Chapter 2

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Saturday, May 18, 2109
Vancouver

It felt strange to walk through familiar streets with a new face. Less than a year ago the grizzled Afroid vendor at the spuddy cart on the corner had known “Dr. Smith” by sight, but now her eyes scanned past Yasmin without recognition. Just another tourist. She didn’t even bother to call “Get it hot! Get it now!” Guild tourists didn’t eat at Downtown greaseries. Yasmin smiled with delight.

The vendor’s eyes went past Tor, too, then flicked back, and Yasmin saw a faint frown before the old American turned her gaze further down the street. Damn! That was exactly what Yasmin had feared. Tor’s blond Nordic features were new, but his height was the same and, worst of all, so was his stance. She’d tried to teach him to walk differently, but he had no skill at it, and she didn’t have the time or equipment to do subtle physiosurgery. The wedge-heeled aggro boots she’d bought him didn’t make enough difference. She’d brought Tor to Vancouver for protection, but if anyone recognized him as a former Viet Ching gang member he’d be a disastrous liability instead.

Well, too late to worry now. She pushed back her thick, glossy new hair, straightened her crisp shirt and took Tor’s arm, giving him a smile that he echoed back with delight. It felt wonderful to be free, strolling in spring sunshine on the road that had been tantalizingly out of her reach for so long. A dense crowd flowed slowly along Robson Street, squeezing around vendors’ stalls and pushcarts that filled the space between the derelict office towers. Even the sky looked crowded. The ancient concrete towers were festooned with the detritus of squatter family living—laundry, chicken cages, kitchen gardens, wind rotors, bird netting—and the air reeked of steaming cabbage, human sweat, and chicken dung. Yasmin had hated that odor when it wafted through the windows of her laboratory prison, but now that she was free, she found it no longer annoyed her.

Just ahead, a Guild family on a Saturday slumming trip walked three abreast, jabbering and blocking the narrow street. Almost half a block ahead of them she glimpsed Doc’s balding head bobbing purposefully forward. During the hours they’d tailed the old sot he’d dawdled, talking to people, collecting payments and dispensing malpractice, but now that the streets were packed he’d decided to hurry. Of course he might already have unloaded the packet he was carrying, but Yasmin had a hunch that he hadn’t.

She moved her glance away from him and stared around, mimicking other tourists. The multilingual hubbub sounded the same as always, and everywhere hands gestured in Slang—the local patois sign language—but she noticed changes, too. Bands of City Watch officers in green hats and armbands patrolled the streets, and so far Yasmin hadn’t seen a single gang member. But there were plenty of dirty, malnourished beggars entreating passersby—more than she remembered. Homeless, probably. Since the City had re-occupied Downtown in October, they’d torn down dozens of derelict buildings. Near the harbor, whole blocks had been leveled, and construction hoarding enclosed a huge excavation at the site of the new mag-lev railway terminal.

Staying in character, she dug a coin out of her pocket and tossed it to a big-eyed beggar child, then the family ahead of her stopped abruptly and she nearly collided with a beefy Citizen in a smartweave-shirt that flashed soccer slogans. He was gawping at a dentist’s stall, with a giant, weather-worn plastiche tooth hanging in front of it and a groaning flot seated in a folding chair, mouth full of antique steel cutlery. Genetically optimized Citizens with Guild-funded medical care rarely suffered from dental disease. They stared at the stall with horrified fascination and the kids pointed their phones, vidding their friends back in Shaughnessy. Yasmin elbowed past them and looked ahead again, but this time she couldn’t pick out Doc.

“Tor!”

Tor craned. He stood taller than most of the crowd.

“He’s turning left. I think… He’s going into the KlonDyke.”

“Wait here two minutes, then follow me and take a table by yourself,” she told him, and strolled toward a tall, narrow tower topped by the wreckage of a rotary restaurant—an oddly naked spire of concrete amid jungled buildings. At street level, red carpeted stairs led up to double doors covered by a white awning with a crimson biolume “K”. A bouncer stood beside it, arms crossed. Yasmin tossed another coin to a dirty red-haired beggar crouching at the bottom of the steps, then walked up and through the doors, past the bouncer’s incurious glance.

After the sunshine, it felt like walking into a cave, and Yasmin paused, waiting for her eyes to adjust. During her captivity, the implanted Viet Ching surveillance chip hadn’t allowed her to stray further than a hundred meters from the lab so she’d never seen the KlonDyke. Her first reaction to Downtown’s most famous bar was that it was both bigger than she expected, and tattier. A jumble of mismatched chairs, tables and desks salvaged from old office towers were arranged on three levels circling an empty stage. Shafts of daylight from a couple of skylights illuminated dingy stage curtains and stains on the floor. It looked like a junk sale, and smelled like stale beer, fried apples and Fireweed.

The only elegant touch was a polished wood bar stretching along one wall. Doc leaned against it, looking like a derelict with disheveled gray hair and beard, and a beer gut straining against his rumpled shirt. Yasmin wondered again why the city hadn’t run him out of Downtown yet. Were they hoping that his trade would dry up as flots and squats gained access to licensed medics?

A bartender in a feathered wig and luminescent gold body paint poured Doc a pint. Tourists stood gawking nearby, and Yasmin strolled up behind them, just in time to catch an excited voice mention “assassins.” Of course. Her eyes dropped past the bartender’s nipple rings to a spray of splintered bullet holes in the front of the bar. This was where Mary Tungsten Smarch, manager of the KlonDyke, had almost been killed by a death squad last October—the incident which sparked an all-out tong war and finally forced the City of Vancouver to re-occupy Downtown, fifty years after abandoning the quake-devastated island to vagrants and refugees. The tong war and resulting riots had also, inadvertently, been Yasmin’s deliverance.

Tourists goggled, no doubt eager to view the scene before this dilapidated building was demolished, too.

As if on cue, the kitchen door swung open and Mary Smarch stepped out, a plump Native woman in a flowing cobalt salwar kameez. She’d let her hair turn gray and her face age naturally into deep seams. A clever move, decided Yasmin. It gave her tremendous presence among all those look-alike Citizens with their face sculpts and juvving treatments. The tourists nudged each other and stared. Doc put down his beer stein, already half empty, and his deep voice boomed over the background din.

“Mary, my dear! Your beauty and your beer are a delight, as always.”

As Smarch went over to greet him, Yasmin’s attention sharpened. Doc was reaching into a grimy trouser pocket. Yasmin pretended to study the liquor bottles lining the mirrored shelves behind the bar while Doc drained his glass, then slapped his hand onto the bar, as if offering payment. Smarch took his glass, and, just as casually, put her brown hand over a small package and slid it underneath the bar.

Intriguing, thought Yasmin. Mary Smarch, famous do-gooding crusader of Downtown, was taking delivery of elicit software used for mind twisting. Did she know what it was?

The tourists moved off and Yasmin looked for a table close to the bar. As she sat down, she glanced around the room with apparent casualness. She recognized no one except Tor, just seating himself at a table on the middle level.

Pulling out her phone, she unrolled the display and fingerpad. Her up-link didn’t flash on—the KlonDyke must be jammed—but she had what she needed in memory and scanned quickly for information about the KlonDyke. She’d bought the data from a stolen tong data cache and it was six months out of date, but it should suffice. Mary Smarch’s profile was irreproachable—respected Tlingit citizen, and co-founder of SisOpp, the licit venture that ran the KlonDyke—but many of the KlonDyke’s staffers were former smuts or addicts, with tong connections. And Mary’s head bartender, Toni, was rumored to have trained slaves for the blackmailer, Choi Shung Wai!

Choi. Yasmin found herself scowling and smoothed her face with effort. That vicious old bastard had hunted her down and sold her to the Viet Ching, a captivity that lasted eight interminable years.

Official reports listed Choi as a casualty of the tong war, but Yasmin doubted the wily old bastard was dead. An explosion that buried all evidence below a collapsed office tower seemed much too convenient. And Choi’s enforcer had been seen alive afterward. Yasmin was willing to bet that Doc’s supplies were destined for Toni, who was either retraining Choi’s old enforcer, or making a new one.

Toni would lead her to Choi. And to retribution.

Yasmin smiled as she put her phone away, then ordered a pot of green Darjeeling chai and sat back to watch. Hours ticked by. Doc drank two more beers and departed. Mary Smarch disappeared in the back for long periods, returning periodically to help at the bar and chat with customers. At five, a jazz group took the stage. As more customers arrived Yasmin’s new face and flaming red hair attracted interest and she had to discourage both men and women from sitting at her table. She ordered food. Around seven-thirty, as her patience was wearing thin, a husky young woman with a tangled mane of auburn hair strode up to the bar, shrugging a heavy duffel bag off her shoulder. The insignia on the girl’s Cowichan sweater, plus the hempen pants and heavy boots marked her as Working Guild. But she seemed very much at ease in the bar, greeting servers by name and calling out to Smarch.

Yasmin took a surreptitious scan with her phone and ran a visual recognition query. She got an immediate match: Klale (pronounced clay-lee) Renhardt, a Fisher Guild runaway who worked at the KlonDyke. Rumoured to be Toni’s lover.

Yasmin looked up again, just in time to see Smarch pass an envelope to Renhardt, who shoved it in her pocket, picked up her bag and headed for the main door.

The envelope looked new, but all Yasmin’s instincts shouted that it contained Doc’s packet. She stood, stretched, and reached for her coat. A few tables away, Tor rose also. Too obvious, thought Yasmin, suppressing a flash of annoyance. Tor had no talent for surveillance, but he was the only one from the lab she’d been able to save. The rest of her trusted staff had died in the fire, or at the hands of the mob waiting outside.

Tor trailed behind her for a block, then caught up when she beckoned. It was dusk, and they had to hurry to keep up with Renhardt, shouldering her way purposefully up the still crowded thoroughfare. At Bute Street, the girl turned north toward the harbor, and they followed, dropping a bit further behind. Renhardt didn’t look back, though. She hurried between makeshift shacks and vendor stalls, then out onto one of the piers that had been built hastily over top of older wharves during the last century’s sea level rise. Dilapidated loading equipment littered the open expanse of stained concrete and the whole area reeked of seawater, marine lube, rust and rot. Yasmin stopped in the shadows of a warehouse, not wanting to follow too closely. There were few people around here.

In the relative quiet Renhardt’s steps clumped past the looming bulk of a tramp carrier tied up at wharf, then she stopped beside another rusting ship and called up. A crewer stepped to the railing above and waved, then disappeared inside, leaving the girl shifting impatiently from foot to foot. Long moments later the crewer re-appeared, carrying a blue foil cube about the size of a loaf of bread. Yasmin watched carefully through a pair of full spectrum zooms as Renhardt zapped a phone payment to him, then caught the cube as it was tossed down, and stuffed it into her duffel bag. She hoisted the bag back on her shoulder, turned and started retracing her path at a jog. Yasmin and Tor backed up and ducked around the corner of the warehouse.

“Lookin’ for somebody?”

Yasmin jumped. A uniformed security guard leaned against the building. His pose affected casualness, but his right hand hung free, near his belt. Worse, she recognized him. He had been a member of the Tigers, the Viet Ching’s gang. And he was staring at Tor.

She stepped in front of Tor and smiled.

“I’m afraid we’re lost,” she said. “We’re looking for the ferry.”

“That way.” The hench pointed west, still frowning at Tor. Damn.

“Thanks,” she said, and took Tor’s hand. “I told you it was this way, honey!”

They almost bumped into Renhardt as she came trotting past. They followed in her wake, walking until they got out of sight of the security guard, then breaking into a run.

Renhardt was already out of sight, but when they reached the next corner Yasmin looked right and spotted the girl’s distinctive black and gray sweater bobbing through a crowd at the passenger ferry terminal—that same brightly lit oasis of modernity that Yasmin had arrived at from Seattle the previous day. She seemed to be heading for a boat at Berth Four. A lumed billboard at the entrance to the pier announced: “4: M.V. Salish Pride departing for Vancouver Island: Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach, Fanny Bay, Comox, Campbell River, Sayward, Port McNeill, Port Hardy. Connections to Northern Gulf Islands. 6 minutes to departure.”

Yasmin followed the girl onto the pier, then glanced over her shoulder and felt her whole body tense. The security guard who’d stopped them had just rounded the corner. And he’d acquired two friends. Damn! She could catch this ferry, but if the henches followed, she’d be cornered. Badly as she wanted to follow Renhardt, Yasmin couldn’t risk recapture by the Viet Ching, and she didn’t want to lead the tong to Choi. She needed another way out, and fast.

Two pedicabs stood idle nearby, drivers leaning against them. Not fast enough. And they’d have to go right past the approaching henches. I need a real taxi, Yasmin thought with irritation, wishing there were more motorized vehicles Downtown. She pulled out her phone, feigning tourist confusion, and linked to the ferry terminal. Announcements flashed and blared. She searched for “motor” taxi, then tried to call one, but got a 30 minute wait advisory.

Damn! Then a tiny blinking ad caught her eye: “Water Taxi pickup, vanfloat37.” Her GPS gave the direction, but when she looked up from the phone she still had to spend long seconds searching her surroundings before she spotted a water taxi sign in faded blue paint nailed to a post beside a battered ramp that descended into the dark underside of the pier. She blipped the vanfloat code. To her relief, she got an immediate acknowledgment. Taxi waiting. Tor was staring back at the catamaran ferry in Berth Four. She grabbed his arm like a doting girlfriend and tugged him toward the ramp, not risking another backward look. Behind her she could hear the quiet swish of the Salish Pride revving its propellers, then a single long hoot.

Later, she promised herself. If Mary Smarch is the pipeline, there will be more deliveries. And next time I’ll track her courier all the way to Choi.