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Idolon

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Idolon

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Author: Mark Budz
Publisher: Bantam Spectra, 2006
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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Synopsis

In a world where image is everything, where the past is more real than the present, the rich can reprogram everythingand cast themselves in the starring roles. Everyone else is nothing but an extra....

As part of the supporting cast, Pelayo survives as a test subject for the latest electronic skin and philm technology, which brings past trends and famous people to vivid life on his body. His cousin Marta works at a cinematique offering cheap skincense, image grafts, and nanimatronics. Thats where she meets Nadice, an indentured worker smuggling illegal ware to escape an exclusive resort specializing in kitschy environs. But Nadice is hiding something far more contraband: a forbidden pregnancy she cant explain but is determined to protect. When Marta tries to help, both women disappear.

While Pelayo searches for his cousin, homicide detective Kasuo van Dijk investigates a mysterious death that may involve a new kind of e-skinmass-mediated ware that will lead him to Marta, Nadice, her employerand a diabolical plan to deliver humanity kicking and screaming into a frightening new age of information....


Excerpt

Chapter One

White-hot fog. It boiled over the halogen-lighted streets--scalding to look at but cool against the skin.

Kasuo van Dijk pulled his overcoat tighter against the dank mist, shut the door to his unmarked car, and stepped onto gritty concrete.

This part of North Beach was philmed in classic noir. Most of the storefronts and apartment building facades were a melange of grays and blacks lifted from The Maltese Falcon, Raw Deal, and half a dozen other celluloids from the 1930s and '40s. In places, some of the architectural and decorative elements had been colorized. Vivid greens, reds, and blues bled from the shadows, saturating the landscape with flamboyant contusions of color borrowed from Romare Bearden and Warhol.

Nothing was ever what it seemed, he reminded himself. Nor was it otherwise.

A few blocks east of Hyde, toward Telegraph Hill, the decor changed abruptly to the delirious exuberance of Gaudi and Hundertwasser. Organic transmogrifications not unlike the Peter Max-, Bob Masse-, and Roger Dean-fueled psychedelia of Haight-Ashbury. To the southwest, van Dijk could just make out the staid browns and clean, if somewhat stark, Edward Hopper lines of Pacific Heights.

Van Dijk took a moment to philm himself in a composite image of Toshir Mifune, from Kurosawa's Yojimbo, and Hiroyuki Sanada from Yaji Yamada's The Twilight Samurai. The pseudoself--humble demeanor hiding implacable, barely restrained violence--was what people not only expected from him, given his first name, but respected. It was part of the job, like wearing a tie and an HK 9mm minicentrifuge.

He started toward the small brick-and-corrugated-sheet-plastic warehouse that had been converted into low-income apartments. A uniformed officer stood guard outside the first-floor entrance, the tip of a cigarette flaring from time to time like the beacon in a lighthouse.

The uniform's name appeared in front of him: Kohl, Peter. Van Dijk cleared the eyefeed with a quick mental Delete and turned his gaze on the street cop.

"Detective." Kohl pulled himself out of his slouch.

"Who else is here?" van Dijk asked.

"My partner. Janakowski. He's inside, waiting for you and the crime-scene boyz to show." Kohl took a final calming pull on his Hongtasan, then flicked it nervously away. The butt hissed as it arced to the ground, sputtering out before it struck the damp concrete. Oily steam snaked up from a half-empty cup of black coffee at his feet.

"Who found the body?"

"One of the residents." Kohl blinked as he accessed an online police log. "Girl named Lisette," he said, reading from the plog. "Age eleven. Lives in the apartment just down the hall, supposedly with her mother. But Mom ain't around. Hasn't been for a while, by the look of it."

The victim's apartment was on the second floor. Van Dijk checked the elevator for obvious evidence. It was out of order. That left the stairs. Stairwells tended to collect all kinds of DNA-marinated detritus. Cigarette butts, half-empty plastic bottles, crushed cups, pinched bubble caps, shattered eye droppers, and dermadots for those who couldn't afford or didn't want direct deposit via mechemical assembly. As he mounted the concrete steps, a number of crumpled candy wrappers chirped to life, regaling him with cheerful play lists and animated nanoFX.

In the hall, van Dijk made his way past Teflon-white doors set in gray cinder block. Janakowski waited on the left, at the far end. As van Dijk passed the next-to-the-last door on the right, it opened a fraction, revealing a pair of luminous blue eyes. The eyes met his for a beat, then retreated. The door snicked shut.

Lisette.

Van Dijk moved past the door, dropping the thin smile from his face. He greeted Janakowski with a curt nod.

"You need me for anything, Detective?" The officer stepped away from the sealed door and hitched up his belt, anxious to get going.

Van Dijk tipped his head back down the hall. "That the girl?"

"Yeah." The officer nodded, his jowls ruddy under the strident LED ceiling lights. Someone had taped red paper, printed with white flowers, to the panels. The black desiccated shadows of dead bugs speckled the underside of the paper and the dim lantern glow.

"Keep the kid company till I'm finished in here."

"I gotta take a leak."

"In that case, you better get Kohl to relieve you."

"Very funny, Detective." The officer ambled down the hall, his brow furrowed in concentration as he messaged his partner.

Van Dijk logged into SFPD central data, allocated a new library for the case, then pushed open the door to the victim's apartment.

***

The body was philmed in vintage Hollywood. It had that silver-screen patina, glam even in death. Angelic hair, sassy red lips, gold-sequined gown, a cheap diamond necklace and earrings. Except for the costume jewelry, it was all high-end ware, all programmable.

Van Dijk mentally queried the SFPD datician assigned to him. Image ID?

"The philm appears to be a composite of Barbara Stanwyck and Gene Tierney," the sageware said after a moment.

The woman lay on a tempergel futon against one wall. Glossy satin sheets covered the mattress. A fluffy down comforter, white as snow, spilled off the end of the bed like a glacier.

Record, van Dijk thought, activating the nanocams embedded in his retinas. Visual. Audio. Ambients. Auto upload. Save.

There was a brief delay as the microvilli array of nanoelectrodes in his skull picked up the neural firing pattern for each command and relayed it to a brain-computer interface interpreter, which in turn routed it to a datician for implementation.

He panned the room slowly. Intermittent temperature, humidity, and time readings blinked along the bottom of his field of view. Other than the futon, there wasn't much. A table and chair. A graphene d-splay screen, tuned to some ambient meditation channel soft-focused on lotus leaves. A collapsible plastic shelf, bare except for several pairs of shoes, loose jeans, large hats, and a cheap canvas jacket big enough to lose herself in.

Lose herself from who? van Dijk wondered. All that nice philmware. Why would she want to hide it, even if it was ripped?

Through the window opposite the futon he had a clear view of Telegraph Hill, all blue-striped trees and green-scaled buildings.

Where she was headed--or what she was running from? Either possibility seemed likely.

Nothing in the bathroom. The usual assortment of toiletries, hair- and toothbrushes, patchouli-scented soap. No makeup, but then she wouldn't need it with the philm she was waring. Nothing in the tiny kitchenette, either. There was no stove, only a hot plate on the countertop. The refrigerator was small, barely large enough for the six-pack of bottled water and jar of Cajun simmer sauce. It wasn't the kitchen of a chef. Which meant she'd eaten out a lot, probably at the fast-food franchises along the Marina and the Embarcadero.

Van Dijk turned his attention to the body. It looked as if the woman had been dead for several hours. Exactly how long was hard to tell at this point. Her skin was cool, but electronic skin skewed all of the normal postmortem signs of death, everything from body temp to lividity and rigor. E-skin typically slowed the rate at which a body cooled, but not always. He wasn't even sure of her age at this point. 'Skin had a way of overwriting not just the physical but the perceived. The mind filled in blanks it shouldn't, the way it did a missing word, supplying implicit meaning rather than explicit.

"ID," he said out loud, scanning the victim's DiNA code. There was a brief pause as the datician searched for the information.

"Unknown," it replied over his earfeed. "Not On File."

NOF meant one of two things: either the bar-code-encrypted concatenation of her DNA had been tweaked, or she was an unchipped and undocumented immigrant.

The cause of death wasn't immediately obvious. There were no external injuries--strangle marks, suspicious discolorations, blunt trauma contusions, knife or bullet wounds. No blood or other fluids.

That left the less obvious. Drug overdose, or viral or bacterial infection from dirty e-skin were the most common. Internal injuries were possible, as were natural causes, but not likely under the circumstances.

Which were . . . ? Van Dijk had no idea.

Footsteps echoed in the hallway. Van Dijk stood. End, he thought, terminating the superimposed readout just as the crime scene unit, led by Leslie Apodaca, appeared in the doorway.

"All yours," he said.

"What have you got?" Apodaca said. She was a petite woman, short in both height and temper. Even her hair, as close-cropped as that of a soldier or Buddhist monk, sent a clear don't-mess-with-me.

"What you see." Van Dijk nodded at the body. "I just got here a few minutes ago."

"Who is she?"

"NOF."

"Figures." Apodaca messaged her team to scan for finger- and blood-prints, residual heat. They sprayed every bare millimeter of the room with chemical tweezers in the hunt for soft DNA, fibers, hazmat, and biomat.

Van Dijk headed for the door. "Don't forget to copy me on the report."

"You're not gonna stick around?" Apodaca didn't bother to look up from the body.

"I'm saving myself for the autopsy."

The door to the kid's apartment stood open a crack. As he stepped inside, a toilet flushed. The small studio apartment was sparsely furnished--none of the furniture matched, he noted--and empty. The door to the bathroom opened and Janakowski came out, zipping up. "I was gonna bust a pipe," he...

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Budz


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