Due to their unique neurology, only the enslaved Operator caste can program the quantum computers that run 26th century Red City. When three of the caste are ritually murdered, it’s up to private investigator Hoshi Archer—herself a recently liberated Operator—to help the police solve the case. Things get complicated when one of the victims turns out to be Hoshi’s ex-girlfriend, and power-hungry bureaucrats and old rivals stir up new problems. An immortal, amoral alien may even be involved. To unwind the plot to take over the city, Hoshi must decipher a deadly computer program and learn to communicate with the alien, before it’s too late for the next victim—and the city.
Hoshi and the Red City Circuit is the first book to be published by Autonomous Press‘ new Argawarga Press imprint, under Andrew’s editorship. In the coming years, Andrew’s old Weird Luck novels (the City of the Watcher trilogy and Wallflower Assassin) will be released under the Argawarga Press imprint, along with further Weird Luck novels by me and Andrew as we write them, further books by Dora, and works of speculative fiction or weird fiction by various other authors.
We’ll be back next week with a new chapter of Insurgent Otherworld. This week, enjoy the first half of the first chapter of Hoshi and the Red City Circuit.
See you next Wednesday,
Hoshi and the Red City Circuit
© 2018 by Dora M. Raymaker
I woke, blood trickling from my nose and the dreams of the city tangled in my sweat-damp hair.
There’s a bug in my programming. Or maybe it’s my hardware. Either way, as I’d slept in the supposed-safety of my bed, the city’s entire fleet of vidfeeds had routed straight to my visual cortex: lovers and liars, a babe being born and an old man dying, thieves in black alleys and a plan to break the windows of the Federal Housing Authority—in a city of eighteen mil that’s too much information for even me to process. So here I was, shuddering and sobbing, bleeding into my pillow. Again.
Despite the unpleasantness, whatever had downloaded in my sleep could save my life. Thus one of the reasons I never try to fix the bug.
I opened my eyes.
Outside my cathedral window, the jagged skyline of Red City reached for crimson clouds. I traced the graceful spiral of the Arts and Culture Building, the triple towers of the 100 Worlds Trade Union joined by their series of sky- bridges, the prickly quills of the Red City Reporter, the dip of Lan Qui Park all the way down to Landing and Marcie Bay. I loved Red City. Loved every street corner and sky-lift, every tree in every park, every rumbling tube beneath her crust. I loved her, even when she hurt me.
I sniffled into my pillow and dragged myself out of bed. I needed to get to my Private Investigator’s office in East of Central if I wanted to catch a new case. I’d gotten the Zander thing wrapped two days ago and that was two days too long without a puzzle.
But four cups of espresso later and feeling no better, I had to concede: not even a puzzle could improve this day. I scrapped the leaving-the- apartment plan and blocked all incoming com transmissions with a thought through my hardware. I sat on the floor instead, fingers twined in the plush carpet, and watched daylight colorize the skyline to the drumbeat of my headache.
BANG BANG BANG!
The voice of Inspector Cassandra Sorreno resounded through the door
as she pounded in time to the throb of my temples. She wasn’t large, but she sounded large, especially when she was annoyed with me.
Sorreno had been my primary sponsor back when the Red City Police Department owned me as a code-breaker, before Integration Law had passed and I got my private investigator job. I liked her, but I didn’t want to let her in. I was still under a lot of scrutiny and if I were her I’d be convinced I’d been on an all-night bender, or worse. I couldn’t tell her the truth either; I wasn’t supposed to be able to see through the city’s sensors even when I was awake.
“Hoshi! Open up!” BANG BANG BANG!
I sent a mental command at the door, yanked a dust-colored throw over my shoulders to hide my underpants and bra, and wiped the blood off my face with the corner of the throw.
Sorreno entered, stocky and brown and dressed in brown, her hair coiled in a zillion tiny braids. She wasn’t pretty but her presence filled the room. The brown bag under her arm smelled of teriyaki and mangoes. She glared at my empty studio as though hunting for clues. “You look like hell, Hoshi.”
“Sorry, Sir, too many hours at the code and a bit of bad sleep.” Wasn’t a lie. But it didn’t justify hiding under a blanket in my underwear at noon either. I ran my fingers through my hair. Trying to look presentable had to count for something, right?
“I brought you some solid food.” Sorreno searched for somewhere to set the bag. I find furniture perplexing. I don’t even have a desk at my PI’s office because, well, what would I put on it? All my stuff’s in my head, as evidenced by the pale blue shine of my quantum processor, my navis, beneath the skin of my forehead: the mark of my caste.
“Thanks. Um.” I also find social graces perplexing. I wasn’t supposed to interact with Sorreno in my underwear. But I also wasn’t supposed to tell her bluntly that I needed to put on clothes. And I also wasn’t supposed to walk away without saying anything. So I swayed uncertainly, trying to dredge up some lesson I’d learned in Socialization and coming up null.
Sorreno was helpful, as always. “Oh for Kripke’s sake Hoshi, go put on some clothes!”
She let me wash, dress, eat (indeed, teriyaki yakisoba and mango with sticky rice), and pull myself as together as I was going to get before she dropped her bombs.
“I need you at the RCPD on consult. I’ve got three Operators dead. One of them was Claudia Foucault, I think you knew her?”
Knew her, Claudia, knew—knew her. Claudia, lavender and soap, the smell of her hair as I pressed her head to my lips and her arms wrapping around my waist, no—NO. The programming that would have moved my body into a visible reaction couldn’t process the shock, frozen, for three seconds, in place, even breath, stop breathing. Surely Sorreno had no idea how close Claudia and I had been or she would have been more delicate in how she’d put that. Shock slid toward grief and rage, heat rising in my cheeks, and I bit back the feelings and stuffed them as far from my heart as I could get with the deftness of life-long practice. Forget Claudia.
Sorreno wasn’t done ruining my terrible day. “You’re coming with me to the station. And while we’re there, stay away from Martin. He’s dropping hints he has something on you. Don’t give him any fodder.”
Perfect. If there was such a thing as an arch-nemesis in real life, Martin would be mine.
Sorreno made a snap-snap “follow-me” gesture with her fingers.
Technically, I didn’t have to go. I’m a free citizen these days, Hoshi Marie Archer, Private Investigator. Among the first of the Operator caste in Red City to be granted a job that didn’t involve programming quantum computers. In the first cohort of those with power over their own lives.
Realistically, I wasn’t as free as the Integration Office led people to believe. There was the fact that I owed Sorreno a lifetime of favors; the fact that I had to abide by an unknowable number of conditions and rules, both official and unofficial, often contradictory; the fact that I cared about Red City more than myself (that’s the danger of spending too much time tangled in her sensors); the fact that I’d just learned my ex was dead—
I re-swallowed my feelings, buttoned my black bolero jacket over a white blouse, slipped my steel-tipped boots over the most comfortable black slacks I owned, and braced myself for The World Outside My Apartment.
It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. Most of the night’s information overflow had jammed itself into the pits of my subconscious, where there was room for it to writhe and process far from my conscious functioning.
It wasn’t great either. Sorreno handed me a wad of tissues as my nose started to bleed again. I saw a sensor cam on the side of the building at the corner of Ship’s Way and Xavior, where we descended to the tube, and I gave it a dirty look.
• • •
The Red City Police Department was not one of my favorite buildings in the city. Black, seemingly windowless, and shaped like five boxes with rounded edges stacked precariously atop each other, its receipt of an architecture award did not make it any less of an eyesore. What did make it less of an eyesore—to my eyes at least—was the RCPD sigil, its corporate symbol, shining from all four sides. The backdrop was a shield, like all law enforcement corps. But within the shield was the city seal: a Valkyrie with one foot in the fields and one foot in the sea, fierce and noble. In her hand, a trident aligned with the bird-shaped constellation Cleo, its middle tine pointed at Sol. Below her shone the city’s motto: “She flies on her own wings between the stars.” The seal was supposed to represent commerce, but to me the Valkyrie of Red City was an emissary, a bridger-of-worlds.
Sorreno thoughtfully brought me into the RCPD building through an unmarked, unremarkable employee entrance, sparing me the chaos of the public lobby.
She punched the lift button for the third sub-basement and I felt less spared of anything. The only things on that level were the department’s quantum stationary systems and the morgue. Since I could access the stationaries from anywhere with an idle thought, we must be headed to the other place.
Dr. Angel Smith grinned up from a gurney I took care not to look down at. She was small, cute, blond, freckled, and looked about a decade younger than her actual mid-30’s. I liked Angel. A lot. As much as I hated the morgue. I tweaked my sensory programming to block my sense of smell.
Angel’s grin wobbled and fell as she processed through Yay, Hoshi! and into Ugh, Hoshi hates the morgue. She frowned. “So sorry you had to come down here.”
“It’s okay.” I hugged myself and wished I could cut the rest of my senses too.
“We’re here about case number 88975b.” Sorreno took a white-knuckled hold of the triangular sleeve of my bolero, as though to keep me from falling. Well, there was some precedent for falling. I’d only worked with code at the RCPD, and there were reasons corpses weren’t on my PI list of services. The two previous times I’d visited the morgue for anything besides hooking up with Angel hadn’t gone well.
“Of course, Sir.” Angel blinked at a 3V, and I heard the clicking of latches releasing on cabinets. Click. Click. Click. Three bodies.
Sorreno tugged me by the sleeve to the closest one, watching me with awkward intensity. The fingers of her other hand wrapped around the fused glass locket at her neck, fidgeting the way she always did when nervous. Family heirloom, she’d told me once. She’d not told me what was inside. “Ready?”
I sent a silent prayer to the Trinity of Signal, Encoding, and Noise that it wouldn’t be Claudia and nodded. Signal help me if seeing her makes my feelings bubble back to the surface. Sorreno slid out the body pan.
The good news: it wasn’t Claudia.
The bad news: it was someone else I knew.
I spun a one-eighty and fixated on the cream-colored mortar between the polished stone floor tiles, tracing the thin lines with my eyes. Waiting for the pre-faint speckles to either overtake me or subside.
“Hoshi?” Sorreno’s hand on my shoulder.
“I’m—I’m okay,” the words came as an automated response from my linguistics programming rather than anything volitional, or even honest. I swallowed. “I know her. Her name is Nessa Mason.”
I’d only seen her face once in the flesh. But I have perfect recall via my memory index and facial recognition programs to identify people even if their skin had been…altered. Nessa and I had run into each other in a Cryptos Soup ‘n Sub. I’d become desperate for lunch during the Endless Boring Stakeout of Endless Boredom of ‘09. She was a regular. I wouldn’t have spoken to her—or even noticed her—if she hadn’t been wearing a gem-studded clockwork bee pin that I recognized.
Because in the Mem, the informationsphere, I knew her pretty well. In the Mem Nessa went by the name Bees, presented as a jet-black hermaphrodite in a yellow duster, and had an identical bee pin programmed onto the duster’s lapel. Her trademark in both worlds. I wouldn’t call Nessa a friend, but I would call her a regular acquaintance. She was owned by 100 Worlds Music Corporation where she worked in big-time advertising, programming primo promo feeds. She was also the hottest coder of illegal pornware in Red City. Which, as far as illegal things went, wasn’t high on my list of concerns, but Sorreno might disagree. So I said simply, “I had lunch with her once.”
Maybe Nessa’s moonlighting in pornware would matter. Maybe not. I walked a fine line with the denizens of the Red City underworld and didn’t want to piss off anyone left of legal without a really good reason. I braced for a visual scan of the body and turned back around.
Nessa had been painted entirely—eyelids, lips, ears, every millimeter of skin—with vibrant designs of exacting complexity. Structured lattices folded into fractals which dissolved into chaotic haze before becoming lucid again, whorls and weaves and explosions of geometries and colors and patterns: quantum code. Or, what code would look like if it only used visuals instead of a full sensory space, and its multi-dimensionality was flattened to cover the surface of human skin. Rather like a flat map of a planetary sphere, unfolded into that funny jagged shape, without the smell of dirt or the feel of the wind, frozen in rotation. I fell into its curious mathematics, matrices too incomplete to resolve into meaning, yet hinting there was meaning, given the right key. Which distanced me enough from the fact that this was once a person to snapshot the image into my memory index for recall. Angel turned the body so I could see it all.
The skin of Nessa’s forehead had been slashed; someone had removed her navis. I twitched beneath Sorreno’s grip and pointed.
“We don’t know where her navis is. Yet,” Sorreno answered.
I wanted to ask a million questions, but the faint-feeling started stalking me again, so I grimly gestured for the next cabinet.
The next one was Claudia. I couldn’t think about that yet, about her. Had to stick to business. I snapshotted the ghastly pseudo-code, the slashed forehead, and moved on.
The last corpse I did not recognize. But it was another young woman from my caste, painted and mutilated like the other two. Her tag identified her as “Jane Doe.” Which, considering how tight the city is about registering my people with fifty different agencies, fingerprinting, retinal printing, chipping, pattern scanning, and cataloging us seventy-five ways to Lastday, meant she was illegal, a rone.
So what do a half-legit half-pornware programmer, an ultra-conservative do-gooder, and a rone have in common? Other than the same make-up artist?
On that note, I did my usual passing-out-in-the-morgue thing.