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 considered that for a moment before I spoke.
"What family?" I asked. "It's not the entire Nakada clan -- that's a couple of hundred people, and there aren't that many in there."
"No, not the entire clan," it agreed. "Just some of the key personnel of Nakada Enterprises who agreed to be recorded, but are still alive."
"Still alive? What about the dead ones?"
"Oh, when anyone I had recorded died, I would assess the situation, and either activate the recording and transfer it back to the secure household systems on Prometheus, or erase it."
"Activate it? So there are some human-based uploads living in the household systems?"
"Oh, yes. There were eight when I was recorded myself."
I grimaced. "It might have been useful if the old man had told me that! He said there were AIs in the household net, but he never said any of them used to be human."
"It's not public knowledge."
"I'm not the public; I'm his employee. I can't do my job properly without the relevant information."
"You think it's relevant?"
"I don't know if it's relevant, but it might be."
"You prefer to have as much information as possible, I see."
"Yes. In my line of work I can rarely tell what's going to matter and what isn't until I've learned everything I can."
"Obviously, I can't literally tell you everything I know -- your brain doesn't have room, even with your symbiote and other peripherals. I'll answer your questions, though, and perhaps if I knew more about the exact nature of the assassination attempt, I could be more useful to you."
"Maybe you could," I agreed, and I told it about the dream enhancer and the euthanasia virus, and everything else I could remember of the old man's words. Which, since I had my implants working properly and had recorded the encounter, was all of them.
It considered this carefully, then said, "I... he did not actually lie. He said it could be a member of the family, or one of their AIs. He merely neglected to mention that eight individuals fall into both those categories. You failed to ask for a complete roster."
"He was supposed to be volunteering information, not avoiding it."
"Secrecy is a hard habit to break, Mis' Hsing."
"Yeah. So I've heard. All eight of those people would know what's in the death files here in Nightside City, wouldn't they?"
"Yes, of course."
"Would the other AIs? Or the living members of the family?"
"Ah. Some would, some wouldn't. Any specifics I might give could be out of date."
"They'd be better than nothing," I told it. "Tell me about your family, human or AI."
It told me. It took awhile.
I had already seen the official genealogy, as I've said before, but that didn't mention any recordings, and apparently some members of the family weren't necessarily living where the official reports said they were.
As of the day the old man had recorded himself, the family compound on Prometheus was home to sixteen living members of the Nakada clan, counting Yoshio, and eight AIs that had started out as copies of human brains. Nine of the sixteen had been recorded, and those recordings were in the ITEOD files. Vijay Vo had also been included, as had Narumi Desai, Yoshio's niece -- it seemed she maintained legal residence on Earth, but traveled a lot, and had spent some time the Eta Cassiopeia system a few years back.
There were dozens of others Nakadas scattered through human space, but it wasn't clear how any of them could have been responsible for tampering with the dream enhancer. On the other hand, after arbitrarily assuming that the old man wasn't suicidal, that left twenty-three suspects living in the family compound without even counting the staff.
That staff included a varying number of humans, typically half a dozen, and at least three AIs, so altogether I had more than thirty possibilities to work with. That was too damn many.
I hadn't really intended to seriously investigate this yet; I wasn't even on the right planet. I had come to Epimetheus to collect my brother and father as the down-payment on my fee, not to start looking for the assassin. If 'Chan hadn't mentioned that everyone here thought Grandfather Nakada was dead, I told myself, I wouldn't have been doing any of this. I wouldn't be talking to a simulacrum of the old man. I wouldn't have recordings of almost a dozen other people I could interrogate, if I wanted to.
But then I remembered the newsies hovering outside the ship, and I realized that I would have been investigating, in any case. 'Chan had been the first to mention it, but I would have found out about Yoshio's phony death soon enough.
And if the would-be assassin was one of those thirty-odd intelligences in the Nakada compound back on Prometheus, who had faked the death reports here in Nightside City? Had that been the same person, taking command of reports going out from Prometheus, or had it been someone on this end, controlling incoming news? I had thought it had to be someone on Epimetheus, since there hadn't been any news about his death back on Prometheus, but that would mean I was dealing with two people, rather than one...
Or would it? Could the assassin have planted the virus in the dream enhancer, then immediately left for Prometheus, and been here in time to spread the word of the old man's death?
"Ukiba," I said, "I want the traffic reports for the Nightside City port, dating back, oh, let's say four hundred hours."
The ship gave me the list. It didn't help; with the tourist traffic coming to Nightside City to watch the sunlight scroll down the crater wall, there were half a dozen ships my theoretical target could have been on. There weren't any Nakada Enterprises ships or private yachts to worry about other than the Ukiba itself, but that didn't mean anything.
I might be after one person, or an entire conspiracy, and if it was only one person, she might be human or might be artificial. What's more, she could be anywhere in the Eta Cass system. There was no reason to think she was still in Nightside City, assuming she had been here at all; she might well have gotten what she was after and left.
But there was reason to think that the assassination attempt had been carried out by one of the inhabitants of the Nakada family compound in American City. If one of those people had visited Nightside City immediately after the incident, that would be... well, let's just say it would arouse my curiosity.
But I couldn't just call and ask. Interplanetary communications couldn't be trusted. If I wanted to investigate further I needed to go back to Prometheus.
I could do that, of course. I had the ship. I had most of the ITEOD files, for whatever part they might have in all this, and I had Yoshio-kun activated and cooperating. I didn't see anything else in Nightside City I really needed for my investigation.
But I didn't have my brother or my father, and if I left them here to go back to Prometheus I might not have another chance to get them out.
Well, I would just have to get them, then. I knew where 'Chan was, and I could get him to the ship by force if I had to.
Finding our father, though, wasn't quite so simple.
"You wouldn't happen to know anything about Seventh Heaven Neurosurgery, would you?" I asked the old man's upload.
"The dreamery? I considered buying it once -- or rather, the original Yoshio Nakada did."
That was an interesting coincidence. Not a tremendously unlikely one, given how many businesses the Nakada clan scanned, but interesting. "But you -- he didn't?" I asked.
"The company's long-term prospects were poor," the upload replied.
"Oh, come, Mis' Hsing. Its entire operation is in Nightside City."
I couldn't argue with that. Something occurred to me, though. "Grandfather Nakada is two hundred and forty years old; why would you care about the long term?"
"I may be old, Mis' Hsing, but I am in no hurry to die. Modern medicine can accomplish miracles, and is still improving; I may... or rather, Yoshio Nakada may yet survive another century or two. I, of course, may be around even longer."
It hadn't finished. "More importantly," it continued, before I could make my protest, "I care about my family."
That answered my question, so I clicked back to the important subject. "So you didn't buy it."
"I did not, either in my human incarnation or my present one, though of course I don't know everything that's happened since I was recorded."
"So you don't have access to its records."
It did not respond immediately; then it said, "I didn't say that."
That got my full attention. "Oh?"
"Naturally, when I was considering it as a prospective acquisition, I thought it advisable to learn as much as possible about the company."
"You aren't just talking about the public records, are you?"
"Oh, it was possible to learn far more than was in the public records!"
"You got into their private systems?"
"I was able to explore their records, yes. Or rather, Yoshio Nakada explored them; I didn't yet exist. I find it intriguing to think that now, were I to access those records, I would be 'getting into them' in a rather more literal way than in my previous incarnation."
"Could you do it again?"
"I don't yet know, Mis' Hsing. I paid an employee of Seventh Heaven Neurosurgery to provide a back door into their systems, and I have no way of knowing whether that back door still exists."
"Tell me about it."
It told me.
"Mis' Perkins," I called, when Yoshio-kun was done, "can we use the nets from the ship unobserved?"
"No," Perkins said. No hesitation, no uncertainty, just "No."
That was inconvenient. I didn't want a bunch of snoopers watching me break into Seventh Heaven's files. If I did it from the ship, they'd monitor the whole thing. If I left the ship, they'd follow me. If anyone left the ship, the newsies would follow her.
Unless, of course, they couldn't follow. I needed a place the floaters couldn't go, and to anyone who knew Nightside City there was an obvious possibility. Outside floaters weren't allowed in the casinos without prior clearance; there were too many ways to use them to cheat. I could lose the newsies, at least temporarily, though they would pick me up again when I left the casino. I could probably lose any human reporters who might try to follow me, too.
But I needed a casino where I wouldn't be watched by the management. That meant the IRC houses were out. It meant most of the casinos were out. But there was one that might cooperate.
"All right," I said, "is there some way we can make a private call to Vijay Vo at the New York, and keep it private?"
"Oh, of course. Mis' Nakada has a dedicated encrypted link."
"Set it up. He knows you?"
He knew me, too, at least slightly. We had met when I was investigating Sayuri Nakada's real estate scheme. I didn't know whether he liked me -- he hadn't given me any sign either way -- but he knew who I was, and he had connected me with Grandfather Nakada.
I told the upload to be quiet, that we didn't need anyone else knowing it existed, and then I crossed to the main com console and activated a privacy field, surrounding me and the console with a soft blue fog.
I knew Perkins could listen in if he wanted to, field or no field; the upload probably could, too. The field was just skin, just for looks.
The holo field blinked on, and Vijay Vo's image appeared. He smiled pleasantly at me, his hands folded across his belly.
"Carlisle Hsing," he said. "What can I do for you?"
"Mis' Vo," I said. "Good to see you again."
"I'm a busy man, Mis' Hsing. What do you want?" The smile was still there, but wasn't quite as welcoming now.
If he didn't want to waste time being polite, that was fine with me. "There are half a dozen floaters watching this ship, trying to get a story about Grandfather Nakada's death," I said. "For my current investigation I need full net access where they can't listen in."
"You are suggesting we provide this for you here at the New York?"
"Why should we?"
"I am working for the Nakada family, Mis' Vo. You work for Nakada Enterprises. A little cooperation doesn't seem like an unreasonable request."
"Professional courtesy for a fellow employee?"
"If you like, yes."
"Just ordinary net access?"
"You are working for the Nakadas?"
"I think I am. If I'm not, someone back on Prometheus did one hell of a good job spoofing me. And Perkins, too."
Vo nodded. "Come to the hotel, then. We'll escort you to a secure com."
"Could you send a car for me, perhaps? I would prefer not to be harassed en route."
"That can be arranged."
"The car should be there in about twenty minutes."
"I probably won't attend to it personally, you understand."
"Goodbye, then, Mis' Hsing."
Before I could answer the image blinked out. I stared at the empty air for a second, then killed the privacy field.
There was one possible flaw in my plan; I knew that. The New York Games Corporation would undoubtedly keep a record of everything I did with their equipment. They would know I was breaking into Seventh Heaven.
I was putting my trust in them to not care. Seventh Heaven operated out of the Ginza's subbasement, and the Ginza was an IRC operation; IRC was the New York's chief competition. I hoped that meant that no one in authority at the New York would feel any need to tell anyone at Seventh Heaven anything.
If they did decide something should be done about someone using their equipment for illegal purposes -- well, that was a risk I was willing to take. The old man could bail me out.
I gathered up a few things, including my gun, and ate a little more. I was trying to think whether I had forgotten anything when Perkins announced, "Your car's here."
"Thanks," I said, and I headed for the airlock.
There were more floaters than I had seen when I arrived. There was an entire swarm. I put one hand on the butt of my gun, just in case some of them got aggressive.
The car was waiting for me at the foot of the steps, sleek and gleaming white. A door slid open as I approached, and I climbed in.
The door closed as I settled onto the dark red upholstery. "You're armed," the car said.
"Yes," I replied.
"I was not informed."
"No one asked."
"May I speak to the weapon?"
"It doesn't have wireless or speech. It's not very bright."
"What model is it?"
"Are you the only authorized user?"
"I will need to inform Mis' Vo and the security system at the New York."
"You do that." I leaned back, and the seat adjusted itself to support my head.
"I appreciate your cooperation." With that it finally took off and headed for the Trap.
The main entrance to the New York was on Fifth; in the past I'd usually used the entrance around the corner on Deng that led directly into the Manhattan Lounge. The car didn't go to either of those; instead it took me to the business entrance on the roof, where it sailed through a holo of a twenty-meter showboy and set down at the door.
I'd come in this way once before, but this time I was expected. The scanners had finished their inspection before I was even out of the car, and the door was already open.
A floater was waiting just inside, as I'd expected. "Leave the gun," it said.
I slid the HG-2 onto its tray. It printed a receipt and rose up out of my way, and a swarm of flitterbugs appeared to guide me.
The last time I had come this way they took me to Vo's office, but this time they led me around the corner to a small room with walls glowing a deep, restful blue. A desk extruded itself from one of those blue walls as I stepped in, and a chair presented itself, rolling out of the corner to a position behind me.
I sat down and leaned over the desk, my hand in the sensor field. I didn't want to ride wire here; even if Vo and the upload were both being completely honest with me, it was possible that some time in the past four years Seventh Heaven had found the back door and put some defenses with teeth in it. Hand, voice, and screen would be slower, but much safer.
I followed the instructions Yoshio-kun had given me, and sure enough, the back door was there -- if Seventh Heaven had found it, they hadn't shut it down.
But they might have booby-trapped it.
I had some of my own software with me, of course, so I set out half a dozen watchdogs and sent a probe in to see if I was stepping in something I didn't want to.
Nothing. It looked clean. It looked as if no one had found it. I could access Seventh Heaven's entire network, their entire database, without showing up on their system at all. If I disturbed anything, or drew a noticeable amount of power or bandwidth, it would be reported as internal maintenance.
I entered my father's name, and got the coordinates of his dreamtank -- Guohan Hsing, Tier 4, Row 6, Station 31. While I was at it I got the maintenance logs for his tank, the dream schedule, the medical read-outs, and everything else handy, all downloaded to my wrist com.
With that information I could find him, and I could get him out of the tank without killing him.
That was all I wanted. If I could get him and 'Chan onto the ship we could get off Epimetheus for good, and once I was back on Prometheus I could finish up the investigation the old man had hired me to do. I was pretty sure that everything I needed to learn about the assassination attempt was back in the Nakada compound in American City; the phony death reports were just a peripheral, a subroutine.
I wiped the inquiry record, and did a quick check to make sure I hadn't left any obvious traces that would show up when Seventh Heaven looked everything over -- and I knew they would look everything over once I had kidnaped my father. I didn't want to make it easy for them to find the back door; someone might need it again someday.
Then I got ready to close the door, put everything back the way I found it. The whole thing had taken maybe ten minutes, start to finish, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I started the shut-down routine.
But then I saw the log, and I stopped everything right where it was, and all of a sudden I wasn't feeling pleased at all.
This back door was something Yoshio Nakada had had installed about eleven years ago, when he was thinking of buying Seventh Heaven. According to the upload, he had never told anyone else about it. The recording of the old man knew about it, of course, and it had told me, and there was the woman who had installed it in the first place, Mei-Li Gussow, but that should be all.
The original Yoshio was in American City. Mei-Li Gussow, as of four years ago, was working for a medical research unit of Nakada Enterprises in South Tarnauer, on Prometheus, and even if she had moved on from that, she had no reason to be in Nightside City, poking around Seventh Heaven. Really, there was no reason anyone but me should have used that back door for at least a decade.
Mis' Gussow had been thorough when she put it in, though, and had provided it with an automatic log. Every access was listed, with time and date. There were nine of them.
Seven of them were over a period of a couple of weeks eleven years ago, when old Yoshio had checked the company out. One of the nine was still open, with an entry time but no exit -- that was me.
But the other one was dated just the day before, and had lasted over an hour.
I checked it again, to be sure. Seven entries, then an eleven-year gap, and then two more, about sixteen hours apart. Someone else had been in here.
But who? Why?
What on Epimetheus did anyone want with a dream company's records?
Maybe I wasn't as done in Nightside City as I'd thought.