THAT'S MY MARK, Juanito told himself. That one, there. That one for sure.
He stared at the new dinkos coming off the midday shuttle from Earth. The one he meant to go for was the tall one with no eyes at all, blank from brow to bridge of nose, just the merest suggestions of shadowy pits below the smooth skin of the forehead. Not even any eyebrows, just bare brow-ridges. As if the eyes had been erased, Juanito thought. But in fact they had probably never been there in the first place. It didn't look like a retrofit gene job, more like a prenatal splice.
He knew he had to move fast. There was plenty of competition. Fifteen, twenty couriers here in the waiting room, gathering like vultures, and they were some of the best: Ricky, Lola, Kluge. Nattathaniel. Delilah. Everybody looked hungry today. Juanito couldn't afford to get shut out. He hadn't worked in six weeks, and it was time. His last job had been a fast-talking fancy-dancing Ukrainian, wanted on Commonplace and maybe two or three other habitat worlds for dealing in plutonium. Juanito had milked that one for all it was worth, but you can milk only so long. The newcomers learn the system, they melt in and become invisible, and there's no reason for them to go on paying. So then you have to find a new client.
"Okay," Juanito said, looking around challengingly. "There's mine. The weird guy. The one with half a face. Anybody else want him?"
Kluge laughed and said, "He's all yours, man."
"Yeah," Delilah said, with a little shudder. "All yours." That saddened him, her chiming in like that. It had always disappointed Juanito that Delilah didn't have his kind of imagination. "Christ," she said. "I bet he'll be plenty trouble."
"Trouble's what pays best," Juanito said. "You want to go for the easy ones, that's fine with me." He grinned at her and waved at the others. "If we're all agreed, I think I'll head downstairs now. See you later, people."
He started to move inward and downward along the shuttle-hub wall. Dazzling sunlight glinted off the docking module's silvery rim, and off the Earth shuttle's thick columnar docking shaft, wedged into the center of the module like a spear through a doughnut. On the far side of the wall the new dinkos were making their wobbly way past the glowing ten-meter-high portrait of El Supremo and on into the red fiberglass tent that was the fumigation chamber. As usual, they were having a hard time with the low gravity. Here at the hub it was one-sixteenth Earth-G, max. Probably the atmosphere bothered them too. It was clean here, with a lot of oxygen in it and no garbage. They were accustomed to the foul filthy soup that passed for air on Earth, the poison that they breathed all the time, full of strange stinking gases that rotted your lungs and turned your bones to jelly.
Juanito always wondered about the newcomers, what it was that had made them choose Valparaiso Nuevo in particular, of all the worlds in space. Everybody wanted to get away from Earth, sure. That was easy to understand. Earth was a mess. But there were plenty of other satellite worlds to run off to. You could get nice fresh air and a decent climate on any of them. Those who came to Valparaiso Nuevo had to have special reasons for making that choice. They fell into one of two main classes: those who wanted to hide, and those who wanted to seek.
The place was nothing but an enormous spacegoing safe house. You had some good reason for wanting to be left alone, you came to Valparaiso Nuevo and bought yourself a little privacy. But that implied that you had done something that would make other people not want to let you alone. And a lot of those people came to Valparaiso looking for the ones who didn't want to be found. There was always some of both going on here, a lot of hide-and-seek, some people hiding, some seeking -- with El Supremo looking down benignly on it all, raking in his cut. And not just El Supremo.
Down below, the new dinkos were trying to walk jaunty, to walk mean. But that was hard to do when you were keeping your body all clenched up as though you were afraid that you might go drifting off into midair if you put your foot down too hard. Juanito loved it, the way they were crunching along, that constipated mudcrawler shuffle of theirs.
Gravity stuff didn't ever bother Juanito. He had spent all his life out here in the habitats, the satellite worlds, and he took it for granted that the pull was going to fluctuate according to your distance from the hub. You automatically made compensating adjustments, that was all.
Juanito found it hard to understand a place where the gravity would be the same everywhere all the time. He had never set foot on Earth or any of the other natural planets, didn't care to, didn't expect to. The settlements on Mars and Ganymede were strictly for scientists only, and Luna was a damn ugly place, and as for Earth, well, you had to be out of your mind to want to go to Earth, even for a visit. Just thinking about Earth, it could make you sick to your stomach.
The guard on duty at the quarantine gate was an android with a flat plastic-looking face. His name, his label, whatever it was, was something like Velcro Exxon. Juanito had seen him at this gate before. As he came up close the android glanced at him and said, "Working again so soon, Juanito?"
"Man has to eat, no?"
The android shrugged. Eating wasn't all that important to him, most likely. "Weren't you working that plutonium peddler out of Commonplace?"
Juanito said, smiling, "What plutonium peddler?"
"Sure," said the android. "I hear you."
He held out his waxy-skinned hand. Even the machines had to be bribed on Valparaiso Nuevo. Juanito put a fifty-callaghano currency plaque in it. The usual fee for illicit entry to the customs tank was only thirty-five callies, but Juanito believed in spreading the wealth, especially where the authorities were concerned. They didn't have to let you in here, after all. Some days more couriers showed up than there were dinkos, and then the gate guards had to allocate. Overpaying the guards was simply a smart investment.
"Thank you kindly," the android said. "Thank you very much." He hit the scanner override. Juanito stepped through the security shield into the customs tank and looked around for his mark.
The new dinkos were being herded into the fumigation chamber now. They were annoyed about that -- they always were -- but the guards kept them moving right along through the puffy bursts of pink and green and yellow sprays that came from the ceiling nozzles. Nobody got out of customs quarantine without passing through that chamber. El Supremo was paranoid about the entry of exotic microorganisms into Valparaiso Nuevo's closed-cycle ecology. El Supremo was paranoid about a lot of things. You didn't get to be sole and absolute ruler of your own little satellite world, and stay that way for thirty-seven years, without a heavy component of paranoia in your makeup.
Juanito leaned up against the great curving glass wall of the customs tank and peered through the mists of sterilizer fog. The rest of the couriers were starting to come in now. Juanito watched them going to work, singling out potential clients, cutting them out of the herd. Most of the dinkos were signing up as soon as the deal was explained, but as always there were a few who would shake off all help and insist on setting out by themselves. Cheapskates, Juanito thought. Assholes and wimps, Juanito thought. But they'd find out. It wasn't possible to get started on Valparaiso Nuevo without a courier, no matter how sharp you thought you were. Valparaiso was a free enterprise zone, after all. If you knew the rules, you were pretty much safe from all harm here forever. If not, not.
Time to make the approach, Juanito figured.
It was easy enough finding the blind man. He was very much taller than the other dinkos, practically a giant: a long-limbed massive man some thirty-odd years old, heavy bones, powerful muscles. In the bright glaring light his blank forehead gleamed like a reflecting beacon. The low gravity didn't seem to trouble him much, or his blindness. His movements along the customs track were easy, confident, almost graceful. Like all the rest of the newly arrived passengers, he had the rough, blotchy skin that Earth people tended to have, flaky and reddened from frying all the time in that murderous torrid sunshine of theirs.
Juanito sauntered over and said, "I'll be your courier, sir. Juanito Holt." He barely came up to the blind man's elbow.
"New arrival assistance service. Facilitate your entry arrangements. Customs clearance, currency exchange, hotel accommodations, permanent settlement papers if that's what you intend. Also special services by arrangement."
Juanito stared up expectantly at the blank face. The eyeless man looked back at him in a blunt straight-on way, what would have been strong eye contact if the dinko had had eyes. That was eerie. What was even eerier was the sense Juanito had that the eyeless man was seeing him clearly. For just a moment Juanito wondered who was going to be controlling whom in this deal.
"What kind of special services?"
"Anything else you need," Juanito said.
"Anything. This is Valparaiso Nuevo, sir."
"Mmm. What's your fee?"
"Two thousand callaghanos a week for the basic. Specials are extra, according."
"How much is that in Capbloc dollars, your basic?"
Juanito told him.
"That's not so bad," the blind man said.
"Two weeks minimum, payable in advance."
"Mmm," said the blind man again. Again that intense eyeless gaze, seeing right through him. He was silent for a time. Juanito listened to the sound of his breathing, quick and shallow, the way all Earthsiders breathed. As if they were trying to hold their nostrils pinched together to keep the poisons that were in the air from getting into their lungs. But it was safe to breathe the air on Valparaiso Nuevo.
"How old are you?" the blind man asked suddenly.
"Seventeen," Juanito blurted, caught off guard.
"And you're good, are you?"
"I'm the best. I was born here. I know everybody."
"I'm going to be needing the best. You take electronic handshake?"
"Sure," Juanito said. This was too easy. He wondered if he should have asked three kilocallies a week, not two, but it was too late for that now. He pulled his flex terminal from his tunic pocket and slipped his fingers into it. "Unity Callaghan Bank of Valparaiso Nuevo. That's access code 22-4-66, and you might as well give it its own default key, because it's the only bank here. Account 1133, that's mine."
The blind man donned his own terminal and deftly tapped the number pad on his wrist. Then he grasped Juanito's hand firmly in his until the sensors overlapped, and made the transfer of funds. Juanito touched for confirm and a bright green + cl. 4000 lit up on the screen in his palm. The payee's name was Victor Farkas, out of an account in the Royal Amalgamated Bank of Liechtenstein.
"Liechtenstein," Juanito said, frowning. "That's an Earth country?"
"Very small one. Between Austria and Switzerland."
"I've heard of Switzerland. You live on Liechtenstein?"
"No," Farkas said. "I bank there. In Liechtenstein, is what Earth people say. Except for islands. Liechtenstein isn't an island. Can we get out of this place now, do you think?"
"One more transfer," Juanito said. "Pump your entry software across to me. Baggage claim, passport, visa. Make things much easier for us both, getting out of here."
"Make it easier for you to disappear with my suitcase, yes. And I'd never find you again, would I?"
"Do you think I'd do that?"
"I'm more profitable to you if you don't."
"You've got to trust your courier, Mr. Farkas. If you can't trust your courier, you can't trust anybody at all on Valparaiso Nuevo."
"I know that," Farkas said.
Collecting Farkas's baggage and getting him clear of the customs tank took another half an hour and cost about two hundred callies in miscellaneous bribes, which was about standard. Everyone from the baggage-handling androids to the cute snotty teller at the currency-exchange booth had to be bought. Juanito understood that things didn't work that way on most habitat worlds; but Valparaiso Nuevo, Juanito knew, was different from most habitat worlds. In a place where the chief industry was the protection of fugitives, it made sense that the basis of the economy would be the recycling of bribes.
Farkas didn't appear to be any sort of fugitive, though. While he was waiting for the baggage Juanito pulled a readout on the software that the blind man had pumped over to him and saw that Farkas was here on a visitor's visa, six-week limit. He listed his employer as Kyocera-Merck, Ltd. So he was a seeker, not a hider, here to track somebody down who was wanted by one of the biggest of the Earth megacorporations. Well, that was okay. Hider, seeker: it was possible for a courier to turn a profit working either side of the deal. Running traces wasn't Juanito's usual number, but he figured he could adapt.
The other thing that Farkas didn't appear to be was blind. Maybe he had no eyes, but that didn't seem to interfere with his perceptions of his surroundings. As they emerged from the customs tank he turned and pointed back at the huge portrait of El Supremo and said, "Who's that? Your president?"
"The Defender, that's his title. The Generalissimo. El Supremo, Don Eduardo Callaghan." Then it sank in and Juanito said, blinking, "Pardon me. You can see that picture, Mr. Farkas?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"I don't follow. Can you see or can't you?"
"Yes and no."
"Thanks a lot, Mr. Farkas."
"We can talk more about it later," Farkas said.
Juanito always put new dinkos in the same hotel, the San Bernardito, four kilometers out from the hub in the rim community of Cajamarca. "This way," he told Farkas. "We have to take the elevator at C Spoke."
Farkas didn't seem to have any trouble following him. Every now and then Juanito glanced back, and there was the big man three or four paces behind him, marching along steadily down the corridor. No eyes, Juanito thought, but somehow he can see. He definitely can see.
The four-kilometer elevator ride down C Spoke to the rim was spectacular all the way. The elevator was a glass-walled chamber inside a glass-walled tube that ran along the outside of the spoke, and it gave you the full dazzling vista: the whole great complex of wheels within wheels that was the Earth-orbit artificial world of Valparaiso Nuevo, the seven great structural spokes radiating from the hub to the distant wheel of the rim, each spoke bearing its seven glass-and-aluminum globes that contained the residential zones and business sectors and farmlands and recreational zones and forest reserves. As the elevator descended -- the gravity rising as you went down, climbing toward an Earth-one pull in the rim towns -- you had a view of the sun's brilliant glint on the adjacent spokes, and an occasional glimpse of the great blue belly of Earth filling up the sky a hundred fifty thousand kilometers away, and the twinkling hordes of other habitat worlds in their nearby orbits, like a swarm of jellyfish dancing in a vast black ocean. That was what everybody who came up from Earth said, "Like jellyfish in the ocean." Juanito didn't understand how a fish could be made out of jelly, or how a habitat with seven spokes looked anything like a fish of any kind, but that was what they all said.
Farkas didn't say a word about jellyfish. But in some fashion or other he did indeed seem to be taking in the view. He stood close to the elevator's glass wall in deep concentration, gripping the rail, not saying a thing. Now and then he made a little hissing sound as something particularly awesome went by outside. Juanito studied him with sidelong glances. What could he possibly see? Nothing seemed to be moving beneath those shadowy places where his eyes should have been. Yet somehow he was seeing out of that broad blank stretch of gleaming skin above his nose.
It was damned disconcerting. It was downright weird.
The San Bernardito gave Farkas a rim-side room, facing the stars. Juanito paid the hotel clerks to treat his clients right. That was something his father had taught him when he was just a kid who wasn't old enough to know a Schwarzchild singularity from an ace in the hole. "Pay for what you're going to need," his father kept saying. "Buy it and at least there's a chance it'll be there when you have to have it." His father had been a revolutionary in Central America during the time of the Empire. He would have been prime minister if the revolution had come out the right way. But it hadn't.
"You want me to help you unpack?" Juanito said.
"I can manage."
"Sure," Juanito said.
He stood by the window, looking at the sky. Like all the other satellite worlds, Valparaiso Nuevo was shielded from cosmic-ray damage and stray meteoroids by a double shell filled with a three-meter-thick layer of lunar slag. Rows of V-shaped apertures ran down the outer skin of the shield, mirror-faced to admit sunlight but not hard radiation; and the hotel had lined its rooms up so each one on this side had a view of space through the V's. The whole town of Cajamarca was facing darkwise now, and the stars were glittering fiercely.
When Juanito turned from the window he saw that Farkas had hung his clothes neatly in the closet and was shaving -- methodically, precisely -- with a little hand-held laser.
"Can I ask you something personal?" Juanito said.
"You want to know how I see."
"It's pretty amazing, I have to say."
"I don't see. Not really. I'm just as blind as you think I am."
"It's called blindsight," Farkas said. "Proprioceptive vision."
Farkas chuckled. "There's all sorts of data bouncing around that doesn't have the form of reflected light, which is what your eyes see. A million vibrations besides those that happen to be in the visual part of the electromagnetic spectrum are shimmering in this room. Air currents pass around things and are deformed by what they encounter. And it isn't only the air currents. Objects have mass, they have heat, they have -- the term won't make any sense to you -- shapeweight. A quality having to do with the interaction of mass and form. Does that mean anything to you? No, I guess not. But it does to me. And for two-dimensional images: I have a different technique for detecting those. Look, there's a lot of information available beyond what you can see with eyes, if you want it. I want it."
"You use some kind of machine to pick it up?" Juanito asked.
Farkas tapped his forehead. "It's in here. I was born with it."
"Some kind of sensing organ instead of eyes?"
"That's pretty close."
"What do you see, then? What do things look like to you?"
"What do they look like to you?" Farkas said. "What does a chair look like to you?"
"Well, it's got four legs, and a back--"
"What does a leg look like?"
"It's longer than it is wide."
"Right." Farkas knelt and ran his hands along the black tubular legs of the ugly little chair beside the bed. "I touch the chair, I feel the shape of the legs. But I don't see leg-shaped shapes."
"Silver globes that roll away into fat curves. The back part of the chair bends double and folds into itself. The bed's a bright pool of mercury with long green spikes coming up. You're six blue spheres stacked one on top of another, with a thick orange cable running through them. And so on."
"Blue?" Juanito said. "Orange? How do you know anything about colors?"
"The same way you do. I call one color blue, another one orange. I don't know if they're remotely like your blue or orange, but so what? My blue is always blue for me. It's different from the color I see as red and the one I see as green. Orange is always orange. It's a matter of relationships. You follow?"
"No," Juanito said. "How can you possibly make sense out of anything? What you see doesn't have a thing to do with the real color or shape or position of anything."
Farkas shook his head. "Wrong, Juanito. For me, what I see is the real shape and color position. It's all I've ever known. If they were able to retrofit me with normal eyes now, which I'm told would be less than fifty-fifty likely to succeed and tremendously risky besides, I'd be lost trying to find my way around in your world. It would take me years to learn how. Or maybe forever. But I do all right, in mine. I understand, by touching things, that what I see by blindsight isn't the 'actual' shape. But I see in consistent equivalents. Do you follow? A chair always looks like what I think of as a chair, even though I know that chairs aren't really shaped at all like that. If you could see things the way I do it would all look like something out of another dimension. It is something out of another dimension, really. The information I operate by is different from what you use, that's all. But I do see, in my own way. I perceive objects and establish relationships between them, I make spatial perceptions, just as you do. Do you follow, Juanito?"
Juanito considered that. How very weird it sounded. To see the world in funhouse distortions, blobs and spheres and orange cables and glimmering pools of mercury. Weird, yes, extremely weird. After a moment he said, "And you were born like this?"
"Some kind of genetic accident?"
"Not an accident," Farkas said quietly. "I was an experiment. A master gene-splicer worked me over in my mother's womb."
"Right," Juanito said. "You know, that's actually the first thing I guessed when I saw you come off the shuttle. This has to be some kind of splice effect, I said. But why -- why--" He faltered. "Does it bother you to talk about these things?"
"Why would your parents have allowed--"
"They didn't have any choice, Juanito."
"Isn't that illegal? Involuntary splicing?"
"Of course," Farkas said. "So what?"
"But who would do that to--"
"This was in the Free State of Kazakhstan, which you've never heard of. It was one of the countries formed out of the Soviet Union, which you've also probably never heard of, after the First Breakup, a hundred, hundred fifty years ago. My father was Hungarian consul at Tashkent. He was killed in the Second Breakup, what they called the War of Restoration, and my mother, who was pregnant, was volunteered for the experiments in prenatal genetic surgery then being carried out in that city under Chinese auspices. A lot of remarkable work was done there in those years. They were trying to breed new and useful kinds of human beings to serve the republic. I was one of the experiments in extending the human perceptual range. I was supposed to have normal sight plus blindsight, but it didn't quite work out that way."
"You sound very calm about it," Juanito said.
"What good is getting angry?"
"My father used to say that too," Juanito said. "Don't get angry, get even. He was in politics, the Central American Empire. When the revolution failed he took sanctuary here."
"So did the surgeon who did my prenatal splice," Farkas said. "Around fifteen years ago. He's still living here. I'd like to find him."
"I bet you would," Juanito said, as everything fell into place.
Copyright © 1994 by Robert Silverberg