Read an Excerpt
Look What I Found
Though he was filthy from head to toe, bloodied, and his skin shredded as thoroughly as a cat's scratching post, Omad couldn't suppress a grin. He was a miner with a knack for finding veins of valuable material even in old, worked-out quarries, and he felt in his bones that today was his day. Today he'd find something valuable enough to achieve his dream, and achieve it at the respectably early age of sixty-nine. His stock was selling for 183 credits a share, and all he needed was one more good find and GCI would owe him enough credits to enable him to buy a majority of himself. Even if his stock price rose, as was often the case with personal success, he could still make majority. He'd just have to pray that his personal valuation wouldn't go over 200 credits a share, and that he'd take home at least 20,000 credits from this venture. Yes, Omad was 100 shares away from controlling himself. He could taste it. The thought of being able to choose his own vacation times and consume what ever substance he wanted, when he wanted, almost made him too excited to work. But he quelled his feelings of joy and concentrated on the task at hand.
He was walking into a mine on GCI's property that hadn't been worked in centuries, and he was walking in without a corporation mine car or drill-bot. The less of GCI's equipment he used, the less of a percentage they'd be able to claim of his profits. It wasn't the norm, and he'd never have been as successful without corporate sponsorship and equipment, but this was different. Though it might take a little longer, this excavation would have to be done carefully and in person. Maximum allowable risk for maximum profit, and the risks were real.
Still, it was in these old mines that sometimes one got lucky. The technology of mineral extraction had improved greatly in the four centuries since this quarry had been actively worked. More important, the science of mineral transmutation had been born, and some metals were easier to transform from one into another. Many a decrepit lead mine had been reopened to turn its once worthless innards into a marketable commodity. And when this one was closed and forgotten in the late 1800s, it was done so out of prudence. It had been stripped bare, and there was simply no point in keeping it open any longer. What ever possible riches lay in waiting now, Omad was sure of one thing—he would be the first to find them.
He took his time with the mine scan. Impatience might make him miss something, and even walls as old as these left hundreds of chemical and structural clues. Know before you go, he reminded himself. The first part of the morning was spent insuring that the caverns were sound. He need not have worried. The mountain was formed of igneous rock—a type of hardened molten lava that had lasted eons and would last for eons more. By the time Omad finished his tests he was convinced the dig was stable. His safety assured, he now began looking for the telltale clues of wealth—wealth that could be shared with his investors, his employers, and himself. If he was right about this place, all would benefit from the investment that individuals and society had made in him—as it should be. Omad would also be pleased to gain 51 percent of himself, which was also as it should be.
His thoughts were interrupted and his dreams almost shattered by what appeared before him—a tunnel shaft in abject disarray. It was blocked by a few large boulders among hundreds of smaller shards in all shapes and sizes. What had he missed? The sight of such instability alone almost made him turn back and choose a new mine. He had just conjectured that this one would last eons, and now here was proof that it was coming down a lot sooner than expected. Clearly a malfunction on the part of his hardware, he reasoned. Perhaps a costly one. But his years of experience told him what he already knew: The type of rock he'd ventured into didn't need a reader to give up its history—only to verify it. He would exchange the mine-reader when he returned. But against his better judgment, or perhaps because of it, he decided to venture a little farther.
There was something here and he knew it. Plus, he was driven by his personal mantra, "Little risk, little profit," so he bent to examine the crumbled evidence before him. Explosives, he realized, upon examining the shards. Not a "natural" cave in after all. More evidence lay in Omad's path. What ever, or more precisely, whoever had made this mess had left the detonator, some primitive blasting caps, and humorously, an instruction manual on how to set off explosives in a mine. Since no skeleton or evidence of a body was visible, the perpetrator had obviously read the manual well, done the deed, and exited to safety. There was also a box of something called "Twinkies." Omad picked it up and examined it carefully. Aside from its unique and unusual artwork, he was able to discern its key ingredients as well as something called an "EXP" date, which was marked from an eleventh month in what appeared to be the early twenty-first century. This was starting to get interesting. He gathered all the wrappers and placed them in an airtight container, along with the manual and blasting caps he had so far collected. Omad loved a mystery, and judging from the leftover wrappers, whoever blasted this tunnel had time to eat at least twenty-eight of these Twinkie things and walk out in one piece. Must have been some kind of nutritional energy snack, he thought, as he cracked his knuckles and continued on deeper into the shaft. The dry, consistent atmosphere had preserved the scene almost as if the long-gone blaster had left just before Omad had arrived. Even if he couldn't make a profit out of what was buried in the tunnel, he might just make a profit from what he'd just discovered outside of it. The nutritional wrappers and blaster manual alone would fetch a very good price on the open relic market. No, even if he found nothing else, today would not be a loss by any stretch of the imagination.
Neela Harper was not a country girl. In fact, she'd always preferred the big city. Anything with only a million and a half people in it just didn't seem natural. If she had had any inkling that the career she had chosen for herself would dump her in this remote part of the world she probably wouldn't have chosen it. Then again, being a minority shareholder in herself, she would have had little or no say whatsoever about her place of employ. Luck of the draw, she thought somberly to herself. And this year I'm clearly down on my luck. Anybody looking at her would not be displeased. She was five feet eleven inches—about average for a woman. A very healthy thirty-seven, but this was not surprising in the era of nano-medicine; positively everyone was healthy, and everyone looked great. Still, if everybody was a giant health-wise, then Neela, by her rigorous adherence to exercise, stood on the shoulders of those giants. Her appearance was 97 percent original, with only minor changes to control her hair growth and the removal of some facial bone damage suffered in a childhood accident. She hadn't had a sex change or so much as a boob job by her eighteenth birthday, something that was practically a rite of passage for her generation. Nope, just chestnut hair, green eyes, a tiny nose, freckles, and a supremely athletic body. Her problem was not so much physical as it was economic.
Not knowing what she wanted to do with her life, she spent all of high school and most of college study