Authors: Robert Charles Wilson
TOR BOOKS BY ROBERT CHARLES WILSON
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This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.
Copyright Â© 1999 by Robert Charles Wilson
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden
A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Design by Lisa Pifher
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wilson, Robert Charles, 1953-
Â Â Â Bios / Robert Charles Wilson.â1st ed.
Â Â Â Â Â Â p.Â Â cm.
Â Â Â “A Tom Doherty Associates book.”
Â Â Â ISBN 0-312-86857-X (alk. paper) ISBN 978-0-312-86857-4
Â Â Â I. Title.
813'.54âdc21 Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 99-37458
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â CIP
First Edition: November 1999
Printed in the United States of America
0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This one is for Sharry,
who saw me through.
HE REGULATOR LAY
deep in the flesh of the girl's upper arm, a pale egg in a capillary nest.
Anna Chopra pared away the tissue with careful strokes of the hemostatic scalpel. Her small, expert hands wanted to tremble. She willed them to be steady.
This was, she knew, an act of sabotage. She was performing a surgical intervention without consent; worse, she was interfering with an instrument of the Trusts. Violating the law, if not, perhaps, her Hippocratic oath.
She was alone with the unconscious and sedated girl, and that had been part of the temptation. In any operating theater on Earth, she would have been surrounded by colleagues and students. On Earth, one was always surrounded. Here, at least for the moment, she was surrounded only by mute machinery and surgical tools dangling on coiled wire in the near-weightless environment. No audience, hence no witnesses: she was trustworthy, or so the Trusts believed.
The thymostat had been installed in the girl's arm years ago. It had gone about its business flawlessly and showed no sign of failing now. “The thermostat of the soul,” her professor at Calcutta had called the common bioregulator. It was, in effect, an artificial gland, monitoring blood levels and maintaining self-synthesized doses of neurotransmitters and inhibitorsâleveling moods, sustaining alertness, suppressing fatigue. Anna Chopra wore one herself, as did most Terrestrial technicians and managers.
But this girlâyoung woman really, though she looked like an infant from the perspective of Anna's seventy yearsâthis Zoe Fisher was different. Zoe Fisher was a creation of the Devices and Personnel branch of the Trusts. She had been bred and modulated for her work on the distant world of Isis. She was, essentially, a human machine. Her bioregulation was spectacularly thorough; Anna did not doubt that the girl's every bad dream and brief ecstasy had been monitored, calculated, and soothed by this small but complex thymostat well before she learned to speak.
The bioregulator had put tendrilsâsamplers and dripsâinto the brachial artery and the ulnar collaterals. Anna Chopra severed the connections neatly and professionally, watching as the remnant pieces, self-suturing, merged into the artery's pulsing wall. The thymostat itself, about the size of a robin's egg and plump with blood, she pushed into the intake of a waste-disposal chute. Stray blood droplets drifted toward a gurgling air drain.
Why this small act of sabotage, why now? Maybe because a lifetime of obedience had left Anna Chopra feeling stale and futile. Maybe because this girl reminded Anna of her sisters, three of whom had been sold into the state brothels in Madras as a result of her family's financial reverses.
Brothel inmates were happy, everyone saidâthoroughly trained and exhaustively bioregulated.
Young Zoe Fisher had probably never been near a brothel. But she was just as surely a slave, and her thymostat might as well have been a leg iron or a steel collar. Since she left Earth, Anna Chopra had met many technicians from the Kuiper Republics, none of whom wore regulators of any kind, and she had come to envy their
spontaneity, their wealth of moods, their rawness. She might have been such a person herself, given the opportunity. Given another lifetime.
Let the Trusts find out what happened when one of their marionettes woke up without its strings.
Oh, most likely the theft would be detected and a new regulator installed. But maybe not. Zoe Fisher was bound for Isisâthe farthest outpost of human exploration, far beyond even the isolated kibbutzim of the Kuiper Republics. A frontier, where the power of the Trusts was limited.
Anna Chopra closed the incision and sealed it with a gel rich in regenerative nanobacters. Finished with her act of sabotageâand instantly guilty about what she had doneâAnna proceeded to her real work, rotating the girl's unconscious body in its surgical sling, cutting into the abdominal muscles to replace a depleted blood filter. Zoe was full of new technology, mainly immunesystem enhancers of a kind Anna had never seen before. Bloody white biomodules clustered around the abdominal aorta like insect eggs on milkweed. Anna ignored these mysterious devices; she replaced the defective renal filter and closed the muscle tissue with more gel.
And was finished. She instructed the anesthistat, a hulking black tractible robot, to bring Zoe up to a natural sleep state and maintain the analgesic drip. At last she stripped off her gloves and stepped back from the surgical sling.
Now her hands began to shake in earnest. Anna's seventy years were about half the average lifetime of a senior manager or a member of the Families, but she was a mere Level Three technician and her telomerases were rapidly running out. According to her career schedule, she would be in a Terrestrial geriatric hospice before the end of the decade. Where she could allow her hands to tremble freely while she waited for degenerative disease or quota euthanasia to end her lifeâher functional, perfect life as a good citizen of the Trusts and servant of the Families.
Barring the occasional act of defiance.
She glanced reflexively over her shoulder, but of course there
was no one to witness her criminal act. This small cometary objectâthey called it Phoenixâwas very nearly uninhabited now. All but the vital staff had left in preparation for the Higgs launch. Nor was physical evidence a problem. Before very long, nothing would remain of Phoenix but scattered radioactive particles and Cherenkov radiation.
Embers and ashes. The thought was soothing, somehow. Her rapidly beating heart began to slow. All that persisted, Anna told herself, were embers and ashes, sparks and dust.
It was the Kuiper technicians who had named this planetisimal “Phoenix.” Even a small world, they insisted, ought to have a name before it ceased to exist.
Phoenix rolled around the sun well beyond the orbit of Neptune and above the plane of the solar eclipticâthe desert of the solar system. In a matter of hours now, Phoenix would die in the most dramatic possible fashion. And when Phoenix vanished from the solar system, so would Zoe Fisher.
The technicians suiting Zoe for the launch seemed in awe of her, though they had rehearsed this act countless times. In awe, at least, of the forces to which Zoe would soon be subjected. If they could, Zoe thought, they would write their names on her body, like twentieth-century war pilots autographing a missile.
But she was not a missile. She was simply cargo. Five and a half feet and one hundred and thirty pounds of cargo. No different from the three other human beings, several hundred clonal mouse and pig embryos, and sundry supplies also bound for Isis. Soon enough, they would all be loaded into the catacombs of the Higgs sphere buried in the icy core of Phoenix.
The pre-launch supervisorâhe was one of those long-faced Terrestrial kachos who serviced starships and their cargo but would never dare dream of riding one himselfâapproached Zoe where she sat half-embedded in her armor. His lips were pursed into a frown. “There's a call for you, Citizen Fisher.”
This late in the launch sequence, Zoe thought, it must be
someone with a great deal of clout, someone highly placed in the Trusts or at leastâdare she hope?âin the Devices and Personnel branch. The lower half of her body was already entombed in the bulky journeyrig, steel sheaths too massive to lift, under any kind of spin, without the help of powerful hydraulics. She felt like a knight-errant about to be winched onto her horse. Helpless. “Who is it?”
“Your D-and-P man from the Diemos installation.”
Theo. Of course. She grinned. “Float me a monitor, please.”
He made a sour face but brought her a screen. The suiting room was cramped, but so was every chamber inside the cometary fragment. Much of Phoenix had been excavated to contain the fusion launcher and payload, the small world's water-rich debris vectored off to reclamation points nearer the sun. These pressurized chambers were essentially makeshiftâwhy waste labor on a habitat meant to be vaporized? The room around her was as stark as the Turing constructors had left it, medical and technical gear strapped randomly to the flat white walls.
At least her hands were free. Zoe touched a finger to the identity pad of the monitor.