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By Aedh
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Three hours later, I was feeling the glow.  I had gone through all the katas I knew—One through Twelve.  I’d studied some higher ones, but not to the point of mastery.  And I didn’t want to risk time on anything that wouldn’t serve me perfectly.

I was just getting out of the shower when my PDA went off again.  I flipped it open.  It was Vonnie Lasseter.

“I went overtime for you, citizen,” he said.  “So did some other people.”

“Thanks, citizen,” I said.

“The impossible, as usual, has been done.  You have a meeting with Citizen Lisa Preston tomorrow.  The day is a no-go.  There’s a Court conference on the defendents in the RFAC case and everything else.  But she could switch her morning workout.  You still do your routines in the MSA gym every morning, right?”


“She’ll be there at five-forty-five sharp.”

“Yeah.  Thank you, Vonnie.  Did I tell you I had two people with fake R99 ‘scrips?”

“Yes.  I mentioned that.”

“Well, you can make it thirty-five as of now.”

He shook his head.  “I hope you know what you’re doing, Max.”

“Did I ever?  By the way, how much did you tell Nedra Madour about me?”

“Nothing she didn’t need to know,” he replied.

“She seemed to know about my MES days.  She doesn’t need to know all that much.”

“What,” he said, “it’s not like you traffick or anything … right?”

“Who trafficks just might surprise you,” I said.  “Thanks again, citizen.”

We hit the end button together.

 It was fully dark by the time I found myself walking, for the third time in a day, down the street toward citizen Keef Herzog’s building.  That wasn’t good.  But nobody pulled up and invited me for a ride.

The moon was up and a faint mist was rolling into the city from the bottomlands to the river beyond.  Lights softened, and even the hum of evening activity from the downtown area muted a bit.  I’d always lived in the city.  I’d had thoughts of obtaining an agri-license and moving out into the countryside a bit, but it was too late for this old cop.  I’d hate it out there, and I knew that damn well.  I was born here, and here I’d die.  I’d be in good company.  For all its vaunted striving toward life and freedom, Libria had ways of making death easy to come by.

The ConSec officers were long gone.  Herzog’s flat would be sealed and set with surveillance devices.

Luckily, I wasn’t going that far.

I stepped into the entryway of his building and took a look around.  Unless they had something new—which was possible—the entryway wasn’t surveillanced. 

I pulled on my thin plastic gloves and went to work on Number Three’s drop slot with a modified screwdriver.  It took about fifteen seconds before the aged metal yielded.  At the bottom was a small, rounded lump of  high-impact material, cool to the touch.  I drew it out.  They weren’t making ConSec officers like they used to.

I hadn’t caught Citizen Herzog opening his slot.  I’d caught him closing it.

That was where he kept his spare PDA, and I had it.

I quickly closed the door, snicked-to what was left of the latch, and looked around again.  So far, so good.

I left.  I hoped I was done with this place now.  It wasn’t my kind of neighborhood.

Once home again, I checked citizen Herzog’s PDA.  It was a cheap one.  Naturally.  As I’d done the night before with his other one, I switched it on, avoided the call button, and downloaded his directory, this time into Old Betsy’s comunications program.

This one was more interesting than his other one.  It had quite an assortment of numbers, though this security guy had taken the precaution of entering nicknames or abbreviations for almost all of them.  I did recognize his work number at TeleLibria, and what looked to be numbers for a half-dozen tele-eros services, as well as restaurants—including Allie’s—and a few other businesses. 

One hit me right away:  entered as GD, it was the number identical to ‘General Distributing’ which Citizen John Preston had given me.  There were a couple of ConSec exchange numbers.  The others would have to wait until morning.  It would take ‘net work, which could be done faster, especially with Jak’s help, at the office.  A man’s gotta sleep sometime, and if there was one woman in Libria I didn’t want to stand up, it would be citizen Lisa Preston.

And I didn’t dream that night.  That was fine by me.  Dreams aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

I hit the locker room at the Ministry gymplex at five-thirty as usual.  The morning had passed without incident;  if anyone was keeping an eye on me, they were doing it very discreetly.  But then, there were citizens who made a very good living specializing in that sort of thing.

I started my warm-ups;  slow, gentle, like my friend Miles’ horn.  A number of other citizens arrived about the same time, and some, including a couple of the ladies, had come on the same train.  I had to wonder how many of them had R99 in their bags along with the vitamins, minerals, supplements, apsirins, liniments, and rubs.  Children weren’t desired by everyone in Libria;  if they were, there wouldn’t be so many family incentives in place.  But among those who did want them, it looked like the usual means were thought to require some enhancement.  Even if it meant illegal medication.  The penalties for being caught with substances varied according to their classification.  Nicotoids, of course, along with White Magic and its numerous derivatives like Lightning, topped the list, followed by various opioids, barbiturates, amphetamines, and assorted psychotropes; then came certain steroids, benzodiazepines, and others, including anything whose dispense-permit had expired.  Cannabinoids, caffeinoids, theobromine, animal proteins, and alcohol came near the bottom.  My work hadn’t dealt much with estradiols and androstenediones, but I didn’t recall them as being subject to high scheduling.  That didn’t mean you got off lightly for distibution, or intent to distribute.

As I was completing the warm-ups, I saw that my treadmill acquaintance from yesterday was not with her group, and another also seemed to be missing.  But they had been replaced by a trim young woman in a royal blue unitard and leg warmers, with her brown hair done up tight, accompanied by three other newcomers; one a male in shiny, baggy  black sweatpants, slender but smooth-moving;  the second, a small female in dusty pink who looked to be an immigrant, most likely from Koguryo;  the third, a big blond male, at least Spud’s size, vidstar-handsome with plenty of muscle to boot.  This would be Citizen Lisa Preston and associates.

“What’s she doing here?” asked Jonesy, coming up behind me.  “I thought she had a private gym.”

“My guest,” I said.

He laughed and punched me in the shoulder.  “You up for sticks today, old man?”

Citizen Preston was evidently combining her business, so I told Jonesy ‘sure,’ and we went for the practice area.  We put on our guards and padded helmets, fastened our leg straps, and with some loosening moves behind us, faced off.  He was on his game, and got in a few touches in the first five minutes.

“What’s on your mind, Max?” he asked.  “You’re not concentrating.”

“Sorry,” I said.  “It looks like we have company.”  Lisa Preston and her female friend were rounding the corner into our space.  I disengaged and lifted my face guard.

“Citizen Max Slater,” said Lisa with a bright, warm smile, extending her hand.  It still took a bit of effort for me to attach the ‘Citizen’ to her.  ‘Lisa Preston’ and nothing else she had been in the public notices since her schooldays, completing her volunteer Service, visiting hospital patients, being elected to student societies, and appearing on academic honours lists.  She hadn’t recorded a pop album that I knew of.  Yet.  “It’s good to see you.  And Citizen Jones, of course, of the BPW.  How are things coming along on the Woods Road improvement project?  Have the utilities people finished upgrading the conduit in the thirty-two-hundred block yet?”

“It’s, um, going well.  We should have that part completed by next week,” answered Jonesy, a little taken aback.

“Well ahead of schedule.  Excellent.  Do call my office if those drones over at Commo don’t begin installing the ‘net upgrades by Monday morning,” she told him with a wink.  “I may be able to put a word in.  And with that, citizen Slater, what would you like to work on this morning?  I don’t have a regulation singlestick kit, or, of course, my bogu for kendo with me.  Perhaps a little light jojitsu?  I believe their equipment room can handle that.”  I nodded.  “Kukishin-ryu?”  Somehow, I wasn’t surprised.

“I know most of the waza,” I told her.  I selected a hanbo, a shorter stick, while she selected a full-length bo, and soon we were warming up with those.

“I’m told you have information about an illegal fertility medication which has been cropping up,” she said, as we stood both facing the mirrors, beginning the basic kata.

I told her what I knew about R99.  “Yesterday, I knew of two people who had bogus prescriptions that supposedly authorized them to have it.  As of this morning, I’m up to thirty-five.  Their information is coded onto forged ID wristbands.”

“Just like this one?” she said, holding out her left arm for me to see as she brought her staff around.

“Undetectable,”  I said.  “Picked up on a scan, most officers would assume it was a legimate prescription—why put an illegal drug on an ID band, after all?  It’s not on the schedules, so they wouldn’t know.  But it would afford recognition to anyone who did know what it was.  There’s probably a fair amount of this going on.”

“How did you uncover this?”

“On a missing person case.  The citizen I’m looking for had one of the forged ‘bands.”

“Who is that?”

“Irina Madour,” I told her.  “It’s an illegal medication to begin with, but she’s only sixteen.  I doubt it’s a good idea for her to be taking that stuff.  She can’t legally marry for awhile yet.”

“What makes you think she’s taking it?”

“Her fake ‘band also said she’s twenty-one.  Why would it say that unless she wanted to appear to be of legal age for marriage, and for test programs?”

“And why would she want to do that?”

“That’s what I don’t understand,” I said.  “Her parents are prominent citizens.  Her father’s one of the world’s foremost doctors.  They certainly wouldn’t approve, even though her mother’s a leader of the Libria Family Foundation.”

“Their goals are admirable,” said Lisa.  “Libria’s birthrate problem is urgent.”

I made agreement.  “But not that urgent.  They don’t need to be enlisting teen-agers for the cause.”

“We’re having hearings about that tomorrow.  Some feel that we do need to be doing just that.  The RFAC certainly think so.”

“Could they be behind this?  They have the money.  They have the motivation.  Some say they have the connections.”

“What’s your theory?”  She set the long staff whirling in a pattern around, over, and behind her, a waza I’d never seen done live with a bo.  She was very good at this.

“Irina was mixed up with a two guys who were making the ‘bands.  Both had connections at TeleLibria, and another had a link to the nick trade, and to ConSec.”

“You think they’re getting their financing from tobacco smuggling?”

Whatever she might know about her father, I wasn’t about to come out with it, or information about the shootout, either.  Keep it simple, Slater.  “I’m not sure,” I said cautiously.  “I’m inclined to doubt it.  Irina had been under treatment for nick addiction, and maybe she just wanted someone to get her fix for her.  And that someone also happened to be in the fake ‘bands racket.  She brought him the data to make them; he got paid off in nick, and cut her in.  It makes sense.  But all the bands carried the false ‘scrips for R99.  Maybe she was working for the RFAC in exchange for a place to stay, for protection, and getting the nick on the side.  That makes sense, too.”

“So you think that digging through the LFF into the RFAC may provide a lead to Irina,” said Lisa, going into a quick succession of parries and blocks.

“And a lead to Irina could make some heads roll at ConSec, and elsewhere,”  I said.  “Remember, the R99 formula comes from the Rockland Foundation, which supports some serious health causes, including your brother.  Her lifespan may be limited if this isn’t taken care of quickly.”

“Are you suggesting that my brother’s cause is supported by nicotine trafficking?” she asked, her face becoming serious.

“That’s not what I meant at all,” I said.  “A lot of citizens support the Foundation, including your father.  And you, for that matter.  If they originated the formula  and it was stolen from them somehow, that doesn’t make them guilty.  It could have leaked out through a BOH source.  Even a Justice source.  Irina could have stolen it herself.  She’s good with computers.  If she got hold of it and gave it to them, the RFAC people could certainly protect her in exchange.  But there’s just no way to tell that right now.  That’s what I meant by saying her lifespan could be short.”

She came to a resting position and looked up at me.  “No wonder you wanted to see me,” she said.  “Authier and Nedra Madour have been important supporters for what we do, for some of the causes I advance.  Their work could be seriously compromised if Irina were to fall into the wrong hands.”

“Her mother realizes that,” I said.  “It was Nedra who came to me with this.  I’m sure she tried to convey that to him.  I did my best.  He just didn’t seem to get it.”  She resumed her kata.

“What do you plan to do next?”

I took a moment to think.  “I’ve been working this by myself,” I said.  “I’m beginning to get in over my head.  I think it’s time for some law.  I don’t see any way around notifying ConSec now and putting out a dragnet, even though that will tip off some of her enemies.”

“What about the traffickers?”

“I have reason to believe one’s been picked up,” I said, which was not literally untrue.  “At least one more confederate is still at large.  And I have some leads on data I can follow up.”

“And what would you like from me?” she asked, going side to side with a waza that involved a series of blows.

“You have authority to make official enquiries in the medication business, and you have connections to the family activism sources that I don’t,” I said.  “I can’t do otherwise than tell you to look into it without delay and to do as you see fit as a Council member and Chair of Justice.  Specfically, I’d ask you to talk to Doctor Madour.  Maybe you can make him see what’s going on where us lesser mortals can’t.”

“And the ConSec connection?”

“I’m not in a position to tackle it right now.  Anyway, I think it’ll come out in the wash.  It may be able to be taken care of by some administrative action.  That’s where you’re good.”

She brought her staff down in a wide-armed sweeping movement which halted exactly at the suface of the mat, and held the position for a moment.  Then she lifted her head up and said:  “It sounds to me, citizen, like we have the makings of a plan.”

“I hope so,” I said.  “Otherwise, people may get hurt.”

She came upright with a smooth movement, and we faced each other for a bow.  “That,” she said, “would not be good.”

“One more thing,” I asked her as we went back to the equipment room.  “Have you ever heard of an outfit called General Distributing?”

There wasn’t a flicker.  “No.  Why do you ask?”

“Just a scrap I ran across.  I’m the nosy type.  I couldn’t make any sense out of it.  Just thought I’d ask.”

As we returned to the main area, she said. “We will be in touch, then.”  Her associates concluded what they doing and came over.  “Citizen Slater,” she said, indicating the woman in pink, “this is Citizen Matsuya.  I’ve stopped trying to beat her with the naginata.  Now I just try to hold my own.”  I put my hands together for her, and she returned the gesture.  Indicating the guy in black, she said:  “And this is Citizen DiLeone.  They’re on my staff. And this,” she said, indicating the blond bruiser, “is my husband Balder.  He’s in export and import.” 

“Pliss to mit yu,” said Balder, crushing my hand. 

“Likewise,” I said, pausing to pop some metacarpals back into place.

“Do call my office if you need anything,” she said with another smile.  “I’ll make sure you can get through.”

“Fine.  Thank you, citizen,” I said, and as they went off to do their own thing, I thought I’d just hit the treadmill again.  There was no sign of Jonesy;  probably off in the weight room.

It was good to have an ally in a high place, though one in a lower place—say, a ConSec investigator—would have been of more immedate use.  As it was, there wasn’t anyone I could trust there right now, not until I got citizen Herzog’s contact list decoded.  I reflected that the four people I’d just met would have made a good Grammaton ops team:  Pink and Black to sweep, Balder to do the cracking, and Lisa to clean.  I did my cool-downs and hit the showers a bit early. I didn’t forget to pick up a muffin for Jak.  Outside, I thought I’d make a call.  The busy, anonymous plaza outside the Ministry’s lower entrance was a good place for it.  I set my gym bag down beside a trashcan and dialled Citizen Sami Petanko’s office at TeleLibria’s accounts center.  I was informed that he hadn’t reported in to work.

That removed all doubt. It was time for Step One.  I dialled Officer Roy Roy at ConSec.  He listened attentively as I brought him up to speed on a few items.  I told him about Irina Madour, and her connection to citizen Herzog and citizen Petanko.  As with Lisa Preston, I didn’t mention any connection to Tuesday’s shootout.  I didn’t mention R99, and I didn’t mention anyone named Preston, either.

“Her friend Herzog turned up dead the night before last,” Roy said.

“I heard.  Her other friend, citizen Petanko, hasn’t been answering his calls since yesterday, and didn’t turn up for work this morning.”

“Why didn’t you report this when you learned about Herzog?” he asked.

“I got sidetracked,” I said.  “Anyway, I don’t doubt you’ve got every qualified officer on that big blow-up from Tuesday.”

“Ouch,” he said.  “’Qualified officer’ is right, citizen.  I know that you were with our precursor agency a long time ago.”

“Yeah,”  I said.  “It wasn’t ‘Consolidated Security’ then.  It was MES, the Municipal Enforcement Service.  I was in what they called ‘vice,’ which covered substance offences.  I was there for a few years until they had a corruption scandal involving White Magic.  I wasn’t involved, but I couldn’t stay.  Public hearings, everything exposed--too much was compromised.  That’s when LibMed made me an offer, and spent thirteen years there as an adjuster.  You know the rest.”

“A lot’s changed since your days, old-timer.  ConSec’s a lot bigger overall.  Some things, like surveillance, prevention and community awareness, we do real well.  Paperwork, administration.  Corporate crimes, like smuggling, embezzlement, and patent infringement.  We have a good little section for riot control and crowd suppression. But start bringing in crooks trained in real armed combat, and we’re not much ahead of where the old MES was—in fact, we’re behind in some ways.  Once they could rely on a supply of ex-Tetras, but that well’s run dry.  There hasn’t been much call for it in the last ten years or so, and you know how supply and demand works.  The new people coming in, what there are of them, all want desk jobs in surveillance or social services.”

“Yep.  Well, Irina was mixed up with this Herzog and his nick trade, and it looks like that’s taken a nasty turn.  She needs to be taken in for her own protection, if nothing else.  And I’ll breathe easier when we’ve heard from citizen Petanko again.”

“I’ll see to it, citizen.  Anything else?”

“I’ll let you know.”

“All right then.  Be good now.”

“’Later.”  I hit the end button.

Next (coming soon)
“I’m in trouble, citizen.”

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