Burndiveby Karin Lowachee
From the author of the acclaimed and bestselling debut novel "Warchild" comesa new action-packed adventure about a young man's journey into adulthood amidinterstellar war. Original.See more details below
From the author of the acclaimed and bestselling debut novel "Warchild" comesa new action-packed adventure about a young man's journey into adulthood amidinterstellar war. Original.
- Grand Central Publishing
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- Hachette Digital, Inc.
- NOOK Book
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- 1 MB
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By Karin Lowachee
Warner AspectCopyright © 2003 Karin Lowachee
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRyan Azarcon went to meet his dealer in Austro Station's richest, busiest shopping district, known to its younger patrons as the Market-but not for the many tech, clothing, and jewelry shops available. Here in the Market you could buy anything, or anyone, if you knew where to look or who to kiss.
It was a triple-level open-quad design, airy white and pseudo-sunlit, mocked up with reinforced stained-glass balconies, fluted ivory columns placed more for decoration than engineering, and hanging sculptures that resembled featureless cranes in flight. The Market was situated deep within Module 3, where all the wealthy citizens lived and poorer people from the general docksides and lower modules needed pre-authorized passes to visit. Shops catered specifically to affluent clientele who wanted to parade their bodies and designer labels-sometimes one and the same-which you couldn't do from your comps at home.
Ryan himself had designer eyes-two professionally cut, blue-iris jewels-thanks to Eternity Enhancements' biolabs. That vain bit of genetic tweaking had been his mother's decision before he was even born; he felt no need to flaunt them, though he used his eyes sometimes to unnerve annoying meedees. Dr. Grandma Ramcharan back on Earth said his wide blue stare could strip bark from a tree and words from a brain, especially when he was peeved. His mother called it "the Azarcon look" (despite the fact his father's eyes were brown), not usually as a compliment, since the Captain Father was not exactly well liked in Ms. Mom Lau's more polite circles.
Not that the captain cared. And neither did Ryan, who wasn't so fond of his mother's associations either.
Tweaked eyes aside, Ryan had naturally inherited his father's brown hair, which burnished to dark gold if he ever found himself under a real sun. Three months since returning from a three-year university sojourn on Earth and he still had the beach-sand color that star-squatting trendiosos paid salons to mimic. Most Austroans only saw beaches in augmented reality progs; it took cred to get to Earth from this far in the Rim, like it took cred to genetically change the color of a child's eyes. Cred was never Ryan's problem. He had a famous family and a famous smile. The complete exterior workup-a well-dressed skin over a rather slight frame-resulted in the SendTertain's latest transcast: Young Azarcon, Austro's Hot #1 Bachelor.
It was embarrassing, not funny. Especially when rich thirteen-year-olds in the Market eyed him up on deck like he was an item tagged for sale.
Most of the people recognized him on the white-tiled, fountain-warbling promenade, but he ignored the looks. He had one thing on his mind since returning from Earth in November, since waking up this early goldshift with an itch in his blood and a long, fed-up sigh:
Footsteps going by seemed to tap out the rhythm.
All the ways you could do it.
He flicked his fingers on his thigh in air-guitar patterns as he walked-one step behind his bodyguard Sid, who insisted on clearing the way in case lady-here or mister-there in their silk suits decided to mob him (not that he ever got mobbed, but try telling the bodyguard). It was tedious. Sid never had cause to draw his weapon so there seemed no point to the protocol-and it made things like doing deals exceptionally difficult.
The bodyguard, Marine Corporal Timothy Carl Sidney (sir!), was Admiral Grandpa Ashrafi's idea, who knew Sid from Earth. Sid was a pretty accessory, alert as a dog and trained as well as the German shepherds that worked with Hub Command Secret Service agents at Grandpa's estate. Sid was friendly when he was officially off the job, but brutal if disobeyed at any time. If Ryan decided to slip away, the bite out of his hide would make sitting difficult for a week. He'd learned that seven years ago, when he was twelve.
So he didn't bitch, just dutifully followed Sid to Macroplay, an overpriced tech shop frequented by everyone from burndivers to speedkids addicted to the games now popular in cybetoriums across EarthHub. Burndivers never bought off the shelf, though, just like rich kids looking to suck some Silver never went underdeck. Serious people all had backdoor contacts for illegal swack, and rich stitches didn't like to dirty their boots underdeck. It was notorious among certain kids on Austro that you could get what you wanted from the shadow management at Macroplay.
This was coveted info, strongly guarded. All that seriousness was expensive. Hard-core users were trusted if they could be depended upon to keep their holes shut; break that trust and unfortunate ailments seemed to crop up on the blabbermouths. Scandalous overdoses, suicides, those kinds of things. Ryan didn't think Sid knew, but even if he did, it was another thing altogether to prove it. The only way he'd found out about the shadow management was a chance discussion with Tyler Coe last month at the actor's vid premiere. Tyler always kissed his arse because he was Songlian Lau's son and Ms. Mom Lau knew everybody in PR on Austro. Public relations was important to a weed like Tyler and after a couple months back on station, floating adrift without the high, Ryan figured Tyler could jack him in with some grade-A swack. Call Tyler what you wanted, but at least he was discreet about his bad habits. And he knew how to avoid Sid.
Ryan fooled around on his comps with enough credibility to convince Sid that he needed an extension for some new aug prog that hit the market or some ware that was getting a lot of noise on the SendGame. That wasn't the market he was really interested in, though.
Sid eyeballed inside Macroplay before passing Ryan through, then stood just outside to case the traffic. Ryan left him to it and approached the counter where one live body always lingered to cater to customers, despite the infobooths dotting displays around the wide, techno-Gothic purchase space. Rich stitches didn't like to swear at inanimate objects when their answers weren't promptly forthcoming; cred bought attention and smiles, and the headwired kid behind the main scan recognized Ryan.
He smiled. "Hey, Shoe. Is Fara around?"
Shoe moved his gaze left and right but he wasn't looking at anything Ryan could see. The red eyeband he wore projected data overlay to the user; it always made Ryan feel as if he were talking to a first-gen holavatar that couldn't quite interact.
"Fara's at the back, I'll cue her," Shoe said after a couple seconds of interactive burn.
Usually Shoe required people to go to Fara, but Shoe knew as well as Ryan that Marine Boy Sid would only follow. Here in the open was less conspicuous, oddly enough.
While Shoe continued to burndive, occasionally squeaking at things only he could see, Ryan leaned his arms on the glass counter and stared down at the display items-the kind of ware you wore: cameye globes, amateur meedee head-wires, and transcast spike interfaces for your own Send up-dates on the public facets of the networx. He usually bought only gameware; he wasn't much interested in making statements. Ninety percent of reports on the Send and all of its children networx were detritus, in his experience. Admittedly he contributed to the sound and fury when his mother forced him to sit interviews at bloody tedious fashion galas or mutual appreciation awards shows. Which were fine themselves if he didn't have to talk to transparent people who wouldn't care less what he thought if his DNA was different and he happened to be ugly.
Nobody listened to you unless you had more cred than God, or if you murdered some important people, or if you were beautiful to the right powers (or all three combined). Kingpins, pirates, and status dolls-they were the "Voices of the Galaxy."
Thankfully Macroplay had loud music scrolling on their wallvids instead of the ever-present political debates that seemed to consume the Send lately. Invade the strits once and for all, or leave them on their planet? War and more war, as if anything would ever really change. The Hub would always hate the strits, and the strits would always be alien. He'd heard earfuls at Admiral Grandpa's dinner functions back on Earth, forced to nod his head or walk away when his father's name inevitably came up.
Shoe and Fara called him Raz because that was his name on the SendGame. Everyone else on Austro Station and in EarthHub as a whole knew him as Songlian Lau's and Captain Cairo Azarcon's son.
It's not your fault, Sid joked sometimes. Of course it wasn't his fault that strits, politicos, and deep-space pirates all hated his father. But it was never really a joke since Marine Boy was, obviously, here for his protection.
He glanced over his shoulder. Sid was still outside, looking at the people who dared walk through the door or mingle across the balcony in front of other shops. Snipers could be anywhere, apparently, even among women's lingerie.
When he looked back to the display case Fara had materialized across the counter, nudging Shoe out of the way. She could frighten anybody at first glance, all black horn-twisted hair and accentuated eyes, a typical meedee concept of a burndiver (which she was, among other things). Ryan thought she pulled the sudden appearances on purpose.
"Raaaz," she drawled. Her royal-purple, puff-injetted mouth broke into a banner of a smile.
"My girl," he said, and leaned across the counter for a kiss.
She put her talon-tipped hand in his hair and parted his lips with her tongue. He felt the usual buzz-sting from her neon-lit teeth, then the roll of the capsule from her tongue to his, wrapped in a flavor of grape. That was a Fara-only feature reserved solely for him, since his first exchange two weeks ago. She said he was a good kisser. He slipped the capsule to the inside of his cheek and kissed her for real, a thank you for this extra charade; he was her only client who had a bodyguard that would report her if they were caught.
When he leaned back Fara grinned like a ten-cred den ad and rubbed the side of his mouth with a beringed thumb. "You make me light up inside, kitten. I love it when you don't shave for a week."
It took that long for him to grow stubble, nineteen years old or not. She thought that was cute. He was resigned to the opinion since she wasn't alone in it and it got him the Silver. He was a hundred seventy centimeters in shoes and slender in build. Cute was his name from the day he was born, and he'd met enough people who reminded him of that fact (sometimes it worked to his advantage, but most of the time it irritated him). Still, he found Fara funny, sexy in a borderline repulsive way, the kind of woman his mother strongly lectured him about.
She always delivered.
"Whatcha gonna buy this time?" she asked, moving on to more prosaic business. It was just business with her, despite the kiss. Her boyfriend would shoot him, otherwise. He needed something to make this trip worthwhile to Sid. So he pointed to a new game that he'd had his eye on for a couple weeks. It was that easy. Once he saw Sid had glanced away he spat out the Silver capsule into his palm and pocketed it in his pants.
Then it was just a matter of going home so he could sail. Because he'd run out of Silver seventy-two hours ago and seventy-two hours of unadulterated harping from Ms. Mom Lau about what he ought to do with his life gave him a headache. Rang on his nerves. So he needed to sail. He kept his hands in his flat front pockets and poked the capsule with his right index finger.
"Why so quiet?" Sid asked as they rewound their way through the perfumed stitches in the Market, toward the central bank of levs that would take them up to the executive residences.
The lights were brighter on the promenade than in the shop and Ryan squinted, shrugged. "No reason."
He'd been quiet since returning from Earth. Well, he went out to premieres and parties and Sid shadowed him everywhere, but Sid meant quiet toward him. At home.
Depressed, Sid meant. Ryan knew he was worried. So Sid, being Sid, was going to feel around for a specific target to explore. Because talking always helped, right?
"Have you heard from Shiri lately?" Sid asked.
Shiri was Ryan's ex-girlfriend on Earth, from university. He'd met her in his Psychology of Public Opinion class; she was spritely pretty, moderately smart, and she'd asked him out for a beer at The Clover, a Georgetown pub. She hadn't known who he was and even after she found out, she hadn't much cared. For a Media and Public Affairs major that was certainly different, but then it was Earth and she hailed from one of the last small communities in some backcountry state like Montana, in America.
It was quaint to hear her accent, to point at her house on an augmap and walk through a replica of her little town and think, This is so damn far from Austro it's practically alien. She'd never been in space. The thought of going where you couldn't breathe "real" air frightened her. He'd thought she was joking at first. But no. He couldn't imagine never setting foot on a station, especially with Pax Terra so near Earth. Dirtsiders were an odd bunch sometimes.
Anyway, after Spring Break in Hong Kong, in his third year, she'd jettisoned him.
You've changed, she said.
Whatever the hell that meant. People changed, things never stayed the same like she wished, back there in her minuscule town with her safe ideas of what the galaxy was like. She was completely clueless about the reality of war and selfish, dangerous idiocy.
Sid thought she was sweet. But of course Sid was from Texas America.
Sure, he'd told Sid. Sweet in an ignorant kind of way.
He missed her, though. Or maybe he missed the lulling simplicity of her life. He missed the sex, of course.
"She hasn't commed me, if that's what you mean, and I haven't commed her. What's the point?"
Sid raised an eyebrow in his so-called nonjudgmental way. Maybe it wasn't judgment, but it was opinion. "I thought you two were still friends."
"Life goes on."
He felt Sid look at him sidelong. He knew he wasn't fooling anybody.
Problem with having the same bodyguard since you were twelve: you knew each other too damn well.
He did miss the way she used to hug his neck and kiss his temple, and hold his hand when they crossed roads because, she said, he wasn't used to four-lane traffic back there in his "tin can"-as she called Austro.
We have podways, he'd told her, attempting to brag. Between modules. In modules.
Sure, she'd said. But they're designated.
She meant regulated, which was true.
Excerpted from Burndive by Karin Lowachee Copyright ©2003 by Karin Lowachee. Excerpted by permission.
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