A Retrieval Artist dies of a virus, yet his colleague, Miles Flint, suspects foul play.
Police detective Noelle DeRicci, Flint's former partner, suspects that the death of a young woman in the Moon's prestigious Extreme Marathon was no accident.
A connection between the deaths soon becomes clear. And Flint and DeRicci find themselves in their own race, one against time and a certain kind of madness that could threaten everything they know and love.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch is unique in science fiction, literary in bent and pulpy in sensibility, this fantastic marriage-of-two-worlds rings through in everything she does. Her Retrieval Artist universe brings together two of her greatest strengths—science fiction intrigue and dark, chewy crime fiction—and brings it to bear on a delicious blend of hard suspense, biotech conspiracy, and a grisly murder all centered around a marathon run in the naked vacuum on the surface of the moon. – J. Daniel Sawyer
"...an exemplary futuristic detective thriller."– Booklist
"This futuristic tale breaks new ground as a space police procedural and should appeal to science fiction and mystery fans."– RT Book Reviews
"Extremes is simultaneously thriller, deftly plotted detective story, and SF complete with a form of Mad Scientist. Like the best of those genres, it also features well-drawn characters whose various viewpoints, areas of expertise, moral choices, and personal dilemmas all add to the rich mix."– Locus Magazine
THE EARTH GLOWED in front of him, green and blue and white: impossibly beautiful against the blackness of space.
Coburn used the Earth as his marker, his goal, even though it wasn't. The horizon was so close, and the Earth so large, that he almost felt like he could catch it, then hang it, like a souvenir, on the wall of his apartment.
He followed the designated path on the Moon's surface, his feet landing in footprints left from previous Moon Marathons. The regolith was packed solid here, the trail as old as time.
He had forgotten what it was like to be alone with himself in a familiar place, the sweat from his body pooling at his feet before his suit recycled it. Earth marathons were not solitary events. Bodies bumped each other, and the narrow quarters always made him claustrophobic.
Here he was on his own, with nothing to break the gray landscape except boulders, craters, and the packed trail.
So he focused on the Earth, and tried not to listen to his own breathing. The sound screwed up the rhythm of his legs. It had been ten years since he had run a marathon in anything less than one-G. He was used to having the pounding of his feet match the force of his breath.
But here, on the flat, endless vista outside of Armstrong Dome, he ran with a different rhythm: step, half step, push—or launch, as his coach used to say. Only when Coburn thought of launching off the ground, he wasted energy going up, instead of moving forward.
He had to concentrate on distance and speed, not height. And while that sounded easy in gravity one-sixth of Earth's, it was not. There were too many things that could literally trip a man up.
The monitor, built into the lower half of his helmet's tinted visor, told him he had run for six miles, although it felt like much longer. The simulated programs he'd run hadn't been good enough, and the City of Armstrong did not allow any training runs on the cross-country track.
In theory, no one was supposed to be able to train on the Moon's surface—suited, in the proper gravity. In practice, a handful of extreme athletes and rebels managed it every year. If they got caught, they faced jail time and disqualification from any off-Earth marathon for life.
Normally Coburn would have taken that risk, but he hadn't had time. He'd been planning an extreme event on Freexen, and hadn't even planned to run in this thing until Jane called him back to Armstrong. Their business, Extreme Enterprises, was running into some legal troubles, and she needed his cool head to help her with the fine points.
He signed up for the Moon Marathon when he learned he'd be in Armstrong during the event. And this marathon was turning out to be a lot harder than he had expected.
The first mile had been easy. The area outside Armstrong, like the areas outside any established dome, was almost as tame as the interior of the dome itself. Several established vehicle tracks led to the dome's exterior services, from the physical plant for each dome section to exterior maintenance and repair.
A lot of private industry also had buildings outside the dome. Some of those buildings housed exterior equipment. Others had their own tiny environments for workers who had to stay outside for weeks at a time.
These businesses and buildings were the real reason no one was allowed to train outside a dome. The potential for sabotage was too great. The only way for a domed environment to survive was for the residents to carefully monitor everyone who had access to the exterior.
Coburn had understood that intellectually. He'd modified his own VR program to compensate for the changes in terrain, so he had trained in the proper conditions.
But he hadn't been prepared for the subtle things: the way the blackish-gray dirt moved beneath his feet, forcing him to sink to the harder crust beneath; the impact craters too small to show up on any map—some of them no wider than his fist, just wide enough to trip a runner and send him sprawling; the intensity of the sunlight etching everything around him in clean, rigid lines.
Yet this was one of the safest places near any inhabited part of the Moon. The area around Armstrong was mostly flat by Moon standards, but it still contained dips and hillocks and hazards too small to place on any official map. And then there were the tiny alterations in the landscape that occurred because the Moon had no atmosphere to block space debris.
Coburn had read about one runner who had stepped on the sharpened edge of an exploded shuttle, pieces of which had rained on the Sea of Tranquility the month before. The runner severed his foot. His suit, which had been severed along with his foot, depressurized. He didn't even have time to die from the blood loss. The change in pressure and the loss of oxygen killed him first.
But cases like that were rare. The more common injuries occurred when a runner misjudged a distance—taking the wrong step before a leap up a four-meter rise, for example. Once launched, a runner was committed—there was no atmosphere to beat against, no air or water to slow him down, nothing to create friction or to use to change the trajectory.
Coburn had already seen victims of that miscalculation—good runners, excellent athletes, many of them extremists, who had fallen alongside the track, because they'd landed in an impact crater and broken an ankle or fallen against a tiny rise and ripped open one-half of their environmental suit.
Most suits couldn't repair damage that great. Coburn's could, but his had been designed for conditions much more hazardous than this one—races where there were no panic buttons, and no well-worn track covered with generations of boot prints to keep the participants from getting lost.
He was grateful for the suit now. The visor reported the distance to any object up ahead, and it also warned him of potential problems below. Unless he made a careless error, he would make it to the end of the 26.2 miles just fine.
Coburn ran—if this skip-hopping movement he was making could be called running—toward a boulder. As he approached it, he realized it was taller than he was, and six times as wide. Someone had filled in the sides of its impact crater, and the path around it had been smoothed by the footprints of thousands of runners over the life of the marathon.
The path along the right side of the boulder was thinner, not as well traveled as the path along the left. This boulder had been here for at least a hundred years, and it held no surprises. Even the tiny craters on the right side had been mapped.
He approached the boulder faster than he expected, and narrowly missed kicking its outer edge. He veered away from it, focusing on the details of running, the placement of his feet, the way he launched—almost like long jumpers on Earth, only with another jump shortly after the first.
The boulder cast a shadow that darkened part of the trail. He tried not to land there, trying instead to go past it. When he landed, he could finally see beyond the boulder.
He saw something white in his path.
Another fallen runner. Only this one hadn't crawled off the path like he was supposed to. He was curled, fetal position, as if his injury was somewhere other than his legs and feet.
New footprints on the dirt to the left of the fallen runner suggested that at least ten runners had already gone around him. None of them had stopped to see if the runner was okay. But that was normal. Coburn hadn't stopped for the other fallen runners either.
However, those fallen runners had been moving. Rocking back and forth as they held broken shinbones, pounding the ground in frustration at the lost dream. A few had been trying to get up as he passed, and a few others were stumbling along the pathside, trying to continue despite the injury.
No one just laid there.
This injury was clearly more serious than the others had been.
He wasn't going to stop—he would lose precious time—but once he reached the runner, and the visor gave him the location readout, Coburn would contact the Med Alert Team and let them know there was an unconscious runner on the path.
Then the suit came into focus.
It wasn't white. It was a pale pink with gold strips that glittered in the sunlight. The bottoms of the boots had a familiar lightning pattern, a pattern which matched the one on the bottoms of his boots.
She had been about fifth when she left him behind. Having her pass him in a marathon was a normal occurrence. Jane excelled in the run, and her suit, like his, didn't allow her to lie unconscious for a long period of time. It should have contacted the Med Alert Team directly, rather than leave her here, where at least ten runners had passed her by.
The only way her suit wouldn't revive her was if it had failed.
Coburn found his breath coming in small gasps. He slowed his loping gait, and altered his trajectory so that he stopped on her right side.
Then he crouched beside her.
Her face was turned toward the regolith, the helmet's white shell blocking his view of her visor. He had no idea how she had fallen like this—both legs together, arms gathered against her chest.
Jane ran beautifully, even in conditions like these. She should have sprawled, like anyone else, unless she gathered herself into this fetal position to compensate for some kind of pain.
But her suit should have compensated for her by boosting her endorphins, or, if her injuries were severe, medicating her until help arrived.
Medicating her and keeping her conscious.
With one gloved hand, he touched her shoulder. The layers of fabric between them made her seem inhuman. He pushed her shoulder away from him, rocking her back so that he could see her face. One of her hands flopped into the dirt.
Coburn's mouth was dry. The monitor on the right side of his visor was blinking, cajoling him to breathe regularly and to take a drink before he dehydrated himself.
He ignored it.
Instead, he was staring at Jane's visor. The sunlight filter was on low, allowing him to see inside. What had been Jane's face was black and contorted, her beautiful brown eyes bugging out of their sockets.
Coburn's stomach turned over, and he had to swallow to keep the bile down.
Somehow he managed to find his own panic button, and he pressed it two, three, maybe four times.
There was no reason for the Med Alert Team to hurry, but he wanted them here, now, just in case he hadn't understood what he was seeing.
Just in case he was wrong.