Liege-Killerby Christopher Hinz
Earth is a blistered wasteland. The orbital colonies have rebuilt civilization and lived in peace and harmony for more than 200 years. The deadly Paratwa are extinct. But people are being butchered in ways that terrify the local authorities. Only one kind of creature could cause this mayhem, and as the body count grows, the name Paratwa is whispered once again. See more details below
Earth is a blistered wasteland. The orbital colonies have rebuilt civilization and lived in peace and harmony for more than 200 years. The deadly Paratwa are extinct. But people are being butchered in ways that terrify the local authorities. Only one kind of creature could cause this mayhem, and as the body count grows, the name Paratwa is whispered once again.
Read an Excerpt
Book One Of The Paratwa Saga
By Christopher Hinz
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1987 Christopher Hinz
All rights reserved.
Her son, Jerem, spotted the strange men first. His twelve-year-old face expanded into a grin as he pointed across the grassy lot that separated their home from Bob Max's antique-cluttered yard.
Such a mess, Paula wailed privately, wishing once again that Max would be miraculously struck by an urge to scour, arrange, and clean his two-story tiled house, or else sell his land to someone with a better sense of propriety. He was hardly ever home, anyway.
Jerem tugged her sleeve, forced her to acknowledge the two figures wandering among the old cars, fridge units, freefall worksuits, hydrospheres, and general debris that forested the dealer's yard. She glanced at the two men, then instinctively turned her attention to a particularly obtrusive piece of twenty-first-century Earth furniture—a home accelerator couch—that Max had mounted along the edge of his front porch. Paula could have accepted the couch by itself, but Max had chosen to adorn it with the lifelike model of a nude, spread-legged woman, thus cueing visitors to the couch's original function as a sexual toy. She certainly did not consider herself a prude, but these days she worried for Jerem. Lately, he seemed to spend a lot of time looking at that model.
"Mom!" This time he tugged the sleeve of her old blouse so forcefully that she almost lost her balance. She gave him a scolding glare, but he just grinned and wagged his finger excitedly toward the two men.
The grassy lot that separated their yards was about a hundred feet wide. A narrow road bisected the lot, twisting its way through a forest of oaks and pines to the north and south. Eastward, beyond Max's home, the twin forests came together and rose upward, vanishing into a thick layer of white cumulus. The clouds darkened as she raised her gaze; precursors of tonight's special occasion—a thunderstorm.
"They're weird," Jerem exclaimed. "Do you think they're freefallers?"
Freefallers? Paula craned her neck to stare almost straight up through a break in the cloud cover. She glimpsed a portion of their cylindrical world's major city, New Armstrong, four miles and nearly a hundred and fifty degrees away. "Freefallers would have trouble standing up without adjustor suits," she explained. "When they visit the Colonies, they usually have to stay at the north- or south-pole hotels."
"I know. Or they can stay two miles up—at the center—where there's no gravity!"
She nodded, brought her attention back to Max's yard. The two men stood back to back in front of one of Max's most prized possessions—a nine-foot-high ceramic-steel statue of an Apollo astronaut. As she watched, the two men separated, circled the relic, and met again on the other side. Jerem was right. There was something very odd about them.
The boy cracked a laugh. "I know—they're clactors!"
"Col-lec-tors," she corrected.
"No, clactors! Clown actors," he said proudly. "It's a Quikie word."
She smiled. Quikie was her son's latest preoccupation. Over the last few weeks, she had been bombarded with his semisecret school language. Quikie apparently was the current rage throughout the Lamalan educational system.
Last month it was fantasies of cave exploring and next month ... She thought again of the nude figure on the accelerator couch and wished, not for the first time, that there was some way of making him grow up a bit slower.
A series of rhythmic booms sounded from the sky—windholes being formed in preparation for tonight's thunderstorm.
For the past several weeks, all of the local channels had been proclaiming the artificially created gale. It would be the first one in Lamalan in almost two years and would affect the entire twenty-three-mile length of the floating cylinder that was their home. Naturally, Jerem was desperately excited.
She glanced from her son back to the men in Max's yard. They were frozen in catlike poses, back to back, faces searching the sky. Paula followed their gaze and saw only pale clouds, chunks of the faraway New Armstrong, and sporadic patches of sunlight gleaming from the mirrored reflectors that striped their world.
Lamalan followed the basic design of most of the other Colonies. The northern end of the cylinder faced the sun in order to harvest the solar energy necessary for their electrical needs. The original architects had divided the inner surface of the cylinder into six strips, each twenty-three miles long. Alpha, Gamma, and Epsilon were land areas, and the other two-mile-wide arcs—Beta, Delta, and Zeta—were composed of thick slabs of cosmishield glass. Outside the glass, in the vacuum of space, rows of mirrors caught the northern sunlight and directed it through the transparent shields. The mirrors were programmed to rotate through a twenty-four-hour cycle, providing Lamalan with standard day and night. Paula had lived in the Colonies all her life, yet she still felt awed by the technological geniuses who had designed these space islands over two hundred years ago.
Jerem leaned over their porch railing until she feared he would somersault into the flower bed, three feet below. "The windhole startled them," he proclaimed.
He was probably right, but who in the Colonies would be startled by windholes? Small children, perhaps, but certainly no one who had been brought up in one of the slowly rotating cylinders.
"Mom, aren't there Colonies that never have thunderstorms?"
She nodded. That could be the answer. A few of the cylinders were dedicated strictly to agricultural purposes. Profarmers certainly would not allow thunderstorms or wind turbulence to interfere with their crop raising. If these two men had spent their lives within agricultural cylinders, many aspects of an urban colony like Lamalan might appear strange to them.
"What do you think they're looking for?" Jerem asked, leaning out another precarious inch over the railing.
Paula decided the men had occupied enough of their time. "It's none of our business." She gripped the nape of his collar and gently pulled him back onto the porch. "Come on, we've got some work to do. I want you to help me clean up that duty trunk we picked up at the auction last week."
"Awww, Mom! It's Saturday morning!"
"I know. Help me clean the duty trunk and then haul a load of junk down to Turman's port for recycling. After that, you can take off."
"I'm not a slave," he argued. "All my friends get to do whatever they want on weekends!"
"And so can you, as soon as you finish your chores."
"Yes, I know. A few hours of work each week is pretty harsh."
"Yeah, right." He tried to make the words sound indignant, could not.
She smiled with affection into the lively blue eyes. He was a good-looking young man, still boyishly thin, but growing at a rate that sometimes startled her. Heightwise, he was almost up to her shoulders. And the mop of tangled brown hair added an extra couple of inches.
"Ya know," he began, in a subdued tone she recognized as being fraught with trickery, "I could probably take that junk down to Turman's on the way to school Monday morning. It's almost in the same direction."
"But it would make more sense to do it all in one trip! I could bike there in less than a half hour and then cut straight over to Alpha sector and catch the rail to school."
Paula slipped into one of her mildly disapproving frowns. "No. You're enough trouble waking up at the normal hour on schooldays. I don't intend spooning you no-grog before we face sun."
He gave an exaggerated sigh and hopped onto the railing. "Ma, ease-lee-me, lo-life, high-no!"
It was Quikie and she still had not figured out the basis of the language. It did not sound obscene, though. She would let it pass.
"Come on, let's get to work. The faster we get moving, the more time you'll have for yourself." She slid open the screened front door and stepped into the house.
"Hey, they're coming over here!"
Paula turned around in the doorway. The two men had hopped Max's low decorative fence and were making their way across the grassy lot. Jerem giggled.
It was the odd way they walked that amused him. Long, rhythmless strides seemed to degenerate every few steps, became mincing shuffles, as if their feet were about to buckle out from under them. Both men kept their left hands tucked into the side pockets of long gray jackets.
"C-ray ignors," Jerem whispered.
"I've never seen ignors act like that," Paula said. Mental retardation had been a serious problem among the descendants of the early spacefarers. Asteroid and Lunar miners in particular had often risked too much time away from the shielded Colonies and had suffered chromosomal damage, which they had passed on to their children. But cosmic-ray ignors were usually too mentally deficient to even dress or bathe themselves. Most of them still alive in this day and age were institutionalized; those who remained free usually gravitated to one of the slum Colonies.
The men crossed the road. Loose trousers blossomed from well-worn boots. The gray jackets were winter issue, certainly too warm for Lamalan, even in its coldest season. Pocono Colony boasted year-round snow weather, and a few of the other leisure cylinders offered perennial cold climates. Yet she sensed that these two had come from none of those places.
They hopped the small fence that defined her property.
Both looked to be about Paula's age, perhaps a bit older—closer to forty. The shorter one stood about five foot seven. A bang of frizzled gray hair drooped across the left side of his forehead, almost touching the eyebrow. The mouth was narrow, downturned, and delicately flaccid. Sad brown eyes avoided Paula's gaze.
The other man had a carefully groomed blanket of coal-black hair topping his six-foot frame. A tiny mustache accented a handsome and more open face. He halted a few feet from the porch and produced a salesman's smile. His sad-eyed companion stopped two paces behind and to the left of him.
The smiling man withdrew his hand from the jacket. He coughed delicately into his fist. "Excuse me, please, but would you perhaps know the whereabouts of the gentleman who owns that house?"
His voice emerged deep and bountiful, like a professional announcer's. As he spoke, the shorter man pointed toward Max's home.
Paula came back out onto the porch. She closed the screen door behind her. "Bob Max is probably away on one of his buying trips. We haven't seen him for several days."
The smile lost none of its luster. "Did he perhaps leave word with you regarding his return? You see, we had an appointment with him this morning ... to purchase some antiquities. We do not know him very well, but his reputation suggests that he is a most prompt and gracious host. Today's tardiness is most upsetting."
Jerem leaned over the porch railing. "We sell antiques! Super-quality stuff ... and we're bonded by the Antiquers' Guild."
"How fascinating! Perhaps I could spend some time browsing through your merchandise while we await our host. I'm sure he won't be much longer ... likely there's been some scheduling mix-up with his shuttle. My friend could wait outside and watch for his arrival."
Paula laid her arm across Jerem's shoulders. It was the signal that he was to be silent and allow her to handle this exchange.
"Where are you from?" she asked pleasantly.
The smile brightened. "We come from the Colony of Velvet-on-the-Green. Have you heard of it?"
She had. "A hedonist island, as I recall." That was about the nicest thing she could think of to say about the place. Velvet-on-the-Green was a leisure colony, catering mainly to rich perverts.
His fingers groomed the contoured mustache. "It is difficult being away from home ... As you may know, our colony has seven-eighths normal gravity." The smile expanded until Paula thought it would explode from his face. "We do not leave home very often. These G forces are simply punishing. Why, it makes one self-conscious merely walking!"
She smiled back. "I'm sure it's hard on you." She had never been to Velvet-on-the-Green, had no intention of ever going there. But it did have subnormal gravity, and that could explain the odd gait of these two. Then again, there was something strangely disquieting about them—some hidden facet that ran counter to the smiling man's words. And those heavy jackets ...
"You two must be sweating in those things."
He tried for a dismal nod but the smile burned through. "Yes, we are quite uncomfortable. However, we dare not remove our garments, for the attire bespeaks our current status. We are being disciplined by our owner because of some recent errant behavior. Our sentence will not end until we return to Velvet—only then may we remove these cold-weather jackets."
"Are you slaves?" Jerem asked, with a touch of awe.
The man grinned momentarily at Paula, then turned to her son.
"We're not real slaves—not the kind you've probably read about in school. We're sort of ... pretend slaves. It's like a game. When you're older, I'm sure you'll understand it much better."
She hoped Jerem would never understand it.
"Is your owner here?" the boy asked.
Jerem's wide-eyed expression warned Paula that a barrage of questions was forthcoming. She debated trying to silence him before the conversation became too embarrassing, decided against it. She wanted to learn more about these two before she allowed Smiler into her gallery.
He answered calmly. "Our owner has remained in Velvet-on-the-Green. After all, why should he have to suffer through this terrible gravity when he has slaves to do his bidding?"
"But if he's not here," Jerem argued, "then why don't you take off your jackets?"
"Ahhh, but the pleasure of the game would be destroyed. You see, in order for us to feel like slaves, we must act like slaves. We must do exactly as we are commanded or else risk marring our integrity."
"But why would you want to be slaves when you could be free?"
Smiler put his hand to his mouth, pivoted, and sneezed. Sad-eyes grinned mirthlessly and, in a voice that seemed totally devoid of emotion, said: "We like being slaves. It's exciting."
Paula stared at the shorter man. She repressed a shudder when his tongue slithered between his lips and licked at the air.
Smiler delicately wiped his nose and turned back to Paula. "And wearing cold-weather jackets is mild punishment. Whippings are much worse."
Jerem's curiosity climbed to a new level. "You mean you get beaten? For real?"
Smiler laughed. "Oh, yes. A very special excitement flows to your soul when you learn you are to be beaten. Hasn't your mother ever spanked you?"
Jerem shook his head vehemently, more to hide embarrassment than to contradict the man. Occasionally, Paula bent him over and smacked him good.
"A beating," Smiler continued, "can become a special pleasure."
"But if you ..."
Paula interrupted. "Jerem, that's enough. These two men are probably weary of being questioned." Her son was already well on his way to learning about the bizarre world of adults. She did not intend for these perverts to advance his education.
"Such questions are rather tiring." The smile degenerated into another sneeze. He produced a kerchief, blew his nose. "Excuse me, please, but these trees..." He waved his arms at the surrounding forests. "I believe I've developed an allergic reaction."
"Don't they have trees in your cylinder?" Jerem began.
"Yes," Paula answered, "they probably have trees, but of a different variety."
She faced Smiler. "Our gallery uses a filtered air system. You would probably be more comfortable inside." She did not want to let him in, but she could not think of a polite way to refuse. Best to get it over with.
"Jerem," she continued, "I want you to go upstairs and get the key to the gallery."
He nodded and dashed into the house. "Get the key" was their signal that the security system monitoring the gallery was to be turned on. The control panel and recorder were located upstairs in a hall closet. A pair of microcams, hidden in the gallery walls, fed audio-video to the master unit.
Antique robberies seldom occurred on Lamalan and a surveillance system would certainly not prevent one from happening. However, the police could later use the recording to ID suspects.
Many galleries employed a permanent on-line security system. Paula dealt with clients who requested anonymity and she honored such requests. She used the security system only in unfamiliar situations.
Excerpted from Liege-Killer by Christopher Hinz. Copyright © 1987 Christopher Hinz. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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