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The Tachyon was pumping. The floating international sex and drug club, outlawed on every continent that had ever heard of it, had entered into its fourth night in this Yokohama warehouse with its usual abandon. Of the (traditional) 69 initiators of this event less than a third were still present or conscious or alive. It was not unusual for a large number of unscheduled drop-ins to refresh these ranks, but this time organizers had been somewhat more successful than previously in guarding the location data; even those of the super-rich who could normally afford to find an informant willing to risk the punishment for disclosure (an equally traditional painful and prolonged death) had apparently had no such luck, and now there were only twenty-one active participants. What they lacked in numbers they made up for in enthusiasm.
The raw venue was a featureless box-like building, half a million cubic meters of space framed by heavy windowless stone walls. It had been originally designed to house a nuclear refit facility that would have made its operators vastly wealthy through the black market rebuilding in un-monitored conditions of outdated reactors for third world dictators (and its illegal workers and unsuspecting neighbours sterile and cancerous from inevitable radiation leakage), but had never been commissioned. The Tachyon Collective had wrought its usual spectacular magic on the place in anticipation of this scheduled weekend's festivities, and the space now featured four floors of decadent luxury, room after room of extravagantly appointed suites and lounges and baths and chambers.
There was a huge transparent pool, underneath which glowing teardrop was situated an even larger cushioned basin upholstered in an oily satin that felt like wet skin. There was a thing they called the Conqueror Worm, which consisted of a series of lightless tunnels and chambers whose walls had the pulsing fluid texture of internal organs, all resonating to a gargantuan subsonic heartbeat. As one rolled, crawled, tumbled through this dark viscous maze tiny subdermal injectors hidden in the yielding surfaces delivered micro-dosages of a varied mix of muscle relaxants, barbiturates and alkaloidal hallucinogens.
There were pain/pleasure rooms where an astonishing collection of exotic hardware allowed one to give or receive as finely tuned a mix of those two sensations as technology would allow, mostly by way of a grand array of cleverly designed nerve induction tools that could fit in or on the body in virtually every way imaginable.
There were animals, trapezes, costumes, sexbots, and devices based on the meld technology which were designed to allow the users to literally reverse their roles during the sex act. There were vats of food and drink, to consume or cavort in, g-force devices to simulate flight or falling or acceleration, whole areas suffused with narcotic gases. There was a forty-foot vulva and a 60-foot penis, constructed to an amazing degree of accuracy, and with extensive robotic capabilities.
These latter were the centrepieces of the huge open dance floor, a great oval space that was focus on a cushioned arena punctuated with 'refreshment' zones where any mind- or mood-altering substance known to man could be ingested in any of a dozen ways. The entire area was awash with pulsing tribal rhythms in light and sound from no obvious source. The five couples presently engaged in some form of rhythmic activity on the dance floor appeared to be themselves generating light effects, flashing or sizzling or exploding with colours in time to the music. Whatever invisible subsonic driver was generating the low frequencies in the sound, the air pressure changes were intense enough to be actually moving their bodies about as they danced or humped or swayed. The entire floor appeared to be subtly undulating to the rhythm.
The overall effect for the observer had an undersea quality to it, or like that of a misadjusted holographic projection. Implausibly, despite the apparent volume of the music, it was also possible to clearly hear every breath, utterance and body sound of every person present.
In addition to the 'dancing' couples, seven individuals in two groups cavorted in the padded amphitheater of the arena, this representing the final gathering reflex for the majority of the remaining party-goers, the last gasps of the epic blast that had peaked in this space several tens of hours before. It would be a considerable understatement to say that each and every one of those present was in an altered state of consciousness.
Which is why the sudden appearance of a late-model courier street-luge with cargo sac -- directly out of a solid rear wall at an impossible velocity to an equally impossible inertia-free stop on the pulsing dance floor, centred in the open space between two vast pulsating sex organs -- apparently came as no surprise. As the gently smoking vehicle bobbed in the currents of light and sound the decaying revel persisted unaffected.
For the cabby it was just another in this apparently relentless string of absurdly unlikely events, and part of his mind was leaning way back in the easy-chair of dispassionate observation, enjoying the unfolding cavalcade as if he had done little more than buy a ticket to the very best in full-sensory amusement rides. Another part was indescribably alive in the moment, humming with adrenalin like a plucked cello string, sharp as a monofilament blade, awestruck and awful. Yet another part was, for the fifth or sixth time tonight, simply freaked out.
Spaxter was all that and more. His passage through had been another instance of fugue-state time-dilation, during which he had been able to engage in further dialogue with the rapidly maturing techno-entity he called Shela, study the reclaimed memory block from the beading, and contemplate again the mysteries attendant upon a man in a cassock and a pyramid in eclipse, all while the largest part of him apparently performed the manifestly metaphysical feat that had allowed their vehicle to momentarily suspend the laws of physics. This transcendent event was the fiery focal point, the blindingly brilliant pillar of perfect coherence around which these other streams of thought flitted like bioluminescent insects. The implications of its existence were enough to leave a large piece of his conscious self simply slack-jawed and stupefied.
Of the information acquired during the passage the focus was unquestionably Shela's communication regarding the event which she referred to as the Nuncedus, encompassing as it did oblique references to the entire history of the interaction of the Esnadrela with Planet Earth and the underlying motivations for their present activities.
Spaxter had no clear idea as to just how Shela had this information. While he had bonded with her considerably since her first appearance, and she was very much like an appendage of his extended self, she was also a strongly autonomous presence of which he could only glimpse a fragment. She invoked the idea that the technology of the Urdla was significantly different in nature to that of humanity, more like a single unified organism grown out of Urdla will, or a holographic enhancement of their combined psycho-physical form. But her separation from the whole in uniting with Spaxter had made her into a yet different type of being, both connected to the source and yet manifestly free. Clearly not only Spaxter, but the Esnadrela themselves would have trouble understanding what she had become.
However it worked, Spaxter now had a very good idea, by way of extrapolations made by checking his direct experiences and suppositions against her intimate awareness of her source species, what their plans were in relation to Tai Nijiri and the Muteikoo. He knew he had very little time to save his friend's life, if it was not already too late.
In one motion he unsealed the pod and got to his feet. Tetsu was perfectly still on the bobbing smear. In a few seconds Spaxter had scanned the partiers enough to ascertain that he was not going to get anything useful from any mind present. He extended the Gauntleted hand and took what reading he could of the subtle electronic patterns radiating the dance floor, aware as he did it that the discs at the palm now made the glove a much different device than he had designed.
Without enhancement the Gauntlet in this location would have been able to identify the main power and electromagnetic sources generating the light and sound effects, and not much else. With Shela now part of the equation his reading of the room appeared in his visual field like a coloured spectroscopic sub-surface scan of every structural and electronic feature within a thousand feet. In a moment he had identified what seemed to be a central control cluster in an alcove next to an exit door at the farthest point of the room from where he stood, and was sprinting past the swaying couples to reach it.
Spaxter's sudden departure was all it took to rouse Tetsu from his momentary paralysis. In a few seconds he had debarked the awkward craft, and leaving it powered up where it floated loped off in the direction Spaxter had taken, nodding as if bowing to the gargantuan genitalia as he left them behind.
The control cluster was camouflaged behind a vaguely salacious mural that decorated the alcove, and turned out to be a main juncture for most of the automatic entertainment and security systems. It was also the central link to a remote monitoring setup on a suborbital platform about a kilometre directly overhead. In his initial Gauntlet incursion to this system Spaxter became almost immediately aware that their sudden appearance had caused quite a stir.
Apparently the Tachyon approach to security was marvellously benign, and effective. In the event of discovery the organizers and any evidence of their whereabouts was simply nowhere to be found. Once the participants had arrived they were left completely up to their own devices, all systems functioned automatically and there was no way to tie any system or participant to those who had instigated the event. A small team monitored from near-space as part of an ongoing policy of quality control, and ostensibly they were willing to break protocol and step in should one of the more important guests find themselves in some kind of difficulty, but they were also fully prepared to abandon the entire site and its occupants in the unlikely event of a discovery by authorities. In the twelve-year history of the bi-annual party this had occurred only twice. Generally things had gone without incident (unless you counted the five deaths and one hundred and fifty-nine injuries) and they had been able to successfully salvage the equipment and sterilize the location.
Now the monitors that lounged in the spacious passenger section of the customized Eurodrogue 77 jump platform making lazy stratospheric circles high in the sky, almost perfectly invisible from all forms of surveillance by virtue of its late-model military shielding, were responding with disbelief to the information they were receiving. Apparently the exterior perimeter alarms had taken note of two impossible events, and the main interior sensors a third. Two objects had suddenly appeared at the northeastern wall, one so small and fast that it might have been nothing but signal noise, the other so vast that it might have been the moon itself trying to mess with their heads. Inside, the bio-readings suddenly jumped in the main room, as if two of the remaining participants had grown extra bodies.
The most obvious conclusion was that they were discovered, that a projectile weapon had breached the wall, and two lead agents had entered the structure. But no other readings supported this thesis. The wall was not breached, there were no transmissions, no weapons or counter-electronic signatures that would have accompanied a police action. A quick check of the main-room camera playbacks revealed the appearance of the smear and the two men, and their bee-line to the main panel. Exterior recordings showed a perfect black hole appear where a good piece of the sky should be, and a ground-level streak that in slow motion was revealed to be the smear and cargo pod driving into the wall at a staggering velocity and somehow going -- through... ? What could it possibly mean? They hovered in indecision.
With Gauntlet/Shela pressed palm-flat against the front panel of the control module, Spaxter scanned the local database. He was well aware what unlikely installation they had stumbled into, that they were being monitored at this moment, and that just dozens of yards from where he stood a vast black circle obscured the night sky. He dug into the local database. Full bios were immediately accessible for every individual in the building, and he noted with interest in passing that no fewer than seven globally recognizable celebrities were present, and that each of their files included an 'Insurance' folder that contained extremely compromising information. There was video footage, DNA evidence, taped confessions... but Spaxter wasn't interested. He was busy checking their vehicles.
Tetsu was ahead of him. He, too, had quickly identified this as most likely nothing less than a Tachyon installation. He wanted very badly to stop and explore the experience of this the most exclusive club on the planet, to find out if the rumours were true, to see what representatives of the ultra-elite might even now be cavorting nearby. But he hardly entertained this notion for a moment. He no longer really considered his will as his own. Something extremely important was going on that he did not particularly understand. Spaxter understood, and Spaxter needed his help, and that was good enough for Tetsudai Dandan.
With a glance as he arrived he had established that they were at a primary entry, a high security pressure lock that was probably camouflaged from the outside. Something about it told him at once that it was hardly ever used. Casting around he immediately located something else, fifteen feet to their left, an encased stairwell that delved into the floor. Loping over to it, the cabby leaned over the nearest railing to peer into its shadowy depths, and sniffed.
"Shako," he called. "Garage."
Spaxter was by his side in a moment. His somewhat less intuitive research had established the same fact, that by far the majority of attendees arrived by vehicle via an underground access route that seemed to connect in an as-yet undetermined way with something like the same subterranean transit system that Tetsu had used to get them to the Ghost Walk, and this stairway was the principal portal for the vehicle storage space.
In seconds he was down the long, broad stairs and swinging a heavy glass-paned door onto the softly-lit platform of a vehicle drive-through, Tetsu two steps behind. Spaxter's system meld had established that most participants availed themselves of an automated limo service that the Tachyon organizers had installed here, driverless vehicles dispatched to collect the guests from any of a dozen connection points near major airports. The interface object that separated from the righthand wall and approached Spaxter looked like a Fabergé egg walking on the ceiling using ten-foot-long legs of ruby laser-light.
When he saw the glittering gold-weave egg with its light-beam legs and single opalescent eye, Tetsu knew immediately what it was, and entertained two very different reactions. The first was awe at the staggering amount of money that must be involved in the Tachyon; this was the interface pod of a Luftwaffe, most advanced of the available autodroid systems, and by far the most expensive. The second was anger, for the entire autodroid industry was scheduled to put he and the other remaining human chauffeurs summarily out of work in the very near future.
Spaxter raised the Gauntlet palm-first and centred it over the egg's now-glowing eye. Several seconds passed, during which the egg throbbed softly, the eye seemed to flicker. Then the moment was over. The egg rose away on its inverted stork's legs of light and disappeared into the sculpted façade of a piece of surreal (and intensely erotic) 3-D art that highlighted the near wall.
Before Tetsu could draw breath, at least twelve extremely important questions jostling for dominance in his speech centres, he was cut short by the unmistakable sound of a reactor-driven electric vehicle being powered up nearby, and that vehicle's extremely sudden arrival in front of him.
It was a stretch black sedan not unlike the pursuit van that had first chased them underground, but a whole lot prettier. Its lines were like that of a sea-going mammal, it rode on its magnetically-shaped energy cushion like a resting colt. The side panel disappeared in a way Tetsu had never seen before, and he reflexively leaned forward to see what was inside.
Spaxter did not hesitate, but stepped in, sinking into a moving seat that had not been there a moment before. The seat moved again, with Spaxter in it, disappearing into the vehicle.
There was almost a moment where Tetsu did not react, and having once hesitated would have found himself paralyzed. There would have been an awkward moment, Spaxter forced to return to his companion, find a way to break through this moment of seizing doubt or fear or whatever.
But it didn't happen that way. The cabby moved, in a second had found himself resting in his own free-floating seat inside the Luftwaffe and then swept smoothly into the dim interior. The side panel reappeared miraculously, and the vehicle was at once in motion.
It took only a moment for his eyes to adjust, and he found that he and Spaxter were sitting three-quarters of the way back in a sumptuously appointed cabin that at a glance had about every amenity with which his imagination would have supplied it and not a few that would have been beyond its abilities. The front and back of the machine were smooth bay windows unmarred by controls of any kind, and they gave stupendous wraparound views of the vehicle's progress, accelerating smoothly through a maze of turns and connections in featureless tunnels lit by wall-mounted phosphor bands.
Tetsu found that when he turned to address Spaxter the seat interpreted his body language and did the turn for him, and now he faced his black-clad associate. Spaxter turned as well. The two men faced each other across the silent space, night tunnels rushing towards them on one side, away from them on the other. As if interpreting the mood, the interior suddenly had music, softly swelling, an atmospheric symphonic wash colouring the ambience.
Spaxter melded his comrade, saw the astonishing array of emotional states all lined up behind the force of his will, the extraordinary impact the sights and sounds of the last twenty minutes had had on him, and with how much effort he was suppressing his native reactions to them. Once again the agent marvelled.
For several seconds Tetsu just gazed at him, his mind wonderfully free of any focused thought. Then Spaxter smiled as he watched his friend think of something to say, search his mind for the best translation, and then prepare to speak it, aware even as he did so that the speaking part was superfluous.
"Man," said the cabby, summoning his own smile, "we sure do get around."