Version 43by Philip Palmer
The Exodus Universe.Your odds of surviving quantum teleportation are, more or less, fifty/fifty. The only ones crazy enough to try it are the desperate, the insane, and those sentenced to exile for their crimes.Belladonna is home to the survivors of the fifty/fifty and is therefore a planet run by criminals and thieves. But when a horrific and improbable… See more details below
The Exodus Universe.Your odds of surviving quantum teleportation are, more or less, fifty/fifty. The only ones crazy enough to try it are the desperate, the insane, and those sentenced to exile for their crimes.Belladonna is home to the survivors of the fifty/fifty and is therefore a planet run by criminals and thieves. But when a horrific and improbable murder catches the attention of the Galactic Police force, one cyborg cop Version 43 is sent to investigate.Version 43 has been here before and has old friends and older enemies lying in wait. The cop was human once, but now, he is more program than man and will find a way to clean up this planet once and for all.
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By Palmer, Philip
OrbitCopyright © 2010 Palmer, Philip
All right reserved.
I was in a cheerful mood. The sky was a rich blue. The twelve moons of Belladonna shone, it seemed to me, like globes on a Christmas tree in the daytime sky. I could smell heliotropes, growing in banks beside the moving walkways, and orchids and lilies and peonies growing in baskets that hovered above the pedestrian boulevard.
I was one day old. I would, my database warned me, grow more jaded with the passage of time. But for the moment, life felt good.
It was a short walk from the spaceport to the crime scene. I was in constant subvocal contact with the Sheriff, Gordon Heath, and the crime-scene photos scrolled in front of my eyes as I walked. But the air was fresh, and the heliotropes and the orchids and the lilies and the peonies were fragrant, as were the roses and the summer lilacs and cut grass in the parkland that led off the boulevard. A woman was sunbathing naked on the grass, and I registered her distant beauty, and felt a faint stirring of remembered regret.
Then I walked on, another five blocks. Most of the citizens were using the moving walkways, twin rivers on either side of the pedestrian thoroughfare. Flybikes and flying cars zoomed above me, rather lower than was prudent or indeed (I checked this on my database) legal. The Belladonnans, I noted, dressed soberly but elegantly. Many of the men had grey or black waistcoats and ornate buckled belts and armoured jackets. The women tended to wear long silver or gold or scarlet dresses and high-heeled boots, apart from the courtesans who wore jewelled gowns.
“I’m Sheriff Heath.”
“I’m aware of your identity,” I said. I was now at the crime scene, and I filtered out my olfactory sensations to focus on the case.
“Pleased to meet you too,” the Sheriff chided, and I registered the hint of irony but decided it would be politic to ignore it.
The Sheriff and I were standing outside a twelve-storey hotel made of black brick. Police officers had cordoned off the area with holos proclaiming POLICE and MURDER SCENE – KEEP AWAY. The citizens on the moving walkways gawped at the sight, secretly thrilled (or so I posited) at the glimpse of a terror that had passed them by.
“Sheriff, feel free to call me Luke,” I added, in a belated attempt to build a rapport.
In fact, “Luke” was not and never had been my name.
“Sure, I’ll do that. ‘Luke’.”
This time, there was open scorn in the lawman’s tone, but I chose to ignore that subtextual nuance also.
Sheriff Heath, I noted, looked shockingly old – too old perhaps for cosmetic rejuve? – though his body was fit and strong. He was bald, heavily wrinkled, with a grey walrus moustache and peering blue eyes. I had been impressed at the diverse range of his bio: soldier, pirate, artist, scientist and bartender. Now, he was Sheriff of the Fourth Canton of Lawless City.
The holograms of the crime scene didn’t do justice to its horror. Blood and human flesh spattered the walls and ceilings. A screaming severed head swam in a pool of blood on the bed. And inside the mouth, which gaped unnaturally large, was a human heart, squeezed and squirted. It was evident that multiple murders had occurred, and that the killings had all been frenzied.
I switched on my decontam forcefield and hovered back and forth a centimetre above the ground. I used my finger-tweezers to take samples of blood and flesh, and carefully counted and collated the scattered limbs and organs in order to make a tally of the corpses. (Final count: five, of which two were male, three female.) The chaotic dispersal of body parts at this crime scene was far from typical: I found two legs and all five livers in the wardrobe and a pair of hands and six eyes underneath the floor panels in the kitchen, and the entrails of all the corpses were enmeshed and interconnected to form effectively a vast colon. In addition, one set of lungs had fallen under the bed.
At one point I glanced behind, and was startled to see that the Sheriff was pale and looked nauseous.
“Murder weapon?” I asked.
“We found nothing. We don’t know what could have done this.”
“Plasma beam? Samurai sword?”
I looked closer. I’d assumed that the heart in the mouth of the severed head on the bed had been inserted by a psychopathic ritual killer. But an eyeball-tomograph told me that the heart was actually occupying the space normally reserved for a tongue, and was organically connected to the throat. I took pinprick microsamples and analysed the DNA, and found that the DNA in the head’s staring eyeballs didn’t match the DNA of the head itself, and neither was a match for the heart. I then performed a dissection of the heart, and found, inside it –
– an erect penis.
For the first time in many years, I wished I could desire to vomit.
“What is this?” I marvelled.
“Our best guess,” said the Sheriff. “These bodies were quantum teleported, and got jumbled up along the way. That’s why we called you in. A quantum teleport weapon, we ain’t never hearda such a thing. So we reckoned, must be banned technology, your kinda can of worms.”
“Amongst other things. Do we have any idea who these victims are?”
“I recognise this one,” the Sheriff said, gesturing at the severed staring head.
“Who is it?”
“It’s my son,” the Sheriff said, barely a quaver in his voice.
I processed that fact for a few moments, and decided not to comment on the horrific coincidence.
“Alexander. Alexander Heath. We didn’t get on so well. He was a stubborn bastard, just like me.”
“What gang did he work for?”
“He was clean. He was a doctor at the City Hospital. Two convictions for violence as a boy, but they were gang-related mano a manos, and since then, he’s lived the pure life.”
“What about you? Do you have enemies?”
“None. I’m corrupt as hell. No one could fall out with me.”
I processed this too; it tallied with all my data. I nodded.
“I’ve identified two men, including your son, and three women. Could they be colleagues?” I asked.
“Worth checking out.”
I checked it out, cross-referencing the DNA of the corpses against the City Hospital personnel records.
“They’re all medics,” I said, a few seconds later. “In addition to your son, the corpses are: Andrei Pavlovsky, Jada Brown, Sara Limer, Fliss Hooper. Know them?”
“Fliss was my son’s girl. Pretty as hell. He thought I was hitting on her; that was one of our fallings out.”
“In my dreams. She was a looker.”
“Did you love your son?”
I felt an emotion inside myself, and identified it, and marvelled at its richness and its power:
It was Rage.
Lawless City had a real name: Bompasso. After John Bompasso, one of the three creators of cute-o, the Quantum Theory of Everything.
No one ever called it that.
It was a city built on hills, and riddled with rivers – five of them, intertwining like rats’ tails – and dominated by black-stoned towering buildings decorated with jewelled carvings by master artisans. Many of the buildings teetered precariously on thin pillars, or even floated above the ground. It was forcefield architecture at its most inspired: the marble and the stone were clad over a diagrid of unyielding nothingness.
I had, my database told me, visited this city three times before. Once I had been ambushed by desperadoes and killed. The second time I had arrested and then executed those desperadoes. And on my last visit, I had successfully smashed the entire crime cartel. Four gang bosses had been killed, eleven more had been brain-fried. A democratic government had been appointed, and incorruptible cyborg judges had been placed in charge of the criminal justice system. And an army of street cops were hired to enforce the rule of law.
That was a hundred years ago. Now, the gangs were back in charge. The dons were all new immigrants, with souls seared by frequent brain-frying on one of the Home Planets. They were ruthless, hungry, and full of dangerous exhilaration at having survived the fifty-fifty.
It was a wretched state of affairs, but I didn’t feel even a twinge of despair at the prospect of working on such a planet.
For I had expunged Despair from my circuits long ago, considering it to be a purposeless and dispiriting emotion. Instead, I felt Excitement at the challenge ahead. I would solve this crime; and when I had solved the crime, I would solve all the other crimes that I might happen to stumble across. I would restore peace and justice to Bompasso.
Then I would leave, and peace would reign for a while.
And then, after a slightly longer while, the violence would return. And Bompasso would once again be known as Lawless City.
“This is your hotel,” said the Sheriff, and I craned my neck.
“Any room. It’s yours. It’s fully staffed.”
I continued to stare up at the hotel. It was a double bay-fronted mansion decorated with gold-inlaid sgraffito and ruby bosses, set in the ubiquitous black stone. It shimmered like a rainbow that has snared a pot of gold.
“I don’t need a whole hotel.”
“It’s yours. You’re our guest.”
“I don’t even sleep. I just need a socket to plug myself in to at night.”
“I’m kidding. I don’t recharge. My batteries never run out. I kid, sometimes.”
“Remember to warn me.”
“I will, Sheriff.”
“We’ve given you hologram facilities. You can speak to anyone you like anywhere on the planet.”
“I don’t like holograms. I prefer to interview suspects in the flesh.”
“I’m still kidding.”
“Ho, forgive my hilarity, ho. Did they ever tell you—?”
“I’m not at liberty to answer personal questions.”
“So they didn’t, huh.” The Sheriff grinned, knowingly, with a hint of condescension.
I was used to this kind of treatment from living humans. I had once analysed the reasons for it, and had recorded my conclusion on my database: humans like to think they are better than cyborgs, despite being, in every relevant specification, less efficient, less effective, and inferior.
“My personality,” I explained gently, “is a template for my consciousness. It really doesn’t matter who used to own it.”
“I can’t imagine—”
“Living on in a robot body. Forever.”
“My personality does not live on. The human I used to be is dead. It’s me now. Just me.”
“Yeah. The hotel door is set to your codes. Just give it a hard stare, it’ll let you in.”
“I need to start interviewing.”
“Who? We have no suspects.”
“We have a city full of suspects, Sheriff. I want to get to know them all.”
Excerpted from Version 43 by Palmer, Philip Copyright © 2010 by Palmer, Philip. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Quantum Theory of Everything changed everything yet changed nothing. The theory led to advances like quantum teleportation whose odds of surviving with all your neutrinos intact and no additions on the ride has been calculated based on empirical data at less than half. Only the desperate or insane voluntarily take that escape route though selected criminals are volunteered by the government. The planet Belladonna has become the receiving end of the quantum teleportation. The residents are criminally insane or just totally insane. Although the off planet powers normally ignore the human junkyard, the Galactic Police has been notified by Bompasso city Sheriff Heath of a horrific mass killing involving two males and three females as one of the victims is his son Alexander, a clean doctor at City Hospital. Though he knows he is the so called law of this Lawless City, Heath the father demands justice so he needs outside help to catch the SOB murderer. The Galactic Force sends cyborg cop Version 43 to investigate who killed Heath the son, the man's girlfriend Dr. Fliss Hooper, Andrei Pavlovsky, Jada Brown and Sara Limer. The starting point is City Hospital where Version 43 opens his inquiry with an interrogation of Macawley, an intimate friend of Hooper. Meanwhile several of the local crazies knew the cyborg when he was 100% human and wanted him dead then. Although Einstein argued about playing craps with the universe, he would have appreciated this strong intelligent science fiction police procedural with a vivid look at a planet used as a dump for exiled humans. Version 43 still makes the tale work with his noir behavior while investigating the mass murders; he proves a cyborg is the perfect cool hand Luke noir detective whether he visits City Hospital, the hologram morgue or the "ballad of Parliament Square. Harriet Klausner
A creative story, rich characters, fast pace. A friend loaned it to me and I planned to put it at the bottom of my stack until I read the first chapter; I moved it to the top and am glad I did so. Be warned that it is not a story for children, however.