My office was boppin' like a beehive on steroids. I had to dodge an electronic ambush of ambulatory reminders. The comps for the Fiscal Fitness Finder were ready for review; film clips for the Pro Social Cruelty celebrity showoffs were online for my comments. How the hell can I prep for a speech and be in ten million places at once? I walked into my office and told it I wasn't there. It had other ideas:
"Sir, there's a message for you from Sandoor."
"Here's a man I need to talk to. Sandy?"
"Lane, you alright? What the hell happened?"
" "I went back to Hardeman's place. Found him lying on the floor lookin' for his face".
"How'd it happen?"
"Looked like a blunt instrument. Whatever they used, they sure smashed his face in. Shit, all I knew was that he was capital 'D' dead. Police showed up three minutes after I arrived. Brought me in for questioning."
"What were you doing there?"
"Sandy, you know he was helping me with my speech. He had the whole damn thing prepared for me. I was there to pick it up."
"Pick it up?"
"Yeah, the speech. Well, actually the gizmo that was to help me give my speech."
"It's a speech aid. "
"What, like some kind a hearing aid? A microphone?"
"No, no. It's biocompatible to me. It plugs into my system. It gives a programmed speech through me."
"Holy shit, you're saying you're its puppet?"
"Well, it's the program. It doesn't make up what it is I'm gonna say. It takes what we program and runs it though my body so that I look like I'm giving an original, natural speech."
"That's some powerful shit!"
"It's some major lifesaving shit, that's what it is."
"So you're telling me you plug this fucker in, walk up to the podium, and just start talking all natural like?"
"That's exactly what it does. "
"I gotta see this to believe it. What did you call it again?"
"The CDR 4000--- and what I wouldn't give to have it right now. It's a fuckin' miracle. Dude was a straight up genius I tell you."
"Sounds like it sure would help you conquer your fear of public speaking."
"Tell me about it."
"What are you going to do now?"
"Find it if I can."
"Do you think it's at his place?"
"I already looked. I'm sure whoever did Hardeman took it. It was gone. Right out of it's case."
"So whoever killed Hardeman..."
"Has the CRD4000. That's what I think."
"Well who the hell..."
"That's what I'm trying to figure out. I've only got one lead."
"I didn't want to get the police mixed up in this, but, have you every heard of an organization named Vox?"
"No, Vox with a 'V' dummy. It's Latin for voice."
"I knew that, shit brains. Yeah, I've heard about em. They're a cult, aren't they? They reset people's brain switches or somethin'."
"All I know is they teach public speaking. Raw public speaking. People stand up and talk to a crowd. Leader's name is Trochanter."
"What's Hardeman got to do with an underground group of misfits?"
"Trochanter's the one who helped him build the CDR4000. He taught Hardeman how humans formulate speech."
"Oh, so that's the connection."
"Yeah, he took Trochanter's know-how about public speaking and transformed it into a machine."
"So you think Trochanter had him killed?"
"To get his machine back? I don't fucking know. But I intend to find out. I'm due to give a speech in two days and there's no way I'm gonna pull it off without that CDR4000. My career is on the line, buddy, and I don't intent to wind up back in the information salt mines."
"Let me know if I can help you, pal."
"I know you got my back. Thanks, Sandy."
"No problemo. Let me know what you find. And watch your information."
"You too, buddy. I'll talk to you later."
Hmmmm. Would Trochanter have him killed? The dude was an ex college professor. Professors might have been pretty useless, but they sure weren't murderers very often. Let's see what database files exist on him.
"Office, what do have on Trochanter, Alan?"
"Alan Trochanter. Received a Ph.D. in Rhetoric from the University of Southern California in 2019. Worked as an assistant professor at Northwestern University from 2019 to 2023 at which time he received a full professorship and continued at the university until its closure in 2031. He has written 28 books and published 93 articles. Would you care to read any of his works?"
"No, I don't want to read what he wrote. I want to read about him."
"He was Time's Man of the Year in 2027."
"My boy made the cover of Time? No shit?"
"I wouldn't kid you, sir."
"No, I know you wouldn't. Let's see it."
"Hmmm. Man of the Year. Alan Trochanter. Let's see here. Not since the last century has one man been more responsible for organizing the youth of America. Wow, this is all pre Nationstates, isn't it?"
"Yes it is, sir."
"Alan Trochanter is Tim Leary, Marshall McCluhan, and Fidel Castro all rolled into one. Jesus, is that what they said? He single handedly organized the Youth Ahead movement in Washington, with over 200,000 attendees regarded as perhaps the largest single gathering of young people ever before in history. His charismatic speaking style has been called demagogic because of his Svengali-like effect upon a mass audience. His message of leaving behind technology in favor of individual creative expression has provoked President Heimlick to call Trochanter 'a sadly misinformed Ludite, acting out of bitterness from the closing of his obsolete institutional life.' Holy cow, this guy was an original gangster!"
"He did have a link to an organized crime figure in 2032."
"What? I didn't really mean he was a gangster."
"I understand your use of slang, sir. I just thought you'd like to know."
"According to the Washington Post, February 23, Trochanter was visiting Mafia boss Victor Scapazi every day for two months while the crime chief was doing four years at Attica. Immediately after Trochanter's visits, Scapezi was released on a reduced sentence".
"Skip to the reason. Why was he visiting Scapezi?"
"Scapezi said he had been receiving speech coaching for his parole hearing."
"Apparently it worked."
"Apparently so, sir."
"So Trochanter has a friend in organized crime. Does Trochanter have any links to any other crime figures?"
"A variety of questionable political figures from a wide range of countries. Henri Roulet of Haiti, Tobi Obawani of Kenya, Jose Destico of Columbia. All men who have been accused of various political crimes, but never convicted. I can document a statistical correlation between Trochanter's visits with them and their election to public offices."
"So he's political consultant as well-a hired gun for those who rise to power by giving speeches. Office, do a search on the CDR4000. Do you have any data on it?"
"Still searching sir."
"You don't have anything?"
"Very little, sir. There is a brief anecdote in an Electrical engineering journal...let me translate this. Yes, a research project was proposed to investigate voice pattern recognition. The records are very hazy, sir."
"Voice recognition? Okay. Who wrote the article?"
"So he did research this thing."
"Was there a grant of some kind. Money to feed the project?"
"Yes, let me cross check the accounting records. Yes, funding was provided my the Macrohard Corporation in the amount of two million credits."
"So what happened? Did the project get completed?"
"The records were closed, sir. I have no other data."
"What about his organization, Vox? What's the story it?"
"Vox Communications is the official name of the organization founded by Alan Trochanter in 2038. It is listed as a humanitarian organization dedicated to increasing educational opportunity."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"From the looks of the reports, it looks like they organize huge parties where people stay up late dancing and taking a wide variety of psychedelic substances, sir. The records call these experiences 'experiential learning'."
"I don't get it. Where exactly are they located?"
"No known address."
"No address? Don't they have a headquarters?"
"No, sir. Their electronic presence says you find them by finding one."
"Find them by finding one?"
"Word of mouth, sir?"
"You mean you have to know someone in it, to find out where they meet. Jeez, do I know anybody who's involved?"
"Not officially. May I make a suggestion, sir?"
"Do you know anyone who's good at public speaking? You could try to find out where they received their training."
My mind flashed on the Fiscal Fitness Finder product launch day. There was a young woman, she stood up and spoke briefly to the crowd. I remember, she actually stood up and looked at everybody. We had to lower our monitors to see her. What was her name? Fran...Francine Stutticks. I remember.
"Yes! I do know someone. She's here at Corporate Headquarters. Her name's Francine Stutticks. What floor does she work on?"
"Stutticks, Francine. Office of Remote Pharmacology. Class sixteen, promoted to operations officer on..."
"What floor? I don't need her whole personnel file."
"Two-hundred thirty-three, sir."
"Francine Stutticks. There was something about her that really stood out. What was it?"
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