The door to my office slid open. Hello,” I said, rising from my chair. You must be my nine oclock.” I said it as if I had a ten oclock and an eleven oclock, but I didnt. The whole Martian economy was in a slump, and even though I was the only private detective on Mars this was the first new case Id had in weeks. Yes,” said a high, feminine voice. Im Cassandra Wilkins.” I let my eyes rove up and down her body. It was very good work; I wondered if shed had quite so perfect a figure before transferring. Peo¬ple usually ordered replacement bodies that, at least in broad strokes, resembled their originals, but few could resist improving them. Men got more buff, women got curvier, and everyone modified their faces, remov¬ing asymmetries, wrinkles, and imperfections. If I ever transferred my¬self, Id eliminate the gray in my blond hair and get a new nose that would look like my current one had before itd been broken a couple of times. A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Wilkins,” I said. Im Alexander Lomax. Please have a seat.”
She was a little thing, no more than 150 centimeters, and she was wearing a stylish silvergray blouse and skirt but no makeup or jewelry. Id expected her to sit with a fluid catlike movement, given her delicate features, but she just sort of plunked herself into the chair. Th anks,” she said. I do hope you can help me, Mr. Lomax. I really do.”
Rather than immediately sitting down myself, I went to the coff ee¬maker. I filled my own mug, then offered Cassandra one; most models of transfer could eat and drink in order to be sociable, but she declined my offer. What seems to be the problem? ” I said, returning to my chair.
Its hard reading a transfers expression: the facial sculpting was usually excellent, but the movements were somewhat restrained. My husbandoh, my goodness, Mr. Lomax, I hate to even say this!” She looked down at her hands. My husband . . . hes disappeared.”
I raised my eyebrows; it was pretty damned difficult for someone to disappear here. New Klondike was locked under a shallow dome four kilometers in diameter and just twenty meters high at the central support column. When did you last see him?”
Three days ago.”
My office was small, but it did have a window. Through it, I could see the crumbling building next door and one of the gently sloping arches that helped hold up the transparent dome. Outside the dome, a dust storm was raging, orange clouds obscuring the sun. Auxiliary lights on the arch compensated for that, but Martian daylight was never very bright. Is your husband, um, like you?” I asked.
She nodded. Oh, yes. We both came here looking to make our for¬tune, just like everyone else.”
I shook my head. I mean is he also a transfer?”
Oh, sorry. Yes, he is. In fact, we both just transferred.”
Its an expensive procedure,” I said. Could he have been skipping out on paying for it?”
Cassandra shook her head. No, no. Joshua found one or two nice specimens early on. He used the money from selling those pieces to buy the NewYou franchise here. Thats where we metafter I threw in the towel on sifting dirt, I got a job in sales there. Anyway, of course, we both got to transfer at cost.” She was actually wringing her synthetic hands. Oh, Mr. Lomax, please help me! I dont know what Im going to do with¬out my Joshua!”
You must love him a lot,” I said, watching her pretty face for more than just the pleasure of looking at it; I wanted to gauge her sincerity as she replied. After all, people often disappeared because things were bad at home, but spouses are rarely forthcoming about that.
Oh, I do!” said Cassandra. I love him more than I can say. Joshua is a wonderful, wonderful man.” She looked at me with pleading eyes. You have to help me get him back. You just have to!”
I looked down at my coffee mug; steam was rising from it. Have you tried the police?”
Cassandra made a sound that I guessed was supposed to be a snort: it had the right roughness but was dry as Martian sand. Yes. Th eyoh, I hate to speak ill of anyone, Mr. Lomax! Believe me, its not my way, butwell, theres no ducking it, is there? They were useless. Just totally useless.”
I nodded slightly; its a story I heard often enough. I owed much of what little livelihood I had to the NKPDs indifference to most crime. They were a private force, employed by Howard Slapcoff to protect his thirtyyearold investment in constructing this city. The cops made a token effort to keep order but that was all. Who did you speak to?”
Aa detective, I guess he was; he didnt wear a uniform. Ive for¬gotten his name.”
What did he look like?”
Red hair, and”
Thats Mac,” I said. She looked puzzled, so I said his full name. Dougal McCrae.”
McCrae, yes,” said Cassandra. She shuddered a bit, and she must have noticed my surprised reaction to that. Sorry,” she said. I just didnt like the way he looked at me.”
I resisted running my eyes over her body just then; Id already done so, and I could remember what Id seen. I guess her original fi gure hadnt been like this one; if it had, shed certainly be used to admiring looks from men by now.
Ill have a word with McCrae,” I said. See whats already been done. Then Ill pick up where the cops left off .”
Would you?” Her green eyes seemed to dance. Oh, thank you, Mr. Lomax! Youre a good manI can tell!”
I shrugged a little. I can show you two exwives and a half dozen bankers whod disagree.”
Oh, no,” she said. Dont say things like that! You are a good man, Im sure of it. Believe me, I have a sense about these things. Youre a good man, and I know you wont let me down.”
Naïve woman; shed probably thought the same thing about her hubbyuntil hed run off. Now, what can you tell me about your hus¬band? Joshua, is it?”
Yes, thats right. His full name is Joshua Connor Wilkinsand its Joshua, never just Josh, thank you very much.” I nodded. In my experi¬ence, guys who were anal about being called by their full fi rst names never bought a round. Maybe it was a good thing this joker was gone.
Yes,” I said. Go on.” I didnt have to take notes. My offi ce computer a small green cube sitting on my deskwas recording everything and would extract whatever was useful into a summary file for me.
Cassandra ran her synthetic lower lip back and forth beneath her artificial upper teeth, thinking for a moment. Well, he was born in Wich¬ita, Kansas, and hes thirtyeight years old. He moved to Mars seven mears ago.” Mears were Mars years; about double the length of those on Earth.
Do you have a picture?”
I can access one.” She pointed at my dusty keyboard. May I?”
I nodded, and Cassandra reached over to grab it. In doing so, she managed to knock over my Worlds Greatest Detective” coff ee mug, spilling hot joe all over her dainty hand. She let out a small yelp of pain. I got up, grabbed a towel, and began wiping up the mess. Im surprised that hurt,” I said. I mean, I do like my coffee hot, but . . .”
Transfers feel pain, Mr. Lomax,” she said, for the same reason bio¬logicals do. When youre flesh and blood, you need a signaling system to warn you when your parts are being damaged; same is true for those of us who have transferred. Of course, artificial bodies are much more durable.”
Sorry. Ive explained this so many times nowyou know, at work. Anyway, please forgive me about your desk.”
I made a dismissive gesture. Thank God for the paperless offi ce, eh? Dont worry about it.” I gestured at the keyboard; fortunately, none of the coff ee had gone down between the keys. You were going to show me a picture? ”
Oh, right.” She spoke some commands, and the terminal responded making me wonder what shed wanted the keyboard for. But then she used it to type in a long passphrase; presumably she didnt want to say hers aloud in front of me. She frowned as she was typing it in and backspaced to make a correction; multiword passphrases were easy to say but hard to type if you werent adept with a keyboardand the more security con¬scious you were the longer the passphrase you used.
She accessed some repository of her personal files and brought up a photo of JoshuaneverJosh Wilkins. Given how attractive Mrs. Wilkins was, he wasnt what I expected. He had cold, gray eyes, hair buzzed so short as to be nonexistent, and a thin, almost lipless mouth; the overall effect was reptilian. Thats before,” I said. What about after? Whats he look like now that hes transferred?”
Umm, pretty much the same.”
Really?” If Id had that kisser, Id have modified it for sure. Do you have pictures taken since he moved his mind?”
No actual pictures,” said Cassandra. After all, he and I only just transferred. But I can go into the NewYou database and show you the plans from which his new face was manufactured.” She spoke to the ter¬minal some more and then typed in another lengthy passphrase. Soon enough, she had a computergraphics rendition of Joshuas head on my screen.
Youre right,” I said, surprised. He didnt change a thing. Can I get copies of all this?”
She nodded and spoke some more commands, transferring various documents into local storage.
All right,” I said. My fee is two hundred solars an hour, plus ex¬penses.”
Th ats fine, thats fine, of course! I dont care about the money, Mr. Lomaxnot at all. I just want Joshua back. Please tell me youll fi nd him.”
I will,” I said, smiling my most reassuring smile. Dont worry about that. He cant have gone far.”
Actually, of course, Joshua Wilkins could perhaps have gone quite farso my first order of business was to eliminate that possibility.
No spaceships had left Mars in the last twenty days, so he couldnt be off planet. There was a giant airlock in the south through which large spaceships could be brought inside for drydock work, but it hadnt been cracked open in weeks. And, although a transfer could exist freely on the Martian surface, there were only four airlock stations leading out of the dome, and they all had security guards. I visited each of those and checked, just to be sure, but the only people who had gone out in the past three days were the usual crowds of hapless fossil hunters, and every one of them had returned when the dust storm began.
Id read about the early days of this town: The Great Martian Fossil Rush,” they called it. Weingarten and OReilly, the two private explorers who had come here at their own expense, had found the fi rst fossils on Mars and had made a fortune selling them back on Earth. Th ey were more valuable than any precious metal and rarer than anything else in the solar systemactual evidence of extraterrestrial life! Good fi stsized specimens went for tens of thousands; excellent footballsized ones for millions. In a world in which almost anything, including diamonds and gold, could be synthesized, there was no greater status symbol than to own the genuine petrified remains of a Martian pentapod or rhizomorph.
Weingarten and OReilly never said precisely where theyd found their specimens, but it had been easy enough to prove that their fi rst spaceship had landed here, in the Isidis Planitia basin. Other treasure hunters started coming, and Howard Slapcoffthe billionaire founder of the company that pioneered the process by which minds could be scanned and uploadedhad used a hunk of his fortune to create our domed city. Many of those whod found good specimens in the early days had bought property in New Klondike from him. It had been a wonderful investment for Slapcoff: the land sales brought him more than triple what hed spent erecting the dome, and hed been collecting a lifesupport tax from residents ever since. Well, from the biological residents, at least, but Slappy got a fat royalty from NewYou each time his transfer process was used, so he lined his pockets either way.
Native life was never widely dispersed on Mars; the single ecosystem that had existed here seemed to have been confined to this basin. Some of the other prospectorsexcuse me, fossil hunterswho came shortly after W&Os first expedition found a few excellent specimens, although most of the finds had been in poor shape.
Somewhere, though, was the mother lode: a bed known as the Alpha Deposit” that produced fossils more finely preserved than even those from Earths Burgess Shale. Weingarten and OReilly had known where it wastheyd stumbled on it by pure dumb luck, apparently. But theyd both been killed when their heat shield separated from their ship upon reentry into Earths atmosphere after their third expeditionand, in the twenty mears since, no one had yet rediscovered it. But people were still looking.
Thered always been a market for transferring consciousness; the po¬tentially infinite lifespan was hugely appealing. But here on Mars, the demand was particularly brisk, since artificial bodies could spend weeks or even months on the surface, searching for paleontological gold.
Anyway, JoshuaneverJosh Wilkins was clearly not outside the hab¬itat and he hadnt taken off in a spaceship. Wherever he was hiding, it was somewhere under the New Klondike dome. I cant say he was breathing the same air I was, because he wasnt breathing at all. But he was here, somewhere. All I had to do was fi nd him.
I didnt want to duplicate the efforts of the police, although eff orts” was usually too generous a term to apply to the work of the local con¬stabulary; cursory attempts” probably was closer to the truth, if I knew Mac.
New Klondike had twelve radial roadways, cutting across the nine con¬centric rings of buildings under the dome. The rings were evenly spaced, except for the giant gap between the seventh and eighth, which accom¬modated agricultural fields, the shipyard, warehouses, watertreatment and airprocessing facilities, and more. My office was at domes edge, on the outside of the Ninth Circle; I could have taken a hovertram into the center but I preferred to walk. A good detective knew what was happening on the streets, and the hovertrams, dilapidated though they were, sped by too fast for that.
When Id first come here, Id quipped that New Klondike wasnt a hellholeit wasnt far enough gone for that. More of a heckhole,” Id said. But that had been ten years ago, just after what had happened with Wanda, and if something in the middle of a vast plain could be said to be going downhill, New Klondike was it. The fusedregolith streets were cracked, buildingsand not just the ones in the old shantytownwere in disrepair, and the seedy bars and brothels were full of thugs and con art¬ists, the destitute and the dejected. As a character in one of the old movies I like had said of a town, You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” New Klondike should have a sign by one of the airlocks that proclaims, Twinned with Mos Eisley, Tatooine.”
I didnt make any bones about staring at the transfers I saw along the way. They ranged in style from really sophisticated models, like Cassan¬dra Wilkins, to things only a step up from the Tin Woodman of Oz. Th e latter were easy to identify as transfers, but the former could sometimes pass for biologicals, although you develop a knack for identifying them, too, almost subconsciously noting an odd sheen to the plastiskin or an unnatural smoothness in the movement of the limbs; paydar, it was called: the ability to spot a bought body.
Of course, those whod contented themselves with secondrate syn¬thetic forms doubtless believed theyd trade up when they eventually happened upon some decent specimens. Poor saps; no one had found truly spectacular remains for mears, and lots of people were giving up and going back to Earth, if they could afford the passage, or were settling in to lives of, as Thoreau would have it, quiet desperation, their dreams as dead as the fossils theyd never found.
I continued walking easily along; Mars gravity is just thirtyeight percent of Earths. Some people were stuck here because theyd let their muscles atrophy; theyd never be able to hack a full gee again. Me, I was stuck here for other reasonsthank God Mars has no real government and so no extradition treaties. But I worked out more than most people didat Gullys Gym, over by the shipyardand so still had strong legs; I could walk comfortably all day if I had to.
I passed a few spindly or squat robotsmost of whom were dumb as posts, and none of whom were brighter than a fouryearoldrunning errands or engaged in the Sisyphean tasks of road and building repair.
The cop shop was a lopsided fivestory structureit could be that tall, this near the center of the domewith chipped and cracked walls that had once been white but were now a grimy grayish pink. Th e front doors were clear alloquartz, same as the overhead dome, and they slid aside as I walked up to them. On the lobbys right was a long red deskas if we dont see enough red on Marswith a map showing the Isidis Pla¬nitia basin behind it; New Klondike was a big circle off to one side.
The NKPD consisted of eight cops, the junior ones of whom took turns playing desk sergeant. Today it was a flabby lowbrow named Hux¬ley, whose blue uniform always seemed a size too small for him. Hey, Hux,” I said, walking over. Is Mac in?”
Huxley consulted a monitor then nodded. Yeah, hes in, but he dont see just anyone.”
Im not just anyone, Hux. Im the guy who picks up the pieces aft er you clowns bungle things.”
Huxley frowned, trying to think of a rejoinder. Yeah, well . . .” he said, at last.
Oooh,” I said. Good one, Hux! Way to put me in my place.”
He narrowed his eyes. You aint as funny as you think you are, Lomax.”
Of course Im not. Nobody could be that funny.” I nodded at the secured inner door. Going to buzz me through?”
Only to be rid of you,” said Huxley. So pleased was he with the wit of this remark that he repeated it: Only to be rid of you.” He reached below the counter, and the inner dooran unmarked black panelslid aside. I pantomimed tipping a hat at Hux and headed into the station proper. I then walked down the corridor to McCraes office; the door was open, so I rapped my knuckles against the steel jamb.
Lomax!” he said, looking up. Decided to turn yourself in? ”
Very funny, Mac. You and Hux should go on the road together.”
He snorted. What can I do for you, Alex?”
Mac was a skinny biological with shaggy orange eyebrows shielding his blue eyes. On the credenza behind his desk were holograms of his wife and his baby daughter; the girl had been born just a couple of months ago. Im looking for a guy named Joshua Wilkins.”
Mac had a strong Scottish brogueso strong, I figured it must be an affectation. Ah, yes. Whos your client? Th e wife?”
Quite the looker,” he said.
That she is. Anyway, you tried to find her husband, this Wilkins . . .”
We looked around, yeah,” said Mac. Hes a transfer, you knew that?”
Well,” Mac said, she gave us the plans for his new faceprecise measurements and all that. Weve been feeding all the videos from public security cameras through facialrecognition software. So far, no luck.”
I smiled. Thats about as far as Macs detective work normally went: things he could do without hauling his bony ass out from behind his desk. How much of New Klondike do they cover now?” I asked.
Its down to forty percent of the public areas.”
People kept smashing, stealing, or jamming the cameras faster than Mac and his staff could replace them; this was a frontier town, aft er all, and there were lots of things going on folks didnt want observed. Youll let me know if you fi nd anything?”
Mac drew his shaggy eyebrows together. Even Mars has to abide by Earths privacy laws, Alexor, at least, our parent corporation does. I cant divulge what the security cameras see.”
I reached into my pocket, pulled out a fi ftysolar coin, and fl ipped it. It went up rapidly but came down in what still seemed like slow motion to me, even after a decade on Mars; Mac didnt require a transfers re¬flexes to catch it in midair. Of course,” he said, I suppose we could make an exception . . .”
Thanks. Youre a credit to lawenforcement offi cials everywhere.”
He smiled, then: Say, what kind of heat you packing these days? You still carrying that old Smith and Wesson?”
Its registered,” I said, narrowing my eyes.
Oh, I know, I know. But be careful, eh? The times, they are achangin. Bullets arent much use against a transfer, and there are getting to be more of those each day, since the cost of the procedure is finally coming down.”
So Ive heard. Do you happen to know the best place to plug a trans¬fer, if you had to take one out?”
Mac shook his head. It varies from model to model, and NewYou does its best to retrofit any physical vulnerabilities that are uncovered.”
So how do you guys handle them?”
Until recently, as little as possible,” said Mac. Turning a blind eye, and all that.”
Saves getting up.”
Mac didnt take off ense. Exactly. But let me show you something.” We left his office, went farther down the corridor, and entered another room. He pointed to a device on the table. Just arrived from Earth. Th e latest thing.”
It was a wide, flat disk, maybe half a meter in diameter and fi ve cen¬timeters thick. There were a pair of Ushaped handgrips attached to the edge, opposite each other. What is it?”
A broadband disruptor,” Mac said. He picked it up and held it in front of himself, like a gladiators shield. It discharges an oscillating multifrequency electromagnetic pulse. From a distance of four meters or less, it will completely fry the artificial brain of a transferkilling it as effectively as a bullet kills a human.”
I dont plan on killing anyone,” I said.
Thats what you said the last time.”
Ouch. Still, maybe he had a point. I dont suppose you have a spare I can borrow?” Mac laughed. Are you kidding? This is the only one weve got so far, and its just a prototype.” Well, then,” I said, heading for the door, I guess Id better be careful.”