Mind Fuck, Manna Francis, Chapter Seventeen
Back in Strasbourg, Toreth and B-C have gone over everything… and found nothing.
“Do you read much, B-C?” Toreth asked.
Barret-Connor looked up from his own screen. “I’m sorry, Para?”
“Fiction, I mean.”
The investigator shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”
“Me neither, much. I used to read thrillers, until I noticed they weren’t. And mysteries. Of all the setups, you know which ones really pissed me off? Sealed room murders. They’re always so contrived, and yet here we are with three of the bloody things.”
B-C looked back at his screen. “Yes, Para.”
I’m going to go off on a little bit of a tangent here: I love B-C. For some reason, he was one of the characters I found it easy to visualise right off the bat, and I love how beautifully deadpan he is about everything. He makes Toreth look incredibly emotional.
And I love his exchanges with Toreth, too.
Toreth gets onto Byrne, one of the forensics, just before he’s about to call it off for the day, and suddenly, there’s something.
Anti-nausea drug traces have shown up in Pearl Nissim’s system. Interestingly enough, they weren’t prescribed for her, though: Keilholtz had even mentioned that he felt sick when getting out of the sim sometimes, and it’s his name on the prescription. But the anti-nausea drugs weren’t enough to have killed Pearl, anyway, nor did she have an adverse reaction to the stuff.
Being thorough, and good at her job, Byrne’s already checked the remainder of the batch from SimTech: nothing wrong there, unfortunately for the investigation. And nothing suss, either: the drug’s contained in single-use injectors, distributed by SimTech as part of their service that comes with the sim.
“The used injector?”
“No sign of it in the room– probably already in the recycling system, Para.”
Which makes sense: Keilholtz does not seem like *cough cough* the type of bloke who’d leave used things lying around like some characters might. (Refer to the most recent update on Shades if you’re wondering what I’m snarking about.) I also like that recycling is a thing in this timezone, too, and I’m wondering what the fuck happened to bring the world to where it is in time. Did people start getting serious about environmental destruction and waste– and if so, how much of the planet got completely fucked up before they did?
Toreth asks her to scan Nissim’s body for everything. Just in case. Because as even he says in a quasi-humorous fashion, he’s clutching at straws now, but an anomaly… is something.
He then calls Keilholtz, less than impressed that he wasn’t informed about the anti-nausea drug.
But Keilholtz explains that Pearl gave him the drug due to the sim sickness, and that he was completely unaware that she’d used it herself, and that he would have mentioned it. Turns out Pearl had used it on occasion if she was having ear issues, and that the SimTech staff were aware of it… and all of that checks out with Nissim’s medical records.
“When did the legislator take the drug?” he asked Keilholtz.
“Just before we went in, or rather, that’s an assumption. That’s when she gave me mine. I was already sitting in the couch. Just after I’d had the injection, the guard strapped me in.”
He paused, and Toreth prompted him. “Yes?”
“I don’t remember seeing her take another injector, but I can’t swear she didn’t. She would’ve had time to take a shot before the guard finished with me.”
“And dispose of the injectors?”
“Oh, yes, Para-Investigator. Pearl was very tidy.”
So it was Pearl who wouldn’t leave them lying around. Nonetheless, my earlier point still stands.
But the injector wasn’t linked to her death, anyway, and everything’s still looking pretty normal.
“How is it possible to have so many bodies and so few suspects?” Toreth wondered aloud.
Barret-Connor had been listening to the conversation with Keilholtz. “They are a bit thin on the ground, yes, Para.”
“People always get more popular when they die, B-C. Fact of life.” Toreth pushed his chair back from the desk and stood up to pace. “I’ve never met a corpse who wasn’t saint material if you believe what people tell you. Then you open their security file, and they’re exactly the kind of bastard that someone would want to murder. Or they’ve got ‘natural victim’ stamped all over them and it was only a question of who got to them first. Either way you’ve got to dig through dozens of suspects to find the right one. But these three… what do you think?”
Again, I love their conversation. It has a beautiful noir feel about it, and I love the way we see Toreth work through things aloud. Even if B-C is pretty much agreeing, we’ve seen Toreth do this a bit: with B-C, to a degree with Warrick, and also with Chevril. While a strong argument can be made for him just projecting, he also uses the opportunity to get ideas. Sometimes he just needs to verbalise around him, I guess. And sometimes, input from others helps him.
B-C doesn’t do so well with spontaneous opinions, though, and like the kid called up to solve a Maths problem in class when they haven’t been paying attention, he methodically shows his working when explaining to Toreth that as corporate supporters, they’ve both got ‘natural victim’ qualities.
“Killing a legislator is a hell of a risk, though. If there is a killer, they must know that. It won’t get covered up now, however big the corporation behind it. The Administration doesn’t like to encourage corporate sabs targeting legislators– the idea might catch on. They’ll be found and nailed for it, no matter how long it takes.”
So… despite the power money can buy you in this world: you don’t go killing people that high up on the hierarchy. It’s almost comforting to know that, especially the further into the series you get where just about everything seems shrouded in greys and the potential for discretionary measures and corruption. I suppose it’s a career perk of getting that far up the ladder, isn’t it?
B-C nodded. “So we’re back to square one: why pick Nissim?
Why indeed? “Maybe they didn’t.”
Keilholtz does seem like a more realistic target.
“[…] Killing Nissim brings you big trouble, killing her boy toy and blaming the sim gets you an avenging angel ready to take down SimTech. Hmmm.” Toreth thought it over. “Teffera took drugs for the sim. Maybe he had a contaminated injector too.”
It all makes beautiful, perfect sense, and funnily enough, he’s pretty much nutted it out by doing nothing more than having B-C listen to him and confirm his suspicions by logically working through things. Toreth adds, though, that Kelly Jarvis doesn’t fit the model.
B-C wonders if it was the sim, but Toreth is convinced now that it can’t be. So he goes through the post-mortem results for his three victims again, and wonders if they had any kind of reaction to the drug in common– genetic susceptibility? Vulnerability to the sim, maybe? The fact that the sim is all but a wild card in the whole equation means he’s not getting much back from the system because it can’t yet recognise its limits and capabilities entirely. And he can’t change the system to accommodate this.
Worse, the only people who understood the sim well enough to do that worked at SimTech. Asking witnesses and suspects to modify I&I systems was even less standard procedure than fucking them.
Hehe. I had to giggle at the idea that it even occurred to him. And I’ll admit, first time I read this, I was all, “Why can’t he and Warrick just interact again?!” and I’ll admit that it was not because I had this idea of them helping one another, but thought they were hot together, and was initially under the idea that this book was… pornier.
Yeah, I’ll admit it: I first read this book when I had discovered homoerotoc fiction novels on the internet, and buying books online. And since Mind Fuck falls into a class of its own, it got mentioned on a few of those lists… and a lot of the others in that genre… get fairly sexy. So my first reading of the book was… it was unexpected. But I got utterly seduced by the quality of the writing, and completely drawn in to the Toreth/Warrick dynamic. And the more we got to see of Toreth, the more I could identify with him …a lot.
Basically, the best things that have come into my life have tended to be happy accidental discoveries, unentirely unexpected surprises, or random decisions made on a whim– something I tend not to do– but it pays off. This series? Was totally a case of that.
Toreth spend a minute or so cheering himself up by imagining applying for high-level damage waivers on the entire SimTech staff, half of P-Leisure, and all known professional corp sab teams, and then cranking through the interrogations until someone said something helpful.
He’s frustrated, and god, does it show. You can see why it’s such a nice little fantasy for him– especially given that he’s not really sadistic– it’s an easy, brute-force way of solving things, because for weeks, now, he’s essentially got nothing. But he’s also smart enough to realise that he is in fantasy and that things don’t work like that, and he’s too delicate in his work to resort to something like that. Not to mention, I suspect it would take a lot of the puzzle-solving fun out of it for him.
Start with Warrick and the Tefferas, and work his way down the social scale. It might be worth proposing the idea simply to watch Tillotson turn purple. Pity that he wouldn’t get the waivers. Maybe he could arrange to have a few more Administration higher-ups killed. So far, producing a big-name corpse seemed to be all he’d achieved in the case. He snorted with laughter, and B-C looked up. “Para?”
“Nothing.” Time to get back to work.
I love watching his thinking processes. Love how as he goes further into his idea, he smooths out the details, shaping it, and you wonder if he’s getting more serious, and then he turns it ridiculous, has a laugh, and brings himself back to reality and gets on with the job. It’s perfect. And I love his thinking about it in terms of a work process– about things like Tillotson, about the “achievement” of getting the killer to respond by killing Nissim– rather than him just having interrogation power fantasies about, say, the Tefferas and Warrick, who clearly do frustrate him. Toreth is awesome, and I love his sense of humour.
He works around on the system a bit more, trying from the angle of “undetectable poison.” And whose name should come up but Tara Scrivin’s? Remember ….she was the biochemist? The only problem is that Toreth isn’t convinced she would have; he’s worked long enough in the field to know when someone’s putting it on, and she wasn’t– and she had an alibi for Kelly’s death, too.
While he had nothing better to do, he should at least consider an interrogation. The idea certainly had potential, although Justice (or at least SimTech’s lawyers) might make trouble over her mental state.
I love that Toreth never has absolute power the way a lot of “bad guys” in dystopian things do. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, that there are still rules in place for him– and procedures and laws and red tape– governing what he can and can’t get away with. I think that’s one reason the series has such strength: it’s toned down from the usual free rein that the “controlling people” get in… most other things. I mean– okay, I love the movie (the graphic novel didn’t do as much for me, I’ll admit)– V for Vendetta? The thugs working for the government got away with everything. While the movie suspended my disbelief, and I adored it, I still thought afterwards, “Those guys have got to be accountable somewhere along the line.” Part of the thing Ms. Francis nails with the system is that in order for it to work convincingly, there has to be some sort of boundary placed upon the rule-makers. They have to give the illusion of looking fair. Sure, corruption can happen, but in such an organised– and in some ways, normal– world, you can’t just have Sauron or Scar sending out the troops and demanding anyone who gets in the way get killed. It’s not a dictatorship, and the illusion of things being fair and fine sustains it for awhile, and, of course, makes it easier for regular citizens to just get on with their lives.
However, with Nissim dead, he had a feeling that waivers of all levels would be a lot easier to come by.
There’s that, too, and again, it’s perfectly feasible, but it still doesn’t mean he can break the rules too badly.
He gets onto Sara, and asks her to organise Parsons to deal with her, then turns to B-C and advises him that they’re heading back to New London.