I left Carnival after that; I was beginning to distrust my own actions.
I am not completely lacking in the ability to discern the implications and effects of my own behavior, though I have a number of blind spots, some of which I do not know. But after enough examples of pounding my own head into a wall, I do begin to notice.
I'd let the fights of the night before rattle me, and I'd made enemies to no good purpose. I'd been rude to Cheryl, and more violent than I needed to be when gaining admission to see Caine, the slash fighter. Just now, I'd broken Al's foot just because he pissed me off. If I kept this up, I could kiss off any hope of making progress in getting information out of Carnival. Word would get around that I was dangerous to talk to; I'd hurt somebody who didn't deserve it, or I'd get into a fight with someone a lot luckier that I am, and I'd take some serious damage myself. The odds were getting longer, and I was the one doubling up my bets.
I was afraid to go to the City for a late night prowl. I was genuinely afraid that I would kill somebody.
The problem was that I had no idea of why I was behaving like this. Was I just getting impatient? Was I feeling guilty about giving Molly Laird or her daughter short shrift, while I chased some phantom image on somebody else's radar screen?
Hell, if I really wanted to confuse myself, all I had to do was think about Marjori, and wonder what she was doing that night, and whether she was enjoying it, or if I had fled from Cheryl Chiba's company because I wondered what it would be like to tangle in the barbed wire.
Joey was still on duty when I docked at the hotel. He said, "Hi, Mr. Honlin. You're back early tonight."
"Sometimes the best you can do is to know when to quit, Joey," I told him.
He smiled at me. "You're just tired, Ed. You'll feel better in the morning."
I blinked at that. I think that was the first time he'd ever called me "Ed."
"When you put it like that, I have to believe you," I said, and his smile broadened into a grin. "Tell Fumio to give you a raise." Then I went inside to my room.
As I think I've said before, there isn't much in my room. I live in one of the upper lift bloons in Fumio's hotel, and I get charged by the kilo of occupancy. I have a couple of changes of clothing, some light bedding, and an inflatable chair that Calvin once brought over. If I want some light, I use a chembulb, they're good for a couple of hours; if I want food or drink, the cafe downstairs is open ninety-six hours a cycle.
I didn't need any extra light in my room that night. In addition to the dim twilight that leaked through the City to its dark shadow below, the megastorm down south was still churning the planet, and it had destabilized some of the strata farther to the north. We were getting more than our normal share of storms down below, in other words, and the flickering illumination was enough to light my room. Occasionally, there would be a flash brighter than a chembulb; most often the entire hotel was bathed in what the old astronomers had called "The Ashen Light of Venus," visible either during true night or in the shadows of the City.
I tried to calm myself by sitting seiza, searching for my center by watching after my breath as it settled down the path of my spine. My body seemed willing, but my thoughts refused to do anything but masquerade as chittering geese.
About twenty minutes into it, my door comm buzzed. I ignored it for the first few times, but the buzzing kept up, and eventually I rose and went to the door. The flap fell away as I unzipped it. Cheryl stood outside.
She smiled at me and said, "You couldn't have known that it was me out here, so I guess that you're this much of a shit to everybody. That makes me feel better, I guess. Can I come in?"
She was dressed pretty much as she had been dressed the night before, black-on-black striped body suit with spiked bracelets and belt, but the barbed wire had been replaced by what looked like cobwebs spun from liquid metal. Glints of light moved up and down the strands in slow time, except when a flicker of lightning outside seemed to energize them. After a few seconds I realized that they were probably responding to AM radio spectrum static -- electrical discharge sensitive jewelry.
She noticed my gaze and said, "You like it? It's called 'Weather or Not.' It was quite fashionable years ago, just after the first megastorm. I found it in a thrift store."
"Frugality is a virtue," I told her.
"Yeah," she said. "And I don't have that many. Do I have to ask to come in again?"
"Oh, sorry," I said. "Please come in."
She raised an eyebrow. "A 'please' and an apology. I'm impressed." She stepped in through the door. "Oh, and thank you," she said, as if an afterthought.
She looked around the room, while I rezipped the door. Not that there was much to see. "So," she said finally.
"So," I repeated. Then neither of us said anything for maybe a full minute. Finally she spoke; it was slightly louder than a whisper.
"Goddamn you," she said. "Goddamn you to hell."
"Nice to see you, too," I said. Then she slapped me, and I let her.
"That was for running out on me," she said, her voice getting louder, but it was still more a hiss than a yell. "You made me feel like shit. Did you enjoy that? Let her get all hot and greedy, then just poof, so long and goodbye? Did you think that it was funny?"
"I didn't really think about it," I said. "I'm sorry if I didn't meet your expectations."
"Expectations? Hell, I've had vibrators that did a better job than you."
I couldn't help myself; I laughed. She started to slap me again, and I caught her wrist, just below her bracelet. I held her hand about six inches from my face and looked into her face. "I am sorry," I said.
The anger drained away from her face, and after a moment she chuckled. "I guess it was pretty funny," she said. "You gave me a very sleepless night, though. I'm not used to being dumped."
"I can believe that," I told her.
I slowly released her wrist and she left her hand where it was, then tentatively brought it to my face in a slow caress. The sudden pain caught me by surprise and I quickly stepped back away from her. She laughed again, louder this time. I reached up to my cheek and my fingers came away with a smear of blood on them. She brought her own fingers to her mouth and licked them.
"First blood," she said.
I stepped forward and grabbed her wrist again, and looked at her fingernails, seeing what the dim light had hidden from me before. Her nails had been coated with some sort of plastic, then filed to razor sharpness. She could probably rip out a man's throat with talons like that.
She swung at me with her other hand, and I caught it as well, then brought both of her arms down to waist height and used them to push her to the wall. Her elbows poked into her stomach when her back hit the wall, and she gave a little huff as she exhaled. I held her there, pinned, for several seconds as I wondered what to do next.
Her bracelets had several slots in them, in a pattern that made them a match for the spikes. I brought her wrists together and fitted the spikes into the corresponding slots. There was a click, as if a mechanism had engaged, and her hands were locked together as if by handcuffs.
She looked me in the eyes, and said, "Congratulations. You just solved the puzzle."
Then the tiger stripes on her body suit began to come apart. It was held together with some sort of electrovelk, and the command had just been sent to unattach. The strips of her clothing came off slowly, in a completely passive striptease, until all that she wore was the spidery jewelry, her handcuff bracelets, and the spiked belt.
She licked her lips as she stared at me, her mouth a rictus, a slash of greed and expectation. A flash of light outside lit her face and glinted off of her exposed canines. She said, "Are you willing to finish it? Are you?"
With one hand I pushed her hands above her head. With the other I ripped off her belt, the last sharp thing that was between us.
The storm was still down below us when we were finished, but it felt like it was beginning to break. I finally pulled away and rolled over to near the inflatable chair about a meter away. Her breathing was nearly back to normal when she opened her eyes again. She did something to release her bracelets and then took them off completely, tossing them over onto the pile of her clothing.
"Want any souvenirs?" she said with a smug smile on her face. I shook my head.
"Suit yourself," she said, then stretched, a motion that would have been even more appropriate if she were still wearing her tiger suit. She sighed, then reached down to trace her fingers along the front of her hips, along her pelvis.
"I wonder if I'm very bruised," she said. "You were pretty rough, you know?" She looked very pleased with herself.
"Sweets for the sweet," I told her.