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Jabba lay on his back lodged halfway inside a dismantled mainframe computer. There was a penlight in his mouth, a soldering iron in his hand, and a large schematic blueprint propped on his belly. He had just finished attaching a new set of attenuators to a faulty motherboard when his cellular phone sprang to life.

“Shit,” he swore, groping for the receiver through a pile of cables. “Jabba here.”

“Jabba, it’s Midge.”

He brightened. “Twice in one night? People are gonna start talking.”

“Crypto’s got problems.” Her voice was tense.

Jabba frowned. “We been through this already. Remember?”

“It’s a power problem.”

“I’m not an electrician. Call Engineering.”

“The dome’s dark.”

“You’re seeing things. Go home.” He turned back to his schematic.

“Pitch black!” she yelled.

Jabba sighed and set down his penlight. “Midge, first of all, we’ve got aux power in there. It would never be pitch black. Second, Strathmore’s got a slightly better view of Crypto than I do right now. Why don’t you call him?”

“Because this has to do with him. He’s hiding something.”

Jabba rolled his eyes. “Midge sweetie, I’m up to my armpits in serial cable here. If you need a date, I’ll cut loose. Otherwise, call Engineering.”

“Jabba, this is serious. I can feel it.”

She can feel it? It was official, Jabba thought, Midge was in one of her moods. “If Strathmore’s not worried, I’m not worried.”

“Crypto’s pitch black, dammit!”

“So maybe Strathmore’s stargazing.”

“Jabba! I’m not kidding around here!”

“Okay, okay,” he grumbled, propping himself up on an elbow. “Maybe a generator shorted out. As soon as I’m done here, I’ll stop by Crypto and—”

“What about aux power!” Midge demanded. “If a generator blew, why is there no aux power?”

“I don’t know. Maybe Strathmore’s got TRANSLTR running and aux power is tapped out.”

“So why doesn’t he abort? Maybe it’s a virus. You said something earlier about a virus.”

“Damn it, Midge!” Jabba exploded. “I told you, there’s no virus in Crypto! Stop being so damned paranoid!”

There was a long silence on the line.

“Aw, shit, Midge,” Jabba apologized. “Let me explain.” His voice was tight. “First of all, we’ve got Gauntlet‑no virus could possibly get through. Second, if there’s a power failure, it’s hardware‑related‑viruses don’t kill power, they attack software and data. Whatever’s going on in Crypto, it’s not a virus.”


“Midge? You there?”

Midge’s response was icy. “Jabba, I have a job to do. I don’t expect to be yelled at for doing it. When I call to ask why a multi billion‑dollar facility is in the dark, I expect a professional response.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“A simple yes or no will suffice. Is it possible the problem in Crypto is virus‑related?”

“Midge . . . I told you—”

“Yes or no. Could TRANSLTR have a virus?”

Jabba sighed. “No, Midge. It’s totally impossible.”

“Thank you.”

He forced a chuckle and tried to lighten the mood. “Unless you think Strathmore wrote one himself and bypassed my filters.”

There was a stunned silence. When Midge spoke, her voice had an eerie edge. “Strathmore can bypass Gauntlet?”

Jabba sighed. “It was a joke, Midge.” But he knew it was too late.