Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

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The Ugly: “Truth”

July 23, 2012

For Suz and the girls in the Library.

For any Publisher this is the last part of a literary triptych: Three interludes between the three main Moon based short stories shorts of “Vacant Space.”
(See a previous post for more details.)

The microSat was close to crashing in a couple of orbits. The calculations had been made and the crash site located down to a kilometre or so. Uninhabited for hundreds of km around the projected 1.2m crater. The owners, insurers and the Koreans all breathed a big collective sigh. As did the few astronomers and lunar scientists hoping for an ejecta plume and a bit of free lunar geology. The impact point was on Farside. Better luck next time boffins! There were plenty more birds in an unstable Lunar orbit.
Meanwhile, inboard, a clock was quietly ticking its way down to zero. And that was well before the impending impact…

It’s been a hard day’s fortnight: III The Ugly: “Truth”

Alexi interrupted. As I was chugging some beer. Thirsty work: story telling. Or perhaps it was the moonshine.

‘Sorry, Les my friend but “Brerfox”, “Brerabbit.” Who, what are they?’

‘Oh Br’er means Brother. “B, R apostrophe R, E er… no, ER! “‘
I checked the bottle, nearly empty. Oh. Oh! I soldiered on: “Brother Fox” and “Brother Rabbit.” Animal characters out of an old DisCorp 2D. Nineteen thirties? Or forties. And an old, old old book before that: “Tales of the South” by Uncle Remus. I think. Or Jack London. My father used to read them to me as a child. I’ll dig a reference out for you some time.’

A sudden thought struck.

‘Has anyone heard of Aesop’s Fables? Ancient Greece’ There were a few nods.

‘Well like those fables, only set in the deep south of North America that was. Just after the first civil war.’

One smartaleck, a new chum whipped out a dataPad. Started tapping and gesturing away. I ignored him.

‘So anyway we landed at LunaCit on the southern group of pads close to the Cemetery. A hunting ground where I hoped to turn the tables on my hunter. Our plan B for bad was…’

I got no further.

‘Found it: “Song of the South”… made 1946 …colour animation and live action combined …Oooh! Runtime 94 minutes…’ The new chum(p) continued to spout his superiority with other people’s words. Moments later, he had the film itself. Pirating and porting it onto the screen that Alexi has for the sports and big events.

And that was that. I could hardly blame them. I was that drunk too!

As the old 2D, surprisingly in colour, streamed on, I could see that they had lost interest in my little fishy tale.

Look at the pretty blue birdy.

‘Bitter thoughts Baz.’ Zero echoed into my inner ear.

Yeah. Bitter and twisted. I kept that thought private.

I looked at Alexi and shook my head.

‘Another time, my friend. Another time.’

However I was not sure that I would be able to find the time. I needed a change of scenery. I needed Space.

***

In the tiny four person compartment of the ‘Bug we flew silently over the equally silent, stark silver-grey vacuum desert. A vast emptiness upon which we have barely been able to mark our passing. Let alone fill with life and vitality. Even with a modest pair of binoculars you can see that the Earth is just bursting with life and from low Earth orbit our habitations and despoilments are plain to see with the naked eye. From 12.76 km, our current altitude, we could see nothing but regolith and boulders and the endless matryoshka matrix of crater within crater within crater. The fractal foundations of the Lunar landscape.

I was worried. Something had gone wrong with my ploy. And for the life of me —literally so—  I could not fathom what it was. Yurya had been pretty quiet on the trip out. But now their silence had turned ugly. I chatted inconsequentialities, pointed out landmarks. Played the tourist guide role to the hilt. But behind those eyes, and that damn moustache; my shark was planning something of their own.

Lunar City is in the southern part of the Oceanus Procellarum. In that little flat bit between the rays of Copernicus and Kepler. It is not the oldest Lunar settlement, nor is it the biggest. But it is the only one that is growing. Both in surface area, for reasons that will become apparent, but in population too. It is, at the moment, the “Big City” where everyone in the impoverished Polar boondocks heads for. In the hope of better work and a better life. Lunar City has the biggest and best catapult on Luna. Now (and forevermore ?) under the control of UNSTF. Until the revolution. Comrade.

‘Calling Lunar City flight control this is jumpBug UNSTF Five-Six on approach. Request clearance for a landing at pad complex Gamma. Over.’

‘This is LunaCit Flight, UN five-six. We have a clearance for you on pad nine. Am activating approach beacon and strobe: Channel 76, seven six. Over.”

‘Roger, Lunar City Flight. Pad nine. Channel seven six. Will contact after touchdown. Out.’

‘OK UN fifty six. Don’t bounce her too hard! Out.’

Tapping in those two digits and swiping the “autopilot landing enable” icon is what passes for piloting round here. Out in the wastelands of the limb, it’s a different matter. But around LunaCit nothing flies without precise computer control. Too many valuable surface installations. Unusual. Bearing in mind how most Lunar settlements are worse than the icebergs of old Earth. On the Moon what you see is rarely what you get: only one percent shows above ground. And that’s radiation hardened.

In Luna most of our settlements are buried deep in old lava tubes or under volcanic domes. Or, in the more modern cubic, carved deeper still.  LunaCit was the exception. It sprawled. Not the usual circular sprawl of solar farmlands. Punctuated here and there by the circular barrow of some distant facility: like an old nuclear power plant, useless, abandoned and buried deep. Or an outlying research station now swallowed up by growing arcs of photo-electric glass.

LunaCit was different.

It still had solar glasslands that glittered blackly; sucking up the Sun’s rays. Three arrays radiating out from the central surface installations and out to the low Lunar horizon. Like some radiation symbol.

As we passed overhead on approach: I pointed out the curved sintered regolith maintenance tracks that divided the arcing fields; pathways for the robotic “cows” that endlessly grazed on electrostatically deposited dust. Over there: a “bull” as it replaced a worn out panel in a never ending task.  However these glasslands were small as LunaCit got most of its power from the rectenna over in an adjacent crater. A vast meshwork of wire that sucked in continuous power from the SolSat. A bright equatorial star co-orbiting the primary Earth-Lunar Lagrangian point with its faint tiny companion: Nearside Station.

I indicated the man made constellation above us. Then, below us, the line of the shaded superconducting mains running from Hortensius back to the Gamma locks n’ docks.  Yurya was singularly unimpressed. But I rambled on. Filling the silence with a travelogue: the catapult itself; the one kilometre booster stators; maintenance shacks and shelters and the power lines and rollerBus roadways to the villages growing at the loading head and ejection terminus. From there the wide tracks winding out to the horizon and the mines that delved into the rich ejecta blanket that splatted out from ‘Cop’ and ‘Kep’.

But closer to the surface installations that marked the city centrum and just away from the roads was another landscape. Separate from the familiar glasslands. Something unworldly. Three vast necropoli stretching to the south, the north-east and north-west. From Earth with a good pair of binoculars you could just make out their outline. From closer up the vision was sharper. Stark.  Mondrian mosaics in black and white and endless shades of grey. Chessboards within chessboards within chessboards; a pixilated rendering of former fractal impact craters. Now bulldozed flat in the pursuit of posterity.

Now under the direct control of the autopilot and the ground approach computers. I had nothing to do. I turned to Yurya. “Leo.” I reminded myself firmly, “Leo.”

I found myself looking at a teeny tiny gun.

Gun. Guns! Of course they could have smuggled more than one. Idiot.

“Where did I go wrong’ Deadpan. It looked like a .22 calibre. Low power, anyway. I still had a chance.

‘You called me Yurya.’ So I did. Make that ‘Idiot’ squared.

‘So what do we do about it.’ Casual, bored even.

‘We will land and you and I will have a little walk out there. And only I will walk back.’ Cold, calculating and comically over the top. Yurya was trying to mindgame me. Me!

‘You’re gonna have to come up with a more convincing argument than that little popgun.’

The gun moved upwards a fraction. Aiming for my left eye by the look.

‘I could shoot you in face right here, right now. How many people know you have passenger. Neishtoh! Nobody!’

Well actually my selachial friend, I thought caustically:  LunaPol; UNSTF and my guardian angel Zero. Where was he! I decided to take the initiative. My helmet visor was a shatterproof laminate of glass and plastic. It would stop a .22 round no problem. It might even still be pressure tight afterwards.

‘Aw’chin horror show. Gospodin.  You’all is the bossman. I’ll start to suit up if it’s all the same to you.’ It might work. It didn’t.

‘No. We will land. Then you will tell Control Room we have a temporary pressure problem. Then you will carefully get me ready, whilst I cover you with this.’ A needless gesture with their toy gun. ‘Then you may do the same for yourself and then we will take that little walk. And then you will die.’

Damn. I sighed and complied. Whilst thinking of Gert Frobe and his big ruby red laser. But as a signal to Zero and, it must be said,  partly for my self reassurance… I continued the flim-flam that I had planned anyway. The tables might have been tipped in the mid game. Mostly by my idiot loose tongue. But the end game could still be engineered in my favour.

‘So… Leo. Yurya. Whatever your name is.  It’s a pity it has to end like this. I had intended a nice little side trip to see the fastest growing growth industry on the Moon.’

‘What’s that Mr Lestoutes.’ More mindgames.

‘Burying people, Mr. Gagarinovitch! Burying people! Bit of a joke what with you and your little gun and your little mission here. Lunar City has the major cemetery concession for most of the burials we have here. Because of the catapult.’

‘But a catapult is for launching stuff. Niet?’

‘Well it does that too. A little. Mostly cheap LOX with some platinum and rare earths. But nowadays most of that gets refined out in the Near Earth Orbit and the Main Belt. But you can use a catapult both ways, by fitting big stator rings…’ I was babbling. ‘He’ looked blank.

‘Big electro-magnetic hoops at the far end. With smaller ones the closer you get to launching point. Then you can catch a small container and guide it and slow it electro-magnetically. Generally the container is a casket with some rich Dirt…’ I corrected myself. ‘Some rich person’s remains. Fired off by a catapult up in Low Earth Orbit. The system is used during the long dark lunar night.’  I added  ‘The super-conductin’ elements work better and they use the beamed power from a solar power satellite at Nearside. That way it’s much cheaper than wasting reaction mass. Lunar City is the main catcher for everyone that wants to be buried up here. There you go. All fixed up.’

I had done a good job. In more ways than one! In fitting the P-Suit I had made a few subtle adjustments to minimise the cooling and maximise power use. For good measure, I had slapped a small radio beacon to the back of the backpack. Despite the unexpected gun and the dirty great big one; I was feeling pretty cocky. Mind you I could have done worse: disabled the CO2 removal for one. But my plan was to bring ’em back alive. Half dead from heat prostration. But still alive.

Through the helmet visor I saw the movement of lips. I could just hear the words.

‘But why be buried up here. It’s desolate.’ I could see Yurya was playing for time. Checking for sabotage.

I feigned deafness by cupping an ear. And quoting Buzz:

‘Magnificent desolation.’ I had dropped my voice level slightly. The cabin was still pressurised and sounds were muffled more than silenced. But Yurya had no real experience with any of this.

I gestured to my helmet and the radio controls on the commPad attached to the forearm of my P-Suit.

‘If you want to talk, I’ve gotta put this on.’ Even lower level.

Inside, Yurya nodded. Of course the helmet didn’t move a centimetre. Definitely a new chum mistake. Us old lags use the old diving signals, along with sign language. Mostly to chat privately at a longer range than helmet to helmet.  But sometimes the Satcomms are really FUBARed for one reason or another.

Once I was suited up, sealed and checked, I did a radio check. Yurya repeated their question.

‘But why be buried up here?’

By now we had landed and as far as the eye could see: there were little cemetary plots. Some tiny patches of ground with nothing more than a little casket. Others much larger with  markers: monoliths. Some of these: one by four by nine! Arthur C. Clarke would have approved.

“I think it’s the timelessness that appeals. Some people just don’t like the thought of rotting away in the ground. And whilst they like the idea of being burned: purified in the fire. But then how do you dispose of your ashes. Bury ’em in the ground? Well you could build a tomb or sepulchre or something.  But on Earth they are recycling the cemetaries. Not enough room. So what chance of Eternity there. Here on the Moon we have lots of surface. Most of the work and play takes place in the cubic below. And there is a lot more cubic than surface.’

Damn right I was playing for time. After all I had it on my side.

‘Way back. Two centuries or so. Some bright spark had a nice little scam selling “Moon Plots” to the gullible. Well this time it’s for real. For a reasonable sum you get a one hundred square centimetre plot. For a little more cash a big one square metre one. For a small fortune: ten square metres on which to build a monument for posterity until the Sun inflates and swallows up the Moon, the Earth and …’

Yurya interupted with a gesture punctuated by the pop gun.

‘Time to go Mr. Lestoutes.’ At that point reaching down to pick up the ‘camera case.’

I leapt and pushed the bending figure over. Hard. Then slapped the emergency depress.

The hatch blew with a satisfactory “Chuff” that you could hear before the vacuum silenced it. Prepared, I used the outrush of air to propel myself through the empty hole where the hatch had been and out into the empty Lunar sky.

Now the hunt was really on. But back on my terms.

Afterwards I found a little .22 bullet lodged in my PLSS backpack. The kevlar had absorbed most of the impact but it cost UN$ 200 for a new cover!

I didn’t notice it at the time.

I headed out for some of the larger plots and the better cover they afforded. Before I had got half way I was joined by a remote bouncer.

‘Zero where were you.’  Not a question. His calm monotones, projected right into my inner ear, helped to steady racing nerves.

‘I calculated that a discrete silence would be better. I know you like to talk your way out of situations that you have talked your way into.’ Make that a sarcastic monotone. I don’t know just how he did it. But do it, he did. And very well! Better with the new vocoder.

‘You didn’t say anything at the time!’ I wasn’t complaining exactly. But it is good to have a conversation when you are in fear of your life. Even if your saviour is currently avatared in the form of a metal and ceramic Jiminy Cricket used to inspect the monuments and keep an eye on the few mourners.

‘The best probabilities indicated a better performance… if  you had made the realisation yourself. Contrarily: if I had told you of your verbal faux pas; you would have worried throughout the trip back and that would have reduced the odds in your favour even further. Actually Baz, the fact that you did not…”

‘Later Zero, let’s just keep it RealTime from here on in.’

‘However my time was not wasted,’  he continued smoothly. ‘I have patched in to the radio beacon you planted and can pipe it straight to your optical implant as needed. Also I have suborned a spare telescope at Nearside Station ‘ It can just make out the jumpBug but the resolution is too poor to see you or Yurya. So I hijacked this remote and will use it instead to keep an eye on Yurya. Whom, I might add,  is less than four hundred metres away and gaining on you.’

I loped furiously for cover.

What followed next would be a careful balancing act. I had to conserve power and water and oxygen and my own energy as well. All the while whilst trying to make Yurya expend the maximal amount of consumables possible. Stoney’s secondhand P-Suit, optimised for the cold, would not stand these late morning temperatures well. With luck the adjustments I had made would help and I had much better reserves.

Yurya paused somewhere under cover to reassemble the portable cannon. I could tell it was ready when a large chunk of monolith exploded. Showering me with fragments of razor sharp obsidian.

‘That was too close. Zero can you spot ’em.’

I screwed my eyes tight shut. Not easy to to when you are being shot at!

Pressure pads in my forehead muscles switched on my nerve feed and my left eye turned into a primitive LCD display: 640x 320 pixels. The program Zero had running made it look like a game of Pacman! Coincidence? Or a subtle attempt at humour by Zero. Yeah.

Yurya was to the west heading east. I bounced high but not too high in an eastward arc. Killed my vector on landing and headed west, loping in long low shallow arcs and using the cover to they to get behind. This was the basis of plan B for Bad. The theme ran through my mind but I had no oxygen -or breath- to waste on whistling. I would feint and force my shark to swim too far in the wrong direction. Whilst I would spend my time inside the circle of their search. Expending minimal effort to maximal effect.

The game of cat and mouse, of shark and clownfish played out under a static waning Earth and the rising Sun. Hours passed, most of it spent crouched behind one: one by four by nine monolith or another. Resting in the shade whilst Yurya rushed on by. Then when my display blipped they were a good distance away: I would pop up so that they could take a pot shot at me. Going by what we had seen at the relay station, Zero had calculated that the magazine would be good for eight shots.

Yurya used one of them to take out the remote. Figuring that I was getting outside help. Smart kid. And not a waste of a shot. That bouncer had been able to save my skin twice and still had good fuel reserves through Zero’s superior control. Since they had already wasted two shots at the relay station. That left five to waste me.

Or so Zero had calculated. Unfortunately even super intelligent Autonomous Intellects can get it wrong! At least that is my contention.

Four, five and six had been shots to nothing; at extreme range and always when I was moving. During a high Lunar bounce you are pretty much an easy target. Especially at the peak of the arc. But there are acrobatic tricks: flinging out arms and legs to change your vector slightly. However Yurya was becoming a better shot. Shell number seven passed close enough to see. After that the hunt became a stalking match. No more wasted shots.

Despite that I was feeling good. I had just been zapped by a GCR and was feeling good about that too! ‘cos chers you don’t often get a chance to see one of ’em. Not if you have any sense that is. I had 4.68 KiloSeconds of air and another 3.6 klicks emergency reserve. My cooling was good. I still had a litre or so of water and I had just had a piss. So there would be more water available in a couple of tocks. As Zero might say in his inimitable style, especially with his new vocoder “Satisfactory.” No. My main constraint was my power. My suit power was good, for just under 5 kSec. But my personal power was fading fast. My neural implant drew quite a bit. Much more than the old bone phone in my mastoid and its ancillary hardware. Baz’s shoulder batteries needed a recharge!

So when Yurya fired their ‘last’ cannon shell. And I had been a particularly tempting target, until I used a passing monumental spire to suddenly change direction. After that I decided to take action and end this charade. As if a Dirtsider new chum(p) would have a chance against an old Lunar lag like me! I landed and circled round intending to take them out from the rear. Specifically take out what remained of their life support. Which couldn’t be much.

By now I had drawn us into the part of the cemetary closest to the Gamma locks n’ docks. Being closest, it was also the most prized and priced. Large plots filled with temple complexes that would make the Pharaohs green with envy. But rather than ancient mud brick, these monuments were mostly assembled from regulation sized sintered regolith bricks; stacked mortarless like some child’s construction toy. No wind. No rain and damn few moonquakes. The site for the catapult had been carefully selected for tectonic stability. The architectural styles varied from ancient pyramids to strange geometries from beyond time and space.

It was from one of those that I nabbed my weapon. A rectangular roof tile roughly half by a quarter metre. Spotted from a previous high viewpoint it glittered: a slice of meteoritic iron. The tile had a blunt edge, of sorts, but it was weighty. F=MA. It felt like attacking someone with a tea tray but it was the best weapon to hand.

Unfortunately my hasty exit from the jumpBug had left me with no weapon. As you know by now, have an aversion to guns at the best of times but I had thought to pack an impressive looking grippy in the portable tool kit I had brought along. Also packed with the various tools and spares that I thought might be needed when Stoney’s rented suit expired from overuse. The grippy was used for major leverage and with it’s weighty battery packs made for a good impromptu club. Probably about as much use as Yurya’s toy popgun against a well padded P-Suit but I thought it looked sufficiently intimidating.

Unfortunately Yurya had figured out my tactics pretty well and my element of surprise was spoilt by something. Perhaps it was a sixth sense. Perhaps it was a glint from the tea tray bouncing off of a reflective surface. Perhaps it was the ground shock from the landing of my last bounce.

Whatever it was Yurya turned and fired.

Zero and I still have arguments about this. Zero is adamant that he stated that the magazine was good for eight shells and that naturally as any gun expert would know, that meant a ninth shell in the chamber.

To which I would reply that I was not a gun expert. That he never mentioned the possibility, or the figure nine and that it was common practice not to load the chamber in case of a misfire or mishap.

It helps pass the time. One of those old arguments between friends that make a friendship worthwhile. Or not speak to each other for Cycles.

Meanwhile I was just a little too shocked to figure out where the ninth bullet had come from. Indeed I saw the muzzle flash and felt a bang on my left knee pad before the whole leg went numb. I was now in bullet time. Crisis mode when things slow down to glacial speed and your thinking becomes super-cold, super-critical.

Yurya had shot from the hip. The portable howitzer was designed to be fired from a secured braced firing position. Action and reaction are equal and opposite. Chump.
Well you get the picture. The tiny spacesuited figure was flung back violently. Spinning around from the offcentred thrust and smashing into a grey brick wall with sufficient force to dislodge some of the bricks.
It’s now or never.  I thought and found that the tea tray had slipped through my clumsy gloved fingers. And my thigh was hurting. And there was an alarm.

Too many things to process. Another bounce, on the right leg as the left wasn’t working too well and I was there. Leaning over the recumbent form of my would be assassin. First things first. I took that nasty big gun and the little one too and tossed it into the gap behind the busted wall. Then filling in the hole with the bricks as best I could. With the last brick to hand I started pounding away with it. Smashing the fitting of the umbilical where it met the backpack with a good couple of blows. Just why I was doing this at this point: I was not sure. Except that it had been the plan and it seemed a good thing to do at the time. The ugly truth: I was in a killing rage. Displacement the psychologists call it. Taking it out on the PLSS. Rather than smashing in a faceplate.

Inside the suit there would be air for about 600 seconds.

I grabbed the body and shook it roughly.

‘Yurya you idiot. Wake up!’  Helmet to helmet.  I felt motion.

Shtoh… Shtoh sloocheelas?” Russian for sure.
‘What happen.’ The voice was feverish and stunned. Definitely stunned.

‘You tried to kill me. Again.” For some reason my anger had drained away and I was feeling a little lightheaded. I shook some more.

Stoy, ahstanavis. Slushaimenya!‘ I had exhausted my phrasebook Russian, ‘and get a grip Yurya. Or whatever your name is. I have just disabled your main life support. Your emergency reserve will last for an hour. Your guns are gone.  If you are sensible you will walk back to Lunar City. Nice… And… Slow… Without exerting yourself and you should just make it. Then go back to Dirtland, Earth. I mean and never, ever return to the Moon.” I punctuated the sentences with more violent shaking.

My good deed done, I relaxed. And then the pain kicked in.

For the first time I looked down at my left leg. There was a long tear about ten centimetres long. Through which I could see ice white flesh and frozen dried blood.

Merde! Without thinking further, I reached for the biggest suit patch on the chest pack and pulled the big tab. It peeled away as it was designed to and I carefully placed it over the rip. Pressing down hard.

‘Dear God let it work!’ The second part of the operation over, I checked my air reserve: 1.32 klicks. Not good. Then noted that that was the emergency reserve. Worse.

‘Yurya or whatever your name is I have to go. Remember what I said. Connect up your emergency reserve. Here’s the umbilical.’ I placed it in a trembling hand. ‘Oodah chee!

On the way back, hopping on one foot for all I was worth,  I could now feel the inflatable pressure seals that were keeping me alive. When the lower half of the suit depressurised, it had automatically deployed above and below the knee joint and around the upper and lower half of the torso. My air was good, my body temperature ditto. But I could feel the warm blood, as it filled my left boot. But that was both good and bad. Good because the leg was still alive and bad if the bullet had hit the femoral artery. Things could get ugly if it had.

In between landings, I repeated a mantra over the emergency band.

“Mayday. Mayday. This a medical emergency. I am inbound on foot. Heading for the public gangLock at the Gamma locks. I have lost suit integrity and an injury to my left leg. Blood loss. AB positive. I repeat: AB Positive.  The air supply should be sufficient. But I might not be.”

I kept repeating this as the locks n’ docks got closer and closer and things got hazier and hazer. Rather than dominate the emergency band I also listened out for Yurya. Nothing. With nothing to do mid bounce, I took some time out to fiddle with the radio. Tuning in to the band we had used for private communications.  

All I could hear was cursing in fluent Russian. Gradually fading away. Then at the last a whispered “Yulia, Yulia.” A loved one? A mother?

Two bounces later, I was at the airlock. Which: “Praise be” was opening with a medical team coming out. I collapsed gratefully into their arms.

***

Yulia was lying on the slab. At least I guess that’s what her name was. Something to go on anyway. By now I was there in person. Ostensibly for a close look at her tattoos; all too much in the flesh. My flesh was still weak but the medics had dosed me up with pain killers. Wonderful pain killers! Via their euphoric haze and the aid of a wheeled zoomer frame: I was just about able to get about. Even in one sixth gee it was still difficult. It was just an excuse. I needed to see my nemesis in the flesh. Somehow I felt that I owed it to her.   

Nude her gamine form seemed even more slight than “Yurya’s” Little girl breasts; incongrously tattooed with death’s heads, SS symbols and, just above the light fluff of her mons, the jagged lightning used by the Russian far right.

“Seventeen” according to the autopsy. “Oxygen starvation and heat stroke.”

In death her damned moustache was starting to peel off.

After taking close-up shots of the inkwork in order to identify her. I bribed the MediTechs for a DNA sample. LunaPol may have closed the book on this one but mine was just opening.

Appendix I: Metric Time (Abstracted from R n’ R A Space Operatic supplement for The Art™)

Tick 10 Seconds [Rarely: “Dek” “DekaSecond” Ds is always capitalised. “dS” is used for the deciSecond.]

Tock 100 Seconds [Rarely: “Hek” “HectoSecond” Hs 1.67 t-min “Terrestrial minutes” “t” is a aways lower case, always hyphenated to distingush it from Tera rather than Terra.]

Turn Colloquially: “Klick” 1 KiloSecond [16.6…6 t-min. Some Telluric *Cultures still refer to this as a “quarter of an hour” even though it isn’t.]

Ship Hour” 3.3…3 KSec [55.5…5 t-min, 0.9259…259  t-hours. Obscure.]

(Work) Session Colloquially: “Klock” 10KSec [166.67 t-min; 2.7…7 t-hours. Generally Crew working a strict on-duty Long Shift are allowed an end of Session break: 2-3 Tocks for toilet, snack and drink. )]

(Work) Shift 25 KSec [6.94…4 t-hrs. Passenger (& thus Service Crew) time. Four catering Shifts to a Ship Cycle. 6.94…4 t-Hrs each {Midnight} Snack Shift; {Dawn} Breakfast Shift; {Midday} Luncheon Shift; {Dusk} Dinner Shift (Midnight) Shifts also described as ForeNight; AfterNight; ForeNoon and AfterNoon]
Note that artificial lighting is set accordingly. Bright light at Dawn is used to reset circadian rhythm. Terrestrial Passengers are encouraged to nap after luncheon.

Watch aka “Long Shift” 33.33KSec [9.26 t-Hrs Crew Time. Three Shifts to a Ship Cycle usually Bridge and Technical Crew]

Cycle 100KSec “Ship Day“; 1666.67 t-min; 27.78 t-hrs 1.15740…740 t-days

10 Cycles MSec Ship Week” colloquially “MegaWeek”; 11.57 t-days ‘Regular’ item Maintenance schedule.

100 Cycles 10 MSec Ship Month” colloquially “MegaMonth”; 115.74 t-days ‘Routine’ item Maintenance schedule.

1000 Cycles 100 MSec Ship Year” 1157.4 t-days ‘Retuning’ item Maintenance schedule.

10 Ship Years 1 Tera Second “Deckade” [sic] ‘Refit’ Maintenance schedule.

Timekeeping
Hominids using the terrestrial second and analog watches have: a sweep second hand for precise timing plus:
– a Tock hand for timing e.g. soft boiled eggs: ==2 Tocks;
– a Turn hand divided into 10 for Ship Cycles and also the local planetary day
Digital watches can be set for anything;  including old fashioned minutes and hours.

Appendix II: Whimsey

The Art™ of Alexi Yangel Minor (?) NPC (Generated as an afterthought!)

First impressions. Whooo! Spooky Tarot session…

Alexi spat forth almost instantly from his Fate Deck with no opportunity for maxing out his stats in a Pattern. From long experience this indicates an NPC with a very short lifespan. The Players tend to put them in situations that allow the D/M to kill them off! As a literary device Alexi is now more of a problem child than he was before. Some research is needed here I think and Alexi may have to be worked into Sayonara as a major element.
Bother!
 
Significator: The Tower. First card too! Interesting! Alexi is obviously building a new one out of the ruins of the old Barmin Base. But The Tower is much more than that. A serious character flaw gets exploited. Or perhaps or a catastrophic, even fatal, mistake lies ahead. Perhaps involving Baz!
We shall see.

LifePath (other Major Arcana revealed):  Justice; The World. Short and sweet. Neither reversed. Well obviously… but that would be too obvious. I will see if Alexi turns up in Baz’s future. If so I shall look into Alexi’s past a little more esoterically.

Disabilities: Ace of Pentacles Curiouser and curiouser. Second card revealed!

Alexi has a minor intellectual weakness. Alchoholism is too obvious, too easy and I don’t think a drug dependancy would be in character. These are physical rather than mental addictions. Perhaps a phobia… or a philia! Alexi has some sort of compulsion that regularly causes his plans to come tumbling down. But not crashing down. Waiting is…

Enhancements (Royalty)
King of Pentacles (+4 D/S; +14)  Eureka moment. And he needs it! (See below.) Also personified as his technical assistant: Valdiclauw; since he is already there! An older steadying figure in Alexi’s life. Alexi would be a Knight of Pentacles if personified by a Royal card. It was the first card I noted when shuffling Alexi’s Fate Deck.

Queen of Cups (+3 D/S; +13) Good health, Alexi has a cast iron constitution and a platinum catalytic converter for a liver. Personified a companion perhaps. A Doctor at another Russian Outpost? Baba Yaga? Varoomshka! Babooshka!! TBD.

Mimeses (Unsurprisingly: woeful…) Oh well in Luna even a 90 lb weakling can get by.

Deftness (Wands): 3. Alexi is a hairsbreadth away from being a complete klutz! He works slowly, methodically and takes frequent breaks to make sure that a sudden move won’t break something! In a one gee field he is even worse!

Acumen (Pentacles): 3. Here we have a quandary as Alexi is no simpleton. He is obviously no genius. Except that occasionally he gets an IDEA (King of Pentacles) on how to utilise some ruined equipment in a new fashion. Nevertheless his engineering skills are essentially empirical tinkering rather than calculated precision mechanics. That’s Valdiclauw’s job.

Vigour (Cups): 5 Alexi has a normal healthy body. Getting better.

Expediency (Swords): 8 Alexi’s interpersonal skills are his best metier! Whilst no flim-flam artiste, (Swords Royalty would have helped!) …Alexi is good with people. Making friends easily and convincing them to do business his way.

SKILLS

Speciality: +19 “Convince others to do things my way. Even when it is not in their best interests to do so!”

Mastery: Blank for future development.
Mastery: +16 “Take something useless and make it useful to everyone and (occasionally) very useful to someone special!” The personal element was needed for the addition of Expediency. (Not Deftness.)

Expertise: Blank for future development.
Expertise: do.
Expertise: +11 The Constructivist Movement (Russia, 1920’s) (A+E)
I shall do some research here!

Generalities
Just one of each for starters:
Deftness (One of three): +3  “Pick up the pieces and put them back together… perfectly”. (Invisible Mending.) Note: If Alexi plays a King of Pentacles anything broken is now working better than new! +4 D/S +14 enhanced (fixed) widgit.
Acumen (One of three): +3 Deconstructionist thinking for fun and profit
Vigour (One of five): +5 Suddenly sober up, pull self together and act.
Expediency (One of eight): +8 Patch up broken relationships.

As a freebie and as a D/M why not!

Special: Alexi uses his Mastery to make his family remedy: a miracle hangover cure handed down from mother (Justice?) to son over the generations. The concotion is a closely guarded secret and differs from person to person. Baz’s involved the flesh and juice of a coconut There are coconuts under the north pole of the Moon!; 500 gm microbial protein, two fingers of vodka and the secret recipe of certain herbs and spices. Unfortunately he will need your Significator to make it!

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h1

The Bad: “Mistake.”

June 16, 2012

For Pat and the girls in the Library.

For any Publisher this is the second part of a triptych: Three interludes between the three main shorts of “Vacant Space.”

(See previous post for more details.)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

II The Bad: “Mistake.”

The microSat descended lower and lower, its orbit now highly elliptical and near polar. At points mere tens of kilometers from the higher crater walls and mountain peaks. The owners panicked. Just a small holding company with the rights to space junk that no-one in their right minds would expend the delta-vee to salvage. Their insurers were worried: sending urgent comms back to the launching nation. In Seoul midnight oil began to burn as its onboard computers steadfastly refused any official orders. It was now officially a rogue.

Unofficially everything was going to plan. The microSat responding perfectly to any command sequence prefaced with the right code word…

Naturally it was Zero who first picked up my tail. Although he keeps an eye on things Dirtside, he mostly concentrates his focus on the local Lunar networks. Easier. Less of a stretch. Or so he says. Mind you, I can understand his sentiment: a communications lag of one point five seconds would seem an eternity to an intelligence that thinks at the speed of light. There was one added bonus. Since the cisLunar Net naturally includes the various G-Synch habitats of the Corporates, it also includes their secure satellite communication arrays. Thus any data worth having, passes through this select group of nodes that Zero has already staked out.

‘Like shooting fish in a barrel.’ I quipped.

‘More like Mr. Grizzly poaching some really big and really smart spawning salmon in some fast-moving waters.’ Was his reply. (Yes he had upgraded his vocoder I think we can all be happy for that!)

When he spots something highly encrypted, making a leap for Dirtside, or vice versa, he takes it as a personal challenge and swipes it. The bulk of the traffic he can practically read on the fly. After all, at his core, this was what he was designed for. Fly Phishing.

So when this new fish or new chum as we like to call them, (The “p” is silent.) …travelling business class up from the MotherWell. Then books in to the cheapest capsule bunkhouse in Luna. Well something starts to stink and alarm bells started to ring. As usual in my left ear. Causing me to spill my breakfast coffee. But fortunately catching most of it, before it had a chance to hit the floor. Real beans. Real coffee. Priceless!

The new fish’s name also gave me pause: “Yurya Gagarinovitch!” Who was ‘he’ kidding! However at this stage and in these times; travelling under an assumed name and identity was common sense and common place. After all I had done it enough in the last century.

Afterwards I discovered, via Zero’s perfect 20:20 cosmic retrovision, that it took them some 86400 seconds to get themselves sorted. Still on 24/7 Dirtsider time at that stage and probably assembling, or obtaining, that rather hefty scanner proof firearm. I shudder to think how they smuggled in the explosive charges! Then their hunt was on.

Meanwhile Zero had started his.

Their ID was also fishy: the bare minimum for a Lunar visa and basic ID, passport etc.  Critically Yurya had no real digital signal back on Earth and specifically: Bosnia, where they claimed to have been born. Burnt schools, missing records. The usual excuses for a non-person. However from my last little foray into the Balkans; Bosnia was all I really needed to know. Call it a hunch.

Zero calls it “pure guesswork of the lowest order” and a number of less repeatable opinions.

Despite my “guesswork of the lowest order”: as far as we knew, our new fish could be a genuine corporate flunky travelling undercover to maintain an edge in some cutting edge business deal. Or some high-flying CorpRat up to no good. There was a high probability: 0.47 according to Zero, that our anonymous low rent businessman might just be scamming their expenses. Or planning an expensive treat during their stay. We had some false alarms before, so Zero only set a small part of himself aside to track our new fish to see if they were a capsule bunked corporate sardine. Or a something more predatory. Like a shark.

From first appearances: definitely a sardine. Yurya was short: 151 cm and light 41 kg.  And young.  Barely looking the twenty-one claimed on the visa. On the ID, the only photo we had, he looked even younger. Eighteen? Nineteen? Perhaps one of those cute boys that the girls fall for but probably falls for other cute boys? With so little to go on, what else could I do but speculate wildly!

As it happened I had some old unofficial business to tie up at NHK and some new unofficial business to tout for. Digging up an official excuse for a visit was trivial as LunaPol is a very unfussy boss. I made no attempt to conceal my departure. Officially logged on the Shackleton to New Hong Kong passenger lists for everyone to see. Sure enough the new fish was on the very next jumpBug out with a thru connection to the High Kingdom. More significantly: using a new fake ID and credit key. This time “Valentin Tereshch!” Also from Bosnia. Another alarm bell. Louder. This time in the middle of the night: 02:23 (Beijing time). I immediately contacted my LunaPol handler who was quite understanding. But disturbingly non-commital. I put this down to LunaPol’s full confidence that yours truly would be able to fix the situation without any furore. Just to make sure, I kept my head down in the Chinese territories and then, after making fulsome apologies to my hosts, hopped onto the next passenger jumpBus for the boondocks: Armstrong Base, Peary Crater, North Pole. Few corporate flunkies or flyers would want to go there. Except perhaps from my former motherland: the Former United States of America. Yeah right!

No. I felt that my selachial friend had tipped their hand. Or should that be their sharp shark like dorsal fin? And this shark was fast! It took them well under the Cycle, that’s the new 100 KiloSecond metric day of the NEO Colonials that us ex-pats use in Luna. Despite the  inconvenience. Or perhaps because of it. Here in Luna the old style Greenwich spacetime is pretty useless. As is UTC unless you are an astronomer.

Call it eighteen or so “hours” to make it easier for any of you poor Earthsiders allowed to read this.  

This was no coincidence.

This was no Corporate sardine!

My shark for sure had found my scent and had tracked me. Even to the back of beyond. It took some fancy footwork to avoid an encounter and still make it look like a near miss. Coincidental rather than carefully calculated. I didn’t want to tip my finny friend that their prey was playing them!

So it was merest ‘coincidence’ that our shark ,was sardined in a cramped and sweaty shirt-sleeve rollerBus – along with ten or so others. Delayed by Zero’s ‘faulty’ pressure seal signal between the bus lock and its designated docking port. Whilst I, in my nifty personal pressure suit, strolled out to the very same jumpBus they had arrived in! Just to make sure I paraded around the bus pantomiming disgust at the shoddy state the old American base was in. Not easy to do in a P-Suit!

I hope they got a chance to see.

After another zig to their zag at CorpRat Korolev; by the end of the week I was back at Shackleton and Zero was devoting a little more attention to my continued survival. Making damn sure that I was never exposed for long enough for them to draw a bead. By now he was tracking this shark better than the shark was tracking me! Definitely no sardine, now. They had booked into a cheap public doss house. Way better than the capsule hotel they had started out in. Perhaps they realised that the hunt would be more difficult than expected. A capsule is OK for an overnight sleep but as long term accommodations? “The longer the better,” as I remarked to Zero, not so much in fear of my life. But rather to build a level of  frustration in our selachial friend so that they would be tempted to do something foolish.

Like reveal just how they intended to take me out.

Zero and I had discussed the possibilities. Or rather I had made silly suggestions and he fired back the calculated probabilities: usually below 0.1. The highest probability was some sort of gun. But what type?  We set up a sure fire close encounter, where my would be assassin would get an opportunity to make the hit. And miss. Or so I hoped.

***

Somehow a fourth full shot glass had appeared in front of me. And so had the bottle. And so had Alexi. I awarded each with a slow suspicious look. With one eye shut for the bottle and with both eyes open and raised eyebrows for Alexi as a bonus. I suspected that by the end of the evening that it would be empty and I would be too.

He sat down at my table. Like the chairs, made from light foamed regolith but topped with a millimeter thin veneer of marbled nickel iron meteorite that caught the light just so. Under its protective glaze of vacuum deposited glass. Here in Luna we may lack wood  Or any organics for that matter. But there is a stark beauty in our local materials that is, for want of a better word: unearthly.

The bottle was another fine example of local Lunar make do. That still manages to aspire to artistic merit. This glass was better refined. Alexi had perfected something: still with that grey smokey translucency but he had added some stardust. Glints of raw cosmic nickel iron; straight from some supernova: lightyears away in time and space. Tiny little meteoritic tailings extracted magnetically as the first stage in extracting pure silica. Then Alexi had it engraved: “Ole XXXentuxea Rocket Bourbon.”

Paper is too precious for a mere label.

‘Tell me about it comrade.’ Alexi’s voice was soft. His English: pan-European, rather than American.

‘Unfortunately I can’t tovarishch,’ I replied in a moment of unguarded candour.
‘Someday I will dictate a book and beam you a proof. But here’s “Budmo!” to y’all anyway.’ I carefully saluted him with the full glass.

That got a round of “Heys” from the other regulars who had, unlike Alexi, sensed my desire for solitude. Liquid lightning hit the mouth, gullet and stomach. Another layer of comforting fuzz filled the brain. I had been such an idiot.

Alexi is one of us, a small group of ex-pats that have renounced our native countries. Me: Florida Free State, Southern States Alliance. Former USA. Him: Ukraine. Former USED. Former CIS..And before that: former CCCP! Now officially both UN citizens. Officially stateless: “displaced persons” with no terrestrial ties. Or taxes! This lunar we’re officially the “Revolutionary Soviet of the Lunar Republics.” The name changes regularly when we regularly get together to right the wrongs of the worlds and regularly get royally drunk. We make plans. Very clever. Very devious plans. Sometimes, afterwards, we remember them!

As yet there are only a few independents here in Luna but we are growing. One day there will be a lunar dawn comrade. And the lunar dawn comes at liquid lightning speed.

‘What is it that you can tell me?’ Alexi isn’t the barman, he is generally too busy for that. The Fischer King is mostly run on automatics but he has the gift of empathy that gets “worthless junk” for free. Then convinces others to part with cold hard cash for” valuable antiques from the Lunar Boom”. Or their own recycled carbon dioxide for that matter.

Back down the MotherWell, Alexi Yangel (Yes that Yangel. Grandfather.) …was an Energia engineer and a good one. Too good. So rather than promote, his Russian superiors had him: remote. One year it would be with ESACorp. at Kourou. Working on a project that was planned to fail. The next six months with some Chinese University on a probe to nowhere. Then a secondment to ASA at the Darwin Test Range. A third generation hypersonic which was actually going places, before they reeled him back in again. So when the position of Chief Engineer here at Barmin Base was offered; he knew that his RosKos superiors were abandoning their North Polar Outpost. But knowing this gave him an edge. And an opportunity.

‘I have to move on.’ Carefully re-arranging the four empty shotglasses into a 3D pyramid.

‘Now and in the near future.’ I added. Staggering up and heading down ramp for the toilet.  I needed some time to think of a lie for Alexi. But I wanted it to be the truth. I also suddenly found I needed a pee.

The Fischer King’s toilets are a local landmark. For us locals. Here at the North Pole we don’t get much tourist trade and what we do get, wouldn’t know how to get to us. Being as how it is in the middle of a long  abandoned lunar silicon and glass refinery. Originally designed for the usual photocells then repurposed many times over the decades. At its last gasp: it was making optical cable for no readily apparent reason. Alexi uses huge bundles of it to pipe cheap daylight into the deeps of his containment. Like the toilets on the level below, where fountains of light illuminate the luxurious and immaculate interior. Appointed with combination water closets and  bidets designed for use by either hand. For the men there is the added bonus of a row of urinals that are deep and narrow; specially designed to avoid low gee splashback. And worse. All made out of foamed regolith but with a white silky enamelled finish that was a delight to sit on. The hand washing stations were especially cunning, with a mist to moisten and bactericial gel and recyclable wipes to dry. No chance of a free handful of water! Short of the toilet bowl! In another compartment there is the piece de resistance: a two person shower stall! He charges five UN$ per Tock which is a pretty good rate this far off the tourist trail. The shower too was especially cunning. The water was any temperature you liked but contained a foaming astringent that left a foul taste in the mouth. It is also a good idea to bring along two pairs of goggles to protect your eyes. If the two of you are planning anything ‘long term.’

 Alexi was silent on matters connecting the lavatory below us to the chaotic chemical laboratory surrounding us on all sides. The latter resembled a junkpile more than anything else. Some of the pile was actually functioning. But rarely doing what it was originally designed for. The rest was still junk. Just waiting for that moment of inspiration for it to find purpose again.

Alexi’s bar was a different matter. He didn’t need to explain anything, ‘cos any idiot could see that by selling small quantities of water with large quantities of alcohol and salty snacks into the bargain. In return we would provide large quantities of water with extra added nitrogen and hydrogen! With the off-chance of large presents of valuable organics.

The Fisher King wasted nothing.

I made full use of the facilities. After all Alexi had stood me a couple of rounds and it gave me time to think. Honesty is the best policy. I told myself. Zero picked up the sub-vocalisation.

‘It generally is, Baz. It generally is.’ He too sensed my mood but then he knew what had brought it on.

‘But best not to mention me.’ He added. I nodded as if he were there. Idiot that I am.

‘Later Zero.’ I semi-whispered. ‘Listen in and give me a warning if I start to spill too much.’

Serving myself at the bar, I brought back two half litre steins of near beer, a continental style lager that still manages to be a vast improvement on the American beers I was used to back home. With an alcoholic strength easily matching any potent Dirtside brew. The secret: the beer was not entirely synthetic, as Alexi used an extract from the real hops he grows in the old hydroponics facility. A small bonsai forest of: Sloes; Junipers; Elder and other flavoursome bushes and shrubs. As well as small amounts of nuts, dates and other fresh fruit and vegetables, cultivated by Dirtside desert farmers. The beer is expensive: three times the cost of an equivalent amount of spirit but I needed that beer in order to replace the water I had just lost. Alexi sells distilled water too but I get it cheaper back in my co-op apartment.

Anyway I was here to get drunk.

Budmo!‘ We toasted each other. The “Heys” a bit more spirited.

‘Gather round friends.’ I gestured with the stein. Carefully. As liquids tend to get loose real easy round these here parts.

‘I’ll tell you a little fishy tale about a sardine and a shark and some of it will be true!’

The seven or so regulars and one or two new chums gathered around the table.

OK so I spilled my guts.

However it was with a certain amount of delicious malice that I left out Zero’s contribution to the affair. Implying that it was my superior intellect, technical skills and outstanding detective work that had saved the day and saved my skin. Anything computerish, I implied, was the help of a computer technician named ‘Mike’, an anonymous LunaPol colleague; working after hours and extremely unofficially. So keep it quiet guys. Actually the help I had from LunaPol was minimal. Except in the cover up afterwards.

I had gotten to the part where I was to be shot at, when I was interrupted. By Valdiclauw, I think it was. An old lag from the old days of Barmin Base. When he spoke, which was a rare event, people listened:  ‘But how did you know was gun. You could be poisoned or suit sabotaged. Many ways for assassin to get you. But why someone want to kill you in first place.’

‘Well that is a long story Vladi and one day I intend to sell it.’ I replied. ‘So I ain’t goin’ to tell y’all here. But to cut it short chers: I was involved with a girl …make that two girls. Step-sisters after a fashion. Anyway. One father did approve and the other father didn’t and neither of them approved of each other. And before I knew it. I was in the middle of a very extended family feud. Which was naturally all my fault. And which naturally escalated since they all came from different tribes. Soon I had half of Geg County after me. That’s northern Albania. You know where they have long memories. And longer guns. Lots of guns. They chased me all the way across Europe and now all the way to Luna it would seem.’

There was a respectful silence at this near fabrication. I basked in their collective awe.

‘As to the gun,’ I continued. ‘I didn’t know! But for food poisoning you need a restaurant where you know your target will be. And who eats in restaurants?’

Nodding heads. Like most round the table we dined on cheap freeze dried ration packs, usually well past their use by date. Reconstituted with expensive hot water.

“But I did consider sabotage.” I lied. ‘Every time I stowed my suit in a public locker facility…’ (I didn’t, in fact whenever I was outside of Zero’s argus like eyes, I practically slept in the thing. ‘Cos chers I did expect a bomb! Explosive decompression? No thank you. Messy.) ‘…I left a tell-tale to see if the locker door had been opened. And a couple of times I set up a security spy eye to see if I could catch them. But they didn’t show.”

That last bit was true. Zero had caught glimpses of Yurya going from here to there. Always with an armoured flight case chained to their wrist . I guessed it contained a gun, or at least the means by which they hoped to kill me. And posing as a courier they would be unlikely to be stopped by any local corporate security. But our shark was an elusive fish; avoiding the few public areas and public cams that were part of Zero’s private surveillance network. I seriously thought of a sneak into Yurya’s doss house cubby, to plant a few bugs. But the damn thing was so small that they would be bound to scan them. And that would alert them that someone was onto them. Instead, Zero suggested that my suit might be a suitable bait for our shark. If nothing else to get a close look and better photo ID. Better still: fingerprints and perhaps some DNA. But as I said it was a bust. A no-show.

So, in truth, I guess the gun was a guess. But an educated guess: knowing Dirtsiders as I do. After all I was one myself, once. They are all addicted to guns. Even I had a taser. And I loathe guns.

‘So it wasn’t a guess.’ I was lying again. ‘It had to be a gun by the simple process of deduction: “when you have excluded the impossible,” I intoned portentously, “whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”‘
Silence. Had no-one heard of Arthur Conan Doyle? Perhaps I had them spellbound.

‘But I needed to know what sort of gun I was facing. And that meant that I had to expose myself for at least one shot and know that they would fail.’

I paused, there was silence. I did have them spellbound! Basking once more… until Alexi poured another shot. Then I continued.

‘My friend Mike helped set it up.’

Credit where credit is due and Zero, bless his hot holographic heart, was definitely due some credit.

‘I wanted to make it as difficult as possible but too tempting a target for them not to try. It had to be remote, so that there would be no chance of bystanders buying it. Or witnesses to put them off. Most importantly: I wanted a face to face; I wanted to get them on camera and most importantly of all I wanted to know what sort of damn weapon they would be using! Then Mike had a brainwave. He suggested a remote Farside to Nearside relay station on the peak of  Wilhelm Humboldt. It’s part of a surface based maser relay system used by Unstuf as a backup. Useful when a solar storm puts the fritz on our Lagrangian satComms. He ran a program. The situation and lighting were ideal, given the time of the lunar, the degree of libration. Plus the station had a number of remote cameras dotted around. As well as a really good remote control telescope that the scientists use that we could patch into.’

‘So the next problem was telegraphing my move and making sure that my shark took the bait. I puzzled for a bit and then decided to keep it stupidly simple. I would advertise! Making it a slightly dodgy scam on my behalf and on the behalf of my bank balance. I could use the official LunaPol jumpBug I would need to get me there: to unofficially ferry “One lucky tourist and their camera.” …for a nice view of a waning Earth. And the opportunity to take some shots of an “Earthrise’ against some pretty spectacular scenery. Then, as a bonus, further on to Farside to check that my fake repair was working. All for half the cost of the usual side trip! I stuck an advert in the public net and waited for my shark to bite. Fending off any genuine enquiries from eager tourists.

And there were lots of those. I should have charged more!’

‘My would be assassin spotted the advert in under a Cycle. That’s just  under twenty-eight Dirtsider hours for you new chums ….and I mailed them back; telling them to get to Scott Base by 09.00 hours local: Greenwich; on the second of June. Reminding them that they would not need to bring a suit, as the bug was fully kitted out with a universal spare which I would bring with me to the locks and docks. Then I went out to the jumpBug I had requisitioned from LunaPol; removed the universal P-Suit and substituted it with a medium to large adjustable. Then I flew the bug from Shackleton to Scott where I killed time until my killer arrived on the scheduled passenger run at 09:10. Naturally the moment we met I was convincingly dismayed at their tiny physique as the ‘universal’ suit was too large. Then I guided them to “Moss Carter’s Secondhand Suit Emporium.” ‘

That got a response! Some quizzical looks and others that telegraphed: “You utter bastard.” Or worse! Stoney is a legend all round Luna for dodgy deals and dodgy equipment. “Stoney” not so much because of the “gathers no” bit but more because getting money out of him is like getting fossil water out of block of ejecta. He is, without doubt, the most disreputable second-hand suit merchant in the south. If not in Luna and perhaps the entire solar system.

‘Since we were going on to Farside,’ I continued brightly. ‘I made sure that Old Stoney knew that the suit should be optimised for dark lunar operations. Fitting the suit took a deal longer than I had anticipated. When Yurya emerged, old Stoney came out with them with an odd smirk on his face. At the time I thought it was because he had overcharged a new chum. As he so often does.’

Some more nodding heads. Of course I know now why he was smirking. The bastard could have told me. But then, how was he to know that I didn’t know!

‘In the cramped jumpBug cabin, at last I had a chance to look over my would be assassin close up. And not much to look at either. In a standing fight I could have knocked ’em down easy. Whilst the bulk of their P-Suit made them look bigger than they were; this new fish was hardly a shark at all! However by now, I was sure that they were out to get me ‘cos they were using yet another false ID: “Leo Alexinovitch” and for that Yurya had added a rather fine fake moustache. Somehow… I was flattered.’

Another pause for another swig of near beer. I found that I had downed the last and that someone had provided me with another. I decided to skip ahead. Some facts are better left unsaid.

Actually chers, the moustache had thrown me. It was the main reason why I had not spotted the obvious. I was too busy trying to figure out how ‘Yurya’ —or whatever their real name was—  had managed it. From close up a cosmetic moustache can be spotted. But this was no cosmetic and ‘he’ hadn’t had time to grow it  ‘Yurya’ had arrived  clean shaven and I reckoned, from their looks, it would have taken a month just to grow some bum fluff. Anywhere on their face. I found out later at the morgue that it was one of those new bioWare implants. It bonds at a cellular level to your upper lip and then dies off due to immune response after a couple of MegaSeconds.

It certainly looked genuine at the time. No excuse. But no regrets.

‘The jumpBug pretty much flew itself, as they do. But according to a very precise flightplan that Mike had calculated for me. We landed exactly according to that plan, with a little manual nudge from the quads to align her just so. Then we unpressurised and EVAed. Me to check out some  non-faulty, faulty electronics inside the station and my freshly  mustachioed hitman to find a nice place to take some pictures of Earth and then kill me when I came out.’

‘Once inside, Mike had set everything up and we watched as Yurya struggled up a shallow rise with some boulders of a convenient height for propping up a camera. Or a gun. We had a fine telescopic view as they pulled out what looked like a heavy duty shotgun with lots of extra bits.’

‘That gun had everything: laser rangefinder; telescopic sights; a small magazine; bipod, recoilless shoulder stock adapted for a P-Suit and then the biggest fattest barrel you could imagine. It obviously fired an enormous round. One that would drop an elephant… make that an elephant wearing a kevlar P-Suit!’

Later, much later: I had occasion to find out how they had acquired the component parts. Call it professional interest. Some of it I passed on to my LunaPol handlers by way of a bonus for their help in the cover-up. It turned out that most of the bits were of local manufacture and some had been pre-ordered for pickup. The barrel was one of those custom orders. The bipod was a standard model used for those small laser drills used for pilot bores. The shoulder stock was off the shelf!  Used by lunar geologists for a gun that fires high explosive seismic charges. Who knew? Well LunaPol does. Now. Those things look too dangerous to be in the hands of excited scientists.

The telescopic sights and laser rangefinder were basic survey tools adapted by some people I have yet to track down. The rest of the gun was smuggled in. Just the magazine and firing chamber. Which both broke down into smaller parts. In the end it was the ammunition that would have been the most difficult to get past the detectors. The  explosives were probably muled like most smuggled drugs.

‘So we watched Yurya assemble the portable howitzer and as it grew more and more massive with every passing  moment; I found myself wondering if Yurya could even carry the damn thing Dirtside. Down there it must have weighed fifty kilos. ‘

‘I waited until they were nicely set up, realising only then that they were working with the sun in their eyes as they covered the airlock. I had blocked pretty much all of the other vantage points by landing the ‘Bug so as to block ’em! If they had set up behind the jumpBug itself or tried an ambush at the airlock entrance. Or anything else outside the envelope Mike and I had planned. Well, I could always call the cops and outwait them! The relay station had air and water and emergency supplies. So I could withstand a considerable siege. And their P-Suit from Stoney was, at best, rated for thirty KiloSeconds with the usual 3.6 Klick reserve  So with them positioned pretty much as we planned, it was time for me to bite, or rather, take the bullet. I took a deep breath; sealed my helmet; cycled the airlock and emerged on the bounce. Like Br’er Rabbit, bunny hopping out of the lock and full of the joys of spring:

“And its a lovely day out here on the Moon. Yurya where are you? I’m all finished here. Time for the trip to Farside!”

‘Mike analysed the footage afterwards.’ I confided. ‘They had managed to get two shots off! One more than I had expected. Neither got closer than a couple of metres. I think I caught the muzzle flash of the second shot and bounced long and low after that. I could imagine how they were feeling: having a perfectly good opportunity foiled simply by a lack of gravity and gravitas.’

I had been planning on that pun since the start and tossed it out for general approval but, alas, no-one caught it.

‘After three bounces I was safe back in the shelter of the jumpBug. Clambering up the ladder into ‘dat ole briar patch where ole B”er Fox could not git me. A Fox frustrated by a Br’er Rabbit that was too agile and too bouncy and too fast by far. But perhaps, as I had planned that they would be thinking, around about now: perhaps I can get him on Farside.’

‘But I never intended for us to get there. Now I knew what I was facing. Mike and I moved fast to plan “B.”  B for Bad. As I hooked up to the Bug’s power and oxygen to replenish my suit reserves, Mike was able to transmit the laborious process of disassembly. Eventually my failed assassin moped back to the jumpBug, carrying their ‘camera case.’  Once inside, I sealed the hatch and immediately repressurised.
Then, as arranged, during the preflight comm check: Mike called me as “UNSTF Flight control” to tell me that my trip to Farside was cancelled and that I should return to Lunar City as the jumpBug was urgently needed by some catapult technicians. The hardest part was the last: expressing my disappointment in our aborted Farside trip and offering them a refund. Whilst all the while trying to suppress a wicked smile.’

I smiled wickedly to show my drunken audience just how wicked my smile can get. Mirror. Years of practice.

(To be concluded)

Appendix: Wilhelm Humboldt Crater
Coordinates 27°12′S 80°54′E
Diameter 207 km
Depth: 5.16 km
Period: Upper Imbrian
Colongitude 254° at sunrise
(Source Wiki & other locations.)

A large crater poorly observed previously due to its location on the extreme eastern limb of the Moon. It is an old eroded impact crater with some interesting interior markings. Despite the erosion there is one location on the western rimwall that rises to an estimated height of just under 5 km!

(The location of the fictional UNSTF “United Nations Space Task Force”
relay station and emergency shelter.)

h1

Vacant Space

June 6, 2012

Vacant Space (For Chris and the girls in the library:)
Preamble for potential publishers:
A collection of short stories set in the same: near future, near distopia, near disaster that is Humanity’s lot in the early 22nd Century; as described in the un-prize winning; un-award winning; (ahem)  un-published: “Frozen Dreams.” It continues the adventures (conceit) of Baz Lestoute: a future day Archie Goodwin as the notional author and biographical amanuensis to his intellectual master the dAImon: Zero. The latter not only lacking hands but also a physical body! Thus, this take on a post modern Nero Wolfe (by Rex Stout) weighs almost nothing! Zero, as a truly unbounded autonomous intellect rather than a mere constructed artificial intelligence: ‘feasts’ on private datasets and corporate black records. Whilst hothousing the next generation of quantum-electronic dAImons…Etc.

The setting has now moved into the new century and out of the ravaged MotherWell. Initially with three stories set on the Moon. “Now a doubly dead world, filled with the dead or dying settlements… timelessly eroding under the constant infall of cosmic dust.” Oooo! Now that the water rush of the 2060s is well over, the remaining lunar settlements and mining towns make do and mend on the charity of NEOColonials and the leavings of the CorpRats.

It’s been a hard day’s fortnight.” (Re) introduces the characters but provides some further background for those few readers already familiar with “Frozen Dreams.” (It also might tie up some loose ends and unravel a few new plot threads. Who knows!)

Ill met by Earthlight” involves a whodunnit. Baz undercover as ‘Lex Barker’  and working as a security guard for a lunar hotel gets embroiled in Chinese puzzle box of power politics.

Sayonara Tsiolkovski!” involves a silly mystery tour as two competing Zaibatsus try to eliminate a Russian criminal cartel trying to go straight! Baz has changed identities again, now posing as Magnus Hallec a lunar P.I.

(In subsequent shorts the intent is a parallel of FD where teh chase is ‘across’ the solar system vs across the globe. Thus the itinerary: Phobos “Fear and Loathing in Mars Orbit” ; Ceres; thence to Titan and naturally ending up on Pluto: an inverted ode (another conceit)  to “Steel Beach” by Varley.)

Read on…

The sentinel circuit dozed fitfully. Waking up to the microSecond every ten KiloSecs for a brief burst of activity,. Culminating in an even briefer burst of hot ions. Sufficient to star track and then to realign the solar arrays. Sucking in photoelectric sustenance for its sub-sentient existence. Then a short systems check for radiation damage. Then back to fitful slumber.

A hacked on subroutine checked a hidden data buffer.

Suddenly the micro-sat woke up. A long dormant and totally unauthorised program loaded into memory from a trojan chip and performed a totally unauthorised status check. With all systems nominal and plenty of power: delicate spurts of ionised plasma began to seriously shift its orbit. What once was a highly elliptical frozen orbit began to sweep closer and closer to the pockmarked lunar surface.

A last penetrator that had spectacularly failed to fire was readied for a final solution…

It’s been a hard day’s fortnight.

I: The Good: “Life”

Have you ever had one of those days? Well the last one has been a total crapshoot… and since the day (or night) here lasts just over 1.2 MegaSecs —fourteen times longer than it should do— that was a lot of snake-eyes.
No wonder Chang-e’s bunny boy was transfixed.

Yes I was in Luna. Contract killers, please note the “was”. And everyone else reading this back home, please note for future reference: ‘we’ don’t call it: “The Moon.” A moon is any old satellite and “The Moon” is the Earth’s Moon and for us ex-corporate, ex-pats and extraterrestrials: ‘we’ don’t belong to anyone. Anyway surely the Moon of the moment is Titan. What with all that exobiology that has both the Fundamentalists and the Scientists in an uproar.

Furthermore: you are rarely “on” the Moon. Unless it is deep in the middle of a lunar night and deep in the middle of a solar maximum. Even then, with the heliosheath straining to keep those nasty GCRs at bay and the whole of Luna as your proton shield; the occasional galactic cosmic ray will still come zapping along and fry your brain cells. If you are really lucky, and close your eyes real tight: you can see the trace of the tiny cosmic bullet with your teenie tiny personal name on it. Zipping through your eyeball after zapping through your brain.

But alcohol is a much nicer way to slowly fry your brain. Or should that be flambe? Having recently experienced the former: during a long and ultimately lethal game of cat and mouse. Roughly some 1500 klicks and 1500 kilometres from my present location. The latter: a bottle much much closer in time and space: 1.5 kiloSeconds and 1.5 metres respectively, two shots of Alexi’s infamous: “Ole XXXentuxea Rocket Bourbon.” I was pondering the trouble ensuing from downing a third…

Thus I am able to state quite authoritatively: of the two forms of slow brain death, I definitely prefer an ice cold bourbon —with no ice— over cosmic bullets. And, obviously, cosmic bullets over real ones. Alas, Alexi’s bourbon is entirely ersatz. “Ch-Ch-Chentucheya” the product of a solar powered chemical reactor and refinery; tirelessly fractionating away up on the surface. That never gets closer than 356,400 kilometers to Kentucky. Or, for that matter, anywhere else on the Earth’s surface. Machines do just fine up on the lunar surface. Especially those with no moving parts. But men, not so much. Moving about up there under the full glare of Sol is never fun, even when it is supposed to be. Mostly ‘cos you know that a new level of locker room stink will be forever associated with your inner pressure garment. And nothing, nothing; short of a new suit will solve that problem. Radiation may get you eventually but a tainted P-Suit? That’s for life. And then for the life of the poor SOB who gets to wear it after you. Worse still, it stenches out the vestry where all the other P-Suits are racked. And you know, just know; that yours outstenches them all.

Fortunately my P-Suit was in the repair shop with a neat little puncture hole to be patched up. Unfortunately I was using one of their spares. Whilst not as ripe as mine; it was still pretty stinky, over and above the tang of bleach and synthetic pine odour.

Why? Did I have a little accident out there? Well yes and no chers. There was an accident. But in mitigation, as I said, I was being shot at. By both teenie tiny cosmic bullets and big black chunky ceramic ones. Teflon coated, with a plastic cartridge and some special explosive charge, formulated to pass undetected through local customs control. Neat. I would show it to you but LunaPol have it in an evidence bag until we decide what to do about it. Projectile weapons on the Moon? Unthinkable! Bad for tourism. Bad for customs control. (A division of LunaPol). So rather than attempted murder a little ‘accident’ looks better in the official report.

But not my accident. My would be killer’s. I mean who in their right mind would start a stalking match just before full lunar and in a cheap hired P-Suit? Using a custom stealthed howitzer based on a KPV heavy machine gun and its  huge 14.5 mm cartridge. Perhaps they thought that a P-Suit was armour plated rather than micro-meteorite proof.

A dead Dirtsider. That’s who. And I should know, ‘cos I was that dumb when I arrived here in Luna. I glanced at my wristComp: exactly  157786672 seconds ago.

Like most of us Lunar lags, I had noted the exact time of landing, counting up the seconds of my internment. Or should that be interment? Something that my fuzzy brain was also pondering. Buried or Banished? Either way the figure ran in a little window on my bio. Which I had called up when I had arrived here waiting for the big “157788000”. Hurrah! Five years Dirtsider style. Give or take a leap second. All those MegaSeconds were why I was still alive, pending those teenie tiny bullet holes in my brain and the dirty great big one in my left thigh.

That big hole, so the LunaCit doctors assure me, I should survive.  Perhaps with a slight limp but best to avoid a serious gravity field. The effect of that teenie tiny bullet hole is moot. Once you are out of the MotherWell: radiation is a cumulative fact of death. Even with the “NoGlo” pills that everyone takes as a sacrament to acts of stupidity.

Those same doctors at LunaCit had, at last, pronounced me fit to travel. After a recovery that had lasted the best part of the day and well into the following night. Which shows you just how badly I had been injured. The docs had patched me up taking another fortnight to fill the hole with cultured bone, muscle & skin. But the hole in my soul was less easy to fill.

Another reason to head for my favorite waterless watering hole up here at Barmin Base in the deserted North. Where the twenty-eight day cycle of night and day are pretty much meaningless. Here the sun shines almost all the time. Low on the horizon but still shiny.  Then you walk a few hundred metres and it is eternal night. And a cold that will creep into your bones forever.

“The Fischer King” is a bar that few tourists ever find. But every long term Lunar Lag can find in the dark. Alexi does not put out any welcome lights. Primarily to save power and the bar is surrounded by a thick impenetrable forest of industrial junk that doubles as raw materials and as a barrier to solar flux and cosmic ray alike.

For all that the Fischer King is closer to being ‘on’ the Moon than most Dirtsider tourists ever get and no long term resident ever wants to get. But it is the cheapest place to get, drunk. It’s Luna’s only privately owned public house. Naturally not counting the various bars of the various hotels. Or counting the private wining and dining establishments in the retirement enclaves. More to the point, it’s not counting the extortionate amounts of money they charge for imported Earth liquor! With freight charges being what they are: a bottle of cheap wine is not an option. So for the CorpRat elites and spritely nonagenarian retiree… its Chateau Lafite and Bolly and antique Napoleon brandy.

And there goes your last year’s pay…

Despite the low price booze and the low rent ambiance, the Fischer King is a nice little earner for Alexi Yangel; who came late to a life of scrap merchant and, like any good engineer, is always tinkering up some new trouble. In the process discovering a profitable little sideline in a lithium hydroxide monopoly. After all these years, you would think that someone would invent a better way of dealing with carbon dioxide. I mean FFS look what it has done to Earth! But no, the disposable LiOH can is still the Spacer’s standby. Sucking up the old CO2 so that the Spacer can go on sucking in air.

And where do all those disposable LiOH cans end up?  Alexi’s scrapyard. That’s where. Where the valuable carbon is extracted and the priceless hydrogen carefully conserved. The lithium and LOX get dumped. Usually in the form of reaction mass. In Luna, lithium and LOX are way cheaper than water.

So rather than brew by conventional means: water; mash; yeast; fermentation and whatnot. All WAY too water intensive. Alexi uses the Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis, tailored to the production of ethane and, eventually, turning 6H and 2C and a little bit of O into C2H5OH. The reaction takes a little energy but there’s plenty of that.
Especially under the burning full Lunar sun.

But it had been Lunar midnight when I first learnt that I had a killer on my tail and it took the best part of a MegaSec to make sure that Zero’s paranoia was justified and then for us both to arrange to turn the tables. The night hunter become the day hunted. First a little base jumping: UNSTF’s Shackleton Base to New Hong Kong (High Kingdom); a side trip to Armstrong (FUSA) then on to  Korolev (NPO-Energia I.T). Until it was clear that I was the target. Then something a little more difficult: a trap to catch out our killer and then a way to make sure that they never would be able to kill me. But without killing them. That started at Scott Base: a tiny Euro-U.K. enclave; mostly run by Canada and India. Followed by a trip to a remote waystation out on the eastern limb and then on to Farside. Engineering the move to be sure that my killer would be wearing a P-Suit optimised for Lunar midnight. And that the only local provider was a low rent, rental agency that I would only recommend to my worst enemy.

Thus equipped for the cold. The old switcheroo and back to Nearside and a shootout at high noon. Or should that be “Outland.” Gary Cooper or Sean Connery? Either way, either of them would have been proud. Of the plan. The execution? Not so much. The setting was appropriate enough: the LunaCit Cemetery. Inspired by another western: “Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Naturally since it was Zero’s plan: he cast himself as Clint which meant that I was Eli since I wasn’t Bad. Who says computers don’t do irony: a killing zone in a vast tract of square plots. Each with its little casket. Or more grandiose enclosures containing nothing but vacuum: ornate mausolea built from dirt cheap, sintered regolith bricks. A vast grey landscape of searing light and stygian shadow. Hot and Cold. Life and Death. Interment on an industrial scale. Yes an industry of death on a doubly dead world: not only filled with the dead but with the dying.

It is difficult not to muse on such matters whilst crouching behind some cinderblock cenotaph of a cheapskate who couldn’t afford the freight costs for a couple of grammes of bone dust. Passing the time waiting, like some deviant little Jerry the moon mouse, to turn the tables —or a flat iron— on a tiring terrestrial Tom cat. In a quiet moment, as Thomas was getting hot… hotter… hottest; I had found myself wondering why their Moon had such a draw to the morbid mind. Immortality in the form of a mooncrete monument, timelessly eroding under the constant infall of cosmic dust.

It was just at that sepulchral moment that a GCR with my teenie tiny name on it chose to do a bit of brain zapping! I could see it because my eyes were screwed tight shut watching a little blip moving on a 640×320 array hotwired into the left optic nerve and as interpolated by my visual cortex.

Blip. Blip. Blip. Zap! WTF?

I opened those bleary eyes and found myself staring at the empty shot glasses. Three now. I carefully arranged them in a little pyramid. Translucent, smokey grey and made from cullet and reject batches from a local optical glassworks. Now long abandoned. Left to rot over an eternity of time. Eternity. Epiphany. That was it! Under the satrapy of the CorpRats, their Moon (our Luna) has become a thanatotic themepark attracting not just the wealthy dead but the unhealthy dying. Instead of a new bustling high frontier they had done everything they could to kill it stone dead like they had with the low rent, low expectation, low wage economy of Earth.  Like DisCorp had with themepark Florida and like those elderly enclavers in a Camp Celebration of death. Slowly stretching out their disabilities and senilities into the middle hundreds. Now I knew why those liches didn’t just opt for hibernation like the Don. Sensibly sleeping in a deep, cold medical coma and waiting for a real rejuvenation technology to come along. The CorpRat future was no future. With nothing to live for except stretch out a dotage in a terminal competition to be the oldest man or woman alive. Unhealthy. And Dirtside was still too unhealthy for me. The (very) old boy was safe behind friends; family and impressive fortifications. But as his unwitting cupid I had ruffled too many feathers. Primarily Don Nuoro’s nemesis the “Sons of the White Eagles” a particularly nasty pan Balkan neo-fascist organisation with roots back to the WWI. And before. Organised crime for political ends. With long memories and large bank balances. And assassins.

But this one was definitely no Son of the White Eagle, going by the tattoos: clearly a Russian nationalist and obviously an anti-communist just by the look. By the book too. Zero, operating at close to light speed, had instantly accessed the Moscow police database. And then spent twice that time moaning about the two second comSat communication lag. From my hospital bed, we had been watching the video feed from the morgue. Officially for a change! One of the technicians gave us a nice little close up and we earned a little bit of this lunar’s pay with an initial datadump that should blow a hole in the organisation of some Russian criminal gang. Or political party. Or both. That is if UNPol decides to act. Naturally all the  passports, IDs and credit keys were faked but, with time, Zero will track them to their source too. A full on DNA search would identify them for sure but I think LunaPol isn’t that bothered. A massive query of terrestrial databases would open up a can of Earthworms asking uncomfortable questions…

No, LunaPol are more worried about that nasty undetectable. I have an aversion to guns in the first place and big noisy guns are an anathema in any pressurised environment. Doubly so in a pressure suit. Even though, of course, you can’t hear the noise. LunaPol would dearly like to have that gun to find out how it got past their detectors: Dirtside, HiPort and especially at NearSide station. However it wasn’t with the body. I made damn sure of that. A damn sure that I would remember the name of the plot where that particular treasure is buried.

My would be assassin needn’t have died. I keep telling myself. If only they had listened to the safety briefing that every tourist gets before they even get to the Moon. If only they had not panicked as they tried to hook up to their emergency backup air supply. If only I had not trusted Zero! In truth, by that time, both their brain and life support must have been fading fast. Both unable to cope with the searing temperatures whilst I, coolly, had laid in wait in the shade. If only our plan had worked! I had hoped for a near terminal case of heatstroke and a non-fatal object lesson in the futility of an amateur killer going after a professional survivor. Imagine their embarrassment when their target turned out to be their saviour! But I had miscalculated and that custom cannon had one shell too many. So after taking out their main PLSS with the first thing to hand: a sintered brick, I was too busy slapping on a peel and pray patch to think of their rescue. I had to save me! By making big, one booted, bunny hops to the nearest airlock as I leaked blood into the other.

Now that the worry of someone trying to kill me was over, the real worry was now that my old cover from EuroPol was blown, which meant that now I had to change my identity. Which was a shame, as my employer: LunaPol (UNSTF) paid well and the routine makework of a “United Nations Space Task Force Technical Liaison Officer” lighter than one sixth of a gee, despite the flowery title. Back in the FUSA: the work, when it came, was heavy duty. But then so were the payoffs. Business as usual in what used to be the United States of America. Yeah right. We were never very united in the first place.

However with the lightweight makework, I had had plenty of time to reflect on my previous life. Reviewing the many mistakes and the few triumphs that still somehow make it all worth while. Casting my mind back to those childhood role models for something to blame were a confused fusion of: Knight Rider, the Lone Ranger, The Postman and Easy Rider. All crystallised into a career that started out as a simple dispatch rider. Shifting important legal documents, urgent medical supplies, lifesaving donor organs;… Good Guy stuff. Then during the Bust-Up it started to get Bad: contraband goods; banned books and smuggled stuff that was technically illegal but still had honour. Of sorts. Then as things turned Ugly during the Break-Up so did the contraband. One day I discovered that the “time sensitive combat drugs” were a carton of a dozen eggs each with a wax sealed puncture hole in the top. Well I had a puncture too and a little accident and that delivery never reached its destination. My next package was the big one: Zero.
Alea iacita est.

Must have been a D10!

With a childhood filled with retro real gaming: Dungeons & Dragons as well as the cheap Sims pirated off better off friends. I used to consider myself a modern day Knight Errant. But in truth I was always just an errand boy and that last adventure was definitely more error than errant.

Now I could expect more contract assassins: a lucrative contract and a free holiday on the Moon? Who could blame them.

I would be tempted to do doing in myself. Myself!

Suddenly I had a cunning plan.

(To be continued!)