Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Whiteout

A Novel

Sage Walker

Tor Science Fiction

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

ONE


Snow fell in Taos.

Signy pulled pine splits from the woodpile on the portal, an armload, a hundred bucks a cord and going fast. Tiny snowflakes found the sliver of exposed skin where her parka and her gloves did not meet. Melting, the flakes burned a pattern, a secret little snow message on the tender skin of her wrist. She didn’t have the patience to try to read it.

Signy hooked her foot around the edge of the door, levered it open, carried her wood inside, and shoved her butt against the door. The door slammed with a satisfying bang.

Shelter, warmth, security, the old adobe house provided it generously, but only if the house was supplied with constant infusions of money, lots of money, and this morning it seemed that nobody she loved cared about that.

One hundred dollars a cord, Signy stacked her wood by the corner fireplace. The fire burned busily, money up the chimney, gone.

A spider scrambled from beneath a stick and ran for cover. It wasn’t a black widow. Signy let it go, wondering what the hell it found to eat in a dry woodpile where the temperatures dropped below zero at night.

“Signy?”

Pilar’s voice, damn it, from the holo stage in the center of the studio. Signy kept her back to the stage and fed a log to the fire.

“You’re back,” Signy said. She shrugged out of her parka and laid it on the banco next to the logs, still not looking behind her.

“Signy, I’m sorry.”

Edges’ corporate funds were down to almost nil: Thank you, Pilar. Pilar was sorry.

“Is Jared there?” Pilar asked.

That did it. Looking for Jared, was she?

Signy stamped across the room, flung herself into the rolling chair at her console, and keyed up full resolution on the holo stage. Pilar had blown all of Edges’ money, and Pilar’s response? Guilt? Contrition? None of that. Pilar wanted Jared; he would give her comfort and hugs. There, there, he’d say, and fix the pain. Let Jared make everything feel better, right!

“Jared is up skiing,” Signy said.

A presence built of bytes and photons, Pilar, life-sized, immediate, stood isolated at center stage. Mist sparkled on her long, Hispanic-black hair. The strap of a carry-on dented the padding in the shoulder of her jacket, this one printed within a geometry of primary colors: whites, blacks, bright oranges, and blues. Mayan-looking, new, probably expensive.

Signy pulled her headset over her eyes, giving herself a full surround of Pilar’s setting. Pilar was at home in Seattle, yes, in the studio there, with its bay window and its polished wood floors.

“You’re angry,” Pilar said.

“Damned straight I’m angry! Pilar, we’re broke! What the hell happened?”

“I told you. I felt I was getting stale. I wanted the presence and stress a live audience gives. The feedback. It’s different from virtual, from studio sessions and replays.”

Pilar shrugged the carry-on off her shoulder, a dancer even in that simple gesture; so graceful. Pilar, the performance artist, performing now for Signy. Just once, Signy wished, would you please just turn it off?

“And I played to empty theaters. Nobody wants live anymore; nobody wants acoustic; they want scent and touch, the whole shtick, sensory jolts and virtual icicles down their backs. That’s what they want. Or anyway, that’s what they want from me.

Pilar retreated to a wall, braced her back against it, and slid down to sit cross-legged on the floor, theatrical dejection in every motion of those trained muscles. Signy wanted to thump her, hard.

“Look, I’m sorry your artistic sensibilities got wounded, but did you once look at what this caper cost us? Even once, Pilar?”

“No.”

“No.” The debits had just kept coming in from Pilar’s draws on Edges’ corporate credit accounts; lighting, a new guitarist at studio rates, different costumes when the first ones didn’t suit. Then the road crew, the fees for interstate use, because shipping all the gear by airfreight seemed too expensive at the time. But Pilar hadn’t bothered to figure in the cost of feeding the roadies.

“You must hate me,” Pilar said.

Signy took a deep breath. “Listen, Pilar. Just listen for a minute. We have enough money to cover one more month’s mortgate payments on the houses in Taos and Seattle. And that’s all we’ve got.” Paul’s house in New Hampshire was a family legacy of his and paid for a hundred years ago, thank goodness. “We have one more payment coming in from that bit we did for Gulf Coast Intersystems, the tweak on their negotiations with the Arian people for fuel canisters. It’s a small payment. That’s it. I don’t have time to hate you right now. I’ve got to dig around for a contract for us, or Edges goes poof!”

Signy wondered, even as the words came flying out, what the hell she was doing. Having a temper tantrum, obviously, and she knew she would feel guilty later, sick at her loss of control, contrite.

“Why didn’t you stop me?” Pilar asked.

Pilar really did look hurt. Wounded. Worried, even. Oh, damn that face of hers, perfect wedge of cheekbone, big dark eyes, her aristocratic Hispanic-Anglo features.

“Damn it, Pilar! The charges that damn near broke us came in all in the same day, and you were off-line. Out of the net. Taking that little recreation break with your new guitarist, weren’t you?”

Mendez was tasty, granted. If I’d been Pilar, Signy thought, I would have stolen a few hours in that Scottsdale hotel, the one with the good security that Paul and I couldn’t break through.

We had fun trying, Paul and I, but if we can’t get some work real fast, the fun’s over. I can’t let this group be destroyed, not without a fight, certainly not because Pilar-fucking-Videla gets urges for artistic flings. “You’re a grown-up, Pilar. It’s not my job to stop you. It isn’t Paul’s job, either.”

“Look, I said I’m sorry.” Pilar stood up and reached down for her carry-on. Tears stood in Pilar’s eyes. “You’re over the edge, Signy. We’ll talk about this later.”

“Pilar—”

Pilar dissolved, damn it, just vanished, all the feeds to Seattle blanked out, and Pilar’s dramatic exit did not help Signy’s temper at all. Signy tried an access sequence to the Seattle house, another, but the codes were tricky. She kept herself away from the emergency override, unwilling to break the unwritten rule that said, Don’t use emergency overrides unless it’s an emergency; we all need privacy sometimes.

Signy slapped at the keyboard and folded her arms against her chest. Pilar didn’t always act like a grown-up? How about Signy Thomas? Mature, reasonable Signy Thomas, terrified of losing the group, family, whatever, called Edges. Pilar and Janine. Signy and Jared. Paul. All they were to each other, strength, support, synergy; they couldn’t lose each other, damn it! Afraid of that loss, Signy had tried to hide her fear in anger, and the obvious target had been Pilar.

Signy typed a message for Seattle.

[Signy] Apologies. Contrition. I love you.

She sent it. The message would sit there until Pilar decided to respond, and that could be days; sometimes when Pilar got upset she vanished to the streets and didn’t come back until she’d settled whatever demons were after her. She’d done it before.

Janine might help, but Signy hadn’t seen her in the Seattle house. Janine had gone off to visit her folks while Pilar was out on the road, but Janine was due back—

Signy pulled up the file where Edges posted itineraries, when they remembered. Janine was due back sometime today.

Paul’s Call Me light blinked awake on Signy’s console. He was up early, for Paul. In New Hampshire, it was noon.

Paul wanted something. Okay, she’d talk to him.

[Signy] What is it, Paul?

[Paul] A contract.

[Signy] We’ll take it.

She got up and walked toward the kitchen, hoping this morning’s coffee hadn’t gone too stale.

Paul’s voice came through the speaker above the sink. “Just like that? Don’t you think you should hear what it is before we sign on?”

“Just take it, Paul. I don’t care if it’s with the Mafia, for pity’s sake. We need the money.”

Signy poured herself a cold cup of coffee and stuck it in the nuke.

“Calm down, Signy.”

Listening, was he, while she yelled at Pilar? Oh, Paul!

“I’ll try,” Signy said.

“Drink your coffee,” Paul said.

The coffee tasted bitter, old. Signy sipped at it anyway, forced it down over the lump in her throat. “Go ahead, Paul. Tell me about the job.”

“The contract is with a company called Tanaka,” Paul said. “Come in the studio and we’ll look at it.”


Copyright © 1996 by Sage Walker