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Icefields
Excerpt

1

At a quarter past three in the afternoon, on August 17, 1898, Doctor Edward Byrne slipped on the ice of Arcturus glacier in the Canadian Rockies and slid into a crevasse.

Frank Trask, the expedition guide, was the first to notice his disappearance. He paused in his slow trudge to make a head count and saw, against the glare of the ice, one less dark, toiling figure than there had been moments before. Trask called out to the others walking farther ahead on the glacier. They turned at his shout and descended quickly to where he stood.

On this bare, windswept slope of ice there was only one place Byrne could be. The climbing party crouched at the edge of the chasm where the young doctor's snow goggles lay, the strap caught on a projecting spine of ice. They shouted his name down into the darkness, but heard nothing. Trask unwound the coil of rope from over his shoulder and knotted a stirrup in one end.

--I'm not married, Professor Collie said. I'll go.

Trask shook his head.

--I am, he said. I will.

There was no time to argue. One end of the rope was secured around a rough bollard hacked out of the ice, and Trask tied the other around his chest. Slipping his foot into the stirrup, he took hold of the rope and stepped backwards into the abyss.

In blue-black darkness almost sixty feet below the surface, his gloved hand touched the doctor's boot. He realized Byrne was wedged upside down between the narrowing crevasse walls. Trask spoke his name and nudged him cautiously with his knee, but Byrne did not respond. The only sound was the muffled splash of meltwater. Trask shouted up to the others and after a few moments a second rope snaked down towards him from above. He caught the end of the rope and hung in space, waiting for his eyes to grow accustomed to the deep blue gloom. After a few moments he could see that the rucksack on Byrne's back was jammed against an outcrop of the ice wall. This lucky chance had saved him from falling even further, but now the rucksack would only be a hindrance to the rescue.

Trask squirmed himself down into the narrow space beside Byrne. With his hunting knife he sliced through one shoulder strap, then worked the free end of the rope behind the doctor's back, grasped it with the fingers of his other hand and slowly tugged it around. The doctor did not move. Trask let out a long breath. He felt sweat cooling on his neck.

When the rope was snug and knotted under Byrne's arms, Trask cut the other strap and gave the rucksack a shove with his boot. It tumbled down into the dark with a muffled clang of metal.

What the hell was he carrying in there?

Byrne began to slide downward, but the rope went taut and held him.

--I've got him, Trask shouted. Pull him up, slowly.

Byrne, and then Trask, were hauled to the surface. The doctor's skin was pale blue, his beard and clothing covered in a lacquer of refrozen meltwater.

Professor Collie knelt and examined him, unwound the ice-encrusted scarf from around Byrne's neck and felt for a pulse.

--He's alive. Unconscious.

With his teeth Trask pulled off his soaked gloves and spat them onto the ice.

--Then he missed all the fancy words I used trying to get that damn rope around him.

--Hypothermia, said Professor Collie. We have to get him warmed up.

The four men carried Byrne down the long, sloping tongue of the glacier to the terminus, where the wranglers were camped, waiting with the horses. Nigel the cook saw them coming and had a fire started and tea brewing when they arrived. Stripped of his soaked, stiffened clothing and bundled in a wool blanket, Byrne was propped upright in front of the fire. Drooping forward, he made a barely audible sound, a gasping hiccup. The professor rubbed his limbs and chest.

--The pulse is weak, but he's still with us.

Byrne shuddered and moved his arms. His breathing became audible. A pink glow spread slowly from the centre of his chest, outward to the limbs, suffusing the blue pallor. He yawned, opened his eyes, and shut them again.

The professor forced hot tea down Byrne's throat.

--We must get him away from the ice, Collie said. I'm afraid that if we bivouac here he might relapse.

As he spoke, he pried the pocketwatch from Byrne's closed fist.

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Cine Star Salon, The
Excerpt

I. Sharp Instruments
1
The clanging of woks and harried calls from the cooks seemed louder that Sunday, the bustle carrying a more frenzied air. Sophia felt like a caged animal. She looked up at the ceiling, wishing to float above the flood of noise. Across the table, her parents sat straight-backed and elegant--they dressed up during Sundays for the mass. At this dim sum place along Fraser Street, they were familiar faces to servers who were used to serving them efficiently. Her father always brought them to the same place after the service; he enjoyed the anxious, deferential treatment. Sophia wished everybody would just slow down, that the plates of deep-fried rolls would land on the table without that haphazard clink, the tiny steaming bowls set down with some care. The world lacked in grace. There was no need for all this hurry.

There was also no need to talk so loudly. Sophia marvelled at how her mother's excited voice surfed above the noise level in the restaurant, while Samuel and their father hungrily served themselves with the newly arrived delicacies. What was it with men that could make them so indifferent when everything around them was chaos?

"There might have been a fight, some confrontation." Her mother looked to Sophia for confirmation. During last night's Skype call to Manila, every single detail had been dissected, with Sophia's mother embellishing with things remembered from the past, and Auntie Mila correcting her faulty memory, happy to fan the same topic as it kept at bay the other usual subject, which was her perpetual singlehood. They had harmoniously called it an accident. Sophia, who had been eavesdropping, missed the kindness of the word, its blamelessness, now that her mother was adding fresh angles to her younger sister's juicy gossip. "Maybe it wasn't an accident. Who knows?"

The feast on the Lazy Susan gave off the aroma of sesame and pork fat, all of which ordinarily made her day. Sophia had a voracious appetite. Adrian had once said that she wasn't like other beautiful women who ate like birds.

That morning she didn't feel like a single bite.

"Your Auntie Rosy," her mother waved her chopsticks at Sophia on your, stressing that the woman was just someone Sophia called Auntie, not a family relation, "has not seen a customer since the accident. The ale left with an unfinished haircut and a bleeding cut on her cheek. Fight or no fight, Rosy must have been drunk!"

Her father shrugged. "What's going to happen now?"

"For sure, she's going to lose the business. It's so sad." But her mother didn't sound sad. She sounded cold, satisfied even.

"Where did Auntie Mila hear this?" Sophia made her voice sound skeptical, poised to dismiss the story.

"Everyone in the neighbourhood is talking about it. I'm surprised you haven't heard."

"I haven't been in touch with them." She avoided her mother's gaze by looking up at the server who put down a fresh teapot on their table before hurrying off with the empty one. He brushed against another server pushing a cart that carried towering piles of bamboo steamers. Sophia herself felt like a tottering container in danger of falling to the floor, her secrets tumbling out like meat filling from a breached dumpling.

How generous she had been back then, sending money and packages filled with salon supplies and gifts to Manila. It had been three years, but Sophia was remembering all of it too clearly. How, at the beginning, it hadn't felt like a burden. Every amount she signed off, every package she sealed and shipped left her with a nostalgic glow from paying homage. It hadn't been hard to keep these charitable efforts from her stingy parents--as a child, Sophia had harboured bigger secrets. That Auntie Rosy was grateful to the point of tears every single time only spurred her generosity. Being left to run Cine Star after Aling Helen's death had made her fragile and resilient at the same time. Such contradictions were the stuff Auntie Rosy was made of. Perhaps the end had been inevitable. Their friendship couldn't have emerged from their dreadful misunderstanding unscathed. When everything finally blew up, Auntie Rosy no longer wanted to speak to Sophia, who had been irked but ultimately relieved by this outcome. Through all of it, her family had been unaware and uninvolved. As always.

Outside the skies were bright, the leaves vibrant in the late-September showdown between summer and fall, but all Sophia could see were the smudges on the glass window, swirling traces of mist where the cleaning cloth had been. A cut on the cheek. Auntie Rosy had been a stylist for decades. What had taken so long, Sophia thought, for something like this to happen?

The scene played out in her head: the woman storming out of Cine Star, hand cradling one side of her face. Murmurs rising among onlookers lined up at the next-door pawnshop and the bakery at the other side. Auntie Mila would have pieced the story together from plenty of sources. Her account was so detailed that her mother, who knew nothing about the people living next door to their Collingwood area townhouse, would talk about it for a long time.

But it was Erwin's version that Sophia wanted to hear. It had been months since they had last spoken, but from what she could tell from his Facebook and Instagram posts, her childhood friend still lived in the same neighbourhood, worked at the same call centre outfit. Heard the same rumours. Erwin was Sophia's remaining link to Auntie Rosy.

By the time they left the Chinese restaurant, the morning's sunny skies had turned into a defeated shade. "It might rain," Sophia remarked, looking through the window of her father's Honda. Next to her, Samuel had earphones plugged in his ears, his slouch disguising his springing height. He looked thirteen instead of nineteen. As her mother went on questioning Auntie Rosy's life choices, Sophia found herself agreeing with the prevailing belief within the family that her brother was the clever one.

"Mila says Rosy and Soledad are still tight. They are still seen together at nights."

Aling Soledad! Sophia had not thought of her for years. When she was growing up, the rumours about the woman swirled around their neighbourhood like a swarm of bees. Back when she believed that being beautiful brought a woman a lot of trouble. The string of boyfriends. Affairs ending stormily. The next man a step down from the last. Sometimes a baby in their wake. Sophia wondered if Auntie Rosy still styled Aling Soledad at Cine Star like the old days. For free.

"She should be locked up," her father huffed. They were stopped at a red light. An old lady with a walker ambled across the pedestrian line. "Both of them."

"Vincent, naman. That's too harsh." Sophia's mother rubbed his shoulder. For the first time that morning she had reverted to her mellow and tremulous voice, which Sophia guessed was used at her job as a receptionist at the community centre. It sounded like she was shivering and was concealing it by being friendly. Polite. Auntie Rosy's accident had resurrected the loud, commanding voice she had once wielded against noisemakers as a college librarian.

The light turned green and the car eased forward, leaving the topic of Auntie Rosy's accident at the intersection. Sophia waited for something within her to settle, her heartbeat or the food in her stomach, but her pulse had been fine and she had eaten very little at the restaurant. Her sigh created a cloudy patch on the car window, which looked out to hardware stores, parking lots, obscure office buildings rushing past. It was all familiar landscape, but what went on behind those vandalized stucco walls, those glass doors advertising hours of operation? Something always lurked behind the surface, every wall knew of some drama. Her father drove faster and the shops flew past with their untold stories, leaving Sophia with her faint reflection floating along the pavement. A lady's face with shapely eyebrows and lips, not belonging to the little girl she had felt like a few blocks ago.

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Last Tide
Excerpt

Part One: Reformatting
Chapter One

She doesn't blur them, that's Win's job, but she does feel that swipe, top to bottom, when she sees their faces. As if the process has already started in her head. She doesn't even actuate the shutter; that all happens on its own. It's her job to advance, between clicks, and provide material. So if she does see the faces blur, maybe around hour six or seven when the repetition starts to get to her, she thinks of Win, her quick swipe on the trackpad, the pixelling smudge. Finishing her work. She's viewed the results so many times that, driving in the van, she sees the faces all pre-blurred, looking at the camera, looking at her, and she doesn't know whether to wave or hide her face.

But it's a surprise how few people she sees, even after work on a weekday, even on weekends. She comes to realize that streets aren't really about locomotion, but division of plots and zones. It's different on foot, with the presence of decision, of contingency: a street walked on is a street made real. When she's in the van, she's not there. Ana will now and then catch figures coming out of doorways, bodies standing at bus stops or in line, always bent towards her, looking. Few of the frozen get caught off guard, and Win deals with the faces they angle over shoulders and out of windows, wipes them clean of curiosity and confusion. The clicks are triggered by time, not distance. Pedestrians are photographed as they walk alongside her, as, knowingly or not, they are captured over and over again. Win tells her that, when this happens, the sidewalk looks like a parade of clones on their way to the factory. She scrolls through the line, and clears their identical faces one by one.

The grid is simple. She extends down a road, reaches the end, turns the corner, and retracts. The handbook says that it is easier to think of yourself in this way -- from a fixed, satellite's-eye-view -- instead of at ground level, even though the latter is the vantage point of their products. The handbook is right, especially when the lay of the streets shifts or pivots around some central point and disorientation is a real risk. Maintaining this top-down view is harder in old cities, with their streets radiating like spokes from a hub, spliced by canals, viaducts, and ad-hoc passages just wide enough for the van to fit through. But she has little trouble keeping today's fixed grid of industrial lots from rotating in her mind. She does not think of straight, or left, or even north- or south-west, but instead only the twin coordinates of x and y. If this seems difficult to conceptualize, it doesn't stay that way.

The handbook is wrong about a few things. It says that pedestrians might try to stop you, stand in front of the van, and pose for a picture. This hasn't happened to her or any of the other drivers she knows. A coworker says she had a woman lift up her blouse and flash the camera. She asked Win, who said that if that did happen, she would just blur it out, too. She doesn't really believe the other driver's story, though. She knows the truth: that he is, she is, invisible. She's been driving for three years and not once has a passer-by mugged for her camera, posed, or even waved. The consensus seems to be that they don't exist. The van is large, and the camera rigging is hardly discreet, but pedestrians look at them quickly and then avert their eyes. The man who trained her joked that they were afraid she'd steal their soul, and that she shouldn't take it personally. She doesn't. She hears the camera click faintly behind her head, and in her mind she wipes their faces clean.

The guide also says it's a good way to get to know a city, driving the van, but Ana had lived here for twenty years before the contract. She doesn't get discovery, then, but reformatting. Streets she knew from her late twenties are repaved by the camera, cleaned of their memories, rendered into the official, sellable view. Clear, demarcated, and without emotional charge. Last week she drove the van like a pressure-washer along the driveway's edge of her childhood home. She looked, from the van, into her old bedroom. Only then did she slow down, the camera clicking out the time, the flash bouncing in sheets off of the darkened window. The images were fed in that evening, the scene scrubbed and encoded. The strangers' car in the open garage had its license plate blurred -- Win's handiwork. But Ana's left her face, just a beige wrinkle in the bedroom window, intact.

License plates are blurred. Faces are blurred. Bus stop ads stay, though, depending on the city and its laws, their phone numbers may be blurred. The faces on the ads remain. House numbers are left intact, but names on mailboxes are blurred. Billboards stay, netting their advertisers a windfall of advertisement. Profanity painted on anything -- walls, billboards, bus benches, pavement, shop windows -- is usually left untouched, though this is up to the blurrer's discretion. Win leaves all but the worst, and those she prints out before blurring. Some employees choose to go through the day's images and blur out faces first, and then words and numbers; some do both at once. Win tells Ana that infant's faces come pre-blurred, and that young children are often moving too erratically for the camera's exposure to catch in any violating detail, especially in the late afternoon hours, when the shutter dilates for lost light. The rights of children are a particular concern; their company wants to avoid lawsuit, implication, expense.

Not all of them started as drivers. A handful drove other things -- milk trucks, taxi cabs, school busses -- before switching to delivering images. But these are few. Most drivers are internal hires. Most of these end up in the van on the way down from a higher position. There isn't a euphemism in place for this, it just happens, un-memoed. Ana was in the van from the first day, though she's used to driving for money. This makes her unusual, but it's hard to say how much of this is the circumstances of her hiring, and how much is some kind of in-group favouritism on the part of the lifers, the internals. According to the social strata, those coming down from office jobs, and the few who were around before the project even started, resist the idea that they're working the same position as a subway operator.

Those who are behind the wheel of the van for eight hours a day have a good amount of time to think, especially on the more minimal sections. A highway shift offers the same kind of introspection as a long road trip alone, especially since, unlike the road trip, you're not distracted by thoughts of a final destination. One of the other drivers learnt French while the camera clicked out fields of soybean plants for hours along 91 North. Another, an ex-millwright, buys books on tape, leaving them in the vans for the other drivers when he's done with them. But she prefers the more involved driving. She's bored of straight lines. She angles for shifts in knotty downtown cores, where it takes real work to stay oriented and keep from wasting shots backtracking. Whenever possible she takes travel jobs to other cities that she does not know and, over the week, covers their blank streets and alleys until she, and the camera, have seen every boulevard and storefront.

The drivers are encouraged to leave the camera going for the drive back to the depots -- the documentation of the fringes and hinterlands in which the vans sleep is of special interest to their clients. Images of near-vacant industrial lots, rezoneable and ripe, are the grist of the real estate mill. This is the new frontier: doubling back. The cities are running out of unused space, and so the cities need to be reformatted. And reformatting is their business.

Ana used to work in the public sphere in a less conflicted sense. When she dropped out of school she wanted a job she could detach herself from, so, despite her comp-sci training, she took a position at BTA. Seeing her former classmates board the trains, briefcases in hand, heading to tech firms and start-ups and security agencies, didn't bother her. There was a certain satisfaction to the work. When she re-examines what she did, the overlap is obvious -- she supposes she is, has always been, a person in motion. But in her past life, this tendency was simplified to the point of meditation. Between stations the tunnel was a dark chute, the lights illuminating only a brief figure-eight of trackbed, and the rushing of the air around the front car's blunt nose was an even, mantric hum. The controls at hand were minimal, practically binary: forward lever, brake lever, emergency brake, door control. An oval capsule on a stalk gave the speed in red LED, and below it, a matching clock. The difficulty and skill were in the precise use of these few instruments, in staying on exact schedule, in knowing by feel the distance needed to slow the train to a stop without overshooting the platform, even by a few feet. It wasn't as hard for the BTA operators as it was in the cities with overlapping tracks, where an unnoticed error in selection would lead, minutes later, to the head-on collision at full speed of two trains full of passengers -- but it was not as simple a job as her mother insisted. It was just simple enough for her at that time. She wanted a break to think, a steady, undemanding job. But that was years ago, when she was comfortable in her mind. Now, she looks for distraction, tries to lose herself in the maze.

On days that she's successful, she's only ever half in her own head. The satellite view can be taxing, especially towards an end of a shift, in the seventh hour, when you've rotated your way through mazes since the morning. The older section of the handbook encourages you to think of yourself as a miniature van, seen from above, moving around the map, but she imagines herself as less than this -- as an icon, a cursor. In her mind, she is a triangular pointer. Edges blur by five o'clock, and, with the light dying, she heads back. She pulls in, camera still clicking away, and parks the van in its slot in the depot. Only now does the shutter stop. It's hard to shut the cursor off as she makes her way home on the slow, convoluted set of bus rides she's learned; after three years in the van, her brain is programmed to equate movement with mapping. Win says she can see it on her face on the days she gives her a ride home.

This week has Ana recovering old ground, starting with the highway that cuts through the southern end of town and divides it between residential and commercial, then, the commercial zone itself. A real audiobook job, but there aren't any in the van. She drove this section last year, but, with the rapid development of the area -- once reserved for the factories that now, in the absence of demand for their products, are unpeopled shells -- the images need updating. Post-industrial becoming pre-residential, and at the cutting edge of this transformation, her, camera clicking, driving in silence for eight hours a day in a barren grid of warehouses where condos and offices have begun to bloom.

It is now the fourth day of scanning. The boredom of identical lots, mechanical grey paint spray-gunned across concrete. Each factory, plant, shipping centre an anonymous squatting cube. The sound of the radio at these outer limits of the metropolis fuzzing between stations. Or is it all the cement, rebar, I-beams, sleeping asbestos, the dead matter that insulates these blocks from the signal? Not insulated enough: on her right is a set of lofts, inset into the face of a warehouse, floor-to-ceiling windows lighting up empty living rooms. Next door, an abandoned wholesale furniture depot, guarding itself with cyclone fence, waiting its turn. She takes its picture, or, the van does, the image cued and compiled for future use. The rest of the long industrial block is more cyclone fences, more empty warehouses, more plywood windows. She records it all. As she reaches the end of the block, the radio scratches into life: a commercial for an oscillating clothes dryer. The end of the street describes a T with narrow aerials that cut on each side between the last row of buildings and an adjacent lumberyard. Through a gap between structures tower colossal pyramids of wet sawdust. She turns a right that is actually a left, from the top-down view, and, with mute thirty-foot exterior walls rising on each side, the radio falls quiet.

When she emerges, nothing is different, and for a moment she loses the grid. Cells upon cells of identical warehouses, signs weathered smooth, vinyl lettering sun-peeled into strips. The factories in their dilapidation looking like old, battered houses, the new residential units in their brutal geometry and exposed structures looking like factories. Only the alternation between these two giving some sense of trajectory and time, but not direction. She knows that must be going straight, or, north, y, but the referents are gone. The camera clicks out a dozen images of the same, panoramic view: a shallow parking lot, its fence yellowed with rust -- shuttered brickworks -- sidewalk that ends abruptly in yellow turf -- the cracked asphalt of the road, its black tracery of patchwork -- the opposite sidewalk -- an empty security kiosk, its automated gate stuck open -- pallets stacked in a vacant parking space -- around the curve of the camera's orb -- now, the same road, from behind, light grey and tire-smoothed, the shining black filler like a kind of writing -- behind, in mid-distance, the towering mountains of sawdust, filling the frame -- the curb, fractured from the passage of heavy sixteen-wheelers -- a many-tiered sign, all its acetate inserts taken out and reinserted upside down -- the start of the brief sidewalk -- the narrow lot with its rusted fence -- the brickworks again, at the end of the loop, its manila siding streaked green from plant matter. The camera clicks one last time as she put the van back into drive.

This is the second-last interior row in a grid of two dozen. At every division of lots, she and the camera look to the side, crosswise, through the set of nested, identical intersections. With each added row, the mirror-within-a-mirror effect grows frame by frame to a narrowing point, the blocks' facing edges enclosing each other like parentheses wrapping around parentheses. The manual names this doubling positive redundancy, as the shift in perspective allows them a second, third, fourth chance at capturing information previously obscured by trees, pedestrians, street traffic. But there is little here to interfere: she is the only soul, the only vehicle, the only movement, in this grid, and every repeated shot of the same empty street corner reveals the same contentless information, unobscured but for the obscurity of its own repetition. She reaches the end of the row -- she thinks -- and cuts once again through a narrow lane. One more line of the grid, then, the periphery of the grid itself, then, back to the depot, home.

Her radio cuts out again, and this time she turns the knob to mute. She catches her face's reflection in the screen of the dash-mounted display, which, as always, she has left off. Her phone, its GPS safety net, is buttoned into her jacket pocket. Paper maps on the passenger seat, even these folded, though she'll allow herself them in an emergency. In three years she's learned, as all drivers do, that this job is as complicated as you let it be, but, unlike her coworkers, she has taken this in the opposite direction. She volunteers for the mess, breeds complication willingly. Yet no inner-city runs on the books this week, just this industrial drudge, a challenge in its own right. This work predates the technology that makes it brainless, even if she doesn't; there are entire sections of the manual on cartography, way-finding, chapters she's read over and over, relishing the intricacy of technique, the antiquated, pre-digital tactics of location. They have been scanning the city long before doing so became a hobby. Longer still before this information was freely broadcast under the auspices of public use.

The mountain of sawdust is gone, blocked from view by the monolithic lumber processing plant, the machinery of which these pyramids are the exhaust. Silent, though whether this is temporary or permanent disuse she cannot tell. Win calls Ana and her colleagues vultures, and she's not wrong -- here she is, circling these industrial skeletons. As she pulls past there is a deafening, metallic screech, and the saws start up again. Not yet, she thinks. And: If I'm a vulture, what is Win? What follows after carrion, finishes what's left? The backs of these megaplexes, their vulnerable array of loading docks and fire exits, are nothing like their bland, faceless fronts. A colossal dumpster, half off of its concrete pad, passes by, and out of the corner of her eye she sees something small and dark dart up the side and through a crack in the lid. A vision from a past life: rats, startled into motion by the electric hum of the rail and the clatter of steel on steel, disappearing into shadows.

She pushes it back like a physical thing, and focuses on the final row of units, mostly foreclosed warehouses, brick and cinderblock under white paint. Mentally she punches twelve-foot windows out of their blank facades, extrudes tennis-court sized balconies, adds exterior detailing, carves out new facades, doing the work of future architects in her head. And her prediction is correct: a lone green sign marks the whole section for rezoning and redevelopment. It's hard to keep the correct pace, when there's so little to see. She keeps wanting to accelerate, but to speed up above the determined limit means missing key wedges of image. The manual advises drivers to imagine that they are controlling a film projector, to think of the street outside of their windows as a long spool of celluloid that they need to play at the correct rate to maintain the realism of the picture. The verisimilitude, a beautiful world. She watches the needle, trying to keep it right at the notch that reads twenty, another thing that she is good at. It doesn't matter how she slows or stops the van -- any freeze-frames are removed in the first pass of editing -- but she does so with a single, gradual motion, smooth enough that a standing passenger with only one hand on the pole wouldn't even have to shift their weight. A skill she has made obsolete for herself.

Many other transit systems were phasing out manually-driven subway trains for automated ones, but the cost kept the tax-starved city hesitant and herself employed, for the time being. She returns to this often: what if they had made the switch? Would she then be spared this psychic reformatting, this need for constant distraction, variation? Would she still be a vulture? She slows the van to a rolling stop, grateful for the change, and turns around to head back, halfway down the row, to the exit. Another empty security kiosk, but this gate is automated; it rises for her and she passes through. She checks her watch: she is on schedule for the last item on the list, a roundabout sweep of the outside of the subdivision to explore possibilities of expansion. Standard practice, especially for these kinds of property -- once the process gets going, it's hard to stop, and within years entire sub-cities spring up in the vacuum of industrial deserts. And a desert this is: outside the exterior walls of the outermost buildings there is nothing, just sheets of asphalt cut into grids by temporary fencing. Hundreds of yards beyond the final fence, some vacant farmland offers even less resistance. All gone soon, she knows.

And all straight lines. Now that she is outside of it, the industrial zone seems even more sprawling and immense. She accelerates to the designated speed but seems to make no progress against the blank, anonymous walls or the empty lots opposite. It is as if here, in the open, is farther from culture, the human signal. Her mind, yielding, starts to disengage, and whatever few distinguishing details go soft. She nearly coasts right through the red light and, though the intersection is empty, she hits the brakes hard, and waits for the change before turning left to follow along the zone's eastern edge. The light turns green, she rounds the corner, and, suddenly, it is night. The factories' bulk, their heat-proof and cold-proof walls, block out the last of the sun's arc and throw her into blue-black shade. Automatic street lights click on, the halogen bulbs warming up against the early spring air in sporadic flashes. Their flicker against the van's windows, her eye on the speedometer, the late-shift weariness, transports her to precisely where she doesn't want to go, brings her in an irreversible sliding to the same, repeating scene. Nothing worked. One therapy session didn't work; a hundred boring conversations with friends and family didn't work. Changing jobs didn't work. The thing waited for her, waited for an opening, whether in dreams or in waking life, and she couldn't close off these weak points fast enough to keep it out. She feels it begin to start, like a machine winding up to spin out, so she pulls the van to the side of the road. She braces for the attack, as if this will help. She forgets to reach above her head and turn the camera off.

Mastering the braking system was an exercise in prosthesis, in the knowing of delay. Unmasterable. You're in the head of a long, many-thoraxed creature, whose joints are made of lag and imprecision. Now, on-board computers handle this. But were this train driverless, could it have gone otherwise? Would an automated subway car have known to stop, have tried to stop at all? But an automated train wouldn't experience the mental and visual fatigue that made this possible. What happened wasn't just a possibility, though, but an inevitability, wasn't it? She repeats this to herself: it was someone's decision other than your own, something outside of your control. Something executed faster than reaction time could comprehend, faster than any reflex, let alone one mediated by a hundred feet of trailing machine, could respond to. Or could you have, if you weren't so tired, if you weren't trying so hard not to think? No, even fatigue, even a kind of meditation, can't be at fault. And neither can you. Your eyes were on the track, were looking where they were supposed to be looking, at that point you didn't even need to glance down at the controls. You had already started to slow the train down, slowly, but maybe if it hadn't been so slowly, if you had already scrubbed off enough speed by that point -- But, again, that was what you were supposed to be doing, avoiding a jolting, harsh stop. Although that came. It was you, you were there. But a driverless train would have done no better, would have slowed down just the same, if not slower, and more than that would not have even tried to stop. It wouldn't have seen him come out from the far side of the column.

The feeling is like a kind of acceleration inside her, a keening and rising sheet of nausea. You did, she tells herself. You did see. The station was underlit and there was a crowd on the platform but you did see him, at the last moment, ten or fifteen feet away, as he came out from behind the column, out of the shadow. No one else noticed him, not so much running as striding, stepping out -- But you did see him, knew what you were seeing right away, or thought you did, but by then there was so little distance in front of the subway car. He had done this on purpose, picked a spot as close as possible to the station's opening and the train's top speed. And the old magnetic brakes. A newer train, not just fully automated but with double-locking brakes on every car, with electronic instead of just electric braking, would have stopped in time. But it would not have known to stop. And if it did, it would have scattered its passengers, all two hundred of them, down the aisle, some, especially the young, old, infirm, sustaining serious injury, if it would have stopped.

This logic is too abstracted, too hypothetical, to work. She tries it every time and it doesn't slow anything down. Nothing works. But she tries it again: If the brakes were new and you stopped in time it would have been just as bad. You felt it yourself. You hit the brakes as hard as you could, wrenching the lever back towards you so hard that the steel handle bent flat to the console. And it wasn't a sudden stop, not as sudden as it needed to be, but sudden enough that it sent you into the windshield of the conductor car just as he was crushed into it from the other side. You fell back into your seat, but he went underneath. You did see him. You did.

The silence of the van, punctuated by the clicking of the camera. The sound of her breathing, and of the body going under.

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Tenure

Tenure

edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

Chapter 1

As Mark Morata pressed his foot down, the new Tesla silently accelerated up the hill, easing him back into the seat. This was his favourite stretch of road: the coastal mountains towering up on the left, the cedar-clad islands speckling the sea to the right. Mid-morning, mid-week, a sunny spring day, just a few cars heading the other way, north to Whistler, where fresh snow on the higher runs was drawing to the ski-slopes those who could be free from work. He had wined and dined and flattered and subtly threatened the beautiful Thai twins who were miraculously effective conduits for his cocaine into the party animals needing a further high after skiing. A satisfactory couple of days. Nothing on the road ahead and in his mirror only the Honda he had swept by moments before.

A thump under the car, subdued by the massive batteries. Had he run over something? An animal, a stone he hadn't seen? A spurt of yellow and black smoke briefly filled the rear window. The car veered left then right, then straightened. He wrenched the wheel to follow the curve of the road ahead, with no effect.

"Mierda!"

No brakes either. He crossed the yellow lines, into any traffic that might come round the bend ahead, drifting unstoppably towards the rock-face at the side of the road, splattering loose stones on the hard shoulder.

He pulled himself away from the door as the mountainside began to scratch then tear at the car, gripping the steering wheel tight, turning it uselessly. The scraping noise of metal against rock was made worse by the snapping and cracking of the shrubs that had found niches in the mountain side. Holding his breath, the muscles of his hands, arms, and shoulders began to lock. The car juddered as it was bounced from one outcropping of rock to the next. He might at any point be thrown across the road and over the cliff down to the sea. The cliffs were not high, but enough for a fall to be fatal.

A rounded chunk of the mountain came towards him, slamming the door by his elbow with a tearing boom and the Tesla lurched back over the shoulder of loose stones onto the road. It gathered speed going downhill, wheels now astride the central yellow lines. There was a straight run for maybe a hundred meters and then the road curved sharply to the left. Still no cars coming towards him, but if he continued straight, the Tesla would be over the cliff before it was half way round the curve.

He caught a flashing glimpse of the Honda he had overtaken accelerating to get between the Tesla and the fall over the cliff. Close to the bend, the Honda turned against the right front side of the Tesla trying to force it to follow the curve away from the fall to the water. The panels of the two cars crashed against each other. The tires of the Honda shrieked as it turned harder into the Tesla. Mark was horrified that his much heavier car would carry the Honda and its driver over the cliff as well. But the screaming wheels of the Honda were getting some traction, and the two cars began to move slowly, strainingly left, till the Tesla's wheels were again over the centrelines.

The road curved more sharply left ahead, and the weight of the Tesla could not be turned that much while moving so fast. Mark waved at the driver to pull away and let the Tesla go! As the bend approached, the Honda leaned harder into the Tesla. But its screaming wheels began to lose their grip and the two cars juddered towards the edge, their panels screaming like metal banshees.

Ahead, there was a picnic area with a gravel entrance--some hope, if they could only stay on the road till they reached it. The wide slipway leading up to trees and picnic-tables was in sight. But the two cars were being pushed with a terrible squealing and tearing sound onto the hard-shoulder, and now losing more traction on the loose stones.

A ridge of shrubs and bushes crowned a low rise between the squealing cars and the cliff. The Honda's right wheels bounced against the root-packed earth of the rise as the heavier car forced it closer and closer to the edge, tearing into the bushes. The sturdier bushes kicked the Honda back, battering it harder into the Tesla. Mark could do nothing as the Honda jumped and crashed between the bushes on one side and the Tesla on the other. The Honda driver, shaken to and fro, was clearly trying to brake, but he was entangled with the Tesla, being dragged at clattering, tearing speed. The front of the Honda rose up. It was going was over the edge!

Bushes flashed by Mark, and his front wheels hit something hard and bounced. He was free of the Honda, and on four wheels. Then slowing as he climbed the deep gravel of the picnic slipway.

Behind him, he was relieved to see, the Honda also hit the slipway, bouncing and veering to and fro as it skidded through the gravel. The Honda's brakes began to slow the car as it slalomed towards the trees to Mark's right. The Tesla, heavier and brakeless, kept rolling towards the low bracken and smaller trees at the southern end of the picnic area. Mark gripped the wheel even tighter as the car rolled majestically into the bracken, bounced a little as it tumbled into the rough drainage ditch, then slammed into the small trees, and came to a stop with breaking glass, a crunch of metal, and the airbags exploding out to cushion him.

Mark took a deep breath, then quickly disentangled himself from the collapsing air bags and climbed out of the car. He shrugged off the danger and fear and smiled grimly; it was like his earlier days in the drug business before his recent power and eminence had insulated him from everyday violence. He walked past the bushes at the edge of the picnic area, and looked down into the shocked face of his saviour, who had managed to drive across to check if Mark was all right. They stood in uncertain silence for a moment. Odd, after the noise and eruption of terror into their lives, that no one was in the picnic area to witness their deadly drama.

"You saved my life!" Mark said.

"Oh . . . glad to be there. What happened? Brakes go?"

"But you risked your life. I am in your debt."

"What happened? There was a spurt of smoke. Your brakes and steering both go?"

"Yes. Your name? If I may?"

"Geoffrey Pybus. Geoff."

Mark held out his hand, "I am Marcos Gomez Morata. Please call me Mark. I Canadianize myself," he smiled. "Yes, both brakes and steering. Something, a kind of quiet explosion, and then I could do nothing."

They inspected the crumpled panels from front to rear of the Honda. The wheels seemed surprisingly undamaged.

"Are you going down to Vancouver?" Mark asked.

"Yes."

"Can you give me a lift, please. I have to get to the city."

"Of course. Yes, of course. If the car is OK."

Geoff Pybus stood holding onto his open door, expecting or perhaps hoping to talk for a few minutes. Mark delayed a moment, assuming that his new friend's heart was still pumping fast. Geoff seemed a little faint, perhaps dazed that his peaceful morning drive had brought him in minutes so close to death -- had he known the risk, would he have done it? Mark stood by the passenger door, looking down the road towards Vancouver, letting Geoff's heart calm down and strength return to perhaps still unreliable limbs.

But Mark had business to deal with, and after some minutes smiled as he opened the passenger door and climbed in. He had particular business with whoever had put the malfunctioning bomb under his car. Geoff followed and slowly eased back behind the wheel.

How to repay the debt of a man who had nearly killed himself saving one's life? Geoff slowly drove the Honda back onto the highway towards the city, attentively listening for unfamiliar noises and any unevenness in the car's ride. His door was rattling badly, but seemed to be holding.

"How are you feeling?" Mark asked.

"A bit shaken, I guess. But fine."

"Good. I owe you my life. I won't forget what you did." Mark tried to lighten the conversation by saying, "But you have taken on a burden of responsibility for my life, of course. And for all that I do and all the further effects of my actions, lo, even unto the end of time."

Mark smiled at Geoff, who smiled uncertainly back. Perhaps still too much in shock for quirky humour.

"Now, the matter of my debt. You will of course permit me to pay for the repair of your car. Or, better, you will permit me to buy you a new car."

"Oh, the repair of this will be adequate, thank you. But I do have insurance."

"I will not hear of it. Really, this is anyway quite old."

Mark recognized this as a mistake from Geoff's brief frown.

"I'm sorry, that was hardly gracious. Perhaps about six years old, and well looked after, it seems."

"No, really. Perhaps it's my Protestant upbringing. I can't accept a material reward for . . . what happened. It would be like saying that's how much I value your life. You've offered to pay for the car to be fixed, which will be expensive enough. And I have the reward of the satisfaction that I saved your life. Except that you would likely have been fine without my . . . intervention."

"But then my debt to you is forever. That is ungenerous of you. My Catholic upbringing, no doubt. There is generosity in receiving as well as in giving. Perhaps you would like a new house? Please, don't smile. I am a wealthy man, I would hardly notice the cost."

"But, I like our house. It's a shabby stucco box built in the 1920s, but it is the house our children were born into. Its walls and doors are not simply another house to them; they are their home; a part of the fabric of their lives. I think it is important to have such stabilities, don't you?"

"Indeed, yes."

"I think you have had the misfortune to have been saved--if that's what happened--by a happy man. Well, a generally contented one. Or, well, by one whose condition would not be improved by being richer. I like my home, my car. I even like my wife and children. I have enough money. A manageable mortgage. My job pays me well enough and gives me time for leisure, and my wife's job . . ." Geoff paused and smiled. "Now there's something we need."

"What is?"

"You could get my wife tenure," said Geoff with a quick laugh.

"Of course. But what is a tenure?"

"No, no. Sorry, I'm only joking. Tenure isn't the kind of thing you can get for someone. She teaches at the university . . . It's a contract. . . . Just a joke. You are from South America?"

"Colombia. I lived some time in Chile."

"May I say that your English is excellent?"

"Ah, thank you. A little old fashioned, I discover. I learned it mostly in Chile, studying English literature at university in Santiago. Perhaps too many Victorian writers."

Mark would have Frank, his general fixer, find out about tenure, about Pybus's wife, about what he would have to do to ensure she got this tenure, without Geoffrey or the wife knowing.

There had been a small bomb under the car, which had failed to detonate properly. He had been known for infinite caution, so it was worrying that someone had been able to locate his car in Whistler. Could it have been a chance sighting by one of his competitors' people or did he have an unreliable employee, and, if so, who? If Kanehara had wanted him dead he would be dead. Likelier was Jimmy Chan and his enthusiastic but unreliable Vietnamese gang. Mark's chest tightened as he reflected on the affront to his dignity. If his people determined that Jimmy Chan was indeed the culprit, Mark would put in place a simple strategy for closing him down, which he probably should have done months ago when Chan and the Vietnamese began trying to squeeze into Mark's territories.

Mark and Geoffrey Pybus chatted amiably on the drive into Vancouver, the one thinking how to tell his wife about the damage to the car and the other plotting bloody mayhem and to deliver whatever tenure was to his saviour's wife. He had easily made the decision. Mark anticipated some brief intervention in the university, some threats and bribes, while his new shipment of Peruvian cocaine, which was at this hour scheduled to be leaving Pacasmayo harbor en route to San Francisco, began the process of being turned into billions. He loved the magic of changing the leaves of the cacao trees into money; he was a master of this new alchemy.

Before he turned his mind back to Jimmy Chan he felt a brief but quickly dismissed notion that maybe this tenure business might involve him in more than he casually expected.

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