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Shadow of the Trojan Horse

By Jean Graham
Page 2 of 3

Federation Banking's monolith looked just the same as he remembered it: a towering syntheglass monument to Alpha technology and egotism stretching nearly to the dome's false sky. Avon approached it with apprehension, still nagged with the uncomfortable sixth sense of being watched.

But there was no one. He'd made certain of that, hadn't he? As certain as he could be. Nerves. That's all it was. That, and the anticipation of finally completing what he had begun here three short years ago. For once, Blake's crusade and his own could ably coincide, even if Avon's motivations were admittedly a shade less altruistic.

He smiled, tight-lipped, and amended the thought. All right, not altruistic at all. He cared nothing for Blake's bleeding-heart campaign to free the oppressed masses. Nor did he want anything of Blake's empire-toppling, though he would enjoy seeing the Federation brought low. Oddly enough, he didn't even want the money -- this time. Avon's reasons for embracing this scheme were personal, and singularly simplistic. Though the faceless Federation bureaucracy would never know why, he wanted them to pay, for the betrayals, for his own arrest, interrogation and humiliation. And for Anna.

Especially for Anna.

The sight of FBS's black tower, a glittering mirror of false starlight, brought Anna all too vividly to mind. The last time he had been here....

Avon forced the memory away, concentrating instead on a final reconnaissance for his phantom pursuer. But he found nothing, saw no-one. It was ten minutes past time for his meeting with Vila.

*      *      *

"You're late!"

The thief's sharp whisper startled Avon as he approached their appointed rendezvous position at the rear of the imposing tower.

"I was detained," Avon said curtly. "Temporarily. Did you bring your tools?"

Vila's eyes narrowed, his expression becoming a near-smirk. "Do I look stupid?" He rushed to curtail Avon's snide response with another question. "Did you verify the access codes?"

Avon's grin came easily, ice-hard and totally without humor. "Of course."

"Well, would you mind getting on with it, then? All this hanging about is giving me high blood pressure! Not that you'd care..."

Avon turned towards the inset door and its computer-controlled access panel. "So long as it doesn't affect your fingers," he said drolly, and began coding Orac's stolen sequences into the lighted keypad.

The inner halls, though deserted at this hour, were all the same well-populated with spectres from Avon's past. Tynus, Anna... himself an age younger and in so many ways naive. He banished them with an effort, concentrating instead on making certain that Orac's codes had effectively rendered the surveillance cameras inoperative.

Still more codes gained them access to a service lift and the twelfth level, where signs warned smugly that alarms would sound if visitors were not cleared by computer security prior to entry. Avon's tampering at the security console promptly deflated the threat.

"Aren't there any human watchmen?" Vila wondered in a loud whisper.

"That's the trouble with relying entirely on computers," Avon replied. "In the right hands, they can be remarkably stupid."

Vila's expertise got them through the final door. The magno-lock on the access to Computer Control surrendered to his deft persuasion in less than four minutes. Once inside, the thief carefully reactivated the lock -- to discourage any unannounced company -- while Avon slipped into a chair before a quite-familiar console and set about bringing the primary computer on-line.

In a moment, a crisp feminine voice had informed him that its systems were all functioning at 100% efficiency. A trifle amused at the boast, Avon said, "Thank you, Io." Then, straight to business, he added, "Activate visual display and scroll Access Control List for program ALCOR."

Vila wandered to peer over Avon's shoulder as Io obligingly turned on her monitors, and names began marching from top to bottom in rapid succession. Avon patiently scanned each of them, waiting for one that he recognized. Surely, after only two years, there would still be someone...

"Hold," he said sharply, and the crawl froze in place on the screen. He remembered Tala Furn, but she was probably too intelligent to be of use in this instance. He let the names scroll once more, and again stopped them.

There. Emil Gaven ought to do nicely. He was precisely the variety of gold-bricking sycophant that a scheme like this needed to succeed.

"Cancel ACL," he told the computer. "Confirm that Emil Gaven has editing clearance for ALCOR file."

Io's unenthusiastic voice replied, "Confirmed."

"He can amend and revise the accounts?"

The merest shade of annoyance seemed to tinge the response. "Affirmative."

"Good." Avon's smile was utterly predatory. "Open new file," he ordered. "Name it... the Trojan Horse."

Behind him, Vila's brow furrowed. "The what horse?"

"Trojan," Avon repeated without turning, and his fingers began moving rapidly over Io's keyboard. "A ploy from a forbidden history text with which the Federation is about to become intimately familiar."

Vila snorted. "I don't see how a horse is going to topple the whole banking system."

Avon's hands never stopped moving, almost caressing the keys. "Not a horse," he said wryly. "An ass. When Emil Gaven comes to work tomorrow, he will discover a new text-edit file in the computer with his name on it, left by an anonymous benefactor. When he opens it, he will also unwittingly open a rider file -- Trojan Horse. And that..."

He trailed off, and was immediately lost in the creation of the rider program. For him, the rest of the room disappeared.

Vila, losing interest in the Trojan whatever-it-was, wandered away to explore the computer room for anything potentially more engaging. A wall of service lockers captured his attention almost immediately. While Avon went on coaxing computer miracles from Io, Vila set to a little enthusiastic coaxing of his own.

The first lock surrendered to his talented touch as swiftly as Io had yielded to Avon's. Nothing much of interest inside, though. Why bother to lock up a lab coat, two books and a day-old protein bar? Then again...

The food bar disappeared into an inner pocket, scarcely settled before the next locker was open. This one offered sheafs of paper, goggles, a pair of old shoes and a small silver-plated flask filled with real whiskey. Privileged characters, these Alpha-grade bankers. He slipped the flask into an unoccupied pouch on his utility belt and went on.

He found little of interest in the next five compartments, though a ring, two checkbooks and several credit notes found their way into his various pockets. The sixth compartment contained a thin-barrelled handgun of a type Vila remembered having seen before. He disliked guns as a rule, but Blake bad forbidden the Liberator handguns on this mission, as they were too conspicuous. And suddenly Vila had found that he was more vulnerable than ever without one.

The gun in the locker was small but lethal, designed for maximum high-powered range with minimum bulk. It fired heavy-gauge 9 mm projectiles, a box of which lay beside it in the locker. Vila appropriated both. He'd just tucked them into another pocket when abruptly an alarm began screaming overhead.

Avon's hands froze over Io's console. "What the....? Vila, what did you do?"

"Nothing! I did nothing! I thought you did something!"

Swearing, Avon went back to programming the computer, fingers moving with renewed urgency.

Panicked, Vila scuttled to his side. "Avon! We've got to get out of here!"

Avon answered him stiffly, his attention elsewhere. "It isn't ready yet."

"Well I am! Forget the rest -- let's go before somebody comes!"

"You go. I intend to finish this."

Vila shifted feet nervously, casting anxious glances at the door. "Avon, don't be an idiot. Someone must have tailed one of us from the bar. They're on to us -- we've got to get out!"

"Then go!" The words were spat at him so vehemently that Vila jumped and side-stepped rapidly to the door.


His final plea ignored, Vila abandoned all semblance of loyalty and fled, careening through a mad maze of corridors until he found an outside door. Its lock gave up the ghost in a record fifteen seconds, and with the alarms still howling in his ears, he burst out into the night air and sprinted for all he was worth.

Conscience caught up with him two blocks later. Conscience, and the realization that something had been very odd about all this. There hadn't been any guards. No-one in the streets. No-one outside. No Federation troops at all.

Something was very wrong here...

Breathing hard, Vila peered out of a doorway alcove at the deserted street. It was disturbingly quiet. The FBS monolith stood two blocks behind him, seemingly unchanged. No lights had come on. Vila could no longer hear the alarm.

He fumbled in his utility belt for his teleport bracelet, and holding it in unsteady fingers, thumbed the communications control.

"Avon... Avon, are you there?"

No-one answered.

Vila started to try it again, but the belated thought that his transmission would undoubtedly be picked up by the Federation made him tuck the bracelet hastily away instead.

He stepped cautiously out of hiding, intending to go after Avon, but he was forced immediately back again by a sudden burst of light and sound. The noise was deafening -- a roar like the afterblast of a ship's launch. Blinding light flashed once over the street beyond him, raced away and returned to search again. The beam -- and the sounds -- had come from the heights of the FBS tower. From the roof. While Vila stole a measured view around the corner of his alcove, something lifted from that roof and rose noisily 'sky'-ward, pulling the search beam with it like a glowing tether. Its roar became a loud hollow whistle as it banked and slewed away from the building to begin slow, determined circles around its perimeter.

Vila slumped against the concrete wall and gave in to a shudder. Long ago, in the warrens where he'd grown up, he had seen craft like this used to hunt down escaped prisoners and dissidents. The Deltas had called the flyers 'wasps.' An apt, if not terribly original description.

No wonder there hadn't been any guards. Why pay for human troops when a machine could do the job as well? A machine undoubtedly piloted by mutoids. That thought made Vila shudder, too, and he wondered frantically whether to risk the communicator again, or...

Light swept past him as the flyer shrieked overhead, and Vila melted into a corner, willing himself invisible. He had to get out of here, had to find somewhere he could go to ground until Liberator was back in teleport range. But where? He didn't know this city as Avon did, and with the wasp up there floodlighting the streets at every turn...

Floodlighting the streets. The lower ground. If he went up...

Finally abandoning his cubbyhole, Vila ran again, hugging the building as though it might somehow allow him to blend with its concrete indifference. He slipped around two corners, and dived into hiding behind a rubbish bin when the flyer passed once more overhead, its engines keening like some hideous, wounded alien. Vila was up again almost immediately, hunting for the access panel he'd known would be somewhere in the rear. There! That would be it. The yellow door with the Gamma engineering symbol. There would be a crawlway, and a ladder to the roof.

Even in the dark, the lock was child's play. Vila was promptly on his way up the narrow chute, glad for the fact that this building wasn't a forty-story megalith. Typically, the service grades were provided with only a ladder to access the various levels. What did repairmen need with lifts, anyway? The chute was humid, though, and smelled of silicon lubricant. Nine levels later, gasping for air, Vila had reached the roof.

The wasp flew in agitated circles nearby, its beam scouring the streets. It wasn't until he had crawled to the edge of the roof to peer over that Vila realized that it had spotted something -- someone -- running full tilt for the Delta sector.

Heedless now of any risk, Vila wrestled the teleport bracelet back out of its pocket and frantically thumbed the control.

"Avon... Avon!"

Panicked, he altered frequencies and tried again. "Blake! Come in, Liberator, we need emergency teleport, now!"

Neither channel responded.

The figure illuminated by the search beam darted between buildings, but the wasp moved inexorably after, narrow alleys no deterrent to its probing light.

"Avon, you incredible idiot! Don't you know anything but the inside of a computer circuit?"

Vila scrabbled up from the rock surface and stealthily made his way to the catwalk that led between buildings. He had somehow to make his way over there, to get to Avon before... Well, it ought to be easier inside the Delta sector. The buildings were closer together and nearly all of the same height. This still didn't help on the catwalks, though. Vila Restal had never been terribly fond of high places.

He lost sight of Avon during his scramble over rooftops. The wasp, however, had not. When Vila had crept as close as he dared, it was to see the insectoid hovereraft sweep low into one of the broader Delta streets, steam jetting from its dorsal vents as it hurtled after its quarry, whistling in mechanical rage.

Avon was still running, but Vila could see his strength flagging. He'd moved in a wide arc, doubled back, tried to throw off the wasp with a number of maneuvers, none of which had worked. Now he was charging toward the building from which Vila watched, and Armageddon wasn't far behind him.

Stretched out on his stomach, Vila flattened himself into a depression on the roof, scarcely daring to breathe, let alone peer over at the drama being played out below him.

"Well, now you're here, Vila," he muttered dismally to himself, "what the hell do you do now?"

He saw Avon stumble and fall. Like an enormous bird of prey, the wasp bore down on him, energy bolts spewing from its gun turrets.. The plasticrete street erupted into flames inches from where Avon lay. He was up and running once more before the hovereraft could fire again, but it was nearly on top of him now. Closing for the kill. Vila watched in horror as it herded Avon, with sporadic laser bursts, directly towards the thief's vantage point, drowning him in the blinding light of the search beam until it had driven him against the cinderblock wall of the neighboring building. His attempts to move in either direction were met with further warning shots.

Oddly, the wasp backed away now, the scream of its retro engines pulling it upward and back, so near to Vila's hiding place that the energy backwash ruffled his hair. He ducked again, safe in his shadowy cradle as the thing roared past, still moving upward.

What was it playing at?

Avon, apparently as puzzled by this action as Vila had been, began cautiously to move again. But the wasp was far from finished with him, and spat another gout of blue flame at the pavement near his feet, forcing him back to the confining wall. Vila heard a horrible grinding sound begin to emanate from the hovering machine, and wondered sickly if it had finally tired of the cat and mouse game and decided to dispense with its trapped victim. There had to be something he could do...

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