Monday, June 23, 2008

Chapter twenty: In any other than a direct light encounter

Last Chapter

The next day was a light day, and I spent from morning to mid-afternoon running oxygen for the hotel. Sometime around 1500 by the twenty-four hour clock, I dropped down to the drift level and headed for the edge of the City. Once there, I let the bloon slowly rise, bypassing the City fringe and making mid-level out on the Circle.

I docked at a small cafe that was on the Great Circle comm and transport line between two suburban towns. After I had a piece of pie, I went into a private comm booth and placed a call to Skyhook. There isn't even the illusion of security on calls that go through radio transmission; from the Circle, though, it was light pipe all the way to Anchorage.

"This is Dr. Landau."

"Dr. Landau, Ed Honlin here."

"Hello, Mr. Honlin," Landau replied. "It's been over a week since your last brief, cryptic message."

What had I said last time? Something like "Still on it, no news." Hey sport, these things don't come quickly.

"Yeah," I said. "It's been about that long. Anyway, I've run across our friends from across the gulf of space."

If you can hear someone sitting up straight, that was the sound that came through the wire. "Where are they?" he asked.

"Still in Carnival Cluster," I told him. "Carlyle, at least is dressed out as a medical, a doctor going by the name of Warren."

"I see."

"My guess would be that they are establishing themselves in medical practice for the cluster, so that the next wig case gets brought to them before it gets dumped on the City hospitals. They are also well placed to make blood tests without anyone being the wiser."

"That would make sense," he said. "In fact, I wish we'd thought of it."

He couldn't see me shrug. "It's a slow payoff routine," I told him. "It will take months to get any results, most likely."

"It's already been months," he said with what I took as self-recrimination. "Slow and effective is better than quick and ineffective."

"Well, yes, there is that."

He said nothing for a while, so I spoke up again. "There's another thing. In addition to the sex clubs I described to you, we have another possible contagion route to worry about." I then described the slash fight that I'd witnessed.

"Is that likely to be a problem?" he asked.

"I don't know," I told him. "On the plus side, there are fewer vectors than the clubs. On the negative side, the fighters aren't monks." I was thinking of Caine and his three women. "Also, the show goes on the road, sometimes, so you have the risk of sweeping up anything that's out in the upper latitudes."

"Should we think about cracking down on the entertainment clusters?" he asked me. "It's sometimes argued that such a policy would just force the behavior farther out, where we have less chance of keeping track of it."

I hesitated. I had no desire to be Big Brother's Judas goat. "Regulating the shadow clusters wouldn't be completely ineffectual," I said. "But it might not have the effect you want. Anyway, I think that it's premature to be making big changes. For one thing, I still haven't located anything concrete on Lucy Dahl. I'd prefer not to investigate anything while the cluster is under siege mentality."

"That sounds like you've made some contacts, though," Landau said.

"It might just be smoke," I told him. "Don't get your hopes up."

He sighed. "There doesn't seem to be much chance of that, Mr. Honlin."

I was about to ring off when I remembered. "By the way," I said. "Do you have anything for me on that list of names I asked for? Somebody local with some deep knowledge of the kind of thing we're dealing with?"

"Ah, yes," he said, sounding a little better at having something good to report. "I have at least a partial list of Luna to Venus immigrants who used to work for the four research facilities. It isn't a very long list, actually; high level people tend to stay put."

"I'll take low level people, too," I told him. "You can never tell what a janitor has picked up and read."

"I'll do another search, then," he told me. "You should have it by tomorrow."

"Thanks," I said, and clicked off.

My next call was to Marjori. "Hallo, love," I said when she came on line.

"Oh, Ed," she said, as if surprised to hear me. Well, it had been several days since we spoke.

"I just called to see how you and Anna are getting on," I told her.

"Famously," she said. "She sleeps through the night and always seems to need a nap just when I have something else to do. My own children should have been so accommodating. Suzette seems almost redundant. Anna is fun to play with, too."

"So you're having fun?"

"God, yes."

"That's good," I said. "It makes me feel less guilty for neglecting you."

"I'm sure you have good reasons," she said.

"Um," I said, with a feeling that I'd just erred. Oh, well. "Any word from Leo?"

"Yes," she said. "As a matter of fact, he's escorting me to some dreadful charity thing, this evening. I told him how I hated the things and he bravely volunteered. That was while we were discussing the adoption. He's of the opinion that we should take care of that before proceeding with anything else having to do with the Graylings. Apparently one of the things that they might try is to petition for custody, which they could do as long as she had no legal guardian. Once adopted, she's safe."

"Sounds like a good idea," I told her. "Convey my appreciation to Leo."

"I will," she said, softly. We said a few more things, then I clicked off and headed back out to my waiting bloon.


I pulled in one last string of oxy-bloons, then traded the tug in for a one-man squid and headed back to Carnival. This time I docked at the farthest end of the elongated cluster. I wanted to scout out the sideshows.

Physical deformities are almost unknown on Luna; the genetic makeup of fetuses are monitored almost from the moment of conception, and uncorrectable defects are quickly aborted. Beyond that are gene replacement therapies, hormone and enzyme implants, and reconstructive surgery that can repair almost any injury. The extremes have been trimmed on the Procrustean bed of medicine in the name of survival.

On Venus, though, things are different. Even now, more than sixty years after the Skyhook opened up Venus to Lunar trade, there are still clusters and individual bloons that aren't on the comm nets, that never get near the equator, sub-populations that keep to themselves with a xenophobic devotion. Some shy away from religious conviction, some just don't like outsiders. As you might expect, there is a fair amount of inbreeding in the hermit clusters and more recessives come to the fore. Beyond that are accidents of development, or oddities of nutrition or training. And when a person sees or is seen as being too freakish to fit in, they leave to find other means of living, and other places to live.

So you can see the midgets in Carnival, and they have a giant, too. All the classics are there: the Fat Lady, the Pinhead, the Dog-faced Boy, even a pair of Siamese twins, though I suspect that they were attached by artifice, and can be disentangled any time they need a break from each other's company. That's the way it is in the sideshow; half of the draw is the sign over the stage; a good portion of the rest is often simple con. The name of the act can be more important than the act itself. The Rubber Man is just a contortionist, and the lure of the Snake Charmer is more to see real snakes than to see them respond to Man. I'm pretty sure that I can bench press more than the Strong Man, and I know that I'm more accurate than the Knife Thrower. I'm not interested in playing to an audience for money, but I don't despise those who make their living that way.

Besides the physical freaks, there are the mental cases. There's a long and inglorious history to that one. "Mad Maudlin goes on dirty toes," you know. On pre-industrial Earth, the insane were judged as possessed by demons, and sometimes were dressed up and painted, then rented out to perform at parties for the aristocracy. We do things in a more egalitarian fashion: catch a glimpse of the depths at half a deb.
Very few males, in my opinion, have any epidermis records of ever having been connected vibrationally to organized crime bosses, in other than a direct light encounter.

A wall-eyed guy with a flat affect was chanting his rant below a sign that said, "Marat-Sade." Unlike the other barkers along the sideshow strip, his ravings made no particular sense. I expect that was the point. I'd check out that geek show some other day.

No males, in my opinion, have ever gotten any definite idea of either the vectors to their person from whence the organized crime boss vibrations are originating or the distance from their person from whence the organized crime boss vibrations are originating, in any other than a direct light encounter.

Across the way from Marat-Sade stood a barker who stood maybe one meter high, dancing slowly and pointing to a sign that said, "Girls with Tails and Other Things." I smiled at him and moved along, the saga of crime bosses beginning to fade.

No males, in my opinion, have ever gotten any specific identity of any organized crime boss when connected vibrationally at a distance in another direct light encounter.

"Hello, Ed," came a different, more familiar voice from behind me. I'd noticed him scurrying to catch up with me, while at the same time trying to look unhurried. He wasn't very good at it.

"Hi, Al," I said. His full name was either Albert or Alberto, depending on who he was trying to impress at any given moment. He was a small-time smuggler, part of a large and loose coterie of odd-job men of flexible ethics who lubricated the skids of Darkunder commerce. I'd run a few shipments up through the floor of the City for him once upon a time, but I hadn't had any dealings with him for many months.

He matched my walk and spoke in a way that only moved his mouth, something that he'd learned from old movies, I expect, though it looked a little like an imitation of the hebephrenic barker we'd just walked past. Only less impassioned.

"What brings you to Carnival, Ed?" he asked.

"This and that," I said.

"Word has it you've been asking around about some things."

"I'm a curious guy," I responded.

Albert wasn't quite as tall as I am, and he's skinny besides, but he's always tried to cloak himself in an aura of quiet menace that can be mistaken for the real thing if you haven't had much experience. I expect that he can be dangerous if you're quite a bit smaller than he is, or if you turn your back on him, literally or metaphorically. His tone of voice got darker when he next spoke.

"The word is that you're doing a police job," he said. "I thought you were through with the cops. That's what you said when you ran for us."

"You'll have to refresh my memory on that one," I told him. "I don't recall talking with you about the cops. Nor, for that matter, do I remember talking about you with the cops. Seems to me like anything else I do is none of your business."

He put his hand in his pocket, but kept it flat, so I didn't think he was about to pull anything out. Another tough gesture. I checked my peripheral vision to see if we had an audience. Just the barkers and the gawkers, as nearly as I could tell.

He said, "I think that you should keep it that way." He paused, I guess because that's the way his mental script told him to. Then he said, "It can get unhealthy to be closely associated with the police, especially after so many people trusted you in the past."

I stopped walking and he took a couple of steps before he realized that I was behind him and he turned to face me, a little bit of nervous animation on his face.

"What the hell is this all about?" I asked him, letting my annoyance find its own way out. "Did you and Hugh and Ray and the rest of the merry men draw straws to see who got to find old Ed to warn him off? Has anybody been jerking your collective chains, or are you just feeling paranoid? Or is there some sort of 'Find the stupidest twit in Darkunder' contest, and you're going for the top prize?"

He almost took a step backwards, as surprised at my sudden emotion as I was myself. Then he reminded himself how tough he was supposed to be.

"I'm just delivering a message," he said. "Smart guys don't ask too many questions."

"Yeah, and what about stupid guys?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Things happen," he said. "You're beginning to get a high profile, and that's not good for anybody."

I noticed with increasing surprise that I was getting angrier with every word he said. I didn't know if I was angry at the veiled threat, or the silliness of it all.

"Yeah, yeah," I told him. "You know where I live, yabba, yabba. But I can see pretty good, and I can see folks for a long time before they get there. And you know what?"

He didn't react to the question, so I moved to take a step towards him. His eyes widened very slightly, and he began a step back. I almost laughed. Halfway through the step meant he only had one foot on the floor. I extended my own step and brought my foot down hard on his instep. I heard a faint crack just before his yelp of pain. I only used enough force for a greenstick fracture, though.

I said, "If the guy who comes after me walks with a limp, I'll know it's you. Merry Christmas."

I turned and headed back the way I came.

Of those males who have ever been vibrationally addressed by organized crime bosses, all have experienced step and fetch vibrational conditions from the general direction of organized crime bosses, in my opinion, at the time of this writing. Males experience it, females don't experience it, is my present guess. Step and fetch vibrational conditions as experience by the recipient results in a situation where the male epidermis does something and, rather soon afterward, a remote entity knows what the male epidermis has had done, within a context of a surveillance relationship. It is a round trip communications loop from the remote entity to the male epidermis without the permission of the male epidermis and without the male epidermis being able to disconnect at the discretion of the male epidermis.
Next Chapter


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