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
The access log I'd snagged with Grandfather Nakada's ITEOD files wasn't exactly long, nor was it hugely informative. There were only three entries.
An officer named Hu Xiao had accessed the files under the direction of the court, and had copied portions. A note indicated that the copying was for later analysis, and that Mis' Hu had filed a report of his findings. The report was not available to the public.
An analytical program named Dipsy 3 had accessed the files. What Dipsy had done with them wasn't listed. Dipsy was presumably pointed at the files by the courts, same as Hu was.
And finally, someone using a Nakada Enterprises corporate account had downloaded a complete copy of the files. No further details were included.
That third one -- if the faked death had been done to get at the ITEOD files...
Well, no. I couldn't rely on that. Someone might have been subtle and gotten what he was after by cracking Hu's storage, rather than the original the cops had. Or maybe Dipsy had been tagged for it. Or maybe the original Nakada download was legitimate, but then our interplanetary liar had gotten at it somewhere in the corporate nets.
But the third one was worth a look, so I plugged back in and started doing a trace on the account.
I'd expected it to be used by the New York Games Corporation, the subsidiary that ran the casino and most of the other Nakada businesses on Epimetheus, but it wasn't. It was a high-level account for officers of Nakada Enterprises itself, or members of the Nakada family.
I unplugged again and stared at the display on my desk.
This was too easy.
Grandfather Nakada thought a member of his own family had tried to kill him. I had guessed that the motive might be connected with his ITEOD files, and here was someone who might be a member of the Nakada family accessing those ITEOD files.
It couldn't be that simple. I was good at my job, but I wasn't that good -- or rather, I couldn't believe any Nakada could be that bad at covering her tracks. Even that grithead Sayuri would probably have done better than this.
Of course, that assumed there was a reason to cover those tracks. Maybe whoever this was hadn't had anything to do with the attempted murder, or the fraudulent reports of Yoshio's death.
It also assumed that I could identify which family member it was. That wasn't a sure thing.
I had looked over the Nakada family tree during the flight from Prometheus, but now I pulled it up and looked again.
Yoshio Nakada was the oldest surviving member of the clan; his two siblings, both younger, were long dead. Yoshio had married three times and sired five children -- at least, five he acknowledged -- over a period of about a century, ending roughly a hundred years ago. There had been eleven grandchildren, twenty-six great-grandchildren (including my old friend Sayuri), thirty-three great-great-grandchildren, and forty-seven great-great-great grandchildren, so far. I didn't bother counting up the three youngest generations; half of them were just kids, and all of them were so low on the corporate ladder that I couldn't take them seriously as any sort of threat.
A lot of these people were dead, and there were dozens of spouses, ex-spouses, and concubines in the mix, of course.
And then there were the two collateral branches. Yoshio's sister Hinako had one daughter, Narumi, who was childless, twice widowed, and still alive, but at last report was on Earth, not in the Eta Cassiopeia system at all.
The Wheeler Drive could have gotten her here quickly enough, but why would she bother? So far as I knew, she had nothing against her Uncle Yoshio.
Yoshio's brother Masanori had been a little more prolific. He had fathered fifteen children on eight wives before he finally died. There were a couple of hundred descendants on that side, but most of them had no real ties to the corporate clan; in fact, most of them were working for New Bechtel-Rand or ITD or other interstellars, not for Nakada Enterprises at all.
I thought I could safely ignore Narumi and most of Masanori's brood, but that still left quite a crowd. Figuring out which of them had a motive to do in their ancestor would call for some processing. So would figuring out which ones had the capability. Jiggering the old man's personal com with a fatal dream enhancement program wasn't something everyone could do.
I frowned. You didn't need to get in there with your own hands to set that up, but you did need real-time access to the family net, which meant you had to be on Prometheus at some point -- not necessarily the night it went off, but at some point before that. I could eliminate anyone who had never set foot on Prometheus.
And accessing the ITEOD files -- again, you didn't need to be here at the time, but I didn't see how that could be done safely from off-planet. The fake death reports, yeah, those could be done from Prometheus, though it would be tricky to keep the cover on the hoax for very long, but the ITEOD download had been done through the Nightside City nets. Someone had logged on here.
Which members of the Nakada family had been on Epimetheus recently?
Rumiko Nakada, for one. She was the only one who had been here openly on family business.
But all the tourists in the Trap -- there might have been a few Nakadas in that crowd.
And I didn't really know it was a family member who had accessed the ITEOD files; it could have been some other corporate officer. There were plenty of trusted people who weren't part of the clan -- Vijay Vo, for one, or Grandfather Nakada's aide, Ziyang Subbha.
If I could find out who was using that particular corporate account when the ITEOD files were accessed, I might have a real lead on the assassin -- or I might not.
I did what I should have done sooner, and beeped Nakada's ship. "Incoming data," I told it. "Store it and back it up, maximum security, for access only by myself or Yoshio Nakada." I hoped that would keep it away from any back doors that other Nakadas might have installed, but I wasn't really all that very concerned, since after all, most of what I was sending was stuff my mysterious conspirators presumably already had. I told my desk to transmit its entire content, old and new. A spaceship would have enough capacity for that, I was sure.
Now I'd have everything somewhere relatively safe, and if I managed to get my head blown off, or found myself on the dayside again, at least Grandfather Nakada would have something to show for his investment, even if most of it was his own ITEOD files.
While that was transmitting I sat back and tried to think, which was what I was doing when the front door beeped and I heard someone say, "Damned squatters."
I sat up. I hadn't heard that voice in over a year, but I knew who it had to be. I must have tripped an alarm somewhere, and my old landlord, George Hirata, knew someone was in his building.
He should have known who I was, though; the door knew. That's why it let me in.
I tapped a command, and as the door's vid feed appeared on the desk I said, "Hello, Mis' Hirata."
He looked up at the cam, scowling. It was definitely Hirata.
He had two cops with him, though; I hadn't expected that.
I'd left my gun on the ship, since I hadn't thought I could take it into the Ginza with me. One cop had a weapon in his hand, though I couldn't tell whether it was a stunner or something more lethal. This was not going to be a situation where I could play tough.
"Who the hell are you, using Hsing's ID?" the landlord demanded.
"I'm Carlisle Hsing," I said. "It's my ID."
"Hsing is on Prometheus," Hirata said. "Or off-planet, anyway; for all I know she's on Pandora or Earth or Fomalhaut II. Who are you really?"
He could hear me, but he couldn't see me; the entryway didn't have a proper screen. And of course, I could have faked the image if there were one.
"It's really me, Mis' Hirata," I said. "I came back for my brother." Before he could say anything else, I added, "I know I don't have any right to be here, but I needed a com, and you didn't change the codes. I'll be happy to pay you half a month's rent."
I love expense accounts.
"Now I know you aren't Hsing," he said. "She wouldn't have offered more than three days."
"I've done well on Prometheus, Mis' Hirata. Come on up and see for yourself."
"We'll do that." He stormed up the stairs, out of range of the door cam.
I opened the door between the office and the corridor, to make it clear that I was being open and honest, and a few seconds later there was my old landlord with two city cops, charging in to confront me.
I wasn't exactly being confrontational, though; I was standing there with my hands over my head, and my transfer card in one hand, ready to tab the rent.
Mis' Hirata didn't waste any time; he reached out for the card, and as I handed it over he said, "So it is you. What the hell are you doing back here?"
"Working," I said. "Investigators who know anything about Nightside City are scarce on Prometheus. Guy in American City hired me to check out a few things."
"And he paid your fare?"
"Fares are cheap right now, if you're coming from Prometheus." Which was true, even if it didn't apply in my case. I didn't want good old George getting any clever ideas if he found out my client was rich enough to have his own yacht.
"I've heard that," Hirata grudgingly admitted, as his reader accepted my card. "They sure aren't cheap leaving, though." He looked up from the reader. "You said half a month's rent?"
"Let's put that in credits," I said warily. I glanced at the cops, who had yet to say a word; one of them was pointing a stunner at me, and the other had a hand on the butt of his gun, though it was still more or less in its holster. "I don't want any misunderstandings."
I stared. "That's half a month's rent? Since when?"
"Since the tourist rush drove up prices."
"That's grit, Hirata, and you know it -- if you could get anything like that kind of money, this place wouldn't have been empty since I left."
He sighed. "Fine. Two?"
"It's still robbery, but that's the national sport around here, so what the hell. Two kilocredits, not a byte more."
"Hey, I've got expenses, Hsing." He kept looking at me, but he moved one shoulder, and I got the message -- he'd have to pay off the cops.
Two kilocredits ought to more than cover that, though. "Life's tough all around," I said.
He tabbed the reader, then pulled out my card and handed it back. I was tempted to run a balance check right there, but decided there was no reason to piss him off. And after all, it wasn't my money.
"Next time," he said, "beep me if you want a short-term rental."
"Next time," I replied, "you might take the basic precaution of changing the door codes."
"I'll do that, Hsing. In fact, I'll do it right now, as soon as you get out of here." He glared.
"Then I'll let you get on with it." I lowered my hands and headed for the door. The cops stepped aside; the taser was lowered. I nodded to them. "Good to see you, boys. Hope you'll have a lucky night." I glanced back over my shoulder at Hirata. "Enjoy your credits, George. I hear the New York has the best pay-outs in the Trap."
I trotted down the stairs and out onto the street, where the wind whipped my hair into my eyes. I'd let it grow out some back on Prometheus; they don't have the same winds there that Nightside City has. Hell, there are times you can walk down an open street in Alderstadt and there's no more wind than there is indoors; Prometheus doesn't have the planetary convection cycle Epimetheus does. I turned my back to the wind and tapped my wrist for a cab.
I was still waiting when Hirata and his cops came out of the building; they barely glanced at me as they turned and marched away down Juarez. They had just turned the corner when my ride finally swooped down.
"The port," I told it.
"There's a surcharge from Westside," the cab replied.
It didn't answer audibly; instead a display lit up with a notice that the city hereby accepted the petition of the Transit Association for higher fares between low-traffic areas. It was dated nine days ago.
"The port's a low-traffic area?" I asked.
"That's what the regulations say."
"I didn't pay a surcharge on the way out."
"It doesn't apply if you start or end in the Trap."
"Fine." I slid my card in the slot. "Take me to the port."
Wind and cops and high prices -- I was feeling a good bit less nostalgic about Nightside City as the cab lifted off and swung around to the south.
Hirata had interrupted me before I had really had a chance to look at what was actually in Grandfather Nakada's ITEOD files, or do anything to identify whatever it was that had chased me away in the middle of my download. I wanted to get on with that; the sooner I knew whether I had any chance of doing Nakada's job, the better.
I also wanted to see if I could find just where my father was stashed, and I wanted to talk to Captain Perkins about getting 'Chan off-planet. I decided there was no reason to hold off on that conversation, and used my wrist com to beep the good captain.
He answered instantly, as if he'd been waiting for my call. "Mis' Hsing," he said. "Something very strange is going on."
"Yes. But I don't think I should talk about it on the air."
"Then don't. I'm on my way there now."
"Good! Is there anything I need to have ready? Will we be lifting off?"
"No, I still have more to do here," I said. "We won't be going anywhere for awhile. If you could have something ready to eat, though, I haven't had a bite since I left the ship."
"Of course. I'll have supper waiting. Just for you?"
"Just for me."
"I'll see you, then." He ended the call.
I stared at my wrist for a moment, trying to guess just what sort of strangeness had Perkins worried. Had that thing that chased me off the net followed my transmission back to the ship? Had one of the Nakadas planted something aboard? The ship wasn't fully sentient, but it was pretty bright, bright enough to fly itself if it had to, and that meant there were a million ways to sabotage it.
Or maybe it was nothing to do with the case. It occurred to me that someone might have noticed a dead man's yacht turning up on Epimetheus. Were a bunch of floaters hanging around, asking Perkins for interviews? Were the cops demanding to know how he got the ship?
"If you can hurry," I told the cab, "do it."
I didn't notice much of a change, but we reached the port a little more quickly than I'd expected, so when I tabbed the fare I added a juicy tip.
"Thank you for using Midnight Cab and Limo," the cab said. "Shall I wait?"
"No." I waved it off.
The cab closed up and buzzed away, and I marched across the field to Grandfather Nakada's little playtoy.
I'd been at least partly right, I saw -- there were floaters hovering around the ship, about half a dozen of them. I wished I had my gun. I pretended to ignore them as I walked up the steps and into the airlock.
They didn't ignore me, though. Two of them swooped down to barely-legal distance and began haranguing me. Since they were both talking at once, and each one kept cranking up the volume in an attempt to drown the other one out, I didn't catch everything they said, but one was demanding to know who I am and who had authorized me to board the Ukiba, while the other was asking questions about Yoshio Nakada's private life.
The others were watching me, too; one of them positioned itself ahead and above me for a good shot of my face. I really wished I had my gun.
The outer door had opened as I approached; once I stepped through it slid closed, locking the floaters out and cutting off the shouting of the two that had been questioning me. I expected the inner door to open, but it didn't; instead there was a hum, and my symbiote informed me that I was being scanned.
"That your idea, Perkins?" I asked the air.
"I'm afraid so, Mis' Hsing," his voice answered. "I think I need to be very careful right now."
I couldn't disagree. "Well, hurry it up," I said.
Perkins didn't reply, but the green light came on and the inner door slid aside. I stepped aboard.
Perkins wasn't in the entry; I went on up to the main lounge and found him there, jacked into the pilot console. He turned to look at me, but didn't unplug.
"Mis' Hsing," he said. "Do you know what's going on?"
"It depends how you mean that," I answered.
"That data you sent -- that's Yoshio Nakada's death files," he said. "And all the nets here say he's dead."
"I know," I said.
"But they say he died a couple of days before we left Prometheus, and I saw him alive in American City. Did he die while we were en route, and the reports have the date wrong?"
"He isn't dead," I said. "At least, I don't think he is."
"But they all say he is, and you have the death files."
"Someone faked the reports from Prometheus to get those files," I said -- which I didn't know to be fact, but it was definitely a promising theory.
Perkins still looked troubled. "Are you sure?"
"You don't think that could have been an imposter we saw in American City? A simulation, maybe?"
"I don't know," he said unhappily. "I've never seen a hologram that realistic before."
"You still haven't," I assured him. "That was the real Yoshio Nakada."
"I could smell him," I said. "I've never heard of a simulation that good."
I didn't mention that I had only spoken to him face to face in a heavily-shielded secure room where it would have been easy to set up a projection with vid, audio, and smell. I didn't think it would be a positive contribution to the conversation. I was fairly sure, though, that if that had been a projection I spoke to, something would have shown up on my recordings as being off, and nothing had.
Not to mention that I had never yet seen a holographic projection that was completely convincing. For that you needed a feed over wire, not just visual input.
I was not ruling out the possibility, now that Perkins had suggested it, that Yoshio really had been dead all along and I had been hired by an impostor, but I didn't think it was likely. Why would anyone bother? And interplanetary transmissions would have been easier to fake.
It wasn't something I wanted to argue about with Perkins, though, so I spoke as if I was absolutely certain.
"So he's still alive?"
"He was when we left, anyway. Now, what are those floaters doing outside?"
"They're reporters," he said. "I've been telling them I couldn't talk to them, but they won't go away."
"Why are they there in the first place?"
He looked astonished, as if I had just said something so spamming stupid he couldn't believe it. "Mis' Hsing, they think Mis' Nakada is dead."
"Yes, I got that."
"This is his private yacht. It's registered in his name, and our flight path is on record. So far as they know, we took off in a dead man's ship. They want to know why."
"Oh," I said. "Of course they do."