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Publisher: June Day Press
Publication Date: August 8th 2014
ISBN: 1500735639 (ISBN13: 9781500735630)
ISBN: 1500735639 (ISBN13: 9781500735630)
H.P. Lovecraft's Epic Cosmic Horror Melded with Gritty Cyberpunk - A Favorite Combination--Tinfoot, Amazon Top 50 Reviewer (Read Full Review)
...a creative and fascinating novel, both eminently satisfying and leaving me hungry for more.--Carl C. Nelson (Read Full Review)
Fantastic ride, unpredictable, fast paced, fun--Hillary Dennison (Read Full Review)
Chapter 1Saru had ignored the calls from the Philadelphia Daily, the call from Frank Galloway to appear on Wake the Hell Up! Philly, the call from Lorelei Ilesella to be interviewed on Tonight Tonight, and even a call from Mayor Whitlow’s press secretary requesting a photo op. The call that gave her the greatest pleasure to ignore came from the Gaespora. It came in the usual fashion of summons from the ultra-wealthy and ultra-powerful wishing to impress. There was a custom sonata su-tone that had been attuned to her psychosomatic profile. The image that appeared on her player was of a peaceful green forest with a trickling brook—it was a pretty accurate re-creation of the forest behind her parents’ farmhouse in Tyrone. This told her all she needed know: they wanted her, and her specifically. She hit ignore.
Five seconds later the su-tone appeared again, the sonata and the image of her parents’ forest. She hit ignore again. Five seconds later there was a new su-tone—not pleasant piano, just a horrible grating, like scratched vinyl and kitchen knives clattering in the sink. The forest was burned to the ground and the river ran with blood. What the fuck? She hit ignore. She’d never seen any su-tone like it. She ordered her player to ignore all messages from suspected Gaesporan nodes.
The su-tone appeared again, about five minutes later, and now she was pissed. She had spent good money on an override, floating a standard bid of over $3,000 to block commercial calls. Any jackass dumb enough to call her private line would have to pay at least that amount to make an attempt. It worked in screening out the riffraff but she realized there was no way she could win a bidding war with the Gaespora. They could keep her player ringing day and night for a lifetime. She unfastened the dime-sized player from below her right earlobe and placed it on the center of her desk. She retrieved Ethics in the Age of Knowing (a gift from Eugene, never opened) from the otherwise empty bookshelf, held it over her head, and smashed the player just as it began the vinyl scratching again. Problem solved.
The next morning her office was closed. The whole damn building, forty-five stories, right on the corner of Thirteenth and Locust. There was a crowd of confused workers out front surrounding the superintendent, who was trying pudgily to answer their questions: What’s going on? Why is the building closed? Why can’t we get to work and trundle on in our sad, sad lives?
“The building is under new ownership,” the super said, shouting over the crowd. “They’ve changed all the locks.”
“What do you mean ‘new ownership’? How is that possible?”
“Please, people, I know just as much as you do at this point. I got the call this morning. No one gets in.”
“That’s not legal!”
“You can’t do that!”
“What about our jobs?”
“What about our stuff?”
Saru left and turned down Walnut Street, walking east, no particular destination in mind. They had taken her player and her office—for there could be no misunderstanding the message. They wanted her, bad, and they were willing to spend a lot of money and inconvenience a lot of other people to get to her. There were, as far as she knew, over sixty different businesses, large and small in her building—she occupied a tiny two-room office on the thirteenth floor that didn’t even have its own bathroom. They could have sent two toughs to stand in front of her door or bribed someone to change the locks, but they bought the whole damn building and all that headache.
She found a Nikafe and bought a small black that she jazzed up with a splash or five of bourbon from her flask. She sat at a small table facing the window and watched the people hurry by. It had started to rain, gray drops for a black sky. An elzi lay outside in front of her, body blocking the gutter. The water pooled around him, black, acidic, rising to his neck. She wondered if he would drown.
This was a lucrative age for the private investigator—so many people disappearing, and a weak, underfunded, unmotivated, amoralized police force more likely to take a bribe than a stab at a criminal. Saru was good, she knew, but hardly the best, and maybe no one else realized how lucky she’d been in the Favre case. Nine times out of ten it was a kid looking into the UausuaU, no real mystery to solve—fuck, her job was 90 percent maid service—but the Favre job just happened to be an honest kidnapping and she just happened to be friends with enough scumbags to get a good tip.
The rescue was a solid piece of work, she had to admit. The kidnappers were suspected Puritans, crusaders, implant and improvement free as whatever God made them. They had taken the child not for ransom but to bring him over to their way of thinking with good old-fashioned torture—the family had gotten some fingernails in the mail. The kid was a scion of the Favre, the family that owned Priamco that owned Freedom Innovation Technologies (FIT) that begat Diasis that manufactured all manner of vaccines against the diseases of sin. It was an odd target as the Favre had about as much operational knowledge of Diasis as Saru did of her own small intestine, but the Puritans didn’t strike her as being a particularly educated bunch.
She had hired a few mercenaries to go on the hunt with her. There was a Net ranger named Pollycock, who’d proved useless as the Puritans obviously didn’t use Net technology. She’d found a sniffer on South Street, a scent fetishist who had jammed a screwdriver in his eyes and ears to focus on his favored sense. He had a keyboard on his wrist, a real hack job held in place with chicken wire, but it worked well enough to communicate and hammer out a deal. She’d figured that if these folks were serious in their beliefs they’d have to stick to a pretty narrow diet to avoid Gaesporan food alteration and they’d have a unique smell. It didn’t turn out to be the case—the sniffer was good but not that good and there were all kinds of other things that got in the way. Leading him around the city on a leash, she’d seen how the general reek of shit and garbage confused even a man who could sniff out a pig from his donut farts.
They had to be in the AZ, the Assistance Zone. There was barely any technology there, no cornercams or autometers, fuck, not even running water or a security spike in most places. Any Net access points would be illegal and unmonitored. There was a great mass of elzi, lured by the unmonitored Net access and the assistance points, the great pillbox buildings that delivered food weekly to the poor and useless. Originally actual humans had distributed the food aid, but that plan had been scuttled quick as the elzi didn’t wait in line and they didn’t fill out paperwork. Every Monday underground trolleys brought in food to the distribution centers. It was raised up on elevators, the domes opened, and elzi swarmed over the feast in an orgy of consumption. Paradoxically, this was the safest day to venture into the Assistance Zone—an elzi was less likely to take a lick at your throat if he had bread in his belly. Every month or so a resolution was entered in council to poison the food and clear out the elzi menace, but the rehabbers always shot it down. Idiots.
She had ventured in on a Monday with the sniffer, no real plan other than to follow his nose and find some granola-munching zealots. They had wandered aimlessly, almost running into an elzi frenzy, which seemed to excite the sniffer for some reason. The very odors that repelled her, the diarrhea reek of decay the elzi exuded, were ambrosia to him. She thanked her private God that she’d been blessed with fetishes considered close enough to normal.
There amidst the shrieks and growls of the elzi and the ecstatic panting of the sniffer, she had had her breakthrough. The kidnappers had nabbed this kid off the street, shot the fuck out of his Royce, dragged out the driver and two bodyguards and executed them. They’d used blenders to liquefy the brains and prevent memory recreation, but the bullets themselves were the key. They cost a fat buck—these were high-class, tuxedo bullets, not something your standard thug could afford even if he saved his welfare checks and mugging spoils for a lifetime. She checked the three munitions stores in Rittenhouse that stocked blenders. No robberies, but a sale at Franklin’s Freedom Assurance Emporium to a Walter Fran four days earlier—two days before the kidnapping.
From there it had been almost too easy. She’d hopped onto the Net and plugged in Walter Fran and the Favre Group. There were sixteen connections. Walter Fran had gone to school with Charles Favre, the boy’s father. They had started a company together, Glorium, a religious update impulse motivator that identified sinful thought and generated warnings ranging from flashing red hallucinations to migraines. They had argued over the scope. Walter believed it should be a tool to guide the McFaithful and Charles saw it as a corrective measure for the prison population.
The feds got involved. They wanted the impulse to become a standard input in all citizens—part of the birth cocktail. It would warn citizens away from thinking treasonous or law-breaking thoughts. The bill made it out of committee, but then it was squashed by the Hawks with Gaesporan backing. The Gaespora, of course, opposed any mass impulse programming of the population.
The whole deal had become a distraction to Charles. He was by then involved in building Priamco. He bought out Walter and as a final fuck you he changed the company to Glorium Galorium, a sex impulse that delivered pleasure depending on the degree of transgressive thought. It became a best seller. The whole kidnapping was a grudge, nothing more, an attack of opportunity by one elite on another.
Proof would have been impossible, and even if she’d gotten it the momentum of the legal system favored the aggressor. She’d found Fran’s condo in Rittenhouse, a penthouse suite, though not in the nicest building and nowhere near as nice as the Favre estate. She’d bribed the garage guard with a few hundred bucks and waited behind a pylon next to Fran’s car. When he came out she’d zapped him unconscious with her cattle prod and tied him up with zip wires. The old ways are best, her mother used to say. She’d driven Fran in his own GMW to the Favre estate and handed him over to their director of security, along with her report. They would’ve tapped his brain and ripped out the memories of the thugs he’d hired, or maybe just straight tortured him. There was a chance he’d hired the thugs and been vague on the instructions, but she didn’t think so. If it was a grudge he’d want the proof, want to know, want to see his revenge on the big screen.
She’d taken a cab to the police station and turned herself in. Eugene had phoned and argued her case and the Favre had paid her fine. She was in and out in forty-five minutes. The Favre security people had found the boy in a church basement in the AZ. The kidnappers had broken a few bones and pulled a few teeth, but he was fine. He took a trip to the Gaespora and was healthier than he’d ever been. The whole adventure was quite exciting for him, quite a win—a good story to impress the fun girls. He could have died in a ditch for all Saru cared, but finding him alive and pretty earned her a fat bonus, so all in all she was happy. It had been an exciting week, a lively news cycle for April, and somehow in all the excitement some dipshit security guard somewhere had mentioned her name to the press and now Saru Solan was famous. A hero, a true face of private justice, a symbol that the system worked. Shit.
And now her brand-new player was broken—not her fault—and her office building had been bought by the Gaespora. That’s what it was. They were using her. She was the star of the moment, good looking, she reasoned (hoped?), for a law bitch—she still had all her teeth, at least, and only one fair scar down her cheek—and they wanted to bring media attention to some bullshit issue or other. It was that bastard Whitlow trying to polish his dick with star power so people would forget what an awful job he was doing. To be fair, she didn’t know any cities that had succeeded in scrubbing the streets of the elzi, but at least they’d spent less money failing. A third-plus of her winnings each year went to city taxes, and they sure hadn’t fixed any fucking potholes yet.
She finished her coffee and then her flask and walked out into the rain. A homeless man was offering umbrella service and after a quick negotiation she paid him eight bucks to walk her as many blocks south. He grabbed the bills and took off; she clubbed him in the back of the knee with the prod (off) and took his umbrella, throwing the eight Ws down into the wet filth of the sidewalk. Bastard, it’s more than you deserve. She walked down Pine Street to an old brownstone mansion with a fancy copper sign on the gate that read: “Eugene Gercer-han Bernstein, Attorney at Law.” She opened the gate and, ignoring the buzzer, pounded on the heavy oak door.
Sissy, his secretary, opened the door. Petite woman, mid thirties, dressed in the latest fashion—a dress of brown bands that wrapped around her body and left visible just a hint of black panties and bra. It went well with the leather gun belt around her waist.
“How many times have I told you to use the buzzer?” she said, annoyed.
Saru shoved past her into the antechamber, tracking mud onto the rug and draping her purple peacoat over the chair by the fireplace. She felt a hand on her shoulder, a surprisingly strong grip. She tensed.
“You’re not special,” Sissy hissed. “You’re not different.”
Saru took a deep breath. She felt the rage of the unwanted, unasked-for touch, her blood quickening, body warming.
“I’m going to break your wrist,” she said.
The grip didn’t waver; Saru wondered what was going through the other woman’s mind. What would happen if they fought? What would Sissy’s move be? To jerk down and slip a tranq dart in her neck, most likely. She’d wake up in the gutter like an elzi, wallet gone, piss on her face, maybe some freak would steal her clothes and feel her up. Of course she’d get a good, hard zap at Sissy’s thighs before she dropped, give the cunt some action, and what a pretty picture that would be, the two of them passed out in Eugene’s fancy-ass foyer.
The fingers let go. Stiffly, Sissy dropped her arms to her sides.
“He’s with another client,” she spat. “You’ll have to wait.”
“No thank you.”
Saru stomped down the hallway, making her presence good and known, scuffing up the wood floor with her boots, trailing a hand along the wood-paneled wall and skewing all the paintings along the way. She half expected to feel the needle prick of a dart in her back, but Sissy contented herself with sucking in a breath sharp enough to cut. There was no reason to antagonize Sissy, other than it was easy. Whatever stick was up her ass would have to be carved out.
She got to the office door and prepared to bang, but it swung open and a short, portly, balding man in a tweed jacket stood in the doorway, her fist in rap position a centimeter from his face. He didn’t blink. Friar.
“Hello, Saru,” he said. “Congratulations on the Favre case. Excellent work.”
“Thank you,” she said. Somehow Friar always managed to disarm her with his politeness. If she was the pudding cup of detectives, Morgan Friar was tiramisu. His specialty was UausuaU crimes, and there weren’t too many out there with the stomach to poke at those. He went way beyond your typical elzi disappearance case, investigating the darker crimes, crimes that most people considered nothing more than rumor—feasters and queens, the people that supposedly looked at the UausuaU and didn’t go mad, or they went mad but kept their ability to think and plan and take action.
“So nice to run into you like this,” he said. “Seeing your face always brings me cheer. You’re too pretty for this line of work.”
“And you’re too fat.”
He chuckled. “True, true. I’m too busy to exercise and too cheap to buy a better body. Besides,” his voice changed; it was warm still in character, but she could feel the chill below, “it would only get ruined anyway.”
She stood to the side and watched his fat rump shuffle down the hallway. How did he do it? Even if he hired mercs to do the dirty work, there were too many everyday near-death sits for a PI to have the body of a pastry chef. Any scum worth talking to would doodle a wound in his paunch and tap dance away with his wallet. She filed an idea: follow him, see what he does, how he operates.
She went into the office and offered her customary sneer at the opulence. The PIs of the private justice system did the work and the lawyers saw the rewards. Shiny wood floors, fancy rugs from foreign zones, paintings of his family everywhere—was that a new chandelier?
“Jesus Christ, what’s next? A golden throne?” she said aloud.
Eugene gave a snort and stood to offer her his hand. He was tall, taller even than she was, and stupidly handsome. She had thought a few times of pumping him full of drink and running her hands through that curly black hair, but she’d probably get an invoice in the mail for it. She slapped his hand away and collapsed into the overly plush seat before his altar-desk.
“The Gaespora want me for something,” she said. “What is it?”
“Saru, I appreciate your patronage, but you can’t just barge in here like this. I was in a meeting with Mr. Friar, which he kindly—let me stress that—kindly, agreed to postpone because I didn’t want you kicking down my door again.”
“They were calling me all night, outbid my call blocking, custom summon tone, a sonata that made me almost cry and a picture of my parents’ farm.”
“Are you listening to me?”
“They bought my building today.”
“They bought the whole office building. Thirteen Oh Six Walnut. Shut it down. I’m guessing by this point they’ve found where I live and they got that too. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know. This is unusual.”
“I want to get a case together. Start putting together some sort of action, something aggressive, to put them on the defensive. Money’s no object; I’m flush from the Favre case. They can’t get away with this.”
Eugene stared at her flatly and then burst out laughing—God he was pretty when he laughed. He went to his liquor cabinet and poured them each a tumbler of bourbon—his on the rocks and hers a straight fistful. He handed her her glass and then sat, swirling the bourbon, serious.
“I’m flattered, really, that you think I’m up for this, but what you’re proposing is ridiculous. Launch a case against the Gaespora? On what grounds?”
“I don’t know,” she said, hotly. “You’re the lawyer, make something up, reckless intimidation, intent to violate American freedom, do something.”
"What do you think I can do here? What judge do you think would even hear the case? Their salaries, their mistresses, their kids’ medicines and their wives’ fake tits all come from the Gaespora. I’d be laughed out of court and if I didn’t shut up you’d find me dying of diphtheria.”
“So you believe that bullshit.”
“I don’t believe—I know. They bought your office building for crissakes.”
“So what am I supposed to do, get on my knees and suck their alien dicks?”
“You could talk to them—maybe not hang up and ignore their phone calls. Jesus, most people would give their right arm to have a sit-down with the Gaespora and you’re ignoring their phone calls. I don’t believe you sometimes.”
“I don’t enjoy being pushed around.”
“This isn’t the playground; you can’t beat up every other kid and call yourself king shit of the turd pile. There are rules.”
They glared at each other. Eugene looked away, out the window. The rain was coming harder now, coming up to be a good ol’ spring thunderstorm. Saru downed her bourbon and held the glass out for a refill. Eugene filled her glass. He squinted his eyes shut and Saru guessed he was shooting out a command to Sissy to cancel his next meeting. Wordlessly he packed a long, curving vape with some hash and a few stimulants. They smoked and stared out at the storm. An elzi had gotten stuck on one of the barbs on the iron fence around the building. They watched him jerk himself free, leaving his hand and most of the forearm behind. He stumbled down the street, causing pedestrians to scuttle to the other side. A cop came over and herded him into a paddy wagon.
“Shit,” Saru said. “There’s no way out of this, is there?”
Almost as soon as she said it, there was a knock on the door, soft, polite, Sissy.
“Come in,” Eugene said. The door opened and she stepped in. She looked ruffled, uncomfortable—uncharacteristic. Even before she spoke Saru knew what she would say:
“Mr. Gercer-han Bernstein? There are two gentlemen here to see you. They say they belong to the Gaespora.”
Chapter 2What they didn’t understand was the simplicity—it was killing him. He’d been operating on three to seven layers of consciousness since he was sixteen years old and now that was gone. They had hacked away all his distractions, all his facets—his virtual kingdoms, virtual sex, his mischief, news feeds, criminal enterprises, and voyeurism. He’d been flitting from implant to implant, seeing life through other people’s eyes and tongues and cocks and skin for so long that now, trapped in his own fat body, he was disgusted with himself. Is this what he was? A blob of flesh in a ratty armchair with a catheter and a feeding tube—when had he even put that in? Had it been a good idea at the time? Now without the freedom to eat the meals of others he was stuck sucking down the phlegmy white goo that sustained him. He shouldn’t have been fat—he hadn’t even bothered to measure the input. He’d just jammed it in and swum back to the Net. God, would he have swollen up like a balloon, would he have burst eventually? Or would the fat have squeezed against his veins until they clamped shut and his brain went dead?
Now his whole existence was focused on the search, the girl, the streets of Philadelphia, the homeless shelters, the crack dens, the whorehouses and strip clubs, the private sex clubs, and the orphanages. How old was she? They didn’t know. What did she look like? Blue eyes, eyes so blue they hurt. Was that it? Yes. He was starting to despair. He twitched his eyes to the left, the bucket with his toes. What would they take next? A new day was dawning. It occurred to him that traveling up from his feet they would eventually reach his cock, and then he thrust himself back into the search, records, records, records. Blue-eyed girls, and one other clue—the arson. She had killed a man apparently, allegedly, burned him to ash. A friend of theirs? Maybe. How did they know? They just knew.
He found himself cursing the police for their incompetence, cursing the media for their neglect—couldn’t they even note a building burning down? Wasn’t that worth a footnote in the paper? If it even was a building. It could have been a car or an outhouse or a submarine for all he knew, vaporized by a girl with blue, blue eyes. He was going to die, he realized. He was going to be chopped apart piece by piece by piece. The creepiest part was the way they watched him. All four of them—maybe there was a fifth standing guard upstairs—they sat, eyes closed but pointed at him. They were still, perfectly still like statues, and silent. The only sound was the hum of his computer and the squeak of the chair or a fart from his fleshy prison.
They were feasters, they had to be; it was the only explanation. They weren’t thugs or robbers; he’d been in enough of them to understand their way. They weren’t twitchy or angry or greedy or even cruel. In ten toes he hadn’t seen them move or eat. Only the leader spoke. They carried no weapons but knives, and he didn’t know a lot about knives but he knew these were sharp. The leader’s knife had gone through his toe like it was nothing, not even butter, just a quick flick and the toe slid off. There was no pain—they had injected him with drugs, mind-focusers, analgesics, and their own blood. This last fact convinced him of their nature. The feasters were blood worshippers; they believed if you ate a man you gained his strength. And he suspected that would be the fate of this girl. They believed she had some power and they meant to eat her.
The leader’s eyes flickered open. He stood and withdrew a syringe from his jacket. He calmly slid the needlepoint into his neck and sucked out about a juice-box full of blood. The leader walked over and jammed the needle into his neck. He felt nothing with the needle but oddly the blood entering his body burned. He could feel it spreading out through him, warm like piss in a pool but not diluting, just filling his body with heat. He wondered what diseases were coming along for the ride—a fancy new hepatitis perhaps?
He realized then, that there was no randomness involved here. What he had taken for brutal motivation was a ritual. Every twenty-four hours, on the exact second, a toe was removed. Every twelve hours blood was injected. Every six hours a new cocktail of drugs to keep him awake. He was being transformed—like a club with a notch for every skull it had broken. These were creatures of ritual, moved by ritual, obsessed with ritual. They were clocks, machines, vampires, slaves to a higher order. He felt a comfort—was it the blood?—in this ritual. He had thought his search methods to be perfect and orderly, but now he recognized how crazy, how random they were. He began again, from the beginning, from birth records, genetics. He knew, somehow, that the eyes were natural blue and not a bought alteration. He knew much more now, the knowing a great staff he could lean upon. It was wonderful to know.
There it was, all the girls in Philadelphia born with blue eyes in the last forty years. Now their medical records. It was a phenomenal amount of data, more than he could ever know or process, but it seemed to glide by. He felt his consciousness divide like a cell, and then again and again and again until he was a thousand cells, a million, all working in tandem to solve this problem. In the background, time was passing, seconds, days? Millennia? He felt light and free, a mind without a body, a creature of pure data. And girls, surrounded by girls, so many in just one area, beautiful, ugly, horrid, filthy sacks of copulation making more and more girls—did they never stop? Why was he here? This girl, Charlene M. Farrow, grew up in Kensington, black with blue eyes, was this the girl? No, she was dead, beaten by her husband into a coma. And this girl, Ramona Ko, she was the one! No, she was married, three kids, Glish teacher in the suburbs.
And what was this? A cell-mind trembling in the foreground, bursting with excitement, rushing, exploding, destroying all the other tiny minds around him. It was the girl! The one they wanted—they, who were they? It didn’t matter, they knew, they knew already he had found her; he had done it. She had made a call, called her mother and he had heard the voice, all the bits of data going through the line, and he knew the voice belonged to those eyes because all data was one, any form of information expressed as any other; a stream is a star is a tree is a limb is an arm or a drop of blood or a snowflake, a scrap of cloth, my God, no, God, he understood, understood everything!
In the climax of knowing he died—or at least his new self, his transformed self. He found himself, his old self, alone in a chair in a cold basement. He looked down and saw stumps where his legs should have been. He looked to his sides and saw similar stumps where once had been arms. The pain was coming now, the drugs, the blood, the bliss, all fading. He understood now. He had glimpsed the UausuaU—there was no doubt. He had seen into the dark and emerged sane, but he had paid the price in flesh—he knew now, there was always a price to be paid. This task was his task; it had always been his task, his gift from the Uau, his purpose to serve. He spat out the feeding tube. There was a tremor in his throat, a tickle, a vibration, traveling up to tremble on his lips. He burped, then he groaned, and he coughed. And then he laughed, a quick, harsh bark, and then another and another until he could no longer stop and the laughter raced madly out to echo through his tomb.