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Chapter 3 - Can’t Trace Time by A.J. Hall

A few hours later Owen leaned back in the swivel chair, closed down the vid-plate, and let out a low whistle. Once he’d been given access - keyed to a palm-print - he hadn’t turned out to need Tosh after all. Computers might have had a couple of thousand years of development since the ones he was used to, but at least that meant it was a couple of millennia since anyone hired by Bill Gates had had a hand in their design. The operating system was a miracle of well ordered logic, and he was fairly certain that, if asked to do so, he could make it dance.

His own position, too, was rather gratifying. He still wasn’t quite sure what a Barrayaran mark was worth - though lunch had, usefully, given him something of a baseline - but there seemed to be a hefty number of them standing to the credit of his account as Director. No doubt this was the sort of planet which required a significant bribe - oops, sorry, golden handshake - before any sane person would emigrate to it. Friends who’d taken up jobs in the Gulf had reported similar experiences.

And in the course of his tour of the facility (he’d concentrated on saying “um” and “ah” and “good grief ” at intervals, and flattered himself that no-one could have spotted that he didn’t know what half the equipment was for, and, if anything, cared rather less) he’d had another pleasant surprise.

A door off his office had opened out on a plush set of sleeping quarters, containing possibly the biggest double bed he’d ever seen and an en-suite bathroom which, judging by the gadgetry, had clearly been designed by an absolute fucking genius of a pervy plumber on an acid trip.

Vorsoisson had explained it was really intended only as emergency overnight accommodation in case the Director’s duties kept him late at the hospital - and, of course, until Owen could find something a little larger and more permanent, it would be far better than a hotel room - but it was entirely obvious that Vorsoisson in common with everyone else in the hospital down to the office cat regarded this as “the Director’s personal shag-pad.”

And he was just as jealous of that particular perk as Owen could possibly desire.

So far, so good. But as for the integrated patient database, which he’d been studying for the last hour or so -

He gritted his teeth. That application had clearly been designed by an administrator. An insane administrator. With a detestation of patients - OK, so Owen didn’t actually like the parasitic rodents himself, but still, there were limits - which bordered on the pathological. Why else route all treatment authorisations through whoever happened to hold Vorsoisson’s role, so he could, presumably, argue about costs and necessities and whine about his need to justify them to some faceless suits who held the purse-strings, while the patients died on the operating table? Whatever became of clinical judgment? And why create a bottle-neck like that in the first place? It simply screamed out for some bright spark to work out a way to bypass the whole system and save hassle - like when they’d had the rash of bean-counters in the Royal London who’d imposed something very similar, and he’d shagged that red-headed bint in accounts so as to get hold of her sysad login -

Abruptly he swung himself to his feet and moved to the outer office. Vorsoisson had put his head around the door to say goodbye about half-an-hour ago so the place ought to be empty. It was. And - yes. He had guessed right. Owen slid into place behind his assistant’s comconsole just as the door from the corridor opened.

He raised his eyebrows. “Ah, Hasek, isn’t it? What can I do for you? And knocking would help in future, you know.”

The young doctor froze in the doorway, and Owen began to enjoy himself.

“Come in or stay out there, just make your bleeding mind up,” he advised.

Hasek took a couple of hesitant steps into the room. “I - that is, Tien - Tien Vorsoisson, you know - he just called - we’re meeting up for a drink or two - and he thought he’d left something he needed on his desk and called me just as I was putting my coat on to see if I could get it for him -“

Owen gestured. “Be my guest.”

It didn’t qualify as the best excuse in the Galaxy. Vorsoisson’s desk was swept and bare. Owen considered the merits of presenting him in the morning with a small plaque reading “Great Minds Have Messy Desks” but rejected it, on the basis that his previous implacable creed had been, “Bosses Who Believe In Inspirational Slogans Should Be Shot” and he didn’t think he could be that much of a hypocrite; at least, not at short notice. Hasek, moving gingerly, rather as though either he had piles or he expected Owen to leap up and sink his teeth into his jugular, walked round to Owen’s side of the room, glanced helplessly across the shining surface, ducked his head down to inspect the carpet, made a token fumble or so at the desk drawers, which were locked, and gave up.

“No. It doesn’t - It looks like he must have been wrong. I - ah - I’ll let him know. Thanks, anyway.”

Owen let Hasek get almost to the door to the corridor before he coughed, purposefully. Hasek turned.


“Tell - Tien - from me that we have security policies for a reason. It seems he left his - comconsole - logged onto the network. Into the entire patient records database. Anyone could have taken advantage of it.”

He knew better than to watch Hasek’s face. His eyes dropped to the hands resting casually by Hasek’s side. Had that been a nervous twitch, or not? Impossible to tell. He pasted a friendly smile on his face.

“I’m not planning to make an issue of it - first day and all. Just let him know - tactfully, you know, as a mate, if that’s all you are -” The tone of his voice made the innuendo perfectly plain, but Hasek had got features and body under perfect control now; he merely looked bored. Owen shrugged.

“Well, whatever, tell him that if I ever see it happening again, he’ll find himself keeping his bollocks in a specimen jar. Got that?”

Hasek gulped. “I’ll tell him. Sir.”

“You do that. Anyway, run along. No point in wasting good drinking time, now, is there?”

The door clicked shut. Owen turned with renewed interest to his subordinate’s comconsole. There were a number of lines of approach which he thought would certainly repay further study.

After a few minutes he found he was humming. He sought, briefly, for the words and called them up to mind after a short struggle. Odd. He thought he hated Dylan. Amazing what being a long way from home did to one’s tastes.

And sumthin’s happening here, but you don’t know what it is. Do you? Mistah Jones.