فصل 07

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فصل 07

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I stared at Dale like he’d grown a dick out of his forehead. “How…?” “What else would you do?” He took the helmet from my unresisting hands. “You had to know the posse would cover all the Artemis entrances. That just leaves the Visitor Center.” “Why aren’t you with the posse!” “I am with the posse. I’m the guy who volunteered to guard the Visitor Center. I would’ve been here sooner, but this was the first train out. Given the timing, I’m guessing we caught the same ride.” Shit. Some criminal mastermind I was. Dale set my helmet on a bench, then took my hand and unclamped the seals on the glove. He rotated the glove at the wrist and pulled it off. “You went too far this time, Jazz. Way too far.” “You’re going to lecture me on morality?” He shook his head. “Are you ever going to let that go?” “Why should I?” He rolled his eyes. “Tyler’s gay, Jazz. Gay as Oscar Wilde wearing sequins walking a pink poodle with a tiara on his head.” “The poodle has a tiara?” “No, I meant Oscar Wilde–” “Right, right, that makes more sense. Anyway: Fuck you.” Dale groaned. “It was never going to work for you two. Never.” “And that makes it okay for you to fuck my boyfriend?” “No,” he said softly. He took my other glove off and sat it on the bench. “We

shouldn’t have been screwing while you two were still together. I was in love and he was confused, but that doesn’t make it okay. It was wrong.” I looked away. “But you still did it.” “Yeah, I did. I betrayed my best friend. If you think that doesn’t kill me inside you really don’t know me.” “Poor you.” He scowled. “I didn’t recruit’ him, you know. If I weren’t there he would have left you on his own. He’d never be happy with a woman. It has nothing to do with you. You know that, right?” I didn’t respond. He was right, but I was in no mood to hear it. He gestured for me to turn around. I did as instructed and he detached my life-support pack. “Don’t you want to tell your EVA buddies you caught me?” He carefully set the pack on the bench. “This is a big deal, Jazz. It’s not just an ass-beating. You could get deported. You blew up Sanchez Aluminum’s harvesters. Why the hell did you do that?” “What do you care?” “I still care about you, Jazz. You were my best friend for years. I don’t regret falling in love with Tyler, but I know I did wrong.” “Thanks,” I said. “When I can’t sleep at night because I know you’re nailing the only man I ever loved, I’ll just remember that you feel guilty. All better.” “It’s been a year. When does your victimhood expire?” “Fuck you.” He leaned against the wall and stared at the ceiling. “Jazz, give me a reason not to call the EVA posse. Anything.” I forced some logic through the swirling vortex of anger in my brain. I had to be a big girl–just for a minute. I didn’t have to like it, but I had to do it. “I’ll give you a hundred thousand slugs.” I didn’t have 100,000. But I’d get it if I could trash that last harvester. He raised his brow. “Okay, that’s a pretty good reason. What the hell is going on?” I shook my head. “No questions.” “Are you in trouble?” “That’s a question.” “Fine, fine.” He folded his arms. “What about the posse?”

“Do they know it’s me?” “No.” “Then you don’t have to do anything. Just forget you saw me here.” “Jazz, there are only forty people in the whole city who have EVA suits. It’s a small pool to investigate. And the EVA masters will definitely investigate. Not to mention Rudy.” “I have contingencies for that. All you have to do is keep your mouth shut.” He mulled it over. Then he flashed a smile. “Keep your hundred thousand. I want something else: I want to be friends again.” “A hundred and fifty thousand,” I countered. “One evening a week. You and me at Hartnell’s. Just like the old days.” “No,” I said. “Either take my money or feed me to the EVA mob.” “Jazz, I’m trying to play ball, here, but you don’t get to jerk me around. I don’t want money. I want to reconnect. Take it or leave it.” “Fff–” I began, but I suppressed the “uck you” in my throat. I found a limit to my pride somewhere in there. He could destroy my life with a Gizmo call. I had no choice. “–fffine,” I finished. “Once a week. Doesn’t mean we’re friends, though.” He heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank God. I didn’t want to ruin you.” “You already ruined me.” He winced at the barb. Good. He pulled out his Gizmo and dialed. “Bob? You still out there?…Okay, I’m just checking in. I’m at the Visitor Center and just suiting up now….Yeah, I got the first train in. I searched the whole center. No one’s here but me and a couple of workers starting their day.” He listened on the Gizmo for some time, then said, “All right. I’ll be outside in fifteen minutes…okay, I’ll radio when I’m outside.” He hung up. “Well, I’m off to search for the mysterious saboteur.” “Have fun with that,” I said. “Tuesday, eight p.m. at Hartnell’s.” “All right,” I mumbled. I finished getting out of my suit with Dale’s assistance. Then I helped Dale into his.

– When I got home, I flopped onto my back. Good God I was exhausted. Even my shitty coffin seemed comfortable. I pulled my Gizmo out of the alibi-o-mat. I checked the web and email history. The device had done its job. I sighed in relief. I’d gotten away with it. Sort of. I could expect some questions from Rudy and the guild, but I had my story straight. There was a message on the Gizmo from Trond: “That last delivery you made was missing an item.” I messaged back: “Apologies for the delay. I’m working on how to get that last package to you now.” “Understood.” I needed a plan for that last harvester before I talked to Trond again. But what the hell could I do? Time for another scheme. No idea what form it would take, but I had to think of something. Next thing I knew I woke up from an unscheduled nap. I still had my shoes on and the Gizmo in my hand. The day’s exhaustion and previous night’s shitty sleep had caught up with me, I guess. I checked the time and discovered I’d been asleep four hours. Well, at least I was rested. – I walked laps around Conrad Ground for almost an hour. It wasn’t for my health. I needed to get into the Conrad airlock’s antechamber without being spotted. The HIB was still in a locker in that antechamber. I’d promised Zsَka I’d return it to her within two days, and that deadline was fast approaching. But every time I passed the damn airlock, someone was nearby. So I just kept walking. I also wanted to steer clear of the EVA Guild for a bit. They’d given up the search after five hours. Right about now they’d be investigating anyone who had access to an EVA suit. I had my Gizmo activity as an alibi, but I preferred not to answer questions at all. Best not to interact with the folks near the airlock. After four entire laps, I finally caught a window where no one was around. I darted in, waved my Gizmo to open the locker, grabbed the HIB and its remote, then got the hell out of there. I had a smug little smile on my face as I headed out of the antechamber. The

perfect crime. Then I walked right into Rudy. It was like walking into a brick wall. Well, not quite. If you get going fast enough, you might actually damage a brick wall. I dropped the HIB case because I’m a clumsy oaf. Rudy watched it fall for a moment then casually plucked it out of the air. “Good afternoon, Jazz,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.” “You’ll never take me alive, copper,” I said. He looked at the case. “Is this a hull-inspection bot? Why would you need one of these?” “Feminine hygiene. You wouldn’t understand.” He handed it back to me. “We need to talk.” I put Hibby under my arm. “Ever heard of Gizmos? You can talk to people from anywhere.” “I suspect you wouldn’t answer if I called.” “Oh, you know how it is,” I said. “I get all flustered when a handsome boy calls. Anyway, nice talking to you.” I walked on. I expected him to grab my arm or something, but he just kept pace beside me. “You know why I’m here, right?” “No idea,” I said. “Is it something Canadian? Do you need to apologize for shit that isn’t your fault? Or hold a door open for someone twenty meters away?” “I assume you heard about the Sanchez harvesters?” “You mean that top news story on every local website? Yeah, I heard about it.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “Did you do it?” I put on my best shocked expression. “Why would I do something like that?” “That was going to be my follow-up question,” he said. “Has someone accused me?” He shook his head. “No, but I pay attention to what’s going on in my city. You have an EVA suit and you’re a criminal. Seemed like a good place to start my investigation.” “I was in my coffin all night,” I said. “Check my Gizmo activity if you don’t believe me. I hereby give you permission to check that out–just to save you the trouble of getting Administrator Ngugi to authorize it.”

“I’ll take you up on that,” he said. “I’ve also had a request from Bob Lewis of the EVA Guild. He wants last night’s location info for everyone who owns an EVA suit. Do you give permission for me to give him your data?” “Yes. Go ahead. That should put things to rest.” “Maybe for Bob,” he said. “But I’m something of a suspicious soul. Just because your Gizmo was in your coffin all night, that doesn’t mean you were. Have you got any witnesses?” “No. Contrary to popular belief, I usually sleep alone.” He raised an eyebrow. “Sanchez Aluminum is angry. The EVA Guild is upset too.” “Not my problem.” I rounded a corner without warning to throw him off, but he kept up. He must have known I was going to do that. Dick. “Tell you what”–he pulled out his Gizmo–“I’ll pay you one hundred slugs to tell me the truth.” “Whu…huh?” I stopped walking. He typed on his Gizmo. “One hundred slugs. Direct transfer from my personal account to yours.” My Gizmo beeped. I pulled it out of my pocket: ACCOUNT TRANSFER FROM RUDY DUBOIS: 100. ACCEPT? “What the hell are you doing?” I demanded. “Paying for the truth. Let’s have it.” I declined the transaction. “This is weird, Rudy. I already told you the truth.” “Don’t you want a hundred slugs? If you’re already telling me the truth, just take the money and tell me again.” “Go away, Rudy.” He gave me a knowing look. “Yeah. I thought so.” “Thought what?” “I’ve known you since you were a little delinquent. You don’t want to admit it, but you’re just like your father. You have his business ethics.” “So?” I pouted and looked away. “You’ll lie all day if we’re just talking. But if I pay for the truth, that makes it a

business deal. And a Bashara never reneges on a deal.” I ran out of smartassed things to say. It’s rare, but it happens once in a while. He pointed to Hibby. “That HIB would be a great way to open an airlock without authorization.” “I suppose.” “You’d have to get it outside first.” “I suppose.” “You could probably sneak it out with a tourist EVA.” “You getting at something, Rudy?” He tapped on his Gizmo. “There are no surveillance cameras on airlocks. We’re not a police state. But there is a security camera in the Visitors Center gift shop.” He turned the screen to face me. There I was, walking through the gift shop in my disguise. He paused the playback. “According to the transaction she made to get on the train, her name is Nuha Nejem. Strange thing is, her Gizmo is offline now. She’s about your height, build, and skin color, wouldn’t you say?” I leaned in to look at the screen. “You know there’s more than one short Arab woman on the moon, right? Besides, she’s wearing a niqab. Have you ever seen me in traditional clothes? I’m not what you’d call a devout Muslim.” “Neither is she.” He swiped the screen a few times. “The train has a security camera too.” Now his Gizmo showed video from the train. The nice French guy stood up and offered me his seat. I bowed to him and sat down. “Chivalry isn’t dead,” I said. “Good to know.” “Muslims don’t bow to people,” Rudy said. “Even Muhammad didn’t let anyone bow to him. They bow to Allah and no one else. Ever.” Shit. I really should have known that. Maybe I should have paid attention when I was young–before Dad gave up on bringing me into the faith. “Huh,” I said. “Don’t know what to tell ya.” Rudy leaned against the wall. “I’ve got you this time, Jazz. This isn’t some minor smuggling. It’s a hundred million slugs’ worth of property damage. You’re going down.” I shook a little. Not from fear. From rage. Didn’t that asshole have better things to do than micromanage my life?! Leave me the fuck alone! I don’t think I hid it very well.

“What’s the matter? No comeback?” he said. “You didn’t do this for fun. This has work-for-hire’ written all over it. Tell me who hired you, and I’ll put in a good word with the administrator. It’ll keep you from getting deported.” I kept my mouth a thin line. “Come on, Jazz. Just tell me it was Trond Landvik and we can all move on with life.” I tried not to react, but I failed. How the hell did he know that? He read my expression. “He’s been selling Earthside holdings to amass a huge slug balance. He must be planning to buy something big in Artemis. Sanchez Aluminum, I’m guessing.” He must have wanted Trond pretty bad. He was willing to pass up an opportunity to take me down once and for all. But still…rolling on Trond? Not my style. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He put the Gizmo back in his pocket. “Why do you have a HIB?” “I’m delivering it. I’m a porter. Delivering shit’s my whole job.” “Who sent it? And who is it going to?” “Can’t tell you,” I said. “Discretion about deliveries is guaranteed. I have a reputation to uphold.” He stared me down for a moment, but I didn’t break my expression. He frowned, then stepped back. “Fine. But this isn’t going away. Powerful people are very angry.” “Then they’re angry at someone else. I didn’t do anything.” Then, to my utter surprise, he turned and walked away. “You’ll be in over your head soon. When that happens, give me a call.” “Wha–” I began. But then I clammed up. If he wasn’t taking me in, I sure as hell didn’t want to break the spell. This didn’t make sense. Rudy had been after me for years. This was pretty damned solid evidence. Enough to convince the administrator, I was sure. She’d chuck my reprobate ass down to Earth without a second thought. If he really wanted Trond, why not arrest me? If I was facing deportation, I’d be way more likely to rat out Trond, right? What the hell? –

I needed a drink. I stopped off at Hartnell’s, sat in my usual seat, and signaled Billy. Time to drown my misery in alcohol and testosterone. I’d have a few cheap beers, throw on something sexy, head to an Aldrin nightclub, and go home with a good-looking guy. Hey, I could even give Svoboda’s condom a trial run. Why not? “All right, luv?” said Billy. “Try this batch. New formulation.” He pushed a shot glass forward and grinned from ear to ear. I eyed it suspiciously. “Billy, really, I just want a beer.” “Give ‘er a try. Just a sip and your first beer’s on the ‘ouse.” I spent a moment in deliberation, but decided a free beer was a free beer. I sipped the shot. I have to admit: I was surprised. I thought it would taste terrible, like last time. But instead, it tasted terrible in an entirely new way. The flaming hot misery of before was gone, only to be replaced with something savory and foul. I spat it out. Unable to speak, I pointed to the beer taps. “Hrm,” Billy said. He pulled me a pint and handed it over. I gulped at it like a lost desert traveler who found an oasis. “Okay,” I said, wiping my mouth. “Okay. Was that horseradish? I swear there was horseradish in there.” “No, it’s rum. Well, rum extract and effanol.” “How the fuck did you start with rum and end up with this?” “I’ll give it another go later,” he said. “Must be somefin’ in the effanol removal process. I do have a vodka to try out if you’re game.” “Maybe later,” I said. “Right now I want another beer.” My Gizmo buzzed. A message from Trond: “Concerned about that last package.” “Shit,” I mumbled. I had no idea how to kill that last harvester. “Putting final details on delivery plan now.” “I am presently a dissatisfied customer. Urgency on delivery is required.” “Understood.” “Maybe I should find another porter to deliver? If you’re too busy.” I frowned at my Gizmo. “Don’t be an asshole.” “Let’s talk this over in person. I’m available all day.” “I’ll be over in a bit.” I put the Gizmo back in my pocket. “You look pissed,” said Billy. “And I don’t mean drunk.”

“Customer-service issue,” I said. “Gonna have to smooth it over in person.” “Cancel that second beer, then?” I sighed. “Yeah. I guess I better.”

I walked up to the Landvik estate’s main entrance and rang the chime. No answer. Huh. That was odd. Where was Irina and her trademark scowl? I’d already worked out some choice smartass things to say to her. I rang again. Still nothing. That’s when I noticed the damage on the door. Just a little scuffing at the edge. Right about where you’d put a crowbar if you wanted to break in. I winced. “Aww, come on…” I pushed open the door and peeked into the foyer. No sign of Irina or Trond. A decorative vase lay on the ground next to its usual display pedestal. A splash of bright-red blood on the wall– “Nope!” I said. I spun on my heel and stormed back into the hallway. “Nope, nope, nope!”

Dear Kelvin, For the next shipment I’ll need three kilograms of loose tobacco, fifty packets of rolling papers, twenty lighters, and ten cans of lighter fluid. I found us a new revenue stream: spray-foam insulation. Turns out it’s great for noise insulation, and believe me, noise is a real problem here. Especially in the shittier areas of town like where I live. The foam’s flammable once it dries, so it’s contraband. But if we can sell silence to folks in low-rent neighborhoods, they’ll pay anything to get it. As for special orders, I landed us a whale. He wants La Aurora brand Dominican cigars. You’ll have to special order them. Pay whatever you need for rush shipment to Kenya. We’re going to make a mint off this guy. He’ll probably want a new batch every month, so stock up. Last month’s profits were 21,628. Your half is 10,814. How do you want it? How are your sisters? Did you get everything squared away with Halima’s asshole ex-husband? Dear Jazz, Okay, I’ll get all those items in the next supply probe. It launches in nine days. Great idea on the foam insulation. I’ll poke around and find the best noise-reduction-to-mass ratio and send you a case. We’ll see how it sells. Please convert my share to euros and wire it to my German account. Yes, Halima’s husband has been dealt with. He’s no longer trying to get custody of Edward. He never wanted it, anyway. He just wanted me to buy him off. So I did. Thank God for our operation, Jazz. I have no idea what my family would do without it. Kuki just headed off to college in Australia. She’s training to become a civil engineer. We’re all very proud of her. Faith is getting good grades in high school, though she’s a little more interested in boys than we’d like. And Margot is turning out to be quite an athlete. She’s now a first-string forward for her football team. How are things in your life? How’s Tyler? Dear Kelvin, Tyler is great. He’s the sweetest, kindest man I’ve ever been with. I’m not the mushy sort, and I never thought I’d say something like this: Seriously, he might be worth marrying. We’ve been together a year and I still love him. That’s unheard-of for me. He’s the opposite of what Sean was in every way. Tyler is considerate,

loyal, devoted to me, and a total sweetheart. Plus, he’s not a pedophile, which is a major bonus over Sean. God, I can’t believe I ever dated that asshole. In other news, Dale’s been teaching me how to do EVAs. He’s a great teacher. It’s a lot of work and it’s a dangerous skill set to learn. And the EVA Guild is more clannish than a religious cult. But now that they know I’m training to become one of them, they’re starting to warm up to me. Man, once I get my EVA cert, I’ll be rolling in cash. The money I can make from tours is massive! And it won’t just be me raking it in. You’ll benefit too. I’ll ditch the porter gig and get a job as a probe wrangler. Then I won’t have to bribe Nakoshi anymore. Kelvin, my friend, the future’s bright. Dear Jazz, That’s great to hear. There’s been a wrinkle over here at KSC. They just announced that they’ll be upping their launch schedule. As part of that push, they’re expanding the payload loader department. There’ll be another loader team working at the same time as mine. I can’t be in both places at once, so we’ll miss out on half the launches. But I have an idea: How would you feel about adding another person to our group? I’d make sure it’s someone we can trust. I know a lot of loaders who could use the extra cash. We wouldn’t need to make them an equal partner but maybe cut them in for 10 percent? Dear Kelvin, To be honest, I’m not thrilled with the idea. I trust you with my life. But I don’t know these other loaders for shit. We’d have to talk about any candidates very thoroughly. The more people involved, the higher the chance that it all comes tumbling down. Still, you make a good point about missing half the launches. That hits me right in my greed bone. Dear Jazz, How about after you join the EVA Guild? We won’t have Nakoshi’s share to deal with anymore. It’ll be a net-neutral effect and we’ll be able to expand. The increased launch schedule means more product for us. We’ll come out ahead. Dear Kelvin,

I like your thinking. Okay, start looking around for someone. But for fuck’s sake be subtle. Dear Jazz, Subtle? I never thought of that. I guess I should take that flyer off the company billboard. Dear Kelvin, Smartass.

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