Gangland boss KY Sutanto summons lieutenants Bean and Athena to tackle Jake Moonrath’s live challenge to whoever destroyed the Hughes Procreation Center in Santa Monica and its 10,290 residents. But can KY trust his people? Athena, a former female access product turned assassin, may have her own agenda.
The new arrival was a stocky man whose eyes were permanently narrowed, as if confronting bad news or bright light. A black singlet exposed powerful arms, liberally endowed with the same curly red hair which sprouted from his head. Amidst the freckles which peppered his left shoulder was a tattoo of a severed hand transfixed by a hunting knife. He scratched his head and looked at KY, who was standing on one leg with his hands together at his breast as if in prayer.
‘KY. You called for me.’
‘Thank you, Bean.’ KY opened his eyes and lowered the leg which had been raised. Behind him a slab of meat fell to the deck, appearing to throw a spray of gore towards them both. ‘Come.’
They embraced by the poolside. KY felt the red-haired man’s arms hold him for a moment, strong yet gentle. Then he waved Bean away.
‘Please take a seat.’
Bean perched on one end of a lounger. ‘I’ll never understand what you see in this show. The guys in the boats get the whale, every time.’
‘This is art. Watch the Japanese with the long knife open up the passage to the main organs. Also, it is a parable. Magnificent creatures. So much power. But they never stood a chance. Did you ever see a whale?’
‘I did. Long time back.’ Bean nodded. ‘I took one of those sub cruises in the Pacific, two weeks. We tracked a blue for hours, it was deep and dark as hell. Then all of a sudden he was coming right at us, he passed so close the whole sub shook. When we put a tracing beacon in his belly, we saw fifty there already. Wasn’t long before all the whales were gone.’
On the deck, winches were hauling wedges of meat. Like slugs leaving a red trail across the corrugated steel deck, Sutanto thought. ‘Whales everywhere should have had a chance to watch this film.’ He sat down opposite Bean. ‘Give me Novak, please.’
The holo melted into a loop of the man in Santa Monica, rehearsing his thesis.
‘Tell me what you make of this morning’s events in California,’ KY said. ‘Think carefully.’
Bean scratched his head. ‘I don’t understand it,’ he said. ‘It’s too big for the OLA. Not their style.’
‘The One Life Army say that what they call the Biotime Oppression is inherently unstable.’ KY spoke slowly. ‘Now this happens, just two years after Muong Khai. Maybe the OLA are right.’
‘A mass suicide and a terrorist attack? What’s the connection?’
‘Maybe something is dying.’ KY Sutanto rose, and began pacing the poolside. ‘Or something should be allowed to die. I have been taking Biotime too long. I should stop.’
‘But KY – ‘
‘I know what will happen. But I want to feel my anger again.’ KY nodded at the holo images. ‘Great forces are at work. If we do not strike back, we will be destroyed.’
Bean stood. ‘What do you want me to do?’
‘I need your loyalty. Until today, I would have asked another person to perform this task. Now, I am not so sure. It concerns this man.’ KY pointed at the holo from Santa Monica.
‘You want me to kill him?’
‘No. I want you to keep him alive. But it will not be easy.’
‘What will not be easy?’
Both men turned. A tall, blonde woman with brilliant green eyes stood in the doorway wearing a silk robe. She spoke in imperfect, yet Oxford-accented English.
KY strode forward and took her in his arms. Beneath the gown, he could feel her naked body. She seemed to flow against him, irresistible. That was her training. He stepped away, and looked her in the eye.
‘Athena. Welcome. Could we have the whales again, please?’
Santa Monica vanished. Again the bow of the ship appeared, beneath the high white sun. In an inset, the man named Novak continued to repeat himself.
‘I’ll be off.’ Bean glowered at the new arrival.
‘Still got funny tattoo on arm,’ the woman said. Her smile showed perfect teeth. ‘Should lose it.’
‘It’s a mark of loyalty,’ Bean said. ‘Beyond your ken.’
‘Mark of stupidity,’ the woman said.
‘Silence.’ KY did not raise his voice, but both Bean and Athena took a step back. ‘Bean. You have work to do. Athena. Tell me where you were this morning.’
‘What work he have to do?’
‘Answer my question. Where were you?’ KY turned to Bean. ‘Go.’
Athena watched the red-haired man leave. ‘I was in access facility,’ she said. ‘Good to practice. Make sure I please the man you sent me to.’
‘Is Collins happy?’
‘Thomas 469? When I am around, always.’ Athena did not smile.
‘He always had a weakness for female access. Is he still making avarice an art-form?’
‘It is not always weakness to know what you want.’
‘Sometimes, what you want must change.’
‘Man who not know what he want get nothing.’
‘Maybe.’ He had made her, KY thought. Now he was losing her. ‘And what do you make of this one?’ He gestured towards the man in Santa Monica.
The blonde woman turned and watched the holo image. For a long moment she was still. KY watched her. She was an extraordinary creature. An access product who had not only made the leap to the outside world, but thrived there. But the world was changing. Could she adapt? Would she want to?
At last, she turned back to him. ‘That one good-looking guy. Also, smart. He right: Hughes has increased price of ‘Time.’
‘He upset. But also angry. Maybe about family.’ Athena shrugged. ‘Lucky to have family in first place.’
‘He wants to know who did Hughes,’ KY said. ‘Think he might find out?’
The blonde woman’s face did not change. She gazed at the holo of the whaling boat, rolling towards its prey. Weathered faces appeared in close-up, eyes bent purposefully off-screen. Now the harpoon gun was in focus, explosive slung below the barb.
‘I think he no find out,’ Athena said. On the horizon a spout rose and sank into the sea. She looked from the spout to the man named Novak and back at the harpoon. ‘Whoever did Santa Monica smarter than this guy.’
‘What if – just suppose – Mr Novak were some kind of law enforcement officer? What if he went on holo to show whoever did this that he is coming after them?’
Athena nodded. ‘Only possible if he HSB Informal. If he Informal, very stupid. Crazy to show his face.’ She waved her arm towards the pool, holding up one finger. At once the water was lit by deep red spots, slopping like blood over the white border tiles. She slipped the gown from her shoulders and stood naked by the pool.
KY looked at the image of Novak. ‘Crazy. Or brave.’
‘Brave is same as crazy, if he do not know who enemy is.’ Athena raised her arms above her head. ‘To me, Mr Novak look like dead man.’ And turning towards the pool, she dived into the blood-red water.
[Excerpt ends][Next excerpt]
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