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“Why me? I’m an arbitrator. Why don’t you take this up with the prosecutors’ staff?” I rose from the Biosense chair and dabbed at the spilt latte with my handkerchief. I really didn’t need this right now. I had a huge caseload already and this pro bono work for UNPOL was just something I did to appease my uncle.

“He doesn’t want to talk to any arbitrator. He wants to talk to you.” She smiled as she saw the frown on my face and again looked me right in the eyes. “He asked for you by name.”

I sat back down.

“OK Sharon, maybe you’d better start at the beginning, because a sec ago you said you’d be happy to call someone else and now you’re saying he knows me and wants only to talk to me!”

“First of all I didn’t say I’d be happy to call someone else. I said I would if you wouldn’t take the job,” she said, leaning over the table so her face was only cents away from mine. And secondly, this guy was running sixteen illegals at the same time, all of them grade one, which is something we have never heard of, never mind seen, and we only discovered him by complete accident. At this exact moment in time we have sixteen of the most wanted people in the universe running around, and we haven’t got a clue where they are. We need him to talk and fast. Can you help?”

I really wanted to have Sharon right there and then on the table, having been thoroughly dominated and turned on by her power shakedown. I resorted to the male primeval of telling her this with my eyes. There were only two problems with that: one, she was happily married, and two, she was a lesbian and one hundred percent committed to her partner, both of which were facts she communicated right back with her eyes, basically telling me to fuck off and hell would freeze over before I got within touching distance of her body.

“OK, I’ll talk to him.”

“Thank you. The complete file is in there; don’t worry it’s a standalone and this room is silent,” she said, indicating the Dev with a wave of her hand and smiling, almost in pity I thought, as she left the room. The door clicked shut.

“Shit,” I spat out, my lips compressed tightly in annoyance. I should have turned it down flat. It had trouble written all over it and my stupid fantasies about Cochran had led me into a place I really didn’t need to be. I blew out my cheeks and let out a long sigh. This had been a dumb move, but then Milo’s party was partly to blame — I’d drunk too many alkys for my own good. I stood and ran my hand through my hair. Doing a quick inventory of what I’d said and thought while with Cochran. “Shit, shit, shit,” I said, and was hitting the table with my fist, when out of the corner of my eye I saw the door open and Sharon pop her head back in. I froze and shifted to try and make it look as if I always sat like this.

Sharon frowned and said, “Oh and Jonah, the Director, would like to see you before you talk to the runner.” With a last quick flash of that feline smile and a quirky raise of the eyebrows she was gone, closing the door behind her.

The Director of UNPOL Sir Thomas Bartholomew Oliver, my uncle. He’d never asked to see me about any official matter in all my time in New Singapore. UNPOL really did have a problem if he was getting involved at this level. If he was involved then it was very serious, and my name was in there — the runner had asked for me by name. I had to see why my name was in there.

I turned to the Dev on the table in front of me and said, “This is Arbitrator Jonah James Oliver, sign on.” The device snapped on with the Center’s Portal set as the landing page. I saw that the detached icon was displayed, so the Dev was disconnected from the network, and my credentials and icon came up in the bottom corner. “Provide me with case file on Jibril Muraz.”

The screen filled with the data stream dating back from today with referenced digital information on Jibril Muraz. There wasn’t much, but what there was I couldn’t believe. This guy had been running sixteen of the most wanted criminals on earth. Then, when they were interrogating him, all reference data to his PUI had disappeared along with all the reference data related to the criminals he was running. He was forty-six years old, and registered to a non-existent address at Sholle Street, Paddington, London. Scanning his transcript I saw that he claimed to have been doing this since he was fourteen. How many other illegals had he placed in society? He was being kept in Level Ten, ‘The Deep’, as they called it here at UNPOL.

I said, “Show me references to Oliver.”

The Devscreen resized around the scant information, and zoomed to the end of the transcript just before he had sat down and meditated. The transcript didn’t give me his exact words, which I would have liked to have seen, just that he requested to see me.

This was a big case. It was interesting too. Most of the pro bono work I did for UNPOL was incredibly routine and dull, albeit occasionally gratifying in helping someone out of a mess, but this case was going to be big news. My mind suddenly conjured up an image of the cases I had stacked up at my regular contribution. Although the case was interesting, I should pass. Let someone else have the limelight on this one. I was just too busy.

I popped my Devstick into the Dev and, taking a copy of the data, logged the copy.

“This is UN Operative Jonah James Oliver, sign off.” I got up from the table and steeled myself for the coming encounter. Time to see the Director.

Chapter 2

The Director

UNPOL Headquarters, Director’s Office, 244th floor

Thursday 5 December 2109, 11:55am +8 UTC

“Jonah come in. Take a seat. How are you my boy?” Sir Thomas said with a smile and a jab of his hand indicating the chairs in front of his desk.

“I am well, Uncle, thank you,” I said and walked across the room to Sir Thomas’s desk and sat down on one of the two straight-backed wooden chairs facing him, and waited for him to speak. He looked at me, his eyes large in the rimless glasses. An affectation, technology rendering the glasses unnecessary, but Sir Thomas refused the surgery and preferred the round rimless glasses. He fiddled with a trackball on his desk and then looked directly at me again.

“Jonah I have to ask you this, as a matter of protocol, and whatever the answer I need the absolute truth from you. This man who’s requested to meet with you: do you know him?” Sir Thomas held my eyes with a solemn expression. I had a flashback to a moment when a vase had been broken in his study and he’d asked me then for the absolute truth. The answer that time had been yes I had broken it and hidden the evidence. This time I was sure I was innocent. Somehow even at thirty-four years of age my uncle could make me feel like a little boy again.

“No sir, I’d never met or heard of him before this morning’s events.”

Sir Thomas stared at me hard, looking deep into my eyes with his enlarged pupils and the corners of his mouth twitched upwards.

“Good. I believe you. Any idea why he is requesting to see you?”

“No sir, I have given it some thought and I checked back cases for any references to his name, but I haven’t come up with anything.”

“No, neither have we. So it seems we need you to talk to him. Are you comfortable with that?”

“Honestly? No. My caseload is fairly heavy right now, and I really don’t have the time. However, judging from the evidence and the seriousness of the alleged offenses it would seem that we don’t have any choice.”

“Quite so, quite so,” said Sir Thomas, nodding his nearly bald head up and down. I thought it was remarkable how little we actually resembled each other given that I was his brother’s son. I broke my thoughts to focus: Sir Thomas was speaking again.

“Yes, I read of your recent victory in the Schilling vs. Bauer case. Excellent work, that. You saved them 130 million cred. I was — am — very proud of you.”