Sunday, March 2, 2008

Chapter three: "You have begun to frighten me."

Previous Chapter

We went down to the Trauma Center morgue where I identified Molly Laird's body. It was a gutting wound, and I was surprised that they'd even tried to resuscitate her. Her age probably had something to do with it. Medicals really hate to lose someone that young.

"It was apparently a robbery attempt," Calvin told me. "She was walking down Corridor 23 just off of 325th on level G. The guy threatened her with a knife and she pulled the gun from her bag and shot him. Unfortunately for her, he didn't die immediately. He had just enough time for the kill, apparently; he was pronounced DOA when he got here. The noise of the shot brought a couple of people to the scene. The rest you know."

I stared at Molly Laird's face, trying to make out some answers in her features. As if the dead could talk. Maybe they can, though. Sometimes.

"What's her background?" I asked Calvin.

"I just have a few preliminaries," he told me. "We don't have an address for her. Her mother lived in a cluster maybe a hundred kilometers to the north. Mother's dead though, and her comm number was canceled eleven months ago. Molly entered the City several of times in the past few weeks. We don't know why, or where she went."

"She was at Robert Grayling's funeral," I told him.

That got his attention. "Oh, yeah?" Calvin and I had met because of a homicide case involving Grayling. On that occasion, I'd wound up working as a special consultant to the police. That was when I'd told Grayling to shut down his illegal activities, and that was when Grayling's son and so many others had died. That case had started with a girl's dead body.

Also. That case had started with a girl's dead body, also.

"What do you think she was doing at Grayling's send off," Calvin asked me.

"I think she was saying good-bye to her father," I told him.

"Come again?"

"Look at her face," I told him.

Calvin stared at Molly Laird's face for quite a while. Then he looked at me. "You might be right," he said. "Can we check?"

"Grayling was born on Luna," I told him. "He has a DNA sequencing on file there, at least. Probably one nearer to hand."

"Okay," he told me. "Let's get a typing done for Miss Laird."

"It might be a good idea to keep this under wraps," I told him.

"How so?" he asked, but I could see the wheels turn and most of it came to him before I spoke. But I told him anyway.

"If Molly Laird were Grayling's illegitimate daughter, then she might have some inheritance rights under Venus Law. She wouldn't under Lunar Law, though, so the whole thing could be messy. Maybe somebody didn't like the idea of that big a mess."

Calvin looked at me and got a calculating look in his eyes. "You say she called you and asked for your help?" I nodded.

"I'm not sure if I can keep a case open when we have the obvious perpetrator on that table over there," he told me. "I might be able to spring for another consultant's ticket, though."

Calvin had asked me about doing more work for the Sky City cops maybe five times in the eighteen months since we worked together on the Sheila Mason case. I'd turned him down every time. Recently he'd hinted that there was a big one going down somewhere, maybe hoping to entice my curiosity. That hadn't worked either. Now we had another dead girl; maybe he thought I had a weakness.

I shook my head. "I'm not that curious," I told him. "Where's the guy who killed her?" I asked him.

He pointed.

I walked over to another table and pulled back the sheet. He was dead all right. Two holes in his chest and two somewhat larger holes in his back. Exit wounds. Good thing that bloons are self-patching, the bullets probably went through the nearest wall and wound up on the surface of Venus, fifty-five kilometers below.

"In the movies, they die from wounds like this," I said to no one in particular.

"He died too," Calvin said. "He just didn't die fast enough for poor Molly."

I ignored the "poor Molly" remark. Calvin isn't very good at manipulating people.

The corpse on the table had been an ugly bastard when he was alive, and death had only worsened his condition. Close cropped blond hair, gray eyes. He'd been large, though not as big as me. He sported a couple of visible tattoos, not good enough to be sunsailor jobs and besides, they didn't cover enough to give any ultraviolet protection. His hands were mostly smooth, except for some characteristic callouses of the sort you get from holding a knife, rather than honest labor. He was some sort of muscle, a guy who actually spent time practicing his knife work.

"So who is this guy?" I asked Calvin.

"Nobody much," he told me. "Name was Costello, first name Bertrand. Not a City dweller, so our records don't show much. Comes from one of the free floating clusters 'way up north. Occupation listed as 'bouncer.'" He shrugged. "A tough guy by the look of him. Meant to scare the patrons of some dive into behaving themselves. Something like that. He came here three months ago, lived in Darkunder but came to the City two or three times a week. He fits the description of several robberies we've had during that time, but so do a lot of guys. For that matter, he fits the description of several robberies we had before he came to the City."

Great, I thought to myself. A professional tough guy takes up a hobby. Why does that scenario seem like a paint job? I covered up the body again, and went back over to where Calvin was still staring down at Molly's corpse.

"Any idea of why she wanted your help?" he asked me. I'd brought along a copy of my comm message from her and I'd given it to him on our way down to the morgue.

"Not really," I said. "To help her claim her inheritance, maybe. Too late now." Calvin nodded.

I thought the matter over for a few seconds and another thought came to me. "What happens to the gun?" I asked him. "If it's really an Earth antique, it must be worth a bundle."

He had to think about that one for a bit. "For now, nothing much," he said at last. "The case has a loose end, because Molly might be the daughter of somebody important, so I can probably keep it open for another few days while we run the DNA tests and maybe check some background on the weapon. It's probably a registered antique, but there's no requirement that you have to change the ownership listing when the things are sold."

"And then?"

"Then we do a routine search for heirs, and if we find any, the gun belongs to them. If not, then it becomes City property, and goes to auction. That takes a while. Probably a couple of years, even."

"What about Grayling's family?" I asked him. "Would they qualify as heirs? If she's his daughter, I mean."

"I have no idea," he said. "Inheritance laws are weird."

I nodded. "I think it's time for me to leave," I said. Calvin agreed with me and pulled the sheet back over Molly's face.

"Sure I can't change your mind about consulting on this?" he asked me.

I chewed my lip, fighting down an urge to snarl at him, to tell him to go to hell and take everything else with him. But I knew what the anger meant.

"Just let me know what the DNA test shows," I told him. He had the good grace not to look too obviously pleased.


There are any number of exercise clubs in Sky City. Most of the residents are first or second generation immigrants from Luna and special exercise is both a passion and a necessity for Luna dwellers. Ingrained habits die slowly, so most Lunar transplants stick to a workout schedule. I found a gym near to the Trauma Center, paid the fee, and went inside. The place was cheap; it smelled of sweat and had a faint film of charcoal dust over everything, detritus that comes from using charcoal for the weights, charcoal being the most plentiful commodity on Venus. Living bloons use it for ballast, and humans tend to used it for anything requiring bulk. It makes for outsized weights though; a one hundred kilo barbell is oversized enough to look like something that Samson might lift. But it gets the job done.

I went at it for several hours, trying to sweat out the rage that threatened to break free from my grip and drag me into things that I didn't want to do. I tried to pinpoint the source of my anger, but it just wouldn't come. A dead girl who had asked for my help? The feeling that Calvin knew something that he wasn't telling me? Memories of Robert Grayling and all the events surrounding my dealings with him?

Or was it just me, and the past I carried in a locked box, a box marked "Do Not Open" with vicious animals swarming all around it?

After a while I gave it up and went out for dinner at some bar whose name I don't remember. The beer I had with my soy sandwich was bitter and did nothing to improve my mood. So I went back to my hotel. I avoided everyone I knew when I got there, got a book from the lounge, and went to my room to try to read by chembulb light until it was time to go to sleep.

The winds of the upper air wouldn't move Sky City and the Darkunder clusters around into the light for another thirty hours or more. It was true night outside, and late night by the clock. I aspire to be a man of regular habits; I try to sleep at night.

But night is when the horrors come.

I do not dream the same dream over and over, nothing so trivial as that. The nightmare symphony comes to me as varied as the patterns seen in clouds, as manifold as patterns lurking in pools of hot, congealing blood.

During the dark theater, the screams of those who are now long dead are my personal Greek chorus. The ghosts demand payment, retribution, but I never know of whom they make their demands. My own face melts in my dreams. I look into mirrors and see a stranger's visage, more alien to me than the sound of my own recorded voice. Friends look at me and fall away in fear. Lovers touch me with caresses that leave open wounds, yet each rip of flesh gives pleasure more than pain. I hear the pleas of those who are about to die. Morituri te salutem, Caesar. Then fall, Brutus. I yam what I yam, says the Sailor.

I awoke drenched in sweat, my body rigid as a board. I hadn't had one this bad in many months. I'd hoped that I'd been given dispensation; it turned out to be only a respite. I lay awake in the dark long enough to know that I'd never get back to sleep that night.

I got up, left my room, and made my way down to the lobby, where only the night clerk nodded at me as I passed, from recognition or drowsiness I couldn't say. Even Joey was off his post at that time of night. I made a curt gesture to Leo, the late night bloon attendant and he waved me toward one of the parked bloons. I climbed inside and headed for Sensei Mack's.

His real name was McElroy, but everybody called him Sensei Mack. He teaches a form of aikido. I've heard some of his students claim it to be the original form, but then, I've heard other students of other senseis claim the same thing, and every style is different. But Sensei Mack has a way of practice and teaching that I find attractive. He never talks on the practice mat itself, and allows no talking from his students. To be one of Mack's students is to immerse oneself in pure movement.

His dojo is open to his advanced students at all times, for practice or for meditation. Sensei Mack was not awake at that hour, and the dojo was deserted, lit only by a few everlite strips around its edges. I bowed to the shrine and stepped onto the mat, then sat down into meditation posture. "Before one does something, one must learn to do nothing." I tried to do nothing for quite a long time.

Eventually my muscles began to unknot somewhat and I stood and walked over to the shrine, beneath which was a rack with practice weapons, wooden swords, and the meter and a half long wooden sticks called jo. I took down a jo and began to do a kata.

I was at it for a long time, and I didn't notice when Sensei Mack came into the room -- that's one of his gifts, the magical appearing act -- so I don't know how long he watched me at my practice. Eventually he came over and stepped out onto the practice mat and I caught his motion out of the corner of my eye. He walked over to the weapons rack and took another jo and walked over to where I stood.

Without word or warning he raised his jo and brought it down in a savage strike at my head. I moved slightly to get a better foot stance and blocked his strike with my own jo, letting the force of his blow drive my staff backwards in a curving arc that passed my left shoulder then continued to curve around into a strike directed back at him. He blocked my strike in a move that was a repetition of what I had just done, and we began a pattern of block-and-strike that became steadily more rapid and forceful. Soon the air filled with the sound of wood meeting wood, a ratatatat that recalled nature videos of woodpeckers in an Earthly forest.

It went on for a long time. For me, the slowdown had begun, the sense I often get during practice or times of real danger when everything becomes dreamlike and the gravity of Venus seems no more potent than that of the Moon I had left behind.

It felt good. Which was why the end of it was unexpected.

"Enough!" Sensei Mack blurted at me. It was the first time I had ever heard him speak on the mat. It shocked me a little, I think.

We returned our sticks to the weapons rack and bowed off the mat. Mack looked at me as if trying to make up his mind about something.

Eventually he said, "Do not take this too badly, but I think it might be better if you refrained from coming here to practice for a while."

I didn't know what to think of that, so I asked, "How exactly can I take that well? Why do you ask this of me?"

He hesitated again. Then he asked, "How old are you, Ed?"

"Forty-one," I told him. He nodded.

"Men slow down as they age," he told me. "Even those who have taken the age retarding drugs. But your reflexes are still maybe ten or twenty percent faster than my next quickest students."

I shrugged. "My family on Luna was well-to-do," I told him. "We did receive the drugs."

He nodded. "You are also very big. Only Lar and Morton are bigger than you, and they are both a little clumsy. I think that you may be stronger than either of them as well."

"I was a policeman," I told him. "Strength and size are at a premium for the Luna police."

"I know," he replied. "Forgive me. This is difficult for me. I know something of the training that you underwent on Luna. I even know a little about the other things, the treatments that they give to those destined for the police. But that is not really what troubles me, either."

He looked at me and took a deep breath. "You came to me in need of training for the higher gravity of Venus, and you've gotten that. You are big, strong, fast . . . all the physical things, you have. And you learn technique so rapidly that sometimes I think you are just remembering the things I teach.

"The other things, the use of ki, the centering, the control of the self, you are also good at them. But there is something inside of you trying to break out. You have much more control than my other students because you need that control, even to walk and talk and live. I've seen glimpses of whatever it is that you have inside you and I don't ever want to look on it straight on."

He looked at me and a look of sadness washed over his face. "This is my failing more than it is yours," he said to me. "I'm very sorry. But something is very close to escaping from you and it frightens me. Fear is something that a teacher cannot feel for a student. It is disruptive. It would not be fair to my other students."

He held out his hands in a gesture of apology. "I'm sorry," he told me. "I have to send you away for a while. You have begun to frighten me."

Next Chapter

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