

Again Jamie felt disappointed. The mercenary should have at least gasped a enigmatic foreshadowing warning. Then some strange noise should lure the heroes to explore this level, with its huge metal presses and lingering smell of paint. Speed Labs was making custom parts of pure titanium as early as 1955, using Todd Speed Jr.ís purification process of baking pellets of white paint in fused salts of calcium chloride. There had to be some way to make that interesting to a kid.

But Todd and Bub were charging on. Jamie started to follow, when a bright glint drew her gaze to the fallen soldier. A crystal drinking glass labeled SPEED LABS hung from the bandolier. No, not crystal. Jamie nabbed the glass -- from one souvenir hunter to another -- and hurried after Todd.

The lower Yellow level, also missing its door, had also acquired a fallen mercenary. Along with his rifle, this one carried Army-surplus communications equipment -- satellite radio and GPS system. Headphones dangled loosely over the staircase railing. Again, his grenades and ammo clips were gone.

"Two down," Bub pronounced. He found a note on the unconscious manís chest. It read: "Whoever did this: I wonít give up until youíre dead. D Zang."

Todd Speed shook his head. "Iíd hoped the anesthetic mists on this level would get the rest. The spray is laced with DMSO to permeate the skin. This one has exposed ears, but the others must have been bundled up. Weíd better find them before they reach the microwaves."

However, the staircase ended here. To get to Red level, Todd and his friends had to cross the Large-Scale Structure Facility -- the Swift Workshop!

Catching her breath, Jamie whispered, "Okay, now Iím amazed."

She guessed the room could hold a 777 jet, though not two unless you stacked them. Beyond a line of coffee-stained drafting tables and mechanical plotters, hollow concrete blocks big as minivans stood in mysterious tall stacks. Halftrack tread marks stained the concrete floor, footprints of bright yellow dinosaurs: cranes, pallet trucks, forklifts the size of bulldozers. Far overhead, oiled steel cables that could hoist an oceanliner hung from gantry jib girders suspended on running tracks. Faint odors of fuel and naphthalene still lingered. The Swift Workshop was the godsí own tool and die shop, a Valhalla of skunkworks.

"That leads outside?" Jamie (or whatever she would name the girlfriend) asked Todd as they walked, indicating a set of giant doors on the far wall.

"Right," Todd affirmed. "The lab launched completed aircraft out the far side of the mesa. There are no stairs outside, so we had to take the long way around."

"How did you get ground and water vehicles out of the lab, like Todd Speed Jr.ís Atomic Submarine?"

"Flew them out too. Dad always liked vehicles with airborne capacity."

Jamie stopped her mental dictation. "A real flying submarine? That wasnít just a kidsí book?"

"Iím guessing that was a hard one," Todd understated.

"If your dad was making flying subs in, what, the 1950s? -- then why donít subs fly now?"

Bub grinned, empty-eyed. "You flew in the SpeedJet, you saw diamond coatings on everything, but now --?"

"I know about military prototypes ... procedures that arenít cost-effective yet..." She faltered as they reached the Workshopís east wall. "But flying submarines!"

"Granddad and Dad made some amazing breakthroughs." Todd stopped by a freight elevator with bright red doors labeled RESTRICTED ACCESS. "High-temperature superconductors. Picosecond lasers. They cornered the world supply of tantalum to make super-capacitors."

"But," Bub added, "they kept lousy notes." He helped Todd pull aside trash blocking the doors, then paused. At the bottom of the doors -- crowbar marks!

"Hmm," Todd mulled. He examined a magnetic lock beside the doors. "Looks like Zang broke this lock trying to pick it." He pulled a multi-tool from his belt pouch and unfolded a screwdriver. With sure hands he began repairing the panel, talking as he worked.

"The DoD funded Speed Labs as a proof-of-concept developer. But government engineers found it ... difficult to generalize the labís breakthroughs."

"Why?"

"Well, Dad never revealed the Adamas Process, for one thing, and for another --" Toddís voice carried a new note. Embarrassment? "Speed Labs didnít use many blueprints."

He paused to let that sink in, but for Jamie nothing sank. "So?" she challenged. "What are you saying? That your dad just improvised the SpeedJet, and couldnít do it twice?"

"Dad, Granddad, and the whole crew. They blueprinted the really delicate stuff, like jet engines. But for anything with tolerances looser than a few hundredths of an inch, they just liked to eyeball it. Grinding out those parts, theyíd get into a kind of zone, moving like ninjas, no wasted motion. When the part came out, theyíd slot it in place, and it fit with a click, first time every time. Watching them work was like hearing great jazz." He shook his head in nostalgia.

Jamieís wonder chilled to horror. Sheíd thought these were engineers! She shivered, realizing one of the Swift Workshopís herky-jerky contraptions had flown her here. Three million parts, welded by a jazz band! Did she dare climb aboard again?

But the words "Thatís crazy" caught in her throat when Todd fit his silver key in the lock and the elevator doors slid open. Inside lay two of Zangís soldiers, breathing shallowly. The young menís gasmasks and facemasks were off, revealing thin trickles of blood from their ears.

Todd groaned. "Looks like the ultrasonics still work. Four down, one left. Zang."

He bent to check the unconscious soldiers. Bub shouted a warning, too late.

A green Army concussion grenade rolled free of the bodies, practically at Jamieís feet. When Todd and Bub leapt for the grenade, they collided and fell. By reflex Jamie slammed down the object in her hands -- the drinking glass sheíd taken from Zangís man -- atop the grenade. She put her full weight on the glass.

Half a second later the grenade blew.

6. Down to Red

The Adamas glass held, but the burst propelled Jamie heels-over-head into the freight elevator. She fell hard on her arm.

Leaping to his feet, Todd raced to Jamieís side. Bub, standing lookout, clenched his teeth. "Pretty ruthless to rig your own men for anti-personnel before theyíre even dead. Zang must be getting desperate." He pulled a first aid kit from the wall nearby and tossed it backhand to Todd. "Heíll have tried the stairs next. Iíll check the stairwell." As he left, the husky fighter joked, "Maybe Iíll check the can too."

After quick but careful prodding Todd stated, "Your forearmís sprained, Jamie, but youíll be all right. That was fast thinking. Thanks."

"Sure." She winced as he applied the bandages. In her book the combat guy would get wounded instead. Much more perilous for the heroes.

"Bub reminded me: The labís bathrooms are based on an unusual Swedish design --"

Bleary and breathless, she pulled off her surgical mask. "Iím sorry, but no Todd Speed book will ever show a bathroom, no matter how amazing."

He smiled. "You know, those books were the only media leaks about the Speed family. The Pentagonís black-budget security kept us out of the press. After the shutdown I used Hargitay, a high-power Ďcommunications and advisory groupí in Zurich. Clients pay Hargitay to keep them off the Fortune 500 list."

"I manage that myself for free. Why no publicity? You could get one of those MacArthur genius grants."

"Growing up in my family beats a MacArthur Fellowship. I didnít like to think about the public dredging up Dadís death, and Granddadís. And there were lawsuits --" He kept bandaging, then stopped. "My grandfather -- now they call him Old Speed -- died in 1952, at age 59."

"Yes. Not very old."

"No. He died of brain cancer. Dad died in 1985, at age 55. Of brain cancer. A lot of workers here went the same way. I never found out why."

Jamie quickly donned her mask again.

"The day Dad was diagnosed, he sent me home to the family estate, for my own good. As soon as the Pentagon stopped protecting the lab after the Cold War, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration closed it. I agreed to the shutdown partly to settle workerís-comp lawsuits."

Jamie swallowed. "Partly?"

Todd drummed his fingers on the first aid kit, though it was unlike him to waste motion. "We did amazing things here. Iím proud I helped. But this top-down, command economy, Apollo Project structure" -- he glanced out at the Workshop -- "you canít sustain it. It looks solid as diamonds, but actually itís a turbulent system, staving off chaos with floods of cash. At first it lets good people do good work. But the system always grows more expensive and more rigid. Finally it just eats you alive." Todd sighed. "Brain cancer is a bad, bad way to go. When Dad went, I felt like Big Science went with him."

After a moment of silence, Jamie cleared her throat. "Iím sorry about your father. But Big Science is still around today, or at least Establishment Science. I know."

"Because you worked for Lattimer."

"Right. I was one of his postdocs at UCLA. Post-doctorate students are scientistsí dirty little secret, legions of low-paid workers suckered into egregiously long hours by the lure of tenure. Lattimerís labs were top-notch, and I learned every skill todayís scientist needs: grantsmanship, politics, and a sharp eye for the Minimum Publishable Unit.

"But it all went wrong when I blew the whistle on some fraudulent results published by his Portuguese protťgť. I was doing the right thing, protecting the integrity of scientific research. But Lattimer fired me on the spot, then went after me publicly like a pro wrestler in a Steel Cage Grudge Match."

"I think I heard something about that."

"It blew up, way too much press. For a while Lattimerís rep suffered, to the point that he took a sabbatical. But my career was absolutely destroyed. Whistle-blowing is the ultimate stigma. I spent a year writing a book about the scandal, got rejected everywhere. But an editor recommended me for a YA science book. On this long, harrowing downward spiral, Iíve been reduced to writing kidsí books. But Lattimer! Lattimer lives in the ivory tower, he had to be rescued! Some investigative panel of his cronies rubber-stamped his results, so now heís stainless. Even though, to this day, his protťgťís work has never been replicated!"

"Calm down, youíre losing the bandages." Todd smoothed the dressing over her shoulder. "There are worse careers than inspiring kids. Dad and Granddad inspired me. You can help pass along the favor."

"Yeah? What are the honest choices? A: Kiss up, get grants, and aim for tenure? Or B: Join the DoD and get into some weird jazzy brain-state where you invent stuff, except you canít do it twice?"

"Well, Iíve been thinking --"

Suddenly, outside the elevator -- an explosion! "Itís okay!" Bub shouted immediately. He returned to the elevator. "Another booby-trap on the stairwell door. Standard, no big deal. Weíd better move, because weíve just announced to Zang weíre on his six."

The stairwell door, near the elevator, hung by one hinge. Limping to it behind Todd and Bub, Jamie realized her narrative was reaching a climax.

The three friends crept closer, knowing that if Damon Zang hadnít already blown the door on Red level, he would be down at the bottom of the spiral staircase -- waiting -- possibly wounded by earlier attacks -- probably desperate.

"What rank is he?" Todd whispered to Bub.

"No idea. Iíd guess full bird."

"Colonel Zang!" Todd called. "Iím Todd Speed. My family built this lab. I need to get down there to disarm the defenses."

A burst of rifle fire! As Todd jumped back, bullets of depleted uranium caromed off concrete walls and struck the door jamb. Then a deep voice, muffled by a gasmask, echoed from below. "My rank is major."

("Wrong voice," Jamie whispered to herself. This guy sounded calm. Her Zang would speak raggedly, with intervals of mad laughter.)

"Sorry, Major. I must warn you that concealed waveguides in these walls focus about 20,000 volts of microwave radiation from three magnetron tubes inlaid around that door. If you try to break the door from anywhere on this staircase, theyíll fry you alive."

"No kidding! Is that why thereís a skull painted on the door? I was about to barge right in."

Todd soldiered on. "I admire your dry wit, Major. All banter aside, weíre really on the same team. Iím not contesting Gilbert Lattimerís (note to herself: change name) ownership of this lab."

"Really. Then those eight guys who need a hospital, theyíre just mistakes?"

"I donít blame you for being suspicious, but those were automatic defenses. I got here too late to turn them off."

"Yeah, you messed up my chance to be on TV. Okay, Mr. Speed, come down slowly, alone and unarmed, and shut off your oven."

Bub caught Toddís gaze and shook his head.

Todd crouched by the door and called down, "Iím surrendering myself as your hostage, Major."

Bub hissed, "No, heíll kill you! Or at best, heíll take the Process!"

"The Process isnít worth bloodshed," was Toddís answer. "He obviously means to complete his mission. To keep him alive, we have to give up ours."

Bub gritted his teeth. "You donít know what youíre doing!"

"Maybe not. But I do know why Iím doing it."

With a roar that shattered Jamieís concentration, Bub shoved Todd to the ground and fired a single gunshot. The bullet squarely hit a small red box halfway down the stairs -- the fire alarm. Halon 1301, a potent fire retardant, flooded the stairwell. Halon gas is transparent, but its propellant wasnít. Amid clouds of billowing vapor, Bub leapt down the stairs, revolver in hand. Todd called after him, "No fatalities!"

The battle, though vicious, went quickly. In moments the gas cleared, revealing Bub standing alone and unhurt. Breathing hard, he stared fixedly down at Zangís unconscious form, muttering to himself, "Youíre good, youíre good. But Iím the one."

For the first time, his eyes held an expression. Seeing it, Jamie decided her book needed a different sidekick.

Todd and Bub exchanged a long look, but said nothing.

In minutes Zang lay bound. The silver key flashed. Air puffed out as the door swung back. After Todd, Bub, and Jamie passed through, they closed it behind them and checked the lock.

7. Mystery Solved

They stood in a high, wide hall made entirely of diamond.

Transparent walls, unmarked by dust, stretched away to a dizzying distance, like a hall of mirrors. Buzzing fluorescent lights marked the arcs of the ceiling joists. The floor was a flat clear layer of diamond over the living rock of Skytop Mesa. Emery strips gave traction on the slick surface, like walking on nailfiles.

Rooms, rooms ... Jamie (change name) felt like sheíd entered an architectural projection. Through one wall she saw lab equipment, some kind of industrial vats beyond that, and faint white shapes still further on. Belatedly she remembered to breathe, and white vapor precipitated a handís breadth in front of her nose.

Startled, she reached out and knocked on the invisible barrier. It felt hard as steel. "How thick are these walls?"

"Just over a millimeter," Todd answered thinly. He walked forward, his two friends following. "This is where Dad cracked the big problem with carbon-vapor deposition: substrate compatibility. The Adamas Process overlays an iron-nickel substrate with a fine matrix of microscopic diamond filaments -- today weíd call them nanotubes. These provide the nuclei for quick growth of the diamond layer. After you get to a millimeter, you can melt away the substrate, leaving the diamond sheet. The mystery has always been, how did Dad make the filaments, so small and in such perfectly fine alignment?"

They passed through an open doorway marked by emery strips. This room seemed to be, strangely, an aquarium. Dry fishtanks stood anomalously between industrial bandsaws and some boxy titanium machine Jamie didnít recognize.

"Lathing machine," Todd pronounced. "And in these tanks, a lot of dead sea urchins and -- hmm! Nothing but urchins, big ones."

"More urchins over here, and some broken spines," Jamie added, examining what looked like a dissecting table. "Whatís that?"

She indicated a box built into the wall, made of diamond but painted white inside. She didnít noticed its combination lock until Todd, consulting a handwritten note, twirled four fast digits and opened the box. "Dad left me the combination in his will," he explained. Drawing out a thick leather notebook with yellowing pages, he paged through it reverently.

"Is that it?" Bub gulped. "The Adamas Process?"

"No, notes on sea urchin growth. Wait." Todd fell silent for a long time, reading. "Amazing," he murmured at last.

"Whatís so amazing about --?" Suddenly Jamie saw it. "The substrate! Urchin spines!"

"You slice them a millimeter thin on this lathing machine," Todd confirmed, reading and gesturing, "exposing a micropore structural matrix of calcium-magnesium carbonate. Then, in a hard vacuum, deposit carbon vapor on the matrix."

Bub looked around skeptically. "So these walls were -- a lot of urchin spines?"

"Not quite. Dissolve the spines, use the residual diamond filaments to punch nanotube holes in soft rubber, harden the rubber, cast it to make metal molds of arbitrary size. Hmm. Kind of clunky, but..."

"What solvents and hardening agents?" Jamie asked, trying not to hint too broadly.

Todd paged through the book. "Nothing obviously carcinogenic, if thatís what you mean."

Jamie shook her head, somewhat unsettled. Urchins -- would an editor find that too strange? She inspected the contents of a chemical closet.

"But here at the end," Todd continued, "hereís a reason he kept the process secret. ĎWidespread adoption of this technique would certainly lead, in the fullness of time, to the worldwide extinction of the urchin orders and consequent damage to the oceanic food chain.í"

Jamie rolled her eyes. "Nobody in the Fifties cared about extinctions. Your father must have had some other reason, or else -- uh -- well, I donít know." Sheíd almost said, "the brain cancer was driving him crazy."

Bub shrugged. "Well, nothing against sea urchins, but I like this diamond-urchin-spine idea plenty, just because itís incredibly weird. What gave your Dad the idea to use them?"

Todd didnít answer at first, for he had found a sheet of onionskin paper folded in the back of the book. He read it intently, stared into space for a long moment, then seemed to return to himself. "Mmm? Oh, thatís another interesting point: This isnít Dadís handwriting -- itís Granddadís."

Bub cracked his knuckles. "Yeah, interesting. Hey, Todd, I have to tell you something --"

Jamie called out, "Look at this! A trapdoor in the closet!"

They peered at the floor. A hatch like those on Todd Speed Jr.ís Atomic Submarine led down into the rock. The hatch, painted gold, had a magnetic lock.

Todd gaped. "My father never told me about another level!"

"Donít you have a gold key?" Jamie grinned.

The key opened the trapdoor smoothly. The three heroes descended a long diamond ladder to the lowest and most secret reach of Speed Labs, the previously unknown Gold Level.

The ladder ended in darkness. Standing on what felt like diamond, Jamie shivered in the cold. "We must be right over the ice pond. Lights?"

"Working on it," Bub responded. "Ah."

High overhead, fluorescents strobed, then glowed. They stood under a low dome of smooth rock walls and diamond struts. This single room was as wide as the levels above.

In the center of the room stood a white two-story wooden house of humble New England design, with a steep gabled roof and brick chimney. Beside it stood something like a big shed.

"Thatís Granddadís house!" Todd asserted. "And his garage, where he made all his inventions back in the teens and í20s. That was New Jersey! I thought this place was torn down." He and Jamie walked, then ran toward the garage.

Bub followed. "Torn down, transported, and rebuilt board by board, looks like. But say, Todd, I need to tell you --"

"Adamas coatings on both buildings!" Todd beat Jamie to the garage. Straw covered the floor, and an antique electric runabout rested on cinder blocks. "Look here: an old bell jar, with a carbon rod, a vacuum pump, and a battery. See that soot in the jar? Iím betting thatís fullerenes."

Jamie was too captivated for mental narration. "Somehow, about the time he was inventing motorized roller skates, Old Speed managed to take apart the carbon atom the way George Washington Carver took apart the peanut. How? Was he talking with aliens or something?"

Todd stared at a low wooden trough of dirt. "I thought of that. But the way he and Dad used this process..." He examined a shelf above the trough filled with Erlenmeyer flasks, scalpels, alcohol burners, and bags labeled AGAR. "If you bend fullerene tubes, they become semiconductive. But the notes show no attempt to make transistors. That oversight only makes sense if they were figuring it out themselves, working alone."

Todd took a glass jelly jar from the shelf, pocketed it, and turned to his friends. "Okay, Bub, what did you want to tell me?"

Bub Waller cocked and pointed his revolver. "I need you to give me that book, or Iím gonna have to blow your talented brains out."

8. Countdown!

While Bub was trussing Jamie and Todd back to back, Todd stared at his former friend as though at fungal corrosion. "Bub. You were the first SpeedJet pilot. You saved me from vampire bats in that African uranium mine, and krakens in the Marianas Trench."

Bub shrugged. "Sorry, Todd, just business."

"Who hired you?"

"Donít be dumb, I canít tell you that."

Annoyed that her bookís plot was now irretrievably broken, Jamie tried to figure it out. "Follow the money. If cheap diamonds flood the world, who stands to lose billions?"

Todd groaned. "DeBeers. The diamond cartel that controls 70 percent of the world market."

Bub tied off the last knot. "I donít say yes or no. But just for your info, DeBeers lost out to Lattimer in the bidding for Speed Labs."

Jamie could feel Todd working at their bindings. She knew her role: distract the bad guy. She sneered, "So youíre supposed to steal the Process and destroy the place."

"You canít destroy a lab with diamond walls," Todd objected stonily.

"No, but I can bury it. Iíve placed half a kilo of C26 in the air shafts on each level."

Todd paled. To Jamie he explained, "Dad invented C26 in his last days, when the cancer was making him a little -- funny. On his deathbed he called it his greatest regret. When those charges blow, the whole structure above will crash down on this place like a plug."

Jamie remembered the bag Bub carried. One bag to destroy a mountain! "So youíre going to kill those nine men upstairs? Zangís men and the TV crew?"

"Zang and his men are getting exactly what they signed on for. The civilians, well...." He paused. "Well, okay. I never liked collateral damage. Tell you what, theyíre right by the front door, Iíll drag íem out first."

"Great! But youíll leave us down here to starve!"

"If I wanted you dead, I would have shot you. Naw, Toddíll find a way out. He always does. Even now heís sawing away at those ropes with the blade hidden in his Moon-rock ring." At Bubís words, Todd froze. "But by the time you get out," Bub continued, "Iíll be long gone."

Jamie realized Bub was already long gone. She had thought heíd do anything for Todd, but actually, heíd just do anything.

She tried further questions, taunts, and hollow threats, but Bub clearly had a schedule. He took Toddís keys, climbed the ladder, and, with an insolent parting wave, slammed the gold hatch behind him. "Officially trapped," Jamie sighed. "How about these ropes?"

"Bub did a good job," Todd responded tightly. "He always does."

"Iím sorry for you. I know you two were close."

"Not for some time," Todd said negligently. Immediate problems always focused his mind. "Ah, there we go." Their bonds fell loose, and his ringís diamond blade slid back into its housing. "Now to escape."

Jamie rubbed her arms and shivered. "Make it soon. That ice pond down there is freezing my bones."

Todd stared. "Thatís it! Get the flashlight from that first aid kit by the hatch. Iíll find an air vent."

In the ground Todd found a grille. He unfolded his screwdriver and, as an afterthought, took the glass jar from his pocket and handed it to Jamie. "Be careful, please."

"What is it?"

"A discovery far more important than the Adamas Process: the source of the Speed genius."

Jamie held the jar more cautiously. Examining it, she saw only fine tea-colored dust. "All right, I give."

"I believe those are mushroom spores. That loose page I found in Granddadís notebook -- it prescribes a daily inhalation schedule of spores that strongly enhances abstract and spatial reasoning as well as spatial perception. When he was a boy, Granddadís first paying job was collecting mushrooms in the woods of New Jersey. I think he discovered this variety and secretly cultivated it. Probably urban development later eradicated the mushrooms in the wild."

"Youíre saying Speed Labsí big technical breakthroughs came from shrooms?"

"Well, not from the usual psychoactive compounds. I suspect that these spores do enter the brain, acting not as neurotransmitters, like psilocybin, but as nerve growth factors. They promote cell growth in parts of the forebrain. Terence McKenna believed early hominids evolved intelligence by eating mushrooms. Unfortunately, as Granddad and Dad found too late, these are also carcinogenic." Todd paused. "They probably found out just as I reached my full growth. Thatís why Dad kept the secret from me." After a wistful moment, he bent again to the grille.

Jamie stared, appalled. If Todd was right, this jar held a discovery for the ages -- the stuff of Nobels, societal upheaval in a jelly glass. Yet one angry thought loomed foremost:

"You canít sell a kidsí book about smart-drug mushrooms! Iím hosed!"

"I admire your devotion to duty. Flashlight, please." Todd pulled open the grille, zipped up his parka, and entered the vent feet first. "I can control my descent until I reach the domed ceiling of the ice pond. After that, itís a drop -- how far, I donít know. But it should be a soft landing."

"And if itís not?"

"Inhale some spores and think of something brilliant." He inched his way down.

It took him forty years. At last she heard a thump. A long breathless pause, then a voice:

"Like running down a snowdrift!" Todd shouted huskily.

9. Another Countdown

Clambering up the icy ramp to the snowmaker, Todd and Jamie emerged near the base of Skytop Mesa under a bright and windy noon. The road from the plateau ended just below. A cloud of dust heralded Zangís onrushing jeep, roofless, with Bub Waller at the wheel and the unconscious video crew piled in back.

Timing his leap perfectly, Todd landed in the jeepís front seat. Startled, Bub fumbled for a remote control unit beside him -- the C26 detonator! -- but Todd kicked it out of the vehicle. Bub slammed on the brakes, almost toppling his former friend over the windshield, but the brave inventor held his balance and slugged Bub. The two fell out the open side, locked in struggle.

By the time Jamie made her way from the ramp to the ground, Bub had Todd in a stranglehold. Frantic, Jamie searched for a weapon. Only one idea presented itself. She opened the spore jar and held it near Bubís nose. "Breathe this, and youíll get brain cancer!"

Bub seemed to find this threat less than convincing, so Jamie kicked him hard. Todd managed to break his hold, shoved Bub away, grabbed the jar from Jamie, took a large pinch -- and inhaled it himself!

"Wait!" Jamie wailed, but Bub shoved her aside. Warily he crept toward Todd.

Yet the brawny merc now faced a changed opponent. With bright eyes Todd watched his foe approach, then twisted aside with uncanny grace. He chopped at Bubís neck in passing, sending the opponent face-first onto the asphalt. Then Todd casually passed the open jar back to Jamie.

With a roar, Bub jumped up and tried a high kick. Effortlessly Todd dodged again, grabbed Bubís combat boot, and gave it a rapid but elegant twist.

Getting up yet again from the asphalt, Bub cast a cunning side glance at the open jar in Jamieís hand. Before she could move, he latched onto it and took a deep snort of brown dust.

He sneezed uncontrollably. The jar went flying. Jamie caught it in the air and resealed it, but not before a cloud of powder blew away on the wind. She checked the jar: not much left.

Bub made another shy at Todd, landed a blow, sneezed again ... and then a strange light arose in his eyes. Together the two men left off fighting, sat on the ground, and stared.

"Old Speed," Todd began. "Mushroom spores."

"Mm." Bub nodded. "Not like mescaline."

"Dendritic growth, but also immediate psychoactivity. I hadnít known."

"This is how you build flying subs."

"Bub, DeBeers is small time. You know?"

"Mm. Transparent embedded processors. Windows, eyeglass lenses."

"Buildings like flowers. Wrightís Illinois. Skyhooks."

"Claymores smaller than dimes!"

"No, U.N. backlash. Terrorism."

"Sorry, old thinking."

"Work with me."

"My contract...."

"Fake your death. Repay the advance. Hargitay."

"Mm. ĎPortobello Research.í"

"Cute. Two days?"

"Right."

Jamie felt like she was wearing a neck brace at a tennis match. "Do I have to sniff these spores to follow what youíre saying?"

Toddís brow furrowed. "Iím sorry," he apologized, speaking like a tourist in foreign lands. "Bub and I have agreed to develop a new research project to investigate the effects of dendroactive mycochemicals. With the release of those spores, we may have endangered public health. I hope, with todayís biotech, we can forestall or cure their cancerous side-effects."

"But he just tried to destroy your lab!"

"Propelled by circumstances and neurosis," Bub clarified.

Todd spoke carefully. Jamie could almost hear his mental gears grinding, like a racer stuck in a low-speed zone. "I believe the tenets of the criminal justice system donít constructively apply to our current situation."

"Well, how civil! What about top-down Big Science, does it suddenly apply again? Or will you and Bub just do Ďjazz scienceí that canít be replicated?"

"I envision a new research paradigm, cheaper and more decentralized. Instead of a big lab, online collaboration; in lieu of formal peer revew, user-moderated preprint Web sites; less megabuck lab equipment, more cheap microarray DNA chips and distributed computer processing. Iíll distribute small grants in large numbers, to postdocs currently in dead-end jobs, with financial incentives for good, replicable results."

"As soon as word of a genuine smart drug leaks out, the DoD will confiscate it for national security. Nobody will get it but Army officers."

"Iíve already developed a workaround for that problem, which I planned to use for the Adamas Process. Iíll coordinate the entire effort offshore, starting with a distribution of spores, along with the Process, to many government and private institutions worldwide."

"Youíve got it all figured out, huh?"

"No, one factor is lacking: inspiration. A distributed project in this ĎNew Scienceí has to attract talented people and compel their interest. It needs a cheerleader, and a moral compass. I want you to tell our story to the world. Promote the vision."

"If you need PR, use Hargitay. Iím not a marketer, Iím a scientist."

"Youíre a writer. Your first thought, learning about these spores, was that they killed your book. If you canít sell this to children, Iím asking you to adapt your techniques to excite and inspire grownups."

"Is that even possible?" Jamie looked to the sky, frustrated. In a YA book, Gilbert Lattimer would fly in on his private jet, expecting to retrieve the Adamas Process from Zang. The heroes would attack him, and the girlfriend whose career heíd destroyed would land the cathartic knockout punch.

But Jamie had lost her internal narrator, because sheíd picked the wrong conflict. Lattimer had destroyed her career and got away clean. In the real world things like that happened. She could help steal his industrial secrets, but in the real world sheíd never hurt Lattimer, not the way he hurt her.

"So, Todd, am I supposed to snort up my IQ?"

"I doubt thatís necessary. But itís your choice."

Jamie swirled the fine spores in their jar. Todd and Bub didnít look drugged or unhealthy. Probably a single use wouldnít hurt. But it was all too ... uncontrolled. That was it: "Todd, you just donít know what youíre doing!"

"True. But I do know why Iím doing it."

Spoken like an engineer, not a scientist. "Boy, do you guys need some rigor. Okay, Iím in. But --" She handed him the jar. "-- with my own real brain."

"Reality is good," Todd said truly.



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