Ch 1. Pickup

1.   Pickup: Nov 18, 2117 5:15 A.M.

It got real when Matt Morrison clicked the padlock shut. That padlock was grotesquely big, barely fitting through the links. It would have restrained a much more powerful creature than me.


Even the evolved dinosaur lawyer who might have stood here if his species had survived their Impact, as we, barely, had survived ours.[i] They had lost their world. We had just hung on to ours. They had not been lucky. We had been just lucky enough.


A cosmic crapshoot, with us as the dice.


The whole scene was theatrical overkill. At that point, they could have confined me with a bow-tied doily. But the chain made a statement. I was a threat.


Matt had probably volunteered for the assignment. He’s still pissed at me. As legal officer, the Constable being busy elsewhere one Saturday night a few years ago, I had sucker punched him in front of his buddies at one party that got too loud and strayed too far.


Decked by a codger in public and never got over it. That shadow smile meant he was pleased with the idea of humiliation in return, although it didn’t really touch me. I was going to be far beyond his resentment all too soon.


Because then, I was the animal at bay.


My Dad would have found a way to keep his head down and do the job without attracting too much attention, and his example should have informed me, but it didn’t take. I figured celebrity was safety for me and mine. So much for that.


He knew better. He was the sometime manager of a prominent hotel in my home town with an equally prominent watering hole favored by entertainers, newspaper reporters, and their malodorous hangers on. Some small celebrity would have been easy for him, and, indeed, some of his less thoughtful associates took it, and shriveled in its glare. But he stayed low and lived a quiet, and, mostly happy, life, and we, his family, were kept sheltered. I wish that I had heard his voice to remind me yet again, but I let it fade over the twenty odd years since his death.


I depended on my own judgement and made others do the same. Could I have done it differently? I haven’t figured it out yet, and probably never will.


The chain has me shackled to one of the lockers. Displayed on the wall behind me is some moonscape, maybe the one just on the other side of the hab[ii] wall, unnecessarily reminding me that there was no place to escape to.


After all, I am a killer, and the label fits. I have taken life, in defiance, technically, of established authority. An extremely dangerous seventy-three-year-old man with gimpy knees.


On the other side of the room, a Plaser[iii] in her hand, stands an embarrassed and tearful Gloria leaning against a virtual palm tree in a virtual jungle.  She is the Constable, after all, and she is assigned to guard me along with the ‘deputies’ who helped me kill Rudy. Seven of them, all armed.


And somehow, they have thought to get a uniform jumper on her, so she looks like a proper policewoman and matches the guys in the posse.


I was out of the same bed 20 minutes ago, and they have cut my sweats’ waistband. That left me standing there trying to hold up my pants with one hand, and my stuff in a yellow plastic carryall with the other. A ridiculous figure, at best. A little at odds with the threatening theme they set with the padlock, but who’s watching?


Gloria is now subdued, and watchful, and reticent – I hope she is already rationalizing her separation from me. We are going to be disconnected by an unbridgeable distance for the rest of our lives. I am being exiled, and unless my captors relent, there is no return. A clean break would be better, but we have no time to resolve that.


Of course, they sent her to pick me up. As I slept, the familiar spicy sweet perfume came off her body and I reached for her unconsciously; awakening, I became aware of her presence, and the scene fell into place. She could never have gotten past the recognition circuit on the door unless they had enabled her. We still had those, and I had never disabled it. A relic from my previous life.


It was obvious that she was there for something significant, so I just rolled over and held her against me for a while. I didn’t have the nerve to ask what was in store. I was fearful of what she would have to answer. No need to make her feel the betrayer. I would find out soon enough.


My feelings for her hadn’t changed and I let my body tell the truth of it. That I was grateful for our time together, fond of her, and thankful for the intimacy and grace she gave. It didn’t even enter my mind to blame her for being an instrument of whatever change awaited me. Someone had to do it, and who better than her, who was softened by some affection?


Gloria never had told me different than that she cared for me too. Both of us had enjoyed happy, loving marriages. Neither of us would have revealed that ours was a tepid, second-time love, reminding us more of what we had lost than what we had, and we had none of that magic connection between lovers. The look of understanding, built from a lifetime of knowledge and sharing, was not there. But so much better than nothing.


We made love that one last time. And we explored all the secret places on our bodies that we had entered and touched and stroked so many times. And again, my age-banked fires rose and burned as she got more excited, and after bringing her to climax I even came myself in reverence of her enduring erotic power.


When we had finished and laid at rest for a few minutes, we rose and washed, and she motioned me with the yellow bag she had brought to help me to choose the few things I could take. The mere act told me wordlessly of what was to happen to me. I was going away. Certainly not back to Earth with its dangers and its instant notoriety. So, the other direction, then – Mars.


When she talked, she didn’t go out of her way to be kind. I deserved no better. It‘s the emotional betrayal that cuts, and I had inflicted it on her. Not my most creditable week.


“Well, lover, you are an exile now, and I’m not so sure I am all in mourning. I won’t need to fight a dead woman now. She called me after that soup tête-à-tête all rhapsodic about the look. You and I know it, but that poor girl didn’t.


Never had it in her poor deprived life, so maybe you did some good sharing it with her, even if ever so briefly.  I don’t know, but it was earth-shaking to her. She was – giggly. Her!


You and I weren’t any Romeo and Juliet, but we were exclusive. That with Marion was supposed to be playacting. Changed, didn’t it? You just can’t leave well enough alone in anything. If you had gone along, most of this wouldn’t have happened.”  Then a pause.


“No, that isn’t fair. We all wanted to do something for Cyra. That’s not your fault.”


And then she added “Entirely. Asshole.” With a straight face, no smile to soften it. A personal goodbye.


All I could say was “Yeah, but how often does it happen for two people? Just one other time, in my life.”


Then, without another word, she waited for me to bag my stuff, wearing an expression I couldn’t quite decipher, that looked like mixed anger and regret. When I had finished, she took me to the departure room to wait for the shuttle.


They knew I could not refuse her, but they armed her anyway (in the departure room) to set the scene.


By that time the vid of Rudy’s hopeless standoff was all over the nets on Earth and I had gone from failed detective to conquering sheriff (complete with killing) in one step. I was a hero!


Now I wait for the shuttle to take me up to the Rockship for Mars with my 18 kilograms of stuff – my clothes, a few old real books, some toiletries, and, strangely, my father’s tefillin[iv] that I use ever so rarely, but now can’t leave behind because they are freighted with memories, and Ben’s old yarmulke, now burdened as well. The pics of my beloveds are on the fon[v]. They have cut my COMM, although the op system still works. It’s very disorienting to be unconnected and it unsettles me to look at it. I feel dizzy and almost sick to my stomach.


Everyone has that fon tat always. Like your eyes and ears. My forearm feels bare without the flickering messages crawling across the display panel. So rarely is this done to anyone that they probably didn’t realize that the COMM cut alone would have been enough to subdue me.


Behind me the displayscreen, a backward glance still showing the moonscape in the black and white lowlight intensification of a lunar night – regolith[vi] pavers leading off into a regolith field fading into a regolith blackness weakly punctuated by led status beams.


It sets the mood, but it tells me that another scene has been set because it is still day out there for almost another two weeks. They’ve got a talented vid director on this one.


Gloria will follow her instructions.  They watch. No point in trouble now and no way to make any even if we wanted.


I look at the guys I had with me when we tried to arrest Rudy, again with their Plasers and KO collars. They are not here to deter violence. Just having taken part in a demonstration of the futility of resistance to weapons, I am not going to try to resist seven armed people. Am I going to fight them off and grab an enviro suit to scoot off over some lunar hill? To where? They are just here to dress the scene, just like the padlocks and chains.


They are banishing me from this austere world that is home; from the people I love and the things I love to do. I will never see our new city Rubin built now.


They have decided to let me live. Easy to kill me and finish it but maybe they just decided that too many deaths close together would make them look bad, and, of course, their killer is dead. There will be no embarrassing confessions from him. And I guess my laughable efforts as an investigator gave their actions a gloss of legality. It might be a bit awkward if the investigator died.


And too, now that the LSA is making so much money, the UN may be thinking it would not be undesirable if they had an excuse to revoke the license and take it all for themselves because order is ‘breaking down’ under the Authority. I don’t think the shareholders of the LSA, the largest companies on Earth, want that. And maybe, then, my name all over the nets as the famous investigator, and upholder of public order, does add a little extra bit of insurance.


Anyway, so far, I remain alive, even though my knowledge remains dangerous, and my mere existence, exasperating. I will not be free to reveal it where I am going. Lucky for me too, it is not exclusive knowledge. Zainab knows, and they can’t do without her. And Fin, and Gloria. A lot of people to kill. Inconvenient.


So maybe it’s just that there is no more immediate benefit from violence.  I won’t be able to talk, and Zainab won’t want to. And the others, well, they’re tied to me. And their Boris problem will be 22 light seconds from earth, inside a cache[vii], and under surveillance. Much different than 1.5 seconds and almost immediate access to the nets. I won’t be able to make more trouble.


And I am going willingly because I now comprehend my sin. I was careless with at least one life and I was just lucky that the others I put at risk are still alive. I knew that serious and ruthless people were at work. Unintended consequences certainly, but not unforeseeable.


People will eventually discover the truth about me. And I am enough of a coward not to be eager to be here when they do. I am content to be bundled away; I have lost a lot less than some others.


Yet I can’t see how I could have acted much different. I couldn’t just ignore Cyra, denying her even the poor reckoning I could offer. And I couldn’t have done anything effective without the skills of my friends.


Even so, I wish that I could have found a way to use them without risking them. But I felt the power. At my age and experience, dangerously naïve. I should have husbanded my friends – events warned me from the beginning that there was danger.


It was weakness, the more seductive because I thought it was strength. I was the one who created the provocation to kill Marion.


It all keeps playing in my head, sweeping through the last week over and over. Scene after scene I cannot stop. Like a vid you can’t turn off repeating continuously, ending in death and the destruction of promise.


And this last week has wrung me out. I am just tired. So much has happened.


So right now, it’s ok to sit here and let others decide what to do with my life while that story pounds through my head.

[i] It is thought that the dinosaurs were one of the species extinguished by an asteroid strike at Chicxulub approximately 66 million years ago. It is a companion theory that such strikes might be periodic and be induced by astronomic forces at specific intervals.

[ii] Hab, short for habitation module. A pressurized, shielded place to live without radiation and vacuum intruding.

[iii] Taser that uses laser ionized gases to carry the electric shock. The laser has a characteristic pale red light. It shocks the nerves and muscles into immobility, mostly on a temporary basis in healthy individuals, but occasionally is lethal.

[iv] Prayer rolls wound around the arm and head for certain prayer services by adult male Jews.

[v] Fon, are multifunction communications modules implanted in the forearms of everyone at a tender age. They are durable and powered by ATP, the body’s energy source. Besides communication in various forms they provide medical monitoring, recording, and other functions.

[vi] The technical name for Lunar soil, usually exceptionally fine particles, but easily fused by microwaves, as here.

[vii] Mars is so far from Earth that the only way to provide responsive service is to provide a temporary cache locally for most of the services to allow prompt access. That cache is separate from the Earth nets, and controllable.