Part II

by E. M. Unfred


Six Neither one of us spoke on the flight back. I could tell that Kuim was itching to hear my thoughts on the subject at hand. I could remember when I was a cadet (which in itself proved something about the durability of memory even through severe loss of patches of brain cells) and wanted to find out each and every fact known about weasels and most importantly, jumpers. The Bureau had been very methodical about keeping the image of the jumper as hero before the masses. I had seen every disc available on jumpers. I had collected the holotubes of all the famous jumpers: delRaney, Gar Bose, Far’Near’One. I had even joined the Jumper Youth to learn surveillance and marksmanship. The cynical geeks in the Bureau were pushers, and they knew it. They sold the young on weasel crap to keep the applicants to the Camp coming apace, to get the best and brightest of youth near the lip of the pit so they could skulk up behind them and boot their asses into the Hole. The hate of weasels and the love of crushing out their worthless lives was like recrystallized scag - your best friend and your worst enemy. So Kuim, too. He was thinking that I was mulling over the facts with my legendary weasel-hardened mind. But I wasn't. When I stood back there on the soot-coated sand, everything I had done since the day I went in and dropped my credentials on the Director's desk ran round and round me like some mad 110 volt carousel in the desert plugged into a 220 volt outlet. Why? Was this what they wanted for me? A fallen jumper to be erased in some dark alley before the wrong people could hear his enraged mutterings and take even a tenth of it to heart? No, they knew my address. They could have taken me out before, easily. So why was I here? I could learn nothing more from the char coated debris. The footprints of the primary investigators were laid over the entire grounds anyway, all the pertinent equipment - what remained of it - had been taken away for analysis. No, there was some other message here, one just for me. I could feel it with the sense that a surviving jumper must have. The wind whistled faintly C sharp through some hole in the twisted metal. In the still of the arid plain it seemed a shriek. The ghost of the dead jumper? Would that it was so easy. I motioned to Kuim that I had seen enough, and we hopped. But still the message was not entirely into words, Just the impression. I knew that it might be some time before the nucleating agent dropped out of the routine of the investigation and caused the overheated thoughts to solidify. The lesions on my brain from all the rotted brown and tan syrups I had ever shot up weren’t helping, either. Or were they? Maybe more massive

doses of drug would actually help the intuition. Yes, that seemed like a hell of a plan. Toot stimulants until the extraneous data was spun from my brain as from a cream separator and all that would remain would be the sludge, the true weighty and most dense of clues. I would get to work on it right away.

Seven Dawn came blasting through my eyelids, a bloom of photons with an immeasurable increase in the flux through my eyelids, funneled down the optic nerve (which itself twitched frantically from the impulse), and into some slumbering watchman lobe which rose drunkenly to its imaginary feet and bellowed out to the rest of my brain (laid about like sailors the next morning): Prepare to repel boarders! or Avast! or something to that effect, because I awoke with two people latched onto my right arm and braced back on their heels like it was tug of war and I was the rope. With my free hand, I was alternately hammering on a small window and trying to draw my 9mm Colt semi (standard Jumper issue) which fortunately for my cabin mates was glued rather efficiently into its holster by the gummy remnants of the psychoactives which it had previously held. I took the time to look out of the window I was attempting to fracture, and I saw the curvature of the Earth. Clouds, the black of space, the rising sun. Which had woken me in the first place with its unfiltered glare on my face. I stopped whacking the window as my senses returned and the meaning of rapid decompression became clear once more. The two people on my arm, meantime, kept straining and grunting. "It’s OK," the first one, a gorgeous stewardess in the tear-away uniform of Trump Space, was pleading. The other person was Kuim, who was passing up what I thought was a perfect opportunity to tear and was instead trying to keep me from rupturing the window and killing all aboard. It would have been a tough decision for me. "Sir! You're on the Boostplane! It’s OK!" he was saying. "Goddamn it, quit stealing her lines," I retorted, smoothing my hair nonchalantly with my free hand, "I’ll be all right now. It’s that damn war wound." Ha! This stew was in the pot. She looked at me for a passionate, fleeting moment, wetting her lips unconsciously with the sharp red tip of her glistening tongue, and when my guts were unable to take the tension between us any more, she spoke. "Hose off, Birdboy", she said, and walked away. Hey, she knew me!

Eight It seemed to take forfucking ever to reach L5. The pilot apparently had not the stones to just ignore the Van Allen anomalies and push on. Who was going to live forever anyway? Why, I remember before the Trumpites arbitrarily removed the lead shielding from the cockpit, the crews plotted the straightest course and damn the ionizing radiation and the incessant pounding at the cockpit door. They would just laugh till they choked when they saw the wingtips fluorescing. God, those were the days. It was cheap entertainment to meet the disembarking planeload to see what furious genetic changes had been wrought en route. Until that nasty business which happened on the Bangkok to Neilbase shuttle. Who would have known the survivors would hold such a grudge? Well, maybe survivors wasn't even the right word, considering that there was no scientific consensus as to the question of whether the long undulating, screaming, bleeding, rampaging thing which ate the stewardesses and chased the pilot through the port was alive or might legally be more properly considered an amalgam, a human incorporation of the two hundred and sixty three people which had boarded that fateful day. So now we were cruising as straight as a snake. A drunken, lobotomized snake. And they were running out of real Scotch. I had that feeling, that inner instinct which rang the synthobooze alarm. I don't care what the lab boys say, I can taste the algae in that shit. And to top it off, the alleged Ozonate I had scored from the blonde dealing next to the check-in module was not. It was some rotten imitation down cut with elephant aphrodisiac. Real Ozonate put you on a pillow of pure cirrus clouds, let you observe from a distance, made even the most tedious of journeys a joyride. This body ash rat dandruff was no substitute. I could still feel my feet. They were cold. I could still see Cinder, next to me, face pressed to the widow like some naked goddess was out there. He had never lifted and hung before, I remembered. I reached out and snagged a comfort bag, like I was in sudden search of comfort. When Kuim turned to me abruptly I opened the end and shoved his head into it, just as his stomach convulsed and ejected a blue-green jet of shiny semisolids out of both nostrils and between all the gaps in his teeth. Most of it went into the bag, but a rather large chunk of what seemed to be meat rotated slowly as it drifted past my head and spun off down the cabin. "ULP." He said. " ROLP . "

"You're welcome," I replied. "Ain't gravity wonderful?” I was happy. Not because I had acted at the right time. Not because none of Kuim's ex-lunch had splashed down in my griptube straw and contaminated the last of my drink. Because I had paid the blonde with fake credit codes. And when she went to connect her card with her account, the autocuffs would latch on to her like the scum that she was. But there was still the problem of the stewardess. Where did she know me from?

Nine It seems that I fell asleep again before we reached L5. In my dream I could feel the acute and perfect balance of cosmic energy. L5 was a local phenomena, looking at things on a galactic scale, yet who was to say that there were not analogs of this point of equilibrium where all physical and psychic forces hung null, only on a grander scale, somewhere out beyond the galaxy, between here and Andromeda where the same conditions were met? Oh what an amplification, a billion times a billion more - less, actually - less noise, less EM, less of the ether. An immense L5 whose symmetric cone of nothingness plotted on the five dimensions of the continuum would be even deeper, then beyond that, some where in the center of the Universe itself, the Mother point, the tsubzero of God, the pinprick of the hoary-bearded gentleman himself as he, perhaps accidentally, dropped an incontinuity. And it exploded and gushed forth, the inconceivably minute point from which sprang the material of the cosmos. What would the quiet be like there? So still that you would be folded lengthwise and sidewise, infinite times, until you passed back through the eye of that forgotten and discarded needle, and out onto the other side, expanding into the unadulterated light? But that was just a flicker. Actually my dream was about batteries. I was hiding under a cot in a cave somewhere- the scene was not at all familiar. We (there was a feeling of others, comrades) were under attack. I had to fight back, to crawl to the mouth of the cave and fire my weapon at our tormentors. But I could not find my ammunition, and I did not even know what kind of weapon I had. So I tried to use my flashlight to look at my weapon, but the batteries were dead. I entered the dream with all that as the memory of my character in the dream, and I spent the remainder of the dream feeling around under the bed hoping to find some batteries. After a long and fruitless search, I became aware of myself in another location, observing all these actions. I began to scream at myself: "There aren't any fucking batteries under there. And even if there were, the horde is coming in to kick your butt. BAIL OUT!" And since I always take advice from myself in dreams (unlike my waking state, where I can't tell myself a thing), I reached into my thoughts and pulled the ejection handle.

Ten I could tell I was at L5 even before I fully awoke. At L5 your thoughts escape as they are born, not like every other mundane place in the old Earth-Moon neighborhood where your thinking rattles around inside your skull for hours before it can achieve escape velocity. At L5 you don’t need any artificial dampers on the synapse. It’s like standing in the slipstream of an open hovercar and trying to shout as your words are ripped away. You cannot finish a coherent line of thought. Ideas are just snatched away aborning. There was never any chance for setting up permanent stations at L5 as was hoped for ninety years or so, no more than my chances of winning the Nobel-Hitachi Peace Prize. Why they wanted me to get, therefore, to L5 at all was beyond me. It was a lousy frigging place for a meeting or a powwow or a war council. Bad for negotiating, eating, listening, crapping, remembering to wipe. Everything useful and productive which humankind has done or can aspire to do wasn't worth a rat fart at L5. It was only good for floating around and drooling. But I managed to think those thoughts as I was awakening at L5, only because I am the undisputed heavyweight champion when it comes to maintaining coherency during psychic meltdown. In that at least, I had an advantage. So I awoke. I stretched out and yawned, then reached up to dim the lights with one hand, rubbing my eyes with the other. I looked around. Kuim was not in sight. Probably in the hydrocloset driving the plasteel bus. The compartment was empty - I remembered - we were the only passengers. That must have cost some coin, filthy lucre I knew the speedfreak beancounters at the Department would never allow. Must be from the off-budget funds, or commandeered. I rang for the hostess. David Trump III had a gourmet’s obsession with fresh fruits, as I recalled. There should be fresh grapefruit aboard. That and three fingers of black rum, the color of molasses and almost as thick, that would drive the howling demons of Morpheus finally from my medulla. No hostess. I rang again, then I unleashed myself and kicked up to the galley. The bitch was probably on the bridge oiling the captain’s joystick. I opened doors until I found the bar, and I was hunting among the canned goods when I noticed the door to the bridge. Was open, ever so slightly. With my well-honed discretion, I yanked it open, expecting to find the crew orbiting each other in a compromising formation. Nobody. I got a creepy feeling, the same one I get when

my turbocycle goes bumptybump over some furry pedestrian on the Coast Road. I flung myself into the captain’s seat and flipped open his mike. "Kuim!" I barked. The sound whizzed around and came back to me unabsorbed. I clicked through all the cams on board. There was no one in any compartment. Odd but strangely in keeping with the past, from the summons to active (put that in quotes, on second thought) weaseling to the k-man, to the Arkady model renegade. None of it made any sense yet. Perhaps it never would. In situations like this, they used to teach in Camp, sort out the clues. Rank them according to reliability, probability, past history, intelligence gathered and intelligence bought, borrowed or wrung out with a meat hook. Make a battle plan and three backups. Allow for all eventualities. Bullshit, all that. In the real arena of jumping weasels, you quickly learned that confusion was the enemy, and the way to deal with the enemy was with firepower, to soften up the unknown with a few thousand rounds of osmium fulminate slugs followed by carbon steel hail bomblets. Unfortunately, all I had brought with me was the old Colt 9mm and two spare clips. Hardly enough to hold off a space assault. On the other hand, the technowarriors would be aghast at the havoc which a thirty-credit lead slug from a sixty-year-old pistol can wreak on its way through your average hull in space. If you remembered to file a nice little x on the nose, which I had. I was pleading with my scabrous left brain to recall whether the shuttles were equipped with armament or not and getting a nonresponse from that traitorous tissue. See if I treat you to anymore of that darkside Crank I risked you and your brother lobe to score from those mutant gypsies.... I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I whipped my Colt out so hard that it flew out of my hand and whacked me in the forehead. Quiver in fear, you devil! I grabbed it as it rebounded off the bulkhead and sent a round through the figure in the doorway. It was Marajan, my one time partner in decadent behavior. Where had she come from? I had killed her! Oh, well, served her right. She still owed me for those three sticks of Lunar Bliss and all of my pension credits. But she wasn't falling, no blood was gushing. I noticed a line of static at her knees. Shit. It- she- was a holoform. A freaking recording. "You filthy bitch," I said anyway, even though she was only a series of doped imperfections in some crystal. The Marajan apparition took a step forward and kicked me in the

nuts. I contracted into the fetal ball and floated back into the window, barfing up the breakfast I had yet to eat. She was an interactive holoform! Damn! I hated it when that happens. An interactive holoform could be some fun though. Perhaps if I played on her programmed innate sympathies for me, if she had been constructed in the right way, we could strap ourselves into one of the bedrestraints and.... Then my right brain rang up the piercing klaxon of warning. I covered my ears. You idiot, I told myself (I think it was me). Don't you remember what happened when T&AT tried to install holowhores on the Lunar Penitentiary? The same sonic modulation which focused and gave the holoform apparent substance was too inherently metastable to use at anything other than ambient temperature. The minute the holowhores had been been warmed, they went all the way up to air ionization, the randy inmate embracing a pillar of 2800 degree C plasma, which usually opened a seam from his crown to his inseam and let the contents therein spill out into the inferno or onto the floor, depending on how long the anomaly lasted. There were several such dissatisfied customers before the whole thing was abandoned and the Circle took up the idea creatively and tried to develop it into a very potent antipersonnel weapon. Oh shit, good work, brain, I told my brain. So she was here to kill me. Had I been that bad? "So this is it, huh?" I wheezed. I could feel one testicle floating around in my throat, looking for the way home. "This whole charade just for that time with the donkey?" "Shut up Birdboy," she/it said. She/it looked around like expecting to be snuck up on. "Don't ask me why I'm risking my neck to do this, but you have been set up. Get into the rescue bubble and get out now!" "Who is it?" I said, but she had already condensed into a pinpoint of light and flickered out. It took me about two shakes of a weasel’s butt hair for me to yank down the emergency panel and dive into the bubble. Marajan had lied to me before, about half the time, as I recall, but those were suckshit odds out here. I punched the button and the bubble blasted out into the blackness.

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