|Author:||Richard K. Morgan
Del Rey, 2005
|Series:||Takeshi Kovacs Series: Book 3|
|Sub-Genre Tags:||Mind Uploading|
|Avg Member Rating:||
Takeshi Kovacs has come home. Home to Harlan's World. An ocean planet with only 5% of its landmass poking above the dangerous and unpredictable seas. Try and get above the weather in anything more sophisticated than a helicopter and the Martian orbital platforms will burn you out of the sky. And death doesn't just wait for you in the seas and the skies.
On land, from the tropical beaches and swamps of Kossuth to the icy, machine-infested wastes of New Hokkaido the hard won gains of the Quellist revolution have been lost. The First Families, the corporations and the Yakuza have a stranglehold on everything. Embarked on a journey of implacable retribution for a lost love, Kovacs is blown off course and into a maelstrom of political intrigue and technological mystery as the ghosts of Harlan's World and his own violent past rise to claim their due. Quellcrist Falconer is back from the dead, they say, and hunting her down for the First Families is a savage young Envoy called Kovacs who's been in storage.
Damage. The wound stung like fuck, but it wasn't as bad as some I'd had. The blaster bolt came in blind across my ribs, already weakened by the door plating it had to chew through to get to me. Priests, up against the slammed door and looking for a quick gut shot. Fucking amateur night. They'd probably caught almost as much pain themselves from the point-blank blowback off the plating. Behind the door, I was already twisting aside. What was left of the charge plowed a long, shallow gash across my rib cage and went out, smoldering in the folds of my coat. Sudden ice down that side of my body and the abrupt stench of fried skin-sensor components. That curious bone-splinter fizzing that's almost a taste, where the bolt had ripped through the biolube casing on the floating ribs.
Eighteen minutes later, by the softly glowing display chipped into my upper left field of vision, the same fizzing was still with me as I hurried down the lamplit street, trying to ignore the wound. Stealthy seep of fluids beneath my coat. Not much blood. Sleeving synthetic has its advantages.
"Looking for a good time, sam?"
"Already had one," I told him, veering away from the doorway. He blinked wave-tattooed eyelids in a dismissive flutter that said your loss and leaned his tightly muscled frame languidly back into the gloom. I crossed the street and took the corner, tacking between a couple more whores, one a woman, the other of indeterminate gender. The woman was an augment, forked dragon tongue flickering out around her overly prehensile lips, maybe tasting my wound on the night air. Her eyes danced a similar passage over me, then slid away. On the other side, the cross-gender pro shifted its stance slightly and gave me a quizzical look but said nothing. Neither was interested. The streets were rain-slick and deserted, and they'd had longer to see me coming than the doorway operator. I'd cleaned up since leaving the citadel, but something about me must have telegraphed the lack of business opportunity.
At my back, I heard them talking about me in Stripjap. I heard the word for broke.
They could afford to be choosy. In the wake of the Mecsek Initiative, business was booming. Tekitomura was packed that winter, thronging with salvage brokers and the deCom crews that drew them the way a trawler wake draws ripwings. Making New Hok Safe for a New Century, the ads went. From the newly built hoverloader dock down at the Kompcho end of town it was less than a thousand kilometers, straight-line distance, to the shores of New Hokkaido, and the 'loaders were running day and night. Outside of an airdrop, there is no faster way to get across the Andrassy Sea. And on Harlan's World, you don't go up in the air if you can possibly avoid it. Any crew toting heavy equipment—and they all were—was going to New Hok on a hoverloader out of Tekitomura. Those that lived would be coming back the same way.
Boomtown. Bright new hope and brawling enthusiasm as the Mecsek money poured in. I limped down thoroughfares littered with the detritus of spent human merriment. In my pocket, the freshly excised cortical stacks clicked together like dice.
There was a fight going on at the intersection of Pencheva Street and Muko Prospect. The pipe houses on Muko had just turned out and their synapse-fried patrons had met late-shift dockworkers coming up through the decayed quiet of the warehouse quarter. More than enough reason for violence. Now a dozen badly coordinated figures stumbled back and forth in the street, flailing and clawing inexpertly at each other while a gathered crowd shouted encouragement. One body already lay inert on the fused-glass paving, and someone else was dragging their body, a limb's length at a time, out of the fray, bleeding. Blue sparks shorted off a set of overcharged power knuckles; elsewhere light glimmered on a blade. But everyone still standing seemed to be having a good time, and there were no police as yet.
Yeah, part of me jeered. Probably all too busy up the hill right now.
I skirted the action as best I could, shielding my injured side. Beneath the coat, my hands closed on the smooth curve of the last hallucinogen grenade and the slightly sticky hilt of the Tebbit knife.
Never get into a fight if you can kill quickly and be gone.
Virginia Vidaura—Envoy Corps trainer, later career criminal and sometime political activist. Something of a role model for me, though it was several decades since I'd last seen her. On a dozen different worlds, she crept into my mind unbidden, and I owed that ghost in my head my own life a dozen times over. This time I didn't need her or the knife. I got past the fight without eye contact, made the corner of Pencheva, and melted into the shadows that lay across the alley mouths on the seaward side of the street. The timechip in my eye said I was late.
Pick it up, Kovacs. According to my contact in Millsport, Plex wasn't all that reliable at the best of times, and I hadn't paid him enough to wait long.
Five hundred meters down and then left into the tight fractal whorls of Belacotton Kohei Section, named centuries ago for the habitual content and the original owner-operator family whose warehouse frontages walled the curving maze of alleys. With the Unsettlement and the subsequent loss of New Hokkaido as any kind of market, the local belaweed trade pretty much collapsed and families like Kohei went rapidly bankrupt. Now the grime-filmed upper-level windows of their façades peered sadly across at each other over gape-mouthed loading bay entrances whose shutters were all jammed somewhere uncommitted between open and closed.
There was talk of regeneration, of course, of reopening units like these and retooling them as deCom labs, training centers, and hardware storage facilities. Mostly, it was still just talk—the enthusiasm had kindled on the wharf-line units facing the hoverloader ramps farther west, but so far it hadn't spread farther in any direction than you could trust a wirehead with your phone. This far off the wharf and this far east, the chitter of Mecsek finance was still pretty inaudible.
The joys of trickledown.
Belacotton Kohei Nine Point Twenty-six showed a faint glow in one upper window, and the long restless tongues of shadows in the light that seeped from under the half-cranked loading bay shutter gave the building the look of a one-eyed, drooling maniac. I slid to the wall and dialed up the synthetic sleeve's auditory circuits for what they were worth, which wasn't much. Voices leaked out into the street, fitful as the shadows at my feet.
"—telling you, I'm not going to hang around for that."
It was a Millsport accent, the drawling metropolitan twang of Harlan's World Amanglic dragged up to an irritated jag. Plex's voice, muttering below sense-making range, made soft provincial counterpoint. He seemed to be asking a question.
"How the fuck would I know that? Believe what you want." Plex's companion was moving about, handling things. His voice faded back in the echoes of the loading bay. I caught the words kaikyo, matter, a chopped laugh. Then again, coming closer to the shutter, "—matters is what the family believes, and they'll believe what the technology tells them. Technology leaves a trail, my friend." A sharp coughing and indrawn breath that sounded like recreational chemicals going down. "This guy is fucking late."
I frowned. Kaikyo has a lot of meanings, but they all depend on how old you are. Geographically, it's a strait or a channel. That's early-Settlement-years use, or just hypereducated, kanji-scribbling, First Families pretension. This guy didn't sound First Family, but there was no reason he couldn't have been around back when Konrad Harlan and his well-connected pals were turning Glimmer VI into their own personal backyard. Plenty of DH personalities still on stack from that far back, just waiting to be downloaded into a working sleeve. Come to that, you wouldn't need to resleeve more than half a dozen times, end-to-end, to live through the whole of Harlan's World's human history anyway. It's still not much over four centuries, Earth-standard, since the colony barges made planetfall.
Envoy intuition twisted about in my head. It felt wrong. I'd met men and women with centuries of continuous life behind them, and they didn't talk like this guy. This wasn't the wisdom of ages, drawling out into the Tekitomura night over pipe fumes.
On the street, scavenged into the argot of Stripjap a couple of hundred years later, kaikyo means a contact who can shift stolen goods. A covert flow manager. In some parts of the Millsport Archipelago, it's still common usage. Elsewhere, the meaning is shifting to describe aboveboard financial consultants.
Yeah, and farther south it means a holy man possessed by spirits, or a sewage outlet. Enough of this detective shit. You heard the man—you're late.
I got the heel of one hand under the edge of the shutter and hauled upward, locking up the tidal rip of pain from my wound as well as the synthetic sleeve's nervous system would let me. The shutter ratcheted noisily to the roof. Light fell out into the street and all over me.
"Jesus!" The Millsport accent jerked back a full step. He'd been only a couple of meters away from the shutter when it went up.
"Hello, Plex." My eyes stayed on the newcomer. "Who's the tan?"
By then I already knew.
Copyright © 2005 by Richard K. Morgan
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