Authors: E. J. Swift
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Fiction
“They used to be younger,” Linus said. He must be quite young himself, in his late twenties, Vikram thought. Fourth generation, anyway. Linus seemed to sense the scrutiny, because he raised one eyebrow. “You don’t agree?”
“If you mean that age affects resolution and liberality, then yes, I suppose you’re right.”
“You’re what—twenty six? Twenty-seven?”
“Twenty-five.” The age Mikkeli had been.
Linus laughed. “Young, anyway. That’s the thing. You remind these people of themselves a long time ago. They know they lack that conviction now and it shames them. And just in case you’re wondering, the man I was duelling with earlier is Feodor Rechnov. My father.”
Vikram did not mention that he already knew the connection. He was not confident that he could keep his voice free of emotion.
Linus seemed unaware of any tension. “Then again, you have to remember what some of them have been through. What they’ve lost.”
“That’s too convenient an excuse. At least let someone else try.”
“Someone like you?”
Vikram shrugged. “Maybe.”
Linus retrieved a silver case from his coat pocket. He took out two cigarettes and offered one to Vikram.
“Thanks.” Vikram slipped his own packet away.
“Not a problem.”
Again the lighter was passed. Vikram cupped the flame and drew deeply on the cigarette. It brought on a rush of light-headedness. Evidently tobacco was rolled stronger in the City, or it had less junk in it.
Linus inhaled gently. There were no lines around his mouth. Vikram wished he could tell what the other man was thinking. There was something unnerving about the controlled politeness, as though Linus were prepared to tell Vikram anything, secure in the knowledge that if he felt the information were even fractionally at risk, he could have the westerner tossed over the balcony without a second thought.
The cold was beginning to penetrate through Vikram’s thinner coat. The preliminaries were over. He would get no clues from a Rechnov.
“I need your help,” he said.
“After today’s exhibition, I suppose you do.” There was no judgement in Linus’s voice, only dry fact.
“You’re a Councillor. You must have influence.”
“Very little, I’m afraid.”
“But you spoke up today. For the west.”
“I did. As you saw, it was a futile case.”
“Then tell me what I need to do. You know these people. I don’t.”
“Oh, I admire anyone who will stand up and take on the Council. But you’re wasting your time.”
“Thanks.” Vikram stared moodily out. “That’s really useful.”
“There are other routes, of course,” Linus continued. “Less orthodox routes.”
“Find yourself a patron; someone rich and popular.” Linus finished his cigarette. He stubbed it out carefully on the rail. “Someone like Adelaide Mystik, perhaps.”
“Adelaide Mystik? You mean—” He stopped, confused by the oblique reference. “Why would I talk to her? She’s a—she doesn’t do anything.”
“Exactly. Like most celebrities, she doesn’t do anything. Therefore I would imagine she has time to do many things, if approached the right way. And she’s influential.” Linus looked thoughtful. “Yes. Talk to her. Don’t say I suggested it—just turn up as if it was your own idea.”
Vikram felt wrong-footed, but could not pinpoint where or how it had happened. Instead he asked, “Why would a Rechnov support the west?”
Linus’s smile was slow and closed. “An interesting question. One that would require time to answer. I don’t have time. But I do have a query for you. Did you know Eirik 9968?”
“Would it make a difference if I did?”
“Not to me.”
“Well, I didn’t know him. Not to speak to.”
The lie slid easily off his tongue. It occurred to him that if he said it enough times, he might begin to believe it, that knowledge of another person was as frail as mist.
“He was wrongly numbered, I believe. Assigned a 68. He should have been a 65, for Tasmayn. Not that it makes a difference now. Funny the way that our origins are disregarded nowadays.”
The snippet of information could only have been dropped as a test. Vikram kept his face impassive.
“What’s the name of that stone, inside the Chambers?”
“Yes. The pillars.”
“Oh. It’s called marble. Rather beautiful, isn’t it. Mined in quarries over a century ago. Finally shipped across from Patagonia. Quite a feat.” Linus paused. “Ah yes. This might help you—I won’t need it.” He handed Vikram a card. “Good luck. Don’t freeze out here.”
The door closed on him before Vikram could reply.
Find yourself a patron.
Linus’s turn of phrase rang oddly in his wake. Not
someone like my sister
someone like Adelaide Mystik
. As though Adelaide were a completely separate entity. It didn’t sound like a recommendation. Then again, what did Vikram know about these people?
He recalled the Rechnovs, gathered on the balcony to watch the skadi execute Eirik. Their family portrait seemed even stranger now than it had done last week. There were four fourth-gen siblings, he knew. Vikram wondered if that had been calculated prescience in light of the later population control laws. Linus was evidently on the Council. There was the other brother, and then the infamous twins. Axel, the ex-jet set boy who’d disappeared. And the daughter. Beautiful, catastrophic Adelaide, who refused to use her family’s name and headed up socialite group the Haze in a whirl of parties and social misdemeanours. Crazy Adelaide, mad like her brother, mad in the way that could only end badly. Last famously captured necking from a bottle at Axel’s remembrance service, or whatever the feed had called it, because the kid was surely dead. And Linus was suggesting that Vikram solicit her help?
Vikram looked at the card. It sat snugly in the palm of his hand, about the size of a playing card, but thicker. The card was red with a pink rose motif, and running across it in gold type was the inscription.
Adelaide Mystik invites you to Rose Night at the Red Rooms, to be held on the second Thursday of the month, attendance after the hour of twenty-one.
The back was watermarked. It had an Old World feel to it, pre-Neon, even.
Something struck him on the cheek. He looked up. Hail. Cursing the weather’s erratic switches, thrusting the card into his coat pocket, he retreated indoors.
Two guards were approaching down the corridor.
“Time’s up, kid. Out with you.”
They marched him back to the lift. Hands folded in front, eyes averted, they accompanied Vikram down the hundred floors, across the mosaic-tiled lobby, past the evergreen trees and down again through the flood control floors. They opened the doors for him to go outside. As he passed, one of them grabbed his collar.
“Hey—don’t forget to check out your picture in the newsreel.”
The other grinned inanely.
“We don’t have your damn newsreel in the west,” Vikram flung back. “Don’t you know anything?”
The doors hissed shut. Vikram was left at the waterbus terminus, watching the next load of passengers embark in the freezing hail.
5 ¦ ADELAIDE
he Rechnov offices were quieter than she remembered. Through doors left ajar or windows with the blinds half drawn, she caught glimpses of her father’s employees. They were smartly but plainly dressed, their workstations clean, uncluttered. These days, amidst the eternal rumours that bits of the City were falling apart, she supposed the company was more concerned with maintenance than creativity.
Occasionally, seeing her shadow pass, a worker glanced up. Some dropped their eyes, others stared overtly. She hadn’t been invited.
Her meeting with the investigator was in two days time. What she expected to uncover here today she was not yet sure, only that she was following instinct, and instinct was tracing a path backwards.
In an empty foyer that smelled of decomposing ideas, she passed the things that had never been built, forever imprisoned behind glass frames. Plans for an underwater shuttle network. A piece of concept art for a hotel like a bubble on the seabed, the date marked in the bottom right corner—Summer 2366. A mere twelve months before Storm Year.
It was a strange feeling to think that this image was half a century old, its creator probably dead. He might even have been born outside Osiris; walked on land and seen places that no longer existed. Axel had been obsessed with the Old World at one stage, and the idea of rediscovering it. For weeks on end he had pestered Feodor with questions. What had happened to the land? Why had everyone come to Osiris and why could no one leave?
Feodor, who liked to lecture, told them that Osiris was built because the world was collapsing. Even before the Great Storm, the old lands had been crippled by disasters. Floods, famine, plagues made by scientists, war, drought—earthquakes that ripped the land to pieces. The twins wouldn’t know, but a long time ago there used to be giant discs drifting in the sky—s’lites, they called them. S’lites looked like stars. They took photographs, and connected scarabs in an enormous web spanning halfway across the globe. Back in the Neon Age, said Feodor, everyone knew everything about everyone else in the world. They had machines inside their heads. The sky was full of giant mirrors and cloud spraying monsters. Some of them were planning to live on the Moon. But all that was before the Blackout.
Now, a city like Osiris, entirely self-sustaining, was a stroke of pure genius (partly by the people on the Osiris Board, but ultimately, said Feodor, by their grandfather and his father Alexei before him, who travelled all the way across the Boreal States on the back of a grain cart so that he could enter the architectural competition). There should have been many more Osiris cities. They could have saved lives. But the city came too late, and when the Great Storm arrived, the few refugees that escaped land’s terrible plagues only confirmed the worst.
Nobody has ever answered Osiris’s distress signal, Feodor told them finally, because nobody is left to answer. He shook his head, a tired, resigned gesture. He only wished it were otherwise.
Looking at the faded plans, Adelaide remembered that speech very clearly. It was the only time she had ever supported Feodor rather than Axel.
She strode down the corridor, purposeful now. She was reaching for the brass handle of Feodor’s office when Tyr stepped out of the adjacent room and manoeuvred himself in front of the door. He must have seen her coming on camera.
“Feodor’s at a press conference,” he said.
“Feeding that insatiable desire for publicity, is he?”
“He’s delivering a statement on the west. They had a westerner in the Chambers this morning. Someone has to put a positive spin on it.” Tyr surveyed her blandly. “He’s not due back any time soon.”
“I can wait. In here.”
She took a step forward. Tyr did not move. They faced one another, close enough to see blemishes, lines, embryonic beneath the skin. Close enough to touch. Green stilettos put Adelaide almost on a level height with Tyr. A clump of his hair stuck out over his forehead, light brown, streaked with honey. She fought the urge to push it back into place. Her own resolution was mirrored in the set of his jaw, the slight contraction of the irises. His eyes were the colour of dusk, and held its ambiguity.
Stalemate suspended them for a few seconds. Then Tyr shrugged.
He opened the door in a twofold gesture, pushing it ajar, and as she stepped forward holding it there before opening it all the way. Adelaide ignored the bait.
“I’ll take a coral tea,” she called over her shoulder. “Strong. Plenty of ginger.”
“I know how you take your tea,” said Tyr.
The door swung shut, cutting him off.
Adelaide looked about, remembering. The room contained the accumulated possessions of three proud and quite different men, none of them able to erase the presence of their predecessor. Alexei’s bookshelves squeezed between Leonid’s maps, their edges neatly aligned. The floor was dwarfed by Feodor’s huge table, itself covered in architectural drawings, and beneath or in places upon them, in tea glass rings. Adelaide slung her handbag on top.
She crossed the room to the Neptune. Its oceanscreen showed deep sea beyond the submerged island and the Atum Shelf. The image was three-dimensional and opalescent. It seemed to pulse. There was no sign of the city’s underworld: no plateauing pyramid bases, pipelines or energy turbines; nothing to reveal human intrusion at all.
“You old-fashioned fool,” Adelaide said aloud.
She placed one hand flat against the activation strip. Nothing happened. The Neptune must be programmed to respond to Feodor’s fingerprints. She tried the drawers to his desk. They were also locked.
Tyr entered without knocking. He had been working with the Rechnovs for some years now and had acquired certain family privileges. Feodor trusted him implicitly. Tyr gave her an incalculable glance and placed her teaglass on a table beside a leather armchair. He stood there until she moved away from Feodor’s desk.
Adelaide lifted the glass to her nose, inhaling the steam as ritual dictated, then blew lightly across the liquid. They surveyed one another without pretence.
“Do you have a Surfboard?” she asked.
“A Surfboard? No.”
“I thought there might be some reading material to occupy those of us who have to wait upon Feodor.”
“I’ll suggest it to him,” Tyr said.
When he had gone, she seated herself in the armchair, and hooked one shoe across the opposite knee. Her foot jiggled. She waited. After a moment she grew bored of waiting, and crossed the room to the sideboard jammed against the bookcase. She relieved it of one of the more expensive raquas and poured herself a triple measure.
She went to stand by the maps, the raqua in her right hand, untouched. Most were plans of Osiris, but there was was one that showed the Old World land masses. It was a beautiful and very rare object. Adelaide traced the outlines with one finger, thinking of Axel’s questions.
It was stranger than she had expected to be here. She remembered when she was younger occasionally visiting the premises, feeling awed by the vastness of her father’s territory and the operation he commanded. This office had seemed like a sanctum then. The twins’ four feet had dangled over the edges of the chairs. The adults discussed complex matters whilst the twins whispered; the room was thick with the shadows of their long gone whispers.
Her eyes flicked to the Neptune again. Over two weeks had passed since the Service of Hope, and there was no further information about Axel. If Feodor knew anything—via Sanjay Hanif, or independently—the clues would be on that machine. Adelaide was not sure exactly what those clues might be. She was not even sure, yet, of what she suspected.
She heard noises from outside, voices followed by urgent footsteps. She ran her tongue over dry lips, suddenly nervous of what the meeting might bring.
The door opened to admit her father.
“Afternoon, Adelaide. What are you doing here?” His gaze took in her, by the maps, and the raqua, as she had known it would. “You’re aware of the time, I presume.”
“I was waiting. So yes.”
“Impudent as ever.”
She sucked in a breath. Three words and she was biting her tongue. Expressionless, she swilled the amber liquid in the glass, watching the moon-shaped tidemark left by the alcohol.
“To your continued health, Feodor,” she said finally, and drank the contents. Her throat burned. Not just a cheap stunt, but that was a waste of good raqua if it did not rile him the way she needed.
She sensed her father’s infuriation as he crossed the room to a chair by the table, leaning both hands heavily upon its back. He still bore the signs of a strong physique, though years and work had etched their marks. His face was lined, more than it might have been for a man his age. It was a face that took its time before succumbing to the necessity of conversation.
“You’ll have to forgive my lateness.” His voice, used to public speaking, sounded trapped in the office. It took on other nuances too—sarcasm, and flashes of contempt. “As Tyr no doubt informed you, I’ve been in the Chambers all morning. An absurdly unproductive session. Hildur Pek has been kicking up a storm about the ring-net, as if anyone is worrying about sharks right now. Then we had some western lunatic speaking. Stars knows where they got him from, I suppose it’s hard to find literates over there. Practically demanded that we demilitarize the border, and Linus—Linus!—supported him, would you believe.”
“I didn’t come to talk about Linus.”
“No.” Feodor’s face closed. “No, you didn’t, did you. Well, Adelaide? I’ve had to leave a press conference because Tyr informs me you’ve materialized in my office. I can’t just drop everything to attend to your whims.”
“Here you are though,” she said.
The look he shot her was half fury, half despair. Their mutual dependency filled the air, hanging like a veil between them. Feodor, she knew, would never be able to accept Adelaide’s defection from the family. Whereas Viviana, much as she might pretend otherwise, had not been sorry to lose her only daughter.
The rift had come as a relief to them both.
“You made me go to that hideous execution last week,” she said. “Even though I hated it. Even though watching it made me sick.”
“Stars, don’t bring that up. I’ve heard enough about the damn execution for one day.”
“I want the keys to the penthouse.”
“Is that a property request?” he said sardonically.
“No, Daddy, it’s not.” It was not an affectionate term, and she knew its power. The first tinges of colour crept into Feodor’s cheeks.
“Then why would you ask for the keys when you know I have handed them over to the committee?”
“All of them?”
Feodor’s eyes flicked to the window-wall before resettling upon his daughter.
“Except for the set which must have been with Axel, yes, all of them.”
“Don’t say it like that.”
“As if he’s not coming back.”
“I’m sorry, Adelaide.”
“It’s been over six weeks. We’ve consulted the most eminent Tellers.”
Feodor looked sombrely at his hands. She rallied.
“There must be another set. You would never have given up the only one.”
His heavy eyelids lifted. “Accuse me of falsehoods if you wish. The keys to the penthouse are with the investigating committee, as requested when we reported Axel’s disappearance. I expect Hanif will retain them until the investigation is closed. Until then, no one is allowed access, not even family.”
Feodor gave a faint smile. She cursed herself silently, knowing she had tripped on the most obvious of wires, unable to retract her step. She should have been used to the lies. It was a Rechnov trademark; they talked themselves into belief.
“Look,” she persisted. “The penthouse is one of our properties. There’s always another way in. That’s one of grandfather’s tricks.”
“Oh, be reasonable. Even if I indulge your bizarre conspiracy theories, as if I have time to play games about locked doors—do you not think that Hanif will have accounted for such a possibility? If he wishes to seal off the penthouse, I guarantee it will be guarded by more than a key.”
“And we both know you could get past such obstacles, if you wanted to.”
Her father gave her a haughty glance.
“Are you suggesting I break the decrees of the Council I serve?”
“I’m suggesting you put your son before your work.”
The nerve above his eye began to twitch. “There is such a thing as integrity, Adelaide. But let’s forget the practicalities for a second and talk about the premise. What in Osiris do you expect to achieve by going through Axel’s belongings? The last time you were there—”
“Precisely.” She leaned forward. “It’s months since any of us have been inside. I need to see what’s there, if there’re any clues to what happened. I’d have thought you would want to see too.”
“I’ve no desire to visit.” Feodor shook his head. “It’s a cursed place.”
“Of course. I forgot.” Her own anger was growing. “It’s an embarrassment to you. My brother is an embarrassment.”
The colour flooded Feodor’s cheeks.
“Do you think you are the only one suffering here?” His voice rose. Adelaide swallowed. “Have you considered your mother for one second? Have you spoken to her once since the Service of Hope? You have no idea what it’s like to lose a child. And if you carry on the way you are I don’t suppose you ever will. You might learn something from this tragedy, Adelaide, and address your own lifestyle, instead of attacking other people’s.”
She was on her feet before she knew it. “Don’t talk to me about my actions! You’ve had nothing to do with me or Axel for years. That’s the way we all wanted it, that’s the way we got it.”
“Because of your own stubbornness, Adelaide!”
“You pushed us out—after Axel—after the incident—”
“I’m not going to dredge this up. You renounced the family name. Your grandfather’s name. And not just you, you had to drag Axel along too—”
“I didn’t drag him anywhere. You wanted him examined. You were going to do tests. We had no choice!”