Saturday, July 18, 2009

[chapter 02]

I finished the cigarette where I stood, contemplating the past few minutes and wondering what I was about to let myself in for. I walked back over to my desk and sat back down in the chair, letting myself relax into the well-worn grooves as I planned my first move. The picture sat a few inches away from my right hand, but before I went for it, I pulled open one of the drawers – I rifled through it, fingers pushing aside a spare phone, a snubnose 3mm H&K gauss pistol and a full magazine for the same. I found the G-reader lurking at the back and pulled it out, flipping open the little plastic cover on the gelpad omnisensor. I picked up the credit chit carefully by the edges and placed it on the sensor pad, closing the cover and then tapping on the LCD display while I waited for it to load up the results.

Not for the first time I wished I had gotten a cranial cortex implanted when I still had the money to – I could have jacked the reader directly into my brain via Bluetooth and committed the results to a longterm mimetic cell complex grown on a silicone ‘vertebra’ and installed right where my brainstem came out of the skull. No more forgetting girl’s numbers, or how many assailants were in the room, instant recall and the ability to jack into any of the public and private mainframes to look up the required info.

Unfortunately, I’d chosen to be a licensed operator. And under the legislation required to get the license, an operator cannot have centralised neurocortical upgrades – Rewiring the autonomic nervous system was fine, enhancing reflexes, reinforcing bone with titanium or muscle with carbon nanostrands, but I couldn’t hide a computer in my brain on the off-chance I contracted some strange hybrid machine virus, or an enterprising bodysnatcher decided to beam terahertz radiation into my frontal lobe and sever conscious control from my body. It had happened before, in the early days of bodymod and the private operators – The hardest of the hard, the bounty hunters who were almost as much android as the escaped synthmen they quarried had been almost overnight wiped out upon the advent of a new technique used to remotely attack synthetic nervous systems – The weapons the hunters were carrying could be turned against them. It was awfully messy, and the ensuing rebellion on the Mars colony almost sent the human race, for the first time, into interplanetary war.

Thankfully the situation was resolved without mass bloodshed or nuclear genocide. The androids on Mars seceded and now operate an open-space colony on the surface of the dark side, where the dead cold keeps their processors running at near superconductive performance, and the research and technology they develop is astounding. And back here on earth, the lawmen, the wandering hunters were all mandated by the federal contracts they operated under to have a fully-human brain so they could never be that vulnerable again.

It’s not to say that some don’t get it done – Minor mods here and there, for data smuggling or sometimes one of the new Penrith medulla stabilisers so they don’t snap under the pressure – But for ninety-five percent of the operators, myself included, we were cleancells. I had a few minor peripheral upgrades, no major work, just some stuff to level the playing field a bit.

But that left me here, sitting at my desk waiting for the genetic reader to give me the lowdown on who I was dealing with, and to then interface with my terminal and compare the gene sequences to those on file internationally to get an ID, threat assessment and financial statement on the enigmatic miss Molly.

A minute or so later, the terminal flashed an orange light to let me know it was ready, and I tapped the screen to bring up the report. I had to raise a credulous eyebrow, and I sent the report off again to double check. Minutes passed, and the same result came back.

She was human, that much was obvious, and the report confirmed it. A few skin cells, the composition of the oils left by her thumbprint and a scrap of mitochondrial DNA indicated European descent, most likely from the Netherlands, judging from the level – Or rather, lack thereof – of genetic damage caused by ambient radiation. Which meant she probably spent a lot of her time in one of the protected alpine properties with the gamma screens up to keep the cosmic rays out, and the air purified by custom bacteria that ate nitric oxides and lived in the pine trees. Rich girl, or maybe rich Daddy.

But whoever Daddy was, was a total mystery – And for that matter, whoever she was, was a mystery as well. Neither her print nor gene sequence turned up any matches in the public records which meant that either she and her family had bought themselves off the database or they were just so damn good at crime they’d never been caught.

I pondered this development and lit another cigarette, putting the G-Reader back in its drawer and slipping the credchip into my wallet. I reached out and dragged the photograph towards me, a six-by-eight blurry glossy of a man in a dark suit, sitting at what appeared to be a cafĂ© in an upmarket area of the world somewhere – There wasn’t enough people around for it to be one of the sprawls, and the sky was too blue for it to be the martian colony. There wasn’t much detail in the photo, but he was white, looked to be mid to late twenties, shaved head, dark sunglasses. Not much else to say, not much to go on. He flipped the page over, and frowned at the words written in flowing sharpie on the reverse. The black letters held no meaning to him, and didn’t give him much to go on, but still… The name was ominous. It was only two words, but they were enough to give me pause.

Cigarette again finished, I neglected to light another, instead thinking it was probably about time for a light snack, something to lubricate the synapses and keep the body moving. I hated going into a case under-prepared, and given how little I had to work with on this one, I was going to make sure everything I could prepare, would be. I opened another drawer on my desk, wrapping my fingers around the cold glass bottle that seemed to absorb the light like a dying neutron star, and poured a measure of what for all intents and purposes looked like nothing more then crude oil, except that the drop that splashed onto the plastic able began to smoulder and blister the already marred surface in a thoroughly disconcerting manner. I picked up the small tumbler and rode the wave of a trepidous sip, letting the liquid seep into the crevices of my mouth and be absorbed. You couldn’t just drink Nubian Leopard Ichor, it had to be denatured by the protease enzymes in human saliva before the body could metabolise the complex amino alcohol without succumbing to quick rhabdomyolysis as your stomach lining came off in sheets and you started pissing out muscle fibre and kidney tissue. An acquired taste, for sure, and one that necessitated moderation lest the consumer particularly desire a rather extended hangover, to the tune of a prolonged vegetative state in professional care.

The effect was violently sobering. People regularly suggest coffee or strong stimulants to bring a drunk up to operating conditions, but all that really does is give you a hyperactive, paranoid drunk with liver failure. No, the real trick is to feed your body the Ichor, distilled from the cerebro-spinal fluid of the rare Nubian black leopard, a concentrated soup of neurotransmitters, proteins and bacteria that scoured the arteries and stung the synapses like a mouthful of angry bees until the brain was so… Unpleasantly awake that the very prospect of sleep brought waves of nausea to the gut. Leopard Ichor is dangerous stuff. It has been completely outlawed in more then one nation after several unfortunate accidents, mainly involving college students – it is said that more then two glasses and one can start unravelling time with his fingertips. Tasting of Juniper berries and fractal topology, I usually started a case with a firm belt around the frontal lobe from the bottle, and this one was no different. “Computer.” I spoke aloud, and the terminal in front of me automatically flipped into voice command mode. “Start a full-spectrum search of feedsites, RSS newslinks and bulletin boards for search term THE plus DOCTOR, exact phrasing.”

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