Now that the novel is complete and published the first several chapters of the serial remain here purely for historical interest; the online version is not complete, and never will be.
Realms of Light
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
I'm a creature of the night, born and raised in eternal darkness -- except the darkness on Epimetheus wasn't as eternal as I might have liked, which was why I left Nightside City, where I'd lived my entire life up to then, and came to Prometheus.
And on Prometheus the darkness isn't even close to eternal. It ends every eighteen hours at sunrise, then comes back again at sunset.
What's more, the normal Promethean business hours are during daylight, two days out of every three. Some people go as far as adjusting their circadian rhythms to an eighteen-hour cycle, but most people use a twenty-four hour day, where three days equal four cycles. Office hours come when daylight coincides with the normal waking cycle, on two of those three days.
I didn't like it. I'd had bad experiences with daylight, and didn't care for it much. I couldn't handle working with the sun overhead, so just about as soon as I'd found myself a residence office I liked I bought a nice piece of software to play receptionist, and figured I'd do my work at night, when everyone else was off. I slept away as many of the daylight hours as I could, and stayed away from windows as much as possible for the rest of them.
I was still calling myself a detective, a private investigator; it was all I knew. Having office hours that didn't match anybody else's had its good points and bad, in that line of work.
Being on an unfamiliar planet, though -- that was all bad. I didn't know my way around the urban software, didn't have any contacts, had no word of mouth bringing in work. I had enough money to live on for awhile -- about the only pleasant surprise I got when I landed on Prometheus was the lower prices -- but I needed an income.
I put notes out on the net, looking for work, of course; I billed myself as an expert consultant on my home world of Epimetheus as well as pitching the investigative work. I talked to some of the software in city hall -- this was in Alderstadt, which was where my flight in had landed -- and tried to learn the circuits.
Strange set-up they had there. The policy software wasn't permanent; every few years they ran a sort of popularity poll called an election, and whoever won got to plug her own software in until the next election. It was something like a referendum, except instead of asking a question they asked you to pick a person. And chances were the only names on the ballot were people you didn't even know. Seemed like a stupid system to me, but the people I asked about it argued that it acted as a sort of automatic debugging.
Nightside City always did fine with traditional debugging -- you catch a mistake, you rewrite it, you don't pull the whole system off-line and put in a new program.
This election thing confused me. What was the point in learning my way around the master program when in a year or two it might get pulled and replaced? It took away some of my incentive, and I never did really get the hang of the Alderstadt city services, beyond the basics.
Banks and corporate data and nets are pretty much the same everywhere, though. So are people. I figured I could function, even in Alderstadt.
Then I got my first case, tracking down a data pirate for an off-planet shipping line that picked me because they were in a hurry and my name came up first in a random search. I pulled it off -- not as easily as I could have back in Nightside City, but well enough. This artist in margin retailing had figured that knowing what cargos went in and out would give her an edge in pricing, and I found her for the shippers.
When I gave them her name and com code I'd suggested that they just make a deal with her and split her take, but they were having none of it. I got the impression they didn't think much of my morals. Anyway, they got all flashed and turned her in to the Procops, and it all got out on the net.
I figured that wouldn't hurt me any, though it didn't do the margin artist any good and she only missed reconstruction by about half a stop-bit. Yeah, my name hit the net -- and it was big enough news that IRC caught it.
The Interstellar Resorts Corporation has been pissed at me for years, ever since I let a welsher skip out, and they put the word out on the net that I was still on their gritlist. IRC isn't as big on Prometheus as they were back home, where the casinos owned about half the planet, but they're big enough that people don't like to annoy them. I'd thought I'd got away from them when I left Epimetheus, but now it looked as if I hadn't.
I was back in the detective business, but I wasn't exactly top of the market. Just like old times.
I got work, though. Sometimes I got people who figured that if IRC was warning them away from me, then that was a point in my favor. I kept eating, and a lot better than I did back in Nightside City, thanks to the lower prices, and I did it without even bleeding my savings, such as they were.
I'd been in Alderstadt for almost a year, gotten myself settled in pretty well, gotten to know the locals, made a few friends, when I got this call. I was there and awake and not doing much of anything, so my software put it through.
"Carlisle Hsing?" a voice asked, and I knew from the sound it was synthesized, which meant I was dealing with software or with someone who wasn't interested in being recognized -- and in either case they didn't mind if I knew it. You can synthesize indetectibly if you want to pay for it.
"Yeah?" I said, leaning back in my chair -- a floater, a nice one. Came with the office. Beat the hell out of the place I'd had back home on Juarez Street.
"I represent someone who wishes to hire your services. Would it suit you to be in the lobby of the Shakai building on First Street in American City at 22:00 tomorrow? Your expenses will be reimbursed."
I reminded myself where in the cycle we were and where on the planet American City was, and figured that 22:00 would be comfortably dark, not to mention well after business hours.
That part sounded all right.
"Do I get a name?" I asked.
"No," it said.
"Then I'll need an advance," I told it. "Buzzfare to American City's gotta be four hundred credits, easy."
"One kilocredit will be posted to your account immediately," it said, without missing a tick.
I smiled. I liked that. I never got this sort of thing back home, and although I'd had a couple of respectable clients in Alderstadt, I wasn't really used to it.
A kilobuck wasn't exactly going to let me retire, or even take a vacation, but it would cover round-trip fare to American City, I was pretty sure.
"Any conditions?" I asked.
"You must come alone," it told me. "It would be appreciated if you would allow the installation of a watchdog program in your office com, but this is not an absolute requirement. You must be punctual and discreet."
"No watchdog," I said, and my smile wasn't there any more. This was beginning to sound dangerous. "I'll be there."
"Alone," it reminded me.
"Alone," I agreed.
I meant it, too, if you only counted humans, but I wasn't going to walk into a completely unknown set-up without a little back-up. I intended to have plenty of hardware on me, and of course I carry a symbiote, like everybody else, but mine's a good one, with optional intelligence, and I figured I'd wake it up and have it on the lookout while I was there.
I'd had another symbiote back on Epimetheus, a dumb one, and it died keeping me alive, so when I got to Prometheus I'd spent a good piece of my savings on getting a better one to replace it.
That was something else that cost about half what it would have on Epimetheus. There were serious advantages to being on a primary colony instead of a secondary one.
"You will be met," the voice said, and then the connection broke.
I sat and I considered that.
Somebody was going to a lot of trouble to deal with me. Somebody in American City, presumably -- but I'd never been in American City, never met anyone there, knew nothing about the place beyond the standard stuff in the Prometheography programming I'd jacked in aboard ship.
Why would anybody want me to come to American City?
When somebody wanted to meet me somewhere, it was usually because she wanted privacy -- unless it's a closed system, totally closed, anything you do over the com can be tapped, and anyone with any sense knows that.
But even so, most people came to my office in that case.
When somebody wanted to meet me somewhere else, it was usually because he was seriously worried or scared, afraid that he's being followed or that I'm being watched -- and what the hell, maybe I was being watched. I wouldn't have put it past IRC to have had an eye on my office, a high-altitude one I couldn't spot, or maybe a bunch of microintelligences reporting back. Or if not IRC, which after all has bigger programs to run, then maybe one of IRC's competitors or subcontractors, trying to figure an angle.
And when somebody insisted on complete anonymity and insisted on meeting me not just outside my office, but in another city a thousand kilometers south of Alderstadt, at the other end of the archipelago, then we're talking about someone who was downright paranoid -- or else, just possibly, somebody who was concerned with something other than privacy.
For example, getting me out by myself, alone and relatively defenseless.
Now, I didn't know that there was anybody out there who wanted me dead just then, but there had been a few people who might hold grudges. IRC held a grudge, and what I'd done to them wasn't any big spike, really, just a bit of grit.
And there was a fellow back on Epimetheus by the name of Big Jim Mishima who might not be very fond of me -- but the exact details got wiped, so he wouldn't know why.
There was that margin player who'd missed reconstruction, but I wouldn't expect her to have the nerve to try anything after a close cut like that.
There were a few people I thought had gone in for reconstruction who might be after me if they hadn't -- but I was sure that most of them had gone in, and after reconstruction they weren't going to be bothering me, not unless the job had been botched.
There was Sayuri Nakada, a spoiled rich brat I'd crossed up; I didn't know where the hell she was or what she was doing, and she had the juice to be anywhere in human space. She was crazy enough that I had no idea what she thought of me.
So I had potential enemies out there, but I couldn't see that any of them would have been behind this. Mishima was still back on Epimetheus, as far as I knew, and even if he'd gotten off he wasn't the type to come after me without knowing more than he did.
Nakada was petty and vicious enough, but it didn't seem like her style, and besides, she was dependent on the rest of her family, and they wouldn't have allowed it.
If they knew about it.
The thought of the Nakada family beeped somewhere in the back of my brain. I leaned forward and gestured at the com.
The first screen told me that yes, a kilobuck had been credited to my account, from a numbered account at a brokerage house. I could probably trace it back if I had to, but it wouldn't be easy.
The second screen told me that American City was just about where I thought it was, and that Sayuri Nakada had no significant interests there.
But Yoshio Nakada, her great-grandfather, head of the Nakada clan and chief stockholder in Nakada Enterprises, was based there.
Grandfather Nakada knew who I was, all right. He'd paid my way off Epimetheus in return for what I'd learned about a little scam that was being run on great-granddaughter Sayuri. As far as I knew, he had nothing against me, and Sayuri couldn't push him around.
So maybe it wasn't a trap. Maybe Grandfather Nakada wanted to talk to me about something. Certainly he was rich enough to throw kilobucks around like that, and I could see why someone like him wouldn't want to be seen coming to Alderstadt to consult me.
Or maybe it was someone else, lower down in the hierarchy, who had been impressed with my deal with old Yoshio and needed a detective.
Whatever it was, I'd find out soon enough. I'd be there, in the Shakai building at 22:00. I'd be alone -- with my Sony-Remington HG-2 loaded and active, with my symbiote on alert, and with every scanner and guard system I could get into my worksuit up and running.
Just in case.