JUST A COMPANY MAN
by Perry R. Morrison
The name's Kinkade...Sam Kinkade, Database Investigator. It
began on a Summer's day in '26... April, I think. I remember it
reasonably well because it was the first time in six years that
the solar diffusion index had fallen below 5.1 and allowed the
sun to be seen by the populace of LA. Caused a lot of
confusion as I recall, and a few cases of retinal scarring
amongst younger kids.
I'd stumbled into my office the night before with a dozen
Ukrainian slammers under my belt and tried to catch a few hours
sleep on the couch. It took all my willpower to prevent those
little dissidents from staging a counter-revolution when the
visiphone rang in the morning, raising me from semiconsciousness.
I crawled to the visiphone, noting before I hit the
accept button that the call was being scrambled by the Federal
Bureau of Database Investigation. Sure enough, the craggy
face of Rick McLusky, the regional head of the FBDI sprang
into view and pierced my eardrums with its opening remark.
"Kinkade," he said, "we've got another job for you. A big one
"Great," I moaned in reply.
"What's wrong?" McLusky asked, clearly taken aback by my lack of
enthusiasm. "You sick or something?"
"Sort of. What is it anyway? I've got no time for damn FBDI
cases. You guys think its big when some kid pisses on the
vidiscanner in the John at the hover-rail center!"
"No Kinkade...this time its different. This time we got a
"So? Who hasn't? If I had 10 credits for every guy who had his
universal identifier cut out of his wrist I'd be sitting in the
Seychelles, lounging about on my gravity yacht. Look, can't you
see I'm having trouble mapping onto reality at the moment?" I
said, starting to look longingly at the vacuum sink in the
corner of my office.
"Cut the crap Kinkade," McLusky said suddenly. "This is no
ordinary case. The guy was a dyed in the wool Company man.
Bluer than a laser blast and twice as straight...until now that
is. The system hasn't recorded a transaction from him in over a
week and the Board want him found. They don't like unerased
Company man going renegade. It don't look good."
Although the rest of my body wanted to seccede from my
stomach, I was beginning to get interested in this case. My only
reservation was that experience had taught me to avoid Company
business - if at all possible.
"Look McLusky," I said to the Bureau man, hoping to ease
myself out of this one, "You know me. I have the wrong
psychprofile for Company business and they know it. In fact
that's the reason I left it in the first place. I can't tolerate
their linearity. Come to think of it...why can't they handle
it themselves? Internal investigations are always much neater.
Hell, why doesn't the Bureau handle it? Giving it to a private DI
is a risky business."
McLusky appeared as if he wanted to reach through the phone
and rip out my tonsils.
"Kinkade!" he roared. "You know damn well the Company threw
you out and you were lucky they didn't erase you at the same
time! The only reason they didn't was because they knew you
were the best DI they ever had - screwy, but good. You've still
got your memories because they wanted to keep you as a
resource - to use whenever they needed some different kind of
Having got that out, McLusky began to settle down and his nose
looked less like a soviet distress beacon.
"Listen," he said in a subdued tone "this guy is good...very,
very good. They can't trace him. You know how they think over
there - in straight lines. But they think that your screwball
logic might be able to find him. And apart from that, it isn't a
request. You know your position. Your privacy level could be
lowered like that," he said snapping his fingers sharply. "You
can only be monitored by level sevens right now, but in five
seconds you could be a level one again. You won't be able to
scratch your ass without the whole system knowing it."
McLusky was right of course. He knew it and I knew it. If they
busted me to that level, every toilet cubicle had to be opened
with my universal identifier, every food purchase involved it,
every Ukrainian slammer...all of it on the system and available
to anyone who wanted to look at it. It made me shudder.
"And remember this..." McLusky continued, "Tracking has been on
the increase lately."
That was the final straw. Tracking had become the pastime for
the modern pervert, invading lives and destroying them by denying
the most basic elements of privacy. If a tracker selected me as
his target, following me on the system wherever I went... It
would be a nightmare. Some of them even took delight in
predicting your movements and leaving obscene messages on the
systemlink they thought you would use next. I knew I couldn't
take that. Never again!
I rubbed my eyes, feeling very beaten all of a sudden.
"OK...I'll do it. Gimme his identifier and I'll see what I
can do. No guarantees though. If this guy is as good as you say,
he might have already beaten the system."
McLusky nodded, apparently satisfied. As he tapped out the
guy's code I headed for some coffee and decided that tomorrow
would be a good time to start. In the meantime I had to
rediscover what it was like to be human.
* * *
The next morning I logged into my systemlink and entered
the identifier. He was a level six called James Tyler and he was
Snow White. A traffic camera had caught him six months ago
running a red light, but other than that there was nothing. The
map of his auto use showed that he hadn't visited any
known illegal establishments, but it did indicate a frequently
visited apartment North of the stratoport. Probably his
girlfriend, I reasoned. But then, who knows these days? DNA work
regularly transformed men into women or vice versa, or things in
I made a note of the address and traced the last transaction
he'd made. Two double scotches at a bar called the "Purple
Lizard" in the rundown part of the Southside. And had he been
ripped off! 20 credits each!
I grabbed my respirator, strapped on my blaster and headed
for the hover-rail station. The smell of hydrocarbons would do me
* * *
To say that the Purple Lizard was a dive, was like saying the
sewerage treatment plant had an odour. It was the basement of
a rundown apartment building and it made you wonder where you
left your lice repellent. It was a strange place for a Company
man to visit.
As I descended the stairs a gigantic guy of Italian descent
came out of the shadows and blocked my path. From the way the
guy talked it was clear that he hadn't been behind the door when
the brains were handed out. It sounded as if he wasn't even in
"Sorry mister," he said "but 'aint nobody allowed ta have
blasters in the Lizard. So gimme it or else I gotta bust ya."
I briefly thought about blasting the guy, but I knew that
dinosaurs had small brains and you had to be a great shot or very
I handed over my piece and brushed aside a piece of black
curtain, revealing the lizard in all its glory. A couple of guys
- probably unidentifieds - were playing magnetopool and drinking
martian red. The bartender was an old guy with a lot of
facial scars and big hamfists. All of them stared at me as I took
my place at the bar.
"You got guts anyway," said the bartender as I grabbed a stool.
"How's that?" I asked as I tapped a cosmic camel out of its
pack and placed it on my lips.
"Well, we don't like upper levels in here. And in a minute,
when me and those two guys feel like it, we're gonna bust your
head open just for the fun of it," he said, looking very happy
as he finished.
"Is that so?" I replied, taking a long drag on the camel.
"In that case, I just hope you guys are wearing blaster jackets."
"What blaster? Joey got it outside. I watched him!"
"Sure he got that one. But you see, my left hand hasn't been
the same since the assault on Petrograd. A fragmentation grenade
blew it off and I thought it might be handy...excuse the pun,
to have a miniblaster installed in the cyber replacement. Got
The bartender clasped and unclasped his fists in suppressed
"You better not stay too long mister," he said. "You can't
guard your back forever".
"Tsk, tsk," I said, knowing that I shouldn't push my
advantage if I was to get what I wanted. "Look, all I'm after is
a little information. See this guy?" I showed him a
visifacsimile of Tyler. "He was here a week ago. The system says
at 6.30 on the 10th. I just want to know what happened to
"Never seen him before," the bartender said. "We don't give
information to the Company anyhow."
"I'm not from the Company. I'm a private DI and the system says
he was here. I just want to know why."
I pulled out a gold Krugerand and tossed it onto the bar.
"Trading in gold is outside the system and illegal," the barman
said, perhaps surprised that an upper level would be carrying it.
"Well, I won't tell if you won't," I said.
"OK. He was here," the barman blurted out as he seized the
"What happened to him?" I said, placing my hand on the man's
"We beat him up, same as we were gonna do to you. We threw him
out and that was the last we saw of him. That's it."
He had no reason to lie, so I decided to cut my losses and do
some thinking - outside the confines of the Purple Lizard.
"OK... thanks," I said as I stood away from the bar and
pointed my hand at the barman's belly. I found the back door and
as I weaved through the garbage cans, I spared a thought for Joey
and his coming chastisement. The cyberarm was always a good con.
As I strolled up the street, donning my respirator, I thought
about what I had. Tyler was beaten up in a bar he wouldn't be
seen dead in. Why? He must have been meeting someone. Someone,
who could've protected him, but didn't show up.
But who was the someone? It looked like a deadend so I took a
chair at a nearby diner and ordered a cup of coffee. Well,
they said it was coffee. It was black anyway. As I slowly sipped,
I wondered if I might be able to get a better angle with some
Now, as all truly great systems men know, databases are
very fallible, capricious and unpredictable. Sometimes they go
down for no reason or function perfectly when they
shouldn't, or perform differently on tasks that are completely
routine. The true art of systems use is to regard them as very
delicate beasties. That was the secret of Sam Kinkade, plus a
few tricks I'd kept from the Company. I felt capable of working
a little magic, so I had the coffee credited and found the
It was an old model; no voice recognition, just a battered
old keyboard. Still, it would do. I placed my wrist identifier
over the reader, logged in and looked at the systats. There
was a lot of activity and that would make tracing the system
failure a lot harder. I punched in the node and vector code of a
program that had cost me two thousand credits from an old,
alcoholic systems designer whose only memory after erasure was
the location of a very special, hidden program. That remarkable
piece of code caused the system to crash and in the last few
moments of sentience while the protection was failing, it copied
the files of anyone up to level eight. That should be high
enough to get what I wanted - the files of Tyler's immediate
boss; somebody that even Tyler had probably never met.
I placed in a wildcard identifier for Tyler's superior. Then,
with trembling fingers (crashing systems still gives a thrill) I
executed the program and watched as the network with its
thousands of mainframes slowly died, wracked by the cancerous
spread of confusion that the program unleashed. Finally, on
the bitmapped image of the world map that showed the operational
status of the various nodes, the last pixel faded out.
Of course it would be restarted within minutes, with much
head scratching. But the fault would never be traced. The system
was too complex. It could never know which of the millions of
programs active at that moment, or what combination of them,
actually caused the crash. Meanwhile, I knew that the
information I needed would be safely in my disk area to
peruse at my leisure. All I had to do was wait for the inevitable
return of the system.
At that moment, I sensed something behind me and had half
turned around when the butt of a blaster smashed into my temple,
sending me crashing to the ground. As I lay there dazed, I was
vaguely aware of someone stepping over me and manipulating the
Suddenly, a blur of red hit him squarely in the back and he
fell heavily, rolling for some distance before getting to his
feet and running off. I was still pretty much out of it, but
managed to stand and lean on the wall. Next to the systemlink I
noticed an ice cool blonde in a red jumpsuit regarding me with
"Are you OK?" she said in a very husky voice.
"So you're my saviour," I said feeling like the cat who got the
cream. "What have I done to deserve this?"
"You're looking for a friend of mine I believe" she said. It
all made some sense now.
"So you're 1139 Catalonia Boulevard" I said, noting to myself
that James Tyler was a man of good taste.
"Yes. Pamela Aldiss is my name. Although you probably know
"No I don't actually," I said. "Although if I'd known you
could wear a jumpsuit like that, I would have made it my business
to find out."
"You're very flattering Mr. Kinkade," she said with some
wariness, "But I have often found that flatterers are no match
"Yes, I noticed," I said, raising my hands in mock surrender.
"I'll keep it in mind".
She responded with a fleeting smile. "The most important thing
right now is to find Jim. Have you made any progress yet? The
FBDI said they'd engaged you yesterday."
I hated to disappoint her, but after rescuing me she deserved
"Unfortunately...no." I said flatly. "But somebody else is
interested in this case. That guy could have killed me, but
didn't. He was more interested in what I was doing with the
She thought about that for a while, then helped me into her car
- a gas-turbined pink Maretta. I tried not to notice the
curvature of her legs as we tore down the high velocity lane of
the expressway, exchanging what little information we had.
"Jim was in the Global Division," she began, the past tense
bothering me at first. "He was involved in negotiations with
foreign governments...you know, installations, software
capabilities. It was tricky stuff. These days, no government can
afford not to be part of the system. Their commerce and trade
would suffer enormously. But at the same time, they've always
been concerned about who has the information and what they do
with it. Of course, anybody with any brains knows that the
Company has it all and its probably just a matter of time before
governments cease to exist. Jim's job was to placate them while
it all happened."
"Hmmm," I replied as I patched into her car's mobilelink.
"What are you doing?' she asked, unable to take her eyes off the
road and focus on the dim display.
"Oh, just checking my creds," I replied, trying to suppress my
shock as I read the system output. "Where are we going anyway?"
"To my place."
I grinned. She scowled.
"Jim may have left a message there," she explained. "He can beat
the security monitors. The system told me where you'd left the
hover rail, so, while I waited for him to contact me, I thought
we could team up. OK?" she smiled, turning to me briefly.
It was an engaging smile, but one that didn't last. As I looked
down some text slowly assembled on the systemlink.
"It's for both of us," I said. "Tyler wants us to meet him at
the StratoPark. 82nd level in half an hour."
We left 50 meters of rubber as we did a 180 on the expressway,
the injectors shrieking with power. Pam knew how to drive. My
mind considered what else she was good at.
* * *
The Stratopark was windswept and although swirling with smog we
left our respirators off to help our visibility. It didn't take
us long to find Tyler. He was sitting on the bonnet of a Blue
Maretta. Blue for boys, pink for girls.
"Darling!" Pam exclaimed as she ran with open arms toward him.
"Not so fast!" Tyler said as he pulled out a pocket blaster.
Pam stopped short, the smile sliding off her face and falling
onto the concrete.
"So, you know," she said.
Tyler chuckled wryly to himself. "I had an idea. But I had to be
sure. Kinkade got the information I needed."
"You mean about Pam?" I said, starting to piece it together.
"Yes. You see, I was working in Moscow, placating what's left of
the government. You know, reassuring them about the system, but
at the same time, buying certain individuals, eliminating others.
The problem is, New Russia is a closed society. The central
executive is aged and almost inseparable in its new found hatred
for the West. Buying them wasn't easy, hitting them impossible.
The Company was unhappy. So, sensing failure, I allowed the
executive to buy me. In exchange for a comfortable mansion near
the Baltic, I'll tell them how to use the system and avoid being
subjugated by it. Pam was to go with me. It was all arranged. We
were to meet a KGB operative at the Purple Lizard and make good
our escape. But both of them didn't show and the local yokels
took out their frustration on me."
"That much, I can see." I said, noticing his bruises.
"Yes, but you also found out that Pam is really my boss and the
Company's best eliminator. She blew away my contact. I had
suspicions of course. Pam was the only one who knew of our
rendezvous at the Lizard. And when the Russian agent who had
tailed you managed to get a glimpse of the systemlink you'd used
and saw it storing files on Pam in your area, I decided to have a
look for myself. I am a level seven you know. I read them just
before I came."
I screwed up my face at the thought of Tyler rummaging through
my love letters and other desiderata.
"Those files revealed the truth. You see, the Company has a nice
policy these days. It arranges for top executives to meet and
become involved with their best eliminators. It makes it neater
if the exec goes renegade. Lovers are much cleaner killers."
"True," Pamela said coldly "And it would have been much cleaner
Darling if not for your contact. I had to garrott him, but
obviously I couldn't meet you covered in blood. You can thank the
training of the KGB for your life."
"And I'm afraid that your life, my lover, has just about run
out," Tyler said with a smile.
"Sorry to disappoint you Jim," she replied, unperturbed. "You
see, the KGB aren't here. Your backups are gone. Ten minutes ago,
we sold them an operations exec. A level nine man. We sold him
for you and a few million credits."
"You're lying! You couldn't risk the information."
"Unfortunately, I'm not. He's been erased. Of course, the
Soviets don't know that. It was a very nice job. Bye Bye Jim,"
she said, as she pressed one of her earrings. A second later,
Tyler's abdomen disappeared as a microgrenade from a sniper's
rifle punched through his body.
Pam walked over to the body, and felt for a pulse, always the
professional. Then she pressed her fingers against her lips and
placed them on Tyler's cheek. She looked up and engaged me with
those empty, crystal blue eyes.
"And how is your memory Mr. Kinkade?" she asked. "They said that
your involvement would bring him to us. All I had to do was stick
with you. They said it always seemed to happen that way.
Screwball logic was the term."
I blushed and stammered as I recalled the dismemberment of Jim
Tyler and observed the closeness of her hand to the two-way
transceiver in her earring.
"Frankly, I....I've had trouble with my memory
She smiled at me, crocodile like, then got up and began to walk
"Hey!", I yelled in sudden realization. "What about my
creds...you owe me."
She turned around, slowly reaching up to her neck, then chuckled
as she looked where I'd been standing.
When pressed, my impersonation of thin air is totally amazing.
Perry R. Morrison
2 Evans Road
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.