by Elegant Butler

Chapter 3:

Theora, Jenny, and Marlene set up their control desks in three of the stalls of the old barn the next morning. They hadn't used any money on actual desks in the city, that going primarily to their systems and boosters. So they were using old furniture they had bought at a tag sale they'd seen in Waddamana.

Bryce and Oliver set up the generator and tested it with each and then all of the new computers to make sure they wouldn't have any power problems.

"Looks good," Oliver said.

"Power not optimal," Bryce said, "but it should be enough. Ladies, you'll have to run at eighty nine percent. We're too far from the grid to link up and give you total power."

"We'll make due," Marlene told him.

"Marlene, get your system up and running," Bryce instructed. "We'll work on boosting that one first since you'll be linked to Edison Carter. He should be arriving at New Heath Row airport within the next few hours."

Marlene linked. "I've got an indicator light of some kind," she told them. "Is that Edison Carter?"

Bryce checked, then shook his head. "No. It's... its a secondary system box. Looks like Max is there."

"I thought you brought Max with you," Theora said.

"The network must've tricked me somehow. Released only a basic copy. Marlene, tell Edison he has got to get Max out of there. But tell him not to make the attempt until after he'd tried to negotiate with John Cheviot."

"Tell John Cheviot that Edison Carter wishes to speak to him," Edison said on the vu-phone link from the airport terminal.

"Mr. Cheviot is very busy at the moment," a woman told him.

"I see," Edison frowned. "and whom do I have the pleasure of speaking to?"

"My name is Nancy Lanscomb, Mr. Carter," the woman replied. "Mrs. Lanscomb to you. And Mr. Cheviot is extremely busy at the moment."

Edison wanted to say a few interesting words to Mrs. Nancy Lanscomb. But he remembered that he was serving as an ambassador and did not think those words appropriate to the job.

"I'll pass him your message," Mrs. Lanscomb told him as she disconnected the call.

"Edison, are you there?" Marlene's voice came through the control link on the camera.

"Yeah, I hear you, Marlene. There's some interference."

"I know. We got a power cap of eighty nine percent or so," Marlene apologized. "Bryce and Oliver are working on boosting the signal. Hold on."

Edison could hear two male voices, presumably Bryce and Oliver, talking on the other end for a few minutes. It was hard to be certain given the sporadic interference.

Finally Bryce's voice said. "Marlene, try sending again."

"Edison?" Marelene's voice came through. It was a little better, but not perfect.

"Better," Edison said. "Needs work. Can you see me?"

"There's a minor flaw in the image, but yes," Bryce told him. "we're ready for negotiations with Network 23."

"Just one problem, I can't get past the secretary. Johnny Boy's got her guarding the gate like a three-headed bitch."

"Hang on," Bryce said.

Edison heard some typing in the background. Then Bryce's voice again. "Sending you John Cheviot's personal office vu-phone number."

John Cheviot was rather startled to get a phone call a short while later.

"I don't know how you got this number, but lose it."

"I would like to sit down and negotiate with Network 23 on behalf of the viewers who..."

"There will be no negotiations," John said, firmly. "You will not come anywhere near this network."

"The viewers..."

"The viewers have no real power, Mr. Carter. We provide entertainment. They pay for it. We tell them what to buy. They buy it. They are the sheep and we are the shepherds. That is the way it has always been and will always be."

As the phone went dead, Edison remarked, coolly.

"Except that the shepherds have become wolves."

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