Paranoia (067 of 170)

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067
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170
Paranoia
by Joseph Finder
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Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
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Part Three: 34 (Cont'd)

The transfer was to take place within the next three weeks. I was completely freaked out. The North Carolina site was for strictly back-office stuff. A million miles away from R&D. I'd be useless to Wyatt there. And he'd blame me for screwing up. I could practically hear the guillotine blade rushing down on its tracks.

It's funny: not until I walked out of her office did I think about my dad, and then it really hit me. I couldn't move. I couldn't leave the old man here. Yet how could I refuse to go where Nora was sending me? Short of escalating—going over her head, or at least trying to, which would surely backfire on me—what choice did I have? If I refused to go to North Carolina, I'd have to resign from Trion, and then all hell would break loose.

It felt as if the whole building were revolving slowly; I had to sit down, had to think. As I passed by Noah Mordden's office he waggled his finger at me to summon me in.

"Ah, Cassidy," he said. "Trion's very own Julien Sorel. Do be nice to the Madame de Renal."

"Excuse me?" I said. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about.

In his signature Aloha shirt and his big round black glasses he was looking more and more like a caricature of himself. His IP phone rang, but naturally it wasn't any ordinary ring tone. It was a sound file clipped from David Bowie's "Suffragette City": "Oh wham bam thank you ma'am!"

"I suspect you impressed Goddard," he said. "But at the same time, you must also take care not to unduly antagonize your immediate superior. Forget Stendhal. You might want to read Sun Tzu." He scowled. "The ass you save could be your own."

Mordden's office was decorated with all sorts of strange things. There was a chessboard painstakingly laid out in mid-game, an H.P. Lovecraft poster, a large doll with curly blond hair. I pointed to the chessboard questioningly.

"Tal-Botvinnik, 1960," he said, as if that meant anything to me. "One of the great chess moves of all time. In any case, my point is, one does not besiege walled cities if it can be avoided. Moreover, and this is wisdom not from Sun Tzu but from the Roman emperor Domitian, if you strike at a king, you must kill him. Instead, you waged an attack on Nora without arranging air support in advance."

"I didn't intend to wage an attack."

"Whatever you intended to accomplish, it was a serious miscalculation, my friend. She will surely destroy you. Remember, Adam. Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely."

"She's transferring me to Research Triangle."

He cocked an eyebrow. "Could have been much worse, you know. Have you ever been to Jackson, Mississippi?"

I had, and I liked the place, but I was bummed and didn't feel like engaging in a long conversation with this strange dude. He made me nervous. I pointed to the ugly doll on the shelf and said, "That yours?"

"Love Me Lucille," he said. "A huge flop and one that, I'm proud to say, was my initiative."

"You engineered ... dolls?"

He reached over and squeezed the doll's hand, and it came to life, its scary-realistic eyes opening and then actually squinting with the animation of a human being. Its cupid's bow mouth opened and turned down into a frightening scowl.

"You've never seen a doll do that."

"And I don't think I ever want to again," I said.

Mordden allowed a glint of a smile. "Lucille has a full range of human facial expressions. She's fully robotic, and actually quite impressive. She whines, she gets fussy and annoying, just like a real baby. She requires burping. She gurgles, coos, even tinkles in her diaper. She exhibits alarming signs of colic. She does everything but get diaper rash. She has speech-localization, which means she looks at whoever's talking to her. You teach her to speak."

"I didn't know you did dolls."

"Hey, I can do anything I want here. I'm a Trion Distinguished Engineer. I invented it for my little niece, who refused to play with it. She thought it was creepy."

"It is kind of homely," I said.

"The sculpt was bad." He turned to the doll and spoke slowly. "Lucille? Say hello to our CEO."

Lucille turned her head slowly to Mordden. I could hear a faint mechanical whir. She blinked, scowled again, and began speaking in the deep voice of James Earl Jones, her lips forming the words: "Eat my shorts, Goddard."

"Jesus," I blurted out.

Lucille turned slowly to me, blinked again, and smiled sweetly.

"The technological guts inside this butt-ugly troll were way ahead of its time," Mordden said. "I developed a full multithreaded operating system that runs on an eight-bit processor. State-of-the-art artificial intelligence on some really tightly compiled code. The architecture's quite clever. Three separate ASICs in her fat tummy, which I designed."




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    Robin Hood (67 of 79)

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    67
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    Robin Hood
    by J. Walker Mcspadden
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    Chapter XX: How Will Stutely Was Rescued (Cont'd)

    "Perform your duty, Sir Priest," quoth he, "and be quick about it!" Then turning to his soldiers. "Watch this palmer narrowly," he commanded. "Belike he is in league with those rascally outlaws."

    But the palmer paid no heed to his last words. He began to tell his beads quickly, and to speak in a low voice to the condemned man. But he did not touch his bonds.

    Then came another stir in the crowd, and one came pushing through the press of people and soldiery to come near to the scaffold.

    "I pray you, Will, before you die, take leave of all your friends!" cried out the well-known voice of Much, the miller's son.

    At the word the palmer stepped back suddenly and looked to one side. The Sheriff also knew the speaker.

    "Seize him!" he shouted. "'Tis another of the crew. He is the villain cook who once did rob me of my silver plate. We'll make a double hanging of this!"

    "Not so fast, good master Sheriff," retorted Much. "First catch your man and then hang him. But meanwhile I would like to borrow my friend of you awhile."

    And with one stroke of his keen hunting-knife he cut the bonds which fastened the prisoner's arms, and Stutely leaped lightly from the cart.

    "Treason!" screamed the Sheriff, getting black with rage. "Catch the varlets!"

    So saying he spurred his horse fiercely forward, and rising in his stirrups brought down his sword with might and main at Much's head. But his former cook dodged nimbly underneath the horse and came up on the other side, while the weapon whistled harmlessly in the air.

    "Nay, Sir Sheriff!" he cried, "I must e'en borrow your sword for the friend I have borrowed."

    Thereupon he snatched the weapon deftly from the Sheriff's hand.

    "Here, Stutely!" said he, "the Sheriff has lent you his own sword. Back to back with me, man, and we'll teach these knaves a trick or two!"

    Meanwhile the soldiers had recovered from their momentary surprise and had flung themselves into the fray. A clear bugle-note had also sounded the same which the soldiers had learned to dread. 'Twas the rallying note of the green wood men.

    Cloth yard shafts began to hurtle through the air, and Robin and his men cast aside their cloaks and sprang forward crying:

    "Lockesley! Lockesley! a rescue! a rescue!"

    On the instant, a terrible scene of hand to hand fighting followed. The Sheriff's men, though once more taken by surprise, were determined to sell this rescue dearly. They packed in closely and stubbornly about the condemned man and Much and the palmer, and it was only by desperate rushes that the foresters made an opening in the square. Ugly cuts and bruises were exchanged freely; and lucky was the man who escaped with only these. Many of the onlookers, who had long hated the Sheriff and felt sympathy for Robin's men, also plunged into the conflict—although they could not well keep out of it, in sooth!—and aided the rescuers no little.




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    Paranoia (066 of 170)

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    066
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    34

    The official word came down by e-mail before lunch: Goddard had ordered a stay of execution for Maestro. The Maestro team was ordered to crash a proposal for minor retooling and repackaging to meet the military's requirements. Meanwhile, Trion's Government Affairs staff would start negotiating a contract with the Pentagon's Defense Information Systems Agency Department of Acquisition and Logistics.

    Translation: slam dunk. Not only had the old product been taken off life support, but it had gotten a heart transplant and a massive blood transfusion.

    And the shit had hit the fan.

    I was in the men's room, standing in front of the urinal and unzipping my fly, when Chad came sauntering in. Chad, I'd noticed, seemed to have a sixth sense that I was pee-shy. He was always following me into the men's room to talk work or sports and effectively shut off my spigot. This time he came right up to the next urinal, his face all lit up like he was thrilled to see me. I could hear him unzip. My bladder clamped down. I went back to staring at the tile grout above the urinal.

    "Hey," he said. "Nice job, big guy. That's the way to 'manage up'!" He shook his head slowly, made a sort of spitting sound. His urine splashed noisily against the little lozenge at the bottom of the urinal. "Christ." He oozed sarcasm. He'd crossed some invisible line—he wasn't even pretending anymore.

    I thought, Could you please go now so I can relieve myself? "I saved the product," I pointed out.

    "Yeah, and you burned Nora in the process. Was it worth it, just so you could score some points with the CEO, get yourself a little face time? That's not how it works around here, bud. You just made a huge fucking mistake." He shook dry, zipped up, and walked out of the rest room without washing his hands.

    A voice mail from Nora was waiting for me when I returned to my cubicle.

    ---

    "Nora," I said as I entered her office.

    "Adam," she said softly. "Sit down, please." She was smiling, a sad, gentle smile. This was ominous.

    "Nora, can I say—"

    "Adam, as you know, one of the things we pride ourselves on at Trion is always striving to fit the employee to the job—to make sure our most high-potential people are given responsibilities that best suit them." She smiled again, and her eyes glittered. "That's why I've just put through an employee transfer request form and asked Tom to expedite it."

    "Transfer?"

    "We're all awfully impressed with your talents, your resourcefulness, the depth of your knowledge. This morning's meeting illustrated that just so well. We feel that someone of your caliber could do a world of good at our RTP facility. The supply-chain management unit down there could really use a strong team player like you."

    "RTP?"

    "Our Research Triangle Park satellite office. In Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina."

    "North Carolina?" Was I hearing her right? "You're talking about transferring me down to North Carolina?"

    "Adam, you make it sound like it's Siberia. Have you ever been to Raleigh-Durham? It's really such a lovely area."

    "I—but I can't move, I've got responsibilities here, I've got—"

    "Employee Relocation will coordinate the whole thing for you. They cover all your moving expenses—everything within reason, of course. I've already started the ball rolling with HR. Any move can be a little disruptive, obviously, but they make it surprisingly painless." Her smile broadened. "You're going to love it there, and they're going to love you!"

    "Nora," I said, "Goddard asked me for my honest thoughts, and I'm a big fan of everything you've done with the Maestro line, I wasn't going to deny it. The last thing I intended to do was to piss you off."

    "Piss me off?" she said. "Adam, on the contrary—I was grateful for your input. I only wish you'd shared your thoughts with me before the meeting. But that's water under the bridge. We're on to bigger and better things. And so are you!"

    ---




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    Robin Hood (66 of 79)

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    66
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    Robin Hood
    by J. Walker Mcspadden
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    Chapter XX: How Will Stutely Was Rescued (Cont'd)

    'Twas the work of but a few moments more to open the gates, let down the bridge, and admit the rest of the band; and they lot inside the town so quietly that none knew of their coming. Fortune also favored them in the fact that just at this moment the prison doors had been opened for the march of the condemned man, and every soldier and idle lout in the market-lace had trooped thither to see him pass along.

    Presently out came Will Stutely with firm step but dejected air. He looked eagerly to the right hand and to the left, but saw none of the band. And though more than one curious face betrayed friendship in it, he knew there could be no aid from such source.

    Will's hands were tied behind his back. He marched between rows of soldiery, and the Sheriff and the Bishop brought up the rear on horses, looking mightily puffed up and important over the whole proceeding. He would show these sturdy rebels—would the Sheriff—whose word was law! He knew that the gates were tightly fastened; and further he believed that the outlaws would hardly venture again within the walls, even if the gates were open. And as he looked around at the fivescore archers and pikemen who lined the way to the gallows, he smiled with grim satisfaction.

    Seeing that no help was nigh, the prisoner paused at the foot of the scaffold and spoke in a firm tone to the Sheriff.

    "My lord Sheriff," quoth he, "since I must needs die, grant me one boon; for my noble master ne'er yet had a man that was hanged on a tree:

    Give me a sword all in my hand,
    And let me be unbound,
    And with thee and thy men will I fight
    Till I lie dead on the ground."

    But the Sheriff would by no means listen to his request; but swore that he should be hanged a shameful death, and not die by the sword valiantly.

    "O no, no, no," the Sheriff said,
    "Thou shalt on the gallows die,
    Aye, and so shall they master too,
    If ever it in me lie."

    "O dastard coward!" Stutely cried,
    "Faint-hearted peasant slave!
    If ever my master do thee meet,
    Thou shalt thy payment have!"

    "My noble master thee doth scorn,
    And all thy cowardly crew,
    Such silly imps unable are
    Bold Robin to subdue."

    This brave speech was not calculated to soothe the Sheriff. "To the gallows with him!" he roared, giving a sign to the hangman; and Stutely was pushed into the rude cart which was to bear him under the gallows until his neck was leashed. Then the cart would be drawn roughly away and the unhappy man would swing out over the tail of it into another world.

    But at this moment came a slight interruption. A boyish-looking palmer stepped forth, and said:

    "Your Excellency, let me at least shrive this poor wretch's soul ere it be hurled into eternity."

    "No!" shouted the Sheriff, "let him die a dog's death!"

    "Then his damnation will rest upon you," said the monk firmly. "You, my lord Bishop, cannot stand by and see this wrong done."

    The Bishop hesitated. Like the Sheriff, he wanted no delay; but the people were beginning to mutter among themselves and move about uneasily. He said a few words to the Sheriff, and the latter nodded to the monk ungraciously.




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    Paranoia (065 of 170)

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    065
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    170
    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    Part Three: 33 (Cont'd)

    Goddard's brows sunk all the way down. "Secure data? Why the hell would that attract consumers?"

    Chad cleared his throat and said, "Come on, Adam, look at the market research. Secure data's like what? Number seventy-five on the list of features consumers are looking for." He smirked. "Unless you think the average consumer is Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery."

    There was some snickering from the far reaches of the table.

    I smiled good-naturedly. "No, Chad, you're right—the average consumer has no interest in secure data. But I'm not talking about the average consumer. I'm talking about the military."

    "The military." Goddard cocked one eyebrow.

    "Adam—" Nora interrupted in a flat, warning sort of voice.

    Goddard fluttered a hand toward Nora. "No, I want to hear this. The military, you say?"

    I took a deep breath, tried not to look as panicked as I felt. "Look, the army, the air force, the Canadians, the British—the whole defense establishment in the U.S., the U.K., and Canada—recently overhauled their global communications system, right?" I pulled out some clippings from Defense News, Federal Computer Week—magazines I always happen to have hanging around the apartment, of course—and held them up. I could feel my hand shaking a little and hoped no one else noticed. Wyatt had prepared me for this, and I hoped I had the details right. "It's called the Defense Message System, the DMS—the secure messaging system for millions of defense personnel around the world. It's all done via desktop PCs, and the Pentagon is desperate to go wireless. Imagine what a difference that could make—secure wireless remote access to classified data and communications, with authentication of senders and receivers, end-to-end secure encryption, data protection, message integrity. Nobody owns this market!"

    Goddard tilted his head, listening intently.

    "And Maestro's the perfect product for this space. It's small, sturdy—practically indestructible—and totally reliable. This way, we turn a negative into a positive: the fact that Maestro is dated, legacy technology, is a plus for the military, since it's totally compatible with their five-year-old wireless transfer protocols. All we need to add is secure data. The cost is minimal, and the potential market is huge—I mean, huge!"

    Goddard was staring at me, though I couldn't tell if he was impressed or he thought I'd lost my mind.

    I went on: "So instead of trying to tart up this old, frankly inferior product, we remarket it. Throw on a hardened plastic shell, pop in secure encryption, and we're golden. We'll own this niche market, if we move fast. Forget about writing off fifty mil—now we're talking about hundreds of millions in added revenue per year."

    "Jesus," Camilletti said from his end of the table. He was scrawling notes on a pad.

    Goddard started nodding, slowly at first, then more vigorously. "Most intriguing," he said. He turned toward Nora. "What's his name again—Elijah?"

    "Adam," Nora said crisply.

    "Thank you, Adam," he said. "That's not bad at all."

    Don't thank me, I thought; thank Nick Wyatt.

    And then I caught Nora looking at me with an expression of pure and undisguised hatred.




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    Robin Hood (65 of 79)

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    65
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    Robin Hood
    by J. Walker Mcspadden
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    Chapter XX: How Will Stutely Was Rescued

    Forth of the greenwood are they gone,
    Yea, all courageously,
    Resolving to bring Stutely home,
    Or every man to die.

    The next day dawned bright and sunny. The whole face of nature seemed gay as if in despite of the tragedy which was soon to take place in the walls of Nottingham town. The gates were not opened upon this day, for the Sheriff was determined to carry through the hanging of Will Stutely undisturbed. No man, therefore, was to be allowed entrance from without, all that morning and until after the fatal hour of noon, when Will's soul was to be launched into eternity.

    Early in the day Robin had drawn his men to a point, as near as he dared, in the wood where he could watch the road leading to the East gate. He himself was clad in a bright scarlet dress, while his men, a goodly array, wore their suits of sober Lincoln green. They were armed with broadswords, and 'each man carried his bow and a full quiver of new arrows, straightened and sharpened cunningly by Middle, the tinker. Over their greenwood dress, each man had thrown a rough mantle, making him look not unlike a friar.

    "I hold it good, comrades," then said Robin Hood, "to tarry here in hiding for a season while we sent some one forth to obtain tidings. For, in sooth, 'twill work no good to march upon the gates if they be closed."

    "Look, master," quoth one of the widow's sons. "There comes a palmer along the road from the town. Belike he can tell us how the land ties, and if Stutely be really in jeopardy. Shall I go out and engage him in speech?"

    "Go," answered Robin.

    So Stout Will went out from the band while the others hid themselves and waited. When he had come close to the palmer, who seemed a slight, youngish man, he doffed his hat full courteously and said,

    "I crave your pardon, holy man, but can you tell me tidings of Nottingham town? Do they intend to put an outlaw to death this day?"

    "Yea," answered the palmer sadly. "'Tis true enough, sorry be the day. I have passed the very spot where the gallows-tree is going up. 'Tis out upon the roadway near the Sheriff's castle. One, Will Stutely, is to be hung thereon at noon, and I could not bear the sight, so came away."

    The palmer spoke in a muffled voice; and as his hood was pulled well over his head, Stout Will could not discern what manner of man he was. Over his shoulder he carried a long staff, with the fashion of a little cross at one end; and he had sandaled feet like any monk. Stout Will notice idly that the feet were very small and white, but gave no second thought to the matter.

    "Who will shrive the poor wretch, if you have come away from him?" he asked reproachfully.

    The question seemed to put a new idea into the palmer's head. He turned so quickly that he almost dropped his hood.

    "Do you think that I should undertake this holy office?"

    "By Saint Peter and the Blessed Virgin, I do indeed! Else, who will do it? The Bishop and all his whining clerks may be there, but not one would say a prayer for his soul."

    "But I am only a poor palmer," the other began hesitatingly.

    "Nathless, your prayers are as good as any and better than some," replied Will.

    "Right gladly would I go," then said the palmer; "but I fear me I cannot get into the city. You may know that the gates are fast locked, for this morning, to all who would come in, although they let any pass out who will."

    "Come with me," said Stout Will, "and my master will see that you pass through the gates."

    So the palmer pulled his cloak still closer about him and was brought before Robin Hood, to whom he told all he knew of the situation. He ended with,

    "If I may make so bold, I would not try to enter the city from this gate, as 'tis closely guarded since yesterday. But on the far side, no attack is looked for."

    "My thanks, gentle palmer," quoth Robin, "your suggestion is good, and we will deploy to the gate upon the far side."

    So the men marched silently but quickly until they were near to the western gate. Then Arthur-a-Bland asked leave to go ahead as a scout, and quietly made his way to a point under the tower by the gate. The moat was dry on this side, as these were times of peace, and Arthur was further favored by a stout ivy vine which grew out from an upper window.

    Swinging himself up boldly by means of this friendly vine, he crept through the window and in a moment more had sprung upon the warder from behind and gripped him hard about the throat. The warder had no chance to utter the slightest sound, and soon lay bound and gagged upon the floor; while Arthur-a-Bland slipped himself into his uniform and got hold of his keys.




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    Robin Hood (64 of 79)

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    Robin Hood
    by J. Walker Mcspadden
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    Chapter XIX: How the Sheriff Held Another Shooting Match (Cont'd)

    The Sheriff thought he discovered, in the winner of the golden arrow, the person of Robin Hood without peradventure. So he sent word privately for his men-at-arms to close round the group. But Robin's men also got wind of the plan.

    To keep up appearances, the Sheriff summoned the crowd to form in a circle; and after as much delay as possible the arrow was presented. The delay gave time enough for the soldiers to close in. As Robin received his prize, bowed awkwardly, and turned away, the Sheriff, letting his zeal get the better of his discretion, grasped him about the neck and called upon his men to arrest the traitor.

    But the moment the Sheriff touched Robin, he received such a buffet on the side of his head that he let go instantly and fell back several paces. Turning to see who had struck him, he recognized Little John.

    "Ah, rascal Greenleaf, I have you now!" he exclaimed springing at him. Just then, however, he met a new check.

    "This is from another of your devoted servants!" said a voice which he knew to be that of Much the miller's son; and "Thwack!" went his open palm upon the Sheriff's cheek sending that worthy rolling over and over upon the ground.

    By this time the conflict had become general, but the Sheriff's men suffered the disadvantage of being hampered by the crowd of innocent on-lookers, whom they could not tell from the outlaws and so dared not attack; while the other outlaws in the rear fell upon them and put them in confusion.

    For a moment a fierce rain of blows ensued; then the clear bugle-note from Robin ordered a retreat. The two warders at the nearest gate tried to close it, but were shot dead in their tracks. David of Doncaster threw a third soldier into the moat; and out through the gate went the foresters in good order, keeping a respectful distance between themselves and the advancing soldiery, by means of their well-directed shafts.

    But the fight was not to go easily this day, for the soldiery, smarting from their recent discomfiture at the widow's cottage, and knowing that the eyes of the whole shire were upon them, fought well, and pressed closely after the retreating outlaws. More than one ugly wound was given and received. No less than five of the Sheriff's men were killed outright, and a dozen others injured; while four of Robin's men were bleeding from severe flesh cuts.

    Then Little John, who had fought by the side of his chief, suddenly fell forward with a slight moan. An arrow had pierced his knee. Robin seized the big fellow with almost superhuman strength.

    Up he took him on his back,
    And bare him well a mile;
    Many a time he laid him down,
    And shot another while.

    Meanwhile Little John grew weaker and closed his eyes; at last he sank to the ground, and feebly motioned Robin to let him lie. "Master Robin," said he, "have I not served you well, ever since we met upon the bridge?"

    "Truer servant never man had," answered Robin.

    "Then if ever you loved me, and for the sake of that service, draw your bright brown sword and strike off my head; never let me fall alive into the hand of the Sheriff of Nottingham."

    "Not for all the gold in England would I do either of the things you suggest."

    "God forbid!" cried Arthur-a-Bland, hurrying to the rescue. And packing his wounded kinsman upon his own broad shoulders, he soon brought him within the shelter of the forest.

    Once there, the Sheriff's men did not follow; and Robin caused litters of boughs to be made for Little John and the other four wounded men. Quickly were they carried through the wood until the hermitage of Friar Tuck was reached, where their wounds were dressed. Little John's hurt was pronounced to be the most serious of any, but he was assured that in two or three weeks' time he could get about again; whereat the active giant groaned mightily.

    That evening consternation came upon the hearts of the band. A careful roll-call was taken to see it all the yeomen had escaped, when it was found that Will Stutely was missing, and Maid Marian also was nowhere to be found. Robin was seized with dread. He knew that Marian had gone to the Fair, but felt that she would hardly come to grief. Her absence, however, portended some danger, and he feared that it was connected with Will Stutely. The Sheriff would hang him speedily and without mercy, if he were captured.

    The rest of the band shared their leader's uneasiness, though they said no word. They knew that if Will were captured, the battle must be fought over again the next day, and Will must be saved at any cost. But no man flinched from the prospect.

    That evening, while the Sheriff and his wife and daughter sat at meat in the Mansion House, the Sheriff boasted of how he would make an example of the captured outlaw; for Stutely had indeed fallen into his hands.

    "He shall be strung high," he said, in a loud voice; "and none shall dare lift a finger. I now have Robin Hood's men on the run, and we shall soon see who is master in this shire. I am only sorry that we let them have the golden arrow."

    As he spoke a missive sped through a window and fell clattering upon his plate, causing him to spring back in alarm.

    It was the golden arrow, and on its feathered shaft was sewed a little note which read:

    "This from one who will take no gifts from liars; and who henceforth will show no mercy. Look well to yourself. R.H."




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    Paranoia (064 of 170)

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    064
    —of —
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    Paranoia
    by Joseph Finder
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    Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder.
    All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.


    Part Three: 33 (Cont'd)

    Goddard turned suddenly to look at her, his great white eyebrows aloft. We all stared at her, shocked. I couldn't believe I was hearing this. She was burning her entire team.

    "Jock," she went on, "if there's one thing you've taught me, it's that sometimes a true leader has to sacrifice the thing he loves most. It kills me to say it. But I simply can't ignore the facts. Maestro was great for its time. But its time has come—and gone. It's Goddard's Rule—if your product doesn't have the potential to be number one or number two in the market, you get out."

    Goddard was silent for a few moments. He looked surprised, impressed, and after a few seconds he nodded with a shrewd I-like-what-I-see smile. "Are we—is everyone in agreement on this?" he drawled.

    Gradually people started nodding their heads, jumping on the moving train as it pulled out of the station. Chad was nodding, biting his lip the way Bill Clinton used to; Mordden was nodding vigorously, like he was finally able to express his true opinion. The other engineers grunted, "Yes" and "I agree."

    "I must say, I'm surprised to hear this," Goddard said. "This is certainly not what I expected to hear this morning. I was expecting the Battle of Gettysburg. I'm impressed."

    "What's good for any of us as individuals in the short term," Nora added, "isn't necessarily what's best for Trion."

    I couldn't believe the way Nora was leading this immolation, but I had to admire her cunning, her Machiavellian skill.

    "Well," Goddard said, "before we pull the trigger, hang on for a minute. You—I didn't see you nodding."

    He seemed to be looking directly at me.

    I glanced around, then back at him. He was definitely looking at me.

    "You," he said. "Young man, I didn't see you nodding your head with the rest."

    "He's new," Nora put in hastily. "Just started."

    "What's your name, young man?"

    "Adam," I said. "Adam Cassidy." My heart started hammering. Oh, shit. It was like being called on in school. I felt like a second-grader.

    "You got some kind of problem with the decision we're making here, uh, Adam?" said Goddard.

    "Huh? No."

    "So you're in agreement on pulling the plug."

    I shrugged.

    "You are, you're not—what?"

    "I certainly see where Nora's coming from," I said.

    "And if you were sitting where I'm sitting?" Goddard prompted.

    I took a deep breath. "If I were sitting where you're sitting, I wouldn't pull the plug."

    "No?"

    "And I wouldn't add those twelve new features, either."

    "You wouldn't?"

    "No. Just one."

    "And what might that be?"

    I caught a quick glimpse of Nora's face, and it was beet red. She was staring at me as if an alien were bursting out of my chest. I turned back toward Goddard. "A secure-data protocol."




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    Robin Hood (63 of 79)

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    Robin Hood
    by J. Walker Mcspadden
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    Chapter XIX: How the Sheriff Held Another Shooting Match

    And forth went they from the greenwood, with hearts all firm and stout, resolved to meet the Sheriff's men and have a merry bout. Along the highway they fell in with many other bold fellows from the countryside, going with their ruddy-cheeked lasses toward the wide-open gates of Nottingham.

    So in through the gates trooped the whole gay company, Robin's men behaving as awkwardly and laughing and talking as noisily as the rest; while the Sheriff's scowling men-at-arms stood round about and sought to find one who looked like a forester, but without avail.

    The herald now set forth the terms of the contest, as on former occasions, and the shooting presently began. Robin had chosen five of his men to shoot with him, and the rest were to mingle with the crowd and also watch the gates. These five were Little John, Will Scarlet, Will Stutely, Much, and Allan-a-Dale'.

    The other competitors made a brave showing on the first round, especially Gilbert of the White Hand, who was present and never shot better. The contest later narrowed down between Gilbert and Robin. But at the first lead, when the butts were struck so truly by various well known archers, the Sheriff was in doubt whether to feel glad or sorry. He was glad to see such skill, but sorry that the outlaws were not in it.

    Some said, "If Robin Hood were here,
    And all his men to boot,
    Sure none of them could pass these men,
    So bravely do they shoot."

    "Aye," quoth the Sheriff, and scratched his head,

    "I thought he would be here;
    I thought he would, but tho' he's bold,
    He durst not now appear."

    This word was privately brought to Robin by David of Doncaster, and the saying vexed him sorely. But he bit his lip in silence.

    "Ere long," he thought to himself, "we shall see whether Robin Hood be here or not!"

    Meantime the shooting had been going forward, and Robin's men had done so well that the air was filled with shouts.

    One cried, "Blue jacket!" another cried, "Brown!"
    And a third cried, "Brave Yellow!"
    But the fourth man said, "Yon man in red
    In this place has no fellow."

    For that was Robin Hood himself,
    For he was clothed in red,
    At every shot the prize he got,
    For he was both sure and dead.

    Thus went the second round of the shooting, and thus the third and last, till even Gilbert of the White Hand was fairly beaten. During all this shooting, Robin exchanged no word with his men, each treating the other as a perfect stranger. Nathless, such great shooting could not pass without revealing the archers.




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