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By Aedh
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I took stance;  breathed, found the place.  His guys had faded to the sides of the room;  unobtrusive, vaguely behind me, but still there.  They knew their stuff.  With a gesture, John Preston indicated a PDA pocket and the tabletop.  I was to put my device on it, and, nice and slow, I did.  With a glance, he assured himself it wouldn’t buzz during our talk.  Then he motioned toward the empty chair.  I thought:  Begin.

“With respect, Cler—citizen, I’d prefer to stand awhile.” I said.  “It was a bit of a ride.”

He considered this for a fraction of a second.  I was half a head taller than him; we both knew it.  He didn’t need to intimidate me any more, and we both knew that, too.  There was no sound from his guys.

“Very well, citizen Slater.  You have served Libria for many years:  your record has been, more than most, compiled quite without incident …”  I inclined my head slightly at the compliment,  “ … until now.”

I waited.

“Last night you went to a certain address:  you visited a certain citizen there.  This morning that citizen was found murdered by Consolidated Security officers.  You then avoided contact with those officers.  This, citizen, indicates involvement by you in an incident—one with serious complications.  You will provide to me the explanation which you have withheld from law enforcement.”

I glanced back where I knew his guys were.

He placed his dark-clad elbows on the table and placed his fingertips together.  I might have been twenty-odd years younger, undergoing a debriefing by a senior Cleric after a Sweep gone wrong.  This, of course, was Preston’s intention.

“I’m working on a case involving a missing citizen,” I told him.  “Also with—potentially—very serious complications.  During the course of the investigation, I found it necessary to confirm some information with the citizen you speak of.  He attempted violence and was uncooperative.  I found it necessary to subdue him.  I did not employ lethal force, citizen.”

“Are you certain of this?”

“I confirmed the citizen’s vital signs before my departure from the premises.”

“Might there not have been some miscalculation?”

“It is possible.  But another citizen employed that citizen’s PDA device in the interval before the officers’ arrival.  It is also possible that that citizen is responsible.”

“Is this second citizen known to you?”


“And this citizen’s name?”

I hesitated slightly.  “Citizen Irina Madour.”

Preston was silent for a moment.  I was still trying to figure out what he wanted with me. 

“Citizen Irina Madour, and her family, are known to me,” he observed.  “The--I have been apprised of her disappearance.”

“The deceased citizen is known to me,” I said quickly, looking for an opening.  “Is he also known to you?”


I gave him Keef Herzog’s name and a few facts.  “That is the person.  Am I correct, citizen?”

He agreed.

“You referred to citizen Herzog’s murder as having ‘serious complications,’”  I told him, driving home.  “You are aware, citizen, that he was also a dealer in tobacco and false ID wristbands?”

He agreed again.

“Finally, you are aware of his presence at last night’s security incident on East Forty-Eighth Street?”

He took a deep breath. This was anyone else’s equivalent of swallowing their tongue.

“You … have evidence of this, citizen Slater?”

“Yes.”  It wouldn’t stand up half a second in court.  But ex-Tetras tended to retain different notions about what constituted ‘evidence.’  I knew that.  I was banking on it.

“You are,” he observed, “better at what you do than I had believed.”

“Insufficient, however, to explain an ex-Council Member’s considerable interest in all of this.”

“Citizen Herzog was …” said John Preston, “administering certain interests of mine.”

It was my turn to take a deep breath.  “You, citizen?  Tobacco?  False ‘bands?”

He settled in his seat, ever so slightly.  “You and I, citizen, will discuss certain realities of Libria.  Realities which not every citizen cares to admit.”  He raised his voice slightly and spoke past me:  “Leave us.”

A few small noises indicated that the guys were following instructions.  Citizen Preston got up.  He had lost some weight recently.  His outfit, the same not-quite-black as his hair colour, hung rather more loosely than it had on the vidcast shots of him a couple of years before, and as he moved in the light his face looked rather sallow; but his movements were still smooth and totally controlled.  He might have slowed a bit, but his training hadn’t slipped.

“Libria is a free society,” he said.  “Or, more accurately, it has freedoms.  Far more than it once had.  You and I not only remember those times, but we were among those who upheld the paradigm;  with chemicals and supervision, sometimes intimidation, and with force when necessary.”

“That is true,” I spoke up.  “It is still a good description of what I do now.”

He gave a single nod.  “Times have changed, citizen Slater, and you adapted with them admirably, while maintaining your focus.  Much more so, as a private citizen, than I was able to do as a Council member for so many years.”

“’Able to do?’”  I asked.  “I don’t ever recall that you, citizen Preston, ever failed to do anything you really committed yourself to.”

“I committed myself to the Council for rather too long,” he said slowly.  “I thought I was needed there.  Things happened … I could tell you many stories, but you know your share of them already.  The problems with factions who wanted to re-introduce Prozium, sometimes openly, sometimes insidiously.  Kidnapings, assassinations, and attempts at both.”  That was true.  Preston and his family had been frequent targets themselves.  “Bombings.  White Magic and gangs.  Political factions.  Health problems, the struggle to build an economic base, and regulations … endless regulations and legal affairs.”

“Your son,” I mentioned.  “Robbie was never very much like you, though he wanted to be.  And all was not as well with Kyra and Lisa as everyone thought.”

“It all took money,” he said.  “Everything takes money, and money was hard to come by in the early days.  Many people known to us made it by exporting weapons and equipment plundered from the government.  You and I, among others, hunted those people down and brought them to justice.”

“I suppose it was justice,” I said.  “Of a sort.”

“Tobacco was legalized,” he said.  “It was seen as a relatively harmless sign of the times.  A return to pre-War ease and culture.  And it was popular.  People remember the gansterism and drugs now, but those were made possible because of the spring climate.  There was openness.  Citizens read and wrote, went to clubs, danced, laughed, sang, played music and games, and had a cigarette or a pipe to go along.  They wanted to enjoy themselves.  Was this, citizen, a bad thing?”

“It was unhealthy,” I pointed out.

“At the time, it seemed nothing compared to what we had gone through.  You know that.  Suffice it to say, the opportunity was there.  I invested.  A few years later, it was outlawed again.”

“And you stood to lose a great deal.”

“Everything but my salary from the Council, which was very modest.  It looked as though the ban might be reversed again.  I did not wholly disband my business.  I kept a few people, who were willing to pay, supplied privately.  It was discreet.  I sanctioned no violence.”

“What about last night?” I asked.  “Those were your guys who did that?”

He stopped in his tracks and threw me a sharp glance.  “You surely don’t believe everything you hear on the videocasts, citizen.”

“I sure believed what I found out about citizen Herzog.”

“The events of last night,” he said, “were not about the merchandise.  My people have always been instructed to abandon it if action transpired.”

“Then what were they about?”

“They were about nothing to do with your job of finding Irina Madour,” said Preston.  “Be clear on that, citizen.  Be very clear.”

“That may be the official line—but there was some sort of connection,” I told him.  “She went to his place early this morning, after the raid.  He had a call on his PDA.  She picked up, unaware, perhaps, that his was a security-issue model with an instant vidgrab of whoever answered a call.  She knew about the raid.  She probably knew he was there.  What I have to find out is why.  When I find that out, I will find her.”

“That I do not know,” he said.

“Meaning what? I demanded.  “Are you telling me, citizen Preston, I won’t find her?”

“No, rather that I do not know why she went there.”

“You don’t?”  I asked.  “What about the fake ID bands?  Herzog was mixed up with that, too.  That’s your business, too, isn’t it?  She was a courier for the data that went into them.”

Preston said nothing for a moment.  I realized I had given him information.

“I had them supplied as part of my merchandising business,” he said.  “A quite harmless affair, really.  The whole law about them is ridiculous, and, as you well know, enforcement is rather lax.  A pair of citizens ought to be able to enjoy themselves for an evening of dancing and a bottle of wine without some mark going on their records forever.  You and I worked hard for that, citizen Slater.  We shed blood for that.  You were one of the original officers at MES, free Libria’s first real police force.  I put you there.  The Libria I myself envisioned, and still envision, is one where that can happen, and I daresay you yourself are sympathetic.  While Equilibrium is gone for good, there are those who would bring it back under a more subtle form.  In the name of health.  They are many and powerful.  I don’t need to mention the Earthlight Center or the Reproductive Freedom Action Committee--both of which shelter under the Libria Family Foundation--to you.”

“Perhaps,”  I said.  “But that is not your battle, citizen Preston.  That is the battle of Lisa’s generation.  And that sort of battle goes on all the time in a free society.  That is what freedom is about.  Debate.  Argument.  Lawsuits.  Vidcasts.  As long as people agree to refrain from violence.”

He was quiet.  I think I was giving him information again.

“You rose to the top of the Tetragrammaton because your focus was total,” I said.  “Your career was well-known.  You never talked, never let go.  You were the master of the killshot.  My career was not well-known.  I was the one who plodded along in the middle, did competent--just competent--training, never got to the higher katas because I didn’t have the total concentration.  I didn’t offend, but I couldn’t help thinking.  My reports frequently came back for rewriting because I proffered ideas in them.  Some of which were adopted by, and credited to, my superiors.  I was the master of the water-cooler.  When the time came, I survived because I could talk well.  People found me useful.  That has been my career.  People still find me useful.  I was saved, it might be said, by mediocrity.  The killshot was once the way of Libria.  That is less and less true, though it will always have a certain place.  The water-cooler always had its place in the old Concilium offices.  But it, and its way, are rapidly becoming the way of Libria.  That, citizen Preston, is why you are no longer on the Council.  But you knew that.”

“You have a gift, citizen Slater, for expressing yourself which the passage of time has enhanced.  Even as it has slowed my own weapon arm.”

“Not by much, I’m sure.”  I smiled at him.

 He managed a bit of a smile back.

“So why—“  I gestured around—“why keep on with all this?  You’re not in need of money the way you once were.”

He sighed.  “If only that were so.  Closing down would open the door to renewed gang competition;  selling out implies having to find a buyer; and neither creates enticing prospects for the situation on the street.  And there are other reasons.  Because of politics, I and my family require continued security of a type ConSec can’t spare the resources for.  Even since my retirement, two plots have been detected and prevented.  And Robbie’s bills are high.”

“Robbie would be covered by LibMed,” I said slowly.  “I ought to know that, citizen. I work for them.”

“Not his legal bills.  And even for medical matters, not everything is underwritten by insurance,” answered Preston.  “You know that Libria’s medical facilities are the best in the world.  Much research is supported by foundations.  Not all of the foundations are funded by the Council or the MSA.”

“You’re funding research for Robbie privately?”

“Despite what my daugher-in-law maintains, there is hope for him.  There are new therapies with great promise. Another year may make the difference.  There are biomechanical techniques that may enable his movement.  And if he can move, then we stand a better chance of prevailing in the courts.”

“’Biomechanical—‘”  It hit me.  “Authier Madour.  So that’s what this is about.”

“He is the foremost man in the field,” said Preston.  “He is working hard on this.  But it requires constant funding.”

It was all starting to make sense.  “It would help him and his wife if their daughter were back,” I said.

“Many Librians admire John Preston,” he said.  “Many others despise him, and still others see him as nothing but a relic.  All of them have grounds for their opinions.  That, too, citizen, is freedom, I think.  Death has always followed me.  Even my wife Vivianna was taken before my eyes by the government I upheld.  But I have one more mission, citizen Slater.  This one may result in the saving of a life.  One life … it isn’t much, I suppose, set against everything else.  Even if I prevail in the legal matter, there is still an enemy that threatens Robbie.  That enemy is one against which Gun Kata is useless.  But I will battle it with every resource I can bring to bear.”

“I have no difference with you there, citizen,” I said. “I always said that retirement didn’t suit you.”

“So.”  He resumed his seat behind the table.  “I am concerned with one life.  You also, citizen, are concerned with one life.  As it was sometimes in the past, so again now: our ways coincide.”

“They do,” I said.

“You, citizen Slater, will find Irina Madour.  I wish to be notified when that happens.  I do not wish her father’s research to be disturbed by any incident that might arise because of her.  For my part, I will take care not to hinder you in your job.  And if you encounter any difficulties, I am not without some influence in Libria yet.  I’m sure I don’t need to caution you about disclosing anything about this meeting.”

“What meeting?” I asked.

He picked up my PDA and looked at me.  I nodded, and he flipped it open.  After studying it for a short while, he said:  “This number may prove useful.”  Then he punched buttons for about half a minute, and closed the device.  “It reaches me directly, which the numbers listed on the ‘net directories do not.  It is listed as ‘General Distributing.’  You will of course use it with great care, and not reveal it to anyone under any circumstances.”

“Of course,” I said, accepting the device back.

“My associates will show you out,” he said.  “I apologize, citizen, but it is a routine precaution when I am in this place.”  He stood up.  “Good day, citizen Slater.”  I bid him likewise, and he walked out.  A minute or so later, Beaker and Spud came back in.  Beaker checked his watch.  “Almost ten minutes with the boss,” he said.  “Do you know, citizen, what some citizens would give for that?”

“Their lungs?” I guessed.

“Wiseguy,” said Beaker.  “We got us a wiseguy here, ya think?” he asked Spud.  “Alright, let’s go, wiseguy.  Next time, maybe we’ll be dumping you in the river. This time, you get ta pick.”

I felt a pang of hunger.  The bagel in my pocket didn’t seem adequate.  “Somewhere where I can get a good chile relleno,” I said.

We went out.

My attendants, after a trip exactly similar to the previous one, let me off at a place several blocks over from where they had picked me up.  I waited a few minutes, then went for a saunter.  There was still a ConSec car in front of citizen Herzog’s building;  it had been joined by a Bureau van, and, a few feet away, a newsvan with its mast up.  My acquaintance was achieving posthumous fame.  I circled back.  There was, in fact, an Amazonian café nearby, and I grabbed some lunch. 

I had just popped the mint into my mouth when my PDA went off.

I pulled it out and flipped it open.  It was Raja.  “That was quick work,” I told her.

“It’s not finished yet,”  she said.  “Well, not really finished.  I know what it is, but not where it came from.”

“Let’s start with what it is,” I said.

“It’s a selective estrogen receptor modulator,” she said.  “I have the chemical formula.   I could text it to you.”

“Go ahead,” I said.  While I’m good with meds on one level, I’m no chemist;  the long string of letters, numbers, brackets, and words ended with something like ‘diethyl-ethanamine.’  But it wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me.

“It sounds to me like an estradiol.  You’re talking about a fertility drug.”

“It could have other applications, but that seems like the most likely one.”

“Is it legal?”

“No.  It was originally developed by a team at the Rockland Institute, and some work on it was presented, but trials of it were blocked at the BOH.  Funding for the project eventually died,  and it’s been in bureaucratic limbo for several years.  The Libria Family Foundation’s been trying to get it up and running again.  They’ve nicknamed it R99.”

“But this is professionally packaged.  It’s being made in a factory somewhere.”

“Not in Libria.”

“How do you know that?” I asked.  “Maybe it’s being made illegally here.”

“No.  I not only looked at the med, but the package it came in.  It looks like a Librian safe-pak, but it isn’t.  The foil backing isn’t what the companies around here use.  It’s adhered with a different substance, though I’m not competent to say just what.  It came from somewhere else, maybe Koguryo.”

“Do you know if Doctor Authier Madour was a member of the Rockland team that developed the med?”

“I can find out easily enough.”

“Can you give me a printed analysis?” I asked.

“I don’t see why not.  Stop by in the morning.”

“Thanks, Raja,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said.  “Most interesting.  I’d love a talk with whoever had that.  So would the LFF people, I’m sure.”  And so, I thought, would Officer Roy Roy at ConSec.  “Well, see you next month, Citizen.”

“Yeah, see you, Raja.”  I hit the off button and wandered toward the tube station.

There wasn’t much point in going to the office now.  I could check my calls from home, and anyway, I’d had a short night and a definitely weird morning.  I went back to my place, via Sal’s store.  The ‘cab had dropped my gymbag there, sure enough.  I came in the door, and said:  “Heya, Sal.”

The old man looked at me.  He wheezed a bit and took my money as I bought a carob bar.  Then I leaned on the counter.  “You know, citizen, life gets interesting.  I have a missing girl who’s mixed up with a nick trafficker, who’s mixed up with Commo.  The girl and the nickhead are mixed up with a racket in false ID bands, but the nickhead’s associates, one of whom is a big-wheel politician, don’t know that.  A bunch of cops get dead.  The nickhead gets dead. A mom-to-be at MSA gets the heaves and drops a pill which turns out to be an illegal fertility med which somebody’s apparently decided to start cranking out overseas and now they’re trafficking that.  How the fudge do you run a store like that, Sal?”

Sal replied with a wheeze.

I stood up.  “Gotta run along, citizen.  I love our little chats.”  I walked the long way, several blocks around.  I wanted to make sure that nobody was watching me but Sal.

Nobody was.  I went to my place.

I went upstairs, had a seat, and checked my office messages.  I hoped there weren’t any.  My PDA was starting to get on my nerves.

That reminded me;  I had downloaded citizen Herzog’s PDA call list into it.  And I had his magcard.  First, however, I had one more call to make.

I made sure my office router connection was working, and then dialed Vonnie Lasseter on my vidphone.

“Citizen Slater,” he said.  “I have about two minutes for you.”

“That’s enough. Listen, have you heard anything about a women’s med they call R99?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “It’s a fertility drug.  Been on the drawing board for some time now, but trials got canned.  They’re having another hearing on it the day after tomorrow.  LFF people, MSA, MOJ, even MOC, and some of the usual scientific experts.  It’s never been tested—no human trials, anyway.”

“That’s what you think.” I said.  “I’ve had two women cross my path who were testing it.  The name of one, I don’t know.  The name of the other is Irina Madour.”

“The hell you say,” he muttered.  “How do you know that?  Have you found Irina?”

“I’m working on it,” I told him.  “Among other things.  Did you say someone from MOJ will be sitting in on it?”

“Sure.  The legal side, you know.”

“Can you get me in to see Citizen Lisa Preston?”

“Me?  I’m a Worker, Max.”

“Yeah, but you’re a senior person at your Bureau.  You know people.  Those people know people.  Give it some of the old razzle-dazzle.  This could be very big, citizen.”

“I’ll see what I can do.  There could be fall-out.  With some luck, you might get a five-minute vidmeet.  And it’s getting kinda late in the day.” 

“Better than nothing,” I said. “Take my PDA number.”  He did.  That was that.

For now.

I turned my attention back to that device.  I brought up Citizen Herzog’s call list.  I checked things over.

He had a fairly small directory.  There was, of course, the usual preloaded company directory;  government offices, his work number at TeleLibria, and several numbers that I knew to be to ConSec people because of their prefixes.  I fired up Old Betsy and began researching some of the others.  There was a his building ‘super, a bank branch, a laundry service, two gymplexes, a call-in vidcast, a take-out restaurant, a courier service, and a few of names which looked to be just citizens.  He was, it seemed, a man with few friends.  There was no ‘Star’ among them;  no ‘Preston’ or ‘General Distributing.’  I didn’t expect there to be, but you never know.  Herzog’s PDA was company property, liable to recall without notice, and he was extremely unlikely to have put anything incriminating on it;  if I were him, I’d have had a second PDA for private use, but it hadn’t been in the place, unless extremely well-concealed.  ‘General Distributing’ was there on my own list where citizen Preston had programmed it in.  I wondered if it was what he had purported it to be.  There was one way to find out, but I didn’t want to try it just then.

I turned on the telescreen.  It was on the news channel where I’d left it.  A health update was on, the latest diet and safety tips.  I dug Citizen Herzog’s magcard out, opened up some readware, and inserted it into the magcard reader.  It took a few tries, but I finally got the card opened up.  Sure enough, it was a list of thirty-three files. 

All had the usual data found on citizen ID wristbands.  Name, address, date of birth, occupation, blood type, allergies, and prescriptions.

Twenty-eight of the names were female.  All the birthdates put them in their twenties.

And all carried prescriptions, in varying dosages, for what I recognized as R99.

I sat back and scratched my head.  Another question that Citizen Herzog might have been able to help with, but too late now.  It was no wonder he’d been killed.  I was beginning to marvel that he’d stayed alive as long as he had.  And I was acquiring some idea of why he had collected guns.

He couldn’t answer.  But he had had an associate.  Citizen Sami Petanko might be able to.

I hadn’t taken his PDA number, but he had called me, and mine logged the sources of calls.  Within a minute I had his number and back-dialled it.

I got an auto-answer;  he’d switched off.  I left a message.  His number, it came to me, hadn’t been in Herzog’s company-issued PDA.  It seemed rather dumb that Herzog would have to call him over company land-lines, which were surely monitored.

Unless citizen Herzog hadn’t been so dumb.

Maybe he’d had a second PDA.

I thought I knew where it was.

In the meantime, I took a shower and changed into some loose, dark clothing.  Then I went into the back part of my area, where I’d taken out a wall, and there was nothing but a large space with wallboard around and a couple of light fixtures.  I’d never really figured out what I was going to do with it, but I had a good use for it now.  I stood with my weapon straight down

I took stance;  breathed, found the space.

I thought:  Begin.

Begin at the beginning.  Kata One.

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