Earth Hour

The assassin slung the bag concealing his weapon over his shoulder and walked down the steps to the rickety wooden jetty. He waited as the Sydney Harbour ferry puttered into Neutral Bay, cast on and then cast off at the likewise tiny quay on the opposite bank, and crossed the hundred or so meters to Kurraba Point. He boarded, waved a hand gloved in artificial skin across the fare-taker, and settled on a bench near the prow, with the weapon in its blue nylon zipped bag balanced across his knees.

The sun was just above the horizon in the west, the sky clear but for the faint luminous haze of smart dust, each drifting particle of which could at any moment deflect a photon of sunlight and sparkle before the watching eye. A slow rain of shiny soot, removing carbon from the air and as it drifted down providing a massively redundant platform for observation and computation; a platform the assassin’s augmented eyes used to form an image of the city and its environs in his likewise augmented visual cortex. He turned the compound image over in his head, watching traffic flows and wind currents, the homeward surge of commuters and the flocking of fruit bats, the exchange of pheromones and cortext messages, the jiggle of stock prices and the tramp of a million feet, in one single godlike POV that saw it all six ways from Sunday and that too soon became intolerable, dizzying the unaugmented tracts of the assassin’s still mostly human brain.

One could get drunk on this. The assassin wrenched himself from the hubristic stochastic and focused, narrowing his attention until he found the digital spoor of the man he aimed to kill: a conference delegate pack, a train fare, a hotel tab, an airline booking for a seat that it was the assassin’s job to prevent being filled the day after the conference…The assassin had followed this trail already, an hour earlier, but it amused him to confirm it and to bring it up to date, with an overhead and a street-level view of the target’s unsuspecting stroll towards his hotel in Macleay Street.

It amused him, too, that the target was simultaneously keeping a low profile—no media appearances, backstage at the conference, a hotel room far less luxurious than he could afford, vulgar as all hell, tarted in synthetic mahogany and artificial marble and industrial sheet diamond—while styling himself at every opportunity with the obsolete title under which he was most widely known, as though he reveled in his contradictory notoriety as a fixer behind the scenes, famous for being unnoticed. “Valtos, first of the Reform Lords.” That was how the man loved to be known. The gewgaw he preened himself on. A bauble he’d earned by voting to abolish its very significance, yet still liked to play with, to turn over in his hands, to flash. What a shit, the assassin thought, what a prick! That wasn’t the reason for killing him, but it certainly made it easier to contemplate.

As the ferry visited its various stages the number of passengers increased. The assassin shifted the bag from across his knees and propped it in front of him, earning a nod and a grateful smile from the woman who sat down on the bench beside him. At Circular Quay he carried the bag off, and after clearing the pier he squatted and opened the bag. With a few quick movements he assembled the collapsible bicycle inside, folded and zipped the bag to stash size, and clipped the bag under the saddle.

Then he mounted the cycle and rode away to the left, around the harbor and up the long zigzag slope to Potts Point.

[#]

There was no reason for unease. Angus Cameron sat on a wicker chair on a hotel room balcony overlooking Sydney Harbour. On the small round table in front of him an Islay malt and a Havana panatela awaited his celebration. The air was warm, his clothing loose and fresh. Thousands of fruit bats labored across the dusk sky, from their daytime roost in the Botanic Gardens to their nighttime feeding grounds. From three stories below, the vehicle sounds and voices of the street carried no warnings.

Nothing was wrong, and yet something was wrong. Angus tipped back his chair and closed his eyes. He summoned headlines and charts. Local and global. Public and personal. Business and politics. The Warm War between the great power blocs, EU/Russia/PRC versus FUS/Japan/India/Brazil, going on as usual: diplomacy in Australasia, insurgency in Africa. Nothing to worry about there. Situation, as they say, nominal. Angus blinked away the images and shook his head. He stood up and stepped back into the room and paced around. He spread his fingers wide and waved his hands about, rotating his wrists as he did so. Nothing. Not a tickle.

Satisfied that the room was secure, he returned to his balcony seat. The time was fifteen minutes before eight. Angus toyed with his Zippo and the glass, and with the thought of lighting up, of taking a sip. He felt oddly as if that would be bad luck. It was a quite distinct feeling from the deeper unease, and easier to dismiss. Nevertheless, he waited. Ten minutes to go.

At eight minutes before eight his right ear started ringing. He flicked his earlobe.

“Yes?” he said.

His sister’s avatar appeared in the corner of his eye. Calling from Manchester, England, EU. Local time 07:52.

“Oh, hello, Catriona,” he said.

The avatar fleshed, morphing from a cartoon to a woman in her mid-thirties, a few years younger than him, sitting insubstantially across from him. His little sister, looking distracted. At least, he guessed she was. They hadn’t spoken for five months, but she didn’t normally make calls with her face unwashed and hair unkempt.

“Hi, Angus,” Catriona said. She frowned. “I know this is…maybe a bit paranoid…but is this call secure?”

“Totally,” said Angus.

Unlike Catriona, he had a firm technical grasp on the mechanism of cortical calls: the uniqueness of each brain’s encoding of sensory impulses adding a further layer of impenetrable encryption to the cryptographic algorithms routinely applied…A uniquely encoded thought struck him.

“Apart from someone lip-reading me, I guess.” He cupped his hand around his mouth. “OK?”

Catriona looked more irritated than reassured by this demonstrative caution.

“OK,” she said. She took a deep breath. “I’m very dubious about the next release of the upgrade, Angus. It has at least one mitochondrial module that’s not documented at all.”

“That’s impossible!” cried Angus, shocked. “It’d never get through.”

“It’s got this far,” said Catriona. “No record of testing, either. I keep objecting, and I keep getting told it’s being dealt with or it’s not important or otherwise fobbed off. The release goes live in a month, Angus. There’s no way that module can be documented in that time, let alone tested.”

“I don’t get it,” said Angus. “I don’t get it at all. If this were to get out it would sink Syn Bio’s stock, for a start. Then there’s audits and prosecutions…the Authority would break them up and stamp on the bits. Forget whistle-blowing, Catriona, you should take this to the Authority in the company’s own interests.”

“I have,” said Catriona. “And I just get the same runaround.”

“What?”

If he’d heard this from anyone else, Angus wouldn’t have believed it. The Human Enhancement Authority’s reputation was beyond reproach. Impartial, impersonal, incorruptible, it was seen as the very image of an institution entrusted with humanity’s (at least, European humanity’s) evolutionary future.

Angus was old enough to remember when software didn’t just seamlessly improve, day by day or hour by hour, but came out in discrete tranches called releases, several times a year. Genetic tech was still at that stage. Catriona’s employer Syn Bio (mostly) supplied it, the HEA checked and (usually) approved it, and everyone in the EU who didn’t have some religious objection found the latest fix in their physical mail and swallowed it.

“They’re stonewalling,” Catriona said.

“Don’t worry,” said Angus. “There must be some mistake. A bureaucratic foul-up. I’ll look into it.”

“Well, keep my name out of—”

The lights came on for Earth Hour.

“That won’t be easy,” Angus said, flinching and shielding his eyes as the balcony, the room, the building, and the whole sweep of cityscape below him lit up. “They’ll know our connection, they’ll know you’ve been asking—”

“I asked you to keep my name out of it,” said Catriona. “I didn’t say it would be easy.”

“Look into it without bringing my own name into it?”

“Yes, exactly!” Catriona ignored his sarcasm—deliberately, from her tone. She looked around. “I can’t concentrate with all this going on. Catch you later.”

Angus waved a hand at the image of his sister, now ghostly under the blaze of the balcony’s overhead lighting. “I’ll keep in touch,” he said dryly.

“Bye, bro.”

Catriona faded. Angus lit his small cigar at last, and sipped the whisky. Ah. That was good, as was the view. The Sydney Harbour was hazy in the distance, and even the gleaming shells of the Opera House, just visible over the rooftops, were fuzzy at the edges, the smart dust in the air scattering the extravagant outpouring of light. Angus savored the whisky and cigar to their respective ends, and then went out.

[#]

On the street the light was even brighter, to the extent that Angus missed his footing occasionally as he made his way up Macleay Street towards Kings Cross. He felt dazzled and disoriented, and considered lowering the gain on his eyes—but that, he felt in some obscure way, would not only have been cheating, it would have been missing the point. The whole thing about Earth Hour was to squander electricity, and if that spree had people reeling in the streets as if drunk, that was entirely in the spirit of the celebration.

It was all symbolic anyway, he thought. The event’s promoters knew as well as he did that the amount of CO2 being removed from the atmosphere by Earth Hour was insignificant—only a trivial fraction of the electricity wasted was carbon-negative rather than neutral—but it was the principle of the thing, dammit!

He found a table outside a bar close to Fitzroy Gardens, a tree-shaded plaza on the edge of which a transparent globe fountained water and light. He tapped an order on the table, and after a minute a barman arrived with a tall lager on a tray. Angus tapped again to tip, and settled back to drink and think. The air was hot as well as bright, the chilled beer refreshing. Around the fountain a dozen teenagers cooled themselves more directly, jumping in and out of the arcs of spray and splashing in the circular pool around the illuminated globe. Yells and squeals; few articulate words. Probably cortexting each other. It was the thing. The youth of today. Talking silently and behind your back. Angus smiled reminiscently and indulgently. He muted the enzymes that degraded the alcohol, letting himself get drunk. He could reverse it on an instant later, he thought, then thought that the trouble with that was that you seldom knew when to do it. Except in a real life-threatening emergency, being drunk meant you didn’t know when it was time to sober up. You just noticed that things kept crashing.

He gave the table menu a minute of baffled inspection, then swayed inside to order his second pint. The place was almost empty. Angus heaved himself onto a barstool beside a tall, thin woman about his own age who sat alone and to all appearances collected crushed cigarette butts. She was just now adding to the collection, stabbing a good inch into the ashtray. A thick tall glass of pink stuff with a straw anchored her other hand to the bar counter. She wore a singlet over a thin bra, and skinny jeans above gold slingbacks. Ratty blond hair. It was a look.

“I’ve had two,” she was explaining to the barman, who wasn’t listening. She swung her badly aimed gaze on Angus. “And I’m squiffy already. God, I’m a cheap date.”

“I’m cheaper,” said Angus. “Squiffier, too. Drunk as a lord. Ha-ha. I used to be a lord, you know.”

The woman’s eyes got glassier. “So you did,” she said. “So you did. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Cameron.”

“Just call me Angus.”

She extended a limp hand. “Glenda Glendale.”

Angus gave her fingers a token squeeze, thinking that with a name like that she’d never stood a chance.

“Now ain’t that the truth,” Glenda said, with unexpected bitterness, and dipped her head to the straw.

“Did I say that out loud?” Angus said. “Jeez. Sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Glenda said.

She opened a fresh pack of cigarettes, and tapped one out.

[#]

The assassin crouched behind a recycling bin in the alleyway beside the Thai restaurant opposite the bar, his bicycle propped against the wall. He zoomed his gaze to watch the target settle his arse on the stool, his elbow on the counter, and his attention on the floozy. Perfect. The assassin decided this was the moment to seize. He reached for the bike and with a few practiced twisting motions had it dismantled. The wheels he laid aside. The frame’s reassembly, to a new form and function, was likewise deft.

[#]

Glenda fumbled the next lighting-up, and dropped her lighter. Angus stooped from the stool, more or less by reflex, to pick it up. As he did so there was a soft thud, and a moment later the loudest scream he’d ever heard. Glenda’s legs lashed straight out. Her shin swiped his ear and struck his shoulder, tipping him to the floor. He crashed with the relaxation and anesthesia of the drunk. Glenda fell almost on top of him, all her limbs thrashing, her scream still splitting his ears. Angus raised his head and saw a feathered shaft sticking about six inches out of her shoulder.

The wound was nothing like severe enough to merit the screams or the spasms. Toxin, then. Modified stonefish, at a guess. The idea wasn’t just that you died (though you did, in about a minute). You died in the worst pain it was possible to experience.

The barman vaulted the counter, feet hitting the floor just clear of Glenda’s head. In his right hand he clutched a short-bladed sharp knife, one he might have used to slice limes. Angus knew exactly what he intended to do with it, and was appalled at the man’s reckless courage.

“No!” Angus yelled.

Too late. A second dart struck the barman straight in the chest. He clutched at it for a moment; then his arms and legs flailed out and he keeled over, screaming even louder than Glenda. Now there were two spasming bodies on the floor. The knife skittered under a table.

Everything went dark, but it was just the end of Earth Hour. A good moment for the shooter to make their escape—or to finish the job.

Angus rolled on his back to keep an eye on the window and the doorway, and propelled himself with his feet along the floor, groping for the knife. His hand closed around the black handle. On his belly again, he elbowed his way to Glenda, grabbed her hair, slit her throat, and then slid the blade between cervical vertebrae and kept on cutting. He carried out the decapitation with skills he’d long ago used on deer. She didn’t struggle—her nerves were already at saturation. It wasn’t possible to add to this level of pain. Through a gusher of blood Angus crawled past the barman, and did the same for him.

He hoped someone had called the police. He hoped that whoever had shot the darts had fled. Keeping low, stooping, he scurried around the back of the counter and reached up cautiously for the ice bucket. He got one on the ground and saw to his relief that there was another. He retrieved that too. Holding them in his arms, he slithered on his knees across the bloody floor back to the front of the bar, and stuffed the severed heads in one by one, jamming them in the ice.

Above the screaming from outside and the peal of alarms came the sound of jets. A police VTOL descended on the plaza, downdraft blowing tables away like litter in a breeze. The side opened and a cop, visored and armored, leapt out and sprinted across.

Angus stood up, blood-drenched from head to foot, knife in hand, arms wrapped awkwardly around the two ice buckets, from which the victims’ hair and foreheads grotesquely protruded.

The copper halted in the doorway, taking in the scene in about a second.

“Well done, mate,” he said. He reached out for the buckets. “Quick thinking. Now let’s get these people to hospital.”


[#]

Monstrous, sticky with blood, Angus crossed the street and stood in the alleyway at a barrier of black-and-yellow crime-scene tape. Backtracking the darts’ trajectory had been the work of moments for the second cop out of the VTOL: even minutes after the attack, the lines in the smart soot had glowed like vapor trails in any enhanced gaze. An investigator in an isolation suit lifted the crossbow with gloved reverent hands. Cat-sized sniffing devices stalked about, extending sensors and sampling pads.

“What’s with the bicycle wheels?” Angus asked, pointing.

“Surplus to requirements,” the investigator said, standing up, holding the crossbow. She turned it over and around. “Collapsible bike, pre-grown tubular wood, synthetic. See, the handlebars form the bow, the crossbar the stock, the saddle the shoulder piece, the chain and pedal the winding mechanism, and the brake cable is the string. The darts were stashed inside one of the pieces.”

“Seen that trick before?”

“Yeah, it’s a hunting model.”

“People go hunting on bicycles?”

“It’s a sport.” She laughed. “Offended any hunters lately?”

Angus wished he could see her face. He liked her voice.

“I offend a lot of people.”

The investigator’s head tilted. “Oh. So you do. Lord Valtos, huh?”

“Just call me—” He remembered what had happened to the last person he’d said that to, then decided not to be superstitious. “Just call me Angus. Angus Cameron.”

“Whatever.” She pulled off her hood and shook out her hair. “Fuck.” She looked disgustedly at the cat things. “No traces. No surprise. Probably a spray job. You know, plastic skin? Even distorts the smart dust readings and street cam footage.”

“You can do that?”

“Sure. It’s expensive.” She gave him a look. “I guess you’re worth it.”

Angus shrugged. “I’m rich, but my enemies are richer.”

“So you’re in deep shit.”

“Only if they’re smarter as well as richer, which I doubt.”

“If you’re smart, you’ll not walk back to the hotel.”

He took the hint, and the lift. They shrouded him in plastic for it, so the blood wouldn’t get on the seats.

#

The reaction caught up with Angus as soon as the hotel room door closed behind him. He rushed to the bathroom and vomited. Shaking, he stripped off. As he emptied his pockets before throwing the clothes in the basket he found he’d picked up Glenda’s lighter and cigarette pack. He put them to one side and showered. Afterwards he sat in a bathrobe on the balcony, sipping malt on an empty stomach and chain-smoking Glenda’s remaining cigarettes. She wouldn’t be needing these for a few months. By then she might not even want them—the hospital would no doubt throw in a fix for her addiction, at least on the physical level, as it regrew her body and repaired her brain. Angus’s earlier celebratory cigarillo had left him with a craving, and for the moment he indulged it. He’d take something to cure it in the morning.

When he felt steady enough, he closed his eyes and looked at the news. He found himself a prominent item on it. Spokespersons for various Green and Aboriginal coalitions had already disclaimed responsibility and deplored the attempt on his life. At this moment a sheepish representative of a nuclear-waste-handling company was in the studio, making a like disavowal. Angus smiled. He didn’t think any of these were responsible—they’d have done a better job—but it pleased him to have his major opponents on the back foot. The potential benefit from that almost outweighed the annoyance of finding himself on the news at all.

The assassination attempt puzzled him. All the enemies he could think of—the list was long—would have sent a team to kill him, if they’d wanted to do something so drastic and potentially counterproductive. It seemed to him possible that the assassin had acted alone. That troubled him. Angus had always held that lone assassins were far more dangerous and prevalent than conspiracies.

He reviewed the bios linked to as shallow background for the news items about him. Most of them got the basic facts of his life right, from his childhood early in the century on a wind farm and experimental Green community in the Western Isles, through his academically mediocre but socially brilliant student years, when the networks and connections he’d established soon enabled his deals and ventures in the succession of technological booms that had kept the bubble economy expanding by fits and starts through seven decades: carbon capture, synthetic biology, microsatellites, fusion, smart dust, anti-aging, rejuve, augments…and so on, up to his current interest in geoengineering. Always in before the boom, out before the bust, he’d even ventured into politics via a questionably bestowed peerage just in time for the packed self-abolition of the Lords and to emerge with some quite unearned credit for the Reform. The descriptions ranged from “visionary social entrepreneur” and “daring venture capitalist” to “serial confidence trickster” and “brazen charlatan.” There was truth in all of them. He’d burned a lot of fortunes in his time, while adding to his own. The list of people who might hold a private grudge against him was longer than the list of his public enemies.

Speaking of which, he had a conference to go to in the morning. He stubbed out the last of Glenda’s cigarettes and went to bed.

[#]

The assassin woke at dawn on Manly Beach. He’d slept under a monofilament weave blanket, in a hollow where the sand met the scrub. He wore nothing but a watch and swimming trunks. He stood up, stretched, scrunched the blanket into the trunks’ pocket, and went for a swim. No one was about.

Shoulder-deep in the sea, the assassin removed his trunks and watch, clutching them in one hand while rubbing his skin and hair all over with the other. He put them back on when he was sure that every remaining trace of the synthetic skin would be gone. Most of it, almost every scrap, had been dissolved as soon as he’d keyed a sequence on his palm after his failed attempt, just before he’d made his way, with a new appearance (his own) and chemical spoor, through various pre-chosen alleys and doorways and then sharp left on the next street, up to Kings Cross, and onto the train to Manly. But you couldn’t make too certain.

Satisfied at last, he swam back to the still-deserted beach and began pacing along it, following a GPS reading that had some time during the night been relayed to his watch. The square meter of sand it led him to showed no trace that anything might be buried there. Which was as it should be—the arrangement for payment had been made well in advance. He’d been assured that he’d be paid whether or not he succeeded in killing the target. A kill would be a bonus, but—medical technology being what it was—he could hardly be expected to guarantee it. A credible near-miss was almost as acceptable.

He began to dig with his hands. About forty centimeters down his fingertips brushed something hard and metallic.

He wasn’t to know it was a land mine, and he didn’t.

[#]

One of the nuclear power companies sent an armored limo to pick Angus up after breakfast—a courtesy, the accompanying ping claimed. He sneered at the transparency of the gesture, and accepted the ride. At least it shielded him from the barracking of the sizable crowd (with a far larger virtual flash mob in spectral support) in front of the Hilton Conference Centre. He was pleased to note, just before the limo whirred down the ramp to the underground car park (which gave him a moment of dread, not entirely irrational), that the greatest outrage seemed to have been aroused by the title of the conference, his own suggestion at that: Greening Australia.

Angus stepped out of the lift and into the main hall. A chandelier the size of a small spacecraft. Acres of carpet, on which armies of seats besieged a stage. Tables of drinks and nibbles along the sides. The smell of coffee and fruit juice. Hundreds of delegates milling around. To his embarrassment, his arrival was greeted with a ripple of applause. He waved both arms in front of his face, smiled self-deprecatingly, and turned to the paper plates and the fruit on sticks.

Someone had made a beeline for him.

“Morning, Valtos.”

Angus turned, switching his paper coffee cup to the paper plate and sticking out his right hand. Jan Maartens, tall and blond. The EU’s man on the scene. Biotech and enviro portfolio. The European Commission and Parliament had publicly deplored Greening Australia, though they couldn’t do much to stop it.

“Hello, Commissioner.” They shook.

Formalities over, Maartens cracked open a grin. “So how are you, you old villain?”

“The hero of the hour, I gather.”

“Modest as always, Angus. There’s already a rumor the attentat was a setup for the sympathy vote.”

“Is there indeed?” Angus chuckled. “I wish I’d thought of that. Regretfully, no.”

Maartens’ lips compressed. “I know, I know. In all seriousness…my sympathy, of course. It must have been a most traumatic experience.”

“It was,” Angus said. “A great deal worse for the victims, mind you.”

“Indeed.” Maartens looked grave. “Anything we can do…”

“Thanks.”

A bell chimed for the opening session.

“Well…” Maartens glanced down at his delegate pack.

“Yes…catch you later, Jan.”

Angus watched the Belgian out of sight, frowning, then took a seat near the back, and close to the aisle. The conference chair, Professor Chang, strolled onstage and waved her hand. To a roar of applause and some boos the screen behind her flared into a display of the Greening Australia logo, then morphed to a sequence of pixel-perfect views of the scheme: a translucent carbon-fiber barrier, tens of kilometers high, hundreds of kilometers long, that would provide Australia with a substitute for its missing mountain range and bring rainfall to the interior. On the one hand, it was modest: it would use no materials not already successfully deployed in the space elevators, and would cost far less. Birds would fly through it almost as easily as butting through a cobweb. On the other hand, it was the most insanely ambitious scheme of geoengineering yet tried: changing the face of an entire continent.

Decades ago, Angus had got in early in a project to exploit the stability and aridity of Australia’s heart by making it the nuclear-waste-storage center of the world. The flak from that had been nothing to the outcry over this. As the morning went on, Angus paid little attention to the presentations and debates. He’d heard and seen them all before. His very presence here was enough to influence the discussion, to get smart money sniffing around, bright young minds wondering. Instead, he sat back, closed his eyes, watched market reactions, and worried about a few things.

The first was Maartens’ solicitude. Something in the Commissioner’s manner hadn’t been quite right- -a little too close in some ways, a little too distant and impersonal in others. Angus ran analyses in his head of the sweat-slick in the handshake, the modulations of the voice, the saccades of his gaze. Here, augmentation confirmed intuition: the man was very uneasy about something, perhaps guilty.

Hah!

The next worries were the unsubstantiated unease he’d felt just before his sister’s call, and the content of that call. It would have been nice, in a way, to attribute the anxiety to some premonition: of the unusual and worrying call, or of the assassination attempt. But Angus was firm in his conviction of one-way causality. Nor could he blame it on some free-floating anxiety: his psychiatric ware was up to date, and its scans mirrored, second by second, an untroubled soul.

Had it been something he’d seen in the market, but had grasped the significance of only subconsciously? Had he made the mistake that could be fatal to a trader: suppressed a niggle?

He rolled back the displays to the previous afternoon, and reexamined them. There it was. Hard to spot, but there in the figures. Someone big was going long on wheat. A dozen hedge funds had placed multiple two-year trades on oil, uranium, and military equipment. Biotech was up. A tiny minority of well-placed ears had listened to voices prophesying war. The Warm War, turning hot at last.

Angus thought about what Catriona had told him, about the undocumented, unannounced mitochondrial module in the EU’s next genetic upgrade. An immunity to some biological weapon? But if the EU was planning a first strike—on Japan, the Domain, some other part of the Former United States, Brazil, it didn’t matter at this point—they would need food security. And food security, surely, would be enhanced if Greening Australia went ahead.

So why was Commissioner Maartens now onstage, repeating the EU’s standard line against the scheme? Unless…unless that was merely the line they had to take in public, and they really wanted the conference to endorse the scheme. And what better way to secretly support that than to maneuver its most implacable opponents into the awkward position of having to disown an assassination attempt on its most vociferous proponent? An attempt that, whether it succeeded or failed, would win Angus what Maartens had—in a double or triple bluff—called the sympathy vote.

Angus’s racing suspicions were interrupted by a ringing in his ear. He flicked his earlobe. “A moment, please,” he said. He stood up, stepped apologetically past the delegate between him and the aisle, and turned away to face the wall.

“Yes?”

It was the investigator who’d spoken to him last night. She was standing on a beach, near the edge of a crater in the sand with a bloody mess around it.

“We think we may have found your man,” she said.

“I believe I can say the same,” said Angus.

“What?”

“You’ll see. Send a couple of plainclothes in to the Hilton Centre, discreetly. Ask them to ping me when they’re in place. I’ll take it from there.”

As he turned back to face across the crowd to the stage he saw that Maartens had sat down, and that Professor Chang was looking along the rows of seats as if searching for someone. Her gaze alighted on him, and she smiled.

“Lord Valtos?” she said. “I know you’re not on the speakers list, but I see you’re on your feet, and I’m sure we’d all be interested to hear what you have to say in response to the commissioner’s so strongly stated points.”

Angus bowed from the waist. “Thank you, Madame Chair,” he said. He cleared his throat, waiting to make sure that his voice was synched to the amps. He zoomed his eyes, fixing on Maartens, swept the crowd of turned heads with an out-of-focus gaze and his best smile, then faced the stage.

“Thank you,” he said again. “Well, my response will be brief. I fully agree with every word the esteemed commissioner has said.”

A jolt went through Maartens like an electric shock. It lasted only a moment, and he’d covered his surprise even before the crowd had registered its own reaction with a hiss of indrawn breath. If Angus hadn’t been looking at Maartens in close-up he’d have missed it himself. He returned to his seat and waited for the police to make contact. It didn’t take them more than about five minutes.

Just time enough for him to go short on shares in Syn Bio.

 

Earth Hour copyright © 2011 Ken MacLeod

Art copyright © 2011 by Robh Ruppel

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