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Above the buildings slid air cars. A single private vehicle as luxurious as any of them shared the street below with the wheeled trucks and buses. The closed rear cabin was empty but the chauffeur, a youth whose uniform matched the landeau's smoke-blue paint, drove with the arrogance of one conducting a prince.

In front of the Coeltrans Building he nudged his wheel to the right, edging up over the curb between a pair of trucks unloading yard goods. Pedestrians leaped to avoid the blunt prow. Smiling, the chauffeur set the brake, cut the alcohol flame to idle under the boiler, and tilted a wing mirror to check his appearance. Shoulder-length black hair framed a face whose complexion was as unnaturally brilliant as the best parchment. His lips were red and well-shaped and cruel.

Satisfied, he slid from the ground car's saddle and entered the building, leaving his vehicle for the cameras to watch. They scanned this street as they did every street, every room, in the State; and at the first sign of someone tampering with the car, a monitoring computer would alert the police.

Within the large, single room, narrow aisles separated booths selling fabric and garments. Even during daylight the inner tables were lighted by glow strips to bring out the colors of their merchandise. Eyes turned toward the chauffeur as he passed, some drawn by his iridescent livery but many by his carriage and frame. The body beneath his tight uniform would have done credit to a kouros of ancient Athens. He acknowledged the glances only by hooking the left corner of his mouth into a more pronounced sneer.

At the spidery framework of the elevator in the center of the room he halted. Four slim, chromed vertical rods rose from the floor here all the way to the roof of the building. The chauffeur touched the call plate with his ID bracelet; the radio-cesium key imbedded in its silver threw a switch invisibly and the cage began to whine down from the fifteenth level.

Shop owners in the Coeltrans Building were used to the activity, but there was a stir among their customers. Many of them had never seen a working elevator before. The cost of power to run elevators made them rich men's toys—and rich men had air cars to get them between the top-floor suites of their fellows. Supported by the four thin columns, the cage sank through one-meter circles cut through each level. Little more itself than a floor with a waist-high rail plated to match the verticals, the cage appeared shockingly frail. A more substantial construct would have sometimes blocked the fields of the three scanning cameras covering each floor. No citizen, no matter how rich and powerful, could be granted that potential for secrecy.

The chauffeur stepped aboard and the cage began to rise. He lounged back against the guard rail, whistling as his fingers beat time against the chrome. On each identical level, banks of clerks looked up from their desks as the cage rose past them. The motor in the elevator's floor raised it effortlessly past stairs which were theirs to climb every time they reported to work. The elevator was for Citizen Wilhoit alone—and for this youth.

Only on Level 15 was there a break in the vistas of desks crammed into 60-meter circular floor plans. Here the outside walls were pierced not by windows but rather by translucent panels cast in various pastels. The room was actually brighter than those below it, however, because of the sheets of sunlight-balanced glow strips in its ceiling. Underlings sat in ordinary desks around the level's outer perimeter, but the central twenty meters were held by a jungle of potted plants and a single huge mahogany desk no less impressive for the litter of papers and instruments on its surface.

The cage stopped. The chauffeur continued to whistle, his back to the mahogany desk and the gray-faced man beginning to stand behind it. Then the current surged through the elevator's handrail and snapped the chauffeur into a screaming arc.

Alternating current of over 600 volts tends to fling away those who touch it, saving lives that lower voltages might have taken. DC instead clamps and holds and kills; and to avoid inductance losses, Greater Greensboro and most other cities now ran on direct current. The charge ripping through the chauffeur's body broke his ribs with unrelieved muscle contraction, and the screaming stopped only when there was no more air to be forced through the lifeless throat. Seconds later the flow cut off as suddenly as it had begun, and the charred body slumped to the floor of the cage.

The cameras on Level 15 recorded every visible nuance of the death.

* * *

Lacey gave the final command to the Crime Service computer. It would send a Red Team after the airport smuggler he had identified following a week of studying the operation from every angle. He swung the scanner helmet up against its counterweight and grinned his wolf's grin of accomplishment. His hand was massaging the old scar on his neck and holding the glow inside him when Billings, the investigator at the desk to his right, got up. "You knocking off too?" Billings asked. He was a blond man with a round face and a quick smile.

Lacey came out of his reverie. He looked at his neighbor, then at the clock across the circular room. 15:40. For the past three nights he had caught cat naps at his desk as leads branched and twined and he wanted thirty hours a day to study scanner images. "Might, yeah," he agreed. There were five hundred desks and investigators on Level 17 of the State Building. Lacey knew and cared as little about Billings as he did about any other of his co-workers.

Billings was straightening the pleats of his collar. "I put in for two hours in the target range," he confided to Lacey's disinterest, "but really I got a date. Love-ly girl, lives in the section next to ours. We're going to a time house and buy an hour of privacy. It'll cost a bundle, but it's worth it to keep my wife from learning."

Before Lacey could make his noncommittal reply, the light on Billing's desk blinked orange and the blond man stiffened as information came through his mastoid implant. He swore with frustrated bitterness, punching his left palm with his other hand. "She'll never believe this," he said. "They've cancelled my range time and given me an accidental death to check out. An accident!"

"Maybe the computer's a secret puritan," Lacey said, more of a smile on his mouth than in his eyes.

"I always get the leftovers," Billings whined. "You think they'd give me a murder where I could get a little recognition? Hell no! But let some clod touch a hot wire and fry, they drop it in my lap and expect me to work every bleeding hour till I prove it's an accident. And you can't prove something didn't happen!" Billings thudded his hands together again. "That tight-assed bitch Sutter's had her thumb on me ever since I offered to give her the time back when I was first on the unit. She won't let the Net give me any decent assignments!"

Billings face suddenly smoothed and he looked at the close-coupled man still listening with bare politeness. "Look, Jed"—Lacey had never called Billings by his first name, did not even remember it—"look, for me this damn thing'll take forever, checking out the number of times each electrician burped for the past year before the Net'll take a negative report from me. But if you took the call, hell, you know how they'll pass just about anything on your say-so. You do five minutes' scan and report 'no crime,' they'll clear it, and we both get the afternoon off."

The younger agent saw and misinterpreted the chill in Lacey's eyes. "Ah, say . . . Marie's got, I mean, she's got friends and . . . I think maybe we could—"

"I'll pass on that," Lacey said very softly. The scar on his neck stood out in relief against the veins pulsing there. He caressed it with his stubby, gentle fingers. "But I'll take the call, yeah. I didn't have much on for the afternoon."

"You're a champ, Jed," Billings said, squeezing Lacey's biceps and then striding quickly toward the stairway. He was toying with his collar ruff again, a beefy man who would always be alloted bottom-priority calls and would never understand why.

Lacey sighed and pulled his scanner helmet back down to cover his head like a fat, black artillery shell. Quirking his left ring finger to activate his implanted link with the Crime Service Net, Lacey said, "You just routed a call to station four-three-seven. Transfer it to me and give me a current scan."

"Accepted," said the computer voice from Lacey's mastoid, and the Net tapped his helmet into the output of one of the cameras on Level 15 of the Coeltrans Building. The screen showed emergency technicians who were laying a body on their medicomp, a dull-finished unit that looked like a coffin on casters. God knew why the men bothered, because the charred corpse was clearly beyond repair by any human means. There would be little enough of the victim to send to the Reclamation Depot after Lacey had cleared it for processing.

The rest of the level was normal enough, eccentrically furnished but in the fashion that executive levels of powerful corporations could be expected to be eccentric. Part of the work force was still at its desks, following routine as though that would deny the ghastly incident in the center of the room. The remainder were divided between those elbowing for a closer look at the body and those forcing toward the staircase, waiting to be passed by the bored Red Team securing the death site. No one sat at the broad mahogany desk which stood like an island in a green sea of carefully-tended plants.

Lacey triggered his implant. "Section six," he called, naming the imaginary sixteenth portion of the scanner's view which showed the guard rail of the elevator. "Twenty magnifications." The image zoomed and Lacey could see that what appeared to be a single gleaming circuit was actually divided by four thin insulators, so that each of the verticals of the shaft was insulated from the others. The victim's carbonized skin lumped two quadrants of the ring. Since the rods had to hold the power cables for the elevator's motor, stripped insulation was the obvious cause of the death. As Billings had said, a five-minute job.

Suppressing a yawn under his helmet, Lacey ordered, "Okay, give me camera two at the time the line shorted."

Obediently the Crime Service computer switched to data stored in the vaults that extended for miles under Greater Atlanta. In Lacey's helmet screen the chauffeur stiffened as the jolt crossed him. A blue nimbus threw his screaming face into high relief. Behind him, rising from the big desk, was a man in conservative clothing with a face as transfigured by horror as that of the victim himself.

"Bloody hell," Lacey whispered. He recognized both men. "Bloody hell," he repeated. Then he flicked awake his computer link. "What's the priority on this call?" he demanded.

"Tenth," replied the computer. Its programming did not allow it to add, "Of course."

"Well, better raise it," Lacey said. "You've handed me a murder to clear, and I may need a hell of a lot of help to prove it."

* * *

The car was waiting when Lacey swung through the outside door. On his mere statement the Net had rerated the assignment to Priority Two, a comment as to where his stock stood with the computer on the basis of his past performance. The new rating included use of a State vehicle and driver, which Lacey took immediately to the scene of the death. He loved the scanner helmets and did most of his work seated under one; but he could not use them to question witnesses, and he had some questions he needed answered.

Transit time between the pad and the Coeltrans Building was four minutes. Lacey did not waste them, using his implant to get an ID and economic data on the victim and the man behind the mahogany desk. The first was easy. "Terrence Oscar Silvers, age 23; licensed ground vehicle driver employed by the Company for Electrical Transmission for five years, nine months," stated Lacey's mastoid. There was a pause. "Robert Sawney Wilhoit, age 47," the computer voice resumed. It halted. In a different timbre it requested, "Access code, please."

Without surprise or concern, Lacey punched his 8-letter code on the panel set into the back of the driver's seat. Wilhoit's wealth and authority had been obvious from the setting of his office; it would have been unusual if he had not used his power to see that idle thrusts into his personal life should be turned aside. Lacey on a murder call did nothing idly, and he could be as difficult to turn aside as Juggernaut's carriage.

Assured of Lacey's authority, the data bank continued, "President and Chairman of the Board of the Company for Electrical Transmission. Developed and holds patents on three basic processes in DC voltage step-down technology. Extensive holdings in various corporations, primarily in the field of electronic components and design."

Lacey's driver was tapping him on the knee and calling, "Coeltrans Buildings, sir." They were twenty meters above the roof pad of a modern cylindrical structure. One of the vehicles already parked on the roof was a ten-seater with leg shackles and wristlets on several benches: the van that had brought the uniformed police in response to a howl from the computer.

"Fine, set us down," Lacey said. They stuttered to a halt at the stairhead. "Crime Service," he muttered as he brushed past the uniformed man stationed there.

"Hey, why didn't you just turn us loose through the Net?" the patrolman asked. "You didn't have to show up yourself." Lacey ignored him and stepped down the stairs into the greasy stench of the room below.

In the nervous chaos of the fifteenth level was a woman who had not been there when Lacey had scanned it minutes before. She was tall and fat, wearing stained coveralls. She sat on a wheeled toolbox and shouted angrily into a phone clipped to it, "You stupid son of a bitch, there can't be a short. We were touching the bleeding line thirty seconds before this beggar fried!" Sweat was bright on her forehead and heavy jowls, and her knuckles were white with her grip on the phone.

The electrician's shout had quieted the room so that her partner's voice from the speaker was clear as he replied, "Look, Margie, the meters show the juice came from the emergency generator. Nobody could've gimmicked 'em with us working here, so it was a short. And for god's sake, what else could've done it? Bloody lightning?"

"Crime Service," Lacey said to the woman. "I need to ask you some questions."

"Oh, god," she murmured. Her flesh had lost all resiliency and gone gray in the blaze of the glow strips above. "Oh. . . ." Everyone in the room was staring at her and the investigator. "Will they—" she began and choked back her own words. Looking up at Lacey with a sudden fatalistic calm she started over. "Will you put Jim and me under the Psycomp for this? Will you wipe us?"

"You'd better tell me what happened," Lacey said neutrally.

She shrugged and stood, towering over him. The hand phone made a premonitory squawk and she cut it off. "They hired Jim and me—Coeltrans did—hired us to cross-connect the elevator. It—" almost without pausing, she drew a rubber glove onto her right hand and gestured with two fingers—"runs up cog rails in the verticals, these rods. Two of the rails are hot, insulated from the outer surface of the pole but feeding juice through the gears themselves to the motor in the cage floor."

Lacey leaned forward for a better look at the slots in the inner faces of the chrome supports. "Get back from there!" the woman snapped. "I got one deader on my conscience already today!"

Lacey blinked at her without emotion. "Go on," he said.

"We were supposed to set up a current path in the other two rails, too," she said, wiping her face with a sleeve. "Separate service from an emergency generator, a failsafe in case something went wrong with city power. We punched the lines through by section but we kept the circuit shut down except for testing at night after the building closed. There were bubbles in the insulation, so until we got 'em out we couldn't charge the line when anybody was around. In case, in case . . ." She nodded toward the corpse though she refused to look at it again. The technicians were now fitting the body into a pressure-sealed bag to be carried down to the street. "We'd got all the shorts out of it, we thought, but we weren't quite done testing. Guess I left the switch on last night but it seemed safe—we were touching the posts, touching them, Jim and me just before this guy . . . went."

"Why run a generator circuit to an elevator?" Lacey asked. He was watching the electrician's face.

"Why does anybody want an elevator at all?" she replied. The fear was gone, replaced by a dawning curiosity. "It was for the boss himself, Wilhoit. You know, he's a regular guy? Last night he—oh god!"

All of the fat woman's confidence suddenly disappeared. If she had been gray when Lacey first spoke, she was white now with memory. "He was watching us last night when we ran the tests, moving the cage up and down. Talked to us some—hell, he was the boss, we couldn't tell him he couldn't hang around when we were working. Nice guy. But when we were packing up, he grabbed rails three and four—the new circuit, you see? Took one in each hand and I thought, 'Thank god we've got all the bugs out'. But we hadn't, you see? Just for some reason the line didn't short then, waited till this afternoon and got this stiff instead of, instead of . . ."

"I want you to find that short for me," Lacey said, "you and your partner. He's in the building too?"

"Down in the basement," the woman said with a nod. "We were redding up when the floor manager called and said somebody'd died." Her open face suddenly coalesced into a frown. "Look, you trust us to check this out?"

"I don't need a Psycomp to tell if somebody's lying to me," Lacey said. "You stay straight with me, like you've been so far, and you'll come out of it all right."

"All right," she echoed. "All right, then wait thirty seconds and I may have an answer for you." She knelt at the base of an elevator support with a multi-windowed instrument in her hands. Holding it against the pole, she ran a dial across its scale and then used a pair of insulated pliers to bridge the two segments of handrail the victim had been holding when he died. The spark was fat and blue and snapped like a pistol shot.

"One'll get you ten that's it," the electrician said matter of factly. She began to put her tools away. The current had eaten a chip out of the nose of the pliers. "Inside the chrome plate, each rod's filled with Dorafeen. It's easy stuff to use, you inject it like grease and let it set. It's hard, it's strong, and it's a hell of a good insulator usually. But if you trip a block of Dorafeen with a magnetic field of whatever the block's loading frequency is, you can get it to conduct like so much copper."

She gestured with her chin. "That's where the whole company started—Citizen Wilhoit came up with a process using Dorafeen to chop high-current DC into AC to run through transformers to step it down. Anyhow, we bored the columns for our power lines, then ran a bare aluminum cable through them. No need to insulate since there was a centimeter of Dorafeen all around the wire. Except we never thought that if the right—wrong—frequency magnetic field was generated right alongside it . . . well, you saw what it did to the pliers when I'd primed it with my tester."

"But it's just a temporary conductor?" Lacey asked.

"Sure, depends on the mass and a lot of other things," the woman said with a shrug. "A couple seconds for this block, milliseconds for the wafers they use in power stations. I wouldn't have believed that a microgauss field could trip that whole rod, but . . . that's the only way the accident could've happened. Some coil with just the right number of windings, laid against the column and switched on while the elevator was being used."

Lacey's tongue touched his lips. "I'll call you if I need anything more," he said to the fat woman, dismissing her. Her face smoothed in relief and she began to roll her tool chest toward the stairs. Raising his voice to cut through the whispering, Lacey addressed the whole room: "All right, who's the highest official on this floor right now?" Answering murmurs were too confused to be intelligible, but a hundred faces turned and triangulated on a plump little man, one of those still seated at his desk.

Lacey grinned so that his teeth glinted. His neck scar was tense and stiff and crawled beneath his skin. "Let the rest of 'em go, Corporal," he called to the chief of the uniformed patrol. "You and your boys can blast too. I'll just talk to this citizen a moment about what happened."

The red-capped police stepped aside and began filing up to their car, precipitating a rush of civilians down the single staircase lest the agent change his mind. The seated man watched Lacey approach with the intentness of a rabbit awaiting a black-snake. Like Lacey, he was dressed in gray, but in a muted solid instead of the tiger stripes that blurred the agent's outline. His beard matched his suit in color, a short, smooth arc that seemed a little incongruous beneath the baldly pink skull.

"Good afternoon, Citizen," Lacey said. "Your name and position, please?" He could have gotten the information as quickly through his computer link, but the opening question, the first thrust into his subject's persona, was a needed part of this interrogation.

"I'm Lewis Ashby and I, I assure you that I have far more to do than concern myself with, ah, drivers," the plump man said. His voice was generally steady, his tones rotund—but his eyes would not meet Lacey's.

"You knew Silvers, then?" Lacey prodded gently. "Knew he was a driver?" He and Ashby were about of a height, but the investigator was standing and dominating the clerk physically. He had let his overblouse fall open so that the holstered needle stunner was visible at the level of the civilian's face.

"I didn't say I knew him!" Ashby blurted. "You don't have any right—I don't care who you are, you can't put words in a person's mouth!"

"Did he always use the elevator when he visited Level 15?" Lacey asked, his voice still smooth but his muscles hardening slightly.

"I don't know."

"Umm, well . . . do you know how a Psycomp works, Citizen Ashby?" Ashby's face tilted up at the question, the mouth in a grimace or snarl, the eyes open. He said nothing. Lacey reached down, took a handful of fabric at the other man's throat and guided rather than jerked Ashby erect. "Maybe I'd better tell you, then, because it could be you'll be spending a long time in one yourself. You see, they give you a short-term anesthetic and slip you into a nutrient bath loaded with oxygen. Filling your lungs with it takes the anesthetic, but your body adapts to the system just fine.

"And you lose a little muscle tone, sure, but they won't really atrophy. The techs, though, they've run leads into your brain and as you lie there fed and filtered and breathing without being able to blink, a computer starts playing games in your head. It feeds in signals and sees what your brain does with them. Pretty soon it knows your head better than god himself does. It gets the answers to any questions it's been programmed to ask, and it goes around correcting any things that it's been programmed to correct. So long as it's in there anyway, you see."

Lacey's voice was the husky purring of a cat about to feed. His face was close to Ashby's and he was speaking with great distinctness. The clerk's eyes were bright with panic, and only the touch of Lacey's hand on his garments kept him from bolting. "It's not . . . comfortable," Lacey said, "lying there while a machine turns over every rock in your mind. And sometimes something goes wrong. Sometimes the computer goofs and a fellow comes out normal enough to look at but ready to kill at the slightest provocation, the least little thing that doesn't go his way . . .

"Oh—I forgot to tell you where they sink the leads into your skull, didn't I?" Lacey added. He tossed his head so that his brown-blond hair flew back from his forehead. With his free hand he touched two fingers to the white dimples at the hairline. "They go here. At least they did on me." He dropped Ashby and the softer man sagged into his chair like a scarecrow with half the stuffing gone.

"Now do you want to tell me about the driver?" Lacey asked; and through his sobs, Ashby told him.

Robert Wilhoit was afraid of heights. Not to an incapacitating degree, but enough that when he made it big he had begun to travel by ground vehicle despite the awkwardness of not being able to skim over the commercial traffic. For at least the past year, Silvers had been Wilhoit's driver.

The first time Ashby had seen them together was a day that the clerk had arrived early. Wilhoit had left his car and purred up the elevator while Ashby trudged the fourteen flights of stairs to which his position made him subject: no one but Wilhoit ever used the elevator. Three weeks later, the chauffeur had shared the cage with his employer, his haughty smoke-blue livery pressed tight against Wilhoit in the narrow space; and soon after that, the young man had his own key to the device and frequently rode it alone.

"I've worked for Coeltrans for twenty-three years," Ashby explained. Once started, the year of anger that had built up in the clerk spewed out like pus from a squeezed boil. "That's from the day, the very day that Citizen Wilhoit incorporated. Did he ever let me ride his elevator? Did he even speak to me, say, 'You're doing good work, Ashby'? Ha! But this little, greasy child. . . ."

Ashby raised his face and cupped hands to Lacey, pleading for the agent to understand something that he could not articulate. "He would ride up the elevator, get off at one floor or another. He didn't have any business in the building, he was just a driver. He talked to the younger clerks and the senior people, the floor managers—yes, me!—couldn't stop him. We were . . . we were afraid."

"Did Citizen Wilhoit ever, ah, threaten anyone for trying to get Silvers out of their work area?" Lacey asked.

The clerk grimaced, unwilling to answer the question but unable to avoid it even in his own mind. "Nobody tried to. We were afraid. The whole thing was . . . wrong. Citizen Wilhoit was ignoring it all, pretending that nothing was going on. Except that when this person went up to the Citizen's desk and whispered to him, they would leave together. Again and again. . . ."

Lacey looked over at the slab of oiled mahogany. Most top executives would have placed their desks on whatever part of the outer wall gave them the best view. Because Wilhoit disliked heights, his desk was central. The ceiling lights pooled brightly around the desk and the serpentine rings of foliage about it.

Lacey stepped over to the plants where the Outermost circle of them lapped against the elevator. Festoons of tubing to carry water and nutrients linked the individual pots. He touched a squat plant whose leaves were like narrow fingers streaked with yellow and green. "Really likes plants, hmm? Don't any of them have flowers?"

"They're Citizen Wilhoit's hobby, not mine. If you want to learn about them, you'll have to ask his gardener."

"Even a gardener?" Lacey said mildly. There was a flower, after all; a pink geranium in a pot beside the elevator. Part of what snaked from its foliage was not plastic tubing but wire.

"Of course a gardener," Ashby was saying, but Lacey was no longer listening to him. The agent had unsheathed his hand scanner and was recording every detail of the apparatus connected to the geranium. The room's three integral scanners covered it in the sense that if it had been empty, at least two lenses' would have born on every centimeter of surface. In practice, although opaque objects over 80 cm high were strictly controlled, there were blind angles near the floor which only spot checks by human operatives would record. By chance or otherwise, the geranium was in such an angle. Two short loops of wire were clipped to the leaves. At the other end they disappeared into a sealed, fist-sized box tacked to the nearest post of the elevator.

"What's this?" Lacey called back over his shoulder.

Ashby looked startled. He stood and peered over at where the agent knelt. "No, I told you I don't know anything about plants."

"Not the plant, for god's sake, the box!" Lacey snapped. "You know about electronics, don't you?"

"Certainly not. I'm an accountant, not a, a technician."

Lacey's expression went briefly flat and his scar stood out. Then he began to chuckle. He was laughing fully, open-mouthed, as he walked past the cringing clerk and up the stairs to where his car and driver waited.

* * *

Level 17 was lighted and busy when Lacey got back to the State Building, though it was technically after quitting time and most of the floors below had emptied. Seventeen belonged to the hunters, and the good ones were lonely people. You couldn't take a companion under a scanner helmet with you. Some investigators worked long hours for the thrill of the chase, some because they tracked criminals by rote and had by now no other way to order their time. Lacey worked like a slave at an oar bench, driven by an overseer no one else could see. No one, at least, besides the Psycomp which had shunted his profile to the attention of Crime Service recruiters at the same time it carved away Lacey's ability ever to rape another woman.

His Unit Chief was waiting for him, seated on Billings' chair with her legs crossed at the knees and a glass of something sparkling in her hand. She set the drink down and smiled as the agent approached.

"Hello, Ruby," Lacey said, sitting on the edge of his own desk. "Slumming or hiding?"

The Crime Service Net was a huge computer complex that directed its agents with more than mechanical skill, but it could not interface them with the world. That job took humans—not hunters themselves, but humans who could understand the terrible loneliness and exhilaration of the hunters, who could cushion them against the realities of housing and economics and sex. Ruby Sutter was one of them, and she was one of the best. Tall for a woman, taller than Lacey's own meter seventy, she looked slim and fragile until one noted the muscles knotting close beneath the skin; then she looked only slim. Her hair was darker than brunette, and though her normal work did not require her to use the scanners, she wore it in the tight ringlets that would be comfortable beneath a helmet.

"Working, Jed—got your example to follow, you know." Sutter's station was on the fourth level, not the seventeenth. "Had a citizen complaint about you, as a matter of fact, and I was asked to take care of the problem. Asked from pretty high up."

Her face was bland. Lacey frowned in genuine surprise and asked, "Since when do the high-ups care what citizens think, for god's sake?"

"When the citizen looks a good bet to develop a matter transmitter in the next couple years, they manage to get interested."

Lacey slid down into his chair. "Umm. Sure. Wilhoit wasn't around, but he probably had access to scanner inputs from his own building, huh? Not really supposed to, but. . . . And I don't guess he liked what he saw, either." The squat man chuckled. "That's real freedom of information, isn't it? A murderer using a scanner to track the cops?"

Sutter took a sip of her drink. "The Net says it's an accidental death. Ninety-nine plus probability."

"Going to pull me off it, then?"

"Not if you say it's murder."

Lacey felt his muscles loosen. He had not realized until then how tense he had been. "That's good," he said, running a hand across his forehead. "I was going to nail him anyway. Though I guess you knew that already."

"You do your job, Lacey, and leave me to mine," Sutter replied. The smile left her face and she leaned forward, careful not to touch the agent or even threaten to. "But be careful, Jed. You can't push Wilhoit the way you did Ashby. Even with your past record and everything I can do for you, it'll be your ass if you go one step beyond the law with somebody with Wilhoit's clout."

She leaned back and grinned again. "But just between us and the data banks, that was a lovely bluff you ran on Ashby. Pretending the Psycomp had scrambled your brains and you were going to tear him open unless he talked."

"Bluff?" Lacey repeated. "Oh. Well, he was going to talk. He was the kind who would."

Sutter reached out a hand to brush the air inches short of Lacey's arm, a caress in intent but not in execution. Ever since the Psycomp had gotten through with him, physical contact with a woman threw Lacey into vomiting and convulsions. Sutter knew that and knew why, as she knew everything necessary to the well-being of her agents. It did not keep her from caring. "You're not going to lose control of yourself, Jed," she said. "Not over Ashby. Or anybody."

She stood and walked away.

Lacey was humming to himself very softly as he pulled down his scanner helmet and began running data on the victim. Silvers had spent four nondescript years driving Coeltrans delivery trucks before being picked as Wilhoit's personal chauffeur after the suicide of the previous driver. The data bank showed no reluctance to release information on the boy. Unlike the electronics magnate, Silvers was one more out of billions and his file was open to anyone with access to the computer. There was not even need to show cause.

But the life stats were as uninteresting as they were open. So, with a careful precision that combined years of practice with a knack beyond any experience, Lacey began to dig into the scanner records which stored Silvers' whole life.

"Death site minus 30 seconds," he ordered, using his mastoid implant to control the scanner helmet. Silvers' lounging beauty flashed up obediently, one hand on each of two quarter-circlets of railing that would soon be lethal. Lacey flicked the CS Net to attention again. "Tracer request."

"Go ahead," the computer link said.

"Terrence Oscar Silvers. Template as currently on screen."

"Ready." In a microsecond the Net had analyzed Silvers as he appeared moments before death, taking into account not only externals but details of height and bone structure subject to change only by trauma or the most extensive surgery.

"Same camera, same template—scan to death minus one week," Lacey ordered.

Using the analysis it had made on the victim during life, the Crime Service computer ran the past week's input from the Coeltrans scanner Lacey had made his vantage point. It quickly found and marked congruent subjects. A man could have made the same check—but only if he had a week to spend. Computer review was labor saving, though in the same sense that a power drill saves labor—per hole. It does not mean that a miner at the rock face works less hard than his grandfather did, only that he cuts out more ore.

"Two samples," the implant reported.

"Run the latest," said Lacey.

The scene in the scanner was visual proof of the story Ashby had told. Silvers was arriving in his blue and smoke livery, a stim stick between his gum and cheek to diffuse its alkaloids into his bloodstream. His walk missed being a swagger only by its fluidity. Wilhoit was aware of him as of nothing else in the room, but he kept his head bent down and only the tension of his hand on the desk edge was a communication.

The chauffeur sidled between desks, watching with bored superiority as clerks tapped figures into the displays across their desktops. Some stumbled under his gaze. Once Silvers spoke to an employee, a blond boy whose bones must have been translucent to give him so ethereal an air. Lacey switched to another camera for a view of Silvers' lips, but the words were a bland question about how long the other had worked for Coeltrans. The embarrassed clerk only muttered, "Sir, a week is all," but his eyes followed Silvers until the driver left, alone, as suddenly and inexplicably as he had come.

Lacey sent his left ring finger the message to curl. The rerouted nerve triggered his implant. "What's Silvers' home address?" he asked.

"Suite 12, Level 3, 184 West Mangum Street."

"Suite" sounded plush, "Level 3" sounded plush—a low walk-up but high enough to be clear of the noise and odors of the inevitable stores on the ground floor—and the street address was in the middle of a very good neighborhood indeed. "Same template, same scan frame, Level 3, 184 West Mangum Street," Lacey directed.

"Five samples."

"Run the latest."

By law and in practice, every room in the State of over five cubic meters was covered by the interlocked fields of three scanning cameras. The law did not regulate minimum size or occupancy for rooms, but the staggering use-tax linked to every required camera guaranteed that space—and the scanners covering it—would be efficiently used. Silvers' rent was indicated by the fact that his apartment level was planned into fifty suites when many middle-class levels would have held five times as many units in the same area. Lacey's helmet showed him a late-evening scene: Silvers entering from the lower staircase and sauntering along a serpentine corridor to his own suite. He was out of livery, wearing instead a cape and jumpsuit cut conservatively but from lustrous material that flowed through a range of colors. Because the scanners worked on infra-red in the darkness, the precise shades were doubtful; the cost of the garment was not.

The corridors and suites were divided by double floor-to-ceiling sheets of vitril, sound-deadening but kept visually transparent by an expensive static cleaning system. Silvers palmed his lock plate, entered, and began fixing a meal in the kitchen.

"Who's paying for this?" Lacey asked.

The CS Net cleared its throat with a click, then said, "All charges are paid through Personnel Accounting, Coeltrans."

"On whose request?"

"That information is not available."

A written or verbal order, than, not one punched directly into the corporation's accounts from a high level. Available to Lacey when he began running scanner images and questioning clerks. He didn't need the knowledge yet, and it would still be waiting for him when he did.

Lacey swung away his helmet and rubbed his eyes. The level was almost empty and the sky beyond the windows was black. "Late," he thought, then glanced at the clock hands illuminated over the doorway and realized that instead it was early—and not all that early. He did not feel tired, only light and insubstantial and happy in a way that drugs could never leave him. There was one more matter he could clear up through the helmet while it was still dark outside.

"Same template, same scan frame—Level 9, 304 Corcoran Street," Lacey ordered, shrouding himself with his helmet again.

"One sample."

"Run it."

On the screen flashed a moving image of the anteroom of Hell. In a nation without privacy there can be few statutory crimes. This is neither altruism nor liberality, simply economics. Since every human activity was scanned and the inputs monitored by computers which would ring alerts on every instance of activity they were programmed to find unlawful, there had to be sharp limits to make actual enforcement possible by a police force of acceptable size. In earlier decades, patrolmen could be writing parking tickets within twenty feet of a mugging or rape in progress. Now no crime was ignored and, without the lubricant of ignorance which made the old system work, the statute book itself had to be streamlined into the realm of possibility by a ruthless paring of minor offenses and victimless crimes.

To the State, no form of consensual sexual activity was a crime. Society, however, had a separate opinion.

When poverty becomes the norm, everything is for sale somewhere; but ascetic religion becomes the only real anodyne for the masses. If present squalor is only God's furnace to purify men for posthumous glory, what matter the lack of food and energy, the endemic diseases and the evidence that all over the world Man was staggering down a slope which he was unlikely to rescale. Purity is not a physical fact but a religious state of mind.

Level 9 was the entrance to the accommodation house, the time house, on the floor above. Clients paid for use of one of the hundreds of canvas-walled cribs, each with a single scanner unit mounted in the ceiling above it. You could not shut out the cameras, but the cameras did not care what—consensually—you did or to whom.

In the helmet screen, on the next to the top level of the sleazy residence building, Terry Silvers stood hipshot as his date, a wizened, balding man in a suit of natural silk, paid the attendant to be allowed to climb to the cribs.

"Cancel," Lacey said. He did not need or want to follow Silvers into the accommodation house.

No law of the State had been broken there. If Society wished to stigmatize homosexuals as brutally as had Victorian England, if riot squads not infrequently were called to put down the spontaneous violence offered by mobs of the upright to uncovered paederasts, it was no business of Lacey's.

No one in an accommodation house is upright.

"Death site minus 30 seconds," Lacey ordered. Silvers' doomed, smiling face appeared with Wilhoit and the rest of the room beyond it. "Tracer request."

"Go ahead."

"Robert Sawney Wilhoit, template as currently on helmet screen."


"Level 9, 304 Corcoran Street. All samples in the past six months."

"Twenty-seven samples."

"Run the latest."

Another night on the screen but the same guard and Silvers with the same haughty expression as he waited. This time Citizen Robert Wilhoit, inventor and executive, was paying for the crib. He had the rigid look of a man whose legs were being amputated without anesthetic. There were other customers coming down the stairs, a middle-aged man and a woman too plainly garbed to be a prostitute. They avoided looking at Wilhoit just as he did them.

No one was upright in an accommodation house.

"Cancel," Lacey repeated and swung the helmet away. Wilhoit had, perhaps, enough power to escape the Mob's censure, but he could not have escaped his own upbringing. A self-made man rather than an aristocrat raised to believe in the propriety of whatever he chose to do, public exposure of his homosexuality would have horrified Wilhoit as surely as it would have the clerks in his office. And he had been willing to kill to keep it . . . not secret, but unproven. The scanner image was evidence of motive for the computer. Lacey had already known it, of course, because he had a sharp memory for faces. He had remembered Wilhoit and the victim from a night some months previous when he had seen them together, leaving the accommodation house as Lacey entered it for his own private needs.

Morning was bright in the windows and the room had begun to fill with returning agents. It remained to learn where Wilhoit was at the moment. Using the scanner helmet once more, Lacey checked the magnate's office and found him seated at his desk speaking into a face-covering hush phone.

Lacey stood. "Ready me a car," he ordered the computer. "I'm going to visit an apartment while its owner's away."

* * *

The palm lock set in the clear panel of the suite's door was impossible to pick by conventional means. The flat pouch over Lacey's left hip, balancing his needle stunner, held an electronic pick that was by no means conventional. Itself a terminal to the Crime Service Net, its face was a mesh of microscopic beads that raised, lowered, and changed their conductivity under the direction of the computer. If a pattern was on file, the pick duplicated it instantly, if not, the computer ran a random search certain to open any palm lock within a minute.

It took Lacey a little longer than that to get in, because instead of picking the lock he summoned Wilhoit's live-in house staff to admit him.

There were two of them, both men in their forties. One wore the livery Silvers had died in, a burly, smooth-stepping man, obviously a human watchdog and obviously angry. Lacey had announced his presence by having the CS Net override every sound unit in the suite, ordering the occupants to unlock immediately or face arrest. As the door swung open the guard snarled a quick curse, but he backed off from Lacey's lifted brow and the threat in the eyes beneath it.

The other man was the one Lacey had come to see. He had thin hair and a worn tunic whose loops and pockets held a score of scrupulously clean tools. The light reflected from the myriad plants filling the suite gave the man's pale complexion a greenish cast, and it seemed to fit. He blinked at Lacey with the same mild interest that he might have displayed toward a cafeteria server.

"You're Charles Dornier, Citizen Wilhoit's gardener?" Lacey asked, as an opening rather than because the matter was in doubt.

"Why yes, do you have a delivery for us?" the wispy man responded.

Lacey grinned with something close to humor. "Not exactly," he said. "I'd like to see Citizen Wilhoit's plants, but I'm a Crime Service agent." He turned back to the guard. "You can wait outside in the hall," he said. "And I mean wait. Take three steps away from the door and there'll be a Red Team on you."

Dornier had ignored the words, ignored also the glowering and slammed door with which his companion exited. "It's really a splendid collection," he was saying, "and though I must admit it lacks a certain . . . focus, I suppose, I think the variety makes it far more interesting. Don't you?"

Lacey had already found what interested him. Amid the waist-high rows of foliage were six geraniums with gray boxes like the one in the Coeltrans Building clipped to them. "What're these?" he asked.

Dornier knelt beside Lacey, warming with pride. He traced a circuit with his index finger. "It was my own idea," he said, "but Robert has gotten very deep in it himself and that's—well, he's a very brilliant man, you know, very brilliant. I've attached electrodes to different portions of the same plant to measure the resistance across the current path. That depends on the number of ions in the veins and the volume of fluid—and that can depend on outside stimuli, including thoughts the plant's owner directs at it."

"Oh, god have mercy!" Lacey spat. It had been a rough search already and he didn't need a load of silly dreck to fuzz the edges further. "You're telling me that plants think?"

"No, I'm not telling you that, Citizen, and you're not listening to what I am saying," Dornier snapped back. The gardener's eyes flashed with anger and an affronted dignity that Lacey could appreciate. He suddenly realized that there was a core of ability in Dornier as real as that within him—that there had to be, or Wilhoit would never have hired him in so personal a capacity.

"I'm sorry," Lacey apologized. "Please explain." He squatted, his rump just above the floor and his face close to the geraniums. The blooms were odorless but the leaves themselves had a bitter, unexpected tang.

"I've never heard anyone insist that encephalographs think," Dormer said, not wholly mollified, "just because they register brain waves."

"But not thoughts."

"Well, Psycomps then; though perhaps you'll say they do think?" The gardener shrugged, then continued, "But machinery is Robert's field, not mine. And mind you, I'm not saying that my friends here"—he stroked the furry edge of a leaf with a finger that was stained, calloused, and very gentle—"don't think. It doesn't particularly matter to me at the moment. What does matter is that I can make any of these six raise or lower the resistance of their leaves, just by thinking at them from across the room."

For a moment the suite was so still that the drip of moisture from the plant-watering conduits was audible. Lacey rested like a mottled gray stone until he asked, "What would happen then?"

"Anything, anything," the gardener said with a trace of sharpness directed at what he saw as a silly question. "What happens when you flip any switch? The lights go on, the door opens, the, the rocket ignites. It's a control you can touch at a distance and through walls, that's what it is. What happens here is that the recorder, that's the box the electrodes hook to, marks the peak."

"Umm. And does a little coil energize when that happens?" Lacey's voice was as soft as the fur on a cat's belly.

"You'd have to ask Robert about that, of course. He built the system for me. For us, now—he's been testing a plant himself at his office for the past several weeks."

Lacey looked up at one of the level's scanning cameras. It stared straight at him and Dornier and recorded their every movement. But not their thoughts: that would have to wait for a further improvement in the machinery. "And anybody can do it?" he asked.

"I think so, at least," said Dornier cheerfully, again tracing a leaf with his fingernail. "Of course, it takes a little preparation, a, a tuning of yourself and the plant. Watering it, talking to it"—he broke off quickly and added in response to a comment that had not been made, "I'm not saying that it understands what you say any more than a chameleon understands that bricks are red and leaves are green. It's just a matter of tuning, that's all."

Lacey stood. "You've been a lot of help," he said, "and I appreciate it. And I really believe you've found something here." He walked to the door, looked out at the guard scowling through the vitril. "I'll tell you, though," he added over his shoulder before palming the latch, "I think you'll have one hell of a hard time convincing anybody else."

"Well, with Robert's backing, you know . . ." Dornier said.

"Yeah, well. Good luck, anyway."

Lacey whistled between his teeth as he walked to the aircar and ordered his driver to take him back to the State Building and wait. Still whistling, he washed his hands in the male lavatory on Level 14, returned to his desk, and made a quick check with the scanner helmet and the Net.

He was back in the air car ten minutes after he had left it, giving the driver a new destination.

* * *

Ruby Sutter found Lacey drowsing at his desk in the late afternoon. He awakened at her approach and his smile was a spreading contrast to the grim set of the woman's face. Billings had quickly ducked under his helmet at sight of his superior. Sutter sneered at his back. With a concern she tried to hide, she asked Lacey, "How close to a kill are you, Jed?"

"As close as I can come without putting Wilhoit under a Psycomp. I know why he did it and how; but to prove it, I'd have to get into his mind."

She slashed her hands and turned away. "Then it's over. There's no way to get him under a 'Comp. No way."

"Sure, that's what I thought too."

Sutter cursed, bitterly and at length. She poised her hips on the edge of the desk and looked Lacey in the eyes. "Jed, I'll be very lucky to save your job as it is. I had another talk with . . . well, several officials. They want you off this Wilhoit thing. If there was a chance you could close it, I'd . . . but if you can't. . . ."

Lacey's smile changed as all his muscles tautened. His voice burred, like a saw on hard wood as he said, "They could come to me directly, these officials. Do they think I might—might take offense at them?"

He laughed suddenly and stood, his laughter genuine—that of a cynic who sees his worst forebodings proven true. "Look," he said, "I know you'd go to the gallows with me, for me, Ruby. That wouldn't do a bit of good. So I am going to drop the investigation, mark it as an industrial accident—but I'm going to see Wilhoit one time before I do that."

"I'll come along."

"To hold my hand?" Lacey asked with a grin. "No, you can watch here just as well."

Sutter bit her lower lip. "Look, just let me run down to my desk and I'll be right back."

"Ruby, you wouldn't need a gun for this anyway—and I really don't want you to come. You'd threaten Wilhoit in the wrong way."

"I'm supposed to trust your judgment?" she asked, but she bent a smile around the question. She was watching his back as he walked through the door to the landing pad; then she covered her head with his scanner helmet.

* * *

As Lacey entered the top level of the Coeltrans Building, eyes all around the room turned toward him like filings aligned by a magnet. The man in the center of the pool of plants was no exception. He stared over the mahogany desk and the litter of charts and tools and components upon it. Paying no attention to the employees, Lacey picked his way through the snaky aisles of plants leading to Wilhoit. The silence was uncanny. Only the hiss of his clothing on the leaves seemed to mar it. "Good afternoon, Citizen Wilhoit," the agent said. "I'm Lacey."

The executive nodded. "You were here this morning, too, while I was in a board meeting. I would have expected you to check through your—cameras to see if I was here before you came."

"I did." Lacey poised the fingers of his left hand on the desk for support. He looked at ease but the scar on his neck burned like a magnesium flare. "I've been investigating your murder of Terry Silvers—but that's not news either, is it?"

Wilhoit picked up a delicate construct of glass and etched metal. His short, capable fingers turned it over for his inspection. Without looking away from his hands, he said, "I didn't kill Terry Silvers. Or anybody."

"But there's evidence, isn't there?" Lacey pressed. "There's all the records you could ask for that he was blackmailing you—"

"Citizen," Wilhoit said, now staring in the agent's face. His voice was no less vibrant for being pitched too low to pass beyond the circles of plants surrounding him. "You can prove my—orientation, if you want. And you can prove that Silvers was using the threat of exposing it to extort things from me that he would not have been granted otherwise. He was an animal, yes, a predator more interested in the fact that he could ruin a powerful man than in any real benefits the fact brought him, but yes. . . . What you don't have proof of, because it doesn't exist, not in any form the Justice computers could accept, is that I killed him. And so you can't arrest me, and you may as well leave."

"Oh, I can arrest you, all right," chuckled Lacey. "If you're right, of course, you'd be released as soon as you had your preliminary hearing at the State Building."

"And you would be fired, perhaps even prosecuted under the circumstances."

Lacey ignored the comment. "You gave Silvers a key to the elevator," he said. "You knew how the support rods were constructed—you're the sort who would—but I'll bet you checked the working drawings anyway before you ordered the work done on the elevator. That I could prove."

"It wouldn't mean anything." Wilhoit had set his electronic tracery back on his desk.

"Then you rigged the recorder for your geranium experiment," Lacey went on, "so that it had a coil of the right frequency to trip the Dorafeen in the column. You could have used an electronic trigger instead of the plant, but computers understand electronics. Sure, the coil'd do something reasonable as well, move a stylus or the like—but you're used to thinking about multi-use components, aren't you? And then you waited for the right time and . . . conducted your experiment. Quite a job of planning." He looked sidelong at Wilhoit. "What, ah, formula did you use to send the plant off? I think I'd try something like, 'You are life; I am life; we are one in the universe', since the idea is to blend with the plant."

"You too," Wilhoit said. His breath was hissing as he rose to his feet, his flesh gone sallow and trembling. "Just like Terry, aren't you? The lust for a chance to bring down someone who really can do something important in this wretched world. But you won't do it, either—if your scanners don't show a damned thing, you can't prove a damned thing. Now get out!"

Lacey straightened. His face was a mask. "Robert Sawney Wilhoit," he said, "by virtue of the authority vested in me by the State of North America, I hereby direct you to accompany me in order to be formally charged in connection with the murder of Terrence Oscar Silvers."

Wilhoit slammed the desk with his fist. "You're going to play this farce to the end? I'll be released as soon as your Receiving Unit processes the charges. Do you think that people of the level who could override the computer's decisions are going to want to, to destroy me just so that you could win your game?"

"It's not a game, Citizen," said the agent with a smile as stark as a naked skull's. "It's my life. Winning, beating people like you, is about the only thing I've got left since they put me under the Psycomp. I can't lose. I can't afford to lose." He took a breath that shuddered like the wind in a loose-braced sail. "Come up to the air car."

"No!" Wilhoit shouted. He looked around, saw the open mouths of his staff gaping at him. "No," he repeated in a lower voice, "I'll meet you at the State Building if you must, but I won't ride in an air car. You'll have to shoot me to get me in one."

"Suit yourself," the agent shrugged as if it did not matter. "I'm not worried that you'll try to run. Go on down to your own vehicle, then."

Feet clattered on the stairs from the roof pad—Ruby Sutter, wearing a high-necked sheath of red and orange and a death mask in place of a normal expression. Lacey moved to her swiftly while Wilhoit, still standing, began to poke buttons recessed into his desk and speak soft commands to the microphones they activated.

"I was watching you," Sutter said. They were in the middle of hundreds of clerks, all straining to hear but afraid to look up at the two intruders. "You know that Receiving can't hold him. Jed, for god's sake don't throw yourself away! There's still time—"

"There's no time." Lacey looked back at Wilhoit who, his conversation with attorney or politician finished, had shrugged on an outer jacket and stepped to his elevator. Lacey took from his side pocket an empty plastic bag with a sealable edge and the glitter of a few drops of water within. His fingers toyed with it as he concentrated on something else.

Sutter bore his silence briefly, then demanded, "What've you got there?"

"Oh, I washed my hands this morning and saved the water to pour in that geranium," Lacey said, pointing to the recorder-linked plant by the elevator shaft. Wilhoit's head had just sunk below floor level. "It struck me that wash water might be a faster way of getting in tune with a plant than what Wilhoit's gardener was mentioning."

His unit chief blinked in puzzlement. "I don't understand," she said.

"Wilhoit would," said Lacey.

A scream burst from the elevator shaft, cutting through even the roar of a high-voltage arc. It hung over the blank faces of the clerks as smoke and the stench of burned meat began to bubble out of the shaft.

"I can't afford to lose," repeated Lacey.

Sutter looked at his face and shuddered. After a time, the screaming stopped.


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