I landed on Susanou later than I would have liked. A storm rolled in as soon as we hit orbit and made the starliner crew cranky about the idea of landing a shuttle down there. Course, if we were back on Earth, or Hellenica, or just about anywhere else, there'd be a beanstalk. Here, though? There was an anchor in the middle of Alexandria, and an anchor station in orbit, and nothing connecting the two. After the lumber bust in '49, the planet didn't have the cash to finish it or the traffic to even make an orbital elevator a good idea. I clenched my teeth and waited. There wasn't really any rush, I suppose. Dead men don't move very fast.
It was well after local midnight when I hit dirt. The storm had almost completely fallen apart, leaving just a few scraps of threadbare cloud to give the sky some character. It was a nice night, now that the storm had cleared, and I had picked up three or four hours from the time difference between Alexandria and Galactic Standard, so I decided to hoof it to my hotel. I left my bags at the spaceport with a dataspace note containing delivery instructions. After a moment's thought, I uploaded a kami to the local 'space and asked it to make sure the bags didn't leave with anyone they shouldn't. Sometimes people were stupid and did stupid things like stealing from the Shogun's Hand.
I'd been expecting a bit of a walk to the hotel. A "bit" was right; it the spaceport, such as it was, was closer to the city center than you'd think. Probably a symptom of Alexandria being smaller than it appears to be; the city had never filled out the way the planners had hoped it would. Maybe half the buildings were in use these days. The rest sat empty along the outer edges of town, kept in decent repair only by automatic maintenance systems.
Right now, all that meant that I was wide awake and still a little wound up from a bumpy descent. The hotel bar was still open and a drink sounded damn good right about then.
And that's how I met Hestia.
I was drinking a stout that wasn't and she was drinking something that had more fruit in it than alcohol. She wore a sea green kimono tied with a broad obi of crimson silk and embroidered along the cuffs with the markings of the geisha's union; I wore my grey three-piece suit and a tie that hung around because it didn't know where else to go.
I stared . If she noticed, she didn't show it-- she was either used to it or didn't give a damn. She had eyes only for the girly cocktail in the long stemmed glass in front of her. When it was gone, she sighed, letting out air that had been crucial to her rigidity, and slumped against the bar, head resting on her arms. Honey-gold hair spilled over her shoulders in waves like an antique force shield.
“Long night?” I asked.
“My client,” she said, without lifting her head, “is a dick.”
“Aren't they all?”
She humored me with a laugh. Didn't have much spirit in it, though, and it wasn't much of a laugh. More like a chuckle, or maybe a well-intentioned, “Heh.”
“Small world for a geisha.”
One arm worked its way upright, and the geisha turned her head enough to stare at the embroidered silver shamisen on her cuff with a look that bordered on shock. “Small worlds have clients, too. Sometimes, they're even worth paying the starliner fares.” Fingers flexed and stretched, clearly bored with this. “You don't look so hot yourself.”
“Fresh off the boat.” I fidgeted with my beer. It sloshed around in the bottom of the mug like dirty water, picking up and leaving foam in odd places.
“Hellenica. Business trip.”
“Business? On Susanou?”
“Impossible, I know.” I drained my glass and frowned. A good stout just about takes a knife and fork to drink; this stuff was only slightly thicker than the air I was breathing.
“The drinks here are awful,” the geisha said. The rogue arm tucked her hair behind an ear and I finally got a good look at her face. It was a nice face, even plastered against a bar. Exotic. Almond eyes and pale, Nordic skin.
“But yet you drink them.” I had smokes on me somewhere. Good ones, South Carolina tobacco rolled in Jiangxi rice paper. Hand rolled. Expensive. I pawed pockets, shook the coat laying on the stool next to me, growled an oath. “And you drink them here.”
The geisha inhaled to restore some rigidity to her frame and offered me a cigarette from somewhere inside her kimono. The front hung open a little more than it had before, and I appreciated that more than I appreciated the smoke, which had been rolled in something that should have been lining a starship hull.
“Alcohol,” she informed me, suddenly prim, “need not be good. It need only get me drunk.”
“That's one way to look at it, I suppose.” I helped myself to a book of matches laying on the bar and lit up. It lit up okay, but tasted damned awful.
As always, a kami whispered in my ear, throwing hints about cigarettes and toxins and carcinogens into the dataspace in front of me. I waved the window away in annoyance. One day, I'd train them not to do that, and I'd do it without Alexander's words.
The barkeep dropped another drink in front of the geisha. Identical, every piece of fruit where it had been the first time around. Maybe the bar bought the glasses like that, fruit and all. Maybe he was just good at arranging fruit. I don't know, and it didn't matter-- either way, the geisha was dead set on destroying it.
I watched her for a little bit longer, but the conversation, such as it was, had fizzled and I was tired. I sent a kami off to pay my tab and another one to lay a trail to my room.
The geisha looked over her shoulder as I followed the trail out of the bar. She looked a little too hard and a little too long and at least one of my surveillance kami didn't care for that. A window spawned in the corner of my vision and the kami looped the video of her a couple times.
They were right. That look was a little too serious for a chance encounter. I spun a search out on her and set a kami on it before crawling into bed.
The hotel kami was pitiless the next morning, hauling me out of bed with a noise like a tortured cat. To be fair, I had asked for the alarm-- I'm not particularly fair in the mornings, though. I dismissed the program and lay in bed for a few minutes, fighting the urge to go back to sleep. All told, I think I had snagged about three hours.
I showered, dressed, knocked back a couple stim pills and a cup of coffee.
Susanou had no clue I was here. Dataspace would be buzzing like Shibuya on a Friday night if the planetary government had caught wind of me last night. Good deal; showing up without giving your hosts a chance to tidy up makes for an easier investigation. To say nothing, of course, of watching them flail about in a panic when they realized that the Shogun's Hand was coming to look into things. Maybe I have a sadistic streak. Sue me.
Over breakfast, I tweaked my dataspace presence a little, reining in the kami that masked my identity and paid with my own name.
I had just about finished gnawing on a blackened bagel and was contemplating the runny egg on my plate when two men took a table across the room. Professional lookin' guys, well manicured and well dressed. Consummate business men, the both of them, except that neither had briefcases or any sort of work with them. Well, that and the fact that Susanou was out in the galactic boondocks with about as many business travelers as grandpa's back forty.
So, then. Local PD. Or the governor's idea of spooks. Or both, all rolled up into one neat little package. I went through the motions of lighting up in order to hide a smirk. Local boys are always the same-- cute, in the same sort of way that a six year old is cute when he thinks he's sly enough to get one over on the adults.
Except, in this case, dad not only knew what was going on, but the whole incident with little Johnny and the cookie jar was all part of the plan.
I allowed myself a few more minutes to smoke before deciding that the egg wasn't worth the risk of food poisoning. I dropped a napkin on the mess and walked out, leaving a kami hovering in the hotel dataspace to watch the cops.
A dataspace trail floated in the air in front of the hotel, laid by a kami to expedite my walk to the nearest monorail station. I stretched and yawned and set off along the line.
It poured on my way to the monorail station. It poured as I left the down-line monorail station. It poured as I walked to the Susanou regional government building, hat pulled low and coat pulled tight. It was a dark and stormy planet, Susanou, and I loved it for that. It had atmosphere, what with the frequent thunderstorms and untamed forests spanning entire continents, and I had a dramatic streak that reveled in it.
That's a useful thing, in my line of work. The flair for the dramatic, I mean. When it comes down to it, my job isn't quite so much to solve problems as it is to make damn sure the locals are terrified of Shogun Alexander and his bakufu. If all you do is show up and put an end to whatever scheming is going on right then, and you do it with no fanfare and no public notice, you don't really do anything that any old starship couldn't do with the proper application of an orbital lance.
On the other hand, if you send one guy in, alone, and that guy takes care of things with grace and style and stays just high enough profile to be quietly noticed, people worry. They know the bakufu's got jets enough to knock out a rebellion with one guy in a tie, and they start to worry about what the guys in fatigues and power armor are like. It's the extrapolation that keeps the brats in line, not the guns. No one wants to see what an actual battle with the Shogun is like. Probably not all that much worse than any other military action in the history of the modern galaxy, truthfully.
You'd never guess that from the way the regional government drones reacted when I stepped inside the offices, though. The receptionist gawked and security guards stiffened and dataspace went nuts with a blizzard of messages along the lines of, “Shit. Ellison's here.”
Me? I just dribbled rainwater on the carpet. Intimidating, I know. I yanked my hat off and flicked it a couple of times to get the water out of it, ran a hand through my hair and watched the place fall apart into virtual hysterics.
“I am wired, you know,” I said to no one in particular.
The receptionist blushed. Dataspace fell silent and a trail emerged from all the mess. “Investigator--”
“I know the way, thanks.” It was tempting to throw my weight around out here, and keep throwing it around as I carved my way through the offices. Put people on edge. Terrorizing the receptionist and random passersby wouldn't really be worth it in the grand scheme of things, though. I settled for carving a swath of soggy destruction instead, transferring the path to the governor's office from dataspace to the real world in waterlogged carpeting.
The offices of Planetary Governor Offerhaus were pretty nice. Polished shelves of some dark wood I'd never seen-- native stuff, according to dataspace. Lots of books, though I got the feeling that inside the leather I'd find mostly Alexandria city council meeting minutes and collected tax reports for the past few decades.
The Governor himself had all the grace of beached whale stuffed into a silk suit and none of the charm. The only hair anywhere visible was a mustache like a wire brush growing out of his lip. It was a little jarring. Inappropriate, maybe.
He was impressively annoyed, though. He glared at me when I dropped my coat on a chair near the door and he kept glaring when I dropped myself into an arm chair in front of his desk. The ugly looks almost gave me pause when I lit up. Almost.
“ 'Ello, guv'na-- Aw, come on. I'm sure there's a sense of humor in there somewhere.”
“We weren't really expecting the Shogun's Hand to come all this way.”
“Well, travel's part of the business.”
Offerhaus drummed his fingers against his desk. They were strange fingers, narrow and free of fat and a little bit darker than the rest of him. I figured he'd stolen them from someone else and stuck them on the pudgy little fin he was calling a hand these days. “You're an important man, Ellison. Why is Shogun Alexander wasting your time out here? For a murder?”
“You know as well as I do,” I paused to suck down on my cigarette and skim over some bit of information offered up by one of my free-ranging kami, “that this wasn't just any old murder.”
“I'm sure it was.”
“Shaveling monks don't kill people, Offerhaus.”
“Shavelings kill people all the time, Ellison.”
I yanked a sheet of paper off his desk to knock ash into. Somehow, he managed to look even more pissed. “Get an ashtray?” I suggested.
“Shavelings don't kill people,” I repeated. “They do before they become monks, but that's the whole point of the system, isn't it? Take the nembutsu implant and Amida-Buddha liberates you from all that squishy physicality stuff. Back here, in meatspace, there's no one home to do any killing anymore.”
Offerhaus squirmed. Maybe he was trying to roll back into the ocean.
“You see why Alexander's concerned.”
“And so you see why I'm here. If someone's messing with the system, that's trouble.”
“The system is foolproof.”
“Silly me. I'll call the boss up and let him know it's all A-okay. Can I borrow your ansible?”
“Are you really trying to bully me, Ellison?”
“It's what I do.” Innocent smile. Spread the hands, palms up. All that saintly iconography jazz.
Fingers came to a stop, except for the pointer finger. It must have missed the memo and kept drumming away without any accompaniment. “What do you want, Ellison?”
“What a question.”
That last finger finally got the hint. It ground to a halt and bunched up into a fist with its fellows.
“I've got a whole list, Governor. A long one. The headline is my fervent hope that, for once, you kids won't do that whole yappy little dog routine that you always do.” I took one last drag and snubbed the cigarette out on the sole of my shoe. “But I know that's not gonna happen, so I'll skip down to the part where you point me at the body and the suspect.”
“It's been arranged, Investigator. The PD has assigned you a liaison.” He squared the papers on his desk and made a sound like an old engine not turning over. “Don't forget your coat. It's raining out there.”
They sent me two liaisons, actually-- my buddies from breakfast. Still immaculately dressed and neither of them looking the slightest bit damp. Me, after twenty minutes inside, I was still trying to figure out if there actually was a minnow swimming around in my shoe.
They fell into step with me as I left Offerhaus to stew. The door had barely slid shut when the guy on my left said, “Lt. Lambert. Susanou Planetary Police.” Lambert was a kid. He looked like he should still be off in cram school somewhere, prepping for exams, not arresting baddies-- not even on a backwater colony world too new to have much in the way of crime.
His companion was an old guy, just as bald as the governor but a damn sight more lean. “Thornhill. Yoroshiku onegai shimasu,” he added, in formal Japanese. Didn't bother to bow or offer his hand, though.
“Yoroshiku, fellows,” I replied. “So. Where are our boys?”
“What's left of Harrison's in the morgue,” Thornhill said. “Hunter's at the temple.”
I wanted to stop walking and stare at him in disbelief. I didn't. Image is part of the job, after all. “You're telling me the suspect is sitting off in the woods outside Alexandria. Unsupervised.”
Lambert began ticking points off on his fingers. “A, We've got officers there. Two, Amida's in total control of him. And three, he's a binary boy, Investigator. Nirvana eyes. The whole deal. No one's home.”
I decided that I didn't like the kid. “Amida's not in control of him.”
Lambert cocked an eyebrow and made a face. The kid didn't seem to like me, either.
“Knockin' off one of your own monks doesn't exactly seem very buddha-like, now does it?” I asked.
Thornhill ran a hand over his scalp. “You've got a point at that. I guess we should impound the monk.”
“Nah. As long as he's still there, I'd like to see him in his native habitat.”
The receptionist went stiff when I stepped into the lobby and let loose a nervous sigh as I walked past. A kami brought it to my attention that she had slumped back against her chair as I headed to the exit. I felt bad. She was probably just some kid from some crappy university that didn't rate internship programs in real governments.
Water still poured off the canopy outside in thick sheets, but there was a vehicle in police colors sitting underneath it this time. Calling it a car would have been flat out wrong, even if it ran along the ground on four wheels. This thing was a tank.
Well, maybe. I had the specs laid on top of it, with helpful little notes from a military-grade kami. Target here to disable steering, here to take out police sensors. “You kids park rangers?”
Lambert snorted. “Have you seen this planet, Ellison?”
“Can't say that I have. Hard to see through that ocean that's falling out of the sky.”
“Keep it up. The temple's a long drive. Longer walk, especially in the rain.”
It's not that I'm not used to being resented. It's an occupational hazard, but then, so is being shot at, and I don't like that, either.
I put on my best innocent smile and asked a kami to start up the car. The engine turned over and Lambert frowned. He noticed the kami, I'm sure. You'd have to be blind or unwired to miss a program like that unfolding itself in your vehicle.
He may or may not have tried to stop it. I didn't know. Didn't care to know. He couldn't have blocked me with anything legal. He might have neutralized the kami, sure, but I had ways around that. Alexander's words were the biggest guns that you could draw in dataspace, and I just happened to have them on my hip.
The kid didn't say anything. He tugged on the door and his sour face turned flat out bitter when it locked.
“Do you get it, kid?” I yanked the back door open and leaned against it. “You're not gonna win if it gets ugly.”
Lambert clamped down on his jaw. Probably trying to keep a nasty array of words in. I could have read through the morning news by the time he finally said, “Yeah. I get it.”
“Good.” I nodded, just once, and let the locks pop open.
Thornhill had been standing there the entire time with his arms crossed and his face blank. He would have made a good diplomat. Maybe a poker player. “If you two are done...”
“We are,” I said. “How's about we go see our monk now?”