Friday, October 26, 2007

Chapter eight: How can you keep in touch with dreams?

Previous Chapter

Pneumotube transport cars are a lot like motorized squids. They have an internal fan that pulls in air from the front and pumps it out the back, so they ride the pressure differential without the loss of efficiency that comes from moving air around. They are noisy, though, so once we got onto the express, I was spared any more of Calvin Lee's insights. There's not much to look at in a tube car either; they don't bother to make the transport car windows clearer than translucent, so all we got was the regular flash of exterior corridor lights, too fuzzed to even focus on.

We had to leave the tubes for the final leg of the journey to our next interview. We had four names, two in the City, and two more out on the Circle and at least half a day away. Of the two in the City, one agreed to see us immediately which was a pleasant surprise.

There are no criminal penalties to drug possession, even back on Luna. But as Lee and I had seen at Marley Farm, addictions are frowned upon even in the loosest of societies. On Luna, possession per se was legal, but sale and addiction were not, and that led to a catch-22: Possession of greater than a certain amount of many drugs was prima facie evidence of either trafficking or addiction, so you wound up on a work gang either way.

Things were a lot less strict on Venus, even under Skyhook command, though possession or intoxication on a job was grounds for dismissal. In Sky City there were a slew of ways you could get yourself banished, your City residence revoked or your visa canceled. So people tended to be discreet in their habits, discreet in their histories.

Marjori Low was a society widow; her husband had owned a string of clothing factories and sales shops on the outer edge of the City. Her husband had been nouveau riche, but she was fourth generation Venus-born, and her family was from what passes for old money on Venus: those who'd staked out positions near the Skyhook when it first came down, and who had managed to retain ownership of those positional rights throughout the legal jockeying and occasional outright uses of force that followed.

Her home was in the Heights, where the City bloon curved up to meet the Skyhook. The place could only be called a mansion, with windows of real plexiglass to take advantage of the view. At night, the curve of Sky City seemed to issue from the feet of the Low residence, lit by the diffuse radiance of the internal lights of the City leaking through the translucent bloonskins. It looked like a carpet of bubbles, soft and warm, with occasional wisps of clouds drifting over the fairy landscape.

Marjori Low was in her mid-fifties, though in the modest light of her home she could pass for thirty, still attractive and well-groomed. Age retardants aren't that good, not by themselves, so she'd taken care of herself, regardless of what chemical habits she'd acquired and shed along the way. Her hair was that shade of red that happens when black begins to lighten, and it was cut to show off her high cheekbones and vaguely Eurasian eyes. Some of her vigor obviously came from exercise, because she walked with the kind of balance that comes from dance training or something very much like it. We had a good view of that walk while she graciously led us to vista seats, and I glanced over to see if Calvin was as affected by her as I was. Then I lost even that bit of concentration when she asked if we needed anything like food or drink. Her voice was set exactly in the register that feels like it caresses your ears before it is heard. Calvin declined her offer; I asked for water, which a servant quickly brought.

It looked like a carpet of bubbles, soft and warm, with occasional wisps of clouds drifting over the fairy landscape.

Then we asked her about her time in Fields Clinic. Most people are loath to speak of past falls from grace, but Mrs. Low spoke without a trace of embarrassment.

She spoke almost as if reciting lines she'd spoken often before. Perhaps she had satisfied other morbid curiosities, those of family, friends, who knows?

"When Henry died, that would be my husband, of course, Mr. Henry Low," she began. "When Henry died, after the grief passed, I became bored, not to put too fine a point on it. Henry and I had led an active life, full of both work and play, and we did both perhaps to excess. Still, my mother was an Experientialist, from one of the original Venus Bloon colonies. The Experientialists have a saying, 'Is it better to live too much or not enough?' Henry and I made our choices and I can't say we ever regretted them.

"But, with Henry gone, my former activities lost much of their allure. When a hole appears in your life, things that previously had been small and easily dealt with can grow much larger, without your knowing it."

She looked at us and smiled. "I remember some of the parties that we used to attend, the sort that the gossip columnists love to report, and always get wrong. There was plenty of drinking and music and dancing and drug taking, flirtations leading to affairs, sometimes affairs leading to divorce, all the delicious hints of scandal, you see. Such indulgences are childish, perhaps, but they can be quite fun, so long as you keep your perspective.

"But without Henry, I lost my perspective, I'm afraid. I began to drink more heavily without realizing it, and when there was a social function, I'd rely on stimulants to give me a lift that I couldn't find naturally. Well, you know the cycle. I shan't burden you by dwelling on it.

"But I do have real friends and real family," she continued. "People who actually care for me. One of my sons expressed some concern about me and I snapped at him. That surprised me, that I should feel anger for that. I was quite concerned about it. Then a week after I read some article in a magazine, 'How to Tell if your Spouse is an Alcoholic' something like that. If I hadn't been worried about it I would have passed it up, but I was worried, so I took the test, asking the questions of the woman in the mirror, you see."
[W]ithout Henry, I lost my perspective, I'm afraid.

She smiled again. It was an odd smile, mixing rue and pride perhaps. "I scored 95 out of possible 100," she told us. "A mere 50 was a good enough score to qualify for alcoholism. I was quite impressed." She smiled that same smile again.

"So I saw my physician and said, 'Time for this to stop, Angie.' She agreed. I could have checked into one of the really posh drying-out spas, but Angie knew Dr. Chan from school in Anchorage, and to be frank, I figured that part of my problem was that the only people I'd been seeing were other bored and boring people like me."

Calvin opened his mouth, about to ask her about Doria, I supposed, but I shot him a look. Sometimes you spend hours trying to get an interviewee to be forthcoming, and Mrs. Low was candidly telling us her story. We could do back-and-fill later.

But Marjori Low was a very sharp lady. She saw the exchange and grinned at me. "Ah, your partner wants me to cut to the chase, is that it? He's probably right. I should probably join AA if I want to spill my guts in front of strangers."

"Mrs. Low," I said with as much sincerity as I could muster. "Most people are very reticent about speaking to the police at all. You're doing fine. Just tell your story in your own words, any way you want to tell it. We have plenty of time."

She smiled gratefully at me, and for a moment her reserve slipped and I realized that this wasn't as easy for her as she made it seem. My admiration moved up yet another notch.

"Anyway," she continued. "I checked into Dr. Chan's clinic. They gave me some shots to help me detox and to keep the shakes and horrors away, and that went very easily. Dr. Chan explained that addiction has at least two sides to it, and that the biochemical part is the easy half. The more difficult part is to change the way you deal with yourself and other people."

She called to the servant, "James, please bring Mr. Honlin another water, and one for Mr. Lee also this time." Calvin was about to protest that he still wanted nothing, but she put up her hand to silence him. "A tonic for me, also, James." she said. "No gin."

She looked over at us. "I do still drink alcohol occasionally," she told us. "More often though, I drink tonic without gin, dealcoholized wine, rum free daiquiris. Part of Dr. Chan's program is to desensitize people from their usual chemical cues."

She paused again as the servant returned with our glasses. After he'd left, she said, "His name is not James, actually, but I call all my servants James. It's an eccentric affectation, you see. I'm rich enough so that all my oddities are eccentric affectations." She smiled at her own joke and sipped her tonic slowly, obviously enjoying the physical sensation of it.

"Where was I? Oh, yes, the group sessions, which is what you came to hear about. Dr. Chan's group therapy classes were part of the idea of changing how a person related to other people. We were supposed to redefine our methods of social interaction to include sobriety. Hmm. That sounds very toney, doesn't it? That must have been the way that Dr. Chan put it. I think he would have preferred a posh clientele in a classy detox spa. Naturally he gave me special treatment, hoping I'd give good referrals, perhaps."

"Perhaps he had other designs on an attractive wealthy widow," I offered.

She looked at me with an expression of faint surprise. "Why thank you," she said. "I never thought of that. I wonder why? It's an obvious possibility."

"Perhaps you weren't inclined to think along those lines," I suggested.

She shrugged. "You're probably right," she said. "Anyway," she continued. "We were supposed to learn to get along with people without drugs. And to enjoy it. That was the idea.

"I remember the group very well," she said. "There was Doria, of course. She's the person that you are interested in. She was an absolute charmer. There were two boys in the group who were very interested in her. Well, actually, all of the boys and maybe one of the girls was interested, but only two of the boys really acted like they had a chance. Doria was obviously high priced merchandise. I knew that even before our first session, where we learned everybody's background.
Thomas was a City boy, I'm sure of it.

"Anyway, the two boys were Thomas and Jean. That's J-E-A-N, but he pronounced it 'John.' They were both in their twenties, so I probably shouldn't call them boys, but everybody below the age of thirty is a boy or girl to me, so what do I do about it?

"Those would be Thomas Roberts, and Jean Fallow," Calvin said, consulting his list. "Those were the names they gave at the clinic, anyway. Fallow lives out on the Circle, quite a way out, in fact. We haven't been able to track Roberts through the registry."

"Hmm," said Mrs. Low. "That's a little surprising. We only used first names at the clinic, but we did talk about our backgrounds to a certain extent, where we grew up, things like that. Now Jean, he grew up in a free cluster, so he might not have even been registered. But Thomas was a City boy, I'm sure of it. In fact, he looked a little familiar, though I could never place his face."

She stopped for a moment with a look of intense concentration on her face. "No," she shook her head. "It never came to me." She paused for a moment, then continued. "There was also Mick, or Mickey. He wanted us to call him Mick, and everyone did except for Thomas, who occasionally slipped and called him Mickey. I could tell it annoyed Mick a little bit, since he was in his late thirties, so he was older than Thomas by at least ten, maybe fifteen years. But he seemed deferential to Thomas, almost like an employee, at times. On the other hand, sometimes when he was talking about things, Thomas would look over at Mick before he said something, or he'd be talking and then stop in the middle, again, after he looked over at Mick."

"Mick would be Michael Williams," said Calvin. "He's another of our mystery clients."

Mrs. Low stared out at the City lights for a while, remembering, I suppose. Then she blinked and gave her head a quick little shake. "Sorry," she said. "It's easy to reminisce, isn't it? Sometimes the past is better than the here and now. I liked all our group, and it had such a while since I'd really liked anybody.

"So who's left? Wilma Fiore, who was about Doria's age, maybe a little older. But she was plain, poor dear, and felt badly about it.

"Then there was the fellow with the delicious name: Deeth Moran. Doesn't that sound wonderful? He was a warehouse laborer. Doria called him a stevedore. He pretended that it annoyed him to be called a stevedore, but he secretly enjoyed it, or we'd not have all picked it up. Some groups tear each other down, Dr. Chan told us, but he was glad to see that ours gave each other support.

"Deeth was really a dear. He had several tattoos and such pretty muscles. I think I fancied him, but he never noticed. He was so embarrassed that he was there and said he'd be fired if his boss ever found out that he'd had a drug problem. It was liquor and pills with Deeth, just as it was for me. Maybe that's why I thought I fancied him. Or maybe it was just the muscles."

She looked at our faces and laughed aloud. "Ah, I'm pulling your legs, dears. But your expressions are priceless." She laughed again.

"But enough fun with the polite policemen. You want to know about Doria. Her parents died, you know, and she didn't get on well with her aunt and uncle. To hear her tell it she had both a wicked stepmother and stepfather, but reading between the lines it was just a case of an easily bored teenager descending on an inexperienced childless couple who couldn't cope."

"There's that word again," I observed.

"You mean 'bored?'" she asked, her smile remaining. She sighed. "Yes, so much of life comes down to a matter of keeping boredom at bay."

"What about afterwards?" Calvin asked her. "Have you heard from any of the others?"

"I received a couple of posts from Doria," she said. "Both were from that place where she worked, Marley Farm. Very pretty -- the cards I mean. They print them on paper that they make there, I believe, and sell them to collectors, for the most part."

"Do you still have them?" I asked.

"The cards? I should, shouldn't I?" Her mouth twisted into a faint frown. "But I've misplaced them. I'll continue to search if you think them important."

I shrugged. "Probably not," I admitted. "But you can never tell, so if you find them, please notify us."

"I'll do that," she nodded absently, an abstracted look on her face. She said, "As for the rest of them, no, I haven't heard. At the end of it, you feel so close to your group mates, and you all promise to keep in touch, but once back in your regular life, the clinic time seems dreamlike. How can you keep in touch with dreams? They fade so easily."

She looked at us straight on. "Being in an S.A. program is an admission of defeat, isn't it?" she asked, rhetorically. "An admission that you've lost control of your bodily functions, like being incontinent or vomiting in public. It's embarrassing as hell, actually. I resolved not to let my embarrassment rule me. So I tell people about it if they ask. It's rude to ask, but understandable, and I tell them. I don't blush at the telling, either. Perhaps I used to, but I don't anymore."

She gave us a final smile and rose to her feet. The audience had ended. That's exactly how it felt. The audience had ended, the performance was over. Time for the performer to retire.

"James will show you out when you are ready to leave," she said. Feel free to stay and watch the City for a while, if you wish. It's a beautiful sight but one grows accustomed to almost anything after a while, and I confess I'm a little tired of this place. Henry used to call it 'regression to the mean,' which is a fancy way of saying 'you get jaded.'" She smiled at me and said, "You'll notice that I did not again use the word 'bored.' There are many synonyms, after all."
How can you keep in touch with dreams? They fade so easily.

She turned and walked to a portal. Turning her head, she said back over her shoulder, "I'll continue to search for Doria's cards, and I'll call you if I think of anything else."

Then she was gone, closing the portal behind her. After she left, the sheen of the closed portal took up the blurred lights of the City, a faint reflection remaining to remind us that she had been there.

Next Chapter

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chapter seven: But of course he knew I was lying.

Previous Chapter

Calvin and I took a pneumatic tube to the clinic where Doria had dried out a year earlier. Most of the transport tubes run east west because of the wind shear, and every year they extend them a little further out along the Circle, the linkage of connected bloon clusters that circumnavigates Venus at the equator. Someday there will be tube transport that circumnavigates the globe as well, just like the data pipes do now. Maybe someday they'll widen the damn things enough so that more than two people can sit abreast in them, or make the roofs high enough so someone as tall as I am doesn't get his head bumped when the top is zipped down on the tube car.

City expansion favors the east/west direction, just like the transport lines do, and the cluster that contained the rehab clinic could expect to be annexed sometime in the next few years. The clinic itself was an old bloon, still viable, but with streaks of brown and yellow in its photosynthetic surfaces. Inside it felt warm and homey, just the sort of place for a detoxing patient to try to learn to master the cravings that had led them to make whatever Faustian bargains that had gotten them there.

Biochemical detox itself is no big deal; there are at least a dozen treatments that bring about a gentle shift of metabolism from drug dependent to sobriety. Maintaining the sobriety is something else again, because the cravings can sink their hooks into the personality and soul of the addict. Many addicts run a cycle of euphoria, habituation, detoxification, then relapse, okay if you can afford it, maybe, but society as a whole often cannot. On Luna, the cycle gets broken in a straightforward manner, get addicted and you get forcibly treated. Relapse and you're work-ganged. On Venus, the options are more variable.

Skyhook Authority and the Sky City government run a number of charitable programs, and the rehab clinics are an example. Turn yourself in for detox, and for a small fee or subsequent contract work, they'll take care of you. But rehab counseling comes with the deal, and if the overall success rate is lousy, its backers can rightfully claim that it works better than doing nothing at all, though maybe not as cheap.

The Fields Clinic ran on a Skyhook grant and private donations. It was City licensed, even if it wasn't yet in the City proper, so most of its clients were City inhabitants. Some were even City employees. Being outside the City, though, had its advantages, since it made it easier for those who passed through to remain obscure. You didn't need to pass through an ID checkpoint to get to Fields Clinic, and many of its clients came under a pseudonym.

Much to our annoyance, of course.

The doctor who had treated Doria Adams was named Lou Chan. Despite his name he was a male caucasian with graying hair and smile lines on his face, though he wasn't using the smile when we came in. He'd stood up from behind his desk when we entered his office and I figured him at about a hundred and sixty five centimeters, and maybe sixty five kilos, with not much of it muscle. He looked fiftyish, but age retardants can shave five or ten years off somebody's looks, and Dr. Chan was highly enough placed to have access to all the best gerontologicals. I could think of no obvious reason for the immediate dislike I felt for him, except that it might serve our purposes for me to be abrasive. Chan's record indicated that he was a psych therapist and he had an obvious concern for his patients that was probably sincere. I expect that he did as good a job of separating a client from his or her soul killing habits as anyone. It was just too bad that he stood in the way of our investigation.

"Look, Mr. Lee, Mr. Honlin," he said after our initial questions. "Confidentiality is part of the service that we offer. Surely you can understand that."

"I don't give a goddamn," I said. It's not too much of a stretch for me to sound menacing, so I let nature take its course. "We're investigating a murder here. A very nasty murder that one of your patients may have been involved with. You can plead patient privilege all you want, but if it turns out that you've withheld even a scrap of information that might be important, I'll have your license for toilet paper, and I'll see to it that Skyhook shuts this place down, you got that?"

His lips compressed in a brave line and he seemed about to offer a retort, but Calvin beat him to it.

"Lay off, Ed," he told me. "Dr. Chan, my associate is a little excitable about this because he knew the murder victim. We don't know what sort of information might help us, so we're a little bewildered and frustrated. But we do think that we need to talk to Doria Adams, who was a client here about a year ago. Conceivably, you or one of your other clients might know something to help us get in contact with Miss Adams. And if she is involved, it might be very dangerous for her if we don't find her soon. Is there anything at all you can tell us that might help?"

He considered this. "You've already got my notes and records," he observed. "Over my extreme protest, I might add. I do remember Miss Adams, albeit more vaguely than I would like. We have twenty to thirty patients here at any given time, and the duration is less than a month, so you can imagine that I can't remember them all.

"I do remember that she was young, bright, and attractive, exactly the sort of person prone to burn-out in the fast life. I recommended that she try positional employment in the farm clusters when she left, and I'm happy to see that she took my advice. Farming is good occupational therapy, and migratory work can give vent to some of the more flight prone natures.

"She made friends easily. The men in her group were obviously attracted to her, but she got on well with the women also. She had the knack for not letting her attractiveness reflect on others."

He paused for a moment of reflection, then said, "Frankly, as I talk about it some of it comes back to me. She was a good group therapy patient, not so much for how much it helped her, but because she was so good in drawing out the others. She seemed forthright in speaking about her own past, although I am always a little suspicious of that, but the others always took her revelations as a cue that it was all right to unburden themselves. It made my work much easier."

He paused for a second, and shook his head. "I don't encourage my patients to remain in contact with me," he said, as if admitting a failing. "When my methods work, they work fairly quickly. We use a combination of 'the talking cure' and behavior modification. If you watch what you are doing, you have a better chance of changing it. So most of what I hear from the clients of this clinic comes from the voluntary follow-ups.
If you must contact any of the clients, please try not to let them know that their privacy was ultimately just a sham.
"But the patients often vow to remain in touch with each other; often they actually do. In the follow up interviews, this often comes across as a big reason why it works when it works. The clients learn a new skill, sobriety, and they develop a network of people who appreciate that skill.

"And as I said earlier, Doria was attractive. I would not be surprised to learn that some of the other patients had made an effort to keep in touch with her. I daresay that one or two of them may have had romantic designs on her. Something may even have happened while she was here. We try to give our clients as much privacy as we can."

He looked at Calvin and shrugged. "That's all I have. You have my notes. If you must contact any of the clients, please try not to let them know that their privacy was ultimately just a sham. They may need the refuge of another sham someday."

He turned to me. He said, "I'm familiar with the usual interrogation techniques, of course, and the 'good cop/bad cop' ploy is moderately effective even when the suspect knows what is going on. Even so, I could be more obdurate except that there is the possibility that Miss Adams might be in the sort of danger to which Mr. Lee alluded. But please don't again threaten me with political interference. I don't like to be bluffed."

I hadn't been bluffing exactly, since Skyhook was capable of doing everything that I had said. But he was correct in that they probably wouldn't use a hammer on him just for being recalcitrant.

"Fair enough," I told him. "If I ever want to do you harm, I won't bluff. I'll just break all the bones in your left hand."

I meant it as a joke, I think, but something of it must have come out wrong, because some of the blood drained from his face, and Calvin Lee beside me gave an almost inaudible gasp.


We left the clinic in an awkward silence. The tube was several bloon lengths away and we walked silently through the dimly lit corridors, periodically passing through the air curtains that separated each public bloon from the next. The floors of the public thoroughfares are springy and make walking easier, unlike house bloons which tend to have softer, more damping surfaces to reduce noise. You think about stuff like that when you're trying to avoid thinking about something else.
I meant it as a joke, I think, but something of it must have come out wrong…
"I've tried getting more information about you from Luna, you know," Calvin Lee said at length. I grunted noncommittally. He was a cop with a cop's curiosity. Besides, nobody expected him to be comfortable working with a question mark.

"Most of it came up dry, of course," he said. "But our chief of police knows a guy, I'm naming no names here, and this guy knows some pretty well-connected people back on Luna. So after a few questions, messages back and forth, yesterday I get this email message from a guy named Josephson. You heard of him?"

"If it's Dewey A. Josephson, he's the assistant deputy head of Pan Luna Security." I said. "Or at least he was when I was there. Every Luna cop pretty much knows about every upper echelon security politico, and they stay put for quite a while, so he's probably the guy."

"'One of the finest law enforcement officers ever to serve in the solar system.' That's laying it on pretty thick don't you think?"

"He's first deputy, now," said Lee. "Answers only to the Minister and Chief of Security. Pretty powerful guy, I'd say. Very upside."

"Good for him," I replied.

"Anyway, I get this message from him. It says, blah, blah, blah, heard about your case, blah, blah, blah, would appreciate any information that develops concerning Skyhook/Luna trade, blah, blah, blah.

"Then it says, 'We've been told that Mr. Edwin Honlin, formerly of Luna City Police and Pan Luna Security operations has been involved in the case on an advisory basis. Let me mention that it is our belief that any involvement in any capacity by Mr. Honlin is a positive development. Pan Luna Security holds Mr. Honlin and his capabilities in the highest regard, and considers him to be one of the finest law enforcement officers ever to serve in the solar system.'" Lee smiled at me. "'One of the finest law enforcement officers ever to serve in the solar system.' That's laying it on pretty thick don't you think?"

"Josephson's a politician," I said. "Believe him like you believe any other politician. Someday, he'll probably want something from somebody for the testimonial. Shake hands, count your fingers."

"Maybe," Lee said thoughtfully. "Or maybe he already got his pound of flesh. My well-connected friend told me that Josephson mentioned off the record that he owed his job to you. You have something to do with his promotion?"

I said nothing.

"Maybe not his promotion," Lee continued. "I've studied law a little, and the Lunar constitution is a real nice piece of work. There's an article in it about succession after untimely death and assassination, did you know that?"

"I've read it a few times," I replied.

"Yeah, I'll bet. Anyway, part of the deal with assassinations is that if one of the top guys gets bumped off, the head of Pan Luna Security loses his job and is forbidden to hold office again. Any public office. Ever. And tradition has it that he takes the first two or three layers of the Security organization with him. They all get fired. The idea was to keep any Security heads from getting power hungry and maybe participating in an assassination plot."

"Grade school history," I told him. "Seventy, no, eighty years ago. The plot of '06. Nearly caused a civil war."

"Right," he said. "So if there were a major assassination on Luna, our Mr. Josephson would lose his job, as would his boss and maybe twenty or thirty other guys. Really important guys."

"So what's your point?" I asked, anxious to get this entire topic of conversation over with.

"Well," he said, with just a trace of smugness. "I was just wondering how grateful those guys could be. Seems to me that anyone having to do with foiling the sort of thing that could make them join the ranks of the unemployed, well, that sort of thing could be pretty big news. If it ever got out, I mean. But there was never any news like that, so it either never happened, or they put a deep black security blanket over it. Even so, those guys should be mighty grateful, don't you think?"

"I wouldn't know," I told him.

"Maybe not," he said. "But gratitude like that can usually let a man write his own ticket. What do you think would make a man take the ticket and make it a one way to Venus, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars?"

"I wouldn't know that either," I told him, but of course he knew I was lying.

Next Chapter

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chapter six: …merely lying to keep in practice.

Previous Chapter

The physical requirements for the Luna police force are stringent. It's easy to get by on one-sixth G; add in a history of a malnourished population, and you can understand why most Lunars are a pretty puny lot.

Luna Security, on the other hand, likes its cops to be big and well-muscled, on the theory that there should never be any doubt about who will win a tussle. Standard issue weapons are mace and a shock stick, but it was considered bad form and a reflection on your abilities if you had to use them. Intimidation was always our prime stock in trade, and only a full-scale riot was supposed to require air guns and dope darts.

The physical regimen that went with being a Luna policeman made it a lot easier for me to make the changeover to a higher G life than was the case for many of my compatriots. I still went for regular workouts, from physical habit and the demands of a body that craved a certain background of physical activity and protested any loss of range of motion or lessening stamina and strength.

The martial arts training was something else again. High G styles are different from low G, and I'd had to start out practically at the bottom in the Venus schools. That suited my mood at the time of my entry into this brave new world, and I'd kept at it with desultory diligence for my first year or so in the bloons. Once my old, inappropriate habits had been mothballed, I'd progressed rapidly; another year of really intensive effort would have brought me back up to dan grade. Instead, I let it drop, for what reason I could not say.

After my talk with Calvin Lee, I went for a workout at the hotel gym, and pulled and pushed against the appropriate spring-loaded machines for what seemed to be a considerable time. But the sweat that covered me didn't seem sufficiently baptismal, I suppose, so I showered and took a squid to the cluster where my old dojo resided.

The first day after sunset is usually a quiet time, as I've said before, and that was the case for my dojo, as well. I paid a visitor's fee, my membership having lapsed some months before, and went out on the mat to await the next class. Sitting seiza, legs folded beneath me, I tried to put my body's affairs in order, but I'd barely had time to let my breath settle before the sensei came out onto the mat.

His name was McElroy, and off the mat we called him "Sensei Mack." On the mat he allowed no talking of any sort, except a naming of techniques, and he did all teaching through wordless demonstration, for reasons he never chose to explain. This policy suited my temperament, so it was Sensei Mack whom I chose to study with when dojo shopping after I first arrived.

He did not acknowledge my presence as he led us through our initial exercises, but when we began to practice, he called on me for ukemi.

On Luna I had trained in two styles, a karate-derived linear style and a lock and throwing technique that once had been a kind of aikido, and now was almost completely in the form of exercises, kata, for one or two people. As a policeman, the karate was what I principally used, but I'd loved the aikido for its own sake.

It felt like there might still be something worth living for again.
Sensei Mack taught an almost classic form of aikido, a bewildering wealth of techniques and mannered throws. I'd come to appreciate its subtle lessons, even as I was finding it more and more difficult to maintain my concentration during practice. Aikido became a beautiful woman that I loved but could not bear to be around.

As uke for Sensei Mack, he had me come at him in a variety of attack maneuvers, each time with the result that I soon become airborne and have to twist to take a proper fall. I should have been feeling the effects of the earlier workout, but there was nothing, only the exhilaration of survival at the end of each throw as I'd slam into the resilient bloon floor, turning the power of my fall into sound, or rolling it back into my body and coming lightly to my feet.

It felt good. It felt very good. It felt like there might still be something worth living for again. That feeling transferred to the practice with other students, each pairing feeling like there was a human connection to be made, that ritual combat could ennoble the soul. That perhaps our lives are not doomed to waste and despair, despite appearances to the contrary.

Then it was over. When we had all bowed and Sensei Mack had left the mat, and we all began to diligently sweep the entire dojo with brooms much too small for the purpose, I checked my internal compass once again and noted that it again had an idea of north and south. It was not a reliable instrument yet, but maybe someday...

And after I had dressed, as I left the dojo, Mack was standing by the door talking to another student about some mundane matter. He looked briefly in my direction and nodded. "You will return," he said. It was not quite a question.

"Yes," I admitted. "I thank you for the lesson, Sensei."

He nodded again and returned to talking about the proper way to boil water for tea.

Ninety percent of police work is desk work, either writing reports or sifting through various databases looking for telltale patterns.

Back in my hotel, I caught an early show in the lounge, then went back to my room and read for a couple of hours. After that I went to bed, with half a night of dreamless sleep being the reward for my good behavior. The nightmares came eventually, of course, but had the good grace to fade with the clock chimed morning.

I caught a squid for City center and arrived at police headquarters just as the shifts changed. Lee was already there, having come in early to begin more computer searches.

Ninety percent of police work is desk work, either writing reports or sifting through various databases looking for telltale patterns. We were trying to find someone who knew someone who knew someone, which put our potential list at half the population of Venus. Great. When we did find someone who knew either Sheila or Doria, we wanted as many answers to most of our questions beforehand, to sift the guilty consciences and chronic liars from those who were merely lying to keep in practice. The possibility of finding someone who tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is judged unlikely by experienced policemen. Human discourse is viewed as a stew of necessary lies, with unnecessary falsehoods as seasoning.

"Doria Adams' parents were bloon fishers down south." Calvin told me. "She was fourteen when they died."

"How did they die?"

"Miasma mold," he said. At my quizzical look he explained. "It's a fungus that attacks bloons. Bloons sieve nitrogen and photosynthesize oxygen. Miasma mold temporarily cripples the oxygen making capability. The bloon still consumes O2 for respiration, though, and so does the mold. And the bloon still filters out CO2, so you don't get a CO2 excess warning. It can happen quite quickly sometimes, over maybe a day. If it's already underway and you go to sleep without noticing, you can wake up dead from breathing pure nitrogen. There's not enough physiological warnings."

"Don't people have O2 sensors?" I asked, automatically fingering my earring, which served that function by emitting a low volume warning beep when my personal air got too depleted.

"Usually," he said. "They don't always keep them fully tested and operational. You know how people are."

Not entirely I don't, I thought to myself. "So where was Doria when it happened?"

"She was in a three day a week boarding school. Education can get a little haphazard for the fishers, but most manage at least a secondary level education. Doria was in one of the data net schools until the accident, then she went to live with an aunt and uncle, according to school records."


"Whatever additional schooling she got, it was off-line. So then we have nothing until she entered Sky City briefly three years later. Six week visa, then out to shadowville is my guess. Next visit to the City a year later, and her two prostitution raps. Then license, a couple years on a hyperbolic trajectory, followed by rehab. That brings us to Marley Farm."

"Not an easy trail to back track," I observed. "Her former clients aren't going to hold up their hands and step forward. How many of her fellow rehab folks have you tracked down?"

"The clinic is just outside the City on the Circle. Their patients go through bundled in groups of five to eight, who do some sort of 'socialization therapy' along with some behavior mod to try to help them stay clean after detox. We've pulled the electronic records on the group that went in with Doria. They don't record the sessions themselves, unfortunately. Aside from Doria herself, the records list six who fed through at the same time. We have addresses for two of them, here in the City, and another one out on the Circle. Three are blanks; no fixed abode, no known address. We're going to see the doctor who was their shepherd in the psych work."

"Sounds like the place to begin," I said.

"The doctor was none too happy about having his records pulled, either," said Calvin.

"Well, big surprise," I replied.

Next Chapter

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Chapter five: But there's not a man on Venus you'd lift a finger for

Previous Chapter

I'd only had six hours sleep in the last forty-eight, so Lee dropped me off at my hotel when we got back to Sky City. It was one of those achingly beautiful sunsets that we never see from the City's shadow, and Calvin and I lingered over a sandwich in a small Edge-of-City cafe that had a view window, to watch the last of it, as the color of neon faded through the color of blood into darkness.

After Calvin dropped me off, I went through the main lounge of the hotel on my way back to my rental. The main lounge has the front desk, plus a small restaurant and bar. It was almost empty at that hour and Madame Fumio, the owner, was having a quiet meal with her latest boy toy. I could hear him from across the space, his voice was neither loud, nor penetrating, but it had a rich quality that carried well. All of Fumio's boys had rich voices, that was always their most distinguishing characteristic, that and each one's belief that he was special, never to be cast aside.

"Ed!" It was Fumio, and since she was occasionally my boss as well as my landlady, I padded over to her table to see what she wanted.

"Billy at the front desk told me you needed to cut back on your shifts," she said as I reached the table. The hotel needed extra air, like all the clusters in shadowville, and I did one of my regular runs for Fumio.

I shrugged. "Another deal came up. It's only temporary and if you need me any time, I'll make a special run."
Fumio snacked on men for breakfast, then spat out their bones before lunch. It was part of her charm.

"That's reassuring," she said in a mildly sarcastic tone. "I doubt we'll have that much of a shortage of air jockeys, though. Even Meren here can make an air run, can't you, Meren?" The fellow with her assured her that he would walk one end of Sky City to the other for her. It was touching enough to almost get a laugh out of me.

"But the word is that your 'something that came up,' is the police, Ed. Is that true?"

I shrugged. "More a personal matter," I said. "But I took a consultant contract with Sky City police to work on it."

Her face clouded. Fumio had no truck with the police. She started out in shadowville many years ago as a stripper, and slowly worked up to "exotic dancer" with an act involving feather fans and see-through fabric. She saved her money and first bought the hotel showroom, then the hotel itself. She still danced occasionally, and even in her late fifties she could make a room full of men feel the heat of her compact curves and olive skin. She once commented that it was too bad I wasn't twenty years younger so she could take me on as one of her "boys." I told her I was flattered, but that she'd have been too much for me even when I was twenty.

Which was true, of course. Fumio snacked on men for breakfast, then spat out their bones before lunch. It was part of her charm.

Like most Darkunder dwellers, Fumio had little use for cops, especially Sky City cops. She knew I'd been a Luna cop, but considered that I'd learned my lesson and given up a misspent youth.

"A friend of mine was murdered, Fumio," I told her. "Tortured, then murdered. I don't intend to let whoever did it get away with it. Getting on with the Sky cops is the only way I can go after them. Besides, the pay is good. I'll be able to buy a new comm unit for my bloon."

She considered it. "Well, you're no snitch," she said finally. "I'll try to get the word out to let you alone on this. But you'll have to curtail certain...associations, you know?"

I understood. "Sure," I told her. "Just tell everybody that I can do an air run or two every now and then, but no side trips. I'm not looking to bust anybody's chops."

She nodded. "This girl who died, Ed, was she special?"

"I didn't say it was a girl, Fumio," I said.

"No," she told me. "But there's not a man on Venus you'd lift a finger for."

I sighed. "I don't know, then," I told her. "Maybe she was special, maybe not. But some things you just don't let pass."

She gave me another look. "Go get some sleep," she said, but the way she said it sounded like she thought she'd never before seen me this awake.


My dreams that night were olfactory and hallucinatory, full of odd smells amid a shifting landscape where solidity was a vague misconception. The smells were of must, and smoke, and the smell of singed flesh, and my own identity transmogrified with each change of the wind.
"This girl who died, Ed, was she special?"

I awoke several times, each time covered in sweat, each time unwilling to do anything more than turn over and try to plunge once more into unreality. Finally even dreams were denied me and I reached over and snapped a glow bulb. My watch told me I'd been asleep for sixteen hours, a personal best.

I got up, showered and shaved, dressed and headed to the dining areas. The ninety-six hour cycles of dark and light on Venus tend to scramble the normal human diurnal cycles, but even in the City's shadow some patterns are typical. The time immediately after nightfall tends to find everyone asleep, catching up on the time missed when the light prevailed. The light itself has little effect on the inhabitants of Darkunder, since we see so little of it, but the rhythms of the City above are felt below. So many of the activities in shadow involve the supplying of entertainment of various sorts to the well-lit folks above, that when those folks are all asleep, activities down below come to a crawl.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course, because some things are best accomplished while the world sleeps, but the cops know this rule also, and they pay particular attention to the hours between 4800 and 6000 on the light clock. After that, the cycles slip, with many bodies seeking their own internal rhythms and by dawn many folks can find themselves quite confused and in need of caffeine or other regulatory chemicals. Most of these are legal, even in central Sky City, but the exceptions can make for lucrative business.

In central Sky City, artificial lighting makes the rules, central Sky City time being more an extension of offworld time than part of Venus itself. There is an extension of offworld Law, as well, and the gradient between offworld and true Venus culture has made many a lawyer rich. We all play the Sky City gradient in one way or another. When the money river flows, you can sit on the banks dangling your feet in the water and never starve.


I had breakfast at what was nominally suppertime, though there were as many people dining on Bloody Marys and eggs as there were on chicken and potatoes. I usually avoid animal products myself, for no good reason other than my eating habits were of long standing, and I prefer the taste of spiced tofu and corn meal grits.

After breakfast, I went to the main lounge and used my nice new debit card to order a new comm unit. Twenty-four hour delivery and I'd be back in contact with the world, even when hiding in my single compartment bloon. Great. Then I put in a call to Calvin Lee from a rented phone.

"Hello, Ed," he said as he came on the line. "Your comm is still out of commission."

"I know," I told him. "I just ordered a new one."

"Fixed or mobile?"
When the money river flows, you can sit on the banks dangling your feet in the water and never starve.

I snorted. "You're not paying me enough to afford a light pipe connection. It’s a no roam mobile, and low priority. If you want security, you'll have to spring for a scrambler."

"We'll take it under advisement," he said. "For now I think that we'll just assume that no one cares enough to eavesdrop."

"You got that right."

"It's getting near the end of my shift, where have you been?" he asked.

"Asleep," I told him. "Happens to the best of us."

"Uh, huh. I've got some information for you to chew on."

"Spill," I said.

"Which do you want first, tobacco or Doria Adams?"

"Make it tobacco."

"Okay, my search demon found two hundred forty instances of tobacco or nicotine possession, sales, or usage violations in all offworld jurisdictions in the past five years. That's pretty low, I'd say."

"About what I figured," I told him. "Venus is the only source, and security through Skyhook is tight. Tobacco is pretty bulky, and very hard to smuggle. The only market is rich thrill seekers."

"Yeah," he said, "But nicotine isn't bulky. It's hard to get and dangerous to handle, though. Of the two hundred forty cases, only six of them were nicotine rather than tobacco, and five of have show a lab analysis of mixed isomers, meaning that it was probably a lab synthesis somewhere."

"Mixed isomers?" I asked.

"Nicotine has mirror isomers, left- and right-handed. Tobacco produces only the left-handed kind. Lab synthesis gives a mixture. You can separate them, but why bother for a street drug, even one for rich kinks?"

"How about bioengineered sources?" I asked.

"You'd have to go through either the Luna or L-colony biodesign labs. They make Skyhook security look like first-level school hall monitors."

"So what was the one remaining case?" I asked him. I can subtract five from six as well as anybody.

"It was on Ceres," he said. "It showed up as skin absorption patches and a white powder called 'Old Nick.' The powder was microencapsulated nicotine. The stuff's a liquid normally, and the pure stuff is so toxic even a drop will kill you. The encapsulated stuff was maybe three percent nicotine, tops."

"And the Ceres connection was...?"

"No one ever found out," he said. "The stuff showed up one day, got a lot of miners and work gangs hooked, then vanished. As it went away, the price went through the roof. That was when Ceres security found out about it. There were some incidents of violence."

"My encyclopedia hookup is the same as yours," I said. "It says that there's few things more addictive than nicotine. It's co-active with alcohol, too."

"Yeah," he agreed. "What does the Ceres thing sound like to you?"

"One of two possibilities," I told him. "Either a single batch was smuggled by some lone wolf, and he milked it for all he could get, or...."

"Or number two is that someone was doing market research," he supplied. "Yeah, that's the way I figure it, too."

I sighed. Great. All we needed was a system spanning conspiracy. "Let's pray for a lone wolf," I said.

"You don't sound very hopeful," he said.

"I'm an atheist." I replied. "Prayer is for saps. So tell me about Doria."

"Rap sheet has her down for two convictions, both minor, prostitution without a license. She must have saved her money, because a little while after the second, she bought a license. No problems from then on, except that she spent a month in a substance abuse program about six months ago. Checked herself in with an expensive set of habits. Signed up for positional placement after leaving the program; Marley Farm was her second job."

"Anything else?" I asked.

"That's it. Both parents dead, no close relatives other than the couple who took care of her after her parents died. They haven't seen or heard from her since she ran away. I commed them and spoke with the husband. I got the feeling they were relieved when she left. That was about six years ago. We want a background trail, we have to start at the clinic."
"I'm an atheist. Prayer is for saps."
"I thought that clinic records were confidential," I said.

"Don't act naive," he told me.

"Any idea of where she is now?" I asked.

"She should be in Sky City. She checked in on a tourist visa just after she went on vacation from Marley Farm. But it was a two week visa and she didn't check out after it expired, so she is officially overstayed. One the other hand, we haven't been able to locate her. She used her deb card several times in the first week, then zip. She got automatically checked out of her hotel when her stay was up and she left behind a few things, nothing important. No one at the hotel really remembers her anyway, it was a high volume people packer."

"So she could be dead, in hiding, or she could have left the city illegally," I said. "Great. That really narrows it down."

"Don't forget that she's probably a blind alley anyway," he said.

"I never forget an unpleasant fact," I told him.

"I've noticed," he replied.

Next Chapter

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Chapter four: They always enjoyed it. Every one of them.

Previous Chapter

Maybe not every Luna boy and girl dreams of becoming a farmer, but many do. I certainly did, before I learned that the pictures of Earth farming that you could see in books had little or nothing to do with "biome engineering," the complex technology of knitting plants and animals together under conditions far from those under which they had evolved. So after the disillusionment, Lunar children gravitate toward more possible dreams, like becoming medics, or firemen, or chefs.

Or policemen.

But early dreams die hard, and many a Lunar native once immigrant to Venus discovers that farming still has allure, at least in the abstract. So they apply to farming posts and ship off as cheap labor to the clusters that supply food and fibers to the City and the Sky beyond. Some don't last even a month, and return to a more accustomed life, a bit sheepish maybe, but none the worst for having tried to live a childish fantasy. Others take to it with a convert's passion and the joy of being around real plants and non-human animals can be seen on their faces when they speak of their new lives.

Others stand it well enough, but it is never quite exactly right, never quite like being three years old again, or whatever it is that they really want and need. Even so, they are convinced that somewhere there is the perfect spot for them, the perfect position, or maybe even their own small farming cluster. And these are the ones who migrate, quickly or slowly becoming dissatisfied with their lot, always ready to pull up and move on to the next, the better, the best, most perfect place of all. Where all the fruits are unblemished, all the yields are high, where the insects pollinate the plants but never sting, and true love waits behind the carefully tended crab apple tree.


"Most of the position workers, they don't last long," Monick told us. "The average stay is maybe six weeks. Some get restless and move on, others get to sampling too much of the products, you know?" She gave us a knowledgeable smile.

"How was Sheila in that regard?" Lee asked her.

"No problem at all," Monick said. "It's unusual in fact to have a worker who does not indulge at all, but she stayed away from even coffee and chocolate.

"She loved the plants, though. She loved to tend to them and she was learning grafting from Large Bob. I was surprised when she didn't come back from vacation, because she had a project or two that was near to bearing fruit. Then we heard she was dead and that explained it." She shook her head in sadness.

"Did Sheila have any special friends or confidants?" I asked her.

"Well, Large Bob, of course, who we go to see now. Others? I dunno. She kept very to herself, you know?

"You got to understand how it is on the farm. We owners and permanent staff, we see many position people go through here. Some are friendly, some not. Most gone in a couple months. Some good workers, some not, but not many stay long. They are good for some good times, but mostly it's like an overnight, hard to remember names in the morning. I think that's why a lot of position people like the work. Be here today, gone tomorrow.

"Sheila now, she was in an odd state. She might have become staff one day, stay a few years, you can do that. Some staff even buy in eventually, become family. But she was not yet here long enough, so the staff mostly keep their distance, especially since she didn't party too hard, you know?

"On the other side of it, she have the same trouble with short timers that we do, no permanence to it, so what's the point? Maybe she had some gossip buddies, though. I'll ask around."

"We'd appreciate it," Lee told her.

I was surprised when she didn't come back from vacation, because she had a project or two that was near to bearing fruit. Then we heard she was dead and that explained it

Large Bob was shorter than my 190 centimeters and a few centimeters taller than Calvin. He was well-muscled, as all the men we'd seen so far had been, probably massing at just under 90 kilos.

"Do you mind if I mix up some dirt, while we talk?" he asked us. "We're going to be starting up another bloon for growing here soon, and I don't want to be caught short. It takes a while to cook the dirt, so you gotta keep ahead of it, you see."

It was clear that he was going to continue about his business regardless, so we said okay and asked what he could tell us about Sheila.

"Good worker," he said. "Kept to herself and didn't talk about her background much. 'A course we knew she was from Luna, most positionals are."

He lifted a couple of bags and slashed them open, holding them so that their contents poured into a large barrel. There was a small cloud of black dust as he poured.

"That's charcoal," he said as we stepped back. "Main matrix for the dirt. Next we add a bit of clay and powdered rock. Getting to be pretty cheap, rock is. All that lovely moondust that pays for the Venus air that Luna skims off."

He added the next ingredients, and continued.

"Sheila loved the plants, that's all there was to it. Never saw a greener thumb. Learned grafting like she was born for it. I couldn't understand it at first when she didn't come back. Not like her at all. Then we heard the news about it. Murder, they said. Did you see her?" He was looking at me, so I nodded.

"Was it bad?" he asked.

"Very bad," I told him.

He shook his head. "There's evil in the world, sure enough. Did they..." he hesitated. "She was a pretty one," he said. "Did they rape her first? Was that why they did it?"

"No evidence of rape," I told him. "It wasn't a pickup job."

He nodded. "Didn't really think it was. Sheila was shy, standoffish. Cautious, too. I don't think she'd have gone with a rapist; she wouldn't have gotten alone with someone she didn't know. She was happiest when there was no one else around. Oh, she tolerated folks well enough, and she liked me, I think. You like plants as much as she did and you get to liking other folks who have to do with plants. She once grafted a rose onto a coffee plant and managed to get the flowers to smell like coffee. After she did it she turned to me once and said, 'Wake up and smell the roses, but stop to smell the coffee' then she laughed out loud. Only time I can remember her laughing outright. Plenty of smiles, but not much laughter, that was Sheila."

The next bag he opened stank royally. He grinned as we wrinkled our noses. "Bloon guts," he told us. "Gotta have bloon guts or the soil won't grow. After that comes the ammonia nitrate, and we're done for now."

He sliced open a bag of AN and let it fall into the barrel. Then he began fastening the barrel top.

"Did she have any other friends here?" Calvin asked him. "Was she close to any of the other workers?"

Large Bob stopped to think. "She came in with a couple of other girls that she seemed to be pals with, but they left after a couple of months. About six months back there was a fella that she may have been sweet on, but he took a little too well to the coca and we had to let him go. She didn't overly grieve, so maybe she wasn't that sweet on him. Recently? Maybe May Belle, or maybe Doria. No wait, Doria left about three weeks ago and didn't come back."

"Did Doria leave a forwarding post? Do you know where she went?"

"You'll have to ask the office 'bout that," he said.

He upended the barrel climbed onto it and began to roll it on the floor, like dancing on a treadmill. "Gotta mix the plant meal," he told us. "We let it sit for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, then put in the bacteria and a few pioneer seeds. Soon it's a regular plant banquet." He grinned at us from his perch atop the barrel, his little balance dance a thing of comic beauty.

It didn't seem like we'd gotten much information for the time we'd spent getting there. "Were you and Sheila ever lovers?" I asked him.

He looked up at me. "Nah," he said. "She never asked and I've got three wives already. Not looking for a fourth, not me. Three's a little more than I can handle sometimes."

"Some men say that about one," Calvin Lee told him.

The farmer stopped rolling the barrel and winked at us. "Maybe I can handle a bit more than most men," he said with an expansive palms up gesture. "Why do you think I'm called 'Large Bob?'"

I've got three wives already. Not looking for a fourth, not me.

May Belle was a tiny woman with large, brown eyes. She was about thirty and was the closest to outright African descent that we'd seen at Marley Farm. She was on the staff, but not one of the owners; she'd grown up on a nearby farm that had ceased operation about fifteen years ago in the wake of the financial readjustments that had first come when Comet Alpha rearranged the water market and then when the bloon products market changed after the first megastorm at Venus' north pole. She had hopes to get on the Farm staff one day, but no illusions about the likelihood, and she had the same easygoing attitude about past, present, and future that the rest of the Marley folks seemed to have.

Besides the usual gossip-swapping with Sheila, May Belle professed to not even knowing the dead girl that well and she had nothing really to add to what Large Bob and Monick had told us. Sheila was good with plants and shy to the point of being standoffish. That was all May Belle could really offer to us.

She had a bit more to say about Doria, last name Adams, who had left without notice and no forwarding. Doria had just gone on vacation and never come back, just like Sheila, but with no murder, or at least none that had surfaced.

"She was a tobacco head, though, I can tell you that. She was discreet, but she had a taste for it. Mostly snuff, I'd say, or when she did ganja, she'd mix in quite a bit more tobac than hemp. She liked her coca wine, too. I'd put her as a real party type.

"What was her background?" Calvin asked May Belle. "Where was she born?"

"Venus, I think," she told us. "But her parents were Lunas, I believe she said. Off world, anyway. She moved around a lot, of course, like so many of them do."

"Any idea on where she worked previously?" I asked her.

"I didn't ask, she didn't tell. Probably in her record, though, if she was telling the truth." The tone of her voice indicated that May Belle had some doubts as to Doria's acquaintance with the truth.


We got back to the aircar and set back for Sky City, hoping to make it before nightfall. The clouds were beginning their afternoon color dance now, and lower air turbulence was beginning to make the cloudtops do a slow boil.

"Do you think that drugs were a part of it?" Calvin Lee asked me after a long thoughtful period of travel.

"That would be my first guess," I told him. "But that doesn't tell us much. What kind of drugs? Cannabis, tobacco or coca are good candidates, but I imagine they grow poppies at Marley Farms as well. Opiates have a lot of synthetic substitutes. From an illegal sales standpoint that means both that you have an already existing market, but also that there's a cap on your price."

"Then there's the question of where the market is," he observed. "What Mr. Horowith called 'herbs' are legal in Sky City, but tightly controlled. There's always the possibility of offworld export, but that's very tricky. I doubt that Horowith has the kind of connections to do that job. From his standpoint, even if what he sells winds up illegal somewhere, he's on the up and up."

"During my time with Drugs and Vice back on Luna," I said, "The common illicit drugs we saw were all synthetics: amphetamines, synthetic opiates, hallucinogens. I think I saw tobacco twice in three years, cannabis maybe a dozen times. There's no local sources, illegal, too easily detected. They put too many things into the air. We had biosniffers that could detect a single instance of cannabis cultivation that impinged on the Luna City air supply. Tobacco, too. In the last few years some of the outlying domes have been reactivated, so there's a slim chance that someone could start up a farm in one of the small domes, but it would be awfully risky."

"With no existing market, one would have to be developed," he said. "I think I'll put a search demon on the Interpol database to see if there has been anything new."

"You should probably put a trace on Doria Adams, also," I offered. He nodded in agreement.

Then he was silent again, with a look of concentration on his face. At length he spoke again. "What would be a motive for torture?" he asked me.
Torture can be to make an example of the victim. In political torture, the victim might give a confession, but it's also to show other people what happens when you step out of line. It’s just another form of punishment.

It’s a question I’ve thought about before, but that didn’t keep me from thinking some more about it while he was waiting for a reply. "Three reasons, that I can think of," I told him finally. "Any or all of them could apply.

"First, someone could want something, like information, or a confession, that the victim can give. Confessions are easier than information, since a confession doesn’t have to be true. Any information you get through torture is suspect. Someone will tell you almost anything under the right torture, just to get it to stop.

"Second, torture can be to make an example of the victim. In political torture, the victim might give a confession, but it's also to show other people what happens when you step out of line. It’s just another form of punishment.

"Third, the torturer might just enjoy it."

He looked at me, obviously wanting to ask more questions, but unsure about how I'd react. We were getting close to the box that doesn't get opened and he knew it. So I saved him some trouble.

"I've seen some cases, obviously. I recognized the electrode marks on Sheila. Some of the gangs on Luna are like secret lodges, with initiations, penalties, rituals. Some of their initiation rites look a lot like torture, too, so maybe that's a fourth category, where the victim is willing and expects to get something out of it, as well.

"But I can tell you one thing. Sometimes after they're caught, you can talk to the torturers, try to get inside their heads, which may be a mistake, because it's evil dark in there. I've done the interviews myself, and whatever else the bastards said about it, the third motive always applies. A lot of times the first two are just an excuse, but they always enjoyed it. Every one of them."

And in the long silence that followed, I felt my inner landscape tremble, and let my one silent denial echo through the depths. Except for me, I asserted against my demon conscience. I never enjoyed it. Not once. It was a horror from beginning to end.

And as always, I prayed that it was the truth, and that I could believe it, just for a moment, sometime before I died.

Next Chapter