I was brought to by the
telescreen, which I had programmed to bring up--among other
things—breaking-news flashes. It flickered to life with the
vidware logos, like it always did, and cut in on Channel Four.
“… no other details as yet. We repeat, a major police action has
occurred.” Over shots of a nondescript-looking building, the
‘caster continued: “ConSec officers, accompanied by Justice
Ministry officials late this afternoon, following some carefully
assessed information, staged a raid on these premises on East
Forty-Eighth. Authorities were tipped to the existence of a
smuggling ring.” I was already moving, slipping on my mesh
running shoes and reaching for my overcoat. “They were looking
for tobacco. What at least five officers found instead was
death. Details are incoming, but unexpected gunfire erupted as
the officers moved in. Five are known dead. Several more
have been evacuated in critical condition.” I was on my PDA,
calling for a ‘cab down to the end of my street, but kept an eye on the
captioned commentary. “…awaiting an official announcement from a
Consolidated Security spokesperson momentarily. Back to you,
Serena.” Then a talking head appeared, saying something about the
nick trade, nothing I didn’t already know. I switched off,
secured my own weapon inside my coat, and was off.
It’d be no good calling Officer Roy Roy or anyone else at ConSec.
It was after hours, and whoever was on duty would have their hands full
with much bigger things than my MP case, which in any event didn’t
actually exist yet; though I’d have to report it if Irina didn’t
show up soon. The same went for MOJ, where my connections were
more tenuous—officially, I was a health worker and had no writ there.
My contacts in the court system were mostly retired now and wouldn’t
know anything they hadn’t seen on the vidcasts or ‘netcasts. Five
citizen deaths by gun was Libria’s quota for about a year these days,
and I couldn’t remember the last time five officers had died on duty
all at once. Six, seven years, anyway. This was
definitely not normal. One way and another, I’d been in on more
than my share of nick busts. The officers ordinarily went
in with no more than tasers and batons. Nickheads rarely got
crazy; the normal thing was simple flight, leave the stuff and
live to smuggle another day—there’d always be replacement supply.
This, my instincts told me, only looked like a nick raid. There was
something much, much bigger going on. Either the cops had
stumbled into a turf war, or somebody was making a deliberate political
In the cab, my PDA buzzed. It was Jak. I flipped it open.
“Boss, you see the news?” she said.
“See it? I’m en route, honey.”
“Is there a connection to the Madours?”
“Let’s hope not,” I told her. “Otherwise, their little girl won’t
be coming home quietly, which is what they hired us for.”
“Should I monitor the ‘casts and buzz you if anything new breaks?”
“Oh, sure. By the way, I owe you a big one. One of the
files you forwarded me actually belonged to someone who popped up.”
“Just doing my job, citizen,” she said. “You go now. And …
“Thanks again,” I told her, and switched off. That reminded me to
set the PDA to vibe.
Where I was going, a buzz might be a very bad thing.
‘Cabs were spendy, but Nedra Madour—via my debcard—could easily afford
it. I had the ‘cab drop me off near a tube station on Gandhi
Street. This was an area of budget apartments and small shops,
favored by immigrants, on the far side of Soho. This wasn’t the
red light district, but here the discerning person could pick up some
cut-rate eros and herb sticks dosed with nick extract, which was a
local specialty. Two of those would set all but the hardest to
puking. But then, it figured. Cheap vice seemed to be an
interest with Citizen Keef Herzog.
I checked out the data I’d loaded into my device. His building
was four blocks along. I sauntered along, keeping as much out of
the lights as possible, and when I found it I studied the layout;
a typical four-by. He was Number Three. No light on.
I was betting he wasn’t home yet. I patted my water bottle in one
pocket, my cement-like protein bars in the other, and my weapon inside,
and, after clearing some trash away, settled down in the crook of a
small tree on the edge of a shadowy garden area next to the building.
I was prepared for a wait.
Citizen Keef Herzog wasn’t as considerate as his comrade Citizen
Petanko had been. Herzog was keeping me up past my bedtime.
It was nearly eleven when I heard the purr and swish of a private car
approaching the end of the block; the motor softened for a
moment, then powered up and receded. This was, in all likelihood,
my man. No one else on this street was likely to know anyone who
owned a private car, let alone own one themselves. Sure enough,
the male figure came walking, slowly, with a hint of pain in his
gait. I recognized it well. I figured I’d done that walk
more times than Irina Madour had outfits in her closet.
I took stance; breathed, found the place.
He approached and turned into the doorway of the building. With
my soft-soled shoes, my approach was so quiet that I saw him opening
Number Three’s slot to check for the usual advertisements and junk that
was once called ‘mail.’ “Citizen Herzog,” I said. “Easy
He whirled, with an oath, and staggered a bit; I chopped him
where his hand was going into a pocket, and he slumped against the side
of the entryway. There wasn’t any more fight than that left in
him. It seemed like he had been considerably softened up by
something, and I thought I knew what.
“Hard day at the office, citizen?” I asked, pulling his hand out of the
pocket. Sure enough, a nasty little gun was in it, a six-shot
7.65 semi. I added it to the weapon I already had in my own, then
showed him my badge and ID.
“I can’t believe it,” he groaned. “I just can’t believe it.
I was fucking clear.”
“Out of the frying pan,” I said to him. “Let’s go upstairs,
He looked up at me, refocusing. “Where’s your buddies? Who
the hell are you, anyway?”
“I’m a healthcare services provider,” I said. “Let’s talk.
But first, let’s go up.”
He opened the door and we went up. A couple of night lights
burned in the stairwell, and one at each end of the corridor
upstairs. There wasn’t any garbage laying around, but the scent
of stale cooking oil and cabbage hung in the air, and there looked to
be some patched holes in the walls.
Citizen Herzog’s apartment was small, a commonplace bed-sitter.
He switched on the lights to reveal some threadbare furniture with
throws over them to hide the holes, and the usual electronics.
But it was the smell that interested me the most; a heady mixture
of patchouli, sandalwood, and herb, none of which quite disguised the
unmistakable undertone of nick.
“Have a seat,” I invited him.
“Thank you, I will,” he said sarcastically. “After I have a
piss. If you don’t mind, officer.” He nodded toward the
“Alright,” I said, palming my weapon. “But turn the lights on,
leave the door wide open, and don’t put your hands anywhere other than
He complied, asking in mid-stream: “So, you like to watch guys
“I like to be careful,” I said. “Especially with gun collectors.”
He flushed and washed his hands. One forearm was bandaged under
the sleeve. He wasn’t wearing his ‘band. “You ain’t all
that dumb, citizen. But you didn’t get the ID right. That’s
a ConSec contractor’s ID, not an officer’s, and that badge ain’t
shit. You’re no more an officer than I am. Less of one,
I gestured toward a plain metal chair at the kitchen table. “Pull
it out here. Slowly. That’s right. Now have a seat
… You’d know something about officers, citizen,” I said. “You
were there when five of them were killed tonight.”
“I say,” I said. “And the ID is jake. I am a ConSec
“The company outsourcing hit jobs now?” he asked.
I held up my weapon so he could get a look at it. “You ever see
one of these, citizen Herzog?”
He showed genuine interest. “Can’t say I have.”
“It’s gas-powered,” I said. “Five-five-six. Magazine’s good
for--not many rounds, but more than enough to kill you. And the
effective range is only a hundred feet or so, but then what handgun
really counts beyond that range, unless it’s in the hands of someone
trained as a Grammaton Cleric?”
“Damn few a’ them left,” he said. “And your point, citizen?”
“If I’d come to hit you, I could have done it downstairs.
Nobody’d have heard a thing, and I’d be a mile away by now.”
“So what’d you want? I got nick.”
“Don’t want your nick, citizen. I just want a few facts.”
“Ask away,” he said. He was studying my face very
carefully. Then he giggled. “I almost said ‘fire
away.’ That’n’ta been too smart.”
I was starting to like Citizen Herzog even less than I had, which had
been not at all. I thought momentarily of the dumpster beneath his
window and whether there’d be enough room in it to make him comfy
before rigor mortis started settling in.
I said: “Hands on your knees, citizen,” and slowly pulled out my
PDA with one hand and flipped it open. I showed him Irina. “You
Replacing the device carefully, I gestured with my weapon and
said: “You know, citizen, you’d be screwed if anything happened
to one of your knees. No more security job, and no more fake
‘bands. That’d mean no more nick.”
He’d had a long day, so I gave that a moment to sink in. “Now
answer the question. You know her?”
“Yeah. Star. Star Bright.”
“What’s she to you?”
“Chilly. She’s one of those BCI cows. All the nookie you
like—if you marry her.”
“Whataya mean, what else? Someone’s obviously talked. You know
what she did.”
“I want to hear you talk, citizen.”
“She brought the data for the ‘bands. A guy ‘dotted it.
Then I’d get the ‘dots and run ‘em somewhere.”
“Where’s ‘somewhere,’ citizen?”
“Where they make ‘em.”
“And where do they make ‘em?”
“Who at CSD?”
He was silent.
I hand-cocked my weapon.
“All right, all right,” he said. “What’d you ask again? Who
did the ‘dotting?”
“I’ll take his name.”
“Petanko. Sami Petanko.”
“And your contact at CSD?”
“Officer. What th’hell, citizen--they don’t have first
names down there. Officer Lanyok. That’s all I know.”
“In processing,” I said. “That’s his department.”
“Not that I really care, but how'd they deliver the nick?”
“Somebody drops a keycard in my slot downstairs,” he said. “It’s to a
locker at the community gym where I work out. Never the same one
twice. The nick’ll be in there in a sealed mini del-pod.” I
knew what he meant. Light but strong plastic containers for
delivery by scooter courier, or ‘cabs would handle them for a
price. You could buy them all over. There were Datapods for
magcards and disks, Minis for small items like drives, Number Twos,
Number Fours, and the biggest was a Number Nine, which could hold
a suit of clothes if you folded them right, with shoes to match.
“That’s what you were checking the slot for.”
“Yeah. It should a’ come today.”
“Might not come,” I said. “Star’s gone missing.”
He gave a little snort, then a flash grin. “Too bad for her.”
I started walking around, slowly, keeping my eyes on him. “They’ll
replace her, eh?”
“She wasn’t the first, citizen. She won’t be the last.
We’re all disposable.”
“Is that what they told you?”
“Yeah. It’s true enough.”
For once, I found myself agreeing with Citizen Herzog. “You know
what happened to her?”
“How’s it feel, citizen, being disposable?” I found just about
what I was looking for behind him, and tested its heft.
“We’re all disposable,” he said. “Me, you, Star, everybody.
Everybody in sweet fucking Libria’s disposable.”
“Some more than others,” I said, and whacked him carefully above the
left ear with the heavy old glass ashtray I’d picked up. He
folded over like a flour tortilla and hit the floor.
I checked his vitals. He was alive, but with the blow and
fatigue, he’d be out for a nice long time. Only a drop or two of
blood above the hairline; I hadn’t lost my touch.
I wiped everything I’d handled, donned a pair of disposable plastic
gloves, and gave the place the once-over. I found half an ounce
of herb, about three ounces of nick, and two more guns, one fully
loaded and under the cushion of a chair three feet from where he’d
sat. I extracted his PDA from his jacket and, avoiding the call
buttons, used the cable at his workstation to download its contact
numbers into mine; everything else was password-protected, and I
didn’t have time to go there. Then I checked his wallet.
Among the usual stuff was a plain industrial magcard in a protective
sleeve marked: Property of TeleLibria. Classified. Do
Remove Under Penalty Of Law. Bad man that I was, I removed
it; that, the weapon he’d pulled on me, and the clip from the
loaded one. Everything else I replaced.
I double-checked everything to make sure it was just the way I wanted
it. Then I left.
I hit the sack very late that night, close to one, but not before
putting Herzog’s gun and the magcard away in a safe place. I
plugged my PDA into its charger. For whatever reason, I later did
something I very seldom do.
I dreamed. I dreamed of a tall, slim girl with dark hair
streaming behind her as she galloped a horse along under the light of a
My alarm went off at six--I’d set it late. I rolled over on my
futon, stretched, and hummed along to the music; some gentle,
caressing horn by a pre-War player called Miles. I shook the last
of the dream out of my head, then got up, shovelled on some togs, and
headed out to my big main room where I did most everything.
Nobody was standing there ready to shoot me down as I came out of the
bedroom. So far, so good.
The telescreen had popped on again. It would be doing a lot of
that. The ‘East Forty-Eighth Battle,’ as they seemed to have
named it, was all over the a.m. ‘casts. I kept an ear open while
I did what I had to do, but I wasn’t agog for it. There’d be
much, much more. I did hear that twenty-three bales of nick, with
a street value in the millions, had been seized, but all the suspects
had evaded capture. Investigations were ongoing. ConSec
spokespeople, including president Tyrone Brandt, weren’t saying
much. MOJ would be opening an emergency hearing on issuing
firearms to all ConSec officers, rather than just the riot teams, which
were the closest thing Libria had to an army. I wondered what
their old Chair, citizen John Preston—former Grammaton Cleric
John Preston—might have to say about that. They might well
be consulting him. Their current Chair, citizen Lisa Preston,
also might have some thoughts. Brandt himself had had a Cleric in
his family, though he had always disavowed any sympathy for the old
methods. But to a history-minded guy like me, things were looking
interesting over my morning grapefruit.
I arrived an hour late at my usual stand at the MSA gymplex, officially
used for the three Ministers and their sizeable staff, but also open to
Bureau management and their staff. Council Members were,
naturally, welcome, and invited guests of all the above. I was,
technically, none of these, but I had been deemed worthy by reason of
association. It had no monitors of any kind, such as the law
could set up most anywhere if it chose, so it was a good place for
having little business chats while you swam, sparred, played squash,
lifted, or did any of your other routines; and its refreshment
bar sold goodies like real coffee and Jak’s favourite muffins.
Being the home turf of the important and well-funded Health Bureau, it
was probably the all-around best gym in Libria.
“You’re running late,” said Jonesy, better known as Citizen Jones, an
administrator in the Public Works Bureau, a brown belt holder and crack
singlestick fighter, as I joined him for stretches.
“Had a late date,” I told him.
He chuckled. “That’s two since the nones of February. You single
guys. How do you get away with that, anyway?”
“Exempted,” I told him.
“I won’t ask why,” he said. “They’ve always got reasons for that.”
After a few minutes, he looked over at me between his legs during a
deep bend. “Just tell me this. She hot?”
I considered everything—everything—that had passed last night.
“You could say that.”
He chuckled again. “Dawg.”
After a while we finished stretching, and I said: “I’m not up for
sticks this morning. Why don’t we work on some combos instead?”
“Fine with me, Max,” he said. We went over to the one of the
martial arts areas. I took stance; breathed, found the
place. And so, we sparred. Light, easy—by habit, we avoided
even the practice of lethals. Through the large windowed side of
one wall, I saw that the usual cadre of office girls was at work on
their BCI. At one point, behind Jonesy, I saw twelve of them go
into a move that involved standing on one leg and slowly bringing the
other up, pulling it with an arm move so that their right feet touched
“Check that out,” I told him. He moved his head and I touched him
with what would have been a kidney blow.
“You don’t fight fair,” he complained with a grin, tossing his shock of
“You can afford it,” I told him. “You got fifteen years on me.”
We went for another half-hour or so with a little chat about the news,
but not much else. I liked it that way, and I suspected he did
too. After that, he saw another acquaintance who was willing to
go some sticks with him. I went on a treadmill. The BCI
girls had broken up to do some individualized routines, as usual, and
one took up a treadmill next to mine, a freckled one with auburn hair
in a bun, wearing a baggy tracksuit, instead of the close-fitting
synth ‘tards that most of them favored. She seemed to be taking
things slowly. I could relate. I was taking them slowly
myself. I thought: OK, whatta ya got? –and keep it simple,
I had a missing schoolgirl, with a double identity as a data courier to
a false ID ring, which was connected to TeleLibria through a
programmer. Another TeleLibria employee connected the false ID
ring to ConSec, and also to the nick trade. The nick connection
had turned ugly with an armed incident involving both ConSec and, to a
lesser extent, the MOJ. On the other end, both the schoolgirl’s
parents were powerful people, one with connections to the University,
and another to the Libria Family Foundation. The missing girl was
the main thing. Her double identity wasn’t hard to figure;
she and her parents had respectable connections to protect. But
why would she get involved in a fake ID ring? Had she disappeared
voluntarily, or been snatched? And who would want to snatch her,
and why? The false ID ring was small change. There were
certainly others doing the same thing. There was someone much
bigger behind it, but would that someone want Irina Madour, and if so,
why? Did she know something about the nick? That was rather
heavier than the ID affair. I had the nagging feeling that there
was something else I should have put to citizen Herzog, but what it was
eluded me. Not who the big wheels were—he wouldn’t know
that. I’d certainly get answers when I found Irina. But I
needed answers in order to find her, and that would take some
luck. And I’d used up my share of luck getting to Herzog. I
had a link between Herzog and the gun battle that no one else knew
about, but where did Irina fit in? I was trying to keep it
simple, but it was vigorously resisting my effort.
I went to the locker room feeling frustrated. I didn’t lack for
puzzle pieces, but they just wouldn’t come together right. I did
enjoy the atom shower, though. It blasted you with dozens of
little nozzles including both water and sanitary solution that more or
less vacuumed all the perspiration and funk right off of you.
Then you got a whole-body blow-dry, and the whole thing took about
three minutes. You could get a massage afterward if you had an
appointment, but while they let me use the equipment, I didn’t rate any
attention from the personnel side, like trainers or masseurs.
Besides, it was getting late. Most of the staff people had
already gone to work, and it was past time for me to be doing the same.
As I came out of the men’s locker room, I stopped for a drink at the
waterjet and heard a noise coming from inside the women’s.
Something wasn’t right with somebody.
I looked in, and the girl from the treadmill was leaning on one of the
sinks, retching. No one else was there, so I approached and put a
hand on her. “Take it easy, citizen,” I said. “Should I
call for help?”
She heaved once more and then stood up, a bit dizzily. Like me,
she had changed already and been about to leave. I turned on the
faucet to wash the detritus down, gave her my handkerchief. She
dabbed at her lips and said: “No, thanks, citizen. I--er,
thanks.” She leaned over a bit, as if about to fall, and I put
one hand on her belly and another on her shoulder to steady her.
“You sure?” I asked.
“Thank you. I—I overdid it a bit this morning.”
I ran a cup of water and handed it to her. She set it on the
accessory shelf, unzipped her bag, and rummaged in it, coming out with
a packet, which she tore open, swallowing the contents with the
water. I ran some more water, and she drank that, too.
“You alright to walk?” I said. “Let’s get you out.”
“I’m alright, citizen, really.” I looked down where I had touched
her on her belly, and back at her face. She gave a slight
nod. “Touch of morning sickness,” she admitted, and looked a
“That’s fine,” I said, and meant it. “Really good. You
should take care of yourself, citizen.”
“They tell you to keep fit,” she said. “I know. I’m
careful. I’ll be alright now.”
“You be good,” I said to her, and she gathered herself and walked
off. Then I realized I’d left the water running. I
sloughed out the sink and turned it off. At that point I noticed
a tiny foil and plastic micropak on the floor, such as pills come
in. She’d probably dropped it. I picked it up and went out
after her, but she was nowhere in sight. It didn’t matter
much. She certainly had more meds, and could get them very easily
if she were running out.
I picked up a bagel at the refreshment stand, then went out and over to
the tube station across the street to go to work.
As I waited for the train, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the
treadmill girl’s micropak, turned it over, and looked at the pill
through the clear plastic side. My day job required competent, if
not intimate, knowledge of the Librian pharmacopoeia. This,
however, was something I had not seen before. That reminded me
that it was getting time for me to renew some of my own ‘scrips;
my PDA’s auto-reminder had gone off a few days before. My pharma
was in Fillmore Plaza near the station, a few blocks from the office.
When I got there, Raja was on duty. She’d been my p-tech for a
long time, and was one of the best. I got the list of what I
needed from the reminder on my PDA, as as we were finishing up, I
handed her my find.
“What’s this?” I asked her.
She pulled down her old-fashioned spectacles—for some reason she didn’t
want her eyes lasered like most of us—and looked at the little pink
thing under the plastic. Then she held it up. “May
I?” I nodded.
She opened the packet with a pair of tweezers and set the pill under a
magnifier with a bright light. Adjusting it, she asked:
“Where’d this come from, citizen?”
“I just found it,” I said, which was literally true. “And you
know me, citizen. I’m the nosy type. Curious. I’d
never seen it before.”
“Neither have I,” she said. That piqued my interest. She
punched some keys on a board and looked at her terminal for a minute or
two, then shook her head.
“It looks legitimate, with the packaging and all,” she said. “I’m
sure it’s in the updates somewhere, but it’s not a commonly prescribed
medication. Can I keep it and do a little work on it?”
“Help yourself,” I said. “No big deal. I just got curious.”
“It’s catching,” she said. “I’ll give you a buzz.”
“No hurry,” I said.