The Wind from a Burning Woman




НазваниеThe Wind from a Burning Woman
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Дата конвертации27.10.2012
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is striking enough to make him attractive. In LA, Mary thinks, he would

be a true hit--with so many transforms and redos, a confident natural phys

stands out.

They turn and walk east through lunchtime throngs. Corp workers from

Seattle Civic and the local flow offices on these levels are socializing at small

eateries, slowing Nussbaum's deliberate pace. This does not seem to bother

him; apparently there is no rush.

Mary checks herself for attitude, her day's variation from status alertness (a

sleepless night convinces her there's probably some deficit here) and limberness.

She wishes she could dytch now, perform a small exercise warmup and focus

mind and muscles.

"This isn't a pleasant case," Nussbaum says. "We don't see this sort of thing

often in the Corridor, but it happens. Actually, I thought you could provide

some deep background. It's right up your alley."

They stop before a tube lift. Mary knows this sector of the tower well enough

to recognize that the lift will take them to top residential, between fifteen

hundred and two thousand feet above sea level.

"What's it like to back down from a transform?" he asks as the lift curtain

ripples aside.

In the lift, accelerating rapidly, Mary says, "Not too difficult. I wasn't too

radical; not nearly as radical as the styles this year."

"I remember. Very dignified. A male public defender's wet dream."

Mary inclines with an amused smile. "I didn't know men your age still have

wet dreams. Sir."

Nussbaum makes a face. "Still have your cop's feet?"

Mary hides a small irritation with a larger mock shock. "Sir, you're embarrassing

me."

"I like your feet, what can I say?" Nussbaum says. "Days I wish I had feet

like that. Great walking-feet, never give out, no flats no strains, stand for hours.

But my crowd--they'd definitely frown on that."

"Christian?" Mary asks levelly.

"Old Northwest. Loggers and farmers.., once."

"I kept my feet," Mary confirms. "I'm mostly going back on skin color and

my face. The rest.., very convenient, actually."

"Who's taking care of you?"

"I'm on fibe with a doctor in LA," Mary says. "But that's probably enough

talk about me, sir. Why would this, whatever this is, be up my alley?"

Nussbaum pokes a thick, dry, expertly manicured finger at the lift controller

and the elevator slows for their stop. "Choy, I am not a bigot. I just don't

approve of a lot of things happening today. But you've been through the

r, rncdnr I never have. What we're going to see is hard enough to look at,


/

SLANT 47


They get off on a residential level, looking out over a vast view of Eastside,

the Corridor's extended sprawl, the Cascades and even into Eastern Washington.

A huge curved wall of fortified glass blocks the high cold winds, and

unseen heaters keep the air springtime warm. The stepped-back roof of the

level accommodates the graceful curve of glass: more daring than anything

Mary has seen in a tower or comb elsewhere.


A street mocking black asphalt and paving brick stretches from the edge

of a small grassy park through a residential block. Large single family frame-style

houses are fronted by grass yards and real trees. The style is John Buchan,

high nineteen-eighties and nineties, what some call the Sour Decades, replicated

at extraordinary expense. It mocks a suburban neighborhood of the time,


but the view of these old-fashioned sprawl homes is high-altitude, surreal.

"Ever hear of Disneyland?" Nussbaum asks.


"I grew up about fifteen miles from where it used to be."


"This is rich folks' Disneyland, right?"


Mary nods. She has never liked ostentation, never felt at ease in high comb

culture, and she's pretty sure Nussbaum isn't comfortable, either.


"You know, we give Southcoast hell for bad taste," Nussbaum says. "But

sometimes we really take the cake."


Mary sees no pedestrians, observes no delivery or arbeiter traffic on the road

nor on the side streets that push back to the load-bearing wall of the tower

behind this glassed-in suburban gallery. A hundred yards away, however, she

observes two city property arbeiters and a man and woman in PD gray, standing

before a three-story house whose mansard roof nearly reaches the arching

curve of glass.


Mary looks at the windows of the houses they pass, curtained and lighted

but spookily uninhabited. "They're all empty," she says.


"Lottery homes for corp execs," Nussbaum says. "Finance's finest deserve

their rewards."


"So when's the lottery?"


"Metro vice shut the game down after some low managers confessed to a

rig. They were paid half a million by each of the lottery winners. Fifty million

total. The whole neighborhood's in dispute now. You must not access metro

vids."


"I've been concentrating on qualifying," Mary says.


"It's all old black dust," Nussbaum says. "We actually don't see that sort

of thing much up here. How about in LA?"


"Not for a long time," Mary says. "Fresh dust is Southcoast's specialty."


"Yeah," Nussbaum says. "They're trendsetters." They approach the PD officers

and arbeiters.


"Good afternoon, First Nussbaum," the female defender says. She nods to

Mary. The defenders' faces are grim. Mary feels a creeping shiver along her

back and shoulders. She does not like this outlandish place.


48 GREG BEAR


I've seen. We've had it tombed and we have one man in custody. Apparently

the block caretaker let them use this house."

Nussbaum shakes his head. "I thought therapy was supposed to clean us."

He looks steadily, appraisingly, at Mary, and asks, "Ready?"

Mary lowers her head, glances at the woman. Her name is Francey Loach

and she is a full Second, coming up on forty years of age. For Mary's eyes

only, Loach curls her lip and lifts her brows, warning Mary about what

waits inside.

The man is Stanley Broom. He is twitchy and unhappy. Loach and Broom.

There's really nothing inside. They're going to laugh at me back at division.

But Mary knows this is no'joke. To get a domicile tombed, serious black

dust has to be involved.

"Let's suit up," Nussbaum says. Within the large house's brick entry alcove,

a portable black and silver flap-tent has been erected. Nussbaum pushes

through the flap and Mary follows. Even with the front door closed, guarded

by a small PD arbeiter, she can feel the deep cold within.

They don loose silver suits, cinch the seams and joints, and Nussbaum palms

the top of the arbeiter. The little machine affirms his identity and the door

opens. Frigid air pours out. Within is another tent, and beyond, milky fabric

contains the deepest cold within the house. The suits warm instantly. They

push through the second flap.

No spiders have yet been mounted on the ceiling to survey. Small lights

dot the rug every few feet, guiding them on paths that will not disturb important

evidence. The suit feet are antistatic and clingfree, exerting pressure

on the frosted the floor, but no more.

Mary looks up at the atrium. Compared to her apt, this place is a cathedral,

a church of nineties ostentation.

"Five thousand square feet, thirteen rooms, four bathrooms," Nussbaum

says, as if chanting a prayer to the gods of the place. "Made for one family,

plus guests. Don't tell anybody, Choy, but I'm a temp man through and

through. I hate corp side." He distinctly pronounces it "corpse side."

"But the accused--they didn't own this place, didn't even rent it, right?

Someone got illegal squat through the caretaker?"

"That's the allegation. No traffic up here, quiet and well-protected, they

can do whatever they want."

The atrium leads into a grand dining hall, with balconies overlooking a

huge frost-covered oak table. Real wood, and probably wild not farm. To the

left, a hall leads to the first-floor rooms, including the entertainment and

dataflow center and master bedroom. To th*e right, the kitchen, arbeiter storage,

and then, in its own smaller glassed atrium, a three-level greenhouse.

"It's opulent, all right," Mary says. Behind the dining room, hidden by a

wall, stairs and a lift lead to the upper floors.

"(3," Nussbaum murmurs. He precedes her up the stairs.


/

SLANT 49


"Ops, goddess of wealth. Prurient opulence."

The lights point the way to the back of the house. Another master suite

opens, and it is here the--

Mary halts, her eyes taking it in with human reluctance--

Here the bodies are. She remembers the scattered butchered bodies of Emanuel

Goldsmith's victims in a comb apt in LA, frosted like these, but at least--Nussbaum

takes her suited arm----they

were human, even in disarray.

Closest to her, at the foot of where a bed should have been, where now stand

four surgical tables sided by fixed surgery arbeiters, lies what was once--she

guesses--a woman. Now she is a Boschian collage, wasp-waisted and Diana-breasted,

vaginas on each thigh and some unidentifiable set of genitalia where

the legs meet, her head elongated, the melon baldness shaved but for long

stripes of mink fur, her eyes staring and fogged with death and cold, but clearly

slanted and serpentine.

Mary feels a tug of wretchedness at every eye-drawing detail.

Nussbaum has advanced to the tables, stands between them. On the second

table rests a small body, no larger than a child but fully mature in features,

also sporting custom sexual characteristics. Mary's gaze returns to the body

nearest her, with which she forces herself to become familiar, disengaging all

of her revulsion. She asks, Why is this a victim? and is not even sure what her

question means.

"They can have it all," Nussbaum says. "Whatever they want can be shaped

for them out of electrons or fitted up on prosthetutes. But that's not enough.

They demand more. They suck in the untherapied down-and-outers, fill them

with cheap nano, shape them like lumps of clay..."

Mary bends beside the first body. There are orchid-enfolded bumps on the

corpse's cheeks. Extra clitorises, waiting to be licked. Mary closes her eyes and

steadies herself with an out-thrust hand.

There is something unaesthetic and unintentional about the hands and feet.

The limbs in general seem distorted, if she can separate the deliberate sexual

distortion of a psynthe from what might be pathological. The fingers are swollen.

On closer inspection, she sees that the eyes bulge. A pool of beige fluid

has formed behind the elongated head, now frozen.

The skin appears purplish.

"She's been cooked," Mary says softly.

Nussbaum turns and glances down at the body. "Nano heat?"

She stands and walks to the tables. All of the arbeiter surgeons are slack,

powered off. They could still function in this cold if they had been left with

power and logic on. "They must have abandoned the.., women, and fled. But

first they turned off the surgeons. The women weren't supervised.., something

was going wrong."

"They're just as the first team found them," Nussbaum says. Mary catches


50 GREG BEAR


The clitorises on the cheeks. To give her a cousinly safe kiss.., never have that.

Everything sex forever. Fuck ja'k fuck.

And suddenly, for Mary that aspect fades like a wrong note. She is numb,

but her well-trained defenses go to work, letting the distressed strawboss of

her consciousness have a moment's rest.

She checks the bottles of nano on a nearby shelf. Supplies of nutrients;

delivery tubes, dams and nipples; a new regulator still in its box, not yet

installed, )n the shelf beside the nano it is made to supervise; memory cubes

on a small folding table; scraps of plastic like shavings, blood drops brown as

gravy on the the floor.

Mary picks up a bottle, reverses it to read the label. All the labels have been

turned to the wall. She knows why. The label confirms her suspicions. Somebody

had a small remnant of conscience, or did not want the subjects, the

victims, to know.

"This isn't medical grade," Mary says. "It's for gardens."

"Gardens?" Nussbaum asks, and leans to see the label. "Christ. Distributed

by Ortho."

"Any real expert could reprogram it," Mary says. "Apparently, they didn't

have a real expert."

"Gardener's nano," Nussbaum says. "Sweet Jesus H. Christ. Mary, I'm sorry.

You can't possibly understand this any more than I do."

"No need," Mary says flatly.

"Things started going wrong and the bastards left them here to cook,"

Nussbaum says. "So very, very sorry." Behind the plastic, his face is milky and

drawn.

Mary does not know to whom he is apologizing.


SEXSTREAM .


Here's the minute report on activity in WORLD METRO's Yox Sexstream at 12:51 PM

PST:


4 Tracks on this pass:


Threads 1:8: Fibe full-sense sex with couple in Roanoke, VA., NO ID NECESSARY

(He's 25 and an engineer, she's 22 and a housewife)


Threads 2:23 Fibe vid EYES ONLY bisex transform couple with friends in San Diego,

CA, ID REQUESTED (She's 30 and a Swanjet flight attendant, he/she's 27 and a lobe

sod with Workers Inc, friends male and female and mixed unlisted at this time)


Threads 3:5 Satlink vid Cavite, Philippine Islands, INTERACTIVE CAMERA AUTHEN- ·

TIC WEDDING AND HONEYMOON (Fee) CULTURAL SOCIOLOGY EDUC CREDIT Uni-


/

SLANT 51


Threads 4:1 FIBE VID PROTEST APPROPRIATE SEX Christian ALLIANCE Washington

DC (Charity/Political Action Feed) NO FEE NO ID REQUIRED. Message: WORN OUT,

WEARY? Tired of being jerked around by your body when you thought you were the one jerking it? Join us for a message of physical and spiritual hope! (More? Y/N)


>N


WORLD METRO! Your source for the ever-living truth! More threads guaranteed by

2:00! Blank Subscription rates apply--get 'em all!


RATING THIS AFTERNOON: Guaranteed 8 of 10 max, or you're in the CRITIC PAYBACK

Lo'CrERY!!


6 RAZOR DANCE


Jack Giffey thinks about getting some food at the Bullpen in downtown Moscow
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   ...   54

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