The Seeder is a previously unpublished, full length science fiction novel expanded from Fred Baker’s prize winning short story of the same title. Copyright 1998 by Fred Baker.
Fred is the author of the Ptolia series and the anecdotal autobiography Tales of a Golden Heart. Additionally, he writes online articles under the pen name of Ghost32 as well as publishing his own original songs as Mogularian.
by Fred and Pamela Baker
“Sci Fi is for the masses. Science fiction is for the purist.” – Yland Meungas
Mrs. Harrington Fordson James, Christian name Darla, watched anxiously from dawn onward. The Guild Representative wasn’t due until ten AM, but this being her first Contract, she couldn’t sleep anyway.
Her husband hadn’t approved of the Guild, said he’d heard things. But Mr. Harrington Fordson James had dropped stone cold dead of a massive heart attack at age forty-five. Darla no longer cared what the Old Bostonian Bastard thought, wherever he’d landed on the inner planes.
At precisely five minutes to ten, a sleek gray flyabout coupe rolled in and parked smoothly in the third of nine visitor parking spots. There was that about the procedure that bespoke manual handling by an expert; this driver preferred the feel of the wheel to the supposed luxury of computerized transportation. On her feet behind her third story window, Darla James found that reassuring. A flydriver herself, she tended to distrust anyone too mentally and physically lazy to handle the controls. Manual override. Definitely the way to go.
She let out a little sigh of relief. A man after all. She’d requested a man if possible, wanting no female rummaging around in her secrets. Few people could have accurately judged from this perspective, looking down on the plasteel brownstone’s courtyard, but the widow James had her own skills.
Yes, a man. One worth bedding, though that was hardly the purpose of his visit. Slim, in a tailored gray suit and carrying a small gray suitcase that looked like it came from Alien Row. There weren’t many of those shops yet; only the truly affluent could afford such an exotic bit of luggage.
He looked up at her and smiled. She smiled back. Had he felt her gaze? An empath, then, or at least a primitive telepath? Even at this range, his confident male vibration reached up and through the bulletproof glass window, penetrating various parts of her mind and body. Already this seemed less of a worry, this Guild thing. One more Narvex chewable antacid tablet, then she headed down on her private elevator to greet him in the living room where the Contract would be fulfilled. She smiled again as he entered.
“Mr. Garrett Di Marco, I presume?”
He grinned as they shook hands. “Garrett will do fine. Unless you’re from the South or a military brat and that makes you uneasy.”
Her laughter tinkled musically, a simultaneous release of tension and genuine amusement. “No, I can handle it on a first name basis. Nothing military. As to the other, I was born in Michigan and raised in Indiana; that hardly counts as the South, does it?”
“I wouldn’t think so. Thank you . . . Darla?”
“Darla is fine. I have to tell you I’ve never done this before.”
“That’s what they all say.” A tired old joke, but they both laughed. Briefly. Quickly enough, the man with the fancy suit and fancy suitcase put on a reassuring face, serious without being grim.
“Mrs. James – Darla – this being your first time, let me at least share my credentials. I’m thirty-seven years old and have been a licensed Guild Representative since I was twenty-four. During that time, I have fulfilled, um . . . ”
He paused long enough to check his wrist mounted dayrunner.
” . . . precisely four thousand, one hundred and twenty-three Guild Contracts. Two thirds of those have been female clients. More than half of all clients have specifically requested me by name for one or more additional visits, and I have had just three official complaints. One lady who swears I saved her life even sent me a Geode Award, something even the best of us seldom see.”
That word official might mean something, but she wouldn’t pursue it for now. Her tilted green eyes grew thoughtful, blue lacquered fingernails tapping mindlessly while she considered.
“Do you mind commenting on those three complaints, Garrett? I mean, if it’s not violating privacy laws or something . . . .”
He shook his head. “No problem there as long as I don’t reveal identities. Which obviously I would not do on general principles, not to mention the fact that talking out of school is expressly forbidden in our Contracts.”
“Talking out of school? I haven’t heard that expression in decades!”
“No? You haven’t? Well, to get to the point: Complaint Number One was filed not by the client, who was a twenty year old female dying of cancer, but by her widower husband after she died. I did as Contracted and paid for but, after my first visit, advised both Mr. and Mrs. verbally and in writing that it would take at least three more visits to complete the job properly. Maybe more; she was in bad shape, and it was dangerous in there. The husband let her die rather than pay for the Seeder treatments, then sued me and the Guild.”
He stated this without visible emotion, but his listener was not fooled. She did, however, have to ask. “Was he justified?”
Di Marco sighed audibly. “From his viewpoint, probably. Not according to the Regulators, of course. We had fully-filed records, as always, and they spoke for themselves.”
By this time, they were seated at the conference table. She rose for a moment, helping herself to a mug of Brazilian coffee from the RRF, the Refurbished Rain Forest, while the Seeder continued. He preferred not to drink coffee or anything else while on the job.
“Complaint number two came from a black man some forty-eight years of age. He paid for a total of five visits, all of which were completed as scheduled. His energy, which had been seriously depleted for a number of years, returned in full. His asthma, a lifelong problem, improved by eighty percent or more. But his erectile dysfunction, which he’d endured for about two years prior to calling us, did not go away. On the other hand, not even Viagra 3000 Turbo did the job in his case. The Regulators threw that one out; it never even came to trial.”
“I can imagine!” Her laughter tinkled again. “And Number Three?”
He shrugged. “That one was the easiest and most complex to defend all at the same time. It was, as it turned out, an attempted insurance scam. They used a little girl, and the good side of it was, I was actually able to help her. The bad side, as we later proved in court, was that the bastards, excuse my French, had deliberately caused most of the problems I was sent in to correct. She was cute, blonde, blue eyed, ten years old, cheerful under adversity like you wouldn’t believe, and totally victimized.”
Darla shuddered. “I hope the authorities . . . ”
“They did.” His voice suddenly became grim indeed. “She was removed from her parents’ home and placed in foster care with foster parents pre-inspected and investigated by both the Guild and the government social workers. She’s grown now, has her own family.”
It was the beautiful widow’s turn to sigh. “All right, then. I’m out of excuses, so let’s get on with it. You’re a good looking guy – I admit I don’t think I could ever let a dog ugly Seeder go rummaging around inside me – and even our local prosecutor swears Guild records will stand up anywhere as models for integrity. So.”
Nodding in agreement, Garrett rose from the table and headed for the spare bedroom indicated by his hostess. Changing quickly but carefully into a set of fatigues with bulging pockets, he returned to the living room looking like a Marine ready to hit the beach.
If Mrs. Darla Harrington Fordson James had not been well briefed in advance, she would have either run from the house screaming or fallen on the floor in helpless laughter. In truth, though, the man looked good, a quiet but effective warrior. With, she couldn’t help noting, impeccable tailoring whether it might be in a gray business suit or mottled fighting gear.
As instructed, she took a seat in a large recliner and tilted the chair back far enough to allow her body to relax.
“Date of Contract visit,” the Guild Rep read into his lapel mike, “February 3, Year 2144. Recording operative as of now. Here we go.”
He thumbed a stud on a gizmo the size of a deck of cards which was double clipped to his web belt. And disappeared. Darla sipped her coffee. And waited.
A Change In Outlook
Garrett explored the terrain with a distinct blend of confidence and caution. Rolling hills everywhere, covered sparsely with stands of jack pine and the occasional blue spruce. Dry, mere touches of green in what few grasses scrabbled for existence on generally rocky ground. Nothing threatening at first glance; actually, it appeared extremely familiar, much like his native Black Hills of South Dakota without the millions of tourists and overbuilding. Nothing threatening, yet his “spider sense” was tingling like crazy.
When the Zar passed on such a heavy warning, it was half past time to pay attention. He was in someone else’s inner worlds without the protective safeguards automatically activated during dream state travel. Danger. Many a Guild Rep had died while on assignment, a fact little known outside the Guild itself and seldom discussed even among the Seeders themselves. He was, in effect, on enemy turf.
The Box at his belt had achieved limited production status in the year 2087, a proprietary product owned by the Massen family. Gerald Massen died without biological heirs, but he left the Guild, now some thousand Representatives strong, not counting Administration.
They were strong.
It could well have worked out differently, as every trainee learned in Week One of Basic Seeder Training. During the first six years of using the Box to project into the personal universes of clients, more than three hundred highly trained, high I.Q., highly sensitive Representatives failed to return from Assignment.
Only massive bribes paid to the clients had kept these debacles quiet, and not always then. Guild Rep Dead In Client’s Head!! Tabloid headlines like that one had stirred up plenty of enmity among Joe Public and Peter Politician alike. It had been a close thing.
Di Marco shook his head irritably. Woolgathering like some spatter brained rookie. It was enough to know the Guild had survived, had in the end thrived. He wore the Box with pride, used it with skill. The physicists could explain till they turned blue in their egg headed faces about how the marriage of miniaturization technology and breakthroughs in frequency modulation science had shown the speed of light to be in fact the threshold to the astral plane. Shades of Star Trek and warp speed and little green aliens.
Like every other Seeder, he’d done the required reading, knew that every Senior Rep could now transfer at will to and from any of four major inner worlds: astral plane, causal plane, mental plane, etheric plane, no diff, no big.
At the upper edges of the etheric plane, even the most avant-garde physicists had to admit they’d run into an existential brick wall. Garrett personally suspected this particular stopper would be a doozy. Zarellan writings taught that time and space went no farther, and how the hollyhockin’ heck did anyone figure to shift a physical body to no-space, no-time, and then back?
On the other hand, not that many centuries ago, top thinkers had been certain the world was flat and Earth the center of the Universe, so maybe . . . .
In the meantime, every government on the planet and thousands of private firms continued to attempt to crack the Guild’s secret technology. It was not patented, because patents could be reverse engineered and circumvented. Representatives had been captured and tortured, their mutilated bodies sometimes deliberately left for the media to find.
All any claim jumper needed to do was snag one Box intact, and the technology would spread like wildfire to military applications and other unthinkable uses. Only one man’s incredible genius had held the wolves at bay thus far; Massen had built safeguards into his product and into his people that had held together for more than fifty years and counting.
Hopefully. If it hadn’t been cracked already. In the end, who knew? No time for pondering all that at the moment, though. Business at hand.
They came at him from three sides: Three big men, each resembling the pictures he’d seen of the deceased H.F. James. It wasn’t like the B movies, either, with the bad guys conveniently attacking one at a time in order for the hero to show off his martial arts skills.
“Get out of here!!” They shouted, coming in fast.
Di Marco changed outfits. You could do that here at will, this plane having much more flexible rules than rigid old planet Earth. You could . . . if you knew the rules that did apply. Not that seeing an intruder on their turf suddenly shift from fatigues to black motorcycle leathers did much to slow their onslaught.
The lefthand sword did, though – skewered one and left him flopping. The Seeder’s long lunge had thrown the other two off just slightly, slowed them long enough for him to draw the long barreled stainless steel target pistol right handed.
The .22 long rifle hollow points did not kill them. It did discourage one, though. He held up his hands and backed off, a single red bloodspot shining between his eyes where the round had entered.
No blood showed on the one who’d taken the sword thrust, but that one stayed firmly down, dead dead dead. On the other hand, the final antagonist took several small caliber bullets and kept on coming. More slowly, at least; the Guild Rep had time to return his Zar-given long blade to its back-hung scabbard before almost casually drawing the .357 Magnum. Four ear-splitting rounds from the big revolver, and the guy finally stayed down . . . where he reformed rapidly into a decomposing carcass resembling a rotting alligator.
Things in the inner worlds are not always what they seem.
Mr. Hands-in-the-Air continued to back slowly away.
“Let her get on with her life,” Garrett suggested quietly, a pistol in either hand.
“Why not?” The guy shrugged, turned his back, and walked off. Nothing like trying to keep on controlling your wife after you’ve done went and died, the Guild Rep figured, but this had been a sideshow. Not what he’d contracted to do.
Three low ridges later, he found her: Darla James herself, dressed casually in denim and sitting on a stump, chewing on a long stem of grass like the southern country girl she claimed she was not. They understood each other without words. She did not flinch as he approached slowly and carefully, ever so carefully, got a thumb-and-forefinger grip on the hideous worm protruding from the center of her right eye.
He pulled gently, ever so gently, steadily but gently. Like a robin extracting an earthworm but with much greater sensitivity, he drew the long, slimy parasite from her causal body . . .
There. He had the first one out, placed it in a suddenly manifested ceramic dish, intending to burn it later. No chance of that – it self-combusted the instant it hit the dish, leaving nothing but ash. There were two more. The final one – not unlike his earlier attackers – being by far the cagiest. It took three tries to snag that one, but he really was good at what he did. Mission accomplished.
He’d even managed not to vomit. Always a good day when he managed not to hurl. Straightening up with a profound sense of relief, he addressed Causal Darla verbally for the first time.
“Done,” he said quietly. She simply nodded, and he thumbed the Box’s Return stud.
“Done,” he said quietly to Earth Darla as he snapped into visibility in her living room.
“I felt it,” she admitted just as quietly. “There was some kind of disturbance, and then later a sort of pulling in my right eye, and then a kind of happiness. Like I could see things a little more clearly. In a spiritual sense, at least.”
“Good.” The Seeder looked impressed, as well he should have been. “Few people perceive the process so clearly. You’re extremely sensitive.”
He studied her with new eyes. This lady was not just a client; she was a keeper. Maybe. Possibly. Some other time. For the first time, mentally casting around for an excuse not to go all ga-ga over a client . . . well, at least not this soon . . . he looked around the living room more closely.
Artwork of surprising variety graced every available wall: Here a Matisse, there a Van Gogh, both most likely originals. That was to be expected. The ultra-realistic acrylic of a rare black jaguar lurking among deep green leaves high on a massive tree branch and nearly hidden from sight, now, that was interesting.
And, hey, that bull rider about to be thrown clear over a rodeo arena fence by a massive red bovine (of the Simbrah bloodline developed by John Carr in Belize more than 150 years earlier, or he’d eat his gray suitcase).
Nobody would have paintings like that, paintings that jumped right out and grabbed you by the throat without . . . this widow was alive!
“So I’ve been told.” She smiled in a way somehow different, a touch lighter than during their earlier conversation. “I suddenly feel like resting. Could you do the honors? Pour me another coffee? And will you have one yourself now?”
“Now I would love one.”
He moved to the counter, rinsed her cup at the built-in sink, found a second cup in a cabinet, and poured for two. In the meantime, Darla James found the energy to ease herself up and out of the recliner, joining him at the dining room table where they hunched gratefully over their steaming drinks.
“It was in the causal body?” Darla asked. “You weren’t gone too long, so I figured you didn’t have to do much hunting, but . . . ”
“It was. Or rather, they were. Parasitic worms in the right eye, three of them. Burned up by themselves when they hit the air. Your outlook on life will be different now, though maybe so subtly it will be hard to be sure.”
“I’ll be sure.”
He grinned at her, sitting there all pretty and sure of herself and no doubt one hundred percent right in her self assessment. This was some special lady.
“In your case, you probably will. I wouldn’t mention the other thing, the little disturbance you felt . . . ”
“It wasn’t really all that little.”
For the first time since he’d walked into her life, the widow James put a bite into that lovely voice. The Old Bostonian Bastard might have run her life while he lived, but it seemed pretty clear she was not and never had been a doormat.
“True. It wasn’t. Seems your dear departed husband kind of wanted to keep on running the show. He . . . ” The fire in her eyes stopped him cold. What had he said that . . . ?
“Dear departed my left tit!”
The words hit the air with the crack of a bullwhip. This woman was irritated. Just the sort he never could resist, as it happened, the kind that always got him into trouble, the kind he never dated, just married.
“Mr. James was an asshole. I was his trophy wife, and he did honor that. Left me his millions. But let me tell you, Garrett Di Marco, I paid the price for it.”
He nodded, putting his hands in the air in a gesture of surrender that made him think of James’s similar behavior just minutes earlier on the causal plane. “Well . . . he seemed a bit more reasonable after we had a little face-to-face.”
She arched one eyebrow, an expression that somehow conveyed an admission of being impressed in return. A flush of pleasure shot through him like a spike of pure adrenaline, a lot hotter voltage than when he’d merely had to fight three big dudes for his life a bit earlier. Easy, Di Marco, he thought, You don’t even know if she’s in the market.
“Good.” It was her turn to grin. “Do I owe you for that, too, or . . . ”
“Nope. That’s a freebie. Part of the service we provide.”
“And part of the reason you went in wearing combat fatigues?”
“Part of.” He didn’t see any reason to mention the whole story. His personal fighting outfit remained a secret as closely guarded as the inner workings of the Box itself.
“You’re one helluva Seeder, Garrett Di Marco.”
“We really prefer being called Representatives, or at least Reps.”
She raised that eyebrow again, this time with a whole different meaning. He felt forced to explain. “See, the media picked up on that Seeder term about ten years back, and . . . .”
“And you’re stuck with it. But . . . you do remove karmic seeds from people’s inner bodies, do you not?”
Considering how to answer, the slender warrior took a long swallow of coffee and scrubbed a hand through a shock of unruly brown hair before answering. “If we’re lucky, yes. But in today’s operation, for instance, those worms were well beyond the seed stage.”
“So . . . you feel like only common people with no brains would use the term? Call you Seeders?”
This time his shrug showed definite discomfort. “Not that, not exactly. We’re not elitists. Well, okay, some of us are, but not me . . . ”
“Inaccurate, then. You hate inaccuracy, don’t you? In the English language every bit as much as in your work?”
“You got me.” Sheepish? Rueful? He wasn’t used to that, not a bit used to it.
She chuckled. They were much at ease with each other. Likely they’d be good in bed together. Yet he’d already been more intimate with her in a very real sense than any merely mortal lover could ever be. Now, if she had her own Box and knew how to use it, mmmm . . . oh, no doubt . . .
Her thoughts went right over Di Marco’s head. Women often made passes at him, and most of the time he missed the point altogether. Right now, for example, his own thoughts had already left the building. Darla James had transferred the necessary ten thousand credits to his escrow account even before he’d arrived. Now one thousand could be shifted to Guild Tithing, Inc., the remainder to his personal Granary.
He’d take the time to enjoy perhaps one more cup of excellent Brazilian coffee, change back to his fancy gray suit, maybe have lunch at Skarley’s Upscale before heading on home. He was rich, he was expert in his craft, he’d had an invigorating little tussle with three wannabe bully boys and had performed yet another successful operation. Life was good.
It did cross his mind, semi-sensitive that he was, that perhaps he ought to describe this woman to his two currently-contracted Submissives. Come to think of it, it was only a twenty minute run to the house. Perhaps the girls would also like a late lunch at Skarley’s. He could afford it. He was of the Guild.