Chapter One Excerpt
They said Dorie Senall deliberately killed herself, but I doubted the truth of that, considering she had worked for the Movement.
Seemed everything the Network Intelligence Organization dealt with on the eight worlds of the Union these days tied into the Movement. Three years ago, when my partner Alan Brindos and I decided to give up our private detective biz to contract with the NIO, we had no idea how much the Movement would change everything.
I sent an ENT to Danny Cadra; the electromagnetic niche-holo tracker left my office and searched for his location in the NIO building. It found him in Evidence, and the pulsing disc hovered within his vision until he acknowledged it with a flick of his hand. He looked more than annoyed, but that was the point of an ENT. My message projected directly into Cadra’s visual cortex, instructing him to bring a holo-vid unit and the incident report to my office.
I nodded at him when he finally came in.
“Love those niche-holos,” I said. As Movement Special Ops, I was authorized to send them.
“Yeah, of course you do,” Cadra said, snapping a vid bullet into the unit. “Holo-recording, just sent through the slot from Ribon. It’s Miss Senall’s apartment in Venasaille.”
Venasaille was the largest city on the colony planet Ribon. I had never been to Ribon, but figured I’d get there someday, when the timing was right.
“Okay.” I walked back to my desk and let him place the vid unit on top of it. About six inches square, it hummed like a tiny insect when he activated it; a newer model, something I never could have afforded for my own private eye business.
“You’re going to love this,” Cadra said.
I thought he meant the incident report—and maybe he meant that too—but it turned out he meant the quality of the holo-recording itself.
Cadra moved the chair in front of the desk out of the way, and I remained standing in the path of the projection. A 3-D slide with the routing list flipped up there first, with “Dave Crowell” at the top of the names, half of whom I didn’t even know.
“It starts in Miss Senall’s suite at the Tempest Tower,” Cadra said. “That afternoon, on the balcony.”
The vid itself lit up, and I was standing on the balcony, right behind Dorie Senall, who supposedly worked for the U.U. Mining Corporation. Standing beside her was our own NIO undercover agent, Jennifer Lisle, who had spent the last few months gathering evidence about Dorie’s involvement in the Movement, including a possible working relationship with the terrorist Terl Plenko, leader of the whole goddamn thing. I jumped back a little, surprised at how real the two women looked standing there, locked in a kiss.
“A kiss?” I said to Cadra, who had come up beside me.
“Yeah, surprise, huh?”
Dorie and Jennifer were carbon copies of each other, but Dorie had long jet-black hair and brown eyes, while Jennifer had long blond hair and blue eyes. Pretty similar in height. Both slender, longlegged, and small-breasted.
The view twisted a bit, and I had a better look at Dorie, who smiled playfully.
“I’m going to lower the shield,” Dorie said.
Jennifer, confused, said, “Okay.”
The camera zoomed in on Dorie, focusing on a panel neatly inset into the wall of the balcony that she flipped up. She palmed the sensor and lowered the electromagnetic shield.
Dorie smiled, then leaned back precariously over the edge, a hundred floors up, letting the breeze blow across her arched back, whipping her black hair upward as though she were falling.
“Jesus,” Jennifer said, “be careful.”
The view shot out, spun, and rotated so quickly that I put my arms out to catch my balance. Soon I had a straight-down look at her death-defying move.
“Holy shit,” I said.
“Marble camera,” Cadra said. “Very small. Transparent. Mostly it stays near the ceilings, floats and positions itself for the best angles, zooms in and out. You’ve got to agree the definition is absolutely amazing. Nothing but the best for even our borrowed hounds.”
I winced at the term. I was a minor player in the NIO, and some didn’t much care about my contract status.
I glanced Cadra’s way and watched him staring at the recording. “Did Lisle place the camera in the suite?”
“Yeah, when she arrived, set to record remotely the first time she spoke.”
Cadra barely moved, his eyes locked on the vid, on the girls enjoying the night air. I wondered how many times he’d seen it.
A few minutes later, the girls moved back inside the suite. Dorie motioned her toward a white fabric couch. The painting on the wall behind it looked like a Vapelt, but it had to be a print. From what I could tell, the suite looked upscale, with dark wood floors, quality furniture and lighting, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, a video wall screen, that sort of thing. Certainly more suite than Dorie could afford on a U.U. Mining paycheck.
Dorie smiled and lay down with her head in Jennifer’s lap. She ran her fingernails gently over Jennifer’s stomach, bunching up the material of her blouse, then traced a line upward with her index finger between her breasts, to her neck and under her chin. Jennifer smiled, eyes closed.
Dorie inched Jennifer’s blouse up a little and kissed her there on the belly. She looked up at Jennifer’s face and said, “I want to share something with you.”
The marble cam rolled right, caught Jennifer slowly opening her eyes. The definition was so remarkable I could even see flecks of gray in the blue irises.
“How would you like to be someone?” Dorie asked. “Someone with a hand in shaping the future of sentient life?”
Jennifer shook her head. “What are you talking about?”
Dorie got up from the couch so abruptly that I flinched. She shouted almost incoherently, “I’m talking about the fucking Movement!”
“Movement?” Jennifer asked, feigning ignorance.
“You know. Terl Plenko? Leader of the Movement?” Dorie smiled. “I hear he might come here to Ribon.”
On Dorie’s vid screen on the back wall of her suite’s living room, U-ONE, the Union government network, showed the silhouette of a Union Ark as it sailed across black space, and due to the wonders of the NIO marble cam, I could even read the word orgon flashing in the lower-right corner. Sloping arid hills below the Ark erupted in flames as invisible tongues licked from the Ark’s guns. Viewers probably didn’t know much about the small planet Orgon, a volatile colony where lawlessness sometimes necessitated the need for Union intervention, but it didn’t matter. Televised broadcasts of Union raids brought high ratings.
Jennifer probably knew the stakes had gone up. She glanced at the camera, tucking blond hair behind her ears, as if to say to the surveillance team, “You getting all this?”
“How many people watched the vid live when this went down?” I asked as the cam rolled again, capturing the girls from an angle just above Dorie’s vid screen.
“Just two. A Lieutenant Branson, and the captain there, Captain Rand.”
Dorie paced the room, and the marble camera followed her from above, recording her movements as it repositioned. Dorie stopped in front of the vid screen, facing Jennifer, who had twisted around on the couch to watch. Dorie took out something red from a cubbyhole underneath the vid screen. Also, a glass tumbler filled with something.
“Cadra?” I asked, pointing at the screen.
He blinked, then said, “Oh. RuBy. And Scotch in the glass.”
I nodded. RuBy was a drug from Helkunntanas. The alien substance was legal on most worlds, despite opposition against it. I noticed how expertly Dorie rolled the RuBy, its faceted surface pooling bloody light, some of the red dye trailing in the sweat of her palm. She popped it into her mouth, chasing it with the Scotch in the tumbler, ice clacking. A shudder passed through her body, tightening her skin, the lines in her face. Her face seemed peaceful for a few moments—her jaw slack as she tilted her head back, eyes closed—but her fists closed into a tight ball, and her arms and legs shook.
She opened her eyes, smiled warmly. In the next moment, her feral nature slammed back and she exalted in the high, jumping and twisting for show, showing off her body. I jumped back as her movement brought her close to me. She said, “That’s some good shit!”
She crept to the couch, grinning, slid onto Jennifer’s lap. “You want some?” Jennifer shook her head. “No?” Dorie cupped Jennifer’s breast, caressed her nipple through the flimsy material. “You want some of the action I’m offering you? The chance of a lifetime, girl of adventure.” The camera zoomed in on Dorie; her eyes were lit up from the RuBy, damp hair falling dark over her face.
Jennifer tried to move. Dorie’s body, bathed in sweat, held her down. The marble camera was damn good. Beads of RuBy-induced sweat glistened on Dorie’s face. She forced her lips onto Jennifer’s mouth. Jennifer pulled away. “Shit, Dorie! Take another pill. I’m not in the mood. Get off.”
Dorie drew back, scowling. Jennifer started to say something, and Dorie struck her hard. Before Jennifer could react, Dorie slapped her again. Blood speckled the white sofa cushion. The marble camera rolled, and I felt a bit dizzy with the sudden movement. Jennifer’s head came up, blood smeared over her lips.
Dorie grabbed Jennifer’s hair and gave it a vicious yank. “You’ll do what I say and you’ll like it.” The marble cam zoomed in, catching the fear in Jennifer’s eyes. Dorie opened her hand and caressed the hair she had just grabbed. Jennifer pressed the back of her wrist to her bloody lip.
I turned quickly to Cadra and said, “Was that an echo?”
“You hear it? That’s what blew Lisle’s cover. Watch.”
It was as if it had taken a moment for Dorie to recognize the echo, her dialogue starting up.
“What?” Dorie said, turning around. “What the fuck is this?”
The marble cam seemed to know exactly where to focus its attention, coming in closer on Dorie’s wall vid. The Orgon raid disappeared from the screen, replaced by Dorie’s living room, her own image doubling her motions, as though U-ONE were a sponge sucking violence into the airwaves. She leaped off the couch. Jennifer, her view unobstructed, looked shocked.
I turned to Cadra. “Okay, how does something like that happen? Looping the holo-recording into her goddamn suite’s vid screen?”
“Christ if I know. Some glitch.”
Dorie hunted frantically around the suite, cursing. The camera followed her, and it was as if I were walking behind her. A glitch? Something like that didn’t just happen; someone had betrayed Jennifer Lisle. Was it the Venasaille cop, Branson? The captain?
Suddenly Dorie had a blaster in her hand. Jennifer froze on the sofa, probably wondered where her team was. Not to mention who had sold her out and given Dorie a front-row seat for the surveillance footage.
The view rolled left.
Dorie strode toward the entryway, which happened to be straight at me, raising the blaster. I ducked out of the way as she raised the blaster higher, toward the ceiling. The camera caught her squinting as she triggered her weapon, the blaster’s beam randomly boring holes in the walls and ceiling.
The view rolled left, right, halted. A blinding flash killed the holo and I defensively raised my hand to my face, startled.
“Lucky shot,” Cadra said. “After that, Branson’s backup team went in.”
“Where were they?”
“Room next door. Miss Senall picked off two of them. Hold on.” Cadra reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a second vid bullet.
“Branson chucked a second marble cam in there as they stormed the suite.”
Cadra ejected the first bullet and snapped in the second. I strode back to the middle of the room just as the new vid lit up around me.
Immediately, the camera zoomed in on Jennifer Lisle, who had started to run away from Dorie. The camera recorded the scene at a lower angle now, there being no pressing need for it to stay hidden near the ceiling. The camera must have sensed a change in Dorie’s body position, for the view swiveled, catching Dorie as she turned away from the suite door and aimed at Jennifer—through me.
I tensed as she fired, the beam going through my midsection.
Looking behind me, I saw Jennifer go down with a hole burned through her leg; she cried out as she fell, clutching at the wound with her hand.
“Dorie turned and went after Jennifer at that moment?” I asked. “With more cops piling through the door?”
Cadra shrugged. “Doesn’t make sense, I know.”
“Gets weirder.” He pointed at Dorie, who started to run toward the balcony. She ignored Jennifer sprawled on the carpet.
The Venasaille police were yelling at her to stop. The marble camera didn’t bother with the police. It stayed on Dorie as she fired her blaster at the French doors that led to the balcony, ripping them apart. Pieces flew toward the marble cam, causing me to once again involuntarily duck.
“Goddamn it,” I whispered, but I kept my eyes on Dorie’s back as she ran through the ruined doors. The camera followed her, catching the very moment she stumbled. One cop’s blaster had hit her in the leg. She hobbled forward toward the unshielded edge of the balcony.
Momentum carried her forward.
She pitched over the side and, unbelievably, the marble cam followed her. It was like some sort of virtual thrill ride. I dropped to my knees to steady myself, watching the unusual angle, my point of view following Dorie Senall as she fell one hundred floors. She had her blaster going, carving veins down the face of the Tempest Tower.
There was a moment when the pavement rose up to meet her, when it rushed into my own eyes, that I expected the marble camera to follow her the whole way, smashing itself onto the street, but it stopped several floors up and gave me a sickening view of Dorie Senall exploding on the sidewalk.