"Okay, everybody. WAKE UP!" Bekkah shouted into the microphone on the podium. The assembly either laughed or groaned at her loud and insistent cry. The auditorium was packed. Most of the scientists and engineers gathered knew Dr. Rebekkah Barnes, and knew they could count on her to be as entertaining as she was informative. Those who didn't know her from past experience, knew her from reputation. That's probably why I was given the after-lunch slot, she thought ruefully. I can keep this lot awake for those who follow.

She turned on her microcomp and put her interface in her ear. The long wire microphone followed the line of her jaw and bent around to end just in front of her mouth. She had the audio gurus turn off the podium microphone so it wouldn't interfere with her interface, which would broadcast through the speakers as well as deliver commands to her computer.

"Okay. This is session 3, nanocircuitry and the micro computer. Anyone who is in this class by mistake is just out of luck. You're stuck."

She skillfully used her microcomp's visuals to project her materials on a screen behind her, all the while explaining the uses that nanocircuitry could be put to in a computer.

"For those of you who are in the know, yes, I did finally get the bugs out of my software and you are seeing the results of my research first hand right here in my microcomp." She talked about the speed with which her computer worked and the vast amounts of software storage available in such a small machine. People were taking notes frantically, and then she finished her presentation, and asked for questions from the floor.

"Are you marketing the microcomp yet, Dr. Barnes?" a fresh-faced graduate student asked.

"No, not yet. I want to enjoy having the only one for a while longer. Make you all drool with jealousy!" she quipped.

"When you do market it, who will get the rights? Your new employer? Tracy Industries?" Bekkah was surprised to see Ivan Virenov among the throng. The lanky engineer with the thin graying hair and the hawk's beak nose looked as if he had smelled something nasty.

"Probably, Ivan. After all, I currently owe them a living." She gave the sour-faced engineer a perky grin.

"Why did you leave the ISO?" came a question from the back.

"That really is none of your business, whoever you are. I have my own reasons, which are just that. My own."

Bekkah expertly fielded a few more questions, then brought her presentation to a close. Several people crowded up to the podium to see the microcomp up close. She allowed them some time to look at it, and answered a few more questions, then packed it up. The crowd had thinned out and was heading to the next session of the conference. She saw Hiram, Tin-Tin, and Sir James at the back of the room. She waved and headed in their direction. Suddenly, someone grabbed her arm and swung her around, grabbing the other arm and squeezing tightly. It was Ivan Virenov.

"Why did you leave the ISO, Bekkah? What can Tracy Industries offer you that my company can't?" he asked angrily.

Bekkah was shocked by the anger in Virenov's voice. But she looked him in the eye and replied calmly.

"Ivan, please take your hands off of me. You are hurting me." He dropped one hand, but kept a grip on her right arm with the other.

"You didn't make me an offer, Ivan. Tracy Industries did. They have a good reputation. Much better, I'm sad to say, than your own." She did not flinch as he stuck a finger in her face and shook it.

"You will regret doing business with Tracy and not signing on with me, Bekkah. Mark my words." Virenov's gaze shifted to behind her as Hiram, Tin-Tin, and Sir James came to Bekkah's defense.

"I will take my leave. But you haven't heard the last of me. I want the rights to that microcomp and I will have them!" With that, Virenov released Bekkah's arm, turned, and stalked out.

Bekkah rubbed her bruised upper arm. She stared after the retreating engineer, puzzled by his outburst.

"Bekkah, are you all right?" Tin-Tin asked, a worried look in her eyes. "Who was that man?"

"Ivan Virenov," Bekkah answered absently, still staring after the departing man. She turned her attention to Tin-Tin and gave her a small smile.

"What was that all about, Bekkah? What did Ivan want?" Sir James asked.

"It seems he wants my microcomp." Bekkah answered with a shrug. "I don't understand. He acted as if I owed him something." She turned wearily to Hiram. "I think it's time for me to take a nap, now. The adrenaline from giving my presentation is wearing off. Not to mention the caffeine." With that, she turned and left the conference room for her hotel room.

Again, she didn't notice her flesh-and-blood shadow stalking along behind her.