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Chapter 5

He was fading in and out. Actually more like clicking in and out, with every mode shrouded in mist. There was unquestionably a strong discontinuity between his present state of "awareness" and his last clear memory, sitting on the shuttle. For some time he felt certain he was experiencing an unexpected side-effect of Nijiri's data dump -- that the dimly-sensed, ever-shifting scenery around him was part of some three-dimensional image file the access code for which was yet to be transferred.


The discontinuity, disorientation, all seemed to be connected in some way with a severe shock he had received, which supported his theory that the dump had been so powerful that he had lost consciousness. And yet... the more he struggled to align his thoughts, to find the surface of this dense, viscous ocean in which his mind was submerged, the more sure he became that the shock he had received then had not been physical, but emotional. Something in the content of the data had shocked him, yes, but it had not been the direct source of this present paralysis.


A tiny corner of his consciousness anchored itself to this knowledge, recognizing even as it did so that in all probability it was an anchor without substance planted in the shifting silt at the bottom of an irresistible sea. What was happening to him?


Lights, movement, motion, then the grey wash of deep fog, then a sense of time dilation, more lights... was he talking to someone? Like a deep sea diver in one of those antique metal pressure suits he sought for some kind of solid ground in the mental mirk, heaved the leaden bulk of his consciousness around to find footing on it, and with herculean effort tried to push his head up out of the obscuring atmosphere. Little by little things began to clear, ever so slowly, even as his efforts brought a pain as of internal pressure, as if he were furiously attempting to dispel a roomful of steam by blowing through a straw.


Street scenes, night, he was walking -- or rather, what he saw was what he would see if he were walking, briskly, down a street, at night... in Tokyo... Yet there was no other sensation to support this idea, no physical correlate, only the barest whisper of sound, of traffic, pedestrians, ground cars...


Spaxter relaxed, sinking as with a sigh back into the gelatinous grey, holding on to his new-found balance, focusing his coalescing will on finding an answer to this new mystery.


He had been on the shuttle, connected with Tai -- why was he going to Japan to meet him? There was a data dump -- about what? As he pondered, there was a sense of increasing clarity, as if the longer he could keep his consciousness centreed the more lucid his thinking would become. Yet the experiential world still seemed impossibly far away; instead he explored the slowly-expanding landscape of his inner being.


Feeling cautiously for his motor control centre he got a glimpse of the process itself, observing as through a frosted glass the area of his mind where the body was being instructed by some motivating force other than his own to drive the muscles and animate the frame. Deja vu swept over him, without meaning. This was reminiscent of... ? Words. Words being manufactured... Blue river...?


There was a perceptual snap, like a plastic lid being popped off with the thumb-nail, and Spaxter suddenly achieved a tangible enhancement in his connection with his external senses. Still watching his body being driven by some foreign will he now saw clearly where and what "he" was doing, heard the Tokyo nightscape, could feel a small measure of the sensations from his body as it strode through a crowded thoroughfare. He had felt something not dissimilar to this the times that he had remote-operated android and other robot equipment.


Which memory brought to mind his meld gear, and he carefully probed that part of his brain which interfaced with the prosthesis. Something told him that whatever was generating his paralysis would not allow him access to this most potent device, and at first his suspicion was born out. In a moment, however, he realized that the meld was, indeed, accessible, but only in a backwards fashion. It felt very much as if who- or whatever wanted him incommunicado hadn't quite known what to do with the meld and had shut off only those most obvious connections to the rest of his brain. Long usage had, however, generated a fairly wide spectrum of organic pathways that communicated from device to tissue, and Spaxter found he was able to make his way up one of these and enter the activated environment of the machine. Getting there was sort of like walking backwards across a plank in the dark wearing flippers, but eventually he made it.


And now he gently brought the apparatus into a ready state, taking maximum caution against the probability that he was in some fashion being monitored. At absolute minimum activation the meld would not be able to reach anything outside himself, but it would allow him to attempt something he had never before felt the need to do -- meld his own brain.


Carefully he brought up the power level, gently probing into the nearest hemisphere, mapping out the alien control structure that overlaid his mind like wet tissue. For the most part it was like coming up against resistive barriers, and though he felt sure that focusing the meld would let him break through these obstructions, he did not yet feel confident enough to want to alert whatever powers were involved that he was conscious and actively probing the limits of his prison.


He found his way back to the motor centres, and once again felt an uncanny familiarity in the way the body was being manipulated from some external medium. The instructions did not come to the brain complete, but were somehow utilizing part of Spaxter's own processing capacity to create the directions that the body was following. Intense deja vu summoned again the vision he had struggled for earlier, stronger this time, and he knew with powerful certainty that this image was linked to his enforced amnesia. A river... words... "Ah"... "Spaxter"...


Something distracted him then, something from the visual field, and he turned his ever-clarifying perception on the view through the portals of his eyes. He discovered that his body had made its way through the industrial core and had taken a vast glass and mirror corridor known as the "Amaterasu", after the mythical goddess whose mirror according to legend lies within the last of a hundred coffers in the sacred Shinto temple at Iso. Every now and then he would see his body walk past one of the numerous reflective surfaces this route put in his path, and then he would catch a glimpse of the way he looked.


As far as he could tell there was nothing unusual, save perhaps for a slight stiffness to the bearing. The shades were set to full mirror, so no reading could be taken of the eyes. He was about to go back to exploring the mysteries of his motor centre when his attention was caught again. There was something not quite normal about the head, after all. A glint, on the skin, just behind each eye.


Again there was a stabbing surety that this meant something, another potent clue to the nature of his truant memories and an explanation of his psychic abduction. He saw something else in the passing mirrors which made him think, and that was his Gauntleted hand. How much control could he take of that, if the situation demanded it? Upon investigating he found that the section of the motor centre devoted to the arm was shrouded in a dense fogbank, but that the meld was able to slide past these restrictions and bring life to the hand independent of the arm by way of the interactive glove. He tested this new theory by flexing the hand and checking the results in a passing mirror.


And suddenly the mirror was no longer passing, the arm was rising. There was a momentary sensation of weird "sharing" as he felt another energy activating the hand and glove combination. He recoiled from that contact as if it had been some kind of demonic possession, withdrawing all communication from the appendage in fear of exposure.


And now he watched with grim fascination as the palm coded what was now revealed to be a lift access door, and his body stepped into the chamber thus opened. Wracking his brain for information regarding where he might be now, all he could come up with was the probability that he was in one of the eight high-end, ultra-exclusive residential highrises that rose out of the octagonal Amaterasu, homes of the most wealthy and influential of Tokyo's elite. The simple elegance of the lift interior, which was a full-dimensional projection of the view someone would have had rising at the same speed into the evening sky over ancient Tokyo, Edo in the Tokugawan era, supported this thesis.


For a moment Spaxter relaxed, sure that he had decoded a piece of the puzzle. A vastly wealthy industrial magnate had utilized some powerful new organic remote-manipulation technology to bring Spaxter to his home where... what? Perhaps it was part of one of the elaborate power games the Japanese techno-elite were rumoured to indulge in, he was part of some kind of wager, and when he arrived he would be let in on the joke, reimbursed handsomely for the inconvenience, and sent on his way. Maybe he was being recruited by one of the fiercely competitive Top Five... Maybe he had already been recruited and was even now on the job...


The door slid open on a vast living area decorated in typical Japanese sparseness, raked deep pile carpet and low sculpted seating creating an affect not unlike a Zen rock garden, all terminating at a great glass wall overlooking the core and harbour. Spaxter watched as his hand shot out and overrode an automatic circuit that probably would have normally brought the lights up to welcome this arriving guest, or host. Spaxter gingerly probed the glove memory with the meld to see if he could come up with an identity for the code he had entered that had allowed the elevator to bring him here unchallenged, but came up blank.


Now with obvious stealth his body was moving through the shadows along the interior wall, swiftly and surely. Now he was entering a second chamber, equal in size to the first but equipped with a vast gravity-fluid bed covered with satin sheets. A single contour in the centre of the bed told of its one diminutive occupant. His gloved hand was coming up, pointing at the figure...


He was almost too late. The rasper-charge was already building before he fully realized that his last guess had been the correct one. He had already been recruited, as an assassin. With a spasmodic full-power flex of his meld gear he overrode the destructive process set to burn this person to ash, psychically blasted his way through the grey fogbanks shrouding his motor controls, whipped his hands up to his head -- and plucked the foreign objects that were there, affixed lightly to either temple.


The next seconds were surreal. He stood there, suddenly and powerfully in full command of his faculties, like somebody wakened by a gunshot discovering in the adrenalin-surge moment that the reality was identical to the dream, only crystal clear. He was looking down at his gloved hand, in the palm of which lay two small silver discs.


Large slabs of his memory were slapping back into place now, including the entire sequence that led up to his blackout on the shuttle, including that brief glimpse through the night-shrouded portal in the darkened, silent cabin of one edge of a vast black disc on a close, parallel path, drawing closer. Except... what had been in Nejiri's data dump? There had been some extraordinary piece of information, with terrifying implications, it was why that glimpse of the disc had not seemed so incredible. And yet searching for this errant information was like probing the mouth with the tip of the tongue and discovering a ragged hole where had lately been a tooth.


As he gazed in silent wonder at the seemingly innocuous circular slices of metal in his palm, he knew intuitively, and from trace signals picked up through the sensitive surface of the Gauntlet, that he had indeed been subject by way of these devices to some kind of monitoring, and that he had by the speed of their removal avoided, by as little as a half a second, a reactive burst of energy that in all likelihood was designed -- if control could not be immediately regained -- to destroy his brain.


And even as this information sank in, the glove started to fairly hum from the power seepage emanating from those discs; the silver circles began to glow a dull red, vibrated briefly, whined like an over-amped electric motor, then with a soft ephemeral puff of smoke seemed to implode, leaving nothing.


And now here he was, standing by a bed in the darkened room of some unidentified industrial potentate in the middle of the night somewhere in Tokyo. The bedclothes stirred, there was a deep breath and exhalation, then the figure settled back into slumber.


Somebody had wanted this man dead. Spaxter melded him, anxious for any kind of information that would help explain things. Except for the fact that he had a weakness for little girls and in dreams indulged in some rather bizarre fantasy imagery (such as flying on a winged gorilla over a rolling landscape of oysters the size of sperm whales), Spaxter could glean nothing useful from his sleeping brain.


He turned then, and looked out to the city spread at the foot of this man's bed, taking a couple of minutes of quiet reflection in the cool dark, sorting uneasily through the disturbing occurrences that had in so few hours transformed his world.


In a moment he would slide stealthily out of this room, palm a ride to the main levels, and make his way towards Shizuoka and a friend who was very likely in some kind of trouble. But for now he was content to stand there in vertical repose, drifting with the tides of his turbulent thoughts.


In fact, at one point while Spaxter stood there the sleeping man did wake up, rising as from an unconscious summons out of his dream-states to open one eye and look upon the spectral figure standing in uncanny stillness at the side of his bed. Then he closed his eye and sank once more into sleep, if somewhat less restful.


Later, this man would tell his close associates of this vivid dream, of this night visitation by Death, and how he feared it might be an omen of imminent personal danger.