Author: Cartesia

Chapter 1

Han Luth.

      He dreamed always of his mother and his father. He saw them nightly in the same setting, his old family home in New Detroit, a minor town on Miranda Five, his mother seated by the circular window in the sparsely furnished lounge, his sister swaddled and cradled in one arm. His father would stomp through the hall in muddy foundry boots and rubber bib, on his way to the kitchen for food or drink, grinning through the door at Luth who played on the carpet by his mother’s feet. Luth saw his mother’s free hand holding a book, and his father’s black encrusted face. In his own hand he held a small coin made of cold metal. And the dream never changed.

      It was the only constant in an otherwise disturbed stream of existence. Luth’s chronic memory loss was ageing well, now in its fifth year. He remembered pieces. Fragmented memory, categorised in the wrong cerebral compartments, mixed with music, faces and emotion, but nothing overtly familiar.

      He consistently saw a girl in a mirror, drying a bob of black hair with a towel. He remembered his childhood on Miranda Five. The hardships of poverty, local crime and gangland culture, the heavy drawl of colloquial accents, red bandanas and a wide river. He remembered resource runs in the red highlands and the horror of the Plaxa Tor mines. But somehow, the whole conglomeration seemed tangled up with other, less substantial memories. A violent war. Death and destruction. Running and screaming. Pain.

      The psyche synths diagnosed some kind of deeply repressed trauma at the root of Luth’s neurosis and this was probably responsible for his subsequent amnesia. Even encephalic medinites, designed to remove memories and install false implants, were unable to remove those mental blocks holding the whole thing back. His simpad was also impotent to help. The whole missing part of his life might simply be uploaded afresh as a sensory recording, but he and Sumiteru were too closely linked. A feedback malfunction might disrupt Sumi’s IOL and cause untold psychological trauma. Luth just had to wait. Eventually, when his mind was ready, the memories would return and he could deal with the past.

      He pressed a thumb to the glass, removing the window’s opacity to reveal a windswept sky, low clouds like breaking waves fringed with salmon hues. The monolith habitats of Gestalt, vast and organic, towered beneath the clouds, somehow impressing upon Luth the enormity of the sky more than their own imposing size. Easy to forget just how big they were.

      “Sumiteru,” Luth rubbed a hand over his face, feeling the grizzled growth of morning shadow.

      The simpad, lying in some unknown spot on the far side of the room, chimed “hello Luth.”

      “Good morning. First day of our glorious and thoroughly illegal break! A beautiful sunrise, and I’m in the mood for some serious ar and ar. General wakeup, please.” He flipped the coin in his hand and placed it on the sill.

      “It’s good to hear you in high spirits Luth. The time is 0732 Monday fifth day of the first Terran season in the eighth Julian month, August 2581. The external temperature is one nine four degrees Fahrenheit in the shade with low level unseeded cloud cover. The ambient internal temperature is seven one degrees Fahrenheit. Forecast for the day is clear with an expected increase in modified temperature of twenty to twenty one degrees.”

      “General news.” Luth padded across the soft floor of the habitat, skirting outside the central couch curled around the trunk of the room and the habitat’s life supports.

      The voice of the simpad, usually calm and friendly, switched to that of an authoritative drone reader drawn from a subnet news channel. The new voice, throaty and distorted by the vast number of relays between the broadcast hub and Luth’s simpad, spoke in High Galactic. “Aesk fellor thenshi...” something about Triumvirate politics. Luth didn’t want to know. “Local general news Sumi,” he amended.

      Sumiteru’s voice returned. “The Gestalt anticipates a busy opening day for the experimental subethernet holosim uplink on Kyoto One orbital server. Mariner welcomed the initial dovetail between Gestalt Orbit and its own Infra Deux which enjoys six open channels with solar spheres including the Martian Belt, Jupiter Station, Titan, Io Orbital, Earth and Lunar. The dovetail will open a much needed holosim set between the Terran biosphere and networks elsewhere in the system with eventual expansion to include dovetails within the main Galactic. Though the new holosim is only a prototype, the uplink will allow limited simulated meetings and holo-habitation, freeing up much needed space in the over-strained median tiers of system traffic...”

      “Boring. Anything else?” Luth shrugged off his robe and stepped into the moulded cubicle. Steam instantly filled the compartment, a soapy lather forming on his skin.

      The simpad  mated seamlessly with a relay in the cubicle. “A suspected insurgent attack on orbital traffic server Ise Bay left one dead. A bit more exciting, but old news Luth. It happened last week, before we arrived. Some kind of shoot-out in a restroom. There’s a possible connection with the transitor community. Would you like details?”

      “Nope. Anything else?”

      “No other news. But you have a packet waiting.”

      “Shower off,” Luth dripped, staring at the room beyond the cubicle’s glass door. “Say again?”

      “You have one packet, Luth. It’s from General Janus. It came up on sim scan at 0515 this morning. Would you like me to open it?”

      Luth opened his mouth. Closed it again. Pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. In the back of his eyelids he saw memories, fire and smoke. He quickly opened his eyes again. “Sumiteru, nobody knows I’m here. You’re supposed to be blocking general traffic.”

      “The packet was directed at this habitat, with my simcom string attached.” Which meant the General was within at least one sphere of Earth. Of course, it also meant the General knew exactly where Luth was.

      “You’ve checked the packet thoroughly? It’s definitely genuine? Not a joke? Not a trap?”

      “Certainly Luth. The General’s encryption. No doubt about it. Would you like me to open it? It’s just an audio.”

      “Proceed.” Luth propped his forehead against the smooth glass, listening only to the General’s abrasive voice.

      “Luth, this is Janus. I know all about your little holiday and I know exactly where you are. Don’t panic. You’re not in the quagmire... yet. Neither is your runner at OHQ,  smartass that he is. Anyway, if you thought the price on this Terran break was a bargain, you’d be right. You were sent to Earth for a reason. Getting a visa was one helluvan effort. Worth it though. I can just picture the look on your face.”

      “Son of a bitch,” Luth shook his head, guts sinking to his feet.

      “I’m afraid vacation time is cancelled. I at least hope the habitat is luxurious. Consider it a consolation prize.”

      “Beautiful. Bastard.”

      “We’ll rendezvous Jupiter Station at 1800 hours local time – your local time – today. I have a dedicated office. Don’t let your simpad configure the route, you’ll need to avoid various traffic spheres. The Mid-East and African, in fact most of the equatorial spheres, get extraordinarily busy with commuters at unexpected times and it takes an expert to know when and why, though I hear it has something to do with tether traffic. Take a cab to the nearest Spanish nub and head for the European sphere. You’re to hook up with a timetable agent in Main Line Espana, a traffic server. He’ll take you the rest of the way. Its a clunky way to do things but you’re more likely to be on time and I’m only in town for a limited period. Oh, and goes without saying, if you’re late, I’ll have you shot. Plenty of agents looking to do it. No reply necessary. Make sure you stay within the legal framework. I’ll see you there.”

      “Would you like to send an acknowledgement receipt Luth?”

      “Nope. Shower.” The steam returned, the lather re-grew like a foamy mould on his now oily skin. “Okay. Sumi. Lets order a nub cab for... what time is it now?”

      “0740 Luth.”

      “To leave at 0830 then. Does that give me enough time to reach Jupiter?”

      “Even with a timetable agent, nine and a half hours may pose a slight problem Luth.” Timetable, or TT agents. They were synths, sentient class but not quite human. Not quite cyborg for that matter. They lived ceaselessly in the stream of iNet traffic, learning by rote the undulating trends of each nub, server and hub within their sphere of expertise. There were rumours that the agents somehow dovetailed with iNet’s flash schedule, that their knowledge was less instinctive than it was mechanical. Luth doubted this theory. It would cause a massive security risk, though it might explain why agents tended to cement themselves to their local solar spheres. The more likely cause of their near-supernatural intuition would be the endless time they spent travelling the same routes over and over.  As with anything, practise made perfect. But repetition also fathered strange behaviour.

      The cab arrived at 0825, an elongated pod of shining blue emerging from an orifice in the rear of the habitat. These external doors were invisible to the naked eye. Organic polymer in nature, they peeled open only when needed. Luth knew there would be two others somewhere, available when called upon, one leading to the internal pedways, a labyrinth of pavements and moving paths interconnecting the Spanish complex, another leading to this particular habitat’s own transport system. Elevators, or pedways, possibly. In rare cases, even stairs. Those were reserved for only the most intimate habitats. Gestalt discouraged the humanity in her care from moving about under their own steam. That way accidents occurred.

      Luth packed his satchel, dressed and stowed Sumiteru in his belt harness. He’d already accessed the habitat’s subethernet trunk, punching in his identity string and waiting for the pre-requested flash to dump his Mystow on the trunk’s simcom. When the trunk opened he placed inside the majority of his clothing, optimistically unpacked in preparation for some Earth tourism. He also dropped off the heirloom and his speedloader, a licensed, legal weapon, but one unlikely to pass through any of the local traffic servers undetected. As soon as the items hit the dephaser the trunk’s nanoloom absorbed them and replaced them with holographic blueprints.

      By Luth’s usual standards, the habitat was luxury class, so naturally the cab was also of a high quality; comfortable and spacious. Compared with the average terrestrial standard he was probably travelling by the taxi equivalent of a caboose.

      The cab, totally automated, dropped through some kind of shaft ending in a bio-sphincter which ejected the vehicle into the outside world. The topside locked onto a  sky rail coupling with a mechanical noise and a slight shudder then zipped off at high speed, swerving through a Y point onto a mainline thoroughfare and speeding along behind a train of identical vehicles.

      Luth gazed through the window at the piled mounds of organo habitats. Hazy against the cobalt sky, their outlines were wobbling in rising currents of blistering air. Around them looped the glittering track of the sky rails. Cabs and buses, tiny silver specks from this distance, looked like droplets of mercury running along spider silk.

      He settled back and mulled over the unfolding situation while the cab provided him with a refreshing, pre-breakfast tumbler of whisky. “Sumi. Open a channel. Call Deringer.”

      “Awaiting local bandwidth lag,” the simpad paused. “Achieved subnet. Calling. Call received. Awaiting simpad response.” Another momentary wait. “Connecting with a two second client-side lag. Hello Mr Deringer. This is Sumiteru. I have a call request from Han Luth. Do you accept?” a gap. “No, Mr Deringer, to my knowledge it isn’t an emergency.” Another gap. “Here he is.”

      A new voice filled the cab. “Luth? What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

      Luth replied instantly, but knew Deringer would experience a pause. “Relax Deringer. I’m already compromised. As we speak I’m transing to Jupiter Station for a rendezvous with the General. It doesn’t matter who traces me now.”

      Silence for around five seconds. So two at Luth’s end, three at Deringer’s. “Shit! How the hell did they find you?”

      “...I was hoping maybe you could answer that one for me?”

      “...Consider me on it. But it’ll take some time to figure out. Clever bastards.”

      “...A refund will be in order, naturally.”

      “...Minus one night of freedom. I take it you enjoyed some Terran culture last night?”

      “...Nope. Too tired from transing halfway across the Galactic. And you can shove your ‘minus one night’ up the stink hole you sit on. I want a full refund. Fifteen thousand defray, or would you rather I had a chat with the General when I see him and expose your little sideline racket in freedom breaks?”

      “...Fine. Full refund. And I guess I’ll see you when you get back to OHQ. Give my regards to Janus.”

      It was an optimistic comment. “...You know what he’ll do if he can trace this back to you?”

      “...He won’t.”


      “I have...”

      “Sure..?” They were both speaking at the same time, a peril of lag communications. Luth waited.

       “...Sure enough. The trick is, not to panic. Anyway, be seeing you.”

      “...Hold on. There was another thing.”

      “...Make this other thing quick. This packet implicates me in exactly thirty seconds.”

      “...Can you ask Schilling to dig around and find out what this is all about? I need answers before Jupiter. Before, let’s say, 1600. Give me time to get my thoughts straight and formulate a plan. I’ll make it worth his while to the tune of a thousand defray.”

      “...I’ll ask, but no promises. That’s a pretty tight deadline.”

      “...Be persuasive and I might consider that partial refund you mentioned.”

      Deringer laughed, “...I have some leverage I can apply. Meanwhile, enjoy Earth sphere and those beautiful Terran carnals. Watch your wallet though. I hear insurgents are causing trouble in orbit.”

      “...You have all my currency anyway.”

      “The channel was severed Luth. I don’t think Mr Deringer heard your last comment.”

      “Doesn’t matter Sumi.” Luth interlaced his fingers on his lap and listened to the thrum of the coupling gliding on the sky rail.

      “Luth?” The simpad broke the ponderous quiet.

      “What is it Sumiteru?”

      “Does this mean our holiday on Earth is over?”

      Luth exhaled, bemused. “Over before it even started.”



      “There is a distinct possibility that the General will officially disapprove of your illegal presence on Earth, even though it looks like your presence here was preordained.”

      “I know that Sumiteru. What’s your point?”

      “The records at my disposal show that on six hundred and thirty four separate occasions, agents breaching OHQ code of conduct pertaining to illegal breaks were re-assigned to red-chip missions. Ninety two percent lost their lives during the course of those missions.”

      “Mm. And how many were re-assigned to white-chip missions?”


      “Beats the hell out of me why they don’t just shoot us and be done.”

      “Legalities and politics, Luth. The same records show that one hundred percent of the simpads involved were terminated, either during execution of the mission or purged thereafter by OHQ.”

      “Try not to fret about it Sumi.” Luth patted the harness containing his simpad. “I’m not about to let them sacrifice either of us. There are plenty of cards still to play.” His eyes returned to the window. “Unfortunately some of them depend on our friend Deringer. Let’s hope for both our sakes he contacts Schilling and comes through with the goods. Instant alert, Sumi, as soon as any message streams in. Okay?”

      “Certainly Luth. And Luth?”


      “I’m not worried. I trust you.”

      “That’s nice to hear buddy.”


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