Lies & Other Essentials
Never trust a human, even when they offer you humanity itself.
The building elevator gave me a heads-up. "A human female has just got off at your floor and is heading your way. Good looking, if you like that kind of thing."
The elevator had a slow Texas drawl and a fondness for virtual line-dancing. I put a smile in my voice. "Thanks, Lucille". It wasnt strictly legal to address her personality but I knew shed appreciate the gesture. "Ill take care."
The door opened to admit my visitor. I stood behind the desk, my face carefully blank. The office was split by a half-glass partition wall but I leave the inner door open as I cant afford a receptionist.
The woman was a brunette, above average height, in a business suit and pillbox hat with lace veil. Her hips swayed as she walked, courtesy of fashionably high heels. Her eyes and lips were neon blue. I stopped blinking as she drew closer. "Good afternoon, sir or madam, how may I be of service?"
She smiled and sat down across from me, crossing her legs. "You can drop the answering machine act, buster, I know youve got a personality overlay. I understand you go by the name of Rudolph Hess?"
There was no point in continuing to play dumb, so I sat down, leaning back in my chair. "Thats what it says on the door, babe, but call me Rudi. So, whats the story?" I was careful not to ask her name as client privilege didnt apply across the organic divide.
"Its very simple, Rudi, I want you to serve a summons in public and high-profile. You advertise as a private detective, notary and Sergeant-at-Arms, so should be well versed in the appropriate procedures. I want someone who can deliver the correct form of words and not get drawn into an argument.."
I lifted a pen and notepad as clients generally expect me to make a show of interest. "So whos the lucky winner? Cyborg or synthetic? The reason I ask is that a strict form of words may apply if there are any residual ownership ties."
She lifted her chin slightly, a touch of defiance in her voice. "The intended recipient is human."
I gave her my best surprised reaction. "Whoa there, sister. In case you havent heard, the legal profession is just as stratified as the rest of society. In this world everything flows downhill, so while I cant sue a human, they can sure as hell sue me. Similarly, I cant get involved in any legal process which involves flesh and blood. Im sorry, but youll have to find yourself a true organic to do your legwork."
"Give them no reason to suspect youre anything other than human and youll remain an unremarkable functionary, a mere officer of the court. In any event, I understand youve been taken as human before. Very convincingly, if Margo Squires is to be believed."
That set me off on deep retrieval, and no mistake. Id started out as an escort model, heavily augmented to ensure complete client satisfaction, but it had all ended very badly. I sniffed. "Old news, babe. Her husband took exception to me being passed off as the real deal in human society. It's one thing to indulge yourself in the Quarter, quite another to make everyone think youve got a real toy-boy in tow. By the time Squires and his pals had finished there wasnt enough of me left to interest a frigid hamster."
My prospective client arched one eyebrow. "So youre what, exactly?"
I brought out the rueful smile. "An unclassified hybrid. A synthetic cyborg, I suppose, if that was a recognised sub-set of humanity. I couldnt afford to make good the damage with vat-grown tissue so bio-mechanical reconstruction was the only option."
"But unless there was cause to check, you could pass as a regular organic cyborg? You could operate in the Zone?"
"Yeah, I guess so. Except that my ident will set alarm bells ringing from here to Cairo Station if I step outside the Quarter."
"But, again, Im given to understand you used to find ways around that limitation."
I began to wonder who shed been talking to, but no good comes of lying to a human. "Well, its called park and ride. What some would call a grey area when it comes to identity concealment."
She smiled. "And what would the law call it?"
"Five to ten for a human, death of personality for a synthetic, rendering for a cyborg." I sighed. "Look, lady, there are places where you can go, lodge your ident, and walk out invisible to the City. Thats the parking side. The ride is an individual paid to walk you through the security barrier, using a perfectly legal scramble field to preserve their anonymity. It messes with biometric assessment so two bodies, keeping real close, can appear as one. Of course it relies on finding an un-manned crossing point, but with the cut-backs thats easier than you might think."
"Well, that all sounds perfectly straightforward, Rudi."
"Hold the bus, doll-face, that was before they put this particular Humpty Dumpty back together again. These days getting into the Zone would just be the start of my problems. In the past those high class joints Margo and I visited couldnt scan a celebrity like her without facing an invasion of privacy beef. I breezed in as her plus one, no questions asked, but on my own I wouldnt stand a chance of getting past the maîitre d'. Im sorry, I hate to turn down the business, but youd really be better off using a human."
My non-client ignored the attempted brush-off. "Very well, once youre inside the Humanity Zone, simply adopt a fake identity. Humans do that all the time to circumvent media attention."
"And it earns them a fine - a slap on the wrist, nothing more. If I get caught trying to misrepresent my identity like that then Id face summary data-mining followed by deconstruction. Plus, if I get busted, then my partner is open to charges of conspiracy, accessory before and after the fact, and violating the Man Act. I dont see as how you could offer anything that would make this gig worth the risk."
As a cyborg, youre taught from inception that having an organic brain doesnt make you human, or even a distant cousin. My basic genetic material had been harvested from a terminated criminal but every trace of his personality, of his humanity, had been erased. Over the years Id augmented my kick-start persona with overlays and social interaction wetware so that I could mingle in polite society. I was a fraud, but one able to fool even myself.
As Id found to my cost, being inhuman doesnt stop you dreaming.
But conversion replacing all the synthetic and bio-mechanical elements of my body with material from human donors? Possible in theory but, Jesus, expensive didnt even come close. Black market body parts would cost you and arm and a leg (pun intended) but it was the only way to pull this off.
Several nervous gestures competed for expression but I settled for licking my lips. "No simple summons can be worth this. Whats really going on?"
She smiled again. "But youre interested? Good. Im offering a re-skin and new genitalia up front, plus escrow credit with a series of Chiba City body shops that will leave you entirely organic in under six months. I cant help with reclassification but I sincerely doubt the Humanities Board will kick you to the kerb. So, what do you say, Rudolph Hess, so you want a place in the Zone?"
"You havent answered my question."
"Im offering you human status and youre quibbling over motive?"
"Damn right I am, sister. For what this would cost, a circuit judge would cheerfully staple the summons to the recipients head while whistling Dixie. The fact that youve come here means that no human will touch this, not for love nor money. So, at the risk of repeating myself whats really going on?"
By way of reply she lifted a data stick from her purse and fired a micro-burst into my cerebrum. It was a military-grade intrusion spike that went through my firewall like tissue paper. Knowledge blossomed like a poisonous bloom. I teetered on the verge of a systems crash, with fear hogging most of my run-time capacity.
I found my voice. "Leon Fabricant? You want Leon Fabricant in open court? Listen, you cant take on mediaCore and Fabricant is way more vindictive than Howard Ghent ever was." I accessed a data sidebar. "Youre Rosamund Hartz? Apart from being dead thats a great cover story, so now Id like you to leave."
"Yes, I used to be Rosa Hartz, and in many ways I still am. Not this body, obviously, or youd have scoped me immediately, but my core personality is intact. Anyway, I want Leon served as a private individual, not as corporate chairman."
Rosa Hartz had sided with Howard Ghent, or rather his idoru, in a bitter boardroom battle for control of mediaCore. Being dead didnt mellow Ghent any and his on-line persona got down and dirty in his attacks on Fabricant, who responded in kind. Ghent eventually lost and his virtual presence was discontinued. Hartz accepted a sideways shift to v-Systems but died when her corporate jet suffered a catastrophic on-board systems failure over Nevada. Share price went up.
I toyed with a pen (visual distraction#101). "So youre what, a personality download? Proving that could be difficult in court, to say the least."
"No, Im a synthetic recreation based on memories of family, friends and corporate recordings. Im the sum of what everyone else thought of me, as it were. And before you say anything, that doesnt matter its my estate thats suing Leon, not whats left of me."
"A criminal negligence beef? Good luck with that, but youll never get him on personal liability. His corporate lawyers will bury your case under so much procedural bullshit that Fabricant himself will be dead and buried before it ever gets to court."
Rosa shook her head. "From personal experience the board fights shy of taking on product defence when theres a ready-made scapegoat to hand. Leon was head of Avionics before becoming chairman and laid great store by his hands-on approach. The firmware that failed had been upgraded just prior to my final flight, and mine was the only corporate jet so equipped."
"OK, lets say I believe you have a chance of scaring the board into dropping Fabricant like a hot potato. Whats in it for you? Revenge? Even if you do pull this off, it wont be the real Rosa Hartz who watches him fall."
She laughed. "Ouch! I think you could so with a sensitivity upgrade, Rudi. Look, I could just be a slave to hard-wired emotional imperatives, but it hardly matters. I want Leon Fabricant served, in public, and Im prepared to pay for the privilege. I need a yes or no."
I went v-Web, paying for a few seconds situational analysis and scenario projection from a military system by name of Donald. The likely outcome sucked for pretty much everyone but me, assuming I could pass for human. I smiled. "That would be a yes, Ms Hartz, although Im going to need some cash up-front as well. I have associates wholl want a financial rather than anthropomorphic pay-off."
Rosa Hartz lifted a banking chip from her purse. "No problem, Rudi. Its only money and, like they say, you cant take it with you."
Café Crank not a place for the faint-hearted, or anyone with a pulse, really. That didnt stop J.J. Bones from propping up the bar while displaying a prominent bio-purity tattoo. Flaunting your humanity like that would usually result in a one-way trip to the nearest body bank, but Id seen combat cyborgs on leave and spoiling for a fight back down from J.J.
It was his eyes. Humans say theyre the gateway to the soul, and in his case I only hoped it was locked, welded shut and barricaded. The term mad bastard didnt do him justice. Psychotic mad bastard was a bit closer. He liked me.
I slid onto the bar stool beside him and dropped my fedora on the counter. He saluted me with his drink. "Rudi, a pleasure as always. Get you a drink? Glass of motor oil?"
"That never gets old for you, does it, JJ?" The barman served my usual mineral water and withdrew to a discreet distance. "I need to be walked into the Zone, just like the old days."
He eyed me warily. "You look different, Rudi, healthier. Whats the gig, or dont I want to know?"
"New skin and, no, you dont. All I need is an old-fashioned easy in, easy out. One hour, tops, and its as low-risk as they come."
"Lying bastard, you never could manage fake sincerity. Well, not outside the bedroom, at any rate. Still, you know I dont give a damn, I just ask in case there's trouble on the cards."
A slight hesitation sub-routine kicked in. "When Im heading out Ill have a fake ident, a human ident. Ill need you to walk me all the way back."
J.J. shrugged. "Cost you double, is all. I figure Suzy-Sues for the park. Gate twenty-seven is on automatic this week and its fairly close." He sniffed. "You gonna be armed?"
"Want to be? I got this real nice ceramic and plastic piece, a compressed-air needle gun. Nothing that would show up on any scanner or propellant sniffer. The intended client is a bit dead at present but has paid half up-front, so Id only charge you seventy-five percent of the asking price."
My initial reaction was to decline, but carrying an unlicensed and illegal weapon wasnt going to make my situation any worse if I got caught. "Actually, JJ, Ill take you up on that, as long as you can guarantee its more than just a form of indiscriminate acupuncture."
He grinned. "No worries, its designed to defeat personal body armour well, what the general public have access to, at any rate. Go up against military rig and all youll get is one pissed-off porcupine."
"However, if you do end up in the proverbial solids-meets-turbine situation, youre on your own. Im not playing Parker to your Longbaugh."
It took me a moment to access the reference. "I think a plan is just a list of things that dont happen."
J.J. took a sip of his drink. "Exactly. Forget that at your peril." He sniffed. "Now, lets talk money "
LAuberge a swanky restaurant currently playing host to the culinary expertise of award-winning chef Marco Benz. Not that Id ever eaten there before, of course, but Id observed enough fellow diners consuming their meals with obvious relish to realise that pretention makes the best sauce.
I felt self-conscious walking up to the entrance with its liveried doorman. Having genitalia again was taking some getting used to and my suit trousers were too snug to adequately accommodate what I was carrying. Still, it pays to advertise in some quarters and I clocked both the doorman and maître d' checking me out as I strolled in.
The flunky was all oily charm. "Mister McMaster, such a pleasure to have you with us again." It sounded like the usual insincere guff and he genuinely didnt seem to recognise me, although it was difficult to tell with his eyes concealed behind DataSkin contact lenses. All facial recognition would throw up was me with Margo Squires - and Id never booked here under my own name. I was using the cloned ident of a human engineer currently busting his balls on the Saga dam project, so there was no risk of him showing up in the City and giving Central Registry a bad case of déjà vu.
The maître d' led me to a table in person, wondering if Id chosen a persona likely to attract news hounds, but maybe McMaster was just a big tipper. Still, I couldnt afford to sit there too long, if only because my inability to consume more than fluids would cause comment, if not actual offence. I didnt want some outraged prima donna chef barging out into the dining area, demanding to know why his food wasnt good enough for me. I ordered a Gibson by way of an aperitif and to buy some time.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man
Enter Leon Fabricant, plus bodyguards, entourage and Senator Walter Hill. Right on cue, just like Rosa Hartz had laid it out. The commotion attracted the maître d', no less than three waiters, and the attention of every diner with a line of sight.
I dabbed my lips dry with the napkin, stood, and walked towards the door. Nobody apart from the bodyguards paid me any attention. Senator Hill was talking to Fabricant, holding a document in one hand and tapping it for emphasis with the other. The chairman of mediaCore appeared indifferent, shading into boredom.
I pulled the envelope from my jacket pocket and held it aloft. "Senator Hill!" This was my way in he was expecting a courier and Rosa had assured me that the genuine article would be unavoidably delayed. Hill turned towards the sound of my voice, trying to peer over and then around the intervening bodyguards. He said something to his host and a gap opened in the wall of muscle. I stepped forward. Hill smiled, then frowned at the document in his grasp and thrust it into Fabricants bemused hand, out of the way.
I retrieved Hills document and passed it back to him. Both men looked confused. I handed my envelope to Fabricant, who glowered at it. "Idiot, its Walter who gets this."
Out of sight, my other hand closed around the handle of J.J.s needle gun. "Mister Leon Auguste Fabricant, youve been served."
The world stopped.
His face darkened. Fabricant crushed the envelope and let it fall to the carpet. "Rodriguez, deal with this." He looked at me with eyes of wet stone. "As for you " But we were in public, in front of enough witnesses to tax even mediaCores damage limitation capabilities. His jaw worked as if chewing a particularly tough cut of meat. "Get him out of here."
Unfriendly hands hustled me to the door. I tipped the doorman and got into the cab he ushered forward. LAuberge dwindled into the background and was lost from view. Deep inside part of me cried imaginary tears of joy.
I found J.J. waiting for me near gate twenty-seven. He lounged against a dumpster, watching a small hand-held, putting it away as I approached. He sighed. "Now, despite what I said, if youd told me what was going on, I might have been able to help. I mean to say, this isnt exactly your gig, is it?"
Something about the situation, his attitude, didnt gel. "One of us isnt making sense, my man. I served a summons, thats all, and now we need to make tracks."
"Leon Fabricant is dead." He drew a gun, a large-calibre conventional firearm, and aimed at my head. "Suspected poisoning. Your face is all over the news and McMasters ident has been flagged. Even if I get you back into the Quarter, by now they probably have your real name and address. As in, Number One Patsy Apartments, Sucker Row, Loserville. Shame, really, as the hit itself was perfecto. I mean to say, people like Fabricant have detectors up the ass. Care to share?"
I stood there, unblinking, reviewing the data. "Binary compound, with each part harmless in isolation and designed not to trigger an alert. It was split between the summons I delivered and a document that Senator Hill handed to him, seemingly inadvertently. The Senator was probably in on this, but I wasnt."
J.J. cocked his gun. The weapon I carried might as well have been on the moon. He shrugged. "Hardly matters now, pal. Knowing you will cause me some grief down the line but nothing I cant handle. The important thing is to ensure youre not taken intact."
I have information on whos behind this. Even if-"
"Forget it, Rudi. Theyll unearth a personal reason why you did this, no worries. Its better all round for you to be a lone gunman, pharmaceutically speaking, than part of a wider conspiracy. A conspiracy means unhappy people, and unhappy people mean a drop in share price. Shit, even Ive got some mediaCore stock, know what I mean?"
"So thats it?"
He nodded. "If its any consolation, its nothing personal."
I smiled, a genuine smile. "You know what I'm gonna tell God when I see him? I'm gonna tell him I was framed."
J.J. laughed, a genuine laugh.
And pulled the trigger.
© Martin Clark 2013 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 15:46 Mon 02 Sep 2013
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