Today's Reading

I thought that I had heard it all, but I admit that was a new one to me. New, and highly illegal. If you are into genetically engineered diseases, they must be 'killed' diseases. Noncommunicable. Like old-fashioned vaccines, before humanity really had a good handle on genetics.

I could tell I was going to be looking for a real sicko.

She made a deliberate effort to calm down.

"I think I'd like that bourbon now, if you don't mind," she said.

I got the office bottle from a drawer in my desk. It says Jack Daniel's on the label, but of course it had never been within a quarter million miles of Kentucky. I once had a sip of the real thing, over two hundred years old and costing more than a year's salary from my old job as a bobby, and was disappointed to find that this ersatz stuff tasted just as good. You would think there would be something special about one of the last bottles of booze remaining from Old Earth.

I got two tumblers that looked pretty clean from the drawer. I poured two generous slugs. When the neck of the bottle touched the rim of the first glass, Sherlock's head came up and he huffed once to show his contempt, then got up. He ambled over to the door and stepped on his touchplate, which opened it for him. He hurried through. Alcohol is not one of Sherlock's favorite scents.

Also, I sometimes drink a bit too much. It's a sad thing when your dog disapproves of you.

"That's quite a..."

"Large dog?"

"He's beautiful."

That was never a word I would have applied to Sherlock, but I warmed to her a little for the first time. She was clearly a dog person.

She reached for the glass with both hands, carefully positioned it in the left one, and raised the veil slightly with the right. I caught a glimpse of ravaged features. I had no desire to see any more.

"What's his name?"

"Watson," I lied. "He's a pedigreed bloodhound. His nose is very sensitive, and he doesn't like alcohol." I've always wondered how bad the smell of Jack could be to an animal that thought sniffing another dog's rectum was the height of pleasure.

"That would sort of spoil his fun, wouldn't it? Warning me?"

We were back to the leper. I was far from convinced it had all happened the way she said.

"What do you plan to do to him once I've found him? If you intend to cause him physical harm, I can't help you."

"I'm going to take him to court. But I haven't finished. Giving me this stuff was bad enough, but normally I'd just chalk it up to experience. I should have been more careful. I'm not denying that. So when I started breaking out, I just went to the medico and told him to cure it.

"But he couldn't cure it."

Her story, apparently, was that it could not be cured. Which I had a great deal of trouble believing. But for a bad moment there I felt a little thrill of atavistic fear, fear of something no one has worried about much for many generations: What if she gives it to me?

At some point in human history between the discovery of fire and the invention of ice cream—humanity's greatest moment, so far—being eaten by animals stopped being an everyday thing to worry about. It could still happen on Old Earth so long as wild animals remained, but most days you could go about your business—say, in the middle of Manhattan Island—without taking any particular precautions about it.

After the Earth was taken away from humanity by the Invaders, your chances of being preyed upon grew pretty slim since all the feral lions and tigers and bears remained on Old Earth.

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