Stairway To Heaven- Book Two in a series

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Chapter 1

Submitted: June 05, 2019

Reads: 102

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Submitted: June 05, 2019

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A A A

Zaslow Crane/ Dennis Miller

525 Manzanita Dr

Los Osos, CA 93402

310 977 7952

1ZaslowCrane1@sbcglobal.net

Wordcount50, 215

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stairway to Heaven

...Mars Can’t Wait

by  Zaslow Crane

 

Book two

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1  “Cooked” in the Freezer

 

 

 

 

 

“What the feck is this?!”

“I...I…don’t ...really...know...prefect Mulligan.”

“Why did you have O. S. Veruska summon me?!”

I could see his eyes through the ubuqutious wind-scarred laxan. They looked fearful.

“There…is a body here. I found it …well, I scanned it during the last routine scan. GPS- Stabilescan…”

The words tumbled out like some old dek falling down a steep pedway.

The constable was clearly at the extreme edge of his competency, so I saw no reason to berate him further.

Lucky him!

“You found all this when/where…shiz…how?”

“I found all this just before I called you, Prefect....
He consulted his chrono, imbedded in his goggles’ readout.

“...thirty one deci mins ago...”

“You touched nothing...?”

“Oh no! Nothing. But we know from scannings that there is a body here…”

Here was an area open to Mars’ “atmosphere. A freezer. It was easy to chill things here; difficult to warm them…

“Good…well, not good” I shook my head trying to get up to rev. “…Ummm thank you.”

I seemed unable to unclench my teeth; unable to stop frowning.

The noob constable fidgeted under my gaze.

“Go get the meat Doc.”
“Yes, ser!”

He gratefully scurried away, his wenvirosuit flexing as he made his way out of my presence. I could imagine the squishy noises it made, though in the deficient atmosphere the sound didn’t carry to the audio receptors embedded in my suit.

I was left observing the verdampt tableau...

 

Just then, Nadia Moon arrived, fully suited and ready to join in the hunt; the hunt for some deadsicle hereabouts.

I nodded welcome; she made a few hand gestures that amounted samewise.

“We got a meatsicle hereabouts, boss?”

“Looks like’it.”

I frowned.

What a fecking mess…

There was red iron oxide everywhere. It coated any flimsy that had lain still for any length of time, and if I stood still it would eventually cover me in rust colored dust!  It’s called “fine”, and it gets into everything.

 

 

 

Two enormous wind turbines stood moving slowly in a breeze just “outside” in the lee of the temporary/ permanent huts and enclosures.  They augmented the power we used hereabouts and around every entrance and cove were the usual huge and muscular wind baffles that took 200kph winds down to next to nothing inside of 25 meters. The sky was an atypical washed out blue, and the color emphasized the brassy and beefy base and the monumental scale of the thing.  After a while, one ceased to even see them. They were everywhere. I noticed them. This was adjacent to a crime scene. They might be relevant.

Nadia and I spread out and knew enough to stay in contact while “outsides”.

My mind wandered, during the hunt. It was tedious work. Don’t get me wrong; I’m sad for the vic, but there’s a precious bit I might do for’im now-wise.

 

 

 

***

 

 

 

Her voice was silk with the edge of a ceremonial steel sabre underneath. The “fines”; the dust from Mars were everywhere, even atop her polished once a dayside desk. I noticed a delicate “coat” of our host’s resources between me’n’her on her worksurface. Uncharacteristically for Mars stations, which are usually a bit unlaxed regarding uniform deportment, her tunic was fastened up all the way up her neck. This gave her an almost severe magisterial appearance.

“You’re the senior investigator, Ansel. No one has the experience you do. Murders are scarce here on Mars.”

“Yeah. Aside from drunks getting stupid; vast users getting unstable, this is the first one here in years…” I trailed off.

When was the last one? I wondered. Then, as if reading my mind-

“First one here in almost nine Earth standards.”

“Yeah…She’s on a roll. I’ll just sit here…

She revived an imitation of some trite politician’s speech: “We are just over a half a mil souls here. We are so few, that we need to watch out for each other…”

She reverted to her own clipped voice: “And, well...With your background...”

Galecki had been replaced by a Military fem, lifer while I was enroute back from Titan.

Her name was T.S. Veruska. She was tall- over two meters- blonde, officious, pretty in a grab-your-balls-and-twist-them kind of way.

I’m not entirely certain that the boss-change wasn’t a reaction to me being in Saturnsys and causing probs for the Consortium. I wouldn’t put drek like this past them. Feckers- all.

Tatiana Serunda Voruska.

I sighed as I thought of her…And I’d just broken Galleki in, too…Now I gotta start all over again…

 

She was no gen Mod so far as I could discern, but there was a certain something about her that I wasn’t able to easily heave into some mental cubbyhole. Nonetheless she was the O.S. hereabouts and her word was the gods’.

“There is a missing peep and suspicious circs...”

She had started, too soon after calling me into her office and making introductions.

Like… she was impatient...

–As was she and the entire investigative crew, I assume.

Suspicious circs... Yeah...I’ll glom that...

 

That was less than a decihour ago...Now I’m here, in the icebox...

I looked out through my laxan viz plate, as the air supply was dubious-to-non-existent hereabouts, I was engulfed in a full on enviro suit.

They can’t afford to lose The Lion Of Laurus in an accident...not yet anyways.

I thought back…

Impatient...hmmm.

I could see Nadia’s back moving among the stacks o’stuf, set out here in the cold. The periodic meep of her suit carried to my comm chan and  mine to hers I hoped, and supposed.

My feet carefully probed the sheaves of flimseys slowly blowing in the winds. Eyes searching and walking careful-like.

I thought about this place. It is unforgiving like a frontier, yet we have comforts and safeguards. Some’a’times peeps take the comforts and safeguards for granted and forget the unforgiving part of this New Place, and forget how quickly it can kill the careless.

 

 

***

 

 

And me. I want to find the unfortunate one. I want to make certain that the sad dekker wasn’t cleared wrong-wise. And if he were a cleared citizen, then find the dek, if there is one, and get back to sitting on my azz and overseeing reports.

Lieutentant Moon was off to my right moving slow-like kicking her way gently through a small sea of flimseys and searching samewise as I. She was the youngest lieutenant I’d ever worked with and one of the few really good ones. She was also involved – in some way- with my son Ben. I’d only found this out afters…afters Fel and Duggan’s death; after they were no longer togethers.

I knew better than to pry, though I know he’d been confiding in his Mom, he never came to me, with ques, nor thoughts. He’n’I weren’t as close as I’d have liked. I was still being burned from Laurus when he was young, so I wasn’t al’aways there, even if I was…physically.

I think back at my leisures, now. He seemed to need me then, but I was being crucified in public, for what my Gov had ordered me t’do. I defended m’self as best I could, given that I’d sworn an oath, which I took very seriously.

Well over 10 EY’s later, I still came into contact with peeps who gave me the angry eyeball ev’ryonce in a’while. I am still the face of the force that put down the uprising. The unlawful uprising…

The civvies I killed or oversaw killing were fighting back, revolting. I put them down- as I was instructed to do. It was a rawthing, and I tried to talk, to them…But talk was never my strong suit, so maybes there might have been a diff outcome with a diff commander. Who can say? Not I; for I am a son of Mars and will uphold the Union against a force to break it. Breaking it would send us hundreds of years backwards and endanger civilization. So, I did what I did.

Even’tho Earth does not care what happens t’me nor mine.

Ben wasn’t my bigfan, but we still had the fam bond. It might be a small flickering flame, but if I feed it and fan it, it might b’come a thing of beauty t’us both.

He’s still missing Fel, and dug, I can tell. He’s angry, and a part’o him blames me for stirring up the weggies in the walls. That’ll pass, I hope.

My mind wandered, I’ll confess.

Nadia and M’Lique were a cup’le for a while, now.

Not, she an’ Ben…

So as much as I’d like t’know why they were a cup’le, and not now such, an’ how it vectored with Ben, I kept it privy and privy- til sucha’times as he might…enlighten me, as to m’ques and wonderings.

 

 

The entire area before me was awash in flowing and floating flimseys... thousands...and thousands of flimseys, fresh from a printer, all nothing more than litter a meter deep on the floor in front of me.

I waded in, keeping my knees locked and my ankles loose, expecting to kick or trip over something.

 

Eventually, we found the body. I found the body. I almost tripped over it; my new weight sliders moving slowly through the “snow drifts” of flimseys.

My sliders were new and peather, which takes a bit of breaking in; molding to the foot; though not for extended “outside” use.

I stepped careful. I didn’t relish trying to get up after falling over in an e-suit. Its never fun in one of these things!

We found nothing else help-wise, but finding the body sort of started a process: we would find the killer, if there was one. We would prosecute him or her- and if found guilty, we would space the guilty party. Mars “outside” wasn’t space but as good as, outside the domes, the City and the terra-formed areas. Cold, and mayas’awellbe airless.

Justice; cold, implacable and final; if this be murder, then that is the penalty for this transgression. Ev’ryone hereabouts knows this samewise, so’s there’s no getting out of’it.

The other process was having a team come in and collect, inspect and then recycle the flimseys, reporting t’me whatever they found of interest- be it among the flimseys, or on the newly exposed freezer floor.

 

I know I sighed audibly. I heard it shunted back to me via the speakers in the helmet. It sounded loud and close as if someone was breathing right behind me.

Someone…like the Consortium looking over my shoulder, waiting for a slip…

I hadn’t been back very long and truth be told, had hoped for another ten years of quiet until I might retire and go virtual fly fishing in …“Montana”- A mythical Earther country where there were always hungry fish waiting to bite on lures and the weather was always 21 degrees C, and sunny.

That’s gotta be put back-wise burner for now.

I grumbled to myself. I really thought; really expected things to be quiet so that I might recede into obscurity, and a life of retired leisure.

Dammit.

“No matter how experienced an Op gets, never underestimate his ability to be naïve’”.

…First rule of Ops Mgmt- And, Look at me. I’m out of the Service for a scant eleven years and I’m fecking backsliding already!

Nadia helped me lift the body onto a flat surface. It was stiff, whether from rigor or froze, I did not know nor care, ATM.

“I’ll stay with the body and maintain custody of evidence until the meatdoc’s peeps get here, you can go get unsuited and relax. I know that I called you as your shift was ending.”

She smiled. It was like a “best day here on Mars with sun and clear skies and no worries coming in from the hinterlands” smile.

“Thanks, boss.”

What had that boy done to drive that smile away, hey? I didn’t raise a stupid child!

 

After I had found the body, I requested that it be Xported to the lab ASAPees. Everyone jumps when I command something.

That’s both good, and… bad.

It’d be fun to be anonymous for a while. No. That’s drek. I want control. Need control. Everyone knows who is in control; ev’ryone looks t’him as well.

When the levi-lorry arrived for the body, I stayed with it and accompanied it to the med labs to maintain chain o’custody.

In case.

 

While I waited, I looked around. I scanned the area w’my eyes and saw two walkabout lockers nearby. I stared at the nearest. Would that a’saved him? This poor, sad bastardo?

 

 

Larch was the head Doc for most of Mars Encampment and ersatz med exam head. He was tall, with a bulbous head and an ambitious comb-over; a comb-over in an age when you might reGen your hairnubs in an afternoon. This told me that he was a very serious throwback personality.

I reflexively rubbed my head. It needed a shave. I also needed to shave my head after also not getting reGen ‘d hair when it was offered, nor beard death therapy.

Talk about another throwback…Tho Fel liked it smooth and clean, but she liked to do that for me. She thought is was sexy to shave my head. I thought it was nice to not have to do it m’self.

That brought me up short. I sighed heavily.

Suddenly, all sorts of mem-movies started playing in my brain, and I almost stumbled in a profound sense of loss and sadness.

Gods, I miss her!

I shook my head sadly.

I sighed as quietly as possible.

I don’t think anyone noticed.

Looks likewise as I’m specking at a fecking kindred spirit, I guess. I could have hair, but it never really mattered much to me when it stopped growing. It kind of set me apart. There was a slice of me that liked that, I guess.

Another aspect of the throwback personality...not fitting in; not caring; maybes reveling in’it.

Hah!

I smiled to myself ruefully.

I thought fondly about Fel again, and then put that memory away like minimizing a flimsey to put in a pocket. Because, I needed to walk carefully, and because it was times like these that grief just crept up on you like an assassin in the fecking dark, just to cut at your heart, or slit your Achilles tendons and cripple you. It hadn’t been long. I still grieved. Truth be told, in a way, it was benno to have something to get involved in.  I stifled a few tears that tried to escape and pointedly looked the doc in the eye, daring him to notice my frailty.

 

The meatdoc had arrived shortly ago, like he thought himself an ancient potentate; in a stroller that brought him through sec gate 2 and straight here, as if it were predestined in some way.

Timo’tee Larch was pale, tall and loomed over you like some sort of errant tree.

I’ve never seen a tree in person- Left Earth while I was too young to get out and explore alone-like, but I’ve seen viddies of them…

His skin was pasty, like he never went to solar ReGen …ever.

He probably didn’t. How did he manage not getting skin probs? Vitamin D therapies? Not a bad ideation…for laters f’me.

He was thin, and I noticed from his movements- quick and sure- with wiry sure movements of his forearms.

Pro’bly stronger than he looked.

Though, as M.E. for a place where murders hardly ever happen, it’s not as though he’s stressed by work- Never gonna have patient complain he koshed the job.

He’d been brought in at my request from near Amazonis Planitia to assist. I’d never met him before, but, a’course I’d heard of him. Mars is still a pretty small place and being one of two Prefects…Well, I kept my ear out for stuff that might one day lead to something. So I knew of him.

I’m sure that he knew of me as well.

The body was laid on a smooth graphene table. Despite dying “outside” he looked like he’d been tortured. There were strage marks an’ discolorations on his skin. I noticed ligature marks, which I thought t’check into more thoroughly as time allowed.

F’now who was he; why did he pass? I’d seen many a death. And most were obvi-like as t’causeations and provenance. He looked unhappy. Not so much unhappy that he was dead, but unhappy more general-like Maybe that’s how we all look after the cares of life have fled.- Except for the arms, now that I viz close-like. They are weirdly discolored…so are the legs.

My comm chirped. M’lique wanted to speak with me so I stepped outside.

“I’m back on Ben. All benno esta’dia.”

I sighed. Our official duty must come first, but if I divert M’lique from his normal duties to keep Glosser from getting at Ben, then I can always backfill to put someone where Nadia was supposed to be. We were short this morn, and I wanted an assist to find the corspsicle, b’fore she went off duty.

Thanky-vous, “M’Lique…I need to keep an eye on him, and you know his habits… Sorry if this is-”

“Boss,” he interrupted. “I understand what this means. I’m here’n benno with’it. Nad’s past with Ben won’t interfere with me makin’right certain that he’s safe. Glosser is a threat to all’of’us. Ben is your Achilles heel. I glom it and glass it.”

I smiled. Glad I was t’have a second like M’Lique.

“Benno. Check in in an hour.”

“Right.”

Larch looked up from his flimseydock at the drilok chirp as I re-entered the lab.

His smile was as warm as the un-terra-formed Martian countryside- And as dry.

“Well, Prefect.” He sighed the sigh of someone patient and long suffering. “He’s been dead for about a sol, but that’s not the weirdass part.”

Weirdass? Where have I heard that expression before? Okay. I’ll play along.

“So...What’s the …Weirdass part?”

A thin smile played across his lips. Something of interest to salve his boredom. Nevermind that a peep has passed.

“He died of Hyperthermia.”

Shant…That’s who used that expression before. I wonder about her. Is she…well…?

I resolved to reach out to her laters.

“Hyper-thermia? He was found in an atmosphere neg industrial freezer. Shouldn’t that be hypo-thermia?”

“Ummmm, you’d think. Wouldntcha?”

I stared, willing him to continue.

Eventually, he did…

He cleared his throat. It sounded like a gear mek than had been devoid of lube for half an eon, and then finally coaxed into action again.

He began an exposition-

He was holding court!

“Understand...At the edge of the terraform activities, Mars is just there. You step “outside” and you’re in a hostile, unbelievably cold and alien atmosphere. We here on Mars, were used to almost Earthlike living conditions, our bodies were built for the relative beneficence of Earth, but …nothing could be further from the truth.”

He paused to look at me.

As if I didn’t know this! Get on with it, you pedantic priz!

“Mars has potential to become a livable place, but as one of my martial arts teachers once told me as I was getting ready to...matriculate... “You have potential...that just means you ain’t done it yet.”

He had a martial arts teacher? Interesting…

“The edge of Mars is the most dangerous place to be. Not because if you store foodstuffs in the comparative open, then on Earth wolves… animals will come...Here, nothing will come. Nothing will, attack you or eat you...  But understand...the transition from comfort in Mars Station four to “outside” is shocking, complete, and mostly fatal.”

He cleared his throat- again-

“At edge of terraform activities, foodstuffs and chem/ processes often saved better when left out in the cool...

“...Of Mar’s atmosphere. Frozen solid.” I breathed. We used walkabouts all the time to do “errands” outside for a few deci-mins. Walkabouts were designed for casual use.

I love that Martis think about having a casual need t’go outsides,

He nodded, “gathering steam”, I think is the old Earther phrase...

“And the body was found in an area open to Mar’s atmosphere...”
I prompted. “Yes...The body found in the “cooler”...”

“Yes. It was. But, it was...cooked.”

Cooked?

 

“I had a looksee, right after they delivered the bod. Scanned for ID tags, so now we know who it is…we just don’t know how…he was cleared.”

“Cleared? So, this was murder…?”
Shiz. I was so hoping for some fecking accidental…

He nodded his great balding pate.

“As I clock it, yes. Experience tells… His internal organs were ...cooked. His heart is some sort of underprepped pudding, his intestines has burst...Other organs are in a state of pre cooked…goo...but his limbs are all fully cooked.”

That explains the discoloration. Damn, he was cooked an’ready t’eat!

He then shook his head and looked like an old, old tree distraught at the follies of mankind…

“Ummm, Dr. Larch...Pre cooking...? As in cannibals? As in, peeps eating other other-otherpeeps? Why?”
He straightened and looked at me thoughtfully.

“I cannot say. There were no knife marks as if to cut him up. Indeed, there were no cuts at all. So, cannibals? I don’t know. Doubt it. No evidence of that. Not yet, anyways.”

He paused and pursed his bloodless lips pensively.

Canniballs, here’n’now? That be fecked right-wise.

“Cooked...Oh yes. He was cooked and he most prob was alive when he was thusly heated... Most frightening and painful, I would expect...”

He held up his hand, pointing gently to the off white and pock-marked ceiling.

“There is, however, evidence of foul play. Note the ligature marks- fading, but once strident. This dek struggled and was in a world of pain. He didn’t die quickly. Also, I suspect that he was afeared greatly, not knowing what was going wrong-wise insides.”

Damn. I hadn’t really vizzed the lig-marks when I called for the cleaning crew! That’s not a benno detail. Not a catch- I have to be sharper.
 

 

After a bit more, professorialism, I thanked him for his prelim and told him I’d be expecting his flimsy tomorrow first in am.

“Claro, Prefect.”

He nodded as if that was SOPees and he’d expect me to expect nothing else from him. It was a matter of course.

Okaythen…And working with a pro…

I walked, rather than rode on the Xportr. I wanted time to think and consider how a peep might be cooked if not to eat him, however gross and anti social, that might be in context. Also there was the Why…Why cook this peep- if not to cook him? I’d heard unsubstantiated rumors about cannibalism among the Gaians, as a part of a consecration ritual, but I never gave it much thought, until now. Now, the possibility troubled me a lot more than I would have liked.

Eventually, I found m’self at the bottom of the Elevator.

 

 

 

The tug, the Babe Ruth, piloted ber. G. plodded past the view port. 

The view port was at the top of a five kilometer long elevator shaft, more than was necess for Mars, but thoughts of safety and other concerns – more those akin to greed- that if it were taller, it’d be safer. Maybes… Morelike’n if it were taller, even bigger ships might come visit. Morelike’n if they build it  taller, they can bill more also.

Maybe. I’m not planetary engineer, and most of’it was controlled by WorldCorp, which did what it wanted regardless of peeps raisin’ their voz against it.

I liked ascending to the viewports and watching the comings and goings… Above there was mechanics and industrial designers; below were politicians and ... well...more politicians, and assorted related scummers.

The base was as usual-like pretty busy- with comers and goers; “swimmers and rowers”- as the saying goes. As the transit point for all things “Outer” on their way in- raw mats ground, cut or sumped from the detritus of the Biggest Bang; and all things “Inner”- graphene manufactured objects, specialized equippo, and the like.   Marties had a unique seat, like an old Earther spidler, aseat in the web-waitin for flies (whatever they are) to get caught. This arrangement should have brought us a great deal of power, had Earth not enforced the ban on larger weps and ships o’th’line.

So, no navy for us; no navy- no power in this interchange. We were only here to offload and transfer. So we took our cuts where we could find them, especially-like if it would cost Earth someways.

We owe them nothing.

So when the port was busy, I was happy. I wanted happy peeps; peeps are happiest when they can pay their bills. And I owed Earth less than most; it doesn’t worry how grain prices rising might make it impossible to feed a fam. It’s just pluses and minuses…money coming in; funds flowing out. So if some ambitious peep found a novel way to slide some product…Well, so long as he were clever, or discrete, or lucky I left it outsides in my mind. I looked elsewhere. I owe Earth nothing.

So long that no one gets hurt. If he hurts someone, then I will come down on him. And the poor cooked dek? Oh yes. I want to find and punish that betard!

 

Off in the distance, I could see the shadow that was Olympus Mons; an even taller structure; a wonder of the solarsys. Terecia and Plentia were the two cities that were out that way. Plus, the Olympus Mons Rec Cen…Eventually we’d all dome up in the plains of Erebus Montes. Eventually, we’d all release our inner buggies and philocites into the atmosphere to do it’s works and for real-like change Mars. I would never live to see it, but it is the hope that lives inside every Martian…to see it all Earthlike …for realsies.

 

So, a’times, I’d retreat to the uppers, playin’ at sight-seein’ my home and watch the ships log in. It was a good place to think. I needed to consider about the clearage and who and how…This is a good a place as any. Most don’t know my viz up here; workers all. Hopewise, they never cause the need for the Prefect to visit their fam dome, or crèche in the undergrounds.

Also, the unique local spectacle of tugs was a homegrown joy for me.

The tugs were special. They were exceptional...This was a Martie “sport”.

“All” the best tug pilots were female.  Males didn’t seem to possess the patience for so delicate a measure as bringing a ship into dock. Depending upon the skills and daring of the pilot, a guide shok might take an entire shift of ten deci hours… occasionally it took two contiguous shifts! Males were good at stressful situations, but it seemed that fems were better at long, low lev stress; better at concentratin’ like that for long periods a’time.

Men didn’t seem to have the concentration to stay on task for so long. So, while it was perfectly fine to be a tug pilot and be male, there were very few males, mostly fems piloting tugs.

Marcela was unique in another way, she might have been the youngest tug pilot in the Mars fleet- Barely 40 “sols”. A pup, she was.

I grinned to m’self.

She’d hate me saying all’that. She’d have a run at me with nails “daggers drawn” if I called her “pup” t’her face.

I noticed the little ship guiding the bigger one. Then I noticed the garish painting on its sides, illuminated by the gandy lights. Off in the distance, “The Pioneer 1” stood, readiments continufied for the SolarSys’ first reefer ship to our nearest star; our newest colonization endeavor. Pioneer 1 was aimed at the Centauri Sys. The engines were quite advanced I’d read. Yes, I read, tho most do not. They would be onboard for over four subjective years. They were laden with food and seeds and a chem lab and hospital, and ev’rything a noob on’a new place might need. They would grow crops and clone animals. They would plant the first building blocks of humanity into truly foreign soil.

Braver than I, they are. Far braver.

I waved into the mike field, and felt the pop in my earbud as the comm came alive.

“Mars Sprintstation to Baberuth come along…Marcella!  How you doin’ bav’?”

There was a pause.

“Ans?”

“Me alone, an’no other…” I hope that the smile I felt creepin over m’face would go through the airwaves t’her.

There was another pause... “Ans? You back from the Outers?”

I smiled a bit.

“Been backso...ehhh...half a sol almost...”

“Word travels slow on Mars...liken news ain’t worth tellin’ if there ain’t no scandal or crime...”

“Truething...How you been, lady?”

“Busy as if hell just let out class and it’s all the lifers and they want to eat the proles.”

“Who you dockin, bav?”

Dockin’ was also slang for sex, and she rose to the bait like she was a hungry fish; an animal I’d read about quite a bit when long ago planning a visit to Earthworld- that was right afters my discharge… n’b’fore I became too old to Return.

“Ansel, fecking Mulligan, your Felitia wouldn’t liken you to talk like that over the air or nonesuch anyways.”

 “Askin a quest...only was I. What is your charge to station?”
I tried to sound as angelic as poss, knowing it’d just grind her.

I smiled as I quietly laughed. Marcella and Fel were buds; good buds.

 

I’d held off righting Marcella at all, when I returned from the Saturnine place, ‘cause I didn’t want her crying on my shoulder; and I didn’t want to end up crying on hers...They were like sisters, but maybe even closer than that.

Suddenly I felt ver’ guilty for not having said “Sera and Ser-ra” to her.

There was a pause, and I knew that she was smiling, but she came back all businesslike and full throat.

“I will dock the “Quest For Truth and Understanding Amid Chaos”, bound from Norfolk, NorthAm prov to number 17 Mars sprintstation, in twenty decimins.”

All officiouslike. Good for you, bav.

“Excellent. I know that you are the best. We should meet some time and talk about… missing friends.”

There was a longer pause than was necessary.

“We should. My rads are all the same.”

“I’ll reach out and touch you soon then. Still slagging at weekends?”
“You know I am...”
“See you then, ser-ran.”

Just then, a Wing coasted leisurely overhead. I watched it with a mix of fascination and dread.

Way up here...creepy.

It was a gov creature, but few knew what they were really about. Crunchy. Some opined that it was an Earther threat, implicit but in person; others said that they were controlled by The WorldCorp Consortium. No one knew. I was pretty high up the Food Chain, and I wasn’t privy.

Maybe I’ll ask Vosuska some’a’time.

It faded quickly in the gloom with its matt neutral fuselage and wings.

An engineer-type caught me looking up.

He followed my eyes as he walked up to the tiny corner of the lounge where I was sort of hiding.

He said: “Beautiful, yes?”

“Yes, in an icy and intimidating way…”

He smiled as if I’d just completed a secret password exchange.

“Of course. They watch over us. But they also…watch over us…”

I knew better than to say much more in public, the gods only knew who and what might listen or what comment might be flagged for later use when leverage was most important. I made careful note of his viz and voz.

This’un was someone; someone I’d run into laters-like and I mustee b’ready for him when he runs at me.

He knew also; he knew me same-wise.

Saying no more, his eyes followed mine as we watched the stealth vehicle vanish finally into the corroded gloom.

The Martian Wings glide over the rusty colored surface, but they never left the surface, despite the fact that they had the capability for short space flight- Like a rendezvous to Phobos, and Deimos.

The all-wing craft patrolled the skies like some big brother overwatching us all. And, my most basic Ques was: who was ultimately in charge of the wings?

I was never fully vectored; at least, not to my satisfaction.

Thinking I am, that I might want to know, if it’s Glosser’s beasts I’d seen. I viz and voz that sentiment!

The newcomer input a few phrases into the inboard commsys and, smiling at me knowingly, left the observdeck to enter the “elevator” as it opened for him.

His eyes locked mine, like a true Martie, then, he smiled and was whisked aways.

I told m’self:

What the feck did I just see. Hey? Nowza! That’s what. A freakybeaky, nothing more. I seldom listen t’me, tho.

Just as he left the lights seemed to dim, almost go out and then like a man running up a hill, gather energies and ramp back up. Meanwhiles, the gauges an’readouters that didn’t go dark, started to act all crazified. That lasted for just a few deci-secs and then returned to all mod.

I’ll make a note to have the maint deks have a lookout here-wise. Gotta make rightcertain that we have no malfunks here on our link t’the Outsides.

Touristas and cargoes; peeps and personages, work an’play. It all come thru-wise here.

As I was getting ready to go on the errand I’d set for myself, I saw another ship slide into view. The trav rate was well above norm, but just within allowed-max. It was shiny and new; very sleek and it reeked of :”I-don’t-give-a-shiz-what-fuel-costs.”

Travs suchlike as this don’t show every day, so’s I was interested. I accessed the docking codex using my clearance and title.

It’s good to be Prefect.

“The Chromium Witch”, from the Salt Lake launch facil, registered to an Arbor Gannett, from the Sanfran area...westlike in the Northam prov., in the old United States

There’s some realgreen...For good or ill...I’ll need to look into Gannett nowzat he’s here abouts. He’s connected with Glosser, and he’s making an entrance. He thinks he’s special. He may be. But, now I need to know, why…?Hey?

 

I spent another deci-min watching this priz flaunt his wealth and then thought better of’it.

The Chromium Witch initiated braking sequences for another tug could grab her and the crash that was at laest possible went back to “improbable”

Best get back to work...Dammit!

But first, I’m going to my office where I can send a private message to Shant.

 

 

Chapter 3TFMAO

 

 

Since the decedent was found in the border areas between the successfully pre terra-formed areas, the domes and the Outside, I was on my way to see the terra form overseer.

I’d glanced at the file before heading out. I could have summoned him, but I find it better muchtimes to beard the lion in his den and suchlike... put him at ease and then find out what I need. I already knew what I’d read:

 

-Ennis Aris Morrasi was almost out of luck. He had been the TFMAO  (Terraform Manager Auditor of Ops) for three standards and during that time had, through bad luck, bad practices or worker sabotage, had almost died 19 times. He’d almost set a record for the most urgent visits to the medCen, but was beat out by a dek who eventually took a long walk alone out onto the Terris Themis Alcalus.

We haven’t found him yet. I hear that they’d like to re-cycle the suit he stole.

Anyway, Ennis-Aris had a few too many close calls and was still working by virtue of the time honored system that dates back to the begin of timewise: nepotism.

He was someone’s brother extension; someone powerful- Even though he no longer tracked properly, he was still somehow still in charge.

Your fecking tax monies at work, my peeps!

He’d been ding-ed once too many and though constantly second guessed, he still ran the entire T-Form, second stage.

No one else wanted the thankless job, I supposed.

 

I found him in his suites.

Comfy, messy in a “maid’s day off” sort of feel, but, still “off a bit”...somehow.

“ser Morrassi, I am-”

He hadn’t turned around from his work yet.

“I ...I…know who you are. I expected you sooner...sooner…sooner- like last year or, or, or..or-or-or ehhhhh....sooner...”

Last year?

I looked around to see if there was anything amiss.

He looked as though he hadn’t washed in days, though on Mars that was a real poss: “Save water and get a bonus”.  Peeps smell. It’s patriotic. Grime is off; but sweat is on…

At the end of vaas conservation drives, you prob didn’t want to go to any large gatherings- Or at least bring rebreather gear.

His “look” was completed by his eyes: haunted, distracted. Intense. He exuded an energy,  that bordered on unbridled and frantic.

We briefly bumped forearms.

As he settled back down, I noticed red dirt under his fingernails.

Dirt? Was he going outside to play in the oxidized sand that covered most of this place?

He seemed t’me- florid, scattered, hanging on for dear life until the retirement opt come avail for him. DanTan! I wouldn’t put myself in his hands if I had any choice at all.

Finally, I got my wits together enough to reply.

 

“Ah...Glad t’know’it. Thanking you for your time, as I know it is ver’valuable.”

He had already been distractified by the movements of the momento-by-momento updates in his Theatre of Ops.

“It is. We are currently ahead of our sched, by virtue of injecting Earthnorm buggies and cultures into Martian soil. Stuff grows and we adapt it to the lower solrating an’ grav metrics…”

His eyes sought mine for a fleeting instant. They flashed fear- not frustration…anger? Then, in a blink, it was gone.

“And we make food...here...in the cold, stinking desert of a distant planet.” My voz imitating the advertsayings that we’d all heard innumerable times.

He paused and turned back, to glare into my eyes.

“We...make...food!”

Returning to his console stage, he gesticulated at his readout.

Truth be told I’d read that “we” produce less than 10% of what we need...but every journey begins with the first step, so... ehhh. He may know more than me…

“T-forming will feed the worlds!”

Okay...

“What we have here is an installation of mushroom domes. Mushrooms of stations; man-man-man- made mushrooms, y’see”

“I know. Mars is my home. I live here!”

He didn’t even notice I’d said anything.

“ -All connected...to the terraformed sections that were under a huge dome. We build and dig unders, but being Humans (He pronounced it: “hoomans”, marking him as a Mars native) we strive to see the sun once-whiles, so we would live and grow foods on the red sands of this Mars.”

“…This dread-dead world might come alive…” I murmured every Marties fondest dream.

He whirled, at first I was afraid I’d said something unintendified to offend, but he wanted to make a point while staring at me.

“Not dead. Ver, ver sick, t’be certainied, but saveable it is, and we can. We know how to make our o-o-own-own oxygen. If we could just feed the souls that are hereabouts in this cold sand, of our home. That is my goal; it is everyone here at this facility and those working belows t-t-too.”

I knew that there were massive underground shelters set up for most of the pop on Mars itself, in a few places scattered near pop centers, in case of a massive solar event, or some other Big Prob. Mar’s atmosphere and almost nonexistent mag field would let in radiation like a low rent dek holding a door open for a fem- which also doesn’t happen often. Mars is a fair place, for those who are pioneers; who want to work hard and fell the joy of rendering something pos, from a niggardly landlord attitude. It is a dire place for those unwilling to truck with the landlord carefully.

 

He waved and a space-set map changed and dove in like a cam-on-a-Wing at our installation, showing the pattern of connected domes and how another dome encloses a group after the process has been completed. Animation flexed for those with no imagination.

Those with imagination also realized that that multitude of domes provided redundancy should some errant bullet from the cosmos crash down on our heads.

We have paltry atmosphere to burn the fecking things up, like Earthers do.

He gestured to yet another holo display:

“The Second Stage consisted of antennae set up to interconnect and create a field to keep harmful radiation out 12-50 rads per year out of the settlement. Once that is up and finished the domes can continue and we can forget about the tunnels.”

It is elegant, in its own way.

“In time, the dome will be expanded, always adding robotic farming and solar collectors, until domes cover a critical portion of the planet. On that day, we would force change upon this frigid desert, and force it to yield …it’s bounty and feed millions.”

He paused and spun to look at me with satisfaction.

“That day is not so far off.”

His grin was either really enthusiastic, or he were really off his fecking base.

Hard to say sometimes, ten percent is a long way from feeding everypeep.

 

“Okay, ser Morrassi... I need to get details about watt usage averages during the nightcycle last night.”
“Watt usage? Ohhh...Ohhhhhh...The corpsicle...”

“Umhmm..yeah...”
“Here’s a thing to see...”
He turned to face me and looked me full in the eyes.

He is not crazy... He is intense.

He sighed; and looked all at once, very sad.

“The thing about the death... The thing about Yakod Mutter’s death... He courted danger...he wooed death... He was a wrong individ... No one wanted to work with him.”

He knows the decedent’s …Mutter’s name? I haven’t released that intel yet!
He read me. At this, his eyes seemed to go elsewhere, chasing his mind’s running and capering thoughts- running down dimly lit corridors whooping and jumping.

“I watched it all. I seen it, I did. The way the terraform processes set up Mars to bow to us... I watch it all. I know when Mars will give up fighting...I do...I do I do-do-Do!”

“I see…” I allowed cautiously. Surreptitiously looking for safety air loks and exits….Just in case.

Now I doubted “intensity” and was again leaning toward “quatty”- Quatty as hellfires.

He waits for me to piece it together. Like he’s impatient- and not tipped?

I pick up the convo.

“So I ask myself- What was wrong about Mutter?  He had no halts or warnings in his record-no wants or needs that might delete his access. He had no trips to the medcenter…”

Morrassi looked darts at me for a moment.

I paused.

“No offense intendifyied.”

After a long moment-

“None gathered…”

He continued:

“He…he…he  too- took took, took chances that he knew were wrong….and an he didn’t do it to catch up on t- tasks or to cut corners and make more mon’. No, no no...no. no-ser.”

He paused and looked deeply into my eyes, searching for something, it seemed.

“He did it ‘cause it…it were…fun.”

His eyes searched mine for recognition of the innate wrongness of Mutter. Finding none as yet, he rolled his eyes and focused elsewhere, intensely.

I had somehow failed a test of sorts.

Interesting.

“But how did he get cooked if you are privy to so much?”

His eyes surveyed a bit of a distant part of the solarsys.

OH feck... here and goneagain...

I sighed. Some’a’times, the patient way is better than getting a run at the facts like a runaway benzene-fueled tractor.

“Look, I can see that you’re busy. I’ll set up an appt, , an I’ll come to pick your brains again. Maybe a’morrow...or…?

“A’course, a’ course! a ‘course... A’course!”

With that, he spun around with a congealing air of finality and regarded one of many screens as if I had already left. There was an image of robotic powered tractors up on the progress screens, powering through; “plowing” inside of a nutrient rich domezone…

They run on Benzene; benzene is the fuel for Marties- it fulfills all our needs in a raw and rough atmosphere.

Benzene is the best fuel we’ve found so far… Imported from Earth, a’course. Can’t make it here yet. I hated being b’holden to someone else, especially Earth. They stand at the ready, their threat to those who might want to go a new way; subtle and threatening- implicit and real at th’same’a’times.

It was time to leave Morrassi’s offices; past time, I gathered by his focused inattention. Slowly, I retraced my steps, looking over my shoulder at him, hunched over his readouts.

His hands waved and prodded the holo in the air as he input and modified data that was constantly changing

I sighed heavily.

Is he here?

Or there? And, how would I know?

I made my way back out through the doclock and stopped to look outside at the complex sets of diffusers and breaks to lull the wind when it breaks into a howl- which it does on a regular basis. Structures suchlike these are one way to calm this place. Sandblastification being a main reason a peep can’t even look outside some’a’times. Bots are constantly polishing the windows and viewports, mending out the sand damage to the “sandblast proof lexxen materials”.

Hah!...And Mars says “Hah”, too!
 

 

***

 

 

 

Shadows crossing overhead are unusual on Mar. They might come from the sun, but that is far, far less frequently than and Earther might expect. Shadows might emanate from a bright light, if you were in the well of the light, you might see a dark image of something passing by…. But by and large the light is not bright and it is mostly uniform.

Also consider that our Sun, is but a large star in the distance. The light that lights our souls is faint and cold, not warm like an earther daytimes. It is the cool, and otherworldly datron lamps that glow ev’rywhere in the solarsys, outsides Earth’s warm glowing furnace in the sky. The rest’of’us- any peeps outside o’Earth- have pink light and rely on heaters if we want to be warmed.

I left the TF offices and strode through an open dome back to the Main.

That was why when a fleet darkness passed overhead, I marked it in my mindset.

I stopped and watched for a few deci-secs.

Drones and wings- they danced discreetly above me… Should I be concerned?  Can I stop them? Can I do anything about them…?

If I answer, “No”…what then?

Can I stop the drones and wings from harming me if I were …threatened, or frightened?

I considered.

I thought No.

The boot is already poised over my throat. In’it? And whose boot is it? Is it a Glosser boot? -Poised over my throat- our throat; we are forced to wait til they decide if they should stomp- or no.

 

 

 

I walked unsure as to my next step, so leaned toward retreating to my personal quarters and making time to meditate, in hopes of something positive rising through the chaff while I unlimbered my mind.

I congratulated myself on finally having a good idea and doing something pro-active this’a’diaside. Meditating is also a good way to keep the Locstatin at bay. It’s always there, growing, becoming more dangerous, but if can slow the inexorable progress…”It’s all benno”, as the saying goes.

So far today, I’d been all re-active.

As my H2H combat instructor always mantra’d: “Reactive is bad…Reactive is slow. Re-active gets peeps cleared.”

Jack Thrasher always said: Offense or nothing. Go kill or cry uncles!

 

Meditation was my way of dealing with my “planet-to-carry”: Locsatin’s syndrome- or disease, now.

It had been upgraded now. At first, I thought it great to know that I’m being helped and that earth’s scientific resources are coming to bears to “aid an’abettancy” – Except that Locstatin’s was a disease that was not being studied- onlyiest upgraded; an acknowledgement that it was worse than they thought initially.

Since, it was “only” a “spacer’s disease”, and so, no Earthers seemed to feel compelled to find a cure, and the docs out here were mostly stitch-em and pitch-em- not research types.

So I am fecked crossways.

I am left t’myself- as it seems I always have been. I can depend on no one save m’self. My Gov walked’n’;talked- but then they balked. WorldCorp sure as feck isn’t watching my backsides- even though I am an esteemed veteran, Galleki was called away- by whom I wonders-I feel as usual, since Laurus, a man on an island running around waving a blunt sword to ward off others landing. They might complicate things if I let them stay. But at least I would be in charge on that island…

I need simple things; life needs to be simple- though it always finds ways to twist upon itself, tripping me and making me fall on m’face.

 


© Copyright 2019 Zaslow Crane. All rights reserved.

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