Saru had ignored the calls from the Philadelphia Daily, the call from Frank Galloway to appear on Wake the Hell Up! Philly, the call from Lorelei Ilesella to be interviewed on Tonight Tonight, and even a call from Mayor Whitlow’s press secretary requesting a photo op. The call that gave her the greatest pleasure to ignore came from the Gaespora. It came in the usual fashion of summons from the ultra-wealthy and ultra-powerful wishing to impress. There was a custom sonata su-tone that had been attuned to her psychosomatic profile. The image that appeared on her player was of a peaceful green forest with a trickling brook—it was a pretty accurate re-creation of the forest behind her parents’ farmhouse in Tyrone. This told her all she needed know: they wanted her, and her specifically. She hit ignore.
Five seconds later the su-tone appeared again, the sonata and the image of her parents’ forest. She hit ignore again. Five seconds later there was a new su-tone—not pleasant piano, just a horrible grating, like scratched vinyl and kitchen knives clattering in the sink. The forest was burned to the ground and the river ran with blood. What the fuck? She hit ignore. She’d never seen any su-tone like it. She ordered her player to ignore all messages from suspected Gaesporan nodes.
The su-tone appeared again, about five minutes later, and now she was pissed. She had spent good money on an override, floating a standard bid of over 3,000 to block commercial calls. Any jackass dumb enough to call her private line would have to pay at least that amount to make an attempt. It worked in screening out the riffraff but she realized there was no way she could win a bidding war with the Gaespora. They could keep her player ringing day and night for a lifetime. She unfastened the dime-sized player from below her right earlobe and placed it on the center of her desk. She retrieved Ethics in the Age of Knowing (a gift from Eugene, never opened) from the otherwise empty bookshelf, held it over her head, and smashed the player just as it began the vinyl scratching again. Problem solved.
The next morning her office was closed. The whole damn building, forty-five stories, right on the corner of Thirteenth and Locust. There was a crowd of confused workers out front surrounding the superintendent, who was trying pudgily to answer their questions: What’s going on? Why is the building closed? Why can’t we get to work and trundle on in our sad, sad lives?
“The building is under new ownership,” the super said, shouting over the crowd. “They’ve changed all the locks.”
“What do you mean ‘new ownership’? How is that possible?”
“Please, people, I know just as much as you do at this point. I got the call this morning. No one gets in.”
“That’s not legal!”
“You can’t do that!”
“What about our jobs?”
“What about our stuff?”
Saru left and turned down Walnut Street, walking east, no particular destination in mind. They had taken her player and her office—for there could be no misunderstanding the message. They wanted her, bad, and they were willing to spend a lot of money and inconvenience a lot of other people to get to her. There were, as far as she knew, over sixty different businesses, large and small in her building—she occupied a tiny two-room office on the thirteenth floor that didn’t even have its own bathroom. They could have sent two toughs to stand in front of her door or bribed someone to change the locks, but they bought the whole damn building and all that headache.
She found a Nikafe and bought a small black that she jazzed up with a splash or five of bourbon from her flask. She sat at a small table facing the window and watched the people hurry by. It had started to rain, gray drops for a black sky. An elzi lay outside in front of her, body blocking the gutter. The water pooled around him, black, acidic, rising to his neck. She wondered if he would drown.
This was a lucrative age for the private investigator—so many people disappearing, and a weak, underfunded, unmotivated, amoralized police force more likely to take a bribe than a stab at a criminal. Saru was good, she knew, but hardly the best, and maybe no one else realized how lucky she’d been in the Favre case. Nine times out of ten it was a kid looking into the UausuaU, no real mystery to solve—fuck, her job was 90 percent maid service—but the Favre job just happened to be an honest kidnapping and she just happened to be friends with enough scumbags to get a good tip.
The rescue was a solid piece of work, she had to admit. The kidnappers were suspected Puritans, crusaders, implant and improvement free as whatever God made them. They had taken the child not for ransom but to bring him over to their way of thinking with good old-fashioned torture—the family had gotten some fingernails in the mail. The kid was a scion of the Favre, the family that owned Priamco that owned Freedom Innovation Technologies (FIT) that begat Diasis that manufactured all manner of vaccines against the diseases of sin. It was an odd target as the Favre had about as much operational knowledge of Diasis as Saru did of her own small intestine, but the Puritans didn’t strike her as being a particularly educated bunch.
She had hired a few mercenaries to go on the hunt with her. There was a Net ranger named Pollycock, who’d proved useless as the Puritans obviously didn’t use Net technology. She’d found a sniffer on South Street, a scent fetishist who had jammed a screwdriver in his eyes and ears to focus on his favored sense. He had a keyboard on his wrist, a real hack job held in place with chicken wire, but it worked well enough to communicate and hammer out a deal. She’d figured that if these folks were serious in their beliefs they’d have to stick to a pretty narrow diet to avoid Gaesporan food alteration and they’d have a unique smell. It didn’t turn out to be the case—the sniffer was good but not that good and there were all kinds of other things that got in the way. Leading him around the city on a leash, she’d seen how the general reek of shit and garbage confused even a man who could sniff out a pig from his donut farts.
They had to be in the AZ, the Assistance Zone. There was barely any technology there, no cornercams or autometers, fuck, not even running water or a security spike in most places. Any Net access points would be illegal and unmonitored. There was a great mass of elzi, lured by the unmonitored Net access and the assistance points, the great pillbox buildings that delivered food weekly to the poor and useless. Originally actual humans had distributed the food aid, but that plan had been scuttled quick as the elzi didn’t wait in line and they didn’t fill out paperwork. Every Monday underground trolleys brought in food to the distribution centers. It was raised up on elevators, the domes opened, and elzi swarmed over the feast in an orgy of consumption. Paradoxically, this was the safest day to venture into the Assistance Zone—an elzi was less likely to take a lick at your throat if he had bread in his belly. Every month or so a resolution was entered in council to poison the food and clear out the elzi menace, but the rehabbers always shot it down. Idiots.
She had ventured in on a Monday with the sniffer, no real plan other than to follow his nose and find some granola-munching zealots. They had wandered aimlessly, almost running into an elzi frenzy, which seemed to excite the sniffer for some reason. The very odors that repelled her, the diarrhea reek of decay the elzi exuded, were ambrosia to him. She thanked her private God that she’d been blessed with fetishes considered close enough to normal.
There amidst the shrieks and growls of the elzi and the ecstatic panting of the sniffer, she had had her breakthrough. The kidnappers had nabbed this kid off the street, shot the fuck out of his Royce, dragged out the driver and two bodyguards and executed them. They’d used blenders to liquefy the brains and prevent memory recreation, but the bullets themselves were the key. They cost a fat buck—these were high-class, tuxedo bullets, not something your standard thug could afford even if he saved his welfare checks and mugging spoils for a lifetime. She checked the three munitions stores in Rittenhouse that stocked blenders. No robberies, but a sale at Franklin’s Freedom Assurance Emporium to a Walter Fran four days earlier—two days before the kidnapping.
From there it had been almost too easy. She’d hopped onto the Net and plugged in Walter Fran and the Favre Group. There were sixteen connections. Walter Fran had gone to school with Charles Favre, the boy’s father. They had started a company together, Glorium, a religious update impulse motivator that identified sinful thought and generated warnings ranging from flashing red hallucinations to migraines. They had argued over the scope. Walter believed it should be a tool to guide the McFaithful and Charles saw it as a corrective measure for the prison population.
The feds got involved. They wanted the impulse to become a standard input in all citizens—part of the birth cocktail. It would warn citizens away from thinking treasonous or law-breaking thoughts. The bill made it out of committee, but then it was squashed by the Hawks with Gaesporan backing. The Gaespora, of course, opposed any mass impulse programming of the population.
The whole deal had become a distraction to Charles. He was by then involved in building Priamco. He bought out Walter and as a final fuck you he changed the company to Glorium Galorium, a sex impulse that delivered pleasure depending on the degree of transgressive thought. It became a best seller. The whole kidnapping was a grudge, nothing more, an attack of opportunity by one elite on another.
Proof would have been impossible, and even if she’d gotten it the momentum of the legal system favored the aggressor. She’d found Fran’s condo in Rittenhouse, a penthouse suite, though not in the nicest building and nowhere near as nice as the Favre estate. She’d bribed the garage guard with a few hundred bucks and waited behind a pylon next to Fran’s car. When he came out she’d zapped him unconscious with her cattle prod and tied him up with zip wires. The old ways are best, her mother used to say. She’d driven Fran in his own GMW to the Favre estate and handed him over to their director of security, along with her report. They would’ve tapped his brain and ripped out the memories of the thugs he’d hired, or maybe just straight tortured him. There was a chance he’d hired the thugs and been vague on the instructions, but she didn’t think so. If it was a grudge he’d want the proof, want to know, want to see his revenge on the big screen.
She’d taken a cab to the police station and turned herself in. Eugene had phoned and argued her case and the Favre had paid her fine. She was in and out in forty-five minutes. The Favre security people had found the boy in a church basement in the AZ. The kidnappers had broken a few bones and pulled a few teeth, but he was fine. He took a trip to the Gaespora and was healthier than he’d ever been. The whole adventure was quite exciting for him, quite a win—a good story to impress the fun girls. He could have died in a ditch for all Saru cared, but finding him alive and pretty earned her a fat bonus, so all in all she was happy. It had been an exciting week, a lively news cycle for April, and somehow in all the excitement some dipshit security guard somewhere had mentioned her name to the press and now Saru Solan was famous. A hero, a true face of private justice, a symbol that the system worked. Shit.
And now her brand-new player was broken—not her fault—and her office building had been bought by the Gaespora. That’s what it was. They were using her. She was the star of the moment, good looking, she reasoned (hoped?), for a law bitch—she still had all her teeth, at least, and only one fair scar down her cheek—and they wanted to bring media attention to some bullshit issue or other. It was that bastard Whitlow trying to polish his dick with star power so people would forget what an awful job he was doing. To be fair, she didn’t know any cities that had succeeded in scrubbing the streets of the elzi, but at least they’d spent less money failing. A third-plus of her winnings each year went to city taxes, and they sure hadn’t fixed any fucking potholes yet.