Call Arkady a clone with a conscience. Or call him a traitor. A member of the space-faring Syndicates, Arkady has defected to Israel with a hot commodity: a genetic weapon powerful enough to wipe out humanity. But Israel’s not buying it. They’re selling it–and Arkady–to the highest bidder.
As the auction heats up, the Artificial Life Emancipation Front sends in Major Catherine Li. Drummed out of the Peacekeepers for executing Syndicate prisoners, Li has now literally hooked up with an AI who has lived many lifetimes and shunted through many bodies. But while they have their own conflicting loyalties to contend with, together they’re just one player in a mysterious high-stakes game....
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Chris Moriarty was born in 1968 and has lived in the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America. A resident of Utah since 1994, Chris has trained horses for cattle ranches and hunting operations, and worked as a ranch hand, backcountry guide, freelance editor and environmental lawyer.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
She was probably no more than thirty.
It was hard to tell with humans. They all looked old to Arkady, and they aged fast out here in the Trusteeships where people lost months and years just getting from one planet to the next.
This human looked like she'd lived harder than most. Her skin was ravaged by decades of unfiltered sunlight, her face lined by wind and worry, her features gaunt with the gravity of some heavy planet. Still, Arkady didn't think she could be more than a few subjective years beyond his twenty-seven.
"Act like you're picking me up," she said in a low husky voice that would have been sensual had it not been ratcheted tight by fear. She spoke UN-standard Spanish, but her flat vowels and guttural consonants betrayed her native tongue as Hebrew.
She flagged down the barkeep and ordered two of something Arkady had never heard of. When she gripped his arm to draw him closer, he saw that her cuticles were rough and ragged and she'd bitten her nails to the quick.
He bent over her, smelling the acrid fungal smell of the planet-born, and recited the words Korchow had taught him back on Gilead. She fed him back the answers he'd been told to wait for. She was pulling them off hard memory; her pupils dilated, blossoming across the pale iris, every time she accessed her virally embedded RAM. He tried not to stare and failed.
This is your first monster, he told himself. Get used to them.
He studied the woman's face, wondering if she was what other members of her species would call normal. It seemed unlikely. To Arkady's crèche-born eyes her features looked as mismatched as if they'd been culled from a dozen disparate genelines. The predatory nose jutted over an incongruously delicate jawline. The forehead was high and intelligent . . . but too flat and scowling to get past any competent genetic designer. And even under the dim flicker of the strobe lights it was obvious that her eyes were mismatched. The right eye fixed Arkady with a steel blue stare, while the left one wandered across the open room behind him so that he had to fight the urge to turn around and see who she was really talking to.
"Why did you come here?" the woman asked when she was satisfied he was who he said he was.
"You know why."
"I mean the real reason."
You have to ask for money, Korchow had told him during the interminable briefing sessions. He could see Korchow's face in his mind's eye: a spy's face, a diplomat's face, a manifesto in flesh and blood of everything KnowlesSyndicate was supposed to stand for. You have no idea what money means to humans, Arkady. It's how they reward each other, how they control each other. If you don't ask for it, you won't feel real to them.
"I came for the money," he told Osnat, trying not to sound like an explorer trading beads with the natives.
"And you trust us to give it to you?"
"You know who I trust." Still following Korchow's script. "You know who I need to see."
"At least you had the wits not to say his name." She glanced at the shadowy maze of ventilation ducts and spinstream conduits overhead to indicate that they were under surveillance.
"Here?" Arkady asked incredulously.
"Everywhere. The AIs can tap any spin, anytime, anywhere. You're in UN space now. Get used to it."
Arkady glanced at the sullen and exhausted drinkers around him and wondered what they could possibly be doing that was worth the attention of the UN's semisentients. These weren't humans as he'd been raised to believe in them. Where were the fat cat profiteers and the spiritually bankrupt individualists of his sociobiology textbooks? Where were the gene traders? Where were the slave drivers and the brutally oppressed genetic constructs? All he saw here were algae skimmers and coltran miners. Posthumans whose genetic heritage was too haphazard for anyone to be able to guess whether they were human or construct or some unknown quasi-species between the two. People who scratched out a living from stones and mud and carried the dirt of planets under their fingernails. Throwaway people.
Arkasha would probably have said they were beautiful. He would have talked passionately about pre-Evacuation literature, about the slow sure currents of evolution and the vast chaotic genetic river that was posthumanity. But all Arkady could see here was poverty, disease, and danger.
The bartender slapped their drinks down hard enough to send sour-smelling liquid cascading onto the countertop. The woman picked up hers and gulped thirstily. Arkady just stared at his. He could smell it from here, and it smelled bad. Like yeast and old skin and overloaded air filters: all the smells he was beginning to recognize as the smells of humans.
"So." The woman used the word as if it were an entire sentence. "Who really sent you?"
"I'm here on my own account. I thought you understood that."
"We understood that was what you wanted us to understand." She had a habit of hanging on a word that gave it a weight at odds with its apparent significance and left Arkady wondering if anything in her world meant what it seemed to mean. "It wouldn't be the first time a professional came across the lines posing as an amateur."
Arkady played with his drink, buying time. Don't explain, don't apologize, Korchow had told him. Right before he'd told him what would happen to Arkasha if he failed.
"I'm a myrmecologist," he told her.
"Whatever the fuck that is."
"I study ants. For terraforming."
"Bullshit. Terraforming's dangerous. And you're an A Series. You reek of it. No one who counts ever gets handed that raw of a deal."
"It was my Part," he said reflexively before he could remember the word meant nothing to humans.
"You mean you volunteered?"
"I'm sorry." Arkady's confusion was genuine. "What is volunteered?"
Her right eye narrowed, though the left one remained serenely focused on the middle distance. An old scar nicked the eyebrow above the lazy eye, and for the first time it occurred to Arkady that it might not be a birth defect at all, but the product of a home-brewed wetware installation gone wrong. What if it wasn't internal RAM she was accessing but the spooky-action-at-a-distance virtual world of streamspace? What was she seeing there? And who was paying her uplink fees?
A movement caught Arkady's eye, and he turned to find a lone drinker staring at him from the far end of the grease-smeared bartop. He watched the man take in his unlined stationer's skin, his too-symmetrical features, the gleam of perfect health that bespoke generations of sociogenetic engineering. They locked eyes, and Arkady noticed what he should have noticed before: the dusty green flash of an Interfaither's skullcap.
You were supposed to be able to tell which religion Interfaithers hailed from by the signs they wore. A Star of David for Jews; two signs Arkady couldn't remember for Sunnis and Shi'ites; a multitude of cryptic symbols for the various schismatic Christian sects. He gave the Interfaither another covert glance, but the only sign he could see on him was a silver pendant whose two curving lines intersected to form the abstracted shape of a fish.
The Interfaithers scared Arkady more than any other danger in UN space. It had been Interfaithers who killed an entire contract group right here on Maris Station and mutilated their bodies so badly that all their home Syndicates ever got back were diplomatic apologies. The rest of the UN had made peace with the Syndicates--if you could call this simmering cold war a peace--but the Interfaithers hadn't. And when anyone asked them why, they used words like Abomination and Jihad and Crusade--words that weren't supposed to exist anymore in any civilized language.
Arkady glanced at the bar-back mirror, trying to reassure himself that he fit in well enough to pass safely. But what he saw didn't reassure him at all. Korchow's team had broken his nose and one cheekbone, a precaution that had seemed barbaric back on Gilead. But it took decades at the bottom of a gravity well to get the lined and haggard look of the planet-born. And it would have taken a lifetime--someone else's lifetime--to mold Arkady's frank and open crèche-born face into the aggressive mask most humans wore in public.
Arkady gave the Interfaither another surreptitious glance, only to find the man still staring at him. Their eyes locked. The Interfaither turned away, still holding Arkady's gaze, and spit on the floor.
"Creature of magicians," the woman muttered, "return to your dust!"
"What?" Arkady asked, though he knew somehow that the words were a response to the Interfaither.
"It's from the Talmud." Again that black inward gaze as she tapped RAM or slipped into the spinstream. "Then Rabbah created a man and sent him to Rabbi Zera. Rabbi Zera spoke to him but received no answer. Thereupon he said to him: 'Creature of the magicians, return to your dust!' That's how the first golem died."
"What's a golem?" Arkady asked.
"A man without a soul." Her laugh was as hard-bitten as everything else about her. "You."
Arkady heaved a shaky breath that ended in a bout of coughing. He was running a fever, his immune system kicking into overdrive to answer the insult of being stuck in a closed environment with thousands of unfamiliar human pathogens. He hoped it was ju...
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