فصل 09

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فصل 09

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9

My mind went into overdrive. Okay, so a guy was coming at me with a knife. He had a wounded arm, probably from Irina while she was being murdered. That meant he wanted to kill me too. Irina was strong, trained, and armed, but she still lost a knife fight to this guy. What chance did I have? I can’t fight for shit. And running wasn’t an option either. I was in heels and a tight skirt. I had one chance, and it relied on me guessing where he was going to stab. I was a helpless, exposed girl with no weapon. Why waste time? Just slit my throat. I jerked my purse to my neck just in time to block his attack. His lightning-fast strike slashed the purse open and the contents spilled out. That would have been my throat. He assumed I’d be halfway through dying after that assault, so he left himself a little open. I grabbed his bad arm with one hand and punched it with the other. He cried out in pain. He lashed at me with the knife, but I twisted out of the way. I hung on and kicked off the doorframe to torque his injured arm as much as I could. Maybe if his pain was bad enough, he’d be distracted and I could run away. He screamed in rage and used the arm to hoist me into the air. Okay, that wasn’t part of my plan. He lifted me bodily over his head and swung me down toward the hotel room’s floor. This was my chance. It would hurt, but it was a chance. I let go of his arm right before hitting the floor. It didn’t lessen the blow. I smashed into the ground on my side. My ribs exploded with pain. I wanted to curl up and moan but I didn’t have the time. I was free–if only for a second. He stumbled. He’d just had 55 kilograms of Jazz on his arm and it suddenly fell

off. I pushed through the pain in my side and got to my knees. With every ounce of strength I had, I slammed my shoulder into his back. “Lefty” was off balance and wasn’t expecting an attack. He tumbled into the hallway. I fell backward into the hotel room and kicked the door shut. It locked automatically. Less than a second later, I heard the first resounding thump as Lefty tried to force his way back in. I scrambled to the nightstand next to the bed and dialed the phone. “Front Desk,” came the immediate reply. I tried to sound panicked. It wasn’t hard. “Hey! I’m in Room 124 and there’s some guy pounding on the door! I think he’s drunk or something. I’m scared!” “We’ll send security right up.” “Thanks.” Lefty flung himself against the door a second time. I hung up and limped to the door. I peeked through the peephole. Lefty reared back and took another running leap at the door. Another rattling thump, but the door was unaffected. “Metal door, metal deadbolt!” I yelled. “Fuck you!” He’d backed up to take another run when the elevator doors at the end of the hall opened. The beefy security guy stepped forward. “Something I can help you with, sir?” A few other room doors opened up. Confused guests peeked at the action. Lefty hadn’t exactly been quiet. He took stock of the situation and of the very large security guard. This wasn’t something he could stab his way out of. He looked at the door longingly, then scampered off. The guard straightened his tie, walked up, and knocked on my door. I opened it a crack. “Uh, hi?” “Are you all right, ma’am?” he asked. “Yeah. It was just weird is all. Aren’t you going after him?” “He had a knife. Best to let him go.” “I see.” “I’ll stick around in the hall for a while to make sure he doesn’t come back. Rest easy.” “Okay, thank you.” I closed the door. I took a moment to recenter.

Lefty was in Jin Chu’s room because…why? He had no way of knowing I’d come. He wasn’t there for me. He must have been there for Jin Chu. A Latino assassin. And wouldn’t you know it, Sanchez Aluminum was owned by Brazilians. Shit, I know companies get pissed when you trash their stuff, but murder? Murder?! I looked through the peephole again. The guard stood nearby. I was safer than I’d been all day. All right. Time to search the room. Man. Must be nice to be rich. The room had a king-size bed, a tidy workstation in one corner, and a bathroom with a graywater reuse shower. I heaved a sigh. My dreams of a nice place had died with Trond. I tossed the room. No point in subtlety. I found the usual stuff you’d expect for a business traveler: clothes, toiletries, et cetera. What I didn’t find was a Gizmo. And judging by the condition of the room (at least the condition it was in before I trashed it), there hadn’t been a struggle. That was all good news for Jin Chu. It meant he probably wasn’t dead. Most likely scenario: Lefty came to kill him but he wasn’t home. So Lefty waited. Then I showed up and ruined everything. You’re welcome, Jin Chu. I was about to leave when I noticed the safe in the closet. It’s one of those things you don’t even pay attention to. The wall-mounted safe had an electronic lock with instructions on how to set it. Pretty simple, really. It starts disarmed. You put your shit in it, then set the code. It’ll keep that code until you check out. I tried the handle and it didn’t open. Interesting. When one of those wall safes isn’t in use it’s ajar. Time to become a safecracker. Those things aren’t exactly made to protect the crown jewels. The contents of my now-destroyed purse lay strewn across the floor. I found the makeup compact and slapped it against my palm several times. I opened it to a mess of crumbled powder. I held it up to the safe and blew across the surface. Brown, dusty makeup clouded the air around the safe. I stepped back and waited for it to clear up. Dust takes a long time to settle in Artemis. Atmosphere plus low gravity equals particles taking forever to fall. Eventually the area cleared up. I took a good look at the keypad. A layer of makeup covered everything, but three of the buttons had more dust on them than the others. The 0, the 1, and the 7. Those were the ones with finger grease on them. With a hotel like the Canton, you could bet they cleaned everything in the

room between guests. So those numbers had to be the digits Jin Chu chose for his combination. According to the instructions on the safe, you set a four-digit code. Hmm. A four-digit code with three unique numbers. I closed my eyes and did some math. There’d be…fifty-four possible combinations. According to the instructions, the safe would lock down if it got three incorrect combinations in a row. Then the hotel staff would have to open it with their master code. I replayed my brief interaction with him in my head. He was on Trond’s couch…he drank Turkish coffee while I had black tea. We talked about– Aha! He was a Star Trek fan. I typed 1-7-0-1 and the safe clicked open. NCC-1701 was the registration number of the starship Enterprise. How did I know that? I must have heard it somewhere. I don’t forget stuff. I opened the safe door and found the mysterious white case–the one Jin Chu had tried to hide from me. The outside still read ZAFO SAMPLE–AUTHORIZED USE ONLY. All right, now we were getting somewhere! I popped open the case to discover…a cable? It was just a coiled cable, maybe two meters long. Had someone taken the secret device and left the power cable behind? Why do that? Why not take the whole case? I looked at the cable more closely. Actually, it wasn’t a power cord. It was a fiber-optic cable. Okay, so it was for data. But what data? “Okay. Now what?” I asked myself. – The door beeped and slid open. Svoboda stepped into his studio apartment and dropped his Gizmo on the shelf near the door. “Hi, Svobo,” I said. “Svyate der´mo!” He put his hand on his chest and panted. I’d smuggled in so many illegal chemicals for him over the years he’d given me the keypad-code for his apartment. It was just easier for me to deliver that way. I leaned back in his desk chair. “I need some work from you.” “Jesus Christ, Jazz!” he said, still breathing heavily. “Why are you in my apartment?”

“I’m in hiding.” “What’s with your hair?” I’d changed back into normal clothes, but I still had my whore-do. “Long story.” “Are those sparkles? You have sparkles in your hair?” “Long story!” I pulled a square of wrapped chocolate from my pocket and tossed it to him. “Here. I read somewhere you should always bring a gift when visiting a Ukrainian.” “Ooh! Chocolate!” He caught the morsel and unwrapped it. “Rudy came by the lab today asking about you. He didn’t say why, but scuttlebutt is you’re involved in those murders?” “The guy who killed them wants to kill me.” “Wow,” he said. “This is serious. You should go to Rudy.” I shook my head. “And get deported? No thanks. I can’t trust him. I can’t trust anyone right now.” “But you’re here.” He smiled. “So you trust me?” Huh. It never occurred to me not to trust Svoboda. He was way too “Svoboda” to be sinister. “I guess so.” “Awesome!” He snapped the chocolate in two and handed me half. He popped the other half in his mouth and savored it. “Oh, hey,” he said with his mouth full. “Did you get a chance to test the condom?” “No, I haven’t had sex in the two days since you gave me the condom.” “Okay, okay,” he said. I picked up the ZAFO box and tossed it to him. “I need you to tell me what this is.” He plucked it out of the air and read the label. “Huh. ZAFO. You asked me about that earlier.” “Yeah. Now I have a sample. What can you tell me about it?” He opened the box and pulled the cable out. “It’s a fiber-optic data cable.” “What’s it for?” He peered at one end. “Nothing.” “What?” He held both ends of the cable up. “These aren’t connectors. They’re caps. This

cable can’t be used for anything. Not without connectors, anyway.” “So what’s the point? It’s just a useless cable?” “No idea,” he said. He coiled it up and put it back in the box. “Is it related to the murders?” “Maybe,” I said. “I don’t know.” “Okay, I’ll take it to the lab right now. I’ll get you some answers tonight.” I pulled out my Harpreet Gizmo. “Two thousand slugs?” “What?” He gave me a look like I’d pissed on his mother’s grave. “No. Nothing. The price is nothing. Jesus.” “What’s wrong?” I said. “You’re in trouble. I’m helping you because you’re my friend.” I opened my mouth to speak, but couldn’t think of what to say. He whipped his Gizmo from the shelf. “I assume you’re using an alias. Give me its ID.” I shared my new contact info with him. He nodded curtly when his Gizmo received it. “Okay, Harpreet,’ I’ll call you when I have something.” I’d never seen him so annoyed. “Svoboda, I–” “Forget it. It’s cool.” He forced a smile. “I just thought that would be assumed, is all. You need somewhere to stay?” “Uh, no. I’ve got a hideout set up.” “Of course you do. Lock up when you leave.” He left a little faster than necessary. Well, shit. I didn’t have time for male ego or whatever the hell that was about. I

had to hurry off to my next scheme.

“All right, Lefty,” I mumbled to myself. “Let’s see how well connected you are….” Evening is the Arcade District’s busiest time of day. It’s when the richfucks come out to play. Freshly fed and liquored up, they hit the shops, casinos, brothels, and theaters. (If you haven’t seen lunar acrobats in action, you don’t know what you’re missing. Hell of a show.) It was perfect. People everywhere. Just what I needed. Arcade Square (which is a circle) sat in the center of Aldrin Ground, right in the

middle of everything. It was only a collection of benches and a few potted trees– the sort of thing you see in every town square on Earth, but an incredible luxury here. I glanced around and didn’t see Lefty anywhere. Very helpful of him to have a sling on. It made him easy to spot. Someday when I died and went to hell I’d thank Irina for slashing him. Drunks and revelers crisscrossed the square. Tourists packed the benches and chatted or took pictures of one another. I pulled out my Gizmo and turned it on. And when I say “my Gizmo” I mean my real Gizmo. It powered up and showed the familiar wallpaper–a picture of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy. What? I like puppies. I discreetly placed the Gizmo on the ground and kicked it under a nearby bench. The bait was set. Now to see if anyone came nibbling. I walked into the Lassiter Casino. It had wide windows looking out over Arcade Square so I could observe from a safe distance. Plus, it had a reasonably priced buffet on the third floor right up against those windows. I paid for the all-you-can-eat Gunk bar with Harpreet’s Gizmo. The trick with Gunk is to steer clear of stuff trying to taste like other stuff. Don’t get the “Tandoori Chicken” flavorant. You’ll just be disappointed. Get “Myrtle Goldstein’s Formulation #3.” That’s good shit. No idea what the ingredients are. It could be termite carcasses and Italian armpit hair for all I know. I don’t care. It makes the Gunk palatable, and that’s what matters. I took my bowl to a window table and sat down. I nibbled Gunk and sipped water, never taking my eyes off the bench where I’d stowed the Gizmo. It got boring after a while, but I stuck with it. This was a stakeout. Could Lefty track my Gizmo? If he could, it’d give me an idea of how powerful he was. It would mean he had connections all the way to the top. “Mind if I join you?” said a familiar voice behind me. I jerked my head around to look. Rudy. Shit. “Uh…” I said eloquently. “I’ll take that as a yes.” He seated himself and rested a Gunk bowl on the table. “As you can imagine, I have a few questions.” “How did you find me?!” “I tracked your Gizmo.”

“Yeah, but it’s way down there!” I pointed to the windows. He looked out over the Arcade. “Yes, imagine my surprise when your Gizmo turned on in the middle of Arcade Square. That’s pretty careless. Doesn’t seem like you at all.” He took a bite of Gunk. “So I figured you’d be watching from a safe distance. This is a nice, cheap buffet and a perfect vantage point. Wasn’t hard to work out.” “Well, aren’t you Mr. Clever.” I stood. “I’ll just be on my way–” “Sit down.” “No, I don’t think I will.” “Sit down, Jazz.” He shot me a look. “If you think I won’t tackle you here and now, think again. Eat your Gunk and let’s talk.” I settled back into my seat. There was no way I could take Rudy in a fight. I tried once, back when I was seventeen and stupid as shit. It didn’t go well. The guy had muscles of iron. Magnificent, stallion-like muscles of iron. Did he work out? He had to, right? I wondered what he looked like working out. Would he be sweaty? Of course he’d be sweaty. It’d be all dripping down those muscles in rivulets of– “I know you didn’t commit the murders,” he said. I snapped back to reality. “Aww, I bet you say that to all the girls.” He pointed to me with his spoon. “I know you blew up the Sanchez harvesters, though.” “I didn’t have anything to do with that.” “Do you expect me to believe the sabotage, the murders, and you hiding out are all unrelated?” He scooped a bite of Gunk from his bowl and ate it with perfect table manners. “You’re in the middle of all this, and I want to know what you know.” “You know everything I know. You should work on the murders instead of the petty vendetta you’ve got against me.” “I’m trying to save your life, Jazz.” He put his napkin on the table. “Do you have any idea who you antagonized with that sabotage?” “Alleged sabotage,” I said. “Do you know who owns Sanchez Aluminum?” I shrugged. “Some Brazilian company.” “They’re owned by O Palلcio, Brazil’s largest and most powerful organized

crime syndicate.” I froze. Shit, shit, shittity shit! “I see,” I said. “Spiteful bunch, are they?” “Yes. They’re the old-fashioned, kill you to make a point’ kind of mafia.” “Wait…no…that can’t be right. I’ve never even heard of these guys.” “It’s possible–just possible–that I know more about organized crime in my city than you do.” I put my forehead in my hands. “You’ve got to be shitting me. Why the hell does the Brazilian mob own a lunar aluminum company?! The aluminum industry’s in the toilet!” “They’re not in it for the profits,” Rudy said. “They use Sanchez Aluminum to launder money. Artemisian slugs are an unregulated, largely untracked quasicurrency and the city has iffy identity verification at best. We’re a perfect haven for money laundering.” “Oh God…” “You have one thing going for you: They don’t have a strong presence here. This isn’t an operation’ to O Palلcio. It’s just an avenue for creative accounting. But it would seem they do have at least one enforcer on-site.” “But…” I started. “Wait…let me think this through…” He rested his hands on the table and waited politely. “Okay,” I said. “Something doesn’t add up here. Did Trond know about O Palلcio?” Rudy sipped his water. “I’m sure he did. He was the kind of man who researched everything before making a move.” “Then why did he knowingly fuck with a major crime syndicate to take over a failing industry?” For the first time in my life, I saw confusion on Rudy’s face. “Stumped, eh?” I said. I glanced out at the Arcade and froze. There was Lefty. Right next to the bench where I’d hidden my Gizmo. I guess Rudy saw the color disappear from my face. “What?” he asked. He followed my gaze out the windows. I shot him a glare. “That guy with his arm in a sling is the killer! How’d he know

where my Gizmo is?” “I don’t know–” Rudy began. “You know what else organized crime does?” I said. “They bribe cops! How the fuck did that guy track my Gizmo, Rudy?!” He held both hands out. “Don’t do anything rash–” I did something rash. I flipped the table and hauled ass. Rudy would have to fight off a slowly tipping table before he could give chase. I’d worked out my escape route in advance, of course. I ran straight across the casino floor and through an “Employees Only” door in the back. They were supposed to keep it locked but they never did. It led to the main delivery corridors that connected all the Aldrin casinos. I knew those tunnels well–I’d made hundreds of deliveries there. Rudy would never catch me. One thing, though…he wasn’t chasing me. I slid to a stop in the corridor and watched the door. I don’t know why–I guess I wasn’t thinking well. If Rudy had barged through I would have lost valuable running-like-hell time. But he didn’t. “Huh,” I said. I channeled my inner “dumbass in a horror movie” and walked back to the door. I opened it a crack and peeked through. No sign of Rudy, but a crowd had gathered near the buffet. I slinked back through the casino and joined the crowd. They had good reason to gawk. The window near our table was shattered. A few jagged spikes of glass stuck out from the frame. We don’t have safety glass here. Importing polyvinyl butyral is too expensive. So our windows are good old-fashioned neck-slicing deathtraps. Hey, if you want to play life safe, don’t live on the moon. An American tourist in front of me nibbled on a Gunk bar and craned his neck to see over the crowd. (Only Americans wear Hawaiian shirts on the moon.) “What happened?” I asked. “Not sure,” he said. “Some guy kicked the window out and jumped through. It’s three stories to the ground. Think he’s dead?” “Lunar gravity,” I reminded him. “But it’s like thirty feet!” “Lunar grav–never mind. Was the guy dressed in a Mountie uniform?”

“You mean bright-red clothes and a weird hat?” “That’s the ceremonial uniform,” I said. “I mean a duty uniform. Light shirt, dark pants with a yellow stripe?” “Oh, Han Solo pants. Yeah, he had those on.” “Okay, thanks.” Pfft. Han Solo’s pants have a red stripe. And it’s not even a stripe–it’s a bunch of dashes. Some people have no education. Rudy hadn’t chased me. He’d gone after Lefty. The Arcade-level entrance was three floors down and across a huge lobby. It would have taken at least two minutes for Rudy to get there by conventional means. I guess he’d picked a faster route. I peered into the Arcade along with the other onlookers. Both Rudy and Lefty seemed to be long gone. Too bad–I would have loved to see Rudy beating the shit out of that bastard and cuffing him. But I guessed this meant Rudy wasn’t part of a plot to kill me. And hey, now Lefty had Rudy to deal with. All in all, not a bad outcome. Not that I was happy. I still didn’t know how Lefty found my Gizmo.

My hidey-hole on Bean Down 27 was barely okay for sleeping and too damned small for anything else. So I sat on the floor in the corridor. On the rare occasions when I heard someone coming, I skittered into my hutch like the cockroach I am. But mostly, I had the hall to myself. First thing I wanted to know: Did Rudy catch Lefty? I scanned local news sites and the answer was no. Murders are extremely rare in Artemis. If Rudy’d caught the killer, it would be on every front page. Lefty was still out there. Time for some research. My subject: Sanchez Aluminum. I tapped away on Harpreet’s Gizmo to look up public info about the company. They employed about eighty people. That may not sound like much but in a town of two thousand it’s pretty significant. Their CEO and founder was Loretta Sanchez, from Manaus, Brazil. She had a doctorate in chemistry with a specialty in inorganic processes. She invented a system to cheaply implement the FFC Cambridge Process to deoxidize anorthite by minimizing loss in the calcium chloride salt bath via…I stopped caring around there. Point was, she was in charge, and (though the article didn’t mention it) she was mobbed up all to hell.

Of course, the harvester sabotage was all over the news. In response, Sanchez had implemented tight security. Their offices in Armstrong Bubble no longer allowed visitors. They’d restricted smelting-facility access to core personnel only. They even had humans (not just computers) directly checking company IDs on the train to the smelter. Most important, they weren’t taking any chances with that last harvester. They’d contracted the EVA Guild to guard it, with EVA masters working in shifts to have two people physically with the harvester at all times. There was a certain pride in knowing I caused an entire company to shit themselves. They’d tried to kill me. Repeatedly. And it wasn’t just an O Palلcio thing either. Someone in the Sanchez control room had ordered a harvester to smush me when I was out on the surface, remember? There was some flawed company culture going on over there. Bastards. The Gizmo buzzed in my hand–a notification from my email client. I might have been on the run for my life, but I wasn’t willing to go without email. I just had it running through a proxy so no one could tell which Gizmo I used to check in. The proxy server was on Earth somewhere (I think in the Netherlands?), so everything was slow as shit. It only updated once per hour. Better than nothing. I had fifteen messages, fourteen of which were Dad desperately trying to get in touch with me. “Sorry, Dad,” I said to myself. “You don’t want none of this, and I don’t want none of it on you.” The fifteenth email was from Jin Chu. Ms. Bashara. Thank you for saving my life–your actions at the hotel kept me safe. At least, I assume the woman in my room was you–you’re the only other (surviving) person involved in this plot-gone-wrong. Now that I’m aware of the threat, I have made arrangements for my safety and I am staying hidden. Can we meet? I would like to arrange for your safety as well. I owe you that. –Jin Chu Interesting. I ran a few scenarios in my head and settled on a plan. Ok. Meet me at my father’s welding shop tomorrow at 8am. The address is CD6-3028. If you’re not there by 8:05 I’m gone.

I set an alarm on my Gizmo for four a.m. and crawled into my rathole.

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