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 Lucifer's Dragon
an extract from the novel
by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Serotonin Heights

'So, how is his Serene Excellency?'

It was a simple enough question. At least the silver-skinned bodyguard thought so. Sun glinted off her buttocks as she squinted over the shoulder of a sour-faced Chinese guard busy studying a flatscreen. The screen was staple-gunned to a marble wall in front of his deck. It showed a small blond boy playing a tri-D computer game, badly.

Lieutenant Chang Mao loathed Razz leaning over his shoulder, he didn't approve of swearing either. And he hated her nakedness. Prissy bastard, Razz reckoned.

Obviously enough, that was why she swore, crowded him and showed the man her bare arse.

Digging deep into the pocket of her Issuki Marino silver jacket, Razz casually palmed two Bayer Rochelle derms and slapped one on the underside of each wrist. Chang Mao sniffed in disgust and Razz grinned. Something else the poor little China boy didn't like. She could have had a ceramic pump implanted into her wrist but couldn't be bothered.

There was a lot Razz couldn't be bothered with these days. And worrying came high on that list. Crudely put, the derms were synapse fuckers. Guaranteed to hack out inhibitions, kill anxiety and reduce the speed at which Razz's brain took back seratonin.

For something that wasn't addictive, Razz sure needed a lot of them.

She'd have preferred to mainline seratonin or take it cold over ice with an olive, but neurotransmitters didn't work like that. None of them did. There was usually a finite loop of the juice, all Razz could do was slow down cerebral re-uptake, buy herself a little time.

The derms 'guaranteed' increased mental stability. Didn't deliver though, not for Razz. Extensive viral rewiring meant her body's core temperature had stabilized at 99.4 and the section of her cortex that granted sleep was toggled to a permanent Off. Razz palmed another two derms, flipping them out of the silver bubblepac with one razor-sharp nail and swore darkly.

Three years without sleep, he'd be stressed too.

On the Toshiba flatscreen, the small boy was nodding angrily, blue eyes shut in concentration. Wrapped round his head was a thin gold band, half princely crown/half bleeding-edge synapse link, one giant step beyond basic 'trodes. But no great help if you couldn't think fast enough to flip your way out of trouble, which Aurelio never could.

In front of the kid, balanced on an old, marble-topped Louis Napoleon table sat a small Sony tri-D showunit. Centre stage, hovering above the tri-D's platform was a mountain. And high on the mountain's side stood a fuzzy-logic Celtic dragon. Way below, about to fall off the edge, crouched an impossibly beautiful angel with long black hair and snake-thin hips. They were hurling white-hot fire bolts at each other.

The dragon was winning. Which wasn't a surprise, games play wasn't Aurelio's hot suit. No magic left, almost out of life, and he hadn't even got off the mountain.

'How is he...?' Lieutenant Chang Mao demanded, like the answer was obvious, which Razz supposed it was.

'Sulking,' Razz said. She could have added, as usual.

The Chinese techie nodded, sucking at his teeth as he passed one hand over a floating track ball, blinked the cursor into one corner of his screen to cut in on the boy's sullen face. Even cropped in tight, the blond-haired child was too mournful to make usable vid clip. Poor little shit.

Razz's face was sour as she casually elbowed Chang Mao aside to stare intently at his screen. The kid looked tired, upset, all too aware of the cameras watching his every move. Aurelio's reign was coming to an end. A year, maybe two if he was very lucky. Then puberty and enforced obscurity.

'Wouldn't you be upset?' Razz asked. She used Japanese, so did Chang Mao. Most CySat employees did. Come to that, most people did full stop. That and US English. Razz was so used to both, she flicked between the two barely noticing.

It was late morning and the technician had less than ten minutes to edit together Friday lunchtime's upload of the young Doge at play. All the man needed was one minute of Lucifer's Dragon and thirty seconds of smiling child to end newVenice's good Newz slot, but Lieutenant Chang Mao had a nasty feeling it wasn't going to happen.

And he knew damn well he couldn't count on the Doge's silver-skinned bodyguard for help. He didn't like Razz or what she represented; an older, more chaotic, overly indulgent way of handling security. Lizard-skin shoulderplates grafted over shark cartilage, for God's sake. Virally-wired exotics were a thing of the past, expensive luxuries for anally-retentive, insecure metaNationals. WeGuard-Beijing were the future. Now they were here, she should go.

She wasn't needed. When CySat nV put the city's security franchise out to tender Beijing came up with a package fifty years ahead of the nearest opposition. As of last week, the Piazza San Marco had been quietly, discreetly lined with linkless Brownings spliced into the city's JCIT combat AI.

Done discreetly because CySat might have twice the GP of Imperial France and be the most meta of all metaNationals, but it was also known for its trademark liberal paternalism. Linkless Brownings set around CySat's Global HQ didn't sit too well with that image.

That CySat's Council of Twelve felt it necessary to retain the services of a street samurai, even one as famous as Razz was an insult to WeGuard-Beijing... As was the silver woman's total contempt for modesty. How any female of her advancing age - of any age - could wander the long marble corridors of the palazzo not just with her pudenda showing but wearing gold labia rings, her body hair singed bare, was beyond him.

'Got a problem?' Razz aked suddenly, crowding in on the WeGuard techie, knowing he hated the stink of garlic and sweat on her skin. She didn't like fastidious people: and those derms were getting less and less effective at keeping her aggression levels in check.

Razz sighed, fingering the handle of her shockblade. All it would take was a quick flick of its mother-of-pearl button and a high voltage, low resistance blast would take the Chinese technician to his knees. Sweet as pie.

Unfortunately she couldn't afford the grief. But it was a close run thing...

'I'm going in,' she said, reaching an off-the-cuff, not to mention highly irregular decision. Lazily Razz flexed the claws of her right hand. Razor-sharp molyblades slid out from under each nail, and then retracted automatically when Razz relaxed the flexor muscle attached to her fingers.

It was an old, old augmentation, but Razz was still ridiculously proud of it.

The lieutenant was beginning to look alarmed, minute beads of sweat breaking out across the forehead of his round face, his brown eyes widening behind unfashionable, heavy-lensed spectacles. The man was PsiOps, a data pusher, he wasn't paid to take risks.

'It's not allowed,' he protested, 'you'll get into trouble.'

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he knew he'd made a mistake. Razz just grinned and nodded towards the door separating Chang Mao's mixing room from the young Doge's living quarters. What people saw was age-blackened oak, festooned with gilded cherubs and inlaid with small panels of tortoise-shell and ivory, what they got was a solid core of standard two-inch thick bomb-proof protein/polymer micromesh, fitted on all sides with recessed titanium deadlocks.

It predated WeGuard. Hell, it even predated Razz...

'Klick the keys,' she demanded.

Resigned to the outsider's arrogance, Chang Mao obediently tapped a numeric sequence into his deck, and waited for the soft thud which signalled the door's electro-magnetic bolts had slid back into their sockets. The little shit liked her anyway. Maybe the bitch could get him to smile. Someone had to.

Chang Mao would have guessed that Razz was good, even if WeGuard HQ in Beijing hadn't given him her background (plus that meme about a black clinic in M'Dina, where 3Razz was supposedly on ice ready to receive a mindset already upload to a numbered Swiss databank). The woman moved like a cross between a panther and a snake. Just the way she stood said, 'back off...' But she was getting old, and old people lost their edge.

Chang Mao risked a sideways glance at the silver woman and wondered if she was as dangerous as everyone said. Then, in the darkened reflection of his Toshiba flatscreen, he caught Razz's sardonic smile as she watched him watching her, and decided he'd better believe it.

Hastily, Chang Mao reached inside his uniform jacket for a Netcard, swiped it through his deck's reader and busied himself calling up a private e-vid mailbox. By the time Razz had pulled open the over-carved oak door, Chang Mao had binned three local vidverts offering him Mitsubishi hovers he could never hope to afford, and was staring at the grainy image of his mother talking that morning from a public-access vidbooth.

Taiyang cong Shaoshan shengi (the sun rises in Shaoshan) read the revolutionary slogan now scrolling endlessly across his screen. It wasn't true. Nothing rose in Shaoshan except dust from the dried-out lotus ponds. These days the birthplace of China's first Marxist emperor was a ghost town. That was the only reason he'd enlisted in WeGuard anyway.

The vidbooth quality was even worse than usual, with stuttering bands of interference and enough electronic flicker to make him snow blind.

It was a bad day and Chang Mao was beginning to get a headache. How much worse it was about to get the WeGuard had no idea.

Ceci tuera cela (this will kill that)

Sperm futures were up 129 points on Dow Jones, 151 points on FTSE. Natural fertility was down 0.19% year on year, except in Finland which showed a staggering 1.2% fall. Figures scrolled up the black glass surface of Count Ryuchi's desk, each more or less what he expected.

It was fifteen years since CySat had bought FffC GmB in Frankfurt and franchised a string of G&Stork fertility clinics across every major capital. Since then, aggressive marketing had given FffC almost global control of private-clinic IV fertilisation. 43% of males in the Western world now went in automatically on their 18th birthday for a testicular biopsy, sperm cells frozen for later use, allowing them to father their own children.

Even men with zero sperm count, with no functioning sperm in their seminal fluid could produce healthy offspring under FffC's patented method. Given that 18% of the world's males now counted as zero-rated sperm producers and fewer than 1 in 100 men now met the UN definition of 'functionally fertile' (natural intercourse/natural birth), the Count liked to think that CySat's not so recent acquisition counted almost as a public service...


© Jon Courtenay Grimwood 1998

Lucifer's Dragon is published in the UK by Hodder Headline.

 

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