Come The Revolution – Snippet 22


It took about two hours, but afterwards I was pretty sure I had everything of value from them, including as much as they knew about Stal’s organization. Under the influence of the nortostecine Bela told me why he and Pablo came after me in the first place. A Resistance cell in the Human slum called Sookagrad had a price on my head for “Treason Against Humanity.” Long story, but suffice it to say they had most of their facts screwed up, and I’m a much nicer guy than they gave me credit for.

But Bela and Pablo weren’t going to turn me over to them. Nicolai Stal, the guy they wanted to impress, was sitting in the back yard of about every law enforcement and military intelligence outfit in the Cottohazz, and in addition had to arm wrestle with a local merchants’ and citizens’ association. Stal couldn’t lean on anyone very hard because the citizen’s association was backed up by an armed Human separatist resistance cell, the same one that had a price on my head. Politics always gets in the way of business.

Stal wanted to resolve his troubles with the Resistance: either patch things up or eliminate them. Bela figured I’d be the ticket to get either of those jobs accomplished. Stal could offer to hand me over, and either do so as an act of good will if he thought it could smooth over some of the rough spots in the relationship, or he could use the transfer of me to them as a ruse to draw them out and kill them.

That was Bela’s idea, and it showed some surprisingly nuanced strategic thinking.

So why did I bother with interrogating Bela and Pablo? It was always good to know what was going on, and at some point I still might have to make a deal with the Munies. Anything of value I could share with them might help grease the wheels of our future relationship. Grease is good.

Once the drug wore completely off, Pablo began crying, a fairly common post-interrogation reaction. Maybe he was crying because of what Stal would do to them once he found out they’d spilled everything they knew about his organization. Maybe he was crying because he figured my best option was to put a flechette in his brain. Hard telling.

“No cry, Pablo,” Bela told him, an order rather than an offer of comfort. Bela’s voice sounded shaky as well, but the kid kept up the façade. Sometimes that’s all you have left. I’ll say this: the kid had guts and brains, maybe more of the former than the latter. I walked around in front of them.

“Look, you two, let’s get something straight. I should probably kill you but I’m not going to. I’m twenty-two and zero. That means I killed twenty-two people in my last life but not one so far in this one. You two aren’t really important enough to make me break my streak, and you won’t be unless you get in my way again.

“I’ve got some business to take care of here in Prahaa-Riz and then I’m leaving town. I’m going to leave you tied up for a while but I’ll cut you loose before I go.”

“How we know that?” Bela asked.

“What choice do you have? But look at it this way: as long as you’re alive there’s a chance you’ll try to escape or do something stupid that could screw up my plans, so if I was going to kill you anyway, believe me, you’d already be in a couple big plastic bags in the back room. So shut up and count your blessings.”

I left them with that cheery thought and went into the fabricator room to check on the body armor I was running out. I didn’t have a lightweight suit here; both sets were at the valley house. I wasn’t expecting any trouble but it pays to be safe and so I’d started the fabricator cranking out a new set before I commed The’On.

The shirt was done but the pants were still printing. I ran the vacuum over the shirt and dropped it in the component washer. I’d chosen a lightweight suite designed to be worn under my street clothes, but also one that would print fairly quickly, because I didn’t want to hang around here forever. This version would stop a knife and slow down a flechette, provided it wasn’t a milspeck high velocity smarthead.

I activated a smart wall in the fabricator room and brought up the software order again just to look at it. A one-time license for body armor, two-part covering torso and limbs, tailored to my laser body scan: three hundred and seventy-five cottos, about half of which was the software royalty and the rest was to the distributor, for marketing and product support. This was a fairly low-tech model, moderate protection; a really nice set could run you a couple thousand, not counting the raw material cost to feed your fabricator, and the electricity to run it, but that wasn’t much.

Stal was on to something. His racket wasn’t just a revenue stream; it was a worm in the heart of the Cottohazz, the whole crooked set-up. The economy ran on decentralized fabrication so anybody can have anything — provided they can pay the design software royalties — with the intellectual property laws rigged so no one could ever get ahead of the Varoki in technology. Anytime anyone needed almost anything anywhere in the Cottohazz, all they had to do was punch up the software and fabricate it themselves, and every time they did the guys on top dipped their beaks. Folks who couldn’t afford a fabricator of their own, or wanted something bigger than their fabricator could handle, bought from a store, but most of what they bought was fabricated in the back room and it amounted to the same thing.

Except in Nicolai Stal’s neighborhood.

I wondered how he pulled it off. There were two potential ways around the system. One was to disable the purge code which disabled the software in your fabricator after you’d made the items covered by your end user license. The other was to hack the user license itself and change the iteration number. Pay for one item and then convince the software you’d paid for a hundred. Or a million.

But it’s not as if that hadn’t occurred to the trading houses, and trying to crack that code from the outside was a sucker play. No, Stal must have people on the inside working with him, and that was extremely interesting. The one time I’d tried a really big data mining operation back on Peezgtaan, that’s how we’d made it work. After this current emergency was tamped down, I was going to have to figure out a way to meet this Nicolai Stal, some way which would not involve me getting killed.

Before I plunged down into the heart of Prahaa-Riz, I wanted to take a look around and I was tired of vid feed. I opened the clear sliding doors to the balcony and went out. Right away I caught the trace smell of smoke — not clean wood smoke, but burning garbage, plastic, and something sweet, maybe flesh. Sakkatto City stretched out before me in the late afternoon sunlight, large columns of smoke rising from a dozen or more sites out in the slums and more little smoldering fires than I could count, all adding to a low clinging haze. Maybe because of the elevation I could just see more than before, or seeing it live had more impact than vid, but it looked worse to me, not better.

The arcologies appeared untouched, rising like arcane monoliths from the clutter of the slums — untouched, unmoving, unseeing — but the slums looked unsettled. Among the flickering fires and through an irregular curtain of smoke I saw snatches of movement, flashing emergency vehicle lights, a waving banner, a sparkling reflection from a riot shield–movement devoid of clear meaning but fraught with implication.

I ran my hand along the railing, still slick with fire retardant. I looked down to the slums directly below Prahaa-Riz, over a kilometer below me, and I remembered the feeling of vaulting over the railing of a burglarized apartment in Crack City, fifteen years earlier, and riding the canyon thermals down on a parawing, with a rucksack full of treasure — whatever the treasure had been that night. Did I have a parawing in the apartment? I didn’t think so, but I could whip one up using the fabricator. The problem with a parawing is you have to come down sometime, and no matter where I came down, everything was still going to be . . . that.

No, my Peter Pan days were over. If I was going to fly out of here, it would be by a short-hop turbo-shuttle, and I had a couple people I needed to take with me on that flight. I owed it to them.