Read an Excerpt
By Richard K. Morgan
Random House Richard K. Morgan
All right reserved. ISBN: 0345486129
Damage. The wound stung like fuck, but it wasn't as bad as some I'd had. The blaster bolt came in blind across my ribs, already weakened by the door plating it had to chew through to get to me. Priests, up against the slammed door and looking for a quick gut shot. Fucking amateur night. They'd probably caught almost as much pain themselves from the point-blank blowback off the plating. Behind the door, I was already twisting aside. What was left of the charge plowed a long, shallow gash across my rib cage and went out, smoldering in the folds of my coat. Sudden ice down that side of my body and the abrupt stench of fried skin-sensor components. That curious bone-splinter fizzing that's almost a taste, where the bolt had ripped through the biolube casing on the floating ribs.
Eighteen minutes later, by the softly glowing display chipped into my upper left field of vision, the same fizzing was still with me as I hurried down the lamplit street, trying to ignore the wound. Stealthy seep of fluids beneath my coat. Not much blood. Sleeving synthetic has its advantages.
"Looking for a good time, sam?"
"Already had one," I told him, veering away from the doorway. He blinked wave-tattooed eyelids in a dismissive flutter that said your loss and leaned his tightly muscled frame languidly back into the gloom. I crossed the street and took the corner, tacking between a couple more whores, one a woman, the other of indeterminate gender. The woman was an augment, forked dragon tongue flickering out around her overly prehensile lips, maybe tasting my wound on the night air. Her eyes danced a similar passage over me, then slid away. On the other side, the cross-gender pro shifted its stance slightly and gave me a quizzical look but said nothing. Neither was interested. The streets were rain-slick and deserted, and they'd had longer to see me coming than the doorway operator. I'd cleaned up since leaving the citadel, but something about me must have telegraphed the lack of business opportunity.
At my back, I heard them talking about me in Stripjap. I heard the word for broke.
They could afford to be choosy. In the wake of the Mecsek Initiative, business was booming. Tekitomura was packed that winter, thronging with salvage brokers and the deCom crews that drew them the way a trawler wake draws ripwings. Making New Hok Safe for a New Century, the ads went. From the newly built hoverloader dock down at the Kompcho end of town it was less than a thousand kilometers, straight-line distance, to the shores of New Hokkaido, and the 'loaders were running day and night. Outside of an airdrop, there is no faster way to get across the Andrassy Sea. And on Harlan's World, you don't go up in the air if you can possibly avoid it. Any crew toting heavy equipment--and they all were--was going to New Hok on a hoverloader out of Tekitomura. Those that lived would be coming back the same way.
Boomtown. Bright new hope and brawling enthusiasm as the Mecsek money poured in. I limped down thoroughfares littered with the detritus of spent human merriment. In my pocket, the freshly excised cortical stacks clicked together like dice.
There was a fight going on at the intersection of Pencheva Street and Muko Prospect. The pipe houses on Muko had just turned out and their synapse-fried patrons had met late-shift dockworkers coming up through the decayed quiet of the warehouse quarter. More than enough reason for violence. Now a dozen badly coordinated figures stumbled back and forth in the street, flailing and clawing inexpertly at each other while a gathered crowd shouted encouragement. One body already lay inert on the fused-glass paving, and someone else was dragging their body, a limb's length at a time, out of the fray, bleeding. Blue sparks shorted off a set of overcharged power knuckles; elsewhere light glimmered on a blade. But everyone still standing seemed to be having a good time, and there were no police as yet.
Yeah, part of me jeered. Probably all too busy up the hill right now.
I skirted the action as best I could, shielding my injured side. Beneath the coat, my hands closed on the smooth curve of the last hallucinogen grenade and the slightly sticky hilt of the Tebbit knife.
Never get into a fight if you can kill quickly and be gone.
Virginia Vidaura--Envoy Corps trainer, later career criminal and sometime political activist. Something of a role model for me, though it was several decades since I'd last seen her. On a dozen different worlds, she crept into my mind unbidden, and I owed that ghost in my head my own life a dozen times over. This time I didn't need her or the knife. I got past the fight without eye contact, made the corner of Pencheva, and melted into the shadows that lay across the alley mouths on the seaward side of the street. The timechip in my eye said I was late.
Pick it up, Kovacs. According to my contact in Millsport, Plex wasn't all that reliable at the best of times, and I hadn't paid him enough to wait long.
Five hundred meters down and then left into the tight fractal whorls of Belacotton Kohei Section, named centuries ago for the habitual content and the original owner-operator family whose warehouse frontages walled the curving maze of alleys. With the Unsettlement and the subsequent loss of New Hokkaido as any kind of market, the local belaweed trade pretty much collapsed and families like Kohei went rapidly bankrupt. Now the grime-filmed upper-level windows of their facades peered sadly across at each other over gape-mouthed loading bay entrances whose shutters were all jammed somewhere uncommitted between open and closed.
There was talk of regeneration, of course, of reopening units like these and retooling them as deCom labs, training centers, and hardware storage facilities. Mostly, it was still just talk--the enthusiasm had kindled on the wharf-line units facing the hoverloader ramps farther west, but so far it hadn't spread farther in any direction than you could trust a wirehead with your phone. This far off the wharf and this far east, the chitter of Mecsek finance was still pretty inaudible.
The joys of trickledown.
Belacotton Kohei Nine Point Twenty-six showed a faint glow in one upper window, and the long restless tongues of shadows in the light that seeped from under the half-cranked loading bay shutter gave the building the look of a one-eyed, drooling maniac. I slid to the wall and dialed up the synthetic sleeve's auditory circuits for what they were worth, which wasn't much. Voices leaked out into the street, fitful as the shadows at my feet.
"--telling you, I'm not going to hang around for that."
It was a Millsport accent, the drawling metropolitan twang of Harlan's World Amanglic dragged up to an irritated jag. Plex's voice, muttering below sense-making range, made soft provincial counterpoint. He seemed to be asking a question.
"How the fuck would I know that? Believe what you want." Plex's companion was moving about, handling things. His voice faded back in the echoes of the loading bay. I caught the words kaikyo, matter, a chopped laugh. Then again, coming closer to the shutter, "--matters is what the family believes, and they'll believe what the technology tells them. Technology leaves a trail, my friend." A sharp coughing and indrawn breath that sounded like recreational chemicals going down. "This guy is fucking late."
I frowned. Kaikyo has a lot of meanings, but they all depend on how old you are. Geographically, it's a strait or a channel. That's early-Settlement-years use, or just hypereducated, kanji-scribbling, First Families pretension. This guy didn't sound First Family, but there was no reason he couldn't have been around back when Konrad Harlan and his well-connected pals were turning Glimmer VI into their own personal backyard. Plenty of DH personalities still on stack from that far back, just waiting to be downloaded into a working sleeve. Come to that, you wouldn't need to resleeve more than half a dozen times, end-to-end, to live through the whole of Harlan's World's human history anyway. It's still not much over four centuries, Earth-standard, since the colony barges made planetfall.
Envoy intuition twisted about in my head. It felt wrong. I'd met men and women with centuries of continuous life behind them, and they didn't talk like this guy. This wasn't the wisdom of ages, drawling out into the Tekitomura night over pipe fumes.
On the street, scavenged into the argot of Stripjap a couple of hundred years later, kaikyo means a contact who can shift stolen goods. A covert flow manager. In some parts of the Millsport Archipelago, it's still common usage. Elsewhere, the meaning is shifting to describe aboveboard financial consultants.
Yeah, and farther south it means a holy man possessed by spirits, or a sewage outlet. Enough of this detective shit. You heard the man--you're late.
I got the heel of one hand under the edge of the shutter and hauled upward, locking up the tidal rip of pain from my wound as well as the synthetic sleeve's nervous system would let me. The shutter ratcheted noisily to the roof. Light fell out into the street and all over me.
"Jesus!" The Millsport accent jerked back a full step. He'd been only a couple of meters away from the shutter when it went up.
"Hello, Plex." My eyes stayed on the newcomer. "Who's the tan?"
By then I already knew. Pale, tailored good looks straight out of some low-end experia flick, somewhere between Micky Nozawa and Ryu Bartok. Well-proportioned fighter's sleeve, bulk in the shoulders and chest, length in the limbs. Stacked hair, the way they're doing it on the bioware catwalks these days, that upward static-twisted thing that's meant to look like they just pulled the sleeve out of a clone tank. A suit bagged and draped to suggest hidden weaponry, a stance that said he had none he was ready to use. Combat arts crouch that was more bark than readiness to bite. He still had the discharged micropipe in one curled palm, and his pupils were spiked wide open. Concession to an ancient tradition put illuminum-tattooed curlicues across one corner of his forehead.
Millsport yakuza apprentice. Street thug.
"You don't call me tani," he hissed. "You are the outsider here, Kovacs. You are the intruder."
I left him at the periphery of my vision and looked toward Plex, who was over by the workbenches, fiddling with a knot of webbing straps and trying on a smile that didn't want to be on his dissipated aristo face.
"This was strictly a private party, Plex. I didn't ask you to subcontract the entertainment."
The yakuza twitched forward, barely restrained. He made a grating noise deep in his throat. Plex looked panicked.
"Wait, I . . ." He put down the webbing with an obvious effort. "Tak, he's here about something else."
"He's here on my time," I said mildly.
"Listen, Kovacs. You fucking--"
"No." I looked back at him as I said it, hoping he could read the bright energy in my tone for what it was. "You know who I am, you'll stay out of my way. I'm here to see Plex, not you. Now get out."
I don't know what stopped him, Envoy rep, late-breaking news from the citadel--because they'll be all over it by now, you made such a fucking mess up there--or just a cooler head than the cheap-suited punk persona suggested. He stood braced in the door of his own rage for a moment, then stood down and displaced it, all poured into a glance at the nails of his right hand and a grin.
"Sure. You just go ahead and transact with Plex here. I'll wait outside. Shouldn't take long."
He even took the first step toward the street. I looked back at Plex.
"What the fuck's he talking about?"
"We, uh, we need to reschedule, Tak. We can't--"
"Oh no." But looking around the room I could already see the swirled patterns in the dust where someone had been using a grav lifter. "No, no, you told me--"
"I-I know, Tak, but--"
"I paid you."
"I'll give you the money--"
"I don't want the fucking money, Plex." I stared at him, fighting down the urge to rip his throat out. Without Plex, there was no upload. Without the upload--"I want my fucking body back."
"It's cool, it's cool. You'll get it back. It's just right now--"
"It's just right now, Kovacs, we're using the facilities." The yakuza drifted back into my line of sight, still grinning. "Because to tell the truth, they were pretty much ours in the first place. But then Plex here probably didn't tell you that, did he?"
I shuttled a glance between them. Plex looked embarrassed.
You gotta feel sorry for the guy. Isa, my Millsport contact broker, all of fifteen years old, razored violet hair and brutally obvious archaic datarat plugs, working on world-weary reflective while she laid out the deal and the cost. Look at history, man. It fucked him over but good.
History, it was true, didn't seem to have done Plex any favors. Born three centuries sooner with the name Kohei, he'd have been a spoiled stupid younger son with no particular need to do more than exercise his obvious intelligence in some gentleman's pursuit like astrophysics or archaeologue science. As it was, the Kohei family had left its post-Unsettlement generations nothing but the keys to ten streets of empty warehouses and a decayed aristo charm that, in Plex's own self-deprecating words, made it easier than you'd think to get laid when broke. Pipe-blasted, he told me the whole shabby story on less than three days' acquaintance. He seemed to need to tell someone, and Envoys are good listeners. You listen, you file under local color, you soak it up. Later, the recalled detail maybe saves your life.
Excerpted from Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan
Excerpted by permission.
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