Sabor was sitting in the passenger shack with his concubine when his personal assistant spotted the other boat. Sabor was devoting half his attention to the concubine and half to the numbers on his information display-- a form of multitasking that combined his two major interests.
Choytang rested his hand on Sabor's shoulder. He pointed toward the rear window and Sabor immediately dimmed the numbers floating in front of his eyes.
The other boat was fueled by coal and propelled by a screw. It was moving approximately three times faster than the solar-powered paddlewheel transport that was carrying Sabor and his two companions up the lake. Eight soldiers were formed up on the right side. The six soldiers in the front row were lean hardbodies. The two soldiers standing behind them were massives who looked like they could have powered their boat with their own muscles. Their tan uniforms were accented with chocolate helmets and crossbelts-- a no-nonsense, low contrast style that had become the trademark of one of the more expensive costumers on the planet.
Sabor's wristband had been running his banking program, as usual. The display was presenting him with the current status of the twelve-hour loan market. Twelve-hour loans were routine transactions-- accounting maneuvers that maintained reserves at an acceptable level-- and he usually let his alter run his operations in the twelve-hour market. He always checked it at least twice a day, however, to make sure his competitors hadn't developed an unpleasant surprise.
Sabor's concubine had already activated her own display. "There's a fishing commune called Galawar about four kilometers from here," the concubine reported. "You financed a dam and a big breeding operation for them. Their militia setup gets its real-life practice pursuing poachers and running rescue patrols. They can probably have a small force here eight minutes after their watch master initiates assembly."
Sabor returned the twelve-hour market to his alter and replaced it with the latest figures on the current status of the Galawar loan. "I'll talk to our captain. See if you can exercise your charms on the appropriate officers of the commune."
The captain had isolated herself in her control shack fifteen minutes after her boat had left the dock. She was sprawling in a recliner with her eyes fixed on the top of a window and her attention focused on the material her personal display was imprinting on her optic nerves.
"I'm afraid I may be about to cause you some trouble," Sabor said. "I registered a counterfeit identity when I boarded your boat. My true name is Sabor Haveri. As you probably know, I'm the proprietor of the bank that furnishes your company its primary line of credit."
The captain had looked tall when she had been stretched across her recliner but she looked even taller when she stood up. She had been operating lake boats for eighteen years, but the information in the public databanks had made it clear her boating work was primarily a money job. Most of the entries Sabor had collected from the databanks had highlighted her exploits as a member of one of the top aquatic hunting clubs on the lake. She would create an awesome vision standing on the back of a riding seal, in hot pursuit of a yellow-feathered swordbeak.
"I've been having a problem with one of my less reasonable customers," Sabor said. "He requested a loan I consider unwise. He's trying to force me to make the loan and I decided it might be best if I put some space between us. Unfortunately, he appears to be pursuing me on the steam propelled boat coming up behind us."
The captain returned her attention to her display. Her uniform had been created by a designer who favored clean, uncluttered lines and she had arranged it with a flair that gave her an air of rangy competence. She jabbed her finger at the air and frowned at the response she received.
"I think I should ask you your customer's name, Honored Sabor."
"Possessor Kenzan Khan. The boat appears to have eight soldiers on it. I would appreciate it if you would help me resist if they try to board us."
"With a crew of one?"
"I have good reason to believe I'm going to be receiving a little armed assistance from the militia maintained by a fishing commune called Galawar. My personal assistant has some useful skills and I can assure you I'm not totally helpless myself. If you'll give us some help at this end, I believe we can hold off our assailants until our friends at Galawar can ride to our rescue."
The captain braced her hand on the upper part of the bulkhead and stared out the window. It was a windy morning in the last days of autumn. The surface of the lake looked dark and rippling.
"I hate to sound melodramatic," Sabor said, "but the entire financial system of our planet could be at risk. Kenzan tends to be impulsive. If his psych staff gets me under his control....and I make untenable loans in response to their manipulations...."
"Most of my ammunition stock consists of non-lethal ammunition. Will non-lethals be sufficient?"
"I'm just trying to stay out of their hands. Killing them isn't necessary."
Sabor's concubine was standing in front of the rear window watching the other boat eliminate the last two hundred meters that separated them. "So how did your chat with the commune go?" Sabor asked her. "Are they feeling amenable?"
Purvali's designers had started with a fleshy woman with a strong sex drive. Then they had stretched out the basic design, added an upper-percentile intelligence, and enhanced the aspects of her genome that influenced coordination and gracefulness. The result was a finely calculated combination of elegance and voluptuousness-- a pairing that triggered all the erotic and emotional yearnings the designers had detected when they had given Sabor their standard customer profile tests.
The designers had also produced an exceptionally competent human being who could satisfy all Sabor's yearnings for good support staff. Purvali doubled as his administrative assistant, in addition to her other functions. Purvali and Choytang constituted his entire permanent staff.
"I talked to the Primary Coordinator's executive officer," Purvali said. "She's talking to the Primary Coordinator now."
"Shall I give them a call?"
"I have a feeling they may want to bargain."
Sabor stared at the oncoming steamboat. The Galawar commune had bargained down to the last hundredth of a percentage point on both the projects he had financed for them. If he called again, and let them know he was worried....
"The soldiers you're looking at belong to Colonel Jina," Purvali said. "I estimate we can hold them off for approximately seven minutes minimum, nine maximum, after they come into range."
"Even if I bring you in as a surprise?"
"It looks like I may have to exercise my talent for stalling. Tell the Primary Coordinator I want to have a chat. See if you can put me through to our friend the Colonel."
The most prominent feature in Colonel Jina's publicity portraits was the smile that adorned his globular, well nourished face. He was sporting an especially cheerful version of his trademark when his image popped onto Sabor's optic nerves seconds after Purvali initiated the call.
"Good morning, Honored Sabor. It's a pleasure to hear from you."
"I understand I'm being pursued by soldiers who are affiliated with your enterprise, colonel."
"I've dispatched eight of my best. They have orders to board your boat and take you prisoner."
"I've examined your rate schedule. I'm prepared to offer you fifty percent more than you're being paid."
The colonel frowned. Soulful regret replaced The Smile. "I'm afraid I have to inform you I canít consider your offer. I appreciate your interest but I never entertain counter offers once I've committed my armed staff to an operation. My reputation for dependability is one of my primary business assets."
"I understand that, colonel. I should advise you, however, that the situation may not be as one sided as it appears. I have some capacity for violence, too."
Choy was bustling around the passenger shack overturning tables and chairs and lining them up in front of the windows. He and Purvali had wrapped themselves in defensive vests and planted hats with defensive units on their heads. Sabor had slipped into a vest but he had laid his hat on a windowsill.
Copyright 2004 by Tom Purdom. All rights reserved. This document may be printed out and archived for personal use. All other use is strictly prohibited.
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