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Mindguard: The Mindguard Saga, #1

Mindguard: The Mindguard Saga, #1

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Mindguard: The Mindguard Saga, #1

Length:
433 pages
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 1, 2016
ISBN:
9781524278625
Format:
Book

Description

Called out of semi-retirement, the telepath and Mindguard Sheldon Ayers is tasked with protecting an information package located inside the mind of a young woman who claims the knowledge she holds is vital to the future of mankind. Sheldon and his team must help her cross the most dangerous territory in the man-inhabited universe: the Djago Desert. 

Hunted by the Enforcement Unit, the all-powerful Military arm of the Interstellar Federation of Common Origin, Sheldon's team must fight to keep the Carrier alive and guard the integrity of her mind. But nobody suspects that Sheldon also has a dark secret, and it could end up changing the fate of the mission.

Publisher:
Released:
Apr 1, 2016
ISBN:
9781524278625
Format:
Book

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Mindguard - Andrei Cherascu

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For Ioana,

Because our minds are one.

Table of Contents

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Prologue: April 4th, 2049

Chapter 0

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

A New Life

Prologue: April 4th, 2049

The human mind is unpredictable. Had it not been this way, humanity would have died in its infancy.

Kinsey Ayers, A New History of Old Earth

Doctor and Mrs. Whitman Caine were having tea on their porch. It was the first Sunday of April. After an unseasonably cold month of March, the warm weather and cloudless sky proposed an evening of lazy outdoor leisure.

Had they known then that they were about to change the course of human history, they would still have had tea on the porch, because it was five o’clock and it was Sunday. These moments of quality time together were of a sanctity that could not be unsettled, even by the end of the world as they knew it.

Would you like to try again? Dr. Caine asked, noticing that his wife had just finished her tea and placed the empty cup on the wrought iron table.

It’s such a lovely day, she answered. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it happened today?

Well, there’s one way to find out.

Excited, the scientist got up and went inside to fetch Carly her sketch board. It contained every single drawing she had made since the start of the project. He handed it to her and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

I’m going to be in the dining room, he said, winking.

The dining room, she echoed, biting her lower lip like she always did when she was intrigued.

After he left, she made herself comfortable in her rocking chair, tightly tucking in the blanket that covered her legs. The dining room, she quietly repeated. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting the air out slowly. Then, she focused her gaze on the blank page in front of her.

Meanwhile, Dr. Caine was sitting at the dining room table. He had already picked out the object and was intensely staring at it. It was a mug they had gotten from the Christmas Market in Vienna, more than ten years ago. He was trying to focus on the object’s every detail: its shape, color, its weight, the way it felt in his hand.

He concentrated on it as if his whole life had been reduced to that single moment, his entire world contained within that one fragile object. Not even the tiniest detail could be allowed to go unnoticed. After a few minutes, he had to stop. He felt physically tired, as if he had been running all that time.

When he heard his wife enter the room, he set the mug aside and said a short, silent prayer. He turned towards her and smiled when she handed him the sketch. She returned his smile and shrugged, like a teenager handing her crush a valentine.

Well? she asked.

It took a few moments for her husband to find his words.

Chapter 0

Two great discoveries have shaped the course of human history more than any others before them. One must be continuously developed and supported, its potential harvested, for it can become the culmination of all human endeavors. The other must be discontinued and outlawed, before it becomes humanity’s undoing.

President Manmohan Mukerjee at the inaugural summit of the Interstellar Federation of Common Origin, 2110

Faint flashes of lightning, followed by an almost imperceptible drone, announced a Muench-Henriksen gateway, somewhere above the sky of Aanadya. A few seconds later, the spacecraft made its spectacular appearance through the thick, gray-brown clouds, like an ancient god descending from primeval heavens.

Tamisa was in awe. She had never seen an Enforcement Unit vessel before. It was much smaller than the enormous cargo crafts, but no less impressive. Its unusual design made it look like some sort of flying container, as if it had not been meant to carry human passengers, but toxic waste. The Enforcers were not known for their aesthetic sensibility.

Crouched in her hiding place, an empty wooden crate behind one of the hangars, Tamisa could see only part of the proceedings. She was fifteen now, too old and too big to get a clear vantage point and, at the same time, remain safely concealed.

She looked at Kaye Wright. From her position, she could see only the back of his head. He towered over the rest of his staff. The welcoming committee consisted of representatives of the Union of Workers, a few members of what passed for press in the city of Tuson, and a number of guards.

As the ship slowly descended towards its landing spot, Wright seemed more and more agitated. He was pacing, constantly looking around, as if he feared an ambush, turning from time to time to yell at his staff. She hoped he wouldn’t turn around one hundred and eighty degrees, or she would risk being seen. That would mean certain death.

She had entered the spaceport through her secret door, a hole in the fence she had discovered a few years earlier, while roaming the hills close to her home. Now she barely fit through it. Because climbing the barbed wire fence was not an option, the spaceport would soon become off limits, robbing her of one of her only forms of entertainment: observing the ships that left this horrible planet and daydreaming about someday escaping in one of them.

Trespassing was prohibited; many men had died for less. But it was Tamisa’s only link to her dream, and she felt her dream was worth risking even her life. She had escaped death once before, but it could not be avoided forever. Not on a planet like Aanadya.

She thought of her father’s ridiculous accident. She knew all along that it had been Wright’s men. As a Genetic Architect dispatched to the Institute for Genetic Research in Tuson by the IFCO government, her father had been branded an outsider by the Union of Workers and had immediately triggered Wright’s paranoia.

In lieu of an actual government, the Union was the reigning political power. Aanadya was just on the verge of the Taut Desert, not yet completely integrated into the Interstellar Federation of Common Origin. Kaye Wright, the Union’s Lead Representative, was the most dangerous man on the planet – an unpredictable psychopath prone to fits of violent rage. He made no secret of the fate that awaited people who opposed him in any way. It was common knowledge in Tuson that if you ever ventured into the Gray Hills, you would be hard pressed to find a spot of ground that did not serve as a final resting place for one of his detractors. To Tamisa, he was the essence of evil and the personification of life on this barbaric planet. Since her father’s death, she had but one thought that consumed her every moment: escape.

A man with few friends, her father had found company in books, a trait which Tamisa had inherited. She had read about other planets, places with lush jungles full of colorful forms of plant life, or barren wastelands of quiet solitude which offered some of the most beautiful sunsets to ever have inspired painters. She had read about ice worlds whose skies presented light shows that rivaled in beauty the Aurora Borealis of Old Earth. By comparison, Aanadya was a complete piece of shit.

It was a barren wasteland without beautiful sunsets; the high pollution was to blame for the thick clouds that covered the sky almost all the time. Sometimes there were light shows caused by the toxic smoke rising from the factories, but they were creepy and ended in thunderstorms. There was little plant life on the inhabited part of the planet, and the only wildlife around were skinrats and a doglike creature that you couldn’t even pet because it was covered with a disgusting exoskeleton.

The population consisted mostly of miners and factory workers, ruthless and dangerous brutes with little regard for anything but their physiological needs. It was a dangerous place for a young woman.

Her father had always looked out for her. After his death, Tamisa decided that she would rather join him than face the prospect of a future on Aanadya. She needed to find a way off this planet, though travel was extremely difficult for unmarried women and impossible for people under the legal age of nineteen. She was determined to find a way, even if she had to hide on a cargo carrier.

She was frustrated that her stepmother, Melody, did not share her enthusiasm for leaving. Ever since her husband’s death, Melody had been in a state of severe depression. The subsequent years of alcohol and substance abuse had made it very difficult for Tamisa to get through to her. Much of the time she was unresponsive. When she was sober, she was very apathetic. Tamisa realized early on that she was on her own.

On this day, however, she felt a glimmer of hope. The Enforcement Unit was scheduled for an official visit in Tuson. It seemed that Commander Anderson himself had requested a meeting with the Union of Workers, much to the concern of Kaye Wright.

Rumor had it that the Enforcers were planning a military intervention on Aanadya, in order to install an interim government in preparation for the next enlargement-wave. Talk of integrating Aanadya into the IFCO went back almost a decade. The establishment of the institute where her father had worked, as well as the Taut Desert Observatory, had been intended as the first steps toward this supposed integration, but it had never happened.

A few months before her father’s death, there had been talk of the Enforcers wanting to build one of their Academies near Tuson. The plans had never materialized. People were saying that Kaye Wright had tried everything in his power to prevent it from happening. The mere presence on Aanadya of an outfit under the command of Thomas Liam Anderson would have seriously crippled Wright’s power.

Anderson was a decorated war hero, High Commander of the most efficient military force in the history of mankind. His dedication to maintaining peace was the only reason the IFCO wasn’t falling apart under the weight of conflicts instigated by people like Wright.

Tamisa had read a lot about the Commander. Her father had been a great supporter of the Enforcement Unit. He had admired Anderson. For that reason, she too felt a special connection with the man, though she had only ever seen him in pictures. She held a secret hope that the Enforcers would show up and just open fire on Wright and his posse, punishing them for their many crimes, though she knew it was just wishful thinking.

As the spaceship’s doors opened, Tamisa held her breath. She couldn’t wait to catch a glimpse of the Commander. A threatening growl startled her and she almost let out a scream, revealing her position. One of the dogs that roamed the grounds of the spaceport had just discovered her. It must have been scavenging for dead skinrats. When it noticed Tamisa, it raised its muzzle in the air and bore its teeth.

Tamisa was not afraid of the mutt; they almost never attacked people. She was, however, terrified that the growl would attract the attention of one of the guards, and that she would be discovered. Her deafening heartbeat almost covered up the creature’s grumble.

Sure enough, one of the guards turned around and noticed the dog. Tamisa closed her eyes and held her breath, hoping that it would somehow magically turn her invisible. She heard the guard yell at the dog to scram. The animal obeyed. Tamisa could hear its footsteps backing away from her.

Though her eyes were closed, she had a clear picture in her head. The guard would see her. He would come over, grab her by the arm, drag her through the dirt and throw her at the feet of the man who had given the order to kill her father.

None of that happened. When she dared open her eyes a few seconds later, she saw everyone, including the guard in question, staring at the ship. The doors had opened to reveal Thomas Anderson himself, joined by a handful of his men.

Tamisa had a clear view of the famous Commander. She had, until now, seen only a few images of him. He was unchanged from news articles a generation old — a testament to the extensive life-prolonging procedures he received on a regular basis.

Though almost three centuries old, the man appeared no older than sixty, and he seemed to be in damned good shape even for sixty. He had been in command of the Enforcement Unit ever since its creation.

He was now hurriedly approaching Kaye Wright, who had placed himself in front of a levimic to speak.

Greetings, Wright said cautiously. I would hereby like…

Tamisa never got to hear the rest of his speech. Suddenly, her clear view of the back of Wright’s head became an equally clear view of his surprised face, when Anderson twisted his neck, killing him on the spot. It all happened so quickly that the Leader of the Union never had a chance to take a step back. His inert body hit the ground with a thud that had the effect of snapping everyone out of the shock of the moment.

No way! Tamisa thought.

Before Wright’s guards could react, the Enforcers activated their neurostunners, sending them to the ground like so many flies — not dead, but far from comfortable. Anderson calmly spoke into the levimic.

By order of the Council of Presidents of the Interstellar Federation of Common Origin there has been a change in administration on planet ST1.4077DYA, informally known as Aanadya. His voice was calm and pleasant.

Kaye Wright’s rule was unlawful. Upon close investigation of his criminal activities, he has been sentenced to die by the Council of Presidents. His associates will be appropriately prosecuted. The planet will temporarily be placed under the administration of a regent proposed by the Enforcement Unit until the Federation forms a government that will prepare Aanadya for IFCO membership as part of the upcoming enlargement wave. This is good news, people. I will address the press, as well as the people of Aanadya’s capital city of Tuson, in forty-eight hours in Marken Square for more information. Until then, we ask for your patience and cooperation.

As Anderson spoke, his men systematically disarmed the paralyzed guards. An enormous land vehicle appeared from the spacecraft and the Enforcers proceeded to board it.

Forty-eight hours, Tamisa thought. That was how long she had to somehow try and make contact with Anderson’s Enforcers. This was her window of opportunity to leave Aanadya and never come back. Unseen, she darted from her hiding place and ran for home as fast as she could.

PART 1: THE MIND

Chapter 1

Sanity is nature’s sole gift to man. For the Mindguard, it is a tool of the trade.

Sheldon Ayers, Guarding the Trade: A Study of the Mindguard’s Methods

Been a while, Maclaine Ross said cheerfully, as he stepped through the hand-carved oak door into the spacious home office of his longtime friend. He was genuinely excited to see Sheldon, after almost eight months since their last mission together.

He missed spending time with his old friend. In the last couple of years, the eccentric Mindguard had grown increasingly withdrawn, cutting down on field missions in favor of his research and writing. Mac was sure his business partner was equally happy to see him, though you could never tell with Sheldon; the man’s face rarely changed expression. If the eyes were truly windows to the soul, then Sheldon Ayers’ windows were constantly shut, with the blinds pulled down. For a few seconds the Mindguard seemed confused, as if he were not expecting his friend, even though their meeting had been scheduled two days in advance.

Hello, Mac, he said after a moment’s hesitation.

You didn’t forget, did you? Mac teased. Without being invited, he sat down on one of the deceptively comfortable vintage armchairs. It squeaked in protest of Mac’s giant frame.

Pinot? Sheldon asked.

Sure, why not?

As Sheldon poured, Mac took a few moments to look around the office. Huge paper map of Terra Antiqua, check. Dusty leather-bound books, check. Oil paintings, check. Violin, check. Everything looks exactly the same, he thought. He wasn’t in the least bit surprised. Every item in the room looked out of place in this century. For those who didn’t know Sheldon, his office might suggest the lair of a homesick time-traveler from the past. Those who did know him were surprised he didn’t use ink-dipped reeds to write on papyrus rolls.

Without a word, Sheldon handed him the glass of wine and took a seat behind his desk, an expensive piece of furniture made from Carpathian elm and imported directly from Terra Antiqua. Sheldon had always shown a deep love for everything related to Old Earth, from its history and culture, to its scenery, furniture and especially its wines.

Seeing that his friend was characteristically quiet, Mac decided to break the ice. You need to get out more, he said.

I just got back from Ancient Rome, Sheldon answered, taking a sip of Pinot. Mac looked at the hologoggles resting on the desk beside a book titled The Ghosts That Haunt Old Earth. "I meant the kind of out that implies social interaction."

I’m a Mindguard, Mac, I get more ‘social interaction’ than I desire.

Lately, Sheldon rarely left his home, other than to travel to the Ancient Destinations. Tourism was steadily increasing on Terra Antiqua. The ruins left behind by civilizations from the dawn of mankind had become veritable hotspots for heritage expeditions. Holosense technology could reproduce the surroundings in their original form. Neural insertions transmitted authentic-feeling stimuli to all senses so visitors could walk along the ruins and admire the buildings as they had once looked. They could observe the people and hear their long-dead languages, taste their food, drink their wine and even smell their sweat. It was as close to time-travel as humanity had ever come.

The hologoggles, though, were extremely outdated; technological relics from generations ago, before neuroinsertions and genetic upgrades became available to the mass market. The only people who still used them were children and prototechs — people who were genetically incompatible with neuroinsertions, had phobias of such technology or whose personal philosophy rejected any synthetic modifications to the human body. Sheldon belonged to the third category.

"So how was Ancient Rome?" Mac asked.

Same as always.

Did you send my regards to Emperor Nero?

Sheldon almost never laughed or smiled. Mac could tell that his friend was amused only because his gaze remained fixed on him for a few seconds, rather than wandering around the room and resting on some random object, as was usually the case. This time, he looked at Mac for a full three seconds – a sign of great affection.

Mac tasted the wine. Exquisite, he thought.

Exquisite, right? Sheldon said, aware that his best friend was in the habit of saying exquisite whenever he thought something was really good. Sheldon was teasing him, which meant he was in a good mood. Mac handed him the holobook and rolled his eyes when his partner printed out the file on paper.

Should I have written it by hand? he joked, but Sheldon didn’t react. He was already studying the mission file.

Horatio Miller? he asked.

The very same.

The businessman?

…and Educator.

Sheldon raised his right eyebrow, which was about as dramatic a gesture as he ever made. Mac knew that the reclusive Mindguard had little regard for the title of Educator. He considered it a pompous designation created by elitist politicians only so they could grant it to themselves. Mac partially agreed, but he did have great respect for Miller, who was one of the few credibly accomplished men of the recent era.

Not interested, Sheldon said.

Bullshit!

"Not interested!"

"Sheldon…it’s Horatio Miller."

The Mindguard cleared his throat as if to say You know me better than that. He handed his friend the holobook.

You turn down more and more jobs nowadays, Mac said.

I’m otherwise engaged.

Right…with your research…

Among other things.

You know I’ve always respected your academic…endeavors. But that’s a hobby, this is work. You are the most brilliant Mindguard in the world, why waste your God-given talent?

Sheldon quietly sighed. Why me, Mac?

You’re the best.

At the level we conduct our work, the difference between best and next best becomes insignificant.

Not to me.

Isabel is an outstanding Mindguard.

She’s exquisite.

And I hear the new kid is more than capable.

"More than capable," Mac echoed.

So you’ve got your team.

So I still want you.

Mac smiled and took the glass of wine off its coaster. He emptied it in one big swig, put it back on the desk and leaned back in his armchair. Isabel has experience, he said. Alex has raw talent. He paused for dramatic effect, then grinned. "You have both. After all, the company is called Ayers-Ross."

What bothers me, Sheldon said, is that if it were anyone other than Horatio Miller, you wouldn’t even have gone through the trouble of contacting me.

Well—

Sheldon cut him off. Miller gets special treatment and I don’t like that.

Mac rolled his eyes. I figured you wouldn’t. Look, what’s the big deal, Sheldon? You get out of the house for a little while. The pay is one of the best we’ve ever gotten— He raised his hand just as Sheldon was about to object. "I know. It’s not about money for me either and you know that. It’s about respect. One of the most respected men in the free world asks for your services, you damn well deliver and prove you are every bit as good as he assumes."

Isn’t arrogance considered a sin in your religion?

Don’t be an asshole, Sheldon!

Why does he even want Vintages in the first place?

Because he’s smart. You think he hasn’t done his homework?

For the last few generations, artificial Mindguards had increasingly replaced their human counterparts, the so-called Vintages. Still, even though the AI Mindguards were regarded as more consistently dependable, excellence in the field of neurological data protection — or thoughtprotection — belonged solely to human beings. Some knowledgeable people were still aware of that.

I’m not asking as a business partner, I’m asking as a friend, Mac said. And you owe me.

Nothing else needed to be said. A few years ago, Mac had pulled some strings to get Sheldon’s grandfather, Kinsey Ayers, declared a hero of the Federation after his death. Due to his status as a hero, the informational content of Kinsey’s brain had been uploaded to the Human Knowledge Archives, a repository of the most important intellects born in the era of space colonization. Kinsey was one of only four Mindguards to have ever had their memories preserved. Mac knew that his friend would feel bound to return the favor.

Sheldon glanced at the half-empty bottle of Pinot. Knowing you, I assume you told Miller to expect us right away. No time, then, for another glass?

Mac chuckled and checked the time on his retinal insertion. Well, I told him it would take me less than fifteen minutes to convince you, so he’s expecting us in about twenty minutes. A man like Horatio Miller is not accustomed to being left waiting. Sheldon remained silent for a few seconds, anticipating a punch line. Which is exactly why I think he could use a little lesson in modesty. Screw Miller! Feel free to pour.

Sheldon Ayers must have suddenly been reminded exactly why he loved his old friend, because he rewarded him with a rare smile.

Chapter 2

When you are guarding somebody’s mind, you are at the same time guarding their soul.

Samuel Weixman, Strengths and Limitations of the Mindguard

Two minutes had passed from the moment they threw the empty bottle of wine in the trash bin to the moment they set foot on Horatio Miller’s property on the planet Terra Nova. Those two minutes had mostly been spent walking from the office to the departure chamber. From there, travel was instantaneous.

Smooth ride, eh? Mac said as they stepped out of the portal and onto the arrival platform. In front of them, a cobblestone walkway led straight to Horatio Miller’s mansion.

A minor modification to a major invention, Sheldon said drily.

I’d like to know how you’d have enjoyed spending hours on a ship just to take a two second trip.

When the Muench-Henriksen space-time bridges — or gateways — were initially discovered a few centuries earlier, they could only be stabilized in the vacuum of outer space. A little over three decades ago, two young scientists named Horatio Miller and Nikolaos Apostolos managed to create the first stable Muench-Henriksen gateway on the surface of a planet, allowing for individual transportation through personal departure chambers. Recently, Miller’s company had produced the first portable gateway generator. The technology was still restrictively expensive and Mac was extremely proud of the one he’d purchased for his company. It was to be used only in missions of the highest priority.

Miller’s gateway generator was integrated into a platform that resembled a heliport and could accommodate large vehicles. Near the platform, waiting to greet them, stood a portly middle-aged man whose expression made him look like he’d just been woken from a very comfortable nap. He extended his hand to Mac, then to Sheldon.

Welcome, gentlemen, I’m Marcus Miller, he said with a muffled voice that completed his sleepy mien.

Nice to meet you, I’m Maclaine Ross, this is Sheldon Ayers. Sheldon just shook the man’s hand, saying nothing.

Mmhmm, Marcus murmured. My brother had prepared to greet you in person but seeing as how you are late, he had to turn his attention to other matters. I trust you will make yourselves comfortable until he is ready to see you. I will show you to the lobby.

We made him wait and now he’s making us wait, Mac thought. Competitive guy. He was not surprised. He expected no less from one of the world’s most influential businessmen.

Mac had dressed the way he always did when meeting a man like Miller. He was surprised Sheldon hadn’t yet made a sarcastic comment about his outfit. He was wearing a black, skin-tight t-shirt that showed off his muscular physique. Mac found that dressing this way almost always guaranteed that the other person underestimated his intelligence. They probably figured that a man who dedicated so much time to training his body must undoubtedly have neglected his mind. They couldn’t be more wrong. Whenever he met someone he didn’t entirely trust, he preferred to be underestimated.

Sheldon’s clothes had not been chosen with the same attention to psychology. They gave away more about his partner’s character than Mac would have liked. Nevertheless, he knew that there was no point in arguing with him. Sheldon rarely left the house in anything other than his customary black shirt and light brown leather jacket. The shirt, an outdated design no longer fashionable anywhere other than Old Earth, disclosed the man’s affection for the Planet of Origin. It revealed a melancholy spirit, perpetually stuck in some idealized version of the past. Since leather had been outlawed for decades, and wearing leather clothing was penalized with a hefty fine, Sheldon’s jacket suggested a man with a reckless nature and disregard for authority. For an intelligent client like Miller, these shortcomings made for a less than favorable first impression.

Usually, Mac avoided bringing Sheldon to business meetings and his partner generally had little desire to tag along. But Miller had requested Sheldon’s presence.

Marcus Miller was guiding them towards the enormous modern mansion which, as he explained, had been designed by the foremost architect on Terra Nova. They were led to a spacious waiting room and invited to have a seat. To be honest, I have no idea how long my brother will be, he said. I also have other matters to attend to. I will send refreshments. Feel free to use our holosense chamber in the meantime. He made the floor plan available to Mac’s retinal insertions. Mac flirted with the idea of telling him that Sheldon was a prototech and thus had no use for the holosense room, just to spook him a little. He ultimately decided against it.

A few minutes later, a maid appeared, pushing a portable bar. Mac could tell that she was human; she lacked the distinctive tattoo on the right side of her face, an obligatory mark of all androids. He grabbed a Scholan beer but was surprised to see Sheldon take nothing. I see they’ve got some imported India Pale Ale from Old Earth, he said.

I can see that, Sheldon answered, but he didn’t help himself.

They were left waiting for more than an hour. Mac was certain this had been done specifically to punish them for being ten minutes late. He didn’t get angry. This behavior helped him understand more about Horatio Miller as a person. He always wanted to learn as much about his clients as possible. If Sheldon was irritated by the long wait, he didn’t show it. Mac used the time to read a mission report on his retinal insertions. It had been sent by Isabel, one of the Mindguards he employed. In his absence, the woman was Team Leader on missions, while Kriss White served as Head of Operations at the base. Isabel informed him of the mission’s success, but made a comment about what she called the recklessness of her Mindguard partner, Alex.

Copy that, Iz, thanks, Mac replied. Kid will come around. Bringing Sheldon. He was sure the mention of Sheldon Ayers would put a smile on Isabel’s face. The two were very fond of each other. In the field, they had perfect chemistry and in private, they seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Isabel was also, to Mac’s knowledge, the only person in the world whom Sheldon greeted with a smile.

He turned to look at his partner, who had produced a small, leather-bound book and was reading from it to pass the time. Bored and looking to make conversation, Mac glanced at the book’s title. "Wolfmen: A History of the Dacian Population," he read out loud.

Sheldon took his eyes off the page. They lived in a region of what is now Western Asia on Terra Antiqua, he said. The name of the book is a reference to their worship of the wolf, an extinct member of the Canidae.

Formerly extinct, declared a confident voice. Horatio Miller had finally appeared, with his brother in tow. He was approaching with a slow, condescending walk, which suggested he was not at all worried that he may have offended them by making them wait. Mac wondered if the man had really been busy, or if he’d just watched them from his office through the levicams, getting a chuckle out of wasting their time.

Wolves are among the most recent species brought to life through de-extinction. A few thousand creatures have been produced and set free on the planet Wrangel. Mylonas, my company, funded and controlled the operation. We would have done it a lot sooner but the wolf is just not a very popular animal. He laughed and extended his hand, presenting a friendly smile. Horatio Miller, he said shaking the two men’s hands.

Miller looked younger than Mac had expected. He did not have a single wrinkle or gray hair, no bags under his eyes, as you would expect from a man who allegedly worked round-the-clock. He also seemed to be in excellent shape, in striking contrast with his overweight brother. The only thing that gave away the fact that this man was really in his late fifties was his very expensive tailor-made suit, a tasteful but conservative design which was not in tone with the usual flamboyant fashion of the modern youth.

I see you’re interested in ancient history, their client said, pointing to the book in Sheldon’s hands. Any chance you have an interest in art history as well? It’s a topic I’m very fond of. Mac looked around the sleek, modern reception area, furnished

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