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By Aedh
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As it turned out, Raja shouldn’t have mentioned buzzing me.  I am convinced that’s what set the hoodoo.  As things were just then, however, before I’d gotten two blocks, someone did buzz me.

I flipped open.  “Slater.”

The miniscreen opened on an official TeleLibria ‘paper, which they routinely used for calls about bill payment and service.  But it was citizen Sami Petanko that spoke out, and he didn’t sound like he was conducting a consumer satisfaction survey.

“Where are you?”  he asked quickly.  “Somewhere safe?”

“I’m on the street,” I said.

“The best place.  You said to call if I saw Star again.”

I had an idea.  “First.  Did you have a set day when you … did what you did?”

“I met Star on Friday evenings.  I work Saturdays, when there’s a skeleton crew.  I did, er, the programming then.  The magcards take a business day to be made and redistributed.”

“And you saw your friend—you know, your friend—“

“—yes--”

“—when?”

“Tuesday afternoons.  Too late for him to deliver then.  I don’t know when he did it, but it would have to be Wednesdays anyway.  Why all this, citizen?  I thought you wanted to know about Star.  Time is short.”

I felt my pulse begin to speed up.  “Yes.  Go.”

“Well, I was passing by the security station, and the guards there were talking about him.  Said he hadn’t reported in to work, so they’d tried buzzing his PDA to see where he was, maybe running late or something.”

“And?”  I started looking for a cab.

“Someone answered his PDA.  But it wasn’t him.  They said a woman picked up.  She cut off right away, but not before they got a vid-grab.  Standard with security-issue PDAs, they get stolen a lot.  They didn’t know who she was.  I said I knew him, I might know his friend.  They pulled it and showed me.  It was her.  Star.”

By this time, walking rapidly, I was close to Fillmore and the station again.

“What’d you tell ‘em?”

“I said I didn’t know her.”  That was understandable.  “Was that good, citizen?”

“Yeah, fine.  Thanks, citizen,” I said.  “Now, listen.  Go back to work.  Work hard for Lalia and the baby.  You do that for me, alright?”

“That’s good.  Glad I helped.  ‘Bye now.”

I hit the end button with a curse.  Not a ‘cab in sight.  I’d have to call for one, and that would take some time, but there wasn’t any other choice.
 





Half an hour later, my ‘cab finally stopped where I’d got off the night before.  I didn’t want to be stuck with my gym bag, but I couldn’t pay the cabbie to take it back to the office, because Jak wouldn’t be there today.

Then I thought of Sal.

The ‘cabster didn’t care to do courier work, but a glimpse of my badge and Bureau ID changed his mind;  that and doubling the fare I’d paid to get here.  I gave him the address of  Sal’s shop and told him what to tell the old guy.  Sal wouldn’t say anything, and the bag would stay where it was put.  The ‘cab pulled off, and I started walking.  One question had been answered, anyway.

There wasn’t any proof that Citizen Herzog’s PDA was still anywhere around him.  We’d soon see.  But I was sure that Irina wasn’t being held against her will somewhere.  Something was going down and she was in on it.  I wondered how I was going to tell Authier and Nedra Madour about this.

Down the street, in front of Citizen Herzog’s building, there were two ConSec cars, and a few idlers with an officer keeping them back.  Where people always come from is something I’ve never figured out.  But a murder brings ‘em.  Every time.  I just hoped it wasn’t me who’d committed it.

I idled up and picked out a middle-aged fellow who might have been a pensioner of some sort.  “What d’ya know, citizen?” I asked him.

He cast a look my way.  “Hey, it’s a murder, citizen,” he said.  By way of explanation, he added:  “They found a dead guy in there.”

“Yeah?” I said.  “Gangs, I bet.”

“Hey, I dunno,” he said.  “They only been here ten minutes or so.  They’re still waiting for the ‘tec officers to get here.”

I shook my head.  “That bust-up last night, now this.  It’s a damn shame.”

A woman next to him chimed in, maybe an Amazonian immigrant from the look of her.  “They say the place is full of nick.”

I whistled. “We know what it’s about, then.”

“”Course,” she said.  “My brother is the super there.  Knows the guy.  He was a nickhead all right.”

“Hey,” the guy said.  “Prob’ly the deal went bad.”

“My brother’s in there talking to them right now,” said the woman.  “He’ll tell ‘em everything,” she said to the guy.

The guy hadn’t even time to get his ‘Hey’ in when a van with ConSec markings pulled up.  This would be the scene team.  I wanted to know as much or more than anyone how citizen Herzog had died, and where his PDA happened to be.  But I’d be able to find that out later, and now was not quite the time to have to start explaining my presence there to an officer who might recognise me.

On my way down the street, I realized I had some time.  The tubes ran a slower schedule in midday.  I’d just missed a train at the Gandhi Street stop, so I had twenty minutes or so to spare.  I sat down on a bench at the edge of a little park and dialed Nedra Madour.  I hadn’t figured out how to tell her, so I thought I’d just tell her—there’d hell to pay if I didn’t and things went south.  The call had been forwarded to her PDA.

“Good day, citizen,” she said.

“Are you in a good place, citizen?” I asked her.

“I just finished at the meditation center,” she said.  “Let me step out on the terrace a moment.”

I gave her a moment.

“You have news,” she said.

“Yeah.  Not the best, but not the very worst.  Discretion required.”

“Tell me,” she said, her face setting.

“Your daughter’s mixed up in something,” I said.  “She went on her own.”

“I was afraid of that.  What is it?”

“I’m working on that,” I said honestly.

“Legal?”

“Quite the other way.”

She thought a moment.  “We had better meet.”

“That would be good.  But not yet.  Give me ‘til tomorrow.  And not at my office.  I’ll know more by then.  Let me call you.”

“One thing.  Is she in …?”

I sensed what she was asking.  “My gut feeling is no, not now.  But she will be soon.”

“I see.  I think I see.”

“I’m trusting you,”   I said.  “I talked to your husband, you know.”

“I know.  He didn’t say anything about it.  He seemed satisfied with the conversation.”

“He’s her father, and your husband.  But I have to tell you;  I trust you more than I trust him.  He told me a lot.  But I don’t feel he really levelled with me.”

“He gives everyone that impression.”

“Including you?”

She thought about that briefly.  “Sometimes.”

“Be discreet with him,” I said.  “That may be hard.”

“Should I not tell him anything we’ve discussed just now?”  Talk about your double-edged questions.

“Well, I think none of it would surprise him,” I said.  “But then, we’ve discussed that topic.”

“Might that be why you trust him less than me?”

“He seemed very unworried.”

“He’s a physician.  They never show their feelings.”

“It can get to the point where they can’t.  With some it can get to where they don’t have any.  Maybe your daughter had a problem with that.”

She said at last:  “Maybe.”

“Maybe she was testing him before, when she went to therapy and all that.  He might have failed the test.”

“You really are a counsellor,” she said. with what looked like the ghost of a smile.  “Man of many talents.”

“I didn’t buy the license off the ‘net, citizen,” I said.  “Can I ask about the meditation center?”

“What about it?”

“I didn’t know you meditated,” I said.

“Oh, I wasn’t meditating, citizen.  I was recording a lecture.”

“Really?”  I asked, interested.  “On what?”

“Emotional energy centers, and how to handle them,” she said.  “You are history-minded, as I recall.  Some ancient cultures used to refer to them as ‘chakras.’”

“Huh,” I said. “You’ll be bringing up biocardial integration next.”

“That’s exactly what it is.  It’s for an advanced BCI seminar at the University.”

“You sound very knowledgeable about it.”

“Thank you, but I realy ought to be.  My husband and I developed it.”  She must have mistaken my silence for incomprehension.  Perhaps it was.  “I’ll wait for your call, then, citizen.”

“Thanks,” I said.  I might have said something else.  The picture closed.






I was getting hungry, and remembered the bagel in my pocket.  The tube station wasn’t far, and I had seen a café nearby.  I stopped in for a syn-caf, or perhaps a juice, to go.  It had to be a juice.  I turned to go and saw two guys who’d been in line behind me to likewise.  One was big, well-muscled spud under his maintenance-firm coverall, moving with the assurance of a man who can handle anything he can get his hands on,  and I was well within reach.  The other was smaller, sharp-faced, with a beak of a nose.

“Citizen Max Slater,” said Beaker.  “What brings you to our neighborhood?”

“Visiting a sick friend,” I said.

Beaker smiled past me at Spud.  “Very good,” he said.  “Commendable, even, don’t ’cha think?”  Then to me, he said:  “Let’s walk, shall we?”  To assist my decision, he gave me a prod with the weapon in his overcoat pocket.  I couldn’t very well start anything in here.

We walked.

Outside, I asked Beaker:  “To what to I owe the honour?”

“Some concerned citizens,” he said, as we kept going.  “That’s right, eh?” he asked Spud.  Then back to me:  “Your friend ain’t just sick, citizen Slater.  He’s dead.  And all those ConSec cops right down there might like to have a word with the last guy who saw him alive.”

I relaxed.  I was unarmed.  I wasn’t getting out of this one.  I would love to report that my next words were something else;  but in all honesty, I have to admit that I asked the inevitable.  “Where are you taking me?”

“To a concerned citizen who would like to speak with you,” he said. 

I gave an ever-so-slight shrug.  “What’s the matter?  His PDA on the fritz?”  We turned a corner and a ‘cab which had been waiting by the station pulled away and swished toward us.

“Ah, the PDA.  The personal digital assistant,” Beaker explained to Spud.  “The existence of which presupposes other types of personal assistant.  My colleague and I are living examples of another type.”  The ‘cab pulled up beside us in the empty side street, and Beaker opened the door.

Spud got in first.  I followed, at a prod from Beaker, who came last.  The weapon hadn’t swiveled from me for a single second.  All very smoothly done.  The autolocks on the ‘cab’s doors engaged.  They didn’t bother restraining me;  the locks were controlled from the front, and the two of them were safely in the way of the emergency pulls that might have disengaged them.

“We have a dose, or we have, eh, less invasive means of impairing your vision,”  said Beaker.  “Which’ll it be, citizen?”

“I’ll take the blindfold,” I said.

“Good choice,” he commented,  producing a long elastic bandage,  and proceeding to wrap it around my head several times before fastening it off at the back with a grabber clip.  “You’ll have to excuse us.  Our citizen friend has achieved some privacy, most rare in Libria, and prefers to maintain it whenever possible.  Isn’t that right?” he appealed, apparently, to Spud again.  “You know where your hands stay,” he told me.  I did. 

The trip could have covered anywhere from one to ten miles.  The quiet-crafted ‘cab let next to no noise in though its body, and judging by its movement we didn’t take any of the expressways;  avoidance of them was certainly intentional.  We seem to have passed at one point through the downtown district, and the trip took about forty minutes, give or take.  That was all I could pick up.  Early in the ride, the driver switched on some music, some of the usual synthpop that you heard all over the ‘casts.  I got to hear Jordon Heffer croon about eros with his girlfriend and Manda Yolanda sigh about eros with her girlfriend.  Daa X Bomb Kru yelled about Libria Service time for offences which seemed to richly merit it, and Ded Preppy’s vocalist came back with some more about eros;  all to an audience whose silence would have done credit to an opera recital in the Conservatory.  I seemed to recall, however, from a quick-study course on culture--in huge demand soon after the revolution--that those too largely concerned eros.  I liked my old pal Miles.  His horn was about … whatever you wanted it to be, and I was past the age when nonstop eros sounds appealing.  I centered, breathed, and took him in with me the rest of the way.

Miles was just sounding the first limpid note after a long bass solo when the ‘cab came to a smooth halt, and Beaker popped the clip and unwound my bandage.  “Out,” he told me.  I complied, and submitted to a quick check for weapons and wires.  We were in an underground garage of some sort, and the ‘cab waited while Beaker and Spud conducted me through a metal doorway, down a passage, and into a large room that contained nothing but a table, two metal chairs, and one light fixture which cast its glow directly down onto the table and chairs, leaving the rest of the room dim.  A door closed.  I didn’t need to see anything other than the man occupying the chair on the far side of the table.  I recognized him, of course, as would anyone who’d been a month in Libria.  It was Citizen John Preston.

He sat ramrod-straight, in his accustomed way.  He still favoured sleek hair, combed straight back;  still, with his prominent brows, midnight-brown, which did not sort quite right with his face.  The lines on it had deepened, especially around his eyes, which had lost none of their intensity, and his shave was police-perfect.  Although he was seven years older than me, he seemed to wish to look seven years younger;  but an age even greater than his real one was somehow the overall effect.  I suppose as many years of responsibility as he had borne will do that to anyone.  I had nothing against him.  He had done his best for a long time under circumstances that had been, at times, extremely trying, and his best was very good.  It was due more to him than anyone that Libria hadn’t completely disintegrated after the revolution, and had somehow found its way out of the counterrevolutionary plots and gang warfare;  and what is more, unlike most successful leaders in times of civil stress, he had avoided being forcibly retired from public life as soon those times were over.

Yet--forged, tempered, and tried in the furnace of the old Concilium, proven in defending it during its decay,  proven again in the revolution that had overthrown it, and yet again in the murky years when others had attempted to revive it--his ways had at long last begun to lose their appeal as the more democratic spirit that he had for so long upheld began to take hold and gain a life of its own.  His child had grown and begun to take steps to fend for itself, and he was no longer the indispensable man.  How he had felt about that was wholly known only to himself.  How others had felt was more apparent.  The Council, of which he had always been a Member, shared out what had been his responsibilities more and more, and other Members felt increasingly entitled to modify, set aside, or frankly override his positions.  While he had customarily submitted, he had sometimes reacted in ways that played poorly in an ever-more-open public forum.

His daughter Lisa had been a model Librian girl, and stood to be a model Librian woman; everyone had always loved her, even her stepmother Kyra.  His son Robert had not enjoyed Lisa’s place in the sun.  Perhaps it was evident to this serious boy early on that the father he had so admired would not go down to posterity as the model Librian man.  He had not flunked out of the University;  there was too much Preston discipline in him for that.  But neither had he graduated with honours, as had been expected.  He married, as usual, and he and his wife had as yet no children, also as usual.  His father’s influence, it was said—unfairly, I felt—had gained him a career in the Ministry of Commerce, but it had rapidly become clear that he would not be considered for the Council anytime soon, and seven years there had found him still only a Deputy Vice-Minister.

Then, a little over a year ago, Robert had been returning from a trade mission to Koguryo, and on the last leg of the journey, not far from home, his transpo had run into an electrical storm and gone down with much loss of life.  He had not died, but many didn’t consider him really alive.  He had sustained a severe head injury which had deprived him of his ability to care for himself.  The debate over euthanization, always simmering in the health- and rights-obsessed Librian media, had ignited again over the celebrity case.  Robert Preston had left a document stipulating that he be “allowed to die” in certain events, which could, under its imperfect wording, be construed to include his current state.  His wife, Sasha Baker-Preston, apparently preferring a career as the widow of a Preston to that of the wife of a vegetable, had initiated a suit in the Probate Court of Libria to withhold sustenance, while his father obtained an injunction and then counter-sued;  he’d enlisted Doctor Authier Madour on occasion, among many others, for expert testimony.  It had all become quite ugly, and popular on the ‘casts.  Lisa had stood apart, wisely I thought, but slightly tarnishing her model image in the eyes of some.  The case was still in the Courts, and might spend some years there over counter-actions and counter-counter-actions.  Not long after, John Preston’s health review disclosed that he had suffered symptoms of a mild stroke.  Some adversary had leaked this to the media, and it was decided that the old warrior should step down with his honour still reasonably intact.  I felt assured, however, that citizen John Preston, former Council Member and ex-Cleric of the Tetragrammaton, had not had me brought here for testimony concerning the condition of anyone but citizen Herzog.


                                                  











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