03:06:18 - For a Few Joules More
Jack switched off the monitor and leaned back into his chair. Blood, or the equivalent liquid, had drained from the faces of the other members of the GC Irregulars gathered around the table.
"And that," Jack said as he casually tossed the remote toward the center of the table, "is why the members of the G-700 have decided not to return to Beta Proxima III for this cycle's meeting, particularly when the Aeomeboids for Amnesty are organizing the protests."
Carla was the first to react, mostly via a set of involuntary convolutions that would have made any modern dancer jealous enough to eat a second stalk of celery. It still didn't help clear the memory of the protestors. "Augh- YUCK!!"
Roger couldn't help himself. "Ah yes, well, the real trick came trying to cut through the cabling without changing anyone's sex, or producing any new protestors, if you understand what I mean."
Carla really should have thought about going professional, provided the touring company could somehow afford her therapy bills.
"So they're coming here?" Rhino asked while avoiding some of Carla's wider spasms.
"Well, not here, here, precisely...", Jack eluded. "Most of the diplomats are humanoid enough to blend in with the population, provided appropriate precautions and sufficient dim lighting, but it's best if we pick a location where folks generally do their best to ignore new people."
"Paris?", Rhino asked after a moment of silence.
Jack nodded. "We had considered New York, of course, but there was a conference and couldn't get rooms."
"You couldn't get a room in New York City?" Carla asked.
"The International Adult Film Awards were that weekend. The few hotels that were available charged..." He stopped to read a slip of paper ".. a Room Hose Down fee."
Carla performed act three of High Voltage Swan Lake.
Jack continued, "It's our responsibility to make sure that there are no problems at the conference."
"That's hardly our line of expertise, Jack" Phil protested.
"No, but determining why Paris has been subject to mysterious blackouts might be, and since we're the supposed experts on local tech, we've been asked to investigate. Flarm will provide you transport, oh and Roger?"
"Try not to spook the locals by climbing up the outside of the Eiffel Tower."
Roger looked horribly indignant. "Perish the thought. I'd never do anything of the sort."
Jack slowly looked up at Roger.
"A second time." Roger finished.
A utility truck slowly made it's way along yet another winding one way street.
At least Phil hoped it was a street.
It may have been a vegetable stand.
At least the volume and measure of the invective coming from the various drivers behind them remained constant assuring Phil of the fact that whatever road she happened to be blazing, someone else felt compelled to follow her.
"Is it illegal to have 90 degree intersections in this city?" Phil yelled at the dashboard.
"That's funny", said Shimo, comfortably embedded against an array of monitoring equipment.
"What is?", asked Carla.
"I'm picking up massive amounts of theta waves from major power lines all around the Eiffel tower. Let's see - yes, they start almost exactly 50 km off and get stronger towards the center. Funny really."
Carla tried to get her brain in gear. "Theta? What? Power? Where?"
"Yes, definitely theta waves. Hmmm, strange." Shimo twisted a dial, pressed a button, and pushed a sliding control all the way to the top, "that's about where the electricity stops coming into the city. Really weird." He pressed another button, turned another dial.
The truck slammed to a stop.
"Oww!" yelled Phil. "stop that!" Phil crushed here hands against her ears trying to block out the unheard noise. "AAAAAH!"
Shimo's head whipped back and forth between the agonizing Phil and the control set. He slid a control back down.
Phil threw herself against the back of her seat. "Owwww, that's even WORSE!" Carla did her best to cover herself from Phil's thrashing. Carla heard the sound of metal straining and grinding, then a peculiar crunch followed by loud pops and hums.
Carla tried her best to make sure that she touched nothing remotely metallic as every safety film she had ever watched in school paraded past her minds eye. Acrid smoke began to fill the back of the van when Phil returned bearing what appeared to be a portion of the center console. She tossed it back toward where it once had belonged, and dropped into her seat with a relaxed smile.
"Aah, Much better."
Carla was afraid to look toward the back of the van, but curiosity finally won out. Most of Shimo's workspace was barely recognizable. The rear doors were missing, or blown out and a goodly number of Parisians were doing their best to retreat down the crowded street. Shimo's legs wiggled out of a Fiat's sunroof a few cars back.
"Hmm..." Phil grumbled, suddenly rather pensive. "That almost sounded like Kuzirtik"
Carla, momentarily distracted by Shimo's attempts to leave the Fiat after his less than graceful entry, snapped back to Phil's comment. "Kuzir-whatzit?"
Phil continued her pensive mood. "Kuzirtik. Originally from the Pegasos system. There are several species, mostly two legged, large, and, after they mature, really don't move around all that much, provided they've got... I wonder." Phil lurched from her seat and grabbed a few items of equipment. "C'mon, let's go." She barked as she leapt from the rear of the van.
"But.. uhm.. what about the.. err.. van?" Carla asked the retreating figure as Phil strode back the way the van had come.
Shimo continued to try to remove himself, apparently while also attempting to profusely apologizing to the elderly man who's bread Shimo now wore on his shoulder.
Carla decided that staying in the van would probably not be the best idea, so she reached over, flicked on the hazard lights, and gingerly made her way out of the truck.
Roger was in no shape to climb this many stairs, which was no reflection on his current level of health. In fact, he was as reasonably healthy as any generally desk bound shapeshifter holding an alien form on a distant world with slightly less oxygen than he had evolved to use.
Ok, strike that oxygen part. His home planet had less. Most of his current physique came from the regular schedule of inspection trips he had been taking to McZigmunski's.
Still a few repelling tentacles would have been preferable.
He spent the regular cycle of thirty steps, followed by a ninety degree turn grumbling miserably about miserably grumbling, and the fact that it was too late in the evening for a proper audience to appreciate his grumbling.
"Twenty four, just because a few tourists go camera happy and decide to take a few pictures I've got to behave. Twenty five, granted, it did mean I had to work in that photo shop for a month making sure that the film was handled correctly, but Twenty Six, something still reminded me of home. I really should see about getting some, Twenty Seven, of that 'stop bath'..."
Roger stopped and looked back down the few steps. He quickly counted off on his fingers, before jogging back down to the Twenty Seventh landing. He checked for unexpected guards before hopping over the railing and walking the beams like a professional. With equal aplomb, he fastened a small device to a central junction girder and typed in a code, activating it.
The little lights blinked happily indicating that it was operational. Roger turned and took a few steps back to the platform. He wasn't exactly looking forward to Twenty Seven flights of steps back down to the plaza below.
For a moment he hesitated, looking down and pondering. He took a deep breath. "Right, Jack said that I cannot climb up the tower." He continued to stand reminding himself of his duty.
"Darn good thing he never mentioned running a spy line down." He stepped off the beam just as the magnetic clamp attached to his repelling rope struck the beam he had stood on. The nylon covered wire sang as Roger dropped through the structure feeling the giddy rush of wind rush by.
He slipped in to the dark, open space below the main tower, and for just a fleeting moment, a tiny part of his mind was finally free of thoughts of French girl's school uniforms.
By the time Phil had gotten back to the truck it had become an integral part of the Parisian landscape. Drivers simply drove over the adjoining sidewalk as if it was not only the right thing to do, but so decreed.
"Shimo? You in there?"
He wasn't. For all Phil knew, he was probably still stuck in the Fiat.
No answer. Perfect, just perfect. She frowned, but it was mostly for show. Truth be told, she hoped the van was empty.
Phil looked at the damaged remains of the radio. It was heavily dented and marked with burn points. A faint acrid smell still wafted from the set. To anyone, the set was a total loss. Phil flipped a few idle switches and then dropped into the seat. She bent over and brought her head close to the set. After a few moments she leaned back.
That's when she hit the radio with her freshly removed boot.
The set blinked to life. Phil slid the boot back onto her foot. There were certain bits of Terran technology that had a certain poetry to them.
Phil scanned the frequencies. There was nothing but static. She stopped when she got to a particularly interesting bit of static.
"Ok, let's talk."
[snap, crackle pop?]
"Yes, I know. But your descendants have been a bit too greedy."
[pop crackle snap!]
"Oh you know that's not the way it works."
[crackle pop snap?]
"I dunno, maybe. But I don't thing even you could pay for that."
[crackle pop snap.]
"I suppose... and I suppose I could throw in a PFU. Provided we give it proper camouflage."
"Do they eat those here?"
Jack blinked. "She did what?"
"Didn't she put it into the report? Phil promised." Carla felt uncertain all of a sudden.
Jack opened the manila folder and read the report aloud. "Mission Accomplished." He closed the envelope and placed it back on his desk. "Frankly, I've gotten lengthier reports from the Gypsy."
Carla hesitated, now she knew why Roger was so eager to have her do the debrief. "Well, as far as I understand, Gustave Eiffel didn't really build the tower.'
"He didn't..." Jack said flatly, not asking a question, or offering confirmation, merely enforcing the smattering of facts.
"Apparently, a mature Kuzirtik kinda sorta, set root there around a century ago. Eiffel added a bunch of super structure to make it look more like a tower."
"Well, apparently not only was it a mature Kuzirtik.. it was a female one."
"A pregnant female one."
"So, since the kids really do look an awful lot like steel utility poles, and since Paris really needed a bunch, Eiffel thought, 'Hey' and figured that they could help out."
Jack began to slowly rub his temples, "I presume that no one bothered informing Messr. Eiffel that Kuzirtiks consume electricity?"
"Uhm, no, probably not. "
"And I'm also willing to bet that no one bothered to inform him that after oh.. say.. a hundred years, the Kuzirtiks hit puberty and become mobile."
"Again, no. Oh, and they also draw phenomenal amounts of power. Which is either good or bad depending on which side of the E.U. bill you're on."
Jack put his head back. "Tell me that we don't have a country full of horny Kuzirtiks right before the G-700 are due to arrive."
"Oh, no worries about that", Carla smiled optimistically. "Roger figures that they start swarming until after the G-700 members have left."
"How long after?"
"About 32 hours."
One day, Jack reminded himself, he would learn not to ask questions like that.
"The good news is that Phil may have also solved that problem too. We left the PFU in Paris, hooked up to.. uhm.. Mom."
Jack's head snapped forward, "You left a Portable Fission Unit strapped up to the Eiffel Tower?" His eyes very alert.
"Jack, it's ok. We disguised it to blend in."
Jack raised an eyebrow, "What's it disguised as?"
"A taqueria truck. It was my idea." Carla beamed. "I grew up seeing those all over, it'll blend right in."
"A taqueria truck."
"Yep." Carla smiled, oblivious to Jack's growing migraine.
"And what will happen thirty-two hours after the G-700 leave?" Jack asked, nearly regretting the answer.
"Well, as far as we can figure, the 'kids' will go mobile, and head to the largest power source they can find."
"The tera-joule taqueria truck?"
"Well, yeah, plus Mom said she'd help spread the word. So that night the kids would gather there and, uhm, well, I guess that's why they call Paris 'The City of Love' and 'The City of Lights'." Carla blushed at the thought. "I think it's rather romantic."
Jack, on the other hand, had visions of groaning steel and sparking electricity, interspersed with screaming pedestrians.
"Is that everything?"
"Yes, I think so", Carla said, trying to remember if there was anything else. Suddenly she did. "OH, Yeah! Phil asked me to give you this." Carla slipped a disk across to Jack.
"Thank you Carla."
Carla said her welcomes and walked out of Jack's office, satisfied that she had done a good job.
Jack silently fumed as he stared at the disk. He wasn't angry at Carla, or really any of the team. There were a few things that should have been done differently, but all in all, it wasn't that bad of a solution.
He shouldn't have been all that surprised at the solution either. He picked up the disk and slid it into the player.
A moment later, Phil's nervous, but feigning happiness face appeared. It was unnerving, but she knew Jack well enough not to try to intimidate him. "Uh, Hi Jack!" Phil waved, "So.. I'm guessing you've.. probably gotten the field report by now." She smiled weakly as her brow creased up. "And... you've probably heard my proposed solution. So... Uhm..."
Jack had to replay the last part of the message at a slower speed so that he could actually make out the words Phil nervously blurted out.
"I-thought-about-how-you-said-I've-been-working-too-hard-really-and-I-figure-now-that-things-have-settled-down-I-think-I-will-take-that-vacation-you-suggested-so-I'll-see-you-in-a-couple-of-weeks-thanks-again-Jack-you're-a-real-sweetheart-ok-so-bye." The last few frames showed Phil lunging for the shut off button.
Of course she'd take the Kuzirtik's side and try to help them out.
Jack smiled at the vision of Phil throwing the disk to Carla and then running at full sprint out of the truck.
She's an engineer.