Sevgi lived four more days.
They were the longest days he could remember since the week he waited for Marisol to come back, believing somehow against everything the uncles told him that she would. He’d sat blankly then, as he did now at the hospital, detached for hours at a time, staring into space in classes he’d previously excelled in. He took the punishment beatings from the uncles with a stoic lack of response that bordered on catatonic—fighting back would do no good, he knew, would only ensure that he took more damage. Aunt Chitra’s pain-management training had come just in time.
Many years later, he wondered if that particular course hadn’t been deliberately scheduled for the months leading up to the removal of the surrogate mothers. There wasn’t much that happened in Osprey Eighteen without carefully considered planning. And pain, after all, as Chitra began the series of classes by telling them, came in many forms. Pain is unavoidable, smiling gently at their group, shaking each of them formally by the hand. Something of an unknown quantity after their other teachers, this small, hawkish-featured woman with skin like some fire-scorched copper alloy, cropped black hair, a figure that sent vaguely understood signals out to their prepubescent hormones, and dry, callus-edged hands that told those same hormones exactly how they’d better behave around her. Her grip was firm, her eyes direct and appraising. Pain is all around us. It takes many forms. My job will be to teach you how to recognize all those forms, to understand them, and to not allow any of them to keep you from your purpose. Carl had learned the lessons well. He dealt with the careful brutality the uncles were applying exactly as if it were one of Chitra’s worked examples. He knew they would not damage him beyond repair because all the Osprey Eighteen children had been told, time and time again, how valuable they were. He also knew the uncles would have preferred not to use physical violence to this extent. It was never a preferred method of discipline at Osprey, was only ever used to punish serious breaches of respect and obedience, and only then as a last resort. But every other punishment task they set Carl that week, he simply refused to carry out. Worse, he spat back his refusal in their faces, savoring the tug of disobedience like the pain of pushing himself on a run or a cliff climb. And when the measured violence came, he embraced it, shrugged himself into Chitra’s training like a harness, and faced the uncles with a blank fury they could not match.
In the end, it was Chitra who unlocked his efforts, just as she’d given him what he needed to shore them up. She came to him one gray afternoon as he sat, bruised and bleeding from the mouth, aching back propped against a storage shed near the helipad. She stood for a while without saying anything, then stepped into his direct field of vision, hands in her coverall pockets. He tried to look around her, shifted sideways, but it hurt too much to sustain the posture. She didn’t move.
In the end he had to look up into her face.
What’s your purpose, Carl? she asked him quietly. There was no judgment in either tone or expression, only genuine inquiry. I understand your pain, I see the ways in which you’ve tried to make it external. But what purpose do you have?
He didn’t answer. Looking back he didn’t think she ever expected him to. But after she’d gone, he realized—allowed himself to realize—that Marisol really wasn’t coming back, that the uncles were telling the truth, and that he was wasting his own time as well as theirs.
Waiting with Sevgi was different. He had her there with him. He had purpose.
He was still going to fucking lose her.
He met her father in the gardens, a big, gray-haired Turk with powerful shoulders and the same tigerish eyes as his daughter. He wore no mustache, but there was thick stubble rising high on his cheeks and bristling at his cleft chin, and he had lost none of his hair with age. He would have been a very handsome man in his youth, and even now—Carl estimated he must be in his early sixties—even seated on the beige stone bench and staring fixedly at the fountain, he exuded a quiet, charismatic authority. He wore a plain dark suit that matched the thick woolen shirt beneath it and the purplish smudges of tiredness under his eyes.
“You’re Carl Marsalis,” he said as Carl reached the bench. There was no question mark in his voice. It was a little hoarse but iron-firm beneath. If he’d been crying, he hid it well.
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“I am Murat Ertekin. Sevgi’s father. Please, join me.” He gestured at the empty space beside him on the bench, waited until Carl was seated. “My daughter has told me a lot about you.”
“Care to give me specifics?”
Ertekin glanced sideways at him. “She told me that your loyalty cannot be easily bought.”
It brought him up short. The received wisdom about variant thirteen was that they had no loyalties at all beyond self-interest. He wondered if Ertekin was quoting Sevgi directly or putting his own spin on what she’d said.
“Did she tell you what I am?”
“Yes.” Another sidelong look. “Were you expecting disapproval from me? Hatred, perhaps, or fear? The standard-issue prejudices?”
“I don’t know you,” Carl told him evenly. “Aside from the fact that the two of you don’t get on and that you left Turkey for political reasons, Sevgi hasn’t told me anything about you at all. I wouldn’t know what your attitude is to my kind. Though my impression is that you weren’t too happy about Sevgi’s last variant thirteen indiscretion.”
Ertekin sat rigid. Then he slumped. He closed his eyes, hard, opened them again to face the world.
“I am to blame,” he said quietly. “I failed her. All our lives together, I encouraged Sevgi to push the boundaries. And then, when she finally pushed them too far for my liking, I reacted like some village mullah who’s never seen the Bosphorus Bridge in his life and doesn’t plan to. I reacted exactly like my fucking brother.”
“Your brother’s a mullah?”
Murat Ertekin laughed bitterly. “A mullah, no. Though perhaps he did miss his vocation when he chose secular law for a career. I’m told he was never more than an indifferent lawyer. But a self-righteous, willfully ignorant male supremacist? Oh yes. Bulent always excelled at that.”
“You talk about him in the past. Is he dead?”
“He is to me.”
The conversation jerked violently to a halt on the assertion. They both sat for a while staring into the space where it had been. Murat Ertekin sighed. He talked as if picking up the pieces of something broken, as if each bending down to retrieve a fragment of the past was an effort that forced him to breathe deeply.
“You must understand, Mr. Marsalis, my marriage was not a successful one. I married young, and in haste, to a woman who took her faith very seriously indeed. When we were still both medical students in Istanbul, I mistook that faith for a general strength, but I was wrong. When we moved to America, as it still was then, Hatun could not cope. She was homesick, and New York frightened her. She never adjusted. We had Sevgi because at such times you are told that having a child will bring you together again.” A grimace. “It’s a strange article of faith—the belief that sleepless nights, no sex, less income, and the constant stress of caring for a helpless new life should somehow alleviate the pressures on a relationship already under strain.”
Carl shrugged. “People believe some strange things.”
“Well, in our case it didn’t work. My work suffered, we fought more, and Hatun’s fear of the city grew. She retreated into her faith. She already went head-scarfed in the streets; now she began to wear the full chador. She would not receive guests in the house unless she was covered, and of course she had already quit her job to have Sevgi. She isolated herself from her former friends and colleagues at the hospital, frustrated their attempts to stay in touch, eventually changed mosques to one preaching some antiquated Wahhabi nonsense. Sevgi gravitated to me. I think that’s natural in little girls anyway, but here it was pure self-defense. What was Sevgi to make of her mother? She was growing up a streetwise New York kid, bilingual and smart, and Hatun didn’t even want her to have swimming lessons with boys.”
Ertekin stared down at his hands.
“I encouraged the rebellion,” he said quietly. “I hated the way Hatun was changing, maybe by then I even hated Hatun herself. She’d begun to criticize the work I did, calling it un-Islamic, snubbing our liberal Muslim or nonbelieving friends, growing more rigid in her attitudes every year. I was determined Sevgi would not end up the same way. It delighted me when she started asking her mother those simple child’s questions about God that no one can answer. I rejoiced when she was strong and determined and smart in the face of Hatun’s hollow, rote-learned dogma. I egged her on, pushed her to take chances and achieve, and I defended her to her mother whenever they clashed—even when she was wrong and Hatun was right. And when things finally grew unbearable and Hatun left us and went home—I think I was glad.”
“Does her mother know what’s happened?”
Ertekin shook his head. “We’re not in contact anymore, neither Sevgi nor I. Hatun only ever called to berate us both, or to try to persuade Sevgi to go back to Turkey. Sevgi stopped taking her calls when she was fifteen. Even now, she’s asked me not to tell her mother. It’s probably as well. Hatun wouldn’t come, or if she came she’d make a scene, wailing and calling down judgment on us all.”
The word judgment went through Carl like a strummed chord.
“You are not a religious man, are you?” Ertekin asked him.
It was almost worth a grin. “I’m a thirteen.”
“And thus genetically incapable.” Ertekin nodded. “The received wisdom. Do you believe that?”
“Is there another explanation?”
“When I was younger, we were less enamored of genetic influence as a factor. My grandfather was a communist.” A shrewd glance. “Do you know what that is?”
“Read about them, yeah.”
“He believed that you can make of a human anything you choose to. That humans can become what they choose. That environment is all. It’s not a fashionable view any longer.”
“That’s because it’s demonstrably untrue.”
“And yet, you—variant thirteens everywhere—were thoroughly environmentally conditioned. They did not trust your genes to give them the soldiers they wanted. You were brought up from the cradle to face brutality as if it were a fact of life.”
Carl thought of Sevgi, tubes and needles and hope withering away. “Brutality is a fucking fact of life. Haven’t you noticed?”
Ertekin shifted on the bench, turned toward him. Carl sensed that the other man was close to reaching out, to taking his hands in his own.
Groping for something.
“Do you really believe that you would have become this, that you were genetically destined to it, however you were raised as a child?”
Carl made an impatient gesture. “What I believe isn’t important. I did become this; how I got here is academic. So let the academics discuss it at great length, write their papers and publish, get paid to agonize. In the end, none of it affects me.”
“No, but it might affect others like you in the future.”
Now he found he could smile—a thin, hard smile, the rind of amusement. “There aren’t going to be any others like me in the future. Not on this planet. In another generation, we’ll all be gone.”
“Is that why you don’t believe? Do you feel forsaken?”
The smile became a laugh of sorts. “I think you’ll find, Dr. Ertekin, that the technical term for that is transference. You’re the one feeling forsaken. I haven’t ever expected to be anything other than alone, so I’m not upset when I find it to be true.”
Marisol sat in his head and called him a liar. Elena Aguirre ghosted past, whispering. He held down a shiver, talked to stave it off.
“And you’re missing a rather important point about my lack of religious convictions as well. To be a believer, you have to not only believe, you also have to want someone big and patriarchal around to take care of business for you. You have to be apt for worship. And thirteens don’t do worship, of anyone or anything. Even if you could convince a variant thirteen, against all the evidence, that there really was a God? He’d just see him as a threat to be eliminated. If God were demonstrably real?” He stared hard into Ertekin’s eyes. “Guys like me would just be looking for ways to find him and burn him down.”
Ertekin flinched, and looked away.
“She’s chosen you well,” he murmured.
“Yes.” Still looking away, fumbling in a jacket pocket. “You will need this.”
He handed Carl a small package, sealed in slippery antiseptic white with orange flash warning decals. Lettering in a language he couldn’t read, Germanic feel, multiple vowels. Carl weighed it in his palm.
“Put it away, please.” Ertekin told him. The garden was starting to fill as students and medical staff came out on lunch break to enjoy the sun.
“This is painless?”
“Yes. It’s from a Dutch company that specializes in such things. It will take about two minutes from injection.”
Carl stowed the package.
“If you brought this,” he said quietly, “why do you need me?”
“Because I cannot do it,” Ertekin told him simply.
“Because you’re a Muslim?”
“Because I’m a doctor.” He looked at his hands again. They hung limp in his lap. “And because even if I had not taken an oath, I do not think I would be capable of ending my own daughter’s life.”
“It’s what she wants. It’s what she’s asked for.”
“Yes.” There were tears gathering on Ertekin’s eyelids. “And now, when it most matters, I find I cannot give her what she wants.”
He took Carl’s hand suddenly. His grip was dry and powerful. The tiger-irised gaze burned into Carl’s, blinked tears aside so they trickled on the leathery skin.
“She’s chosen you. And deep in my hypocritical, doubting soul, I give thanks to Allah that you’ve come. Sevgi is getting ready once more to push the boundaries, to cross the lines drawn by others that she will not heed. And this time I will not fail her, as I did four years ago.”
He wiped away the tears with quick, impatient gestures of his hand.
“I will stand with my daughter this time,” he said. “But you must help me, thirteen, if I am not to fail her again.”
The Haag complex rips through Sevgi’s system like vacuum in a suddenly holed spacecraft. Cells rupture, leak vital fluids. Debris flies about, her immune system staggers, flushes itself desperately, clings to the antiviral boosters Stanford fed her, and still it fails. Her lungs begin to fill. Her renal functions slow and must be artificially stimulated if her kidneys are not to explode. Tubes in, tubes out. The creep of waste products through her system begins to hurt.
She finds it harder to think with clarity for any length of time.
Only when the v-format was no longer viable, when she sputtered in and out of existence there like a disinterested ghost, did she let him see her for real.
He sat by the bed in shock.
For all he’d prepared himself, it was a visceral blow to see how the flesh had burned off her, how her eyes had grown hollow and her cheeks drawn. He tried to smile at her, but the expression flickered on and off his face, the way she’d flickered in virtual. When she saw, she smiled back at him and hers was steady, like a lamp burning through the stretched fabric of her face.
“I look like shit,” she murmured. “Right?”
“You’ve been skipping meals again, haven’t you?”
She laughed, broke up into coughing. But he saw the look in her eyes, saw she was grateful. He tried to feel good about that.
He sat by the bed.
He held her hand.
“Tell me a secret.”
“What?” He’d thought she was sleeping. The little room was dim and still, adrift in the larger quiet of the hospital at night. Darkness pressed itself to the glass of the window, oozed inward through the room. The machines winked tiny red and amber eyes at him, whispered and clicked to themselves, made vaguely comprehensible graphic representations, in cool shades of blue and green, of what was going on inside their charge. The night lamp cast a faded gold oblong on the bed where Sevgi made mounds in the sheet. Her face was in shadow.
“Come on,” she croaked. “You heard me. Tell me what really happened on Mars. What did Gutierrez do to you?”
He blinked, cleared his eyes from long aimless staring into the gloom. “Thought you’d already worked that out.”
“Well, you tell me. Did I?”
He looked back at it, bricks of his past he hadn’t tried to build anything with in years. It’s another world, it’s another time, Sutherland had said once. Got to learn to let it go.
“You were close,” he admitted.
“How close? Come on, Marsalis.” A laugh floated up out of her, like echoes up from a well. “Grant a dying woman a last wish.”
His mouth tightened.
“Gutierrez didn’t fix the lottery for me,” he said. “There’s too much security around it, too much n-djinn presence. And it’s a tough thing to do, fix a chance event so it does what you want and still looks like chance. Something like that, you’ve got to look for the weak point.”
“Same as it always is. The human angle.”
“Oh, humans.” She laughed again, a little stronger now. “I guess that makes sense. Can’t trust them any farther than a Jesusland preacher with a choirgirl, right?”
He smiled. “Right.”
“So which particular human did you finesse?”
“Neil Delaney.” Faint flare of contempt as he remembered, but the years had bleached it back almost to amusement. “He was Bradbury site administrator back then.”
“He’s on the oversight council now.”
“Yeah, I know. Mars works well for some people.” Carl found himself loosening up. Words were flowing easier now, here in the low light at her bedside, just the two of them in the gloom and quiet. “Delaney was selling to the Chinese. Downgrading site reports, writing them off as low potential, so COLIN wouldn’t bother filing notice of action. That way, the New People’s Home teams could get in and stake their claim instead, without having to do the actual survey work.”
“Motherfucker!” But it was the whispered ghost of outrage; you could hear how she didn’t have strength for the real thing.
“Yeah, well. Helps if you just think of it as outsourcing—NPH buying COLIN expertise under the table, probably cheaper than they could afford to do the surveys themselves. In market terms, it makes perfect sense. There’s a lot of planet to cover, not many people to do it. And the Chinese were just doing what they’ve always done—dangling enough dollars in the right places to get the West’s corporate qualms to go belly-up.”
“Somehow I don’t think the feeds would have seen it that way.”
“No. That’s the way we put it to Delaney.” Carl reflected, found he still got a faint warm glow from the recollection. “It was a good sting. He caved in completely. Gave us everything we asked for.”
“He sent you home.”
“Well, he opened up the security on the lottery system for us. Gave Gutierrez a clear run at it. So yeah, I won the lottery.”
“And what did Gutierrez get?”
Carl shrugged. “Cash. Favors. We had a few other players on the team as well, they all got paid.”
“But only you got to go home.”
“Yeah, well. Only one cryocap up for grabs, you know. And it was my sting, my operation from the start. I put the crew together, I made it pretty clear from the start what I wanted out of the deal.”
“So.” She wheezed a little. He reached for the glass, held it to her lips, and cradled her head. The actions felt smooth with custom. “Thanks, that’s better. So you think Gutierrez was jealous. Fucked you after the event?”
“Maybe. Or Delaney asked him to do it, hoped I’d flip out before the rescue ship got there. You remember that guy who woke up on the way back from the Jupiter moon survey, back in the eighties? Spitz, or something?”
“Specht. Eric Specht. Yeah, I remember.”
“He went crazy waiting for the rescue. Maybe Delaney hoped the same thing’d happen to me. Who knows?”
“You don’t know?”
“I know Gutierrez sent me a very scared mail once I made it back to Earth, said he’d had nothing to do with it. So maybe it was just a glitch. Or maybe Delaney hired another datahawk. Then again, Gutierrez always was a lying little fuck, so like I said, who knows?”
“You don’t care?”
He twisted a little in his seat, smiled at her. “There’s no point in caring, Sevgi. It’s a different planet. Another world, another time. What was I going to do—go back there? Just for revenge? I’d put the whole of my last year on Mars into scamming my way back to Earth. Sometimes, you know, you’ve just got to let go.”
Beneath the covers, she drew into herself a little. “Yeah,” she whispered. “I guess that’s the truth.”
They sat in silence for a while. She groped for his hand. He gave it to her.
“Why’d you come back, Carl?” she asked him softly.
He made a crooked grin in the gloom. “Listen to what the Earth First people are telling you, Sevgi. Mars is a shithole.”
“But you were free there.” She let go of his hand, gestured weakly. “You must have known there was a risk you’d be interned when you got back. It’s pure luck they didn’t put you straight into the tracts.”
“Not quite. I bought some machine time before all this went down, before I put the Delaney sting together. I asked the n-djinn to look at the way lottery winners were treated when they got back, then extrapolate for a thirteen. The machine gave me a seventy—thirty chance they’d work some kind of special exemption in view of my celebrity status.” He shrugged. “Pretty good odds.”
“And what if the n-djinn got it wrong?” She craned forward in the bed, halfway to sitting up. The pale gold light fell on her face. Eyes intense and burning into his. “What if they just went ahead and interned your ass?”
Another shrug, another crooked grin. “Then I guess I would have had to break out and run. Just like all the other saps.”
She lay back, puffing a little from the effort.
“I don’t believe you,” she said when she’d gotten her breath back. “All that risk, just because Mars is a shithole? No way. You could have had the cash instead. Milked Delaney for pretty much anything you wanted out there. Set yourself up. Come on, Carl. Why’d you really come back?”
He hesitated. “It’s not that important, Sevgi.”
“It is to me.”
Footsteps down the corridor outside. A murmur of voices, receding. He sighed.
“Sutherland,” he said.
“Yeah.” He lifted his hands on his lap, trying to frame it for himself. “See, there’s a point you get to with tanindo. A level where it stops being about how to do it, becomes all about why. Why you’re practicing, why you’re learning. Why you’re living. And I couldn’t get there.”
“You didn’t know why?” She puffed a breathless laugh. “Hey, welcome to the club. You think any of us know why we’re doing this shit?”
Carl let an echo of her amusement trace itself onto his lips, but absently. He stared across the shadowed bed and her form beneath the sheet as if it were a landscape.
“Sutherland says it’s easier for basic humans,” he said distantly. “You people build better metaphors, believe in them more deeply. He said I’d have to find something else. And until I did, I was blocked.”
“Sutherland’s a thirteen, too, right?”
“So how come he managed it?”
Carl nodded. “Exactly. He gave me a path. A functional substitute for belief.”
“And that was?”
“He told me to make a list, keep it to myself, and focus on it. Eleven things I wanted to do at some point in what was left of my life. Things it was important for me to do, things that mattered.”
“You didn’t go for the round dozen?”
“The number’s not important. Eleven, twelve, nine, doesn’t matter. Best not to make too long a list, it defeats the point of the exercise, but otherwise you just pick a number and make your list. I chose eleven.” He hesitated again, looked at her almost apologetically. “Nine of those, I realized I needed to be on Earth to do.”
The hospital quiet closed in again. He saw in the gloom how she turned to look out the window.
“Have you done them all yet?” she asked quietly.
“No. Not yet.” He cleared his throat, frowned. “But I’m getting through them. And it does work. Sutherland was right.”
For a few moments, she seemed not to be listening, seemed to have lost herself in the darkness outside the glass. Then, dry slide of her hair on the pillow, her head switched around to face him again.
“You want to hear a secret of mine?”
“Three years ago, I planned to have someone murdered.”
“Yeah, I know. Everyone thinks about killing someone every now and then. But this was for real. I sat down and I mapped it out. I knew people back then, cops and ex-cops who owed me. There was this accidental-killing incident back when I was a patrol officer, only a couple of years in, all wide-eyed and innocent.” She coughed a little. “Ah, it’s a long story, not going to bore you with the details. Just this interrogation that went over the line one time. I was there, saw it go down. Guess you’d say I was complicit. Internal Affairs were certainly looking to paint it that way. Pressure came down, they wanted me to roll over in return for immunity. But they couldn’t prove I was in the room, and I didn’t leak. Stuck at that, half their case collapsed. So nine years later, that’s three years ago like I was telling you, there were guys walking around New York with a badge they owed me for. Other guys who didn’t go to jail when they should have. I could have done it, Carl. I could have set it in motion.”
She started coughing again. He lifted her, held a tissue to her lips until she cleared the shit that was sitting in her lungs, cleaned her mouth after. He fed her sips of water, laid her gently back down. Wiped the sweat of effort from her brow with another tissue, waited while her breathing stabilized again.
He leaned in closer. “So who’d you want to kill?”
“Amy fucking Westhoff,” she said bitterly. “Fucking bitch who killed Ethan.”
“You told me the SWATs took Ethan down.”
“Yeah. But someone had to leak this shit, someone had to find out what Ethan was and notify UNGLA liaison up at City Hall. You remember I told you in Istanbul, Ethan was seeing this cheerleader blonde in Datacrime?”
“That was Westhoff. She showed up in the corridor outside my office the week Ethan moved in with me, screaming abuse, telling me I didn’t know what I was getting into. Saying she’d fuck with my life and Ethan’s if I didn’t back off.”
“You think she knew what he was?”
“I don’t know. Not then, I don’t think. If she’d known, I think she would have used it on him when he tried to move out.”
“Maybe she did, and he didn’t tell you.”
That stopped her, pinned her to a long pause while she thought about it. He tilted his head, trying to work a kink out of his neck.
“I don’t believe she knew back then,” Sevgi said finally. “Maybe she had her suspicions on and off. I think I did, too, if I’m honest about it, even before Keegan showed up and blew the whole thing. You know, if you’re a woman, it’s one of those things you can’t help thinking about sometimes. I mean, there’s so much scare stuff out there. All the warnings, all the sexy panic every time someone gets out of Cimarron or Tanana. The Truth About Thirteens, how to recognize one, what you guys are supposed to be like, how you’d act that’s different from a regular guy. Warning signs, free phone snitch numbers, public information postings, and then the fucking media aftermath every time. You know, I saw a woman’s magazine article once while I was waiting to see my lawyer. ‘Are You Sleeping with a Thirteen—Thirteen Telltale Signs That Let You Know.’ Fucking bullshit like that.”
She twitched about in the bed with the force of her frustration. Her breath came hoarse and agitated. Voice impatient.
“Anyway, whether she knew then or not, I know damn well she was keeping tabs on Ethan. And then, when we fucked up, when we got complacent after Keegan, she had her chance.”
“She knew about the pregnancy?”
“Yeah, well, we weren’t hiding that. I started showing seriously at three months, went on reduced duties at four. Of course she knew, everybody knew by then.” Sevgi stopped, waited until her breathing evened out again. “That wasn’t it. When we got pregnant, something in Ethan shifted. That was when he started trying to track down his genetic mother. He’d always talked about doing it, all this stuff about wanting to know who his real mother was, but with the baby—”
“So, not his surrogate then?”
“No. That was finished business, as far as he was concerned. He never wanted to see her again. Never talked about her to me. But he was hung up about finding Patti. The baby really kicked him into action.”
Carl saw the link. “You think he went to Westhoff to do the searches?”
“I don’t know. But he went to Datacrime, I know that much because he told me he was going to. They’ve got the best machines in the city for that kind of work, and he knew quite a few people there, not just Amy.” He saw the way her fists clenched where they lay on the bed. “But Amy knew. She came up to me on the street, congratulated me on the baby, said something about how it was great Ethan was getting back in touch with his family. I told Ethan that, but—” She rolled her head back and forth on the pillow. “—like I said, we got so fucking complacent about everything.”
“Is there any actual evidence Westhoff tipped off UNGLA?”
“Enough to make a case?” He thought she smiled in the dimness. “No. But you remember I told you someone in the department tipped Ethan off that they were coming for him?”
“Yeah, you said a downtown number.”
“Yeah.” She was smiling, bleakly. “Datacrime is downtown. I talked to a Datacrime sergeant said Amy Westhoff was acting weird all that day. Upset about something, in and out of the office all the time. The call went out from another floor in the building, an empty office up on fifth, but she could have gotten there easily enough.”
“Could have. You said he had a lot of friends in Datacrime.”
“No one knew about the SWAT deployment. No one except whoever it was that tipped them off in the first place.”
“Did Ethan have any friends in the SWAT chain of command? Or in City Hall, maybe?”
“Sure, and they waited until the morning it was due to go down before they called. And they went all the way across the city to do it, to a downtown NYPD precinct house and a fifth-floor office that they just happened to know would be empty. Come on, Carl. Give me a fucking break.”
“And no one else picked up on this?”
Another weak smile. “No one wanted to. First off, it’s not a crime to turn in a thirteen to the authorities. You still see screen ads encouraging good citizens to do exactly that, every time someone gets out of Cimarron or Tanana. And then there’s the fact that Ethan was a cop, and to all appearances it looks like another cop ratted him out. That’s the kind of thing most people in the department would rather just forget ever happened.”
He nodded. He thought it might be starting to get light outside.
“So you planned to kill her. Have her killed. What stopped you?”
“I don’t know.” She closed her eyes. Voice small and weary with the effort she’d been making. “In the end, I couldn’t make myself go through with it, you know. I’ve killed people in the line of duty, had to, to stay alive myself. But this is different. It’s cold. You’ve got to be so fucking cold.”
Beyond the window, the night was definitely beginning to bleach out. Carl saw Sevgi’s face more clearly now, saw the desolation in it. He leaned over and kissed her gently on the forehead.
“Try to get some rest now,” he said.
“I couldn’t,” she muttered, as if trying to explain herself before a judge, or maybe to Ethan Conrad. “I just couldn’t do it.”
Rovayo showed up, off duty, with flowers. Sevgi was barely polite. The jokes she made about casual fucking, in a hoarse whisper of a voice, weren’t funny, and no one laughed. Rovayo toughed it out, spent the time there she’d announced she could, promised awkwardly to return. The look in Sevgi’s eyes suggested she didn’t much care one way or the other. Outside in the corridor afterward, the Rim cop grimaced at Carl.
“Bad idea, huh?”
“It was a nice thought.” He sought other matters, shielding from the coming truth behind the door at their backs. “You get anything from the crime scene?”
Rovayo shook her head. “Nothing that doesn’t belong to you, the dead guys, or a dozen irrelevant Bayview lowlifes. This Onbekend must have been greased up pretty good.”
“Yeah, he was.” Carl brought recall to life, surprised himself with the stab of fury that accompanied the man’s half-familiar face. “You could see it in the light, shining in his hair pretty fucking thick as well. No way he was going to be leaving trace material for the CSI guys.”
“Right. Makes you wonder why Merrin didn’t do the same thing. Instead of leaving his fucking trace all over everything for us to track him with.”
“Yeah, I guess that’s why we caught him so easily.”
Rovayo blinked. “I see you’re in a great mood.”
“Sorry. Haven’t had much sleep.” He glanced back at the closed door of Sevgi’s room. “You want to get a coffee downstairs?”
Across the scarred plastic tabletop from her in the cafeteria downstairs, he asked mechanically after the Bulgakov’s Cat bust. There wasn’t much. Daskeen Azul weren’t shifting from their position. Merrin, Ren, and the others were employees who had usurped company policy and practice for their own illicit ends. Any attempt to incriminate owners or management would be fought right into court and out the other side. Warrants resisted, bail set and paid, legal battle joined.
“And we’ll probably lose” was Rovayo’s sour assessment. “Same day we made the arrests, some very heavy legal muscle showed up from the Freeport. Tsai’s going to take them on anyway, he’s pissed about the whole thing. But no one’s talking, they’re all either too scared or too confident. Unless someone in this crew rolls over for us, and fast, we’re going to end up dead in the water.”
“Right.” It came out slack. He couldn’t make himself care.
Rovayo sipped her coffee, eyed him grimly across the table, and said: “I’m only going to ask this once, because I know it’s stupid. But are they sure they can’t beat this thing she’s got?”
“Yeah, they’re sure. The viral shift moves too fast, we’re just playing catch-up. There isn’t an n-djinn built that has the chaos-modeling capacity to beat this. Haag system’s designed to take down a thirteen, and my immune system’s about twice as efficient as yours, so they had to come up with something pretty unstoppable.”
Rovayo grunted. “Nothing ever fucking changes, huh?”
“Arms industry, making a living scaring us all. You know a couple of hundred years ago, they built a whole new type of bullet because they thought ordinary slugs wouldn’t take down a black man with cocaine in his blood?”
“Yeah, black. Black-skinned, like you and me. First they tie cocaine use to the black community, make it a race-based issue. Then they reckon they need a bigger bang to put us down, because we’re all coked up.” The Rim cop made an ironic gesture of presentation. “Welcome to the .357 magnum round.”
Carl frowned. The terminology was only vaguely familiar. “You’re talking about some Jesusland thing, right?”
“Wasn’t called Jesusland then. This is a cased round I’m talking about. Two hundred years ago, I did say.”
He nodded and rubbed at his eyes with thumb and forefinger. “Yeah, sorry. You did. I forgot.”
“Same thing happened another couple of hundred years before that. Automatic fire this time.” Rovayo sipped at her coffee. “Guy called Puckle patented a crank-action mounted machine gun designed to fire square bullets at the advancing Turkish hordes.”
Carl sat back. “You’re winding me up.”
“No. Thing was supposed to fire round bullets if you were fighting Christians, square if you were killing heathens.”
“Come on! There’s no fucking way they could build something like that back then.”
“No, of course they couldn’t. It didn’t work.” The Rim cop’s voice tinged grim. “But the .357 magnum did. And so does Haag.”
“Monsters, huh,” said Carl quietly. “How come you know all this stuff, Rovayo?”
“I read a lot of history,” said the black woman. “Way I see it, you don’t know anything about the past, you got no future.”
They aspirate her lungs, try to bring her breathing back up. She just lies there while they do it, before, during, and after, puddled on the bed in her own lack of strength. The whole process feels like the kicks of a midterm pregnancy, but higher up and much more frequent, as if in tiny, hysterical rage.
Memory brings tears, but they leak out of her eyes so slowly she runs out of actual feeling before they stop. She doesn’t have a lot of fluid to spare.
Her mouth is parched. Her skin is papery dry.
Her hands and feet feel swollen and increasingly numb.
When the endorphins they give her wear thin, she can track the passage of her urine by the tiny scraping pains it makes on its way to the catheter.
Her stomach aches from emptiness. She feels sick to its pit.
When the endorphins come on, it feels like going back to the garden, or the nighttime ride of the ferries across the Bosphorus to the Asian side. Black water and merry city lights. She hallucinates once, very clearly, coming into the dock at Kadik"oy and seeing Marsalis waiting for her there. Dark and quiet under the LCLS overheads.
Reaching out his hand.
Surfacing from the dosage is pain, dragging her back like rusty wires, and sudden, sick-making fear as she remembers where she is. Lying drained, and seeping slowly in and out of bags. Stale sheets and the gaunt sentinels of the machines around her. And through it all, a racking, overarching, frustrated fury with the body she’s still wired and tied and bedded down into.
He tried to work.
Sevgi was out on the swells of endorphin a lot of the time, drifting there in something that approximated peace. He found he could step out and leave her in these periods, and he conversed with Norton in low tones, sitting in waiting rooms, or leaned against walls in the night-quiet hospital corridors.
“I remembered something this afternoon,” he told the COLIN exec. “Sitting in there, shit going through my head. When Sevgi and I went to talk to Manco Bambar'en, he recognized this jacket.”
Norton peered at the arm Carl held out to him, the orange chevrons flashing along the sleeve.
“Yeah? Standard Republican jail wear, I guess any criminal in the Western Hemisphere’s got to know what that looks like.”
“It’s not quite standard.” Carl twisted to show Norton the lettering on the back. The COLIN exec shrugged.
“Sigma. Right. You know how many prison contracts those guys have in Jesusland? They’ve got to be the second or third biggest corporate player the incarceration industry has. They’re even bidding on stuff out here on the coast these days.”
“Yeah, but Manco told me he had a cousin who did time specifically in South Florida State. Now, maybe we can’t hack the datafog around Isabela Gayoso so easily, but we ought to be able to chase prison records and maybe dig this guy up. Maybe he’ll tell us something we can use.”
Norton nodded and rubbed at his eyes. “All right, we can look. God knows I could use the distraction right now. You get a name?”
“No. Bambar'en, maybe, but I doubt it. The way Manco was talking, this wasn’t anyone that close to home.”
“And we don’t know when he did time?”
“No, but I’d guess recently. Sigma haven’t held the SFS contract more than five or six years max. Sigma jacket, you’ve got to be looking at that time frame.”
“Or Bambar'en misremembered, and his cousin did time in some other Sigma joint, somewhere else in the Republic.”
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Manco Bambar'en’s memory. Those guys aren’t big on forgive and forget, especially not when it’s down to family.”
“All right, leave it with me.” Norton glanced back down the corridor toward Sevgi’s room. “Listen, I’ve been up since yesterday morning. I’ve got to get some sleep. Can you stay with her?”
“Sure. That’s why I’m here.”
Norton’s gaze tightened on his face. “You call me if anything—”
“Yeah. I’ll call you. Go get some rest.”
For just a moment, something indefinable passed between the two of them in the dimly lit width of the corridor. Then Norton nodded, clamped his mouth tight, and headed away down the corridor.
Carl watched him go with folded arms.
Later, sitting by her bed in the bluish gloom of the night-lights, flanked by the quiet machines, he thought he felt Elena Aguirre slip silently into the room behind him. He didn’t turn around. He went on watching Sevgi’s sallow, washed-out face on the pillow, the barely perceptible rise and fall of her breathing beneath the sheet. Now he thought Aguirre was probably close enough to put a cool hand on the back of his neck.
“Wondered when you’d show up,” he said quietly.
Sevgi washed awake, alone, left beached by the receding tide of the endorphins, and she knew with an odd clarity that it was time. The once vertiginous terror was gone, had collapsed in on itself for lack of energy to sustain it. She was, finally, more weary, more miserably angry, and more in pain than she was scared.
It was what she’d been waiting for.
Time to go.
Outside the window of her room, morning was trying to get in. Soft slant of sunlight through the gap in the quaint hand-pull curtains. Waiting between endorphin surges for night to drag itself out the door had seemed like an aching, gritty forever. She lay there for a while longer, watching the hot patch of light creep onto the bed at her feet and thinking, because she wanted to be sure.
When the door opened and Carl Marsalis stepped into the room, the decision was as solid in her head as it had been when she woke.
“Hi there,” he said softly. “Just been up the hall for a shower.”
“Lucky fucking bastard,” she said throatily, and was dismayed at how deep, how bitter her envy of that simple pleasure really was. It made her feelings over Rovayo look trivial by comparison.
Time to go.
He smiled at her, maybe hadn’t caught the edge in her voice, maybe had and let it go.
“Can I get you anything?” he asked.
The same question he asked every time. She held his gaze and mustered a firm nod.
“Yeah, you can. Call my father and Tom in here, will you?”
The smile flickered and blew out on his face. He stood absolutely still for a moment, looking down at her. Then he nodded and slipped out.
As soon as he was gone, her pulse began to pound, up through her throat and in her temples. It felt like the first couple of times she ever had to draw her weapon as a patrol officer, the sudden, tilting comprehension that came with a street situation about to go bad. The terror of the last decaying seconds, the taste of irrevocable commitment.
But by the time he came back with the other two, she had it locked down.
“I’ve had enough,” she told them, voice a dried-up whisper scarcely louder in the room than it was in her own head. “This is it.”
None of them spoke. It wasn’t like this was a surprise.
“Baba, I know you’d do this for me if you could. Tom, I know you would, too. I chose Carl because he can, that’s all.”
She swallowed painfully. Waited for the ache it made to subside. Hiss-click of the machines around her across the silence. Outside in the corridor, the hospital’s working day was just getting under way.
“They’ve told me they can keep me going like this for at least another month. Baba, is that true?”
Murat bowed his head. He made a trapped sound, somewhere between throat and chest. He jerked a nod. Tears fell off his eyes onto the sheets. She found suddenly, oddly, that she felt worse for him than she did for herself. Abruptly, she realized that the fear in her was almost gone, squeezed out of the frame with pain and tiredness and straightforward irritation with it all.
Time to go.
“I’m not going to go on like this for another month,” she husked. “I’m bored, I’m sick, and I’m tired. Carl, I told you this felt like a wall rushing at me?”
“Well, it isn’t rushing anymore. It’s all slowed down to sludge. I’m sitting here looking at where I have to go, and it looks like fucking kilometers of hard ground to crawl on my hands and fucking knees. I won’t do that. I don’t want to play this fucking game anymore.”
“Sev, are you—” Norton stalled out.
She smiled for him. “Yeah, I’m sure. Been thinking it through for long enough. I’m tired, Tom. I’m tired of spending half my time stoned, and the other half waking up in pain to realize I’m still not fucking dead, that I’ve still got that part to go. It’s time to just get on with it, just get it done.”
She turned to Carl again.
“Have you got it?”
He took out the slippery white packet and held it out to her. Light from the brightening morning outside came in and glimmered on the slick plastic covering. Letting go of the light was going to be the hardest thing. Sunlight broke in and danced about the room when they pulled the curtains each morning, and it was almost worth not quite being dead each morning because of it. It was what she clung to as she rode the long troughs and swells of dreaming and back-to-real every night. She’d hung on this long because of it. Might even have hung on a little longer, a few more mornings, if she wasn’t so fucking weary.
“Baba.” Her voice was tiny, she had to struggle to keep it even. “Is this going to hurt me?”
Murat cleared his throat wetly. He shook his head.
“No, canim. It’ll be like.” He gritted his teeth to keep from sobbing. “Like going to sleep.”
“That’s good,” she whispered breathlessly. “I could use some decent sleep.”
She found Carl with her eyes. She nodded, and watched him tear open the package. His hands moved efficiently, laying out the component parts of the kit. He barely seemed aware of the actions—she guessed he’d done similar on enough battlefields in the past. She glanced across to Tom Norton, found him weeping.
“Tom,” she said gently. “Come here and hold my hand. Baba, you come ’round here. Don’t cry, Baba. Please don’t cry, any of you. You’ve got to be happy I’m not going to hurt anymore.”
She looked at Carl. No tears. His face was black stone as he prepped the spike, held it up one-handed to the light, while his other hand touched warm and callus-fingered on the crook of her arm. He met her eyes and nodded.
“You just tell me when,” he said.
She looked around at their faces once more. Made them a smile each, squeezed their hands. Then she found his face again, and clung to it.
“I’m ready,” she whispered.
He bent over her. Tiny, cold spike into her arm, held there a moment by the overlaying warmth of his fingers, and then gone. He swabbed, applied something cool, and pressed down. She arched her neck to get closer to him, brushed her paper-dry lips across the rasp of his unshaven cheek. Breathed in his scent and lay back as the beautiful, aching warmth spread through her body, inking out the pain.
Waited for what came next.
She wanted to look sideways at the slanting angle it made, but she was just too sleepy now to make the effort. Like her eyes just wouldn’t move in their sockets anymore. It felt like a weekend from her youth in Queens, crawling into bed Sunday morning just past dawn, weary from the long night out clubbing across the river. Taxi home, girlish hilarity leaching out to a reflective comedown quiet as they cruised through silent streets, dropping off along the way. Creeping up to the house, scrape of the recog fob across the lock, and of course there’s Murat in pajamas, already up and in the kitchen, trying to look scandalized and failing dismally. She grins her impish grin, steals white cheese crumbs and an olive off his plate, a sip of tea from his glass. His hand cuffs through her hair, tousles it, and tugs her head gently into an embrace. Bear-hug squeeze, and his smell, the rasp of his stubble across her cheek. Then, climbing the stairs to her room, yawning cavernously, almost tripping over her own feet. She pauses at the top, looks back, and he’s standing there at the foot of the stairs, watching her go with so much pride and love in his face that out of nowhere it shunts aside the comedown weariness and makes her heart ache like a fresh cut.
“Better get some sleep, Sevgi.”
Still aching as she stumbles into bed, still half dressed. Curtains not properly drawn, sunlight slanting in, but no fucking way that’s going to stop her sleeping, the way she feels now. No fucking way…
Aches and pains forgotten. The long, warming slide into not worrying about anything at all.
And the room and all that was in it went away gently, like Murat closing her bedroom door.
When it was done, when her eyes slid finally closed and her breathing stopped, when Murat Ertekin bent over her, sobbing uncontrollably, and checked the pulse in her neck and nodded, when it was over and there was, finally, no more left for him to do, Carl walked away.
He left Murat Ertekin sitting with his daughter. He left Norton standing trembling like a bodyguard running a high fever but still on duty. He left and headed down the corridor alone. It felt as if he were wading in thigh-deep water. Humans brushed past, moving aside for him, cued in by the blank face and the forced gait. There was no panic, no buzz of activity in his wake—Murat knew how to bypass the machines so they wouldn’t scream for help when Sevgi’s vital signs sank to the bottom.
They would know soon enough. Norton had promised to deal with it. That was his end—Carl had done what he did best.
He walked away.
The memories scurried after him, anxious not to be left behind.
“Don’t know what’s next,” she says, smiling as the drug takes hold. “But if it feels anything like this, it’ll do.”
And then, as her eyelids begin to sag, “I’ll see you all in the garden, I guess.”
“Yeah, with all that fruit and the stream running under the trees there,” he tells her, through lips that seem to have gone numb. Voice suddenly hoarse. He’s the only one talking to her now. Norton is silent and rigid at his side, no use to anyone. Murat Ertekin has sunk to his knees beside the bed, face pressed into his daughter’s hand, holding back tears with an effort that shakes him visibly as he breathes. He summons strength to keep speaking. Squeezes her hand. “Remember that, Sevgi. All that sunlight through the trees.”
She squeezes back, barely. She sniggers, a gentle rupturing of air out through her lips, barely any actual sound. “And the virgins. Don’t forget them.”
He swallows hard.
“Yeah, well you save me one of those. I’ll be along, Sevgi. I’ll catch you up. We all will.”
“Fucking virgins,” she murmurs sleepily. “Who needs ’em? Gotta teach ’em every fucking thing…”
And then, finally, just before the breathing stops.
“Baba, he’s a good man. He’s clean.”
He smashed back the doors out of the ward, along the corridors people got out of his way. He found the stairs, plunged downward, looking for a way out.
Knowing there wasn’t one.