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Authors: Brian Herbert,Marie Landis

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure

Memorymakers (2 page)

BOOK: Memorymakers
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“Whuh?” Peenchay said.

“What if we pointed out to them that some embidium orders go to troubled Gween adults, as needed? Do you think it would matter?”

“Uh, I guess, gee, maybe . . . ”

“Do you know where we get our embidium orders, Peenchay?”

“Uh, yeah, you get ‘em.”

“No, no, no! I
fill
orders. Like every other fieldman I make extractions and ship them to Jabu. Can’t you remember that? Can’t you remember anything?”

“I always remember to eat.”

“Pay attention. Maybe if I repeat this often enough you’ll get smarter. Maybe some of the important things will sink in.”

The Inferior stared at him with intensity.

“Orders are developed through Ch’Var mental health specialists who’ve existed since the beginning of time—witch doctors, shamans, healers, bartenders, witches, warlocks, wizards, doctors of psychiatry, psychotherapists, preachers, priests, even prophets. Gween recipients are never told the source of therapy. It’s said that Gween and Ch’Var recipients receive an herbal drug that erases certain specific embidium recollections—names from childhood, dates, addresses—any bits of data that could lead to trouble from Gween police.” Squick paused and took a breath. “And I’ve heard that the herbals also meld the memories of the embidium implant with the adult memories of the recipient. I don’t know this for certain, but I know drugs are used.”

“I don’t like drugs,” Peenchay said.

“Right, right. Director Jabu makes the implants, or supervises them maybe, using techniques I don’t know. He has a layer of secrecy and security around himself, a dimension of secrecy within the secrecy of the race itself. Oh, what’s the use?”

It gets damn lonely here sometimes,
Squick thought.
And the robots are even dumber that this guy.

The fieldman’s gaze slid back to the wallscreen, and his attention followed.

“Some of you have petitioned me,” Jabu said, “asking why we cannot fill only Ch’Var orders. Why not discontinue the comparatively small number of implants in Gween adults, the petition asks, and thus make our lives easier? It goes on to suggest that we at least delay the filling of Gween orders in favor of our own people.”

The Director’s countenance became ferocious. “Our Blessed Mother Ch’Var began the practice of servicing Gween and Ch’Var alike, as needed. Orders have never been delayed intentionally or gone unfulfilled, and such horrors shall not begin under my stewardship!”

Squick hadn’t originated the electronic petition; another fieldman had. But
Squick had
signed it. Now he tried to meet the gaze on the screen, but again the Director seemed to stare holes through him. Remarkable! Other fieldmen had commented on this phenomenon, the way they felt intimidated during motivational sessions, the way no untoward behavior seemed to escape Jabu’s attention. It was said that Jabu, better than any Director preceding him, could sense things. He seemed to recognize minute, hidden psychological problems, unethical waverings and improper thoughts.

Peenchay said something, but Squick blocked it out.

The projection camera telescoped away from Jabu and revealed him in a magnificent cardinal red insulcoat, hood thrown back. In the foreground, over the throng of trainees, hung a thousand-tiered black ice chandelier, the black of Jabu’s beard.

Rumor held that Jabu could drop the frozen fixture upon the heads of onlookers at a thought command, crushing them, and this had a great deal to do with the terror fieldmen felt in his presence. It had been instilled in them during training, and Jabu had methods of maintaining the condition.

Field equipment malfunctioned, sometimes killing fieldmen, and Squick believed these things did not happen by chance. Jabu claimed that only bad personnel suffered such mishaps, intimating that poor field decisions let to disaster . . .and he phrased his comments in ways that made many assume he played a direct role in the elimination process. Mishaps had a way of occurring shortly after unannounced inspections by the Director.

No one defied the Director. That would be sacrilege, a denial of all the Ch’Vars had been since the time of Lordmother, of all they represented in their separate evolutionary line. But Squick disliked the Director, thought at times he even despised him. What a challenge to conceal his feelings from such a man!

Peenchay spoke again, louder than before. “Uh, can I go? I got stuff to do. You know, things to shelve, things to straighten up in the van.”

“Don’t take the van anywhere,” Squick said.

“Uh, I’m responsible for keeping it tuned. I need to test run it regularly to keep it in top running condition. That’s my job.”

“You’re doing more than test driving it, Peenchay. I know where you’re getting your . . . food. And I don’t like it.”

Peenchay stared at him stupidly, but in a way that frightened Squick. Something calculating there, and threatening, in a slow-witted way.

“It’s just stuff I find lying around,” Peenchay said.

He’s using the van’s coded memory disks,
Squick thought,
going hack over my daily trail before the comatose Gween bodies are found by others. Damn it, why don’t I have the courage to
. . .

“Can I go now?” Peenchay asked.

“Yeah, yeah, get out of here.”

The Inferior left.

Jabu’s words and all other sounds slipped into the background. Squick concentrated on a little thought-pool of defiance. Despite all, it seemed to him that Director Jabu rather liked him, and since each Director handpicked his successor it amused Squick that he might be the one selected. There had been no overt indications from Jabu in this direction, and Squick guessed (here had to be many other fieldmen higher on the ladder. But sometimes Squick fancied himself as the one in charge and speculated over decisions he might make.

Lordmother’s Way had a curious organization chart—one Director in Homaal and all those fieldmen elsewhere, with no rankings between. They did have a large support group: Assistants (all Inferiors or robots), the brilliant Inventing Corps, Messengers, Maintenance Technicians, but none of them qualified to be fieldmen or Director.

Fieldmen were selected according to “Nebulon counts” in the body, and this had to do with a holistic mastery of the ancient power. But there were failings—the racial flaw—and like other fieldmen, Squick had received an embidium implant. Thus were the memories of another person, a Gweenchild, melded seamlessly with his own.

He often wondered about that child. Though the details of an implant donor were rarely discussed with the recipient, Squick had managed to learn from Jabu that the donor had been a boy, fifteen years old. Rather old for an embidium, and Squick wondered if some of his less happy memories belonged to the boy and not to himself.

Squick refocused on the mouth within the wild beard.

“We fill all orders because it has always been so. And when something has always been so, the future is clear!”

Behind Director Jabu the wall came alive in a spectacular array of color, then disintegrated to reveal an immense ice-encased computer screen that listed all outstanding orders. The frosty list scrolled endlessly. “Find the children we need!” Jabu said in a tone that sent chills through Squick’s spine. “The happy ones!”

Squick experienced a rush of excitement despite his troublesome, nagging thoughts, despite his complicity in the acts of Peenchay. This was a shorter motivational session than any the fieldman could recall, but he felt no less motivated. If anything he felt a heightened sense of the moment, of his position in the history of his race. The wallscreen went dark.

Chapter 2

“We see things other people do not see, things other people can never see.”

—Emily to her brother, in a dream

Squick stood beside his desk, touched a recessed button on the bottom edge of his belt. An oblong section of the floor separated and lifted him upward in a slowly spinning motion through an opening that appeared in the ceiling. The floor clicked into place above his lower office, and now he was in a tiny enclosure that at first glowed with bright-white light.

Then a silent array of bright, sparking primary colors consumed him, traveled through his body and around, and he felt a pleasant, tingling sensation. This was a “stealth-lock,” a place in a nether dimension that rearranged the molecules of his body, restoring them to Gween visibility. On an earlier pass-through in the other direction, the procedure had been reversed, removing his molecules and those of the articles with him from possible detection by Gween eyes or apparatus.

Now he went up again, spinning slowly through an opening in another ceiling, and presently he stood beside another desk in his building manager’s office. Ostensibly, the level upon which he stood now was the second floor of the structure, a Gween-accessible area. One floor down was the lobby, and beneath that the stealth-encapsulated area that Gween technology could not penetrate. Neither could they penetrate the structural core that permitted secret travel between the roof and lower areas.

By design there were no windows in the Building Manager’s office, only an array of wall weavings and Impressionist oil paintings, with a heavy door that led to outer offices. Gweens and Ch’Vars worked side by side in those offices, one of the unavoidable mergings of society that only Ch’Vars knew about. Ch’Vars tolerated it as they had to, despite all the problems associated with Gween limitations.

The pad on which Squick stood was connected to the doorlock mechanism, and his weight unlocked the door with a soft, nonmetallic snap. Some people in the outer offices referred to him as a mole because of his windowless office and the long periods he spent inside without emerging, but this didn’t bother him. He found it amusing that he really was a mole, traveling hidden passageways most of them could never imagine.

In the hallway outside, a fat Ch’Var man in a blue suit greeted him—Lester Rumple, Branch Insurance Manager. Rumple gazed upon him with a look of slight suspicion, as he usually did, almost as if he suspected Squick was one of the legendary Ch’Var fieldmen. It was an unspoken, visceral thing. There were genetic reasons that Rumple, like other Ch’Vars, could not reveal racial secrets, and Squick thanked the Lordmother for this.

“Fire inspectors are due Monday,” Rumple reported. (It was unsaid but understood that he meant Gween fire inspectors. Through an accident of social arrangement all inspectors and almost all firemen in the locale were Gweens.) “Something goofy with the fire and burglar alarm system,” Rumple said, “so we’d better—”

“I know what’s wrong,” Squick interjected. “I’ll take care of it.”

Rumple went away humming the tune of a ditty familiar to all Ch’Var children, and the words surfaced in Squick’s mind:
“With a Gween in your genes, there’s no virus in your iris
. . .
With a virus in your iris, there’s no Gween in your genes
. . . “ He tried to shake the song from his thoughts.

The problem with the alarm system, Squick knew, had to do with a giant electronic eye in the lowest level of the encapsulated area, a secret sensor that protected the entire building. The device was ultrasensitive, so much so that it had to be recalibrated every few weeks. Usually Squick remembered and took care of the adjustment before the system went downhill, but recently he’d been too busy and the task had slipped from his mind. It was something Peenchay couldn’t be trusted to do.

During inspections, Gween fire personnel saw only a phony alarm system, a front of standard-looking panel boxes and wires linked (unbeknownst to them) to the sensor. It had to be this way according to the Inventing Corps, and Squick’s knowledge of the system didn’t go very far.

“. . .
With a virus in your iris
. . .”
Damn!

Sometimes Squick bribed the most susceptible inspectors, but in recent months there had been a change of personnel, and he needed intelligence reports before proceeding, reports that came from Jabu when they were ready.

Squick negotiated a short hallway of two turns, passed the odiferous public restrooms, and presently he was in a lobby filled with the unpleasant odor of unwashed Gweens. This was an old structure that had been extensively remodeled except for the lobby, which remained essentially unrestored: it had original brass fixtures and a tattered gray carpet that blew forth small dust clouds when walked upon.

The stench of the unwashed floated from a grocery store just to Squick’s left, on the other side of an ornate lobby archway. The store was frequented by transients who purchased week-old loaves of bread, cans of dog food and bottles of fortified wine that were wrapped in brown paper bags. “Muscatel Market,” local office workers called it. As Squick glanced inside, he saw the inevitable transaction occurring at the counter, where a female clerk in a yellow apron waited on a teetering, drunken man.

There were other mercantile businesses fronting the street, all subleased by the Smith Corporation—a grubby French bakery adjacent to the grocery store, then a shoe repairer and a crowded newsstand that sold pornographic magazines and sensationalist tabloids.

Squick stopped at the newsstand and waited in line. Just ahead of him stood a man with a small boy. These two had strikingly similar shapes from behind, rattier like pears of different sizes wearing matching football jerseys identified by the team name “Crushers.” The child, no more than five years old, Squick guessed, moved restlessly from foot to foot and stared up at Squick with an expression of curiosity.

“Hi there,” Squick said in his most pleasant, almost fatherly tone.

“Don’t bother people, Bobby,” the man said, and when he turned, Squick could see that the man and boy had nearly identical features—round and soft with tiny, dark eyes—Gweens.

“Oh, he’s no trouble,” Squick responded. “Fine-looking boy. Nice looking T-shirt he’s wearing. I see you’re both Crusher fens. So am I.” A lie, Squick knew, but what the hell.

They struck up a conversation about two promising rookies the team had traded away. The Gweenman seemed particularly agitated about this decision, which he called stupid. Squick feigned agreement. It was the only way to get along with Gweens.

The man only half smiled and said, “Maybe next year.” He moved forward with the line.

As Squick stepped forward with the others, he thought,
Happy-looking boy, too. Good embidium material.

He overheard the father and another man laughing about one of the headlines in the newspapers at the stand. Something about a race involving outhouses that had been converted into motor vehicles. Supposedly, the drivers sat on toilet seats.

Squick envied the easy camaraderie between Gweens, and tried to emulate it off and on.

When those ahead of him cleared out of the way, Squick purchased a copy of the
Financial Journal,
which he folded and put under his arm. Within minutes he was in his field van, searching for children.

Fieldman Squick took the van off automatic and turned the steering wheel hard to take a corner. He eased up on the accelerator. The van’s motor ticked softly, a punctuated purr, and he watched a small blonde girl climb the ladder of a playground slide. She moved from shadow to sunlight, and her hair glistened enticingly.

From the pocket of his gray and black tweed jacket Squick removed an ornate wooden pipe carved in the shape of a Ch’Var hound, the long extinct weasellike breed kept by his ancestors. Without lighting the pipe, he chewed nervously on the mouthpiece and surveyed the area.

It was a tiny park surrounded almost entirely by bushy trees and scrubs of laurel that cast broad morning shadows. There were warehouses on three sides and a row of small homes on the other, set in such a way that the play area was not readily visible from any home.

The child was alone.

Squick gunned the engine and roared over the curb onto the grassy area of the park, toward the play equipment. A uramesh alloy shield snapped into place over the front bumper, and this low-slung, armored shield flattened a set of monkey bars as the van shot across the top of them. Then a rubber gripper on the end of a mechanical arm snatched the startled little girl from the bottom of the slide.

Several blocks away in a deserted industrial area, Squick touched a dashboard button, altering the color and license plate number of the van. Called a “chameleo-van” by the Inventing Corps, the vehicle was highly adaptable, and now it became maroon with a black top and luggage carrier. Another button provided the girl with a chocolate ice cream cone to keep her quiet.

He parked on a side street, spun around on his bucket seat and began interrogating her with ancient Ch’Var questions, using the hypnotic voice that had to be answered truthfully. These were the identical “Seven Sacred Questions” his people had asked Gweenchildren for thousands of years.

She was rather sweet, Squick thought, a happy young thing who seemed almost unafraid as she sat on the backseat licking ice cream.

He reached for her and stroked her hair. She smiled, and he withdrew his hand quickly, perhaps too quickly. As if overcompensating for this small physical connection and any possible meaning it might have.

Take the embidium, no more. The code of Ch’Var honor was strict.

I
was only trying to show this child a last moment of kindness,
he thought.
And not just to maintain the quality of her embidium.
He paused.
Am I kidding myself about this? Do I really feel tenderness? Lordmother, I sound like a hunter trying to avoid frightening the prey for fear of tainting the meat with adrenaline.

He was a man on the edge of a precipice, with darkness below, and once again the terrible fear of what he might do, of what he might become, arose in his mind. And he was ashamed. Why did he have such nagging thoughts? Were they normal?

Gain control or commit shittah,
Squick thought.

Shittah, though brought on by mental breakdown, aided Ch’Vars in problem times, facilitating a quick and painless end through the shittah death dance, culminating in a cessation of all bodily functions.

“Shittah is, in all things and all times, a comfort and a passage to the unknown.”

In good times it was comforting to know that it was there to fall back upon as needed, a nest egg of mental strength. It comforted a Ch’Var in life, it comforted him in death. It transcended. It was the beauty within a broken thing.

As the captured girl spoke, Squick activated a hand-held transmitter, sending her answers to the Homaal data bank. When the ancient questions were complete, a tiny screen on the transmitter lit up, green letters on black: “Extract embidium. Fits 17 orders.”

In the ancient way of his people, Squick gazed deeply into the girl’s eyes, into the soft, easily penetrated surfaces there. And he spoke to her of wondrous things and wondrous people and wondrous places, so that her face filled with rapture. He told her an enchanting, magical tale, and immersed her so completely in the vision he painted before her eyes that she seemed to leave this place and this body.

The happiness Squick saw at times such as this made the rest of his task easier. She was no longer a child in a van on a dirty, deserted city street. She was a princess in an enchanted land, where nothing could harm her.

The girl’s eyelids grew heavy, and a familiar sensation came over Squick—a yearning that suffused him with all the strength and purpose of his Ch’Var race. He was every one of his kind who had ever lived, fighting for survival in a torrential, soulless current of life. He shuddered.

With his fingertip he touched the tear ducts of his own eyes and felt an icy wetness that numbed his finger and fogged his vision. His fingertip sought an eyelid of the girl, and in a vision he saw her in the faraway magical land he had created for her. For the briefest of moments she smiled so sweetly, so innocently, in the way only a Gweenchild could do. Then she was immersed in a freezing storm of ice crystals that sealed her happiness and would not permit anything to taint it.

His vision cleared, and once again he was gazing upon a little girl in a van. She shuddered as Nebulons slid from Squick’s fingertip into her eye. The viruses coursed the intricate, labyrinthine passageways to her brain, where they sought her memory core and vacuumed it away.

Squick withdrew his finger, then held a glass container beneath her eyes. And from her orbs flowed the bright purple and yellow liquid of her embidium, containing all of her childhood memories. It was a swirling, pungent-smelling mixture of these colors, with each hue retaining its integrity. The mixture was luminous, as if a light burned from each molecule, and it ran in such abundance that quickly it overflowed the container.

The girl’s face lost vitality, and she slumped, but without falling from her seat. Carefully, to avoid contaminating the extraction, Squick sealed the container and packaged it for shipment to Director Jabu. Then he cleaned up the overflow and wiped the girl’s face and eyes clean with a white, chemically treated cloth.

Moments later, the van’s robot arm dumped a limp, nearly lifeless form in the grass and weeds of a vacant lot.

As he backed his van away, Squick caught a brief glimpse of the child’s silent body in his rearview mirror. “It’s a lousy world,” he muttered and suppressed speculation about the child’s future. Nevertheless, he drove off feeling less than satisfied with this particular extraction.

Twenty-three minutes later, he pulled his vehicle into the parking garage of the condominium complex he called home and saw another condo owner, a Gween he had talked to a few times. He waved at the man and forced his mouth upward into a smile while his thoughts took a downward direction.
The guy’s a jerk, but it’s a good idea to keep on his good side. After all, he did give me that tip on the stock market. You never know when you need a favor from someone. It’s the way life is—a series of favors given, favors taken. The objective is to get more than you give.

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