1.4 Ada: Intrigue
1.4.1 Ada Sets Up a Meeting
Abroad Air France 004 at Gate 90, Newark International Airport
7:15 pm Tuesday 1 April 1987
Ada tossed her flight backpack into the overhead bin. Then with gesture of abandon she whisked off her green fedora and tossed it into the bin also. She fluffed her hair and dropped into the window seat. Seat 9A, his reserved seat. Alenby, Alenby—she practiced saying his name.
The Air France people had certainly been helpful, setting up everything and letting her board half an hour ahead of all the others. Particularly Philippe—she’d found him especially accommodating.
They’d met at a Georgetown sex orgy. At the time she had been agreeably impressed with Philippe, sufficiently so to keep him updated in her Compulocket. They hadn’t been in touch since then, yet shortly after she stepped into his private office they picked up right where they left off. Or more accurately, where they were just before where they left off.
She watched the last of the cleaners filing out with their bulging trash bags. She wanted to leap up and sing and shout and scamper up and down the aisle. She also wanted a drink. She vexed the lounge: "I’m on the airplane and I want a bottle of Champagne. Yes, on the airplane, and I want a bottle of—not that E. Leclerc crud—okay, Lafayette if that’s all you’ve got. And hustle!"
Oh, it was wild, what she was doing. Wild, but she couldn’t help herself. What a hunk! This Alenby—he was the biggest man she had ever seen up close, the ultimate mesomorph, the alpha-aleph- A-number one male! Ever since her love life had really gotten rolling she had longed for a really big man, ached for that totally limp, spent feeling like being run over by a train sort of thing. And now it looked as if it might happen. He fell for the old shiny-eyeball trick, he followed her, he must be interested! She felt herself flushed, moist, ready to be crushed.
Uh-oh, Ada warned herself, too much euphoria here! A veteran of Washington intrigue, she sensed it was time for a look at the worst-case scenario. That word "big"—a no-no. Better quit saying it or even thinking it. If the media read it off her lips and ran with the story, it might mean curtains for her chances of making prosub Czarina. No more "big" anything. Better stick to the current politically correct euphemisms, like "dimensionally disadvantaged," etc. Bye-bye euphoria, hello low profile.
One sobering thought led to another: What about Stig the tennis man, the slashing Swede? She’d forgotten all about him. He was late, but he still might show up and cause trouble. He had a fierce temper, smashing racquets and using inappropriate language when things went against him. Something had to be done. He had to be bumped, and fast! Philippe had already given advance approval to all her requests. All Ada had to do was transmit them to a particular clerk, Marie-Claude down in check-in. She took out her vex….
1.4.2 Ada Prepares
Abroad Air France 004 at Gate 90, Newark International Airport
7:30 pm Tuesday 1 April 1987
Well, that was that—Stig would soon find himself on Air Canada. Bound for Orly instead of Roissy, so he’d be out of her hair.
There were still lots of things that could go wrong. First up, that dimensionally-disadvantaged brute—the gnu bull, the great hunk of male heft and force—he was a user. That was obvious up close from the smell that hung around him, the users’s characteristic dead-skunk stink overlaid by funereal flowery notes of some goop they rubbed on their skin. And from a distance—well, simply because of his bulk it was pretty clear that he did prosubs. By appearance alone he ran the risk of being stopped by the police. And if he happened to be carrying a substance, candy chocolate say…. Ada drew in her breath. Carrying—that could have an unpleasant outcome once the news got back to Washington. "Cabinet Hopeful Implicated in Substance Bust" sort of thing.
That would be bad, but the worst case still had to be faced: What if the brute were not only a user, but an alien from U?
Science and reason held it so improbable as to be, for all intent and reason, impossible. But it was Ada's nature to give serious thought to the possibility that Alenby were indeed an alien. Suppose she were found consorting with a user, and a U-person to boot, it might cause a great stir. How embarrassing! Ada flushed at the thought.
Her conscious mind told her to draw back, cancel the whole perilous undertaking. But the message of sanity was swamped under her impulse to grab at life, love, and adventure while she had the chance.
Anyway, the waiter—shapely buns and adorable bushy eyebrows, she noted for later reference—the waiter had arrived with a bottle of Champagne.
The waiter poured and withdrew, but Ada did not immediately raise it to her lips. She remained on edge, willing herself to keep calm and consider the implications of consorting with a U-person, the likely pitfalls. It took just one busy-body to tip the media. Information, that was the key. This hulking Alenby would be easier to handle if she knew his background, whatever it might be.
What did she have to go on? His clothes—yes, something unusual there. A special fabric, apparently, soft yet slightly springy, with an attractive sheen to it. And the skin of his shoes and flight bag and of his briefly-glimpsed valise, supple and softly lustrous--none of these materials figured in the fashion world of u. Maybe they came from U?
Another thing, the way that valise just disappeared after registering 40 pounds overweight and setting him up for that $200 fee….
Ada felt her heart jump—the hundred-dollar bills!
She had seen them only for an instant, but she remembered distinctly—the bills he’d dropped on the counter were the wrong shade of green, too dull and too pale. Genuine American folding money celebrated the rich, verdant color of the nation’s beloved official vegetable, cooked medium rare. Broccoli could not be dull and pale, unless overcooked to a degree unheard of anywhere in u, English-speaking nations excepted. Those bills could well be from some alien universe where substances took the place of real food, and where broccoli, despite its admirable qualities, received scant respect. From some alien universe—such as U!
Of course "could well be" wasn’t good enough. The pale green bills--they might have picked up their sickly color from some laundering accident. To settle the issue, Ada realized, she needed an up-close look at the bills, perhaps to find some detail shouting "U" loud and clear. There were myriad possibilities--the wrong portrait on the back, for instance. All u-provenance C-bills since Prohibition showed President Edith Bolling....
Ada had no time to think. She simply had to lay her hands on those pale green bills.
She glanced at her watch. Got to hurry, she told herself, but got to keep calm. Boarding due to start in five minutes—
She thought quickly and clearly. Level with Marie-Claude, simply ask her to hand over the notes? Too risky—the clerk might get suspicious, demand identification, go to her supervisor, end up embarrassing Philippe…. No, the only way was to give her a Gaea-awful fright.
From her experience in Washington, Ada was familiar with the methods of the international food police, PROFATPOL. Entrapment, intimidation, planting of evidence, etc. A PROFATPOL badge was useful for that sort of thing, and she carried one in her flight bag. She tried reciting the number in an assumed voice—a jagged, dissonant tone seemed to suit the occasion. She took out her vex.
"Marie-Claude? PROFATPOL Airport Prosub Abuse Agent 2537. Shostakovich."
By the sound of a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line, Ada knew the notes were almost in her grasp. She pressed her advantage:
"That was me standing behind the white Caucasian male user, 5-10, 195. We got the whole transaction. Two Mars Bars delivered to Flight 004, seat 9A, two hundred cash. We got the chocolate, your prints and DNA all over. That's dealing. A felony rap, mandatory…."
The reference to mandatory sentencing of even non-violent substance dealers elicited a satisfactory squeak of alarm from Marie-Claude, but the clerk still had the wit to protest her innocence.
"Excess baggage, huh?" Ada cut in, "Well, our surveillance records don't show no baggage. You’re up for 8 to 10, Marie-Claude. Unless…."
From the sound of sobbing, Ada knew she had won.
"Okay, listen. Don’t panic. We want that user, not you. You we’re gonna let off. If you cooperate. We want them exact same hundred-dollar bills, and we want ’em in just two minutes from now or our agents are going to start right in on the strip search, body cavities—"
Ada gathered that the clerk held those two bills in her hand.
"Okay," Ada resumed, stifling a sigh of relief, "lucky for you! Grab ’em and haul your ass along here to the gate. I’m in the airplane. Make up an excuse, or—okay. Seat 9A—sound familiar? Now move!"
Ada relaxed. She didn’t care any more whether the Caucasian male user was u or U, so long as she knew which. And she was going to know very soon. She laid out a pair of deep-green Edith Bolling C-notes to compensate Marie-Claude for the delivery of their pale counterparts due in—she checked her watch—just ninety seconds.
Of course she might be about to part with two hundred dollars for worthless counterfeit. On the other hand.... But she had no time to contemplate those possibilities. Ninety seconds was just long enough to send a couple of vexes. Important ones, yet in her excitement she had almost forgotten them. Speaking into her vex with sound cancellation enabled she sent off, in rapid but clearly-enunciated French, two reservations for the following day: lunch at the obscure Restaurant les Dhuits in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, dinner and overnight at the equally obscure Hôtel-Restaurant Le Gardon in Pouzay, a tiny village dozing on the banks of the Vienne. Pouzay, the sort of place where nobody who was anybody ever went and nothing ever happened, ever....
And a personal note--Gaeadamn, password required--got it: Hi Uncle Paul, arriving Château Mourey with male companion for private note private lunch the day after tomorrow, respectfully Ada.
That done, she picked up her flute of Champagne, sipped and enjoyed the familiar but ever new fresh-meadow, yeast and apple-blossom notes, shot through though they were by the hint of a sherry-like hardness that she considered one of the less desirable characteristics of the Lafayette label. With all tension released, she could afford to smile at a thought that had crossed her mind, that Alenby might be concerned at the precise color of his money. The great primitive lunk probably cared nothing for such details as the proper cooking of broccoli or anything else. Most likely he ate Substances only, gulping and snarling like the animal he was! She shivered in anticipation of being near him, inhaling his lion-den stink, feeling his force, his tremendous heft….