1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16


Chapter 8

In ten minutes the unlikely pair had made their way down the first cross-street to the nearest transport hub. The vertical-stacking vehicle bay was almost deserted, which in this neighbourhood at this hour was not unusual. There were no manned cabs of any kind, ground or air, and all the robot vehicles were either out of commission or out on call.


During the walk Spaxter had ascertained that the cabby's name was Tetsudai Dandan, that he was 37 years old, unmarried, and on his salary and tips was living in relative comfort in a one-bedroom domestic pod suspended in the Hookoo clustre over Tokyo Bay. He had picked up his limp saving a party of debarking moon children who had lost equilibrium on a rampway and were about to fall into the path of a moving baggage belt. Throwing himself between the children and the belt he had deflected their course but fallen victim to a crushing leading edge of the vast device. Unfortunately he had been at that time experiencing a particularly lean season and had only been able to afford the most minimal reconstruction job. The company insurance claimed the security recordings he needed in order to file for official compensation were lost in a magnetic pulse accident and they stated budgetary problems for not hiring legal counsel on his behalf. The moon families, though grateful, were in even worse financial state. And so Dandan limped.


He seemed to have no apparent knowledge of anything related to the beads or their purveyors. His last memory before the karaoke was about midnight, sitting in his cab at flight level; somebody may have gotten in.


Most of this information Spaxter attained through the meld, as the bulk of their conversation was taken up with attempting to make Tetsudai comfortable with having lost an hour of his life only to awaken as a Maxelva Sinatra impersonator. Spaxter avoided the unsettling truth, inferring that he had been his last passenger, that they had decided to go out together to the bar, that a practical joke had led to the mistake in identity. For all Spaxter knew he had been the passenger that had slipped into Dandan's cab and beaded him, they had gone together to the Amaterasu, and certainly the Sinatra thing was a bit of a joke, and, as it turned out, quite practical.


Tetsu was made somewhat confused and uncertain by Spaxter's terse dismissal of this disturbing event, but he also seemed resolved not to lose his sense of humour over it. Spaxter soon discovered him to be an amusing and amiable companion.


Now that they had found the vehicle stand functionally vacant Dandan suggested several other transportation options and the approximate time it would take to access each one, obviously fully prepared for his strange compatriot to disappear into the night as easily as he had seemed to step out of it. But Spaxter had spotted a series of service/storage garages behind the cab-stacker and he guessed that at least one of the vehicles barely visible in the shadows would be functional, and that a working cabby would know how it could be made operational in an emergency. No doubt he himself would have made the attempt with just willpower and the Gauntlet, but the presence of this fellow seemed in some way important right now, and Spaxter grasped at the chance to keep him with him.


"Listen, Tetsu, I'd be willing to bet that you could get one of those units back there up and running for me if you really wanted."


"Oh, oh," the small man's eyes went wide at the thought, "Those are private owner ground car, cannot whoosh away like a robot airboat. I get a fine, make me pay for a year, quota restricted, license review, never sing again!" This last with a broad grin.


"Tetsudai, you`ve been wondering, here’s the truth. I'm in a very serious situation here. People are out to get me, and I have a friend in very big trouble who I've got to get to right away before something really bad happens to him. He's in Shizuoka."


"Not so serious you can go karaoke," Dandan replied, brows knitting.


"Okay, okay, I made that story up," Spaxter admitted. "But the truth is a helluva long story and I don't understand it all myself and I'm sorry you've gotten mixed up in it and if I were a decent fellow I guess I'd just shut my mouth and go on my way and you'd forget about this whole thing in a while and live a happy life, but part of the truth is that I blacked out too and when I came around I saw that you were blacked out and I helped you to wake up again. I think those - people - that caused me - and you - to black out, are still after me, and I know they've already got my friend. I could use some help, and I like you. It's nice to have some company."


Dandan nodded once, as if he understood this explanation quite a bit better than the previous one, however more cryptic. He seemed thoughtful for a moment. "These - people - they will also come for Tetsudo?"


Spaxter hadn't thought of that. Was that the price of being used by the Beaders, that if you managed to break free from bondage you were hunted down and destroyed, safe against the possibility of suppressed memory resurfacing? It might not be up to him at all, these beings had drawn this unfortunate man into the game and now he must help him play it out. "Could be," he said.


Dandan nodded again, as if this too made perfect sense. "Are they N.A.?"


He was responding to the scene with the woman outside the club, but there was no doubt he was asking the right questions. Were the New Atlanteans responsible somehow? That woman's enigmatic comments had certainly inferred a connection, and there was a similarity in the ordered operation of her brain to that of the man in black -- but it was like the similarity between a hand-drawn rendering and the reality of the completed structure.


"No, but they may be involved."


Dandan had already started around the stacking tower towards the garages, his question seemingly somewhat rhetorical.


Spaxter stood for a moment, meld open, soaking in the night ambience, reading with wonder the simple and unsullied thoughts of his new associate. Most people confronted with a situation of this strangeness would have reacted with any of a dozen standard defensive ploys, rationalizing or fantasizing or cauterizing the mind. In the throes of the event Dandan had been disoriented and unbalanced, but now that there was something approaching an explanation and a course of action to be taken he was no more agitated than if he had just been informed of a fare waiting for him.


In twenty seconds a streamlined black ground car with seats for six slid dark and silent out of the garage and pulled to a stop before Spaxter. The front passenger panel slid open and he eased into the slightly bobbing shockseat. The panels slid again, and now the silence of the vehicle was complete. The car did not move. Spaxter turned to look at Tetsudai, who was looking at him. He melded him. Dandan spoke, and the words appeared in his head, the way words were supposed to appear when a person spoke, in unison with the sound of the speech, sometimes with a bit of rehearsal or - in Tetsu's case - translation.


"Can we talk, friend?"


"What is it?" Spaxter asked, and in the meld knew the answer before it was spoken, but listened politely.


"This is not standard vehicle -- emergency operations." The cabby turned and looked hard at Spaxter to see if he understood.


He did. These vehicles were meant for short distance high-speed transport by authorized emergency personnel. They were equipped with explosive-output battery systems that would probably have to be recharged before they could complete the 300 kilometre transit to Shizuoka. In addition each of the hundreds of such machines distributed around the city core would be registered on a central law enforcement system which would even now be noting the startup of this unit. Their every movement was being traced. In seconds they would be contacted to determine the nature of their activity. Spaxter reached out quickly to the car's main control panel and palmed it with the Gauntlet, ascertaining that at least the vehicle was not actively bugged.


"You still want to go?" the cabby queried. As he asked this Spaxter watched in the meld as he ran down the various options available, experiencing it as a kind of time lapse film of probable scenarios. They could take this vehicle in hops from station to station, charging at each location taking as much as twenty minutes. They might make it with just one stop, but probably not. Unfortunately their route would be immediately evident to any monitoring officers and since it seemed unlikely that they would be able to convince them that they were doing anything except absconding with this vehicle they would soon be intercepted by armed patrol ships.


They could simply use this machine to go in search of Dandan's own vehicle, which the cabby figured must be parked not terribly far from there since it too needed regular charging, but this might be time consuming and every second in the emergency transport increased the likelihood of apprehension. They could blast back to the transit tower where Spaxter could connect with a standard air shuttle or go subterranean and catch a tube train... there was some risk here from the security forces that were concentrated in the tower area, and who might very well already be aware of this restricted vehicle activation in their relative vicinity, but Dandan obviously thought this was the best of all possible choices and the one Spaxter would most likely opt for.


He didn't know that his quiet companion was thinking about a striding flight attendant with glinting temples. Spaxter felt a cool certainty that not only Tokyo police were interested in the activities of he and his new friend. It was very possible that there were other beaded agents in the area, and that if anywhere they were sure to be concentrated in the transit tower; some might already be headed in their direction.


The comlink crackled and a stern-faced official appeared in black and white on the dash screen. "Kakunin" he said. It was Japanese cop-slang for "identify yourself".


Spaxter reached over and touched the control bay again, severing contact. "There must be another way!" He spoke with enough urgency that something jarred loose in the cabby's thoughts.


"Oh... hai... yes..." Dandan began reluctantly, and as the idea formed Spaxter reeled, involuntarily sucking breath between clenched teeth.


The cabby looked at him with a kind of crooked sidelong smile that communicated a complicated blend of mischief, terror, and self-ridicule for even contemplating voicing what was about to be an incredibly stupid suggestion.


All he said was: "Ghost Walk."