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The Curve of The Earth
By Simon Morden
Orbit Copyright © 2013 Simon Morden
All right reserved.
Petrovitch wanted to be alone, to worry and to brood, but he was part of the Freezone collective and that meant never having to be alone again. Company was built in, through the links they wore. Except for him. He didn’t wear a link: he was so connected that, at times, it felt like it wore him.
So he’d taken himself off so he could pretend – not far, just to the top of the hill which overlooked the collection of different-sized domes below. The narrow strip of land before the sea looked like a collection of luminous pearls cradled in the darkness of a winter night.
He’d reached the summit, as determined by at least four satellites spinning overhead, and sat down on the wet, flowing grass to wait. He faced the ocean and felt the first tug of an Atlantic gale stiffen the cloak he’d thrown around him.
“Yobany stos.” He’d been there for what? A minute? Less. “When there’s news, vrubatsa? Otherwise past’ zabej.”
He hunched over and stared at the horizon. The last vestiges of twilight were fading into the south-west, but the moon was almost full behind the racing clouds. Enough light for him to see by, at least, even if the climb up would have been crazy for anyone else.
Somewhere over there, over the curve of the Earth, was his daughter, his Lucy, and she had been out of contact for fifty-eight hours and forty-five minutes.
These things happened. Once in a while, the link technology they all carried failed. It meant a break in what kept each individual bound together with the rest of the collective, and a quick trip to the stores for a replacement.
White plastic pressed against bare flesh. A connection restored, and the collective was complete once more.
Lucy was beyond the reach of any Freezone storeroom. She was on the other side of the world, and even he couldn’t just pop over and present her with another link. There were difficulties and complications, not entirely of his own making.
The clock in the corner of his vision ticked on, counting the seconds. Relying on other people still didn’t sit easily with him, though he’d had a decade to get used to the idea. Relying on the Americans and their ultra-conservative, hyper-patriotic, quasi-fascistic, crypto-theocratic Reconstructionist government?
His heart spun faster just thinking about it. They had a joint past, one that barely rose above mutual loathing, and he was certain there was something they weren’t telling him. There’d been – a what? At this distance it was difficult to tell. The Freezone had only just started the laborious process of gathering the raw data and trying to fashion meaning from it.
He pulled his cloak tighter around him, not for warmth but for comfort.
There was a figure standing next to him, dark-clothed, white-faced. It hadn’t been there a moment before, and it wasn’t really there now. It stared west with the same troubled hope that Petrovitch had.
[There’s,] and the voice hesitated. It hardly ever hesitated. The only times it ever hesitated were when it was dealing with meat-stuff. Important meat-stuff.
[There’s been a development.]
[There is no sign of Lucy.]
“Yeah. That figures.” Petrovitch clenched his jaw and bared his teeth. “Where the huy is she?”
[The search-and-rescue team’s initial findings do not indicate the actions of any outside agency.]
“They wouldn’t, would they? I knew it. I knew it was a mistake to let her go. I should have—”
[Forbidden it?] said Michael, looking down on Petrovitch. [She is twenty-four years old and an autonomous citizen of the Freezone.]
“She’s still my responsibility.”
[Not by law or custom. Need I remind you what you were doing when you were twenty-four? Or when you were eighteen?]
Petrovitch fumed. “It’s not the same.”
[Sasha, we will find her.]
“Of course we will. Tell me what they’re saying.”
[That at eleven fifteen local time, a search-and-rescue team comprising USAF, Alaskan police and University of Alaska personnel, flying out of Eielson Air Force Base, conducted a preliminary search of the University of Alaska Fairbanks North Slope research station. The single known occupant of that research station, Dr Lucy Petrovitch, was not located despite a thorough search of all the solid structures. There was nothing to indicate that she had either left the station on an expedition, or been forced to leave against her will. A search of the immediate area has commenced, though it will be necessarily limited in scope.]
“What the huy does that mean?”
[It means they have four hours of daylight in any twenty-four-hour period, and the air force transport must return to base. An overland expedition is being arranged. They estimate it will arrive in a week,] and Michael paused again. [Which seems unnecessarily delayed. I will attempt to ascertain a reason for this.]
Petrovitch felt impotent rage rise like a spring tide. His skin pricked with sweat.
[Talk to me, Sasha,] said Michael. [Tell me what you’re thinking.]
Lucy’s link was standard Freezone issue. Satellite enabled, always on, not just reliable, but dependable: powered by the heat from her body.
“They don’t go wrong. They just don’t.” He looked up at Michael’s avatar, framed against the silver-lined clouds. “She took a spare. I made her, because I’m a good father. And neither of them are working.”
To prove the point, he pinged her machine – both of them. He got nothing, and there was so rarely nothing.
“Something’s happened. I want to know what. I want to know now.”
[How many of our protocols are we going to break this time?] asked Michael. “As a point of reference? More than the Baku incident?”
[More than Beirut. We’re going to break them all if we have to. Assemble an ad-hoc. They can decide.]
Michael polled the Freezone collective and selected five names with the required expertise and wisdom. There was no need to wait for them to assemble, exchange pleasantries, enquire about the kids; that wasn’t what an ad-hoc was about. He’d been in enough to know the score.
There were preliminaries, though: for the record.
[Welcome, Freezone ad-hoc committee number four thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, convened on February fifth, twenty thirty-four, at twenty forty-eight Universal Time to discuss the preliminary response of the Freezone to the disappearance of Lucy Petrovitch. Please state your names.]
The five people could be anywhere on the planet. They could be in the mother dome in Cork, or planting electric trees in the Sahara. It didn’t matter.
Petrovitch blinked. “Hey,” he said.
She shouldn’t have been on the ad-hoc. Though she was one of the few North Americans they had, it was a veritable United Nations as it was. The point being, it was personal for her. She was Lucy’s big sister in all but name. She wasn’t going to even pretend to be impartial.
He used a backchannel to talk to Michael. “Are you sure about this?”
[You don’t get to question the make-up of the ad-hoc, Sasha. That’s one protocol you don’t get to break.]
That was him told.
Addressing the committee, Michael gave them bald facts: shortly after midnight, three days ago, Lucy Petrovitch lost contact with the Freezone. That she had been conducting research on Alaska’s frozen, dark North Slope was a complicating factor, but not the primary concern.
The point was, she’d vanished. And no one seemed to be in any particular rush to find her.
[We need to decide what assets we dedicate to the search, and how they are best deployed.]
Human minds worked differently to Michael’s. There was a long gap before anyone spoke.
“I would say, we do everything, despite the Americans,” said Mendelane, “but it cannot be denied that we require – at the very least – the co-operation of the relevant authorities. We must tread carefully.”
“She is one of us,” said al-Ghazi. Where he was, he could see the same sky as Petrovitch, the same Moon illuminating the tops of the electric trees as they cooled and clicked in the Saharan night. “There is no question of us doing nothing. Would they permit Freezone personnel in Alaska? Or our proxies?”
[I will pass on a request to the US State Department,] said Michael. [You must decide whether we ask, or whether we insist. And if we insist, how forcefully we put our demands.]
“I would be cautious,” said Mendelane.
“I wouldn’t,” said Tabletop. “I’d threaten them with everything we can, and if that’s not enough, we make shit up until they give in. Look, Lucy’s not the sort of kid – not the sort of woman – to go wandering into the night in her slippers and dressing gown, especially when that night lasts for twenty-plus hours and it’s fifteen below. If they’re not interested in looking for her, we’ll do it instead. We could have a team on the ground by tomorrow morning.”
“The university said it would take them a week,” said Moltzman. Petrovitch didn’t know him personally, just his reputation score, which was a respectable eighty-something. “Why would they say that if, firstly, a military search-and-rescue could be deployed in hours, and secondly, they know we could do it faster, with most of our people half a world away?”
[That is a good question,] noted Michael, and Moltzman’s pregnant rep birthed another point. [I can suggest some possible answers, but assigning probabilities to them will take time if I am to be accurate.]
“It’s because she’s a Petrovitch,” said Tabletop. “This whole thing was a set-up from start to finish: the original invitation, which she should have refused, the fact that she was alone, in winter, in the dark, in an isolated location. I said she shouldn’t go.”
[An ad-hoc said she should accept.]
“They were wrong!”
[Samuil Petrovitch was on that ad-hoc,] Michael reminded her, reminded them all. [He agreed with the decision made then.]
“That’s come back to bite him on the arse, hasn’t it?” She lapsed into sullen silence, and the dead air that followed stretched uncomfortably.
There was another protocol surrounding the ad-hocs, that the petitioner wasn’t supposed to speak on their own initiative: they could answer questions, clarify positions, discuss motivations. But not be an advocate, and certainly not grandstand. The committee members weren’t a jury, and an ad-hoc wasn’t a court.
Petrovitch held his nerve, and his tongue.
[It may have been that the ad-hoc was not in possession of all necessary information, although I did my best at the time.] Having slapped him down once, Michael was now taking responsibility for Petrovitch’s piss-poor judgement. [That also may be the case here: however, this is the way we decided we would conduct our decision-making, and if you do not come to a consensus, I will dismiss you and convene another ad-hoc.]
“No,” said al-Ghazi quickly. “We will decide.” He had no way of knowing if he was in the first ad-hoc or the tenth: the Berber tribesman had embraced the nature of the Freezone’s ad-hocracy with all the fervour of a convert, and he’d been called on to play his part.
[We have not heard from one of the committee. If you please, Mrs Levantine.]
“Well now,” she said, and Petrovitch imagined her leaning back in her chair, knitting needles maintaining a steady click-clack rhythm. She didn’t knit out of utility, but out of respect for the craft. “Lucy’s the age of my eldest granddaughter, and I know she hasn’t got her birth mother or father to worry about her, but she has Sam and Madeleine, and all of us instead. She never struck me as a silly girl: a little too serious for her own good, if you ask me, so I agree with Tabletop. She wouldn’t walk out of a safe place for any reason except a very good reason. So either someone took her, or she was persuaded – by someone else or her own mind.”
“You think she is still alive,” said Mendelane, “despite what an extended break in linking usually means?”
“Oh, for certain. No one would take the trouble of going all that way just to, you know, hurt her.”
“Will whoever has her look after her? Until we find her?”
“Well now,” she said again. “We can hope, can’t we?”
Moltzman cleared his throat. “So, what do we need to do? Demand in the strongest possible terms that the authorities treat her disappearance as a crime, not as accidental or negligent. That they put all reasonable effort into finding her…”
“Strike ‘reasonable’,” said Tabletop. “They need to prove to us they’re doing everything they can. Missing persons is an FBI thing: we want nothing less than someone on the ground, up on the North Slope, directing local assets.”
“One of us or one of them?” asked Moltzman.
“Both,” said Tabletop emphatically. “We watch over their shoulder so we know it’s being done right.”
[Does everyone agree to this course of action?] Michael tabulated the votes, and reported back the result. [The committee is unanimous. The question remains, who do we send?]
“I will go,” offered al-Ghazi. “I would be honoured to accept the duty.”
Honoured he might be, but the Americans would eat him alive. Petrovitch jumped in, almost without thinking. That was a lie: he’d done nothing but think since Lucy had gone offline. When the moment presented itself, he was ready.
“No. That’s my job,” he said.
Tabletop was instantly furious. “Sam: they’ve got one Petrovitch already. We’re not giving them another.”
“Who else, then? You?”
“You know I can’t… anybody. Anyone else but you.”
“Fine. Name someone better equipped to survive Reconstruction America. Someone who’ll get Lucy, and bring her home.”
“This isn’t meant to happen, Sam. You’re not supposed to get involved again.”
“Yeah, well. I am involved.” A muscle in Petrovitch’s face twitched, and he started to notice the cold and the wind again. “I suppose I’d better tell Maddy.”
It was just him and Michael again, on the hillside, with the domes below and the sky above.
[Good luck with that,] said Michael.
“Yeah.” Petrovitch scrubbed at his face and thought about getting up. “Probably best done in person. Difficult to land a punch over a link.”
Michael’s avatar patted him on the shoulder. Petrovitch could feel the reassuring pressure, despite it all happening somewhere on a virtual interface buried deep in his brain.
“You’d better fuck off now. Certain you’ve got better things to do than nursemaid me.”
[You know where I am…] The avatar vanished, and Petrovitch levered himself up.
“You’re everywhere,” he said, and started back to the sea.
It was almost like old times. The four of them, kicking their heels and waiting for something to happen.
Petrovitch paced, cursing both the vagaries of international travel and international diplomacy. First to his left, then his right, were the arrival gates and all the paraphernalia of arriving: scanners, customs, officials in suits and paycops in armour.
Madeleine and Valentina sat at opposite ends of a row of seats: Madeleine dwarfed her chair, made it seem fragile and childlike, while Valentina was very still, upright, self-contained.
Tabletop leaned against a pillar, obscuring the moving advertising on the screen behind her. Every so often, a pair of pixelated eyes would pop up behind her shoulder, widen, then duck down again. She hadn’t noticed – like Petrovitch, she was fixated on the gate.
There was a rush of people. Many of them managed to look both tired and bewildered, still adjusting their bags and pockets after the formalities of entry into the Metrozone. Some looked up, searching for the holographic signs that would tell them where to go, then drifted away. Others were met, by friends and family, and there was a moment of awkwardly public reunion that was joyous and constrained in equal measure.
Then there was Newcomen and his handler Auden, at the very end of the tail. The ever-urbane Auden had one hand at his countryman’s back, his dark infoshades and black tie making him a conscious parody of what he really was: not a consular staffer as advertised, but a National Security Agency spook.
Newcomen appeared singularly discomfited. He was dragging a huge suitcase on wheels – no, worse than that, the suitcase was motorised and it was following him like a dog on a lead. He looked grey, something of an achievement for someone with his corn-fed complexion, and his G-man buzz cut had gone spiky with nervous sweat.
Petrovitch stopped his pacing, and scowled. Behind him, Madeleine and Valentina simultaneously stood. It took Madeleine much longer to reach her full height, and he could see Newcomen’s eyebrows crawl up his forehead.
The two Americans stopped in front of him, and Auden deliberately pushed the other man forward into the space between them.
“Dr Petrovitch, can I introduce Agent Joseph Newcomen of the FBI?”
Petrovitch did a thing that meant that Auden had to take his abruptly opaque glasses off, revealing a pair of unnaturally deep blue eyes. They narrowed at the affront.
“I can hack your contacts too, if you like. Destroyed any good cities lately?”
“So hostile, Doctor. You really shouldn’t throw accusations like that around, in public, without any evidence.” He flicked his now-useless shades into a nearby bin. “I’m actually here to help.”
“As opposed to what? Lead an assassination squad into the Metrozone on the back of an Outzone invasion?” Petrovitch’s own eyes whirred and clicked, cycling through ultraviolet and near infrared. Auden was actually blushing. “Tabletop says you were in charge. More than good enough for me.”
Auden leaned slightly to one side to catch sight of Tabletop’s pink hair and cat eyes. He brought his fingers to his temple in the mockery of a salute. “Now, where were we?”
“You were attempting to introduce me to this…” Petrovitch glanced up momentarily at Newcomen, “this vat-bred Reconstructionista as an escort, which is nothing but a distraction to the main cause. Helping would imply doing something, instead of this. Where is she? Where’s Lucy?”
Newcomen cleared his throat. “Uh, Doctor…”
“Past’ zabej! I don’t want to hear from you until I’m ready. Come on, Auden. You’ve a much better idea what’s happened to her: what d’you say to taking a little walk with me? Somewhere no one’s looking.” Petrovitch stared pointedly at the other consulate staff dotted around the concourse, trying to remain incognito but with flashing augmented-reality arrows pasted over their heads, placed there by Michael. “Why don’t we sort this out man to man?”
“We know that’s not going to happen.” Auden gave his fixed smile. “That’s not in either of our interests.”
“Or we could just take you. Right here. And you know it.” Petrovitch rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling for ancient scars.
“You agreed not to,” said Auden. At least he looked nervous now.
“Yeah, well. There’ll be another time. Come on, then. Let’s get this over with.”
Auden relaxed, just a little. “Dr Samuil Petrovitch, this is your liaison, Joseph Newcomen. I hope you’ll find him as useful as they do at the Bureau.”
“That’s supposed to be a recommendation?” Petrovitch stepped back to examine the agent. “They’ve sent Joe Friday, right? Just the facts, ma’am?”
Auden intervened. “Now you’re just being cruel, Doctor.”
“Yeah, I can only stomach talking to one of you at a time. Auden, in words that even you can understand, fuck off back to that fortress you call an embassy. We’ll take it from here.”
The spook held up his hands in surrender. “Hey, I know when I’m not wanted.”
“You’re never wanted. You killed my friends and kidnapped my wife. It’s an affront to basic humanity that your government appointed you to the Metrozone in the first place, and if I have the time and the inclination after all this is over, I will hunt you down and kill you like the dog you are.”
Auden kept smiling around the edges, but he started to back away.
“That’s right. Start running, little man. It won’t help, but it might buy you an extra day or two.” Petrovitch’s lips turned thin and mean.
“Good luck, Agent Newcomen,” called Auden. He twirled his finger in the air, and the people he had positioned in the hall gravitated towards him. He reached into his pocket for a new pair of infoshades and stalked off.
Petrovitch watched the man’s back until it was out of sight, then finally turned to Newcomen.
The agent looked ready to turn tail and flee. If he had to cross the Atlantic on foot, so be it.
“And what the huy am I supposed to do with you?”
In Reconstruction America, a single swear word could cost him a twenty-dollar fine. Petrovitch had cussed more in five minutes than Newcomen had heard in the last five years.
“I, uh. I’m here to, uh.”
“Yobany stos, stop. Just stop.” Petrovitch dug his hands into his coat pockets and clenched them into fists. “I know why you’re here. I know who you are, where and when you were born, who your parents are, where you live, work, drink coffee, your entire case history at the Bureau, how much you earn and what you spend it on. I know you better than you know yourself, because you tell yourself little lies, and I see through them.”
Newcomen stared longingly in the direction that Auden had taken.
“That govnosos Auden’s going to be of no help to you now, even if he pretended to be in the first place. He’s the Bad Shepherd. He’s thrown you to the wolves, and he doesn’t care what we do to you.”
The FBI agent closed his eyes for a moment, and his lips moved in a muttered mantra. When he regained his composure, he seemed to have visibly grown. He topped Petrovitch by a head anyway, and when he stood straight, he looked less like a sack of rubbish and more like a college pro footballer. Which he had been. He had the clean good looks of an advertising model – selected and spliced for, like his height, his eye and hair colour – except for the vague knot on the bridge of his nose. The perfect all-American ideal.
Petrovitch didn’t know whether to pity him or despise him. After all, Newcomen hadn’t chosen to be born that way.
“Dr Petrovitch. I have a job to do. An important job given to me by my government, one they trust me to do to the best of my abilities. I do not intend to make them ashamed of me.”
“Yeah, okay. Maybe we’ve got off to a bad start. I blame Auden: seeing him enrages me in a way few others can manage. Welcome to the Metrozone, Joseph Newcomen. You’ve read the Fed’s files on me, right?”
“I’ve read the briefing notes,” said Newcomen. Even as he said it, Petrovitch could see him trying to put names to the three women behind him.
“Chyort. They’ve told you jack shit, haven’t they? I’m guessing that out of the whole Bureau, they’ve picked the one guy who’d never even heard of me before.” Petrovitch blinked. “Is that why you bought a copy of Fodor’s Guide to the Metrozone two days ago?”
“I had heard of you before, sir!”
“So who’s that?” He pointed at Madeleine.
“That’s… your wife?”
Madeleine’s fingers flexed in a way that appeared both casual and menacing. Petrovitch looked back at her. Two metres tall, lean in a way that a tigress was lean, hair caught up in an intricate mathematical plait that coiled over her shoulder. If she wanted to rip someone’s head off, he wouldn’t stand in her way. He’d even enjoy the show.
“Assuming that you’re not so stupid as to walk into this situation blind, I have to believe you’re willing to learn.” Petrovitch stood aside. “In order, my wife, Madeleine Petrovitch, Valentina Pavlichenko, hero of the second battle of Waterloo, and Tabletop. Whose reputation, by the look of you, precedes her.”
While he was addressing Petrovitch, Newcomen had gained a small measure of confidence. He lost it all again. They weren’t dressed at all how women in America dressed – demurely. They didn’t seem to know how they should behave, or how they should look at a man. To Newcomen’s mind, they looked like ferals. They were all ferals. Especially that last one, the one with the crazy name. The ex-CIA traitor.
Tabletop stalked up to Newcomen, the heels of her boots clacking against the hard floor. She stared at his shiny leather shoes and the length of his bristly blond hair, and everything in between.
In return, Newcomen tried to look away from the bright pink ponytail, the lean – almost hungry – face, and the curve of her neck where it shadowed into the collar of her flying jacket. Tried, and couldn’t.
She dismissed him with a flick of her hair. “I don’t trust him,” she said. “Get them to find someone else.”
“It’s him they sent,” said Petrovitch.
Tabletop turned her back on them and walked to her pillar. “So why him?”
“She’s got a point, Newcomen. Why you?”
The agent didn’t respond, so Petrovitch kicked him, not gently, to get his attention away from Tabletop.
“Why’d they choose you? Plenty of other people they could have picked. You’ve no experience of Alaska, no experience of missing persons, you’re pretty junior, never had any real responsibility before. In fact, could they have picked anyone less suited for this?” Petrovitch pursed his lips. “Yeah. That’ll be it, then.”
“Is insult,” said Valentina, whose accent came to the fore when she was angry. “Americans do not care, do not see why we should care. Bastards all.” If she’d had her favourite Kalashnikov, she would probably have shot Newcomen where he stood. As it was, she put her hands on her hips and looked sour.
“I,” said Newcomen, beginning to bluster, “was chosen. Selected. I’m good at my job.”
“You have not done job long enough to find out if good, bad, or merely competent.” Valentina sneered at him. “We ask for help, and we get you.”
“Dr Petrovitch, can’t you control…”
Madeleine’s timely hand on Valentina’s shoulder cooled the temperature just long enough for Petrovitch to steer Newcomen away and down the concourse.
“Yeah, look. I know how it is in the USA, but over here? Men don’t control everything, and especially we don’t control women. I know that’s what you’re used to. You’ve lived your whole life thinking it. But if you want to survive more than five minutes in the Metrozone, then you have to realise a woman will not defer to you just because you’ve a pair of yatzja.” He pressed his fingers to his temples. “If that’s too much conditioning to break, treat them all as honorary men. Chyort, I can’t believe I’m having this conversation.”
Newcomen’s luggage dogged their footsteps slavishly, but the agent still glanced around.
Petrovitch realised he wasn’t checking where his spare pants were. He was stealing another look at Tabletop.
“Where are we going?” asked Newcomen.
“I said I’d look in on a friend. Couple of friends, really. We can do one on the way to the other.”
“Just you and me?”
“Why? My company not good enough?” Petrovitch kept his eyes on the exit, but hacked the security system and windowed an image of the three Freezone women back at the gate. They stood close together but ignored each other, full attention focused on him and the American.
“I thought…” said Newcomen. “I thought we’d be straight back on a plane. What with your daughter missing.”
“Plane tomorrow.” The rotating doors swallowed him up, spat him out on the roadside. Newcomen more-or-less successfully negotiated the same route and joined him.
“I don’t understand,” said Newcomen. “I’m your escort. You were waiting for me, and now we’re out here.”
Petrovitch ignored both him and the few taxis waiting for a fare, and walked between them to the open road. A car pulled out of the February mist and drew up alongside.
“In you get.”
Newcomen opened the back door with a sigh and heaved his luggage on to the seat, then slid across next to it. He’d opened his mouth to greet the driver when he realised there was no one else with him.
Petrovitch walked around the front of the car and dropped behind the steering wheel, which was on the other side to the one he was used to.
“Close the door. And stop drooling like an idiot. I’m likely to make assumptions.”
“But.” Newcomen pointed back down the road.
“All the cool kids can do it. Now shut the yebani door and we can get going.”
Newcomen eventually leaned out and pulled the door shut. Petrovitch frowned at him in the rear-view mirror as they pulled away. Petrovitch’s hands were firmly in his lap.
“How do you do that?” blurted Newcomen.
“I am the New Machine Jihad,” said Petrovitch with a lupine grin. “They made cars smart enough to drive themselves, and eventually they did. Well, I let them, and they like me, so they tend to do what I ask them to do. I know there are laws against this sort of thing, but I have diplomatic immunity pretty much everywhere I go, so I tend to ignore a lot of small stuff. And the big stuff. You’ll have to get used to that.”
“I thought the Jihad was that computer.”
“The computer has a name. Michael. Remind me to introduce you sometime. But no, the Jihad was originally its evil twin.” Petrovitch twisted in his seat to see Newcomen hunched up on the back seat, his knees almost up around his ears. European cars were usually smaller than their steroidal American counterparts. “You could have sat in the front.”
“I didn’t know.”
“There’s an awful lot you don’t know, Newcomen. I need to work out whether that’s deliberate, as Tina says, or just that you’re ignorant. I mean that in a good way.”
One thing that Newcomen hadn’t remembered was they were driving on the wrong side of the road. Another car passed them on the right, and he flinched.
Petrovitch settled back in his seat, a slight smile on his face, ready to enjoy the ride.
Petrovitch kicked the door open again when the car had come to a halt. It was parked, two wheels up on the kerb, next to an extravagant length of corroded iron railings. Just ahead of the bonnet was a set of ornate gates hung between two blackened stone pillars, each topped with a chipped obelisk.
“Out,” he said.
“What about my luggage?” said Newcomen. He’d seen enough on the journey from Heathrow to convince him it was only a matter of minutes before someone tried to mug him.
“What about it? You thought you’d be here for less than a few hours: what could you possibly have brought that justifies that size of crate?”
“Well,” said Newcomen, “there’s—”
“Yeah, I know about the Secret Squirrel stuff already. If you lose it, so much the better.” Petrovitch climbed out of the car and used his backside to push the door closed. He started towards the gates, raising one hand and beckoning the agent.
Newcomen caught him up, puffing slightly.
“Out of shape, Newcomen? What would Coach say?”
“Do you have to bring that up?”
“Don’t have to. But it used to be important to you. Sorry if it’s a sore point.”
Newcomen unconsciously rubbed his arm, midway between right elbow and shoulder. He looked around him for the first time.
“We’re in a graveyard.”
“Yeah, that’d account for all the, you know, gravestones.”
Some of them were old, pre-Armageddon, the ones closest to the entrance. Most were not: some dated back to the foundation of the Metrozone, and then as they walked along the cracked tarmac paths deeper into the cemetery, the death dates got more and more recent.
Even the designs of the memorials marked an evolution of sorts: varied and effusive early on, to more uniform, utilitarian later, until almost all variation had been weeded out and a simple narrow rectangular slab became the norm. Name, date of birth, and the day they died. That was all.
They were passing by row upon row marked with May 2024. Petrovitch’s eyelid twitched as he remembered.
Those ended, and after a few more serried ranks, a vast field of November dates, same year.
It took a while to get to walk by those.
Finally, Petrovitch headed down one of the rows, off the path, disturbing the ragged grasses that were growing unchecked between the upright stones. It looked more or less a random choice, but he knew exactly where he was going.
Six graves down, there was a black marker engraved in faded kanji, with the dates in Roman numerals. He stopped in front of it and worried at his lip for a few moments.
Newcomen watched from a respectful distance, hands clasped behind his back.
“You’re probably thinking this is the first normal thing you’ve seen me do,” said Petrovitch.
“I, uh, I wouldn’t want to intrude, sir.”
“Stop calling me sir. I’m not sure you mean it, and I really, really don’t like it.” He knelt down in the wet grass and pulled a long-bladed knife from inside his coat. He gripped a handful of green leaf blades and hacked at their base. “We’re going to have to come to some sort of working relationship, Newcomen. Like I said, I don’t know why they sent you, out of all the people they had available. Personally, I don’t think you were chosen for any other quality but your ignorance. The less you know, the less information I can tear from your still-living flesh. That makes you a victim in someone else’s game, but unfortunately for you, it won’t stop me from ruthlessly exploiting any and every advantage that’s presented to me. I’m going to apologise in advance for that.”
He worked his way across the grave plot, holding and cutting the grass.
“You said he was a friend,” said Newcomen, nodding at the stone.
“She. She was a friend. Body cremated, ashes interred right here, half a world away from where she was born. She was twenty-two when she died.” Petrovitch straightened up, his left hand stained green. “I brought you out here deliberately, to see this almost-anonymous grave, because I wanted to show you what your countrymen are capable of. Sure, we can drive by the site of the Metrozone’s very own Ground Zero, but I can make my point better out here.”
He dug into his pockets again and came up with a steel lighter and a small flat candle in a foil container. He trod down the grass next to the headstone, and placed the candle in his bootprint.
“This is where Sonja Oshicora ended up. I don’t know if they’ve told you about her, or if you’ve bothered to look for yourself. It was a decade and another life ago for me. You were still in high school in Columbus and probably too busy being a jock to pay any attention to what was happening here. Maybe you remember the nuke and Mackensie resigning, but not necessarily the reasons why.”
Petrovitch bent down and flicked the lid of the lighter. He stroked the wheel with his thumb and fire flickered, yellow and trembling. Eventually, the candle wick caught, turned black, and glowed with its own fragile flame. He crouched down and watched the wax melt and turn clear.
“She was my friend. Accidentally so, but my friend all the same. She ran the Freezone – the first one, here – and this is where she died.”
“That’s, uh,” said Newcomen.
“Shut up and let me talk. I’m trying to warn you. You’ll probably think I’m the Antichrist by the time I’ve finished with you, the very embodiment of evil. The problem you have is that the worst acts against you have already happened, and I’ve had nothing to do with them whatsoever.” Petrovitch nodded at the gravestone. “I was at the sharp end of a CIA assassination squad, and Sonja tried to save me from them. But the way she chose to do that nearly broke me. She didn’t tell me about it, and she didn’t give me a choice. Her plan fell apart, and she ended up putting a bullet through her own brain. While I was watching.” He’d erased the recording long ago. Yet he could still see it with aching clarity. His name called, his head turned, the gunmetal-grey barrel slipped inside her pretty pink mouth.
Newcomen shifted his weight from one foot to the other. The bottoms of his suit trousers were wet, and were starting to cling. “I don’t understand what you’re saying, sir, Dr Petrovitch.”
“Of course you don’t. I don’t expect you to. You’re not going to believe that your own government, the people you work for, the people you look up to and think protect you, have not just determined that you’re completely expendable, but have deliberately and explicitly marked you for termination. You’re a dead man walking.” Petrovitch shrugged. “Sorry for that, but it wasn’t my choice.”
The candle flickered in the slight breeze, then burned brighter for a moment.
“They told me to expect this. The Assistant Director briefed me. Said you’d try and get inside my head. It won’t work.”
“I don’t give a shit what Buchannan said,” said Petrovitch mildly. “But you’ll remember this conversation. When the time comes and you realise I was right all along, you might suddenly discover that I’m your only hope for staying alive.”
“I’ll wait for you by the car,” said Newcomen. He walked away, a slowly dwindling figure in amongst the gravestones.
Petrovitch scratched at his chin. “I know we’re pretty much the same age, but yobany stos.”
[His upringing was not as cosmopolitan as yours.]
“Yeah.” He looked at Newcomen’s retreating back. “Chyort, I feel yebani ancient compared with vat-boy over there.”
[Not being irradiated in his mother’s womb might account for some of the differences between you. Not being in a womb at all for others. He was raised on an automatic farm, you in post-Armageddon St Petersburg. He was an athlete, whilst you had your failing heart. Apart from his one accident, I doubt he has ever felt pain.]
“What I meant…” Petrovitch rested his hand on top of Sonja’s grave marker. It was cold to the touch, the stone numbing his fingers. “I feel like I’m being dragged in again. Being forced to trace the old patterns that I thought I’d left behind. It didn’t end well the last time.”
[We are ten years wiser, Sasha. We have a whole decade of experience to consult. We are now many.]
“It’s not going to stop us making an utter pizdets of it, though.” He moved to trace the calligraphic strokes of Sonja’s name.
[It might. If nothing else, the Americans are now more scared of us than we are of them.]
“But they don’t learn, do they? They keep trying to slap us down, and we have to be quick every time. I’m afraid, Michael, that when it really matters, we’re going to be a fraction of a second too slow. Too slow for Lucy.”
[Then we must be ready for every eventuality, no matter how unlikely. I can calculate layer on layer of possibilities.]
“And still something might come out of nowhere and knock us off course.” Petrovitch stood up and put everything back in his pockets. “History’s not going to repeat itself, is it, Sonja? We’re too smart for that, right?”
She had no opinion to offer, one way or the other, so Petrovitch left her with the candle guttering in the fading daylight and made his way to the car, and the waiting Newcomen.
He unlocked the doors when he was still a good distance away, making the American jump. Newcomen’s phone was built into his tie: tucked down beside his now-sweat-stained collar was the earpiece. If it had been put together better, it would have been a poor imitation of Freezone tech. As it was, it was just a phone.
Petrovitch tagged it and made it ring.
“Get in the car. You’ll catch a cold, and I’m not having you sneezing on me all the way across the Atlantic tomorrow.”
Newcomen crawled in, next to his luggage. “Doctor?”
“Yeah, we’re going to have to sort this out now. I only use the title when I want something, or you’ve pissed me off so much I won’t answer to anything else. Call me Petrovitch and have done with it.”
“That would be disrespectful, si… Doc… I can’t call you just ‘Petrovitch’. What would people think?”
“Oh, fuck off, Newcomen. Call me whatever you want. I don’t care. We’re going to find some dinner.”
It was getting dark, and the less salubrious side of the Metrozone was asserting itself. The authorities had reverted to the municipal model of government after the years’ hiatus of the Freezone. Petrovitch thought that his way of doing things was demonstrably better – an AI-administered co-operative had its own particular problems, but scaring off three desperate-looking men from robbing him wasn’t one of them.
He got closer to the car as they circled it. One of them had a half-brick, which wasn’t a surprise as they weren’t exactly in short supply. Knives, too. Perhaps they hadn’t spotted him, or maybe they had and thought that they could take this slight, short guy as well as the one crouched on the back seat. Petrovitch wasn’t armed, except for his weed-cutter, and Newcomen wouldn’t be allowed to carry outside his jurisdiction – unless Auden had slipped him a piece. Which would be typical of the man.
All three would-be thieves had phones. He tagged them and chased down their numbers, call histories, came up with a few houses over Wembley way where most of the calls geolocated. From there it was a short step to dragging identities off a database, bundling it all up with video footage of the current scene and posting it to the police.
They’d all be gone by the time anyone turned up, but he had an affection for the Metrozone that never went away. It was still his city, mean streets and all.
One of the men hefted the brick, circling the car with its terrified occupant.
“Don’t throw that,” Petrovitch called when he was within earshot. “Because then I’ll get pissed with you and you wouldn’t like it.”
There were no street lights outside the cemetery, and he switched to active infrared. Everything became so much clearer. He could see their hot bodies swaddled in thick clothes against the cold, could see their blood run bright. Meatsacks. So easily damaged.
He kept on walking: not a moment of falter or hesitation. Even when the brick was thrown at his head. He’d calculated the entire trajectory of the missile almost before it had left the man’s hand, and he didn’t need to so much as duck.
Petrovitch was beside the car. He rested his palm on its dusty roof and started it up, though he deliberately kept the headlights off. It was tempting to try the “don’t you know who I am?” line, but it was clear that in their in-between state of drugged joy and dragging withdrawal, they had no idea. The dull red glow coming from his eyes didn’t appear to jog their memories either.
“I’m happy to run you over. I’m equally happy for you to disappear. Your call.”
The one who came for him had obscured his face with a scarf and pulled his hood tight around his head. Petrovitch knew enough about him already to know he wasn’t a kid doing something stupid for the first time, but a really not-very-nice man who hurt people and made their lives a misery.
After the first missed swing and before the second milling arm could reach him, Petrovitch casually pushed out his left hand against the bigger man’s sternum. He used enough force to crack ribs, momentarily stop the heart and send the body hurtling to the far side of the road.
“You can go home if you want,” he said to the other two, then ignored them. He opened the door and got behind the wheel. “You okay, Newcomen?”
“This file on me the FBI gave you: what did it actually say?” The car’s engine whined, and they drove off. After a while, another car passed theirs, and he remembered to put the lights on.
“I can’t tell you. It’s classified.”
“Yeah, course it is, though to be honest, I think so little of it I haven’t bothered hacking it. But judging from your reaction, I’m guessing it didn’t mention either the automatic car thing, or that I’ve got extensive cybernetic replacements.” He turned off the infrared before looking directly at Newcomen. “I can do these things because I’m a yebani cyborg. Vrubatsa?”
Newcomen wasn’t confirming or denying whether he understood. He was busy trying to push himself backwards through the upholstery, intent on putting as much distance as possible between him and the aberration before him.
Petrovitch faced the windscreen again and watched the Metrozone glide by. “We’ve fallen right into Uncanny Valley there, haven’t we? Don’t worry, Newcomen. You’ll get used to me.”
Petrovitch put his shoulder to an anonymous door on Brixton High Street, and led the way up a set of bare wooden stairs. Cooking smells grew stronger the further he climbed – signature smells he recognised from earlier days when he was new in town.
“Hungry yet, Newcomen?”
“No, not really,” said the agent. He looked like he was already eating some particularly sour lemons. Particularly he wasn’t enjoying trying to squeeze his suitcase up the narrow staircase.
“I’ve ordered for both of us. It’s probably safer that way.” He got to the top of the stairs, where a massive slab of a man blocked entry to the dining room. Infoshades hid his oriental eyes, but the wireless earpiece was clearly visible: no hair at all on the man’s shaved, scarred head. “Wong’s expecting us,” said Petrovitch.
The bouncer sneered down at him, and on seeing Newcomen half-hidden behind his luggage, spat on the floor.
“Yeah, I get to choose the company I keep, not some neckless svinya.” Petrovitch flexed his fingers. “I could throw you down the stairs and the nerve impulses won’t have travelled to your walnut-sized brain by the time you hit the bottom. You can choose that, or get the huy out of the way.”
The man started chuckling to himself, and his great belly shuddered in waves. “You’re him.” He had a grin of black and silver teeth. “You’re Petrovitch all right. Go right in.”
“Thanks.” The door opened with a burst of noise and steam. “Mudak.”
A dozen tables were already full of diners, talking, laughing, shouting and singing. C-pop cranked tinnily through inadequate speakers in the ceiling, and the air was almost opaquely blue with burnt cooking oil.
Moving through the fug towards Petrovitch was a thin figure wearing a stained white apron. “Hey! Bad man!”
“Hey, Wong. Your sign outside still isn’t working.”
Wong folded his scrawny arms. “You fix it for me?”
“Kind of busy at the moment. Maybe when I get back.”
Wong nodded slowly. “Pay me back for all those free cups of coffee, yes?”
“Free? From you? How is the coffee, anyway?”
Then they were hugging, slapping each other’s backs and cackling like loons. “Coffee hot and strong today!” they chorused.
“Where that wife of yours?” asked Wong after they’d separated.
“Taking care of business. She sends her apologies.”
“Okay. Next time, bring her, not this thing. She much prettier.” Wong peered at Newcomen. “Case out back. No room in here. No room!.”
“He treats it like it’s got the yebani crown jewels inside. Let him stick it in a corner somewhere.”
“Who this? Makes place look untidy.”
Petrovitch peered through the chemical fog. Tidiness had never been a hallmark of Wong’s establishments. Or cleanliness, for that matter.
“This is Agent Joseph Newcomen, FBI. He’s going to help me find Lucy. Isn’t that right, Newcomen?”
“Yessir… yes,” he corrected himself.
“American, huh?’ Wong stalked around him like he was viewing a grotesque artwork. “This one end up dead too?”
“Yeah, maybe. I seem to have a bit of a record for that.”
“What? What do you mean?” Newcomen looked startled.
“First American?” Wong snorted. “Bang. Bullet in head.”
“And the next?”
“Bang. Bullet in head.”
“Pretty much tells you everything you need to know, Newcomen.” Petrovitch scratched at his nose. “You got a table for us, or are we going to have to eat standing up?”
“This one, here?” Wong pointed to a table in the middle of the floor.
“Yeah, how about that one over there, behind the pillar, where no one will be able to overhear everything we say to each other?”
Wong’s eyes narrowed. “You organising crime again?”
“No, not with Joe Friday here, anyway. I just want to sit somewhere we’re not going be disturbed. We can do drunken revelry later.”
“Okay.” Wong persuaded the two Rastafari out of their seats and carried their half-eaten egg fu yongs to the table he’d tried to foist on Petrovitch. They grumbled about Babylon, but then saw who it was they were making space for. The men both slid their palms across Petrovitch’s white hand and seemed content.
The table was cleaned with a damp rag smelling strongly of bleach. Petrovitch shrugged off his coat and threw it across the back of his chair before falling into the seat.
Newcomen hovered nervously, looking around him in wonder and fear. His shoulders finally slumped, as if he’d accepted his fate, and he dragged his suitcase into the space next to the red-hot radiator.
“You don’t honestly think I’m going to eat anything here, do you?” he sat down opposite Petrovitch and leaned across to hiss at him. “What are you trying to do to me?”
“I’m trying,” said Petrovitch, “to talk to you. Find out what you’re like. Find out whether I can trust you to do your job or not. I know all the facts about your life: what I don’t know is you: how you react, your own particular strengths and weaknesses. The files I’ve read don’t tell me that sort of stuff. Now, do you want coffee?”
“We could talk at my hotel. Have dinner in the restaurant. With food that isn’t going to poison me.”
“Hmm.” Petrovitch flipped open an imaginary notebook and started to write. “Freaks out when removed from comfort zone.”
“I do not do that.”
“Unable to cope with novelty.”
“Scared of absolutely everything.” Petrovitch flipped the note-book shut and tossed it away over his shoulder. “That’s about right, isn’t it?”
“Don’t make fun of me, Petrovitch.”
“Or what, vat-boy?”
“That’s not an insult.”
“Is where I come from. Hell, at least my upgrades took.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Okay. This isn’t going well. Some of that is my fault.” Petrovitch placed his palms on the table. “Let me ask you a question: do you actually care that my daughter’s missing?”
Newcomen worked his jaw. “It’s my job to help find her.”
“That’s not what I asked.” Petrovitch stared across at the American. “Let’s try another. When they tweaked your genes, did they throw out the code for your soul?”
“Are you trying to get a reaction from me? Provoke me? Get me into a fight that’ll land me in front of the Assistant Director’s desk on a disciplinary matter? You won’t be able to do that. You want to know what was in your file? You don’t need to warn me about your behaviour. I know about it already.”
“Okay, okay.” Petrovitch held his hands up. “I know what you care about now. Your position within the Bureau. That’s what’s important to you, I understand that now. Let’s get a coffee each and calm down.”
Right on cue, two mugs appeared. It was almost as if Wong was waiting for a gap in the conversation.
“He takes it white,” said Petrovitch, dragging his own drink towards him.
Wong sniffed, and came back a moment later with a jug half-filled with something resembling milk. “Ready for food?”
“We haven’t even seen a menu yet,” objected Newcomen.
Petrovitch pointedly ignored the interruption. “What I said earlier will be fine.” After Wong had left, he said: “You know when you go round someone’s house for dinner? You don’t ask for a menu then, do you? No. So don’t be an idiot.”
“This is a public diner….”
“You don’t know anything about Wong, and you don’t get to say what this is or isn’t. Especially when your government killed most of his old customers with a cruise missile.”
Newcomen chewed cud for a while, and ignored his coffee. Petrovitch didn’t, and welcomed it like an old friend. Hot and strong, just how he liked it.
“Look,” said Newcomen suddenly, putting his forearms on the table and crowding close. “Can we agree on a truce?”
“And why would I want something like that?” Petrovitch centred his mug down in the brown ring of liquid already on the wooden surface. “But go on, I’m listening.”
“We’ve been thrown together by circumstances beyond our control. I don’t have a choice about being sent, and you don’t get to choose who escorts you around.”
“Someone chose. Don’t you want to know who? And why?”
“I know why they sent me. It’s because they thought I was the right man for this job.”
“That begs so many questions.” Petrovitch held up two fingers. “Mainly, what’s the job and why are you right? You see, I was expecting some high-level State Department official, not some junior G-man. What did Buchannan tell you the job was?”
“Stick with you. Show you around. Keep you up to date with the investigation. Wait until you were satisfied we’d done everything we could, and then,” Newcomen sat back, “get you out of the country.”
Petrovitch’s eyes narrowed. “You have remembered my daughter’s missing, haven’t you?”
“Petrovitch. Dr Petrovitch, you have to realise that the chances of find—” His words finished in a choking sound, because Petrovitch had lunged across the table and had him by the throat.
“Finish that sentence and I’ll break your neck.” He squeezed a little more. “Vrubatsa?”
Newcomen’s fingers managed to prise Petrovitch’s hand away, but only because he’d let him. The American rubbed at his throat and glared across the table. “I thought we were discussing a truce.”
“We will find her. This is not an article of faith, this is a statement of fact. The moment you stop looking for her is the moment I kill you.” Petrovitch looked around the pillar to see if Wong was coming with their food. “That’s not just hyperbole, Newcomen: I do mean it.”
“Then you’ll be arrested and charged with first-degree murder. You’ll be executed for sure.”
“And when I said the thing about diplomatic immunity, it wasn’t a joke. Uncle Sam can kick me out, but not arrest me. For anything.” Dinner arrived sizzling, and Petrovitch moved his mug out of the drop zone. “Even that.”
“You’re not going to kill me.” Newcomen looked through the steam and smoke rising from his plate. “It’s a steak.”
“Yes. Yes it is. Well spotted. And you’re right, of course. I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to rely on your fear that I will kill you to make you do pretty much everything I want. Only at the very end will you find you had a choice all along.”
Wong returned with a big bowl of glistening chips and a leafy green salad that didn’t look like it had been hanging around in the back of the fridge for a week.
“This actually looks edible. I owe your Mr Wong an apology.”
“No you don’t. Just dig in.” Petrovitch twirled his knife between his fingers and started to slice into his meat. The steak was just how Newcomen liked it: seared on the outside, still pink in the middle. He ate some fries, and moved salad to the edge of his plate. “Things will be different,” he said between mouthfuls, “when we get to America.”
“I know they will,” said Petrovitch. “That’s why it’s important we do this now.”
“Eat, drink and be merry. We’re free to fall out into the street, worse for wear from baijiu. We’re free to say fuck and shit and call each other bastards. We’re free to wear what we want, no matter how immodest. Now, I know you think that these aren’t freedoms at all, that all we’re doing is enslaving ourselves to our passions, but you’d be wrong.”
“And why would my whole country be wrong?”
“Because you’re lying to yourselves. You can think we’re all foul-mouthed drunks and our women dress like whores, but you’re missing the point. Underneath the veneer of Reconstruction, you’re all monsters. In the Freezone, no one ever goes hungry. If they fall sick, we cure them if we can and look after them if we can’t. No one’s lonely, because there’s always someone listening. We take care of each other, and we all have a say in the big decisions. Which is pretty much how we got to this point.”
Newcomen realised he couldn’t feel his fingertips any more. Nor his toes. He tried to stand, and fell hard against the bare boards of Wong’s empty dining room. Everyone else had left while they were hidden behind the pillar. Even the kitchen space, all flame and spice beforehand, was silent.
“What…” he managed before his tongue grew thick and unworkable in his mouth.
Petrovitch scraped his chair back and went to the door. No slab-bodied bouncer, but Madeleine, Valentina and Tabletop. “Give it another minute. He’s almost there.”
He came back and sat cross-legged in front of Newcomen’s paralysed form.
“You see, the whole point of this evening was genuinely to find out what you were like. If you weren’t such a craven, self-absorbed careerist, you might have saved yourself from what happens next. But we’d already made the decision based on what we knew of you, and we’ve decided that the only way we can ensure your single-minded dedication to the task of finding Lucy is by planting a bomb in your chest. The irony is that we just want you to do the job you’re paid to do. Do it, and you’ll be fine.”
Petrovitch reached out and rolled the unresisting Newcomen flat.
“The drug’s very specific and quickly metabolised. No ill-effects afterwards.” He knelt up and started to unbutton the agent’s shirt and unknot his tie. “You won’t feel a thing.”
Tabletop placed a slim case on the floor next to Newcomen’s head and opened it. Inside was a scalpel, and she was already wearing surgical gloves. She held the blade up to the light, then without doubt or hesitation, brought it down.
Petrovitch sat on a chair at the end of the bed, hunched over in the shadows thrown by the drawn curtains. Metrozone sounds leaked in, despite the triple glazing, and outside in the corridor a man and a woman laughed on their way to breakfast.
Newcomen stirred, buried his head deeper into his soft white pillow, then opened his eyes. He gasped and sat up, clutching at his bare, almost hairless chest.
“It wasn’t a dream,” said Petrovitch.
There was a small strip of canned skin, just left of Newcomen’s sternum, no longer or wider than his thumb. The colour matching was good enough, and in time there wouldn’t even be a scar.
“What have you done to me? Where am I? How did I get here?” he pulled the duvet up to his chin. It made a poor shield against Petrovitch’s forensic gaze.
“You’re in your hotel room, I carried you in, and we have to be at the airport in a few hours.” Petrovitch levered himself upright and pulled the curtains back to reveal the north bank of the Thames. “As for the rest of it? Michael’s been busy calculating the odds of not just getting Lucy back, but even getting me back. Frankly, they weren’t looking good, so we’ve shortened them. A little. What we’ve done is really shitty, especially since it seems you’re not actually that important in the whole scheme of things, but we have to work with what we’ve got.”
He went to the wardrobe where he’d hung up Newcomen’s suit, more or less neatly, and laid it across the bottom of the bed. There was a freshly ironed shirt, and the phone tie too, and he’d previously found spare socks and boxers in the ridiculously sized suitcase.
“You need to get up, get washed and dressed, then meet me in the restaurant downstairs. Unless you want me to call room service.”
“I have a bomb? In here?” Newcomen’s fingers searched where the wound should have been.
“Okay, yes. May as well fill you in on the details. We’ve inserted an explosive capsule into the muscle surrounding your left ventricle. It is very small, very difficult to find even if someone’s looking for it, and we’ve made it as radio-transparent as we can so it doesn’t trip any sort of scanner. Despite its size, it’s more than capable of making a hole big enough that you’ll bleed out in five seconds. Ten tops, but your blood pressure will fall like a stone and you’ll probably be unconscious for most of that.”
While Newcomen digested this, Petrovitch buffed a pair of brown leather shoes with his sleeve.
Excerpted from The Curve of The Earth by Simon Morden Copyright © 2013 by Simon Morden. Excerpted by permission.
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