Authors: Jr. L. E. Modesitt
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
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Walter S. Rosenberry III
All cities have their shadows, as do all souls.
Under the stars of the Arm, murmurs drifted up from the promenade overlooking the Nouvelle Seine. The red tinge of the full second moonâBergeracâlent a smokiness to the night. Voltaire had already set. The gray stone walk that bordered Les Jardins des Sorores was a favorite for poor lovers, those young and not so young. The sweet scent of honey lilies filled the late-evening air. It gave the South Bank a grace it lacked in the light of day.
At night, in my grays, I often stroll the streets of Thurene in the shadows. Call it a habit. Call it repentance. Call it penance. Call it what you will. Being who I am, I find it necessary.
Some might call it slumming, but the South Bank isn't that low, not unless you're Princesse Odilia. Or one of the Sorores. Or an aristo of commerce.
I didn't lurk in the shadows of the hedges and topiary. That wasn't necessary. In my grays, few could see me unless they concentrated, and those enjoying the promenade were not inclined to look beyond their companions. They felt they did not need to look elsewhere. The Garda's hidden monitors made certain that no malefactor escaped. That did not deter all malefaction, not where the perfume of hearts and jealousy mingled.
Beneath a yew trimmed into a fleur-de-coueurânot that most would noticeâtwo lovers embraced. They clung so tightly that even I could not tell sex or attributes.
With a smile, I stepped through the stone gates that marked the east end of the gardens and followed Oisin Lane. Ahead were the bistros and the patisseries that remained open into the early morning.
The first bistro was Kemala's. The scent of true garlic enshrouded it. I passed by. My business lay not in the bistros, but beyond. Two women stood outside Memnos. They held hands and studied the posted bill of fare. They appeared young. All women in Thureneâeven the poorestâwere young in body. The healthy ones, that is.
The Lane was safe enough. Memnos might not be. It is on the South Bank, and the Garda only monitors the public areas of Thurene. All the South Bank bistros serve nanite-adjusted wine. The process makes decent plonk, but plonk without character.
Voices, more than murmurs, issued from the side lane ahead and to my left. They were not the sounds of lovers. I edged into the darker area against the closer wall. There I paused in the shadows, listening.
“â¦I can't, Jaeredâ¦I just can't.” In the cool breeze of early autumn, the woman shivered. It was not because of the chill.
“He doesn't care for you the way I do.” The man put his hands on her shoulders. They were squared-off, nondescript hands. They belonged neither to a crafter nor an aristo.
“He doesn't excite me, but he cares deeplyâ¦andâ¦”
“I do care!”
I could sense the explosiveness within him. Civility was a breaker unequal to matching his green rage.
So I coughed and stepped forward. I was still in the shadows.
He turned. His eyes darted from side to side, trying to focus. They widened, and he lunged at me. I slipped aside and let him stumble into the solidity of the brick wall in the comparative darkness. Comparative only. The streets of Thurene are never fully dark, and the scanners of the Garda are everywhere.
“You!” He turned and lifted a poignard. “Shadows cannot save you.” He charged me.
I disarmed him and cut his feet from under him with a side kick. While he struggled to rise, I snapped the blade of his dagger with my bootheel. “Despite legend, poignards carry no special virtue.”
When I stepped away, the woman had vanished.
I slipped down the lane toward Benedict's, leaving him cursing. I heard a Garda flitter humming toward him. They might find me. They might not, but I had not permanently harmed him, and that wasn't worth their trouble.
Not this time.
Proud City of Eternal Light, Our hold against the endless nightâ¦
The Aurelian Way was crowded, as always, in late evening on Sabaten, crowded being a relative term, because, on any of the Worlds of the Assembly, unlike Elysium, the scattered handfuls of individuals strolling down the stone paths flanking the Fountains of Fascination would scarcely have been considered a crowd, but more likely a relief. Yet all of them were happy to be on Elysium. How could it have been otherwise?
Lifting the crystal goblet that caught the illumination from the sparkle-lights floating around the balcony, I smiled across the pale green linen of the balcony table at Magdalena, conveying effortlessly an interest intellectual, but not without some sensuality.
She met my gaze with eyes as black and deep as night. “Brains or beauty this evening, Judeon?”
“Anything of depth requires both, and it's been a shallow week.”
“You dislike shallowness, and you always have. That is delightfully predictable about you.” Her words caressed the soft air, and her smile was both beguiling and gentle, as it should have been, for we were in Elysium. Like those below us on the Aurelian Way, she was far better off than she could have been on Devanta, and for that she was grateful, and that also was how it had to be, for was not Elysium the city of light and beauty?
She sipped from her goblet.
Below us, the couples strolled the Aurelian Way, enjoying the perfumed air of yet another Sabaten evening in the city that I, from the intricate image in my mind, had forged in man's materials, in white stone and without death birds on enamel.
In time, I stood and took her hand, gloved, as always, in black velvet, as she rose from the table like that ancient pagan goddess had from the shell upon the foam, when men had but dreamed of Elysium, unable to create such a city, unable to ensure that those who inhabited it appreciated it and worshipped it.
All choice is based on illusion.
Incoming from Seldara Tozzi.
Max alerted me to the vidlink.
I was mind deep in the datastacks, trying to integrate Western Ocean anchovy patterns, Antarctic currents, solar fluctuations, and a dozen other variables. My hope was to find a predictive regression pattern that would allow me to anticipate probable seasonal arbitrage variances employed by the energy brokers at places like Cartiff and Selemez Sisters. It wouldn't be highly profitable, but it would add to my credit balance. That would be useful, because matters had been slow in my normal line of work. More than slow.
It would also be personally satisfying. Satisfying is always good.
It was also a distraction from the hangover of the nightmares.
Max reminded me.
I straightened in the chair behind the table desk and smiled politely.
The holo image appeared in front of the table desk. The very fair-skinned Seldara Tozzi had the excessively fine features of an older woman. Modern medicine kept complexion and skin and body healthy, but a certain fineness still appeared with age. She wore a jacket and trousers of a slivery gray with brownish tones, and a cream blouse. Her hair was jet-black, as were her eyebrows.
Max, quick profile on Seldara Tozzi.
“Seignior Donne? Real or simulacrum?”
“Real, and real-time.” I pulsed a vid-ID.
“Thank you. I have a modest commission for you.”
At the moment, any commission would be better than modest. Over the years, I'd found that business was either nonexistent or everyone wanted something immediately. But you have to take clients when they arrive because that's when they need you. They don't pay when you need the credits, but when they need the work. Those times seldom coincide. “I'm available. I'll need some details to determine whether it's something I can do.”
“It's very simple. It's also rather embarrassing and disgusting. Not for me. For the family.”
I nodded. I wasn't about to comment on what other people thought embarrassing or disgusting. I was also skimming through the profile Max had pulled and displayed on the recessed screen on the table desk.
Seldara Tozzi was one of the grande dames of Thurene. One of those whose names never appeared, except as a patron of all the arts. Her wealth was estimated at well over a billion credits, and she had three homes. She was a widow, with three children and four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She lived in a palacio almost as grand as Principessa Odilia'sâvirtually next door to Odilia, as such matters went.
“I have a great-granddaughter,” began the seigniora. “I have several, but one of them is considering marrying a most unsuitable man. He is exceedingly handsome, well educated, well-bred, and intelligent. He is also without a definable moral code and represents himself as normalâwhat I believe is called straight-straightâwhen I have been led to believe he is keeping another man. I have no problems with his personal habits or sexual orientation. I have great difficulties with his misrepresentation of his orientation to my granddaughter.”
“I assume you wish ironclad documentary evidence of his character and deception, preferably in his own words.”
“I would wish his complete vanishment, but that would be most unsuitable and would certainly reflect negatively upon us both in these times. Your suggested alternative will have to suffice, unless you can persuade him to depart Devanta and reject my granddaughter in a fashion that will illustrate his true lack of character.”
I laughed, sympathetically. “I can't promise anything without details and looking into the matter first.”
“I would not expect otherwise. Despite yourâ¦shall we say shadowyâ¦reputation, you are known as honest and trustworthy. I propose an initial retainer of two thousand credits for your assessment. That is yours, even if you believe you cannot assist me, but I would like a written report explaining why not. If you agree to proceed after the assessment, I will provide another five thousand credits as an initial fee. Beyond the first ten stans, you will document your time, and I will pay you at the rate of five hundred credits a stan. If you are successful in a graceful resolution, I will provide a significant sum in gratitude.”
I inclined my head. “Those terms are most acceptable, with one addition. If I cannot resolve the matter in less than a hundred billable stans, I will not charge more than the initial retainer plus twenty stans.”
“You're that confident, Seignior Donne.”
“No, Principessa Tozzi, I'm that proud.”
She laughed. “The credits and the information are on the way. So is a contact code. Good day, Seignior Donne.”
Max, check incoming and credit transfers.
Data is ready for you. Incoming has accepted seven thousand credits.
Max the scheduler and villa intelligence served as my alter ego. To me, Max's full name is Maximus Tempus, but officially, he's Time/Events/Systems Maximizer, Mod VIII, version two. With a number of custom adjustments unknown to the Civitas Sorores. Quite a number.
Interrogative seven thousand? From Seigniora Tozzi?
Seven thousand from the Tozzi palacio account.
I laughed. The principessa clearly didn't want me to refuse the commission.
I called up the data and began to read.
The great-granddaughter was Marie Annette Tozzi. Unsurprisingly, according to the images that accompanied the data, she was a dark-haired beauty, but of the severe type. Whether that beauty had been inherited naturally, genetically enhanced, or medically improvedâor all threeâwasn't a matter for conjecture. With the Tozzi wealth, only the relative contributions of each component were in doubt. She was young, in her late twenties, and pursuing a medical doctorate at L'Institut Multitechnique. She lived in a villa with her mother on the grounds of her grandmother's palacio.
The unsuitable man was Guillaume Richard Dyorr. He was a doctor at L'Institut Multitechnique with a specialization in consciousness plasticity. He had a town house in the Heights and a retreat at Lac de Nord in the Nordmontsâ¦
Seignior Donne, your hour-ten appointment is approaching.
Max had reserved ten hour on Marten morning for a Seigniora Elisabetta Reynarda. She had refused to state her business, only that she needed to meet with me personally. With no clients at that time, high expenses, and a dwindling free credit balance, I had accepted.
“Yes, Max, I know.” I saved the data on the Tozzi commission and stood. Then I stretched.
My office/study/library is on the north side of the villa's entry foyer. My dwelling doesn't really qualify for villa status. That's another issue. The city sisters let me keep the status in return for earlier service. They're more than the city sisters, but the term dated back to the first colonists. Devantans are traditionalists. That might be why Devanta never had to suffer an Assembly reformulation.
The system fed me the image of the woman crossing the entry foyer to the door of my office and study, guided by the holo versions of me animated by Max. I moved from behind the table desk and waited.
Seigniora Reynarda stepped into the study. She was neither tall nor short, a touch less than 180 centimeters. Her hair was a natural stormy blond, and her skin was the pale gold of mixed ancestry. Her eyes were large and black and dominated a face with a straight neat nose, a wide mouth, and lips too thin to be called rosebud. She wore a singlesuit of deep gray, with a short black jacket and black boots. The attire suited her.
“Seignior Donne.” She stopped less than a yard from where I stood.
“Seigniora Reynarda, I believe.” There was something about herâor not about her.
“That will do.” The seigniora surveyed the study. Her deep black eyes moved from point to point, as if my office were an artifact to be cataloged. She did not attempt flashcode communication. Since she did not, I was not about to. Besides, the study was secure, even against vibrosonic taps and coherency analysis.
The north and east walls are mainly glassâintelligent glassâset between the square golden stone columns. There are two sets of French doors on the north wall. They open onto the columned north verandah. It's anything but large, a mere ten meters by five. Except for the double cherry doors from the entry foyer, the inside south wall is all bookshelves. So is the west inside wall. I like the feel of books. I've actually read many of themâas books. Some aristos read them through the datastacks and display the bound originals as trophies. Me, what I peruse and study through the netsystems is for work. What I read off the shelves is for pleasure.
The furnishings are simple. All the links and perceptual-electronics are behind the bookcases. What's left are a circular conference table for four, with stylized captain's chairs, a broad table desk, with my chair behind it, and one comfortable green reading chair in the northwest corner.
“I'd heard you were tastefullyâ¦modest, Seignior Donne. It appears as though the reports were accurate.” The black eyes focused on me. They reminded me of the feral cats that frequented the darker fringes of the Parc du Roi.
I was percepto-linked to my system, trying to run traces and comparisons, but they all came up blank. Who she was remained a mystery, as did much on Devantaâ¦and on most of the Worlds of the Assembly. “I've always believed in modesty, both personally and financially. What can I do for you?”
“You have an impeccable reputation.”
That statement meant trouble. I waited.
“I have a commission for you.”
I gestured toward the conference table.
“No thank you. I won't be here that long. Are you interested in a commission?”
“Is it the kind I'd wish to take?”
She smiled. The expression was pleasant and meant to hold a hint of sensuality. It didn't. Again, I didn't understand why not. She had all the equipment, and she didn't come across as a samer.
“I understand you prefer a challenge and ample remuneration,” she said after a long pause. “I'm prepared to offer both.”
“I don't take commissions that involve breaking the Codex.” Not since I'd been regened and retired from the Assembly's IS SpecOps.
“Unless you are far less resourceful than your reputation suggests, you will not need to worry about trivialities such as the Codex.”
“You know I must ask your name and identity.”
She flashed a coded ID bloc, but no words with the bloc. The systems verified that it was a “real” identity.
Theoretically, if I did something against the Codex, her ID could be revealed if a justicer determined that she had been in fact instrumental in aiding or abetting an offense. That is, if the coded bloc happened to be accurate and not merely well enough designed to deceive my systems. My systems are better than any but those of IS or internal Garda security.
“Are you satisfied?”
“I would like you to discover and ascertain in evidentiary terms the exact relationship between Eloi Enterprises, Judeon Maraniss, and Elysium.”
The first name was dangerous, the second puzzling. The third? I'd never heard of Elysiumâexcept in classes in antiquity years before when I'd been at the Institute. That wasn't what the lady meantâassuming she was either a lady or female in other than bodily form.
“A flat retainer of five thousand credits for this appointment and the first ten stans of work. After that, we meet again and see if further investigation is necessary, possible, or required.”
“How do I reach you?”
“You don't. I'll contact Max.”
I'd never used that name outside the villa. I smiled. “You are very persuasive. I will acceptâfor the first ten stans.”
“I thought you would.” Another coded link flashed from her to the systems.
The backlink verified I had five thousand credits I hadn't had a few moments before. My accounts were far healthier than they had been two stans earlier.
“I look forward to your first report.” She gave a polite but perfunctory nod, then turned and walked out of the study.
I watched her closely until the door closed. The systems tracked her until she left the courtyard in a gray groundcar. It was an unmarked and armored limousine.
Who was Seigniora Elisabetta Reynarda? The mind behind the body was either very wealthy or very powerful. Probably both. Whether she were even a woman was another question. On Devanta, as on most worlds, the protocol, the appearance, and the legalities of identity didn't always match. Appearance often matched neither protocol nor legality. She was an advocate, or someone familiar with terms of law, and she was playing for high stakes. Anyone who referred to the Codex as a triviality and meant it had to be. Yet she had not used verbal flashcode, and that suggested that the body was not hers. Or that the code usage might reveal more of her origin and background.
And there was something elseâ¦
I almost laughed. No pheromones. Even samer women, who had little interest in men, often used pheromones beyond the natural to provide an edge. Practicing samers had different pheromones, but they were there. Seigniora Reynarda had not had any. Yet the body had been physically real. The most likely explanation was a recently decanted clone with a cydroid shunt. That raised other questions, principally urgency.
I dropped back into the datastacks. My first scan search was for quick specifics on Eloi Enterprises. The name was familiar to anyone around the entertainment sector of Devanta. Legaar Eloi was “Seignior Entertainment.” He'd also been informally linked to more than fifteen erasures or vanishments, not that there was any proof.
The datastacks had little more on him personally. That included the public stacks and the privates to which I'd wrangled access over the years. Eloi Enterprises specialized in explicit entertainment and gratification provided through every possible format and medium developed over the prehistorical, historical, and posthistorical span of humanity. Seigniora Reynarda could have easily been one of those mediums. She was striking enough. Formally, Eloi Enterprises was wholly owned by Legaar and Simeon Eloi, with worth and assets unknown, but estimated in excess of a billion creds. I skipped over the details of exactly how they provided for their clientele. I might need to investigate that in greater depth. I hoped not.