The next day promised to be busy. The night before, Marjori had called to tell me that she arrived back in the City that evening, which was good news to me. I promised to meet her at her place when she arrived. But first I had to meet with the Higher Authorities who had Taken An Interest In Me.
City Center is not really the center of Sky City, if that makes any sense. It's really just a hub around Skyhook, and the Skyhook is the real center of the City and the world. Most of the trade between Venus and Luna passes through the Skyhook and Anchorage terminus at the other end. Down below, the Hook is surrounded with short term storage and administration offices.
I was supposed to meet with someone from Anchorage itself, but rather than make the hours long trip up the Hook, we were going to use one of the holoconference rooms connected directly to the Skyhook. There are a few such setups on Luna, but they are seldom used; the longest trip on Luna by high speed tube is still less than a tenth of the full Skyhook traverse, so there's less of a need.
I signed in at the main Skyhook entrance gate, and gave them both a thumb and retinal scan; they run a real belt-and-suspenders operation at Skyhook. I was met by a bright young thing of indeterminate sex, at least the way that she/he was dressed, and followed her/him to a gocart where we spent the next few minutes dodging the frenetic traffic in the corridors at the center of the world.
"Here you go, Mr. Honlin," said my androgynous guide. "Conference room number one. I'll be here when you come out."
I thanked her/him and opened the door.
The lights came up as I walked into the room. There was a desk for me to sit at, and three walls looked to be full holorez viewscreens. See the world from your desk, I thought, and I wondered how much a setup like this would cost to a private individual. I wondered if I had ever met anyone that rich. Maybe Grayling. Maybe.
Then the screen in front of me came on, and I was looking at another office, much like the one I was in, with another desk, and another occupant behind the desk. Only the desk looked like it was permanently occupied, with papers strewn all over the top, and various data lines leading off of it into the farther wall.
"Hello, Mr. Honlin," said the man behind the desk. "My name is Grant Landau. Dr. Landau, if titles matter, which they don't. I'd rise and shake your hand, but circumstances do not permit it."
He got up anyway and stood leaning on his desk. I was still checking out the place. The setup was impressive, I'll give it that. The wall was full holorez, and the illusion was nearly perfect. The only discrepancy that I could really notice was when Landau sat down again. Normally you can feel the movement in a room through the floor, but Landau felt like a ghost. He looked a little like one, too; his skin was pallid, and he had dark circles under his eyes. His round face looked a little puffy, as if he'd had a recent weight gain. Stress will do that to some people. They overeat as a compensation.
"So what's on your mind, Dr. Landau," I asked him. "You look like a very busy man and I'd hate to waste your time."
He smiled a thin smile and sighed. "Yes, and I'd hate to waste yours. But however much we'd like to cut to the chase, some chases are a bit harder than others. So you'll have to bear with me a little bit."
He paused, his face a grimace that was an attempt at a smile. "Are you a man of faith, Mr. Honlin?" he asked me.
"I doubt it," I said to him. "I can't think of many things that need faith to make them run, and the rest of it doesn't seem to matter much to me these days. Or did you have a more specific sort of faith in mind?"
He shook his head. "No, I think I'm talking about the most general sort of faith. Faith in faith, even. Faith that somewhere, somehow, there is something or someone that it's proper to believe in."
"I think you've lost me," I told him, hoping that the correct phrase wasn't really lost it.
He shook his head again. "No matter," he said, almost to himself. "Maybe I'll just have to put my faith in you."
"That might be a bad idea," I told him.
"It might be the only idea I've got," he said.
He shook himself, like someone coming awake. "Enough of this," he said, reminding himself that he had something important to tell me, I expect. "I first heard your name eighteen months ago, I daresay that you know in what connection."
I shrugged. "Grayling, no doubt."
"No doubt," he said. "A couple of reports crossed my desk and suddenly, a smuggling ring that was completely unknown to me is broken apart, largely by your efforts, it would seem. That in itself would be impressive enough. But the background checks showed you to be a most unusual man. Very highly connected, good family, with a wide range of very important personages on Luna willing to give you their highest recommendations. As nearly as I can tell, you could have written your own ticket Luna-side, yet you chose to immigrate to Venus and live in what, if I may speak frankly, can only be called 'squalor.'"
"Oh, I think we could come up with some other names for it," I told him.
"Ah, yes," he said. "Then there is the matter of your attitude. I read Mr. Lee's reports on the case, and they are quite confusing. He started out thinking you a total burnout, and by the end of the matter, he'd walk through fire for you. Literally."
"The fire wasn't our idea," I said.
"No, I imagine not," he replied.
He looked closely at me, with one of those attempted mind reading looks that people get sometimes. "Of course I looked at your file," he said. "And you know what I found."
"Yeah," I said. "A lot of people have had that frustration." There is a total blank in my personnel file dating from about ten years back until I came to Venus five years ago. It looks like it's been encrypted, but if you break the code, it's just noise. They wiped the records of that period in my life. Completely. I've sometimes wished they could have done the same for me.
"Then a few months back, your name comes up in another context," he continued. "We have a . . . problem," he said, then paused again. "Which I will shortly explain to you. And that problem is being investigated by a couple of agents from the Guard to the Special Cabinet on Luna. Are you familiar with that agency?" he asked me.
"Every Luna cop knows the Special Guard," I told him, truthfully, if somewhat noncommittally.
"We here at Skyhook know the Guard, as well," he said. "They are the big guns that get called if things look to be getting seriously out of hand. Needless to say, we prefer not to see them very often."
I nodded. That was pretty much the attitude of cops on Luna, too.
"During the years for which your record does not speak, you were in the Guard," he said. It was not a question.
"What gives you that idea?" I asked him, thinking that he was fishing. But he wasn't.
"Does the name Martin Fisk ring any bells?" he asked me.
I said nothing.
"Dr. Fisk treated you for an extended period just before you came to Venus," he said. "I have been in communication with him for the past several months."
"That is a violation of doctor/patient privilege," I said, but without heat. Hell, I'd seen that happen enough times not to harbor any illusions. I was a little surprised, though. I thought that Fisk was too afraid to talk. Too afraid of me and what I represented.
Landau seemed to read my mind on that one, at least. "There are some privileges that go with being a fellow member of the medical community," he said. "He was very reluctant to speak, of course. I also had to threaten him with the Guard a little bit. And some other things, as well. That Dr. Fisk was willing to communicate with me tells you something about the problem we face."
"I'd say it's about time to tell me about it, then," I told him.
He held up his hand. "Soon, soon," he told me. "I'm giving you this background to let you know that I'm going into this with open eyes. Through Dr. Fisk and several other contacts that I have, I have learned something of what actually happened to you during that blank period. I know the sort of things that you are capable of, in other words."
He let that sink in for a bit. I began to wonder just how desperate he was.
"What does the Guard say about this?" I asked him.
"I haven't told them," he said. "Early on, they had some interest in using you because you were already in place, with some experience in areas that they need to investigate. But they decided against it. I think that some of them think that you are too unpredictable. Or they may have other reasons."
I snorted a little on that one. "Yeah, I expect they have a reason or two," I said.
He shrugged. "In any case, I don't entirely trust the agents of the Guard," he said. "I'm sure you understand."
"Yeah, I'm sure I do," I told him.
"You may be interested to know," he told me, "That Dr. Fisk still considers you to be an outstanding individual. He was of the opinion that, if you could be induced to work for us, you were our best hope."
"Now I know you're desperate," I said.
He ignored the jibe. "In truth, I think that Dr. Fisk was a little surprised that you were still alive. He said that you weren't suicidal, but that he thought that you might arrange for a situation that would lead to your demise. A 'death wish,' I've heard it called, although he didn't use that phrase. Dr. Fisk also said that you were as thoroughly immune to pressure or threats or bribery as any human being can be. He told me that the only way that you would work for us is if you decided that you were going to do it. That's it, just a personal decision. Nothing else would work. He told me 'Tell him the truth, lay it out for him, and hope he says yes. And if he says no, that's it, don't push him if you value your life.'"
"Dr. Fisk can be a little melodramatic," I said.
"I thought that too," Landau said. "Until about ten minutes ago. Now that I've seen you, I think he might have you pegged."
I felt myself give a little sigh. "Okay," I told him. "You have my attention, anyway. Maybe it's time to lay it out for me."
So he began to tell his story.