The Wind from a Burning Woman




НазваниеThe Wind from a Burning Woman
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Дата конвертации27.10.2012
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of ten years in anyone else's; but if that is true, Twist can double on

Alice.


She likes seeing herself in the ¥ox, does not particularly like having


iusr parrs of her mental backside displayed for convincing detail. She enjoys

dominating, not supplementing. Being on the down spin is simply

not something she has ever planned for. And from her skedj it looks as if

she will be down for some time to come. She is not skedjed for any corporeal

appearances, interviews, or vid whatsoever, and of course, very little

on the Yox.


Francis is it.


"Maybe I'll read the Faerie Qeene tonight," she tells herself as the door to


her house recognizes her and opens. The house isa quaint century-old framer

with brick accents. She has re-done the interior twice and it is small and spare

and comfortable, a good place to simply lie back and not think.


But the house monitor has a message. It's from her temp rep, and it's flagged

Urgent--might be more work--so she returns the touch as she slips out of

her coat. She catches Lisa Pauli in and available.


Lisa's utxer torso and head flick into view over the kitchen pad. She has


/ SLANT 57


small precise eyes and an amused mouth set in a triangular face. "How was

Francis, honey?" Lisa asks without any preliminaries.

"The usual," Alice says. "Being an artiste."

"Yin looking for more Yox body work, believe me, honey," Lisa says. "Vid

pays nothing these days; it's abso neg. I hate psynthe, but that's what they're

asking for. However... I've got something for you for this evening. I wouldn't

just throw any call-in to you... But this one sounds intriguing."

For a moment, Alice is too shocked and hurt to be angry. "A

Lisa blinks. "Excellent money. I'll halve our commission on this one. Fifteen,

honey. Jackie says you'll be doing our branch a real favor. Can't say who it is--you

won't even know after you've done your job--but it's high comb, spin

sosh, and it's a max four-hour engagement, bonded. It's no worse than a live

show, honey, you know that."

"I haven't done a live show in seven years," Alice says, her chin starting

to quiver. She hates having a glass soul, especially in front of Lisa, but.., a call-in.f

She did call-ins for six months when she was a teenager. That was all supposed

to stop with being on the sly spin in vids and Yox.

"It's getting tough, honey," Lisa says.

"I don't do call-ins," Alice says.

"The agency has gotten three jobs for you in the past six months, all with

Francis, and honey, Francis is going nowhere soonest. We can't bond your bills

and back your medical without some roll-in. Your credit is dregged, honey."

Lisa's face, as always, manages to be sympathetic, with that slight upward

curl of smile, those wise eyes sharpened by the natural yellow-green of her

pupils.

"You don't rep call-ins," Alice says. "I mean, how did you get this, and

why are you even handling it?"

"I won't tell the whole story, but I've done a good pimp's tegwork--let's

be straight, I know what I'm asking of you, honey. It's a male. He's alone. He

asked for you specifically. He's a big fan of yours---seen all your vials. He has

good connections, I'm told, and the agency vets him."

"Do you know who he is?"

"No."

"I suppose he'll ask me to marry him?" Alice says, holding her fingers to

her chin, feeling the sting in her eyes.

"This is not mandatory, honey. We never do that."

Alice knows Lisa's expressions very well by now. Lisa has repped Alice at

Wellspring Temp for eight years, taking her on after her first rep moved up

from show business to corp relations.

Call-ins are legal in forty-seven states, tolerated in all fifty-two, and in Rim

nations it's even rated in travel guides. But it's strictly entry-level work, a real

slide, and there's something else about it she does not like.


58 GREG BEAR


Lately she has been enjoying the illusion of choosing her work partners--

on the few occasions she's worked at all.

"How soon?"

"He wants a confirmation by four."

"He's bonded?"

"I wouldn't touch this without a bond. You know that."

"Yeah. I know. His apt?"

"It's plush, I understand. Should be very entertaining."

Alice closes her eyes, considers. She had hoped for a quiet night and time

to think. "What's my share?"

"I'm guessing your cut will be seventy-five if we sink the hook and tug."

Seventy-five grand could pull her credit out of the pit and pay for several

months of toe-twiddling. Alice tries not to look inward. She puts on her Face--the

Alice that is always tough-minded and competent and unperturbed, who

has in fact done worse things, who is realistic about careers and what it takes

to realize long-term goals--and says to Lisa, "Well, we already know what I

am. Tug hard."

Lisa smiles, but to Alice it is apparent she is not overjoyed.

"What's with you?" Alice asks, suddenly brittle. "Should I turn it down?"

"No, honey," Lisa says. "It's honest work."

"Lisa, I need your bond on this. You will never ask me to do this again, and

you'll try your damnedest to get me meetings with rea/producers, not just

Yox fiockers."

"You got it," Lisa said, then gives Alice that abrupt moment of silence that

indicates the touch, she hopes, isfini, and there is so much more for her to do

e this day.


"Feed my monitor some directions," Alice says.


"No need. You'll be picked up at seven-thirty and dropped off by twelve-


thirty."


"He knows my address but I don't even know who he is?"


"We know your address, honey," Lisa says. "It's an agency limo. The ride's


on us. Bye."


Alice closes the touch and stands in the kitchen, tapping her lips with her


finger. A slippery wash of emotion obscures her sight. Her eyes lose their focus


and time blanks. She is thinking of being very young and determined. Nobody


got in her way back then; men and a few women she took as they came along for


whatever she needed, money or brief desire. She remembers the looks on their


faces when she discarded them, no longer amusing or needed. She developed so


many ways, creative techniques--an art in itselfof pushing men away, boy

ish men really just bigger children with their hearts written on their faces, older


men with their money and prestige buying things their looks could not, and


here she is back again, but without the controls and techniques.

et-- I I,

nc rhne wears: or rather, it

has

been

plucked


/

SLANT 59


The irony is, she is nowhere near old. She is twenty-nine. Below her skin,

however, if sex gauges years, she has lived centuries; she is a wrinkled and

fragile mummy husk.


"Bullshit," she says and shakes her arms out. "It's just another dance."

She knows the steps. She can do it in her sleep.


8 ZERO-SUM


Jack Giffey takes the alcohol-powered bus across Moscow to the east. The bus's

fumes smells like a bad drunk and the seats are almost empty; an older woman

and a young boy in her charge ride toward the front. The woman turns to steal

a suspicious look at him over the back of her bench. He smiles politely, but

he is thinking about Omphalos and his thoughts are far from polite. He hates

Omphalos with a passion even he does not understand. It's not a class sort of

thing; he doesn't envy the rich, he doesn't want to live forever, and he certainly

doesn't want to be holed up in a fancy icebox until the end of time. It's deeper.


He tamps down his irritation and leans over to see through the armored slit

windows. Some of the more out-of-control Ruggers like to take potshots at

public transportation; the legislature can't bring itself to control them, since

that would trample on individual freedoms. There is probably not a bus or

public conveyance in Green Idaho that hasn't been ventilated by a few bullets.

Just boys having fun.


Giffey thinks the bastard separatist republic has maybe two more years

before it falls apart and accepts federal troops to restore order. He will not be

sorry to see it go.


A few trees and some fields with horses in them are passing now; they're

on the 43 Loop outside of town. He's been here once before, at night, under a

tarp in the back of a pickup that also smelled of crude ethanol. But this time

the old ranch house has been described in detail.


His stop is coming in a mile or so. He prepares himself to consort with a

few very necessary loons. Giffey is not fond of weapons; but to break into

Omphalos and have any hope of surviving, he must work with men who dearly

love them. To these men, guns and bombs and more extreme weapons are a

necessity; women, pit stops, and food are simply unavoidable annoyances on

the road to fondling a shapely new piece of steel.


Giffey tugs the cord and the bus slows to let him off. The highway is met

by a bumpy gravel road. The ranch house is about a mile beyond. He stands

by the door.


"I'll need a pickup at four, back to Moscow," he tells the driver, a young


60 GREG BEAR


The young man nods solemnly and opens the door. Giffey looks back with a

quick grin at the boy and the woman, then steps down to the gravel. The bus

farts a sweet corn-liquor cloud of unburned fuel and grumbles back on to the

road.

Giffey shields his eyes against the fumes. He looks up in time to see the

boy's eyes peering at him through a slit, curious at the man getting off in the

middle of nowhere.

Giffey pulls out his pad and punches in a satlink number. A hoarse voice

answers, "Hello?"

"It's me, Giffey."

"Do I have to send a truck?"

"Just let your guards know I'm coming."

"They know."

Giffey closes the link and starts walking. Fifteen minutes later, he stands

at a fence sixty yards from an old brick and frame house on the edge of two

hundred acres of fallow grassland. The house needs paint and a new roof and

foundation work. A man steps out on the stoop in front of the snow porch and

waves for him to come in.

The inside of the house smells like Cuban cigarettes and stale beer. Four

men stand with hands in pockets in what might be called a living room.

They've expressed a willingness to take his money, give him supplies and tell

him some of what he needs to know. Giffey shakes hands all around.

One of the four has been corresponding with Giffey for two months; he's

Ken Jenner, a beardless thin fellow with pale blue eyes and yellow bee-fuzz on

a scalp that moves when he wrinkles his forehead. Giffey regards that scalp

with wonder whenever Jenner looks away; he does not know if he likes working

with a man with a scalp like that; that scalp is almost prehensile. Still, Jenner

comes highly recommended; he's an ex-G1 with expertise in weapons more

extreme than any of Green Idaho's citizens will ever fondle.

The other three are not remarkable. The oldest is about Giffey's age though

not as well preserved, probably because of a bad drinking and smoking habit.

His face is pale but covered with fine wrinkles. Thin purple and red rivers map

his cheeks and nose.

The remaining two may be brothers, hawkish smiling men between thirty

and thirty-five years of age, but Giffey will not even learn their names. They

act as if all this is beneath them, but when Giffey talks, they lean forward on

the folding plastic chairs and listen intently. Giffey hopes they aren't informants.

There's something a little false about them.

"All right, let's get started, you only got half an hour," the oldest man says

"I've done my part."

Giffey looks up at the ceiling and sees a pair of antique car bumper stickers

pasted on a composite beam. One reads: QUESTIONAUTHORITY. The other,

I: .... I., I--, .... tl ir. I¥7lo'm,'/c5)


/

SLANT 61


He smiles with as much patient tolerance as he can muster. "I thank you

for the arrangements."

"You're paying," the oldest man says with a shrug. He rubs one ear like a

cat about to clean itself, then says, "Want to inspect the merchandise? I take it

you won't want it delivered until--"

"I'll look at it, make sure it's what I ordered," Giffey says. The old man

seems to want to make the facts plain to everybody. This is just all too thrilling

for him.

Ken Jenner grins at Giffey, gives a small shake of his head. Jenner is likely

to be pretty essential in this scheme, so Giffey hopes he won't be compelled

to kill the young man just to stop that unnatural scalp from moving.

The old man leads them through gloomy hallways to the back of the house.

The ceiling here is black, and thick with wiring arranged to mimic the heat

signature of something other than what is actually in the long, cool room.

Here on a pallet are four canisters of MGN, Military Grade Nano, not very

old--dated June 19 2051.

"This is good stuff, not easy to get, but here's what really takes the prize,"

the old man says. The brothers watch everything with religious awe. Jenner's

scalp for once is still. The old man steps around the pallet and pulls back a

tarp threaded with more wire. Two more canisters sit beneath the tarp. "The

real stuff," he says. "Military complete paste. Just mix 'em and--wow."

Giffey looks at the drums of MGN and complete paste. He has never seen

so much of it in his life except in pictures and vids. They never had this much

in all the time he was in Hispaniola. If they had, Yardley would have won in

an hour instead of a week.

"Bet you never seen more than a pint or two of this stuff all at once," Jenner

whispers to Giffey.

"Never," Giffey says. Jenner is proudly convinced he's responsible for the

procurement. Giffey won't try to disabuse him.

Military grade nano can be programmed to manufacture a large variety of

weapons from many kinds of raw material available in a combat zone. By

Geneva rules, however, it cannot manufacture or contain, prior to actual use,
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