BY: JOHN HEGENBERGER
Tripleye ~ We never blink…
Early in the twenty-second century, a master of mind-control has risen to the head of Earth’s Weave Corp. Under the guise of the Neo-Socialists, he threatens to terrorize both the Inner and Outer Planets with murder, sabotage, and the theft of a strange bio-substance known as the Snot.
Against this malevolent foe, the mismatched ops of Tripleye use the LINK to mentally form an uneasy ensemble dedicated to fighting a madman’s warrior elite. From the free-wheeling splendor of Vegas Space Station to the eerie ruins of an underground Martian city, the first private eye agency on Mars risks everything to stop the death-dealing powers of Weave Corp.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Tripleye by John Hegenberger, Dan “Wolf” Archerson is a private investigator on Mars in the early twenty-second century. He works for a company that he used to own called Intensive Investigations, Inc., or Tripleye for short. His agency has something no one else has, a virus that allows telepathic communication between users. The Martian Government has given Tripleye the exclusive right to use the virus and conduct testing. This telepathic communication is called the “link,” and the agents for Tripleye use it to solve crimes. Now they are investigating the theft of some sort of bio-sludge, called Snot, by a mega Earth corporation run by a megalomaniac.
Hegenberger’s character development is superb and his vivid descriptions make you feel like you’re right there in the scene. This one will keep you turning pages from beginning to end.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Tripleye by John Hegenberger is the story of Wolf Archerson, a private eye on Mars in the year 2103. His agency uses new technology called linking, a virus that allows users to temporarily communicate telepathically. Wolf is kind of a loner and has been around the block a time or two, even on Mars. When Intensive Investigations, Inc., got into financial trouble a few years earlier, Wolf was forced to sell it, but the new owner kept him on as an investigator. Now Wolf plies his skills to help solve crime on Mars. This time, he and his fellow investigators are pitted against a mega-wealthy, mega-evil head of a super corporation who wants to rule Mars. When Wolf is given a trainee partner, Johnny, he is appalled, but since he is the best investigator and most experienced, he does what he can to help the kid. Then when the kid is killed while “linked” to Wolf, the tables are turned. Now he may be Wolf’s only hope.
Tripleye is fascinating, fast-paced, and the mystery is intriguing. It grabbed my interest from the very first page and held it all the way through.
Some of the voices in Dan “Wolf” Archerson’s head didn’t bother him. The voices from the Link were okay, because limited telepathy was a normal part of working at Tripleye. And the voice of his mods was because selective memories were an essential part of every good investigation.
It was the broken, whispering voice from nowhere that haunted Wolf, which was why he was resting on Doc Pat’s therapeutic couch.
From the pillow beneath his head, the relaxing endorphin complexes rose up to permeate—he wondered if that was the right word—the skin of his neck and finally his brain. Once in his system, the proteins would loosen his inhibitions and free him from the noise in his mind. Like the MediCen patch on his right ear, Wolf knew it was all for his own good. He belonged here. Lately he’d been screwing up too often. He felt confused and needed to understand why.
The doctor made a note of Wolf’s neurological status and brought the lights down low. He thanked her dreamily, as she seemed to fade into the darkness. If anyone could help him, if anyone could assure him of an answer, he knew it was Doc Pat. He had worked with and for the woman for several years. She was the best therapist on the planet, and he wanted her help dealing with noise in his head.
For an instant, the sound seemed to come back. This time it was more like music—little riffs of intense rhythm, much faster than his normal sad blues. They had been mingling in his mind for the last ten days, along with the voice that called him by name. Then the couch’s chemicals reached his cortex and slowly, gently, Wolf floated into soft, untroubled memory.
For therapeutic purposes, reality became replaced by the memories in Wolf’s consciousness, and he slipped into “report” mode…
My head was still aching from last night’s binge. I was right in the middle of shaving it, when the call came through on the Vax.
I pressed the copy key to shut the thing up and went back to spreading the depilatory around my brow and chin, careful not to get any near my eyes. The jazzblues wailed in my head, a cool sax quartet moaning out the classic “Harlem Nocturne.” In the mirror, I watched the hissing foam burn through my three-day growth, the way a mazer melted permafrost.
The old man’s mods taught me to live right—clean body, clean mind. To me, a clean body meant a scraped scalp and no more hair than a bar of soap.
Just as the quartet hit their last note, I finished drying, popped the mod out of my head, and gargled the last of last night’s wine on my way across the room to read the Vax.
I had a premonition about the case the minute I viewed the message. Tracing stolen military weapons was always a ball buster. They wouldn’t let you near the installation, or any of its people. So how were you supposed to find out anything?
Wiping my face and shrugging into a clean jacket, I keyed a call to Lieutenant Commander Garvis, who’d handed the case to Tripleye. He explained that the government already had conducted a thorough investigation of the missing mazer guns over the last three months. Then he admitted they had come up with nothing. That meant the trail was three goddamn months cold, and the weapons now could be anywhere on Mars, or even off planet. He’d sure appreciate it if we could look into the matter. There was a ten percent bounty.
Ten percent wasn’t jackshaft! I was pissed and insulted, so I decided to link to Chico rather than use the Vax.
‘What’s the deal, here?’ I asked her. ‘I’m going to have to walk all over town on this assignment. Has the Doc gone nuts, or is the Agency just desperate for clients?’
Chico linked back in her husky voice that she knew I lusted after. Take it easy, Wolf. Tripleye isn’t listed in the outstanding receivable reports—yet. And Doc’s just fine, thanks.
‘Then why are we taking on this low-return bounty?’ I said, feeling the first effects of the stiffness sawing into my nerves. I didn’t mind using the Link, but I hated being held fixed stiff by its side-effect.
‘Look, tough guy, quit complaining,’ she replied. ‘Use your mods to reference crooks and scuzz-bars. That’ll save a lot of legwork.’
With deep concentration, I answered, ‘I’m not complaining. I’d take field work any day over a dull desk job like yours, but this is the kind of assignment that makes me seriously consider putting in for coldsleep.’
She laughed, and I wondered again how she could stand the Link’s irritation. Of course, she could stand me, so I guess that meant she could stand just about anything. ‘Well, you’re not alone,’ she said. ‘The doctor is sending over a backup op for you to take along. He needs the experience.’
‘Oh, god! Not that kid? Jesus.’
‘Hey, Wolfy, you’re a tough guy.’
‘You can take it. Bye.’
I came out of the Link wanting to punch through a wall of woven carbon, or to kick something all the way to Deimos. Damn baby-sitting, that’s what it was. I was expected to teach this new kid how to do my job. Pretty soon, the agency wouldn’t even need me for that!
Why didn’t Doc just use mods for instruction? Mods could teach you more than any human instructor, but people were afraid to have the operation on their brains. Stupid, base fear. And they could learn so much so easily, too. Shit!
There was a knock at my front door. When I opened it I found the long-haired kid humming and tapping a tune on his pants legs with a pair of McCoke chop sticks.
“Hi, partner.” He smiled. “I’m Jonny Jesus. Tripleye sent me over to be your backup.”
I wanted to coldcock him. I took a deep breath and jerked my thumb for him to come inside. “Everybody calls me Wolf,” I told him. “You screw up and I’ll chew your ass.”
The kid nodded as he came in and looked around. I didn’t say anything else to him, while I finished getting dressed. He sat beside the Vax and hummed quietly to himself. Confident little jerk.
There was really nothing to using a mod. A lot of people had them fifty years ago. But the kid had never seen on up close before, so I had to endure his eager interest.
“What did it feel like to have the operation?” he asked.
I shrugged while rummaging through the assortment of programs, looking for the one my father had labeled, “Squealers.”
Stored memories were a necessity in a small and growing town like Achilles. But they were also a hindrance, because they were full of random and amateurishly inscribed info, kind of like the way the internet used to be before it crashed during the war. Still, if you wanted to access volumes of data while out on a case, or needed special training in a hurry, memory modules could save you hours—sometimes years—of reference and education. “It was done when I was born,” I lied. “My old man was part of the Settlers sect and believed in passing on as much info as possible, directly and early—just to be safe.”
“Yeah? I’m a Samaritan, so I don’t know who my dad was yet. But the Clan just about split with pride when I quick-colonized to Mars.” He laughed. “See, if I do well here, I get to—”
“That’s great, kid,” I said. “Now keep the noise dampened, will you? I’m scanning.”
He watched in fascination when I lifted the tissue flap and slid the mod into my fontanel, where it fit into place between the hemispheres of my brain. The program made contact, and I felt the familiar warmth spread over me as the data dropped into my system. I knew, suddenly, all the filed information within the mod. It was a little like walking up hill against the wind, but you couldn’t beat the psychosomatic thrill of info rushing past you almost faster than you could comprehend. Then the warmness faded and you could deal with the data flood and sort through the details.
George Davis, illegal substances: Wilber T2, blue collar crime; Shan Conner, white collar; Steve Canyon III, shakedowns and blackmails; Dr. Bill “The Pill” Houston, illegal operations; Hugh Meek, freelance muscle; Bunny Tax, syntha-sex; Skye Williams, counterfeit explosives and armaments—That was the one: Skye Williams!
She checked out in detail as a Mar/Cau, thirty-seven, B, B, 58cm with an arrest record that went back twenty-five years to 2078. She was a drifter, never showing a legal income. Since the info in the mods was several years old, I was taking a chance on scanning for known associates and frequented locations, but I decided it was a hell of a lot better than asking conspicuous questions on the street.
The kid was singing along with some commercial on the Vax when I popped mod out and slid it back into a pouch in my belt. “Okay, Jesus,” I called, reaching for my hat. “I’ve gotta to go out. You stay here, until I—”
“Whoa, partner,” he interrupted, “Doc said where you I go.”
“I know what she said, but I’m calling the shots now, so—”
“I can’t learn anything sitting in your apartment, Mr. Wolf. Come on. Let’s get into some field work.”
He jumped up, shut off the Vax with a smack of his palm, and went humming into the corridor with all the sass and confidence of youth. Sure, I envied him, because he was right. The one thing a mod couldn’t teach you was how to deal with people in the real world.
We hired a couple of cycles at the intersection of Third and Lincoln and pedaled our way through the tunnels. The Lithium mines were between shifts, so the traffic was light enough that he could ride his cycle alongside me. Lucky me.
“So, what’s the Link feel like?” he asked.
I shifted gears to get more traction as we approached the Spiral near Main Street. Tripleye didn’t administer the Link to an operative until after the first six months. It was a shakeout period, while background details were checked and a medical and psycho history could be fleshed out by Doc Pat. The kid was anxious to get on line and experience the numbing sensation of limited telepathy. I could tell he’d be in big trouble with the other ops, if he continued his habit of singing under his breath.
“It’s a bit like falling asleep.” I steered to the right. “Only you get to pick up on someone else’s dreams and you can talk to them about it.” That ought to confuse him.
“Sounds great! So why does the gov ban it? Is it addictive?”
“No,” I said slowly “But you know how the gov operates. They’re not happy in the CapDome unless they control the whole planet. Ask them to do any real work, though, and they quickly find an excuse to debate or sub-contract it.”
“What do you mean?”
We coasted together around a corner.
I’d already said too much, but dammit I felt the urge to pitch a bitch today about any topic that came my way. I was supposed to be teaching this kid his job, right? So I might as well tell him which side his bread was frozen on.
“Who do you think hired us for this job?”
“Not the gov,” he said. “I heard it was some lieutenant commander in the military.”
“Same thing,” I wheezed, realizing I’d been pedaling much faster than necessary. I brought the cycle to a stop and the kid did, too.
“Look,” I said. “Tripleye’s got a contract with the gov to test the Link. We’re the experimental betas, get it? So far, the majority of folks can’t take the stuff. It passes through their bodies like excess vitamins. But one person out of every two or three hundred has some sort of allergy. They go into a coma and don’t come out, so Doc’s working on a cure or solution or counter-agent or something.
“But the gov’s not about to permit another epidemic like the GRGA virus. So until it’s satisfied with our long-term results—which probably means after we’re dead—it won’t let anyone else use the Link. In the meantime, we go about our business, doing grunt surveillance, data checks, and high-risk, low-grade investigations, like this one, which the military has already screwed up. Get it?”
A double-decker wagon rattled past, delivering lunch to the miners. I knew I was lecturing, but that was part of the assignment. If the kid was smart, he’d keep his mouth shut and maybe learn something.
But he wasn’t smart. He was suspicious. “How come you know so much about Tripleye operations?”
I pushed off on the cycle and called back over my shoulder. “Because, I used to own it.”
“Replitropic!” he said, as we rode through the Main Mall. “You used to own the agency?”
“Yep. My father started it in the early ’80s. Intensive Investigations, Incorporated, was the first independent detective business on Mars. That was during the big relocation allowance from Earth. We mostly did credit checks, debuggings, and process servings, but it was a profit from the first year.”
He listened as we coasted past Christopher Village, where a group of schoolkids were lined up to go inside and learn about Achillian history. I guess that’s why I keep jawing about my own experiences.
“I joined right after graduation, when I was seventeen. Worked at it ever since. Sixth-generation private eye, thanks to the skills and knowledge in my father’s mods.”
We neared our destination. “So why’d you sellout?”
“I didn’t sellout,” I answered. “I was bought out. It was a good deal, too. Come on. This should be the place we’re looking for.”
Up Yours was an early popular eating and meeting place, originally built by Charlie Brew, before he got heavily into debt from Quark Racing. In the late ’60s, lots of food and old Earth charm used to spread from the place all up and down Byte Street.
But that was over forty years ago, and nothing in Achilles changed more quickly and more permanently than the popularity of party spots. Today, Up Yours was a dark and battered habitat for fuzzheads, lazy or politically-dissatisfied workers, and top-level executives on their way down the ladder. Some of this I knew from experience with other bars in the area, and some of it came from the “Location” mod I’d slipped into my head right before walking through the front entrance.
The kid followed, whistling casually.
I had zeroed in on Up Yours because Skye Williams used to hang out here. I had a rough idea what “hang out” meant, but it didn’t look like anybody had dangled much of anything in this dump for some time.
So, this is what an Earth saloon looks like, I thought. Lots of gaudy signs promoting mildly-addictive substances and flashy mini-holos that advertise for patriotism and sex. High on a shelf behind the counter, a Vax played nothing but static. Two pale-skinned guys in the back played some sort of gambling game based on the number of rebounds achieved with a little yellow ball. A long-haired girl sat in the corner by the entrance, doing sand art. She was too young to be a forty-year-old explosives dealer.
I targeted two men tossing dice at a table near the counter as my best source of info and headed in their direction. The barkeep, a broad, balding man with one arm, looked up from the dice as the kid and I approached.
“Nice hat,” he said cautiously. “Uh, Indian headdress?”
“Twentieth-century fedora,” I answered. “Chicago.”
“Oh, yeah. Never seen one close up before. Looks real good on you.” He turned to the bar. “Get you something?”
The kid leaned in on the dice game like he wanted to play, but the two rollers ignored him. I thought about having something, just to work out the kinks in my back, but I shook my head no and asked the guy running the place if he could put us on to Skye Williams.
The expression on his face told me I’d just shit in the bakery.
“We don’t want no trouble,” he said, pushing at me with his one arm. “You understand?” The dicers started to get out of their chairs, and Jonny backed away from the table.
“Hey, I hate trouble,” I said quickly. “Nobody here’s got nothing to worry about.”
“We’re just looking for a little information,” the kid said to the room at large. There was that sass and confidence again, only this time, I didn’t envy it.
“And, we’re more than happy to pay for it,” I added.
The girl playing in the sand slipped quietly out the front door behind us, as the two pale guys in the back stopped their game and watched the show.
“Skye ain’t been in here for years,” the barkeeper said.
I looked at the others to see if they were going to agree. They looked back at me to see if I was going to buy it.
I started to explain again, but the kid took a more direct approach. He picked up a chair and slammed it on the floor in front of the crowd of glaring men. “What do you know about stolen gov mazers?” he asked one of the dicers, and I felt my skin tighten.
The man stared back at the kid and spat on the floor. I figured he wasn’t one of the top-level executives on the way down.
“What do you know about my dork?” the man said.
Cautiously, I fingered the pouch in my belt where I kept the “Hand-to-Hand” mod. I was considering using it on the kid.
The barkeeper tried to defuse the situation by asking us to leave.
“Two hundred credits,” I said. “That’s what we’ll pay for a lead to Williams. Any takers?”
“Forget it, partner,” the kid said, and I felt an adrenaline rush at his next words. “This guy’s going to tell us for free.”
I had time to and take one step back before the kid grabbed the dicer, and the other three men jumped all over us. The bar keeper howled and ran for the counter, while somebody pulled a club and began swinging it in my direction.
I cursed and brought an arm up in time to block the blow. The guy who was hitting me was one of the ball bouncers and his arm was as thick as my thigh. He grimaced at me with two even rows of cheap, plastic teeth set in an unshaven jaw covered with black and white whiskers.
I hate hair, so I hit him with both fists in the face. He fell back, and I was going to turn and see how the kid was doing when someone else rammed me in the back and sent me sprawling forward into the dice table.
I got kicked twice before I could roll under the table and get back on my feet. I came up in time to catch the kid flying ass over elbows on top of me, a tangled weight that drove the breath out of my chest. Somebody threw a chair on us, but I was too busy working my lungs to care about it. I got kicked again and cursed the kid for his stupid brashness. Then, something rock hard and yellow bounced off the right side of my skull and I broke through a wall to blurred, hot slumber.
It lasted maybe five seconds. Then, the mod’s standard stimulus program ripped the top of my head off and flushed my brain with what felt like a bucket of electric blood.
My eyes popped wide with berserker fury, every muscle jolted by the sudden bio-electric feedback. For a second, I couldn’t speak, couldn’t think, then I saw the bearded guy I’d slugged with both fists running out the door with my mod belt dangling from his fist.
I got up, grabbed the kid by his hair with one hand and my hat with the other, and rushed for the door. The dicer was pedaling like mad on one of our cycles.
“Come on,” I told the kid. “There’s our lead.”
We took off after the guy, running to the nearest intersection. I clutched my Fedora and the kid held a sleeve to his bloody nose. We found two cycles parked at a residential area. Our man was almost out of sight, when we spotted him turning down the east corridor in the direction of the Ruins. Shit, I thought, if he gets in there, we’ll probably lose him.
I used the “Location” mod, still in my head, to estimate his chances of escape, and then I pulled to a stop on the outskirts of the vast storage cavern and linked an update to Chico.
The kid could apparently tell I was linking. “Well? Do we go in, or wait, or what?”
“If I followed your style, we’d rush right in and get our heads smashed.” I started scanning through the mod for info on the Ruins, so I didn’t hear his reply.
The Ruins were a jumble of more than six hundred cliff-side rooms, open to each other like a maze built into one wall of the cavern room and illuminated by piezosand. They were over six thousand years old and nobody knew who built them. Or, rather, we knew the original Achillians built them, but we didn’t know what happened to the Achillians. The estimate was that these primitive people had lived off bread molds and fungus fibers, which had dried up when the water vented out to the surface from a series of marsquakes. Of course, that was all theory, but my father had filed it in the mod, and I was forced to listen to it, if I wanted the full story on the Ruins.
Over the last ten years, the city had taken to using the cavern as a warehouse for non-perishable supplies and stockpiled emergency goods. Thus, there were rows and rows palletized crates, packages and discarded dome construction materials piled high and generally forgotten. And, somewhere down there was the fuzzhead with my mods.
The kid was almost screaming at me. “What do we do?”
I looked at the high complex of sandrooms and aisles of containerized materials. “We don’t have any choice. We go in.”
He spun around. “I love it!”
The rest of the day, we tried to find the guy with my mods. This was the kind of investigation work with which the gov and the security police never would have bothered. It was what had made Intensive Investigations, Inc. a success. My father had never shirked from hard work, and neither would I. “Nothing to it, but to do it,” he used to say. “Pick ’em up and put ’em down.”
My old man was one hell of a detective. He knew every slogan in the book.
The kid hissed at me. “I found them,” he whispered, as I joined him on something like the eighth level of the old Achillian complex, where we could hear muffled voices.
“Must be a couple of levels under us,” I said to the kid.
“Or over us. I think they’re this way.”
We moved carefully through the rooms, expecting to encounter a lookout, but there didn’t seem to be any guards, and pretty soon we were looking down on a room illuminated by broken and crumbling panels of piezosand, where three men were in a heated argument. One was my buddy from Up Yours. He was doing most of the talking and it sounded like he had a lot at stake. Another guy wore a dark security guard outfit, so he was probably the warehouse watchman.
The third guy was one of the biggest men I’d ever seen. His face was broad, blunt, and wooden, his nose as flat as if it had been punched by an impact welder. His forehead was a wide blank surface perfectly perpendicular to the line of sight from his dull, unblinking eyes. His whole body was wrapped in a black, loose-fitting suit that hooded his head tightly around the outer edge of his face. His black gloves and soft shoes fit snuggly over his hands and feet.
The big guy was assembling something at a workbench and listening to the fuzzhead squeal about our scramble in the bar.
“So, you’ve got to take me with you, Crusher,” the bearded guy was saying. “I’ve done like you told me and proven I believe in the Cause.”
The big guy in black tightened down a cartridge and slotted in a packet on the side of what I now recognized to be a modified mazer gun.
The security guard stepped forward. “Only the elite can be part of our final operation. You’ve been paid well, and that’s the end of it.”
“No,” our boy cried in earnest. “You promised you’d take me with you. Where’s Skye? She’ll stand up for me. I want to talk to Skye.”
As if on cue, the security guard slammed the squealer against a wall and the big guy turned and fired the mazer, bathing my buddy in a white, translucent field of light that evenly constricted to half its original diameter in less than five seconds. The big guy, Crusher, had modified the mazer into a splat-light, like the ones they used in the Belt to temporarily hold prisoners. But there was something different about this one. When the big guy shut the weapon off, the shrinking didn’t end.
Somehow it continued to pin the howling man within the tightening field of now-opaque light, bunching him up into a screaming ball and still pressing farther, like a self-containing tractor beam. The man cried out in pain as the pressure increased, shifting tighter from white to pink to red.
The screams became muffled. The ball settled on the floor and began to let off steam, shrinking to less than the size of my hat. Hissing now, the red color darkened to black and the tiny ball and its gruesome contents became no larger than my fist. I looked at the kid, who was held in rapture by the sight taking place below us.
When I glanced back, the ball was a black dot that completely shriveled out of existence, and Crusher laughed with a deep, base roar.
The kid and I backed away from the hole in the roof. I had seen some pretty incredible crap in my time, but this topped them all. I swallowed dryly. “Jesus.”
“What?” the kid answered, more shaken than I.
I looked at his sweating, questioning face and realized I had just said his name.
“Replitropic!” the kid whispered. “I can’t believe it!” His voice cracked with anxiety. “They just—You saw—”
I shushed him and linked to Chico. ‘You’ve got to get us some backup. We’ve just witnessed one hell of a homicide.’
‘Stay put, she said. I’ll notify security.’
‘No, no! There’s a cop here already! He was in on the killing. Some fuzzhead we followed from the bar just got squeezed to death by a modified splat-light. This place is like a weapons chop-shop. Get some backup, but not the cops!’
‘Hold on. I’ll tell Doc.’
The kid was humming a tune to himself, quietly. It was a fast tempo thing that pretty well indicated the level of his nervousness. “What’d they say?”
“Just hang easy,” I cautioned him with the wave of a hand. What a time to be baby-sitting.
‘Doc says sit tight and watch for a chance to snatch the weapons.’
‘Shit, princess, there’s a 255 cm, 200kg guy here dressed in a black bodysuit and a flat face. His name’s Crusher and it’s no joke. See what you can find out about him, will you?’
‘Can’t you just check your mods?’ she asked.
‘No, godammit. They took ’em.’
‘Never mind. Just check.’ The Link’s stiffness was beginning to make my back ache.
‘Take it easy, tough guy. We’ll get St. Mathew there as soon as we find him. He’s off the Link again. In the meantime, keep your temper down and send Jonny Jesus home.’
‘Right. But when I get back, Doc and I are going to have a little chat.’
‘It’s always a pleasure hearing your insights, Wolfy.’
I briefed the kid on our situation and he gave me nothing but flack. What I hated most about him was that the young jerkhead thought he already knew everything important about the investigating business. Hell, I’d seen better op candidates come back fragged from the Belt Wars. Well, a few more months of working at Tripleye would melt his positive spirit down to a sound and reasonable attitude, like mine.
“No way,” he said, combing his long, shaggy hair. “You might be here all day. I can’t leave you alone.”
“Then at least get us something to eat,” I said. “We passed a McCoke on the way here.” I figured I’d try anything to get rid of him; maybe he’d get cold feet and run.
“Okay. How about some pecopaste and VO?”
“Ugh! How can you eat that stuff?”
He cocked his head to one side. “I’ll bet breadmeats and wine are to your taste. Right?”
“Wine is fine,” I sighed. “Just keep your ass under cover.”
He saluted and slipped around the corner.
I linked back to Chico.
‘Did you tell Doc I was on a homicide with an inexperienced jerkhead for a backup? Where the hell’s St Mathew? Get that lieutenant commander on the Vax and tell him we’ve found his missing mazers.’
‘Easy. Wolf,’ she said. ‘You don’t want to have a seizure, lover. Doc’s working on a backup for you from the gov. Is the kid coming in, or not?’
‘I don’t think so.’ I grimaced. ‘He went for pecopaste and VO.’
‘That takes guts.’
I broke the Link and eased forward to sneak another peek at the activity below. The security cop was gone. Two new men came in carrying small packages of electronic parts, which they took to the workbench where the big guy was building more weapons. I decided the light-constricting ball was some kind of combination splat-light and tractor beam, which meant off-planet R and D. We had the piezo-tech to balance the gravity and light throughout the city, but only one of the big, Earth-based corporations would be smart enough to bridge the technologies to create a weapon that did what I had witnessed.
Chico linked back. ‘Wolf, we’ve got a few problems here. The military say they’ll void the contract, if they have to come in and get the mazers. Do you want to pull out?’
‘Not if it means we don’t get paid.’
‘Okay. We’re still working on getting you some help; I’ll come out myself, if I have to.’
‘No, princess. You stay there. It’s just surveillance duty, now. The danger’s past.’
‘You can’t lie to me, Wolf Archerson. You’re on the Link, remember?’
‘All right, so it bothers me. Stay off my back, okay?’
She was quiet for a moment. ‘I haven’t been able to locate anything about your big guy in black. And Doc says that if the kid comes back, you’re to hang onto him.’
‘Jesus shit, Chico! I’m not running a goddamn shiftschool! He could get hurt out here!’
‘I thought you said it was just surveillance work.’
‘It is, but he’s driving me nuts, always fidgeting and picking at things.’
‘You know, sometimes, you’re sort of a baby, yourself, Wolfy. Jonny’s got to learn what this job is really like. Stay close to him and he’ll do fine. You were young once, too, so give him a chance.’
I felt the painful stiffness creeping into my joints. ‘I’d like to kick his comb up his ass,’ I said. The Link was a killer today.
To my surprise and further annoyance, the kid came back, but he had my favorite brand of wine with him, so we ate and drank and waited together for the next half hour.
I’d found another room that gave us a view of the entrance to the “weapons lab,” plus easier access to the main route in and out of the Ruins. It seemed like the best place to stay, if we were in for a long wait. We planned to drop down into the lab and get the mazers, if the thieves left. Then, when St. Mathew showed up, I figured he could help us carry them all back to the nearest public intersection. In the meantime, I listened to the kid analyze me, which wasn’t much better than his choice of music.
“You’re a very violent man,” he said. “You’ve never had any qualms about it until lately. Now, your biggest problem is that you haven’t changed enough. It’s as if you’ve been half-formed—”
“Will you cut the crap?” I said. “Or I’ll yank your goddamn hair out! In this business, you’ve got to be tough, or they’ll eat you alive. If that upsets you, take a pill.”
“I’ll bet your father was bald,” he said, and it took all of my will power to keep from punching his lights out.
This and a lot more nonsense came out of him while he tapped his fingers on his knees and gave me a brief history of his short, little life.
He swore his name really was Jonny Jesus. He’d been born in the USA and shipped out to Mars as a vanguard for his religious group. They expected to make a lot of money in the field of inter-system corporate investigations. I had to laugh. He felt that there were “significant and fascinating religious possibilities” between the Link and common prayer. I laughed again.
“If I do well,” he said in dead seriousness, “I’ll get to have a full family and they’ll tell me who my father was, so I’ll be connected to my heritage. It’s very important for a Samaritan to know his heritage and to be somebody.”
“Jesus,” I said again.
“By the way,” he said without a pause, “what’s your real name? Wolf sounds phony to me.”
I thought about what Chico said. The kid wasn’t intentionally obnoxious. He just acted that way. And he had been brave enough and considerate enough to come back with my wine, when he could have ducked out. Over all, I had to give him high marks as a quick thinker and his irritating aggressiveness might only be an aspect of his eagerness to learn and gain his heritage. Ha!
I rolled all the food containers into a ball and buried them under the sand.
“What the hell,” I said. “It can’t hurt. My name’s Dan. Dan Archerson, but don’t spread it around. Everybody else calls me Wolf.”
“And you like it,” he said in a calm sort of voice. “Thanks, Dan. You can trust me to keep your secret.”
That got to me for some reason, but before I could answer, the warehouse security cop and two other guys scrambled into the room like an assault team and told us at gunpoint to shut up and lie flat. The acid in my stomach started to boil.
Naturally, I updated Chico as fast as thought. She said St. Mathew had linked to her and she had passed our location to him. He was on his way, but he wouldn’t say what he had in mind for helping us.
Jules St. Mathew never said what he had in mind. He was a loner and he hated using the Link. If Doc hadn’t gotten him off those embezzlement charges when he’d tested positive, St. Mathew would still be under armed guard, working the sandpits. The guy had an ego problem that would reach from here to Phobos. By comparison, his convictions about teamwork and comradery made me look like an entertainment director on a sexcursion cruise.
The two guys with the security cop turned out to be dockrats employed at the public accelerators. They led us down to the lab we’d been watching and, after a quick frisk, trussed us up with shipping bands.
I got my first close-up look at Crusher and relayed it to Chico, while my arms slowly grew numb from their bindings. I’d held up to electro torture before, but this guy didn’t go in for the fancy stuff, he just pounded at us with his fists.
“Who sent you here?” the big man thundered only centimeters from my face. His eyes were clear as plex, his skin was grey and lifeless. I had never seen anyone so…two-dimensional. He reminded me of those wireheads on Vegas. There was something missing in him. Even with the force of his insistence, I got the impression that he was running on remote.
“We got lost shopping,” I told him. “Any of you guys know the way back to the Mall?”
Crusher slammed a massive fist into the side of my head, knocking me against the workbench where, through blurred vision, I could see my mods and belt lying next to a jumble of mazer parts. My hat lay in the dirt on the floor.
The kid was smart. He kept his mouth shut and was unconscious in less than a minute, but the cop was interested in the mod port in the top of my head. Through my pain, I heard him say something about hostages, and the Crusher’s deep voice responded with the word “terminal.” I felt myself hefted by the big guy and saw two of the dockrats carry the kid, while the cop shoved my mods and the other stuff in a large bag. We all piled into a security van and headed up the spiral to the Domes.
‘Where the HELL is St. Mathew?’ I linked. ‘We’re moving to the surface. I think these guys are taking the mazers off planet!’
‘I’m trying to get him, Wolf,’ she said. ‘Doc is going—’
‘Trying?’ I screamed in my mind. ‘Tell Doc we’re going to be sucking vacuum if that son-of-a-tube doesn’t get here in five minutes!’
‘Doc’s on her way to the surface and I’m calling security now.’
I came out of the stiffness just as we were leveling off to the plain of Achilles’s upper surface. Through the wide, tinted plex of the van’s opposite window, I could see the rows of shipyards, smaller domes and storage tanks that ran along the roadbed connecting the landing pads with the accelerator terminals. A gang of plumbers were busy finishing the waterline expansion from the northern tundra station. They worked in pres-and-temp suits, outside the dome, only a few meters from where the van stopped and Crusher unloaded us, but they might as well have been on Neptune for all the good it did me and the kid.
Inside the small office of one of the many private shipping terminals, I was thrown into a chair and finally introduced to Skye Williams. She was the woman who’d been playing with the sand in Up Yours.
“You sure don’t look forty,” I said, admiring the smoothness of her skin and the shape of her figure.
“I spent five years in a prison gang and had to learn a trade to get out,” she told me. “Cosmetology.”
I couldn’t help barking a laugh. Once again, the info in my mods was out of date. In another year or two, they would be of very little use to me. And a whole lot sooner than that, if I didn’t get out of here.
“Hurry it up,” she instructed the dockrats, handing Crusher a black, two-gallon pressure canister and putting the bag in a storage locker. “The ship is almost loaded and I’ve arranged a priority launch on number three public accelerator in ten minutes.”
‘St. Mathew,’ I linked. ‘Where the HELL are you?’
Crusher looked at me with his cool, transparent eyes. “As soon as we’re off,” he told the dark-haired woman, as he left to board the shuttle, “kill them.”
‘Chico? Doc? Anybody!’
‘Just stay calm, skinhead,’ St. Mathew answered. ‘I’m coming in now.’
There was a knock at the door.
At first, I didn’t recognize him. He had on one of his goddamn disguises—an elder in full vestments, with his long, blond hair pulled back and tied tightly in a tail.
“Oh dear me,” he said, when the Williams woman answered the door. “I must have the wrong terminal.” Then he froze and linked to me, ‘Distract the bitch.’
With a little hesitation, I tilted my chair over and crashed to the floor with a grunt. My right arm was completely numb, but the kid was coming back to consciousness.
St. Mathew didn’t hesitate at all. His swift, upward-flowing kick caught the woman in the chin and snapped her head back. She fell to the floor with a thump, as St Mathew gracefully landed ready for further action in a modified mantis crouch.
The kid mumbled, “Is he praying, or what?”
“There are at least three more and a big guy in black out back. Get us out of these bindings!”
St. Mathew smiled and cocked his head. “You look nice like that. Perhaps I should let them ship you to Ceres.”
I started to see red, but he pulled a butterfly knife from his sleeve, flipped it artfully, and cut us loose.
‘Chico,’ I linked, ‘why didn’t you tell me St. Mathew was coming in like that? I thought you and I were—’
‘Sorry, Wolf. I’ve been busy working with Doc. She’s trying to get the launch cancelled. The cops should be there in a few minutes. I’ve already called MediCen for a stretcher. What else did you want?’
St. Mathew responded before I could. ‘Chico, old girl, I love you, but I’m sure that we can take care of these boys all on our own.’
‘The hell we can!’ I said, working the numbness out of my arm. ‘Send security cops. And lots of them!’
The kid looked at St. Mathew. “Where’d you learn that fancy kick?”
St. Mathew put a hand on Jonny’s shoulder and I knew what was coming next. “The High Lama of Olympus Mons, son.”
I kicked the locker open and dug into the bag stuffed there, hoping to collect my mods. “I know they put them here,” I growled, dumping the bag’s contents in a pile on the floor.
The kid and St. Mathew waited at the rear door, while I continued to retrieve the last contacts with my father. I had to make sure I had them all.
“Will you hurry up, Wolf?” St. Mathew asked, the calmness going out of his voice.
I snapped on the belt and pocketed the mods. “Okay. Let’s burst this place.”
St. Mathew looked at the kid. “I think he means he’s ready to leave now, but with Wolf, you never know for sure.”
“Hey,” the kid replied, “I guess I know what he means. He’s my partner, isn’t he?”
St. Mathew and I looked at each other in mild surprise. The kid was holding up pretty well; considering. I decided to take a chance, figuring the situation warranted us all being in full contact.
“Here,” I said, handing Jonny one of my back-up squibs. “Inject this like I show you, and you’ll be on the Link for about ten minutes.”
He smiled and eagerly administered the drug to the muscles in the back of his neck.
“Come on,” I told them, knocking the door open with my shoulder. “Follow me.” And that’s when I caught the blast on the right side of my head.
It burned like fire. My muscles automatically threw me to the left as the kid came out and took a direct hit, cutting him from armpit to liver and tossing his body into St. Mathew’s arms.
I was stunned not only by the glancing mazer blast, but by the sight of Jonny’s death. He had been my responsibility. He’d been following me!
Rage erupted from a tiny dot in my brain to a killer haze that filled my body. ‘Don’t die, kid,’ I linked, while struggling back to my feet and into the aisle way. The next few seconds weren’t very clear. St. Mathew must have gotten the kid to the Stretcher—I didn’t know. Chico linked to me, but I didn’t answer; I was running on my own internal drive and didn’t hear her. She says I got up and beat the shit out of the other two dockrats, while the Crusher guy climbed aboard a mini-shuttle.
How I got on board the ship was a complete blank. The next thing I recalled fully was being attacked by an array of sharp-edged weapons. Some of them were like the knives used in freefall combat, only more…ancient. One had a hatchet-like head; others were shaped like tantos and stilettos, flashing, hissing and slicing at me under the dexterous control of the Crusher, all with deadly intent. I had no clear idea what to do, but my mods gave me the skill to tell my body when to dodge, weave, and kick in a flurry of blows, as the mini-shuttle slowly tracked along its path to the accelerator.
I saw that Crusher guarded the black canister Skye had given him, over everything else. I wanted to link to St. Mathew, or Chico, but I couldn’t afford to have my body become stiff or out of control for a single second. Crusher came at me again, and I kicked him with all my strength, knocking the black canister from its mooring.
The attack stopped, gaining me precious seconds, while the giant in black tried to initiate the launch and lock the canister back into place at the same time.
Again I got the impression that Crusher wasn’t his own man—hat he was under someone else’s control, because a normal guy wouldn’t have stopped his attack. He would have…well, crushed me.
The hatch had become partly unsealed during our fight and I wedged it open with the broken lid from one of the splat-light cases. I realized that our battle had forced Crusher to give up his plans to launch from the public accelerator. He was going to gamble that the thrusters alone would be strong enough to escape the planet’s gravity well.
That was enough for me. I snatched up one of the splat-lights and, fumbling to prime and load it, fired blindly into the cabin, while rolling out the hatch into the airless cold. My lungs immediately slammed shut.
‘Help!’ I linked, in panic. ‘Can’t breathe.’
My skin stiffened. My sinuses became lanced with pain. I screwed my eyes shut, terrified that they would explode from the lack of exterior pressure. Rough hands were trying to wrap me in insulfoam and, still under the mod’s influence, I stupidly fought with someone trying to shove an air mask on my face.
Then a new voice linked to me. ‘Hold—hold on, partner. Help is—’
‘Kid! Are you all right?’
The pipeline plumbers were carrying me back to the terminal hatch. I could see Crusher’s ship slowly struggle up through the thin atmos, wavering, pulsing brightly once—a shrinking light that seemed to blink out of existence. Then I heard the frenzied scraps of the noise and music for the first time and fell into blissful unconsciousness…
© 2017 by John Hegenberger
“A science-fiction/mystery-detective romp that will have you laughing and biting your nails on the same page. Filled with delightful characters, wry humor, and fast-past action, this one is a keeper you will want to read again and again.” ~ Pepper O’Neal, author of the award-winning series Black Ops Chronicles
“Action abounds in this new futuristic hardboiled interplanetary series. Class warfare, politics, corruption, sex, and violence all combine for a page-turning read.” ~ Richard Helms, Thriller and Derringer Award winning author of Older Than Goodbye
“Tripleye is a highly entertaining mashup of the private eye and science fiction genres that takes the reader on a slam-bang ride from the sands of Mars to the depths of space.” ~ Andrew MacRae, editor of Darkhouse Books
Wayne D. Dundee:
“John Hegenberger’s imagination knows no bounds. And his skill at creating memorable characters and then propelling them through a plot full of complex twists and turns will keep readers flipping the pages of his latest sci-fi thriller at warp speed! Highly entertaining!” ~ Wayne D. Dundee, award-winning author of the Joe Hannibal PI series
“I am sure, if you allow yourself to become involved in Tripleye, you will find what I found. A story written with a wry wit, craft, intelligence and humor.” ~ Jim Christina, author and host of The Writer’s Block
Mark (James Axler) Ellis:
“A superb SF tale, part space opera, part hardboiled mystery, filled with excitement, humanity and action…a joy to read!” ~ Mark (James Axler) Ellis, creator of the Outlanders series