Category Archives: Pluribus

Pluribus Copyright 2006 DJ Cline

Pluribus 28

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September 30, 2031, 9:00 PM.

After the show, their hostess Suzy Mankiller came up with two liter-sized plastic buckets. “Here are your complimentary tokens.”

It was full of buffalo nickels.

Don was astounded. “Do you know how much these are worth?”

Suzy shrugged “About a nickel? They are for the old fashioned slot machines in front. Old people like the feel of real coins.”

“They are real?”

“No silly, they are tokens, replicas. They have little chips inside them called RFIDs so we can keep track of them.”

“Is this a common practice in casinos?”

“I guess so. Tommy Raven came up with it a long time ago.”

“I need to find a VR conference center in this casino right now. Can you show me?”

Don broke in on the conversation Tap and Deputy Deer were having about the show. “I hate to break up your critique gentlemen, but I think I know what these coins are all about.”

Deputy Deer looked down at the bucket. “They are tokens.”

Don held one up to the light. “They have chips in them. They are protected by a metal casing. They do not attract attention. They circulate widely. Tommy Raven told Jeff Redman that the answers are between the Indian and the Buffalo.” He turned the coin on its side. “The answer to Pluribus is in here.”

Tap was not paying attention. He was looking up into the rafters at something. He shoved Don to one side as Deputy Deer fell over with bullet hole in his head. The lights went out and people started screaming.

It looked like Anita Gromex was still in town.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 27

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September 30, 2031, 8:00 PM.

“And now Ladies and Gentlemen, the Story of the Stolen Circle!”

Don and Tap sat in a theater in the round at the Raven casino. Deputy Deer sat next to them in what were supposed to be the best seats in the house. Deer had been a gracious host after the jurisdiction issues had been worked out. Loman was under heavy guard at the hospital. An all points bulletin was out for Anita Gromex. It turned out she had a string of restraining orders across seven states on top of several murder investigations.

The lights dimmed. Chanting and drums began quietly. An old man in a fur robe stepped into the spotlight center stage. “There are many circles in the world. There is the circle of water that falls from the sky to the ocean and back again. There is the circle of fire and forest. There is the circle of the sun and moon. The Raven has shown us the circle of all living things. We are born and die and our spirits change as we move around the circle.

One day the invaders, the people with only one way came. They said you only have one name and one spirit. You cannot move around the circle. You must stay put. They took our land and told us to pray only to their god. Their soldiers came and they took our circles away.”

The drums pounded to a stop. The old man stepped out, replaced by a young woman in deerskin. Mournful flute music began.

“Their medicine men captured our medicine men and said they were sick. No one can be another spirit. But the circle does not stop. One of their medicine men figured out how to make anyone see the circle of spirits. He gathered the children of the tribe and kept them from dreaming so he could fill them with his dreams. Then he did this to others and built a tribe of his own. We called it the stolen circle. They used it to keep people in and out. As the Raven knows, you cannot be inside or outside a circle. You are part of the circle.”

The woman stepped out of the light, replaced by a boy with a raven headdress. War drums started up.

“One of the Raven children held all the dreams and learned how to free the circle of spirits. They tried to stop him, but the circle would not work for them anymore. Like the invaders, they told him he could not practice the old ways. He could not laugh. He could not find food or shelter. He could not move. They took everything but the sky from him. Then the Raven laughed and the other circles turned on them. The circle of the land shook their villages. The circle of fire burned their villages. The circle of water came and flooded their land. Then our cousins from the west came to visit. Now the circle of spirits spins for us again. It spins for everyone.”

The stage lit up with a laser show and dancers moving in interlacing circles to thunderous beats and chanting.

Deputy Dan leaned over and shouted. “Tommy thought you would enjoy it.”

Don shouted back. “If you have to sit through a deposition, it helps if it ends with a big musical number.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 26

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September 30, 2031, 12:15 PM?

Deputy Daniel Deer of the Raven Reservation Police came through the front door.

A tall man with thin red hair in ponytail and a van dyke beard, he surprised both Don and Tap.

Tapas tried to ask politely. “I could not help but notice, but you do not look like an Indian.”

Deer was slightly annoyed. “Well, you do. Sorry Mr. Kalki, but most tribal societies traded members and accepted outsiders. When Europeans showed up it was just expanding a healthy gene pool. Unfortunately some people think that blood defines culture. Do you?”

Tap bowed. “Forgive me. As you see Mr. Loman is wide awake, despite my efforts.”

Deer crouched down in front of Loman on the sofa. “Shelley, is Sherman all right?”

Loman sneered. “The bastards shot him!”

Deer turned to Tap. “You could have emptied your gun into him and had no effect. Hell, you could have used a real gun and only slowed him down. It is a lucky thing we intervened. Our trackers probably will not find the shooter if she is like Mr. Loman here.”

At that point, the paramedics came in and took Loman to the ambulance in a stretcher.

Don looked at his watch it said 12:20 PM. The clock on the microwave oven said 12:25 PM. “Hey Tap, what time is it?”

Tap looked at his Rolex. “It is 12:15 PM.”He noticed the clock on the living room wall said 12:05 PM. “Deputy Deer, what time is it?”

Deer laughed. “I see you finally noticed. If you had killed him, you would have been here all day. As you will see tonight, it is not a good idea to mess with people like him. Let us go. It is always time for lunch.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 25

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September 30, 2031, Noon.

The phone rang again. Don answered it. “Hello?”

“Hello, this is Deputy Daniel Deer of the Raven Police Department. May I speak to Sherman Loman please?”

Don looked at Tap and then at Loman. “Mr Loman is indisposed, may I take a message?”

Deputy Deer was unfailingly polite. “Whom am I speaking with?”

“This is Don Jin of Wakima, I am here with Tapas Kalki of Applied Karma. We are here to meet with Mr. Loman.”

“We have reports of shots being fired. Is everything all right?”

Loman shouted in woman’s voice. “The bastards shot Sherm!”

Deer was concerned. “Is Mr. Loman all right? We will send an ambulance.”

Tapas picked up the extension. “This is Mr. Kalki. I shot Mr. Loman with a tranquilizer dart. Mr. Loman seems a little confused, but conscious. I am authorized by my company’s contract with the UN Free Trade Zone Task force to take Mr. Loman into custody.”

Deer was firm. “You are on sovereign tribal territory. We will not allow unauthorized extradition to the FTZ. There will be no extreme rendition.”

Don stepped in. “Gentlemen we will argue this out later. God fights on the side of the most expensive lawyer. Right now there is a sniper with a 22 pistol outside taking shots at us. We can stay here a while but there is only so much American beer and beef jerky I can eat. If you do not hurry we will not fit through the door. Can you assist?”

“Of course, our trackers are on it. We will have to make sure Mr. Loman is examined by a doctor. He has several medical conditions needing treatment. We will also need to take you into custody for our own investigation.”

Tap had to ask. “Will you torture us like Americans do?”

“Oh no Mr. Kalki. We have our own methods. We are going to take you to dinner and make you watch our casino floor show.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 24

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September 30, 2031, 11:45 AM.

Don turned to Tap. “Should he be awake this soon?”
Tap had his gun pointed at Loman. “No. Of course, body size might reduce the effectiveness of the tranquilizer.”

“Screw you!” Loman said in a sharp shrill woman’s voice. “You shot Sherm, not me!”

Don asked. “Who is shooting at us?”

“It is Anita Gromex. We were lovers at Netrosonics until I didn’t need her anymore. She stalks people. She had daddy problems too.”

Tap held his gun steady. “So why doesn’t she shoot daddy instead of us?”

Loman laughed a wicked laugh. “Because you are here and he is not! I’ve been waiting for her to show up. She still works for Antzen, and he needs money.”

The phone in the kitchen rang. Don and Tap glanced at each other. Tap shouted. “Answer it Don, I’m busy!” The phone rang again. “Just because I am Indian does not mean I am the one who answers the phone.”

The phone rang again. By the time Don picked up the phone in the kitchen, Loman picked up an extension on the coffee table. In a deep voice he said. “This is Dr. Andrew Loman, how may I help you? No, my daughter is not in right now. I will tell her you called.” He hung up.

Don walked back into the living room and tilted his head. “So you are Dr. Andrew Loman, captain US Army?”

“Yes. How may I help you?”

Don waited for a second. “Tell me about Pluribus.”

“That is classified. You will need clearance.”

Don reached into his pocket and put the coin Jeff Redman had given him in San Jose on the coffee table. “This is my clearance.”

Loman smiled. “Okay. It is your nickel.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 22

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Pluribus 22
By DJ Cline

September 30, 2031, 11:15 AM.

“What can you tell us about Pluribus?”Don asked.

Sherman Loman shifted uneasily and lit another cigarette. “I don’t want to talk about it. I signed papers.”

Don tried to reach him. “Yes. You signed papers from a company that screwed you and doesn’t exist anymore. I think you can talk now.” Don pulled out his phone, typed out a large figure and leaned over to show it to Sherman. “I am prepared to send this to your phone, right here and now if you help us.”

Sherman’s eyes bulged. “Is that dollars or yuan?”

Don smiled. “Yuan of course. You could live in California again.”

Sherman pulled out his phone. Don hit his cash button. “Okay, tell me about Pluribus.”

Sherman a lit a third cigarette. “The executives were getting bonuses but the company was losing money. To get a stock bump they needed to fire people. I knew if I were going to stay, somebody else would have to go. It was like one of those old reality shows. I formed alliances and then betrayed people to stay in the game. I got really good at it. I manipulated Lacy Chin to send Tommy Raven to Building 3 instead of me. Hey, I had bills to pay.”

Don saw Tap start to reach for his dart gun. Tap spread his hands. “Okay Don, I won’t do it, but you know how I get when people say that. Please continue Mr. Sherman.”

“Tommy took one for the team. Always going on about a tribe being a big family. That is not a normal family, not like mine.”

Tap interjected. “And yours is? You exposed your daughter to your father!” Don glared at Tap. Tap apologized with a look.

“I get to say what’s normal, pal. Anyway, the bastard met the deadline and pulled it off. He was not supposed to succeed. I had to come up with a whisper campaign to get rid of him. Tommy was always making jokes, said it was his religion. Ha! That’s a laugh. Who can walk around making fun of everything all the time? Religion is not about being happy. My old man said all religion is just a way to keep people in line. He showed me how to do it. I can make people do whatever I want.”

Don was more than a little confused at this Byzantine view of the world. “I’m sorry what was your job?”

“In a place like Netrosonics, my job was to keep my job. Don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter what you do. As a matter of fact, it helps if you have a job that doesn’t do anything at all. You can’t spend all your time doing your job if you want to keep it. Only suckers like Tommy actually create stuff. I’m a winner.”

Don looked around at the trailer and turned to Tap. “It seems like you have stuck to the right strategy Mr. Loman. Tap, is there something you want to say?”

Tap smoothly pulled out his dart gun and shot Sherman. “I am so glad we worked out those key phrases ahead of time.”

Don tried to support the slumping Sherman. “Dr. Eagle was right. Sociopaths rose to the top. Who would sacrifice their kids to a creepy guy like Antzen for a job? My only regret is that both of us are going to have to carry him off this porch to the car. And what is it with all the ravens around here?”

Tap tried to help Don lift the man up. “Well, this is the Raven reservation. From what I have learned about their culture, I think the ravens are laughing.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 21

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Pluribus 21
By DJ Cline

September 30, 2031, 11:00 AM.

A fat man in a dirty sweatshirt and overalls stood on the trailer porch aiming a shotgun.
A raven squawked in a nearby pine tree. The fat man swung the shotgun and shot at the bird. It squawked and flew to another tree. “Damn ravens!”

Don and Tap sat in their limo. It had been a long drive from Spokane to the American Resettlement Area on the Raven Reservation in northern Idaho. The last five miles was down a red dirt road past rows and rows of house trailers.

Don carefully opened the limo bulletproof window a crack. “Excuse me. We are looking for a Shirley Loman. Does she live here?”

“After a fashion. Who are you?”

“I am Don Jin of Wakima, a company in China. I am with Tapas Kalki of Applied Karma. We have a business proposition.”

The man frowned. “A business proposition huh? Your godammed people ran me out of my house in California with your taxes. That Free Trade Zone was not so damned free. Paid me crap and turned around and sold it to one of your friends for ten times what it was worth. Told me the only way we were gonna get Social Security is if we moved to this damned reservation. You cannot push me off my land. I am not a godammed Indian.”

Tap kept his mouth shut. Now was not the time for a lecture on karma. Don tried to figure an angle that might work. “We might be able to help you get your house back. Can we speak to Shirley Loman?”

The man stuck his double chin out. “Talking to her. I got myself reassigned a few years back when I had insurance. Come on up on the porch and have a few beers.”

They sat on dirty white plastic patio chairs. Don had a beer in his lap and Tap had his on the wood deck floor, probably to get to his dart gun before Sherman could get to his/her gun.

Sherman lit up a cigarette. “So what brings you boys out here?”

Don tried say it in a neutral tone. I would like to ask you some questions about your time at Netrosonics.”

Tap thought Sherman was going to get up and shoot them. Instead the man swore. “Can you get my pension and stock options back? They cheated me. All my years of brass polishing and backstabbing to get ahead and I wind up not more than fifty miles from where I grew up. Life sucks. They took my daughter you know.”

Don was genuinely surprised. “No, I did not know. How did that happen?”

Sherman flashed the regret of a mother. “I left the Circle when I got reassigned. They kept her. She wound up in that big fire.”

A raven called out, unopposed.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 19

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September 21, 2031, 11:00 AM.

A kitten slept on the dragon’s head.

Don and Tap rode the limo up to the front gate of the Dragon Ranch north of Sacramento. Two man-sized robotic dragons flanked the entrance as silent sentries. A gray kitten had climbed on top of the dragon on the left and found a comfortable spot between the ears.

Don was blown away at the beautiful detailed rendering of a traditional Chinese dragon. He opened the window on his side. “Excuse me, we are here to see Karen Purima.”

The eyes of dragon with the kitten glowed. An intercom voice spoke. “Come on in. I am in the shed on the left.”

Karen came out of the shed wearing a purple caftan and welder’s helmet. She lifted the visor. “Dr. Eagle said you were looking for me. I kind of figured. Netrosonics is like plutonium, it never really goes away.”

Don tried to be conciliatory. “We will try to be brief. What can you tell us?”

“I worked there before Tommy. They were nuts, tried to drive me nuts and I quit. They tried to tarnish my reputation, keep me from working anywhere. Told people not to talk to me. Made it real hard to pay the bills. It was like they wanted me to kill myself. They like to isolate you and make you think you are the only one it happened to. It turns out they had a history of doing this to people. I think it had to do with insurance.”

This was Tap’s department. “Do you know about the policy on you?”

Karen shrugged. “I guess so. It is not enough to bury me.”

“That is the benefit you get. They get over a million dollars. No matter how you die.”

Karen snapped her fingers. “That explains it! The other day I got a strange anonymous message on my phone. It said DO NOT TALK in big letters. Tommy called and said I should post more dragons. That night somebody tried to get on the property but one of my dragbots flamed him. It took three dragbots to put out the grassfire near the back fence. He also said that you two would be coming and to tell you everything.”

Don had to step in. “You talked to Tommy Raven? Can we talk to him?”

Karen snorted. “Sure but he will have to call you. He is a little hard to get a hold of. When Netrosonics did its little number on him he had to leave the country to find work. They have tried to stop him for years. They think he stole all their ideas but that is a joke. Tommy can come up with ideas just like that. He wound up starting all kinds of different companies in China and India. You guys started enforcing your patent laws and he started coming up with all this cutting edge stuff. He helped me get started with this whole dragbot business. People pay good money to have a robotic sentry guard their business or store. It has enormous cultural significance and I am able to create distinct identities for each one I sell to wealthy clients. Come in and see what I have done for both of you.”

Tap and Don looked at each other and said simultaneously. “For us?”

Karen nodded. “They are paid for. He is very generous. It is like potlatch. He just gives people things. Mr. Jin, here is your dragon. Mr. Kalki, here is your tiger.”

The eyes of both robots glowed and they said in unison. “Greetings from Mr. Raven. May we bring you good fortune.”

Don turned to Tap. “No doubt about it, I have to get a bigger apartment.”

Tap laughed. “I have to GET an apartment.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 18

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September 19, 2031, 10:00 AM.

“In short, she is nuts now, but she was sane when she did those things.”

Dr. Ellen Eagle, Professor Emeritus at Denton University in Santa Cruz pulled off her glasses. “At the risk of violating patient privacy, but under the conditions you have presented to me, I will cooperate to the best of my ability. Besides, I’m eighty years old. Sue me.”

Don and Tap were sitting together on a well-worn leather couch. “What is the root cause of this diagnosis?”

I have been treating Netrosonics employees for forty years. Whatever any of them walked in with, they suffered the effects of corporate psychosis. The published research goes back to Stanley Milgram’s torture experiments over at Stanford. The best-known example is the Stockholm syndrome. You are too young to remember Patty Hearst. She was a wealthy woman who was kidnapped and programmed to rob banks. Combinations of sleep deprivation and suggestible conditioning can make people do things that may be unacceptable outside a cult. Sociopaths rise to the top of such organizations.”

Tap wanted clarification. “So the company was a cult?”

Dr. Eagle shook her head. “I would not say that. There were cult-like elements. This Savior Circle certainly was a cult inside the company. One person got hired and then hired members from that group. It starts to affect the larger corporate culture. Their belief in an apocalypse and attacking people who were different was a self-fulfilling prophecy of paranoia. Such views did not help them keep up with a changing world. You have to remember what it was like thirty years ago. Even the president was telling people ‘You are either with us or against us.’ Cult members understand that. Neither of you has asked about their screening process.”

Don leaned forward. “What screening process?”

“The company conducted tests to build personality profiles of potential employees. Years ago marketing researchers discovered that people susceptible to cults make great employees because they develop irrational attachments to groups. If Netrosonics did not have cult members when it started, it certainly attracted them. Over the years I have discovered many of Netrosonics employees belonged to all sorts of fringe groups. While people who were not susceptible might slip through, they might find it a very hostile work environment.”

Don asked. “Did Tommy Raven slip through?”

It seemed the doctor did and did not want to talk. She hesitated. “Without going into specifics, a person like Tommy could slip through. Tribal culture is a shared consciousness, an extended family of mutual support that cooperates even with strangers. Tribes are for mutual benefit, cults are not, and they might take advantage of someone like Tommy. Survivors of extreme events like genocide have to take on protective coloration. They mimic like their Raven god. They appear to go along until things go wrong and their earlier survival imperatives kick in. His cultural heritage and spiritual values embrace humor in the face of danger. Telling someone like that not to find humor in a dark situation is like telling someone else not to pray.”

Tap latched on to that. “So if you tell Tommy not to joke around, it is telling him not to practice his religion?”

Don snorted. “That is the silliest thing I have ever heard.”

The doctor laughed. “Yes! The fact you find it is funny would only confirm the divine for Tommy.”

Don tried to cut the chase. “So would Tommy kill someone for a joke?”

The doctor frowned. “Someone like Tommy? It would be a case of classic projection. No. As a mimic, he could only express the subconscious violent impulses of people around him as humor. The more people are dysfunctional around him, the more dysfunctional he would appear. He would react with humor not violence. Of course, this might drive dysfunctional people to violence, but you would have to look at them.”

Don was polite but direct. “We need a list of everyone you have treated from Netrosonics.”

She was equally firm. “I cannot allow that.”

Tap pulled out his phone. “I tell you what. Contact your patients and ask them if they will cooperate.”

She relented. “That sounds reasonable. Thank you for coming today.”

Don and Tap walked out of the building. Tap was shaking his head. Those poor bastards never had a chance. They were triggered like Pavlov’s dogs. There should have been warning labels on Netrosonics job postings that said “DANGER: Working here may be hazardous to your health. Do not work here if you are a pregnant or have children. Do not work here if you are a person of color, gay, lesbian or transgender. Do not work if you are elderly or being treated for a medical condition. Consult your doctor before working at Netrosonics.”

Don spread his arms out. “That kind of eliminates just about everybody. No one would come to work for them. I think it should have been more subtle, like in their commercials on Sunday morning talk shows ‘Netrosonics: the last company you will ever work for!'”

Tap pulled out his phone. “Who are you calling?” Don asked.

“She does not have to tell me who her patients are. I am going to track her phone calls. We will compare them to the employee records you gathered at Wakima. That way I am not breaking any rules.”

“You are incredible. I still think when this is over, you are going to wind up hooked up to that machine of yours.”

Tap shrugged. “Yeah, but it is all billable hours.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 17

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September 18, 2031, 5:00 PM.

Realtor Stacy Chin stepped out of the brush. “Mr. Redman! You are trespassing again. Please leave immediately or I will call the police.” She pulled out her phone.

Tap pulled out his phone. ” I will do you one better, Miss Chin. I am calling the Free Trade Zone Task Force.”

Stacy Chin was flabbergasted. “Mr. Redman is a squatter, this is hardly a matter for the Task Force.”

Tap raised both eyebrows. “I think it is. Genocide, mass burials, cult suicides, hostile work environments. There is so much wrong with this site you could probably see it from orbit. It is my job to recognize bad karma and I am red tagging this place. It will be sealed within the hour.”

Don just stared down at the nickel in his hand. Luisa was making calls.

At that moment an old woman wearing a gray pageboy haircut, a thin cotton dress and cheap sandals appeared from the same area as Stacy Chin. She ran up to Jeff and started shouting at him. “Get back to work! Snap out of it! Focus on your work! You are nothing but trouble! It is because of you I have to go to the doctor!”

Stacy flared. “Mother! I told you to stay in the car. Have you not caused enough trouble for one day? Come with me.” She turned to the others. “I am terribly embarrassed. My mother gets disoriented. Our family tries to take of our elderly and it was my turn to today.”

Jeff roared heartily. “Ladies and gentleman, this is the infamous Lacy Chin.” The old woman started to pound his chest with her fists. “She does not look like it, but she is the most dangerous person under five feet tall. She has got two degrees in psychology and knows how to use them. She sent many a good employee to Building 3.”

Don Chin finally looked up. “We are going to have to question your mother. She is obviously disturbed. Who is her doctor?”

Stacy was on the defensive. “You cannot do this. You cannot go pushing people around, calling them crazy and telling them what to do.”

Jeff continued to take the harmless blows. “Why not? Your mother made a career of it.”

They all fell silent as the sound of helicopters filled the evening sky.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 16

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September 18, 2031, 4:30 PM.

Tap could not believe it. “They built on an Indian burial ground? Come on!”
Jeff was thoughtful. “Well not technically. I mean they was Indians but they was massacred and did not bury themselves. That is how the Antzens got around the law. That and a little money. See, land used to be real expensive and for all their money, the Antzens are cheap bastards. Them bones got concrete poured right on top of them.”

As cynical as Tap was, he had to pursue. “Is that why the building was destroyed?”

The left corner of his mouth went up. “Some say yes, but some say it was Antzen himself.”

Tap nodded. “Well that is consistent anyway. How did it happen?”

“Antzen hired a bunch of refugees and hired me to boss them cause I spoke Vietnamese and he did not. He sold the company to Netrosonics. They did not say so, but it was pretty clear they did not like the Vietnamese. They brought in all these blond people from up north, army officer types to boss us around. They put up that Building 3 there. Put all kinds of security on it. People working in these buildings called it Siberia, seeing how it was farther way and cause they must have kept the air conditioning so cold.

Hard times came and the war started, more army officer types showed up. If the boss wanted to get rid of you they moved you to Building 3. People who went there just disappeared. Rumor was they just worked you to death. We were told not to talk to them or about them. Bosses would whisper that they were not very good, but we knew these people and knew it was not true.

To stay in good with the bosses you had to be in something they called the Savior Circle. If you were not in it, you were not saved. First they got rid of the Vietnamese, then they got rid of foreigners, then people with no kids like me and Tommy. You know, people like you.” He waved to Tap.

Tap gently encouraged Jeff. “Tell me about Tommy.”

“Tommy is a Raven Indian. You know what that means? Raven is a joker, a trickster, and a storyteller. He could meet somebody and imitate them right off. Used to make us all laugh. He could tell you exactly what some boss was going to do. He would just pretend to be the boss and figure out what the stupidest thing to do was and plan accordingly

Well the bosses called him Tonto behind his back. You know, Indian giver, stuff like that. They put him in that building, but he kept talking to other people. They gave him harder and harder things to do. They kept letting other people go and gave him their work. He would come by after work and could imitate all the people he replaced. It was like he captured their spirit. Then bosses made him work on some project that no one had ever finished. He finished and disappeared. They tried to duplicate what he did and could not. They kept adding people but it was not enough.

Strange things started happening in that building. Electrical stuff. People said it was haunted. The bosses emptied the building. I got laid off too when they closed these buildings.

The war got worse and then people started fighting back east. There was the earthquake and the fighting spread here. All those Savior Circle people showed up with their kids and boarded themselves up in Building 3. A battalion surrounded the place and asked them real nice to surrender. The soldiers never fired a shot, but the building just blew up. Saw it on the news. I figured with a second wave of people falling to invaders there must be a bunch of hungry ghosts, I better move in and keep them company.

It is funny, but I never saw Tommy until a few nights ago. He came to me and said you were coming to visit and I should give you what he gave me just before he left. He said what you are looking for is between the Indian and the buffalo.”

Jeff came over to Don and reached into his own pocket and gave him a coin.

It was a nickel, the same as the one he found in Freid’s apartment back in Shanghai.

E Pluribus Unum.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 15

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September 18, 2031, 4:15 PM.

Jeff Redman called down to them. “Meet you around back at the courtyard.”

Don, Tap and Luisa carefully stepped through the weeds and debris to the back of the buildings. In a courtyard next to the loading dock was a blackened stainless steel outdoor grill with a thin stream of gray smoke rising past the ruins.

Jeff came out through the loading dock. “You are my guests. I will treat you to dinner.” He lifted the lid off the grill and pulled out a skewer with a thin strip of meat on it. “We can share this, or can catch some more.”

Luisa looked a little green. “Catch more what?”

Jeff hooted, “Well there ain’t any fish in that creek. Trust me, this rat is better than the big ones that used to call the shots in that building. I had a dream that you folks was coming, but cannot be too sure about such things.”

Tap wanted him to clarify that. “You had a dream?”

“Oh yeah, you know a vision. My momma was Vietnamese and my daddy black Cherokee. Spirits no stranger to me. I feed the hungry ghosts here.”

Don knew what he was talking about. “My grandmother in China called them hungry ghosts too.”

Jeff flipped the meat and put it back on the grill. “Yep, these are hungry ones around here. You do not feed them and they start to wander, no telling where they might wind up. Sit yourselves down at that picnic table and I will tell you what Tommy Raven told me.”

Tap tried to steer the conversation. “Thomas Raven?”

“Yup. He was a mixed up child just like me. Half this and that but mostly Indian. Belonged to the Raven clan up north somewhere. Whites count blood, we count spirit. You know there used to be a village on this very spot? Old man Antzen got this place when he married some senorita. No offense Miss Almondo, but in those days, when you bought land you got Indians with it. I hear told that the Old Man wanted land for cattle and not Indians. So he invites them to a feast and brings a bunch of poisoned beef. They died a horrible death.”

Luisa was now green and scared. “Where are they buried?”

Jeff opened up the grill and pulled out dinner. He pointed the skewer over to the darkened concrete pad. “Over there, in Building 3.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 14

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September 18, 2031, 4:00 PM.

The Netrosonics property was a real fixer-upper.

The campus was sandwiched between a derelict railway on one side and freeway on the other. Right next-door was a Superfund toxic waste site, covered with cracking concrete that vented some strong chemical smell. A creek that ran through both properties was eroding its banks, causing the weed-choked asphalt in the parking lot to sink in slow motion.

Two of the remaining office buildings were still standing, but the sky bridge connecting them had fallen. Their broken windows reflected the afternoon sun at odd angles into the pond scum of the abandoned fountain pool at the main entrance. Slightly away from the first two structures was a black scorched concrete pad indicated where a third building had been.

Realtor Tracy Chin had a real turkey on her hands and these were the first interested buyers in the San Jose property in years. She smiled but resented all these rich speculators coming in from Asia and treating her like she was some sort of ignorant country cousin. Tracy stood in front of the buildings and turned her smile up a notch at Don Jin, Luisa Almondo and Tap Kalki.

“As you can see, it is a four acre lot with great freeway and rail access. It was originally part of the Antzen family ranch on Condor Creek in 1847. The buildings did receive some damage in the quake and I am legally required to tell you there were several deaths. If you are going to use it for your employees you have great opportunity to remodel. If you are going to outsource to contractors, it is ready right now.”

Luisa tried to stifle a giggle. She had been buying California real estate for the past five years and could not believe the sheer chutzpah of this realtor. “We are not sure if we are going to develop the property. We were thinking of it more as an investment.”

“I see.” Tracy’s phone rang. “Excuse me.” They heard some sort of whining screeching unintelligible voice bleeding through Tracy’s earpiece. They noticed she could not stop wincing at increasing intervals, before the call cut off. “I am sorry, but I have a family matter to attend to. You are free to look around and let me know your decision.” She stepped over the fallen chain link fence and took off in her car.

Tap did his best Bette Davis impression. “What a dump!”

A voice came from inside one of the dark buildings. “It may be a dump to you, but it is a home to me!”

Don called into the building “Who goes there?”

“Jefferson Redman.” An old man with speckled frizzy hair wearing a dirty army jacket came to a second floor window. “I used to work here.”

Tap looked at the other two and then up at him. “Mr. Redman, it would be an honor to take you to dinner.”

Note: Hello Hollywood!

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 13

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September 16, 2031, 11:45 AM.

Gordo Loco woke up pregnant.

He was sitting in a cubicle facing one of those old tube monitors the size of a small refrigerator. The screen saver of colored lines swirled and added to his dizziness and nausea. He tried to stand up but the pain from his back and swollen feet were killing him. It was then he noticed his delicate condition.

“Good morning, Mr. Loco. I am Don Jin, we met last night.”

Loco turned the cubicle doorway to see two men wearing khaki pants and blue button down shirts with Netrosonics ID badges. “Where am I? What have you done to me?”

“I can tell you that. I am Tapas Kalki, chief investigator for Applied Karma. You are in our virtual reality interrogation center. Actually you are strapped to a bed and hooked up to our patented process.

“You intend to torture me?”

Tap switched to his Goldfinger accent. “No Mr. Loco, I intend to have you torture yourself.”

Loco tried to stand up but could not. “This is illegal. I want to talk to my lawyer.”

A third man in khaki and blue shirt appeared, but with a familiar voice. “Hi Gordo, this is Bill Hansen. They have got you on human rights violations, insurance fraud and maybe a homicide. If you cooperate, you might get protection and money for the rest of your life. If you do not, you wind up in here or an American prison. I strongly advise you to cooperate.”

“No! Antzen will get me out of this. He will not want me to talk.” Loco shouted.

Tap seemed to pull some explosives and detonating devices out of thin air. “Antzen tried to kill you last night. Hanging on to his coattails is a bad idea. Shall we run the Demaggio program? We have placed you in the body of Trixie Demaggio on the day you fired her some thirty years ago. With information gathered from her deposition, statements and evidence from other sources we are going to put you in her shoes. You will feel and experience everything that happened to her.”

“Geeze, I barely remember it.”

Tap reminded him. “Oh she remembered it. She was nine months pregnant, lost her job and health insurance, had a difficult delivery and suffered severe post-partum depression. It also cost the taxpayers over a million dollars in medical expenses and years of treatment. It was another example of pushing business expenses on the public.”

Loco tried to defend himself. “We had to reduce head count before the end of the year or I would not get my Christmas bonus. I had bills to pay. I had a wife and kids. It was not illegal. Life is not always fair.”

“Ah yes, using the ‘I was protecting my family so destroyed someone else’s’ excuse. It is a little bit better than the ‘I was only following orders’ excuse but not much. Any sociologist will argue about where one family ends and another begins. When you hired Miss Demaggio, you told her the company was like a family. You did not tell her it was a dysfunctional family. Besides, I am always amused at people who say life is not fair and then get upset when something happens to them.”

“You cannot punish me for a crime that was legal when it occurred.”

Bill Hansen advised his client. “Not under old American law, Gordo, but you are in the Free Trade Zone now. You are under UN mandate and denied someone basic human rights. They can do this. I advise you to cooperate.”

“No. This is illegal. I am being held against my will. I demand to be released.”

Tap sighed. “So arrogant. No wonder he did so well at Netrosonics.” He looked up in the air. “Okay Trixie, you have the honor to push the button.”

Suddenly the three men disappeared, replaced by a younger version of Loco bracketed by two security guards with guns. He heard Christmas music over the radio on the desk.
His younger version smiled and said in the most insincere manner. “I am sorry, we have to let you go. Your things will be sent along later. The guards will escort you out.”

The older Loco felt dizzy and nauseous. His back and feet hurt. There was a cramping sensation in his stomach. It felt like his insides were about to be pulled out. Contractions started as the water broke creating a mess in the chair. The guards grabbed his arms and escorted him down the hall and out to the parking lot. Loco screamed in pain.

Don turned to Tap as they watched it on monitors in the adjoining control room. “You really enjoy your work.”

Tap turned to him. “We tortured a lot of bad people in Iran. I prefer to have them torture themselves. When I heard about Applied Karma’s technology, I had to use it. A strike against another is a strike against oneself. I am no different than anyone else. I have to go next door and relive the experiences of all the people I shot with tranquilizer darts last night.”

Don did not believe it. “So you can experience the pain you have caused others?”

He nodded and laughed. “Of course, but also to improve my shooting technique. I need to see if anyone saw me. Go write your reports.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 12

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September 15, 2031, 11:45 PM.

Still unconscious, Gordo Loco fell forward in the booth at Yoshi’s Sushi Bar, his face landing in his bento box. The waitress brought more napkins.

Tap pulled Loco back into an upright position, then cleaned his own wraparound sunglasses and put them back on Loco’s head. He turned to Don standing in front of their booth. “Smile for the camera, General. Luisa, sit close to him and give him a big kiss on the cheek.”

Luisa seemed hesitant. “Alright, but you are picking up my doctor bills.”

Don clicked the picture and sat back down. “Tap, I told you how I got involved in this case. How did you get roped in?”

“I followed the rope. Corporate owned life insurance, sometimes known as COLI or janitor’s insurance. A company buys a life insurance policy on an employee in case they die. These policies pay out even after the employee leaves the company. No matter how they died, suicide, murder, acts of war, it did not matter. Some Pakistani widows said that Netrosonics had policies on their husbands over thirty years ago.”

Luisa was incredulous. “No matter how they died? Is that legal?”

Tap put his chopsticks aside. “Not only legal but common and tax deductible. Netrosonics was one of the first companies to apply it during the outsourcing bubble. As I looked through the records, I thought it was unusual that they set up offices in Pakistan, India, Egypt, Israel, Bosnia, Serbia and just about every potential flashpoint around the world. The war started and as it spread, their employees got killed, Netrosonics got rich, and the widows got nothing.

But that is not all. The company laid off their American employees. During that time, unemployment meant no health insurance. It was essentially a death sentence. More people died, more money was made. Antzen was part of this strategy. After Netrosonics bit the dust, he managed to get a hold of those insurance policies. When I got wind of your meeting with Antzen, I figured he was going to kill two birds with several explosive devices. I hope you did not mind, but I simply had to step in.”

Don had seen a lot of sordid situations, but this was over the top. “Thanks. So is this what Pluribus is all about? Is Antzen Pluribus?”

“No. As the name implies and as we have both seen, there is always more to Pluribus than meets the eye.” At that, Tap turned to his dinner.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 11

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September 15, 2031, 10:45 PM.

Don and Tap carried Loco under each arm as Luisa looked for his pants on the movie set.
“My team is outside. As we poked around, we found one explosive device outside the building near the electrical transformer. At that point I knew what Antzen was up to and decided to go inside alone. I found three more sets of explosives inside the building. I disarmed them but was spotted by Loco here as he came out of the tepee. I turned off the power, broke the videoconference signal, and made Antzen think you were killed.”

Luisa found a pair of pants with yellow stripes down the sides. “What is Antzen up to? How did you know it was a trap, Tap?”

To Tap it seemed obvious. “He wanted to talk. Bad guys never want to talk about the bad things they have done. He was going to kill you. It would look like an accident or arson. Antzen is the sort of person who pushes you off a cliff and tells everyone how clumsy you are. He agreed to negotiate only to put you in a specific time and place to kill you. Maybe it would scare further investigators off or at least slow them down.”

They tried to lift Loco higher as Luisa tried to put the pants on him. She was still a little freaked. “So why are we taking this guy?”

“General Gordo Loco here is bait. He is a material witness and he is coming with us. I will post these pictures where Mel Antzen can see them. He will be surprised that one of his thugs is alive and worried that Loco might turn on him. Antzen will send someone to kill him. This in turn will give us more information.”

Don tilted his head to the actors passed out on the set. “What about these people?”

Tap was not concerned. “Oh do not worry, my people will come in and take care of them. We are seizing this business as an asset of Mel Antzen as compensation for human rights violations. We should have it up and running by morning.”

Luisa was shocked. “You are going to keep this place open?”

“Under new management. We will offer the actors partnerships in the company. The idea is to find Antzen’s assets and starve him out.” Tap looked at the movie set. “I am trying to remember what the Ute Indians used to say to their enemies before they went to war.”

Luisa finished buckling up Loco. “What was did they say?”

“We will take all your horses.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 10

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September 15, 2031, 10:30 PM.

Tapas pulled the tranquilizer dart out of the back of Loco’s neck and put it in his breast pocket.

At this point everyone noticed that Loco, bent over the conference table wasn’t wearing any pants.

Kalki backed away from Loco and looked down. “Well, they don’t all die with their boots on, do they? Of course, he’s just knocked out. Hmm, looks like he had a bit part anyway.”

Luisa was paralyzed in terror. Don was laughing. “Tap, what are you doing here? This is an IP case.”

“Really? Well that explains why you’re here. I hate to surprise you like this, but this is a human rights case too.” Tapas put the dart gun in his shoulder holster. The suit was so well tailored that it did not even bulge. “You must be Luisa Almondo. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Tapas Kalki, sort of a human rights bounty hunter. Friends call me Tap.”

She looked back and forth at Don and Tap. “You two know each other?”

Don was still laughing. “We met in Iran during the war. He was attached to my intelligence unit as a translator. At least that was what he said he was. He was the only guy who could find a sushi bar in the desert.”

Tap’s eyes brightened. “That reminds me, Yoshi’s in Santa Barbara is open late. If we hurry we can close the place.”

Luisa was frustrated. “What about getting the deposition?”

Don waved his hands at Loco and the blank screen. “I think it’s obvious Mr. Antzen isn’t going to cooperate or tell us anything useful here. We’ll need Tap here to hunt the bastard down and make him talk.”

Luisa frowned “Torture?”

Tap was mock shocked. “Heavens no! I’d lose my license. I can be very persuasive. Come on, dinner is on me.”

Don turned to Luisa. “See what I mean?”

“Fabulous! Before we leave, can you take some pictures of me with Loco here? Turn his face toward the camera.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 9

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September 15, 2031, 10:15 PM.

KDP Headquarters was an armed fortress.
Kaleidoscope Digital Productions (KDP) was Mel Antzen’s latest misadventure. About halfway between Burbank and Ventura in a light industrial complex, the kind with rolling riot garage doors and steel doors behind barbed wire fences. Ironically, there was a little handwritten sign on the guardhouse gate that said WALK-INS WELCOME.

Luisa turned to Don Jin in the back seat of the limo. “That must be for auditions. Are you interested?”

“It depends on how the meeting goes.”He saw a large bald man with a cell phone suddenly appear from behind the guardhouse.

His nametag said Gordo Loco. The name fit. He was wearing a US Army Cavalry captain’s uniform from the Civil War, sword and all. He talked back to his cell phone. “Yeah boss, the troublemakers are here.” With his hat in hand, he waved the limo over to a parking space near the loading dock.

As they got out of the limo, Don had to ask. “Is that a company uniform?”

Loco seemed annoyed as he brought them up the loading dock and through the garage door. “I have many responsibilities. I am performing tonight.”

Inside was a cheap movie set of fake campfires and Indian tepees with the actors in various states of undress. They were led down a narrow hallway to a standard conference room. The wall screen displayed the scene from the movie set but was replaced with an image of Mel Antzen that Don recognized from his briefing file. It was disturbing because the picture was thirty years old and he had not changed a bit. Anton’s money obviously paid wholesale for enough plastic surgery and biotechnology to simulate immortality.

“Hi there.” Anzten said in a voice halfway between a sportscaster and game show host. “You were not invited so I have asked my lawyer, Harry Reidel to be here.” The camera pulled back to show an attorney pretty enough to be a twin of Anzten. They must have gone to same surgeon.

Don was not too surprised at Antzen’s absence. The guy was slippery smooth. Luisa was steamed but managed to control it. “It was my understanding that this meeting was to be in person.”

Reidel leaned forward. “My client had other obligations and this was the only way to accommodate your deposition.”

“We will take an initial interview tonight, but will insist on seeing your client in person as soon as possible. Any place, any time.”

At that point, the lights went out and emergency lights went on. There were screams and then silence down the hall. The door to the conference room swung open and Gordo Loco stumbled inside, waving his sword shouting, “Indians! Indians!” He then fell over onto the conference table between Don and Luisa. There was a tranquilizer dart in the back of his neck.

At that point, Tapas Kalki, chief investigator for Applied Karma, walked in wearing an impeccable Edwardian suit and carrying a dart gun.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 7

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September 15, 2031, 8:00 PM.

Another missile passed by their helicopter, this time on the left side.
Luisa took Don to Burbank by the scenic route because street gangs were firing antiquated Stinger missiles at them from somewhere east of the 405. Starting from LAX, they swung down to the heavily defended Long Beach Port Facility and then up the Pacific coast to Ventura, then back inland.

Don turned from the window and leaned toward Luisa. “They certainly hold a grudge. Ten years after the quake. Ten years we have tried to help keep order and rebuild. It is still a war zone. Even setting up Free Trade Zone has not helped. You are from Costa Rica, why did you move here?”

“I wanted to move to a place with fewer Americans.” She tossed her head back and laughed. They both did. “Seriously, I got tired of all those rich Americans in their compounds who fled and left the rest to fend for themselves. I spoke a couple of languages, so I figured I could help bring in foreign investment.”

She looked back out the window. “They are the new Indians. They fight each other as much as us. They try to cut deals with us against each other. In the end we get more real estate. They burn down a block and save us the trouble of clearing it. Wakima lets me keep ten percent of the property we buy. You just cannot beat California real estate.”

“I guess you are right. They seem so tribal. I do not understand their motives.”

Don pulled out his phone and checked for messages again. There were none.

So tell me about these weird text messages you have forwarded to me.”

“The content does not matter, the fact that somebody went to the trouble is significant.”

Luisa mocked him. “Gee Don, you have been in Los Angeles less than a day and you have your own stalker. I am impressed! I had to wait six months for mine. Male or female? Or does it matter?” She raised an eyebrow.

He stretched his legs out in front of him. “I am still too tired to answer that question.”

“Is it from Pluribus?”

“I do not know if Pluribus is a person, place or thing. I think the message is from someone who does not want us to find out. Maybe it is one of those people down there.” Don looked down into the darkness for another attack.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 5

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September 15, 2031, 9:00 AM.

Monday morning Don woke up groggy and naked in the International terminal at LAX.
The general anesthetic given to all passengers on long flights was one of the reasons he hated to fly. Airlines liked the idea of stacking passengers like unconscious firewood. You did not have to feed or entertain them and even better, no one tried to hijack the plane.

He was surrounded by hundreds of other passengers in varying states of consciousness. A nurse checked his ID, unstrapped him from the stretcher. She assured him it would wear off, but that meant his headache would only get worse. Since he flew first class, he got a very nice cotton sheet to wear toga-style.

As an added service to frequent flyers, his luggage was brought to him. He headed to the lounge for a shower and shave. Since he was a Chinese citizen, he was waved through customs. An hour later he was eating something called a breakfast burrito when Luisa Almondo, Wakima’s local sales rep called him.

She spoke English. “What brings you back to the Free Trade Zone, Don?”

Don was still fuzzy headed. He set the phone translation to English because his brain was not up to the job yet. “The usual. Dead body, dead documents, dead companies and a real live deadline. Can you get me up to Burbank, Luisa?”

“Things are a little exciting right now. The cease-fire with squatters broke down yesterday. You have a choice. You can be ambushed in a convoy, have your helicopter shot down, or you can check into the hotel next door and we will pick you up tonight.”

Don looked at the time and winced. “How safe is the hotel?”

“Safe as long as you do not order room service.” Luisa laughed.

“Okay, pick me up after dark. Funny, I have been asleep for twenty hours and I need to sleep it off. Tell the hotel I am coming and I want one of the interior rooms downstairs. Also, here is the address of the person I want to meet tonight.”

Luisa started laughing again.

“What is so funny?” He asked.

“You do not know anything about the film industry in San Fernando do you?”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 4

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September 12, 2031, 1:00 PM.

“Welcome to my graveyard, Mr. Jin!”

George Seldezky stood in an empty room. He was a madman, a fat man and the team’s historian. He wore a lab coat, a two cyber gloves and a helmet. He handed Don a guest helmet so he could see what Seldezky was seeing, a black space full of floating icons and pages of documents.

Don tried to steady himself. “What is all of this?”

Seldezky laughed like Falstaff with a Russian accent. “This is the way of all corporate flesh, Mr. Jin. Factories, offices, equipment, people all go away, but paperwork is eternal. This is all that remains of Netrosonics. Like Ozymandias, look on their works and despair!”

“Is there any mention of Pluribus in any of this?”

Suddenly fifty years of documents disappeared. A handful of photocopies that had been fed at an angle through a flatbed scanner formed a circle around them. Handwriting in English, e-mails with delete marks, contact lists, photo IDs, cancelled checks, expense reports orbited slowly around them.

A good detective looks for something out of place. One document caught Don’s eye. He pointed to it and Seldezky stopped the motion with a wave of his left hand. It was some sort of legal agreement, but unlike any of the other documents, it was unsigned.

Seldezky approved. “Our late Mr. Freid caught that too. An unsigned agreement is not an agreement. We cannot exhume this corporate corpse and build our latest Frankenstein until this matter is settled. There is a list of names associated with document.” He dragged another document next to the first.

Don felt like he was on to something. “Give me copies of everything, but highlight these two documents for me please. Can you give me the latest information on them?”

“Of course. As you see, most of them are in America. Not a friendly place to be right now. You are not thinking of going there? Are you crazy?”

“I know what I am doing Dr. Seldezky.”

“Make sure you get your shots.” He was serious.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 3

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September 12, 2031, 12:30 PM.

Susan Hong, Chief Legal Advisor to Wakima, choked on her noodles.

Susan had been at Wakima as long as Larry Tzu, but somehow seemed even older. She let her hair turn gray and kept it feathered like Farrah Fawcett. It hid the lines in her face. She was Harvard Law when that meant something and loved legal intrigue as much as Don hated it. They were finishing lunch in her office when he finally brought up Pluribus.

“Freid was murdered?”

“Yeah, over this asset. What is it? What is the story?”

“First, I can’t tell you anything unless you sign all this.” She brought a document up on the wall screen. Don pointed his phone and pressed a button. “Okay, I am only going to say this once, so do not fall asleep.” Susan walked over to the wall and went into her presentation mode.

“Wakima is known for innovation teams. We can put together a team of experts and build working technology faster than anyone. We are always looking for ways to speed up the process. Our teams are usually in the same building and if possible on the same floor. Nothing beats the water cooler conversation for informal communication.

This is the secret part. Lately, we have hit a wall. Freid was working on a team looking for solutions. He knew about an American company, a shell now actually, that seemed to have some sort of collaborative software. Things are still kind of unstable over there and he could not determine if we could get clear rights to the company.

I should say the pressure on the team has been intense. Freid was very old and was not doing well. He broke with procedure and started working at home. We had not heard from him last week.”

“I need to meet the team. Where are they?”

“Downstairs.”

Don turned his phone recorder off. He had started it the moment he clicked on the agreement. There was no telling what might be important. He looked up at the screen and read the company name aloud.

“Netrosonics. Never heard of them.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 2

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September 12, 2031, 10:00 AM.

Don Jin did not want to make the trip but he had to see Larry Tzu, CEO of Wakima. He could not talk about what he found except in person.

That Friday morning, Tzu was dedicating a new research facility just off the highway to Beijing. Don was not crazy about all the media and camera crews in the parking lot. He drove around to the loading dock and went in the back door. He slowly approached the front lobby and saw Tzu at the podium addressing the crowd.

“Wakima is committed to innovation. This building is a sign of that commitment. Thank you.” Tzu’s bodyguards guided him back to the hallway. He waved to Don and gestured to a door. “In here.”

The walls were not painted yet. The floor was bare concrete. The ceiling did not have tiles.

Don looked around the room. “Back to basics?”

Tzu smiled. “Fewer places to hide bugs. I only have a few minutes. What can you tell me?”

“An American lawyer named Daniel Freid was shot with 22 caliber pistol after midnight in his apartment. Nothing was taken. It was a professional hit. His computer is being examined. Phone records showed his last call was to you. What was he working on?”

Don knew the answer would be a lie.

Tzu held his breath, giving himself away. “A legal matter.”

Don raised his eyebrows. “Pluribus?”

Tau’s pursed his lips. “We bought an American company for its assets. Mr. Freid worked for them many years ago. He was to find and secure our rights to all assets. One of them is something called Pluribus. He called and sounded crazy. He said Pluribus was not a secured asset of the company and we should not proceed with the deal.”

Don prodded. “Did he say anything else?”

Tzu looked around the empty room. “Yes. He said Pluribus was coming after him. Pluribus was coming after everybody.”

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.

Pluribus 1

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By DJ Cline

September 12, 2031, 5:00 AM.

Pluribus.

Don Jin saw the word everywhere.

It was scrolling across the large computer screen in the old style high-rise apartment. It was written in magic marker several times on every wall. It was scribbled on papers and carved on the desk. It was written in blood on the bathroom wall. The naked old man on the floor had obviously been shot several times.

People were murdered in Shanghai every couple of minutes. It was a big city and that was bound to happen, but not in the gentrified European Quarter. The fact that Tom Taldin, the city detective, called Don at 4:00 AM meant that this particular victim was a person of interest to his bosses at Wakima. An employee. A foreigner, but not a refugee. Somebody.

When expatriates wanted to die in these buildings, they just went to the roof or took pills. To Don, it seemed mean-spirited killing a man so close to death. His grandmother would call it bad karma. His grandfather would say it was just probability.

Taldin stood next to him in the living room of this upscale but squalid crime scene. “The ambulance will have to take the body, but I assume Wakima will take care of everything else?”

“Of course, with our usual gratitude.” Don pointed his cell phone at the detective’s and clicked the cash button. Taldin opened the front door and let the paramedics inside. Within five minutes, Don was alone, looking out the window toward the lightening sky in the east. He did not have much time.

He touched the old computer’s mouse, the pad underneath it moved a little to reveal a coin. He lifted the pad and saw a worn American five-cent piece, a nickel. He had only seen money like this in movies. He leaned down and adjusted the desk lamp to get a better look. Above the picture of a building was the phrase:

E Pluribus Unum.

He typed it into his phone. The translator said it was in Latin, a dead language. He toggled the language to Mandarin and pressed the speaker button. A controlled baritone voice spoke repeatedly in the dark:

Out of many, one.

Copyright 2006 DJ Cline. All rights reserved.