Sage Walker's suspenseful, Locus Award-winning first novel, Whiteout, takes us to a twenty-first century Earth where government means multinational corporation.
And daily living means a struggle to survive the effects of overpopulation, poverty, pollution, and hunger.
One last hope remains: Antarctica, the only source of pristine water and food left on the planet. Antarctica is protected from human exploitation by international treaty—and that treaty’s due for renegotiation.
The people who have the talents to influence the outcome of these negotiations run Edges, a company of media manipulators. They’ve been hired by one of the corporations for whom the current situation suits them just fine, and they’d like to keep it that way. This team knows that they have the skills to make whatever they want happen. But they also know that if they succeed, they might doom the planet.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
SAGE WALKER is the author of Whiteout, which garnered critical acclaim and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. She was born in Oklahoma and grew up steeped in simile and sultry south wind from the Gulf. She entered college as a music major and exited with a B.S. in Zoology and eventually a M.D. A long time Taos resident, her company established the first full-time Emergency Physician coverage in hospitals in Taos, Los Alamos, and Santa Fe. She stopped practicing in 1987 and describes herself as a burned-out ER doc who enjoys wilderness, solitude, good company...and telling stories.
Read an Excerpt
Snow fell in Taos.
Signy pulled pine splits from the woodpile on the portal, an armload, a hundred bucks a cord and going fast. Tiny snowflakes found the sliver of exposed skin where her parka and her gloves did not meet. Melting, the flakes burned a pattern, a secret little snow message on the tender skin of her wrist. She didn't have the patience to try to read it.
Signy hooked her foot around the edge of the door, levered it open, carried her wood inside, and shoved her butt against the door. The door slammed with a satisfying bang.
Shelter, warmth, security, the old adobe house provided it generously, but only if the house was supplied with constant infusions of money, lots of money, and this morning it seemed that nobody she loved cared about that.
One hundred dollars a cord, Signy stacked her wood by the corner fireplace. The fire burned busily, money up the chimney, gone.
A spider scrambled from beneath a stick and ran for cover. It wasn't a black widow. Signy let it go, wondering what the hell it found to eat in a dry woodpile where the temperatures dropped below zero at night.
Pilar's voice, damn it, from the holo stage in the center of the studio. Signy kept her back to the stage and fed a log to the fire.
"You're back," Signy said. She shrugged out of her parka and laid it on the banco next to the logs, still not looking behind her.
"Signy, I'm sorry."
Edges' corporate funds were down to almost nil: Thank you, Pilar. Pilar was sorry.
"Is Jared there?" Pilar asked.
That did it. Looking for Jared, was she?
Signy stamped across the room, flung herself into the rolling chair at her console, and keyed up full resolution on the holo stage. Pilar had blown all of Edges' money, and Pilar's response? Guilt? Contrition? None of that. Pilar wanted Jared; he would give her comfort and hugs. There, there, he'd say, and fix the pain. Let Jared make everything feel better, right!
"Jared is up skiing," Signy said.
A presence built of bytes and photons, Pilar, life-sized, immediate, stood isolated at center stage. Mist sparkled on her long, Hispanic-black hair. The strap of a carry-on dented the padding in the shoulder of her jacket, this one printed within a geometry of primary colors: whites, blacks, bright oranges, and blues. Mayan-looking, new, probably expensive.
Signy pulled her headset over her eyes, giving herself a full surround of Pilar's setting. Pilar was at home in Seattle, yes, in the studio there, with its bay window and its polished wood floors.
"You're angry," Pilar said.
"Damned straight I'm angry! Pilar, we're broke! What the hell happened?" "I told you. I felt I was getting stale. I wanted the presence and stress a live audience gives. The feedback. It's different from virtual, from studio sessions and replays."
Pilar shrugged the carry-on off her shoulder, a dancer even in that simple gesture; so graceful. Pilar, the performance artist, performing now for Signy. Just once, Signy wished, would you please just turn it off?
"And I played to empty theaters. Nobody wants live anymore; nobody wants acoustic; they want scent and touch, the whole shtick, sensory jolts and virtual icicles down their backs. That's what they want. Or anyway, that's what they want from me."
Pilar retreated to a wall, braced her back against it, and slid down to sit cross-legged on the floor, theatrical dejection in every motion of those trained muscles. Signy wanted to thump her, hard.
"Look, I'm sorry your artistic sensibilities got wounded, but did you once look at what this caper cost us? Even once, Pilar?"
"No." The debits had just kept coming in from Pilar's draws on Edges' corporate credit accounts; lighting, a new guitarist at studio rates, different costumes when the first ones didn't suit. Then the road crew, the fees for interstate use, because shipping all the gear by airfreight seemed too expensive at the time. But Pilar hadn't bothered to figure in the cost of feeding the roadies.
"You must hate me," Pilar said.
Signy took a deep breath. "Listen, Pilar. Just listen for a minute. We have enough money to cover one more month's mortgate payments on the houses in Taos and Seattle. And that's all we've got." Paul's house in New Hampshire was a family legacy of his and paid for a hundred years ago, thank goodness. "We have one more payment coming in from that bit we did for Gulf Coast Intersystems, the tweak on their negotiations with the Arian people for fuel canisters. It's a small payment. That's it. I don't have time to hate you right now. I've got to dig around for a contract for us, or Edges goes poof!"
Signy wondered, even as the words came flying out, what the hell she was doing. Having a temper tantrum, obviously, and she knew she would feel guilty later, sick at her loss of control, contrite.
"Why didn't you stop me?" Pilar asked.
Pilar really did look hurt. Wounded. Worried, even. Oh, damn that face of hers, perfect wedge of cheekbone, big dark eyes, her aristocratic Hispanic-Anglo features.
"Damn it, Pilar! The charges that damn near broke us came in all in the same day, and you were off-line. Out of the net. Taking that little recreation break with your new guitarist, weren't you?"
Mendez was tasty, granted. If I'd been Pilar, Signy thought, I would have stolen a few hours in that Scottsdale hotel, the one with the good security that Paul and I couldn't break through.
We had fun trying, Paul and I, but if we can't get some work real fast, the fun's over. I can't let this group be destroyed, not without a fight, certainly not because Pilar-fucking-Videla gets urges for artistic flings. "You're a grown-up, Pilar. It's not my job to stop you. It isn't Paul's job, either."
"Look, I said I'm sorry." Pilar stood up and reached down for her carry-on. Tears stood in Pilar's eyes. "You're over the edge, Signy. We'll talk about this later."
Pilar dissolved, damn it, just vanished, all the feeds to Seattle blanked out, and Pilar's dramatic exit did not help Signy's temper at all. Signy tried an access sequence to the Seattle house, another, but the codes were tricky. She kept herself away from the emergency override, unwilling to break the unwritten rule that said, Don't use emergency overrides unless it's an emergency; we all need privacy sometimes.
Signy slapped at the keyboard and folded her arms against her chest. Pilar didn't always act like a grown-up? How about Signy Thomas? Mature, reasonable Signy Thomas, terrified of losing the group, family, whatever, called Edges. Pilar and Janine. Signy and Jared. Paul. All they were to each other, strength, support, synergy; they couldn't lose each other, damn it! Afraid of that loss, Signy had tried to hide her fear in anger, and the obvious target had been Pilar.
Signy typed a message for Seattle.
[Signy] Apologies. Contrition. I love you.
She sent it. The message would sit there until Pilar decided to respond, and that could be days; sometimes when Pilar got upset she vanished to the streets and didn't come back until she'd settled whatever demons were after her. She'd done it before.
Janine might help, but Signy hadn't seen her in the Seattle house. Janine had gone off to visit her folks while Pilar was out on the road, but Janine was due back — Signy pulled up the file where Edges posted itineraries, when they remembered. Janine was due back sometime today.
Paul's Call Me light blinked awake on Signy's console. He was up early, for Paul. In New Hampshire, it was noon.
Paul wanted something. Okay, she'd talk to him.
[Signy] What is it, Paul?
[Paul] A contract.
[Signy] We'll take it.
She got up and walked toward the kitchen, hoping this morning's coffee hadn't gone too stale.
Paul's voice came through the speaker above the sink. "Just like that? Don't you think you should hear what it is before we sign on?"
"Just take it, Paul. I don't care if it's with the Mafia, for pity's sake. We need the money."
Signy poured herself a cold cup of coffee and stuck it in the nuke.
"Calm down, Signy."
Listening, was he, while she yelled at Pilar? Oh, Paul!
"I'll try," Signy said.
"Drink your coffee," Paul said.
The coffee tasted bitter, old. Signy sipped at it anyway, forced it down over the lump in her throat. "Go ahead, Paul. Tell me about the job."
"The contract is with a company called Tanaka," Paul said. "Come in the studio and we'll look at it."
Settling her coffee cup on her desk in the big room in Taos, the studio with its paired desks and monitors, hers, Jared's, set low to give a heads-up view of the holo stage. Signy expected documents, charts, Paul's voice in overlay.
"Full interface, please," Paul said.
Done some work on this, had he? Signy pulled on her headset and accepted the illusion of Paul Maury's world.
Colors and white noise blurred and then cleared before Signy's eyes, as if she blinked away a wash of tears. Paul smiled at her, his face in close focus because his face was where she had entered virtual, winter-pale skin, the black feather of an eyebrow, heavy lashes. Signy backed away. Paul wore a maroon turtleneck and rumpled tweed slacks and ragg wool socks. One of his socks was patched with duct tape.
Paul was lean elegance, but you couldn't take him anywhere. Signy didn't try. She wiggled her back against the familiar Queen Anne chair that had formed behind her, the feel of its burgundy leather a fiction produced by tiny pressure shifts in the skinthin she wore.
Paul had set up the library in his New Hampshire house for this, the room he favored for conversation, a familiar and polished construct. Paul sat in his leather chair by the fireplace. Reflections of firelight picked out random gleams of gold on the shadowed wall of books behind him.
"The richest waters on Earth," Paul said.
He fashioned a globe in his hands, a blue-white Earth that he hugged in his lap as if it were a child. He turned it upside down and his fingers sank in the clouds he had imaged over the Sahara.
"The Southern Sea."
A true master of illusion, Paul had fashioned the little world he held in his hands with great care. The Great American Desert stretched up toward Canada. The Sahara-Sahel blotted most of the African continent; California's floating archipelago thrust its tiny islands out into the Pacific. Paul had even built a minuscule model in bas-relief of manmade Los Angeles, anchored in the shallows of Catalina Bay. Antarctica, now on top of the globe, glowed white in a dark green sea, and its tiny mountains pebbled the globe's smooth surface.
"You've worked on this. How long did it take?" Signy asked.
"The globe? I had it filed somewhere."
Not the globe. The job offer, Signy started to say.
"The proposal came in last night. It's interesting, Signy." Paul put his finger on a minuscule orange and black barber pole that marked the South Pole. It was out of scale. "It's for some work in Antarctica."
"Antarctica?" Signy asked.
"Well, in Lisbon. The Antarctic Treaty Commission is meeting in Lisbon this year."
"Both places, actually. Tanaka is a Japan-based company that turns krill biomass into usable protein," Paul said. "Tanaka, our prospective employer, wants us to help sell some changes in the Antarctic Treaty."
"International law? Paul, do we know anyone with that sort of expertise?"
"It's accessible. The project breaks down into bits I think we can handle," Paul said.
"I think I've heard that before," Signy said. She got out of her imaged chair and walked to the fireplace. Sherested her hand against the mantel, where Paul had created the sensation of dust on polished mahoghany, gritty against her palm. Paul was no housekeeper. Even his virtuals were dusty.
"No, really. We can do this." Paul looked at the Earth model he held in his hands. He squeezed the globe down to grapefruit size and put it on the table beside him. Signy watched the veins rise and tighten in the backs of his hands.
"What do they want us to do? Opinion shaping? Media work?" Signy asked.
Edges sold both. Sometimes phrases that an ad agency could work with, sometimes information tailored for the ears of an official who could could sway a political decision; Edges fitted answers to problems, many kinds of problems.
"We'll be finding phraseology for Tanaka's legal staff to sell in Lisbon. That's the job, basically."
"What phraseology, Paul?" Signy asked.
"Tanaka would like to see limits set on the krill harvest. Tanaka didn't come up with the proposal; a bunch of scientist types did. Tanaka likes the concept and so does a majority of the voting members of the Treaty Commission. All we have to do is keep a favorable climate for the proposal."
"What do we have to do?" Signy asked. If the job was doable, if Pilar wasn't too ticked off, maybe Edges was still in business.
"We are to convince the Antarctic Treaty Commission's members to go for yearly, variable take-out quotas on krill, tonnages based on some theories set up by marine biologists," Paul said. "The fishing fleets are worried about depleting the take. There's considerable support for limits, at least in the countries that aren't starving. We'll have to make sure the members don't get distracted by other proposals if they come up, and that the majority remains a majority, at least until the votes are in."
Janine could help handle the biology; Janine was trained as an environmental engineer. She'd know if the figures on the biomass made sense. Signy wondered if Janine was home yet; if she'd gone to soothe Pilar. Janine could settle Pilar down if anyone could.
"Paul, hold, would you? I want to check something." Signy vanished the room and called up a scan of the Seattle house. Janine wasn't in it and Pilar hadn't picked up her message.
"Okay," Signy said. "I'm back."
Paul looked slightly miffed at Signy's interruption. "There are fifty-six delegates from fifty-six separate nations, each of them with different agendas, political needs, and personal foibles. Just steer an international commission the way we want it to go. Simple, wouldn't you think?"
"What about the Russians?" Signy asked.
"At the moment, they're for the plan," Paul said. "The Russians have been in the Antarctic business from the beginning. They still think they found the place first, actually."
"Simple, right," Signy said. "If we're lucky, and some lobby or the other doesn't get a flap going about something else. Seems like Tanaka has handed us something that sounds a little too easy, whoever Tanaka is. I never heard of them. And I thought the krill situation had been settled years ago."
"Think of krill as kilotons of edible, self-replicating protein," Paul said. "Think of it as an endangered food source, one that is diminishing. Tanaka has some concerns about the amount that's coming out of the water. They are willing to give up part of their share to keep the harvest in limits they think are safe. Enough for the whales, enough for profit, but not too much for safety. I like caution, Signy."
Cautious Paul Maury and his legalese, his deliberate sense of time. Sometimes Signy thought Paul was determined to dot every i and cross every t on Earth.
"It's risky work," Paul said. "We've messed with lots of things, but we've never played with what's left of the world's food supply."
"Terms?" Signy asked.
"Oh, very good terms," Paul said. "Tanaka has diversified interests — circuits, manufacturing, shipping, and so on. He's agreed to pay expenses, of course, plus ten percent of the income from one year's harvest at the new limits; if we can get the new limits set for him. And residuals, but that's a complicated —"
Paul would run Tanaka's profit-and-loss statements for the last decade if she didn't stop him. "He?" Signy asked.
"One man, yes. Who seems to want to start a dynasty. Yoshiro Tanaka, that's his name," Paul said. "Signy, I don't know what we're getting into here; not precisely. The corporate structure is convoluted; there are blocks of data that have some unusual features. It might be an okay job but I'll need some time to fit these people together."
"They're listed on real stock exchanges, aren't they?" Signy asked.
"Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. Tanaka stock has been doing quite well over many years; solid, slow growth. The company is quite legitimate in that regard. Certainly."
"Take some earnest money and we'll sort them out later," Signy said. "We can always bail out if we don't like what we find." Take it. Tell them we'll do it, Paul, whatever it is they want done. "We're in a bind, Paul. We can't get too picky."
His image tented its fingers under its chin and stared at her. "I didn't know you were this upset."
Excerpted from "Whiteout"
Copyright © 1996 Sage Walker.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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