Aphelion Issue 222, Volume 21
October 2017
 
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Dymond In The Rough

by C.E. Gee





Russ floated across the lobby to the orbiting spaceport’s ticket counter.

Using a handrail, Russ pulled himself over to an available ticketbot. Fishing his iCard from a thigh pocket, he said, “I’ve reserved an express ticket to Mars.”

The ticketbot held up its RF scanner, replied, “I’ve scanned your iCard. It shows you’ve passed the necessary physical, made your payment. The Solarian government has approved your journey. You leave from Gate Three in 47 minutes. Have a good trip Russell.”

Russ handed his luggagebot to the ticketbot while saying, “I prefer Russ. Please enter my nickname into the port’s registry.”

“As you wish. It’s now done.”

Bots have no need of recognition. Nonetheless, Russ replied “Thanks.”

With plenty of time before departure, Russ floated over to the spaceport’s main canteen, strapped himself in at the counter, ordered a light lunch.

Lunch quickly arrived beneath the transparent, sliding panel set into the counter at Russ’s position.

Russ slid open the panel, grabbed half of his lettuce, tomato sandwich. He then took a quick sip of his apple juice before closing the panel.

The lady strapped in to Russ’s right turned to him, asked “Where you headed?”

“Mars.”

“Interesting,” said the lady. “Business or pleasure?”

Around a sly grin Russ replied, “My business is one of my pleasures.”

Using a badly out of date practice that Russ believed was good for his detective agency, he fished a business card out of one of his jumpsuit’s side pockets, handed it to the lady.

She seemed surprised at receiving an old-fashioned business card. She looked at the card, mused out loud to herself, “Dymond Detective Agency.”

The lady pocketed the card, said “On a case?”

Russ replied, “Sorry I can’t tell you. Client confidentiality you know.”

Truth was, Russ himself had no idea. His client had made a large transfer of credits to his agency. That was enough for Russ to take the assignment.

After a nod the lady turned back to her meal.

Russ quickly finished his meal, said to the lady, “Nice to talk to you,” pushed off towards Gate Three.

Russ stopped at one of the airlock’s grab handles before boarding the ship.

Using other grab handles to pull himself through the airlock, Russ paused a moment as an audio transducer, flush-mounted in the overhead said, “Welcome aboard, Russ. You’re assigned to acceleration couch seven.”

Russ was pleased that his request to use his nickname had been transmitted on to other bots connected to the station’s net.

The ship, designed for express trips, was equipped with bulkhead mounted acceleration couches, their undersides facing the ship’s stern. Using a handrail to push off, Russ floated toward his assigned couch. The side of the couch flashed Russ’s name and couch number, then went dark as Russ strapped himself in.

The underside of the couch directly in front of his was too close to have a 3D-array. Instead there was a flat screen monitor.

Russ watched other passengers strap in. After several minutes his monitor came on.

A human female announced, “This is your copilot speaking. Though this ship is totally autonomous, Solarian Space Agency regulations require a human copilot to cover unanticipated emergencies not programmed into the autopilot’s software or firmware.”

The copilot continued with, “Should you require aid during acceleration or deceleration or while in orbit or coasting you are being monitored via audio and video, just say attendantbot. An attendantbot will then come to you.”

After a short pause the copilot went on with, “At mealtimes we will shut down our thruster. The screen you are watching has touchscreen capabilities. Touch your menu choices. We hope you will not dawdle over your meal since doing such will disrupt our schedule.”

“We blastoff in exactly 11 minutes. That is all. Namaste.”

The flatscreen then delivered prerecorded instructions on the procedures used to relieve oneself, get drinks of water, emergency actions and the like.

A program outlining the ship’s functions followed. Russ, decidedly nontechnical, was fascinated by the ship’s thruster. A tube encased in powerful electromagnets ran the entire length of the ship.

Water molecules were stripped of their electrons. The resulting positive ions were then shot down the length of the tube, reaching relativistic speeds, thus acquiring much mass.

Ejecting the now heavy ions out the end of the tube provided tremendous thrust.

At the end of the program the screen displayed the logo of the ship’s parent company, played classic music from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Russ told the viewscreen to switch off.

There came a slight jolt as the ship disengaged from the airlock. The ship slowly drifted away from the station, aligned itself before blastoff.

Initial acceleration was gentle as the ship cleared orbit. Once the ship was far away from other stations and ships, full acceleration began.

Russ groaned as he was pushed down into the couch.

The trip was as uncomfortable as Russ had expected. The days passed slowly. Russ was greatly relieved when the ship entered Mars orbit.

Transfer to a shuttle and the trip down to Bradbury was routine.

In the passenger’s lounge, baggagebots rolled in on their casters, found their owners.

With his baggagebot trailing behind him, Russ strolled over to the supply room. Walking in such light gravity was novel to him. A clerkbot fitted Russ with a pressure suit.

Through the double airlock and outside Russ found a long line formed up at the taxi stand. The line moved quickly, Russ climbed into a rover.

Though the rover pressurized the cabin, Russ kept his visor shut. A video screen read USE CHANNEL 327.

Russ switched channels, said to the rover, “Downtown Best Martian Hotel please.” The Best Martian Hotel chain had hotels all across Mars, were relatively low-priced but comfortable, served free breakfasts.

There were no windows in the rover. Monitors were scattered throughout the passenger compartment. Russ enjoyed the sights.

At the hotel’s taxi stand, before Russ exited the rover it said, “Your iCard has been charged 38 point 21 credits. Do you consent?”

“Yes”

In his room, Russ showered, changed into a fresh jump suit, texted his client. She texted back, asking Russ to meet her in the hotel’s bar in half-an-hour.

Just before the appointed time Russ slid into a booth in a remote corner of the bar, texted his booth location to the client.

She soon arrived, clad in her pressure suit and with its visor up. Females often wore tight pressure suits. Most persons born on Mars were tall, thin. This lady was no exception.

“Glad to finally meet you in person, Julie,” politely said Russ as Julie slid into the opposite side of the booth.

Julie smiled, replied “Same here.”

“Beer?” asked Russ. Julie nodded her affirmation.

Martian beer was renowned all through the Solarian System. Russ turned towards the menu mounted on the wall to his left. Using its touchscreen Russ ordered two drafts.

Julie leaned forward, rested her arms on the table. In a near whisper she said, “The reason I asked to meet you in this bar is because it’s routinely swept for listening devices.”

Russ nodded as Julie continued, “We should keep our voices low so no one sitting nearby can listen in. Got it?”

Again, Russ nodded.

A servingbot rolled up, placed the beers on the table. Russ held up his iCard. The bot said, “You have been charged 3 point 84 credits including tax. Do you consent?”

“Yes.

” The servingbot rolled away after saying, “Thank you.”

Because of low gravity the beers were not served in glasses. Flasks with thumb activated caps that swiveled up then down to the side were the norm.

Both Julie and Russ took sips. Russ then announced, “On Earth they charge almost twice as much for this stuff.”

Julie made no reply. Russ found himself attracted to Julie. However, he had a strict policy of not becoming involved with his clients, considered such very non-professional.

Keeping her voice low, Julie asked, “I assume you know all about the baby born over 30 years ago in basecamp Bradbury, the original site of this city?”

“Of course.”

Julie took another sip. She wiped her lips with the back of a pressure suit glove, said, “After the basecamp grew into the settlement of Bradbury, the girl, by then a young woman, declared herself the first modern and real Martian, disappeared.”

Russ replied, “That’s the story.”

Julie went on with, “Though it’s not known where she is, a cult of mostly young people worship her. By the way, immediately after she was born her mother named her Caitlin after a long past relative. This so-called real Martian’s followers call her Cat.”

Russ chuckled before he said, “There was once a botball coach named Cat. If you ever watch botball, the announcers often refer to the effect that coach had on the sport.”

Julie seemed completely uninterested, said, “Think you can track down this Cat?”

Russ smirked, replied, “Haven’t had a missing persons case yet that I couldn’t solve.”

“Good,” replied Julie. “Now listen very carefully, but don’t pass this on to anyone. Through the good graces of a relative of mine living in the Heights neighborhood of Bradbury I found out that Cat is able to transmigrate the spirits of long dead original Martians to Solarians.”

Russ huffed as he raised his eyebrows. He replied, “Jeez, I gotta wrap my mind around that one!”

Julie nodded, smiled, rose, walked away.

Russ went back to his room, climbed into his pressure suit, closed the visor.

As a youth, Russ had served his mandatory public service in the Solarian Guard.

Using the suit’s cell channel, he called Pat, once a guard buddy of his. Pat now lived in Bradbury.

Pat answered, “Whoa man! What’s happenin’?”

“I’m on Mars,” replied Russ. I gotta assignment here, but before I get to work I’d sure like to visit, do a little reminiscing.”

Pat gave Russ his address, told Russ to come over anytime, though now would be good.

Russ went out to the taxi stand, was delivered promptly to Pat’s place, a dome.

The housebot, equipped with a channel to monitor and operate the airlock entrance opened the outer airlock, said over the open channel, “Welcome. We’ve been expecting you. Come in.”

Though double airlocks were not required in single family dwellings, Pat’s home had one. Russ figured Pat must have plenty of credits.

Once inside, Russ opened his visor, was enthusiastically greeted by Pat.

Russ peeled himself out of his pressure suit. Pat gestured for Russ to sit.

After a long session of reminiscing, during a pause, Russ got to his point. “You know anything about Cat? Her whereabouts for instance?

Pat replied, “Don’t know anything for sure ‘bout her whereabouts. But if I had to make a good guess I’d say she’s probably somewhere in the Heights neighborhood.”

While making a reply, Russ squirmed in his chair. “I’ve seen some programs and news clips about that place. Isn’t that where kids hang out?”

Pat grinned around his answer. “They’re hardly kids. Most of ‘em are from late teens through twenties. Pretty much free spirits they are.”

Russ asked, “I assume I can I get there via taxi?”

“Of course,” said Pat. “A taxi will take you up a winding road to the summit. But it’ll stop on the edge of the Heights area. You’ll have to hoof it in to wherever you’re headed.”

Russ and Pat visited for a while more, then Russ went back to his room to eat and rest up for the next day’s adventure.

***


The Heights was at the summit of a tall, very steep hill.

The taxi made its way up a road that that wended its way back and forth across the hill, then stopped at the edge of the plateau.

The taxi announced “Your iCard has been charged 18 point 33 credits. Do you approve?”

“Yes.

” Russ climbed out of the taxi, began his walk into the neighborhood.

Russ clicked on the open channel, was hit with the weirdest music he’d ever heard.

Walking up Ash street, which was paved over but named for the ash that once covered the summit of the now dormant volcano, Russ encountered other pedestrians. Their pressure suits were emblazoned with outlandish and colorful decorations.

The sun was high in the sky. No one had enabled their visor’s polarization settings, so Russ could plainly see the expressions of distaste and distain other pedestrians cast in his direction.

Russ looked for a bar.

He soon saw one, its 3D-array sign flashed “WELCOME TO THE BEAVER HUT!”

Russ entered the airlock, was met with a hand lettered sign that instructed USE CHANNEL 369.

Russ switched channels, raucous crowd noise was accompanied by background music as weird as the music on the open channel.

As soon as Russ passed through the airlock, the crowd noises ceased. All in the club looked at Russ, who quickly realized the patrons were exclusively female.

Russ chuckled, turned, left the bar.

Out on the street, Russ snickered as he shook his head, continued his walk.

Russ had been a private detective for many years. He stopped often, looked at video screens in front of businesses. Instead of turning back to the direction he was headed he always turned back the other way, took snapshots with his helmet cam in turning. He soon determined someone was following him.

Russ found another bar. This one was named THE SPACE HAG. Russ passed through the airlock, tuned to the bar’s channel.

The bar’s patrons were of both genders, again the music was weird.

Russ flipped up his visor, clicked off the channel. Instead of sitting at a booth or table, he bellied up to the bar, ordered a draft from the barbot.

This watering hole had obviously gone to great expense to duplicate an old fashioned Earthly establishment. A large mirror, rare on Mars, was behind the bar, ran its entire length.

Russ kept an eye on the mirror, saw the person trailing him pass thru the airlock, sit at a table.

The chap to Russ’s right swiveled round, looked Russ up and down, said “Howdy.”

The fellow was tall, like most persons born on Mars. But he was stoutly built. Because bots did all manual labor, Russ figured the fellow must work out.

Russ introduced himself, explained he was on Mars as a tourist.

After a pleasant conversation, Russ asked, “You know anything about the whereabouts of the lady named Cat?”

The fellow wagged his head, replying, “Nope. Rumor is she’s around here somewhere but nobody’s ever seen her; not even on a vid.”

The remaining conversation went on for some time. Russ paid his bill, also the bill of the fellow. Russ then left.

Before the inner airlock door closed, Russ turned around, saw the person who had been trailing him talking to the fellow with whom Russ had his recent conversation.

During his walk deep into the Heights neighborhood, Russ randomly stopped other pedestrians, asked over the open channel if they knew the location of Cat.

All confessed their ignorance.

When Russ reached the distant end of the street, he caught a taxi, returned to his hotel.

***


Next morning, Russ texted his client that he was ready to report his findings. Julie texted back that she would leave right away, meet Russ in the bar.

Russ sat in the same booth as previous.

Julie showed up, sat across from Russ, immediately asked, “Did you find Cat?”

“Yep. Sure did.”

“Where is she?” asked Julie. An expression of surprise marked her countenance.

Russ smirked, said in a snide tone of voice, “Sitting right across from me.”

Cat sat back, seemingly in shock, her mouth flapped open, then shut to a grim expression. Her eyes narrowed. She leaned forward.

Cat asked. “What proof do you have?”

“First of all,” replied Russ, “let me assure you that client confidentiality is an absolute must in my practice. Also, that lie you told me about some relative living in the Heights neighborhood was a tipoff.”

Cat nodded as Russ went on with, “I’ve been a private detective almost all of my adult life. Much of my practice is concerned with finding people. Some of my clients are on the lam. They hire me using false names, want to see if they can be found under their actual name. Ever hear of the expression ‘hiding in plain sight’?”

Now it was Russ’s turn to sit back. Around a smirk he said, “Remember when I told you I’ve never had a missing persons case I couldn’t solve?”

Cat nodded.

Russ said, “The person you had tailing me was an obvious amateur. Next time you need to follow someone you should have the trackers frequently swap out. Make sure you use different genders with radically dissimilar statures, differently decorated pressure suits. I also suspect that you had someone hack into taxi company data to track my whereabouts. And no doubt you had people monitoring my open channel conversations.”

As she took out her iCard, Cat again nodded, said, “I appreciate the advice.”

Cat transferred a substantial gratuity to the detective’s iCard.

Cat then stood. Before she left she planted a sloppy kiss to the forehead of Russ, said, “Thanks for the education you gave me on how to follow people.”

After Cat left, Russ took out his iCard, noted the gratuity.

***


Russ spent the next few days playing tourist.

Finally, Russ departed Mars, returned to Earth.

He booked a berth in a regular ship. The trip took almost two months.

When Russ was well into his dotage Cat broke her cover. With great delight Russ then told his friends and relatives about the kiss he got from Cat.


THE END


2017 C.E. Gee

Bio: C.E. Gee has answered many callings: logger (choker setter) meat packer (Norbest Turkeys), Vietnam war draftee infantryman, telecom technician, volunteer fireman/EMT, light show roady, farmer, businessman.

C.E. Gee now writes SF stories, maintains a blog at
http://www.kinzuakid.blogspot.com

E-mail: C.E. Gee

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