Harry from the Agency, by Philip Gluckman

Harry from the Agency, by Philip Gluckman (Fiction & Literature)

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2205 AD. Globol warming has accelerated out of control. The middle of the planet is lifeless, drenched in steamy, poisonous rain. Auckland has become a city of islands, and Antarctica is home to most of the world's population. Multinational corporations have deserted Earth to create planetary empires. The Delta-8 virus, a consequence of deep space exploration, is a plague upon the remaining inhabitants.

For Dr Harry Stone, medical section, World Intelligence Agency, time is running out. Not only does he have the virus, the narcotic supply that sustains him is coming to an end. And as his world is failing, Harry is faced with a choice.

Harry from the Agency reveals a convincing future rife with corruption. With its noir atmosphere this book will especially appeal to fans of William Gibson.

Philip Gluckman lives in Auckland. This is his first published novel.

From: Harry from the Agency, by Philip Gluckman

Chapter 1

Above, the stars moved in circles. Circles within circles. Like clockwork models from the seventeenth century.

Miyuki was in a deep trance. From her centre she could feel the wheels turn. Along the currents of her inward journey wisps of memory floated by. A voice here, perhaps now a whisper, a detail of combat, a breath; and, at the centre of it all, those ever-revolving specks of light that dance against the background of the void.

Miyuki. Warrior. Ninja.

In her stillness she held the beauty of woman, the dignity of her ancestors and the loyalty to the elite bodyguard of Maximilian Oesterburg III of Titan. She was the cherry-blossom flower, ripe and waiting for the wind.

Her black, body-tight spacesuit insulated her against the absolute zero temperature of deep space, the cold chill of entropy. Her pulse was down to nine beats a minute, her breathing just a third of that. The biological scanners had not been able to make sense of it and that was how the operation had been planned.

On her back was her life support, at her sides her weaponry: a standard military issue Armalite laser rifle with manual override options, the samurai swords of her tradition; across her chest the shuriken — the golden stars with their seven points. Near her left hand a military satchel, connected to her by a sliver of a strap, floated in the weightlessness. In it, the explosive limpet mines.

In her heart nothing. In her mind nothing. In her action purpose. She drifted on through space towards her target.

Miyuki's left arm twitched with the pulse of current from the stimulator unit and she opened her eyes abruptly. With the gentle grace of space freefall, she brought up her right arm to flick the circuit breaker on her chest panel. She wondered if she was through.

The vast rings of Saturn took Miyuki's eye as they arced overhead in a lazy motion. She knew she must be tumbling, but no matter. To correct that would mean a burst on the rockets and that would set alarm bells ringing in the M341, a Titan Industries space-laboratory that hung in a geosynchronous orbit above Saturn. Miyuki knew her boss owned the laboratory and she also knew not to ask questions.

The planet arced over her again. She let her breathing come back to normal, without haste.

No probes, no laser fire. She had clinched it. She was through all right. Now it was just the process, a play to act out to its conclusion.

Her left hand had found the satchel and tightened on it. Miyuki observed this within herself and relaxed her grip.

On the next tumble she saw the massive tubular complex that was M341, studded with lights, spinning on its axis. The space-lab looked like a giant spoked wheel with a spike thrust at right angles through its hub. Painted on the spherical fission reactor at the station's centre was the Titan corporation logo. A single large letter M in red, surrounded by a laurel. The way in which the laboratory complex was getting bigger, as she tumbled on through the vacuum of space, was an indication of her approach speed. It was very fast.

She glanced at her decay clock, one of the cheap throwaway ones that worked by an oscillating chemical reaction which changed the colour bands. Any electrical impulse would have been detectable. Miyuki noted the day and the hour. She wasn't interested in the details. She had been in deep trance for a long time but the oxymeter showed that the oxygen tension was still good for a hundred hours. That was well within the safety margin — plenty of time for her to get what she was coming for, then proceed to the rendezvous.

On the next turn the Saturn-side reactor tower loomed above her, no longer looking like a child's toy, but what it truly was, the achievement of two centuries of space technology. She mused briefly about the tower. It resembled a temple she once saw in a holographic picture show, something about Babylon. Her view embraced the countless stars, the great planet with its moons and rings, as they went past. Then her eyes were on the tower once again. She could see the rivets and the welds of the metal as the hull wall seemed to rush towards her. She was on time and on target. She hit a switch on her control panel. The rockets on her support unit fired.

Inside, Schiff, the security chief, was enjoying the champagne and flirting with a lab-tech. It was a celebration party and rightly so, after all the years it had taken them to achieve their goal. He felt a tap on his shoulder.

‘Yes?’ he replied with brash authority, not wanting to be distracted from his current purpose.

‘Something irregular. I think you better come,’ said the young lieutenant, breathless, hurried. An edge of fear.

‘I'll be back in a minute.’ Schiff smiled as he gave his glass to the woman. ‘See to this, will you?’

As they ran down the corridor to the command centre the lieutenant explained that the sensor system had picked up a heat flash at fifteen metres outside the wall of section one. The computer had analysed it as being consistent with a military personnel rocket propulsion unit. There were no maintenance crew on deck.

‘What the hell!’ exclaimed Schiff. And then, under his breath, ‘How did they get through?’

Space-lab M341 was high security, even by the standards of current Centaurian technology. It had one of the most advanced automatic detection and defence systems in the galaxy. It scanned for heat emission and pulse, either electrical or biological, the latter being detected by a relay of sensors placed at a ten thousand-klick radius around the station.

Schiff briefly considered the complexity of the defence weapons system. It would not fire at that distance as that would have risked piercing the hull with the ensuing explosion.

‘Shit, if someone's in … Hit code red!’ he exclaimed.

Alarms were going and doors were sealing the station into separate areas. The lab-tech at the party had one of the champagne flutes knocked out of her bands in the rush.

Schiff was an athletic man, grey and balding, this feature in itself rare in an age when cosmetic pharmaceuticals were readily available to a man in his position. He wore the regulation silver-grey bodysuit with company logo, the red M.

‘Send out a team,’ he snapped, as he threw the computer onto voice mode. ‘Mother, have you seen anything else irregular in the past twelve hours?’

All central command computers were known as ‘Mother’, an affectation that had its origins in the science fiction stories of the late twentieth century. He glanced at the clock which showed, in analogue fashion, that four minutes and thirty-two seconds had passed since the heat source had been registered.

The voice that replied to Schiff was relaxed, female and immediate. It had been designed to maximise calm and logic in difficult situations. The central computer, having an intimate relationship with Schiff, had flicked into the appropriate neurolinguistic mode.

‘My sensors in the eastern sector picked up a double rhythmic pulsation but it scanned inconsistent with human life and it wasn't an electrical source. Triple fault search negative. Probable new nova emission. We often see variations in the radiation intensity of the background.’

‘Anything else?’ snapped the chief. Right now he didn't need a primary school lesson in astrophysics.

‘A weak electrical pulse fourteen minutes before rocket detection. Twenty-eight volts,’ replied Mother.

‘Analyse.’

‘Probably a live piece of space garbage. It can look like a rubbish dump out there at times.’

‘Did you get a visual?’

‘I tried, but with a four-microsecond pulse I can't get directionality.’

‘Team ready to go,’ butted in the fresh-faced lieutenant.

‘Scan the hull on visual with the maintenance rig.’ Schiff took a step back to watch the screen. He was worried. Someone had done the impossible. Somebody had made it through.

Outside, on the hull, Miyuki moved like a spider on her web. She knew that where she was, she was undetectable by Mother. It was like being in the brain and watching the nerves as they stretched out into the distance, trying to feel you. But the brain has a built-in weakness; it feels the incoming messages, yet it cannot feel itself.

She walked around the outside of the lab, held upright by the gravity of its spin, placing the twelve magnetic mines on the hull as she moved, the sites familiar from the training exercises. Her movements were quick, precise, without waste.

By the time that Schiff saw her on the remote camera it was simply too late. ‘Ninja,’ he thought to himself as he glanced down the line of shuriken to the swords at her right side. It was to be his last thought.

Miyuki blasted the remote camera on its trolley, with her laser rifle. The twelve mines exploded simultaneously, small charges but effective. Air rushed out to fill the eternal vacuum of space, carrying with it the flotsam and jetsam of orbital life, splintered through ten-centimetre holes in the triple hull, along with scraps of clothing and human tissue. The result was not pretty.

The search team never stood a chance. Miyuki had mined the two exit bays as a precaution and the four personnel had not been fully suited when the blast hit. As she walked to the Saturn-side bay on the hub of the spindle, the low gravity exaggerated her movements. She keyed in the emergency override sequence, 36-7-5, and the door slid open. She knew the design of the station and she knew the codes. It was easy.

Miyuki didn't need to wait for the pressure to adjust, there simply wasn't any. She walked along the corridor to her left, steady with purpose, with an exact knowledge of where she was going. She carried her Armalite laser in a ready position, just in case, although she knew that no one would have had time to suit up. Around her was the wreck of the instant exposure to the vacuum of space. Everything had been thrown, hurled with immense acceleration against the outer hull, smashed to pieces. The bodies that had been the lab crew were blood-splattered and broken. Under her breath Miyuki offered the ancient prayers urging their souls away from their shells, their mortal remains, and beckoning them to seek the light.

The first sealed door opened with the pass code. Alarms were still ringing pointlessly. This was not a contingency that Mother's programmers had counted on: that somebody could get through had been beyond the conception of the system.

Now Miyuki was in the command centre. Her suit insulated her from Mother's voice, inappropriately gentle and relaxed, as it asked her to identify herself. Miyuki looked at the face of the machine, its bright twinkling lights, visual readouts and vid-screen, and smiled. A wan, light smile that conveyed to herself an inevitability, resignation, rather than any malicious or pleasurable intent.

The defence of this station was so well conceived, so expensively executed and so easily deceived. Perhaps Oesterburg was testing out security for something big? But her thoughts stopped there. It was pointless to speculate. She levelled her rifle, switched it to explosive charge, clipped in a magazine and screamed inside her helmet as she let it rip. The control panel and screen exploded in a shower of sparks. Then there was only silence and darkness. The space station had become a tomb.

Switching on the powerful halogen light on her visor, Miyuki turned towards her goal, the adjacent laboratory complex. She walked into the lab, made her way past the work stations and found the safe where she expected it to be. Schiff had changed the codes daily so she would need to blast it.

Miyuki kneaded a little of the green, plastocoele explosive onto the edge of the door. She had practised this many times on an identical model. She triggered the detonator and took a few steps back, crouching behind a work bench littered with retort stands and beakers as the explosive blew.

The safe was large enough to walk inside and the contents surrendered themselves to the light of her space helmet. Miyuki easily found what she was looking for among the forty or so samples. She placed the three grey plastic vials marked O-SC-3 in a clear plastic bag which she then zipped into the right thigh compartment of her space suit.

Having achieved her purpose Miyuki retraced her steps, through the exit bay, to the exterior hull of the laboratory. She walked over the rim, along one of the arms of the radial corridors that led to the reactor complex at the centre of the station. She didn't waste time. She knew it would be around eleven minutes before craft from Titan would be there in response to the loss of the beacon signal from Mother; its absence could only mean an extreme emergency.

Miyuki stopped about twenty metres from the tower. With casual precision she aimed at the cooling ducts around the reactor core and fired. The liquid from the fractured tubing burst out into the surrounding space.

This done, she turned, locked her rocket guidance system onto Canopus and gave it full power, which would give her a speed of four hundred and sixty-nine klicks per minute by the time the main fuel tank was fully exhausted. She sped in the direction of the rim of the solar system. Nine minutes and about five thousand kilometres out she mused that the rescue craft would just be about to close in on the scene. Miyuki only ad a small supply of emergency fuel left but would not have turned to look anyway. That was the past back there.

Behind her the reactor went critical and for a moment there was a rent in the very fabric of spacetime. Miyuki was momentarily aware of the pulse of light as it raced past her, out towards the edge of time, and then, as she drifted on through space, she became aware first of her breathing, and then of the stars that moved in circles.

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