T H E   E D G E   C A S E
By Greg Knauss

Chapter 1

Koizumi was an important man, powerful and respected, and it was disconcerting that he had the eyes of a fourteen year old girl.

Not literally — for all I knew — but styled like the pubescents crawling the street outside. Every time he blinked, his irises changed color: Yellow, black, an eerie sky blue; random, near as I could tell. The trend was nearing its final days, even among the late starters in the podunks, and for a high-level executive to be cycling the color of his eyes — and eighteen months behind the curve at that — was unsettling.

What did it mean?

Maybe he was bluffing, throwing spurious data at me. Or maybe he had hobbies that didn’t make his activities report, or some personality or social defect that didn’t make the psych. This was a curveball, and it didn’t fit with anything I had. It changed things in subtle, dangerous ways.

It was easier just to kill him. An interview is an interview and if you’re not going to be able to talk your way through it, you put the goods on the table.

“Mr. Bax—” he managed to say.

I lifted my shirt and pushed a hand through the skin of my stomach, into a small cavity hollowed out of my abdominals, and pulled out the bonegun. It was slick with blood and there was a brief moment where I fumbled with the soft, warm shape, struggling to hit the knuckle under its skin. Finally. A tendon snapped forward.

The front of the gun tore open, and a small, brilliant fragment of bone hit Koizumi directly in his chest. The air between us shimmered slightly, churning. His eyes went wide — orange — and he drew in a sharp, sudden breath. Insulin spiked into his heart, stopping it, and he was suddenly, technically dead.

Boneguns creep me out. They’re necessary in my line of work — until they graduate to serious rumor, anyway, and people other than the dangerously paranoid start to defend against them — but the whole process of production and use is unpleasant.

Off-the-shelf scanners detect metal, ceramic, plastic; chemicals, biologicals; damn near everything. If you’re going to get something to kill a man into a room, it’s got to be made out of what you’re made out of. And if you’re going to kill a man at a distance, you’ve only got a few tools to work with. The first boneguns were made out of cow parts, but D.N.A. scanners looking for biological agents picked them up. Now, you’ve got to clone off the important pieces from yourself, or use the originals if you’re short on time.

The two grunts behind me didn’t get payload bullets — just mass, delivered at velocity. Tendon and muscle can only put together so much force, so you’ve got to hit your target in a soft spot: The one back next to the door took a fragment to the eye, and the other — hovering nearby — a close range shot to the underside of his jaw, back into the base of his skull.

Work like this has actually gotten easier lately. A couple of years ago, someone of Koizumi’s status would have skipped the goons and gone with an automated violence suppression system, a combination of heavy weaponry mounted in the ceiling and an A.I. running off every input the room could offer. But, Jesus, never give a gun to a computer. Enthusiasm for AVSS waned when executives started being executed by their own security, for either browbeating an underling or fucking a secretary a little too enthusiastically. A handful of early-adopter funerals can smother a budding market in its crib.

In rapid succession, there were three heavy thumps as the bodies hit the floor.

Deep in the bowels of the building, an alarm went off, noting that the heartbeats of people it cared about had stopped. A security team was being notified of this fact and they now wanted to kill me, very, very badly.

I started for Koizumi’s body, crumpled into a heap behind his desk. Between us was a magnetic crash door and if it detected something moving across its plane with any sort of urgency, it would do whatever it could to make that something unhappy. I’d seen people hit with mag doors before and it wasn’t pretty. They sort of collapse into themselves, the iron in their blood switching teams and hurrying out of their bodies as fast as possible.

I was almost across it when I noticed a seam that split the ceiling, maybe two or three feet in front of Koizumi’s expansive workstation — the perimeter. Behind me, the charges mounted around the frame of the door fired and expensive wood splintered spectacularly. The security detail charged in, all sleek and black, combat suits bristling, moving like a sharp-clawed, razor-toothed, none-too-bright animal. The kind of guys who’ll blow a door instead of trying the handle. And start shooting before they know what’s going on.

The dull percussive sound of automatic weapons fire couldn’t have reached me before the bullets, but it registered first and I instinctively made a sloppy lunge behind Koizumi’s desk. Bullets aimed for me — and the two dead thugs and Koizumi and several pieces of by-stander furniture — triggered the mag door and it came down hard, radically altering the physical structure of whatever was in its way. Complex and interlocking magnetic fields did odd things to the light from the other side, changing vectors against their will. Shattershells slammed into the door and ignited, but only a vague puff of smoke made it past.

The fire continued as I pulled myself to Koizumi’s body. His eyes were still orange, the look of surprise on his face apparently determined to out-last Koizumi himself. The room throbbed with the cycle of heavy current, the focused magnetism of the crash door straining under the load the security team was putting on it. Mag doors are only supposed to stop bodies, or knives, or single bullets. They’re useless against ceramics or plastics or bone. They’re for rooms where all that stuff has been screened. Eventually an all-out assault will burn them out.

I pulled myself to my knees and grapped at Koizumi’s headset—

Headset. Koizumi didn’t have an implant. That wasn’t in the reports either. Chet was getting sloppy.

I keyed an address, an outside line.

“What city, please?” the flat, region-indeterminate voice asked.

“Los Angeles,” I said. “Business. Koizumi Extranational.”

There was a quick buzz-click and the pretty receptionist I’d entirely failed to charm twenty minutes ago answered the line. It was important to Koizumi that you got a human being when you called. Very old-fashioned. Didn’t fit with his eyes at all. But neither did the headset.

“Koizumi Extranational,” she said. “How may I direct your call?”

“Security center, the crisis room,” I said. “Tell them I’m the guy behind the desk.”

“One moment, please.”

She put me on hold. Some innocuous filler music started to play, a saxophone doing unpleasant things to what was probably originally jazz, the beat provided by the composer rolling in his grave.

The onslaught suddenly fell silent.

After a moment, a tense and very unhappy male voice came on the line and said, “This is Security Chief Oaks.”

“Hello, Security Chief Oaks,” I said. “I need you to do two things for me.”

“Name them.”

“Okay. First, I need a one-part-per-thousand ampule of epinephrine and a pulmonary syringe. His heart’s been stopped for a couple of minutes now and the more of his brain that dies, the less likely his security chief is going to get a bonus this year.”

“Second thing?” Oaks said. One of the security team stood-down his weapon and it retracted back into his armor. A small panel swung open on his forearm and he began assembling an injection.

“I need you not to kill me. Koizumi-san is going to want to finish the interview after he’s recovered.”

“You will be taken into custody, but not harmed. We’ll work this out after everything is cleaned up.” The medic approached the crash door and stood just outside the perimeter.

“Sounds good to me, Chief.”

“Now I need you to do something for me.”

“If I can.”

“Hang up with me and chord command-release twice,” he said. “I can’t turn the fucking door off from here. It’s a security measure.”

* * *

Next | Table of Contents