Unexpected Rain, страница 1
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First published in Great Britain by HarperVoyager 2015
Copyright © Jason LaPier 2015
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Jason LaPier asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Ebook Edition © May 2015 ISBN: 978-0-00-810859-5
For my grandfathers.
Table of Contents
About the Author
About the Publisher
Kane stepped out of the house, gently closing the door behind him. The operator had dialed up a gorgeous evening in the sub-dome block. Stars were out. The constellations were clear and familiar; Orion, the bears, and all that nonsense. There was a low, ambient light on the street, a bit red in color, but it didn’t come from the tiny, flickering flames of the decorative street lamps, nor did it cause enough light pollution to obscure the view of the Milky Way.
Of course, Kane knew the stars were all wrong. It wasn’t even night on the planet’s surface. When people started leaving Earth and building domes on any rock with the right gravity, orbiting a star within a few sleepy decades of the Sol system, they set them up with twenty-four-hour-day cycles, weather, mild seasons, and all the minor natural comforts and annoyances that Earthlings were used to.
In block 23-D of a sub-dome called Gretel, near the primary dome called Blue Haven, just off the equator of the fourth planet from Barnard’s Star, it was the middle of the night. All the residents were fast asleep, happy to comply with the artificial temporal configuration. Domers, in general, didn’t question much of anything; they took the life doled out to them by their authorities and passively accepted it – were even grateful for it.
Kane had been a maintenance guy since Monday, and so by walking the streets in the middle of the make-believe night, he didn’t set off any alarms for the operator on duty. The job was a joke. The actual cleaning and maintenance of domes and sub-domes was handled by small armies of scrub-bots. The dog-sized, multi-legged, mobile vacuum-slash-scouring brushes did all the work during designated sleeping hours, rotating from one block to the next. Kane was supposed to be keeping the little bastards running – that was the job – but the reality of it was that they didn’t need any help. During orientation, it was explained to him that once in a while, one of them might get some bit of debris jammed up inside a leg joint, at which point he’d have to run through a troubleshooting script that ended with a call to a technician. Most of the veteran maintenance staff skipped the first five steps of the script, because nine times out of ten, they’d have to just call a tech anyway.
When it came down to it, Kane’s job nearly in its entirety consisted of hitting a single button that started the scrub-bots’ cleaning routine. As he walked through the fake night, he thought about the faceless operator sitting in front of a console somewhere, tweaking the temperature and humidity. The job of a block operator was only slightly less menial than his own, and not much more difficult. A few more buttons and a few more routines. This went for most jobs in a dome; most people were just button pushers. In a dome, that was the only way to keep everyone employed. It was more or less an artificial economy. Some people liked to say that with today’s technology, the whole human race could be kept alive by a handful of engineers, and that everyone else could just kick back and relax. But people never could shake that sense of accomplishment that earning an actual paycheck gives them, the way that a bank statement justifies their lives and measures their worth. They just couldn’t bear to live without capitalism and a so-called free market, that arena where money can teeter-totter endlessly between producers and consumers.
Kane stopped walking. His instincts told him to take in his surroundings, to look, to listen, to smell. The perfect avenue he stood in the middle of was devoid of both life and refuse, and the ambient light lit every empty nook and corner. The only sounds he could hear were the whirring machinations of scrub-bots somewhere in the distance. The entire sub-dome was always clean, and smelled almost like nothing. When he took a deep breath, there was that hidden edge, that sugary, candy-like smell of artificial air. The kind of smell so distant that it caused him to sniff harder in an attempt to pin down its origins, which was, of course, a fruitless endeavor. He thought about the block’s operator watching a grid, the blip of some maintenance guy just pulsing in place on the street. He snorted and itched his nose, then started walking toward the garden once more.
Instead of monitoring a robotic cleaning crew, an operator monitored the Life Support system of a block and the residents in it. There were no cameras (no doubt to give domers a false sense of privacy), but the operator got to see a readout of the vital statistics of everyone in their block. At that moment, the readout of one of the resident’s vitals should be spiking. Kane quickly strode away from the avenue and headed diagonally across the block, aiming to cut through the central garden toward the exit.
Nightmares on any scale were unusual in domers, but not unheard of. The elevated blood-pressure and rate of respiration of a resident would likely be noted by the operator, but would not be an immediate cause for alarm. Kane wiped the blood from the long, spear-like prod used for unjamming scrub-bot legs with a cleaning rag and stuck the tool through a loop on his belt. He stuffed the rag into a waste receptacle on the street and it was sucked off into a network of tubes that snaked beneath the sub-dome and converged at an incinerator somewhere.
There had been a struggle, of course, but Kane was a professional and his target was over the hill. The actual kill was probably the easiest part of the entire job. It’d taken months for Kane to track the man down, hopping from planet to moon to dome. Digging deep to exhume any trace, any footprint, any contact the target had made and subsequently erased since his disappearance almost a year ago. Not that
But his target had known fear. It had registered on his face and in his pleas when Kane broke through the thin shell of dome security and sullied the perfect little domicile with his unwelcome presence. Kane had first silenced the begging and the attempts at negotiation by taking a small appliance from the kitchen and fracturing the jaw. Trapped, cornered, and seeing his fate, the target resisted as best he could, but Kane was faster, stronger, and sharper. His specialty was making weapons out of innocuous objects, and thus the sub-dome home was an armory.
He’d left the man beaten and broken in his living room after inflicting a deep wound in his abdomen with the cleaning tool, plunging through several vital organs. The target wouldn’t die right away, but he wouldn’t live through the night. Eventually his vitals would calm down as the internal bleeding caused him to lose consciousness and the operator on duty would assume the resident’s nightmare was over. By the time those vitals dropped to critical levels, he’d be beyond the point that emergency medical care could help him.
Kane reached the edge of the garden and heard an odd sound – that almost animal-like whining howl, the complaint of metal being forced to bend and flex in an unnatural way. A brisk breeze brushed his skin and caused the vegetables and flowers in front of him to lightly sway in their plots. He stopped and looked about, trying to identify the source of the sound. It seemed to be coming from every direction at once.
When it got louder, he realized it was coming from above. The breeze grew alarmingly strong and within seconds, the swaying plants were uprooted and swirling about in the wind. He snapped his head back and looked up toward the sound. A red ball of piercingly bright light tore open the night sky, washing out the nearby stars.
It was the light of Barnard’s Star, what the locals would call the Sun if they didn’t use artificial sunlight instead. It was the morning light.
There was a crack in the dome.
Kane had been in and out of space enough to know the dangers of explosive decompression, and he looked desperately around for something to grab. He took a few long strides toward a four-meter-tall air purifier node, a thin, metal-painted-white, tree-like structure protruding from the edge of the garden. His jumpsuit flapped against his limbs as if it were trying to strip itself away as he ran, arms outstretched.
He managed to grab a branch of the aluminum tree, but the hole in the sky continued to grow and the suck of the upward wind was too strong. With a rush, he was lifted off his feet and turned upside down, hanging helplessly from the metal branch, his body dancing in the air like a kite in a strong wind. The tree slowly bent its arms upward, allowing him to inch higher into the sky. He could see the seams of the air purifier coming apart in slow motion, and he desperately pulled at the branch that was his lifeline, putting one hand over the other, trying to reach the base of the tree.
He could barely hear the pop of the branch coming away from the trunk with the rush of wind in his ears, and then he was airborne, the thin aluminum stick still clutched in his hands.
Kane closed his eyes and let go of the branch, allowing himself to tumble in the wind while the bright morning sun showed red through his eyelids. It was pretty much like falling, except up instead of down.
“McManus, Horowitz, Halsey, Runstom,” the fuzzy 3D image of Captain Inmont barked as its pixels rapidly coalesced into view, eclipsing the bombball game. “Report to Briefing Bay Six immediately!”
The holo-vision shut off automatically. In frustration, Officer Stanford Runstom flicked the large silver switch on the base of the HV back and forth a few times even though he knew that when a call came in the HV would be disabled.
“Sonova bitch,” he said aloud. “It’s the goddamn Sirius Series!” He made a kicking motion in the direction of the holo-vision, but pulled back before making contact. The meager entertainment station came with the officer’s dorm room and if he broke it, they’d dock his pay. With a grumble, he rolled in his cot and came to a sitting position. Other than the cot and the holo-vision, his small home featured a narrow wardrobe and a foot locker. If he looked at either for too long, he’d start to think about how pathetic it was that all of his belongings fit into such a limited space; and left room to spare.
He stared at the blank HV for a moment, as though if he looked pitiful enough the device would give him a break and put the game back on. It wasn’t long before his devotion to the Poligart Pioneers waned as the possibility of a new case edged its way into his thoughts. He reached over the side of the cot and pulled his boots on. It was easy to get sucked into a championship light-years away when there was nothing to do for weeks at a time, but a win for his favorite bombball team wasn’t worth a damn compared to a chance to work on a crime scene.
He sat alone in Briefing Bay 6 until the other three officers arrived and signed on to the mission computer. They grunted groggy greetings at each other and sat at the table in the center of the room, away from Runstom. The four of them were part of a crew of officers stationed at a remote base in the Barnard system. They were always on call, but rarely had much to do. Runstom looked at each of them briefly, but they seemed to avoid eye contact, instead involving themselves in some minor preoccupation. Susan Horowitz, her dark hair disheveled, sat there flipping through a magazine and was wearing loose, casual clothing meant for a workout, though she looked too relaxed to have come from the gym. Jared McManus was jittery as always, and his wiry, toned muscles twitched as he looked around the room with narrowed eyes, not focusing on anything in particular. George Halsey had at least bothered to put part of his uniform on, but he looked like he’d just gotten out of bed. The lanky, yellow-haired man stared into space, eyes and mouth both half open as if he were frozen at some point in the middle of a yawn.
It was warm in the briefing room and Runstom felt the urge to unbutton his vest, but he resisted it. He was determined not to feel even slightly embarrassed about being the only one of the four so eager to get to work that he put on the full standard-issue uniform. Instead, he took off his hat and set it on the table, letting the stubble on his head get some air.
After a few minutes of silence, Captain Inmont’s floating head appeared on the holo-vision unit at the front of the room.
“Officers”, crackled the holo-vid speakers. Inmont’s head wavered, interference causing her face to flex unnaturally and a little unnervingly. “We have a very serious incident on Barnard-4, in Gretel. That’s a sub-dome of the dome-city Blue Haven. Possible mass-homicide.”
“Captain,” Horowitz interrupted as she pulled her straight, black hair back into a pony tail. “Doesn’t Blue Haven have a local police force?”
“Yes, that’s correct. The Blue Haven police technically have jurisdiction over the sub-domes there, but they do not have the numbers to spare for an investigation outside the city proper. The ModPol contract with the Barnard-4 Planetary Defense Coalition puts this one in our jurisdiction.”
“Right-o,” Horowitz said, tipping back in her chair and scratching her belly with one hand.
“You will be assisting detectives Brutus and Porter on this one,” continued the virtual head of Captain Inmont. “We’ll need a strict—”
“Uh,” McManus interrupted, raising a hand. “Did you say ‘mass homicide’?”
“Yes, that’s right,” the head replied patiently. “And that’s another reason we’re being called in. The local PD never deals with this level of crime. Life Support failure on a complete block. That’s thirty-two residences. Four empty, twenty-one singles and seven couples. Five of those with a child. Forty people in total. We don’t know the actual
“Life Support failure?” McManus parroted, letting his hand drop, but only halfway. “Sounds like a job for engineers. Why are we looking at homicide?”
The captain sighed. Disdain wasn’t easy to transmit over a blurry remote visual, but somehow she managed. “LifSup engineers are already investigating, remotely,” she said slowly and deliberately. “They reported to us that the system log says someone executed a series of commands that simultaneously opened up the top-side inner and outer doors, overriding the airlock safety. Vented the atmosphere of the whole block in a matter of seconds.” She paused for a moment, as if waiting for another interruption. When none came, she finished. “The commands were executed from an operator console.”
The room stayed quiet for a few seconds, then Halsey piped up for the first time, as if the silence had woken him up. “So lemme get this straight,” he slurred sleepily. “Someone intentionally suffocated forty people?”
“Not just suffocated.” Stanford Runstom spoke before the captain could respond. “There must have been explosive decompression, too.”
“That’s right, Officer,” Inmont said. “Have you ever seen this kind of thing before?”
Despite the long periods of inactivity, Runstom had worked a few interesting cases here and there. Vandalism. Theft. And one time, a few years back, even a murder. But he easily spent more time in the outpost’s library poring over old cases than he did working on real, live cases. The library pastime was meant to be study, but it involved a fair bit of daydreaming as well. What would he have done on each case? Would he have caught the offenders? Would he have brought them to justice?