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Authors: Brian Stableford

The Cassandra Complex

Tor Books by Brian Stableford
Inherit the Earth
Architects of Emortality
The Fountains of Youth
The Cassandra Complex





The Cassandra
A Tom Doherty Associates Book • New York

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.


Copyright © 2001 by Brian Stableford

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Edited by David G. Hartwell

A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty
Associates, LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Stableford, Brian M.

The Cassandra complex / Brian Stableford.—1st ed.
        p. cm.
“A Tom Doherty Associates book.”
    ISBN: 978-0-312-87773-6
    ISBN: 0-312-87773-0
1. Twenty-first century—Fiction. 2. Forensic scientists—Fiction. 3. Missing persons—Fiction. 4. Biotechnology—Fiction. I. Title
PR6069.T17C375 2001
823’.914—dc21                                                                                                    00-048018

First Edition: March 2001

Printed in the United States of America

0   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

For Jane, and all victims of the Cassandra Complex

The plot of this novel is loosely based on a short story entitled “The Magic Bullet” that appeared in
Interzone 29
in 1989. I am grateful to David Pringle for publishing that story, and to Gardner Dozois and the late Don Wollheim for reprinting it in their respective annual collections of the
Year’s Best Science Fiction.
I should also like to thank Jane Stableford for proofreading services and helpful commentary, and the late Claire Russell and her husband, Bill, for their great kindness and for the part their ideas played in shaping the background of the story.
The book by Claire and W. M. S. Russell to which the text refers,
Population Crises and Population Cycles
, was published by the Gal-ton Institute in 1999. The book by Garrett Hardin to which the text refers,
The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia
, was published by Oxford University Press in 1999.








The Mouseworld Holocaust


hen Lisa first heard the noise, she wasn’t sure whether it was real or not. She didn’t think she’d been asleep, but she couldn’t be certain. Sometimes, like all confirmed insomniacs, she fell asleep without realizing she had done so—and sometimes she dreamed without actually falling properly asleep.

If the sound had been one of breaking glass or splintering wood, she would have sat up immediately to reach for the phone, but what she had heard—or thought she had heard—was the noise of the front door opening without any force applied to it. That should have been impossible. Both locks had combination triggers as well as swipe slots, and they were supposed to be unhackable. Lisa lived alone, and was not inclined to trust the combinations to anyone else. A member of the police force had to take such precautions very seriously, even if she was a lab-bound forensic scientist who ought to count herself lucky to be clinging on to limited duties now that she was past the official retirement date.

Because it seemed so unlikely that she had heard what she thought she did, Lisa remained quite still, straining her ears for further evidence. She let four or five seconds pass before she even opened her eyes to take a sideways glance at the luminous display on the screen beside her bed. The timer told her it was five minutes to four: the darkest and quietest period of the cold October night.

Then a second noise drew her eyes to the door of her bedroom. There was a certain amount of light filtering through the closed curtains, but she lived on the third floor, too far above the level of the streetlights to obtain much benefit from their yellow glow. The door was shadowed, and she couldn’t tell for sure whether it was opening until she saw the pencil-thin beam of light sneaking through the widening crack—the beam that was guiding the person whose quiet hand was pushing the door open.

Lisa immediately pulled her bare right arm out from beneath the duvet, reaching for the handset suspended beside the screen. She thought she was moving fairly swiftly, but the intruder’s beam had already caught the movement of her arm. Even as her hand made contact, she saw the silhouette of the gun barrel that had been raised to catch the light.

“Don’t touch it!” The voice that spoke was filtered through some kind of distorter that made it sound robotic.

Lisa snatched her hand back, and immediately felt ashamed of her obedience.

“Shit,” said a second voice, sounding from the hallway.

“Shh!” said the first intruder, who was now well into the room, holding the gun no more than a meter from Lisa’s face. “Get on with it. She won’t make any trouble.”

Lisa had been in the police force for more than forty years, but she had never had a gun pointed at her. She didn’t know how she was supposed to feel, but she was fairly certain that she wasn’t afraid—puzzled and annoyed, but not afraid.

I ought to be able to identify the weapon
, she thought. It was absurdly irritating that the only thing she could see in the beam of the light was an unrecognizable gun. It looked heavy and old—not exactly an antique, but not the sort of dart gun that had recently become fashionable among the young. It could easily have dated back to the turn of the century, maybe even to the period before the handgun ban that had preceded her recruitment to the police force. She knew that she would have to give Mike Grundy an exact account of what was happening, and that Judith Kenna would read her statement with utter contempt if there were nothing she could say for sure except that she had been threatened with a gun whose make she could not name.

As the other intruder moved inquisitively around the room, a second slender guide light briefly picked out the head of the one who was threatening Lisa, outlining an almost-featureless oval helmet. Lisa knew that the two must be dressed in matte black, probably in one-piece smartsuits whose unbreakable tissue-repellent fibers would leave no clues for forensic analysis. In order to be a successful burglar in the age of scientific detection, you had to be extremely careful to leave no traces. That wasn’t the purpose of smart textiles, but it was a happy side effect as far as the criminal classes were concerned.

“What are you looking for?” Lisa asked. Because it was such a clich, the question seemed far more foolish than it was. She had nothing worth stealing—nothing, at any rate, that justified the kind of risk the burglars were taking or the kind of expertise they must have employed to hack her unhackable locks.

“I think you know exactly what we want, Dr. Friemann,” the distorted voice replied. The bedroom walls had neither eyes nor ears, but the other room was fully fitted and the bedroom door was still open. The speaker obviously didn’t care about the possibility that the pickups in the other room would record the voice for analysis by Lisa’s colleagues in Sight & Sound. Presumably, therefore, the voice distorter was no mere frequency modulator.

Do I know what they want?
Lisa wondered.
they’re professionals, it must be work, but I don’t bring work home, Anyway, I don’t have anything to do with AV Defence, or even with industrial espionage. Even if there is a war on, I’m a noncombatant.
Her eyes tracked the movements of the second intruder, whose attention was now concentrated on the desk fitted into the corner to the left of the window. That was her main homestation. Her flat had only two rooms, apart from the kitchenette and the bathroom, and contemporary fashion dictated that if there wasn’t an already allocated space, the best site for the main homestation was in the bedroom, not the “reception room.” Having been brought up before the turn of the millennium, Lisa—who had little need for a room in which to receive visitors—always thought of her other room as the “living room,” although the siting of the homestation ensured that she spent far more time in the bedroom.

The second intruder was already pulling wafers and sequins off the unit’s shelves, sweeping them into a plastic sack without making any attempt to discriminate between them. A few old-fashioned DVD’s went with them. Most of the stored information was entertainment, and most of the text and software was public-domain material that Lisa had downloaded for convenience in the days when downloading had been convenient. It was all replaceable, given time and effort, but some of it was personal, and much of that was private enough not to be stored in the unit’s web-connected well or duplicated in Backup City. It wasn’t the sort of stuff for which people kept remote backups—not even people who were far more conscientious about such things than Lisa was.

When the shelves had been swept clean, the searcher started poking in the cubbyholes and emptying the drawers.

“None of it’s worth anything,” Lisa said. The comment was as much discovery as complaint, because she realized as she watched the hidden corners of her life history disappearing into the sack that there was very little whose loss she had much cause to regret. She had never been the kind of person to attach sentimental value to digital images or documents.

“Be good, now,” said the robotic voice, contriving to sound bitter and angry in spite of its manifest artificiality. “Stay quiet and stay alive. Play up and you might not.”

“Why?” Lisa asked softly. She was genuinely puzzled. Even as an agent of the state, Lisa had rarely roused anyone to bitterness or anger; only one person had ever threatened to kill her, although her testimony in court had convicted more than a dozen murderers and more than a score of rapists. Save for that one exception, the convicted and condemned had always recognized that she was only reporting what the evidence revealed. Hardly anyone nowadays blamed messengers for the news they brought, although it was conceivable that the national paranoia that was increasing day by day while the Containment Commission dithered might yet bring back the bad old days.

“You’ll work it out,” her adversary informed her. “If we don’t have what we need, we’ll be back, and next time—”

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