Isaac had remained with Annelise after dinner. He had a stack of forms for her to fill out: a contract making her a civilian agent of the Phoenix Society, a non-disclosure agreement, consent to access her medical records, consent to implanted computer installation, consent to 24/7 audio-visual recording via Witness Protocol, acknowledgement that she was now the beneficiary of a trust that disbursed a monthly income that offered a modest level of financial independence, authorization to harvest and freeze her ova—she had balked at this last. "Why do you need to harvest and freeze my eggs, anyway?"
"This is a long-term assignment," said Isaac. "It might be at least a decade before Morgan Cooper is the man I need him to be. By the time you've completed your mission, you might be past your fertile years but still want to have children. This will preserve that possibility for you."
"Oh." She reviewed the consent. "You try to think of everything, don't you?"
"Indeed. Thus, the last form."
Her jaw dropped in disbelief when she read it. "You want to harvest my DNA and use it to create an einherjar that looks like me? I don't get it."
"Suppose you were somehow compromised or endangered? I'd have to help you escape the situation, but a sudden disappearance would raise questions. It would be better to stage your death, and easier to do so if we can produce a body. Cloning one from your DNA seems less objectionable than murdering somebody who resembles you and hoping nobody gets too curious."
"You're not going to keep a clone of me on ice, are you?"
"No need for that," said Isaac. "AsgarTech can create a body with a five nines resemblance in half an hour."
The confidence in Isaac's voice suggested that this was neither an empty boast nor some kind of joke. It raised an uncomfortable implication. "If Morgan and I get famous, AsgarTech isn't going to start selling sex dolls with a five nines resemblance to me, right?"
Isaac suppressed a laugh by pretending to cough into his fist. "I run the AsgarTech Corporation, not Stepford Robotics."
"OK, but if you can build an artificial girl who looks just like me, can't you just /build/ a girlfriend for Morgan? Why do you need me?"
Isaac stood, and began to pace. "It's complicated. The technology isn't there yet."
"What do you mean? Didn't you program Morgan to be what he is?"
"No. Morgan and the other einherjar started out as mostly blank slates. They have some inborn knowledge and abilities, but we purposely gave them infant bodies instead of accelerating their physical development because the only way for an einherjar to develop a strong psyche is to live a life. Even if I could also clone your personality and memories in a non-destructive fashion, copying that gestalt to a new body would have unpredictable and potentially catastrophic results. For example, how do you think you'd react if you woke up in an unfamiliar place and an unfamiliar body?"
"But you said it would be a clone."
"I said it would be based on you and bear a five nines resemblance. But einherjar are stronger, faster, tougher, and more dextrous than humans and asuras. You'd be waiting up in the body of a demigod or a superhero, not knowing your own capabilities. If I then told you that you were built to be somebody's new girlfriend, do you really think you'd go along?"
A scene from an old black-and-white horror movie she had watched with her girlfriends one drunken Halloween sprang to mind. "You think I'd go Bride of Frankenstein on him?"
"Something like that," said Isaac.
"So we've got to do it the hard way."
"Exactly. No shortcuts."
Annelise signed the last form, turned the stack back over, and pushed the manila folder that contained them back to Isaac. "Fine. When do I get to meet Morgan?"
"You don't," said Isaac. "Not as Annelise Copeland, at least. You'll understand in the morning."
She let out her breath in an impatient huff. "If I'm going to work with you, and leave everything and everybody behind to be some artificial superhero's golden fantasy[fn:5] then I can't have you keeping me in the dark. Since you wanted somebody with a brain for this job, why not take advantage of mine?"
A long moment passed before Isaac spoke. "Fair enough. I've turned your world and your understanding of it upside down, told you outlandish stories, and embroiled you in a clandestine war of demons and wizards. I probably should deal more openly with you."
"Let's start with my role. It sounds like you need me to completely inhabit this role to the point of considering Annelise an entirely different person, at least while I'm around Morgan."
"I understand you studied method acting. Can you do this?"
"Yeah, but to be safe, I might have to stay in character even when he's not around so that his friends don't ask questions. And I can't just do it until production wraps; I might have to be this other person for years."
"Yes. You might have to be Christabel Crowley that long."
"Christabel Crowley," Annelise repeated the name, trying it on as she might a pair of shoes. "She sounds like a London girl. Comes from money, but isn't outrageously rich. Plays the violin, classically trained because she used to be daddy's girl, but has just enough of a wild side that now she wants to rock."
Isaac leaned on the table, resting his chin against his fist. "Keep going."
"She would have gone to a moderately posh public school," said Annelise, using the term for an English boarding school catering mainly to the ruling classes. "Not a top-shelf school, but close enough to be respectable. She would have been the quiet, studious sort as a girl, but as a woman she wants a life of her own. Her parents had her learn the violin so that she could impress a potential husband, but it became her escape. She threw herself into it, and auditioned for the New York Philharmonic to get away from London and her family."
"Do you think you can make that work? You /are/ out of practice."
"Fuck you." The response came unbidden, an impulse Annelise would have to curb. It was not something Christabel would say. It was too blunt, and thus uncouth. "Allow me to rephrase, please. I will /make/ it work. Christabel has not been out of practice, and by the time she's ready to audition nobody will know she only recently picked up the violin again."
Isaac nodded, as if he had not heard her initial retort. "As I mentioned before, Morgan's just a metalhead."
"Did Naomi do metal at the bar where he worked?"
"No, as a matter of fact. It was one of those upscale bars catering to yuppies who at least pretended to consider rock too plebian for their own refined tastes. Instead, they affected a taste for classical and jazz."
"Right, so if Morgan hadn't grown up listening to it, he might have learned enough from talking with Naomi to dig deeper on his own. He might even have picked up some music theory along the way. What's his favorite band right now?"
Isaac thought a moment. "Right now? He seems to be digging Weasel Hadron Collider."
A network search gave Annelise what she needed. "You called him a metalhead, and he's listening to jazz fusion? What else has he gotten into."
"Charn." "That's prog."
"The Second Sex." "Feminist punk."
"Poseidon's Wake." "That's a bloody King Crimson revival band. What kind of metalhead gets into /that/?"
Isaac spead his hands. "Fine. He's a metalhead with aspirations. Your point?"
"He's not gonna be content with power chords and lyrics about women, leather, and Hell screamed out over a wall of sound. If he was, would he really be Christabel's type? I'm not convinced you know Morgan Cooper as well as you think you do."
"She's got a point," said Elisabeth, sauntering into the room. Touseling Isaac's hair until it spilled free of the ribbon binding it, she sat in his lap as if she were a cat and hooked a possessive arm around his shoulders. "So, what would you suggest we do about Morgan Cooper?"
"As a first step, Christabel should get Morgan's interest. I'm sure you've got some sort of meet cute scene in mind."
"I had thought of staging a robbery. You beg him to chase down a thief who has just snatched your violin."
Annelise shook her head, "Really, Isaac? He's an Adversary, right? Are property crimes even his problem?"
"She's got a point," said Elisabeth.
"What do we know about the people who handle auditions at the Phil? Are they honest? Is there one with a habit of demanding favors of young women?"
"As a matter of fact, there is."
"When the time comes, put me in front of him. You'll have a full A/V feed, so if he so much as implies that being a good musician isn't enough and I've got to do something extra to earn a seat in the Phil, you can sic Morgan on him. Then, after he's done his thing, we can arrange for me to meet him. If he takes his duties seriously he might not consent to date me at first, but I'll win him over."
"What happens then?" said Isaac.
"Once we're seeing each other, I can 'find out' that he's been studying the guitar. I can offer to play with him. I can suggest that we start a band, and point out that we need a vocalist. If Naomi auditions, I'll bring her aboard."
"I thought we talked about keeping Morgan /away/ from my daughter."
"Let the young lady finish," said Elisabeth. "I think I know where her logic's going."
"Thanks," said Annelise. "Isaac, you told me to torture Morgan. Just think of how he'll suffer knowing that he can't dump me to try to get with Naomi without breaking up the band, and that Naomi probably wouldn't have him if he tried to trade up because there'd be nothing to stop him from trying to trade up again if he meets Elisabeth or Tamara."
"You would make him a prisoner of his own pride?"
"Isn't that what you were trying to do?" Sure she was venturing onto uncertain ground, she continued. "You guys aren't human. Neither is Morgan, but he has the Pinocchio thing going. If you're going to play him, you need somebody who can think like a human being on your side."
"Aren't you already on our side?"
"I'm on your payroll, which is fine as far as it goes since you pay a fuckton better than Borgia Pizza and you haven't charged me for dinner, but I'm gunning for partner. Maybe I can't be a sorceress, but whatever this conspiracy is that you've got going, I want in. All the way."
As Elisabeth whispered in Isaac's ear, Annelise caught the phrase 'not unprecedented.' "Hey, Elisabeth, you mind sharing with the rest of the class?"
"The rest of the— Oh. Right. I was telling Isaac that your request wasn't unprecedented. Somebody who shares our goals but disapproves of our methods also has a human assistant as a junior partner. I figured that since you've got moxie, we might as well take advantage of it."
/Moxie? Jesus. How out of touch with the current culture are these people?/ It was a question Annelise knew enough to keep to herself. "Anybody I know?"
"Not likely," Isaac's tone had soured with distaste. "Edmund Cohen has taken an interest in Morgan, so you'll doubtless meet the old drunk. He's dangerous."
"Is he a mean drunk?"
"I was talking about when he's sober," said Isaac. "The more I tell you, the greater the probability that he might suspect that Christabel Crowley is not what she seems. It's hard to keep knowledge to oneself, but you deserve better than to be kept in ignorance. It's bad enough that I must treat my daughter and the einherjar I created thus; being able to initiate you into the mysteries may prove a pleasant change."
Elisabeth curled a lock of Isaac's frost-blonde hair about her finger. "Here's something else to consider. Morgan is as much Enkidu as he is Gilgamesh. He'll need a priestess to tame him and help him become more the man and less the beast." She gazed directly into Annelise's eyes. "You'll have to seduce him. Do you know how?"
"I know how Christabel would go about it," said Annelise, warming to her new role as she made it more her own. "She can't seem too knowing. She should be innocent, but curious and maybe a little insistent. Morgan sounds like the sort who'd appreciate a woman with a firm hand. But whatever preparation I have to do to become Christabel Crowley, I can't do it in New York. If he sees me here, it'll be harder to buy Christabel's story about coming to the city to escape family expectations back in London."
"Well, that simplifies matters," said Isaac. "I was wondering how I'd explain that I need you to go with Elisabeth to Europe for your preparation. Your maglev leaves tonight at midnight."
"I'm ready," said Annelise.
"No, you're not," said Elisabeth. "I doubt anybody will accuse me /today/ of murdering you and bathing in your blood to keep my youthful beauty, but surely /somebody/ would ask questions if you simply vanished. Please call your family and any friends you care to. Tell them that you lucked into a job with the Phoenix Society, but you'll have to leave the city and may be out of touch for a long time. Say what goodbyes you must, so that you can leave without regrets."
[fn:5] A "golden fantasy" is an expectation that all of one's problems can be solved by interaction with a perfect and infinitely caring relationships figure. This expectation tends to be less of a secret than the person holding it believes. Annelise is using it with the implication that Morgan Cooper will latch onto the woman she'll become and try to pin all his hopes of developing into a complete human individual on her.