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Star Trek's William Shatner delivers another science fiction tale of suspense in the acclaimed bestselling series that inspired the hit TV movies. Now investigator Jake Cardigan is searching for a rich industrialist's daughter who learned too much about an assassination plot involving her father's robots.
It was a rainy night in the late spring of the year 2121. As he flew his skycar southward, he said again, "I've got to find her."
Barry Zangerly sat crouched stiffly at the controls, both hands tightly clenched. He was a lean, dark man in his early thirties and he was heading for the Ocean Park Sector of Greater Los Angeles.
When the vidphone on the dashpanel buzzed, he flinched and jerked upright in the driveseat. Then, after taking a slow breath in and out, he touched the respond key.
An older, huskier version of himself appeared on the small rectangular picscreen. "So you're really going to this damn meeting?" asked Roger Zangerly. "You're a bigger idiot than—"
"Don't try to interfere," Barry warned his brother.
"You should let the cops search for Alicia Bower."
"Damn it, Rog, this is something I have to be involved in."
"Okay, all right." His brother was still at his office at the headquarters plant of Mechanix International in the Hawthorne Sector of Greater LA. Out the wide windows behind him you could see the rain hitting at the huge brightlit domes of the sprawling complex. "I didn't call to have a fight, Barry. It's only that I don't like to see you walking into trouble."
"I intend to find Alicia," he said. "She's been missing for three days. I just don't understand why her father or—"
"I work for Owen Bower," reminded Roger, "and, trust me, I know him a hell of a lot better than you do. He's very much concerned about her and even though he's in the hospital, he's—"
"Nobody from Mechanix is doing enough to locate her."
"We've got our own people hunting for her. And you know the cops are busting their butts on this, too." Lowering his voice, Roger leaned forward. "Don't get mad again, but there's something else I have to say to you. Alicia is, we all agree, a very attractive young woman. But, Barry, you have to admit she's none too stable. She was, after all, in that institution last year."
"That was last year. I've been living with her for nearly ten months now and I know that she—"
"Actually this is my fault. Yeah, I went and introduced you two at that damn cocktail party. I've said to Dad more than once that I feel responsible for all this."
"Responsible for what, Rog? My being in love with your boss's daughter. Are you afraid that's going to screw up your—"
"I know quite a bit more about her than maybe you do," said Roger. "Before you there were other guys. A hell of a lot of other guys, in fact. She's never, you know, been able to settle down with one man. What's probably happened this time is that she got restless again."
"I don't want to hear any more of this crap from you."
"Listen to me." Roger shook his head. "I know you're eager to find her. But simply because you get a call from some anonymous hoodlum—Really, Barry, that's no reason to go flying off by yourself to a meeting in some damn slum."
"I'm sorry I confided in you at all. I had the notion that you were the sort of brother who—"
"I'm the best god damn brother you'll ever have." Roger's voice grew louder. "Maybe I'm not smart enough to teach at SoCal Tech the way you do, but I sure as hell know how the world works. Alicia Bower is just some crazy little bitch who's determined to sleep with as many guys as she can. You had your turn and she's probably just run off with the next one in line."
"Drop it, Rog."
His brother urged, "Forget about going to this meeting. Or at least wait until I can join you."
"I was instructed to show up alone. Don't try to screw this up."
"You never have, you know, been able to take proper care of yourself. I've always had to come along behind you and—"
"Go to hell, Rog." He hung up.
The vidphone buzzed again a moment later. Barry didn't answer.
He guided his skycar on through the heavy rain.
It was exactly 10 P.M. when Barry landed on the parking field near the Arcade. The rain was heavier now, slamming straight down through the night and hitting at him as he came hurrying out of his car.
Barry sprinted across the dimlit lot, which had only a dozen other vehicles scattered across it.
There was nobody visible through the windows of the ticket kiosk at the exit gate. Inside it, though, a dented and rusty robot sat on the floor. His left eye dangled on a few twists of red and yellow wire, hanging three inches below the rust-rimmed socket. Clutched in his left hand, which was missing a finger, was a sheaf of parking chits.
"Guess parking is free," Barry decided and hurried on.
A thin, black girl, not more than fifteen, was leaning, arms folded, near the ground entrance of the Arcade.
Slowing, Barry scanned her. He was fairly certain that the person who'd vidphoned him this afternoon, keeping the screen blanked, had been a young girl.
When he was nearly to the entryway, the girl smiled. "$100 for an hour, $300 all night," she said in a gentle voice. "Blow job is extra."
The first level of the structure housed fifteen or so establishments. There were cafes, betting parlors, saloons, and gaming rooms. More than half were shut down and dark. Less than fifty people, most of them young, were frequenting this level of the Arcade.
The plastitile floor was splotched with wide puddles of muddy water. As Barry crossed to the upramps, several drops of rain fell from above and hit him just over the ear.
The globes of floating light hanging over the entrance to the Level 3 ramp were smeared with dirt and one of them was flickering.
Far across the chill Arcade a young woman suddenly cried out in pain.
"Shut up, bitch," shouted a gruff voice.
Barry stepped onto the moving ramp. Roughly halfway to Level 2 it commenced making loud, ratcheting noises. Then the ramp ceased to function.
Barry climbed the rest of the way.
In the shadowy doorway to the defunct souvenir shop on Level 3 a young woman was huddled. She had her bare knees pressed tight together, her fisted hands crossed over her chest. There was a lopsided smile on her pale face and she was hooked up to the Tek Brainbox that was wedged in her lap.
"I love you, too," she was murmuring.
Barry had been instructed to meet his informant at a place called Gypsy's at 10:15.
Gypsy's was midway along the right-hand tier. Next to it was a small jewelry shop called Moonstone's. The shop was shut, its display window offering nothing but a long dead mouse.
The signscreen next to the door of Gypsy's announced: ALL THE LATEST FORTUNE TELLING DEVICES & MORE! CLOSED FOR NOW.
Barry reached for the door. Before his fingertips touched it, the door whispered and swung slowly open inward.
In the middle of the dimly illuminated foyer, he saw the body of a woman stretched out facedown on the floor.
He ran to the body, knelt beside it. The door shut behind him.
This wasn't Alicia. It wasn't a woman at all, only an android dressed in the costume of a gypsy fortune teller.
When he rolled the android over on her back, Barry saw that someone had opened her chest and removed most of the inner workings.
At the back of the shadowy room another door opened.
Two men, large and thickset, came in. Then a big coppery robot, wearing a long black overcoat, followed. The three remained near the open doorway, side by side, watching him, saying nothing.
Barry rose to his feet. "Did one of you contact me?"
The larger of the two men nudged the robot.
Nodding, the robot came walking slowly over to Barry.
"That's why I'm here," Barry started to explain. "I got a call to meet—"
The robot hit him, hard in the midsection.
Gasping, doubling up, Barry stumbled backward.
The robot followed. Carefully, patiently, he punched Barry. Pounding him in the stomach, in the chest, in the ribs. Finally, when Barry had collapsed to his knees, the big robot went to work on his head and face with his metal fists.
Time got fouled up about then and Barry lost a few minutes. After awhile he found himself lying flat out on the floor, staring into the blank face of the dead android.
Someone was kicking him in the side.
Someone said, "Quit looking for her."
Barry lost some more time.CHAPTER 2
Dan Cardigan watched the skycab climb back up into the rainy night. Smiling to himself, he ran across the apartment complex courtyard.
The uniformed doorbot who stood under the metal awning made a chuckling noise and opened the wide plastiglass door. "Second night in a row," he commented in his tinny voice. "And out until after 11 P.M. on a school night. Tsk tsk."
"You should oil yourself more often, Otto," suggested Dan, a lean, young man of fifteen. "It might fix that odd tsk noise you're always making."
The rain drummed on the awning over their heads.
The robot said, "She's an attractive young lady."
"That she is." Dan went on into the lobby.
He let himself into the apartment he shared with his father. "Dad?" he called, after glancing around the living room!
"Out here, Dan." Jake Cardigan was standing on the sheltered balcony, looking across the beach toward the dark, foamy ocean.
Dan went out and joined him. "You went there again today, huh?"
"Went where?" Jake continued to watch the black sea.
"C'mon, you know. I mean the cemetery where Beth Kittridge is buried."
His father turned to face him. Jake was nearly fifty, handsome in a weatherbeaten way. "I was there for awhile, yeah," he admitted.
"You haven't missed a day since ... well, since two weeks ago."
"Since Beth's ashes were interred there." He moved back into the living room. "No, I guess I haven't. How was your date?"
Dan followed his father. "Don't you think you're maybe dwelling on all this too much?"
"Probably, sure." Jake sat in a low black chair. "Could be it's a sign that I'm turning into a sentimental old codger."
"Hell, you're not an—"
"Her death hit me hard. I keep figuring I'll get over it." He leaned back in the chair, then sat up again. "Afterall, Beth has been dead for over a month."
"You loved her and she—"
"I've got to accept the fact she's dead and gone, you're right." Standing, Jake wandered in the direction of the balcony and stood on the threshold, again staring out into the rainy night. "I've never been especially mystical or religious. But going out there ... sitting in that chapel ... He shrugged and turned toward his son. "So how was the date?"
"Terrific then. You want me to review my date with Molly Fine as though it was a vidwall movie? Colossal, earthshaking, sensational—"
"You like her, don't you?"
"Quite a bit."
"She seems to like you."
"Fortunately for me."
Jake returned to the chair, sat again. "Spend as much time with her as you can," he advised. "And be sure you tell her how you feel. Because you never know when—"
"Dad, hey, you are starting to sound like an old coot."
"Overdoing it, am I?"
Nodding, his son told him, "You've never been the type of person to feel sorry for himself."
"Well, you have been moping around like a—"
"I'll reform," promised Jake, grinning briefly. "Where'd you and Molly go?"
"To a sky ball game between our SoCal State Police Academy and Santa Monica Sector Hi."
Jake stood, stretched. "Now that you're safely back in the nest, I can turn in."
"Oh, I almost forgot," said his son. "We had a guest lecturer at the academy today. Somebody who used to know you."
"You didn't get into a squabble with this one?" Jake asked him, frowning. "Now and then you're going to run into someone who still believes I deserved that prison stretch up in the Freezer."
"No, this was somebody who likes you."
"A lady named Bev Kendricks," answered Dan. "She told me, after class, that you and her used to be SoCal cops together."
"About ten years ago, yeah."
"She runs her own private investigation service now. It's nowhere near the size of the outfit that you and Gomez work for, but she has a very good reputation and supposedly does damn well. Very pretty lady, too."
Jake eyed his son a few seconds before asking, "You aren't trying to matchmake, are you?"
"Nope, Dad, no," Dan assured him, smiling. "Although she did give me the impression she wouldn't mind seeing you again. Maybe just to talk over old times."
Jake said, "You probably didn't get the right impression. As I recall, Beth was never especially fond of me back—"
"Her name is Bev," corrected Dan.
"What did I say?"
It was just shy of midnight when Sid Gomez got the call.
He had been sitting out over the Pacific Ocean in the glassbottomed cocktail area of Capt. Noah's seafood restaurant. The rain was hitting the clear domed ceiling; beneath his feet the dark ocean swirled.
Gomez, a curlyhaired and moustached man who was fast approaching forty, had both elbows on the plastiglass tabletop and both hands circling his glass of ale. "No es verdad," he said to the blonde young woman across the table from him. "Which means in English, chiquita, it just ain't so."
"I speak Spanish, Gomez," Marny Selwin reminded him.
"I forgot," said the detective. "My point is that I've worked with Jake Cardigan ever since he came home from the Freezer and I haven't seen any sign of—"
"The fact that you aren't very perceptive doesn't invalidate my—
"In the first place, Jake was never a serious Tek user. So there isn't much chance, even if your theory is true, that he—"
"Gomez, dear, I'm an Associate Professor of Biotechnology at SoCal Tech," Marny told him. "Most of the research in the report I'm trying to tell you about was done by me and my associates. Trust me, there's ample proof that Tek use, even on a modest scale sometimes, can cause brain damage. I'm willing to bet you that Cardigan's reflexes, his judgments and probably—"
"I can refute you there, almita. His judgment is obviously not impaired one whit—since he made the obviously brilliant decision to team up with me."
"I'm serious." Marny shook her head. "You really ought to consider switching to a new partner. My study shows that people who've habitually hooked up to a Brainbox and used Tek chips to spin themselves assorted fantasies are prone to—"
"All I can say is that Jake is the best partner I've ever worked with," Gomez said. "As a cop back when, and now as a private investigator." Turning in his chair, he started glancing around the large, circular room.
"I came to this bistro originally to attend the tenth wedding anniversary shindig of my cousin, Eddie Navarro," he said. "Then I ran into you, allowed myself to be distracted, became entangled in this deepdish conversation with—"
"Your cousin left a half hour ago, along with his wife and most of their other guests."
"I missed that."
"You were arguing intensely at the time."
"Wait now, chiquita. It isn't arguing when I'm simply stating absolute unvarnished truths.
It's more a lecture."
"Honestly, I really do know more about Tek than ... Now what?"
"I was trying to spot the bunch you came to dinner with."
"They departed right after your cousin."
"I didn't even get a slice of Eddie's cake."
"Were you hoping my friends would haul me off now? So you can weasel out of facing the fact that—"
"I never weasel." Lifting his glass, he took a sip of ale. "I'm more the fox type."
"I'll send you a copy of the report. What's your homefax number?"
He held up his left hand, shook it negatively. "We ought to change the topic," he suggested. "You and I haven't seen each other in nearly two long years, not since you did that consulting job for the Cosmos Detective Agency, and yet—"
"I actually like you, Gomez," she said. "I've never met Cardigan, but I've heard a good deal about the man. He may be a fine detective, but eventually the fact that he's addicted to Tek is going to affect his performance."
"He's not an addict. He doesn't even use the stuff anymore."
"How do you know?"
"He told me."
She smiled. "You trust the guy?"
"Si, yes, I do."
"And to your knowledge he hasn't used Tek since he got out?"
Gomez studied the dark ocean underfoot. "Not much, no."
Marny laughed. "Not much? What the heck does that mean? You just now told me he quit."
Excerpted from Tek Secret by William Shatner. Copyright © 1993 William Shatner. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted April 19, 2014
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