Another instalment of our serialisation of The Titan Kiss, by Clark Nida (2014, 2016). A further 3,000 words (or so) will appear tomorrow.
Jack, pretending to be a client, pays a visit to a hooker calling herself Tvoul. Their playful conversation begins to turn sour.
NOW READ ON…
“What makes you think I went into the jungle with your son? Which jungle? We don’t have jungles in Nix City. The Areopagus…”
“Don’t bandy words with me. What were you thinking… when you edulated my son Harry?”
“Oh, so that’s your take, is it? You don’t want sex at all: you just want to conduct a personal pogrom. Well, let me tell you Jack—the war’s over. We have agreements to avoid that sort of thing. It was all a lie anyhow…”
“Yes, I know just what you can and can’t do on Mars. So you go to Earth, to Gaia—where people don’t know your little game—and do it with no one to stop you? Well look here, sunshine…”
“Jack, relax… I think we’ve talked enough. It’s not doing you any good. Now—how about sitting quietly together…?”
“I’ll sit quietly when I’ve finished what I’ve come to do.”
Her voice suddenly brightened. “Hey—I know who you are. You’re Jack-the-Ripper!”
At that instant the lights went out. Jack had come prepared for something like this—he had a magnesium flare ready in his pocket. Quickly he sparked it and dropped it on the carpet. In its pure white smoking glare Tvoul, still sitting opposite him, shape-shifted out of all recognition. Something—tentacles?—tried to wrest the uzi from his grasp.
He fired a burst. The grip on his uzi went limp like a snapped rubber band. Sudden relaxation made the machine-pistol twist in his hand. Something caught his arm and he dropped the weapon. Something else caught hold of his leg. Kicking and lashing out, Jack picked up the uzi again and emptied the magazine into the place where Tvoul had been sitting.
In the light of the flare he saw a flickering mass of red jelly twisting on the carpet. His face and hands were slimed with sepia. In panic, he wrenched out the empty magazine and flung it at the writhing mess which wouldn’t die. Kicking over his bag, he picked up another magazine and crammed it into the uzi. That too he emptied into the squirming sludge.
Now at last it stopped moving. Nothing else was clutching at him, nothing was holding onto him. Then suddenly a voice spoke.
“Please don’t shoot me any more…”
His victim’s voice-chip had uttered one final whimpering sentence before it shut down in fatal termination mode.
The glistening mass stopped flickering and went white. Pasta-like tissues oozed from lesions like guts spilling from a squashed slug. Jack was seized by an urge to be violently sick. He projectile-vomited over the mess he’d manufactured. Wiping his mouth roughly on his sleeve he clipped a third magazine into the uzi, put his shoulder to the door and barged through.
No sooner was he out of the block and into the oúlitza than he plunged unheedingly into a knot of blue-and-white uniforms. Tvoul had summoned help sooner than he’d imagined. His marscar was not where he’d left it. Thrusting off the hands which grasped at him, he flung himself back into the building. A flight of steps wound up and away to the left—he found himself dashing up them, people running either side of him to catch him up and overtake him. One grabbed at his legs to trip him up.
He had no thought now of giving himself up. In his highly aroused state he was determined to go out in a blaze of glory. Blasting the lock from the door with a burst from his uzi, Jack flung himself out onto the roof. Turning he saw dozens of z-niks disgorging from the stairwell canopy behind him. He directed a burst of fire over their heads, just to slow the pursuit. Tumbling this way and that, they dived for cover.
Instantly he became class four. Now the z-niks were authorised to use their CRWs. Jack ducked as the red flare of a bloody-butcher lunged at his neck. He fired at it. By a fluke one of the bullets grazed it the moment before it would have sunk its talons in him and sent it spinning away, bouncing across the rooftop.
Turning to resume his flight he stumbled. He was right on the edge of the roof. As he staggered and overbalanced he struck out with his feet, trying to launch himself onto the neighbouring building. Pain stabbed through his hamstrings. He hadn’t given himself enough impetus to cross the gap and he plunged down between the buildings, striking the far wall. It broke his heel-bone and sent him spinning.
Before he hit the ground, four CRWs pounced on him like a fan of Roman candles filmed in reverse. The filaments stretched like bungee lines—and the talons held. Slowly he was winched back up, bobbing on the flexing lines, blood flowing across his skin from barbs lodged in his ribs. The pain was blindingly bright.
As he passed the windows of a stairwell he was dimly aware of people running up the escalade on the other side of the glass. They were keeping up with him… drawing ahead of him. Just above him a window pane burst and showered him with fragments. Arms reached out, hauling him inside. The talons bit deeper as the winches rolled on. Then the filaments snapped back against his body as they were cut—one, two, three, four—and he fell back into two pairs of strong arms.
As he lost consciousness, Jack stupidly wondered why the people who had snatched him were not wearing the blue-and-white uniforms of his pursuers.
“Will he live?”
“Oh yes—I think we’ve caught him in time. He’s not a young man, but having an SP unit has saved his life. Otherwise, with all the pain and exertion, he would almost certainly have suffered a heart attack.”
“How long must he rest in bed?”
“That’s up to you. I should give him as long as you can. I’ve pinned the fractured calcaneus as best I can under these conditions—he’ll need a stick when he starts to walk—and I’ve enabled the metabolic controller in his SP unit. I’m leaving you the metabolo here.”
“Thank you doctor. Hamish will see you back to your apartment.”
“Don’t bother, I’ll find my own way. Please take these and dispose of them. I don’t want to be caught with CRW talons in my possession.”
“I’ll give them to Jack. He might like them as keepsakes. Oh—and I hardly need say this… don’t breathe a word.”
“A gaian—covered in sepia—with four sets of talons in him? I don’t want anyone to know I’ve been involved in this.”
“Bring him up slowly and let’s talk to him.”
The silvery figure with the opaque visor handed the metabolo to the man in the trolley. Gradually he inched the joystick forward until Jack’s eyes began to flicker.
“Jack… can you hear me?”
“Am I in police custody? I was going to give myself up.”
“No, Jack, that wouldn’t have been a good idea. You’re class four now, like we are. They would just have torn you to pieces.”
“Where am I? Who are you?”
“It’s all right. You’re among friends.”
There was a pause. In his bemused state Jack had to think about that. Trolley inched the joystick forward a fraction more, to enhance his cognition.
“Is she dead?”
“Oh, yes. No doubt about it. I take my hat off to you. Hardly anyone manages to kill a groubian first go. Whoever gave you that uzi knew what they were doing.”
“Then that’s it. My job’s done.” Jack relaxed back on the pillow and closed his eyes.
“What job, Jack? Why did you do it?”
“I’ve been meaning to for a long time. I’ve chased her all the way from Planet Earth to here. And at last I’ve got her.”
“I’m puzzled,” said the silvery figure. “Just why did you want to ‘get’ her?”
“Because she killed my son.”
“When did she kill him? Where?”
“She came to Earth with him nearly two years ago—they got married in our local church—and they went off to Brazil… and there she edulated him.”
“Tvoul Waterfall has never left the planet.”
“I beg your pardon. She came to Earth—and she edulated my son.”
“What was her name again?”
The silvery figure pointedly readjusted her stance. “Tvoul is a pretty common name among groubians. Would you have been able to distinguish her from any other groubian?”
“Why-aye! It was her. I’d know that face anywhere.”
“You mean—just like mine?”
The figure took off her helmet. Jack recoiled with a gargling noise as if she’d turned into a T rex. “Agh! Get away from me!”
Trolley, watching the metabolo for blood pressure, rapidly pulled back on the joystick. Jack slumped back onto the pillow like a dropped puppet.
“So that explains that.”
“The bloody fool.” said Hamish. “You’d think he’d have learnt about spatio-color signatures by now.”
“Well, I can sympathise. Without the intensor I wouldn’t be able to tell you gaians apart either. You all look the same to me.”
“Just about anything does, doesn’t it,” said Hamish, “if it has the same height-to-width ratio?”
The silvery figure smiled. “It’s not quite so bad as that. You get cues from other quarters.” She turned to the man in the trolley. “Right, Peter, bring him up again—gradually.”
She brought her face close to the head on the pillow. As the eyes began to flicker she said “Jack… listen to me. You’re all right. I’m not Tvoul, I’m Shval.” She paused. “Shval Meteor. You’ve heard that name before, haven’t you?”
“Shval… Tvoul’s twin sister.”
“That’s right. The Tvoul you’re looking for is not here. She’s not on Mars.”
“That’s what they tried to tell me at TMG.”
“They were right, Jack. She’s on Titan.”
Jack’s eyes opened wide. “Then I’ve gone and shot the wrong Tvoul.”
“I’m afraid so.”
Jack’s SP unit started clicking. If he’d still had his lungs he’d have been sobbing. “The poor bit lass. Gunned down in cold blood. And she never even knew what it was all about.”
“Jack, easy now. Don’t lose any sleep over Tvoul Waterfall. If she were able to think about it—which she can’t—she’d probably thank you.”
Jack’s voice was weak. “How do you make that out?”
“She was in a lot of pain after the War. Pain that would never go away. Interspex was her way of coming to terms with it. To meet her bad experiences head-on—to try to cauterise them in her memory. Some memories won’t go away for a groubian, you know. When that happens, they’ve been known to court death.”
“So that’s why she didn’t go to any effort to protect herself?”
“Something like that. When it comes to the point though, you fight. You don’t let go of life that easily. But—as she told me once—she hoped something like this might happen one day. That someone would make a proper job of her.”
Jack shut his eyes. “I sure did that.”
“You sure did.”
He opened his eyes again. Shval was waiting for him to say something more.
“What are you going to do with me?”
Shval glanced up at the others. “Why—nothing. If by that you mean: what are we going to do to you. But if you mean what we might do with you—what we might do together…”
But Hamish was shaking his head.
“What d’you mean?” murmured Jack.
“We might go and find the real Tvoul.”
Jack tried to prop himself up on one elbow. “Do you want to do the same to her as I do?”
“In a word—yes.”
“You want to kill her? Your own twin sister?”
Jack’s eyes burned into those horseshoe pupils hovering inches from his face.
“I can understand you doubting that,” continued Shval. “There are a lot of people hunting Tvoul down for what she’s done. But when it comes to the point—they want to trade with her. Like your fine friends, TMG. They want to reward her for the very crime she’s committed. They want her progeny for the top-secret Tahiti project.”
“And you say you don’t?”
“No. The idea revolts me. She deserves to be dispersed. Before her brood gets born, if that can be arranged. Now whatever lip-service people pay to that, no one’s prepared to go that far. Except you. You have shown by your actions that you want Tvoul dead. Your actions are worth a thousand words.”
Shval got to her feet. “Speaking for myself, I’d be delighted to work with you. To help you do what you’ve come all this way for.”
Again Hamish shook his head. This time Jack noticed. “You might have to convince your friends,” he said.
“I’ll convince anyone I have to,” said Shval. “Now you just lie back and get some beauty sleep.” She nodded to Peter Zwillinge, who manipulated the controls. Jack stretched his rib-cage as if taking a deep breath, painful but satisfying, and closed his eyes.
Once Jack was asleep again, Hamish strode forward, hands outstretched. “Shval—no!”
“Why not? This is the chance of a lifetime. My lifetime.”
“Shval. No. I forbid it.”
Shval turned to the man in the trolley. “Peter… have him come round.”
“Shval!” protested Hamish. “Why should we have this turkey along with us? He’ll land us in the shite.”
“Hamish…” said Peter Zwillinge quietly.
Hamish turned on his heel and threw up his hands in disgust.
“Jack has one advantage we don’t possess,” said Shval. “He is Tvoul’s father-in-law. He will gain access to her where none of us has a chance of doing so.”
“And are you really going to kill Tvoul?” said Hamish. “What about the oath you groubians take? Or doesn’t that matter to you any more?”
“No, I’m not going to kill Tvoul…”
“…Jack is. And then we’ll step in and help ourselves to the zygocysts…”
“Are you sure there’s going to be any zygocysts?”
“Look, boys. If you heard one day that Shval Meteor had given someone the Titan Kiss, would you go looking for zygocysts? Of course not. But if you heard that Tvoul Radouga—Principal Professor of Human Reproductive Biology at PUG—had edulated her husband, wouldn’t you say she must have known exactly what she was doing?”
She turned to gaze down at Jack, sleeping like a babe. “There will be zygocysts, I’m sure of it. And it’s worth going all that way to bring them back.”
“All the way—to Titan?”
“Yes. All the way to Titan.”
…to be continued.