Empty Space

Empty Space by M. John Harrison

Book: Empty Space by M. John Harrison Read Free Book Online
Authors: M. John Harrison
    ‘Get me a K-ship,’ he said.
    SiteCrime, fifth floor, Uniment  & Poe: a slow morning.  Bars of light from the slatted window blinds fell like weight across the policewoman’s shoulders.
     Shadow operators  clustered viscously in the ceiling corners. (Once or twice a week, the ghost of her old employer could also be seen there. This apparition  had been less use to
    her than she hoped. It consisted only of a face – the face of the older Albert Einstein like a photograph  under  water, its eyes distended, its mouth opening and closing
    senselessly – which seemed to be warning her against something.) Her desk was heavy with reports.
    In Saudade City, topology itself is the crime. While the rest of the planet can offer nothing  more bizarre than  rape or murder, SiteCrime – the frail human attempt to bring
    order to a zone which cannot  be understood  – must deal with boundary-shifts,  abrupt fogs of hallucination, a daily illegal traffic in and out of the event site –
    people, memes and artifacts no one can quite describe. The assistant busied herself with these puzzles. Bells rang faintly in the distance. At approximately eleven forty, shouting could be heard
    in the corridor outside and she was called to one of the basement interrogation  rooms.  Two or three  days ago, atrocities had occurred down there under cover of a nanocamera
    outage only now repaired. The fifth floor was alive with accounts, substantiated and otherwise. ‘It smells like fresh meat,’ someone reported; someone else said it was like war had
    broken out in their building.
    Everyone, anyway, wanted a piece of it. Alarms were going off. In-house fire teams, weighed down with hand-held  thermobarics and bandoliers of Chambers ammunition, grinned out of
    every lift. The assistant took the stairs. Halfway down, something so strange happened  she never reached the basement. An emergency door opened on to the echoing stairwell in front of her
    and the figure of a woman emerged on to the landing. She was tall, built, shaven-headed, looking back over her shoulder, finishing a sentence with a word that sounded  like
    ‘Pearlent.’ At that, the assistant raised her hand. ‘Stop!’ she called. Her tailoring launched but would not come up to operating speed: instead, she saw the world at a
    subtle wrong angle, as if she was someone else, with annunciative  light pouring in a dazzle down the stairwell. The figure turned towards her, mouth open in a laugh she couldn’t
    interpret, and whispered, ‘Don’t jump, babe!’ Half blind and full of inexplicable dread, she watched  it vanish  round  the  next turn  in  the
     stairs. Footsteps hurried  away. Lower down, a door boomed closed. Nothing else. The assistant sat down, breathing  heavily, nauseous  with waste chemicals from her own
    overdriven systems. They had not been interdicted  from outside; they had simply become emotional and confused. They were all right now.
    She left the building, and later turned up at Sharp Cuts, a downscale tailor parlour on Straint, where the owner, who had made his way to Saudade City after an accident in an Uncle Zip
    franchise nearer the Galactic core, took one look at her and said:
    ‘I can’t do anything for someone like you.’ At the same time, his clients that morning  – half a dozen gun-kiddies from the beach enclaves of Suicide Point, in
    for a midprice growth blocker called 7-4eva –were leaving by the back door. Five feet from the assistant you could smell the heavy metals in her blood, the hiked ATP transport
     protocols, the immune  system add-ons: they would be enough to drive anyone away. Among other gifts, she could hear naturally to 50 kHz, then process up to 1000 kHz by
    frequency-division,  heterodyne   and  expansion  systems,  the  product   of which was delivered as one of a hundred  realtime visual
    overlays. Her skin, infra-red  sensitive, reported  to biological chips laid in

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