Harpoons

by Jonathon Sullivan

 

 

Sunday, 1030 hours

 

Shinya Takeda began his theft by entering the bathhouse reserved for Nihon-To executives, in Osaka's exclusive Taisho-ku district. The doorman frowned, but the counterfeit badge passed electronic muster and the photograph matched Shinya's wolfish features.

 

He disrobed in the anteroom, donning translucent slippers and taking precautions against exfoliation. Then he entered the huge, humid space, fragrant with pine needles, scrubbed skin and chlorine. The bath was also a garden. Massive rocks jutted from the water. Waterfalls murmured a pleasing white noise. Bonsai grew everywhere, disguising corners, distorting perspective, creating the illusion of an outdoor paradise.

 

Shinya's target, Hidori Saito, sat naked on a shelf of rock, above the fragrant water. Saito, Senior Vice President of Nihon-To Bioinformatics, was a sleek, middle-aged man with a wiry build. He gossiped with a colleague, a fat grayhair soaking in the pool. They were not quite alone. Two men in suits lurked in the foliage, sweltering in the humidity. They watched Shinya Takeda slip into the water, six meters from Saito's position. 

 

You must be uncomfortable. Shinya smiled to himself. Nihon-To's security shouldn't be a problem. His assault would be silent and invisible. But Saito would have to enter the water before Shinya could begin.

 

Unbidden, his retinal monitors displayed a translucent popup browser over the lower half of his visual field:

 

**FURUTA GENOMICS**

Your trial version of Furuta Genomics Molecular patch for

-Pancreatic Carcinoma-

has expired.

For continued relief from your symptoms,

you must register the product.

Blink the link to register!

(Please have health credit info ready.)

 

Shinya double-blinked to close, reminding himself to register later - perhaps using Saito's stolen codes. The patch wasn't helping much anymore. But it bought him a little time, and a little time was all he needed.

 

Saito sat drying on his rock, chatting with the fat man while the guards cast furtive glances at Shinya. How long before one of them, out of sheer boredom, took the initiative to check him out? Shinya sank deeper into the water, forcing himself to relax, resting his head on the deck of blonde wood.

 

The ceiling morphed, a holo of kaleidoscopic tesseracts, rendered in blue and white to generate a fractal sky. The impossible geometries, six-dimensional spaces encoded in the songs of the Minke whale, were at once hypnotic and impenetrable. 

 

Shinya smiled. How beautiful. How appropriate.

 

He caught movement in his peripheral vision. Without turning his head, he glanced to the right. Hidori Saito eased off his rock, into the warm water.

 

Shinya released his bladder, spilling his minions into the bath. When he locked his retinal crosshairs on Saito and double-blinked, millions of aminanos spun their flagellae to zoom through the water, like synthetic sperm racing to fertilize an oversized ovum. Less than half would negotiate the currents and eddies of the bath to lodge in Saito's flesh.

 

Now if only Saito would stay put long enough for the aminanos to pilfer the encryption keys planted in his genome, without having a toxic reaction. Shinya had made many improvements since FujiGene. His chances were excellent. He opened his retinal interface and waited for the data.

 

A suit stepped away from his guardhouse of gelded trees, moving closer. Shinya stretched in the water, turning away. His face might match the image on the counterfeit badge, but it would not match any in the Nihon-To database.

 

He imagined his aminanos, the protein machines secreted from his kidneys, burrowing into Hidori Saito. They penetrated his nuclei, hooking onto his DNA, seeking out the restriction sites framing the encryption keys in his chromosomes. Of the millions of tiny harpoons Shinya had fired into the bath, perhaps a thousand would find their target. Now they glided between the brackets, reading the nucleotides. And then the master stroke: converting that melody of base pairs into the modulated vibrations of a peptide flower with metallic petals. The electromagnetic vibrations penetrated Saito's meat and sent a message to Shinya's retinals: paydirt.

 

Shinya verified the sequence, then climbed from the water, forcing himself not to look at Saito. He dripped his way across the polished wooden deck, and felt the guard's eyes boring into his back. He almost made it to the anteroom before the ruckus began: choking and splashing, cries of alarm and confusion.

 

Shinya turned to bear reluctant witness to his handiwork. Hidori Saito convulsed, face down in the bath. The fat man gaped helplessly at the spectacle, water sloshing against his girth. The suspicious guard turned to his master's aid. His partner had already splashed into the water. They grasped Saito beneath the armpits and pulled him to the deck. Saito's face twitched through a cycle of grotesque masks. Bloody spittle boiled over his chin.

 

Shinya ducked into the anteroom, frowning. His chances of failure had just increased tenfold. Far better to quietly lift the keys in Saito's genome without messy toxic reactions, and no one the wiser. Now there would be questions. Now there would be hurry, and with hurry, error. He seized his clothes and escaped to the street, naked.

 

He dove into the van waiting for him at the curb. As it sped away, Takeda pasted Saito's stolen keys to his retinal browser, to begin his assault on Nihon-To's mainframe.

 

Later, if he had time, he would register his pancreatic cancer patch.

 

 

 

Sunday, 1145 hours

 

Kenji Ito could not imagine what it must be like to have a retinal screen pop up just before an orgasm. Bad enough to have your Te interrupt. Of course, normal people can turn these things off. His hips rolled to a stop.

 

Michiko was close, too, and she cursed into his chest. She clutched at Kenji as he pulled away. A vague panic rose, the suffocating dread that had dogged him for weeks. He backed toward the end of the futon. Her legs lay open, exposing the fragrant orchid of her flesh, where aromas natural and synthetic were strongest. He imagined he could smell the WedLock pheromone, interlaced with her native musk. She had taken the transfect two months ago, engineering the scent into her tissues as part of her quiet, patient campaign to harness him.

 

His knees had taken a workout; they bitched as he stood. His Te, a slim palmtop, lay on the dresser beside his gun. 

 

"I thought you were off today," she said, panting.

 

He forced a grin. "You know that doesn't mean anything." He thumbed the Te. It displayed info his superiors would have liked Kenji to get on his retinals - if only Kenji would take retinals. The terse message was from Watanabe: a Nihon-To executive lay dead in a bathhouse, full of toxic aminanos. Shades of the FujiGene caper.

 

Has Shinya Takeda finally re-appeared? Kenji tried to reign in his growing excitement. Probably a false alarm. He dictated to the Te: "You know what to do, Watanabe. I'll be right there."

 

He slid into his trousers. A fresh shirt from the closet. He felt Michiko's eyes on him, indicting him from the shadows.

 

His hurry was overwhelming. What if it was Shinya Takeda? He imagined his evidence degrading in the warm bath, like vegetables overcooked to mush. And destructive proteases in the victim's flesh, the final arbiters of death, would soon obliterate Takeda's microscopic thieves.

 

Stay calm. His friend Watanabe was more than competent.

 

He reached for his weapon, and a square of foil on the dresser caught his eye. He stared at it as he strapped on the shoulder holster, a movement as unconscious as his breathing. The black wrapper bore the kanji for "Love," in broad yellow brushstrokes. As he picked it up, the characters morphed into "Commitment." Then "Forever." And back to "Love."

 

He turned. Michiko sat on the futon, rooting for cigarettes in the tangle of clothes on the floor.

 

"Hmm. I thought we were taking our time."

 

She lit up. "That," she said, "was some time ago. I'm ready, Kenji. You? You either are or you aren't."

 

Kenji fingered the packet, with its reductionist manifesto for human sexuality. I'm not. Now his panic and hurry swirled into a sickening tangle.

 

"This isn't the time."

 

Blue smoke streamed from her lips. "What a surprise." Her eyes took on a dull expression of defeat. Her shoulders slumped.

 

A silent shock overtook him. Michiko was a prideful creature, radiant with strength and arrogance. He did love her. Something indefatigable about her – until this moment. She, too, was a hunter. Kenji Ito was her prey. He had enjoyed the chase, because of his own pride. A glance at Michiko would tell any man that she need not waste her time at small game. He was a minor celebrity in law enforcement, but his prospects were limited. He would never ascend beyond his current rank of captain. He would always bear the taint of Korean lineage on his right cheek.

 

Michiko saw beyond all that. Her pursuit honored him.

 

Now she was giving up the hunt. He had proved too wild and cunning for her. She would seek less challenging prey. Kenji felt an old loneliness descending. Worse, he feared he was breaking something in her. Losing him, Michiko would be less than she was. And the world would be diminished, because of Kenji Ito.

 

The thought struck him as arrogant. Even if true. More feelings to tangle.

 

He ripped open the packet, and the morphing kanji froze like a dead thing, stuck between "Love" and "Commitment." He withdrew the fleshtone patch.

 

She watched him, unblinking, ash growing on her cigarette.

 

His heart shuddered. He released the foil and it fluttered to his feet like a crushed butterfly. He removed the backing, slid his hand into his shirt, and applied the patch to his belly.

 

The corner of her mouth twitched into a smile. "You have forty-eight hours to change your mind," she said.

 

Forty-eight hours before the patch consummated a molecular marriage, binding Kenji's desire to the subliminal scent of Michiko's synthetic pheromones. He would never want another woman. She would never hunt another man. They would be inextricably bound. WedLocked.

 

"I won't change my mind," he said, turning to leave. It was already a lie.

 

 

 

Sunday, 1105 h

 

"Talk, dammit! Do you have it? Are you even in?"

 

For Shinya, the macro world had given way to a more vibrant reality: peptide linkages, protein folding, protease cleavage domains. Jiro's voice buzzed like an irritating insect at the edge of awareness. Shinya wished he would just shut up and drive the van.

 

Using the keys stolen from Saito's cells, Shinya had already violated the Nihon-To mainframe. Nihon-To made billions by offering highly secure macromolecular design solutions. Those with the right licenses, the requisite security clearances, and a mountain of cash could buy access to the software cultivated by Nihon-To and her competitors, for the custom design of proteins, aminanos, or industrial ribozymes. All under the watchful eye of the world's security forces. In the age of molecular terrorism, computational protein folding had become a dangerous technology.

 

Danger brought restriction.

 

Restriction brought profit.

 

Shinya manipulated side groups like tinkertoys, twisting them with virtual hands. He sculpted his protein to fit between the tight design parameters that jutted into his visual field like serrated spikes. As he folded the winding peptide chain, selecting and discarding amino acids, the globular protein grew like the embryo of a new creature, bristling with spines that fit between the spikes, ready to occupy a weird ecological niche.

 

"I said talk to us. Are you even in?"

 

"Be quiet." Kiku's voice was softer, but her smell was distracting enough. "Let him work."

 

Jiro fell silent, but he had a point. With Saito dead, an alert policeman or Nihon-To security suit might void his codes. And if somebody really clever came along, they would let Shinya work while they triangulated his position. He couldn't get out too soon.

 

The world receded as the work intensified. His parameters were exquisitely narrow. For a long, panicked moment he wondered if his protein could even exist. Then he substituted a proline for a valine, the chain made a hairpin turn, and his peptide creature was ready for birth.

 

Now a few precious minutes to put the molecule through its simulated paces. Express the protein in muscle, and it sat inert on the inner membrane. No interference with neuromuscular function. No metabolic derangements. No immune response. At low pH, in a solution of proteases, Shinya's molecule split into two fragments with exactly the desired properties.

 

Translating his protein into the language of DNA took less than a second.

 

He logged off. The world re-assembled amid waves of nausea and disorientation.

 

He lay in Kiku's room, on her futon, flat on his back. His immersion had been complete. They had carried him from the van while he worked.

 

Jiro and his two thugs stood at the threshold, bouncing in the swell of Takeda's vertigo. Kiku knelt beside him, a question in her eyes.

 

"Success," he said. Not a lie.

 

Kiku smiled.

 

Shinya sat up. His belly gnawed at him. He took the Te from his belt and opened it. Linking to his retinal cache, he downloaded the DNA sequence.

 

Jiro, a burly man with a shaved head, a heavy beard and the kanji stain for Ainu heritage on his cheek, stepped into the room. "Let's have a look at it."

 

Shinya shook his head. "We agreed: one copy, my eyes only. If that's no longer acceptable, I can erase it all right now." He held up his Te.

 

Jiro reached into his jacket. "That would be a mistake."

 

"Stop it." Kiku unwound her slender frame, sitting back on her heels and standing in one fluid movement. She turned on Jiro. "He's right. We agreed. It doesn't make sense to have multiple copies floating around."

 

"Somebody should check his work."

 

"You? You would look over his shoulder?" Kiku laughed, and Jiro reddened.

 

Watching, Shinya fairly trembled with desire. Kiku had that universal quality of spoiled, rich, beautiful women, to make men feel like trash. Shinya knew he should be repelled, but Kiku had stolen his heart. Literally.

 

"We can have it appraised by an expert," Jiro muttered.

 

"Oh, good. Bring in more people! That's your idea of security?"

 

Jiro glanced from Kiku to Shinya. "It is."

 

"Well, it's not mine. McCoy's people will check his work, before they buy." She put her hands on her hips, extending her chin. "Now get out."

 

Jiro scowled. The kanji on his cheek folded into angry distortion.

 

Shinya suppressed a smile. He had painted that stain on Jiro's face, many years ago. Like millions of other Japanese, Jiro wore Shinya's indelible genetic grafitti, the sign of mixed blood.

 

"Your money doesn't give you license to make stupid decisions, Kiku."

 

"It gives me the option of hiring somebody else, if you're no longer interested."

 

Jiro turned to leave. His two meaty associates glowered at Shinya, then followed him out.

 

Kiku closed the shoji screen.

 

Shinya smiled. "This is the part where you ask me if it really worked."

 

She knelt beside the futon, smiling, swiping a string of blue-black hair from her eyes.

 

"And I have to tell you the truth, don't I? It's difficult to lie to the one who's WedLocked you."

 

Her smile dissipated.

 

"Of course," he said, "that sword cuts both ways, neh? Did you really think I wouldn't find out?"

 

She took a deep breath. "I hoped that by the time you did, you wouldn't care."

 

She was the most beautiful woman Shinya had ever seen, or would ever see. WedLocked to her, he could see her no other way.

 

He nodded. "A self-fulfilling prophecy. How?"

 

She looked away. "You can buy WedLock knock-offs on the net, on the street. While we were making love, I..."

 

"I see. Why?"

 

Kiku sat silent.

 

He knew the answer. He was a clumsy lover at best, especially now, as his own renegade cells devoured him. But it wasn't his sex she wanted. 

 

She stretched out her thin brown arm to stroke his cheek, where Shinya had marked himself as part Korean.

 

"Was it you?" she asked. "Are you the Kanji Bomber?"

 

Sweet Buddha, she is beautiful.

 

He took her hand and placed it over his heart.

 

"You WedLocked a man you hardly know, without his knowledge or consent, to ask him that?"

 

Her fingernails scraped his chest, inoculating him with arousal. "I suppose I could ask about the data in his Te."

 

He nearly faltered. Telling her the truth would be...orgasmic. Kiku's WedLock might be an illegal hack, but it worked. The thought of lying to her filled him with a visceral moral dread.

 

"I succeeded," he said. "I can assemble a virus that will infect an entire race." Not the whole truth, but not a lie, either. Still, he felt queasy.

 

Her other arm wrapped about his neck. At this moment, he knew, she didn't care about the virus. She had forgotten that he was a means to her end, just as he had forgotten she was a wicked child, a bored and careless dilettante with pretensions to anarchy and terrorism.

 

"Kanji Bomber," she whispered. "You are, aren't you?"

 

Their noses Toched. Her breath smelled of tea and boiled seaweed.

 

"Yes," he said. He had never confessed it to anyone. "Yes, I am."

 

Her eyelashes fluttered against his. "I knew it."

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 1225 hours

 

Kenji's squad had invaded the bathhouse, defiling the garden with vacuum hoses, misters, and tarps. Lamp arrays spilled a painful blue-white glare over the rocks and bonsai, shattering the cultivated balance of light and shadow. Robots resembling armadillos prowled amidst the shrubs, sniffing for evidence.

 

Sergeant Mitsuo Watanabe stood over the body, waiting for him. Kenji negotiated an obstacle course of technicians, armadillos and sounding stones. Hidori Saito lay supine on the polished wooden deck, naked and doughy. Kenji squatted next to the body. The purple tongue swelled out of the mouth, crushed by teeth during the seizure. Saito's dead eyes stared upward, at the kaleidoscopic, n-dimensional music of the Minke whale.

 

Kenji stood, turning to Watanabe.

 

Watanabe bowed. He was a tiny man, impeccably dressed, with wrinkled features. He looked like a monitor lizard in a suit. "Kenji-san. You familiarized yourself with Mr. Saito on your way here?"

 

Kenji returned the bow. "Yes."

 

"No evidence of trauma. Convulsions started in the bath, and continued for several minutes, followed by cardiopulmonary arrest."

 

"And no history of seizures."

 

Watanabe smiled and held up his Te. "Mr. Saito's only health problem is an acute aminano infestation."

 

Kenji linked his Te to Watanabe's. The synthetic creature resembled a sperm cell, with foreclaws. But aminanos were protein machines, much smaller than cells, cobbled together from Mother Nature's off-the-shelf technology. The disposable flagellum was hacked out of Trichomonas. A motif stolen from the transferrin receptor functioned as a forged passport, signaling the victim's cells to swallow the machine. A localization signal borrowed from MAP kinase shuttled the invader to the nucleus. There it scanned the genome with a module plagiarized from RNA polymerase.

 

The only novel part of the machine, its crowning glory, bore the trademark of Shinya Takeda: an unnatural amino side chain, rich with metal ions. It vibrated at a different frequency for each DNA base, transmitting the stolen sequences.

 

Kenji's neck itched. "So our thief got what he wanted?"

 

Watanabe nodded. "Somebody used Hidori Saito's encryption keys to violate the Nihon-To mainframe just after he died. They accessed seven databases: accounts information, operations logs, legal, personnel-"

 

Kenji shook his head. "Camouflage. He wanted computational folding."

 

Watanabe smiled. "Tap the link. See the protein?"

 

Kenji frowned. "Hmmm. You've sent this downtown?"

 

"Nihon-To's working on it, too."

 

Kenji started to object, then nodded. "Yes, of course. Good thinking."

 

Watanabe bowed deeply. "You are too kind, Kenji-san."

 

Kenji smiled at the formality, a private joke. Kenji was Watanabe's superior, but years of working together had made that distinction nearly meaningless.

 

"So far, it doesn't make sense." Watanabe's reptilian features pulled into a scowl. "The protein sits on the inner leaf of the cell membrane. Just...sits there. I'm not sure how it could harm human tissue."

 

 "This is Takeda — who knows what he's up to? We'll figure it out, old friend. Will somebody please turn off that damn whale music? I can't think."

 

The groaning and clicking ceased; the sky holo died, exposing the ceiling of rough white plaster.

 

"That's better. Just tell me we've got some evidence. Cells, security footage - something?"

 

Watanabe shook his head. "We're still looking, but the bath water is warm – and voluminous. If he left anything on the deck, we haven't found it yet. No prints, no exfoliated cells, nothing. The bath is private. No cameras. One of Saito's bodyguards snapped the perp through his retinals. He got fuzzy images of the back of his head."

 

"So we've got nothing on Takeda."

 

"We have the aminanos."

 

"Not enough – even if we knew where to find him. Get Hiro and Mori on customs. Maybe he's cooking it up for a foreign buyer, like he did for the Kurds."

 

"Already on it."

 

"Good. Takeda needs a missile for this payload. So you and I will work every bug shop in Osaka."

 

"A lot of territory."

 

"I want Takeda found, Watanabe, before he deploys a vector for this..." Kenji shook his head at the Te. "Whatever this is."

 

He closed the palmtop and looked down at Saito. "I think I know Takeda. He didn't want to do this."

 

Watanabe frowned. "Do what?"

 

"Kill this man. He wanted to steal the codes quietly. He failed, and gave us our one chance to catch him. Let's not waste it." 

 

 

 

Monday, 1325h

 

In the Toya-ku district, where the sewers still ran open, Kenji entered a noodle bar. A wave of silence rippled through the place. The patrons, all men, turned on their stools and cushions to gawk at the invader. Silver tendrils of cigarette smoke interlaced with the obligatory whale song pattern on the ceiling, a cheap commercial holo with faded colors, cycling to an ad for Kirin Extra Dry. Wood paneling rotted in the shadows. Kenji had been up all night, and the air in here made his stomach churn. The place smelled of fish paste, cheap sake and urine.

 

A dozen stares followed him to the kitchen. A husky young man in a dingy tee-shirt emerged from a rice curtain. He blocked Kenji with a growled warning, then an outstretched hand. Kenji captured the wrist, twisting the radius and ulna into a configuration not intended by nature.

 

"Police."

 

"Fuck you!" The bouncer turned away, trying to unwind his forearm. Kenji grabbed a fistful of hair and shoved. The bouncer kissed the wall. As he crumpled, Kenji turned toward the patrons and produced his sidearm. Closing time. The noodle bar emptied quickly.

 

In the squalid kitchen, Tango Kogawa stirred a pot of bonito broth. She was a tiny, bony woman, with large eyes and thick black hair piled high. Once beautiful, she had long since gone to seed. She perched on a stool beside the stove, like a scrawny, ancient crow.

 

"Kenji-san," she said, stirring cigarette ash into her broth. "I wish you wouldn't do that."         

 

"Who's your new apprentice?"

 

"He's not my 'apprentice.'" Tango set down her spoon and walked to the curtain. "He's my dipshit nephew from Nagoya. He'll never be anything but muscle."

 

"Not even particularly talented muscle."

 

"Nepotism has its drawbacks." She thrust her head through the curtain. "Put some ice on that. And get out of my sight."

 

She brushed past Kenji on her way to the stove. "I'd like you out of my sight, too."

 

He showed her the image on his Te. "Cook some noodles for this man?"

 

"Never saw him. Get lost."

 

Kenji began a rambling inspection of the kitchen. An anonymous appliance dominated one corner, draped with dirty linen.

 

"Buy a new fridge?" Kenji pulled away the sheet. "Wow. Looks like a peptide translator." 

 

"I use that to make fish paste."

 

"Yummy. You're under arrest."

 

"It's not illegal to own that!"

 

"No." Kenji opened the translation tank. "But the law is a curious thing: without a permit, you can't buy, transport or operate it. And since you're a felon twice over, you don't have a permit - any more than you did last time. Neh?"

 

Kenji peered into the tank, where corrugated rows of plastic membrane glistened with oily moisture. The surfaces were peppered with ribosomes, microscopic robots that translated RNA into protein. Just add amino acids, and the ribo-robots would make your molecule by the gallon. If you wanted a complex mixture of molecules - like, say, fish paste or Pyongyang encephalitis virus - the translator could do that, too.

 

"You can't prove I transported or operated that machine."

 

"Actually, I can." Kenji sampled the tank with a tiny syringe from his Te. Then he booted the translator's interface. "Assuming I don't find any residual protein in there—"

 

"I run a clean kitchen."

 

"I can see that. Assuming I don't find any residual protein in there, I believe the cpu logs will indicate  recent operation."

 

Tango puffed nervously. "I thought you and I had a working relationship."

 

Kenji caught the scent of his prey. "All bets are off on this one. You want to hack Joy Flu and WedLock pheromones? You want to brew neuropeptides for the Yakuza? That's one thing. This is something else."

 

His Te sang out. "Well, look at that residue." He plucked the syringe from the port. "Just what we were looking for."

 

Tango blanched. "That bastard! He said he cleaned it out!"

 

"The man I showed you?"

 

"Maybe. He was older. Longer features, thicker brows."

 

Kenji nodded, his heart pounding. Takeda had probably changed his appearance many years ago. "When?"

 

"All night, this morning. He left two hours ago."

 

"What did you make for him?"

 

Tango stared at her cigarette, fuming.

 

Kenji swiped at a shelf. Mixing bowels and ladles clattered onto the floor. She let out a little shriek.

 

"Wake up, Tango! You just hit the big time! What did you make for him?"

 

She gaped. "He wouldn't let me! He paid me extra to use the translator himself. And he said he'd clean up!"

 

"Don't tell me you didn't peek."

 

"Probably a virus. Maybe a mycoplasma. I can't be sure. Look at your damn residue!"

 

Kenji pulled out his cuffs. "You're coming with me."

 

"I'm cooperating!"

 

"Like you said: we had a working arrangement. Some stranger dances in here, cooks up a bug, and dances back out. And I don't get a call!"

 

"An oversight. You want to know where he is?"

 

His head buzzed. The scent was strong now. He dangled the cuffs in her face. "I've been up all night, Tango. I'm out of patience."

 

She slumped. "I did make noodles for him. Soba and tea."

 

Kenji rattled the cuffs.

 

"Very special soba noodles." She retrieved a Te from her apron. "The kind that really stick with you."

 

Kenji took the GPS link. If Tango was telling the truth, Shinya Takeda was on the northern waterfront, a half-kilometer away.

 

"Why?" he asked her.

 

"Some stranger danced in here and cooked up a bug. Thought he might be a man to watch. Thought he might have interesting connections. Thought his smell might drag you into my noodle shop."

 

Kenji stared at his Te. Takeda is right around the corner.  The cuffs went back to his belt. "This had damn well better check out, Tango."

 

"Fuck him. He said he'd clean it out."

 

"He did." Kenji showed her the analysis. "Your fish-paste machine is clean."

 

 

 

Monday, 1410 hours

 

Crouched behind a stack of rotten palettes, Kenji watched the man named Shinya Takeda amble along the wharf at Konohana-ku, the northern port district. Beneath a sky like salt-bleached denim, a fleet of whaling ships lumbered into port, hulks of grime and iron heavy with slaughter from the sea. Refrigerated warehouses and grubby packing plants lined the wharf, waiting for the meat like hungry dogs.

 

This man is Shinya Takeda.

 

Kenji Ito had taken down bioterrorists, peptide hackers, blood bombers, prion freaks. He'd met the fanatics who poisoned food and gassed subways. He'd taken confessions from people who spread madness by corrupting retinal servers with neural tanglers, or hacked pharmacogenomic databases to taint child vaccines.

 

As always, it amazed him to see his prey as human. Not a monster. Not a demon. Just a lanky middle-aged man in a threadbare sports coat, watching the ships roll into harbor.

 

But among all those Kenji had hunted, this man stood as a giant. This man had marked the Japanese people with their own genes. Kanji Bomber. This man had fashioned a selective bio-weapon for Kurdish nationalists, giving them a sword to carve a new nation out of Iraq and Turkey.

 

After changing the map, Takeda had stolen encryption keys from the Chairman of FujiGene International, using a more primitive but no less lethal version of the aminano that had just killed Hidori Saito. He had then published FujiGene's databases on the net. Revelations that FujiGene planted protein "cookies" in patients' chromosomes had brought down the largest pharmogenomics company on earth. But not before Takeda had commandeered her resources to design a lethal new aminano. Even now, that prolific nanobot stood guard over Alaska's Northern Wilderness Preserve. After three billion dollars and dozens dead, the Americans had stopped trying to get back in. The caribou were happy.

 

The Baghdad Revolt. Serengeti Syndrome. Old Growth Flu. And the Peptide Nation. They all bore Shinya's signature.  

 

Just a man — but this man's crimes had changed the shape of the world. Now Kenji had him hooked, thanks to the tiny transponders planted in his flesh by Tango's tainted noodles.

 

He opened his Te. Watanabe's face looked even more reptilian on the tiny screen.

 

"His features are altered, but I'm sure it's him. You have the signal?"

 

Watanabe nodded. "We're tracking him, yes. What's the setup?"

 

"Unmarked units, rotating tails. Our guys, not Osaka PD."

 

"That'll take longer."

 

"I've got him until they get here. I want the buyers, everyone he's working with. If we take him now, we'll lose them, and the virus. We'll keep our distance."

 

He cut the connection. Takeda stood twenty meters away, watching the whalers ease into their berths.

 

Kenji's throat was dry. This man is Shinya Takeda. The fresh image on his Te matched old photos in important ways. Maxillo-mandibular ratios were a spot-on match. Same inter-ocular distance. Same height. Not enough for an arrest, but...

 

This man is Shinya Takeda.

 

Soon he would make his move. Kenji would stop him.

 

And that will be the end of you, Takeda-san. Kenji wondered why the thought was so unsettling.

 

Abruptly, Takeda stiffened. He whirled about, scanning the wharf, frowning. For a second he seemed to look straight through Kenji's blind of rotten palettes.

 

Kenji's heart pounded. Takeda could not possibly see him, but something was amiss.

 

Kenji watched him withdraw his Te and affix a syringe to the hub. Takeda thumbed the palmtop while his eyes scanned the pier. He removed the syringe and injected himself in the forearm, sub-cue. The procedure took less than half a minute.

 

Maybe it's dope. Or medicine.

 

Kenji scrabbled for optimism. He knew it wasn't medicine. He checked his Te. The transponder beeped once, twice...and stopped.

 

Lost. Takeda's retinals had detected Tango's bug, and the injection had neutralized it. Kenji's mouth went sour. Now what do I do?

 

Watanabe connected. "Kenji! We just lost—"

 

"I know! How long before your guys get here?"

 

"This time of day? Twenty-five minutes."

 

"He'll be gone in twenty-five minutes!"

 

Watanabe shook his head. "He's right there. Take him. I can send Osaka PD to--"

 

"Take him for what? Hacking noodle surveillance?"

 

"Illegal use of a peptide translator."

 

"That machine's clean. I want Takeda for Saito!"

 

"Maybe he's still got the bug on him."

 

"He's not stupid."

 

"He's got the data, at least."

 

"The moment we seize his Te he sends an emergency signal from his retinals and wipes it."

 

Watanabe opened his mouth to speak, then shrugged.

 

Takeda wasn't admiring whaling ships anymore. He strode along the pier, toward the city, moving briskly.

 

"Fuck!" Kenji chewed his lip, thinking. He clipped the Te to his belt, stood, and strode out onto the pier.

 

His prey saw him coming, stopped. Kenji fought the urge to draw his weapon. A few more yards, and he stood face-to-face with Shinya Takeda.

 

Just a man.

 

"Konnichi wa," Kenji said, and flashed his badge.

 

Takeda blinked, then read the ID.

 

"Konnichi wa, Ito-san," he said, bowing his head. "Shigawa Akira desu. Hajimemashite. Is something wrong, officer?"

 

Kenji returned the bow. "I couldn't help noticing that you just gave yourself an injection."

 

"I did."

 

"May I ask what it was?"

 

"Medicine." Takeda smiled. "I'm rather ill."

 

"Few medicines still require injection. May I see your permit?"

 

Takeda blinked several times, staring at him. Kenji recognized the look — Takeda was trying to send a retinal link.

 

"I don't have retinals," Kenji said.

 

"How interesting." Takeda retrieved his Te, and showed a file to Kenji. "Doesn't that interfere with your work?"

 

"I want to be alone when I close my eyes. It says you take regular injections of cletherol, Mr...Shigawa."

 

Takeda nodded. "For pain."

 

"Unusual. May I see your pharm log?"  

 

Takeda sucked air between his teeth, shaking his head. "Do I have to?"

 

Kenji cleared his throat. "Technically? No. But-"

 

"Then I'd rather not. Good day, Ito-san."

 

Takeda turned to go.

 

No. I've waited too long. You can't just walk away! Kenji clenched his teeth. I'm blowing it.He fumbled through his panic for options.

 

"I meant no offense! May I buy you lunch?"

 

Takeda turned, bemused.

 

"I know a place right there." Kenji rolled with his own madness. Maybe Takeda would bite, out of curiosity or arrogance. "They take their cut right off the boat. Very fresh."

 

 Takeda took a deep breath, shaking his head.

 

"I would very much like to speak with you, sir," Kenji said softly. Nothing to lose. "Please."

 

Takeda examined him for a long moment, then smiled.

 

Kenji escorted him to a dilapidated establishment down the pier, redolent of green tea, fresh fish and whale fat. The rough wooden walls were a cluttered display of old whaling gear: ancient pulleys, oars, nets, and antique harpoons. It always struck Kenji as superfluous. A restaurant on the wharf dressed up as a restaurant on the wharf.

 

Business was slow. The only sign of life was a vibrant holowall where the kitchen should be. The fractal rainbow was shockingly incongruous with the décor. Arabesque patterns rolled and morphed, shifting colors tuned to a melody of whines and clicks. Kenji guessed the song and its hidden mathematics came from Sei whale. Michiko had collected some of the wildly popular holos, and she played them often.

 

A pudgy man in a pristine apron emerged from the holowall to take their order.

 

"I'll have the whale bacon," Kenji said. "Aka miso. A bottle of Yebisu."

 

Takeda shook his head. "Aka miso and tea for me."

 

The waiter bowed and disappeared into whale space. Takeda leaned forward. "Sou ka? What shall we talk about, officer?"

 

Kenji chuckled. "I'm tempted to ask you for an autograph."

 

"And why would you do that?"

 

Kenji pointed to the melanin calligraphy on his cheek. "You've left your mark on me, Takeda-san. And the nation."

 

"You've mistaken me for somebody else." Takeda pointed to the word on his own cheek: Korean. "A long-lost brother, perhaps?"

 

"You are Shinya Takeda. Son of Fumihiko Takeda and his Korean wife, Hyun-Soo Park. Your mother was deported during the Takagi Immigrant Purge. You graduated from Kyoto University with a doctorate in molecular biology. You published five important papers, then dropped out of sight after you were denied tenure — probably because of your Korean heritage. How am I doing?"

 

The waiter brought soup and tea for Takeda, whale bacon and beer for Kenji. Two bowls of rice.

 

"It is unfortunate." Takeda's expression was blank. "Racial prejudice runs deep in our society." His covered soup bowl had sealed shut by condensing the steam within. He tilted the lid and a fragrant cloud billowed out, smelling of soybean and seaweed. "We still have a long way to go."

 

"Even after your object lesson."

 

Takeda shook his head.

 

"Isn't that why you did it? Your kanji epidemic exposed the ugly truth. Top executives were marked as Ainu. Chinese. European. The Prime Minister himself wore the Korean stain, like you and I. You shattered the myth of Japanese racial purity." Kenji took a bite of whale bacon, sliced thin the way he loved it, succulent with fat. "I wonder if you're happy with the results."

 

Takeda frowned. "How can you eat that?"

 

"Because it's good. I take it you're one of those...?"

 

"Make up your mind." Takeda laughed. "Am I the Kanji Bomber, or a whale-hugger?"

 

"Maybe you're both. Takeda's crimes include several acts of green terrorism."

 

Takeda pursed his lips, then nodded at the whale-song holo. "Look at that...beautiful. It's like playing Mozart at a restaurant where they serve boiled composers."

 

Kenji took another bite. "From what I've read, there's no proof those patterns represent intelligence."

 

"According to 'whaling scientists' who get paid by the kilo. Do you really believe that? Besides, intelligence isn't the point."

 

Kenji raised his eyebrows, chewing. Keep him talking.

 

Takeda leaned forward. "It's been two years since we discovered the beautiful dimensions encoded in those songs. And we're eating more whale meat than ever before. Do you know why?"

 

"Because it tastes good?"

 

"Maybe. Or maybe we just love thumbing our noses at the world. But I think it's something else. I think we hunger for the magnificent and mysterious. We have to possess it." He nodded at the holo again. "The more beautiful the creature, the more awesome or terrible, the greater our hunger. We have to conquer it. Consume it. Decorate our walls with heads and holos. We even do it to each other. We find somebody strong and free, and we want to possess them. Even if it means destroying them."

 

Kenji stared at him. Michiko's WedLock patch itched on his belly. He reached for his beer. "Does this somehow justify what you're doing?"

 

Takeda sipped his tea. "What am I doing?"

 

"I'm going to find out. Make no mistake, Takeda-san. This time is different. You've tipped your hand. We're on to you. I'm on to you. I've studied you for years."

 

Takeda looked up from his tea. Their eyes locked. "Really. Why?"

 

"Official answer: you're the best, if not the worst."

 

"I see. And your answer?"

 

Kenji looked out the window. The whaling fleet crowded into port. An army of robots and dock workers lashed them into berths with a net of steel moorings.

 

"My answer? My answer is that, yes, soon my superiors will force me to take retinal implants, and I'll own a little less of myself. You're right. Everyone is hunted, my friend. We're...enmeshed in each other. We move in orderly patterns. Our Tes and retinals tell us what to do. Corporations tell us what to buy, how to live. Men and women enslave one another with money, sex and WedLock patches. We've all lost our freedom by bits and pieces. All but a few. Like you, Takeda-san."

 

Takeda smiled. "You might be surprised."

 

"I've romanticized you, certainly. Still, you are outside. Wild. It always gave me a strange comfort that somebody like you could exist."

 

 "A hunter prefers to think he still has game. That he hasn't destroyed the spirit of his prey."

 

Kenji's heart skipped. Takeda had nailed him.

 

"It's true," he said. "If I woke tomorrow with nobody to chase... But my feelings don't enter into it. Yes, Takeda-san. To me, you are that creature. Awesome. Terrible. Wonderful." He fingered his plate of whale bacon, then pushed it away. "But it's my job to hunt you down, no matter how much I admire you."

 

Takeda smiled.

 

"So...I hope you let it go." Kenji was shocked to hear himself say it. "I hope you just disappear."

 

"And deny you the kill? You don't sound much like a policeman."

 

"I'm not just any policeman. You're not just any criminal. Retire, Takeda-San. Vanish. Because if you don't, I'll do my job."

 

Takeda rose, looking out the window. "We are we what we are, brother."

 

Kenji followed his gaze, and knew his quarry had escaped.

 

"My cab is here," Takeda said, and tapped at his temple. "Retinals can also set a man free. Thank you for lunch. Good luck hunting for this Takeda person."

 

As Takeda went out to the cab, Kenji contacted Watanabe on his Te. The tag team was still three minutes out. The cab disappeared around a corner, and Takeda was lost.

 

He gave Watanabe the cab registry. Futile. "He'll dump the cab immediately, and call another. He's gone. Sayonara."

 

"Sorry, boss, but -"

 

"I know what he's after, Watanabe. He's going to strike right here! He's going after the whaling industry, my friend. Maybe he'll plague the whaler crews...or maybe the packing plants. I know Takeda, and it feels right. It's his kind of score – big statement, a blow for the underdog. Anti-corporate, environmental. For all I know, he's already planted the bug. Get down here with your team. We've got work to do."

 

Watanabe shook his head, grinning. "Gomen nasai, Kenji-san, but you're finally wrong."

 

Kenji frowned. "I am?"

 

"We found the buyers!"

 

 

 

Monday, 1445 hours

 

Shinya Takeda had done his post-doc at Kyoto University, where he had proved that steroid receptors didn't just bind nuclear DNA, but also entered Golgi complexes to regulate the packaging of certain proteins. He'd done that work by tagging the receptors with radioactive sulfur-35. Amid the billions of molecules in the cytoplasm, his labeled steroid receptors had glowed with cosmic fire. For a hunter with the right tools, their movements within the cellular labyrinth were easy to track.

 

That's how Shinya felt now. He wandered the city like any other human molecule. But he'd been tagged. Radiolabeled. Marked for study.

 

Or rather like a whale. The irony forced a grim smile. Most Pacific whales bore the brand of Nippon. Many intelligent harpoons were non-lethal, setting GPS transponders in the flesh of calves and adolescents, along with hormones for fattening and fertility. Scientists said the tags were for study of whale movements; the drugs secured the health and stability of herds.

 

Shinya knew better. They were like any other hook. A prelude to harvest. 

 

He dissolved himself in the city, changing cabs, disappearing into malls, reappearing onto crowded streets. Stupid and careless, to eat from the hand of that noodle woman. He had eliminated that tag. But what other markers did he carry? Had Kenji Ito planted another hook?

 

How bizarre, to take tea with the man who hunts you. How very Japanese. We are a strange people. A good play for Shinya, but it wasn't over. He'd had a chance to access Ito's record on his Te. Now he knew the mettle of the man who stalked him. They were well matched.

 

As if he needed his Te to tell him that. Shinya had seen himself in those eyes. It would not do to underestimate Kenji Ito.

 

He wandered the city's capillaries for hours, running diagnostics on his Te and retinals, searching his body for label. He visited a bus station. The subway. The airport. He moved through medium-security checkpoints, washing himself in magnetic fields. His retinals panned over the crowds and he taxed the limits of his Te to search for recurring faces. None.

 

When he was certain he'd freed himself of the world's hooks and nets, he hailed another cab. For a long moment he sat silent while the driver demanded a destination. Why not back to the airport? His work was done. His masterpiece complete. It would be safest to disappear now.

 

No. He gave the cabby the address. If he had somehow failed to shake Kenji, it would be best to lead him to the decoy. Exposing McCoy and the Idaho conspiracy would be an excellent fringe benefit.

 

He grimaced with a sudden flash of pain in his belly.

 

Don't lie to yourself. There's only one reason to go back.

 

Her scent bloomed in his mind, calling him. He wanted to be with her, as he had never wanted any other. Kiku's counterfeit WedLock was strong.

 

He shook his head as the cab pulled out into the street, another corpuscle of rubber and iron. Kiku. Kiku. There was still one hook left in his flesh.

 

 

 

Monday, 1445 hours

 

"Three guys." Watanabe spoke through the link in Kenji's car, minutes after Takeda's escape. "Americans. Came in through Osaka International this morning. Thank heaven they didn't arrive earlier. Hiro and Mori have them tagged. They're at the Radisson."

 

Kenji took the expressway. The graceful donjon of Osaka castle rose on his left, a stone anachronism in an urban cage of steel and plastic. "Keep talking."

 

"Passports were issued by the Idaho Republic. They're Aryan Nationalists, Kenji. One of them, Robert Michael McCoy, works for Idaho Intelligence. He's wanted in the United States for acts of terrorism, sabotage and murder. He's big time."

 

Kenji glanced at the heads-up on his windshield: mug shot of a red-faced man with a walrus mustache. "Customs let these guys through? I'm not complaining, but-"

 

"McCoy's traveling under an alias, but the security neural matched his mug to the database. Mori was on the ball, and made sure they let him walk."

 

"Tell Mori I owe him a beer. Any action?"

 

"Mori says they made a call from an airport booth   couldn't trace that. We have them covered now – hard line and wireless. But they're a quiet bunch."

 

"But why here? Why would they–"

 

"The US and Canada have Idaho under embargo. Their biotech resources are for shit. Besides–who could do the job better than Shinya Takeda?"

 

Kenji shook his head. Sitting with Takeda, he'd been so sure. "Maybe you're right, old friend. Racial genetic markers are Takeda's specialty. So...he's cooking up a race weapon for these Aryan Nationalists."

 

Watanabe nodded. "Evil shit, neh? Could be bad."

 

Kenji swallowed his disappointment. Perhaps he didn't know Takeda so well, after all. "McCoy will move soon. Stay on him."

 

"Something else, Kenji. After Hidori Saito croaked, somebody — presumably Takeda — used his ID to register an expensive pancreatic cancer patch with Furuta Genomics. Maybe he's trying to go out with a bang."

 

Kenji didn't know how to feel. "Keep in Toch."

 

He went home to change. After the open sky and sea of the wharf, the apartment felt stuffy and restrictive. He found one of Michiko's whale-song holos and put it in the player. The wall became a pulsing fractal of greens and blues, and the somber, groaning music of a humpback seemed to purify the air. Michiko came out of the bedroom, irresistible in a short blue silk yukata. He kissed her, and she made tea and noodles for him while he showered.

 

She frowned when he came into the little kitchenette with his weapon strapped to his flank.

 

"You're going out again." She tightened the belt on her yukata.

 

He nodded, sipping his tea. "Sorry."

 

Michiko sighed. "Did you take it off yet?"

 

He blinked at her, flushing with anger. He stood, unbuttoned his shirt, and showed her the patch on his belly. "Happy?"

 

She checked the clock on the stove, grinning. "Not yet. Nineteen hours to go."

 

Kenji stared at her. He tucked in his shirt.

 

"Shit, Kenji, that didn't come out right at all."

 

He pulled on his jacket and turned to go.

 

She seized his arm. "Kenji, I'm sorry! I didn't mean it like that." She spun him around. Her eyes were full of panic, the eyes of a starving hunter who had just spooked her prey.

 

He felt sick. Her smell billowed in his head. He wondered if the patch had prematurely WedLocked them in some subtle way.

 

Her hands closed around his face. "I'm sorry, Kenji."

 

"It's alright." He backed away.

 

"It's not alright. Shit! I was an asshole. I'm sorry. Don't go now, not like this. Let's talk it out."

 

He licked his lips. "I can't."

 

Her face darkened. "You have to go. The world falls apart if you don't leave this minute."

 

"Maybe."

 

"Maybe. Because it's so fucking important. More important than..." She shook her head.

 

"This is me, Michiko. You know that."

 

"Yeah. I know that." She turned away. "Go save the world."

 

She retreated to the bedroom. He took a last sip of his tea, shaking. Then he left, closing the door on the sad love song of Megaptera novaeangliae.

 

 

 

This story is still on the market. To prevent it from being considered "published," only this partial version is available here. If you want to see the whole thing, you can send me an email.