Orca shiny in water, touched by mercury ripples, Mary Choy sank into her vinegar bath, first lone moment in seventy two hours. The sour sweet rice smell tickled her nose. She held the official deluxe paper handbook from Dr. Sumpler's office and referred to the index for Discoloration, Mild, Under Stress, to learn why the crease of her buttocks was turning gray in the universal deep black. Have you been taking your vinegar baths every two weeks? the handbook chided.
"Yes, Dr. Sumpler." She had come to enjoy the acrid half hour.
Continuing hydroacetic therapy may be accelerated if stress discoloration occurs. Custom melanin replacement is fed from above and below, from vitamin supplements and from epidermal nourishment. Discoloration may be due to excessively tight clothing (loosen or change styles); it may also be due to poor nutrition habits, which are not always correctable through vitamin therapy. Do not worry about discolorations lasting only a few hours or a day; these are common in the first years of your adjusted body.
"Glorious." Dr. Sumpler had not warned her about such minor piebaldness. Mary shut the handbook and lifted it onto the tiled washbasin, then tilted her head back to soak hair, rid it of the airgrime and sweat of three unrelieved days.
She could not wash away the sight of eight young comb citizens in various stages of disassembly. Last night, the first investigation team had gone to the third foot of East Comb One in response to neighborhood medical detectors picking up traces of human decay. In the first two hours the team had mounted a sniffer, performed assay and scanned for heat trails. Then the freezers had come and tombed the whole apartment. Senior in her watch, Mary had been assigned this rare homicide at seven hundred. Spin of the hour.
Layer by cold solid layer, forensics would now study the scene corpses and all and take as long as they wished. From the large scale to the microbial everything would be sifted and analyzed and by tomorrow or the day after they would know something about everyone who had been in and out of the apartment during the past year. There would be lists of skin flake, hair and spittle traces to match with medical records now fair game under the Raphkind amendments, bless the bastard; she could track suspects through microbe population deviances and projected points of origin as fine as rooms in a suspect's apartment, bless evolution and mitochondrial DNA.
With eyes closed she saw again the corpses hard and still, covered with a thin layer of rime, their blood clotted in dark cold lakes lives and memories fled. A grisly meat puzzle for masters to riddle.
Mary Choy had been a pd for five of her twenty eight years. Competence and the laws banning discrimination against voluntary transforms (bless the libs before Raphkind) had moved her on the sly spin to full lieutenant in supervisory investigation in three and a half years. She had remained an investigator by choice, specking this to be her slot in life. She did not love death. She loved mystery and capture. She loved finding the social carnivores, the parasites and untherapied misfits.
Mary still believed she helped hold the line against the Selectors and others who would exact retribution beyond the law. Their way lay unbelievable misery for all. Her way lay swift decisive justice and forced therapy or incarceration. Ninety five percent of all crimes could be solved; leave it to the therapists to find and erase the perverse drives and motivations.
Two hours after her arrival at the scene, pd ensigns had brought her a possible witness, a tall gaunt graying male R Fettle, friend of the apartment's owner E Goldsmith. Mary had not then seen the interior of the apartment but she had been fed by the on scene techs; suspicion was falling heavily on the owner. Interrogated, Fettle had had little to tell and had been released. His reaction stuck in memory: deeply puzzled like a fish dragged into air stuttering denial shocked by her suggestion he might be prosecuted for not revealing Goldsmith's need for therapy. Real fear. At first she had felt contempt for this jag denizen, all unfocused uprooted thinking.
She lifted an arm and watched the water bead and slide in thin rivers down her dolphinslick skin. Now she felt sorry for Fettle. She had been tro shink harsh on him; Mary was not used to homicides. Fettle knew nothing. Yet how could a friend not know murder was potential?
Enough vinegar. She emerged from the black plastic tub and toweled herself, humming pop twelve-tone. The small jade-colored arbeiter--a Chinese model purchased after her last temp mandated ramp in salary--met her with a pressed and folded uniform.
At Mary's whistle the home manager read her messages. Its masculine voice followed her through three rooms as she searched for a lost curl of mineral silver to wrap around her ear. "There's a call from Junior Lieutenant Theodora Ferrero, no message," the manager concluded.
She had not heard from Ferrero for three months; Ferrero had been up for promotion and Mary had assumed the cram had absorbed her friend's time. They had become close in academy; Ferrero had just come out of minor therapy and had seemed balanced but vulnerable. Mary, having just completed her transform, with a similar softshell feeling, had taken to the fellow cadet immediately. Times since had been more rocky. Theodora had frozen at junior lieutenant, been passed over twice. "Answer the call. Interrupt me if completed," she said.
Unlike two thirds of the millions who aspired to the combs and high paying temp jobs, Mary Choy had succeeded without therapy. In a frame by the front door hung her most recent department therapy need evaluation. She was a natural; she had passed the temp agency tests on her first try and each yearly LAPD exam with equal ease. The evaluation was a smooth ascending cross, a printout of brain locused circles each in its proper place each pointing to a well balanced and proportioned personality subpersonality agent or talent. Thoughts poised, ego trim and fit, she knew who she was and what she was capable of; she knew how to stand tall and straight within her head and recover from the inevitable trips and stumbles without trauma; she was a mature young woman and ripe for promotion. So the printouts showed, but Mary in her introspective moments reserved final judgment.
While her wages were high she did not splurge. Her only ostentation was an apartment high on the ankle of the second foot of North Comb Two. Spare and stylish, warm grays and velvet purples and blacks, Mary's home was a perfect blind for her gloss midnight. She could be absorbed in it and lose this assured self, vanish into decor, take her sunlight firsthand through wide uncurtained windows. There was little need for baubles. She did not pursue art or literature, did not begrudge those who did, but her life was devoted to hunting not celebrating human spirit.
In her own private activities she was equally spare. She practiced the five power centering disciplines including War Dance where self vied with self to pour out physical motion. This she did in a small empty room with white foam walls like a black calligraphic stroke against naked canvas.
Exercises finished, Mary put on her uniform carefully, sealing vital points in monomol mesh armor, drawing up support boots that kept her legs from getting tired during long waits. Her rank carried no weapons in daytoday. She was not expected to engage in regular combat. Physical violence in the USA had declined markedly in the past fifteen years. The therapied did not seek violence.
Her dark eyes were calm quiet yet neither empty nor unexpressive. Her transformed voice was deep yet sweetly feminine, powerful yet motherly. She could sing lullabies or growl a pd threat.
Quiet, centered, tall, night colored Mary Choy had everything she wanted but her past. Its residue lay embalmed in the corner of a single drawer in her bedroom dresser, a box of old family photographs, disks and memory cubes.
She stood by the dresser feeling a certain dread clear instinct about Theodora and fingered the drawer. Bent to stroke Loafer, her redstriped white cat. It rubbed against her boots, maroon eyes sage and patient, purring deep in its throat, the single living link to her girlhood; Mary's parents had given it to her when she graduated from high school.
"Connection with Theodora Ferrero," the manager said.
"Put me on vid," Mary said. "I'll take it in the living room." She walked quickly to the phone, bent momentarily to adjust a wrinkle in the monomol, straightened, composed. "Hello, Theo. Months silent. Good to hear from you!"
Mary could not see her friend. Ferrero's vid was turned off. "Yeah, thanks for the callback." Voice tense. "I thought you'd like to know."
"Did you make it?" Mary asked, certain Theodora had gotten the grade.
"Passed over," Ferrero said. "Three times now, last chance. Recommended for further therapy."
Mary looked surprised and sympathetic. "Tell me about it. Let me see you, Honey; my vid's on."
"I know," Ferrero said. "I'm not taking it."
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I don't want to see you, Mary. I don't want to be reminded."
"You're pulling me dark, Theo. What happened?"
"I didn't make it. That's all and enough, don't you think?"
"Theo, I've been through a rough. This big homicide, eight down. I'm a bit slow and I'm about to go back on duty."
"I'm sorry to spill this now, but you have an edge over me and I refuse to compete, Mary."
"You're a transform. You're exotic and protected. The pd doesn't dare tell you to go back for therapy or you cry on the temp and the feds investigate. They can't touch you."
"That's nonsense, Theo." Mary felt the burn spreading through her face; she could not show a blush but she could feel it.
"I don't think so, Mary, and right now I'm on a pinker of just cutting you off."
"Theo, I sympathize, but don't take it out on me. We went through academy. You mean a lot to me. What did they want you to--"
"I don't have to tell you that! You're a fapping alien, Mary. I don't have you on vid because I don't want to see you. I don't even want to talk to you. You've made it impossible for me to roll the grade. Enjoy your peak, Honey." The phone chimed cutoff.
Mary stood in silence before the small gray table that held the phone, gripping its edge. She looked down on her smooth black fingers, straightened them flexed them again, drew back. The tension in Theodora had been clear months before; still Mary had not expected this. A part of her said It's obvious why the pd asked for more therapy and another part parried with a deeper Why.
To avoid such a question she crossed the living room and switched on LitVid. The nets were full of the AXIS messages finally being received after crossing the space between the stars; Mary stood before sharp simulations of the probe going into orbit around its chosen world. She watched without hearing, barely seeing, conflicting messages slowly crossing her own inner space.
Why did she do her transform and choose such an exotic design in the first place; to get advantage, or to match inner her with an outer appearance that had never satisfied?
Mary's parents her brother and sister Mother Father had accepted the transform redandwhite cat yet not the later transform daughter. She had not heard from any of them in four years.
Now Theodora, whom she might once have called her best friend in a life of few such friendships.
She returned to the drawer, opened it and removed one envelope containing a single palm sized disk. Only when she had involved herself in some particular unpleasantness and needed to gain perspective did she go over her mementoes. Slipping the disk into her slate she called up picture number four thousand and twenty-one. In color but not in three d: still vid of a twenty year old woman height one hundred sixty-five centimeters skin pale face round and pleasant with a smile that seemed from this distance acquiescing. The young woman wore a mid-thirties green and blue patch suit showing one side of abdomen left shoulder most of right leg; a singularly unattractive fashion. Behind the young woman a white wood frame house in what was now jag five of the shade, Culver City. At the young woman's feet a hunched Loafer thinner by two kilos. The original Mary Choy at twenty. Ambitious yet quiet; intelligent yet reserved. Working quietly in her scholastic specialty forensic research to build up sufficient temp credit to finance a transform against future salary.
Dark eyes narrow, lips taut, she returned the disk to the envelope.