Xenogenesis by J. Richard Jacobs

EXTRACT FOR
Xenogenesis

(J. Richard Jacobs)


Chapter 1

5 June 2191

People are constantly trying to free themselves from one thing or another. It's as if they believed some other -ism—any other -ism—would be better than the -ism they have. In their pursuit of liberty from this -ism people often enslave themselves to that -ism. That, my friends, is real-ism.
–JD Scott

John Lee, ghetto battle disfigured and street-gang tattooed, stopped by the restaurant’s front door and slapped a large red button with his free hand. The other trembled under a wobbling stack of chipped and cracked plates dripping a dark brown, greasy fluid—the remains of what the menu said was Chow Mein. The locals knew the stuff as Lee’s Brown Death. The drops hit the floor and vanished on tiles colored to camouflage all but the worst spills.
“Okay everybody, you got twenty minute. Eat, drink, pay, then goodbye,” he announced in a phony SinoSec singsong while a heavy steel grating, answering the command from the button, rattled its way down over the narrow, rectangular windows of wire reinforced two centimeter tempered plate in a disgusting display of people protecting themselves from people.
It was late afternoon, and the counter was empty except for one man seated near the windows. He was tall, too tall, so his knees pressed firmly into the underside of a counter designed to the corporate standard. Supported by splayed elbows planted firmly, his long torso hooked over the scratched and scuffed plastic surface and his head protruded almost into the serving aisle, giving him the look of a poorly dressed praying mantis ready to strike. Wearing the common, drab uniform of the down-and-out that was typical of the lower city, he fit in with the restaurant's second-hand decor. John Lee, on his way to pass the dishes through to his brother, Danny, paused briefly in front of him.
He leaned forward until his shaved head, covered with a stylized dragon tattoo in black and red, its tail snaking down and wrapping around his neck, was close enough for him to speak in a loud whisper.
“Okay you stay, Pat-san. We got good game upstair tonight. Yessir. Got big sucker who part with money faster than fat of pig pass through duck.”
The gaunt figure did not bother to look up and folded his hands tightly around his cup as if he were afraid he would lose it.
“Not tonight, John. Maybe next time, but thanks.”
“You are not well, Pat-san?”
“I've been better.”
“Hey, you at the counter. Your name Dalworthy?” a voice demanded from somewhere behind the man John Lee called Pat-san.
Dalworthy lifted his head slowly. It was obvious that his face had not been viewed in a holoprojector for several days. His skin, stretched plastic-wrap tight over a heavy, square foundation of chiseled bone, bore a dark stubble blanket. His piercing, cobalt eyes, set deep beneath a prominent brow, remained fixed on the dregs littering the bottom of a cup that had once been filled with what John Lee passed off as real coffee. Coffee, John Lee swore, that had been smuggled in at great expense from a place where it still grew, and that was what justified the inflated price. Grimacing at the last bits of ruddy light leaking through the grating, Dalworthy spread his knees for clearance and swiveled on the stool.
“Who’s asking?” Not that I give a damn.
“I am, bud. Over here by the vid. You Dalworthy?”
In a corner booth shielded from the shafts of dull orange light sat the nearest thing to a gorilla in a business suit Dalworthy had ever seen—hair and all.
Dalworthy, trying to avoid the dizziness and bright, swirling spots that accompanied any sudden, unplanned movement after a week of doing what he had been doing, edged himself off the stool with care. He tested the floor for movement.
“Why?”
“Because I have a job for you . . . if you’re Dalworthy.”
“Yeah, I'm Dalworthy. Wait just one damned minute.”
Dalworthy, one stabilizing hand on the stool, took an experimental step to ensure himself he had what it would take to make the distance, then shuffled uncertainly to the simian’s table.
“What?”
“I said I have a job for . . .”
“I heard that part. What’s the job?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to sober up first?”
“What the hell for?”
“I doubt you’re conscious enough to understand what I’m saying to you, that’s what the hell for. Why don’t you sit down before you collapse?”
“I’ll stand for now, and I’m conscious enough to know that what you’ve said so far has been nothing but irrelevant grooming crap. Now, what’s the job?”
“All right, Dalworthy…all right. I want you to find someone for me.”
“Uh-huh. What other reason would there be to hire a tracker? Why me? There are other trackers in town.”
“I know, but they tell me you’re the best. They haven't lied to me, have they?”
“No, they have it right. I'm the best damn tracker in the system. I’m good at a lot of things.”
“They told me that, too—and they said you weren’t too hot in the humility department.”
“They, whoever they are, talk too much. Who?”
“I promised them I wouldn’t say…”
“No, damn it. Who is it you want me to find?”
Dalworthy automatically tensed, his hand sliding easily into his coat pocket and landing on cold metal, as the hairy giant reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a holoplate. Dalworthy took it, pressed the button in its side and whistled softly as the image of a young woman grew out of its surface.
“Mmm…gorgeous. Does this titillating tidbit have a name?”
“I don’t know her full name. Pamela…Pamela’s all I know.”
“What? You want me to track the delicious contents of this plate in a city of sixty-seven million people, most of them hiding from something or other, and you don’t have a full name? What about her gensheet, do you have that? A bit of clothing I can sniff? Something…anything for identification?”
“I’m afraid not. Besides, what difference would it make? She’s probably not using her name and she won’t be using her gencard anywhere. She has stolen something from us and we…I want it back.”
“Okay, okay. Forget the ID stuff. If she’s a thief, why don't you just go to the cops?”
“No cops, Dalworthy. Definitely no cops.”
“Okay, no cops it is.”
His answer came out in a sarcastic I've-heard-this-before voice. Whenever someone said they didn't want the cops involved, it meant there was more to their story than what they were saying. It also meant his fee could go up-scale proportionately.
“Let’s go to my office and discuss this over a tall glass of medicine before I ruin my royal image and puke all over you. Where's your car?”
Or do you swing from building to building on vines?
“Up top. Where’s your office?”
“I'll tell you on the way.”

***

Dalworthy reminded himself several times during the ride that he needed to come up with a less debilitating method of diluting the lousy taste of humanity when he finished a job. It was all right to dive into the seething pit of downtown from time to time. It helped clear the air after a particularly crummy job, and it was entertainment when boredom set in up top. Otherwise, the lower city was a hell cast in concrete.
His friends, the few he had, said that his visits to downtown were connected to a deep-seated desire to be punished and that he had a subconscious suicidal urge. For what? Hell, if he had wanted to die he would have stayed with his old man and followed the bastard into glorious self-destruction plastered to the oncoming face of a runaway asteroid mine.
It wasn’t that what he did to stay in the upper city was so bad. No, he enjoyed his work and that, he figured, was probably the reason he was good at it. But the people…he was sure the people were the root of his problem. That is, if people was the appropriate word for his sordid clientele.
Dalworthy rarely had the pleasure of doing a job for some decent family whose son, hormones at the boiling point, or daughter with a misguided sense of what romance was all about had slipped off to taste the spoiling, forbidden fruits below the sixth floor. Maybe they had run off to join Space Corps. Lots of kids did that so they could take part in the endless adventure the Corps hyped on the Net but rarely delivered. Dalworthy knew that one too well.
“Pick a star, any star, then come see if you measure up to our standard of excellence. If you are one of the lucky ones, the adventure of a lifetime will begin. Press ‘GO’ now for your free vid and sample test. SPACE CORPS. Gateway to the stars.”
Stars, a word they used for dramatic effect only, remained a long way out of reach, and you could meet the Corps “standard of excellence” if you had a warm body and a head as empty as a vacuum. Most of the kids falling for that one would wind up running a pellet feeder on an atmosphere converting outstation around Venus in the no g section or cleaning tracks in one of the lunar mines for ten years before moving on to other delightful tasks. If they survived their contract, a standard eighty-year deal, they were given an allowance that would barely keep them on the third floor—maybe the fourth if they knew how to deal.
Some adventure. Some reward.
But they weren’t the ones he tracked. No, the majority of his work was with creeps, liars, cheats, and convicts-in-the-making who were trying to find someone of similar ilk. Dalworthy loved his work; he just detested most of the people involved in it. It was simple. He liked to keep things simple.
Like this phony, prehistoric fuzz ball.
“Say Dalworthy, what do you usually get for a job like this?”
“Paranoid and cynical. Watch where the hell you’re going, all right?”
“Come on, Dalworthy, let's get serious,” the ape in pinstripes said.
He banked the car into another sickeningly steep turn and dodged under one of the thousands of upper level tubes that threaded here and there between uptown buildings so that the high status citizenry wouldn't have to dirty their feet on the computer-free streets—the deadly streets—below.
“That’s not serious? You should see my therapy debit.”
“Right. From what I’ve seen, your therapy’s a hundred proof or better.”
“So is my fee. I get a thousand per day, plus any and all expenses.”
“What does that mean? The expenses part.”
“I need it, you buy it. Simple. No questions and no explanations.”
“I think the word you want is expensive, Dalworthy.”
“No, I mean simple. I don't use my clients like a lot of the other guys do. My charges cover only what I need for the job and not so much as a farthing more.”
“What the hell is a farthing?”
“Never mind, just watch where you’re going.”
“All right, Dalworthy. And just what do you need for this job?”
“How should I know? You palm the contract and start paying. If the lovely in the plate’s not worth it, you tell me to stop. Simple.”
“Sure. Simple.”
Dalworthy burrowed down in his seat, fighting back the urge to heave, and began thinking as critically as his weakened condition would permit. The Gersham appeared off to the left as they rounded one of the city’s taller buildings. He leaned forward to get a better look through the haze.
“So,” Dalworthy began, “what’s your interest in this…uh, Pamela?”
“I can’t tell you that, and you don’t need to know…just yet. Is that your building down there?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Drop your car manually on pad nine and wait for me to tell you it’s okay before you shut it down.”
“Why?”
“Don’t ask, just do it,” Dalworthy said.
Dalworthy extracted a nine-millimeter Colt Super-Express from his shabby coat. He cocked it, flipped off the safety and checked the built-in laser against the flat black of the dash, and focused his attention on the roof of the Gersham.
“What’s that for?”
“Don't worry about it, just put us down. And don’t forget what I told you.” They settled to the top of the hundred-forty-story Gersham Tower, the car’s downwash raising a cloud of trash and dust; stuff deposited there by an eternal updraft of unbearably hot air—air wafting from the lower city and seeking its point of neutral buoyancy. A point that was, coincidentally, about five meters above the Gersham’s roof so that it curled over the edge and dropped its nasty cargo.
Dalworthy’s eyes swept over the area below as they approached. There was movement in the shadows near the tenant's elevator, and his grip on the pistol tightened. It looked like there were others near the side of the roof, but the one by the elevator was the important one.
“Keep your fan speed up and be ready to lift out of here. Don’t wait for me if they come for you or you’ll never know what happened to your Pamela.”
“They? Who are…”
Dalworthy was out of the car before the suspension began sucking up weight. He had no time for stupid questions. The dot of the laser traveled across a small cube housing the tenant's elevator. Just to the left of the structure, the red spot landed on a barely visible, grimy and bearded face framed in a hood of coarse, dark fabric. The dim light of a Pepsi sign on the building across the street fought its way through the ever-present haze but didn't help much.
The Colt spoke. The face, permanently startled and sporting a new eye, slumped silently into the darkness. Two more hooded shadows raced along the edge of the roof and headed for the service elevator. Dalworthy waited until their silhouettes were crisp in Pepsi glow then squeezed. The Colt issued another statement, and one of the shadows responded by toppling clumsily into the express route to street level. The lucky one of the three made it to the elevator and vanished.
Dalworthy slipped the pistol back into his shabby coat and opened the driver’s side door of the humming car. Inside, his would-be client sat silently. It was obvious that this evolutionary dropout was not accustomed to what he had seen.
“Okay,” Dalworthy shouted over the whine of the fans. “You can shut it down and get out. Don’t forget to lock it or you’ll be taking a cab home, if you can get one to come out here this late.”
The man didn’t move. His lips were trembling. His eyes were squashed shut and his knuckles, what Dalworthy could see of them under all the hair, were pressure white from his death-grip on the yoke. A faint whimpering sound was coming from deep in his throat. Dalworthy reached in and slapped the side of his face. It felt like hairy leather.
Where in hell did this guy come from, anyway?
“Come on, get it together, damn it. I have to claim my bounties before some slime takes credit for my meatball meteorite down there.”
There was no response.
“Well, I’ll be damned. You’ve never been inside the wall, have you?”
“No. No, I haven’t. Not this far, anyway.”
The feeble reply came out in a dry rasp. The man’s eyes remained closed tightly, his hands glued to the yoke.
“Look, it’s over…for now. You can open your eyes, and I suggest you pry yourself loose before one of those worms who’s not quite so ignorant finds his way up here.”
“What…what was all that about?”
“Rooftop Rangers. The more enterprising of the Havnots from downtown. They hang around up top waiting for landers, like us. Now, get moving.”
“That kind of thing happens a lot in the city?” the man asked as he shakily slid to the pad.
“No, not any more. Not like it was before they gave us a three-floor buffer zone and generalized scan coverage. That made some difference, but they still find ways to get up here in spite of the security. Hell, even the new bounties haven't impressed their miniature minds enough to keep them down where they belong. Now, let’s get off the roof, okay?”
Dalworthy was busy running through the details of his encounter with a twenty-second century Neanderthal as the floors counted down toward eighty-one. There was something screwy about the whole business. Something more than not wanting to be involved with the cops would indicate, but the fog that had collected in his head from a week-long recreational dive into downtown life was interfering with his thinking. As they passed ninety-nine, the lights in his head came on and he kicked himself for not having thought of it earlier. This well-dressed protohuman didn't know where his office was, but had found him at his favorite street level eatery.
LEE'S FOURTH DYNASTY was a little joint in the more primitive and seedy part of the lower city that only Havnots, Convicts, Service Caste, and fixed income retirees practicing survival on their government granted pittances visited, but Mr. Monkey had admitted to never having been so far inside the wall. How could that be?
No, not how . . . why?
Dalworthy was listed in the system under four easy to find TRACKER headings. He didn't use aliases. Unless King Kong the Second couldn’t read or hear, he should have been able to extract Dalworthy's uptown address from his car's system, and he should not have known anything about LEE'S FOURTH DYNASTY. Ergo, someone else, someone who knew his habits had sent this throwback—and whoever that was didn’t tell the guy anything more than what he needed to know. He wasn’t the client. Either he was a lackey, or he was there on some other business and this Pamela was just a good excuse to get close. Dalworthy’s hand went back to his pocket, and his fingers curled around the Super-Express’s custom-fitted grip.

***

“Has Ryan connected with Mr. Dalworthy, Leonard?”
“Yes, Mr. McGavin. They entered the Gersham five minutes ago.”
“Ah, wonderful. Then we shall be hearing from him soon.”
“Hearing from whom, sir?”
“Come now, Leonard. I wanted Mr. Dalworthy because he is the very best at what he does. He will see through our little charade instantly and our innocent, dull-witted messenger will be duped or forced into revealing my identity quite easily. That is the plan. You’ll see, Leonard. You’ll see.”
“Yes, sir. I'll see. Why do you think he will call, sir?”
“Curiosity, Leonard. According to my research, Mr. Dalworthy is possessed by an extreme curiosity that frequently overrides his common sense. I am counting on that. In the meantime, bring me the Ryan Seven behavioral study. I want to review it while we wait for Mr. Dalworthy’s call.”
As the door closed behind Leonard, a young woman, sitting quietly on the corner of the desk, bent down and planted a gentle kiss on McGavin's cheek.
“You’re so smart, Gramps. This man—this Dalworthy—will he really be able to find her?”
“That remains to be seen Sheila, but I can tell you this much; if anyone outside the World Governing Board system can find her, it is Dalworthy. Now my dear, if you don’t mind, I want to be alone for a while.”
She gave him as much of a hurt little girl look as any exceptionally well-proportioned woman of twenty-four dressed only in blue body paint and megaheels could, then slid provocatively to the floor.
“All right, Gramps, but don’t forget, you promised to take me to the execution in the morning.”
“Yes, I did, and I shall. Just don’t you forget my proviso, young lady.”
“Oh Gramps,” she grumbled.
“Don’t you ‘Oh Gramps’ me, Sheila. You will find yourself some real clothing and clean that…that stuff off. If your skin is any other color than scrubbed pink there will be no execution for you.”
“Gramps, you’re so old-fashioned.”
“Perhaps Sheila, but that was the stipulation and, as I recall, you agreed.”
“Damn,” she whined.
Sheila skulked into the corridor; her ultramarine buttocks bouncing to the rhythm of a megaheel stiffened gate and deliberately exaggerated hip swing. “Old people,” she muttered.
Leonard brushed by the blue-bodied Sheila, side-slipped through the closing door, and handed McGavin a small plastic card. McGavin checked its verification date then dropped it in a slot on the edge of his desk.
“Leonard.”
“Yes, Mr. McGavin?”
“Can you explain to me how anyone can walk in shoes with eight-inch heels?”
“Inch, sir?”
“Twenty centimeters, Leonard.”
“Uh, no. No sir, I can’t.”
“Am I old, Leonard?” he asked while he watched the contents of the report scroll across the top of his desk.
“At ninety-five? Not hardly, sir.”
“I didn’t think so either. Leonard, how would you like to—ah, here it is—to join us for the pre-execution festivities? I understand they have a new chef.”
“Thank you, sir. I would like that very much, but I have an appointment for the psychetron in the morning. Of course, if you prefer, I will reschedule for…”
“No, no, Leonard. You go ahead and…”
“Mr. McGavin, there’s a call for you on forty-one,” a voice from the intercom interrupted.
“Who is it?”
“A very angry man, sir. He refuses to give me his name. His line identifier is scrambled and our system can't break the code. If you ask me, he looks like a downtown street-rat, sir. Shall I terminate the call?”
“Aha!” McGavin said and cleared the Ryan Seven data from his desk. “No, no, no. Connect us, please, and secure the line.” There was excitement in his voice. “You see, Leonard? Twenty-five minutes and here he is.”
“Here who is, sir?”
“Why, Mr. Dalworthy, of course.”
“Mr. Dalworthy, of course, sir.”
The harsh, white light of the comcam robbed Dalworthy’s image of what little color it had and caused his drawn face to take on the grayness of the recently embalmed, but there was no hiding the heat in his eyes as he glared out of the wall screen at McGavin.
“Good evening, Patrick. I’m so glad you…”
“Drop the crap, McGavin. What’s the idea of sending me an escapee from the museum of natural history?”
“Please…please, calm yourself, Patrick. And do call me Sean. All this mister and surname nonsense is far too stilted. Wouldn’t you agree, Patrick?”
“I’m in no mood for intimacy, McGavin. Just explain yourself or you can forget the titian-tressed sylph in the plate.”
“All right, Mr. Dalworthy, as you wish. I sent Ryan to you because I can’t afford to be seen that far inside the wall, and I certainly can't risk being seen in your company. This . . . this, uh, situation is a bit delicate, as you have probably already surmised.”
“Uh-huh. It's a delicate situation. Since you know so much, you must also know I don’t work through third parties. If you want to find this little morsel, Pamela, we meet, face to face.”
McGavin was relying on Dalworthy’s basic character, and sending Ryan had caused Dalworthy’s curiosity to take charge. He would accept the job whether he needed it or not because he had to know. For McGavin, that was both good and bad, but he needed Dalworthy's legendary talents. McGavin mentally rubbed his hands together and smiled affably back at the image on the wall.
“Of course, Mr. Dalworthy. I must tell you, I have been a fan of yours since your capture of the Mendoza gang in eighty-nine. Brilliant . . .”
“I said no crap, McGavin. And you can’t kiss me for a discount, so don’t try.”
“As you wish. Speaking of discounts, your fee is?”
“For you? Twenty-five hundred per day, plus expenses.”
“And when is the first payment due, Mr. Dalworthy?”
“It's due now. If we meet and don’t fall in love, you’ve dropped twenty-five centuries for the pleasure of the foreplay. So, when and where?”
“There is an execution in the morning at ten. A multiple. The first one in several months. Please, join us at eight in Crystal Hall, and we shall discuss the project over a sumptuous breakfast. After we have come to agreement over the details, we can enjoy what promises to be a most interesting triple-header.”
“Join us? What’s this us business, McGavin?”
“I’m sorry. I forgot to mention Sheila. My granddaughter will be joining us for breakfast and the show.”
“No third parties…and no spectators, McGavin.”
“Oh, Sheila is not a third party, Mr. Dalworthy, believe me. In some ways, she has more to do with this than I. But you’ll see. You’ll see.”
“How is she involved?”
“Please, Mr. Dalworthy. You have your ways, and so do I. I shall agree to play by your rules if you will agree to adjust to my, uh, little idiosyncrasies. It will all be explained to you at the proper time, I assure you. Now, if you will transmit your account transfer number, I shall deposit your first payment. Do we have an appointment?”
“I’ll be damned. At eight,” Dalworthy said flatly. His image was instantly replaced with a number from one of the larger trade institutions in MexComplex's exclusive Corporate Market.
“There, Leonard, you see? Mr. Dalworthy is a most amiable man. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Amiable. Yes, sir. Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes, Leonard. Please, call Mr. Disston from your quarters and advise him there will be three for breakfast at eight. Oh, and tell him I want the table overlooking the arena near the executioner’s bench. He will know which one. I want to see the bastards squirm when they drag them into the prep square.”
Leonard started for the door then paused as McGavin added, “Call Laughlin. Tell him to prepare the psychetron for Ryan Seven and run him through it the moment he returns.”



Xenogenesis by J. Richard Jacobs

EXTRACT FOR
Xenogenesis

(J. Richard Jacobs)


Chapter 1

5 June 2191

People are constantly trying to free themselves from one thing or another. It's as if they believed some other -ism—any other -ism—would be better than the -ism they have. In their pursuit of liberty from this -ism people often enslave themselves to that -ism. That, my friends, is real-ism.
–JD Scott

John Lee, ghetto battle disfigured and street-gang tattooed, stopped by the restaurant’s front door and slapped a large red button with his free hand. The other trembled under a wobbling stack of chipped and cracked plates dripping a dark brown, greasy fluid—the remains of what the menu said was Chow Mein. The locals knew the stuff as Lee’s Brown Death. The drops hit the floor and vanished on tiles colored to camouflage all but the worst spills.
“Okay everybody, you got twenty minute. Eat, drink, pay, then goodbye,” he announced in a phony SinoSec singsong while a heavy steel grating, answering the command from the button, rattled its way down over the narrow, rectangular windows of wire reinforced two centimeter tempered plate in a disgusting display of people protecting themselves from people.
It was late afternoon, and the counter was empty except for one man seated near the windows. He was tall, too tall, so his knees pressed firmly into the underside of a counter designed to the corporate standard. Supported by splayed elbows planted firmly, his long torso hooked over the scratched and scuffed plastic surface and his head protruded almost into the serving aisle, giving him the look of a poorly dressed praying mantis ready to strike. Wearing the common, drab uniform of the down-and-out that was typical of the lower city, he fit in with the restaurant's second-hand decor. John Lee, on his way to pass the dishes through to his brother, Danny, paused briefly in front of him.
He leaned forward until his shaved head, covered with a stylized dragon tattoo in black and red, its tail snaking down and wrapping around his neck, was close enough for him to speak in a loud whisper.
“Okay you stay, Pat-san. We got good game upstair tonight. Yessir. Got big sucker who part with money faster than fat of pig pass through duck.”
The gaunt figure did not bother to look up and folded his hands tightly around his cup as if he were afraid he would lose it.
“Not tonight, John. Maybe next time, but thanks.”
“You are not well, Pat-san?”
“I've been better.”
“Hey, you at the counter. Your name Dalworthy?” a voice demanded from somewhere behind the man John Lee called Pat-san.
Dalworthy lifted his head slowly. It was obvious that his face had not been viewed in a holoprojector for several days. His skin, stretched plastic-wrap tight over a heavy, square foundation of chiseled bone, bore a dark stubble blanket. His piercing, cobalt eyes, set deep beneath a prominent brow, remained fixed on the dregs littering the bottom of a cup that had once been filled with what John Lee passed off as real coffee. Coffee, John Lee swore, that had been smuggled in at great expense from a place where it still grew, and that was what justified the inflated price. Grimacing at the last bits of ruddy light leaking through the grating, Dalworthy spread his knees for clearance and swiveled on the stool.
“Who’s asking?” Not that I give a damn.
“I am, bud. Over here by the vid. You Dalworthy?”
In a corner booth shielded from the shafts of dull orange light sat the nearest thing to a gorilla in a business suit Dalworthy had ever seen—hair and all.
Dalworthy, trying to avoid the dizziness and bright, swirling spots that accompanied any sudden, unplanned movement after a week of doing what he had been doing, edged himself off the stool with care. He tested the floor for movement.
“Why?”
“Because I have a job for you . . . if you’re Dalworthy.”
“Yeah, I'm Dalworthy. Wait just one damned minute.”
Dalworthy, one stabilizing hand on the stool, took an experimental step to ensure himself he had what it would take to make the distance, then shuffled uncertainly to the simian’s table.
“What?”
“I said I have a job for . . .”
“I heard that part. What’s the job?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to sober up first?”
“What the hell for?”
“I doubt you’re conscious enough to understand what I’m saying to you, that’s what the hell for. Why don’t you sit down before you collapse?”
“I’ll stand for now, and I’m conscious enough to know that what you’ve said so far has been nothing but irrelevant grooming crap. Now, what’s the job?”
“All right, Dalworthy…all right. I want you to find someone for me.”
“Uh-huh. What other reason would there be to hire a tracker? Why me? There are other trackers in town.”
“I know, but they tell me you’re the best. They haven't lied to me, have they?”
“No, they have it right. I'm the best damn tracker in the system. I’m good at a lot of things.”
“They told me that, too—and they said you weren’t too hot in the humility department.”
“They, whoever they are, talk too much. Who?”
“I promised them I wouldn’t say…”
“No, damn it. Who is it you want me to find?”
Dalworthy automatically tensed, his hand sliding easily into his coat pocket and landing on cold metal, as the hairy giant reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a holoplate. Dalworthy took it, pressed the button in its side and whistled softly as the image of a young woman grew out of its surface.
“Mmm…gorgeous. Does this titillating tidbit have a name?”
“I don’t know her full name. Pamela…Pamela’s all I know.”
“What? You want me to track the delicious contents of this plate in a city of sixty-seven million people, most of them hiding from something or other, and you don’t have a full name? What about her gensheet, do you have that? A bit of clothing I can sniff? Something…anything for identification?”
“I’m afraid not. Besides, what difference would it make? She’s probably not using her name and she won’t be using her gencard anywhere. She has stolen something from us and we…I want it back.”
“Okay, okay. Forget the ID stuff. If she’s a thief, why don't you just go to the cops?”
“No cops, Dalworthy. Definitely no cops.”
“Okay, no cops it is.”
His answer came out in a sarcastic I've-heard-this-before voice. Whenever someone said they didn't want the cops involved, it meant there was more to their story than what they were saying. It also meant his fee could go up-scale proportionately.
“Let’s go to my office and discuss this over a tall glass of medicine before I ruin my royal image and puke all over you. Where's your car?”
Or do you swing from building to building on vines?
“Up top. Where’s your office?”
“I'll tell you on the way.”

***

Dalworthy reminded himself several times during the ride that he needed to come up with a less debilitating method of diluting the lousy taste of humanity when he finished a job. It was all right to dive into the seething pit of downtown from time to time. It helped clear the air after a particularly crummy job, and it was entertainment when boredom set in up top. Otherwise, the lower city was a hell cast in concrete.
His friends, the few he had, said that his visits to downtown were connected to a deep-seated desire to be punished and that he had a subconscious suicidal urge. For what? Hell, if he had wanted to die he would have stayed with his old man and followed the bastard into glorious self-destruction plastered to the oncoming face of a runaway asteroid mine.
It wasn’t that what he did to stay in the upper city was so bad. No, he enjoyed his work and that, he figured, was probably the reason he was good at it. But the people…he was sure the people were the root of his problem. That is, if people was the appropriate word for his sordid clientele.
Dalworthy rarely had the pleasure of doing a job for some decent family whose son, hormones at the boiling point, or daughter with a misguided sense of what romance was all about had slipped off to taste the spoiling, forbidden fruits below the sixth floor. Maybe they had run off to join Space Corps. Lots of kids did that so they could take part in the endless adventure the Corps hyped on the Net but rarely delivered. Dalworthy knew that one too well.
“Pick a star, any star, then come see if you measure up to our standard of excellence. If you are one of the lucky ones, the adventure of a lifetime will begin. Press ‘GO’ now for your free vid and sample test. SPACE CORPS. Gateway to the stars.”
Stars, a word they used for dramatic effect only, remained a long way out of reach, and you could meet the Corps “standard of excellence” if you had a warm body and a head as empty as a vacuum. Most of the kids falling for that one would wind up running a pellet feeder on an atmosphere converting outstation around Venus in the no g section or cleaning tracks in one of the lunar mines for ten years before moving on to other delightful tasks. If they survived their contract, a standard eighty-year deal, they were given an allowance that would barely keep them on the third floor—maybe the fourth if they knew how to deal.
Some adventure. Some reward.
But they weren’t the ones he tracked. No, the majority of his work was with creeps, liars, cheats, and convicts-in-the-making who were trying to find someone of similar ilk. Dalworthy loved his work; he just detested most of the people involved in it. It was simple. He liked to keep things simple.
Like this phony, prehistoric fuzz ball.
“Say Dalworthy, what do you usually get for a job like this?”
“Paranoid and cynical. Watch where the hell you’re going, all right?”
“Come on, Dalworthy, let's get serious,” the ape in pinstripes said.
He banked the car into another sickeningly steep turn and dodged under one of the thousands of upper level tubes that threaded here and there between uptown buildings so that the high status citizenry wouldn't have to dirty their feet on the computer-free streets—the deadly streets—below.
“That’s not serious? You should see my therapy debit.”
“Right. From what I’ve seen, your therapy’s a hundred proof or better.”
“So is my fee. I get a thousand per day, plus any and all expenses.”
“What does that mean? The expenses part.”
“I need it, you buy it. Simple. No questions and no explanations.”
“I think the word you want is expensive, Dalworthy.”
“No, I mean simple. I don't use my clients like a lot of the other guys do. My charges cover only what I need for the job and not so much as a farthing more.”
“What the hell is a farthing?”
“Never mind, just watch where you’re going.”
“All right, Dalworthy. And just what do you need for this job?”
“How should I know? You palm the contract and start paying. If the lovely in the plate’s not worth it, you tell me to stop. Simple.”
“Sure. Simple.”
Dalworthy burrowed down in his seat, fighting back the urge to heave, and began thinking as critically as his weakened condition would permit. The Gersham appeared off to the left as they rounded one of the city’s taller buildings. He leaned forward to get a better look through the haze.
“So,” Dalworthy began, “what’s your interest in this…uh, Pamela?”
“I can’t tell you that, and you don’t need to know…just yet. Is that your building down there?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Drop your car manually on pad nine and wait for me to tell you it’s okay before you shut it down.”
“Why?”
“Don’t ask, just do it,” Dalworthy said.
Dalworthy extracted a nine-millimeter Colt Super-Express from his shabby coat. He cocked it, flipped off the safety and checked the built-in laser against the flat black of the dash, and focused his attention on the roof of the Gersham.
“What’s that for?”
“Don't worry about it, just put us down. And don’t forget what I told you.” They settled to the top of the hundred-forty-story Gersham Tower, the car’s downwash raising a cloud of trash and dust; stuff deposited there by an eternal updraft of unbearably hot air—air wafting from the lower city and seeking its point of neutral buoyancy. A point that was, coincidentally, about five meters above the Gersham’s roof so that it curled over the edge and dropped its nasty cargo.
Dalworthy’s eyes swept over the area below as they approached. There was movement in the shadows near the tenant's elevator, and his grip on the pistol tightened. It looked like there were others near the side of the roof, but the one by the elevator was the important one.
“Keep your fan speed up and be ready to lift out of here. Don’t wait for me if they come for you or you’ll never know what happened to your Pamela.”
“They? Who are…”
Dalworthy was out of the car before the suspension began sucking up weight. He had no time for stupid questions. The dot of the laser traveled across a small cube housing the tenant's elevator. Just to the left of the structure, the red spot landed on a barely visible, grimy and bearded face framed in a hood of coarse, dark fabric. The dim light of a Pepsi sign on the building across the street fought its way through the ever-present haze but didn't help much.
The Colt spoke. The face, permanently startled and sporting a new eye, slumped silently into the darkness. Two more hooded shadows raced along the edge of the roof and headed for the service elevator. Dalworthy waited until their silhouettes were crisp in Pepsi glow then squeezed. The Colt issued another statement, and one of the shadows responded by toppling clumsily into the express route to street level. The lucky one of the three made it to the elevator and vanished.
Dalworthy slipped the pistol back into his shabby coat and opened the driver’s side door of the humming car. Inside, his would-be client sat silently. It was obvious that this evolutionary dropout was not accustomed to what he had seen.
“Okay,” Dalworthy shouted over the whine of the fans. “You can shut it down and get out. Don’t forget to lock it or you’ll be taking a cab home, if you can get one to come out here this late.”
The man didn’t move. His lips were trembling. His eyes were squashed shut and his knuckles, what Dalworthy could see of them under all the hair, were pressure white from his death-grip on the yoke. A faint whimpering sound was coming from deep in his throat. Dalworthy reached in and slapped the side of his face. It felt like hairy leather.
Where in hell did this guy come from, anyway?
“Come on, get it together, damn it. I have to claim my bounties before some slime takes credit for my meatball meteorite down there.”
There was no response.
“Well, I’ll be damned. You’ve never been inside the wall, have you?”
“No. No, I haven’t. Not this far, anyway.”
The feeble reply came out in a dry rasp. The man’s eyes remained closed tightly, his hands glued to the yoke.
“Look, it’s over…for now. You can open your eyes, and I suggest you pry yourself loose before one of those worms who’s not quite so ignorant finds his way up here.”
“What…what was all that about?”
“Rooftop Rangers. The more enterprising of the Havnots from downtown. They hang around up top waiting for landers, like us. Now, get moving.”
“That kind of thing happens a lot in the city?” the man asked as he shakily slid to the pad.
“No, not any more. Not like it was before they gave us a three-floor buffer zone and generalized scan coverage. That made some difference, but they still find ways to get up here in spite of the security. Hell, even the new bounties haven't impressed their miniature minds enough to keep them down where they belong. Now, let’s get off the roof, okay?”
Dalworthy was busy running through the details of his encounter with a twenty-second century Neanderthal as the floors counted down toward eighty-one. There was something screwy about the whole business. Something more than not wanting to be involved with the cops would indicate, but the fog that had collected in his head from a week-long recreational dive into downtown life was interfering with his thinking. As they passed ninety-nine, the lights in his head came on and he kicked himself for not having thought of it earlier. This well-dressed protohuman didn't know where his office was, but had found him at his favorite street level eatery.
LEE'S FOURTH DYNASTY was a little joint in the more primitive and seedy part of the lower city that only Havnots, Convicts, Service Caste, and fixed income retirees practicing survival on their government granted pittances visited, but Mr. Monkey had admitted to never having been so far inside the wall. How could that be?
No, not how . . . why?
Dalworthy was listed in the system under four easy to find TRACKER headings. He didn't use aliases. Unless King Kong the Second couldn’t read or hear, he should have been able to extract Dalworthy's uptown address from his car's system, and he should not have known anything about LEE'S FOURTH DYNASTY. Ergo, someone else, someone who knew his habits had sent this throwback—and whoever that was didn’t tell the guy anything more than what he needed to know. He wasn’t the client. Either he was a lackey, or he was there on some other business and this Pamela was just a good excuse to get close. Dalworthy’s hand went back to his pocket, and his fingers curled around the Super-Express’s custom-fitted grip.

***

“Has Ryan connected with Mr. Dalworthy, Leonard?”
“Yes, Mr. McGavin. They entered the Gersham five minutes ago.”
“Ah, wonderful. Then we shall be hearing from him soon.”
“Hearing from whom, sir?”
“Come now, Leonard. I wanted Mr. Dalworthy because he is the very best at what he does. He will see through our little charade instantly and our innocent, dull-witted messenger will be duped or forced into revealing my identity quite easily. That is the plan. You’ll see, Leonard. You’ll see.”
“Yes, sir. I'll see. Why do you think he will call, sir?”
“Curiosity, Leonard. According to my research, Mr. Dalworthy is possessed by an extreme curiosity that frequently overrides his common sense. I am counting on that. In the meantime, bring me the Ryan Seven behavioral study. I want to review it while we wait for Mr. Dalworthy’s call.”
As the door closed behind Leonard, a young woman, sitting quietly on the corner of the desk, bent down and planted a gentle kiss on McGavin's cheek.
“You’re so smart, Gramps. This man—this Dalworthy—will he really be able to find her?”
“That remains to be seen Sheila, but I can tell you this much; if anyone outside the World Governing Board system can find her, it is Dalworthy. Now my dear, if you don’t mind, I want to be alone for a while.”
She gave him as much of a hurt little girl look as any exceptionally well-proportioned woman of twenty-four dressed only in blue body paint and megaheels could, then slid provocatively to the floor.
“All right, Gramps, but don’t forget, you promised to take me to the execution in the morning.”
“Yes, I did, and I shall. Just don’t you forget my proviso, young lady.”
“Oh Gramps,” she grumbled.
“Don’t you ‘Oh Gramps’ me, Sheila. You will find yourself some real clothing and clean that…that stuff off. If your skin is any other color than scrubbed pink there will be no execution for you.”
“Gramps, you’re so old-fashioned.”
“Perhaps Sheila, but that was the stipulation and, as I recall, you agreed.”
“Damn,” she whined.
Sheila skulked into the corridor; her ultramarine buttocks bouncing to the rhythm of a megaheel stiffened gate and deliberately exaggerated hip swing. “Old people,” she muttered.
Leonard brushed by the blue-bodied Sheila, side-slipped through the closing door, and handed McGavin a small plastic card. McGavin checked its verification date then dropped it in a slot on the edge of his desk.
“Leonard.”
“Yes, Mr. McGavin?”
“Can you explain to me how anyone can walk in shoes with eight-inch heels?”
“Inch, sir?”
“Twenty centimeters, Leonard.”
“Uh, no. No sir, I can’t.”
“Am I old, Leonard?” he asked while he watched the contents of the report scroll across the top of his desk.
“At ninety-five? Not hardly, sir.”
“I didn’t think so either. Leonard, how would you like to—ah, here it is—to join us for the pre-execution festivities? I understand they have a new chef.”
“Thank you, sir. I would like that very much, but I have an appointment for the psychetron in the morning. Of course, if you prefer, I will reschedule for…”
“No, no, Leonard. You go ahead and…”
“Mr. McGavin, there’s a call for you on forty-one,” a voice from the intercom interrupted.
“Who is it?”
“A very angry man, sir. He refuses to give me his name. His line identifier is scrambled and our system can't break the code. If you ask me, he looks like a downtown street-rat, sir. Shall I terminate the call?”
“Aha!” McGavin said and cleared the Ryan Seven data from his desk. “No, no, no. Connect us, please, and secure the line.” There was excitement in his voice. “You see, Leonard? Twenty-five minutes and here he is.”
“Here who is, sir?”
“Why, Mr. Dalworthy, of course.”
“Mr. Dalworthy, of course, sir.”
The harsh, white light of the comcam robbed Dalworthy’s image of what little color it had and caused his drawn face to take on the grayness of the recently embalmed, but there was no hiding the heat in his eyes as he glared out of the wall screen at McGavin.
“Good evening, Patrick. I’m so glad you…”
“Drop the crap, McGavin. What’s the idea of sending me an escapee from the museum of natural history?”
“Please…please, calm yourself, Patrick. And do call me Sean. All this mister and surname nonsense is far too stilted. Wouldn’t you agree, Patrick?”
“I’m in no mood for intimacy, McGavin. Just explain yourself or you can forget the titian-tressed sylph in the plate.”
“All right, Mr. Dalworthy, as you wish. I sent Ryan to you because I can’t afford to be seen that far inside the wall, and I certainly can't risk being seen in your company. This . . . this, uh, situation is a bit delicate, as you have probably already surmised.”
“Uh-huh. It's a delicate situation. Since you know so much, you must also know I don’t work through third parties. If you want to find this little morsel, Pamela, we meet, face to face.”
McGavin was relying on Dalworthy’s basic character, and sending Ryan had caused Dalworthy’s curiosity to take charge. He would accept the job whether he needed it or not because he had to know. For McGavin, that was both good and bad, but he needed Dalworthy's legendary talents. McGavin mentally rubbed his hands together and smiled affably back at the image on the wall.
“Of course, Mr. Dalworthy. I must tell you, I have been a fan of yours since your capture of the Mendoza gang in eighty-nine. Brilliant . . .”
“I said no crap, McGavin. And you can’t kiss me for a discount, so don’t try.”
“As you wish. Speaking of discounts, your fee is?”
“For you? Twenty-five hundred per day, plus expenses.”
“And when is the first payment due, Mr. Dalworthy?”
“It's due now. If we meet and don’t fall in love, you’ve dropped twenty-five centuries for the pleasure of the foreplay. So, when and where?”
“There is an execution in the morning at ten. A multiple. The first one in several months. Please, join us at eight in Crystal Hall, and we shall discuss the project over a sumptuous breakfast. After we have come to agreement over the details, we can enjoy what promises to be a most interesting triple-header.”
“Join us? What’s this us business, McGavin?”
“I’m sorry. I forgot to mention Sheila. My granddaughter will be joining us for breakfast and the show.”
“No third parties…and no spectators, McGavin.”
“Oh, Sheila is not a third party, Mr. Dalworthy, believe me. In some ways, she has more to do with this than I. But you’ll see. You’ll see.”
“How is she involved?”
“Please, Mr. Dalworthy. You have your ways, and so do I. I shall agree to play by your rules if you will agree to adjust to my, uh, little idiosyncrasies. It will all be explained to you at the proper time, I assure you. Now, if you will transmit your account transfer number, I shall deposit your first payment. Do we have an appointment?”
“I’ll be damned. At eight,” Dalworthy said flatly. His image was instantly replaced with a number from one of the larger trade institutions in MexComplex's exclusive Corporate Market.
“There, Leonard, you see? Mr. Dalworthy is a most amiable man. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Amiable. Yes, sir. Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes, Leonard. Please, call Mr. Disston from your quarters and advise him there will be three for breakfast at eight. Oh, and tell him I want the table overlooking the arena near the executioner’s bench. He will know which one. I want to see the bastards squirm when they drag them into the prep square.”
Leonard started for the door then paused as McGavin added, “Call Laughlin. Tell him to prepare the psychetron for Ryan Seven and run him through it the moment he returns.”



EXTRACT FOR
Xenogenesis

(J. Richard Jacobs)


Chapter 1

5 June 2191

People are constantly trying to free themselves from one thing or another. It's as if they believed some other -ism—any other -ism—would be better than the -ism they have. In their pursuit of liberty from this -ism people often enslave themselves to that -ism. That, my friends, is real-ism.
–JD Scott

John Lee, ghetto battle disfigured and street-gang tattooed, stopped by the restaurant’s front door and slapped a large red button with his free hand. The other trembled under a wobbling stack of chipped and cracked plates dripping a dark brown, greasy fluid—the remains of what the menu said was Chow Mein. The locals knew the stuff as Lee’s Brown Death. The drops hit the floor and vanished on tiles colored to camouflage all but the worst spills.
“Okay everybody, you got twenty minute. Eat, drink, pay, then goodbye,” he announced in a phony SinoSec singsong while a heavy steel grating, answering the command from the button, rattled its way down over the narrow, rectangular windows of wire reinforced two centimeter tempered plate in a disgusting display of people protecting themselves from people.
It was late afternoon, and the counter was empty except for one man seated near the windows. He was tall, too tall, so his knees pressed firmly into the underside of a counter designed to the corporate standard. Supported by splayed elbows planted firmly, his long torso hooked over the scratched and scuffed plastic surface and his head protruded almost into the serving aisle, giving him the look of a poorly dressed praying mantis ready to strike. Wearing the common, drab uniform of the down-and-out that was typical of the lower city, he fit in with the restaurant's second-hand decor. John Lee, on his way to pass the dishes through to his brother, Danny, paused briefly in front of him.
He leaned forward until his shaved head, covered with a stylized dragon tattoo in black and red, its tail snaking down and wrapping around his neck, was close enough for him to speak in a loud whisper.
“Okay you stay, Pat-san. We got good game upstair tonight. Yessir. Got big sucker who part with money faster than fat of pig pass through duck.”
The gaunt figure did not bother to look up and folded his hands tightly around his cup as if he were afraid he would lose it.
“Not tonight, John. Maybe next time, but thanks.”
“You are not well, Pat-san?”
“I've been better.”
“Hey, you at the counter. Your name Dalworthy?” a voice demanded from somewhere behind the man John Lee called Pat-san.
Dalworthy lifted his head slowly. It was obvious that his face had not been viewed in a holoprojector for several days. His skin, stretched plastic-wrap tight over a heavy, square foundation of chiseled bone, bore a dark stubble blanket. His piercing, cobalt eyes, set deep beneath a prominent brow, remained fixed on the dregs littering the bottom of a cup that had once been filled with what John Lee passed off as real coffee. Coffee, John Lee swore, that had been smuggled in at great expense from a place where it still grew, and that was what justified the inflated price. Grimacing at the last bits of ruddy light leaking through the grating, Dalworthy spread his knees for clearance and swiveled on the stool.
“Who’s asking?” Not that I give a damn.
“I am, bud. Over here by the vid. You Dalworthy?”
In a corner booth shielded from the shafts of dull orange light sat the nearest thing to a gorilla in a business suit Dalworthy had ever seen—hair and all.
Dalworthy, trying to avoid the dizziness and bright, swirling spots that accompanied any sudden, unplanned movement after a week of doing what he had been doing, edged himself off the stool with care. He tested the floor for movement.
“Why?”
“Because I have a job for you . . . if you’re Dalworthy.”
“Yeah, I'm Dalworthy. Wait just one damned minute.”
Dalworthy, one stabilizing hand on the stool, took an experimental step to ensure himself he had what it would take to make the distance, then shuffled uncertainly to the simian’s table.
“What?”
“I said I have a job for . . .”
“I heard that part. What’s the job?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to sober up first?”
“What the hell for?”
“I doubt you’re conscious enough to understand what I’m saying to you, that’s what the hell for. Why don’t you sit down before you collapse?”
“I’ll stand for now, and I’m conscious enough to know that what you’ve said so far has been nothing but irrelevant grooming crap. Now, what’s the job?”
“All right, Dalworthy…all right. I want you to find someone for me.”
“Uh-huh. What other reason would there be to hire a tracker? Why me? There are other trackers in town.”
“I know, but they tell me you’re the best. They haven't lied to me, have they?”
“No, they have it right. I'm the best damn tracker in the system. I’m good at a lot of things.”
“They told me that, too—and they said you weren’t too hot in the humility department.”
“They, whoever they are, talk too much. Who?”
“I promised them I wouldn’t say…”
“No, damn it. Who is it you want me to find?”
Dalworthy automatically tensed, his hand sliding easily into his coat pocket and landing on cold metal, as the hairy giant reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a holoplate. Dalworthy took it, pressed the button in its side and whistled softly as the image of a young woman grew out of its surface.
“Mmm…gorgeous. Does this titillating tidbit have a name?”
“I don’t know her full name. Pamela…Pamela’s all I know.”
“What? You want me to track the delicious contents of this plate in a city of sixty-seven million people, most of them hiding from something or other, and you don’t have a full name? What about her gensheet, do you have that? A bit of clothing I can sniff? Something…anything for identification?”
“I’m afraid not. Besides, what difference would it make? She’s probably not using her name and she won’t be using her gencard anywhere. She has stolen something from us and we…I want it back.”
“Okay, okay. Forget the ID stuff. If she’s a thief, why don't you just go to the cops?”
“No cops, Dalworthy. Definitely no cops.”
“Okay, no cops it is.”
His answer came out in a sarcastic I've-heard-this-before voice. Whenever someone said they didn't want the cops involved, it meant there was more to their story than what they were saying. It also meant his fee could go up-scale proportionately.
“Let’s go to my office and discuss this over a tall glass of medicine before I ruin my royal image and puke all over you. Where's your car?”
Or do you swing from building to building on vines?
“Up top. Where’s your office?”
“I'll tell you on the way.”

***

Dalworthy reminded himself several times during the ride that he needed to come up with a less debilitating method of diluting the lousy taste of humanity when he finished a job. It was all right to dive into the seething pit of downtown from time to time. It helped clear the air after a particularly crummy job, and it was entertainment when boredom set in up top. Otherwise, the lower city was a hell cast in concrete.
His friends, the few he had, said that his visits to downtown were connected to a deep-seated desire to be punished and that he had a subconscious suicidal urge. For what? Hell, if he had wanted to die he would have stayed with his old man and followed the bastard into glorious self-destruction plastered to the oncoming face of a runaway asteroid mine.
It wasn’t that what he did to stay in the upper city was so bad. No, he enjoyed his work and that, he figured, was probably the reason he was good at it. But the people…he was sure the people were the root of his problem. That is, if people was the appropriate word for his sordid clientele.
Dalworthy rarely had the pleasure of doing a job for some decent family whose son, hormones at the boiling point, or daughter with a misguided sense of what romance was all about had slipped off to taste the spoiling, forbidden fruits below the sixth floor. Maybe they had run off to join Space Corps. Lots of kids did that so they could take part in the endless adventure the Corps hyped on the Net but rarely delivered. Dalworthy knew that one too well.
“Pick a star, any star, then come see if you measure up to our standard of excellence. If you are one of the lucky ones, the adventure of a lifetime will begin. Press ‘GO’ now for your free vid and sample test. SPACE CORPS. Gateway to the stars.”
Stars, a word they used for dramatic effect only, remained a long way out of reach, and you could meet the Corps “standard of excellence” if you had a warm body and a head as empty as a vacuum. Most of the kids falling for that one would wind up running a pellet feeder on an atmosphere converting outstation around Venus in the no g section or cleaning tracks in one of the lunar mines for ten years before moving on to other delightful tasks. If they survived their contract, a standard eighty-year deal, they were given an allowance that would barely keep them on the third floor—maybe the fourth if they knew how to deal.
Some adventure. Some reward.
But they weren’t the ones he tracked. No, the majority of his work was with creeps, liars, cheats, and convicts-in-the-making who were trying to find someone of similar ilk. Dalworthy loved his work; he just detested most of the people involved in it. It was simple. He liked to keep things simple.
Like this phony, prehistoric fuzz ball.
“Say Dalworthy, what do you usually get for a job like this?”
“Paranoid and cynical. Watch where the hell you’re going, all right?”
“Come on, Dalworthy, let's get serious,” the ape in pinstripes said.
He banked the car into another sickeningly steep turn and dodged under one of the thousands of upper level tubes that threaded here and there between uptown buildings so that the high status citizenry wouldn't have to dirty their feet on the computer-free streets—the deadly streets—below.
“That’s not serious? You should see my therapy debit.”
“Right. From what I’ve seen, your therapy’s a hundred proof or better.”
“So is my fee. I get a thousand per day, plus any and all expenses.”
“What does that mean? The expenses part.”
“I need it, you buy it. Simple. No questions and no explanations.”
“I think the word you want is expensive, Dalworthy.”
“No, I mean simple. I don't use my clients like a lot of the other guys do. My charges cover only what I need for the job and not so much as a farthing more.”
“What the hell is a farthing?”
“Never mind, just watch where you’re going.”
“All right, Dalworthy. And just what do you need for this job?”
“How should I know? You palm the contract and start paying. If the lovely in the plate’s not worth it, you tell me to stop. Simple.”
“Sure. Simple.”
Dalworthy burrowed down in his seat, fighting back the urge to heave, and began thinking as critically as his weakened condition would permit. The Gersham appeared off to the left as they rounded one of the city’s taller buildings. He leaned forward to get a better look through the haze.
“So,” Dalworthy began, “what’s your interest in this…uh, Pamela?”
“I can’t tell you that, and you don’t need to know…just yet. Is that your building down there?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Drop your car manually on pad nine and wait for me to tell you it’s okay before you shut it down.”
“Why?”
“Don’t ask, just do it,” Dalworthy said.
Dalworthy extracted a nine-millimeter Colt Super-Express from his shabby coat. He cocked it, flipped off the safety and checked the built-in laser against the flat black of the dash, and focused his attention on the roof of the Gersham.
“What’s that for?”
“Don't worry about it, just put us down. And don’t forget what I told you.” They settled to the top of the hundred-forty-story Gersham Tower, the car’s downwash raising a cloud of trash and dust; stuff deposited there by an eternal updraft of unbearably hot air—air wafting from the lower city and seeking its point of neutral buoyancy. A point that was, coincidentally, about five meters above the Gersham’s roof so that it curled over the edge and dropped its nasty cargo.
Dalworthy’s eyes swept over the area below as they approached. There was movement in the shadows near the tenant's elevator, and his grip on the pistol tightened. It looked like there were others near the side of the roof, but the one by the elevator was the important one.
“Keep your fan speed up and be ready to lift out of here. Don’t wait for me if they come for you or you’ll never know what happened to your Pamela.”
“They? Who are…”
Dalworthy was out of the car before the suspension began sucking up weight. He had no time for stupid questions. The dot of the laser traveled across a small cube housing the tenant's elevator. Just to the left of the structure, the red spot landed on a barely visible, grimy and bearded face framed in a hood of coarse, dark fabric. The dim light of a Pepsi sign on the building across the street fought its way through the ever-present haze but didn't help much.
The Colt spoke. The face, permanently startled and sporting a new eye, slumped silently into the darkness. Two more hooded shadows raced along the edge of the roof and headed for the service elevator. Dalworthy waited until their silhouettes were crisp in Pepsi glow then squeezed. The Colt issued another statement, and one of the shadows responded by toppling clumsily into the express route to street level. The lucky one of the three made it to the elevator and vanished.
Dalworthy slipped the pistol back into his shabby coat and opened the driver’s side door of the humming car. Inside, his would-be client sat silently. It was obvious that this evolutionary dropout was not accustomed to what he had seen.
“Okay,” Dalworthy shouted over the whine of the fans. “You can shut it down and get out. Don’t forget to lock it or you’ll be taking a cab home, if you can get one to come out here this late.”
The man didn’t move. His lips were trembling. His eyes were squashed shut and his knuckles, what Dalworthy could see of them under all the hair, were pressure white from his death-grip on the yoke. A faint whimpering sound was coming from deep in his throat. Dalworthy reached in and slapped the side of his face. It felt like hairy leather.
Where in hell did this guy come from, anyway?
“Come on, get it together, damn it. I have to claim my bounties before some slime takes credit for my meatball meteorite down there.”
There was no response.
“Well, I’ll be damned. You’ve never been inside the wall, have you?”
“No. No, I haven’t. Not this far, anyway.”
The feeble reply came out in a dry rasp. The man’s eyes remained closed tightly, his hands glued to the yoke.
“Look, it’s over…for now. You can open your eyes, and I suggest you pry yourself loose before one of those worms who’s not quite so ignorant finds his way up here.”
“What…what was all that about?”
“Rooftop Rangers. The more enterprising of the Havnots from downtown. They hang around up top waiting for landers, like us. Now, get moving.”
“That kind of thing happens a lot in the city?” the man asked as he shakily slid to the pad.
“No, not any more. Not like it was before they gave us a three-floor buffer zone and generalized scan coverage. That made some difference, but they still find ways to get up here in spite of the security. Hell, even the new bounties haven't impressed their miniature minds enough to keep them down where they belong. Now, let’s get off the roof, okay?”
Dalworthy was busy running through the details of his encounter with a twenty-second century Neanderthal as the floors counted down toward eighty-one. There was something screwy about the whole business. Something more than not wanting to be involved with the cops would indicate, but the fog that had collected in his head from a week-long recreational dive into downtown life was interfering with his thinking. As they passed ninety-nine, the lights in his head came on and he kicked himself for not having thought of it earlier. This well-dressed protohuman didn't know where his office was, but had found him at his favorite street level eatery.
LEE'S FOURTH DYNASTY was a little joint in the more primitive and seedy part of the lower city that only Havnots, Convicts, Service Caste, and fixed income retirees practicing survival on their government granted pittances visited, but Mr. Monkey had admitted to never having been so far inside the wall. How could that be?
No, not how . . . why?
Dalworthy was listed in the system under four easy to find TRACKER headings. He didn't use aliases. Unless King Kong the Second couldn’t read or hear, he should have been able to extract Dalworthy's uptown address from his car's system, and he should not have known anything about LEE'S FOURTH DYNASTY. Ergo, someone else, someone who knew his habits had sent this throwback—and whoever that was didn’t tell the guy anything more than what he needed to know. He wasn’t the client. Either he was a lackey, or he was there on some other business and this Pamela was just a good excuse to get close. Dalworthy’s hand went back to his pocket, and his fingers curled around the Super-Express’s custom-fitted grip.

***

“Has Ryan connected with Mr. Dalworthy, Leonard?”
“Yes, Mr. McGavin. They entered the Gersham five minutes ago.”
“Ah, wonderful. Then we shall be hearing from him soon.”
“Hearing from whom, sir?”
“Come now, Leonard. I wanted Mr. Dalworthy because he is the very best at what he does. He will see through our little charade instantly and our innocent, dull-witted messenger will be duped or forced into revealing my identity quite easily. That is the plan. You’ll see, Leonard. You’ll see.”
“Yes, sir. I'll see. Why do you think he will call, sir?”
“Curiosity, Leonard. According to my research, Mr. Dalworthy is possessed by an extreme curiosity that frequently overrides his common sense. I am counting on that. In the meantime, bring me the Ryan Seven behavioral study. I want to review it while we wait for Mr. Dalworthy’s call.”
As the door closed behind Leonard, a young woman, sitting quietly on the corner of the desk, bent down and planted a gentle kiss on McGavin's cheek.
“You’re so smart, Gramps. This man—this Dalworthy—will he really be able to find her?”
“That remains to be seen Sheila, but I can tell you this much; if anyone outside the World Governing Board system can find her, it is Dalworthy. Now my dear, if you don’t mind, I want to be alone for a while.”
She gave him as much of a hurt little girl look as any exceptionally well-proportioned woman of twenty-four dressed only in blue body paint and megaheels could, then slid provocatively to the floor.
“All right, Gramps, but don’t forget, you promised to take me to the execution in the morning.”
“Yes, I did, and I shall. Just don’t you forget my proviso, young lady.”
“Oh Gramps,” she grumbled.
“Don’t you ‘Oh Gramps’ me, Sheila. You will find yourself some real clothing and clean that…that stuff off. If your skin is any other color than scrubbed pink there will be no execution for you.”
“Gramps, you’re so old-fashioned.”
“Perhaps Sheila, but that was the stipulation and, as I recall, you agreed.”
“Damn,” she whined.
Sheila skulked into the corridor; her ultramarine buttocks bouncing to the rhythm of a megaheel stiffened gate and deliberately exaggerated hip swing. “Old people,” she muttered.
Leonard brushed by the blue-bodied Sheila, side-slipped through the closing door, and handed McGavin a small plastic card. McGavin checked its verification date then dropped it in a slot on the edge of his desk.
“Leonard.”
“Yes, Mr. McGavin?”
“Can you explain to me how anyone can walk in shoes with eight-inch heels?”
“Inch, sir?”
“Twenty centimeters, Leonard.”
“Uh, no. No sir, I can’t.”
“Am I old, Leonard?” he asked while he watched the contents of the report scroll across the top of his desk.
“At ninety-five? Not hardly, sir.”
“I didn’t think so either. Leonard, how would you like to—ah, here it is—to join us for the pre-execution festivities? I understand they have a new chef.”
“Thank you, sir. I would like that very much, but I have an appointment for the psychetron in the morning. Of course, if you prefer, I will reschedule for…”
“No, no, Leonard. You go ahead and…”
“Mr. McGavin, there’s a call for you on forty-one,” a voice from the intercom interrupted.
“Who is it?”
“A very angry man, sir. He refuses to give me his name. His line identifier is scrambled and our system can't break the code. If you ask me, he looks like a downtown street-rat, sir. Shall I terminate the call?”
“Aha!” McGavin said and cleared the Ryan Seven data from his desk. “No, no, no. Connect us, please, and secure the line.” There was excitement in his voice. “You see, Leonard? Twenty-five minutes and here he is.”
“Here who is, sir?”
“Why, Mr. Dalworthy, of course.”
“Mr. Dalworthy, of course, sir.”
The harsh, white light of the comcam robbed Dalworthy’s image of what little color it had and caused his drawn face to take on the grayness of the recently embalmed, but there was no hiding the heat in his eyes as he glared out of the wall screen at McGavin.
“Good evening, Patrick. I’m so glad you…”
“Drop the crap, McGavin. What’s the idea of sending me an escapee from the museum of natural history?”
“Please…please, calm yourself, Patrick. And do call me Sean. All this mister and surname nonsense is far too stilted. Wouldn’t you agree, Patrick?”
“I’m in no mood for intimacy, McGavin. Just explain yourself or you can forget the titian-tressed sylph in the plate.”
“All right, Mr. Dalworthy, as you wish. I sent Ryan to you because I can’t afford to be seen that far inside the wall, and I certainly can't risk being seen in your company. This . . . this, uh, situation is a bit delicate, as you have probably already surmised.”
“Uh-huh. It's a delicate situation. Since you know so much, you must also know I don’t work through third parties. If you want to find this little morsel, Pamela, we meet, face to face.”
McGavin was relying on Dalworthy’s basic character, and sending Ryan had caused Dalworthy’s curiosity to take charge. He would accept the job whether he needed it or not because he had to know. For McGavin, that was both good and bad, but he needed Dalworthy's legendary talents. McGavin mentally rubbed his hands together and smiled affably back at the image on the wall.
“Of course, Mr. Dalworthy. I must tell you, I have been a fan of yours since your capture of the Mendoza gang in eighty-nine. Brilliant . . .”
“I said no crap, McGavin. And you can’t kiss me for a discount, so don’t try.”
“As you wish. Speaking of discounts, your fee is?”
“For you? Twenty-five hundred per day, plus expenses.”
“And when is the first payment due, Mr. Dalworthy?”
“It's due now. If we meet and don’t fall in love, you’ve dropped twenty-five centuries for the pleasure of the foreplay. So, when and where?”
“There is an execution in the morning at ten. A multiple. The first one in several months. Please, join us at eight in Crystal Hall, and we shall discuss the project over a sumptuous breakfast. After we have come to agreement over the details, we can enjoy what promises to be a most interesting triple-header.”
“Join us? What’s this us business, McGavin?”
“I’m sorry. I forgot to mention Sheila. My granddaughter will be joining us for breakfast and the show.”
“No third parties…and no spectators, McGavin.”
“Oh, Sheila is not a third party, Mr. Dalworthy, believe me. In some ways, she has more to do with this than I. But you’ll see. You’ll see.”
“How is she involved?”
“Please, Mr. Dalworthy. You have your ways, and so do I. I shall agree to play by your rules if you will agree to adjust to my, uh, little idiosyncrasies. It will all be explained to you at the proper time, I assure you. Now, if you will transmit your account transfer number, I shall deposit your first payment. Do we have an appointment?”
“I’ll be damned. At eight,” Dalworthy said flatly. His image was instantly replaced with a number from one of the larger trade institutions in MexComplex's exclusive Corporate Market.
“There, Leonard, you see? Mr. Dalworthy is a most amiable man. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Amiable. Yes, sir. Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes, Leonard. Please, call Mr. Disston from your quarters and advise him there will be three for breakfast at eight. Oh, and tell him I want the table overlooking the arena near the executioner’s bench. He will know which one. I want to see the bastards squirm when they drag them into the prep square.”
Leonard started for the door then paused as McGavin added, “Call Laughlin. Tell him to prepare the psychetron for Ryan Seven and run him through it the moment he returns.”