The Fear Principle

The Fear Principle

Excerpts from the Book

She watched the two men carry the limp body of a third man into her darkened apartment.

"Where've you been?" she asked. "I expected you an hour ago." The balding man shrugged his heavy shoulders. "We had to wait, too," he said.

"All right," she said. "You're here. That's all that matters."

She looked around her living room and seemed to consider for a moment. "Put him there." She motioned with her long, graceful hand toward the couch. They lowered him carefully and stood, waiting for further instructions. She walked to the couch, bent over his unconscious form, and pulled up his eyelid.

"What did they give him - rezonine?"

"Yup. He won't be up for a while."

"I guess. He's got an implant?"

"Left leg. Paralytic, but not neuralgic."

"Okay. That's good enough. Thanks."

The balding man shuffled his feet, then spoke. "Um . . . Dr. Addams. We're supposed to get a report from you on how you plan to proceed with the prisoner."

She looked up at him, eyes cold and knifelike. "I've sent my initial report to my supervisor. If anyone else cares to read it, they can get it from him."

The man took a step back and ducked his head down.

His companion, who was young and blonde and exuded confidence, cleared his throat and spoke. "Look, we didn't mean anything by it. The Board guy - Dinardo - he said get it from you while we're here."

Her expression didn't shift one molecule as she repeated, "I've sent my initial report to my supervisor. If anyone else cares to read it, they can get it from him."

"Okay, Dr. Addams," the young man said. "I'll tell them you said so." He touched his companion on the arm and they left her, still musing over the man on her couch.

The two men walked in silence to the elevator, pressed the call button and waited. As it hummed up the four flights toward them, the young man whispered to his co-worker, "She's not so bad to work with, really. I don't blame her for getting pissed off. The Board's always on her about something."

"Yeah. I know. I worked with her before. She's fair. Only I'm damn glad I'm not that guy in there. I'd hate to be her prisoner."

The young man looked back toward her apartment and nodded vigorously.

"Ain't that the truth," he said.

He woke with a start, his body jerking upright. His vision blurred, sharpened, clouded and unclouded.

The first thing he saw clearly was her eyes.

Sea green, washed with tawny sun and glittering silicon crystals of burnished sand.

The rest of her face came slowly into focus, with its smooth amber skin framed by silken walnut hair that seemed to have been dipped, here and there, in molten gold. She stood looking down at him, her eyes holding him still while he regained clarity.

When he tried to stand she pushed him down again.

"Going somewhere?" she asked, her voice husky and low.

"I --" he said. "I'm -- where?"

"Toronto," she said,"city of. Canada." she sat down on the arm of the couch and reached toward the end table, picking up a pack of cigarettes. She pulled one out for herself and offered him the pack.

He shook his head, watched while she lit hers and sucked in smoke. She turned her sea eyes to him.

"That's right," she said, in answer to his unasked question. "Smoking's illegal in the city zones, Canada and United States. So figure it out."

He tried to get his brain to work. He had been arrested, he knew that. That wasn't just a dream. He was arrested, and convicted, and was being sentenced to the Planetoids when something happened to his cell bubble and he ran. Then - a large and annoying blank.

He didn't have a clue how he got here, who this woman was, or why she was allowed to smoke.

She watched him watch her as she breathed out rings of smoke that sailed across the room over his head. Her shirt looked like silk -- vintage maybe -- a deep red floaty thing over silk pants, also floaty. She wore one earring, the sign of artists, but he couldn't tell what kind. Anyway, artists weren't exempt from the smoking ban, though they'd lobbied hard for it.

Older people with a history of the addiction were allowed to continue. This was obviously not her disclaimer. So what else got you an exemption? Doctor's orders for those deemed chronically unstable biochemically, since it had been discovered that cigarettes regulated depressive episodes with remarkable efficiency.

She could be crazy, he thought, but she didn't look depressed. What else? There was, of course, the exemption for law-enforcement officials who served in high risk capacities, but she wouldn't be that. Would she?

He narrowed his eyes at her and the corners of her mouth twisted up in a smile.

"That's right," she said. "I'm a cop."

He pressed his arms into the side of the couch, prepared to propel himself up and out. She laughed.

"Just checking," she said, "to see if you're awake."

"Then you're ... not a cop?"

"Actually, I am. I'm the cop who flipped the power grid so your bubble would crash and you could run."

"You helped me escape."

She inclined her head graciously in acknowledgement, her hair falling like waves of silk around her shoulders.


"I thought you were kind of cute, and I know how to without getting caught, so I went ahead."

"That's bullshit," he said.

She smiled back and took a deep drag off her cigarette. "Bullshit," she murmured. "Don't you ever wonder how something as solid and inevitable as bullshit became a metaphor for a deliberate illusion?"

He pushed himself to sitting up, swung his legs down and planted them firmly on the floor. As he did so a sharp stabbing pain ran across his eyes, forcing him to lower his head into his hands. She waited while he groaned at length.

"You took a spill," she said, "when I grabbed you."

Flashes of events went on and off in his mind. Memory began to return. But he didn't remember taking a spill. As he remembered, someone grabbed him he swung, and whoever it was responded in kind, knocking the back of his head into the side of a brick building.

"You hit me," he said, taking his hands from his face and glaring at her.

"You missed me," she said. "Good swing, though." She tamped her cigarette out in a clay ashtray painted in pictographs of wildcats and snakes, then said apologetically, "I thought I was about to lose you, and I went through a lot of trouble to get you, so I took the necessary measures."

"What the hell," he hissed, "is going on here. Who are you, and what do you want with me?"

"I'm Jaguar Addams," she said, running a finger along his shoulder, "and you're my prisoner now."

He snorted derisively, brought up a hand and rubbed the back of his neck, shrugging her off in the process. This was not a fun game, even if the player was cute.

"You named after the Explorer Series?" he asked.

Lots of children bore the burden of names such as Onyx and Zarathustra, after one or another of the probes that had been sent out to establish Planetoids in the years of the Serials. Adrian always thought it ironic that it took the Killing Times to resurrect the dying space program, but he had to admit that NASA worked fast once kicked back into life. There had been eight probes sent out in the first run. This was the first time he'd heard of someone named after the Jaguar probe.

"Actually," she said, "I wasn't named after the Explorers. I was born before they went out. Not after the old British car, either. Or the football team."

"Then what?" he asked.

She shrugged. "The big cats. They're extinct, too. Except in zoos. I guess you could say I'm the only wild one left. Would you like some tea? I have some fine herbals. Could help your headache."

"I don't want tea," he said, pushing himself forward and staring at her hard. Whatever her game was, he wanted to have some say in the rules.

"I want you to tell me why you helped me escape, and why I'm in Toronto, and what you plan on doing with me next."

She leaned back against the edge of the couch, crossed her left leg over her right and swung it back and forth.

"Naughty boy," she said. "how rude of you to question the hospitality of your hostess, and we've only so recently been introduced.

"Have you never read your Lale Davidson regarding the rules governing behavior between hostess and guest? You should particularly refer to Chapter Seven, in the Etiquette of Crime."

"Thank you helping me escape," he said with mock courtesy. "Will that do?"

"Not at all. Actually, in almost every tradition except the New Serakones, I own you. Your life is mine. If it pleases me to offer you something, I offer. You then accept gratefully. I've offered you tea.

What do you say?"

He stared at her dumbly. Maybe she wasn't a cop. Maybe she was one of the crazies after all. She let some minutes pass in silence, then slid gracefully off the arm of the couch and went over to him, stood in front of him and lifted his chin with the long fingers of her right hand.

"I'm a cop," she said, as if answering his thoughts. The tone of her voice was less playful, more intense, though what emotion the intensity implied was beyond his reckoning. "I'm a cop on extended leave. Ever hear of the crazy clause?"

He shook his head.

"If you're a cop and your superiors think your job is driving you crazy, then you get extended leave. Compassionate leave, they call it. You get full pay for the first year, and then they cut it down little by little until you have nothing except whatever pension you've managed to accumulate. Every month you get tested to see if you're done being crazy for the time being. In fact, I have to go tomorrow, when they'll pass any number of sensors over my tortured neural pathways to see if I'm fit for service yet.

She paused, then jerked his chin up higher. "When you look at me, what do you see? Take your time," she added. "Impetuosity can mar judgment unless it's based on a sound intuitive system. People who've just escaped the Planetoids rarely have that." She let go of his chin and dropped to the floor, where she sat looking placidly up at him.

"What do you see?" she asked again.

He stared at her hard, trying to penetrate her focused gaze with his own. At first, he thought he had done it, but as the minutes passed he realized that her eyes would let you in only to swallow you whole. They were a great green sea, salty and deep, filled with complicated eddies and whirlpools that would drag you down and down to a place where the water weighed in tons above your head, pressing you into an endless, suffocating sand.

"You're incredibly beautiful," he said, surprising himself.

She threw her head back and laughed.

He took in a good lungfull of air, shook off the feeling of slow confusion and leaned back on the couch.

She stood up and stretched, putting a hand against her lower back. "You think that was a workout. I've been dragging your deadweight body around all morning. You're not a little man, I'll say that for you."

"I try to keep fit," he said.

She nodded. "I know you do. Because keeping fit means that when the old dreams of running start, you can remember they're just phantasms. Nothing of substance, as long as you're substantial."

She grinned at his wide-eyed shock.

"Oh, I know all about you, Adrian Graff. You're a con man, convicted of selling illegal drugs to a bunch of losers dying of ImmunoSerum Disorder - or ISD as it's called in the fast food world. Convicted, and sentenced to the Planetoids. Unlike you and most of the rest of the apathetic, I know what goes on at the Planetoids, and how little chance you stood of ever coming back. I also know that you're very good at making money, and I'm a cop approaching the end of her first year on compassionate leave. IN short, I need money, and you know how to make it, so I wan you to make some for me. End of speech. Any questions?"

He contemplated her face, which seemed calm and in charge of itself. She wasn't desperate. And the idea made a lot of sense to him. She might be crazy, but it would suit him to play along with her until he got his bearings and figured out what to do next.

"How much money do you want?"

"A lot. Enough to keep me in cigarettes for the rest of my life."

"Keep smoking them, that won't be very long."

"Yes, mother. Then please just give me half a million and I won't bother you ever again. Cross my heart and hope to swallow a sword."

Half a million. He could do it in a few weeks in New York or L.A., or even Denver. People were willing to pay a lot for very little when hope was the commodity. But here? He didn't know Toronto. Hadn't ever even visited the damn city. Didn't have any sense of its character or know the streets or the people, and in his line you had to know all this in depth.

He shook his head.

"Oh okay, then," she said, pouting a little. "Make it two hundred and fifty thousand, and we'll call it even. Not a bad price to pay for your life, is it?"

"It'll take time," he said. "I have to get to know the city."

"I can help you with that," she said. "In fact, I have a few leads for you right off the bat. I didn't go into this blind, after all."

"No. You don't seem that type. But ..."

"But what?"

"How do I know you'll let me go when you've got what you want?" he asked. "And why shouldn't I just skip out now?"

"Two good questions. I knew you weren't as stupid as everyone said you were."

"Thanks. What're the answers?"

"About me letting you go when you're done - you don't know, dearest. You won't know until it happens, or doesn't. In fact, why don't you assume I'd just as soon kill you as ... well, you know."

He shifted again, thinking maybe he should try the door, and as the thought crossed his mind he felt a tingle running up the inside of his leg. He raised his eyes to her.

"That's right," she said. "That's the answer to question number two. There's an implant in your leg. You can't get very far without it hurting like hell, and if you keep trying, you'll just fall down and lie on the ground until I come get you. Right now it's set for a very short range. Later, if it seems okay, I'll give you a longer leash. Trust me, baby?"

"About as far as you trust me," he said.

"Good. That's good. Then we understand each other. But you know, there are benefits to your tenure with me." She slipped her silk blouse over her head, let it slide to the floor.

"At least," she said as she let her hand drop into his lap. "I like to play with my food."

"So," he said, "I see."

The pressure of her body against his pushed him prone onto the couch. The scent of something fresh and wild, like the rampaging mint that ranged the unkempt lawns of old suburbia, reached him, pulling him into an ocean of no known depth. He let all effort leave him while she swarmed up him as if she were the last crashing wave of an incoming tide.

B. A. Chepaitis

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