Jirel sat in his office at the Hecht listening post in the desert outside Las Vegas, doing paperwork on a writable document reader the humans dubbed an Iboard. He frowned at the device. September 13, 79 YE. Meaning the 79th Year of the Empire. That blasted blasphemous date was on every page. It had supplanted the year of the Lord in reckoning time.
Jirel sighed. The evil one had humans so confused, only their scholars knew the date for certain. Most knew little more than to surmise they must be staring down the barrel at the 22nd century, if they weren’t there already.
Pushing papers while he waited for his seventeen-year-old charge to finish his intelligence training was tedious at best. Though, actually, a good twenty-one years had passed since Private Snyder’s conception. Poor kid spent his first four years on ice. Such cruelties humans could inflict on their own children.
Jirel signed the last report, got up from his desk, and began the walk back to his quarters. At least he could get a few hours of prayer in.
He exited the building and strolled down the sidewalk. He peered up at the gray sky and inhaled deeply. Rain would soon refresh the parched Earth. You send your rain on the just and the unjust. Holy is your name, My God, My King.
A particularly foul-smelling muscular man charged Jirel, clearly intending to throw him to the ground.
Jirel moved faster, however, and lifted the foolish mortal up in the air. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“You’re comin’ with me, Cutler. My boss would like a word with you.” The man pulled a syringe from his pocket and shoved it into Jirel’s arm.
Apparently, they didn’t know his true nature, or that it protected his tent against such attacks. He sniffed the pungent odors emanating from his attacker. Sure enough, murder. About a month back, two at latest, almost overpowered by the stench of deceit. “Who is your boss?”
“You’ll see,” said the man. “You’ll be out any second now.”
A minute later, the man laughed nervously. “Yep, any moment now.”
Jirel stared at the man he still held in the air. “Why don’t you just take me to your boss and we’ll talk?”
The man said, “I’m not in a position to disagree.”
Jirel put the man down.
The man led Jirel to the Post Exchange store, which had a black limo parked outside. Jirel walked over to the limo. The odors grew worse as they approached.
The muscular man knocked on the window. “Boss, I got Cutler.”
The window lowered to reveal a gray-haired gent in a white Italian suit permeated with the stench on his hireling, only far worse. He grimaced. “I didn’t expect him to be so vertical.”
“Well, he’s here, ain’t he?”
“No thanks to you, Mug. We’ll talk.” The gent beckoned. His diamond ring sparkled in the sunlight. “Sergeant Cutler, climb in. Let’s take a ride around the post.”
Mug stood outside the door and opened it. Jirel got in and sank into the plush leather of the seat, which greatly pleased his tent after a day in the hard office chair.
“So, Sergeant Cutler, what do you want?” asked the gent that also smelled of spilt blood and deception.
Jirel blinked. “What do you mean, what do I want? I didn’t call for you.”
The man’s expression soured. “Don’t play with me, Cutler. You want something, and I came all the way from Los Angeles so I can get a good night’s sleep.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been invading my dreams every night. Scaring me with visions of woe and disaster if I didn’t help you, Sergeant Cutler. Only a few nights ago did I finally figure out your first name. I didn’t believe the Empire had machines that could control dreams, but I certainly believe it now. What government mission do you have for me?”
Jirel’s eyes widened. Lord, please give me wisdom. “I don’t have any information on this; let me consult my boss. I’ll get back to you. What’s your name?”
“You know my name.”
“My boss knows your name, but these type of things get complicated.”
The man fetched a business card. “Nick Verducci. I’ll be staying at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. Can you see what you can do about the dream machine? ‘Cause I can be patient, but if you’re giving me nightmares . . . . ”
He leaned over and grabbed Jirel by the blue jacket of his dress uniform. “I can get very, very impatient.”
Jirel removed Verducci’s hands. “No need for threats. I’ll be in touch.”
Verducci stopped the car. Jirel got out and walked back to the listening post.
Upon reaching his quarters, he entered, turned around to shut the door, and took a deep breath. His was the only room in the entire listening post that didn’t smell of nearly every sin man had ever invented.
He reached for his Ekeys, a key-shaped black storage device hooked onto his belt on a ring with a few brass keys he’d picked up.
The lock mechanism clicked before he touched the button. Behind him, a man screamed, “Don’t even think about moving!”
Jirel sniffed. Odd. The room held only a faint trace of Old Spice. His senses had grown dull, but not that dull. “You didn’t happen to have a dream about me.”
“My son was sick. I took him to this prophet guy, and he healed him. He told me to head out here, get on base, and find Sergeant Jirel Cutler. That’s you, ain’t it?”
Jirel nodded. “Yeah.”
“So, what do you want me to do?”
Jirel sighed. “Let me check with my boss and get back to you.”
“You don’t know.”
“This is a bit of a surprise. I haven’t been consulted on this.”
“What do you mean? I assumed you worked for God like the prophet guy.”
“I do.” Jirel paused. “But I must have missed the memo. Give me your hotel and I’ll be in touch.”
“Wrong-o, I don’t stay in hotels; they’re crawling with bugs and other unpleasant things. I’ll be around, and I’ll find out when you’re ready. Now, I’m going to leave. You count to ten and then turn around.”
Jirel counted to ten. He turned around and the room was empty. How did this guy get out? The window was holographic and there was only . . . . He glanced up at the air vent. Um, no. He turned to the next culprit. The holovision. He grabbed the remote and checked the window’s vid-phone call log. Hmm, the hack had erased his call entry. It had to have been the holovision. It only transmitted scents humans could smell.
“Very funny, Smith.” Jirel grimaced and grabbed the card Smith had given him off he desk. “We need to have a little talk.”
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